ONE – EVEN IF IT HURTS ME
Emma sometimes stays afterwards. There's a quiet that descends over them once their breathing returns to a more manageable pace and Regina can almost imagine that this is what normal people do. It's more unsettling than the sex – these moments where she can feel a leg thrown carelessly over her own, or a hand brushing absently over the smooth planes of her stomach. Sex is something Regina handles with an adept, bruising touch, taking what she needs and giving what Emma wants without the blonde even asking. Not that she has to anymore; they've been doing this for long enough that Regina has Emma's predilections stored away in her brain like the words of magic that she tried so hard to learn, so long ago.
Yes; she tells herself with a rush of nausea in her gut. This is what normal people do. People who aren't at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to what's good, what's right, and what's broken beyond repair. People who are like she once was when Daniel was alive and her imagined, blissfully happy life stretched out over years where she envisaged waking up beside him every day.
Regina sometimes dreams of him, even now. She still wonders what it would have been like to lie in his arms and listen to the strong, powerful thud of his heart under her ear. Then, other times, she wakes in the night from the memory of that heart, crushed in her mother's hand, torn out of the body she tried to awaken even as it turned cold in her arms.
It pains her how a broken heart can still continue to beat and did so for long, empty years yawning over the abyss where love once resided. She used to wish for death to release her, to assuage the constant hurt that loss echoed in her chest. And then, after the hurt had subsided to a dull ache, she wished for vengeance.
Now, though, she just wishes for peace. It might not come easily – or at all – but in these moments where her body is sated, her mind can begin to convince itself that the rest of her is comforted, too.
Emma groans and stretches, pressing her hands up against the headboard, body lengthening in the bed. Pushing herself up into a sitting position, she runs a hand through her tousled hair and lets out a sigh.
"I could stay here all day," she announces.
Regina looks up at Emma's back; there are welts on the toned flesh there and she flexes her fingers by her sides. Of all the ways in which she's given vent to the dissatisfaction that rumbles in her chest like distant thunder, Emma is the only person who gladly invites a touch that's hardened with it; fingers that claw at her and sometimes break the skin.
Perhaps it's a release for them both. Regina doesn't know much about Emma's past, but she can feel it sometimes beneath her fingertips in the mottled texture of old scars. And yet Emma begs her in half-spoken whispers to drive deeper, grasp harder, to hurt and clutch at her.
Whatever it is between them, it's a contract they've both entered into with the sort of weary surrender that normal people – not people like them, Regina reminds herself – never have to feel.
And yet, here they are anyway, pretending that they're like everyone else.
"If that's what you want to do…" Regina leaves the offer hanging even as Emma swings her legs over the side of the bed and leans forwards, resting her elbows onto her knees.
"I can't," Emma says. Her voice is heavy, ponderous with deliberation. "I have to get back for – for Henry."
She sighs again and Regina feels the urge to reach out and touch those red lines she's scraped down Emma's back. Her hand, twitching by her side, curls into a fist, fingernails digging into her palm. She's had bodies in her bed because she wanted them there; they were similarly dismissed at her own will, too. But she's begun to miss Emma's presence from the moment the blonde leaves. Despite what she tells herself when she tries to soothe her ragged nerves with whiskey and solitude, this has started to mean something.
"Of course," Regina says quietly, settling for acquiescence rather than the weakness that care places in her chest.
Shoving her hair back from her face, Emma grabs at her clothes, shaking them out and tugging on a crumpled white tank top. She stands, sliding her underwear up over slender hips and reaches for her pants. Regina watches in silence, knowing that if Emma turns to look at her right now, they're still too warm from lovemaking to return to the distance that necessarily exists between them. She relies on Emma to perpetuate it when she can't; to redefine and reaffirm the barriers that have to be in place.
It's what's safest, after all.
"I can bring him over for dinner, if you like," Emma suggests, fastening her jeans, fingers toying with the button as she glances across the bed towards Regina. It takes her breath away sometimes, how beautiful the other woman is. There's an aura of resplendent calm about Regina when she's lying in bed, sheets half covering her body; it's as though she's just a woman, all the titles and past deeds stripped away. That, more than anything else, is the most seductive, dangerous and tempting part of her. It's a part Emma knows nobody ever sees and she can't help feeling that if they could, then things might be different.
Regina feigns nonchalance, but the gleam in her eyes at the prospect of spending time with Henry casts a sheen over her entire face and she shifts, picking at the sheet with the tips of her fingers.
"I would like that, thank you," she says politely.
Emma quirks a grin and shrugs. "He's your son as well as mine, Regina. No matter what's happened, he wants to see you."
"No matter what's happened?" Regina echoes, eyebrows rising a little. "You say that like people aren't baying for my blood, dear."
The sheet around her body is lifted higher, covering any traces of vulnerability until Regina is sitting up in bed, face hardened against the outside world, as always.
"Believe me, people are far too interested in their own lives to devote them to ending yours," Emma tells her.
It comes out far more nonchalant than she'd intended, but she knows that in the greater scheme of things, Storybrooke is barely clinging to the life that was created for them. The town's anger is directed towards Regina, but it manifests itself in a confused, splintered way that poses no tangible danger. Not that anyone else would ever tell Regina that. Creating fear is really the only retaliation they have left now that Emma has vowed to keep order, to keep the law as she knows it, not to bend to the will of a realm that doesn't even exist in this world.
"Your optimism is heartening, if misguided," Regina says in that tone that indicates that it's not really a compliment at all.
"It's not optimism," Emma replies, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans, "it's just how it is."
Regina stares at the blonde and sees the faint lines that realism has etched across Emma's brow. She knows that she's responsible, in part, for putting some of them there and she can't say it doesn't rankle in her gut that she even cares.
"Everything's changed for people," Emma continues, shrugging a little. "But you've changed for them too and it's just going to take some time for them to get, you know, used to it."
"I changed for Henry," Regina asserts firmly. "Not for them."
Emma allows her gaze to sweep over the other woman, naked in more ways than one. And she thinks of how, before curses and Evil Queens and discovering that her parents are the stuff of fairytales, change was a concept she'd never have applied to Regina. Or herself.
Now things aren't so clear cut. Now she comes to Regina's house because she can't stay away. Because here, she feels more normal than she's ever felt before, parenting her kid with a woman she's sleeping with. Doing it with someone rather than the way she's always done everything else: alone. And whatever this is that they've started, however and whenever it ends, Emma knows that she won't be standing on her own at the finish line. The truth is that she and Regina need one another almost as much as they need Henry, clinging on to the pretense of a relationship that should horrify them both.
"It wasn't just for Henry, was it?" Emma asks, and she's vaguely appalled at how needy her voice sounds. Being guarded with one another was how they always survived. But survival seems like it shouldn't be a way of life anymore. Not now there are so little lies left to hide behind.
Regina looks curiously at Emma, silent for a few seconds before she draws breath and gazes back down at the sheet, one hand smoothing out over the expensive cotton.
"The truth, Regina," Emma insists. She waits impatiently before puffing out her cheeks and turning for the door because whatever Regina's truths are, she knows that they don't come easily.
"At first -" Regina's voice comes from a small place – perhaps the smallest place inside her. As Emma spins around to look at her, Regina draws up her knees and puts her arms around them as though the action can help summon up the courage she needs. "At first, it was for him," she admits.
"But not anymore," Emma inclines her head and can see the other woman struggle with wanting to flee towards the safe arms of denial.
"No," Regina lets out a long sigh and shakes her head. "Not anymore."