title: (lately) i don't think of you at all [1/3]
words: 2,500+
summary: Emma fulfills the role scripted for her by fate: she breaks the curse and sets into motion the end of fairy tales, of larger-than-life characters, of magic. She wants a reset button.
rating: R
warning: This is a dark fic with character death. There will be mentions of violence.
characters: Emma, Regina
disclaimer: I don't own anything. Even Starbucks owns the internet connection I use.

lately i don't think of you at all
or wonder what you're up to, or how you're getting on

The Helio Sequence

Emma fulfills the role scripted for her by fate: she breaks the curse and sets into motion the end of fairy tales, of larger-than-life characters, of magic.

She wants a reset button.

For four years (almost five in three months), she works at Norms off the Pacific Coast highway on the overnight shift, seeing the diner go from bar night rush to the silence of early morning dawn reserved for truckers that keep to themselves and insomniacs with their addictions and vices, crouched in booths alone with spiral notebooks, sketchpads, or laptops. Emma likes the quiet best, when night is at its darkest and the faint pink and orange of sunrise are just preparing to punch through that inky black canvass.

She watches the trickle of cars pass by the window between filling coffee cups, wiping down tables, and re-stocking napkin holders. The soft drone of the radio serves as welcome white noise.

At 4:57 AM, the door opens with a ding, the bell above it jingling to signal the entrance of a new customer. Emma speaks before looking up from the bar, where she has salt and pepper shakers lined up in a row to be refilled.

"Welcome to-," she starts, but the words catch in her throat, as if snarled by a net and left to hang, to dangle in the air waiting to be chopped down and released.

Air leaves her lungs, whoosh, when her chest constricts.

Regina holds her gaze for only a second before she jerks her head at an empty booth and moves without waiting for permission. She walks without faltering, without so much as a shake in that bravado; Emma's shock falls away a moment later, and then, she feels rage unshackled after years of disregard.

Words finally push past their confines. "Norms. You can sit anywhere," Emma finishes after a long beat, in one rushed breath. She steadies shaking hands on the stool beneath her, curling them around the metal edge as she draws in a mouthful of oxygen. Blinking once, twice, she hopes the woman is a figment of her imagination, the product of a sleep deprived mind.

"You got this one?" her co-worker asks, concern obvious in the quiet tone she uses. Dark eyes probe Emma with a number of questions that multiply with the seconds that pass in silence. Janet moves to slide off her own stool, setting a pepper shaker on the counter, but Emma's hand shoots out to stop her and takes a menu from the stack beside them.

"I got it," she says on an exhale, chest sinking visibly, and shuffles slowly across the room, heels of her sneakers scuffing the carpet. She ignores the look Janet shoots behind her back.

One of her regulars motions for a refill, coffee cup raised in the air, and she holds up an index finger. One minute, Emma thinks, I just need a minute.

To do what exactly, she isn't sure.

Because what Emma wants to say is: what the fuck are you doing here?

Wants to scream, wants to yell and cry and roar: get the fuck out.

She pictures grabbing Regina roughly by the arm and hauling her out of the restaurant, shoving her through the double doors and back out to be swallowed by the night. And, then she has no time to imagine scenarios, finding herself at the edge of Regina's booth, hip practically bumping into the edge of the table.

"You want anything to drink?" topples out instead. She drops a menu on the table and stares down at the top of Regina's head. Emma curls one hand into a fist. Her nails dig half-moon indentations into her palm – hard enough to almost break skin, almost draw blood.

Regina only blinks at the leather-bound menu before turning away.

"California omelette and coffee," she says. The tone borders on dismissive, though it's mostly devoid of anything, empty and quiet and low. Regina keeps her head turned to the window, to the now steady stream of cars starting off the morning commute.

Emma nods, chin tipping down to her name tag out of habit, "I'm Emma, by the way, I'll be your waitress." She watches Regina's reflection on the window. The other woman's lips curl, whether into a smile or sneer Emma can't quite tell. Doesn't really want to know, so she steps away.

"You know her or something?" Janet asks, face scrunching up, when Emma slides back beside her at the register to punch the order through. Janet leans back against the counter, head swiveling between the customer and Emma. "One of your one night stands finally come to chew you out?" She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and laughs when Emma's lips pull into a scowl.

"No. Thought I did, though," Emma says, glancing briefly at Regina over her shoulder. A hard smile surfaces, all straight lines and thin lips.

She remembers flesh giving way to cold steel, drawing blood as it sliced between ribs, piercing a lung that collapsed immediately with the twist of her wrist. Then, a laugh, slapping against the cold stone of the castle, until it turned into a gurgle, red liquid rushing up to fill the open mouth.

Emma wakes up tangled in sheets at four in the afternoon, sunlight filtering through slightly open slats of blinds. Her breaths come out harsh and loud between thundering heartbeats. She pushes herself up against the headboard, and runs a shaky hand through her hair, fingers tangling with unruly knots.

The studio apartment, the ceiling fan whirring overhead, the surfboard propped against the closet wall, the silver Mini Coop in her parking spot below. This is her life, now, she reminds herself.

Born and raised in San Jose, only to make her way south as an orphaned twenty-something whose parents died in a car crash. This is her story, now.

No, not just now.

This is her only story.

She heads to a nearby LA Fitness before another shift at Norms, propelling off the tiles with a strong kick and cutting through the water in sharp lines and even strokes. The smell of chlorine hangs thick, filling up her lungs with noxious fumes as sounds of splashing water from other swimmers echo off the rafters.

Opting to swim without goggles, her eyes burn and redden into her 10th lap, but she doesn't stop to rub them, to give them any sort of reprieve from the chemicals.

One, two, three (breathe out). Tilt head. Breathe deep. Tilt head, again. One, two, three (breathe out). She thinks of swimming the Pacific, straight into infinity. How long would she last? One, two, three (breathe out).

Her mind flutters back to castles and swords and blood – blood everywhere. Emma kicks off the wall harder, this time. Harder strokes, swifter kicks, until her body collapses from exertion. She sprawls on the cement by the starting block, flat on her back while struggling for air, greedily gulping mouthfuls.

In the space behind Emma's closed lids, there's an image of Regina in her jeans and plaid button-up standing in the middle of Norms. Her decision to treat Regina as a stranger plays on a loop like a broken record stuck on the same five seconds. Faced with the choice, Emma prefers denial over the truth.

(Ignorance is bliss. Wasn't this what she learned in another life?)

She rubs her eyes until the image is replaced with pinpricks of light in various colors, reminding her of the Lite-Brite she owned once as a child.

One, two, three (breathe out).

When Regina shows up again (5 AM on the dot, this time), three mornings later, Emma doesn't falter with her welcome greeting. She grabs a menu from a stack beside her, and saunters over with a well-placed smile.

She's excellent at this: lying to herself.

"California omelette and coffee," Regina orders before Emma can get out a word, and meets Emma's eyes this time.

Emma falters, squashes the menu tighter under her arm, and feels the start of a scowl emerging, suddenly annoyed.

She feels 28, again, beaten to the punch, as Regina stares her down with a knowing look. "Anything else?"

Regina looks away, then; Emma almost growls at the dismissal.

"You sure you don't know her?" Janet wheedles, from the bar where she's filling napkin holders. The twenty-two year old leans back far enough in her seat to get a view of Regina without needing to tilt her head.

"I'm sure." Emma nods, punching the order into the register before turning around to help fill the last two holders. "Never seen her before."

Regina is wearing another button-up (blue plaid), and the same dark wash jeans from the other morning.

Janet tries again. "Who'd you think she was the other day?" The question ends on a squeak as she propels herself back into her original position, hunched over the countertop, when Regina tilts her head in their general direction.

"An old friend," Emma smirks at the cherry red color of Janet's cheeks. "You sure you're not the one with a crush?"

"Not my type," Janet mutters, frowning at the way Emma tilts her head back to laugh, throaty and mocking.

"Not mine either."

They were never friends. Not even when they were the only ones left, tethered by a loss that could no longer be tallied by dead bodies but had to be measured by the hole blasted through what it was that made them human.

Emma spent nights in a tent with the other woman, separated by the space of an arm's length while they slept. She has forgotten the patterns of Regina's breathing, the telltale signs of a good dream (long and even, sprinkled with light snores) versus a nightmare (shallow and stilted, punctuated by whimpers), though she admits to knowing it once, years ago, in another world.

Another story, just not this one.

She drives towards Anaheim after her shift. It's the fourth time Regina eats at the diner, and her skin has begun to crawl at the memories she thought she left behind, somewhere in the flat plains of the Midwest between the Atlantic and the Pacific. She remembers a diner, a new story that tumbled out when she hitched a ride with a truck driver towards California, the farthest she could go with what she had at the time: four dollars and the clothes on her back.

Now, her dreams play them back, not vividly or in Technicolor, but like an old photograph, faded by sunlight, curled around the edges.

She makes it within two miles of Disneyland, and thinks of the characters inside, immortalized by August W. Booth via Walt Disney. There are days she hasn't forgiven him for sharing the stories with the rest of the world, for leaving the stories behind as an insidious reminder.

Though, there are some days (very rare), she appreciates having a place to drive towards, a beacon of some sort.

Emma exits the freeway and heads back north before it can come into view.

Leaning back against the stucco wall, Emma closes her eyes and lets out a shuddering breath.

A few hours ago, she had woken up from a dream of an unraveled curse, an entire world pulled violently out from hiding and restored to its proper plane of existence. Emma can still feel the fires of war prickling her skin, blistering heat that feels much worse than Indian summers. She can feel the uneven ground, shifting dirt, branches whipping at her face when she forgets to duck.

"I must say, this doesn't surprise me in the least."

Emma stiffens. "Oh yeah?" She works her mouth to form the words, throat raw from the memory and the dream and now, this. She blinks, adjusting again to the world of sight, and catches Regina watching her curiously.

"You do excel at running away, Emma," Regina turns to rest her back against the wall, mimicking Emma's pose.

"As opposed to holding on to the past?" Emma won't back down now that Regina has acknowledged what they have avoided for the past three weeks. Anger bubbles up, and it takes all her restraint not to sink into the impulse of strangling the other woman.

"Maybe it's all some of us have left," Regina murmurs quietly, pushing off the wall with a sardonic grin directed at no one in particular. Her smile comes out crooked as a corner of her lips curls up; Emma just frowns in return.

Somewhere down the street, a truck horn disrupts the stillness around them.

"What do you want, Regina?" Emma grabs her wrist when Regina begins to walk away. Her fingers squeeze harder than intended, but no one flinches. "I'm not in the mood to play games."

"I moved a month ago," is all Regina offers before shaking herself out of Emma's grip. "To an apartment a few miles from here."

Emma watches her disappear around the building, suddenly wishing she had hauled Regina out the diner that first morning, ordered her back to wherever she came from. She listens to the distant rumble of a car engine starting, listens as the hum softens to nothing.

A visible breath escapes pursed lips, blown into cupped hands that Emma then rubs together. She's no one, Emma reminds herself, just a crazed stranger.

When she makes it back inside to wipe down Regina's booth, she sees a slip of paper tucked between the folded bills.

Despite her better judgment, she pockets it, the paper weighing heavy where it settles between coins, a paper clip, and two pens.

At the pool, she imagines swimming against a current. Her legs and arms propel her back and forth between the confines of a pool. When her fingers graze tiles, she tucks her head down into her body, pushes her legs overhead, kicks off from the wall. Again and again and again, wishing it was an ocean instead, wishing there was a current to pull her under so she could have a reason to sink, not swim.

It was David who went first, who sank first, falling to his knees with his mouth twisted in shock (in pain) before smashing into the dirt, toppling like flimsy paper rather than a man. Mary Margaret had screamed somewhere in the distance while Emma froze into inaction. The bloody arrowhead protruded from his back as if it were another limb of some sort, right through his heart that should have been safe in the pericardium, nestled between the lungs, while it drummed out the music of life, itself.

Not David's, not anymore.

She screams into the water, where no one can hear. It floats up as bubbles, her fury, as if it's part of a breathing exercise. She swims until she's far enough from the memory of David, and the only sound left echoing in her head is the throbbing of her pulse as she pushes her body to its limit. Her throat and stomach spasm violently when she's in the showers; she dry heaves under the warm spray, pushed into tears, almost, but won't give in to that weakness.

An hour later, she calls Regina.

She snarls, veins full of Hennessey: "If you're not going to fucking leave, I will."