You Can't Run Forever
Something in your gut tells you you shouldn't - or more like mumbles in a frightened whisper - but you're doing it for her and that's all that matters as you pull out the lipstick you stole from your son's teacher and calmly walk up to the rails. The whispering gets louder with each letter as you spell the word K A T H R Y N in blush red. Unwilling to reconsider the reasoning behind your actions, you draw two crossed lines over the word and fling your makeshift pen under the toll bridge. Another clue is in place; now you just need Emma to look for it. Images flash through your mind briefly - of Kathryn, what she had told you about friendship, how she reminded you of the woman in red at times - but you shun them because you're doing it for her.
Your head snaps to your left and you stiffen from head to toe, a warning alarm ringing in your head so loudly it deafens you until you can't hear anything else besides that voice and that silhouette you can make out in the murky darkness. It can't be. It mustn't be. She's dead, burned, buried, rotten, gone, yet she's standing right in front of you and rest assured, she knows everything.
"What are you doing out here at this time of night?"
The dress she's wearing is somewhat more subtle than her usual attire, not extending to all sides to make her two times her size - like a giant who would squash you without hesitation or mercy - but you know that's all the more reason to be terrified. As far as you can recall, she is deadlier the more innocent she makes herself seem; after all, she taught you all you know about fatality in sweetness, most importantly that it goes hand in hand with swift execution.
Did she say something? No, she must be waiting for you to explain yourself; giving you the chance to justify what you've done as if it made any difference in what's going to happen.
"Are you alright? Regina?"
You wake from your haze, doe-eyed, gripping the rails tightly with one hand and silently pleading for them to support you, and you mumble. "I-I know I'm doing the wrong thing." It's painful to your ego and everything that you are when you realize your voice isn't the only thing that's shaking. "But," you continue while the figure stands quietly in the shade, waiting for you to finish. "But I thought—I thought that was what you wanted." Coldness seeps from the metal through your fingers and up your arm, urging you to let go. You try to speak again, but only a short, high-pitched hiss comes out of your mouth. "Wasn't it?" you squeak. "Wasn't it?"
Oh god. You're done for. The thought of punishment interrupts your stream of consciousness repeatedly as the shadow moves towards you and you remember everything in precise order - bruises and cuts and strange men - and what they all had in common. Pain. The same pain that was the reason why you ripped your heart out all those years ago, and now you're faced with it again, which just isn't fair in any universe.
A palm landed on your cheek with enough force to make you take two steps back, barely maintaining balance, which is what you're doing right now. She took one forward then, just like she is now, too. Kings and princes and ministers and their concubines and anyone else she had ever needed a favor from took your body in the dungeon and the next day you would run, run so far and so deep into the forest until your legs couldn't carry you even a single step farther and you would think she wouldn't find you but she always did. You're convinced that there is no next day this time.
As your body wages an internal war between whether to stay glued to solid ground or run to the end of the world and beyond, you feel a rush of dizziness and heat crawl through your insides, and you can't help choking a little bit, completely oblivious to the fact that your knuckles have turned so white they might as well be reflecting light from the moon.
She's going to punish you. The time bomb is triggered and you turn around so quickly you stumble and you run, run as fast as you can, and you hear her voice and the steady rhythm of her feet crumbling whatever lies in their way, like you, soulless and void, and you run and feel the warmth of an unstoppable flow of tears running down your face to your chin.
Soon you can't breathe. It feels as if your lungs were constricted by a barbed wire that's cutting more holes with every step. You're vaguely aware of hitting a tree at full speed with your shoulder and it's not like the blazer smooths the impact in any way.
You can't run forever!
Collapsing onto the carpet of leaves - glad they're not needles, too, because you couldn't bear them digging into your knees - you give in to helpless sobs and let them wreck your body because you know the chase is over and you're going to be pulled into the darkness. Somewhere in your mind, a part of you chuckles sarcastically; it's not like you ever escaped in the first place, is it? No, once it swallows you, the darkness doesn't let many break free from its claws. People like the good and beloved leaders, those were free to go. You, not so much.
You wrap your arms around yourself, willing yourself to faint for all that is sacred in the world - not that you've ever respected it before - and mutter two words over and over again in a husky, terrified voice. "Please, don't, please, please, don't, please."
Then your dying wish comes true.
When you wake up, the first thing you see are iron bars. This can only mean one thing; she's locked you up in the dungeon again. Icicles rise in your throat and you're screaming before you can even properly open your eyes.
"No! No! Let me out! Help!"
Just now you realize the surface you're lying on doesn't seem to be at all flat as a hand presses down on your good shoulder in a desperate attempt to keep you from writhing that feels way too restrictive for your liking.
"Shhh, it's okay, I'm not gonna hurt you, I promise," someone whispers.
"Perhaps you should stop making promises you can't keep," you manage to say.
But when you look up, what you see is not at all what you expected. Instead you're lying in the lap of a certain Emma Swan on the floor of the police station, which is crawling with iron bars, making your stomach do a backflip.
"I think you had a panic attack or something," the blonde says, brushing a strand of hair from your face as if the two of you didn't despise each other's very existence. It's the motion that makes you realize you're safe.
Without thinking, you jump up and almost tackle the Sheriff, pulling her into a tight hug while your tears dye the dress, which she's still wearing from last night - the night of the conference - a darker shade of black. You're not sure whether you feel uncomfortable because it makes you look weak or because it's this - you must admit - exquisite piece of clothing will take the hit. Well, you wouldn't be sure if you had the energy to think about that, that is.
"You're not—going to ask me—whom I was talking to?" you whimper, periodical sobs interrupting you as you speak.
"You wouldn't tell me anyway," she replies, stroking your hair. For some reason, the act actually does a decent job of soothing you.
"No—I wouldn't," you confirm, clinging onto her arm wrapped around you. Almost inaudibly you add, "Thank you."
She says nothing, just keeps holding you until you've been lulled into peaceful drowsiness. She must think you've fallen asleep when she kisses the top of your head, or so you think. A second later, you're too exhausted to think about it anymore.
"It's okay. You're safe with me."