Title: Forego the Parable / Seek the Light
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Summary: It's the second year of the Final Battle, and they're still making the same mistakes. This is that second year in reverse (Emma/Regina)
For every life, forego the parable, seek the light, my knees are cold – 'For Emma', Bon Iver.
Late October 2013
The only sound in the room was the steady beat of the heart monitor, which should have provided some measure of comfort, but only seemed to fuel her anxiety. Regina Mills lived in fear of the moment when the staccato rhythm shifted into a steady wail. The fear grew in size during the late hours of the night, when hospital staff was sparse and her only companion was the noise.
She walked further into the room, heels clicking against the linoleum floor as she made her way to the bed. She dropped a white box beside the still body, mouth set in a disapproving frown.
"If you wanted the attention, you could have asked," she scoffed, settling into the chair beside the bed. The last week had been weighing heavily on her sanity, and now here she was, talking to a comatose patient. "Not that you deserve any attention for all your reckless stunts."
These late night visits often left Regina torn between wanting to kill the patient herself, or shaking the patient right out of the coma. Mary Margaret had told her to hope, but there were moments- well, there were just too many moments that collected over the course of a day that seemed to indicate it was too late. Head trauma was too large for hope and fairy tales to triumph.
"But," Regina sighed, "I bought you a cupcake, anyway." She shuffled forward to the edge of the seat, and fiddled with the box top to reveal the chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting resting inside. She had bought it with Henry that afternoon, a memory replaying in her mind of a birthday wish that came true two years ago. "Henry insisted on this childish star candle," Regina continued, sticking the candle into the cupcake with another exasperated sigh.
"And, we can't light the candle since your usual act-before-thinking tactics have landed you in a coma. Lighters are against hospital policy."
The Mayor paused. She bit her lip weighing her options: avoid further foolishness and end the pseudo-birthday celebration now or ask for an impossible wish. She doubted the existence of wishes in this reality, just another lost concept, like happy endings. In case the universe was being particularly forgiving, Regina made a hasty, albeit impossible wish, throwing out her thought to the universe with a dash of hope.
"Congratulations on another birthday well spent, Miss Swan."
If Emma ever woke up from her coma, Regina was going to —
"You stole my wish." Emma accused with a raspy voice from lack of use.
Well, Regina assumed that was what the blonde had said, since each word was punctuated with a cough.
"Maybe that will teach you to avoid blunt objects to the head that result in a week long coma" Regina shot back, surprised though unamused.
A warmth spread from her chest as she watched Emma's eyes flutter open. Fear and anxiety gave way to an odd rush of happiness and relief, filling that gaping chasm void of all emotion. Maleficent had warned her of this price, of this permanent hole that could never be filled due to her past crimes.
Yet, Emma and Henry seemed capable of stretching themselves across that chasm to patch her up.
"Yes ma'am." Emma murmured dully. She craned her neck to see the cupcake still in its box beside her, a candle adorned with a yellow star stuck right in the middle of the frosting. A quick glance around the room let Emma know that much like the year before there were people to celebrate her birthday now, with balloons and presents (courtesy of Mary, David and Henry), and a cupcake she didn't buy herself.
"I should call the doctor," Regina pushed the chair back to give herself room to stand, but stilled when Emma shook her head.
"Stay." The blonde rasped, eyes fluttering open and shut as she fought against her body's need to sleep. She stretched a hand out towards Regina, the corners of her mouth curling into a tired smile.
"You owe me, Swan." Regina leaned forward in her chair, and grabbed hold of Emma's offered hand, giving it a firm squeeze.
Emma only grinned wider in response, lines on her face showing the indentations of facial muscle moving beneath the skin. An hour later, Regina was once again left with the rhythmic noises of the heart monitor and anxiety over the future, but at least, there was also hope.
Early October 2013
The five of them stood huddled over the photos in the police department, which had been hand delivered by the private investigator hired to track down Mr. Gold. It was easier to involve an outsider to help – their loyalties couldn't be bought since the war didn't involve people outside of the fairy tales.
"It's a trap." Regina insisted as she inspected the photograph of Mr. Gold and Sean emerging out of a house in Greenwich, Connecticut.
"This could be our only chance to get him." Sheriff Graham replied.
"It's a suicide mission." Regina repeated through gritted teeth, though it was beginning to feel like no one was listening.
"I'll do it." Emma declared.
"Oh, that's wonderful dear, why don't we just crash your car into their front door, and say 'Hey we're here to kidnap Gold' because that would be the equivalent of what you would achieve."
"Regina has a point." Mary Margaret spoke up, earning her a surprised look from the Sheriff and an irritated glare from Emma. "It's not safe. We don't know anything about this compound. The last time…" She paused as all eyes shifted to Regina.
"The last time you all decided to barge into his safe house, I was shot, which is why I am declaring this a suicide mission."
"Completely different circumstances," Emma held her ground. "We have a small window of opportunity before they relocate again."
Regina refused to play this game with Emma. If the blonde wanted to get herself killed, she wasn't going to stand here and listen to the plan. She had to pick up Henry from football practice, a sport she forced on him so he could finally form friendships beyond the adults in his life. There was also dinner to cook and a city to run.
If Emma had a death wish, she wasn't interested in finding out the details.
"Where are you going?" David reached out to stop her. His voice was laced with concern, and he rested a hand on her shoulder.
"Henry's football practice finishes in a few minutes. You can plan Emma's heroics without me." She directed her glare at Emma and the Sheriff before storming out of the room. She slammed the door behind her to make a point.
She waited until she was next to her car before she threw up bits and pieces of her lunch, an image of how this suicide mission would end played on repeat in her head. Her chest constricted painfully as she leaned against the car frame, oxygen leaving her body in an angry rush. She hated Emma Swan in that moment: for the power Emma held over her, for capturing the last remnants of her humanity she meant to guard from everyone to avoid a repeat of past mistakes.
It was too reminiscent of history repeating itself. Wasn't this scenario how the Evil Queen lost her own happy ending?
It was the epitome of domestic.
Mary Margaret was in the kitchen cooking dinner while David tinkered with the latest broken appliance in the apartment – this time a toaster.
Emma and Henry were on their stomachs on the floor, drawing on a large piece of butcher paper. The radio played an unfamiliar tune, not that Regina knew much about music aside from classical pieces. Chopin and Stravinsky calmed her down.
Henry was singing along though, so she assumed it was a young band. "Oh please say to me, let me be your man, and please say to me you'll let me hold your hand." He crooned softly, pausing when he finally noticed her presence.
"You're done early." Henry smiled warmly up at her from his spot on the floor. "Can we eat dinner here before going home? Emma's teaching me some music."
"There's enough food for everyone." Mary Margaret added before Regina could protest.
"I was going to say yes." Regina shot back.
Emma rolled her eyes. "Sure you were."
Regina ignored the quip and lowered herself onto the floor to inspect their creation – a castle surrounded by sprawling trees and soaring mountains. It reminded her of home, what was once home, at least.
Emma held out a green crayon. "You can draw some trees. I've seen you doodle, it isn't pretty." Out of spite, Regina ignored her suggestion and grabbed a blue crayon from the box to draw scraggly trees.
"Don't you guys get tired of arguing?"
"Not really." Emma and Regina had responded in unison.
Regina stared at the ceiling, watching the patterns of light shift as cars passed byon the street outside.
"Swan," she nudged Emma's still form as it laid sprawled beside her, but the blonde didn't budge. Emma slept most comfortably on her stomach, limbs spread out in every direction.
Regina shifted to face Emma, mindful of keeping a space between their bodies. They weren't exactly the type who cuddled after sex. Physical contact between them existed only during the act itself, which Regina figured was what happened when two emotionally disconnected individuals decided to have sex with each other. She had never held Emma's hand outside of pinning it down to sheets or walls, or blindly reaching for it as something to hold on to when Regina, herself, came.
The question of whether she had feelings for Emma carried the same unknown answer as to whether she was capable of loving Henry. The hole inside of her – it hadn't begun with the curse. It began before that, and grew so large, she couldn't stand it anymore. The curse only ensured it continued to exist, regardless of whether happiness had entered her life and filled up the hole.
She could fill up the hole with a number of emotions, but it seemed to render her incapable of loving another human being. Her emotions stopped at a certain point that hovered at the edge of love, but never quite moving into the territory, even if she desperately wanted to love Henry.
Maybe even Emma.
"Dr. Whale came to visit me last month," she admitted quietly to the blonde's sleeping form. "I'm worried."
"I don't know if I'm capable of staying a good person, or if I'm only pretending to be capable of it."
It was easier to confess in the confines of a darkened room, to the sleeping form of the woman she regularly slept with. She let out long breath before returning to her previous position on her back.
At least, now, the confession was out in the open, rather than a festering thought in her head.
"Are you crazy?" Dr. Whale yelled pacing around her office in errant circles. "You're picking Snow White and her Prince. Have you lost it?"
"He doesn't know you're here, does he?" Regina crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him with a blank expression.
Dr. Whale shook his head. "I'm here to try to talk some sense into you, as a friend. Because what you did last year was certifiable."
"It wasn't a mistake, Doctor." Regina informed him, firmly.
"It was. You just haven't realized it yet." Dr. Whale sighed. "Switch sides before it's too late, Regina. I don't think you could survive getting hurt again."
He moved towards the window he pried open to enter. Before he disappeared back into Mr. Gold's hideout, Dr. Whale smiled sadly from the other side of the glass, as if he already knew the tragic outcome of this second lifetime.
They were surrounded by a pile of open books, post-its, and highlighters on the bed. Regina and Emma were determined to find a clue in the histories of the characters. They had four books in their possession at this point: Snow White, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, and Little Red Riding Hood. There had to be further clues into the nature of the curse.
"Would you have done it if she didn't die?" Emma asked, peering over the page of the book at Regina.
"The curse?" Regina capped her highlighter, and closed Prince Charming's story.
"Probably not. But, I can't ask myself that question because that isn't my reality. She died, I used the curse, and now we're here."
"It's not too bad of a place."
"Definitely not from my position," Regina leered suggestively at Emma, who was scantily dressed in a white tank top and underwear. Regina could see that underneath the white tank top was nothing but creamy skin.
"Who would've thought Madame Mayor was a horn dog?"
Regina moved quickly towards Emma, nudging the blonde onto her back and slipping both her hands underneath the tank top. "I resent that accusation, Miss Swan." She whispered directly into Emma's ear while rolling a nipple between two fingers until she'd felt it harden under her touch. She bent her head to nip at the sensitive patch of skin on the right side of Emma's neck.
"Well…it's… true." Emma panted out as Regina grinded down into her.
"Unfortunately, we are supposed to be working." Regina pulled her hands away and sat back up.
"Are you actually serious?" Emma sat up herself when Regina opened up a book and picked up her highlighter. Emma looked on in frustration as Regina continued to read.
"I'm trading you for a different sex buddy tomorrow!" Emma groused.
When Henry walked into the kitchen, he was hit with the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee – a welcome sight for the recently turned 12 year old.
"Did you cook that yourself?" Henry asked skeptically, peering into the skillet that held the frying bacon.
Regina swatted at his head, "Is that the thanks I get for your birthday party yesterday?"
Henry grinned, "That depends. Did you cook this yourself? Because I know David went home with Mary last night."
"I had help." Regina finally admitted, "Now sit down and eat so I can get a reprieve from your incessant chatter."
Henry placed a hand over his heart and gasped. "That hurts, Mom."
"Did you turn twelve, or twenty-two yesterday?" Regina sighed, reaching over to hug him tight. It felt as if Henry had been growing up faster in the past two years than he did during his first decade. She wondered when he would begin to outgrow the eternal optimism of his childhood and turn into a sullen teenager. Pressing a kiss to his temple, she sent out a silent wish that he never change into the latter.
Henry had been dropped into her arms by Mr. Gold as a three week old baby. She could remember the first time he had opened his eyes to look at her. It had turned an eternity of loneliness on its head, as she began to feel something, though she wasn't sure what it was at the time so unaccustomed she was to warmth and fullness. The emotion filled up that expanse of emptiness that had become a permanent fixture the moment she'd killed the thing she loved most for a chance at a happy ending. Regina never had anyone in this world until Henry. She was deposited onto Earth even more alone than her fairy tale counterpart. In this lifetime, Daddy was never around to provide his unwavering support.
For 18 years, it was her against the world.
Then it was her and Henry, until he turned into a sullen and angry 8 year old. That was the first time the world had bottomed out for Regina, cracking open that fullness from Henry's arrival and ripping open a larger void than the first one. Henry had stared at her with utter contempt one evening and told her he knew out about the adoption, courtesy of Mr. Gold, sparking his hunt for Emma and her own hunt for control.
And now, it was her, and Henry, and Emma, and David, and Mary, and on occasion, Sheriff Graham.
"Who helped you with breakfast this morning?" Henry prodded finally escaping from the hug.
"I helped." Emma announced from the doorway causing Henry to let out an amused chuckle.
"Morning, Emma. You're here early." He smiled brightly at her before turning to his mother with a smug grin.
"If you utter a single word, young man, I will burn the bacon." Regina threatened low enough for only the two of them to hear.
Emma moved towards the stove to inspect their breakfast. "I was in the neighborhood and thought I could pop in, say hi, and help with breakfast, knowing your mother is a lousy cook." She explained in a stilted manner.
Henry nodded along for a full two seconds before he burst out laughing. His mother shot him a murderous look over Emma's shoulder, to which he responded, "What? I love a good happy ending."
In the darkness, it was easier to rationalize their activities.
It was a way to cope with the stress of a war. It was a way to relieve stress. It was a coping mechanism that meant nothing beyond the physical act of sex.
Regina reminded herself of this as she felt Emma's body writhe beneath her and listened to the other woman's needy moans fill the room while Regina pumped her fingers in a quick, desperate rhythm.
It was a primitive and basic need on both their ends.
When it was over, Emma would slip out of the bed – pull the tank top over her head, slip on skinny jeans, grab her gaudy magenta leather jacket -, and slip out of the house unseen, while Regina pretended to sleep.
Emma threw the door of her office wide open, and then slammed it right back into its frame, hard enough that the blinds rattled against the windows.
"Did you know she was going to turn?" Emma demanded marching up to the Mayor's desk.
"I'm sorry, dear; I didn't realize you were back to your childish ways of communicating with others. Did you forget your chainsaw in the car?" Regina put her pen down and glared up at Emma unimpressed with the current display of anger.
"Did you know Ruby was going to turn?" Emma hissed. "Think about your answer carefully."
"How would I be privy to that information?" Regina threw her hands up in the air. "Do you think that just because of my past affiliations they alert me to their every move?"
"She told Granny you were playing us for fools." Emma visibly deflated and ran a hand through her already disheveled hair. Anger evaporated into defeat. Every move forward in this war had so far been a resounding loss for their side, and now they were one ally down and further away from capturing Mr. Gold.
"Miss Swan," Regina stood up and met Emma on the other side of her desk, "If I was playing you for a fool, I wouldn't have won your trust with a bullet to my stomach."
Emma had the decency to look contrite. "I know."
"Do you?" Regina barked out a hollow laugh. "I'm always going to be the Evil Queen, aren't I?" She stepped forward to invade Emma's personal space, eyes alight with indignant fury.
"Maybe I wouldn't be so suspicious if you weren't so guarded. Half the time, I can't tell if you're telling the truth or lying." Emma fought back this time. This wasn't an argument the Mayor was going to win. She had just walked into Granny's Inn looking for Ruby, only to find Granny tied up and beaten in the lobby. "You play nice with Mary and David, but you go out of your way to fight with me over petty bullshit."
"So that leads you to assume I'm evil?"
"It means I don't understand your motives! So, how am I supposed to trust you?"
Regina stared at her hard for a long moment. "My motives?"
Before she could second guess herself or allow rational thought to creep into her decision, Regina kissed Emma, pouring every ounce of anger and pain and hollow emptiness to convey the exact extent of her motives.
"Late night, Miss Swan?" Regina eyed the blonde warily as she climbed out of her car.
"Crime never sleeps." Emma retorted, ignoring the bait. She strode towards the building without pausing.
"I didn't realize catching criminals involved a private dinner with the Sheriff."
Emma spun around at that comment, crossing her arms across her chest defiantly. "What's it to you?"
Regina shrugged, "It isn't. I would like to point out, however, that Henry looks up to you, and I hope you conduct yourself as a positive role model."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Emma's tone was indignant and defensive.
Regina sighed. She wasn't here to fraternize with Emma. She was here to pick up her son after a long night at the office. The town was still dealing with the ramifications of Mr. Gold's disappearance, and the subsequent disappearance of a number of other prominent citizens. There were deficits in the municipal budget that Mr. Gold's money used to fill.
Emma Swan and her poor decision to date the town Sheriff were the least of her worries.
"I know you can understand English, Miss Swan."
Emma grabbed her arm as Regina tried to pass. "You've been on me about the Sheriff for weeks now, what gives?"
Regina shook her off. "Nothing." She was also going to ground Henry for the rest of his pre-adolescent and adolescent years for getting into her head, because the last thing she wanted to worry about was Emma Swan and her relationship with Sheriff Graham.
"You're not interested in the Sheriff, are you?" Emma went from incensed to shock in seconds.
"I can assure you, I am not jealous of your relationship with Sheriff Graham."
"Sure." Emma replied, sardonically. "You realize I can tell when you're lying, right?"
Regina narrowed her eyes at the blonde, before stomping towards the apartment building unable to formulate an appropriate response. Emma could believe what she wanted, but Regina knew the truth, and this was the furthest thing from petty jealousy.
"Hey, look, I'll back off if he means that much to you." Emma caught up with her, before she reached Mary Margaret's apartment. "It's nothing serious."
"I am only going to repeat myself once, Miss Swan, so I hope you listen. This is not a case of petty jealousy. My only concern is Henry. All I ask if you conduct yourself in a manner that is appropriate as you sleep with men in this town Henry has known his whole life. " Regina glared before pounding the door with a closed fist. The door swung open after a tense moment to reveal a disgruntled Henry already in his pajamas.
"Finally! I thought you were going to stand outside and argue all night!"
"Blame your mother," Emma muttered under her breath. She ruffled his hair affectionately as she made her way in the apartment, and shot Mary Margaret her own disgruntled look as she stomped towards the kitchen.
"I'm afraid to even ask." Mary Margaret sighed, passing Henry's backpack to the Mayor. "He finished his homework, ate his vegetables, and was wonderful, as always."
"Thank you, Miss Blanchard."
"Goodnight, Mary." Henry turned to give his teacher a quick hug. "Night Emma!" He added with a yell before slipping his hand into his Mom's. There was a muffled shout from the kitchen, which they assumed was Emma's response.
When they were far enough from the door, Regina squeezed her son's hand. "I hope you know you're grounded, young man."
"For what!" He attempted to look appalled at the unjust punishment, but his mouth quirked into a smug grin.
"Don't worry, Mom. I know she likes you too. Did you know she barely slept when you were at the hospital? David had to drag her out to get a shower."
Regina pressed a hand against the wall of the hallway as it began to sway. It confirmed the growing suspicion she'd had for the past thirty minutes: she was drunk. She moved towards the kitchen to empty the contents of her wine glass, and grab a cup of water, or three.
The New Year's Eve party had been David's suggestion. It was a small gathering of townspeople they genuinely trusted, which meant it consisted of ten people, in total, including Mary Margaret, Henry, Emma, Regina, David, and the Sheriff. The other four were Marco, Marco's wife, Ruby, and Granny.
Henry followed her into the kitchen, running with his socks on and sliding to a quick stop by the island. His cone hat tilted to the side as he bopped happily to the music playing throughout the house. "It's almost midnight." He informed her.
"I noticed." Regina closed her eyes when the room began to sway again.
"Do you have someone to kiss?"
"What?" She opened her eyes, staring at the boy in confusion. She wondered if she imagined the question in her inebriated state. She hadn't been in a serious relationship in this lifetime, and Henry knew nothing of her casual trysts from the past decade.
Henry sighed impatiently. "At midnight, you should have someone to kiss. Isn't that the tradition?"
She stared him down, the look of confusion giving way to scrutiny. So, she hadn't imagined the question, which meant only one thing. "Does this have something to do with any of your stories?"
"Not everything is about the stories." He sighed in exasperation. "Maybe, I just want you to be happy."
"Right." She filled up an empty cup with water and chugged it down quickly. Why was Henry instigating this conversation?
"Henry, what are you planning?"
"I'm not planning anything!" He smiled widely at her. Even after three glasses of wine, she could see past that smile.
"Although," he stretched out the word, taking several seconds to finish the last syllable. "I might have found your Alice in this lifetime."
His announcement was ill-timed since Regina was drinking her second cup of water. She choked on the liquid going down her throat, and spit the water into the sink. "What?"
"Listen, Mom, I found your story in Mr. Gold's safe house. He had your book. I know about Alice, and I think, well, I think you have a shot at something close to it right here in Storybrooke. You argue with her, like you used to with Alice. And, I know for a fact that even when you say she's annoying, you don't actually mean it."
"Henry." She pinched the bridge of her nose and counted backwards from ten, because there was no way Henry was serious. She wondered if this was an elaborate prank to start off the New Year. In a minute, he would burst into a fit of laughter and announce that of course he was joking. And, she would roll her eyes and inform him it was terrible joke, and then move on from the subject.
Instead, Henry continued. "And, Mr. Gold implied it." The glee in his voice was unmistakable. "That's why you had to choose between us. We're the things you want most."
"I hope you're joking, young man."
"Hey guys, it's almost midnight!" Emma announced, walking towards the kitchen sink to deposit her own empty wine glass. "Come back to the living room. The ball is going to drop."
Regina stared at Emma beside her at the sink suddenly all too aware of the blonde's proximity, which caused her to take a hesitant step back to add distance between them. "We're coming."
"Are you ok?" Emma's brow furrowed with concern as she studied the Mayor's frazzled expression.
"She's fine." Henry piped up. "Do you have someone to kiss for midnight, Emma?"
"Well I-," Emma turned to Henry with a surprised look on her face, stumbling over her own words.
"Henry!" The Mayor warned with a hiss. She walked towards him and marched him back into the living room before he could inform Emma of his latest crackpot theory.
Mary sat primly on the other side of the desk, shuffling and arrange the stack of report cards in front of her. Regina stared at the clock above them, wondering what kind of trouble Emma and Henry would find themselves in without David, Mary Margaret, or herself around to supervise. She sent them off to buy a tree while she attended this parent-teacher conference at the elementary school. Christmas was two weeks away, and their house remained undecorated.
"Henry did well this semester." Mary announced, passing the report the card to Regina.
"Good." Regina stared at the column filled with As, glad that despite Henry's continued preoccupation with fairy tales his academic progress hadn't suffered.
Mary cleared her throat as she continued to fiddle with the papers. "I never thanked you for protecting Emma that night. I know you aren't too fond of her." She looked up to meet Regina's hard gaze and continued. "I wanted to hate you for the mess we're in when I regained my memories, but – we all bear some of the blame for the situation. I don't have all of Snow's memories, but from what I can piece together, she could've done more after Alice—"
"Miss Blanchard, is there a point to this?" The conversation had taken an unexpected turn. Regina was not prepared to rehash fairy tale memories or lost loves.
"I'm glad we're on the same side this time around."
Right. The Mayor met Mary Margaret's sincere smile with a curt nod. How long could she side against Mr. Gold in this lifetime? How long until it grew too hard to fight against the seduction of power, against an easier happy ending?
"If that's all Miss Blanchard, I should get going." Regina folded the report card into her purse. "Henry is buying a Christmas tree with Miss Swan as we speak, and who knows what trouble they've attracted at this point."
"They're both magnets for trouble." Mary Margaret agreed with a grin.
"Yes. That trait I can easily blame on you and David, as it seems to be an effect of nature rather than nurture."
"So it's our genes when it's trouble, your parenting skills when he's being brilliant."
"I couldn't have summed it up better myself."
Mary Margaret let out a laugh at that. "Thank you for a pleasant conference, Mayor Mills. If you'll excuse me, I have parents in line ready to berate me for their children's poor grades."
"We'll be decorating whatever monstrosity they find all night. I hope David invited you-"
"Believe it or not, he actually did."
"So, Christmas miracles do happen in this reality." The Mayor cracked a smile.
"What do you remember about living in a fairy tale?" Regina looked up from peeling apples at her companion in the kitchen. She was determined to make at least an apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner, since Mary Margaret had officially declared herself the Thanksgiving cook for this year's festivities.
"What do I remember?" David echoed, running a hand through his hair as he mulled it over.
David Nolan had been her house guest for the last two weeks – a situation that began with much resistance from both parties, though had since turned into a cautious friendship. Recently divorced from his wife and with no other friends aside from Mary Margaret and Emma, he moved into one of the spare rooms at Henry's insistence. In exchange for lodging, he handled any heavy lifting around the house while Regina continued to recuperate from her gunshot wound.
"Not much." He leaned over to take an unpeeled apple from the basket. "Wait." He paused and brought the fruit up to his nose to sniff. "This isn't poisoned, is it?"
The Mayor let out an annoyed huff. "Sometimes, I wish they were."
David grinned back, impishly. It was a smile she'd seen on Henry's face countless of times, but it still jarred her when David sported the same expression. It served as a reminder of her son's genetic lineage. "Bits and pieces here and there, but everything-"
He let out a breath before he took a bite of the apple. "Well, everything feels like one of those black and white photographs, you know? Old and grainy. Likesnapshots, with echoes of feelings. I remember Snow's dress on our wedding day. I remember the anxiety and the joy. I remember Emma's birth, and how I didn't realize I could love anyone unconditionally, as much as I loved her in that moment. I can remember how dying felt cold and empty and terrifying."
Regina's memories had a similar quality, though more of hers had surfaced than David's collection of Prince Charming's last few years. Her memories spanned a lifetime, but were never vivid enough to incorporate into life, now. They were never as vivid as her memories of Henry, of feeding him at 3AM in the morning, of changing his diapers. They were never as intricate as the moments from this life.
"Do you remember-" Regina began slowly.
David cut her off. "If I can't picture myself as Prince Charming, then I don't see why I should hold you accountable for the Evil Queen's actions."
She set the peeled apple down and picked up the next one without skipping beat. Unsure of the proper response to his statement, she continued with the rest of her questions. "Do you think you love Mary as much as Prince Charming loved Snow?"
David shrugged, "We haven't done anything besides go on a few dates in this lifetime."
"Right." Regina rolled her eyes, "And, whose fault is that?"
"I would say yours since I've been your unofficial baby-sitter for the last couple of weeks." David snarked good-naturedly. "You know, if you played nice with Emma, she'd be able to relieve me of my duties and I could go on more dates."
Regina shot him a dangerous look. She and Emma were once again at each other's throats. Regina wanted to distance herself from the blonde. While she accepted Emma in Henry's life, she couldn't accept Emma into her own.
Not after the last showdown with Mr. Gold and his cronies.
"You know Henry has a theory about the two of you." David let out a low whistle as he slid off his stool. "I think you should ask him about it."
"I appreciate the input David, but I hope you know I'm going to ignore your suggestion."
Madame Mayor stared at the ground defiantly, while Mr. Gold paced the room.
"You know who you are now," Gold grabbed her chin to force her eyes to meet his. "You know where you belong."
Regina swatted his hand with a glare, "Do not touch me."
Once upon a time, Regina Mills was a Queen, drunk on power and revenge and destroyed by loss. That was the flaw of fairy tales; when true love died, it died permanently, ripping your soul apart along the way. The Queen had found true love, and when she lost it, a part of her withered until all that was left was greed, revenge, and envy. But the loss in that life, the heartbreak that had choked the Queen and destroyed her existence, was a footnote in Regina's current life. The emotions dulled by faded memories and the distance of a new life.
So, who was she now?
"You can have everything you've ever wanted," Gold smiled, moving towards the locked door and yanking it open.
And what was that exactly?
"All you have to do is –"
"LET ME GO!"
And, there it was – what Regina wanted most.
She heard him screaming before she saw his struggling form, limbs flailing as Dr. Whale dragged him into the room by his arms. Fear began to pool in her stomach, heavy as lead, while the air rushed out of her lungs.
"MY MOM IS GOING TO-"
"Henry, stop fighting." She reprimanded softly. Immediately, the boy stopped squirming and whipped his head to face her, eyes wide first with disbelief and then betrayal.
"Are you on his side?" Henry demanded, voice shaking. He made a move towards her, only to be yanked back by Dr. Whale tugging roughly on his shirt.
And, oh, there was that feeling of inevitable loss – a clearer and more painful emotion than the memories of loss from her fairy tale life.
"We need his heart." Gold's smile stretched across his face, "For the next phase of the curse."
Henry shook his head. "Please don't do this, Mom." His voice wavered on the last word, as if he wanted once again to deny that she was his mother.
Regina wanted to throw up. She kept hers eyes on Gold, afraid of the bottom dropping out from under her if she chanced a look at Henry. Because that memory of the first sacrifice? That memory was the most vivid of the Evil Queen's memories. She could still feel the warm hug from the other Henry followed by the weight of his body as it sagged against her in his final moments.
Could she betray her son in a similar manner?
Gold dangled the blade in front of her. "The world could be ours for the taking, Mayor."
"Mom." Henry continued to plead. "You promised. Please, you promised."
Gold turned between mother and son, grin unwavering as he pulled out his ace. "Of course, you could save him and cut hers out."
Leroy marched a stoic Emma Swan into the room, pushing her through the doorway. The blonde stumbled, but maintained her balance, glaring murderously at Mr. Gold. Emma sported a bruised left eye and a cut lip.
Regina's desire to kill Mr. Gold intensified.
Gold leered at Emma, finger tracing the line of her jaw, while Leroy held her in place. "You did always know how to pick the pretty ones, Highness." He turned towards the Queen with a sneer, "One or the other. The decision is yours."
"Kill one to save one?"
She wondered if her inability to make a choice between the two reflected on her poor skills as a mother. The thought of killing either of the two induced a familiar feeling of loss, a feeling of being further split open until the rest of her humanity spilled out.
"Kill me." Emma said coldly.
"Did I ask for your opinion, Miss Swan?" Regina retorted. She took the blade from Mr. Gold amidst Henry's pleas and Emma's silence.
"Hold still, brat." Dr. Whale yanked on Henry's collar, bunching the fabric so it could exert some pressure on the boy's throat. Emma made a move towards the duo, but was restrained by both Mr. Gold and Leroy while Regina tightened her grip on the blade, reminding herself to act rationally.
The Mayor stepped towards Emma, "My son goes home with me. The girl's heart is yours." She stared Emma down, eyes narrowed and lips pressed into a thin line.
"Mommy! Stop it! Please!" Henry fought against Dr. Whale's hold on him, coughing and sputtering when the shirt began to choke him. "Don't do it!"
"Hold still, Henry." Emma chastised without looking over her shoulder. "Are you really going to kill me?"
Mr. Gold looked on with interest, a sly smirk plastered permanently across his face.
"Yes." Regina twirled the blade in her hand, a trick she acquired from a memory in her past life. "It's a pity to kill you on your birthday." She moved towards Emma quickly, crossing the space between them in three steps.
She remembered a moment over morning coffee (hot cocoa in Emma's case) just five days ago, when she felt almost comfortable in the blonde's presence. They had been fighting over Henry's best interests (as usual) with the same passive animosity since the first day Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke. Their constant bickering aside, Emma was one of four people she trusted with Henry's life.
"Dr. Whale, cover my son's eyes, please."
She waited to move until he complied.
It took all of five seconds to change the course of her existence on Earth, to dismantle any notion of pre-determined fate.
1: Slit Leroy's throat instead of Emma's.
2-3: Throw the blade at Mr. Gold, while he was still caught off guard.
(Emma charged at Dr. Whale, throwing a wild punch at his head to knock him out)
4: Watch Mr. Gold pull out a gun from his pocket.
5: Leap towards Emma and Henry at the sound of a gunshot.
By the sixth second, David, the Sheriff, and Mary Margaret barged in through the windows of the house, five whole seconds too late.
She realized belatedly that the heat from her stomach was no longer from the fear of losing either Emma or Henry, but from the blood spilling out of her body. She was vaguely aware of Emma's attempts to exert pressure on the wound, and Henry in hysterics, and Mary screaming into a phone for an ambulance.
She was on the ground, but she wasn't sure how she fell to the ground.
Her vision was quickly tunneling into darkness, though she tried to fight against it. "Be good," she ordered Henry when his teary face filled her line of vision. "And, keep Emma out of trouble," she added for good measure, because the blonde seemed keen on looking for it.
Why was there still so much liquid leaking out of her? She could feel the blood ruining her shirt. She hoped the cleaners could take out the stain; she was fond of the shirt and had no intention of throwing it away.
"Why would you do something that stupid? Do you have a death wish?" Emma pressed a firm hand against the wound, trying to keep all of Regina's insides inside, where they belonged.
"Mom. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I should've never believed Mr. Gold. I should've-"
Hadn't they moved past that already? And, besides, he hadn't been wrong. She was the Evil Queen underneath the human exterior. One good deed didn't erase a lifetime of mistakes.
"Henry, come on. Emma's going to make sure she's okay. Your Mom's going to be fine."
"Mom, you're not supposed to die! It's not in the stories!"
"Regina, stay with me. The ambulance is coming, Mary called for help. Just stay with me!"
"Mom! David, let me go! Mom?"