Regina is enjoying the first warmth of spring in the form of walking leisurely with the sheriff to get lunch, when everything falls apart again.
She's glancing around to make sure the road is clear for them to pass when she sees him. It actually takes her brain a second to process the whole thing, so her reaction is belated, but when realization comes, she gasps and drops her purse. When she looks up again to confirm what she just saw, there's no one there.
She swirls her head left and right quickly, heart hammering in her throat as Emma bends down and starts to retrieve her purse, asking if she's alright. She has no idea what's going on, but there's no doubt in her mind of what she saw and the panic she feels is overwhelming.
"Regina, what's happening?" Emma asks concerned, hands grasping the brunette's arm when she sees the panic in dark orbs.
"I…it's…nothing" she croaks out, knowing the blonde will think she's losing her mind if she tells her that she just saw her dead husband. He's been dead for so long that it's just not possible. No way. She's telling herself she most likely just imagined it, that there is no other explanation.
Emma's worried eyes follow her until they part ways again after eating, but she doesn't push, something Regina finds she's grateful for. After all, it was just a trick of her mind.
Regina knows with certainty that she's losing her mind when she sees him again as she goes grocery shopping the next day. It's the same thing as earlier, a brief look before she registers what she's seen, but when she looks again, he's not there. She flees the store and transports herself home with her magic in a panic, locking and double checking all the door and windows.
The nightmares start again that night.
"Emma, something's not right," Regina whispers into the phone. It's the fifth day of seeing her dead husband and she's locked inside her bedroom, rocking back and forth in bed and trying to tell herself that it's not real. But she knows it is. She's seeing him more and more each day, outside her office window or when she picks up Henry from school and she can't deny that something is definitely going on.
If it's the dead king's ghost come back to torture her or if she's legitimately going insane, she doesn't know. But there's definitely something.
"Where are you?"
"In our room."
It only takes a second before blue smoke swirls in front of the bed and Emma Swan appears, looking around for Regina. She's really starting to get the hang of poofing herself to the woman and she might have even felt proud about it, if it wasn't for the reason she has to keep doing it.
The sheriff feels her heart skip a beat as she catches sight of her lover rocking herself back and forth on the bed, hands around her knees and looking so small and fragile that it seems unthinkable this woman once was the famous Evil Queen.
"What's happening, Regina?" Emma asks pleadingly as soon as she's wrapped the comatose-like brunette in her arms.
"He's back," Regina whispers, sounding so very broken and scared. "I don't know how or why, but he's back."
It takes the blonde almost 20 minutes to piece together the whole picture from the nonsensical woman, and she has no idea what to do to help.
She calls Archie, explaining the situation and asking if he has any suggestions or pills that can help. Regina remains passive in her hold the whole time, like she doesn't even comprehend what's happening around her, except when they start discussing pills. Then she refuses loudly, stating whatever they give her will only make it worse. Emma thanks the doctor for his help and tries to soothe the frantic brunette.
"I tried sleeping pills once," Regina admits softly. "It only made the nightmares worse because I couldn't actually wake up from them."
"We need to talk," Emma states without preamble as she stalks into Gold's pawnshop.
"Ah, Miss Swan, what may I do for you today?"
"You did this," she accuses without pause, her eyes hard and furious as her hands slam down on the glass. "I don't know your part, but you have something to do with this."
"With what exactly?" Rumple asks smoothly, eyeing the sheriff with badly hidden amusement.
Emma doesn't have time for his games, grabbing the closest object she can reach and hurling it against the wall. "Stop fucking around, Gold, I don't have the time or the patience," she threatens him.
"Regina then," he answers himself with a gleeful smile that makes the blonde want to punch his teeth out. "How is her Majesty these days?"
"What did you do?" she growls, barely managing to keep herself from reaching across the counter and grabbing hold of his shirt.
"Someone felt Regina should get a taste of her own medicine."
"Meaning what exactly?"
"Meaning they wanted her to suffer," he offers with a little laugh that makes Emma grind her teeth and clench her fists. The man really is as crazy as in the stories.
"And you were happy to provide it, weren't you," the sheriff spits out in disgust. "I'm starting to think I should have killed you myself."
"Ooooh, careful, Princess," Rumple says with a cackle, "it's starting to sound like you're tempted by the dark side."
Emma scowls at him. "The only temptation I have is testing how many punches I need to deliver for you to lose all your teeth. Tell me how to break it."
"True love's kiss can break any curse," he sings, finishing with a giggle that leaves no doubt in the blonde's mind that he's completely bonkers. She grabs his tie tightly and tugs so he's forced to lean over the counter.
"I doubt this will come as a surprise to you, but Regina is in no state to be kissing anyone," she growls at him. "So you better have another solution for me."
Rumple's smile falls away as he studies her closely. "My, my, I guess it really is true. The Savior has fallen in love with the Evil Queen."
"Don't call her that," Emma warns lowly, tugging a little firmer at his tie.
"Release me, Miss Swan, and I'll tell you what you want to know."
Emma has barely closed the door and taken two steps, before the entire house tremors. She has just enough time to think 'earthquake' before Regina's panicked shout reaches her ears. She takes the stairs two at a time, slamming into the doorframe leading into their bedroom and trying not to gasp at the state it's in. Her lover's magic has clearly lashed out in desperation and fear; glass shards scattered on the floor, the chair splintered and everything that stood on the vanity sprinkled about.
"Leave me alone. You're not real," Regina mutters over and over, drawing the blonde's focus to the rocking woman in the corner of the room.
"Regina," Emma whispers carefully, not wanting to risk another outburst of magic directed at her if she scares the woman.
"Regina, it's okay. He's gone now," she offers gently as she takes a step forward. The brunette doesn't react to her voice though, just keeps hiding her face against her knees, rocking and mumbling nonsense.
Emma chances another step, wincing when her foot steps on some of the broken glass, creating a crunching sound that makes Regina's head shoot up. She closes her eyes and braces herself for impact, surprised when it never comes. Carefully, she opens her eyes and is met by piercing dark ones that looked so intently at her it makes a chill run down her spine at the eeriness of it.
"Regina," she tries again softly as she removes her feet from the glass shards carefully. "Is it okay if I come closer?" Her girlfriend's eyes flash briefly, so fast the blonde barely catches it, before her eyes clouds over and she hides her face again. Emma figures it's as much of an okay she's going to get from the woman at the moment and slowly snakes her way forward.
"Regina, I'm gonna sit down next to you, okay?" the blonde offers once she is within reaching distance of her distraught lover. She knows how important it is to not do anything sudden and startle her, having her fair share of experience with other foster children that had been victims of abuse.
When the brunette raises her head just enough to peek at her over her knees, Emma gives a soft smile of encouragement and languidly bends down until she's sitting on the floor in front of her.
"He's gone, Regina. I stopped it," she explains tenderly, smiling again when eyes filled with doubt meets her own. "You were cursed, but I broke it."
For a moment it looks like Regina might speak, her lips parting slightly, but then she seems to change her mind, eyes falling to the ground between them as she starts to rock herself again.
"It's over now," Emma promises before growing silent, waiting for a sign that her girlfriend has heard what she's said. The silence stretches on.
"Is it okay if I touch you?" she questions softly. "Just your hand," she hurriedly reassures when the brunette's eyes widen in panic. She waits patiently for Regina to give her an indication that it's okay, and is rewarded a minute later when there's a brief nod.
Emma raises her hand gradually to give her lover time to prepare, before she carefully places her hand over one of the brunette's. Then she just stays like that, content to offer the woman silent support.
The blonde has no idea how long they sit like that, but she can feel her limbs falling asleep. And then finally, Regina whispers her name, almost startling her. She manages to keep from making any sudden movements though.
"Is it really over?" the brunette murmurs, her voice unsteady and sounding so broken it brings tears to Emma's eyes.
"Yes, baby, I promise you that he's really gone," she whispers back, and then Regina is sobbing and the blonde is wrapping her up in her arms as her own tears slide down her cheeks, promising over and over that he's gone and she's safe.
"I'm sorry that you have to put up with this," Regina whispers, trying to pull away from the comforting embrace she's in. At some point, Emma had carefully moved them to the bed, where she had wrapped her lover up in a safe cocoon.
"Don't be an idiot," the blonde rasps as she refuses to let the other woman distance herself. "That's my job." She's rewarded with a shaky smile as Regina finally stops trying to untangle herself.
"You're strong and brave and you'll be okay," Emma promises in a whisper as she nuzzles her girlfriend. "I'll keep you safe."
The brunette breathes in her girlfriends scent, willing herself to believe in the sheriff, believe in her words. She wants Emma to be right. She wants to be happy. She is happy. And she's not going to let her past ruin the family she's building.
"I love you," Regina offers, her stomach tightening in fear that the words won't be reciprocated or that she'll hear the lie in the sheriff's voice.
Emma lifts her head so she can look into dark eyes and brushes her knuckles gently against her lover's cheek. "I love you too," she proclaims with a smile, eyes shining with a sincerity and certainty that makes Regina's eyes water all over again.