My attempt to collect all the chapters in one place. Initially prompted by Black-throatedblue to do "something atmospheric about spring," though this story continues to evolve into much more than that. Not canon-compliant with season 4b. Title borrowed from Emily Dickinson's "'Hope' is the thing with feathers."
The wind changed, the days grew longer, the world unfolded in a series of tiny awakenings, and Regina wanted nothing more than to draw her blinds against the beauty, against the signs of new life that hounded her so insistently, and retreat behind the walls she had built for herself.
As long as Storybrooke had been paralyzed by winter, she had been able to convince herself that she was fine – everything was fine – had seized onto Henry and the mayoral office and, gods, even the Charmings, wrapping herself in distractions like layers against the cold. She filled hour after hour with paperwork, small talk over hot chocolate (or, more often than not, a good merlot), anything that would keep thoughts of what she had lost – what she had let go, like he was a wild animal who had always belonged to the woods more than to her – tamped down in a place she could easily (not easily, never easily, but she could try) sidestep.
And if his voice, his scent, his laughing blue eyes sometimes came to her in the night, well, they were hazy things, half-remembered, and she never could be certain that she had been visited by them at all.
Fire had always been her strength – oh, she knew how to burn, knew how burning had kept her alive for years – but she had welcomed the frost, the occasional snowfalls, the way winter seemed endless when one was in the midst of it, had let it smother her fire until she could blessedly feel nothing much at all, letting hours trudge into days, days into weeks of willful patience – denial, some would say – as if they were all suspended in time, some dark curse settling over them once again.
Now the town was leaking meltwater, and everything that had been stripped bare was beginning to bloom again, the colors breaking open in the night so that she found herself faced with unfamiliar bursts of pinks and yellows as she walked Henry to the bus stop. The greens that budded over the ground and along the arms of trees were so bright – so…something – they hurt to look at, and as much as she kept her head down, blinded herself to the early crocuses, pretended the long hours of daylight didn't leave her nervously eyeing the clock for the moment it was dark enough for her to slink home without being reminded every other step of how long, exactly, it had been since he disappeared into the world beyond the town line. How much time had slipped away since he had nearly taken her along with him – like he had taken all of her hopes, and all of her heart – fingers pulling against her hand with all his strength, and still not enough to move her.
She felt the heat creeping along her bones as winter receded, her magic closer to the surface than it had been in months, and the soft breezes, the delicate touches of spring, could only stoke her higher, higher, until she was roaring under her own skin, lighted by a ceaseless fever that had Snow (and Emma, and Henry) frowning with concern, guarding their tongues as if they knew she was one word away from becoming wildfire.
As if they knew Regina would do more than burn this time, if she got loose.
She was wary, stuck to the safest paths and routines that she knew, and still, one afternoon, she turned the corner that led away from Granny's and felt her knees abruptly buckle as all the smells of the forest blew past her – pine and wet soil and firepit ashes – and, as her coffee splashed over the sidewalk and she reached out to break her fall, she saw that smoke was curling outwards from her hands, halfway to a flame.
Despite the panic in her lungs, the sickening lightheadedness that had her squeezing her eyes shut, she managed to pull herself together long enough to teleport to the safest place she could think of, her knees finally hitting the cold, colorless tiles of her office.
For a few bottomless moments she could only heave breaths in and out, eyes and fists clenched shut painfully until she felt somewhat grounded again. She unfolded herself in degrees, blinked away the salt from the corners of her eyes – the smoke, she told herself resolutely, it was only the smoke that had brought on irritated tears – and stepped unsteadily over to the window that overlooked her apple tree.
She twisted the lock and eased it open, the frame creaking with disuse, and let the air wash over her, never sure if she was merely trying to breathe more easily or if she wanted to fuel the fire in her bones, but she stood and wondered and watched the birds flit from one branch to another, calling to each other joyously as they stretched their wings.
She almost missed the bird closest to her until it sang, and the sight of its red breast caught in her throat like a pebble.
Her hands flashed out warningly, but there was no smoke this time, and the startled, wounded noise she made only drew the attention of the robin, causing it to cock its head just so, and suddenly she was trembling again, pinned under its curious gaze.
It nudged closer to her along the branch and chirruped, a drifting set of notes that upturned at the end, so like his playful milady that she surprised herself with a laugh, found herself leaning closer to hear his words more clearly.
It was everything her mother warned her about, everything that she had spent a lifetime steeling herself against, and yet it didn't feel like foolishness at all when she told the robin, softly, "I've missed you too."