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Caught Amongst the Trees

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For Vilde, from Hatti

“You really didn’t need to come with me, you know,” Emma said, gripping the wheel tight. It was the first time she’d ever driven the police cruiser with Regina sitting beside her, and even though they’d only been riding for 10 minutes, she could safely say she was never going to do it again.

“Of course I did,” Regina sniffed. “I can’t trust you to do this by yourself.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I’m just going to check out the area. It’s not that complicated.”

“Not that complicated? The cliff is collapsing, Miss Swan. You can’t just go up there and poke it with a stick.”

Resisting the urge to slam on the brakes so that Regina’s face would smack into the dashboard, Emma chose not to respond. Ever since torrential rain had started falling on the town a week earlier, she’d gotten a barrage of calls about some kind of ground disturbance in the hills just above Storybrooke. Between dealing with burst water mains and countless flooded basements, this was the first day she’d had the time to go up there and check it out.

Unfortunately, the mayor had gotten wind of the situation as well. And she wasn’t willing to let Emma go and take care of the problem solo.

“I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this the second you got the first call,” Regina said when she didn’t get a response. “You’ve put everyone in town in danger.”

Emma sighed loudly. “Regina, the hills are five miles away. Even if there is a landslide, the town wouldn’t notice. Calm down.”

“Calm down? You see, it’s exactly this kind of lackadaisical attitude that makes you unfit to be sheriff.”

“And yet I’ve been wearing the badge for months, so you should probably start trying to get over it,” Emma replied flatly. “Look, we’re nearly there. Can you just stay quiet and let me check things out for five minutes? You don’t even have to get out the car.”

But, of course, the second Emma parked at the bottom of the hill, Regina was unclipping her seatbelt and following Emma up the slope.

The only thing sitting on that side of the hill was a ramshackle cabin that didn’t look like it had had any visitors in a few years. Emma was grateful for that: the ground was slick with wet earth and loose rocks, and any time she took a step, she could feel it trying to shift beneath her.

“Well?” Regina demanded from several paces away. She was wearing heeled boots, which meant Emma at least got a laugh out of watching her trying to climb up behind her.

“It’s not looking great. We’re probably going to have to cordon off this whole area and get a proper team out here.” Emma turned her attention to the cabin. “Any idea who lives there?”

“Not off the top of my head, no,” Regina replied, struggling up the hillside toward the porch and peering into the tiny window beside the front door. “It doesn’t look very lived in.”

“Well, we need to check. If there is anyone here we have to evacuate them, just in case,” Emma said, stepping up beside Regina and knocking on the door. No one answered.

“I’ll leave a note,” Emma said, turning in the direction of the car. She took one step, and then paused. She tilted her head slightly.

Regina huffed at the sight of her. “What?”

“Shh,” Emma immediately replied, holding up one hand. Regina was just about to snap back when she heard it too.

“What is that?” she asked. There was a weird rumbling sound in the distance, like a waterfall or a busy highway. She followed Emma to the edge of the porch and looked up the hill.

They both spotted the earth sliding toward them at the same time. Emma let out a yelp.

“The car,” she blurted out, darting over to the steps. Before she could get any further, Regina grabbed her arm and yanked her back.

“You won’t make it, you idiot,” she snapped. The land above them was shifting closer and with it she could see dozens of rocks and tumbling, uprooted trees. Regina tugged Emma toward the door of the cabin and tried the handle. It was locked, but they managed to force it open and dart inside before the tidal wave of mud hit the building.

It was already dark when they shut the door, but as the land swallowed them up, the cabin was plunged into blackness. Regina gasped and grabbed for the nearest thing, which unfortunately happened to be Emma. Once she realised she was clinging onto her arm, she squawked with disgust and staggered back a step.

“Where are the windows?” Emma hissed. The tiny one beside the front door was mostly blocked up by dirt, and once she’d managed to peer through the remaining gaps, she discovered there was a fallen tree lying across the now-shattered porch. She tried the handle on the door and wasn’t surprised to find their path blocked.

“God damn it.”

“There’s one over there,” Regina said, pointing to a slightly larger pane of glass on the other side of the room. A sliver of light was still breaking through. Emma pulled her flashlight from her holster and walked over, wrenching at the latch until it finally opened.

There was a drop beneath them. A big one. The landslide had taken every drop of earth surrounding the property and carried it far down the hill. Right at the bottom of the slope, buried under a mountain of brown and grey, she could just about make out the police cruiser.

“Well, shit,” Emma muttered. She glanced down at the drop beneath her again and noticed the earth was still moving, like the ground was breathing. “Double shit.”


“I think we’re trapped.”

What?” Regina demanded, approaching the window and shoving Emma out the way. When she saw the 10 foot drop beneath them and the unreachable car in the distance, she let out a strange hissing noise. “Oh, well this is just perfect. Well done yet again, Sheriff Swan.”

“How exactly is this my fault? I didn’t even want you to come.”

“Where’s the light switch?” Regina demanded, hunting around on the walls with her hands flat like spiders. She found one and flicked it up, but wasn’t surprised to discover that the power was out.

“Water still works,” Emma said, her hand under the kitchen faucet. “And I have this flashlight and there are probably candles somewhere.”

“Are you proposing some kind of Girl Scouts campout?”

“We can’t try and leave now. The hillside is still shifting. We’ll need to climb out the window and if we jump down onto the ground before it’s settled, it’ll make everything worse.”

“Well, you’d know all about crashing down in Storybrooke and making things worse,” Regina replied. Ignoring her, Emma took the flashlight over to the other side of the room and opened a cabinet.

“Candles,” she said, tossing them onto the sagging couch. “And blankets. Can you see if there’s any food?”

Letting out a huge groan, Regina walked into the kitchen and began rummaging. “A few cans from 1995.”

“Okay. Well, let’s hope we’re not stuck here for too long, then.” Emma pulled out her cell and frowned down at the screen. “No bars. You?”

“None. Where’s your radio?”

Emma looked momentarily embarrassed. “In the cruiser.”

“Oh, great. As well prepared as ever, I see.”

“Look,” Emma finally snapped, much to Regina’s pleasure. “This was supposed to be a simple ground examination. You weren’t meant to be here and the entire mountain wasn’t supposed to collapse. Excuse me for not carrying all my possessions with me at all times just in case.”

That same part of Regina’s stomach that always twisted and ignited whenever Emma raised her voice lit up once more. “You’re not excused. What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

Emma was peering into the back of the cabin. The second room had a bed frame but no mattress, and the ramshackle bathroom was covered in cobwebs and years of grime. She shuddered and closed the door.

“We aren’t going to be here long,” she said with a lot more confidence than she felt. “We just need to wait a few hours for the ground to settle, and then we can climb out.”

“And fall 10 feet to our deaths.”

“How brittle are your bones, exactly?” Emma asked. “I’ll find a way to soften the landing. Then we can leave and make our way back to town.”

“The cruiser’s buried,” Regina replied. If Emma didn’t know better, she’d say the mayor was actually excited to be stuck there with someone to yell at for a few hours. “Are you suggesting we walk five miles back to town in the middle of the night?”

Emma rolled her eyes. “People will notice when the mayor and the sheriff vanish. I told Ruby I was coming out here to check these reports out. They’ll send a rescue party sooner or later.”

“And until then?”

Smiling sweetly, Emma replied, “Until then, you’re just going to have to put up with me.”

With a venomous scowl, Regina collapsed onto the couch and folded her arms. Neither of them said another word for hours.

When night fell, the berating started again.

“What happened to that rescue party, Miss Swan? I thought you said it would be here before we knew it.”

Emma was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her flashlight held beneath her chin as she lit candle after candle. They were placed around her in a clump that made her look slightly heavenly.

Regina shook the thought from her head and kept on glaring.

“Maybe people don’t miss us as much as I’d hoped,” Emma said distractedly as she shook the edge of a flame from her singed fingertips. “They’ll realise in the morning when I don’t show up for work.”

“And Henry? Where’s he?”

Finally, Emma looked up with a flat expression. “Do you think I have some kind of camera network hidden all over town? I have no idea. But I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Oh, you’re sure. That’s very reassuring.”

“Looking for reassurance from me is the first thing you did wrong,” Emma muttered, placing another candle on the floor beside her. She sighed. “I don’t know why you’re making this so difficult. I’m not happy to be here either, but it’s not like we’re about to die. We’ll be out sooner or later and we could at least be semi-civil to each other in the meantime.”

She was expecting Regina to scoff and roll her eyes and say that she was reaching for the stars. Instead, she found herself met with a look that was so venomous and spiteful she dropped the flashlight from beneath her jaw.

“I will never,” Regina said coldly, “be civil to someone like you.”

Against her will, Emma flinched. She extinguished her match and cradled it in her crossed legs.

“I’m sorry?”

But Regina was already grabbing one of the blankets and lying down on the couch, deliberately rolling the other way so she didn’t have to look at Emma anymore. It was only 8pm.

“Regina,” Emma tried harder, raising her voice. “What the hell does that mean? Someone like me?”

Regina didn’t reply. She stayed completely still for the rest of the night, stubbornly pretending she was asleep even though Emma could feel the resentment bubbling off of her.

When it got to midnight and Emma finally had to resign herself to the fact that no one was coming for them, she grabbed her own blanket and headed over to the other side of the living room. She lay down beside the lit candles so the room wouldn’t be so grey and terrifying when she woke up.

Even though Regina had gone to bed first, she woke up to a clatter from the back of the room. She bolted upright and found Emma leaning out the open window, the two dimples at the small of her back on show as she tossed something onto the floor outside. Regina rubbed her eyes.

“What are you doing?”

Emma didn’t jump at the sound of her voice. “I think the ground’s settling. I’m trying to build an escape route.”

“An escape route,” Regina replied flatly. “What does that entail?”

“Not much so far, because I need the couch cushions and you were sleeping really heavily.”

Regina bristled. “I was not.”

“I didn’t know the mayor snored a bit,” Emma replied without looking round. It wasn’t true – of course it wasn’t – but that didn’t matter. She heard the hiss of annoyance as Regina got up from the couch, and she smirked to herself.

“I do not snore.”

“Hand me those cushions, will you?”

“Miss Swan—”

“Regina,” Emma replied, finally turning around. “So far, the only things I’ve got to soften our landing with are some disintegrating sheets and a ranger’s jacket. If you don’t shut up and give me the cushions, I’ll push you out myself and enjoy watching you break your legs.”

Any other day, Regina probably would have muttered something under her breath and then done as she was told. But she’d slept badly because she’d been up worrying about Henry most of the night, and the fact that no one had come looking for them yet was bugging her more than she’d expected. So, instead, she put her hands on her hips and replied, “You think I’m going to follow orders from you?”

“If you want to get out of here in one piece, then yeah – preferably.”

“Will you stop making jokes?” Regina spat, making Emma blink. “This isn’t funny.”

“I’m aware of that, Madam Mayor – it may have escaped your notice, but I don’t want to be stuck here with you any more than you want to be here stuck with me. So, can you shut up and help me out? At least I’m trying.”

And that was the final straw.

“Of course. You’re always trying,” Regina replied coldly. “Trying to ruin my life. Trying to steal my son.”

Emma groaned. “Regina…”

“Trying to make me feel as inferior and insignificant and unloved as possible. Aren’t you?’

“What?” Emma automatically staggered back a step, bumping her shoulder against the window frame in the process. Regina was looking at her with a face that was red with fury, and although that wasn’t unusual, it had come as a bit of a surprise. It was the first time she’d seen real, indisputable hurt on the mayor’s face, and it had sucked all her bravado away. “Regina? I’m not trying to—”

“Yes, you are. It’s what you’ve been doing since you arrived in my town. And if you don’t mean to then that makes it even worse.” A sharp piece of hurt had suddenly lodged itself in Regina’s throat, and because she couldn’t swallow it down, she did the next best thing. “Get out of my way.”

“What? Where are you going?”

“Out of here.”

Emma froze as Regina stormed toward her. She reached the open window and peered out, starting a bit when she saw just how far down the ground was now but knowing that, after putting on such a show, it was far too late to change her mind.

“Regina,” Emma said, reaching out for her arm as she began to climb up onto the windowsill. “Stop it. It’s too far and I haven’t even put the—”

Regina snatched her arm back. “Don’t touch me. I’ll send the rescue party for you later.”

She sounded a great deal more confident than she felt as she released herself from the rotting window frame and dropped to the ground. It was a long way down and for a second she thought she might have made a mistake after all, but then she hit the soft ground with a thud that shuddered through her feet and shins but didn’t cause them any real damage. She straightened up, not turning back to smugly glare at Emma in the window even though she badly wanted to, and headed downward.

“Regina,” Emma called after her. “Can you come back, please? We don’t know what it’s like out there yet.”

But of course, Regina ignored her. Emma watched her go, walking carefully with her hands outstretched as she navigated the swelling, groaning earth. After a few minutes, she had reached the buried cruiser. A few more minutes after that, and she’d vanished from sight.

Emma turned back to the abandoned cabin and smacked the wall with her open palm. “Fucking idiot.”

Then she turned back to the window and thought about it. Regina had made it out okay, which meant she could too. But she really didn’t know what condition the ground was in beyond the cabin – half the hillside had collapsed, which meant even she didn’t feel confident going for a stroll on top it. Regina shouldn’t have left, even though Emma was more than happy to see her go.

She looked back at the couch that Regina had slept on. If Emma had spent the night there, the cushions would be dented and disorientated from her constant tossing and turning. Regina, meanwhile, hadn’t moved an inch, and it still looked like no one had been near it in months.

Emma sighed, reaching out to touch it with the tips of her fingers. It wasn’t warm either. It was like Regina hadn’t been there at all.

Regina managed to power herself along for the next 20 minutes by cursing Emma under her breath.

“Thinks she’s so important,” she muttered, carefully finding her next foothold. The ground was weak and slippery and kept adjusting beneath her. “Thinks she knows better than everyone.”

She’d calmed down a bit since their fight and had even come to the realisation that maybe she’d overreacted, but she was still irritated. They’d been gone for 18 hours and no one had come looking for them yet, which made her teeth hurt. Well, she’d show them: she’d arrive back in town, angry but in one piece, and she’d tell them to go rescue the bumbling sheriff from the mountainside while she spent the rest of her day firing the majority of her staff. Once Emma returned, she’d have found a way to fire her too, probably for gross negligence. She’d put Sidney in office, just like he should have been to begin with, and then everything would be working like clockwork once more. At last, Regina smiled. I can’t wait to see her shocked little scowl when she realises I finally won, and she’s finally out. She might even leave town, and then Henry will forget about her. She won’t know what hit—

A strange creaking noise made Regina stop in her tracks. She glanced around, looking for a swaying tree or another cabin, but she was alone. She frowned and kept going.

The second her foot hit the ground, she realised her mistake. The earth beneath her was weak and hollow, and as soon as her weight landed on it, it collapsed. With a shriek, Regina tumbled down into a crevice that had appeared from nowhere, knocking her head against the ragged wall as she slipped. She skidded to the bottom, a cry escaping her as she landed hard on the outer edge of her foot, before she collapsed sideways with only her hands and the wet earth to break her fall.

It was strange how the sky was a different colour every time she opened her eyes. When she fell, it was pale blue with the morning light. By midday, it had turned grey. A hazy glance at her watch told her that, when it turned nearly black, it was 3pm.

The crater that the hill had dug for her was narrow and deep and cold. Her temple was throbbing and there was a shooting pain running from her foot to her ankle and back again that made her groan any time she tried to shift position.

All her energy was spent on trying to keep her eyes open, otherwise she might have found a way to blame this on Emma, too.

As she continued to zone in and out, she realised there was dried blood on the side of her face. She vaguely remembered hitting her head as she fell, but didn’t have the energy to lift her hand and feel it for herself. The sky got darker, and she whimpered, realising that if she didn’t get out of that hole before the rain started up again, the ground would shift some more and she might get buried. She tried to lift her head and fought against the nausea that rolled through her.

And then the sky suddenly got very, very dark – like something was blocking it out entirely. She could also hear a crunching that didn’t sound anything like thunder. She squinted and tried to focus on the land above her, but there was a weird shadow that she didn’t recognise. Like a person was drifting through the clouds.

She sighed and closed her eyes again, assuming the sudden warmth under her shoulders was the soil finally caving in on her.

With Regina unconscious, Emma had to drag her up the hill. They were five miles away from town and there was no way she could get the cruiser out of there by herself, so her only option was to take Regina underneath her arms and tug her back up the mountainside like she was a bundle of clothes.

The sky was darkening and she knew it would start raining again within minutes, but she had to hope they’d be safe inside the cabin. If it had survived yesterday’s landslide and all the ones that had come before it, all she could do was pray it would also endure any new ones coming their way.

She couldn’t hoist Regina back into the high window, so she laid her down on the remainder of the porch and used every last bit of strength she had to move the fallen tree back a few inches from the front door. It took forever – Emma squatted down and rammed her shoulder against it, ignoring the bruises that were forming, until she could finally open the door half a foot. Then she stumbled in, dragging Regina behind her, while making a mental note to apologise for all the lost buttons on her coat once she woke up again.

When Regina was finally on the couch, all Emma wanted to do was collapse on the floor beside her and fall into her own version of semi-consciousness. But the cut on Regina’s temple was still oozing with dark brown blood, so Emma had to drag herself off to the kitchen. There wasn’t any kind of first aid kit in the cabin, so, with a groan that stirred Regina momentarily from her sleep, Emma pulled her own shirt off.

Regina was certain in that hazy moment of consciousness that she saw a topless Emma standing over the kitchen sink, ripping fabric apart with her bare hands and leaning slightly to one side like her own body was hurting her. But then she got tired again and settled into the lumpy cushions, letting the cloudiness inside her head swallow her up.

She only woke up again because of the coolness against her forehead. She could smell something strange, too: wet earth and blood, but also something sweeter. Vanilla, maybe? Was Henry baking cookies?

Regina peeled open one eye and, with enormous disappointment, found Emma perched on the couch next to her.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice cracking. It was dark outside and the candles were lit again.

Emma glanced at her, then went back to dabbing at her forehead. The rag in her hand was brown with dirt and dried blood. “Trying to fix you up a bit.”

Regina wasn’t sure what she meant by that until she looked down and saw that both the sleeves were missing from Emma’s shirt. The remainder of her clothes were caked in mud, and her arms and face were covered in scratches.

“What happened?”

“You fell,” Emma said flatly, dipping the cloth back into the bucket of freezing cold water she’d managed to coax from the kitchen faucet. “The ground collapsed beneath you.”

Regina blinked. “Then how did I end up here?”

The look Emma shot her was a strange one – half sad, like she couldn’t believe she even had to ask, and half annoyed, like she couldn’t believe she had dared to.

“Your coat’s going to need dry cleaning,” she said in reply. Regina looked down at herself and realised it was gone, and the rest of her was scuffed and dirty. Her right ankle was wrapped in a white cloth that looked suspiciously like Emma’s other sleeve. “Try and get some sleep.”

To her annoyance, Regina found herself doing as she was told.

It was maybe an hour later when she woke up again. The candles were still lit, but something was blocking them.

Regina groaned and shifted, wishing there was a single pillow in that cabin – no matter how moth-eaten and grimy – for her to rest her head on. The couch beneath her was lumpy and full of broken springs.

She creaked one eye open and saw that Emma was sitting on the floor beside her, her head lolling to one side as she dozed. She didn’t have a blanket covering her. Both of them were on Regina.

The next time Regina woke up, something felt different. She felt a bit stronger inside her head, so she lifted it to find Emma still sitting beside her. This time, she was awake.

That wasn’t the difference, though: she realised when she didn’t have to lift her head as far as before that it suddenly had a pillow underneath it. It was made of Emma’s folded coat.

Regina shifted, which immediately made her wince with pain. Her ankle and head were hurting badly, but she’d been expecting that – the bigger shock came from the aches shooting through the rest of her body.

At the sound of her moving, Emma instantly turned her head. She looked cold sitting on the floor in nothing but a ripped shirt and damp jeans.

“What time is it?” Regina asked.

“Midnight,” Emma replied. As Regina moved, trying to sit upright, Emma leapt to her feet and reached out to help her. “I’ve been trying to stay up in case anyone comes looking.”

Regina was about to ask her if there had been any sign yet, but she didn’t bother. She knew what the answer was.

Instead, she swallowed raspily and asked, “Do you think I could get some water?”

It was alarming how quickly Emma moved. Her body looked stiff and uncomfortable as she rushed over to the sink and filled a chipped china teacup with water.

“No glasses,” she explained as she returned and helped Regina drink it. While she was sipping it down as daintily as her bruised head would allow, her gaze drifted.

“Where did you get that?” she asked once the cup was empty. Her eyes were on a vast purple bruise on Emma’s arm.

“Getting you in the door.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, I couldn’t really throw you back through the window,” Emma replied, pausing to adjust Regina’s blankets. “I had to move the tree blocking the front door. It was heavy.”

She wasn’t surprised when Regina just frowned up at her. “Why don’t I remember any of this?”

“Probably because that gigantic lump on your head gave you a bit of a concussion.”

At once, Regina’s hand shot up. Emma was right: there was a bump on her temple that felt hot and angry as soon as her fingertips made contact with it.

She wanted to comment on how much it hurt, but the scratches on Emma’s body stopped her. All her movements looked exhausted. Regina thought back to exactly how far she’d walked after she’d abandoned Emma in the cabin – half a mile, maybe? – and considered how long it would have taken her to drag someone out of a ditch and then brought them all the way back up the hill. Emma was maybe the only person she knew with the strength to do that – and not just physically. It took a lot of power to save the life of someone who openly noted how little they cared about yours.

Regina opened her mouth to say thank you, but it didn’t come. For a second, Emma just looked at her, and Regina knew she was waiting for it too. When silence followed, Emma forced a disappointed smile and grabbed the wet cloth again, wiping away the fresh blood on Regina’s temple and forcing herself not to make eye contact with her.

The feeling of cool fabric and cold fingers against Regina’s forehead made her sink back into the bundled coat that was keeping her head safe. Tears suddenly pricked at her eyes.

“I hope Henry’s safe.” She hadn’t meant to say it, but it came out anyway.

“Me too,” Emma replied, dabbing at the crusted blood in Regina’s hairline. She paused. “But he will be.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”


Emma looked at her like she was the dumbest person in the world. “Because you raised him.”

A sudden shooting pain cracked through Regina’s heart and, without thinking, she lifted her hand to cover it. Emma glanced down at the movement, but didn’t react. She returned to Regina’s injuries without a word.

“He’d be safer if he took after you,” Regina said after a few moments, making Emma frown.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well,” Regina replied, forcing a smile. “I’m the one who just fell in a ditch.”

For a second, there was total silence. Then Emma leaned back with a laugh that lit up the whole room.

“Madam Mayor,” she said darkly, still chuckling. “You’re funny. Who knew?”

Against her will, Regina felt herself smiling too. “Not me. Maybe this is a journey of self-discovery for both of us.”

“Oh yeah? And what have you learned?”

But Regina didn’t answer, because admitting that Emma wasn’t as bad as she’d once thought probably would have killed her. Instead, she just lifted her hand, placing it over Emma’s as it brushed against her temple. They both knew she was just signalling for Emma to stop fussing over her, but it somehow felt like more than that. Emma felt the warmth seeping into her fingers and nearly gasped at the way it tingled.

When she met Regina’s eyes then, she felt breathless. The mayor looked exhausted and humiliated and deeply saddened, but there was a hint of that strange new smile on her face that Emma was already a little bit enamoured with. Her eyes were glinting with mischief and candlelight. She didn’t take her hand off of Emma’s, and Emma didn’t make her.

But when another beam of light glanced into the room, they both jumped. Emma reluctantly peeled herself away from Regina and hurried over to the window. There, she found the thing she’d been waiting for for two days, but suddenly didn’t want to see.

“They’ve found us,” she said quietly. There were five or six flashlights directed toward them, bouncing off the trees as the rescue party struggled up the hill on foot. Emma glanced back at Regina, who wasn’t smiling anymore, and headed for the front door.

“Hey,” she shouted as she stuck her head through the small gap. “Over here.”

“Emma!” The sound of Ruby’s voice flooded the cabin. “Oh, thank God. I’ve been worried sick.”

Ignoring Regina’s grumble of annoyance behind her, Emma asked, “How come it took you so long to find us?”

“Because you didn’t say where you were going – just ‘out to the hills’. There’s a bunch of them, Em. We checked four others before we got here.”

Blushing furiously, Emma lowered her voice and said, “How’s Henry?”

“He’s fine. He’s been staying with the twins ever since you vanished. I’ll make sure he knows we found you.” Ruby paused, trying to peer over Emma’s shoulder. “Regina’s there too, right?”

“She is, but she’s hurt. We’re going to need some help getting her out of here.”

At once, Ruby turned to the crowd of men behind her and relayed the information. “The rangers will get their equipment so we can start to move this tree. Then we’ll be able to get both of you out safely.”

Emma leaned her head against the open door, suddenly exhausted. “Thank you.”

As the rescue party got to work, Emma straightened up and returned to Regina’s side. Instead of sitting on the floor again, she perched on the edge of the couch, her hip touching Regina’s. Even through two blankets, it was warm.

“Did you hear all that?”

“Yes. Henry’s safe,” Regina replied, squinting her eyes so they wouldn’t get teary. “That’s all I care about.”

“Give them an hour, and we’ll be out of here.”

“You think? With Miss Lucas in charge?”

Emma scowled at her. “You think you could do better, Madam Landslide?”

It warmed her all over when Regina instantly blushed. “You don’t get to keep using that against me.”

“No, not forever. But since we haven’t even left the building yet, I’d say I’m still allowed.”

She waited for Regina to argue with her, but she just sighed and rolled her eyes. Her head was still pounding and, when she forced herself to sit upright, the effort made her whole body ache. But eventually, with Emma’s wordless help, she managed it. When she was in the right position, she muttered, “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

“No,” Regina said bitterly. “I mean – thank you.”

Emma blinked. “Yeah. I said—”

“Not for helping me sit up, Miss Swan,” Regina snapped, unable to help herself. When Emma didn’t even flinch, she added more softly, “For… saving me earlier. For coming to find me.”

It pained her to spit the words out, but it was worth it when Emma smiled at her with genuine pleasure.

“Hey – that’s okay. You’d have done the same for me, right?”

Regina wrinkled her nose, but they both knew it was just for show. Emma didn’t have to question it – if she’d found herself in that position, Regina wouldn’t have hesitated in throwing herself into the ground to go after her.

“Anyway, I’m just glad I got to you in time. What would the town do without you, right?” Emma asked. Weirdly, it didn’t sound like she was being sarcastic. She was smiling, and with the candles still glancing off the side of her face and her hair hanging in a tangle of moonlight, the sight of her made Regina go weak. She couldn’t help herself.
When she leaned forward, Emma didn’t react for a second. She just watched her moving, her eyes on Regina’s slightly crumpled forehead, and waited for what would come next.

And because Regina knew she owed her, she pushed through the pain in her body and edged forward another inch. As soon as she’d crossed that line, Emma wilted with relief and leaned forward to join her.

The kiss wasn’t deep, nor frantic. Emma could feel from the heat of Regina’s skin and the frantic pace of her breathing that she was in pain, and any touch that went beyond gentle would hurt her. Instead, Emma cupped the back of her head and let their lips move together with no sound at all. She felt Regina’s aching muscles relax slightly, leaning back into the support of her cradling hand, before her lips parted. The graze of Regina’s teeth against her lower lip made Emma sigh gratefully.

The glimmer of flashlights and the chatter of more men arriving pulled them apart, but when they separated, Emma saw a shy blush in Regina’s cheeks that had never been there before. Her face was peach-pink and glowing, alight with a kind of joy that Emma was certain she hadn’t felt in a while, and somehow she knew this wasn’t just a moment of weakness in a strange, uncertain place. Regina had needed her – wanted her – and Emma hadn’t been needed or wanted in a long time.

She smiled tentatively and pushed the hair away from Regina’s warm cheeks.

“To be continued?” she asked. Regina smiled and nodded, her hand on Emma’s knee, holding on like she was willing her to never leave again.