"You ruined my life!” Regina snaps, all righteous fury and flashing eyes, and it’s enough to probably discourage anyone intelligent from provoking her again.

Emma isn’t intelligent around Regina when they’re fighting, she’s reactionary and confrontational and she doesn’t think much about what’s sensible as much as she does matching Regina’s retort. “You were dating the guy for a week!” she hurls back, frustrated at the truth of it. They’ve spent years struggling to get to the place they’d been in before she’d saved Marian, and now some new boyfriend can’t be enough to leave them as enemies. It’s absurd, even by Storybrooke standards. Whatever they’d built together has to mean more than Regina’s love life.

“He was my soulmate!”

She’s heard this from Mary Margaret and she sees it in the way he looks at Regina, like he’s itching to drop Marian in an instant and rejoin Regina. Sometimes in those moments she wonders what she’d really done for Marian by bringing her here. “At least you have one of those!” she says, which is not what she’d meant to say at all. And her mouth keeps running, and she’s saying, “All I have is—” before she can stop herself.

She flushes beet-red. This isn’t how she’s supposed to be thinking of her own boyfriend. It’s good, she likes Hook well enough and she doesn’t need or want something so permanent as a soulmate. She doesn’t. “Let’s, um…we should go figure out where Elsa went.”

She looks up. Regina is still silent, staring at her with sharp eyes, and she actually looks…not hostile. Maybe even concerned, if Emma can believe that Regina ever would be. Almost like I hope you’re bringing backup had maybe been concern too.

She sinks down onto a fallen tree trunk nearby, the sympathy on Regina’s face even more difficult to accept than the fury had been. “I thought you were happy,” Regina says from behind her.

"I was. I am. Killian’s a good–" She remembers a moment too late that he’d been involved in Greg and Tamara’s capture and torture of the woman she’s speaking to (How had she forgotten that?) and reconsiders. "He’s good to me. It’s nice to have someone in my camp, you know?"

"No," Regina says flatly, and Emma purses her lips together. "I don’t."

The sense of unfairness wells up again, and this isn’t right. This isn’t what they’ve come to. “Like hell you don’t. I’ve been in your camp since the first curse broke.” And Regina hadn’t even deserved it then, had just tried to poison her, and she’d done it anyway. For Henry. For the look in Regina’s eyes when she’d told him she loved him in the hospital. (That look consumes her sometimes even now, desperate and drowning in so much love that Regina had never dared bare around her before. It had been the first time Regina had been real in front of her and she’d remembered it all over again when she’d emerged from that well and gotten a reluctant welcome back and a smile from her.) “I’ve been trying to help you. Again! And if you’d rather be alone, then…”

She stops, unable to finish that sentence with anything sincere. She can give Regina space, yeah. She can’t give up on her, and she’d rather lose this argument than hear Regina tell her to.

Regina is quiet for so long that Emma thinks she’d left until she hears the rustling of leaves and Regina steps delicately over to sit down beside her. And still, silence.

Emma’s talking again before she can stop herself. “I…yes. I’m happy. Everything’s working out for me. I have my family and…and Killian,” she says, and tries to make the word so infused with joy that it emerges manic. Regina breathes out something that sounds like a snort if Emma’s on the defensive. She concentrates very hard on not being on the defensive.

And fails. “He loves me. He’s attractive and available and I care about him, and the list of people who fit all three of those qualifications is…one. Two,” she corrects herself, and Regina arches an eyebrow. “But you don’t seem very interested.” The eyebrow grows higher, and Emma thinks she can catch a tinge of dark brown high on Regina’s cheeks. “And he is. So I’m interested back now. And we’re dating and that’s good and honestly the only thing that isn’t good about my personal life is that my…my…” She almost says friend but she’s suddenly afraid that she’ll get a scornful We were never friends and she doesn’t want to deal with what that might mean to her. “I want you to be happy, too,” she says instead.

Regina is still quiet and Emma sighs, kicking at a stray branch with the front of her toe. “I also want you to talk to me but that seems unlikely.”

When she looks up, Regina is rolling her eyes at her. But then she speaks and it’s careful. “You didn’t ruin my life.”

Emma says, “You ruined mine,” because she’s an idiot and still defensive and thinking up retorts five minutes after they’re just going to get in the way of progress.

But now Regina isn’t as angry anymore and they’re always simpler when they aren’t angry, when one of them can center the other before they spiral into chaos. “Yes.” There’s a hint of sorrow in her voice, like maybe she’s thought of it before. And Emma thinks about Regina working night and day to save Marian from a second death and wonders if she’s been taking stock of her victims now.

But then Regina says, “And you took my happy ending away,” and maybe nothing has changed. She licks her lips and twists to face Regina and Regina puts a hand on her arm before she can argue with that. “You took Henry from me,” she points out, and Emma’s anger ebbs as Regina’s voice rises. “You had me dependent on you and your family for everything. For acceptance. For my life. For my son’s love and safety! And then I found something of my own and you…” Her knees are pressed together and she locks her arms around her thighs and she’s suddenly deflated and small, like she’s only just a woman.

Emma whispers, “Oh.” And there can be so much resentment on both sides. They can be enemies and it would make perfect sense, they could hate each other and never sit in the woods and try to understand each other.

But instead there’s this, both of them hesitant and struggling to know what they don’t offer to the world, and Regina says in a half-cracked voice, “I’m just…trying to make my own destiny.”

She’d said that last year to Zelena, Emma recalls. She’d blasted Zelena with a surge of white magic and she’d been…incredible that day, everything they’d needed, and she’d saved them all.

It had taken two days and Emma’s intervention to stop her from believing it now.

She feels guilt and the desire to push back again, bring up missed childhoods and poison apples and a year of Regina treating her like trash to be taken out of her town. They’re not even, they’ll never be even, and Regina has no right to hate her now.

Except that’s not how this works, they’re past petty competitions of counting up what they’ve gained and lost, and all she wants is for Regina to win this one. To feel like she’s in control again. And pushing back is what Regina needs, but not like that. Like…

"So you dated your destined soulmate?" she says, skeptical, and Regina’s head jerks up to stare at her. "That’s how you’ve been making your own destiny?"

Regina’s eyes narrow. “I liked him.”

Emma holds up a hand. “Let me guess.” She ticks them off on her fingers. “Attractive, available, and you cared about him.” When she lists them at Regina they sound dry, like a list to check off that isn’t about emotion as much as it’s comfort. Safety in a stable choice, and her stomach sinks at how easily Hook comes to mind as only that. Maybe he could be more someday. Maybe she’s ready for that.

But then Regina murmurs, “Only two people in this town fit all three of those qualifications,” and that idea falls apart in an instant. Emma feels a funny warmth in her chest, like she’s minutes away from something life-altering and she can see it with clarity as it approaches. And she can duck it and run or she can…

There’s trepidation in Regina’s eyes when they begin to move closer to each other, fear that Emma knows must be mirrored in her own. And this feels like…like it would be permanent. As though once it starts it’s it for them and she’ll never be able to stop it. The train is already leaving the station and even now, jumping off it is as daunting a prospect as staying on.

She reaches out before they move any closer and touches Regina’s lips with the tips of her fingers, traces them carefully while Regina watches her with eyes as soft as they’d been when she’d told Henry she loved him in the hospital, so long ago. And her lips are smooth and painted perfectly and they smudge against Emma’s fingers and Emma feels breathless and terrified under Regina’s gaze.

"Let’s go find your friend," Regina says, sounding a little breathless herself, and there’s less resentment when she refers to Elsa now. "We have work to do."

She’s glad for a delay. She regrets it already. She needs to talk to Hook before they… “After this is done,” she says. “All of it. Once this new witch is gone…we should…get a drink. Or something.” She isn’t stumbling over her words. Maybe a little.

And Regina smiles, tentative but bright. “How’d you like a glass of the best apple cider you’ve ever tasted?” she asks, and they begin again.

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