"OW! God – what the – Robin get off you're squishing me!"
"Hey! No need to shove, I didn't mean to."
Robin rolled off Regina, smacking his back hard on the wet grass as Regina sat up and rubbed the back of her head absently, her brow knitting in annoyance and confusion.
They sat in an open stretch of green grass, trees and bushes encircling them. It must have been some park in Storybrooke, one Regina had never bothered to visit with Henry for it's lack of a playground, so at least they made it out of the Enchanted Forest – or rather Isaac's twisted version of that realm.
Oh god – the alternate reality! They survived, she survived. Regina shot a glance at Robin, splayed out on the ground, and he seemed to register the same thought she had just had. Robin launched off the ground and threw himself at her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, clinging to her, tangling his fingers in her hair as he tucked his face in the crook of her neck and breathed in her scent.
"You're alive," he muttered, and she laughed softly, tears briefly wetting her eyes as the memory of everything they'd just lived through flashed through her mind. Bandits, an evil Snow, Robin and Zelena, a sword, pain, blood, Henry….
"Wait, where are we?" Regina pushed back from Robin slightly, still holding his arms firmly. "Where's Henry? Where's Emma?"
The couple looked around the misty park, not another soul around them. The sky gloomed a dark grey and the air was damp, rainfall clearly in their future. It was eerily quiet, almost unsettling, as if a single noise might wake the dead.
They pushed off the wet grass together and Regina held tight to Robin's arm as they walked towards a nearby path, hoping it would lead them to town, or to someone else who was dropped near them on their return to Storybrooke.
"I thought once Isaac's plan was undone, we'd return as if nothing had happened. Shouldn't we be where we were when we left - In the middle of town?"
Robin shrugged, as oblivious to their situation as Regina. They walked for a moment in confused silence, their hushed exhaling the only sound between them. It was cold enough that they could see their breath, but that didn't seem right. It was just the end of summer, not nearly cold enough for a heavy jacket let alone visible breath. Still, the wind was ice, and it cut through Regina's thin clothes, stung her cheeks and made her eyes run.
This isn't right, this doesn't make sense.
As they marched through the cold, the cover of dense trees began to thin and they could see that down their path was a larger opening than the one they had fallen into. The fear that had been weighing in Regina subsided as she recognized where they were – in the forest that surrounded the Storybrooke cemetery. They were on the opposite side of her vault and, as they stepped into the clearing, they could see the small stone building across the open plot of headstones.
They stopped in their tracks as their eyes fell on a large group of people standing in a cluster, black clothes covered by black umbrellas.
"What the…" Regina's voice trailed off as they approached the cluster of strangers. What happened? Did someone already die? Everyone just got back…
Robin inhaled sharply and yanked Regina's arm, pulling her behind a large bush that sat at the edge of the cemetery. Regina moved to protest, to tell him he pulled too hard and had hurt her, but he instantly shushed her. She looked at him in bewilderment, but his eyes were wide with shock, with fear, with something unrecognizable.
"Regina," Robin breathed, his jaw clenching between his words, "How are you standing beside me, and also walking towards me?"
Regina whipped her head to follow Robin's gaze, and her eyes landed on a small group indeed walking towards them - no, towards the crowd of black. Her eyes first fell on Henry and Emma, tucked under their own umbrella and dressed entirely in black, followed by Charming and Snow, and then a Zelena and…. Regina.
She was almost unrecognizable, a large dark hat atop her head, a sweeping cloak thrown over one shoulder, tall leather boots that met her pencil skirt at her knees, though it wasn't the clothes that were strange so much as the look on her face. She looked emotionless, frozen and numb, robotic but somehow broken.
"That's not possible," Regina said, her mind racing in time with the pounding of her heart. She watched herself step in front of the large group, though she never said a word, just turned and faced the coffin sitting before her, with Henry and Emma close by her side.
What is going on? How is she looking at herself, and Henry, and Emma, and the rest of her family? They weren't in Isaac's book anymore, Henry fixed that, they should be back in Storybrooke, exactly where they were when they were sucked into that alternate reality…
"Regina, I- I don't understand," Robin muttered, slowly shaking his head as he squeezed Regina's fingers absently.
"We must have time jumped, the way Emma and Hook did after Zelena died – or fake died," Regina explained, huffing her annoyance, "I guess Isaac's magic as the author was unstable and didn't return us to the right time."
"So did everyone else make it back?" Robin asked, hugging Regina to his hip. "Why are we the only ones who time travelled?"
"Who knows, but we should get out of here before we learn too much about our future. It appears someone we all know is dying." Regina's heart clenched at the thought of losing someone close enough to her that she should look so stone faced at their funeral. Though who could it be? Henry was there, Emma, the Charmings, even Zelena, the strangest of all the guests she'd seen approach.
"So how do we do that exactly?"
Regina paused, her eyes never leaving the sombre scene happening in front of her. "We need Emma, she's time travelled before, maybe she knows how to get us back."
"Alright, so we wait for the funeral to be over and we get her alone, ask her to send us home."
Regina nodded as she watched the last of the train of people join the crowd standing before the closed coffin. A man stepped forward, one Regina knew to be a part of Robin's Merry Men, though she didn't know his name, with something long and round dangling from a strap at his wrist. A quiver, stuffed full with arrows.
The man slowly pulled a single arrow from the quiver and placed it on the coffin in front of him before turning to face the crowd, taking his time to give a single arrow to each person before him. When he got to Regina, Henry stepped in front and took one for her, and they locked eyes for a moment before she dropped hers to the coffin again. Each person Regina knew took an arrow, Emma, Snow, Charming, Zelena, but one person didn't. One person wasn't there, wasn't standing beside her holding her hand, wasn't standing with his son, who was tucked in front of Little John's legs.
Regina took Robin's hand and squeezed, to reassure her that he was there with her. He was here with her, but he wasn't there, across the cemetery with the other Regina. If this was the future, and Regina was alone at a funeral, looking so numb and heartbroken….
"Oh god," Regina whispered, her throat tightening, stopping any other words from slipping through her lips. Her jaw fell slack, her stomach dropping to the muddy ground beneath her. She tried to force the words out but she couldn't, the panic swelling in her chest was too much and she choked and stuttered. Robin stiffened beside her, his grip on her hand tightening as he spoke for her.
"This is my funeral."
Regina shook her head, her words leaving her, her thoughts blending together to incoherent mush. This wasn't possible. This couldn't be happening. The horror was too much, the panic flooded her vision, blurred the world before her, pulled the air from her lungs, and for a moment she worried that she might pass out.
The other Regina was the last to place her arrow on Robin's coffin, and the crowd instantly began to thin, leaving her and the Charming's alone with their lost family member. Soon Zelena took Regina's arm and lead her away from the gloom of the cemetery. Only Emma remained, lonesome only for a moment before Hook was behind her, out of thin air it seem, Regina swore he wasn't there a moment ago, and the blonde turned and threw herself on the pirate, locking their lips quite dramatically.
"What the hell is that about?" Robin pinched his brow and darted his eyes from the couple to Regina, who simply shrugged, welcoming the distraction from the hysteria running wild inside her. The soul mates locked eyes from a moment and nodded, wordlessly deciding that it was now or never, that they needed to get out of here.
"Regina?" Emma said, watching the couple sprint from behind their hiding place, and then as she looked over her friend's shoulder her face fell, eyes widening with shock. "Wait – Robin?"
Emma's eyes bounced back and forth between the couple and the coffin beside her, horror spreading across her face as she tried to come to her own conclusion.
"Emma stop," Regina cut in, her voice shaking despite her desperate need for composure. "It's not us, we're not-" She waved her hand towards the coffin, losing the words she needed. "We time travelled, like the two of you did. Except we're from the past."
"You time travelled forward?" Hook asked, scepticism flowing from him. "Please tell me you didn't kill an innocent babe just to see what your future has in store because-"
"Is now the time?!" Regina cut in, shooting daggers from her eyes at the pirate before turning to Emma. Her one hand shook as she pointed to the coffin while the other pressed to her stomach. "What the hell happened?"
Emma bit her bottom lip, looking from Regina and Robin to Hook, and obvious guilt flooded her eyes, dragging the corners of her mouth down.
"It's a long story."
"So let me get this straight: You became the Dark One, made Hook a Dark One to save his life, killed him to save everyone else, dragged all of us to the Underworld to save him again, and brought the Lord of the Underworld back, so Robin could die?"
Regina's brow furrowed and eyes blazed as she stared at Emma, who kicked at the dirt beneath her nervously. "Hey, I never forced any of you to come with me! I begged you to leave!"
"Robin is dead, Emma!" Regina threw her arm out towards the grave beside her, but relaxed after Robin flinched at her side. She intertwined her fingers with his and squeezed gently, rubbing circles with her thumb on the back of his hand to relax him.
"I already feel like shit Regina, you don't have to rub it in!" Emma stepped towards her friend but stopped as Hook placed his hand on her arm.
"We are going to fix this." Regina's voice wavered, her sorrow and guilt welling in the back of her throat. As much as she wanted to blame Emma, she couldn't. This was her own fault; Robin was going to die protecting her. He was going to die, giving up everything because he loved her, a fate all of her loved ones would meet, it seemed.
"Regina, you can't–"
"I am not going back knowing that this is my future!" Regina screamed, and Emma coward away from her, tucking into Hook's side. Regina's eyes burned holes into the couple in front of her, and she clenched her fists at her sides to keep from lashing out at them. "Robin doesn't deserve this. Or Roland. Or the baby. Or me."
"Well what do you suppose we do, love?" Hook cocked an eyebrow, and it boiled Regina's fury further. He was testing her; he knew she didn't have a plan. And honestly she didn't, how could she stop this? How could she save the man she loves and stop Hook from dying in the first place? She ran through the events that were yet to happen, pinpointing a moment that she could change, the moment that started all of this chaos that was yet to be.
Her eyes snapped on to Emma's and her heart sank; there was only one option.
"This all started because you were the Dark One."
"I suppose…" Emma pondered, "But someone had to be, the darkness would have destroyed everything. It would have killed you, Regina."
"Yes I'm well aware of your sacrifice, miss Swan," Regina went to roll her eyes but stopped herself – Emma had thrown herself into darkness to save her, it wasn't fair to diminish that act of bravery. Still her fear and anger were consuming her, and she had little sympathy left for the saviour. "But you can't be the Dark One, and we can't go anywhere near Camelot so Hook doesn't run into Excalibur, literally."
It was Hook's turn to roll his eyes, but Regina dismissed it, and hugged tighter to Robin, enjoying her last few moments with him for god knows how long.
"Someone has to be the Dark One, but it's not going to be you. It's going to be me."
"What?! No!" Robin grabbed Regina's shoulders and turned her to face him. His jaw was set, but his eyes pleaded to her. "You are not taking on the darkness for me. We can find another way."
"There is no other way," Regina said, taking Robin's hands from her shoulders and holding them in front of her, "I've faced my own darkness before, I'm the only one who knows what it will be like."
"Which is why you shouldn't have to," Robin argued, "Please Regina, let's think this through – "
"There's no time. We need to get back as soon as we can, we don't know what affecting the future timeline could do, if anything."
Robin's face drooped, his eyes bouncing around Regina's features, scrambling for any other way to stop this.
"I just need you to bring me back," Regina continued, turning to face Emma and Hook, "All of you. Especially Henry. He taught me to love once, he saved me from my own darkness, he can do it again."
She turned to Robin, a meek smile forced on her face as she willed the ache in her chest to subside. "I believe in all of you."
"Regina, please…" Robin lifted a hand, gently pushing her bangs behind her ears before resting his palm on her cheek. His words fell, unsure of what he was pleading for; don't do this, don't leave me, don't succumb to darkness.
Regina wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face into his neck to hide the tears welling in her eyes. "You gave your life for me in our future, now it's my turn."
They stood there holding each other, hugging as tight as they could before they would be forced to let go when Hook spoke up.
"So what's the plan exactly? Just throwing yourself into the darkness? How will we even send you back?"
"Merlin's wand," Emma said, "the one you used to get to Camelot to find me, it can probably send you back home. And you should take it with you when you take on the darkness, tuck it into your jacket, it will give you a way to get back to Storybrooke once you're…. reborn."
Emma winced at her own words, guilt crossing her face again as her eyes dropped to her feet. She knew what this darkness was like, and Regina could only imagine that it wouldn't be pretty, especially for someone as dark as the Evil Queen.
Taking a long, shaky breath, Regina nodded once and took Robin's hand.
"Let's get back home."
Time dragged as they waited for the inevitable, for the possible end of Regina, and the birth of someone far worse, someone they've all yet to meet.
Emma had returned them to their own time, landing under the clock tower as Henry and Emma were waking up from their own return, courtesy of her son's newfound author abilities.
They quickly met up with the rest of their family in the Charmings' apartment, and Regina made a point of hugging everyone she saw. As Regina had leaned back from Snow's embrace the younger woman had stopped her, holding her arms as she examined her face. She scrunched her brow and narrowed her eyes, watching Regina as the wheels turned in her head. She quickly pushed out of Snow's arms and rushed to hug Charming, which she supposed was probably more alarming to Snow than any of her previous actions.
Everyone in town decided to gather at Granny's to celebrate their return home, and Regina bounced nervously in her seat in their usual corner booth, fiddling with the long wooden wand tucked securely inside her jacket as she watched the ticking of the clock. Every short second she was closer to complete and total darkness.
She couldn't do this. She wouldn't be able to control herself. She'd be the Evil Queen on overdrive, a true force to be reckoned with. She could kill everyone in sight without batting an eye. She could hurt the people she loved most, which would defeat the entire purpose of her sacrifice. Her stomach rolled and rolled as she thought of every terrible thing she was capable of. She was a monster. She couldn't do this.
But she had no other choice. Emma could never be the Dark One if Robin was to have a future, and no one else could take the burden. She'd survived darkness before; in fact she could say she was a master of it by now. She'd let it consume her once, had been more rage than anything else. But that had been her choice, and this was her choice now. She would take the darkness, but she didn't want it. She didn't want to destroy everyone, she wanted to save them.
If only hope and good intentions were enough, maybe they could all get through this alive.
When an unholy screeching outside had broke through the cheerful banter that filled Granny's and the lights had began to flicker, Regina shot a glance at Robin across from her, and, as the pain in her chest tightened, she knew it was time.
They raced outside, meeting Emma, Hook, and the Charmings in the middle of the street. They watched as tendrils of black magic swirled through the wind towards them, sending sparks flying from every streetlight it passed.
Without warning Regina snatched the now blank dagger from Emma's hand and ignored her cries of protest as the darkness closed in on them.
"Regina, what are you doing?!"
She stepped forward, pushing her family back with a gentle shove of her magic and held them there, keeping them from intervening. The wind whipped violently around them, throwing Regina's dark hair in her face constantly while Snow and Emma tried to shield their eyes as they watched Regina step forward further. The air rushing past Regina's ears made it hard to hear, but she didn't miss the screams coming from the two women behind her.
"The darkness has to be tethered to someone or it will destroy everything." Regina yelled.
"And what, you're going to take it?" Emma screamed over the wind, her voice cracking and her eyes wide, the clear emerald green edged with fear.
Regina turned and locked her eyes on Emma's, but didn't say a word. She could see the recognition pass over her friend's face, and the rest of their group quickly mirrored her.
"No! Regina don't! You've worked too hard to have your happiness destroyed!"
Regina turned to Robin, his face screwed up in terror as he fought against the magic holding him in place. Despite what they'd agreed, he was still trying to stop her. His eyes were wet, and a single tear slipped over his cheek as he yelled for her not to do this. She smiled softly at him, trying to tell him how much she loved him through their eyes alone, and she hoped he could read her the way she read him.
"It'll be destroyed anyways," She screamed, "Just…. bring me back."
The darkness flew towards Regina, circling her and blocking out the world around her. All she saw was blackness, a shade so dark and empty, so void of anything, it struck terror through her core. There was no light here, there never had been, and there never would be. No light, and no hope. She could already feel herself being lost to it, it drained her of everything, joy, love, sadness, fear. All that was left was anger.
She plunged the blade into the spiralling magic, and a shock of pain shot through her arm straight to her rib cage. Her chest contracted, a white-hot burst of fire through every nerve in her body as she felt her heart stop. The blackness circled her arm, coiling down her body and swallowing her whole. The blood that had been pumping furiously through her veins only moments ago froze, and as darkness edged her vision, she looked through the thinning veins of swirling magic to see her family watching, waiting for her to vanish into nothing.
A bright flash of white cracked through the dark street, and the dagger dropped to the pavement, a loud twang cutting through the suddenly still air.
Everyone stood rooted in place, but still each of them could see the blade as it lay facing them, the name of the Dark One etched into it menacingly.