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not today (a long and lustrous winter)

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Ninety-four trips through the same day. Ninety-four identical conversations, ninety-four attempts to explain.

Ninety-four days of research, and hunting, and despair had led them here, to the entrance of the Storybrooke Mines.

It was obvious right away that this was the source of the magic they had been searching for. Dark purple clouds roiled deep inside the mine, as if part of a thunderstorm were trapped underground, and ribbons of golden light arced out all around them.

“There’s all sorts of magic in that cloud,” Regina said, frowning. “I can sense major curses, transformational magic, dark magic, light magic - it’s as if a little bit of all the magic used in Storybrooke seeped into the soil here and got trapped in the fairy dust.” She shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Emma frowned, because for her, the storm felt familiar, somehow, as if she had encountered that combination of magics before, and sweat broke out on Emma’s forehead. Her hands shook as she wiped them on the fabric of her jeans. Regina glanced at her and nodded. “It’s going to be okay, Emma,” she said, and Emma smiled grimly.

“I’m not worried about me,” she said, smirking, “but how about you - bringing back any fond memories here, Madame Mayor?”

And then, Emma remembered.

Suddenly, horribly, she remembered.

She remembered that she wasn’t afraid of the mines because of the magic, she was afraid because she’d done this before. She remembered standing in that very same spot, and cracking that same joke.

She remembered not wanting to take a single step closer to the boiling mass of fairy-dust-laden magic, the air itself thick with it, but also knowing that she couldn’t let Regina fight it alone.

She remembered feeling that magic send out tendrils to test her defenses, even as Regina said, “It’s become… angry, for lack of a better word. Magic, once awoken, can become dangerous if not used.”

She remembered cracking wise, “So you’re saying the danger here is untapped potential? How appropriate.” But she also remembered being shit-scared, surrounded by magic as strong as any she had fought before, but wielded, it seemed, by magic itself instead of someone she could punch.

She remembered Regina’s instructions - “Don’t let it touch you - a powerful magic user such as yourself could only feed the fire, since you could never hope to absorb this much magic on your own.”

And then she remembered that her concentration, had slipped - just slightly, but enough for her defenses to waver, and a tendril of that magic to sneak through and pull her into its thrall.

And she remembered the enormous, burning power that suddenly scorched her veins, filling her with golden light - not a sickly ooze like the darkness, but a cleansing burn that stripped all of her nerves to rawness, that filled her with power and kept filling, a mass of energy that needed a conduit and found one in her, and she was melting from the inside out-

And she remembered Regina stepping in instead, siphoning the power away from Emma, pulling it into herself, but it was too much, too much.

Emma remembered being powerless to help her, her own body feeling as though it was splitting at the seams even as she watched Regina’s skin begin to glow and crack, sunlight-bright light pouring from her, shining from her eyes.

And, worst of all, Emma remembered Regina suddenly going dark and dropping to the floor, like a conduit burned through and callously discarded, her body still and small on the floor of the mine.

And Emma, burning, heated by her rage, and sorrow, and the magic that still boiled under her skin, Emma Swan remembered grabbing hold of the universe and yelling NO, shaking it by the scruff of the neck like a naughty puppy, because Regina was not going to die here.

Emma remembered this, and she remembered pushing the power out through her skin, purple smoke pouring from her and curling with tendrils of magic whisping out from every wall of the cave, rumbling as it fought against the way the universe was versus how she said it should be, and billowing into a familiar cloud just before it engulfed Emma, and Regina, and the whole town in its wake.

Thrown from the memory, Emma gasped, stumbling on her feet.

At the sound, Regina turned from where she had almost entered the mine, hand trailing behind her as she did. Emma yelled, “Regi—!”

But she was too late. Regina’s fingertips brushed the wall, that time, and golden light arced up and around her, jolting into her body in a horrible, newly familiar way, forcing her to her knees.

Emma let out a hoarse cry of despair, an attempt to pull her back, to make it stop, but she couldn’t. She fell to her knees beside Regina, the magic burning in her veins as she tried to take it into herself instead, but it was too much, again, the connection raw and too powerful.

It burned through them both, and Emma screamed as the purple cloud emerged and took her away again.

For thirteen loops straight after that, Emma avoided Regina entirely.

It was childish, she knew, but the grief still felt too real, and the danger still too present, for Emma to want to risk it. She couldn’t lose Regina, not if there was anything she could do to prevent it.

Some loops, she would spend the whole day researching fairy dust, or talking to the nuns or the dwarves about it. She would read books about magical residue and curse buildup and try not to think about the image of Regina, wreathed in golden light, burning from the inside out with power.

Other times, when Emma awoke filled with rage and guilt, she would go straight down to the mines to confront the magic again, dying and awakening over and over and over again until she felt drained and defeated.

By the one hundred and twenty-first loop, Emma knew she couldn’t sustain it much longer. She couldn’t lose sleep when she didn’t have to sleep in the first place, but she was beginning to feel each and every one of those one hundred and twenty-one days as weight on her, pulling her down as she tried to stay afloat.

Maybe that exhaustion was what made her a little late leaving Granny’s that morning after her coffee, or maybe she had just gotten careless. Either way, when she left to go get in the patrol car, she saw Regina coming down the street towards the diner. Emma tried to make a quick escape, avoiding eye contact as she unlocked the car door, but Regina stopped her.

“Emma,” she said, “is something wrong? You’re acting kind of jumpy.”

Emma shook her head, not trusting her voice. She had no idea how she was supposed to hide something this big from Regina, but she had to.

She had to keep her safe.

Injecting false cheer into her voice, Emma said, “Oh, nothing big. Just the usual!” Internally, she grimaced at how fake she sounded, but she crossed her fingers that Regina would believe her.

“Bullshit,” Regina said, and the swear was enough to make Emma jerk her head over to look at her. Regina held her gaze steadily. “For someone who claims she always knows when everyone else is lying, you really never figured out how to lie to me, did you?” she asked.

Emma shook her head, not trusting her voice, and braced her arms against the patrol car. “I can’t tell you,” she said, trying not to look at Regina because she can’t, she can’t.

Regina put her hand on Emma’s shoulder and Emma shuddered - it was too much, too kind - and Regina poofed them both over to the mansion without another word.

“Sit,” she said, pointing at one of the stools at the counter. “Drink.” She pressed a freshly-made mug of hot chocolate into her hands. Emma complied, sipping as it warmed her from the inside out. “Now,” Regina said, “tell me what’s wrong.”

Emma shook her head. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I have to be the one to fix it, anyway.”

“You could still let me help,” Regina said.

“No.” Emma was firm. “I have to do this on my own.”

“Why?” Regina’s response was sharp, hurt, and Emma flinched. “Is it because you’re the Savior? Do you have something to prove?”

“No!” Emma said, “It’s not anything like that. I- I just.” Emma sighed and relented. “I’m not strong enough to lose you.”

Regina was struck silent for a moment, then reached out and grabbed Emma’s hand from where it rested on the cold countertop. “You know, if we work together, maybe you won’t have to,” she said, squeezing her hand tightly.

Emma let out a laugh that was more despair than humor and looked over at her. Emma was shaking, her face damp, as she told Regina everything: about the loops, what she remembered, what caused it, and then, in a whisper, she said, “You died, Regina. And it was my fault.”

“Emma, no—”

“It was,” Emma insisted, “just like everything else that’s happened to you recently has been my fault. You went to Hell because of me!”

“And Emma, listen to me,” Regina said, clasping Emma’s hand tighter in her own, “I’d do it again. This isn’t a one-way street, you know,” she scolded gently. “Besides, it sounds to me like your magic is what saved me, or at least tried to.”

Emma took a deep, shuddering breath as she tried to calm down. “What do you mean, tried to save you?”

“What I mean is that your magic tried to follow your directions - to keep me alive - the only way it could see how to. I think it absorbed the remnants of my curse, which never fully dissipated after it was broken, to give you exactly what you needed to save me.”

Comprehension dawned over Emma’s face. “More time,” she breathed, and Regina nodded.

“Exactly. Now,” she said, “I’m still not entirely sure how or why your magic reacted strongly enough to seize control over someone else’s curse, as that shouldn’t really be possible, but it does seem like the most likely explanation.”

Emma froze, terror washing over her. Regina may not have have known how it was possible, but Emma did. She knew exactly why her magic would have broken every rule to keep Regina alive, how it could have accessed a power stronger than a curse.

She cleared her throat. “Don’t worry about that,” Emma said. “At least that means we know how to fix it, now.”

Regina looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” she asked, then startled when Emma got to her feet. “Emma, no, what are you doing?”

Emma shrugged. “The loops - they’re all my fault, right? So I should be the one to put them right.”

“Your fault?” Regina says. “Emma, that was the result of years upon years of built-up magical residue, and a piece of my old curse. This is not something you need to blame yourself for.”

Emma braced her hands on the countertop and took a deep breath. “I know I didn’t put the magic there, but it is my fault we’re stuck in these endless loops. You said it yourself - it would take a power stronger than a curse to do it, and it was mine: my magic, my desires, my,” she swallowed, unable to look at Regina for a moment. “My love,” she said, and raised her eyes to Regina’s own.

They widened in shock briefly before narrowing in anger as Regina advanced on Emma. “How dare you,” she growled. “How dare you tell me you’re doing this out of love and then try to go off and nobly sacrifice yourself, you idiot.” Regina’s fists were clenched at her side as she continued, “Do you know how many people have told me they loved me and then abandoned me? Don’t you dare do that to me, Emma Swan.”

She sighed, relaxing a fist so she could reach out and tuck a golden curl behind Emma’s ear, lifting her chin even as Emma looked away, blinking furiously. “Let me help you,” Regina said, softly, then added, “‘Maybe I need you,’ right?”

Emma nodded, throat tight. “Yeah,” she said roughly, and placed her hand over Regina’s on her cheek. “Maybe I need you, too.”

Emma was pretty sure she would see the mine entrance, with its beautiful, deadly magic storm inside, in her nightmares for months. She shuddered, and turned away from the view of it in the distance to where Henry was giving Regina one last hug.

“It’s going to be okay, Henry,” Regina said, as he clung to her. “We’re going to fix this, you’ll see.”

“I know you will, Mom,” Henry said, giving her one last squeeze. “Ma,” he said, moving over to Emma, “Be careful, okay?”

“I will, kiddo,” she said, hugging him tightly. “I promise.”

Henry nodded against her and stepped back. “I’ll see you guys soon,” he said.

“We’ll be home before you know it,” Emma said, and Regina waved her hand, teleporting Henry back to the mansion.

She turns to Emma. “Are you ready?” she asked, and Emma nodded. “Remember, if we can direct the magic somewhere else, give it a purpose and channel it instead of just trying to absorb it, maybe we can keep it from being so destructive.”

Emma swallowed and nodded, not trusting her voice. Regina placed a hand on her shoulder. “We can do this, Emma,” she said. “Together.”

She suddenly smirked, and added, “And when we get back, we’re discussing that conversation we had in my kitchen, so don’t think you get out of making that declaration so easily.” She gave Emma a pointed look, brushing a kiss across her cheekbone before turning to head towards the mine entrance. “You coming?”

Emma, trying valiantly to fight the blush she could feel spreading across her cheeks, nodded and hurried to catch up.

As they approached the mine entrance, Emma could feel her body start to shake uncontrollably, hands trembling at the thought of having to watch Regina die again, but Regina was steady, steadfast as she neared the closest section of the magical storm.

“Get ready,” she said, and Emma put up her shield just in time to catch the first tendril of magic as it tried to approach her. She blocked it easily as Regina did the same behind her, and they walked deeper into the mines.

As they continued, the sensation of power became oppressive, the air thick and heavy with magic as more and more ribbons of magical energy slammed against their shields. Emma’s knee buckled underneath her as a particularly strong surge hit hers, and Regina said, “Almost there, almost…”

“Now!” she said, during a brief gap in attacks, and Emma dropped her shield and grabbed Regina’s hand the instant before they were surrounded by a hurricane of magical energy.

“Don’t look at the magic,” Regina said, tugging Emma closer and resting her forehead on Emma’s own. Her skin had begun to glow - Emma looked down, and so had hers, with their clasped hands glowing brightest of all.

“Don’t look at it,” Regina repeated. “Look at me - do you remember?” The vortex swirled around them, and Emma could feel the hair on her arms and the nape of her neck stand on end. “You may not be strong enough,” Regina whispered.

“-But maybe we are,” Emma said, and opened herself up to the magic.

Immediately, fire scorched along her veins as the golden energy scoured through her body, filling her up and then some, and Emma struggled to channel it out through their clasped hands before it could overwhelm her.

She could feel Regina doing the same thing from the other side of their connection, their magic working in concert to shape the power together even as it burned through them from the inside out.

Emma felt Regina nudge the shape of the power just slightly, and Emma laughed through their link as, all over town, things began fixing themselves. Potholes were filled, bridges repaired, new roads paved. As Emma pushed through a larger wave of magic, she felt the docks be repaired, a new jetty appearing alongside.

The magic flowed through her until Emma lost all sense of time. Her nerves scoured raw and her muscles shaking with effort, it was all she could do to keep up, even as Regina focused on shaping the magic for the town.

Finally, the current of magic eased, and as the last burn of it trickled through her veins and into the mine itself, where it shored up rotten wood and cleared a few small rockslides, Emma croaked out a rough giggle, throat hot and parched from the burning heat of the magic. “Of course you used an enormous stockpile of magical energy to complete some town improvement projects, Mayor Nerd,” she said, voice rough.

“Shut up,” Regina said in good humor, voice equally smoky, “It was the logical solution. Besides, it worked, didn’t it?” she asked, looking around at the now-inert mine entrance.

“Whatever you say. Nerd.”

Too magically raw to teleport, they limped back to the mansion, both of them propping the other up. Henry yanked the door open before they even made it to the porch and asked, “So, did you fix it?”

Emma nodded. “We think so, kid. But I guess we’ll see for sure in the morning, won’t we?”

Henry cheered and ran down the steps to give them each another hug. “I knew you could do it,” he said. “My moms can do anything together.” And, with an audacious wink, he ran back inside before they could say a word.

“Did our son really just—?” Emma said.

“I’m not thinking about it,” said Regina.

Emma laughed, then sighed and began to untangle herself from Regina. “I guess I should head back to my place, then,” she said, “And we’ll see in the morning if it’s actually fixed or not?”

Regina grabbed her jacket sleeve. “No,” she said. “Stay?” Emma hesitated, and Regina added, “Please. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and think this has all been a dream.”

Emma smiled. “Okay. I can do that.”

“Plus,” Regina said, “Don’t think you’re getting out of that conversation so easily.”

Emma laughed, and together they climbed the stairs into the mansion, both headed to Regina’s bedroom by unspoken agreement. Regina pulled back the covers as Emma put her phone on the bedside table, and they both climbed into bed facing one another and were asleep within moments.

March 22nd, 7:51am

“Babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—“I got you, babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—

Emma’s eyes popped open in horror and then squeezed shut, a quick tear escaping and soaking into her hairline. She’d been so sure—

An arm snaked its way around her waist and squeezed as Regina’s sleep-roughened voice said through a yawn, “Why the fuck would you set your alarm for such a horrible hour after the night we had?”

Emma gasped and rolled over, propping herself up on an elbow so she could look down at Regina’s face. “You’re here,” she said in wonder. “You’re here, and it’s tomorrow.”

Regina smiled and reached up to tuck a loose tendril of hair back behind Emma’s ear as she stared down at her. “I’m here,” she said, hair curling in a halo against her pillow.

Emma kissed her.

Her phone was still blaring Sonny & Cher from under the bed, and she was exhausted and raw from the magic the night before, but there, in that bed, finally, finally on March 22nd, Emma Swan could look down at the sleep-creased face and tousled curls of Regina Mills, and kiss her good morning.

And everything felt possible again.