Note: Even though this chapter isn't precisely a resolution in terms of plot elements (which are of course always secondary to me, with feels about characters ranking first!), I felt like it was the right place for it to end regarding Regina's development, Emma's, and their relationship growth. So hopefully it serves as a satisfying resolution to their little emotional journey together for y'all. :) I'll leave the plotty stuff to the show itself.
Chapter 3: your place in the family of things
Charming continues to be insufferable. Regina is determined to suffer him in silence – considering the things she's done, she supposes her punishment could be much worse – but he isn't making it easy. One afternoon, while Emma is off searching for a sweater before they head out to the forest, he sets in with yet another round of "I don't trust you" accusations.
"Look, you fool," Regina finally snaps. "If I wanted to reduce you to ashes, I'd have done it already. Do get it through your gallant skull: I will never hurt you, understand? I will never hurt any of you."
"And why is that?" Off her glare, he adds scornfully, "Forgive me if I'm skeptical."
"Henry loves you," Regina says. The sick, writhing feeling that usually accompanies that knowledge is much quieter than it used to be. "I won't betray his trust."
"And what about Emma?" Charming presses.
"What about Emma?"
"You think we haven't noticed? She has magic. She has Henry. You've always hated her. It'd be awfully easy to get rid of her on one of these nice long magic lesson afternoons in the forest."
"Oh, like I got rid of Dr. Hopper?" Regina asks, and savors the sheepish expression the remark inspires on his stupidly handsome face. "If anyone or anything ever tries to harm Emma Swan," she goes on, "it will have to deal with me first. Henry loves her more than anything in the world, and that's reason enough to keep her safe."
Because the universe is cruel and unfair, Emma chooses this moment to come back into the room, wearing that ridiculously gigantic grey sweater she had on at the welcome back party at Granny's. It's obvious from her expression that she didn't go conveniently deaf through Regina's last statement.
"Don't take it personally," Regina adds to Emma, crossing her arms in front of her chest. She feels the stupidest inclination to blush.
"Um, nope," Emma says awkwardly. "Wasn't gonna."
Charming is staring at her like he has no idea what to make of her.
Might as well finish the thing off properly.
"If anyone or anything ever hurt Emma, it would break Henry's heart," Regina tells him, "and I will never let anything break Henry's heart. You know that feeling, don't you? You've got a family, after all." Charming still doesn't seem capable of developing a response more evolved than a stare. "I'm on your side now," Regina finishes. "Like it or not."
"I don't like it," Charming says quickly.
"Well, at least you're honest about your feelings." Regina gives him a parting smile, then nods to Emma. "Miss Swan. Shall we?"
"Yep," Emma says. "Don't wait up, Dad."
Charming yells after them (trying to lighten the mood, Regina assumes), "You know girls like that are only after one thing, right?"
Emma laughs, and even Regina has to bite her lip to keep from smiling.
"Henry doesn't love me more than – more than anything in the world, all right?" Emma says later as they walk through the forest together, leaves crunching under their feet. "He needs both of us. Don't sell yourself short."
"We're here to hone your magic," Regina answers brusquely. "Not for a good heart-to-heart."
Emma sighs. "Whatever."
Guilt stirs, inconveniently.
"Thank you," Regina murmurs.
"I would protect you too, you know," Emma says after a moment. "No matter what. I've got your back."
Regina tries to remember the last time someone promised her No matter what. Unconditional devotion has seldom come her way.
She wishes Emma didn't remind her of Daniel so much. It makes no sense at all. It's only that freedom seems to hang off Emma in much the same way, effortless and defiant and wonderful. It's hard to stand so close to freedom like that and not want to breathe it in.
Dealing with Snow is much worse than dealing with Charming.
The sight of her still sets Regina's blood sick in her veins. She hates everything about the sight of Snow White, but especially her eyes. Those eyes have always seemed so peaceful, so loving and wise, even when she was nothing more than a child. When they first met, Regina thought it was fascinating, that a young girl could have such a look about her. That fascination wasted no time in turning to hatred after what Snow did to Daniel.
But there's no sense in dwelling anymore. It seems they're doomed to stay in each other's lives one way or another. Might as well accept it. Might as well stop yearning to watch her die.
(If Henry knew. If Henry knew just what Regina feels every time she's in Snow White's presence, he would never speak to her, never even look at her again. And so she buries the feeling as deep as she can. She even wishes she could let go of it. She's never wanted that before.)
"David told me what you said to him," Snow says during one of those excruciating moments when they're briefly alone together. Regina wishes Snow would pay her the courtesy of ignoring her completely, but of course the girl's not capable of that small mercy.
"So he's David now? Pity. I thought Charming suited him."
"Must you always cling to the past so hard?"
Regina just stares at her.
"Okay," Snow admits, and smiles – a slight, weary smile. "Stupid question."
"I won't allow the past to interfere with the present," Regina says after taking a steadying breath. "That's done."
"Believe me," Regina says darkly, "you have nothing to thank me for."
"That's not true."
Impossible as ever.
"Well, don't thank me," Regina orders. "Nothing I've done has been for you."
"I know," Snow admits.
At least that's something.
"Once upon a time," Mary Margaret says, "I made a wish."
She and Emma are making pancakes. (Well. She's mostly making the pancakes. Emma occasionally stirs things.) David and Henry are still asleep.
Emma stops trying to stir, and watches her mother.
"You were on the way, and your father and I were so happy. It seems like nothing can ever touch you, when you're happy like that. Of course Regina's threat loomed, but it was hard to believe in it, with so much love in the world. And so once, I wished. That she could remember what it was like to love. That I could give her something, anything that would wake up her heart. If she loved someone, really loved someone, then surely she couldn't keep on causing so much pain. It seems impossible now, but I did love Regina for many years. She was a good liar, and the only mother I'd ever known, and – and I think she did care for me at first. She saved my life, the first time we met. Did I ever tell you that?"
"No," Emma says. It feels like a very insufficient answer, but she's not capable of much more at the moment.
"Well," Mary Margaret says, and smiles. "You know now. It's a good story."
"Why are you saying this?" Emma asks awkwardly. "Because, you know, you don't have to convince me that there's good somewhere deep down in Regina. I know. I get that. I mean, I get that it's deepdown, but still."
"I think I gave the world you, and you gave the world Henry. And that boy saved her soul. Some part of her will always love you for that, Emma."
"Um," Emma says.
"You three are a family," Mary Margaret says, and squeezes her shoulder. "I just want you to know that. You were alone and sad for a very long time, and – and so was she. So cherish each other."
"I'm not cherishing Regina," Emma says, and decides that the pang of sudden feeling she gets at the idea must be, like, crippling nausea.
"Well, I didn't say you had to be open about it," Mary Margaret says and smirks.
"Gross," Emma declares, and goes back to stirring pancake batter.
"I must admit, I'm jealous," Hook drawls, swaggering all over the drawing room. It appears Regina has finally done the seemingly impossible and found someone she hates more than Snow White. "You getting to spend so much time with the bewitching Emma Swan. Making magic."
"Don't be," Regina says. "She's hardly my ideal choice in company."
"Still, you must admit," Hook persists, taking a seat beside her. Regina grimaces. "She is a treasure."
"Is she?" Regina asks lightly.
"I'll strike you a deal. Once we've got this quaint little town bent to our will, and you've had it out with Miss Swan to your satisfaction, you leave what's left to me. Hmm? It must be very hard indeed, to take all the fight out of a girl like that. I love a good challenge."
"Oh, I don't plan to make it an unpleasant experience for her at all. Don't you worry."
"Well, in that case, you're an absolute gentleman."
Hook stares at her, a curiosity on his face that Regina doesn't like. "Protective of the little wife, are we?"
Regina doesn't let him see her bristle under the words. "I doubt she needs much protecting. But please. Try to make her your concubine. I look forward to witnessing her response."
"Concubine is such an ugly word," Hook says, feigning a wince. "I prefer ..." He pauses thoughtfully. "Hmm – love wench?"
"Much better," Regina scowls.
"Jealous?" Hook asks, his eyes gleaming. "Does your mother know about this ... fascination of yours?"
Regina is struck, all of a sudden, by the vision of her mother plunging her hand into Emma's chest. Claiming her heart.
But she can't, Regina reminds herself. She can't. Cora tried that, and she failed. Emma isn't like Daniel. Emma is safe.
"Don't worry," Regina says, putting on some of her old darkness, and smiles at Hook. "When it comes to Emma Swan, I'm more than willing to share."
"Deal," Hook agrees in a murmur that some might find attractive.
She looks forward to killing him. Slowly.
"Regina?" comes her mother's voice. "Do come help me with the apple pie. I don't have your flair for the domestic arts. I never quite picked up the knack of baking. It's hard to shake the idea that it's more the servants' domain."
She's practically thankful for the escape. But before she can go, Hook catches her hand in the one he has left and kisses it.
"I'll remember our bargain, milady," he says, dripping with false gallantry.
"I don't doubt it for a minute, Captain," Regina answers, her smile sharp as broken glass, and leaves him.
"Why did we never spend more time together like this when you were younger?" Cora muses, watching as Regina carefully dices apples.
Because you were far too busy disapproving of my every action and being cruel to my father and, oh yes, stealing hearts from everyone you could, Regina does not answer.
Instead, she puts on a smile and says, "I don't know. It's lucky we were given a second chance."
Her mother smiles at her – a fond smile, as close to genuine as Cora gets. Maybe she's even proud. At last, at long last, it makes Regina feel nothing at all.
Emma does Henry's laundry. Eleven's not so old.
She's checking all the pockets of Henry's sweatshirts, which she absolutely would have remembered to do even if Regina hadn't told her to. (Um. Probably.) Inside of one of them, there's a picture, folded in half. She unfolds it.
It's a picture of Henry and Regina, out on the lawn of the mayor's mansion. Henry is tiny – he can't be more than five – and Regina is crouched down beside him, her arms around him. She's not looking at the camera; her eyes are on Henry, and her mouth is open like she must have been saying something. They both look happy. Henry looks happy, and safe. He's looking at Regina with the thoughtless trust that all kids should have in their parents. It makes Emma realize how much time she's spent imagining Henry was miserable his entire life until the night he showed up at her door.
"Thank God," she mutters to herself, not even really sure why, as she looks at the picture.
"She always really loved me," Henry says, and Emma looks up to see him crossing the room. When he gets close enough, she puts an arm around him. "And for awhile, I was too young to understand the truth about her. I just thought she was my mom."
"She was your mom, kid."
"I know that now." He pauses. "I think that's why I took the picture with me. I didn't want to totally forget, you know?"
"I know," Emma says, squeezing his shoulders.
Henry looks down at the picture and smiles a little. "We took that with the camera timer, since there was never a third person around to help. It went off too soon."
Emma knows she should stop staring, but she's not sure if she can. "I didn't know she could look so ..."
"Yeah," Emma says softly.
It's quiet. Emma thinks of Regina, back in that cold house with those cold people. She hopes all of this will be over soon. Regina deserves some rest at last, and – and a farm, or something. (Not that Emma's been thinking about it.)
"She's pretty, huh?" Henry adds, and when Emma tears her eyes away from the picture to look back at him, she catches just a flash of a cheeky grin before he bounds off to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
"Oh, so now you want to brush your teeth!" Emma calls after him.
"Yep!" he answers merrily.
"Well – remember to floss!" Emma doesn't, ever, but that's beside the point.
She looks back down at the crumpled picture again. She gets that time stood still for that twenty-eight years, but Regina looks younger, smiling like that. She looks at Henry like he's her whole world, like she'd do anything for him and she could never ask for anything more.
Emma sighs, not sure what else to do with the sudden, happy flutter in her chest.
Regina catches sight of it the next time she comes over for dinner (while Charming and Snow are out on date night, thank God): an old picture of herself and Henry in a cheap plastic frame. Beneath the photo, the frame boasts the word FAMILY in big cheerful letters.
She reminds herself that evil queens quite simply do not go around weeping sentimentally all the time. Even if they are reformed.
"I always wondered what happened to that picture," Regina says instead.
"Henry had it," Emma replies. She knows just how much that means. Regina can tell.
"Oh," Regina says, determined not to betray her own dignity. She falls back on her favorite crutch: regal disdain. "Nice frame."
"I know it's not exactly up to your standards, Madame Mayor," Emma sasses. Regina rolls her eyes, but privately, she doesn't mind the nickname. It's certainly better than 'Your Majesty.' At least 'Madame Mayor' was something Regina chose. "But I don't know, I saw the frame on sale—"
"Clearance, no doubt."
"—and I thought it was kind of nice."
"It is," Regina admits. She presses a fingertip to four year old Henry's face. She doubts Emma is one to care about fingerprints.
"You think?" Emma says, sounding almost hopeful. Or perhaps Regina's imagining that.
"Kind of," Regina adds. She looks over at Emma and allows herself a slight smile to show she doesn't mean it.
Emma smiles back. She's inconveniently hard to dislike when she smiles.
"Henry," Regina calls, in need of a distraction. "Would you be so kind as to dump the apple pie on the counter down the garbage disposal?"
Emma stares at her. So does Henry; it's enough to tear his attention from the video game he was happily playing at the kitchen table.
"It's laced with poison," Regina explains. "The kind that turns its consumers into its baker's mindless slaves. Slowly."
"Cool!" Henry says.
"Should he really be handling that?" Emma asks, frowning. Regina can understand her concern. Henry and apple baked goods don't have the best history.
"He's not an infant, Miss Swan," Regina says.
"Yeah," Henry parrots, pleased. "I'm not an infant, Miss Swan."
"How about both of you shut up?" Emma suggests sweetly, ruffling Henry's hair.
Henry laughs – cackles a little, really (it does a mother proud) – and then grabs the pie and heads for the sink.
"The fact that your mom is willing to poison her own grandkid: deeply disturbing," Emma announces, quietly enough that Henry won't hear.
Regina sighs. "But hardly surprising."
Emma's hand absently brushes over Regina's arm, a gesture of comfort. Regina freezes, then immediately strives to seem as if she didn't.
"We've got to get you out of there," Emma says. "Soon."
"I can take it," Regina informs her crisply.
"Yeah, but you shouldn't have to."
"You don't have to worry about dessert anyway!" Henry calls from the kitchen over the sudden, merry roar of the garbage disposal. It's a welcome interruption. "Emma got a pie from the store!"
"A store-bought pie," Regina repeats, making sure that her inflection makes perfectly clear just what she thinks of that.
"It has Oreos in it!" Henry rattles on joyfully.
"Dear God," Regina says.
"Hey," Emma retorts. "It's not my fault that you're the culinary goddess of the family."
"Clearly magic's not the only thing you need lessons in."
"Yeah, well," Emma says, and gives her a grin that does truly inexplicable things to Regina, all at once and entirely without warning— "Teach me."
Then she's off in a flash of blonde curls. Regina suspects it must be a good sign, that Emma's found the motivation to style her hair properly again. Regina used to harbor long, elaborate fantasies of yanking on those curls, hard. Strangling Emma with them – slowly, slowly, deliciously slowly – and savoring the sound of her last breath.
Suddenly, she finds herself questioning the validity of those impulses. At the time, she'd thought them entirely homicidal.
Now, the fact that most of those imaginings involved Emma wearing that awful white wifebeater threatens to take on a whole new implication.
Well. There will be time to sort that out later.
"You coming?" Emma asks, throwing the words and a look over her shoulder from where she stands with Henry at the sink. She smiles.
It's hardly a proper invitation.
Regina accepts anyway.
After dinner, Emma asks Henry what they should do. Henry says he wants to read.
"Um," Emma says, and throws a look at Regina, "you mean the book?"
There's no way that's not going to be awkward. And kind of mean.
"Nah," Henry says, and Emma lets out a breath she hadn't even realized she was holding. "I just want a story."
Henry goes over to the bookshelf while Emma and Regina stand waiting. Emma tries not to stare at Regina, because whenever she does she finds herself thinking things like Who wears high heels inside? and That dress ... is a dress. (It is, for the record. A deep red wraparound dress that's definitely way too – well, way too something for dinner with the family. Emma guesses you can take the evil out of the Evil Queen, but not the wicked.)
"Do you have a problem, Miss Swan?" Regina asks sweetly. For all Emma knows, she has psychic powers too. Awesome.
"You're wearing high heels inside," Emma says, because that seems much more worthy of sharing than the dress part. "Who does that?"
Regina rolls her eyes. Emma's starting to want to keep a tally of all the times she gets her to do that. It always feels like a serious accomplishment.
"Here we go," Henry says, returning to them with the first Harry Potter book in his hands. He heads over to the bed, and Emma and Regina follow him. "I know neither of you has read these." He finishes off the announcement with an admonitory little glare that's equal parts adorable and, okay, kind of intimidating.
"I have been a little too busy for recreational reading, Henry," Regina points out, slipping out of her heels.
"I saw a few of the movies," Emma volunteers, after a moment's distraction. (Not that she was distracted by Regina taking off her shoes, because why would she be? That would just be ... weird.)
"Still," Henry says firmly. "Now we have time. We're reading all of them."
"All of them?" Emma has seen Harry Potter books before. She imagines the fifty thousand hours or so it will take to get that done.
"Oh dear," Regina mutters.
"Get comfortable," Henry orders. Emma sits down on his left side, while Regina takes the right. "We can take turns reading. I'll go first. 'Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much ...'"
Emma sneaks a look at Regina over Henry's head. She's already looking at Emma, and the expression on her face is this mix of exasperation and love that Emma completely gets. Emma smiles slightly at her. Regina returns it. They both settle in to listen.
Three chapters in, they've all had a turn to read. Emma's attempts at British accents made Henry laugh and Regina bust out the most long-suffering sigh in all of history. Emma expected a lot of unenthusiastic monotone from Regina, but she's surprised: sure, Regina reading isn't exactly a great big inflection party, but her voice is smooth and soothing, almost melodious. Henry drifts off to sleep as Regina is just beginning chapter four.
His head droops onto Regina's shoulder. Regina looks down at him with so much love and surprise that it makes Emma's heart ache.
This is right, she thinks, without really meaning to. She doesn't take the time to examine the words. It's enough just knowing they're true.
Regina kisses the top of Henry's head, then stares down at the book again.
"Don't cheat," Emma admonishes, quiet enough that it won't wake Henry.
"I want to know what the letters say," Regina murmurs back, flipping a few pages forward.
"I'm thinking they probably have something to do with the fact that he's a wizard."
"Seriously? You didn't know that? Man. You have been busy."
"Exacting eternal vengeance isn't exactly a part-time job, you know."
"I know," Emma says.
Inevitably, that turns things a little melancholy.
"I look forward," Regina says nonchalantly to the bedspread, "to having a lot more spare time in the future."
"Good," Emma says. Hastily, she adds, "'Cause we're gonna need a lot more spare time if we're going to have the full Potter experience."
"Which we are," Regina sighs. "He is nothing if not determined."
"Gee. I wonder where he got that from."
Regina laughs quietly. "Both of us, I should think."
Emma smiles. "Yeah. I guess so." She looks down at Henry. He's breathing in and out, slow and even. "Tonight was nice," she confesses, feeling stupidly brave.
"Yes," Regina agrees, meeting her eyes, sounding almost timid, "it was."
They stare at one another. Regina's eyes are so full of honest feeling – hopeful, and almost sweet – that for a second, Emma can't imagine her being anything but good.
When David and Mary Margaret come home, it's to find Emma, Regina, and Henry asleep on the bed.
"I get that they walked in on us, and we deserve some payback," David mutters, "but this is still too disturbing."
"Aw," Mary Margaret says meanwhile.
"Really?" David demands. "'Aw'?"
"Aw," Mary Margaret says firmly.
David sighs. "How many chances are we going to give her?"
"I get the feeling she's not going to need any more. Besides." Mary Margaret considers Regina. She looks more peaceful than Mary Margaret has ever seen her before – and after all, they've known each other a very long time. "She earned this one."
"When she asks for our daughter's hand in marriage," David says after a moment, "you're the one who gets to have that conversation."
"Agreed," Mary Margaret says wryly, and smiles.