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Memory is the First to Go

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Memory is the First to Go 

“Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.” - Primo Levi

1: Raising the Dead

Regina sighed as she grabbed Emma’s lunch tray. What in the world had she done to deserve such a selfless, but careless partner? Sometimes, she felt like being in love with Emma was some kind of curse, only because Emma caused her such worry. Underneath that, she knew there was not a better partner for her, for many reasons. Because of that, she went easy on Emma when she got the phone call that Emma had a minor accident diving on a skateboarder to save the girl from a runaway motor scooter. The child walked away unscathed, the scooter driver was fined, and Emma had a concussion, bruised ribs, and deeply bruised legs for her trouble.

Magic could have healed some of that, but magic was very dangerous with head injuries. So, Regina would wait for news on the concussion before attempting to heal any part of Emma. Emma was not happy about that, not looking forward to bed rest for the next few days.

“How are you feeling, dear heart?” Regina asked as she entered their bedroom. It had taken time, but eventually it went from being only her bedroom to their bedroom. Regina was reluctant to give up her space and Emma had been even more reluctant to ask for it. Both of their reluctance came from the same place. Neither of them had their own personal area growing up.  Regina always had her mother there to remind her that even she was only there by her mother’s grace. While Emma never had almost anything to call her own because of her circumstances. They were learning to share with each other and through each other.

Emma groaned from her place at the head of bed, tucked under a sheet while the blankets were folded neatly at the foot of the bed. “I’m all right. I still can’t believe I didn’t stick that landing.”

Regina gave her a pitying look. “What made you think you would? What in your history made you think believe you of all people could literally leap into action and escape unscathed?" To be fair, the motor scooter had unexpectedly made a u-turn and collided with Emma’s side. And, of course with Emma’s luck, she fell onto the skateboard, slid a few feet, and then crashed head-first into the sidewalk.

Emma had the nerve to look at her with a confident smirk, even as she struggled to take a breath thanks to her bruised ribs. “I’m lucky.” She moved the bed sheet from her body, probably to avoid an accident with lunch, revealing she was in her usual tank top and some shorts.

Regina could not stop the scoff that escaped her. “Since when are you lucky?” She put the tray down over Emma’s lap. 

“I landed you, didn’t I?” Emma grinned and tried to bite back a grimace as she shifted to sit up better with the tray.

Regina chuckled. “Lucky is what you’re calling it today?”

"What else could it be when you’re upset with me for getting hurt, but still made me my favorite junk food, even though I know you hate making it." 

Regina rolled her eyes. She made Emma several different versions of grilled cheese when she got sad or down every now and then, but physical injuries called for more drastic measures. She made what Emma called “homemade beefaroni,” macaroni pasta noodles with ground beef and tomato sauce. That had been Emma’s simple explanation of it. Regina tweaked it each time she made it until it was something she was satisfied serving her partner and sometimes their son.

Emma liked to eat the meal with crackers and lemonade. Regina did not question why, even though it seemed like an odd mix. She merely made fresh lemonade for times like now. She also made sure to put the meal in Emma’s favorite bowl. And learned from simple observation, Emma preferred to eat it with a rounded soup spoon rather than a tablespoon.

“Do you want me to put your movie back on?” Regina asked. Emma also had a list of movies she enjoyed at times like this. Regina made sure they had them in multiple formats, just in case.

Emma nodded before shoving a spoonful of food in her mouth. A wince cut through her visage, as it always did when she moved now. “Sit with me?”

Regina should have seen that coming. Above all things, Emma wanted company when she was injured. She desired a physical reminder she was not alone. Regina had more than her fair share of such moments, so she understood. 

“Let me go get your medication first,” Regina said. It would not do Emma any good to cuddle up next to her while still in so much pain. Knowing Emma, she would press into Regina as hard as she could, ignoring the damage she might be causing herself.

Emma frowned. “What medication? I’m not sick.”

“No, but you have pain pills to relieve the agony you’re clearly in.” She expected this fight, but she thought for sure it was a battle she would win. 

Emma scoffed. “Do you know how many times I’ve hurt myself like this or worse? Well, of course, you do. You’ve been present for at least a quarter of my injuries. Have I ever needed pain pills?”

“Needed? Yes. Actually filled the prescription and took them, no." Regina noticed but she never said anything. She wanted Emma to come to her, to trust her rather be backed into a corner or feel badgered. As that path would lead to Emma either shutting down or her sharing information she was not ready to divulge. “Even when I reminded you, you pretend not to hear me and continue on your merry way, eating a snack and limping.” 

Emma twisted her mouth up. “I’m not always eating a snack.” She said that like it was an actual defense.

Regina was not upset. Maybe a little bothered, so her expression hardly changed. “Are you ever going to tell me why you don’t use the pills?” For someone who got injured like Emma did, she would think pain pills came in handy.

Emma’s attention went back to her food and her voice turned into a grumble. “Tell you what?”

Regina scowled and folded her arms across her chest so Emma knew she was not playing around. “Don’t play stupid with me. We both know you won’t win that way." 

Emma frowned right back at her, even glaring. Early on, if anyone asked Regina the quickest way to get Emma to shut down, Regina would have said to challenge her. She was certain Emma would have said the same of her. First impressions could be very wrong, though. 

“Come sit with me while I eat.” Emma patted the space beside her on the bed.

Regina sighed and moved her shoulders, as if doing such a thing was a horrible burden. Still, she dropped her hands to her side and climbed on the bed. She eased in close to Emma, making sure they had body contact, but also did not press too hard to avoid paining Emma’s ribs or her bruised legs. Emma sighed from the simple contact of Regina’s shirt against her bicep and started in on her food while Regina busied herself caressing Emma’s thigh, avoiding the dark bruises there.

Regina glanced at the television, but did not pay it too much mind. She had seen this movie with Emma, but did not care for it, like most of the movies Emma enjoyed. She would bear them because of Emma, though. She knew Emma did the same with documentaries with her. 

Emma ate quietly next to her, savoring each spoonful of pasta. She ate a cracker after every couple of spoonfuls, shoving the whole saltine in her mouth, possibly to avoid crumbs. The lemonade was drank in deep gulps, which was the reason Emma got a thirty-two ounce tumbler for whenever she was sick or depressed. Soon, the food and drink were gone and all that remained were them and this terrible movie.

“I used to be addicted to pills,” Emma said, like it was a regular opening for a conversation.

Regina did not react. She did not stop stroking Emma’s bare thigh. She was not surprised by the admission. Throughout their relationship, they both revealed little things about themselves and the horrors of their lives. She doubted they could shock each other anymore.

“When was this?" Regina asked as if it was no big deal. To make a big deal out of it would cause Emma to shut down, just as she would if the situation were reversed.

Emma shrugged and scraped her bowl with the spoon, trying to get every little bit of food apparently. “Back when I was a teenager.”

“What stopped this habit?” Regina liked to work backwards with Emma. It seemed less painful for Emma for some reason. So, first she would learn why Emma stopped and then she would learn why Emma started.

Emma glanced at her and snorted. “I didn’t have the money to keep it up and stealing wasn’t doing it. I refused to do sex work for them.”

“And why is this?” Regina hated to admit it, but Emma had more willpower than she did. To be addicted and to give it up just from lack of money was not something Regina could fathom. After her descent, she would have done any and everything to satisfy her addiction to power.

Emma frowned and stand at the ceiling for a long moment. “Damn habit started because of sex.”

Regina was not expecting that, but did not show it. “What do you mean?” How the hell did she get addicted to pills through sex? Regina was not sure if she was ready for the story, not with the way her stomach twisted. 

Emma’s top lip curled and her brow furrowed. “When I was about thirteen or something. I had a foster dad that thought I was cute and seemed to think I could do better things with my mouth than backtalk his dumb ass.”

Regina scowled. “Do you remember his name?” She would ruin him.

A deeper wrinkle appeared through Emma’s forehead, like she was trying to remember. “I actually don’t.” She gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment, which made the statement a little less believable, but that did not matter at the moment. “I wonder if he knew,” she mused in a low mutter, like the words were not meant outside of her own head. 

Regina arched an eyebrow. “Knew what?” The little slip made her heart jump and it threw off the rhythm. Something wrong was coming and she did not want to think about what it might be.

Emma blinked and shook her head. “Nothing.” She glanced at Regina and then looked ahead again, acting like it did not happen.

Regina gave her leg a squeeze. “It’s not nothing. We both know that.” From the way her throat burned, she suspected it was well beyond nothing. 

Emma focused on her food, as if she planned to eat the full roll of crackers, even without the beefaroni. The crackers were a good excuse to not talk, as she possibly weighed her words in her head or measured what she wanted to share. She glanced at Regina, but did not meet her eyes, and stared into her bowl. “When I was little, like eight, I had this awesome foster mom.” 

“What made her awesome?” The plan as always was to keep Emma talking. The story always came in pieces, which was the opposite of her. It was like pulling teeth to get her started, but eventually the tale would spill from her like a tipped glass of water. Emma knew not to ask her questions or the story would never be finished. 

There was a spark in Emma’s eyes, but it did not translate into a smile. It was strange. It did not help that Emma’s leg tensed under her fingertips. She was not sure how Emma felt and it did not get better when she spoke.

“Oh, she gave me so much stuff. She treated me like a kid. I got things I never even dreamed of with her. Little things most kids don’t even think about, like a book bag. I got cute pencils and stickers and junk like that. I had cute clothes with her. Hell, I had my own clothes. She made food I liked, even asked me what I wanted to eat sometimes.” Emma should have been happy, but she did not sound it and there was nothing in her expression or tone to support any real emotion.

Regina nodded. “What kinds of things did she make?” Maybe she could make them the next time Emma needed a pick-me-up.

Emma shook her head, scowling into her empty bowl. She broke the cracker in her hand, but then ate the bits anyway, even licking the crumbs from her palm. “Don’t bother. I don’t like them anymore.” Her voice was tiny, young, but full of conviction.

Regina frowned. This whole thing was rotten already and made her stomach feel the same. “What do you mean you don’t like them anymore?” It was not like Emma to give up on food, as evident by her having to learn how to make beefaroni.

Emma’s eyes did not leave her bowl and her chin wobbled a bit, but her teeth were clenched together. She took a deep breath through her nose. “Yeah, I don’t like a lot of stuff from that time.” She gave a shrug that was probably supposed to be carefree, but her shoulders seemed heavier than Atlas’. “I don’t know why. I mean, my time with Selena wasn’t terrible. I mean, too terrible. She liked me and I liked her.” 

What the hell did this woman do to Emma? “So, what does she have to do with your foster father?” Regina’s eyes searched Emma’s features for some sign that this was not as horrible as she anticipated, but nothing gave her hope.

Emma sighed and her shoulders dropped like the bones vanished. “He tried to get me to do stuff for him that I did for her.”

Regina could not help it, she blinked. She did not mean to react, but this was not what she expected. She was well versed in Emma’s traumas, but this was new. Approach with caution

“What did you do for her, my love?” Regina asked, keeping her voice the same as always. If Emma thought her voice was too soft, she would mistake the concern for pity and this would turn into an argument. There was nothing worse than them throwing the past back at each other to try to win an argument. It was rare now, but could still happen.

Emma’s bottom lip trembled and she gnawed it, like that would get it to stop. She took a loud inhale through her nose and released it even louder the same way. “She told me it was a secret game, special between me and her. I couldn’t tell anyone and she meant anyone or I’d get taken away. I didn’t want to get taken away. So, I promised to not tell anyone ever.”

Emma’s thigh tensed like a stone under Regina’s hand and she could feel nerves jump under her fingertips. Regina was not she sure if she should stop touching Emma or if she should add pressure. This was too new and she was not sure Emma even understood the weight of the situation. There was something missing in her voice, replaced with a child-like quality. Her eyes were haunted, but not quite the way Regina knew they could be when dealing with Emma’s issues.

“Did she touch you, Emma?” Regina was afraid of the answer, but she needed to know. The way her heart hammered in her chest, she knew and was very aware of that, but still felt like unless there was confirmation, she could pretend Emma did not have to go through something so gruesome. Emma had sat through more than her fair share of sexual assault stories from Regina. Regina did not wish that trauma on anyone, but especially Emma.

Emma did not respond. She gnawed her lip harder, cutting into the skin. There was no blood, but the lip turned deep red from the wound. She stared off into space, crackers forgotten, even as they sat in her palm. Regina patted her thigh, reminding her they were together in the present to keep her from getting lost in the past.

“I touched her.” Emma’s voice was a whisper, distant, but still with a distinct hint of childishness. “She showed me how to do it. She taught me how to touch her and told me I was a good girl when I did. No one ever told me I was good before. I wanted to be so good for her.” The last sentence was like a low sob, but there were no tears.

Regina knew all too well what someone deprived of affection would do for it. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Emma gave a little shrug and her voice picked up a bit. “Afterwards, she’d let me watch my favorite cartoons and she’d make me Kraft mac and cheese, which I thought was the best thing ever because that was the best thing from my last foster home. If I was a really good girl, I’d get ice cream.” It was clear from her tone how special ice cream was.

Regina could only wonder how this story ended. “How long were you with her?” Had this been a home Emma had been in a while, being used and abused by some terrible creature in woman’s skin?

“Only a few months. She was a banker or something. I remember she wore a lot of smart suits and stuff. She got a new job in another city and I couldn’t go.” A pout settled on Emma’s face as if she were reliving the disappointment of almost thirty years ago.

Regina swallowed her surprise. “You wanted to go?” She could not understand that. She wanted to get away from her abuser enough to kill him. But, then again, she also wanted her mother to love her and her mother did nothing but abuse her, so maybe it was like that for Emma. This was her foster mother, someone she wanted to love her.

Emma looked at her as if she were out of her mind. “Of course I wanted to go. I felt so wanted, like she liked me. It had been a long time since I felt that way.” She poked herself in the chest with her index finger.

Regina felt her brow wrinkle and anger roiled in her stomach. She wanted to find this woman who used Emma and left Emma thinking that was what it meant to be liked as a child. She wanted to find her, flay her, and then feed her to pigs. “You felt wanted? Emma, she was abusing you, just like your foster father wanted to.” Why did this Selena woman get a pass, but the foster father got contempt?

Regina waited for the denial she knew was coming. It had taken her months to come to terms with her own sexual abuse at the hands of Leopold and that only happened because of Emma. Regina had argued “wifely duties” more times than she cared to remember before finally breaking down into a crying jag as she admitted to herself and her partner that she had been raped. It was the start of a very long, winding journey for Regina dealing with not only her sexual trauma, but the abuse she inflicted on others. Hell, she was still dealing with it.

Emma erupted, but not in anger. She was upset, but there was still that little girl quality there. She was upset like a child who had a doll taken away. “It wasn’t abuse!” She slapped her hand against her knee, rattling the lunch tray. “She was nice to me and she just wanted me to make her feel good. She was nothing like that damned dirty pervert, Mr. Aaron. He tried to watch me in the shower and would buy me bras, trying to get me to try them on in front of him. He wanted to have sex with a thirteen year old for crying out loud.” Her face drew into a grimace.

Regina frowned. “And this Selena woman had sex with an eight year old child.”

Hazel eyes glared her down, like she was insulted on Selena’s behalf. “She didn’t have sex with me, Regina. I just touched her.”

Regina had to fight down the urge to roll her eyes. “And how did you touch her, Emma?”

“Just with my mouth.” Emma flicked her wrist, as if the whole matter was trivial.

“So, are you telling me it didn’t count as sex because there was no penetration?” Regina was not surprised. She recalled scrambling for every excuse in the book as well when dealing with trauma because, in her mind, there was no way she could be a rape victim or worse a rapist. 

Emma made a face. “Of course, I’m not saying that.” 

“Then why would you act like it’s fine for you to put your mouth on her, but not this Mr. Aaron?” She would also have to find out Mr. Aaron’s last name eventually. Even if he had not touched Emma, he probably touched other little girls and Regina did not think that should slide. Yes, it was hypocritical of her, but since becoming a hero, breathing was almost hypocritical for her.

“Because I liked Selena and she was nice to me. Mr. Aaron wouldn’t spit on me if I was on fire, but Selena was nice to me. I remember she cried because she couldn’t take me with her.”

Regina kept in a scoff. She did not want to tell Emma the truth of the matter, did not want to hurt Emma. But, they always told each offer the truth, especially if it was to help them move forward. 

“She cried because she couldn’t take her well trained sex toy with her. You have to know that,” Regina said. Emma would have told her that if this was her story. Emma would have told her that and more probably.

Emma shook her head. “No, Selena cared about me.” 

Regina squeezed the thigh under her hold. “Emma, you know that’s not true. If this were me and I was telling you, ‘well, I was his wife and I was expected to do certain things,’ you’d call bullshit.”

Emma’s mouth twisted up. “Because that is bullshit. He didn’t have a right to your body, regardless of who you were or who he was.”

Regina wanted to just throw her hands out, as Emma made her point for her. “And she didn’t have a right to you regardless of how nice she was.”

Emma scowled, as if this was an insult to her, as if Regina was wrong. “She was nice to me and took care of me. I would’ve done anything for her, especially to stay with her.”

“And if your foster dad had been nice to you, would you have done the same for him?” They both knew the answer to that question.

“Of course not.”

“So, where is the difference, Emma?” Regina would bet Emma did not understand why it was different, but as she got older, she got wiser. She understood things at thirteen that she could not fathom at eight. Unfortunately, it did not seem she thought on it long enough to realize what happened at eight was just as bad, if not worse, than what happened at thirteen.

Emma went back to her food, shoving crackers in her mouth, trying to buy herself some time. Regina could wait. As Emma ate, Regina rubbed her leg, reminding her someone was there for her.

“He was a dick,” Emma opted to say, as if that covered it.

Regina swallowed a scoff. “But, if he wasn’t, you still wouldn’t have done it.”

“If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have tried.”

Regina sighed. “And yet you don’t condemn Selena, who started the whole matter, training you from childhood.” She hoped Emma saw the ridiculousness of that.

Emma took a deep breath, not like she was trying to calm herself down, but like she was about to hyperventilate. She blew out a long breath, which seemed to prevent her from panting. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. ”

I love how she thinks that’s going to end the conversation, like she doesn’t know me or how we work. “So, you’re going to take your pills then?”

There was a glower and Emma had the nerve to look annoyed with her. “Didn’t I just say I used to be addicted to them?”

Regina pursed her lips. “Yes, you also just admitted the cause of the problem, but don’t wish to discuss it anymore. I just assumed that meant you worked out the issue. After all, you are the one who has always been insistent that we discuss matters to help each other deal with our traumas to make sure we don’t sabotage our own relationship. Isn’t that what you’re always saying?”

“Yes, and we talked about it, so you can let it go. I don’t take pills. I’m not going to take the chance of becoming addicted again." Emma waved the matter away. 

Regina could feel her forehead wrinkle as her mouth turned downward. Internally, she screamed in pure frustration. “Because you have so much pain in your life now, like then?”

Emma frowned right back. “You know it’s not like that.” 

Regina scoffed. “No, I don’t know what it’s like because you decided the matter was closed. You tell me you were addicted to pain pills because they helped with emotional pain as well as physical pain. Are you in such emotional pain with us here that you might need to rely on pills again?”

“That’s not how addiction works and you know that, Miss-Addicted-to-Magic.” 

Regina did not even let that faze her, even though it was sniping like that talking was supposed to help them avoid. “And yet I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention, I still use magic and I would never call myself an addict now that I have a better understanding of myself and that’s thanks to you and your damn insistence that we talk about things.”

Emma threw her hands up. “And we talked about it. I’m not taking any damn pills.”

Regina had to take a breath to keep her patience together. “Why? You fear you may get addicted again. But, why do you have that fear? What is happening in your life right now that might make you turn to addiction?”

Folding her arms across her chest, Emma’s mouth twisted up again. “All your damn questions certainly aren’t helping.” 

Regina kept on coming, as that was the only way they would get through this. “And why is that? Why is this so upsetting to you? You’ve never had a problem opening up to me before. Yes, sometimes it takes you a while, but you get there. You never shut the conversation down.” She had always assumed that was for her benefit, Emma leading by example. Emma knew Regina would take it as a challenge if she always finished a conversation then Regina would always strive to do the same, no matter how difficult. It worked, until now when their whole system broke down.

“You’ve never made it seem like I was molested as a child,” Emma countered,  as if this was all somehow Regina’s fault. 

Regina held up a finger. “One, I didn’t make it seem like anything. It was what it was.” Up came another finger. “Two, I didn’t know about it before now to know it was an issue.”

Emma curled her lip. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t molested and I’m not taking your damn pain meds. Okay?” 

“It sounds like you’ve settled the matter on your own.” Of course, their relationship was not built like that, but this seemed like it was an issue Emma would have to start on her own before Regina could try to help. That did not sit will with her because this did not seem like a hill Emma was interested in climbing. It definitely did not seen like a hill she should climb on her own.

“Yeah, the matter is settled. So, let’s just watch the movie.” Emma turned her attention back to the television.

Regina did not argue. She turned her attention to the television and silently watched while Emma finished off the whole pack of crackers. After that, she cleared Emma’s mess and went to the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, she took a moment to breathe and found it hard.

She grabbed the countertop to keep from shaking. How could someone do that to a child? Yes, she had done horrible things, including sentencing children to death in mass executions and sending then on suicide missions, but she had never conceived of using them for pleasure. Well, beyond her desire to be a mother. 

She did not have time to dwell on that as arms came from behind her and wrapped around her waist. Emma nuzzled her shoulder blade. A silent apology that would not work. Emma was trying to avoid the issue and hoped Regina would do the same.

“I love you,” Emma said.

“I know and I love you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re supposed to be in the bed!” Regina pulled away and pointed out of kitchen. “Now, get!” She grabbed the dish towel and swatted Emma to get her moving.

Emma yelped and rushed out of kitchen. Regina shook her head. She would have to wait and see what to do with her partner, but this matter was not settled.

-8-8-8-8-

Next time: Emma goes through some emotional upheaval.

Chapter Text

 

 

2: The Weight of the World

“Emma, put me down this instance!” Regina ordered as Emma picked her up bridal style in the foyer of the house. Her words probably would have had more weight if she were not giggling like a schoolgirl. It was both embarrassing and freeing to be able to titter with Emma. 

“I have to make sure I’m ready for heavy lifting,” Emma replied with a smile. She made her way to the stairs with Regina in her arms. 

Regina turned her mouth up, even as she put her arms around Emma’s neck. “Heavy?” she screamed with righteous indignation and put up a half-hearted fight to get away from Emma. “How dare you?”

Emma’s smile became an impish grin. “How dare you? You put on weight since the last time I did this.”

“Or you’re not properly healed from your injury, thus weaker and possibly hurting yourself.” If that was the case, it was time for Emma to put her down.

Emma grunted as she moved up the stairs and a few beads of sweat dotted her forehead. “Nope, the doctor cleared me to resume all my normal activities. So, it’s gotta be you.” 

“That’s a hell of a way to look at things while hoping to get laid.” Of course, it was a forgone conclusion once Emma picked her up. It never failed to turn her on when Emma showed off her strength. It was impressive to know Emma was physically strong enough to pick her up, but it was also a good way to judge if Emma was fully healed.

“Oh, it’s more than a hope.” Emma wiggled her eyebrows. 

They had come from the doctor, who gave Emma a clear bill of health. Emma practically ran home with one thing in mind. Regina was right there with her. They had not been intimate for a couple of weeks thanks to Emma’s carelessness.

“You’re rather cocky for someone who can barely make it upstairs,” Regina pointed out.

“You keep it up and I’m going to fireman carry you the rest of the way.” Emma huffed as she hit the second floor landing. Her face shined with a light sweat. She was obviously out of shape, but not out of practice.

“You say that like it’s a threat, but it allows me to admire and fondle your ass, which we both know I enjoy immensely.” Regina smirked, as she felt victory in the palm of her hand. Victory felt very much like Emma’s breast. Neither complained.

Emma did not have a response, as it was the truth. She was saved, though, as they reached the room. She placed Regina down with care, like reverence, as she always did. It never failed to make Regina feel special and loved.

It seemed to take forever and no time at all for them to lose their clothes. They lost themselves in the heavens of their kisses and caresses. Touching Emma, feeling Emma, knowing Emma was there and wanted to be there always overwhelmed Regina. It was even more so after Emma was injured.

The love Regina had with Emma was not one she had ever known, not even with Daniel. Being with Daniel, she was certain was what this realm referred to as “puppy love.” Her first love to be sure, but her relationship with Emma was something so much more and it was impossible to describe. She often tried to make sure Emma understood her affection for her through her actions and she believed Emma did the same, as neither of them were the best with words.

Regina was not sure when or how she ended up on her back, but there she was with Emma leaving a trail of kisses down her neck to her chest. She moaned and squirmed as kisses turned into nibbles when they hit her breasts. They transformed into licks as Emma went down her stomach.

Arching into Emma’s mouth, Regina moaned and lost her hands in Emma’s hair. And then, everything stopped. Emma did not move for a few seconds and just as Regina was going to inquire if anything was wrong, she felt Emma shrug before taking all of Regina into her mouth. Regina moaned and grabbed Emma’s hair. Emma paused again. Something was definitely wrong.

Emma never started and stopped unless she was teasing. If she was teasing, she would laugh and taunt Regina verbally. There was no none of that, just stillness and tension. Looking down her body, she would see Emma’s shoulders were taut.

“Are you all right?” Regina asked. There had been times when Emma swore she felt better from injuries because she wanted to make love, but she was still experiencing pain. This could have easily been Emma trying to do too much too soon.

Emma nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

That was an odd answer and Emma’s voice was a little distant. Regina moved her hand to Emma’s cheek and stroked it until Emma lifted her eyes to Regina. Something was wrong and she was not sure what. Emma looked haunted, like she saw a ghost.

“How about I do you? Congratulations for living another day and all that?” Regina offered, a soft smile in place with the hope it would comfort her beloved.

Emma’s face lit up. “I’d be crazy to turn that down.”

Regina smiled, always happy with how Emma was to be with her. It was not something Emma related to, even though she understood. Emma never had a problem finding sexual partners who wanted her. Regina had only one sexual partner who wanted her and she never wanted him. For much her adult life she believed that was how sexual relationships were supposed to be and then Emma showed her another way.

“How do you want it?” Regina opted for this route since Emma seemed troubled. If she gave into Emma’s desires, maybe it would pep Emma up, remind her someone would love nothing more than to give into her every whim to make her feel better. Emma needed to remember she was loved.

Emma grinned and crawled up Regina’s body. Regina thought Emma would sit on her face, but Emma stopped they were face to face. She pressed their bodies together, kissed Regina so softly it made her want to cry, and proceeded to ride Regina’s thigh. She whimpered and moaned into Regina’s mouth. Regina loved every moment of it.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma stared at the dark ceiling or their bedroom. Regina was asleep beside her. Not being able to sleep was not new to her, even though she could sleep anywhere. Sometimes, no matter how far and fast she ran from her troubles, they caught up with her. Right now, she was not sure what caught up with her, but something gnawed at her insides.

Something happened when she went down on Regina, but she was not sure what. It was fine and then… She was not sure. Her throat had burned as if she was going to vomit and her stomach felt like it dropped out into her feet. The thought of going down on Regina usually turned her on to no end. She was always happy to have Regina in her mouth, moving against her tongue, but in the moment, that had not been on her mind. She was not sure what was on her mind. It was blank, but horrifying somehow, like a nightmare she could not quite remember upon waking. The image might not be there to terrify her, but the residue was more than enough to keep her jumping at shadows in the dark.

She thought on what happened. She was enjoying the lovely taste of Regina’s skin and giddy with what was next before she felt like someone walked across her grave. She tried to ignore it and go back to exactly what she wanted, but then it happened again. It was like a shadow covered her soul, devoured in light in her, and felt her cold inside. She replayed the moment over and over in her mind until she got the same sensation. She gasped, too loud apparently. Regina shifted.

“It’s okay,” Emma whispered and kissed the side of Regina’s head. That was enough to soothe her back to a restful sleep.

Emma, however, was now on full alert, replaying the time in her mind again to figure out why she felt like a vampire had sucked the energy out of her. She froze when they were making love when Regina put her hands in Emma’s hair. Usually, it was something Emma liked. A gentle reminder Regina was there and she was doing something right. It had not felt like it usually did in that moment, though.

It felt dirty and wrong. It felt more like a petting rather than a caress, more like cheap praise than appreciation and she was not sure why. She never felt that way with Regina before. Maybe it was a fluke. Something left over from her injuries. Time would tell. After all, it was not like this was the last time she and Regina would make love.

“Then stop over thinking things and go to sleep,” Emma told herself.

She tried, but sleep eluded her that night. She could not shake a sensation of dread in her heart. Whenever she closed her eyes, she found familiar eyes staring into her soul. They were brown, but felt black and gripped her insides like a block of ice. It was not long after she found to why there were pins and needles in her chest.

-8-8-8-8-

It was a few days later where Emma and Regina were back in bed. Emma was settled comfortably between Regina’s thighs, her hands at Regina’s knees to keep her spread open wide, not that Regina seemed to be wanting to close her legs. She kissed the inside of Regina’s thigh and Regina hissed.

“Yes, baby,” Regina said, but it did not sound exactly like Regina. It sounded like… it was a voice she knew well, but could not quite put a name to right now.

Emma blinked and sat up. “What did you just say?”

“Yes, do that,” Regina replied and then she stared at Emma with concern she should not have. They were making love. Concern had no place here unless they were trying something new. “Are you all right?”

Emma rubbed her ear as her brow furrowed. “Yeah. I just misheard you, I guess. I thought it was weird you called me ‘baby.’”

Regina choked on her typical aghast at the word. “I would never!”

Emma snickered. “Yeah, I know. Anyway, back to this.” She returned to Regina’s thigh, placing wet kisses on warm skin.

Regina moaned, but something weird happened. Usually, it sent a tingle up her spine, but this time there was an icy chill. It was like a shadow over her heart, like someone walked over her grave again. What the hell is this about? I just want to be close to my partner.

She ignored the feeling and pressed on. It had been way too long since she enjoyed Regina to let little things stop her, even if they were weird. Hell, even a little disturbing. Whatever. She was doing this. But, with each sound that escaped Regina, chills overcame her and her stomach turned. That shadow was back over her soul, covering every warm bit of her with frost and terror. There was something about the noise. It usually seemed sexy. It usually turned her on. Right now, it did nothing but rub her nerves raw, leave her feeling skinned alive. They sounded so familiar. 

Regina’s hand went to the back of her head and tried to direct her and Emma’s throat burned. She swallowed down bile and jumped back. Selena! She felt like she was with Selena again, but it was far from a happy reunion.

“Emma?” Regina said.

Their voices sound the same. They both grab my head and pet me. They make the same sounds. The same sounds during sex! Emma’s chest heaved and it was getting harder to breathe. 

“I need…” Emma shook her head. “I need water!” What she really needed was air and space, but she could not say that. She rushed to the bathroom, needing a moment to herself. Her heart felt like it was about to explode from how rapidly it pounded against her ribs.

She shut the door and leaned against it, breathing well out of control. The world felt like it was spinning and there was no up or down. She did not know what was going on, but she did not like it. Why did Regina sound like Selena for a moment? Hell, for more than a moment. She shook her head. It was crazy. This was all crazy.

“She didn’t sound like her. It’s all in my head. Regina’s never sounded like Selena before,” Emma said in a hurried way, as if the faster she got it out the truer it would be. 

But, maybe she had. Maybe you just forgot. You haven’t thought about Selena in years. It was true she had not let Selena enter her mind in well over a decade. Now, it felt like she owned the space already. Her brown eyes glaring at Emma in her own head. Brown like Regina’s eyes.

“Fuck!” Emma was certain her chest was about to cave in from lack of oxygen.

Rushing to the sink, Emma turned on the water and splashed it against her face. It did not help. Her heart still raced, she swore she could feel her blood raging through her, and the world was definitely upside down. Selena was out of whatever box Emma had put her in and she ruled this topsy-turvy place just as Regina reigned over Storybrooke.

Now that she thought about it, Regina looked a little like Selena, dark eyes and hair. She made sounds like Selena. She gripped the back of Emma’s head like Selena. In all the running in her life, had she run back to Selena? Once upon a time, that would have made her jump for joy, but not now. Not when she realized what Selena was. A knock at the door made her almost tear out of her skin.

“Emma, are you okay?” Regina called.

Emma opened her mouth to answer, but her chest hurt so much and she still could not breathe. She took deep breaths, needing to regain some control. Regina was nothing like Selena. Oh, really? Regina hasn’t been a monster in the past? Emma tried to shake that away. Selena wasn’t a monster. She was nice. Emma could hear a scoff in her brain. Selena taught you how to eat her out. That’s nice?

“Emma?” Regina called again.

“Out in a minute!” Emma replied, trying so hard to gather some semblance of control. She gripped the sink, shaking too much to think about leaving the bathroom. In a second, her head might actually be in the toilet if Selena stayed on her mind. She would definitely throw up. There was another knock and she was certain it was gentle, but it sounded booming to her and rattled her bones. She jumped again.

“Emma?”

“For fuck’s sake, Regina, give me a fucking minute!”

The knocking stopped and Emma knew she should feel bad, but all she could feel was an urge to vomit. Her breathing refused to go back to normal and as she looked around the room, it seemed like the walls were closing in on her. She needed to get the hell out of here. Ripping the door to the bathroom open, she wanted to feel free, but felt even more constricted, trapped even.

Regina was on the bed, wearing a robe, which should have made her feel better, but it did not. Regina’s presence made her chest tighter, like she was bound in rough ropes. Those brown eyes, so much like Selena’s it could not be a coincidence, tracking her seemed to steal every little breath she had, like some succubus who would not die. Changing forms just to get to her again and again. To ruin her life again and again.

Emma clutched her throat. Regina was Selena and Selena was Regina. They came into her life and turned everything to dust. It was still so hard to breathe. Was there air in the house at all?

“I gotta get out of here!” Emma practically ran out of the room. Thank goodness she was still dressed for the most part, in her pajama pants and tank top.

“Emma!” Regina got up.

Emma could hear Regina coming after her and it caused hot tears to prick at her eyes. She grabbed her jacket from the hall closet and shoved on her nearest boots. Getting out of the house before Regina caught up to her and practically running down the street. She could hear Regina calling her from the porch, but she did not stop. She did not know where she was going, but she needed to be out that house, away from Regina, away from Selena.

How could Selena do that? Be so nice, but still do that? How was it possible for Selena to be so beautiful, put together, intelligent, and nice and have a child do that to her? How could she be so nice, so lovely, and be such a monster?

Well, was Regina not lovely and a total monster? She came after a child, a baby at that. Regina admitted she would have killed Emma if she had gotten a hold of her the day she cast the Curse. The fact that she murdered Owen’s father in an attempt to steal and keep him, like he was an object. Calling her a monster was kind. How many lives had she destroyed? How many lives had Selena ruined?

Tears slid down Emma’s face and sniffled as she wiped them away. Monsters did not need magic to exist, which was why she had not believed Henry for so long. She thought he was trying to cope with his own monster mom. Maybe he was. Who was to say what Regina did to protect her stupid Curse? After all, look at what Regina did before the Curse, even after the Curse! She was more than willing to maim, murder and, who the hell knew what else. Regina was just as beautiful, put together, and intelligent as Selena. Or maybe Selena was just as beautiful and out of her mind as Regina once was. It did not matter.

“Monsters…” Emma hissed into the dark. “Damn you, Regina, for even making me remember.” It was probably just to torture her. Monsters stalked her and devoured her whenever she thought she was safe. She would never be safe. She would never be able to run far enough, but she kept going just the same.

It was at that moment a light breeze blew and Emma felt cold cut her to the bone. She was out on an early spring night with hardly anything on, but she could not go back home, not while Regina was there, not while monsters lurked out in the open and in the shadows, waiting for the proper time to render her limb from limb, waiting to even tear apart her soul. She went to the only place she could think of.

“Emma!” Snow gasped as Emma stood in front of the loft door.

“Can I crash here?” Emma’s voice cracked. She probably looked a mess and it was probably the worst idea to come to her parents’ house while she was crying, upset, and possibly suffering from hypothermia. But, where else could she go?

“Of course!” Snow stepped out of the way for Emma to enter and then shut the door behind her. Again, the door sounded so much louder than Emma knew it was and she winced. “Emma, are you all right?” 

Emma sniffled and rubbed her face with both hands, trying to wipe away any evidence that she had been weeping. It did nothing, she was sure. The tears were probably frozen to her face, like her blood felt frozen in her veins. “I just need to get some sleep.” Hopefully everything would be better in the morning.

“Your room is still yours.” 

Emma nodded and dragged herself to her room, to her bed, away from her mother, away from the world, away from the monsters. Or so she hoped. Throwing her jacket on the floor, she crawled into bed and wrapped herself in a tight cocoon of her blankets, protection from the monsters. Except the monsters were already in her head.

The moment she closed her eyes, narrowed brown eyes invaded her thoughts. The chill in her spread from the inside out and she knew no amount of blankets would ever protect her. Nothing would ever protect her. She had slept with monsters and now how could she ever sleep again?

“Too many hows,” she grumbled into the night, surprised she did not see frost exit her mouth considering how cold she was.

Soon, the dark took a form. There was the shape of a woman. It had to be Selena. Or maybe it was Regina. She was not too sure. Maybe they were the same. How is that possible? But, really, how was any of this possible? How was her life this sort of mess?

How could Selena be the way she was? How did she become a monster? Had her former foster mother been abused as a child like Regina? Was she mad at the world like Regina? Would she have happily watched everything burn if she had magic? And if that was the case, what about Regina? Had she done things like Selena?

Her stomach felt like it dissolved in its own acid and it was like lava in her throat. The shadow creeping over her spirit had settled in, stealing away her light, covering her in cold, darkness, and misery. Everything hurt.

-8-8-8-8-

Regina watched Emma disappear down the street, cloaked in chilling darkness. She was not sure what just happened, but she knew fleeing when she saw it. She also knew a panic attack when she saw one. She did not chase after Emma because she did not want to make it worse. Emma was running from her and possibly panicking because of her, or at the very least she did something to remind Emma of something that brought her to point of near hysteria.

She did not want to make matters worse, so she went back into the house. She was not sure what caused such alarm in Emma. They had been on their way to make love and Emma was suddenly sick. It was the second time Emma could not go through with being intimate. It did not take much for Regina to realize why.

Regina sighed. “This is why we should’ve talked about it.” She could not say that now, of course. Emma was in the middle of a breakdown. But, eventually, they would have to talk about what her foster mother had done to her, just as they had to talk about what Leopold had done to Regina and what Regina had done to others. Regina had more than her fair share of breakdowns and Emma tended to let her work through them, but she always went back to the subject until Regina could finally deal. She wanted to do the same for Emma. 

To pass the time, Regina checked on Henry to make sure he was still asleep. He was asleep, albeit about to fall out of his bed, gangly limbs twisted in all manners and directions. Sometimes, it hurt to see how much he had grown up. She wanted him to stay her little baby boy forever, but that was impossible. Now, he was all awkward teenager, resembling his birth mother more and more each day. She did not mind. 

She went to make herself some tea. Once the tea was done, she decided to call Emma to find out if she would come back. Faintly, she could hear the phone ringing upstairs. That made sense. So, Regina called the next best person for this.

“Regina?” Snow’s voice was groggy with sleep.

“Sorry for calling at this hour, but Emma might be making her way to you. She left here in a huff a while ago. I don’t think she’ll be back tonight.” 

“What do you mean left in a huff? What happened?”

Regina sighed and rubbed her forehead, as if that would give her answers. “I’m not entirely sure. She didn’t talk to me about it.”

“Are you two all right?” 

“I’m sure we will be.” Regina forced out a smile, even though Snow could not see it. Maybe it was more for herself, so she could believe they would be all right. She did not see why they would not be all right. Emma would talk to her eventually. They always talked. And surely they had been through worse, right? “Can you… Would you just let me know when she gets there? I want to be sure she’s all right.”

“Okay, I will.” 

Regina waited up for the phone call, finishing off her tea and working on lunches tomorrow for Henry and Emma. Eventually, Snow called her back to let her know Emma made it to the loft. Regina felt some tension unwind itself from her spine, but she could not totally relax. 

“How could you let her leave the house dressed like that?” Snow hissed.

Regina frowned. “I didn’t let her leave like that. She fled.” How the hell was this her fault? Maybe it is a little. Most things usually are.

“Well, what happened? She was crying and the tears were frozen to her face. Her lips were blue and her cheeks were red. If we lived a little further, she’d have frozen to death trying to get here.” 

The news made Regina’s heart ache. What was Emma running from that caused her to put herself in such danger and crying while she was at it? “Well, let’s just be happy she didn’t. Emma is going through something right now and she doesn’t want to talk to me about it. I can only wait until she’s ready to open up.”

Snow sighed and was quiet for a long moment, as if gathering her thoughts. “How long do you think she’ll be here?”

“Hopefully just tonight. She should understand we need to talk now.” Emma started this talking thing, so surely she would recognize the need for it.

“But, what happened?”

“It’s personal, Snow.”

Snow let out a squeal because even years later she did not understand that Regina’s personal business was not her business. “Goodnight, Snow.” She was too weary to have a real conversation right now. She hung up before Snow responded. With a sigh, Regina made her way upstairs, figuring she might be able to sleep now that she knew Emma was secure.

She was wrong. She stared at Emma’s empty side of the bed all night. Why won’t you talk to me, beloved? It hurt her heart, even though she understood. She wished they were at a point where they both could just open up about things rather than there always being some obstacle to overcome first.

In the morning, she had a new set of problems. Since he was not blind, Henry noticed his other mother was not home when he came down for breakfast. The tall, lanky seventeen year old watched Regina as she got the food together.

“Should I even ask?” Henry rested his chin in his palm.

“No,” Regina answered, as that was the truth. She would not be able to explain anything to him anyway.

He shrugged. “She’s gonna be okay?”

“I hope.”

He studied her. “You gonna be okay?”

Regina gave him a weak smile. “I will.” She believed that. She and Emma had many tough talks and tough times. Why would they not survive this one? 

She gave Henry his lunch and sent him off to school. Before going to work herself, she went to drop off Emma’s lunch to her, only to find she was not there. David looked up from his desk.

“She didn’t get out of bed. The only reason I even know she was at the loft is because Snow told me. I didn’t see her,” David explained. 

Regina nodded and guilt gnawed at her innards. Maybe it was wrong to start this. Emma was in a lot of pain and Regina could not even take care of her. Hell, this could be her fault. Could be? Stop trying to minimize. You know what you did. She brought up the topic. She was the reason Emma had been abandoned to this gods-forsaken land. She had done this all to Emma.

“Here. You can have this.” Regina shoved Emma’s lunch into David’s hands and then rushed out of the station.

Regina went back home. Now, not confident at all that she would see Emma anytime soon. The best she could do was try to help Emma feel better and possibly remind Emma she loved her. Yes, she needs to remember she is loved, even if it is by me. So, she put together a “comfort box.” Once she was done, it was heavy with the weight of Emma’s favorite things, but she carried it with her bare arms. She went to the loft and was not surprised when Snow answered.

“I don’t think she wants to see you,” Snow said. 

Regina sighed. “I understand. Just give her this. I hope it’ll help.” She put the box in Snow’s arms. Snow grunted as she backed up a little to keep a good grip on the box. A sad smile settled on Regina’s face. “Take care of her, please.” 

“Of course,” Snow promised. If only Regina could believe a Snow White promise.

-8-8-8-8-

Next time: Emma tries to cope while Regina tries to hold down the home front.

Chapter Text

 

3: Monsters Are Real

Emma paced her room, rubbing her hands together. She had been in the room all day, thinking about monsters under her bed and in her closet. Monsters who seemed so good to her, but she was certain were so awful. Monsters who planned to eat her alive, devour her mind, body, and soul. Monsters took everything from her, including her innocence. And twice in life, she craved affection so much that she was willing to lie next to, lie down with monsters.

“Maybe Regina knew,” Emma grumbled. She heard that somehow predators could tell prey, like Regina knew just how Selena had damaged her and took advantage of that, just like her former foster father did. Regina had gotten so much further than Mister Aaron and probably deeper than Selena ever could.

Her body shivered at the idea Regina knew what Selena had done to her. The notion made her want to peel her skin off. Maybe Regina knew and decided to one-up Selena, prove that she was the greatest monster of all time. Maybe Regina even brought Selena up to taunt Emma. Was their whole relationship based on Regina getting sadistic pleasure out of toying with her as Selena would have done? Well, worse than Selena had done. After all, she had been with Regina for three fucking years. Three years of fucking.

Emma suddenly felt dirty, dirtier than she thought possible. It was like grime from centuries were on her, in her, and never going to let her go. She searched her drawers, hoping she still had enough clothes here to take a shower. She had never felt happier to clutch briefs in her hand as she did when she dug out underwear from her drawer. Grabbing a tank top and some worn jeans, she rushed to the bathroom.

“Emma, do you need—” Snow did not even get to ask the whole question before the bathroom door slammed shut, the sound thundering through the apartment.

With the door shut, it was like the world was gone, but Emma did not feel any better. The filth of the universe still clung to her, polluted her. Even with the world gone, it still felt like it could close in her on, squash her, and destroy her. Maybe she wanted to be destroyed. Then all of this pain and misery could finally stop. 

“Don’t think like that. It’s stupid ideas like that that made your dumbass reach for pills before,” Emma said, her voice a grumble. Not that she felt like taking any kind of pills. She knew this was not the type of agony those were designed to stop. “Yeah, then what’s a shower going to do?”

She shook away that question. She needed to do something to wash away the muck and stain that was her life. She just wanted to be clean. Was there ever a point in her life where she had been clean, innocent, pure? 

Emma did not bother to turn on the cold water, just tossing herself in as steam filled the small space. She stripped, wishing she could tear off her skin as well. Maybe the heat of the water would burn away whatever the water missed. She needed to clean everywhere, everything. She ripped something as she took her clothes off, hearing the telltale shredding noise, but could care less than nothing about it. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. She used all of the body wash, not caring that she smelled like her mother. At least Snow used vanilla. It was better than the apple scent she got used to with Regina.

Her skin was red, rubbed raw. It did not feel any better. She tried to make the water hotter, knowing it would not do what she wanted. At home, she would have been able to boil herself alive. No, that’s not home. You’d never get clean there, only filthier. There was grit in her spirit, beyond her reach. So, she pressed on, hoping eventually things would change. There was always that goddamn hope.

She shampooed her hair possibly a dozen times, needing to make sure her hair was clean, her scalp was clean. She could feel a burn on the top of her head, like she scratched her scalp raw. It felt better than it had before, though. She wished she could get a new scalp. A new body for sure, but a scalp especially. She could still feel their fingers there, petting her, encouraging her. Time for another shampooing.

Eventually, the water turned ice cold, but Emma did not get out. The cold water felt as purifying as the scolding hot. It was like it would peel her skin off and allow her to shed her old self. She could emerge new and fresh and predators could stay the hell away from her. She would make them stay away from her, don her armor, and punch them back should they dare to attack. She would protect herself, better than ever before. So, why did she feel like she might shatter under the weight of a single drop from the spray? 

“I’m not strong enough. I was never strong enough.” Emma knew she was crying again, even though the shower splashed in her face. She did not even try to pretend. Why pretend when life was so unfair? When life was so intent on screwing her over, even when she was a small child?

Selena had been roughly eight months of her life and the first month had been the best. It was August and she got to do some fun summer stuff before changing schools for the third time in her short life. She had already been a grade behind, not that it mattered, even then. Selena had been so affectionate, too. It started slow, but it was like she always wanted from a mom.

Selena held her hand when they were out, hugged her, kissed her cheek. Selena made her meals and let her have candy as a treat, told her she was good when she was good, and encouraged her to do better instead of screaming at her if she messed up. The whole nine yards. And, when she had nightmares, she had been able to cuddle against Selena and Selena would sing her pretty songs until she fell back to sleep, feeling protected and cared for. It always seemed so wonderful, but now she knew what it was. It was grooming. It was a lie.

Selena never loved her, never cared about her. No one had ever loved her or cared about her. Why should now be any different? She had to take off her rose-colored glasses and face reality. She had to stop hoping. Hope was nothing more than a lie as well. Selena was no better than Mister Aaron. And then there was Regina, who was possibly the worst of them all, who showed her the harsh reality and who probably did it to torment her. What made Regina any different than Selena? What made Regina any better than Selena?

Better? Her mind scoffed at the idea. Selena had only been eight months. Regina had been her entire life, even before these three years of relationship. There were seven years together in total where their interactions had been traumatizing, would haunt her well after her death. Regina made this all possible. Her and her Dark Curse. Regina set her up for this life of misery and woe. Regina put her on the path to meet Selena and Mister Aaron.

Emma punched the tile and barely felt it, even though she hit it hard enough to break her hand. Blood oozed out of a gash on her knuckle, but she ignored it. She did not remember healing the break or turning off the shower. Next thing she knew, she was dressed and had to force herself to walk out of the room with a straight back. This would not break her.

“Nothing can break me,” she growled. She made it through life by allowing each and every obstacle to make her stronger until she was bulletproof. She supposed that prepared her for meeting Regina. Regina tried harder and longer than most to destroy her. Well, she refused to give the Evil Queen that chance. Nothing can break me, not even you, Regina. “I am strong. I am strong. I am strong.”

She stepped out of the bathroom to hear giggles and her little brother whizzed by her. Snow was right behind him. Emma was not sure what was going on, but she wanted to help, so she joined the chase.

Emma glanced at her mother. “What’s he running from?” Beyond an unfortunate name. You’ll have to run a lot faster that, dude.

“Dinner,” Snow replied.

“Dinner? Shouldn’t it be breakfast?” What time was it? Hell, what day was it if it was not breakfast time? How long had she been in her room?

The look Snow gave her was soul-crumbling. “Oh, honey.”

Emma missed the whole day and did not realize as thoughts of Selena and Regina consumed her. Well, to hell with them. She would not let them consume her life. She took a deep breath and exhaled, as if pushing Regina and Selena out of her system. The breath felt a little more cleansing than the shower. She caught Neal, cutting him off as he focused too much on Snow. Snow laughed in triumph as she carried him to the table.

“Oh, Regina, stopped by with a box for you earlier,” Snow said.

Emma almost replied with some rather unpleasant words, but she was not upset with her mother, so she swallowed them down. She would save them for Regina should their paths cross any time soon. Storybrooke was not so big, after all, and she would not hide in the loft forever. She just needed to regroup, rebuild her fortifications, and restore her armor. Regina would never get through once she was done. 

“Where is it?” Emma scanned the apartment.

“It’s by the door. You want to tell me what happened between you two? You know Regina never says anything,” Snow said, focus shifting to Neal now that she had him where she wanted.

Emma went to move the box out of the way, but did not open it to see what was there. She did not care. She would not let Regina mess with her anymore. She would move on, move beyond this. She stuck the box in the corner and put it out of her mind.

“Where’s Dad?” She had no desire to explain to Snow what happened between her and Regina. She did not want to explain to Snow what happened in her life. Who knew how her mother would react? She was not in the mood to find out, especially when there was a huge chance of it pissing her off further.

“He ran out to get something. He should be back in a little while. Make yourself a plate.”

Emma shrugged and went to see what was to eat. Chicken stir fry with rice. Regina would make it with soba noodles. She quickly shook that thought away. It looked good and her mother’s cooking had improved over the years. The door opened as she finished grabbing a bowl.

“Guess who’s got donuts!” David announced as he held up the box with both hands and kicked the door shut.

“Donuts!” Neal cheered and shoved away from the table. Emma did not know what his problem was with the food, but it was good to know he liked donuts or she would worry about him.

“No, donuts are for after dinner. Go finish your food,” David said and then turned his attention to Emma. “Good to see you up and about, boss.”

Emma nodded. “I’ll be in tomorrow.” This would not break her. She would get back to her life, live her life to spite all the bastards who tried to ruin her, especially Regina. I’m strong. I’m strong. I’m strong. So, she would not break.

He nodded. Emma would not let any of this slow her down. She liked her job, so she would keep doing it. She liked this town, so she would not let Regina drive her out, not now, just like back then. She had roots and they were not a lie. They were parents, a brother, and a son. She was not going anywhere. No more running. She took a deep breath and physically felt stronger, like her shoulders could carry all of this weight.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma avoided Granny’s for a few days, going from the loft to the station and back, but nothing more. She wanted to make sure she was steady in case she ran into Regina. She had already ignored several texts from Regina, but she was not sure until now that she could stand even seeing her. While she waited for coffee and a bear claw, she was about to be tested. She glanced at the door when she heard the little chime ring, signaling someone entered. It was Regina.

Emma was not sure what the feeling was that hit her, but it was like having her stomach drop into her feet and then like her belly was filled with cement. There was that shadow on her soul again, making her body freeze, like slow moving crystals conquering her muscles and bones. She exhaled slowly, as if that would halt the reaction. She faced forward, not wanting to see Regina. But, she could not help it and turned to look at Regina without making it obvious. 

There were those eyes, sharp and deadly, just like Selena’s gaze. It was like all professional monsters were cut from the same cloth, made from the same mold. She was surprised they did not smell exactly the same, but that would have been too easy. The scent would have triggered Emma’s defenses and Regina would not have had years to mess with her psyche.  

“Emma.” A relieved sigh escaped Regina as she stood next to Emma. “How are you feeling, dear heart?” She reached out, like she was about to touch Emma’s arm.

A shot went through Emma that made her feel like she might vomit and Regina had not even touched her yet. She drew back her arm, as if Regina could poison her with her fingertips. And, then she remembered that Regina could poison her with just her fingertips. How had she allowed those fingertips anywhere near her? Allowed those fingertips inside of her? She did poison you. Now, you have to make sure she never does it again.

Regina pulled back and swallowed hard enough for Emma to notice, even with her scarf covering her neck. “I just wanted to know how you were.”

Emma glanced at the mayor, seeing her glistening brown eyes. Selena had brown eyes, too. It made sense. They were both full of shit. Two well put together women in positions of power who could not control themselves, who wanted whatever they wanted when they wanted, not caring how it would hurt anyone else, not caring who got hurt in the process, practicing scorched Earth policy on Emma’s very being. How could Emma not have seen it before? Because you thought you wanted to forget Selena, but in fact you’ve been searching for her ever since she left you and you found her. You found her and you let her in again and she ripped you apart and used you again. Well, no more of that.

“Fine.” Emma made sure her tone was short, as curt as possible, wanting Regina to hear the “get the hell away from me” without having to say it.

Regina’s body flinched, even though her face was passive. Her hair was long again, something else she had in common with Selena. Long, shimmering dark hair, hiding the darkness inside of them.

Regina licked her lips before she spoke. “Good. You know I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk.”

Emma scoffed. Like she would fall for that crap now. She would not allow Regina access to her emotions or vulnerability ever again. This second coming of Selena would never be able to hurt her again. Or would Selena have been the second coming of Regina? This all started with her and her damned Curse. It did not matter. Apparently, all of her monsters were the same monster.

“Yeah, whatever,” Emma said, again curt. She wanted Regina to get the idea from her tone to just walk away. She was not open from business anymore.

Regina slowly licked her lips, eyes still shining with something Emma refused to believe. “So, will you be home tonight?”

“I am home.” At that point, Granny brought her coffee and pastry. She smiled her thanks and left Regina standing there. That was how it would always be from now on. She refused to give Regina any more power over her. No one would ever get to hurt her like that again.

-8-8-8-8-

Regina was not surprised by Emma’s chilly demeanor. She remembered how she felt when she first realized what Leopold had done to her and then realized how it influenced her life well beyond him. She felt anger and at first it was directed toward Emma because she blamed Emma for making her feel those emotions. It took her a long time to talk about it with Emma and even longer to talk about it with Archie. She was not sure how long it might take Emma to deal with it, especially since she had been trying to deal with other childhood traumas. Still, she would respect Emma’s space.

“Trouble in paradise?” Granny asked with an arched eyebrow.

Regina rolled her eyes. “Why is it every time we so much as miss a ‘bless you’ when the other sneezes, someone has to ask if there’s trouble in paradise?”

Granny snickered. “You do it?”

Regina sighed. “In a way, I suppose. Maybe even a couple of ways.” She was the reason Emma was a child in this realm and in foster care. Plus, she was the one who pressed the issue to get Emma to remember those childhood memories. But, this was what they did for each other. They considered it helping, but had she really helped? Yes, you know in the long run this will help. You just have to be patient. It was hard, though, especially with Emma running from her.

“Well, give her time like you always do when it’s your fault.”

Regina sighed once more, feeling like she might sigh all of her internal organs out before this was done with. It was the best option she had at the moment. “Of course. It’s all I can do when she doesn’t accept my usual form of bribery.” She doubted baking would get her into Emma’s good graces anytime soon. She did not mind as long as when Emma came back to her, she was able to discuss her issues.

“I offered to show you how to make a bear claw,” Granny reminded her with a smile.

Regina snorted and waved that off. “And then you’ll be upset with me when Emma never comes back in.”

“Oh, you couldn’t even possibly imagine what I have on reserve that would get her back.”

“Something that’ll eventually be the death of her no doubt. But, you know what, I might take you up on the offer.” She would like something to make when Emma finally did come home and was in the process of dealing with the matter rather than running from it.

“Let me know when you have the time.”

Regina nodded, suspecting she would have a lot of free time for the next few days. She got her coffee and a piece of banana bread. As she left, she looked in the direction she knew Emma went in. She could imagine Emma walking off, enjoying her bear claw before she even made it ten feet away. Soon she would be able to see that again, right? They would go into Granny’s together before work and she could enjoy the sight of her partner taking too much delight in a pastry, right? Of course. Then, why did it feel like she would not able to keep even her coffee down?

She shook that thought away and focused on the fact that she had a town to run, which kept her from drowning in doubt over Emma. She also had to plot out what she would tell Henry, as he could be curious and worried as to why Emma was not home again. She had been able to keep him from calling Emma that morning. Emma had ignored her texts and she was not sure if Emma would ignore Henry. They tended to keep Henry out of their tiffs, but this was different. This was a trauma and they never knew how they might react to dealing with their troubles.

Henry was already home by the time Regina got in. He had on his comfy clothes and had his laptop in his lap, sitting on the sofa. She sat down next to him, putting her briefcase on the floor.

“Homework?” Regina asked. His load had lightened this semester as he and the other seniors waited for word on college applications. They would be able to go to universities anywhere in the world, as long as they were accepted. The problem with the town line was a thing of the past and had been for a while.

“Story.”

“More fan fiction?” Regina asked. He had gotten into writing stories for comics he liked, not wanting to actually be the Author. The desire for adventure had not waned in him, but he would rather write about himself and his life or fiction of some kind than record what other people were doing. He described the Author power as “stalker-ish” and disliked how voyeuristic it felt.

He shrugged as a grin spread across his face. “Hey, who else is going to make the ultimate Marvel/DC crossover event literally everyone is asking for?”

Regina chuckled. “Literally everyone? I don’t recall asking for it.”

“Well, you have no taste. Ask Ma. She’ll tell you.”

Regina sighed. Well, that was a segue if ever there was one. “Henry, about your mother… She’s probably not coming home tonight.”

He put the laptop aside and focused on her. “What happened?” His face was so serious, but did not belie his age like he used to try to do. He had matured over the years, but was coming to understand that he was not allowed in every aspect of his parents’ lives.

Regina took a moment to gather her thoughts. “Something happened to her in her past and she’s trying to sort out her emotions right now. It has nothing to do with us and I want you to know that if she doesn’t come back for a few days. All right?”

Henry took a deep breath, but nodded. “It’s all right. I know you both have a lot going on and you don’t want to tell me. But, can I help her?” His eyes pled with her and she wished she could tell him what he wanted to hear.

“I think the best help we can give her right now is to be supportive and let her know she’s a good person, even if you might get upset over her not being home. Okay?” Regina gave him a smile, hoping it would keep him at ease.

Henry nodded again. “Okay, Mom. Remind her that she’s loved and all that, right?”

“Of course. We all need it sometimes.”

“I know, so, yeah, I’ll be supportive and everything. She is loved, even when she’s going through something, just like the rest of us. Heck, that’s when we try to love each other the strongest now.”

“Yes, it is.” It was something they strove for in their little family, especially since they all went through little bouts of self-doubt, even Henry. Of course, he had them the least, but sometimes being left in the system and adopted even weighed on him. Dealing the fallout of being his mothers’ son sometime caused him pause as well.

Henry tilted his chin in the air. “I got this, Mom. I want Ma to feel good about herself, just like you do. I want her to know everything is going to be all right, just like she does for us.”

Regina patted his knee, which was covered in worn grey sweatpants. He was so much like Emma inside the house and she had grown to appreciate and love it. “Good. Now, go back to the crossover event literally no one asked for.”

Henry snorted. “You’re going to be so upset when movie studios pick this up and I’ve got executives throwing money at me.”

Regina forced out a laugh as he went back to his story. His forehead did not relax, though, a worry line cutting through the slightly acne bothered skin. She hoped this would be something that did not drag on, for all of their sakes, but it was not something that would clear itself up anytime soon she knew. She was not sure what she might be able to do to help the healing process along, not just for Emma, but for their family if things continued on this way for a long period of time.

“Please, Emma. You are strong. Please, remember, no matter what, you are loved,” Regina murmured to the air, hoping somehow the words reached Emma.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma found herself avoiding Regina altogether. She did not count it as running. It was giving herself a chance to fortify herself, an act of self-preservation until she was strong enough to face down the most fearsome, gruesome monsters. There were just too many similarities between Selena and Regina for her to be feel comfortable even seeing Regina right now.

She was certain Regina had preyed on her, tried to ruin her, and she would not give Regina that power anymore. She went back to Regina’s house after a week, just to get some clean clothes. She went during lunch, knowing no one would be there and she would be in and out. Or so she hoped. 

She paused in the foyer, feeling something wash over her, but she could not place the feeling. It was not negative. Like there had been pressure in her chest and it released a bit, but that frightened her. Why would that happen here? Wondering why caused anxiety to flutter in the space that just let the pressure go. Her lungs burned and she felt like she needed to get out of the house as soon as possible before the walls closed in on her. Now, she moved with a purpose, on the hunt for her stuff.

In the bedroom, Emma paused. This was her room. Her room with Regina, not Regina’s room with her stuff. It was their room. Her books littering the shelves, her items sloppily arranged on the dresser, and the bedspread she loved on the bed. She shoved what she could in a bag, feeling eight years old again, being told she had to go back to group, being forced to be alone again, being without a family again.

“No, you’ve got Mom, Dad, Lil Man, and Henry. You have a family and you’re not alone. You’re just getting away from a monster,” Emma reminded herself.

Once she filled her bag, she escaped the room with a scowl. A lot of stuff she wanted was not there. She was not sure where those items were. It was not stuff she could misplace. Her favorite books, her most comfortable joggers, and fuzzy socks with individual toes just to name a few. Things that helped right her world. What had Regina done with those?

“What does a monster do with stuff? She’s probably using them to bait a trap for me. Yeah, well, you won’t get me again Selena,” Emma grumbled to herself as she made her way out of the house.

She went to work, taking her bag out of the car and inside with her for some reason, like she needed to protect her stuff and have it with her at all times, exactly like when she went back to group. Her father was at his desk and he watched her as she shoved the bag under her desk. He did not ask. In fact, he did not ask questions at all, ever since she popped up at the loft. He just watched her, studied her, like he was biding his time. She glared at him, daring him to say something.

“Your mom thinks we should buy a house,” was not what she was expecting. Maybe he was trying to make normal conversation, cut through the tension by acting like it was not there.

“A house?” she echoed like she did not know what it was. She hoped her face looked confused, even though she felt like she was scowling. Anger bubbled in her stomach, but she tried to quell it. She did not have any reason to be angry. It was hard to breathe, but she took deep breaths through her nose, which helped keep her calm.

“Yeah. Space for everyone. We can host events. We can get a dog,” he replied, completely oblivious to her if his giant smile meant anything.

She nodded, biting back a frown as her lungs burned for air. “I’ll be right back.” She rushed to the bathroom and sucked in as much oxygen as she possibly could. It did not help.

She did not get space. She did not get events. She did not get a dog. She got people who were nice to her because they wanted something else from her, wanted to torment her, wanted to ruin her life. Regina took her chance at space, events, and dogs, as well as peace of mind. Never again.

-8-8-8-8-

Next time: Emma spirals as she continues to think the worst and Regina keeps trying to reach her partner.

Chapter Text

4: Cold Outside and In

A week went by and Regina knew Emma was avoiding her. Emma would not make eye contact with her whenever they happened to see each other and Emma always rapidly left the area when she was there. Regina was not sure why Emma did not want to be around her like that, but it did not seem like it was changing. She thought Emma would eventually talk to her, but that did not seem like it was in the cards. She tried to carry on as best she could, but the pain inside spread with each glance that went unacknowledged.

She felt hollowed out, yet still filled with agony. The rejection of her beloved was more than she expected of this. Yes, they both had problems in the past and pushed each other away, but it was nothing like this. It seemed like the more time that went by, the less likely Emma was to come home, return to her. Emma did not want to be in her presence, not even in their home.

It hurt when she realized Emma had been in the house and taken her clothes. This was the biggest indicator that this was not something that would not be over anytime soon. Her insides burned to ash at the thought. Above her pain was the utter torment and anguish Emma had to be in. She felt helpless for not being able to be there for Emma, to assist Emma, to pull her out of whatever she was falling into that kept her from coming home. She reached out, but got nothing in return. No, she got beyond nothing. There were haunted glances and occasional glares when Emma accidentally met her eyes. There had to be a way to get Emma back to her, to help Emma through her troubles, and to ease the pain, but she had not figured it out.

The first couple of days after she realized Emma might not be back, Regina baked for Emma, but David was the one who got her to stop. Apparently, Emma threw the pastries in the garbage. She did not even give them away. She threw them in the trash, like Regina’s gifts to her, her attempts to help her were worthless, were garbage.

She wished she could wrap Emma up in a hug, but Emma would not let her near her. Emma would not take her calls or answer her texts. She was screaming into the void with each attempt she made to reach out. Nothing she could do would help Emma even feel better. The very idea pushed her into an abyss inside of herself.

“Damn!” Regina hissed, finding she had sliced right through her hand while cutting up an apple. She was in the kitchen, trying to make apple turnovers for whatever reason. The urge had just overcome her and she needed to bake.

“Mom, you okay?” Henry called from the living room.

“Fine!” Her blood dripped onto the kitchen floor before she had a chance to heal the wound. Moving to get a paper towel to clean that up, she forgot to heal the wound and dripped more blood on the floor. “Oh… Fuck!” She stomped her foot to quell her urge to punch something.

“Fine, huh?” Henry stood at the kitchen entrance, arms folded over his stomach and a scowl on his face. Funny enough, Emma thought he looked like her when he put this stern expression on. Regina was flattered by the idea, but not sure if it was true.

“I’m fine.” Regina growled under her breath and then waved her hand, fixing the whole mess. The slice in her hand was gone and the blood on the floor cleared. She turned to look at her son and he did not look much better off than she did. She swallowed. “Henry, I’m sorry.”

She was supposed to fix this as much for him as for Emma. They had always agreed, even before they became partners, that they would do their best to give Henry the best life possible. They wanted to make sure he did not have the traumas or even bad memories they had. So, they tried not to argue around him, show they were having problems, or even let him know when they were going through traumas. They were failing, but it felt like it was just her.

He shook his head, sorrowful eyes focused on her. “It’s not your fault.”

“It might be.” Emma being gone was probably her fault, so she had ruined their family. She had ruined all of them. Typical.

Henry stepped closer. “No, it’s not. Emma’s made the decision to not come back and not talk to us about it. That’s not your fault.”

Regina blinked. “She hasn’t talked to you?” While she was not totally surprised Emma cut off all communication with her, she never expected Emma to stop talking to their son. How deep was this wound for Emma? Part of her wish she never removed this scab, but other parts of her knew this was something Emma had to deal with or it could manifest in an even more problematic manner.

Henry sighed and his shoulders dropped. “Whenever I go by the station, she’s always on her way out for some BS job. Gramps doesn’t know what’s going on. He just knows Emma goes to work and doesn’t do much and then goes to the loft and tries to pretend everything is fine, but spends a lot of time on the couch, staring at the ceiling or in her room or roughhousing with Neal.” He never referred to Neal as “uncle.” It was too weird, even for his life, he often said.

“Is she eating?” Regina asked.

He scratched his head, mussing his already wild hair. He was trying to grow it long and his mothers did not have a problem with it. It was better than him running out and getting a tattoo. Emma talked him out of trying to grow a mustache a couple of months ago. To think that was once the biggest problem they had as a family.

Henry hunched up his shoulders. “I dunno. Gramps said she sits down to dinner with them every night, but mostly just moves the food around on her plate. Why isn’t she trying to be normal with us? She can come home and not eat!” He threw his hands up in the air, a dull red flush in his face now.

Regina bit her lip to keep her from agreeing with that statement. Why did Emma not come home? Was she running from the problem? How long would she run if that was the case? How long would she ignore her family? Why was she ignoring her family? How was that helping?

“Emma needs time, Henry,” Regina said with as much sympathy as she could put in her voice without letting her pain seep in. She did not want to make things worse for Henry or color his outlook on things. “There’s always so much going on in her life and she hasn’t had the time to sort everything out.” But, she knows talking about it is the easiest way to work through it. We’ve done this so many times.

“What the hell does that even mean, Mom?” He glared at her, blame in his stare.

She had to take a deep breath to keep from crumbling under his hard gaze or losing her patience with him. “It means Emma has gone through a lot and sometimes she doesn’t know how to deal with it. And, you watch your language. I’m not one of your little friends.” In the past, she might have let him get away with it, but they had build a nice, strong family unit. One where she and Emma could discipline Henry and not worry about him running away and she never feared hearing “you’re not my real mom” anymore.

Henry twisted his mouth up and looked at the ceiling. He took a deep breath now and slowly let released it. “Why can’t she deal with it with us?” His voice cracked, as if he was trying to hold back tears. “We deal with stuff with her all the time.”

“Some things are heavier than others.” She could not imagine the weight on Emma’s shoulders right now, even though she had gone through her own things with Leopold. But, she had made it through those things with Emma at her side. Why would Emma not let her be there for her? Why would Emma not lean on her after insisting Regina learn to lean on her to make it through? Am I not good enough? Obviously.

Henry sucked his teeth. “So, is Ma just never coming back?”

Regina sighed and rubbed her eyes with one hand. “I don’t know.” She did not know what Emma’s next move might be. But, she texted Emma as soon as she got a free moment, telling Emma to talk to their son. Emma did not respond.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma read the text from Regina and scowled. How dare Regina order her to do anything? She would talk to Henry when she was ready. And then the very thought of Henry made her stomach drop, as he had not been on her mind lately. Shit, should you have left Henry alone with Regina? She had already determined Regina was a monster, above even Selena. Was it responsible to leave her son with that monster? Henry had run away once, years ago, seeking her out because his mother was the Evil Queen. What had Regina done to make him start considering she was evil?

“Shit!” Emma shot to her feet from her parents’ sofa.

Neal snickered from in between their parents, also on the couch. “Emma said a bad word!”

“Emma!” David huffed.

“Shit, sorry.” Emma winced. “Sorry!” She held up her hands in apology. She had learned to watch her language around Neal from when he first started talking. He repeated a lot of what she said and yeah, it was cute to hear him saying “fuck,” but he had to go to daycare eventually and it would not look good for Snow White’s son to like saying, “fuck,” even though she was certain people would understand since he was her little brother.

“Are you okay?” Snow asked, which was her favorite question it seemed. She asked Emma that question at least once every hour.

“Yes!” Emma groaned, tired of the question. “I gotta go check on something, though.” She was out of the door before they could respond.

In the week-plus she had been home, she had not interacted much with her parents. She tried. She tried with them and with Neal. This was her family. But, all she could think about was how this had been ripped from her by Selena… wait, no Regina. By Regina and then she was left to the whims of Selena, who was no better than Regina. And how they were both such monsters they even looked the same and acted the same. She needed to go save her son from a monster.

“How the fuck did you just forget about Henry, you idiot?” Emma slapped herself in the head several times. 

She forgot Henry because she looked beyond him, looked beyond the world, but back in time. Whenever he stood before her, she rushed off, not sure where they stood anymore. She felt too broken to even stand next to him, but she was his mother. She needed to protect him, especially from monsters that already consumed her and danced on her grave. I won’t let you have Henry, Selena. Regina. Whoever.

Emma jumped in her car and almost drove it on the sidewalk as she pulled away from the curb. She raced to Henry’s home, parking in the driveway, hitting Regina’s car while she was at it. Running to the door, she punched instead of knocked and screamed for her son. When Henry opened the door, he looked down at her like she was crazy.

“Ma, what is your problem? Why are you hitting the door like you’ve lost your mind?” Henry asked.

Emma grabbed Henry by the wrist and yanked him outside. “Henry, you need to come with me.”

“What? Ma, you’re not making any sense and it’s freezing out here!” Henry was dressed in a v-neck t-shirt and shorts, perfect for inside lounging, not so much for outside early spring in Maine. He stepped back in and pulled her along with him. She was a little surprised by his strength. Even when he grew taller than she was, she could still drag him along places.

“Okay, first, where’s Regina?” Emma scanned the place. She did not want to alert Regina that she was there. This needed to go as quickly as possible to get Henry someplace safe.

“In the shower. She’s been a mess in the kitchen today and can’t get anything right.”

Emma was not sure what that meant. “Good. Then, you can grab some stuff and come with me.” She could get them both to safety without Regina knowing what happened until it was all said and done, hopefully.

Henry squinted as he looked at her. “Again, Ma, you’re not making any sense. You don’t talk to me all week and now you’re trying to what? Get me to run away with you?”

“No, I’m trying to save you!” she hissed. He should know that! He was the one who tried to save them all from this monster that was the Evil Queen in the first place.

Henry’s brow wrinkled. “Save me? From what?” Emma sucked her teeth and glanced upstairs. His eyes went wide. “You’re trying to save me from Mom? What the hell happened between the two of you? You’re not even talking!” He held up his hands. “This is crazy to me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve woken up at odd hours and you two are just talking, either on the couch or in your room. I never listened, but it was so nice to know you guys were just talking and connecting with each other. How is anything ever going to get better if you don’t talk to her?”

Emma scowled at him. Was he out of his mind? “I can’t talk to her! You said it yourself, she’s the Evil Queen. I can’t trust Selena!”

Henry blinked. “Ma, Mom’s name is Regina.”

“That’s what I said.”

He shook his head and then stared at her with intense eyes. “No, you said Selena. Who’s Selena?”

Emma shook her head. She had not said Selena, had she? No, why would she say Selena? She meant Regina. Regina was the problem. Regina was the one who probably hurt their son. Regina.

“Henry, it doesn’t matter. Go get your stuff. We can go. It’ll be fine,” Emma said, her chest felt tight. She tried not to breathe hard, but she was panting before she even realized it and the world felt like it tilted. She needed to hold it together long enough to get Henry to safety. Keep it together, Swan. You gotta be there for him the way no one was there for you. You owe him that much.

He held up his hands again. “No, Ma. You need to calm down. You’re bugging out and you’re hyperventilating.”

“Of course I am!” Her son was alone with a maniac. Why would she not be bugging out? And why the hell was there no air in the damn house anymore? Her lungs burned like they sat in the fires of Hell as she tried to take in more oxygen.

“What’s all the commotion?” Regina’s voice called from upstairs.

Emma could not get away fast enough to avoid Regina, but she saw her at the top of the stairs. Regina’s eyes went wide. Even with such a great distance between them, Emma could see the brown on Regina’s eyes. They were the color of condensed honey and sparkled like chocolate diamonds, glistening from unshed tears. Emma practically fell over herself to get away.

“Ma! Ma!” Henry screamed at the top of his lungs, following Emma out, but she was in her car before Henry made it off the porch. “Ma!” The bug could still manage speed and she knew she left tire marks behind as she fled.

-8-8-8-8-

Regina hurried down the stairs just in time to see Emma jump into her car and speed off. She grabbed Henry off of the porch, not wanting him to freeze. He let loose a frustrated grunt and slammed the door shut.

“What the hell was that?” Henry hollered and kicked the door.

“It’s all right,” Regina said. How could he believe that when she did not believe it? Hell, it did not look like Emma believed that either.

“No, it’s not. Ma has gone completely off the rails! She’s trying to get me to leave the house while you’re in the shower. I mean, what the hell is that about?” Henry huffed.

Regina shook her head. “I’m not sure.” Why would Emma try to take Henry from her? What the hell was happening with Emma, with her mind, with everything?

“Well, I’m gonna find out.” Henry stomped off, going back to the couch. He yanked up his cell phone and marched upstairs with the phone to his ear. “Damn it, Ma, pick up!”

Regina was not sure what was going on, but she did not want Henry to speak to Emma while so clearly angry. She chased after him and caught him by the hand while he was halfway up the stairs. He turned and looked at her.

“And now she’s not answering the phone!” Henry snarled, eyes burning with fury. “You’ve got a lot of nerve, Ma! You can’t ignore us for over a week and then burst in here like a crazy person trying to do what? I mean, what was the plan here?” He screamed as he ended the call.

“Henry, what’s wrong?” Regina asked. What had Emma said or done to get him so riled up?

“She’s not answering the phone now. I don’t get it. She comes in here, totally bugging out, trying to get me to leave and now she’s not even answering my calls. What is this all about? She said you were evil!” Henry stomped, his bare foot making a hollow thump on the step.

Regina frowned. “She called me evil? Why?” She did not understand. Yes, she had been the one to bring up bad memories for Emma and maybe even to blame for them, but that made her evil now? Was she evil when she helped Emma work through her fear of being abandoned by them, her fear of screwing up Henry, her fear of commitment, her low self-esteem, and a number of other issues? Now, all of a sudden because Emma had to face an issue she managed to repress, Regina was evil?

“I don’t know why. I don’t know what the hell is going on! I just know my mothers are out of their minds again!” Henry made a gesture to his own head.

“We’re not! She’s not doing this to hurt you. Emma is just in pain and dealing with it wrong.”

Henry snarled and punched the wall with the side of his fist. “When are we going to get to the point where we can deal with pain right?”

“Well, one, you shouldn’t be punching the wall to deal with your anger. We have dealt with several painful issues correctly. We have dealt with things you don’t even know about because we’ve made an effort to shield you from our troubles because they shouldn’t be your troubles. This one might just be too much for Emma. You know she’s had a hard life.”

Henry took a deep breath and released it through his nose. He took a moment, eyes on the ceiling before looking at her. “Is this because of someone named Selena?”

Regina blinked. “How do you know that?” Had Emma spoken to their son about this? What was she doing if she had?

“She said it. By accident more than likely.”

Regina nodded. Emma had to be very out of sorts. “That person hurt her a lot when she was little.”

“Oh.” Henry’s eyes drifted. “Okay.” And just like that he was calm. It was odd. Regina was not sure what to make of that. She did not know what to make of any of this.

“What did she tell you about Selena?” Regina asked.

Henry shook her head. “Nothing. She just said the name.” He turned, looking upstairs. “I need to go get some stuff from my room.”

Regina nodded and he was gone. She was not sure what to make of any of that, but Emma definitely seemed to be unraveling. She would not be able to live with herself if something happened to Emma or Emma did something to herself and she was not there to help because she was giving Emma space. So, she took a breath and felt for Emma’s magic. Emma was always so easy to find.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma parked her car on a little hill that overlooked a small, glistening lake in Storybrooke. Moonlight reflected off of the dark water with silent, bald trees watching. The scene was so serene and beautiful, she felt like it mocked her. She felt so messed up and confused inside, guts shaking, soul shredded, and mind gone. Nothing made sense anymore.

The world had flipped upside down, she was sure of that. She had felt it tilt while she was with Henry, but it was already slanted before that. This shift was something bigger, something to knock her off her feet, something to let her know there was no logic left on Earth.

Why would Henry not come with her? She was trying to rescue him. Why had she called Regina “Selena” when Regina was the bigger monster between the two? And why had Regina’s eyes looked so much different than she remembered? They were not the right shade, did not hold the right look. It did not make sense and the world tilted even more.

“Emma,” Regina said, appearing in the passenger seat.

Emma gasped and jumped in her seat. “Regina!” Her heart was in her throat and beating a mile a minute, which went great with the fact that she could hardly breathe as it was.

“What are you doing sitting in the car with it off at this time of year? You’re going to freeze. You don’t even have on your proper coat or your gloves,” Regina fussed. “What is all this madness about? You tried to take Henry from the house. You called me evil. You told him about Selena.”

“He told you I called you Selena?” Emma asked. The little traitor.

Regina scowled. “That’s not what I said.”

Emma blinked. Oh. She misheard, just as she misspoke, and she gave herself away. Or had she given herself away first? Giving herself away before Regina could throw her away. What? Her head hurt, her chest hurt, and the world felt like it was upside down, backwards, and inside out all at the same time. What was going on? What was anything anymore?

Regina licked her lips. “You called me Selena?”

“I… I…” Emma shook her head. She did not have any words. She did not know what was going on. The world blurred before her and her entire head throbbed with insanity. Regina was evil. Selena was evil. But, Regina was not Selena… right? Looking into those eyes, no, Regina was not Selena.

Regina took a deep breath and rubbed her palms together. Her eyes looked like they were the very definition of sorrow. “Did you come to take our son because you thought I touched him?” her voice was a whisper, as if she was too scared to ask any louder than that, as if Henry would hear.

Emma was not expecting her to be so blunt. “I just… I mean… I…” There still were no words.

Regina snarled and her eyes went from sad to furious, the flames of Hell burning in her soul. “Are you kidding me? You actually thought I was touching Henry!”

For some reason, the raised voice helped Emma find her own voice. “How am I supposed to know that’s not why he ran away in the first place? How am I supposed to know that you didn’t do things like that when you were evil?” Emma had the nerve to scream back.

Regina looked at Emma like she was out of her mind. She held up one finger. “You think… you think… you think I sat around molesting children in my spare time?”

Emma snorted. “Oh, you’re insulted over that? Like you didn’t personally kill hundreds of people and order the deaths of thousands more? Like you didn’t lord over people and use your powers to rape them?”

Regina flinched and a lone tear slid down her cheek. “I see. So, you’ve woken up to how horrible I am and that’s why you called me Selena? Is that what you think has happened?”

“You’re no better than her.” Emma pounded her fist against the steering wheel. “You hurt all those people! You didn’t care about what you did to them!” She hit the wheel again. “You didn’t care about what you did to me!”

Regina’s chin trembled and her mouth twisted to the side. “So, that’s what this has been about? Why you’re avoiding me, why you’re not coming home, why you’re angry? You’re actually angry at me for everything that happened.”

Tears tracked down Emma’s face and she could not stop crying, even though she wanted to. She did not want to show any weakness in front of this woman. “It’s all your fault! You did this, Selena!”

And with that, Regina was gone. Emma let loose an ungodly scream, holding herself. Tears poured down her face along with snot drizzling from her nose. She could not explain the hollow feeling inside of her. Beyond hollow, it was like the second Regina left, she took everything that made Emma who she was with her. She felt truly alone in the world, alone and wrong. She was not sure how long she sat there and cried, feeling shattered and dead, but then a note appeared on the steering wheel. Go home before you freeze to death. She listened.

-8-8-8-8-

Regina appeared in her study had to resist the urge to overturn the whole place. She was not like that anymore. But, she paced and growled and raged to herself. Emma thought literally the worst of her. Part of her could understand. After all, she had done horrific things in the past, but she had laid everything out on the line to Emma when they officially got together, so Emma could understand what she was getting into. Emma had then made it her mission to help Regina deal with all of the issues her deeds brought.

Regina had learned to trust Emma, to trust herself to Emma. She never expected those sins would be thrown back at her. They never did that to each other. Now, she understood Emma was suffering, but this was too much for her. Never had their pain been this great, to willfully destroy the other, and that said a lot since that was almost second-nature to Regina.

Worse than that, though, was Emma putting her on the level of this woman who touched her as a child. That woman clearly traumatized Emma and Emma made it seem like she had traumatized her the same way. She was equally horrible. How could they ever come back from that? In the morning, she would have to sit down with Henry and explain to him that Emma was not coming back. That their family would never be the same and, yes, she was the one who broke them. And, he would have to hear that while worrying over colleges and graduation.

“We never should’ve started this. It was always too much and I will never be worthy. I shouldn’t have put that on her or on him,” Regina sighed. Even if she had never done what Emma thought, this was her fault.

-8-8-8-8-

Next time: the end.

Chapter Text

5: Don’t Forget

Emma went home, holding the noted that had appeared in her car while she was on the hill. She could not let it go. She clutched it, like a lifeline, even when she laid down in the bed. She was not sure why, but she could not let it go. It was a simple note, but suddenly, to the hollowed out Emma, it felt like so much more. It felt like everything keeping her tethered to this world. To the point where she read the same seven words at least a thousand times. She had been cold when it appeared, warning her of freezing to death. But, each time she read it, she felt a little warmer.

“Why?” she whispered to the darkness of her room.

She was not sure what the why was directed to. Why did the note make her feel warmer? Why did all of this happen? Why did Selena do this to her? Why was her life like this? Why did she feel like this? Why did she feel like nothing mattered?

No, things mattered. Henry still mattered. And… she still mattered. She mattered enough for Regina to send her a note to get her out of the cold.

Why did Regina care if she froze to death or not? She was not going to go back to Regina, back to torment, back to being a toy. She was not going to go back to those honey brown eyes.

And, why were her eyes honey brown? Selena’s eyes were not that shade of brown. Emma shook her head. No, I’m thinking of Regina, not Selena. They’re not the same person. Yes, they both did horrible things, especially to her, but they were not the same person. They did not even look the same, she realized with a gasp.

“No, no, no. I’m wrong,” Emma said, shaking her head. She was certain they did look alike, but as she thought back to seeing Regina hardly an hour ago, she knew she was wrong. She could picture them both so much clearer now.

Selena had been much taller than Regina, which was not hard, even in Emma’s little eight year old mind. Yes, both women seemed larger than life, but that was Regina’s aura. Regina was small enough for Emma to pick up and carry, at least small distances. Selena had stood shoulder to shoulder next to most adults from what Emma could remember.

And as images of Selena invade her mind, Emma could see the dark blond hair of Selena, not brown like she thought. Selena had been a dirty blonde. She shook her head, not wanting to remember anything about Selena. But, you should.

“Why should I?” Emma asked the darkness.

Because Regina is not Selena. Emma shook that away and ripped herself out of her bed. Moving to the living room, she sat in the dark. She could not turn on the light or she would wake her mother, father, and brother all curled up in one bed because she could not go home. But, I am home. No, it could not be home because Regina took home away from her and left her to the whims of people like Selena. Even if Regina and Selena were two different people, Regina still ruined everything.

Regina had taken away her chance at having a family. Or was it Regina gave you a chance at having a family? Wasn’t that what you were with her and Henry? Isn’t that what you long for? Emma shook her head. She did not long for Regina. Regina was not her family. Regina did not give her anything. All Regina did was take and destroy.

As that thought went through her mind, Emma spied a shape in the corner. It was the box Regina dropped off for her what felt like an eternity ago. She thought of the note. She thought of pastries she could not eat. She thought of texts full of concern and affection that she refused to believe and could not answer. What had Regina brought by for her?

“Destruction,” she muttered in answer to her own question. Still, that did not sate her sudden curiosity, as nothing Regina had done in the past couple of weeks seemed so vicious.

Standing up, she grabbed the box, ripping the top off. Using the light from her phone, she saw on the top were her favorite pair of joggers. She thought Regina threw them out when she went back to the mansion to get her stuff. Little did she know, she already had them. She usually wore them when she was sick or did not feel good in other ways. Under those, her favorite t-shirt and her favorite tank, which were also worn when she was sick or did not feel well. Her favorite books followed. And her favorite mug with packets of her favorite Swiss Miss hot cocoa. Even her favorite bowl made the journey across Storybrooke with a variety of her favorite candies secured in it with plastic wrap as a cover. All things she used when it felt like the world was closing in and helped her work things out.

Emma’s throat burned and put her hand over her mouth as a sob escaped from deep inside her. Underneath it all was her baby blanket and a note. Don’t forget, no matter what, you are loved. She would tell that to Regina whenever she buckled under the weight of everything from the past. Curling into herself, she held the baby blanket to her face and wept into it. She was so wrapped up in what was happening she did not realize Snow was there until Snow was rubbing her back. She threw herself on her mother and bawled her eyes out against her.

“It’s okay,” Snow cooed.

“It’s not. It’s so not,” Emma coughed. It was so much and she felt so overwhelmed now. She went from being hollow to too full too fast. She could not breathe. It felt like she was drowning.

Snow kissed the top of her head. “As long as you’re alive, it’s okay because that means it can get better. Do you want to talk about?”

Emma shook her head. “Not yet.” Probably not ever with her parents, especially her mother.

“Does it have to do with Regina?”

“No.” That was really the thing. It did not have anything to do with Regina. She made it have something to do with Regina because Regina made her bring it up. That was not fair. I’ve been so unfair to her and she still loves me.

“Does it have to do with why you’re here, though?”

“Yeah.” A loud whimper escaped her throat.

Snow tilted her head and gave her puppy eyes. “And you don’t want to talk about it?”

“No.” The sad truth was that she would eventually have to talk about it, though. She would have to speak to Regina and Henry and who knew who else after.

For once, Snow actually let it go. She let Emma cry on her and that was what Emma needed. She was loved. Her mother loved her, regardless of what happened and she knew if she ever got the courage to tell Snow about it, Snow would be outraged for her. David would as well. Yes, she missed out on having them as parents as a child, but she could appreciate them as parents now. They loved her and she loved them.

“I love you, Mom,” Emma said, her cheek resting on Snow’s lap. She needed to tell them that more often. She needed to tell Neal that more often, too.

“I love you, too, Emma.” Snow caressed her shoulder.

“I wish you could’ve been my mom when I was a kid.” Seeing her mother with Neal, it made her imagine. Sometimes, it even made her envious, but she could cope with it. Maybe not. Part of her felt like this breakdown might have more than one cause, which could be why she blamed Regina. She was not sure. She had not taken a lot of time to examine the why of the whole matter.

Snow laughed a bit. “I was your mom when you were a kid.”

Emma managed a light chuckle, actually feeling somewhat better. “I guess you’re right. I like who I am as a whole person, Mom, but I’m seriously messed up.” Messed up and she did not completely understand why, which did not make things better.

Snow took a deep breath. “I know this might hurt to know, Emma, but we all are. I’m not saying this to downplay whatever’s hurting you, but I want you to know that no one gets out of life unscathed. You’re not alone in this. I grew up a princess and life still got me. Hell, Regina was a princess, too.”

“She was, wasn’t she?” She forgot about that with Regina. Regina was a princess who had been abused by her own mother. Regina had been screwed by life and tried to screw it back. No one did get out of life unscathed, but some were more bruised, beat up, and scarred than others. And, sometimes, people with love in their hearts tried to heal those wounds.

“I’m sorry you got hurt, though.”

“Me, too.” Emma sniffled and wiped her face. She was sorry for the whole mess, both past and present. “But, it’ll be okay, right?”

Snow rubbed her back again. “Yes, it will. Yes, it will. We’re here for you, Emma, and we’ll always be here now. All of us.”

Emma did not remember falling asleep, but she woke up to Neal poking her in the shoulder. She was on the couch. She pinched him to get him to back up. He squealed and grinned at her.

“Emma’s up, Mama!” he called to Snow and ran off giggling. Sighing, Emma sat up. Yes, she was up. The world continued on and she had things to do.

Snow made breakfast and for once Emma allowed herself to think about the difference between Snow’s breakfast and the breakfast she had gotten used to. Regina made food Emma and Henry liked, usually things to make them happy in the morning as well as carry them through the day. Regina liked to say she fed them physically and emotionally.

Snow put oatmeal in front of Emma as she sat down at the counter. Emma was not a fan of oatmeal. She would eat it, but only because that was all there was. She could not help thinking that if she spent the night crying on Regina, Regina would have made french toast in the shape of hearts. There would have been powdered sugar with bananas and strawberries and mixed nuts with warm syrup. Don’t forget, no matter what, you’re loved.

“How do you feel this morning, honey?” Snow asked, grabbing Emma around the shoulders in a one-armed hug.

“Better than I have in…” Emma was not sure how long she had been at the loft. “Almost two weeks?” Her brow wrinkled. Have I really been here for two weeks? Avoiding Regina for two weeks? Not seeing her son for two weeks.

Snow smiled. “I’m glad.”

Emma nodded. “Me, too.” It felt like a weight had been lifted off of her. She still felt like she was being dragged down, but it was not as heavy as it was like last night. She was not drowning anymore. She had some swimming to do, but not like the struggle to stay above water.

She ate her breakfast and kissed her mother’s cheek. She had to get things done today. Regina was not Selena and before anything else, she needed to say that to Regina. Hell, she needed to say it to herself a bunch of times. Selena had hurt her and had not cared. Selena did nice things for her to make sure she did not say anything and to groom her into a toy. Selena would never, had never given her a note to remind her she was loved. Selena did not love her.

“Why did I do this?” Emma asked the cold morning air as she made her way to her car. If she drove fast enough, she might be able to catch Regina at home. She was ready to talk about this, talk about what happened, and figure out how to move forward. Don’t forget, no matter what, you’re loved.

Since she was loved, that meant there was a way to fix this, right? They had gone through so many other things together. There was still something left of them… or so Emma hoped.

She parked at the mansion after seeing Regina’s car still in the driveway. She noticed the dent in the fender and felt a sheepish blush burn her face. She would have to get that fixed, just like everything else. Just as she got to the door, it opened and Henry was coming out, ready for school with his messenger bag and all.

“Ma,” his voice was curt and his eyes hard.

Everything about Henry cut into Emma. She could feel his fury thumping through her, threatening to turn her bones to dust. She had allowed this thing inside of her to fester into her son, hurt him in ways she never wanted to. All she ever wanted to do was help make sure Henry had a stress free adolescence. 

“Uh… Hi…” Emma gave an awkward wave. Was there a way to patch things up with her son? Please.

He frowned at her. “Not here to kidnap me again, are you?”

Emma shook her head and glanced at her feet for a moment. “No, sorry about that. Gonna talk to your mom.”

Henry nodded and his face shifted into a gentler expression. His eyes were warm and a small smile twitched onto his lips before he held up a stern finger. “Be nice.”

“I’m gonna try.” Don’t forget, no matter what, you’re loved.

“Good. She needs care just like you do.”

“I know.” I’m the one who told her don’t forget, no matter what, you’re loved because she is.

“You gonna be okay?” he asked. 

Emma took a deep breath and her bottom lip wobbled. “I want to try. I need to try. I love you guys so much. I can’t lose you.”

“We love you, too, Ma. I’m sorry you’re so hurt.”

Emma put her hand over her mouth, keeping in a sob. He loved her. Despite what she had done, he loved her and wanted her to get better. She had to take another deep breath to keep herself together. 

“Thank you,” she managed, even though her throat felt like it was seared shut.

He gave her another nod, the powerful one-armed hug of a teenage boy who still loved his mother, but wanted to be kind of cool about it, and then rushed off for school. She went inside to find Regina slipping on her shoes. Regina was not looking at her, probably did not hear her conversation with Henry. Emma took a moment to take her in.

Yes, Regina was a professional just like Selena, but even their styles were different. Regina had a style all her own, especially with all of the suit vests. Selena never wore a suit vest as far as Emma could remember. Selena did not wear heels either. There were a lot of boots if she could remember correctly. Selena also wore men’s cologne, but Emma never realized that until she was older and placed the scent once as a teenager. It made her want to throw up, but she chalked it up to the fact that it was on a guy picking up one of the working girls she hung around. Regina wore a light, flowery perfume and it never failed to settle Emma’s soul when she inhaled it. No, Regina and Selena were not the same. And, then, Regina glanced up and Emma’s heart skipped a beat.

“Emma,” Regina said through gritted teeth.

“I forgot,” Emma’s voice cracked, tears already burning her eyes.

Regina stood, arms folded across her chest like a shield. Her glare was her weapon. “You forgot?”

Emma went into her pocket and pulled out the wrinkled note. “I forgot.” She held up the note, hand trembling. She sniffled, trying to keep her nose from running. She did not have a right to look pathetic here.

Regina shook her head and her eyes remained hard as diamonds. “You didn’t forget. You thought I touched Henry based on my past history. I thought you were upset with me because I brought up those memories. I thought you were upset with me because I cast the Curse. I even though you were upset with me because I couldn’t help you. But, to find out you avoided me like this because you thought I was capable of touching children, our child…” She shook her head again, a sharp scowl on her face. “I don’t even know what to do about that.”

Her eyes, those beautiful, honey brown eyes, looked shattered and Emma felt her stomach turn. I put that that pain there. I was supposed to protect her and I destroyed her because I forgot. “I know! I know. Well, I don’t know, actually. I don’t know why I did that.” Emma’s eyes dropped to the floor. Why did I do that? Why did I think that?

Regina frowned. “Yes, that’s just what I want to hear. You have no idea why you lumped me in with a child molester, even though you know all my crimes and know I never did anything like that. I’ve admitted to mass murder and raping several adults. You want me to have child molestation on my soul as well?”

“I just… I just…” Emma had no words. She had no idea what happened, except she forgot. “I just forgot…” Her voice cracked as she felt her heart break.

“I’ve got work.” Regina slipped by her, making sure they did not touch, and left the house. Emma stood there for a long while, not sure what to do next.

-8-8-8-8-

Regina hopped in her car, making sure to ignore the dent on the rear fender. She went to work and tried to get something done, but it was impossible. I forgot echoed through her mind. How many times did she forget? How many times had she expected to come home and find Henry and Emma gone? How many times had she expected Emma to call her a monster and condemn her for the Curse and so much more? How many times had she thought she burned everything she held dear to the ground only to find Emma waiting for her with a hug, a kiss, and the love and compassion that helped keep her alive?

Sighing, Regina grabbed her phone and sent Emma a text. “Whenever you forget, I’m here to remind you.”

Yes, she was crushed by Emma’s thoughts, but she would be a liar and a hypocrite if she abandoned Emma now. She would not be able to live with herself if she abandoned Emma now. Emma needed her, needed everyone in her life. Regina loved her too much to leave her now.

For the first time in two weeks, Emma replied to her text. “Thank you.”

It would not be fair to suddenly up and leave after Emma had her doubt, even if it was compounded with a bout of madness. She knew how it could be when confronting demons. There were days when she wanted to tear herself apart. There were days where she did tear Emma apart. But, how could she look at Emma, knowing Emma thought she had touched Henry?

How could Emma look at you knowing you left children to be eaten by the Blind Witch? How could Emma look at you knowing you slaughtered villages of people on the hunt for her mother? How could Emma look at you knowing you personally flayed more people in your dungeon than she has ever met in her life? How could Emma look at you knowing you forced people into your bed to let them know you were in charge? How could Emma look at you after you cast a Curse that led to her separation from her parents and her extremely hard life?

Regina sighed yet again and rubbed her face. Emma stood with her. Sometimes, she needed a moment to get herself together, but she came back, very encouraging and loving, even when Regina forgot. It was Regina’s turn.

“Lunch?” Regina texted it, as she did not trust her voice for the moment.

“Yes, please,” was the reply.

Regina sighed again, but more because she could hear how young Emma sounded, even in the text. “My office.”

“Okay.”

Regina looked at the time. Somehow, two hours had passed, so now she had an hour to do something about lunch. She wanted to do something special, but she did not have time, really. She ordered pizza for Emma. Two slices, one with extra cheese and hamburger, and the other with peppers and olives. Emma had only learned she liked peppers and olives trying a slice of pizza Regina made. She kept root beer in her office refrigerator, so she was prepared when Emma came through her door right on time.

“You know, I haven’t had pizza for a while,” Emma said as she sat down across from Regina at her desk.

Despite Emma looking a little frayed, her hair frizzy and her clothes wrinkled, she did not seem as frenzied as she had been the other night. She somewhat curled into herself as she settled into her chair, but she did not look like she might break. Her eyes, downcast, were wet, as if tears could fall at any moment.

Regina chewed her words for a moment. “I made it the night you left. I thought you might come back.” She did not want it to sound like she was accusing Emma of anything.

Emma sniffled. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It was for your mental health.” Regina understood that, even if it hurt. Right now, Emma’s agony was more important than her own, though.

Emma shook her head. “More like my mental breakdown. I’m sorry for comparing you to Selena. You’re not her.”

Regina’s ground her teeth together to hide how her jaw trembled at the thought of Emma comparing her to Selena. “No, I’m not, but I’m no saint either. I will admit it hurt to know that’s what you thought of me. I was ready to be blamed for the memories coming back to you. I was ready to be blamed for it happening to you because of the Curse. I was ready so much, but I wasn’t ready for you to think I would do something like that.”

Emma gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment. “I didn’t mean to. My thoughts…” She shook her head and searched the floor for a long moment.

“Take your time,” Regina said. Rushing Emma through anything would only make matters worse.

Emma took a deep breath. “I’m not sure what happened exactly. I just started freaking out over Selena and then I was pissed you brought her up and then I guess I just started associating you both in my head together. It didn’t help that the memories came back while we were… well, trying to be intimate. We didn’t really make it. But, the sounds and the act, it just… it was too much for me. I was flooded with everything and I couldn’t deal with it, can’t deal with it. Last night… last night I finally got to see that was bullshit.”

Regina arched an eyebrow. “Last night? Last night when you came to take our son away.”

Emma shook her head and rubbed her forehead. “No, last night in the car when you told me to go home so I don’t freeze to death. It reminded me that you care. Selena didn’t care. I knew that, even back then. When she had to leave, she wasn’t heartbroken I was going back to a group home. She didn’t care what happened to me. She probably just trained some other poor foster kid to take my place.”

Regina rubbed her palms together to keep her from reaching out for Emma. She was not sure if Emma would be comfortable with her touching her and she wanted to respect Emma’s boundaries, respect her healing, even if it hurt. “You’re not replaceable to me.”

“I know. I just…” Emma sighed and rubbed her forehead as if she was trying to erase it.

“You forgot.”

Emma rubbed her eye with the heel of her hand. “And then I finally opened up the box you left. I went home before and grabbed my stuff and I wondered why all my favorite stuff wasn’t there and I thought you threw it out because I was so pissed at you. And, I opened the box and there everything was. You know all my favorite stuff and you wanted me to have it to help me feel better. No one knows all my favorite stuff. No one.” A dry sob escaped her throat and she bent over, putting her hand to her stomach.

“And you found the note at the bottom of the box,” Regina said as Emma sat back up.

Emma’s mouth trembled and her voice cracked. “It made me remember.”

“That was its purpose.”

Tears slid down Emma’s face. “I don’t know how to deal with this, Regina. I don’t. I don’t.” Ducking her head, she palmed her face, as if trying to hide.

Regina wanted to reach across the table and grab Emma’s hand again. She wanted to rush over to the other side of the desk and hug Emma to her. She held off, though. She would not touch Emma until she had some sign it would not make things worse. She rubbed her fingertips together, itching to cuddle her distraught lover, but holding off.

“Can I touch you, Emma?” Regina asked.

“Please!” Emma curled over in her chair, bawling.

Regina rushed up and wrapped her arms around Emma. She held Emma tight and listened as Emma sobbed. Each sound tore threw her.

“I’m so sorry, Emma. I’m so sorry,” Regina whispered.

“I don’t want to blame you, but I don’t know how to stop!” Emma wailed.

“It’s okay.” Regina would take all of the blame if it meant Emma could feel better. She would take all of this on herself if she could.

“I don’t know how to deal with this,” Emma said again.

Regina leaned down and kissed the top of Emma’s head. Her heart softened because Emma allowed it, Emma did not flinch, Emma did not pull away. They still had a chance. 

“You will, dear heart. You’re already dealing with it. You’re stronger than you think. Isn’t that what you always tell me? I’m stronger than I think and I can’t let the past crush me. You can’t let the past crush you, especially when you didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t do anything,” Regina said.

Emma cried for a while. They ended up on the floor, leaning against the desk. Emma laid in her lap. Regina caressed her shoulder. Emma flinched when she went to stroke Emma’s hair, so she stayed away from that area.

“I gotta go back to Archie, don’t I?” Emma said, her voice still so small.

“We both know it’ll help.” Regina saw Archie twice a week and probably would for the rest of her life. It was just so much to deal with in life and so many reasons to not fall into old habits. Archie helped her cope.

Emma sniffled and wiped her runny nose. “I don’t understand why this is such a pain. I mean, it happened when I was eight and she didn’t even touch me. I was fine for such a long time. Now, I’m a mess. I’m so messed up.” She rubbed her forehead, as if trying to shift the mess.

Regina gave her shoulder a little squeeze. “You know that’s not how it works. Trauma can sneak up on us and we can react in different ways, no matter how many years or what happened. You’re not wrong or weak for reacting this way.”

“I hurt you and I messed up with Henry.”

Regina managed a small smile. “I’m fine now.” Well, she would work on being fine. “I’m more worried about you than anything else. Henry will understand.” Henry was very aware both of his mothers had a laundry list of issues.

“Can you… can you make me an appointment?”

“I will. Do you want to get up?”

“No. Not yet.” They stayed on the floor for over an hour with Emma cuddled into her.

-8-8-8-8-

It felt strange to be home again, but Emma was glad she could think of it as home again. She sat at the dinner table as Regina served and found it hard to look up. Henry watched her. She hunched over a bit, trying to hide from him.

“You gonna be okay?” Henry eventually asked. He did not sound angry or even upset. In fact, he sounded concerned, like she had not messed up with him.

“I’m gonna try,” she answered honestly. She glanced at him and discovered his eyes as concerned as his tone. Still, it was hard to meet anyone’s eyes. She still could not make sense of her pain, but she understood the pain she caused all too well.

“Well, me and Mom made your favorite to help.” Henry had learned to cook quite a bit over the past year after Emma convinced him it would help him get girls. He was not bad, but he usually only cooked to impress Violet.

“Thank you.”

“Hey, Ma.”

“Huh?” She had to look up because of his tone. “Yeah?”

He grinned at her, looking so much like her it hurt her chest. “Don’t forget, no matter what, you are loved.”

Emma did not want to cry in front of him, but her chin trembled and tears came anyway. He got up and hugged her. Regina came in and join in. She felt like they kept her together, even after she almost tore them apart. She would not let this thing break her.

She felt like she held it together well until it was time for bed. She stood in the doorway of the bedroom. Regina stood inside, turning down the bed, and making it a point to not look at Emma. Emma could not move.

“It’s all right if you want to stay in the guest bedroom. I’ll fix it up for you,” Regina said.

Emma shook her head. “No. I want to… I want you to hold me, but I feel like an ass for wanting that after all this shit. I mean, I’ve been running from you for two weeks and now I wanna be coddled by you? That’s bullshit.”

Regina shook her head. “It’s not bullshit, Emma. When I finally realized what colored my entire sexual history, what did I do?”

Emma rubbed her arm and glanced away. “Cried for three days.”

“Cried for three days on you. I cried on you while also beating you up because it was your grandfather. You didn’t even know the man. But, you let me cry and you let me blame everyone for what happened, even you.”

Emma shrugged. “I am the Savior.” That had been the problem when Regina had figured out not only was she a rape victim, but a rapist. Regina bawled and raged over the fact that no one had saved her. In a world of fairies, heroes, and magic, no one had saved her, but eventually conceded that Emma had saved her. Emma never gave up on her.

“Emma, I will do whatever you need me to do. If you need to sleep in the guest room, I will prepare it. If you need to cry for three days, I’ll stock up on water right now. Whatever you need to help you overcome this.” 

Emma could not help it, she started crying again. Regina did not move and it took Emma a moment to realize why. Regina was giving her space, letting her make the moves, so nothing made her uncomfortable. She went and fell into Regina’s arms, mumbling apologizes into her shoulder.

“It’s all right, darling. It’s all right,” Regina said, her voice a whisper. 

“Why does this hurt so much?” Emma did not understand. Now, having thought about it, she could not comprehend why it felt like she was falling part. It happened when she was eight for crying out loud.

“Because it’s about more than just that. You know that.”

Emma knew it was so much more, but she thought she dealt with those issues. How long would her fear of abandonment and lack of worth haunt her? How long would her subconscious feel like the world screwed her over and she got the short end of the stick? Her life was so good now. She just wanted to bask in that.

“Archie agreed to take you in tomorrow,” Regina said. 

“Will you come with me?”

“Of course.” 

Emma was not sure what she had done to deserve Regina in her life, but she was beyond grateful at the moment. Regina understood her in ways no other person ever did. Regina could forgive her in ways no person ever had. She could count on Regina to always love her unconditionally. She would have to do her best to never forget again.

-8-8-8-8-

Emma was drained after her first session with Archie. Regina sat quietly and literally held her hand the whole time. She thought that would be the worst of it, but Archie suggested they do couple’s counseling as well. There, Emma saw the worst as Regina broke down, sobbing when asked how she felt about Emma equating her with Selena during her breakdown. Not that Archie referred to it as a breakdown. 

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Emma said, dying to reach out for Regina, but she could not bring herself to do so. She did not feel worthy of touching Regina. Each noise cut through Emma like a chainsaw. She put that pain there. You’re a worthless human being.

“Emma,” Archie said. He was mostly a prompt at this point. They had gone through this so much, he was only there to make sure they said something. 

Emma had been through this enough to know what he wanted from her. “This makes me feel useless. Worthless.” Those were always her problems. Hell, it was cause behind the cause of her breakdown and they all knew it. Selena had given her a use and worth, but it had been meaningless, as Selena sent her away like everyone else, not that she wanted to stay with Selena. Selena had taken her sense of worth and self and perverted it. She had to deal with that.

“You’re not,” Regina insisted, but it was hard to believe through her tears. It was a good thing Regina had dealt with her sense of self-worth a while ago or they would not have survived this. Regina was so much stronger than she was, which only made Emma feel even more worthless, if that was a thing. 

“Emma, why do you feel that way?” Archie asked.

“I’m useless because I can’t help her and I’m worthless because I made her feel this way,” Emma replied. 

“Regina,” Archie said.

Regina sniffled. “It just hurts to know I remind you of her.” 

“It’s not so much that you remind me of her now. It was just I got triggered while we were being intimate. When you ran your fingers through my hair, it reminded me of her because she used to pet me and I think my brain just started making connects for everything. For a little while I thought you looked like her, but I was dead wrong and that’s helped me in keeping you separate.” Not to the point where they could be intimate, but she was still better than she was a couple of months ago.

“What does she look like?” Regina asked.

“Hold on.” Emma dug in her pocket for her phone. “I googled her not too long ago, to keep reminding myself she’s not you.” She brought up a picture. 

Regina scowled as she focused on Selena, who did not look bad for a woman almost fifty and pure evil. The internet photo was connected to her job. Her hair was blond now and cut very short, shorter than Emma would have ever thought. Her smile seemed painted on, like the skirt suit she wore.

“I see she’s not a registered sex offender,” Regina said in a mumble.

“Unfortunately, no. Unfortunately, still alive, too. But, she’s not you. And, looking at her picture helps me realize she’s not some big bad monster, too. I mean, she is a monster because she’s probably still hurting kids, but I get to see that if I ever meet her face to face, I could totally take her in a fight. It helps.” 

Regina nodded. “I never touched a child like that.”

“I know.”

“But, I’ve…” Regina could not even bring herself to say it.

“I know.” Emma knew the horrible things Regina had done, the children she had slaughtered with their parents in her quest to destroy Snow White. “But, you were lost and you’re finding yourself again. I know how that is.”

Regina offered her a watery smile. Their sessions together got better from there. The sessions on her own were a little tougher because she could only focus on herself and dig into those problems alone. But, little by little, she learned to move forward.

-8-8-8-8-

Epilogue:

By the time Henry was going to graduate, Emma was able to be herself around her family again. It was easier to pretend she was all right outside, but at home it had been little by little. Regina and Henry encouraged her to take her time. They allowed her to heal, never expected her to be the Savior. They never made her feel like she had to go at a certain pace. They supported her, even when she fell into bad habits and tried to push them away during particularly rough days. But, those were less and less thanks to their love and support. So, now, it was her turn to support their baby boy as he walked across the stage.

“Go, Henry!” Emma clapped while Regina whistled loudly as Henry accepted his diploma. They took several pictures until Henry was off of the stage. “Our kid is a high graduate! He’s got us both beat!” She grabbed Regina up in a tight hug.

Regina laughed. “Need I remind you, I have several college degrees.”

“From the Curse! Just like everyone else until our first set of college grads return in two years,” Emma pointed out.

Regina opened her mouth to say something, but stopped and looked down. This made Emma do the same and she realized what gave Regina pause. This was the first time she had initiated any type of contact between them since the memories of Selena were dredged up. She looked in Regina’s eyes and smiled.

“You are loved,” Regina whispered.

“I know. And if I forget, you’re here to remind me,” Emma replied. “Now, let’s go embarrass Henry some more.”

Regina smiled more and they went to take more pictures of Henry, even though the graduation was still going on. It was not like anyone would stop them. Besides, they did this out of love.

-8-8-8-8-

The End.

Well, that’s that. I’m sorry if the journey was painful and the ending not enough. I still wanted to explore this idea, though. Thanks for tagging along. Back to my padded cell with me.