As the afternoon comes to a close, Henry has pretty much exhausted his tour of places he and Emma frequented during what he’s deemed The New York Year.
“Oh, sh- uh, sorry, Mom, I know you don't like me to mention it,” he says quickly, having at least enough awareness to wince after he realizes he’s brought it up by name in front of Regina.
"Henry, it's fine," Regina says, in a way that still placates him but Emma knows means she's probably not fine.
And Emma, she's been watching Henry with Violet (which, she’s still not exactly sure how she ended up in New York with them, but it makes Henry happy, so she’s decided not to question it), watching him try so hard to flirt (and she still feels so, so, so unbelievably guilty every time she looks at them. And even though she and Henry have made something of a truce, now, she still sees dreamcatchers cloud her vision, taunting her, reminding her that her actions as the Dark One can never be undone).
If she’s being honest with herself, she's also sorry he seems to have gotten her awkward flirting genes; an unfortunate instance of nature superseding nurture, she guesses. Not that she’s paid lots of attention to how Regina flirts, or anything. Because she hasn’t. Because she isn’t thinking about how Regina held her hand earlier, when it was just the two of them. How Emma had been standing there with this real smile on her face -- the kind that reached her eyes, the kind she hadn’t smiled in weeks, probably months -- while breathing in the garbage and hot dog stand smells, waiting with Regina for Henry and Violet to come back from getting Big Gulps at the 7-Eleven. How one minute her hand had just been hanging at her side, hovering near her pocket, and then she’d said, “Hey” and Regina had said, “Hey” back, and suddenly Regina’s fingers were entwined with hers, and they were holdinghandsholdinghands holy shit holding hands, and then neither of them had said anything at all.
No, she definitely isn’t thinking about that at all.
What she is thinking about, here on the street (a strictly normal definitely just friends distance away from Regina), is how she can also tell that part of Henry’s awkwardness comes from the fact that he's trying to flirt while his moms are right there , and that certainly isn't helping.
So as they pass the Richard Rodgers Theater, Emma has an idea. She knows Regina will probably chastise her later for cheating and using her magic (she's not quite sure how she's still got a grasp on it, but she does, even here, outside of Storybrooke), but look, tickets are sold out until 2017, and she knows magic is the only way she can make this happen right now.
But it would be nice ( it would be nice , Emma hums to herself) to do something that's just her and Regina. Plus, it would give Henry a way to get away, just him and Violet. and being at a Broadway show is a way to make sure Regina has something to focus on, so she's not worrying about Henry being out and about "in the big city , Emma, anything could happen to him!"
To which Emma has already replied (three times, she's kept count) that at least here, he's not likely to fall through a portal or get stolen by a probably drunk lady in a tacky fur coat.
So when they're having an afternoon snack of pizza at Henry's favorite joint, Emma brings up her idea between bites.
"Wanna see Hamilton tonight, Regina?"
Regina blinks, and sets her drink down. "Who's Hamilton?"
Emma can't help the small chuckle from escaping. "Not a who, well, yes, a who, but also a play."
"...You're not exactly making it clearer, Emma."
" Hamilton ? The most popular play on Broadway right now? Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote it and stars in it? Hip hop musical about America's founding fathers?"
"Emma, do you also not know the answer?"
"Huh?" Emma asks, confused.
"You're answering my question with a series of questions."
Emma rolls her eyes. "Oh my GOD, Regina. A little up-talking never killed anyone."
Across from them, Henry is trying (and mostly failing) not to laugh too hard into his soda, which earns him a fond smile from Violet.
Emma waves her hand as if to wipe this current conversational thread aside. "Look, do you want to go see the best show on Broadway tonight or not?"
"Ma, aren't tickets like, basically impossible to get?" Henry asks, the voice of reason.
"Not if you're me," Emma responds with a goofy smile, wiggling her fingers.
"Wait, your magic works here, Emma?" Regina asks, suddenly full of concern.
"Oh don't get your undies in a twist, Regina, it's harmless."
Regina gives Emma a face that Emma is pretty sure translates to "all magic comes with a price, idiot," and Emma waves this off too.
"Will you just let me do something nice for you?"
Regina huffs in that way Emma knows means she won this round (but will probably pay for it later). Emma grins.
"Awesome!” Wow! she adds in her head with an internal chuckle. “The show's at 8, so why don't we head back to the apartment to rest for a bit, and then you and I can head over to the theater."
"What about Henry and Violet?" Regina asks. She sees Emma’s look, and adds, "What, next you're going to tell me your magic could only conjure up two tickets?"
"Figured they could use some time without a couple of weird moms crowding them," Emma says, completely nonchalant.
Regina raises an eyebrow at this. "Is that really sa-" she starts, before Emma cuts her off.
"Yes, Regina, it's safe. The kid's fifteen now, he can handle himself. Right, kid?"
Henry is impressed with himself for not making a crack about the "handle himself" comment, but knows it's only because Violet is right next to him.
"Right, Ma. And Mom."
And that's how, at precisely 7:30 pm, Emma and Regina are walking back to the theater, and Henry and Violet are off together, doing whatever it is kids do in Monticel- New York.
Emma sneaks a glance at Regina partway into "Alexander Hamilton," and she sees a look cross her face that she can't quite comprehend. Sure, Emma thinks, the music is impressive and Lin-Manuel is a genius, but there's something more than basic music appreciation happening here. She makes a mental note to ask Regina about it later.
As the song draws to a close, though, Regina grabs Emma's hand so tightly Emma jumps and mouths, "What's wrong?" sososo quietly in her ear, suddenly terrified.
Regina just shakes her head quietly, unable to answer (and, Emma assumes, probably too polite to talk during the performance). She loosens her hold on Emma's hand, but doesn't let go, just keeps her fingers lightly grazing Emma's, lingering.
Although Emma has listened to the cast recording so many times -- it kept her from thinking too much when they returned from hell, without Hook, without Robin. With only each other and Henry and her parents and Gold, and, oddly, Zelena -- she could probably (badly) sing right along with the cast from the comfort of her kitchen, suddenly lines are jumping out at her that she'd never spent any time dwelling on before.
She wonders if Regina is thinking the same thing as she is; that she is so lucky to be alive right now. Flashes of "You're Henry's birth mother?" and her own self-conscious "Hi?" hit her hard when Eliza sings.
Look at where we are
Look at where we started
Fucking shit fuck. She didn't think this outing through. It had just seemed like something fun, something normal to do with Regina. Something regular people did. Spending time together that wasn’t focused on dealing with dudes with terrible blue fire hair or manipulative ex-boyfriends or saving their massively weird world (again).
But now all these lines are branding her skin like fire, and she feels suffocated.
It’s “Dear Theodosia” that makes Emma tighten her fingers around Regina’s, images popping into her mind at a pace she can’t keep up with, reopening the rough, raw parts of her.
I’m dedicating every day to you is everything she wanted growing up, watching other kids pile happily into their parents’ cars while she sat on the school steps with her teacher, waiting for the parent of the month to remember she needed to be picked up.
We’ll make it right for you is everything she wanted when she’d been kicked out of a home again, when she’d been shuffled off somewhere new without anyone asking what she wanted. It’s what she’d stopped hoping for that night, alone in the alley with the watches and no alibi.
And I thought I was so smart is what she hears in Snow’s countless apologies, pleading with those wide, too-hopeful eyes for Emma to understand that everything she and David did, it was for Emma, so she should obviously understand. Except when she sees her parents, her actual, real life, same age as herself parents, with her tiny human of a brother, those pleas and apologies feel like empty platitudes. Because the little squirt is getting everything from them that she never got, because of a goddamn curse and a tree and a prophecy, and it still stings, even though she tells herself it doesn’t.
When you smile I am undone
Look at my son. Pride is not the word I'm looking for
There is so much more inside me now
And oh, this. This is Henry, through and through. It’s his tiny baby cry when they took him from her only moments after he was born, it’s the idea of a best chance she clung to for ten years, it’s the amazement she felt when she saw the mayoral mansion for the first time. It’s the swell she feels when he excitedly calls out “Moms!” every time he thinks he’s found a solution to something. (In the part of her mind she rarely dares to go, it’s also the fear she feels, knowing her son controls the Author’s pen).
And it’s also the now hazier images of the fabricated childhood Regina created for her, for them: his smile at five, when he proudly showed her a picture he’d drawn for parent night at school, the goofy grin when he got a quarter from the tooth fairy and report card with straight As in the same day, the triumphant, gloating smile when he beat her at the latest video game (Emma’s pretty sure Regina fabricated that specific memory just to tease her for it later, and she doesn’t really mind).
And also? It’s maybe taken both of them a little while to get here, but this amazing boy, this child of theirs, is growing up into an insightful, creative, stubborn, driven kid. She might have once said my son and Regina might have replied with look at my son, but these days, he’s their son. Our son.
When the lights go up, signaling intermission, it’s akin to exiting a portal, Emma thinks as Regina’s hand slips from hers (that neither one of them had let go throughout the entire first half is something Emma is saving for herself to ruminate on later). Both sensations leave her disoriented and blinking out at the sea of people milling around her, stretching and chatting.
“I’m just gonna…” Emma says, voice trailing off as she gestures vaguely toward the mass of people making their way to what is probably already an impossibly long bathroom line.
Regina just nods in agreement as she stands, picking up her purse and handing Emma her jacket (that she does it without even thinking about it strikes Emma as ridiculously important in that moment, because it means Regina remembered. Remembered how even now, Emma hates leaving any of her possessions on seats in public places because who knows if they will still be there when she gets back?). They join the restroom line in silence, both thinking too much and afraid anything they say will be too little.
As they wait in line, snippets of conversations -- “Oh my GOD, Erin, I can’t believe we’re really here!” “Which Schuyler sister do you think I’m most like, J?” “I’m literally crying so much right now, what even is life?” -- and occasional chirps from phones turned back on float in the air around them. And yet, even surrounded by all of this, there are two lines repeating over and over in her mind, booming loud and harsh, as if meant for the Neverland echo caves:
You have no control:
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.
Emma knows this, has always known this on some level. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t still tried, you know? To beat fate. To test that theory. And not just for herself, but for Regina. She’s tried so hard to change things, to repair her own mistakes, playing with life and death, with the strange new realities of space and time Storybrooke opened her mind to. But if she’s going to be brutally honest with herself, none of it has ever truly worked. Sure, there had been momentary solutions, brief respites of so-called happiness, but in the end, none of those solutions had ever been truly positive for all people involved, so to Emma, the woman who never chose to be the Savior, they still feel like failures.
As the lights come up at the end of the show, they catch a glint near the corner of Regina’s eye, a stray tear she somehow missed, and the sight of it fills Emma with the strongest, most desperate need to cradle that soft cheek and wipe it gently away. But she knows this moment is far too public for any kind of overt affection (she’s trying not to think too hard about why she might want to express affection anyway), so she lets it go, and instead looks away and slips her jacket back on.
“Ready to go?” she asks, and Regina just nods, her faraway look an indication that her mind isn’t really in the theater. Emma takes an exaggerated deep breath in as if about to enter battle, links her arm through Regina’s tense one without thinking too hard about it, and guides her through the surging crowd.
“Times like this, I wish I could just poof us out of here,” Emma says, her tone lighter than she actually feels in an attempt to put Regina at ease as they exit. “But I don’t exactly want to end up on the news or someone’s creepy anti-magic radar,” she adds, a sudden memory of Greg and Tamara flashing before her eyes. The further tensing of Regina’s arm in hers at this comment is something she’ll file away for later.
It’s close to two a.m. when Emma gives up on sleep. As she makes her way to the kitchen for a glass of water, walking quietly past what must have been Roland’s room and is now where Henry and Violet are sleeping, she smiles to herself as she recalls the conversation she’d had with him when they arrived.
“There are TWO bunk beds, Henry, so don’t go getting any ideas, got it?” she’d said, trying on her Serious Mom voice while laughing internally at the bright red that had flashed across his cheeks at her comment. Besides, she had said it mostly because she knew Regina would have wanted someone to say it, and also because something inside her wanted to let Regina keep seeing him as her little boy, just a while longer.
For Emma, insomnia is just part of life these days (kind of always has been, really, if she’s honest), but still she’s surprised to find Regina sitting at the table, half finished glass of wine in one hand, seemingly staring at the chipped paint in the wall across from her.
“Staring contests are usually better if you’ve got an opponent who can stare back,” Emma jokes, voice all night-scratchy.
“Hush,” is all Regina says. No eye roll, no long-suffering tone. Just a soft, “hush.” That’s how Emma knows something’s up. Once her own glass of water is poured, she sits herself down in the chair across from Regina, and takes a sip.
There’s been this tentative thing between them, lately. Sitting up late, together, sometimes in silence, sometimes not, has become almost normal for them, and even so, each time it happens -- each time Regina trusts her with the smallest personal anecdote -- she still feels a combination of bafflement and honor at being let in, even just a little bit. What baffles her even more is her own willingness to give tiny pieces of herself, too. It terrifies her every time she does it, because what if this new piece of her is the one thing that will keep Regina from inviting her back?
Emma shifts in her seat, like it will somehow make the stiff wooden chair more comfortable, and notices the open playbill on the table in front of Regina.
“Learning about the cast?” she asks, gesturing at the words “Who’s Who.”
Regina glances down at the photos and short cast blurbs Emma pointed to, as if she’s surprised to see them in front of her, but doesn’t reply. She’s got that look that Emma has come to recognize as her serious contemplation face. Their comfortable silences are something she has come to treasure, so Emma just takes another sip of water and waits. Certainly beats lying in bed in her dead ex-boyfriend’s apartment and staring at the ceiling.
Regina, meanwhile, can’t stop running through the show they saw in her mind. On the surface, it brought back memories of the correspondence course on US history she’d taken during her 28 years of enforced solitude to learn more about this land she'd cursed them all to. And her history books had never felt anything like the play they’d just seen. Those books had been filled with years and numbers; facts spread in timelines that spilled from page to page, grainy photographs and old paintings evoking people who were, to her, simply characters, much like those in Henry’s book still are to most of the people of this realm. But this, this play, it -- it makes the people from those same history books come alive.
And this time, instead of stodgy old white men, the people on stage who made that history come alive through rap battles and wordplay were all people of every color except white, much like the men and women she’d seen during visits to her father’s realm and neighboring realms as a child (on those very rare occasions where her mother had permitted it, of course). And for Regina, it’s just. Well, it was just so much, to see these stories being told by people who could be her.
And a quick glance at the woman across from her, sitting there absentmindedly running her finger back and forth over a groove in the table, makes part of her want to tell Emma how she’s feeling. But while they’ve talked about many things as their friendship grew deeper -- the darkness that consumed them both, talked about their fears and what it means to feel so alone in this world (Emma’s “Somehow that makes us both, I don’t know, unique, maybe even special” rings clear as a bell even now) -- they’ve never talked about .. this.
She’s not blind or oblivious. She knows she stands out in Storybrooke for more reasons than just being the former Evil Queen, and she has long suspected that the color of her skin was one of the many reasons she received disapproving glances and found it impossible to avoid overhearing the whispers unsubtly hidden behind the hands of the people of the White kingdom. Even in Henry’s storybook, the Author’s pen had drawn her skin paler (something that had lately made her wonder if Cora had ever known him, had ever tried to get him to immortalize her daughter in her own image and ideal).
Because a specific vocabulary to describe these feelings did not exist as such in the Enchanted Forest, she is strangely grateful, from a purely linguistic perspective, to live in a world now where she can try to make sense of things she's felt all along and express them in a concrete way. She makes a mental note to maybe chat with Marian -- and Mulan, because where Marian goes, so goes the town’s resident warrior -- when they return to Storybrooke.
Regina’s finally broken from her reverie when she hears the scrape of a chair being pushed away from the table. And she doesn’t know exactly what it is that crosses her own face, but she must have done something to prompt Emma’s small, almost apologetic smile.
“Just getting some more,” Emma says, all quiet reassurance as she gestures to Regina with her empty glass. “Do you want any more wine, or ..?”
“No, thank you though,” Regina replies. “Any more than what’s left in this glass and I’ll instantly be asleep.”
“It is 2:20 am, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing,” Emma says with a small laugh as she fills her glass.
“I don’t want that kind of sleep,” is all Regina says, because she knows Emma will understand.
“So did you .. did you like it, though?”
Regina’s sigh contains a wide spectrum of emotions. “It was. It was a lot.” She pauses, and at the worried look in Emma’s eyes, offers a small smile of her own. “I did like it, though. Thank you, Emma.”
“I .. you’re welcome. And you’re right. I’ve listened to the songs so many times, but it just was .. different. It was more .” (Emma’s with you goes unsaid).
Regina knows exactly what she means, and her mind flicks back to the first half of the play (and the feel of Emma’s hand in hers -- a lifeline she’s still not ready to admit she needs (and wants ) to keep her from disappearing completely into herself).
And then, oh, and then, this insanely talented man on stage (who, if he wasn't from this realm, looks exactly like he could be from her father's realm) utters words that pierce her.
"I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory," he talk-sings, and she suddenly can't breathe.
She can't breathe because she knows this feeling, she knows this feeling so well, because she lived it for years. Fuck, she lived it for so long that it was all she knew. And now here it is as a quick line, something that probably seems vaguely deep to the casual audience member, but to Regina, that line is everything.
She wills the tears to stay back; she's angry that they're pricking behind her eyes at all.
And Regina, well, she’s trying to just watch the play, trying to get out of her own head, because Emma did this special thing for her (and that alone is so damn much ) and truth be told, the choreography and the music and the words are unlike anything she’s ever seen or heard. But each new song thrusts her right back into the very parts of her mind she’s spent so long dealing with, and she’s just so tired of having to accept herself again and again and again. But right here in front of her, Eliza is looking at Alexander, and we could be enough and all Regina can hear are her mother’s final words, when warmth seeped into her eyes for the briefest of moments.
“Regina? You okay?”
Emma’s voice from across the table pulls Regina back to the present moment; to the solid wood of the chair she’s sitting on and the greyish-yellow cast of the single overhead light in the not-quite morning hours. And this time, Regina chooses honesty. Maybe it’s because she’s beyond exhausted, maybe it’s because she can’t stop the way this play wormed its way into her and won’t let her turn her thoughts off, maybe it’s because of the careful, gentle look in Emma’s eyes. Maybe it’s none of those things, or all of those things.
“No, I’m not. Not really.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
And Regina? She does. She knows they have this thing, this unspoken rule that this ridiculous time of night belongs to them, to their uncertainties. There’s a strange peacefulness that comes with the knowledge that what she says to Emma, here and now, may possibly never be spoken of again. But she knows it will remain with Emma forever, like a book on a shelf, read only once but sitting there always.
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before opening them again. One of her hands drifts just out of Emma’s line of sight, pressing against her own stomach as if to steel her for what she wants to say.
“Talk less; smile more.” Regina pauses, takes another breath. “You know who could have said that? My mother. It’s almost like a direct quote from Cora Mills herself.” She breathes out sharply, a mirthless laugh. “It’s how I was raised.”
“Like I said, she was a piece of work.”
“Understatement of at least the past three centuries,” Regina replies, not quite looking at Emma. “It wasn’t ladylike, wasn’t becoming, to ask things, to chatter away. I could only ever -- with my father, when we... Only then.”
Emma takes the barely visible twitching of Regina’s hand on the table for what she knows it is: Regina giving as much as she’s going to give on that subject for now. This is how they do this; a symbiotic call and response. So now it’s her turn.
“The line about orphans? The ‘of course you’re an orphan’ one? That was me, too. When I met Lily.”
She lightly brushes her fingers over her own wrist at the mention of Lily’s name, something Regina’s noticed Emma’s done ever since the two friends were reunited.
“It just felt so good, you know? To meet someone who was just like -- who I thought was just like me. It made so much sense! Clicking with her immediately, doing all the goofy stuff I only ever saw that time we watched The Babysitter’s Club when the after school program teacher was tired of coming up with activities. Honestly the only thing missing was one of those half of a heart necklaces.”
(It wasn’t until after their first soft kiss, nervous but brimming with warmth, that Emma had realized there might be more to their connection than just being orphans).
The image of Emma having found, even for the briefest of moments, a friend pokes at the part of Regina she knows she’ll never not feel guilty about. Although she knows Emma has forgiven her many times over, (knows, in fact, that Emma understands her in ways no one else has), it doesn’t stop her from revisiting her own part in Emma’s childhood isolation.
“Nope, Regina, I see the face, don’t even think it, okay?” It’s precarious, Emma knows, to make that comment, but she won’t let her spiral. “It’s like the song -- I have no control who tells my story. My parents, they tried to. And okay, maybe in their minds you were the catalyst that set off that specific plot point, but I.” She pauses, summoning all the courage she can to get the next words out. “I can’t imagine not knowing you, not having you in my life.”
It’s a familiar refrain, one Regina still never quite lets herself believe, not totally. “And Henry.”
“Of course and Henry, but I mean you, Regina. You mean more to me than I--” Emma stops and turns away, trying not to let Regina see how much she’s shaking, how all she can think of in this moment is how wonderfully perfect it felt to have Regina’s hand in hers, earlier. How everything is suddenly too close, too real.
“...Emma?” Regina’s voice is so soft, so tentative, as is the hand she reaches out to place gently on Emma’s forearm.
Emma’s eyes flutter closed at the touch, absolutely certain that there’s no way Regina can’t feel how fast her heart is racing.
“You mean more to me too, Emma.”
Her words are so quiet, so small, Emma almost doesn’t hear them. But then Regina squeezes her forearm, just a little, and Emma knows her ears didn’t deceive her. And she doesn’t know exactly how it happens, but somehow her hand is cradling Regina’s cheek and Regina is leaning into the touch and their faces are sososoclose and their noses bump and then.
And then they’re kissing, gentle and not at all how either of them had ever expected (or imagined) this first kiss might go. It’s soft and careful, not the rough, raw clashing of lips and tongues that had come to each of their minds on dark nights, alone in their respective homes, eyes closed with hands slipping beneath waistbands. No, this is nothing like that. But in its own way, this is so much better. So much sweeter.
This is real.
When they pull apart, their expressions are mirror images; surprise and hope and apprehension flickering in their eyes. Regina is the first to break the connection, putting her wine glass in the sink. Emma follows suit with her own glass, and is right behind Regina as they move to make their way back to their respective sleeping spots, neither woman sure exactly what to say.
Let this moment be the first chapter where you decide to stay is all Emma can hear in her head as she reaches for Regina’s hand in the doorway, lacing their fingers together and holding tight.
“You don’t have to -- that couch is so -- I --” Emma’s hand in Regina’s starts to tremble, just a little, but it’s Regina never loosening the grip that spurs Emma onward. “Would you stay with me tonight? Not like .. not .. just. Could we…?”
Regina for her part is equally terrified, her heart pounding so loudly she’s certain the entire tri-state area can hear it. But she’s had a lot of practice, and so it’s with just the slightest upward tick of her eyebrow, belying the tremor underneath, that she manages to answer.
“Are you saying you’d like to cuddle, Miss Swan?” And her voice is so careful, so soft, that there’s none of the old sting in that form of address; just tenderness and affection.
And even though they’ve just kissed, it feels so surreal, to have Regina saying the word cuddle, to her, that Emma can’t help the tiny quirk of her lips and the way some of the tension seems to have escaped. For now.
When they reach the bedroom, both women stand in front of the bed, staring at it like it’s the latest fairy tale creature threat of the week.
“Are you a right side or a left side person?” Emma asks in attempt to break the feeling of being completely overwhelmed that has descended again.
“Hmmm .. right side. Is that okay?” Regina replies, making her way to that side of the bed and settling into it.
“Yep. Yep, that’s fine,” Emma responds as she turns out the overhead light, and walks toward the bed, stubbing her toe on her own open suitcase in the process. She hisses through her teeth.
“Be careful!” Regina whispers, unsurprised.
“It’s just my toe, happens all the time,” Emma winces as she gets into the bed. She hisses again. “Ouch, though.”
When, two hours later, Regina wakes up with a cry, they are going through the unimaginable ringing in her ears, a groggy Emma just pulls her close. “Shhh, I’m here, Henry’s fine,” she whispers in a sleep-muddled voice, wrapping her arms tightly around Regina.
She’d dreamt it too.
At breakfast the next morning, they don’t talk about it. Neither of them mentions anything about the way they’d woken up, Emma lying on her stomach, legs splayed, with Regina curled next to her in the minimal amount of space not taken up by Emma.
They don’t talk about the kiss, either, because honestly? They don’t need to. Not yet. Yes, when they’re back in Storybrooke, they’ll put words, out loud, to what they both have somehow come to believe was really, truly, inevitable.
And so instead, for now, they just smile fondly at each other across the table as Violet and Henry regale them with tales of their own adventures the evening before, Regina nodding in understanding when Violet bounces in her seat as she animatedly describes being in an Apple store for the first time.
“How come you guys don’t have those same things at the sheriff’s station, Emma?” Violet asks around a mouthful of pancakes. “The genius guy said they were the best!”
Emma laughs and looks pointedly at Regina. “Yeah, Regina, why are we still using PCs that operate Windows 95?”
“Don’t look at me, the last curse was your mother’s, if you’ll recall,” Regina replies. “Not my fault she couldn’t be bothered to update the technology.”
Emma just shakes her head and takes a sip of coffee. “Mmhmmm.”
They decide to spend one last day in the city before beginning the long drive back to Storybrooke. Violet is still overwhelmed and excited about everything this modern city in this odd new world has to offer, so Henry decides to do the touristy thing and take her on one of those hop on, hop off buses to show her the sights. It’s probably the last chance they’ll have to just be regular teens before they’re back in Storybrooke where parents’ eyes are inescapable.
The kids agree to meet Emma and Regina back at the start of the route in a few hours, which means it’s just the two of them for the rest of the day. And maybe if the previous night had happened a few months or even a year ago, being alone together would be awkward. But they’ve been through literal hell together, and also, there’s something about being away from home that makes it easier to grasp, somehow. So really, it just feels completely natural when Emma slips her hand into Regina’s as they walk. Like they haven’t ever walked side by side any other way.
“Where are we going, anyway?” Emma asks, reaching one hand up to adjust her sunglasses.
“It’s a surprise,” Regina replies with smile as they make their way to the subway.
The Court Street R stop lets them out near the Brooklyn Historical Society, but somehow Emma doesn’t think that’s where Regina is taking her.
“Be patient,” Regina says in that reassuring way she reserves for Henry (and Emma too, lately).
“I didn’t even say anything!”
Regina laughs. “You didn’t need to, I could sense it.”
“Sense it? Is that some weird magic side effect I don’t know about yet?” Emma says, mostly joking.
Regina just shakes her head and squeezes Emma’s hand as they approach their actual destination.
The building on Pierrepont Street isn’t anything special, just a large office building housing multiple organizations. It would be fair to say that Emma’s face has been a perfect representation of confusion for the last few minutes, but Regina just guides them inside to a bank of elevators and up to the ninth floor.
“Graham Windham?” Emma reads on the door of what seems to be an organization’s headquarters.
At this, Regina reaches for both of Emma’s hands, holding them in her own as she moves to stand in front of Emma.
“It’s Eliza’s orphanage,” she says softly. “Well, I mean, it was, once. Today this organization helps children find permanent families, and works with existing families to help them overcome hardship. They even have a school.” She pauses. “I’ve set up a yearly donation with them, in your name. So that kids like y-- Well, I thought maybe …” she trails off, suddenly nervous, worried that she’s overstepped somehow.
Can I show you what I’m proudest of? sounds in Emma’s ears as she looks at this amazing woman in front of her. This once feared woman who is the strongest, most loving woman Emma has ever met. And maybe it’s Regina trying to make amends, somehow, for her part in Emma’s childhood, but this time Emma doesn’t believe that.
“You want them to have their best chance,” is what Emma finally manages to say, her voice shaking slightly. “Regina …”
“I’m sorry, I should have asked you first, I shouldn’t have done this without your permission, I should have ask--”
All Emma can do then is pull Regina in for probably the tightest hug she’s ever given anyone. That someone would do something like this for her, because they knew what it would mean to her? That’s already something that she never could have predicted. That it’s Regina who did it? It’s everything.
“You’re actually amazing, did you know that?” Emma asks, squeezing Regina’s hands in hers.
And somehow, quite unbelievably, Regina Mills actually blushes. Just barely, but enough for Emma to notice.
“I mean it,” she adds. “No one, and I mean no one, has ever done anything like this for me before. Regina, do you have any idea how much it -- ” she stops mid sentence, her voice stuck on the barrage of emotions she’s feeling.
Regina returns a watery smile. “It’s what anyone would do,” she says, trying to shrug it off.
“Only you,” Emma says affectionately, holding Regina close, not caring what anyone else in the hallway walking past them to their own office might be thinking. And Regina finally, finally starts to think that maybe this was exactly the right thing to do.
In the car on the drive back, Violet and Henry fall asleep within the first hour. Neither Emma nor Regina feel the need to say anything as they drive through the dwindling twilight, ambient jazz playing softly on the radio. But Regina’s hand is resting lightly on Emma’s leg, and the warmth of this simple touch spreads through both of them.
Alexander and Eliza’s story may have ended centuries ago, but Regina and Emma?
They’ve put themselves back in the narrative.
They’re going to beat fate.