A/N: Finally, we have reached the end of this journey. It's been long and difficult one and I deeply appreciate you taking it with me. I hope that this final chapter satisfies you and again, thank you for all of the kind words and feedback.
Warnings: Not many. A mild bit of talk of torture, a vague implication of past rape and some non-graphic kissing and love.
Extra gratitude to Mari for helping me work through everything and to Jess for you help in editing. Much affection, ladies.
STORYBROOKE, MAINE - 2023
While the world is crumbling and burning down, Regina has a bright vision of sitting at a dinner table. It takes her a moment to realize that she's in Snow's loft and it's the whole Charming clan sitting there with her like it's all perfectly normal for this to be happening. There's a turkey in the middle of the table and wine filling every glass and when she looks to each of her sides, she sees her family all around her.
Henry and Emma and Snow and David and even Ruby are present.
There's laughter and joking and Emma's hand keeps touching hers and Henry's kissing her on the cheek when he cracks an off-color joke and she thinks that this just might be the perfect dream. She thinks that this might be exactly what makes life worth living and realizes that yes, she really does want to actually have this; having this would be having it all.
David lifts up a glass and laughs when red liquid sloshes out and then he says as he looks around the table, "We sure don't make what anyone would call a sane family, but it's ours. Cheers."
BANGOR, MAINE - 2023
"You're late again," his secretary Lila says with a smile as he enters the office in a rush. Her eyes track to the oddly colored stain on his white dress shirt and it takes everything that she has not to laugh at him for the mess that Connor constantly is these days. He'd been able to handle his first child – well, his wife had been – but the twin baby boys he now has are turning him inside out and it's really a damned good thing that he does the vast majority of his business via phone.
"I know, I know," Connor Matthews sighs. He's in his mid thirties and some days thinks he's too old for all of this. Some days he wonders what he (they) had been thinking when he and his wife had decided to have more children considering the fact that they already have a much older daughter that is learning how to drive her parents insane. Not that he would give any of his kids up for the world, but he wouldn't mind a few less stains now and again. "But on the upside, I'm pretty sure I've finally mastered the art of feeding Jimmy via airplane noises." He gestures at his shirt and then chuckles and offers, "Luke, on the other hand, is resistant to my charms and will only eat when his mother is the one making the noises."
"Luke is a momma's boy," she answers.
"Yeah, tell me about it. Anything that I need to be aware of?"
"You have a eleven o'clock meeting with the lawyers from the Derringer Group; you're going to have to give them a decision about the project sooner or later. In or out, Connor; you can't sit on this one forever."
"I'm aware, and don't worry; I'm going to say yes today and start working on the contract. Promise. Now, anything else?"
"This was slide under the office door," Lila replies, holding up a plain white envelope. "No postage stamp and no return address. Nothing besides just Mr. Matthews written on it. And as much as I know you're intrigued by it, I'm not sure you should open it. It could be some could of crazy biological warfare thing. You know, the beginning of a really horror movie."
"Uh huh, Lila, np one is going to send anthrax to a boring ass building designer in the middle of Maine," Connor laughs and then takes the envelope from her. He turns it around in his hands and cocks his head in curiosity because it seems so innocent and inconsequential and yet somehow or another, he suddenly knows that it's anything but either one of those things. Somehow, he just knows that this letter is vitally important to him. Lila had been right; the only thing written on the front of the envelope in somewhat shaky pressed into the paper fairly deep black block letters is MR MATTHEWS.
"So open it," Lila prompts.
"I will in a bit," Connor assures her. "I need to get ready for Derringer. But if you hear any odd choking sounds and it sounds like I'm might be foaming at the mouth –"
"I'll make sure your will is updated and sent to your lawyer before you die."
"Fantastic," he grins and then steps into his office. He shuts the door behind him, looks down at his kid-damaged dress shirt, shakes his head and then drops down into his chair. He puts the envelope down in front of him, gazes at it for a moment and then sighs and reaches for the file for the upcoming call.
The letter – and whatever message is inside of it – will have to wait.
She thinks that this must be what it's like coming back to your senses after being in the middle of a massive bomb explosion. Her ears are ringing and she can feel blood dribbling down from her nose. It's warm and wet and her first thought is that she doesn't think she has enough left inside of her.
Not after slitting her own wrists and waiting to die.
But Regina isn't dead yet and one look over at the blonde as they both push themselves up to their knees (comically – as much as a dire situation like this can ever actually be comical – perfectly in sync with each other), and Regina knows that even if this is the end for them – and she finds herself hoping for the first time in a very long time that she will get to see tomorrow somehow – that she's not going to go out alone. She won't die alone and forsaken.
Perhaps that should have been her fate, but it's not going to be.
"Emma," she says, her voice rough. She's bleeding out quickly and her chances of surviving get less with every moment, but somehow she still has enough within her to be able to do this. She still has enough – and so does Emma – to be able to save the boy that they both love more than anything else in the world. "Can you feel your magic?" she whispers, almost hopeful because if Emma does have magic still within her, then perhaps together they can still do something wonderful.
Or at least better than just dying.
"You haven't made it go away yet," Emma grins, the smile a bit morbid thanks to the blood on her teeth. And then she's turning her attention towards where the fight is and towards where a desperately and angrily struggling Henry is being blocked from getting to his mothers (or from jumping into the middle of this fight even more) by Rumple as he and David and Snow fight against Wendy and John. Unfortunately, the two of them are holding up well, using their likely stolen magical protections to fight back against the Storybrooke team with.
Everyone looks like they've been through a natural disaster and this Cannery surely won't survive today, it's clear (it's already caving in, the walls crumbling and falling apart with each blast). Whatever their joined magic had thrown out to protect Henry, it had succeeded in doing it, but it's still not yet enough.
Because this end of things battle isn't yet over and they're both still dying which means that Wendy and John and the Home Office are still winning.
"You're thinking something," Regina notes and there's a hint of the old teasing there, something that would almost be the natural conclusion to that statement (something like "you know better, right?"), but Henry's looking right at them and though Rumple and David are trying to block him from rushing over to his mothers, he's not a little boy anymore and eventually their focus will redirect and their son will throw himself into the middle of things as he always has.
Which means now isn't the time for jokes.
Even old familiar ones.
"I'm thinking they can't stop what they don't see," Emma says, her eyes flickering to John and Wendy. They're using some kind of stolen magic as a protective shield against Rumple's energy blasts (Snow and David are waiting for the shield to fall, though Emma notes that Snow's hand is on Henry's forearm and she, too, keeps looking over at them like maybe she's the one person here who hasn't forgotten that the two people who had nearly brought the roof of this place down are still powered up).
"You realize you're talking about what could be a fatal amount of energy and focus," Regina reminds her, but she's already clutching Emma's hand even tighter and both of them are glowing beneath the pairing of them.
"I know that if you die and I die before Henry is safe, he'll follow after."
"No," Regina gasps.
"That's not what's going to happen," Emma tells her and then she's again lifting their joined hands and the blood leaking from both of their ears and noses is so much worse (Regina wonders how she's alive with her wrists slit as they are and then assumes that the magic that is actually dying with her is also slowing down that death unnaturally). Emma points their hands at the back flanks of Wendy and John, at their exposed and unprotected side.
Because despite decades of preparation and hateful corruption, they can't prevent from happening what they don't suspect ever could happen: losing.
Pride before the fall. Regina thinks she knows that all too well.
Wendy turns right as the magic – now a light lilac in color – arcs from Regina and Emma's hands and she screams at John to watch out (Regina muses that she's rarely seen this icy woman lose her cool but perhaps under everything, there was some humanity in there, maybe even a kind of love for the brute who had been her partner throughout this ugly vengeful quest of hers), but then instead of turning away, he's spinning right into the brutal magic and it catches him directly in the face, turning fiery red as it violently rips him apart.
Their violent magic (protective but vengeful in this moment) starts at the outside of John and then burrows inwards, peeling away skin and frying flesh before super-heating blood and causing his veins to explode and his organs to liquefy. His eyes bulge and then seem to pop as everything inside tries to escape and then he lets out an inhuman sound before –
He crumbles and then bursts apart, swept into the magic, absorbed by it.
Regina thinks that she shouldn't feel the vicious satisfaction that she does at seeing him die, but she thinks about an icy table and a brutal whip and large hands that had touched her with the intent to abuse and destroy. She thinks of him watching with a cold smile on his face as she'd been held down and -
He can't hurt her anymore, she thinks and somehow knows that Emma is the one telling her this.
She doesn't have much time to think about to (neither one of them do) before they're watching the magic turn on Wendy.
The woman - so destroyed by hate and the need to destroy everything that had once destroyed her - holds up her hands, protective blue glittering on them, but she's shaking her head because this is the eradication and obliteration of all that she is. This is being consumed by her own twisted hateful obsession. It's fitting and it's –
Regina's hand drops away from Emma's.
"It's over," she says. "She doesn't die by magic." Her eyes meet Rumple's and she sees the confusion and betrayal there and thinks "Join the club."
"Regina, finish her," he demands. "You promised."
"And you promised me you'd keep my son away from this," she mumbles, her words rapidly becoming incoherent as the anger floods away from her and the burst of magic that had slowed down her bleeding out dissipates.
And then she's falling and everything is growing dark and she's trying to breathe but suddenly there's so much blood. She feels arms around her and hears Henry's voice in her ear. Telling her to hold on. Just please hold on.
She feels other arms circle around here then and knows that even though Emma has a gaping hole in the middle of her gut and wounds all over her from her torture and her once again found magic, she's clutching on to both her son and her…whatever Regina is to her. She's clutching both of them and then Henry is adjusting and he's the one wrapped around them instead.
She can feel Snow and David dropping down beside them, hands on them, soft words of reassurance and hope being offered, but it's all just noise. There's the sound of engines somewhere in the distance and the crumbling of plaster and brick as the Cannery continues to collapse and she thinks she hears more voices - new familiar (friendly) voices.
But none of it means anything to her. All that she cares about are the people surrounding her; the only ones she needs.
Regina finds Emma's exhausted eyes first, offers the stubborn and relentless woman a smile of gratitude and perhaps something far more than that and then, as the shadows creep in, she looks at Henry and says, "I love you."
And keeps saying it.
Just in case this is the end and she never wakes up again, he has to know.
He has to always know.
He's pacing his office while on the call, his hands in his pockets and then out of them again as he anxiously fidgets and tries to focus. He would prefer that all of these boring business details be handled by someone else so that he can just focus on the drawing and the creating part of things, but every now and again as his wife likes to remind him, he has to play the game.
It doesn't help that he keeps thinking about that damned white envelope.
He walks back towards his desk, mumbles out a vague agreement to some statement made by one of the lawyers in the Derringer Group about how a certain part of the project will be compensated when items a and b are delivered by specific dates or something like that, and then sits down and picks up the envelope again. He'd told himself he'd look at it after the meeting and not now and in the middle of a potentially highly lucrative deal discussion.
But then Connor is yanking the white envelope open and pulling out the surprisingly elegant stationary inside of it, and after just a few words of the shaky black block letters, he's leaning in towards the speakerphone and saying in a trembling voice, "Hey, something just came up, guys; I'm sorry but we will have to continue this conversation later."
It's surprising enough to wake up at all, but even more so when she looks up to see the person sitting next to her isn't Emma or Henry or Snow but rather Rumplestiltskin. He's holding her cane in his hands, twirling it around.
"Welcome back to the world of the living, Your Majesty," Rumple says coolly when his eyes meet hers and he realizes that she's finally woken up.
"Rumple," she replies and winces at the sound of her own deep husky voice.
"You seem surprised."
"I didn't think I had much more blood in me left to lose."
"You almost didn't. I'm not sure how much more your heart can take."
She smiles sadly at that.
"But perhaps a bit more," he says. "You're going to live." He motions to her hands and she looks down and notices that both are covered in tape. "You might have a few more scars than you did before – if you so choose to keep them once the internal healing part is done – but will leave this room alive."
"She has a fair amount of injuries – the worst being the bullet to her middle – but none of them so serious that she won't make a full recovery," Rumple chuckles, unable to hide his bemusement about these two stubborn women who refuse to just bend and break because everyone expects them to do so.
Regina lets out a breath. Then, "If I'm fine and so is she, why are you here?"
"You made me a promise."
"Wendy. Is she –"
"I won't kill Wendy Darling."
"You promised me," he reminds her, saying the words once again. There's something she hears, though; something that suggests to her that he's just going through the motions of this conversation. Of this broken deal of theirs.
"And as I said, you promised me that you would protect Henry and you let him throw himself into the middle of a battle because you were afraid of losing your magic and because your need for vengeance was greater than your need to protect your grandson. Thank God they didn't realize what they had there and never focused in on him. Because if they had –"
"I know," Rumple admits, real apology written in the creases of his face.
"Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it?"
Their eyes meet and for a moment, all of their history is just there for both of them to see and it's almost impossible to look away from the ugliness of it all. Equally so, it's hard not to see the regret that lurks between them.
Regret that she thinks he even shares.
"I don't want anymore blood on my hands," she insists after a few moments of silence hang between the two of them. "My magic…Emma's magic, we killed John today. We ripped him apart and...I don't want that. No more death, Rumple; please."
"You did," he agrees. "For the sake of your son. What about mine? How do I avenge him?"
"I think that's something you have to answer for yourself. But I know that where we've been hasn't gotten either one of us anywhere that's worthwhile. So do what you think is right to mourn him," Regina says. "But I won't help."
"That woman –"
"Destroyed me. I know. I'm done letting her win. She doesn't get to do it again. And neither do you or any of the other demons in my head, Rumple. Which means that maybe I get to be who I want to be. Not your monster and not hers. I don't want to be the Evil Queen ever again. I won't be her."
"Very well," he says and then stands up. He rests her cane against the wall and then turns back. "Your body has been far too hurt to heal completely and the damage is too old and too deep, but what I could fix for you, I did."
"Because I believe Bae would have wanted me to do that," he says softly.
She thinks for a moment and then says softly, "He'd want you to live, too."
"I know. But I can't just let what she did…what she took from me…I can't."
"You can. We don't have to keep playing into the worst of ourselves," she says, wincing as she adjusts herself in the bed. She wants to do an inventory of herself, find out what might be better, but she'll wait until he's left her.
Because even now, even lying in a hospital bed with her maimed wrists bandaged up, she doesn't want to show more weakness than she has to.
"Perhaps we can," he says and starts for the door.
"One more thing," she asks, and then waits until he turns. "While I was dying, I had these strange visions. Flashes. They seemed like maybe they were the future." She smiles a bit to herself. "A good future for me."
"And you want to know if that's certain now?"
"Sorry to be the one to tell you, but the future isn't written, dearie. Even my foresight only told me bits of pieces of what likely would be, but even that could have been altered by unexpected choice. What you might have seen were possibilities. Roads, perhaps. There's no reason you can't take them."
"No," she allows. "There isn't. Thank you for…whatever you did."
"It's not everything and or even enough, but it's something," he says and then he steps out of the room, walking past Snow as she comes back into it.
A look passes between the two of them and then Snow is sitting down.
"What was that?" she asks.
"Settling the past. Or at least trying to. How long was I out?"
"A couple days. You needed a lot of rest."
"And Emma is okay?"
"She is. She needs rest. A lot more, but she's going to be fine."
"I never meant for her to be hurt. You know that, right? Both you and David, you know that I never wanted her to get caught up in this, right?"
"We know. And what happened with him and you…he feels terribly."
"He doesn't need to. He and I may not have always seen eye to eye through our histories, but the one thing that we both understand is being a parent."
Regina smiles slightly at her.
"Right. And for what it's worth, nothing you could have said or done would have kept Emma from being there by your side. She cares a lot for you."
"Snow," Regina says cautiously, adjusting herself once again.
"I think we have all spent more than enough time not being happy," the younger woman says with a nod of her head. "I think it's time we are."
There's a second where the two of them are just looking at each other and Regina almost laughs because hadn't she been having exactly this kind of moment with Rumple just minutes earlier? She wonders if every corner of her often sordid and uncomfortable history is crammed full of these kinds of deep relationships that seem to always have been so intense? She supposes that it is and then laughs because really, what else is there to do at this point?
"What is it?" Snow asks.
"Nothing and everything, dear," she says and reaches out a hand towards Snow. It's usually a motion that Snow initiates but this time she's the one who finds herself craving the contact and though there's just the slightest of pauses before Snow's fingers grip hers (no doubt owing to surprise), the contact comes quickly and then Snow is the one who is laughing out loud.
Her words aren't nearly as humorous, though. "If you ever do that again –"
"I won't," Regina promises her, her head falling back on the pillow but her hand never loosening from Snow's. "I want to live. I want to see my son graduate college and get married and…I want to find happiness, Snow."
It sounds so simple and easy, even to her ears. But she knows better and knows that allowing herself to hope for it is just the beginning of the road.
"You will," Snow promises her. "All of that, you will have a chance to do."
"Where is Henry?" she asks, glancing back towards the door.
"Taking a walk with Ruby. He's been a bit anxious going room to room."
"Right. And how is she? I know she didn't want Victor to be dead."
"Conflicted. I think maybe relieved and upset with herself that she is."
"Would you like me to talk to her?"
"I would, but aren't I supposed to be the one doing that."
"Yes, but I think that there are some things we're both glad that you don't understand," Regina tells her kindly, wincing again. "But you can be there. I think at this point, she's a lot like me and just doesn't want to be alone."
"Okay." Noticing Regina wince once more as she yet again shifts to get comfortable on the bed, Snow asks, "You want me to check around and see if I can get you some more painkillers? Things are a bit weird around out there right now because no one quite knows the hospital power structure with Whale…dead. Thankfully, we have some good doctors, anyway."
"I'd prefer not," Regina assures her with another squeeze. "I'd like to sleep a little bit more and then I want to see my son and I want to see Emma. But until I fall asleep, I want you to tell me some stories. Something…lovely."
"I have stories about me and David," she offers.
Regina groans and then with a small smirk says, "Tell me them, anyway."
"Everything all right, Connor?" Lila asks as she steps into his office with a cup of tea in her hands for him. She had already seen the iCal for today's meeting show up as PART 2 for tomorrow. Which seems really strange considering how long he's been delaying this decision with the lawyers.
He looks up. "Yeah. But I think I need to step out for the day. Take care of something." She notices that the envelope is open on his desk and the letter is clutched between his fingers. "Yeah, it has to do with this," he admits.
"What is it?" she asks.
He hands it to her so that she can read it.
"Dear Mr. Matthews. You probably don't remember me and if so, that's a good thing, but on the off chance that you do, I am writing this note because I wanted to say thank you for an act of kindness you showed me seven years ago in the middle of a crowded street. The Internet allowed me to find you and identify the kind man who protected a scared and wounded woman who had no idea who she was. You gave that woman – you gave me – your jacket that day and stayed with me until I was in good hands and you took care of someone that you'd never met. I haven't had a lot of people in my life do that for me and it has taken me a very long time to get to this point, but now that I'm here, I would really like to thank you in person."
Lila looks up at him. "Is this –?"
"You remember, I told you?"
"Yeah. But that was so long ago."
"I know," he admits. He gestures towards the letter again.
She reads, "I will understand if you have no interest in seeing me; that was a very long time ago and some things are left in the past. If so, please accept my gratitude and know that you made a difference in my life. If you are at all interested in meeting me, I'll be sitting out by the bench in the park just outside of your office at three this afternoon. I'm a dark-haired woman and I will be wearing a dark coat over a red blouse and slacks. Whatever happens or doesn't today, thank you for reminding me that good people do exist; after what I went through, I didn't believe, but your kindness helped secure a foundation that was there but uncertain, and now, I truly do believe."
"Regina Mills," he murmurs to himself. "That's what she signed it."
"You want me to look her up."
He frowns for a moment and says, "We should, right? Just to be sure this isn't some weird game." He shakes his head. "But it's not; I know it's not.
"So what are you going to do?" Lila asks as she sets down the tea.
"Meet this lady at three o'clock," he says as he turns to look out his window and down at the park below. He can see the bench he presumes she'll be on in a few hours from here and finds himself already wanting to watch for her.
"You're sure that's a good idea?" Lila queries, frowning slightly.
"Honestly, I don't know. I mean someone worked that poor lady over something awful, but the thing is, even if it's not a good idea, I think it's something I still need to do," Connor replies, his eyes still on the bench.
Because he's been telling himself for years that he'd forgotten that weird day with the badly beaten naked woman in the middle of the road. And he's sworn to himself that he'd let go of her haunted eyes and the way she had looked up at the blue sky in wonder. But he knows now that he never had.
Perhaps, after today, he will finally be able to let her go.
"Mmm, I was having a really really good dream," Emma mumbles as she blinks herself awake and looks up to see Henry sitting over her bed, a schoolbook on his knees. He smiles when he sees her looking back at him and puts it down.
"Hey, Kid. Everything okay?"
"Yeah. I mean besides you being in and out of consciousness."
"Sorry about that. Hole in the gut."
"Right. Don't do that again."
"Copy that," she sighs. "Where's your mom?"
"You two ask for each other," he muses, lifting an eyebrow and grinning at her in a way that tells her that trying to weasel out of this just won't work.
"Answer the question, you little shit."
"Don't call him that," Regina scolds as she enters the room, her hand atop the head of the cane. The touch is softer, though, Emma notices. Less like the only reason she's standing is because of the cane. She thinks that has to be a good thing even if she doesn't actually understand it at the moment.
"Yeah, don't call me that," Henry mirrors. He stands up, then. "How about I leave you two alone. I'm sure you have a lot you want to talk about, right?"
"Subtle as a brick, kid."
"I am your son."
"Actually, that's a fairly good idea, sweetheart; I think as much as Ruby was able to help keep you distracted a few days ago while you were waiting for Emma and I to wake up, you might be able to help her get her mind off of things now. She's been with your grandmother and I for the last hour talking over what happened with Victor and I think that maybe she could use –"
"A chocolate sundae with her favorite Henry," he grins. "I'm on it." He leans down – way down – and kisses Emma on the cheek and then does the same with Regina, looping his arm around her waist for just a very brief moment.
When he's gone, Regina takes his seat, looks at his textbook and then places it on a nearby surface. And says, "You have a hole in your stomach."
"I do. It kind of hurts."
Regina rolls her eyes.
"But we're alive. We won."
"You got shot, Sheriff."
"But you didn't, Deputy." She then promptly breaks into song.
"Well I guess that answers the question about painkillers, doesn't it?"
Emma laughs. "Actually, I'm sore, but I feel pretty much okay. And I'm coherent." She lifts up a hand and brushes hair away from Regina's eyes.
"I suppose it's pointless to tell you that you should have –"
"Yes." Emma frowns then. "I do have a question for you, though."
"When we were both zonked out, I had these weird…visions."
"Of us. Of…stuff with us. Like…romantic stuff. Which I'm cool with, but –"
"I know; it's a bit…unnerving. I asked Rumple the same question a few days ago. Apparently, the magic that we were sharing between us showed us the opportunities and the possibilities involved in choosing to live. Nothing we saw is in set in stone or an absolute, but it did present us with…options."
"Gotcha. Well, for my money, it was pretty hot."
Regina laughs at that. "You sure your mother hasn't gotten to you with the painkillers? She's been trying to force them on me for the last few days."
"I'm sure and hey, I made you smile," Emma notes.
"You did," Regina agrees with a mock exasperated shake of her head. It doesn't fool Emma for a moment and instead Regina gets a knowing grin.
Infuriating and beautiful.
And full of the understanding that has always existed between them.
Thankfully, before it can get too deep, she changes the subject. "Ruby is –"
"Finally healing, I believe," Regina confirms, her voice soft and tired. "It will be a long road for -" she chuckles because if anyone understands such a thing, it truly is her. "But she has Snow and we both know your mother is unrelenting."
"We do. And it's time for her to heal," Emma says and means that it's time for all of them to do so.
Once he's alone in his office again, Connor turns to his computer and pulls up a search engine. He has a collection of newspaper articles stored in a box at home, but right now this will allow him to revisit that day more quickly.
Not that the details are a mystery to him.
He pulls up several articles about this unknown woman with the shaved head and the damaged body. They'd stopped after awhile and he thinks maybe that must have been when someone in her family had found her.
He thinks maybe the articles talking about her lack of identity had come to and end when someone had stepped forward to bring her home again.
No pictures had ever been published (nor the location of the hospital that she'd been staying in, though he'd had a pretty good idea where she'd ended up after the doors had closed behind her) – presumably out of fear that whomever had hurt her would go after her again. All he has is his memory and he wonders if he'll recognize her and realizes he hopes he won't because if he doesn't, then maybe she looks healthy and good.
Maybe she is.
He turns away from the computer and looks at his clock.
Just a few more hours now.
The first morning that everyone is finally home from the hospital and back home at the townhouse, she leaves the bed that she is sharing with Emma (in a completely chaste way…for now, at least and then she scolds herself for even thinking of more than that because despite everything that had happened in her visions and despite what Henry and Snow think and how Emma seems to not be shying away from her, nothing is for sure and neither one of them has really made any moves to suggest they want more) and sneaks downstairs before five in the morning so that she can make breakfast.
For the time being, she's just working on making freshly baked blueberry muffins but eventually, by the time they wake up, it'll be all the fixings of an epic breakfast and Regina knows that it's unnecessary, but she thinks that maybe she's trying to make a statement and let Henry and Emma know that she wants this – that she wants to be part of all of this.
Her hip is still wounded and the nerve damage is still there and always will be for the rest of her life, but it's less and for the first time in a very long time, she actually believes that with some intensive therapy (something she'd dismissed after losing faith in the value of it), she might one day be truly better than she is today and only need her cane and her pills on days when her exhaustion or stress get the best of her as opposed to almost every day as it's been for so many years. The doctors that had helped her for so long after her presumed "escape" from the Home Office had reluctantly told her that she would never improve from the broken state that she'd been in, but now thanks to what Rumple was able to do for her and the hope that she once again feels deep within her heart, she actually thinks she might be able to prove them all wrong.
"Do I even want to know what you're doing awake at this god awful time of the morning?" She hears from behind her just as she bends down to remove the large tray of blueberry muffins (with brown sugar on top) from the oven.
"You should still be in bed," Regina answers and then turns to face Emma. The blonde is leaning against the door-frame, her bathrobe pulled closed over her slim body. Which is good because even though she's completely on the mend, she still has white tape over her stomach (because magic really isn't a fix-all no matter how much everyone might think that it is and there are still rules about magic and healing when the wounds break through more than skin and chip off of muscle and bone) and Regina finds herself short of breath every time she sees the bandages and is reminded of why they're there.
Not that Emma won't rush to reassure her and remind her that she'd made her own choices, but still, this woman is in her blood and in her heart now and the sight of her with injuries hurts her far more than she cares to admit.
"I should," Emma agrees. "And so should you." There's a gently playful smirk on her lips and it reminds both of them of what there is between them and what has been getting deeper and more intense for many weeks now.
The thing that had somehow appeared almost out of nowhere, but when you really thinks about it, has probably always been there. Not that either one of them could have seen it so many years ago when they'd been just Mayor and Sheriff and Evil Queen and Savior. But now, as just Emma and Regina, they see it and they feel it and neither one of them is running away even though both of them know that there's a lot of danger in pursuing this.
"I couldn't sleep," Regina admits as she places the steaming muffins on the counter. "I have a lot going on in my mind and…it's all a bit…complicated."
"I know," Emma allows. "I felt you get up from the bed."
"I'm sorry. I can sleep downstairs until –"
"I'm perfectly fine with you in my bed," Emma grins and then leans over and picks up one of the muffins, dropping it almost immediately and wincing.
"Hot?" Regina asks, her eyebrow up.
"Slightly. But you know I always did like dangerous things."
"You might, but your flirting is reprehensible. And you don't even have painkillers to blame for it this time. I was willing to cut you slack before."
Emma laughs. "This is weird," she confesses. "And before you do that thing you do where you retreat, I don't mean us, I mean the figuring us out part."
"True. But it's just breakfast, right? And I did promise you one."
"Well, actually, you said it would be lovely," Emma notes as she goes for the muffin again and picks at it. "But that was when you were about to die."
"You're still upset with me about that."
"Seems only fair. You were pissed about me getting shot to try to protect you so I get to be mad that you tried to commit suicide to save my life."
"What would you like me to say here?"
"The truth. Why? Why was then when you decided to stop fighting back?"
"Henry needs you."
"Henry needs us both," Emma replies sharply. "You really think he could have handled losing you again? I'm his mom, Regina, but you're his mother and you coming home to us, that closed up a massive hole in his heart. You dying…he wouldn't have been able to deal with that and I sure as hell wouldn't have been. You know, I keep thinking about this and wondering if you being so willing to die was just all a part of your self-loathing –" she holds up her hand to stop Regina from interrupting. "But then I talked to my mom and I thought about it a bit and I realized that no, this is just you. You do this because you don't think you matter to anyone. And you act like if you just disappeared again, we could all just go on with our lives so easily."
She shakes her head. "I think that I'd really like to kiss you right now."
Regina blinks twice, surprised by the sudden shift and then even more surprised by the absolute sincerity she sees in Emma's green eyes. "What?"
"Because you might think that I'm the stubborn idiot, but trust me, you can more than give me a run for my money there so maybe I just need to –"
"Kiss me?" Regina asks, wide-eyed and thinking of her visions that had shown her and Emma having their first kiss in front of a rail. Rumple had made it clear that those were just possibilities, and though this situation is decidedly different, it seems some things might be turning out the same.
"I was always better at acting than talking," Emma says as she steps around the counter. Her hands lift and then she's cupping Regina's face and smiling somewhat uneasily as she waits for some sign of whether to continue or stop. "But I need to know that you're interested in this as much as I am."
"I am. I just –"
"It's just a kiss. That's it."
"If it's just that, then why are we are both acting like idiot children?"
"Because my first kiss that I got from some kid named Jimmy Wilkes in the fourth grade made me tingle all the way down to my toes," Emma replies and then she laughs. "Yeah, even I can do some sappy sometimes."
"I thought that you were all action and no talk; it would seem, dear, that I'm going to have to get things moving if they're going to move at all," Regina teases and then she's the one leaning in and very gently pressing her lips against Emma's.
The kiss is soft and chaste and it would be perfect if not for the fact that Emma can feel Regina suddenly trembling as she fights against her many dark fears; she might be able to talk a brave cocky game, but this is terrifying for her.
Emma knows that sexuality is a minefield of pain and fear for Regina – even more so over the last decade than it was before and unfortunately, that's saying something awful, indeed. She was once a girl sold into marriage with an elderly king and she'd learned to use her body as a weapon to get what she needed when she needed it. She'd used it against others and even against herself. And then she'd had it used against her in a way that Emma knows will always leave behind scars.
Not physical ones, those scars, but ones all the same.
So this kiss, the fact that Regina's lips are now moving against hers and she's not pulling away (yes, she had initiated it, but Regina remains an impulsive woman and just because she does something doesn't always mean that it's what she wants to do), but rather stepping closer to the sheriff, well that tells Emma all that she needs to know to understand that her feelings for Regina are not only shared but shared in such a way that it's clear that the former queen is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with her.
The kiss deepens and then Emma is swiping her tongue over Regina's lower lip and asking for entrance into her mouth and there's only the very slightest bit of hesitation before Regina is allowing it and then there's just the touch of hands and the press of lips and the blissful moans of gentle satisfaction.
When Regina finally pulls away, she's breathless and wide-eyed and then she's laughing and saying, "Tell me I at least still remember how to kiss?"
"I'd say you do," Emma assures her, running her thumb past her lip and pushing down the part of her that really wants to pull Regina back to her and start kissing her all over; she knows that they reallly need to go slow on this and knows that it's not just Regina that needs that. She's had a few lovers since Neal's death, but none of them have meant all that much and this absolutely does. This is something she wants to be careful with and so...reluctantly, she will be.
"Good. Now go back to bed; breakfast will be ready in a few hours."
"Okay," Emma agrees. "But just so you know, the breakfast I invited you to was meant to be an actual date and I still plan to take you on it eventually."
Their eyes meet again and there's something soft and life-worn there, two women who have been through too much and will always find dark doubts lingering past the point of reason. "Are you sure about this?" Regina asks.
Emma knows what she's being asked, but chooses to use humor to make her intentions clear. With a pout, she queries, "Am I not a good kisser?"
Regina laughs. "Well, I don't have many women to compare you off of."
"But you do have some, right?"
"And I do, and yes, you would be the best of them."
"Good answer." Her hand steals out and then she's clutching Regina's within her own for just a moment and meeting her eyes and what was playful very quickly becomes serious and all about Emma saying that everything else aside, they've gone through far too much to ever doubt each other again.
So Regina steps forward and then her arms are around Emma's torso and it could have been another kiss but there's this moment – this need – and she wants to feel the warmth of this woman who wants her. She wants to feel it and let Emma know that everything she's feeling is entirely reciprocated.
She feels Emma press soft lips against the exposed skin of her collarbone and then for a moment, they're just holding each other. Just allowing the emotions and fears and doubts and even the triumphs of the last several weeks to wash over them; neither of them had believed that they were going to survive their fight against the Home Office, but somehow, together and fighting for and with each other and their family, they had both made it.
"This is hard to believe," Regina admits.
"We live in a town full of fairytale legends," Emma reminds her.
"And I'm the Evil Queen," Regina says, stepping backwards. She's caught by the hand before she can get too far and gently pulled back towards Emma.
"You are a Queen," the blonde insists. "But I've always seen you as Regina."
"I know." She leans up and presses another light kiss to Emma's lips, holds it there for a moment and then again steps away and says with a teasing smile and bright eyes that are almost dancing, "Now unless you want breakfast to be burnt, I really need you to go back to bed so I can concentrate on it."
"Fine," Emma agrees with a loud yawn. "But just a suggestion: more brown sugar on the muffins. The kid is a fiend for it and I kind of like it, too."
"I'll think about it." She waves her hand at Emma and then watches as the blonde makes her way back up the steps – slower than usual thanks to her gut injury – before turning around and picking up the bag of brown sugar.
"You really are okay with me doing this, right?" he asks for probably the fifth time during the conversation with his wife. He's sitting behind his desk, staring back at his screen and the Skype'd image of her. She has one of the twins – Luke – sleeping soundly in her arms. "Because if you're not –"
"Mysterious woman shows up out of nowhere," she sighs. "I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit anxious about this, but well, you've been dreaming about her for seven years. Unless you're planning to run away with her –"
"I'm not," he insists. "Never. But…she said she's better and I think…I know it's stupid because I mean, she's just a lady from seven years ago, but –"
"But you need to see it with your own eyes. I know. Honey, I'm okay with this."
"You could join me."
He chuckles at her mockery, her way of gently telling him to man up as she rocks one of the boys against her. "Right. I'll call you right afterwards."
"Hey," she says as she readjusts the little one. "What happened to that woman has haunted you for so long. Maybe today that gets to stop."
"I hope so. I love you."
"Love you, too; pick up diapers on the way home. And dinner. Chinese?"
"You got it," he promises and then as he's disconnecting the video call, his eyes flicker up towards the clock. Where it says two-fifteen in the afternoon.
Forty-five minutes to go.
Henry's half running and half walking up well ahead of them and this does feel like the visions that she and Emma had shared but she's not about to tell either Emma (she imagines Emma knows, to be honest) or her son that.
Instead, she walks slowly with Emma; both of them still feeling the soreness of their many recent injuries. Emma's middle is still tingling and tight thanks to the bullet wound and the broken ribs that she'd suffered and Regina knows that even with Rumple somewhat healing her, the pain from her hip and side will show up more during physical exercise. Still, both of them welcome this because it's about moving around and getting blood pumping again as opposed to actual running. And conversation, too. Apparently.
Because Emma really is terrible about shutting up during these walk/jogs.
"So when do we start on the whole magic training thing?" Emma asks.
"I'm not sure we do," Regina replies. "Or that we should."
"The two of us just teamed up to tear a dude apart at the molecular level; I can feel all of that still tingling inside of me. I guess I could ignore it again –"
"Or learn to control it," Regina sighs.
She feels Emma's hand slip into hers. "I know. I mean all of that was about stealing your magic from you and destroying all of the magic in this world and I will understand if you never want to use it again. I really will."
"But in case we ever need it again –"
"I'd like to know how to defend our family," Emma says solemnly. "I'd like to have the ability to stop anyone else who might get some insane idea in their head about coming after us to think carefully before they do it."
"Magic is…frightening," Regina admits as she looks up ahead and watches Henry hitting bushes as he passes them with a stick; he knows that his moms are having an intense conversation and so he's trying to give them space for it. "It has caused me and many others because of my actions against them so much pain."
"Does it always have to be painful?"
"No. But it always –"
"Comes with a price, I know." She holds up her hands. "If we're in this together, if we take care of each other and watch out for each other –"
Regina chuckles. "You don't have to hard sell me, my dear."
"I know you are," Regina says and then turns Emma towards her and lightly kisses her on the mouth, inhaling the soft satisfied sound that the sheriff makes and how she can already feel Emma pushing in to get closer to her.
When they finally separate (with Regina using the pad of thumb to lightly wipe a bit of moisture off of Emma's lower lip), they see Henry watching them well up ahead of them, an eyebrow lifted in cocky amusement. He smirks at them, shakes his head in mock exasperation at their antics, and then turns and keeps meandering forward to give them more time.
"So I never got around to asking you what the salad thing was about," Emma notes as they start walking again. She takes a large gulp of water from the bottle and then hands it over to Regina who does the same.
"First couple of nights you were back. I ordered pizza and you a salad."
"Right," Regina recalls. It's easier to touch these kinds of memories; the past is still painful and pulling from it still makes her head pound, but what has come since is there and bright and she can remember it all with ease.
Emma notices the slight delay in response and offers up, "You don't –"
"No, it's all right. This memory – this story – isn't traumatic so much as just a consequence of what happened to me, I suppose." She shrugs her shoulders and decides this is something that she can own; it's a piece of the whole of what she'd been through but hardly on par with something like the cane. "After I woke up in the hospital, I had a hard time keeping food down. I was on a liquid diet for a long while and then when I was well enough to try to eat solids again, I attempted to eat just salads thinking it'd be safer. But I think that it's one thing when you're consuming them somewhat willingly in order to lose weight or as a side dish or because perhaps you enjoy them."
"But another when you don't have much of a choice."
"Right. So no real story there just…something I grew to actively dislike."
"Got it. No salads with dinner. Though I can make a great Caesar."
"I'll keep that in mind," Regina chuckles, handing the water bottle back.
"Perfect," Emma nods. "Now, our son is looking back at us like he thinks we're hobbling too slowly for him; we should probably try to catch up to him and remind him that we can take his ass down anytime we want to."
"We are not taking down Henry."
"He's too big for his britches. That beard thing he has certainly is."
"You're giving him a complex about his facial hair."
"The only reason he has it is because of his new girlfriend."
"Whom neither of us has yet to meet. I thought for a moment that it might be Ruby that he had an interest in, but it doesn't seem to be the case."
"I think if she would say yes, he'd have asked her out, but she sees him as a little brother and our kid is a good kid. He won't push what isn't there."
"I think Ruby needs the friendship more, anyway."
"Agreed. Anyway, you make a good point about the kid and his new girlfriend; unacceptable." And with that, she throws the bottle at Henry.
Who catches it with one hand, drinks heftily from it, laughs and then trots back towards his mothers. "Your arm has gotten better, Ma," he teases.
"Now you know why I call him a little shit," Emma grouses.
"Shush. Henry, when are we going to meet your new girlfriend?" Regina asks. "I presume she's someone you're going to school with, yes?"
"She is and the next time you guys come to visit me at the campus, you can meet her," he promises. "But only if you're both on your best behavior."
"So no cracks about your…facial hair."
"Exactly. And I'm thinking of growing a full beard."
"That will only take you the next six years."
"Mom," Henry says, elbowing Emma away. "You love it, right?"
"I think it's very handsome."
"We've had this discussion before," Emma insists. "She's hopelessly biased."
Regina shrugs. And then winds an arm around Henry. "Okay, so we can't meet her just yet, but you can tell us everything about her, right?"
"I can do that for sure," Henry agrees and then he suddenly grows oddly serious, his green eyes becoming dark with intensity. "But only if both of you promise me – and I mean really promise me – that neither one of you will pull the shit that you two pulled a few weeks ago ever again. I want your word. Both of you."
"I get it; life happens and all that crap and we can never really know what will happen especially in this town, but Ma, you got shot and Mom, you knocked my ass out and walked right into that place. You gave yourself over to them. And I know why and I know that you two are crazy about each other –" he smirks when he sees both of them shift a bit anxiously at that. "– but I need to know that you're going to stop…I need to know I'm not going to lose either of you."
"I told you," Emma says softly.
Regina ignores her, instead turning Henry to face her, her hands cupping both of his cheeks; he's quite a bit taller than her so this time, he's the one almost bending down. "At the time, I really believed that I was doing the only thing that could be done to save Emma. I believed that I was making good on…I believed I was paying a price for all of the evil that I have done. I believed that I was doing penance for it and that the only way I could pay and ensure her safety was..like that."
"Haven't you done enough of it?" Henry asks, swallowing hard as his eyes sweep over his mother and he no doubt thinks of all the scars on her body.
"I don't know," she admits, her hands holding his and lightly squeezing to reassure him of her words. "I'm not sure that when you have as much blood on your hands as I do that you can ever truly pay enough or do enough, but I am ready to try living again. I promise you that I have no intent of ever leaving you again. I told your grandmother that and I told your mother that and now I am telling you, my little prince; I'm not going anywhere. I'm not."
"Neither one of us is," Emma promises. "We're the family that you won."
"Good," Henry says and for a moment he's just her little boy again and he's smiling at her like he has a secret. He leans in and grinning, says, "I spilled wine all over her when she and her parents came into the café for lunch."
"Good luck," Lila says to him as he exits his office and pulls on his jacket. He looks as nervous as she's ever seen him (well except for when he'd been trying to get through traffic to get to the hospital in time to see his children born). "And if she ends up super crazy, you are allowed to get up and leave."
"I know," he laughs. He gives her a wink and then steps out of his office and into the elevator, trying breathing exercises as it descends fifteen floors.
All the while trying to figure out exactly why this is making him so nervous.
He can still remember that day so clearly and still see all of the wounds. He thinks it funny that she was nude and he barely recalls her body – just the lines that had run their way across her. And the bruises around her wrists.
He desperately hopes that today will wipe away those terrible memories.
He desperately needs today to do that.
She's standing over Neal's grave when she hears the footsteps behind her. A turn to the side (and for a brief unsettling moment she's thrown back ten years and she remembers Hook coming up to her instead, guilt-ridden and hoping for redemption for failing a mother and a child) and she sees Gold standing there. His hands are resting lightly on his cane (she thinks of Regina now and how much less she has to use hers) and he's just watching her.
"I can leave you two alone," Emma finally offers, stepping backwards.
"You can," he nods. "But there's no need to; we're here for the same."
"Are we? I'm here to try to finally let him go."
"So you can move on." It's a statement and not a question.
Another nod and then, "I'm here to apologize for failing him."
"You killed her."
"I didn't. I left her in Mendell's cell beneath the asylum. Eventually, she will need to be moved outside of Storybrooke and I have resources that can assist me with that. Once they're in place, she will put somewhere where she won't be able to ever hurt anyone in this town ever again -"
"Will she be hurt?" Emma asks.
"Would it truly destroy you to have vengeance in your heart? To want someone who caused you so much pain to pay?"
"I don't know," Emma allows, her eyes sweeping towards Regina's crypt and her mind returning to all of the people in her life who have allowed vengeance to own them and control them and in so many ways destroy them. Regina and her mother had recovered, but she not sure she could and realizes that even if out of fear alone, she doesn't want to know. "But I know that I would prefer not to feel that way; it hasn't done you any favors. It didn't do Regina any favors, either."
"Perhaps not. Either way, today, I walked away."
"That's not failing him," Emma insists. "It's remembering him."
"I promised him vengeance."
"Which would have always been the wrong way to honor him and we both know it," she says. "Neal – Bae – he saw the best inside of you even when he couldn't remember it. He loved you even when he didn't want to do it."
"He always deserved more than me," Gold says as he steps over to the grave and places a hand on it. "He always deserved a better father."
"Maybe so, but I think he would still be damned proud of you today."
"I hope so." He tilts his head and looks at her curiously. "And you, Miss Swan? Are you finding the closure that you came here in search of?"
"He saved my life," she notes with tears in her eyes. "He didn't have to, but he did because…because he loved me. We were over and I wasn't going to give him another chance…but we still loved each other. We did. I think the best that I can do to honor him and what he did for me is make sure his son remembers who he is and try to be happy; have to believe he'd want that."
"It's dangerous who you've chosen to love."
"Perhaps, but I'm not quite the pure white light Savior, now am I?"
He smiles thinly at that. "I've always liked you, Miss Swan."
"You've always despised me."
"On the contrary, I just find you a general nuisance with a bad habit of getting in the way of my plans or otherwise unsettling them. But it's hard not to…respect someone who is able to see the truth of who she really is."
"And do you? See who you really are?"
"Sometimes," he says. "Be careful, Miss Swan; even with all of her changes and having to face the truth of her past, the one thing that has remained the same is the intensity in which Regina loves. If this isn't as serious for you –"
"Not that it's any of your business, but it is."
"Very well. Then I suppose I wish you both…luck."
She laughs. "That looks like it kind of hurt."
His response is half of a sneer. "I'd like to be alone with my son now."
"Okay," she agrees. Her hand lands on the top of the tombstone and she says, "Your son was my first True Love. I have my son because of him. I am alive because of him. Those are things that I will never forget. I promise you that even if today is about letting him go, Neal will never be forgotten."
"Thank you," Gold says softly and then he's turning away from her.
Emma casts one last look back, thinks about standing over Neal's freshly installed tombstone and telling a drunken Hook to take the people who had just wanted to go home back to the Enchanted Forest aboard the Jolly Roger. She thinks about standing exactly in this place talking to Regina's crypt and wondering if the woman had been alive. It's been ten years now and finally; it really is time to let the Home Office's reign of terror end.
They've been defeated and per a message from Belle, the walls around Storybrooke that are meant to keep unwanted outsiders (but not everyone) from coming into the town have been reconstructed and now, it's time to start living again.
He approaches the bench slowly, his eyes on the woman that he sees sitting there, her hands folded in front of her, rested gently atop of a cane. She has dark (long) hair and a dark coat and her posture is almost rigid. He thinks she might be as nervous about this as he is. He looks around and he takes in the rest of the park, noticing all the families he sees and then smiling when he sees a boy in his twenties and an older blonde woman in her late thirties nearby playing Frisbee.
Mother and son, Connor thinks and thinks one day he'll enjoy teaching his boys how to do toss a frisbee.
But for now, this is about today.
Which is just a normal day.
And this is just a normal meeting.
Only it's not.
He takes a breath and comes from the side and says, "Ms. Mills?"
She turns around and for a moment, the breath catches in his throat because this lady in front of him doesn't look at all like the woman that he'd tried to help out in the road seven years ago. She might be holding a cane, but she still looks strong and vibrant in a way that had seemed impossible when she'd been stumbling through traffic as she had been.
She looks healthy.
"Mr. Matthews?" she asks, her voice low and a warm smile gracing her face.
"Regina." She stands up and there's a small hitch as she does so, but then one hand is settling lightly on the top of the cane for balance and she's extending the other hand to him. He only hesitates for the very briefest of moments before he he's taking it and marveling at the strength he feels in her grip. "Thank you for being willing to meet me today."
"It took me by surprise," he admits.
"I can imagine. Will you sit with me?" she gestures back down to the bench. As she does so, he think he sees her glance outwards towards the boy and the woman and nod at them and it occurs to him that those two are here with her. Friends? Family? Love? He supposes that that's none of his business.
He waits for her to sit and adjust herself and then sits down next to her and folds his hands together.
"You're nervous," she states. Then chuckles. "So am I."
"I've thought a lot about you over the years," Connor admits, turning his wedding band around on his finger in an anxious circle. "I don't know that I have ever really been able to forget you or what happened that day."
"Thankfully, I don't remember it at all. It's one of the memories that I never got back and I'm okay with that. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen." She gestures towards the cane.
"But you look like...you look like you're better," he notes and smiles awkwardly because he can almost hear his wife laughing at him for his words. He can hear her reminding him that you're never supposed to tell a lady she ever looks less than perfect. He wonders if that holds true when you've seen the lady far less than that.
"I am better, but it's taken time," she says and he thinks there's a lot that's not being said here, but doesn't dare to push because despite the connection that they share from that horrible day, they don't know each other and they aren't friends and this is all just about closure. "A lot of it. But I wouldn't have had the chance to recover if I hadn't gotten help from a lot of different people in my life. If you hadn't helped me that day, I wouldn't be here. I could have been hit by a car or…I may not remember what happened, but I do know what you did saved my life and you didn't have to do anything, but you did."
He shrugs. "I really didn't do much; just did what any good person should do," he tells her. "I know you want to give me a lot of credit for that and I guess I appreciate it, but I didn't really think. I just…I didn't want you to be hurt like you were."
Connor watches as her eyes flicker back over to the blonde woman and the boy again (he notices both of them are mostly just pretending to be playing Frisbee now, their attention mostly on what's going on between the two of them on the bench) again and she offers up a smile that is somehow overpowering in just how beautiful and honest it is. "I know."
It starts with kissing and then becomes more than that…which takes them up the stairs because of a simple light touch against her back; it's Emma offering her gentle support when her fatigued from therapy legs start to give up and it's Emma not saying a single word about the deep frustration she feels every time she has to slow down and remember that every bit of new movement she has is a gift. It's a soft smile and an understanding of her pride and it's Emma somehow always understanding what she needs and her realizing that even when the two of them were at war and not communicating, they had always known each other better than anyone else every truly would.
It's realizing that all this life and all of this pain has brought her to this place where she has this second chance and it's not with someone perfect, but rather someone who spends every day trying to be someone worthwhile.
She doesn't always succeed but she always tries and Regina finds herself thinking about a young girl on a horse and all the dreams in front of her.
She thinks about Emma and how she had given up her child because her own dreams had been crushed beneath the sadistic weight of life. She thinks about how that woman had struggled against the worst of herself and defined herself.
She thinks about good people and bad people and realizes that finally, she gets to be the one – the only one – who decides what she is or isn't now. Good or bad, it's finally her choice to make.
So she kisses Emma and takes her hand and says, "Upstairs."
Which is where they are now. Hands and mouths connecting with almost feverish childish passion as Emma presses up against the bedroom wall and sure, there's a bit of struggle for position, but it's hard to be too indignant and domineering about anything at all when someone is kissing your neck.
Which Emma is doing with considerable skill, one of her hands sliding up beneath the hem of Regina's blouse. There's a moment of panic when she feels fingers dancing on her back because she knows what Emma will find there; this isn't the first time there's been some under the shirt touching, though, and Emma most certainly is aware of the thick scars on her back.
She knows and doesn't care.
Oh, but this whole thing is so damned confusing and that strikes Regina as rather bizarre because she's been with so many lovers in her seven very strange decades of life. This shouldn't be as intensely emotional and raw an experience as it is, but it's been so very long since anyone touched her like this out of kindness instead of with the desire to cause her pain. Even the man that she'd considered trying to start again with…well he hadn't been cruel or anything, for sure, but he hadn't known her and when he had looked into her eyes, he'd only seen someone to bed and nothing more.
It hadn't gotten that far, but she thinks that tonight will.
And it's terrifying. Because she can remember the visions and seeing herself freeze up the first time that Emma had kissed the scars and she thinks of just how much easier it will be to give than to receive considering all that was done to her and the memories she has of violently forced touches.
But this is Emma.
This is Emma and her touch is gentle and understanding and she knows that if this is the one place where her visions truly do become reality (more than just in throwing the bottle at Henry during a run), then that will be okay.
Still, it's odd because she's standing in the room that she's been sharing with Emma even on the nights when Henry isn't home and they're kissing like they have nowhere else to be but here. They're kissing like everything is about this moment and what they have is something worth holding on to.
The funny thing is that this is hardly as she might have imagined it with Emma; as the Mayor, any thoughts she might have harbored of bedding the Savior would have involved extreme displays of dominance and unwavering control. Even as Regina, she would have wanted it fast and meaningless.
But that Regina is long gone now and the Regina that she is now is someone who wants to actually feel and be felt and that's more frightening than she thinks is possible. She's terrified of the moments when her clothes will drop away and all she will be is a woman in her mid forties with a wounded body that's littered with too many scars to avoid even if one were to try to do so.
"Hey," she hears and then Emma is lightly kissing her right shoulder and then her jaw, her lips gentle and occasionally resting against warm skin.
Regina smiles shakily, not quite convincingly. "I'm fine. Just –"
"You know we don't have to do this if you're not ready to; we're in no hurry," Emma assures her, straightening up to give Regina some space if she wants it, but not quite moving away from her. "We can go back downstairs and we can crack open the tub of ice cream and we can throw on a movie."
"Are you finally starting to think that maybe you made a mistake yet?" Regina asks, the tease in her tone a total lie. "Going down this road?"
"On the contrary; I'm trying to figure out how we didn't realize ten years ago how much better things might have been between us if we'd spent the time doing this instead of antagonizing each other," Emma answers lightly, her hand reaching down to take one of Regina's, her thumb immediately gently stroking against the dense white ridge of scars there. It's become something of a soothing thing between them, for grounding and comfort.
So Regina sighs and then lifts her other hand up and brushes blonde hair away from Emma's green eyes. There's a thin scar there above her brow, her own forever mark courtesy of John and Wendy. Regina had offered to remove it, but Emma had chuckled and said that she would prefer to keep it. Likely her attempting to make a statement about the nature of scars and their lack of being able define her with them and it'd been hopelessly sweet and cloying, but it'd also been Emma being the big-hearted fool that she's always been.
For better or for worse, they're tied together by what they've been through and by the pasts that have created and reshaped them. But they're also connected by the desire to be their own keepers and own their own lives.
And so now Regina leans up and kisses the scar – her lips as light against the rise of it as Emma's thumb is against her palm – and says softly, "No movie."
She drops her mouth to Emma's and claims her lips in a fierce and almost possessive kiss; her heart is pounding like crazy and she's terrified, but she feels the need and the want and even the desire to do this. She wants this.
"Let me touch you," she says into Emma's ear.
"Only if I get to touch you," Emma replies, her hands under her shirt and coming around to cup her lace-covered breasts, a thumb lightly sweeping over an already hardened nipple, teasing it. Her touch is firm but reverent and Regina can't stop herself from letting out a soft moan of pleasure.
"Give me time," she moans as she drops her face against Emma's shoulder.
"But this is okay?"
"This is…this is perfect."
"Good. As for the rest, I want to touch you everywhere, but I'll wait until you're ready. You can have all the time you need; I'm not going anywhere."
A wide smile crosses Regina's face – at first loving and deeply touched by just the sincerity and depth of feeling that she hears from Emma and then it changes and there's something there that almost looks wicked and seductive – and then she's locking her arms around Emma and pulling her back towards the bed. The moment they reach it, she pushes instead and then laughs.
"Neither am I and lucky for me," she whispers as she lightly bites Emma's earlobe and then straddles her atop the plush mattress and pushes her shirt up so that she can feel warm skin beneath her fingers. "I don't have to wait to touch you."
"You have a family," Regina notes, looking down at the wedding ring that Connor hasn't stopped around turning since he'd sat down next to her.
"I do," Connor provides, looking over at her. What he sees in her eyes makes him let out a breath – she feels as awkward about all of this as he does; as uncertain but perhaps she's also just as in need of closure as he is.
"With kids." She points to the stain on his dress shirt. "I…remember a bit of those days and how very difficult it was to keep any of my clothes clean."
"Tell me about it. I have three of them. A girl and my two twin boys. They're both in the how much food can I manage to get all over dad stage." They share a laugh at that and then he says, "Is the young man over there yours? He keeps looking over here like he's worried about you. They both do."
"They have a habit of keeping an eye on me. And yes, he's mine, yes."
Regina chuckles at that. "I've never been much for titles...like that, but for what it's worth, Emma is…my partner. My significant other, I suppose you could say."
"I would like to meet them. I mean only if that that's okay?" He's not entirely sure why he's asking for this, but he supposes that it's for the same reason he decided to come down here and see this woman; it's the same need to know that everything had worked out, that this story which had started with such horror had turned into something beautiful and wonderful.
"Of course. But perhaps, if you're so willing, we would love to take you and your wife out for dinner. It's not much as far as gratitude goes, but –"
"You don't have to. You really don't owe me anything."
"But if you insist upon it, then yes, I'd be happy to take you up on that; let me call my wife and see if she can get a sitter for the kids for tonight."
Regina smiles at him and again he's struck by the beauty of such a simple and normal every day expression. He's struck by how very different this woman is from the shuddering one that he'd held in his arms years earlier.
"Something's bugging you," Emma notes, curling closer to the naked woman resting in her arms, her fingers rubbing up and down sweat slicked skin. They've been sleeping together for several weeks now, both of them taking their time to get used to each other and finding out that they're curiously compatible with each other. It's been something of a wonderful surprise to learn that even in sex, their ability to read and truly understand each other better than anyone else is something that has held steady.
"Not bugging me exactly, but...I've been thinking about the day they let me go," Regina replies. As she speaks, she shifts and the moonlight streaming in through the windows catches against skin, illuminating her scars. They're not what Emma sees the most, though; what she sees is the healthy glow of her lover; the warmth of a healing body and spirit.
The healing that continues to happen for both of them a bit more every day.
"Yeah?" She thinks back to the police reports of that day and thinks about how Regina had wandered into traffic naked and stripped of her memories, her exposed body a mess of hideous open wounds and horrific scar tissue.
"And about Wendy Darling and how I should probably go and see her."
"Will that help you?"
"I don't want to ever see her again; I look forward to when Rumple tells me that his contact on the outside has agreed to take her. I know I probably shouldn't and know that I should be concerned about what might happen to her, but...I want this over."
"You don't want to ever see her again, you don't have to," Emma assures her.
"I don't," she says again. "But she's not the reason I was thinking about that day. Not specifically, anyway." Regina turns in her arms, their legs tangling together. She kisses Emma lightly on the lips and then the nose and says, "I don't remember it."
"But I know that a man ensured my safety. Made sure that I wasn't hurt anymore than I already was. I think I need to see him."
"I need to put that part of my life behind me. The Home Office is gone, but there's still that. There's still me in that intersection and that man. I feel like…I feel like that's something I need to…face. Does that make sense?"
"Doesn't need to make sense to me, only needs to make sense to you. Do you know who he is?" Emma queries, her arms tightening around Regina.
"I was hoping you could help me with that. I've seen a few news articles, and I suppose I could try to look him up on the net, but that's more –"
"My thing. We'll find him; you think you want to go see him? Meet him?"
"I think that maybe I need to."
"I'll be right there with you if you want me to be."
"I do," Regina says and then she's leaning up and kissing Emma and pulling her down atop her. They've done this before and ended up stopping before it could get too far – or more often than not flipping positions – but this time Regina clutches her arms and takes a breath and says, "Touch me."
When dinner is done and they're all standing together outside of the restaurant, Regina looks at Emma and then looks at Connor's wife (a feisty bright woman who reminds Regina more than a little of Emma) and after handing her cane to Henry, she finally steps forward and hugs the man who had seven years earlier climbed out of his car and placed a jacket around a frightened woman that he'd known nothing about; he could have driven on and let it be someone else's problem and he could have watched a news report that night of a strange crazy lady killed in the middle of the road, but he'd done something. He had followed his instincts and chosen to be a good person and he had been that.
She hadn't known it then, but he'd been the first bit of proof after three years of hell that good could still win and people could still choose to be it.
So even though she thinks that she will always struggle with being touched by anyone who isn't in her family, she hugs Connor Matthews tightly and he holds her close in return and she whispers, "Thank you."
And then, with one arm wrapped around Henry's waist and her hand in Emma's she watches Connor and his family walk away, all of them having finally achieved their much-needed closure.
It's Thanksgiving and she's going to kill Snow if the damned woman who has all of the cooking skills of a drunk mongoose doesn't stop getting in the way of her and David actually trying to prepare the turkey. But Snow is quick to remind her that she's been the one cooking these birds (for better or for worse and Emma makes a coughed out comment about how it's definitely been for worse) for the last ten years and that Regina is actually the one in the way at the moment.
Emma steps in between them and brokers a deal for peace and harmony.
It lasts a full five minutes before Regina is trying to expel Snow once again and Snow is insisting that it'll end up too dry if Regina has her way. But then the turkey is being pushed into the oven and the door is opening and Henry is coming in with his new girlfriend. She's a sweet young girl and has no idea what she's getting into, but she doesn't get much more of a hello before she's being hustled into the kitchen and asked to help with stirring the gravy.
It's the only way to keep Snow from making it as thick as molasses.
It's when Regina finally steps out of the kitchen with a bottle of deep red wine that Emma finally catches her hand and pulls her close, sweeping arms around the older woman's waist and slowing her down long enough to look around.
To realize that what had started as a nightmare has become a dream.
Her cane is against the far wall and she might need to use it to walk out of here tonight, but then again, she might not. Her head still hurts time to time and memories remain rough to the touch and feel and pull, but nothing about the now hurts.
She has Snow and David and she has her son and she has Emma's love and whether she deserves it or not (and part of her even with kind words from Archie will always doubt that she does) she finally has a new beginning as well.
Thanks to Rumple and whatever strings he had been able to pull, Wendy Darling is being held somewhere outside of Storybrooke now (somewhere securely, somewhere where she can age and perhaps eventually find her own peace) and though that's a relief to know that the woman is away from her, she understands that penance will always need to be paid and perhaps can never be paid in full. She understands and accepts these things and is willing to try every day to make amends, but she thinks that maybe there's no more reason to stop living while she tries to atone for the sins of her past.
So she turns in Emma's arms, presses her lips against Emma's soft ones, holds the younger woman close for long enough to let every bit of emotion and love that she feels seep into the blonde and then chuckles down deep in her throat and says in a scandalized whisper, "Your mother is invading the kitchen again; she must be stopped."
Emma laughs and kisses her again and as they move in step towards the kitchen to wrestle Snow away from the gravy (she puts up a fight and then pretends to sulk for a few minutes before finding her husband and wrapping herself into his arms so she can watch everyone like the proud matriarch that she envisions herself to be), Regina thinks that she might not ever truly deserve all of this, but she also has no intention of ever letting it go again.
This town and the people that are within it are her home and so when David lifts up the wine glass and does the toast to the family that surrounds the table - the family both new and old - Regina feels something warm inside of her and with Henry on one side and Emma on the other, she knows and finally accepts that this is where she is meant to be.
For anyone that is so interested, I can be found at sgtmac7 on Tumblr