Notes: Set around 1x20 "The Stranger". Can be read as a standalone or as a follow-up to my ch.10 of "The Hidden Pages of Our Story". Inspired by Sara Bareilles, "Undertow".

Regina's deal with Gold had backfired, much to his amusement no doubt. The damn imp had turned on her for reasons she didn't know yet, and which she didn't have the time to ponder. She had been forced to sacrifice a loyal servant in order to counter the evidence pointing to her.

In the aftermath of Gold's treachery, she was left with the stinging reminder that she was lonely and alone again, delivered in a typically self-righteous tone by the girl who'd destroyed her once.

The insolence was unimaginable.

Saint Mary Margaret, as gracious as ever, spoke of granting her forgiveness, out of pity. It was a particularly brazen attempt to humiliate Regina, but then again, her step-daughter had always managed to find and attack her vulnerabilities.

And what was to come?

Henry believed that there was nothing standing in the way of Snow having her happy ending with her Prince Charming, what if he was right?

Regina clenched her jaw. Her eyes narrowed, unseeing even the bright yellow bus parked parallel to the fence surrounding the school.

"Give it back! Give it back!" a girl nearby whined when a schoolmate grabbed her bag and ran across the yard, clutching it in hand.

"I won't!" The second girl shouted back. "It's mine now!"

The racket reeled Regina out of her thoughts. She raised her head with annoyance, glaring in the general direction of the children.

Gradually her face changed as comprehension came.

What she had just witnessed, was a law of nature in practice: if you wanted to deprive someone of something they valued, it wasn't enough to take it; you had to hold on to it. You had to make it yours.

It was suddenly clear as day that there was only one thing she could do to cast doubt on Henry's convictions, and to prevent Snow's future happiness with David: steal it for herself.

Hours later, upon seeing her fuss about her car, he couldn't help coming to her rescue.

It had been a little tricky to get a mechanic to meddle with her Mercedes in broad daylight and go unnoticed, while it was parked outside the animal shelter. Not to mention the request had raised a few eyebrows at the garage.

However, things seemed to be going as planned as David insisted on driving her home and on carrying the groceries inside. She coquettishly thanked him for being her "knight in shining armour" and chuckled at his playful retort that "it's more like flannel".

But then he politely declined her offer for dinner. "I shouldn't". Followed by some lame excuse.

Naturally, she had expected some resistance and had a back-up in place. A piece of paper with 'mom' scribbled on it was her prop of choice.

It wasn't hard to fib about the note as the boy had indeed told her he wouldn't be home for dinner and there was no need for pretence. Besides, David already knew all too well about her problems with Henry, so it was easy to tug at his heartstrings.

I shouldn't turn back, he hesitated on his way to the front door. Their encounter at Granny's diner was fresh in his mind.

I shouldn't stay, he thought as he told her that he loved lasagna and accepted her invitation. He couldn't bring himself to leave her hurt and forlorn.

I won't stay long, he tried to bargain with his conscience.

But then again, her smile was a weapon she masterfully yielded. And his wit and his ego were not prepared to withstand the assault.

"I'll get started on dinner."

"How can I help?" Queue the hero theme score ringing in his ears.

"You can pick out a wine bottle in the meantime. The cellar is just on the left through there and down the stairs."

The request surprised him – he thought the whole point was she did not want to be alone with her thoughts, so he was reluctant to comply.

"I have to warn you, I don't really know much about wine - only that the higher the price, the better the wine. Unless you've put price tags on the bottles, I won't be of much help."

She chuckled.

"I trust your instincts." Her nose scrunched when she added jokingly, „Besides, I don't buy cheap wine, so you really can't go wrong."

"On the left and down the stairs," he repeated and she nodded to confirm.

He had a look around the tastefully decorated mansion on his way down. The interior somehow reflected its owner's elegance and singularity. Even the cellar itself was extravagant, with peculiar signs sitting next to dusty bottles with antique-looking labels and nestled between other fancy bottles. The signs were a catalogue of sorts, indicating which region and what year the wine was from, and included little pictures which, David could only assume, showed the foods it was best to pair it with. He set his sights on a bottle labelled "Mens Rea", which was supposedly a good vintage, and hurried back to the kitchen.

"A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, as requested."

"Perfect choice."

David glanced down to the bottle he was holding.

"Thank you, the label said so, too. Any other tasks for me?"

"Well, I've just put the lasagna in the oven, it will take some time to cook. You can turn the music on, if you like."

"Actually, I spotted a piano in the living room. Do you play?"

"I used to."

"Perhaps you could play something for me while we wait?" He gave her one of his signature charming smiles to support his request.

"Oh, I'm not that good," she admitted while smoothing back a strand of hair. "My parents insisted on the lessons, so I picked up the skill, but I've never really had the talent or the passion for it."

"I know what you mean. Sometimes parents just can't accept that children need to make their own choices and follow their own path."

"Sounds like you speak from experience."

David nodded.

"You could say that. My father wanted to make me his protégé, so he hired me to work for him."

"Really? You worked at the DA's office?"

"Very briefly, and I did nothing important. At some point I realized that honouring his wishes would go against everything I believe in. It just didn't feel right."

"So what did you do?"

"I quit. Needless to say, my father did not take it well, he even used his influence against me so I couldn't find another job for a long time. And we haven't talked since. We're family and I've forgiven him, but I can't have him in my life anymore."

She looked down to the table, shifting uncomfortably. David deemed it prudent to change the subject.

"Now come on, you owe me a performance." He tilted his head towards the hallway and winked at her.

"But I haven't played in a really long time, I'm not even sure I remember how to," she feigned protest, but followed him to the living room.

David peered in the darkness and soon found the 'on' button of the table lamp next to the sofa. Soft yellow light illuminated the grin on his face.

"All the more reason to try."

Regina sat down in front of the piano, while he crossed his arms over the polished cold surface on the opposite end. David's gaze swept the spacious room. The warm bright colours it was decorated in created quite a welcoming, albeit luxurious atmosphere. The high French windows and size of the room probably made it difficult to maintain a comfortably high temperature in winter. There were no burning logs in the fireplace, David noted regrettably. A flickering fire always brought a special kind of ambiance to a room.

"Alright then."

Regina daintily rubbed her fingers together before reaching to the black and white keys. A poignant melody reverberated in the air.

"Beautiful…" His smile mirrored hers. "If this is how you play when you're not passionate about music, I can only imagine how you'd play if you were."

"You're too sweet."

"I know." A cheeky grin.

"Oh, you're humble, too."

"I try. I'd ask you to teach me how to play something, but the wonderful smell coming from the kitchen is too distracting already."

"Oh, yes, the lasagna, it must be ready soon."

"Maybe you'll teach me another time?"

"You'll have to earn your lesson first."

While they were having dinner, the compliments they exchanged grew in number, and so did all the 'shouldn't's. But the way she lit up after each flattering line was incentive enough to keep saying the first thing that popped into his head.

Until the first thing that popped into his head ruined the magic of the evening.

"It's almost… Almost like the Universe wanted you to find me."

He knew it was a mistake the second the words left his mouth. In the silence that followed, he saw her expression change. He noticed the way she glanced to his still parted lips just before drawing closer and resting a hand on his shoulder, and it took all his willpower to fight the impulse to kiss her. She had almost closed the distance between them when he finally backed away.

"I-I, I'm sorry, I hope you didn't get the wrong idea."

"No, I'm sorry. I just got caught up in the moment," she looked down, then away, unable to meet his gaze.

"You don't have to apologize. I just…We," he began stammering out an excuse. "This is great like it is." In his head, the words sounded like a good enough way to let her down gently. To her, they felt like sharp daggers, but twice as cruel.

Her eyes were glossy when she looked up at him. Her throat was tight, and her lungs were burning for air, but she wouldn't swallow the tears just yet.

Not if it would cost her whatever dignity she had left.

She forced a smile and nodded instead of saying anything.

He thanked her for the dinner and let himself out.

Once he was in the car, he heaved a sigh while staring up ahead on the road.

Kathryn had graciously forgiven him for his last betrayal. Mary Margaret, on the other hand, couldn't bring herself to do so. For Regina's own sake, it was best not to involve her in his mess of a love life. It was all for the best, he tried to reassure himself before starting the engine and driving away.

Oh, you foolish girl… Have you not learned your lesson yet? Love is weakness…

The little voice hissed in her head, taunting her for her ignorance and naivety. The door shut behind David Nolan, leaving no hope of him coming back. Regina's heels clicked as she turned around with her drink still in hand.

You should know better by now…

The mirror stood inanimate, yet the reflection in it yelled angrily at her, its silent shriek reaching the darkest recesses of her soul. She had let herself be vulnerable again. She had let her guard down, deluded herself that a little human interaction and genuine intimacy could come at no price.

For an instant, she tried to call forth her magic with her mind, bring the mirror to life as she once had, just so she could throw the Prince in the Enchanted Forest with the flick of her wrist.

Alas, the power was not there. All she could feel was emptiness, a limitless void inside, and no matter how deep she reached there was nothing to find or hold on to.

The mirror shattered when her glass collided with it. The countless shiny pieces it broke into, as well as bits from the wine glass she'd thrown at it, scattered in all directions. A few fragments remained in the frame, and distorted her reflection until it looked like a caricature.

A few moments later she had retrieved a white towel from a kitchen drawer, grabbed a dustpan and a brush, and was staring at the mess at her feet. She couldn't stop herself from sliding down to the floor. She knelt down next to the drawer and started collecting some of the larger shards. Sharp glass was biting into her kneecaps, but she was too numb and too tired to feel an ache so trivial.

It was only after David had driven off in his truck when he remembered the wounded look on Regina's face when she realized he had rejected her. Shame and guilt crept in his mind. It was all his fault. He had sought her advice on more than one occasion. He had suspected her feelings for him for a few days, but he had stayed for dinner anyway. Not only that, but he had complimented her and flirted back, and then led her to believe that she had misread the situation.

If there was one thing he excelled at, it was unwillingly hurting people he cared about. And now there was no one left in the whole town whose support he could count on. The sudden realization was daunting.

He got out of his truck and rushed to the front door of Granny's B&B, eager to get to the room he'd rented as fast as possible. Alas, the front entrance was locked: he had to go to the diner to ask Granny for the keys. As he entered the diner, he kept his head low to avoid making any eye contact.

"Oh, hi, David," Dr. Hopper greeted.

Just when David turned around to respond, Archie's Dalmatian barked at him.

"Hush, Pongo," Archie ordered, but the dog barked again.

Henry, who was standing next to Dr. Hopper, tried to soothe Pongo by scratching his ear. That got him to quiet down.

"Are you leaving?" David asked, and an idea was taking form in his mind.

"Yes, it's getting late, so I need to walk Henry home."

"Well, it's quite cold outside. Instead of walking him there, why don't I give him a lift? I don't mind taking him home."

"That's very generous of you, David."

The noise of the door opening gave Regina a start. "Henry?"

"Yep," the boy called out as he walked inside the house.

"I dropped a glass, please stay in your room until I clean it up, dear."

She turned just in time to see her son rushing past her and up the stairs.

David quietly closed the door and followed the sound of Regina's voice.

"Goodnight Mom. Bye David." Henry shouted from the top of the stairs before disappearing in his room.

Regina looked up at the blonde man, then scrambled to her feet. His gaze moved from her, to the scattered shards of glass, then to the blood-stained white cloth she was clutching in her hand. The sight twisted his insides.

"Are you alright?" He stepped toward her, reaching to take her hand in order to see if she was cut. She shifted towards the wall, pale as a sheet, as if he'd just slapped her instead of shown concern.

"I'm fine. Did you forget something?" Her icy inflection startled him so much he forgot what he'd intended to say.

"I just wanted to apologize…"

"There's no need, David. If there's nothing else, I believe you can see yourself out." She turned her back on him and disappeared into the kitchen.

He glanced at the mirror on the wall and saw his own distorted reflection in it.

Their friendship, it seemed, was bound to share the fate of that mirror.


Post-endcredits note: Mens Rea (Latin: "guilty mind") = intention to commit a crime.

Bonus post-endcredits note: Want more? Please note that the story continues in "The Hidden Pages of Our Story", which I post separately (link in profile). My "Harder To Breathe" fic (set after 2x16, link in profile) also ties in with this chapter.