"That's it?" Emma questioned, skepticism masking over her expression at Regina's explanation of what had happened in the pawn shop. "He just wanted a favor to be used in the future?"
Regina knew it wasn't the most convincing story, but it was the only thing she was able to think of that would sound plausible. Telling Emma the truth was entirely out of the question, as it would lift the veil that shrouded the most intricately woven of lies that she had ever told; this town, these people, the lives and past she had created to make it unquestionable to those trapped within its grasp. Their relationship was difficult enough without exposing an unforgivable truth that the so-called 'Savior' would no doubt find herself unable to look past.
Gold was wrong anyhow. Emma might be something to her, but True Love was supposed to be something magical, something two people were destined for, and how their relationship began was not the things that epic love stories were made of. They fell into something together that was merely born from their broken desire to connect to someone just as damaged as they were. It was a passing fancy –granted, one Regina was certain she would enjoy while it lasted – but there was absolutely no 'forever' about the two of them. She couldn't fathom how that wasn't painstakingly clear to Gold, but perhaps he was merely covering all his bases.
Regina didn't know why he wanted the Curse to end so badly, but as she doubted it was going to happen anytime soon, perhaps it wasn't pertinent to worry about it.
"That's what he said," Regina answered. To try to make her lie more convincing she added, "And believe me, dear, it might seem like nothing now, but I'm certain when the time comes for him to cash it in, it won't be something I'll be particularly ecstatic about participating in. It unsettles me, to owe something to that man. You don't understand what he's capable of."
"Yeah, no, I get it," Emma responded with an exasperated sigh, as though Regina's insistence of how bad it could be was futile. "I owe him a favor too, remember? And yeah, pretty sure that's gonna suck balls when the time comes, but I just don't get why he couldn't propose that deal in front of me."
"It was a business transaction, dear; a private matter between the two consenting parties. Also, I believe he enjoys being needlessly dramatic. But it's of no matter… what's done is done. We cannot change that."
Emma still looked skeptical, but she didn't question it any further. Perhaps she knew better than to prod at Regina when she had already had a trying day. She slumped against the wall in the study, kicking up her leg so that her dirty boot was making a rather ghastly imprint on the nice wallpaper. Regina inwardly cringed. "So what, we don't get the pictures back until you cash in this favor, whatever the hell it's going to be?"
"Yes," Regina hurriedly answered before giving into the slight anxiety that was creeping up her spine at Emma's blatant disregard of her nice things. She honestly couldn't understand what compelled the woman to act in such a manner. Wasn't common decency, well… common? "And for the love of everything, Miss Swan; if you do not remove your foot from my wall, I will be forced to remove it from your body."
Surprise passed over Emma's face before recognition kicked in and she slid her foot down to land with a thump on the wooden floor. Regina's eyes flashed at the mark she had made, although a part of her knew she was only focusing on such a trivial matter because it was easier to deal with than the present situation. She really didn't want to have the inevitable conversation about their relationship, as she was unsure on how to even broach such a delicate matter.
"Oh… sorry," Emma mumbled, shoving her hands into her pocket as she tried to shoot Regina an innocent look. The Mayor merely scowled at the half-assed apology.
"You are so utterly barbaric sometimes."
"Yeah, well, shit happens." The response was said with an uncaring shrug, as Emma apparently didn't feel the need to seem guilty anymore after Regina's assessment of her etiquette, or lack thereof. She quirked an eyebrow at her, "And really, you're going with Miss Swan again? I thought we were past all that crap."
Regina puffed out her cheeks as she exhaled an impatient sigh, leaning against the side of her desk. "The day you stop being irritating is the day I will cease to call you that," she answered. She gestured at her wall haplessly, "Honestly, look at what you've done; you're like an oversized child. Do you even know how much that wallpaper costs?"
"Oh for fuck's sake," Emma exclaimed, rolling her eyes as she pushed herself off the wall. "If I clean it off, will you shut up? You're obsessing."
"I am not obsessing—"
"She said defensively."
Regina fumed, allowing herself to get riled up because her anger was the only thing that truly made any sense anymore. "Just get a damn rag and clean up your mess," she snapped, further proving Emma's theory that she was getting defensive. And Regina knew, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she was being utterly ridiculous, but it still didn't stop her in the slightest.
"Guess the honeymoon's over," Emma grumbled as she stomped off into the kitchen, doing what Regina asked of her. The Mayor exhaled a long sigh, running her fingers through her hair. It was aggravating her, that she didn't know how to start the conversation they needed to have, and perhaps she was taking it out on Emma unfairly, but it was just easier sometimes, to fall back on old habits.
Regina looked up, seeing Henry in the doorway of the study. Her irritation dissipated almost immediately and she smiled at him. "Hi, honey. Did you have fun at Kathryn's this weekend?" She pushed herself off the desk to cross the room to the small couch in the southern corner, beckoning her son to come join her on it.
"Yeah. David played baseball with me," Henry answered as he tentatively glanced at the seat his mother was offering him. It seemed he did not deem it to be any threat however, since he reluctantly went over and sat down next to her. "Emma said I had to finish my homework before I watched any TV, but I'm done now, so can I?"
Regina was about to answer, but she didn't get the chance.
"You know what you should watch, kid?" Emma said, interrupting Regina's train of thought, as she came in with a wet rag. Her presence seemed to surprise Henry, as he no doubt believed she had left once Regina had come home. But Emma barely even noticed as she bent down to scrub the mark she made off the wall. "The Avengers. Seriously, it's so awesome. I think it's still on Pay Per View, if you can convince your mom to order it."
"His bedtime is in an hour, I hardly think that gives him enough time to watch a movie."
Although Henry did look excited by the prospect of the movie, his gleeful expression diminished rather quickly, only to be replaced by utter confusion. "Is Emma going to live with us now?" he asked, seemingly out of nowhere. The question made Emma drop the rag she was holding and Regina to nearly choke on her own breath.
"What? No. Why would you…" Regina tried, but had to take a moment to try to collect herself through her sudden burst of irrational panic. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because she's always here and now she's cleaning. You tell me all the time I have to clean up after myself because I live here, so if she's not going to live here, then why are you making her clean?"
Although it sounded like a perfectly rational question that a ten year old would ask – since the logic behind it would be flawless if only those factors were involved – Regina couldn't help but hear the bitterness in his tone at the prospect of his birthmother moving in with them, and Regina was almost certain that had everything to do with her and nothing to do with Emma. He really didn't like how friendly the two of them had gotten and it was entirely disheartening, for a wide variety of reasons.
"Because people should always clean up after themselves, not just when they're at home," Regina struggled to answer. Her eyes found Emma's, who was looking akin to a deer stuck in headlights, so Regina sighed, knowing she wasn't going to get any help with this as she finished, "And you know Emma and I have been working on a project together. Believe me, dear, I wouldn't have her here under any other circumstances; we are merely colleagues, it would be inappropriate."
"Liar," Henry accused. His words made Regina's face color in shock at being spoken to in such a blatantly rude manner. Her son knew better, or at least she had thought so.
"Hey," Emma spoke up, suddenly finding her voice. "That's not a nice thing to accuse your mom of, kid. Like she said, we're just—"
But Henry was up on his feet, anger washing over his face as he pointed at Emma, having decided that since he had opened the door to the issue he might as well barrel through it headfirst. "Then you're a liar too!" he accused, causing Emma's jaw to slack; surprised that his rage had made a rather unexpected turn in her direction. Regina wondered if this was the first time her son had ever yelled at her.
"I know you guys are friends now; I'm ten, not blind!" Henry raged, looking almost on the verge of tears from the prospect. It tore Regina's heart in half. "You promised, Emma; you said you wouldn't let her corrupt you and you did! Now everything's ruined and everyone's going to be unhappy forever, and it's all her fault!"
Henry fled from the room, his temper tantrum sweeping both women up in its wake as the air became thick with foreboding tension. Regina felt like her insides were crushing in on one another, twisting and violently succumbing to the force of her son's rejection. It was suffocating, to continue to do this day after day; Regina didn't know what to do anymore. It was clear this phase wasn't going to go away anytime soon and it made her feel rather nauseous. She didn't know how much more of this she could take.
Emma was at her side immediately, noting the distress on the brunette's face. "Hey," she tried softly, kneeling down in front of the couch so she could be eyelevel with Regina. Emma's hand cupped her cheek, her thumb sliding over soft skin that was beginning to flush with the premonition of future tears. "He's just a kid, you know? It'll pass. He can't believe this fairytale thing forever; at some point, he'll need to grow up."
"You don't understand what it's like," Regina choked out, trying desperately to force her tears to stay at bay, but one slipped down her cheek of its own accord, Emma's thumb immediately wiping it from existence, "to have your own son think you're some… despicable person. It doesn't matter how long it lasts, it still rips my heart from my chest to see him look at me in that way."
The worst part about it was Regina knew it wasn't entirely undeserved. All the things Henry believed that she had done, she actually had done. But perhaps what upset her the most was that Regina had once convinced herself that this place, this town, would be the beginnings of a new life. It should have been a clean slate, a place where she could raise the son she adopted with love and with care, but old habits die hard and it wasn't as though she had made herself into this miraculous new person who actually deserved to be cared about.
Perhaps she didn't do as much evil here as she did back in the Enchanted Forest, but she wasn't exactly a good person either. She had hurt many people – a large percentage of the time on purpose – and even to this day, even in this moment, she couldn't bring herself to even regret the things she had done, outside of the fact that they seemed to have unintentionally hurt Henry in the process.
Regina had believed a child's love was unconditional, but it seemed she was wrong. How foolish she had been, to think she could force someone to care for her, just because she took care of their basic needs.
"He loves you," Emma responded strongly, as though the force of her words had the ability to instill belief. It was almost as if she knew what Regina was thinking. "He's just going through something right now; you have to give him time."
"I fear it isn't that simple," Regina whispered, her words nothing more than broken remnants of the life she foolishly had convinced herself she could have. She took a shuddered inhale of breath though, refusing to cry anymore in front of Emma; the mere fact that she was even comfortable enough to do so in the first place was unsettling enough. Regina couldn't even remember the last person who had seen her tears and now Emma had, twice.
"Why, because you really are the Evil Queen?" Emma joked, trying to make light of the situation, but it only stood to darken Regina's expression. Emma noticed this and her face immediately softened as she grasped Regina's hands in hers. "Hey, no, don't do that; don't let Henry's anger project on your self-image. That can't be healthy."
"With all due respect, dear, I hardly think you're one to lecture about unhealthy behaviors."
Emma relented to that with a soft shrug, not going to argue her point. "Okay, fine; that's fair," she told her, yet still gently squeezed Regina's hands in hers encouragingly, seemingly set on making her feel better in whatever way she could.
"Alright, look at it this way," Emma began, finding a new course of action to take in her quest to mend Regina's broken heart. "Even if what Henry says is true – which okay, I know is weird and probably requires doing heavy amounts of LSD to believe, but bear with me for a second – even if you were this so called 'Evil Queen' who takes people's hearts and ruins people's lives, you're not— well okay," she amended, thinking about how much truth that statement actually entailed, "you do have a bit of a problem with trying to ruin people's lives actually…"
"Is this supposed to be helping?" Regina interrupted bitterly.
"Sorry, just trying to be honest and that wasn't exactly it," Emma admitted, looking a little guilty for saying it in the first place, as it meant amending it probably hurt Regina further. "Look, my point is, even if the world had gone backwards and you were this person Henry thinks, you still wouldn't be her now. And you wanna know why?"
Emma gave her a soft smile, trying to prove this to her with the care she held for the woman in front of her. "Evil can't love, Regina," she told her firmly. "That's like, pretty much the basis of 'evil' in every story, isn't it? And you love Henry; anyone can see that from a mile away. So don't get caught up in this image he's projecting on you because it's not true. Yeah, you can be an unfathomable bitch at times and are manipulative as shit, but you're also the sweetest woman I've ever met in my life, even if I had to dig pretty damn deep to find the person you try to hide."
Emma reached up, tenderly tucking a piece of Regina's hair behind her ear as she finished pointedly with, "Good and evil are black and white concepts, Regina, and you're pretty much the greyest person I've ever met. And you know what? I think the color suits you."
There wasn't even a word to describe how Regina felt in that moment. It was as though something warm inside of her had burst, slowly running through her body as it filled her with a feeling she never believed she would get from another after all the things she had done. For so long Regina had believed her fate to be set; consumed with revenge and anger, there wasn't much room for anything else, let alone the privilege of love and acceptance. To get either of those things, Regina had always believed she needed to lie. And although she wasn't ready to spill all her secrets to Emma – as the fear of what that would bring was still far too great – the acceptance Emma had about there being both a dark and light side within her, filled Regina with an emotion she couldn't even begin to name.
Their lips met heatedly, desperately, as Regina sought to thank her in the only way she knew how. Words were meaningless anyway, as she needed Emma to feel what it was that consumed her whole. Fingers tangling in cascades of sun-kissed hair, Regina drew her towards her, breathing her in as she allowed Emma to chip away at the wall she had barricaded around her heart. Perhaps she wasn't her one True Love, but the woman's irrefutable light still poured inside of her, mixing with the darkness where Regina had made her home, creating the beautiful shade of grey that Emma firmly believed her to be. Although it was, perhaps, a bit strange that Emma didn't realize the transition had furthered because of her.
The Savior of All… and yet Emma had no idea the true impact she really had on people, too consumed with her own darkness, perhaps, to notice the light radiating from her heart.
Air had suddenly become a needed factor and they both pulled away, yet only slightly. Emma was smiling at her, as though she was honestly surprised by Regina's reaction. "I helped then?" she asked, like the concept was unfathomable for some reason, yet she enjoyed it all the same. Regina returned the smile in kind, chuckling a little at the amount of disbelief on the woman's face.
"Yes, dear, you helped."
Emma beamed, but it was short lasting as the current situation they had found themselves in came back to the forefront of her mind. Frowning, Emma's words were soft and tentative as she voiced her opinion on the matter, which she was fairly certain Regina wouldn't like, "We can't keep lying to him like this, Regina. I think it's only gonna end up making everything worse."
The hurt look on Henry's face as he accused both of them of being liars flashed in Regina's mind. Though she wished she didn't, Emma had a point; Henry was clearly upset by the fact that they had gotten friendlier, but his anger seemed to escalate further over the fact that he was being lied to about it. Henry's paranoia that Regina was somehow 'corrupting' his precious Savior was likely becoming worse because of it, which also did not help matters in the slightest. But was it wise to broach such a delicate subject with a ten year old? Regina was uncertain and that feeling of confliction set her at a terrible unrest.
"I'm afraid of introducing him to a routine that stands a high chance of not becoming a permanent fixture in his life," Regina admitted. "It's not as though I enjoy lying to him, but I'm worried that he could get used to it, and when our relationship comes to an end, it could hurt him far worse than not knowing ever could."
"No, I get that," Emma conceded, exhaling a long sigh as she too looked utterly lost on how to proceed. "I just… I keep thinking that there's a good chance that he might end up finding out on his own, walk in on something, and then what? I mean, we'll probably scar the kid for life. He's already in therapy; we really don't need to give him more reasons to go."
Regina stayed silent, unable to come to a decision or formulate any other suggestions. All of the books she had read on parenting had never prepared her for this kind of scenario.
But it seemed Emma had an idea as her hand gently squeezed Regina's knee, getting her attention. "Maybe we should just…" But then she trailed off, uncertainty crossing her features as she realized this might not be Regina's preferred plan of action. She continued regardless however, as now Regina was looking at her in question. "Alright, I know you're probably gonna hate this, but… what if we talk to Dr. Hopper about it?"
Regina's face immediately darkened.
"Look, I know you're not his biggest fan," Emma continued quickly, "But he's worked with the kid for a long time now and, I don't know, maybe a professional opinion would help? I mean he can't be all bad; you even went to him once, didn't you?"
"Yes, and the blithering idiot had nothing of use to help my situation," Regina bit back, still bitter over the last therapy session she had with the man. "His big solution was that we talk to one other, as though that would magically stop us from being self-torturing imbeciles."
"Uh, Regina?" Emma asked tentatively, one eyebrow rising in her direction. "To be fair, I think a lot of our problems could be solved if we just talked to each other."
"Well fine then, dear, by all means, let's talk," Regina snapped, irrationally aggravated over being countered. Emma, when confronted by this request, merely stared at her with a deer-in-headlights expression. It was enough to prove her point. "See, and this is exactly why the solution was utterly unrealistic; we don't know how to do that, now do we?"
Emma sighed heavily. "Well then maybe we should go to therapy anyway," she muttered, which was exactly the answer Regina was not looking for. "We obviously suck at this. I mean, maybe it could—"
"I am not about to participate in couples therapy," Regina interrupted, as though the idea was absolutely unfathomable. They may have their issues, but that didn't mean they needed to share them with someone who could mediate them. It made her feel entirely uncomfortable, for someone to know what it was they were doing so intimately.
"Then this relationship probably is going to go to shit," Emma bit back, unhappy that her idea was shut down so quickly. She eyed Regina with a sudden mistrust, as though perhaps that was all part of her well-calculated plan to make the masochist within her even unhappier. "Is that what you want?"
Regina looked at her haplessly, unable to understand how Emma could even think such a thing. "Of course not—"
"Well me either," Emma told her seriously, wanting Regina to understand that although she too was pessimistic when it came to believing they stood a chance, that didn't mean she didn't want to try to fight against what they both assumed was the inevitable. "Look this isn't my first choice either. Do you really think it's gonna be fun for me, to sit there and have my head dissected? Pretty sure I'd rather get twelve root canals in a row. But the fantasy we made in your summer cabin, I… I don't know, I really liked it. And maybe it's stupid of me to hope for, given how screwed up we are, but I think it'd be nice if that could be our reality, instead of our dirty secret."
Regina pursed her lips, apprehension coloring her features. Of course she agreed with Emma; it would be nice to have that become their reality. But Regina was convinced it would never be so because neither of them believed they truly deserved to have that kind of happiness or contentment in their lives.
To be allotted that pleasure would mean that they would have to sacrifice something for it, as they both had learned long ago that nothing worth having ever came easy. And if it did, Regina was fairly certain they would become suspicious, and that only stood to make things worse. At least this way, they knew what pain they were sacrificing to pay the price for their happiness. That would always be far better than having the unknown loom over them, taunting them into paranoia as they waited for the other shoe to drop.
Emma watched her for a moment, noting the conflicted look on Regina's face. "Come on, Regina," she gently prodded, "I know it's going to suck but if we have to go for Henry anyway, we might as well deal with some of our shit while we're there." Emma's hand gently squeezed her knee in a silent promise, trying to find a compromise. "If we can't handle it, we don't have to go again. I'm not trying to commit you to something I don't even know is going to work yet."
Regina exhaled a long sigh, not really having the effort to fight this any longer, as Emma seemed persistent and her stubbornness had always been rather unmatched. "Fine," she relented, although made a point to make it clear in her voice that she wasn't happy about this arrangement. "I'll make an appointment, but I really doubt it's going to do us any good."
Emma shot her a small smile, happy that she had agreed to her proposal. "I guess we'll see," she responded with an indifferent shrug. She didn't really have high hopes either, but it seemed she was more open-minded to it than Regina was.
"Yes," Regina agreed slowly, already thinking of a thousand ways this could go wrong. "We most certainly will."