With Emma's help, Regina was finally able to take baths (showers, though she missed them, were still out of the question, as Regina's current record for standing up was about a minute and a half), which made her feel more human than almost all of the other progressions she'd made combined. She was, at first, slightly discomfited to need Emma's assistance, but ultimately decided that almost dying on someone for eight hours was actually a much more intimate experience than having the aforementioned person see you naked. And the desire to be clean trumped any lingering embarrassment.
Every night, after her bath, Henry came and curled into her on the bed. His reading to Regina had turned into a routine, one that both mother and son treasured. He'd looked askance at her when the Witch of the Waste first came into play—apparently he hadn't actually read the book's summary—but she'd just smiled at him, and told him to keep going.
Tonight, Regina had her arm around Henry, and he was leaning his head against her shoulder while he read, and Regina had that soft smile she got on her face whenever she spent time with Henry. Standing in the doorway, Emma's heart skipped in her chest as she stared at how peaceful they looked.
Emma waited until Henry finished the chapter before knocking on the doorframe to announce her presence. "Time for bed, kid."
"One more chapter?" he pleaded. Emma shook her head.
"Nope. It's late. And even if you aren't tired, your mom needs sleep. Remember our deal?" Henry rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Good. Now scoot. I'll come with and tuck you in."
Henry gave her a withering look. "I'm eleven. I don't need to be tucked in anymore."
"Then how would I know you've actually gotten in bed? Come on. Up up up."
Henry heaved a dramatic sigh, before giving Regina a hug and scrambling off the bed. Emma ruffled his hair—earning another dramatic eyeroll—before following him out.
Emma returned about fifteen minutes later with a tall glass of water and two painkillers. "Your nightly meds, Madam Mayor," she said, handing them to Regina. Regina smiled at her.
"Did he keep giving you a hard time?"
"Some grumbling. And he's probably reading under the covers with a flashlight right now. But pick your battles, right?"
An awkward silence spread to fill the room. Emma had been aloof and a little snippy these past few days, and Regina wasn't sure what was wrong, or how to try and fix it. Tired of playing nursemaid, maybe. She couldn't say she blamed her.
That first day, after Emma had helped Regina to her bed, Regina had considered trying to drive Emma away. Surely Emma saving her life (for how many number of times now? It was really getting rather ridiculous) was enough vulnerability. Letting Emma be present for what she already knew would be an unpleasant recovery would just be overkill.
And yet, before Regina had even fully formulated this thought, her mind turned back to Emma's gentle fingers running through her hair during those awful, awful hours, the low cadence of her voice as she talked Regina through the worst of the pain. When was the last time someone had been that tender with her? Graham—and any man she'd been with back in the Enchanted Forest—had just been sex. Leopold had been…well. She tried never to let herself think about what Leopold had been.
She supposed there was Snow, that time Regina was disguised as a peasant and got an arrow (or was it a sword? She couldn't remember anymore) to the leg. But that didn't count, because Snow hadn't known Regina's true identity.
Daniel, then. The last time someone had touched Regina with any sort of warmth had been Daniel. Which, Regina thought, maybe actually meant that she should go through with pushing Emma away, because things with Daniel hadn't exactly ended well. Either time. But she couldn't make herself do it. She craved honest affection the way she craved hugs and smiles from Henry, and maybe, just maybe, almost dying (for whatever number of times it was) was a sign that she should stop being so fucking stubborn and just let herself be happy. Or at least try. Because she was so, so tired of always being alone.
Then love again.
And yes, maybe Regina had forgotten, over the course of many long years, how to love well. But she could relearn. For Henry. For herself. For the possibility of a friendship with the woman who kept saving her life for absolutely no reason Regina could discern. Try.
With the current distance that had sprung between her and Emma, Regina was beginning to wonder about the success of her efforts. She watched Emma fidget and refuse to meet her eyes while Regina drank the water and took the pain meds, and tried not to think about Emma leaving. Maybe being happy wasn't actually in the cards.
"You know," she said finally, trying to alleviate the tension in the room, "If I'd known that the key to winning my son back was cursingmyself, I would have done it ages ago." She said it lightly, meaning it as a joke, and waited for Emma's answering chuckle. Instead, Emma took in a deep hissing breath, and whipped her head around furiously to meet Regina's gaze.
"Don't you dare joke about that," she said. "Don't you ever—do you have any idea what it was like? Sitting on that fucking bathroom floor for eight fucking hours, thinking that at any minute you were going to die in my lap, and knowing there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it? Wondering what the hell I would tell Henry? Do you know he cried himself to sleep that first night, saying 'I made her do it, it's my fault'? Because until you can begin to conceive of just how much of a hell you put us through, you. don't. get. to joke."
Regina blinked at her, taken aback by Emma's outburst. Clearly, this had been brewing under the surface for a while. She met Emma's fuming gaze with her own calmer one, held it until Emma took a few steadying breaths and came to sit on the edge of Regina's bed.
"Feel better?" Regina asked softly. Emma nodded mutely. "How long have you been waiting to say that?"
"A while." Emma was starting to look slightly shame-faced.
"I'm sorry," Regina said. "I didn't realize…I'm sorry."
Emma swallowed hard, shook her head. "I don't think I've ever been so scared in my entire life," she whispered, looking down at her hands. "Even when Henry…at least then, there was something I could do. I could focus on being angry, and then determined, and just…not let myself be scared. I didn't have room to be scared. But this…I was so fucking helpless. And…fuck, the nightmares that I still have. I've spent…more nights than you probably care to know sitting on that armchair in here, because it's the only way I can get back to sleep. Even if it's a fitful, sitting up sort of sleep. It still trumps the damn dreams. Being in the same room as you…it's the only way I can close my eyes and not see that fucking bathroom. And I get that it wasn't exactly a picnic for you either—" Regina snorted at the understatement, and Emma shot her a look before continuing—"But…so help me god, Regina, if you ever pull a stunt like that again I will kill you myself."
Regina fought to hold back a quip along the lines of Why Ms. Swan, I didn't know you cared. Judging from the expression on Emma's face, it wouldn't go over well. Instead, the two women sat in silence, Emma fiddling with one of her necklaces, Regina toying with her sheets.
"For what it's worth…I didn't know that it would be like that," Regina finally offered. "That violent, that—I didn't know. I don't know if that helps. But I didn't intend to put you through that." She stared at Emma, who continued to keep her gaze focused on her lap.
"Did you know it could kill you?" Emma still wouldn't look at Regina, who chewed her lip in an uncharacteristically nervous gesture.
"I…entertained it as a possibility. It was a death curse, after all. I just thought that if it were going to happen, it would happen more quickly. And…civilly." When Emma turned her head to glare at her, Regina shrugged helplessly. "What was I supposed to do? If I hadn't drawn it off, it could have killed you. I thought I'd at least leave Henry with the mother he wanted. Besides, I was partially responsible for the curse in the first place—"
"Gold cast it," Emma interrupted, clearly still furious with the man.
"Yes. But I was there, and didn't stop him. Didn't even try. And I was the one who knew better. I was the one who promised Henry—well. My point being, it was only fair for me to take on the curse. It was my responsibility. And…it was only a possibility that it would kill me. It was a certainty that it would kill you."
"And if it had been Cora to make it through instead of Mary Margaret and me? What then? You would have left Henry with a psychotic grandmother, and neither of his mothers to keep him safe?"
"I admit it wasn't necessarily the best thought-out plan. But then, neither was letting Gold convince me the curse was our best option. I should…you'd think I'd be better at resisting his manipulations, by now." Then, more quietly, "I just wanted to make Henry happy, Emma. I truly am sorry."
"I know," Emma said, expelling a deep breath. "I know you are." Silence spread out in the room again.
"What you said about being helpless…" Regina said after a long moment. "That's not true. You saved my life. I thought—I thought you knew that."
Emma blinked at her, finally looking up to meet Regina's gaze. Regina took a moment to gather her thoughts.
"You…made me keep holding on," she explained. "You wouldn't let me stop breathing. I couldn't have done that for myself. I was…very close to letting go, when you found me."
Emma swallowed past the tears that were starting to form in her eyes. Trying to lighten the tone, she offered Regina a teasing smile. "Madam Mayor, is this your roundabout way of saying thank you?"
Regina blushed. "Partly," she said. Emma waited, but Regina didn't continue.
"And the other part…?" she prompted.
"The other part is me asking—in my 'roundabout way'—why you were so intent on keeping me alive." Regina cast a tentative look at Emma. "You can't deny that things would be…easier…if I weren't in the picture."
"It's true, dear." A sad smile played across Regina's lips. "I've done nothing but make your life hell since you got here. Including trying to poison you. You should have been rejoicing."
"Is that really what you think?"
Regina swallowed. "Yes," she whispered.
"What about Henry?" Emma demanded. "Did you even bother to tell him what the curse would do to you?"
"Of course not. I didn't—I didn't want him to feel like he had to choose. So I…gave him what I knew he would want, without saddling him with the guilt of picking which one of us should live. And he…would have gotten over it. Eventually." Regina wound her fingers together, and Emma frowned at her.
"Henry would never have gotten over it. His mom dying because of something he asked her to do? He would never have forgiven himself. That's not a fair burden to put on a kid. If you really don't get that, then you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were."
"I'm not his mom." Regina sounded broken.
"Bullshit. You are his mom. You will always be his mom. I know I haven't been supportive of that, but…you are. Regina. Look at me?" Regina looked up reluctantly. "Henry loves you. No matter what mean things he says. He's just a kid. He's going to be a little shit sometimes. That's what kids do. Especially to their moms. And yeah, you guys might still have some stuff you need to work through, but that doesn't mean you're not his mom. You are. And he loves you. Okay? So no more doing stupid crap because you feel like you need to prove something."
Regina sniffed. "Okay," she said quietly.
Emma looked at her downcast expression. "Can I sit?"
"You are sitting, Ms. Swan." Regina made an effort to recover some of her usual snark. "Unless there's some new definition of sitting I'm not aware of…"
"Yeah, yeah. You know what I mean." Regina looked at her for a moment, then nodded.
"What do you take me for, some sort of heathen?" Emma asked indignantly.
"If the boot fits…"
Emma rolled her eyes and pulled off her boots, then climbed all the way onto the bed, so that she was sitting next to Regina, shoulders almost-but-not-quite touching, back leaning against the headboard and legs stretched out in front of her.
"Here's the thing," she said after a minute. "You're infuriating, and arrogant, and condescending, and can possibly sometimes be the biggest bitch ever."
"If this is your idea of a pep talk, they need work, dear."
"You're better at pushing my buttons than anyone I've ever met, and yeah, okay, there's that whole you-tried-to-poison-me thing, and I'm not sure I even want to know just how many times you've tried to kill my mom. Your refusal to call people by their first names is practically pathological…"
"It's called respect. Feel free to try it sometime."
"…and you are capable of looking more scornful and disdainful than pretty much anyone else on the planet. You have 'making people feel like idiots' down to a science." Emma paused for a moment. "And yet," she continued, "somehow, you managed to worm your way under my skin. There's that smirk you get when you're winding me up just to wind me up, and your ridiculous posture, and the way your eyes light up whenever Henry hugs you. There's the fact that you dress like you're going to some kind of important business meeting even when you're actually only going to the grocery store, and the way you move in your billions of pairs of high heels. There's the tone of your voice, and the way you run your hand through your hair. And…god. I don't even know. I just…I guess what I'm trying to say, is…it's not just for Henry, that I'm glad you're alive. I'm glad for me too. Because if you'd died I never would have gotten to see the look on your face while Henry reads to you, or hear your real laugh—you have a great laugh, by the way—or had you smile at me the way you did when I came in the room earlier, and, well…I'm just glad you're not dead. So…stay that way. Please."
Regina looked floored, and Emma gave her a small smile.
"How'd the rest of the pep talk go?" she asked.
"Better," Regina managed. "I retract my earlier criticism." She glanced at Emma. "You're infuriating too," she told her. Then, with a smirk, she added "Ms. Swan."
Emma rolled her eyes and lightly whacked Regina's arm. "Shut up and stop ruining the moment."
Regina cast a sideways look at Emma, then, carefully, tilted her head so that it was leaning against Emma's shoulder. She held her breath slightly, wondering if Emma was going to wriggle out from underneath her and exclaim It was just a joke what are you doing?
Instead, Emma took Regina's right hand in her left, and intertwined their fingers, holding tight. After a long moment, she shifted, turning towards Regina. Regina lifted her head, so that they were staring each other in the eyes.
Emma licked her lips. "If you'd died," she whispered, "I'd never have gotten to do this." Slowly, she leaned forward, giving Regina a light kiss, before gradually allowing it to turn into something deeper. When they broke apart, Regina was wide-eyed and a little breathless.
"Operation staying not-dead," she murmured, after she got her voice back. "I think I can handle that."