Title: the road this far can't be retraced
Rating: T (maybe M if I can stop being a prude)
Disclaimer: I do not own anything. Title comes from a song by the Mountain Goats called Tallahassee.
Summary: The Queen needs a miracle to keep the curse intact. At the very least, she needs Emma Swan out of town. But, nothing goes as planned.
Spoilers: Post-1x07 and will also use material from the 1x08 Promos
Note: A kind of long work-in-progress. It will definitely have an endpoint – it might just take a while to get there. Huge thanks to CRISPAY22 for looking this over for me!
there is no plan we can fall back on
the road is this far can't be retraced
there is no punch line anybody can tack on
there are loose ends by the score
what did i come down here for?
Tallahassee, the Mountain Goats.
A large crowd gathered for the funeral on a rainy Saturday morning to pay their respects for Storybrooke's late Sheriff.
Regina Mills stood beside her son, Henry, half-listening to the priest as her thoughts wandered away from the present situation. She needed a Sheriff – someone less likely to stray from the path of blissful ignorance than the previous one.
The Huntsman marched to the beat of his own drum; now, Graham had paid the price.
Lightning tore through the sky creating a bright gash through the gray clouds. Thunder rumbled seconds after, drowning out the priest's words. Regina shifted her weight from one leg to another causing her heels to sink further into the soil that had softened in the downpour.
She missed Graham in the week since his passing. She missed him in fits and spurts, in those moments where she once needed him to fill up empty space. The Sheriff had been a steady and constant presence in her life for the last twenty-eight years, the warm body at night and the person she could almost trust to keep the town in order. After twenty-eight years, she developed an attachment – a fondness for Graham that extended beyond what she normally felt for people she controlled.
And, she missed him- enough that a sliver of regret accompanied these fits and spurts of acknowledging the loss.
Regina felt Henry huddle closer to her under the umbrella. Out of an old habit, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer still, only to be met with resistance. Henry stiffened under her touch. Regina bit the inside of her cheek to keep from frowning, and kept her eyes trained ahead. After a couple of minutes, she allowed her arm to fall back to her side.
"Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." The priest announced with finality. A quiet murmur rang through the crowd as the service came to an end. Numerous hands flew up to rub away stray tears.
The gears of the lowering device creaked as they turned while the wooden box began to sink into the hole. Regina watched, heart seizing in her chest, as the weight of what had taken place less than a week ago settled in place. She blinked, once, feeling stray tears pool at the corner of her eyes.
This moment – standing underneath an umbrella in a cemetery watching another casket lowered to the ground – was never part of the plan. She used the pad of her thumb to dab the tears and swallowed around the regret that had begun to fester.
The force of Henry suddenly curling into her and pressing his face into her side pushed her back into the present. One of his arms wrapped loosely around her waist, anchoring him to her – a gesture he hadn't done in years.
She realized, a beat later, Henry was hiding his own tears, and her heart lurched again with a twist. "It's okay," Regina whispered over his head as she held him close. "It's okay." For a moment – a fleeting, blink-and-you-miss-it moment, – Regina felt a stab of relief as she thought maybe, maybe this would bring her son back.
People began to file past them once the coffin hit the ground, wood colliding with dirt in a soft thud, but Regina stood in place, rubbing Henry's back with one hand and clutching tightly onto the umbrella with the other to keep them both sheltered from the rain.
"Let's go home, okay?" Regina savored the feel of Henry sinking into her arms. It had been years, now, since he displayed any affection towards her, or allowed her to hold him like this. "Let's go home." She mumbled, threading her fingers in his hair while he shook against her, shoulders trembling as he sobbed quietly.
A pair of eyes watched mother and son from a distance, unsure of whether it would be appropriate to intrude.
Emma Swan took a hesitant step forward, only to be tugged back by Mary Margaret Blanchard, who grabbed a fistful of Emma's jacket to keep her in place.
"Don't do anything you'll regret." Mary warned softly because Emma's week was already full of that.
The night after the on-call physician proclaimed Graham dead on arrival, Emma stumbled home drunk and on the verge of tears which morphed into hot anger when Mary tried to reach out to her.
"I think you've helped enough." Emma frowned at the cup of water Mary offered.
Mary's brow knitted together in confusion. "Wha-"
"My wall. You said it was keeping out love." She swiped at her eyes when her vision began to blur.
God, what was she still doing in this town?
The room swayed from side to side. Emma squeezed her eyes shut when her head began to pound and her stomach churned violently. Its contents threatened to rush up her throat the harder the room spun around her.
"Emma-" Mary's hand curled around her arm to keep the blonde from toppling.
Emma sucked in a sharp breath and jerked her arm back, eyes flying open to glare at the brunette. "Just, fuck off." The words left her momentarily satisfied, especially when hurt flashed across Mary's face.
Shame over the exchange struck Emma as soon as she opened her eyes the next morning. A glass of water, aspirin, and a simple note (Feel better –M.M.) sat on her nightstand.
On the fourth day post-Graham's death, a distraught Henry cornered her at the office. Wide-eyed with fear, he claimed his mother killed Graham that night because the Sheriff had been breaking out of the curse. The certainty in his voice snapped something in Emma, and frustration replaced the patience she normally reserved for the kid.
"Graham died of a heart attack, kid." She bent down to meet his gaze, voice strained and weary. "He died of a heart attack, and not because of the stories in your book."
"Why don't you believe me?" His eyes took on a hard look that reminded Emma of the Mayor. It was the same look Regina sported when she was arguing her point - withering and indignant.
"Because the stories aren't real!" Emma burst out, looking everywhere but at Henry. Her eyes fell on Graham's empty office where a coffee cup and darts remained on his desk along with a mess of paperwork in a haphazard pile.
Emma gulped down the sudden burst of grief.
"This-" She gestured at the space between them. "-is real. Your life, here, in Storybrooke is real. Graham was just Graham, and he died of a heart attack."
Henry froze momentarily at her outburst. And, then he growled: "You're wrong! You're wrong and people are going to keep dying because of you." He mashed his lips together and glared fiercely back at her. After a beat, his face crumpled into disappointment. He tried to blink back his tears but they fell and stained his cheeks, anyway.
"Henry," Emma started, desperate to take the moment back, but the kid had already spun on his heels and rushed out of the building.
She moved to chase after the boy, but stopped when she heard the station door slam shut with a resounding bang. She leaned back against her desk, sitting herself on the edge of it as guilt kept her in place.
Emma didn't know how to be a hero.
Or, someone's mother.
The funeral was the first time Emma had seen Henry since the station. She watched him and the Mayor during the service, sitting three rows behind them at the church and standing on the other side of the coffin where she could observe them easily at the cemetery. It was better than her other option: thinking about Graham's lifeless body in the casket and mulling over what-ifs.
What if she had sent him to the hospital for a check-up that afternoon instead of entertaining his delusions?
What if she hadn't allowed Mary Margaret to goad her into letting Graham a fraction past her walls?
"I'm just going to offer condolences." Emma assured her roommate, stepping out of Mary's grip. "Do you want to wait for me in the car?" Emma held her keys out to the brunette, and Mary pocketed them with a nod.
"He's ten. He's probably over it by now." Mary offered her a tight smile before walking off towards the parking lot, leaving Emma to stand by herself in the rain. The Deputy watched Mary disappear into the crowd of other mourners, grateful that there was at least one person left on her side.
"Hey." Emma approached the duo cautiously, stopping a couple of feet away from where they stood. A few of the exiting townspeople turned their heads, anticipating a heated exchange between the Mayor and the Deputy. Emma scowled openly at them.
"Deputy Swan." Regina straightened up and regarded the blonde warily. Henry pulled away from his mother and rubbed a hand over his face. His eyes were red and puffy, and Emma's hand twitched, wishing she could reach over to hug him.
"I-" Emma tripped over her words, unsure of how to phrase her sentiments. She paused and waited for the last group of people to move out of earshot. "I'm sorry about Graham." She shoved both hands into her pockets while Henry tucked himself behind his mother.
The statement felt empty and not quite what Emma wanted to convey.
Regardless of their falling out before his death, Emma figured Regina was still affected by the loss. Regina and Graham had slept together for years, after all. Regina could have easily felt something for the Sheriff, even if Graham didn't feel the same.
Emma was too familiar with those situations. Unrequited emotions had been her forte in her early twenties. So, there were quiet moments, late at night when Emma watched passing car lights dance across her ceiling, that Emma came close to feeling sorry for Regina.
"I'm going to wait in the car." Henry announced stiffly. He avoided Emma's apologetic glance, and practically stomped through the lawn ignoring Regina's order to come back since he was without an umbrella.
"Would you like to explain what that was about?" Regina turned to Emma, disgruntled.
Emma ignored the question. "I'm sorry for your loss." She repeated, instead, louder this time as the rain fell thickly around them. "I know that-"
"Stop." Regina raised a hand up to prevent Emma from continuing, because this was the last conversation she ever wanted to have.
If Emma hadn't stayed, if Emma had returned to Boston, if Emma had just stopped trying to take away the people in Regina's life, Graham could have been saved. She would have found a way to erase his memories of the Huntsman because she wanted him alive.
Mournfully, she thought: what good was Graham to her dead? The sudden stab of loss that followed the thought, an awful reminder of all things she didn't have, caused the Mayor to bristle.
"If you had stayed away, if you had taken him to the hospital instead of the cemetery," Regina hissed, stepping into the blonde's personal space so that Emma was half underneath the umbrella. Her voice wavered between rage and anguish. "He would still be alive!"
"I know." Emma responded without missing a beat. She glanced around the now empty graveyard. All that remained was the two of them, the gaping open hole that would house Graham's remains, and the mound of dirt the caretaker would later use to fill up the hole. "Don't you think I know that?" She cringed inwardly at the way her voice trembled, and bit down on her bottom lip when she felt it quiver.
Regina studied the blonde, startled by the admission. The defeat in Emma's tone threw her off because she was expecting another fist fight or an argument at the very least. She was waiting for Emma to blame her for Graham's death, and had spent the better part of her week formulating a response to the accusation.
None of the scenarios had involved this: Emma waving a white flag – the closest to a white flag Regina would get, at least.
Taking Regina's silence as a bad omen, Emma stepped around the other woman to walk away from the conversation. "I have to go." Emma muttered, refusing to provide Regina the satisfaction of reveling in this victory. Her boots squished down on the softened dirt, footsteps heavy and dragging as she made her way past the opened grave and across the lot.
When thunder clapped overhead a third time, Emma began to sprint towards her car, jumping over puddles and slipping on patches of mud in a scramble for cover. It was a terrible day to have a funeral, Emma thought angrily. She yanked the car door open and climbed into the driver's seat, dripping water everywhere as she caught her breath.
Silence settled in the car, which Mary broke tentatively. "Do you want to talk about it?" The urge to pull her roommate into a hug grew as seconds ticked by without a response. But Mary quelled the desire because Emma was quick to retreat from displays of kindness and affection.
She reminded Mary of strays at the animal shelter.
"There's nothing to talk about." Emma shifted the car to drive and eased her foot off the brake.
"But, if you ever wanted to talk," Mary pressed forward. "I can listen." She smoothed out a wrinkle on her dress with the palm of her hand, wishing Emma would accept the offer.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Henry climbed onto the stool and got on his knees to peer into the pots on the stovetop. The smell of tomatoes, garlic, and other spices had reached his room, and his stomach grumbled noisily in response. He had spent the majority of the afternoon on the floor of his room, reading through story after story in his fairy tale book to find meaning in Graham's death – he'd found none.
The smell of food piqued his curiosity. Henry couldn't remember the last time the Mayor cooked a meal.
"Are we having spaghetti?" He grabbed the wooden spoon and stirred the sauce while Regina cut an apple into slices by the sink.
"It's still your favorite, right?" She walked towards him with a bowl in hand, and he declined the slices of apple with a shake of his head
"Of course it's still my favorite!" He scooped out a spoonful of sauce and lifted it to his mouth. A small cloud of vapor curled out of the viscous liquid, so he blew on it with puffed cheeks until it was safe to taste. When he was younger, the Mayor would cook spaghetti and meatballs every Friday night for dinner. Then, they would watch a movie on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn.
Henry wanted that back, at least for today, wanted the ignorance of his six year old self that loved the Mayor unconditionally, that believed she would protect him from harm.
"Perfect." He confirmed with a cautious smile, dropping the spoon back into the pot.
"Go set the table then," she ordered in what sounded close to a playful tone. She returned his smile with a small one of her own, reaching around him to lower the fire.
He almost wanted to hug her, like he had earlier at the funeral. He wanted to ask her what happened when people died in Storybrooke, hoped so desperately that the answer would be that they were transported back into the fairy tales – curse broken and happy ending achieved.
Where was Graham now? Where was the Huntsman?
"What's it like to die?" He wondered out loud, peering up at the Queen as he slid off the stool. "Does it hurt?" He had been thinking about it for the past week, particularly today, when he'd seen Graham's body in the casket during the mass.
Regina worried her bottom lip, unsure of how to answer either question.
"It doesn't hurt." She finally answered. "It's like going to sleep."
She held his gaze to cast away the doubt that remained written across his face. "I promise. It doesn't hurt. And, nothing is going to happen to you while I'm around, got it?"
Henry frowned. "But-"
"Nothing bad is going to happen to you if I can help it." Regina repeated firmly going up a decibel.
Under the fluorescent glow of their kitchen and with pasta boiling on the stove, Henry allowed himself to believe her.
And, when she pulled him into a hug, he allowed himself to sink into it and pretend it was a safe place. He pushed the thought of all the blood that stained her hands as far away as possible because he needed this.
He needed someone to be his mother.
She rushed down the dirt path, urging the horse to quicken his pace with a firm press of her heels into his side. She gripped onto the reigns until her knuckles turned white, and her heart drummed a syncopated rhythm that broke the rules of meter.
Jumping off before the horse stopped completely, she landed on both feet and stumbled forward towards the overturned carriage. The unhinged door provided an easy view of what lay inside: a body slumped over with two arrows jutting out from the chest. She climbed into the carriage despite her better judgment and pulled the body to her while she squeezed her eyes shut.
She sucked in a breath and waited for a moment to pass before she opened her eyes again to inspect the face now cradled in her lap. Her brow furrowed in confused at the unfamiliar sight. It wasn't right – the face a different shape, the lifeless eyes an entirely different shade – and oh God –
Regina woke up with a strangled gasp, heart still hammering in the same odd rhythm as the dream. In confusion, she threw an arm across the bed for a body that was no longer there to provide some measure of comfort. She retracted her arm as soon as it hit cold space, pressing the hand to her own chest instead. There was her heart, knocking firmly against her palm from inside her rib cage.
She pushed the covers off her, and padded down the hallway towards Henry's room. The door was half-way open. From the hall, she could discern the steady rise and fall of Henry's chest that reminded her he was still alive and well.
She watched him until the first rays of the rising sun cast long shadows in his room. By then, a dull ache had settled in her lower back and the muscles in her calves burned, desperate for rest.
She was going to keep this Henry safe. Even if it meant driving that woman out of their town.