A/N: Language, sexual situations, and drama. :D
"So, is this what a panic attack looks like?" Emma asks as she steps into the kitchen, a towel over her shoulder. Sweat pools just beneath her hairline, and rolls down the side of her face – evidence of her recent workout. Above her, she can hear the sound of rain continuing to strike against the roof, and water is dripping down the windows. Her attention isn't on the rain, though, but rather Regina's frenzied cleaning. She has a fairly good idea what this is all about. She'd even kind of expected this to happen. The one thing that she's known about Regina almost since the day that they'd first met – and this understanding has only been reinforced over the time that they've been here together – is that the queen almost always tries to hide the worst of her fears behind dramatic actions.
"Just because you prefer to live like a slob doesn't mean that the rest of us have to," Regina counters as she digs her elbow into the process and grinds down on a dark speck of what is probably just a slight color distortion in the surface.
"So this…fit of yours has absolutely nothing to do with you being worried about the talk that we need to have with our kid tonight, huh?" Emma prompts as she leans against the counter and stares right at Regina, waiting for the older woman to realize that she's being studied.
"Well, we don't need to have that conversation tonight," Regina corrects before realizing that she'd given her fears away too easily. It's strange to be hiding her emotions – or trying to, anyway – from the woman whom she'd spent all of the previous evening and most of the morning with. Emma had seen her at her most exposed (figuratively and literally) and right now, she's looking back at her with a gleam in her green eyes that suggests that even now she can see what ugly scenarios are playing out in Regina's mind.
Truthfully, Regina's never felt so naked before and that's saying something.
She sighs and drops the rag to the counter, her energy seeming to seep out of her.
"I'll take that as confirmation," Emma nods, smiling thinly.
Regina frowns at this, her hands joining in the middle for an anxious twist before she seems to remember herself – or more correctly, she seems to remember her upbringing and likely harsh words from Cora - enough to settle them back against her sides. "I've been thinking about what we need to say to Henry all morning. I've been trying to figure out the right words so that maybe he'll understand, and I've been trying to convince myself that he'll be okay with us…developing…having a relationship, but if he isn't, then…Emma, if he isn't okay with it, I think…I think I've made a decision."
"Which is?" Emma queries. Part of her wants to know why this is a choice that Regina had come to on her own, but since she already knows exactly what the decision that her lover thinks she's come to is, she also already knows why.
"I won't let him be unhappy," Regina tells her. "I've done too much of that."
"Which means what? Remember, I'm blonde. So spell it out slowly." She attempts to says these words as lightly as she can manage to, like she's trying to ease the tension that's suddenly bled into the space between them, but the attempt at levity falls completely flat, ignored entirely by the suddenly anxious other woman.
"It means," she says, her voice too flat to be real, "That if he's not okay with us doing this, then I think maybe we shouldn't, because it's our job to make our son happy."
"Even if that means that we're unhappy?" Emma queries, stepping towards Regina, her movement cautious and careful. It's a bit amazing to Emma just how much she wants to touch Regina right now. At least part of Emma believes that she should probably feel completely sated after what had just shared with each other, but the more self-aware part understands that Regina is every bit an addiction. "Because I'm pretty sure that it's our job to love our kid as much as is humanly possible, but...but I don't think that means we have to destroy our chance at some kind of happiness for him. And...I don't think that he would want us to do that for him, anyway."
"I don't want him to hate me," Regina whispers, her shoulders slumping. She closes her eyes. "Gods, I despise being weak," she continues. "And right now, I feel weak."
"Maybe you feel that way, but it's not true. You're not weak," Emma insists as she takes one last step forward and then wraps her arms around Regina's waist. Pulling her close, she leans in and puts her chin on Regina's shoulder, the position just a bit awkward because of the small size difference between the two of them, but clearly appreciated because almost immediately, Regina seems to relax into the hold. "Feeling something for someone else - something good - isn't weakness. It isn't."
"My mother would disagree." Regina lets out an almost bemused sounding chuckle. "And yes, I know that she was wrong. Is wrong. But…it's hard to stop hearing her after so long." She lets out a frustrated sigh. "What the hell are you doing to me?"
"Damned if I know," Emma admits. "But what I said this morning? I meant it. I'd like to see where this goes. I know this could blow up in our faces, because neither one of us is a 'take a gamble on lo…you know this kind of thing' kind of person, but I think maybe this time I'm willing to. Maybe it's the sea air or whatever, but still."
The word – love - that she'd almost said makes both of them freeze for a brief somewhat terrifying moment, but then Regina turns around to face Emma. "Yes, still," she breathes, and then she leans up and kisses Emma gently on the mouth. It almost immediately morphs into something more intense that includes teeth and tongues and a generous amount of nipping.
"See? Now that's so much better," Emma chuckles against her lips. She dives in for another kiss, her hand slipping under the hem of Regina's shirt, nails scratching lightly against the warm skin of Regina's well-toned abdomen.
"Mm, I don't believe that we have time for this," Regina tells her, smiling into the kiss before pressing in for another one and then one more. "Henry will be home within the hour if your idiot ex knows how to properly read a watch which –"
"Can you try to be nice, please?" Emma laughs as she steps away.
"If you insist."
"I know that you consider it a crime against nature not to insult him at every opportunity, but I really would appreciate the effort," she jokes. She then picks up the rag and shoves it into the back pocket of her workout pants. "To stop you from another manic cleaning fit. I can already see my reflection." She frowns as she looks down and does just that. "I should probably comb my hair."
"I rather like the princess curls, my dear," Regina tells her, proving her point by reaching forward and sliding her fingers through thick blonde tresses for a moment before pulling back and returning to a relatively safe position a few inches away from Emma and that obnoxious knowing gaze that she's wearing on her face.
"Noted," Emma grins. Then, growing serious once again, "So, do you think we can do this together?"
"Us or Henry?"
"Both. We tell him the truth, and then whatever happens…happens."
"Not even a little bit. Believe it or not, I am as scared shitless about this as you are, but the one thing I remember from when I was with Neal was that I wasn't weak, Regina. He left me, and he screwed me over, but when we were together, I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do. And sometimes, I even felt like it was okay to stay in bed all day and laugh or cry or whatever. I'm not weak with or without someone."
"I've never been the just stay in bed and relax kind of person anymore than I've been – as you said – the kind willing to take a gamble," Regina reminds her. "I think I had a chance of that many years ago, and well…instead I became the Evil Queen."
"Well, things have changed. I think maybe we both have another chance at all day slumber parties now," Emma says with a small smile. "As for being that kind of person, well, I haven't been her in almost ten years. I kind of miss her, though, and I think if you could stop feeling like you have to be strong and bulletproof all the time, you might even learn to like the woman who doesn't need to be. I know I do." She lifts her hand up and places the back of it lightly against Regina's cheek, gently rubbing her knuckles down across the queen's soft lips. "Either way, I'm here."
"You're telling me to have faith in you."
"I think I've been telling you that since the day we first met, but yeah, I am."
"Then yes," Regina replies, and she feels like she's jumping from the edge of one cliff to the edge of the next one, scaling a massive chasm that could pull her down to a horrific death if she were to miss-time the leap. "I think that we can…try to do this together." The words are difficult to get out because they mean that this thing between them actually is real, and if it's real, well then there could be a lot of pain at the end of this story. Or there could be happiness.
Maybe it's time to take that chance. Maybe it's time to grab at it with both hands.
But isn't that the problem? Hasn't it always been? Grabbing too hard and holding too close? What if she does pull Emma into her, and what if she actually allows herself to love the sheriff to such a degree that when it all falls apart – and God, as much as she doesn't want to, she can't find a way to believe that it won't - she loses her ability to do as she always has? What if losing Emma is the straw, which finally breaks her?
Before she can get too far down this dark path, Emma's forehead touches hers, and all of these terrifying thoughts slip away because in this moment, they're just two women who understand the massive risk they're about to take all in the name of wanting to be happy and loved. They understand and want to take the risk, anyway.
A moment passes and then another as they stay like this just absorbing everything. Finally, because everything inside of Regina feels like it's about to explode and burn, she forces it all away, chuckles and says in a deep voice, "You're sweaty, Sheriff."
"I have been working with the bag for the last hour," Emma reminds her.
"Oh. Deep thoughts?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," Emma teases.
"You should go shower," Regina admonishes with a suggestive smirk.
"Probably. Come with me."
Regina's eyebrow lifts. "Really?"
"Really. The kid is going to be here within the hour, and I'm betting that even if he's cool with everything, we're going to have to behave ourselves with him around."
"I wasn't aware that you actually knew how to behave," Regina replies. It occurs to her that she's actually flirting. Which almost makes her stop cold because she can't really recall the last time she'd done such a thing when it hadn't been part of some malicious attempt at seduction or manipulation. This is actually…innocent.
And it seems to amuse Emma.
"Says the woman who was once one of the most misbehaved in the land." And yep, Emma is actually flirting back, her words devoid of any kind of judgment.
Regina shrugs like she doesn't have the shame that she does for her past – because this moment isn't about those days. "Yes, well, as tempting as your offer sounds, we don't have time for this," she reminds her lover. "And if it's all the same to you, I'd prefer not to tell our twelve year son about our relationship with his eyes first."
Emma snorts indelicately at that, and then holds up her hand when Regina pins her with a scolding look. "Yeah, okay, you're probably right about that," she allows, a mischievous smirk playing across her lips. "But I'm holding you to a rain check."
"That sounds suspiciously like a challenge."
"That's because it is a challenge. Which means – I do believe - that it's your move now. Your Majesty." And with that and a loud laugh, a wildly grinning Emma Swan, looking so very much like the infuriatingly beautiful woman who'd once maimed her tree turns and leaves the kitchen, her swagger on point as she exits the room.
Interesting, Regina thinks, as she gazes back down at the obnoxiously clean counter, how very often things seem to come full circle with she and Emma.
A little over a year ago, such a statement – fired off by one of them to the other - had been tantamount to a declaration of war, and it had, in fact, led to several skirmishes and a few bloody battles.
And yet, now here they are.
Waiting for Emma's ex boyfriend – Rumplestiltskin's son - to return with their shared son that they – his two different as they can possibly be mothers - can ask him for his permission to take a gamble on each other.
Life, Regina thinks, as she gazes over towards the bathroom where she can now hear the water being turned on, really is quite strange at times.
Neal is over two hours late and all she's thinking about at this point is how she's going to kill him, she thinks.
Slowly and painfully.
Her rational voice is telling her that the delay is certainly being caused by the terrible weather. Emma, who has been inside the whole time, hardly seems worried, but well, Regina has spent most of her life expecting – and often receiving – bad news, and so with each minute that passes, her fear grows into something darker.
Fucking Neal Cassidy.
Oh, yeah, she's definitely going to skin him alive. Emma will probably save him from certain death, she imagines, but not before she's able to remove -
The sound of wheels sloshing through mud brings her out of thoughts that are a bit too amusing to be safe for an Evil Queen in recovery.
She watches from her position on the loveseat on the front porch, an oversized sweatshirt all but swallowing her small frame and the scratchy brown blanket slung over her legs, as Neal's pathetic car finally makes its way up the waterlogged driveway. His wheels squeak and his engine sputters, and the car slides just a bit forward before he forces it into park.
"Regina," he greets as he gets out, looking wary but amused to see her. He would have been surprised if she hadn't been there. His eyes catch on the mostly still full glass of red wine in her hand. She's swirling it around almost absently, like it's there for a distraction as opposed to anything else.
And though her face is decidedly neutral, he thinks that her eyes tell the story of someone who has spent the last few hours being incredibly on edge.
He thinks maybe she plans to kill him and…he swallows and forces a smile.
"Mr. Cassidy," she responds coolly. "You're late. Two hours late."
"Guessing maybe you didn't notice, but it's raining cats and dogs," he responds with an impish grin, which he seems to know will infuriate and irritate her. She's almost - almost - impressed by his sudden suicidal desire to try to stand up to her. "I figured," he continues in that same lazy drawl that makes her want to stab him about fifty times in the face, "That you'd prefer I take it easy with Henry in the car as opposed to hauling ass just to make sure I got him back home to you in time for lunch."
"Yes, of course I'm thankful that you showed basic common sense with my son in your custody," she snaps out. "But I presume that you have a cell phone, yes?"
"I do. But again, I was focusing on the road. It's a nightmare out there right now."
"You couldn't have pulled that heap of yours over and made a quick call?"
"All right, I'm sorry," he sighs, sounding both duly chastised and completely annoyed. Whatever small amusement he'd been deriving from challenging her is gone, and now he just looks like a petulant man-child sporting a dramatic pout.
Which is apparently good enough for her for the time being. Putting the wine glass down on the railing, she stands up and moves towards him. "So? Where is he?"
"Dead out in the backseat. We've been driving for almost five hours."
"You think you can lift him?" Emma asks as she steps out onto the deck. She'd been in the kitchen putting away clean dishes when she'd heard Neal's car pull up, and though her first instinct had been to race out to stop Regina from finding a way to disembowel her ex for being late, she'd decided to hold back and just listen in.
Because these two are going to have to learn how to deal with each other.
"Yeah, sure. Why?"
"No need to wake him," Emma replies with a somewhat friendly smile. "If you can pick him up, we can just let him stay crashed out."
"Right, okay," Neal nods as he blinks water out of his eyes. Scowling, he looks upwards towards the sky, which is fiercely dark now. It's clear to all of them that this storm won't be moving on anytime soon. After a moment, he moves towards the back of his car and pulls the door open. Pulling off his jacket, he then uses it to shield Henry's face from the rain as he picks the boy up into his arms and carries him past the two women on the porch.
"He was late," Regina grumbles, seeming almost petulant. It's not at all lost on Regina that Neal had been wearing almost this exact expression mere seconds earlier, and just the realization of this pisses her off all the more.
Emma smirks at this.
Regina sighs loudly, dramatically (and adorably, Emma thinks, and then again wonders just what the devil is happening to her). "I know. Be nice."
"For Henry," Emma urges.
"Wasn't that exactly what we used to say to justify us trying to get along?" Regina asks, lifting an eyebrow up. "Because I must say, if that's how this always goes, I'm really not interested in your rather loathsome ex. Not even a little bit."
"That's good to know," Emma chuckles. "And yes, we did say that, but this is different. All I'm saying here is, stop thinking about ripping out his heart, okay?"
"Fine. I assume you're planning to invite him to stay here for the evening."
"How did you know?"
"Because it's the opposite of what I would do, and because Emma, though it drives me absolutely insane at times, you always find a way to do the…right thing."
"I'm not all that sure that having Neal around to annoy us – and tempt us both towards acts of murder - is the right thing to do," Emma grouses.
"So then why do you want him to stay?" Regina asks, frowning a bit as much darker thoughts go through her mind. It's probably far too early in this little romance of theirs to feel the green-eyed monster stirring, and yet, she does. And it is stirring.
Which Emma immediately picks up on. "No, hey, I really don't want him to stay," she assures the queen in a gentle almost soothing voice that makes Regina feel a little bit like she's being expertly handled. "But I also don't want him stuck out in that crazy fuck of a storm, either. Whatever used to be between Neal and I a long time ago, it's long gone now. I don't like him anymore much less love him, but I do think some part of me will always care about him at least a little bit. Does that make sense? I mean are you okay with me asking him to stay because what we have here – and I don't just mean this thing that's going on between us; I mean the safety that we have here - it means everything to me, Regina, and if Neal needs to go for that to -"
"I don't want him to be here at all much less stay for the night," Regina cuts in, her tone sharp and almost authoritative. "But I don't have a right to tell you who you get to have in your life or who you get to care about. I don't know much about healthy relationships, but that doesn't sound healthy to me. And…if having him here tonight is what it takes to make Henry happy and to keep you from worrying about his safety, then yes, I'm fine with it." She punctuates these words with a stiff smile that makes it clear that this is all about her trying to do right by the child she loves and the woman that she's falling for. She'd been absolutely honest; she doesn't want Neal anywhere around either of them – she has far too many fears to not be almost insanely jealous of this man and his connections to Emma and Henry – but if she's going to prove to them that she's worthy of them, she knows that she has to try.
She has to be good enough for them, and that means that she needs to try to buck her more selfish self-protective instincts and do the good thing. The right thing.
At the same time, she finds herself wondering if she can make Neal sleep in the garage. It's technically indoors, and as long as he doesn't bunk under the small leak near the door, he'll probably manage to stay dry and warm.
No, Emma probably won't go for that, she thinks with an inaudible sigh.
It really is a shame how utterly confining trying to be a better person is.
"Thank you," Emma replies and then leans in for a quick kiss. Regina allows it, her eyes fluttering closed for a moment. With a soft sigh, she permits herself to feel what Emma's offering – the faith and strength that the younger woman is broadcasting – and then she nods her head because she thinks she'd do just about anything for her.
It's a terrifying thought, but falling fast and hard and completely has always been her way, and even now, Regina knows she couldn't stop herself even if she were to try. Even if she wanted to get away from this unnamed thing of theirs, she knows instinctively that it's too late for that because everything inside of her which matters and has a voice beside her fear wants her to stay right here.
In this wonderful amazing moment with Emma.
"Well I guess that answers that question for me," Neal chuckles as he steps back outside. He cups his hands in front of his mouth and blows into them, and then grins at the two of them like he's just caught them going at it naked on the couch.
Regina pulls back first, her eyes blazing like she's once again thinking about creative ways to murder him and hide the body. She opens her mouth to tell him that he doesn't know what he's talking about but then she snaps it shut with an almost audible click because Emma's giving her this strange look which seems to almost be begging her not to deny them to Neal.
So in spite of her darker desire to not share Emma with anyone and despite the fear she has of their relationship being mocked by him, she stays silent.
"Neal," Emma urges once she's somewhat confident that Regina isn't about to try to pull the weird magic that still exists within her blood forward so that she can fry Neal to a wall. "Do me a favor and don't say anything stupid here. Please."
He holds up his hands. "Hey, no, I wasn't going to…I'm not surprised is all. I kind of figured there was something going on between the two of you."
"And why is that?" Regina demands between tightly clenched teeth.
He shrugs his shoulders, the motion somewhat careless. "Because I saw the two of you together, and because I know who Emma is," he answers softly, almost sadly.
"Which means what exactly?" Emma queries, eyebrows knit together.
"It means that you're an amazing woman, Em, and it doesn't surprise me that anyone would want to be with you. You were always amazing at seeing the good in everyone – even me - so I guess all I meant was that you choosing to be with the woman who was once the Evil Queen kind of makes sense. In a really weird way."
The women exchange a look, and then, her voice shaking a bit, Regina says, "We haven't told Henry yet. We're going to…we're going to let him know tonight."
"Hey, it's your story," he assures them. He glances up towards the sky, frowning deeply as strikes of lightning shoot across it. "I should probably get going, though. That hotel I used last time I came here during a storm looked like it had some vacancies so I figure I can crash there for the night."
"You don't have to - you can stay here," Emma offers. She nods over at Regina as if to suggest that she, too, is okay with this. The best Regina can allow is a tight smile that isn't all that convincing, but well, she does try to pretend that she's welcoming.
He looks at both of them for the moment in surprise and then returns Regina's smile with a thin almost amused one of his own. "I appreciate the offer and all, but I really think…well, too much is too much, right?" He gazes back at Emma when he says this, taking a moment to look – really look – at the woman he'd lost because of his own poor choices. She's not the girl she'd been with him, and he thinks it's time to let go.
"If you say so," Emma replies. "But it's insane out there right now."
"Trust me, I know. That's why we're two hours late." He looks at Regina with a small smirk when he says this, but then quickly moves his eyes back to Emma, his voice softening as he speaks, "And hey, thank you for letting me hang out with him. The kid and I, we had a great time, and I'd really like – if it's okay, I mean - to maybe do it again soon. I know that you guys don't want me anywhere around him, and I know I deserve that for everything I did to you, Emma – for everything I put you through - but he…Henry, he means the world to me. I just want to be a small part of his."
"We'll talk soon," Emma promises him, her eyes flicking towards Regina who is watching this conversation with a frown. Almost like she's trying to figure out what his angle is. She's disliked this man almost since learning about him, and though even now she has no desire to get to know him any better than she does, she thinks maybe he's being honest right now. She thinks that perhaps this isn't a game at all.
She thinks that just maybe loss and regret and loneliness are feelings that everyone standing on this dark little porch knows entirely too well.
"Sure," he says. He nods and then starts to move towards his car.
"Oh for God's sake, wait a minute," Regina snaps out before she punctuates her words with an annoyed huff. "If you're not going to be smart enough to stay out of clearly hideous weather, then at least take some coffee for the drive so that you don't fall asleep at the wheel, and force us to have to tell Henry that you died wrapped around a tree because you were a massive bumbling idiot." She then turns and stomps back into the house to retrieve a travel mug for him.
Neal looks over at Emma, his eyebrow up in his hairlines. For her part, the sheriff just laughs. "I believe that was Her Majesty's way of saying that for now she's okay with you. Of course, she might be putting cyanide into your coffee so if it tastes a little bit weird, you're probably not going to want to drink too much of it."
He chuckles. "Thanks for the warning."
He looks at her for a moment, his smile morphing into one of genuine worry and concern. "I really hope that you know what you're doing here, Em. I was…well, I was pure garbage and maybe I still am, but I was never an Evil Queen."
"No, you weren't, and she isn't one anymore, either," she replies. "And as confident as I was then about you, I am even more so about her now."
"But you were wrong about me," he reminds her, his eyes full of self-depreciation. "I broke your heart and allowed you to go to prison."
"No, I wasn't wrong about you," she insists, her voice strong. "I was wrong about what I meant to you and how much you were willing to fight for us, but I wasn't wrong about what we could have been if you'd been strong enough. I wasn't wrong."
He scuffs the toe of his foot against the step, frowning as her words hit hard and as he realizes that he'd been right before and yes, it is time to finally let go of this woman because she's already let go of him. Still, he tells himself, this is about making sure that she's okay. He figures he owes her that much at least. "You were just a kid, Emma," he tells her. "You saw the best in me, but that doesn't mean that it was ever actually in me. Or that it's in her."
"I hadn't been 'just a kid' for a very long time, Neal. I might have been young then, but by the time we met in that car, I'd already been through entirely too much awful stuff. Too much hurt. What I saw in you was hope for a future and for happiness."
"And I took that from you. I don't want that to happen to you ever again."
"It won't because I'm not that young girl anymore and I won't let anyone take it away from me again. No matter what I feel for them. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay. Just…watch your back. You deserve the best. You always did."
"I know," Emma answers. She smiles when Regina comes back out with the mug, steam rising from the top of it. She's holding two granola bars as well.
"In case you get hungry, but do try to keep your eyes on the road."
"Will do," he says. "I'll text when I get to the hotel," he tells Emma.
"Okay. Anything you want us to tell Henry?"
She nods and smiles. Then, as if remembering, "Hey, one more favor?"
"As many as you need," he answers, absolute sincerity in his voice.
She replies with a bit of a sad smile because she really doesn't want their relationship to always be like this even if it's somewhat owed to her. She wants them both to be able to move on and be happy. "We're going to tell Henry about this, but I think we want to keep it to ourselves for awhile. To just…everyone…here."
"Like I said, not my story. Which reminds me, I checked in on your mom like you asked me to. Seemed to me like she's doing okay, but I think she'll be better when you're home." And with that and a soft wistful smile that he can't quite manage to hide though he certainly tries to, he turns, and makes his way to his car. Once he's safely inside, the engine rattles back to life, and then moments later, he's gone in a spray of mud and water.
"I take it you heard most of our conversation?" Emma queries, her eyes sweeping over the not quite emotionless face of the queen.
Regina sighs, suddenly looking quite tired. "And…are you sure?"
"About us? As sure as I can be considering how much I suck at relationships and anything that sounds vaguely like adult responsibility. You?"
"That's quite the self-sales job," Regina comments dryly.
Emma shrugs her shoulders. "Answer the question."
Regina thinks for a moment and then nods. "I'm sure that I'd like to be happy."
"I'll take that as a yes."
"I suppose that it was a yes."
"Good, because I'm really – really - looking forward to cashing in my rain check. Preferably sooner as opposed to later," Emma murmurs as she steps forward and after wrapping her arms around Regina's slim waist, nuzzles her face into the queen's neck. Her tongue flicks out, and she traces it along the thumping pulse point that she finds there before using her teeth to nip at it which causes Regina to make a noise that best resembles what a cat sounds like when you're rubbing its belly.
"Mm. It'll have to wait," Regina answers, her voice throaty and thick with desire.
"Why?" Emma whines as she presses kiss after kiss against soft warm skin.
"Because, my dear Sheriff, I believe that I can see our son moving around inside, and unless you want him to find us in the exact same compromising position as your annoying ex did, then perhaps we should head in and greet him," Regina chuckles as she gently pushes a reluctant Emma away.
It's a little surprising to the queen just how affectionate Emma is being – especially considering the fact that the sheriff had initially been the one so adamantly against this thing of theirs – but there's no denying that Emma is being quite free with her touches. It's a bit unsettling how these loving embraces make Regina feel so young and innocent, and though part of her insists on reminding her that she can't ever be that naïve girl who'd been so stupidly hopeful again, the other part of her that clings to the same idea of hope that she'd heard Emma insisting on, doesn't care.
That part of her – her not quite as dark as it used to be heart, she knows - is daring her to take the gamble that her head is warning her not to.
For once, she plans to let her heart guide her towards something good.
"Yeah, you're right. I mean, of course you…are we ready for this?" Emma asks, suddenly not seeming nearly as confident as she'd been before; she knows the stakes here, and she has a pretty good idea just how upside down everything could go if Henry were to reject the idea of his mothers being together. For all of the progress that he and Regina have made over the last two months, he's still a boy with very naïve points of view on good and evil, and it'd be easy for him to hurt and devastate his adoptive mother once more even without intending to.
"No," Regina admits with a wry chuckle. "I'm fairly certain that we're the opposite of 'ready' right now. Or at least…I am." She tries to play it off with a smile, but it fails rather spectacularly, the haunted look in her eyes telling a far more frightened tale.
"Hey, we don't have to do this tonight if you don't want to. We really don't."
"No, we don't have to. Which is exactly why we should do it. Because we promised our son that we would be honest with him. And we're going to be," Regina replies as she straightens up her back and squares her shoulders like she's about to go to war. "So hold your head up high, Sheriff, and let's go face our twelve-year-old child."
Henry lights up when he sees his mothers walk through the door, and Emma thinks that that's already something of a win because not long ago, he'd treated Regina's coming and goings with suspicion and unkindness. He'd let the woman who had raised him know how little he'd thought of her, and though he might not have ever realized it, each one of his rejections – both big and small – had hurt her terribly.
Hopefully, those days are in the past.
"Henry," Regina greets with a bright smile, which she gives only to him. It reaches her eyes and she's almost glowing as she steps towards him. He lets her wrap him into her arms, and even returns the hug, though not with the same degree of deep world-bending emotion. That's to be expected, though; he's years before actually understanding just how intense and revolutionary feelings can get for a person.
"Hey, Kid," Emma nods. They have a few seconds where it's clear that he's wondering if he should hug her, too, but they usually save those kinds of mother-son interactions for the all-too-frequent celebrations after rescues and things like that.
Instead, he smiles back at her and does a kind of half-wave and a goofy grin.
Strangely enough, that's a lot like a hug to her, anyway.
"Did my dad already leave?" Henry asks, looking around as if for Neal.
There's a moment of clear tension in Regina's shoulders – her strong dislike of how easily Henry can apply the parental title to Neal evident – but then just like that, it melts away and she smiles at her son again. "He did," she says as she stoops to look him in the eye as she always does. It's becoming less and less necessary thanks to how much he's growing as of late, but that doesn't stop her from doing it all the same. "I think he wanted to get to the motel as quickly as he could, and we didn't know how long you'd be sleeping. He promised that he'd call once he got there."
Henry glances over at the window, then out at the hammering down rain, and frowns deeply. "We should have asked him to stay."
"We did ask him to stay," Emma says, motioning to both she and Regina so that Henry knows that both of them had been involved in the offer. "He had some things he needed to do back at home, though, and so he wanted to hit the road." It's a bit of a lie, but for as mature as Henry can be at times, he's still just a child when it comes to understanding the nuances of adult interactions. "He did ask me to tell you that he had a great time, and… and that he's really looking forward to the next time."
"Will…will there be a next time?" He looks right at Regina when he says this, and Emma sees the look of panic streak through her dark eyes. The indecision is clear there, and Emma can practically read the conflicted thoughts running wild through Regina's mind. On one hand, they're about to drop something on Henry that just might cause him to reject them both completely (though most likely Regina will take the brunt of it, and they both know it whether they want to admit it or not), and Regina has to be wondering about the fairness of things, but on the other hand, she so desperately wants to make her son happy in whatever way that she can.
Even if that means continuing to allow Neal Cassidy into their lives.
"Yes, of course; as long as you're happy," Regina replies, her voice low and gentle, her fight for control of her emotions there for anyone to see. She reaches out with her hand and lightly brushes hair away from his forehead, pausing for a brief moment before yanking her hand back and dropping it to her side. It's only because Emma knows her as well as she does that she recognizes the gesture for what it is.
"Cool," he says with a careless shrug. Like he has no idea of the battle, which Regina had just fought – and won – within herself. Emma knows, though, and offers Regina a small smile of encouragement; Regina nods and exhales. Henry, aware of none of what has just gone on between his moms, looks at Emma and in a low conspiratorial tone says, "By the way, Operation Trojan Horse was a complete success."
"Operation Trojan Horse? Do I even want to know?" Regina chuckles as she turns to face Emma. "What are you two up to?"
"I asked Henry to do recon on Storybrooke," Emma answers. "That code-name is his and his alone, however." Then she nods her head in approval. "But it is clever."
"Indeed, it is," Regina agrees. "Though, who exactly is the Trojan Horse?"
"Me," he replies with a grin. "They miss me. And you, Emma. They want us both home, and it's safe for us to do it now."
"How's that, Kid?"
"I heard Grandma promise my dad that Mom wouldn't be in any danger."
"How terribly kind of her," Regina cracks before she can quite stop herself. When Emma glances over at her with an eyebrow lifted up in something that looks a whole lot like bemused exasperation, the queen simply shrugs her shoulders defiantly.
"Well, that's good," Emma replies, choosing to otherwise ignore Regina and her clear irritation with the Charmings. "Because I think that's what our plan is. Your mom and I, well I think we both want to get back home. I think we're both ready to."
"Yeah, awesome. But…before we start talking about packing up here, there's something else that we wanted to discuss with you," Emma says. She steps over towards the couch, drops down onto it, then pats the area next to her.
As he sits, he frowns, his active imagination already off to the races. "Is everything okay? Is one of you hurt? Did…did something bad happen while I was gone?"
"No, Henry, nothing like that. It's…"Emma looks over at Regina, then, her eyes wide, and it's clear to the older woman that though the sheriff had been the one with the confidence about this, she's at a loss for how to start the conversation. Which means, Regina thinks, that it's time for her twelve years of experience to take the floor.
Even if that means that she might take the brunt of rejection.
Well, she reasons, assuming that there is a rejection, her taking almost all of it was always going to happen, anyway, because – to him - she still is the Evil Queen.
Regina sighs and steps over towards her lover and her son, a hand sliding over and then past Emma's right shoulder in a way which causes one of Henry's eyebrows to lift. "Everything is perfectly fine, Henry," she assures him as she sits down on the opposite side of Henry on the couch. "But yes, something did happen. While you were gone, something happened between Miss – between Emma and myself."
He wrinkles his nose, looking so much like the innocent child that he is for the moment, and she's struck by the need to just pull him close and hold him. She doesn't, though, because the idea here isn't to scare him. Unfortunately, by the near panicked look in his eyes, they've already failed at that. "I don't understand. Did you two have a fight? Because you promised me that you'd try to get along."
"And we did. We really…actually, Kid, we had a really nice weekend together, but here's the thing…" she stops, frowns and tries to find the right words to explain this. "You know that your mom and I have been getting along pretty good here, right?"
"Yeah," he says, his eyes jumping from mother to mother. And then he's looking at Emma's shoulder again even though Regina is no longer touching it.
Like he's wondering…
"Well, some times, things happen between adults when they're getting along and some times, when those things happen, well then other things…happen as well, you know what I mean…?" Emma tries to explain, and she's practically stammering now because suddenly she feels like a complete and utter moron, and the incredulous look in Regina's eyes seems to be verifying her rather scathing self-evaluation.
"Henry," Regina says, her voice bizarrely even, "What Emma is trying to say – badly, albeit - is that she and I have been growing closer over the last several weeks, and while you were away for the weekend, we decided that we'd like to start…"
And then just like that, she's the one stalling out because what word is she supposed to use here? What's the proper term for this thing of theirs?
"Dating?" Henry asks, and if he notices the completely ridiculous way that both of his mothers sigh in relief at him providing the word that they hadn't been able to, he doesn't let on to it. "You two want to date?" he expands, his bright green eyes shot wide in disbelief and surprise, the pieces all falling together for him. "Each other?"
"Yes," Regina admits quietly, and Emma feels her heart constrict painfully because the queen is clearly assuming the worst. "We would like to start...dating each other."
"Really?" Henry queries, looking right at Emma as if for confirmation.
"Really. We'd like to see where this thing goes," Emma explains, offering a smile.
Regina opens her mouth to answer his question, but then it's like all of her own doubts come rushing to the surface, and she doesn't have an answer that she thinks will be good enough for him. So desperately, she looks to Emma for one instead.
To her great surprise, Emma almost grins – in spite of how inappropriate such a reaction is considering how close to a panic attack Regina looks. She grins because it occurs to her right now that she and the former mayor are acting like a team.
A weird tag-team, sure, but one just the same.
Oddly, that emboldens her.
"Because," Emma replies, her smile growing into something strong and sure. "I think your mom is pretty special, Henry, and I think that the two of us just get each other."
"Okay, maybe now, but you were enemies for so long," he protests, frowning like he just can't manage to figure out how this could have happened between his mothers.
"Yeah, we were. And now we're not. You helped us to not be enemies, Kid. And I think that we both like this way – this us - a whole lot better. We're hoping that you do, too." It occurs to her that her words sound young – probably younger than is needed for a boy of his age – but at the moment, his innocence is shining through.
"I do, but…Emma, what about my dad?" Henry asks, oblivious to the way that Regina stiffens next to him, her lips tightening into a hard line, her hands balling up.
Emma nods like she'd been expecting this question from him, and truthfully, she had. Because isn't nuclear always the dream? Aren't most kids raised with the idea of a happily ever after for their biological mom and dad? Yeah, of course they are.
"I loved Neal – your dad - for a very long time, Henry, but I don't want to be with him, anymore. Not in that way. Can you understand that?"
"Because you want to me with my mom?"
"No, not because of that," Emma corrects. "Even if I didn't want to be with you mom, I still wouldn't want to be with your dad, anymore, because it's not about her or him. It's about me, and what's right for me. And what's right for me isn't being with him."
"Because you don't love him, anymore." His head tilts, genuine curiosity there. "You can fall out of love?" His eyes skip towards Regina as if for confirmation, but all she can do is smile thinly at him because prior to whatever it is that she feels for Emma, she's only ever loved one other person, and that had ended terribly for everyone.
So…she doesn't know any better than he does.
"Yeah, you can," Emma confirms. "But that doesn't mean that what it was – what your dad and I had – wasn't special. Because it was. He might not have been the one for me in the end, but it still gave us you, which means it will always be important to me, but what we had, it's in the past now. Does that…does that make sense to you?"
"I guess so. So, now you want a future with mom?"
"I don't think that either of us are talking that far ahead, honey," Regina states. "I think –" she looks at Emma for verification. "We just want to see where this goes."
"Yeah," Emma agrees. "We just want to…take a chance. See what happens."
There's a long pause, and then Emma asks with slight tremor audible in her voice, "So…what do you think, Kid? You going to be okay with this?"
"Can I think about it?"
Emma is about to respond – though she's not entirely sure how – but Regina immediately jumps in, a large smile plastered across her lips. "Of course."
"Thanks," he says, standing up. "I'm going to go make me a sandwich." He takes a few long strides towards the kitchen and then turns back to face his two mothers, "Why did you tell me?" he asks. "You didn't have to." And just like that, their little boy goes from young and innocent to mature and thoughtful. He's watching them carefully, like he's looking for the lie. Like he's wondering if there's more to tell.
So Regina tells him the truth, instead: "Because I – we – promised you that we would be honest with you whenever possible. And so we are. Even if it's…difficult."
"Thank you," he says quietly, and then continues towards the kitchen.
"Well," Regina sighs after a moment. "That could have gone worse."
"Yeah, but it could have gone better, too," Emma answers with a frown.
"He needs time," Regina replies, her tone almost defensive on his behalf. "And we are going to give him it. As much time as he needs," Her tone allows for no room for discussion of this, and it occurs to Emma that perhaps there's a part of Regina that just might be hoping for Henry to reject them. Not because the queen doesn't want this, but because it might be easier than facing the very difficult struggle to come.
Regina is no coward, Emma knows, but gracefully bowing out before it gets hard and using Henry as an excuse for such, well that's totally something Regina would do.
"Fine," Emma agrees with a shrug of her shoulders, choosing not to bring up her concerns with Regina for the time being. It's not like she doesn't have doubts, too, and yes, it probably would be easier if Henry were to put the kibosh on them. But, she realizes that it's really not what she wants. Still, that's for later. For now…"It's not like we don't have other things to think about, anyway. Like returning home."
"Yes, we should focus on that," Regina agrees. "It won't be…easy."
"Operation Trojan Horse was a success," Emma reminds her with a chuckle.
"In theory at least," Regina replies, her more controlled mask back in place.
"Meaning it's easy for your parents to say that they have no problem with me returning to town when all they want is you and Henry home, but once I get back and there's magic inside of me once again, and I'm feeling all of the old feelings and temptations again… I think we both know that the first time I see Snow and she sees me, it's going to feel like we never left. A lot could go wrong in a hurry, Emma."
"Maybe, but you're not the same woman you were eight weeks ago. I believe in you."
Regina takes a deep breath, allowing Emma's words to wash over her. Finally, sounding more than a little shaky, she replies, "Perhaps you do, but they won't. And with fairly good reason. I don't think eight weeks away will convince her that I've changed; she and I have almost forty years of unfortunate history between us."
"Do you care?"
"About your mother's opinion of me? Perhaps not, but I don't want things to be difficult for you or Henry, and I suspect that neither your mother nor your father will be pleased with either of you wanting to spend time with me," Regina admits, and then she frowns because it's still weird for her how much truth and honesty Emma seems to be able to pull out of her.
"We'll figure it out," Emma promises before leaning forward and pressing her lips to Regina's in a gentle fairly chaste kiss. She holds it there for a moment, waiting for the tension in the queen's body to release.
And then it does, and Regina laughs and pushes her away.
"What?" Emma asks.
"I admit," Regina says. "I look forward to the day when we get to tell your mother about this. If for no other reason than to see the look on her face."
Regina's shoulders sag, the humor bleeding away. "Actually, no, not really. Such a confrontation wouldn't go well for any of us, and I fear that if we were to get to that point, I might not act as you would want me to. I'm not a good woman, Emma, and I think that if I were to allow myself to fall into this…into you completely, and if your mother were to stand in the way, well then, like I said…I'm not a good woman."
"You –" Regina blinks, thrown by the simplicity of Emma's statement.
"Yep, I do. You've been through a lot. And made some really bad choices. But I know you. And where it matters most –" she places her hand over Regina's heart. "You are good." She shrugs. "I know it's hard for you to believe that – to see yourself as more than the Evil Queen, but even during the worst of us, I always saw you as just Regina so actually it's pretty easy for me to see the real you as who is in front of me now."
"The real me. I have a long way to go to get back to her," the queen says softly.
"We both do, and I think when we get home, we need to keep talking. This thing between us, even if we find out that it's not meant to be…what it was last night, it still means something, and no matter what happens next, I want to keep what we built here. That matters more than anything else. I want to keep our friendship."
"Me, too. You know, you're the only one who knows now," Regina tells her, placing her hand over Emma's, which is still resting just over her heart. "I mean about my…issues with Rumplestiltskin and my mother and the King. Just you."
"You have my word that no one else ever will. Unless you want them to."
"Thank you." She blows out a breath then and chuckles, sounding almost nervous. "I suppose now it's time to prepare to head back to Storybrooke." She tilts her head, looking at Emma with enough intensity to make Emma squirm if she was the type to. "You said that our friendship meant more than anything else. Did you mean that?"
"I did. I do."
"Then I think that no matter what Henry decides, maybe for the first time in my life, perhaps I finally have enough to allow myself to be happy and let go," Regina tells her, and then with an almost beaming smile, she turns and heads towards the kitchen, her steps regal and proper. Like the Queen she is now and will always be.
Emma watches with an echoing smile, thinking that yes, it would be enough.
That doesn't mean that it's all that she wants.
It's decided late that evening that they will depart for Storybrooke on the Friday to come; that gives them five days to clean and close up the beach house, and prepare for the long journey back home. It also gives each of them a bit too much time to worry about how many things can possibly go wrong once they cross the town line.
Not that either Emma or Regina will speak of this.
Regina's certainly on edge, and feeling the worries, however, so Emma takes it upon herself to try to be the voice of confidence and positivity. It's hard and the natural impulses she has to be wary try to surface, but one of them has to hope for the best.
One of them has to have faith that the last eight weeks have meant something that can continue to breathe and exist within the boundary lines of Storybrooke.
And so she does.
With soft touches and a few stolen intimacies.
Whispered reassurances and strong arms.
Foreheads pressed together
It'll be okay.
One way or another.
"Want to play?" Emma asks, gesturing towards the chessboard as Henry steps out into the Living Room. The rain continues to pound against the windows and roof of the house, and Henry is starting to show extreme signs of cabin fever again, his anxiety at being cooped up quite clear even though it's only Tuesday, and he's only been back with his mothers for two days.
"Sure," he sighs. "Is Mom sleeping?"
"She has a bit of a headache," Emma confirms with a slight nod as she starts to set up the board. "White or black."
"You're the White Knight," he reminds her.
She frowns at that, and then flips the white pieces around to him. "Just Emma," she reminds him. "And this is just a game of chess."
"Okay." He glances back towards the hallway. "Is this one of her migraines?"
"Because of going home?"
"But they said it'd be fine."
"You're not that young, Kid," she says gently. "And even you know that bad blood doesn't just disappear because someone wants it to."
"It has between you and her."
"It's a bit more complicated than that."
"Because you're in love with her."
"Well, first, I don't think we're that far down the path. I think right now, we're more like good friends who are trying to understand what else there might be if anything. But even besides that, none of this just happened. Any kind of relationship that your mom and I have now is because we've spent the last two months talking things out and we've listened to each other."
"So why can't Mom do that with Grandma and Grandpa?"
"Because none of them are willing to take that first step."
"So is that our job?"
"Nope," Emma replies as she watches Henry move one of his pawns forward. "As much as we might want to help them all out here, this is something that my mother and your mother have got to figure out between the two of them."
Henry frowns deeply at this; he's not accustomed to not getting involved in situations that clearly demand intervention. He sees no real value in the bizarre habit, which adults seem to have of just letting things settle and sit especially when it clearly hurts and upsets everyone involved. Still, Emma is pinning him with a hard look that tells him that she knows exactly what he's thinking.
Which means that she plans to keep him from trying anything.
He sighs and then petulantly pushes forward another chess piece.
She laughs and then reaches over and ruffles his hair. "I know; it'd be so wonderful if we could just turn everything in life into some kind of awesome undercover operation and fix everything that doesn't make sense, but Kid, that isn't how things work. We can't make the two of them talk if they're unwilling to. All we can do is hope that one day they'll want to."
"Fine," he says. Then, his curiosity pushing through, "Do you think we're ready to go home? Do you think Mom is? There's magic back there, Emma, and magic has always been bad for her. It's why we're here now to begin with. What if she –"
"We have to have faith in her that she won't fall backwards. And she'll have us there to help her and support her if she feels like she needs to."
"Could you fall in love with her?" he asks.
She smiles slightly, almost thoughtfully. "I think maybe I could. Eventually."
He nods and returns to the game. It's the last time he mentions Regina – or the elephant in the room, which is the relationship between his mothers - for the rest of the day. Instead, he speaks to her about what he and Neal had done together, and about the changes (most of them small and of little consequence) that had occurred in Storybrooke over the last two months. He speaks of home, and missing it.
And she realizes how much she misses it, too.
"It's cold," Emma states as she steps out onto the deck, two mugs in her hand.
"Indeed." She takes the cup from Emma and sips it, expecting plain coffee. Almost immediately, she coughs in surprise, and looks down at the mug. "What's in this?"
"I see. Something on your mind, Sheriff?"
"Not much. What about you? You spent most of the day locked away in your room."
"I'm feeling better now," Regina reassures her.
"You're lying. And you're scared."
"I'm not lying," she replies sounding almost indignant. "I do feel better than I did earlier. As for being scared, that's absurd; I am not scared of Snow White."
"I didn't say that you were, Your Majesty. I don't think you're scared of my mother; I think you're scared about what going back might mean for you. And for us."
"Us. Right. You talked to him about us today, didn't you?"
"Not really. I'm giving him his space to think things over just like you wanted me to. He's the one who initiated it. He's the one who asked a few questions about us, and I answered them honestly, and then we both let it go, and I kicked his ass at chess."
"Charming," she mutters. Then shrugs. "Pun intended."
Emma laughs at that, and then takes a hefty gulp from her cup. "So," she says after a moment, her bright green eyes locked on the rain as it dances across the turbulent surface of the ocean. "Tell me a story."
"You said your father would take you riding with him from time to time, right?"
"He did," Regina confirms. "Which never ended well for either of us."
"But it was fun while it was happening, yeah?"
"It was," Regina replies with an almost wistful smile. "A lot of fun."
"So tell me that story."
"And what story will you tell me? That is still how this works, yes?"
"It is. So you tell me yours, and I'll tell you about my first kiss."
"And why, pray tell, do you think that's a story that I'd want to hear?"
"Because it's really funny, and you'll laugh. Probably a lot."
"Oh? Is it embarrassing?" Regina asks, grinning almost vindictively. That she feels stronger things for this woman every day doesn't change the fact that it still amuses her to watch – or hear about – the more clumsy and goofy sides of Emma Swan.
"Very much so," Emma promises her as she slips her hand into Regina's and gives it an affectionate squeeze before bringing it up to her lips to apply a gentle almost kiss upon the queen's knuckles. "Do we have a deal?" This suddenly feels like a loaded question – like maybe Emma is referring not to this story in particular, but to their recent habit of sharing their often dark and ugly past with each other tale for tale.
This, Regina understands then, is all about keeping what they've earned over the last few weeks; this is all about verifying the friendship above everything else.
Regina looks over at her lover for a long moment, and then in a voice much softer – one that is completely devoid of deceit or misdirect – she whispers, "We do."
The storm finally lets up the next morning – Wednesday – which makes it the first day that Henry and Regina have been able to head out for their walk down the sand together since he's been back. It's fairly cold and they're both bundled up in thick sweatshirts, but neither of them considers begging off.
Mostly because they both have a feeling that this might be the last time they have a chance to do this together. Sure, Storybrooke has its own beaches, and Regina is already thinking of asking Henry to take this kind of walk together back there as well, but there's something special about this particular patch of sand.
There's something that makes it feels like it belongs to just them.
They walk down the darkened by water sand in silence for the first fifteen minutes. It's companionable but still unsettling because it's clear to Regina that Henry has something important on his mind. Finally, gently so as not to let him think that she's upset with him, "Is something bothering you, sweetheart?"
He shrugs his shoulders and looks out at the calm water of the ocean.
"Henry, talk to me. Please."
He turns to look at her. "Does this mean Emma fixed you?"
She startles at the question for a moment. "Fixed me?"
"Are you all better? Is that why she's okay with being with you?"
"Oh," Regina says softly. She glances out at the water for a moment, trying to push away the fierce hurt, which sparks within her at his words – at the idea that her son sees her as broken. Finally, swallowing hard, she continues with, "No, honey, Emma didn't fix me. No one can fix someone else. I'm not even sure that I can be fixed to be honest. But what Emma did was help me remember how to be the better person that I once was. And she has helped me deal with some of the…very ugly things in my past. As for if I'm better, well I don't know. I'm trying to be, but there's still a lot of her inside of me, Henry, and I'm afraid that maybe there always will be."
"The Evil Queen?"
"Yes. You can't just make your past disappear, and I can't just pretend that everything that's happened to me, and everything that I've done never occurred because it did. All I can do now is try to be good enough for you."
"And for Emma?"
She nods. "And for myself, too, I think."
"You should go back to Archie," he advises. "He didn't mean to hurt you."
"I know he didn't," she answers carefully, forcing herself to keep the instinctive agitation that simmers to the surface out of her voice.
"So will you?"
"Go back to Dr. Hopper?" Off his quick nod, she considers her response for a moment, and then replies with a tentative, "Will you?"
He tilts his head. "What do you mean?"
"Come with me."
"To your sessions?"
"Some of them, yes. Some, I probably need to still do by myself, but I wouldn't mind having you there for others. If that's all right with you, of course."
He tilts his head and looks at her hard, like he's trying to see into her and really understand her; it's more than a little unnerving. "What do you want?" he asks her. "I mean really want." It's not the kind of question that most twelve-year-old boys ask their mother, and it reminds her of Emma having asked her much the same thing just a few weeks earlier.
"I want to be happy," she answers. "That's all I want for both of us. For all of us."
"Okay," he nods, like that's the end of the conversation completely. She imagines that she's supposed to ask if he's had time to think about the situation with Emma, but she doesn't want to break up this wonderfully quiet moment between the two of them with the pain that might come if he were to reject the idea of the Evil Queen finding solace in the arms of the White Knight.
She smiles at him instead, and then points ahead. "The fort is up there. You want to give it one last look before we go? See if we can make it stronger?"
They make their way down to the little wood structure, and amazingly, it's held together. It's wet and waterlogged, but surprisingly sturdy, and though she doesn't quite understand why, Regina feels her heart swell at this.
Especially when she sees the way that Henry grins up at her, with something that looks a whole lot like love in his eyes. "It stayed together," he tells her.
"It did," she confirms, and then, because she's suddenly overcome with the need to pull her perfect little boy close, she leans down and kisses him on the top of the head, and then wraps her arms around him and pulls him into a tight hug.
And to her amazement and astounding joy, he fully returns the embrace.
It's Thursday evening, and the last night at the beach house. Dinner is almost decadent and the conversation at the table is uplifting and spirited (whether the good guys in comic books actually win or the bad guys just let them out of eventual boredom and the need to find something more fun), but there's an undeniable tension amongst the three of them, a kind of fear that none of them want to express.
It's simple, really; tomorrow morning they'll get into the already packed up car, and start the long drive back to Storybrooke, and after that, everything will work out as it will. That's Regina's thinking, anyway. Fatalistic for sure, but it's hard for her to be anything except that after all the times she's tried to have hope and still failed.
So she leaves it in the hands of the universe, and doesn't dare to hope.
Only, she kind of does hope.
In spite of herself, and her entire history, and even with so many doubts.
She kind of…does.
"All right, Kid," Emma says at around nine. "Time to crash out."
"I'm not tired," he says. "And it's way before my bedtime." He's right, of course; even at home he'd usually be up until around ten, and here, well it's pretty much been whenever he passes out as opposed to a specific time.
"We have a big day ahead of us," Regina says gently. She reaches out and runs her fingers through his hair, pushing brown strands back and away from his forehead.
"It'll be okay," he promises her, his smile bright and light.
"Of course it will," she agrees. "Go brush your teeth."
"Yeah, sure," he grumbles, looking like he wants to remind her that he's not a kid, anymore. Sometimes she forgets that he's almost a teenager, but then truthfully, sometimes he likes that she does ignore it. Sometimes it's nice to know that no matter how old he gets, there will always be someone that cares whether or not his hair is combed and his teeth are brushed. Sometimes, it's nice just to be a kid.
So he grumbles and grouses but kisses her on the cheek and goes, anyway.
And both moms watch him with indulgent grins.
Once he's finally left the room completely, Regina retreats back to the kitchen and starts loading up the dishwasher. In the morning, they'll make breakfast for the last time, and then do one final load as they're packing up. And then…they'll be gone.
And this will all be in the past.
She's not sure how she feels about that.
"Hey, you okay?" Emma asks, coming up and leaning over the bar.
"About?" Emma prompts after a few seconds.
"The song that's in my head again."
"Yes. And her words and Rumple's and the Kings and…and so many other things."
"Henry's right, you know," Emma assures her. "It will be okay."
Regina smiles, but it doesn't quite meet her eyes. "I hope so," she says.
"You think he's going to tell you he's not cool with us, don't you?"
"It's been five days since we talked to him," Regina reminds her. "I think he's made his opinion on us fairly clear, Emma. And that's all right; I knew it was likely that he wouldn't be all right with us being together. Who would be?"
"It's all right," Regina says adamantly, straightening up. "I have my son, I have my sanity, and I have a friend. All of those are things I didn't have eight weeks ago."
"Okay," Emma says. "And you do. We do. Have all of those things, I mean."
"I know," Regina replies, smiling fully this time. She shuts the door of the dishwasher and then says, "Let's go say goodnight to our son."
She can't sleep.
It's well past midnight, and they all need to be up and moving in about five hours if they're going to avoid traffic, but Regina's mind is whirling with thoughts, and she's almost terrified to face the dream world with so much going on in her head.
Staring up at the ceiling, she wiggles her fingers a little bit, as if trying to feel the magic that she knows is still inside of her. The only time that it'd surfaced over the last eight weeks had been during the assault in the alley, but the fact that it's there still unsettles her because it seems like no matter how hard she tries to get away from this addiction, she can't.
And despite Emma and Henry's assurances, such understanding terrifies her.
During that first terrible night in this house, an overly emotional Regina had asked Emma what would happen if she were to just leave and disappear into the world. She'd been so certain in her belief that Henry would miss her for a short time, but then everything would move on, and everyone would probably be better for it. Emma had protested that that'd be like abandoning him, and such wouldn't actually be better for him. In moments like these, though, when her doubts are thick and painful, it's hard not to wonder if he wouldn't be so much happier without her.
And perhaps Emma would be, too.
This thought is dripping through her mind – almost like venom – when she hears a soft knock on the door. She's just opening her mouth to respond when it opens and Emma is standing there, framed by the light from the hallway.
"You still awake?" she asks, her voice just barely a whisper.
"Yes. Can't sleep," Regina admits, sitting up, clutching the sheet to her. "You?"
"Yeah. No such luck. So I figured I'd come in and see if you wanted to join me for a last night of I Love Lucy marathoning," Emma offers.
"I have a better idea," Regina replies, and it's like madness rushes through her mind, and suddenly she just doesn't care because she wants this. She wants Emma.
"Yeah? What'd you have in mind?"
"Emma," Regina says simply, and then she's letting the sheet drop away from her even as she holds out her hand, wiggling her fingers in invitation.
There's no hesitation after that. They both know that this could be the last time for them because if Regina's right, and Henry's silence about them is his de facto way of telling them he's against it, then they both know that this is over before it'd ever really begun. They both know that Regina simply won't go against him no matter how much it might break her heart to be forced to give this up. In the end, her love for him, and her need to do what she believes is right by him will always win.
Even over herself.
But this moment isn't about Henry.
Emma's hand slides into hers, and then Regina is pulling the sheriff towards her, and into the bed, their lips immediately meeting and their hands quickly moving to rid themselves (mostly Emma) of the unnecessary clothing, which exists between them.
"What do you want?" Emma whispers as their hearts pound together.
"Everyone keeps asking me that."
"And?" Emma presses as she leans in and starts dropping kisses against the exposed column of Regina's throat, a pulse hammering beneath her lips. Her hands drop down, sliding over warm skin, fingers pressing and tracing, soft murmurs sounding.
"And I keep saying the same thing: I just want to be happy."
"What does that mean?"
"Right now? It means I want you."
She feels the way Emma's lips curve into a smile against her neck, and then the sheriff's mouth is on hers – hot and demanding and passionate. So very wanting.
After that, the whole world just slides away from them into the sounds of harsh breathing and whispers and pleas and whimpers and just barely muffled screams.
And when it's over, and Emma's arms are wrapped loosely around her, their fingers coming together just above the queen's belly button, Emma's cheek against hers, Regina finally manages to find the strength within her to say, "You should go."
"Not until I have to," Emma says gently.
"I just want to be happy," Regina whispers again. "That's all I've ever wanted."
"I know," Emma answers as she drops a kiss down against Regina's neck, the intense heat of the queen's slightly damp skin intoxicating against the sheriff's pale lips. She winds their legs together, and pulls Regina even closer. "Sleep. It'll be okay. It will."
"I want to believe that, but I'm going to dream," Regina mumbles as darkness slips into her vision, and she feels the fuzziness of unconsciousness stealing over her already exhausted and passion dulled senses. "I don't want to dream."
"You won't," Emma assures her with a kiss to the patch of skin just below Regina's right ear. "And if you do dream, I'll wake you up. I won't let anything hurt you." She smiles slightly, sadly, knowing the reality of the world a little too well – love can't wipe out the pain. Not entirely, anyway. "Not tonight. So sleep. I'll be right here."
"You will," Regina allows with a soft smile, and then, she just lets everything go.
And allows herself to be happy.
Even if only for tonight.
Emma wakes first, reluctantly crawling from the warmth of the bed. She watches Regina sleep for a long moment, amazed by the soft peace she sees. Wishing that it – that they – could stay like this, but knowing that nothing real happens in isolation.
Assuming that they even have a chance – and she refuses to think about the Henry Problem for the moment – she knows that they have to find their way back to reality and try to make this work there, and not just here in their safe place. As frightening as that is, it's also the only way they'll know if the romantic part of what's occurred between them is real or just something created by their "escape" from Storybrooke.
Sighing, Emma makes her way into the bathroom. A quick shower (it's not so quick) and then she's in the kitchen making one last breakfast before it's time to go home.
She has a full breakfast ready for them when they finally emerge from their bedrooms. Henry is tousled and sleepy, rubbing at his eyes. Regina is freshly showered and already a bit pensive. She messes his hair up more and he groans and turns away; when he does, she reaches over and squeezes Regina's hand.
And whispers, "Breathe."
Regina nods, and does so. Slowly.
Emma grins and hands her and Henry the plates, the rhythm so natural and easy now. They're all a bit on edge, but this feels good and normal and even right.
And then Emma is lifting up the plate of bacon and offering it to Regina.
There's a pause, and it's almost laughable – it shouldn't be because this is bacon.
This is silly, and it's just bacon.
It's just…bacon, and weeks ago, it'd been a weird reminder of all of her mistakes. It'd been an uncomfortable reminder of how she'd allowed a distance to grow between she and Henry. It'd been a symbol of how she'd wanted to try to do better by him.
She thinks…hopes that she has at least started down that path.
Her eyes lift up and she looks at him; he smiles brightly at her.
Regina reaches out and takes a piece, bringing it to her mouth.
Because maybe it is just bacon, but perhaps right now, it means everything.
It's strange to be back in this car like this. Now riding shotgun beside Emma in the front seat, it'd been a different situation two months ago when she'd been cuffed in the back, a bloody cut on her forehead. Back then, she had genuinely believed that Emma had kidnapped her with the intent of executing her in the woods just outside of Storybrooke. Absurd, of course; even more so now that she's really come to know and understand exactly who Emma is.
But then again, she hadn't exactly been in her right mind then. Devastated by guilt, grief and decades of repressed pain, Regina had been waiting for the end even while fighting against it out of pure stubborn instinct.
Now, she finds herself lighter in the heart and soul, but perhaps just as scared.
Because going back to a place where there is so much well-deserved hatred for her feels a bit like walking back into the mouth of hell willingly. She knows that from the moment they cross the town line, she'll feel the magic sliding through her veins like the most addictive of poisonous drugs. She knows that she'll feel all of the old temptations to hurt and to do whatever she has to do in order to find peace.
Not that she ever has.
She smiles at something Emma says even though she doesn't actually hear it, and she laughs when Henry tells a joke that never penetrates her mind.
These are things that she had learned how to do as a Queen.
Pretend. Pretend. Pretend.
Her mother would be so proud.
No, no she wouldn't.
Her mother would be disgusted at her for the weakness that she's showing in relation to Emma and Henry and wanting them to...well, just wanting them.
Regina grits her teeth, and tries to push the thoughts out and away because Mother is dead, and Mother is wrong, and she doesn't want to hear Mother anymore.
Her chest constricting painfully, and her head pounding like someone is kicking her, she wonders if she can tell Emma to pull over so that she can get out and run. Henry might not understand, but Emma would.
She says nothing, though, because it's time to face her past with her head held high.
So she simply laughs again in time with Henry's words.
And then, she tries to pretend that she doesn't see Emma looking at her.
Like she knows.
Like she understands.
They cross the line into Storybrooke at just after eleven in the morning, and just as she'd feared, the sharp magic surges through her body immediately. Perhaps it's how much she doesn't want to feel it which causes her to have the violent reaction she does, but whatever it is, seconds after they pass the wooden sign that Emma had once hit, Regina is doubling over in pain, her stomach rolling as bile rushes up her throat. "Emma," she whispers, her voice pained and broken. "Pull over. Please."
The car screeches to a sudden stop, and though she doesn't see it, she hears and feels the way Emma jumps out of the driver's side and rushes around to help her out of the passenger seat and over to the side of the road, bent down beside her.
"Mom?" she hears Henry say as he comes up beside them. "What's wrong? Is it the magic? Is it hurting you?" he sounds so scared and innocent and she doesn't know how to tell him that yes, the magic is hurting her. The magic has always hurt her.
But never worse than she has hurt herself, and maybe that's the lesson of all of this. Maybe when all is said and done, that's what she needs to have learned – that the pain she feels is part of her, a weapon for her or against her, but still a part of her.
"It's okay," the sheriff assures her (and Henry, too, Regina thinks), and then Regina feels Emma's hands on her. One is resting lightly on her back, the tips pressing inwards, and another is settled against her hip, gentle and careful. Both are helping her to stay up and on her feet. Both are helping her to be strong as she fights to be.
"It doesn't look okay," Henry protests, but his eyes are on the way that his blonde mother is holding his brunette one. And though they don't see it, he's studying them carefully, looking for the lie, and searching for the truth as he has always tried to do.
But the truth has a way of changing as perspectives do, and what he's seeing right now isn't something that he would have been capable of seeing eight weeks ago.
"It's just the line again," Emma tells him. "You remember how when we went across it last time it caused her to get sick. Well, same thing this way. But it's okay. It is."
"I remember," he says as he nods, all while continuing to watch as Emma practically cradles Regina until her body stops trembling. And then he watches as Regina sags against her, her fingers gripping the fabric of Emma's shirt as she gasps for air.
It occurs to him, as he watches this, that he's never seen his mother lean on anyone for support before. He's never seen her willing to be weak around anyone – even him. He thinks about the house and the bacon and a thousand other little things.
Like sitting on the porch reading comic books together.
Like the way his two moms look at each other, finding grounding in each other. He doesn't entirely understand what that means, but even he sees the calm there.
Even he sees the strength.
"It's getting better now," Regina says suddenly, exhaling a few more times. "Less."
"Good. You think you can stand up?" Emma asks.
"Okay. On three."
Regina does it on one.
Emma chuckles and then gently helps her back to the passenger side. She's about to shut the door when Henry suddenly speaks up, his voice clear and determined.
"I want you both happy," he says, his green eyes blazing. "All of us."
His mothers turn towards him. "Henry," Regina says, sounding so very uncertain.
He kind of hates that.
And thinks that maybe what they're all supposed to do is make each other stronger.
"Just promise me that if you guys are going to do this, you won't hurt each other again," Henry pleads. "Not intentionally, anyway." When they both look at him with wide eyes like maybe he shouldn't understand the difference between intentional and not, he shrugs his shoulders in response. "I'm not the little kid who got on a bus to Boston anymore," he tells them. " And I know that sometimes we hurt each other even when we don't mean to. I don't want either one of you to be hurt again."
He looks at Regina when he says this, and it takes everything that she has not to tell him that he's wrong and that he doesn't need to be making the apology to her that he's clearly making. What stops her is the crisps clarity in his eyes.
He knows what he's saying.
Her little boy isn't one anymore.
She doesn't know if she wants to cry tears of loss over this fact or hug him for the son she feels like she's regained. Possibly both, she thinks.
She does neither, though; she just gazes back at her Henry with watery eyes.
"Just be happy," he says again, and then he gets in the back seat of the car, and picks up his handheld video game and returns to killing 3D aliens.
Leaving both of his mothers to wonder what had just happened.
And what it means for them.
They get to the Mayoral Mansion about twenty minutes later, and for a few long seconds, neither woman moves to get out of the car because they both rather distinctly recall their last time here, and how the beginning of this little adventure of theirs had been kicked off with a magical fight on the porch that had concluded with Regina unconscious on the sidewalk.
"So what now?" Regina asks. "Do I go inside, and the two of you leave?"
Emma frowns because she knows that they should have discussed this before they'd left the beach house, because now where Henry stays and who takes care of him suddenly matters again in a way that aches and burns.
They hadn't, though, and so now this is one of those delicate moments.
"I want to make sure that your house is safe for us, but then I probably need to go see my parents and let them know we've returned," Emma replies. "And I'm sure they'd love to see Henry, too, but I promise you that we'll be back right after that. If you don't mind, I'd like to crash here until I can find a new apartment; I think my days of staying with my mom and dad at the loft are probably over now. And I think it's time our kid comes home."
"Henry, sweetheart, are you all right with that?" Regina asks, looking right at her son. She's fighting to keep the anxious hope from her voice; the choice to come back and live with her has to be his and his alone.
"Yeah," he says with a quick nod. "But no more fighting over me, okay? If you guys are going to be together, then I belong to both of you, right?"
"Yeah," Emma agrees, then looks to Regina, who nods. Then, because this seems as good a time as any to suggest this, she says to Regina, her voice gentle and understanding, "You're more than welcome to come with us if you want; I'm sure you and my mother have a lot you need to talk about."
"We really don't," Regina counters, her shoulders suddenly tensing and the expression on her face changing into a much harder one. "And even if we do have much to say to each other, the fact is that I'm not ready for that yet. I'm not ready to forgive, and I doubt that she is, either."
Henry starts to speak, but Emma silence him with the slightest of shakes of her head, reminding him with just that motion about the conversation, which they'd had about not forcing this relationship to heal before it's ready to.
"Okay," she says simply, gently. She gets out of Ruby's car, then and motions up towards the house before offering Regina her hand. "How about we head inside and make sure none of the idiots in this town caused too much damage while we were gone."
There's a pause, a brief hesitation, and then Regina takes it and they head inside.
Thankfully, the mansion had suffered very little damage beyond a mass breeding of dust bunnies and a gathering of cobwebs in every corner of every room. And while both of these things irritate Regina to no end, the fact that her house has been untouched by those who would gladly see her dead gives her some comfort; this domicile is still hers.
She's by herself now, in the laundry room loading the washer with dirty clothes. Emma and Henry had left the house twenty minutes ago, and they probably won't be home for a few hours. Which is fine, she scolds herself, because it's not like she needs someone around her at all times; she's always done well enough being alone.
Only she knows that that's a bit of a lie. And even if it weren't, she finds that her desire – if it was ever actually that as opposed to a resigned acceptance of her lonely fate - for solitude isn't what it used to be.
Her fingers twitch as she feels a strong surge of magic flick it's way through her. It's not always like this; most of the time it's quite docile unless she's over emotional, but right now it's running around within her like a hyper child on a sugar high, and it wants to be released into the yard to play.
No, she thinks. Because she's in control now.
Because she won't become what she was again.
Her magic is part of her, and she has to accept this in order to conquer it.
To own it.
And so she will.
The anger and hurt are still there – especially when she thinks about where Emma and Henry are and how Snow is likely wrapping her arms around them and telling them how happy she is to have her family home. It make the fury burn bright and her eyes turn purple because the hatred still causes her skin to prickle and her heart to slam against her chest venomously.
But there's something else there now, though.
The desire to be better than that.
Better than her mother.
Better than Rumple.
Better than the monster they created.
Good enough for Henry and Emma.
Good enough for herself.
As she steps out of the laundry room and moves past her office, her eyes sweep inwards and towards the locked cabinet. She strides in and almost without thinking, she opens and extracts the book of magic from within it.
The book that had belonged to her mother and Rumple.
Her hand grazes over the cover, and she feels the darkly hot magic burn against her fingertips. It screeches up through her skin, slithering through her blood like a poisonous snake, but oddly it's what the magic reminds her of – the memories of her wicked past – and not the feel of it that causes the most reaction; it's the realization that there's still something Emma doesn't yet know about – or at least understand – that causes her to inhale sharply.
But before this night is over, Regina thinks to herself as she places the book into the hot flames of the fireplace and watches it burn in a flare of purple and green and then corrosive sticky black, Emma will know the rest of the truth.
And then…and then she'll have to make a decision.
Regina vows that she'll accept it, whatever it is.
They hug her as tight as they can, and Emma lets them because they miss her so deeply even though they don't know her, and probably never will as well as they'd like to.
"You're home," Mary Margaret whispers.
"I am," Emma assures Mary Margaret as she finally breaks away. It's just her and her parents now; she'd dropped Ruby's car off on the way over (where she'd gotten an earful of gossip about the strange outsider Greg Mendell who hadn't yet left town and about Leroy continuing to hit on Sister Astrid and about a date with Whale that had gone catastrophically bad) and the waitress had suggested to Henry that he might want to stick around and try out a new cake recipe. It'd been Ruby's not at all subtle way of saying that maybe Emma might want a few minutes alone with her mother and father.
Which was probably a good idea, Emma muses as she looks from David to Mary Margaret and sees the matching expressions of longing and sadness in their eyes, like both of them want to love and be as close to her as is possible, and yet can never find a way to make it happen as much as they want it to.
"You didn't have to leave for so long," Mary Margaret tells her with a kind of grimacing smile. There's an odd catch in her voice that suggests to Emma that she wants to be much stronger in how she says this, and yet she seems to know that such an approach wouldn't be at all appreciated.
"I did," Emma counters, her voice gentle. "We did. She – Regina - needed the time away from Storybrooke to try to heal and forget, and I think maybe I did, too."
Mary Margaret nods slowly. "And how…how is Regina?" It's quite clearly a hard to ask question, and she doesn't hide her emotions well at all – her clear jealousy and strong guilt – shine through even though she's trying not to let them. She's trying to be a good person, but she's deeply conflicted and confused, and she doesn't at all understand what's happened. She doesn't understand at all why her daughter had chosen to take care of the woman who'd spent so long trying to destroy their family. Even if it is a woman who - deep down inside - Mary Margaret still loves terribly.
"She's better than she was," is all Emma will allow.
"Good…good. So…what now?"
"Regina asked me the same thing."
"And, after this, the Kid and I are heading back to the Mansion for the night. And then tomorrow, I'm going to look for an apartment for myself."
"You don't have to," David protests, finally speaking up.
She smiles at him. "You know I do. You need your space, and I need mine."
"Emma, we just got you back," Mary Margaret says.
"I'm only going a few blocks," Emma assures them. "And you know what? In this town, it may not even be that far. I could end up living across the street from you."
"That'd…that'd actually be kind of nice," Mart Margaret says with a broad smile. Then, quietly, sobering up immediately, she asks, "And Regina?"
"What about her?"
"What about Henry?"
"He's our son," Emma says simply, shrugging her shoulders. "We're going to do what's best for him, and that means we share him. We do right by him."
A curious look passes between David and Snow, but then it fades, and Snow smiles brightly – too brightly to be real – and says, "Can we have breakfast? Tomorrow morning maybe? There's so much that I want to catch up with you about."
"Yeah, I think I'd like that," Emma replies.
And then on impulse, she leans forward and hugs her mother tight.
Because people fuck up and do terrible things, and they wear that pain in their eyes and in the way they tremble when they think that no one notices.
But Emma's gotten pretty good at recognizing the tremble.
"I love you," she whispers, saying words that she's not sure she would have been able to say eight weeks ago. Before she'd known about the deals that her mother had tried to make to protect her prior to her birth. Before she'd known just how much her parents had wanted her. "And I missed you, too."
Henry's in bed – exhausted out of his mind and completely dead to the world – when Regina quietly tells her that they have a field trip that they need to take. It's just past eleven at night, and all Emma wants to do is sleep like Henry is, but there's something – a kind of almost crazed urgency – in Regina's eyes which suggests to Emma that she shouldn't ignore or push this off. So wearily, she rises and follows.
Regina doesn't say a word as they walk the mile from the mansion to the cemetery, not even when Emma tries to joke her way into an explanation of why they're headed towards the creepiest part of town late at night. Instead, Regina simply smiles and keeps walking, her high-heeled boots clicking on the cement.
Which is when Emma notices that Regina has changed herself back into her old clothes. Though she looks completely familiar to Emma like this, this doesn't feel natural; it feels like some kind of protective shielding technique, and realizing this sets all of the sheriff's nerves-endings on fire. It's a fire, which becomes a five star one when they get to the doorway to the family vault that she and Regina had once – a long time ago - fought outside of.
"Regina, why are we here?" Emma asks, unable to hide how on edge she is.
"You need to see," is the only response she gets. And then Regina pushes the door open and steps inside, not waiting for Emma to follow because she knows that the sheriff won't be able to stop herself from doing it.
"Who I was."
"No," the queen counters, turning around to face her just as they reach the extraordinary casket that houses Cora's body. "We've talked about what made me who I was, and how I become her, but you haven't actually seen her…me."
"Yes, I did. Yes, I have," Emma corrects. "Or are you forgetting my first year here?"
"You saw a fairly watered down version of the monster that I once was. The one I'm capable of being. You saw someone who used manipulation to get what she wanted, but in my old world, I used deadly force and terrible violence to get those things done. You need to know who that person was…and is," Regina tells her as she pushes the casket aside to reveal stairs, which lead downwards. "You need to see me."
She descends slowly, emerging in the middle of her chamber of hearts. It looks mostly untouched, though someone has clearly been here – most likely David. Thankfully, he hadn't touched anything. Probably out of fear of what she might do to him should he meddle with the wrong thing as his wife had.
She hears Emma come behind her, and slowly, her voice tightly controlled, she says, "The night Graham chose you over me, I came down here and I took his heart out of one of those boxes over there, and I squeezed it until it was dust. I killed him to protect my curse, and because I was…I was hurt."
"I know this already. That you killed him, I mean. I know. We talked about this."
"We did, but you need to understand that there were others," Regina says, indicating towards the drawers. "I took so many hearts. For control, for pleasure, for anger."
"They belong to people in this town?"
"Most of them do. Some belong to people who are long dead now."
"Can the ones that belong to those who are living still be returned?"
"I believe so, though I'm honestly not sure I'd remember who all of them go to, anymore. And that's kind of the point," she turns to face Emma, her jaw working for a moment to force back the emotion and fear that is trying to surge toward the surface. Once she's back in control of herself, she continues with, "This vault is everything that I once was – everything I was and am capable of. Through that wall over there is a secret room; it's the one I hid in after my mother framed me."
"Very well." She walks over to the wall and waves her hand past it, causing it to disappear and reveal a room full of dresses and old world finery. It's practically an ode to the Evil Queen, and it makes Regina want to throw up because she hasn't been less this woman since the day Daniel had died. Still, this is necessary.
"Damn," Emma says, her eyes lighting one on of the dresses. It's a stunning deep red with sequins running across the lifted bust of it. It was probably absolutely magnificent on the woman who had once been the Queen.
"It was a different place," Regina says simply.
"Yeah, I'm getting that." She turns to face Regina, a frown on her lips and confusion in her eyes. "Why are you showing me this?"
"Because I need you to know what you're getting into, Emma. I need you to know that the stories about me aren't just exaggerated tales. I was every bit the monster that Henry thought that I was and perhaps…perhaps, I was even worse than that. I took life because I could and I hurt others because it made me hurt less."
"If you say so. I'm not sure it ever really did that, though."
"Look, I get it, okay? You want to warn me about what I'm getting myself into."
"Yes! Yes, that's exactly what I want to do," Regina says as she moves closer, enough so that they're just inches apart from each other. She reaches up and places a gentle hand on Emma's cheek, cupping it. "Because this is your last chance to walk away. If we do this and if I fall in love with you and then you decide six months down the line that I'm not someone that you could ever love back, well, I don't think that I'd ever be able to forgive you for that so if that's what's going to happen, then let's stop this now. Let's stop this before we lose something which…something which I need."
Emma nods at the words, but then steps away from Regina without responding, leaving the older woman wearing a confused expression across her painted lips. She watches as Emma approaches one of the dresses and runs her fingers across the fabric of it. "Doesn't look comfortable," she notes.
"It wasn't, but I got used to it. Emma…"
The sheriff turns to look at her, her expression serious and determined. "It's not my place to forgive you for the sins of your past because aside from what you did to me, I wasn't part of the rest of it. That's between you and my mother and…well, it's not between us. Graham, he is between us, and you're going to have to carry that guilt with you for the rest of your life."
"But none of that means that this is you. Not anymore."
"Perhaps not, but she's still inside of me, and always will be. I told Henry that, and I'm telling you it now because you need to understand that the Evil Queen wasn't just a bad stage for me. She was me, Emma. She is a part of me, and I have to accept her. I think…I think pretending that she's not…that's not being honest, and I'm sick of not being honest." She smiles sadly. "She's part of me, and I want to be with you."
"Good, because I want to be with you, too," Emma tells her and then steps over to her. "And yeah, maybe I'm completely insane because this is insane, but I feel like the woman I've gotten to know – the one I spent all of last night with – is the actual real and complete person. Not the Evil Queen who wears absurd dresses and rips out hearts, and not the girl who you were before all of this. All of that and none of that, right? I think…I think maybe Regina Mills who stole the brown blanket that she claimed she hated and hopes that no one noticed that she did it is the real person."
Blushing slightly, Regina clears her throat and mutters under her breath, "I have no idea how that hideous blanket got into the car."
"Exactly," Emma smiles. "There's no point in pretending that you didn't do all of these things anymore than there's a point in pretending that I haven't done the awful things that I have –" she holds up her hand to stop Regina from protesting. "It matters to me that I accept my mistakes; I don't want to be on a pedestal with you. I want…I think I need to be imperfect. I think maybe I want to be."
"Okay," Regina agrees, feeling almost lightheaded with hope now.
Emma nods in relief. "And yeah, maybe I should run because I get the feeling that being with you will never be easy, but I don't want to. I want this, too. I want you."
"Why?" Regina presses because she needs to know. "Just a few weeks ago you were so unsure about us. Just a few weeks ago you said that this would be a bad idea."
"It still might be because the books all still say getting involved with someone while you're trying to heal yourself is a terrible idea, and we're both trying to do that, but you know what, Regina? For once I'm following my heart," Emma replies. "I haven't done much of that in my life but this time it feels like what I need to be doing. Maybe even what I want to be doing." She gestures around. "I see this. I get this, but it doesn't change that I think that I know who you are better than this room does."
"I meant what I said," Regina tells her. "This is your chance to walk away."
"I know, and I'm not. I choose this. You. So now it's your turn. Your choice."
Regina smiles, shaking her head in amazement. "You truly are a Charming."
"I might be exhausted, but that didn't actually sound like an insult."
Regina snorts. "Definitely exhausted."
Regina answers her by leaning up and softly kissing her, gentle and chaste, and then they're both stepping forward and into each other arms, for a moment just holding each other. Just allowing the warmth and comfort of acceptance to sweep over them.
After a moment of this – a moment of just enjoying the softness of a new beginning – Emma says, "Now that that's settled, you think maybe we can get out of here now? This place is seriously creepy, and no offense but it's weird having this conversation with your mother's casket up there; I keep expecting her to jump out of it."
Regina shudders at the very idea of such. "She wouldn't approve."
"Of me or us?"
"Both. She despised you, and, you know what she thought of well, love…"
"Yeah. And she was wrong. It's the one thing my parents are right about."
Regina sneers at this, almost out of instinct. "We can leave now."
"Happily," Emma says, and then glances back at the red dress, a small smirk playing across her lips as far more interesting visuals assault her. As entirely improper as it is, it's oddly not difficult to imagine Regina rocking the outfit, though she has a feeling that what she's seeing in her head doesn't come close to the reality of it.
"Absolutely not," Regina says simply, an eyebrow quirked in amusement.
Emma just grins sheepishly in response.
She thinks that tomorrow, they might need to talk about those hearts and they might need to think about returning the ones that they can – a kind of atonement that might soothe the queen's tormented soul - but for tonight, Emma allows the promise of a future – one that their son accepts for them – wash over her.
Side by side, and hand-in-hand, they slowly ascend the steps together.
She doesn't say a word when she sees Regina place her palm against her mother's casket because love – even the kind that's broken and twisted around in macabre circles – dies hard, and though it hurts Regina so deeply to still feel such things for a woman who had never done anything besides hurt her child savagely, Emma knows that it is this ability to love, which keeps Regina human and alive.
It's this ability to continue to love even amongst the burnt ruins of her heart, which has allowed Regina a chance at redemption, peace and a new beginning.
Perhaps it has allowed them both that.
They're back at the house when Regina laughs suddenly, the sound wonderful and light and real in a way, which feels almost instantly frighteningly addictive.
"What?" Emma asks as she hangs up her jacket and starts to remove her boots, placing them by the front door in a way, which will rapidly become routine.
"I just remembered that I owe you a rain check," Regina reminds her, stepping closer, a seductive saunter in her movements.
"Yeah, you do," Emma confirms. Then again, with a nod, "Yeah."
"I do believe that you're shorting out," Regina tells her, and then offers her hand.
Emma takes it and steps close. Though it's clear that Regina is expecting something far more intense and passionate, Emma surprises her by leaning in and pressing a gentle kiss to her neck, and then the curl of her ear. "You're wrong," she whispers.
"About what? Owing you a rain check?" Her eyebrow quirks in surprise.
"No, you're definitely right about that, but you're wrong about me being the one to hurt you. I told you last night that I wouldn't let anything hurt you while you slept and I meant it. I wish I could always say the same about when we're awake, but the truth is, we both know that we can't protect each other from everything – that's not reality. But I can promise you that you're safe with me," Emma assures her.
Regina sighs. "Are you sure that's a promise you want to make? We're just beginning here, and anything can happen. This might not work out."
"It might not, but I still won't hurt you."
Regina studies her for a long moment, her dark eyes boring into Emma's intense green ones. There's no lie to be found. Instead, all she sees is the raw honesty that has always been such an integral part of who Emma is.
"Then collect on your rain check, my dear Savior," she says then, smiling playfully.
"Emma," she counters, because suddenly who they really are to each other matters.
"Emma." Said with so much understanding about the power of the name. "Collect."
"Gladly," Emma chuckles, and then leans in and presses her mouth against Regina's, stealing her breath and her thoughts and everything else away.
Because this might not work out for them, but it might.
Because this is her choice and their choice and because she does feel safe.
And because beneath the warm steady flow of the water surging down from the showerhead, Emma is touching her and kissing her and holding her in a way which makes her finally understand that her mother had never understood love at all.
But Mother is gone now, and finally, she has the chance to move forward.
The anger and vengeance of the Evil Queen is no longer in control of her and her future, she thinks as her head falls against the wet tiles of the shower stall, Emma's warm lips on the column of her neck, her hands lowering even as their eyes meet.
She no longer needs to be defined by the girl who had been twisted and broken.
Their lives are stories, going backwards and going forward.
It's time to start a new one.
One where she gets to decide who she is just as Emma has.
Emma who is kissing her, and murmuring her name, their fingers twisting together.
And Regina thinks, yes…yes…
Long live…long live Regina Mills.
For anyone interested, the sequel to this - dealing with making it work in the "real world", Greg Mendell and the Snow/Regina situation - can be found in the completed story REAL. I can be found over on tumblr at sgtmac7 if you're interested.