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It Was Always You

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Emma was acting strange. One minute she was the concerned friend, following Regina after an encounter with Zelena and listening to her talk about how much it hurt to know even Rumplestiltskin thought Zelena was more powerful than her. But the next minute, Emma was avoiding her gaze and acting as if they were still fighting all the time, which they weren’t. And come to think of it, even that was strange. Regina was used to a certain amount of banter with Emma, and ever since she’d come back from New York, she would just shrink away whenever Regina started to rib her about something.

Regina was over it. She was supposed to be preparing for this ridiculous witch fight with Zelena as soon as the sun set, and all she could think about was why Emma was behaving the way she was. And Regina couldn’t afford to get distracted. So she did what she did best, and confronted things head-on.

 

When Emma opened the door of her room at Granny’s, her face registered surprise, delight, and finally wariness - the exact rotation of emotions she seemed to be exhibiting towards Regina all the time these days.

“Miss Swan,” Regina prompted. “May I come in?”

“What? Of course! Sorry.” Emma moved aside to let her in, closing the door gingerly behind her.

“Henry’s not here - he’s with my parents,” she added.

“That’s fine. I’m actually here to see you.”

“You are?”

Regina glanced around the room at the single chair and double bed. She opted to sit in the chair, and Emma automatically moved to perch on the edge of the bed, facing her.

“Yes. Something is different between us since you came back from New York, and since I can’t remember the last year, I’m going to assume it’s you. So tell me what’s going on with you, Miss Swan.”

Emma fidgeted in her seat and looked down before standing up and going over to look out the window.

“Nothing’s going on,” she said, turning around. “I’d just forgotten what it was like here, with wicked witches and standoffs at sundown. New York felt easier to deal with.”

Regina narrowed her eyes at her. “While I’m sure that’s true, that doesn’t explain the way you’ve been acting towards me. One minute you’re my best friend and the next minute you ignore me. And before I go to said standoff at sundown, I need to know what’s going on, and whether you’re going to have my back.”

Emma sighed and went back to perch on the bed again.

“I’m sorry, Regina. Of course I have your back. Always.”

Regina saw and heard her sincerity, and acknowledged it with a curt nod before staring pointedly at Emma, waiting for her to continue.

“OK, fine. Fine. You’re right. I’ve been … acting weird around you.” Emma got up again and started pacing across the threadbare carpet.

“God, how do I even say this?” She stopped to look at Regina for a second.

“Just spit it out, Miss Swan. I promise I won’t bite.”

Regina watched as Emma’s eyes widened for a moment and wondered what in the hell she was about to tell her. Emma visibly shook her head before sitting back down for the third time.

“Alright. Just, can you stop with the Miss Swan thing? We’ve been through too much, Regina.”

Regina inclined her head in apology.

“Thing is,” Emma continued, “I was dating somebody in New York last year. A woman. And you remind me so much of her. Or, well, I guess she must have reminded me of you, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

Whatever Regina had expected to come out of Emma’s mouth, this was not it. She had no idea how to respond, so she simply said, “oh.”

Emma let out a gruff chuckle. “Yeah, ‘oh.’”

“What’s her name?” Regina asked finally, finding this was the only suitable question that came to mind.

“Clara,” Emma replied softly, and Regina could hear the emotion laced in her tone.

“She broke up with me a couple of weeks before I came back,” Emma said with her eyes down, her voice uneven. “I was pretty devastated, actually. She said I wasn’t communicating.”

“Shocker,” said Regina without thinking. At Emma’s glare, she shrugged. “I did just have to force this information out of you after, how long have you been back? Three weeks?”

“I know,” said Emma, looking defeated. “You’re right. And so was she.”

Regina softened her gaze. “We’re a lot alike, Emma. Neither of us like feeling vulnerable. But I trust you, and I’d like to think you trust me, too. You can talk to me. We’re … friends, or something, aren’t we?”

Emma laughed for real at that, and Regina smiled at her.

“I think ‘or something’ sums it up pretty well,” Emma replied. “Look, I didn’t want to make things weird between us, so that’s why I didn’t tell you. But I guess I managed that anyway.”

“Given our history, dear, me looking like your ex-girlfriend was probably not going to make things much ‘weirder’ than they already were.”

 

Emma looked down at her feet. “You don’t look like her,” she mumbled.

“What was that?”

Emma looked up and tried again. “You don’t look like her. You act like her, and sound like her, though. Here.”

She pulled out her phone and found a picture of her and Clara. Regina looked down at the admittedly very pretty woman in the picture who, with her shock of curly strawberry blonde hair, long pointed nose, and pale freckled skin did in fact look nothing like her. She stared at the picture for a moment, and then looked up at Emma, who was standing close enough that Regina could smell her shampoo.

“You look so happy,” she observed.

Emma smiled sadly. “I was, for a while.”

“Well, I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

Emma returned to her seat on the bed. “Thanks. And I’m sorry I’ve been so … distant. It’s just … being around you made me miss her, and also not, because when I’m around you I feel like I did around her.”

Emma stopped, clearly embarrassed that she’d said that part. But Regina was intrigued.

“And what is it about me that reminds you so much of her?”

Emma looked at her this time, finally meeting her eyes.

“It’s that you see me. You said it - we’re a lot alike. And behind your confidence and bravado is something tender and scared, just like there is for me, and I know you see it when most people don’t.”

Regina held her breath. Emma had never said anything like this to her before. They were friends, yes, and Regina felt a connection to her that went beyond their love of Henry. But this? This was new. And not entirely inaccurate. And that, more than anything, was terrifying. She held Emma’s gaze for a second longer, and then looked away, unsure of what to say.

“And, well, you both give me shit about the dumb stuff I do,” Emma said finally. The tension in the room broke and Regina found herself smiling.

“I’m sorry,” Emma continued. “You came here to clear things up so you don’t get distracted tonight, and I went and made things worse.”

 

Regina shook her head as she stood up and went to sit next to Emma on the bed. While Emma’s revelation hadn’t exactly made things less complicated between them, Regina was reassured by it. Hearing that her presence simultaneously reminded Emma of her heartbreak and soothed her from it made her behavior make a lot more sense. And also helped Regina put her finger on the electric charge that seemed to spark through the air between them sometimes, and then disappear as soon as she noticed it.

“I’m glad you told me all of this, Emma,” she said softly. “And speaking of tonight, I have a favor to ask you. A very big favor, in fact.”

“Anything. Name it.”

“You might want to hear what it is first, dear.”

Emma smiled at her, and Regina felt a funny kind of fluttering in her stomach that she knew had nothing to do with her nerves about this showdown with her sister.

“I want you to hold on to my heart,” she said.

Emma stared at her. “What?”

“My heart. It’s a bad idea for me to walk into this fight tonight with my heart still in my chest. Zelena could get to it and control me, and that would make everything so much worse. So …”

Regina took a deep breath and plunged her hand into her own chest. She’d done this so many times, it no longer really bothered her, despite the physical pain it caused every time. She pulled out her heart, blackened but still beating red at its core, and held it out to Emma.

“Will you keep this safe for me?”

Emma’s breath hitched as she stared at her. Regina had been intending to ask this of her before their talk, and even given what she’s found out, she was completely sure it was the right decision. For all that she had mistrusted Emma for a long time, she had also seen how fiercely the woman would fight for someone who had placed their faith in her. Emma would take care of her when asked.

“Regina,” Emma whispered. “You’d trust me with … your heart? Literally?”

Regina nodded, holding it out to her. Emma took it gingerly, and looked around for something to put it in. She located a small cloth bag and carefully tipped the heart inside before wrapping the bag in a scarf and putting it in the drawer next to the bed. Regina smiled at her, and closed her eyes to conjure a protection spell around the drawer, sealing it closed.

“Thank you,” she said to Emma.

Sensing that they were both ready to go and try to make sense of the past half hour, Regina went to the chair to grab her coat.

“Well,” she said, her voice losing its soft edges and returning to the usual state of “confidence and bravado,” as Emma had put it, “I should go prepare to destroy my sister. I trust you’ll make the necessary arrangements to keep everyone else out of harm’s way?”

“Yeah. Yes. I’ll make sure the street is clear.” Emma cleared her throat, and Regina tried not to smile at her futile attempts to look unperturbed. “Good luck.”

“Thank you Miss … Emma,” Regina corrected herself. “I’ll come back for that” she tilted her head towards the bedside table where her heart was nestled, “in the morning.”

Chapter Text

The panic that threatened to set in as Emma watched Zelena fling Regina through the air was tempered only by her knowledge that Regina’s heart was still sitting safe in her room, and not anywhere it could be taken and used against them. Still, Emma couldn’t tamp down the rush of adrenaline that surged when Regina went through the clocktower glass, so she took off at a sprint, David and Mary Margaret following behind as fast as they could. By the time she reached Regina, Zelena was gone.

Regina was sprawled face down on the ground, and for one horrifying moment Emma wondered if she was dead. But then she turned her head, a grimace of pain on her face, and Emma let out her breath.

“Are you OK?” she asked as she knelt tentatively next to the woman, noticing how small she looked in this moment.

“I’m alive,” Regina rasped, and then gasped in pain as she tried to move. “I think my ribs are broken. Quite a number of them, in fact.”

“What can I do?” Emma asked.

“I need your … help to … heal me,” Regina managed to say between groans. Emma had never seen her so vulnerable, and it terrified her. Then she processed what Regina had said, and backed up a couple of feet.

“I don’t know how to do that,” she said quickly. There was no way she was going to try to heal Regina’s ribs and end up turning her bones into mush or something.

“I don’t need you to … just … give me your hand.”

Emma bit her lip and considered refusing, but instead she took a deep breath and inched forward until she was sitting next to Regina, who still hadn’t moved from the spot where she lay.

“What do I need to do?” Emma asked, trying to sound confident.

“Let me use … your magic.”

Regina tried to raise her arm to take Emma’s hand, but dropped it with a cry of pain that pierced through Emma’s anxiety and spurred her into action. She put one hand gingerly on Regina’s back, taking care not to press down too hard, and slipped her other hand into Regina’s upturned palm. Regina nodded. Emma closed her eyes and concentrated on bringing up that fizzy feeling she’d come to associate with her magic. When she thought she had it, she opened her eyes slowly. She was pleased to see a faint glow emanating from their joined hands. Regina caught her eye and nodded once. Emma hoped she had interpreted that look right as she began to pass her free hand over Regina’s broken ribs. Regina let out a cry, and Emma pulled her hand back immediately, apologizing quickly.

“No, Emma. Keep going.” Regina closed her eyes against the pain, and Emma willed herself to keep the magical connection going as she went back to moving her palm softly over the injured bones. Regina cried out a couple more times, but slowly her breathing returned to normal, and after a few more passes of their combined magic, she squeezed Emma’s hand and let go. Emma helped her to sit up, moving her back so she could lean against the wall.

“It worked?” she asked, eyes wide with concern.

“No, Miss Swan, it didn’t work. I just spontaneously got better all on my own,” Regina deadpanned.

Emma grinned. That’s the Regina she knew.

“So, what happened?” David asked from behind them. Emma glanced around. She had completely forgotten her parents were here, too. She’d been so consumed with concern she had blocked everything else out.

“Well, it’s a good thing I thought to leave my heart in safe keeping,” Regina said with a glance up at Emma.

“She tried to take it?” Mary Margaret asked.

“I think that was the whole point of this, actually. She wanted my heart.” Emma watched as Regina’s eyes closed slowly and then opened, a new look of understanding in them.

“She’s collecting ingredients,” she said.

“Ingredients?” David repeated.

“For a spell. She wanted your courage, and my heart, and who knows what else she already has. We have to find out what she’s trying to do.” She tried to stand up, but faltered, and Emma instinctively reached out to steady her. Surprisingly, instead of snapping at her to keep her hands to herself, Regina leaned into her arms as she got her bearings.

Mary Margaret came up to hold onto her other arm. “Regina, I think you’d better rest first before you go off trying to figure out what she’s doing.”

“I’m fine,” Regina snapped, but even her tone sounded lackluster and held none of its usual bite.

“You’re not fine, Regina,” Emma said. “Your ribs may be healed, but I bet you’re going to be all kinds of sore in about two hours. Let us help you.”

Regina tried to shake off the two sets of hands on her, but as she did, she lost her balance again. Emma and Mary Margaret caught her, and Emma noticed how tenderly they both held onto her. Things certainly had changed, hadn’t they?

“Alright, I admit I am a little off balance, and would appreciate assistance to get home.”

That was as good as it was going to get, Emma knew. So she wrapped an arm around Regina’s waist, holding most of her weight. Mary Margaret held her other elbow, and David hurried in front of them to open the door and make sure they didn’t fall on the stairs.

 

***

 

When they had gotten Regina into her living room and settled comfortably on her couch, Mary Margaret went looking for a blanket, while David went to the kitchen to heat up some water for tea. Emma sat at the end of the couch and tried not to stare as Regina’s eyes closed. She was so unguarded in this moment, and Emma found that she loved getting to see the woman that she knew was behind Regina’s mask. She sighed as she realized that she should stop lying to herself. From the moment she’d come back, she had known that what she felt for Regina was, well, attraction. Desire, for sure, but also something else that might be affection. She wasn’t lying when she told Regina she’d been acting weird because she reminded her of Clara, but really the problem was that she had understood that it had been Regina she wanted all along.

Mary Margaret came back with a blanket, and when Regina didn’t open her eyes as it was being draped over her, Emma turned to her mom.

“I’m going to stay here with her. I want to make sure she’s OK.”

Mary Margaret nodded, and Emma tried not to notice the look of understanding that passed over her face. Instead she kicked off her boots and curled up under the end of the blanket.

“Will you look in on Henry?” she asked as her dad came back with a mug of tea that was now, apparently, hers. “He can stay with you, or in the room. He should be fine at Granny’s as long as you tell her he’s there.”

“Of course, honey,” Mary Margaret said, leaning over to kiss Emma’s forehead. “What should I tell him you’re doing?”

Emma shrugged. “You can mostly tell him the truth. Tell him Regina had an accident and I’m staying over to make sure she’s alright.”

“Call if you need anything,” David said as they walked out.

When the door was closed, Emma looked around the sparsely decorated room. It was so austere, so calculated to feel imposing, much like Regina herself. Emma looked back to the woman sleeping soundly next to her, and her peaceful face reminded Emma of the person she knew was behind the facade. She wasn’t going to kid herself, though - she assumed Regina would be livid when she woke up and realized Emma was here. But Emma couldn’t bring herself to care. She would deal with that in the morning. For now, she would doze next to this woman who had somehow become incredibly important to her, making sure she made it safely through the night.

Chapter Text

Zelena had her heart. Regina knew it wasn’t Emma’s fault, not really. But she couldn’t help but get angry when Emma called her in a panic to tell her she’d failed at this most important task. And if she was honest with herself, Regina had been looking for reason to get angry at Emma. Ever since her revelation the night of the fight with Zelena, Emma had given up trying to stay away from her, and instead seemed to act like she didn’t care who knew that she was pining after Regina. OK, maybe pining was a little strong, but she caught Emma gazing at her with this soft look in her eyes all the time. Regina thought of what she had said about Clara that night - “you remind me of her, or I guess she must have reminded me of you, but I didn’t know it at the time.” Regina suspected that Emma had fully embraced the latter and decided that Regina, the woman who had literally tried to kill her when they met, was the real object of her affections.

It was infuriating, really. What business did she have having feelings for Regina? And showing them, no less? Sure, Regina enjoyed Emma’s company at times; nobody else seemed to rise to the challenge of bantering with her, and it was refreshing. But this was too much. Emma kept trying to insert herself into her life, and not just because she was creating excuses for her to see Henry anymore, either.

Regina sighed. Henry. Somehow having him here but unable to remember her was worse than knowing she’d never see him again. At least then she could comfort herself with his last look of love as they drove away across the town line. Now his face only registered mild interest at best when she saw him, and that was rapidly replacing the picture she had etched in her mind of that moment.

 

Well. It was time to stop dawdling and get over to Granny’s. She was supposed to meet with the Charmings, Emma, and Hook to figure out what to do about Zelena. When she walked in, Emma’s smile practically lit up the room, and Regina very carefully found a seat as far away from her as possible. She watched as Mary Margaret eyed Emma’s reaction, willing her to keep her mouth shut for once. Regina knew it was obvious, but she really didn’t want to have this conversation with anyone right now, least of all Emma and her parents.

“Well? Can we get started?” she prompted, partly to head off any more awkwardness.

“We’re waiting for Hook,” David replied.

Regina rolled her eyes. “I’m surprised he’s not here. Wherever Emma goes, he’s usually just a pace or two behind.”

The satisfaction of seeing the glare this earned her from Emma almost cancelled out the discomfort from the earlier beaming smile.

“Let’s just get started,” Mary Margaret cut in, clearly wanting to stop Emma from responding to that. “Any ideas?”

Regina took the lead on recapping: “Well, we know Zelena is collecting ingredients for some kind of spell. And it’s probably not something we want her to succeed in. So we need to figure out what it is, so we can stop her.”

“One thing doesn’t add up, though,” Emma replied.

“What’s that?” said Regina.

“Storybrooke. Why go through the trouble of casting the curse to get us here just to cast another spell or curse or something?”

“Maybe there’s something here that she needs,” Mary Margaret offered.

“Or maybe…” David said slowly, thinking this through, “we already know how to defeat her, and she had to curse us here to wipe our memories.”

“Yes!” said Mary Margaret. “That makes sense. And if we can get our memories back, we may already know how to stop her.”

“What I’d really like to know,” said Regina, “is how she cast the curse in the first place. You have to sacrifice the heart of the thing you love most to cast it, and from what I can tell, Zelena doesn’t love much.”

“Everybody loves something, or someone,” Emma said, for once not looking at Regina as she spoke. “Even you.”

Regina knew she was referring to how she had cast the curse in the first place, but she heard how softly Emma said it, and closed her eyes for a moment against the fear and anger and … something else that rose in her.

Luckily David saved her from having to respond to that by asking, “So how do we get our memories back?”

“We’d have to break the curse,” Regina replied.

“Well good thing we have a savior,” Mary Margaret said, gazing at Emma. Regina barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes at this, and then only because Emma was once again looking right at her.

But when her mother spoke up, Emma pointed out, “While I’d love to, the last time all it took was me believing in magic and kissing Henry, and I’ve done both since I got back, but the curse is still here.”

“Henry,” Regina whispered. “That’s it! It’s about belief. But this time, it’s Henry that has to believe. It has to be. He’s the only one that doesn’t.”

Thankfully Mary Margaret and David agreed and went about strategizing how to make that happen. But Regina watched Emma out of the corner of her eye. She was unusually quiet, which was always a bad sign. Mary Margaret wanted to find the storybook that had started things last time, and suggested they look in her closet, where it had showed up before. So Regina found herself once again sitting on the edge of a bed with Emma, this time looking through boxes and bags and decidedly not looking at each other.

It was Mary Margaret who eventually found the book, and joy spread across the land as hope was restored by the power of Snow White’s wooden box. Regina caught herself from saying that one out loud, but barely. She may have come to a kind of peace with Mary Margaret, but the infuriatingly positive Snow White still peeked out at times, and the only way to keep down the real rage that bubbled up in her was to turn it into snark. And to keep even that quiet as much as she could.

Emma said she wanted a bit to think about the best way to introduce the idea of magic to Henry, and Regina took the opportunity to corner her as soon as they’d left the loft.

“What is it?” she asked pointedly, standing with her arms crossed in what she hoped was an authoritative way.

“What is what?” was Emma’s predictable response.

“Something’s bothering you. What is it?”

“Nothing’s bothering me, Regina. Other than you, right now.”

“Oh ha ha. Out with it, Swan. You were entirely too quiet in there.”

Emma looked down, and Regina knew she had her. Emma was right about one thing - Regina could read her like, well, a book.

“There’s a part of me that wishes Henry could just be a normal kid, instead of getting involved in all of this … fairytale stuff again.”

“Excuse me?” Regina tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but she knew she’d failed when Emma winced. “Need I remind you that all this ‘fairytale stuff’ includes his mother? Other mother, I mean. Not to mention his grandparents! Why would you want to keep him from his family?”

“I don’t! Not really. I just wish we could have our family without things just going back to the way things were.”

Regina was about to question what in the hell that meant, when Emma’s phone rang, followed three seconds later by hers. She had barely answered when Emma was grabbing her arm and running down the stairs. She vaguely heard Belle’s voice telling her to get down to the docks, but it didn’t take long to put together Emma’s panic with Belle’s warning to understand that Henry was in danger.

“Emma!” she shouted, coming to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. “Stop! I’ll get us there.”

She felt Emma’s grip tighten as she engulfed them in her magic, appearing at the docks just in time to see a flying monkey swoop towards the boat house. Regina’s stomach dropped. Was Henry in there? She dashed towards the back door, but felt Emma grab her just before she burst in. Regina whipped her head around to snap at her, but Emma put a finger to her lips, indicating that they should enter quietly. She was right, of course, and Regina let her take the lead.

Emma listened in for a moment, then eased the door open. The scene inside had both of them abandoning any caution and running towards their son, who was huddled on the ground. Hook and Smee were trying to beat off a flying monkey, and while they were having some success with one, there were three more that had just entered.

Regina conjured a fireball and flung it at the monkey closest to them. It backed away for a moment, then turned and swooped in towards her. Good. Let it try to get close to her and leave Henry alone. Emma slipped through the chaos to get to Henry, while Regina hurled fireball after fireball at the flying pests. She heard the boat house door open again, and David entered with Robin Hood and a few Merry Men. She nodded to them, and together they were able to drive the monkeys back.

All of a sudden, though, everything stopped. The monkeys stood down, and Regina’s heart sank as she saw her sister materialize in front of Emma and Henry.

“Stop!” Emma shouted, one hand around Henry’s shoulders, the other one out towards Zelena.

“And what do you think you’re going to do to me, hmm? Without your magic, you’re no threat.”

At that, Emma sent a burst of light arching through the air towards Zelena, who easily evaded it, but looked surprised nonetheless.

“Well, well, well. You failed me, Captain,” she said dryly, turning to Hook.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Emma shouted. Regina inched closer to them while Zelena was paying attention to something else, hoping to get close enough to touch Emma. Neither of them was strong enough to match Zelena’s magic - her broken ribs were proof of that. But together, they might have a chance. They needed to be in contact for it to work, though.

Zelena flicked her wrist, lifting Hook into the air and flying him towards her. When he was close enough, she grabbed his chin with her hand.

“You were supposed to kiss her and take away her magic,” she snarled.

Emma muttered, “If that was your plan, you should’ve used someone I actually wanted to kiss.”

Regina raised her eyebrows at the implication, but she must have also made a noise, because suddenly Zelena dropped Hook on the ground and turned on her instead.

“Don’t take another step, Regina.”

Before Regina could react, Zelena’s magic had her frozen to the spot. She looked at Emma, pleading with her to try something - anything. Emma raised her hand to do just that, but at that moment, Zelena flicked her wrist again and Henry disappeared from Emma’s arms and reappeared in Zelena’s.

“NO!” Emma screamed.

“Yes,” teased Zelena. “You have a choice. Either you walk over there and kiss the Captain, or your little brat won’t live to see another day.”

Emma hurled a burst of magic at her, and while it seemed to actually hurt her this time, Zelena didn’t let go of Henry. Regina willed her to try again, which she did, but to no avail. Emma looked right at her, fear written on her face. Regina couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t help at all. But she tried to pour every ounce of herself into her gaze: save Henry. They could figure the rest out later. Save our son!

Whether Emma understood, or had simply made the same choice, she put up both hands in surrender.

“OK!” she said. “OK. I’ll do what you want. Just let my son go.”

“Kiss him first,” Zelena snapped.

Emma crept over to Hook, who had gotten himself back up eventually. She glanced back at Regina once, then over at Henry, and finally leaned up and placed a quick kiss on Hook’s lips. A burst of green light corresponded with a wicked cackle from Zelena. Emma staggered back, a hand to her lips. She strode over to Zelena and held out her hand.

“Give me back my son.”

Regina felt a chill shiver down her spine at Emma’s tone. She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard her be so firm and clear. It was … incredible was the only word that came to mind.

Zelena smirked, but let go of Henry. “Well then, savior. That wasn’t that hard, was it?”

She disappeared in a whirl of green smoke, and Regina was finally released from her spell. She ran towards Emma and Henry, who had a wild look in his eyes.

“Mom! What is going on? What just happened? I don’t … I don’t understand.”

Emma pushed his hair out of his face. “I know, kid. I’m sorry. You will in a moment.”

She turned to Regina. “Can you get the book?”

Regina didn’t bother responding, just waved her hand and made the book appear in it. She gave it to Emma.

“Do you trust me, Henry?” she asked.

He looked worried, but nodded.

“Then I need you to believe.”

“In what?”

“In magic.”

With that, she gave him the book. He tentatively took it in his hands, and Regina’s heart leapt as understanding blossomed on his face. He looked up at Emma, then over at her, and for the first time, recognition showed in his eyes.

“Mom!” he said as he ran into her arms. She wrapped her arms around him, noticing now that she was finally hugging him how much he’d grown in the last year.

“Henry,” she whispered through her tears. “I missed you so much. I love you.” She leaned down and placed a kiss on his forehead. Immediately, she felt the magic shift, and out of the corner of her eye she saw a wave of light magic burst forth from them. As it did, memories came rushing back in.

She gasped.

“Regina?” Emma asked, putting a hand on her arm.

“The curse. I think … I think I broke it.”

Chapter Text

Of course light magic was the only way to defeat Zelena. Of course Emma was the only one with light magic. And of course she’d fucking caved and given it away. Emma huffed out a sigh and huddled farther down into her jacket. After things had calmed down and they’d all had a chance to compare notes, she’d needed to take a walk. Her parents had cast the curse to get back to her, and despite everything they’d done, Zelena had gotten the upper hand yet again. Not only that, but she was after her parents’ baby for her time travel spell. She kicked at some rocks and groaned out loud. Why was everything so fucking hard? Part of her wished she’d just stayed in New York where there were no curses, no Wicked Witches … but also no parents, not many friends, and no Regina.

Regina, who was clearly annoyed by her attentions, but who also sometimes looked at her like she was trying to memorize every detail of her face. Emma really didn’t know where she stood with Regina at the moment, but she also knew that now was not the time to push things. They needed to find a way to get her magic back, or …

Emma stopped in the middle of the road. Regina. Regina had broken the curse. That was light magic! She pulled out her phone to call Regina, but as soon as she picked it up, it rang. It was David - Mary Margaret had just gone into labor. Showtime.

 

***

 

When Emma got to the hospital, things were in absolute chaos. The Merry Men were setting up a perimeter around the maternity ward, nurses were running back and forth trying to make sure everything was as secure as possible, and in the middle of it, Regina was standing quietly with an arm around Henry, looking pensive and clenching and unchlenching her hands.

Emma gratefully accepted the hug that Henry offered when he saw her, and she met Regina’s eye over his head. She saw her own worry reflected back at her.

“Regina,” she said, untangling herself from her son and leading him over so they could talk quietly amidst the hubbub of the hospital. “Can you use light magic?”

Regina raised her eyebrows. “Henry and I were just talking about that. I guess you came to the same conclusion as he did.”

“And it’s the right conclusion. Breaking the curse was light magic. You have it in you. You have to try.”

Regina nodded, but Emma saw the fear beneath her determination. She put a hand gently on her arm.

“I know you can do this, Regina. Light magic is just love. And I know you love our son more than anything else in the world.”

Regina looked down at Henry, who beamed up at her, and Emma saw a small smile curl onto her lips. For the first time that day, Emma allowed herself to hope. She did believe in Regina, but she’d also seen what Zelena could do. But if Regina could tap into the deep well of love and fierce determination Emma knew was in there and conjure some light magic, they just might have a chance.

Regina brought her hand up to meet Emma’s, which was still resting on her arm. She took her fingers and squeezed them briefly.

“I would have done the same thing,” Regina said quietly, pulling Henry closer to her. Emma knew she meant saving Henry at the cost of her magic. She nodded, not trusting herself to say anything as the emotions welled up in her.

A groaning cry pierced the air, and all three of them turned towards the room where Mary Margaret and David were. After a few more, another, high pitched wail joined it, and Emma grinned. The baby was here. But the delight of new life wore off quickly as the lights started to flicker, and the door to the ward banged open. Zelena stood framed in the doorway, flanked by Gold.

“Henry. Go hide,” Emma directed, pushing him down the hallway in the other direction. He took off running, looking back over his shoulder at his two moms standing there.

“Emma. You need to go, too.” Regina said, not taking her eyes off her sister.

“No way, Regina. I’m not leaving you here alone.”

“Emma, you don’t have magic and I don’t want you to get hurt. Go.”

Emma hesitated, but Regina was right. She was defenseless, and couldn’t help. She could do more by staying safe and being around to pick up the pieces of whatever went down. So she gave Regina’s arm another squeeze before running down the hallway after Henry. She got halfway there before Zelena’s magic stopped her in her tracks. She was dragged back and turned around, unable to speak or move.

“Running away, are you? How un-Savior-like,” Zelena practically oozed scorn as she strode towards Regina, who, to her credit, was standing her ground.

“This is between us, sis,” barked Regina. “Leave Emma out of it.”

“Oh, look who finally decided to admit her feelings.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Zelena sauntered over to Emma and raked a finger down her face. If Emma had been able to move she would have shuddered, or tried to bite her.

“It means, dear sister,” Zelena answered, “that I saw that look between you two. And Emma said it herself - I should have enchanted your lips if I’d wanted her magic taken away. Would have happened a whole lot faster, I’d say.”

Regina stared at her for a second, but snapped out of it to spit back: “You don’t know what you’re talking about Greenie.”

“Don’t I? Well then, you won’t mind if I just -” she gestured towards Emma, but Regina reacted faster, sending a burst of magic towards her sister. Zelena waved it away, laughing unkindly.

“Thought so. Now, your girlfriend gets to watch you fail.”

And with that, she brought both of them into the hospital room where Mary Margaret and David were huddled together with their newborn. Emma was still immobilized, and she could see that everyone else was too. Zelena easily leaned over and scooped the baby out of Mary Margaret’s arms.

“There, there, little one. Don’t cry. Auntie Zelena has big plans for you.”

She disappeared in a swirl of green smoke, leaving everyone to stumble around in confusion as their magical binds were released. Mary Margaret was crying, David had grabbed his sword, and Regina was standing there looking like she was ready to eviscerate someone.

“Dad -” Emma started, but he just brushed past her. “Dad!” she yelled, making him turn around.

“I’m getting him back. Are you coming?” Emma had never heard his voice so steely.

“Yes,” she said, pulling her gun out of her belt. If she couldn’t shoot Zelena, she could at least take care of any flying monkeys they encountered. She turned to Regina.

“Ready?”

 

Regina hesitated for a moment, nodded once, and engulfed all three of them in her magic. How she knew where Zelena would be was a mystery to Emma, but the vibration and light emanating from the abandoned barn they landed next to told her they were in the right place. She crept up to the door, and the sight in front of her made her heart beat wildly in her chest. Zelena and Gold were standing in the center of an intricate pattern carved into the dirt, and there were objects stationed at four corners. No, Emma realized with a jolt, not just objects. Her baby brother was one, and Regina’s heart was another.

She glanced over to her father and Regina, whose expressions seemed to match her own.

“Dad, go get the baby,” she whispered. “Regina and I will try to distract them.”

He nodded and slipped into the shadows, inching around as quickly as he dared. Emma looked at Regina.

“OK. You ready to try some light magic?” she asked.

Regina looked like she was going to be sick, but she nodded and stepped into the barn. Immediately, her bravado took over, and Emma had to shake herself to stop staring at the incredible transformation Regina had enacted from one moment to the next.

“Zelena,” Regina’s voice rang out, clear and calm. Zelena turned to face her, surprise melting easily into a smirk.

“Back for more, sis?” she asked coldly.

“I’m here to stop you,” Regina answered.

Now that Regina had Zelena’s attention, Emma began to creep to the other side of the barn from her father, both to try to get close to Regina’s heart, and to distract Gold from seeing David. It worked, and Gold advanced on her. She heard Regina and Zelena trading insults, but didn’t bother focusing in on what they were saying.

“Gold,” she pleaded. “You don’t have to do this. You can fight it.”

He swiped his arm, and Emma went flying. As she picked herself up from the ground, she realized that that hurt a lot more when she didn’t have magic coursing through her veins. She’d had no idea that her magic protected her like that, but apparently it did. She stifled a groan at the pain and glanced over at David. The monkeys had found him. She ran around the perimeter to try to get to him, but Gold once again sideswiped her. This time when she landed, she could feel her head crack on the ground, and when she again tried to get up, the world swam in front of her eyes. She dropped back to the ground and tried to breathe deeply while the chaos continued around her.

“Emma!”

She opened her eyes slowly to identify the voice calling her name. It was David, from across the way, trying to get her attention to help him fight off the monkeys. Emma set her jaw, and by sheer force of will hoisted herself to her feet. She swayed, but got her balance back, and set off towards him once again.

As her head cleared a little more, she finally realized that she no longer heard Regina’s voice, and when she glanced around to see what was happening, her heart nearly stopped. Zelena had Regina in a magical hold by the throat, and Regina was kicking around, her magic sparking ineffectually from her hands.

“Regina!” Emma screamed.

Regina’s eyes darted over to her, their gazes locking for a moment.

“Fight it,” Emma whispered, unsure of how to help.

She saw something shift in Regina’s eyes, and then her hands began to glow with a warm bright light. She looked back at Zelena, the light intensifying and beginning to pulse. Suddenly Zelena screamed, dropping Regina to the ground as she broke the magical connection. Everything got very still as Gold and the monkeys broke off their attack. Emma darted over to check on Regina, but she held up a hand and got up.

“What the hell was that?” Zelena spat.

“Light magic, dear,” Regina replied calmly, walking towards her.

“WHAT? That’s not possible.”

“Oh, it is, sis. I learned it. I learned to love, and with love comes light magic.” She glanced at Emma, who very nearly fainted from the intensity in her eyes.

“Now,” Regina said as she waved her hand and the magic-restraint cuff appeared. She grabbed Zelena’s wrist and slipped the cuff onto her. “You’re going to hand over the dagger to Miss Swan here, and then you are going to have a little chat with me from inside a jail cell.”

Zelena reluctantly held out the dagger, which Emma hastily took and tucked away inside her jacket. Regina and Zelena disappeared in a swirl of purple smoke. Emma ran to where her father had just scooped up the baby.

“Is he OK, Dad?” she asked breathlessly. David had peeled back the blanket and was inspecting his son, who was awake but quiet.

“I think so,” he answered finally. Emma breathed a sigh of relief. “Come on,” he said, walking away with purpose, “let’s get back to the hospital.”

Emma followed for three steps before she remembered the other precious item Zelena had collected. She darted back and picked up the little cloth bag she’d put Regina’s heart in a few days ago. She ran to catch up with her father, holding the heart as carefully as she could - she wasn’t about to let it go again.

Chapter Text

Despite having seen the tape of the incident with her own eyes, Regina couldn’t quite believe that Zelena had done herself in. Someone with that much drive, that much … intensity just didn’t seem like the type to give up because she was stuck in a jail cell. Yes, she was powerless, but somehow Regina had expected to find Zelena had a few more tricks up her sleeve before all was said and done. Of course she assumed that Rumple had done something to facilitate her demise, but right now she just didn’t have the energy to confront him about it.

    If there were any confrontations that were going to happen, it needed to be with Emma. And Regina was dragging her heels on that one. She knew exactly what had happened during the fight with Zelena in the barn that day: the sight of Emma had awakened her light magic. And Regina knew that light magic, especially hers, which was buried deep beneath layers of training and years of letting the darkness rule her, could only be coaxed out by something strong enough to cut through all of that. Love. It could only be accessed by letting love into her heart in a very deep way. And as much as she rationalized it away, she knew at some point she’d have to face why Emma had inspired such strong feelings in her. At first she thought it was what Emma had said to her at the hospital - that she loved Henry more than any else in the world. And maybe looking at Emma reminded her of that. But Henry was there, and while thinking about him and wanting to protect him got her magic to rise, it wasn’t until she saw Emma’s eyes filled with concern for her that she’d been able to stabilize it enough to use it. And that was a problem.

    At the moment she found herself nursing her second glass of wine at Granny’s, trying desperately to look like she belonged there while the townspeople congratulated each other on defeating the Wicked Witch. Never mind that most of them had cowered in their homes while she put her life on the line. Never mind that they had no doubt held a similar celebration when they won some victory against Regina herself. And never mind that Emma kept glancing over at her, even as the pirate tried his best to hold her attention. Regina smiled as best she could, chatted with Henry every time he drifted back around to her, and tried to act natural. She appreciated when Robin Hood came over to talk about his son, since the joys and challenges of parenting an energetic young boy was a conversation she could actually contribute to. But when Emma sidled over to her and asked if she’d like to take a walk, she happily agreed. As much as she was dreading talking about whatever it was that she was feeling, she did in fact enjoy Emma’s company much more than that of most people in town.

    As soon as they left the noisy diner for the relative calm of the cool evening, Regina felt her shoulders relax. Emma saw her take a deep breath and chuckled.

“Not into victory parties?” Emma asked with a smile.

Regina shook her head and flexed her fingers, trying to ease the panic that was rising the further they got from the diner. The initial quiet had been soothing, but now there was nothing in between her and the conversation she really didn’t want to have.

Emma’s smile dimmed as she watched Regina’s face. Regina looked down. She hated how well Emma knew her. She couldn’t hide anything from her, and at times like this it was intensely frustrating.

“So … can we talk? About whatever is going on between us?” Emma asked as she turned them towards the moonlit park.

Regina sighed. “You don’t beat around the bush, do you, Miss Swan?”

Emma laughed. “Except when I’m refusing to tell you something for weeks on end. Which is it, Regina? Am I too forward or too cagey?”

Regina rolled her eyes before she could stop herself. Emma had a point, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

“So?” Emma prompted. “Want to tell me what’s going on?”

“No,” Regina said immediately, but she glanced up at Emma with enough of a smirk that Emma smiled at her. She sighed again. “But I guess since we’re here we might as well talk.”

“Do you want to start?”

“Absolutely not.”

Emma laughed, and Regina allowed herself a small smile.

“Alright then.” Regina was relieved to see that Emma was fidgeting with her hands. Not that she wanted her to be nervous, but it was better to think they both were. And as that thought crossed her mind, she closed her eyes and shook her head a little as she realized she liked the idea of them being in this together. Damnit. Denial had been working so well...

Emma stopped walking, and turned towards her. She put out a hand and squeezed Regina’s shoulder for a moment before she dropped it, starting to fidget again.

“I think you know how I feel about you, Regina,” she said finally. “I realize I haven’t exactly been subtle lately.”

Regina let out a huff to let her know how true that was.

“I just … at some point I realized that as much as I thought my heartbreak back in New York was about Clara, some part of me knew it wasn’t just her. It was also about losing you. It’s always been …”

Emma stopped talking in the middle of the sentence, her eyes widening in fear.

“What the hell is that?” Emma breathed.

Regina looked behind her, confused, to see what had made Emma stop so abruptly, and in the middle of something that had been heading in a pretty intense direction, no less.

But all thoughts of her feelings were immediately pushed aside as she saw the column of bright yellow fire shooting up above the trees to the west.

“Shit,” Regina swore under her breath. “It’s Zelena’s time travel spell.”

“What?!”

But Regina didn’t give Emma a chance to finish her thought. She engulfed both of them in her magic and deposited them next to the barn where they’d been just a few short days before. The two women looked at each other in horror as they felt the power emanating from the center of the spell.

“How do we stop it?” Emma yelled above the din it was making.

“I don’t know!” Regina yelled back. No one had ever succeeded in creating this spell. She barely understood how it worked, let alone how to stop it. Really they should go get Rumple. If anyone could fix this, it would be him.

Regina was about to wave her hand and get them back to the center of town when the flames burst through the barn door, the percussive force knocking them both flat on the ground. Before she could get up, Regina watched in horror as Emma’s leg got caught in the magical undertow, and she was dragged in towards the center of the spell.

“Emma!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet. She made a grab for Emma’s hand, but only managed to get pulled down to the ground herself. The next few moments were an absolute blur of light and sound and screaming, and the next thing she knew she had landed flat on her back on the damp ground.

She couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t she breathe? She felt herself starting to panic, and she flailed her arms out to the sides. When they connected with another body, she whipped her head around to see Emma dragging herself up off the ground. Regina made a grab for her arm to get her attention. Emma looked up, saw her panicking, and rushed over to her side. Regina tried to breathe again, but all that came out was a tiny rasp. Emma quickly took inventory and seemed to figure out what had happened.

“You’re OK,” she said calmly, putting her hand onto Regina’s stomach. “You got the wind knocked out of you. Try to breathe into my hand.”

Regina concentrated on the pressure on her abdomen and forced her breath down into her belly. It worked, and she began to pull oxygen into her lungs again. After a couple of gasps, she was able to get herself under control again. She nodded, covering Emma’s hand on her stomach for a moment before sitting up.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, a little banged up, but I’m OK,” Emma responded. “Did you hurt anything else?”

Regina moved her body a bit. “No, I’m fine.”

She looked around, finally taking stock of the situation.

“We’re in the Enchanted Forest,” she said dully.

Emma nodded and stood up. She walked over to a tree and ripped down a piece of paper. She shoved it into Regina’s hands.

“And we went back in time.”

Regina looked down at the paper and felt sick. Snow White’s face was staring up at her with the words “Wanted” plastered across it. They’d gone back to her reign as the Evil Queen.

Chapter Text

For about two seconds, Emma told herself to remain calm. They’d been through all kinds of terrible things and gotten out of them. Time travel? Sure, they’d find a way home. But no, as soon as her mind caught up with the phrase “time travel” she was freaking out. But Regina was freaking out, and one of them needed to get it together and come up with a plan. Emma walked a couple of steps away from Regina, who was still sitting on the ground staring at the Wanted poster. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to get herself to think rationally. But really all that was coming up were panicked references to Back to the Future and the odd Star Trek episode she’d caught growing up, and none of that was helping.

“Emma?” Regina’s voice sounded pinched.

Emma willed herself to appear calm as she turned around, but no sooner had she opened her mouth to say something, than the sound of horses running full tilt down the road reached her ears.

“Shit! We need to hide!” She dragged Regina up by the arm and the two of them crashed off into the bushes. Emma ducked behind a tree, and pushed Regina to the one next to it. She peered out and could just make out a carriage slowing to a stop on the road. She craned her head and saw that there was a log blocking their path. The door opened, and Emma audibly gasped as her father came striding out.

“Shhh!” Regina cautioned.

“It’s my dad,” Emma mouthed back at her, pointing.

Regina crouched low to get a view out to the road, and turned back to Emma with wide eyes. She crept back towards her and stood up, pressing her left shoulder and hip into Emma’s so that they were both obscured behind the tree but were close enough to share a whispered conversation.

“Where are we?” hissed Regina.

“I think you mean when are we,” Emma answered, gazing out at her dad as he inspected the log. Suddenly she had a flash of memory of Henry’s book, and she looked wildly around, trying to catch any movement up in the trees. Sure enough, about 15 feet away, her mother crouched up on a tree branch, waiting to pounce. She knew when in time they were - her parents were about to meet for the first time.

“What are you looking at?” Regina breathed into her ear, and Emma tried really hard not to think about the shiver that ran up her spine as she did. Instead, she just inclined her head up to where Snow was, at this moment, jumping down into the road.

“Is that Snow?” Regina asked.

Emma nodded. “This is how my parents met.”

They watched in silence as the scene played out exactly as it had in Henry’s storybook. Snow stole the pouch that contained Charming’s mother’s ring from inside the carriage, Charming chased after her but returned empty-handed, shouting after her that he would always find her. And eventually they moved the log and he and Kathryn went on their way.

Emma sighed, and wiped at her face as she realized she was crying. She looked sheepishly at Regina.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

But Regina just smiled at her kindly. “It’s quite alright, dear,” she said softly. “I understand. Even if I do find them revolting, they’re your parents and you love them.”

Emma smirked at her.

“It’s cute,” Regina added, making Emma blush furiously.

After ensuring that the coast was clear, they found their own fallen log to sit down on to assess the situation.

“So,” said Emma.

“So,” echoed Regina.

Emma shook her head. “What the hell do we do now?”

Regina looked away as she thought. Emma had no ideas to contribute, so instead her mind wandered to thinking about how crazy it was that they had ended up here and at the exactly moment that her parents met. But wait, what if it wasn’t chance at all that brought them here?

“Do you think Zelena meant for the portal to open up right here?” she asked out loud.

“What was that?” Regina responded, bringing herself back up out of her own thoughts.

“The portal dumped us right here to watch my parents meet. Do you think that was what Zelena wanted?”

“Well,” said Regina slowly, “the whole point of this was to come back and steal my life. But why didn’t she go back to before I was born? Make our mother keep her? Unless…” she trailed off.

Emma waited for a beat before prompting “Unless what?”

“Unless she decided getting revenge on me was better than taking what I had.”

“Okaaaaay,” said Emma. “But why would she want to come here, then?”

Regina looked down. “To stop your parents from meeting.”

“Why would that hurt you?”

“Think about it, Miss Swan: If your parents hadn’t met, you wouldn’t have been born.”

After a moment, Regina hastily added, “and therefore neither would Henry.”

Emma heard the pause, and chose to ignore it. For now. Some perverse part of her brightened at the implication that getting rid of her would hurt Regina, but more of her was now even more worried about their situation.

“So, we could change things? By being here?” she asked.

Regina nodded. “Yes, I think so. We have to get home.”

“But how?”

Regina heaved a sigh. “Rumple,” she said dejectedly.

Emma grimaced. She knew Regina was right, but she also knew that for as nasty as Mr. Gold was, Enchanted Forest Rumplestiltskin was 100 times worse.

“I know,” Regina said, seeing her face. “But I don’t have any idea how to reverse the spell, or recreate it …” she trailed off.

“Recreate it,” she repeated. “That actually could work.” Regina stood up and started pacing. Emma watch her for a moment, bemused at how easily she went into her own head.

“Regina?” she prompted finally, and chuckled when Regina practically jumped, clearly having forgotten that she was talking to another person and not just herself.

“Sorry,” Regina said, sitting back down on the log. “I was thinking it through. There’s a wand I read about - the Black Fairy’s wand. Legend has it that it can recreate any spell that’s been cast. I would bet just about anything that Rumple has it in this land.”

“Alright, so we find Rumple and ask to borrow this wand and go home?”

Regina laughed at that. “No, dear. We find Rumple and offer him something incredibly valuable in exchange for the wand. There is no ‘borrowing’ from the Dark One.”

Emma’s face fell. “Oh. Right.” She looked up at Regina. “Things are going to be really different here, aren’t they?”

Regina looked at her, her eyes completely serious. “Yes. And Emma, I don’t need to tell you that we cannot run into … me. If nothing else, I might recognize you later, and that would throw things off. Besides, you really, really don’t want to meet her.”

Emma saw the pain in Regina’s face as she said this, and took her hand without thinking. When Regina flinched, she quickly withdrew it and looked down, mumbling an apology. Regina sighed and inched closer to her.

“Emma,” she said softly.

Emma looked up, and Regina gave her a sad smile. She looked down and took Emma’s hand, squeezing it once before letting it go. “I’m sorry. I just … being back here…”

“Hey,” Emma interrupted. “It’s OK. I can only imagine how hard this must be for you.” For both of them, but she didn’t need to say that right now.

Regina closed her eyes and squeezed her hands into fists for moment, then let out her breath and looked at Emma with renewed determination.

“Come on, let’s go find Rumple,” she said, standing up.

“How?” asked Emma, joining her.

Regina just looked at her and took a couple of steps backward.

“Rumplestiltskin!” she shouted clearly. “Rumplestiltskin! Rumplestiltskin!”

And just like that, he appeared. Emma tried not the stare, but it was really hard. His skin was this weird scaly greenish-grey color, and he was dressed like, well, a crocodile, really. For the first time she understood Hook’s moniker for the Dark One, and one glance at the manic look in his yellow eyes helped her understand everyone’s absolute terror of this man. Beast. Whatever he was, he was clearly dangerous as hell.

Currently he was stalking in a circle around Regina, glancing at Emma once without interest and turning back to Regina just as quickly as he’d turned away.

“Well well well, dearie. What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now?” he sneered.

His sing-songy voice made Emma’s skin crawl, and she bit back the urge to yell at him to get the hell away from Regina. Regina’s eyes had gone cold, though, and Emma knew better than to interfere when she looked like that. So she just stood to the side and watched the scene unfold, her muscles tensing with every passing moment.

“Hello Rumple,” Regina purred dangerously. Emma hadn’t heard that voice since she’d first come to Storybrooke. She’d forgotten how scary Regina could be when she wanted to be.

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Something’s different about you.” He sniffed the air around her like a dog catching a scent on the wind. “You positively reek of light magic. What have you done?”

“I’m not who you think I am,” Regina replied coolly.

“Oh no?”

“I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say I’m here to offer you a deal.”

He cackled, and Emma fought to stop herself from physically cringing at the sound.

“Oh, goody! I do love a good deal.” He swept in front of Regina and grabbed her chin as he lowered his voice to a dangerous rumble. “But I don’t like being kept in the dark. If you think you can get away without explaining yourself…”

Regina batted his hand away with a derisive laugh. “Of course not. I know you well enough to know that. But let’s just say I want to be assured of our deal before I offer you that explanation you so desperately want.”

“Hmmm. Well, what is it that you want?”

“The black fairy’s wand.”

Rumple stared at her for a second and then began to laugh in great bellowing guffaws.

“The black fairy’s wand? You must think me mad! Why would I ever trust you with that much power?”

“I don’t need to keep it,” Regina snapped. “I just need to use it.”

That stopped him.

“Whatever for?” he asked.

Regina smirked. “That’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

Emma was surprised when Rumple almost looked impressed at this retort. Clearly things between him and Regina had been different back then. Now. Whatever.

“Well then, dearie,” he drawled. “What are you prepared to offer me for this … opportunity?”

Regina looked directly at Emma, and Emma had the sense that she was not going to like whatever was about to come out of her mouth.

“I know how you can get to your son,” Regina said, looking back at him.

Rumple stopped, peering at her.

“And just how would you know that?” he asked.

Regina didn’t answer. After a moment, Rumple’s face shifted to one of understanding.

“You’re from the future,” he said.

Regina shrugged. Emma knew for a fact that if she was having this conversation with Rumple instead of Regina, it would not be going as well. Well, Emma, thought, that’s just one more addition to the list of “why Regina is incredible and makes me feel weak in the knees.” The woman was cool as a cucumber when she needed to be, and knew exactly how to get what she wanted. Emma unconsciously took a couple of steps back to let her work. Rumple whipped his head around at the movement, then scampered up to her. Emma shuddered as he got in her face.

“And just who might you be, hmmm?” he asked. “Wandering around the forest with The Evil Queen?”

“Leave her out of this,” Regina interrupted before Emma could think of a response.

“Oh! Hands off the hand-maiden, eh?” He laughed. “Very well, dearie. You have my attention. If you’re really from the future, than you know what it is I’m looking for.”

“I do indeed,” Regina replied.

“And where, pray tell, might I find it?”

At that, Regina grinned. “I’m going to need some assurances that you’ll follow through on your end of the deal before I tell you that.”

Rumple laughed. “Don’t trust me? Can’t say I blame you. After all, I don’t trust you either. Tell you what. You figure out how to prove to me that you can get me to my son, and I will figure out if I have the object you so desire.”

“The Dark Curse,” Regina said quickly. “That’s what you’re looking for.”

Rumple stared for a moment, and then a malicious grin spread across his face.

“Very well, dearie.”

“The wand?” Regina prompted.

“Ah yes, that. I may have to, er, make a few enquiries before it is available to me. I’ll meet you back here in two days time and we shall complete our deal.”

With that, he disappeared. No smoke, either, which Emma found odd. But frankly it was the least of her worries.

She looked over at Regina, whose shoulders had relaxed from their rigid stance.

“Are you sure about this, Regina?” Emma asked.

“Sure about what?”

“Leading Rumple to the dark curse.”

“No,” Regina replied quietly. “But it’s all I could think of.”

“You didn’t have a plan going into that?” Emma asked.

Regina shook her head, and Emma laughed out loud.

“What?”

“Your confidence could have fooled me. Did, in fact.”

“Well I’m glad to hear it. Because I was, in fact, bluffing.”

Emma let that sink in.

“You don’t know where the curse is, do you?”

“No, I don’t. But we have two days to find out.”

Chapter Text

What Regina really needed to do was sit and think. And Emma kept buzzing around her, asking questions, offering dumb ideas, and generally not giving her a moment’s peace. Eventually, she’d had enough.

“Emma!” she snapped. “Just give me a couple of minutes to think. This is not a situation you run into with your gun drawn and hope you shoot the right person. We need to be strategic, and that is my department. So please. Just let me think.”

Emma looked like she was going to argue for a second, but then she deflated, and walked away without a word. Regina breathed a sigh of relief, which was immediately replaced with regret as she realized that she could have worded that differently. She shook it off, though. There would be plenty of time to soothe Emma’s hurt feelings once they got back to Storybrooke. For now, she needed a plan. A fool-proof plan, given who she was stuck here with.

She tried to remember how Rumple said he acquired the curse in the first place. He was always vague on the details, but she was pretty sure he had found it in a place, rather than taken it from another person. So all she had to do was search out the highest concentration of dark magic she could, and hope it led her to the curse. But to do that, she’d need materials. And the best place to find those was her own castle.

She closed her eyes and thought about what she would have been doing at this time. She had already set out to kill Snow White, but this was before Snow met Charming and became insufferably hopeful and resilient. Regina had certainly taken on the mantle of The Evil Queen at this time, but she had yet to descend to the maddening darkness that led her to cast the Dark Curse. And to be honest, this was probably when she was at her most dangerous. Once she became truly obsessed, she also became single-minded, which left openings. But at this point, she was simple angry and driven, and she knew they had to be careful.

Regina grimaced. She had worked so hard to redeem herself for the terrible things she’d done at this time. To be back here, to be thinking like she had … she needed to keep her mind disciplined so she didn’t slide back into old habits. She glanced over at Emma, who had plopped herself down on the ground, probably brooding over what she’d said to her. If there was one thing that could make all of this go terribly wrong, it was Emma. She was impulsive, and didn’t understand this world, and was… well …incredibly distracting. Regina needed to take charge of the situation, and she needed to do it now.

She stood up and went over to where Emma was now poking at the ground with a stick.

“Decided to end my time out?” Emma asked sarcastically.

Regina rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings earlier, but if we’re going to get out of this, I need to be clear-headed. That means that I need you to follow my lead, and not let anything that you think is going on between us get in the way.”

Emma stood up, her eyes flashing.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean, Regina? I’m not some hormonal teenager that doesn’t know when it’s time to be serious. If you treat me like an equal, maybe I could actually help you.”

“Maybe if you didn’t act like a teenager, I wouldn’t treat you like one,” Regina spat back, and immediately wished she hadn’t as Emma’s anger flared.

“Jesus, Regina! We are trapped in the Enchanted Forest, in the past. Now is not the time to start commenting on my behavior! I gave you space to think. I followed your lead with Rumple. I’m doing what you asked me to do. I don’t know how else I can keep from bothering you!”

Regina bit her lip. Emma was right. She could tell because she could feel the defensive rage that flared up in her chest at Emma’s words. But she took a shuddering breath, willed her hackles to settle, and said slowly, “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

Emma relaxed just a bit, and took a step back. “OK,” she said, rubbing her hand over the back of her neck. “Thank you. Just - let me help, alright? I know I’m out of my element here, but we’re in this together, and that’s how we’re going to get out of it, too.”

Regina felt all the fight go out of her. If she was honest, fighting with Emma felt easier than working together as a team. If they were fighting, she didn’t have to deal with the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm her. Feelings of connection, and a kind of gravitational pull that she had to expend a lot of energy to ignore. But Emma was right - they needed to work together if they were going to get out of this without shattering the timeline or getting trapped here.

She looked up. Emma was staring at her intensely, as if watching this thought process happen. She needed to say something, anything.

“Fine,” she said, much more roughly than she’d intended. She tried again: “Of course we need to work together, Emma. I’m just not very good at that.”

“Tell me about it,” Emma grumbled, but her tone wasn’t unkind.

Regina took a chance, and reached out to grab Emma’s hand. The surprise and relief in Emma’s eyes told her it was the right move. “Look, I’ll promise to let you help and to try not to snap at you if you’ll promise not to run blindly into danger and trust me when I tell you that’s something important.”

Emma rolled her eyes, but she gave Regina a half smile and squeezed her hand. “Deal,” she said.

“Alright,” Regina continued, dropping Emma’s hand. “I think that to find the curse, I need to search for the highest concentration of dark magic, and follow it.”

“How do you do that?” asked Emma.

“Well that’s the hard part. I’ll need some ingredients and something to enchant to lead us to it.”

She looked at Emma suddenly, an idea forming.

“I don’t like that look,” Emma said. “What are you thinking?”

Regina smirked at Emma’s comment. “I think the thing I need to enchant is you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, something of yours. You broke the curse, and your magic is tied up with it as well, so I think I can use you to find it.”

Emma looked down at her feet. “But I don’t have my magic anymore, remember?”

“What are you talking about? Of course you do,” Regina said, genuinely confused.

“Uhhhh… Zelena took it, remember? She had me kiss Hook in exchange for Henry? We both almost died trying to stop her? Is none of this ringing a bell?”

Regina scoffed. “Of course I remember. But when Zelena died, her spells would be broken.” She stopped. “Did you really not get your magic back?”

Emma shook her head glumly.

“Why not?” Regina asked.

“I don’t know, Regina! You’re the magic expert - you tell me.”

Well, that was exactly what she was going to do. Regina grabbed Emma’s hand again and placed it between her own. She heard Emma stifle a gasp, and she smiled. She’d sent a trickle of magic into her hands, and Emma had clearly felt it. That meant her magic wasn’t gone, just dormant. Regina probed her magic deeper into Emma’s palm, and was surprised to find that it was met with clear, strong light magic almost right away. She looked up at Emma.

“Your magic is fine. It rose to meet mine just now,” she said.

Emma stared at her. “What do you mean it rose to meet yours?”

“Didn’t you feel that? That little spark between our hands?”

Emma blushed deeply, and in an instant Regina realized that Emma was mistaking the physical connection of magic between them for something more like sexual tension. Regina was at first amused, then vaguely disappointed. Were Emma’s feelings about her nothing more than displaced magical kinship?

She chided herself silently for letting that be the thing that concerned her. More of a problem was why Emma’s magic was currently inaccessible to her. She dropped her hands away and narrowed her eyes at Emma.

“What happens when you try to use magic?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Emma replied glumly.

“Really? Will you show me?”

Emma sighed and turned around. She raised her hands and flung them away from her, towards the trees. True to her word, nothing happened. Regina didn’t even feel anything in the air. Which, when she thought about it, told her that the problem was Emma accessing her magic, not the magic itself.

“You’re not really trying, are you?” Regina asked.

Emma made a face at her. “Of course I’m trying, Regina. What, do you think I just go waving my hands around like that for fun?”

Regina sighed, silencing the myriad comments that came to mind in answer to that childish statement. Instead, she tried to explain what she meant.

“What I mean is that the only thing stopping you from using magic is you. You have it in you, but some part of you won’t let it come out.”

“Well I’m sorry,” Emma snapped. “I don’t know what’s going on, so I sure hope you have another plan to get us to that curse.”

Regina shook her head. “No need - I can still use you to get to it. I really just need something of yours to enchant. Like for a locator spell.”

She looked at Emma, her eyes focusing on the little silver necklace she always wore.

“Can I use your necklace?” she asked, gesturing to it.

Emma’s hand flew up to the chain, and she held it tight. She bit her lip and looked at Regina with worried eyes for a moment, before she nodded and moved to take it off. Regina stopped her, though.

“Keep it until we find the ingredients to make the potion I need,” she said gently. She hadn’t expected Emma to get so protective of the necklace, and wondered what the story behind it was. Now was not the time to ask, though, so instead she focused on the next step.

“Alright,” said Regina. “Next thing we need to do is get us into my castle. Preferably without … me seeing us.”

“Ugh, no. You can’t keep referring to yourself in the past as ‘me.’ She is the Evil Queen. You’re you - Regina. It’s too confusing otherwise,” Emma said distractedly.

Regina agreed, and silently she thanked Emma for reminding her to continue to make that separation between the person she was now and The Evil Queen. She was NOT that person anymore. At all. And she'd do well to remember it.

“So…” Emma continued. “Any ideas how to get us into the Evil Queen’s castle?”

Regina smirked at her. “Well,” she said teasingly, “there is this.”

She waved her hands and appeared in full Evil Queen garb - tight leather pants, dramatic make-up and everything. Emma gasped and stared at her openly. Regina chuckled to herself. So maybe Emma’s feelings for her weren’t just about the magic they shared. Maybe there was a little bit of lust thrown in there, too. Lust, Regina could handle. After all, these outfits were calculated to elicit that response in people. She had found the peculiar mix of fear and attraction quite useful in getting her way over the years.

Regina didn’t really mind if Emma stared at her, but frankly she was pleased when Emma got a hold of herself and looked up with genuine admiration in her eyes.

“Wow,” said Emma finally, “You certainly know how to make a fashion statement.”

Regina laughed good-naturedly. “Yes, well, I found it useful to cultivate a certain look.”

“I can imagine. So, you’re just going to waltz into the castle and pretend you’re her?”

Regina nodded. “That’s the gist of it. But we need to figure out what to do with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Evil Queen didn’t travel with beautiful young women,” Regina said before she could think twice. Luckily Emma let the comment pass with nothing more than a small smile and a twinkle in her eye.

“Can you put a glamour spell on me? Like Cora did when she pretended to be you?” Emma asked.

Regina looked down, feeling foolish for not having thought of that herself. She said as much to Emma: “Well, I should have thought of that. I guess it’s a good thing you’re here after all.”

Emma grinned at her. “So, what are you going to make me look like?”

Chapter Text

Emma pulled at the ridiculous layers of cloth and metal that she supposed could be called “armor” and tried to keep up with Regina. She thought she understood why The Queen’s black knights were as ineffective as they’d seemed in Henry’s storybook - they were wearing too much clothing to be able to move at all. The giant helmet was perched under her arm, slowing her down even more. She’d tried walking with it on at first, but quickly found out it was too disconcerting not to have peripheral vision while crashing through the underbrush of the forest. She’d been grumbling under her breath for the better part of ten minutes when Regina finally stopped and turned around to glare at her.

“Something you’d like to say, Miss Swan?” she demanded.

Emma shoved the helmet at her and used her now free hands to tug at the collar of the outfit to get some more air in it.

“Couldn’t you give me something else to wear as a disguise? This armor is ridiculous.” She could hear that she was whining, but she was too hot and tired and nervous to care.

Regina gave one of her little scoff-laughs and pointed up the hill to Emma’s right. Emma could see the castle they were circling looming above them, and as she kept her eyes on the place Regina was pointing, she could see the steady stream of black knights entering and exiting through the courtyard. There were literally no other people around. This probably was her only chance of blending in.

“Fine,” she grumbled. “Just give me a minute to catch my breath before we keep going.”

Regina inclined her head in agreement, and the two of them cleared debris off a stump, perching on the edge for a few minutes.

Emma looked at her travelling companion, and, seeing the worry on her face, decided conversation was a good idea.

“Was it lonely?” Emma asked tentatively. “Having no one but armed guards around you all the time?”

Regina looked at her sharply, as if trying to decide what Emma’s ulterior motive was in asking the question. Apparently she decided there was none, though, since she looked away, her focus softening.

“Very,” Regina answered in a low voice. “I didn’t really know it at the time, though. I thought my pain was caused by Snow White and how she made me lose Daniel. But I think I caused myself more pain than she ever did.”

Emma nodded. “I get that.”

Regina turned to her. “You do?” she asked, surprised.

“Yeah,” Emma replied, shifting so she could look at Regina more directly. “I isolate myself a whole lot more than I need to. Sure, I went through some shit growing up, but I push people away even when they’re just trying to love me.”

Emma stopped. That was maybe deeper than she’d meant to get. But god, being here in the Enchanted Forest and watching her parents meet, seeing Regina all dressed up as The Evil Queen, and wondering if she was ever going to see the rest of her family again had her thinking about deep things.

Regina was looking at her curiously.

“Is that what happened with your ex in New York?” she asked.

Emma was at first taken aback, but then she remembered that she had told Regina that Clara broke up with her because she wasn’t communicating, so yeah, Regina probably had her number when it came to that relationship.

“Yeah,” she said, looking down and fidgeting with the clasps on her shirt. “And it’s what I was doing to you when I first came back to Storybrooke.”

When Regina didn’t answer, Emma looked up. She was staring off into space, clearly thinking hard about something. Emma was about to keep talking, but Regina beat her to it.

“There are a number of conversations we’ve had lately that have been interrupted,” Regina said carefully.

Emma held her breath. That was true, and a few of them were things she maybe didn’t want to revisit. Regina turned to look at her.

“Let’s start with something you said before the final showdown with Zelena.”

Emma gulped. She knew Regina could hold a grudge. She didn’t know that her mind was a steel trap when it came to off-hand comments that she probably shouldn’t have said. And to be honest, she had no idea what Regina was referring to.

“You said you wanted Henry to be a normal kid and not have to deal with all this fairy-tale stuff,” Regina continued. “Did you really mean that?”

Oh, that comment. Emma shrugged.

“I mean, kind of. Yeah,” she answered. “He was really happy in New York. He had friends, and went to museums all the time, and nobody ever threatened his life.”

Regina turned towards her. “But magic, fairy-tales - that’s so much of who Henry is! Not just his family, but him. How he sees the world.”

Emma looked down and chewed on her lip. She hadn’t thought about it that way. She tried to think back to the Henry she knew as just her son who she’d raised on her own. Was he still the same person?

“You know, even there Henry was a believer,” she said finally. “He didn’t know about magic, but he was a creative kid, and a really good storyteller. I know that your past helps make you who you are, but some part of him was going to be like that no matter what.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“But I don’t actually want to leave with him,” Emma clarified. “I think … I think the part of me that wants Henry to be a normal kid really just wants me to be a normal mom. But that’s not my life, and I’m trying to be OK with that. I see that he’s happy in Storybrooke, too. And besides, I wouldn’t trade having you in our lives for anything.”

“Thank you, Emma,” Regina said after a moment, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Emma nodded.

“That brings me to the second thing you didn’t finish saying,” Regina said, her voice more confident, but also decidedly not looking at her as she spoke. Emma cringed. She had a sinking feeling she knew what the next question was going to be.

“When we went for a walk before we got sucked through the portal …” Regina started. Yup, here it comes, thought Emma. “You were telling me how you … feel about me.”

She stopped, waiting for Emma to say something. But what the hell was she supposed to say? She had had to work herself up to get ready to profess her feelings, even if she assumed that Regina had to already know. But right now there were about a hundred other things that felt more pressing at the moment than the fact that every time she looked at her Emma wanted nothing more than to hold Regina in her arms and kiss her until neither of them could breathe. The fact that she was currently dressed as The Evil Queen’s body guard trying to sneak into her castle being top of said list of pressing things. But another part of her, the more dramatic and romantic part, figured that if they didn’t make it out of this alive, or were trapped in the past forever, she may as well make her confession now. So she smiled shyly at Regina, and took her hand. Taking courage from the fact that Regina didn’t immediately yank her hand away, Emma took a deep breath and said her piece.

“I told you that you reminded me of Clara. And that once I got back and had my memories restored, I realized that actually she reminded me of you. And when I thought back to what you’d done for me and Henry - giving us that beautiful life and sacrificing your own happiness to keep him safe and loved - it just clicked. It’s like I saw YOU for the first time. Not Henry’s domineering other mother, or The Evil Queen, but you, Regina. The you that loves as fiercely as you used to hate, and sees right through the bullshit to what’s really going on in any situation, and keeps trying to love and be loved no matter the odds.”

Emma shifted closer to take Regina’s other hand. Now that she was talking, she couldn’t quite stop, and knew she was about to lay it all out on the line, for better or worse.

“I fought with you, Regina,” she continued, “ because you see right through me, and that was scary as hell. But I know now that I want you to see me. And I want to see you. The real you. So what I was going to say before all this happened is that it was always you that I wanted. And I still do.”

She stopped, her heartbeat racing as she waited for a reaction.

When Regina started laughing, though, Emma had no idea what to do. Anger, a brush-off, even disgust were all reactions she was prepared for. Laughter threw her. She pulled her hands back and sat there, confused, while Regina slowly calmed down enough to speak.

“I’m sorry,” she said, still chuckling a little. “I’m really not laughing at you.”

Emma raised her eyebrows as if to say ‘could’ve fooled me.’

“I’m not,” Regina insisted. “Really. I just … The Savior, who broke the Evil Queen’s curse, propositioning her while dressed up like one of her knights…” she started laughing again.

Emma managed a smile, because yeah, it was kind of funny. But not funny enough to be laughing as uncontrollably as Regina was right now.

“Emma,” Regina said as she fought to control her breathing. “Emma,” she said again, and took Emma’s hands in her own. “I’ve waited so long for someone to look at me the way you do.”

She looked Emma in the eyes, her face finally serious, but kind and gentle.

“I had no idea that I wanted you, too, until you rushed in to try to help me when Zelena threw me through the clock tower. When you helped me heal my ribs, and especially when you stayed to make sure I was OK - I knew. But I couldn’t admit it, even to myself. Which is why I yelled at you when I woke up and you were sitting there. And now here we are,” she grinned again, clearly fighting back the laughter that continued to bubble up, “in the middle of the goddamn Enchanted Forest, about to try to break into a castle to get a spell to help us go back to the future. I don’t know why it took being here with you to let me admit it, but ...” Her words trailed off as she reached a hand up to caress Emma’s cheek. As soft fingers touched her face, Emma momentarily forgot how to breathe. Every nerve in her body strained towards the gentle touch. She leaned into it, and then suddenly Regina’s lips were on hers, kissing her carefully. She let out a breathy sigh and wrapped her arms around Regina’s waist, pulling her closer and deepening the kiss.

She grinned when they finally broke apart, having got her wish to kiss Regina until neither of them could breathe. Regina smiled back at her.

And then an arrow whizzed past her face and struck the tree right beside them.

Chapter Text

Maybe it was the outfit, or being in the Enchanted Forest. Whatever it was, Regina’s defense mechanism kicked in immediately, and she had conjured and hurled a fireball in the direction of the arrow before her conscious mind had fully understood what was happening. Whoever had shot the arrow had darted away quickly, and Regina was on her feet to chase after them when she felt Emma grab her arm.

“Regina, wait,” she hissed. “What if it’s one of the real black knights?”

“Then they will bow down to their Queen,” Regina answered coldly, and wrenched her arm away from Emma, stalking off towards the rustling in the bushes. She caught sight of a figure crouched there, and ignited another fireball. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Emma standing with the sword she’d given her at the ready, just behind Regina. Something like pride rose for a moment in her chest as she realized that Emma was, as she’d said she would, taking her lead and making sure she had her back.

The bushes rustled again, and then suddenly standing before her with an arrow trained on her heart was none other than Snow White. Regina gasped, and heard Emma do the same. Again without thinking twice, Regina waved her hand, and Snow collapsed to the ground.

“Regina?” Emma asked cautiously.

“Don’t worry, she’s fine,” Regina answered, reading Emma’s worried tone.

She walked over to Snow and eased the bow out of her hands. Snow’s head lolled to one side, and Regina caught it to lay her down in a safe and comfortable position. She sat back on her heels. Emma came up behind her, laying a steadying hand on her back. Regina leaned back into her just enough to let her know she appreciated the touch. She looked back at Snow, shaking her head.

“To think that this - Snow White unconscious on the ground in front of me - was what I lived for back then,” she said.

Emma crouched down beside her, her hand still on her shoulder.

“Not to sound rude,” Emma started, and Regina raised an eyebrow. Nothing good ever came out of anyone’s mouth with a beginning like that. Emma ignored her, and continued, “but why didn’t you just do … whatever it is you just did to her back in the day? You probably could have actually killed her.”

Regina took a deep breath and stood up. She hated talking about this. “I didn’t learn that particular trick until much later,” she said tersely. Emma seemed to hear her tone and dropped it.

“So,” she said instead, “what are we going to do with her?”

“I don’t know,” said Regina. “I didn’t think, I just…”

“Hey,” Emma interrupted. “It’s OK. You did the right thing. Having a confrontation between The Evil Queen and Snow White is definitely not going to help us keep the timeline in tact or get us home.”

She stood as well and once again put a steadying hand on Regina’s arm, and Regina felt herself relax. Admitting that she had feelings for Emma might just have been the smartest thing she’d done in a while. Sure, it was bound to get complicated. But right now it meant that she was, for the first time in she couldn’t remember how long, truly not alone. She covered Emma’s hand with her own, and then, abandoning all impulse control for a moment, she pulled Emma towards her, wrapping her arms around her in a tight embrace. She let one hand drift up to caress the bit of skin on the back of Emma’s neck that was exposed under her armor, and was delighted when she heard Emma’s breath hitch and felt her shiver slightly. Emma’s hands tightened around her waist and her head nuzzled into Regina’s neck as they clung to each other for a good two minutes before finally stepping away.

They smiled shyly at each other, and Regina was grateful that neither of them said anything about it. She looked back at the unconscious form of Snow White on the ground.

“I have an idea,” she said to Emma. “What if I re-glamour us to look like regular people, and we wake her up and tell her we found her on the side of the road. I’m sure she’ll wonder why The Queen let her live, but I doubt that will hurt anything. Then maybe we can help her get back to wherever she needs to be right now, and come back here to the castle.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, that could work. What was she doing here, though? Was she trying to sneak into the castle too? If that’s true we might have to go through this little charade again if she decides to follow us back.”

“I imagine between the two of us we can convince her whatever she was doing was a bad idea,” Regina said with a smile.

“I think you underestimate how stubborn my mother is,” Emma responded.

“Oh is that where you get it from?” Regina said sarcastically. Emma just smirked at her.

“No,” Regina continued. “I know exactly how stubborn she is.” She narrowed her eyes in thought for a moment.

“And as much as I hate to say this, we might have to let her do whatever it was she was doing. To keep the timeline intact.”

Emma rubbed her forehead. “God this is confusing. OK, what’s the plan then?”

 

***

On the list of things Regina never thought she’d be doing, carrying an unconscious Snow White out of the forest with her daughter, who was now in fact older than Snow, was pretty near the top. But here she was, now clad in a much more sensible outfit of simple riding pants and a shirt, trying not to drop Snow’s legs as she and Emma picked their way through the woods back to the road. She’d glamoured them to look like entirely unremarkable people, with different faces so Snow wouldn’t remember them later. At Emma’s insistence, she gave both of them riding outfits so no one had to deal with armor or skirts for the time being.

By the time they reached the road, she was sweating and wishing she’d just poofed them out here. But Emma was right - she shouldn’t rely too much on magic, in case someone was watching. Right now they needed to simply blend in. She had been eager to get into the castle earlier, but once her adrenaline had run down, she realized it would be much more effective to wait until The Queen left and then just magic herself in and out before she got back. She’d gone out at least once a day back then, so really their best bet was to show up tomorrow at first light and wait to see the royal carriage leave.

They laid Snow down as gently as they could, and both took a moment to stretch their limbs and catch their breath.

“We need a code word,” Emma said out of the blue.

“Hmmm?” Regina replied, shaking out her aching hands.

“I’m worried I’ll forget what you look like and lose you in a crowd or something. Or what if you come out of the castle and I think you’re you, but it’s really The Queen? We need a code word so I know it’s you.” Emma clarified.

Regina stared at her for a moment, and then a smile spread across her face. “You’re just like our son,” she said, laughing.

“Operation Mongoose,” she prompted, when Emma looked confused.

Emma laughed. “I suppose you’re right. Well, let’s use that, then.”

“Use what?”

“Mongoose. As our code word.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. It was cute when Henry made up code words. She felt silly using them, however.

“Oh come on,” Emma insisted. “It’s not like anyone would accidentally throw ‘mongoose’ into conversation. It’s perfect.”

Regina rolled her eyes but relented. Just then, Snow began to stir.

“About time,” she muttered, crouching down to reassure her as she came to. As she expected, Snow immediately jumped up to protect herself. Regina put her hands up in a placating gesture.

“You’re OK,” she said, backing up to give Snow space. Snow looked around her wildly, but calmed down when she saw just the two women standing quietly in front of her.

“Here,” Emma handed her the bow and quiver she’d kept for her.

Snow took it warily. “Thank you,” she said slowly. “What happened?”

“We found you here,” Emma said quickly. “You were unconscious. You don’t know what happened to you?”

She was very convincing. Regina wondered suddenly if Emma’s lie-detector superpower came not from magic, as she’d always assumed, but from a finely honed ability to tell lies herself.

Snow shook her head. “I’m not entirely sure. I was … hunting…” - even Regina’s lie-detector went off on that one - “and I ran across someone in the woods. Next thing I know, I’m waking up here with you two.”

Regina caught Emma’s eye to let her know she saw through Snow’s story, but she figured there was no need to press the issue just yet. Especially as Snow did not look entirely steady on her feet yet. And no wonder - that was a powerful spell she’d hit her with.

Emma reached out a hand to grab her as Snow swayed to one side.

“Easy there,” she said. “Where do you live? Can we help you get home?”

Snow looked at her carefully, and Regina could see her calculating the risk of accepting help. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them, having reached a decision.

“I have a camp not far from here,” Snow said finally. “I certainly would appreciate your help getting there. I can offer you food and water for your troubles.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Regina said kindly. “In fact, we were just about to find a place to make camp ourselves. Any advice you could give on a safe place would be greatly appreciated.”

Emma looked at her with a bemused expression. Regina winked at her. Two could play at the lying game.

Snow’s face softened, and Regina knew she had been right to appeal to her care-giving tendencies.

“Don’t be silly,” Snow said. “You’re welcome to camp with me for the night. It’s probably the only safe place around here, anyway.”

She led them back through the woods, only slightly East of the direction they’d come from in the first place. Regina had no idea where she was taking them. Despite having chased her down for years, she knew very little about Snow White’s life in the Enchanted Forest at this time. She’d read Henry’s book, so she assumed they were looking for that giant fallen log thing, but quite frankly she’d seen what she thought was that log about four times already and they didn’t stop at any of them. A newfound respect for Snow’s survival skills blossomed at the back of her mind.

Emma walked right next to her mother, helping her when she stumbled, and eventually carrying her bow and cloak when Snow decided she was safe with them and would be better off stumbling around empty-handed. Regina did feel a little bad for the number she’d done on her with that spell. She was also more than a little concerned at how quickly her instincts had kicked in to protect herself. Back in Storybrooke, she had gotten used to thinking before she hurled a fireball. Being back here shortened that to act first, think later. Something she regularly accused Emma of doing, now that she thought about it.

“We’re here,” Snow announced finally. And indeed, it was that log that Regina had thought she’d already seen, looking no more remarkable than the last four. Snow led them inside, where it first narrowed and then opened up to a surprisingly sizable cave with piles of furs, rows of dried meat and baskets of food, and a small hearth near the entrance. A wave of sadness hit Regina as she looked around. Sadness for this past Snow, who clearly wanted nothing more than to feel safe, and for herself, for the feeling of home that she had never had, but recognized in this tiny cave immediately. She saw Emma looking at her strangely, and she quickly schooled her features to something much more neutral.

“Let’s get you to bed,” she said, moving towards Snow. When Snow made no attempt to argue, Regina hastily grabbed some furs from the pile and helped her lie down. Snow directed her to the stream to get water, and she left Emma in charge of gathering some firewood.

As soon as she was far enough away from the two of them, she felt her guard let down, and tears fell silently down her face. She didn’t stop what she was doing, just let herself cry while she did it, waves of sadness and regret and guilt coursing through her until she couldn’t go on anymore, and sank to the ground with the now full waterskins by her feet.

This had to stop. Her emotions were far too close to the surface, and she needed to get a hold of herself. Regina shook out her hands to get rid of the excess magic starting to spark off of them. As usual, she went from sadness to anger in the blink of an eye. But this was NOT who she was anymore. This wasn’t her life anymore. She might be here, and she might be feeling all of the old feelings, but back in Storybrooke she had a son who loved her, and people who were starting to be friends. And she had Emma. “For as long as that lasts,” she thought, and leaned her head back against the tree behind her. Her thoughts seemed determined to thwart her at the moment. She should probably just return to the camp and try to keep busy. So she stood, dusted herself off, took a moment to splash some water on her face, and walked back towards Emma and Snow, trying to hold herself like she was perfectly put together and calm.

Chapter Text

Emma had a fire going strong by the time Regina came back. She could immediately see that Regina was upset from the rigid way she held herself, and how she didn’t look her in the eye. But Emma let it go until they could get themselves and Snow settled for the night. The sun was now gone below the treeline, and the warm light from the fire barely reached into the back of the cave. Snow had fallen asleep again, so Emma covered her with a blanket she found in the corner, and left one of the water skins Regina had brought back next to her. Emma then grabbed a basket of food and went back to sit by the fire. Regina joined her, sitting next to her but far enough away that Emma got the message that she probably didn’t want to be touched. Which immediately sent Emma’s mind spiraling through a series of “what ifs” related to her screwing this thing up before it had even really begun. She munched on the bread and dried meat she’d found and tried to stop the emotional shitshow threatening to take over her thoughts.

To distract herself, she got Regina talking about their plan for the next day.

“I think we should head back to the castle dressed like this,” Regina was saying. “We can wait until the Queen leaves on some errand, and then I’ll just poof in, grab the ingredients, and get out. We don’t need to mix the potion there if it seems like it’ll take too long. I could just grab what I need and find a secluded spot in the woods to work on it.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, that sounds good. But I’m coming with you into the castle.”

“No, Emma,” Regina replied as she gazed into the fire. “It’s too dangerous.”

Emma narrowed her eyes. Regina often refused help. But usually it was out of bravado or an insistence that Emma would just get in the way. “It’s too dangerous” sounded more like trying to protect her, and frankly that was out of character for Regina. Emma took a chance and scooted closer to her.

“Regina?” she asked, brushing a hand against her arm briefly. “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” came the cold response.

Emma didn’t need her superpower to see through that one. She thought for a moment.

“Mongoose,” she said finally.

Regina looked at her blankly. “Excuse me?”

“Mongoose,” Emma repeated. “It’s me, Emma.”

Regina furrowed her brow. “Of course it’s you. Who else would it be?”

Emma shrugged. “I just thought maybe you forgot. Because you’re certainly not acting like it’s me.”

Regina’s expression softened, and she worried her bottom lip with her teeth. She didn’t respond, but Emma felt like there was an opening. So she took Regina’s hand and held it gently in her lap.

“It’s me,” she said again. “You can trust me, Regina.”

Regina smiled at her sadly. She looked down at the hand resting in Emma’s, and played with the hem of her sleeve absently. Emma waited. They were both fighting with their own demons, it seemed. But really, was that anything out of the ordinary? Sometimes the demons were in the physical world, and sometimes they were in their heads. But they were always fighting them. That’s part of what drew her to Regina; she understood what it was like to be fighting all the time, and she was working just as hard as Emma was to not let that define her.

“I can trust you, can’t I?” Regina said finally.

Emma squeezed her hand. “Yes,” she whispered. “You can.”

Regina’s didn’t answer, but instead leaned forward and kissed Emma gently on the lips. It was quick, and chaste, but full of emotion that neither of them knew how to put into words. Emma looked into her eyes, where she could see a battle being waged. She didn’t know exactly what it was, but she recognized that internal conflict. So she dipped her head and kissed her again. This time Regina grabbed her shoulder and pulled her in close. Emma shifted so she could face her, and wrapped her arms around Regina’s body.

But when she broke away again, she caught sight of Regina’s face, which was still glamoured to look like someone else.

“Nope,” she said, laughing. “This is too weird. You don’t look like you!”

Emma brushed Regina’s hair out of her face. “I want to kiss YOU,” she said.

Regina smiled coyly at her, then leaned back and removed the glamours from both of them. Emma grinned.

“Much better,” she said, and surged forward to kiss the actual woman she wanted.

Regina hummed into her mouth, and the vibrations ricocheted down Emma’s spine. She pulled Regina closer, her hand slipping under her shirt as she did. When her fingers made contact with bare skin, Regina gasped. Emma smiled into her mouth and let her hand explore Regina’s back, scratching her lightly with her nails.

Regina leaned away for a moment, then reached around to untie the string Emma had used to pull her hair back.

“What are you doing?” Emma asked.

Regina smiled at her.

“Running my fingers through your hair,” she answered.

And she did. Emma’s eyes closed and she started to breathe harder as Regina tugged through her tangled curls and scratched her scalp. Emma couldn’t help but moan at the delicious sensations, and she moaned again when she realized it made Regina’s breath hitch. Emma bent her head to kiss down the side of Regina’s neck. She nipped at smooth skin with her teeth, and dragged her tongue across the same spot. Regina’s hands tightened their grip on her hair, so Emma did it again, slipping a hand up under Regina’s shirt once more to caress the soft skin underneath.

“Emma,” Regina whispered, and Emma wished she could freeze time to appreciate the way her name sounded coming out of Regina’s mouth like that.

Instead, she moved back up to claim another kiss from Regina’s lips. This time they both moaned into it, and when Regina’s fingers danced underneath Emma’s shirt to caress her belly and back, Emma nearly lost all coherent thought.

Nearly. Much to her consternation, the voice of reason decided it was time to pop into her head, and she remembered that her mother was sleeping not five feet away from them, and should she hear the name “Regina,” would be up on her feet with an arrow pointed at them in no time.

She pulled her hands out from under Regina’s shirt and leaned her forehead onto her shoulder. Regina took the hint and found Emma’s hands with her own, interlacing their fingers as they both sat there trying to catch their breath.

“We should probably stop,” Emma groaned. She looked up when Regina laughed.

“We should,” Regina said. “But I must admit I’m glad to hear how upset you are about it.”

Emma grinned and brushed her cheek with the back of her fingers.

“Believe me, I want nothing more than to keep going in the direction we were headed,” she said. “But really, I’d rather do this when my mother wasn’t five feet away.”

Regina laughed again, which made Emma’s cheeks turn pink for no apparent reason.

“As would I, dear,” Regina purred. Which only made Emma blush harder, but this time for a very obvious reason.

So Emma turned back to the fire, wrapping her arms around Regina from the side and adjusting their positions until her head was comfortably nestled in the crook of Regina’s neck. Regina tangled her fingers back into Emma’s hair, playing with it as they sat staring at the fire in silence. Nothing about their situation had changed, and yet Emma felt her fears settled into a dull roar. After weeks and weeks of angst about Regina, finally being wrapped up in her arms felt so right and so comforting. The insanity of being back in time and all the many hurdles they had in front of them felt just that much more manageable from this vantage point.

Regina kissed her head, and Emma hummed in contentment.

“I like this,” she said.

Regina chuckled. “As do I, dear.” She paused for a moment. “Thank you for being persistent with me.”

Emma grinned. “You’re welcome. And you should expect me to quote you on that the next time you call me stubborn.”

Regina swatted her arm at that, but laughed while she did it.

They sat quietly for another few minutes.

“Emma?” Regina asked, her tone more serious this time.

“Yeah?”

“You asked me if I was OK earlier. And the truth is, I wasn’t. Being here, trying to think like … her… It’s very hard not to revert to old habits.”

Emma sat up so she could look at her.

“I know,” she said. “I get it. But you’re not that person anymore, Regina. And if you forget it, just ask me - I’ll remind you who you are.”

“Mongoose?” Regina asked.

“Mongoose,” Emma replied, smiling brightly.

She settled back down with her head on Regina’s shoulder. “Will you be OK to go into the castle tomorrow?”

“I hope so,” Regina said.

“Please let me come with you.”

“I really think it’s better if you don’t. I don’t really know what I’m going to find in there, and it will be easier if I’m not worried about you, too.”

Emma figured there was some logic in there. And truth be told, her own desire to come with Regina was based solidly on her desire to protect her, and not on any kind of strategy. So she relented. For now, at least.

“Alright,” she said. “But is there some way we can communicate if you need me? It’s not like we have cell phones here.”

“That would have made a lot of things a lot easier here,” Regina said, bemused at the idea. “Let me think about it. I’ll come up with something before we go in tomorrow.”

“Alright.” Emma yawned. “We should probably get some sleep if we’re going to be up with the sun tomorrow.”

Regina agreed, so they got up, doused the fire, and crept into the cave. Emma pulled the extra furs over to the opposite wall from where Snow was sleeping soundly, and found Snow’s cloak to cover them. She sat down and looked up at Regina, silently questioning what came next. Regina smiled and came over to join her. Emma spread the cloak over them both when Regina lay down next to her, and they snuggled up close together. Emma kissed her once before putting her head down and closing her eyes. The feeling of Regina’s head nestled against her shoulder, and her arms around her waist had Emma drifting off in no time.

Just before she actually fell asleep, though, that same rational part of her brain suddenly woke her up completely. She whipped her head around to Regina, who looked up at her, startled.

“The glamour!” she whispered. “You should put it back on us before we go to sleep.”

Regina blinked at her. “Of course,” she said, looking down. “I can’t believe I forgot that.”

Emma squeezed her hand in encouragement, and then shifted away from her so she could do the spell. She smiled at the face that was not Regina’s, and lay back down quickly before it got too weird. Regina turned over, picking up Emma’s arm and pulling it around her waist. Emma spooned her gratefully, and kissed her shoulder.

“Goodnight Regina,” she breathed into her ear.

“Goodnight Emma,” Regina replied. And Emma let her warmth lull her back down into slumber.

 

***

Emma woke with a start, her senses immediately on high alert. She looked wildly around, trying to get her bearings. She couldn’t remember where she was, and there was the sound of someone moving just off to one side. She tensed up, and then heard the woman sleeping next to her turn over.

“What is it?” the woman whispered, and finally Emma’s brain registered Regina’s voice. The rest fell into place as she remembered where they were and what they were doing there.

“Oh, sorry,” Snow’s voice replied from across the cave. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“It’s alright,” Emma said as she leaned back, taking steadying breathes while her heartbeat returned to normal. Regina sat up next to her, putting an arm protectively behind her back. Emma leaned into it. It was amazing how quickly they had found this physical ease with each other. It was like each instinctively knew how the other needed to be comforted or reassured. Emma supposed it was because they had actually known each other really well for years, despite it not always being a positive thing. Sometimes you knew your enemies better than your friends.

“Is the sun up?” Regina asked.

Snow rattled around on her side of the cave, and then a flame burst to life inside of a small lantern. She placed it between them so they could all see.

“No,” Snow answered, “but it will be soon.”

Regina looked at Emma. “We should get going, then.”

Emma nodded and started to pack away their bedding.

“Where are you going?” asked Snow.

Emma glanced at Regina, who raised her eyebrows as if to say “you take this one.”

“Back past the place where we found you,” Emma replied. She relaxed her muscles like Neal had taught her. Lies sounded more convincing when the person saying them wasn’t stressed out. “We’re going to visit her sister,” she inclined her head at Regina. “She just had a baby and is expecting us soon.”

“A baby, how wonderful!” Snow’s face lit up, and Emma had to hide her smile at seeing her mother get so excited about motherhood.

“And my goodness,” Snow continued, “I was in such a state yesterday, I don’t even know your names. I’m Mary.” she held out a hand for Regina, who was sitting closer, to shake. Emma had to admire how easily she introduced herself by the wrong name. To the casual observer, nothing was amiss.

Regina took her hand and smiled. “I’m Kathryn, and that’s Anna,” she said.

Okay, Emma thought. Sure. But she smiled at her mother as she stood up and stretched as much as the tiny cave would let her.

“Thank you so much for your help yesterday,” Snow said as she led them out of the cave into the predawn chill. “These woods can be dangerous, and I’d hate to think what might have happened to me if you hadn’t come along.”

They all took a few minutes to ready themselves for the day. Snow pressed water and food into their hands as they said warm farewells and headed off just as the sun was starting to filter in through the trees.

“She’s going to follow us,” Emma whispered as soon as they were out of earshot.

“I know,” Regina replied. “I saw the way she watched us leave. I don’t think she trusts us, despite her hospitality.”

“Me neither. What should we do?”

“I think we should just keep going until she makes herself known. But let’s not use our real names or talk about any details, just in case.”

Emma nodded in agreement. “Also, Kathryn? Really? Anna I get - it’s pretty similar -  but why did you pick that?”

Regina shrugged. “It was the first thing that popped into my head.”

Emma smirked at her. “Should I be jealous?” she teased.

Regina rolled her eyes. “You can be whatever you like, dear.”

Emma laughed. “I think I’m going to like teasing you even better now.”

“Now that what?” Regina asked innocently.

“You know what,” Emma replied.

“No, Anna ,” Regina said with a grin, “tell me what’s changed.”

Emma stopped walking, pulled Regina to her, and kissed her soundly. She broke away fairly quickly, and kept walking.

“That’s changed,” she said with a wink, and sauntered off while Regina stood there for a moment, flustered, before running to catch up with her. Yes indeed, she thought, she was going to enjoy teasing Regina immensely.

Chapter Text

The closer they got to the castle, the quieter Regina became. It was wonderful at first, walking through the woods with Emma, teasing each other and letting herself enjoy the little brushes of their hands or shoulders, and the occasional stolen kiss along the way as well. But they weren’t here to flirt. And as the castle loomed up in front of them, Regina began to steel herself for the task ahead.

Emma noticed, of course. Regina hadn’t quite understood just how perceptive the woman was until she was the object of her attentions. Regina wasn’t entirely sure it was a good thing, either. She would have much preferred to keep her anxieties to herself. But she couldn’t - not with Emma giving her these knowing glances and practically oozing concern. So she begrudgingly opened up about it. And even more begrudgingly realized that it helped to talk about things.

“Alright,” she said when they had found a secluded spot from which to monitor the activity on the road, “let’s go over this plan one more time.”

“As soon as we see the Queen leave,” Emma recited, “you swap out the glamours, poof into her chambers and find the ingredients you need. I stay out here and wait for you to come back. If you need me, you’ll send sparks out the window, which I can see from here. If I need you, I’m screwed because I still can’t get my magic to work.”

Regina raised her eyebrows, and Emma sighed.

“If I need you, I get my shit together and get my magic to work to send sparks up for you to see,” she corrected.

“Better,” said Regina. “And speaking of magic, why don’t you practice while we’re waiting?”

Emma groaned but agreed. Regina directed her to sit down in front of her so that she could keep one eye on Emma and one eye on the road below. Regina brushed her fingers over Emma’s cheek affectionately.

“You can do this, Emma. Concentrate.”

Emma closed her eyes. Her brow furrowed in concentration. But nothing happened. She growled in frustration as she shook out her hands before trying again. Nothing. This happened a few more times before Regina got frustrated, too.

“What is going on?” she asked. “What’s stopping you?”

“I don’t know!” Emma lamented, clearly upset with herself.

Regina reached out a hand to her. “Come here,” she offered. Emma took her hand and let herself be pulled up to her feet and into Regina’s arms. Regina probed out with her magic, and instantly felt Emma’s respond under her hands. What was the problem? Clearly something was blocking Emma from accessing her magic, but the magic itself seemed to want to come up to the surface. Maybe that was the problem, in fact. Maybe it was too strong, and Emma wasn’t sure how to handle it.

But before she could continue in problem-solving mode, she spotted the Queen’s carriage leaving the castle.

“Emma, look,” she whispered, pointing down to the road.

Emma glanced over at the carriage, then back at her with worried eyes.

“It’s time,” Regina said with more resolve than she felt.

Emma grabbed her hand. “Be careful,” she said.

Regina gave her a small smile and started to turn away. Emma stopped her, though.

“Wait,” she said. She dropped Regina’s hand and took the little silver necklace off her own neck and clasped it around Regina’s instead. Regina inhaled sharply when the warm metal hit her skin. Whatever the story was with this necklace, it meant a lot to Emma, and Regina could feel residue from Emma’s magic still clinging to it. Emma trailed her fingers down the chain to rest over the pendent.

“Just in case you need to find me,” she said quietly. Regina nodded. That was a good insurance policy, in fact, and she’d make sure to grab ingredients for a standard locator potion as well.

Regina leaned forward to kiss Emma once, then backed up to change their glamours. Emma stood before her, barely recognizable in her full black knight regalia. She nodded to her, then closed her eyes and pictured the place that once was her home.

 

***

Regina materialized inside her chambers - The Queen’s chambers, she corrected herself. She shivered. Everything was exactly as she remembered it. Well, of course it was, she realized. She was effectively standing in the middle of her memory. She could feel the cold seeping in through the floor, hear the constant racket of marching feet from the courtyard below, and when she closed her eyes, she could catch a whiff of the perfume she used to wear lingering in the air. And just like that, it all came back to her - the hatred, the despair, the desperation. She shuddered and clutched at the pendent around her neck.

“Mongoose,” she thought to herself, and the silly little reminder of both Emma and Henry brought her back to herself.

She looked around the room, quickly finding the chest of drawers that kept her potions and ingredients. She thought for a moment before remembering what kind of charms she had put on it, quickly disabled them, and grabbed a bag to start filling with items.

She heard a noise from outside the door and froze. But whoever it was passed by without entering the room. Of course. None of her guards would dare enter the chamber while she was away. The few who had tried had quickly realized it was riddled with spells to catch intruders, with nasty consequences. She double checked the bag, satisfied that she had everything she needed, took one last look around, and poofed back down to the spot where Emma was hiding.

Except when the smoke cleared, it was deserted. She quickly changed her glamour back to the unremarkable peasant woman, slung the bag over one shoulder, and poked around.

“Emma!” she hissed, and then remembered herself. “Anna!” she called, a little louder.

There was no response. She walked in a circle, then doubled back. There was no sign of her anywhere. At this point Regina began to panic. She’d been gone less than 10 minutes. What in the hell could have happened?

Suddenly a rustling in the trees made her spin around, expecting to see Emma come out with a grin on her face. If that really was her, Regina was going to kill her for scaring her like that. But as the rustling got closer, she spied the glint of steel in the sunlight, and realized it was a black knight. And she was once again dressed like a peasant, trespassing on royal grounds. Deciding in a flash that it was safer to use magic and get away, she quickly waved a hand and transported herself about fifty feet away. When she materialized, though, she heard the taut string of an arrow being pulled back by a bow, and she turned towards the sound to see Snow White standing there, almost exactly in the same position as they found themselves yesterday. Because of course she followed them, and of course she just happened to be right where Regina figured she would be safe.

“I knew there was something funny about you two,” Snow said, her tone commanding and clear. “Who are you?” she demanded.

Regina fought the instinct to just knock her out again. Tempting as it was, she didn’t have time to move Snow someplace safe before going to find Emma. And really, the longer she stood here arguing with Snow, the more danger Emma was in. Her chest knotted as possibilities flashed through her mind. So without quite thinking it through, she decided to tell Snow the truth - mostly.

“Look, Mary,” she snapped, emphasizing the fake name, “Yes, we lied to you. And yes, I have magic. But I promise you, I’m on your side. And right now, all that matters to me is that Anna is gone, and The Queen might have her. So are you going to stand here threatening me, or are you going to let me go after her?”

Snow’s face softened, but she didn’t lower her bow.

“The Queen might have Anna?” she asked. “Why? What would she want with her?”

“I don’t know, Snow!” Regina growled. “But she was here one minute, and now she’s gone.”

When Snow’s eyes widened, Regina realized her mistake. Maybe she should just knock her out after all…

But Snow lowered the arrow. “What did you call me?” she asked quietly.

Regina sighed. Nothing for it now.

“I know you’re Snow White,” she said, an idea forming. “And Anna knows, too. That’s why we helped you yesterday. And maybe why Anna got captured,” she added for good measure.

And there it was: written across Snow’s face was the guilt over someone else getting hurt because of her that Regina had seen so many times in Emma’s eyes. Regina knew she had her, and didn’t feel at all bad about it.

Snow lowered the arrow.

“I … I’m so sorry,” she stammered. “I just - most people with magic don’t exactly use it for good.”

Regina shrugged. “I guess I’m not most people.”

“No,” said Snow slowly. “I guess you’re not.”

“You should go,” Regina said decisively. “You can’t be here if The Queen is still around.”

Snow shook her head. “I saw her leave this morning. That’s the only reason I’m anywhere near the castle. The best hunting grounds are right over there, and I only use them when she’s out.”

Regina almost laughed. She’d spent months building deterrent charms because someone kept killing off her livestock while she was away. And of course it was Snow White. But if the Queen wasn’t around, then who had taken Emma?
As if reading her mind, Snow said calmly, “I know where the black knights keep prisoners. If Anna was captured, that’s where she’d be.”

Of course Regina knew where that was as well, but she figured she’d play along. Better to not give Snow any more reason to suspect she was up to something.

“Just describe it to me,” she said to Snow. “I can get there with magic, get Anna out, and be on our way.”

Snow shook her head. “The Queen puts all kinds of spells on the place. I doubt if you’d be able to get through, even with magic.”

Regina felt frustration bubble up. This was ridiculous. She didn’t need Snow White’s help getting into her own castle, and the longer she stood here, the worse things could get for Emma. She of all people should know that. Her stomach dropped as she realized exactly what could be happening to her. And how many people she’d tortured and … NO, she thought firmly. Self-pity and regret can wait. Right now, getting rid of Snow and getting to Emma were top priority.

So she turned back to Snow and tried a different tactic.

“Please, Snow. Let me do this alone. You’re too important to risk getting caught.”

She saw Snow about to argue, and decided to risk something akin to the truth. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I actually know how to get past the enchantments. I … made a deal with Rumplestiltskin,” she finished, knowing that was at least somewhat believable.

Thankfully, Snow relented. “At least let me make sure you get to the right place,” she said. “It’s on the far side of the castle. We can go around together, and then I’ll let you go in alone.”

Regina narrowed her eyes. She highly doubted that Snow would actually let her go, but it was worth a try.

“Alright,” she said. “But I’m using magic to get us around.”

And before Snow could protest, she waved her hands and transported them to almost the exact right spot. She knew better than to let on that she knew where she was going. Snow looked around, clearly disoriented for a moment, before deciding on a direction and marching off without a word. Regina followed, and after just a few minutes they were outside a high wall that hid the entrance to the dungeons.

“It’s just over this wall,” Snow said, pointing down. “Down the passageway, and take a left at the fork. My guess is she’ll be in the first hallway, since Regina hasn’t had a chance to sentence her yet.”

Hearing her own name said with such vitriol made Regina shiver, but she nodded and thanked Snow quickly. Without waiting for her to try to follow, Regina waved her hands and disappeared over the wall. When she was on the other side, she transformed herself into The Queen, just in case, and then transported herself to the top of the stairwell.

Three guards practically fell over themselves standing at attention as soon as she appeared. She sucked in a breath and tried to appear regal and unconcerned.

“I hear we have a new prisoner,” she said with a sneer, hoping she was right, and Emma was actually here.

“Yes, your majesty,” the guard closest to her said quickly. “She’s in the far wing.”

“The far wing?” she repeated, confused, then let the anger creep back into her voice. “Why?” she demanded.

The guard cowered, and Regina tried not to enjoy his immediate reaction. This. This was why it had been so hard to change.

“She … she used magic,” the guard stammered.

Regina blinked. “She did?”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Bring me to her,” Regina barked, squaring her shoulders again.

The guard walked her down the long hallway to the right. They turned a few corners, and finally came upon the cell she had had specially made for prisoners of the magical variety. Her breath caught when she saw Emma slumped in the corner, still in her knight’s garb, but missing the helmet. Her face, which was still the one Regina had created with her glamour, was covered in blood, and her hands were tied behind her back. Regina whirled around to glare at the guard.

“Leave us,” she spat. “I’m not to be disturbed.”

He bowed and scurried away, taking the other guard who was standing watch by the cell with him. As soon as they were out of sight, Regina crouched down.

“Emma?” she whispered.

Emma’s eyes fluttered open. “Regina?” she croaked.

“Yes, it’s me. Mongoose!”

Emma’s mouth quirked up at one end, but she grimaced as she tried to sit up.

“Don’t move,” Regina instructed. “I’m getting you out of here.”

She stood back. This cell was heavily enchanted, and it would take her a moment to undo the charms enough to get Emma out. As she was working, there was a commotion in the hall. She turned away, just in time to see a guard come running towards her.

“Your majesty!” he shouted. “Snow White! She’s been spotted in the grounds!”

Regina growled. Goddamn Snow White couldn’t just leave well enough alone. And now if she was going to keep them thinking she was the Queen, she’d have to abandon Emma and go after Snow. Maybe she could just get them both out, and leave the guards to sort things out. But the charms on the cell were still intact. Well, perversely, Emma was actually safer here than outside these walls. She’d just have to give Snow a chase, lose her, and then come back.

She turned back to Emma, put on her best Evil Queen voice, and sneered, “Don’t go anywhere, dear. I’m not finished with you yet.”

She waved a hand as Emma gaped at her, and disappeared from the hall.

Chapter Text

Walking through the woods with Regina by her side was everything Emma had wanted for months. She was finally free to flirt and banter with her, and every now and then she stopped to kiss her, just because she could. She couldn’t get enough of the electricity that passed through their hands every time they touched. And Regina’s lips - oh, Regina’s lips. They were soft and sweet, and pressed against her own with a passion that she readily returned. For long moments, Emma forgot about their mission, or that they were so far in space in time from where they were supposed to be. Everything was just Regina.

But the closer they got to the Queen’s castle, the quieter Regina became, and the seriousness of their situation gradually settled into Emma’s nervous system. By the time they saw the royal carriage leave, Emma was on edge, and barely stopping herself from hyperventilating. She kept worrying about what would happen if they got separated. She knew Regina thought she’d be fine, but what if something happened while she was in the castle, and Emma didn’t know until it was too late? Or what if something happened out here, and Emma couldn’t get her magic to work?

“It’s time,” Regina said, interrupting her spiraling thoughts.

Emma grabbed her hand. “Be careful,” she said.

Regina gave her a small smile and started to turn away. Emma stopped her, though, an idea popping into her head.

“Wait,” she said. She dropped Regina’s hand and took her silver necklace off her own neck and clasped it around Regina’s, noticing Regina’s sharp intake of breath as she did. Emma trailed her fingers down the chain to rest over the pendent.

“Just in case you need to find me,” she said quietly. Regina nodded her understanding, and leaned forward to kiss Emma again. Emma leaned into the kiss, trying to make sure Regina felt her care and concern through the brief touch. Regina’s eyes were worried, but her face was resolved as she backed away, replaced their glamours, and disappeared.

Emma stood quietly for a moment, listening for any activity in the forest around her. When she was satisfied that the coast was clear, she eased the massive helmet off her head and set it down at her feet. She couldn’t stand still, so started pacing, counting the minutes. She figured she’d give Regina half an hour, and if she hadn’t heard or seen anything, she’d find a way in to the castle.

But after just five minutes of excruciating tension, she realized she needed to distract herself. So she did lunges. And then squats. She was just looking around for a wide enough space to stretch out for push-ups when she heard a twig snap not far off. She whirled around to face the sound, drawing her sword. Nothing happened. She held her breath, listening for any movement. But there was nothing. Suddenly, though, a man crashed through the bushes from behind her, nearly running her over. He was dressed in ragged clothes, and was covered in soot or dust or something. He took one look at her sword, and got himself into fighting stance. Emma lowered her sword, and started to tell him to calm down, but he launched himself at her, knocking the sword from her hands and pinning her against the tree behind her. His eyes were wild as he elbowed her in the face. Pain ripped through her, and then she felt his hands close around her neck. She felt the panic rising, and in desperation she grabbed at his forearms. A burst of magic shot from her hands as she did, surprising her as much as him. She recovered quickly, and tapped into the buzzing energy in her belly that she finally recognized as the source of her magic. Another blast shot from her hands and knocked him onto his back.

Before she had a chance to recover, though, her arms were being grabbed from behind. She twisted her head around, and saw that two black knights had emerged from the bushes and were holding onto her.

“Who the hell are you?” one of them hissed at her. “You’re not a guard, not with that magic.”

“Let me go!” she yelled, twisting in their grip. She tried to get her magic going again, to send up sparks for Regina to see. But she couldn’t find it. And then one of them lunged at her, and the world went black.

***

When she came to, Emma was lying on a stone floor in almost complete darkness. She pushed herself up to sitting, groaning as her head swam with the movement. She peered around her, quickly realizing that she must be in the dungeon of the castle. She shivered, from fear and from cold alike. Whatever picture she’d had in her head of a dungeon in the Enchanted Forest did not do this place justice. She could have expected the cold and the damp. She never could have imagined the smell. Death and decay hung in the air, making it hard to catch her breath and even harder to imagine how she was ever going to get out of here.

Emma stared down at her hands. What the hell had happened? Why did her magic flair up like that? And why couldn’t she get it to work when she needed to? She tried to get it to rise to the surface, but as soon as she did a ringing pain shot through her skull, making her see stars. OK, so using magic to escape was out. She sank back down to the ground, cradling her aching head on her hands. Maybe she would just lie here for a while first.

***

Emma must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew, Regina was standing right in front of her cell. Or maybe it was The Evil Queen. She was dressed like the Queen, and with Emma’s vision still fuzzy she couldn’t quite tell. The Queen sneered down at her, barked something at the guard, and then crouched down to Emma’s eye level.

“Emma?” she whispered, and Emma’s heart leapt.

“Regina?” she croaked.

“Yes, it’s me. Mongoose!”

Emma’s mouth quirked up at one end, but she grimaced as she tried to sit up.

“Don’t move,” Regina instructed. “I’m getting you out of here.”

Emma was more than happy to lie back down. She couldn’t understand why her body felt so … heavy. She’d been knocked out before, and it hurt, but not like this.

Regina was standing at the cell, concentrating on something. Emma couldn’t tell what. But then there was a commotion in the hallway, and a guard came running back in. Emma heard the name Snow White, saw Regina’s face harden, and then she was gone.

It was quiet again. Much too quiet. Emma rubbed her eyes to try to clear her head. Maybe that wasn’t Regina. She wouldn’t have gone after Snow. But wait, what was Snow doing here in the first place? And then finally her brain kicked into gear and she put together what must have happened. Snow had followed them, and gotten spotted on the grounds. Regina, she assumed now it was in fact her Regina, was probably going to scare her off.

Emma sat up. Once she was able to string one coherent thought together, her head seemed to feel better. She peered into the half-light of the lone torch burning in the far corner. As she narrowed her eyes, she caught a faint shimmer from the cell bars. Magic. She must be in some kind of magical holding cell. And she’d bet money that was why her system went haywire when she tried to do magic in here. She stood up carefully, and walked over to the bars. She didn’t have the kind of finely tuned magical perception that Regina seemed to, but she could certainly feel the power emanating from whatever was keeping her in. She reached out to investigate, only to be blasted back by an arc of dark magic. She groaned and curled in on herself on the ground, her vision once again going blurry. Should have seen that coming, Swan, she thought miserably.

A cold mirthless laugh echoed out of the darkness at her. “Yes it does pack quite a punch, does it not?” a voice said.

Emma looked up, and there in front of her stood The Evil Queen. She didn’t for a moment doubt that this was not her Regina, either. Besides the outfit being different, this woman’s eyes held none of the warmth and sparkle Emma had come to adore. Her stance was rigid but confident, and her face inscrutable.

“So,” the Queen drawled, “who is it that my guards have captured? And how did you get so far in dismantling my barrier spells, hm?”

Emma gulped. Dismantling her what now? Emma hadn’t even been able to touch - oh. That must have been what Regina was doing before she left. Regina, Emma thought in a panic. She didn’t know the Queen was back! And she was out there impersonating her.

But she didn’t have long to dwell on that. The Queen stalked right up to the bars, reached through the barrier with her magic, and pulled Emma up to her feet and towards her.

“Not feeling talkative, are we?” the Queen asked.

Emma tried to think of what she could possibly say that would help. What in the world would get the Queen’s attention? She didn’t want to tell her that Snow was out there, in case she went out and saw Regina. But wait. There was one person even The Evil Queen didn’t want to cross.

“Rumplestiltskin sent me!” Emma rasped through her pain at being so close to the magical barriers.

“WHAT?!” the Queen flicked her wrist and Emma collapsed down on the ground.

Emma gasped and thought quickly.

“He’s looking for something - a curse. And he brought me from another realm to find it. He thought you could help me,” she sputtered. Sometimes the truth - or part of it, at least - was actually the best misdirection.

The Queen growled at her, making Emma back away from the bars as far as she could.

“Then why,” the Queen said slowly, “are you dressed like one of my guards?”

Shit. Emma hadn’t thought of that.

“I thought it was the best way to get to see you,” she tried.

The Queen scoffed. “You thought wrong. And if Rumple thinks he can send some errand girl to do his work for him, well, he always did underestimate me.”

And with that, she stalked off, leaving Emma staring at the place she had stood, wondering what in the hell to do next, and how she could find Regina while she was stuck in a cell without her magic. She laughed when the answer dawned on her.

“Rumplestiltskin!” she called. “Rumplestiltskin! Rumplestiltskin!”

The Imp appeared in the place the Queen had just left, looking far too amused by the situation.

“Well, well, well,” he practically giggled. “If it isn’t Future Regina’s little hand-maiden. How did you get yourself here, dearie?”

Emma was about to answer, but stopped, confused. “Wait, you know who I am?” she asked. The glamour Regina had cast on her was still in place. He shouldn’t be able to see who she really was.

He waved a hand dismissively. “I came up with that particular little trick. Of course I can see through her glamour.” He peered at her. “Although, I must say it’s a good one. Quite masterfully done.” He stood back up. “So, what did you call me for?”

Emma suppressed the urge to snap back ‘what do you think, I’m stuck in a cell,’ and instead spelled it out clearly: “I need you to get me out of here, and warn Regina that the Queen is back.”

He laughed. “Oh do you, now? And er, what are you prepared to give me in return, hm?”

Emma looked around. She had literally nothing of value.

“What do you want?” she asked, stalling.

“Your name,” Rumple said without hesitation.

Emma faltered. She knew from all the stories that if Rumplestiltskin knew your name, he had power over you. But really, what choice did she have?

“Alright, I’ll give you my name,” she answered, adding quickly, “and then you’ll get me out of here, and get us both to Regina - my Regina - so we can get out before the Queen finds her?”

Rumple jumped up and down, looking very much like the Imp Regina was always calling him.

“Deal!” he squealed, and waved his hands.

The door to the cell swung open. Emma got to her feet and put a hand out to test the barriers. Nothing was there, so she walked gingerly out to stand in front of Rumple.

“Well?” he prompted.

She took a deep breath. “My name is Emma Swan.”

He grinned. “I thought so,” he said with a smirk.

Dark red smoke enveloped them before Emma had a chance to respond.

Chapter Text

Regina tensed her muscles as she left the dungeon and materialized in the courtyard of the castle. It was the way she could most easily get herself back into the mindset of The Evil Queen, who never for one moment let her guard down. If this was going to work, she had to be completely believable, and yet also fail at catching Snow White; a delicate balance. Her mind raced as she thought through how her former self would have handled this situation. She decided she would have gone blindly into it, letting her emotions lead her, and not bothering to stop and think about strategy. Which actually could work to her advantage at the moment.

“Over here, your majesty!” a guard shouted as he ran down the ridge. Regina stalked off behind him, hoping to give Snow a running start.

But Snow seemed to have other ideas. Regina caught a flicker of movement up in the trees and realized Snow was either hiding or lying in wait to ambush her. More likely hiding, if she knew anything about Snow White, and she did. But just in case, Regina didn’t want to give her the opportunity to try to put an arrow through her. None of this had happened before, and Regina wanted to make sure that anything that occured from here on out was as close as possible to the past she remembered. There was no telling what damage they could have caused to the timeline already by being here. So this needed to happen like any other close scrape with Snow - she’d bluster off towards her, get overconfident, and Snow would escape by the skin of her teeth.

She took a deep breath and tried to find the right tone of voice.

“Snow White!” she boomed out, irrationally proud that she could still produce that commanding sound. “You think you can hide from me?”

She swept off in almost the right direction, but not directly towards Snow. Her guards fanned out in front of her, sweeping the woods. They never once looked up, though, and Regina realized just how blinded by rage she’d been. If she had been thinking clearly back then, she would have been able to get herself into Snow’s head enough to realize that she was fighting a very different battle than Regina was. Regina had been throwing her power around, assuming that Snow would eventually be broken by it. Snow, on the other hand, was thinking outside the box to stay just one step ahead. Because she didn’t really want to win, Regina realized. Snow wanted to survive, not to defeat her. At least, not at this point. And that’s why she had. Well, a show of power was what she needed to put on right now.

“There!” she shouted, pointed at the bushes just below Snow’s position in the trees. She tossed a fireball in her general direction, then stood back while the guards surrounded the area. She peered up at the branches, no longer able to see Snow. She assumed she was still there, but hidden well. She tossed another fireball for good measure, biting back a smirk as it nearly singed one of the guards who hadn’t been paying attention.

“Well?” she barked, moving down the ridge towards the cluster of guards. They looked at each other and shuffled every so slightly away from her.

“I’m sorry, your majesty,” one of them said, “we’ve lost her.”

Regina held her breath. The Evil Queen would have snapped his neck at this point. He knew it, too - she could see the deadened resignation on his face. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t!

“Keep looking,” she snapped instead, stalling for time.

He blinked at her, but didn’t question the order. The guards fanned out again, getting farther from the last place Regina had seen Snow. Regina followed them at a calculated distance, hoping it would give Snow a chance to get away back the other direction.

Suddenly a swirl of red smoke blocked her path, and none other than Rumplestiltskin appeared, holding onto the wrist of a woman it took Regina a moment to recognize as Emma, or rather Anna, her glamoured alter-ego, now back in the riding outfit she’d first had her in. Her face was still covered in dried blood and was puffy and bruised.

“Here we are,” said Rumple in a sing-songy voice to Emma. “I’ve delivered you to ‘your Regina,’ and our deal is now complete.”

He disappeared without even a glance her way. Regina gaped at Emma for a second. ‘Your Regina?’ she thought. What was that about? But she let that go when Emma sagged towards her, clearly unsteady on her feet. Regina grabbed her around the waist.

“She’s back. The Queen,” Emma said breathlessly. “You have to get us out of here!”

Regina’s eyes widened. She looked quickly around to make sure they were alone, then enveloped both of them in her magic and transported them as far away as she could manage. The guards might be confused when they found she had disappeared, but she was 90% sure none of them had seen Rumple and Emma arrive, so they should be safe.

When they appeared not far from Snow’s tree stump cave, Emma lost her footing completely, and Regina barely managed to hold onto her. She eased Emma down onto the ground, propping her up against a tree.

“Emma?” she asked tentatively, running her hands lightly over her face to assess the damage.

“I’m OK,” Emma said quietly. “Just a little dizzy and disoriented.”

“Close your eyes,” Regina instructed. Emma did so immediately, which honestly worried Regina more than anything else. Emma was not known for being a cooperative patient. Regina passed her hand above Emma’s skin, healing the wounds and clearing away the dried blood and dirt. She kept going, searching for other injuries and healing them as she went. Emma had a couple of nasty bruises, but nothing was broken. When she was done, she knelt down next to her, stroking Emma’s cheek gently with her knuckles. Emma gave her a small smile and fluttered her eyes open.

“Better?” Regina asked.

Emma nodded. “Much.” She reached up and wrapped her arms around Regina’s neck, pulling her close. Regina happily melted in towards her, holding tighter as soon as she could tell that it wouldn’t hurt Emma to do so.

“I thought I’d lost you,” she whispered into long hair as she buried her face in the crook of Emma’s neck.

“Can’t get rid of me that easily,” Emma joked, and Regina smiled. That was more like her Emma.

The thought startled her. Since when did she think of her as ‘her Emma’? Probably around the same time Emma started to refer to her as ‘my Regina.’ They definitely needed to circle back to that. But maybe not quite yet. Right now she was content to hold Emma close, finally safe for the moment. She pulled back and looked down, realizing she was still dressed at the Queen.

“Yeah,” Emma said. “Probably time to change out of that. I’m surprised you can walk in it.”

Regina rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop herself from grinning as she did so.

“You get used to it when you’re royalty, dear,” she said, waving her hand to return herself to the riding outfit like Emma’s.

Much to her surprise, Emma fixed her with the most practiced pout she’d ever seen, and Regina had raised Henry .

“What?” she asked.

“I miss your face,” Emma responded. “Your real face. I don’t like having to be different people.”

“Really, Miss Swan?” Regina said, exasperated. “You were captured by black knights and thrown in a magical prison by the Evil Queen, barely escaping alive, and you’re going to argue with me about whether we need to wear glamours to protect ourselves?”

Emma looked down, properly chastened. Regina bit her lip to keep from smiling as she moved closer to her again and kissed her gently on the lips.

“I can still do that, even if I don’t look like me,” she said, loving the way Emma leaned into the kiss. Emma’s lips were badly chapped, though, and Regina realized neither of them had had water in far too long.

“Come on,” she said, helping Emma up to standing. “Let’s get down to that stream and get you some water.” She hooked an arm around Emma’s waist and started walking them through the trees.

“I’m OK, Regina, really,” Emma said as they went. “You don’t need to hold me up.”

Regina held on more tightly, and answered simply, “I know.”

 

***

By the time they had gotten themselves refreshed and hydrated, Regina had realized that she no longer had her bag with ingredients for the locator potions. Her heart sank, and she went back through her mind trying to remember the last time she’d had it. She thought it was with her when she escaped the black knight in the woods. And probably when Snow had walked her around to the far side of the castle. But after that, she had no idea. She didn’t say anything to Emma, though, not wanting to admit that the entire ordeal had been for nothing.

As they wandered away from the stream, Regina heard a noise in the woods and froze, motioning to Emma to do the same. They crept behind a log, Regina putting an arm protectively in front of Emma as she leaned forward to see what was happening. When she saw Snow emerge from the trees, alone, she breathed a sigh of relief and stood up.

“Hey, it’s me - Kathryn!” she said when Snow instinctually raised her bow.

“Kathryn!” Snow cried, immediately dropping the bow. “Anna! You’re alive! What happened?”

Regina opened her mouth, but Snow cut her off. “Actually, never mind. Let’s get inside first. I don’t know if we’re safe out here in the open.”

She motioned for them to follow her, and after just a few minutes the tree stump came into view. Regina put her hand on Emma’s back to guide her into the entrance to the cave first. Emma looked at her quizzically, but ducked inside quickly. Snow lit a couple of lanterns and settled them all on furs with food and water in front of them. Regina hadn’t noticed herself getting hungry until food was in front of her, and ate the meager rations gratefully.

“Oh,” said Snow as she settled in. “I think this is yours.” She untied a small bag from her belt, and tossed it at Regina. Regina stared at it in disbelief. It was the bag with potion ingredients.

“Thank you,” she breathed, not knowing exactly what to say. At Emma’s questioning look, she said, “this is what we came here for. I lost track of it during, well, everything that happened.”

Emma’s eyes widened, and she looked over at Snow. Without saying a word, she got up, crossed the small space, and pulled Snow into a hug.

“Oh … alright,” Snow said, awkwardly returning Emma’s embrace.

“Sorry,” Emma mumbled, returning to her seat. “That’s just - the stuff in that bag is really important.” She looked at Regina sheepishly. Regina laughed.

“So,” said Snow once more, “want to tell me what exactly happened back there?”

Regina and Emma looked at each other. This could get interesting.

“Well,” Emma started, “I think I accidentally apprehended an escaped prisoner, and that’s why they caught me.”

“What?!” Regina and Snow exclaimed at the same time.

“I was in the woods, waiting for you,” Emma explained, “and this guy came running up and knocked me down. That’s when I got the elbow to the face. I think I stopped him,” here she looked meaningfully at Regina, who had no idea what was behind her words, “and then the guards came up and took both of us back to the dungeon. They knocked me out, and next thing I knew I was in a cell.”

“And you found her?” Snow asked Regina.

“Yes,” Regina lied. “I found her. We got out just in time, too. I heard that the Queen returned to the castle.” Best to keep it simple, she figured. She would fill Emma in on the details later. Obviously Emma had her own set of missing details to explain, as well.

“I know,” said Snow glumly. “Her guards saw me outside the wall. Honestly, for a moment there I thought that was it. But I hid in a tree, and she didn’t see me. I got lucky that time.”

“Yes, you did,” Regina replied a little more harshly than she’d meant to. “I told you it was too dangerous to come with me,” she added, more gently.

Snow sighed and leaned back into the cave wall. “I know. I couldn’t let you go alone, though. I know what it’s like to lose someone you love, and I couldn’t let that happen to you two.”

Emma reached for Regina’s hand at that, and Regina blushed deeply. She wrapped her fingers around Emma’s, but stared intently at the ground, unable to look at her. The way Snow gazed at them with such affection didn’t make it any better. Good god, was this what it was like for Emma back home, with her mother doting on her all the time? Regina’s breath caught as she thought about home, and then Henry. This had to work. They had to find that damn curse, get it to Rumple, and get themselves home.

Her hand tightened in Emma’s, who looked at her, concerned. Regina squeezed her hand back in reassurance.

“Well,” said Snow, yawning. “It’s been quite a day. I’m going to turn in early.”

Regina peered outside. The sun was just setting now, but honestly, she could probably sleep, too. They could work on the potion first thing in the morning. Regina looked at Emma, who looked to be as tired as she was.

“I think we will, too,” she announced. “We should get going early tomorrow. Before first light, if possible.” She turned to Snow. “And please, don’t follow us this time.”

Snow smiled at her. “I won’t,” she promised.

All three of them bustled around the cave, and eventually Regina tucked herself and Emma into their makeshift bed, hardly able to believe it had only been a day since they were last lying here. She pulled Emma close in the darkness, holding her hand to her chest, pressed between them. Emma wrapped her fingers around the open collar of Regina’s undershirt and snuggled closer to her.

“Regina,” she whispered so only the two of them could hear. “Thank you for finding me back there.”

Regina kissed her cheek. “And thank you for doing the same,” she said. “You’ll have to explain exactly how when we’re alone.”

Emma laughed under her breath. “Yeah, we have a lot to catch up on.”

She sought out Regina’s mouth to kiss her, both of them sighing as their lips brushed over each other. Regina slipped her hand under the hem of Emma’s shirt, wanting to feel her skin and pull her close. She couldn’t explain the depth of feeling that had risen in her, but somehow the ordeal they’d been through today made her understand that she cared about Emma deeply, and felt a strong urge to protect her. Emma hummed into her mouth and pushed their hips together. She slipped her hand inside the neckline of Regina’s shirt, gently caressing her collarbones in ways that made Regina absolutely shiver with delight. Regina felt herself melting into the feel of Emma’s body pressed so close into hers, and she clutched at her back, wanting every part of them to touch.

The more Emma’s hands touched her skin, the more relaxed she got, until the walls she’d put up around her emotions started to dissipate. As they did, though, the memories and feelings she’d inhabited today as she impersonated the Evil Queen came rushing up, and she pulled away from Emma, gasping with the force of the the guilt and disgust that washed over her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she scrambled out from under the cloth cover, running out of the cave blindly. She stopped at the entrance, breathing hard. She heard Emma rush out behind her, calling to her.

“Wait! Regina, what happened?” Emma stood next to her, uncertainty radiating out of her posture. She reached out a tentative hand to brush along Regina’s arm, but Regina pulled away from it.

“Don’t!” she gasped. “Don’t. Just leave me alone.”

Emma crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “No,” she said stubbornly. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Regina whipped her head around to glare at her, but faltered when she saw the concern in Emma’s eyes.

“Please, Emma,” she whispered. “Don’t make this harder than it already is.”

“Make what harder? Regina, what just happened? Did I do something?”

Regina reached out to her instinctively. “No,” she said quietly. “I just … I can’t … this isn’t ....” she sighed. “I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve you. Not after what I’ve done.”

She couldn’t keep the tears at bay anymore, so she turned her back on Emma, holding herself rigidly.

“Regina,” Emma said tenderly, putting a hand on her back. “Don’t say that. Of course you deserve this. You deserve all the tenderness and care I can give you.”

Regina bit her lip as she began to cry harder, fighting to keep herself together.

“No I don’t!” she sobbed. “You saw what I did today, who I was. You saw how I treated people. I can’t … you don’t come back from something like that.”

Emma smoothed her hand across Regina’s back. It was such a comforting touch, but Regina couldn’t let it in. She was filled with disgust for herself, and the thought of Emma, who she cared about so much, touching someone as horrible as she was made her want to scream.

“Regina,” Emma said forcefully. “Look at me.”

Regina shook her head.

“Look at me,” Emma said again.

Regina reluctantly turned her face, holding her breath to keep from crying.

“I forgive you,” Emma said, holding on to her arm. “I forgave you a long time ago. Henry forgave you. Even my mom forgave you. Why can’t you forgive yourself?”

Regina shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.

“You’re not that person anymore,” Emma continued. “And you never will be again. You’ve changed, Regina. This Regina,” she took her hand for emphasis. “ My Regina is always looking for the good she can do for the people she loves.”

At that, Regina lost all her resolve. Every bit of her crumbled, and she covered her face as she tipped forward into Emma’s waiting arms, sobbing like she had never done before in her adult life. Emma smoothed her hair and held her gently, whispering comforting words to her while she cried and cried and cried some more. She’d never let anyone see her like this. Hell, she barely let herself see this side of her. But once she got started, she couldn’t seem to stop. A part of her felt strangely liberated, even if more of her was deeply ashamed and frankly terrified.

Eventually, though, her tears subsided. She pushed herself off of Emma’s now very damp shirt and turned away, unable to look at her.

“Hey,” said Emma softly. “Talk to me?”

Regina glanced over at her, and then quickly away.

“I just need some time alone, Emma. Please.”

“OK,” Emma said warily. “I’ll be inside if you need me.”

She squeezed Regina’s arm and walked away. Regina sat down with her back against the tree stump, gazing out into the dark forest. Her mind was blank, and her heart felt empty. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, wishing she could just disappear into the night.

Chapter Text

Emma reluctantly left Regina outside the cave and went back in. Snow was sitting up, looking concerned, and Emma had a moment of panic that she’d overheard the whole thing.

“Is everything OK?” Snow asked.

Emma nodded slowly, not wanting to say more than she should.

“I was worried when I heard you two leave.”

“Sorry,” Emma said, “I guess Kathryn was a little rattled by everything today, and needed some fresh air.”

Snow nodded knowingly, but didn’t ask anything else. Emma exhaled. If Snow heard anything, she wasn’t making a big deal out of it, and that was probably a good sign.

“You two have been through a lot over the past two days,” Snow said kindly. Emma looked at her and realized that everything they’d dealt with since they’d gotten here was essentially Snow’s life all the time - running from the Evil Queen, catching moments of calm when she could, fighting just to survive.

Emma smiled sadly at Snow. “I guess you must be used to this kind of thing,” she said.

Snow’s smile faded. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it,” she said quietly. “But yes, it is pretty much how things go for me.”

“That doesn’t seem like much of a life,” Emma said without thinking.

Snow sighed. “No, it’s not.”

Emma frowned. Her mother was always the first to jump in with a hope speech when things got bad. But this woman sitting in front of her looked, if not defeated, then resigned to her fate. How did she become that beacon of hope that Emma knew? What changed to make her start seeing the best in everything and everybody? Emma was suddenly consumed with curiosity about her mother. She realized with a jolt that she was, in this moment, older than Snow. Back in Emma’s real life, Snow really had forgiven Regina. But here, she hadn’t even begun to hate her as much as she’d seemed to down the line. Throwing caution to the wind, Emma decided to probe her for details.

“Why does the Queen hate you so much?” Emma asked.

“She blames me for ruining her life,” Snow answered without hesitation.

“Did you?” Emma had always wondered what really happened between Snow and Regina. She’d read the book, and she’d heard each of them describe things vaguely. But with so much bad blood between them, she didn’t quite trust either account, and figured the truth was somewhere between the three versions of the story.

Snow thought about her question for a moment as she played with a loose string on the hem of her shirt.

“Yes,” she said finally. “I told a secret that wasn’t mine to tell, and Regina lost someone she loved dearly because of me.”

“And that’s why she’s trying to kill you?” Emma prompted, wanting more.

Snow shook her head. “That’s why she hates me. I think she wants to kill me because I remind her of the life she lost. And if I was dead, she could move on.”

Emma was not expecting that. “The life she lost?” she repeated.

“When I first met Regina, she had this sparkle in her eyes. And after everything that happened with me and my father, that’s gone. It’s been some time since I was close enough to her to look into her eyes, but I imagine they’d just be dead - filled with nothing but darkness. But still, as terrible as the things she’s done are … my heart breaks for her.”

“Could you ever forgive her?” Regina’s voice filtered in through the darkness, and Emma turned to see her leaning against the cave entrance. She wondered how long she’d been standing there.

“Yes,” said Snow after a pause. “If she was sorry for what she’s done and truly wanted to change for the better, I could see my way to forgiving her.”

Regina gazed at Snow for a moment, her face unreadable. Emma held her breath. Regina nodded once, and then came to sit next to Emma, taking her hand and intertwining their fingers.

“I think if she heard what you just said, she’d want to change, and to be forgiven,” Regina said quietly.

“Maybe someday I’ll get to tell her,” Snow said sadly. “Well,” she said, shaking off the darkened mood, “I think we could all use some sleep. I’ll make sure you’re up before the sun.”

With that, she blew out the lantern she’d lit when Emma started talking, and wrapped herself in her bedroll, turning to face the wall with a final “Goodnight.”

Regina squeezed Emma’s hand and led her back to their makeshift bed. Emma gratefully gathered Regina up in her arms as soon as they lay down. She was so glad Regina had come back inside, and heard Snow say what she did. Emma kissed Regina’s head and held her tight. She didn’t know what to say, but when Regina turned to press gentle kisses into her jaw, Emma relaxed and decided she didn’t need to say anything.

 

***

Emma awoke to the sound of someone moving around the cave. She opened her eyes, and panicked when Regina wasn’t lying beside her. Had she left in the middle of the night? Had something happened? Emma sat up and threw the covers off of her. Snow turned around and smiled brightly.

“Good morning,” she said. “Kathryn’s just gone to get water. Feel free to take some provisions for your journey, too.”

She pushed some baskets of food towards Emma, who tried to calm her racing heart. She thanked Snow and went about preparing a bag with food. Regina came in a moment later with full waterskins, and gave Emma a small smile before taking the bag from her. All three of them left the cave together, saying short goodbyes in the pre-dawn chill. Emma had to suppress the urge to hug Snow again. She comforted herself with the thought that if they were successful, by the end of the day she’d be home with her own mother. Being with Snow like this only made her miss home more.

Regina held out a hand to Emma. “Ready?” she asked.

Emma nodded and took her hand, and was immediately swept up in Regina’s magic, swirling around them and transporting them to somewhere else in the forest. Honestly, it looked to Emma like every other clearing they’d passed through. How did people navigate in the Enchanted Forest anyway? Compasses? She would be lost in an instant if not for Regina.

Regina dropped her hand as soon as they’d gotten their bearings. She placed the bag with the potion ingredients on the ground, and then wordlessly conjured a sword and handed it to Emma.

“Stand guard while I work on this,” she said evenly.

Emma took the sword, but narrowed her eyes at Regina. “OK…” she said slowly. “Is everything alright?”

“I’m fine,” Regina snapped, and Emma rolled her eyes. It was like deja-vu all over again with Regina sometimes. But Emma didn’t push the issue. Instead she scoped out the best place to guard the clearing, keeping her mind occupied with memories of the way Regina’s arms felt around her last night. The way it felt when her fingers tangled in Emma’s long hair. The incredible sensation of their lips pressing together.

“I can feel you staring at me, Miss Swan,” Regina grumbled without looking up. Emma blushed, worried that Regina knew exactly what she was thinking about, and looked away, mumbling “sorry.”

But then Regina raised her head, and there was a hint of amusement in her gaze. Which, honestly, Emma should have been able to tell. Lately she didn’t call her “Miss Swan” unless she was teasing.

“I just want to get this over with,” Regina said gently.

“I know,” Emma said, letting out her breath. “I’ll try not to distract you.”

That earned her a real smile from Regina, which she readily returned. Regina bent back down to continue her work. Emma let her mind wander, settling into the kind of comfortable alertness that she’d cultivated as a bail-bonds-person. Stakeouts had been excruciating at first, having to sit there with very little to do, but unable to distract herself. Eventually, though, she found a way to sink into the feeling and ended up really enjoying the work. It was meditative, she supposed, to be quiet and still for so long without losing focus.

Some time passed before Regina finally stood up with a vial of deep purple liquid.

“Alright,” she said. “It’s ready.” She held out the potion for Emma to hold while she took Emma’s necklace off from around her own neck. Regina held the necklace up to eye level, inspecting it.

“Are you sure you’re OK with me using this?” she asked Emma, holding out her hand for the potion.

“Yeah, I am,” Emma answered without hesitation. “The thing it’s supposed to remind me about isn’t really relevant anymore.”

“And what is it that it reminds you?” Regina asked.

Emma kicked her heel into the ground. She knew Regina was going to ask her about it, but that didn’t make telling the story any easier.

“I stole it,” Emma started. She glanced up at Regina’s expression, which was far to amused for Emma’s liking. “Right after I got out of jail. After … after I had Henry. I was so broken by that whole experience, but I was trying to put together a life for myself. I had a job as a bail-bonds-person, and I found an apartment, and tried to, you know, settle down. But one night I just couldn’t handle it. I felt so trapped in my life. And I was in some store, so I just reached out and took this necklace I liked. Just because I could. But when I got home, I basically made myself sick with guilt and shame that I’d stolen again. So I vowed that I would stay on track, and that I’d find better ways to deal with my feelings. And I kept the necklace to remind me of where I’d started and where I wanted to go.”

Regina had taken her hand by the time she stopped talking.

“So it reminds you of that choice?” she echoed. Emma nodded in agreement.

“But you don’t have to make the choice anymore?”

Emma thought about it. “I mean, some days I still feel trapped like that, and like I want to run or break something. But even on those days, it feels less like I’m choosing not to do those destructive things, and more like I’m reminding myself to focus on all the good things I’ve built into my life. I’m just a really different person now than I was when I stole that necklace.”

Regina bit her lip and looked at Emma with an expression that Emma couldn’t quite interpret. It was shy, but kind, and like she was considering something.

“You were right, Emma,” Regina said finally, “We are a lot alike.”

And before Emma could respond, Regina was kissing her. It was a sweet, gentle kiss that made Emma’s breath flutter in her chest. Emma was so relieved that Regina wasn’t pulling away from her. Moody, snappish Regina was just to be expected. Distant, disconnected Regina was something to be worried about.

Emma tucked a stray lock of hair behind Regina’s ear, wishing for the umpteenth time that they didn’t have to wear these stupid glamours. Regina’s eyes were still hers, but Emma was really disconcerted by the different face. She didn’t want Regina to be annoyed with her again, though, so she kept her griping to herself.

“Ready to try this thing?” she asked instead.

Regina nodded and stepped back. She took a deep breath and poured the potion over Emma’s necklace. It immediately began to glow an unearthly color - somewhere between purple and black, but bright. Regina pivoted around by degrees, and Emma saw the necklace glow more strongly when she faced one particular direction. Regina looked over her shoulder.

“That’s the direction we need to go,” she said.

Emma gathered their belongings, slipped her hand into Regina’s free one, and headed off through the woods.

 

***

As they walked, they caught each other up on what had happened the day before. As Emma described her interaction with Rumple, she got more and more uncomfortable.

“When I told him my name, he just said ‘I thought so,’” Emma related. “I mean, what does that even mean? Does he know who I am? That I’m the savior?”

Regina had been worrying her bottom lip between her teeth as Emma talked, a habit that Emma privately adored. “You know that Rumple can see the future,” Regina explained.

Emma nodded. “But then why did he ask me at all if he already knew my name?”

“Yes, that makes less sense,” Regina agreed. “Maybe he knew who Emma Swan is, but not that you are Emma.”

“Maybe, but why would he want that information so much?”

“I don’t know,” Regina said. “I agree it’s concerning.”

Before they could ponder further, the necklace in Regina’s hand began to vibrate, the pendent straining against the chain that she had held tightly between her fingers.

“It must be close by,” Regina whispered. “Look around for anything that’s radiating magic.”

Emma only sort of knew what that meant, but she dutifully peered around the trees, looking for anything out of the ordinary. As she was looking down into a crop of bushes, she tripped on a root, catching herself with a hand on a nearby tree. The minute she touched the tree, her lungs constricted, and her skin burned as if on fire. She dropped to the ground, gasping for breath. As soon as she removed her hand from the tree, the terrifying sensations stopped.

“Emma!” Regina called, running over to her. “Are you OK?”

“I’m OK,” Emma said, sitting up gingerly. She stared at the tree. “I touched that and then … couldn’t breathe.”

Regina stood and walked carefully towards the tree, inspecting it. She put a hand out, and Emma called out for her to stop. But Regina didn’t listen. The instant her fingertips brushed the bark, a burst of magic knocked them both backwards, and then everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Regina opened her eyes, and then quickly closed them again. She was dreaming. Or dead. That was the only explanation.

“Are you alright?” a sickly sweet ethereal voice drifted into her consciousness. Regina opened her eyes again. Shit. Not a dream.

Floating in front of her was none other than the Blue Fairy, with her ridiculous dress and her infuriatingly cutesy manner. Regina pushed herself up to sitting and looked around. Emma was nowhere to be seen.

“Emma?” she called without thinking.

“Emma?” the Blue Fairy repeated.

Regina took a breath to keep from lashing out at her. She was still glamoured, and even if Blue could tell that she was, Regina was pretty sure she couldn’t see through it, so didn’t know who Regina was. And she wanted to keep it that way.

“My friend,” Regina answered. “Where is she?”

Blue shook her head. “You were the only one here when I arrived,” she answered. “What are you doing in this part of the woods?”

Regina stood up, causing the fairy to flit backwards to get out of her way. “We got lost,” she lied. “We were returning from visiting my sister and I think we got off track last night.”

Blue eyed her, but took her at her word. “Well, you stumbled on some powerful magic,” she said. “You ought to be careful around here.”

Regina resisted to urge to conjure a fireball and instead just nodded. “What happened?” she asked. She was pretty sure she knew what happened, but what she didn’t know was why Blue had showed up, and she was curious to see what the little fairy would say.

“This tree holds some very powerful magic, which you somehow set off. I felt the disruption, and came to investigate,” Blue replied, indicating the tree Regina had touched. “Although I am surprised it affected you so strongly. What were you doing to it?”

Regina thought quickly to decide what the right thing to say was. “I tried to break off a branch for firewood,” she said, figuring she’d see where this led her.

The fairy tutted and Regina gritted her teeth. “I wouldn’t touch the trees around here,” she advised. “Most of them are enchanted. You want to head back towards the South to get back on the main path.” She pointed back the direction she and Emma had come.

“Alright, thank you,” said Regina, hoping Blue would just leave so she could go about finding Emma. She had spotted the bag she’d been carrying a little ways away, and figured she could use a locator potion on Emma’s necklace that Regina still had tightly gripped in one hand. Thankfully, Blue wished her well in that insanely perky little fairy voice of hers and flew away.

Regina found the ingredients in the bag and set about making her potion. As she was working, Blue’s words sunk in and she gasped out loud. Enchanted trees. As in the kind of enchanted tree that the Charmings had used to send Emma to the land without magic as a baby. And the curse was here? That couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. Well, first thing’s first - find out what happened to Emma.

Regina finished off the potion and stood up to pour it over the necklace. It immediately surged towards the tree, practically pulling Regina along with it. She made sure not to touch the large trunk, but walked in a circle around it. The necklace pulled inward as she did. What in the world did that mean?

“Emma?” she called, just in case. But there was no response.

Now Regina was worried. She’d thought maybe Emma had gotten thrown farther away by the blast of magic and hadn’t yet come to. But if her necklace was leading her back to the tree… Unless the previous enchantment was still on it, and the necklace was still pointing her to the curse? Regina walked back to her bag, and sat down, concentrating. She thought she’d done it before, but now she thought through every detail before holding the pendent in her hand and passing her hands slowly over it. When she was satisfied that it was clear of magic, she tried pouring the rest of the locator potion over it. Again, the necklace flew towards the tree that presumably contained the curse.

Regina growled in frustration. What in the hell was going on here? She sighed. She really hated to do this, but if Emma was in danger, she didn’t really have much choice. She needed to ask for help. She stepped away from the tree, and called for Rumplestiltskin.

“Regina,” he said as he appeared. “What disaster have you called me to avert this time?” He waved his hand, and Regina felt her glamour disappear. OK, fine. If he wanted to play ball, she could play.

“Where’s Emma?” she demanded.

“Oh ho,” he bristled, raising his eyebrows at her. “No ‘nice to see you, Rumple,’ or ‘thank you for coming to my aid once again.’” He leapt towards her, putting their faces inches apart.

“You want answers?” he sneered. “I want something, too.”

Regina sighed. “What?” she snapped.

“Nothing much,” he said, stepping away to lean back against a log. “Just that necklace you’re holding.”

Regina’s fingers tightened on the pendant. “Why?” she asked, warily.

“I have my reasons,” Rumple answered. “Now do you want to know what happened to your Swan or not?”

Brushing aside the ridiculous turn of phrase, Regina considered. She supposed the necklace had served its purpose, and she might as well hand it over. She was concerned about what Rumple wanted with it, though. She was starting to feel like he was getting far too interested in Emma, even despite her role in breaking the curse. But he knew where she was. Regina was sure of that once he’d answered with a deal.

“Fine,” she said, handing the necklace to him.

He giggled in that horrifying way he had, and tucked the necklace into his jacket pocket.

“Emma?” Regina prompted.

“Oh yes. I sent her home.”

Regina stared at him for a moment. “You what?” she asked finally, thinking she couldn’t have heard right.

“I sent her back home, to your time,” he explained, as if this was a perfectly reasonable thing to have done.

Regina didn’t know where to start. That didn’t make any sense. Rumple was waiting for the curse before he would let them have the wand, and besides, why would Emma’s necklace lead to the tree if she was in Storybrooke? She launched herself towards him, surprised that he let her come. She grabbed his lapels and hissed into his face.

“You are going to tell me exactly what you did this instant, or you will find out just how much I’ve learned about magic over the years.”

He grinned at her, which only made Regina angrier.

“Such … passion,” he said evenly.

Regina released him with a shove, momentarily struck by a horrifying fear that somehow her feelings for Emma had gotten them into this mess. She didn’t know how, but that seemed like just the kind of thing Rumple would do. Her anger returned just as quickly, though, and she gave in to her instincts and lit a fireball, holding it towards him.

“Talk, imp,” she barked.

He giggled again, but acquiesced. “I found that wand you wanted. And when you didn’t show up to our meeting, I went looking for you. You were both, er, indisposed here on the ground. Miss Swan woke up first, I gave her the wand and she went home.”

“You gave Emma the wand?” Regina repeated.

“Oh yes. You did forget to mention that she has magic,” Rumple said in a practiced approximation of unconcern. “Quite powerful, too.”

Regina shook her head. Something didn’t add up. “Why not wake both of us and get your damned curse first? And besides, Emma wouldn’t have just left me here,” she said. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Are you sure about that, dearie?” Rumple responded. And then without another word, he disappeared.

“Hey!” Regina shouted. “Come back, you miserable little imp! You made a deal for that necklace!”

But he was gone, and as much as Regina shouted and raged, he didn’t appear. Eventually she gave up, and instead started to pace, trying to come up with some explanation that would make this make sense. Even if Rumple decided he only needed Regina to get the curse, why would Emma agree to leave? Maybe he’d given her some kind of ultimatum, and she decided to take it rather than face whatever consequences he threatened. But Emma hadn’t been able to use her magic. How did she manage to do something as complicated as wielding the Black Fairy’s wand? And so quickly, too. Regina didn’t think she’d been out for that long. Did Rumple help her? He said Emma was powerful - which she was - but Emma didn’t often show that power unless she was threatened.

Exasperated, Regina returned to the Enchanted Tree. She had hoped she could just point Rumple to it and he’d let her go. But after this latest encounter, she realized he probably wouldn’t consider their deal complete until he actually saw the curse. And if he was telling the truth about Emma, that meant Regina needed to find the damn curse and get it to him, so he’d send her home, too.

But how? She had nothing at her disposal right now, other than a few potion ingredients and her own wits. Plus no one to bounce ideas off of, or reassure her. Regina dropped down to sit on a fallen log as the possibilities started to swirl around her head. What if Emma had just left? What if she’d decided she was better off without Regina by her side? Regina went back over their interactions, trying to pick out anything that might tell her why Emma was gone. The more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that Emma had used this as a way to get away. Regina was always snapping at her, or ignoring her. Emma had warned her not to touch that tree, and Regina had been cocky enough to think she could handle it. Emma was probably fed up with dealing with her moods. Regina put her head in her hands. Of course Emma left. Everyone left eventually.

After a few minutes of wallowing in self-pity, Regina raised her eyes to look at the tree. Fine. If Emma had left her alone, then she was alone. She still didn’t intend on being stuck here in the past forever. She wanted to get home to her son. Her son, whose other mother was probably telling him right now that he should really just give up on Regina, just like Emma had. And with that thought, Regina’s gaze hardened. She felt that old familiar rage spring up around her heart, walling off the tender, wounded places inside her that had risen to the surface over the past few months. Now all she could think of was winning .

Regina set her shoulders and approached the tree. She stretched out a hand, stopping just before she made contact with the bark. She felt a hum vibrating from it, and probed out with a tendril of magic. She watched with detached curiosity as her magic came out of her hand in deep purple waves. It hit the tree, but instead of bouncing off, her own magic slowly absorbed into the magic surrounding the tree. A satisfied grin spread across her face. Of course. The tree repelled light magic. And both she and Emma had touched it with light magic on their fingertips. Now, though, she could tap into that deep well of powerful dark magic that was always inside her. She spread her fingers, and pushed through the magical barrier. Her hands made contact with the bark, which immediately sprung open to reveal a small cavern inside. And there, sitting wrapped in an unassuming black ribbon, lay the dark curse.

Chapter Text

A sound filtered into Emma’s consciousness. It was a voice. She recognized it, but couldn’t place it. She rolled over, and groaned when her head swam. She really needed to stop getting knocked out by things. Especially magical things, which always seemed to leave their own special brand of hangover. As her eyes struggled to focus, she gradually made out a figure bending over her. When she finally recognized it as Rumplestiltskin, she scrambled up to her feet, ignoring how much it hurt her body to do so.

“Welcome back, dearie,” he practically sang at her.

Emma looked around for Regina, who was still lying unconscious on the ground where she’d been blasted back by that magical tree.

“Don’t worry, she’ll come to eventually,” Rumple said when he saw where her gaze went. He repositioned himself so he was standing in between Emma and Regina. Emma looked at him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“What am I doing here?” he teased back at her. “What are you doing here, Emma Swan?”

“Looking for your curse!” she snapped. What was he playing at?

“Here?” he asked innocently, although Emma didn’t buy for one second that he didn’t already know exactly what was going on.

“Yes, here,” she answered. “And we found it, too.”

“Show me,” he demanded.

Emma shook her head at his manner, but walked over to the tree in question. She pointed at it from a safe distance.

“In there somewhere,” she said.

Rumple sauntered up to the tree and reached out a hand.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Emma said. Part of her wanted to let him find out for himself, but he was their ticket home. “That’s what knocked me and Regina out - touching it.”

He turned to her and smirked. “Is that so?”

He ran his hands in a circle around the tree, staying just a few inches away from the bark and muttering to himself while he did it. At one point he stopped and pressed a scaly finger in towards the bark. It made contact, and for a moment, nothing happened. But then he snatched his hand back as if it had been burned and glared at the place he’d touched. Emma resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”

“Curious,” he said as he turned back to her. “You both tried to touch it?”

Emma nodded. “It made me feel like I’d been burned, but it blasted Regina back.”

Rumple walked right up to her and got in her face, peering at her in the most disconcerting way. Emma tried to back away from him, but he followed.

“Tell me something,” he said. “In your time does Regina wield light magic?”

“Uh, yeah, sometimes,” Emma stammered. “Only recently, though. Why?”

Rumple darted away from her suddenly and went to inspect Regina as she lay face down on the ground.

“Just as I suspected,” he said after he’d touched her in a few places.

“What is?” Emma asked, coming towards him. She’d had just about enough of his games. “What exactly is going on here? I know you know.”

He smirked at her. “Emma Swan,” he said by way of an answer, making Emma ready to throttle him. “I knew you were important to this story, but I didn’t realize just how much the whole thing revolves around you.”

“What are you talking about?” snapped Emma.

“You!” he exclaimed in response. “You - the child of Snow White and her Prince, the product of true love. You break my curse, don’t you?”

“You know that?” Emma asked. She really could never tell how much he knew and how much he just pieced together from what people told him. But this was clearly him seeing the future.

Rumple just smiled.

“And not only do you break the curse,” he continued, “you manage to tame the Evil Queen.”

Emma grimaced. She really didn’t like the way he said that, or the way he looked at Regina while he did.

“And now,” he said with a wicked smile, “you have to let her revert.”

It took Emma a moment to realize what he probably meant.

“Why would I ever do that to her?” she asked.

“Because the only way that she will live up to her end of our deal is if you let her embrace her darkness once again,” Rumple answered in the sing-songy voice that Emma was starting to hate.

“No way,” Emma stated, moving towards him. “You know where the curse is now. That should be enough to fulfill our end. Now send us home.”

He laughed at her. “Not. Good enough. However …” he snapped his fingers, and a wand appeared in his hand. Emma assumed it was the one that would recreate the time portal to send them home.

“Getting me to the curse? I’d say that’s enough to send one of you home. Once the curse is in my hand, the other can go too.”

“Send Regina home,” Emma said without missing a beat.

Inexplicably, Rumple clapped his hands. “Oh, yes! Such bravery, such sacrifice! And how, pray tell, would you get that curse for me, hmmm? I should send you home, and keep Regina here to help me.”

“No way,” Emma insisted. “If she stays, I stay. You can keep that thing,” she gestured to the wand, “until we’re both ready to use it.”

Rumple got back in her face and leered at her. “Do you love her?” he asked.

“I, um, …” Emma stammered. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He cackled at her. “Everything, Miss Swan. It has everything to do with this.” He darted away to perch on a rock, looking for all the world like a teacher about to start lecturing on some dull subject.

“The spells protecting this curse are a very specific form of dark magic,” he started. Emma tried to follow what he was saying while her mind was still reeling from his question.

“I believe that the Queen here possesses the magic needed to unlock it.”

“Did you not hear the part where we both got knocked out by Regina just trying to touch the tree?” Emma asked.

“Aha!” Rumple said, pointing at her. “Indeed. But your Regina isn’t quite the Evil Queen anymore, is she?”

“Then get the real Evil Queen to help you!” Emma said, exasperated.

“She’s not ready yet,” Rumple replied. “But this one,” he cocked his head at Regina. “She knows much more about magic. She could do it.”

“Then wake her up!” Emma cried.

He grinned. “I’m not finished, dearie. I said she could do it. But only if she uses the purest form of dark magic. No light allowed. And while you” he pointed straight at Emma, “keep insinuating your light magic into her, she’s never going to be able to get my curse for me.”

Emma faltered. As much as she hated to admit it, what he said made a kind of sense. Regina’s magic had started to look different, and Emma would bet it was because it was a mix of dark and light now. But the thing was, Rumple had gotten the curse some other way in the past, so why did he need Regina to do it now? Unless, and here Emma really reached into her knowledge of sci-fi movies, this was some kind of causality paradox thingy where she and Regina always went back in time, and Regina was always the one to get the curse. She glanced over at Regina.

“If she doesn’t get that curse out,” Rumple said, “you can say goodbye to the life you knew.”

Emma looked at him.

“Things won’t continue the same way, and your future becomes uncertain,” he explained.

‘Henry,’ Emma thought. She looked down. He had her, and he knew it.

“There’s one condition,” she said sternly.

He raised an eyebrow, but motioned for her to continue.

“You let me explain everything to her.”

He shook his head. “That’s not how it works, dearie. The best way to ensure the Queen’s dark magic returns in force is for you to break her heart.”

Emma’s insides knotted at his words. Some part of her knew that this was coming, but hearing it almost made her refuse. Regina was strong, though. She’d fought the darkness and won before - she could do it again. God, Emma hated the thought that she was going to be the one throwing Regina back into that dark place. Yes, she believed in Regina, but to willingly ask her to go through that again? Without even knowing why?

“Wait,” she said, an idea forming. “Let me write her a letter. After she gets you the curse, you can give it to her. That way at least she’ll know what happened before she comes back.”

Rumple considered for a moment, then agreed. He conjured a piece of parchment and a quill, and Emma clumsily started to write with the unfamiliar instrument. She looked at Regina, trying to think what words would soothe her anger and hurt. What if it didn’t work? What if Regina rejected her after this? Well, it was a risk she was going to have to take.

She finished the letter, folded it up, and gave it to Rumple. She knelt next to Regina for a moment, brushing her hair away from her face and kissing her lightly on the cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. And then, because Regina couldn’t hear her anyway, she added, “I love you. I think I’ve always loved you. Please come back to me.”

She stood up, wiping at the tears in her eyes, and turned to Rumplestiltskin.

“Alright,” she said, “I’m ready.”

He gave her the wand, but Emma just looked at it. “I don’t know how to use this,” she said.

“Well don’t look at me, dearie,” Rumple replied. “This wand can recreate magic, but only someone who’s been touched by that magic can make a particular spell work.”

“Fuck,” Emma cursed under her breath. OK, Swan, she thought. You can do this. You have magic - it’s worked here. You just have to remember what it feels like.

She closed her eyes in concentration. Nothing happened. She tried to find that fizzy feeling in her gut that she’d felt when her magic exploded accidentally. It sparked a couple of times, but not strongly enough to activate the wand.

“Think about what you want to do,” Rumple’s voice was right behind her ear, startling her. She nodded and settled her nerves. Emma pictured Storybooke - Henry, her parents, the walkway along the water where she had realized how much the place had started to feel like home. As she did, she felt her magic start to warm. The wand sprang to life, and then faded. Emma took a deep breath, and thought about Regina. About all the ways she felt seen, and challenged, and supported by her. About parenting Henry together, and building a life full of, well, love. At that, the wand began to hum, and then suddenly light shot out of the tip, forming a portal in front of her. She looked back at Rumple, who nodded to her. Taking one last look at Regina, Emma leapt through the portal, dropping the wand on the ground as she did. She was wrenched through and spat out back out into the barn in Storybrooke. The portal closed, and Emma curled in on herself, crying in the quiet darkness for what she’d just done.

Chapter Text

Regina sat with her back up against the tree, whose magic now seemed to be dormant, cradling her head in her hands. One thought played in a loop through her head - what have I done? When she’d picked up the curse, and it looked so familiar in her hand from all those years ago, some part of her woke up from where she had stuffed it away and she immediately dropped the rolled scroll, sinking down to the ground. What had she done? What had made her abandon all reason and go blindly into that darkest of places within herself? All because Emma disappeared on her and Rumplestiltskin told her she’d left? Was Regina really so weak that she couldn’t handle even the thought of rejection?

No, it was more than that, obviously. It was being here, remembering those feelings from when she was the Evil Queen. The thing was, as much as she didn’t want to admit it to herself, the darkness was seductive. It had felt good to wield so much power again. It felt good to just run from 0 to 60, consequences be damned. But she also hated herself for it. And she hated herself for letting this thing with Emma get to her. This was why Regina didn’t deserve the affection Emma had been showing her - she was always one disappointment away from destroying something or someone.

She raised her head and looked over at the curse. It was so unassuming - really just a roll of parchment. And yet it was also effectively a ticking time bomb. Maybe she should just destroy it. Everyone could go on living their lives without having to suffer for decades under her curse. The more she thought about it, the better it sounded. She could right her wrongs by stopping her former self from casting it in the first place. None of the things she’d put everyone through since then would happen. Snow White would probably defeat her eventually, but perhaps that was for the best. Perhaps the Evil Queen needed to be brought to justice.

Regina picked up the curse, and as she did a flash of movement caught her eye. It was the Blue Fairy, back to check in on the latest disruption to the protection spell, Regina assumed. Regina watched the fairy come closer, and then start back in a panic. Right, Rumple had removed her glamour spell for some reason, and now The Blue Fairy was faced with The Evil Queen holding The Dark Curse.

“How did you get that?” Blue demanded, keeping a cautious distance.

Regina shrugged. “I broke the protection spell.”

Blue inched closer, eyeing her. “That spell was cast long ago by someone much more powerful than even you, Regina.  No one has been able to touch it.”

That gave Regina pause. How had she managed to get it out? Yes, she’d tapped into her purest dark magic to get past the spell, but if it was as powerful as Blue said, it shouldn’t have been that easy. She turned the curse over in her hands, thinking. By this point, Blue seemed to sense that something was amiss, and she flew closer.

“You’re not her, are you?” the fairy said.

Regina looked up at her, suddenly exhausted by everything that had happened over the past three days.

“No,” she answered wearily. “I’m not.”

Blue stared at her for another moment, then seemed to come to a decision. “What are you going to do with it?” she asked, pointing to the curse.

“I’m not sure yet,” Regina replied honestly.

To her surprise, Blue settled down on a nearby root. “I sense a great deal of magic in you,” she said. “Both light, and dark.”

Regina expected her to continue, but Blue just sat there, waiting for Regina to respond. Regina dropped her head back onto the tree trunk behind her. She was just so tired. And as much as she absolutely did not want to talk to The Blue Fairy of all people about this, she also really didn’t know what to do.

“I have an opportunity here,” she said, choosing her words carefully so as not to reveal too much, “to potentially right a wrong. But I’m not sure if it’s actually the right thing to do or not.”

“This opportunity,” Blue asked, “what would it cost you to take it?”

Regina looked at her sharply, but then thought about it. What would she be giving up by destroying the curse? As the answer filtered into her consciousness, she felt her heart constrict. Henry. If she never cast the curse, Emma would grow up here in the Enchanted Forest. And if Emma grew up here, Henry would never be born. Regina may or may not have lost Emma - she now understood that she couldn’t trust either Rumplestiltskin or her own mind on this one - but she couldn’t lose Henry, too.

“No,” Regina said out loud. “No, the cost is too high.” She closed her hand around the curse, as if Blue would try to take it from her now that she’d revealed her intentions.

“Please reconsider,” Blue said, launching into flight again. “Think of the lives you’d be saving by stopping that curse.”

Regina shook her head and stood up. “No,” she repeated. “I can’t. I’ve done it once, and I’ll do it again.”

With that, she waved a hand and disappeared, appearing in front of Rumplestiltskin’s castle in the blink of an eye. But once there, she hesitated yet again. Wasn’t she being selfish, letting this opportunity pass her by? On the other hand, who was to say she wouldn’t have done more horrible things even without the curse? Regina shuddered, the thought of her former self making her feel sick. Maybe there was another way? A way to make things less horrible for everyone, even with the curse?

But before she could make up her mind, the doors of the castle swung open and Rumplestiltskin came striding out.

“Aren’t you going to come in?” he teased. “I see you have a gift for me.”

Regina’s hand tightened around the curse. She was still so unsure if this was the right thing to do. Seeing her hesitation, Rumple impatiently waved his hand, and the curse disappeared from her hand, landing in his outstretched palm. At the same time, a folded piece of parchment appeared in Regina’s hand where the curse had been. She gasped and glared at him.

“What is this?” she demanded.

“I do believe it’s addressed to you,” he responded, and turned around to walk back inside.

Regina looked at the parchment, and indeed there was her name in uneven handwriting on the page. She rolled her eyes at Rumple, but opened up the letter and started to read:

Regina,

I hope that by the time the you read this you’re already on your way back home to me. And I hope that you still want to come home to me, after what I put you through. Rumple sent me home and kept you here to get the curse. He said you needed dark magic to do it, and that being around me gave you too much light magic. And I almost said no. But Regina, if the curse isn’t cast, we would never have Henry, or each other. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I believe in you. I believe that you can leave the darkness behind again. And you won’t be doing it alone. As long as you want me, I’ll be here for you.

Yours,

Emma

Regina stared at those last two words and felt tears welling up in her eyes. “Yours, Emma.” Emma hadn’t abandoned her. And she was waiting for her at home. Home. With their son. Their son, whose very existence had caused both of them to make this decision to let things play out the way they had before. Emma’s words soothed Regina’s heartache as she read them to herself again. And yet… Regina had still let herself turn to darkness. She may have been a pawn in Rumple’s plot for the curse, but she had been a willing pawn, if she was honest with herself. She needed to not do that anymore. She needed to be better, for Emma and Henry. So she turned around and walked towards the woods, thinking.

Rumple appeared in front of her, stopping her progress.

“Leaving so soon?” he asked.

“You have your curse. Now leave me alone,” she snapped.

“Don’t you want this?” he conjured the wand and held it out to her.

Regina hesitated. Yes, she wanted to go home. But she wasn’t totally sure she was ready to. She took the wand and weighed it in her hands. It was powerful, and she felt the pull of that power deep within her, where her magic responded to it. She hastily gave it back to him. This was the problem - she needed to get that lust for power and pull towards the darkness under control before she went home.

“Give me a few days,” she said. “You owe me,” she added for good measure. “You didn’t specify that I needed to hand you that curse. You should have just sent me home when I’d found it.”

He smirked at her, but tilted his head in agreement. “Just say the word, dearie. You know where to find me.”

He winked and disappeared.

Regina sighed, looking down the path. An idea was forming in her head. It might be crazy, but right now she could do with something a little drastic to get her back on the right path. So she set off in search of Snow White.

Chapter Text

Emma knew she should get up. After all, she was just lying on the ground in an abandoned barn. But she didn’t know what to do. All she could do was wait for Regina, and she wasn’t sure she could handle that. But she dutifully sat up and tried to collect herself. The minute she’d gotten herself calm, though, the time portal burst open again, knocking her back down to the ground. It closed as quickly as it had opened, and she pushed herself up to look around. A figure lay on the ground on the other side of the barn from her. Emma stood up to walk over, but when she saw that it was, in fact, Regina, she started to run towards her.

When she was a foot away, though, Emma skidded to a stop, reminding herself that she didn’t have any idea what had happened to her, or why she was back so soon, and it might be a good idea to be cautious. But every thought disappeared from her mind when Regina saw her, leaped to her feet, and threw her arms around Emma, whispering her name. Emma was stunned into stillness for half a second, and then she returned Regina’s tight embrace.

“Regina,” she whispered in turn. “You’re here.”

Regina pulled back so she could look into Emma’s eyes. “I’m here,” she said with a soft smile.

“And you’re OK?” Emma asked.

“I’m OK,” Regina responded.

“And you’re…” Emma stopped, not knowing how to ask whether Regina had gone dark, or had forgiven her, or...

Regina touched a finger to her lips and answered her unvoiced questions: “Mongoose,” she said with a smile. “It’s still me.”

Emma kissed her then, fiercely, wrapping her arms as far around Regina’s waist as she could get them. She didn’t know what had happened, but in this moment she really didn’t care. All that mattered was that they were both home, safe, and Regina was still Regina, and wanted her. Relief flooded through her system, and Emma had to pull away from the kiss to take a deep breath while tears started to stream down her face. Regina turned a concerned expression towards her, wiping her cheeks so tenderly, it just made Emma want to cry more.

“Emma,” Regina whispered, clearly worried about her. But Emma just shook her head and smiled through her tears.

“Happy tears,” she sniffed, “Or, relief.” She shrugged. “I’m just so glad you’re back.”

At that moment the barn door burst open, and what seemed like the entire rest of the town came running in. Emma hastily wiped her face on her sleeve, and took half a step away from Regina, glancing at her apologetically. She wasn’t about to have to explain that as well as everything that had just happened.

Any discomfort evaporated, though, as she saw her parents running towards her. She broke into a wide grin and met them halfway, throwing her arms awkwardly around them both at the same time. Snow started at this sudden show of affection, but returned the hug after a moment.

“Emma?” Snow asked. “Are you OK? What happened?”

Emma stood back to take her in again. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed her mom when she was interacting with past Snow until she saw that look of recognition and love and care in her mom’s eyes. Emma surged forward and hugged her mom again, whispering “I missed you.” When she saw how confused everyone was, she realized she should probably explain.

“The time portal opened, and Regina and I got pulled in, but we made it back and everything’s OK now,” Emma said in one breath.

“Whoa, slow down,” David said. “The time portal pulled you in? Where did you go?”

“I believe you mean when,” Regina answered, taking a step closer to the group.

Emma looked up at her, and as she did, she noticed that although nobody said anything, their response to Regina was much colder than it was to her. Emma frowned, for the first time perhaps truly understanding how much everyone else still saw her as The Evil Queen, and not Regina. And yes, Emma had seen how terrifying the Queen was in person. And maybe she would feel the same as the others if she’d grown up in the Enchanted Forest. But she hadn’t. And even though she had admittedly been a little terrified of Regina when they’d first met, Emma had fairly quickly seen through Regina’s outrage and standoffishnes to the pain and also deep wells of care and love underneath. And now that she had fully admitted to herself that she was in love with Regina, because let’s be honest she absolutely was, Emma felt a fierce protectiveness towards her. She shifted so that she was standing next to Regina, facing her parents and the rest of the group, and nodded to Regina to take the lead on explaining where they’d been.

“We ended up in the Enchanted Forest,” Regina said, “right before the first time you two met, in fact,” she added, nodding to Snow and David.

“You did?” Snow gasped. “How did you get back?”

“That’s a long story,” Emma replied. Snow took the hint, and suggested that they all go back to Granny’s and let Emma and Regina tell the tale there, instead of standing in the drafty barn. Emma hung back to walk next to Regina, the two of them following the group a few steps behind.

“You OK?” Emma asked in a low voice.

“Yes,” Regina answered, but the tightness in her voice told Emma otherwise. Seeing that nobody was watching, Emma brushed her fingers lightly over Regina’s arm, squeezing her hand once before letting it go. Regina smiled sadly at her, and Emma longed to wrap her up in her arms again. As soon as they’d sorted everything out from their trip to the past, Emma was going to get Regina alone and they were going to talk about things. Starting with how much Emma wanted them to be together, like actually together, and then about how they were going to tell everyone else they were together so that Emma could just kiss Regina whenever she wanted to. And then they were going to stop talking about things and start kissing and hopefully pick up where they’d left off a number of times over the past few days. Emma bit her lip as she remembered the feel of Regina’s bare skin under her fingers.

Regina’s tense voice broke her out of her daydream. “Why don’t you do the talking,” she said to Emma.

Emma furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, I think you should tell everyone what happened. I think they’ll take it better coming from you.”

“OK, but it’s up to you to fill in the end. I still don’t know what happened to you after I left.”

Regina didn’t respond right away, staring for a moment up at Emma’s parents as they walked in front of them. “I’ll tell you about it later,” Regina said finally.

Emma wondered what that was about, but by that point they’d reached the diner, and when the door opened and Henry came running out, Emma forgot everything else.

“Moms!” he shouted, and Emma grinned widely as he threw his arms around both of them in exactly the same way she’d just done to her own parents. Emma assured him that they were OK, and then let Regina keep her arm around his shoulders as they went inside and settled in around a couple of tables that David pushed together for the group. Once the smell of food reached her, Emma realized how ravenous she was, and refused to say a word until she and Regina each had a plate of food in front of them. Eventually, Emma launched into the story, describing how they had landed in the past, met with Rumple to find a way home, and set out on their quest to find the curse. By that point, she could see everyone shifting uncomfortably in their seats, and she realized exactly why Regina had asked her to do the talking. The former Evil Queen talking about procuring the Dark Curse for the Dark One was definitely not going to sit well with everyone. She thought the next part of the story might help, though.

“Here’s where things get a little weird,” Emma said, turning to her mom. “We actually spent some time with you, but you didn’t know it was us.” She decided not to include the part where Regina knocked her out and then they carried her unconscious through the forest. Probably best to leave out a number of details, actually, now that she thought about it.

Snow was looking at her in utter confusion.“You took us in when we were disguised as Kathryn and Anna,” Emma explained, and she watched comprehension spread across her mother’s face. She was completely shocked, though, when Snow stood up, walked over to Regina, and without a word pulled her up into a tight hug. Emma was even more surprised when Regina willingly returned it, betraying no sense of surprise that this was Snow’s reaction. Emma was starting to get the feeling she was missing something, and she was willing to bet it had to do with whatever had happened to Regina after she left.

“It was you,” Snow said, shaking her head in wonder as she finally let go of Regina. “I can’t believe it was you.”

Regina smiled shyly at her. “I was just returning the favor,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for you.”

Snow reached for Regina’s hand and held it firmly. “Neither would I,” she said.

Henry looked over at Emma, and she shrugged, just as lost as he was. When Snow turned back to her daughter, though, Emma gulped, realizing in an instant that Snow now knew about her and Regina. She’d seen “Kathryn” and “Anna” interact as lovers, and the knowing look in Snow’s eyes told Emma she had put the pieces together. Snow didn’t say anything, though, she just picked up Emma’s hand and held it without letting go of Regina’s, smiled at them for a moment, and then went back to her seat.

“Well,” Snow said, “that certainly explains a lot. I spent months wondering what happened to you two before I finally figured you’d either gotten captured again or left the area entirely.”

Emma smiled gratefully at her. She picked up the story again, glossing over the details as she told about how they had a run-in with the Queen’s guard, escaped, and finally found their way to the curse. She decided to leave out the part where Rumple sent her home, since it had sounded like Regina didn’t want to talk about it, and finished by saying simply, “It took some time to figure out the protection spell, but we eventually got the curse to Rumple, who gave us access to the wand that let us recreate the time travel spell so we could come home.”

Emma was pretty much ready to leave it at that, but there was one point she wanted to make before she did.

“We did have a decision to make,” she said, catching Regina’s eye. “Whether to change things and stop the curse from being cast.”

Emma felt Regina hold her breath, and quickly kept going with her thought. “But I think we both realized that if we changed things, everything became uncertain. And, well, I just thought about Henry. And how much we both love him.” Emma smiled at him and put her hand on his shoulder. “And for as many things that have gone wrong,” she continued, “I wouldn’t want to change being here with my family.”

“A wise choice, Miss Swan,” Mr. Gold said from the doorway. Everyone turned to look at him - Emma hadn’t even heard him come in. “As I now understand that your little trip to the past was in fact always destined to take place.”

“What does that mean?” Emma asked, suddenly defensive. He clearly knew everything that had happened, and Emma was in no mood to be part of any more of his schemes.

He held out his hand, and Emma gasped when she saw her silver circle necklace sitting in his palm. How the hell did he get that? She was about to stand up and go demand answers from him when she felt Regina lay a hand on her forearm.

“He’s right, Emma,” Regina said gently. Emma looked at her, utterly confused.

“I was able to get to the curse out of that tree,” Regina explained, “because I had already cast it. Somehow the protection spell recognized my magic and let me in to get it.”

“So… you were able to cast the curse because you’d already cast the curse?” Emma asked. That made absolutely no sense, but Regina and Gold both agreed with her.

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” David said, and Emma silently thanked him for saying it so she didn’t have to.

“I know,” Regina replied. “I don’t fully understand it myself. But there are quite a number of those circular paradoxes that make me think that somehow we always did this.”

“Circular Paradoxes?” Snow repeated. “Like what?”

Regina sighed, and put out her hand for the necklace. Rumple looked like he was going to argue, but a stern look from Regina had him tipping it into her outstretched palm. Regina held up the pendant.

“This necklace is what I used to lead us to the Dark Curse. And that was possible because it was infused with Emma’s light magic,” said Regina, “which she got from being born as the product of true love, and by breaking the Dark Curse. The two events depend on each other.”

Regina turned to Rumple. “And I’m willing to bet that you used that same pendant to ensure that Emma would become the savior when you baked that little loophole into the curse,” she said.

Rumple raised his eyebrows and smirked at her. “I’m impressed,” he admitted. “That was well deduced.”

Regina inclined her head at him before turning back to Emma. “Somehow, all of this had already happened, and we just completed the loop by doing what we did.”

Emma blinked at her. If she didn’t think too hard about it and kind of let her brain get a little bit fuzzy, it sort of made sense; it had taken both her and Regina’s magic to create and then break the curse, both the first time around and again when they went back in time.

Everyone was quiet for a moment as they tried to piece together what they’d heard. And then everyone started talking at once, asking questions and declaring that none of this made sense. Emma was instantly overwhelmed, and she saw Regina start to shrink away from the din as well. Emma looked over at her mother, who caught her eye and immediately went into mama bear mode.

“Alright everyone,” Snow said in her most commanding voice. “Emma and Regina have been through a lot, and are probably exhausted. Let’s let them get some rest, and we can keep sorting out what happened later. We don’t need to have all the answers right now.”

There was some grumbling, especially from the dwarves, but eventually everyone agreed. With the group starting to dissipate, Emma was finally free to turn to Regina and ask “now what?”

Regina looked down at her feet for a second, and then back up at Emma, her eyes full of so many emotions, Emma didn’t even know where to start.

“Come home with me?” Regina asked, and Emma sighed in relief.

“Yes,” she breathed, turning to find their son.

 

***

The three of them walked the few blocks from Granny’s back to Regina’s place, Emma answering Henry’s barrage of questions as best she could. It was very strange - no time at all had passed for him, but for Emma it had been more than two days. And, she was starting to realize, probably even longer than that for Regina. When they got to the house, Regina instructed Emma to make herself at home, and immediately went upstairs to shower and change her clothes. Emma figured that meant she needed some time alone, so happily settled in the living room with Henry, telling him every detail he wanted to know about the Enchanted Forest.

After a short lull in conversation, Henry asked tentatively, “Is mom OK?”

“I think so,” Emma answered. “What made you ask that?”

He shrugged. “She was kind of quiet on the way over here.”

He really was a perceptive kid. Emma sighed.

“I think it was hard for her, being back there,” she said honestly.

“Because people thought of her as the Evil Queen?” Henry asked.

Perceptive indeed, Emma thought. “Yeah. That’s why we had to be in disguise - so people wouldn’t recognize her. She’s worked really hard to build a new life here, you know. I think she missed it.” She reached out and ruffled Henry’s hair. “I know she missed you. Just like I did.”

He seemed satisfied with that answer, and Emma got him back on track by telling him more about how good his grandmother was with a bow and arrow.

By the time Regina came back downstairs, Henry had mostly talked himself out. Regina suggested he go upstairs and get ready for bed, then read for a while before she came to tuck him in. He yawned and agreed, giving Emma a quick hug before bounding up the stairs to his room.

When he was out of sight, Emma turned to Regina and wordlessly pulled her into her arms, both of them sighing as they held each other tightly. Emma brought one hand up to stroke Regina’s damp hair, and Regina nuzzled her head into the crook of Emma’s neck in response. They stayed like this, just breathing each other in for a few moments before Emma felt Regina’s fingers slip under the hem of her shirt to dance delicately across her skin. She shivered.

“Regina,” she whispered, but couldn’t finish whatever thought she’d had because suddenly Regina was kissing her with a hunger that instantly set Emma’s insides ablaze. She returned the kiss with equal passion, loving the hum of approval she got when she sucked Regina’s tongue into her mouth. Emma let her hands push under the light sweater Regina had changed into, caressing her back, and then moving around to play across her stomach and up her sides, never once breaking the kiss. All of the things she felt about this woman, and all that they’d been through together in the last few days coalesced into a powerful physical need, and Emma’s touches became firmer, more insistent as her hands roamed everywhere she could reach. Regina moaned and pulled her lips away from Emma’s, only to trail them down Emma’s neck, kissing and then sucking and finally lightly biting the sensitive skin under her ear. Emma’s breath hitched with every delicious shock of sensation until she was positively weak in the knees.

“Regina,” she whispered again. “I want you.”

Regina pulled back to look into her eyes, a coy smile spreading slowly across her face.

“And I want you,” Regina answered. “I’m going to go tuck Henry in for the night. Meet me in my bedroom upstairs.”

With that she walked away, leaving Emma standing there, struggling to catch her breath. She shook her head and tried to get herself together. There were still so many unanswered questions, but at this moment, all she cared about was finally getting to touch Regina the way she’d wanted to for, well, months. She walked quietly up the stairs, pausing to listen in at Henry’s door for a moment, where Regina was just saying goodnight. Emma smiled brightly as Regina came out, closed his door, and took the hand that Emma offered her, leading her down the hall.

“Come on, Miss Swan,” Regina purred into her ear. “Take me to bed.”

Emma was happy to oblige.

Chapter Text

Finally sleeping with Emma was better than Regina ever could have imagined. The chemistry between them that had grown stronger every time they kissed made it so each and every caress practically sparked with electricity. Regina felt like her entire body was buzzing with energy, and from the way Emma clutched at her and the delicious sounds that fell from her perfect mouth, Regina could only assume she felt the same way.

By the time they had fully satisfied each other, it was hours later and her bed was an absolute tangle of sheets and discarded clothing. But Regina couldn’t care less. She sat with her back propped against the headboard, lazily threading her fingers through Emma’s hair, who was lying with her head on Regina’s lap, with one hand tracing circles on her thighs.

“So, you did read my letter, right?” Emma asked quietly.

Regina smiled. “Yes, my darling Emma, I did.”

Emma turned over so she could look her in the eyes. “I meant what I said in it, you know. I’ll be here for you as long as you want me.”

Regina felt her heart flutter and bit back a soft gasp at the tenderness in Emma’s voice. “I believe that,” she said. “And I … want that. I want you to be here with me as often as you like.”

Emma leaned up to kiss her lightly. “Does that mean we can be, you know, officially together?”

Regina laughed at her awkwardness. “I suppose so, yes.”

Emma grinned and kissed her again. Her sweet enthusiasm was infectious, and Regina found herself grinning back at her. Who would have thought that what Regina’s heart had been missing all these years was this? This simple but enormous connection with someone who knew her and accepted her.

Emma’s smile slowly faded to a look of contemplation as she lay back down, holding one hand against Regina’s ribs, caressing her skin gently with her fingers.

“What happened to you after I left?” Emma asked quietly.

Regina sighed. It was probably time to tell her everything. She pushed a stray lock of hair away from Emma’s face and began to recount those three days in the Enchanted Forest without her.

 

***

The Enchanted Forest - In the Past

Regina stood on the steps of Rumple’s castle, considering what she’d just done. She knew the darkness was still inside her, and she was disturbed by how easily she’d given in to it. She may have been a pawn in Rumple’s plot for the curse, but she had been a willing pawn, if she was honest with herself. She needed to not do that anymore. She needed to be better, for Emma and Henry. So she turned around and walked towards the woods, thinking.

Rumple appeared in front of her, stopping her progress.

“Leaving so soon?” he asked.

“You have your curse. Now leave me alone,” she snapped.

“Don’t you want this?” he conjured the wand and held it out to her.

Regina hesitated. Yes, she wanted to go home. But she wasn’t totally sure she was ready to. She took the wand and weighed it in her hands. It was powerful, and she felt the pull of that power deep within her, where her magic responded to it. She hastily gave it back to him. This was the problem - she needed to get that lust for power and pull towards the darkness under control before she went home.

“Give me a few days,” she said. “You owe me,” she added for good measure. “You didn’t specify that I needed to hand you that curse. You should have just sent me home when I’d found it.”

He smirked at her, but tilted his head in agreement. “Just say the word, dearie. You know where to find me.”

He winked and disappeared.

Regina sighed, looking down the path. An idea was forming in her head. It might be crazy, but right now she could do with something a little drastic to get her back on the right path. So she set off in search of Snow White.

 

It wasn’t hard to find her. Now that Regina knew where she lived, she just made her way back to that nondescript log and waited for Snow to come back. It was mid-day when she got there, and Regina figured Snow would be out hunting or something, so found the softest bit of moss she could to sit down on and wait. Of course, sitting there quietly made her mind race from thought to thought, and pretty soon she was so agitated that she had to stand up and walk around. Emma had said that Snow forgave her, and Regina had heard this time’s Snow say that she would be willing to forgive her as well. And Emma wrote in her letter that she believed in Regina so much that she trusted her to go into the darkness and come out of it again. But right at this moment, Regina didn’t understand that at all. Why did Emma believe in her like that? What did she see in her that Regina herself didn’t? Because all it took was even the thought that Emma had left her for Regina to turn straight to what she always did - dark magic. She shouldn’t be trusted with anything, let alone getting herself back out of the darkness again.

She sat down again, willing her mind to quiet. And it worked for a while. But then she gradually started to take in the details around Snow’s little hut - the camouflaged piles of arrows, rocks laid in a rough circle for a fire, an empty water skin that must have fallen out of her pack - and the guilt and shame over what she’d done to Snow and so many others rose up so fast that Regina was very nearly physically sick with it. Yes, she was trying to change, to be better for her family. But that didn’t erase what she’d done. She needed some way to atone for it. But she really didn’t know how. She wished Emma were here. Somehow it was easier to find that lightness inside her when Emma was around. Suddenly all of the fight and anger went out of her, and she sank down to the ground, putting her head down on her knees.

“I wish you were here to help me,” she whispered out loud.

A soft buzzing sound roused her from her thoughts, and she looked up to see the Blue Fairy hovering in the air in front of her. The fairy seemed to jump and flew backwards a few feet before recovering and returning to peer into her face.

“What are you doing here?” Regina grumbled.

“Believe me, I’m just as surprised about this situation as you are,” Blue replied.

Regina narrowed her eyes. “What does that mean?”

“I heard your wish,” Blue said simply.

Regina stared at her for a second, and then, inexplicably, began to laugh uncontrollably. The fairy seemed even more disturbed by this, so with some effort she got herself under control. It’s not that it was funny, really. It was just so ridiculous that she didn’t know any other way to respond.

“Well that’s rich. The Blue Fairy responding to my wish. Well, I wished for … someone to be here who can’t be,” Regina said with a rueful smile. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that.”

Blue fluttered down to perch on a tree stump next to Regina. “Something in your wish summoned me, though,” she said, her voice kinder than Regina had ever heard it. “As before, I sense a great deal of light magic in you, along with the dark. Your wish came from the light, and so I heard it.”

Regina instantly understood what that meant; when she wished for Emma to be here, she’d done it with light magic, which was borne from love. Love. Emma. Love. The words bounced around in her head, adding to the general chaos of her thoughts. She sneered at the Fairy, unwilling to admit out loud what she knew to be true.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what happened to that curse?” she spat, wanting to redirect the conversation.

Blue backed up a couple of steps, but shook her head. “No. I already know you’ve set things in motion. My task now is to prepare for the curse that we now know will be coming. Until then, I will do my duty as a fairy, and help people who wish for it.” She said this last bit with a pointed look at Regina, who looked away.

“You’re the last person I would ever ask for help,” she said coldly.

“That may be,” Blue replied, “but nevertheless you wished for assistance, and here I am. I turned away from your need once before,” she added, “but I am here now.”

Regina remembered that Tinker Belle had mentioned that when she asked Blue about helping Regina all those years ago, Blue had told her that Regina was beyond hope. Regina considered the possibility that the fairies had indeed heard her pleas during that time when she wished and wished and wished for something in her life to change, but had decided to ignore it. Perhaps due to the darkness she had already started to invite into her heart. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, but there was some comfort in hearing that perhaps Blue understood that abandoning Regina to the darkness had been a mistake. And Regina knew something about mistakes.

“Not just any wish can summon a fairy,” Blue continued. “Your heart must be true and your motives pure. It’s clear to me that whatever has happened to you since you were the Queen, much has changed in your heart.”

Regina sighed. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, fairy,” she said, but the bite was gone from her tone.

“Who was it that you wished could be here?” Blue asked.

Regina closed her eyes for a second. Was she really going to do this? Apparently she was.

“My … friend,” she said hesitantly. When she saw Blue raise her tiny eyebrows, she sighed again. “She’s my … I don’t know what she is. But I think … I think we love each other, and she makes me want to be a better person.”

It was excruciating to say that out loud, to the Blue Fairy of all people, but once she’d said it, a part of Regina rejoiced to hear the words come out of her mouth. She did love Emma. And she was pretty sure that Emma felt the same. And if being Henry’s mom had made her want to change, loving Emma made her want to change for good.

“I want to atone for what I’ve done,” she said, so quietly she wasn’t sure if the fairy would hear her. “I can’t take it back, but I want to make it right.”

“And that is why I heard your wish,” Blue said. “I have no doubt that you love this woman, but your wish was not about her.”

Regina glared at her, “Of course it was about her,” she snapped, and then told herself to calm down. She tried again. “I feel like I have to do something to get myself on the right path again before I can go home,” she said, this time with honesty instead of defensiveness in her voice. “But I don’t know how to do that, and if she were here, she’d know what to do.”

Blue smiled then, and Regina noticed how rarely she did that. Maybe she’d done it more before the curse, but Regina couldn’t remember Blue’s face looking anything but stern or worried.

“Do you know what I tell my apprentices?” Blue asked. “Most of the time our job is not to do something, but rather to remind people to have hope, and to help them see that they already know what they need to do, if they have the courage to do the right thing.”

She twitched her wings and rose into the air in front of Regina. “I will leave you with this, then. You may have already done some good here, Regina. That tree the curse was hidden in? It was one of the most powerful of enchanted trees in the forest, and now that its dark burden has been lifted, it is returning to its intended purpose, as a keeper of light magic.”

With that, she flew away, leaving Regina to ponder her words.

 

***

Snow didn’t come home that night. Eventually it got cold enough that Regina decided to light a fire, and then she got sleepy enough that she put out the fire and crept into Snow’s cave, remembering at the last second to re-do the glamour that disguised her as Kathryn before falling asleep on the pile of furs in the corner where she and Emma had slept together just a day ago. At dawn the next morning, she was awoken to a sharp prod. She gasped and sat up, willing herself awake in an instant.

“Kathryn?” Snow said when she finally got a look at her. “What are you doing here?” She lowered the bow she was holding, and Regina took a deep breath to steady her nerves.

“I’m sorry to sneak in,” she said, “I came looking for you and you weren’t here.”

Snow threw her pack down and sat on the other side of the cave, grabbing a basket of food and tossing it between them. She gestured for Regina to have some.

“Why did you need to find me?” Snow asked, and then looked around. “Where’s Anna?”

Regina helped herself to some dried meats and fruit and answered with what she hoped was the truth: “She’s home with our son. I came back, well, to check on you. To make sure you’re going to be alright.”

Snow’s face softened, and Regina saw how young she looked.

“That’s very nice of you,” she said. “And I’m fine. I don’t mind have company for a bit, though.” After a pause, she asked, “You have a son?”

Regina smiled. “Yes. He’s almost 14 now.”

“I’d love to have kids someday,” Snow replied, and then her smile faded. “But that’s probably not going to happen, given how my life is.”

Regina furrowed her brow. That didn’t sound like the Snow White she knew, who practically oozed optimism and enthusiasm. This Snow looked like she’d just about given up.

“Don’t say that, dear,” Regina said, trying to sound encouraging. “You never know what may change in your life. You just can’t give up when things seem bleak.”

Good grief, was Regina actually giving Snow White a hope speech? And just like that, Regina knew what she needed to do. She may not be able to right any of the wrongs of the past, but she could help ensure that Snow would weather the coming challenges. So she took Snow’s hand and looked at her carefully.

“I believe in you, Snow White,” she said, quieting the part of her mind that shrank from that simple phrase, horrified. “I believe in your ability to make it through this horrible time in your life and find something better.”

Snow sighed and looked at Regina gratefully.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I guess sometimes I really need someone else to remind me to have hope. It’s hard out here by myself.”

Regina nodded. “I understand that. More than you could possibly know,” she added under her breath.

Snow took her hand back and settled back in to eating. After a moment, she looked up shyly.

“I did meet someone interesting recently,” she said.

Regina knew where this was headed, and she fought her deep-rooted instinct to roll her eyes at any mention of Prince Charming. But she was here to make things right, and she had found one way to do that, so she sat back and asked Snow about her mysterious young prince.

 

***

Storybrooke - Present Day

By this point, Emma had shifted them around so they were snuggled up together under the covers. They lay on their sides, faces inches apart while Regina recounted the details of her time in the forest with Snow.

“You gave my mom a hope speech?” Emma asked with a laugh.

Regina smiled too, but with sadness behind it. “Several, in fact, over the three days that we spent together. She just looked so lost, so defeated. And there was something about what the Fairy said to me - that sometimes people honestly just need you to believe in them. I felt like perhaps that was my opportunity, even if it was a small thing, to do some good.”

Emma hooked a leg over Regina’s and pulled their bodies closer. “I noticed that about Snow, too,” she said, “and given how she reacted when she found out you were Kathryn, I’d say your hope speeches worked.”

Emma chuckled. “We’re getting into some serious time travel insanity here, aren’t we?”

Regina looked up at her, confused.

“Your hope speech,” Emma explained. “You basically learned it from Snow, but apparently now she learned it from you. Another one of those, what did you call them, circular paradoxes?”

“I suppose so,” Regina answered, and shook her head. “Probably best not to think about it too much.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Emma replied, offering her a quick kiss.

Regina sighed and returned this kiss enthusiastically. There was one more thing to tell Emma, and she needed to feel this connection, this sweetness before going into it. Emma seemed to notice that her mood had shifted into something more thoughtful, and turned to lay on her back, pulling Regina into her side and cradling her head on her arm. Regina lay there for a moment while Emma stroked her cheek tenderly.

“What I said to Snow at the diner,” Regina began. Emma hummed, encouraging her to keep talking.

“That I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.” Regina paused, not entirely sure how to say this.

“I thought about not coming back,” she said finally.

Emma squeezed her tighter in response, and murmured, “I’m so glad you did.”

“I thought you might be better off without me,” Regina said, her voice barely audible. But Emma heard.

“What changed your mind?” she asked, and Regina noticed that her first response wasn’t to argue, but rather to ask. And though she might not have thought it, it was the perfect response. Regina turned her head to kiss Emma’s arm lightly.

“Snow,” she answered. “Obviously I didn’t tell her the details, but in those three days we spent together, I told her that I was thinking about starting a new life somewhere where nobody knew me. And she kept asking me why I would ever do that when I had family and a place to call home. And I had answers for her - a lot of answers, in fact. But she just kept pushing, and eventually I realized that I don’t trust myself, and so I can’t imagine ever asking you to trust me, either.”

Regina pushed herself up on her elbows so she could look down at Emma.

“And do you know what she said to me?”

Emma shook her head, a gentle smile playing across her face.

“She said ‘you’re the one who’s always going on about hope. And what is hope but trust that things will get better?’”

Emma’s smile widened. “She gave you a hope speech,” she said, and Regina chuckled in response.

Regina traced a finger along Emma’s cheek, tapping along the spray of freckles that were only visible when she was this close.

“I’ve done a lot of terrible things, Emma,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard to change, and to be better, but a part of me doesn’t trust that it’ll hold. It was far too easy to turn to the darkness when I felt hurt, and I didn’t come home right away because I was afraid of what I might do.”

“Regina,” Emma started, but Regina put a finger to her lips.

“Being with Snow for those three days, watching her start to embrace that persistent optimism that must have always been a part of her reminded me of how I feel when I’m with you. You make me want to be a better person, Emma. And maybe … maybe I don’t quite trust myself, but maybe I trust us. Together.”

She rested a hand on Emma’s chest, feeling her heartbeat through her hand.

“Can I kiss you now?” Emma whispered, and Regina laughed.

“Yes,” she replied.

Emma leaned up to claim her lips, pulling Regina up and on top of her. Regina sighed into the kiss, and closed her eyes to drink in the sensation of being held like this. When they finally parted, she looked into Emma’s eyes and took a deep breath. She’d already decided to say the words, and knew she meant them, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. But she’d promised herself - and Snow - that when she got home, she would tell Emma how she felt.

“Emma, I...” she started, and then stopped. She closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them again, willing away her fear.

“I love you, Emma,” she whispered.

Emma gasped softly, but she tightened her arms around Regina’s waist and nuzzled her face into Regina’s neck.

“I love you too,” Emma whispered into her skin.

Regina’s heart soared, and she held Emma tight.

“And I trust us, too,” Emma added.

Regina found her lips again and kissed her deeply. She rolled off to the side, and they wrapped their arms around each other. Regina glanced up at Emma when she heard her breathing start to even out as she drifted off to sleep. ‘I’m very glad I came home,’ she thought, and closed her eyes, letting herself fall asleep in the arms of the woman she loved.