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To Find Her Voice In The Silence

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White.

Everything was white when she opened her eyes. Not as bright white as it had been a moment ago when she was following her son’s voice in that strange place. No, here it was simply... white.

Regina blinked. Once. Twice. Her eyes felt dry. Her face hurt. There was this dull throbbing in her head. The feeling could almost be compared to having a really bad headache, but at the same time not quite. This was different. More intense.

Her throat hurt. Badly. It felt like it was constricting. Regina tried to clear it, but there was something in her mouth. Something preventing her from doing so. She tried to look down to see what it was, but the movement made her head hurt.

Pain.

It wasn’t just her throat and head that hurt. All of her did. Regina became aware of this persistent throbbing in her abdomen. Breathing hurt. It had to be because of her ribs. It couldn’t be anything else.

She blinked. Became aware that she was cross eyed. Why was she cross eyed? Did she have a concussion? Why? What had happened to her? And what was that thing in her mouth?

Regina slowly lifted her left hand- the only part of her body she could get to move right now- and brought it upwards to her mouth. She winced when she brushed against her upper lip by accident. Something hurt there. A cut or a bruise. She continued the journey upwards and was slightly disturbed when she came into contact with something plastic like sticking out of her mouth. A tube. Why is there a tube in her mouth? She tried to move her head again, but nothing happened. Her head hurt too badly to move. She felt dizzy when she tried. So she lied still. And waited. Tried not to panic when thinking about that strange tube sticking out of her mouth. Where was she? What had happened? And where was Henry? He was... God, Regina couldn’t remember where he was. Everything was so blurred.

She tried to remember what had happened, but she couldn’t. There was this big, blank space in her mind where her memories was supposed to be.

She had to try and focus on what she knew for sure.

Something had happened to her. Something that made her entire body hurt and feel like one big bruise. And it was really all of her. Even the space between her thighs ached. Regina tried to shift in the bed she was laying in. Tried to find a comfortable position, but she could not get comfortable. She was too confused. If only her head would stop hurt so she could think. She could not move much either.

Her body was too heavy.

Something flittered through her mind. Something about her head slamming into something repeatedly. But what? And why? A steering wheel, perhaps? Had she been in a car crash?

Judging by the way her body ached, it felt more like a plane crash.

Regina tried taking a deep breath without wincing. But breathing hurt. A lot. She still had double vision, and the more she became aware of herself, the more parts of her started hurting. Like her eyes.

They were throbbing. And there was something wrong with her left cheek too. It was thumping.

Her heart was thumping too. Rapidly. Regina could hear it. Boom-boom-boom. Boom-Boom-Boom. Blip-blip-blip. No, wait, that wasn’t her heart. With much trouble, she managed to turn her head. It made her nauseous, but it was worth it. Now she knew what caused the blipping sounds in the room. Some kind of machines. Monitoring something. Her? One of the machines was making a sound every time she took a breath. Was this thing helping her breathe? Why?

With much trouble, Regina managed to look down at her hand. There was something there too. Something sticking out of her hand. A needle. Regina believed that the correct term was ‘IV catheter’.

She tried shifting again. More throbbing followed. Throbbing in her head. Throbbing radiating from her ribs. And between her legs. Why did it hurt there? It didn’t make any sense. And why did it feel like her throat wasfull of flames? Burning. So terribly sore she could barely think about anything else.

Another faint ‘something’ flittered through Regina’s mind. Something about a staircase. Had she perhaps fallen down the stairs? No. No, she had been running up the stairs. Not down. Regina wasn’t the clumsy type. She didn’t trip on her way up the stairs. But she never ran up the stairs either. She was a walker. Not a runner. There had to have been a reason she had been running up the stairs, but what?

God, if only she could remember more!

Her entire body protested again as she turned her head once again. She could see a door. A white door. There was this muffled sound behind it. Voices, maybe?

Regina wanted to use her own voice. She wanted to call out and ask someone to please come in here and explain what had happened to her. But she couldn’t. Because there was a tube in her mouth.

Regina found it to become more and more irritating. She wanted it out of her mouth right now. So she did something unladylike. Tried to spit the blastered thing in her mouth out. She didn't succeed and just as well. She shouldn’t be spitting. Killian wouldn’t like that. Where was Killian? He should be here. She had been in an accident. He should be here. By her bedside. So why wasn’t he?

Things were making less and less sense to her. More than anything, she wished that she could rip the tube out of her mouth, sit up and get out of this bed. She didn’t like this. Felt unsafe. Was she starting to panic? Maybe.

Regina turned her head, looked back at the white, white ceiling. Her throat pulled tight, or so it felt. It hurt. The pain made tears well up in her sore eyes. Why were her eyes so sore? Regina found that she suddenly was capable of lifting her other hand. She brought it up to her face. Carefully touched the skin underneath her left eye. Ouch. It was all swollen and puffy. She winced. Whatever it was that had happened to her, had given her a right bang in the head.

She was thirsty. So thirsty. Her throat was dry, so dry. Maybe that was the reason why it hurt so bad. Or maybe it wasn’t. Surely, thirst couldn’t make the muscles contract this painfully, could it?

If only someone would come. Regina was scared of the beeping sounds from the machines. She was scared of her body and how she couldn’t get it to move or do her bidding. And mostly, she was scared of the tube in her throat that felt like it was going to choke her any moment.

Choke. Choke...

Something stirred in the back of Regina’s mind. Something she was certain was important, but she couldn’t seem to hold on to the memory. As soon as it had flittered past, it was gone again. Just like that. That scared her too. Regina had never suffered from amnesia or blackouts before. Maybe that was what had happened. Had she been driving and had a blackout? Crashed the car? Was she suffering from some mysterious, neurological condition?

Where was Henry?

Where was Killian?

Why wasn’t she surrounded by her family? Why was she all alone?

Was she.... Was she dying? Or was she perhaps already dead?

No. No don’t be silly, Regina. Of course she wasn’t dead. Dead wouldn’t be this painful. And her dad would have been waiting for her in some kind of way. She had to be alive. Alive but sore all over.

Terribly so. It felt a bit like flames every time she took a deep breath. Ouch. Her ribs were definitely more than bruised. They had to be broken. But how many of them? Regina couldn’t quite figure that out. All of them? No. No, not all of them. If that had been the case, she probably wouldn’t have been capable of breathing at all. And she was. Thankfully so.

Regina looked down at her left hand. She couldn’t look at the ceiling all the time. It was making the back of her neck hurt. And now that she was looking down at her hand, she suddenly noticed that her engagement ring seemed to be missing. There was a big, white spot where it normally sat. Why was her engagement ring gone? Killian wouldn’t like that. He wanted her to wear it all the time. But maybe he wouldn’t get so mad at her now that she was this sick. And he probably wouldn’t try to have sex with her either. Surely, her body wasn’t up for all that right now. Thank god. Regina was grateful.

Hopeful. This would definitely change things, right? When he came in and saw how ill she was, it would make him reflect and think about the things he had done to her. He’d change. He’d stop hitting her once and for all. He would finally find the right path and become the man he once had been. They would find the right path. This had to have happened for a reason. It had to be the turning point she had been waiting for.

Suddenly the white door was opened. The sound startled Regina and made her do something kind of involuntary jolt. She doesn’t like the sound it made when the door opened. But why? She couldn’t remember. And before she could make even the smallest attempt at holding onto the faint memory that flittered through her mind, Zelena stepped through the door. Regina might have had double vision, but she could see how tired her sister looked. There were deep dark circles under her eyes. Her normally so well-combed hair was unruly and bushy. She looked too pale. Zelena had always had a fair complexion, but this was a bit extreme. She looked exhausted. Regina was so confused. Zelena lived in Vancouver. Not in Montreal. Wasn’t Regina in Montreal right now? She had to be, right?

Regina was tired of not knowing of not having clue what was going on. She would get to the bottom of this once and for all. She’d ask her sister what the hell was going on. She lifted her right hand- she seemed to getting a little more control over herself- and brought it up to her mouth again. She found the plastic tube and wrapped her fingers around it with some trouble. Then she pulled. It hurt. And the tube didn’t move. She pulled again. A little harder. It sent jolts of pain through her throat, and it had her jerking violently on the bed.

The movement made Zelena look her way. She dropped something on the floor. Not something that could break, but Regina could hear liquid splatter onto the floor. Regina tugged at the tube again. It made her feel like she was choking. She just wanted it out of her mouth already, and she felt wave after wave of panic when she couldn’t. Her legs twitched underneath the blanket.

“No-no-no-no-no!” Zelena exclaimed, rushing to her side and grasping her hand, forcing her to let go of the tube. “Don’t pull at it, sweetie! The tube has to stay there!”

Regina blinked. To make her double vision go away, but also because she was confused. Sweetie? Since when did Zelena call her ‘sweetie’?

“Oh my god,” Zelena said thickly. “You’re awake! Thank god!” She squeezed Regina’s hand.

It didn’t feel good. Having her hand squeezed like that. It made Regina’s skin crawl, and she wiggled her hand until Zelena let go of it. Regina lifted her other hand and gestured to the tube in her mouth. Could Zelena please help her get it out? It made her throat hurt.

“I know the tube is irritating,” Zelena said gently. “But once Doctor Auburn comes to check on you, she might decide that you can be rid of it soon.”

Regina had no other option than to accept that. She probably shouldn’t try to yank it out of her mouth. She had a feeling that that would be idea. So she nodded and looked up at her sister. Right now, Zelena’s presence was a light in the darkness. The only thing that could comfort Regina right now. She was frightened, but she couldn’t remember why. And she was confused. The blank spaces in her memory made her anxious. The more she tried to remember, the more her head hurt. There was that flash of her head colliding with something. Slamming into something. Several times. But how? And why? God, there were so many things that didn’t make sense to her.

“I’m so relieved that you’re awake,” Zelena croaked. “I’ve been so... w-worried.” She sniffled, reached for Regina’s hand again.

Regina immediately jerked her hand away from the touch. The next second she was both shocked and appalled. Why? Why would she do that? Why would she not want her sister to hold her hand?

“Okay, it’s okay. I won’t touch you,” Zelena said. “I promise.”

There was so much pain in her voice when she said it. And not one bit surprise. Like she had expected Regina to react this way. Again, why? Why would she assume that Regina didn’t want to be touched?

Why did she know that Regina didn’t want to be touched when Regina didn’t?

Regina lifted her head slightly. Tried to say something but couldn’t with the tube in her mouth. She had to find a different way to communicate. She lifted her arms and gestured to her mouth, hoping that Zelena would understand what she was trying to say.

And Zelena did. “Hold on one second, little sis,” she said gently and reached down. Regina heard her fidget with something. There was a scratching sound of a zipper being tugged at. The sound made
Regina’s insides curl in on themselves. It reminded her of... something. The sound of the zipper intensified in her mind. Was the sound followed by another? A tearing sound. Fabric being torn apart. It didn’t make sense. Regina couldn’t hold on to the memory. It escaped her when Zelena presented her with something. A sheet of paper and a pencil. “Do you think you can write on this?” she asked gently.

Regina honestly wasn’t sure. Her hands trembled when she held on to the sheet of paper, and the pencil kept slipping between her fingers. Her usually neat handwriting looked like a right mess, but she still managed to write down a single word on the paper. ‘Henry?’. Nothing was more important than finding out where her son was. She tapped the sheet of paper and turned her head with some trouble to look at Zelena.

“Henry is here, sweetie,” Zelena said softly. “Do you want to see him?”

Regina shook her head. Not yet. Not when she was this confused and out of it. She raised the pencil again and scribbled another question underneath the first one: ‘Hospital?’

“Yes, sweetie. Hospital. In Toronto.” Zelena confirmed and was clearly biting her lip to hold her emotions back.

Regina frowned. Toronto? How did she get here? She lived in Montreal. Toronto was far away. She wrote another question. ‘How long?’. God, her handwriting looked awful!

“You’ve been here for a week. You’ve been.... You’ve been asleep. You were airlifted here.”

Regina was shocked. Airlifted?! A week?! She had been here for a week?! Why?! Her handwriting was getting worse and worse as she scribbled another question, but she needed answers: ‘accident?’

“I...” Zelena sniffled. “No. No, it wasn’t an accident, honey. Something bad happened, but it wasn’t an accident.”

Okay, now Regina was really confused. It was like the certainty that it wasn’t an accident, tickled something in the back of her mind. Something that refused to come to light. And it was making her dizzy, thinking about it. She had to focus on something else. And with the way her head throbbed, it wasn’t all that difficult. She scribbled again. ‘Head hurts. Concussion?’

“Yes, you have a concussion,” Zelena confirmed. “A pretty bad one, but the doctor says that you’re going to be okay.”

Okay. The pain in her head will stop. That was good. What about the rest of her then? ‘Throat hurts bad. Tube out please.’. Thinking about the intense, throbbing sensation in her throat all the more painful.

“The doctor will come in soon and check up on you. Then the tube will come out, I promise,” Zelena soothed.

Regina wasn’t satisfied. ‘Thirsty!!’. So, so thirsty. Her throat was all parched.

“As soon as the tube will come out you can have a little water,” Zelena promised.

Not exactly the answer Regina had hoped for, but she would take it. And she had another question for her sister now. ‘Killian here?’

Zelena’s features immediately darkened, and she appeared to be holding something else back as she said: “no, sweetie. No. He’s not here.”

The dismissive tone confused Regina and made her feel hurt. Why wasn’t her fiancé here? When she was this banged up? He should be. So why wasn’t he? The confusion made tears well up in her eyes and spill onto her cheeks and there was this ragged sound that could have been a sob if the tube hadn’t been in her mouth.

“Oh, sweetie, it’s going to be okay,” Zelena assured, reaching for her hand again, but once again, Regina jerked away from the touch. It wasn’t okay. Something was wrong, and she could feel it. It had to be something serious, but she was running out of options. She grasped the pencil and sheet of paper and began writing again. The pencil shook in her hand, and the words seemed to be all over the page, but she still managed to send her question into the universe. Meaning Zelena. ‘Am I going to die?’. Regina could think of no other reason why Zelena looked like that. What else could possibly have happened?

“No!” Zelena yelped as soon as she had read the question. “No, no, no, no! God, no! You’re going to be fine, do you hear me? Absolutely fine. You are NOT going to die!” she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.

Regina immediately breathed a little easier. She wasn’t going to die. That was a relief. But something was still wrong. She could feel it. Maybe... Maybe she would feel better once the tube had been removed from her throat. She took a deep breath and felt how it stung. That prompted another question. ‘Breathing hurts. Broken ribs?’

“Yes, you have some broken ribs,” Zelena said with a slight sniffle. “But they’ve been wrapped up tightly. They’ll heal. You just have to take it easy for a while.”

Regina nodded, and the movement made a spot on her shoulder ache. She closed her eyes and managed to hold onto a memory that flittered through her mind. Her shoulders being grabbed too tightly by strong hands. She must have a bruise there. But who grabbed her? And why? Her head hurt, but she was determined to hold onto whatever next flittered through her mind. Ritsj-ritsj. Material being torn apart. Clothes. Clothes being torn. Her... blouse? Yes. If she concentrated, Regina could see the buttons fly everywhere.

“Sweetie?” Zelena asked gently. “Can you tell me what you’re thinking about right now?”

No, Regina could not. But she could write it. And she did. ‘My blouse was ripped apart. The buttons landed on the floor.’

“Oh god,” Zelena said wetly. “Regina...”

Maybe she was saying something more, but Regina couldn’t seem to concentrate on it. She kept thinking about the ruined blouse. It had been ripped apart. Into two halves and then roughly thrown onto the floor. Her bra had been... red? Yes. Red. She had been wearing her new bra. The lace one that Killian had instructed her to choose. That had been a nice bra. What had happened to it? Had that been torn apart too? That would be a shame. Such fine material. Like her blouse. That had been silk. Silk wasn’t meant to be torn apart like that.

“I’m gonna send for the doctor, okay?” Zelena said gently, leaning forward and pressing a red button above Regina’s bed. “Maybe she'll get that nasty tube out of your mouth so you can have something to drink.”

Regina nodded eagerly. She really was very thirsty.

It didn’t take long before a doctor came into the room. She was tall. Had coiffed hair. Smiled at her. Regina couldn’t return the smile.

“Hello, Regina, I am Doctor Auburn,” she softly greeted her. “It’s good to see you awake. How are we feeling?”

Regina lifted a hand and gestured to the tube in her mouth. She wanted it out. Looked pleadingly up at the doctor.

“I know that the tube is very annoying,” Doctor Auburn said. “But we have to be sure you can breathe on your own before we remove it.”

Regina might be frowning a little bit. She COULD breathe on her own. And when that horrible tube was removed from her throat, she was gonna prove it!

“My sister is very thirsty,” Zelena interjected. “I think she’d like some water.”

Regina nodded in approval, tapping her throat slightly. It hurt so badly. The tube in it was making it hurt.

“And her throat is quite sore,” Zelena added.

“I understand. We’ll be running a few tests, and if everything looks good, we’ll remove the tube,” Doctor Auburn assured and smiled at her. “I’ll pop by in a moment. It really is good to see you awake, Regina.”

Regina supposed she would have to settle with that. She nodded vaguely, looked at the white ceiling again. The torn blouse haunted her. There was something about that blouse. She knew that clothes sometimes would have to be cut away to treat a patient, but her blouse hadn’t been cut with a scissor. It had been ripped apart. She remembered that. All the pearl buttons scattered across the floor. The... the bedroom floor. Back in Montreal. Another flash of something in her mind. So brief, but still there. She couldn’t hold on to it. She tried, but it was impossible. She was too tired. Too sore. Too... everything. But maybe when the horrible tube was gone, she would be able to concentrate and string thoughts together. For now, she settled for looking up at the ceiling.

“Are you sure you don’t want to see Henry?” Zelena asked gently. “He’s right outside with Chad.”

Regina shook her head. No, she didn’t want to see Henry. Not like this. Not when there was a tube sticking out of her mouth. She didn’t want to scare her son.

“I promised I would tell him as soon as you woke up,” Zelena continued. “Are you gonna be okay on your own for two minutes?”

Regina nodded. Yes. At least she thought so.

 

Getting the tube out of her mouth was exactly as uncomfortable as she had seen on “Grey’s Anatomy”. Doctor Auburn conducted her tests, and determined that Regina was capable of breathing on her own. The tube was pulled out of her mouth. Doctor Auburn was being very gentle, but it still felt extremely painful. Regina refused to let Zelena hold her hand and opted for squeezing the sheet instead.

Her throat burned and tightened. Tears sprung to Regina’s eyes. Tears of pain and relief when the tube finally was out of her mouth. She was asked to take deep breaths to prove that she could breathe on her own. And even though it was difficult, she did it. The tube was then replaced with a nasal cannula to give her lungs ‘a bit of extra help’.

“That’s better, isn’t it, Regina?” Doctor Auburn said kindly. “You did very well.”

Regina opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out of her mouth. Not even a whisper. She could feel her eyes widen and her hand instantly went to her throat. Why couldn’t she talk?!

“It’s because you’ve been intubated for so long,” Doctor Auburn soothed. “And because of the pressure on your windpipes. It’s only temporarily. Don’t you worry.”

Regina nodded. But she did worry. And wonder. Pressure on her windpipes? What pressure?

Doctor Auburn left her room, and Zelena moved her chair a little closer to Regina’s bed. “Are you sure you don’t want to see Henry, sweetie?”

Regina shook her head. She still felt out of it. Beside herself. The fog in her head had to clear before she could see her son. The loose ends had to come together. She needed clarity.

“Alright. It’s your decision,” Zelena said gently.

Regina licked her dry lips. Pointed to the word ‘water’ on the sheet of paper. Her throat was dry as sandpaper.

“Of course,” Zelena said, standing from the chair. “I’ll find you something to drink. I’ll be right back. Do you feel okay?”

Regina nodded. She felt... okay. Sore. Tired. But a kind of okay.

Zelena stood from her chair and left the room. Regina could hear the clack-clack-clack of her high heeled shoes as she disappeared down the hallway. Regina was alone in the room. Alone and confused.

It was like she was missing some major point. It was like everyone knew something except her. Regina could see it in their eyes. In Doctor Auburn’s eyes. In Zelena’s. The nurses. There was something wrong. Had she lost a limb or something? Regina carefully lifted one arm. Then the other. Then her left leg. A bit weak. But definitely still there. Same for her right leg. She had all her limbs still. And she wasn’t going to die. Henry was fine too. He hadn’t been involved in whatever accident she had been in. Then what could it be? What had happened to her that was so terrible no one wanted to tell her?

A door slammed somewhere down the hallway, and the sound made Regina jolt. It sent echoes right through her. A slamming door. She closed her eyes tightly. Saw her bedroom door back in Montreal.

Saw herself slam it shut and lean against it.

And that was when she remembered.

REMEMBERED.

It all came back to her. Not in flashes, but in red, hot angry waves that left her gasping for breath. She remembered her decision about finally leaving Killian. He had done the impossible. He had
threatened the only thing that truly mattered in this world. Her son. Her little prince. She remembered arranging that Henry went to Zelena’s place. She remembered saying goodbye to him. She remembered that he was excited about staying at his aunt. Chad came and picked him up so they could fly back to Toronto together. Regina remembered that she had considered going with them then and there, but she had dropped it because she wanted to pack her belongings. Photo albums. It had seemed important at the time. Making sure that Killian didn’t get his hands on anymore of her memories.

She remembered that she had stuffed a suitcase full of clothes. Her palms had been sweaty. And then Killian had come home. Earlier than expected, but in a good mood. Ironically enough. Somehow, that had encouraged Regina. She had thought that maybe this was the time she finally would get through to him once and for all.

She had told him that it was over. That she wished to break the engagement.

He had gone ballistic. Had grabbed her wrist too tightly and screamed in her face. Then he hit her. Again. And again. The memory was sharp in Regina’s mind. She could hear herself scream. Stop it, stop it, stop it, you’re hurting me! He hadn’t stopped. Instead he used his fists. Grabbed the back of her neck and slammed her head into a wall. It had been a blitz attack, and at first Regina had been more surprised than scared, really. He had never done that before. Stars were exploding behind her eyes. She had been on the brink of passing out, and he had taken advantage of that. He had grabbed her around the throat. Squeezed. Hard. Regina had hacked and coughed. Still reeling from having her head slammed into the wall. But then the survival instinct had kicked in. She had punched back. Had hit him square in the face, and poetically enough, her engagement ring had caught. His cheek had started bleeding, and he had roared like a wounded animal and grabbed his bloodied cheek. Regina had seen an opportunity. She had run. Up the stairs instead of out through the front door. She hadn’t... been thinking. She had locked the door and pushed her suitcase in front of it to barricade it. She had called the police.

He's going to kill me!

That was what she had screamed into the phone when someone answered. And the only thing she had gotten the chance to say before the door was kicked open. The suitcase had been sent flying into the nearest wall, and Killian came charging in. He grabbed her. Twisted her arm. Slammed her head into the wall again. And again. Lights popping behind her eyes. Star lights.

His voice in her ear. ‘You fucking bitch! I’ll make you regret you were ever born!’. He spun her around and ripped her blouse open. Buttons were flying onto the floor. The blouse were yanked off of her body. He pushed her onto the floor. Ripped her shirt off of her with one hand and opened his pants with the other. Yanked her underwear down and forced her legs apart.

Then he was above her. Inside her. He was hard. Of course he was. Hurting her was what he enjoyed most. The tearing pain had been excruciating. The feeling of blood trickling down her legs.

He was weighing her down. Groping her too roughly.

Fingers digging into the soft skin on her hips. The same very spot he once upon a time had kissed so gently.

Regina had screamed. He had been spurred on by this. Groaning and moaning and breathing insults in her ear. ‘You like this, you stupid bitch? This drives you wild, doesn’t it? Oh yes, just keep screaming, babe. No one’s around to hear you!’. Regina had switched tactic to pleading instead. Begged him to leave her alone. And she had fought like hell! He had held her down, but there had been a moment of weakness where his grip went slack and his moans and groans more guttural. That’s when Regina had struck. She had hiked her knee up and slammed it right into his ribcage. Killian roared and tumbled off of her. Regina had tried to get on her feet, but she was weak. Bleeding between her legs. Bleeding from her lip where he had hit her. And it didn’t take long before Killian had recovered.

He had kicked her. In the ribs. Regina had wheezed and nearly vomited from the burning pain in her ribs and between her legs. She had been too weak to fight back.

Killian had grabbed her by the hair. Yanked her up and forced her back on her feet. The bedroom had blurred completely before her eyes.

I’m tired of listening to your bullshit, you stupid, ugly bitch! I’m gonna make sure you’ll stay silent forever!’

That’s what he had hissed in her ear. Regina had felt something cool around her neck. Leather. A belt. She had barely registered it before Killian started to tighten it around her neck.

Tighter and tighter.

Regina had clawed and clawed at the belt. She had fought to breathe, but the oxygen was leaving her quickly. The fighter instinct was leaving her. She started to become numb. Suddenly she was no longer in the bedroom with the belt around her neck. She was walking down the street with Henry by her side. The sun was shining, and they were eating ice cream and talking and laughing.

I love you, Henry.

I love you too, mom!

This was the end. She was going to die at the hands of Killian Jones. A man she once had loved. The prince turned monster. The bedroom started to blur before her eyes.

Bang! A door being slammed open.

‘Police! Let her go!’

Regina couldn’t remember anything past that. And suddenly she was back in the hospital room. Back in the bed. She was trembling. When had she started to tremble? Her body had moved on its own accord. Her knees had been drawn up to her chest. She had curled up in a tight ball. A tight, shaking ball. Rocking back and forward, back and forward.

How was she alive? How?

The door to her hospital room was opened. The sound had Regina jolting again. Tears sprung in her eyes and she hugged herself tighter. Couldn’t stop shaking. Was that him coming back for her? Coming back to finish what he’d started? Coming back to rape her again...

“Regina?”

It wasn’t him. It was Zelena. And she would never hurt her. Deep down, Regina knew that, but right now she couldn’t stop thinking about the sound it made when Killian kicked the door down and came for her. She was back on the bedroom floor. Back to fighting for her life while he was on top of her. The breath hitched in her burning throat. Every inch of her was still trembling.

“Regina? Sweetie?”

Even if the tube hadn’t left her unable to speak, Regina couldn’t have answered. She felt completely raw. Afraid. Aching. And at the same unable to fully grasp it. That she had... That she had been beaten by Killian.

The very same man she once upon a time had given her heart to.

And he had promised to keep it safe.

He had promised...

“Regina?”

A hand was put on her shoulder. Very gently, but every last memory about having been hit by Killian flared up within Regina and she squirmed away from the touch so abruptly she nearly fell out of bed.

No one could touch her! Never again!

“Oh god....” Zelena’s voice was thick with emotion. “You remember, don’t you?”

Regina released a ragged breath. Body shaking worse than ever. She could feel him all over her. Groping and hurting her. She could feel the belt tighten around her neck, and she made a sound that could have been a dry heave. Or a gag. By now, her rocking back and forward was making her dizzy.

“Regina! Regina, listen to me,” Zelena said. “He’ll never be able to hurt you again! Not ever!”

That might be the case, but it was too late. Regina wanted to tell her sister that. He already had hurt her. He had said that he was going to kill her. And in many ways, he had. A piece of her had died that night in the bedroom. The very last shred of hope and optimism. The last echo of the wide eyed girl she once had been. The wide eyed girl who still believed that love could conquer everything.

She had been wrong. So, so very wrong! Her mistake had cost her everything. She would never trust anyone ever again.

She wanted the earth to open up and swallow her whole. She wanted to disappear forever.

She wished that she never had woken up.

Because how could she possibly live with this?

She would never be the same person ever again.

It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to breathe. She was wound tight. Rocking back and forward as the phantom belt kept tightening and tightening around her throat. He was here in the hospital room with her. Grinning menacingly at her as he slowly choked the life out of her with the belt.

The world shifted. Killian’s shadow disappeared from the room, but the belt was still very much around her neck. She wasn’t rocking back and forward anymore. She was thrashing in the bed, clawing at her throat, puncturing the skin with her fingernails, but barely registering the pain. She had to get the belt off! Had to get it off, had to get it off, had to get it off... She was screaming, but not a sound was coming out of her mouth.

The machinery monitoring her heartbeat and pulse was beeping loudly.

Regina was vaguely aware that Zelena had jumped to her feet and was now slamming her finger down on the red alarm button again and again whilst yelling for help. ‘She’s going into shock, she’s going into shock!’

The door was slammed open again. Doctor Auburn stormed into the room followed by two nurses. She was calling out for Regina. Asking her to ‘stay’ with her. To listen to her.

But Regina couldn’t stay. Couldn’t listen. She had to get the belt off her neck! She was choking! Why couldn’t anyone see that?! Why weren’t they helping her?!

Someone took her arm, and Regina saw her own leg kick upwards. He was holding her down again! He was going to kill her! She had to fight back! She had to do something! Anything!

A sharp pricking in her arm. Zelena’s face became sharp in her vision for a moment. She was talking. ‘It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay!’.

Regina couldn’t fight. Something was making her feel heavy. But at the same time it was becoming easier to breathe. The belt loosened around her neck.

Zelena took her hand, and this time Regina didn’t protest. She recognized her sister’s hand. And her voice. ‘It’s okay, sweetie. It’s gone now. You can breathe now.’

And she could. Regina understood that someone had loosened the belt and removed it from her throat. Thank god. The machinery next to her stopped beeping. The voices around her grew muffled. She felt Zelena’s hand on her forehead. Brushing her hair away like Regina was a little girl. The blanket was being tugged up past her shoulders. Zelena again. She was talking. ‘Get some rest, honey. I’ll stay right here. I’m not going anywhere, I promise. I’m so sorry, Regina. I am so, so sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me the most! I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you!’

Protect her? From what? What was Zelena talking about? Regina didn’t know. The warm, pleasant feeling in her body overshadowed everything else. She felt heavy. Sleepy. Her eyelids drooped. She had to surrender to the feeling.

Then nothing. Absolutely nothing. Blessed nothing.

 

To Be Continued.........

Chapter Text

And was that the first time he forced himself upon you, miss Mills?

The question has been rummaging in her head ever since the female detective had asked it.
In the moment, Regina had not been able to answer it. Not physically, nor emotionally. Her head had been full of images of him ripping her blouse, tearing her skirt and forcing her onto the floor. Forcing himself inside her. She had gone numb. Had completely disappeared from the situation in an attempt to protect herself. Zelena had sternly ordered the two police officers to leave, and then she had sent for a nurse to Regina. The nurse had given Regina a glass of water and firmly stated that she needed rest.

Rest. That was all Regina had done during her time in the hospital in Toronto She had been transferred to a different ward a week ago. A less... serious ward with fewer machines that beeped away. She was going to get a surgery. One that possibly could restore her voice. The hospital here in Toronto specialized in that particular type of surgery.

Regina reached up and tried to touch her throat, but her fingers started trembling the moment they got close to her skin. She couldn’t touch it. Not yet. There were so many things she couldn’t do. She couldn’t handle the sound of a door being slammed. She couldn’t handle people touching her. Not even Henry. In the first week after she drifted back to the world, he had been told that he could not hug her because she was too frail.

That was a lie. He couldn’t hug her because the idea of feeling someone’s arms around had sent surges of panic through her. He had been forced to settle for patting her hand. And even now he had to ask her first.

And he always did. ‘I’m gonna give you a hug now, mom. Is that okay?’.

The answer was always yes.

Regina had learned to hug her son, but she was so far from the woman she once had been. She couldn’t wear skirts either. She didn’t feel safe in them anymore. Or in the tightly fitted blouses she once so favored. They would only show off her body. And that was something Regina never wanted to do. Never again. Her body didn’t feel like hers anymore. It felt dirty and soiled and wrong.

Was that the first time he forced himself upon you, miss Mills?

That question again. Regina swallowed thickly. Perhaps she had no choice but to think about it. God knows she didn’t want to. But what other choice did she have? It would only keep haunting her if she didn’t.

Regina sat down on the edge of her hospital bed. Looked down at the washed out grey sweatpants she was wearing and her bare feet. The question felt sharp. Had these dull edges that kept digging into her brain. She took another deep breath and pressed a palm harshly against her forehead as she fully allowed the question to enter her mind.

Was that the first time he forced himself upon you, miss Mills?

Well... was it? Regina’s breath hitched as the memories from the night she couldn’t forget entered her mind. He had forced himself upon her that night. No question about it. She had been... she had been raped that night. But had she been raped by him before?

Regina thought back. Really thought back. At first her ex-fiancé had been gentle with her in the bedroom. He really had. At first, he had been making love to her.

And then he had not.

Then it had changed. He had become...rougher. She hadn’t minded that at the time. It hadn’t been forced on her. But the way he later started grabbing her throat was not something she had given her consent to.

And then there was those other nights....

‘I’ve had such a hard day at work, but I know what could make it better...’

‘Today has been so stressful for me. You want to help make it better, don’t you?’

‘Come on, Regina, that skirt’s been teasin’ me all night....’

‘Don’t pretend you don’t want this, babe. Why else would you be wearing that tight blouse?’

‘We both know that you want this!’

‘You really gonna play coy with me now? After all those looks you’ve been giving me all night long? I don’t think so.’

‘So, you mean to tell me that you bought that underwear for no reason?’

‘Say it, babe! Say how much you like this!’

‘Seriously, Regina, I’m not asking for that much.... Just a little one-on-one time with my fiancé. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? There’s no point in me going to bed angry, babe. You know how I get the next morning. We should end this night on a happy note, darlin’...’

There had been coaxing. Prompting. Nagging. Even begging.

In the very beginning, there had been Regina laughing as she undid her skirt and teased him with how he couldn’t get enough of her. She had felt so desired. So wanted. She was doing this to this handsome man. She was the one driving him this mad. But then things had shifted. She had gone from feeling desired and wanted to feeling... used. His arms around her had sent shivers down her spine, but not for good reasons anymore. There had been nights where she had removed her pajamas and underwear just to get him to stop nagging him. Some nights she had seen the good in his initiation. When he spent a bit longer on her breasts. But on most of the nights, it had been about him. His pleasure. His release. She had been there only for him. It didn’t help that he had praised her body while he thrusted inside her. The way he had talked about her body parts and what he wanted to do to them had made her feel like anything but his fiancé.

There had been nights where she had told him that she had a headache. Or didn’t feel so good. He always had an answer. ‘Sex relieves headache, babe’. Or: ‘you’ll feel so much better when I...’. But it was the memory of one particular night that haunted her right now. Killian had arrived back home after a long shift at the station. They had talked in bed for a couple of minutes before Regina had switched off the bedside lamp like she always did before going to bed. Killian’s hand had wandered in between her thighs. He had given her pajama bottoms a tug that almost had sent them halfway down her legs.

Regina too had had a long day teaching. She hadn’t been in the mood for sex. So she had told him that she was tired and wanted to sleep. His answer was one she would never forget.

‘Oh, come on, babe. Don’t be like that. Let’s end this night on a happy note, aye? Wouldn’t want to risk waking up in the middle of the night to a surprise, would you?’. The line had been delivered with a laugh, but now Regina couldn’t stop thinking about it. Supposed she had kept denying him that night? What would have happened then? Would she have woken up to him on top of her, inside of her, taking what he wanted regardless of whether SHW wanted it or not? Had it even mattered to him whether her answer were yes or no?

No. It hadn’t. Maybe she hadn’t uttered the word ‘no’, but the ‘no’ would still have been obvious on her face. And body. Every time he complained that she was ‘hard work’ was because she wasn’t wet enough for sex.

Sex. Regina’s mouth felt dry and her throat tight. What had happened in the bedroom with Killian had had nothing to do with sex. Or consent. Her saying no to him wouldn’t have changed the outcome one bit. He would have taken her regardless. Like he had taken her that horrible night. The night she had been raped.

And was that the first time he forced himself upon you, miss Mills?

No. No, it was not. Killian had forced himself upon her many, many times before.

He had just gaslighted her into believing that he hadn’t.
All the coaxing.

The convincing.

The coercion.

The ‘come on, babe’s’.

The ‘I know you want this’.

The vague threats about going to bed unhappy. Waking up unhappy. He hadn’t directly threatened her with a beating. He hadn’t needed to. It had all been there between the lines.

When Killian ‘woke up unhappy’, it often meant slaps. A bloodied nose. A black eye. Evidence she had to hide so her son didn’t get worried.

The two years with Killian Jones had been lesson after lesson in stripped modesty and mortification. It had been his hand pressing just a little too tightly against her lower back if she accidentally looked at man for too long. It had been assuring him that she was wearing pretty dresses or slightly snug skirts for him and only for him. No other answer existed in his world. The one time she had told him that she was wearing it for herself because she wanted to feel beautiful, he had slapped her hard and accused her of having an affair. The only thing convincing him of the opposite had been sex. Regina had been on her knees for him, right there in the kitchen. Her knees had been scraped and red and achy the next morning, and she had been sore all over. That was the first time he had weaponized sex. The first time he had used it against her. A way to ‘soften’ him. Regina had been so overwhelmed by the argument that she had been prepared to do anything. Anything at all.

The pain in her throat came back. The phantom pain between her thighs too. Her skin crawled, and Regina just wanted to rip it off. She felt horrible. Her body felt horrible. Dirty and soiled and marked by him. Every last inch of it. It wasn’t even her body. It was his. Had been from the moment she met him, and it still was. She belonged to him. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t here or behind bars. She could still see him. Out of the corner of her eye. He was hiding in the shadows. Smirking at her. Telling her that she would never be free.

Regina wanted to leave her body. To make it stop hurting so much. The realization of how much she’d been hurt by him hit her like a freight train. Everything was tainted. False. The things he whispered in her ear. The way he kissed her skin. Every last compliment had an echo of threat to it now. What she hoped would be her greatest love story had turned into a nightmare. One that she would never wake up from. This was her life now.

Regina slowly rose from the bed and walked over to the window. Cracked it open. A breeze hit her skin, but it didn’t make it any easier to breathe. She looked down at the ground. It was a long way down from the sixth floor where her hospital room was. The cars were nothing but tiny dots on the ground.

What would happen if she too was a tiny dot on the ground? If she let herself fall out of the open window? Fly towards the ground. She would be dead in an instant. Wouldn’t even feel it when she landed.

For the first time in her life, Regina thought about ending it. Killing herself. Because how was she supposed to live with this? With this body that didn’t belong to her. With this, horrible, dirty thing he’d had his hands all over. With this mind overflowing with every horrible thing Killian ever did to her. And this heart which laid shattered to sharp little pieces in her chest. How was she supposed to go on, knowing that this would haunt her for the rest of her life? Killian was the villain, but Regina was the one in the prison. A silent, horrible prison she never could escape from. Unless she climbed over the window sill and let herself fall. She would be free then. No more memories. No more silence.

Regina pushed the window wide open and put her hands on the window sill. It would be so easy. Just one tiny movement. With her body mostly recovered from the attack, she was still fairly agile. She could be out of the window in the blink of an eye. No one would notice. Not until it was too late anyway.

She looked down. Such a long way.

Maybe she would in fact be dead before her body hit the ground. Maybe the fall alone would kill her. Her shattered heart started beating weakly in her chest. Suppose she really did it? Jumped.

Disappeared out of the window before no one could see her. That would be the easy part. The hard part would be afterwards. What WAS the afterwards? Was there even an afterwards? Would she go somewhere to be free, or would she simply... stop?

Regina wasn’t sure. She had never thought about it until now. Until this very moment where she considered to jump out of the window and end things once and for all.

She heard some kind of faint sound behind her, but she didn’t turn around to see what it was. This was a hospital, after all. There were all kind of noises in the hospital.

“Oh my god!”

Regina stiffened with her hands firmly planted on the windowsill and her upper-body halfway out of the window. Zelena was standing right behind her. Zelena saw her like this. There was no jumping the conclusion. Because this was exactly what it looked like. Her breath hitched. This was all wrong. No one was supposed to see her. She closed her eyes, half expecting Zelena to rush over here and yank her away from the window. That was how most people would react, was it not?

But that didn’t happen. Instead Zelena just uttered a single word. Quiet in the hospital room, but oh, so loud in Regina’s ears. “Henry.”

Regina’s breath hitched again, and everything seemed to slow down at the mention of her beloved son’s name. For a moment she feared that he was in here with Zelena, but then she would have heard him. He would have asked her what she was doing.

“I’m begging you, please think of Henry,” Zelena said quietly, thickly, and now Regina heard her approach her from behind. “He nearly lost you once, and he was absolutely distraught. What do you think would happen to him if he lost you for real? You are his whole world, Regina. His everything. You can’t do this to him.” She sniffled. “Sweetie, I know everything is terrible right now. I know how much you’re hurting, but you didn’t survive that night to jump out of the window now! You s-still have so much to live for! Henry needs you! I need you! How do you think I would feel if you suddenly went away? I would never ever be the same person again.” Zelena took a breath. “Who’s gonna read comic books with Henry if you’re not here? Eat pizza on Friday nights? Watch Disney movies? Watch him graduate and grow up? Become a grandmother to his kids? Who’s the person he’s gonna come to first if you’re not here?”

A ragged breath escaped Regina. She was. She was the one who was supposed to read comic books with Henry. And watch Disney movies. Eat pizza and ice cream. Share a bowl of popcorn. Kiss him goodnight. Walk him to school. Watch him grow into a young man. See him create a family of his own.

What was she thinking? Was she really considering to disappear from her son’s life?! What had she imagined? That her little prince was to grow up without her being around?

No!

She couldn’t do this to him. To any of them. Her decision would influence everyone. Henry and Zelena. The two people she cared most about in this world. Of course she couldn’t do this to them. How selfish she had been. The idea of Zelena having to tell Henry that she was dead was enough to make her feel nauseous and faint.

She felt gentle fingers on her wrist. Zelena’s voice close to her ear. “I’m begging you, please step away from the window. Don’t do this. Please.”

Regina immediately turned around. Turned away from the window and faced her sister.

Zelena quickly took a step forward and enveloped Regina in a tight hug. Without letting her go, she guided her as far away from the window as they possibly could get. “I’m not letting you do this to yourself,” she whispered shakily. “I’m gonna get all the help there is in this world, and I’m gonna be here every fucking step of the way! I’m gonna sleep on the floor if that’s what it takes to make sure you
won’t ever hurt yourself.” She squeezed Regina a little tighter. “Please, please, promise me you won’t ever try and do this again!”

Regina nodded. Carefully wiggled out of her sister’s arms and grabbed the pen and paper that now permanently resided on her bedside table. She wrote only three words on the paper. ‘I need help.’

“I’ll be here. Every step of the way,” Zelena vowed.

But Regina shook her head. No, that was not what she meant. She wrote on the paper again. ‘I need professional help.’

“Okay,” Zelena said. “I’ll get you that, sis. I’ll get you the best therapist-“

But Regina interrupted her by shaking her head again. That was not enough either. She needed more. She took a shaky breath before writing on the paper again. ‘I need you to check me into the psychiatric ward as soon as possible.’ It was the only right thing to do, she knew that. Her thoughts about taking her life was gone for now, but she couldn’t be sure that they would not come back. What if they did? What if she once again lost herself in that ocean of darkness? And what if no one would come and stop her the next time? She couldn’t take the risk. No. She had to be surrounded by experts. Put on suicidal watch if that was what it took. Because she never would feel the way she felt a moment ago. She never again wanted to experience that feeling of intense desperation.

“If that is what you want, that is what I’ll do,” Zelena said hoarsely and gently took the paper from Regina.

Regina nodded once to give her confirmation. It was what she wanted. This was how it was going to be.

“Okay. I’ll arrange that you’ll be transferred,” Zelena said and swallowed thickly. “And we will get you help, okay? The best help possible! And you will beat this, do you hear me?” she squeezed Regina’s hands again.

Regina nodded again. Yes. She would beat this. For Henry’s sake. Because she owed it to him to fight with whatever tiny amount of strength she had left in her body. For Henry’s sake, she would work on piecing her heart back together so it could do its job properly. For him. For Henry.

Henry.

She turned her head and glanced towards the framed picture of him standing on her bedside table.

“You want to see Henry?” Zelena guessed.

Regina nodded wildly. Yes. More than anything, she needed to see her son.

“Okay.” Zelena took two steps backwards without turning around. She kept her eyes firmly locked at Regina as she backed up against the door. She didn’t even turn around to open the door. She just fumbled with the handle for a second, and still, without turning around and taking her eyes off Regina, she called into the hallway: “Henry, poppet, can you come in here? Your mom wants to see you!”

Regina felt so utterly guilty as she watched Zelena look at her. Once again, she had managed to make her sister worried. Because of a thought that popped into her head and had to live for a few seconds before she could effectively kill it. And now Zelena was scared to look away from Regina because she was afraid Regina would take the opportunity to jump out of the window.

The taste of bile filled Regina’s mouth, but before she could decide whether to leg it to the bathroom and throw up, she heard footsteps in the hallway, and then her son came inside the hospital room.

Her boy. Her beautiful, clever, wonderful son with the shaggy brown hair that needed a trim and those big, brown eyes he had inherited from her. Henry with his warm, trusting smile. He was her beacon of light. The thing that forever kept her grounded. And the reason she was so mortified right now, because how could she EVER have even CONSIDERED leaving him alone in this world? Become a high schooler without her? Graduate? Go to college? Get married and have children? She had considered to miss out on all those things. She had considered to permanently remove herself from her son’s world.
Change him for good. He would never have stopped asking why she had done it. And the answer... The answer would have been equally painful. Imagine if Zelena had to tell him that as well.

The reason why his mother committed suicide....

No!

Feeling mortified with herself, Regina raised a shaking hand and waved at Henry. Urging him closer.

He willingly trotted over to her. Flashed her one of those smiles that always went straight to her heart. Her heart felt less shattered when Henry smiled at her. It was still working.

“Hi, mom,” he said softly and sweetly. “How are you feeling?”

Mortified. Ashamed over herself. Afraid over her mind. Scared of what was waiting ahead. Scared of the possibility of the dark thoughts popping into her head again.

She didn’t tell him that. Instead she took him in her arms. Hugged him tightly. Kissed the top of his head. His cheeks, his forehead, the tip of his nose. He laughed and called her ‘silly’, but he made no attempt at getting away from her. That was how it had been like ever since she finally had learned that Henry’s hugs weren’t dangerous. That Henry’s hugs only were of the good in this world.

Henry returned the embrace. Wrapped his arms tightly around her waist and squeezed. Regina dropped another kiss on his hair. Ran her fingers through it until it became all messy. Until Henry laughed.

God, that was a beautiful sound! One that she for a moment had considered to rob herself of hearing again.

Regina glanced at Zelena over the top of Henry’s head. She made eye contact with her sister and soundlessly formed two words. ‘Never again’. It was not a promise she could make, she knew that. That was why she was getting help. That was why she knew she had to be admitted to the psychiatric ward where there were specialists that could help her. And for Henry’s sake, she would fight with everything she had in her to get better. He was her world. Her reason to live. He was the one she would focus all her attention on from now on. Her job was to ensure that the rest of Henry’s childhood would be a good one. A happy and safe one full of good memories. She would pour her heart and soul into being his mother. Dedicate herself completely to that. Everything came second.

She was his mother first.

It had been she and him ever since her belly started to swell. Her little prince.

Them against the world.

He was the one she would give all her love to.

Only him. The sole owner of her heart.

The only person she could trust her heart with.

Just the two of them, like it had been once before....

 

To Be Continued.......

Chapter Text

-Six months later-

Identity.

That was something Regina had thought a lot about in the months she was hospitalized. And she had reached the conclusion that she does not know who she is.

Well, one could argue that she DID know she was. She was Regina Mills.

But that was just a name. A title. Exactly like her former job as a professor was just a title. An image to present to the outside world.

Who was she on the inside? Who was she really?

Henry’s mother. Of course. The most important thing in the world.

That should be enough (it WOULD be enough!), but right now, she could only think of it as another title. Another thing she presents to the outside world. And while it is most certainly true on the inside too, there was still something niggling her. As much as she wanted her title as Henry’s mother to be enough, it was not.

She had lost something. A tiny piece of herself. Of her identity.

Who was she now? After the horrendous experiences, what was she supposed to be now? Her identity had been revolving around Killian. HIS fiancé. HIS future wife. Maybe she shouldn’t be asking herself who she is. Maybe she should ask WHAT she is. Ever since that night her identity has been floating somewhere. Nameless. Faceless. Voiceless.

Victim. Victim. Victim. Victim, victim, victim, victim, VICTIM.

The word grew louder and louder in Regina’s head until it felt like her inner voice was shouting. Wasn’t that what she was now? Victim of domestic abuse. Victim of sexual assault.

She’d heard doctors and nurses call her a victim. The police has called her a victim. Even Zelena has called her a victim. The label had been slapped on her and was as visible as the scar Killian left on her lip.

That scar would never go away. And neither would the label.

Regina looked at herself in the mirror. God knows that she looked like a victim. Dark circles underneath her eyes. Hollow cheeks. Plaster and bandage covering most of her throat. As soon as her mental health ‘improved’ as the doctor called it, and she was released from the psychiatric ward, the experts started working on her throat. The goal was to restore her voice. First with injections. They had to sedate her. The thought of anyone coming near her throat was enough to make her feel like she was choking. The injections did not work. Neither did the following operation. Regina wasn’t completely sure why. Something about the doctor having difficulties with repositioning her vocal cords. Something about her vocal cords being too damaged by the assault. There were talk about perhaps trying again in six months or so.

Regina had nodded. But deep down she knew that she would never let anyone come near her throat again. This was her life now. And she would just have to accept that. She could. As long as she focused all her attention on Henry rather than herself. Henry was what mattered the most.

Regina brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. Examined it more closely. Her hair was shorter than it had been before. Normally, she had curls that brushed the middle of her back, but she had not been able to run a brush through it without remembering how Killian had yanked at it. So she had begged Zelena to cut it for her.

Zelena had done so without asking twice. Scissors were not allowed in the psychiatric ward, but Zelena had gotten a special permission to bring a pair of scissors with her. And she had done a rather good job at cutting it.

Regina was not used to having her hair cut this short. But she would get used to it. Like so many other things.

Next, she examined the bandage covering her throat. It was ugly. All of her was. She looked terrible. Had lost so much weight recently. The liquid diet didn’t help the matter, but it was more than that.

Eating was painful for her. She’s been having pain in her throat for all the months she had been in the hospital. First pains after having a tube in her throat. Then phantom pains after the assault. But these were real pains. These were pains that could be soothed by medicine, and Regina was oddly grateful for that. She could feel. And more importantly, what she was feeling was REAL.

Unlike the pain she often felt between her legs. Often the muscles cramped so terribly it brought tears to her eyes and she had no choice but to curl up in bed.

‘Trauma’, the doctor told her. Such an ugly, ugly word to describe the excruciating pains Regina experienced. An ugly word to cover an ugly experience. How poetic.

Regina turned around, left the bathroom without feeling very refreshed after the shower she just had. She felt tired, so tired. It didn’t matter that she woke up from another nap ten minutes ago. She was still tired.

‘It’s because you just had an operation, sweetie’, Zelena claimed. Regina doubted it. The exhaustion was not because of anything physical. It was mentally. A tiredness in her very bones. The intense urge to wanting to sleep all the time. Depression, her doctor explained. Although she was ‘out of the woods’, she was still depressed, her doctor had told her. And Regina mostly wanted to scoff. Because she damn well knew that already. She did not need a doctor to tell her that she was depressed.

Regina squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Today she couldn’t get lost in her own head. Today she had to pick herself up. Because she was getting out of the hospital. At last. Today she was finally allowed to do something on her own. For someone who had been surrounded by doctors and nurses for five months, this was a huge thing. And a test. Regina wanted to prove to herself that she could handle meeting other people. Eventually, she HAD to, right? And taking the train from Toronto and all the way back to Vancouver seemed like a good way to start. Regina had already planned her trip. She would read as many books as possible. Text Henry nonstop. He was excited to have her back home at last.

But Henry was the only person she would text. And Zelena too of course. They were the only two people she could handle texting. Nobody else. She knew that Malena had tried to call her many, many times. And text. Regina couldn’t call back, but she had not returned any of the messages either. She couldn’t handle texting Malena. Zelena had cooked up some story, of course. Malena knew that Regina could not speak any longer, but the real reason remained a secret. Regina had made sure of that. Malena could never know. Nor Henry. He had been through more than enough in his young life. Finding out what Killian had done to her would absolutely crush him. So Regina had gone along on the story Zelena had cooked up. That she and Killian had been involved in a car accident. That that was how she got injured. How she lost her voice. Killian being sent to prison was explained away fairly simply. Drunk driving. It had been no secret that Killian liked a solid glass of rum, and now it had proved to be the perfect excuse. Henry had of course been angry at him for driving whilst drunk, and then he had declared that he ‘never wanted to talk about him again’.

That suited Regina just fine. She was more than willing to let Killian fade away.

Except he never would. Not really. She could always see him. Out of the corner of her eye. Standing behind her. Lurking in the shadows. Always grinning. Sometimes holding a belt in his hands. And in her dreams, he was always there. On top of her. Raping her. Choking her. Telling her to shut the hell up.

That’s what he had made her do. Permanently. He wanted her quiet, so he made it so. Voice gone. Like it had never been there. Perhaps Killian was in prison, but so was she. In ways that were more terrible than the way he was incarcerated.

Regina did not believe in the death penalty. She did not wish death upon anyone. Not even Killian Jones. She did not want his life to end. Instead she wanted to face him. Ask him why. One day when the thought of him didn’t make her want to vomit.

Regina blinked and tried to focus on the clothes that had been laid out on the bed for her. Black pencil skirt. Cream colored blouse. Nylon stockings. Black silk scarf. Normal clothes. Polar opposite of what she had been wearing the past five months. Regina looked down at herself. Looked at the checkered pajama bottoms and faded grey hoodie. There was a time where she would rather be caught dead than wear such a dreadful attire, but today it was the thought of the blouse and pencil skirt that made her heart thump painfully in her chest. The clothes were so... tight fitted. Too tight fitted. What if someone would look at her body? What if they would take it as an invitation? Follow her to the train’s bathroom and...

No!

Regina pressed a fist against her forehead and closed her eyes for a moment. She did not want to think like that. It was just clothes. Clothes she used to love. Clothes she could grow to love again if she allowed herself to. Yes. She could handle this. And her suitcase had already been packed. She did not have time to find a different outfit. Regina set her jaw and grabbed the clothes from the bed. Went back to the bathroom and lifted the hoodie. She tried to be as careful as possible as she tugged it over her head. The slightest brush of something, and her newly operated throat started to throb and hurt all over. She did not look at her upper body in her mirror either as the hoodie was discarded. She could not. Just slipped her arms through the sleeves of her blouse and buttoned it as quickly as she could.

Her fingers trembled, but apart from that she was okay. She could do this.

Next were the pajama pants. She quickly tugged those down and stepped out of them. Did not look at her body. Her body was a stranger to her. Not hers. Tried to avoid ripping the nylon stockings as she carefully slid them up her legs. The material felt strange and scratchy against her legs. Foreign. She had grown far too used to the soft material all her pajama bottoms were made of. This had to be the first thing on her to-do list. Getting accustomed to wear nylon stockings again.

She smoothened the stockings to ensure that they weren’t wrinkling anywhere and that she hadn’t accidentally ripped them. She hadn’t.

The next thing she did was slipping the pencil skirt up her legs. And it happened as soon as she did. The memory of Killian ripping her skirt, forcing it down her legs and then ripping her stockings and underwear. Forcing her legs apart. Forcing himself inside her. The burning sensation. The tear. The blood serving as a proof of how unprepared she had been.

Regina was shaking from top to toe as she stood there in front of the mirror. Her fingers never stopped tugging at the skirt. She was trying to force it down to cover her knees, but she couldn’t, and the feeling of the skirt against her legs made her throat close up and her heart thump in her chest. She was too accessible in a skirt. Anyone could get to her. Anyone could touch her if they wanted to. Her palms went damp and her breath ragged.

She couldn’t do this.

Her eyes welled up and fresh tears spilled onto her cheeks and ruined her makeup. She couldn’t stand looking at herself in the mirror. It looked like she was pretending. Pretending to be her old self even though she wasn’t. How could she possibly have thought that for?

Victim. Victim. Victim. Victim, victim, victim, VICTIM! VICTIM! VICTIM!

Her chest heaved. Her fingers pulled at the skirt. She coughed even though she wasn’t supposed to because of the wound in her throat. But how could she not cough when it felt like her throat was closing up?

“Regina? Regina is everything alright in there?”

That was Zelena coming to check on her like she had said she would. But Regina couldn’t answer her. She could just stand there and tug at the skirt whilst her heart felt like it was about to shatter against her ribcage.

Zelena didn’t like that. She found Regina’s silence concerning. Well, no, not her silence. Regina couldn’t be anything but silent now, but it was the lack of response that concerned Zelena, Regina knew that, but again, she could not react. The memories of that night burned in her brain. That night that turned her into a victim. Her body hurt. Every single part of it. From her toes that was twisted backwards when he knocked her over. To her hair he grabbed yanked harshly at. But it was the throbbing in her core that had her doubling over and dry heaving over the toilet. It was the memories of him on top of her, inside of her that had her ending up on the floor with one arm protectively wrapped around her abdomen and eyes staring blankly at the wall.

“Regina? Regina, I’m coming in!”

Of course. The door to the bathroom was not locked. Zelena didn’t like when Regina locked the door to the bathroom, so Regina did not. She wasn’t completely sure what Zelena imagined. That she would kill herself by drowning?

The door to the bathroom opened and Zelena came inside. She immediately crouched down next to where Regina was sitting. Grasped her hand. Voice radiating with concern as she asked: “honey? What happened?”

Such a simple question. Regina’s eyes welled up with tears again as she gestured with her free hand towards her skirt.

Zelena was quick to hand Regina her phone, and Regina tried to get her trembling fingers under control as she typed on it. It took longer than it normally would, but eventually she succeeded and could show her sister what she had written. ‘The skirt is too short.’. Nothing else. She couldn’t make her fingers write how exposed and vulnerable she felt. How the memories of Killian ripping her old skirt kept flaming up in her mind. How she could feel him inside her in this very moment.

“Oh, sweetie,” Zelena said softly, put the phone aside and gathered Regina in her arms as though she was a child needing consolation.

Regina certainly felt like a child. Zelena’s hugs suddenly reminded her of the rare hugs Cora Mills sometimes bestowed upon her.

A hug, a pat on the cheek. A ‘there, there’ followed by the assurance that everything was going to be okay. A band-aid on a scraped knee to stop the bleeding.

How did one stop a soul from bleeding?

What could you say when ‘there, there’ wasn’t enough anymore?

It was simple, really. You said nothing. You kept still. Kept hugging. Exactly like Zelena was right now. This was her version of a ‘there, there’. Regina appreciated it. Appreciated that she had a sister who was willing to sit down on a dirty bathroom floor with her.

“Do you want to wear something else?” Zelena asked gently.

It wasn’t about the skirt, and they both knew that, but Regina still shook her head.

“Are you certain, hun?”

She nodded. Yes, she was certain. Why should she change out of her skirt? She couldn’t. If she didn’t wear one today, she would never be able to again. She knew that in her gut. She would stick to wearing pants for the rest of her life.

“You deserve to wear a skirt, sweetie,” Zelena whispered. “You are allowed and entitled to.”

Regina nodded against the top of her sister’s shoulder. She suddenly felt a little better. Yes, she was allowed to wear a skirt. More than allowed. Why shouldn’t she? There was nothing wrong with this skirt. It was not too short. Not even the slightest bit. And she was sitting on a dirty bathroom floor. She shifted a little.

Zelena did too. There was a worried little crease between her eyes. She carefully scanned Regina’s face, and Regina immediately felt guilty for having worried her sister again. She flashed Zelena a little smile and then extended a hand out, indicating that she wanted to get up from the bathroom floor. Zelena immediately took the hint and helped her up.

Regina was on her feet again. Looked at her reflection in the mirror once more. Her cheeks were a little blotchy, but apart from that she looked okay. Except for the bandage covering her throat, but fortunately enough, that was something that could be rectified. She looked down at her exposed legs. Her skirt was not too short. Her skirt was the exact same length as it always was. And she wanted to wear it. Simply because she had to. She had to do this. Exactly like she had to take the train back to Vancouver on her own. To prove that she was still in here. That she wasn’t just an empty shell walking around. She brushed a hand over her blouse and skirt.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Zelena asked as though she could read Regina’s thoughts.

Regina nodded without fully knowing whether Zelena was referring to the skirt or train ride, but she quickly found out when Zelena continued: “it’s just... the idea of sending you on a train after....” she bit her lip. “I don’t like being separated from you at the moment.”

Regina knew that. But she also knew that she disliked flying. She knew that she was afraid of getting on to an airplane. And more than anything, she knew that she was done doing things that made her afraid. The train ride did not scare her as such. She didn’t have to do anything except from sitting in her seat during the day and retire to her sleep cabin at night. She could disappear into one of her books. Without being interrupted by the doctors and nurses coming to poke and prod at her all the time. She needed some time with herself, and she had already informed Zelena of this a few times.

“Alright,” Zelena said softly and nodded. “The choice is yours, sis. But I just want you to know that if you want to get off the train at any point- no matter which station- you do it. You find a hotel and then you text me and I’ll come get you. No matter where you are.”

Regina nodded. She knew this too.

“Alright,” Zelena repeated. “Do you feel okay?”

Regina settled for a vague smile. She certainly felt more in control of her emotions now, but okay? No, that feeling was not familiar to her. Not at all.

“Then it’s actually time to get going,” Zelena told her. “But-“

Regina interrupted her by patting her hand lightly. Then she looked at herself in the mirror. Lightly swiped a finger underneath her eyes to catch any makeup that might have ended up there during her crying fit. She straightened her scarf a little and ensured that it covered the bandage on her throat. She accidentally rubbed a little too hard on the wound on her throat, and the action had Regina wincing slightly.

“Do you need any medicine?” Zelena asked immediately.

Regina shook her head. She just had a pill an hour ago. It was too early for another one.

“One in the morning and one before bedtime,” Zelena said for something that felt like the umpteenth time that day. “And don’t forget to take those muscle relaxing ones before every meal...”

Regina sighed before she could stop herself. She had heard this so. Many. Times.

“And your... other medicine is in the left pocket in your purse,” her sister continued, eyes clouding over with concern, and Regina squirmed a little. The ‘other medicine’ was the antidepressants doctor Auburn insisted on prescribing to her. Regina was not a huge fan, but for Zelena’s sake, she took the medicine. For Zelena’s sake, she kept taking the medicine. As of lately, she had found herself to be doing a lot of things for Zelena’s sake. But deep down, she knew that those pills did in fact work. They DID lessen her anxiety some. They did make it easier for her to fall asleep at night.

But she wasn’t gonna change her mind about what she already had decided. That these pills were only temporary. She refused to live a life on antidepressants.

“Are you ready to get out of here?” Zelena asked and brought her out of her musings.

Regina nodded. Yes, she was more than ready to finally get out of the hospital! She was well aware that a change of scenery was no miracle cure, but after the many, many months where she only dared venturing out on little walks on the hospital grounds, this train ride was pretty much everything she could ask for...

 

Toronto station was packed with people. Most of them dragging suitcases behind them. Some of them speaking hectically on the phone whilst doing so. There were children zigzagging between their parents. Constantly getting away and squealing in excitement about the upcoming trip. The parents on the other hand looked stressed. Actually, most of the people on the station looked stressed.

Regina felt stressed too. Stressed and anxious. Suppose this wasn’t such a good idea after all? Perhaps she wasn’t ready for this. Maybe it was too much for her fragile mind. Maybe she should tell Zelena that she had changed her mind. Bite back her fear and get on the plane with the rest of her family.

But then she felt herself becoming stubborn, and Regina was beyond grateful when she recognized this old side of herself. The stubborn side. The side of her that refused to give up no matter what. A tiny little sign that some of the old her was still in here somewhere. Hiding at the moment, but perhaps able to come back someday. In time. She could do this of course she could. She had to. Had to become her own person again. She couldn’t always rely on her sister to come to her aid whenever something was wrong. Of course she did not doubt for a moment that Zelena would drop everything and come to help her, but maybe that was exactly the problem. By having Zelena and letting her handle everything, Regina was slowly loosing her ability to make decisions because it was easier to let Zelena make the decisions for her. But that was ending right now. As comfortable and easy as it was, having Zelena making her decisions, Regina knew that she had to get back in the game so to speak. Now was the time for her to make her own decisions. Time to make sure that she was still capable of doing so after having been trapped in her own home by her ex.

“Now,” Zelena said and her eyes radiated concern as she looked at Regina. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this, sis? Because if you-“

“Honey,” Chad gently interrupted and put a hand on Zelena’s arm. Just that. He didn’t even say anything else. He didn’t have to. Zelena didn’t finish the sentence. She just nodded, clearly understanding that Regina had made up her mind.

Actually, Regina was still contemplating whether she should do this or not, but that was not something Zelena needed to know.

“Bye, mom!” Henry effectively interrupted them and wrapped his arms around Regina’s midriff. “Have a nice train ride!”

Regina hugged her little prince tightly. God, she was looking forward to coming home. Really coming home. Spending time with your son was difficult when you happened to be a patient at the psychiatric ward and later recovering after failed injections and a surgery that turned out to be nothing but waste of time and pain.

But when she came home, she would spend her every waking moment with her son, that was for sure. Now it was just the two of them. Their little unity. Regina would finally be his mother again. She hadn’t been much of a mother to him for the past six months.

No. She hadn’t been much of a mother to him for the past two years. Perhaps she had still spent time with him, but there had always been a thought present in the back of her mind. Killian. What would happen if Killian came home angry, what would happen if she couldn’t get this favorite rum at the store, what if Killian was in the mood for sex later. Regina tried not to shiver. Her life had revolved around Killian in the darkest way possible. He had been the center of her life in the worst way imaginable.

“Mom?”

Regina quickly looked up again and willingly met her son’s eyes. She smiled. The gesture felt a bit strange.

“Can we have pizza when you come home?” Henry asked sweetly.

Regina nodded. Didn’t even correct it to ‘may’. Of course Henry could have pizza. As much as he wanted. He could have whatever he desired, pizza, ice cream, you name it. Because now it was she and him against the rest of the world. Like it used to be.

“Nice!” he grinned, hugged her again. A little wrinkle appeared between his big, brown eyes as he looked up at her once more. “I’m really gonna miss you while you’re on the train, mom.”

Something heavy and unpleasant settled in Regina’s stomach. Henry had practically been glued to her side ever since she woke up from the coma. Her poor little prince had been through so much in his young life already, and Regina hated herself for ever having brought such evil inside their house. But for the millionth time she thanked God that she had been smart enough to send Henry away before the hellish ordeal with Killian happened. Suppose Henry had been home when it happened. Suppose he had heard or maybe even seen some of the things Killian had done to her that night. His life would have been ruined. Regina hugged him once more. Tried to control her emotions as another frightening scenario popped up in her head. Suppose Killian had gone after Henry instead of her that night. He could very well have done that. Regina truly believed so. Henry was the whole reason she had finally woken up and decided that enough was enough. She had decided to leave because Killian indirectly had threatened her son. Of course he would have gone after Henry that night had he had the chance.

Regina dropped a kiss on Henry’s hair and then tapped his chest twice.

“You’ll never go away again,” Henry murmured. That was one of the first things Regina had let him know at the hospital. That even though she couldn’t touch him right then and there, she would never ever leave him. She nodded in confirmation, kissed his cheek, and then turned to Zelena. She looked a bit teary eyed.

“Text me when you’re on your way,” her sister said a bit thickly. She and Chad and Henry had to leave for the airport right after Regina had gotten on the train.

Regina nodded and wiggled her fingers. ‘I promise.’

“Have a nice trip, little sis,” Zelena continued and gave Regina a hug.

“You’ll reach Vancouver before you know it,” Chad said. He settled for giving her shoulder a very brief pat. Regina could not bear the idea of a man wrapping his arms around her. Not even if that man happened to be her brother-in-law whom she trusted completely and had a fantastic relationship with. There had been many a night where Chad had been sitting in a chair in the farthest corner of her hospital room and watching over her because Zelena was unable to be there. The idea of him sitting right next to her bed had scared Regina, but at the same time she felt horrible with demanding that he sat so far away. But Chad had taken it in strides. He had talked to her from the corner of the room, and even though Regina hadn’t been able to reply to him, it had felt nice to hear a man’s voice she didn’t connect with something bad.

Regina flashed Chad a smile. She was grateful Zelena had him. He was truly a wonderful man, and she knew that despite being irrationally afraid of his touches.

“I suppose you better get on the train,” Zelena said almost brusquely. A cover up for her emotions, no doubt.

Regina nodded and grabbed her suitcase. She could feel her heart thump uncomfortably in her chest, but she refused to back down now. Not when they were finally here. She had not come all this way only to give up and turn around. She was a Mills after all. And the Mills-women did not give up. At least that was what her mother had always said.

“My brave sister,” Zelena said softly. Her chin wobbled a little.

Regina barely mustered a smile. The word was like nails on a chalkboard. It felt like hard and with little sharp edges. She didn’t feel brave. Not even the littlest bit. She felt afraid all over again. Afraid and pathetic. Because she was not about to go bungy jump. The only thing she had to do was board a train. That was literally all. Her heart shouldn’t be hammering away in her chest because of that. It was ridiculous.

“I’ll see you in three days, mom,” Henry said and hugged her again. “Don’t forget to send me lots of texts!”

Regina nodded. Of course she would remember that. Nothing in this world could prevent her from texting her son non-stop as the train took her from Toronto and back to Vancouver.

“I think it’s almost time, sis,” Zelena said, sounding a little stressed, and to prevent her from getting more stressed, Regina nodded in confirmation, grabbed her suitcase once more, kissed Henry one last time and then turned around and walked towards the newly arrived train. She had a feeling that Zelena wouldn’t budge until she had boarded the train.

And she was right. Zelena, Henry and Chad were indeed still standing on the platform when she glanced out of the window. Regina put on a brave face and waved reassuringly at them. Tried to communicate that they could leave now if they wanted. They had to, really. They had to be at the airport so they could check in and all that.

“Bye, mom!” Henry called loudly and waved eagerly.

Regina waved back through the open window and blew her little prince a kiss.

Henry grinned as he pretended to catch the kiss in his hands. Thank god he wasn’t too old for that kind of ‘nonsense’.

After a moment, Regina saw Zelena take Henry and Chad by their hands, say something and then after one last wave and loud ‘goodbye, mom! See you in three days!’, Zelena, Chad and Henry left the station and disappeared.

Regina was officially on her own now, and she wasn’t sure how to feel about it. She hadn’t been alone for a very long time. She had been surrounded by either her family or doctors or nurses.

Regina swallowed. The action made her throat cramp slightly, and she winced. Then she licked her lips. Suddenly, she was hyper aware of how many people there was here. Yelling and pushing. Impatient and stressed. Children squealing. God, it was too much. It felt as though her anxiety could skyrocket at any moment. She took a deep breath. Told herself to loosen the grip on her suitcase just a little. She was here now. There was no turning back. Not unless she hopped off the train and texted her sister in a panic, and she refused to do that. No, she had to do this for herself. Had to get used to be by herself. She had to learn to ‘embrace herself’. At least that was what her therapist had said, and Regina chose to believe that she knew what she was talking about.

So she slowly started to make her way down the hallway. Inching her way past the people chitchatting. She needed to sit down. Could feel her limited strength dwindle. She had been chronically tired since waking up from the coma, and she had learned that she had to act on it quickly. Otherwise she would get a headache and start to feel sick to her stomach. Ergo, she had to find her seat or sleep cabin pretty quickly. Otherwise a visit to the train’s bathroom would be the first thing she did.

But it soon became abundantly clear that she was in the wrong train wagon. Damnit. Had she been able to, Regina would most certainly have cursed out loud. Now she had to settle for thinking it. Her throat was really starting to ache.

“Sorry, ma’am,” a voice behind her said, and the next second a man had pushed his way past Regina.

Regina’s heart leapt into her throat, and she immediately felt the nausea swirl around in her belly. Her heart thumped, and suddenly all of the men she could see on the train, had Killian’s face. All of them were smirking at her. All of them inching closer...

No! She blinked rapidly and took a gulp of air. Killian was NOT here. Killian couldn’t hurt her anymore. He was gone. Would never be able to hurt her again.

“Is everything alright, ma’am?” another man asked her. He sounded very concerned and considerate, and Regina nodded quickly, trying her best to smile. The nausea was already subsiding, and she
actually felt a little proud of herself. Just a little. She had handled her first panic attack on her own.

She continued her walk down the narrow train hallway as she avoided making eye contact with anyone. She didn’t want to give anyone reason to strike up a conversation with her. The most important thing was getting to her sleep cabin so she could put her suitcase away. Maybe lie on the bed and breathe for a moment. Just for a couple of minutes before she headed out and found her seat. She was determined to enjoy this train ride. Determined to make the most of it.

Finally, she found the correct sleep cabin. There was a little click as she twisted the key in the lock, and then she could push the door open. It looked very nice. A bit cramped. The bed was pretty much taking up all the space, but that was alright. She would only be here for three days. And frankly, after having slept in bulgy hospital beds for six months, she had a feeling this bed would be the most comfortable bed in the world.

Regina sat down on the edge of it for a moment. Felt tempted to remove her shoes and lie down and sleep. Just a short powernap. But then she shook her head. She had spent so much time on sleeping during the past six months. If she laid down now, she would only wake up tomorrow morning. Her first day of the train ride would be wasted, and that would be a shame. She didn’t come here to sleep the time away. She came here to prove that she could be out in the open. Amongst other people. Not isolate herself in her sleep cabin the whole time. That didn’t qualify as ‘trying’. Not even a little bit.

So she whipped out a little mirror and checked her appearance. Her hair was still nice and neat. Her makeup was still sitting where it was supposed to sit. Her lips were still a dark shade of red. There was no trace of her minor panic attack in her face. Good. Regina fixed her red silk scarf a little. Just to make sure that it was still covering the plaster on her throat. The scarf had to cover the plaster. She refused to leave the sleep cabin if it didn’t. She didn’t want anyone to look at her throat and wonder what had happened.

For a moment, she forgot what she was supposed to do as she traced the plaster underneath the scarf.

The skin felt tender and itchy.

The muscles sore.

She took a deep breath, remembered what she was supposed to do. Leave her sleep cabin and go find her seat. Right. Yes. She could do that. Of course she could. Regina fixed her hair just one more time, checked her ticket, and then she grabbed her bag and left the sleep cabin.

 

A1, window seat. That was where she was supposed to sit, but there was a surprise waiting for Regina when she found her seat. There was a girl sitting there. Well, perhaps not a girl. Perhaps ‘woman’ was a better word to use to describe her. But she was definitely younger than Regina, in her mid to late twenties, as far as Regina could judge. She was wearing brown boots and jeans and quite a rugged red leather jacket. It appeared to be quite well-loved like Henry’s favorite striped scarf was. Regina nervously fixed the collar on her beige trench coat. The woman whose bright yellow hair fell down and covered her face appeared to be fast asleep in her seat. Or rather, Regina’s seat that was.

How was she supposed to do this? Regina shifted her weight as she considered it. The sleeping woman was sitting in her seat, that much was obvious. Regina was gonna sit with her for three days. The last thing she wanted, was to come across as being obnoxious or give this woman a reason to get annoyed with her. That could be avoided if Regina simply sat down on the woman’s seat. But there was a problem. Regina’s seat- the seat the sleeping woman was sitting in- was facing forward. The woman’s seat was not. Regina had to sit in the seat facing forward. Otherwise she would get motion sickness.
She would throw up and get properly sick. And that wasn’t something she was particularly interested in. Meaning that there was only one thing she could do. She fixed the collar on her beige trench coat again. Made sure the scarf was sitting as it should, and then she took a hesitant step forward. Outstretched a hand and waited. Prayed that the sleeping woman would wake up all on her own. But it didn’t happen. She just kept on sleeping.

Regina’s strength and perhaps her patience was failing her.

She gave the sleeping woman the lightest of taps on the shoulder.

The woman ‘mm’ed’ in her sleep, and as she came to it, Regina quickly reached within her pocket and found her phone. Typed in a message as quickly as she could.

The now awake woman looked up at her. Regina was met by a lightly freckled face and a pair of green eyes. And a question. “Yeah?” the woman said. She didn’t sound particularly annoyed. Just sleepy. Her voice was a bit thick in it.

Regina hesitantly turned her phone screen towards the woman to show her the message she had written there. ‘Excuse me, but I think you’re in my seat.’

The girl- woman- seemed reluctant. “I don’t think I am,” she half-groaned and stretched her long legs.

Regina’s throat felt a little dry as she slipped the phone back in her pocket. She was so scared that this would end in conflict. She ordered her hands not to tremble as she showed the blonde woman her ticket so she could see that this was in fact Regina’s seat.

The blonde glanced at the ticket, and her nose scrunched up a little as she said: “Right.” her movements radiated exhaustion as she unfolded her long legs and stood up. Grabbed her bag from underneath the seat and dragged it over to the correct seat. “Sorry,” she said.

Regina was quick to offer a smile. There was really no harm done. Perhaps she should tell this blonde woman about her motion sickness, but perhaps that qualified as oversharing.

The blonde sat down and curled up in her seat. Boots and everything. The gesture reminded Regina of one a child would made, and she smiled a little. The blonde woman clearly had a rough day. Not unlike herself. The panic attack earlier had really taken a toll on her. She could feel that now. Her arms felt weak as she stuffed her suitcase away in the overhead bin. Could feel how exhausted she truly was when she finally sat down in her seat. It was surprisingly comfortable. Then she opened her purse and found her book. Now she could finally do what she had intended to do on this trip. Read. But she had barely read two words before she heard a chuckle coming from the other seat. She looked up and noticed that the blonde woman was looking. Not at her. But at her book. ‘Murder on The Orient Express’.

Regina offered the blonde woman a little smile. And to her surprise, the smile was immediately returned. It wasn’t often strangers returned a smile given to them, but this woman did.

Regina settled back with her book and felt relaxation wash over her in comfortable waves. Yes, she had definitely made the right choice when hopping on this train instead of enduring a plane ride....

 

To Be Continued......

Chapter Text

Sleep.

Such a fickle thing in Regina’s life. There were nights were exhaustion, mentally and physically, took her away immediately. And there were nights where she laid awake for hours and chased the sleep while the shadows chased her. Sometimes she could lie and stare at a point in the room because she was certain she had seen Killian’s shadow there. Of course she never did, but her mind was a scary place to be.

How would she sleep tonight in this train, she wondered. Would she even be able to? After having been isolated in a hospital room, this crowded place was a lot to take in. Regina shifted in her seat. Flipped a page in her book. She had deemed that ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ was a suitable choice, and she was quite happy about it still. It was only now that she had started to enjoy reading again. Only now was she capable of enjoying a good book. Before, she hadn’t been able to concentrate, and the words had danced on the page. It had been a terribly frustrated time for her, because Regina was quite the reader. She had always loved books ever since she was a little girl. Ever since her father read ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ to her for the first time.

Regina turned another page in the book and glanced out of the window. Canada’s landscape rolled past. It was quite soothing, really. Perhaps this train ride could be a part of her therapy. There would be a lot of therapy in her future. She adjusted her scarf slightly. Was she paranoid, or had it slipped some? They couldn’t have that. She didn’t want anybody to see her bandaged throat.

The blonde woman sitting across her made some kind of noise in her sleep, and Regina looked up. The train ride had barely started, the lights not even dimmed, and yet the blonde woman was capable of falling asleep. Quite impressive. Regina certainly would not be able to. Not with that much noise around her. There seemed to be quite a lot of children on board on this train.

The blonde woman made another soft sound, and Regina’s attention was divided between her and the book in her lap. Her curiosity won and she looked up at the blonde woman once again. Her face was almost hidden beneath that mane of blonde hair, and Regina thought to herself that there was something oddly vulnerable about this woman’s way of sleeping. The way she almost curled up in her leather jacket and made herself look smaller was childlike in some way. Regina caught herself wondering where the blonde woman was going. Hopefully to a place where she could sleep better. Surely, sleeping all curled up like that couldn’t be comfortable.

Oh well. Regina turned another page in her book. Things were starting to heat up. Poirot was starting to catch on. Clever fellow. Her father had always loved Poirot. Movies and books. Regina couldn’t count how many times they had watched Poirot together. She missed that a lot.

Suddenly, the blonde woman jerked awake with a sharp gasp. Her gaze was confused and slightly alarmed as she looked around in the train, and Regina immediately symphatized with her. She knew exactly what it looked like to have a bad nightmare, and she suspected that was exactly what roused the blonde woman from her sleep. As she took short, sharp breaths, Regina found her phone in her purse and began typing on it. ‘Is everything okay?’. Perhaps the blonde woman would feel that Regina was meddling, but she couldn’t resist. She turned the phone screen to the blonde woman and waited in expectation. Perhaps she would be met by a ‘it’s none of your business’. There was no way of telling, really.

The blonde woman leaned in and blinked as she looked at the phone screen. Then she nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit of a bad dream that’s all.”

Regina nodded. Exactly as she suspected. She slipped the phone back inside her purse. Discreetly smoothened a hand over her scarf just to make sure that it was still sitting like she wanted it to sit.

Shifted a bit and looked down at her skirt. Now it bothered her that she had been so distraught earlier. It was just a skirt, for crying out loud. She could wear a skirt whenever she damn well wanted to.

There were no rules for what kind of clothes she could or could not wear. At least not anymore.

Regina bit her lip and before she trailed off completely, she opened her purse again. Found the thermos and cup Zelena so thoughtfully had packed for her earlier. Good thinking. Regina loved coffee, and she had so missed it during the week after the surgery where she had not been allowed to drink it. That and solid food. Being on a liquid diet was truly horrible. She popped the lid off the thermos and poured herself a solid cup of coffee. The smell tickled her nostrils and made her perk up slightly. Good. She had been fading a little. Getting tired again. That was something she would have to work on in the future. Sleeping less. She would be of no use to Henry if she was asleep all the time. She had done her fair share of sleeping at the hospital. Now it was time to wake up. Literally.

That was when she noticed that the blonde woman was looking. At her cup of coffee. The minute she realized, the blonde woman was quick to glance out of the window. She was clearly pretending that she hadn’t just been looking at the cup of coffee, and had she been capable of doing so, Regina definitely would have laughed. Now she settled for reaching across and tapping the table between them gently. When she was certain she had the blonde woman’s attention, she leaned forward slightly and lightly pointed to the thermos and then back to the blonde woman. Heavens know she hated expressing herself by pointing, but it was the quickest way to do this. She didn’t want the blonde woman to sit and yearn after coffee when she did not have to.

The blonde woman frowned slightly as she asked: “are you asking me if I want to have a cup of coffee?”

Regina nodded eagerly and relived. That was easy. Thank god the blonde woman understood what she was trying to say. Otherwise she could have been known as the strange ‘tapping lady in the train’.

She found her phone in her purse and began tapping on it. ‘Yes, exactly. I’m sorry for pointing at you.’. She turned the screen towards the blonde woman.

The blonde woman chuckled lightly. “That’s alright. And yeah, I would kill for a cup of coffee right now.”

As suspected. Regina whipped out a second cup and poured some coffee into it. She slid the cup of coffee towards the blonde and tapped a new message on her phone. ‘Sorry I don’t have milk or sugar.’

After a few seconds she turned the screen towards the blonde once more.

“That’s fine,” she assured. “I prefer my coffee black anyway. Thank you.”

Regina smiled at the blonde’s gratitude. She sounded very genuine. And surprised. Maybe it had been a while since she last had been shown an act of kindness. The thought of that sort of made Regina feel a little sad.

The blonde took a sip of her coffee and coughed slightly. Maybe it went down the wrong tube. Regina’s own throat tightened painfully at the sound, but she reminded herself that it was too early for painkillers. She couldn’t stop herself from raising an eyebrow before settling back with her own cup of coffee and her book though. She tried to get immersed in the story once more, but it didn’t take long before she found herself to be thinking about Henry again. She hoped that he didn’t miss her too much. Maybe he understood why she needed to do this. Why she needed to do this on her own.

Or perhaps he did not understand. And perhaps it was far better if he did not. Regina took a sip of her coffee, savoring the taste, and then turned another page in the book. Hercule Poirot was as entertaining as always. Perhaps she would start watching season one when she came back to Vancouver. She didn’t exactly have much else to do at the moment. No job. Regina felt a pang of sadness. She missed teaching. But she could not do that anymore. You couldn’t be a teacher if you could not speak. No, she would have to do something else. Eventually. But not right now. Right now her most important job was to get back on her feet as her doctor so delicately had put it.

Regina still wondered how on earth she was supposed to do that. It wasn’t like she had been away on holiday or something. No. She had been through a living nightmare. Barely made it out of there alive.

She wasn’t even sure she still had any metaphorical feet to stand on.

Regina took a deep breath. Told herself not to think about it. Not now. She had already been through one panic attack today. She wasn’t so sure she could handle another. She became aware that the blonde woman’s cellphone was ringing. Regina noted that the blonde seemed to be ignoring it at first but then changing her mind and bringing it up to her ear. She did not say anything. Clearly listening to a message, then. Once she was done listening to it, she sighed deeply, and Regina was sure she heard one or two curse words muttered. She caught herself wondering what that had been about, but then she remembered that it was none of her business. She should not be so nosy. It was impolite. Her mother had drilled that into her a million times.

Regina took a sip of her coffee and glanced out of the window. It felt nice, knowing that she was on her way home...

 

******************

 

Regina was not in the mood to leave her seat when it became lunch time. She stayed seated without eating. Zelena and Henry would have scolded her for it if they were here, but Regina’s appetite was still lacking because of the strong pain killers she was currently taking. She was not hungry. But she would definitely have dinner, of course she would. Taking her painkillers before bed on an empty stomach would only make her feel woozy from experience, she knew this.

If she could have her way, she would have stayed put for every single meal, but while it was optional at lunch, you had to head down to the dining area to have dinner. Regina did not want to. She hated eating in the presence of others. But she did not have a choice. Not unless she wanted to starve, that was, and that wouldn’t exactly be ideal.

So she left her seat and headed down to the dining area. The place was almost overly crowded, and Regina briefly felt her heart rate speed up before reminding herself that she was okay. The crowd of people was not something she needed to be scared of. Not even those four children in the corner that seemed to throw bits of food at one another while the parents weren’t paying attention. Regina scowled slightly as she walked past them. For the life of her, she could not remember a time where Henry ever had thrown food. Well, of course there was that one time with the oatmeal, but Regina still continued to see that as accident. She refused to believe that her innocent little prince could have done that on purpose. She shook her head slightly. Perhaps she was too much of a softy when it came to Henry. At least that was what Zelena always teased her about. Regina didn’t fully agree. Perhaps she wasn’t an overly strict mother, but she wasn’t a lax one either. She was a good blend. Regina refused to be like Cora. She had definitely been a strict mother. Everything Regina tried not to be. She always tried to be like her dear father. Raise her son with the same kindness and patience as her father had shown her. Her father had been such a kind, gentle soul, and Regina saw much of the same kindness in her son. He had inherited many traits from his grandfather. Thank god. Fate had prevented her son and father from ever meeting one another, but it consoled Regina to know that Henry was so much like his grandfather.

She found an empty table and settled down. It did not take long before a waiter found her. He prattled on about today’s special being roast and potato, and even though she didn’t have much of an appetite, Regina put on a smile and nodded eagerly to let him know that she wished to order that for dinner. Luckily, he understood what she was communicating. Thank god. Regina hated being forced to whip out her phone to communicate. It was impolite. And especially on restaurants. Oh dear god, how was she supposed to order food at a restaurant in the future?

Maybe she simply wouldn’t. Go to a restaurant, that was. Maybe she would settle for staying home. Home was good. Home was safe.

Sensing that someone was approaching her table, Regina looked up, and she was surprised to discover that it was the blonde woman she sat with.

The blonde woman flashed her a smile. “Can I sit here?”

Regina nodded.

“Thanks,” the blonde said, and there was that unabashed gratitude again. She sat down on the chair across Regina. “I don’t mean to sound bitchy, but that family over there...” she grimaced slightly.

Regina smiled. No, that family was definitely in a league of its own. The blonde woman was completely right about that.

The waiter came back with Regina’s roast and potatoes and her glass of water. “There we go, one roast and potatoes,” he announced. “Are you sure you don’t want a glass of wine to go with it?”

Regina shook her head. Mixing her painkillers with alcohol would definitely not be a good idea.

“Alright then.” the waiter turned his attention to the blonde woman. “And what can I get for you?”

“Oh, uhm...”

Regina discreetly looked at the blonde woman as she quickly flipped through the menu on the table. She seemed oddly flustered and it didn’t take long before she said: “I’ll have what she’s having. Roast and potatoes.”

Regina nodded slightly to herself. Good choice. She turned her attention back to the full plate in front of her as the blonde ordered herself a glass of red wine. Regina felt slightly envious. She missed a good glass of wine. Red wine in particular.

As the blonde woman sitting across her started looking around in the dining area, Regina picked up her cutlery and started cutting her meat into smaller bites. She hated doing that. It was so childlike. But she had no other choice. Her sore throat still couldn’t handle larger bites. She would have to put up with this for a little while longer. She speared one of the pieces of meat on her fork and slipped it between her lips. Perhaps she wasn’t overly hungry, but she had to admit that this was a good steak. The meat was very tender. Delicious, really. Perhaps her appetite was starting to return. That would please Zelena. She kept claiming that Regina had lost too much weight.

Regina knew that she had lost too much weight over the past year. She had been obsessing over her diet. Killian didn’t want a ‘fat’ wife, and he had frequently told her that while they were eating. So she had started to make smaller portions for herself. And sometimes skipping meals all together. Settling for a ‘healthy’ smoothie before he came home from work. She had been monitoring her waistline and had experienced stress like symptoms when it looked like it had expanded just the littlest bit. She had been terrified at the idea of gaining weight because she was certain Killian would be able to see it right away. She had been so focused on making sure that he was happy.

Her throat suddenly tightened around a piece of meat. Regina put her knife and fork down abruptly. It clattered against the plate, but she barely registered the sound. The pain almost made her eyes water. Was it physical or psychologically because she just had been thinking about Killian? She was not sure, but she knew that she needed to take one of her muscle relaxers in order to be able to continue the meal.

“Are you okay?”

Regina looked up, surprised. She had not expected that the blonde woman had noticed. She couldn’t quite smile, so she settled for tapping her throat lightly once.

“You got something stuck in your throat?” the blonde woman guessed and frowned slightly.

Regina shook her head and tapped her silk-covered throat once more. For some reason she wanted the blonde woman to understand exactly what was going on.

“Your throat hurts?” the blonde woman asked.

Regina felt relieved as she nodded. The blonde woman understood. That was good. She opened her purse and found the bottle of pills she was looking for. She quickly popped the lid off and tried not to cringe too much. She tilted the bottle and one of those precious little white pills slid into her open palm. Regina quickly popped the pill inside her mouth and downed it with lots of water. It would start working in about immediately and then she would be able to continue the surprisingly delicious meal. She took a breath, swallowed, and then took another bite of the steak. Carefully swallowed. Oh yes, so much better already. Thank god.

“I’m not trying to be nosey or irritating, but are you alright?”

Regina looked up once more. Nodded and smiled a little at the blonde woman before continuing her dinner. She was a little embarrassed about this. Making a show out of eating. But she did find it sweet of the blonde stranger to care enough to ask. Lots of people had asked Regina how she was feeling, but for some reason she found it to be less irritating when it was a stranger who asked her. It felt less invasive, somehow.

 

 

To Be Continued.......

Chapter Text

When the daylight dwindled, it was time to settle down for the night and find your sleep compartment.

Regina was grateful when the lights dimmed, and she could close her book. She had been ready to settle down for hours. She was so tired her bones were aching. Her throat hurt. Her head was spinning.

There had been many, many times during the evening where she had thought to herself that perhaps Zelena had been right. Perhaps it was too soon for her to travel on her own. But then her stubbornness had kicked in. She wanted to do this on her own. No. She HAD to do this on her own! She was a grown woman, and she refused to need someone to hold her hand every damn second of the day. She could take care of herself.

Except for all those times where she could not. Except for that night where she had been unable to take care of herself.

No.

Regina pushed the thought away and shifted uneasily as she waited for the passengers in front of her to move along. She kept patting her pocket just to make sure that the key she had been given earlier was still there. Thankfully, it was. Regina was in no mood to try to explain to an employee that she had lost the key.

As she stood in line along with the rest of the passengers, she noticed the blonde woman further up the line. She too looked tired, bless her. It looked like she already had been on quite the journey.

Regina hoped that the blonde woman would be able to sleep tonight. She looked like she could need it. She had been fine company tonight. Regina had appreciated her presence in the dining area, because despite fearing other people, Regina feared being alone even more. It was when she was alone, the dark thoughts came. It was when she was alone that she could see Killian’s shadow in the corner of her eye. See him smirk and smile whilst patting the leather belt sitting on his hips. He was never far away when she was alone. And it made her sick. She shivered slightly, then glanced behind her to check if anyone had noticed. But no one seemed to be paying attention to her. Good. That was how Regina preferred it. To be invisible at all times. It was much safer. She discreetly scratched her throat over the silk scarf. The skin around the stiches was itching again, and Regina reminded herself to put on a bit extra of that soothing cream she had been given by the doctor. Then she lowered her hands. She was not even supposed to scratch. Doctor Auburn had warned her of that. If she scratched, she would end up with a scar.

A scar. Regina let out a sigh. She would end up with a scar regardless of whether she scratched or not. Her throat was already ruined. As was the rest of her. ‘He’ had ruined her. He had claimed her body.

He was still claiming it. Regina couldn’t stand looking at herself. Showers were quickly over with because she couldn’t bear the sight of her naked body.

At last she reached her sleep compartment and could insert the key. She twisted it once and the door creaked open. Regina stepped inside and looked around. There was a bed and a little night lamp attached to the wall. Not much, but since this train journey would only be three days, this was everything she could ask for.

Regina sat down on the edge of the bed and closed her eyes for a moment. She wanted nothing more than to just let herself fall backwards and go to sleep right then and there, but she could not do that quite yet. She had her nightly routine, and she was going to stick to it. Her nightly routine was one of the few things she had been clinging onto while she was in the hospital, and she was not about to let that go. Routines were important. That was what everyone said. Regina sighed and rubbed her face. Should she take her medicine before or after going to the bathroom? Afterwards. Otherwise there was a risk that she would fall asleep with the toothbrush still in her mouth.

Regina allowed herself a few extra moments where she just sat and decompressed. Then she rose from the bed, opened her suitcase, and found her toothbrush and the bottle of toothpaste. Reminded herself to text Henry before taking her pill. The medicine always knocked her out sufficiently, and Regina would lie if she claimed that she hadn’t been relieved by that once or twice.

She left her sleep compartment with her toothbrush and toothpaste in hand. As she walked down the hallway, she noted that her feet were a bit achy. Of course. She was wearing high heels. She had not been wearing high heels for a long, long time. High heels weren’t required in the hospital. But despite the ache, Regina felt a certain joy over wearing high heels again. If she tried, she could pretend that she was back to her old self.

But of course she was not. Her old self was gone. Her old self had died that night on the bedroom floor. Life snuffed out by Killian Jones. Regina was not quite sure who and what she was right now. Was she even anything? Anyone? There were many labels she could attach to herself. ‘Victim’. ‘Abused woman’. ‘Mute’. Yes. The words were bubbles in her throat. They bursted before they could come out.

Her destroyed vocal cords would not allow the words to ever come out. This was her fate now. Staying silent forever. Exactly like Killian had commanded her to. Perhaps he had not killed her, but he had still gotten his way. Perhaps he was in prison, but so was she.

Regina shook her head as though to banish the dark thoughts from her head. She was not supposed to think like that. She was not supposed to think about him. She was supposed to be grateful to be alive. And she was. Of course she was. She had been given more time with her son. That was something she would never stop being grateful for. Henry was the most important thing in the world.

There was nobody standing in line when she reached the bathroom door, but Regina could tell that someone was in there. So she hovered back and waited with her toothbrush and toothpaste in hand while the person behind the door did their business.

Regina acknowledged that she felt a little proud of herself. She was here on the train. On her own. She was out amongst people. It did make her feel insecure, but she was doing it. Maybe, perhaps this was the first step. If she could do this, maybe there was other things she could do too. Accompany her son to the cinema. Go to the parent-teacher-conferences Zelena had gone to over the past year. She had done it without complaining, of course. She had done everything and more. Tended to Henry like he was her own, and even though Regina was immensely grateful for all the help she had gotten, she was also slightly envious. SHE was Henry’s mother. And she wanted to reclaim her old spot in his life. She wanted to be the mother he knew. She could be that, could she not? Being his mother was not a role she had to play. That was something that would come natural. And Henry did not care that she could not speak. He was just relived that she was awake and alive. Oh, how simple everything was when you were a child. Seeing your mother or father’s smile and automatically knowing that everything was going to be alright. Regina thought of her own father. He would have done just that. He would have held her tight. Stroked her hair while whispering soothing words in her ear. He would have assured her that everything was going to be okay. And Regina would have believed him. Because she always had.

She had trusted her father blindly. But now it was her turn to be that soothing influence in Henry’s life. Now it was her turn to hold him and assure him that everything would be alright. Regina only hoped that he would believe her as easily as she had believed her father.

Regina was pulled out of her thoughts when she heard someone coming down the hallway behind her. Another person with a bathroom-errand. It took everything in Regina not to turn around and check who it was. That was rude. But suppose it was a man? A man standing right behind her. Regina felt her heart speed up, and her palms turned clammy at the idea of a man standing so close behind her whilst waiting to go to the bathroom. The thought made her insides churn. It made her wish that she was wearing her baggiest pair of pants and an oversized hoodie rather than a tight pencil skirt. It did not matter that she rationally knew that nobody on this train was going to hurt her. It did not matter that she deep down knew that her skirt was not and should not be a reason for any man to think anything about her. But Killian had always had so many things to say about her skirt. How it was not his fault that the tightness of the fabric tempted him. Regina had believed him then. She tried not to believe him now. She was allowed to wear a pencil skirt. More than allowed.

“Hey,” a familiar voice said behind her, and Regina immediately felt her shoulders uncurl. It was not a man. It was the woman she shared day-cabin with. Thank god. Regina turned around and flashed the blonde woman a little smile. She was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt. She looked about ready to head to bed. Very cozy. Regina suddenly felt stuffy and stiff in her pencil skirt and crisp blouse. Perhaps she should have changed into a pajamas before heading for the bathroom.

“Not many people in the hallway tonight,” the blonde woman observed and shifted slightly.

Regina suffocated a smile and shook her head. That was true. They were the only two people in the hallway.

“We’re reaching Winnipeg tomorrow,” the blonde woman continued. “Do you think many people are getting off there?”

Again, Regina had to suffocate a smile. Bless this woman for trying to small talk with her. Regina could not remember the last time a stranger had initiated small talk with her. However, it was hard to ‘small talk’ back. In response, she shrugged and then patted her pockets in an almost defeated manner. She did not have her cellphone with her right now. She had left that in the sleep compartment.

“You didn’t bring your phone, did you?” the blonde woman asked, and Regina was surprised and impressed at how perceptive she was. She shook her in defeat.

The blonde woman grimaced and looked genuinely sorry as she said: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that.”

Regina flashed her a little smile and tried to quell her natural concern. This woman seemed far too used to apologize, for whatever reason. She smiled again, determined to assure that she was not upset.

And the message went through. “You don’t mind?” the blonde woman guessed.

Regina shook her head eagerly. Exactly! She did not mind. She was merely oddly excited about communicating with someone who was not her sister for once.

“Are you getting off the train in Winnipeg?” the blonde woman asked, small-talking once again.

Regina shook her head. No, she was definitely not getting off any train in Winnipeg. She knew that she could, but she did not wish to. She had already planned on dedicating this train ride to reading.

“Edmonton?” the blonde (what was her name even?) asked curiously.

Regina shook her head, felt a rare twinge of warmth in her chest. She had a theory of what this woman was doing. Asking her yes or no questions. Questions Regina actually had a chance to answer. Of course Regina could not be certain that was what the blonde woman was doing, but she had an inkling.

The blonde woman chuckled. “You’re going all the way to Vancouver?”

Regina nodded eagerly and smiled in affirmative.

“Great,” the blonde woman said, looking genuinely excited. “Me, too. I’m kinda hoping to get a fresh start over there.”

Regina nodded. Felt somber all the sudden. Yes, a fresh start was exactly what she was looking for too. More than anything. A fresh start. A quiet life with her son and her sister nearby.

“You too?” the blonde woman asked and pulled Regina out of her musings about the future. “You’re hoping to start over too?”

Regina nodded again. More eagerly than before.

“Well, who knows, maybe we’ll end up in the same place,” the blonde joked, and Regina saw a glimpse of something youthful in her green eyes. Something hopeful. How old was this woman? Mid-twenties? Oh, to be that again. Oh, to be young and hopeful again. But being bitter would not help anything. Regina was pleased that this young woman had time to achieve whatever she wanted. She flashed the blonde woman a smile. She got a bit a nervous smile in return, and Regina immediately worried if she was smiling too much. Maybe Killian had been right. Maybe she did have an overly inviting smile.

The door to the bathroom was opened, and a younger redhead stepped into the hallway. She looked stressed. Wild-eyed and with red splotches on her pale cheeks. Poor thing. Regina immediately sympathized with her. Whatever she was dealing with, could not be something nice.

“Ugh, I swear to god, I should never have booked this trip!” the redhead said as she looked at Regina who happened to be one most visible in the hallway. “It’ll be the death of me! Anyway, do you know where I can find a food trolley? I could kill for a midnight snack.”

Regina did not know where the food trolley was, and she tried her best to communicate that by shrugging lightly and hoped that would make the message come across without any problems.

It did not. The redheaded woman only seemed more ticked off. Her mouth twisted. “Hello?” she demanded. “I’m talking to you. Do you know where I can find the food trolley or not?!”

Regina felt her stomach twist and her throat tighten. She could not say anything! Why couldn’t people just accept that?! She shook her head three times rapidly and then slinked past the redhead and into the bathroom. The lock clicked reassuringly behind her, and Regina let out a deep sigh of relief. This was better.

“Rude!” she heard the redhead sneered. “Why the hell can’t people just answer?!”

“Hey! She can’t actually-“

Regina’s ears perked up. It did not matter that the blonde woman had cut herself off before finishing the sentence. She had tried to stand up for her. Regina felt that rare tinge of warmth again. Perhaps there was still some good people left in this world.

“What?” the redhead asked demandingly, and even though it was rude, Regina listened to the conversation.

“I think I saw a food trolley in the back wagon,” the blonde woman coldly responded to the demand. “You have a bit of a long walk ahead of you.”

Regina smiled almost against her will. The last part was added with much venom. Yes, this woman was definitely standing up for her. And although Regina was shaken by the ugly words the redheaded woman had said to her, she still found it quite nice to be defended like that by a stranger.

“And you’re welcome!” the blonde woman hollered in the hallway. “Look who’s being rude now!”

Now Regina really smiled. She switched on the water so she could brush her teeth and carry on with her night routine.

When she came out of the bathroom again, the blonde woman had not moved much. But she did step aside so Regina could pass her. “Goodnight,” she said and flashed Regina a little smile.

Regina offered a small smile in return before going back down the hallway towards her sleeping compart. She was fading quickly now. And her throat had really started to hurt. She needed to take her medicine. And she needed to lie down.

She returned to her own sleep compartment. Slipped off her high heels and wiggled her feet in relief. Then she slipped off her blouse and skirt. Her stockings and bra swiftly went the same way. She folded the items and put them at the bottom of her suitcase. She would not be needing them again. The last thing to go was the scarf tied around her neck. Something cold settled in Regina’s chest as she put the scarf down. Now her throat was exposed. Well, almost. Of course there was still that plaster covering the wound. The skin around the plaster was itching terribly, and Regina reached into her suitcase and found that soothing cream she had been given by doctor Auburn. This was the first time she would be applying the cream on her own. So far, Zelena or one of the helpful nurses had helped.

Regina was not particularly interested in coming into contact with her throat, but she knew she had to. She needed to learn to do this on her own. So she bit her lip and popped the lid off the bottle of cream. Her shoulders bunched as she got a glop of the cold cream onto the tip of her finger, and she willed herself not to close her eyes as she slowly brought her finger up. She could do this. No. She HAD to do this. Otherwise she would never be able to do anything on her own. A chill ran through her body as she let her finger brush against the skin around the plaster. A little bit puffy. A little bit swollen. And most likely a bit red too. But all of that was to be expected. She was sure everything was fine. Tomorrow night, she would have to change the plaster for the first time on her own. But she could do that too. Of course she could.

When the cold, soothing cream had been spread in the area around the plaster, Regina changed into her pajamas. The checkered bottoms and matching shirt with the high collar that hid her throat and plaster. She couldn’t very well wear her scarf to bed.

Regina climbed into bed with three things in hand: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, her cellphone and her reading glasses. She perched them on her nose as she quickly wrote a message to Zelena, letting her know that she was about to turn in for the night. It did not even take ten seconds before Zelena texted her back. Relief about Regina checking in radiated off the text, and Regina smiled as she read about what her son and sister had been up to. They’d had pot roast for dinner. And later they had watched ‘Alice in Wonderland’ whilst eating popcorn. Regina feared that ‘eating popcorn’ meant that Henry had devoured a whole bowl on his own. He sometimes did that when you turned your back on him. Little rascal. Regina texted back and was relieved to hear that that was not the case.

Of course Zelena inquired about how she was feeling, and Regina quickly checked herself. How was she feeling? Physically, her throat hurt a bit. But she was about to take a painkiller, so... and mentally?

Well... She wasn’t exactly bursting with happiness, but she wasn’t feeling terrible either. That was something. The way that blonde woman had openly defended her earlier popped into Regina’s mind, and she was just about to text Zelena and tell her about it. But then she decided not to. It was a bit silly. So she settled for the good old ‘fine’. And that was not a lie. She DID feel fine. Really, she did.

She concluded her conversation with Zelena, muted her phone, plugged it into the charger and then found her bottle of painkillers and a bottle of water in her suitcase. She quickly downed the pill with lots of water and willed herself not to gag. Of course she could swallow. She was more than capable of swallowing. Of course her throat was not going to close up on her. She was fine.

With that taken care of, she could finally settle in bed with a pillow behind her back, reading glasses perched on her nose and her book splayed open in her lap. Hercule Poirot was in the middle of conducting his many interviews after the gruesome discovery in the train. Packing this book had been Zelena’s idea. She had found it to be hilarious, and Regina too could appreciate the sentiment behind it. Reading ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ whilst traveling by train WAS amusing.

But she did not get to read more than three full chapters before the effect of the painkiller kicked in and she started to feel exceptionally tired. She put the book down. Slipped a bookmark in between the pages and then took off her reading glasses. It was bed time....

 

 

The next morning did not start out that well. Regina woke with an achy, sore throat. The wound hurt, but she suspected it was due to an unfortunate sleeping position and nothing else. When she examined the area around the plaster, she could not detect any ‘foul play’. No excessive swelling or oozing. She had just slept awkwardly. Regina took one of those ‘emergency’ pain killers that had the same effect but was a bit milder. It didn’t make her as drowsy.

She got out of bed. It was still fairly early (Regina had always been an early riser) and opened her suitcase. Found a bottle green blouse. She first reached for another pencil skirt, but then she remembered her anxiety yesterday when she was standing in line for the bathroom. Deep down, she knew that it did not matter whether she wore a skirt or not, but why expose herself to more anxiety than what was strictly necessary? She let go of the pencil skirt and grabbed a pair of cream colored slacks instead. She also found a scarf in the same cream color, and thought to herself that it had to be fate. Today was definitely a slacks-kind of day.

Regina went into the hallway, fully dressed but armed with her toothbrush and hairbrush. The hallway was quite empty, and she could slip into the bathroom with no hindering.

Brushing her teeth always did make her feel a little better no matter what. But due to the pain, her head felt a little heavy. Regina knew that it would be at least five minutes before the effect of the mild painkiller kicked in, and she decided not to expose herself to the dining area on this particular morning. She did not have the energy. So when she came back to her sleep compartment, she grabbed one of those little notes the train clerks had left. You could cross off whether you’d be dining in the dining area or wished to eat in private in your cabin. Regina chose the second option and ventured into the hallway where it did not take long before a train clerk found her. Or perhaps she found him. But either way, she handed him the little note and flashed him a smile.

He glanced briefly at the note before looking back at her. He returned the smile. “As you wish, Madam. I’ll be serving your breakfast in your train cabin.”

Regina smiled gratefully and felt slightly amused. ‘Madam’. She had not been called that before.

Armed with her book, she went to her shared cabin. The blonde woman was not yet here. Perhaps she was sleeping in. Regina nodded to herself. That was good. The blonde woman had looked quite exhausted last night. Like she could benefit from a good night’s sleep.

Regina leaned back in her seat and glanced out of the window. It was a beautiful morning. She was glad she had woken up so early. The sight of the mountains rolling by as the sun slowly rose, was not something she would have missed for the world.

She was served her breakfast. Fluffy pancakes with maple syrup. Soft food. And a cup of tea. Exactly what Regina had requested. She felt almost childishly excited about the breakfast. It had been so long since she last had pancakes. She had not been allowed to. Not at the hospital. Or at home. Killian had not wanted her to gain weight. And Regina had avoided eating pancakes. That was easier.

Now she dug into the first pancake with vigor. She chewed and swallowed and was even capable of ignoring the way her throat ached when she swallowed. The pancakes almost melted on her tongue, and the almond syrup trickled down her throat without any hindering. It tasted exceptionally good, and Regina noted that she did not feel guilty for eating this. She knew that she was more than allowed to indulge in this kind of food. Nobody could tell her what she could and could not eat.

Regina flushed another bite of pancake down with a mouthful of warm tea, and after a moment she opened her book once more. Breakfast and a good book. Sometimes it truly was the little things in life.

Perhaps this was something she could do every Sunday. Get up early and make pancakes for Henry. Her little prince. Regina wondered what he was doing this morning. He was probably still in bed. It was Saturday after all. Regina knew that Zelena had planned an outing today. To the zoo. That sounded nice. But she did hope that Zelena would remember that Henry needed to do his homework before anything else. Regina wrinkled her nose. That was definitely the professor in her speaking. The career-driven woman. She stilled with the fork halfway up to her mouth as she thought about her old job.

She missed it. She missed working at the faculty. She missed her colleagues and her students. She missed teaching. Missed doing what she loved. But she could not come back to the university. She could not be a professor when she did not have a voice. How was she supposed to teach? It was simply impossible. Regina wondered what her old colleagues were saying about her. Of course they had heard about the tragic ‘car crash’ that cost her her voice and almost her life. Were they pitying her? Regina’s hand shook a little as she brought the fork up to her mouth and ate the piece of pancake. She did not need their pity. She did not need anybody’s pity. She would just... find something else to do with her life. Yes. Something else.

But what? The pessimistic little voice in the back of her mind asked. What job could she possibly get? Who would want to hire a mute woman who was afraid of the world?

Nobody.

Regina continued to eat although the pancakes did not taste quite as good any longer. She knew she had to eat. Put on weight and all that. It was important for her health, her doctor had told her. And since she could not work, she could at least strive to get better physically....

Regina felt quite proud of herself as she looked down at the empty plate in front of her. She had eaten all of it. Doctor Auburn would be proud of her too. It was nice finally eating solid food after only eating yoghurt and what not in the hospital.

Regina had just lifted the teacup when the door to the train cabin was opened. The friendly blonde woman stepped in. She looked a bit more awake and alert now, so maybe she had gotten some sleep last night. That was good.

“Good morning,” the blonde woman greeted and flashed Regina a smile.

Regina returned the smile and bowed her head lightly to acknowledge the woman’s greeting. That was the only thing she could do.

The blonde woman sat down on the seat opposite Regina. She flicked her blonde ponytail back over her shoulder. Leaned forward slightly as she said: “I slept like a baby last night. Did you sleep alright?”

As friendly and chatty this morning as she had been last night. Regina wasn’t quite sure why, but she had almost expected the blonde woman to be less forthcoming this morning. She nodded but felt a twinge of sadness over her inability to answer in words. She would have liked that. She enjoyed the way this woman was communicating with her, and she feared that she would grow tired of her because she could not answer. That would only be natural, would it not? Why waste time in conversing with someone who could not say anything? Regina sought solace in her purse where she roamed to find her book. She would not give the impression that the blonde woman was forced to talk to her just because they shared a train cabin.

“Hey,” the blonde woman said a bit suddenly.

Regina looked up with one hand still thrusted inside her purse.

“Maybe I’m being stupid, but I can’t help thinking about that woman we met by the bathroom last night,” the blonde woman continued.

Regina raised an eyebrow as she pulled her book out of her purse. How odd. She had found herself mulling over that encounter too.

“I just saw her nearly throttle past a poor woman she was walking past, and it sure seems like she’s rude to everybody, but she wasn’t...” a slight pause. “Well, she wasn’t very nice to you last night, and I just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” the blonde woman rambled. Her pale cheeks stained pink and she flicked a lock of hair behind her ear again. “That’s all. And I’m sorry if I’m prying or...” a breath.
“Well, I’m not trying to stick my nose in your business or anything.”

Regina felt herself smiling. Warmly and genuinely. That was really nice. This woman had not needed to check in with her, but she had done so anyway. That was very thoughtful of her. This kind of gesture required more than just a smile and a nod. Regina found her phone in her purse and started to write a message. ‘It’s very kind of you to worry about me, but I’m fine. I’m used to getting a few comments here and there. It’s unavoidable when you can’t answer people’s questions. Sometimes people take offense instead of thinking about that there could be a reason why someone doesn’t answer them.’ But this time she did not send it to anyone. Instead she turned the screen towards the blonde when she was done writing.

The blonde woman eagerly leaned forward and read the message. Then she frowned slightly. Nodded. “Yeah, you’re right about that. But that still doesn’t give her the right to be so rude.”

Regina wrote another message. ‘I suppose it’s partially my own fault. I can whisper a little, but it tends to be very painful to do so. So I try to avoid using my voice.’ Most certainly. Her throat cramped as she turned the screen towards the blonde woman.

“I can understand that,” the blonde woman said and smiled softly. Then she went quiet and gave Regina a rather thoughtful look.

Regina tilted her head and wondered what the blonde woman was thinking about.

“Tell you what,” the blonde woman said, voice almost brisk now. “Since we’re gonna be travelling buddies all the way to Vancouver, wouldn’t it be nice to know each other’s names?”

Regina raised an eyebrow and suffocated a smile. Travelling buddies. She had never heard that expression before. Yes, this woman had to be in her twenties.

“I’m Emma,” the blonde woman announced. “Emma Swan.”

Truthfully, Regina had expected something else. She wasn’t quite sure what, but she had. This woman’s fairytale-esque name was a pleasant surprise indeed. Emma Swan. What a delightful, quirky name.

She smiled as she took her phone, tapping in the name she could no longer tell anyone was hers. ‘Regina Mills’. She refused to let the sadness over being unable to say her own name overwhelm her as she turned the screen towards Emma Swan.

“Regina Mills,” Emma Swan read aloud, green eyes flickering up to meet Regina’s.

Regina smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Regina,” Emma said and returned the smile.

Regina only used five seconds on typing before turning the phone screen towards Emma once more. ‘Nice to meet you too, Emma Swan’.

 

To Be Continued.........

Chapter Text

There were many passengers who got off the train in Winnipeg. Many children were running around in the hallway outside the train cabin Regina shared with Emma Swan. Regina however, had no interest in getting off the train. She had finished ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and had traded Agatha Christie for D.H. Lawrence and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. She was not a professor in literature for nothing.

And she had always enjoyed D.H. Lawrence’s works. And just classics in general She had read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for the first time when she was eleven, and it had not taken her long to start dreaming of her own Mr. Darcy. When she had gotten a bit older and her eyes had been opened to other options, she had started dreaming of meeting her own Elizabeth Bennett.

Today she was dreaming of neither. Today she knew that if she was to enjoy romance again, she would do it through books. Read about how people got their happy endings. Because in books everything always worked out the way it was supposed to. In books, the heroine did not end up badly beaten and voiceless at the hands of the man who was supposed to be prince Charming. The real world was far more gruesome, Regina knew that. In the real world, things did not always work out like they were supposed to. Sometimes people got hurt. Badly.

A shiver ran down her spine. She swiftly turned another page in the book. She really did not want to think about that right now. She wished that she could stop thinking about her ex-fiancé all together.

Had there existed a potion that erased your memories, Regina would have drunken it in a heartbeat. And been happy about it. Forgetting about Killian Jones would truly have been a blessing.

But there didn’t exist such a potion. Regina was forced to live with her memories of the man who had hurt her. Regina’s shoulders bunched. Did she not just tell herself to stop thinking about it? So why was she still thinking about it? She really had to stop it. She was in the middle of reading, she reminded herself. All she had to do was concentrating on the words on the page. She could do that, could she not?

Tap-tap-tap.

Emma Swan was writing rather enthusiastically on her laptop. Regina briefly looked up and saw a flash of something new in Emma Swan’s green eyes. Unbridled joy. She looked thrilled about whatever she was writing on the laptop, and Regina thought to herself that it was rare seeing such passion these days. Most people were frowning when they were typing away on their computers, but Emma Swan was not. She looked extremely happy, and Regina could see that she was in fact miming the words she was writing. Regina smiled and averted her eyes. What Emma Swan was writing was not her business. She turned her attention back to the book in her lap and tried to immerse herself in the story of Lady Chatterley and her lover. And she was delighted to discover that she was succeeding. Her passion for reading was most certainly coming back. What a relief. Regina was not sure she could have taken another day where she just sat and stared at the wall. Now more than ever, Regina needed books in her life. She needed the luxury of disappearing into a captivating story. She had always sought comfort in books. Books had helped her shocked and distraught eighteen year old self through the weeks after her mother’s sudden death in the car crash. Books had comforted her when she and Mal had broken up (the first time). Books had been her way to unwind when she found out that she was pregnant with Henry. After her father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, Regina had not been able to read for several weeks. She was too shocked. She had not even been able to cry. She had just stared at a point at the wall until her stomach started hurting terribly and Zelena had called an ambulance because she was afraid that Regina would end up miscarrying because of the shock.

But then one night, Henry had cried and cried and cried (Regina later was convinced that the baby was mourning the grandfather he never got to meet) and out of pure frustration of not being able to do anything that soothed her child, she had started reading ‘The Little Prince” aloud to him. Henry had stopped crying. And Regina had started to. The book had broken a dam inside her, and even though the flood of tears could have washed all of them away, they did not. Instead the tears had been cleansing and renewing in some sense. And instead of being washed away in her grief, Regina had clung on to the book and her new baby. And she had decided that she would not let this break her. Her father would not have wanted that. She was going to continue. For her new child’s sake. There was no giving up when you were a mother.

Regina had always considered herself a survivor. A ‘badass’ or an ‘ice queen’ as one or two of her former students had called her. She always managed to stay afloat no matter what life threw at her. She had survived loosing both of her parents under tragic circumstances. She had managed a full time job and a baby. Without going insane. Yes, Regina knew that she possessed a great deal of strength. She knew it took a lot to rock her world.

But now she just felt tired. Burned out. Completely exhausted and with absolutely no willpower what so ever. Not in a suicidal way, of course. No, Regina would never even as much as THINK about ending things by her own hand again. There was no giving up when you were a mother. But it felt like all the strength she usually possessed was completely gone. There wasn’t anything left. The exhaustion sat in her bones and mind like a deathly bacteria just eating away at her.

Regina slowly rolled her head from side to side a few times, careful not to pull at the stiches, but trying to loosen the tight muscles in the back of her neck. She was getting a combination of two different kinds of headaches. One of them was a tension headache that radiated from the place in her shoulders where the muscles were all tight. And the other one radiated from the usual spot on her forehead.

Having your head slammed repeatedly into a hard wall gives you a headache now and again. Regina turned a page in her book and wondered if she should take an aspirin just to nip it in the bud. But she quickly decided to wait for a few hours and see how she felt then. She was deathly afraid of becoming addicted to medicine. Henry had seen her in the hospital when she was all dozed up on medicine with wild, unfocused eyes, unkempt and flailing hands. She never wanted her son to see her like that again.

And she was afraid of turning into someone who had to take a painkiller or two in order to cope with both physical and emotional pain. She was still skittish about taking the painkillers to soothe the pains in her throat, but both Doctor Auburn and Zelena had repeatedly told her how crucial it was for her recovery that she was taking her medicine. So Regina would continue with her painkillers. For the throat.

But when it came to her headache, she refused to resolve to medicine. She probably just hadn’t had enough water today.

That was when she heard Emma Swan chuckle in the seat across her.

Regina looked up from the book she wasn’t quite reading and lifted her eyebrow, wondering what was amusing Emma Swan. Not that she minded. Of course not. If the concerned blonde was amused over something, Regina was only happy for her. And slightly curious too.

“Sorry,” Emma said and sounded almost a bit sheepish. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Regina shrugged lightly and smiled. Hoped to indicate that Emma Swan was not disturbing her.

The silent message went through loud and clear. “I’m not disturbing you?” Emma Swan guessed.

Regina shook her head, still smiling.

“Good,” Emma said, leaning forward slightly as she returned the smile. Regina saw how she glanced at the book in her lap and then asked: “you’re into classics?” while nodding towards the book in Regina’s lap.

Regina nodded eagerly and did her best to squash the sharp pinch of sadness she felt. God, was she ever into classics! There had been days where she could talk about books for hours and hours. And now she could not anymore. Never again would she be able to talk about her love for books. With anyone. She pushed the sadness aside and found her phone in her pocket. If she could not talk about books any longer, she could at least give a more fulfilling answer than a simple nod. ‘Yes,’ she tapped on the screen. ‘I’ve always enjoyed classics.’ She turned the screen so that Emma Swan could read.

And Emma did. She eagerly leaned forward. Regina saw her lips move and silently form the words as she read them, and then she straightened her posture and smiled at Regina. “Me, too,” she said. “Do you have a favorite?”

Regina felt something similar to excitement as she turned the screen away and began tapping once more. Truthfully, she had many, many books she could mention. Many, many possibilities she could claim as being her favorite classic ever. But the very first thing coming to mind when she thought of her love for classic literature had to be the novel her mother had introduced her to when she was fifteen and not as much a reader as she was now. Cora had more or less thrusted the book into her hand and demanded that Regina read it. And so Regina had. And she had absolutely loved every sentence in it. ‘I think my favorite has to be ‘Jane Eyre’.’ Then she turned the screen towards Emma.

“That’s a good one,” Emma said and nodded. “It’s a very powerful story.”

Regina found herself nodding eagerly. Yes, exactly! Powerful was exactly the word she would have used to describe ‘Jane Eyre’. She was starting to get an inkling that Emma Swan liked books as much as she did. And Regina also found herself wanting to ask Emma Swan more questions about HER favorite books, but then she remembered that Emma was writing something on her laptop. She did not have time for socializing. Regina wrote a new message on her phone. ‘But I think I’m bothering your writing.’ Then she turned the phone towards Emma with a half-apologetic smile.

“You’re not,” Emma Swan said quickly after having glanced at the screen. “In fact...” she did not finish the sentence. Instead she just started to rummage after something in her bag.

Regina tilted her head curiously. What was Emma Swan doing? What was she searching for?

She soon found out when Emma presented her with a solid stack of sticky notes and two pencils. “I thought that maybe this could make it a bit easier,” Emma said. “Y’know.... Instead of you having to type on your phone all the time.”

Regina found herself smiling beamingly in return. What a thoughtful gesture. Emma pushed the stacks of post-its towards her along with the pencil, and Regina quickly grabbed the pencil and scrawled on the note: ‘That was very kind of you, and you’re right, it does make things a bit easier. But I don’t want to bother you.’ Again, she most definitely did not want Emma Swan to feel as though she HAD to talk to her. Regina did not want to be a burden to anyone.

“You’re not,” Emma said firmly. “Seriously, you’re not. I enjoy talk-“ she abruptly stopped talking, pearly white teeth clamping down on her bottom lip, and for a moment Regina did not understand what had caused this disruption. But then she realized that miss Swan most likely thought Regina did not appreciate what she almost had said. ‘Talk’. ‘I enjoy TALKING to you’.

Well. On her bad days, Regina could most certainly have been upset over that choice of word, but today it did not bother her as much. But still, she wanted to make sure Emma knew that she was not offended or anything. So she flashed the blonde a little smile before bowing her head and writing on the sticky note: ‘...Communicating with me?’ then she pushed the note across the table and towards Emma Swan.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded, cheeks stained slightly red as though she was embarrassed. “Exactly.”

Laughing. That was something Regina could no longer do. But that did not stop her from trying, though. Soundless amusement bubbled in her throat, and her shoulders shook exactly like they would if she had been chuckling with sound. She so wished she had been able to laugh with sound, but alas she could not.

Regina willed herself not to be bitter. What good would that do in her current situation? She was alive. That was the only thing that mattered. Her existence had not been wiped from this earth, and she was privileged enough to still be around to watch Henry grow up. Nothing else mattered. A muted life was a small price to pay for being able to look upon her beloved son every single day.

Emma Swan went back to tapping on her laptop, and Regina turned her attention back to the book in her lap. She noted that the letters were swimming slightly before her eyes. Her headache seemed to be getting worse. Or perhaps she should go back to her sleep compartment and retrieve her reading glasses. But the thing was... Regina was sitting really comfortably right now. She had no real desire to move until she absolutely had to. Stillness had become a very solid part of her day. First because she was too weak and wounded to move. Then because she was too heavily sedated to be able to walk around. And now because she was too scared to be a part of the outside world. She would have to work on that when she got home to Vancouver. Work on finding her place in the world. And work on being less still. Perhaps she would even start exercising again. Doing yoga like she had since she was eighteen. Like with reading, yoga had brought her lots of comfort over the years. Perhaps it was time to start that routine again.

“Are you from Toronto?”

Regina looked up at the slightly abrupt question. But she was merely pleasantly surprised. She had thought that Emma was busy writing. Regina grabbed a new sticky note and scribbled her answer on it.

‘No, I’m actually from Montreal.” Then she pushed the note across the table towards Emma Swan.

“Oh, okay,” Emma said. She tapped a few buttons on her laptop and then had a new question: “have you ever been to Vancouver before then?”

Regina nodded, scribbled on the sticky note: ‘yes, many times’, before sliding the note over to Emma.

“Nice,” Emma said as she glanced at the note. “Any chance you can recommend me a cheap hotel or inn or something?”

Regina raised an eyebrow, puzzled. Was Emma on her way to Vancouver without having booked a room in advantage? Was she coming completely unprepared, without a plan? Regina was not so sure she could have done that. It seemed quite... chaotic.

Emma Swan blushed a bit and rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. “Yeah, I was sort of.... in a hurry to get out of the door, and I didn’t really research before I left.”

Regina forced herself to nod slightly as she grabbed a new post-it and started scribbling. But really, she was a bit concerned. ‘In a hurry to get out of the door’. It sounded alarming. Regina did not know the exact circumstances behind Emma Swan’s departure from her destination, but she recognized a person running away. When she was done writing, she looked at the message she had just scribbled down. ‘Do you have any preferences?’. Then she pushed the note towards Emma.

“Hmm,” Emma said after having glanced at the note. “I’ve sort of been through a pretty tough time, and I’m not in the mood for lots of people, so somewhere quie-“ she cleared her throat awkwardly.
“Somewhere quiet and peaceful.”

Was this young woman her reflection, Regina thought to herself. Emma Swan was saying exactly what Regina felt. She too was looking for peace and quiet. This strengthened her theory. That Emma Swan most certainly was running away from something. Regina pulled herself together and quickly scribbled a new message for Emma. ‘Well, if you’re looking for a peaceful place to stay, I can recommend Eugenia’s Diner in Steveston.’ She handed the message to Emma.

“Steveston?” Emma asked and raised an eyebrow. “Where’s that exactly?”

Regina eagerly tore off another message and scribbled just as eagerly. ‘It’s a small town just 12, 2 miles away from Vancouver. It only takes a little over a half an hour to get there. It’s this little fisher village. I rather think you’d like it there’. She could think of no better place than Steveston. That beautiful little fisher village. Regina had spent so many summers there over the years. First alone and then with Henry. He too had loved the little town. He had loved coming to Eugenia’s Inn for her famous burgers. Regina felt slightly guilty upon remembering how long it had been since they last went there.

Perhaps she should change that to.

“Steveston,” Emma interrupted her train of thoughts. Regina looked up just in time to see her smile. “I’ll remember that.”

Regina immediately took the opportunity to write another message on a new post-it. ‘If you’d like, I could give you Eugenia’s number and you could call her in advantage? I don’t think there’ll be any problems regarding showing up and booking a room, but she likes it better when people call in advantage.’ She only thought about how eager she seemed after having slid the message across the table to Emma. Everything in her wanted to help Emma Swan. She looked so lost as she sat huddled there in the train seat with her too long legs folded awkwardly under her. Almost child-like in a sense. She had a particular look in her eyes. One that Regina partially recognized.

“That would be awesome!” Emma exclaimed, face splitting in an easy grin. “Seriously, you would literally save my life!”

Regina quickly scribbled down the phone number and advice: ‘she answers the phone between 09:00 and 13:00’. Then she pushed the note across the table.

“Thank you,” Emma smiled beamingly. “Thank you so much! I’ll call her first thing tomorrow and book a room.”

Regina settled for returning the smile and vowed to keep her fingers crossed that Eugenia would have a room for Emma.

“So, are you going on vacation in Vancouver?” Emma asked. Now she was small talking again.

Regina shook her head as a reply. It didn’t seem worth it to waste paper on the word ‘no’.

“You’re gonna live there?” Emma guessed.

Regina nodded this time, and as she did so, she felt how her shoulders crawled up towards her ears. She was becoming guarded. Again.

“Well, I’m just running away from all the people in Toronto,” Emma said easily and even chuckled a little. “Place’s too crowded for me.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. Definitely a story there. But if Emma preferred joking with it, then so be it. Regina was not gonna stop her.

“I’m looking forward to seeing that little fisher community,” Emma continued and patted her pocket in which she had just placed the note with the number to Eugenia’s Inn.

Regina smiled and nodded slightly. Yes, visiting Steveston was most certainly something to look forward to. It was a beautiful little place. A hidden gem.

“Do you come to Steveston often?” Emma asked and tilted her head slightly.

For some reason, Regina found the gesture to be slightly endearing, and she felt that silent laughter bubble in her chest as she grabbed a new post-it note and wrote: ‘Yes, sometimes I do. I’ve known Eugenia for a while, and she probably would be disappointed if I didn’t stop by sometimes.’ And so would Henry. He had talked a lot about Steveston. Regina had the impression that he wished for them to go away together, just the two of them, but her fragile psyche could not handle that right now. She needed to be with her sister. She forced the concerned thoughts out of her mind as she handed Emma the note.

“Great,” Emma said and chuckled as soon as she had read the message. “Then maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee sometimes? To say thank you for giving me Eugenia’s number.”

Coffee. Coffee with a friend. Regina could not remember the last time she had gone out to have coffee with a friend. Killian had not allowed her to have any social life. If she wanted to have coffee, she could damn well have it in their kitchen, he had sneered. He had been bold enough to call it ‘their’ kitchen even though the house technically belonged to Regina.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek slightly. She did want to have coffee with Emma Swan sometimes. In fact she wanted it a lot. It had been so long since she had been given the opportunity to meet a new friend. She nodded briefly, scribbled another message. ‘Coffee sounds nice’, and in one swift movement, she handed the message to Emma.

Emma smiled in response, but then frowned slightly. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m talking way too much.”

No. Absolutely not. Regina had not thought that at all. She rather liked it when Emma spoke, and she was saddened by the look on her face. Emma should not be apologizing for talking. Ever. Regina had done exactly the same when Kilian every so often had ordered her to ‘shut up, damnit!’. Regina acknowledged that she was having quite a few flashbacks right now and decided that it was time to lighten the mood. She swiftly grabbed a new note and wrote exactly what she was thinking: ‘No, I don’t. I find it very nice. It’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to communicate with, and I can’t exactly talk to myself.’ She gave Emma the note and leaned back in her seat.

Emma read the note. Then looked up. Her jaw was hanging open, and her green eyes seemed to have widened quite a lot. Regina almost grew concerned, and she quickly grinned at the blonde to assure her that it was just a bit of dark humor on her part.

It did the trick. Emma shook her head and laughed slightly. “Right then. I’m glad I’m not bothering you.”

Regina quickly wrote another note. ‘You’re not bothering me, Emma. Not at all.’

Emma Swan smiled. Genuinely and big. The sight brought momentary warmth to the permanent block of ice that resided in Regina’s stomach. She was glad that they were sharing a train-cabin all the way to Vancouver. Traveling was still a jarring experience for Regina, but sharing a train-cabin with Emma Swan made it feel less jarring. She felt like.... Like she was among friends. Yes. Emma Swan could become her friend someday. In the future. If they stayed in contact, of course.

 

Around lunch time, Regina choose to remain seated. She preferred enjoying her lunch here rather than in the dining area. A bit too many people. She had her lunch served by a helpful train-clerk, and she smiled at him before turning her attention back to her book.

Emma Swan left for the dining area, though.

Regina dug into the ham and cheese sandwich she had been served Perhaps it was not the best sandwich in the world (her own turkey sandwich beat it by miles) but it was like a royal feast for someone who had been on liquid diet for such a long time.

Her throat, however, did not fully share her enthusiasm. After having swallowed the last bite, Regina had to surrender and find the bottle of pills in her purse. The muscles were cramping yet again. She hastily placed the pill on her tongue and reached for her bottle of water, eyes squeezing shut in anticipation over the pain that undoubtedly would flare up when she swallowed. And it did indeed hurt to swallow. The muscles tightened and cramped and made her feel like she was choking, but then she reminded herself that she had taken a lot worse pain than this. She could live with the cramping muscles.

As she slipped the bottle of pills back in her purse, Emma came back to the train-cabin, huffing slightly and looking a bit annoyed. Regina thought that her green eyes lingered a moment on the bottle of pills disappearing into the purse, but she was not certain.

Regina flashed Emma a smile when she sat down. She did not want her to be worried about her.

“Well, the dining area was full of screaming kids. Again,” Emma announced as she crossed her legs once more.

Regina felt very amused by this. Humorous enough to write on a note: ‘no kidding?’ before pushing it across the table.

Emma laughed at the rhetorical question on the note. “You know what I think?”

Regina shook her head and raised an eyebrow. No, she did not know what Emma Swan thought. But she was most curious to find out.

“I think we’re part of an experiment,” Emma continued, lowering her voice and made Regina feel as though they were in on this together. “I think every kid on board on this train has been dozed up on sugar, and the producers are waiting for someone to finally snap.”

Regina felt her smile widening at that, and she could not resist writing another note and joke a bit more. ‘That’s an interesting theory, miss Swan. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true.’ It had been a long time since she joked too.

Emma smiled after having read the note. And Regina sensed that there was not much more to write right now. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes for a moment..

 

Regina had assumed that Emma would be writing the whole day, she had looked so immersed in it, but to her surprise, she had closed her laptop and almost shyly inquired if she could maybe borrow a book.

Of course she could. Regina had immediately opened her purse and delighted upon seeing Emma’s reaction to the small ‘library’ she kept in her purse. Emma had ended up choosing ‘A Study in Scarlet’. Regina had silently applauded that choice. Emma Swan knew her books.

Regina had been meaning to do something about her own reading too, but the headache was getting stronger. At a certain point where Emma had been thoroughly immersed in the book, Regina had discreetly reached within her bag and taken half a painkiller. Just to take the edge of things. She was not abusing her medicine. She was just soothing her symptoms.
Then she leaned back and rested her eyes. The gentle sway of the train moving had soon soothed her to sleep, and for once she had not dreamed of anything terrible. Her dreams did not make sense but were full of colors. Bright, beautiful colors. She did not mean to fall asleep before dinner. That was a habit she was trying to change too. Falling asleep at any given moment. But she was still so tired. So weak.

Then her dreams were disrupted by the sound of children running past the door to their train-cabin. Regina woke with a start and straightened her posture. When she looked up, Emma Swan was looking at her. Briefly. She still had a book in her lap. “Damn kids,” she said softly.

Regina nodded and ran her fingers through her hair. Straightened her posture again. Then adjusted the scarf around her neck. Her fingers brushed against the bandage underneath the scarf, and her hand trembled slightly. Soon she would have to change the bandage and be confronted with the marks underneath the pristine, white bandage.

Emma Swan looked at her and smiled.

Regina returned the smile, but with less sincerity than before. Thinking about the bandage made her stomach churn slightly.

“I’m starving, aren’t you?” Emma asked casually. Her legs were still folded ridiculously under her.

Regina nodded three times rapidly when suddenly realizing how hungry she really was.

“Do you want to sit together in the dining room?” Emma asked her and sounded almost hopeful. “Sitting alone is just so... Lonely.”

Regina hesitated for a moment. Pursed her lips and frowned softly. The thought of changing the bandage was still roaming freely in her mind. It was difficult to think of anything else, but she reminded herself that Emma was waiting for an answer. So she nodded again. Slowly, this time.

“Great,” Emma said and flashed her another smile. But a bit of a different one. She looked slightly sad, and Regina wondered why that was. And she immediately worried if she had come across as rude or disinterested. That was not the case at all. She was just worried about being confronted with her throat. But that was of course not something she could tell Emma Swan.

“I hope there’s chicken for dinner,” Emma said lightly. “Do you like chicken too?”

Regina nodded again. This time with more vigor. And she even felt a smile spread on her lips. Emma Swan had a certain way of making her think about something else.....

 

To Be Continued.......

Chapter Text

’Can I ask what you’re writing about?’

Honestly, Regina’s intention had been to leave Emma Swan to her writing. But she was just so curious at the way Emma completely seemed to disappear when she looked at her laptop screen and her fingers started clacking away. Regina was intrigued by the way Emma’s lips silently formed the words. She was fascinated with the way her green eyes gleamed and how she sometimes grinned to herself like she had just written something particularly brilliant. So Regina had not been able to contain her curiosity. She simply HAD to write Emma a note. And hope that Emma Swan wasn’t bothered by the interruption.

Emma clacked a bit more on her laptop. Then she looked at Regina, grinned and went: “sure.” She adjusted a bit. Folded her long legs more comfortably. “I’m writing fairytales. Or, twisted fairy tales. I call them ‘Twisted Endings’. Not very original, I know, but it was the only thing I could come up with.”

If Henry was here to hear this, he surely would have exploded with happiness right on the spot. Or possibly attached himself to Emma Swan’s back like a little monkey. He’d ask question after question about the fairy tales, and Emma would never get a moment’s peace. Regina thought to herself that she would have to tell him about this when she arrived at Vancouver Station. That the woman she had shared a train-cabin with, had been writing fairytales. Regina was definitely intrigued. Very much so. She had met many people who worked on their debut novel, but she had not met someone who wrote fairy tales. There was a first time for everything.

Regina certainly wanted to know more. But at the same time, she was anxious about bothering Emma. So she combined that in the next note she wrote: ‘Twisted fairy tales? That sounds interesting. Can I know more about it, or should I stop bothering you?’ she pushed the note towards Emma with a slight smile in an attempt to apologize for her many questions.

“You’re not bothering me at all,” Emma quickly assured after having read the note. She flashed Regina another one of those friendly smiles. “I’ve loved reading fairy tales ever since I was a kid, and I’ve always loved writing too, so one day I just thought: why not combine that? As soon as the thought had entered my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so one night I just sat down and began outlining my ideas. What if Sleeping Beauty actually had Kleine Levin syndrome and entered a dream world when she fell asleep? What if Cinderella was a runaway in the modern world? What if Hansel and Gretel never was left in the woods by their father? What if they were actually running away from an abusive home, and the so-called witch who found them actually was good?” she chuckled a bit awkwardly and rubbed the back of her neck slightly. “Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but I can’t stop writing, and either way it’s nice to have something to keep me occupied.”

A pipe dream? Regina almost wanted to scold this young woman for believing so little in herself. If her stories were just half as remarkable as what she was describing, Regina couldn’t see why it shouldn’t come true. ‘Dream big. Always dream big’. That was what Regina always said to her students. But Emma Swan was not her student. She was essentially a stranger. And if Regina started to shower her with advises or overly enthusiastic encouragement, there was a chance that Emma would get rightfully spooked. Regina knew she had to tone it down a bit. And she tried her best in the next note she wrote for the blonde: ‘Why would it be a pipe dream? It sounds very interesting.’ There. Encouraging without sounding too overly enthusiastic. She pushed the note towards Emma and let it join the other two notes.

Emma chuckled after having read the note. “Thanks. If I ever get anything published, you’ll get a free copy.”

Regina scowled slightly as she quickly scrawled down another message: ‘Oh no, no free copies. I’ll buy your book, just like everyone else.’ She almost felt a bit firm as she pushed the note across the table.

Emma let out a sound that could almost have been a snort. “Thanks, but I don’t think it’ll ever become a book.”

Regina leaned slightly forward and raised an eyebrow, hoping that Emma would be able to understand the silent question. Why?

And Emma did. “Well,” she said, dragging out the word and appearing to be chewing on the inside of her cheek for a moment before answering: “I guess I’m just a pessimist, and no one has ever really... encouraged me to keep writing. More the opposite, actually.”

Regina felt a twinge of anger as she grabbed another note and began writing on it. Emma had looked so disheartened. So discouraged. Regina almost felt angry on her behalf, and she looked down upon the note she had just finished. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, creativity should be applauded and encouraged. Not the opposite. Keep writing your stories and ignore the people who tries to bring you down. I’m sure you’ll succeed.’ Regina did not care if this was too enthusiastic. She could sense that Emma needed enthusiasm and cheering on. She gently pushed the note towards the blonde.

Emma bowed her head. Her green eyes lingered on the written words for a moment. Then she lifted her head and smiled at Regina. “Thanks. That’s really nice of you.”

Regina was quick to tear another note off the stack. She scribbled and scribbled as an idea popped into her mind, and reminded herself to slow down. Otherwise her handwriting would look clumsy. And her handwriting was all she had now. The only way of expressing herself. She squinted slightly as she looked at the message and checked it for spelling errors. ‘my friend Malena owns Dragon Publishing based in Vancouver. She specializes in books that falls a bit outside the usual categories. Perhaps you could reach out to her once you’ve finished your book? Mal is a bit of an “ice queen” on the outside, but don’t let that scare you off. She’s actually really great.’ She felt a twinge of sadness when she thought about Malena and how long it had been since they last saw one another.

But Regina could not figure out how she was supposed to be around her old friend now. Talking had been what they did. They had bantered and laughed together, and now Regina could not do either of those things. She could barely function, really. She was a shadow of herself. And Malena did not deserve that. She did not deserve to see Regina in such poor condition. She had wanted to visit Regina when she was in the hospital as well, but Regina had refused to see her. Not until she got better. Way better. Once she stopped being so afraid of everything.

Regina snapped out of it and slid the note towards Emma. No more getting lost in her own head. That kind of thing was dangerous.

Emma looked down at the note. Then she looked up at Regina. Eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, and Regina immediately grew concerned. Had she overstepped? Been too overly enthusiastic when it came to helping a stranger? Was Emma Swan now spooked because of her overly friendly advices? Oh no. That was not the intention at all. Regina’s heart sank. It was so hard to get your point across in the right way when you couldn’t talk.

“Are you some sort of fairy godmother?” Emma blurted.

Regina blinked. A fairy godmother? Oh. Ohh! Emma was not spooked by her suggestion. She was happy. And now Regina was too. She had never been called a fairy godmother by anyone before. She felt that odd, silent amusement bubble in her chest and slither past her broken vocal cords to wrap onto her shoulders and make them shake slightly in silent laughter. Then she shook her head. No, she was not a fairy godmother by any means. She just wanted to help.

“I’m starting to think that you are,” Emma gently argued and snickered. “First you recommend me a place I can live, and then you casually mention that your friend just so happens to own a publishing house who could be interested in my book. My money is still on the fairy godmother thing.”

Regina smiled and shook her head. Emma Swan had such an interesting, colorful language. Young and adult mixed. It was highly entertaining.

“What about you?” Emma asked curiously, blonde hair falling down on either side of her face as she leaned forward slightly. “What do you do? I mean, apart from making people’s wishes come true?”

Regina could literally feel the smile falter as she grabbed a new note. Her old job as a literature professor. God, how she missed that. The universe. She missed the coffee breaks with her colleagues. She missed popping down to the impressive library. And most of all, she missed teaching. She missed the identity she’d had during her time as Professor Mills. Her job had been her way of escaping. As a university professor, she had been respected. People had listened to her. Had reflected over the things she said. A stark contrast to her home-life where she had not been respected. Not listened to. And where Killian had not reflected over the things she had said to him. At her job, she had been able to pretend that she was still the same old Regina. The professor who was always in control over everything. What a lie. What a double life she had lived. During her thought process, she had written: ‘I was a professor in English literature at the Université de Montréal.’ A very short note it had taken her far too long to write, but oh well. She pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma read the note and then looked up at her. Regina was fairly certain she saw something in the blonde’s eyes. Awe. Wonder. Regina’s chest tightened as she bowed her head to write another note. She felt like she had to elaborate in some kind of way. ‘I quit my job a while back, but maybe I’ll find something else to do in Vancouver.’ She silently scoffed to herself as she presented Emma with the note.

She HAD to find something else to do in Vancouver. The compensation Killian had been sentenced to pay her could have kept her afloat for a while, but Regina had plain refused to receive his money. She had already been depending on him in one way. No way in hell was she going to live off his money.

Live off the money of the man who had attacked her and nearly choked her to death?!

Absolutely not.

Regina would rather die than spending as much as a dime of his money.

Her lawyers had not tried to argue with her when she firmly rejected the compensation. Instead they had called her a brave woman. It had nothing to do with bravery. But it had everything to do with being able to look herself in the eye. It had to do with pride. She would do fine. She had earned a fair chunk of money as her time as a professor, and should things get tight, she still had the inheritance from her father.

Yes.

She and Henry would manage on their own.

They did not need money that was soaked in her blood.

“Sounds like a good plan,” Emma said softly and brought Regina back to reality.

Regina nodded slightly and watched as Emma stuffed her laptop away in a bag under her seat. Then she looked at Regina. “I’m thinking about heading out and getting some dinner. Do you wanna come along?”

Regina nodded and rose from her seat. She was grateful for being pulled out of her thoughts which had been straying towards a dark path. She was very fortunate to share a train-cabin with such a chatty woman. Emma Swan was a wonderful distraction for someone with a clouded mind and dark thoughts looming just below the surface.

Regina straightened her posture as they walked towards the dining area. Now was not the time for thinking. It was time for dinner...

 

The smile soon returned to Regina’s lips. Because of what Emma Swan was ordering for dinner. Crispy chicken drumsticks and French fries. Someone was hungry.

Regina was only slightly envious. Her throat had started acting up again, and she knew that she had to be a little careful with TOO much solid food. So when the waiter turned his attention to her and asked: “and what can I get for you, ma’am?”, Regina pointed to the French onion soup.

“French onion soup?” the waiter asked aloud as to clarify it.

Regina tried not to frown as she nodded.

“The portions are very small,” the waiter told her. “How about you chose the soup as a starter and then order something else as your main course? We’ve got a special offer on sushi tonight-“

Regina silenced him by shaking her head firmly and pointed to the French onion soup again. Why couldn’t he just go with it instead of rambling? She couldn’t eat sushi tonight!

“Just French onion soup?” he asked again, clearly taken slightly aback by her rapid headshaking.

Regina tried not to gnash her teeth as she nodded in confirmation.

“Alright, Ma’am,” the waiter finally surrendered. “And what can I get you to drink?”

Regina pointed to the first choice. Water.

“Water?” The waiter asked her.

Regina’s eyebrows knitted together as she wondered if he thought she was dense. Or maybe HE was a bit dense. She nodded in confirmation.

“Very well. Coming right up,” he said and then turned to Emma: “and your fried chicken as well, miss.”

“Sounds good,” Emma said lightly and flashed him a slight smile.

Regina instantaneously felt guilty. Emma Swan was definitely the bigger person here. Why did that damn waiter have to interrogate her like that? True, he was just doing his job, but nonetheless... Why did he have to make such a big fuss about it? Regina didn’t quite understand that. Perhaps he had thought that she was deaf. It wouldn’t have been the first time someone assumed that. And it wasn’t a problem when people mistook her silence for deafness. Only when they started signing to her and Regina had no idea what they were trying to say. She wasn’t all that well-versed in using Sign Language.

Another thing she would have to work on when she got back to Vancouver.

After a moment or so, Regina’s glass of water and Emma’s beer arrived. Regina was slightly envious at that. Not that she was that much of a beer drinker, really, but she did miss the taste of alcohol. The glass of wine she’d had the other night was the first drink she’d had ever since landing herself in the hospital. Alcohol did not mix well with her medicine.

“Cheers,” Emma smiled as she lifted her glass.

Regina returned the smile and lifted her glass of water so she could clink it with Emma’s.

They were sipping their respective drinks when Regina picked up on a low buzzing sound. It only took her a few moments to figure out that the sound came from Emma’s cellphone. It was ringing.

“Just ignore it,” Emma said when picking up on the sound. She chuckled. “It’s not anyone I want to talk to anyway.”

Regina nodded, but she couldn’t help to feel confused.

It must have been reflected in her expression, for Emma leaned forward slightly to elaborated: “I’m sort of running away from the person who keeps calling me.”

Regina felt her eyebrow shoot towards her hairline. Her heart started thudding uncomfortably in her chest. Who was Emma Swan running away from? Was she being hunted by someone? An ex-boyfriend?

Now Regina’s throat tightened uncomfortably, and she had the urge to rip the scarf away and take deep, full breaths. Had Emma been in the same situation as her? Regina suddenly found herself scanning every inch of Emma’s face and what was visible of her arms. She felt almost a bit frantic as she scanned Emma’s skin to see if she had any bruises anywhere. Regina knew exactly how to spot a bruise.

Including those that were made in places you wouldn’t normally look at.

“Don’t worry,” Emma said quickly and still leaning forward slightly. “I’m not in any danger. I’m just trying to get away from an irritating person. That’s all.”

Oh. Regina’s shoulders loosened some. But she still wasn’t completely convinced. She also knew that there were many types of lies one could use to cover for the truth. A ball to the face in a school yard.

An unfortunate incident with an open cupboard. A clumsy encounter with slippery tiles in the bathroom.

Or perhaps even a freak car accident in which the seatbelt ended up wrapped around your neck.

“I’m fine,” Emma assured, pulling Regina out of her thoughts once more. “I really am. Please don’t worry about me.”

Regina shook her head. She too had said those damn five words one too many times over the past two years. She had lied through her teeth again and again because the truth was too terrible to say out loud. And if she later discovered that Emma Swan had been in a similar situation and she had not done anything to prevent it... Well, Regina was not sure she could live with herself. She grabbed a new note and did her best to write down her concerns without going overboard. ‘You’ve just told me that you’re running away from a person who keeps calling you, and you don’t me to worry about you?’ that was definitely to simplify it, but it was the best she could do without going into too many details. She pushed the note towards Emma.

To her utmost surprise, Emma chuckled after having read the note. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying,” she said lightly, and Regina immediately deduced that Emma Swan used humor to deal with difficult situations. Oh yes, Regina couldn’t count the times she too had put on a fake smile to assure her son and sister that everything was just fine and dandy. However, she refused to play along on this pretend game. She raised an eyebrow in skepticism over what Emma had just said.

“Seriously, don’t worry,” Emma said earnestly and not chuckling anymore. “I’m fine. I just need to get away from Toronto. That’s all.”

Regina decided to let it be with that. For whatever reason, she believed what Emma said, and she nodded slowly. Then she sought solace in her glass of water. Raised it and took a mouthful of the liquid.

Ouch. Swallowing hurt. A lot. She had been tensing her throat. She sat her glass of water down abruptly and brought a fist to her mouth as she tried to clear her throat in that special way that would not pull at the stiches under the scarf.

Clang.

Regina jumped a little in her chair. She still wasn’t very good at coping with loud sounds. They so often reminded her of the sound of a bedroom door being flung open. Or heavy boots coming up the stairs. Now she quickly looked around to locate the source of the sound.

“Shit. Sorry,” Emma apologized as she ducked under the table to retrieve something. A few seconds she popped up again. With her fork in hand.

Oh. Regina’s shoulders immediately unclenched again. Just a fork. How silly of her to get so jumpy because of a fork. A slight smile tugged at her lips. Sometimes you just had to laugh at yourself.

“I’m perpetually clumsy,” Emma told her and grimaced slightly.

Perpetually. Once again, Regina was amused. What an interesting language Emma had. Sometimes she almost reminded Regina of one of her students. Former students.

Emma started chit-chatting about the children she was sure had to be dosed up on sugar, and Regina found it to be very entertaining to listen to. It sounded very much like Miss Swan hadn’t had a lot to do with children in her life. Regina thought to herself that Henry never would have behaved in this horrendous way. Not even when he was younger. Even as a baby, he was always fairly calm. And with those deep, soulful eyes he had inherited from both his mother and grandfather. Thinking about her son made Regina’s heart clench a little. She missed him. But that was good. She was relieved to feel that way. Relieved that she was looking forward to taking him in her arms when there had been a point not too many months ago where she had been unable to.

Her musings were interrupted when the waiter arrived with their food. Soup for Regina and chicken drumsticks and French fries for Emma.

“Bon Appetit,” the waiter said in a rather rusty French accent, and as soon as he’d left, Regina and Emma shared amused glances over that.

It did not take many seconds before Emma dug into her food with vigor. Regina wondered if Emma was ‘perpetually’ hungry too, or if there was another reason behind the way she threw the food down like she was afraid that someone would take it away from her.

Regina too began to eat. And the first mouthful of onion soup was actually so much better than what she had expected. This was quite good soup, really. So much better than it looked. How delightful.

But what was not so delightful, was the way her throat suddenly cramped without warning. Regina had to put her spoon down abruptly and reach for her purse. As discreetly as she possibly could, she unzipped it, reached within it, and found the bottle of pills. As she with some trouble caught a pill between her thumb and index finger, she glanced discreetly at Emma. She did not want to cause a scene.

She did not want to spoil the lighthearted mood by showing signs of being unwell.

But Emma appeared to be fully engaged with her supper. Good. That was good. Regina did not want to make her worried. There was no reason for that at all. She was fine. Of course she was. She was completely alright. Nothing to worry about at all.

 

*******************************

 

Later, when the lights in the train dimmed, Regina gathered that it was time to head back to her sleep compartment. It was time to take the last pill for the night. So she wrote Emma a note and told her that she would be retiring for the night now.

“Alright,” Emma said and for some reason sounded a little down. “Good night then. Sleep well.”

Regina offered a smile and then rose from her seat and walked down the hallway. She was fading, but she had managed to stay up thirty minutes later than yesterday. She considered that to be a victory of sorts. A sign that her old strength was slowly coming back. At least that was what Regina was hoping.

Regina paid a visit to the bathroom to brush her teeth and perform her usual bedtime routine before retiring for the night. When she had taken care of things in the bathroom, she continued down the hallway and unlocked the door to the sleep compartment. She slipped inside and felt utterly relieved when seeing her bed waiting for her. Laying down would be glorious.

But before she could do that, there was one more thing she needed to do. Text her son and tell him goodnight. This was his bedtime too. It did not take long before she received a sweet: ‘goodnight mom! See you soon :D I really miss you, but I’ve had so much fun with aunt Z today! We had pizza for dinner and chocolate cake for dessert, but aunt Z told me not to tell you that ;)’

Regina smiled despite the crimes her sister had committed food-wise. She could live with her son eating pizza and chocolate cake one night if it meant that he was happy. That was the only thing that mattered to her. His happiness. ‘That sounds wonderful, my little prince. I’m so happy to hear you had a good night. Did you and aunt Z watch a movie too?’

The response came almost immediately. ‘Yeah, we watched Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban! :D’

Regina texted back, telling her son that that too sounded wonderful, but now she was frowning slightly. Wasn’t Henry much too young to watch Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban? There was some pretty scary scenes in that movie. The Dementors for instance. And the scenes that were not directly scary but still had impact. The scene where Harry hears his mother scream for mercy, for instance.

Perhaps that hit a little too close to home. Regina’s frown deepened as she quickly sent her son another text: ‘and did you like the movie, sweetheart?’

‘Yeah, it was awesome!! :D’

Oh. Okay then. Perhaps Regina would not text her sister then. Perhaps she would accept that her son had a good time tonight and wasn’t scared of the movie. Perhaps she should stop looking for hidden ghosts.

‘I’m happy to hear that, sweetie. But please let your aunt pick the next movie, okay?’ it had to be Henry’s suggestion to watch Harry Potter. Zelena would have picked a Disney movie. And Regina would have preferred that.

‘Ooookay mom :P’

Regina smiled to herself. That little rascal was giving her cheek. She could not wait to hold him in her arms again. ‘Goodnight, sweetheart. Sleep well! I love you to the moon and back.’

‘I love you too, mom! Lots!’

Regina smiled as she put her phone away and put on her pajamas. Henry had had a good night full of laughter and pizza and chips. That was the only thing that mattered. As long as she knew that, she could do anything. Including changing the bandage on her throat. Regina squared her shoulders as she sanitized her hands and slipped on the latex gloves she had received from the hospital. Then she peeled the bandage away for the first time. Then the plaster. She could do this. Had to do this.

Regina twisted her head slightly. Looked down to glance at the wound. The stiches looked fine, but it still made the breath hitch in her throat. So this was what it looked like now. That terrible, broad red line on her throat. That horrible dent where the belt buckle had punctuated her skin again and again. She slowly rose from the edge of the bed and walked over to the little mirror on the door. When she was standing in front of it, she pushed her hair back slightly so she could see how bad it was.

And it was bad. A lump formed in her throat as she looked at marred skin. This was how she looked like now. This was what he had done to her. Disfigured her. For life. She had to live with this for the rest of her life. Be the living proof of what he had done to her that night.

Regina lowered the collar on her pajamas. Blinked as tears started to form. How was she ever supposed to feel good about herself? There had been a time where she enjoyed wearing lowcut blouses and tops. There had been a time where she had liked to wear necklaces to accentuate her neck. But never again. If she went out without her scarf, people would look at her. They would look at her throat and wonder what on earth had happened to her. And Regina would be a walking victim all over again. An abused woman and nothing more.

Regina turned her back on her reflection and walked back to the bed where she had her little box full of supplies from the hospital. Her movements were angry as she unscrewed the lid on the bottle that held the lotion, but she of course made sure to be careful as she rubbed the soothing cream into the area around the stiches in her throat. She sat down on the bed and waited for a couple of minutes until the cream had dried. Then she found a new plaster and carefully placed it on the wound. Patted the edges to make sure nothing was crinkling. Then the bandage followed suit. That was not so difficult.

She just had to take one of the gauze pads and place it over the wound. Cut a few pieces of the medical tape and place it at the edges of the gauze to make sure it did not slide around. There. Now she was done. She had managed to change her bandage on her own.

Regina’s fingers squeezed around the bottle of cream. She fiddled with the lid to make sure it was properly tightened. After having made sure that it was, she lifted the bottle and threw it across the room without any hesitation. It collided with the wall with a sharp thud and then landed on the floor. When she couldn’t yell or cry about how she looked, at least she could throw things against the wall still.

As she picked up the bottle and put it back in her suitcase, Regina felt a little childish. Willed herself to calm down as she crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. Now she just had to relax and go to sleep. She was fine....

‘She was on the floor. Her clothes were torn. The little sharp edges from the rug was digging into her back. He was on top of her. Inside her. Forcing the air out of her lungs, tearing her apart with every sharp jerk of his hips. Her body moved with his in a limp, detached way. She wasn’t here. She was walking hand in hand with Henry, eating ice cream on a sunny day. He was smiling at her. Laughing to her. Squeezing her hand.

But that is not what was happening. He was still on top of her. Pinning her down with his body. Squashing her hands with his own to keep them in place.

Regina whimpered. “Stop. You’re hurting me! Please, stop, Killian!”

“Shut up!” he grunted. “You bitch!” he hitched his hips a little sharper. “Thought you could just leave me, did you? You stupid bitch!”

“I promise I won’t leave you!” Regina pleaded. “I promise! I’ll stay right here with you, Killian, just stop! Please!”

“Stop?” he laughed cruelly in her ear. Taunted her: “you like this!”

“No, please, I-“

“Shut up! You stupid bitch!” he interrupted, spit following his outburst and landing on her face. “You like it! Say you like it! Or I’ll kill that precious boy of yours!”

“I like it,” Regina whispered as tears fell from her eyes.

“Louder, you slut!”

“I like it!” Regina screamed, breath catching in her throat as he hitched his hips sharper, hurting her deeper. She could feel the blood trickle down her thighs. He was enjoying her pain.

Killian roared with laughter in her ear. “That’s right!” he sneered. “You like this! Don’t you think I know that, you little bitch? I know exactly what you like! What you deserve!”

Regina whimpered and felt how she slowly was leaving her body. Soaring up under the ceiling and watching Killian do this to her. She was only vaguely aware of his hands loosening their grip as he approached his release. But something inside her told her this was her chance, and in one sharp jerk, she pulled her hands out of his grasp. Hiked her knee up and then jammed it at his crotch with as much force as she possibly could muster.

He roared in pain much like he had when her ring had scraped the skin on his cheek a moment ago, but before she could even catch her breath, he was grabbing her by the hair. Pulling her up and wrapping his belt around her neck.

“You shouldn’t have done that, you little whore,” he sneers. “Now I’m going to kill you. And then I’m going after precious little Henry. What do you think he’ll say when he finds out what I did to his
Mummy, hmm?”

Regina desperately clawed at the belt, but he was just too strong. Too strong.....’

 

Regina sat bold upright in bed as pulled by a string. The breath exploded out of her mouth in one jerked gasp. Her heart was hammering in her chest. Slamming against her ribcage like the organ was trying to force its way out of her body. Her head was full of ghosts and her sleep compartment was full of shadows. She scrabbled blindly for a moment before succeeding in switching on the lights. Her eyes started to water immediately, but the bright light helped a little. The shadows disappeared. Killian was not here. Not here, not here, not here. He was NOT looming in the corner and smirking at her.

And she was NOT back on the bedroom floor. He was NOT on top of her. He was NOT choking her with the belt.

But he HAD been on top of her. He HAD brutally raped her. And he HAD wrapped that belt around her throat and tightened it. He HAD nearly choked her to death.

Bile rose in her throat as her palms dampened. Her heart was beating faster and faster. Regina knew exactly what was coming now. A panic attack. The walls in the sleep compartment shrunk around her.

She needed to get out of here immediately!

In one swift movement, Regina was out of bed, had ripped the door open, and was running towards the bathroom.

There was nobody standing in line when Regina came tumbling down the hallway. She stumbled into the bathroom and slammed the door shut behind her. Then she fell to her knees in front of the toilet.

She knew that she wasn’t supposed to throw up because of the stiches. She could risk ripping the wound open. And not to mention the bile and what kind of effect that would have on everything. She tried to will herself not to get sick, but she still ended up dry heaving over the toilet a few times. Then she rose on legs that trembled under her. Grabbed onto the sink for support. Tried to take deep and steady breaths. In through her nose and out through her nose. She could do this. In and out. Nice and easy. She was sweating and freezing at the same time. Her knees were trembling violently underneath her. The panic attack made her body betray her completely.

Regina looked at her reflection in the small mirror. She looked like a crazy person with her unkept hair and wild and slightly red eyes. Pale cheeks. This was what Killian had done to her. This was what he was STILL doing to her. It didn’t matter that he was in prison. Every time she had a flashback or a nightmare, it was like he was raping her all over again. A few minutes of terror had become a lifetime of horror. She would never be able to erase this memory from her mind. She would always be able to remember what he had done to her. Always. She switched on the water. Scooped up a handful of it and drank it. Hoped that it would make her throat feel less tight. It did not. Swallowing just made it worse. It hurt so much because she had dry-heaved over the toilet. She was not bleeding from the stiches, but the effect of the painkiller she took before bedtime was completely gone.

Regina bowed her head over the sink and cried silently. Silently.

Killian had vowed to shut her up, and that was exactly what he had done. No, he hadn’t killed her that night, but he might as well have.

Because that was how she felt.

Dead inside.

A shell of a human being.

Her breath sped up again.

Quick, rapid intakes of breath.

She was starting to feel lightheaded, but she could not control her breathing right now.

She pressed a fist against her mouth and sniffled.

“Hello?”

For the second time in one night, Regina was so horribly frightened that she jumped, and a new flood of tears streamed down her cheeks. For a brief moment, she imagined that it was Killian who had broken out of prison and was about to kick down the door to the bathroom...

“Is everything okay?”

The image of Killian busting down the door dissolved when Regina recognized the voice. It was Emma Swan. She held her breath and blinked, tried to compose herself just a little.

There was a gentle knock on the bathroom door. Then Emma’s voice: “Look, I’m not trying to butt in or anything, but are you alright? If you’re sick, I can fetch a doctor for you.”

A doctor. Regina’s eyes stung once more. No doctor would ever be able to fix her. She was too broken. Too messed up. She would never become a functioning human being again. She stuck her hands under the tap and splashed some cold water onto her cheeks. Then she switched off the water. Turned around and ripped the door open with far more force than she normally would have used.

Emma Swan in sweatpants and tanktop yelped and stumbled backwards. “Regina? Is everything alri-“

Regina did not stay long enough to hear the rest of the sentence. Instead she pushed past Emma and nearly throttled her in her eagerness to get away. She felt like she was going to faint. She needed her bed. She needed to sleep.

 

She made it safely back to her sleep-compartment. Locked the door and collapsed on the bed without switching off the lights. Her heart was slowing down, and she was generally starting to feel a little calmer. And guilty. What she just had done to Emma was unforgiveable. Emma had treated her with nothing but kindness. And this was how Regina repaid her? By nearly shoving her out of the way?

Regina knew that she should go back and apologize, but she was just so tired now. Her eyelids kept sliding shut. But tomorrow. Tomorrow she would make it up to Emma. She would apologize. Sincerely.

But for right now....

Regina’s hand went limp and she surrendered to the heaviness surrounding her. She slept with the lights on that night....

 

She was exhausted and had a headache when she woke up early the next morning. But that did not matter. She had things to do. She started by brushing her teeth and hair, do her makeup and get dressed. Black pencil skirt. Red silk blouse. Black scarf tied around her neck. Now she almost looked like herself. And she felt slightly better. She didn’t have anymore nightmares after the panic attack. She just slept.

But the guilty conscience lingered, though. Regina still wanted to make up for her horrid behavior last night. So she found the post-it notes she had stuffed into her purse last night and wrote a message for Emma: ‘Emma, I’m really sorry about what happened. What you witnessed last night was a panic attack. I’ve had a few of them ever since my accident, I honestly thought they were getting better. But obviously, not entirely. I’m so sorry for throttling past you like that. You were just acting like any concerned person would. I do hope you can forgive me for being so brusque with you.’ First part of her apology. The second part was still in the making.

Regina left the sleep-compartment and went down the hallway. She reached the train-cabin she shared with Emma. It was empty. Regina left the post-it message on Emma’s seat and then continued onwards to the dining area. What was it that Emma liked for breakfast? Ah yes. Waffles covered in maple syrup. And coffee. Black coffee.

Regina found just that in the dining area. She placed the lot on a tray and then walked back to the train-cabin.

Emma was there now. She was holding the note. Reading it. Regina felt a twinge of anxiety. Suppose Emma would not accept her apology? Perhaps Regina had ruined a friendship before it could even blossom properly.

Emma turned around, eyes widening slightly as she looked at Regina and the tray she was holding.

Regina flashed her a hesitant smile and lifted the tray slightly. A silent apology. And peace offering. I am sorry. I am so sorry. If I could go back and change things, I would. I did not mean to push past you last night. I truly am sorry.

“Thanks,” Emma said lightly. “But you didn’t have to do that.”

Regina’s eyes flickered slightly as she looked from the note and back to Emma. Was she brushing her apology aside? That couldn’t be good. Regina felt her mouth twist slightly.

“There’s no harm done, Regina,” Emma said softly. “It’s okay. Really.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. Was it though? Was it really? She gently sat the tray down on the table between them.

Emma was quick to sit down. She flashed Regina a beaming smile and then took a bite of the waffle. Went ‘mmmm!’.

Regina’s shoulders unclenched. Emma did not hate her. She had clearly forgiven her. Relieved, Regina sat down on the opposite seat. She supposed she should go and find some breakfast for herself, but she did not have much of an appetite right now. That always happened after a panic attack. She quickly decided not to tell Zelena about it. There was no harm done. She was okay now. And she would rather go home and tell Zelena a story of success. And not a story of how Killian Jones had ended on the train with her.....

 

To Be Continued.........

Chapter Text

Going home.

Regina could barely believe it. She had been imagining to go home to her son so many times during her long stay in the hospital, and now it was finally happening. Tonight, she truly would reunite with Henry. And she would never leave him again. Not voluntarily nor involuntarily.

She had practically been glued to her phone all day. She and Henry had been texting non-stop since this morning, and Regina could sense how much her son missed her. It was radiating from every text he sent. He had so many plans for them. She had so many movie nights to catch up on with him. So many popcorns to eat. He even mentioned that he needed her to help him with his homework, and the way he texted her made Regina feel relieved. She was still mom in his mind. That had not changed even if her voice was absent. He had handled it so much better than she had. When he was told that she could no longer speak because of the ‘car accident’, all he’d done was to shrug and say: “but mom, you’re alive!”

Yes.

Yes, she was alive.

And thank god for that.

She was still here to curl up in the couch and watch a movie with her son.

She was still around to drive him to school and help him with his homework.

She was still here to be his mom.

That was the only thing that mattered.

Regina would never forgive herself for considering to end everything. And deep down, she knew that she would not.

Even if Zelena had not come back into the hospital room when she did, Regina would never have made that final jump.

Because she was a mother, for Christ sake.

And Zelena was right. She did not survive that horrible night only to kill herself weeks later.

Regina was not.... She was not a quitter.

Cora Mills had once upon a tome made sure of that.

As unmaternal and tough as a nail as she had been, Cora Mills had taught Regina many a valuable lesson.

And the most important one had been to never ever give up no matter what you were faced with.

Chin up, and solider on, girl.

When life gives you lemon, you swallow those lemons whole and pretend it’s candy. Or something like that.

Regina could no longer remember the exact wording Cora had used, but she did remember what her beloved father used to say. ‘Como un barco en el agua, tú también encontrarás tu puerto.’

Like a ship on the water, you too will find your harbor.

Henry.

Henry was her harbor. He always had been, and he always would.

Yes.

With the help from her precious, clever boy, Regina would find her way back.

And she would.... She would have a good life.

She had to believe that was still possible.

Even for someone as broken and destroyed as she was.

She could still rebuild her life and perhaps find a fraction of the person she had been. And if she did... she would cling onto that tiny little fraction.

Perhaps she could make it grow like a tree. If she tried really hard. If she soldiered on once again.

Kept her chin up in a way that would have made her mother proud.

Regina looked up from Great Expectations when her cellphone vibrated scratchily against the table once more. She quickly grabbed the device and checked the message. Smiled. It was from Henry again. He and Zelena had already arrived at Vancouver station to pick her up. Regina checked the time. They were early, very early. But she did not actually mind that. The idea of waiting on the station amongst the many, many people was not one she fancied very much. She had developed somewhat of an irrational fear about large crowds after waking up at the hospital. A completely irrational fear seeing that she never before had a problem with crowds. But a part of her PTSD, her psychiatrist, Doctor Harper had told her. People had different reactions, and there was nothing wrong with developing a fear for large crowds even though you had never had that problem before.

No fear was ever wrong.

That was the first lesson Regina had learned from Doctor Harper.

After having texted Henry back that she could not wait to see him again, Regina discreetly glanced at Emma. Perhaps she could politely have asked miss Swan to keep her company at the station if Zelena and Henry had not been early.

Emma Swan had been so forthcoming, Regina had a feeling that she would not minded waiting with her had it been necessary.

Regina glanced at Emma again. Frowned softly. She looked a little concerned. A little on edge. Perhaps she was worried about the past. Perhaps she was worried about the future. Either way, Regina wanted to do something to make the frown lines on her young face disappear. She grabbed a post-it note and scribbled the first thing coming to mind. ‘Almost at journey’s end now.’ Then she pushed the post-it note towards Emma.

It did not take Emma long to pick up on it. She bowed her head slightly, looked down at the words. Then she lifted her head and smiled a little. “Yeah,” she nodded. “Been a long ride. Are you looking forward to getting off the train?”

God, yes. Regina could not even describe how much she was looking forward to getting off the train and holding her son again. It felt like ages since she last had seen Henry even though it had only been three days. Reuniting with her son. That was her main priority right now. Anything else came secondly. Including the things she was worried about. Living her life, for example. Adjusting to this new, wordless reality that was her life. She grabbed a new post-it and write quickly: ‘I must admit that I am, but this journey turned out to be less boring that I had feared. Thank you for that.’

Regina looked down at the words for a moment. Yes, it was all curtsey to Emma that Regina’s train ride had been pleasant.

Regina had been so scared when she boarded this train. She had been afraid to interact with anyone.

Afraid of not being able to do this anyway.

But Emma’s presence had actually helped. She had talked to her like Regina was a normal person. The fact that Regina could not speak hadn’t even affected Emma, and Regina thought to herself that sometimes the kindness of a stranger really meant the world. She pushed the note across the table so Emma could read it.

And Emma was quick to do so. She looked up and smiled again. “I say the same. I hadn’t really expected to get in contact with anyone during this trip, but... I suppose I had a change of heart.”

Regina returned the smile. So they had both encountered a kind stranger on this trip. That was nice. Then her phone vibrated again, and Regina of course had to see what it was. It turned out to be a selfie from Henry. A not very refined picture of himself and Zelena who were making faces at the camera and looking all goofy.

Regina felt a smile blossoming on her lips. Those two. Henry and Zelena had always been a great combination. Zelena was the best aunt anyone could ever ask for.

Regina wasn’t sure what she would have done if Zelena had not stepped in and become Henry’s safe harbor during her hospitalization.

After having sent a half-sarcastic text telling her family how ‘pretty’ they looked, Regina put the phone back on the table and looked up once more. Discovered that Emma was looking at her. She seemed a bit flustered at the accidental eye contact, but Regina was quick to offer her a smile. Right now Emma strangely reminded her of a younger version of Malena. She hadn’t been too big on eye contact either. Regina grabbed the pencil and post-it note again and began scribbling once more. She did not want Emma to feel awkward, and she ended up writing the first thing coming to mind. ‘Are you looking forward to arriving?’ surely, that would take Emma’s mind off the accidental eye contact. Regina pushed the note across the table.

Emma picked up the note and read it. Then she pursed her lips slightly. “Yeah, I suppose I am.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. Perhaps Emma had seconds thoughts about it all. Instead of wasting more paper, Regina settled for scribbling ‘suppose?’ underneath the other question.

“Maybe I’m a little nervous,” Emma clarified and looked as though she was confessing to committing a crime. “I’ve lived in Toronto all my life. Moving away is a pretty big step for me.”

Regina nodded and hastily scribbled a new note. ‘For me too. You have no idea how daunting this trip has been.’ she almost scoffed as she pushed the note towards Emma. Aint that the truth.

“Have you been in Toronto for a long time?” Emma asked, and there was that curiosity again.

Regina settled for a nod. Yes, her hospitalization was a long one.

“But you’re originally from Montreal?”

Regina nodded in affirmative.

“I’ve never been to Montreal,” Emma revealed and leaned back in the seat, clearly struggling with where to put her ridiculously long legs. “Is it a nice place?”

Regina nodded before her shoulders could get the chance to crawl up towards her ears. Yes, Montreal HAD been a nice place to live. She’d had a good house there with a pretty garden where she grew roses.

It was not the house’s fault that someone had walked into her life and made the house her prison.

“Maybe I should go there sometimes,” Emma continued and then laughed a little. “But I think I would be screwed when I got there. I don’t know any French.”

Regina quickly decided to be amused. She refused to think about the fact that she would never be able to speak French again. To distract herself, she grabbed a new post-it note and scribbled something, so she wasn’t just nodding along to everything Emma said. Perhaps she couldn’t speak any longer, but she was still able to participate in a conversation. ‘It’s actually not that hard,’ she ended up writing and before she could convince herself that it came across as belittling, she handed the note to Emma.

Emma chuckled after having read the note. “You’re probably right about that, but I’m such a dummy when it comes to that. I’m afraid I would end up saying something rude when I actually try to find out where the bathroom is.”

Regina shook her head. Now she was genuinely amused.

Emma suddenly looked a bit thoughtful. “Can I ask you something?”

At once, Regina nodded.

“That place I’m going to live at....” Emma said slowly and Regina saw how she wetted her lips nervously. “Do you think they need any waitresses? I’m sort of panicking because I don’t have a job.”

Regina had to stop herself from raising an eyebrow. Waitressing? Oh, no, no, no, that wouldn’t do. Of course there was nothing wrong with waitressing (Regina’s first ever job had been as a waitress), but she could sense that life had something else in store for Emma Swan. That she belonged on a much different shelf. And if she could, Regina would help her find that shelf. She felt strangely eager as she tore off another post-it note and scribbled on it as fast as she could. ‘Eugenia often looks for new waitresses, but if she doesn’t happen to be looking at the moment, she’ll be more than happy to point you in the direction of another diner that does. Otherwise try and talk to Mal. Maybe she can find you a job at Dragon Publishing.’

Mal was always looking for new test readers, but more importantly, she was constantly searching for that ‘diamond in the rough’, and Regina had a feeling that Emma Swan was just that. A diamond in the rough. If she was nudged towards the correct career path, she could shine.

She pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma took a bit longer to read this note, but when she was done, she looked up with her mouth slightly open and wide eyes. “Seriously?” she asked.

Regina nodded and did not even waste time on finding another post-it note. She simply scribbled underneath the other words: ‘Of course. Malena is always looking for people who are passionate about books. And from what I’ve gathered, you are. I think you and her will hit it off quite well. You should try and call her when you get to Steveston. Maybe you and her could schedule a meeting.’ She noted that Emma was reading along while she was writing, and so it did not take long before Emma blurted: “Are you sure you’re not a fairy godmother?”

Regina smiled as she shook her head. She was not. But oh, how Henry would enjoy that comparison when she told him about it later. She could not wait to see the look upon his face when she revealed that she had been sharing a train cabin with a woman who wrote fairytales. His little face would light up like a christmas tree the way it always did whenever they were talking about fairytales. Regina was relieved he had that interest. She could not even begin to imagine how often the fairytale had to have helped him during this park period in his young life.

“Do you come to Steveston often?” Emma suddenly asked her.

Regina nodded as she was pulled out of her musings. That nod could probably have been enough, but she found herself wanting to elaborate further. So she grabbed a note and wrote a more sufficient answer. ‘Yes, Eugenia makes the best burgers you can imagine. I’ve never found a burger better than hers, and that has made me unable to enjoy a burger elsewhere.’ Burgers, Regina thought to herself as she slid the note towards Emma. Oh, how she has missed eating burgers. Perhaps that would be one of the first meals she would cook for her son. Or... or lasagna. Eugenia made a good lasagna too, and why not share that information with Emma Swan? With all due respect, she looked like she could benefit from putting a little extra meat on her bones.

Regina hastily wrote a new note: ‘And her lasagna is very good too. Although not as good as mine.’ Surely, she was allowed to boast a little, was she not? She pushed the new note towards Emma.

Emma chuckled. “I love lasagna.”

Regina smiled and then her phone vibrated again. Another text from Henry. He was accusing her of being ‘mean’ because she had written he and Zelena looked ‘pretty’. Obviously, the clever boy had looked right through her sarcasm, and now he was not pleased with her. But Regina was pretty pleased with herself. She could almost see the affronted look on her son’s face. Then she put her phone away and glanced at Emma. She looked a bit far away again. Looking at Regina but not really. More like... looking through her. Her forehead was wrinkled, and Regina wondered what it was the blonde was thinking so deeply about.

Before she could stop herself she had written another note. ‘Is everything okay?’ and pushed it across the table.

After having read the note, Emma’s head snapped up. “Yeah,” she said a bit sheepishly. “Sorry, I was just.... zoning out for a moment.”

Ah. Regina knew all about zoning out. She had done that many, many times in her life recently. She nodded slightly and flashed Emma a reassuring smile. It was okay to zone out.

Regina went back to reading her book. Submerging herself into the story about Pip and Estella was always easy, but today she was being distracted. Her phone kept buzzing and buzzing, and Regina felt as though it was not the train that was bringing her closer to Vancouver. It was the sheer longing to hold her son again. She and Henry. Together they could do anything. Conquer anything. Regina texted her son back and told him how much she missed him, and then she put her phone back down on the table and turn her attention back to the book.

But she did not get the chance to read for long. Suddenly the door to their cabin was pushed open, and a tiny little boy, five years old at most and with floppy brown hair and big brown eyes came toddling into their train-cabin. Regina’s heart almost skipped a beat when she looked at him. What an adorable little boy. Made her miss her own boy all the more.

“Hello,” the tiny tyke said and gave a crooked smile that almost melted Regina’s heart.

“Hey kid,” Emma said and lifted an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here all alone? Where are your parents?”

”I dunno,” the little boy said with a slight shrug, completely unbothered as he climbed up on the seat and sat next to Regina. “What are you reading?”

Regina’s first impulse was of course to answer the sweet little boy’s curious question. But then she remembered. That she could not. That her lips were permanently sealed. Her broken vocal cords flickered, but they did not flame. Even if she did chose to go against doctor Auburn’s recommendation and spoke, there was a good chance the little boy would flee in horror. And Regina would not blame her. Her voice was horrible. Grotesque. Croaky and hissing. She sounded like a monster from a scary movie. Or like she had just risen from the dead.

Imagine that.

Regina ended up simply pointing to the cover of the book.

“What does that mean?” the little boy asked confused. “I can’t read.”

Regina immediately felt stupid. No, of course he could not read. He was only five.

“Great Expectations,” Emma interjected. “It’s a grownup book.”

Yes. That was exactly what Regina would have said if she could.

“What’s it about?” the little boy asked curiously, looking to Regina. He was clearly a curious little one. Much like Henry had been at that age. And still was.

“Bit difficult to explain, kiddo,” Emma said and seemed to frown a little bit. “Where are your parents? Do they know you left?”

A look of guilt crossed the little boy’s face. He lowered his gaze slightly. “My mom went to the bathroom and I was bored.”

Emma leaned forward slightly now. Her forehead was still wrinkled. “I think it would be better if we found your mom, kid.”

The sweet little boy shook his head stubbornly. “Wanna stay,” he said firmly and looked up at Regina with his big brown eyes again. “Can you read to me? I wanna hear a story!“ he smiled beamingly at her.
“Pweaaase?”

 

Regina’s heart broke. She was suddenly reminded of all the times she had read aloud to Henry when he was younger. It had been such a steadfast part of their bedtime routine. She would never be able to do that again. And she wouldn’t be able to read to this little boy either. Because she couldn’t speak. Not a word. Her voice had been stolen from her. Regina felt her mouth twist and her lips instinctively part. Like she really was trying to speak. It was an instinct. The maternal instinct that always kicked in when she met a child.

The little boy looked expectantly up at her and kicked his little legs up in excitement. So happy at the prospect of being read to.

But Regina could not. For a moment she actually tried. Because she could not deny a child anything. But of course no words came out. Of course she remained permanently silent.

“Can you read to me? Pretty please?” the little boy asked. Still with an excited gleam in his eyes, but a confused, protruding bottom lip as though Regina had hurt him. He thought she was purposefully ignoring him. Regina felt absolutely horrible.

Emma rose from her seat. Regina was not entirely sure what her plan was, but before Emma could do anything, the door to their train-cabin was opened again, and a young woman with curly brown hair stepped in. “Roland!” she exclaimed, relief etched onto her face. “There you are! You can’t just run away from mommy like that. You scared me! Now come here, you little rascal.”

The little boy- Roland- climbed off the seat and toddled over to his mom. “The lady doesn’t wanna read to me,” he announced, raising a pudgy finger, and pointing to Regina as his bottom lip trembled.

Regina could feel her own bottom lip tremble. Her chest ached. Her throat too. Oh, why couldn’t she just read to him?!

“That’s enough young man,” his mother scolded him. “It’s rude to point. And you should be thanking these nice ladies for looking after you.”

“Thank you for looking after me,” Roland said obediently. He was only looking at Regina.

Regina gave a strained smile in return. Her throat still hurt, and she had to somehow convince herself that the pain was psychosomatic.

“You’re welcome, kid,” Emma said, smiling at the kid too.

“I am so sorry about that,” the mother said as she lifted Roland up. “He’s been complaining about being bored since yesterday morning. It’s a good thing we’ll be in Vancouver soon. Thank you for looking after him.”

”It was no problem,” Emma said politely.

The woman turned her attention to Regina. “Thank you.”

Regina tried her best to smile, but her facial muscles felt stiff. The corners of her lips pulling downwards as though she wanted to cry and not smile.

The woman turned around and left their train cabin with her young son on her hip. Regina could hear her scold him for running off like that. She looked down at her hands without actually seeing them.
She felt numb all over again. That little boy had wanted her to read to him. And when she could not, he had looked so sad. Perhaps he thought that she did not like him. Maybe he was telling his mom about it right now. Regina almost couldn’t bear it. She couldn’t bear the idea of a child thinking that she disliked him.

“Are you okay?” came Emma’s voice, but for once, Regina was not in the mood for communicating. She settled for shaking her head in response. No, she was not okay. She was upset. Very upset.

“Regina...”

But Regina simply turned her head and looked out of the window without seeing anything. Nothing Emma said or did could make her feel better right now. After a moment, she gave up and rose from her seat. She needed to get out of this cabin for a little while. Needed a moment to compose herself.

She walked down the hallway. Ended up in the bathroom where she splashed some cold water onto her face. Then she went back to her sleep compartment.

There she sat down heavily on the neatly made bed. Rubbed a hand over her forehead. There was nothing more frustrating than wanting to scream when you literally could not. Oddly enough, screaming had also been the first thing coming to mind in the hospital. When she was told that she could not speak any longer. She’d had this intense urge to use her voice so she could yell about the injustice of it all. Regina liked to think that she was not a whiny person.

She’d had her fair shares of tragedies.

Both of her parents dead before she turned thirty.

A prince charming turned demon.

And now a stolen voice.

And the lost opportunity of ever complaining again.

Killian wanted her to shut up. So he had made her shut up.

Simple as that.

Killian had always been a man who took what he wanted.

And he had wanted her voice.

Her words.

Her ‘no’.

Consent stolen from her as easy as one-two-three.

As quickly as wrapping a belt around her neck.

Regina rose from the bed. Squared her shoulders and pulled herself together. Getting upset over something she could not change was not worth it. She did not want to cry. Not again. She had already wasted too many tears on Killian Jones.

She left her sleep compartment and walked back down the hallway. It did not take long before she reached the cabin she shared with Emma.

Emma looked up when she approached, and Regina could see the worried little line between her eyebrows. Regina felt guilty all the sudden. She had once again brushed Emma off when she wanted to help. That was not okay. Regina wanted to lighten the mood. She grabbed a new post-it and wrote down the first thing coming to mind. ‘Are you ready to go out and find some dinner?’ after having concluded the question, she gently pushed the note towards Emma. A kind of peace-offering. A silent apology for having rejected her help and left like that.

But Emma did not seem the least bit offended as she took the post-it note and read it. Shortly after she looked up and grinned. “Yeah, absolutely. I’m starving.”

Feeling utterly relieved, Regina eagerly scribbled underneath the question: ‘Your appetite is very impressive. I admire that. I’ve never been very big on dinner.’ Merely meant as friendly conversation, but it was actually true. Dinner had always been something Regina made for Henry. Often she was too busy with work to make anything beyond salad for herself.

Emma’s eyebrows knitted together. “Seriously? How can anyone not be big on dinner?”

Regina settled for a shrug, willing herself not to get upset. She had just come to think of Killian and how he preferred that she kept fit. He did not want a ‘fat’ wife, as he put it. Regina had suffered endless jibes about how much she ate.

“Well,” Emma said, interrupting Regina’s train of gloomy thoughts when she grinned. “Just stick with me kid, and you will be.”

Regina smiled gratefully. Kid. She could not remember the last time she had been called ‘kid’ by anyone. And there was something particularly amusing about being called ‘kid’ by a much younger woman.

Together they headed into the dining area and found a table for two. Emma ordered a huge steak with baked potatoes and gravy. Regina opted for the tomato soup. The waiter did not comment on her choice.

Neither did Emma. And she even made a point of looking in the opposite direction when Regina took the pill that would relax her throat muscles before starting dinner. Regina could tell that the act was deliberate on Emma’s part and not a coincidence, but she was still grateful. It was sweet of Emma to pretend...

 

When the dinner was over, and the lights had dimmed, the passengers started to leave their cabins and hover in the hallway. Regina too left the cabin she shared with Emma and went back to her sleep compartment to gather her things. She felt both excited and nervous. What if she could not adjust to being back home with her son and sister? What if she had gotten too used to the confined little bubble that was her hospital room? What if she was too scared to ever become a part of the society again?

No. She could not think like that. She would just have to believe that she could do this. As her psychiatrist had said, she was a ‘survivor’ .Whatever the hell that meant. Were you really a survivor simply because you had lived through something horrible? ‘Survivor’ sounded like something grand and majestic. A heroes cape you should wear.

But Regina did not feel much like a survivor.

She felt like the plaything Killian Jones had chewed up and spat out when he got tired of playing with her.

She had not survived because she had put up a fight.

She had survived because the police had arrived when they did.

End of story.

Regina shook her head firmly and squinted at her reflection in the mirror. Enough with the negative thoughts already. She was going home to her son for crying out loud. And she was damn well going to be happy about it! No more tears. Henry had seen her upset far too many times already. He did not need to see it again. And certainly not on her first night home. He was excited to see her.

If she was upset when she got home, it would devastate him.

She would have to put on a smile for him. Be happy to finally be home at last.

She could do that.

Chin up. Solider on.

Regina made her way into the crowded hallway with her suitcase. It did not take her long before she spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Emma did not look too comfortable in the crowded place either.

Regina went over there and was grateful to spot a place for her to stand near Emma. She much preferred that rather than being surrounded by strangers. Emma was somewhat of a friendly face on this trip.

“Didn’t most of the people get off in Winnipeg?” Emma asked a tad irritated. Definitely not a fan of crowded places. Or perhaps it was the screaming children again. Admittedly, they were being a bit loud. Perhaps they were excited to get off the train.

Regina settled for offering a slight smile and a light shrug. She did not have her pencil and post-it notes with her. That did make it a little harder to communicate.

“Seriously, I swear there are more people than there was when I got on this train,” Emma half muttered.

Regina tried to smile as best as she could, but she could feel herself starting to grow worried again. This, the train-cabin and the sleep compartment had been yet another confined little bubble. Safe. She had not been a part of the real world for a year. How was she supposed to function without the safety net of doctors and nurses ready to help her when she started to feel overwhelmed? And what about Henry? Regina almost shivered upon remembering how she had not been able to touch him. How his touch had made her flinch and shrink away. She did not want to go back to that dark place.

Then her phone chimed in her pocket. Regina of course quickly checked the message and felt her face loosen up in a smile. ‘I can’t wait to see you, mom :D I’ve missed you so much!’

Henry.

Henry missed her.

Henry was anxious for her to come home.

Yes.

That was the one thing Regina would cling on to.

The upcoming reunion with her son.

Regina texted back that she could not wait to see him either. Then she slid the phone back into her pocket. Or, tried to. There was something blocking it. A feel in her pocket told her that it was the stack of unwritten post-it notes. Oh. Why had she taken those? They didn’t belong to her. She turned to Emma and handed the stack of post-it notes to her.

“Oh,” Emma said and gave a little half-smile. “Thanks.”

With both of her hands free, Regina could write on her phone again. And she did so. But this time it was not a message for Henry. It was one for Emma. ‘I wouldn’t want you to forget your post-its.’ Then she turned the screen towards Emma.

Emma chuckled softly. “I’m pretty sure I could have survived without them, but thanks.”

Regina offered another little smile and braced herself by putting a hand on the wall. She knew for a fact that the train would come to a stop in a moment. And that it would be a jerky one too. It always
was.

But Emma Swan clearly wasn’t nearly as prepared. She lost balance, stumbled, yelped, much like the children who had not been holding their parents’ hands as instructed. But Emma Swan was not a child.
And she would most certainly have fallen face first if Regina hadn’t acted.

It had been an instinct kicking in.

Regina had not even thought about it before stepping forward and gently grasping Emma’s upper arm to keep her upright.

Emma’s cheeks were rosy as she looked at Regina. “Thanks,” she said slightly half-heartedly.

Regina quickly released her grip on Emma’s upper arm. But she couldn’t help but raising an eyebrow. That was a close call. She did not have the option to write on her phone or a post-it, so she had to rely on Emma’s ability to lip read as she formed the word: ‘Careful’.

“Yeah,” Emma said and sounded a bit awkward. She rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m chronically clumsy. Did I almost throttle you?”

Regina shook her head in negative. Thankfully not. That would have been quite terrible. She did not like the idea of being ‘throttled’ one bit.

“Good,” Emma said, and Regina noticed that she now was rubbing her upper arm. The exact spot where Regina had grabbed her a moment ago. And Regina was immediately worried. Had she grabbed
Emma too tightly? Had she accidentally hurt her? Oh no. Regina had far too many memories of Killian gripping her arm too tightly.

Often there had been finger marks and bruises on her arms for days afterwards.

A message was announced over the speaker. ‘You have now arrived at Vancouver station. We thank you for having travelled with us, and we hope you’ve had a pleasant journey.’

Regina mulled over that. Yes, she had in fact had a pleasant journey. She had smiled more than what she had anticipated. Communicated more than what she had expected. That was nice. And she felt like she might even have made a new friend too.

After a moment, the train doors opened with a creaking sound, and Regina immediately took hold of her suitcase and strode over to the open door. For some reason, nobody tried to shove her out of the way. Perhaps she still had that look in her eyes. That look Henry always called ‘the professor-look’. Perhaps that look wasn’t entirely gone after all even though Regina could not remember the last time she’d had that look in her eyes.

She made it out on the platform and shivered slightly in the cold air. Adjusted her scarf and coat and glanced around. Where was Zelena and Henry? God, it was impossible to see anything because of all these people! Regina set her jaw and began walking through the sea of people. With her free hand, she patted her pocket to ensure that her phone was still there so she could text Zelena or Henry if she needed to. And maybe she would need to. She certainly couldn’t see them anywhere. Until...

“Mom!”

Regina’s head whipped around, and she felt a smile blossom on her lips as she saw her little boy coming barreling towards her with his scarf billowing in the wind. Zelena was right behind him. Yelling at him not to run, but Henry paid no attention to that. Nor did Regina. She sat her suitcase down with a thunk and opened her arms in anticipation. It did not take long before Henry reached her and flung himself into her arms with so much eagerness Regina almost stumbled. Goodness, when did her boy get so big? Has he grown in the short time they’ve been apart? Impossible.

Regina made Henry laugh by spinning him around once. Then she sat him down on the ground and crouched down slightly to be more at eye level with him (soon that wouldn’t be required, soon he would be taller than her!) and began smoothing kisses all over his cheeks and forehead.

Henry laughed wetly. Was he crying? Oh bless him. Regina would never leave his side again. Once again she felt a sharp pinch of guilt about that point where she had walked over to the window with the intention to take her own life. How could she even have considered killing herself? It was impossible to comprehend when the sole purpose of her existence was standing right here and half crying, half laughing? The sound brought tears to Regina’s own eyes, and she hugged her son once more for good measurement. Never again, she vowed to herself. No matter how tough things would be... she would never EVER think about ending her life.

Henry returned the hug and squeezed her tightly. Almost too tightly. That once tender spot on her belly was acting up once more, but Regina forced the feeling out of her system. It was psychosomatic.

She did NOT want to think about Killian’s boot connecting with her stomach. Not now!

“Alright, little man. My turn.”

Regina looked up. Zelena had finally caught up with them. She stood there in her green furry coat and smiled beamingly whilst patting Henry on the back to make him let go. He only reluctantly did so.

Regina rose to her full height and willingly let Zelena hug her. She too was hugging her quite tightly. But not as tightly as Henry, though. Because Zelena knew about the tender spot on Regina’s stomach.

And she knew that it tended to hurt a bit from time to time. For whatever reason.

Henry did not let go of her hand as Zelena hugged her, so the hug was a bit uneven, but oh well. Regina was not about to wiggle her hand out of Henry’s grasp. She was thanking her lucky stars that he still wanted to hold her hand.

Zelena kissed her cheek in that sisterly fashion she had started doing ever since Regina had woken up in the hospital. “Oh, baby sis,” she said gently. “You have no idea how much I have missed you!”

But Regina actually had a very strong idea of just how much her sister had missed her. She had missed Zelena too.

“How was the train ride?” Henry asked curiously. He was butting in. Something Regina had made a point of teaching him never to do, but today she let it slide and immediately turned towards him. This was the point she always mucked up. But her doctor had told her that she had to keep trying, so she did. She wiggled her fingers in the air. Tried her best to tell her son: ‘it was nice. I met a nice woman on the first day. she was very friendly.’

“Really?” Henry said and laughed a bit. “Cool. At least you weren’t bored then.”

Regina felt relieved. Henry understood what she was saying. Thank god. Sign Language was ever so difficult. But she had done it. She had managed to make a sentence without screwing up. She had told
Henry about the friendly woman.

And speaking of friendly woman...

Regina glanced around. Where was Emma Swan? Regina had been so busy getting out of the train and get to her son, but now she felt a bit guilty. Emma Swan had been good company for the past three days. Very good company. Regina would have liked to say goodbye properly before parting ways with her.

And perhaps she still had the chance to.

When turning her head once more, Regina spotted Emma. She was standing nearby with her phone in hand and looked a bit lost. A bit confused. Regina felt for her. It could not be easy arriving at a new city all alone.

Regina made a quick decision and walked towards Emma Swan with Henry and Zelena trailing somewhat confused behind her. Emma had already called her a ‘fairy godmother’ a few times, so perhaps Regina could be a fairy godmother one last time? Once she was close enough, Regina smiled at Emma.

Emma returned the smile. “Hi. I was just.... looking for a taxi. Or a bus.”

A bus? Regina crinkled her nose. Oh no. Surely, Emma should not be riding a bus with that big bag of hers. No, that simply would not do. There was no reason as to why Emma should wait forty five minutes for a crowded bus when there was a different option.

Regina turned to Zelena and lifted her hands. Signed: ‘I want to give her a ride.’

Zelena frowned slightly, and Regin was forced to elaborate even though it was so difficult to sign. She wiggled her fingers again: ‘her name is Emma. She is the woman I shared a train-cabin with for the past three days. She is very friendly and kind. She is going to Steveston. She has a room waiting for her at Eugenia’s.’

Now Zelena smiled and nodded. She turned to Emma and said: “my sister would like to know if you’d be interested in getting a ride to Steveston?”

Relief swiped over Emma’s features as she looked at Regina. “Seriously?”

Regina nodded in affirmative and smiled. Yes, indeed. Emma had shown her nothing but kindness these past three days. She had made her smile more than once. She had come to her aid with the post-it notes, and she had not displayed rude curiosity a single time. Of course Regina wanted to give her a ride.

“That would be great,” Emma said earnestly. “But you guys really don’t have to, I don’t wanna intrude or any-“

Regina held up her hand to silence her. Emma Swan was apologizing for her presence far too much. And Regina wouldn’t have it. She made sure to smile as she gently motioned for Emma to come along.

And Emma quickly trailed behind them. Regina was happy that she had accepted the offer, and she was even happier when she felt Henry’s hand slip inside hers. She gave her boy’s hand a little reassuring squeeze. She was here and she wasn’t going anywhere. Ever.

 

To Be Continued..........

Chapter Text

While still holding firmly onto Henry’s hand, Regina followed her sister across the parking lot. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her beloved Mercedes standing parked there. God, she had missed her car. Had missed driving.

“Do you want to drive, sis?” Zelena asked, turning her head, and looking at Regina.

As much as Regina wanted to drive, she still shook her head no. She was getting a headache again. That spot on her forehead that slammed into a wall again and again was starting to ache in that particular, throbbing manner. Regina didn’t want to drive when she had a headache. It wasn’t safe. And she didn’t want to drive with an audience either. It had been so long since she was behind the wheel, and she felt like that was something she should do on her own and not monitored by her son and sister.

“Alright,” Zelena nodded. “I’ll do it then. You’re probably tired after the long journey and all, am I right?”

Regina nodded this time. Yes, she was most definitely tired. It had been a long day. That was why she was starting to get a headache. She needed to get home, slip into a pair of sweatpants, and remove her makeup. Maybe watch a half an hour of a movie with Henry, and then straight to bed afterwards.

Zelena unlocked the doors, and Henry immediately climbed onto the backseat. Regina knew exactly what he was signalizing. That there would be no front seat view for her tonight. But that was okay. She had no desire to look out of the window today. She only wanted to look at her son.

Zelena elegantly stuffed Regina’s suitcase into the boot of the car. Then she turned to Emma and gestured towards her duffel-bag. “Here, let me grab that for you.”

“Thanks,” Emma said gratefully. It didn’t escape Regina’s notice how she winced upon relived from the extra weight. Poor girl. That duffel-bag was probably very heavy.

“You don’t mind the passenger’s seat, do you?” Zelena asked, straightening her posture after having stuffed Emma’s luggage into the boot of the car. “Normally, Henry wants to sit up front, but today is a bit of a special case.”

The extra warmth in her sister’s voice did not slip past Regina’s attention. She smiled a little to herself. Henry had missed her. Regina followed him into the car, onto the backseat, and as soon as she had buckled her seatbelt, Henry wiggled closer to her and took her hand again. Regina gave his little hand a reassuring squeeze, barely paying attention as Emma said: “the passenger’s seat is fine.” it did not take long before Emma Swan somehow folded her long legs, so they fitted onto the car floor. The door to the passenger’s seat was slammed shut, and Emma did a little wiggle to find the seatbelt.

Zelena got behind the wheel. She adjusted the mirror slightly and then started the car. She easily maneuvered the car away from the parking lot, and it did not take long before she had another question for Emma: “I understand that you and Regina met in the train?” as she spoke, she adjusted the mirror again, and Regina reminded herself to address that at some point. The mirror couldn’t handle all that pulling and tugging. It would fall off.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Emma nodded. “We met right after the journey started. I was in Regina’s seat.”

Regina smiled a little at the memory.

“And your name is Emma,” Zelena continued matter of factly.

“That’s right,” Emma said briskly. “Emma Swan.”

Regina got the urge to smile again. That fairytale name suited her so well.

“Emma Swan,” Zelena repeated. “My name is Zelena. I’m Regina’s sister. Or, half-sister, but details, details. It’s nice to meet you. I’m glad my sister found someone to share the train ride with.”

“Yeah, it’s been nice having someone to hang out with,” Emma said and sounded so open and honest that Regina had to smile again. Meeting that kind of honesty was a rare treat these days.

“So next stop Steveston and Eugenia’s Inn,” Zelena summed up.

“It’s really nice of you to give me a ride,” Emma said quickly. “But I could just have taken a bus or something.”

Regina’s smile stiffened slightly. Once again, Emma Swan sounded like an excuse for herself. Why was she doing that all the time? Why did she have the constant urge to apologize all the time? Of course this alarmed Regina, because she knew exactly how it felt, having to apologize for every little thing you said or did. And sometimes an apology didn’t cut it.

“Oh, pish-posh,” Zelena said, waving Emma’s apology off. “Steveston isn’t so far away and can’t very well say no to Regina when she’s being that insistent.”

Regina glared at her sister in the mirror and made a few well-chosen signs in her direction to communicate that Zelena was being ridiculous.

Zelena of course laughed at her. “I’m not being ridiculous, sis. You were being insistent.”

Regina signed once more. She was definitely not being insistent, thank you very much!

Zelena didn’t react to that. She just laughed at her. Typical. Regina scoffed quietly and then glanced past Henry out of the window. The sky was inky blue. It wouldn’t be long before it was completely dark outside. Regina was getting sleepy. Again. She was so tired of being... well, tired. But her doctor and therapist had insisted that she wasn’t tired because of depression, but because she was ‘coming back’ as they called it. She was stepping back into the world. And apparently, that took a toll on her.

Henry shifted a bit and ended up resting his head on her shoulder. Regina’s chest immediately filled with warmth. Her little boy. It had been too long since he last did that. She was relieved that he still wanted to. That nothing had changed between them. She was still his mother. Regina turned her head and placed a quick kiss in his hair. She was vaguely aware that Emma Swan was watching them in the mirror, but she did not care.

“So, Emma,” Zelena said, and her brisk voice interrupted Regina’s little moment with Henry. “What brings you to Vancouver?”

“Oh, uhmm... different circumstances, I guess,” Emma said. Her voice was a bit tight, Regina noted. If this continued, she would have to step in and remind Zelena that it wasn’t her business. She had no business poking around in Emma’s business.

“You’re from Toronto?” Zelena asked.

“I am,” Emma confirmed. Her voice was less tight now, but still slightly guarded.

“But you felt like going somewhere else?” Zelena continued.

“Yeah.” Emma’s answer was as short as could be, and Regina did her best to glare at her sister in the mirror. She was taking her questions a step too far now!

But Zelena continued. “What do you do?”

Regina rolled her eyes. God, seriously? Zelena wasn’t just being nosy now. She was being pushy.

“I’m a writer,” Emma said, and for a moment her voice sounded all light. But then she deflated slightly again: “Well, at least I’m trying to be one. I haven’t actually had anything published yet, but I’m hoping to get the chance once the book is finished.”

“What do you write then?” Zelena asked, and now her eyes finally flicked to the mirror.

Regina immediately took the opportunity to sign at Zelena and tell her to stop interrogating Emma.

“I am not interrogating her,” Zelena huffed, “I’m just trying to be friendly.”

Regina rolled her eyes. Friendly. Right. More like ridiculously nosy.

Emma laughed a little. “It’s fine. I write fairy tales. Or, twisted fairy tales. I like to play around with the characters and modernize and re-event things.”

“You write fairy tales?” Henry piped up and surprised Regina. She thought that he had nodded off next to her. “That’s so cool!”

“Thanks,” Emma chuckled, sounding genuinely happy. “I hope other people will think that too.”

And why wouldn’t they? Why didn’t Emma Swan have more faith in herself? It really was a terrible shame.

“Henry loves fairytales,” Zelena said overbearingly. “Isn’t that right, Hen?”

“Yes!” Henry said defensively. “And I don’t care what you think, auntie Z, I’m not too old to read fairytales!”

Of course he’s not. Regina was proud of her boy for defending what he liked. He sounded so mature. She spotted the disagreeing look on Zelena’s face and immediately took the opportunity to scowl at her sister. Then she made eye contact with her son and wiggled her fingers tryingly.

Henry immediately nodded. He was ready to translate for her.

And so Regina wiggled her fingers in the air to say exactly what she wanted to say about fairytales. In hindsight, she was probably signing a bit too quickly, but Henry had absolutely no problem with keeping up. He watched her intensely as she signed and then translated for her: “fairy tales are important for both children and adults. They teach about different cultures, different ways of doing things.
They teach children about cultural differences in the world and encourages them to explore their curiosity and urges them to learn new things and experience new places. They also teaches that a person who comes from nothing can turn their life around. Fairy tales teaches right from wrong and teaches that good will always win. Maybe that’s not always true, but it still teaches a very important lesson: be the hero, and not the villain. Fairy tales can help children deal with their emotions, and finally, they allow everyone, children and adults to run away from whatever reality they’re facing, fairy tales gives the reader hope, and I don’t see how anyone can ever be too old to have hope and feel uplifted. As you never become too old to dream. So really, Zelena, what you’re saying doesn’t make a wink of sense.” He took a deep breath and Regina saw a flash of pride in her eyes as he asked: “did I get all that right, mom?”

He did, and he even corrected a few wrong signs on her behalf, bless him. Regina nodded proudly and ruffled his hair. She silently formed the words ‘good boy’, and Henry laughed and said “thanks, mom.”

In the mirror, Zelena rolled her eyes. “Alright, jeez, I don’t remember asking for a lecture, Regina.”

Regina signed once more, and her display of sass came through in Henry’s voice as he said: “but you got one anyway.”

Zelena rolled her eyes again and muttered something incoherent under her breath.

Henry put his head on Regina’s shoulder again. “I’ve missed you, mom.”

Regina put an arm around his shoulder and gave him a little squeeze. She had heard the slight vulnerability in his voice.

“So have I, but I haven’t missed your lectures,” Zelena mumbled.

Regina looked up and lifted her hands. Her fingers danced in the air as she signed and questioned her sister’s statement.

“Yes, you have,” Henry snickered. “She says that you’re a liar.”

“Well, I’ve never...” Zelena said, but she smiled warmly at Regina, nevertheless. Her green eyes were overflowing with tenderness. It was obvious that she had missed Regina terribly.

Regina had missed her sister too. So, so much. She was finally back with her family, and she had no plans about ever going anywhere again. This was where she belonged. If only her headache would go away, that was. It was starting to get to her. Her head was throbbing in earnest now. Damn it. Regina did not want to spend her first night home having a headache. But it rather seemed like that was how things were going down. Unless she took an aspirin, that was. But honestly, Regina wasn’t all that big on that. Mixing aspirin with the strong painkillers she was taking, didn’t seem like the best idea. Oh well. Maybe the headache would disappear on its own when she got home and finally started relaxing a little. One could only hope.

Henry snuggled into her side again, and Regina took the opportunity to plant another kiss on his hair. God, she had missed her son! It felt like she’d had an ache in her chest that was only being soothed this very moment. She would never part ways with her son again. Except for when he was going to school, of course.

School. Regina chewed on the inside of her cheek. Sooner or later, she would have to face the other parents at Henry’s school. What would they think of her? Had they gossiped about her while she had been away? ‘Henry’s mother who was involved in that strange accident where she lost her voice’. ‘Henry Mills’ mute mother’. Was that whom she was now?

Regina bit her lip and then she pushed the thoughts away. Worrying would only make her headache worse.

Zelena kept asking Emma questions, and Emma mentioned that Regina had encouraged her to contact Malena from Dragon Publishing.

Zelena shot Regina a surprised look in the mirror, and Regina could not blame her for that. This was the most charge Regina had taken in months.

Then Henry claimed her attention again. Her little prince talked and talked about all the things he had done while she was on the train. He’d had far too many popcorns. And chips. And too much hot chocolate too. Zelena had let him stay up late, and they had watched a lot of Disney movies.

Regina knew that she probably should scold her sister for her lax ‘parenting’, but she could not bear to do so. Henry deserved all the hot chocolate and popcorn and chips and Disney movies he could possibly get. This had been such a tough time for all of them. And after her brief consideration of ending her life and thereby robbing Henry of his mother, there wasn’t the thing she would deny him. If he wanted something, be that an extra hour of Disney movie or a bag of chips, he could have it...

 

By the time they arrived in Steveston, Regina’s arm was asleep and tingling, but she didn’t have the heart to make Henry move away. She wanted him there. She craved his presence more than she craved air.

Being back in Steveston was strange to say the least. It had been ages since she last was there. She and Killian visited a few times, but he quickly gaslighted Regina into believing that exotic destinations was so much better. Regina had been stupid enough to believe that it was her Prince Charming speaking. Her prince Charming who was going to whisk her away to new places. But in reality, it had been more about Killian disliking the small town where everyone knew everyone.

Regina felt guilty about that. She felt guilty for having ever believed any of the crap he had said about Steveston. She loved the town. She had missed it. Had missed this tranquil little fisher village. It had once been her second home, and now that she was here again, she could really feel that.

Behind the wheel, Zelena was chit-chatting about Steveston. “It’s a very small town,” she said. “But very sweet and peaceful. I’m sure you can find some inspiration for your stories here.”

Regina smiled to herself. Yes, she was sure about that too. Steveston almost screamed fairytale. Especially the crooked woods and picturesque harbor. Regina had almost lifted her hands to sign so Henry could translate it, but at the very last minute she decided not to. Emma Swan probably did not need any writing tips.

“I’m absolutely sure I can,” Emma replied. “This place is perfect.”

“There’s also a few places for sale,” Zelena continued. “So if you’re thinking about settling down permanently here, it won’t be a problem at all.”

Regina briefly entertained that thought. Settling down in Steveston. In a house by the harbor. Or the woods. God, how idyllic that could be. Henry could play outside every day. Regina shook her head as she pushed the thought away. She was not moving out of her sister’s house anytime soon. She was not yet nearly strong enough for that. She needed her sister’s support. And she still couldn’t be alone. Not really. Well, she had been sort of alone on the train, but not really. She had been able to hear other people all the time.

Emma chuckled. “Well, right now I’m definitely tempted.”

“And there’s an animal shelter too,” Zelena told her. “So if you should feel the urge to get a furry companion, that won’t be a problem either.”

“Okay, now I’m really tempted,” Emma said and sounded very genuine. Definitely an animal-lover.

Regina glanced at Henry. He was an animal lover too. Oh, the times he had begged to get a dog. Some of the times Regina had been close to saying yes. But now she couldn’t even handle the idea of getting a dog. She was too weak. Mentally and physically.

“There is a medical clinic just off Main Street,” Zelena said. “But it’s very small, so if there should be an emergency, you’d have to phone for an ambulance to get taken to the nearest hospital.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Regina tried not to cringe. Just hearing the word ‘hospital’ or ‘ambulance’ made her insides twist. Zelena met her gaze in the mirror. Her lips moved as she formed a silent ‘sorry’. She knew how Regina felt about those two words.

“And there’s a garage too,” Zelena continued, gaze still flickering anxiously to Regina. “You won’t have any problems finding a car.”

“Great.”

“And what else is there...” Zelena continued and frowned slightly. “It’s been over five years since I was last here, so things are a little hazy...” she considered it for a second and then continued: “right, of course. There’s a sheriff’s department and a park and a beautiful forest area. Ideal for picnics.”

Regina tried not to scoff. Was Zelena changing career to the tourist business or something? It sure sounded like it with the way she was yapping off stores and places in Steveston.

Then they rounded a corner, and Zelena announced: “And last but not least.... there’s Eugenia’s Inn.”

Regina felt a smile spread on her lips as she looked at the familiar, beautiful old grey building. Eugenia’s Inn was exactly as she remembered it. Old fashioned and charming like the rest of the town.

“Great,” Emma said again, but this time she didn’t sound half as enthusiastic. Perhaps she was a bit nervous about starting over in a new city. Regina wouldn’t blame her if she was. So was she. Not that she was starting over in a new city, but she certainly was starting over as a new person. A person who could not speak. Regina tried not to think about it. It made her throat tighten and hurt. Stupid, psychosomatic pain! Stupid brain tricking her into believing that she was hurting when she actually was not. At least not there.

Regina watched as Emma Swan got out of the car and went round back to grab her duffel-bag. There was something oddly childish and innocent in the way she slung the duffel-bag over her shoulder. And definitely something anxious too. She came round the car again, clearly getting ready to say goodbye, and Regina saw that her mouth had been drawn into a thin line. She had not seen that expression on Emma’s face before, and she decided right then and there that she did not like it. Emma Swan looked so vulnerable with her mouth like that and that wrinkle between her eyes.

Regina realized that she couldn’t possibly let Emma go into Eugenia’s Inn on her own. Emma already looked plenty overwhelmed at the prospect of setting foot in a new town, and Regina feared that this would be the last straw or something.

As gently as she could, she freed her arm from Henry and then got out of the car. She spent a moment on typing a message on her phone. ‘would you mind if I went in there with you? It’s been a while since I last saw Eugenia, and I’d like to say hello to her before we leave again.’ partially true, it had been ages since she last saw Eugenia. When she was done typing, she turned the screen towards Emma so she could read.

Emma spent a moment on reading the message. Then she looked up. Her face was illuminated by the light from the screen, and Regina could see how she smiled.

“Yeah, sure,” she said. “Of course you can go in with me.”

“Can I come with you?” Henry piped up as he leaned out of the open door. “Please?”

Regina knew exactly what this was about. He was anxious to let her go again. Her poor boy. She frowned slightly as she signed and told him that she wouldn’t be gone for that long.

Henry was not satisfied. “But mom...” he pleaded with her.

“Hen, your mom will be right back,” Zelena jumped in. “She’s just going in there to say hello to Eugenia. It won’t take very long.”

Henry looked up at Regina with big brown eyes that nearly broke her heart. “You promise?”

Regina nodded solemnly and wiggled her fingers in a ‘promise’.

“Ooookay,” Henry said, leaning back in his seat, clearly accepting that.

Regina turned her attention back to Emma and tried her best to do a ‘shall we?’-gesture with her head.

And luckily, Emma got it. She nodded and as Regina started walking, the blonde followed her towards the inn.

Coming inside, Regina almost felt soothed by seeing that the place had not changed at all. It still looked equally as cozy as it always had. The grey forest wallpaper almost made Regina feel at home. Ready to order a cup of coffee and her usual bagel. Except she couldn’t. At least not the usual way she would order. No words would come out of her mouth again.

Behind the desk was Eugenia Wolf. She was arguing with someone in the backroom. Judging by the voice half-shouting back to her, it could only be Ruby Wolf. Her granddaughter. They were arguing about Ruby’s skirt. Or more specifically, the length of it. So nothing had changed there either. Eugenia wanted Ruby to wear something that ‘didn’t make it look like you’re on the menu!’, and Ruby was
yelling back something about at least she ‘wasn’t dressing like Norman Bates when he was dressed as his mother!’.

If she could, Regina would have chuckled. The little exchange was amusing. Next to her, Emma clearly thought so too. It was easy to forget why they were there, but then Regina snapped out of it and pressed the little bell standing on the desk. If she couldn’t clear her throat, this was one way to get Eugenia’s attention.

Eugenia immediately stopped arguing and turned around. Her mouth dropped slightly, and she slammed a heavy hand against the counter. She was clearly stunned at what she was seeing.

Regina flashed her a little smile. Surprise. I’m back. At least sort of.

“As I live and breathe....” Eugenia said as she quickly came round the corner. “Regina Mills!”

Before Regina could as much as blink, Eugenia had engulfed her in a hug. The feeling of arms immediately sent pangs of anxiety through her body. Her first instinctive reaction was to shake Eugenia’s arms off and bolt from the diner. But then she remembered that this was Eugenia. Eugenia Wolf. She had known Eugenia Wolf for ages and ages. And her embraces was not something to fear. She returned the hug as best as she could and patted Eugenia on the back.

“Gran? Granny, what happened? What was that sound?” Ruby called from the backroom.

“Come see for yourself,” Eugenia called back.

Regina smiled a little at that.

After a bit of shuffling, Ruby emerged from the backroom. Looking exactly like Regina remembered her in a white top and red skirt with a little apron over it. She squealed loudly when she spotted Regina, exclaimed ‘no way!’ and before Regina could as much as blink, she was being hugged again. By Ruby this time. She withstood that too. Ruby’s hugs was ‘safe’ too. They shouldn’t give her a reason to panic. But admittedly, she was relieved when Ruby released her again.

“I just can’t believe it!” Ruby exclaimed. “After all this time! How are you doing? Are you okay?”

Loaded question. And one there was only one acceptable answer to. Regina smiled and nodded in affirmative, and Ruby hugged her once more for good measurement.

That was when Eugenia finally spotted Emma. She went ‘oh’, took off her glasses, wiped them and then put it back on her nose. “You must be Emma...?”

“Swan,” Emma added. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“You’re the one who called about the room,” Ruby said as she released Regina once more.

“Yeah,” Emma confirmed and nodded slightly. She still looked a bit nervous.

Ruby shook her head a little. “Incredible. You’re the first one to rent a room in months.”

“Ruby!” Eugenia barked. “Kindly stop making our inn sound unattractive to our new guest.”

Ruby glared.

Eugenia ignored that and turned to Emma Swan once more. Flashed her a warm smile. “Welcome, miss Swan. My name is Eugenia Wolf, and that rude creature is my sweet granddaughter Ruby.”

Ruby glared again, but then she sobered up and flashed Emma a smile. “Hi, and welcome. We Wolf’s tends to make a horrible first impression, but I promise you, Granny isn’t as bad as she sound.”

“Ruby!” Eugenia hissed. “One more word out of your mouth and I’ll fire you, young lady!”

“And what, run the place all alone?” Ruby nonchalantly shot back.

Eugenia muttered something about finding better waitresses another place, but when Ruby flashed her a smile, she softened considerably and flashed her granddaughter a smile in return.

“See, not as bad as she appears,” Ruby sniggered.

Emma snickered, and Regina found it hard not to be amused. Eugenia and Ruby’s arguments were always entertaining.

Eugenia once again ignored her granddaughter as she said to Emma: “I’m afraid our rooms aren’t that big...”

“That’s totally fine,” Emma assured. “I don’t require lot of space.”

It was said all jokingly, but the comment still gave Regina some pause. It very much sounded like Emma once again was trying to excuse her presence.

Eugenia did not pick up on it though. She merely smiled as she reached underneath the desk and found a familiar, antique key. She handed it to Emma with the words: “I’ve chosen room number seven for you. It has a lovely view over the square. I hope you don’t mind that. But if you prefer forest view-“

”Square view is fine,” Emma interrupted in that unnerving please-don’t-make-a-fuss-tone. Regina really did not like that at all.

But once again, Eugenia did not pick up on it. “Good,” she said, smiling again. “I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here.”

“I’m absolutely sure I will,” Emma said. “Regina was adamant that this is the best place.”

Eugenia clicked her tongue as she looked at Regina. “You shouldn’t go around and spread lies, young lady!”

Young lady. Regina smiled as she shrugged lightly. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had been referred to as ‘young lady’. Most likely when Mother was alive. She always had the habit of calling Regina ‘young lady’. And often when she was cross with Regina. But Eugenia always said it so affectionately. She clearly did not care that Regina was thirty five and so far from a ‘young lady’.

“Is that all your luggage?” Ruby asked, nodding towards Emma’s duffel-bag.

“Yep,” Emma said with a slight shrug.

Yes, Emma Swan indeed travelled light. Regina had noticed that too. Imagine travelling so far away with so few belongings. Emma Swan was a very brave woman.

“Hmm. You travel lightly,” Ruby commented and flicked a lock of brown-red hair behind her ear. “But that’s fine by me. Less stuff for me to carry when I help you to your room. Want me to take you there now?”

Regina expected Emma to say yes and bid her her farewell, but that did not happen. Instead Emma shifted slightly on her feet without saying anything, and Regina was confused. Had Emma perhaps changed her mind about wanting to stay here?

“Do you want me to show you the room?” Ruby asked again.

“Didn’t you have some things to attend to in the backroom?” Eugenia rather suddenly asked.

“But I always show our guests their room,” Ruby pointed out and sounded as confused as Regina felt.

Eugenia shrugged. “I’ll do that. I’m pretty sure I can hear some boxes screaming your name in the backroom. If I were you, I’d go back in there and check what all the screaming is about.”

Ruby rolled her eyes, muttered a “fine!” and then disappeared into the backroom once more.

Once she was gone, Eugenia emerged from behind the counter once more. She nodded towards Emma’s duffel-bag. “Why don’t I bring that into your room? It looks heavy.”

“Oh, uhmm, thanks,” Emma said and did a little wiggle as Eugenia without much further ado grabbed the duffel-bag and relieved her of the extra weight.

Eugenia disappeared up the wooden staircase, and as Regina listened to her heavy footsteps, she wondered exactly what she was missing right now. It rather felt like she was missing out on some massive point. Or perhaps she was just being silly.

“They seem like really nice people,” Emma said as she turned to Regina.

Regina nodded and smiled in affirmative. Finding her phone, she quickly tapped a message: ‘Eugenia can be a tad eccentric from time to time, but she’s the sweetest, most helpful person you’ll come across. And Ruby is the same. They fight like cat and dog, but don’t let that fool you.’

Emma chuckled a bit and then continued: “thanks for the ride. It was really nice of you.”

Regina shrugged lightly before quickly writing another message on her phone: It was the least I could do after what you’ve done.’

“I didn’t really do anything,” Emma pointed out.

Not true. Emma Swan had done plenty. Regina tapped on her phone again. ‘You gave me someone to communicate with during the trip. That meant a lot.’ It truly did. Emma could just as well have chosen to ignore the weird, mute lady she happened to share a cabin with. But she hadn’t. Instead she had gone out of her way to talk to Regina. Treat her like a normal person. That truly meant the world. Regina turned the screen so Emma could read the message.

And once she had, Emma shrugged lightly. “I was more than happy to do that. You made this trip a lot less boring. I don’t think anyone has ever managed to keep me so entertained.”

Regina felt slightly amused as she wrote another message on her phone. ‘That’s very impressive given how little I’ve said during the trip.’ She turned the screen towards Emma but almost regretted her attempt at being witty when she saw Emma’s eyes snap up to scan her face. Had she really become so bad at joking? Perhaps. Or perhaps joking was only something that could be done verbally. Point taken.

But then Emma smiled ever so slightly. Oh. Perhaps Regina wasn’t so horrible at joking after all. Good to know. Regina was relieved that Emma understood her little attempt at joking.

“Well....” Emma said slightly half-heartedly.

Regina settled for a nod and wondered why she didn’t just smile and walk away. That was what she was supposed to do now. It wasn’t that hard.

“Well then,” Emma said. Nothing else.

Regina wondered if there would be a follow up comment, but nothing seemed to be happening. Emma was merely fidgeting. Shifting slightly. Her forehead was wrinkled as though she was lost in thoughts.

It occurred to Regina that maybe Emma Swan wasn’t good at saying goodbye. If that was the case, Regina should definitely make it easier for her. It really was the least she could do. She offered Emma a smile and then reached out and touched the top of her shoulder. She honestly hadn’t been planning on doing so. It just seemed like an appropriate way to say goodbye to the new friend she had gained during the three day long train ride.

Regina turned around and headed towards the door. Now she really had to get going. Zelena was waiting for her. Henry was waiting for her. He was probably wondering what was taking her so long. Regina didn’t want to keep him waiting for her. He was probably tired, the poor thing. He had been up late last night. He had told her that he hadn’t been able to sleep because he was so excited about her homecoming.

“CanIhaveyourphonenumber?!”

What on earth was that? Regina automatically froze with a hand on the doorknob. Was that a sneeze? A cough? No. Emma just said something. Didn’t she?

Regina turned back around and looked at Emma. To her surprise, Emma’s pale cheeks were flaming red, and her mouth was twisted as though she was wincing. Why was she wincing, though? Regina walked back towards her. This strange exclamation craved and explanation. She found her phone in her pocket once more and began typing a new message. ‘I’m sorry, could you repeat that for me?’
Regina had never liked making people repeating themselves. Just as she didn’t like repeating herself either. Now she couldn’t repeat anything at all. Let alone ask anyone else to repeat themselves. Oh, the irony.

She turned the screen and question towards Emma and hoped that she didn’t took this as a sign that she was going deaf too. Not that there was anything wrong with being deaf, of course there wasn’t, but Regina wasn’t sure she could handle being both mute and deaf. Being silent was bad enough.

Emma Swan’s reaction was curious to say the least. Her pale cheeks flamed once more, and Regina was starting to grow concerned. Perhaps she wasn’t feeling well? Perhaps she needed a doctor or something?

“Uhm...” Emma said and seemed to shift slightly on her feet. She was clearly uncomfortable, and Regina did not understand why. And not at all when Emma concluded her sentence with a: “I was just wondering if whether I could have your phone number?”

Oh. Regina felt her lips part slightly as they formed the silent, soft exclamation. Well, if that wasn’t peculiar. Great minds clearly thought alike. She had considered asking Emma for her number. But she had been concerned about seeming too pushy. Yes, she and Emma had had a nice time on the train, but that didn’t just automatically make them the best of friends already. During the drive to Steveston, Regina had continuously reminded herself that she could not force someone to be her friend. It was not Emma Swan’s fault that it had been a long time since Regina made a new friend.

But now it seemed like Emma Swan wanted to stay in touch, and Regina was very pleased about that. She grabbed her phone and quickly wrote a new message on the screen. ‘Funny you should say that. I was just about to ask for yours. I know we don’t know each other that well, but I would like to be updated on how you settle in here and how everything goes with your book and your meeting with Mal, if that’s okay?’ she turned the screen towards Emma, and it wasn’t long before she was rewarded with a huge grin from her. “Yes, that would be more than okay! I’d like that.”

That made Regina smile, and she turned the screen back to herself. Made the message disappear with a few taps and then tapped the ‘contact’ symbol. Wrote in ‘Emma Swan’ as name. Then she turned the screen back towards Emma to indicate that she was ready to get her number.

Emma was quick to give her her number. Almost a little too quick. Regina’s fingers nearly stumbled on the screen, but she managed to write in the number correctly.

“So.... Can I have yours?” Emma asked.

Instead of wasting time with writing down her number, Regina simply wrote ‘hello’ in a message and sent it to Emma. It didn’t take long before she heard Emma’s phone vibrate.

“Thanks,” Emma chuckled.

Regina offered a slight nod in response and glanced towards the door. And window. She could see Henry through it. He was leaning out of the door once more. Clearly waiting for her. Wondering what was taking her so long.

“Well, I should probably go upstairs and check out that room,” Emma said, claiming Regina’s attention once more.

Regina looked back at her and nodded once more.

“Thanks for keeping me company during the train ride,” Emma said earnestly. “I was afraid of ending up next to someone.... not nice.”

Yes, Regina had been afraid of the same thing. She had feared ending up sharing a cabin with someone who viewed her as an odd curiosity. The weird lady who could not speak. But Emma had not made her feel like that. Not at all. She smiled and bowed her head. Shrugged lightly in what she hoped was an ‘it was my pleasure’-gesture, and not a dismissive one.

“Well.... Goodbye then. I guess I’ll..... See you around? For coffee like we talked about?”

Coffee with a friend. So wonderfully normal. Regina wouldn’t mind that at all. She lightly pointed to Emma’s phone and then back to her own.

“Yeah. I’ll text you,” Emma said.

Regina smiled again, offered Emma another nod and then turned around and walked towards the door. No strange shoulder touches this time. She wasn’t quite sure why she had done that in the first place.

This time, Emma did not call her back, and Regina left the inn full of hope that her new friend was going to have a good first night at Eugenia’s Inn. She was looking forward to hearing more about how Emma was fairing. About how her conversation with Malena went. Regina knew that she probably should text Mal and let her know that a young woman looking for a job would contact her one of these days, but she just could not do it. Didn’t know how to reach out to her oldest friend. It had been too long. Too much time had passed. If she contacted Mal now, she would ask for explanations, and Regina could not give her any. She was still too raw.

Regina sighed a little as she crossed the parking lot. Wondered if there would ever be a time where she did not feel raw.

“That took a while,” Zelena commented when Regina came back to the car. This time she choose the front seat. Henry did not complain. Perhaps he was glad to see her do normal mom-stuff. Regina knew that she was glad to do normal mom-stuff.

“Did you give her a grand tour of the entire place?” Zelena asked amusedly as Regina shut the car door behind her.

Regina shook her head and fumbled with the seatbelt for a moment. Then she heard a click.

“Did Eugenia and Ruby ask you... stuff?” Zelena asked, voice soft and careful now like she was approaching a frightened animal or something. And she was clearly curious in knowing why Regina had taken so long.

Regina shook her head and pointed to her phone.

Zelena frowned. “I’m not sure I understand, sis.”

Regina quelled a sigh. No, of course not. She would have been surprised if Zelena automatically understood what she meant. Sign Language was a learning process for everyone involved. Regina lifted her hands, signed, ‘she wanted my number.’ She wasn’t sure she got it completely right. She had a habit of ‘slurring’ her signs when she was tired.

But Zelena understood. “Oh,” she said.

Regina frowned. Wasn’t that a bit of a weird ‘oh’?

But before she could get the chance to investigate further, Zelena had another question: “and did you give it to her?”

Regina nodded in confirmation and added: ‘it would be nice to stay in contact.’

“Of course,” Zelena said as she started the car again. “I understand. I’m glad you met someone friendly on the train.”

Oh, so was Regina. Most definitely so!

“I’m tired,” Henry mumbled from the backseat. “Can we go home now?”

“Yeah. We’re going,” Zelena confirmed as Regina turned her upper body around so she could reach back and interlace her fingers with Henry’s.

Henry squeezed her fingers slightly, and even though it was uncomfortable sitting with her upper body twisted like that, Regina would happily do it all the way back. Letting go of her son’s hand was not a possibility. Not tonight, not ever.

Her headache was starting to pick up again, she noted. Getting stronger and stronger. Of all the things he had done.... Why did he have to slam her head into a wall and leave her with a permanent migraine? It wasn’t fair!

 

“Welcome home,” Zelena announced about twenty minutes later.

Regina looked around in Zelena’s hallway. Yes this was her home now. And it was nice to be back. She slipped off her shoes and continued into the familiar kitchen.

“Is there anything I can get for you?” Zelena asked as she followed Regina. “Do you want some coffee? Tea? Something to eat? Are you hungry?”

Regina shook her head and tried to ignore the way Zelena was walking on eggshells around her. She turned around and smiled at Henry who came skittering past her. He returned the smile and gave her a hug. “It’s nice to have you home, mom.”

Regina returned the hug. Relished in the fact that she was able to hug her son without being fearful. She had done pretty well tonight. Hugged both Ruby and Eugenia and Henry and Zelena. She looked back at Zelena, tugged slightly at the blazer she was wearing tonight and hoped that would be enough explanation.

And luckily, it was. Zelena immediately nodded. “You want to change into something more comfortable. I get it. Well, the room is all ready for you.”

Regina smiled, kissed the top of Henry’s head, gently prompting him to let go of her. He reluctantly did so but was quick to ask: “are you coming back downstairs when you’ve changed your clothes?”

Regina nodded in confirmation. Of course she would. Her heart broke for her little boy who had to ask his fragile mother such adult questions.

She turned around and walked towards the stairs. She was most eager to get out of these clothes as soon as possible. It was like she hadn’t quite gotten used to wearing her old clothes. When she was in the hospital, she was more or less living in sweatpants and oversized hoodies with zippers. To avoid any material rubbing against her newly operated throat. And to hide herself away. Hide her body.

It hit her as soon as she sat foot on the staircase. In the blink of an eye, she was suddenly back in the house in Montreal. She was running up the stairs as fast as she could, nearly tripping as Killian yelled at her in kitchen where he first had attacked her. You come back here, you bitch! Just you wait until I get my hands on you!

Her head started to throb even worse than it had done in the car. Pain was radiating from that spot on her forehead that had been shoved into a wall repeatedly. Her throat started hurting, and she could feel how her heart started to pound in her chest. Her vision blurred. She felt faint. Or sick. Like she was going to throw up.

“Is everything okay?”

And just like that, her sister’s voice made Regina snap out of it. She realized that she was NOT in Montreal. She was NOT running up the staircase. She was not about to endure hellish torture whilst
fighting for her life. She was going to change her clothes. Nothing more. She could do that. Of course she could.

She quickly turned her head, gave a nod and a smile in affirmation, and then resumed her walk up the stairs. With each step she repeated the same thing in her mind. You’re fine. You’re fine. Everything is fine. This was NOT Montreal. This was her sister’s place in Vancouver. A safe place. She could breathe easily here. She didn’t want to start the first chapter of her new life with having a panic attack. She couldn’t do that to Henry.

The guest room in Zelena’s house did not look anything like her old bedroom in Montreal. Thank god. Perhaps it was because everything looked so different that Regina was able to shove the panic attack aside. Or perhaps it was because she refused to break down on her first night home.

In the bedroom, she did what she had told she would do. She changed out of her crisp clothes and into a pair of soft, comfortable sweatpants and a hoodie with a zipper down the front. Then she heavily sat down on the edge of the bed. Tired. So tired. If she let herself fall backwards onto the bed right now, she surely would fall asleep. But she had promised Henry to come back downstairs. And she also needed to change the bandage. Oh god, the bandage. Touching her throat right now seemed so impossible. But nevertheless, that was exactly what she had to do.

She hesitantly reached up to remove the bandage from her neck, but before she could, there was a soft knock on the door and Zelena’s voice asking: “sis? Can I come in?”

Out of options, Regina settled for tapping the wall in response.

The door to the bedroom opened and Zelena poked her head in. “That meant yes, didn’t it?”

Regina nodded in confirmation.

Zelena came all the way into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. Regina resumed the task of unwrapping the bandage, but all the sudden her hands were shaking like crazy. The thought of baring and being confronted with the wound again gave her anxiety. Thinking about that horrible, deep red line the belt had left on her throat, made her feel all kinds of sick. The panic attack was sitting in her fingers. Making them tremble violently.

And then her hand was gently grasped. Regina looked up and saw her older sister stand in front of her. The look in her eyes was so soft and gentle as she asked: “would you like me to do that?”

Yes. More than anything. But Regina hesitated with her response. She had to learn to change her bandage, right? She couldn’t keep relying on her sister to help her out all the time.

“It’s not a sign of weakness, sis,” Zelena said, squeezing Regina’s hand slightly. “You’ve just had a long night. Do you want me to help you out?”

Regina bit something back as she nodded.

In a matter of seconds, Zelena had found the box containing the medical-kit. She had slipped on a pair of latex gloves and was getting ready to remove the bandage from Regina’s throat.

Regina tipped her head back and closed her eyes. Didn’t want to look at the wound. Didn’t want to see Zelena’s reaction to the ugly, marred skin.

“There’s something that I want you to know,” Zelena said softly as she gently removed the bandage from around Regina’s throat. “And that is, that whatever happened on the staircase.... It’s okay. You don’t have to pretend that you’re fine when you’re not. That’s all.”

Regina did not react to it. She just concentrated on her breathing. Now Zelena was pulling at the plaster covering her throat, and the movement tugged slightly at the tender skin there. Regina wrinkled her nose slightly.

“Sorry, sis. I’m almost done,” Zelena promised.

Regina did not react to that either. She did not open her eyes. Not even when she felt cool air greet her now exposed throat. Everything in her cringed and clenched as she imagined the look of horror on Zelena’s face when she saw how Regina looked now.

But of course Zelena didn’t have a reaction. “Here comes the ointment,” was all she said. The next second, Regina could indeed feel the cooling ointment on her skin.

“Everything is healing nicely,” Zelena told her.

Oh, if only it was that easy. If only it was the same for broken hearts and souls. If her insides could mend as quickly as her skin did. Regina curled her hands into fists and only concentrated on her breathing when she felt a new plaster being applied. Then the bandage.

“All done,” Zelena announced. “You can open your eyes now, Regina.”

Regina did just that, and when she looked down, her throat was covered once more. Good.

Zelena slipped off the latex gloves and curled them into a little ball. “If you want to go to bed now, it’s totally fine. Henry will understand.”

But Regina firmly shook her head as she rose the bed. She will not. No more going to bed early. No more making her son worry about her. Tonight was supposed to be a happy occasion. And it wouldn’t be that if she shielded herself off in the bedroom already.

She followed Zelena downstairs where Henry was waiting for her. He was sitting with his phone, clearly eager to show her something on the screen.

Regina joined him on the couch. Slipped an arm around his shoulder and smiled when he showed her the silly video on the little screen. This was definitely worth staying up for. This was the sweetener life had for her. Henry leaning into her shoulder while laughing at the silly video was worth it all. She was finally home. Where she belonged.

 

To claim that she was not tired when she climbed into bed two hours later, would be a big fat lie. Regina was so tired every joint in her body ached. Her head did the same. She was woozy because of the painkiller she had gobbled down a little while earlier. Now she just wanted to sleep and get some rest.

But before she could get the chance to drift off, there was a soft knock on the door, followed by a: “mom?”

Regina sleepily lifted a hand and tapped it against the wall.

The door opened and Henry stepped in. He was wearing his dinosaur pajamas and a slightly anxious expression.

Regina sat up in bed, concerned about what Henry was about to say. He looked so serious. And he was supposed to be asleep, was he not? She had tugged him in an hour ago. She had expected him to be fast asleep by now. And yet here he was, wide awake with ruffled hair and a concerned expression on his face.

“Can I...” he shifted some and scratched his cheek. “I was wondering if I could sleep in here tonight? With... with you.”

Oh, god. It had been years since Henry had slept in her bed. Not since he was a toddler. Regina’s heart broke. Her poor, poor boy! He almost looked embarrassed about asking. Like he was breaking some sort of rule. Or going against the ‘I’m a big boy’-code. Regina wouldn’t have that. She immediately nodded yes and motioned for him to come closer.

He did so, and as he climbed up in bed with her, Regina laid back down, making sure to create enough room for Henry to sleep comfortably tonight.

Henry wiggled into her arms exactly like he did when he was much younger. The only difference being that he was careful to angle his face away from her bandaged throat. “I’ve missed you, mom,” he whispered slightly muffled against her pajamas.

Regina wrapped her arms around her boy and held him tight. Hoped that he understood that it meant she had missed him too. So, so much. And she would never tell him no if he asked if he could sleep in her bed with her. It did not matter that he was almost ten and ‘too big for that’. It didn’t matter at all. He needed his mom more than ever, and Regina was so grateful that she was still here. That she could still give him what he needed....

To Be Continued........

Chapter Text

Screaming.

The last thing Regina did when she had a voice. Screamed for her life.

She wanted to scream tonight too. But she could not. The scream remained locked in her throat. Burning on her broken vocal cords as she violently jerked out of sleep and sat up in bed as if pulled by a string.

Nightmare. A bad one. She couldn’t breathe properly. Or so it felt. Her throat ached and her abdomen twinged and tightened. She closed her eyes and tried to reassure herself that she was safe. That this was her room. That Killian could not get her.

It didn’t work.

Her pajamas was drenched in sweat and her heart was hammering. Black spots were dancing before her eyes, and she felt sick. The nightmare was sitting in her like an enormous lump in her throat, and she stumbled as she got out of bed. The room was closing in around her. She had to get out of here right now. Couldn’t stand being in here a minute later.

She hurried down the hall. Right now she could not think about anything except getting out of her bedroom, and so she wasn’t being particularly quiet. Setting foot on the staircase was making her anxiety spike as well. In glimpses, she saw herself running up a staircase like this one while Killian was screaming at her in the kitchen. God, why hadn’t she just run outside instead of upstairs? If she had been smart enough to run outside, he would never have done this to her. She would still have been able to talk today if she had run out of the house instead of running upstairs.

She ended up outside on the porch. The night air was cold and crispy and sating on her burning skin. Her breath came out as little puffs of white smoke. Her chest was rising and falling too quickly. She sank down on the ice cold threshold and hid her face in her hands. Her heart was racing, and black spots were dancing before her eyes. She tried to tell herself to calm down. Tried to convince herself that there was no danger here, but her brain refused to cooperate and kept providing her with flashes of the nightmare she’d just had.

The cream colored rug scratching against her back. The sound of her clothes being torn sounding like an explosion in her ears. Buttons bouncing off against the walls like projectiles. His weight on top of her like a stone. The fight against the impossible as he forced himself on her. Forced himself inside OF her. The excruciating pain at the feeling as well as the realization of what he was doing to her. It hadn’t lasted long. Two minutes at most until she got enough hold of herself to slam her knee against his balls. But still, so many thoughts had rushed through her in that moment. The most dominant one being that she couldn’t believe that this was a man she had prepared to promise forever. This was the same man who had told her that he loved her a number of times. The very same man who had kissed her so sweetly in the moonlight. The same man who once had held her so close in the night, the same man she had told all her secrets, was the same monster who now was holding her down and raping her. And enjoying her terror.

This was a man she had trusted. A man she had bared her very soul for. And he had bared his in return. He had told her about her childhood one night when they were lying in bed together. Killian hadn’t had the easiest childhood. His father drank and often shouted when he was drunk. Sometimes he lashed out at a young Killian and his mother and brother. His voice had been so vulnerable when he told her the story about his hard childhood where he and his mother and younger brother, Liam had walked on eggshells around his father until Killian’s mother found courage to leave him once and for all.

Killian’s voice had grown thick and raspy when he swore that he never would become like his father. That was what he feared most, he had told her. To end up like the ‘abusive asshole’ that was his father.

Regina’s heart had broken for Killian. She had held him close and kissed him tenderly, silently vowing that she would never ever make him feel so small and vulnerable as his father once had made him feel.

Despite all the good intentions. Despite Regina’s naïve fantasy of being the woman to save Killian, history had repeated itself say for a few changes. Killian’s father never got physically violent. The violence he displayed was of the psychological kind. He used his voice, not his fists.

Killian never got drunk, but often yelled when angry. And he used his hands when frustrated. Slapped her around and yelled. Followed by a ton of apologies. He had been tired. He had been frustrated.

Because of her.

Regina had felt guilty.

Had gotten it into her head that it was her fault Killian was reacting like he did.

She was the one challenging him.

She was the one pushing him to react.

That wasn’t true, Regina reminded herself as she shivered in the cold night air. His actions had been inexcusable. But she would never stop feeling stupid. Why had she stayed? Why hadn’t she just left after the first time he raised a hand to her? As a young woman, Regina had had a very strong sense of justice, and if something wasn’t fair, she immediately reacted. Killian’s actions had definitely not been fair. And yet she had stayed. Because Killian had been so convincing. He had cried and begged her to please come out of the bathroom so they could talk. When she did, he had taken her in his arms and whispered ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, love’ into her temple. He had kissed her forehead. Her cheek. He had taken her hands, brought them up to her lips and then kissed them too. Very gently. He had begged her to not kick him out of the house. And he had sworn that he never would do it again.

And Regina had believed him. Because Killian was her fiancé. Because she was in love with him. Because she knew him. Knew that he hadn’t meant it. That it had been an accident. And she was not hurt.

Just surprised. She had given him the benefit of the doubt. She had forgiven him.

If only she hadn’t. If she had left him right then and there, that could have been the end of it. She would still have been heartbroken, of course. But less than she was right now. Of course one slap was serious enough. Of course the shock of realizing that her fiancé was the type of man who could hit a woman when he was ‘tired’ would have been devastating. But she knew that she would have been able to rise above it. She would have patched her broken wings, brushed off the dust and then forgotten about the man she was supposed to marry.

But now she couldn’t patch her metaphorical broken wings. Because they weren’t just broken. They had been torn from her body, and no thread was thick enough to sow them back onto her body. Regina rubbed a hand over her face. Their first argument, the first argument that had ended in an open palm to her cheek, had been so pointless. And so devastating. Because it had been about the wedding. The seating plan of all things. Regina had wanted Henry to sit at the main table, but Killian had thought that he should sit at the children’s table with the other kids. Regina had of course protested against that. Obviously, Henry should sit at the bride and groom’s table with them. He was the bride’s son. As much a part of the day as they were. Killian had been stubborn about it, and eventually, they disagreement had ended in a full blown argument. And an open palm to her cheek. The first of many.

Regina shivered in the cold night air. The sweat on her back had started to dry, and she felt quite uncomfortable. But she didn’t want to go inside. Not yet. Because she knew that she would not be able to sleep. If she closed her eyes, the nightmare would come back. She would feel everything all over again. The rough hands grabbing and groping all over her. The sound of her clothes tearing. The throbbing in her head when it connected with the wall. The rug scratching against her back when she was forced onto the floor. His voice in her ear, switching between calling her a ‘ fucking whore’ or a ‘good little wife’, depending on how much she fought against him. The pain everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. The belt around her neck. And the dank smell of urine. Your bladder fails you when you’re being choked. In the midst of the terror, Regina had thought to herself he couldn’t have chosen a more humiliating way to finish her off.

And the scream stuck in her throat. Because that was what her nightmares were like now. She was always rendered speechless. Unable to scream while Killian did terrible things to her.

Regina was so tired of fighting against him in her nightmares. She was tired of experiencing her night of terror again and again. It made her feel sick to her stomach. Made her feel like she had been raped all over again. How were you supposed to move on when the same nightmare kept haunting you?

Regina sighed and turned her face towards the inky blackness above her. The sky looked like a velvet blanket with tiny gold stars embroidered on it. It looked beautiful. The night was calm and still.

Peaceful. Cold with a touch of frost to it.

It was difficult to believe that there could exist such terrible people in such a beautiful world.

The world had looked exactly like this on the night where Killian attacked her.

The night had been calm and still.

The sky had been inky black.

Beautiful.

Nightmares couldn't occur in such a calm, still night.

Regina closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.

What she wouldn’t have given to be able to pretend that Killian didn’t exist.

Just for tonight.

But he did.

And he always would.

He would always reside in the back of her mind.

She rubbed her arms, her thin pajamas did not provide with much cover to shield her from the cold.

The years with Killian had been a lesson in everything horrible.

Terror.

Stripped modesty.

Obedience.

And... shame. Yes, shame.

The ever gnawing shame.

Regina had always been proud of herself and her identity as a Puerto Rican bisexual woman.

But Killian had shamed her into believing that it was wrong.

That she was wrong.

She wasn’t, she knew that. The only thing she was embarrassed about was the fact that she had allowed Killian’s terror to go on for so long.

Regina rubbed her arms again. She was starting to get really cold. The temperature had dropped. Perhaps they could even expect the first snow soon. Henry would be excited then. He loved snow. Perhaps they could build a snowman. He had done that every year ever since he was big enough to understand the delight of snow. During the first years, Regina had to help him, but now he was doing it on his own. But maybe he wouldn’t mind a bit of help this year. Regina hoped so. Her therapist back in Toronto had told her that she had to make sure to get out of the house. Did building a snowman in the garden count as being outside?

A cold wind blew through the garden, and Regina shivered. She should get inside and get warmed up. But being outside was so nice. Her bedroom had felt so cluttered. And her head. Her therapist had been right. Being outside was good for her. Perhaps she could make a thing out of this. Well, not sitting outside in her thin pajamas well past midnight, but being outside every day. Perhaps she could incorporate a daily walk into her very un-busy schedule. She couldn’t sit in front of the television and catch up on series every day. She had to make sure that her life was moving forward, and it would not if she sat on her butt in front of the tv every day. She had to start earning money again. Had to find somewhere she and Henry could live on their own. She couldn’t occupy a room in Zelena’s house for always. She had her own life. And Henry needed his own room. Obviously, he did have his own room here in Zelena’s house, but he needed his VERY own room. One where he could paint the wall whatever color he wanted. And most of all, he needed to see his mother getting by on her own. He needed to see that life could and should go on even after a dramatic and traumatic event. Stability. He hadn’t had a lot of that in the past two years.

Another wave of guilt rushed over Regina as she thought about the times where Henry had seen her with a bruise. She had lied to him so many times. Made up silly little accidents to make him laugh and to cover for the bruises that often bloomed on her arms where Killian had grabbed her too roughly.

“Regina?”

Regina turned her head and looked up at her sister who had just shown up on the porch, illuminated by the automatic lights that always switched on whenever someone was on the porch. Before the attack, Regina had thought that it was a very handy thing, but now the automatic light on the porch instilled fear within her. And especially if the lights went on at night. She kept imagining that Killian somehow had gotten out of prison and was now coming for her.

Zelena rubbed her face. She was wearing one of Chad’s big t-shirts and checkered pajama bottoms. Her red curls were ruffled from sleep, and her voice thick and slightly raspy as she said: “is everything alright, hun? You had me all worried when I found out you weren’t in your bed.”

Regina nodded, a tad guiltily. Chasing Zelena out of bed had never been her intention.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Zelena asked softly.

Regina hesitated. Her sister knew her too damn well, and she didn’t want to keep singing the same old song. Sooner or later, her trauma would be a nuisance to listen to, right? Sooner or later, she had to get all of this go and move on with her life.

She settled with a slight shrug. That could mean anything. Not a confirmation. Not denying.

Zelena sat down next to her on the porch and winced slightly when her butt connected with the cold surface. Then she reached out and gently patted Regina’s hand. “You don’t have to pretend, you know,” she said softly, looking right through Regina. “You can talk to me.”

Talk.

If only.

But Regina understood what Zelena meant. She lifted her hands and wiggled her fingers, hoping that Zelena were able to understand Sign Language in the faint light out here. Her fingers trembled slightly as she signed: ‘it is the same thing over and over again. I close my eyes and I’m back on that bedroom floor. I don’t know what to do to make it go away.’ Now all of her was trembling.

Her eyes stung, and Regina immediately felt guilty for crying in front of her sister. Again. How long did Zelena have to pick up the pieces of her? How long could she handle doing that? And for how long was Regina going to wallow in this? She was alive. She had gotten out of this with relatively few injuries. Her voice might be gone, but she was alive. And so was Henry. Why couldn’t that be enough? How long was she going to be stuck in this self-pitying rut? She had been raised to hold her head high and keep soldiering on no matter what, and she had always taken pride in being able to go on no matter what. But now when she needed it the most, her fighter instinct seemed to have deserted her completely, and all she wanted to do was stay in her bed forever.

More tears pooled in her eyes, but no sound came out when they spilled onto her cheeks. She couldn’t even cry any longer. He had taken that ability from her too. Along with her ability to laugh. Smile. Feel joyous or hopeful. In a manner of two years he had gradually broken her spirit. And in a manner of the twenty short minutes the attack had lasted, he had taken everything from her. Her voice. Her dignity. Nearly her life. In the blink of an eye, he had almost made himself the judge over whether she should live or die.

“Oh, sweetie,” Zelena said as she wrapped an arm around Regina’s shoulder.

Regina rested her head against her sister’s shoulder and her hands trembled worse than ever when she wiggled her fingers and signed again. ‘Why did he have to do this to me?’
she had done everything in her power to try and understand WHY he had done what he did to her that night. He had hit her before, yes. Slapped her quite a lot. Grabbed her too roughly now and then (that had mostly been in the bedroom), given her a black eye here, a throbbing jaw there, and shoved her about for a few times.

But it wasn’t like he had pushed her onto the floor. He had never pushed her down the stairs or broken her bones. She had never ended up in the hospital because of him. Until that night. As horrible as it sounded, he had been consistent in his violent actions. Slaps and hard grips. But never anything beyond that. He had never escalated the violence. Until that night where the lid had come off and he had gone absolutely ballistic on her. How could he have gone from slaps to suddenly slamming her head into a wall and nearly choking her to death? How was it possible to perform such acts of violence? How had it not been possible for him to snap out of it and see what he was doing to her?

She had tried so hard to understand why, but she could not. And she had tried so hard to be everything for him. A proper housewife who always had a warm meal prepared for him in the kitchen. The perfect hostess who smiled whenever he invited his colleagues over. An effective chef who never failed to pack his lunch in the morning. A patient fiancé who listened every time he had a problem. A sexy, alluring creature in the bedroom who never would dream of denying him everything. He wanted to do it from behind? Fine. He ordered her to give him a blowjob? Why, there was nothing she’d rather to than pleasing her man. Of course it didn’t matter if he yanked a little too harshly, he was just enjoying himself, that was all.

Regina hid her face in her hands when she thought about everything she had endured to keep him happy. She HAD been everything for him. A perfect fiancé, if there ever had been one. And he had still done this to her.

“Because he’s a miserable, stupid lowlife who does not deserve to be on this earth!” Zelena growled as she wrapped her arms tighter around Regina. “That’s why. He did this because he’s a goddamn insane monster, and if you for as much as a SECOND think that it is your fault....”

Regina settled for sniffling slightly. Yes, in her darkest moments, she sometimes did think that this was in fact her fault. Staying with him would never have been an option, not after he had threatened to harm Henry, but she shouldn’t have sprung it on him the minute he walked through the door. She should have waited until he was settled in with a cup of coffee or something. She should have sat down with him by the kitchen table and slowly easing him into the idea instead of waiting for him with a packed suitcase and a clipped tone. If she had handled it differently... maybe he wouldn’t have hurt her.

“It was not your fault, Regina,” Zelena murmured. Once again, she was looking right through Regina in that special way only a sister can.

Regina nodded slightly against Zelena’s shoulder.

She knew that.

Of course she did.

Deep down, she knew that she could not be blamed for what Killian had done.

She couldn’t be blamed for any of it.

But she could blame herself for not waking up and leaving him sooner.

What kind of example was she setting for her son when she couldn’t even figure out how to leave an abusive bastard?

It was so simple.

If a man hits you once, you leave him.

Of course you do.

Why hadn’t she been wise enough to know that?

Why had she stayed and put herself through that danger?

She had gone toe to toe with death that night, and it was a mere miracle that she was still here.

That Henry had not been left motherless.

Of course Henry didn’t know the truth, and he wouldn’t for a very, very long time.

But one day, when he was older (much, much older!) Regina would tell him the truth.

Someday.

Because she had always made a point of never lying to her son.

“Come on,” Zelena said softly and gently rubbed Regina’s back. “Let’s get you inside. You’ll end up catching a cold.”

Now Regina realized just how cold she was, and she willingly allowed Zelena to help her up and escort her back inside the house.

The house was warm and cozy, and somehow, Regina’s body gradually started to relax more and more.

“Do you think you’ll be able to sleep again?” Zelena asked softly.

Regina immediately shook her head. No, definitely not. If she closed her eyes, she would be back in the bedroom. Back under Killian.

“Okay,” Zelena said lightly. “You know, I’m not that sleepy either.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. That was a lie. She knew it was.

“How about some hot chocolate?” Zelena suggested. “And some.... Great British Bakeoff on Netflix?”

Regina smiled very, very slightly. The Great British Bakeoff. The best comfort series in the world. And just about the only thing she could handle seeing. Any type of violence in a movie or series suddenly triggered her and made her experience flashbacks. She nodded. She could use a good comfort series right now, but...

‘You should go to bed,’ she signed. ‘You don’t have to stay up with me. You have work tomorrow.’

“I’m aware,” Zelena smiled, flicking her red hair away from her face. “But right now, I couldn’t care less about that. I’m staying here. With you. To watch The Great British Bakeoff and drink cocoa. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my night than hanging out with my little sister.” She smiled that particular smile. The thank-god-you’re-still-here-smile. The I-don’t-know-what-I-would-have-done-if-you-hadn’t-survived-that-night-smile.

Regina returned the smile but felt so, so guilty.

How could she ever have thought about suicide?

How could she have been so selfish?

Simply focusing on her own pain and not thinking about the repercussions.

Leaving Zelena with the task of arranging her little sister’s funeral.

Leaving Henry motherless.

Exchanging their Disney nights with visits to a headstone bearing her name.

Regina Mills. Beloved Mother and Sister. Gone to soon.

She had so much to live for. So, so much.

Regina walked over to Zelena who was now whipping out a pot so she could make the cocoa. Regina interrupted her by putting a hand on her shoulder.

Zelena turned around and raised an eyebrow slightly. “Is everything okay?”

Regina nodded and lifted her hands to sign what she could no longer say. ‘I love you.’

Loving her older sister was the easiest thing in the world. From the day Regina knocked on a twenty year old Zelena’s door in England and introduced herself as her younger sister, it had been the two of them against the world. Zelena had known that she was adopted, but she had never once dreamed that she had a younger sister somewhere out there, and she had bursted into tears when Regina had told her the truth about their mother. And then she had hugged Regina for a very, very long time. It turned out that even though Zelena had been adopted by loving parents, she had always been lonely. She had missed something in her life. A sister.

“Oh,” Zelena smiled, setting the pot down on the stove. “I love you too, sis. Come here.”

Regina stepped closer and willingly let Zelena hug her exactly like she had done back then. Upon releasing her, Zelena murmured: “I’m so glad you’re here, sis.”

Regina nodded. So was she. So, so glad. And eventually, she WOULD use her second chance for something more than feeling sorry for herself.

“Now...” Zelena hastily scrubbed over her eyes. “How about that cocoa?”

Regina smiled. Yes, some cocoa would be nice. She shifted a little and was pleasantly surprised at discovering that she actually felt a little better. Things didn’t hurt quite as much as they had done when she was sitting on the porch in the darkness. And she wasn’t nearly as cold.

Zelena was quick to make the cocoa and soon they were sitting in front of the television. Zelena switched on Netflix and found The Great British Bakeoff. “Chocolate week?” she asked Regina.

Regina nodded. She had always liked chocolate week the most.

“You got it,” Zelena smiled, found the right episode and leaned back in the couch with her cup of hot chocolate.

Regina did the same. And as she watched the contestants make amazing creations out of chocolate, her mind at last slowed down. There was just something oh, so soothing about watching The Great British Bakeoff. Perhaps it could even be considered a kind of therapy. Therapy. It wouldn’t be long before Regina had to meet her new therapist here in Vancouver. She was nervous about that. She had liked the therapist she’d had in the psychiatric hospital, and she hoped this one would be just as good. Regina was going into it with an open mind, and the only request she’d had, was that her new therapist was a woman. Actually, it had been more a demand than a request. It was essential that it was a woman. Interacting with men she had never met was not something Regina could imagine herself doing anytime soon. She trusted Chad, but that was different. He wasn’t a stranger.

But other men... Regina did not trust them. It wasn’t that she automatically thought that any man would do her harm, but there was just something inside her that panicked when a man as much as looked at her.

Regina took a sip of the hot cocoa and pushed the gloomy thoughts away. Decided that she did not want to think about it anymore. She wanted to relax with her cocoa and watch Great British Bakeoff with her sister.

Regina smiled at her sister and lifted her mug of cocoa slightly.

“Cheers, little sis,” Zelena chuckled as they clinked their mugs together. “Five bucks that the delightful grandpa is gonna outsmart everyone!”

Regina nodded. There was a good chance her sister was correct about that.....

 

 

When she woke up the following morning, she was slightly surprised to find herself laying on the couch. Her head was cushioned by a pillow. A blanket had been draped over her body, and Regina was puzzled. Why was she here instead of in her bed? She wasn’t supposed to sleep on the couch.

The mystery was quickly solved, though. Zelena came into the living room with a cup of coffee in her hand. She sat it down on the coffee table and smiled at Regina. “Good morning, little sis.”

Regina sat up. The blanket slid off her body, and she ran two fingers through her hair before using her fingers to sign: ‘did I fall asleep here?’

“You did,” Zelena confirmed with a soft smile. “Right in the middle in chocolate marshmallow tea cakes.”

Oh. Regina frowned softly. Chocolate week was her favorite. She would have to watch the episode again.

“I made coffee for you,” Zelena said, nodding towards the cup of coffee on the coffee table.

Regina frowned again and wiggled her fingers. ‘I could have made that myself.’

“I know,” Zelena acknowledged. “But you had a bit of long night. And I wanted to do something nice for my little sister. That’s not a bad thing, is it?”

Regina shook her head. It was not. It was sweet.

She drank her coffee. Then she went upstairs and took her medicine in the bathroom. She took a shower. Got dressed. Cream colored slacks and a blue button up that tied at the front. Today was still not a skirt day. But that was okay. She was not a failure just because she couldn’t wear a skirt on certain days. There were skirt days and there were slacks days. And she was certain that she soon would be able to wear one of her skirts again.

Then she woke up Henry. Her little boy wasn’t very interested in getting up, but when she coaxed him with breakfast, he sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes sleepily. Then he smiled at her. “Good morning, mom.”

Regina returned the smile and ruffled his hair. This might be a completely normal thing, but she was so happy to say good morning to her little prince.

He gave her a hug. He hadn’t done that before the accident. The good morning-hug was a new tradition, and Regina absolutely loved it. It was a shot of dopamine directly into her heart.

“What’s for breakfast?” Henry asked as he yawned.

Regina signed ‘bacon and eggs’, and Henry beamed at her in response. She left him to get dressed and went downstairs again. This was a perfectly normal morning, wasn’t it? If it hadn’t been for the words that were stuck in her throat, this could be like one of the mornings before the accident. Before everything.

Making bacon and eggs was a bit of a victory. Because she was able to do it without looking back over her shoulder. She could do it without wondering if she should really eat this. Killian had often commented on that. Women and what size he preferred them to be in. He hadn’t directly said so, but he had certainly heavily implied that he had preferred ‘petite’ women.

Regina shifted a little in front of the stove. Her slacks were still a bit loose-fitting. She had lost so much weight over the past year. To make Killian happy. To show him that she could look like one of those ‘petite’ women he had talked so much about.

But the thing was, Regina was not built to be a petite women. She had curves, and she had been proud of her curves. Until she found out that her fiancé liked petite women. She had started by cutting out sugar of her diet. Then she had chosen salad more and more often whenever they went to a restaurant. Then breakfast had been replaced with smoothies. And then Killian had attacked her, and she had ended up in the hospital. There she had been measured and weighted, and she had been tipping the ‘underweight-scale’. She had realized that what she had been doing had been very close to turning into a dangerous situation, and she had decided to stop. Of course, it hadn’t been as easy as just deciding. But she had gotten help. Her psychiatrist had been amazing. And Regina had gradually started to eat again.

And she would never let anyone decide what her body should look like. She straightened her back slightly as she flipped the bacon.

“That looks nice,” Zelena commented as she passed her.

Regina smiled but wondered. It was getting fairly late. Wasn’t Zelena supposed to be at work now? Or was she meeting late? Again. She had done that quite a lot. Regina knew that Zelena didn’t mind meeting late. And Zelena’s boss didn’t mind either. He was aware of the situation. But Regina wanted her sister to go to work at normal meeting hours. She wanted to prove that she could handle cooking breakfast for her son and then driving said son off to school.

She had to get back in the game.

Back to normalcy.

She WAS normal.

She just couldn’t speak.

That was all.

No big deal.

Regina made a sort of scoffing sound.

Big deal.

Very big deal.

Enormous, life-changing deal.

Killian had taken away something so vital and personal from her that night.

He had literally stripped her of her ability to protest and say no.

He had turned her into the woman he had wanted her to be the whole time.

Obedient.

Silent.

‘The perfect wife’.

“Is everything okay?”

Regina lifted her head. Zelena had clearly heard her little scoff. She quickly nodded. She was fine. Everything was fine. What good did it do to be bitter?

She turned her head to the staircase. The bacon and eggs were finished. But she couldn’t shout for her son. Zelena did it for her.

It was sometime after breakfast, and Henry had just nipped upstairs to find his schoolbag, when Regina suddenly remembered that Emma Swan was going to meet Malena today. Regina found her phone and sent Emma a quick text: ‘I just wanted to wish you good luck with your meeting today. I do hope I’m not bothering you. Don’t let Mal intimidate you.’ Maybe Emma would answer her. Maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe she had already left Steveston.

But it didn’t even take a full minute before her phone vibrated in the pocket of her slacks. She quickly retrieved it and checked the message. ‘you are not bothering me at all! Thank you for wishing me good luck, I really appreciate that since I’m pretty nervous.’

Regina frowned. Emma was nervous. Was that her fault? Had she made Malena sound overly intimidating? That had definitely not been the intention. ‘I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling a bit nervous. I hope you don’t feel that way because of what I said about Mal. Really, she’s not that bad. She’ll warm up to you soon enough. Just talk Stephen King to her, and you should be fine.’ she sent the text and hoped that it could less some of Emma Swan’s anxiety.

The answer came quickly again. ‘I’ll do that. You know her pretty well, don’t you? Malena, I mean.’

Regina felt a stab of guilt when she thought about Malena. Over the last year, when Killian’s abuse had escalated more and more, she had gradually put more and more distance between herself and Mal.

Killian hadn’t liked Malena. He hadn’t liked the fact that she was Regina’s ex. He hadn’t liked that Regina had been with women in general. All talk about bisexuality was a taboo. Unless he was the one taking up the subject. Which he had a couple of times. The times where he had tried to push her into having a threesome with him and another woman. The time where he had suggested Malena as a ‘candidate’, Regina had still had enough spirit left in her to fight. And she had yelled at him for ever coming up with something like that. Her identity as a bisexual woman did not exist to full fill whatever kink he had, she had told him. She had continued and informed him that if he ever spoke about her friends in such a lewd manner again, she would be out of there.

Killian had scoffed and rolled his eyes. Called her ‘hysterical’ and insisted that he merely had been joking. Regina knew that he hadn’t, but she had been too furious to call him out on it. Later on, he had apologized more ‘genuinely’. And she had forgiven him. He had successfully manipulated her doing that.

Regina tried to push it away as she replied to the text. ‘Yes, we’ve known each other since high school. But unfortunately it’s been a while since I last saw her.’

‘Well, maybe you’ll be able to see her soon?’

Regina sighed as she texted a quick reply. ‘Maybe’.

Killian was gone now. He could no longer decide who she should and shouldn’t see. So why didn’t she reach out to Malena?

The answer was simple. She was embarrassed. It sounded completely ridiculously, but she was. She was embarrassed over the way she purposefully had ignored Malena’s calls and texts over the past year.

It would have been so easy to pick up the phone and either text or say three little words. ‘He hits me’. Malena would have come flying over to her, all rage and fury and remove her and Henry from the situation whilst spewing acid at Killian. But Regina had been afraid. Afraid of Killian coming for Malena instead.

And now? Well, now she had no idea how to have that conversation. And not only because she physically could not speak any longer. She was ashamed of herself. Ashamed of her weakness. During their time as a couple, Malena had once praised her for something. The way she never took any crap from anyone.

And now here Regina was. Bruised. Battered. Scared. Mute. A living proof of how much ‘crap’ she had taken from a single person. Malena would not only be shocked when she found out the truth. She would also start to pity Regina. And Regina couldn’t bear the idea of her oldest friend who had been with her through thick and thin, pitying her.

“Who are you texting?”

Regina looked up at her sister. She had forgotten that she was still sitting with her phone. Now she put the device down to sign: ‘Emma’.

“Oh,” Zelena smiled. “That’s nice. What’s she up to? She getting ready for the meeting with Malena?”

Regina settled for a nod, for now Henry showed up in the kitchen and declared that he was ready to go to school.

Regina smiled and rose from the chair. She and Henry headed into the hallway where both of them put on their winter coats and boots.

Henry slipped an arm around her waist as they headed towards the car, and Regina draped her arm around his shoulders. She gave her boy a little squeeze. And when he asked if he could in the passenger’s seat rather than in the backseat, she allowed him even though he wasn’t quite tall enough.

Henry happily chitchatted as she drove. The clever boy made sure to only ask her yes or no question. Nod or headshake. He was such a smart boy. And he didn’t seem upset that she couldn’t answer him properly. One day, when she was still in the hospital, she had written down that exact question on a note. If he was upset that she couldn’t talk anymore. She had given him the note and her stomach had churned while she waited for an answer. But Henry had just leapt from his chair and hugged her tightly while telling her that it didn’t matter to him. As long as she was alive....

 

 

Regina didn’t drive straight back home after having taken Henry to school. Instead she parked the car near a local park close to Henry’s school. She had told Zelena that she would be going for a little walk so she didn’t have to worry. Zelena did worry a lot about her these days. She had indeed asked if Regina wanted ‘some company in the park’. Regina had texted no. She didn’t need a babysitter. She was perfectly capable of going for a walk on her own.

The fresh air was good for her. It helped clearing her mind. And she wasn’t afraid of walking here. There was plenty of daylight and there were other people in the park too. She met a couple who had a very exalted dalmatian puppy on a leash. It jumped up her coat when it got the opportunity.

“Digby!” the woman scolded. “No! Don’t jump like that!” she looked at Regina. “I’m really sorry about that.”

Regina merely smiled and gestured slightly towards the puppy.

“You can pet him,” the woman said. “Go on. He’s very friendly.”

Regina crouched down and petted the puppy. Digby answered by licking her cheek and sticking a wet nose in her ear. If she could, she would have chuckled. Now she had to settle for just smiling at the couple and then be on her way. It was getting colder, and she had already been walking for a half an hour.

She headed back to the car to check the message she had received some time ago. She had felt her phone vibrate earlier, but she hadn’t wanted to fumble with her gloves and phone while walking. But now that she was back in the car, this was a perfect opportunity.

‘I’ve got a job!’

Oh. The text made Regina smile. Malena had given Emma Swan a chance. That was wonderful. She ignored her slightly stiff fingers and texted back. ‘That’s wonderful news, Emma! I’m so happy for you.’

‘Thank you! Ugh, I was so nervous when I left, but now... I feel like I could climb a mountain or something.’

Again, Regina would have chuckled if she could. ‘I must say, I had been fearing that Mal would be hard on you. I’m glad she chose not to live up to the nickname I once gave her.’

‘And what nickname is that?’

Regina’s smile widened as she answered that text: ‘Maleficent.’

‘Creative nickname, but she was definitely no Maleficent today. Nor was she a dragon.’

‘I’m happy to hear that.’

‘I think I might have stepped in it a little. I accidentally called her “Mrs. Drake”. I don’t think she liked that.’

No, Regina could imagine that. Malena detested the idea of marriage and being ‘anyone’s Mrs.’ as she called it. Now Regina was starting to think that she was right. ‘No, I can imagine she wasn’t particularly fond of that. Mal prides herself in never having been married.’

’I’m starting my new job on Wednesday!! I can’t wait. Thank you so much for the heads-up. And I’m looking forward to having coffee with you on Tuesday.’

Oh. Regina looked at the text for a moment before replying. ‘Me too’. And she could feel that she actually meant it. She WAS looking forward to having coffee with Emma Swan....

 

To Be Continued.......

Chapter Text

Scars.

They were everywhere on Regina’s body. Everywhere. Visible ones and those that could not be seen with the naked eye. But she could feel them. Every single day. Knew that they would follow her for the rest of her life. Like a grease stain on a picture or an ink stain on a white cloth, these scars would slowly fade into her skin and become a part of her.

She frowned as she looked at her face in the mirror. Her hair was still smooth and shiny. Her eyes were still her eyes. Dark. Almond shaped. But one didn’t have to search for long before finding the first scar. Right there. Upper lip, right side. Regina lightly traced the scar with the tip of a finger. Despite the time that had passed, the scar still felt rough around the edges. Like it had not yet become a part of her. It did not hurt. None of her visible scars did. Only the scars that were invisible caused her pain. She wondered. Would she ever grow to accept this scar? Would there be a day where she looked at herself in the mirror and barely noticed the scar on her lip? The boot print on her stomach? The lines on her neck?

Regina gently tugged the collar on her turtleneck sweater down to expose her neck, and she immediately flinched upon looking at it. The wound was still covered in a plaster, and it would continue to be so for a while, but she could still see the thick, angry red lines from the belt around her neck. She did not touch the lines. She never did if she could avoid it. And she preferred to keep her neck covered at all times. For Henry’s sake. There was no reason to scare him by flaunting her ‘seatbelt laceration’. A lie, but a necessary lie. She could not ever tell him the truth. She simply could not. He would be devastated. He was just a child. No almost ten year old boy should be exposed to that kind of cruelty. Not even if their mother was the one to bring the cruelty inside their house.

Regina quelled a sigh. She should not be thinking about this now. She had plans. Was supposed to be somewhere. And she hoped that a trip to Steveston would lift her spirit a little. She took a step back and looked at herself in the full figure mirror. Black turtleneck sweater. Black leather pencil skirt. Yes, today was in fact a skirt day. She felt slightly proud of that. Her life had become all about celebrating the small victories, and wearing a skirt (and a pencil one, even!) was most certainly a victory. Perhaps she would not feel comfortable wearing a pencil skirt tomorrow, but that did not matter. Today she did. She took a step closer to the mirror, inspecting her face again. A light coffee colored shade on her eyelids. Black eyeliner along the waterline. For the first time in months, she had given herself smoky eyes, and now as she stood here and looked at herself, she willingly admitted that she had missed that look. And she had missed her favorite burgundy red lipstick too. This was very her. Her trademark lip color. Killian hadn’t liked her red lipstick. Well, he liked it at first. Had called it alluring and sexy, but later when he started getting more and more controlling, the compliments had changed to grim
words, and he had claimed that the lipstick made her look ‘slutty’. ‘Like you’re begging to give every man in the room a blowjob,’ he once sneered at her.

Today Regina couldn’t for the life of her fathom how he had seen any connection between red lipstick and a blowjob, but back then she had not dared arguing against it. She had simply stopped wearing the red lipstick.

Because it was easier not to.

Because it was easier to only put it on when he asked her to.

And oddly enough, he always did whenever HE wanted a blowjob.

Regina recoiled and had to take several deep breaths through her nose. She did not want to think about that. It made her gag. And gagging was not good for her wounds. She shook her head and forced herself to think about something else before her palms dampened and she started to feel nauseous. Then she brushed her hands over her skirt and left the bathroom.

In the hallway, she happened upon Zelena. Her sister smiled at her. ”Look at you. You look fantastic.”

She meant the skirt, Regina knew that, but none of them addressed it. Regina merely smiled and did a little mock-spin as to show off her outfit.

Zelena chuckled, pushed a lock of red hair behind her ear. “Are you sure that you don’t want me to drive you? Because I don’t mind.”

But Regina shook her head and lifted her hands. Signed: ‘I will drive.’ She had missed driving terribly. Killian had more or less taken control over her Mercedes. He didn’t like the idea of her driving unless she absolutely HAD to. Perhaps it was the idea of her driving away that made him feel like that.

“Alright,” Zelena said and flashed her another smile. “Are you looking forward to meeting up with Emma?”

Regina nodded. Yes, she was in fact looking forward to that. Meeting up with a friend for coffee was something else she had not done in a very, very long time, and just the idea that she now was able to, was making her feel.... Well, not giddy, she doubted she knew how to be giddy any longer, but definitely happy.

“That’s good. I’m sure it’ll be nice,” Zelena said.

Regina was certain of that too. And she was certain that she would end up running late if she did not leave at once. So she continued down the hall, down the stairs until she reached the hallway. There she put on her big fur collar coat. It was cold today. As she buttoned it, she did a little shift just to make sure that she felt comfortable in the skirt. She did. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. Oh, the opportunities were endless if she could grow comfortable wearing skirts again. All her dresses which were hanging abandoned in her closet upstairs.. Regina thought of that as she left...

 

It hit her when she was about halfway to Steveston. She had been enjoying driving and had been enjoying Tracey Chapman and ‘Fast Car’ taking over the sound side.

But then she got a headache.

Just like that. A completely random attack case of intense hammering behind her forehead. It had her gasping for air and muscles tensing in her entire body. She had no choice but to pull over. Her legs shook slightly under her as she got out of the car and took deep gulps of the sharp, cold air. God, that hurt so bad! When would it stop, she wondered. These random attacks of sharp headache. Another blitz attack. When her father had died, she had developed stress-migraine, but it had disappeared when Henry was born.

When would this disappear? And why did she keep getting it? She did not have a concussion any longer. Her brain was fine nor had she suffered a scull fracture. It didn’t make sense that she kept getting these sharp pains. Perhaps she ought to make her doctor aware of it. Or perhaps yet another psychosomatic symptom. Stress.

But she did not feel particularly stressed right now. At least she didn’t think so. She felt sort of okay mentally. As okay as someone in her situation could feel.

She rubbed her forehead in slow circles much like her father had done when she was younger and had come down with whatever illness. She supposed it helped a little, but still, why did he have to slam her head into a wall? Why couldn’t he just have used his fists?

Regina scoffed. Was she seriously complaining over HOW he had hurt her? She most certainly needed to sort out her priorities.

A car slowed down and came to a stop right next to hers. An elderly man emerged from the driver’s side, and Regina’s first, instinctive reaction was panic. There was a man here and she was all alone and unable to call for help. But then she forced herself to relax. Perhaps she was a woman all alone, but she was also a woman who was standing by the side of the road, rubbing her forehead repeatedly. It was only natural that someone had grown concerned and had stopped their car.

Not everyone wanted to harm her.

“Good morning,” the elderly man greeted.

Regina’s mouth twisted. Now came another difficult thing. Having a conversation without saying a word. Just how was she supposed to do that without coming across as impolite?

She smiled and bowed her head, hoping that would be a sufficient greeting.

“Is everything alright, ma’am?” he asked, making the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced when he frowned. “Are you having car trouble?”

Regina shook her head.

“Do you feel ill, ma’am?” he continued. “Do you need any help?”

Regina shook her head again and smiled. Tried her best to indicate that she was perfectly fine. She just couldn’t answer him.

“If you’re certain...” he pursed his lips, clearly not very willing to leave her standing on the side of the road.

Regina nodded and smiled more genuinely now. What a nice man. He was not out to harm her. He was just a kind person who wanted to make sure that she was alright. And she was. The headache was subsiding again. It always did. Sometimes it took hours. Sometimes just a few minutes. Today it had only lasted a few minutes, and thank god for that. Otherwise she would have been forced to cancel her coffee appointment with Emma. It would have been unfortunate, but unavoidable. She was absolutely no good when she had a headache.

“Alright then. Well, I wish you safe travels, ma’am,” the man said as he went back to his car and climbed inside.

Regina climbed inside her car too. It was time to drive on. Otherwise she would be late, and she hated being late for an appointment. Hated the idea of the other person being forced to wait for her. She always tried never to give the impression that her time was more important than the other person’s. That was not the case at all.

She buckled her seatbelt and switched the radio back on. Cringed upon realizing that Tracey Chapman had been replaced with someone playing an electric guitar in a fashion that would have made Henry go ‘yay!’ and start bopping his head to the music.

But Regina had never been one for this kind of music, so she flicked between the radio stations until she found one that played gentle piano music (which would have made Henry go ‘aww, mom, seriously?’). Regina turned the volume up a little. Beethoven. The Moonlight Sonata. She had always enjoyed that particular piece. She had in fact been in labor with that playing. Yes, she had insisted on piano music while giving birth. Malena had found that particularly strange, but Regina’s words had been law that day, and so piano music had played while she gave birth to her son.

Regina continued her drive towards Steveston and felt relieved that the headache had subsided again. She quickly made the decision not to tell Zelena about this. There was no reason to, really. She was okay now, and lord knew that Zelena already had experienced her fair shares of Regina’s headache attacks. So had Henry. Unfortunately. Regina wished that there was a way for her to control the headache attacks around him, but there was not. Henry was always so sweet when it happened. Gave her a cold cloth to press against her throbbing forehead. Covered her with a blanket when she needed to lie down. Switched off the television if she needed quiet. He was acting like such a little grown up, and Regina sighed. It wasn’t right. More than anything, she wished that her little boy would go back to being just that.....

 

The temperature had dropped further when she reached Eugenia’s Inn. Regina parked the car and looked at her face in the mirror. Her makeup was still sitting where it should. On the outside, she looked fine.

But she was nervous, though. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had been on a café. Or just outside the hospital. Or the house back in Montreal. Killian hadn’t liked when she went out on her own. So she had mostly avoided it.

But Killian was not here. He no longer had a say in what she did. There was only one person who had. Herself. Regina swallowed thickly. Wished that she wasn’t so nervous about this. It was not such a big deal, was it?

It was just coffee with a friend.

Everyone went out to have coffee with a friend.

God, it had been so long since she last gained a new friend.

Did she even know to make friends? Or had she forgotten that?

She had forgotten many things during the time she was in Killian’s clutches.

Smiling, for once. Her smile had gradually faded over time. All she could muster was a weak imitation of a smile whenever Killian had told her to: ‘smile, love.’

Regina swallowed something again. She was allowing him way too much headspace when she should not. She was supposed to head inside the inn and meet Emma Swan for coffee. Not sit in her car until the end of time because she was nervous.

She patted her purse to ensure that the stack of post-its she had packed at home was still there. They were. Then she ran her fingers through her hair. She still wasn’t completely used to the shorter locks, but it was better than the long tresses. She wasn’t sure she ever would let her hair grow long. She feared that it forever would be a reminder of too rough hands yanking at it.

Stop it. Stop thinking about him.

She forcefully pushed the unwelcome thoughts out of her head as she opened the car door and stepped outside. It was indeed cold. But fresh. Regina breathed in the air. Perhaps she would go for a walk later. With Henry. If he wanted to come along, of course. Perhaps she could coax him with the promise of a cup of hot cocoa afterwards. He loved cocoa.

Regina began walking from the car and towards the inn. It looked exactly as she remembered it. She had missed it. Had missed being here. She would have to come here more often in the future. Coming to Steveston had always made her feel happy in the past, and according to her therapist, she should strive to do things that made her happy. Reward herself.

For what, exactly? Not succumbing to abuse?

Regina frowned. No, she should not be thinking like that. That was not the correct mind-set.

It was much warmer inside the inn. Regina stood in the little wardrobe and wiggled to slip off her coat. As she carefully hung it on one of the hanger, she did a little shift just to make sure that this was still a skirt day. To her joy, it was. She actually felt fairly comfortable right now. Perhaps she wouldn’t later, but the only thing that counted was the here and now.

After having ran a couple of fingers through her hair and tugged slightly at the collar on her turtleneck to make sure it was still covering the plaster on her throat, Regina went inside the inn itself. The fire was flicking merrily in the fireplace, and she immediately felt warmer. This truly was a cozy place indeed.

There was no one behind the counter, and the inn would have looked very empty if it hadn’t been for the blonde sitting by one of the tables. She was wearing jeans and a tanktop, and Regina’s first and imminent thought was that it had to be cold, wearing only that. She studied Emma Swan a moment. She looked like she was miles away. Regina could recognize that sort of look anywhere, and she briefly wondered what Emma Swan was thinking about.

She walked over to the table where Emma was sitting and shifted slightly as she waited for Emma to notice her arrival. She did not want to tap Emma Swan on the shoulder again. It had seemed rude enough the first time.

As she shifted again, she ended up scraping her heel over the floor with more sound than anticipated.

Emma Swan’s head snapped up, and she was clearly surprised as she said: “huh.”

Regina smiled in apology because she could see that she had startled Emma. That was not the intension. After a moment, she had to raise an eyebrow, though, because she was certain that Emma was looking a little too intensely at her. Perhaps she had been in the middle of a day dream and struggled with returning to reality.

“Hi,” Emma said and smiled.

Regina returned the smile and looked at the empty chair across the table. She felt slightly awkward just standing here. And her feet hurt a little too. It had been too long since she had worn high heels on a regular basis.

“Sit down,” Emma Swan said quickly.

Regina sat down and roamed around in her purse until she found what she was looking for. Her little stack of post-its. She felt Emma’s eyes upon her, and when she looked up, Emma was smiling at her.

Regina returned the smile and slid a pre-written note across the table. ‘As you can see, I came prepared.’

”Yeah, I can see that,” Emma smiled. “Which was very clever. I think I lost my stack of post-its.”

Regina tilted her head slightly at that. Lost a whole stack of post-its? How did that even happen?

“It’s so typical for me,” Emma continued, shaking her head slightly. “I constantly misplace things and throw them out by mistake.”

Regina found herself smiling at that. She couldn’t really relate to it. She was notorious for keeping everything. Old receipts for instance. She had a whole briefcase full of them. Because you never knew
when they would become important again.

“So, are you ready for some coffee?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded and wrote down her answer on another post-it note. ‘Yes, that sounds great. I didn’t have any coffee this morning.’ she hadn’t really been in the mood for coffee earlier, and it had seemed silly to drink any because she knew she would be having coffee later. She pushed the note across the table towards Emma.

“We should order then,” Emma said briskly after having read the note and looked around in the diner. Then she leaned back slightly and called: “hey, Eugenia?”

“Yes?” came the response from the kitchen. “I will be right there, miss Swan.”

“Just Emma,” Emma called back and sounded like she was trying not to laugh.

Regina smiled again. Emma seemed to fit right in here in Steveston. She already knew how to speak to Eugenia. And she looked more well-rested than she had the last time Regina saw her. Her cheeks had gotten some color. Her eyes seemed brighter. And even her hair looked to be more ashine than it had been on the train. Regina was pleased to see that. She was pleased to see that Emma Swan seemingly felt at home here.

There was a bit of scuffling about from the room behind the counter, and then Eugenia Wolf emerged. She looked exactly like she always did in her flour covered apron and glasses perched on her nose.

She looked at Regina and a smile formed on her lips and made the wrinkles around her eyes more pronounced. “Regina,” she said warmly. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”

Regina smiled and shrugged. Did her best to make it look like a lighthearted ‘well, here I am’-gesture.

“Now, what can I do for you?” Eugenia asked, still smiling as she kept looking at Regina.

“We’d like some coffee,” Emma said and glanced at Regina. “Right?”

Regina settled for a nod in affirmative.

“Two coffees, please,” Emma said to Eugenia and glanced at Regina again. “I’ve forgotten if you use milk or sugar?”

Regina felt Eugenia shift slightly next to her, and that prompted her to look up at the grey-haired innkeeper.

“No milk, two sugars,” Eugenia said and put a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “I’ve known how she likes her coffee for years. Isn’t that right, Regina?”

Regina nodded and mustered a teeny, tiny smile. She wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable with having Eugenia touching her. It made her feel tense. And she wasn’t sure she liked Eugenia’s tone either. Regina could easily hear the pity in it.

“Both milk and sugar for me,” Emma interjected. “Three sugars and lots of milk.”

“So, cappuccino?” Eugenia quipped, and Regina had to crack a smile. Hell would freeze over before Eugenia Wolf lost her sense of humor.

And Emma was amused too. “Almost,” she said with a snicker.

Eugenia chuckled, and Regina was certain that she saw the elderly innkeeper glance at the stack of post-its for a brief second before saying: “I’ll find that for you. Won’t be a moment.”

Emma thanked her.

Regina smiled.

They did not manage more conversation before Eugenia returned with their coffee. “One for you and one for you,” she announced as she placed the cups of coffee on the table. She looked only at Regina as she said: “you just let me know if you need anything else.” She patted Regina’s shoulder lightly once more. Then she disappeared back through the door that lead into the kitchen. The music was switched on and Regina reckoned that they wouldn’t see more of her unless Emma called for her.

She couldn’t help but frown as she looked at the now closed kitchen door. In one way it was nice to be treated like she was a lost daughter returning home, but...

“What?” Emma asked and interrupted Regina’s stream of thoughts.

Regina shrugged lightly.

But Emma Swan clearly wasn’t one for giving up. She asked ‘what’ once more time, and Regina found it impolite not to give an answer. So she grabbed a blank post-it note and scribbled down: ‘it’s probably nothing. I’m just being paranoid.’

It only took Emma a few seconds to read the note, and when she was done, she looked back up at Regina and said: “try me. I’m the mistress of paranoia.”

Regina found herself smiling again. The mistress of paranoia. What an expression. You could easily tell that Emma Swan was a writer. And most certainly the kind of person one could confide in. Regina tore off another note and wrote down what was bothering her. ‘Did it seem to you like she was feeling sorry for me?’ she pushed the note towards Emma and wondered it was perhaps SHE who was the ‘mistress of paranoia’.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Emma said after having read the message.

An honest answer. Regina appreciated that. She appreciated people who did not try to sugar coat the truth. She wrote a new message on a new note: ‘Sometimes it can be hard to figure out whether people are just being nice or if they feel sorry for me.’ before she could get the chance to regret being too open, she pushed the note over to Emma.

“I understand that,” Emma said with a slight nod. And she looked like she really, genuinely did.

Regina offered a slight shrug as though to brush it off and then reached for the stacks of post-its again. Now she could barely stop writing. And she could not stop being open either. ‘I think that’s one of the reasons why I find it so easy to be around you. You didn’t know me before. You only know this version of me.’ as soon as she had given the note to Emma, she regretted it, though. This version of me.

It was too much. It was getting too close. She couldn’t exactly reach across the table and snatch the note out of Emma’s hand. But she could steer the conversation elsewhere. And she would. As quickly as possible, she scribbled down another note: ‘But enough about me... How are you? Do you like Steveston so far? Have you made any new friends? You’re starting at Dragon Publishing tomorrow, right? How do you feel about that?’ she ended up regretting that note too, though. As soon as she had given it to Emma, she wished that she hadn’t. She had a feeling that she was bombarding Emma Swan with questions.

It was hard to make friends as an adult.

And it was even harder when you were unable to say a word.

But Emma didn’t seem the least bothered by her many questions. She chuckled lightly. “I really like it here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful little town. I’ve taken so many pictures of the harbor already, and I’m planning on trying The Rabbit Hole’s drinks this weekend. Or the next.”

Drinks. Regina smiled. She could not remember the last time she’d had a proper drink. Because of the pain killers she was still taking, she was not allowed to drink excessively. But when she was off the medicine, she most certainly would. She felt slightly envious of Emma Swan. Oh, to be young and still have the stamina to go out for drinks in the weekend.

She snapped out of it and wrote on the note she had just given Emma. ‘Just be careful with the Poison Apple drink. That’s a nasty one. Gives quite the headache.’ The Poison Apple was deathly if you had too many of them. Regina had experienced that first hand.

Emma chuckled. “I’ll bear that in mind. As for friends... I’ve talked some with Isabelle Gold, and she seems really sweet. And Sheriff Graham too.”

Regina nodded eagerly. Yes, Graham and Isabelle were both very nice people indeed.

“So yeah, my first two weeks here has been really great,” Emma continued. “But..” she leaned forward as though she was about to tell Regina a secret, and her voice was lower when she continued: “I think someone might be slightly... interested in me.”

Oh? Regina raised an eyebrow and scribbled on a new post-it. ‘Care to elaborate on that?’

“Sure,” Emma said as soon as she had read the note. She took a quick sip of her coffee and then continued speaking in that same, hushed tone: “Ruby. I think she might be getting a thing about me.”

Regina made a silent ‘oh’ with her lips. She understood why that could be problematic. Ruby was a sweet girl, but Emma had just arrived here. And she didn’t seem to reciprocate Ruby’s feelings. Or did she?

“Yeah,” Emma mumbled.

Regina took another post-it note and wrote on it: ‘well, Ruby is a very nice girl.’

“Yeah, she is,” Emma was quick to agree with her. “But I don’t think she’s... my type.” She shifted on the chair. “I suppose I ought to have a little chat with her before it gets out of hand. I don’t wanna give her false hope or anything.”

Regina nodded slowly. Took a sip of her coffee. Emma Swan was a very decent person. Taking the talk with Ruby instead of beating around the bush. That was a very decent thing to do. She swallowed the mouthful of coffee (and ignored her slightly achy throat), and then she wrote on another post-it note. ‘that’s probably a good idea. But knowing Ruby, everything will be fine. She takes everything quite lightly.’

”Good,” Emma said. ”I’m glad this won’t break her heart or anything.”

Regina smiled a little and shook her head. Ruby’s heart would be fine, she was certain of that. Eager to keep the conversation going, she tore off another post-it note and wrote another message. ‘Are you looking forward to start working at Dragon Publishing tomorrow?’ she pushed it across the table and patiently waited for Emma’s answer. She was growing more confident in this way of communicating. It was as easy as it had been on the train. It wasn’t awkward or anything. Regina felt like she was acing it pretty good.

“Yeah, definitely,” Emma replied with a nod. “Malena seems very nice if a bit...”

Oh yes. Malena always ‘seemed a bit...’ to new people. Regina tried not to seem too amused as she scribbled underneath the question. ‘Eccentric? Intimidating?’ many people had used those two words about Mal many times. Regina felt a slight stab of guilt somewhere in her stomach when she thought about Malena. She missed her. Missed talking to her. But she was not certain how to re-establish their friendship.

“Fond of dragons,” Emma said. “I’ve never seen so many dragon statues and figures before.”

Now Regina could not help but smile. She swiftly grabbed a new note and wrote what she felt like was a fun response to Emma’s comment. ‘If she could transform into a dragon herself, she would.’ That was true. Many, many times, Malena had said that she identified as a dragon and absolutely nothing else.

“I also saw the one you gave her,” Emma continued. “It was very nice.”

Regina settled for a shrug and sought solace in a sip of her coffee as she felt the guilt stab in her stomach again. If only she had to strength to reach out to Malena.

“She talked about you.”

Regina raised an eyebrow and hastily scribbled on a post-it note: ‘what did she say?’ that she was curious about. What had Malena said about her?

“She just asked how we met, and I told her that we met during the train ride from Toronto to Vancouver, and then she asked if you were staying permanently in Vancouver, and I said yes,” Emma Swan quickly summarized and seemed to stumble slightly over the words. “I hope I didn’t say something wrong to her.”

She sounded worried, and Regina hoped that she could soothe her worries with her next message. ‘You didn’t. Not at all. Don’t worry.’

“She was happy to hear about you. She said it had been a while since she last saw you.”

It was not Emma Swan’s fault that Regina was a coward who couldn’t reach out to her oldest friend. Nor was it Emma Swan’s fault that Regina currently was feeling incredibly guilty. Regina drew a lock of hair behind her ear and wrote underneath the reassuring words on the post-it: ‘it has. Quite a while, actually. I know I should reach out to her, but it’s so difficult. I haven’t seen her since before it happened. Everything is so different now.’ Too different. She and Malena were both talkers, and Regina feared that reuniting with her oldest friend would not be the same. The conversation worked with Emma Swan because she had not known Regina before. But Malena had. And she would find that Regina had changed so much. And then she would feel pity. Blastered pity. Regina could not stand it.

“Your accident?” Emma asked, and Regina noted how light and ‘daily’ her voice sounded. Bared for any pity. How refreshing.

Regina nodded and her fingers seemed to move on their own accord as they inched up towards her covered throat. She was not even thinking about.

“I understand,” Emma said quietly.

The words didn’t invite to further questions and conversations, and perhaps that was exactly the reason why Regina felt like sharing. The lack of follow-up questions was refreshingly new. Most people wanted to know. Asked. Told her how sorry they were when they found out that Regina could not speak. And then they looked at her with pity and curiosity in their eyes.

But Emma Swan did not.

And before Regina knew of it, she was writing on another note: ‘Vocal cord paralysis. That’s what it’s called.’

”Vocal cord paralysis?” Emma quietly repeated.

Regina nodded in confirmation and could not blame Emma for having to repeat the medical term. It was a mouthful for sure.

Emma seemed to quietly chew on that for a moment. But once again, there was no follow up questions. Instead a change of subject: “how is your fairytale loving son doing?”

Regina perked up. Any excuse to boast about her son was welcome. She grabbed a blank post-it note and began scribbling. The words were always coming so quickly when it came to Henry. To be perfectly honest, she probably could continue writing about him for days. ‘He’s doing well, thank you. He’s very happy that I’m home, but he keeps talking about wanting to live a different place where it’s just the two of us. I have a feeling he wants me all to himself.’ Oh, that was a long message. She was practically rambling in writing. Oh well. It would look strange if she discarded the note and started writing a new one. She handed it to Emma and hoped that she didn’t mind reading Regina’s gushing about her son.

“You guys don’t live alone?” Emma asked curiously.

Regina shook her head. Oh, that’s right. Emma did not know that she and Henry lived at Zelena’s place. A new note was written. ‘No, we’re currently living at my sisters place.’ as she slid the note towards Emma, she noted that her little pile of post-its was thinning rapidly. Hopefully, she had brought enough. Switching to her phone would be weird. As an afterthought, she wrote a little comment underneath the first one: ‘To be honest, I think he wants a bigger room, too.’

“Let me guess... he wants his room to look like a pirate’s ship?” Emma asked and grinned.

Regina smiled too. Henry would probably love that. He was often talking about how he wanted his new room to look like. He hadn’t mentioned a pirate ship yet, but it wasn’t impossible that he would. If only he could get his own room soon. Properly. Seriously, she could not keep living at her sister’s place forever. She was a grown woman, and sooner or later, she had to move on. She knew she had to.

But perhaps now was not the time to think about that. ‘to be honest, I think he’d be happy as long as he gets a bunk bed. That’s the only thing he ever talks about when he speaks about his future room. Always a bunk bed,’ she wrote and gave the note to Emma.

“A bunk bed, huh?” Emma snickered. “I think I would have loved that when I was his age.”

Regina tilted her head, silently urging Emma to go on. It seemed like they had only talked about Regina and her life. And that was not how a friendship worked. It had to go both ways. Regina wanted it to go both ways. Because she was interested in knowing more about Emma Swan.

“I had this horrible, princess-y pink bedroom with flower decorations, canopy bed and ruffles and shit everywhere. It was awful. The walls were bubblegum colored, the carpet on the floor was pink, and the curtains were these long flowy things with flower prints all over. And my bed was obviously shaped as Cinderella’s carriage,” Emma quickly revealed and sighed slightly.

Regina furrowed her brow. Canopy bed? Ruffles? Cinderella’s carriage? That did not sound too bad, did it? It seemed like a dream come true for most little girls. But perhaps Emma had been wanting a different room.

“I was forced to have that room until I was fourteen,” Emma revealed and rolled her eyes. “My adoptive mother refused to change anything about it, and she kept asking me why I never had any friends coming over. She didn’t understand that I was embarrassed over my room. Or maybe she did, but she definitely didn’t want to hear about it.”

Oh. Now Regina was really frowning. That was not good. Not good at all. A fourteen year old was not a little girl. And a teenager should not be forced to live in a princess-themed room. That was horrible.

“Well, let’s just say, the princess room met its demise when I went crazy and spray painted the walls black,” Emma said with a hoarse chuckle. “My adoptive mother was furious and screamed at me. She thought that I’d had a psychotic episode or something like that. I remember that I yelled back at her that I hadn’t, I just couldn’t stand being stuck with a princess room anymore.”

Concern rippled through Regina. Sure, Cora Mills had not exactly been a warm mother, but what Emma had just told her was terrible. What sort of mother screamed at her child? What sort of mother forced her fourteen year old daughter to live in a princess-themed room? She had to be deeply disturbed.

“My adoptive mother is... very difficult to be around,” Emma said and was clearly trying to lighten the mood. “She doesn’t really understand what boundaries means. She sort of... holds on too tightly on the people she loves. Does that make any sense to you?”

Oh yes, it absolutely did. Regina perfectly understood what it meant when love was confused with control. She nodded solemnly and scribbled quickly: ‘it does.’

Emma looked thoughtful for a moment, but then she smiled instead. “I’ve just been rambling on about myself, haven’t I? We were talking about your son. How old is he?”

Henry. Regina felt herself smiling again as she wrote. ‘He just turned ten last month. He’s growing up way too fast.’

Emma Swan chuckled as she read the message. She had probably sensed Regina’s enthusiasm when it came to her son. “And where’s he hanging out while you’re here?”

Regina scribbled underneath. ‘my sister isn’t working today. She’ll pick him up from school.’ she had barely moved the pencil away before Emma Swan bowed her head to read the message.

“Oh, okay.”

Regina gave a quick smile and noted that there seemed to be a lull in the conversation. She used the opportunity to sip her coffee. Ouch. Oh no, that hurt. She had to remember to drink regularly. That was important after the surgery. It would make it feel less dry. Setting the cup of coffee down she glanced at the table. The post-its notes were piling up. The table looked like a right mess. Regina did not like mess. She absolutely hated it.

“Does this bother you?”

Regina looked up at the unprompted question. Emma was looking at her, and Regina raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“I saw you used sign language with your sister and your son, and I thought that it might bother you. You know, not being able to communicate like that with me?”

Oh! Regina immediately stopped feeling confused. Emma wasn’t talking about the mess. She was worried about whether this method of communication bothered Regina. That was very considerate, and Regina couldn’t quite stop smiling as she wrote another message: ‘no, not at all. I quite enjoy this way of communicating with you. Writing my answers down is nice, and to be perfectly honest, my son is actually so much better at understanding sign language than I am at using it.’

Emma leaned in slightly and pushed a stray curl behind her ear as she read the message. Then she smiled, quipped: “Well, I definitely think that these post-its makes for a nice tablecloth.”

Had Regina been able to laugh out loud, she would have. But she could not. She would have to settle for a smile. And then when she felt like her silence and the absence of laughter from her was too awkward, she wrote another message (‘Have you stopped by the garage yet?’) and pushed it towards Emma.

“I’ve swung by a few times,” Emma replied. “And I’ve actually seen a car I might buy. It’s this little yellow bug. It’s adorable. And cheap.”

Regina was amused, she could not deny that. A yellow bug. That wasn’t something she herself ever would have chosen, but she felt like it would be the perfect car for Emma Swan.

“What?” Emma teased. “You don’t like yellow bugs?”

Regina smiled as she shook her head slightly. Not to indicate no, but simply because she was amused. She wrote a new message under the one she had written a moment ago: ‘quite the contrary. I can’t imagine a car more suitable for you.’

“I’m really glad you think so. When I lived in Toronto, I was driving this amazing bright green Volkswagen. It was amazing. A rusty old thing from the sixties, and Lily kept going on and on about how it wasn’t a proper car. Whatever the hell that means. She was sometimes very opinionated.”

Regina frowned as she wrote her thoughts under the first message. ‘Well, I don’t see why she should decide which vehicle you drove.’ She really couldn’t. It was Emma’s business to decide and nobody else’s.

“Well, I suppose she kinda had a right to,” Emma said and shrugged slightly. “She often borrowed the car when she was driving to work.”

Regina nodded a little at that and tore off another post-it. She still had more to add to this conversation, and she wrote: ‘Lily was your roommate? Couldn’t she just use her own car?’

“Actually, Lily was my girlfriend,” Emma corrected. “We lived together.”

Ah. Regina nodded once. Lily had been Emma’s girlfriend. But that still did not give her any right to decide what car Emma should drive, Regina bitterly thought to herself. Her memories of Killian and his opinion about her Mercedes was still painfully fresh in her mind.

“We were together for two years, and then she broke it off. Just like that,” Emma mumbled and looked down at the table.

Regina felt the utmost compassion for Emma Swan. She sounded so vulnerable, and she too had been let down by a partner. Albeit not in the same way as Regina (thank god for that!) but she had still been let down, and Regina did not for a moment doubt that it had been terrible for her. She did not think that just because something terrible had happened to her, it did not mean that others suffered less. That was not how things worked. And Emma Swan had been hurt, that much was obvious. She wrote another note. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Emma.’, and pushed it across the table.

“Yeah, well,” Emma said and shrugged lightly. “It is what it is, right? Life. One moment you’re dating someone, and then you’re not.”

Yes, indeed. One minute you thought you had met your prince charming, and the next you find out he was actually the devil in disguise. She was applying much more pressure to pencil than what she previously had as she scribbled down another message. ‘You’re quite right about that. The world of dating can be a bit of a battlefield.’ Yes. Sometimes in the most literal ways too... she lost track of her thoughts and glanced discreetly at her watch. It was almost lunch time. How time flew. She wanted to be home to have lunch with Henry. And honestly, she was starting to fade a little bit. She was not used to being out and about. She still had not regained all her previous strength. At least not her mental strength. She would probably have to take it easy for the rest of the day. Read a book. Watch a movie with Henry. Rest. But that was okay. It was well deserved. And well worth it. She had enjoyed herself far more than she thought she would. And she had accomplished to do a perfectly normal thing.

Have coffee with a friend. She looked back at Emma who was smiling at her. “This has been really nice.”

Regina nodded, wrote another note. ‘it has, but I’m afraid I have to be off now.’ it was definitely time to head home now. She was starting to feel really tired.

“Of course,” Emma said lightly. “It was nice of you to drive here to have coffee with me.”

Regina offered a smile as she got on her feet. But she could not help wondering, though. Emma sounded almost overly grateful. As though she was fearing that Regina found the drive tedious. That was definitely not the case at all.

Emma got on her feet too, and Regina felt only slightly awkward as she gathered all the post-its notes and stuffed them into her purse. Then she slung the purse over her shoulder. Flashed Emma another little smile she hoped would do it for the goodbye that forever would be stuck in her throat. Then she turned and headed towards the door.

“Are you coming to Steveston again? It would be really nice to have coffee with you again sometimes.”

Regina immediately stopped and felt herself smile at the question. Yes. She would love to drink coffee with Emma Swan again. But... oh god. Her doctor’s appointment next week. Doctor Anton had to look at her wound to make sure it was healing properly. And Regina knew that she would be needing plenty of time to recover from that. The thought of someone touching her throat already made her feel a little sick. She roamed in her purse for a moment. Found her cellphone and tapped away on the little screen to write a message. ‘I wouldn’t mind stopping by for coffee again, but I’m afraid I’ll be quite busy for the next few weeks.’ She turned the phone screen towards Emma.

“Oh. Okay,” Emma mumbled and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear.

That was quite possible the most disappointed ‘okay’ Regina ever had heard, and she thought to herself that Emma Swan was used to being rejected by people. Which was terrible. And Regina refused to be the next one to reject Emma Swan. She flashed said blonde woman a little smile before she wrote a new message on her phone. ‘But you have my number, so feel free to text me whenever you want to. I’d love to hear more about how you settle in with your new job. And whether you decide to buy the yellow bug or not.’ Then she turned the screen towards Emma so she could read the message.

“Sure!” Emma said, now sounding positively optimistic. “I’ll keep you updated.”

Regina was very satisfied with that. And she wished that she could have stayed for longer. But she was getting so tired. And she tended to get a headache when she got tired. Her gaze flickered towards the door again.

“Say hi to your smart son for me?” Emma asked almost shyly.

Regina smiled and nodded. That she would definitely do. It was kind of Emma to include Henry in their conversation.

“Cool. I’ll just... see you around?” Emma said and tilted her head slightly.

Smiling and nodding as a reply was starting to feel insufficient, but nevertheless that was all Regina could do. Then she wordlessly formed the word ‘goodbye’ and surprised herself by giving Emma’s shoulder the slightest of touches. Then she turned around and walked towards the door again.

Her car was cold when she entered it, but that did not matter. Regina felt lighter than she had when she arrived here. She had successfully met up for coffee with a new friend. Perhaps it was still possible to get something similar to a ‘normal’ life.

She switched the engine on and found her phone in her purse. Wrote a message: ‘I will be driving home now’, and sent it to Zelena. She liked receiving regular updates from Regina. And Regina did not mind sending them.

The reply came even before she had put a hand on the wheel, and Regina quickly checked it: ‘How did it go???’. She smiled and allowed her chest to make that strange rumbling sound that now was her laughter. Three question marks. Zelena had clearly been curious. And perhaps a little worried about the answer too.

But there was no reason for that. ‘It went really well. I used the post-its just like I did on the train.’

‘And Emma? Was she nice this time too??’

Only two question marks. Less worried now. But definitely curious still.

Regina smiled as she texted back. ‘Yes, she was. I think she and I can become good friends. I’d like that very much.’

‘That’s wonderful, sis! I’m so happy you had a good time!!’

Regina settled for sending a thumbs-up in response. So was she. She was tired, but happy. Because she had gained a new friend. For the first time in two years....

 

To Be Continued.........

Chapter Text

Regina squeezed Zelena’s hand so much it surely had to hurt.

But Zelena did not protest against it.

She simply used her free hand to pat Regina’s. “You’re okay,” she murmured. “You’re doing so well.”

Regina did not feel like she was doing well. She had already gagged four times during this, and she could do nothing to prevent the tears from falling.

And she hated it.

Because it made Zelena worry.

And poor Doctor Anton too who was only doing this to help her and was not responsible for Regina’s fear of men.

Doctor Anton was a nice man.

He was. But he was also very big and easily towered over her, and Regina felt so, so threatened by him even though she had absolutely no reason to.

Rationally, she knew damn well that Doctor Anton never would hurt her.

But no matter how many times she told herself that, her body refused to listen.

Instead it continuously reminded her of what had happened the last time a man had touched her.

She should have taken another muscle relaxer.

Or possibly just one of those mildly tranquilizing pills.

She would most certainly do that the next time.

“There we are,” Doctor Anton said kindly. “All done.”

Regina opened her eyes and peered at him. Was it over now? Truly?

“I’ve checked the wound, and everything looks completely fine,” Doctor Anton said and smiled at her. “You’ve done a masterful job at taking care of it. And you did very well today, Regina.”

Regina mustered a smile. She did not do well. And they both knew it. She had gagged so many times while Doctor Anton examined her throat. Her breathing had been so elaborated when he started that he had to spend twenty minutes on going through some breathing exercises with her. And when he finally HAD started the examination, she had cried like some goddamn child.

No, she had not done well.

“Just keep doing what you do,” Doctor Anton said as he slipped off his gloves. Clean the wound every night before changing the plaster, and then it won’t be long before the plaster can go permanently.”

Regina shrugged lightly. It wouldn’t make much of a difference, really. She would be covering her throat no matter what.

“Now, the bandage I’ve put on is a special one that can sit for two days instead of one. That way you won’t have to change it as often. And you won’t have to take it off before showering either. It’ll puff up around the wound.”

Regina nodded to show that she had heard him. Had he told her this a minute ago, she would not have heard him. She had been gone. Locked inside herself and unable to communicate.

“Plenty of rest,” Doctor Anton continued. “That is the best cure for your current situation. Relaxation. Taking it easy on yourself. But be sure to get outside at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be for long, just so you get a bit of fresh air, and you used to do yoga regularly, isn’t that correct?”

Regina nodded in confirmation. She did indeed use to do yoga regularly. Every morning.

“I can only recommend that you start doing that again,” Doctor Anton said. “Yoga is an excellent way to relax muscle tensions and benefit your mental health. Ten minutes every morning is enough for now, but once you feel stronger, I recommend that you start prolonging the sessions with a minute until you are able to complete your old yoga program.”

Regina nodded again.

“And last but not least,” the bearded doctor said and now his voice was warm. “Be patient with yourself, Regina. That is the most important thing. Rome was not build in one day, and you have been through a terrible traumatic experience. Healing from this kind of ordeal WILL take time, but it will get better in time, and if you ask me, you’re already well on your way. I understand that you have been driving regularly since you returned from Toronto?”

Regina nodded. Felt slightly proud.

“And furthermore you met up with a new friend for coffee in Steveston?”

Another nod. Another surge of pride.

“I do not have to tell you what excellent progress that is, do I?” Doctor Anton smiled. “A month ago, that kind of scenario would have been quite impossible for you, would it not?”

Regina smiled hesitantly as she nodded. It would.

“Meeting new people and striking up new friendships is an crucial part in your recovery,” the doctor said. “You should be feeling very proud of yourself, Regina.”

Regina supposed she was that. Proud.

“Alright,” the doctor said, standing from his chair. “Everything looks just fine regarding the wound. I am not worried about anything, and the next time we meet, it will be, so you have the plaster removed permanently. Alright?”

Regina finally released her too tight grip on Zelena’s hand and stood from her own chair. She carefully adjusted the collar in her blouse and then tied the grey silk scarf around her neck, so it once again was covering the newly applied plaster. She flashed Doctor Anton a meek smile, and rather than going for a handshake, he simply bowed his head in greeting, bless him. Bless him for not exposing her to more touching than he already had. Regina highly appreciated doctor Anton although her body and mind kept telling her that she should be afraid of him.

She hoped that she one day would not be. She hoped that she once day would be able to shake his hand without fear.

“You did really well,” Zelena praised once they were back in the car.

Regina nodded and tipped her head back, closing her eyes. She had not slept a wink last night because she had been so worried about today’s appointment, and now she could feel the exhaustion in every single bone she had in her body. God, she was so tired. Good thing Zelena was behind the wheel for once.

“And the plaster can come off pretty soon,” Zelena continued. “That is excellent news.”

Instinctively, Regina adjusted the scarf around her neck.

Was it?

She supposed the plaster sometimes irritated her skin, and in that way it would be nice to be rid of it for good. But apart from that, it wouldn’t make an enormous change.

Her throat would still be covered.

No matter what.

She would strive to avoid having to look too much at her throat.

She knew that it would be so much better if she just accepted it, but she could not.

Looking at her throat made her feel disconnected, and she could not accept that it was a part of her.

The horrible red lines that served as a reminder of what had been taken from her.

The faded imprint of a belt buckle that had in fact saved her life.

She adjusted the scarf again. Was glad that the hospital visit was over and that it would be a good while before she had to go back.

“Can I ask you something?”

Regina opened her eyes and looked at her sister. She had started the car and was now maneuvering it away from the parking lot.

“Would you like to change to another doctor?” Zelena asked carefully and softly. “A female doctor?”

Regina shook her head at once. No. Not a female doctor.

“Are you sure?”

Yes. She was. But she felt like she had to elaborate. She lifted her hands and let them dance in the air as she explained: ‘a female doctor would be an easy solution, but it wouldn’t benefit me. It would only feed my fear. And I refuse to go around and be afraid of men for the rest of my life. I have been comfortable around Doctor Anton before. I can be that again.’

Zelena appeared to be swallowing something once Regina was done signing. “You’re so strong, you know that, right?” she said quietly. “I know it’s probably starting to sound a stupid cliché, but you are.”

Regina shrugged.

Was she strong?

She wasn’t so sure.

Strength had not been a giving factor on the night Killian had attacked her.

He was taller than her, and she had been easy to overpower.

It had been a blitz attack and she hadn’t gotten the chance to defend herself.

Except for the knee she had slammed into his groin.

But she had not survived because of strength.

She had survived because the police had arrived in time.

End of story.

Physically, she was not that strong.

But what about mentally, then?

What defined a strong person, Regina wondered. Was she automatically considered strong because she was walking around in the world instead of being curled up like a ball in her bed?

Was she deemed ‘strong’ because she refused to switch to a female doctor and hurt Doctor Anton who had always been so kind to her?

Was that really all it took to be considered ‘strong’?

Or was she strong because she sometimes admitted that she felt weak?

If so, why couldn’t she see it herself?

Why did she always have the urge to scoff when someone told her that she was strong?

She wasn’t just strong because she simply was alive, was she?

People who survived a disaster were strong.

People who jumped from burning buildings were strong.

But how could a woman who had not left her abusive fiancé before said fiancé had threatened her son fall into the same category?

Was she strong for having chosen life over death when Zelena saw her half hang from the window?

Well... She supposed that was kind of strong. It would have been... very easy for her to simply give up and jump out of the window.

But she had not.

She had chosen to stay.

She had chosen fight over flight.

Pain over numbness.

She supposed that was kind of a strong decision to make.

Choosing a completely changed life filled with fear and trauma.

Perhaps she was a bit strong after all. When it really came to it.

“Is everything okay?”

Regina quickly turned her head and willingly met her sister’s gaze. Zelena flashed her a little smile. “You just looked sort of.. .far away.”

Regina returned the smile, silently communicating that she was fine. Just pondering the biggest things in life. Like how mind-boggling it was that she happened to be alive. How grateful she was that the police had shown up when they did. And how grateful she was that she had chosen life over death that day in the hospital.

She was still here.

She was still fighting.

Regina reached out and patted her sister’s knee once. Just because.

“I love you too, sis,” Zelena smiled, knowing all too well what Regina just silently had communicated.

Regina returned the smile. Then tipped her head back and rested her eyes while Zelena drove. She had done fairly decent today. She was allowed to take a quick powernap. The doctor had said so himself....

 

She did not wake before Zelena gently put a hand on her shoulder and told her that they were home.

And they were.

Regina blinked. Goodness. She had slept longer than what she had assumed. Oh well. The nap did her good. She felt fairly well rested. Meaning that she would have enough energy to pick Henry up from school. She was trying to do that as much as she could. It was still daunting, meeting Henry’s classmates and teachers and the other parents. The teachers were nice, and honestly, so was the parents, but they still gave her a certain look of pity. And the children.. well, they were curious. She could see that. Rumors travelled fast, and some of the younger students knew about her ‘accident’ too. Regina had heard them whispering about her and how she couldn’t talk anymore. She was sure that Henry had heard the younger students whisper too, but he never reacted to it.

“Home sweet home,” Zelena said softly as she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. “Coming?”

Regina nodded as she unbuckled her own seatbelt. She was looking forward to head back inside. And she was getting a bit hungry too. Perhaps she would treat herself to a snack before picking up Henry.

They could have lunch together and he could tell her about his day. She loved hearing about his day, and he loved filling her in. Sometimes so thoroughly that he ended up all breathless, and that did concern Regina from time to time. The way he was rushing to tell her everything. As though he feared that his time with her was limited. It was not. She was not going anywhere, and he had to understand that. It was so important that he didn’t go around fearing loosing her. Because he never would. Not ever. She was here. She was alive. And her presence in his world would not change like it had that completely ordinary day when she fell into a coma.

Regina followed her sister through the gravel in the driveway, and soon they were standing in the hallway. She took off her shoes and coat and rolled her shoulders slightly. They felt a bit stiff. Perhaps she would in fact start doing some yoga again. It would be good for her. Body and mind all that. She needed to build up her old stamina. Get back in the game. Yes. She had a solid hour at hand before she had to pick up Henry from school, and instead of slumping down on the couch with either a series or a book, she would go upstairs and do some yoga. Exactly like the doctor had told her.

Satisfied with that decision, Regina strode into the kitchen and opened the fridge to grab the bottle of water she always filled in the morning. She heard Zelena follow her and then cuss softly under her breath. Regina turned her head to find out what that cuss meant.

“I have to do some work,” Zelena grumbled. “Damnit. I was hoping we could have hung out for a while and talked.”

Regina shrugged and wiggled her fingers. ‘I have plans about doing some yoga.’

“Really?” Zelena smiled. “That sounds great. But don’t strain yourself, okay?”

Regina returned the smile in assurance that of course she would not strain herself. Honestly, she wasn’t even sure she could remember to do yoga, but she would give it a shot. She had actually missed doing a bit of yoga. It had been such a huge part of her old routine, and there was no reason why she shouldn’t incorporate it in this new life she was leading now.

Hopefully, her muscles wouldn’t be too sore.

Hopefully, she was at least still a little flexible.

The more she thought about it, the more worried she got. Before Killian’s abuse had worsened, she had been in great shape. Before she had started to skip meals to become thinner, her body had been healthy. Months and months in the hospital combined with liquid diet and lots of laying down did not make her body any healthier. And now it was her job to make it healthy again.

She almost felt eager to get started, so she bid Zelena her goodbye and went upstairs in the guest room that now functioned as her room. It wasn’t huge, but it contained everything she needed.

And right now, she needed her yoga pants and a tanktop. She reached inside her closet and found both items. Then she stripped out of her clothes and avoided looking too much at her body. That would only make her think dark thoughts, and she did not have time for that right now. She wished to be focused on the task at hand.

When she was dressed appropriately, Regina grabbed her laptop and opened YouTube. Found a beginner’s guide to yoga. She figured that would be best. In many ways, she WAS a beginner. It had been so long since she last did yoga.

Not to bother Zelena, she slipped on her wireless headphones and then closed her eyes as the yoga instructor (who had a very soothing voice!) took her through the first yoga pose. It was the Mountain.

You had to straighten your legs, tug in your tailbone, elongate through your torso as you gracefully stretched your arms up above your head. Engage your thigh muscles. Exhale. Release your shoulder blades away from your head.

She did better than she had expected. And it FELT better than she had expected too. After the Mountain came Child’s Pose, and for once, Regina actually felt connected with her body as she laid on her yoga mat with her forehead resting against and breathing in and out slowly. That felt pretty wonderful. She was in control over her breathing. In control over her body.

The next exercise was Cat Pose, and Regina immediately became aware of some tension in her hips and lower back as she arched it up. She had to work on that. And she had to remember not to bring her neck too far back. That would only pull at the stiches in her throat.

Downward Facing Dog. One of the poses she had feared. It turned out that fearing it had not been necessary. Despite the very slight tension in her hips, she was still incredible flexible. And in control.

Wonderfully in control. For a moment, no matter how brief, her body felt like hers again. God, she should have started doing yoga earlier. Perhaps her movements were not as fluid as they once had been as she did the exercises, but doing yoga was like riding a bicycle. You never forgot how to do it.

Next was the warrior pose, and Regina strangely enough felt a bit like just that as she stood with one leg bend and the other stretched out behind her. Arms stretched out above her and chest expanded.

She continued to twist and turn her body in the directions she was supposed to. She was actually really enjoying this. It almost felt like a very small part of the person she used to be had come back. This was a proof that she was still in here somewhere. Regina found herself smiling as she listened to the soft-voiced yoga instructor guiding her through the different poses. This would indeed become a regular part of her routine. Perhaps she could incorporate it into her morning schedule. Or even let it be the first thing she did in the morning. Yoga before anything else. To unwind her mind and make her feel calm for the rest of the day. Yes. That was a great idea.

When she had completed the ten minutes exercises, she laid on the yoga mat for a moment and felt fairly satisfied with herself. She had done a good job. Yoga for the first time in six months. That was a big deal. She felt tempted to keep going, but she had promised Doctor Anton that she would not overdo it. She was supposed to take it easy still, and ten minutes seemed like a good place to start. Her doctor would be proud of her.

She inhaled and filled her lungs with air. Held her breath for a moment, and then exhaled, drawing out the breath for as long as she could. Inhaled, filled her lungs with air, held her breath for a moment and then breathed out the air. That felt really good. Breathing exercises was not something she ever should underestimate.

She should get up from the yoga mat, but she was just so comfortable. She closed her eyes for a moment and only focused on her breathing. Her body was starting to feel heavy. Very heavy. She knew that her bed was right there and that she should be getting up from the floor if she intended to take a nap. But she was just so comfortable laying on the floor. So warm. Regina couldn’t help herself. She rolled onto her side, pressed her cheek against the yoga mat and allowed herself to just drift off.....

 

When she woke up again, she was still very much laying on the yoga mat. Her back was a bit stiff and she was certain that she had an imprint after the yoga mat on her cheek.

Regina winced a bit as she sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. It had been a bad idea to fall asleep on the yoga mat. But at least she had only been out for thirty minutes. Still plenty of time to shower and re-dress before she had to pick up Henry from school.

She rose from the yoga mat. Rolled it into a tube and tugged it back under her bed where it belonged. Then she grabbed a fresh set of clothes and headed down the hallway so she could go into the bathroom.

Her shower was over with fairly quickly. There were certain perks in having shorter hair. You spent less time in washing it. And less shampoo and conditioner. In many ways, it was easier to have short hair, she had to admit that. Even if she still was trying to get used to it.

She had chosen to wear slacks this time. Light cream colored slacks and a dove grey cable knitted sweater. She only applied a hint of mascara. She wasn’t going out as such. She was just going to pick her son up from school.

Once she had tied a cream colored scarf around her neck, she proceeded to brush her hair. Looked at her face in the mirror as she did so. Was it merely her imagination, or did she look... better? Were the pink cheeks because of the shower, or was it in fact because of the yoga?

Regina chose to believe that it was the yoga that had caused her cheeks to glow slightly.

She fluffed up her already drying hair one more time and then she left the bathroom. She wanted to go downstairs and take a peek in the fridge. Not because she was overly hungry, but because she had plans about making dinner tonight. It had been ages since she last made dinner, and she was a fairly decent chef if she said so herself. It had been a long time since she made dinner because she wanted to and not because she HAD to. Killian had preferred a homecooked meal every night, and she had found it easier to simply do it instead of protesting.

Protesting had rarely ended well for her.

Her stomach instinctively lurched slightly when she started to walk down the staircase, and she took a deep breath. Reminded herself that this was not the same staircase as the one she had ran up the night Killian chased her. This was JUST a staircase. Nothing more. She refused to be afraid of a stupid staircase. She refused to let this become another thing that triggered her. She already had plenty of things that triggered her. She did not need another.

She firmly grabbed onto the railing as though she was trying to take control of the staircase as she walked downstairs.

Of course she made it safely downstairs (she had not expected anything else!) and she immediately went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. They had Italian sausage and onion and ground beef and noodles. But they needed garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil leaves, fennel seeds, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, and eggs.

Well. That could easily be rectified. Regina settled down by the table with a pencil and paper. She frowned lightly in concentration as she carefully wrote down everything she needed in order to make the lasagna.

“Oh, hey there.”

Regina turned her head and smiled when she spotted Zelena standing in the doorway.

“Did you get some yoga done?” her older sister asked lightly. “Or did you take a well-deserved nap instead?”

Regina let go of the pen to sign. ‘Both’.

Zelena frowned. “Both?”

Regina smiled again as she elaborated: ‘I fell asleep on the mat afterwards.’

“Oh,” Zelena chuckled now. “Well, that’s one way to relax after a yoga session. Was it... very hard for you?”

Regina absentmindedly shook her head and went back to her list. She was so busy scribbling down she barely noticed that Zelena had sat down next to her until she lifted her head from the list and spotted her older sister sitting at the table.

“Can I see?” Zelena asked, nodding towards the paper Regina had just written on.

Regina nodded and slipped the paper to Zelena.

“Garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil leaves, fennel seeds, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan and eggs,” Zelena read aloud and looked at Regina with sparkling eyes. “If I didn’t know any better, sis, I would say that you are planning on making lasagna?”

Regina nodded eagerly. That was exactly what she was planning on. How clever Zelena was. And how relieved Regina was that she didn’t have to try and sign ‘lasagna’. Because she had absolutely no idea how to do that.

“That sounds wonderful,” Zelena beamed. “And you’re absolutely sure you feel like cooking?”

Regina nodded again. Yes, she very much felt like cooking. For the first time in ages.

Zelena smiled, but then the smile faded, and she frowned. “Oh, damn!” she muttered.

Regina tilted her head at the profanity. Why was that necessary. She was not THAT bad of a cook. Was she? Could she even remember how to cook? Oh god, what if she couldn’t? What if she had forgotten how to cook while in the hospital? What if the dinner would end in utter disaster?

“I just remembered that I’m supposed to go to Chad’s place for dinner tonight,” Zelena said and her mouth twisted. “You’re invited too, obviously, and so is Henry, but if you wanna cook I can tell him that we’re having dinner here instead?”

Regina shook her head. Not that she did not want Chad to come tonight, of course she did. He was a great guy, but it had been a long time since Zelena was at Chad’s place, hadn’t it? Regina searched her brain and figured that yes, it had been a long time since her sister had any time with her boyfriend. And that was not right. She let her fingers wiggle in the air. ‘You should have dinner with him at his place.’

“He won’t mind having dinner here instead,” Zelena said swiftly. “You know that.”

Yes, she did know that. But it wasn’t what she was trying to say here. ‘You should have dinner with him alone.’

Now Zelena was really frowning. She reached for Regina’s hand. “Regina, I am not missing out on anything if I stay here with you. In fact that’s what I want to do the most. Hang out with my sister.”

Regina lightly patted her hand and then wiggled her other one out of Zelena’s grasp so she could use it to communicate: ‘I know, but I think you should have dinner with him at his place. Henry and I can have dinner here alone. Mother and son dinner. It has been a long time since we did that.’

“You’re right, it has,” Zelena said, mouth twisting slightly again as she carefully searched Regina’s face. “If you’re really sure....”

Regina nodded eagerly in confirmation. She was sure. She and Henry needed their mother-son-dinner back. Just the two of them for once. It would be nice. Like in the good old days before everything changed.

“Alright,” Zelena said. She didn’t look entirely happy about leaving Regina alone, but she did not protest. “That’s what we’ll do, then. But if you change your mind or need anything, I’m only a text away. You know that.”

Regina smiled at her sister. She did know that. And she really appreciated all the things Zelena did for her. But she was also looking forward to it just being her and Henry tonight.

Henry.

She had to get a move on if she wanted to arrive at his school on time. She had noticed that he grew uneasy if she was a bit late to show up, and she strived to be there early so he didn’t have to wait for her to arrive. She didn’t want to cause him more anxiety. He’d had plenty of that in his life already.

She stood from the chair, grabbed her list and quickly signed to Zelena that she would be leaving now. Zelena requested her to drive safely, and into the hallway Regina went to put on her coat and shoes.

Then she took off in the Mercedes...

 

Henry was one big grin when he came trotting over to the Mercedes after having waved goodbye to Nick. “Hi, mom!” he said as he climbed onto the passenger’s seat and stuffed his backpack away on the floor. Then he leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He always did so when she dropped him off and when she picked him up again.

Regina ruffled his hair and asked him in Sign Language if he’d had a good day in school. She was pretty sure she messed up some of the signs, but Henry still understood her and said: “yep. It was fine.
Did you have a good day too?” there was a hint of concern in his voice, and Regina was happy to soothe his fears as she nodded and smiled to signalize that her day had been just fine.
“Was it... very bad at the doctor’s?” he asked quietly. Because of course he had picked up on how uncomfortable she had been in the past week. How her face gradually had turned paler and paler the closer they got to the day where she was going to the doctor.

Of course Regina lied just a tiny bit as she shook her head. There was absolutely no reason to let him know how frightened and uncomfortable she had felt in Doctor Anton’s consultation room.

“Good,” Henry murmured and then his gaze fell on the grocery list in the glovebox. “What’s that?” he asked as he picked it up and looked at it. Then he looked up at Regina and his voice radiated disbelief when he asked: “are we having lasagna? Are we... going grocery shopping?”

Why yes, they were! Feeling utterly proud, Regina nodded. In hindsight, it was probably silly to feel proud over something as ‘basic’ as going grocery shopping, but it was the little victories that counted.
And when you hadn’t been able to shop for groceries in months... Well, then it was something worth celebrating.

“Cool!” Henry beamed. “Can I go with you and help you?”

Regina’s fingers wiggled as she signed a word she knew how to do. ‘Absolutely.’

He grinned and the way he said ‘lasagna’ was positively dreamy.

‘It will just be you and me for dinner tonight,’ Regina signed. ‘Zelena is having dinner at Chad’s.’

“Really? Cool! Can we watch a movie afterwards?”

Regina gave his shoulders a squeeze. Of course they could watch a movie. It WAS Friday after all. But before she got carried away and gave him permission for everything, she had to act like a parent. ‘Do you have any homework for Monday?’

“No, Mrs. Thompson was nice to us,” Henry joked. “No homework.”

Oh. ‘Then we can watch a movie. You choose it.’

Henry positively beamed at her, and maybe just maybe, Regina was not failing as a mother. Perhaps she was doing a decent job...

 

Shopping for groceries was a bit daunting at first, she willingly admitted that. But Henry was wonderful. So sweet. He held the shopping list and trotted around between the shelves and helped her find all the things she needed. And he kept talking and talking, which could have been stressful, but it was not. Quite the reverse, it was reminding her to stay grounded and helped her focus on the task. Yes, Henry was a wonderful little helper.

“Here’s the garlic, mom,” he proudly announced as he dumped said item in the shopping cart. “We need mozzarella next. I’ll go and find that while you find the tomato paste.”

Regina nodded to confirm their agreement, and while he disappeared down the crowded hallways to find the mozzarella, she only needed to walk two shelves down to find the tomato paste. It had been a great decision to take Henry shopping with her instead of going alone. He was a wonderful ‘buffer’ between her and the other customers. When he was here, she had to stay focused on him. Meaning that her thoughts could not stray. She could not get the chance to become anxious about the many people in the store.

Perhaps she would bring Henry with her to the store every time from now on.

She was certain that he would not mind that one bit. He had always been a fan of grocery stores. Ever since he was a tiny toddler who could sit in a shopping cart.

Finding the tomato paste was a job that was easily dealt with, and while she was waiting for Henry to come back with the mozzarella, Regina found her phone in her pocket and snapped a quick picture of the filled shopping cart. She sent the picture to Zelena with the comment: ‘Easy when you have a little helper with you.’

Zelena answered almost immediately and showered Regina in praise, and even though she had not climbed a mountain, but merely grocery shopped, Regina still felt proud and happy. This was progress. However small and ridiculous it seemed, it WAS. And that was worth celebrating. She was like a newborn baby who had to learn to move around in the world. Get used to loud sounds and people. The hospital had been her world for six months. Small and confined and safe. Being out and about in the real world was absolutely terrifying for someone who was not used to it. Who was not used to live.

It was hard, learning to live again when she was this changed. When she was this damaged.

But she was doing her best. Because she had to.

“Here’s the tomato paste, mom!” Henry announced and startled her slightly when he came back. “What’s next? Fennel seeds?”

Regina nodded in confirmation and took his little hand in hers so they could find the fennel seeds together. This was surprisingly nice. Better than she had expected. Right now, Regina could pretend that she was just an ordinary mother doing some grocery shopping with her son. And if you only settled for looking at her, she WAS. You could not tell what had happened to her if you only looked at her and didn’t strike up a conversation.

Henry was striking up a conversation with her all the time. But that was different. He was more than welcome to keep talking to her. As much as he wanted. He knew that she could not answer her. And he did not mind. He had said so a million times already. The most important thing was that she was still here. That she was alive. It wasn’t as important whether she could talk or not. As long as she never disappeared again. That was what he so solemnly had said to her in the hospital when it became evident that her voice would not come back, and Regina had cried. So had he. And then he had connected his fingertip with hers in an ‘ET fashion’ because he knew that hugs made her feel uncomfortable.

“Fennel seeds!” Henry announced and pulled her out of her thoughts. “Do we need anything else, mom?”

Regina shook her head. That was it. They had found everything on the list.

“Popcorn?” Henry asked hopefully and looked up at Regina with big brown eyes she couldn’t possibly resist.

She easily gave in to his charms and nodded. Popcorn it was. They were gonna have a proper mother-son-movie-night with popcorn and everything. And it was going to be very nice.

Hand in hand, they walked over to the shelf full of snacks and junk food. Henry insisted upon grabbing the bag of popcorn, and Regina smiled when noticing that he had to stand on his tippy toes in order to be tall enough to reach the shelf. He was still her little boy. Thank god. It had looked like he had grown several inches taller when she reunited with him in Vancouver, but she was relieved to discover that it merely had been her mind playing tricks with her. He was exactly the same height as he had been when she left him in Toronto. Good. Let him stay a child for as long as he possibly could.

Sometimes he got this look in his eyes that was far too mature for a boy who only recently had turned ten. He had already been through far too much.

“I got them,” he said triumphantly and waved the bag of popcorn.

Regina smiled at him as she signed: ‘good job’. Then she remembered that she was in public and she had to glance around discreetly to see if anyone had noticed her using Sign Language.

Nobody was looking at her, though. And even if they did, they probably would just assume that she was deaf.

Something unpleasant made her stomach twist, and she automatically adjusted her scarf slightly as she and Henry headed up to the counter to pay...

 

 

The lasagna was in the oven. Henry had sat the table and had headed upstairs to read for a moment before dinner. Regina had helped him with homework earlier when she just had popped the lasagna in the oven, and now she was waiting for it to be done. She felt fairly accomplished. And fairly normal too. She had done everything every normal mom did. Made a nice, homecooked dinner and helped her son with his homework. He was struggling a bit with math, and yes, it had been a bit difficult to help him when she couldn’t speak, but they had made it work.

Regina was very satisfied with how her first night alone with her son was progressing. The lasagna smelled wonderful. Her previous concerns about not being able to ‘remember’ how to cook had proved to be in vain. Of course it had. Sometimes she was doubting herself a little too much.

Regina settled down at the table and found her phone in the pocket of her apron. She had not been very good at texting the previous week or this one. She had been entirely too nervous about the upcoming visit to the doctor. But now she wanted to rectify that. And she was going to do that by texting Emma Swan. Her new friend. ‘How was your day?’. That was a normal friendship-thing to ask, was it not? Hopefully, Emma wouldn’t be too offended that she had been so bad at texting this week.

Her phone vibrated against the table, and Regina smiled. That was quick. She checked the message. ‘my workday was fine, Malena gave me a manuscript to proofread, so that’s really great.’

Oh, that was great news! Malena was giving Emma more work and including her. That was good. Regina was certain that this job was right up Emma’s street, and she was glad that Malena could see the potential in her. ‘That’s wonderful news. I’m very happy to hear that you’re getting the chance to do something you really want.’

Scratch-scratch-scratch, against the table. Emma Swan was a quick texter. ‘Yeah, I’ve just got home. What about you? What are you doing tonight?’

‘Henry and I are about to have dinner, but apart from that, I don’t think we have many plans,’ Regina texted and sent the message. Actually, they were having plans. Plans that involved a large bowl of popcorn and Anastasia. But perhaps Emma Swan wouldn’t find that all that interesting.

‘Do you have any plans for next Saturday? I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee with me again?’

Oh. That was unexpected. Regina was surprised. But very happy about the invitation too. Her fingernails tapped slightly against the screen as she texted: ‘coffee sounds good.’ She sent it and hoped that she did not sound too bored with the suggestion. She wasn’t. She really, truly wasn’t. She just didn’t want to seem too overly eager either. Nor did she want Emma Swan to know that she was the first friend she had gained in years.

‘Awesome! I’ll look forward to that.’

So would Regina. She really would. She let it be with that and rose from the chair. It was time to take the lasagna out of the oven.

When that was done, she slipped off the oven-mittens and sent two messages. One for Henry, alerting him that dinner was ready. And one for Zelena. A picture of the lasagna with the text: mission accomplished.

It did not take long before Zelena sent a picture in return. Of herself smiling widely while giving her a huge thumbs up.

And Regina felt like she had deserved that thumbs up. The first mother-son-dinner-post-hospital shaped up to be very good.

A second later, Henry came barreling downstairs and sniffed in. “Wow, that smells good, mom!” he said appreciatingly.

Regina beamed at him. It was sweet of him to compliment the meal she had made for him. He was such a considerate little boy, and she was very proud to be his mother. She gestured him to bring his plate over to the kitchen island so she could cut him a piece of lasagna, and she felt ridiculously normal as she landed a huge slice of lasagna on his plate.

“Awesome,” he grinned.

Regina’s chest made that odd rumbling sound as she let her amusement show. She ignored the slight throbbing in her throat and concentrated on being amused. Awesome. First Emma Swan and now her son. What was it about that word that fitted this night so nicely?

Lasagna and then popcorn and Anastasia with her son. It could not get any better than that. That was what she would focus on. How nice everything was. How she for once felt good and was something similar to happy and could be amused with her son.

For tonight, nothing else mattered.

For tonight, nothing else existed.

Not even her heartache....

 

To Be Continued......

Chapter Text

Texting.

However impossible it sounded, it had never been Regina’s favorite way of communication.

Quite the contrary, before ‘it’ happened, Regina had detested texting with all her being. Had found it both impersonal and ridiculous. Texting was something that young people did. Not her. If she had something to say, she preferred calling.

Not she had plenty of things to say, but no voice to speak with.

So thank god for texting!

It had become a very solid part of Regina’s routine now. She texted people, and they texted her. Because neither she nor they had any choice. But Regina found that texting could be quite giving, really. In fact it was an excellent way to stay in touch with people.

A new friend, for instance. She and Emma Swan had been texting one another quite a lot since they agreed to have coffee on Sunday. And Regina found that she enjoyed texting her new friend. It was fun to receive updates of Emma’s life and new job at Dragon Publishing. Emma was obviously very excited about that, and Regina feared that her own texts which mostly were about what she’d had for dinner and Henry, couldn’t quite measure up to it. She was afraid that it was boring. But Emma Swan seemed to be genuinely interested in her life, however quiet it was.

Not that Regina minded. Goodness, no. A quiet life was exactly what she wanted.

But not too quiet for a new friend. She had not anticipated to ever gain one again (making friends when you couldn’t speak was difficult, and even more so when you were afraid of everything), but she was very happy that she had bumped into Emma on the train. And she was looking forward to having coffee with her again. She just hoped that the feeling would stick. The feeling of being completely, utterly normal. The post-it notes had not had a say in the matter, Regina had still felt like a completely ordinary woman who was having coffee with a friend. There had even been a point where she had forgotten that she not actually answering Emma with her voice. That was how normal it had felt. And it had been nice, being back in Steveston too. Henry had gotten very jealous when she told him where she had been, and he had begged her to bring him to Steveston again soon.

Regina had a feeling that she might just do that. It had been ages since he last was in Steveston, and he had always enjoyed being there. And so had she. Like with the morning yoga, there was no reason why she should not reinforce this habit of theirs. They could do that now that it was just the two of them. They could do whatever they darn well wanted to do. There was no one to tell them that they could not.

Regina knew that her ‘freedom’ had come at a cost, but that should not stop her from at least TRYING to enjoy it. She had deserved that. She had deserved nice things once in a while.

Regina blinked and quickly re-focused on the book in her lap. She had been getting quite lost in her own head. And that tended to be a dangerous thing for her to do. If she thought too much, she so quickly came up with reasons to be upset. And upset was not something she wanted to be right now. She just wanted to read her book. She was currently halfway through Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women‘, which might be a tad pathetic, but it was a great comfort read once in a while, and she had needed a break from Jane Eyre which was pretty heavy stuff. That was another of her therapist’s advices. Never read too bleak books. Apparently, it was not good for her, and Regina chose to follow her therapist’s advice and read something that was a little lighter once in a while. When she was done with Little Women, she would continue onwards to Peter Pan. Henry had plans of reading it too, so perhaps they could buddy-read it. That could be nice. It had been quite a while since she last had the time to sit down and simply read. And watch television. God, did she ever have time to watch television! Nothing too heavy, of course. Another advice from her all-knowing therapist. Steer clear of violent movies.

Well. She did not need a therapist to tell her that. Regina was more than willing to avoid seeing any type of violence unfolding on the television screen.

So instead she and Henry had watched an incredible amount of Disney movies together (surely, Mufasa’s death in the Lion King did not count as a violent movie, did it), tonight they had finished 101 Dalmatians, and tomorrow night they would start Beauty and the Beast. Or perhaps they would start from the beginning with Snow White and then work their way through the movies. As long as they skipped The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There was... certain aspects of that movie Regina wasn’t sure she could handle. Or perhaps she would, but she was scared that she would be triggered and get flashbacks right in the middle of the movie. She did not want that. She did not want to scare her son like that. He had already been plenty scared and seen HER be scared more than a few times. He was just a little boy. And their Disney-movie-marathon was supposed to remind him of that. Not become a bad experience for both of them.

So they would skip The Hunchback of Notre Dame and go straight to Hercules. That was one of Henry’s favorite Disney movies, so he probably would not mind skipping The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Regina turned another page in Little Women. She kept zoning out when she was supposed to read. Shame on her for not paying attention to Jo March when she was talking.

Suddenly, her cellphone vibrated against the table, and Regina swiftly abandoned ‘Little Women’ in favor of seeing who had texted her. Surely, it wasn’t Zelena already. She had been staying at Chad’s place since dinner, and Regina doubted that she was heading home already. It wasn’t that late yet. Only nine o’clock.

It wasn’t Zelena. It was Emma Swan. Oh. Regina smiled as she read the text which simply said ‘hi’. She was quick to text back a: ‘hello’.

It did not take long before Emma Swan texted her back. ‘I hope I’m not texting you too late.’

Late? No, this was not late. Perhaps Regina was sort of fragile, but not so fragile she had to go to bed at nine o’clock. Her fingers tapped against the screen as she texted back: ‘no, not at all. I’ve never been one for going to bed early.’ It wasn’t a complete lie. Regina had always been a night owl before. And she hoped she could become that again. She had always appreciated staying up late and reading.

Her cellphone vibrated against her palm, and Regina checked the message: ‘me neither. Have you been busy today?’

Regina quelled a little sigh as she thought about her online-house-hunting-adventure earlier. The adventure which Zelena didn’t really like hearing about. Her mouth had twisted, and her eyes had flickered when she spotted Regina look for apartments online. She didn’t like the idea of Regina moving away, and Regina understood why. She perfectly understood why Zelena would want to be near her, but... she had to move on, had she not? She had to get back on her feet at her own place. Try and create a new life for herself and Henry. Start over. She tapped her fingers against the screen once more as she texted a reply to Emma: ‘a bit, yes. Henry and I are currently house hunting, and that sort of thing tends to take a while.’

Again, the reply came super-fast. Emma Swan clearly had nothing else to do than texting her. But that suited Regina just fine. She had been getting a little bored with Little Women. And perhaps a bit lonely too. Interaction with the outside world was good for her. She read the message. ‘yeah, I’m kinda dreading to start my own house hunt, but I know I have to eventually. Eugenia’s Inn is great, but I can’t keep living at a hotel for the rest of my life.’

That made sense. ‘do you have any idea what kind of place you’re looking for then?’

‘Honestly, anything cheap would do. I don’t care whether it’s just a room or an apartment, as long as it’s a place I can call my own.’

Oh, how Regina understood that. She was super scared of moving out of her sister’s house, but she also felt like she HAD to start looking for places to live. Had to start trying to move forward with her ‘new’ life. ‘I know what you mean. My sister is a wonderful person, and I’m so grateful that she let Henry and I live in her house, but... I’m going stir crazy here. To put it plainly, the place is simply too small for three people. We have to find our own place.’ She sent the text and while waiting for a reply, she thought to herself that she sounded much more sure and confident in text. In reality, the idea of moving out to live on her own with Henry, spooked her more than she could ever describe. But she had to be brave. Had to get out of her sister’s house sooner or later. And perhaps the sooner the better.

If she did not do it soon, she would never be able to pluck of the courage. She couldn’t keep hide herself away in Zelena’s house. She had to show Henry that she could create a life for the two of them. Just them. Like it used to be before everything went to shit.

Her phone vibrated against her upper thigh and interrupted her train of thoughts. And just as well. They were turning quite bleak again. She picked up her phone and checked the message. ‘Sure sounds like it. Any idea what you and the kid might be looking for?’

The kid. Regina smiled. She liked the way that Emma included Henry in the question. That was very thoughtful of her. She almost felt a bit eager to answer. And in the mood to deliver a fun little anecdote too: ‘I’m not quite sure yet. I can’t decide whether it should be an apartment or a house. And Henry isn’t very helpful either. He wants to either live on a farm with lots of animals, or in a castle. I’ve told him that there aren’t that many castles here, but he doesn’t seem to listen to me.’ Henry and his castles. Perhaps they had watched TOO much Disney. Henry wanted both a tower room and a library. Not exactly options that were within reach. And she wasn’t much of a farm-woman either. Apart from some horseback riding when she was quite young, Regina wasn’t very used to tending to animals.

Her cellphone scratched against her thigh again, and Regina was quick to check the message: ‘A castle, huh? Wow. That’s a pretty tough demand to meet.’

Regina’s chest made that odd rumbling sound she still was not used to yet. Honestly, she did find her ‘new’ laughter jarring. But she supposed she had to get used to it sooner or later. She could not express her amusement in any other way. She tapped in a reply to Emma: ‘yes, tell me about it. I have no idea where he gets his refined taste from. Certainly not from me.’ That was certainly a lie. Regina knew that she had a refined taste. She liked pretty things. She liked to dress well and look her best. Had learned from Cora that she should always strive to look her best no mater what. Regina became a bit thoughtful and was glad when she received another text she could read.

‘Well, if you’re not gonna stay in a castle, where are you gonna live then?’

‘I’m not quite sure yet, but not too far away from my sister. She would kill me if I left Vancouver again.’ That was definitely true. Zelena wouldn’t like that one bit. And Regina could not imagine to move away from Vancouver. No, she wanted to stay in this area. Stay close to her sister.

‘Yeah, you did mention that you’re originally from Montreal, but you don’t have any plans of going back there?’

Oh god no. Absolutely not. Not in a million years. No. She could not ever go back to Montreal. Not even to visit. It would just be too hard. Too many memories. Too many flashbacks. Too much... everything. She had to swallow something. Remind herself that she was far away from Montreal. She was... she was safe. And she had not texted Emma back yet. Time to rectify that: ‘god no. Montreal is a finished chapter.’ She hoped that she did not come across as too dismissive. Because she wasn’t. At least not like that.

Unlike her, Emma was quick to answer, and Regina was only happy to have a new text to read instead of thinking too much.

‘Cool! It would be a bit difficult to have coffee with you if you lived in Montreal. Possible, but difficult.’

The corners of Regina’s mouth twitched. Was Emma Swan being funny via text? It sure felt like it. Suddenly, Regina wanted to be ‘funny’ too. How odd. She typed back a response: ‘well, it’s just a forty five
hour long drive, miss Swan. Not a big deal at all.’

‘Maybe not for your Mercedes, but what about my bug? I’m sort of afraid it would break down halfway there.’

Had Regina been able to, she most certainly would have laughed. Now she had to settle for letting out that strange rumbling sound. It really was an odd sound. She missed her old laughter. She dreaded showing amusement in front of anyone. Even Henry. Because it was such a change from her old laughter. She looked down at her phone and was in the middle of typing a reply when she heard scuffling from upstairs. Regina frowned. Was Henry out of bed? He should not be. It was after nine. It was past his bedtime. She hastily concluded her message (‘Ah. You may have a point there. Do excuse me, I think my son is out of bed, and I better go and find out why.’), and then quickly put the book down and rose from the couch to go upstairs. She forced down her discomfort over the staircase. She had to. Henry was the most important thing. Not her discomfort.

She found Henry standing in the middle of his bedroom, hair ruffled and lips quivering slightly. Regina immediately felt a pang of concern as she put her hands on his shoulders, silently asking what was going on.

He answered by wrapping his arms around his midriff and burrowing into her whilst muttering: “I had a nightmare, mom.”

Oh. Oh, no. Regina wrapped her arms around her boy and dropped a kiss on his hair. She held him close for a moment and then started to rub his back in slow, soothing motions. Her heart was breaking because she could not offer him any words of consolation. Could not assure him that everything would be okay.

Curse this damned situation.

Curse her inability to do anything except for holding him.

She needed her voice for this.

She needed her voice to comfort her son.

“It was really bad,” Henry croaked. “You were back in the hospital, and...” his voice broke, and Regina dropped another kiss on his hair. Then gently grasped him chin to make him look up at her. The look in his eyes broke her heart too. He looked so upset and scared.

Curse Killian Jones for making her little prince going through this.

Even though Henry did not know the real reason behind her stay in the hospital.

Curse Killian Jones anyway. This was his fault. It was his fault she had ended up in the hospital. It was his fault that Henry had terrible dreams now.

She kissed her son’s cheek. Then tapped his chest twice. ‘I will never go away again’.

“I know,” Henry mumbled. “It was just a stupid nightmare anyway..”

But Regina shook her head. No, no. In no way was it just a ‘stupid nightmare’. Henry’s fear was valid, and he should not attempt to cover it up. He did not need to pretend with her. He did not have to pull off some ‘big boy act’ just to make her feel more comfortable. Because that was what this was about. Regina knew that. He never wanted to make her worried.

But she was his mother.

It was her job to be worried about him.

She hugged him again. Tighter this time. Held him close and cupped the back of his head exactly like she had done when he was a very small boy.

He was still small.

Too small to have endured this kind of horror.

Too small to be afraid of loosing his mother.

She gave him another big squeeze. One that had him giggling slightly and murmuring: “mooo-oooom!’

Regina squeezed him again, eager to make him laugh once more, and he did just that. Then he hugged her back, saying: “thanks, mom.”

He should not be thanking her. He should not be grateful for her consoling him.

This was her job. She was his mother.

“I think I’ll try and go back to bed,” Henry said quietly, lifting his head again.

Regina nodded. Released him to sign: ‘do you need anything?’

“No, I’m okay,” Henry said as he went back to bed and climbed under the covers. “Can I read a comic book for a while?”

Regina nodded eagerly and sat down by his bedside. He found the comic book (‘Wolverine’) and Regina listened patiently while he told her everything there was to know about Wolverine. She had heard all of it before, but that didn’t matter. She was more than willing to hear it explained a thousand times over again.

She could not sing or say anything to soothe him, but she could BE here. By his side. When he needed her. By all the gods, she could do that. She could full fill the most important thing about being a mother. Being here. Sit by his bedside and listen while he explained everything about Wolverine.

These were the moments she lived for.

This was what made it all worthwhile.

Should she ever find herself in doubt of whether she should stay or go again, she would simply look back at this moment and remember what the most important thing in the world was.
After a few more moments, he looked up at her and said: “I think I’m okay now, mom.”

Regina nodded. Recognized the signal for ‘I want to read by myself now’. She held up five fingers to signalize that he could read for five more minutes.

And of course her clever boy recognized the signal. “Five minutes. Okay. Thanks, mom.”

Regina kissed his forehead and then left his bedroom. Left him to his reading.

He’d had some hard nights where he had woken up after having had a nightmare. He also had trouble with falling asleep some nights. Regina hoped that would soon change. She hoped that Henry soon would become a happy little boy again. Once he understood that she would never disappear from him again.

She was okay. Ish. He did not need to worry about her.

Once certain that he really was comfortable reading, Regina carefully dropped a kiss on his forehead and then quietly rose from the bed. Henry smiled but kept reading.

Regina walked back down the hallway towards the staircase, but when she took the first step down the stairs, her stomach coiled, and she had to take a deep breath.

She was fine.

She was safe.

This was not the staircase back in Montreal.

And she was not being chased.

Nobody was after her.

Killian was in jail. He would never be able to get to her again.

Except for in her dreams.

No.

Not now. She did not want to think about the nightmares she had when she was by herself. It was not good for her.

She straightened her posture and then continued her walk downstairs. This was just a staircase, for goodness sake! It was nothing to be afraid of.

Nothing whatsoever. Her fear of staircases was completely irrational.

Back downstairs, she settled back in the couch and checked her phone. Emma had sent her a text. ‘No problem’, and Regina quickly conducted another message.

‘Sorry about that.’

The response came swiftly. ‘No problem. Everything alright with the kid?’

How sweet of her to ask, Regina thought. Thoughtful. Did Emma Swan perhaps kids in her life in some kind of way? She hadn’t mentioned it. But for whatever reason, Regina couldn’t help but think that Emma would click very well with Henry if they ever were to meet each other once again. Henry loved fairy tales. Emma wrote fairy tales. That alone was a foundation for conversation. Oh well. Regina was supposed to text back and not sit here and ponder.

‘Not completely. He had a nightmare. Actually, he’s been having a few of those lately. Night terrors, the experts calls it. This is the third night in a row he’s been waking up crying, poor thing, and my sister is out tonight, so I’m on my own to handle it. One of the many joys about being a single mother.’ She pressed send and immediately considered whether she was oversharing. Or sounding bitter.
That was not the intention. She was just telling her new friend about her frustrations. That was a normal thing to do, right?

‘Oh no, poor kid! Nightmares are the worst!’

Yes. Indeed they were. Emma was absolutely right about that. She couldn’t resist pouring her heart out a little bit more. ‘He’s back in bed now, reading a comic book until he gets tired. I hope that’ll do the trick, but at the same time I have a hunch that I’ll be spending the night in his room.’ that was usually how Henry’s night terrors ended. With her curled up in his bed next to him, and Henry practically glued to her side. Poor thing.

Her cellphone chimed. Regina wasn’t quite sure what Emma would say to her openness, and she did feel slightly nervous as she opened the message.

‘I’m sorry the little guy is going through a rough patch.’

Regina sighed. Yes, that was definitely to put it lightly. She had the sudden urge to rant a bit more through text, and so she did: ‘he really is, and more often than not I end up feeling as frustrated as him because I do much to actually soothe him. I can’t read him a story or sing to him. Not that he would appreciate if I did that, but nevertheless.’ As soon as she had sent the text, she regretted it. She was ranting. She was dumping everything on her relatively new friend, and that was not fair. She quickly wrote another message: ‘and I shouldn’t be complaining to you. I’m sorry. Normally I’m not one for complaining, but tonight is pretty tough. But anyway, enough about that. Did you finish reading that manuscript you told me about?’

It did not take long before she received a text in return. ‘Yeah, I did. And that ending damn nearly killed me! I’m supposed to give feedback to Malena on Monday. I really hope she’ll at least consider to publish this book. It almost makes me cry to think that the author won’t get a chance.’ Bless Emma for not commenting on her swift change of subject. This felt like a more ‘safe’ subject. Regina replied to the text: ‘Mal is usually very good at listening to her test readers, so I’m sure she’ll bring the manuscript into her considerations.’

‘Yeah, otherwise I’ll have to ask you to ask her to publish the book.’

Regina frowned slightly at that. ‘And what makes you think that she’ll listen to me instead of her employees?’

‘I dunno, she just speaks very highly about you.’

Exactly what had Malena said about her, Regina wondered. Malena was always one to say exactly what she thought. Which could both be a blessing and a curse. Either way, thinking about Malena made Regina feel guilty all over again. ‘She does, does she? Oh well, I’m sure she’ll listen to you, Emma. You’re working for her. I am not.’ She heard more scuffling from upstairs. It very much sounded like Henry had just gotten out of bed again. Was he getting upset again? Regina’s mouth twisted. She had to take care of this. She quickly sent a text to Emma: ‘And now I just heard Henry get out of bed again. I’m sorry, but I have to go and convince him to go back to bed.’ she hadn’t even gotten up from the couch before she received a reply from Emma.

‘Hey, don’t apologize, I get it. I hope the poor champ will fall asleep soon. I’ll see you tomorrow.’

After having sent a reassuring ‘indeed’ Emma’s way, Regina rose from the couch and walked back upstairs where she found her upset little boy out of bed. Visible shaken up and mumbling that he ‘couldn’t stop thinking about the bad thing’

Rather than trying to convince him to go back to bed, Regina took him by the hand and lead him back downstairs with him. There was only one thing that could fix this. Hot chocolate. She got Henry installed on the couch with a cozy warm blanket over his legs. And while he sat there and tried to calm down a little, she went into the kitchen and made some hot cocoa for both of them. They had deserved it.

He apologized for getting out of bed, and Regina immediately brushed him off. It was more than okay if he couldn’t sleep right now. Then he offered to help with the cocoa, and she willingly let him do so....

 

Henry felt much better next morning. Regina had been completely prepared to cancel her appointment with Emma and spend the day with her son instead, but during breakfast, Henry’s (very newly acquired) cellphone had ringed. Nick had been in the other end and had asked Henry if he wanted to come over to his place and play videogames after breakfast.

Of course Regina had nodded and allowed Henry to go. If he felt up for it, of course. And he did. The prospect of spending time with his friend had him eating his breakfast much quicker.

Nick Zimmer was a good boy. And his twin sister Ava was nice too. Nick, Henry and Ava made quite the good little three-leaf clover together. Henry and Nick hadn’t been hanging out a lot in the past, but Regina had been told by Zelena that Nick one day during Regina’s lengthy hospital stay had come over to Henry in the school yard and said: ‘I’m really sorry about what has happened to your mom. If you ever wanna talk about it or just hang out, Ava and I are up for it.’

Henry had taken him up on the offer, and ever since, he and Nick and Ava had been good friends. Regina was happy about it. Nick and Ava were good kids, and she really appreciated how they had reached out to Henry and taken him under their wing. Friends were important. And especially friends who were as empathic and kind as Nick and Ava was.

“Can you give me a ride?” Henry asked before gobbling down the rest of his milk.

Regina nodded. Of course she could drive him over to his friends.

“Cool,” Henry smiled at her and grabbed his cup and plate. He clattered about for a moment as he put his things in the dishwasher, and then he declared that he would run upstairs to get dressed.

Regina too needed to get dressed. She had already showered earlier after her yoga-session when Henry was still asleep. She put her own things away in the dishwasher and then followed her son’s example and went upstairs. In the hallway, she happened upon Zelena who always liked to sleep a bit longer during the weekend.

“Oh good morning,” she said sleepily and rubbed her eyes. “Henry nearly throttled me. What’s the rush?”

Regina’s fingers wiggled in the air as she explained the situation to her sister: ‘Nick has asked him if he wanted to come over and play video games with him. I’m gonna take him there and then continue to Steveston.’

“Oh yes, you have a coffee-appointment with Emma today,” Zelena recalled. “That’s right. Do you feel up for that?”

Regina nodded. She did actually. She felt a little bad with having ended the conversation so abruptly last night.

“That’s good,” Zelena smiled. “And how’s Henry this morning? Better?”

Regina nodded again. Yes, Henry seemed to be doing a lot better today. She lifted her hands again and signed: ‘he said that he couldn’t even remember what the nightmare had been about. But I don’t know if it’s true.’

“I’m sure it is, sis,” Zelena soothed. “I know my nephew. He would tell you if something was wrong. I know he would.”

Regina pursed her lips and hoped that her older sister was right. Then she continued down the hallway and into her own bedroom. What should she wear today? What did she feel like wearing? Her urge to put on sweatpants and an oversized hoodie seemed to gradually disappear, and Regina was happy about that. She was relieved that fondness she once had for her old clothes was coming back.

She ended up going with figure fitting, woolen black slacks.

Figure fitting. Meaning that these trousers were accentuating her body rather than hiding it. That was a huge step for her, and Regina allowed herself to be proud for a moment. Then she continued getting dressed. Black camisole. Blue blazer. And black silk scarf tied around her neck. Before ‘it’ happened, she had never been one for scarves, but now she was relieved that she had so many. And she had also noticed that the times Zelena had been out shopping, two or three new scarves seemed to ‘appear’ in her closet. Beautiful silk ones in colors Regina had none of before.

Regina so appreciated that.

Zelena’s silent support meant the world.

Zelena’s understanding that she was not ready to leave her throat exposed was so important to Regina.

Regina brushed a hand over the scarf around her neck. It was beautiful and soft. And it looked sort of stylish too.

No one could possibly know that she was hiding an injury under the scarf.

Emma Swan couldn’t possibly know that the scarf was more than just an accessory.

And Regina intended to keep it that way.

She applied a little bit of makeup to her face just to make her look more awake, and after having brushed her dark locks, she decided that she looked alright. Her clothes were sitting nicely. She had
gained some weight. And that was a good thing. She was supposed to be gaining weight.

Regina shivered slightly. She did not want to go back to being as thin as she had been when she was first brought to the hospital.

Even she could see how bad that had been.

She ran her fingers through her hair one more time. She looked nice. And the clothes she was wearing felt comfortable.

And most important, it did not make her feel panicked.

Maybe eventually, she would start feeling like this about all her clothes.

Coming downstairs and having received the ‘daily compliment’ from Zelena (‘look at you. You look great, sis’.), Regina settled down by the kitchen table and reached within her purse to find her little stack of post-its. She wanted to be prepared today. Finding a pen, she wrote on one of the notes: ‘hello again’. She could give that to Emma when they saw each other again. She felt slightly brilliant. Writing a prepared note was a good idea.

After having written that note, she put it on the table so she could stuff it down her coat pocket when she left. Then she wrote on another note. Her order. She felt clever when doing that too. Now she did not have to point. And expose herself to Eugenia Wolff’s sympathetic smiles. She did not need that. She did not need anyone to pity her.

She was already pitying herself more than enough.

When her notes were prepared, Regina retreated to the living room with Little Women, the book she didn’t get a chance to get very far in last night because she was texting. And because Henry was upset, poor thing.

Of course it did not take long before Zelena mysteriously ‘appeared’ in the living room too. She had a habit of following Regina around in the house.

Regina did not mind it at all. She merely looked up at her older sister and smiled before going back to reading.

“Did Jo March cut her hair yet?” Zelena asked lightly.

Regina looked up again and nodded in confirmation. Yes, Jo March had indeed cut her hair to everyone’s dismay.

“And.. how is the reading going?” Zelena asked carefully. “I mean, you’re not getting a headache from it, are you?”

Regina looked up once more and shook her head while smiling reassuringly at her sister. No, she was not getting a headache while reading anymore. At least not headaches that were because of the concussion she had suffered. That was long gone. But the ‘other’ headaches...

They were still happening.

The intense banging in her forehead.

She did wonder when those kind of headaches would disappear.

If ever.

Perhaps they wouldn’t. Perhaps the headaches were just another thing she had to live with.

Not wanting to upset herself, Regina went back to reading Little Women. And eventually, it did make her smile. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad to read ‘light’ fiction once in a while. Like the yoga, she would make it a new habit of hers. And a good one too. One that made her stop thinking so much...

 

After having dropped Henry off at Nick and Ava’s and kissed him goodbye and instructed him to text her when he wanted to be picked up, Regina continued onwards to Steveston.

She was there right on time and brushed a hand lightly over her tweed coat before exiting the car. She crossed the road and walked towards Eugenia’s Inn, eager to get inside.

Stepping inside the inn, she scanned the room to find Emma Swan, and it did not take long before she found what she was looking for. Emma had stuck her hand in the air, so it was actually fairly hard to miss her.

Regina smiled slightly as she walked over there. She offered Emma a little nod as an initial greeting.

“Hi,” Emma said.

Regina offered another nod and a smile. And then she reached within the pocket of her tweed coat and handed Emma the ‘hello again’-note.

“It’s nice to see you again,” Emma said, flashing Regina another friendly smile.

Regina returned is as she unbuttoned her coat and slipped it off, hanging it on the back of her chair. She discreetly adjusted the scarf around her neck and then sat down on the chair opposite Emma.

“You ready for some coffee?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded. Yes, she was indeed ready for some coffee. She hadn’t had any coffee this morning because she knew she would be having coffee with Emma.

Emma waved a hand in the air again, and it did not take long before Ruby appeared at their table. Emma ordered coffee for herself, and Regina swiftly reached within her coat pocket and handed Ruby the note before she could get the chance to ask.

“Alright,” Ruby smiled. “I’ll find that for you.” With that she clack-clack’ed away from their table again.

“That was clever,” Emma complimented as soon as Ruby had disappeared.

Regina shrugged lightly, modestly and wiggled a hand inside the pocket of her coat again. This time she found her stack of post-its. And a pen. She was indeed prepared for this coffee-appointment.

“How are you doing?” Emma asked. “How is Henry doing? Did he get some sleep last night?”

Henry again. Really, it was so thoughtful of Emma Swan to ask about Henry as the first thing. Not everybody would have done that. She brought the pencil down and began scribbling an answer. A truthful one. Emma deserved a truthful answer given how she knew what had happened last night. ‘Henry is doing alright now. But it took him a while to go back to sleep last night. I ended up spending the night on a makeshift bed in his room.’ indeed that was what had happened after the hot cocoa. Henry had been afraid that the nightmare would come back, and Regina had of course nodded when he asked if she could stay in his room for the night.

“Oh,” Emma said, grimacing slightly after having read the note. “I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m glad he’s doing better now.”

Regina nodded again and took the note she had just written so she could write underneath the first message: ‘he is. He’s staying at a friend’s house right now, but I think he wanted to come along. He’s been talking a lot about your fairytales since the last time.’ True that. Henry had indeed been asking many questions about Emma Swan and her fairytales in the car. He already considered her to be a bit of a hero because she was writing fairytales. In Henry’s book, that was enough to give someone hero status.

Emma chuckled, seemed proud as she pushed her blonde hair away from her face. “I’m glad to have found a fellow fairytale lover. Has he always loved fairytales?”

Oh yes. Regina was immediately flooded with a million flashbacks of seven year old Henry’s eyes gleaming with joy when she read Snow White and The Seven Dwarves aloud to him for the first time. In the modified version, of course. He had been a bit too young to hear the Brothers Grimm version of the story. She eagerly tore off another post-it note and scribbled down a lengthy reply while Ruby arrived with their coffee. Regina was so busy writing, she didn’t even have the time to look up and smile in gratitude. By the time Ruby was gone, Regina was at last done writing. ‘Yes, ever since he was a little boy. His baby books were fairytales. He has a whole bookshelf filled with fairytales. Sometimes it almost saddens me that he’ll grow out of it when he becomes a teenager.’ Henry as a teenager. Moody and short-tempered and mumbling instead of answering. Regina dreaded thinking about it. She tried not to grimace as she pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma chuckled again after having read the note. “You don’t know that for sure. He could still be into fairytales when he grows older.”

Regina raised an eyebrow in polite disbelief. Then she scribbled down another long and quite honest answer. ‘It’s a nice thought, but I doubt it. Once he grows older, he’ll stop loving fairytales and begin loving his phone instead. But admittedly, sometimes I wish he could be ten years old forever. It’s such a funny age. Sometimes he acts like a little adult, but at the same time he’s still child enough to want to be hugged and kissed.’ Henry truly could be a little mini-adult sometimes. Which was both good and bad. She sat the pencil down, took a sip of her coffee and then pushed the note towards Emma. She carefully took another sip of her coffee while Emma read the message.

Emma chuckled softly once more, and her green eyes sparkled slightly as she asked: “And you don’t think he’ll want to be hugged and kissed when he becomes a teenager?”

Regina shook her head firmly. No, if Henry grew up to be like how she was in that age, he most certainly would not be interested in that.

“Maybe he’ll surprise you,” Emma snickered. “Maybe he’ll be different from all the other teenagers.”

An endearing thought, no doubt, but as special as Henry was, Regina doubted it. She shook her head once more and began scribbling on another post-it note. The pen scratched lightly against the paper, and as she wrote, she wondered if Emma found the sound to be annoying. She hoped not. In her eagerness to write, she felt her elbow brush against the cup of coffee, but a moment later, it had been moved away.

Once she was done writing, she looked at her reply for a moment. ‘I doubt it. Henry is special I’ll give you, but I don’t think that he’ll deviate much from the teenage cliché.’ Then she pushed the note across the table.

After having read the note, Emma looked up at her and grinned. “And what is the teenage cliché, then?”

Regina was quick to scribble underneath: ‘Sullen. Moody. Uninterested. Barricading himself in his room. Saying whatever constantly.’

Her answer clearly amused Emma Swan. She spluttered slightly. “That was very on point.”

Regina nodded, shrugged, wrote a new experience. ‘I was just using all the things I can remember from my own teenage years.’ She had plenty of experience to draw on. She pushed the note over to Emma.

That caused Emma to laugh. “So you were a moody teenager then?”

A thousand times yes. Regina had indeed been quite the moody teenager. She nodded firmly and became a tad nostalgic as she remembered her teen years while writing down an answer: ‘yes, terribly moody. And also incredibly gangly and awkward. I hoped Henry will be spared of that.’ Emma was given the note, and Regina took a sip of her coffee. She couldn’t forget drinking her coffee.

“No way, you were beautiful as a teenager!” Emma blurted. Then she blushed and looked down at her hands.

What? Regina frowned. That... made no sense whatsoever. If it was a compliment, Regina supposed it was sort of sweet, but it was still a bit of an odd compliment, was it not? She raised an eyebrow, gave Emma what she hoped was an ‘explain’-look.

Emma blushed profusely. Then she rushed to explain, and the words nearly stumbled over each other as they fell from her lips: “Malena asked me to find a folder when I was at work the other day, and when I tried to grab it, it was stuck between two other folders. One of them fell on the floor and all the papers in it landed everywhere on the floor, and between some of the papers there was a picture stuffed away. A picture of you and her. As teenagers.” she gave Regina a bit of a shy look as she concluded her little story.

Oh. Well, Regina supposed that made sense. She felt herself blush slightly. She knew that Malena had old pictures laying around. She was in no way embarrassed about her past relationship with Malena, but that still didn’t mean that she necessarily wanted everyone to know about it. Why did dragons had to be such collectors, she wondered as she wrote a new message on a new post-it note. ‘Oh, I see.
Well, Malena has always been a bit of a collector. And especially a collector of memories. But still, it surprises me that she still has pictures lying around in strange places.’

“Maybe that’s why it’s called Dragon Publishing?” Emma suggested after having read the message.

Regina quirked an eyebrow once more.

“Aren’t dragon’s hoarders or something like that?”

Ah yes. Exactly. Feeling amused once more, Regina scribbled on a new note. ‘Still, it was a long time ago. I’m assuming we looked happy in the picture?’ she already knew what the answer to that would be when she pushed the note across the table.

“You did,” Emma confirmed. “You sort of.... had your arms around each other.”

So it was that kind of picture. Exactly like Regina had suspected. What had she been in the picture? Sixteen? Seventeen? Not older. Oh god, it felt like such a long time ago now. She surprised herself when she felt her chest rumble in that silent laughter. Then she wrote: ‘Those were the days. It’s such a long time ago now, so much has happened since. It feels like it was a different life,’ and moved the pen so Emma could read the message.

“Yeah,” Emma said simply. Nothing more than that.

Regina got the feeling that Emma knew. Knew that her relationship with Malena had been more than just a friendship. Oh well. It wasn’t like it was some deep, dark secrets of hers.

No, Regina had other secrets that were much darker than that...

“The weather is getting colder, huh?”

Thank god. Regina’s thoughts had almost gone down a very dark road again, and she was relieved that Emma had said something. She immediately latched onto this new subject and glanced out of the window. Rubbed her arms to indicate how cold it had been to walk here from the car.

“Speaking of cold weather,” Emma said, and Regina was certain that there was a twinge of anxiety in her voice.

What was that about? She raised an eyebrow and waited.

“When I was at the library, I saw a brochure for this... harvest festival happening by the end of the month,” Emma said. Now she sounded croaky. Was she catching a cold or something?

Regina nodded. She had been to quite a few harvest festivals in Steveston. When Henry was younger. Before everything went to hell....

“It sounds like a really cool arrangement,” Emma continued. “And I’ve never actually been to a harvest festival before.”

Regina raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Really? Never? Emma Swan had been missing out on much, it would seem.

“Yeah, I know,” Emma said. “Anyway, it seems like everyone is going with someone, so I was wondering if...”

Regina waited, but Emma did not finish the sentence. Regina grew confused. What was it that Emma was trying to say but could not seem to get out? Was she okay?

“I was wondering if you’d be interested in coming to the harvest festival?” she said quickly. “I know you’ve probably already been to a million harvest festivals already, and I know it’s a pretty long drive for you, but... I don’t know, I just figured it could be nice to go with someone I actually know better than I know the people living here.”

That was a long stream of words, and since they had come out so quickly, Regina struggled to make sense of them for a moment. But when she did, she could not but feel slightly... panicked. Was this...

No. Emma was not asking her on a... was she? No, that couldn’t be it. They were friends, were they not? Just friends. That was all. Regina swallowed something.

“You could bring Henry?” Emma suggested. “If he’s into harvest festivals that is. I don’t know if he wants to come or not, but if he does, I’d totally be down to talk more fairytale stuff with him.”

Oh. Regina was sure she looked surprised. Emma was NOT asking her out. She merely wanted to spend time with them. Her and Henry. That was sweet. She moved her lips, saying a silent ‘thank you’ which Emma couldn’t possibly have the chance of picking up on.

“I just figured I’d... ask.”

Regina could not give an answer right away. Heaven knew it had been a long time since she had been attending a harvest festival in Steveston. And she knew that Henry would be delighted too. Happy about being invited by Emma. Happy to get the opportunity to talk fairy tales with Emma.

But there would be full of people. So many people. And they would look at her. With pity in their eyes. With curiosity.

And how was she gonna communicate with Emma throughout the night?

She could not stop and write post-it notes. Or write on her phone.

Would Emma think she was being impolite if she settled for using Sign Language and then leaving the translating to Henry?

God, it had been so long since she last had attended any kind of festival.

She wanted to go to the festival.

But she was also afraid of going to the festival.

BUT... if she said no, she would most likely regret it. She would regret that she hadn’t been brave enough to say yes.

And Henry would be disappointed too.

This would be a nice surprise for him.

And a big step for her. Getting out and about. Like her therapist had said.

Why should she deny herself this opportunity?

Why indeed?

She nodded once. Then smiled hesitantly at Emma.

“Yeah?” Emma asked and sounded a bit hopeful.

Regina quickly grabbed another post-it note and wrote down a more sufficient answer: ‘both Henry and I would like that. The harvest festival is quite special, and especially the first time you see it. It would be a shame if you didn’t have anyone to share that experience with.’ She was saying yes on Henry’s behalf, but she already knew that he would say yes, so it was okay.

Emma smiled once she had read the message, but Regina withdrew the note and quickly wrote an afterthought: ‘but I must warn you, Henry is a bit of a chatterbox.’ That was not untrue.

Emma chuckled lightly. “That’s fine by me.”

‘He’ll undoubtedly talk for the both of us,’ Regina wrote on a new post-it note and pushed it towards Emma.

Emma looked up so fast, Regina heard her neck give a faint crick, and she made sure to quirk an eyebrow to let Emma know that she was merely joking. A rare display of dark humor.

Emma laughed. She clearly appreciated dark humor. “That’s okay too,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the kid again. He was very smart and funny the last time.”

All thoughts of teasing immediately disappeared, and Regina found herself growing warm at the thought of Henry. He was indeed both smart and funny, and she highly appreciated Emma saying it. She gave a gentle nod.

They toasted in their coffee, and even though Regina was nervous about being amongst people, she was happy that she had said yes to Emma’s suggestion. The harvest festival was something she had enjoyed once. So why shouldn’t she do it again?

 

‘How was it?’

The question was waiting on Regina’s cellphone when she made it inside her car. She smiled a little at Zelena’s curiosity and texted her sister back: ‘it was very nice. Emma invited Henry and myself to go to the Harvest Festival with her.’

The answer came swiftly. ‘Did she now? And what did you say?’

‘I said yes. I think it could be very nice. For Henry too.’

‘I’m proud of you!’

Regina rolled her eyes. Yes, of course Zelena was proud of her. ‘Thank you.’

She had expected that to be the end, but to her surprise, it did not take long before her phone vibrated again. She put on her seatbelt and checked the message.

‘And how do you feel about it?’

‘I feel okay.’

‘That’s good. I know it’s a big thing.’

Regina frowned a little. ‘Not that big. It’s just the Harvest Festival. I’ve been there many times, and so have Henry.’

‘Was it Emma’s suggestion to bring Henry along?’

‘Yes, it was actually. Why do you ask?’

‘I don’t know, maybe I thought that it was your idea.’

‘It wasn’t. Are you going anywhere with this?’ it was cold sitting in the car.

‘Well, I thought that maybe Emma wanted to go on a date with you.’

Regina snorted. Zelena’s imagination was wild sometimes. ‘God no. Of course not.’

‘Are you sure??’

Regina sighed now. ‘Yes of course I’m sure. She invited Henry too. To be nice. We’re just friends, Zelena.’

‘Okay.’

Regina put her phone away to drive home. She hoped that Henry wanted to be picked up soon. She couldn’t wait to tell him about the Harvest Festival...

 

To Be Continued..........

Chapter Text

Henry was indeed excited about going to the Harvest Festival.

Regina shared Emma’s invitation with him as soon as she picked him up from school that early afternoon, and she made sure to let him know that he didn’t have to go if he didn’t want to. After all, he didn’t know Emma Swan, and perhaps he wasn’t all that for spending time with a stranger.

But she hadn’t needed worrying.

Henry was over the moon, and the first thing he did when coming home, was telling Zelena about the invitation. Even though she knew about it anyway.

All through that day, Henry couldn’t talk about anything. And it was the same the next day.

And the next.

And the next.

His excitement rubbed off on Regina. She too was excited about the Harvest Festival. She couldn’t remember the last time she had attended a Harvest Festival in Steveston. Or anywhere else for that matter. Killian had not liked harvest festivals. He had thought that it was ‘small-town-like’. At first he hadn’t said so directly, but later, he had scoffed and rolled his eyes whenever Regina had mentioned it. He had clearly thought himself above all of that. And everyone who went to something as simple as harvest festivals, were peasant-like.

Well. He could go rot in hell for all she cared.

Oh. Anger.

That was new. Well. Perhaps the anger was better than any of the other emotions she already been through.

Perhaps she could actually use the anger for something.

Like fueling her desire to get back on her feet. Give him a metaphorical middle finger and all that.

Regina found new strength in that. Throughout the next couple of days, she trawled the great wide internet in an attempt to find a new place for herself and Henry. Now and then, Zelena came into the living room and saw what she was doing, but even though her mouth twisted, she did not say anything.

Regina did not brush the subject either. If she thought too much about it, she would remember just how scared she was of the prospect of living alone. There was something safe about living with her sister. In her current state, Regina could almost fall out of bed if she heard a branch knock against the window at night. The doorbell ringing could make her heart race. And too loud footsteps coming up the stairs could make her stomach tie in knots.

But she had to somehow get past all of that somehow. Because she wanted to get better. Wanted to create a life for herself and Henry.

Regina tried to keep herself busy (apartment hunting wasn’t as easy as one could think) and she actually felt like she was creating a rhythm of sorts. She had begun to get up early in the morning instead of sleeping in like she had when she first returned home from the hospital. Now her alarm clock rang at six thirty in the morning. Every morning. That gave her a half an hour to do yoga and shower before waking up Henry. While he took his morning shower, Regina went downstairs and prepared breakfast for him. She had recently started experimenting with breakfast. Sometimes she made French toast.

Other times Henry would come downstairs and whoop in excitement when he found out that his mom had made fluffy pancakes for breakfast. Sometimes she made scrambled eggs and bacon. And at other times she went all out and made waffles.

She wanted to spoil him rotten. In every possible way she could. If she overcompensated, then so be it. If making her son the best goddamn breakfast he could ever ask for, was overcompensating, then she would be happy to keep overcompensating until the end of time. He deserved the best kind of breakfast she could possibly come up with. And Regina was enjoying it. She enjoyed making breakfast because she wanted to and not because she HAD to. It was not a chore anymore. Henry would be just as happy eating cereal for breakfast.
Killian had not been. He had expected a lavish breakfast every morning, and if Regina hadn’t made one, it would ruin the entire morning for both of them. He had also expected a hot meal every evening and got unreliably sour if he didn’t get one. At first, Regina had made excuses for him. He was just a traditional man who liked traditional things. Like a warm meal every night. And she had been eager to please ‘her man’, so she had willingly made that warm meal.

But later, it had been less than willingly. It had been a chore. A task she had to full fill no matter what.

Things were different now. Killian was gone. Regina was free to cook what she wanted when she wanted. And eat what she wanted. There were no more nagging comments about watching her weight. And that meant that Regina had started to enjoy food again. Really enjoy it. As the pain in her throat subsided, her appetite returned, and more often than not, she found herself wandering into the kitchen to grab a snack. A bag of chips. A chocolate bar. Anything, really.

Zelena loved to see it. Regina knew that she had been very worried about her weight, and Regina had not been blind to it either. When she had looked in the mirror, she had been able to see that she had lost a lot of weight. She had been able to feel it on her clothes too. Her trousers could barely stay up. Her blouses were baggy.

But now she had started to put some meat on her bones again, and she could see the effect of that too. Her cheeks had started to fill in more. Was getting rounder and fuller.

Gaining weight did not scare Regina. She knew that she had been too thin. She was still not overly thrilled when she looked at herself in the mirror, but the rounder, fuller cheeks were definitely an
improvement from the sunken in cheeks and too-big eyes she had seen so often.

She was starting to look healthier.

Was she feeling healthier too?

Yes, she supposed so, actually.

Her daily yoga sessions were doing wonders to her mental health. And so was the brisk walks she had started taking when she came home after having dropped Henry off at school. She wouldn’t even be going inside the house first. She would simply get out of her car and then embark on a brisk walk in the neighborhood. Sometimes she exchanged a wave and a friendly nod with one of Zelena’s neighbors. Sometimes she met a stray cat or an enthusiastic dog along the way. Things that warmed her from the inside.

Sometimes Zelena would go with her when she wasn’t working, but most of the times, Regina would walk on her own.

Regina appreciated her daily walks. Generally, she was doing many things she appreciated lately. As her therapist had advised her to, she was doing things that made her happy. That included watching lots and lots of Great British Bake-Off. Cooking lavish breakfast for her son. Helping him with his homework as best as she could when unable to speak. She was also planning on starting baking again.
Cooking was one thing, but baking was in an entirely different category. Baking was something she had really enjoyed doing before everything had gotten so turbulent. She couldn’t count the times she and her father had ended up baking something in the kitchen. He had really loved baking too. Especially everything containing chocolate. Cora had of course scoffed and reminded him of his high cholesterol. She’d had a point, Regina knew that now, but it was the way she said it. Like she always had to puncture his joy just a little. At least until he had come over to her and kissed her cheek. Regina had always thought that he was a brave man for doing that, but it was the only thing who could sway Cora Mills’ steely façade. She had not been a very soft mother, but Henry had always been able to bring out her softer side.

Her parents’ marriage had always been a bit of a mystery to Regina, but after Cora’s death, Henry had always said that he and Cora had had a wonderful marriage. And Regina always believed her father.

He had never lied to her before, and Regina doubted that he would have started after her mother’s death....

 

Regina wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but suddenly, the day was here. The day of the Harvest Festival.

She was a bit nervous, she willingly admitted that. The coffee-appointments at Eugenia’s Inn was one thing, but this was something completely else. It had been a long, long time since she went out like this. Since she walked amongst a large crowd of people.

But she was determinated to do this. She was determinated to make it a nice evening for herself and Henry. He had been one big smile when he woke up this morning. And the first thing he had asked her, was whether they were still going to Steveston tonight.

Regina had been happy to nod her head yes. They were indeed going to Steveston tonight. And she was looking forward to it. Or that was at least what she was convincing herself that she was. Looking forward to tonight. She didn’t want her anxiety to get the best of her. Not tonight. Not when Henry was so excited. Not when Emma Swan had been so kind to invite them both to Steveston.

Regina pondered about that for a while as she poured herself a cup of morning-coffee. Emma Swan had invited her to quite a few things. First Steveston for coffee. And now to the Harvest Festival. It wasn’t completely even, was it?

Regina should invite Emma to something too. It was the polite thing to do. How to be a good friend.

Perhaps she should invite Emma Swan over for coffee sometimes.

Hmm.

Regina felt a prickle of anxiety at the thought of Emma here in the kitchen.

No.

It was too soon.

Yes, they were friends, and yes, inviting her over for coffee sometimes would be the polite thing to do, but Emma Swan also happened to be Regina’s first NEW friend. She was the first new person who got to know Regina like this. The first person who hadn’t known old-Regina.

Regina knew that she had to go about this slowly. If she wanted to do too many things too quickly, she would get anxiety and become frightened all over again.

She would wait with inviting Emma over for coffee. Settle for more coffee at Eugenia’s Inn. It would have to suffice for now. It was the best she could do.

She took another sip of her coffee and savored the taste. Coffee was also something she had started to really enjoy recently. She had missed coffee while she was in the hospital. She hadn’t been allowed to drink coffee there. The caffeine had not been good for the healing process, or something.

But now she was back in the coffee-game so to speak. And god, it felt good!

 

Later found Regina sitting in front of her little vanity table in ‘her’ bedroom. She was thoroughly engaged with brushing her hair. And trying to convince herself that she was not nervous.

Even though she most certainly was.

There would be so many people tonight.

So many people would see her.

Notice her.

Look at her.

Perhaps even whisper about her.

No.

Regina shook her head and rolled her eyes at her own foolishness.

That was not how the people in Steveston were.

They were not gossips. At least not like that.

Regina could do this. Of course she could. It was no big deal. It was something she had done many, many times before in the past. It had been a part of her traditions.

And she wanted to make it a tradition again. Starting tonight.

Regina resumed brushing her hair. Determined. Steel-jawed. Like Cora Mills. According to here mother, you could do anything if you just put your mind to it. So that was exactly what Regina was going to do. Put her mind to it. Decide to have a good time tonight.

She and Emma Swan had been texting a lot over the last few weeks. They had not met up for coffee since that day, but that was okay. Regina had been quite busy searching for a new place to live. And searching for some kind of job. True, she was sort of comfortable with how things were right now. She had grown quite fond of her little daily routine with yoga and baking and cooking for her son. But she couldn’t keep living off of the money her father had left her. If she continued, there wouldn’t be any money left. Honestly, she felt bad about dipping into the money from her dad. She was supposed to save them for a rainy day. To the day where she really needed them. And she would like to set some aside for Henry too. For his college fund.

Meaning that no matter how comfortable she was in her little routine, she had to find a job. An actual job. Earn some money so she could support her son.

But finding a job was hard. What kind of job could she even hold when she couldn’t talk?

Regina couldn’t really picture herself staring into a laptop screen while typing in some kind of numbers all day. She would like to use her education if possible, but she struggled with seeing exactly how she was supposed to do that now.

It was difficult teaching or being a professor when you did not have a voice to speak with.

Downstairs in the living room, Regina found Zelena sitting nonchalantly in the couch. She was wearing sweatpants, and her curly red hair had been piled into a messy bun on top of her head. She was watching a movie on Netflix. Regina briefly recognized it as being A Room With A View before Zelena paused it in favor of conversation.

“You look nice,” she said and smiled at Regina.

Regina bowed her head in gratitude. She wasn’t wearing anything overly fancy. Just a pair of woolen slacks and a sweater. And of course a scarf. Nothing fancy. She was going to wear a coat over it. It was such a cold evening. Frosty and with a touch snow in the air even. Regina knew a certain young man who would be quite excited if it would start snowing. Henry had always loved snow. And it was as certain as the sun that he would want to build a snowman if the snow stuck. Perhaps Regina would venture into the garden to help him. It had been a long, long time since she did that too.

“Are you looking forward to the Harvest Festival?” Zelena asked and interrupted Regina’s train of thoughts.

Regina nodded. Truthfully. She was actually looking forward to tonight. Looking forward to seeing Henry’s eyes light up like a christmas tree when he saw the lights and smelled all the classic harvest festivals scents. Hot dogs. Popcorns. Candy corn apples.

“There will be a bit of a crowd there,” Zelena said softly. “How do you feel about that?”

Regina shrugged slightly to indicate that she was fine with it. Yes, there would be a crowd in Steveston tonight, but Regina had already made up her mind. She could not keep herself hidden away in
Zelena’s home forever. If she did that, she would do exactly as Killian had wanted her to. He had wanted to keep her confined in the home at all times. So if she chose to hide at home, he would have won in a sense.

And if there was something Regina did not want, it was Killian to win.

Meaning that she had to start going out more. Prove that she was still here. Still standing tall.

Or something like that.

“I’m sure you and Henry will have a great time with Emma,” Zelena said lightly and shot Regina a look. She had done that a few times, and Regina had come to recognize that look as the ‘are you certain that Emma isn’t trying to date you’-look.

Regina smiled overbearingly. Like she always did whenever Zelena was flashing her that kind of look. No, Emma Swan was NOT trying to date her. The thought alone was ridiculous. They were just friends.

Good friends. That was all. Nothing to give funny looks about.

After a moment of waiting, Henry came bumping down the stairs and almost solemnly proclaimed that he was ready.

Regina took a moment to look at him. It looked like he had brushed his hair a little extra tonight. It was no longer flopping about his eyes as it usually did. His hair had gotten properly long lately, and
Regina once again congratulated herself with having online booked an appointment for him at the hairdresser. He was going tomorrow. And for once he was actually fine with it. Apparently, he was over his ‘I want my hair long’-phase. Regina felt sort of grateful about that. She wasn’t sure she ever could have gotten used to seeing him with long hair. But of course, if it was something he’d really wanted, well.... She wasn’t gonna deny him anything.

“Are we going yet?” Henry asked, looking sort of doubtfully at her.

Regina felt slightly guilty. Did he fear that she was going to back out at the very last minute? Or worse still, did he EXPECT her to back out at the very last minute?

Hell no.

Regina nodded firmly and flashed her son a beaming smile. Oh yes, they were going! Absolutely. There would be no backing out at the very last minute even though she was intimidated by going.

Although she was afraid of being looked at. Talked about. Pitied.

“Awesome!” Henry said, flashing her a big, goofy grin. “Let’s get going, then!”

Regina checked the time on her watch. Yes, it was time to go. It was still a little early, but she knew how crazy traffic could be. She knew what the Harvest Festival did to Steveston, so it was better being a little early.

“Well, have a nice time you two,” Zelena smiled. “And have something sweet for me.”

“Like pie?” Henry suggested, giving Regina a slight nudge that had Regina smiling. Pie was something else she had recently started enjoying again too. Much to Henry’s delight, she had baked quite a lot of pies over the past few weeks. Chocolate pies. Caramel pies. Vanilla pies. It didn’t matter. As long as it was pies.

Henry took her hand and Regina allowed him to lead her into the hallway. Henry put on his black coat and striped scarf, and after having been ‘encouraged’ to do so by Regina, he also put on his gloves.
Regina happened to know how cold it was tonight, and she was not interested in seeing him freeze.

Regina opted for her black coat with the big fake-fur collar. She wasn’t interested in freezing either. She felt in her pockets and found her favorite pair of gloves. Feeling a bit deeper, she discovered that she actually had a second pair of gloves in her pockets. Oh well. That only meant she had an extra pair in case Henry got his dirty or something.

Car keys. Phone. Purse. She was ready to go....

 

 

They were late.

And Regina was stressed because of it.

She had been absolutely right about the traffic.

The road to Steveston had been full of cars, and finding a parking spot when they finally arrived had been damn nearly impossible.

But now they were here, thank god. She needed to get out of the car. And so did Henry. He had been going a bit jittery in the backseat. Had asked ‘are we there yet?’ two or three times, and Regina had tried not to get stressed out by that. She had continuously reminded herself that he was only asking because he was excited.

With the car finally parked, Regina opened the door and stepped out.

So did Henry, and his face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw all the lights from the little lanterns and Ferris Wheel and heard the shouts from excited kids.

The entire town smelled of popcorn and other types of junk food, and Regina took a moment to soak up the atmosphere. She remembered the first time she came here. Hand in hand with her father. He was the one who had introduced her to Steveston and the Harvest Festival. It was a long and proud ‘tradition’ in the Mills’ family, and later, Regina would go to the Harvest Festival with Henry on her hip.

Perhaps he one day would come here with his own children. And a grey-haired Regina walking beside him.....

She was brought out of her sentimental little daydream when she suddenly registered that Henry was gone. Well, not gone-gone, Regina could still see the bottom of his scarf blowing in the wind as he went, and she was torn between amusement and annoyance. He knew that he was not supposed to run away from her.

But on the other hand, it was wonderful to witness him act as an excited, ten year old kid who couldn’t hold back a minute longer. This was the way ten year old boys were supposed to act, and Regina supposed she was grateful to see that. See him act like old-Henry. Before-things-changed-Henry.

Nevertheless, it would probably be a good idea to locate him. The place was a bit crowded, and Regina was not interested in bothering the local sheriff, Graham just because she could not find her son.

She brushed a hand over her coat and then she ventured down the lit up pathway in an attempt to locate her wayward son. Now and then, she glanced at her watch and cringed slightly. Goodness, they were really late. She hoped that Emma Swan wouldn’t be too upset. Or worse still, had left. Regina stopped for a moment as she checked her phone. No new messages. So Emma had not written and asked when they would arrive. Regina was not sure whether that was a good or a bad sign.

And she seemed to have misplaced Henry too. She stretched her neck in an attempt to locate him, and when she could not, she felt a twinge of panic.

But then she spotted him. He was standing right at the square and talking to a certain blonde woman. As Regina approached, she heard him say ‘right there!’ while he gestured in her direction. Little rascal must have eyes in the back of his neck to be able to see her from that angle.

Regina reached them, and she couldn’t help but to scowl slightly as she lifted her glove clad hands and signed to Henry: ‘don’t run away from me.’

Henry too frowned as he proclaimed: “I didn’t run away. I was just.... walking fast.”

Emma Swan looked like she was about to laugh, and Regina abandoned the strict parent attitude. Henry was fine after all. Nothing had happened. She signed again, but this time it was not to reprimand her son.

“’Sorry we’re late,’” Henry translated, and his little nose scrunched slightly. “The traffic was... awful?”

Exactly. He had done it again. Put her signs into speech. Regina was proud of her boy, and she nodded and flashed him a smile.

“That’s totally fine,” Emma said, brushing a lock of hair away from her face. Her hair was hanging loose, and she was wearing that red leather jacket again. Regina had reached a point where she was starting to connect Emma to red leather, and she was concerned for a moment as she wondered if Emma did not own any other jacket. Wasn’t she cold? That leather jacket didn’t look very thick. Hmm.

She forced herself to snap out of it and wiggled her fingers in the air again so Henry could put it into words. And he did. “’Have you waited a long time?’” he asked on her behalf.

“No-no, I’ve just got here,” Emma said lightly.

Lie. Regina wasn’t quite sure how or why, but she could instinctively sense that Emma Swan was lying about how long she had waited. She had most likely waited for far longer than she let on. Damnit. Damn traffic. But there was nothing Regina could do about that now. She settled for a slight smile, a nod and then made a little gesture with her head, silently asking if they should get going.

Off they went to be a part of the Harvest Festival. Regina spotted several familiar faces in the crowd. Mr. Gold. Isabelle, his wife. Ruby. Graham Humbert, the kind sheriff. But fortunately enough, all of them could be greeted with a smile, and none of them approached her to try and talk to her. Thank god.

“Can I have a corndog?” Henry asked after a moment.

Regina nodded. Of course he could have a corndog. That was one of his main reasons for coming here. But perhaps it would be better if he waited until after he’d been riding the carousel? Regina still had terrible memories of the time he had thrown up while riding the carousel because he had eaten too much and had gotten overexcited or something like that. She wiggled her fingers and suggested that he waited.

“Fiiiine,” Henry said with an impressive display of drama in his voice. “I’ll wait until after I’ve tried the carousel.”

Regina ruffled his hair slightly and then looked up and flashed Emma a little smile. Emma smiled back, but Regina still felt a little guilty. She was well aware that a great many things got lost in translation when she used Sign Language with Henry. But it was just so difficult, walking and typing on her phone. Regina was not really the type who was good at that. Mostly because she hadn’t been much of a texter before ‘it’ had happened.

‘It’. Her stomach made an uncomfortable flipflop, and Regina stopped abruptly in front of the public restroom. She could use a minute or two in there. Just to collect herself. And possibly even use the bathroom. She had clearly forgotten to relieve herself before driving here. Damnit. She should become a little better at following the rules she had sat up for Henry. Always use the bathroom before going anywhere.

Now Regina turned to Henry and signed: ‘I need to go in there quickly. Will you promise me that you stay here with Miss Swan until I get back? No wandering off, okay?’

“I won’t wander off. I’ll stay right here with Miss Swan,” Henry confirmed and looked almost solemn again.

Regina believed him. She smiled at him, found her phone in her pocket and then tapped in a short message (I won’t be a moment) and showed the message to Emma.

“We’ll stay right here,” Emma promised and sounded a little nervous.

Regina smiled reassuringly at her before turning around and walking towards the public bathroom. For some reason, she trusted Emma Swan completely when it came to watching Henry. And besides, this was a good way for the two of them to spend some time together. In case Emma ever thought of inviting Henry along for anything else. Or if Regina ever plucked up the courage to invite Emma Swan for coffee at Zelena’s place. Henry would undoubtedly be there, and it would be a definite advantage if Emma and Henry got along.

In the bathroom, Regina took a moment to breathe and remind herself that she was okay. That it was just her, Henry, and Emma. The crowd didn’t matter. She didn’t have to focus on everything else except the little bubble that consisted of the three of them.

She was fine.

And however impossible it sounded...

She actually... Was.

She didn’t feel panicky or scared. She felt sort of... good.

Huh.

Regina studied herself in the greasy mirror for a moment and scowled slightly as she fixed her hair a little. The wind seemed to have messed it up, and Regina refused to walk around with messed up hair.

Once that was taken care of, Regina did what she had forgotten to do before leaving, and as she washed her hands in the small sink afterwards, she wondered what Emma and Henry were talking about. If they were talking. Regina hoped they were. She hoped that she would not be met by awkward silence when she emerged from the bathroom.

For some reason, it was important for her that Emma and Henry could get along. She wanted them to be friends. Like she and Emma were friends. She had a feeling that Henry could benefit a great deal from having a friend like Emma Swan. She was smart and funny and wrote fairy tales. She fulfilled every criteria Henry had to be defined as ‘cool’.

Regina smiled a little at her reflection. Encouragingly. She had been in here long enough, and she certainly was not the type who stayed in a public bathroom longer than necessary. So she wiped her hands thoroughly on three paper towels, put her gloves back on and then left the bathroom yet again.

Emma and Henry were indeed talking. At first, Regina could not hear what about, but once she got a little closer, she had no problems with hearing what Henry was saying:

“-She doesn’t like seeing people. Only me and auntie Z. Zelena keeps telling her that she should go out more and see other people, but mom doesn’t want too. She hasn’t wanted to since the acci- oh, hey mom!” he jolted slightly when she put a hand on his shoulder, and then he looked a bit embarrassed. And rightfully so, Regina dared thinking. He really shouldn’t be spilling her secrets like that. She did not need Emma Swan to join her pity-party.

“Can we go try the Ferris wheel, please?” Henry asked.

Now Emma looked up too, and Regina noted that she too looked a little embarrassed. Perhaps because she was the one who had asked Henry questions or something like that.

But Regina was not particularly upset about that. She was well aware that her missing voice and general behavior was puzzling at best. Of course Emma Swan would be curious to know more. It was only natural.

“Mom? Can we try the Ferris wheel?” Henry repeated hopefully and then glanced at Emma. “Miss Swan said that she wants to go with me!”

“Emma,” the blonde corrected with a smile.

Oh. First name basis. Surely, that was a good sign, right? Regina nodded and Henry lead the way as they headed towards the Ferris wheel. She couldn’t help but frown a bit, though. She was certain she had seen a hint of something in Emma’s smile. Pity. God, no. Anything but that. Regina didn’t want her budding friendship with Emma to be tainted by pity. That would be devastating. Now she honestly felt a little sad.

“He’s a sweet kid,” Emma said, nodding towards Henry who was skipping ahead.

Of course Regina perked up at that. She nodded eagerly and found her phone in her pocket. She began typing. Couldn’t help but honest once more as she wrote: ‘and a little chatterbox too, I’m afraid.’ Then she turned the screen towards Emma so she could read it.

Emma leaned in and then chuckled once having read the message. “It’s cool. I don’t mind.”

Regina shook her head slightly. Perhaps Emma did not mind, but Regina did. At least a little bit. She did not want Emma to pity her. Ever.

Then Henry claimed her attention by pointing to one of the food stalls. This one sold popcorn. He clearly wanted some, and his disappointment was clear as day when Regina let him know that the popcorn would have to wait until after he had tried the carousel.

“Then lets go!” he said a bit insistently.

Regina looked at him and raised an eyebrow. Look at him giving her sass. That was almost a rarity these days, and if she hadn’t been such a mom about it, she definitely would have been proud.

“Please,” he quickly amended, having clearly seen her raised eyebrow.

Regina smiled overbearingly and nodded, and soon Henry was proudly sitting atop a majestic, black wooden horse. The carousel took him round and round, and of course Regina just had to take pictures of him with her cellphone. Some of them she sent to Zelena, but although she could see that Zelena was answering the message right away, Regina did not open it. She didn’t want to be on her phone more than necessary when she was with Emma. It would seem rude. And it was bad enough that she used it for writing messages to show to her.

“He’s having a great time,” Emma commented as she nodded towards Henry on the carousel.

Regina nodded and smiled. Yes, Henry seemed to be having a marvelous time. Thankfully. He was a great little buffer, and Regina was glad that Emma had been thoughtful enough to invite him along for this. The Harvest Festival was right up his street.

“I think he was looking forward to the bonfire later,” Emma continued. “And he asked if I could ride the Ferris wheel with him. Is that alright with you?”

How nice of her to ask. Regina didn’t want to settle with a nod and a smile this time. She found her phone and wrote a quick message. ‘Yes, that’s completely fine with me. As long as you don’t mind doing it.’ she turned the phone towards Emma.

“Not at all,” Emma assured and grinned after having read the message. “It’s been years since I’ve tried a Ferris wheel. I’m kinda looking forward to trying it again.”

Much to her surprise, Regina found herself erupting in that silent laughter. It only lasted a split second, but she was still utterly shocked. And a bit horrified too. Suppose Emma would think that it was weird? To distract both of them for what just had occurred, Regina hastily tapped down another message on the phone. ‘Do you want a pumpkin spice once he’s done riding the carousel? My treat.’ Then she turned the screen in Emma’s direction.

Emma squinted slightly in the darkness as she read the message (Regina reminded herself to turn up the light on her screen) and then she looked up at Regina. “Yeah, that sounds good, but you don’t have to buy me-“

Regina knew it was rude, but she couldn’t help but interrupt by shaking her head firmly. No way Emma was going to buy her own drinks after she had been kind enough to invite Regina and Henry to the Harvest Festival with her.

“Alright, alright. Your treat,” Emma surrendered and grinned.

Regina smiled and felt rather triumphantly. But a part of her was still slightly alarmed.

Emma Swan seemed so quick to say no thank you when you offered her something.

She had clearly grown overly accostumed to fending for herself.

And Regina found that to be unbelieveably sad.

She wished that she could tell Emma that she didn't have to do that all the time.

Sometimes it was okay to say yes.

But she could not tell her that.

She couldn't tell Emma Swan anything.

Now she settled for watching Henry on the carousel rather than taking pictures of him. He would probably find that embarrassing anyway. And as they stood and watched, Regina noted that Emma was rubbing her hands and blowing on them. She was clearly cold. Why hadn’t she brought any gloves with her? Did she not own any gloves? Regina’s mouth twisted. She would not have Emma standing here with cold fingers. Not when there was something she could do to rectify it.

She thrusted a hand inside the pocket of her coat and found the spare pair of gloves. Then she lightly tapped Emma’s shoulder once. She could not clear her throat to get Emma’s attention, so this would have to suffice. When Emma looked up, Regina held out the gloves towards her. And raised an eyebrow to indicate that saying no was not an option.

She would not take no for an answer. Not when it came to Pumpkin spice. Nor when it came to borrowing gloves and preventing her hands from getting cold.

“Thanks,” Emma said as she took the gloves from Regina. “I forgot my own back at the inn.”

Regina retrieved her phone from her pocket and began writing another message. She was becoming quite the expert at this. When she was done writing, she turned the screen towards Emma so she could read the message. ‘Good thing I had an extra pair then.’

“Yeah,” Emma agreed as she slipped on the gloves. “You’re still adding to my fairy godmother theory.”

That made Regina smile, and although she shook her head to indicate that Emma was silly, she nevertheless found the whole fairy godmother thing to be quite sweet, really. Nobody had ever referred to her as a fairy godmother before, and she found it to be very refreshing.

After a moment, Henry climbed off the carousel and came back over to them. He was almost glowing with excitement. And grinning broadly at Regina as he asked: “Can I have a corndog now please?”

Regina glanced towards the Ferris wheel. Didn’t he want to go up there first?

“I think I’d like a corndog first. Please?”

Okay, okay. He had been very patient. And very consistent when it came to asking about getting a corndog. She nodded. Glanced briefly at Emma and then signed at her son when she got an idea.

“She’s asking if you’d like a corndog too?” Henry asked Emma on Regina’s behalf.

Emma looked at Regina. “You really don’t have to buy me one.”

Again, quickly saying no. The words were almost tumbling from Emma Swan's lips, and Regina wouldn't have it. She wanted to show Emma the same kindness Emma had shown her. And she would not take no for an answer.

Regina turned to Henry again to let her intentions be known through him.

“She says she insists,” Henry translated when Regina was done signing.

Good boy. That she definitely did. And she had a feeling that it wouldn't be the last time.

“Oh,” Emma Swan grinned, and her cheeks seemed to pinken too. But that was probably just the cold. “Well, in that case... Yeah, I’d like a corndog.”

Feeling extremely pleased with that answer, Regina lead them over towards the food stalls once more. Henry got his corndog, finally, and once again he looked absolutely delighted.

So did Emma, but after having taken the first bite, the grin on her face turned into a frown. “You don’t like corndogs?” she asked.

Regina shrugged lightly in response.

“She’s waiting for us to pass the pie stall,” Henry piped up. “She loves pie. Right, mom?”

Busted. Regina put a hand on her heart in mock offense and then gave Henry’s shoulder a playful little whack.

“Ow!” Henry said, dramatic once more. “Emma, she punched me!”

Emma chuckled, clearly amused at their little exchange. “Yeah. I saw it.”

Regina flashed a playful little smile and Henry muttered that she was ‘mean’. Then he took a large bite of his corndog and informed her that she was ‘missing out’.

As to keep up the little banter between them, Regina wrinkled her nose in mock disgust, but she was not even particularly disgusted about the corndog. And she was certainly not missing out on anything either. Her heart felt lighter than ever.

She found it... less difficult to live with things tonight. She had even almost forgotten that she could not talk. She felt more like herself than she had in a long, long time. Tonight she was simply Regina attending the Harvest Festival and nothing more...

 

Later, Henry and Emma went up in the Ferris wheel.

Regina, who was terrified of heights chose to stay on the ground and settled for waving every time Emma and Henry’s little ‘wagon’ got close to the ground. And every single time, Henry looked so engaged with conversation that he barely had time for waving back.

What were they talking about, the two of them, Regina wondered. Henry was laughing a lot, so it had to be something good.

He liked Emma Swan. That much was evident, and Regina was relieved. She wouldn’t have liked being friends with someone Henry did not like.

But imagining him to not like Emma Swan was ridiculous. Emma Swan was... very likeable. She was a nice, genuine person with a laid back personality. And what’s more, she seemed so positive.

And right now that was exactly what Regina needed. A positive influence in her life. Not that Henry or Zelena weren’t positive, but they were positive in a different way.

Regina smiled when she saw not only Henry wave at her, but also Emma, and of course she made a show of waving back to both of them. Emma’s smile seemed to widen just a little further at that, and that made Regina’s heart light once more. She was happy to see Emma have such a good time after the difficult situation she came from in Toronto. She deserved to have a nice evening at a Harvest Festival like this one.

When the Ferris wheel cabin came round one more time, Regina got a glimpse of Emma laughing at something Henry had said, and she noticed something.

Something that she had not noticed before.

Emma Swan had a really great smile.

A beautiful smile.

How strange that she had not noticed that before.

Regina absentmindedly tugged a lock of hair behind her ear. Now she couldn’t stop thinking about that smile. It had been a long time since she last had seen such a big, genuine, open smile.

God. What was the matter with her?

What business did she have thinking that much about Emma Swan’s smile?

Absolutely none.

Regina shook her head at her own foolishness and tried not to look at Emma’s smile when their Ferris wheel cabin came round one more time.

But it was impossible not to look.

Not when Emma was still wearing that big smile. She looked so incredibly happy.

That made Regina happy too. Happy about the invitation. Happy that Emma and Henry were getting along so well. It was wonderful to see.

After one last spin, Emma and Henry came back to the ground once more. Henry declared that it had been ‘awesome!’. And then he asked if he could have some popcorn.

Of course he could.

He happily munched on said popcorn while they watched the bonfire and following fireworks, and Regina couldn’t remember the last time she had enjoyed herself this much. Genuinely enjoyed herself. For once, she did not feel afraid. For once, she did not feel wrong or damaged. Oh, how she wished that she could feel like this all the time. This had to be the kind of ‘progress’ her therapist was talking about, right?

And Henry seemed much happier too. Less weighted down. Less worried. He had developed the habit of asking Regina how she felt. If she was tired if she needed anything. But he had not done that al all tonight. And Regina was happy to see that. Because he shouldn’t constantly be checking up on her. That was role reversal. Regina did not want the roles to be reversed. She was the mother. Henry was the child. That was how it was supposed to be. He should not be weighted down with concern for her.

She chose to believe that tonight marked something. For Henry. And herself. It had to be. It was like there was something in the air.

 

It was almost a shame when it became time for them to head home. Tonight had been really good, and Regina had a feeling that she would not have any nightmares tonight. She was tired. Wasn’t used to doing this much.

“Bye, Emma,” Henry said sweetly when they were standing near Regina’s Mercedes.

“Bye, kid,” Emma said, returning the smile tenfold.

Regina smiled too. Kid. She had a feeling that Henry would like that nickname.

“Thank you for trying the Ferris wheel with me,” Henry added politely, and Regina’s heart swelled with pride. That was her boy, alright!

“It was my pleasure, kid,” Emma grinned. “I hope you had fun tonight!”

“I did!” Henry said enthusiastically. “We both did. Right, mom?” he looked back at Regina.

Regina nodded in confirmation and gestured towards the car. The temperature had dropped, and she didn’t want him to get cold.

“Bye, Emma,” Henry said again. This time he stuck out his hand. So polite. So very-not-eager to leave yet.

Emma laughed as she shook his little hand once, and Regina got the impression that Emma was impressed at Henry’s display of politeness.

After one last smile, Henry obediently trotted towards the car. Climbed onto the backseat and slammed the door. Regina saw how he immediately dived down under the seat. Most likely to retrieve the Nintendo DS he kept there ‘for rainy days’. Him and his screen. Regina smiled slightly overbearingly. And then she turned her attention back to Emma.

“I’ve had a really good time tonight,” Emma said. She almost sounded a bit shy.

Regina nodded and hoped Emma would understand the silent words she formed with her lips.

“Me, too?” Emma guessed.

Exactly. Emma apparently had some talent when it came to lip-reading. Regina smiled to show that Emma was correct. Very correct. Regina had enjoyed herself more than she ever thought possible.

“He’s an awesome kid,” Emma continued as she glanced back towards the car.

Regina too looked back. Henry was happily engaged with his game and wearing a pair of headphones. He was indeed an awesome kid, and she couldn’t help but to bop her head up and down in enthusiasm.

“I’d love to hang out with him again sometimes,” Emma said and pushed a lock of golden hair behind her ear. “Do you think he’d want that?”

Why yes, of course. Regina had a feeling that Henry would absolutely love that. When they drove home, he probably would be delivering a full report on why Emma Swan was great company. Regina found her phone in her pocket and wrote a new message with fingers that were slightly stiff. ‘yes, I believe he’d enjoy that very much.’ Then she showed the message to Emma.

“Cool,” Emma grinned, tugging off her borrowed gloves and handing them to Regina. “Thanks for letting me borrow your gloves.”

Regina smiled and stuffed the gloves back in her pocket. Emma was wearing that smile again. That smile made it difficult to look away. But she knew she had to try. She tore her gaze away from Emma Swan’s smile and glanced back towards her car. She was starting to fade real quickly now. Wanted to go home and relax with a book. She should get going. They both should. Standing here was cold.

Regina offered a little nod and the briefest of touches to the top of Emma’s shoulder. Then she turned around and started walking towards the car. As nice as tonight had been, going home would be nice too. Zelena was probably going crazy waiting for her to get back. She would undoubtedly be asking a lot of questions, and Regina smiled at the thought. Henry was not the only one who would be giving a full report tonight.

“Wait!”

The outburst had Regina instantly freezing on the spot for a second. Then she turned around and raised an eyebrow at Emma. What was going on?

“I was just wondering...” Emma visibly blushed and did not finish the sentence.

Now Regina was really confused. She tilted her head. Exactly what was Emma wondering about?

“I was just wondering if you’d like to.... go out with me sometimes. You know... maybe have dinner?”

What?! Regina was sure her jaw dropped, and for a moment she was entirely incapable of responding. This time there was no doubt. Emma Swan was most certainly asking her out on a.... on a date.

Date.

The word alone had Regina’s stomach pulling tight with anxiety. She almost expected herself to double back to her car and drive away as fast as possible.

But it did not happen.

Strangely enough, she did not feel like bolting.

But she was undoubtedly intimidated by this. Dating.

A date.

So Zelena had been right after all. Emma Swan DID in fact want to date her.

Her.

The woman who couldn’t talk.

Regina was definitely surprised by this. Had not seen it coming at all. Didn’t know that Emma felt more for her than friendship.

Felt more.

God.

Emma had feelings for her. Otherwise she never would have asked her out.

Was Regina really ready for that?

The short answer was no. She was not.

But the longer answer was a bit more complicated.

Because there was something in Emma’s face.

Something so open and honest and hopeful that even the idea of saying no seemed terrible.

Emma Swan was a great person.

She really, truly was.

And that smile.

That damned smile of hers.

And Regina had made a decision about being brave.

But a date. A DATE.

Such a dangerous word.

Regina felt anxious.

Her hands curled into fists.

“Nothing fancy,” Emma amended, gaze flickering. “I was just thinking maybe that Italian place on Main Street? Tony’s?”

Regina bit her bottom lip. It hurt.

Date.

DATE.

Regina couldn’t remember what that was like.

The memory of going to a restaurant without being afraid of accidentally making eye contact with a waiter or something. That had often gotten her in trouble with Killian.

She hadn’t been on a good date for a long, long time.

What if the whole experience would be terribly triggering for her? What if she would end up getting a panic attack?

Perhaps it would be better to shake her head no. Come up with an excuse.

But there was Emma Swan’s open, vulnerable face again. The lights in her green eyes had gone out, and she was anxiously scuffing the noses of her boots on the pavement. She was expecting to be rejected. She was expecting Regina to turn her down.

Emma Swan was not used to anybody saying yes to her.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, gaze dropping to the ground “I was just thinking...”

Regina made a quick decision. She interrupted Emma’s sentence by grabbing her phone. Typed in the shortest of questions (‘when?’) and then turned the screen towards Emma.

Because she liked Emma.

Because Emma was a good person.

Because Emma’s smile made Regina feel a flicker of something she thought was impossible.

The emotions were not overwhelming in any way.

Just the slightest whisper of something Regina thought was long gone.

The faintest little.... something.

Something that maybe, perhaps could grow into something that was more than something. If allowed to. If she gave it time. Nurtured it and allowed it to grow.

And Regina wanted to be brave. Wanted to do something good to herself.

And saying yes to going out with Emma seemed like a very good thing to do for herself.

Because Emma’s smile had ignited something.

A tiny, barely there flame.

But still more than that.

A.... A hope.

“Next Saturday? Seven o’clock?” Emma suggested, and Regina could hear the optimism return to her voice.

Regina slipped her phone back inside her pocket. And then she nodded once.

“Yeah?” Emma asked. Now definitely hopeful.

Regina nodded again and even managed to flash Emma a little smile.

“Awesome!” Emma grinned. “I’ll really look forward to that!”

Her unbridled joy was contagious. That smile again. That smile that made her green eyes light up and her cheeks glow.

How could anyone have such a pretty smile?

Did Emma know how pretty her smile was?

Regina returned the smile. Formed the words ‘me, too’ and then tugged her hair behind ear. A date. She had a date. For the first time in over a year. She could not believe that this was happening, and she was starting to feel really tired. She so easily got overwhelmed, and she couldn’t help but glancing towards her car again.

“I’ll... text you tomorrow?”

Regina nodded again. Offered Emma a smile. A slight wave. And then she turned around and walked towards her car.

This time, Emma did not stop her, and Regina elegantly climbed onto the driver’s seat and closed the door behind her.

“Are we going now?” Henry piped up from the backseat.

Regina nodded distractedly as she found her phone once more. She was barely paying attention as she quickly wrote a text to Zelena: ‘We’ll be driving home now. We had a great time. And you were right about Emma.’ Emma’s smile was still dancing in her mind.

The answer came swiftly. Zelena was clearly close to her phone. ‘What do you mean??’

Regina texted back. ‘She asked me out.’

Of course the response came even before she had turned the key in the ignition. ‘Oh my god, are you serious?! She did?! What did you say???’

‘I said yes.’

Regina did not feel any regret about the quick decision. She was actually... looking a bit forward to the date with Emma Swan.

Her phone vibrated again, and Regina checked the message. ‘Oh. My. God. Please tell me you’ll stay up for a while when you get home!’

Regina smiled. She knew what that meant. Sister-talk. Another thing to look forward to.

And a date with Emma Swan. As intimidating as that sounded for someone like her, she wasn’t able to focus on the ‘scary’ parts right now.

She could only think about Emma Swan’s smile..

Emma Swan’s beautiful, beautiful smile that made her feel something that was not fear......

 

To Be Continued.........

Chapter Text

Date.

The one little word echoed in Regina’s head as she drove back from Steveston.

Date.

Date.

Emma Swan had asked her out on a DATE.

Regina felt stunned and a tad naïve because she clearly had missed all the signs of interest coming from Emma.

She had missed all the signs because she had not looked for them. She had thought that Emma merely wanted to be friends.

But Regina did not feel betrayed in anyway. Nor did she feel like Emma Swan had invited her for coffee and to the Harvest Festival because she had an ulterior motive. There was nothing ulterior about asking her on a date. As for inviting Henry along to the Harvest Festival... Well, Regina merely found that to be sweet.

Emma Swan was sweet.

Emma Swan had a great smile.

A really great smile.

And lovely golden hair.

The few women Regina had dated in her time had been blonde, so she supposed she had a certain type.

But it was not just the color of Emma Swan’s hair that had prompted her to say yes to a date. It was Emma’s openness. Those big, honest smiles she had been giving Regina all night. Emma Swan didn’t strike her as the type who had a hidden agenda or an ulterior motive.

Regina liked Emma. Perhaps she had not known her for very long, but she could tell that she was a lovely person. And the fact that she had made such a genuine effort to get to know Henry... Well, that was more than most people would do.

Having a child often made potential dates back out.

But Emma Swan had not.

That meant something.

As she adjusted the mirror, Regina wondered what her therapist would say about this. Would she think that it was too soon? Despite not knowing, Regina found herself getting a little defensive. Surely, it was up to HER and not her therapist to decide whether it was too soon for her to date or not, right?

And her therapist had made a point of continuously telling Regina that she should do things that made her happy. That was what her new life was all about. Doing things that made her happy.

Going out for dinner with Emma would make her happy. Regina could feel that. Once the anxiety over the surprise date suggestion had dialed down, she had felt something else. Joy.

Of course, she was still anxious. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been on a good date. A date where she didn’t have to worry about looking too long at a waiter or waitress. A date where her shoulders had been super tight upon returning home because she had been tensing so much throughout the ‘date’. She was anxious about getting flashbacks.

But she knew that her date with Emma Swan would not be like those so-called ‘dates’ she’d had with Killian.

Emma was different.

Emma was not interested in hurting her.

This was a good thing.

She had been looking for a fresh start, and here was a nice woman who was interested in dating her. A woman who knew nothing of her past. A woman who thought that her voice was gone due to an accident. A woman who did not care that she couldn’t speak. A woman who did not pity her in the slightest. Emma Swan had treated her exactly like she would treat anybody else, and Regina had felt so gloriously normal in her company. More herself than before. Just Regina and not Regina 2.0. This was the freshest start she could possibly have asked her. And it was not pity who had prompted her to say yes to a date with Emma Swan. No, Regina did in fact genuinely like Emma. She liked her kindness. Her ability to go with the flow. And the strength Regina suspected the younger woman possessed. With the past she’d had, Emma Swan was bound to possess some strength.

Regina adjusted the mirror again, and while waiting for the light signal to turn green, she smiled at Henry in the mirror. He had taken off his headphones and was now trying to hide a yawn behind his hand. It had been a while since he had been out of the house so long. He was tired. And so was Regina. But the headache that normally accompanied the fatigue did not come, and Regina allowed herself to feel a bit optimistic. Perhaps she wouldn’t even get a headache tonight. Maybe she would in fact be able to go to bed without having taken an aspirin. That would be great. Regina wasn’t too keen on keep on taking so many pills. It wasn’t good for her. Which reminded her of what her doctor had said. That she could start to gradually take a smaller dose of the painkillers. It would undoubtedly be hard, weaning herself off the medicine, but Regina did not want to take painkillers for the rest of her life. She did not want it to turn into an addiction. The wound of her throat was healing up nicely, so really, there was no reason as to why she should not start to take smaller doses of the medicine. It was another step towards ‘better’.

“Did you have a nice time tonight?” Henry asked and interrupted her train of thoughts.

Regina nodded in confirmation and flashed her son an affirming smile. And an honest one too. She did have a really nice time tonight.

“Me, too,” Henry said, grinning. “Emma’s really nice.”

Another nod. Yes, Emma was nice.

“I like her,” Henry continued and gave Regina a look of curiosity in the mirror. “Do you like her too, mom?”

Regina tilted her head. What? Did her son have a sixth sense now? Was there any way that he could possibly know that Emma had asked her on a date? Had the car window been open? Had they been standing too close to the car? Had he heard what Emma said?

But deep down Regina knew that he had not. He had been wearing headphones for goodness’ sake. He just had a really good intuition. He always had. Even as a baby, Henry had been a sensitive child. When he was only a couple of months old and Regina had been sad about the loss of her father, tiny Henry had suddenly pressed a palm against her cheek in a manner that could only be perceived as soothing. He had been trying to comfort her.

Remembering that she owed her son an answer, Regina nodded.

“Do you like her a lot?” Henry asked casually.

He of course knew that she was bisexual. That was no dirty little secret or something to be ashamed of. They’d had a whole conversation about that when he was seven and had stumbled upon a picture of a teenage version of Regina and Malena kissing each other. He had toddled over to Regina with the picture held tight in his little hand and asked questions about why ‘mommy is kissing auntie Mal’.

Regina had calmly told him that she and Mal used to be ‘girlfriends’ and that ‘mommy falls in love with both boys and girls’. They’d had a whole talk about how it was okay for boys to fall in love with other boys. And okay for girls to fall in love with other girls. And that it was okay to fall in love with both too. Henry had been a little surprised because he had no idea that it was possible to fall in love with both. He’d asked a couple of more questions, including whether Regina was still kissing auntie Mal (the answer had been no), but after that, nothing. He didn’t care whether she kissed boys or girls. As long as she was happy.

Oh how wonderfully simple.

“Mom?”

Regina’s head snapped up. Oh. She had been getting lost in her own head again.

“Do you like her a lot?” Henry calmly repeated.

A lot. Regina tasted the word as though it was foreign food. Was she even capable of liking someone ‘a lot’? She wasn’t so sure about that. She wasn’t sure if anything or anyone could make her heart beat in that special way it once had.

But she did like Emma.

She really did.

And if she could grow to like ANYONE a lot, Emma was a very good possibility.

Kind Emma Swan.

Open Emma Swan.

Emma Swan with the nice smile and the brilliant, golden hair.

Yes.

If Regina once upon a time would be capable of liking anyone ‘a lot’, it surely would have to be Emma Swan.

But it was much too complicated explaining to Henry how her heart laid shattered somewhere in the pit of her chest and only barely functioned.

He would never understand.

Regina didn’t WANT him to understand.

No child should understand what she had been through.

What she still was going through in this very moment.

So she settled for a slight nod and a faint smile.

“Do you think I’ll see her again?” Henry asked eagerly. “I wanna talk more about her fairytales!”

Regina’s smile was more genuine now. Perhaps that was what the two of them had talked about in the Ferris wheel. Emma’s fairytales. It could be nice if Emma and Henry could spend more time together. Emma had made Henry smile a lot tonight. And she had made Regina smile too.

Perhaps that was just the kind of effect Emma had on people. Maybe she just instantly made them feel relaxed and calm. Regina’s shoulders certainly had not bunched at all tonight. She had not tensed anywhere at all. A completely new feeling. She had become to accustomed to feel tense somewhere in her body, and it felt completely foreign to be so relaxed tonight.

Another brilliant reason to go out with Emma Swan.

Now Regina just had to remember how one acted on a date. How one smiled without it seemed forced. How one did not have to be nervous about making eye contact with one of the waiters.
Really, a dinner was not much different than a coffee appointment. It would still just be the two of them. And a bunch of post-its. There would be nothing awkward about it. Right?

Regina bit her bottom lip. Willed herself not to be worried. It would be fine. It was just a dinner. With a nice woman. She could do dinner with a nice woman without freaking out...

 

Henry looked beyond tired when they finally arrived in the driveway. He nearly stumbled as he exited the car, and Regina rumbled with silent laughter as she took his hand to support him. Together they walked through the gravel in the driveway, and Henry erupted in a massive yawn when he opened the front door.

Regina completely shared her son’s feelings. She too was tired. She was not used to being up this late. Tonight had been a long night. And an unexpected night too.

“Hi, aunt Z,” Henry sleepily called as he shrugged off his coat and scarf and toed off his shoes.

“Hey, Hen,” Zelena returned the greeting as she came into the hallway. Her green eyes were gleaming, and Regina could just see that her older sister was itching to ask her questions. But she was wise enough to wait with the questions until Henry was gone. Instead she asked: “did you have a great time tonight, Henry?”

“Yes!” Henry beamed. “And so did mom. Right, mom?”

Regina nodded in affirmative. It had been a very good night. Now she was a bit tired, but in a comfortable manner. And there was not a trace of headache to be found. She felt oddly up for sister-talk with Zelena. As Henry chitchatted with her aunt, Regina took the opportunity to crouch down and unzip the high heeled boots she had been wearing tonight. Her coat followed suit, and she delicately brushed a hand over her blazer which looked a bit crumbled after having been hidden away under a coat all night. Last thing she did was to unfasten the scarf. It had made her neck itch slightly, but she reminded herself that she could not scratch. That would only make the wound on her throat pull tight and hurt. And obviously, she was not interested in that. Definitely not.

“-And then she went into the Ferris wheel with me, and that was so awesome, aunt Z! She’s really nice and-“

Henry was babbling. He clearly had too much sugar and greasy food tonight. But Regina still smiled and found it to be pleasant. She would not trade that sparkle in his eyes for anything. Nor the high pitched squeak in his voice as he gradually got more and more enthusiastic.

“Wow,” Zelena said, smiling widely at her nephew. “That sounds really nice, Hen. So you like Emma, huh?”

Regina squinted at her sister. She was clearly fishing. It was painfully obvious. But it was way too soon to be fishing.

It was just a casual dinner at a laid back restaurant. Nothing fancy.

Emma had said so herself.

Regina could do a casual dinner at a laid back restaurant.

“Yeah, she’s really great!” Henry chirped. “She’s so smart and knows lots about fairytales! And she’s really funny too! Right, mom?”

Regina nodded. Yes. Emma Swan had made her smile several times tonight. Which was actually somewhat of an accomplishment.

“How wonderful,” Zelena said, and now there was definitely something else in her voice. Something that only adults like Regina could trace. There was something in her eyes too. Something that went above young Henry’s attention, but Regina had absolutely no problem with deciphering it.

She reached out and put a hand on Henry’s shoulder. A well known signal.

“Can’t I stay up a little longer?” Henry asked immediately. “Just five minutes. Please?”

But Regina shook her head. Perhaps it was Sunday tomorrow, but it was still getting late, and she did not want him to sleep the day away tomorrow. She had plans for them tomorrow. Plans that involved a snowman.

Henry pouted rather dramatically. But Regina could see the spark of mischief in his eyes. He wasn’t all that upset about being sent to bed. “Ooooookayyyy,” he said.

Regina lifted her hands and wiggled them in the air. Did her best to sign: ‘be a good boy and put your pajamas on.’, but she was fairly certain that she messed up a few signs. Oops. Perhaps she was too tired to sign.

“You’ll come and tuck me in, right?” Henry asked. He always did. Always wanted to be sure.

And of course Regina nodded in affirmative. She would indeed come upstairs to tuck him in. No doubt about that. He did not need to check. Tucking him in every night was a given.

“Okay.” Henry turned to Zelena and gave her a big hug. “Goodnight, aunt Z!”

“’Night, Hen,” Zelena chuckled as she ruffled his hair. “Sleep well. And don’t wake up too early tomorrow, okay?”

“I’ll sleep until eleven,” Henry vowed and grinned. Because he never slept until eleven. He was a natural early riser. Exactly like Regina was. Or had been. Before ‘it’ happened. She had been prone to sleeping in. But she was trying to turn it around and get up a little earlier.

“That’s my nephew,” Zelena joked as he hugged him one more time. “Hurry upstairs, go-go-go!”

He didn’t need to be told twice. In a matter of seconds, he barreled upstairs and sounded more like a horde of elephants rather than one little boy.

Regina scowled at her sister. She should not be encouraging him to run up the stairs.

“Sorry, sis,” Zelena half-chuckled. “My bad. Anyway.” She clapped her hands. “I’ve happened to open a bottle of wine? Would you like a small glass?”

Regina nodded eagerly. Oh yes, she would like some wine! She wasn’t driving anywhere, so it was quite safe.

“Come, come, come!” Zelena said eagerly, putting a hand on the top of Regina’s shoulder to guide her inside the living room.

Regina found herself making a slight rumbling sound at that. Zelena was undoubtedly eager to hear about the evening, and even though Regina would have liked to go upstairs and change into a pair of sweatpants, she still chose to go into the living room with Zelena. There was no reason to drag this out.

Both of them slumped down on the couch. Zelena instantly grabbed her glass of wine and took a sip, and Regina tugged her legs up under her to just be a fraction more comfortable. Then she reached for her own glass of wine and took a sip. Mmm. Perfect. Sweet and crispy. This was definitely another thing she was starting to enjoy more.

“So?” Zelena asked. She was clearly trying to sound casual, but the eagerness seeped right through, and Regina found it to be mighty entertaining. “Wanna tell me about tonight?”

Regina nodded. Sat her glass of wine down and let her fingers dance in the air. ‘Yes, Henry and I had a very nice evening. The Harvest Festival was exactly as I remember it Henry had a corndog, and Emma and I had a pumpkin spice. And I even had pie.’

“That sounds really nice,” Zelena said warmly. “And Emma and Henry got along from what I could hear?”

Regina nodded again. That was to put it lightly. She lifted her hands again and did her best not to get the signs wrong. ‘Oh yes. Henry fell head over heels for her.’

“How wonderful. He seemed completely high on sugar, the little guy.”

Regina’s chest made another rumbling sound. Henry was most definitely high on sugar. She should not have let him eat that slice of chocolate pie.

“Was it okay being out amongst the crowd?” Zelena asked between sips of wine.

The corners of Regina’s lips turned upwards. It was actually very okay being out. She had barely noticed the large crowd of people. She had been so busy having fun with Henry and Emma. It had seemed so natural to walk around with them and let Henry translate for her. The three of them had been in a right little bubble all evening.

“And.. Emma?” Zelena asked. Her voice was nonchalant, but her green eyes sparkled. “Can I ask about Emma?”

Regina shrugged to indicate ‘sure’.

“So, she asked you out,” Zelena began, nonchalantly flicking a lock of red hair behind her ear.

Regina nodded.

“And you said yes.”

Regina nodded again. Indeed she did.

“You like her then,” Zelena concluded with a little smile. “I had no idea, sis.”

To her annoyance, Regina felt a slight blush rise in her cheeks, and she quickly took a sip of her wine to buy herself some time. But Zelena kept looking at her. Waiting for an answer. Regina sat the glass of wine down again and let her fingers wiggle once more as she formed a longer and more complicated sentence: ‘she’s a nice person. She really is. Very kind and considerate. And she was great with Henry. I could tell that she was nervous about him being there at first, but she did a fantastic job. And when she stood there and asked me out, she was so nervous, I could tell. And she looked like I had already said no. I don’t think she’s used to people saying yes to her.’ Regina had the feeling that nothing ever had come easy to Emma Swan.

“I see,” Zelena said, nodding a little as she frowned slightly and pushed a lock of curly red hair behind her ear. “But sweetie, you shouldn’t say yes just because you feel sorry for her. I don’t want you to feel pushed into doing something you’re not ready for.”

No. That was not how things were. Regina shook her head. Emma Swan had not pushed her into doing anything. She had given her every opportunity to say no. She had EXPECTED Regina to say no. And even though Regina had been both surprised and intimidated by the idea of a date, saying no hadn’t really crossed her mind.

She signed once more although she was getting a little tired of it. ‘I like her. I really do.’ For a moment, she felt tempted to add how pretty a smile Emma Swan had, and how much her green eyes sparkled. How her entire face just lit up whenever she smiled, but she figured that would be a bit much, so she chose to hold this information back. She had already given Zelena plenty of information.

“Oh,” Zelena was smiling now. “That’s great. I’m very happy for you.” She shifted on the couch, smile fading slightly. “But I must admit that I’m also a bit worried.”

Regina nodded, making sure to keep a smile on her face. That was okay. Zelena worrying about her was okay.

“I mean, I am not worried about her,” Zelena quickly clarified. “She gave me nothing but good vibes when I met her. I think I’m more worried about the dating thing itself. It’s a big step, and you’ve been through... so much.”

Regina reached out and patted Zelena’s hand gently. Dating was a big step. A very big step. She completely understood where Zelena was coming from.

“I just want to make sure that you’re ready for it,” Zelena said gently. “That you don’t feel pressured into doing something.”

Regina allowed her sisters words to sink in for a moment. She took a sip of her glass of wine and checked herself. Did she feel pressured into doing this?

No. She did not.

She was not certain of how 'ready' she was. If she followed her old plan, she would wall herself off completely in Zelena's house and only ever go out when she had to pick up her son from school.

But that was not healthy.

She could not hide herself away for the rest of her life.

If she did so, she would never be ready for anything.

Sometimes you just had to take a risk and get out of your comfort zone.

Regina still wanted to be that person. The person who took risks and did 'things'.

She was worthy of this.

She was worthy of being asked out on a date with a beautiful woman.

She DESERVED to be asked out on a date with a beautiful woman.

After having swallowed the mouthful of wine, Regina began signing again: ‘I want to give this a chance. I want to do things that makes me happy, and this does. Being in her company makes me happy. She’s a complete breath of fresh air, and I feel like I can be myself around her. She did not know me before. She only knows this version of me, and she does not walk around on eggshells around me, and in a way that’s very refreshing.’

“I understand that,” Zelena said softly, the hairbun bopping slightly as she nodded. “You want to be treated ‘normally’. I know I’m bad when it comes to walking around on eggshells...”

Regina shook her head and quickly signed: ‘I don’t blame you for that. You almost lost me.’

“I did,” Zelena acknowledged, gaze flickering slightly. “And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that. A small part of me will always be worrying about you.” She shifted on the couch and gave Regina’s hand a little squeeze. “But of course I want you to move on and all that.” Another squeeze to Regina’s hand. “Though on one hand I’d love for you to keep living here until we’re old and gray so we could have wine and sister-talk every Saturday night...” She chuckled and Regina’s chest rumbled in silent amusement.

“But in all seriousness, I have to get better at getting used to the idea of you and Henry moving out at some point,” Zelena continued.

Regina nodded. Yes, that would be nice. She wasn’t particularly brave when it came to moving out, and Zelena’s very obvious apprehension did nothing to stiffen her confidence.

“Alright, alright. I’ll try,” Zelena assured, nose scrunching slightly. “But I think we were talking about Emma, weren’t we?”

They were. Regina nodded.

“I understand why you appreciate how normally she treats you, sis,” Zelena said carefully. “And I know why you chose to go with the car-accident explanation...”

Regina instantly felt herself stiffen, and if it hadn’t been for Zelena’s hand squeezing hers reassuringly, she probably would have excused herself.

“But suppose the two of you grow close?” Zelena continued, voice still gentle and soft. “Don’t you think there will be a point where Emma has to know what really happened?”

Regina’s shoulders crawled up towards her ears. She had not thought about that. But now she had to. Suppose she and Emma really did grow close? What if their one date turned into a relationship of sorts?

She could not start a relationship with a lie, could she?

It was bad enough that she was already lying to her son.

And what about all the other things that came with a relationship?

Like kissing.

And the... physical stuff.

Regina’s body instantly locked up, and she felt a flare of pain in her abdomen. She was not ready to think about that. Not yet. It was just one date.

“Mom? Are you coming?”

Saved by the bell.

Regina downed the last of her wine in one go and quickly rose from the couch. She gave the coffee table a light tap to let Henry know that she had heard him.

She walked upstairs and did her best to push the thoughts about dating and all the things that came with it, away.

Henry waited for her at the top of the stairs, and Regina really appreciated that. She still felt a little strange about staircases. Kept seeing herself running up the stairs in the house in Montreal. She hoped those damn flashbacks would soon disappear. It was just a stupid staircase, got damnit.

Henry was in his checkered pajamas and seemed to have calmed down a little. The effect of the sugar had finally fizzled out, and now he looked exactly like a tired little boy who needed to sleep.

Hand in hand they walked inside his bedroom, and Henry climbed under the covers. Yawned loudly before sleepily proclaiming: “I really like Emma. She’s nice.”

Okay, that was the second time he said that tonight. Either he was getting really tired and had forgotten that he’d already said it, or he could for some reason sense that something was going on.

Regina settled for flashing her boy a smile as she perched herself on his bedside. He settled in and pulled the covers up to his chin. Regina started to gently stroke his hair in that manner she had done ever since he was a very small boy.

“I would really like to see her again,” Henry sleepily continued. “She was so much fun. Don’t you think so, mom?”

Regina nodded. Indeed. Emma was very fun. Had a decent sense of humor. One of the things Regina appreciated about her company.

“What are we gonna do tomorrow?” Henry yawned. “Do we have any plans?”

Regina wiggled her fingers and let them flutter downwards to make the sign for ‘snow man’.

And luckily, Henry understood. “Awesome,” he grinned. “Can we have cocoa afterwards then? I mean, it’s pretty cold being outside...”

How clever of him. Regina tapped his forehead to tell him just that, and earned herself another sleepy grin. She went back to gently stroking his forehead in an attempt to make her chatty little boy fall asleep.

“You know what?” Henry mumbled. “I don’t think I’ll have any nightmares tonight.”

That was the best possible thing. Regina had a feeling that she herself wouldn’t experience any nightmares either.

Because tonight had been a good night. Tonight she had felt more relaxed than she had in a long, long time.

Once certain that he was asleep, and once she had changed into a pair of soft sweatpants and a hoodie, Regina returned downstairs to the living room. Zelena was still sitting on the couch, and Regina wasted no time in walking over to her and signing: ‘is there anymore wine left?’

“Yes!” Zelena said, pleasantly surprised. “Sit down, little sis.”

Regina plopped down on the couch and let Zelena pour her a glass of wine. She had decided that she would not be spending the time worrying. Instead she chose to look forward to her date with Emma Swan. She was certain it was gonna be a pleasant evening. Not much different from their coffee-appointments, really. The only difference would be lit candles on the tables. And perhaps a nice dress.

Yes. Regina wanted to wear a dress. That was a normal thing to wear on a date. And honestly, she had been a little tired of wearing slacks all the time.

Oh. Great sign. Wanting to wear dresses rather than fearing them was good. Regina made a mental note to tell her therapist about it. Any little progress was good.

“You look happy tonight,” Zelena observed as she lifted her glass of wine.

Regina smiled a little. She supposed she was. Happy. As happy as she could get, anyway. She certainly was relaxed, and that was pretty much all she could ask for. She’d just enjoyed a very successful night out with a friend and her son. And then said friend had asked her out on a date. Unexpected, but not a bad thing. No. Regina could look herself in the eye and tell herself that she was looking forward to her date with Emma without lying.

It had been quite a while since Regina had been looking forward to anything.

Another foreign feeling.

She would tell her therapist about this.

She would tell her therapist about Emma Swan.

Regina mulled over it as she sipped her glass of wine. She had been convinced that nobody would be interested in her. And more so, she had convinced herself that she would not be interested in anybody.

But now...

As she sat here and sipped her wine, she could not stop thinking about Emma Swan’s pretty smile.

Her golden hair.

The way she had been calling Henry ‘kid’ and been so great with him.

But mainly her smile.

God, Emma Swan had such a pretty smile!

“What are you thinking about?” Zelena asked and tilted her head slightly. Curious.

Regina settled for shaking her head mysteriously and lifting her glass of wine.

“Alright, alright. Keep your secrets,” Zelena chuckled. “Cheers, sis!”

They toasted in wine, and Regina fully appreciated the taste.

 

When she went to bed a few hours later, she was not exactly drunk, but not really sober either. She was pleasantly bussed and in quite the good mood.

She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, and for once, she had no nightmares. Instead she dreamed of Ferris wheels and slices of pies with whipped cream. And strands of golden hair blowing gently in the wind.....

 

********

 

She was still in a good mood when she woke up the next morning. Had no desire to stay longer in bed than usually. She got out of bed, took a quick, warm shower and dressed warmly. Then she woke up Henry. He was a sleepy boy this morning, but when she reminded him of their snow man plan, he perked up and promised that he would be downstairs in five minutes.

Meanwhile, Regina went downstairs on her own and took a peek inside their cupboards. What to make for breakfast? She found a box of pancake mix. Normally, she wasn’t too keen on things coming from a box, but it was Sunday. She wasn’t really in the mood for whipping out the big frying pan, so to speak.

Something out of a box would have to do for today.

And Henry happened to love these fat, fluffy pancakes.

Once that had been decided, Regina grabbed her phone and typed in a message for Emma Swan. ‘Thank you for last night. Henry and I had a wonderful time. He hasn’t stopped talking about the Ferris wheel since. In fact he had trouble going to sleep because he was so happy and excited. And dozed up on greasy, sugary food.’ She sent the text and realized that she should have texted Emma Swan last night. And she had meant to. But all her good intentions had disappeared in the wine she had consumed with Zelena.

A couple of minutes passed and then her phone buzzed. Regina swiftly checked the message: ‘I had an awesome time too last night! And let’s be honest, having trouble sleeping because of excitement and an overdose of greasy food is better than having trouble sleeping because of night terrors, am I right?’

Regina grinned. Grinned. That word again. ‘Awesome’. ‘Indeed so. Last night was delightfully free of night terrors. I believe that’s your doing, so thank you for having made his night a bit more peaceful.’

Who was she kidding, Emma Swan was most DEFINITELY responsible for Henry’s peaceful sleep. And to some degree, Regina’s too.

‘No need to thank me. I’m just happy he had such a good time last night. He’s a very sweet kid.’

Upon reading that message, the last bit of doubt was evaporated from Regina’s mind. Henry and Emma Swan most certainly had to hang out again.

‘That we can only agree on.’

That seemed like a good way to conclude the conversation. For now. But Regina suspected that there would be plenty of more texting until next Saturday.

Henry came downstairs wearing his thickest pair of pants and not one, not two, but three pairs of shirts. A thick sweatshirt, AND a fleece jacket on top of that.

Regina suffocated her amusement. Well. He had certainly taken the whole ‘dress warmly’ thing seriously.

“I’m ready!” Henry proudly declared.

Yes. Regina could see that.

Henry glanced down at himself and then frowned slightly. “We’re going outside before breakfast, right?”

Well. They certainly would be now. Regina doubted that he wouldn’t even be capable of sitting down in all that clothes. She nodded and gestured at him to come forward, and together they walked into the hall. Where Henry put on another coat. And a hat. And thick gloves. AND his scarf. By the time he was done, he looked completely overstuffed. Like if he had been a little snowman. When Regina signed that to him, he of course did his best imitating Olaf’s voice, and Regina rumbled with silent laughter. Henry laughed along with her. He didn’t find the sound to be remotely scary.

They actually managed to build a rather impressive snowman. One that of course happened to look like Olaf. And when Henry turned his back to her, Regina could not resist scooping up a handful of snow and throwing it at him.

Henry of course reacted to that. He threw a handful of snow at her, and soon it turned into a rather epic snowball fight between mother and son. Henry laughed his head off and squealed in protest when Regina managed to knock him over and into the snow.

“No, mom!” he cried. “That’s creating!”

“It was. She would be the first one to admit that. But she didn’t care. She just smirked as she washed his face with snow.

He of course ‘returned the favor’, and if Regina had been capable of laughing, she surely would have. Now she had to settle for letting her chest rumble. And revel in the wonderful feeling.

She felt so good this morning.

So happy as she tumbled around in the snow with her little snow man.

If only this feeling would last...

 

 

Time went fast.

Regina had kept herself wonderfully busy over the last week. She had read an almost indecent amount of books. Had done something serious about the house hunting. Gone as far as getting herself and Henry written up for an apartment. It wouldn’t be available until in six months, and she saw that as both a blessing and curse.

And then perhaps the most important thing of all had happened.

She had been offered a job opportunity. One of her old colleagues suddenly reached out to her and told her that there was a job that would be right up her street.

A teaching job. Online classes in literature at the University of British Columbia. She would be in charge of deciding the subjects, set up the modules and help the students via electronic correspondence.

The offer had taken her completely by surprise, and Regina had no idea whether she would say yes to the offer. It was overwhelming.

She had thought that she would spend the rest of her life doing some kind of small job she didn’t really enjoy but could manage with her ‘condition’.

She had never expected to return to her old field.

And now she was sort of scared to say yes.

Maybe she wouldn’t.

Maybe she would say no.

She hadn’t decided yet.

 

And suddenly it was the night before her date with Emma.

Regina had no idea where the time had gone, but there was little she could do about it.

She was not as nervous as she had expected herself to be.

Perhaps she would be tomorrow night, but as of right now, she was feeling rather good about her upcoming date with Emma Swan.

She had even gone over what she would be wearing.

And she felt excited.

Genuinely excited.

Perhaps that feeling wouldn’t last either, but she would be enjoying it for as long as it did.

And tomorrow night she would go out on a date with a sweet woman.

A job offer.

A new apartment to move into in six months’ time.

Things were going pretty good as of right now.

Perhaps it was a dangerous thing to be optimistic, but Regina could not help it. Her life was going rather well at the moment. Many things were working out for her. And she was looking ahead to most of them. Her therapist would be proud of her.

And frankly, Regina was fairly proud of herself too.

 

To Be Continued...........

Chapter Text

Anxiety.

Regina has experienced it a thousand times.

Anxiety over certain clothes.

Anxiety over walking up the stairs.

Anxiety over stepping into the world again.

There were so many things to be afraid of.

But sometimes anxiety wasn’t just fear and your belly pinching and your shoulders bunching.

Sometimes anxiety was butterflies flittering about in your belly. Sometimes anxiety was of the good kind.

Regina’s stomach was indeed full of butterflies. And now she stood here in front of the mirror and tried to get used to this good kind of anxiety. She sucked in her cheeks and studied her reflection. Her hair was soft and smooth. Her lips had been painted red. Her eyes had been lined and looked darker than they actually were. She had done a decent job at doing an appropriate ‘date-makeup.

She had chosen a nice dress too. A classic black dress with little tulip sleeves and a belt with a gold buckle that accentuated her waistline. The dress ended just a little above her knees, and even though there wasn’t even the barest hint of cleavage, it was without a doubt the most daring dress Regina had worn in a long, long time.

But she looked good. Regina fluffed up her hair and adjusted the belt around her waist. She could not remember the last time she had worn this dress. Or any dress, really. And she was baffled that she wasn’t feeling anxious over wearing this dress. Feeling pretty was a rarity for Regina, but tonight she did. Tonight she felt like a sliver of her old self had come back.

If only her throat would stop hurting. It had started early this afternoon and then gradually worsened. Regina had taken a muscle relaxer a few hours ago, and she would take one more tonight if she had to.

Because nothing was going to prevent her from going on a date with Emma Swan.

Regina walked over to her closet and found a cream colored scarf. Returned to the mirror so she could see what she was doing. She tied it in an elegant bow around her neck, careful not make the fabric rub against her throat. There. Now she looked very nice. Ready to go out. Ready for her date.

Date.

God, Regina still couldn’t believe it. That she was going out on a date. That a nice, sweet woman who could have whoever she wanted, had asked HER out.

She fluffed up her hair one more time. Smiled encouragingly at her own reflection. Smiling. That was a new thing too. Regina could not remember the last time she had been smiling this much. She almost felt.... silly. God, how ridiculous. When was the last time she had been silly? When was the last time she had been excited about something?

Regina shook her head slightly at the way her cheeks seemed to be glowing. It was odd, seeing herself like that. There was a hint of someone younger in her eyes. Something who was more optimistic.

Regina remembered that girl.

She remembered herself as a silly sixteen year old. Of course she remembered. But it had been a long, long time since she last had seen that girl.

Had the girl come to stay?

Regina hoped so.

But that was enough pondering for one night.

She turned her back on the puzzling reflection and left the bedroom.

Her high heels clacked against the floor as she walked down the hallway, and Regina felt very satisfied upon hearing the sound. That sound reminded her of old times. Of herself walking down the corridor at the university, on her way to teach her next class.

But she was not on her way to teach her next class.

She was on her way out.

On a date.

At some point she HAD to wrap her head around it.

And preferably before she met Emma tonight.

She made it downstairs and went into the kitchen where she poured herself a glass of water. Perhaps that would help soothing her throat a little. Why did it have to act up tonight? It was so annoying.

Regina hoped that this would not turn into one of those nights where the pain kept her awake for hours and hours. She did not want her night to end like that.

But swallowing hurt tonight.

It really did.

Damnit.

Regina made a face as she gobbled down another mouthful of water. So she would have to settle for soup tonight. Very well. She supposed she could live with that. Since it couldn’t be any different.

As long as she was able to go tonight.

That was the most important thing.

Regina opened her purse and took a look inside. Car keys. Money. Medicine. Lipstick. She had everything she needed. Good.

“Look at you.”

Regina turned around and was greeted by her sister. Zelena was in casual sweatpants, red hair piled up on her head in a messy bun and her laptop wedged under her arm. She was clearly on her way into the office to do some work. Henry was upstairs in his room, highly engaged in some game on his computer. Regina had heard him talk to Nick through his headset when she went in there earlier to check up on him. And make sure that he was not playing anything that was too violent. He was not. He had never been one for violent computer games.

“You look great,” Zelena continued, smiling.

Regina bowed her head in gratitude. She did look pretty decent tonight.

“You’re gonna blow Emma’s mind, I’m sure,” Zelena said jokingly.

Regina tilted her head to the side as she considered it. Did she want to blow Emma’s mind?

Well. She was mainly dressing up for her own sake. Because she for once had felt like wearing a dress.

But she supposed that there was a small part of her that wanted to impress Emma. To ‘blow her mind’.

How fascinating.

Regina smiled at her sister. That would have to be answer enough for now.

“Are you nervous about tonight?” Zelena asked. And the nonchalance in her voice was most definitely forced.

Regina lifted a hand and let it move back and forward in the air in a ‘so-so’-manner. She supposed she was a bit nervous about tonight. A date was such a big thing. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been on a date. And a date with a woman no less. That had definitely been a while.

Regina took another sip of her water and tried not to wince at the way it passed through her throat. That hurt. Damnit. She was used to experiencing these ‘diffuse’ throat pains, but why tonight of all nights? It was such bad timing!

She took another sip of the water in an attempt to ‘flush’ the pain out.

It didn’t help much.

But perhaps she could distract herself from the aching sensation. Visualize or something.

It didn’t take long before Emma Swan’s pretty smile popped into her mind.

That smile.

The way tiny wrinkles appeared around her eyes.

The way her mouth curled and gave way to dimples in her cheeks.

Regina liked dimples.

She liked dimples a lot.

She also liked big, genuine smiles like Emma’s.

And blonde hair that lifted whenever the wind blew.

And Emma had smelled really nice last night. Fresh.

She had pretty hands too.

Had it been possible for her, Regina definitely would have scoffed. That was quite enough visualizing for one evening.

But it couldn’t be denied that Emma had a really pretty smile.

One of those big happy ones that made her entire face light up.

God.

What was she? Sixteen years old?

“Look at you smiling,” Zelena observed, smiling herself.

Regina was quick to sport a more neutral facial expression. The answer was clearly yes. It would appear that she was sixteen years old. At least she was thinking like one.

But she wasn’t genuinely annoyed about her thoughts. No, she was happy that she was still able to feel like this.

She thought that those days were long gone.

Of course she could not tell what would happen in the future, but if anything, this had taught her that she could still feel.

And that was one of the things Regina had been so worried about being unable to. Feel. She had been feeling numb for so long. Except for when she was with her son. And now someone that was not
Henry or family had managed to make her something.

A creak was heard at the top of the stairs, and it did not take long before Henry came ‘dumping’ downstairs.

“Why hello there, favorite nephew,” Zelena half-chuckled. “Dinner will be served in an hour.”

“What are we having?” Henry asked curiously.

“Spaghetti with meatballs and salad,” Zelena announced as though she was giving him the moon. “Doesn’t that sound too good?”

“Mmm,” Henry grinned. Then he looked at his mother. “You look really pretty, mom!”

Regina smiled and ruffled his hair. Her son was a right charmer. Someday he would charm all the girls. Or boys. Whatever suited him. As long as he was happy. That was the most important thing.

“Where is it that you’re going tonight?” Henry asked.

Regina sat her glass of water down and wiggled her fingers in the air. ‘To Tony’s in Steveston.’

“With Emma,” Henry concluded with a little nod. “She was nice. I like her.”

Yes, he had said that a dozen of times already. Neither Regina nor Zelena had mentioned the word ‘date’, and Regina wondered if Henry knew that this was in fact a date.

“When will you come home?” Henry asked, suddenly concerned now. “Are you gonna be home really late?”

God no. That was definitely not the intention. Not at all. Regina hastily shook her head and signed: ‘I will be home early.”

“Oh.” Some of the tension left Henry’s face. “Okay.”

Over the top of his shoulder, Regina exchanged a look with Zelena. Before ‘it’ and the hospital, Henry had never asked what time she would be home. He was only delighted at unlimited time spent with his aunt. Now he was different. Now he was concerned. Now he asked what time she would be home. Because he wasn’t comfortable with her being out too late. Because he was scared of loosing her again. They would have to work on that. Regina would do her utmost to help her boy through the trauma he had suffered. Helping her son was her first priority.

But she would lie if she claimed that it wasn’t hard.

Because it was.

It was hard to help someone through a trauma when she herself had suffered a trauma.

But she had done her best. She was DOING her best. She had taken tiny steps towards ‘better’ these days, and Henry had not suffered from night terrors last night. That was something, right?
It had to be something.

Regina smiled reassuringly at her son and then reached for her glass of water. Her throat felt a bit dry.

But swallowing hurt tonight. Not like it had on the hospital when it felt like she was swallowing shards of glass, but still painful enough for her to accidentally ending up making a face even though it was not the intention.

“Mom?” Henry said immediately. “Are you okay?”

“Does your throat hurt?” Zelena asked gently.

Regina blatantly lied as she shook her head and smiled reassuringly once more. Perhaps her throat did hurt, but that was not something she was going to burden her family with. She did not want them to worry about her if she could avoid it.

They had already worried plenty about her.

‘Wrong tube,’ she signed, adding to the lie. And that lie was actually rather plausible. Since her throat wasn’t so strong yet, coughing was something that had to be done in awkward little jerks.

“Oh,” Henry said, nodding his understanding.

Zelena didn’t seem so easily convinced though, but Regina flashed her a pleading look. Please go along on the lie. I don’t want him to worry.

Luckily, Zelena did not delve further into the subject, and for that Regina was grateful. It was just an ache. It would get better. It had to. She checked her purse one last time just to make sure that her bottle of pills really was there. It was. Then she checked the time on her phone. Oh. She should get going. Otherwise she would end up being late, and they couldn’t have that. All day, she had been nervous about the state of the road. Whether it would get iced over so she couldn’t drive. But fortunately enough, the road had not frozen over. Driving to Steveston shouldn’t be a problem at all.

She zipped her purse and smiled at her son and sister to signalize that she would be leaving now.

“Have fun,” Zelena said, voice coated with hidden meaning. “And text me when you drive home, will you?”

Translation: ‘I want to know everything about the date.’

Regina tried not to roll her eyes at her sister’s badly hidden curiosity. But she wasn’t annoyed. Not really. Zelena being curious about her dating life reminded her of old times.

Dating life. Regina quelled a smile as she walked into the hallway to put on her coat. Now who would have thought that she could ever get a dating life again? But now she had. Emma had asked her out.

And maybe it was too soon for her to date, but she had said yes because it had felt right. And if it felt right it couldn’t be completely bad, could it?

Regina had learned a lot about trusting her instincts. And her instincts told her good things about Emma Swan.

After having put on her coat, she glanced at her little collection of shoes. Which pair should she choose? Of course the boots with the closed nose would be the most sensible choice to go with.

But Regina was wearing sheer stockings. And she was not in the mood to chose sensible footwear. After a moments consideration, she grabbed a pair that had delicate straps that tied up her ankle and a thin stiletto heel. Seven inches and one of her favorite pair of shoes. It had been a while since she last wore these pair of shoes, but she was more than willing to give it a shot. Tonight was a special occasion after all. She crouched down and elegantly slipped her feet inside the shoes and tied the straps around her ankles. Then she rose to her full height again. Oh. She had forgotten how tall she became when wearing these shoes.

“Look at you,” Zelena said again. Her voice was soft. She almost sounded like a proud mother.

Regina flashed her a little smile and did a mock spin to silently say ‘ta-dah’.

Henry who had followed them into the hallway giggled slightly.

Next, Regina put on her usual fur-collar coat. It was a cold evening, and she was not interested in freezing. She carefully buttoned the coat all the way up to her chin and brushed a hand over it.

“You look very nice,” Zelena said.

Regina smiled at her sister. She did feel like she was looking very nice. And for one reason or the other, she didn’t feel overly nervous either. She found that to be quite puzzling, but she was not about to work herself into a frenzy over it.

And besides, she would probably be plenty nervous later when she was seated across Emma.

She raised the strap on her purse up on her shoulder and then wiggled her fingers in the air. ‘Well, I’m off.’

“Have fun,” Zelena said. “And don’t forget to text me.”

How would Regina ever be able to forget that? Zelena had continuously reminded her of it all day.

“Say hi to Emma for me!” Henry piped up.

Regina smiled at her son and nodded. Yes, she would definitely remember to do that.

Zelena flashed her an encouraging smile and an ‘you’ve got this’ thumbs up, and Regina left the house feeling optimistic that she actually COULD do this. Go on a date.

She climbed inside the car, twisted the key in the engine and felt relieved when the car came alive right away. It had been such a cold night, and she had been worried that the engine had frozen over or something like that.

But thankfully, that was not the case, and Regina could easily maneuver the car out of the parking lot and onto the road. The road was a bit icy but nothing to be concerned about. Nothing to build a problem around. Regina was excellent at building problems around minor things. She did not want to do that tonight. Tonight she wanted to be relaxed. Laid back.

Was that even possible for her?

She wasn’t sure about that.

But she would definitely try.

Wanted to prove to herself that she could do this.

And she wanted this to be a good experience for Emma. A good date.

 

She let Steve Winwood and ‘Finer Things’ fill out the sound side, and she tried not to get annoyed at how she was not able to sing along. Once upon a time she had really enjoyed singing.

But she did not want to make herself upset. Not tonight. Instead she went over the contents of her purse one more time. Cellphone. Painkillers. Makeup bag. Pencil. Wallet. Post-it notes. A whole stack of them, and one that had been pre-written. She had everything she needed.

Regina switched up the volume on Steve Winwood and felt delighted at how she did not get a headache. Perhaps she could finally start enjoying loud music again. She had done that a lot in the past. She smiled a little at the memory of herself and Henry dancing around in the kitchen while loudly singing along to Disney songs. Those had been the days.

Maybe she and Henry would be able to do that again. Not singing, obviously. Those days were definitely over with. But the dancing part. That was still very much a possibility, was it not?

Regina took a moment to mull over her mental health. It changed so much and so quickly. One moment she was fine, and the next, waves of sadness rolled over her without preamble. She could have been having a perfectly fine day and then end the night on a really unhappy note.

But she did not want to worry about that tonight.

Rather than fearing that her mental health suddenly would take a nose-dive, she would instead assume that she would continue to be fine for the rest of the night.

Steve Winwood stopped singing and was replaced with Bobby Darin and Dream Lover. Now Regina was smiling again. Another memory had just popped into her head. The memory of herself dancing on her father’s feet while he was crooning along to Dream Lover. Every so often, Cora would come into the room and scoff and call them a silly pair. But she nevertheless always smiled when Regina’s father sang extra loudly. Again, he was the only one who could soften his tough wife.

Yes, Cora had been a tough wife. And a tough mother. As a child and teenager, Regina had often been irritated by that, but now she couldn’t help but feeling slightly grateful for her mother. Cora had toughened her up. And perhaps that was a good thing. Regina had been in many situations where she needed to be tough.

But she did not want to think about that now.

No.

She was on her way on a date with a sweet woman.

That was the only thing she wanted to think about at the moment.

And the fact that her head still didn’t hurt.

Only her throat. Unfortunately....

 

She was not late this evening. She was right on time. Thank god.

But somehow, Emma Swan had managed to be even earlier than her.

Regina immediately spotted her as she sat there on a bench outside Tony’s. Her hair was blowing gently in the wind. She was in jeans and that familiar leather jacket, and Regina now more than suspected that Emma Swan did not own any other jackets.

Why was she sitting on the bench in this weather? She had to be freezing cold. Why had she not opted for going inside the restaurant and wait instead?

Regina silently answered the question.

Because Emma Swan was waiting for her. Because she had been afraid that Regina would not show up.

Regina felt a bit angry now. Not because of Emma’s assumption, but because she clearly had been stood up a lot in the past. Regina felt baffled. Why would anyone wanna stand up Emma Swan? The
thought alone seemed ridiculous.

Regina took a quick glance at herself in the mirror. Just to make sure that her hair was still sitting as it should. It did. And her makeup had not slid off either. Good. That was good. She took a deep breath. Now she actually felt a bit nervous. But still in that good way. The butterfly-way.

Goodness. It had been ages since the prospect of going out had filled Regina’s stomach with anything but shards of glass.

But this was different.

Emma Swan was different.

After having taken a deep breath, Regina opened the door and got out of the car. Careful not to trip on the slightly icy path, she put one foot in front of the other. Maybe the high heels had been a tad too optimistic. As she walked towards the bench, she noted that Emma Swan had lifted her head and was looking up. Excited. Good. So was Regina. She walked towards the bench, and when she made it there,

Emma Swan jumped to her feet and that huge, happy smile spread across her face. God, Regina’s stomach did funny things whenever Emma smiled like that.

“Hi,” Emma grinned and tugged a strand of hair behind her ear.

Regina returned the smile and reached within the pocket of her coat, finding that note she had written at home saying ‘hello’. She liked greeting Emma as the first thing rather than having to fumble around with her phone first. She handed Emma the note and earned herself another smile.

“I’m really starving,” Emma announced as she stuffed the note inside the pocket of her leather jacket. “I hope you’re hungry too?”

Absolutely. Regina nodded firmly to show how hungry she was.

“Are you ready to head inside?”

Regina smiled as she nodded. It would have been so easy for Emma to just go ‘come on’ and lead the way, but she had asked instead. Regina found that to be very considerate.

“Cool.”

The youthful phrase made Regina smile yet again, and as they walked towards the restaurant, she noted that Emma was walking next to her rather than walking ahead of her. That was really nice too.

Once inside, they stopped for a moment to relieve themselves of their coats. Regina loosened the belt in her coat and unbuttoned it.

Emma did the same, and Regina took a discreet glance of what Emma had chosen to wear tonight. Jeans. Silk-top with little straps. Very nice. Very date appropriate.

But also a bit... concerning. Regina frowned slightly as she slipped off her coat. Was she too overdressed? Maybe the dress was a little too much. Damnit. She should have chosen her more sensible slacks with a nice blazer over it instead. That would have been more appropriate.

It looked like she was trying too hard. Like she was overcompensating for something. Maybe she was.

But it was too late to do anything about her outfit now. Regina adjusted the scarf-bow around her neck to make sure it was still sitting where she wanted it to sit, and then she and Emma continued inside the restaurant itself.

At the front desk, they were greeted by a smiling young waitress.

“Reservation for Emma Swan?” Emma asked the perky young waitress at the front desk after having gone over the mandatory ‘good evening’.

The waitress smiled and nodded. “Sure, just follow me, ladies.”

As they followed the waitress through the restaurant, Regina thought to herself that it would be wonderful to be that perky all the time.

They followed her through the restaurant, and Regina felt a bit relieved when they were guided towards a table in the corner. This suited her very well. She wouldn’t have liked sitting right in the middle of the room.

“Your table is right here,” said the waitress and smiled widely. “Nice and private. Plenty of opportunity to talk in peace.”

Regina couldn’t quite help the sound of amusement escaping her. Talk in peace. Right. Not going to happen.

Emma turned her head quickly. She looked completely puzzled, and Regina was quick to smile slightly and then shake her head a little. It didn’t take long before Emma was shaking her head too, so Regina figured that she understood the attempt at humor.

“Thank you,” Emma said politely to the waitress.

Regina settled for smiling. Of course.

“I’ll be right here to take your orders,” the waitress assured as she walked away.

Regina and Emma sat down at the table, and Regina looked around, taking in her surroundings. The lights were dimmed in here, creating a very cozy atmosphere. The white table-cloth covering the table was very date-esque, and so were the lit candles. On the radio, Dean Martin was crooning ‘That’s Amore’, and Regina realized how much of a ‘proper’ date this was. Of course she had expected that, but nevertheless. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been on a proper date.

“Do you want a starter or anything?” Emma asked, making Regina snap out of it.

She smiled and shook her head. She didn’t need a starter. She preferred saving her appetite for the main course. And honestly, she wasn’t sure her throat could handle too much tonight. She still had an ache. Unfortunately.

“Straight to the main course?”

Regina nodded in confirmation. That suited her just fine.

“Great!” Emma said briskly, glancing at her menu.

Regina did the same. Though she already knew what she would be having. Creamy tomato soup. Regina had recently taken quite the shine to soup, and she had become pretty good at making them. But obviously, a soup that someone else had made would taste better.

“Okay, but we’re definitely having dessert!” Emma exclaimed, green eyes gleaming. “They have tiramisu!” she looked up at Regina again. “Do you like tiramisu?”

Regina nodded, completely sharing her excitement. She actually really loved tiramisu. And tiramisu was soft. Her sore throat could easily handle tiramisu.

“Awesome.” Emma quickly glanced at her menu again. “I think I’ll have Fettucine Alfredo. That sounds really delicious. Have you decided on anything?”

Regina reached within her purse and found a post-it and pencil. Having to look down when she was sitting across someone was highly annoying, but there was no way around it. And luckily, it didn’t take that long to write the message she had intended: ‘I’d like to have the tomato soup. But would you mind ordering for me? I do so dislike pointing and writing it down is a bit awkward especially when it’s a restaurant I haven’t visited before.’ She really detested pointing. And drawing attention to herself. Emma ordering for her was so much easier. Though the irony was not lost on Regina. In the past, when she was on a restaurant with Killian, he always ordered for her before she could get the chance to say anything. Now she literally COULDN’T say anything and needed help with ordering.

But this was different.

Killian had just ordered on her behalf. Without her consent.

And she had just given Emma permission to order for her.

Much different.

Emma was not Killian.

Not at all.

“Sure,” Emma said lightly. “No problem.”

Regina smiled gratefully. Silently thanking Emma for not making it awkward.

It didn’t take long before the perky waitress came back to their table, and she first asked what they wanted to drink.

“Water for both of us?” Emma asked and glanced at Regina.

Regina nodded in confirmation. Felt another rush of gratitude. Emma had asked her rather than assuming. As minor as that seemed, it really meant a lot.

“Water for both of us,” Emma told the waitress. “And I’d like the Fettucine Alfredo, and-“

“Okay,” the waitress interrupted, scribbled down and then turned to Regina. “And what can I get for you?”

”She would like the tomato soup,” Emma answered and gave Regina a discreet look of ‘did I get it right?’.

Regina gave a subtle nod. That was completely right.

“Okay,” the waitress said, looking a bit confused, but quickly sobering up: “I’ll be right there with your drinks.”

“Thanks,” Emma said.

The waitress walked off, and Emma turned her attention back to Regina. “So. This is a bit different from the dining area in the train.”

Indeed. Feeling thoroughly amused, Regina nodded. Thought back to their train-dinners. Those had been nice. Really nice.

“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Emma continued softly and smiled herself.

So was Regina. But she couldn’t help but feeling a bit insecure too. This was hardly like the dates Emma normally went on. How could it possibly be? Communication was the key-word in dating. That was how you got to know someone. And how could you get to know someone when you couldn’t talk to them? Answer them?

Before she got too lost in her own head, Regina gave a quick nod.

“What?” Emma asked as she raised an eyebrow.

Perceptive. She had clearly spotted the subtle hint of concern on Regina’s face. She didn’t want Emma to be worried, though. So she shrugged lightly as to say, ‘never mind.’

“No, what is it?” Emma insisted. Clearly not settling for ‘never mind’. “Tell me.”

Well. Now Emma had encouraged her to share her feelings and she sounded so genuinely interested, so it would be rude to rebuff her.

Regina reached within her purse again and found a new post-it note. She brought the pencil down and started scribbling what she felt. What she was concerned about. Might as well just be honest. ‘This is hardly the kind of date you’re used to. The foundation for a successful date is conversation, and that’s pretty difficult in my case. Are you sure you don’t mind this? The one sided conversation. Post-it notes all over the table.’ Before she could regret the display of honesty, she pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma took a moment to read it and then she looked up again. “You have nothing to worry about, Regina,” she said firmly. “I’m not used to anything when it comes to dates. This is actually already shaping up to being one of the best dates I’ve ever been on.”

No way. Regina raised an eyebrow. Emma thought that her date with the mute woman was one of the best dates she had ever been on? Impossible.

Oh. Right. She was not supposed to think that about herself. She was not supposed to give herself harmful nicknames. Oops.

“I’m serious,” Emma said. Still sounding very firm.

Regina shook her head slightly, but she did not want to go as far as arguing with Emma. And for whatever reason, she actually believed what Emma said.

Emma grinned a little. Clearly feeling victorious, and Regina thought to herself that that grin was quite the good look on her. Emma Swan had many smiles, Regina was discovering. And she had a feeling that all of them were quite pretty.

“You’re beautiful.”

The exclamation completely took Regina by surprise, and for a moment she thought that she had heard wrong. But then her heart started thudding in this awkward rhythm.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had received a compliment from someone who was not her son or her sister.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had received a compliment while at a restaurant.

‘Beautiful’ was an odd concept to Regina.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt beautiful.

She rarely did.

She hadn’t wanted to be beautiful.

Because beauty, her looks, was what had drawn Killian to her in the first time.

Beauty was something she had gotten in trouble over many, many times.

Her physical appearance had made Killian call her a ‘man-magnet’.

And other things that were worse.

But Regina couldn’t help the way she looked.

It was not her fault.

And Emma thought that she was beautiful.

That was really nice.

Regina did not find herself beautiful, but she completely believed Emma when SHE found her to be beautiful.

She smiled and then shook her head ever so slightly.

And then the waitress came over with their drinks.

When she was gone, Emma lifted her glass, smiled and said: “cheers.”

Regina raised her glass as well. They toasted. Emma took a sip of her water. Regina did the same. A large mouthful. Her throat felt very dry. But as soon as she swallowed the water, her throat started cramping. Badly. Oh god, that really hurt. What the hell? This was not fair. Why did her muscle had to cramp so much when she was out on a date?

There was only one thing to do.

Regina sat the glass of water down and reached within her purse one more time. Found her bottle of pills and popped the lid off. Let one of the little white pills slide into her hand. She really hated taking medicine in front of others. And taking it in front of a date... Well, that was just awful. A horrible impression to give someone. She didn’t want Emma Swan to feel like she was dating a sick woman.

But she had no other choice.

She took the pill with lots of water. Ouch. Her throat was extremely dry, and the muscles incredibly sore for whatever reason. As she rubbed at her throat above the scarf, she wondered if she should feel worried about this. If it continued, she would have to reach out to her doctor. But for now, she chose to assume that she had just ended up putting pressure on the wound while sleeping. She couldn’t feel any swelling or oozing from the wound, so for now, there was no real reason to be concerned.

“Are you okay?”

Regina nodded a bit and found a new post-it note. Began to scribble. She owed Emma some clarification. And again, she chose to be honest. Because why not? ‘Sometimes swallowing hurts. The muscles cramps and makes it difficult. The pills I take relaxes the muscles and makes it easier to swallow.’ She carefully waited until Emma had swallowed a mouthful of water, and then she pushed the note across the table towards Emma.

Emma bowed her head over the note for a moment as she read. Then she looked up again. Concern was etched onto her face as she said: “Oh, I see. Are you... Is it okay for you to eat?”

So considerate of her to ask. Regina could imagine that others would settle for ‘oh, right’ and then shy away from the subject. But Emma Swan did not. And that was really refreshing. Regina smiled and nodded reassuringly.

Emma still looked concerned, though. She frowned and locks of blonde hair fell down on either side of her face as she leaned forward slightly. “Is it... Is it always like that?” she asked shyly.

The question did not rattle Regina. She was actually relieved at being asked about her ‘condition’ rather than being treated like she was ill. She began scribbling on a new note and noticed that Emma’s stomach was growling slightly. Someone was hungry. When she was done writing, she looked at the words for a moment. ‘no, not all the time. It variates a lot. Depends on how tired I am, etc.’ that was not too diffuse an explanation. She pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma was quick to read the message, and when she looked up again, she looked even more worried. “Does that mean tonight is a bad night?”

Regina didn’t want to waste time on writing on a new note. Emma already looked plenty concerned. She wrote underneath the first message: ‘no, not at all.’ that was not a lie. Although her throat did hurt, it could have been so much worse. Like it was in the hospital where she could barely move without feeling pain. That had been really bad.

“Oh. Good.” Emma leaned back once more, and when she spoke again, she had adopted a much lighter tone. “How is the house hunting going?”

The prospect of finally giving good news made Regina eager. She found a new post-it note and began scribbling on it as quickly as she could without making her handwriting too much of a mess. ‘It’s going rather well. I think we might have found something suitable. An apartment not too far away from my sister’s, but we can’t move in until in six months.’

“Six months? Urgh, that sucks.”

Mhmm. It did. The longer it took, the less courageous Regina would be about moving out of her sister’s place. But she was not gonna back out. Of course not. To distract herself, she gently took back the note and wrote a new question underneath. ‘How about you? Have you found something you’d want to live in?’

“Well, there is this one place,” Emma replied and folded her hands lightly. Her green eyes shone with careful optimism. “It’s really amazing. It’s a house, not an apartment, but it’s like, crazy expensive. I’d have to work nonstop for about a hundredth years to be able to afford a place like that. I’ll probably try and find an apartment instead. I think that’s more sensible. Don’t you?”

That did make sense, yes. Regina scribbled down a new question. ‘And how is the job going?’

“Oh, it’s going super well,” Emma beamed. Now her eyes were full of real optimism. “I love it more and more each day. I’ve started to edit manuscripts as well as reading them now! Isn’t that awesome?
And I might even get my own office soon. I mean, a better office. I technically have an office already, but it’s not very big, and it gets cluttered super easily, so I’m really looking forward to hopefully get a bigger workspace.”
She concluded her excited speech with a large mouthful of water, and Regina smiled as she wrote on a new post-it note. She found Emma’s excitement to be very sweet. And she was happy that the blonde was finally doing something she loved. She deserved that. Regina was happy that Malena could see Emma’s potential. ‘That is excellent news. I am happy to hear that you are thriving. You deserve to work with something you love.’ she gave Emma the note, and as Emma read, she was most definitely blushing. The touch of rose in her cheeks was very pretty. Regina suddenly caught herself wishing that Emma would blush more, and to distract herself from that silly thought, she took the note back and wrote an afterthought under the first message: ‘I’ve been given the opportunity to get a job as well. Online classes in literature at the University of British Columbia. I’d both be deciding the subjects, set up modules and help the students via email.’ Then she gave the note back to Emma.

“Really?” Emma said after having read the new message. “That’s awesome news! You’re going to say yes, aren’t you?”

Regina shrugged in a ‘we’ll see’-manner.

“What? You have to!” Emma insisted. “It sounds like an amazing opportunity.”

It was an amazing opportunity. Honestly, Regina wasn’t completely sure why she was hesitating. This kind of job was exactly what she had been hoping for, so really, it did not make sense for her to be hesitant. She should have been jumping with excitement at the opportunity at getting back to work in a field she knew so well.

Perhaps she had grown too comfortable in her little bubble with Zelena and Henry. Regina hurried as she wrote a new message. She had just spotted the waitress coming towards their table, and she did not want to be scribbling when their food arrived. Her handwriting was a bit slobby in the new message. ‘There’s a good chance I’ll say yes. I would be able to work from home and be there for Henry at all times. I think he’d love that. Though he’d probably see it as an opportunity to have me respond to his every summon.’

“I doubt that,” Emma chuckled. She clearly had no problem with reading Regina’s clumsy hand-writing.

Regina didn’t agree, but she did not get the chance to argue before their food was sat in front of them. One Fettucine Alfredo for Emma, and one creamy tomato soup for Regina. It looked absolutely delicious.

“Bon Appetit!” The waitress said as she left, and Regina and Emma exchanged a look. Such a callback to their train-ride.

“Oh my god, that looks so delicious!” Emma exclaimed.

Regina could only agree with that. Everything looked and smelled so delicious. She was hungry and traded the pencil for the spoon.

“Bon Appetit,” Emma joked, grabbing her fork and digging into her food.

Regina too delved into her food. She dunked her spoon into the soup and brought it up to her lips. The first mouthful was absolutely delicious. Exactly as creamy as it looked. And her throat did not hurt.
Regina was very satisfied with her meal. She reminded herself not to slurp, though. She was a lady, and ladies did not slurp their soup. And especially not when they were on a date.

And a very good date too.

Emma was still an incredibly nice woman.

Sweet.

Funny.

Smart.

And beautiful.

She possessed many of the qualities Regina would look for in a potential partner.

Of course it was too soon to think about that, of course.

But it was going exceptionally well, Regina had to admit that.

“Does it taste as good as it looks?”

Regina was starting to feel a little giddy, and she ended up mouthing a word she wouldn’t normally use.

“Awe... Awesome?” Emma guessed.

Regina nodded in confirmation and smiled to show Emma that she didn’t mean the mockery that badly.

Emma laughed, and Regina had never found it more difficult to concentrate on eating soup. That smile. That damned smile.

Her heart seemed to thud differently in her chest.

The change was not a huge one, but it was definitely there.

However impossible it sounded, her heart was still functioning.

Barely, but nevertheless.

Regina found that to be pretty incredible.

It had been right of her to say yes to going out with Emma tonight. She had a feeling that she would have regretted it if she had not.

Thank god she had said yes. Exactly like at the Harvest Festival, Regina felt so much at ease. So comfortable and.... well, almost... happy.

How exceptional.

It continued to go well.

 

The food was exceptional. The conversation flowed. They discussed books (Regina had recently finished Madame Bovary for the third time and had some thoughts about that), and of course the Harvest Festival was mentioned again. Regina let Emma know that Henry was still talking about how awesome everything had been and how badly he wanted to come back to Steveston again. Emma laughed and said that that could be nice.

Once they had finished their meals and had sat for a while, Emma suggested dessert. Regina was feeling sort of stuffed and raised an eyebrow. Tempted to decline. But then Emma dramatically announced that she refused to eat tiramisu all on her own. Regina simply HAD to say yes.

Thoroughly amused at that, Regina had surrendered and nodded.

Tiramisu had been ordered, and Regina re-discovered how much she actually loved tiramisu. She was almost done eating as quickly as Emma was, and Emma of course had some things to say about that.

In the end, Regina had revealed that she didn’t often indulge in sweets.

Which obviously had prompted Emma to announce that she would buy her lots of pies and tiramisu in the future.

That had made Regina roll her eyes in amusement, and sure enough, Emma had blushed in the most endearing way.

Emma actually did many things that were endearing. The way she flicked her long hair away from her face was endearing. The way she almost spoke with her hands when she was excited about a subject was endearing.

And of course the way she smiled.

Regina’s heart did that awkward, foreign thing again.

Perhaps she was too fragile. Perhaps it was too soon. And perhaps it wouldn’t even work out because she had too many secrets and was too damaged, but...

God, Regina hoped that there would be a second date!

She could not remember the last time she had felt this relaxed in a restaurant.

No more glares.

No more harmful comments if she was eating her food too eagerly.

No more too strong grips on her hand if she was smiling at the waiter or waitress to be polite.

No more hissed comments about her outfit or hair and how she could have made a bigger effort to dress up.

Because Emma was not him.

Because Emma was different.

 

It was getting darker outside. The time had gone so quickly, and even though Regina would have liked this very successful date to continue, she knew that she had to get home. To her son.

Emma smiled at her, and Regina returned the smile before glancing at the table. It was full of post-its. She pursed her lips slightly. What a mess she had made.

“Do you think we should...?” Emma gestured vaguely towards the door. She was clearly reluctant too.

Regina nodded, and they rose from their chairs. She scooped all the post-its into her purse. Didn’t want the waitress to be the one responsible for moving all the post-its. Emma went up to the counter and paid for their meal, and Regina was worried for a moment. This had been expensive. First dinner and then dessert. And her hunch told her that Emma did not have overflowing amounts of money. She hated the idea of Emma spending her money on her.

They found their coats and then left the restaurant. The temperature had dropped even further when they came outside, and Regina decided that they should not go for a long walk. Emma had to be positively freezing in that thin leather jacket. It would be awful if she ended up getting a cold from this.

“So, is Zelena watching the little guy tonight?” Emma asked casually.

The little guy. Henry would appreciate that nickname. Regina nodded.

“Do you think he’d fancy another trip to Steveston?” Emma asked. “It was really fun to hang out with him. With both of you.”

If only Regina had had the words to tell Emma how much it meant that she was including her son. It really showed how genuinely interested she was. Regina and Henry would always be a package deal.
That was just how it was. Regina smiled and nodded once more. Found her phone in her pocket. Typed a message. ‘Yes, I believe he’d absolutely love that. He’s been begging to have a cup of Eugenia’s cocoa just like in the good old days.’, and then turned the screen towards Emma. After having switched up the volume on the light.

“Ruby mentioned that you used to come here on holiday?” Emma asked once she was done reading.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ was typed into the phone and then shown to Emma.

“But then you stopped?”

Regina settled for a slight nod.

“Found other holiday destinations?” Emma asked casually and flicked a lock of hair away from her face. “Something a bit more interesting?”

No. Not at all. She was forced to stop coming here. First by Killian and later because she was too frightened and fragile to go anywhere. As her thoughts of how bad she had felt started to fill her mind, the conversation was starting to get away from Regina. She anxiously tugged a lock of hair behind her ear. Willed herself to say focused. Willed herself to keep communicating. There were many ways one could clam up like an oyster, and Regina did not want this night to end on a bad note. She began typing another message on the phone. She could not be completely honest about her reasons for staying away from Steveston, it was too soon. But she could at least be partially honest. ‘No, not quite. I’m afraid I lost interest in going places. I wasn’t in a very good place.’ that was the best she could do for now, and she turned the screen towards Emma before she could regret it.

Emma’s voice was quiet after she had read the message. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

Regina shrugged lightly. It was what it was. And she was doing a bit better now. No reason to dwell.

“Are you... Are you feeling better now?” Emma asked carefully.

Regina turned her head and made eye contact with Emma as they for a moment stood illuminated by the street light. She smiled at the younger woman and then typed in a new message on her phone. ‘It gets better every day.’ See, that was no lie. Her strength was gradually returning, and her mood seemed more static now. She could do more stuff than before. And she had even started dating again. Yes, it was getting better every day. She flipped the screen towards Emma so she could read.

And Emma did. “That’s good to hear,” she said once she was done.

Regina nodded and found it appropriate to look elsewhere. She ended up looking at Emma’s hands. They were rapidly turning blue in the cold, and Regina frowned slightly.

“I forgot my gloves,” Emma sheepishly acknowledged. “Again.”

Regina sighed a little (one of the few sounds she could make effortlessly) and shook her head.

“And now I’m feeling like I’m being scolded by my teacher.”

The way she said it sounded so funny, Regina’s shoulders started to move in that silent laughter. Emma Swan was very much capable of sounding utterly petulant, and Regina found it to be utterly hilarious.

“Should we walk that way?” Emma suggested, nodding to the main street.

Regina briefly thought about Emma’s blue hands, but she couldn’t be that cold if she was interested in walking more. And Regina hadn’t really gotten to see much of the town itself during the Harvest Festival. That had been mostly the square. And it had been such a long time since she was last here. It wasn’t any harm checking if all the stores were still there. And it wasn’t overly late either. One more walk would be fine. Well, maybe her feet wouldn’t be overly grateful, but Regina paid little mind to that. The rest of her was in a very good mood, and that was the only thing that mattered.

Her feet would be fine.

Steveston had changed a little. Three new stores had popped up in Regina’s absence, and she probably could have kept sharing anecdotes about the town if it hadn’t been for the way her cellphone suddenly beeped in her pocket. She felt the slightest flicker of concern as she retrieved it. Quickly, she checked the message. And what she saw made her frown slightly.

“Bad news?” Emma asked. She sounded a bit worried.

Regina shrugged. Tried her best to communicate ‘yes and no’. And then she turned the screen towards Emma so she could see the picture Henry had just sent. Of himself on the couch with an enormous bowl of popcorn in his lap. He was grinning like the Cheshire cat, giving big thumbs up. Underneath the picture he had written: ‘look what auntie Zelena made for me! She’s the best aunt ever!’

”Oh,” Emma grinned. ”Is she bribing him to write that or something?”

Yes, that might just be the case. Regina nodded eagerly, turned the phone back around so she could write: ‘Yes, definitely! No doubt about it.’ Then she turned the phone back towards Emma.

Emma didn’t take long to read what Regina had written. “So, I’m guessing you’d want to go home and make sure he doesn’t eat all the popcorns at once?” she asked and tugged another stray lock of hair behind her ear.

Yes. It was getting a bit late now, and Emma’s hands were turning really blue. She needed to get inside as quickly as possible. And Regina did need to get back and monitor her son’s intake of popcorn.
Another message was typed: ‘yes, I think that might be best.’, and then she turned the screen back towards Emma yet again.

“Okay. Let’s head back to the restaurant then.”

Regina nodded.

They turned back around, and by the time they reached the parking lot where Regina’s car was, her feet were sore, and she was tired. But in a way that wasn’t negative. She found her car keys in her purse, so she was ready to start the car and get it heated up as soon as possible.

“Well...” Emma said and seemed to bounce slightly on her feet. Nervously.

Regina flashed her a little smile.

“I’ve.... I’ve had a really awesome time tonight,” Emma said earnestly, genuineness seeping from her voice.

So had Regina. A very, very good time. Far better than she had dared imagining. It hadn’t been the slightest bit awkward. She had felt comfortable and safe the entire time. She nodded. For once chose to form words (‘me, too’) with her lips and hope that Emma understood.

She clearly did because she grinned broadly. Seemed to lean in slightly.

The bubble threatened to burst. Emma was not going in for a kiss, was she? Oh god, that was how you normally ended a successful date. And this had been a VERY successful date.

But Regina was not ready to be kissed.

Not yet.

It was too soon.

The thought of kissing alone was making certain memories flare up in her mind.

Memories that she definitely not wanted to think about tonight.

But Emma did not kiss her. Instead she simply put a hand on Regina’s forearm.

Thank god.

But it was still too late. Regina had managed to work herself up, and the result was that she flinched when Emma touched her. Even though she had not meant to do so. She was certain that Emma had felt it.

Shit.

To make amens, Regina lightly put her hand over Emma’s for just a moment. Then she moved it away again.

“Would you like to do this again sometimes?” Emma asked as she moved her hand away from Regina’s arm. Clearly not swayed by Regina’s rude reaction.

Yes! Oh, yes! Regina smiled and tapped her phone.

Understanding, Emma grinned. “Yeah. Sure, I’ll text you.”

Regina nodded slightly.

“Well....” Emma moved a few steps backwards. “I’ll see you soon?”

Regina certainly hoped so. She nodded as she forced a strand of hair back behind her ear where it belonged.

“Drive safely,” Emma half-quipped. “Don’t speed. Even though you’re eager to come home and rescue Henry from the popcorns.”

Oh, very funny. Regina shook her head in amusement. Offered Emma one last nod and formed the word ‘goodbye’.

“Bye,” Emma said, returning the smile tenfold.

Regina turned around and walked towards the car. With a bounce in her steps. Apart from the tiny little hiccup and her rude reaction to Emma’s touch, this had been a very, very good night, and she was already looking forward to repeating the success.

As to be expected, her car was completely cold, and after having inserted the key in the engine so it could get warm, Regina spent the time with writing a text to her sister: ‘I will be driving home now. Please tell me that Henry did NOT eat all those popcorn!’

The response came almost immediately. ‘Of course not. I gave him a smaller bowl after having taken the picture. Now tell me, how did it go??’

Regina smiled. ‘It went very, very well. Emma is very sweet.’

‘Very sweet, huh, sis?’

‘Yes. Very sweet.’

Emma was more than sweet, but that was not something Regina was going to tell her sister. Not yet. Zelena would probably be asking her lots of questions when Regina came home, so for now, Regina allowed herself the luxury of keeping her feelings to herself. Allowed herself to revel in them. Because it had been a very long time since she last felt this good about anything....

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

It was one giddy Regina who arrived back at Zelena’s place a little while later. Tonight had been such a good night, and Regina was much too busy feeling excited to fear that everything would crash and burn.

She parked the Mercedes in the driveway and exited the car. Hurried up the little pathway. It was a cold evening, and she had already walked around plenty. She could feel that in her feet, and she was looking forward to getting her shoes off at last.

The hallway was quiet, but Regina could hear laughter from the living room. Henry was thriving. Good. But she hoped he wasn’t too awake seeing that this was his bedtime. And she wasn’t planning on letting him sleep until eleven in the morning even though he probably would have enjoyed that. At least he did during the weekends. Otherwise he was pretty good at getting up in the morning.

Regina released a breath of pure relief when she slipped off her heels and wiggled her feet. Oh god, maybe wearing those heels had been a tad too optimistic of her. Her feet hurt.

But she had also enjoyed wearing heels. She had enjoyed dressing up and putting on makeup without having to endure questions about her motives for dressing up.

Tonight she had simply been Regina.

On a date.

With a sweet woman.

No complicated past.

No baggage.

And it had been an absolute delight.

Smiling to herself, Regina slipped off her coat and then patted inside the living room of stocking-clad feet.

Zelena and Henry were sitting on the couch. Henry was in his pajamas and with wet hair. So he had taken a shower like Regina had reminded him to do. Good boy. There was an empty bowl standing on the coffee table. A small bowl. Regina was relieved to see that. She had feared that Zelena had let him eat all of the popcorn in the large bowl. She definitely would not have been happy about that. Could easily remember the last time Henry had consumed a whole bowl of popcorn. He had been up sick all night. It had been a right mess.

“Hi mom,” he greeted and smiled at her. “I didn’t even hear the car!”

“Welcome home, sis,” Zelena said and looked like she had several things she wanted to ask Regina, but she clearly held off until Henry had gone to bed.

“Did you have a nice time with Emma?” Henry asked curiously.

Regina nodded. A very good time indeed.

“Are you gonna hang out with her again?” he asked casually.

Hang out. Regina liked that word. She liked how low-key it all sounded. And yes, she hoped that she would be ‘hanging out’ with Emma Swan again. She nodded, flashed her son a smile and then signed to him: ‘it’s bedtime.’

“Aww, mo-oooom,” he said dramatically. “Just five more minutes?”

He was giving her cheek, and Regina found it to be mighty entertaining. But nevertheless she shook her head. It WAS bedtime.

Henry surrendered without grace. But there was a certain, joking gleam in his eyes as he said: “fiiiiine!”

Regina smiled and then extended a hand out towards him. He quickly got up from the couch and trotted over to Regina. Taking her hand, he turned to Zelena and said: “Goodnight, aunt Z!”

“Goodnight, oh favorite nephew,” Zelena chuckled as she lazily ruffled his hair. “It was really fun to hang out with you tonight. Sleep well.”

“Thanks!”

Regina and Henry went towards the stairs, and as Henry let go of her hand to skip ahead, Zelena said: “I’ll make us some coffee!”

Code for sister-talk, no doubt. Regina felt slightly amused at that. Zelena really was quite curious. Regina found it to be quite entertaining. Especially because there wasn’t that much to tell, really. She had already texted Zelena and told her how nice an evening she’d had with Emma. What more did Zelena want? It was just a meal, a dessert, and a walk around Steveston. It was limited how much information Zelena could squeeze out of that.

But then again, Zelena could squeeze information out of anything.

Regina made it up the stairs and she and Henry continued into his room. A fun evening with movies and popcorn had clearly gotten the best of him because he climbed into bed right away. Yawning, he put his head on the pillow. It was clear that it wouldn’t take long before he drifted off to sleep, but he still had enough energy to ask: “when can I see Emma again?”

Regina suffocated a smile as she signed. ‘Soon’. That was the best she could come up with. Someday she would have to invite Emma over for coffee. Or maybe a meal. That could be nice, couldn’t it? And it was a very normal date-thing to do. Regina entertained the thought of Emma Swan sitting in the kitchen or on the couch as she sat on Henry’s bedside and waited for him to settle in for the night.

“I’m glad you had a nice time with Emma,” Henry said sleepily. “I wanna go to Steveston too.”

She would have to bring him the next time. Emma Swan would probably not mind that.

It didn’t take long before Henry drifted off to sleep, and Regina dropped a kiss on his hair. Then she quietly rose from the bed and left his room. Of course she left his little nightlight on. Henry preferred that the little bedside lamp was switched on during the night. After the ‘accident’ he had developed a fear of the darkness, Regina knew that even though Henry hadn’t directly said so himself. And Regina could not bring herself to ‘confront’ him about his fear. She simply let the nightlight be on for the night.

Regina did not go downstairs right away. Instead she went inside her own bedroom. She quietly closed the door behind her and then went over to her closet. Found a pair of soft, grey, faded sweatpants and a plain, black t-shirt. She groaned slightly in relief as she unzipped her black dress and wiggled out of it. As nice as it had been to dress up for once, as nice was it to dress ‘down’ once more. She still wasn’t completely accustomed to wearing ‘normal’ clothes. Least of all dresses.

She was proud of herself, though.

She had come a long way since panicking over wearing a skirt. Was finally starting to appreciate her old clothes.

Regina made sure to be careful as she slipped off the sheer stockings. She had no interest in ripping them, and fortunately enough, she succeeded in slipping them off without accidentally tearing them.
The last thing to do was the scarf around her neck. After having slipped on her sweatpants and t-shirt, Regina sat down at the vanity and examined her plaster-covered throat. She was aware that the pain she had felt while eating earlier had been internal, but it didn’t harm to take a look at the wound. Well. As much as she could while wearing the plaster, obviously.
It looked fairly decent. No oozing. No swelling. Nothing that seemed alarming. That was good. She could handle a bit of internal pain. As long as the wound hadn’t become infected. An infection could jeopardize the opportunity of getting another operation, Doctor Anton had said.

But Regina wasn’t even sure she wanted a new operation.

More doctors poking and prodding at her.

More pain.

More liquid diet.

And there was even a guarantee that it would work.

Had there only been that, Regina might have been more willing to say yes, but since there was not, she wasn’t so sure.

One could get used to not having a voice, right?

She was getting by okay.

She didn’t need to be poked and prodded at again.

The thought alone made her stomach lurch.

Regina pushed the dark thoughts away and concentrated on removing her makeup. Then stood from the little chair at the vanity table. Turned around and left the bedroom.

 

When she came back downstairs, Zelena had vanished from the couch. Regina guessed that she had gone into the office to call Chad. She often did that at night. There was a cup of coffee waiting for
Regina, though, and Regina willingly settled down on the couch. Snatched her laptop which had been left on the coffee table. Now seemed like a good time to catch up on answering some emails or something else that was equally adult.

But she was distracted from doing anything adult the moment she opened her mailbox. Because Priscilla Adams was coming to Vancouver. Priscilla Adams, the opera singer. Regina felt a thrill of excitement as she clicked on the little ‘show available tickets’ box. She really tried telling herself not to get too excited. The tickets were probably already gone.

But no, they were not. There actually was two tickets available. It was almost too good to be true. The thing was, Regina was a huge fan of the opera singer Priscilla Adams. She had discovered Priscilla Adams when she was pregnant with Henry, and Priscilla had been a source of great comfort to Regina in the aftermath of her father’s death. And later on, when things once again got tough, Regina had once again turned to Priscilla Adams for comfort. She had in fact seen Priscilla Adams perform five years ago, and she would sell her arm or leg to see her perform again.

Now she had the chance. Two tickets available. Two tickets calling her name. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Regina lingered with her eyes darting towards the ‘purchase’-button.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a classical concert.

There had been a time where she wouldn’t have dared.

But now...

Well, now she actually found herself wanting to go.

Very much so.

Regina savored the feeling for a moment. The feeling of WANTING something. Like, genuinely wanting to do something. Actively seeking out a place that would be crowded. There had been a time where she didn’t want to do anything or be in a crowd.

But here she was. Wanting to go to a classical concert.

God, how she wanted to go.

Regina bit her lip and looked at the ‘purchase’-button again. So tempting. Her fingers were itching to click that button.

Should she?

The sudden feeling of a hand on her arm automatically made Regina jerk and nearly send the laptop flying. Her heart started racing and with shoulders that crawled up towards her ears and knuckles turning white around the laptop, she looked up.

“Oh god!” Zelena said, immediately removing her hand from Regina’s arm. “I am so sorry about that, Regina! I thought you heard me come in!”

Regina did not. And now her automatic ‘flight’-mode was embarrassing. This was Zelena. Her sister. And NOT her own, personal boogey-man. She flashed her sister a sheepish smile and mouthed: ‘sorry’.

“Don’t,” Zelena said quickly. “Don’t feel sorry. I’M the one who’s sorry. I should have announced myself instead of taking you by surprise. I promise I’ll remember that in the future. Can I sit down?”

Regina nodded absentmindedly and brushed a hand over her arm where Zelena had touched her. The surprise-touch made her skin crawl. It didn’t matter that she knew it was just Zelena and not someone who was out to get her.

Zelena sat down and leaned forward slightly. “I really am sorry, Regina. I wasn’t thinking.”

And why should she? It was so dumb, the way Regina overreacted all the time. Stupid.

“Are you okay?” Zelena asked worriedly.

Regina nodded. She was fine. Or at least she would be in a moment. When her skin stopped itching. To distract herself, and her sister from worrying about her, Regina turned the laptop around so Zelena
could see the concert page.

Zelena leaned in slightly and glanced at the website for a moment. Then she looked back at Regina. “Priscilla Adams,” she said with a knowing smile. “One of your favorites.”

Regina nodded, pointed eagerly to herself and then back to herself.

“You... you want to go to the concert?” Zelena quickly deduced, surprise coloring her voice and eyebrows shooting towards her hairline. She clearly had not expected this.

Regina nodded eagerly once more. Yes, she very much did want to go to the concert! But not on her own, though. She pointed lightly to Zelena and then to the website. And once she had eye contact with Zelena, she raised an eyebrow as a way to ask the silent question.

“Of course,” Zelena said immediately. “Of course I want to go with you, sis. Absolutely!” she smiled beamingly, and Regina immediately knew that it wasn’t just because of the concert. It was because of the way Regina was initiating to do things. Zelena wasn’t used to that.

Feeling equally excited, Regina clicked ‘book tickets’, and in a heartbeat, she had bought two tickets for the concert with Priscilla Adams and orchestra. And she was so looking forward to it! It had been ages since she last went to a concert, let alone one with Priscilla Adams! This night couldn’t get any better.

“So?” Zelena asked as Regina quickly read through the ‘thank you for your order’-email and confirmed that everything was as it should with the tickets.

Regina turned her attention back to her sister and raised an eyebrow to show that she was listening.

“How was the date with Emma?” Zelena asked, and Regina realized that she probably had been sitting on that question for a while.

Regina gave a smile and a thumbs up in response before reaching for her cup of coffee. She took a little sip and tried not to wince when swallowing. Why did her throat have to act up tonight? She had already taken one pill. She wasn’t too keen on taking anymore medication.

“Are you gonna see her again?” Zelena asked curiously.

Regina settled for a sort of half-nod with a raised eyebrow. Yes, she was indeed going to see Emma Swan again. And soon, she hoped. Tonight had been such a good night.

“So, you really like her then?” Zelena continued.

Regina nodded patiently. She really did like Emma. Kind Emma. Funny Emma. Beautiful Emma with the golden hair and the pretty smile. Oh god, that smile. That perfect smile. Regina had to raise an eyebrow at the way something warm flittered about in her stomach. Oh. Interesting. So that was still possible too. Was she getting smitten? Really? She had not expected that to happen. She hadn’t
imagined that she would still be capable of that. And yet here she was, feeling herself overflowing with warm feelings for Emma Swan.

“Did you guys go anywhere after the dinner?” Zelena asked curiously.

Regina nodded. ‘Yes, we went for a walk around town. It was very nice.’

“Oh. That does sound nice,” Zelena agreed with her. “Very nice.”

It had been very nice. The best date Regina had been on in a very, very long time. She was actually pretty good at dating even though it had been ages since she last tried it. And the way Emma had acted all night, so gallantly and sweet had been a complete joy. Regina could not have been more pleased with how tonight had gone down. She had been a right fool, being hesitant about saying yes to go on a
date with Emma Swan. Regina would be the one to invite her out the next time. That was how this was supposed to go.

Regina COULD remember as much when it came to dating. And she did want to go about this in the traditional fashion.

Well. As traditionally as she could. Her not being able to speak when on a date was pretty untraditional.

No. It was VERY untraditional.

But Emma Swan did not mind.

Thankfully.

“And did she...”

Regina raised an eyebrow. She really hated it when people did not finish their sentences. When she was a professor teaching, she had always encouraged her students to ‘speak up, please. There are no dumb questions. Only stupid answers.’

Zelena fiddled a little with a lock of her red hair. Appeared to be making herself more comfortable in the couch. “Did she.... did you kiss her?”

Oh. That. The only thing that could make the warm feelings fizzle out and the coffee taste stale in her mouth. Kiss. Regina’s stomach churned. Such an innocent word, really. Kiss. One little word that promised new beginnings and budding feelings.

But a kiss could also be something else.

A kiss could be a way to control someone.

A kiss could be unwanted.

Forced onto your lips without your consent.

Regina closed her eyes for a moment.

She was immediately back in the bedroom.

Killian pushed her up against the wall. Pressed his lips against hers.

Bit down hard on her bottom lip.

Hard enough to make it bleed.

Her lip had been swollen for weeks afterwards.

But kissing was a part of dating.

An important part.

And at some point, Emma Swan would want to be kissed.

It would be natural for two people who were dating to kiss one another.

But how did you explain that you were scared of kissing?

That you could not even think about kissing anyone without having the most horrible flashbacks popping up in your mind.

It took everything in Regina to remember that she was currently holding a cup of coffee. To be present. She took a deep breath. Did not want to ‘disappear’. Did not want to think such dark thoughts
tonight.

Zelena put a hand on her arm again, and this time the gesture did not startle Regina. “No,” Zelena said quickly, yet gently. “Please don’t disappear, sis. I’m sorry. I should not have asked you that. I don’t know what’s with me tonight. I keep saying and doing the wrong things.”

Regina sat the cup of coffee down so she could sign: ‘and how could you possibly know? I barely know myself.’ Very true. Sometimes it was the strangest things that triggered her. Regina bit her bottom lip and missed out on Zelena’s answer. Now she had started to think. Of the day where Emma Swan would want more. Kisses. And all the other things that came with dating.

All the other things that Regina could not give her.

The hand still on her arm squeezed gently. “What are you thinking about?” Zelena asked softly.

Regina opted for honesty once more. ‘I am thinking that some day Emma will want more, and I can’t give that to her.’

“You can’t right now,” Zelena softly corrected. “But you will be able to one day. I know you will. I know it seems impossible right now, Regina, but you WILL get to a place where you’ll be able to...” she did
not finish the sentence. Just squeezed Regina’s arm gently once more.

‘Maybe I should not be dating her,’ Regina signed in response. ‘Not if I’m not able to do normal date things.’

“Please don’t do this to yourself,” Zelena said quietly. “I made you feel insecure, and I am so sorry, but please don’t give up on this, Regina. You’ve just started seeing each other. It’s too early to think
about all that now. It seems to me that the most important thing to Emma is to get to know you, isn’t that right?”

Regina nodded. That was the impression she had gotten too. That Emma genuinely wanted to get to know her.

“I think she’ll continue to take it slow,” Zelena concluded.

Regina hoped so. She truly wanted to believe that was the case.

“And she likes you, doesn’t she?” Zelena asked.

Regina nodded. She had definitely gotten that impression.

“That’s the most important thing,” Zelena said firmly. “That she likes you, and you like her. The two of you had a wonderful time tonight. Do you think you can focus on that?”

Regina smiled now. She would certainly try.

“Good.” Zelena smiled back. “Now tell me something nice Emma said or did tonight.”

She was distracting her. And it was working. Regina felt another and bigger smile spread on her lips as she signed: ‘she said that I am beautiful.’

Zelena was grinning now. Grinning. Because they both knew how important it was. How long it had been since someone that was not her family had called Regina beautiful. “Damn right you are,” Zelena said plainly.

Regina smiled at her sister and swelled in the memory of Emma calling her beautiful whilst blushing and smiling so sweetly. That compliment had been completely sincere. It had come from a place of
kindness. And while Regina did not always feel beautiful, it was wonderful to know that Emma Swan perceived her as such.

Regina grabbed her laptop and opened it again. She had a plan. She was going to google garlic-roasted chicken with root vegetables. That was what she was going to make for dinner tomorrow. It sounded like a lot, but Regina had missed going crazy in the kitchen. She had missed cooking more lavish meals, and since tomorrow was Sunday, she had plenty of time to do so. They didn’t have any
garlic, though. She would have to buy that tomorrow. She would get up early and go to the grocery store before the place got too crowded. That was a great plan.

“Garlic chicken,” Zelena said as she read over Regina’s shoulder. “That sounds good, sis. Is that tomorrow’s menu?”

Regina nodded eagerly and felt quite excited at the prospect of cooking for her family. It seemed like such a basic thing. Perhaps not the most exciting thing to be looking forward to. But there had been a moment where Regina thought that she would never be able to cook for her family again, so now she cherished it. And speaking of family... Regina wiggled her fingers in the air. ‘You should invite Chad.’

“You think so?” Zelena smiled. “Well, he would definitely not say no to that offer. You know how much he loves your garlic chicken. But are you sure you feel up for seeing him?”

Regina nodded firmly. Chad was a good man. She would never forget how gentle he had been to her when she was in the hospital. She had been scared of being alone but also scared of men, so Chad had ended up sitting in the farthest corner of the room just talking to her. Assuring her that he was still there so she shouldn’t be alone.

Of course Chad should be seated at the table with them tomorrow night....

 

The following morning found Regina in one of the bigger supermarkets. It was ridiculously early. So early that Henry was not even thinking about getting out of bed yet.

But Regina was awake. And very alert and eager right from the crack of dawn. She was pushing a shopping cart and had a huge list over things she needed. Regina had so many baking plans for next week.
And just cooking plans in general.

She quickly snatched a garlic. The last garlic. Regina felt slightly triumphant. She was looking forward to cooking tonight. Actually, she was looking forward to many things. She had promised Henry to watch a movie with him. Something Disney. Not because he’d had any nightmares, but simply because.

Regina liked ‘simply because’ days. And she liked that she now was able to go to the supermarket on her own. Unaccompanied. That was a huge thing for her.

She had reached quite a few milestones lately, and she was pretty proud of herself. She was allowed to be that. Her therapist always said so anyway. Normally, Regina wasn’t one for constantly patting herself on the back, but now she needed it. She needed to consider every minor thing a step in the right direction.

Regina glanced at her shopping list. Carrots. She needed carrots. Henry wasn’t overly fond of carrots, but it was healthy, and Regina always made an effort to make healthy food for her son. And herself.

Now that she was out of hospital and off the liquid diet and had started to slowly put on some weight again, it was important that she took care of her body. Stayed healthy and all that.
Inspired by that, Regina went over and grabbed a bag of apples. They were almost brightly red and very delicious looking. Hmm. Perhaps she should make something out of those apples? Apple pie. Or maybe even- Regina smiled a little- apple turnovers. It had been a million years since she last made apple turnovers. Henry loved her apple turnovers. And so did Zelena.

Did Emma Swan?

Wait. Regina frowned. Where did that come from? Had she already reached the state where she wanted to bake for Emma Swan? Oh god, she had completely forgotten to text Emma last night. She had been meaning to do so. She had been meaning to tell Emma what a lovely time she’d had, but fatigue had gotten the best of her and she had been asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. But she would definitely text Emma the moment she got back from the grocery store. Or... Perhaps she would wait an hour or two. God forbid that she should end up waking Emma from her sleep or something.
That would be quite terrible.

Regina lingered for a moment in the fruit and vegetables department. Maybe she should buy some broccoli. She was certain she could use it for something. A pasta or something. It tasted good and was healthy. Ish. Right now, ish was good enough for her.

“Regina?”

Regina’s head whipped up and she turned around. Equal amount of joy and guilt rushed over her when she saw who had called out to her.

“I thought that was you,” Malena said calmly as she came over to her. She was carrying a shopping basket filled with groceries. Malena had always been one for shopping either very early in the morning or very late at night. That was a good way to avoid the crowd. Malena wasn’t a huge fan of crowds.

“You look splendid, dear,” Malena praised in her everyday-voice. “Love the hair. The short style suits you well.”

Regina smiled meekly at her oldest friend who clearly made an effort to sound like no time at all hadn’t passed between them. And that Regina had not dropped off the surface of the earth without reaching out to her. Malena looked exactly like herself in her grey suit and with her long blonde hair rolled into a neat bun.

“I trust you’re feeling better too?” Malena asked. Still completely nonchalantly.

Regina nodded. She did feel better. But also very awkward and ashamed right now. She had not expected Malena to be here. And she knew that she had been a bad friend the last... Well, the last year and a half. A terrible friend who had stopped returning phone calls and answering texts almost in the blink of an eye.

But she could not tell Malena that it was Killian who had forbidden her to reach out and that she had been too scared of him to go against his demands.

She just couldn’t.

“Well, it is wonderful to see you again, dear,” Malena said calmly. “It has been forever and a day.”

Regina foolishly opened her mouth to apologize. But then she remembered that she could not utter a word.

“It’s quite alright, dear,” Malena said and flashed Regina a little smile. “You had your reasons, I’m sure. And I am fully convinced that you were planning on reaching out to me when you could. Isn’t that right?”

Regina nodded eagerly. That had been the plan all along, and now that she was thinking of it, she was actually relieved that Malena was right here. It was far easier to get things done when the person in question was right here.

But Malena does not understand Sign Language.

And Regina did not feel too good about writing messages on the phone. That part was easier with Emma Swan. Because Emma did not know her before.

But Malena did. And she would find it very different from the way they normally communicated.

“And the little man?” Malena asked. “Is he doing alright too?”

Regina nodded again. Felt frustrated. God, it was so ridiculous that all she could do was nod! It didn’t feel like it was enough!

“Good,” Malena said. “That’s good to hear.” She seemed to shift a little bit, and Regina felt for her. Smalltalk had never been one of Malena’s strongest suits and now she literally had to carry the
conversation all on her own.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about you.” Malena scoffed and rolled her eyes. “In a friendly manner, obviously. How you were doing, etcetera. So it is wonderful to see you looking so well. Did you get the flowers I sent you?”

Regina nodded. She did. Snapdragons. Malena’s trademark flowers.

“Oh, good. I’m glad.” Malena gave her one of her ‘x-ray’-glances.

Now Regina had to do something that was not either smiling or nodding. She found her phone in the pocket of her coat and began typing. ‘It is nice to see you again. I am sorry I haven’t reached out to you sooner. Things have been very hectic, and I have not been feeling my best.’ To put it lightly. It sounded like a bad excuse, but it really was not. And it was the best she could do. Regina hesitantly turned the screen towards her oldest friend and hoped that Malena would not mind this kind of communication. This was the best she could do in that regard too.

Malena quickly got the hint and leaned forward to read the message. After a moment she looked back at Regina. “Well, as I said, you had your reasons for not reaching out. I know you. I know you wouldn’t just disappear altogether. And you didn’t.”

Regina smiled and shook her head. She very much did not. Thank god.

“But perhaps we could try getting back in touch?” Malena suggested. Not a word about Regina’s new way of communication. “I have missed your delightful inputs and general comments.”

There was nothing Regina wanted more than to re-discover her place as Malena’s friend. But so many things had happened since they last spoke. Now Regina could not speak. That was a problem in itself.

And then of course there were the many things Regina currently kept hidden from Mal. The truth about how she lost her voice. She was not ready for Mal to know that. Not ready for her to know the truth about what should have been a fairytale wedding. She knew her friend and knew that one of her first questions would be ‘why didn’t you tell me?’

And what was Regina supposed to say to that?

That she was a coward? That she had allowed some man to slap her around?

She settled for smiling at Malena.

“Well, I will leave you to your shopping then,” Malena said casually. “Give my best to Henry. And don’t be a stranger. Please.”

Regina was not sure how to do that...

 

A few hours later found Regina back at Zelena’s place. More specifically on Zelena’s couch. She had taken off her makeup. Taken off her scarf. Her wound was itching, so removing the scarf was most likely a good thing. She had changed out of her stiff ‘grocery-shopping’-clothes and back into her soft, comfortable sweatpants and the loose t-shirt. She was not going anywhere. She was allowed to look like this on Sunday.

And she was also allowed to look like this on any other given day. It was damn well up to her how she wanted to dress. Nobody else could or should decide that.

She had done her yoga earlier, prepared the chicken to go into the oven in about an hour. She could probably come up with more ‘adult-stuff’ to do if she really strained herself. Answer emails. Balance her checkbook. Reach out to the university about that ‘maybe’-job.

But right now she did not want to strain herself. She just wanted to sit on the couch with her son and watch a Disney movie. Exactly like they had planned.

They were well into their second cup of hot chocolate, and Regina’s arm were loosely draped around Henry’s shoulder when her phone vibrated against the coffee table. Someone had just sent her a message, and Regina quickly snatched the phone to see what it was. It did not take long before the message made her smile. ‘Thank you so much for last night! I had a really good time.’ Emma. Once again, Regina had forgotten to text her. That had gotten lost in unloading the groceries and making breakfast for Henry. But now she could at last text Emma. And she did. ‘So did I. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so relaxed.’ She sent the text and waited for an answer. Tried to focus on The Lion King, but Zelena’s groan of dismay coming from the kitchen made it rather hard.

“Swear jar!” Henry called to his aunt and wrinkled his little nose at the bad word Zelena had just uttered.

“My apologies,” Zelena said as she came wandering into the living room. Her eyes were on Regina as she said: “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

Regina tilted her head. Did Chad have to cancel tonight? That would be unfortunate seeing that the chicken was too big for just three people. Even though Henry had claimed that he could eat ‘all of it!’

Regina did not doubt that. Her son had always displayed a very healthy appetite. And it had only gotten better lately. Exactly like hers.

“My boss just texted me,” Zelena began and groaned again. “On a flippin’ Sunday! Apparently, I have to work late next Saturday. Michelle’s ill so we’re understaffed, and if I say no... Well, I don’t think my boss would be very happy with me.” she gnashed her teeth. “And I’m afraid it means that I can’t go with you to the concert anyway. I’m so sorry, Regina!”

Oh. How unfortunate. Regina felt a pang of disappointment. This was something she really wanted. But oh well. Sometimes plans changed. That was just how things were. She quickly composed herself and signed: ‘It’s alright. I will just get the tickets refunded.’

“Or bring someone else maybe?” Zelena suggested hopefully. It was clear that she hated the idea of Regina not being able to go.

Regina glanced at Henry.

Henry gave her a bit of a skeptical look. One that clearly said: ‘if you want to, I will go with you, but I won’t like it’. Regina could not do that to him. She could not force a ten year old to a classical concert
with her. She was not Cora Mills, for god’s sake. No, she would simply get the tickets refunded. And hope that Priscilla Adams would come to Vancouver some other time.

It was completely fine.

Maybe she wasn’t ready to go to a concert anyway.

“I’m really sorry,” Zelena said and looked as sad as a kid who got disappointed on Christmas day. “I know how much you wanted to go. I feel like a bastard for cancelling!”

Regina smiled a little as she shook her head. There was no need for that. It was just a thing that happened. No big deal.

“I will make it up to you. I promise!” Zelena assured as she patted Regina’s shoulder and then disappeared. Most likely to call her boss and yell.

Henry turned his attention back to the movie running over the screen, and Regina turned her attention back to her phone so she could answer the text Emma had sent her: ‘I’m very happy to hear that.
What are you and the kid doing on this fine Sunday morning?’

Regina smiled as she texted back. ‘Henry decided that today is pajamas and movie day. I decided to just indulge him, so now we’re watching The Lion King. For the millionth time.’ Henry knew every single line in that movie. All of it. Sometimes he said the lines along with ‘the actors’, and Regina always found that to be mighty entertaining.

‘That honestly sounds like the perfect Sunday morning to me. I’m kinda jealous now.’

Regina was sure that her smile widened. ‘I know I should be happy that he still wants to watch movies with me, but honest to god, he has watched that movie about a million times. He knows all the lines.’

‘Yeah, I bet he does. But he’s not alone. The Lion King was my favorite movie when I was a kid. I could watch it all the time. I even had a CD so I could listen to all the songs all the time.’

Texting Emma made Regina think about how nice it had been last night. How comfortable she had been in Emma Swan’s company. And how it technically was her turn to invite Emma out. It was only reasonable. The wheels in Regina’s head started turning. She had two tickets for the Priscilla Adams concert. Two.

Maybe she did not have to cancel.

Maybe she could in fact ask someone else.

Someone that was not her sister.

Regina found herself perking up. That was not a bad idea at all. It was a brilliant one. Of course it was a classical concert and probably not quite Emma’s ‘thing’, but it was worth a shot, right?

‘Speaking of watching and listening to things... Can I ask a favor of you?’

The response came immediately. ‘Yeah, of course. Anything.’

Regina felt nervous as she began to type in a message. She feared that Emma was going to say no. And she could feel how much she truly wanted to go to the concert with Emma. They had been good at going out for dinner together, so why shouldn’t they be good at going to a concert too. Regina quickly re-read the text she had just typed in. ‘My sister and I were supposed to go to a classical concert at The Orpheum next Saturday, but she has just told me that she has to work that night. Over time. There’s nothing she can do about it; her boss won’t let her take the night off. She can’t go with me anyway. Is there any chance you’d want to go with me instead? I’m not sure classical music is your thing, but Henry just stared at me when I asked him, and I don’t want to go alone.’ Very polite. Regina tapped ‘send’ and waited with baited breath for Emma’s answer. This was either hit or miss.

She had not even watched a minute of The Lion King before the answer came. ‘Of course! I’d love to.’

Regina couldn’t help but feel a little skeptic, and her next text reflected that: ‘really?’

‘Absolutely. Should I wear something special? Is there like a dress code or something?’

Regina was smiling again. She could feel it. Emma was very sweet and eager. It was positively endearing. ‘Wear whatever you want. I’m just relived that I’m not going alone.’

‘Emma Swan to the rescue! Just call me the Savior. Should I pick you up somewhere? That would be most practical, right? There’s no reason why you should drive all the way to Steveston to pick me up.’

How thoughtful. Regina quickly texted back, stating that she agreed with Emma and then gave her Zelena’s address in Vancouver West, Granville. She hoped that Emma would be able to find it.

It did not take long before the answer ticked in. ‘No problem. I’ll find that. What time should I pick you up then?’

What time should I pick you up. So normal. So... date-esque. Honestly, Regina could barely believe it. ‘Well, the concert starts at seven thirty, so I think it could be good if you could pick me up at seven.
That way we have time to find a parking lot, etc.’ Regina liked being early.

‘Perfect. I’ll be there at seven PM sharp.’

“Mom, you’re not watching the movie,” Henry complained.

He was right. Regina was most definitely not watching the movie. She smiled at him and made a half-hearted hand gesture to indicate that she would be in a moment. She just had to answer this message real quickly. Then she would be completely present. Pinky promise.

‘Excellent. I’m very happy you want to go with me. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.’ she pressed ‘send’ before she could get the chance to regret it. Why not just be truthful? She WAS looking forward to seeing Emma again. There was no point in denying that.

Then she put the phone down and turned her attention to the movie. Wrapped an arm around Henry’s shoulder to show him how present she was.

But she was not allowed to stay present for long. Around five minutes later, Zelena re-entered the living room, grumbling about her boss and her ridiculous demands. But she stopped complaining when she saw the look on Regina’s face.

“What are you smiling about?” she asked and raised an eyebrow as she glanced towards the television screen. Mufasa was dying. That wasn’t exactly something to smile about.

Regina discreetly removed her arm from Henry’s shoulder. She needed both hands to sign. ‘I asked Emma to go to the concert with me. She said yes. She will be picking me up at seven on Saturday.’

Whether it was because of Henry’s presence or because she simply did not have any words remained unclear, but Zelena did not say anything. Instead she just smiled and smiled and looked vaguely like a maniac.

But that did not matter. Because Regina was smiling too. In the same fashion, she feared. Which did not matter either.

She was excited about going to the concert.

And she was excited about seeing Emma again.

Perhaps she would even put on her red dress. She had not worn that in ages.

And maybe she was even hoping that Emma Swan would notice her dress...

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Well.

Regina had been very confident and content when inviting Emma Swan to go to the classical concert with her. She had only been excited and not at all nervous during the week.

But now as she sat here on the edge of the bed, in the middle of rolling her thin stockings up her legs, she couldn’t help but to feel nervous. Was this even a good idea? What if Emma Swan would bore herself half to death at the concert? What if she only had set yes to do Regina a favor and not because she really wanted to go?

Shit.

Regina took a deep breath and urged herself to calm down. If Emma did not want to go, she would not have said yes, would she? She had done it because she was interested in spending time with Regina.

She really shouldn’t be feeling so insecure about this. Or about anything, really.

She attached the stockings to the garter belt and then smoothened the lacy trim on the stockings, so it didn’t fold awkwardly on her legs. It would look strange under the dress.

The dress. Regina turned her head and shot said dress an almost loving look. Her red dress. And not just that. Her favorite red dress. Made of cashmere and so brightly red it would make anyone feel better about everything.

Regina felt pretty good tonight. Apart from being a bit nervous, of course. She had brushed her hair until it shone. She had put on her favorite little diamond stud earrings. She had applied a discreet shade to her eyelids, mascara that made her eyelashes seem longer and curlier, and of course red lipstick to match the dress she was going to wear.

She stood from the edge of the bed and walked over to the full-figure mirror on stocking clad feet. Looked at herself in the mirror. Regina could not remember the last time she had worn underwear this fancy. And even less when she had worn it for herself and only herself. There was no ulterior motive. She was not trying to please a man who refused to be pleased no matter what she did. No, tonight she was wearing lacy black underwear with matching garter belt for her own sake. Because she wanted to feel pretty. Needed to feel pretty.

Regina licked her lips as she studied herself in the mirror. She was not half as skinny as she had been a month ago. Her hipbones were still a bit too protruding, but if she just continued to eat well, that would disappear too, and her hips would regain their natural fullness. She noted that it was not that anxiety inducing to look at her body tonight. She wasn’t sure why, but she was more than willing to go with it. Being able to look at her body and feeling like it actually belonged to her made for a nice change.

Now it was time for the dress. Regina walked over to the closet and plucked the dress of its hanger. Held it in her hands for a moment. How she had missed this dress. How grateful she was that it had not been tainted by any bad memories. She unzipped it and slipped her arms through the non-existent sleeves. Then she wriggled (and nearly dislocated her shoulder) as she zipped the dress up in the back.

It fitted her. That was the first thing she felt once she had zipped it. It did not fold awkwardly on her like some of her other clothes tended to do. She did not even need to belt the dress. What a victory. A belt would have looked awkward with this kind of dress.

Regina turned around and inspected herself in the mirror. The dress was short. Ended above her knees. Had a scoop neckline. She was not showing any cleavage in this dress. Only her collarbones. Those were bony too. And of course the plaster on her throat was on full display too. Regina made a face. They couldn’t have that. She walked back to the mirror and found one of her many cream colored scarves. Tied it around her neck in a neat bow like she had on the previous date with Emma. She liked the fancy way of tying her necessary accessory. When the scarf was tied, and after having made sure that the plaster wasn’t sticking out anywhere, there was only one more thing she needed to do. Put on her shoes.

Regina gazed lovingly at her shoe collection. God knows she had always valuated elegant shoes. She could wear high heels tonight. They wouldn’t be walking anywhere. Just sitting down at the concert.
Tonight it was safe to wear high heels. Another victory. Another thing she had missed. She found her nicest pair of Jimmy Choo’s and slipped them on. When she rose to her full height, she was several inches taller. That pleased her. Her height (or lack of) had always been one of her pressure points. But tonight she did not feel insecure about her appearance. She felt... good. Interesting. It had been so long since she last felt good about herself and how she looked. But tonight she felt almost unstoppable. She was wearing her favorite red dress. She was on her way out to attend a concert with a lovely woman she really liked.

Regina felt like she was on to something good. Something very good.

She looked at herself in the mirror once more. Turned sideways. Did a joking little spin and surprised herself by making that strange rumble-laughter deep in her chest. Not quite like her old laughter, but she could get used to it. And she could get used to feeling this good. She couldn’t quite figure out whether she was completely happy, but she was definitely something that felt like it. And that was good enough for her. Almost-happy was far better than everything else she had been feeling over the past months.

Regina turned her back on her reflection and went back to the bed where her purse was waiting for her. She sat down on the edge of the bed and looked through it. Found what she was looking for. The pre-prepared note she had written for Emma earlier. Her pre-prepared notes were almost becoming a tradition. Regina smiled a little to herself. Then she smoothened a hand over her dress. Did it look alright? Was she overdoing it? Was she too overdressed? What if Emma thought that it was too much?

Her confidence threatened to burst like a bubble for a moment.

But then she shook her head firmly and reminded herself that she was not supposed to think like that. This was a nice dress. She knew it was a nice dress. There was absolutely no reason as to why Emma shouldn’t think so either. Period.

A distinct crunching sound in the gravel outside made her snap out of it. She quickly rose from the bed and walked over to the window. Peered out through the tiny crack in the curtain. There was a certain adorable little yellow bug standing parked outside. Regina smiled. She couldn’t have imagined a nicer carriage to come and pick her up than Emma Swan’s sweet little yellow bug. She was here. Thank god.

Regina hadn’t been very comfortable being alone in her sister’s house. Zelena was working and Henry was staying over at Nick’s. Regina had put on a brave face when Zelena fussed about her being home alone. Of course she could be on her own until Emma arrived to pick her up.

But as it turned out, Regina wasn’t doing a very good job at being home alone. She was constantly startled by ordinary things. The dishwasher clacking when something was knocking against it. The sink gurgling. A car speeding past. She had turned into such a scaredy cat. And she had become notorious when it came to switching on the lights in every room. She absolutely could not stand the darkness. It was so easy to SEE things in the darkness. Shadows. That looked like a man. Something she spotted out of the corner of her eye.

Killian grinning at her from the shadows.

No.

Regina didn’t want to think about it. She pushed the thoughts away and then quickly texted Zelena to let her know that Emma was here. She had promised her sister to do so.

It did not take long before she received an answer. ‘Have fun!!!’

Regina was definitely intending on having just that. She settled for sending her sister a quick thumbs up, and then she found her white trench coat and put it on. Tied the belt tightly around her. Took a quick glance at herself in the hallway mirror. She looked nice. Elegant. Good. Elegant was what she had hoped to look tonight. Quite the change from all the baggy clothes she had worn previously. But a most welcome change too. She slung her purse over her shoulder and then left the house.

The weather was nippy, and Regina was glad that Emma had not parked too far away. She could see her sit inside of her car. Wearing her red leather jacket. Either that leather jacket was a favorite, or
Emma simply did not own any other jackets. The thought of that concerned Regina quite a bit. That leather jacket was not nearly warm enough for this kind of weather. But then again, it was not her thing to be concerned about. Who knew, maybe the leather jacket was thicker than it looked.

Regina tried to believe that as she carefully walked through the gravel. Soon she was standing in front of the yellow bug, and Emma was quick to look up. Regina flashed her a smile as she opened the car door to the passengers seat. Emma had turned up the heat and was listening to a song on the radio. She was quick to switch off the radio when Regina entered the car, though. The first thing she did was to reach within her purse and find the note she had written earlier (hello, it’s nice to see you again). She preferred to greet Emma first thing. She handed the note over to Emma.

“You, too,” Emma smiled. “Are you ready to go?”

Regina nodded and her gaze flickered to her reflection in the mirror. Was her lipstick really that dark? Perhaps she should have gone with a more subtle red than this one. Perhaps she had overdone it a bit.

But what was done was done, and it was too late to change anything.

Instead of nitpicking and trying to find flaws in herself, Regina decided to concentrate on something else. Like... the dress Emma was wearing tonight. At least Regina suspected that it was a dress. It definitely had a long skirt. It was sequined and glittery, and while Emma steered the car onto the road, Regina found herself quite unable to look away. Until she remembered that staring was rude.

Especially when you couldn’t say what you were thinking. Wordless staring was bound to give someone the wrong impression. Or make them feel insecure. And Regina definitely did not want Emma to feel insecure.

There was a moment in which Emma very briefly took her eyes off the road, and Regina took the moment to form a single word with her lips. ‘Pretty’. Emma definitely was pretty tonight. Her hair, her makeup, her clothes, everything. She had looked pretty the last time too, of course. But there was just something about her tonight.

“Thank you,” Emma smiled. Clearly blushing at the compliment. “I’ve just bought it.”

She had not only meant the dress, but she could not tell Emma that. And she was distracted by Emma’s words too. Had she bought a new dress especially for tonight? Oh my. Regina smiled at her to acknowledge the thank you.

Do you wanna listen to music or anything?” Emma asked. “You’re more than welcome to abuse the radio.”

God, Emma’s way of speaking. Would it ever cease to amuse Regina? Probably not. And she did not need music. She shook her head. She was quite comfortable with the silence. It was not the slightest bit awkward to be unable to speak in Emma’s company. It did not make Regina feel self-conscious like it probably would in other situations. But of course Emma was more than welcome to speak if she wanted to. She didn’t, though. So perhaps she was comfortable in the silence too. Regina hoped so. It would be awfully awkward if Emma was just sitting and trying to come up with ways to fill out the silence in the car. Regina quickly glanced at Emma to see if that was the case.

But no, Emma was just sitting there, smiling to herself as though she was thinking about something nice. Good. That was good.

“Glad we’re doing this,” Emma said casually.

So was Regina. She nodded eagerly. Very glad indeed. She made herself comfortable and leaned back in the car seat. She liked driving in Emma Swan’s sweet little yellow bug. If she ever was to acquire a new car, it surely would be yellow. It was such a happy color. And it reminded her of the shade of Emma’s hair.

Regina discreetly glanced at said hair. She feared that she was developing quite the thing for Emma’s hair. She wondered what Emma would say if she knew it.

For some reason, Regina got the feeling that Emma wouldn’t be particularly upset about it. And then she wondered what Emma thought of her. Would she tell her that she looked beautiful tonight as well?

Regina hoped so. Really hoped so. It had been so wonderful to be told she looked beautiful. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had told her that. And she had actually believed it too. Emma was so genuine. Had a certain way with words.

She was staring. Regina quickly turned her head and looked out of the window. She didn’t want to creep Emma out by being caught staring at her.

It didn’t take long before a certain prickling sensation on the side of her neck told her that she was being looked at now. But Regina did not find it to be the slightest bit creepy. She liked it. She liked when
Emma looked at her. If only she knew what she was thinking too. That would have been great.

“You’re not cold, are you?” Emma asked worriedly. “The heating’s a bit dodgy sometimes.”

Regina shook her head. No, she was definitely not cold. Quite the reverse, actually. Warm feelings seemed to be filling her, and she had to remind herself not to smile goofily.

“Awesome,” Emma laughed. “I’m not cold either.”

Did that mean that she too was full of warm feelings?

Regina hoped so.

 

Regina had worried that Emma would have trouble with finding the theater, giving directions was ever so difficult when you couldn’t talk. But the drive went completely smoothly, and soon Emma parked the little yellow bug in front of the theater.

“Are you ready to head out?” Emma asked as she switched off the engine.

Regina nodded and fumbled with her purse for a moment while finding the two tickets for tonight’s show. Then she unbuckled her seatbelt and stepped out of the car.

Emma quickly followed suit. Regina could hear the telltale ‘clack-clack’ of high heels against the pavement, and she smiled. She was not the only one who had made an effort tonight.

The look on Emma’s face when stepping inside the theater and seeing the red carpets on the floor, the golden archways and enormous staircase was worth a million bucks. She looked like she was on the verge of exclaiming something, but bit it back.

Regina gestured towards the door leading to the wardrobe, and Emma nodded and followed suit. Regina did not think twice before paying for a locker room where they could hang their coats. Emma had paid for the meal and dessert the last time. It was only fair that Regina paid for this. She loosened the belt in her trench coat and slipped it off.

Emma did the same with her red leather jacket, and Regina found herself quite unable to look away.

Emma was wearing a silvery grey sequin dress with thin straps and a low neckline. Classy with just a hint of flirting to it. The dress was quite long too, but could never become too long because of the high heels Emma was donning tonight.

Emma’s hair also looked particularly nice tonight. It was hanging loose, but there was still something different about it. It looked fuller. She had used something to give it some volume. And honestly, she did not need to do anything else. Emma’s hair was gorgeous just the way it was.

Did Emma know just how lovely she looked tonight, Regina wondered. She hoped so. She wanted Emma to know. Wanted her to feel confident. She had every right to feel confident when she looked this
lovely.

That dress was so lovely on Emma.

It suited her so well.

The color seemed to bring out her wonderful green eyes.

That was when she noticed that Emma’s eyes had strayed from her face and to her neck. Regina did not need to look down to know what Emma most likely was staring at. She had felt her scarf slip when she took off her coat. Had Emma gotten a glimpse of something? Regina tried not to tighten in her shoulders as she quickly tugged the scarf up to cover the plaster once more. She should probably be
nervous that things would be awkward now, but for some reason, her brain couldn’t quite focus on it. Instead her mind only focused on how wonderful Emma looked tonight.

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Regina felt so tempted to write that in a message, but she also feared that it would be too awkward. Or too much. Too soon. Too everything.

Emma flushed and her cheeks pinked beautifully once more. Regina had always envied people’s abilities to blush. Her skin tone did not really allow much blushing.

Then Emma drew a lock of hair behind her ear. But she did not look away. She smiled.

Oh, that smile. Emma Swan’s smile could stop wars, Regina was sure of that. And she was also sure that she had to look away. Otherwise she would end up writing something stupid.

Like how beautiful Emma was.

Like how she was dangerously close to falling for Emma Swan.

Was that even possible?

Could she even feel like that again?

It seemed crazy.

Regina flashed Emma a little smile and then she nodded towards the door.

“Yeah,” Emma agreed. “We better get going.”

Regina’s thoughts exactly. She lead as they left the wardrobe and into the rather impressive foyer. She felt a bit weak in the knees, she would admit that. Emma’s smile had been burned into her memories
for always. She would never be able to forget it.

They found the queue and waited to get inside the concert hall. Regina found the tickets in her purse and held onto them, so she was ready to show them to the clerk when it became their turn to find
their seats.

“I’m glad you asked me to come with you tonight,” Emma said softly, shifting slightly next to Regina. Perhaps she wasn’t all that accustomed to wearing high heels.

Regina smiled at her. She definitely did not regret the spontaneous invitation at all. Inviting Emma Swan to the concert had been a brilliant idea, and- as terrible as it sounded- Regina was actually sort of happy that Zelena had to work tonight.

“Thank you,” Emma said plainly. She sounded so genuine.

She did not have to thank her. Regina’s chest rumbled in silent laughter. This was a date. No thank you’s were required. Emma was sweetly silly for thinking so.

“So, where’s Henry tonight? Is he staying over somewhere?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded in confirmation.

“Classical music not his groove?” Emma grinned and clearly already knew the answer.

Definitely not his groove, no. Regina shook her head firmly.

“Well...” Emma chuckled again. “Good thing you could find someone else to ask then.”

A very good thing indeed. For a single, silly moment, Regina suddenly felt tempted to reach out and put a hand on Emma’s arm. Or maybe even take her hand and hold it. Just for a moment. But she did not feel quite brave enough to do it. They were standing in the middle of a line. She couldn’t just randomly start holding Emma’s hand in the middle of a que.

But some day....

Someday it would be nice to hold Emma’s hand.

Just for a moment.

Regina turned her head to overlook the que. The line was moving quickly now. Thankfully. Regina was still not overly fond of standing in line. She could handle it tonight because Emma was standing behind her and was not posing as a threat to her. Neither did the elderly couple in front of her. Many people had come to see the concert and Priscilla Adams. She would be singing for a full house tonight.

Once she reached the clerk, Regina showed off the two tickets and made it clear that Emma was with her. The clerk wished them a good concert, and Regina was certain that it would be...

 

It was.

It was fantastic.

Violins. Flutes. Piano. Violas.

Regina was soaking it all up. Breathing in the atmosphere.

She had missed the rush going to a classical concert gave her. She had missed feeling like the music was within her.

She did not feel anything except for joy when she was listening to classical music.

But it was more than that.

She felt like her old self when she was sitting here. And she felt beyond grateful that she was capable of being here. That her fear and anxiety had not made it impossible for her to do the things that made her happy.

Like this.

The melody the flutes were playing reminded her of a Spanish lullaby her father once had sung to her. The pianist’s skillful playing almost made her a bit dizzy. How could anyone be capable of playing that fast? The violins were almost singing. It was incredible. Regina felt so completely alive as she sat here in the cushy velvet seat and listened to the beautiful music that filled the concert room.

And she was not the only one who was enjoying herself. Emma Swan appeared to be quite enthralled by the music, thank god. Regina had been worried because Emma at first had been sitting completely stiffly in her seat almost like she was scared of doing something wrong. Afraid of moving. Once again, Regina had been so tempted to reach out and either take Emma’s hand or pat her arm to assure her that everything was alright.

But now Emma seemed to be relaxing more. Sitting comfortably in her seat and clearly enjoying herself.

Regina was relieved to see it. Emma’s relaxed posture was making her feel more relaxed as well, and she leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes as she listened to the music. She felt the goosebumps erupt on her skin, and she smiled to herself as she shivered. Classical music always made her feel like this. Emotional. But even more so tonight. Because it had been such a long time since she had gone to a classical concert, and so much had happened since.

So, so much.

If someone would have told her six months ago that she would be sitting here, attending a classical concert with a beautiful woman, Regina simply would not have believed them.

But it was true. Sometimes the impossible could happen. She opened her eyes, made eye contact with Emma and then smiled at her.

Emma returned the smile.

 

It felt like the concert had just started when the intermission came. Regina left the concert hall on legs that were shaking slightly, and she felt a bit silly. Hadn’t anticipated that she would become this affected by the music.

Getting back in the lobby felt good. The music had almost overwhelmed her at certain points, and she could need a breather.

Emma insisted upon buying her a drink. And Regina let her. She could need a drink too. She allowed herself a small glass of white wine. That would be okay. She hadn’t taken any painkillers today. She was pretty proud of that.

Emma ordered a glass of water for herself, and when their drinks arrived, she was quick to lift hers. “Cheers,” she said as she clinked it with Regina’s.

Regina returned the smile, raised the glass slightly and then took a sip of the white wine. Mmm. It tasted very good. She should start drinking more white wine.

“Good?” Emma asked as she nodded towards the glass in Regina’s hand.

Regina nodded eagerly in response. Reached for her purse and found the well-known stack of post-its. Of course she had brought those with her tonight. She could have used her phone. It probably would have been quicker to use her phone. But she preferred this method. It was starting to feel like her and Emma’s ‘thing’. She quickly found a pencil too and then wrote a message. ‘Yes, it’s very good.
Thank you for buying me wine. You didn’t have to do that.’ When she was done writing, she pushed the note towards Emma.

“And you didn’t have to invite me to this concert,” Emma teased once she was done reading. “But I’m glad you did, though. It’s amazing.”

So, so amazing! Regina was so happy Emma was sharing her feelings. She quickly began writing a new message: ‘Yes, it really is. I’m glad you’re having a good time. Do you think you’ll be going to more classical concerts in the future, then?’ she pushed the note over to Emma.

“Oh yes, absolutely!” Emma said firmly and nodded. “If I can find people who plays the violin half as good as those guys on stage does, that is.”

Regina took the liberty to doubt that, and she couldn’t help but smile as she took another sip of her wine. Tonight’s date was shaping up to be exactly as successful as the one they’d had in Steveston, and
if it continued, Regina could see herself go on more dates with Emma Swan in the future. If Emma wanted to keep dating her, that was.

Regina hoped so. She looked at Emma as she sipped her glass of water. Looked at Emma’s hair which seemed to be shining golden in the light here. God, Emma was beautiful. It was difficult for Regina to look away.

But she had no choice but to do so when the little bell above them rang and indicated that the intermission was over.

 

She was almost jittering with excitement when they found their seats again. It was almost time for Priscilla Adams to take the stage.

But first the orchestra played a set of three songs. Bach’s Air. Beethoven’s Für Elise. The pianist was outstanding. And at last Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Then a sort of medley of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Regina’s foot seemed to be moving up and down on its own accord, and she had to remind herself that this was a classical concert. Not a place for ‘dancing feet’.

At last came the thing she had been anticipating ever since finding her seat. Priscilla Adams walked on stage. Her long white dress looked like something taken out of a fairytale, and her long blonde hair had been piled onto her head in an elegant updo. Priscilla Adams was an elegant woman. Regina had always thought so. Now she applauded along with everyone else. Priscilla Adams was a popular lady, and she smiled graciously as she walked over to the microphone. The conductor signalized to the orchestra, and after the preliminary tunes, Priscilla began singing with her honey-sweet, crystal clear voice:

 

‘“Try to remember the kind of September,
When life was slow and oh
so mellow...”

Oh, that one. Regina immediately smiled in recognition. She had so many memories tied to that song. It was one of the first songs she had ever sung for Henry when he was nothing more than a tiny bundle that could easily fit in her arms. He was getting so big now. So grown up.

“Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green, and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow...”

 

Priscilla’s voice was so rich and warm. Regina had no desire to bounce her foot up and down now. Instead she found herself growing slightly more somber. Her time at the psychiatric hospital was a time she rarely wanted to think about. The first week there was actually quite blurred. But there was one thing she remembered. This song. She had been sitting in her too big hospital bed, wearing too big sweatpants and a too big t-shirt. And she had been listening to this song over and over again. In an attempt to feel connected to something during a period of time where she did not feel connected to herself. This song had helped her stay grounded when everything threatened to crash in her mind. Regina blinked rapidly in an attempt to prevent the tears from falling. But she could not. She was suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of the darkest chapters in her life where one song had played such a huge part.

Emma was looking at her. Regina could sense it. She quickly wiped her cheeks and then shot Emma a sideway glance. Smiled a little and shook her head. Silently apologized for being so silly and potentially make Emma feel awkward. She most likely did not come here to see Regina cry.

Oddly enough, Regina did not come here to cry either. To think that there had been a time where she wasn’t this sensitive. Those were the days. Now she cried over just about everything. She was even more sensitive than she was when she was pregnant with Henry.

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember,
Although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it’s nice to remember,
Without a hurt the heart will hollow....”

Regina’s chest tightened suddenly. Priscilla Adam’s voice was really touching her tonight. She was clearly in an extra vulnerable state.

Because this was so important.

She was here.

In her red dress.

She was alive.

By all the gods, she was still alive.

Badly bruised, but not broken.

She was still capable of feeling.

And not only bad things.

She glanced at Emma who was looking spellbound at Priscilla Adams.

In time, Regina’s feelings for Emma could grow.

If they were allowed to.

If they were given the proper time to unfurl.

Would Emma be patient, Regina wondered.

Would she wait for her?

Wait for her to fully embrace her feelings.

Wait for her to no longer be scared of opening her heart.

God, was that even possible?

To let someone else in.

To trust someone else with her heart.

Would Emma be capable of still feeling something for her if she were to find out what had happened to Regina?

Could she live with it?

Could Regina?

Would it be possible for Regina to find the one thing she had always been searching for. Happiness.

Regina did her best to push the chaotic thoughts away.

For now, this was enough. Simply being here.

And suddenly she felt so completely and utterly grateful for simply being here. For being alive.

No matter how battered she was.

She sniffled discreetly and wiped her cheeks. This was getting embarrassing.

 

“Deep in December
it's nice to remember,
The fire of September that made you mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow
follow.....”

There was no stopping the tears, and when the song ended, Regina was blinded by the tears as she stood up and clapped along with everyone else.

Priscilla Adams smilingly accepted the audience’s applause, and Regina hoped that she would be able to control herself for the next song. She didn’t want to cry anymore. It was embarrassing.

But perhaps she was the only one who thought that. She had noticed that Emma was looking at her. With a very gentle look in her eyes. As they stood and applauded Priscilla, she discreetly leaned in and murmured: “are you okay?”

Regina nodded and flashed Emma a sheepish little smile. Formed the word ‘sorry’.

“Hey, don’t apologize,” Emma said quickly. “I get it.”

She didn’t. Emma couldn’t possibly ‘get it’. But Regina still appreciated what Emma was trying to do. She flashed Emma another smile.

“She’s a fantastic singer,” Emma continued. “I’m so angry I’m not hearing about her now.”

That was exactly how Regina felt the first time she heard Priscilla Adams sing. She understood precisely how Emma felt, and her smile became less sheepish now.

The rest of the concert would be amazing. Regina could sense that. And she was determined to enjoy it. Without thinking. And most certainly without crying....

 

It felt completely flat, leaving after such an amazing experience. Regina felt utterly drained as they left the theater and got into Emma’s little yellow bug.

Regina had wiped underneath her eyes so many times the skin was starting to get irritated. And it was quite fruitless too. She was wearing waterproof mascara tonight. And thank god for that.

As Emma maneuvered the car out of the parking lot, Regina leaned back in her seat and just soaked up how thoroughly satisfied she felt right in this moment. She was so relieved that she had thought of asking Emma out on a date instead of getting a refund.

“That was an amazing concert,” Emma said as she skillfully steered the car onto the main road.

Regina nodded and smiled. Indeed. And an intense one too.

“That opera singer really....” Emma seemed to be looking for words for a moment before she settled on: “wow!”

‘Wow’ was a description they could agree on for sure. Priscilla Adams was in a category of her own. Regina leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes once more. Basked in all the emotions the concert had brought on. All the memories. Some of them had been good, some of them had been dark, but the general feeling right now was gratefulness. That she lived. That she had survived that terrible night where Killian had attacked her. That she still had possibilities to do things she thought impossible. She thought of the woman who was sitting right next to her. Of what possibly could happen between them. In time. She smiled a little.

“Feels pretty strange just to be going home after this, huh?” Emma asked lightly.

Regina opened her eyes again. Laughed soundlessly. Nodded. Once again, she knew exactly what Emma meant.

“But it’s like it sort of just took all your energy, isn’t it?” Emma continued.

Yes. It left you feeling incredibly tired. But in an incredibly good way. At least that was how Regina felt it. She hoped Emma shared her feelings. She hoped Emma would ask her out again soon. It was her turn to ask, was it not? Regina was pretty sure that was how dating worked, but she could barely remember it. She was used to being told exactly where to be at what time and be dictated what to wear. From her underwear and to her shoes.

Well, guess what? Tonight she was wearing fancy underwear.

Because SHE wanted to.

Tonight she was wearing a pretty dress.

Because SHE had decided that she wanted to look nice. SHE had actively made the choice of wearing a beautiful dress. And her wonderful date had appreciated it. Sweet Emma had given her compliments instead of taken it for granted.

Take that, Killian!

 

It seemed like they had only just entered the car when they suddenly were parked in front of Zelena’s place. Her car was in the driveway now, Regina noted. She was relieved that her sister was home. She wasn’t overly fond of being home alone in the evening. She kept imagining things that could go bump in the night. Saw shadows in the corners of the house.

Regina shook the dark thoughts away and unbuckled her seatbelt. Exited the car and was surprised when Emma did the same. So she wanted to walk her to the front door. That was sweet. But a bit unnecessary too. The temperature had dropped further, and Regina didn’t want Emma to freeze in her thin dress and leather jacket. She liked that combination. Gown and leather jacket. The combination would have been strange on anyone else. But Emma could carry it. She looked stunning in it.

“Well...” Emma said when they reached the front door.

Regina smiled.

“I had a really great time tonight,” Emma said. Her green eyes sparkled with that genuineness Regina had come to appreciate so much.

This called for more answer than just a smile. Regina found her phone in her pocket and began typing on it. God, her screen was bright. It almost hurt her eyes. Perhaps she was starting to get old. At thirty five. She glanced at the message she had just written to make sure there were no spelling errors. ‘So did I. Thank you for coming with me.’ Then she flipped the screen towards Emma.

“Thank YOU for inviting me,” Emma said gently.

Regina shrugged lightly in response. But then she frowned softly as she typed on her phone again. She still felt a bit silly about getting so emotional, and her next message reflected that: ‘but I’m not completely happy with the fact that I managed to make a bit of a fool of myself at the concert.’

“What do you mean?” Emma asked. Now she was frowning too.

Regina answered as best as she could without having to write on her phone. She brushed her fingers over her cheek. Pretended to wipe tears away. Then she shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“Seriously?” Emma said disbelievingly. “You’re embarrassed about that?”

Regina nodded. Obviously. Of course she was embarrassed about crying. That wasn’t exactly how she had planned the date to go.

“Don’t be,” Emma said quickly. “Seriously, don’t. You have nothing to be embarrassed about, Regina. Tears are nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Regina wasn’t sure she completely agreed with that. But she appreciated it, nonetheless. She smiled at Emma and then turned around and put a hand on the doorknob. She figured she would open the door and let some of the warm air get out of the house to give Emma some relief before saying goodbye to her.

“Wait,” Emma said softly.

Regina turned back around and looked at Emma. Raised an eyebrow. Why did she have to wait? Did Emma have something more she wanted to say? More things on her mind?

Yes. She did have more things on her mind. But it was not words.

It happened so quickly. One moment Emma was standing there, and the next, she was leaning forward and very, very lightly brushing her lips against Regina’s.

A kiss.

A promise.

The thing you gave to someone you cared for.

An act of kindness.

It felt wonderful.

Until it didn’t.

She had kissed back.

Until she didn’t.

Until ugly memories washed over Regina like a tide wave threatening to sweep her away.

A kiss forced onto her lips.

A too strong hand pressing against the back of her head to keep her where she was.

A wall behind her.

Him in front of her.

Trapped.

She was trapped.

His kiss hurt.

It was not even a kiss.

He was biting her lip.

Regina could taste the blood.

Metallic.

And it hurt.

Hurt, hurt, hurt.....

Emma was not Killian.

Regina knew that. Of course she did.

But the kiss did not feel her with butterflies.

It filled her with dread.

And it was horrible.

Because she knew that this kiss was exactly how a kiss was supposed to be. Sweet. Delicate. Wonderful.

Except for to her.

Because she couldn’t even kiss someone without thinking of him.

She kept inviting him in even though she did not mean to.

Emma pulled back and looked at her. Smiled at her. Happy.

Regina wished she could feel like that too. She WANTED to feel like that. But she couldn’t. She even struggled to LOOK at Emma as she anxiously drew a lock of hair behind her ear.

“What?” Emma asked quietly. Worriedly.

Regina felt terrible. Now Emma thought that she had done something wrong. She had not. She had followed every etiquette in the book when it came to dating. She had just given Regina the perfect kiss.

And she couldn’t even appreciate it.

What kind of terrible person was she even?

She had to be better than this. She hastily shook her head. Smiled at Emma. Lifted her hand and gave Emma a very soft little pat on the cheek. It was the best she could do right now. Then she turned around and found her key in her purse. Zelena was notorious for locking the doors even when she was home.

“Goodnight,” Emma mumbled. The word was coated in insecurity.

After a moment, Regina succeeded in unlocking the door and opened it. But before going inside, she turned around and looked at Emma once more. Smiled as best as she could and then mouthed the word ‘goodnight’ and hoped that Emma would understand. Then she turned around and slipped inside the house. It was rude, she knew that. But she was overwhelmed. Couldn’t take anymore tonight. She closed the door softly behind her and hoped that Zelena hadn’t heard her.

She stayed put in the hallway for a moment. Heard Emma’s footsteps in the gravel as she left. Then the sound of the car door opening. And at last an engine starting. Emma was leaving now. Driving back to Steveston.

Regina exhaled a long breath of air, but her shoulders remained tight and drawn up to her ear. As quietly as she could, she slipped off her high heels and patted upstairs. Hoped that it would be a little while before Zelena had realized that she was home. She had heard her sister snore quietly in the living room, and she prayed that Zelena would be asleep for much longer still.

If there was something Regina was not in the mood for right now, it was sister talk. Tonight had been such a good night. And now she had ruined it just because she could not even respond to a perfectly good kiss without getting flashbacks.

Regina felt like a complete and utter failure. How was she ever going to be able to explain this to Emma?

How could she ever expect Emma’s feelings for her to grow when she couldn’t even let Emma get close to her?

 

To Be Continued....

Chapter Text

Coming upstairs, Regina leaned heavily against the door for a moment as she tried to gather her thoughts.

She did not succeed.

Suddenly, she felt so uncomfortable and had this acute need to take a shower. Get clean. She felt dirty.

But that was not Emma Swan’s fault. Not even in the slightest.

It was Killian Jones’ fault.

But Regina was to blame too. She was the one who had invited him in. She was the one who had started thinking about him when she should not have. What business did she even have thinking about Killian Jones when Emma Swan was kissing her? And why hadn’t she been able to appreciate Emma’s kiss? It had been a good kiss.

No. It had been an absolutely perfect kiss. The kind of kiss that once upon a time would have made Regina feel like the luckiest person in the world.

But that was then. And this was now. And the situation right now was that Regina had ruined something wonderful because she had flinched. Because she had been reminded of the last time a pair of lips touched hers.

She brought her fingers up to her lips. Her bottom lip had been swollen for weeks. The cut bursting open every time she opened her mouth to eat. She had looked like something out of a horror movie with her swollen lip and battered face. Henry had paled the first time he saw her after she woke up from the coma. Regina did not blame him. She had looked absolutely grotesque. One eye nearly swollen shut. A shattered cheekbone. Bruises everywhere. Concussion. Broken ribs. A tender abdomen. And two broken fingers.

Grotesque. But alive.

Once the dark clouds had lifted a little, Regina had become grateful for that. Being alive. As long as she could be around to be Henry’s mother, she would be satisfied. But then she had dared hoping for more. A second chance. Another shot at finding happiness with someone who was actually motivated by her joy and not fear. And she had found someone. For one glorious moment, Regina had actually thought that she and Emma could have become something more to one another one day.

Until she had ruined it all.

Until she had started remembering.

Regina felt stupid now. What had she expected? That Emma would not kiss her ever? Kissing was a perfectly normal part of dating. The part both parties were supposed to look forward to.

What kind of date was she when the thought of kissing a potential partner felt her with dread instead of joy? Regina rubbed a hand over her eyes. She had been fooling herself all along. She did not have anything to offer Emma Swan. Nothing whatsoever. Believing so had been naïve. Terribly naïve.

Was she giving Emma false hope? Should she break things off now and spare both of them the heartache?

Perhaps it would be for the best.

But deep down, Regina did not want to break things off. She liked Emma. She liked her a lot. The thought of breaking things off with her filled her mouth with a sour taste.

Maybe she could explain things to Emma.

Without actually explaining things to her.

Maybe she could say (or not say) that she had been in a bad relationship and needed to take things slow.

Emma would understand that.

And it wouldn’t be that far from the truth either.

Regina sighed as she walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. She was being terribly selfish, she knew that. She knew that she should let go of Emma instead of holding on to her just because she had a fickle hope that she one day might enjoy her kisses. It was not fair to Emma. She deserved better than this. She deserved to be with someone who was capable of enjoying to be kissed and kissing back in return.

Regina was not capable of either. She rubbed her forehead. Reached behind her back to grab onto the zipper. What other choice did she have? None. If she told Emma the truth about her missing voice and everything else that had happened to her, Emma would back out. And rightfully so. Anyone would. It was much too early for that kind of confessions. They weren’t even in a relationship.

And they never would be.

It did not matter how much she liked Emma Swan. She had to end things with her now before she grew to like her even more. Before both of them started dreaming about things that would never be.

Emma wanted things. Things that Regina was not ready to give her. Things that she perhaps NEVER would be ready to give her. A fickle hope and a ‘maybe’ wasn’t good enough when you were dating someone. That would be to give Emma false hope. To string her along.

And Regina refused to be that kind of person.

Meaning that she only had one choice.

To break things off with Emma. To stop dating her as soon as possible. It would hurt, but it would be for the best. For both of them.

Perhaps they could continue to be friends still. Regina hoped so. A friend was what she originally had hoped for, and she should be satisfied with that.

But she wasn’t.

Not entirely.

God, she had so wanted this.

She still wanted this.

But she couldn’t have it because the thought of kissing made her think about that horrible night where she fought for her life. The night where Killian in many ways killed her but at the same left just enough of her to live. He had killed a part of her. Broken her. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t just put herself back together. There was always a tiny little piece that slipped away between her fingers.

Exactly like what she and Emma could have had was slipping away.

Something that could have been so beautiful had been ruined because Regina’s thoughts were too loud.

Because she could not forget.

She was letting Killian ruin it, but she couldn’t help it. Because she couldn’t remember a time where he hadn’t ruined something for her. Where he hadn’t taken something from her. Where he hadn’t
influenced every single decision she might have made.

Regina felt ashamed of herself. For being unable to do this. For still letting Killian decide what she could and could not do. He was always there. Lurking in the shadows. She could see him out of the corner of her eye.

Grinning at her.

Always grinning at her.

Her stomach cramped.

Her throat tightened.

Her phone made a sound. Someone had sent her a message. Regina briefly glanced at the screen. It was from Emma Swan. Something about having a good time tonight. But Regina was not in a position to answer the message right now. It had to wait.

She swallowed thickly. Licked her lips. Then she pulled herself together. Decided that she had spent enough time in her own head. There was nothing she could do about the current situation anyway. She just had to accept things. That she, because of her fragile state was no match for Emma Swan. She deserved someone who could give her the full experience of dating, and Regina could not. Meaning that she had to end things with Emma. It was the right thing to do.

Regina stood from the edge of the bed and walked over the closet. Reached within it and found her sweatpants and oversize t-shirt and a fresh pair of underwear. Then she left her room and quietly walked down the hallway. She could hear Zelena snore from the living room, and she felt relieved that her older sister was still asleep. She wasn’t really in the mood to talk about the date. She was still too upset at the outcome. At how she had reacted to something that should have been wonderful and absolutely nothing else.

This was all her fault. Emma couldn’t be blamed for it.

In the bathroom, Regina took a warm, cleansing shower. This was the first indicator that she was not in a good headspace. When she had been in the psychiatric ward, she had taken so many showers because she had felt dirty all the time. She had desperately tried to wash the memory of Killian Jones’ hands on her body away, but no matter how many shows she took, it hadn’t helped.

She didn’t want to feel like that again. Not ever. But suppose this had triggered something in her again?

Now she felt even worse. It wasn’t fair that Emma’s sweet kiss was making her feel like this. It wasn’t fair that Regina’s fucking traumas was ruining something before it had barely started.

Regina stayed under the spray of water until it turned cold. Then she switched off the water, wrapped a towel around her body and then reached in the cupboard under the sink. Now that she was here, she might as well change the plaster on her throat. She had planned on doing it tomorrow instead, but really, there was no reason for waiting. And perhaps she was trying to punish herself a little for being unable to let her heart take the lead rather than her mind. The wound on her throat looked terribly ugly, and looking at it seemed like a fair punishment for ruining everything.

But however angry she was at herself, she knew that she had to be gentle with herself as she carefully spread ointment on the wound. If she was too quick in her movements, she could end up scratching at the wound and accidentally make it spring right open. And that was definitely not good. The healing process was essential. The possibility of a future operation depended on the healing process.

But perhaps Regina didn’t even want the second surgery. Maybe she was fine with the way things were right now. She had at last gotten used to not being able to speak. There was no reason why she should get her hopes up and become optimistic about the second surgery. There was only about 75% chance that it would work. Not enough reason to get her hopes up.

She finished spreading the ointment on the wound and while waiting for it to dry, she put on her underwear and sweatpants. She noticed that her stomach hurt tonight. Cramped and tied in knots. It had been a while since it last did that. Regina had of course noted that her stomach never hurt when she was with Emma, or after she had been with Emma. But tonight was different. Tonight she was angry at herself. It made perfect sense that her stomach would hurt tonight.

She slipped the long t-shirt over her head, careful not to make the fabric rub against the wound on her throat. It wouldn’t be long before she could stop wearing the plaster, and she was looking forward to that. Sometimes it folded awkwardly and irritated her skin.

But would she ever be able to not wear the scarf? Regina doubted it. It didn’t matter that both doctor Auburn and Doctor Anton had told her that she could mask the scars and lines on her neck with special powder. Because even though the scars would not be visible, Regina would know that they were there. And that would be enough reason for her to never stop wearing scarves.

The ointment had dried, and Regina found a fresh plaster in the first aid-kit. Unfolded it and carefully put it over the wound on her throat. The muscles there immediately tightened, and Regina had to breathe deeply in and out through her nose not to gag. It was like her entire body was failing her tonight. But at least the plaster was sitting where it was supposed to sit. She examined her face in the mirror. Without the makeup and the happy smile she had been sporting all night, she looked terribly tired. Dark circles underneath her eyes. And she was certain she could see one or two new wrinkles here and there.

Now that she had dressed the part, there was nothing she wanted more than to go to bed, but she knew she couldn’t do that. If she hid up here without showing her face, Zelena would start to worry. The texts would start coming, and if Regina did not answer because she was asleep, Zelena would undoubtedly do something dramatic. Maybe call Emma. Maybe call the police. She surely wouldn’t think of checking Regina’s room because there was no reason to do so.

So to avoid any disasters, Regina shrugged a robe over her sweatpants and t-shirt and then quietly went down the stairs. Startling her sister was not something she had any interest in either.

Downstairs, she found Zelena still fast asleep and snoring slightly on the couch. The television was switched on. Zelena had clearly been in the middle of an Antiques Road Trip marathon before falling asleep. There was an empty bag of chips standing on the coffee table, and a cup of cold tea. Maybe Zelena had lived in Canada since she was twenty, but she still swore by tea.

Regina suffocated a little smile as she switched off the television. Took the empty chips bag and cup of cold tea and brought both items into the kitchen. The bag she threw in the trashcan, and the cold tea she poured into the sink and then rinsed the cup before setting it in the dishwasher.

The sound of the water running made Zelena stir, and Regina heard a faint ‘mmm’ from the living room. If Zelena didn’t wake up on her own accord, Regina would have to wake her up. It sounded cruel, but it would be even crueler to let Zelena sleep on the couch. Her back and neck would be completely stiff in the morning.

Coming back into the living room, Regina found her sister still fast asleep on the couch. The stirring sound she had heard had merely been the sound of the blanket sliding off Zelena’s body and onto the floor.

Sorry, sis, Regina thought to herself as she gently put a hand on Zelena’s arm.

“Mmmm,” Zelena said again, but this time she actually opened her eyes and looked at Regina.

Regina smiled at her. Moved her hand from Zelena’s arm so she could touch one flat hand to her chin and then bring it down to meet her other hand which was waist height and palm up. Then she bent at the elbow, leaving her arm parallel to the body and rested the fingertips in the crook of her elbow of her second arm. She brought up her second hand, flat and palm up, towards herself like the sun
coming up over the horizon. Good morning.

“Good morning,” Zelena chuckled hoarsely. “Or rather good evening, I think. You’ve been home for a while, haven’t you?”

Regina nodded in confirmation. Indeed she had. ‘You should go to bed’, she signed. ‘You’re tired.’

“I am, but not too tired to talk to my little sister,” Zelena smiled as she sat up in the couch and looked expectantly at Regina. “I want to know how the date went.”

That was exactly what Regina had been fearing. She was still not really in any mood for this, but she didn’t want to fob off Zelena either. She had done that plenty in the past during Killian’s reign of terror, and she knew what kind of bad memories it would trigger for Zelena if she fobbed her off. And besides, Zelena would easily figure out that something was wrong if Regina gave an excuse as to why she did not want to discuss her date with Emma. They had talked about the other dates. It would only be natural to talk about this one too. Especially because Regina had been so excited about it all week.

She had been excited. And now it was ruined.

Regina gave a quick nod and tried her best to smile at her sister.

“Well, sit down then,” Zelena said, adopting a brisk tone. “I’ve been curious all night.”

Regina sat down on the couch. Picked up the blanket and pulled it over her legs even though she was not cold.

“So? How did it go? Is Priscilla Adams still amazing?”

Regina nodded. At least that was easily answered. ‘Yes, she is still amazing.’ Amazing enough to make her cry, but that was not something Zelena had to know.

“Oh, good. And the orchestra? Was that amazing too?”

‘Yes. The orchestra was wonderful too.’

“Excellent.” Now Zelena was smiling. Almost grinning from ear to ear. “And how was Emma? Was she wonderful too?”

‘Yes. Of course.’ She was. God, was Emma ever wonderful! Attentive, sweet, funny, beautiful. She was everything Regina was looking for in a potential partner. But she couldn’t appreciate it because she was too fucking scared of everything!

The grin slipped from Zelena’s face, and there was only concern left when she asked: “Then why are you not smiling?”

Regina shrugged. Signed: ‘I’m tired.’ So she was fobbing of Zelena anyway apparently.

“No, that’s not it,” Zelena said slowly. “Something’s the matter, I can tell.”

Regina bit her lip.

“What happened, Regina?” Zelena asked worriedly, leaning in and gently touching Regina’s hand. “Did she say something bad? Did she do something she should not have?” The anger was slowly making
itself present in her green eyes. “Did she touch you in a way you didn’t consent to? Is that it?! I swear to god, I’m going to-“

Regina silenced her by holding up a hand. Then signing: ‘she did not do anything inappropriate.’

“Oh,” Zelena deflated a little. “Good. That’s good. But something happened, though. You’re not happy, I can tell.”

It was better to just come forward with it, Regina thought. She wiggled her fingers once more. ‘She kissed me.’

“Oh!” Zelena looked surprised for a moment. Then angry again. “But you just assured me that she did not do anything inappropriate?”

Regina shook her head and tried not to look as pathetic as she felt. ‘She didn’t. It was not inappropriate in any way. It was a perfectly nice kiss. Better than that. I’m the one who ruined it.’

Zelena didn’t look angry anymore. Instead concerned and a little sad. “What happened, sweetie?”

Regina shifted uneasily on the couch. ‘At first it was really nice,’ she signed. ‘I kissed her back. I wanted her to kiss me. Until I started to remember stuff. Bad stuff.’

“Oh, Regina,” Zelena said softly and took her hand in hers.

‘I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It filled me completely and blocked out everything else,’ Regina rapidly signed. It was an odd thing, having the words pour out of her when she couldn’t say them out loud. ‘I so wanted it to keep being nice, but I couldn’t. It was just too much.’

“Did Emma notice what was happening to you?” Zelena asked and squeezed Regina’s hand to keep her grounded.

Regina shrugged and pulled her hand out of her sisters grasp to sign: ‘I don’t know. Maybe. She definitely seemed thrown off afterwards. Insecure like she was the one who had done something wrong and not me.’

“You haven’t done anything wrong, Regina,” Zelena said firmly.

Regina openly disagreed with her. ‘Yes, I have. I said yes to going out with her.’

“And why shouldn’t you have? You like her.”

Regina blinked rapidly. Willed herself not to cry. She did like Emma, but... ‘It doesn’t matter. Not when it doesn’t change anything. I can’t keep dating her when I feel like this. It’s not fair to her. She deserves to date someone who can actually kiss her instead of feel panicked at the thought.’

“You’ll get there, sis,” Zelena said gently. “I know you will.”

Regina shook her head again. It still wasn’t enough. ‘Maybe. Maybe not. Even if you’re right, there’s no way of telling when I’ll be there. In two weeks? Two months? Two years? I can’t do that to her. I can’t string her along and give her false hope. It’s not fair to her.’

Zelena looked beyond sad now. “So, you’re going to...’

‘Break things off with her,’ Regina signed with trembling fingers. ‘It’s the only right thing to do. She deserves to be with someone who does not flinch when touched or panics at the thought of kissing.’

Zelena said nothing. Instead she moved closer and wrapped an arm around Regina’s shoulder. Gave her a gentle squeeze.

Regina felt completely disheartened. Close to tears, even. Damnit. Her fingers shook as she brought them up to sign one more time. ‘I really liked her. More than I have liked anyone in a long time. And I had really hoped’ she stopped singing for a moment and pulled herself together. ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m not ready for it.’

“You’re not ready for all of it,” Zelena corrected. “But up until now, you’ve been so happy.”

And so what? ‘It doesn’t matter, Zelena. I can’t be with her if I can’t give her the things she’s looking for.’

Zelena shifted a little. “Have you considered... telling her? About....” she hesitated.

Regina frowned as she ‘replied’. ‘I have considered giving her a moderated version, but I have decided that it is too soon for even that.’

“Are you sure?” Zelena asked softly. “Of course it is your decision, but I can’t help but feeling that telling her could be an option.”

Regina shook her head rapidly. ‘She would run away. She wants to date someone normal. Not someone who is broken.’

“You’re NOT broken!” Zelena half-shouted. “You are not, Regina! Please don’t ever think that you are! You’ve been through something terrible, but you’re NOT broken.” She took Regina’s hand again.
Squeezed it gently. “He could never break you, sweetie. You’re here. You’re alive. You fought, and you’ve taken strides since coming home from the hospital. Only a month ago, you wouldn’t have been capable of going to a concert. You wouldn’t have been able to go on a date or even recognize that you like Emma.”

The praise was nice, but it still didn’t help much. Regina still felt upset and on the verge of crying.

“I don’t think you should give up on Emma just yet,” Zelena gently continued. “Even though it seems like the only way to go about this, I think there is another way. Give her the chance to understand you. All of you.”

‘You think that I should tell her,’ Regina deduced.

“Yes, I do, but it is not up to me,” Zelena replied. “Only you can decide it, sis.”

Regina frowned. ‘She would run away. I would never see her again.’

“I understand why it’s a scary thought,” Zelena murmured. “I really do. But the thing is, I don’t think Emma would run away. I think she would stay. And I think she could be just the person you need. I
think... I think she’s right for you.” She patted Regina’s hand again. “I can’t really explain it, and I know it sounds silly because you haven’t known her for that long, but I have a good feeling about her. A really good feeling about her. I think that if you give her the chance, she can grow to understand you. And I think she can be a way for you to experience dating the right way. The way it’s supposed to be.”

Regina looked at her sister. Zelena had clearly thought about this, and not just right now. This was something she had given thoughts over the past few weeks. Normally, Zelena wasn’t quite as insightful as she was tonight. Regina thought about it. Could Zelena be right? Was there a chance that Emma would understand her and meet her with understanding rather than running away?

Emma Swan was special.

Regina had known so for a while.

And for one, brief moment, it HAD been nice to kiss her. For a moment, Regina HAD returned the kiss. She knew she had. There had been a tiny flicker of something that was not fear and trauma and bad memories.

Maybe... Maybe they could... try again? Kissing. If Regina did in fact let Emma in on what had happened to her. Maybe everything else would come naturally afterwards?

Maybe... Maybe... kissing could become something nice again.

Honesty was the most important thing when dating someone, and right now, Regina was not being honest with Emma.

But suppose she was? Suppose she decided to trust Emma with the grim secret?

Trust was important when dating someone too.

And if Regina should choose just one more person to trust... It surely would be kindhearted, sweet Emma Swan who had been nothing but good to her.

Regina allowed herself to hope again. Hope that Emma would not run away. That she by some miracle would meet her with understanding and patience rather than going for the easy choice and run away as fast as her legs could carry her.

It was wonderful that Emma was making Regina feel as though she was her old self again, but she was not. She was different. Changed. And she owed it to Emma to give her the chance to get to know that version of her. The woman who had her voice stolen by her violent fiancé and not the woman who was involved in a freak car accident that robbed her of her voice. That woman did not exist. She was a story Regina and Zelena came up with to protect Henry. They had their reasons. Henry was a child. He should be shielded and protected from the grim truth.

Emma Swan was an adult. And furthermore, she was someone that Regina was interested in. She deserved to know the truth. No matter how grim and dark and complicated it was.

Regina had been brave when she said yes to going on a date with Emma.

She could be brave about this too.

Brave enough to tell Emma the truth.

Because she didn’t want to give Emma up. Not really.

She wanted her in her life. And if the truth spooked Emma and caused her to run away....

Well.

Then at least Regina would have tried.

That was all she could do.

Try.

And hope.

Regina smiled a little to herself.

“What does that mean?” Zelena asked, and Regina flinched a little. Had forgotten that Zelena was still there. But she quickly pulled herself together and signed. ‘It means that I will consider everything you
said.’

“You’ll consider telling her?” Zelena asked softly.

Regina nodded as she rose from the couch. Yes. Yes, she would consider it. Very carefully. And perhaps the next time she saw Emma, she would apologize for the way she had reacted to the kiss. She would get a whole conversation started about it. And then, perhaps, she would tell Emma the reason why she had reacted like she did.

And maybe, just maybe, Emma wouldn’t run away.

Regina’s head was full of thoughts as she walked upstairs and slipped into bed. Her head was creaking. And there it was again. That fickle little thing called ‘hope’. That feeling she always connected with Emma Swan.

Regina soon fell asleep and completely forgot to reply to the message Emma had sent her earlier....

 

 

When she woke up that Sunday morning, it was to a most unwelcome surprise.

Her throat hurt.

Badly.

It wasn’t a surprise as such. Her doctor had told her about these ‘occasional flareups’. It hurt, but it wasn’t dangerous. Just the muscles in her throat pulling terribly tight. Almost like they were locked. She had some exercises she could do. And her doctor had given her some massage techniques too. But the thought of touching her throat right now was unbearable. She had to settle for the last of Doctor Auburn’s advices. Rest. Lots and lots of rest.

This flareup was ill timing. She was supposed to pick up Henry from Nick’s. She had also planned on making cookies this afternoon, and Mofongo for dinner.

Well. Now those plans were going out the window. Regina was in no way fit to drive or cook. All she was fit to do, was lay in bed and waiting for this to pass. Perhaps she would emerge from bed tonight, but judging by how she was feeling right now, she wasn’t gonna hold out too much hope.

She supposed this was her own fault in a way. Stress only increased the possibility of flareups, and she had most definitely stressed herself last night. She had been overthinking and working herself up, and that wasn’t good for her. Not good for her at all.

And of course she started worrying now too. Had her hands been properly clean when she changed plaster last night? She had been in quite a state when doing it. Maybe she hadn’t been properly looking after the wound. Touched it too harshly. Had she accidentally given herself some kind of infection? She didn’t actually believe that, but with her luck.... Well, anything was possible.

Regina curled up in bed and tried not to think about how much it hurt. Only thought about breathing in through her nose and out through her nose. Breathe her way through it. That was the only way to do this when it hurt as much as it did right now. She was used to these flareups even though it had been a while since she last had one. But then again, she HAD been stressing herself out last night. That was most definitely a contributor to her current condition. She took another long breath and tried not to feel upset about the many plans she had to change because of this. It was annoying, and especially because she most likely had no choice but to take one of the strong painkillers. One of those that had the habit of knocking her out for hours. She didn’t like taking those pills. They always made her feel all delirious and woozy when she woke up. But they did help with the pain. And right now, the pain was almost unbearable. It had been a long time since it last hurt this much, so maybe that was why it felt particularly nasty today.

Regina bit her lip and felt something prickle in her eyes. It felt like her throat was on fire. The muscles were completely locked and every time she moved just the tiniest bit, everything cramped up and made black spots dance before her eyes.

She looked at the door with blurry vision as there was a knock on it. Then a soft: “Regina? It’s after nine. Are you okay?”

Normally, she wouldn’t be asking, but she did today because Regina was supposed to pick up Henry at nine thirty, and Zelena knew that.

Regina lifted a weak hand and scratched her fingers halfheartedly against the bedside table to show that she was awake and listening.

“Can I come in?” Zelena asked from behind the closed door, and Regina scratched her fingers against the hard surface again.

The door was opened, and Zelena stepped inside. She took one look at Regina and swiftly walked over to her bed. Gently, she placed a hand on Regina’s forehead and declared: “I don’t think you’re running a fever, but it’s probably best that we check it anyway, don’t you think?”

Regina gave a weak nod. Zelena knew the drill. She had seen it many times before.

“I’ll get the thermometer,” Zelena said, quickly leaving the bedroom again and jogging down the hallway.

Sometimes the flareups of pain in her throat could make Regina run a low grade fever, but she hoped that wasn’t the case today.

After a moment, Zelena came back with the thermometer. She sat down at Regina’s bedside and gently prompted her to open her mouth. Regina did so, and the thermometer was placed under her tongue. She couldn’t even keep her eyes open while waiting for the thermometer’s ‘verdict’.

Zelena didn’t say anything. She just sat on the bedside and held Regina’s hand. Like she always did. And for the millionth time, Regina felt grateful for having an older sister.

“Alright, let’s see,” Zelena said as she gently took the thermometer out of Regina’s mouth. “No fever. I thought so.”

Regina tried to smile. That was good. But she still didn’t feel completely soothed. She lifted a trembling hand and pointed awkwardly to her throat.

“Do you want me to take a look?” Zelena quickly deduced.

Regina gave a slight nod.

“Alright. I’ll be quick.”

Regina closed her eyes again as her sister began to peel the plaster back. It pulled at the skin, but the slight pain could not be compared to the way her throat hurt internally.

“No swelling. No redness. No blood,” Zelena told her. “The wound is fine, but I think it would be a good thing to let it breathe for the day. Where are we on the scale pain-wise?”

Regina held up nine trembling fingers. Definitely nine. This was bad. Awful.

“You need medicine, hun,” Zelena said as she brushed hair away from Regina’s forehead as though she was a little girl.

Oh no. Not those pills. They would make her loose if not a whole day, then several hours. Regina tried to shake her head. She didn’t succeed.

“Regina, please, you have to,” Zelena said softly. “I know they make you very sleepy, but it’s better than being in pain, right? And I can see how much you’re hurting right now. You’re very pale. Obviously, I’m not gonna force you to take anything, but it would really make me feel better if you did. I hate seeing you like this.”

Regina still had some common sense left even though the pain was making her slightly delirious. She thought of Henry. Thought of how worried he would be if he peeked inside her bedroom when he came home and saw her like this. He had already seen her in pain plenty of times. It was better if he saw her peacefully asleep. She gave a wobbly nod.

“Is that a yes to the medicine?” Zelena murmured.

Regina gave another slight nod.

“Good. Do you want anything else? Something to eat, perhaps?”

Regina quickly shook her head. Definitely not. She felt nauseous.

“Just the medicine then. I’ll be right back.” Zelena leapt from her bedside and once again jogged down the hallway. Regina struggled to stay present while waiting. She didn’t want to fall asleep before having taken the medicine. There was nothing worse than to wake up to excruciating pain. She continued with the deep breaths, but they didn’t help the matter very much. She mostly just wanted to scream and claw at her throat in a frenzy because of the way the muscles and broken vocal chords seemed to burn.

Before she could work herself into that frenzy, Zelena came inside the bedroom again. “I’ve crushed the pills to make it easier for you, sis. Do you think you can sit up?”

Honestly, Regina was not sure she could. But somehow, she nevertheless managed to move herself into something similar to a sitting position. Her fingers trembled as she took the glass from Zelena.

“That’s it,” Zelena praised. “Just drink all of it and get it over with.”

Easier said than done. Regina gagged at the first attempt at swallowing. The second attempt made tears spring from her eyes. The third attempt had droplets of water trickle down her chin. But in the end, she actually managed to drink the water/medicine.

“Well done, you. You’re a fucking hero!” Zelena said as she took the glass from Regina again. “You can lie back down now, you’re all done. Here, let me help you. That’s it.”

With her sisters help, Regina managed to place her head on the pillow once more, and Zelena tugged her in as though she was a little girl who couldn’t do it herself.

“Your phone is laying on the bedside table, so if you need anything, you just text me,” Zelena said as she drew the curtains to make the room darker. “And Chad is picking up Henry, so you don’t have to worry about anything, okay? You just sleep while the medicine works. Then I’m sure you’ll feel much better tomorrow.”

Regina nodded. She was already starting to feel sleepy.

“Sleep well, sis.”

Her hand was squeezed again, and then Zelena left the bedroom. Regina carefully rolled onto her left side, so she was facing away from the door. Then she closed her eyes and waited for the medicine to kick in. This was definitely not how she had planned on spending her Sunday, and she really hoped that flareups wasn’t going to be a thing. She had been doing so well lately. Maybe too well. Maybe this was the universe’s way of punishing her for feeling too good or something.

No. Of course it was not. She was not supposed to be thinking like that. There was no deeper meaning or reason behind this flareup. It was just a thing that had happened once in a while because her vocal cords were fragile still.

The medicine was starting to kick in. Regina could feel it in the way her head was starting to get a little floaty. It wouldn’t be long before she was asleep. And then the pain would lessen like it always did whenever she took this kind of strong medicine. It had been the right decision to take it. The pain had slowly been inching closer to ten out of ten, and Regina never wanted to feel like that again. It had been excruciatingly painful.

She heard something creak in the hallway, and knew that it was Zelena who was ‘skulking around’. Keeping an eye on her. Worrying. Regina appreciated it. Well, of course she didn’t want Zelena to worry about her, but it was nice to know that Zelena was close by. After about thirty seconds or so, Regina heard Zelena walk away once more. She didn’t doubt that her sister would do this many, many times over the next hours. But Regina had a strong feeling that she would not be awake to experience it. She could feel herself starting to grow heavier and heavier, and it did feel like the muscles in her throat had started to relax some. Thank god.

Regina somehow managed to pull the blanket all the way up to her chin, and then she surrendered to the comfortable sleepiness weighting her down...

 

She drifted in and out of sleep that day. Had no idea what time it was the first time she woke up. And even less how she managed to stalk into the bathroom and do her business. She was halfway back to her bedroom when Zelena showed up and took her arm to guide her back to bed.

The next time she woke up, Henry was sitting by her bedside and holding her hand. When he saw that she was awake, he smiled and asked how she was feeling.

At that point, Regina was quite woozy, but she managed to smile somewhat reassuringly at her son and weakly signing and asking if he’d had a good time with Nick.

Henry willingly told her all about the fun stuff he had been doing at Nick’s place. It involved lots of videogames and marshmallows. He had been lacking nothing, and once again, Regina was so grateful that Henry had a friend like Nick.

“How are you feeling, mom?” Henry then asked. “Are you feeling very bad?”

Regina was not. She was just in an expected but annoying medicinal fog. She would not be able to do anything besides laying in bed for the rest of the day. But she did feel better. The muscles in her throat definitely felt less tight and achy. And that was a huge relief. She reached out and clumsily patted Henry on the cheek in an attempt to indicate that she was doing okay.

“I’ve brought you some water,” Henry said sweetly. “Do you want some?”

She wasn’t very thirsty, but she supposed it couldn’t hurt. Her throat felt a bit dry. She managed to sit up, and with Henry’s help, she actually got a mouthful or two of water.

“Do you need anything else?” Henry asked. “Maybe something to eat?”

Regina shook her head. She was not hungry yet. The medicine always took away her appetite.

“Can I stay for a little while?” Henry asked quietly. “Aunt Z said that I’m supposed to let you sleep, but...”

Regina immediately scooted and made room for Henry. It didn’t take long before he was laying next to her. In her arms.

“I love you, mom,” he said spontaneously as he snuggled closer to her.

Regina sleepily dropped a kiss on his head. Held him a bit closer. Then she closed her eyes again. She liked the idea of drifting off to sleep with Henry in her arms, and she was delighted that he had snuck past his ever watchful aunt to go up here and check up on her. After all, he was the best kind of medicine one could ask for. Nothing could beat his snuggles. Regina felt a million times better already.

Now she just needed to be free of this medical fog, and then she would be as good as new. She surely would feel much, much better tomorrow. Perhaps even good enough to go outside with her son.

She fell asleep once more, and when she woke up again, it was pitch black in her room. The medication gave her double vision, but she was still able to see the time on her clock radio. 10:40. God, she had literally slept through the day. And she was still tired.

But she was prevented from going to sleep again when the door to her bedroom was pushed open. A single stream of light found its way in, and Regina squinted slightly when she spotted her now pajama wearing son coming into the bedroom.

“Mom?” Henry whispered. “Are you asleep?”

Regina scratched lightly against the bedside table that she was awake.

“I can’t sleep. Can I sleep in here tonight?” Henry whispered. “Aunt Z said I shouldn’t, but I don’t want to sleep alone.” He sounded almost embarrassed. Perhaps he had gotten it into his head that ten year old boys were too big to be sleeping in their mothers’ bed.

Regina was more than eager to firmly shoot down that belief. Exactly like earlier, she scooted and made room for her son.

Henry came trotting over to her and climbed into bed with her. “I’m not bothering you, am I?” he murmured.

No, of course not. He could never bother her. Not ever. Regina threw the covers over both of them and hugged her son closer. That would be answer enough.

“Does your throat still hurt?” Henry whispered.

Regina sleepily shook her head. The pain had definitely subsided. She was just terribly tired because of how tense her muscles had been.

“Good. I hate when your throat hurt,” Henry said plainly.

So did Regina. And she hated when she made her son worry about her. Tomorrow she would make sure to spend all her time with him. She gave him another little cuddle.

“Goodnight, mom,” Henry whispered. “I hope you’re okay tomorrow.”

Regina was sure she would be. She already felt so much better. Just extremely tired. She would also have to take it easy tomorrow, but hopefully not as easy as she had been forced to take it today. She was not at all satisfied with how today had turned out. But there was little she could do about that now. Just sleep and hope that tomorrow would be better.

 

She did feel better the next morning. Well enough to get out of bed, get dressed and then move downstairs. Her legs still felt a little weak, but her throat had finally stop hurting.

Downstairs, she found Zelena sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop. She had clearly opted for working from home today.

Regina felt a little guilty. She knew that she was the reason for Zelena’s change of plans.

Zelena looked up when she spotted Regina. “Oh, hi there,” she smiled. “How are you feeling?”

‘Better,’ Regina signed and returned the smile.

“That’s good. Yesterday was a hard one.”

‘Indeed. And those damn pills,’ Regina signed and shook her head. The medicine had stolen a whole day from her. But it had done its job. She might not be up for gymnastics, but she was awake and pain free. That was a big deal.

“Do you want me to fix you something for breakfast?” Zelena offered.

Regina declined. She wanted to make her own breakfast. She needed to do something sensible to shake off the last bit of the medical fog.

Once she had made herself a bowl of oatmeal, she settled down next to Zelena.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Zelena said. “That was quite the flareup you had.”

Regina nodded. Indeed.

“Do you have any idea what triggered it?” Zelena asked and glanced at Regina over the top of her laptop.

Regina signed a single word: ‘stress’. She was sure of that. It had to be.

Zelena’s mouth twisted. And then she reached across the table so she could pat Regina’s hand.

‘Thank you for looking after me,’ Regina signed once their sisterly moment had passed.

“What are older sisters for,” Zelena said lightly. “They’re supposed to be a pain in the ass. And look after their little sister once in a while.”

Regina smiled at her sister. It was more than ‘once in a while’, and they both knew that.

She opted for a quiet day in. Was planning on doing little chores only. Nothing too strenuous. But still productive. She would write an email to the British Columbia University and tell them that she absolutely definitely wanted that job as an online teacher. Then she would pick up Henry from school and him with his homework. Spend time with him to show him that she was feeling better. He had would be concerned when she picked him up from school. He would be asking her how she was feeling every so often, and Regina would do everything in her power to convince him that she was. And then she vowed to do her best not to get so stressed she became ill because of it. She couldn’t do that to Henry. He had seen her in pain and upset far too many times.

Thinking about Henry made her sign something to Zelena as an afterthought: ‘Henry is always allowed to come into my room, okay?’

“Noted,” Zelena said quickly. “Of course. I shouldn’t have told him to stay out of your room yesterday. I guess I was just freaking out because it had been such a long time since you last had that kind of pain. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

Regina smiled at her sister to show that she was not upset, and Zelena looked relieved. “He slept in there last night, didn’t he?”

Regina nodded. He sure did. And there had been a point where he had woken her up because he was stirring as though he was having a nightmare. But then she had held him close once more, and he had stopped stirring again. That poor boy. His concern for her had clearly bled into his dreams, and Regina would not have it. She did not want him to be so worried about her that he ended up getting bad dreams because of it.

 

So she dedicated the rest of that early afternoon to him. Once he was done with his homework, she actually baked those cookies she had planned on baking yesterday. And Henry helped her, of course.

The smell of melting chocolate wafting through the kitchen made him perk up, and Regina could see how he gradually started to relax and actually believe that she did in fact feel better.

She spontaneously picked up her boy, so his feet dangled above the floor.

“Mom!” he protested while laughing. “Put me down!”

Regina of course did not put him down. Instead she jokingly spun him around once before setting him on his feet again.

“You’re silly,” Henry accused, still laughing.

Regina did not deny that. She did feel rather giddy. Being able to exist without being in pain did that to you.

Zelena passed by them with her laptop wedged under her arm and sniffed in. “Something smells good.”

“We’re is making cookies,” Henry said with stars in his eyes.

Zelena flashed Regina a smile. “Looks good. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me, too!” Henry piped up and grinned.

‘After dinner,’ Regina signed. Of course she couldn’t help but being a mom. She had missed out on an entire day of mothering yesterday, and she felt like she had to make up for that.

“I know,” Henry said somewhat begrudgingly as Zelena laughed.

Regina was so relieved over feeling better. She had feared that her ‘flareup’ would have lasted longer, but thankfully, it had not, and she had made it through yet another flareup.

She was actually pretty tough. Yesterday she had been on the verge of tears, and today she was up and about AND making cookies with her son. It was hard not to feel a little bit like superwoman. And she could see that Zelena was proud of her too. And Henry was relieved. That was the most important thing. Convincing her son that she was doing just fine.

Later that day, she was sitting by the kitchen table, debating whether she should throw herself into making lasagna for dinner or not, she remembered that she had not messaged Emma at all today. Or yesterday. Oh god, that was awful of her! First her reaction to the kiss and now her radio silence. It wasn’t difficult for her to figure out what Emma would think about that. She quickly found her phone.
Found the message Emma had sent her the day before yesterday, and felt incredibly guilty as she typed: ‘I had a good time as well. I’m really sorry I didn’t text you yesterday. I wasn’t feeling well.’ That was to put it lightly. Regina had felt absolutely awful yesterday, but Emma Swan didn’t need to know that.

But she did need to know other things.

Now that her head was clearer, Regina dared thinking back to the decision she had reached the day before yesterday.

Telling Emma.

Being honest with Emma.

Yes. She could do that. It was like her flareup had sorted out her priorities, and she had reached the decision that she’d rather tell Emma the truth than hiding behind a lie. Emma deserved her honesty.

And maybe, once the dust had settled, they could build something from it. She was terrified of sharing her grim secret with Emma, but she had to be brave. Had to believe in her fickle friend. Hope.

Her cellphone chimed, and Regina quickly checked the message: ‘that’s completely fine! I’m just glad to hear from you. I was a bit worried about you when I didn’t hear anything.’

Regina felt incredibly guilty as she texted back. ‘Again, I’m sorry about not texting you, and I’m sorry you were worried. You don’t have to be, though. Everything is fine.’

‘I’m glad you’re doing okay :)’

‘I am’, Regina replied to the text and found herself smiling. Just texting Emma made her feel all the more sure that telling Emma the truth was the right thing to do.

‘Would you like to meet up for coffee sometime next week?’

That sounded perfect. Regina could see them sit together at Eugenia’s Inn and have coffee. Maybe they could go for another walk. She could steer the conversation onto her reaction to the kiss- start with an apology- and then, slowly, she could explain her reasons for reacting like that. Explain and hope that Emma would still be interested in dating her.

‘Coffee sounds nice. Shall we meet at Eugenia’s Inn like the last time?’

‘That suits me just fine. I’m looking forward to seeing you.’

‘I’m looking forward to seeing you too. What are your plans for the rest of the day? How was work?’ it was better to steer the conversation onto other topics. Otherwise Regina would get too nervous about it all. And she didn’t want to be nervous. Didn’t want to back out. Not when she had made her decision.

Telling Emma.

Being honest.

Being brave.

 

To Be Continued........

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that Regina had experienced a great big ‘aha-moment’. Her sudden flareup had not made her completely tranquil in her decision about telling Emma Swan the truth.

She had gone back and forward in her decision a lot.

One moment so completely sure that it was the right thing to do.

The next so terribly insecure and imagining that the truth would scare Emma away. That she would think it too complicated to pursue any kind of relationship with a woman who was so scared of everything. Including touches and kisses. The two most important things when it came to dating.

She went over things with Zelena many, many times. The pros and cons. The things she was afraid of. That Emma would look at her differently. With pity in her eyes. That she would start feeling sorry for Regina. That was what Regina feared. That Emma would start to pity her. Treat her like a delicate flower. One of the things Regina had cherished about Emma was her ability to recognize the woman Regina had been before the attack. It hadn’t mattered to Emma that Regina couldn’t speak. And now Regina was terrified that it would change. That everything would change. And then of course there was the fact that she had lied to Emma. Told her about an accident that never happened. Emma was a very truthful person, Regina could sense so. And Regina had lied to her. To keep a terrible truth hidden, yes indeed, but it was still a lie.

And there was a chance that Emma did not forgive a lie that easily.

There were many things that could go wrong. Many, many things.

Zelena was patient and sat through every single worry Regina that. To a degree where Regina had been ashamed of how terribly fickle-minded she was. But Zelena had of course brushed that aside and said that it made perfect sense that Regina was nervous. And in the same breath, she told Regina how proud she was of her.

Regina wasn’t so sure that there was anything to be proud of, really. Honesty was something that should come naturally. She should have been honest with Emma from the very beginning. Not giving out every last detail, that would have been too much, too quickly, but she could have given a watered down version about having been in a relationship with a man who didn’t treat her that well. It would have been enough to explain why she sometimes reacted like she did. And it would have been a fairly easy truth to give out too.

So really, there was nothing to be proud of. Nothing. She was a goddamn coward who only found it necessary to tell the truth because she had been backed into a corner and was too selfish to let go of Emma.

There was not an ounce of bravery about that.

But perhaps she would feel brave once she had told Emma the truth. And perhaps she would deserve to feel brave then.

The night before they were supposed to meet at Eugenia’s Inn, Regina could not sleep. She was much too anxious. But not in pain. Thank god. Anxiety was something she could deal with. She had tried it so many times before.

Sometimes yoga helped. Sometimes the deep breaths her therapist had taught her did the trick.

Sometimes she could even sleep it away.

And sometimes she could not.

On rare occasions, she had to get out of bed and do something else than trying to sleep. And tonight was one of those nights.

The alarm clock showed 02:15 when she slipped out of bed and wiggled her feet inside the fuzzy slippers Henry had gifted her with when she turned thirty five. She also slipped on her terry-cloth bathrobe to shield herself from the cold. Then she quietly opened the door and peered into the hallway. She could hear Zelena and Chad snore quietly from Zelena’s bedroom.

Regina padded down the hallway, quiet not to make a sound. She stopped when she reached Henry’s bedroom. The door was half open as usually, and his little nightlight was glowing softly. She peered inside his bedroom and smiled at what she saw. Henry was lying completely spread out with his left hand dangling over the edge of the bed. The covers had slipped off and was bunched at the bottom of his bed.

Regina knew that she should not be disturbing him. He was sleeping so deeply. But it was a cold night, and she didn’t want him to freeze. His pajamas wasn’t exactly made of wool. She quietly slipped inside his room and gently tugged the covers up again. Then she gently picked up his wrist, so his hand wasn’t dangling over the edge. He hated when his hands was dangling over the edge of the bed. It stemmed from an age old childhood fear about ‘the monster under the bed’. A classic childhood fear. Along with the fear of monsters in the closet.

Regina had fears about the monster in the closet too. But her monster was not a hairy creature with a mouth full of sharp teeth. It was Killian Jones grinning at her.

Henry had dreams about Killian too. Just last night, he had woken up yelling for her. Regina and Zelena had nearly collided in the hallway in their eagerness to get to him first. In the end, Regina had been the one to do it. The one to handle the situation. She was reclaiming her old spot in Henry’s life. She was his mother in every situation. And last night, it had been a bad situation. Henry had had a nightmare. A terrible one. At first, he hadn’t really wanted to say what it was about, but with lots of hugs and patience, Regina had persuaded him to tell the truth. And the truth had hurt like hell.

“I dreamed that Killian crashed the car on purpose,” Henry quietly had told her, and Regina’s heart had broken. Such a twisted version of the truth. Such a heart wrenching version of what actually had happened.

Regina had held her son tightly and done what she always did. Assured him that it had just been a stupid dream.

But dreams could feel very real, Regina knew that. Dreams could harm. But she would always be there whenever her son woke up. Always close by to assure him that nightmares wouldn’t last forever.

Nor would hers.

Henry mumbled something in his sleep, and Regina quietly rose from the bed. She did not want him to wake up. It was late, and he needed his sleep.

So did she, but sleep seemed to be quite the fickle thing tonight. Oh well. Perhaps she would start to feel sleepy once she had been roaming around in the kitchen for a little while.

She quietly went down the stairs, cleverly avoiding the creaky step and continued into the kitchen. She didn’t switch on the light. She didn’t need to. Knew the kitchen like the back of her hand. And besides, the light could potentially be bothersome to those asleep upstairs. She wasn’t interested in waking the whole house just because she could not sleep.

And she was not afraid of the shadows tonight. She did not see Killian lurk in them for once. It was a luxury. And in a way expected too. Killian didn’t take up as much mind space when she had an appointment with Emma. She was too occupied with thinking about Emma. Didn’t have as much time to think about Killian.

Regina pottered around in the kitchen for a moment until realizing that she wanted some warm milk with honey. That had always worked on Henry when he had a sore throat, a stomach ache or was just generally upset. So why shouldn’t it work on anxiety too? Regina was sure that she once had read a fairytale in which everything was fixed with a cup of warm milk.

She immediately went to work and found the milk, honey, a cup and a small casserole. She switched on the stove and poured the milk into the casserole. Still didn’t switch on the light. It seemed so unnecessary. It wouldn’t be the first time she had operated a stove in complete darkness. There had been a time where a three year old Henry had been completely hysterical and demanded warm milk right then and there. There hadn’t been time for something as silly as switching on the light. Or anything else for that matter. Henry had been quite the demanding little boy when he was younger, and most of the nights, Regina had tumbled to bed before ten o’clock. Exhausted. But happy. Henry’s drippily smiles had made everything worthwhile. And although his smiles are less drippily now, they still made everything worthwhile. He was her living reminder of why things weren’t completely bleak.

Regina was honestly not sure where she would have been today if it had not been for her son. Would she still have the same drive to solider on?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Either way, that was not something she wished to think about right now. She got the stove going, and soon the milk was boiling merrily. Regina found the sound to be quite cozy and she even stalled a little before taking the casserole off the stove, so she didn’t ruin the milk. But as masterful as she was when it came to making warm milk in complete darkness, the same thing could not be said for her lack of control over her left elbow. She accidentally knocked said elbow against the cup and sent it flying onto the floor where it shattered into a million pieces.

Regina closed her eyes for a moment. God damnit. So much for being subtle about her nightly need for warm milk. Oh well. What was done was done and could not be changed (unfortunately), now she just had to clean up the mess she made before alerting anyone. She still couldn’t hear any movements from upstairs. Everyone had to be sleeping really heavily. That was a good thing. Regina knew how much she would hate to be woken up to the sound of something breaking downstairs when the entire family was supposed to be asleep upstairs.

She flicked on the lights and was pleasantly surprised when overlooking the situation. The shattering had sounded worse than it was, and despite what she had expected, the floor was not covered in tiny little pieces of the cup she had just broken. Most of the broken pieces were fairly big and easy to spot. That was good. And it was even better that she hadn’t poured any milk into the cup before accidentally knocking it over. That would have made an even worse mess.

Regina crouched down and began to pick up the pieces of the broken cup and put them into her cupped hand. It was just a plain, white cup. Not one of the fancy ones Zelena had inherited from Regina’s father. Nor was it the one Henry had made for Regina when he was in kindergarten. The red one with the big, white dots and wonky handle and ‘I LOVE MOMY’ with one ‘M’ written in big, brightly yellow.

Henry hated when she used that cup, and he always cringed and wrinkled his nose and begged her to toss it out.

But never in a million years would Regina throw out the cup. No way. She would keep it until the day she was old and wrinkly and potentially had grandchildren who could tease their father about the cup he once made for his mother. And if the handle ever fell off like Henry was hoping for... Well, then she would simply glue it right back on. Separating her from that cup wouldn’t be as easy as Henry thought.

Suddenly, as she sat crouched down on the floor in the middle of picking up the broken pieces, a shadow fell upon her. Regina flinched and looked up, and for a single, terrifying second, the person standing in the kitchen was Killian looming ominously over her with the belt in his hand.

But then she blinked, and the frightening scenario turned into what it actually was. Chad standing in his pajamas with a horrified look in his eyes. “Oh my god,” he said as he crouched down on the floor too. “I am so sorry, Regina. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Only now Regina realized that she had dropped all the little broken pieces and that her hands were shaking. How embarrassing. It was just Chad for fuck’s sake. The guy she used to exchange bad jokes with. He was definitely not someone to be scared of.

“Are you alright?” he asked worriedly.

Regina nodded sheepishly and mouthed ‘sorry’.

“Don’t apologize,” Chad immediately brushed her off. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I heard something breaking, and I came down here. I didn’t realize it was you who was here. Otherwise I would never...”

Regina already knew that. Chad had been so good to her after everything. He had kept his distance in the hospital when she was at her most vulnerable, and even now when she was doing a bit better, he was still actively making an effort to appear as non-threatening as he possibly could. He never slammed doors or raised his voice by accident. He always spoke to her in a certain, gentle manner, and he never attempted to hug or touch her in any other way. And most importantly of all, he did it naturally. He didn’t need to be explained why he had to act a certain way around her.

One time, Regina had overheard him and Zelena talking, and Chad had said that it was a good thing ‘the motherfucker’ was in prison, otherwise Chad would have hunted him down and apparently ‘ripped off his balls’.

Regina doubted that would have lead to anything except for a bloody mess in the most literal way, but she still appreciated the sentiment behind it.

“Do you want some help with that?” Chad offered and nodded towards the mess of broken pieces on the floor.

Regina nodded. Some help would be nice.

Chad adjusted so he was sitting a bit more comfortably on his knees, and then he started to pick up some of the broken pieces. “How come you’re down here this late?” he asked casually. “Is everything okay?”

Regina smiled. She liked his nonchalant way of asking. Then she nodded. Gestured vaguely towards the casserole on the stove and mouthed ‘warm milk’. She had to settle with that because she had no idea how to sign it.

“Ahh. Gotcha,” Chad chuckled. “Do you think you made enough for two?”

Regina would have chuckled too if she could. She had never once seen Chad drink warm milk. Didn’t even know that applied to him. She had a feeling that he was doing it to keep her company, and she really appreciated it. And she actually did make enough for two.

Together, she and Chad picked up the rest of the broken pieces. They dumped them in the trashcan, and Chad gallantly offered to fetch them two new cups.

“Just to make sure there’ll be no accidents,” he teased.

Regina made a mock haughty face at him, and Chad laughed in response. It was actually pretty cozy, having a glass of warm milk with her ‘brother-in-law’ in the middle of the night. She poured milk into the two cups he had just fetched for them and then held up the jar of honey while raising an eyebrow questioningly.

“Yeah, I’d like some honey with that,” he chuckled.

And honey he was given. A large chunk of it right into his cup of milk.

They settled at the kitchen table with their cups of warm milk. Chad raised his and said: “cheers, Regina.”

Regina couldn’t help but to make that rumbling sound in her chest as their cups of warm milk clinked together. Perhaps she should do this more often. Warm milk with Chad. Not the worst thing ever. She took a little sip. Warm milk was actually everything it was cracked up to be.

“Mmm, this is good,” Chad praised. “Very good.”

Regina bowed her head in joking gratitude. The way Chad said made it sound like she had just baked a complicated cake. It was just warm milk.

But sitting there in the kitchen in the middle of the night while the rest of the house was asleep was nice. Chad was a quiet man. A great balance to Zelena’s more loud personality. He was excellent at grounding her when she was getting too worked up. And he was wonderful at comforting her when she was upset. Always there when she needed him. Regina was grateful that Zelena had him in her life. Henry too. Chad was ideal for videogames, and Regina knew that he, in his own quiet manner had talked to Henry about more serious matters.

“Does it hurt?” Chad asked and interrupted her train of thoughts. “Your throat, I mean. I don’t mean to impose or anything, I just figured because of the warm milk...”

Regina was not upset over the question. Quite the reverse. It was very sweet of him to ask. She shook her head to indicate that her throat did not hurt.

“Oh, that’s good,” Chad said. “I’m just... What is it Zee always call it? ‘Check in’.” he chuckled. “Yeah. I’m checking in.”

Regina smiled and they toasted once more. When they were done with their hot drink, they quietly snuck upstairs like they were a couple of criminals. When they parted ways, Chad sneakily tapped the side of his nose and made Regina smile.

 

It felt like the cup of warm milk had given Regina boast of energy. She felt oddly prepared for battle when she woke up the following morning.

Well, perhaps not exactly ready for battle, but definitely ready to spill her guts.

She could do this. Of course she could. She had planned on being brave, and that was exactly what she was going to be.

She was going to tell Emma everything, and it was going to go well.

It had to.

She got dressed in her warmest sweatpants and thermo jacket. Then she went downstairs and announced to a rather startled Zelena that she would be going for a morning walk.

“Do you want some company?” Zelena asked, raising an eyebrow and clearly finding Regina’s morning initiation a bit strange.

Regina did not. She would prefer doing this on her own. And Zelena was wearing a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, and honestly, she didn’t look very ready to go out on a morning walk.

The brisk morning walk had her cheeks glowing and the usual morning fog in her head lifting. She felt almost upbeat when coming home. She took a nice, warm shower and then dressed in nylon stockings, a pinstriped pencil skirt, crisp white blouse, a cream colored silk scarf, and a blazer that matched the pencil skirt. She applied a light makeup, brushed her hair, and then looked at herself in the mirror. She used to wear this outfit a lot when she was teaching at the university, and she felt like it was an appropriate outfit for the date. It was classy without being too much. And she felt comfortable wearing it. That was the most important thing.

Once dressed and done up, she walked down the hallway to Henry’s room and peered inside. He was still fast asleep, and Regina almost felt guilty for having to wake him. But she had to. Today was a school day. She slipped inside his room, sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked his hair in an attempt to wake him.

Henry mumbled something in his sleep.

Regina stroked his hair again. Then ruffled it slightly.

Henry slowly lifted his head. “Nooooo,” he mumbled.

Regina rumbled at his reaction. Then she bowed her head and blew raspberries onto the back of his neck.

That had Henry squealing in protest. Then giving a croaky laugh and a mock-disgruntled: “mooo-oooom!” then he rolled onto his back and assured: “I’m awake, okay!”

Regina chose to believe him. She gestured to the alarm clock to indicate that time was ticking, and then she left her son’s room again, smiling to herself at Henry’s reluctance to get out of bed.

Downstairs, she made herself a nice cup of coffee and a healthy fruit bowl for breakfast. She still felt oddly prepared for battle. She was nervous, but fully prepared to follow through with her plans of telling Emma the truth. She had no idea what the outcome would be, but all she could do, was hoping for the best. So she chose to do that.

“It’s been a while since I last saw that outfit,” Zelena smiled. “You look nice.”

‘Thanks’, Regina signed and then went back to eating her breakfast. She was quite satisfied with what she was wearing today. And even more satisfied with the fact that she could actually fit the clothes.
She didn’t even have to belt the skirt, and that was a huge victory.

She was halfway through her coffee when Henry came downstairs, fully dressed but yawning in a most exaggerated way.

“Good morning, Hen,” Zelena said briskly and chuckled. “You look so ready to start the day!”

“Har, har, har,” Henry said dryly and slid past Regina and opened the fridge. Found the jug of milk and the cereal. He pointedly ignored the plate of cut up fruit Regina lovingly had prepared for him last night.

But Regina did not. While he was loading a small mountain of sugar onto his portion of cereal, she leaned past him and took the plate of fruit out the fridge and sat it in front of him.

“Urgh, really,” he said and made a face.

Yes, really. Regina nodded firmly and pointed to the bowl of fruit. She insisted that Henry got his required food and vegetables. She wasn’t completely obsessing over it like Cora had with her, she would never dream of being so strict with her son, but she knew the importance of eating healthy.

“Fiiiine,” Henry complained. Clearly not in the mood for fruit. But he still brought the bowl of fruit over to the table with him.

Regina smiled. Couldn’t help it. She mad actually missed these small altercations with him. The little exchange of opinions. After she had come home from the hospital, Henry had almost become too docile. Too agreeable. And too focused on making things as easy as possible. And as much as Regina appreciated that level of maturity, she had also been concerned because Henry suddenly had seemed older than he was. It was a huge relief to see him behave like an average ten year old boy.

While he ate his breakfast (fruit included), Regina settled down at the table with her laptop to do some work. She started with planning modules, and even though this was completely different from her old job, she still enjoyed it.

When the bus came, Henry kissed her goodbye and left. Just like she was his normal, boring mom...

 

 

Later that day, Regina was getting ready to drive to Steveston with the anxiety bubbling in her stomach, when she received a text from Emma. Her faithful little Bug had broken down and she was stuck at her work. She would try catching a bus, but she would most likely be very delayed.

Regina didn’t like that. For two reasons. Number one being that it was really cold today. The thought of Emma waiting at a windy busstop only wearing her leather jacket didn’t really appeal to Regina.

And then of course there was the whole deal about Regina’s anxiety. She was nervous enough about telling. She feared that any kind of delay would sway her decision about coming clean to Emma.

There was only one thing to do.

‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your car. The bus ride is going to take a while, though. Wouldn’t it be better if I picked you up?’

‘Seriously?’

Why yes, of course. ‘Yes, of course. It’s practically on the way to Steveston. It’s not gonna be a problem at all.’

‘Oh my god, thank you so much! You’re a lifesaver. I’ll be in the parking lot.’

‘Excellent. I’ll be there shortly.’ Now she was in a hurry. She didn’t want Emma to wait in the cold parking lot for too long. Regina slipped her phone back in her purse and purposefully strode towards the hallway to put on her coat and boots. By the staircase, she nearly ran into Zelena who was getting ready to head out too. She was on her way for an evening meeting. Chad was on Henry-duty this evening.
The two ‘boys’ were currently upstairs in Henry’s room, playing Mario Kart.

“Someone’s in a hurry,” Zelena commented. “Everything okay?”

‘Yes,” Regina hastily signed. ‘I’m just in a hurry to pick up Emma. Her car broke down and she’s stuck at work.’

“Ah,” Zelena nodded. “Gotcha.” She tilted her head. “How are you feeling?”

Regina gave a meek smile.

“You’re so brave,” Zelena said softly. “You really are.”

Regina tried not to scoff.

“It’ll go well,” Zelena said firmly. “I can feel that it will.”

Regina was a bit more hesitant when it came to optimism, but she nevertheless flashed her sister a more genuine smile. It was sweet of Zelena to be hopeful on her behalf.

“Well, I won’t keep you,” Zelena said and grinned. “Off you pop.”

And off Regina popped. Right into her car where she quickly turned on the heat to defeat the horrible cold weather. She had no interest in turning into a popsicle while driving...

 

It almost felt a bit like deja-vu when she reached the parking lot of Dragon Publishing. Regina could not remember the last time she had been here, and it was strange being back. The enormous, impressive grey building looked exactly like the last time she had been here, and Regina felt a surge of pride over what Malena had created here.

Malena. Regina had not texted her like Mal had asked her to when they ran into each other in the grocery store. She hadn’t known what to text. Hadn’t known how the hell to start a conversation and get
back to the friendship they once had. So much had happened. So many things Regina had not shared with her.

She pushed the thoughts about Malena away when she spotted another certain blonde standing on the parking lot. There she was. Beautiful Emma Swan. Lovely Emma Swan. Just looking at her made
Regina feel all light and comfortable.

Emma was bouncing slightly and rubbing her arms in an attempt not to freeze. One could wonder why she hadn’t gone inside to wait, but she had clearly trusted that Regina wouldn’t take long, and Regina was glad she hadn’t stalled.

She parked the car and got out. Quickly spotted that Emma was looking at her. Then coming towards her. Regina smiled and began walking towards the stranded blonde.

“Regina?”

She stopped abruptly when her name was called. Not by Emma, but by another blonde Regina had just thought about. She turned her head and quickly spotted Malena who was standing half-hidden in the shadows with a cigarette between her long fingers.

Regina flashed Malena a slight smile, and Malena put out the cigarette on the heel of her booth, snipped it into the nearest bin and then walked towards Regina.

“It is nice to see you again,” Malena said as she reached her. “It has been far too long.”

It had not been that long since they ran into each other in the grocery store. But Regina understood what Malena meant. She could read between the lines.

“Are you feeling alright?” Malena asked her.

Regina nodded meekly and flashed her old friend a smile.

“Good.” Malena said. “I’m glad to see you. And I don’t want to lose contact with you again. Text me, alright? Don’t be a stranger.”

Oh, she was such a bad friend. Being able to say sorry would have been nice. Now she had to settle for a nod and what she hoped was an apologetic smile.

“Good,” Malena said, flashed Regina a smile and then she leaned forward and gave Regina very, very light peck on the cheek. “You take care of yourself, alright?”

Oddly enough, the kiss on the cheek did not make Regina uncomfortable. This was just the way Malena was. This was the greeting she had used for years. Regina gave a nod and smiled a little again.

“Excellent,” Malena said. She touched the top of Regina’s shoulder lightly, and then she turned around and walked towards her car. Before heading inside she turned her head and said to Emma: “I’ll see you tomorrow, miss Swan.”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “See you.”

Malena disappeared inside her car and drove off. In a ridiculous speed as always. She had always been a bit of a reckless driver.

Emma came towards her. “Hey,” she said and smiled.

Regina returned the smile, reached within the pocket of her coat, and found the note she had prepared from home. ‘Hello, Emma. It’s nice to see you again.’ she handed the note to Emma.

Emma chuckled a little when reading the greeting, and Regina wished that she had been brave enough to kiss Emma. But she was not. Instead she had to settle for lightly putting a hand on Emma’s forearm and swell in the way Emma shyly smiled and pushed locks of golden hair behind her ear. She seemed to be studying her face quite intensely, and Regina hoped that she did not look too tired. As nice as the warm milk had been last night, it had also come with a price. Dark circles under her eyes.

She moved her hand away from Emma’s arm and then nodded towards her car, hoping that Emma would understand what she was trying to communicate.

Emma did. “Yeah,” she said and nodded. “Let’s get going. It’s pretty cold out here.”

It was. And especially when you were wearing only a thin leather jacket. Together they walked towards the car, and as Emma climbed onto the passenger’s seat, Regina hoped that the heat in the seat had gotten the chance to work its magic. Regina hated freezing when she was driving, and she was certain the same thing was the case for Emma.

She started car. Steered it out of the parking lot and onto the road. Emma gave a sudden chuckle, and Regina couldn’t help but giving her a sideway glance while wondering what the joke was.

“She was happy to see you,” Emma said casually.

Who? Regina raised an eyebrow.

“Malena, I mean,” Emma quickly clarified.

Oh. Yes. She was. Regina shrugged as best as she could behind the wheel and felt another surge of guilt. Why hadn’t she just texted Malena? A simple ‘hey’ would be enough.

“Can I ask you something?” Emma asked lightly.

Regina nodded. Anything. That was what today was about. Emma could ask her anything, and Regina would give a truthful answer.

“Were you and Malena more than friends at some point?”

Oh. Well. That was NOT the question Regina had expected. Was it really that obvious that she and Malena had been more than friends? And more importantly, would it be a problem in the future? She was
well aware that it was pretty untraditional to be such close friends with her ex. And she had already been told once that that sort of thing wasn’t ‘allowed’.

But she had promised herself to be completely honest with Emma. She shot Emma another sideway glance and then nodded once in confirmation.

“Okay,” Emma said simply.

No biggie, apparently. But Regina still felt slightly awkward, so she tapped the button on the radio once.

“Yeah, sure, I don’t mind a bit of music,” Emma said casually and leaned back in her seat. Turning on the heating in the seat had clearly been a good idea.

Regina switched the radio on and felt some of the awkwardness disappearing when Billie Holliday’s velvet soft voice filled the car. Billie Holliday had always been one of her favorites. She had vague memories of dancing on her father’s feet while Billie Holliday was playing on their old gramophone.

Her memories about singing along to the music were not vague, though.

They were crystal clear, and it was impossible not to get a little upset when remembering that she no longer was capable of singing along to the music. Never again would she be able to attempt to outsing Billie Holliday.

Regina swallowed something. She didn’t want to be upset. Not now. Not today when she was with Emma.

Emma shifted a bit in the passengers seat. Something was clearly bothering her, and Regina was just about to make an attempt to find out what it was when Emma on her own accord said: “damn car!”

Oh. So that was the problem. Her car which had broken down. Of course. Regina completely understood why that had to be annoying, and she hoped that the car could be fixed. She had a soft spot for Emma’s little yellow Bug. Found it to be absolutely adorable. She flashed Emma a slight smile.

Emma returned the smile. “Thank you so much for picking me up. That was really nice of you.”

But of course. There was really no reason why Emma should have taken the old, rattling bus back to Steveston when Regina was in the area and had every opportunity to pick her up. But again, there was Emma’s excessive need to say thank you for everything. Nothing had ever come easily to Emma, Regina had known that for a while. But she hoped that she one day would be able to convince Emma that she did not have to say thank you to her all the time. Regina did things for Emma quite willingly. Because she wanted to be good to Emma. Because Emma deserved that someone was good to her.

Regina glanced discreetly at her. Emma was sitting with her legs crossed in an almost childlike manner. It made Regina smile. Emma unconsciously did things that were so incredibly sweet.

If Regina had not been so scared of touching and to be touched, she would have reached out and touched Emma.

Her cheek.

Her hand.

But she could not.

Because she was bound by that irrational fear.

She wished that things weren’t like that.

She wished that she wasn’t so fucked up.

Oh boy, Zelena would have scolded her for it if she knew what Regina was thinking. And she was right. Regina was NOT fucked up. If she had been fucked up, she wouldn’t have been capable of even imagining herself being in a relationship with Emma Swan.

But she WAS imagining that.

And guess what?

It made her happy.

The idea of being with Emma who was so sweet made her happy.

Of course it wouldn’t be easy. There would be many bumps on the road, but if they gave it time.... Regina was sure something beautiful could grow from the flicker of hope she felt whenever she was near Emma.

“You know, I had hoped to wear something a bit more... date-esque,” Emma said and wrinkled her nose. “But then the car broke down and completely messed up my plans!”

Regina smiled a little. Emma did not need to put on fancy clothing. It was just coffee at Eugenia’s Inn. But this conversation did remind her of how lovely Emma had looked in the grey sequin dress she had worn at the concert. Regina hoped that she got the chance to see Emma in that dress again. And next time, she wouldn’t settle for just mouthing ‘pretty’. Next time she would make sure to let Emma know how utterly lovely she looked in that dress. How completely breathtakingly beautiful Regina found her to be.

But Emma was beautiful right now too. She didn’t need to put on a fancy dress in order to be beautiful. Her beauty was coming from within.

 

 

The date was exactly as successful as the previous one.

They arrived at Eugenia’s Inn and found an empty table. Emma ordered coffee for both of them. And a slice of pie for Regina.

Regina had not expected that, and she did her best to communicate to Emma that it was not necessary.

But Emma merely shrugged lightly. “Henry mentioned how much you loved pie when we were at the harvest festival.”

No way. She remembered that? Seriously? Regina quickly found her trusted stack of post-it notes and wrote down her puzzlement on the first one (‘You remember that?’) and then handed it to Emma.

“Yep. I do,” Emma confirmed and sounded shy once more.

Oh, how Regina once again wished that she had been brave enough to kiss Emma. But she was not. And serving her dark story over a slice of pie seemed almost inappropriate. And it would definitely ruin her appetite. But she would tell it afterwards. As soon as she was done with the pie. Then she would steer the conversation onto the kiss Emma had given her the last time they saw one another. She would apologize for the way she had reacted. And then she suspected that Emma naturally would ask the right questions.

It would be difficult.

So difficult.

It would hurt like hell.

Relieving it would be exactly as gut punching as it had been the other times.

But it would be worth it too.

Regina was sure of that.

Yes.

Emma Swan was worth it.

After having placed her cellphone on the table to have it nearby, she dug into her slice of pie.

“Any good?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded eagerly and smiled. It was a very good pie! She didn’t eat pie often enough. Maybe she should start making pie herself. Henry would definitely appreciate that... she absentmindedly licked a drop of whipped cream away from her pinky finger as she considered it. Perhaps she should surprise her son and make pie for dessert tonight. He had eaten all his fruit slices this morning without complaining (much), surely that deserved some kind of reward, did it not?

“Great,” Emma said and for whatever reason, her voice sounded a bit strained. She lifted her cup of coffee. Took a sip of it and then coughed slightly.

Regina quickly glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. That did not sound too good. Was Emma developing a cold? Perhaps waiting outside in that thin jacket had already done some damage.

“I’m fine,” Emma said and cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”

Maybe not a cold then. Regina turned her attention back to her pie. It did feel a little rude to just sit there and eat without even attempting to communicate, but the thing was, the pie was warm. It would be a shame to let it go cold. And constantly putting her fork down to write a message was so troublesome. It was better to finish her pie first instead of attempting to do two things at once.

And besides.... the quicker she finished the slice of pie, the quicker she could tell Emma the things she needed to tell her. The things Emma needed to know.

The pie became sticky in her mouth.

A chance.

That was all she was asking for.

A chance to experience a relationship where she did not have to be constantly afraid. A chance to prove to herself and Emma that she could do this. That she was capable of having a normal relationship with a sweet woman who had been nothing but good to her.

A chance to prove that she was not broken.

Or at least that the missing pieces of her could be found and put back together.

She swallowed the piece of pie with some trouble.

Would Emma give her that chance?

God, she hoped so!

That was when the screen on her phone lit up. Regina put the fork down to check the message. It was one from Henry. He had just won over Chad in Mario Kart five times. Well done, Henry. Regina smiled a little as she texted back and congratulated him. And reminded him that it was time to do something else besides playing videogames.

“Anything important?” Emma asked casually.

Regina swiftly grabbed a new post-it note and scribbled down the answer. ‘Just Henry.’ then she gave the note to Emma.

“Oh,” Emma said. “Everything alright with the kid?”

Regina nodded and smiled. Henry was thriving. He always thrived when he was playing videogames. But she did hope that he was planning on doing something else soon. Like playing a boardgame with
Chad. That had sort of become a tradition when Regina was in the hospital. A way to keep Henry’s mind occupied with something else at least for a little while. And they had kept up the tradition after
Regina got home. She had witnessed epic battles of Monopoly unfurl in the kitchen. It was quite entertaining, really.

“Aww,” Emma suddenly cooed. “How old is he there?”

It took Regina a second to figure out that Emma was talking about the background picture on her phone. But when she did figure out, she could only agree with the ‘aww’. It was one of her favorite pictures, the one of her and Henry when he was just a tiny thing. She found a new post-it note and wrote on it: ‘he’s two years old in the picture.’ She gently slid the note towards Emma.

“Can I see it?” Emma asked after having read the note. “More properly, I mean?”

Sure, why not. Regina nodded and grabbed her phone. Tapped the little ‘photo’ icon and found the picture. That way Emma could see it without all the apps covering the motive. She pushed the phone over to Emma.

Emma looked at the picture for a long time, and Regina wondered what she found in it. Could she see the gleam in Regina’s eyes? Could she see how happy and unmarred she had been back then? Her life had been perfect. Her spirit had not yet been broken by terribly things done to her by a terrible man.

“You guys look very sweet together,” Emma said softly as she pushed the phone back towards Regina.

Indeed. Regina nodded and slipped the phone back in her purse. She looked at Emma. She was sipping her coffee. There seemed to be a lull in their conversation, and Regina felt another surge of anxiety.

Now was a good time as ever. In fact this was probably THE moment. She took a deep breath, willed herself not to panic. She merely had to steer the conversation onto how their date ended the last time, and then everything else would come naturally. Hopefully.

She could do this. She had to.

Regina took another deep breath. Reached for the stack of post-its, ready to write down something she wasn’t even sure what was yet.

But then Emma’s phone rang. Regina almost flinched at the sound but quickly pulled herself together.

Emma sighed. “I’m sorry, I have to answer this call. It’s my mechanic.”

Regina nodded, put on a smile, and took a sip of her coffee in the hope to soften the hard lump she had gotten in her throat. This was fine. Of course Emma had to talk to her mechanic about the Bug. It was just a minor interruption. The date would continue afterwards. There was no reason to get cold feet over something that was this minor.

“Hey, Billy. What’s up?” Emma said casually and sounded exactly like the young woman she was. “Have you already fixed the Bug? That’s pretty impress-“

She did not finish the sentence, and Regina flinched when she heard Billy yell something inaudible in the other end. She did not like it. Why was Billy yelling at Emma? He shouldn’t be!

“What the hell are you talking about?” Emma demanded. She sounded exactly as puzzled as Regina felt.

Billy once again said something. It was still inaudible, but Regina could hear that he was speaking very fast.

“What?” Emma said.

Regina studied her face. She didn’t look annoyed anymore. Instead her green eyes had widened, and she was clearly biting the inside of her right cheek. Regina grew worried. What could Billy possibly have said that had caused such a reaction?

“Okay,” Emma said quietly. She ended the call, but the screen had barely been black for two seconds before Regina saw it light up again. Emma had received a picture. From Billy. Why had he sent her a picture? Regina didn’t understand. But she kept looking at Emma as she tapped on her phone, most likely to open the newly received picture.

The look of complete shock and horror on Emma’s face almost made Regina want to recoil. And then ask a million questions if she had been able to.

Because what on earth could have happened to make Emma look so shocked and frightened?

What was going on?

 

To Be Continued..........

Chapter Text

The look on Emma’s face made Regina feel even more stumped. And a little uneasy too. What could possibly have happened to make Emma look like that? Wasn’t it just the mechanic calling her? How could that possibly be that upsetting? Unless something serious had happened to the little yellow Bug. Maybe the engine had broken down for good?

But something told Regina that it had to be more than that. Emma wouldn’t be white as a sheet ‘just’ because of the engine breaking down. She also wouldn’t be chewing her lip and look this anxious. It had to be more than that.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, Regina tore off another post-it note and wrote down a question for Emma. ‘Is everything okay?’. Then she looked at Emma again. She was still chewing her lip and her green eyes flickered.

Regina was starting to get properly worried now. She leaned forward and gently touched Emma’s hand.

Emma’s head snapped up, and Regina was quick to withdraw her hand. She could recognize someone flinching when she saw it. Instead of attempting to touch Emma again, she reached for the note and pushed it towards Emma.

Emma quickly read the note and ran her fingers through her hair. “No, not really,” she said quietly. “That was my mechanic calling. My car’s been vandalized.”
What? Vandalized? At Malena’s parking lot? In front of Malena’s company? It sounded almost impossible. And absolutely terrible too! Regina frowned deeply and felt incredibly angry on Emma’s behalf. Her Bug! Her sweet little adorable Bug that was so brightly yellow! Who the hell could even think of vandalizing that?!

“I can’t believe it,” Emma said and shook her head. “I didn’t leave it unattended for that long. And it wasn’t even standing abandoned somewhere. It was left on Dragon Publishing’s parking lot, for crying out loud! I have to call Sheriff Graham. And Malena.” She sighed again, clearly frustrated. Shook her head slightly. “Is there any chance I coax you into giving me a ride back to Dragon Publishing? I have to get to the bottom of this.”

Of course. Regina was actually just about to offer it. She quickly nodded and emptied her coffee cup in one go.

“Thank you,” Emma said, emptying her own cup of coffee and then wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “I really appreciate that.”

Nothing to talk about, really, Regina was only happy to help Emma out. But she still accepted the gratitude and gave a short nod as she smiled. Then she rose from the chair. After a second, Emma did the same, and together they left Eugenia’s Inn and walked towards Regina’s black Mercedes. Regina was silently seething with anger that someone would vandalize Emma’s car. In her opinion, people who vandalized cars were brainless idiots.

They entered the car. Buckled their seatbelts and off they went. Regina couldn’t help but side eye Emma every so often. She looked so concerned. And.... and scared. Yes. Scared. Regina felt a flicker of anxiety. And pity. It wasn’t fair that someone had spooked Emma like this. Regina was pissed for two reasons. The number one of course being that someone had scared Emma. And the second reason was that this had interrupted their date. Ruined the chance of telling Emma the truth. Regina couldn’t possibly tell Emma her grim secret now. The timing was terrible!

“I’m really sorry I’ve ruined our date,” Emma muttered.

What? Oh, no, no, no! This was not Emma’s fault. Definitely not! Regina shook her head firmly.

“I have,” Emma insisted, voice small. “We were supposed to eat pie and drink coffee and have a good time. Not drive back and forward. I’m sorry.”

Regina shook her head firmly once more. Wished that there was something she could have said to make Emma realize that she had no reason to feel guilty. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Emma grimace.

“And I’m also really sorry for blabbering like this when you have absolutely no chance of communicating back to me. I’m panicking a little. I always ramble when I’m panicking. Sorry about that.”

Oh dear. Emma was in quite the state over this. Poor thing. If she had not been driving, Regina definitely would have reached out and touched Emma’s hand to show her support. Now she had to settle for shaking her head once more. And curse the fact that she could not speak. She couldn’t offer any words of comfort, and more than ever, she cursed this damn condition her monster of an ex-fiancé had left her with. But she was itching to comfort Emma. So much she stopped thinking about safe driving for a moment. She moved one hand away from the wheel and put it lightly over Emma’s. She felt
Emma shift next to her. Knew that she was looking at her. Could see out of the corner of her eye that Emma was smiling at her. Without taking her eyes off the road, Regina smiled and hoped that Emma would understand that she was trying her best to comfort her in a silent manner.

“This was not how I had imagined to spend our date,” Emma said plainly as Regina moved her hand away once more.

Regina shrugged lightly. Nor was it the way she imagined this to play out, but sometimes plans changed.

“I’ll do better next time,” Emma said, adopting a casual tone. “Next time we won’t be interrupted by a crazy vandal.”

Oh, bless her. She was really trying to appear unaffected by this. Regina quirked an eyebrow in pretense amusement because she could sense that that was how Emma wanted her to react. If it made Emma feel any better, she was more than willing to play along. People coped with difficult situations in different ways, and dry humor was clearly Emma’s way of coping. That was actually good to know, Regina thought to herself. She would bear that in mind in the future.

She quelled a little sigh. Didn’t want Emma to hear her. But truthfully, Regina was quite disappointed. She had felt so brave for a moment. So completely ready to tell Emma the truth about how she lost her voice. And then the moment had been taken from her. Who knew, maybe she wouldn’t feel as brave again anytime soon. Regina didn’t need many excuses to stick her metaphorical tail between her legs and decide that telling Emma was not a good idea.

She chewed the inside of her cheek and glanced discreetly at Emma once more. She was sitting and looking out of the window. Her right foot was bouncing up and down. A clear sign of anxiety. Regina wondered if Emma even was aware that she was doing it, or if she had disappeared into her own little world completely. Oh, if only Regina could have said something. Anything. ‘I’m sorry about your car’, or ‘I’m sorry that some people thinks its funny to destroy something another person cherishes’, or ‘I can see that you are worried about something. Can you please tell me what it is? I want to help you.’

Regina swallowed something. It had to be terribly frustrating for Emma, spending time with a mute woman and never knowing what she was thinking.

But it was also terribly frustrating for Regina to look at Emma and not being able to ASK her. Regina had so many questions right now, and she couldn’t ask a single one of them because she was driving and needed her hands for that and not talking.

It was almost a relief when Emma nodded towards the radio and asked: “can I switch it on?”

Regina nodded eagerly. Oh god yes, please do!

Emma switched on the radio which was permanently on the ‘nostalgia’ channel. On this particular afternoon, Julee Cruise’s soft and sweet voice worked as a soundboard in the car:

 

‘The nightingale,

It said to me....

There is a love,

Meant for me!

 

The Nightingale,

It flew to me...

And told me,

That it found my love....’

“You like Julee Cruise?” Emma guessed.

Regina nodded. She loved Julee Cruise.

“And Twin Peaks?”

Another nod. Was it even possible to love one and not the other, Regina wondered. She had been an incarnated Twin Peaks fan for quite a while. Her dear father had loved Twin Peaks. He had actually been quite the geek about it, and he and Regina had watched the series together many, many times. As late as only two days before he unexpectedly passed. A highly pregnant and extremely shocked Regina had been rushed to the hospital because Malena, whom had been with her at the time, had feared that the shock would cause her to miscarry. Regina clearly remembered how she had curled up in the enormous hospital bed and listened to Julee Cruise while crying her eyes out.

Regina felt an unexpected lump in her throat. Perhaps thinking about the death of her father was not the best thing. She cleared her throat.

“You okay?” Emma asked concerned.

She nodded quickly and smiled reassuringly. Yes, she was okay. Just getting a little sentimental for whatever reason. Strange. Perhaps her period was on her way or something like that. Her father’s passing always seemed a little extra cruel on those days.

 

‘My heart flies,

With the nightingale..

Through the night,

All across the world.’

“Can’t remember the last time I watched Twin Peaks,” Emma said. “Bob used to scare the shit out of me!”

Ah yes. Bob. The longhaired beast who killed Laura Palmer. Regina too had been afraid of him.

Until her nightmares changed.

Until she realized that fictional demons wasn’t really the thing she should be afraid of. There were worse things that actors climbing over a couch while grinning menacingly.

 

When they reached Dragon Publishing’s parking lot, Regina spotted Graham and a couple of officers. They were taking pictures and dusting for fingerprints, and Regina felt that swirl of anxiety again.
Pictures and fingerprints because of vandalism? Of course vandalism was a serious thing, but she had never heard of officers dusting for fingerprints ‘just’ because of vandalism. Something else had to be afoot.

But this very much looked to be more than simple vandalism. Regina could not believe what she was seeing. Some ridiculous twat had thrashed Emma’s car. All four tires were flat, and the yellow paint had been severely damaged. Someone had actually keyed the words ‘WATCH YOUR BACK’ onto the side of the car.

Regina was furious. Who the hell would do this kind of thing?!

But there was also something else tickling at her brain. Something about the thread that made her wonder.

They exited the car and went over to Graham and his officers. Regina stayed in the background. The sight of the uniformed officers made her nervous. Not because she was afraid of the police, but their uniforms and batons reminded her of Killian and the nights where he had ran his police baton up and down her naked back. She had asked him why he had done it, but he had merely laughed and repeated the action. He had never struck her with it, but his reason for running the baton up and down her back had been so obvious. He wanted her to know that he could strike her with it if she did not do his bidding.

“Oh my god,” Emma muttered and shook her head.

“Yes, whoever it is, is certainly escalating,” Graham nodded. “And obviously wore gloves for this.”

“Right. Of course he did,” Emma muttered.

‘Whoever it is, is certainly escalating’? Regina frowned. What did that even mean? What was it that Graham was implying?

“We’re just waiting for Malena Drake to show up so we can go through the security footage. And find out where the hell the security staff were,” Graham said tightly and glanced over Emma’s shoulder.
“Hello, Regina.”

Regina gave a quick nod and a brief smile. She continued to stay in the background while Emma and Graham spoke. She noted that Graham looked quite serious, and once again she wondered what on earth was going on. Was it possible that there was something Emma had not told her? Something bad. That threatening message someone had written on the side of Emma’s car almost looked.... personal.

Regina’s stomach tied in knots, and although she did not know what was going on, she had this unyielding sense of dread and horror somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Her well-trained fight or flight instinct had kicked in, and she mostly just wanted to drive away as quickly as possible.

But she could not do that. She couldn’t just leave Emma in this difficult situation. She had to stick by her and support her as best as she could. That was the sort of thing you did for someone you really liked.

That was when a flashy, red Ferrari came speeding round the corner. It stopped with a screech in the parking lot, and one furious looking Malena came tumbling out of the car. She slammed the car door shut behind her and came marching over to them. Her stiletto heels clacked against the ground. Her mouth was a thin line, and her crystal blue eyes were flashing dangerously. No doubt she was furious about what had happened in her parking lot. Just outside HER emporium. Regina knew that Malena would take this personally. She had always been fiercely protective of her employees.

“What the hell is going on?!” she demanded as she looked at Graham.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Graham said patiently.

“Well, I’m certainly as curious as you are,” Malena said sarcastically and folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve just spoken to the head of security, and he swore he wasn’t aware that there was an unwelcome guest here.” she scoffed. “He is so fired! As are the rest of them.”

Emma managed a meek chuckle.

“Would it be possible to take a look at your security footage from this afternoon?” Graham asked her.

“Certainly,” Malena said tightly. “Follow me.”

And so they did. Regina kept in the background once more, but Malena still turned her head and flashed her a little smile in greeting.

Regina hesitantly returned the smile. Well. This was certainly not how she had imagined to meet Malena a third time. She had envisioned their third meeting to play out quite differently. But then again, nothing about this day was going as Regina had planned. Had things gone accordingly to Regina’s plan, she and Emma would be sitting at ‘their’ table at Eugenia’s Inn. Perhaps Regina would have told Emma the truth by now. Perhaps Emma would have taken her hand by now. Would Regina have minded that? No, she wasn’t so sure of that. She rather liked holding Emma’s hand. Emma’s hand was soft. If she kept practicing, holding Emma’s hand could become quite the natural thing.

Damn shame that jerk had to vandalize Emma’s car. Regina still felt so angry for Emma’s sake, and she couldn’t believe that someone could do that to the sweet little yellow Bug. What was even the point in vandalizing? To get a thrill out of it? Well. If the person responsible for this met Emma and saw how upset she was, they surely would feel bad about the crime they had committed. Regina hoped that Graham and his officers would be able to locate the idiot. And she hoped that Emma would tell her if something was going on. Exactly like Regina had been planning on telling.

They ended up in Malena’s office. It had been quite a while since Regina last was here, but the place had not changed one bit since the last time. Still extravagant. Still filled with figurines of the dragons she loved so much. It even looked like a few more had joined the family of dragons since the last time.

But looking at dragons was not what they were here to do. Malena switched on the screen so they could go through the security footage. And then Malena reached inside one of her cabinets and found a bottle of scotch. A clear sign that she was stressed. Malena always kept a small bottle of scotch in her cabinet for ‘emergencies’. She Graham a glass, but he politely declined, saying that he was on duty, so she settled for pouring the golden liquid into three glasses. One for Emma, one for herself, and one for Regina.

Regina raised an eyebrow. She was driving, after all.

But Malena merely scoffed as she thrusted the glass inside Regina’s hand. “It’s five o’clock somewhere. Have a drink with us, kitt-“

Regina raised an eyebrow at the near slip up. Kitten. It had been a while since Malena had called her that. Was she really that rattled?

“Regina,” Malena hastily amended. “Have a drink with us, Regina.”

Regina accepted the glass of scotch. Then she turned her attention to the screen and the security footage from today. The security staff was watching back and forward in the parking lot. Fairly normal.

And at the same time, not quite. Malena wouldn’t normally have that much security in the parking lot, would she? Regina kept her eyes on the screen as she saw the time pass. She saw Emma come into the parking lot and climb inside the car. Saw her obvious annoyance when the car refused to start. Then she saw Emma look under the hood of the car. Saw her find her phone. Started to text. Regina knew that Emma had to have been texting her then, and she was immediately struck by the smile on Emma’s face. Was she really smiling that much whenever she was texting her? Some of the anxiety melted away, and she took a small sip of her scotch as she watched Emma call her mechanic to inform him of the problem and then proceed to walk back and forward to keep warm. After a moment, she saw her own car come into the parking lot. Saw herself get out of the car and frowned slightly. Was that really how she carried herself? She wasn’t so sure she liked that. But she did like the way Emma smiled. She could see it even on the slightly grainy image on the screen. Regina took another sip of her scotch and did not pay much attention to the screen. She knew what was coming. Malena would come over and greet her and then drive away.

Then her greeting with Emma. The awkward arm touch, and then they climbed into Regina’s car and drove off like Malena.

“Here we go,” Graham muttered. “It can’t be long before our guy arrives.”

That turned out to be absolutely correct. After only about a minute or so, Regina saw a man emerge on the screen. She was certain it was a man. He was too tall to be a woman. And the way he carried himself revealed him too. Unfortunately, he had his back to the camera, so seeing his face was impossible, and what’s more, he was dressed in Dragon Publishing’s official security clothes and was walking around on the parking lot as though he was patrolling the area.

“But that’s just a member of the security staff,” Emma commented and took another swig of her scotch. She had been doing that a lot. Poor thing. She was visibly nervous.

“Wait,” Graham said plainly.

And so they waited once more. Saw another member of the security staff come out of the building. He chatted with the other guy for a few minutes, and then he disappeared into a car and drove away.

The guy in the parking lot waited for a few minutes, walked around as though he was patrolling the area, and then once the last member of security emerged from the building and drove off in his car, everything about the guy in the parking lot changed. His body language went from relaxed and friendly to threatening and intimidating. Still with his back to the camera on the building, he reached back under his security jacket and pulled a hoodie over his head.

Malena started cussing as they witnessed the man walk directly over to Emma’s car. He pulled out a small knife and started to more or less hack away at the tires until they punctured.

Regina’s heart leapt into her throat the display of violence, and she was starting to feel properly sick as she saw the man use the tip of his knife to carve the threat into the side of Emma’s car.

Graham rubbed a hand over his face. “He was posing as a member of the security staff.”

Malena cursed again. “I don’t understand how it’s possible! How could I not have noticed-“

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Emma said quickly.

Regina stood stock still with the glass of scotch clutched in her hand as she saw the man walk away from the parking lot. He wasn’t running. He was almost strolling. Or prancing. As though he was proud.

Regina’s stomach tied in knots again. There was something about that walk. Something she could not pinpoint, but at the same time she was certain that this walk was familiar to her. That she had seen it before somewhere. Her mind was not playing tricks on her this time. She had definitely seen this type of walk before. But where? Where, where, where? Oh, why couldn’t she remember it?!

“I agree,” Graham said. “But the bottom line is that we still don’t know who this bastard is. Because I doubt he’s been around for the whole day. My guess is that he snuck in, stole an extra uniform and then blended in.”

“That sounds very likely,” Malena snarled. “I’ve recently hired new security people.”

“Why did he have to wear that damn hoodie?!” Graham said and his jaw clenched.

Regina shifted uncomfortably. There was still something tickling in the back of her mind. Something she felt like she HAD to remember, but nevertheless couldn’t grasp. It kept slipping away from her.

Damnit. She was certain that it was something important.

“I’ve already contacted local police in Forest Hill,” Graham said. “Your adoptive parents have a very solid alibi. None of them were nowhere near Vancouver when this happened.”

What? Why would Emma’s adoptive parents be behind this? And what was ‘this’ even? Regina glanced at Emma. There was definitely something she was not telling her.

“Could they have hired someone to do this?” Emma asked Graham and bit her lip.

Hired someone? To vandalize her car? But why? And why did Emma sound so calm about it?

“In theory, yes,” Graham said, looking very serious. “Can you think of anyone who would be willing to perform such an act for them? Someone they’re close to, like a family member or a close friend?”

This was getting more and more strange, Regina thought. What was this, a mafia movie? What kind of people were Emma’s adoptive parents even?!

Well...” Emma took another gulp of her scotch. She was actually starting to act a bit like her life depended on it. “There is Leopold White. My adoptive mother’s uncle.”

”Leopold White,” Graham muttered as he jotted the name down in his little black book.

“Yeah, but he doesn’t...” Emma did not finish the sentence. Instead she bit her lip, and Regina shot her a sideways glance. Doesn’t what?

“He doesn’t what, miss Swan?” Graham asked patiently.

“He doesn’t drive the right car,” Emma said almost a bit defeatedly and took another large swig of her drink.

Impressive. Malena’s drinks had always been exceptionally strong. Regina could not drink anymore. Mainly because she was concerned and wanted to keep a clear head. What did it mean that Leopold White didn’t drive the right car?

“Yeah, I’ve been followed home from work once,” Emma admitted. “And I’ve seen the same car twice in the parking lot here.”

“Why on earth didn’t you tell me?!” Graham said exasperated.

Regina felt utterly shocked. Had Emma been followed home from work?! Why hadn’t she told her this? Had she known, Regina would have done anything in her power to help Emma!

“I thought it was a coincidence at first,” Emma replied and sounded very apologetic. She used her free hand to push a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. “The first time it happened, I thought it could just have been someone who was lost and trying to find his way back by following me or something. I managed to shake him off, so I didn’t think too much about it. And the first time I saw the car here, it was so brief. Literally. I saw the car out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t even completely sure whether I had seen it or not, you know?” she squeezed the glass of scotch a little tighter in her hand. “And the second time I saw the car here, I also saw the guy walking around my car. I suppose he was trying to do what he did to my car today but got scared off by security. And I... I guess I didn’t tell you because nothing happened and I knew that security would be patrolling the parking lot regularly, so I guess I felt safe. I was certain he had been scared away when he saw the security come running out on the parking lot.”

“I see,” Graham nodded.

“I wish I had told you after I had seen the car in my rearview mirror the first time,” Emma said bitterly.

Forget about Graham. Regina wished Emma had told her. How long had this even been going on? The way Emma spoke of it, made it sound so extensive!

“is there any chance you got a proper look of this car? Can you remember the license plate? Color, type, anything?” Graham asked and held the pencil ready to write it down.

“I didn’t get a chance to see the license plate,” Emma muttered. She took a breath, and when she spoke again, she frantically rambled in that way Regina knew she was prone to doing when she was nervous: “and I don’t know anything about the car except that it’s a grey station car, but that’s not a lot to go on, and also I don’t understand the endgame in all this, I mean stealing my library card? What the hell is that about?”

What indeed? Regina was starting to feel more and more nauseous. That... that thing tickled at her brain again.

“Your library card?” Graham asked and frowned deeply. “You haven’t mentioned anything about a stolen library card before, Emma.”

“I know,” Emma admitted and rubbed a hand over her cheek. “I didn’t notice it until almost a week after the break-in in my room, and it was such a random thing to steal, so I didn’t think much of it, to be honest. I just found it annoying.”

“I see,” Graham said sternly. “Was anything else taken from your room?”

“Yeah,” Emma said and almost laughed at the absurdity as her frustration took over and she started rambling once more: “and can you please explain to me why the hell the intruder would chose that of all things when my laptop was literally right there?! Because I sure as hell don’t understand why anyone would be interested in nicking a stack of written post-it messa-“

Oh god.

Oh no.

Not that.

Anything but that.

Please no.

The breath hitched in Regina’s throat as everything suddenly came together and made sense in the most horrible way imaginable.

The glass of scotch slipped from her hands, but she barely noticed it.

The characteristic walk she was certain she had seen somewhere.

The threat scratched into Emma’s car.

The stolen post-it notes.

There was a reason she felt like she could remember that walk.

Because she could.

There was a reason the threating message on Emma’s car felt particularly frightening.

‘Watch your back!’. That was exactly what Liam had uttered in the courtroom when his brother was convicted of rape, battery and attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Regina had been told so by Zelena who had been present in the courtroom on Regina’s behalf. ‘Watch your back’ were the infamous words that had landed Liam with several restraining orders. Because of the threats he had made to ‘finish the job’ for his brother, the judge had forbidden him to come anywhere near Regina, Henry and Zelena. And Liam had not violated the restraining order. Not once.

But there was no rules for Emma Swan.

And Liam had been determined to hurt Regina. If not directly, then through others. And that was what he was doing right now. It had to be him. Regina was sure of it. She recognized his walk. She recognized the car Emma had described. And the fact that he had stolen the post-it messages. He had been looking for a proof. And he had found one.

It took everything in Regina to force herself to snap out of it. She noticed the golden lake the dropped glass of scotch had left on Malena’s cream carpet, and she quickly bend down to fix the mess she had made.

So did Malena, but Regina held up her hand and then quickly picked up the tiny little shards of glass. She dumped them in Malena’s trashcan. But there was not much she could do about the sea of scotch on the carpet.

“Never mind that,” Malena said quickly. “I’ll get that later. Did you cut yourself?”

Regina shook her head and found her phone in her pocket. She had to get out of here. Right now. Before she threw up on the floor. With fingers that trembled, she hastily wrote a message on her phone (‘I’m afraid I have to go now. I had forgotten that I have plans later.’), and showed it to Emma.

“Oh, okay,” Emma said after having read the message. She sounded a bit apologetic, but right now Regina was unable to focus on anything else except the thing she had just realized.

Regina quickly typed on her phone once more. ‘Can you get home on your own?’, was the question she showed to Emma. And she hoped that the answer would be yes. The idea of driving in the same car as Emma was too much.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “I can probably get a ride from Graham.”

Thank god. Regina gave the briefest of nods, mashed the phone back in her purse and then spun around on her heels and headed towards the door. She had to get out of here right now and chose to ignore Emma when she called “text me later?”

There would be no texting. Not any longer. She could not do this. Not like this. Regina fled out of the door, down the hallway where she chose the staircase rather than the elevator. The thought of being boxed in in a small room was making her feel sick to her stomach.

She almost tripped on the stairs.

Almost.

But would she even have been capable of feeling it if she had fallen and hurt herself? Probably not.

She felt so numb. So beside herself.

And she had to get out of this building.

She made it out of the build, but it was not quite enough. The parking lot was now a place of danger. The ghosts of her past was still here. A man who openly had threatened to hurt her had been here.

And he was still trying to hurt her.

Trying to hurt Emma.

But Regina would not let him.

If she removed herself from Emma’s life, Liam would have no reason to pursue Emma.

It would be better like that. Much better.

Emma deserved to be with someone who did not come with a dangerous past.

Regina threw herself inside her car and sped up. The tires squealed.

 

She made it exactly two miles before she had to pull over. It felt like something heavy was sitting on her chest. She couldn’t breathe.

Regina stumbled out of the car.

Staggered over to the ditch.

Dropped to her knees.

Threw up.

Twice.

It hurt.

This was her fault.

She was the one Liam wanted to hurt.

But Emma was the one who was taking all the blows.

She had been followed.

Her beautiful little yellow car had been vandalized.

And who knew what other things Liam Jones would be capable of?

He was a dangerous man.

Every bit as bad as his brother.

And if Killian was capable of hurting someone so gruesomely...

So was Liam.

Regina had only narrowly escaped death that night.

Killian had had the intention to kill her.

He was capable of murder.

Which meant that so was Liam.

Murder.

Murder.

Regina gagged but nothing came of it.

She couldn’t do anything right.

Couldn’t even throw up properly.

This was her fault.

All of it.

Liam Jones would never have started to target Emma if it hadn’t been for her.

There was only one thing she could do.

Stop seeing Emma all together.

That would make Liam stop targeting her.

Yes. This was how things were going to be now.

It would never be the two of them.

It was too dangerous.

She could not risk Liam hurting Emma.

She would not be able to live with herself if he did.

Regina slowly came to her feet and found a handkerchief in her purse. Wiped her mouth.

Took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.

It did not work.

She felt anything but calm.

She felt like screaming.

But she could not.

Because her voice was gone.

She stumbled back inside her car. Slammed the door shut. Put on her seatbelt.

Looked around to check that there was no one nearby.

The rest area was quite empty.

Good.

Regina slammed her hand into the wheel.

Again.

And again.

It hurt.

But she needed it.

So badly.

She punched the wheel again.

And again.

If she could not scream, at least she could do this.

She lost count of how many times she did it, but she only stopped when her knuckles started bleeding.

Regina found a second handkerchief in her purse and tied it tightly around her injured knuckles. Then she leaned back in the seat and allowed the tears to flow freely. She cried for the injustice of it all. How Emma’s beautiful car had been vandalized. The car she had been so excited about. She cried because there was no way she ever could tell Emma her secret now. There was no way they could be together. Because Liam wouldn’t allow it. Because she couldn’t risk him coming for Emma again. And she cried because if she ever did tell Emma about her past, Emma would start resenting her because
Regina was the one who had started all of this. If she hadn’t started to spend time with Emma, Liam never would have come after her.

She had made Emma a target.

Regina cried until her body trembled and her eyes stung. She cried for Emma. And she cried for herself and everything that had been stolen from her by one man.

Now Emma had been stolen from her too.

No. Emma had never been hers.

Regina patted her eyes dry and drove off.

 

 

“Oh my god!” Zelena exclaimed and jumped up from the kitchen chair. “What HAPPENED?!”

But Regina held up her uninjured hand to say ‘don’t’. She couldn’t talk about this. Not now. Not yet. She just wanted to be alone.

For the first time in a very long time, Regina pushed past her sister and hurried up the stairs.

Of course Zelena was right behind her. “Regina?! What happened?!”

Regina ignored it. She still felt nauseous, and she feared that talking about it would make her throw up again. Instead of giving her sister an answer, she walked straight to her room, closed the door, and then locked it. The one thing she had been forbidden to do at the psychiatric ward. The one thing Zelena feared.

Regina felt a little guilty for literally shutting her sister out, but she could not face Zelena right now. She needed to be alone. Otherwise she would crack open and everything would spill from her. There would be absolutely nothing left of her when it was done. She couldn’t put Zelena through that. Not again.

Regina slid down the door and ended up sitting leaned against it. She rested her forehead on her knees and wrapped her arms around the back of her thighs. Tried to make herself as small as possible.

She FELT small. So, so small.

It felt like the tiny steps she had taken towards getting better did not mean anything.

She was still broken.

Still terrified.

And now she was dangerous too.

The image of Liam stabbing the tires in Emma’s car popped up in her mind.

He could just as well have been waiting for her in the parking lot.

The thought sent shivers down Regina’s spine.

Suppose he had?

Suppose he had been waiting for her in the shadows?

Emma would never have seen him coming.

It would have been a blitz attack.

And what if....

The breath hitched in Regina’s throat.

What if Emma’s car hadn’t broken down because of natural causes?

What if Liam was the one who had sabotaged it?

What if he would do it again?

Cut the brakes.

Regina could see it happening. Could see Emma come driving down the road, smiling and happy. Another car comes. She tries to hit the brake. Nothing happens.

A car crash. A terrible accident.

“Regina, can I please come in?”

Regina slowly lifted her head from her knees. Of course Zelena hadn’t given up. And she wouldn’t until the door was to be unlocked.

“Regina, please open the door,” Zelena pleaded. Her voice was soft and calm, but Regina could still detect the faintest hint of panic. She should open the door. But she suddenly felt so tired. So weak. She
tipped her head back and rested it against the door. Her eyes felt swollen and puffy. They stung. She should go to the bathroom and dab them with some cold water. And she should get cleaned up in general. She probably looked like a right mess with mascara running down her cheeks.

“Regina, please. Open the door. I’m worried about you.”

It wasn’t fair what she was doing to Zelena. And she was too old to hide in her bedroom with the door locked like she was a teenager. She had responsibilities. Her son needed her. Where was he even? The house was so quiet. She supposed that Chad had taken him somewhere. But still, she couldn’t just stay in here and ignore the world even though that was what she wanted to do the most.

On weak legs, Regina rose from her sitting position by the door. She hastily ripped off the bloodied handkerchief she had been wearing around her hand and mashed it into her pocket. She was still wearing her coat. And her shoes. God. She was a complete mess. Her knuckles didn’t look too good either, but it would look more dramatic if she wore the bloodied handkerchief.

She unlocked the door and Zelena’s pale face appeared. There was a deep wrinkle between her eyes and Regina instantaneously felt guilty for having blown her off.

“What happened?” Zelena asked immediately, and in the same breath: “can I come in?”

Regina stepped aside and let Zelena step inside the room. Her sister closed the door behind her and then turned back to Regina. “What’s going on, hun? What HAPPENED?”

Everything. Everything happened. Regina had been about to tell Emma everything, and then life had kicked her in the teeth one more time.

And now everything was ruined.

“You’re shaking,” Zelena said as she came over and took Regina’s hands between her own. “And what happened to your knuckles?”

Regina gently withdrew her hands to sign: ‘I punched the wheel. Several times.’

“You punched the wheel?” Zelena asked and looked even more concerned. “Why? Regina, what’s going on? Did Emma... Did Emma not take it well? Or did you not tell her?”

Regina shook her head and signed: ‘I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t.’

“Oh,” Zelena said slightly surprised. “Okay. It’s just that I thought you were going to, but it’s okay if you changed your mind.”

Regina shook her head again. She had to tell Zelena everything. And she had to do it quickly. All the questions and the guessing games were just too much.

She finally slipped off her coat and walked over to the little nightstand. Opened the top drawer and found what she was looking for. Paper and pencil. Then she sat down on the edge of the bed and took the pencil between her fingers. It was shaking. Because her hand was shaking. Because all of her was shaking. She really was a complete mess and she tried taking deep, calming breaths as she wrote: ‘I was going to. That was always the plan. We were having coffee and there was a pause in our conversation, so I was preparing myself for steering the conversation onto the topic. But her phone rang, and it was Billy, the mechanic. Emma had called him to take a look at her car. He told her that the Bug had been vandalized while in the parking lot at Dragon Publishing, so she asked me if I could drive her there so she could take a look at the damage. Of course I said yes. We drove to Dragon Publishing. Graham and a couple of other officers where already waiting for us. They were taking pictures and dusting for fingerprints. The Bug was in really bad shape. All four tires had been slashed and the words ‘watch your back’ had been keyed into the side of the car. We went into Malena’s office where we saw the security footage from the parking lot. The person who did it posed as a member of the security staff. He waited until the parking lot was empty, and then he vandalized Emma’s car. Emma and Graham talked, and I learned that Emma has been followed for a while by someone in a grey van. And the more I looked at the man on the security footage, the more I thought there was something familiar about him. I could not see his face because he was wearing a hoodie and kept his back to the camera all the time. But when Emma told Graham about a break-in in her room where the post-its from me had been stolen, everything just suddenly clicked. It’s Liam. I recognized the way he walked. He and Killian have the same walk. And do you remember what he said to you in court? ‘Watch your back’. The exact words that were scratched into Emma’s car. He’s following her and has been for a while. And it’s all my fault. If I hadn’t started seeing her, none of this would have happened.’

She threw the pencil aside and the piece of paper trembled in her hand as she handed it to Zelena. Then she hid her face in her hands and cried silently. The soft rustling of paper told her that Zelena was reading the long note she had just written, but Regina could not bear to look at her sister’s face. She felt sick again. Dizzy.

How could she ever expect Emma to forgive her for endangering her?

And why hadn’t she thought about Liam’s threats? Why hadn’t she taken them more seriously? Why hadn’t she figured out that he would try and get her through someone else? Someone she cared about.

Because this was not about Emma, and it never had been.

It was only about Regina.

It was about how the Jones brothers refused to let her go.

She was still trapped.

But Emma did not have to be.

If they stopped seeing one another, Liam would stop threatening Emma.

Regina was sure of that.

There would be no telling.

No confessing.

No hopes of a future which Emma was a part of.

There would only be an ending. They would go their separate ways, and Liam would leave Emma alone.

Breaking things off was the only way to do it. It was too dangerous.

Telling Emma about Liam was too dangerous. Telling the police was too dangerous.

She feared that Liam would escalate completely if he got wind that the police was onto him.

Regina swallowed thickly. Would she ever be free of this nightmare? Would it ever be possible for her to live a normal life?

And what about Emma?

She would be devastated when Regina ended things.

But she did not have any other choice.

A lump formed in Regina’s throat. How could things change so quickly? When she left two hours ago, she had been nervous but optimistic, but now it felt like she was right back in the old nightmare in which a man threatened someone she cared about.

Why did this have to happen? Why?!

“My god,” Zelena croaked, and the slip of paper dropped to the floor. “Regina, I...” she sat down heavily next to Regina on the bed and wrapped an arm around Regina’s shoulder. “Sis...”

Regina allowed herself to be upset and cry in front of Zelena. Silently. She couldn’t even cry properly any longer.

“Does Emma know?” Zelena asked as she rubbed Regina’s back.

Regina shook her head rapidly no and her hands trembled as she signed. ‘No. And she isn’t going to either. I don’t want her to know.’

“Regina, are you sure that is the best way to-“

Regina silenced Zelena just by looking at her. Then she signed again. ‘I was wrong to think that I could tell her about what happened. I can’t. I’m not strong enough. This is ripping old wounds wide open
and I can’t handle it. It’s too much. I feel like I can’t breathe, and I don’t ever want to feel like that again. It’s my fault he’s after her.’

“Regina! It is not your fault!” Zelena said firmly. “It’s LIAM’S fault! He’s the only one that can be blamed in this!”

But Regina did not agree. She was the idiot who forgot to think about Liam’s existence. His threat. She should have been smart enough to figure out that he would pop up in her life again. He had threatened ‘ruin’ her once, and now he was planning on making the threat come true.

Regina would be ruined if something ever happened to Emma Swan.

She had to protect her.

And there was only one way to do that.

‘I am going to end things with Emma,’ she signed and blinked back tears again. ‘It is the only way to make him stop.’

“Oh no!” Zelena exclaimed. “Regina, you can’t! There has to be another way!’

But Regina shook her head. There wasn’t. She was the reason why Liam was following Emma and threatening her. If she stopped seeing Emma, there wouldn’t be a reason anymore.

And if she were to tell Emma about Liam.... It meant that she had to tell her about everything else too.

And she couldn’t. Not now.

It had been ridiculous of her to ever even considering to tell Emma.

It was just too complicated.

Too painful.

Too everything.

Her throat throbbed.

‘There isn’t. I can’t risk him escalating because he finds out that the police know about him. I have a chance of controlling things. Make sure that he doesn’t hurt her. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if he hurt her. she bit her lip so hard she could taste blood.

“It’s your decision,” Zelena whispered. “And I support you no matter what you choose. You know that.”

Yes, Regina did know that. She tiredly leaned her head against Zelena’s shoulder. She felt completely numb. Couldn’t even tell whether she was still crying or not.

“You need to have something done about your knuckles,” Zelena said gently. “You’re bleeding.”

Regina looked down at her hand. It was in fact bleeding. But she couldn’t feel it. Zelena was saying stuff to her, but she couldn’t hear it. Her ears felt strangely stuffed. The image of Liam stabbing the tires
on Emma’s car kept attacking her. He was in her mind. Exactly like Killian. Liam was every bit bad. Regina had always had the feeling that he had known what Killian had put her through. He just hadn’t bothered doing anything about it out of loyalty for his brother. He could have prevented Killian from attacking her. He could have done something. But he had chosen not to. And now he was after Emma.

Because of her. Because Regina had allowed herself to be hopeful for just one moment...

 

Regina stayed in bed for the remainder of the evening. The official explanation was that she had a headache, but the truth was that she just wanted to be left alone. Which Zelena only reluctantly had agreed to.

Henry had come up to her to say hello. He had been out for donuts with Chad, and Regina had tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, but his little mouth had still twisted when she rejected dinner. She was not hungry. Her stomach was one bit knot.

It continued to be so throughout the evening. She didn’t sleep. Didn’t move. Just laid in her bed and stared blankly at the ceiling while the image of Liam attacking Emma’s car kept popping up in her mind.

The only thing that made her move was when her phone vibrated noisily against the table. Regina automatically flinched in fear. Then she reached for her phone, and fresh tears spilled from her eyes when she read the text. ‘Hey, I’m really sorry about today. That was not how I had planned our date at all. Would you like to try again and stop by for coffee sometimes next week? I promise there will be less police involved.’

Emma. Of course. God, she was apologizing. For something she had absolutely zero control over.

But Regina had control over it. She had so much control she could make it stop entirely. Perhaps not by snapping her fingers, but definitely by cutting ties with Emma Swan.

Her mind screamed in protest as she slowly pushed down on the buttons to give an answer. Her heart ached.

If only she could have told Emma everything.

But she couldn’t.

Not after today.

She had to protect Emma Swan.

Make sure Liam did not hurt her.

And there was only one way to do that.

‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore.’

So cold.

So heartless.

This was cruel.

This was cowardly.

But she had no other choice.

It was the only way to protect Emma Swan.

Before she could regret it, Regina pressed ‘send’. Then she let the phone drop to the floor and wept silently into her pillow. Wept for Emma. And what could have been.

 

To Be Continued.....

Chapter Text

She did not get the chance to cry for long. Her phone pinged, and Regina weakly lifted her head. Lifted her hand and found the phone.

Through puffy, stinging eyes, Regina read the text that had just arrived. From Emma.

‘What? Why not?’

Regina swallowed thickly. Of course Emma wanted a reason. It made sense. A new flood of tears streamed down her cheeks when she thought of how this would look from Emma’s point of view. They had been having a really lovely time together, and then bam, Regina had taken off in a frenzy and left Emma to her own devices, and had then started acting like a cold hearted bitch.

Emma was going to hate her. This was literally coming out of nowhere.

They had been great together.

From Emma’s point of view, Regina had absolutely no reason to break things in.

But she had to. She had to protect Emma in any way she possibly could. Even if it meant breaking her heart. And her own.

‘I just think it’s better that way,’ she texted back and felt absolutely terrible. Nauseous. Her throat hurt and her eyes were burning again. Emma did not deserve this kind of treatment from her. Emma had been nothing but good and kind to her. Regina felt like an absolute monster.

‘Oh. Okay. I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong.’

Oh, god. Done something wrong. How could Emma possibly think that she had done something wrong?! Regina took a trembling breath as she fought the impulse to drive to Steveston and tell Emma everything. She could not do that. She couldn’t risk putting Emma in danger. But she had to assure Emma that she hadn’t done anything wrong. That was the least she could do.

‘You haven’t done anything wrong, Emma. The problem isn’t you. It’s me. I thought there was room for dating in my life. I was wrong. There isn’t.’ she sent the text and hated herself. Stupid, fucking cliché! ‘It’s not you, it’s me’. It sounded like a ridiculous excuse from a movie. But it was the best she could do. She had to be vague about her reasons to ensure that Emma didn’t start poking around and look for the truth. She had to ensure that Emma Swan forgot about her.

‘Okay. Do you think we could still hang out once in a while? Just as friends, I mean.’

Regina started crying again. If only! There was nothing she wanted more than to say yes, of course, but she could not. Seeing Emma in any way was out of the question with Liam on the loose. She had to cut ties with Emma, and she had to do it effectively.

‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

Cold. So, so cold. Heartbreakingly cold.

Regina put the phone down and wept into her pillow again. This wasn’t fair. If she was feeling bad, it surely could not be compared to how Emma had to be feeling. Devastated. Betrayed. Angry.

Her stomach coiled. For a moment it felt like she was going to be sick again, but it was most likely just all in her head. She pulled the covers over her head. Wished she could stay there forever. Invisible to the world forever.

But wasn’t she supposed to be brave?

Wasn’t this supposed to be a fresh start?

Yes.

It was.

Until Liam Jones came and ruined her life all over again.

It was hard to start over when the past kept snipping at her heels.

She was running, but not fast enough.

Never fast enough.

There was always something preventing her from going to the place she wanted to be in.

Always something blocking the road to ‘better’.

She was irrevocably stuck in a dreadful, dark place she couldn’t seem to leave. She didn’t know how.

For the millionth time in the ten years that had passed, Regina wished that her father had been here. He would have known what to do. He would have been able to soothe her mind.

For once, Regina was selfish enough to wish that he just could be here. To hell with what had happened to her. To hell with experiencing how much it would have hurt him to see what had been done to her. She just wanted him there. Wanted him to hug her and tell her that everything would be okay. She would have believed him. She always had.

Regina lifted her head from the pillow and glanced down at her phone on the floor. Had this been the ‘good old days’ she would have called Mal and asked if she could drop by for a nightcap so they could talk through everything.

Malena would most likely say yes if Regina were to text her right now.

But of course Regina did not.

Too many things had happened.

Too many things she couldn’t tell her oldest friend about.

She had to deal with this on her own.

But how?

Regina rolled on to her back and stared at the dark ceiling. She couldn’t sleep.

That much was evident.

And she had to get out of this bedroom. She felt like she was boxed in. Claustrophobic.

Regina sat up in the bed. Shoved the covers aside. After a moment, she rose from the bed and walked over to the closet. Got dressed mechanically in clothes she could barely see because of the darkness. But she could feel the fabric of her oldest hoodie.

Once dressed but not exactly done up, she quietly left her bedroom and tiptoed down the hallway. Peered inside Henry’s room. He was fast asleep. Good.

Regina continued downstairs. Ended in the kitchen. Should she make herself a snack? No. She wasn’t hungry. And she doubted that she ever would be again.

She went inside the living room. Should she watch some television then? Another episode of Great British Bakeoff? Something to soothe her troubled mind?

No. Nothing- not even Great British Bakeoff- would soothe her mind tonight.

And she still felt boxed in.

Terribly so.

It didn’t take Regina long to figure out that getting out of her bedroom wasn’t enough. No, she had to get out of the house. Get some air. She bit her lip. Zelena didn’t like when she left the house in the middle of the night. It made her nervous.

But Regina felt like she was going to loose her mind if she stayed here a minute later. She had to get out right now.

And she knew exactly where she was going too. Not far. She would be home again quickly. Perhaps Zelena wouldn’t even notice if she left.

Regina patted the pocket of her hoodie. Yes, her cellphone was there. Zelena could easily get in touch with her. She made a swift decision and went into the kitchen where she found a pencil and a sheet of paper. She wrote a quick note to Zelena explaining that she was going, where she was going and that she had her cellphone with her. Once that was done, Regina went back into the living room and nicked a bouquet of lilies from the vase on the coffee table. She would have to replace those. And she would. Of course she would. But she had a feeling that Zelena would understand it when Regina told her where the lilies had ended.

Armed with the bouquet of lilies, Regina crept into the hallway to put on her shoes and coat. She tried to make as little noise as possible. She wasn’t interesting in waking the whole house and potentially alarm her sister. She was a grown woman, and she did not need anyone’s permission to go on a nightly drive if that was what she desired to do. She had her freedom, and if she wished to spend that on going for a drive at night, it was nobody’s business but hers. And besides, it wasn’t that late. She was not acting reckless or anything.

Regina quickly zipped up her coat and felt in her pocket. Yes, the car keys were still there. Good. Now she was ready. Ready to go.

No one could tell her what to do. Not anymore.

“Mom?”

Regina froze on the threshold. Well, except perhaps for him. She turned around and came face to face with her son who was standing at the foot of the stairs. To her utmost surprise, he was dressed. Now
that didn’t make sense. Why was he dressed? He had gone to bed hours earlier.

But taking a closer look at her son, certain things started to dawn on her. Henry’s hair was sticking up. So he had definitely been asleep until recently. His jeans were neatly buttoned and zipped and all that, but his grey sweater was inside out and the lapel visible. He had put it on wrong. Because he had hurried. Because he had heard her walk into the hallway. He had heard her jiggle the car keys, and he had jumped out of bed, gotten dressed so fast his sweater was inside out, and then he had rushed down here to catch her before she left. Oh god. He had been worried. That was why he was standing here and looked awake but at the same time now really.

Regina flashed him a smile and felt guilty as never before.

“Where are you going?” Henry asked and frowned.

Regina put the flowers down to use her hands to sign: ‘I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I would go see grandma and grandpa. It has been a while since I last went.’

“But its all dark outside,” Henry pointed out.

Regina nodded. It was. Her plan didn’t make sense in a ten year old’s mind. Of course not. She hadn’t expected that either.

“Can I come with you?” Henry asked, slowly coming towards her.

Regina raised an eyebrow. Come with her? But it was late. And tomorrow was a school day. What kind of mother would she be if she started driving around with her son in the middle of the night?

“Please?” Henry pressed. “Please, mom? I really want to go with you!”

What was it that she had promised him when she got home from the hospital? That she would never leave him again. And she was certain that she could see a hint of panic in his eyes. He was scared. He was worried because she was planning on driving away in the middle of the night. She couldn’t do that to him.

So she nodded. Smiled. And then sent him into the kitchen so he could add something to the note. That he would be going with her so Zelena didn’t have to grow alarmed about his absence.

When Henry came back, he was carrying two little candles. Nicked from the drawer, undoubtedly. “For grandma and grandpa,” he said and flashed her a little smile.

Regina returned the smile. That was really thoughtful of him.

Together they headed into the hallway where Henry quietly put on his shoes and coat.

Then they left the house as quietly as possible. And hand in hand.

The car was cold when they hopped in, but Regina swiftly got the heat and seat warmth going. Then they drove off. She had allowed Henry to sit in the passengers seat for once, and he seemed mighty proud as he sat there with the lilies in his hands. But as they made it out on the main road, his pride faded and turned into something else. Concern. He eyed Regina and then asked: “mom, are you okay?”

Regina nodded automatically.

“Is the headache better?”

Headache? For a moment, Regina was confused. But then she remembered. That the official explanation for her absence tonight had been that she had a headache. She supposed that she had a twinge of a
headache right now, but of course that was not something she was planning on telling Henry. So she just settled for a nod and a smile. She wanted to soothe her son’s fear.

“Good,” Henry said and glanced out of the darkened window. “This is nice,” he said. “I like driving at night.”

Regina had always liked that too, but she still felt a little guilty for having dragged her son out of bed. It was a school day tomorrow. But perhaps she would simply keep him home from school tomorrow.
That was an okay thing to do. Henry so rarely stayed home from school. A little white lie about him having a cold was okay for once. Yes. Henry could stay home from school tomorrow, and they could do something nice together. Bake, for instance. She liked baking. Henry liked baking. Win-win.

“What do you think aunt Zee will say if she finds out that we’re missing?” Henry asked and giggled. “Maybe she’ll think that we were kidnapped by aliens!”

Regina rumbled with laughter. Aliens. Henry had such a lovely imagination. But she doubted that Zelena would jump to the alien conclusion right away, though. She could better imagine that she would get concerned first and then annoyed when she found out that Regina had driven off in the middle of the night.

But Regina once again reminded herself that she was a grown woman. If she felt like going for a drive with her son, it was her decision. She had always enjoyed driving. And she had always been prone to taking a drive whenever she needed to clear her head. When Henry was just a baby boy and refused to sleep at night, Regina would often bundle him up, stuff him inside the car and then go for a drive with him. Often times they would listen to classical music on the radio while driving. That was the only thing that made him sleep. And although exhausted and overwhelmed with motherhood, Regina had so appreciated the nightly drives with her baby boy. He would always babble happily when they drove out, and sleep as a rock when they drove home. For whatever reason, Regina was reminded of those times. Even though Henry was definitely not a baby any longer.

 

The cemetery was just five miles from Zelena’s place. Beautifully lit with little lamps and a big, pale moon hovering above them. Regina had never been afraid of cemeteries. She had always found it to be a place of peace and not horror, and it didn’t even bother her when the old metal gate creaked as she opened it.

She and Henry slipped through the metal gate, and Regina wrapped an arm around him. Just in case he was a bit afraid of being here. But there was nothing suggesting that. He was walking calmly along side her, still carrying the bouquet of lilies in one hand.

It didn’t take long before they reached the familiar little hill. Regina was a bit out of breath when they ‘climbed’ it, and as usually, her chest tightened a little when they reached the familiar headstone at the top of the hill. Cora Mills, beloved wife and mother. The day of her birth. And the day of her death. Regina bit the inside of her cheek when she looked at the name underneath Cora’s. Henry Mills, beloved father. ‘Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo.’ Until we meet again. He died six years after Cora did.

Regina sighed. Sometimes it could still be a gut-puncher to see her parents’ name on the headstone. Ten years after her father’s death, and it could still shock her that he was gone. That she essentially was an orphan. She crouched down and brushed some of the newly fallen snow away from the headstone, so her parents’ names became a bit more visible. There. That looked better.

“Are you okay, mom?” Henry checked. He knew that visiting the cemetery sometimes could make her a little upset.

Regina quickly checked herself. She was actually doing okay tonight. It had been ten years since her father died. Sixteen since her mother died. And although it sometimes made her upset, tonight was not one of those days. She had just wanted to come here and visit because it had been a while and she couldn’t sleep because of everything.

Henry crouched down with her and put the bouquet of lilies in front of the headstone. Then the two little candles he brought from one. One for Cora and one for Henry Sr.
He then surprised Regina by finding a little box of matches in his pocket. He lit the two little candles and brushed a bit more snow away from the headstone. “Hi, grandma. Hi, grandpa.”

Regina smiled at that. She had told her boy many, many stories about her parents. Especially about ‘big Henry’. Henry had always loved hearing stories about his grandparents, and Regina had many times felt upset that her son never got to meet his grandparents. Thank god for Zelena. Otherwise it would just have been the two of them. Sometimes Regina regretted that she hadn’t given Henry a brother or sister while she could. Henry would have loved getting a sibling. But she had lead a busy life as a university professor, and now it was too late. Regina couldn’t have anymore children.

Regina shifted. Thinking about the physical reason why she could not have any more children didn’t exactly make her feel good.

“It looks nice here tonight,” Henry commented as he looked at the headstone and burial ground. “They already put down a wreath.”

They sure did. Every year, around Christmas time, Regina paid to have a beautiful wreath put down at her parents’ grave. This year, the wreath was full of mistletoe and red berries. It was beautiful. Zelena would be pleased to know that. She hadn’t had the time to visit the grave either recently.

Regina brushed a bit more snow away from her father’s name. She and Zelena couldn’t have chosen a better spot as his final resting place.

“Mom?” Henry asked softly. “Are you sure you’re not upset?”

Regina shook her head and smiled reassuringly at him. She was not upset. At least not about her parents.

“Do you miss grandma and grandpa?” Henry asked carefully.

Regina nodded as they rose from the crouching position. She wrapped an arm around her son’s shoulder. She did miss her parents a little extra these days. Cora Mills perhaps had not been the warmest mother when she was alive, but oddly enough, she was the one Regina had thought most about since coming home from the hospital. How would Cora have handled this new, mute and scared version of her daughter? She remembered a certain occasion. She had been eight and very sick with appendicitis. She had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Both her parents had been there, of course.
But it was the look in her mother’s eyes Regina remembered the most. The look of unconditioned love. The look of unbridled terror. Cora had been terrified, and Regina would never forget the way her mother had held her hand. So gently. Rubbing the soft spot between her thumb and index finger.

Regina wondered whether Cora would have held her hand like that in the hospital if she had been alive. Would she once again have given her that look of unconditioned love?

She supposed that she would never find out.

And perhaps dwelling that much on the past was not good for her.

Her parents were gone. But she was standing right here. With her son. Her entire world.

Regina gave her son a little squeeze. This had to be enough melancholia for one night. And it was getting a bit cold in the cemetery too. Perhaps it would even start snowing. It was time to go somewhere else. Somewhere nice. Perhaps going to the cemetery hadn’t been as heavy as the events earlier today had been, but that didn’t mean that they did not deserve a pick-me-up after this.

Regina squeezed her son’s shoulder one more time to get his attention. And when he was looking at her, she signed: ‘how about McDonalds?’

“Seriously?” Henry asked, eyes ashine. He had no problem with seeing her sign even in the darkness. “Right now?”

Regina nodded. Why not? It still wasn’t overly late, only eleven thirty. And McDonalds was quite literally on the way home. And she hadn’t eaten anything at all tonight after throwing up in the ditch. She had not told Zelena about that. It wouldn’t do either of them any good.

“That would be awesome!” Henry beamed. “Can I have a McFlurry?”

Of course. He could have whatever he wanted. Anything. Regina nodded and then made a little gesture with her head to indicate that they should leave. Before it got too cold.

Henry was on board with that. He gently touched the headstone and said: “bye, grandma, bye, grandpa. We will be back soon. Right, mom?”

Regina nodded. Yes indeed. She too gently touched the headstone to say her own goodbye. Then she turned around and left the cemetery with her son. Henry even took her hand unprompted, and Regina was secretly thrilled about it. He was ten. The time he’d want to hold her hand was limited. She dreaded to think of that. Dreaded to think about her boy growing up and becoming taller than her. Thank god he had only just turned ten. The big eleven was still months and months away.

“Oh, look!” Henry cried and lifted his free hand to point to the sky.

Regina looked up. Smiled when she saw the reason for his outburst. It had started to snow. How lovely. Perhaps they could build another snowman tomorrow. That could be nice, could it not?

But for right now, it was time for a spontaneous late night trip to McDonalds. They had deserved that.

The rusty gate creaked once more as she and Henry left the cemetery, and Henry made a mock ‘brr!’ sound when they entered the car, prompting Regina to swiftly switch on the heat once more. God forbid that her son should freeze.

Her cellphone was quite silent. So Zelena was still blissfully asleep. Regina couldn’t help but feeling that was a good thing. This would only concern her. Regina didn’t want her to be concerned. Nor did
she want Henry to get concerned.

She was fine.

At least physically.

And perhaps she eventually would be okay mentally too.

If she did not think of Emma, of course...

 

Ten minutes later (Regina had been driving slow due to the snow) she and Henry were sitting at a slightly greasy table at McDonald’s. Henry had indeed gotten a McFlurry, and Regina had been out of character enough to chose fries for once. Fries with ketchup. It was greasy food, but for once, she did not care. She had deserved greasy food. And it was nice, sitting with her son and eating McDonald’s in the middle of the night. They weren’t many people in here, but that suited Regina just fine.

“Mom?” Henry said, lowering his cup of ice cream. “Can I ask you something?”

Regina nodded. Of course.

“Did...” he poked the spoon around in his ice cream for a moment. “Did something happen today? With Emma, I mean?”

Regina’s eyebrow rose. How perceptive of him to arrive at that solution. She decided to bend the truth a little and shook her head. Because something hadn’t happened ‘with Emma’. At least not directly.

Emma was not the reason why she had been unable to sleep.

“Oh, okay. So when are you having coffee with her again?”

Regina’s heart clenched, and she put the fry down to answer her son. ‘Emma and I will not be having coffee again.’ god, that hurt! So, so much!

“But why not?” Henry asked confused. “I thought you really liked her?”

Regina’s heart clenched again, and she had to swallow thickly not to loose it right then and there. So Henry had noticed her joy too. The spark in her eyes. Her optimism. ‘I do,’ she signed with fingers that nearly trembled. ‘I do like Emma a lot. But sometimes things just doesn’t work out the way we want them to.’ It sounded exactly like what it was. A lame excuse. But it was the best thing she could come up with. Rather a lame excuse than involving Henry in the scary true. He knew nothing about Liam and his threats. He didn’t know anything about Killian and what he had done. And Regina wanted it to stay like that!

Henry frowned. “I don’t understand,” he admitted. “Did she do something wrong?”

God, no! Regina shook her head rapidly. Tried her best to smile as she signed again. ‘Of course not, sweetheart.’

Henry took a spoonful of ice cream. He carefully swallowed it but didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as he had a moment ago. And he was still frowning when he asked: “What then? Did... Did you do something wrong?” he sounded completely disbelieving. Like the thought alone was completely impossible.

Regina rumbled slightly. Then she shook her head and signed once more: ‘none of us did anything wrong, sweetheart. It is just better this way. For both of us.’

“Okay,” Henry said. But he was still frowning. Clearly not understanding how it could have come to this.

Neither did Regina, but she couldn’t be selfish and keep seeing Emma when Liam was targeting her. She had to keep Emma safe. No matter the cost.

And in the meantime she could wonder how on earth Henry had gotten wind of her very, very short-lived romance with Emma. She knew that Zelena hadn’t been indiscrete or anything. She never would be. And Regina certainly hadn’t told Henry about it either. There hadn’t been anything to tell. But she had planned on doing it, though. Once things had... progressed a bit.

Well, now she didn’t have to tell anything. Because there was nothing to tell. No romance with Emma. No more coffee. No more concerts. No more chances to maybe someday get used to kissing...

Regina couldn’t hold back a little sigh and hung her head over the bag of fries. Damnit. She had wanted this so much. So, so much! She had even been ready to be honest with Emma. Tell her everything about the past and what had happened to her.

But then life had happened.

Liam Jones had happened.

Another man controlling her.

Again.

“Mom?”

Regina was quick to look up and smile at her son. Then she swiftly grabbed a fry and jokingly held it in the air.

“Cheers,” Henry half-chuckled as he raised his McFlurry.

They ‘toasted’ in fries and McFlurry, and Regina thought to herself that even when everything else was going to hell, Henry remained constant. He was her anchor through it all. Her beacon of light in dark times. She depended on him as much as he depended on him.

He resumed eating his ice cream, and Regina munched through the salty, greasy fries. They weren’t half bad actually. Her cellphone remained quiet. Zelena was still asleep, and had her mood been any better, Regina would have been amused that she and Henry were ‘getting away with it’ so to speak.

They ate their flurry and fries, and Regina revealed that she was planning on letting Henry stay home tomorrow. He was obviously thrilled, and his smile didn’t even fade when she told him that he had to do homework tomorrow to make sure he stayed on top of things. But one day away from school wouldn’t disrupt anything. It was okay to have a cheat day once in a while.

They ‘toasted’ to that in ice cream and fries, and Henry claimed that he wanted to do this every night.

Something Regina immediately told him that he could not. This spontaneous, nightly drive to McDonalds was just a one-time thing...

 

The house was still quiet when they came home. As quiet as mice, they ridded themselves of their shoes and coats and equally quietly, both of them slipped upstairs. Regina told Henry to go straight to bed, and after having promised to do so, Henry gave her a big hug and said goodnight.

Regina kissed the top of his head and after having removed the note for Zelena in the kitchen, she retired to her own bedroom. She was supposed to sleep.

But she couldn’t.

She literally couldn’t.

If she closed her eyes, she would see Emma Swan’s face. See the look of confusion and hurt. And resentment.

Emma resented her now.

Regina was well aware how it looked from Emma’s point of view.

Like Regina had been toying with her all this time.

She hadn’t even come up with a proper reason for ending their ‘thing’.

She had just given a shitty excuse.

She was a monster.

And she never should have said yes to going on a date with Emma.

Regina sat down on the edge of the bed. Rubbed her face tiredly. Didn’t even bother to change out of her hoodie and pants. She wasn’t gonna sleep.

She couldn’t.

Of course there were ways to fall asleep.

Regina opened the drawer in her bedside table. The bottle of sleeping pills stared back at her. She knew from experience that one of those pills would knock her out immediately. But did she really want to
take medicine in order to fall asleep?

No. She didn’t. The medicine always made her feel groggy the next day. And she didn’t want to be groggy tomorrow. At least not groggy because of medicine.

And her throat already felt stuffed as it was. She doubted she would be able to swallow the pills tonight.

She would rather go sleepless.

Regina got up from the bed and grabbed her laptop. Made herself comfortable with it in her lap and then logged into the British Columbia’s website. Might as well do some work if she wasn’t going to sleep.

But she hadn’t been looking at the screen for very long before thoughts of Emma popped into her head. Her open, kind smile.....

No!

Regina found her phone and was going to start an audiobook. But then she saw a text. From Emma. ‘I’m sorry’, the text said. Nothing else.

And just like that, Regina wanted to cry all over again...

 

At five am, Regina gave up and went downstairs. She had worked steadily since coming home from the nightly outing. She had planned modules far into next week. And she had never answered Emma Swan’s text. She didn’t know what to write.

Well, no, that was not true. She knew exactly what she wanted to write.

She wanted to tell Emma that she was sorry too.

She wanted to tell Emma that she had changed her mind.

That Emma should come over right then and there so they could talk. So Regina could tell her everything.

But that was not possible.

And so Regina had not answered.

Once again the monster.

Her headache was back.

Regina made herself a pot of coffee and then went into the hallway. Unlocked the door and poked her head outside. The air was cold. And even in the faint light, she could see the amount of snow that had fallen during the night. The road and garden was covered. Oh. Well. It looked like Henry didn’t have to cheat at all today. He literally couldn’t go to school today. But he could go outside and make a snowman later.

Regina closed the door and locked it. Then she went back into the kitchen and sat down at the table with her cup of coffee. She trusted that the caffeine would make her headache go away.

She hadn’t been sitting at the table with her coffee for very long when she heard rustling from upstairs. She turned her eyes towards the ceiling. Zelena was clearly awake. Interesting. Her sister slept like the death when Regina and Henry left the house in the middle of the night, but she DID wake up when Regina was making herself a cup of coffee.

 

Soon Zelena was coming into the kitchen. Her red hair was tousled, and she was wearing a bathrobe over her pajamas, but she looked surprisingly awake for the early hour.

“Good morning,” she greeted. “You’re up early.”

Regina flashed a little smile and took a sip of her coffee. Then she gestured towards the coffee machine to indicate that there was some coffee left still.

“Thank you,” Zelena said. But she didn’t move an inch. Instead she kept standing there and looking questioningly at Regina.

Regina raised an eyebrow.

“Did you even get any sleep last night?” Zelena asked worriedly.

Busted.

Regina shook her head.

“Oh, sweetie,” Zelena said softly. Coffee long forgotten as she sat down next to Regina. “I’m so sorry.” She took Regina’s hand and squeezed it gently.

An enormous lump formed in Regina’s throat, and she blinked rapidly. She didn’t want to cry first thing in the morning.

“Have you texted Emma?”

Regina nodded.

Zelena didn’t ask anymore questions. Instead she just sat there and held Regina’s hand for a moment. “It’s funny,” she said quietly. “But I’m sure I heard Henry in the hallway last night.”

Regina innocently raised an eyebrow.

“You didn’t hear him?”

She shook her head. No, she didn’t have a clue what Zelena was talking about. Definitely not. She wiggled her hand free of Zelena’s and took a sip of her coffee. Glanced out of the window while she tried to make plans for the day that was to come. Her first Emma Swan-free day.

The lump in her throat made it ache. Enough to make tears threaten to spill from her eyes once more....

 

To Be Continued...........

Chapter Text

The next week was horrible.

Regina did not have much of an appetite. She only ate because Henry and Zelena would get worried if she did not.

She didn’t sleep much at night either. She often woke up bathed in sweat from terrible nightmares. Some of them about Liam. Some of them about Emma and how badly she had hurt her.

When she woke up in the morning, she was exhausted and on the verge of tears.

Sometimes crying was the first thing she did in the morning.

And sometimes crying was the last thing she did at night.

She started seeing her therapist three times a week rather than just two. She wasn’t sure whether it helped or not, but she supposed that it was nice to unload and tell someone of all the thoughts that swirled about in her head and never let her rest properly.

Her therapist recommended her to start taking melatonin again.

So she did. It helped a little. She started to get five hours of sleep instead of two. What a luxury.

Another week passed and the snow once again fell heavily over Vancouver. The temperature dropped from cold to ice cold, and Regina had to bundle up each morning when she went out. Because of her new ‘sleep-schedule’ (or lack of), she was up an hour before the rest of the house, and she used that hour to take a brisk morning walk. Walking helped. Walking cleared her mind briefly.

Christmas came and went without any fuss.

Regina and Zelena had clearly thought the same thing. That this year, Henry’s needs would be covered in every possible way. So for the first time, he got everything he had put on his wish list, and he unpacked and unpacked and gradually grew louder and louder. High on christmas cookies and presents. Regina returned all his hugs and received all his kisses with a smile on her face.

There was a delicious, homecooked turkey with plenty of stuffing. There was a merrily flicking fireplace. There was an intense snowball fight between two teams. Her and Henry and Zelena and Chad.

From the outside, it looked to be a good day. Idyllic, even.

It should have been a good day.

Regina maintained the smile throughout the day.

But her mood was at her lowest.

She cried in the bathroom when everybody else were outside. And then she stayed in the bathroom until her eyes didn't look red anymore.

When she finally retired to her bedroom for the night, she cried herself to sleep.

Miserable and unhappy and terribly guilty because it was Christmas, and it should have been a day of joy.

New Year’s Eve came with its usual hullaballoo. Fireworks and cheering. Champagne and toasting to the completely fresh, new year with all its new possibilities.

Regina had toasted too. To the glorious new year.

But the champagne had tasted bitter in her mouth and her stomach had tied in knots as she looked at the colorful fireworks. All she could think of was Emma. How she was doing. What she was doing. All throughout the night, Regina so badly wanted to text Emma. Say happy new year to her. Tell her how sorry she was. Tell her everything.

But then she remembered Liam’s threats.

Remembered that contacting Emma could be fatal.

For Emma.

She had to protect Emma.

Keep her safe.

No matter what.

But she was so unhappy all the time.

She missed Emma terribly so.

And every time she tried to move on, Emma’s face appeared for her inner eye. Her lovely smile. Her gentle laughter. Her quick wit.

Regina missed all of it.

Emma hadn’t just been a brief fling.

No.

She had been someone Regina had grown to care for quickly. Someone she could have grown to fall in love with. In time.

But there would be none of that now.

New Year’s Eve had ended in a terrible nightmare in which Liam killed Emma.

Regina had woken in tears and bathed in sweat and the intense urge to vomit. Which she had. In the bathroom. Of course Zelena had found out about it, and Regina had lied through her teeth and claimed that she had too much champagne and was hungover.

They both knew that she was lying. Regina had only had half a glass of champagne that night. Not enough to make anyone feel hungover. But Zelena had not addressed it. She had simply given Regina a glass of water and a hug. Regina had assured her sister that she would feel much better in the morning, and then she had sent Zelena to bed with that reassurance.

But it had not escaped her notice that Zelena had been frowning deeply. By each day, she was growing more and more worried about Regina. And with good reason. Regina knew that she wasn’t doing well at all.

 

One week later, when the new year was still just as brightly fresh, Regina reached the conclusion that she had to do something drastic in order to get better. She needed a change of scenery.

She woke up with that realization. Dizzy and uncomfortable after only four hours of sleep. So far, she had rested plenty, taken plenty of medicine and surrounded herself with her family in order to get better.

But none of it had done the trick.

She needed to do something drastic.

She had to go somewhere on her own. To a place where she did not have to pretend for Henry and watch her sister grow more and more concerned.

Of course Regina loved her family deeply. More than anything. But right now, she needed some time on her own. She needed to be in a place where she could react and allow herself to be upset and cry all she wanted without anyone being worried about her.

A good cry was exactly what she needed.

And Regina knew just the place for that.

She would not be gone for long. A couple of days tops. From Wednesday to Friday or something like that.

With the decision made, she got out of bed, headed into the bathroom, took a shower and then got dressed. Trousers. Button up. Blazer. Nobody could tell that she was a mess on the inside.

Once she had applied a little bit of makeup, she ventured downstairs.

The kitchen was quiet. And dark. Regina switched the coffee machine on. And while she waited for the coffee to brew, she circulated her head back and forward in an attempt to make it stop hurting. She had slept funny last night, and now the muscles were all tense. Well, actually, she had been tense for a long, long time, and no matter how much yoga she did, it didn’t seem to work.

But what would?

Perhaps she was simply doomed to be tense for the rest of her life.

Regina rubbed her plaster-covered throat. That seemed to ache a bit too this morning. But she hoped that some hot coffee could relieve the pain. It usually did.

The coffee machine clicked, and Regina poured herself a cup of coffee. Took a sip of the scorching hot beverage. She ought to make herself some breakfast. But she simply wasn’t hungry right now. She could make herself something after she had her coffee.

Regina glanced out of the window. The snow was still covering the garden like a thick blanket. She probably wouldn’t be able to take her morning walk today. The roads were too slippery. It was dangerous.

She was halfway through her cup of coffee when Zelena came down the stairs. She too had developed the habit of waking up early. Regina felt so guilty because of that. It was her fault that Zelena weren’t able to sleep either. She woke up because she was worried about Regina.

Another excellent reason to go away for a few days.

“Good morning,” Zelena greeted as she came into the living room where Regina was sitting.

Regina flashed her sister a tiny smile.

“Is there coffee enough for two?”

Regina nodded. She happened to have made plenty of coffee. Too much. She had been distracted. The amount of coffee she should make had been the last thing on her mind.

“Great.” Zelena disappeared into the kitchen again, and Regina heard her potter around and opening the cupboard to find a cup. After a moment, she came back inside the living room and sat down next to Regina on the couch. “Have you had any breakfast?”

Regina shook her head.

Zelena shifted uneasily on the couch. “And... are you going to?”

Regina nodded quickly. Of course. She didn’t want to worry Zelena. And she was well aware that she had lost weight during these past three weeks. She could see it on her hands and face. And she could feel it on her pants and skirts. She had to wear a belt for most of it. Her cheeks, which had filled in nicely were now hollow once again. Her eyes seemed too big for her face. Sunken in. Even her hair seemed limp and without any glow. She looked terrible. A walking ghost.

“How many hours of sleep did you get last night?” Zelena asked softly.

Regina held onto the cup of coffee with one hand and held up four fingers.

“Oh, Regina,” Zelena reached out and patted her knee. “I’m sorry. I really wish you could get a proper night of sleep. Have you tried taking more melatonin?”

Regina shook her head. She wasn’t planning on upping the dose.

“And what about your Restoril tablets?” Zelena gently suggested. “I know you don’t like the idea of taking medicine to be able to sleep, but you need rest. You need a good night’s sleep. And Restoril has worked before.”

Indeed. When she was in the psychiatric hospital to restitute after her almost-jump out of the window, Regina had taken Restoril every single night to be able to sleep. And it had worked. She had slept through the night. But she had also woken up with a heavy head that felt completely stuffed throughout the day. There was no doubt in Regina’s mind that she had been as closed to drugged as she ever would be. And she did not want to go back to that place. How could she even be a good mother for Henry if she was completely woozy because of medicine?

She would rather suffer from insomnia.

Remembering that Zelena was waiting for an answer, Regina shook her head. Put the cup of coffee down to sign. ‘No. No medicine.’

Zelena immediately backed off. “Okay. No medicine. It’s your decision. But I wish that you would at least consider taking a higher dose of melatonin.”

Well, she supposed she could do that. It was a natural product. It didn’t poison her body. So maybe she would consider to take a higher dosage if her sleep problem continued.

If only there was some kind of pill that magically could make Emma Swan disappear from her memories all together. Regina would have taken that pill in a heartbeat.

She just wanted to forget.

Forget Emma Swan.

But she couldn’t.

Because Emma Swan had burned herself into her memories. Every time Regina closed her eyes, she saw her beautiful, gentle smile.

Every time the house was quiet, Emma Swan’s sweet laughter echoed in her mind.

It was an evil spiral.

Regina took a deep breath and remembered that Zelena was here. If she started weeping, Zelena’s day would most certainly be ruined.

And she didn’t want to cry. Her eyes were still stinging from the last time she cried, and the skin underneath was permanently swollen.

Regina wiggled her fingers in the air. ‘I was thinking about going away for a few days.’

“Go?” Zelena echoed and looked alarmed immediately. “Go where?”

‘To the log house,’ Regina signed. She couldn’t think of a better place to be alone with her thoughts for a little while. She really needed that. She needed to be somewhere by herself. Just for a little while.

“To Salmon Arm,” Zelena murmured and tugged a lock of curly red hair behind her ear. “That’s a long drive. Do you want some company?”

Regina shook her head and smiled at her sister to ensure that the dismissal didn’t come across as harsh. ‘It is nice of you to offer, but I have decided to go alone.’

Zelena bit her lip. “If that’s what you want to do, I won’t stop you. I would never try to decide what you should and shouldn’t do, but I must admit that I don’t like this. It’s far away and so isolated.”

Regina nodded calmly. That was exactly the point. She needed to be in a place that was isolated. Just herself and her thoughts.

“All the things are still there too,” Zelena continued and frowned. “I haven’t had the chance to do anything with them like you told me to. Are you sure you’re okay with the stuff being there?”

Regina nodded and wiggled her fingers again. ‘I don’t have to look at the things. I can handle it.’

“Hmm,” Zelena still didn’t look entirely convinced.

Regina patted her sisters knee and made another attempt at calming her. ‘I will be okay. I just need a few days to myself, that’s all. I’ll drive up there on Wednesday and be back on Friday. That is not a long time. And we can text all the time. Every minute, if you want.’

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to control what you should and shouldn’t do,” Zelena murmured. “I promise, that’s not it! I’m just... worried about you.”

Regina knew that. Oh, how she knew. She smiled at her sister in an attempt to calm her. Assure her that she would be okay. That going away to spend a few days alone was a part of her newfound self-care routine.

There was no reason to tell her sister that she was planning on letting all her frustrations out in the log house. Zelena didn’t need to know that Regina was planning on having a good cry.

“I’ll watch Henry,” Zelena said. “I’m not working late this week.”

‘Thank you,’ Regina signed. ‘You don’t think this will upset him, do you?’

“No. We can tell him that you’re going up there to clean the place and check that everything is still working because it has been so long since anyone was there last,” Zelena said gently. “I know we’re bending the truth a little, but I think it’s okay to do that for once.”

For once. Regina’s stomach cramped. Bending the truth with her son was something she had done more times than once. There were so many things she kept from Henry. So many things she had never told him. So many things she couldn’t tell him. And right now was one of the occasions where she felt guilty for it. She knew that she was shielding him from harm and all the horrible things by not telling him.

But she was also lying to him. Something she once had sworn she would never do.

“Hey.”

Regina quickly looked up. Was met by Zelena’s concerned face. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Regina gave a quick nod. Now she was bending the truth with her sister too.

“You know, maybe a couple of days in Salmon Arm will be good for you,” Zelena said. She was clearly trying to support Regina no matter what.

Regina nodded. A few days on her own. A few days where she didn’t have to pretend for her son. And when she got back, she would feel much better. Hopefully.

 

The following Wednesday, Regina packed up the car, kissed her son goodbye and instructed him to be good for Zelena, and then she embarked on the four hour long drive to Salmon Arm. She had a large cooling bag full of food, her phone was charged, and at the bottom of her purse was her gun. Zelena had insisted. Why Regina wasn’t sure. Salmon Arm was the most peaceful place in the world.

But then again, if you unknowingly could let a monster inside your home, anything could happen.

Regina did not like the gun one bit. And she liked it even less that it had been deemed necessary that she needed it. Nor did she like that she actually knew how to shoot someone. She knew how and where to aim to immobilize someone. After Liam’s threats about ‘finishing the job’, the police had reacted immediately. She had been given a license to carry a gun, and she had been taught to shoot.

Aim for the knee. Always aim for the knee. That was the quickest way to immobilize someone.

And Regina hated it.

She hated that she knew.

Sometimes she considered to get rid of the gun. But she wasn’t actually sure of how to get rid of a gun. And Zelena found it very comforting to know that she had a gun. So Regina kept the gun. But god, she hoped that she never would get to use it. It could stay in her drawer as a precaution, but that was it. If she ever felt threatened, she would get a big dog or something.

Regina switched on the radio. Found the classical station and turned up the volume on Bach’s 5th symphony in C Minor. Bach always had a certain way of soothing her mind. And thus also today. She could literally feel how her shoulders became less bunched and her chest less tight. Her breathing slowed and her mind became less muddled.

If she could listen to Bach all day she certainly would.

Regina adjusted the rearview mirror slightly, and her heart leapt into her throat. There was a car driving behind her. A small car. A small car so brightly sun-yellow she could barely breathe.

For one glorious moment she thought it was Emma. Emma who had found her. Emma who had come to clear things up with her.

But then the car overtook her, and the illusion shattered. Of course it was not Emma. She and Emma weren’t talking anymore. Emma was angry with her. Emma hated her.

Because Regina was a fucking coward who couldn’t even tell the truth. She should have told Emma the truth.

But she didn’t know how. And now it was too late. Much too late.

 

When she was halfway there, she stopped at a gas station to get the car filled up. And to text Zelena. Zelena liked contact. Plenty of contact.

‘I am halfway there. Still doing okay. How is Henry?’

The response came immediately. ‘Glad to hear that you’re okay! Don’t forget to text me when you get there. Henry is doing splendidly. He has done his homework and is currently in the middle of an epic
game of Monopoly with Chad and I.’

Regina smiled as she texted her sister back, telling her that she hoped they would have a good night. She was happy to hear that Henry was doing well. She had been worried that her departure would make upset, but he wasn’t. Which was a good thing. And then again, she hadn’t given him any reason to worry. She had followed Zelena’s advice and told her son that she was driving to the log house to give the place a throughout clean up. There was nothing alarming about that.

Once the car had been filled up, Regina moved it to be parking lot by the gas station and went inside the little store where she bought herself a sandwich. Ham and cheese. Not the most inventive sandwich in the world (truth to be told, Regina would have preferred a healthier sandwich), but it was good enough for someone who was in a hurry like Regina was.

She ate the sandwich in her car on the parking lot and looked out of the window while doing so. She had always liked observing other people and see where they were going. But on this particular afternoon, she was almost cured entirely of her habit of observing other people when a blond woman walked right past her car. The woman’s golden hair danced behind her in the wind, and Regina almost choked on the sandwich. She was mere seconds away from jumping out of the car and pursue the blond woman when she came to the realization that it was not Emma.

Of course it wasn’t Emma. She needed to stop being so ridiculous. That woman didn’t even look like Emma in the slightest. The only resemblance between them was the hair color.

Regina took a deep breath. Now she mostly just wanted to throw the sandwich away. Her stomach cramped.

She saw Emma everywhere.

Emma was not coming for her.

Why would she?

Why would she be the slightest bit interested in pursuing Regina when Regina had been so cruel to her? Breaking contact with her without even giving a proper explanation as to why.

Regina sighed. She had to let this go. She had to let go of Emma Swan.

But she had no idea how.

 

She got out of the car and threw the rest of the sandwich into a nearby bin. She felt awful for throwing away food, but she couldn’t have forced another bite down...

 

Two hours later, Regina made it to her destination, and her heart immediately felt a little lighter when she parked in front of the log house by the little lake. She had always been happy here. She had always been able to breathe here.

Regina opened the car door and stepped into the crisp air. The temperature was dropping again, and she pulled the coat a little tighter around herself as she walked up to the house. She reached within her coat pocket and found the key. Inserted it into the lock and twisted it around. The door opened with a creak, and Regina stepped inside. She flipped the switch by the door and the little hallway was immediately bathed in light. The first thing Regina noticed was that it was toasty warm in here, and she smiled in gratitude. Mr. Edwards, the elderly gentleman who had a spare key to the place had clearly turned on the heating for her. Simply because she texted him to alert him that she would be coming up here. So if he saw light in the windows, he shouldn’t worry. It was just her. That was awfully kind of him. Mr. Edwards was a delightful grandfather type who had been their neighbor up here for years was an absolute sweetheart when it came to looking after the place when Regina or Zelena were unable to.

Regina trusted Mr. Edwards completely. He had known her father, and the two of them had often gone on fishing trips together or enjoyed a beer up here. When her father died, Mr. Edwards had been one of the first people Regina had called. He had been as shocked as her over Henry Sr’s sudden passing. And the day after Regina had been rushed to hospital due to the danger of miscarrying because of the shock, Mr. Edwards had suddenly shown up with his arms full of white lilies. Regina had been touched over his sweet gesture, and the two of them had had a good talk about everything.

Regina went back outside, and on her way to the car, she checked the mailbox. And exactly as expected, she found a folded note from Mr. Edwards saying: ‘Dear Regina, how wonderful it is that you are back up here after your long absence. I am dreadfully sorry that I couldn’t be there to welcome you back, but let me know when you will be back again. Then we will have a beer together. Best regards, Mr. Edwards.’.

Regina smiled. A beer with Mr. Edwards wouldn’t be half-bad. She stuck her hand further inside the mailbox and found the spare key. She had expected that too. Mr. Edwards always left the key in the mailbox when she was coming. And she always left it in his when she was leaving. That was their system. It worked excellently.

Regina slipped the spare key inside her pocket and then continued over to the car. She hauled out the big cooling bag and huffed slightly. It was heavy. Very heavy. Good thing she wasn’t going far with it.
She wasn’t sure her arms could have handled that.

Coming back inside the log house, Regina carefully wiped her boots on the mat before continuing inside the little kitchen. In there she sat the heavy cooling back down on the table and then went back outside to the car to fetch the overnight bag containing the few garments she had packed for her trip. She wasn’t staying long, so she hadn’t packed much. And casual clothing only. This was no place to run around in pencil skirts or crisp blouses.

She brought the bag inside the log house. Dropped it briefly to the floor and locked the front door. First she twisted the key in the lock and gave the door knob a good jiggle to ensure that it was properly locked. The heavy door didn’t budge an inch, but just to soothe her mind, Regina also deadbolted it and slid the door chain into its correct place. There was no such thing as being ‘too safe’, Regina thought to herself. And Zelena would appreciate it.

Oh. Speaking of Zelena.

Regina found her phone in her coat pocket and unlocked it. Tapped the camera icon once and switched on the front camera. Then she took a picture of herself smiling and giving a thumbs up. By the door with all its security installments. Not entirely accidental. Underneath the picture she wrote: ‘arrived. Safe and sound.’ Then she sent it to Zelena and felt very satisfied with herself. She hoped that Zelena would be that too.

She slipped of her coat and left it on the hanger. Then she brought her phone into the kitchen where she plugged it into the charger she always kept her. She had promised Zelena that her phone would be charged all the time, and she was intending on keeping that promise.

Regina took the overnight bag upstairs. Dumped it on the bed and unzipped it. Found her comfortable, grey sweatpants and the oversize purple t-shirt Malena had gifted her with for her 30th birthday.
There was a huge silhouette of a dragon across the chest, and written underneath was the text: ‘I FLY WITH DRAGONS’. An old joke between them, and Regina had been exactly drunk enough to find the joke amusing. And even though the t-shirt definitely wasn’t something she ever would have chosen, Regina couldn’t imagine to get rid of it. It had been a gift. And it had been from Malena. That was reason enough never to get rid of the shirt.

She unzipped her skirt, slid the thin stockings down her legs and traded the garments for the soft, grey sweatpants. Then she loosened the scarf around her neck, took it off and unbuttoned her white button up. Once she had ridded herself of that item too, she elegantly folded it and left it on the bed. She would stuff it into the bag later. Not the closet. She had promised Zelena (and herself) that she would not look inside the closet.

As an afterthought, Regina reached behind her and unclasped her bra. Why keep wearing it? She wasn’t going anywhere. And the straps had been digging into her shoulders slightly. Once rid of the undergarment, she slipped the dragon t-shirt over her head. Made a face when it ended up rubbing against the plaster on her throat and making it pull slightly against the skin. That damn plaster.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to be rid of it.

Coming back downstairs, Regina first checked her phone. Zelena had sent her a big thumbs up and the wish that she got some sleep tonight.

Regina wished that too.

She grabbed the cooling bag and unzipped it. Open the fridge, which thanks to Mr. Edwards was up and running, and began to put the few groceries away. Stopped momentarily when she spotted that Mr. Edwards had left a surprise for her in the fridge. A bottle of champagne. Goodness. That couldn’t have been cheap. She would have to send him a gift basket as a thank you.

After having stored the groceries away in the fridge, Regina went inside the living room and switched on the lights. Drew all the curtains except for one. She liked looking at the lake. Got the fireplace going. Now what? She was here, but what should she... do? She had brought her laptop, so she could always do some work. But had she really come here to work? She could always pour herself a glass of the champagne Mr. Edwards so kindly had left for her. But it was a little early for alcohol. Perhaps later.

Regina’s eyes wandered to the shelf underneath the television. A movie then. Yes. That was an excellent idea. She had quite the decent movie collection up here. Lots of classicals. Lots of Alfred Hitchcock.

But she wasn’t really in the mood for Alfred Hitchcock. Not when she was up here on her own. Deadbolted door or not, she was still paranoid, and watching a suspense movie would hardly do anything good for her attempt at being away on her own for the first time. She needed a feel good movie.

She padded over to the shelf and crouched down. Let the tip of her finger run over the movies until she found the perfect one. ‘All That Heaven Allows’ with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. One of her favorites. Regina had always been a sucker for a romantic movie. And a sucker for a good age-gap movie. She popped the movie inside the DVD player and quickly contemplated whether or not she should be making herself a snack. She ended up deciding that it was too early for that too, but she did make herself a nice, soothing cup of chamomile tea. Apparently, it was supposed to make you sleepy.

Regina very much doubted so, but she was willing to try anything. Then she made herself comfortable in the couch, patiently waiting to see Rock Hudson’s Ron Kirby seduce Jane Wyman’s Cary Scott. The autumnal opening sequence instantly soothed her mind, and Regina tugged her legs up under her in the couch...

 

The story about chamomile tea working as a sleeping powder had to be some kind of old wives tale.

Regina was still very much awake when the movie was over. Not even the slightest bit sleepy. But she was hungry. It was time for dinner. She took the empty tea cup with her into the kitchen, rinsed it and left it to dry. Then she made herself a simple dinner. A salad with olive and avocados and tomatoes. And feta cheese. One of her ‘guilty pleasures’. As she stood there with her bowl of salad in her hands, she wondered what to do now. Maybe another movie? Or perhaps a series? Just one episode. Yes. That was a good idea.

She returned to the living room, armed with her bowl of salad and thought to herself that she was breaking all the rules up here. Eating in the living room and all.

Regina sat down on the couch and sat her bowl of salad down as she picked up the remote control and pressed the ‘Netflix’-button. She was searching for a series to watch when she realized that she hadn’t even had the urge to cry yet. Strange. That was what she had planned on doing up here, so why wasn’t she? Why wasn’t she bawling her eyes out like she had intended?

Maybe it was this place. Maybe she was so much at peace here, she didn’t even have to cry.

Perhaps she should just stay here forever then.

No. Of course not.

She couldn’t do that.

She was only here for a few days. Then she would go home. And she would feel so much better. She would!

Regina forced herself to believe that was the case, and then she chose a series. The Cable Girls. Another of her favorites. Regina had always loved historical series. And this was a great way to brush up on
her Spanish. Watching television could be educational. Regina switched off the subtitles. No cheating. Now she just had to listen carefully. Try to understand as much of it as she possibly could. This was the only way she could brush up on her skills since she wouldn’t be speaking Spanish again.

Well, at least she wouldn’t if she chose not to have that second surgery. Right now, she was rather leaning towards ‘no’. Too much pain. Too much liquid diet. Too much time spend away from her son.
And there wasn’t even any guarantees that the surgery was going to work.

Oh well. It wasn’t imminent. She didn’t have to decide anything yet. The wound on her throat still needed to heel up some more. The healing process took a long a time, but that was because the skin on her neck was delicate. Or so the doctor had said.

Regina stuffed an olive inside her mouth and concentrated on the show...

 

She ended up watching four and not one episode. And by the time she finally switched off the television, the bowl was empty, but her mind still wide awake. Unfortunately.

Now she had most definitely deserved a glass of champagne.

Regina ventured into the kitchen and found the bottle in the fridge. Popped it open with a bang and poured herself a glass of the sparkling liquid. Took a sip. It tasted good. Sweet and crispy. Perhaps this was exactly what she needed. Should she draw herself a nice, hot bath and enjoy the glass of champagne while soaking in the tub?

No. She could do that tomorrow. First thing. That would be a treat. With only one bathroom in Zelena’s house and a ten year old who often banged on the door, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to take a bath, and certainly not a long one. But oh, how she would do that tomorrow. A hot bath while watching the sun rise.

For now, Regina decided that she would be retiring for the evening. A glass of champagne and then straight to bed with her book. She had brought Long Distance Coffee by Emma Sterner-Radley for the occasion. Another comfort read. She was looking forward to re-reading it in bed with a nice glass of champagne.

She turned to walk up the stairs, but halfway there, she paused, turned around and then snatched the bottle of champagne. Perhaps she would be wanting another glass of champagne, and then it would be a shame having to walk all the way downstairs to fetch the bottle. It was much smarter to take the bottle upstairs.

Regina left her phone in the kitchen. There certainly wasn’t any reason to bring that upstairs. Too many distractions. She didn’t want to end up doing mindless scrolling instead of doing what she had intended to do. Reading.

The old staircase creaked as she went upstairs, but oddly enough she did still not feel like bursting into tears. Should she feel worried about that? Why the hell couldn’t she cry when she spent the past three weeks crying herself to sleep?

Perhaps she had reached some kind of state of numbness.

She wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad.

Of course it was a good thing not feeling like bursting into tears any longer.

But she had felt numb once before. In the hospital. She hadn’t been able to feel anything. Which hadn’t been nice at all.

Was she perhaps starting to accept the situation?

God. That was even worse.

It had only been three weeks. She couldn’t possibly have moved on yet.

Regina scoffed to herself as she walked into the little hallway. This was a new level of self-torture. Not wanting to forget even though that would be the best thing.

She made it inside her bedroom and briefly sat the glass of champagne down on the little nightstand so she could pull the bedspread aside. Then she found her book and reading glasses. Now she was ready to go to bed. There was no reason to change out of the shirt and sweatpants. It could double as pajamas for the night. She drew the curtains and switched on the nightlight.

But as she turned around to switch off the big light, she caught a glimpse of something peaking out from her closet. Something... white.

A massive lump formed in her throat, and she instantaneously reached for the glass of champagne. Took a large sip of the alcohol.

She had promised herself not to look in the closet.

She had promised Zelena not to look in the closet.

She knew that looking in the closet wouldn’t be good for her.

But it was right there. Peeking out from her closet and practically attacking her eyes.

Regina WANTED to see it. Why she could not explain. Perhaps it was another part of the self-torturing trip she was on. But she had to see it. She had to look at it. Confront it, somehow.

She took another large gulp of champagne. Sat the glass down on the nightstand and went over to the closet. Reached out and touched the white peeking out from it.

The material felt stiff. Familiar, and at the same time not at all.

Regina took a deep breath and pulled the closet door wide open.

There it was. So innocently and prettily sitting on a hanger just waiting to be worn.

Her wedding dress.

Pristine and white.

Covered in blood only she could see.

Terrible.

The sight hit her like a sucker punch right to the gut. The pristine white color made every part that Killian had ever touched, hurt.

Every old wound re-opened. Every old spots of pain flared up immediately.

She reached for the glass of champagne. Found the bottle instead. Decided that it would get the job done just as good. She brought it up to her mouth and drank champagne straight from the bottle.

The dress was still assaulting her eyes, and as she clutched the neck of the bottle, Regina looked at it. Really looked at it.

It was snow-white. Made of a very shiny fabric with lots of glitter on the bodice. Mermaid silhouette. An extremely low neckline that almost came all the way down to her navel. The sides of her breasts had been completely visible. The dress had an open back too. Almost all the way down to her buttocks. And a huge slit up the left leg.

It had been too much.

Bordering on inappropriate.

Regina had felt more naked than dressed when wearing the gown.

It hadn’t been her style at all.

But she had purchased it anyway.

Because Killian had told her to.

Because he wanted his bride to look hot.

‘What’s wrong, love? Don’t you want to look sexy for your husband?’

And Regina did. But not like that.

She hadn’t dared telling him.

Because he had been in such a good mood that day.

And it would have been a shame to ruin it.

It was easier to agree with him.

Easier to pretend.

Regina lifted the bottle of champagne and took a large gulp of the alcohol.

God, she hated that dress.

With her entire being.

It was a symbol of everything that had been wrong in her life.

She had always imagined her wedding dress to be classy and timeless with just a hint of playfulness to it.

This dress was exactly the opposite of that.

Regina sat the bottle of champagne down and yanked the dress of its hanger. It fell to the floor and ended up as a puddle of shiny white.

She hadn’t given her wedding dress many thoughts. At some point she had considered selling it. She had only worn the dress once. It was as good as new.

But now as she looked at it, she knew that she could never sell it.

She couldn’t even return it.

Because then some other bride would purchase it.

She couldn’t let that happen.

She couldn’t let a happy woman by this dress and wear it on her wedding day. It wouldn’t be right. Regina was certain that if someone else was to wear this dress, she would feel the echo of the fear Regina had been feeling when she wore this dress and Killian stood behind her and told her how sexy she was.

This dress was laced with fear.

Sown with horror.

Applicated with distress.

She picked up the dress and held it between two fingers. Looked at it.

She had to be rid of it.

For good.

She never wanted to see it again.

She never wanted to acknowledge that it even had existed.

And to do that, she had to make it disappear.

For good.

Regina methodically spread the dress wide on the bedroom floor so she could see the entirety of the dress. If it hadn’t been because it would be waste of good champagne, she would have poured the alcohol all over the dress and watched how pristine white turned mattered and blotchy.

But there were better ways to make a dress disappear.

Much better ways.

Regina went into the bathroom and found a pair of scissors. To make sure the tool worked she cut into the towel on the hanger. The scissor worked perfectly.

She returned to the bedroom. Took her glass of champagne and sat down on the floor. Took another large sip of the champagne. Her head was starting to feel a little floaty. But maybe that was a good thing considering what she was about to do.

But she doubted that she would regret in the morning though.

If anything, this would only make her feel better.

She slipped her thumb and middle finger through the hoops in the scissor. And then she started cutting. Through the shiny, white fabric that made it out for the bottom of the dress. It had been unbelievably tight.

Snip, snip, snip, went the scissors.

Rip, rip, rip, went the dress.

Snip, snip, snip, snip.

Rip, rip, rip, rip.

God, that felt good.

But perhaps cutting the dress a little slower would feel even better?

Regina tried it.

Snip. Snii-iiip. Snip.

Rip. Rii-iiip. Rip.

Hearing the dress tear and seeing the bottom of it opening and becoming two halves was possibly the most satisfying thing ever. It almost made her feel euphoric.

She celebrated that by topping off her glass of champagne. She spilled a few drops on the dress, but what the hell did it matter? The dress was ruined anyway. And not just because of what she was doing to it right now.

Champagne wasn’t the only thing spilling. Her cheeks were wet.

She was crying.

Finally.

No more numbness.

But these tears felt different. Cathartic, almost.

There was some kind of relief connected to these tears.

Relief over ridding herself over yet another thing from her past.

This was not her wedding dress.

And it never had been.

Regina went to work more eagerly than before.

Snip-snip-snip.

Rip-rip-rip.

Snip-snip-snip.

Rip-rip-rip.

She cut into the bodice, and the delicate white pearls and million little sequins landed on the floor with a soft jingling sound. She would have to vacuum those away tomorrow. Otherwise she would be stepping pearls into the carpet for weeks.

Snip-snip-snip.

Rip-rip-rip.

More champagne sliding down her throat. More tears spilling from her eyes.

Snip-snip-snip.

Rip. Riiiiiip. Rip.

Regina smiled through her tears. Euphoria was sizzling through her veins.

She became more and more eager as she cut through her wedding dress, and twice the scissor almost slipped. She reminded herself to be more careful. Champagne was one thing, but she was not interested in spilling blood on this dress.

That would be a little too symbolic.

She downed the champagne in one go. Now her head was really floaty.

Regina was drunk.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had been drunk. Like, properly drunk.

It felt good. Extremely satisfying.

As satisfying as slicing up her wedding dress was.

She had been meaning to get rid of the dress. She just hadn’t considered to do it like this.

But now she was glad she had.

Snip! Snip! Snip! Snip!

Rip! Rip! Rip! Rip!

Riiip! Riiip! Riiip!

Music to her ears. Balm to her soul.

 

When the dress effectively had been split into two halves, Regina put the scissors away and admired her work. That would never become a wedding dress again.

Good.

But she still wasn’t entirely satisfied, though.

She needed... more.

Needed to do something. Physically. Not just with the scissors although they had served her well.

Experimentally, Regina took a fistful of the dress and yanked as hard as she could.

RIIIIITSCH!

Perfect.

What a glorious sound.

Regina celebrated it with another glass of champagne. And then she did it again.

RIIIIITSCH!

And again.

RIIIIITSCH!

A sip of champagne. Another fistful of fabric.

RIIIIITSCH!

Sip of champagne. Fistful of fabric.

RIIIIITSCH!

Again.

RIIIIITSCH!

And again.

RIIIIITSCH!

Magnificent.

But the bodice was made of fabric that was slightly more layered. She couldn’t rip it with her hands. Regina swiftly grabbed the scissors and eagerly and began cutting randomly in what once had been a tight bodice. No more. No more! Snip-snip-snip wen the scissor, easily eating through the fabric as though it was made of butter. When she had cut the bodice to pieces, she saw no reason why she shouldn’t continue with the skirt. Although it was already plenty ripped, she still could cause more havoc. And she did. The sharp scissor sliced through the skirt, but this time she cut the fabric into tiny little pieces rather than just hacking away. Once or twice, the scissor slipped between her eager fingers, but that was okay now. There was barely any dress left to bleed on.

Snip-snip-snip-snip-snip! Snip-snip-snip-snip-snip!

Regina rewarded herself with gulps of champagne in between each snip. Her therapist had told her that it was important to reward herself. And to gradually let go of the past. Well. Right now she was doing both!

 

By the time Regina was done, the wedding dress had been turned into tiny little pieces that lied scattered all around her, the champagne bottle was empty, and she was stupidly, ridiculously drunk. Her head was spinning as she sat there surrounded by the tiny little pieces that once had been her wedding dress. She was pink cheeked and bright eyed from drinking.

A parody on an avenging angel.

She was almost satisfied.

Almost.

But not quite.

Regina carefully gathered all the tiny little wedding-dress-pieces in her hands and bravely went down the stairs. A rather stupid act considering how much she had drunken tonight.

But she made it downstairs in one piece and stomped into the living room on legs that wobbled slightly under her. The flames were still flickering merrily in the fireplace, and without hesitation, Regina threw the tiny pieces of fabric into the flames.

The fireplace huffed and puffed as though protesting, but the flames willingly swallowed the snow-white pieces of fabric.

And Regina exhaled a long break as she stood and watched what essentially was the funeral of her wedding dress. It felt good. It felt fucking fantastic! And she felt awfully inspired. Had the strongest urge
to ruin something else. Anything that reminded her of Killian Jones and all the misery he had caused her.

She stalked over too the bookshelf and plucked out one of the many photo albums Zelena had created for her over the years. She hastily opened it. Saw pictures of herself on her 30th birthday. God, how happy she looked. Her smile was so natural. So open.

She flicked a few pages forward until she found something that made her stomach lurch slightly. Her engagement party. She was wearing the strapless grey dress. Her hair was a bit longer. She was standing side by side with Killian who was smiling at the camera with one arm around her waist. A sweet gesture? Or the first display of possessiveness? There was something stale about her smile.

Something forced. Although he had not yet started beating her at that point, there was definitely a hint of panic in her eyes. The slightest hesitation. The faintest hint that she knew even then that something was wrong. The contrast between this smile and the way she was smiling on her 30th birthday was stark.

Showing no hesitation whatsoever, Regina methodically ripped the pictures from her engagement party out of photo album. Every single one of them. It ruined the album, but she did not care about that.

Her hands did not shake as she threw the pictures into the fire. The flames immediately swallowed them whole. Ate them greedily and made Killian Jones’ smirking face disappear.

Regina wiped a few tears away from her cheeks and smiled as she looked at the flames. This didn’t magically fix everything, but it did feel good.

This was her place. Her log house she had been playing in as a little girl. She deserved to have this place to herself. Killian Jones had no business being here.

And tonight she had effectively gotten rid of physical evidence that he ever had been.

No more wedding dress.

No more engagement pictures.

Poof, poof.

Up in flames they went.

Perhaps she WAS some kind of avenging angel and not just a parody.

Or perhaps she was just drunk and needed to lie down.

But before doing so, she went into the kitchen where she found her phone still plugged into the charger. The screen was lightening up. Zelena had sent her two messages. One about twenty minutes ago asking what she was doing. And then again two minutes ago asking if she was okay. She was clearly concerned because Regina hadn’t answered the first message she had sent twenty minutes ago.

Regina had been busy slicing up a dress twenty minutes ago.

But she wasn’t any longer, so she quickly sent her sister a text: ‘I’m fine going to bed.’ Something about the text didn’t sit quite right with her, but she was too tired to figure out what it was. And besides, the response came quickly.

‘Oh, okay. Are you sure you’re okay though?’

‘Yes I’m fine just really tirered goodnight.’

‘Okay. Goodnight. Sleep well, little sis.’

‘Gooodnight zee’

Regina left it with that and took the phone with her when she went upstairs.

She went straight to bed. Ignored champagne glass and bottle and the little glittering pearls on the floor. Seriously, she had to vacuum those tomorrow. She let out a deep breath and closed her eyes. For the first time in three weeks she felt better. Ruining the wedding dress had been the right choice to make. And it had felt fucking fantastic. It had almost given her a rush of sorts. A great big middle finger to Killian Jones.

Regina rumbled tiredly to herself and enjoyed the way her head was spinning. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been this drunk.

Regina curled up under the covers and for the first time in three weeks she fell asleep immediately....

 

When she woke up the following morning, it was with a heavy, thumping head but a light feeling in her chest. She did not regret what she had done last night one bit.

Regina sat up in bed and scrambled to find her phone. Was both surprised and delighted when she saw the time. 10 AM. She had slept for longer than she had in three weeks. And she had slept uninterrupted.

It could have been the champagne.

But Regina chose to believe it was because of the cathartic experience it had been to ruin her wedding dress last night.

No, she didn’t regret it one bit.

The only thing she regretted a little bit was the ridiculous texts she had sent to Zelena last night. Riddled with grammatical errors and lacking punctuation marks. And she was supposed to be an English professor. Ha.

Zelena had sent her quite a few texts this morning too. One at five am where Regina typically was up. One again at seven asking if she still was asleep. One at eight asking if everything was okay. And then again at eight forty seven asking if she should drive up there.

God. Regina’s lack of communication had clearly unnerved Zelena. Regina immediately felt a little guilty, and she hastily sent her sister a text: ‘Good morning. I’m sorry for not texting, but I have been asleep until now. Please don’t tell me you’re on the way up here. I’m fine. Everything is fine.’

It did not take a long time before there was an answer from Zelena. ‘Thank god! You made me all worried. Have you really been asleep until now? That is amazing! Did you take extra melatonin like we talked about?’

Well. Not exactly. Regina rubbed her throbbing head slightly. Then she answered the text from her sister. ‘No, actually I got drunk.’

‘You did? Well, that explains the texts you sent me. How drunk? And on what? You didn’t bring any alcohol, did you?’

Regina huffed. Of course she hadn't brought any alcohol with her. She hadn't planned on getting druk until she saw the wedding dress. ‘I got exceedingly drunk on champagne left in the fridge by Mr. Edwards. I drank the whole bottle.’

‘You did not!’

‘I did. And I also ruined my wedding dress. While drunk.’

‘Ruined how?’

Regina scoffed to herself. The whole nine yards. ‘With a scissor. I sliced it in half and then cut it into smaller pieces. And then I threw the pieces into the fireplace. So. There’s that.’

‘Oh. Wow. Okay then. Did it make you feel any better?’

‘Yes. Very much so. I know it would have been a better idea to sell it, but I just couldn’t. The idea of someone else wearing it made me feel sick.’

‘It was your dress, sis. Your decision. I’m not judging you. If fucking it up and throwing the pieces into the fireplace made you sleep through the night, then I say good for you!’

‘It really did make me feel so much better.’

‘Good! That is the most important thing! How is the head doing?’

‘Not very well. But it was worth it. How is Henry? Did you get him send off to school alright?’

‘Of course. Happy, well-fed, well-dressed and with his homework all done. Nick is coming home with him after school. They’ll be doing homework together.’

‘That sounds good. Has he been asking for me?’

‘No, just joking about whether you’re getting some cleaning done. And I guess he’s not entirely wrong about that, is he?’

Regina rumbled. ‘No, he is not. I have done some cleaning.’ She had indeed. A very unorthodox type of cleaning, but nevertheless a very required one.

‘Good for you, sis. I hope this will make you sleep better during the night.’

‘I hope so too.’ Regina certainly would keep her fingers crossed. At least she knew that she was capable of sleeping through the night without any nightmares. She still chose to believe that it was because of what she had done to the wedding dress and not because of the champagne she had consumed.

It definitely had to be because of the cathartic experience of getting rid of her wedding dress. And a part of her dark past.

She slowly rose from bed and rubbed her throbbing head again. Then she sighed. The floor was covered in a billion little pearls and sequins. God, what a mess. She had to clean that. But she couldn’t bear the thought of vacuuming when her head hurt this much. Instead she remembered one of her plans from last night. To take a hot bath. She had definitely deserved that after the hard work she had done last night.

Regina carefully picked up the empty bottle and abandoned champagne glass. To think that she had drunk a whole bottle of champagne. That was insane. But apparently she had needed it. And it wasn’t often that she drank alcohol. And she certainly never drank a whole bottle of alcohol. That was just a culmination of these past three horrible weeks with Liam on the loose and the breakup with Emma.

No. Now she was getting ahead of herself again. It had not been a breakup. Because it had not been a relationship. Not really. Emma had not been her girlfriend. Not even close to.

And she should not be thinking about that. It would only make her upset. And she didn’t want to be. Not when she for once had woken up without the urge to cry her eyes out. Regina went into the bathroom and filled the tub. She was looking forward to her bath...

 

 

She did sleep better on the first night after coming home from the log house. Without consuming a bottle of champagne. She slept from eleven to seven. A huge improvement. She was delighted. And so was Zelena.

The intention had been to go to bed early the following night and see how long she would be able to sleep.

But she was prevented from doing so when she suddenly heard noise outside.

Regina looked up. She had been sitting and reading on the couch. Zelena was staying over at Chad’s place for the night, so it was just Regina home. And Henry too of course. But he had gone to bed hours
earlier, so it did feel like she was home alone.

There was a knock on the door, and Regina startled and clutched her book a little tighter. She was not expecting anyone. Zelena was not expecting anyone. So who was knocking on the door at this hour?

Regina knew better than to open the door. She was not an idiot. Instead she crept into the dark hallway and peered out through the tinted glass. She could definitely see someone. A figure. But who?

Regina grew anxious. Should she call the police?

“Can’t we at least talk about this?”

The breath hitched in Regina’s chest.

Emma.

It was Emma right outside the door.

Emma knocking.

Emma wanting to talk to her.

Emma had found her.

“God damn it! I didn’t mean it like that!” she yelped. “I meant; can’t we at least c-c-communicate? Like we used to? Please?”

Another knock.

Regina’s hand automatically wandered towards the doorknob. But then she remembered that she could not let Emma in. If she did, she made Emma a target.

“At least tell me what I’ve done wrong,” Emma whispered behind the door and her voice broke. “Please. I don’t understand what I’ve done to upset you!”

Regina leaned heavily against the door and started crying. God, she wanted nothing more than to let Emma in. But she couldn’t. Because it was too dangerous.

“I’m s-sorry,” Emma whispered, and Regina was certain that she was crying too.

“For whatever I said or done, I’m really, really sorry! I wish... I wish we could have at least stayed friends or something, but I guess I must have really messed up with you. Yeah. I do that a lot. I suppose I should have seen this coming because I can never hold on to anything good, and I always destroy everything I touch. At least that’s what my adoptive mother always said, and I guess she was right about that.”

Regina bit her lip so hard she could taste blood in her mouth. She dug her nails into her palms until thick liquid started dripping from them. She had to in order to not either open the door or pound her hands against them at the injustice of it all.

“I’m sorry,” Emma croaked behind the door. “I’m really, really sorry! I know I’m an idiot for being here, okay? But I can’t... I can’t get you out of my head, and I KNOW that’s fucking stupid because we only went on three dates, and... I don’t know, I suppose I just... really fell for-“ she did not finish the sentence. She didn’t need to.

Regina pressed a hand against the door and the other against her mouth. Out of habit. She had become so used to muffling her cries and make sure nobody heard them.

Now nobody COULD hear them.

Least of all Emma behind the door. Regina’s heart shattered all over again. She could hear shuffling from outside and dared peering through the tinted glass to see what was going on. Had Emma fallen? If that was the case, Regina HAD to open the door. She couldn’t let Emma lay injured out there. Any excuse to open the door.

But Emma wasn’t injured. It looked more like she was leaving something on the porch.

“You once said that you wanted to read my stuff,” Emma mumbled. And then Regina saw the silhouette of her disappear down the road. Where was she going? Why was she leaving already?

Please don’t leave.

Please come back.

I’ve fallen for you too.

But Emma did not come back. Instead she disappeared around the corner, and once Regina was completely sure that she was gone, she unlocked the door and retrieved the thing Emma had left on the porch. It was pages. Many pages.

Regina closed the door and locked it. Then she went upstairs to her bedroom and switched on the lights so she could see what it was.

It was a manuscript.

‘A Tap On The Shoulder’ written by Emma Swan.

There had to be at least a hundred and fifty pages here.

Regina sat down heavily on the bed and started to read the words Emma had written.

It was a story about two women meeting on a train.

Willa. Running away from a strained relationship with her parents. A bit tired of everything, but still curious.

Helena. Mysterious and silent but with an open, warm smile.

Regina started crying again.

Them.

Emma was writing about them.

She was writing about meeting HER.

Regina’s throat ached because of the sob she couldn’t let out. The sob that forever would be stuck.

She did not get any sleep that night either.

She stayed up and read about Willa and Helena. And with each chapter she read, another tiny little piece of her heart broke off and crumbled to dust in her chest....

 

To Be Continued...........

Chapter Text

Four AM.

Regina was still wide awake and sitting up in bed. Knees drawn into her chest and forehead resting on her knees. Her lower back was cramping, but Regina did not move. She couldn’t. Right now, focusing on breathing slow and steadily took up all her effort. She felt sick to her stomach. It felt like Emma’s words earlier had punched a hole in her chest. And now that hole was bleeding and leaving her unable to move. Or sleep.

And she was bleeding because of the text she had forced herself to send to Emma hours earlier. ‘Emma, I meant what I texted you a few weeks ago. We shouldn’t see each other anymore. Don’t contact me again. Just stay away from me.’

It had hurt. It had hurt so bloody much she had wept silently and punched her pillow again and again. She was being a cold hearted bitch.

But she had to. It was essential that Emma stayed away from her. Otherwise Regina could not protect her. She had to be cold.

She felt sick to her stomach. Physically ill over throwing away one of the best things that had happened to her in a very long time. Physically ill over causing even more hurt.

She was surprised that her pajamas wasn’t covered in blood oozing from the hole in her chest.

But there was no hole. No wound. Only one of those that were invisible.

Willa.

Helena.

Them.

 

Five AM.

 

Still awake. Her lower back was still cramping. She should move. She really should. If she didn’t, her back would be as good as ruined tomorrow. With trouble, Regina lifted her head and winced at the way her neck went ‘pop’ when she moved. She unfolded her legs and rubbed her thigh in an attempt to soothe an aching muscle. Then she rose from the bed. Went over to the window and lifted the curtain to look out.

Blackness. Nothing. Of course.

What had she expected? That Emma Swan would be standing outside and throwing little rocks at her window whilst pleading with her to come outside?

This was not a fairytale. This was reality. And reality was cruel, Regina knew that. She released the curtain and turned her back on the window. Her stomach cramped. Badly. And she was developing a headache. A bad one. It seemed like a migraine this time. Regina had had a few of them ever since her father died, and it had become more frequent since she woke up in the hospital. Obviously. PTSD had many faces. Regina rubbed her arms. She was cold. Shivering. The kind of cold that left you unable to get warm no matter how hard you tried. The kind of cold that came from within. Regina rubbed her temples. That really hurt. As did her stomach. Pain was radiating from that spot where Killian kicked her on that terrible night. There was only a faded mark on her abdomen now, but sometimes it felt like she hadn’t healed completely.

She swallowed thickly and looked back at her unmade bed. She supposed she should go back and try to get some sleep. But she couldn’t. If she closed her eyes, she would see Emma Swan’s face, she could hear her cry while spilling apologies for something she had no guilt in, and she couldn’t bear that.

She felt terrible. She made herself feel sick and nauseous. If only she had said no to going out with Emma Swan. That would have been better for everyone.

Now she was crying again.

 

At 05:30, she gave up and went downstairs. More or less collapsed in the couch and pulled one of Zelena’s many colorful blankets over herself. She was completely exhausted, but she could not sleep. Her head was pounding, and the sliver of confidence it had given her to burn her wedding dress, went up in flames.

So she had burned a wedding dress. And so what? What did it matter? It didn’t change anything. She was still as damaged as ever. Emma Swan still hurt because of what she had done to her. And Liam Jones was still out there in the darkness, lurking somewhere.

Regina shivered and pulled the blanket a little tighter around herself as though she was trying to protect herself even though it wouldn’t be necessary. Liam was not allowed to come near her. Now as she sat here in the dark, quiet living room, she couldn’t help but think about him.

Liam Jones. Killian’s younger brother. Killian had once described him as the ‘dreamer’ of the Jones family. The ‘seeker’.

Regina definitely did not agree with that description at all. Liam Jones was no seeker. He was just a bad boy who had never grown out of his bad behavior. But she had never perceived him as dangerous until he started to threaten Emma. When he was seventeen, Liam got in trouble with the police for stealing a car and driving around in it for a couple of hours. He got out of it scout free because of his young age, but when he was nineteen, he was arrested for drunk driving and spent a month behind bars. At twenty two, the police came for Liam yet again when he started a fight in a bar and ended up smashing a bottle over a man’s head. That costed him four months behind bars. Furthermore, Liam had never been able to uphold a job. Never had a steady income, and never had a stabile place to live. He constantly got mixed up with the ‘wrong types’, and Regina couldn’t count the times he had phoned Killian in the middle of the night. Nor could she count the times Killian had gotten out of bed and drove off to get him out of yet another pickle.

Regina supposed she could have felt sorry for Liam. Of course he had been struggling because of his upbringing. Because of how he and Killian’s father had hurt the whole family by beating their mother.

That sort of thing left an imprint on you as an adult.

But Regina was unable to feel sorry for Liam Jones. And not just because of what he was doing to Emma.

An evening, Liam had been visiting Regina and Killian in their home. Killian had gone to the bathroom, leaving Regina and Liam to entertain each other for a moment. Of course Liam had used the polite standard ‘so how is everything’-routine, and Regina who had felt particularly pressured because Killian had expected her to cook something nice for his brother, had ended up saying that things were good but would be even better if Killian’s temper didn’t always get the best of him.

Liam’s response? ‘Ah, well, you know Killian, R’gina. He prefers when things goes his way. Just make sure they do, and you’ll be fine.’

A chuckle had followed the statement, but at the same time he had been giving her a look suggesting that he would tell Killian what she had said.

A loyal brother.

Fearing the repercussions, Regina had kept quiet for the rest of the night.

That had been two weeks before Killian attacked her.

And if Liam had reacted differently, he could have been able to prevent it.

He could have saved her.

She had reached out.

And he had rejected her.

Perhaps she hadn’t said ‘help me’ directly, but she had said enough to make any decent person ask her to elaborate. Anyone would have found it puzzling and possibly alarming that she was expressing concern about her fiancée’s temper and how he wasn’t always able to control it.

But not Liam.

He had been as cold as ice.

As unwilling to help her as a brick wall would have been.

Later on, Regina had started to suspect that Liam had been perfectly aware of how Killian had treated her. He had just chosen to turn the blind eye. He had chosen to pretend not to know. Loyal to his brother no matter what.

Something wet and warm trickling between her fingers brought Regina back to reality. She blinked. Realized that thinking about the past had caused her to scratch at the red lines on her neck. And now one of them were bleeding. Oh no.

As quiet as a mouse, Regina crept up the stairs and tiptoed through the hallway. It was too early for everyone to wake up, and Regina would be damned if she ended up waking anyone this early. Least of all Zelena. She had been so excited when she heard that Regina had slept through the night in the log house. She didn’t want to ruin everything by revealing to her sister that they were back to square one again.

Regina made it to the bathroom, and as quietly as possibly, she locked the door behind her. Then she walked over to the mirror and looked at her reflection. She looked terrible. That wasn’t even to be hard on herself, that was just a simple fact. She silently wondered how Henry managed not to get scared of her when he was confronted with her sunken in eyes with the deep, dark circles underneath them. She looked like a skeleton.

Then she remembered what she was supposed to do and wetted a cotton bud under the cold tap before holding against the bleeding line on her neck. This could not happen again. She could risk getting an infection if she scratched again.

 

At 06:15 the first text arrived.

Regina was back on the couch, watching The Great British Bakeoff with no sound, and she startled when her phone suddenly pinged. She grabbed the device and muted quickly, terrified that the sound had awakened someone upstairs. Her plan had been to watch this episode and then quietly retire to her bedroom again. And staying in there while waiting for the rest of her family to wake up. She didn’t want anyone to know that she hadn’t been sleeping all night. And she wasn’t even sure she would tell Zelena about Emma Swan’s visit last night. What good would it do? Just thinking about it made her feel upset, so she could vividly imagine how upsetting it would be to tell Zelena about it. And if she was upset, Zelena would get upset.

Regina was so damn sick of making people around her upset.

She snapped out of it and looked at the phone screen still lightening up. The text was from Emma Swan.

Her first, and completely irrational response to seeing Emma Swan’s name on her phone, was delight. Until she remembered that there was nothing to be delighted about. Perhaps Emma was merely texting her to let her know what an utter bitch she was for not responding to her desperate pleads last night.

Regina was not going to disagree with that.

But the text wasn’t a long block of words telling her how much she had hurt Emma last night. The text was quite short. Only four words. ‘We need to talk.’

Regina frowned in confusion. Not only was that physical impossible for her (she felt particularly triggered this morning), but it also didn’t make a wink of sense. She didn’t understand what Emma meant when she stated that they needed to talk.

She was still trying to make sense of the cryptic text when another one arrived and startled her just as much as the first one had. And it made just as little sense too.

‘I know what this is about.’

Now Regina was really confused. Was Emma texting the wrong person? Was she drunk? What was going on? She wanted to answer the text. Badly. She wanted to know what was going on, but at the same time she knew that she could not. Couldn’t allow herself to give Emma false hope by communicating with her. But she was so confused, and the next text did not bring much clarity.

‘At least I think I do.’

What did that mean? Regina didn’t understand anything, but for whatever reason her stomach still twisted like it always did when she was growing anxious. But normally, she knew why she was anxious.

Right now, her anxiety did not make any sense, and that worried her. Before she could stop herself, her fingers had tapped in ‘what are you talking about?’, but she did not get the chance to actually send it before a new text arrived.

‘It’s about you, isn’t it? Someone is following me to get to you.’

It felt as though everything slowed down for a moment. Her ears were ringing. Her stomach cramped. Her head was pounding.

Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god!

Emma knew. How, Regina had no idea of, but Emma KNEW. Somehow, she had worked it out. And she was almost correct. Liam was not allowed to get anywhere near Regina. If he did, he would land himself in prison. But that knowledge didn’t mean much. Regina was extremely paranoid right now. Paranoid enough to think that Liam potentially could be monitoring Emma’s texts somehow. And she was also terribly nauseous.

With her phone in hand, Regina leapt from the couch and rushed upstairs as quickly as she could without making too much noise.

It was just in the nick of time she made it to the bathroom. She didn’t even get the opportunity to lock the door before she threw up violently into the toilet. Once, twice, three times. Her stomach cramped painfully. She hadn’t had any food, so it was mostly just bile coming up.

When she was done, her forehead was sweaty, she was trembling, and she had a foul taste in her mouth. With trouble, she fought her way up from the floor, and on shaky legs she walked over to the sink where she grabbed the mouthwash. Her hands were trembling too, and the mouthwash made her throat cramp and constrict. She gurgled. That hurt too.

Once her mouth was sufficiently rinsed, it felt as though the tiny bit of energy she had left, had been used. Her knees caved in and she ended up sitting on the bathroom floor with her back pressed against the door like she was trying to prevent anyone from coming in.

She had done this many times. Been in this position many times. Whenever she and Killian had had ‘a fight’ (which always had ended in a slap or two), Regina often escaped to the bathroom. She would lock the door, press her back against the door and then curl into a tiny little ball with her knees hugged to her chest and her forehead resting on her knees. And every time she had decided that this was it. Now she would be leaving him. For good. No more apologies.

But her decision had always been swayed when Killian came and knocked on the door. His voice would be all gentle and soft when he said: “’Regina? Can you open the door? Love, please, I am so sorry! I don’t know why I do this! I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I’ll get help, I promise! But I can’t do this without, please open the door!’”.

Some of the times he would even start crying, and Regina’s good heart and willingness to give second chances (and third, fourth, fifth, six, seven, eight, nine and tenth) had ran away with her. She had opened the door and allowed him to hug her and cry and spill apologies into her hair. And she had yet again decided to stay with him. Because imagine if THIS was the time where he finally got help. Imagine if THIS was the turning point.

It had never been. The first turning point had been when he threatened her son.

And the next had been when he raped her and nearly got away with murder.

Regina was vaguely aware that a text had arrived, and now she lifted a weak hand to check her phone.

‘I know I’m right. I got a call from the stalker late last night. He warned me and told me to “stay away from her”. The only “her” I’ve been around lately is you.’

The bile rose in her throat again and threatened to spill over. So Liam had called Emma last night. What had he said? How had he threatened her?

She didn’t confirm nor deny what Emma texted. She did what she was best at. Kept quiet. She hugged her knees tighter to her chest. Didn’t seem able to stand from the bathroom floor. Her morning mirrored her night, and Regina released something that could have been a sigh if she had been able to utter sounds.

Was there even a way out of this?

Would she ever find a way out of this darkness?

Or would her life simply continue to be defeat after defeat?

Sleepless nights. Pounding headaches. Feeling sick all the time.

How was she supposed to live like that?

No, she was not thinking of suicide. Never again. She was merely wondering.

Another text from Emma. ‘Are you in danger?’ 06:30 AM.

Regina did not answer.

Then another. ‘Do you know who’s doing this?’ 06:33 AM.

Regina didn’t answer that one either. She didn’t have the strength.

Nor did she answer the one that came in a few minutes later. ‘Regina, please. We have to discuss this. I know you’re afraid, but you can’t just pretend I don’t exist. I’m not gonna walk away from this!’

Regina wished that she would. She wished that Emma Swan would walk away from her and meet someone else. Someone who could give her everything.

No. No, she didn’t.

She wished that Emma Swan would magically appear right here in this bathroom. She wished that Emma would sit down next to her and tell her that everything would be okay.

But Regina knew the rules. Stay away from Emma and everything would be fine. Stay away from Emma Swan, and Emma Swan would not be harmed.

Once again, she was forced by one of the Jones’ brothers rules.

She was still not free.

Still trapped.

Her knees were starting to ache slightly, but Regina only hugged them closer to her chest. She had to do what she could to hold herself together.

As she sat there on the bathroom floor, crazy thoughts started popping up in her head. What if she drove into the foggy morning and found Liam?

What if she brought her gun?

What if she managed to track him down?

What if he got so surprised that he didn’t get the chance to react?

What if she was faster than him? What if she got a hold of her gun?

What if she shot to kill rather than simply pacify?

Forehead or heart.

It would almost be easy.

Barely even messy if her hand did not weaver and she aimed correctly.

One bullet and Liam Jones would be gone for good.

But of course those were only thoughts.

Regina was no murder.

No matter what, she would never be able to take a person’s life.

Not even the life of Liam Jones.

She supposed that was what made her different from Killian.

He had been willing to kill.

And she was not even though she technically had the equipment to do so.

No, she was no murderer.

She was just a scared woman sitting on her bathroom floor.

Nothing more.

 

‘Damn it, Regina! Just answer me already! I’m involved in this too! I think I have a right to know what’s going on!’ 07:00 AM.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t have a right. Not really. But can’t you at least let me know if you’re okay?!’ 07:05 AM.

‘Regina, I can see that you’ve read all my messages. Can’t you please just answer me? Please?’ 07:10 AM.

Regina hadn’t answered any of them. She was not able to move a muscle. Not even when she felt the doorknob being pressed down. Her ears felt oddly clogged, so she only heart parts of the conversation outside the door.

“-Think she’s in the bathroom, but the door is locked!”

Oh. Henry. Of course. It was time for him to get up and go to school. Regina wished that she could have given him an answer of sorts. But she couldn’t. She still wasn’t able to move a muscle.

“She’s probably just taking a bath and has her head under water, Hen. Why don’t you pop downstairs and grab some cereal? Then you can use the bathroom afterwards.”

“Okay!”

Regina heard light footsteps running down the stairs. Then the doorknob was being pressed down again. “Regina? Are you in there?”

Her sisters voice was gentle. Regina managed to lift a weak hand and scratch it lightly against the door.

“Can I come in? Can you open the door?”

Now that was the question. Could she? Regina felt weak, so weak. And her the ever familiar pain in here throat had flared up again. It felt worse than ever. She couldn’t move.

But Zelena was worried. Zelena was asking her to open the door. And she had to think of Henry too. She couldn’t just hide in the bathroom like she was a teenager. She was his mother first.

So she lifted a slightly trembling hand and unlocked the bathroom door. Then she scrambled away from the door so Zelena could get in.

The door was opened and Zelena appeared. Her hair was tousled, but she was fully dressed. And as alert and awake as ever as she frowned. “Is everything okay?” she asked worriedly. “Do you feel poorly?”

When didn’t she? Regina nodded and hung her head.

Zelena didn’t brush her off. Of course she didn’t. She had only ever met Regina with understanding, and thus also today. She came into the bathroom and crouched down next to Regina. Putting a hand on Regina’s shoulder she asked: “what’s wrong?”

Regina’s hands trembled too much. She couldn’t sign at the moment. So instead she simply handed Zelena her phone and allowed her to read the messages Emma had sent her throughout the morning.

Zelena was quiet for a moment as she scrolled through the messages. She frowned. Then she looked back up at Regina. “My god,” she said quietly.

‘Emma was here last night,’ Regina signed with trembling hands. ‘She was standing outside the door, begging for answers, and I didn’t give her any. I still can’t give her any. I don’t know how. It’s too much. She was crying and begging and thinking that it was her fault, and I was just standing there and listening to her without letting her in. And now she knows that this is happening because of me. She’ll resent me.’

“Hun,” Zelena said gently as she wrapped her free arm around Regina. “To me these texts doesn’t look like she hates you.”

As on cue, her phone chimed again, and Regina took the phone from Zelena so she could check the message.

‘I’m going to have to tell Sheriff Graham about how the stalker called me last night. I really hope that isn’t gonna complicate things for you.’

Police. Graham. Regina knew him from old days. She had always been on good terms with him. But her paranoia only allowed her to focus on the fact that Graham was sharing job with Killian. Both of them policemen. Regina was frazzled enough to for a moment imagine that Killian and Graham knew each other. That Graham was Killian’s right hand and reported her every move to Killian and Liam.

Deep down she knew that Graham of course had nothing to do with Killian. Of course he hadn’t. Graham was a good policeman and a decent guy.

“Can I see?” Zelena asked gently and nodded towards the phone.

Regina handed the device to her and tipped her head back and closed her eyes while Zelena read the message.

“Maybe telling Graham about this isn’t the worst idea,” Zelena said softly. “Maybe he could catch Liam.”

Regina doubted it. Graham didn’t even know that it was Liam who was doing this. And Regina didn’t know how to tell him. She was scared that Liam would get wind of it and that it would be fatal for
Emma.

“Have you even slept last night?”

Regina shook her head. No, not at all. Her mind had not allowed her to rest. Emma’s face had haunted her every time she tried to close her eyes, so in the end she had stopped trying.

“You need rest,” Zelena said firmly. “Come. I’ll walk you.”

But Regina shook her head just as vehemently. No, she couldn’t go back to bed now. She had commitments. Meaning Henry. He had seen her go to bed far too often.

“Are you sure?” Zelena asked doubtfully. “I really think you should get some rest, sis.”

Regina shook her head and unfolded her legs. It was essential that she was present at breakfast. Henry needed to see her at the breakfast table.

Zelena seemed skeptical but refrained from saying anything as she rose from the floor and waited for Regina to stand up as well.

Regina did so. But the moment she rose from the floor and the blood rushed away from her head, she felt the floor come towards her as her knees buckled.

“Woah!” Zelena hastily grabbed her upper arms to support her. “Hey, hey, hey! Regina. Look at me.”

Regina struggled to do so. Her gaze swam slightly, and black spots were dancing before her eyes.

“You need to rest!” Zelena said again. “Come, just lean on me.”

But Regina shook her head again. She refused to admit defeat.

“Regina, you almost fainted, you gotta-“

Regina held a hand up to silence her sister. She did NOT almost faint. She just got a little dizzy because of the combined head and throat ache. And the fact that she hadn’t slept last night. She was FINE. End of story. And besides, this wasn’t about her or what was best for her. This was about Henry, and the fact that he needed to see her face. She couldn’t seal herself off in her room. Not when she had just been away for two days. And not only that. She had been away on two regular week days. She had left her son in her sister’s care. Again. And she had lied to him too. He thought she had been going to the log house to clean. Instead she had gotten furiously drunk of champagne and shredded her wedding dress to pieces. The time she should have spent with her son had been used on getting drunk and feeling sorry for herself.

Mother of the year she was not.

So she held her head high and refused to hear anymore talk of going back even though she was exhausted, and it felt like someone had set her throat on fire.

Zelena seemed skeptical, but she refrained from commenting further. Instead she made sure that Regina did not wobble before letting her go.

Regina stalked over to the mirror and checked her appearance. She brushed out her hair and applied a solid layer of concealer underneath her eyes to mask the deep dark circles.

“You look very nice.”

That was definitely stretching the truth to its thinnest, but still, Regina appreciated the effort. She flashed her sister a little smile to thank her for the compliment. Then they went downstairs to join Henry for breakfast. Regina’s throat still throbbed and burned, most likely because she had thrown up, but she would be dammed if she didn’t make an effort!

Henry briskly chitchatted while eating his cereal. Regina settled for a cup of tea in the hopes that it could soothe her aching throat. And she also forced down some crackers with jam. For Zelena’s sake.

Regina did her utmost to engage in a conversation with her son (well, as much as she could engage these days), but she was distracted when her phone chimed yet again. As discreetly as she could, she checked the message. Another one from Emma.

‘Talked to Graham. He’s gonna try and have the call traced, but I have a nasty feeling that the stalker went with the cliché solution and used a pre-paid phone or some shit.’

And then again only ten minutes later.

‘I’m bombarding you with text messages. I know. I’m starting to become a stalker myself, but we can’t just leave things like this! Please tell me that you’re okay! Is Henry okay? Is it his dad doing this?!’

Regina could not blame Emma for considering every possibility, but Daniel, really? She had not thought about him for years. And she wasn’t particularly interested in doing so either. One could say that she was still bitter about waking up to an empty bed and a bill for the hotel room. She had been twenty four and not exactly swimming in money at the time. Thanks for that, Daniel-whatever-your-surname-was.

She did not answer that text either. Instead she concluded her halfhearted breakfast and walked Henry to the bus. She gave him a tight hug and a kiss on the forehead and wished him a good day, delighting in the fact that he did not care that his friends could see him hugging his mother. Perhaps he had not yet reached the state where hugging your mom was embarrassing, or perhaps he simply saw nothing embarrassing in hugging his mother. That was probably it. She and Henry had always been very affectionate with one another. She had never foregone an opportunity to kiss him on the cheek or forehead, and once in a while on the lips too.

But even though they had practiced hugs and kisses before, Henry had intensified his needs for hugs after ‘the accident’. And he always made a point of hugging her before he went anywhere.

“I love you, mom,” he said and smiled at her.

Regina returned the smile and fixed his slightly crooked scarf. He said that a lot too. And of course she knew why he did it. To make sure that was the last thing he said to her ‘just in case’. Regina knew this because Zelena had told her. She had told her how upset Henry had been in the hospital when she was in a coma because he hadn’t hugged her goodbye or told her he loved her before leaving for Vancouver.

She waved the bus off and felt quite accomplished after having done so. She had sent her son off to school like every good mother did. She wasn’t a complete failure.

At least not today.

She went back inside the kitchen and automatically started helping Zelena clearing the table after their breakfast. Her head was still pounding and her throat throbbing. She shouldn’t have thrown up earlier. It was that sort of thing that could cause the pain in her throat to flare up. Apparently, her pharyngeal reflex (better known as the ‘gag reflex’) had been damaged or whatever, so throwing up was not that good for her. Her throat certainly was spasming as though she was being choked.

She was not. She was not. She was NOT!

Nobody was choking her. She was FINE.

Except she wasn’t.

She was in pain mentally as well as physically. Her heart was breaking for Emma Swan and how confused she had to be. All the unanswered texts. All her questions. By the time she had finished clearing the table and had sat down on the couch, another text arrived.

‘I have to go to work now. I really, really hope that you by some miracle will have answered me when I’m done working, but if you haven’t, I have to stop by your house. Again. And if you don’t answer the door, I have no choice but to call Sheriff Graham and ask him to break down your door. I’m sorry for putting you on the spot like this, but I’m really fucking worried about you, Regina!’

Putting her on the spot? Regina shook her head. If anything, she was the one putting Emma on the spot. She was the one who had caused a crazy man to follow Emma. She was the one who now refused to answer any of Emma’s questions. And instead of resentment, Emma was concerned about her. Another thing that showed just how good a person Emma Swan truly was.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek harshly. Willed herself not to cry. She was so sick of crying.

Another text. ‘Please have answered when I’m done working. Please.’

No. Regina couldn’t. It was too much. There were too many questions. She had no idea where to start. Starting that conversation would be like opening up a can of worms, and Regina wasn’t sure she was ready to see all the horrible, ugly worms come slithering out. She had been prepared to tell Emma once before, but that was different. She had been different. Feeling better. More confident.

Now all that confidence had gone out the window, and telling Emma her story could be compared to walking through bubbling hot lava.

She was so tired. So, so tired.

She rose from the couch and went to find Zelena who was still in the kitchen. She had set up her laptop. Working from home again.

“Oh, hi there,” she softly greeted when spotting Regina. “I thought you had gone into the living room to rest? Do you need anything? I could make you some more tea if you like?”

Regina could feel her strength slipping, so for once she skipped the pleasantries and went straight to the point. ‘I don’t feel well,’ she signed, knowing that Zelena would get worried, but she had to be honest. ‘I’m going upstairs to rest. My throat hurts a lot, so I will most likely be taking medicine.’

Zelena immediately stopped fussing with the laptop and came over to Regina. She reached out and touched Regina’s forehead lightly. “You’re not running a fever, so that is a good thing.”

‘I threw up earlier,’ Regina signed and almost felt slightly embarrassed for admitting to such disgusting behavior. ‘And now my throat is cramping up.’ she could literally feel the muscles in her throat spasming and pulling tight. And combining that with the feeling of having swallowed sandpaper, it made for an extremely uncomfortable feeling.

“Oh,” Zelena’s face fell completely. “I’m so sorry, Regina.”

Regina shrugged. Which seemed incredibly dismissive, but her ability to function because of the pain was dwindling rapidly. And besides, what else could she do? It didn’t exactly help that Zelena felt sorry for her. It didn’t take the pain away. It was what it was, and no amounts of ‘I’m so sorry’ could change that.

She turned her back on her sister and went upstairs to her bedroom. She sat down on the edge of the bed and reached within her bedside drawer. Found the bottle of strong painkillers she only ever used for emergencies. Today was most certainly an emergency. She placed the pill on her tongue and then drank from the glass of water she always kept on her bedside.

Swallowing almost made her throw up a second time. It hurt so badly her hands flew to her throat. She wasn’t completely sure what the purpose of it was, but it did not take her long to remember that she wasn’t supposed to touch her throat too much. And especially not like that.

But now she had taken the medicine. That was something. Regina laid down on the bed. Pulled the covers over herself. Closed her eyes and waited for the effect of the meds to kick in. Her head was spinning. Even when she was laying down.

Once again, she felt like an utter failure. She would not be out of bed by the time Henry came home from school. She would most likely be cooped up in here all day. Once again she was failing at being a good mother. Being present for breakfast damn well was not enough. And she knew it. But she was just so damn tired....

 

She slipped into a slumber that only allowed few things to disrupt it. At some point, she was sure she heard the front door open. She was also sure she heard Henry’s voice muddled with the voice of someone else. But she was not aware enough to go downstairs and investigate.

She fell into the same slumber and sensed nothing and nobody until a hand on her forehead made her blink her eyes open. It was so hard, keeping them open, but she could see the blurry shape of a person with red hair standing in front of her. Zelena.

“Hi there,” she said softly. “Henry was a bit worried about you. But you’re just sleepy, right?”

Regina didn’t know how she managed to nod her head. Yes, she was sleepy. So, so sleepy!

“Okay. I will leave you to it. Then you can hear about the development later.”

Development? What development? For a brief moment, Regina really did try to care and engage, but her eyelids felt so, so heavy. It was impossible to keep them open a moment longer.

“Later,” Zelena gently repeated. “You just sleep, okay?”

Such an easy task to be given. Regina allowed her body to grow limp yet again.

“Sleep well, little sis.”

Hair tickled her. Regina wasn’t certain, but she could have sworn that Zelena just kissed her forehead. Huh. That was a new one. Regina couldn’t remember the last time she had been kissed on the forehead in a way that were just a little bit maternal. Cora Mills hadn’t been very big on the whole affection thing. And honestly, she hadn’t been very good at it either.

Regina fell back into that dead-to-the-world slumber.

 

‘She was on a beautiful meadow full of wild flowers. It was summer. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky, and for whatever reason, she was wearing a long flowy white dress.

Henry seemed very determined as he pulled her along.

‘”Where are we going?”’ she asked her eager son.

‘”Mom, don’t be silly,”’ he laughed. ‘”You already know where we’re going!”’

‘”I do?”’ Regina was confused.

‘”Of course you do,”’ he beamed. ‘”We’re going to see her!”’

‘”Her? Henry, who are you talking about?”’

He laughed at her again. ‘”Oh, don’t pretend that you don’t know already!”’

Regina did not. But she still fell silent.

And then she saw her. Standing on the meadow. With her blonde hair flowing in the soft breeze. ‘”Hi!”’ Emma Swan grinned. ‘”You made it!”’

Yes. Yes, she did. Finally.’

 

The dream was still sitting in her when she woke up. The sky was turning deep blue. She had been asleep for a long time. Her head felt like it was full of cotton and her limps oddly heavy, but she felt better. At least physically. Mentally, she wasn’t so sure.

But she couldn’t lay in bed until tomorrow morning. She refused.

So she forced herself out of bed and went into the hallway on shaky legs. She felt completely woozy. A side effect from the medicine. And because of that dream too. It had been shockingly realistic.

Well, except for the fact that she had been able to talk in the dream. That had definitely not been one bit realistic.

As she went down the stairs, Regina thought to herself how strange it was to never hear her own voice anymore.

Coming downstairs, she found Zelena sitting in the living room with her laptop balancing on her knees.

“Hey there,” she greeted when spotting Regina. “How are you feeling?”

Regina shrugged. Her throat had stopped cramping. That was something. ‘Where is Henry?’ she signed. Her signing was a bit slurred. She was clearly not completely awake yet.

“He’s doing his homework upstairs,” Zelena replied.

Regina nodded. Then she should go upstairs and check on him. And let him know that she was feeling a lot better. She turned around and walked back towards the stairs.

“Actually, could you stay here for a moment, sis?”

Regina turned back around, slightly surprised. Although Zelena probably had aimed for casual, she wasn’t doing a very good job. She raised an eyebrow as she looked at her sister.

“Maybe you could sit down?” Zelena asked and patted the spot on the couch next to her.

Now Regina was very confused. She sat down, but she did not waste any time in signing and asking: ‘is Henry alright?’

“Henry is just fine,” Zelena assured. “He was a bit concerned earlier, when he was checking up on you, but I told him that you were simply sleeping really heavily.”

Oh. Regina nodded slowly. Henry was okay. That was good. But why did Zelena look so serious? What was going on? ‘Are you okay?’ she signed and continued: ‘is Chad?’