Part 28 – Epilogue
"So I had to head up some meeting with my…my mother and David Nolan. But my – Snow keeps calling him Charming, which is kind of weird. Oh, and he keeps on looking at me and wanting to hug me and…it's all a bit…"
Emma turned from the window, shaking her head and running a hand through her hair. She still seemed a little dazed, blinking rapidly and finding it hard to verbalize precisely what was running through her head. Knowing the true identity of the people in Storybrooke was one thing; actually experiencing it was more than a little overwhelming.
Giving up trying to explain how she felt, she wandered over to the bed and flopped down onto one side of it, ignoring the glare that her booted feet received as she stretched out her legs on the bedspread.
"You gonna eat those?" She gestured to the bag of grapes that she'd brought with her, lying unopened on the bed. When she received no response, she grabbed the bag and pulled at it, delving inside and shoving a couple of grapes into her mouth, chewing with enthusiasm.
"They're trying to find a way back," Emma said with her mouth full, which earned her another glance of reprove. "Although some of them want to and others don't, so the meeting started out civil and kind of ended up…somewhere else."
She frowned, remembering how the denizens of Storybrooke seemed divided on whether they should return to Fairy Tale Land or not. It had all become somewhat heated, which was when Snow and Charming had called an end to the meeting and Emma had slipped away, heading for Regina's home.
It was the only place where she still felt like herself these days.
"Some of them want to stay? Here?" The figure beside Emma shifted, brows drawn together in surprise. Wincing slightly at the movement, Regina scowled at the bandage on her shoulder and flexed her fingers where they were encased in a sling.
"Yeah," Emma nodded with a conciliatory smile. "I know you wanted everyone to suffer but honestly, I kinda think some of them like it here, compared to their other life."
She turned onto her side, propping up her head and looking at the other woman with an inquisitive gaze. "How's the arm?"
"The arm is fine," Regina said bluntly. "The bullet hole in my shoulder is a little painful, however."
Popping a couple more grapes into her mouth, Emma took in Regina's pinched lips and thunderous gaze. Bed rest didn't suit Regina. Home arrest, even less. Since returning from the hospital, it had been suggested – by Snow, no less – that it was safer to keep Regina in her mansion rather than expose her to the hordes of citizens who were baying for her blood.
In fact, Snow had taken the lead when it came to calming the crowd. Emma found herself somewhat admiring of the woman who spoke with authority; the woman to whom everyone listened and obeyed without question. Well, mostly.
Saving Henry, it seemed, had turned the tide of revenge a little. Not much, Emma sighed to herself, but enough so that the Mayoral home was something of a sanctuary, at least.
And not just for Regina.
"It's all going to get better," she said comfortingly. "It'll just take some time, that's all."
Regina eyed her with a faint glimmer of a smile on her lips. "Are you still talking about my shoulder?" she intoned.
"Sure," Emma grinned. "Whatever you like, your Majesty."
At the sound of her title, Regina's smile faded and she looked away. The last few days had all been something of a haze. She remembered the mine, almost losing Henry and willingly offering herself up to whatever gods chose to punish her. But when she'd come to in the hospital, there had only been Emma and Henry by her bedside, each of them holding one of her hands.
She'd seen the looks that the nurses gave her, however: suspicious and full of resentment. And they weren't nurses anymore, performing their duties with a lackluster attitude that told her things in Storybrooke would never be the same again.
"Hey." The soft pressure of Emma's hand on her leg made Regina turn to see the blonde looking at her with sympathy glowing in green eyes. "Just give it some time. Snow will figure something out. She's actually kind of badass," Emma added, with a proud nod of her head.
"Well," Regina hummed equivocally, "that's quite the turnaround. Me being at Snow's mercy."
"At least she's got some." Emma patted Regina's thigh and lay back on the bed, shoving her hands behind her head. "Leroy wanted a public lynching."
"I suppose that's one way of bringing the community together," Regina commented dryly, as Emma let out a blurt of laughter. But as she gazed up at her, Emma could see the consternation flying over Regina's features, tugging at the corners of her eyes and hardening her mouth a little.
"I'm not going to let them hurt you," Emma said softly. "Everyone knows that."
"Yes, I'm sure you and your little Sheriff's badge will be more than enough to fend off the marauding hordes," Regina said sardonically.
"I'm a princess now, not just a Sheriff," Emma protested, although the word fell from her lips with something akin to embarrassment and twin lines appeared briefly on her forehead. "Besides," she added, "you saved Henry's life, Regina. Almost at the expense of your own."
"And that counts for something, does it?" Regina asked bitterly.
"It counts for everything," Emma told her gravely. "It's the only thing that counts."
Regina swallowed over the lump that rose in her throat. "Thank you, dear," she choked out, pressing the fingers of her good hand to her mouth. Of all the things she might have expected once the curse had been broken, compassion wasn't one of them.
She was sure she didn't deserve it; certain that she didn't know how to receive it, either.
"There's nothing for me back there," she said quietly, as Emma moved beside her, rolling onto her side again and laying her hand back onto Regina's leg. "All that remains in that world are the memories of things that hurt me…things that I did to hurt others."
"But it's still your home," Emma said gently.
"No," Regina said, shaking her head and frowning. She put her hand over Emma's and squeezed. "Emma, you and Henry…"
She paused, blinking over her thoughts and took a breath. But her lips clamped shut as the sound of the front door slamming reverberated throughout the house and footsteps thumped up the stairs.
Henry burst through the door, dropping his backpack and throwing himself onto the end of the bed, crawling up it until he could insinuate himself between the two women. Whatever Regina was going to say disappeared beneath the indulgent smile she gave him.
"Your mom's looking for you," he said to Emma, who let out a sigh and rolled her eyes. Henry flashed her a bright smile. "I told her you'd be hiding out here."
"I am not!" Emma huffed. "I'm…uh…keeping the uh…your mom under observation."
Henry exchanged a glance with Regina and rolled his eyes in almost the exact same way that Emma did. "She's hiding out," he said in a stage whisper. "She doesn't like everyone looking at her."
"Kid," Emma groaned, nudging him with her elbow. "I'm right here. I can hear you, you know."
"I know," Henry said happily, nestling a little more comfortably in between them. "You're just scared, that's all. You both are."
His gaze flicked between Emma and Regina as they exchanged a somewhat alarmed look over the top of his head and he looked pleased with himself.
"But that's okay," he continued. "You'll be better when we find a way back to Fairy Tale Land and everyone can go home."
"Henry," Regina said with a faint note of admonishment, "I'm not sure that everyone wants to go back there even if they could."
"Why not?" Henry's eyes flew wide open and he gazed at her with confused surprise. "It's where they belong. Where they're from. And you and Emma are from there too."
"Kid…" Emma began wearily, seeing Regina's pained expression.
"No," Henry pushed himself up on the bed and looked between them, his boyish enthusiasm putting a fervent light into his eyes. "You can do magic, Emma! You have to go back there so you can figure out how to use it. My mom can help you. Can't you?"
He turned to Regina and looked at her with such pleading that she felt her heart swell in her chest with love for him. He was the only one who believed – truly believed – that returning to the land of her destruction was not only possible, but beneficial.
Regina put her hand onto his cheek, stroking his skin with her thumb. "That's a lovely thought, Henry, but I don't know if I'll even have my powers if we go back there. And magic is…it's a dangerous thing sometimes if it's not used properly."
"But you're not the Evil Queen anymore," Henry protested. "You saved me – you're good now, right?"
"I'm not sure the rest of Storybrooke would agree," Regina's tone was resigned and her hand fell from Henry's face, falling back onto her lap with a dull thud.
"It doesn't matter what they think," Henry 's expression was resolute and he frowned up into Regina's gaze. "I believe it. And Emma believes it."
He twisted around and grinned at Emma, who reached out, ruffling his hair affectionately.
"Emma's always believed it," Henry added. "Even when I didn't," he said dolefully.
Regina sighed a little, her breath catching at the forlorn look on her son's face. Regret was a terrible thing, she thought, especially in one so young. A strange desire filled her chest; the need to take it away, to fill Henry's heart with hope and joy, not the sadness that lingered in his gaze as he looked at her.
"Believing something doesn't make it true, dear," she said softly.
"Ah, well that's where you're wrong," Emma said, leaning up onto her elbows and quirking an eyebrow at Regina. "According to Henry and his book, that's exactly what makes it true."
"Oh, so now we're a princess, we're fully invested in fairytales? What next, stories of true love and happy endings?" Regina's tone was lightly mocking and Emma couldn't help laughing.
"I don't know about that," she said. But there was a certain satisfaction in Regina's gaze and their eyes met and held, understanding creeping between them and winding hope around their hearts. "Maybe happy beginnings," Emma suggested, grinning.
"Look, here's the thing," Emma said, shrugging. "If you want to stay here, then we'll stay. Me and Henry, I mean. But you gotta admit, Regina, the kid's got a point. Maybe going back there won't be so bad this time."
"This time you'll have us!" Henry chirped merrily. Gingerly, so as not to press against Regina's injured arm, he pulled her into an unexpected embrace that brought tears to her eyes. She blinked them away and patted his head, wondering at how she hadn't even realized she craved this simple gesture until it was offered freely and without condition.
And perhaps, Regina thought, that was what she'd always been looking for. In Fairy Tale Land and in Storybrooke…in whatever world they might occupy; it didn't really matter where they were if she had Emma and Henry beside her, giving her their love and loyalty in a way she'd never truly experienced before, not from anyone. Not since Daniel.
Wherever they were, that would be her home. Because wherever she had them to give her strength when her own resolve weakened, it would always be more than she'd ever wanted or needed.
"Alright," Regina murmured, bending her head and pressing her lips to the silky texture of Henry's hair. "Alright then. Let's try to find a way back. A way home."
She let out a long sigh, closing her eyes. Beside her, Emma's hand crept over her own where it lay on Henry's back and Regina felt the storms within her cease. And even if it was just for a moment; even if it was just temporary, it was happiness that surged through her: pure and undiluted, bright enough to chase away the darkness inside her.
The house shook, all three of them jumping on the bed and staring at one another with wild, startled eyes.
A sound like thunder came from outside, rumbling and shaking the very earth itself. Emma leapt from the bed and crossed unsteadily to the window, looking out then turning back to Regina, staring back at her, pale-faced.
A plume of smoke rose from the direction of the old mine, rising high into the air and whirling into a spinning column that snatched leaves and branches from the trees around the area. It began to grow, widening and sucking at the forest so that trees bent towards it, unable to cling to their roots as deep fissures appeared between them.
Joining Emma at the window, Regina gasped and put a hand to her mouth as Henry peered around her waist, his fingers instinctively reaching for Emma's hand.
"What's happening?" he asked. "What is it?"
Emma shook her head. "Something bad," she murmured.
"Mom?" Henry craned his head up and looked at Regina, who was transfixed by the sight, mouth falling open. "Mom, what is it?"
Regina knew exactly what it was. She'd seen it before. But back then it had been at her command, at her behest. She had created it and brought it to bear on all those who had wronged her. Now, however, she knew that it wasn't her rage that had commanded it; it was the lack of it. The absence of anger and the presence of love. True love.
She put her arm around Henry's shoulders, drawing him close to her and trying to control the fluttering apprehension in her chest. Emma's hand pressed against her own and Regina glanced at the blonde, taking in her questioning, fearful green gaze.
"Stay together," she ordered, a regal tone straightening her back and deepening her voice. "Whatever happens, stay together."
"Regina," Emma frowned. "What the hell is going on?"
Looking out of the window as the black smoke gathered momentum, reaching out to move towards Storybrooke in an unstoppable tide that swallowed everything in its path, Regina swallowed hard.
"It's the last part of the curse," she said slowly. "The last part to break."
"What does that mean?" Emma asked.
Regina looked at her one last time as the darkness rolled in like a winter fog, obliterating everything that she'd created and built here.
"It means we're going back," she said, her grip on Henry tightening, Emma's fingers twisting around her own. "We're going back."