A/N: So, this fic was inspired by the song Snuff by Slipknot. It will be the underlying theme for the entire story as I imagined the entire thing in a split second in the middle of the song. If you haven't listened to it, I would suggest it. It's beautiful.
Also, if anyone feels inspired to make a video of Emma and Regina to that song, I'd be eternally grateful as it does not yet exist to my knowledge.
(Annoyingly obvious disclaimer that applies to every single chapter about owning nothing and gaining no monetary benefit for my effort to amuse myself and others by providing some much needed SwanQueen feels.)
Emma was dumbfounded. Mary Margaret and David had warned her of the dangers of messing with magic, but she allowed her naïve notion of being the Savior to dismiss their years of experience. Now, they were gone and still correct in their warning. Magic came with a price. She nearly laughed hysterically as she thought quite involuntarily that someone should make a drinking game for that phrase. They were gone, and it was her own fault. She'd lost her parents again, orphaned by her own actions.
Movement across the room caught her attention. Regina stood slowly, as unbelieving as her that Mary Margaret had just sacrificed herself to save the Evil Queen. Unshed tears shimmered in Regina's soulful eyes as she stared at the old dusty top hat. Despite her shock and loss, Emma's heart clenched for the damaged woman barely holding herself together. Regina was right. She wasn't evil, but bad things happened when she was around. She would certainly be blamed for intentionally pushing the Charmings into the portal, which more than likely would lead to their demise.
"Mom!" Henry squawked from the door. Ruby entered only a second behind him.
Regina flinched and wiped at her face, not daring to look at the boy. He'd never love her now. He'd blame her for his grandparents' disappearance. Emma moved first, somehow pulling from her stupor. She grabbed Henry before he reached Regina and dragged him from Town Hall by the scruff of his neck. Neither he nor Ruby saw Regina's face, her tears, her self-inflicted torture, and their presence would only do more harm than good. Ruby's forehead wrinkled in confusion but she followed without question.
"Ruby, I need a huge favor," Emma implored before she'd even made it out of the doors.
"Of course, Emma, anything," Ruby answered in typical Ruby fashion, always eager to be of use and desperate to prove that her life had worth.
"I need you to get Henry out of town. Not completely because we don't know what the border will do to those who were cursed, but somewhere safe," Emma pleaded as Henry struggled against her hold.
"Emma, I'm not leaving you alone with the Evil Qu…" he started.
"Enough!" Emma flinched at her deep, gravelly voice that sounded more like Regina's than hers. She was confused as all hell, but the one thing that was crystal clear was the fact that Regina hadn't been the Evil Queen in a very long time. She was only a broken woman.
"Henry," she softened her voice. "I know you're scared right now. I am, too, because I know a lot of people are thinking exactly what you are thinking right now. Regina is not the Evil Queen anymore, okay, Kid." She knelt in front of him, forcing him to hear her and see the truth in her eyes.
"But she… David and Mary Margaret?" He tried to make sense of what he'd seen.
"It was an accident, Henry," Emma's voice cracked as her emotions caught up with her.
"Look, Kid, I need you to go with Ruby. I'm going to help your mom, but I can't do that if I'm worrying about you all the time. There are some people who might try to use you to get to her. Do you understand?" He nodded but remained silent. "And I'm going to do everything I can to Mary Margaret and David back, but right now, I have to deal with a town that could turn into an angry riot at any moment. It's not going to be pretty, and I can't put you in harm's way."
"You can't trust her, Emma," Henry convinced himself of Regina's guilt and then sniffed.
"I have to, or this whole thing is going to blow up in my face. Look," she sighed in frustration. He was 11 years old; she didn't have to explain herself to her son. "Just go with Ruby, okay? Come back to town once a week to check in."
She tipped her head to look at the young waitress. Did Ruby seem exhausted? No, she looked haunted. Emma made a mental note to ask Ruby about her fairytale self when she had the luxury of time. Right now, they had an advantage because no one else knew about the portal and the loss of their prince and princess. Emma had time to formulate a plan for once instead of simply reacting to what had been thrown at her from the catapult of life.
"Ruby… I… Henry, go wait in Ruby's car." She wrapped her arms around Henry's small frame and hugged him tightly, fighting the tears that so desperately needed to fall. He squeezed her back and then sluggishly obeyed her command.
"Emma," Ruby whispered, unsure what to do with her hands as she fidgeted and coiled with tension.
"Ruby, it's going to get really bad, isn't it?" Emma didn't need an answer.
"Are you going to get her back?" Ruby finally asked, her own fears pulling to the surface now that Henry was out of sight. Mary Margaret was one of her closest friends, and now that Ruby had recovered her memories of the Enchanted Forest, Emma watched deeper veins of pain and love trace Ruby's face. Ruby was in love with her mother. Emma jerked at the realization but shook off her shock quickly. They needed to move.
"I'm going to try, but I know that I need Regina to do it. It really was an accident, Ruby." She squeezed the young girl's shoulder. Ruby's face lifted towards the ceiling as she fought tears.
"I'll keep him safe, Emma. He's family," Ruby declared bravely, back stiffening as her sense of duty and honor returned to her, as though anyone would contradict Snow's right hand. Her eyes hardened with the realization of her task of protecting Snow's grandson, and Emma inhaled sharply at the transformation.
"I know you will, Ruby. Thank you. I can't trust anyone else right now," Emma admitted quietly. Ruby nodded, hugged her quickly and then marched out the door.
Emma watched her leave, amazed at the unwavering loyalty she commanded simply by being Snow White's daughter. If she'd just been Emma, orphan and small town sheriff, would she have been granted the same? Emma shook off the thought as soft taps clicked towards her from the next room.
"So, you're going to keep me alive long enough to save your idiot parents," Regina stated as violet flared in her eyes.
"Regina, I'm tired," Emma admitted softly and shoved her hands in her front pockets. She had nothing left to offer the fight that would surely transpire if she justified Regina's indignity and self-deprecation with a retort. "Come on."
Emma didn't bother looking to see if Regina followed. Her stilettos tapped smartly behind her, and even if they didn't, Emma knew that Regina would have followed anyway. She was scared, even if she hid it behind her bravado and magical flare. Emma saw it when she first put Regina behind bars and again when she was attacked by the wraith the first time. She saw more than fear only minutes ago when she thought Emma would immediately retaliate and accuse her of intentionally pushing her parents into the portal.
They walked for an entire block before Regina spoke again.
"Emma?" The sheriff failed to respond. "Sheriff Swan?" Regina tried again, a hard edge in her voice.
"What?" Emma whirled in her and glared. She had nothing left to give. Couldn't this infuriating woman see that or was her plan to break her right here and now? She could if she'd wanted to. Emma probably wouldn't have even fought her. Regina winced, and Emma immediately felt guilt creep into her stomach.
"I… was just going to ask if you could slow down. I assume I am going back to that filthy hovel of a jail?" She sniffed and held her head higher at the indignity of the thought of spending another night in that place.
Emma rolled her eyes and cocked her hip to the side as her hands settled on her waist.
"Got a better idea, Your Majesty?" Emma tossed carelessly at the former royal.
"A few, but none that end in your favor, Miss Swan," Regina lobbed at her immediately, but it lacked her usual bite and sounded desperate rather than threatening. Regina must have heard the lack of icy chill in the statement because she straightened immediately and sniffed, gathering the remnants of her emotional walls.
"Regina, please," Emma's bravado deflated as her own emotions threatened to overwhelm her again.
"What, Savior? Can you possibly be deluded enough to believe that I would assist you in any way?" Emma's jaws clenched at Regina's harsh tone.
"Fine!" Emma rallied, turning her pain into an anger that would burn brightly until she could breathe again.
She grabbed her cuffs from her belt pouch and slapped one around Regina's wrist before the former royal reacted to the unexpected action. She struggled against the restraints but ultimately knew that she posed no physical threat to the much more robust sheriff. A moment of panic slipped into her chest when she realized that her magic wasn't obeying her commands. She felt it roiling beneath the surface, begging to be released but refusing to listen to her instruction. A whimper escaped her lips when the cold steel cut into both of her wrists.
"If you won't help me, then I'll leave you to the angry mob while I save my parents," Emma hissed into her ear as she jerked her head back with a tight fist in dark brown locks.
"Em…ma," her name slipped through Regina's lips in a strangled plea.
Emma froze momentarily as the disgust and guilt of her loss of control pulled through her chest and stomach in an angry wave. She swallowed roughly and then released Regina's hair. A small crowd had gathered on the other side of the street, a few dwarfs and Dr. Hopper included. Emma clenched her jaw in frustration. Why couldn't they just stay out of everyone else's business? She hated small towns for this exact reason.
"Regina, I'm sorry," she whispered and then nudged the mayor forward. Regina understood her silent plea to not argue or make a scene and begrudgingly took a few steps forward.
"Take them off, Emma," Regina's voice stayed low enough to remain silent to those watching, but Emma recognized the growing panic in her tone.
"I will, I promise, just not yet," She gripped the small chain between the cuffs as they slowly inched away from the prying eyes of the citizens of Storybrooke, curse victims of the Enchanted Forest.
Regina released a shaky breath, trying to trust the birthmother of her child. Emma felt the violent tremors in Regina's hands and hesitantly brushed her thumb over her knuckles. Regina sighed, so she repeated the gentle soothing motion and surprised both of them when they calmed marginally by the small show of support and compassion. By the time they reached the sheriff's station, Emma was boldly gripping the hand of her nemesis in her own in an odd sort of handshake that was more intimate than anything they'd ever shared with each other.
"Just another minute, Regina," Emma whispered, acutely aware of the gathering crowd now openly following them to the sheriff's station and also of Regina's worsening limp. Had she injured herself during the wraith attack?
Emma practically shoved her inside the door. She let go of her hand, immediately disappointed with the lack of contact and made a show of locking the front door from the inside and then slipping a broom handle into the handles for good measure. The crowd erupted, some cheering and others calling for blood. She was honestly surprised that they'd remained quiet this long, but perhaps they feared Regina's power had returned and only found their bravado once she was tucked out of sight.
"Regina," Emma whispered as warning and then grabbed the chain between the two cuffs again. It took another moment to fish the keys from her pocket and slide them into the small hole.
The crowd increased in volume, and Emma sighed. Regina was right; her parents were idiots. They blindly followed each other to hell and back and hoped their kingdom remained intact in the interim. Regina had done some awful things, but she'd never abandoned her people to follow a whimsical fantasy such as true love. Emma stalled at the thought, long enough that Regina turned the key herself and released her hands. She whipped around in a dramatic fashion that only Regina could manage and pinned Emma with her eyes.
They were completely black in the darkness of the unlit hallway, but somehow Emma felt they were still so very full of emotion. Regina waved her hand and opened her mouth as though she may speak, but the notion retreated as quickly as it came. She simply turned and limped towards the main room with the two small cells. Emma followed, unsure of what else to do. It was going to be a long night.