title: (lately) i don't think of you at all [2/3]
warning: People die and stuff. Probably an excellent reason to avoid this.
characters: Emma, Regina (with very light Swan Queen)
note: Bear with me, I'm weak at writing the middle of the story. Hopefully, this doesn't turn you off to check out to end.
disclaimer: I don't own Once Upon a Time. I also don't own the poem used in this part. It's by e.e. cummings. Also, the title is in reference to a Helio Sequence song, (not owned by me, either).
They have hung the sky with arrows
Targes of jubilant flame, and helms of splendor,
Knives and daggers of hissing light, and furious swords.
War had erupted around them, violent and sudden, during a tour of the countryside. Emma remembers the speed at which it grew out of hand, like a car crash on the highway — blink and it's over, leaving only the wreck as evidence.
Emma blinked; then, she was alone, debris scattered everywhere.
She remembers the man that stumbled to the field the day the war began, already half-dead. His keening cry, unnatural in pitch, winds its way into Emma's thoughts during her more careless moments.
All the time, lately. Since Regina and that morning — 4:57AM, the sun still below the horizon.
He had whimpered pitifully, clutching onto David's tunic with charred fingers burned down to the fat, relaying news of a war.
A massacre by the end, Emma thinks as she gulps down another shot that sears the lining of her throat. She feels warm when it settles, comfortable and numb as the heat radiates pleasantly. Emma wishes she could stay in this state forever: comfortable and numb. The world and everything in it a hazy distance, abearable distance.
Then, she sees them in the crowd: David in his collared shirts, August and his leather jacket, Archie with an umbrella. Her vision blurs when David smiles back, and she reminds herself to breathe despite the weight crushing her lungs into useless sacs of tissue.
Her eyes slip shut and she tells herself: this isn't real.
The room spins harder when she opens them again. Emma realizes she doesn't mind, finds it almost soothing how it reflects her insides – an inside-out mess of merged realities, of worlds without hard boundaries.
"Get up." The voice is cold, almost familiar but not quite. A hand shakes her in sharp jerks, gripping her shoulder fiercely. Emma tries to swim up to consciousness, suddenly panicked, confusing space and time and worlds.
The wolf in her dream growls at the soldiers, teeth bared and eyes flashing. Eyes like a human that Emma thinks she knows (the name is there, rushing, clanking, smacking against her teeth in a mad rush to get out). Then, the wolf lunges forward; Mary screams for Ruby (that's it!) somewhere in the background, too far away (Mary always screams from far away, a wall between them too thick to punch through).
But, there are too many soldiers and just one wolf. Emma yells, and screams, and pounds at their backs.
Another tug at her shoulder, harsher this time: "Emma, get up."
Emma finally grasps onto consciousness, lurching forward and gasping in a strangled voice, "Stop it, please!" The last word hitches on a sob. She falls off the edge of the bed in a mess of tangled limbs, blanket, and pillow at Regina's feet, eyes burning and chest tight.
"We need to go in twenty minutes," Regina finally says, in a voice that almost borders on soft. Crouching down, she grabs the pillow from Emma's side and moves towards the bed.
Emma tries to wrap her mind around the scene in front of her. Her head thumps painfully when she thinks. Hazy and out of order, her memories have merged with the dream, the forest and the bar woven together and Emma can't tell it all apart, where one stops and the other begins. She remembers Regina hovering in front of her with a cocked hip and a furious sort of glare but is it the Queen or Regina Mills, or this one, this new Regina in jeans and button-ups and boots?
Slowly, she untangles herself from the blanket and hands it to Regina. She finds her voice after a beat, still hoarse from sleep. "What am I—"
"You called me, dear."
Too tired to fight, Emma accepts the answer. There are other questions, too. But, she doesn't want to know beyond what she's asked already.
Besides, she's woken up in stranger places, and this, Regina's room decorated in cool blue tones, is cozy in comparison. There's a globe on a desk in the corner, and two clocks that have stopped with the small arm on 8 and the longer one on 3. There are books everywhere, overflowing out of packed shelves and onto the floor.
She thinks of asking if there are comic books, too, stashed in the crevices like a treasured secret, but she can't — "Bathroom?" She asks when her heart stutters before launching into a driving beat. The need to bolt tugs her under sharply, drowning her.
"Down the hall, on your right."
Her feet move quickly. Down the hall and through the open door to her right. She shuts it behind her, reaches for sink, twists both levers to run the water. Her cupped hands collect the liquid to wash her face. Repeats this all again and again and again until a knock breaks her out of the pattern.
Her fingers are pruned, by then. Her face raw from scrubbing.
"We should go," Regina calls out from the other side.
They find her car still parked across the bar, silver paint shining under the dim light of a lamppost. Emma struggles with her seatbelt while Regina watches the road; the engine rumbles steadily, filling the quiet.
There are words left to be said, Emma knows. Conversations that could stretch as long as infinity if they ever began. She settles on the only word needed, at least for right now, as dawn breaks through night.
"Thanks," she mutters before climbing out.
Red taillights of a pick-up truck turn the corner before Emma starts her engine.
For three days, she calls in sick and spends her days at the beach and nights on floor of her bathroom, heaving into the toilet.
She paddles away from shore on her board, full of plans that involve the deep sea and forever.
But, it's twisted up inside her and goes wherever she goes, unnecessary but dangerous, like an appendix waiting to burst. All the memories, the scars. The people, lingering in the periphery of her vision, always.
There is no escape.
She bobs in the middle of the ocean, legs dangling on either side of the board as the sun beats on her skin. The shoreline shrinks to something manageable, small and miniscule.
Will forever be like this? Still too full for her liking, still not the void she wants.
Emma stares at the slip of paper on her counter with numbers scrawled in blue ink. The handwriting is pristine, straight and evenly spaced. If she were smarter, less a masochist, she would've ripped it that morning she found it folded between dollar bills.
It rings twice and then, "Hello?"
Emma breathes. "Why are you here?" She twists a strand of hair around her finger and counts the seconds before Regina responds.
She reaches twenty-seven.
"I have a job at Palos Verdes Stable," Regina says, irritably. The line transmits shuffling, grey crinkling static. Emma pictures Regina shifting in the bed with the checkered blue sheets wearing a twisted sneer that Emma remembers from a time in Maine when she played Sheriff to Regina's Mayor.
"Are you wondering if I chased you across the country out of spite? Because the answer is no, dear, despite what your ego might lead you to believe." There's tiredness in her voice that's still new to Emma, coiled around in the tone and pitch, weathered and beat.
"Would you leave, if I asked nicely?" Her voice feels small, and she feels it, too. Small and miniscule like the shoreline from the ocean. Like a drifter in the middle of open road, surrounded by endless ground. The anger isn't there tonight, as if someone stole it while Emma turned her back. Instead, there's a hollow sort of memory of Regina – floating somewhere above Emma, pressing her down into the dirt and mud and leaves with all the forest watching.
"Are you asking?"
Emma opens her mouth to respond, waits for the words that were there just yesterday but have disappeared now when she needs them most. She thinks: ask me again when I'm drunk, when I'm angry, ask me another day, not today.
Propping her elbows on the counter, she leans forward to rest her chin on a closed fist, eye roaming her kitchen – dirty dishes in the sink, fridge humming in the corner, a row of empty beer bottles. "Maybe," she says, noncommittally, and then, hangs up, out of fear.
Because there are words to be said, and tonight, Emma almost wants to start,almost.
"Night," she murmurs to a memory, and prepares for her shift.
The temperature drops in the middle of October, ushering a series of storms and high tides. Emma alternates between the indoor pool at LA Fitness and the choppy waters of the Pacific, using the water to drown out the world.
A truce settles, unevenly and lacking foundation. Regina comes for breakfast four times a week. Emma waits on her with a friendly smile. It feels almost like the time before Regina, when Emma had some measure of control – small, yes, but enough to keep it together.
November passes. December arrives without disaster. The nights bleed together, uneventful and dull. And, she passes daylight by sleeping, swimming, or surfing. (And, she drinks at home now instead of a bar, and hides her phone before she races no one to the bottom of the bottle, and passes out under white sheets, never blue. This also helps.)
Emma hears them before she rounds the corner with a tray of drinks balanced against her hip. Liquids slosh around in cups, but never spill, a skill borne from years of practice.
"Ms. Swan?" She hears Janet say. "Uh, we don't have anyone by that name."
"Emma Swan, the woman you work with. I forgot to give her this." Regina huffs, annoyed.
Her heart stops (or maybe, she wishes it would), and the air turns thick and heavy. The ground beneath her holds tight to the soles of her shoes, like super glue, or wet cement, maybe quick sand because it feels like she's sinking.
Emma squeaks out a word that's would've sounded like "Stop!" if it had escaped properly, but becomes nothing, really. Just a sound that goes unheard.
"Oh, Emma." She hears the shake of Janet's head in the response, hears that sort of wry, apologetic grin the girl gets when stuck in these situations, where a corner of her mouth crooks up and her cheeks turn a shade of pastel pink. "Well, it's Emma Blanchard, but uh, she just went on break, like, right after you left, so if you want to wait, or something."
"No. Just make sure Ms. Blanchard receives it, please."
"Um, yeah, no problem."
The tray slips before she can stop it, sending liquid everywhere and glass cups shattering against acrylic flooring.
She kicks hard against the water, cuts straight down the lane with a crisp stroke, arm bent at the right angle, body perfectly horizontal to the floor.
Emma Swan disappeared five years ago, last seen in Boston. There were news reports on the east coast of an unnamed woman who jumped the Longfellow Bridge, diving straight into the Charles River.
No body was ever recovered, and in two years, she will be dead in absentsia.
Emma swims, remembering the frigid water and the million needles pricking her skin as she sank. There was just enough magic left to survive the fall, the air closing in around her to suffocate, hissing past with a growl as if it knew she was defying the laws of this world.
The trees dotting the esplanade were orange on that October day – and the last thing Emma Swan sees before air became water and claimed her.
It's all she's known since that day.
They held her in a cell, unfamiliar men in black armor that clanged and rattled with each step. Two by five, approximately, with a window smaller than her face and a locked wooden door. The metal bound around her wrist kept her in place.
Ten minutes before 5 AM, Emma slips outside for her lunch break, crawling into the backseat of her car and dropping into the compact space in relief. To fit, she pulls her legs up to her chest, curling into a ball on her side. She waits for the telltale signs of Regina's truck – the groan of the engine and the squeak of brakes – ill prepared to face the woman after yesterday.
There were other names to pick, others she considered when she swam out of the Charles as Emma, just Emma, who smiled coquettishly at strangers for rides, who offered nothing about her past aside from a vague tale about California and a car accident that left her tragically alone.
The truck arrives at its scheduled time. The engine dies, a car door slams shut, and then, it's quiet. Emma stares at the lamp post outside her window, where bugs have gathered for the night flying in endless circular loops underneath its glare.
Even with the stone wall between the rooms, Emma heard every word, every whimper, every scream that grated on ears like nails clawing a chalkboard. And the last scream, a high pitched wail, like a speaker screeching in protest when a microphone nears, loud and piercing, before it fell quiet, before the clank, clank, clank of the rebel's armor grew faint and far away, burrowed itself inside of her, twisted and curled and fused with everything else she carried already.
Does Regina understand? Why she needs to eviscerate Emma Swan?
A car door swings open, swings back shut, creaking on hinges that need oil. An engine starts, noisily at first before settling into a hum, moving away from Emma, who continues to stare at the lamp post and the bugs and the endless loop of circles.
It was Mary Margaret in the other room.
It was Mary Margaret, who volunteered, who stepped forward when the rebels offered a bargain: one to kill, one to free. Mary Margaret who squeezed her hand that one last time and smiled at Emma Swan as if she deserved to live.
"Find a way back, Emma," she mouthed into the crook of Emma's shoulder during that final hug while Emma nodded, mutely.
Emma Swan, the savior who saved no one.
After two weeks of hiding, Emma seeks her out eventually.
It's the day after the New Year, and Emma decides to try, at least for today. Armed with a present and a carton of ice cream as a peace offering, she shows up uninvited on a Saturday, stands in front of Regina's apartment, raps twice on the door and remembers to smile.
It slips open a fraction, enough for Regina to stick her head out the door. "You should leave," she says, strained. It's dark inside, Emma can tell, looking over Regina's shoulder into the living room. The curtains are drawn. There's a bottle of wine on the coffee table, another one on the ground tipped over. Regina's pupils are dilated and the white of her eyes a pale shade of red instead.
Emma knows a bad day when she sees it, the kind that kills a person, exhausts every resource as it makes itself known and tramples around with disregard.
"Okay," Emma agrees (and tries to ignore the relief she feels at seeing Regina in this state). "But this is yours," she holds out the hitch cover for Regina's truck with the face of a horse embossed in the metal. She ordered it from a website last week after she remembered the present Regina left for her at the diner and felt it important to reciprocate, somehow.
Regina hesitates, but reaches for it, anyway, and smiles, faintly. Emma catches the crease in the corner of her mouth, the slight upturn that doesn't reach her eyes but is enough for a day like today. The door widens further to reveal Regina in a pair of dark sweats and a hoodie (guilt replaces relief, because this is not Regina Mills who calls the shots, who cradles beating hearts in the palm of her hand and dictates life and death, not even close or at all).
"See you on Monday." Emma adds, moving to pivot on her left heel to walk away.
"Do you ever think of him?" Regina asks, distantly, in a tone Emma associates with the Queen.
It stops Emma cold, her muscles flooding with lead. Her back stiffens before she responds, "I'll see you on Monday, okay? Feel better." She hears the door of the apartment shut as she's scrambling for her car, suddenly at the precipice of her own bad day.
Do you ever think of him? Him. Reduced to a pronoun in death.
The book from Regina lies open on the front seat, opened to a page Regina had marked herself. It was wrapped in traditional holiday wrapping, with a silver bow, the day Emma got it. Just last week, Emma had found it wedged in her backseat where she'd chucked it angrily, that day Regina asked for an Emma Swan at Norms.
She pulls it to her lap, smooths the pages down with shaking hands.
They have hung my heart with a sunset,
Lilting flowers, and feathered cageless flames,
Death and love: ashes of roses, ashes of angels.
She stares at it dully, at the poem, but that verse in particular. Stares until her vision blurs and drops of water materialize on the page.
She doesn't think of him. Not ever.
It's too dangerous a thought to start.