A/N: Set after 3x20 but absent RH or Hook. It's a love story told the only way these two could tell it - with some pain and some healing.
No content warnings. I did do some research, but I admit that there's some overall fuzziness and simplification with/of the medical details; apologies in advance.
Her headaches begin in earnest the day after Zelena's mysterious death (by suicide, apparently, Regina reminds herself with more than a little bitterness and anger). Or rather, that's when Regina starts finally noticing them. When she allows herself to think back on it, she realizes that she'd started having them almost immediately after her nearly fatal crash through the window of the Clocktower.
She can recall feeling the sharp jolts of pain after that, but to be honest, there hadn't really been much time to worry about the nasty migraines back then.
She'd been far more focused on not getting erased out of having ever existed.
Now, though, everything is calm and quiet and she has time to breathe.
Now, she has time to collect her thoughts and she's finding it rather painful.
It's been close to a month since Zelena's death as of today, and she's been dealing with these obnoxious headaches since then, and much to her annoyance, they've been getting worse and not better, which has been requiring a steady stream of Tylenol.
She's going to need a whole lot more of it, she thinks as she grips the kitchen counter in front of her as an especially intense headache vibrates through her skull. It feels a bit like a sharp blast of fire and then a stabbing pain Her teeth grit and she lets out an involuntary gasp as dark red fills her vision and her stomach rolls; she wonders if she's going to end up throwing up again, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows that this is something serious.
Deep down, she knows that something is very wrong, and try as she might to pretend that it's nothing at all, she knows that there's more to these headaches.
She's not ready to admit to that just yet, though. Not to herself and not to -
"Mom?" Regina hears from somewhere behind her. "Mom, are you all right?"
Her fingers curl against the marble of the counter and she tries to count the hurt away (she's alarmed for a moment when she forgets what number comes after three, but tells herself that it's just the pain that's causing her brain to fog up).
She tries to will the thundering pain away because if she can survive torture, then she can certainly handle a mere headache - and finally, that works. Finally, Regina's vision clears and the pulsing goes from throbbing to simply crackling.
She can live with that.
She takes a deep breath and then turns around, immediately startling when she sees how close Henry - her big tall growing up little boy - is to her, his green eyes wide and worried. It's been over a year since she's had him this close to her, and she's struck by just how much she's missed everything about him.
"Mom?" Henry says again, reaching out and lightly touching her forearm.
"I'm okay," she tells him, her voice shaky and her hands still clenched. "It was just a slight…it was nothing."
"That didn't look like a slight nothing," Henry contests, his eyes narrowing as they sweep over her and take everything in. She wonders if he can see how shaky she feels; she hopes not. But, then, because he's Emma's son as much as he's hers, he intuitively notes, "This isn't first bad headache you've had, is it?"
"It's not, no," she admits. "But they're just migraines, that's all. Probably thanks to the change in seasons or something in the air. I'm fine. Really." She forces a smile. "Now, since you're up, how about you set the table? Breakfast is ready."
His brow furrows and for a moment, she thinks that he's about to argue with her even more, but then he nods his head slowly, his eyes brightening as he looks at the skillet on the stovetop. "Breakfast burritos? You remembered."
It's been four weeks since he's been home, and she's made him every kind of breakfast that there is, but this is the first time that she's made him one of the ones that was uniquely theirs; it'd been a Monday morning special for them.
A good luck on the week to come kind of thing.
Regina's smile changes into one of surprise and then widens into something real and honest and utterly delighted because yes, she remembered. She'd just been waiting for the perfect time to bring this little moment of theirs back.
This is that moment.
Her son grins at her and then reaches for the plates and the silverware.
Emma drops by right after breakfast; this is their routine now. Henry is living at the house once again (because the apartment Emma has is adequate but not nearly as good as him living in his old familiar bedroom fulltime) so Emma picks him up in the morning and takes him to school, and then depending on who has the busier afternoon, she often does the same afterwards. He tries to remind his mothers that he hardly needs the escort to and from, but they both ignore him.
He just barely manages to stop himself from rolling his eyes at this.
"Ready to go?" Emma asks as she takes the plate of food (a tightly made extra burrito loaded up with potatoes, eggs and bacon) from Regina – Henry had wondered about that, and finds it amusing that Emma doesn't – and wolfs it down while standing next to the counter, nodding her head in appreciation of it.
Emma doesn't know the significance of the Monday morning breakfast burritos to Regina and Henry, but there's a kind of significance, Henry thinks, in that Regina is now (reluctantly, he knows, no matter how well she's hiding it) sharing this breakfast of theirs with Emma without making a big deal of it (or explaining the why of it).
It's not exactly inviting her into their private moments, but it's not a closed door, either.
"Yep." He looks over at Regina. "You good? Are you going into the office?"
"Why wouldn't she be?" Emma queries, frowning slightly. "Everything okay?"
Regina sighs in poorly hidden annoyance. "Everything is fine. And yes, I'm going in for a quick meeting, but I'll be out of it in time to pick you up from school."
"If you have to," he grumbles, and then shakes his head. He's still getting used to going to a school in Storybrooke that teaches the history of the Enchanted Forest as well as the lessons of the Civil War. It's an adjustment to be schooling with kids that see him as someone special as opposed to just ordinary Henry.
Even a month into the whole return to Storybrooke, he's still adapting to things.
But what he doesn't like about losing his ordinary way of life isn't nearly as important as these moments when he gets to watch one of his mothers teasingly scold the other one on the lack of class involved with eating while standing up.
He grabs his backpack and then up and kisses Regina on the cheek. "See you this afternoon," he says.
She smiles at him, takes the plate from Emma and then waves them both away.
She doesn't see the look of concern Henry tosses her way just before the door closes behind he and Emma; for a moment, the pounding in her head gets so strong again that she's not sure she sees or hears anything besides that sound.
When it fades this time, she thinks to herself that she really does need to talk to Victor about these headaches. She dismisses this idea quickly enough, though; she of all people knows how dangerous showing any sign of vulnerability and weakness can be. Even if her days of being the Evil Queen are behind her now.
No, it's far best to handle these silly headaches herself. As she always has.
So she pops two Tylenol – realizing that the bottle is empty thanks to her taking so many over the last few days (she makes a mental note to get more before picking Henry up) then washes it down with water, and gets ready for work.
The next headache - this one worse than the one from the morning or the mild one she'd felt during much of the meeting - hits her while she's in the middle of the grocery store later that afternoon. It feel like thunder going off in her head, and is just as blinding as the one that had struck her in the middle of her kitchen, but this time pain is terrible enough that she wonders - as she desperately fumbles for something (anything) to grab onto - if her skull is actually exploding.
She feels a hand on her elbow a few moments after the intense pain begins, and then someone - a man, she thinks - is lowering her to the ground, helping her to sit down which is probably good considering how her knees are buckling.
The man - Archie, some distant voice tells her - is talking to her as well (he's saying her name over and over and telling her to breathe), but she can't really hear or comprehend anything over the pounding of blood in her ears and the thunderous agony that's raging through her brain like a wildfire gone mad.
Somewhere along the way, her head finally starts to hurt a little bit less, but mostly because she just kind of fades out of everything. She might even lose consciousness for a few moments, but she's not really sure. She somewhat feels like she's right next to the surface of awareness and lucidity but she's not above or beneath the dividing veil enough for it to really matter where she is or isn't.
The next thing she's cognizant of is the sound of other voices besides Archie's.
One in particular: Emma Swan.
"Regina," she hears as two soft hands touch her (she thinks it strange how freely Emma has always touched her; an admittedly odd thing to be considering as her skull feels like it's trying to come apart). "It's me. It's Emma. Can you hear me?"
She blinks and tries to swallow. Her vision slowly begins to clear enough for her to realize that she's flat on her back on the ground. In the middle of a store.
She hears Emma say – presumably to Archie - "Call for an ambulance."
"No," Regina gasps and then once again wills herself through the haze. It clears a bit more, but her vision is still foggy - almost double. Good enough, though.
"Hey, there you are," Emma says gently, her eyes and her smile so warm. Her hands are still on each side of Regina's face, gentle but firm against her skin.
"No hospital," Regina grits out, wincing even though she tries not to. There's no point in trying to hide how much pain she's in, though; it's clearly considerable.
"Regina, I really think you should go and get checked out," Archie tells her, his voice soft. She notices that he's sitting right next to her, and then notices that his jacket is beneath her head. "You nearly - you may have - passed out."
"He's right," Emma echoes, removing her hands from Regina's face, and sliding them down to check her pulse (she doesn't bother to protest this caretaking measure that would usually get at least a snappy comment worries Emma more than a little). "Henry told me you had a bit of an incident this morning as well."
"It's just a headache; I'm fine," Regina insists, and then tries to stand.
The moment she does manage to get to her feet, the pain returns but it's so much worse than that. It's the worst agony that she's ever felt in her life and considering the terrible things she's been through, that's saying something.
She cries out as the thunder starts again. Her last completely conscious thought is hoping that Henry knows – and will always know - how much she loves him.
Someone – Emma, she'll find out later – keeps her from hitting the ground.
"What do you need me to do?" Archie asks as he watches the sheriff climb into the back of the ambulance with the medics and Regina; Regina appears to be – thankfully – at least somewhat conscious, turning her head from side to side, but she's clearly lost her tenuous connection to what's going on around her again.
"Call my parents," Emma replies. "Have them pick up Henry and bring him to the hospital." She shakes her head. "I probably shouldn't do that, right? I should probably until we know she's going to be okay before bringing him in, yeah?"
"He should be there," Archie says gravely, his brow furrowed. He doesn't need to understand neurology to know that something quite serious is occurring.
Regina is in serious jeopardy right now.
It might not be possible to tell Henry that his mother is going to be okay because there's a very real possibility, Archie thinks grimly, that she won't be.
Emma nods, then settles back as the medic next to Regina's stretcher signals for the driver to get moving; the doors slam shut with a disturbing finality.
Emma is pacing anxious agitated circles around the waiting area when the doors burst open to reveal her parents and her son. She offers them a small smile and then puts up her hands to stall their questions. "I don't know anything. Not yet."
"Nothing?" David presses.
"I haven't seen anyone since they took her back to the Operating Room."
"Operating Room," Henry repeats, his eyes wide and scared. "It's that bad?"
Emma doesn't reply, just opens her arms and lets her son rush into them.
It's selfish, she knows, but these are the times when she almost wishes that they'd never come back to Storybrooke. These are the times when she wishes that neither she nor Henry knew about this town and the loved ones within in.
But they do know, and they can't pretend otherwise.
Henry wouldn't want to do so, anyway.
She's not sure she would, either.
But damn would it be easier if they could.
It seems like it's much later in the afternoon – almost evening – before the doors swing open (finally) and Victor emerges, looking tired, but smiling slightly.
"All right," he says. "So far, so good."
"What does that mean? What's wrong with my mom?" Henry demands as he steps in front of the rest of his family. His gaze is even and strong, and even Victor who isn't usually awed by things such as thing finds himself impressed.
"What it means is that Regina is suffering from what's called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The good news is that when she was admitted, she was still mostly conscious, and she scored very fairly well on the major risk tests so it's not as bad as it could be, but I won't lie to you: her condition is still extremely serious."
"Which means what?" Emma presses, echoing her son's question. Snow and David are standing right behind, baby Neal clutched against Snow's chest. He's fidgety and anxious, reacting to the stress and fear that's flowing off his parents.
"In simple terms? It means that there's bleeding between the brain and the tissues that surround it. It's quite often caused by severe trauma. Of which - if I'm not mistaken - Regina has seen quite a bit of lately. Between the incident at the Clocktower, her getting knocked out for several minutes out the docks and then again here at the hospital, it's really not a surprise that this occurred."
"Not to mention what happened at the house with her mother," Snow notes.
"She lost consciousness then, too?" Emma asks, frowning as she thinks back to that night. She'd returned to the house at the end of things, entering just in time to see Regina using her magic to fight off Cora's ghost. She'd been dealing with her own issues and fears and had never thought to ask her mother about what had gone down before she'd come back; apparently, more than she'd realized.
"At least once. Maybe twice. I'm not sure."
"Unfortunately," Victor says, "My point exactly. She suffered four major head traumas within an extraordinarily short amount of time. And now here we are."
"Okay. What can you do about it?" Snow asks quietly, rocking her son gently.
Whale looks over at Henry, his eyebrow raised like he's unsure if he should say the frightening things that he's going to need to say around Regina's son.
"Tell me," Henry demands. "What are you going to do to help my mom?"
He waits until Emma's hand settles on Henry's shoulder and her fingers squeeze down to offer him some kind of comfort and then Victor says, "Here's my plan."
They end up doing something called "coiling". It's horrifying sounding, and while Regina is going through it, Emma's reading up on it - and sharing her findings with Snow who handed Neal over to Granny for the afternoon for fear that she'll drop him - just so that she understands the risks that they're dealing with. They're extreme and varied, and every new article just worries her more.
In the end, though, all they can do is wait and hope for the best.
Hope that the survivor in Regina - the thing that had made her keep getting up after every time that she's been pushed down - will fight back once more.
Henry's sound asleep against Emma's lap when Victor comes out and sits down across from she and Snow (David had been called out to check on a domestic disturbance across town). He tells them that the surgery had been a success, and that he's cautiously optimistic, but with things like this, you just never know.
They're not the words that anyone wants to hear.
It's unimaginable that a woman so much bigger than life itself – a woman who had once been so spectacular and grandiose that she had been known as the Evil Queen – could succumb to something as simplistic as a head injury.
It's unimaginable so they refuse to imagine it.
If only it were ever so easy, Emma thinks as she runs her hand through Henry's hair and thinks about how Regina had picked out all of the clothes he's wearing.
Six months ago, she had believed that she had been the one to do that.
Now she knows better.
Now she knows (well, she's always known) that things are never so easy.
Still, when Victor reminds them all that Regina is strong and stubborn and not likely to give up, and when her mother smiles and adds in that Regina doesn't know how to do anything except fight back, Emma finds herself nodding along.
Nodding and hoping to God that both Victor and Snow are right about Regina.
She thinks about breakfast burritos and memories of a perfect life.
And realizes that she needs Regina to survive for more than just Henry.
They induce a coma to give Regina's brain a chance to heal without extra stress; there's significant risk attached (the possibility of her never waking up is there) but Victor is insistent that this step gives her the best chance for survival.
Emma corners him in the hallway just before he disappears and makes him promise that this isn't some kind of sick revenge. He tells her that he will hate Regina until his dying day, but that for once, his interest in science overrides his personal feelings; he admits that he has no care if Regina lives or dies, but he wants to be able to say that he brought someone back from the brink of this.
It's not much, and it's actually kind of disturbing, but it's oddly still enough.
"Hey," Emma says softly as she drops down into a chair next to the bed. "You probably already know this – I mean, of course you do – but your kid just left the room for the first time today – because I made him go get something to eat. And my mom, well she was in here for a few minutes before that. They're both crazy worried about you, Regina." She studies the unconscious woman for a few moments, marveling at both the stillness and the unsettling smallness of her.
The machines beep out her vital signs – strong and steady – nearby.
"We all are," she finished. "Worried, I mean. So you need to wake up, okay?"
The machines keep beeping away.
"You know the school is about to hold it's first ever boy-girl dance? I'm pretty sure you want to be a part of that. I mean it'll just be a bunch of awkward pre-teens standing around and not knowing how to talk to each other, but I figure it's our right and even our job to embarrass the hell out of our kid, yeah?"
Beep. Beep. Beep.
"Yeah, it is. So you keep healing in there or doing whatever you need to do, and when the time comes and they pull you out, you better be ready to wake up."
She runs a hand over her face and sighs.
And thinks about how much she both loves and hates the sound of beeping.
They're warned repeatedly over the next few days while Regina sleeps that what the former queen had collapsed from is extremely serious and that many come out of it with severe complications and/or handicaps. Not all, Victor tells them, but enough so that they should prepare themselves for the reality of such.
Henry ignores him entirely, and says he doesn't care.
He doesn't give a damn what state she returns to him in.
He just wants her to wake up and come back to him.
It's about a week later when Victor finally tells them that he thinks that Regina has stabilized enough that they can try to bring her out of the induced coma. He cautions that she's unlikely to wake up immediately – if at all, he cautions Emma and Snow and David privately - so they likely need to be just a bit more patient.
Emma asks him how things look, if what he's seeing bodes well for Regina's long-term recovery from this. He shrugs and replies, "It's too early to tell."
That's not nearly good enough, but it's all they have.
There are beds for Henry and Emma (and David and Snow occasionally, depending on who needs to work the Sheriff's station and who is at home with the baby) in Regina's private hospital room. Initially, Emma had tried to convince Henry to sleep at the apartment or even at the house, but he'd flat out refused to leave Regina and told her that this wasn't a fight that she could possibly win.
It's late one night when it's so very quiet that Henry asks, "Is this my fault?"
Emma looks over at him, frowning. "Why would you think that?"
"She was trying to protect me. At the docks and at the hospital."
"She's your mom, kid. Just like me. We'd do anything for you. You know that."
"Not this. I never wanted…I never wanted her to be hurt for me. All those times when I was so angry at her and I just wanted her to go away and…I don't."
"She knows I love her, right?"
"Pretty sure that whole True Love Kiss confirmed that for her."
"Yeah," he says, swallowing hard.
"Hey, your mom is tough. Whatever Whale thinks will happen - however he thinks she's going to wake up - we know he's wrong. He's been warning us every step of the way and every step of the way, Regina has been pushing her way through like the badass Queen she is. She's not about to stop doing that now."
"You're not supposed to tell me that," Henry notes. "You're supposed to be preparing me for the worst in case she wakes up not remembering me."
His face contorts when he says this and for a moment looks like he might cry.
Because he's thinking about how he didn't remember her.
He's thinking about a walk around a pond and how she'd looked at him with such sadness and hurt in her eyes, and he hadn't even noticed it at the time.
"You're right, and if it was anyone else but Regina chilling out in that bed right now, I probably would be telling you that," Emma admits. "But it's not."
"So she's going to be okay?"
Emma knows better.
She really does.
Don't make promises that you don't know that you can absolutely keep.
But Henry is looking at her with big green eyes and he's so very scared.
He's looking scared and young, and Regina would want her to protect him.
That's what Regina would want from her right now.
So that's what she does; she smiles and nods and says, "Oh, yeah."
And then she looks over at Regina and thinks, "please don't make a liar of me."
Regina finally wakes up about two days after their conversation, her dark glassy eyes opening and blinking repeatedly before closing again as she exhales.
Emma sees this and grins down at her, "Welcome back, Your Majesty."
The first good sign comes almost immediately; within seconds of her regaining consciousness, Regina shows recognition of Henry, his name coming out in a gasped whisper. She coughs and finds his eyes, and though she has no idea what's going on, she's immediately seeking to reassure her scared son.
He's crying, she notices, and she has no idea why.
Her hand moves out towards him - takes perhaps a moment longer than it should - but then his fingers are grasping hers tightly and she sighs in relief.
Emma does as well, though for an entirely different reason.
Her first few days after regaining consciousness pass in a swirl of tests and questions about what she remembers and doesn't remember. She sleeps far more than she would prefer to considering how confusion over what's going on, but she can't seem to fight off the exhaustion that is bearing down on her.
It's Henry and Emma and Snow being nearby – so protectively close – that convinces her to stop battling just for the sake of doing so and allow herself to rest even if only for a moment. It's the feeling of not being alone that allows her to let down her defenses and close her eyes when the fatigue overwhelms her.
The entire Charming family is in the room with her - Henry is sitting on the bed next to her, his hand still in hers - when Victor explains what had happened to her (and why) and what her recovery will look like. He tells her that while things so far look very promising overall, she should expect a great deal of fatigue, possible anxiety and depression and even headaches for the rest of her life.
She laughs when he says these things – all of them in a matter of fact voice like he's casually ticking things off a grocery list - and asks him what's the difference.
Her honesty – her willingness to speak of some of the dark demons within her troubled mind - unsettles everyone, but then she rolls her eyes and tells them to relax; she tells them they're worrying over nothing. She says that she's okay – that she's better than okay now that she's no longer sleeping twenty hours a day - and that while she respects Victor's professional opinion, he's mistaken if he believes that she will suffer from any long-term complications. She's just fine.
Henry reminds her - his voice quiet and scared in a way that makes her feel like she's let him down in a terrible way - that she'd said that in the kitchen as well. He reminds her that she'd almost left him after promising him she never would.
She doesn't have an answer for that.
She realizes that though it might be easier, she can't lie to him anymore.
Thankfully, Emma comes to her rescue when the words dry on her lips and her eyes are wet with fear. Emma smiles that large one that she has, the one that isn't quite real but is trying so hard to be strong and brave. "Yeah, but that was then, kid," she tells him. "Now your mom is in our hands. We've got this."
Then she looks over at Regina and this smile is far more honest and true.
And relieved because her once enemy appears to have survived once again.
Regina returns the smile and nods slightly.
Gratitude and amazement.
She thinks that one of these days; she'll learn to stop underestimating Emma.
Right now, she's mostly just glad that she'll have tomorrow to try to do that.
Within the first few days after Regina wakes up, it's realized that they have a problem on their hands: Regina can't seem to remember (or figure out – she doesn't quite know how to explain what's happening and Victor's explanations are like technobabble to her) how to get her legs working (she can feel her legs, but they're kind of like rubber to her and they don't seem to want to cooperate at all), and there's a fear of deeper neurological damage having been done. More scans are done, and Emma thinks that she's never seen Regina more afraid; Snow says quietly that she has, and looks devastated by this admission.
Emma thinks to push Snow on this but then she hears Regina laughing and her eyes are pulled away from her mother and towards her son and his mother; Henry's telling Regina a story about one of Emma's escapades in New York, and though the terror is still plain on Regina's face, her smile is just as authentic.
Henry is her lifeline; Emma knows the feeling well.
She waits for a few minutes – lets mother and son have this time – and then steps into the room and says, "For the record, he's telling the story wrong."
"Is he now?" Regina drawls, her eyebrow lifting slightly. "How's that?"
"Yeah," Emma glares over at Henry, but she's just teasing him. "I didn't fall into the water. I jumped into the water to stop the guy who stole my kids' scooter."
"Of course, you did."
Emma offers her a thin smile, and then says to Henry, "Kid, I need coffee."
"Yeah. I'm uncaffeinated."
"You want me to leave the room so you can talk about bad stuff," he states.
"Henry," Regina says gently, her fingers picking at the threads of her blanket.
"Okay, sure. But I'm not a little boy." He looks pointedly at both of them, and then turns and leaves the room, meeting his grandmother just outside of it.
"He's not," Regina says softly.
"I know, but –"
"You have bad news?"
"I don't have any news."
"But we both know there could be bad news coming, don't we?"
"Yeah. Mostly, though, I just wanted to see how you're holding up."
"I'm not a child, either, Emma."
"I'd be scared out of my fucking mind," Emma admits.
She thinks that she's about to be scolded for her rough use of language.
It's what she's aiming for.
Instead, Regina simply says, "Yes." She picks at the blanket again, and then seems to realize what she's doing and pulls her hand away. "That's about right."
It scares Emma more than she would care to admit.
She sits down in the chair next to Regina and sighs, "We'll know soon."
Regina swallows and then starts out with, "Will you…" she stops, and looks down at her hands, for a moment seeming like she might break down in tears.
She doesn't, though; she stays strong. At least that's what she tells herself.
Emma doesn't need her to actually ask the question she'd been trying to ask anyway; "Yeah," the sheriff says with a faint smile as she reaches for Regina's hand, holding it just long enough to give it a reassuring squeeze that seems to allow Regina to find breath once again. "I'll stay with you."
Victor comes into the room not long after Snow takes Henry to get coffee.
"Your results are back," he says. "The good news is that I didn't see anything on the scans that suggests that you won't be able to make a fairly strong recovery."
It's not the same as full, Emma thinks, but it's still something.
"And the bad news?" Regina prompts, frowning at his choice of words.
"You already know the bad news, Regina," Victor replies, his voice cool. "Your road back is going to be long and difficult. Especially for you. You're really going to have to be patient. Both with the healing process and with yourself."
"She'll have help," Emma assures him and then looks at Regina. "You will."
"Good," Victor nods, then looks at Regina. "Because you're going to need it."
Regina purses her lips and drops her head back against her pillow.
And wills herself once again not to break down in tears.
It doesn't work nearly as well this time.
But at least both Victor and Emma are out of the room before she does.
They don't go that far; in fact, they're just outside of the door discussing what the next steps might be (physical therapy at the very least), and it is killing Emma not to turn back around and try to offer Regina some kind of comfort.
But this isn't yet the time for that; Regina still has her pride.
For now – especially right now – that needs to be respected.
It's not like Storybrooke has a physical therapy department at the hospital; Regina figures it rather lucky that she'd given Victor the ability to perform neurosurgery but this kind of pre-planning had been beyond her foresight, and so it falls to Emma and Snow and Archie and Victor to develop a plan for her.
She tells them – when they show her what their plan is (it involves teaching her to walk again and helping her to regain the flexibility and muscle control that had been lost thanks to her head injury) that she thinks they threw darts at a wall to create it, but one night when she wakes up, she sees Emma's face illuminated by her laptop, medical journals up on the screen, her lip caught between her teeth as she tries to understand something that's clearly over her head.
But she's trying.
And that's when it finally hits her – that's when she realizes - that Emma hadn't been lying when she'd promised Regina she wouldn't have to do this alone.
She says Emma's name softly, and when her former enemy turns to face her, she meets the sheriff's curious eyes and says in a trembling voice, "Thank you."
Emma just nods her head and smiles.
"It's kind of interesting stuff," Emma says as she approaches the bed, and it's her way of defusing a heavy moment that's almost too much both of them.
Regina sighs in relief and replies, "Show me."
She's a former Evil Queen doing physical therapy.
She's wearing sneakers and sweatpants and they're hideously ugly.
She hates everyone.
Herself most of all.
But then there's Henry and Emma and Snow and even David, and they're all there (not all at the same time, thankfully) for every single one of her sessions with Archie (who had been given the job because he's the most patient and least likely to have Regina threaten to destroy his happiness every time she falls to the ground because her legs refuse to hold her up) without fail and it's so disturbingly hard not to have some hope because they have so much of it.
She thinks that she really is becoming part of this horrible family.
And finds herself snarling in disgust when she realizes she doesn't hate it as much as she once did.
Or really at all.
The next several weeks pass slowly, but she's getting better and better as they do. To the point where they plan to let her finally go home soon; Emma will need to stay with her for awhile (there's no way that Henry will leave her with someone else - not there's a lot of people volunteering for that job - but neither one of his mothers is okay with their son taking care of Regina all by himself), but the prognosis for a recovery and for her to eventually regain full and normal use of her legs is quite good; she's already shown significant progress there.
Just before she leaves the hospital, she pulls Victor aside and asks in a voice meant to keep them from being overheard, "My magic? I still can't feel it. I thought maybe I just couldn't because my head was a mess, but I'm doing much better now, and I still can't touch it. I haven't lost it, have I?" It's probably a strange question to be asking a man of science and medicine, but he's been staring at scans of her brain for several months now, and well, maybe he'll know.
Or maybe he'll sneer at her and –
"I don't think it can ever be gone," Victor reassures her, his eyes a bit too curious for her liking. "But you had what was essentially a stroke. It may have temporarily cut your magic off from you He chuckles, then. "It's hard to theorize, about though; there's not exactly medical studies on head injuries and magic."
"No," she allows with a resigned sigh. "I suppose there wouldn't be."
"For what it's worth, though," he tells her. "I would refrain from even trying to use or access your magic until you're honestly feeling back to your old self; it's not worth the risk." He tilts his head a bit, "In my medical opinion, of course."
She's never liked this man and never will, but he's right about this much at least.
She thanks him (which he seems surprised by) and then, with a sigh, settles back against the bed, waiting for Emma and Henry and Snow and David to return with the wheelchair that the hospital demands that she be in when she leaves.
Finally leaves, she thinks.
And then reminds herself that she's survived.
Will always survive.
It's humiliating to have to be helped up the stairs by her former stepdaughter and her son's other mother, but the trip home has made her tired, and she figures after collapsing in a grocery store and being helped through weeks of falling down onto a mat over and over, being assisted in her house where no one but the people who know her best can see her is a small thing indeed.
"You good?" Emma asks once she's comfortably reclined against a thick stack of pillows, and Snow has left the room to warm her up a cup of green tea.
"I'm not broken," she reminds Emma. "Especially not here in my own house."
"I know, but it's okay to let me and the kid take care of you for a while, yeah?"
"I still think you have other things you'd prefer to be doing."
"Prefer? Sure. I'd love a long weekend where I do nothing besides sleep and eat pizza and drink beer, but since that's not really my life or yours anymore, I'm not really all that worried about it. As for the other part of what you're saying, no there's nowhere else that's more important to be than right here right now."
"Because of Henry?"
"Because you scared the hell out of me – and yeah him, too – when you passed out and they told us that you were bleeding and might not make it through. And because I like to think that we were becoming friends and we are friends now."
Regina meets her eyes, then nods before finally saying. "I did make it, though."
"Yeah, and I intend to ensure that you make a full recovery."
"We all do," Snow says as she steps back into the room, a cup in her hand.
"You people are insufferable," Regina mutters because it's the only thing she can do to keep her emotions from overwhelming her; after so many years of not having anyone ever take care of her, it's almost unsettling to have all of this.
But she does.
Having Henry at home full-time again is a delight - except for the worry she sees in his eyes every time she winces or stumbles as she walks - but it's not as easy to get used to Emma's presence around the house. They're different people entirely, and they live a different way. Their relationship before the "incident" had been growing and evolving but now it's suddenly become something more.
As Emma had said and as she had realized, they've become actual friends.
Perhaps even more than that.
Which is fantastic, but well, everything is an adjustment these days.
Including the medications (which had been so much easier to deal with at the hospital) and the fear that grips her every single time her head hurts or her legs wobble or the words come slower to her than they used to; when Henry notices, she sees the panic in his eyes and she always rushes to calm her son, but it's harder than she would like it to be because she's also struggling to calm herself.
Emma helps with that.
Emma talks to her and sits with her whenever things get scary and weird. Every time her body refuses to cooperate, Emma is there (or not there if it's one of those oddly increasingly rare days when she just needs space) to just listen.
Sometimes they play cards or chess or even Connect Four. Sometimes, they don't speak at all; it's not about the words, but the comfort of not being alone.
And sometimes when she's feeling down and the shadows are closing in on her and reminding her what she's no longer capable of doing (at least for the time being), Emma urges Regina to cook dinner for them, and it has nothing to do with wanting food and everything to do with feeling normal once again.
She reminds herself that this is all temporary. She tells herself that before long she'll be back up on her feet completely and behind her desk being the Mayor.
She'll regain access to her magic, and she'll be as strong as ever. A few little concussions - that's what she keeps insisting that the head injuries were even though she knows better - aren't what's going to be what ever takes her down.
She does find it interesting and strange that she doesn't really remember any of the falls anymore - not entirely. She thinks she can recall hearing glass shattering as she'd fallen through the face of the Clocktower, and she remembers kissing Henry's forehead in the boathouse, but after that, everything else is just gone.
It's better that way, she tells herself.
Because all that actually matters is that she had protected her son.
So when Emma sits down beside her on the couch one night and asks her to tell a story about Henry growing up - this is as much for her as it is for Emma; it's a memory exercise that Whale had suggested to keep her sharp - she smiles and she nods and she thinks that what's gone isn't nearly as important as what's not.
Three months after she's back home and about a month after she's regained most of the movement in her legs (there are still days when it feels like her mind gets a bit confused and she's hit with what can best be described as a bad case of vertigo), she's finally allowed to return to being the Mayor (oh, how it chafes her to have to get permission from others to do anything but especially this). For the time being, she's working four hours a day from the house, and it's mostly just paperwork. It's rather aggravating really, because she finds that she has to focus more than she used to, but still, it's a return to order and that feels good.
If not to the town, then to herself.
"Hi, Mom," Henry says stepping into her office. "You busy?"
She looks up and smiles warmly at him. "Never too busy for you." She puts the pen she'd been holding down, and tries not to notice how differently she holds it these days; not a big deal, certainly, but one of the many changes she's seen.
Yes, one of many.
Including the red leather jacket that is slung over the back of the chair that Henry is now dropping himself into with a heavy thump; Emma had left it there the night before when they'd been in here talking about the terrible day at work she'd had thanks to a bunch of punk teenagers in the town causing her trouble.
That conversation had ended when a massive headache had come on suddenly.
She hadn't even bothered arguing with Emma when the sheriff had wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her up to her room, staying with her until she'd finally fallen asleep. And then likely for a good long while after that as well.
"Cool," Henry says, bringing her attention back to him and away from his birth mother. She notices his hair is getting long and desperately needs to be cut.
"Henry," she prompts after a moment. "What's bothering you?"
He swallows and looks up at her, "I know we're all supposed to not worry about what happened or why it did, but I can't…why did you keep putting yourself in the line of fire like that?" he asks. "Why did you keep letting yourself get hurt?"
She frowns. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Why did you keep going after Zelena like that; you knew what would happen."
"Oh. Sweetheart, it's not that simple. It's not like I was trying to -"
"You've been hurt so many times."
"I have," she admits, her voice tight because if he only knew the whole truth.
He'll never know.
"I remember you walking towards your sister at the boathouse," he says. "And I remember you getting thrown and hitting the ground and the way it sounded when your head connected. And I'd just gotten you back and…" he trails off.
"And then I was coming out of the storage room with Archie and you were unconscious on the ground and all I kept thinking was 'please be okay' and then you were and I thought everything would be okay, but you weren't okay."
"But I am. Honey, I am."
"Now. But what about tomorrow?"
"I'm not going to be fighting off any super-villains tomorrow," she assures him.
"You have to stop," he insists, seeming almost angry.
"Stop putting yourself in the line of fire like that. Both of you have to stop."
"Come here," she says. When he tilts his head in confusion, she repeats it.
He stands up slowly and comes around the desk so that he's standing over her, almost even towering over her. She smiles up at him, tears in her dark eyes, and then she reaches for him, placing a palm on either side of his face. "I will never stop protecting you," she tells him. "I don't care what it means for me -"
"It's my job, Henry. As your mother. I would do anything for you." She lightly brushes thick hair away from his eyes and then away from his forehead.
"I don't want to lose you and before you say I won't, I almost did. I read all the medical stuff Emma had - like fifty percent of cases like yours end up dead."
"I didn't. I keep having to remind people that I'm still here, but I am."
"I know, but you almost weren't."
"What do you want me to say here, Henry? Because if you want me to promise you that I won't do whatever I need to do in order to keep you safe -"
"I know," Henry allows with a loud exasperated sigh. "I'm just saying that maybe you could be a little bit less awesome and badass from time to time, okay?"
She laughs at that and earns a not quite convincing scowl from him in response.
"And here I thought you liked the idea of me being a hero," she teases.
He shakes his head. "Not if it means you're not here with me. With us." He nods, then. "That's my rule, Mom. That's our rule from now on. Safe heroism."
"Is there such a thing?"
"There needs to be. Because I want you to teach me to drive. It has to be you because Emma drives…she's the worst. If you let her be the one to teach me – or let Grandpa give me more lessons like the last ones – we both know that I'm going to end up taking out Pongo or something. So you have to promise me."
She meets his eyes. "I promise you," she says. "I will be there for that." She grins, then as she leans towards him and whispers, "For Pongo."
He laughs. "For Pongo."
They enjoy the moment and then she says, "Are we okay?"
"Yeah," he confirms with a smile. Then, looking at her paperwork. "Can you blow this stuff off? It's a nice day out, and there are ducks to be fed."
She winks at him, then puts her hand on the armrest of the chair, squeezes it for support and stands up. "I think, my little prince, that that's a fantastic idea."
Emma has scotch and she has tea out on the back patio that night; she hasn't been able to drink alcohol since the incident (Emma chuckles every time she calls it that because apparently when your brain tries to explode, you're not really supposed to downplay it into something insignificant). It's harder than she had expected because liquor has played a constant role in her life for close to five decades now, but well, she's getting used to all sorts of new things now.
Like the fact that she once again can feel her magic in her fingers. It's slow and sleepy, but it's there nonetheless and while magic has always been a danger for her, that she can feel it now is a relief because it means she really is healing.
Maybe soon, she won't need Emma to live with her, anymore.
Strange how she's not looking forward to the day when Emma's not.
"Feeling it again?" Emma asks between sips, her eyes on Regina's hands.
"A little bit," There's a pause and then, "I think I really scared him."
"Henry. When I…when it happened."
"Oh. Yeah, you did. Us, too," Emma notes as she puts the glass down and turns to face Regina. "Me, too. And my mom, she couldn't have handled losing you."
"I thought they were just headaches. I thought that I could handle them."
"You're not the only one who should have been concerned; I was there when you went through the Clocktower and when you hit the deck at the Boathouse. I remember thinking that you must have been made of Teflon or something."
"No," Regina says quietly.
"No," Emma echoes.
There's a long pause where all they can hear is the grasshoppers, and then Regina says quietly, "I don't think I've thanked you for staying with me."
"I know you'd prefer I wasn't here."
"Only in the morning when you use up all of the hot water."
Emma chuckles and smirks, like she knows that there's more to it than that.
"Actually, though, it's been nice to have someone to talk to," Regina admits carefully, and then she frowns because that's more honesty than she's used to.
But Emma just nods her head and replies, "For me, too. And for what it's worth, because we've never talked about this and probably should have months ago, I'm sorry and thank you. I'm sorry for what I was considering doing as far as New York and I'm thankful for you giving me eleven years of amazing memories. You didn't have to do what you did, but you did and I will never forget that."
"You were happy?" Regina asks, her voice curiously light. "Really happy?"
"We were. But he's happier here."
"Even like this?"
Emma smiles. "Yeah, maybe especially like this; he's with his whole family here and I don't think anything else in the world matters as much as that does."
"No," Regina admits. "I guess it doesn't. But what about you, Emma? Do you still wish that you were back in New York? Living a simple fairytale-less life?"
"Nah. I'm pretty much over it now. I miss the street vendors and the absolutely crazy-ass people-watching, but I've kind of fallen in love with the little runt -"
"Yeah. And maybe the kid was right, and I'm finally realizing it: it's all about family." She shakes her head like she's amazed that it took her so long.
"Indeed," Regina says, dropping her head back against the chair cushions. "I promised him earlier today that I'll be around to teach him how to drive."
"Then I guess you'd better plan to be."
Regina hums in response.
Emma down the rest of her scotch and then stands, a hand lightly settling on Regina's shoulder. "You need help upstairs?"
"No, I've got it. I'm just going to stay out here for a little while longer."
"It is a beautiful night," Emma agrees with a small smile, and she then turns and disappears into the house, leaving the former queen to gaze up at the stars.
Even as her recovery continues and her body grows stronger and stronger, she continues to struggle with the medications; they're many and varied, and though she knows that they're helping to glue her mind back together, they make her feel as though she's not quite herself anymore. Just looking down at them is a chore for her, and she has to force herself not to snarl at the pills in the cup.
"Mom?" she hears Henry say from the doorway of her bedroom. "You okay?"
She sighs; she's come to truly detest that question. "I'm fine, Henry."
"I am," she admits, and wonders why she's telling him the truth about this.
"Because of the pills?" he asks, and she remembers that that's why; he's growing up so quickly, her little boy. He sees things that he didn't use to.
He knows her better than he used to.
"If it were me," he pushes as he steps towards her and then puts his head on her shoulder – she startles at this because when did he become capable of doing such – and continues with, "What would you tell me to think about?"
"I would tell you to remember that these are helping to keep you here."
"With my family," Henry nods. "With yours. With me and Emma."
She turns and looks at him. "Emma?"
"You like her being around."
"About as much as I like these pills," she grumbles.
Henry grins. "She told me you surprised her. Said you like her here."
Regina groans. "She really is Charming."
He shrugs his shoulders. "I hate that you were hurt. I don't ever want you hurt, but I'm not sorry that it's brought the two people I love the most together."
Her eyebrow jumps upwards. "Together? Henry –"
He reaches over her and picks up the glass of water and tiny paper cup full of pills and and then pushes both of them into her hands. "Bottoms up, Mom."
She sighs. "It won't be like this forever," she promises him. "I always recover."
"You are recovering," he reminds her. "And I don't care if it is like this forever."
"I know." He hugs her tight and then steps back. "Time for school." He scowls when he says this, and it's a reminder that he's still just a young boy.
"What do you want for dinner?" she asks, because it's safe ground for them and helps her not to think about how accepting her son is of her these days, and just how good that feels even though she herself doesn't feel as good as she had.
But that's a lie, isn't it?
Even when her head had been strong and her legs stronger, she'd felt weak in the middle of her chest. Her heart had felt raw and burnt and cold and exposed.
Now her heart is so much warmer, and she finds that despite everything that has happened, she's actually somewhat happy even as she's sad that this is what it took to get here. But then, perhaps there's a question there. What had it truly taken? What was it that had brought her son back to her? Was it life or death?
Had it been her putting her life on the line to save him or had it been her nearly dying that had made him want to hold onto her as much as she holds to him?
And what of Emma?
She's accepted the idea that Emma is here with her out of some misplaced sense of responsibility and perhaps even some kind of friendship, but what if there is more to it than that? What if Emma, too, truly does want to be here?
She blames her head and the pills for these strange thoughts even as she stares as the little paper cup that's still full of her daily medications. It's a good excuse.
It's all she has to explain why she doesn't actually care why they're here with her.
She only cares that they are.
She swallows the pills, washes them down with water, and then heads down the stairs to begin her day as the homebound but still feared Mayor of Storybrooke.
That's what she tells herself.
She wonders when she'll be able to stop feeling like she needs to do that.
The seasons turn and Regina continues her agonizingly slow forward progress. She has good days and bad ones (the bad ones are almost always caused by a strange and unsettling inability to focus or to remember what she was doing even minutes earlier), but Victor is insistent that she's getting better steadily.
Life is simple around the house even on the bad days (which is unsettling in and of itself; Emma and Henry have learned what to look for and how to respond to it, and often, they're ahead of her on ensuring that bad doesn't turn into terrible), and a kind of comfortable routine kicks in when she finally realizes that neither Henry nor Emma are counting down the days until they can leave her.
Emma has even finally fully unpacked her bags and filled in almost all of the gaps in the closet in the guest room. Which, now that it's full of Emma's clutter and mess and has cotton sheets on the bed instead of the silk ones that had once been there just for show, is really more like her bedroom, anyway.
It's like she's moved in and Regina's oddly okay with that.
They're all okay with that, Regina thinks as she turns the plastic wheel quickly to the left so that she can avoid a turtle shell as it skips towards her (Yoshi's) kart.
When she crosses the finish line a few moments later, Emma is enraged (and cursing in a way that is sure to get her scolded once Regina's done celebrating her inexplicable victory) and Henry is indignant (because he never ever loses at this game) and then they're both laughing and suddenly she's laughing, too.
She meets Emma's dancing eyes with hers and they both laugh even louder.
Because who knew it would take her head trying to explode to find happiness.
That which has been inevitable between she and Emma becomes unavoidable thanks to an extremely bad night that happens in the middle of October. What she's suddenly struck by, well it's not quite a seizure, but it's like her entire body just abruptly refuses to cooperate and for a moment, her legs and her arms feel as though they're paralyzed. She's in the kitchen when it happens and she just collapses, glass shattering everywhere.
Emma is in the room less than a minute after the bowl hits the ground.
Thankfully, Henry is at a friend's for a sleepover, and doesn't have to see this.
Emma rushes her to the hospital, and she spends most of the night under machines and with hands on her. When it's over, Victor tells her that everything is all right, and there are no signs of a relapse; he suggests altering her meds.
She manages to keep herself together until she and Emma gets her back to the house in the morning – they'd somehow convinced a very worried Snow that she didn't need to follow and that there would be nothing that she could do – but once they're in the door and her eyes are on the shattered glass bowl that is still on the kitchen floor, she crumbles because for several moment there, she'd been certain that it had all been over for her – that all of her fighting back and struggling to get better and find happiness and family had been for nothing.
She feels Emma's arms around her, and then their cheeks are touching, and Emma is rocking her and telling her that it's okay and that it's going to be okay.
She reminds Regina that she's going to teach Henry how to drive.
Emma's holding her so tight and promising that everything is going to be all right, and that there's going to be tomorrow and something twists and turns and explodes in the middle of her chest, and then she's the one turning and her lips are on Emma's before either one of them can really figure out what's going on.
Emma kisses her back and not tentatively. No, if anything, Emma is the one who takes the lead, turning Regina around in her arms and deepening the kiss.
For a minute – maybe even two or three – there are just hands and lips and kiss after kiss as they press as close to each other as they possibly can. There is absolutely nothing rational about this, but it doesn't really matter because this is about need and desperation and the fierce desire to feel and be alive. It occurs to Regina somewhere in the back of her mind as she feels Emma's tongue slip into her mouth that perhaps Emma had been just as terrified as she had been.
Perhaps, Emma had been afraid of losing…losing her?
Regina breaks the kiss, and stumbles backwards, trying to get as far away from Emma as she can without being too obvious about it. "I should haven't done that," she stammers out, her eyes wide. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ruin –"
Emma abruptly closes the newly created distance between them and when she's just an inch or so away from Regina, she stops and then reaches out and places a hand on both sides of Regina's face (the former queen remembers this oddly from the day at the grocery store, when all of this had begun) and pulls Regina in towards her so their foreheads are touching. "You didn't," Emma assures her.
"I'm scared," Regina admits and maybe it's a night without sleep or maybe it's the fact that she can still taste Emma on her lips. Either way, the words spill out.
"I know. So am I. But you're here. Right here. You didn't leave us."
"Us?" Regina repeats.
"Us," Emma confirms, and then she's the one leaning in to kiss Regina, the touch so gentle and yet so firm. The desperate frantic need is there again and it's why she's suddenly touching Regina everywhere and being touched back.
They know that this shouldn't happen, but neither of them wants to stop it.
So they don't.
When Henry gets home later that afternoon, Emma takes him into the now cleaned up kitchen ad explains what had happened (as far as the hospital, anyway). He's scared, of course, but Emma is quick to assure him that Regina is doing well, and that this isn't a setback so much as a quick pause in things.
"Why are you telling me this alone?" he asks her, frowning towards the stairs.
"She's sleeping," Emma replies softly. "She had a really long night and a long morning. We both did." It's more complicated than that – and now everything is more complicated than that – but he doesn't need to know the rest of it.
He doesn't need to know that Emma is terrified by how Regina will react to what they had done once she wakes up whenever she wakes up. In total fairness, she herself is more than a little scared because it had been impulsive and desperate but she has no idea what – if anything – it means for them going forward. Does it mean anything? Should it? These are things Henry doesn't need to know of.
"You should have called me," Henry scolds. "I should have been there."
"If it has been serious, you would have," Emma promises.
"I'm not going to lose her, right? Not after all of this?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
Henry tilts his head and looks at her, and she thinks that maybe he knows.
"Shut up, kid," she says before he can voice whatever he thinks he knows.
Because she's not sure she knows it yet so how the hell can he?
"Just be careful," he says. "I can't lose either of you."
"That's not going to happen," Emma insists. "It's not."
Not surprisingly, Regina tries to retreat back to a place of emotional safety almost immediately; she tries to insist that it was a panic driven mistake and that they both know better and should just forget that it had ever happened, and Emma agrees to that but not before she pulls Regina back close and reminds her that she's not going anywhere. It doesn't matter if they're a thing or not or if they're just friends because they're at least that.
"I don't want to hurt you," Regina tells her. "And I hurt everyone I love."
Emma smiles somewhat sadly at that but she's trying so very hard to be upbeat about this because she knows that this is stress that Regina can ill afford during her recovery. "I'm good with friends," she assures Regina. "I'm good with us."
"The most important thing for either one of us has always been family, right?"
"Well you're part of my family. You and Henry and my parents and the runt."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that all I care about is that you're still here."
It's a thundering admission and it's terrifying especially for a woman who has been dismissed and discarded by almost everyone in her life once they'd finished using her. She's not sure when this thing between she and Emma had grown into something that had led to the previous night of passion, but there's no denying now that there's something strong and powerful existing there.
But is it enough to risk everything that they have? This friendship of theirs?
This bit of family that they've carved out.
Regina thinks herself a coward and she hates herself for it, but no, it's not.
So she smiles at Emma with tears in her eyes and let's that be the end of it.
Or so she tells herself.
Deep down, she knows that they're just beginning.
Things are a bit awkward for a week after that, but then they're not; it doesn't take long before Henry is stepping in to seal up the cracks that have formed between his mothers with his kind of optimism and high energy, and as always, he brings them together even when they're finding ways to drift apart. He seems to see things more clearly than they do, but he also knows that they're both too stubborn to be forced into anything that they're not ready to commit to.
So he digs down on how much of a family they all are, and how they've survived everything from Peter Pan to Wicked Witches to massive head injuries together.
He reminds them they've always been stronger together than apart, and always will be, and that being afraid of being together is something no one should be.
And when he passes by Regina's office one night and sees his mothers laughing together while they play a hyper aggressive (and rather rude, he muses) game of checkers, he thinks that there will come a time soon when he won't need to remind them of anything; eventually, they'll figure it all out for themselves.
Emma comes home almost a year after the incident at the grocery store to find a small bonfire in the back yard. Well, okay it's not nearly as small as it should be because Regina's the one who had initiated it, and she rarely does anything without making it into some kind of spectacular show. Thankfully, it's not a full on house fire, though, so Emma supposes that's something. Still, it's worrying.
Until she sees the grin Regina has on her face as she stands above it.
So maybe that's a bit worrying, too.
"Hey," Emma says, stepping beside her. "In the mood for S'mores?"
"Hardly. I was just getting rid of something I no longer have need of."
"Oh? What's – are those your sneakers?"
"They're my rehab sneakers."
"And you're burning them?"
"Victor and Archie believe that I no longer need the three days a week sessions at the hospital, and that I can compensate for them by working out at home."
"Which you still need sneakers for," Emma reminds her.
"But not these sneakers," Regina replies triumphantly, watching the shoes burn.
"Okay. What can I do to help?"
"Hand me the sweatpants," Regina instructs, pointing to a pile of clothes behind her. They'd been the ones she'd worn while in the hospital and during her first weeks at home when everything had been more about convenience than style.
The only reason they're still around right now even though she hasn't even so much as picked up one of the shorts in months is because Regina has always viewed them as a milestone marker; they're something that reminds her of where this terrible and weird (and somewhat fantastic and amazing) journey had begun, but now she's past the need for them and so they get to burn.
"They're not that ugly," Emma comments as she picks the sweatpants up off of the pile of clothes and glances at them. The bottoms of both legs are a bit scuffed up and the color is faded from washing; they're beneath Regina entirely.
"They're hideous. And gray."
Emma laughs. "I think they're actually kind of adorable on you." She winces the moment the words are out of her mouth. "Pretend that I didn't say that."
Regina's eyebrow lifts and her mouth curves into a mischievous smile. "Hand me the sweatpants, Emma. Unless you would like to take them back to your room."
"No, that's okay." She hands the sweatpants over, and tries not to let Regina see the way she reacts when their hands touch; after all, Regina is quite clearly intentionally trying to get a reaction out of her. "So, uh, what's our plan, then?"
"Our plan?" The humor drops away. "Oh, you mean yours for moving out?"
"No, I meant for continuing your rehab here at home. Unless you want me to go, Regina, I wasn't planning to. I'm pretty comfortable and happy right here."
"But you already knew that."
Emma waves her hand as if to dismiss the coming protestations. "Anyway, I think we need to look into getting at least an elliptical for the garage."
"I wouldn't know where to begin," Regina stammers, and then frowns because it's rare that she admits to not already knowing everything about everything.
"Well lucky for both of us, I've been expecting this day to come for awhile now so I have been chatting with Archie and Whale and a few of my old friends back at the PD in Manhattan who have some experience with this stage of things. I think I know what we're looking at. I'll have to leave Storybrooke to get it, but I think Henry wouldn't mind getting to see New York again for a few days."
"But just a few days, right?"
Emma steps around to the front of her, and then in a move that's eight percent impulse and twenty percent pure want and desire, she reaches up and touches Regina's cheek, cupping it with her palm. "We are not going anywhere."
"I believe you," Regina replies, and then her eyebrows are knitting together as if to suggest she can suddenly hear the way she sounds and doesn't like it one bit.
Because she sounds needy.
And like she needs someone.
She tells herself that it's want instead, but it's a thin line, and she's so confused.
Week ago, she'd made a decision and most days it's easy to stick to that despite what Henry is trying to do to make something happens, but in moments like this one when Emma's eyes are so bright and her smile is big, it's hard to remember why she had chosen not to pursue something that's more with this woman.
"Good," Emma tells her and then leans forward and wraps her arms around Regina, obliterating the space and the safety that had been there. "You did this," she says softly. "You fought back. You made yourself strong. You."
It's too much, and Regina thinks that she's just seconds away from tears again.
The last time she'd let go, they'd ended up in bed.
Which had been a mistake and not at all one.
Because there's a very simple reason why she'd been able to make herself strong, and yes it has much to do with her, but equally as much to do with them.
Henry. And Emma.
Her arms circle around Emma and then they're just hugging each other while the fire continues to consume all of the clothes that had signified her collapse.
"Come with us to New York," Emma says softly, her words muffled as she presses her face into Regina's neck, her lips gentle against warm skin. "I know you can leave town and the kid would love to show you around for a few days."
"This is home."
"And it'll be home when we get back. Come with us."
Regina answers her with a kiss.
Hard and passionate and full of everything that she needs – wants – to say.
Emma responds to it in kind.
The Monday morning of the New York trip, Regina makes breakfast for them; it's a long drive there, but Emma's not willing to chance what air pressure might do to Regina's head. She's so much better these days; it's been weeks since there was anything more than a quick spot of confusion, but it's just not worth the risk.
Especially not when she's thinking about how she'd been woken up this morning: with a kiss.
It's when she sees what Regina is cooking that she pauses; she's making breakfast burritos for them (Henry has since explained the good luck nature of them to her). It's the first time that she's done this in a little over a year. In fact, the last time she'd done so, it'd been the morning of the "incident".
Back then, she'd given Emma one because it'd been a goodwill gesture, a way to work together for Henry's sake and because they'd been starting to become something like friends. It'd been an uneasy alliance back then, something new and fragile.
Now, this is new, too, but when Regina hands Emma the plate, it's because she's part of this family now and part of this little thing between she and Henry.
It's just a mother/son thing to Henry, but it's the beginning and the middle of so much more for both of his mothers and when they grin at each other like they have some kind of secret, he thinks that they're both just a little but crazy, but he loves them all the more for it.
That is until they're kissing and then he's groaning as loudly as he can because yeah, he'd wanted this but that doesn't mean that he wants to see it.
Oddly enough, though, he can't tear his eyes away from them.
And when his moms start laughing and harassing and annoying each other and he remembers that one year ago he'd been sitting in a hospital waiting room wondering if he would ever get to see the woman who had raised him again, it occurs to him that he could have never anticipated that that terrible day would lead to this.
To love and to family and to something that's a perfect kind of imperfect.
Because that's what this family of his is.
He wouldn't have it any other way.