Calm After the Storm
There's crackling and hissing as flames cut through chair and wall alike, leaving nothing but a searing trail of cinder in their dreadful wake, but that's not what arouses the mayor - a sleeping beauty, should fate feel particularly ironic tonight. Instead, it is the frightened squeal of a newborn - the child she used to carry in her womb - crying for what only the mother can understand; help. She watches, held back and helpless, as they rip the bundle away from her for a call of "treason" and proceed to justify their act, in their eyes rather than hers. She screams as they throw the child off the tower and the cries are no more.
Regina leaps out of bed in her nightgown and instinctively runs to find the source of the call. It isn't until her door bursts open and she sees the stairway engulfed in fire that her heart sinks below sea level and a collar of unthawable ice freezes her spine in spot. "Henry!"
One word works like a charm to get her moving. Frantically, she runs across the hallway to find Henry covering his nose and mouth with a sleeve of his loose Spiderman pajamas, which Regina is suddenly eternally grateful he made her buy for him several months ago. He's looking for her and almost considering giving up, the heat stinging his eyes, when finally he makes out her silhouette in the darkness-lit cataclysm. Wasting no time, Regina lifts him up and Henry immediately picks up on the signal, wrapping his short arms firmly around her neck.
It is oddly fascinating how much physical strength Regina can muster in a dire situation such as this. In no time at all, she sprints out of the house, now also known as burning hell, collapsing with Henry none too gracefully on the road. In the middle of coughing what's left of her lungs out, a thought creeps into her mind that whoever or whatever caused this must be punishing her and yes, she knows she deserves a one way ticket to hell. But the boy does not and the culprit will pay for this.
Already there's a fire burning brighter than any amount of Lucifer's mightiest gardens could match up to in her eyes, but it vanishes just as quickly at the hands of one voice.
"My book!" Henry cries, struggling to get on his feet.
Regina jumps up just in time to hold him back as he makes a first step towards the soon-to-be ruins. "Are you insane? This is no time for your games!"
"But you don't understand!" he wails in the most desperate, hopeless manner a child could ever know. "You never will! That book; it has secrets! I can't let it burn, I can't!" Tears are running down his face now as he dares not turn away or even blink in the face of the inferno. "Please, mom, please let me go back there before it's too late!"
He's right; Regina doesn't understand. At least, she doesn't understand the importance of a few sallow pages, but she does understand the pain Henry must be going through; she's holding him back as he's losing a thing he loves.
She looks around; the fire brigade is on its way - the sirens pierce the calm of night - but it's still going to take minutes for them to set things up. Then she kneels in front of him and makes him look her directly in the eye. "Do you value this book so much you would rather risk your life for it than let it go?"
Without another word, Regina storms back into hell - voluntarily - ignoring Henry's horrified pleas.
Not a minute later, Emma shakes the boy out of the trance he's trapped in. "Where's Regina, kid?" she yells over the hassle of firefighters running around with hoses and masks and uniforms and issuing orders to the sane and functional.
Henry says nothing, merely points his index finger at the front door, the number 108 already blackened beyond repair by the fumes.
Suspecting the worst, Emma's eyes widen in horror. "Oh no, you fucking idiot," she whispers to no one in particular and is this close to running after whom she never thought she would have to rescue twice - my, fire seems to have fallen in love with Regina - but then there's Henry, grabbing at her hand furiously and refusing to let go, his nails digging into her palm.
"Not you too," he whimpers. And then he breaks down into a sobbing mess that Emma herself has found herself reduced to so many times in her life it splits her heart in two to see him like this.
"Shhh, it's okay. It'll be fine," she lies, holding him tight, hoping to convince herself as much as her son.
Oh my god. Emma's mouth goes as dry as the Saharan desert when she spots the bedroom window opening and a dirty, tousled Regina standing behind it, clutching Henry's book in a death grip against her chest. The roof has transformed into a blazing tree crown on top of the world and judging by the sharp yellowish red smears behind Regina's silhouette, so has most of the second floor.
Having also been awakened by Emma's emergency call, Mary Margaret arrives at the scene of the crime, along with other slowly gathering residents of Storybrooke, staring wide-eyed at the sight in front of them.
"Henry," Emma huffs at her, breathless, when she's managed to get her attention and virtually shoves the boy into her arms. Not bothering with another explanation - much like the mayor herself - she runs to the window, followed by an entire squad at her disposal while another is trying to put out the entrance and roof, having given up on complete restoration but at least hoping to preserve the skeleton of the house.
"Regina, don't—!" she screams far too late. Regina can't hear, her senses muffled and muted by shortage of oxygen. The mayor isn't throwing herself off the sill when she falls. Emma watches in horror as the mayor's eyes flutter closed and she crumbles like a house of cards, dropping down onto her painstakingly upheld lawn, along with the book of fairytales.
"What in the world could have possessed you to go back there? You, of all people?"
"Emma, you need to get some sleep."
"I'm just trying to understand—"
"I know you are, honey. But what happened isn't going to change the longer you think about it. Granny's even got prayer covered when she saw you today, and she'd stopped that ages ago. Go home."
"Go alone, Mary. I'll be right there."
"No, you won't."
"She looks troubled. I guess anyone would look troubled after pulling off a Criss Angel off the second floor."
"You're overreacting, Emma. I know you're worried, but wallowing in guilt isn't going to help her right now."
"Hope." … "Emma?"
"Are you sure you… Regina…"
"Not now, Mary."
The first conscious breath feels precisely like three hundred fifty six thousand twenty four needles obstructing the flow of air in her throat, courtesy of whatever expensive furniture and traces of paint died that night. The second one cuts it down to three hundred fifty six thousand twenty three. Only three hundred fifty six thousand twenty three left, then.
It hurts when she tries to lift her eyelids, dizzy from not having used them for so long. She's forced to close her eyes again in nanoseconds as the sharp light cuts through the sensitive cells. So she gives up on that front and instead tries to shield her eyes, but soon finds out she can't move her right hand if her life depended on it. That's when she starts to panic, a ragged whizzing sound escaping her lips as she tries desperately to sit up on whatever it is she's lying on. (At least it's fairly soft, though.)
There's the sound of a chair leg colliding with the floor and screeching at the contact. "Hey, hey, calm down, it's okay," a voice soothes. It evokes everything but trust in her and she struggles more forcefully to regain control over her body, so it speaks again. "Regina, you're going to rip your stitches!"
She obeys no one but her instincts, much less someone who sounds like they've been flattened by a bus in a not too distant past.
Regina hears no more as she slips back into forced sleep mere seconds later.
"Mom, please come back."
"Hush, kid, don't cry. It's going to be fine."
"You said that last time and it wasn't. Now you're saying it again and you don't look at all like it's going to be fine."
"I know. But it is. Please, believe me."
"Why should I?"
"Because I stayed because of you!"
"You are the hero! Why didn't you catch her?"
"She never would have gone back in there if it weren't for you and your stupid book! — Henry, wait, I didn't mean — Henry, please — Fuck. Fuck!"
"Miss Swan, you — ought to — control your vocabulary in mine and Henry's presence. Especially Henry's presence."
Everything hurts when Emma jerks awake, eyes adjusting to the dim light illuminating the hospital room. She's been sleeping in the less than sizeable chair at Regina's side in fetal position for hours and parts of her feel like spontaneously falling off.
That doesn't even come close to how Regina feels, though. The good news is only about three hundred fifty six thousand twenty breaths remain until the itching in her throat subsides. The bad news is that now, with a slightly clearer mindset and the haze of her drug-induced sleep gone, she's aware of just how much damage there's been. Her right arm is wrapped in a cast all the way from her shoulder to her palm, leaving only the tips of her fingers to see the light of day - or night, for that matter. Judging by the bandage she can feel against her chest, a few broken ribs must have happened too. And her feet feel like two anvils. Yay for broken ankles! And then there's the intense burning sensation on the back of her other hand. She briefly recalls yelping as she brushed past a burning piece of rails.
To sum it up, Regina would make a lousy ballerina, but for a semi-suicidal stunt, she has achieved a perfect score of ten. That's not what she thinks about when the first thing she sees with her newfound vision is a blonde mayor - although the color of her hair can be disputable, now that it has turned into a tangled mess of dirt and dust that hasn't seen a bottle of shampoo since the Great French Revolution - shamelessly crying, disregard the consequences, above the very woman who got her into this state in the first place.
"Do you have — the book?" Regina coughs.
"The book. Do you have it?" she repeats, a hint of her usual venom seeping in through the cracks, though in a much less lethal dose.
"I—Henry. He took it. Just like new," Emma bites her lip, wondering just how much Regina's heard and trying to keep the tears at bay. "I'll go get a fresh towel for that burn of yours," she brushes it off and runs off somewhere outside of Regina's line of sight. Moments later, she returns and walks over to the other side of the bed.
"That's not necessary, Miss Sw—ughhh," the brunette hisses as Emma presses the cold rag to her hand, which alleviates the pain to a much more bearable level in the blink of an eye.
"Don't you ever pull shit like that again," Emma whispers hauntingly, her voice dripping with worry and… sorrow… as she traces a straight line along Regina's forearm and wrist, and then a small new scar on her forehead, no thanks to a flyaway spark.
'Thank you' hasn't been present in Regina's vocabulary since… a long, long time ago, no matter how much she wants to rekindle the memory at this moment; anything to let Emma know. For the time being, she closes her eyes and settles for a non-judgemental "Language, Miss Swan."