Author's Note: I was sitting here rewinding the heart talk between Emma and Graham and for the love of god, those puppy eyes did it. I never liked Graham, but of course I grow fond of him right this... argh... nevermind. That scene was the most touching scene I've seen on TV in a long time and no one can tell me otherwise. So I thought "How could this get any better?" Rest assured, I did have an idea..

Cotton and Marble

"Listen to me, Regina. You have a heart. I can prove it."

Suddenly, her hand is on my chest and I tremble – just slightly – wondering what exactly happened that exposed my vulnerability like this. I don't think I can look into her eyes any longer, but she holds my gaze and doesn't let me run, even though she knows far better than I do myself that that is what I want to do the most at this moment.

"See? It's beating," she smiles and if I were anywhere else watching the scene play out from afar, I would consider her attempts to reassure me of the obvious rather humorous; but I'm here in her office, having sought her out on purpose, and therefore have no right to judge. Even if I were to, I would have to judge the situation in its entirety, including me standing here frozen to the bone and just wishing she could see.

"It's real," she continues and I find myself shaking my head no the tiniest bit and if she blinked, she would miss it, but Emma never blinks.

I can almost hear the inaudible internal sigh as she frowns and takes my hand. I don't understand; I look down, then back at her, and the urge to take a good five steps backwards until I hit the wall is fighting the comfort of her fingers interlacing with mine. Affinity gains a whole new meaning when she brings both our hands to where she assumes my heart should be but isn't. The pressure goes up a notch and a faraway, distant beat runs under my fingertips, so feeble it could as well not be there at all. I could as well be imagining it.

"Feel that? That is your heart," Emma repeats, putting emphasis on the dreaded word. It is only now that I notice she has managed to cut the distance between us in half, if not more. I would raise an eyebrow at her intrusion in my personal space, but I realize it's far too late for that and if I wanted to, I would have done so about two minutes ago.

She doesn't understand; I have held innumerable hearts of many sizes and shapes in a lifetime, porcelain and iron and cotton and marble, but none of those hearts fit in my ribcage. None of those hearts could make blood flow in my veins.

There's another beat.

"No, that's the curse," I mumble and quickly pull away. Before she can stop me – or perhaps she merely doesn't want to – I'm already out the door, mentally slapping myself for letting her control me again. It's not what I do. Instead I run, clutching my hand to my chest. Without her there to cover me, the pulse vanishes.

If I fought it for a while longer, I might have heard a faint whisper. "Do you really believe that's true?"