Queen of Hearts
This was not what she expected to find when Henry told her of the 'hint to his mom's secrets' he had discovered in his book. She expected a diary, maybe. An old, forgotten photograph hidden behind a pile of dust. A mic from a time in an alternate universe where Regina used to be a popstar, for Pete's sake. Absolutely nothing, as it was sometimes with Henry's little miracles. But she did not, in her wildest dreams, expect to find a hidden chamber in the Mills vault.
As she walked down the steps into a barely lit room, shivers ran down her spine and she knew for a fact the cold air had nothing to do with it. There was an eerie quality to this place; sort of like it didn't really belong there, like it belonged to another place, another time. Like she was forbidden to even set foot on the marble floor and disturb the dust and dirt so peacefully sleeping on top of it. She must have even woken up the spiders, who had in the previous years transformed the place into a cotton web forest, and mentally apologized to them, and to Regina, and to herself for listening to that boy. On the other hand, she knew there was no turning back now. When she pushed the coffin open, that was the point of no return.
She wondered what her lover would say if she knew that instead of sleeping peacefully in bed beside her, Emma was so rudely sneaking into her memories because of Henry. He just wouldn't let it go. And, well, yes, the curiosity factor played a minor role in her decision as well.
It wasn't like she didn't trust Regina, not at all. She respected her privacy just like Regina respected hers, once they stopped fighting (well, only got together, really, they never stopped bickering). But if there was something that prevented Regina from opening up, something she could help her through, then Emma would see to it that she did. Pushing the red velvet curtain to the side, Emma narrowed her eyes, scanning the newfound image in front of her.
Boxes. Many, many boxes of the exact same shape and size arranged in perfect rows and columns. Boxes to the left and boxes to the right as far as the eye could see. And on each box, a metal plaque. And on each plaque, a name.
She ran her fingers along the wooden surface of a few boxes, holding her breath in. Nothing sounded familiar. Gregory Miner. Rose Defleuri. Lucille McBowen.
Emma was going to inhale, but her breath got caught somewhere in her throat and refused to budge. Staring at the words as if piercing them with a glare would get the letters to rearrange themselves, Emma shook from head to toe, internally debating whether to hightail it the hell out of there and snuggle up to Regina in bed or dig deeper.
There was never a discussion, really.
Hands trembling, Emma reached for the strangely labeled chest and pulled it out of place, cradling it in her hands. Something in the air shifted and she could see her breath form tiny clouds in it that floated upwards, could hear her heart drumming in her ears. She couldn't shake the paranoid feeling that every single chest was staring right into her soul in disapproval because she took one of their comrades and opened a hole in their magnificent wall. They were daring her to open it. So she did.
Her own heart skipped a beat, and then two and three. In fact, she might have been flatlining because the edges of her vision were becoming dark and blurry and she couldn't stay upright and leaned against the wall, dropping the box and letting its contents spill on the floor, and her chest heaved rapidly so that her jacket felt almost constricting, and her whole body just wanted to explode but the laws of physics were preventing it from doing so.
She and Graham had left her at the vault. Graham had died not half an hour later. They had said it was an unexpectable heart attack.
Thinking she might throw up, Emma covered her mouth with her hand, tears spilling over her eyelids. She didn't realize she was hyperventilating and possibly having a panic attack until she heard the all too familiar voice speak up behind her.
"You—you—" Emma choked when she noticed Regina standing at the bottom of the stairway, concern and guilt written all over her features. "You," she cried, "You killed Graham?"
"No, no, no," Emma whimpered, stumbling several steps back just to get away from that creature and tripping over her own foot in the process. Pain shot up her arm and she thought she might have cracked her wrist in the process, but she didn't care in the slightest. "You're—"
The fact that Regina was simply observing her without moving a single muscle was robbing Emma of the last remnants of her sanity. How could she just stand there, emotionless, while all these people were dead because of her? And then Emma realized with a humorless, throaty chuckle, that that was exactly what she had been doing since the start. Emma had saved this person. Emma had loved this person. Emma had given her heart to this person, all the while she had an entire warehouse to choose from.
Frowning worriedly, Regina hurried over to help Emma get back on her feet, but the blonde slapped the helping hand away. "Don't you dare touch me," she hissed. The whisper resonated ten times and more in the hall.
Emma stood up on her own, holding her injured wrist in the other hand and backing away towards the exit slowly. "Don't," she sobbed, shaking her head, "Don't." It was like staring at a medusa and being turned to stone - not at once, but slowly, methodically, starting in her toes and travelling through her arteries. She was quite frankly absolutely terrified she might lose her own heart as well, but then she realized that Regina didn't need to rip hers out anymore. She already had it and she could stomp on it anytime she wanted to. Like right now.
As she stormed out - almost tripping on the staircase a second time as she ran for her life - Emma wondered whether Henry knew what she would find. He wanted them to be happy, but he also wanted Emma to know the truth. Well then, now she knew more than enough truth to last a lifetime.
Even in death, Graham would always keep Regina from her happiness, it seemed. "Don't," repeated the frightened voice in the brunette's mind as she sat in the ashes and cried, regret swallowing her whole being. "Don't."