Breakfast was a quiet affair. Sensing both his mother and Emma's tension, Henry kept to himself and scampered off into the living room for some cartoons after he'd finished his eggs. Emma remained at the table sipping at her coffee as Regina finished cleaning up, her fingers tapping a nervous rhythm against the tabletop until finally she felt a warm hand settling over hers.
"How are you feeling?" Regina asked, pulling a chair over to sit close enough for their knees to brush. Emma turned her hand over to play with Regina's fingers, chewing on her lower lip with a drawn out sigh.
"Yesterday still feels like a trip. Like a really bad acid trip."
"It was certainly something," Regina muttered, eyebrows twitching upwards.
"I feel like... like I just got offered something really good, but I have to do something shitty to get it."
Sympathetic, Regina squeezed her hand. "It's not fair, but that's how the world works, I know. It's just business to them. Capitalizing on whatever sells."
"Using my handicap to make money?" Emma shook her head, distress clear on her features. "I... fuck. I could really use the money, but it's not right. It's wrong."
"I know, honey."
Breathing out slowly, Emma tightened her fingers. "What do I do?"
"I can't tell you that, Emma. But whatever you choose, just know I'm here for you."
She leaned forward, pressing her lips against Emma's forehead, and the blonde sighed and sunk into her offer of comfort with a small smile.
"Love you," she said softly, almost a hesitant whisper, as if worried last night was a fever dream. Regina's lips curled into a smile against her skin.
"I love you too, darling."
Together they decided to move into the living room, joining Henry on the couch to enjoy a couple hours of mindless cartoons while the boy sprawled across their laps. At some point, Regina's phone buzzed with a text and she excused herself from the room. Emma heard the front door open and shut, two voices speaking quietly outside the house before Regina returned ten minutes later, sitting down gingerly in her seat with something rustling in her hands.
"What's up?" Emma asked, grunting as Henry readjusted himself on both their laps and had briefly kneed her in the gut.
"Belle just came by to drop off some paychecks for you," Regina murmured. "Do you want to take a trip to the bank today? We could get them deposited now and over with."
"Oh. Uh, yeah, sure. That'd be good."
"Henry, go get dressed, please."
Sighing at the injustice of having to leave his cartoon programs, Henry slid off their laps and headed up to his room while Emma fiddled with the hem of her shirt, frowning. She was back in her suit from yesterday's event, sans jacket and tie and with the dress shirt untucked. Regina reached over and gently straightened her collar.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Regina asked, her voice low. Emma huffed.
"How much is it? In total?" she asked instead. Regina glanced at the paychecks in her hand again, adding it up to the same number Belle had told her the night before.
"After Gold's ridiculous fees? Thirty four thousand."
Emma's mouth dropped. "Holy shit. Really?"
Teeth clicking together, the blonde shook her head and ran a hand through her messy curls. "Geeze. There's all my student loans, my bike repairs, and the rent I've been behind on right there. That'll even cover some of my medical bills."
"That's great, Emma," Regina said with an encouraging smile. Emma's returning smile was less certain.
They headed out to the bank shortly thereafter, getting Emma's checks deposited and a big chunk of the money transferred to clear her student loan debts. She had a check written out to her landlord for the rent she'd been stalling on, plus this month's, and they headed back to Emma's apartment after a quick lunch to get a change of clothes for the now rumpled looking blonde.
"Riding?" Emma repeated, carefully wiggling her way into a pair of jeans, while Regina leaned against the doorway to her bedroom and watched with an appreciative stare.
"Henry mentioned he wanted to go. And I thought it might be a nice distraction, if you're interested."
Emma buttoned up her jeans and smiled up in Regina's direction, her pale green eye managing to land right on Regina as if drawn by a magnet. "Sounds good to me."
The stables were quiet that day, Ashley sipping at coffee when they entered and Graham just finishing up with cleaning tack. They chatted briefly with the man before he left, and then Henry ran off to go say hi to Joey while Regina saddled up Anthony and Kantor.
"Are we double riding?" Emma asked as she leaned against a stall door, listening to the rustles and thumps of the many horses and enjoying the smell of fresh hay.
"Yes," Regina replied, tightening a strap on Anthony's saddle and sending the pony out for Henry before giving Emma a hesitant look. "Unless you don't want to?"
"What kind of lesbian would I be if I turned down sharing a saddle with a beautiful woman?" Emma wiggled her eyebrows, grinning, and Regina only puffed out a laugh and led her past Hunter's stall, pausing to give the stallion some love before they moved on to see Kantor. As Regina saddled up the big pinto stallion, Emma leaned back on the stall wall and promptly froze, feeling the presence of something big looming over her shoulder.
That, and the little puff of warm breath against her neck.
"Regina?" she squeaked, not daring to move. Regina, meanwhile, was trying to hold in her laughter, meeting the mischievous pale-green eyes of the white-gold mare hovering over Emma's shoulder.
"It's okay, Emma. That's just Pearl. She's a sweetheart."
"Can you tell her to stop creeping?" Emma complained, but she was smiling now, letting out a shaky breath as her shoulders relaxed. Feeling a large animal hovering over you when you were blind was still an unnerving feeling, even if she knew it was harmless.
"Shhh. Smile for me. I want to take a picture." Regina whipped out her phone, aiming it at them as Emma offered up a big, cheesy grin. Pearl blinked innocently, bumping her cheek against Emma's as Regina snapped a ton of photos. With that done, she moved to rescue her poor girlfriend, kissing Pearl's nose and gently nudging the large animal's head away.
"Tell me the picture is good, at least," Emma said, relieved to feel Regina next to her.
"It's cute. Pearl has the same eye color as you."
"Well, your... other eye. Hers is a pale seafoam green." Regina returned to finishing up with Kantor's saddle as Emma scratched her cheek.
"I didn't know horses had green eyes."
"They usually don't. It's rare even in homozygous Creams—their eyes are generally blue. Pearl here is a double Cream dilute with some very rare genes."
Emma nodded along, not understanding the terms but finding Regina's eagerness to teach both nerdy and endearing. She re-introduced herself to Kantor at Regina's behest, letting the stallion snuffle at her shirt for a minute, sniffing her pockets for treats.
"Are you ready to hop on?"
"Yup. Let's do this thing." Letting Regina guide her onto the stool, Emma hooked her foot into the stirrup and gave Kantor's flank a gentle pat. "Hold still, big guy."
Her mounting was much smoother this time around, settling with only a bit of adjusting on his back and holding still as Regina climbed up in front of her. Their bodies relaxed against each other, fitting like two pieces of a puzzle as Regina leaned back a little and Emma wrapped her arms around her waist, her chin resting lightly on Regina's shoulder.
"Comfy?" Regina asked softly, a smile in her voice.
"No place I'd rather be," Emma teased.
Regina turned her head to kiss Emma's cheek, then squeezed her heels and prompted Kantor forward, the stallion happily taking them out to the indoor arena.
It was after Emma had been returned home and left to Mary Margaret's care that the call came.
Emma was sprawled on the couch listening to her friend's peppy pop music playing over the speakers, Mary Margaret herself just cleaning up after dinner, when her phone started chiming a bland tune to signal an unknown caller. Skimming her hand across the coffee table, she picked up as Mary Margaret hurried to pause the music.
"Can I speak to Emma Swan?" a polite, professional sounding voice requested.
"Yeah, that's me."
"We're calling about your medical insurance regarding your last two surgeries..."
Emma sat up, lips pursing into a tight line as the woman rattled off information at her. Clear, polite, professional. Not very sympathetic.
"Oh," Emma said after a moment, her mind reeling when the woman had fallen quiet to await her reply. She could feel Mary Margaret lingering nearby, questioning. "Uh. I see. Um... Okay. Can I— can I call you back tomorrow after I talk to my bank advisor? Yeah... Yeah, okay. Thanks. Bye."
She dropped her phone into her lap, biting down onto her lower lip. Mary Margaret rounded the couch and gingerly sat next to her.
"Emma? What's wrong?"
"Um..." Emma blinked her uncovered eye several times, the pale green iris flickering back and forth before finally dropping to stare blindly downward. Her shoulders tightened and then slumped, hands fiddling nervously in her lap. "That was my medical insurance."
"What did they say?"
"They, uh... My insurance doesn't really cover the last two big surgeries, as well as that first week I was in hospital and in ICU..."
"Oh, Emma." Mary Margaret took one of her hands, gently clasping it between both of hers. "How much?"
Numbers crunched frantically in Emma's mind as she chewed on her lower lip, wondering what the hell she was going to do now, wishing that big paycheck from the Swan Collection opening night had lasted her longer. It had taken the weight off her shoulders for all of a day before an even heavier weight came crashing down on her with just one phone call.
"Almost six digits," Emma said hoarsely, lifting her free hand to push her fingers through her hair. Mary Margaret's fingers tightened around hers.
"Please don't," she said quickly, disrupting what she knew was going to come out of her friend's lips. "I can still figure this out. I'll have to make a few calls tomorrow but... I can figure something out. I still have some money leftover from the art show. I don't want your money."
"I know you don't, Emma, but there's no shame in accepting some help from friends sometimes," Mary Margaret murmured, watching the embarrassment and stress etch itself into Emma's normally carefree face. "Think of it as a loan. We can pay off your medical bills now and you can just pay me back later without having to worry about interest or deadlines or—"
"No, Mary Margaret." Emma pulled her hand out of the other woman's grip, hunching in on herself with her elbows on her knees and her head dropped. "I can do this on my own, okay? I don't need to borrow money."
There was a long, uncomfortable moment of silence. Emma knew Mary Margaret meant well, but she couldn't bring herself to borrow money from a friend. She was too prideful, too stubborn for that. She could figure this out on her own. She had to.
"I just want to help," Mary Margaret said softly, but it was clear from the apology in her tone that she wasn't going to push any further. "You're my best friend. My family."
"I know, MM. But I've got it."
Mary Margaret stood, returning to finish up with the dishes while Emma stewed over her cellphone and anguished over the many phone calls she'd have to make in the morning. Her bank, her advisor, her insurance company... She wondered if she could convince Belle to take all the remaining paintings in her storage and sell them all, if Gold would be willing to do another big show, if she could stomach the thought of painting on stage for more of the elitist upper class to ooh and ahh and bid over.
She wondered if any of it would be enough.
Emma was uncharacteristically quiet the next day, smiling and shrugging off her melancholy mood whenever Regina asked. Not wanting to upset her girlfriend further, Regina didn't push, but both she and Henry felt the tension in Emma and did all they could to cheer her up, extra attentive and affectionate as they stayed in for the day. Shortly after breakfast, Emma asked if Regina would help her go through some of her paintings down in her storage unit, and sensing the blonde's strange terseness in the request, Regina decided to leave Henry in the living room watching a cartoon while they took the elevator down to the basement.
"What do you need them for?" Regina asked casually once she'd unlocked the numbered unit with Emma's key, flicking on the overhead lights and carefully pulling the tarp off of the neat row of canvases against the wall. Emma silently reached for her, needing her assistance to get to them, and Regina led her over to the first canvas.
"I was hoping Belle would be willing to help sell these somehow," Emma murmured, dropping to one knee and hesitantly running her fingers across the canvas. This painting had been done in relatively flat acrylic, and there wasn't much for her to go on as her brows furrowed and her lips pursed. "Crap. Would you mind describing this one for me?"
"It's an orange tabby cat on a windowsill next to a sunflower in a narrow vase. Sunlight, warm hues, a very neat painting style with clean lines." It was a pretty generic painting, without the loose style and imbued passion Regina knew Emma was capable of. Perhaps it was an early work, or perhaps Emma had just painted this one without any real inspiration or interest. "How many of them are you selling?"
"All of them, if I can." Emma grimaced, tilting the canvas forward so that she could run her hand across the next one. That, too, had very little texture to the paint, and so Regina described it to her, and the next one, and the one after that. By the time they'd reached the end, Emma had asked for only two particular paintings to be set aside for herself. The rest—nearly thirty eight paintings in total—she would try to sell.
"This is a lot," Regina noted. If Belle was willing to take them, she'd need a bigger vehicle to pick them up in.
"It's not like I need them," Emma shrugged, slowly shuffling over to where the two she wanted to keep were leaned up against the wall. Regina didn't ask why Emma wanted to sell them immediately, not when she'd recently gotten a good chunk of money from the auction. She'd learned money was a touchy subject for the blonde and didn't want to cause more tension.
"Can we set these aside somewhere? I want to make sure they don't accidentally take these." Emma tapped her finger on the two canvases she'd wanted to keep.
"Of course. I'll put them up on top of the shelf." Regina stood next to Emma for a moment, smiling down at the two paintings. Her favourite was the one of a palomino mare with its newborn buckskin colt, the young colt curled up at her side and squinting at the new world he'd come into while his mother lipped at the beginnings of his short black mane with a gentle affection. There was something soft and wholesome about the painting that made her smile. "The one of a mare and her colt is beautiful, Emma."
"Yeah." Emma smiled sadly, crouching down and running her fingers across the canvas. The paint had some texture, but not a lot. "I really liked this one. I... I painted it after I visited Logan on his first birthday. It was too hard to look at it every day, though, so I kept it down here." A pause, then more quietly, "I don't really remember what it looks like anymore."
Unsure if Emma wanted her to say anything or not, Regina remained respectfully silent, watching as the blonde tried to trace the artwork with her fingertips. After a long minute, however, it was clear Emma was struggling to find the paint lines, her spine growing rigid and her jaw tight. She stood suddenly, fists clenched, and her voice came out brittle and wounded.
"Can we go back upstairs now?"
Emma sucked in a sharp breath, willing herself not to cry. It had hit her all over again, the possibility that she might not regain her sight properly. She'd never see her favourite paintings again. She'd never see another sunrise.
She'd never see Regina.
"I hate this," she choked out, wetness springing to her eyes and trickling down her cheeks, her body rigid even as Regina gently touched her forearm. "I hate that I don't know what's going to happen. I hate that I might have ruined my own career. I hate that my entire life will never be the same again, and the worst part is that it's all my fault!"
Her voice had risen to a broken shout and Regina could feel her own eyes glistening of their own accord, sharing in Emma's pain.
"It wasn't your fault, Emma," Regina said softly, sliding her hand down Emma's arm until she could take the younger woman's hand in hers. "It was an accident. And I know it's hard, but you can get through this. I'm here for you; Henry's here for you. No matter what happens."
Emma cried softly, her one blind eye still somehow full of torment as she stared in Regina's direction. With a gentle tug of her hand, Regina coaxed Emma into her arms, holding her close as the blonde choked back sobs.
"I'm scared," she whispered, her voice small and broken. "I don't know what I'll do if my eyesight never comes back. I'll never see my paintings. I'll never see Henry. I'll never see you."
"Oh, Emma," Regina murmured, squeezing Emma more tightly. "I know you're scared. Not knowing what's going to happen to your future is terrifying. But no matter what happens, you have us. You have your family. We'll be here to get through this together."
She pulled back, just enough to cup Emma's face between her hands, her thumbs gently swiping away tears.
"I want to see you," Emma whimpered, hands clutching at Regina's shirt. "I wanted... Just once..."
"But you do see me," Regina said softly, pressing a light kiss to Emma's lips. "You don't need your eyesight, Emma. Just give me your hands."
Emma released her shirt, lifting her hands and gently cupping Regina's cheeks. The brunette's slender hands settled on top of hers, and together they mapped out Regina's face, Emma's fingertips slow and tentative, much like the first time. Her shapely jaw, her high cheekbones, the sharp bridge of her nose and the serious curve of her browline. Her eyes were framed by long mascara-heavy lashes, and her full lips were just a little sticky with lipstick, marred by that one little divot of a scar.
"You see me better than anyone with eyesight can." Regina peered into a pale green eye, one that seemed to both stare blindly at her and yet also pierce her very soul. After a moment, her lover's cheeks flushed pink, and Emma ducked her head a little and curled sweetly into her embrace.
"I love you," Emma murmured, lips grazing Regina's neck. In a softer whisper, she added, "Thank you."
Almost swaying together on the spot, Regina smiled and burrowed her face into thick blonde hair, kissing Emma behind the ear and sighing with relief at the tenderness of Emma's warm breath on her neck. "I love you too."
"Dragons," Henry had insisted as soon as their current movie finished, Regina huffing and putting in the well-worn DVD while Emma smiled indulgently at the little boy snuggled up on her lap.
"Excellent choice, little man," the blonde chuckled, her head tilting when she heard the buzz of Regina's cellphone on the coffee table for the fifth time that day. Like all the previous times, Regina hit the ignore button to silence it. "Who's your persistent admirer?" she joked.
"My mother," Regina said flatly, unamused. "You know how she is."
"She's not so bad," Emma offered, wincing a little on the inside. She'd been up all night considering whether she should call Cora or Mal. They had both shown an interest in her work, and Emma knew she was going to drown in debt if she didn't find a big source of income soon. Especially since she didn't know how much of her vision was going to come back, if at all. Belle had sounded happy on the phone when she agreed to help Emma sell the rest of her paintings, but Emma knew the potential revenue from that still wasn't going to be enough.
"She's getting on my last nerve is what she is," Regina muttered, silencing her phone again before finally just shutting it off for the day, tired of the persistent phone calls. Not half an hour later, however, and they were disturbed by an obnoxious knocking sound at the door.
"Was Mary Margaret coming over?" Regina asked, frowning as she stood to answer it.
"Not that I know of," Emma replied, tilting her head to eavesdrop. The door swung open and Regina groaned, her voice drowned out by the rapid tap tap tap of high heels entering the apartment.
"See, you ignore Mother and then she drags me into this," Zelena complained loudly, bypassing Regina and heading straight to the couch to drop a kiss on both Henry and Emma's heads. "Hello, darlings."
"Hey, Z," Emma smiled, as Henry chirped out a distracted greeting, eyes still locked on the dragons on the television.
"You're a grown woman, Zelena, surely you know how to ignore Mother's phone calls as well," Regina said dryly, reclaiming her seat next to Emma on the couch before her sister could. With a dramatic sigh, Zelena dropped down into the armchair instead.
"In most cases, yes, but she has a point. You can't cancel."
"We're not talking about this."
"Why not? Does Emma know?"
"Do I know what?" Emma frowned, not liking that she was out of the loop. She could feel Regina stiffening next to her and blindly reached out, her hand landing on Regina's thigh. "What are you cancelling?"
"It's nothing important, Emma," Regina sighed, even as Zelena gave a loud scoff.
"Nothing important, she says! It's only a special rehabilitation convention Regina's been looking forward to since last year."
"Zelena," Regina warned.
"Please, like you didn't have your plane ticket and hotel booked since last January. You love learning and physical therapy and helping people and all that shit."
"It's a whole event full of other professionals?" Emma asked, quirking a brow.
"And students and special guests. It's physical therapy for children with special needs, or people with, like, neurological disabilities or spine injuries."
"It's called hippotherapy," Regina sighed, annoyance in her tone. "And it's my decision, Zelena, not yours or Mother's."
"Wha— but why would you cancel going? It sounds like everything you love," Emma said, a furrow in her brow. She knew how much Regina adored both children and horses, and Zelena was right, a chance to learn and to help people was everything Regina strived towards. Regina's thigh twitched beneath her hand and she could feel the frustration in the other woman, even if Regina's voice was cool and collected.
"Because it's this weekend, and I would need to leave first thing in the morning to make it in time." Regina's hand landed on Emma's, fingers curling around hers. "Your bandages come off tomorrow, Emma."
"Oh." Emma swallowed, a flash of disappointment and nervousness running through her before she sighed and pushed the feeling away. "But it's not like I won't see you when you get back. You can't miss out on this awesome opportunity, Regina. You've been looking forward to it for a year!"
"It's not as important as you," Regina argued, ignoring the way Zelena rolled her eyes.
"Oh my god, Reg. Like Emma said, she'll see you when you get back. But this event is once in a lifetime."
"And Emma getting her bandages off is just as important," Regina insisted, frowning at the way Emma shot her a grateful, understanding smile.
"I appreciate that, Regina, but I'm telling you, it's fine. My eyesight will probably be super blurry for the first few days anyway. You should go, enjoy the event. I can't wait to see you when you get home."
Emma smiled, warm and encouraging, and Regina found it hard to say no when her girlfriend gave her such a hopeful look. Just the simple fact that Emma was choosing to believe she'd get some sight back was enough to turn Regina soft and amenable. Ignoring Zelena's smug grin, she squeezed Emma's hand, disappointed she wouldn't be there when the bandages came off, but thankful for the support.
"Alright, alright, I'll go," she relented. "Zelena—"
"Mother and I will watch Henry for the weekend, I know," the redhead sassed. "And we'll be with Emma at her appointment. We can come, right, Emma?"
"Sure," Emma chuckled, amused. "If you really want to."
"I sit with you," Henry nodded, looking pleased when Emma gave him an affectionate squeeze. Both Mills women smiled at the sight of the boy happily snuggled in Emma's arms, though Regina couldn't quite squash the flicker of jealousy in her chest, knowing that Emma might see Zelena before she would see her.
"Maybe I can facetime you guys," she tried, to which Emma frowned and shook her head.
"No way! When I see you for the first time, I want it to be in person."
"In a private room, I hope," Zelena drawled. "No one needs to see that."
"Emma, cover Henry's eyes, please," Regina said primly. Emma did as asked, cupping her hands over Henry's face and laughing at the offended sound Zelena made when Regina flashed a rude gesture at her sister.
"Everything will be just fine. I'm so excited for you."
Regina's voice was soft, apologetic for waking her at an ungodly hour but also warm with affection. Emma rubbed at her uncovered eye, brushing the sleep from it as she stretched out a little in bed, her phone cradled to her ear and a drowsy smile on her face.
"Thanks, Regina... Are you at the airport now?"
"Yes," Regina murmured, sounding equally as tired as she made her way through the airport, her suitcase rolling next to her. The place was quiet at five thirty in the morning, employees sleepily preparing for another long day of work, or travelers dragging their feet as they made their way to wherever they needed to be. "I'm heading through customs soon."
"You sound tired. Did you sleep okay?"
"Not really," she admitted with a low chuckle. "I'm excited for the event, and... I wish I could be there with you at the same time. I didn't really sleep."
"I'm sorry," Emma offered, her voice soft. Both women had wanted to sleep next to each other once more before Regina's trip, but Emma's place was farther away from the airport, and Regina had barely enough time to leave the house that morning as is. "Try and take a nap on the plane, yeah?"
"Have fun at the event and don't worry about us, okay? I can't wait to hear all about your trip when you get back."
"Alright... I should go, I'm at customs." Regina paused before getting into line, licking her dry lips and wishing she could've given Emma a kiss before going. This would have to be the next best thing. "I love you, darling."
Emma smiled, warmth suffusing her chest at the soft proclamation. "I love you too."
After their phone call, Emma slept in until almost ten, woken only by Mary Margaret barging in excitedly and all but hauling her into the shower to get ready for the day. They had a quick breakfast and then headed to the hospital, met there by Zelena and Henry, and most surprisingly of all, Cora.
"As I've said before, your work is stunning, dear, and I am invested in your future," the woman had said simply, giving Emma's hand a dainty pat and ignoring a pale Mary Margaret entirely. Zelena just rolled her eyes and ushered them all inside, eager to get the show on the road. Doctor Whale met with them in a private room not long after, looking optimistic as he greeted his patient.
"Emma! Good afternoon. Are we excited?"
"We?" Zelena murmured, because he was apparently that kind of doctor, while Emma just gave a nervous smile, sat on the side of the bed with Henry on her lap.
"Yeah... I'm ready to be done with this." She waved a hand vaguely at her face, and Doctor Whale just chuckled as he got to work, gently removing the bandaging and gauze on her eye, quickly and efficiently cleaning and wiping at the uncovered skin.
"Alright, I'm going to take the tape off now, you might feel a little tug on a couple of eyelashes but I'll be gentle. Just keep your eye closed for the moment, okay?"
Emma hummed in agreement, keeping her eye firmly shut as he carefully peeled the tape away, taking a stray eyelash with it. Another cleaning wipe was gently applied at the same time he asked Mary Margaret to help pull the blinds shut on the window and dim the lights, so as to not shock Emma with too much brightness.
"Alright, Emma, open up your eyes now, hm? The lights are dimmed, let me know how it feels."
Taking in a deep breath, Emma slowly eased her eyes open, feeling her lashes briefly stick together, the eyelid used to being taped shut, before finally it fluttered open with a few frantic, uncomfortable blinks. Her eye wasn't used to being exposed to the air and it wasn't the most pleasant feeling; it felt sensitive and stung slightly, watering up as a protective measure. Blinking away the wetness, she looked around, taking in the blurry smears of color. Things were trying to come into focus, but every time she involuntarily blinked, it made the world turn into a blur again.
"Uh... I..." She cleared her throat, unsure of how she felt just yet. She could see blurs of color, which was more than she'd seen in far too long, but it was less than she expected.
"It should improve with time; your eye needs to readjust to the changes it's gone through," Whale offered, one hand steady on her shoulder as the other gently waved in front of her face. "Can you see my hand, Emma?"
A flesh-colored blur kept passing back and forth across from her. Emma swallowed. "Uh, sort of. It's kind of dim."
"Miss Blanchard, could you turn up the lights again, please?" he asked. The room slowly brightened with fluorescent lighting and Emma squinted. "How about now, Emma?"
Someone pressed a tissue into her hand and Emma gently dabbed at the wetness blurring her eye, blinking furiously at the stinging sensation as her pupil tried to pull things into focus. It was blurry, for the most part, but some things became clear at times, as if her eye was a camera lense struggling to focus on the correct part of a picture, and a startled laugh escaped her.
"You're married?" was the first thing she blurted out, and Doctor Whale grinned as he touched his wedding ring with his thumb.
"Why do you sound so surprised?"
She shook her head, a wave of utter relief washing through her at being able to see something, even if her world was still very fuzzy and indistinct. Henry wriggled around on her lap and knelt on her thighs suddenly, twisting so that he was facing her, their faces mere inches apart.
"See me too?" he asked, excited, his brown eyes—his brown eyes—wide and beautiful and so very curious, and Emma almost sobbed in surprise as she finally got to see the little boy she adored with all her heart.
"Yeah, I see you too, kid," she said hoarsely, laughing and quickly smothering his face with kisses, enjoying the love and sloppy kisses he gave her in return.
"Green!" he declared, happily staring into her eye as he threw his arms around her neck in a hug. She held him close, absolutely beaming, and flushed when she remembered that everyone was watching them.
"Hey, MM," she smiled warmly, squinting at the familiar tiny figure of her friend and that unmistakable black pixie cut. Next to Mary Margaret, a tall and willowy redhead was holding up a black rectangle—a phone, Emma assumed—and Emma's eyebrows shot up as the redhead moved closer and her smirking face came into view. "Z-Zelena?"
"I know, I'm hot as hell," Zelena said with a playful wink. Emma just laughed, cheeks pink in embarrassment, because yes, she was still a warm-blooded human, and she couldn't pretend that she wasn't shocked at how attractive Zelena was. Moving her gaze to the last occupant of the room, she took in the prim posture of the older woman and offered a hesitant smile.
"And you must be Cora," she said, blinking and dabbing gently at her eye again as the world got blurrier.
"Indeed. Welcome back, Miss Swan. I look forward to seeing your full artistic talents return." Cora inclined her head, looking pleased. Emma nodded, then returned her attention to Doctor Whale as the man started rattling off aftercare instructions for her, booking her for a future check-up to see how she progressed. When all was said and done, the group walked out of the hospital and back into the afternoon sunshine, Emma donning a pair of borrowed sunglasses from Zelena's purse to shield her still-sensitive eyes from the sun, Henry still attached to her hip like an extra limb.
"We should celebrate; let's do lunch or something!" Zelena suggested, clicking her car fob and jerking a thumb at the green jeep parked by the curb. "Looks like Henry's pretty permanently attached to you, anyway."
"Yes, there was some business I wanted to discuss with you as well," Cora piped in. On Emma's other side, Mary Margaret stiffened and made a little sound of indignation, clearly having hoped to spend time with Emma now that she had some of her sight back. Trying to play the peacemaker, Emma turned to give Mary Margaret an apologetic smile.
"Uh... Sure. MM, would you like to—"
"Oh yes," Zelena jumped in, smirking. "Won't you join us for lunch, Blanchard?"
"No!" Mary Margaret squeaked. "N-No, that's okay. You guys have fun. I'll, uh, I'll call you later, Em? Maybe you can have dinner with David and I tonight?"
Emma smiled, accepting one more tight hug from her best friend before Mary Margaret scurried away, avoiding Zelena's maniacal grin the entire way.
"Do you have to scare her?" Emma chuckled, shaking her head at the beaming redhead.
"Scare her? I was just being polite," Zelena said innocently, batting her lashes and jutting out her lower lip in a pout. Emma shook her head with a laugh; if she weren't already head over heels for Regina, she might have fallen for that sly smile and wink Zelena shot her. As it were, she gently punched her friend on the shoulder and shooed her towards the jeep.
"Come on, I'm hungry and you promised me lunch."
Zelena ended up taking them to a fancy bistro in her neighborhood, promising Emma some of the best soups and sandwiches she'd ever have. And though the food was good, Emma found herself distracted and smiling as she watched Henry eat, amused at the way he would carefully pluck the onions out from his sandwich and try to hide them under his napkin when he thought his aunt and grandmother weren't watching. Zelena and Cora, for their part, pretended not to notice.
The kid had every woman in his life wrapped around his little finger, and Emma was more than happy to be one of those women.
"Have you called Malin yet?" Cora asked at some point, dragging Emma's attention back into the current conversation. She wasn't even sure if Cora knew she'd been distracted watching Henry the entire time—even the mild lighting in the restaurant had hurt her eyes and she'd kept the dark sunglasses on. Swallowing her mouthful of havarti and spicy salami sandwich, she momentarily fumbled to find her white napkin against the white tabletop and wiped her lips.
"Um, I— I hadn't, not yet."
"Well you should," Cora sniffed. "She's off to London soon, I believe, for a six month contract with the National Gallery. It would be excellent exposure for you, dear."
"London?" Emma repeated, paling. She hadn't honestly considered the traveling and performing aspect of what Mal had mentioned earlier that week. Selling her paintings was one thing; traveling the world and painting for the entertainment of wealthy people was a whole other issue. Especially if it took her away from home for six months at a time.
"London is just fabulous this time of year," Zelena sighed, a yearning look on her face that Emma did not mirror. "I haven't been in too long."
"That's really far," Emma said quietly, wary. "And six months is a long time to be away."
"Away from what? You live alone in a tiny apartment, Miss Swan. Six months in London would practically be a paid vacation," Cora said, giving Emma a skeptical and somewhat judgmental look. Zelena, for her part, straightened up and pursed her lips, giving Emma an understanding look.
"She has Regina and Henry to think about, Mother," the redhead reminded the Mills matriarch, but Cora simply rolled her eyes.
"You're both grown women. I'm sure you can handle six months apart. This is a life changing career opportunity, Miss Swan. You can't possibly be considering giving it up. Think of your financial security."
"Mother," Zelena warned quietly, knowing financial-talk was considered impolite, especially around those who had less. Emma just stiffened in her seat.
"I'm very aware of my financial situation right now, Cora," she muttered, unhappy with the direction their conversation had taken. "But moving to London for half a year is a lot to think about."
"It's merely a suggestion," Cora sniffed, holding up her hands as if she weren't pushing Emma to make a decision. "Just remember that it's a fleeting opportunity. Once Malin is gone, that's it."
Cora went back to sipping daintily at her soup, leaving Emma to stew in frustration while Zelena watched them all with concern.
"How is she?"
"Good. She's adjusting." Zelena glanced over as two figures stampeded past her kitchen doorway again, Henry shrieking with delight as Emma chased him down the hall. "She's even playing cops and robbers relatively well with Henry. Only ran into a wall a couple times."
"Joke! It's a joke!" There was a pause as Zelena sipped her wine. "It was only once."
Regina sighed heavily over the phone, exasperation in her tone at the thought of her half-blind girlfriend getting taken out by a wall. They'd visited the hospital plenty enough, going again for a broken nose was the last thing they needed.
"Didn't you already talk to her for like an hour this morning?" Zelena teased. "You should already know how she's doing."
"It's Emma, you know she'll tell me she's fine even if she's not. I'm just worried."
"Well, no need to worry. She's fine. Pining for you, though. It's kind of gross."
Regina laughed softly, warming at the thought of Emma waiting to finally see her when she got home. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach at the thought. "I can't wait to be back. I switched to an earlier flight so that I can surprise her at the party."
Mary Margaret had taken charge and decided to throw a party to celebrate Emma's returning eyesight, much to the blonde's embarrassment. Still, she meant well and she'd even invited all of the Mills family in a show of good faith, so Emma couldn't complain too much. Regina had originally been scheduled to fly back the morning after, so no one would be expecting her at the party, but surprising Emma at her own celebration was well worth the hour of threats she'd spewed on the phone for the airline to give her a seat on a previously fully-booked aircraft.
"A Mills woman strikes again," Zelena chuckled. "I won't tell her, then. I can't wait to see the look on her face."
"Perfect." Regina smiled, but the smile dropped as she leaned back to check her phone after hearing a beep. Cora was calling her, apparently. "I've got to go. Mother's calling."
"Ah. Can't keep Mother waiting," Zelena drawled, the sisters sharing a sardonic chuckle. "Talk to you soon."
"Bye." Regina hung up, promptly answering the call from Cora before it could go to voicemail. Gods know she'd never hear the end of it. "Hello, Mother."
"Has Emma spoken to you about London?" Cora asked without preamble, throwing Regina for a loop as the younger Mills woman's mouth opened and closed without sound, her expression suitably surprised.
"Yes, Regina, London."
"Why would Emma speak to me about London?"
Cora's eye roll could nearly be heard over the phone. "Because of Malin's job offer, of course. Surely she's spoken to you about it by now."
Regina swallowed hard. No, Emma hadn't mentioned anything about London or Mal at all. She'd been cheerful and excited over the phone since yesterday, gushing about seeing the ducks at the park with Henry, and finally watching the boy's favourite dragon movie with her own single working eye, as near-sighted as it was. She'd been tracking her progress and had seemed optimistic about being able to see her own hand decently well so far before everything farther away became fuzzy and indistinct.
"She hasn't mentioned it, no," she finally said after an extended pause, knowing better than to keep her impatient mother waiting for a response. Cora sighed loudly.
"Well, regardless, it's the opportunity of a lifetime and you should push her to take it when you next speak."
"Mother, what she does with her career is her choice. I am not going to pressure her into anything," Regina said sharply, annoyance rising at the way her mother was ordering her around. It had taken her years to get out from under Cora's controlling thumb and she was not going to let the woman bulldoze her again. "And don't you dare pressure Emma, either. You can't go around manipulating people's lives like that."
"Don't be so dramatic, I'm not manipulating anything. I'm simply trying to help her, Regina. You coddling her will do nothing but hold her back from her potential. It's a lot of money on the line and she'd be a fool not to take it."
Regina winced, hating that Cora could still sting her with words so innocuous yet biting. "Not everything is about money, Mother."
"It is when you're in debt, dear. Be thankful you've never had to experience it. Now tell me how your event is going."
Regina answered her mother's questions in a daze, not even remembering what she'd said as her mind was too preoccupied with wondering about Emma's debts and why she hadn't told her about the job offer at all.
Update: Yes, I'm still here. No, this story is not abandoned. I work on TV shows for a living so sometimes I get really busy, but I promise this fic WILL be finished. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on social media to get updates, join in on my femslash giveaways, and see other artwork and goodies I may post!
And you can also follow me on Facebook! I'm Niki Frost, and my photo is artwork of Regina. :)