A/N: I don't know if it's "allowed" for you to mix two songs in a songfic and care I do not. I couldn't decide between these two songs, both inspired by The Hunger Games trilogy, which is an absolutely amazing, glorious, fantastic thing that has been rocking my world for the past two weeks or so and filling an infinite number of buckets with my tears. So... I guess this is one of those versions of a season finale I've come up with.

I'm still not a native English speaker and the lyrics belong to Suzanne Collins (The Hanging Tree) and Arshad (Girl on Fire), respectively. Listen to these songs as you read for best effect. #true story


Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three?

I never imagined it would end like this. Indubitably the first time Mr. Gold addressed me by my full title, I knew we had strayed away from our vicious little cycle and that this was bound to end somehow, soon. Were it at any other time, I would have shrugged the hint off and stayed on track. But it happened then, with her in town, Kathryn running off, and ultimately every other area of everyone's lives I had control over slipping away from me.

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

So instead of a sneer and glasses of apple cider, I began picturing the end. (Alright, maybe apple cider remained involved in the process.) Somehow, it was always me kneeling at the mercy of Snow White and her precious prince, who wouldn't have the heart to set an example out of me and would instead let me roam freely and aimlessly throughout the lands to face everyone's fury on my own. Me with a gun barrel pressed into my jaw until it would bleed, perhaps even breaking my neck along the way. Me given as tribute to the siren from whom I'd stolen countless times for my purposes. Me standing tied and mute before Gold with no Belle to hold him back or persuade him into making it quick.

It was never me killing her, neither in my dreams nor in my nightmares.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee?

I have to shake my head because I feel dizzy and for a brief moment can't separate the past from the present. The déja vu is almost like a dreamy flashback – like I'm watching it through my eyes again, knowing what will happen, but I can't alter what's being said and done.

"Come to finally settle the score between us, have you?" I said, leaning against my honeycrisp apple tree. I threw an apple up in the air and caught it with my other hand, my eyes fixed on it the whole time. I'd expected her. In fact, I'd been here since way before the sun started to set.

She looked like she was in a haste, and the inconspicuous frown that appeared on her forehead milliseconds before she spoke up – those milliseconds adding to a fleeting, but long enough moment of hesitation – told me she wasn't entirely sure what she was doing herself. "Listen, you need to run. Get away from here. As far away from here as possible."

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

"Excuse me?" I couldn't believe my own eyes and ears. The one whom I had expected to deliver the final blow – the savior – was asking me to run.

And then I found myself pinned to the tree bark as the apple rolled across the lawn. She had my arms in an iron grip and the urgency with which she looked at me seemed almost bordering on madness. Looking back on it now, perhaps it was. It was then that our eyes actually met for the first time that night, and once they did, they stayed connected.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we'd both be free?

"You don't have much time. You have no idea what they'd do to you, and for that matter, neither do I. What I do know is that I don't want to be here to find out," she said and it was as if I was speaking to a completely different person than I had known – or thought I had – before the war started. In a matter of seconds, Emma Swan grew up. More than she had in the past twenty eight years.

"I don't run. As you would put it, it's 'not my style', you see."

I made her lose patience with me. "You don't run when you have magic to counterattack. When you don't have magic, you have your cunning. But here, Regina, you don't have anything anymore. You can't defend yourself by playing on their feelings, because they don't have any when it comes to you. They will execute you like a pig for slaughter, so for one time in your whole life, just this once, suck up that ego of yours, listen to me and run. Run until your feet bleed and never, ever look back."

It wasn't her words that convinced me of her intentions; it was the tone of her voice. How she didn't yell or even go above a whisper. It was quiet, secret, forbidden, wrong and painfully honest, but it wasn't these attributes that made me change my mind. It was the fear I didn't understand.

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

She was still gripping me. I think it was partly because she still hadn't fully decided to let me go. A part of her wanted to carry out what she had originally come for. As if her hands lacked the capacity to understand what her head had known ages ago.

"Why would you help me, of all people?" I mumbled, confused.

"Oh, you know what they say, how I'm the savior and all. Saviors save. It's in the job description. One would think you've checked or at least caught a glimpse when you were going through my résumé for the umpteenth time." She'd backed off and was now smirking in that signature way of hers, and I knew that she had become the real Emma again. The immature, sarcastic, cynical, clueless but critical piece of the puzzle. Almost shrinking in my eyes.

"I don't owe you anything," I shot back.

And then I ran, refusing to admit she was anything more than that.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me

But I didn't get far, alone, unarmed and helpless. I should have listened to her earlier. I didn't know I would pay for my mistake in blood ten times over. They dragged me back and for a split second, I thought she was going to kill me herself, judging by the glare she threw my way before it was replaced by that same mad expression I had seen once before. While everyone else was busy arguing loudly and without order about how I should meet my fate, she cut the rope and got me to temporary safety. As it turned out, the war wasn't over yet; Emma was on my side. So was Henry, as I allowed myself to admit when I blocked the fact that they dragged him into this out of my mind. And Maleficent, who would no doubt turn on me the second things calmed down again, which I was grateful for; it had always worked like that between us. There was Marco, old and weary of war and too moral for his own good. And, to my surprise, there was Kathryn. I guess I did treat her better than most.

But in the end, it was Emma who stood side by side with me. It was Emma who threw herself in front of me to block not one, but two bullets that were meant for me.

I vaguely remember screaming at them to get Henry away from here as she collapsed to the ground under this very tree like a house of cards.

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

It's a pandemonium. Mary is screaming and David has to hold her so that she doesn't run towards us and right into the shooting range. She's reaching her hand out, wanting nothing but to hold her daughter and mental images of what would happen if I were her and Henry were Emma run through my mind. Everyone's either staring dumbfounded like a herd of sheep or trying to identify the shooter or just screaming out of some paranoid fear of being the next target, even though that makes no logical sense. In the middle of it all, all I can see is Mary, only now beginning to trust me because she doesn't have any other choice. Her pleading eyes tell me what she wants me to do. I know what I want to do.

I kneel and scoop her up just enough to lift her upper body on my lap. I want to tell her she's a complete idiot. To let it be known that I couldn't be more disappointed in her if I tried. Yet somehow, the only words that come out of my mouth are "I don't believe you."

She grins in response, blood escaping the corner of her mouth. "It's in – my job description."

They don't own me
I'm not a piece in their game
Can't control me
They're the only ones to be blamed

All the noise, all the screams and gasps and wails are trying to get to us, but we're in a circle of dull silence, surrounded by a thick border that makes everything ring and echo in my ears as if we were underwater, so I can't really understand any part of what is happening.

"That's enough!" Marco yells outside of our little bubble and it's the first time any citizen of Storybrooke can see him truly angry.

I can tell she's trying to keep her eyes open and focus on me. I don't know why; I know I definitely wouldn't want me to be the last thing I see in this life. I blame it on the pain clouding her judgement. It must be immense, because she's shaking and crying and the salty liquid is mixing with the puddle of blood on the ground. As I'm cradling her, I realize seeing her suffer is different. All the other people I've watched as they died were trying desperately to escape the clutches of death until their final breath. Emma is the first one to suffer for me, not because of me. Why?

I had almost forgotten what it felt like, having my vision blurred by tears. The apple I dropped that night is lying at the exact same spot, just a few feet from me.

Notice me
'Cause I've been here all along
I've been waiting
Since you sang me your song

And then it hits me that this was the means to end the game, to break the curse. It's always been this way or nothing. I'm not sure Emma knows. As far as I'm concerned, Emma stopped caring about the curse long ago, when she was asked to pick a side and refused, even though out loud, she might have said 'good'.

I reach for the apple and hold it close to her lips. "Here," I say and my voice breaks. However, I know I'm not expected to explain. Not to mention an explanation would be redundant in this case. She already knows what I would say.

And now our star-crossed love has materialized
We've locked our fate right here, right now

She can't resist an offer to escape. Yes, it would come sooner or later, but given how much pain she's in right now, later sounds like centuries of agonizing torture. So her eyes thank me when blood and color have seeped from her lips.

One bite is all it takes.

"You're an idiot," I finally say, or more like half-whisper because I can't keep my voice steady no matter how hard I try. I can feel her muscles relax in my arms almost immediately.

It seems only fitting. Evil queens don't get happy endings. They kill theirs before the tales even begin. From that point of view, it took me excruciatingly long to live up to my designated position.

She doesn't know the effect she can have

The bubble has burst, but there is no noise. No screaming, no yelling. Only the occassional sobs – I can't tell which belong to me and which come from the crowd – and Henry's heart beating fast back in the house. My jaw clenches and I shoot a furious glare at Mary and David, whom I will forever blame and resent and loathe on all possible levels – if I can still feel when this is over – and they know it. I look their way because I can't stand the sight of her blonde locks dyed red and the blood on my hands anymore. They don't understand what this means; how history is repeating itself as we stand here and try to numb our senses. They also know my rage will stay bottled up this time, truly and forever.

Anger is replaced by shame and regret on the faces of all of these spectators, like Romans in the Colosseum, realizing people are dying for their entertainment when it's already too late. Some want to come closer, but I growl at them, and that is enough to keep them at bay.

'Cause this love is not a game to me

She is the savior, alright. The war is over. We just needed a martyr to show us how wrong we've all been, show us what Marco and possibly Emma herself had known since the start. All that nonsense about studying history so we can learn from it is but mere words repeated since the beginning of time by certified scholars that can never be put to practice. No one ever has time for comparisons when it comes to killing.

I lean in and press my lips to hers while they're still warm. It's the only form of thank you I could ever muster up, and not nearly as powerful as I'd want it to be.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Rumplestiltskin retreating into the shadows and Belle glancing my way with a conflicted, pained expression before following close behind, knowing that the four – three of us are now even. Their idea of even, anyway.

Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.