Prompt from chodge76 after A Trail of Destruction reached 500 followers: Regina has composed several love letters to Emma with no intention of ever mailing them. Henry, who has suspected that they've had more than friendly feelings for each other all along, happens upon the letters and mails them on her behalf.
A/N: I LOVED this prompt - which is kind of evident from just how long it ended up becoming... If I'm honest, I'm not really sure how successful I was in trying to get all of this story into a single one shot rather than making it a multi-chapter fic. But I did my best.
Also I have, once again, taken a simple and possibly even fluffy prompt and turned it into a mad raging angst fest, and I can only apologise for that. I'll get some therapy or something once I can afford it. Anyway - I hope you all enjoy it nonetheless!
'Where is it?' Henry muttered to himself, crawling on his stomach underneath his bed and pushing the pile of old toys out of the way. It wasn't there. He wriggled back out and rose onto his knees, resting his elbows against the edge of his mattress as he surveyed the havoc that had been wreaked upon his bedroom over the last half hour: his bookshelf had been mostly torn down, its contents now spread across the floor; his bedding was flung out into the hallway; his closet was wide open and most of his clothes were now heaped at the bottom of it. He groaned, his forehead thudding down onto his crossed arms.
'Henry,' he heard his mother's voice calling him from downstairs. 'Are you okay if I go out for an hour?'
'Fine,' Henry replied, not lifting his head. She has it. She's taken it again.
'Don't open the door to anyone,' she replied, gathering up her keys and quickly checking her hair in the mirror. 'I'll be back by five.'
When he didn't reply to her, Regina sighed. She knew that he would have realised that his book was gone by now. She felt bad for taking it… she really did. But he was stillcalling her the Evil Queen. Since Graham's death and Miss Swan's appointment as the sheriff it had only gotten worse. She was hardly going to just stand by and let those stories inflict any further damage on her son's already overactive imagination.
Miss Swan… the thought of that woman's name, as usual, made her toes curl. She rolled her eyes to herself, then moved towards the front door.
He'll learn to live without it, she told herself as she marched down the path and opened the door to her Mercedes. It's just a book. He'll survive.
Up in his bedroom, Henry hovered by the window and waited until the black car had edged off of the driveway. The moment that it had disappeared down the street, he sprung across the room, dodging the piles of books and clothes and toys, before hitting the hallway. He spent the next ten minutes in Regina's bedroom, tearing through her possessions, absolutely certain that he would find his book amongst them. He heard himself let out a strangled moan when it was nowhere to be found.
'The office,' he muttered to himself, not yet concerned about tidying up the mess that he had made. 'It has to be down there.'
He slipped down the stairs, made his way into his mother's study and shut the door behind him. He began to search through the drawers in her desk, but without luck. He heaved on the final handle, only to find that it was locked. He paused.
A key. His eyes scanned across the room, trying to imagine where his mom might have hidden it. He thought back to the times when he had come into this room while she was working. Usually her hands had been poised over her keyboard or lifting up a cup of coffee. But, that one time…
He edged over to the nearest bookshelf, running his fingers over the tops of the books that his mother had been stood by that day. She had jumped when he had walked in. His mother never jumped.
The books were high up and Henry struggled to reach them properly, but after a few moments of staggering along on his tip-toes, his fingers brushed against something metal sitting on top of one of the books. He pulled the key down and returned to the desk.
The book was there. Of course it was.
He grinned to himself, reaching into the drawer and heaving the thing out. Several papers got caught against it as it slid out of the tight wooden space. They tumbled to the floor at his feet.
'Oops.' Placing the book on the desk, Henry knelt down and began to gather them up. Regina would know that he had been in her desk the moment that she opened that drawer again, so he supposed that it didn't really matter if the papers were put back in the right order or not. But even so, he found himself shuffling through them, trying to neatly arrange them once more.
He blinked when he realised that, at the bottom of the pile, was a wodge of envelopes. They all had the same two words written on the front of them.
Henry glanced up at the clock: he still had well over half an hour before Regina should be home again. So he sat himself cross-legged on the floor beside his mom's desk, holding his breath as he opened the first envelope. It was dated a fortnight after Emma had first arrived in Storybrooke.
As he read, Henry felt the room growing quieter around him. He finished the first letter and moved onto the next. His fingers were trembling as he thumbed through the papers, and his breath kept catching in his throat – this doesn't make any sense. I don't… understand.
He finished the letters: there were five of them, and each one confused him more than the last. This wasn't right – this wasn't what Regina was meant to be thinking. She hated Emma. Everyone knew it. And yet…
Henry closed his eyes.
The looks that they gave each other. Those tiny amused smiles.
He realised then that he had a choice to make: if Regina came home and found that the book was gone, she would immediately notice that Henry had taken the envelopes with it. She couldn't know – she couldn't suspect that he had read these.
And so, slipping the five letters into the waistband of his jeans, he replaced the book exactly where it had been in the drawer. The key went back on top of his mother's books. He glanced around the room, the air suddenly feeling thicker around him, before he slipped back upstairs to try and clear up the mess that he had made.
'Aren't you going to be late for work?' Mary Margaret asked, watching as her roommate shuffled across the kitchen still wearing her checked pajama bottoms.
Emma joined her at the table, yawning. 'Probably.'
Mary Margaret narrowed her eyes. She raised her cup of tea back to her lips and took a sip. 'And that's not a problem?'
'I'm always on time,' Emma muttered in response, folding her legs beneath her and reaching out to steal a bit of her roommate's toast. 'I didn't sleep very well. I'm allowed to be late once.'
'If you say so,' Mary Margaret said, pushing the plate towards Emma as she stood up and began to wind her scarf around her neck. 'I just hope for your sake that today isn't the day that Regina decides to show up and check that you're actually doing your job.'
'She does that most days,' Emma shrugged, chewing on the rest of the toast. 'It might be nice to give her something to actually bitch about.'
Mary Margaret rolled her eyes. 'If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you enjoyed getting on the mayor's nerves.'
'I do,' Emma said with a small smile. 'She's a control freak. She deserves to be taken down a peg or two.'
'Emma. Don't pretend that you don't love the arguments,' Mary Margaret raised an eyebrow. She picked up her purse and hitched her pile of marked homework into the crook of her arm.
'Why would I love the arguments?' Emma frowned.
'I have no idea,' she shrugged. 'But you do. You seek them out. Don't try and pretend otherwise.'
Emma rolled her eyes. 'Mary Margaret—'
'I have to get to school,' she said, taking a step towards the front door. Suddenly she frowned, then bent to pick something up. 'Emma?'
'Is this yours?'
Emma glanced up from the remains of her roommate's toast. Mary Margaret was holding up a white envelope.
'I don't think so…?'
'It has your name on it,' she said, holding it out. 'It must have been put under the door.'
'Oh,' Emma said, taking the envelope from her and narrowing her eyes down at it. Miss Swan. She groaned: there was only one person who called her that.
'I'll see you later,' Mary Margaret said, opening the front door and slipping out into the hallway. Emma didn't reply. She was still staring down at the letter, her forehead furrowing.
It was definitely Regina's handwriting – she would recognise that obnoxiously neat calligraphy anywhere. But it was addressed to her. Why the hell would Regina be writing to her?
She sighed, turning the envelope over and tearing it open. The letter than she pulled out was short.
…this already feels ridiculous. But I read somewhere that writing letters can be therapeutic, even if you have absolutely no intention of ever mailing them. So I'm writing this to you with the knowledge that I'll never have to give it to you. Then, at least, I can be honest.
Well, Emma thought, frowning: that doesn't make any sense. She glanced up to the top of the page, taking in the date: it had been written only two weeks after she had arrived in town. Regina had never planned on sending it to her, evidently. And yet… here it was.
You're trying to take my son away from me, Miss Swan. And I know that you're not necessarily the villain here – you didn't seek him out. He came to find you, and he did so because he was unhappy. And I suppose that was my fault. But that doesn't mean that you're doing the right thing by letting him believe that I am the villain. I'm still his mother. He's meant to respect me, and he's meant to love me, and with you around indulging him in all of this fairy tale absurdity then neither of those things is going to happen. And it's not fair for you to do that to me. You may not like me, but I'm still his mother. I raised him, I took care of him, and you're turning him against me. And I cannot tell you just how much I hate you for doing that.
Emma heard herself sigh – none of this was new. She knew very well that Regina hated her, and she was pretty much past caring about it. And yet… seeing all of this written down... seeing that Regina was actually hurt by all of this… It was unexpected. And it was startling. She wasn't sure that she liked it.
She took a deep breath, moving on to the second half of the letter.
But the most infuriating thing about this whole arrangement is… I cannot believe that I am writing this. This is ridiculous. But, regardless – the most infuriating thing is this: I don't actually hate you. I don't think. I detest what you're doing to my son, and I despise you for abandoning him, and I loathe you for having the audacity to come back again ten years later. But I don't hate you. And that fact makes me inclined to hate you even more because I should hate you – any sane person would. You're annoying and rude and loud and uncouth and poorly dressed and generally abrasive and I wish that I'd never laid eyes on you. And yet I still don't hate you. And you have absolutely no idea how infuriating that it.
Writing this hasn't helped at all. My stomach still hurts.
Emma blinked, turning the paper over – there was nothing more.
It made absolutely no sense. Firstly, where had it even come from? Regina clearly didn't want her to see this, so how had it ended up underneath her front door?
And secondly… Regina didn't hate her. She only wished that she did.
My stomach still hurts. What did that mean?
Emma read the letter through a second time, and then a third, but absolutely nothing became any clearer. She wondered momentarily if this was some kind of joke from someone else in town – but no. From the handwriting down to every last scathing word, the letter was utterly and entirely Regina. She had written it, and written it to her. And it made no sense.
Emma rubbed a hand over her tired eyes, waiting for some kind of intelligible thought to hit her. When it didn't, she forced herself to get up from the table and go take a shower. The letter was folded away and stored in her nightstand. She already knew that she'd want to read it again that evening, when hopefully the words would stop being quite such a jumbled confusion to her.
The very next morning, Emma came down the stairs and into the kitchen to find another envelope lying on the floor beneath the front door. She froze.
'Morning,' Mary Margaret said from the sink. 'Coffee?'
'Please,' Emma replied, her eyes still fixed on the letter. Her roommate obviously hadn't seen it yet. She glanced to her left, making sure that Mary Margaret's back was turned, before she slipped across the room and stuffed the letter into her pocket. When she stood upright again, Mary Margaret still hadn't turned around.
'I made eggs,' she said, gesturing to the stove. 'Help yourself.'
'Thanks,' Emma said, edging back towards the stairs. 'Actually, I'll be back in a minute. I forgot something.'
Mary Margaret glanced over her shoulder at her. 'Forgot what?'
'My… socks.' Emma tore up the stairs, hoping that Mary Margaret didn't look up in time to realise that she was in fact already wearing them.
She tumbled onto her bed and tore the envelope open without bothering to shut the door behind her. The pages spilled out into her lap. Biting down on her bottom lip, Emma gathered them back up and shuffled them into the correct order. Then she looked at the date: it had been written a week after the first one. She hadn't even been in town for a month.
She sucked in a breath through her teeth.
Given that writing the previous letter didn't help matters at all, I'm not exactly sure why I'm writing you another one. This is the worst therapy that I've ever encountered and, believe me, I've experienced my fair share. Perhaps I just have too much free time on my hands. Or… perhaps I just have a lot of other things that I need to say to you.
The night that I wrote that first letter, I dreamed about you afterwards. I don't remember what happened exactly – I just remember waking up feeling annoyed and, for some reason, all that I could picture was the colour green. That was it. It put me in a very bad mood for the rest of the day.
And yet I also remember wishing that I could dream about you again the next night. And the night after that. The dream didn't come back again, and that put me into an even worse mood – because why on earth would I want to dream about you? You bother me enough when I'm conscious. You're everywhere. I hardly need the aggravation of having to think about you when I'm asleep as well.
There must be a reason why I think about you so often. All these weeks I've been telling myself that it's because you're just that kind of invasive, intruding, unwelcome person. You turn up in Storybrooke when no one wants you here and then you start showing up in my brain when I clearly did not invite you in. I've been telling myself that this fixation on you is entirely your fault, and not my own.
…it certainly is a good thing that these letters are going straight into the trash, because I'm never planning on admitting this again.
Because now I've started to think that maybe this isn't your fault. I mean, certain things are – you taking Henry away from me definitely is. But… there has to be something said for just how often I find myself thinking of you. How in the middle of work I find myself drifting off imagining you turning up so that we have one of our usual little arguments. And then, that dream. I don't remember it, but I know that we weren't arguing in it. I woke up feeling irritated because the damn thing was over. I know that whatever I did dream about, it was… nice. And that really, really bothered me.
This is completely ridiculous. I'm meant to hate you, and I don't – that's bad enough. But the fact that you're on my mind this much is just absurd. You know, after that day when Henry gave you one of my shirts, I couldn't stop thinking about you wearing it for a full week. I don't understand why.
Sometimes I tell myself that you might think the same way. Maybe you like to irritate me so much because I'm always on your mind too. But then I remember that there's a very good reason why I've been alone for so long. Why I'm never on anyone's mind at all.
This whole thing is just blindingly ridiculous and I wish you would go away. I was always so capable before you arrived. Now I have no idea what I'm doing half the time and even I am running out of things to pick a fight with you over.
Maybe it's time for you to pack up your things and leave. Although, at this stage, I can't honestly say that I wouldn't try and follow you.
I don't know what… you've done. But I really wish that you'd stop.
Emma's mouth was hanging open as she finished the letter. If Regina felt confused, then it was absolutely nothing compared to the explosion of chaos that was ricocheting around inside her own head. She was right: this was ridiculous. It had to be a joke. It just had to be.
And yet all Emma could see was Regina's dark, piercing eyes and the way that they watched her. Full of hatred. Full of resentment.
Full of uncertainty.
She leapt up off of the bed, charging down the stairs and throwing her coat on. Mary Margaret turned to hear the door slamming, the sound of her roommate's feet thumping away down the stairs without a word goodbye thrown back behind her.
'Miss Swan,' Regina said coolly, recognising the sound of the approaching footsteps without needing to look up. Emma stood tensely in the doorway to her office, her hands tugging at the sleeves of her black coat.
There was a pause before Emma spoke.
'Regina,' Emma said. It was all that she said. Regina found herself glancing up in surprise, not recognising the quiet, careful way in which Emma had said that single word. She said it like she meant it. She said it like, for the first time since they'd met, she was talking to her and not at her.
'What?' Regina replied, unable to keep the distrust from her voice. Emma's head was tilted to one side, her eyebrows pinched together.
'Is there…' Emma started, then faltered. She swallowed before she tried again. 'Is there anything that you need to say to me?'
'Why would I have anything to say to you?' she asked. Her tone wasn't aggressive, but it was still undeniably suspicious. Emma never flinched.
'I'm giving you the chance,' she said quietly, her hands fidgeting by her sides, 'to actually talk to me. I won't shout. I won't get angry. If you have something to say to me, then I'm going to listen. So say it.'
Regina didn't react. She remained sitting bolt upright in her chair, her hands poised over her keyboard from where they'd been when Emma had barged into the room in her usual ungainly manner. She looked like her usual calm, composed self. But somewhere inside of her, a tiny niggling feeling was making her palms itch. Emma was looking at her with… concern. With patience. She was looking at her in a way that no one had looked at her before in the twenty-eight years that she had spent in this town and it was making her chest ache.
She knew that she should have relished it. But the weight of her stare was suffocating her.
'No, Miss Swan,' Regina said slowly, her eyes on the anxious crease between Emma's eyebrows. 'I don't have anything to say to you.'
Emma swallowed. Raising one of her hands from where it was hanging at the side of her body, she pushed it into the pocket of her coat. The tips of her fingers brushed the edge of two folded, crumpled and repeatedly re-read letters.
But she didn't pull them out. She had planned to: she had planned to give them back to Regina, to let her know that they were somehow coming to her. To tell her that her self-therapy clearly wasn't working. But she didn't do any of those things.
Regina watched with narrowed eyes as her hand left her pocket again and reached up, empty, to tuck a blonde curl behind her ear.
Emma nodded after a few moments.
'Okay,' she said, no longer looking at the woman sat on the other side of the desk. She turned away from her, moving slowly towards the door. 'Fine.'
The door shut behind her. Regina realised then that she hadn't been breathing.
That was… unusual. The sight of Emma's face, filled with urgency and a whole mess of other emotions that she couldn't quite decipher, was already niggling away at her. It was sticking in her mind even more resolutely than the damn woman's face usually did.
She leaned back in her chair and released an enormous sigh, her slightly clammy palms pulling down at the bottom of her skirt. Her heart was beating erratically. She noted with some annoyance that it usually was nowadays.
'Emma? There's a letter under the—'
'I'll take that,' Emma said, snatching it out of Mary Margaret's hand before she could look too closely at the handwriting on the envelope. 'Thanks.'
'Didn't you have one of these the other day?'
'Um. Yeah,' Emma muttered, shrugging. She desperately wanted to tear the letter open then and there, but she forced herself to fold it in half and push it into the back pocket of her jeans. 'They're from… Sidney. He's sending me information on Regina.'
'Ah,' Mary Margaret said, walking back across the room to pick up her purse. 'You're being careful though, right? If Regina found out…'
'We're being careful,' Emma said, offering her a smile. It was meant to be reassuring, but it felt decidedly strained. 'I promise.'
'Okay then,' Mary Margaret said, hitching her workbooks up into her arms. 'I'd better get going, anyway. Are you coming?'
Emma wetted her lips. The letter was already burning a hole in her pocket.
'Yeah,' she forced herself to say, picking up her jacket and keys from the table. 'I'm right with you.'
They left the apartment together, parting at the bottom of the stairs when Emma climbed into her car and left Mary Margaret to walk to school. Emma drove as fast as she could get away with the whole way to the sheriff station, feeling the heat of the letter through her jeans. She couldn't explain why she was quite so desperate to read it. Every time she got a new one it filled her with a cold, confused dread in the pit of her stomach. She suspected that this one would be absolutely no different.
And yet, once she had arrived at her office, she still found herself tearing into it before she had even taken her jacket off.
I had to have a glass of wine before I felt brave enough to write this letter. I've almost started to find it amusing just how pathetic I've become.
It's been over a week since we last spoke. Normally I see that as a good thing. Normally that gives me time to actually get some work done, to spend some time with my son, to run Storybrooke like I'm supposed to be doing. But this week… it's been difficult for me. I can't explain why. All I know is that any time I get a knock on my office door I find myself hoping that it's you on the other side, even though I'm well aware that it won't be because when on earth have you ever actually knocked on a door before you barged into a room? It's ludicrous. But, then again, most things that I find myself doing or thinking these days seem to be verging on pathologically insane. So maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.
It's funny how much I seem to miss arguing with you. I used to think that I liked our fights because they were interesting – because, before you showed up, this town was so bland and flat and grey that at least shouting at you gave me something to do with myself. But I've started to realise that this isn't the case. I miss the arguments because I miss seeing your face getting all angry and outraged and emotional. That must say a lot about me, I'm sure… but given that I've never actually seen you smile as a result of something that I've said to you, I suppose this will just have to do for now. Maybe one day I'll be capable of saying something that will surprise you enough to make you laugh, and then I won't have to want to argue with you anymore.
…I shouldn't have had that glass of wine.
But that's regardless: because I have had it, and I'm going to pour myself another one. And it doesn't matter what I write now anyway because no one's ever going to read it – I'm never planning on looking through these again, nor am I ever going to send them to you. Whatever I write now is strictly limited to the walls of this envelope anyway. So I may as well say what I'm really thinking.
Maybe I don't miss the arguing. Maybe I don't even miss the conversations. Maybe I just miss you – in all of your clumsy, ungracious entirety. It's the most bizarre feeling and I cannot even begin to explain where it came from, because all I know is that the second we are in the same room together you make my palms itch and my toes curl. Everything about you infuriates me. You set me on edge and I can never, ever be relaxed around you – and yet I still seem to be missing you. I still find myself wishing that you'd knock at the door right this second just so that I can see you for a moment.
This is ridiculous…
Do you realise what you do to people, Miss Swan? To me? You've destroyed me. I have every right to hate you, to resent you, to want you gone or broken or even dead, and yet for some reason I don't. I just want you here. With me. Making my toes curl and the nerves in my fingers spark.
This is a nightmare. You are a nightmare.
I shouldn't have had that wine.
Emma was pulling at her hair long before she had finished reading. Once the letter had ended she sat in silence for a few minutes, staring blankly at the end of the page. Regina hadn't signed it, but there was a single dot of ink hovering beneath the final line as if she had intended to. For some reason, that dot made Emma's chest hurt. It made the letter look unfinished.
Emma groaned, throwing her head back against the chair. Stop it, you idiot, she scolded herself. Like there is anything else that you could possibly want her to say.
She closed her eyes. She knew how she was meant to feel right now: confused. Uncomfortable. Maybe even slightly smug. And yet for some reason her stomach was hurting in the exact same way that she imagined Regina's had been when she had written the first letter, and all she could think about was Regina sat alone in the darkness of her office, drinking wine in the hope that it would give her the courage to write a letter to herself.
Emma had never thought of Regina as needing courage before.
She read the letter again. As it always did, it made less and less sense with every line that her green eyes scanned over.
The dot of ink still tormented her. The dot of ink told her that Regina had more to say, but wasn't brave enough to say it.
'Henry,' Emma said, glancing up to find her son stood in the doorway. He was grinning at her. 'What are you doing here?'
'I haven't seen you in a few days,' he said, walking into the room and perching himself on the edge of her desk. 'Are you okay?'
'Fine,' Emma said, trying to smile. She failed. It had been three days since the last letter had appeared under her door, and for some reason her head had been hurting ever since.
Henry watched her with an impassive face. He immediately noted how tense she looked; how distracted she was. He wasn't sure whether that was a good sign or not.
'Are you sure?' he asked slowly. She just shrugged.
'Yeah, of course,' she said. 'I've just been… you know. Busy.'
Henry nodded. 'Okay.'
As they both fell silent, Henry watched the way that Emma's fingernails were drumming against the desk. Three of her fingers were smeared with ink. It didn't occur to him that it could have come from one of Regina's letters: Emma, whilst trying to re-read the latest one for the twentieth time that morning, had spilled a glass of water across it and then had spent the next five minutes trying to repair the damage with her hands.
'How are things at home?' she suddenly asked. Henry's slouched back immediately straightened up.
'Are you... asking how my mom is?' he replied. Emma forced a casual shrug.
'I guess so,' she said, ignoring the pounding in her chest. 'I mean… you know. How are things with you two?'
'They're okay,' he said, deliberately trying to be vague. He had waited a few days since he had slipped the last letter under Emma and Mary Margaret's front door, just so he could see how Emma would be dealing without them. If she was acting exactly the same, then it wasn't a good sign.
Thankfully, though – she wasn't.
Biting down on her thumbnail, Emma nodded in response.
'Good,' she muttered, glancing back down at the work piled up before her. 'Is she, um… Is she treating you okay at the moment?'
'She's fine. She's the same as ever.'
Emma swallowed. 'Oh. Right.'
Henry took a deep breath. 'Well. Except for…'
'…except for what?'
'Nothing. It doesn't matter.'
'Henry. Except for what?'
Henry offered her the most innocent look that he could conjure. 'You really want to know?'
'Of course I do.'
'I mean, I don't have to tell you. You might find it boring or—'
'Henry, for god's sake, will you just tell me what's wrong with your mom?'
Smothering a grin, Henry finally answered her. 'There's nothing wrong with her, I don't think… she just… I don't know. Sometimes she looks really sad. Sadder than usual. I try to ask her what's wrong but she just kisses me and tells me to do my homework. And then she disappears into her office until it's time for bed.'
For a moment, Emma could only blink.
'I think so.'
'And… you don't know why?'
'I have no idea,' Henry said, creasing his forehead into a frown. 'Why do you care, anyway?'
It was almost hysterical to him just how quickly Emma's face turned pink. 'I don't care.'
'It kind of seems like you do.'
'Well, I don't. You're just… you're distracting me. I'm trying to work, Henry.'
Henry grinned. 'Okay. I'll go. Can I see you tomorrow?'
'As long as you're not skipping school to do it, then sure.'
'Okay,' he said, jumping down from the desk. 'I'll see you tomorrow, Emma.'
'See you tomorrow, kid,' Emma muttered.
Henry turned back to look at her when he reached the door. She was frowning down at her hands, her eyes narrowed as they examined the dark blue ink that was smeared across most of her fingers.
He had briefly considered making her wait a little longer for the next letter. He knew then that there was no point.
I finally remembered the dream that I had about you. I almost wish that I hadn't.
Because how on earth did you manage to burrow your way quite so deeply into my mind? I've only known you for… three months? Is that all it is? And yet I'm thinking of you and dreaming of you and writing you letters at half past three in the morning like we've spent years together. I shouldn't be able to recall the colour of your eyes quite so clearly. I shouldn't know that they get lighter when you're outside and bluer when it looks like you might cry. I should be struggling to recall whether they're brown or not.
In my dream, they were green. They were the greenest that I've ever seen them.
We were talking together. We were sat on the benches down by the docks and there was space between us, and yet, somehow, I knew that the space was only physical. Even before you reached out to hold my hand I knew that we were together, because your eyes were green and they're only truly, luminously green when you're happy. I shouldn't know that either, but I do. And you were looking at me and they were so, so green.
My chest was hurting when I woke up. It still is now. It's nearly 4a.m. and I'm writing this without even turning the light on… I think I might be worried that if I do, the light will take away the greenness that I'm still seeing. Before now, the red of your ridiculous leather jacket has always been the colour that reminds me of you. Now, I'm fairly sure that it will always be Persian green.
I shouldn't even be dreaming about you. I had no idea that you could be this intrusive.
I wish that you would leave me alone.
…I wish that you were here.
Regina leaned back in her chair, drumming her fingernails against the wooden surface of her desk. She had decided to work from home that day, thinking that perhaps she might find it easier to concentrate without the memory of just how many times Emma Swan had angrily stormed into the mayor's office distracting her. Her decision hadn't worked, however. Instead she had just found herself gazing out of the window for most of the morning, remembering the night that Emma had arrived in Storybrooke and how she had sat in that very room, drinking out of Regina's glass. They didn't hate each other then. It was strange to think about it.
Regina groaned. It was even stranger to admit just how much she still didn't hate her.
Stop thinking about her, Regina told herself as firmly as she could manage. She isn't worth it. You know she isn't.
As she often did, she found herself thinking about what Henry would make of all of this. She automatically shuddered. She really couldn't imagine him being anything other than horrified: that was her own reaction, most days. Even a boy who still believed in fairy tales couldn't be expected to not be moderately traumatised by the way that Regina was thinking about his birth mother. It wasn't normal. She was… delusional.
The thought of those fairy tales automatically made her eyes flicker down towards the locked bottom drawer of her desk. She still had that damned book waiting in there. She had taken it from Henry's room over a week ago, and yet he still hadn't said a word about it. Oddly enough, he didn't even seem to be bothered by its sudden disappearance. It was unusual, to say the least - perhaps he wasn't quite as dependant on it as everyone seemed to think that he was.
And yet, even as she thought it, Regina knew that that wasn't the case. He would have noticed its absence straight away. He must have.
She stood up, fished out the key from the top of the nearby books, and unlocked the drawer: it was still there. It hadn't moved.
Quite inexplicably, Regina found herself frowning. Why hasn't he said anything? Why isn't he missing it?
Biting down on her bottom lip, she tugged the book free of the drawer and opened it at its centre. A picture of herself immediately leapt out at her; fiercely menacing in a swath of black leather and velvet. It didn't look like her anymore. It certainly didn't feel like her.
The words 'Evil Queen' jumped out from the surrounding story and she snapped the book shut again. It still tugged at her heart whenever she remembered who she was: who Henry still apparently thought that she was.
You know that you're better than that now, she told herself firmly. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You've been doing more than enough of that recently.
She sighed, leaning forwards to put the book back in the drawer. And then she froze. The book slipped to the floor.
The letters. She reached her hands into the drawer and started clawing at the papers lying at the top of it. They were here. They were right here.
The contents of the drawer were scattered across the floor surrounding her only thirty seconds later. She had fallen to her knees on the carpet, pushing each sheet of paper away from her as she dug around for those five goddamned letters that she knew that she should have burned the moment that they had been written. Where are they? Where the hell are they?
Regina flicked through every single page of Henry's book to make sure that they hadn't accidentally slipped inside of it, but not a single one of them appeared. They were gone. How are they gone? Where could they possibly go?
Tears were scratching at her eyes as she gazed at the surrounding mess; at the crumpled papers and the upturned folders laying on the carpet beside her. Surely her heart couldn't be beating that fast? It was hurting her. It was physically bruising her chest.
Her eyes fell on the book once more.
Henry. She closed her eyes. He hasn't been missing it…
She was on her feet, tearing up the staircase and into her son's bedroom before her muggy head could even tell her legs to move.
He hasn't been missing it, because he knows exactly where it is.
She wasn't sure what she was looking for as she tore through Henry's closet, through his nightstand, through the toys that were sat beneath his bed. She had no idea what she was expecting to find. If he had taken the letters – why would he have kept them? What on earth could he possibly want with them?
And then, a flash of remembrance that made her stomach drop to the floor.
'Is there… is there anything that you need to say to me?'
Regina remembered how Emma had watched her as she had asked her the question. She had been confused, and desperate, and… pleading. She had been waiting to hear the truth.
The truth of what the hell Regina had been thinking when she'd written those godforsaken letters.
Regina heard the thud of her body slumping against the wall before she even felt the jar of the bricks against her spine. She slid down to the floor, horrified tears dribbling down her cheeks.
There is no way that this can be happening.
She had no idea if Emma had read all of the letters yet or not. She couldn't have. If she had read the last one…
If she had read the last one, then she wouldn't have been able to look at her at all.
Regina watched as Henry walked along the sidewalk the next morning, eyeing him in the rear view mirror of the car that she had carefully parked down the road. As he reached the bus stop, he only glanced over his shoulder for a second before he turned abruptly to his left and began to walk down the next street instead. Regina's jaw turned to stone. Throwing open the car door, she found herself following him down the road as fast as her high-heeled feet could take her.
As he reached Mary Margaret's building, she saw a flash of white being pulled from his pocket. He heaved open the door and began to make his way up the stairwell. Regina didn't think: she just started to run.
'You have another letter. From Sidney.'
'Oh! Thanks, I'll take that.'
'It… hold on.'
'It says something on the back of the envelope.'
'Mary Margaret, give that to me. I'll just—'
'"This is the last one." What does that mean?'
'It… wait, what? It says that?'
'Yeah. Right here.'
'Oh. Nothing. I just thought… it would be… you know. Handwritten.'
'Maybe Sidney's trying to go incognito.'
'I'm off to work, anyway. Are you leaving?'
'…not yet. Soon.'
'Henry, what the hell have you been doing?!'
Henry blinked up at his mother as she grabbed hold of him, dragging him away from the stairwell that he'd just climbed down and around the corner, away from the building.
'You found my letters?!'
He swallowed. 'I was… I was looking for my book.'
'Henry,' Regina said, bending down to his level. She took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm herself down before she started crying. 'Did you read them? Did you read the letters?'
There was a pause before he could answer. 'I'm sorry.'
'Why would you do that?'
'You took my book and… I was mad. I'm sorry. I didn't know that they would say—'
'You've been giving them to her, Henry. Why would you think that was a good idea? What on earth could make you think that I wouldn't be furious about this?'
Henry was blinking frantically, his hazel eyes turning glassy. He looked afraid of his mother in a way that he had never looked before. In that moment, she was terrifying. Not because she was angry: because she was terrified herself. He had never seen her look so afraid before, and suddenly the enormity of exactly what he had done hit him with the same ferocity as if Regina had slapped him around the face.
'I thought that she should know,' he whispered, biting down on his bottom lip.
A strangled moan came from Regina's throat as she stood back up to her full height again, running her fingers through her tangled hair.
'Mom?' he asked tentatively, scrubbing a fist below his eyes. 'Mom. I'm sorry. I didn't… I read them and I thought that… I'm sorry.'
'What am I going to do?' she mumbled. She wasn't asking Henry.
'Mom,' he repeated, reaching out to take hold of her sleeve. 'Look – she doesn't know it was me. She might think it was a joke or something.'
He knew without a shadow of a doubt that this wasn't true – even he could hear his mother's voice in every single swooping letter of those pages. But the broken expression on Regina's face was still frightening him, and he desperately wanted it to go away.
'She might feel the same,' he whispered when Regina didn't reply. At this, she looked down at him. Her eyes were filled with pity.
'Henry,' she said quietly, bending back down again. 'That… will never happen.'
'You don't know that,' he said desperately. 'I saw her the other day – she looked exactly like you do at the moment.'
'She was asking about you. She cared. The letters have made her think and if you just told her then maybe—'
'Henry,' Regina suddenly snapped, kneeling down before him with both of her hands clutched tightly around his own. 'Stop this. You have no idea what Emma is thinking right now – neither do I. And I really doubt that she does either. Those letters were… private. They were the most private thing that I've ever written and now they're out there and she's going to read the last one and… oh, god. Henry. Why? Why would you do this?'
He could only shake his head. Because he didn't know.
'I'm sorry, Mom. I'm really sorry.'
Regina swallowed down the bile that was rising in her throat. He was sorry, and she knew it – his tiny flushed face was tight with worry and she knew that he was hating himself for what he had unthinkingly done.
It didn't make her feel any better. But it did help her to slow her breathing down slightly.
'You need to go to school, Henry.'
'What?' he spluttered. 'No! I need to help fix this! Look, I'll go upstairs and get the letter back before she reads it. And then we—'
'No,' Regina interrupted, squeezing down on both of his hands. 'You will do no such thing. You will go to school. You can still make the bus if you hurry.'
'Go, Henry.' Regina's voice was flat, even as she tried her hardest to smile at him. 'Go to class. Try not to worry. I'll take care of the letter.'
'I don't know,' she replied. There was no doubt in her mind that Emma must be reading it as she spoke – there was no getting it back now. 'But you still need to go to school. Now.'
'I don't want to.'
'Fortunately, you don't have a choice.' Regina leaned forwards, kissing him on the top of his head, and then turned him around until he was facing back down the street that led to the bus stop. 'Go. I'll see you later.'
He took one step, then turned back to look at her. 'Mom. I really am sorry.'
'I know you are.'
'I didn't think…'
'I know, Henry. It's okay. Go to school.'
He nodded, then hitched his backpack higher up onto his shoulders. Regina watched the tiny familiar frame retreating for the next minute, waiting until he had disappeared round the corner onto Main Street before she turned back to the building that was waiting before her.
The door to the stairwell was heavier than she remembered as she pushed it open.
As soon as Mary Margaret had left the apartment, Emma sat herself down at the kitchen table with the letter laid out in front of her.
This is the last one.
The fact that it was typed meant that whoever had been sending her these letters didn't want her to know it was them. The fact that this meant that it definitely wasn't Regina after all was oddly disappointing to her.
No more disappointing, however, than the fact that she wouldn't be receiving another letter after this. She sucked in a breath through her teeth. For some reason… she didn't want this to be over. As confusing and terrifying as it was, she lived for it. And this letter was the end of it.
She wasn't sure that she actually wanted to know what it said inside.
And yet, she found herself ripping it open. The same perfect, swooping handwriting fell out onto the table in front of her.
Emma closed her eyes for one last moment. One last moment of not knowing.
This is becoming unbearable. These letters haven't helped me at all, and I can't keep writing them. I can't stand it anymore. They're sitting in my desk because I couldn't bear to throw them away and I can somehow feel them whenever I walk into the room. The heart beneath the floorboards. I need to be rid of them. I need to stop writing to you and I need to stop thinking about you.
As this is going to be the last of these letters, I think that the time has finally come to be honest. Really honest – with you, and with myself. Because I've known what I'm about to say for quite some time, and yet not once have I ever admitted it out loud. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth taste like something acidic, and I can't be sure that I'll make it through this letter at all. But I have to try.
I've said so many times that I wish that I hated you, and I mean it. I really do wish that. I wish it because it would be so, so much easier than what I actually do feel. It would be so much easier to wish you dead than it is to wish that you'd never been born.
I do want to hate you. More than anything I want to hate you, and the fact that I can't is absolutely infuriating.
Because, the truth is… I think that I'm in love with you, Emma. I'm in love with the person that I'm supposed to hate and that very fact makes me want to hate you even more. It's so typical of you, in all of your intrusiveness and arrogance, to make me love you, and I despise you for it. But I do not hate you. I have never hated you. I can't bring myself to do it.
And do you want to know what makes it all the worse? What is even more unbearable than loving you? It's wanting you to love me back. It's knowing that I can only ever want it, because I also know that you never, ever will.
It's sitting in the dark writing letters to you that you'll never read.
I've been alone for a long time. Even with Henry, I'm alone. Because I am the unlovable – my own son cannot love me, my own mother could not love me, and now I have found someone else to love who can never love me back. I bring this on myself, and then I get angry when I am inevitably pushed away. Which must be why I thought that I hated you – because I probably did, a little. I hated you for not being able to love me. For being so loveable and yet so difficult. You made me feel, and what you made me feel hurt me. And I told myself that I hated you for that, but I never did.
I can't hate you, and I hate you for that alone.
This is my last letter, because if I have to write any of this down again then I'm not sure that I will survive it. I've felt enough pain for now. If no one else is going to love me, then I should at least give myself the chance to heal before these old wounds get torn back open again.
I hate that I don't hate you.
Every word dropped like a stone in the empty kitchen.
As Emma finished the letter, a knock came from the door.
Regina knew from Emma's pale face that she'd read it. She looked too terrified to have possibly done anything else.
'Regina.' She choked out the word like it was made of blades.
'Miss Swan.' Her eyes fell onto the open letter sat on the table behind her, and everything collapsed. 'So. It looks like I'm too late.'
'Um,' Emma mumbled, looking down at the floor between them. 'I… I guess so.'
'May I come in?'
Regina's heart broke a little bit as Emma visibly jumped. 'What? Why?'
'I'm not going to accost you, Miss Swan,' she muttered. 'I would just like the chance to talk.'
After a few moments Emma forced herself to nod, taking a step back so that Regina could sidle past her. She winced when their arms almost touched.
Regina stood awkwardly in the centre of the unfamiliar apartment, her fists bunching by her sides. Emma shut the door, then moved past her so that she could walk over to the table.
She picked up the letter with trembling fingers. Then she held it out.
'What?' Regina asked.
'If you want it back,' she said, not meeting Regina's eye. 'Then take it. I can get the others for you as well. They're upstairs. I won't be long.'
'I don't want them back, Emma,' Regina ground out, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. 'You think that I want to read them again?'
Emma blinked. 'No,' she admitted, dropping her arm back to her side. 'But you might want to burn them or something.'
Regina snorted. 'It's a bit late for that now. I should have done that before Henry got his sticky little hands on them.'
Emma jumped. How she hadn't guessed that – that her intrinsically interfering son was behind all of this – she really couldn't say.
'Henry,' she groaned to herself, collapsing into the nearest chair. 'Of course. Who else?'
Regina slowly approached the table, sitting herself down in the chair opposite. 'You… really didn't guess?'
'No,' Emma said, leaning her head into her hands. 'But, if I'm honest, I wasn't really focusing on that part. I was more concerned about the letters themselves.'
Regina winced. 'Understandably.'
There was a silence as Emma stared down at the grooves in the wooden table below her. The corner of the letter was still peeking into her eye line, and she couldn't bear it.
'Did you mean it?' she heard herself asking. Regina had known from the moment that she had opened the door that Emma would ask her this question, but she still couldn't stop her voicing from cracking as she answered.
'All of it?'
'Why…' Emma asked, swallowing. 'Why haven't you said anything before now?'
'Would you?' Regina asked, folding her arms across the edge of the table. 'If you… if you fell in love with someone who you were obviously not meant to?'
Hearing her say the words out loud made Emma's heart stop for a moment.
'No,' she said quietly, finally looking up. 'I guess not.'
Regina noticed then that Emma's green eyes had gone blue, and her stomach dropped. She knew what that meant. She wished that she didn't, but she knew it all too well.
'I'm sorry that you had to find out,' she said, dropping her gaze.
Emma frowned. 'Sorry? Why?'
'Because it was already uncomfortable enough between us,' Regina sighed. 'And now it's… probably unbearable. Not many people would be able to get past something like this. I highly doubt that we're going to.'
'I'll understand if you decide to avoid me,' Regina said flatly, even though the words made her stomach ache. 'I won't like it, but I'll understand it.'
'And as for what we'll tell Henry… well. He's a smart boy, he should be able to—'
'Do you ever stop talking?' Emma suddenly snapped. Regina blinked, looking back up at her.
'Just shut up for a minute,' Emma said, getting up from her chair and beginning to pace around the room with one hand pressed flat against her forehead. 'Just let me think.'
'Surely there isn't much to—'
'Shut up!' Emma interrupted. 'Jesus! Stop it, Regina. This self-deprecating thing really isn't doing it for me, you know.'
'What do you mean, self-deprecating?' Regina spluttered.
'This,' Emma said, gesturing towards Regina's defensive posture. 'This assumption that I hate you. This belief that you're not good enough. It's exhausting. And it's ridiculous.'
'Miss Swan, I—'
'It's stupid, Regina.' Emma was talking faster now, her chest heaving beneath her thin white shirt. 'Look. I know that you and Henry have had a couple of bumps along the road recently, and I know that I know absolutely nothing about your mother, but from what I can gather I'm guessing that she wasn't exactly Mother Teresa. But that does not mean that you're not worth anything. That doesn't mean that I'm about to mercilessly shoot you down just because we've had a few difficulties in the past.'
Regina blinked. 'You're… you're not?'
'Of course I'm not,' Emma rolled her eyes. 'I'm a good person, believe it or not. You've admitted all kinds of stuff to me and I'm not about to use any of that against you. I just need to… understand it. It's a lot to absorb.'
Regina nodded slowly. 'Very well.'
Emma continued to pace for a few moments. Regina watched her, her eyes fixed on the way that her curls bounced against the faint curve of her spine. It made her stomach tense.
'You're not going to tell anyone, are you?' she heard herself asking. Emma finally stopped in her tracks, turning to face the woman who was still sat patiently at the kitchen table with her fingers tangling together in her lap.
'Do you want me to?'
'Then no,' Emma replied. 'I won't.'
Regina nodded. She knew that she should have felt relieved.
'And…' she continued, swallowing. 'Are we… are we going to be okay?'
Leaning back against the wooden beam that ran from the ceiling to the floor of the loft, Emma let herself smile. 'I'm not sure we were ever okay, Regina.'
'But, yes,' she continued, tilting her head to one side. 'We'll be okay. Somehow.'
Regina nodded, looking back down at the table. The silence that followed was too heavy for her, and eventually it was interrupted by the sound of her chair scraping backwards. Emma watched her standing up with a crease between her eyebrows.
'Where are you going?'
'Home,' Regina replied, taking a tentative step towards her. 'I think… I think that you need time to really think about this. About what it means. And I need time to think of a suitable punishment for your son.'
Emma laughed. 'He's my son now?'
'After this little stunt,' Regina replied, raising one eyebrow, 'you can bet that he is.'
Emma snorted, shaking her head. Regina began to walk towards the door, tugging her coat more tightly around herself.
As she passed Emma, she thought that she caught her inhaling sharply. As if she was trying to cling onto the scent of something.
'If you want to talk to me about this,' she said as she reached her hand out for the door handle. 'Well. You know where to find me.'
Emma nodded, turning to face her. 'Yeah. Thanks.'
Regina didn't move to leave. Her fingers tightened around the metal handle and her forehead creased, like she was building herself up to saying something. Emma waited for it, but it never came.
'And if you want to talk to me,' Emma responded quietly. 'You know where to find me, too.'
Regina just nodded. She looked tiny in that moment – small and uncertain and broken beyond repair. The same punch of sadness that had hit Emma in the chest every time that she had finished one of the letters suddenly forced its way between her ribs once more, and she found herself reaching out to her.
Regina turned to look at her. 'What?'
'Don't go,' Emma said, shaking her head. She took a tiny step forwards. 'Please.'
Confusion crept across Regina's face. 'Emma. I…'
Emma took another step forwards, reaching out to pull Regina's fingers away from the door handle. She uncurled them one by one until her hand was hanging loosely by her side again, empty.
Emma waited until she had turned to face her again, her back against the door. Her dark eyes were flickering with uncertainty, and something else that looked like hope. Emma tilted her head to one side, examining it more closely.
'I've never hated you either, you know.'
When Regina smiled, the heaviness of the room was suddenly lifted. When she leaned forwards to meet Emma's lips, she didn't try and stop her.
A/N: I'm starsthatburn over on tumblr if you want to come and shout at me... :)