A/N: Hello, everyone. I bet some of you thought this story would never be updated. Honestly, I could give you all a thousand excuses and apologies, but it all essentially boils down to the fact that I've been sitting on this chapter for nearly 3 years, unhappy with it. After constant back and forth tweaking and edits, I'm still not entirely happy with it, but I figured that today, 3 years from the last update, has been long enough.
(I think I get an award or something for longest hiatus on a Swan Queen fic. Is that something to be proud of? I don't know.) In any case, I hope you all enjoy the new chapter. And rest assured, the next one will not take me three years.
Thank you for your continued interest in this story. It's my favorite of my problematic children.
Chapter XII: As for Heirs, I got Nightmares
Before the Second Casting
Her mind was whirling with Gold's latest deception, her screams of denial and frustration still resounding throughout the marble of her father's tomb. Tears falling down her cheeks, Regina moved with frenetic clumsiness, her usual grace lost to her in her haste. Her memories were starting to drift away from her, erased and rewritten in Rumple's image. She did what she could to halt their loss, clinging to them desperately. She clung most fiercely to Henry, the sweet smile of her seven-year old that she loved so completely. Memories of him, thankfully, so far appeared unaltered. Everything else, though, was growing dimmer. Details of both the Enchanted Forest as well as what had already passed in the twenty-five years of her curse here were being lost, replaced by those which told a vastly different story than her own rise to power.
The vault itself would slow the deterioration, she hoped, as it was the seat of her own power. The one place Rumple could not easily control. But the waves of altering magic would make their way here eventually. She had very little time. She could only hope it would be enough.
Stumbling, she was only barely able to budge aside the sepulcher that hid her stairwell. Her body wracked with each and every shock wave that rippled itself through her town, tearing apart that which she had used her very soul to create. She bit the insides of her cheeks until they bled, keeping the screams at bay as pain wrenched through her body, and pushed with all her remaining might. Finally revealing just enough of the stairs to slip below, she pressed her hands to the wall as she descended, leaning heavily on it.
Lights flared into being, dispelling the gloom and revealing gleaming marble and soft velvet. Gold and jewels sparkled, some glowing with faint traces of what magic remained to them. Trappings of another world and another time. She paid no attention to the trinkets, heading as directly as her pained body would let her to the hidden chamber behind the mirror, set on something far more valuable.
Her mind was growing clearer. Just as she'd hoped, her own power was keeping the re-written curse at bay the further she went into her vault. But it could do nothing to prevent the devastation that was happening to her town above. Another spiral of pain shocked its way through her, worse that any of those before, and Regina shrieked, her heels skidding on the marble and sending her crashing to her knees. Something big must have just been re-written.
Reeling, she forced herself to continue, scrambling on hands and knees to a large chest in the corner of the secret room, behind the rows of gowns from her days as Queen. Throwing back the lid, Regina had to blink as the chamber was suddenly doused in glittering light, pouring out of the box and reflecting off the jewels and mirrors. Blinded, she forced herself forward, reaching inside and clasping her hand around the round, brass handle of the sole object within.
The lantern came out of the box easily, as if it weighed nothing despite heavy iron and thick glass it was made of. As she pulled it out of the box, the light from within the lantern dimmed to a dull shimmer, and small tinkling sounds of tiny fists pounding against glass walls could be heard. Wings fluttered within, the small body twisting to keep from colliding with the sides of the lantern as she it was handled. The face of the tiny captive purpled in outrage as Regina raised the lantern towards her face.
Pained as she was, sweating and crying and her voice rough from screaming, Regina nevertheless couldn't help but smirk as she looked down at the fairy caught within her lantern. "So nice to see you again, Blue."
A sudden sound of bells jingling rapidly, and Regina resisted the urge both to roll her eyes and shake the lantern. "We don't have time for that-" she hissed, bringing the lantern fully to eye-level to fully regard the fairy trapped inside. "I need your help, and you're going to give it to me whether you like it or not. I'm going to give you what little fairy dust I have, and you're going to use it to change back a friend of mine."
Another string of jingling bells, the fairy mouthing the word 'no,' as she shook her head vehemently, genuinely looking afraid.
Regina snarled. "You will, or I'll just drop you and leave her to do what she likes with you. And I can guarantee it will be far wore than just leaving you in a box for twenty-five years."
. . .
With tears in her eyes, Regina smiled- a true, bright smile. "Henry," she murmured, running her fingers down his cheeks. "I love you so, so much." Her shoulder now boasted both Emma's hand and Henry's head as he leaned into her. Regina felt a wave of pure, unadulterated joy crash through her.
"I love you, too, Mom." He returned the hug with equal abandon, leaning up to press a kiss to his mother's cheek. She beamed all the brighter for it. Even concerned as she still was, Emma smiled, and squeezed Regina's shoulder affectionately. Her other hand ruffled the hair of their son, mussing up the order Regina had just returned to it. The former Evil Queen found that she couldn't care.
In town, the clock gave a chime. 8:15.
And then the very earth beneath their feet began to quiver.
The earth shook. Really shook. No sinkhole opening, this. What began as only small tremors built quickly, the very foundation of the playground began to shudder. Henry was on the bottom stair of the ancient wooden steps, and a startled Regina pulled him tightly against her, a hand blindly reaching beside her for Emma.
Henry screeched in surprise and fear, clutching to his mother tightly as she pulled him away from the crumbling structure.\
"What the hell is going on?!" Emma screamed, backing away with the small family and covering her head with her free hand as the beams of the old play equipment began to shake violently, wide cracks appearing in the sides of them.
Regina's head whipped around, following a massive crack in the street as it formed, followed by another, on their other side. And then another. Her eyes went wide with understanding. Acceptance, almost.
"It's happening!" Henry cried, sounding almost excited. "It's breaking!"
Regina glanced at her son. And then at Emma. "...We need to get to the club. Now!" And before the blonde could argue, she was rushing back to her car, pulling their son with her. Her other hand grasped back for Emma, and together they covered Henry's head when the shakes became bad enough that bits of wood and sand spewed into the air around them.
The muscle car roared to life, its exhaust blowing down the dry grass behind it, and Regina sped the car through the town, heading out of it and towards her club. As they passed through the town square, the destruction wrought by the earthquake was obvious. People were running everywhere, not bothering to look where they were going. Cracks in the foundations of buildings snaked across facades like vines reaching for the sun, and each shudder only brought more. The town seemed to be falling apart from beneath them. "What the hell is going on?" Emma said again in a half-whisper, barely believing her eyes as she stared at the carnage.
"The curse is breaking."
On instinct, Emma turned to shush Henry, even began to frustratedly berate him that now really wasn't the time, and then her brain finally processed that the words hadn't come from Henry.
They'd come from Regina.
She whirled back to face her. Regina wasn't looking at the damage- only the road in front of her. She was driving like a crazy person, skidding to avoid opening cracks in the road and townspeople too stupid to get out of her way.
Perplexed, to say the least, Emma could only stare. "What- Henry's curse?!"
"It's Rumpelstiltskin's curse!" Henry insisted from the backseat, eyes on his adopted mother even as he looked around at the town. "His spell is breaking apart, isn't it? You remember, don't you, Mom?" he demanded.
Regina's voice was low, quiet with an almost deadly intensity. "Yes, Henry," she murmured.
"I knew it!" He crowed, almost gleeful in his victory. His attention switched to Emma, darting back and forth between his mothers. "What did you do? Did you use magic-?"
"Henry! There's no such thing as magic!" Emma began, turning around to face him. With Regina apparently calmed down enough to drive, she could afford to take her eyes off her for a moment or two. And her mind was rapidly trying to make sense of all this. What had she done? She... and Regina... and that had broken the curse? She couldn't believe it. She refused. But she voiced none of these thoughts. Aloud, she just said: "She's your mother, she is not some Evil Queen-"
"No..." Regina said, gripping the wheel so tightly her knuckles were white. Emma glanced back at her, wide-eyed and concerned for more than just her lover and their son. "I am. Or I was."
The car pulled into the parking lot of Forbidden Fruit. "He's right." She inhaled again. The pain had long since dissipated, and she blinked away tears and glanced at her son in the rear-view mirror. There was a ghost of a smile on her lips. He beamed back at her. "...He's always been right."
Emma was gaping. Henry looked a mixture of elated and angry. Regina exhaled slowly, and the car pulled to a halt in front of Forbidden Fruit.
It was the only building in town that wasn't cracking.
"Please let me speak before you burn me to a crisp!"
The very moment her eyes fell upon the person in the lantern Regina carried, the dragon gave a bellow of rage, charging straight for them. She drew back her teeth, preparing to expel a ball of fire. At the lantern alone or at both of them, Regina couldn't be sure.
"Mal, we don't have time for this!" Regina shouted. Another spasm of pain ripped through her, and she screamed, crumpling to the ground as agony shot through her, literally feeling like the very breath in her body was being ripped out through her pores. She barely managed to keep hold of the lantern.
Stopped by the sound of the nickname if not the scream, the dragon halted its attack, swallowing its flame. It's immense eyes blinked once, then again, almost looking concerned.
Even Blue paused in her frantic flutterings around her cage, shocked into a stupor to see Regina brought so low.
With trembling hands, Regina managed to fumble open the latch holding the lantern closed. The fairy spilled out into open air, her body quickly growing to the size of a normal human even before she'd finished tumbling, leaving Blue flopped gracelessly on the dank floor of the cavern.
Breathing in low, hissing gasps, Regina managed to toss a wand at the recently-restored fairy, and pointed weakly at the dragon. "Change her back," she ordered, though the small wheeze of her voice made it sound far more like a plea that she ever would have wanted. When Blue looked ready to retort, Regina merely leveled her with as much of a glare as she could muster, curled in on herself on the floor. "You owe her that much, at least."
The fairy looked stricken for a moment, glancing at the immensity of the dragon before them. Seeming to swallow thickly, Blue gave a slow nod. With an elaborate flick of her wrist, a teal puff of magic billowed from her wand, quickly growing into a substantial cloud. It enveloped the dragon, who reared her head back, bellowing and belching a last great tongue of flame before the cloud overcame and transformed her, leaving a panting, ragged looking woman in its wake.
Hurriedly, Maleficent ran trembling, still-smoking hands along her body, her face, into her hair, her mouth still open from her flames and emitting a choked sob of what might have been relief.
Blue lowered her wand, offering a small smile of satisfaction at her successful spell. "...Hello again, Violet."
Whirling, the woman-dragon lurched towards the fairy, gnashing teeth that now felt entirely too small in a horrid snarl. "My name is Maleficent!" she screamed, the sibilants harsh and over-stressed, unused to her tongue. "I am fairy no longer and cannot be addressed as such! You made that abundantly clear."
Bristling, the fairy crossed her arms over her chest defensively. "It was your own actions that prompted your dismissal! And after all the time I-!"
"Enough!" Regina hissed, her body spasming in another spiral of pain. "I said we don't have time for this! You can rip one another to pieces later for all I care but for now I need you to listen to me!"
With a growl that still sounded more dragon than human, Maleficent sneered at the pain-crippled Queen. "And why the hell should I do anything you say, old friend? If it wasn't for you, I'd-!"
"Because if you don't, if you do nothing, then Rumple wins!" Regina nearly shouted, causing both fairy and former fairy to halt in their accusations. Coughing to clear her throat of what pain she could, Regina continued, "And as much as you both detest me right now, I know you hate him more."
For a long moment, no one in the car moved. In the passenger seat, Emma's jaw was too being being open wide with shock to form any coherent sentences. Then Regina gave out a long sigh, her eyes closing for a second or two. "Emma," she sighed but did not look at her. Where she gripped the wheel, her knuckles were even whiter than they'd been a moment before. Her hands were trembling from effort, though the car had long since stopped any motion.. "...I'm sure you have ...questions, and I promise I will answer them. But at the moment, a lot of things are going to be happening very, very quickly."
The spell of silence that had descended over them was broken. Emma was still floored, only able to utter a disbelieving 'What-?!" before Henry interrupted her.
"Mom?" He piped up from the backseat, leaning forward to put his hand on Emma's shoulder. His eyes never left his adoptive mother, wide and afraid. "What's going to happen?"
Regina glanced at him in the rear-view mirror, giving him a sad, rueful smile. "I don't know, Henry." Her lower lip was trembling. "but I need you to stay with Emma," she whispered quietly.
"What?!" Henry screamed, lurching out of his seat and wrenching for the door handle. The door refused to open. "Mom!"
Regina didn't look at him, swallowing roughly and keeping her eyes on Emma. "Keep him safe." Without another word, she opened her door and stepped out.
Or would have, had an iron grip not clasped itself around her elbow. "What's going on?! Where the hell are you going?!"
Regina's gaze flitted from Emma's hand on her arm to her eyes and back. "I know it's difficult for you, but for once, Emma, please just do as I say. Stay with Henry until I tell you it's safe."
"Safe?!" Emma had quite had enough. She wasn't the most patient person on the best of days. And everything that was going on set her thoughts to a whirlwind. "We're in the middle of a fucking earthquake! You and I did..." she shot her eyes to Henry, "what we did and you had a fucking panic attack and went ballistic on me, freaking out about Henry! You drove through town like a maniac, the town is literally falling apart and then you confess to being the Evil Queen out of some storybook and cursing everyone in town, and you want me to stay here til you tell me it's safe?!"
Regina's mouth opened as if to say something. She hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, another particularly violent quake rocked through the parking lot, ripping Regina away from Emma's hold and sending the former mayor tumbling to the ground.
When she could stand, she took the opportunity to slam her door shut, pulled out her keys and quickly activated the remaining child safety locks. "Just stay in the car!" She shouted, and then ran off towards the entrance of the club.
As soon as her extended hand reached out and touched the great double doors, the earthquakes ceased.
In the car, Emma furiously tried to pry the handle open. When that was unsuccessful, she began pounding on the window with her fists. Regina gave one backwards glance to the car at the sound, gave a very visible, shaking sigh, and then entered the tomb. "Regina?! Regina, god dammit!" There was one much louder crack of her fist against the window, and Emma jerked her hand back, wincing in pain. "Shit!" she hissed, and only then realized her son was still in the car.
She turned around to face him. He was pushed back away from her, eyes wide and nervous. "Henry, I..." Running her hand through her hair, she sighed. "...Tell me about the curse. Everything."
His mouth parted to do so, but a figure emerged directly in front of the car, and Henry's voice died in his throat.
"No..." Henry's eyes went wide with fear, his voice diminishing to a tiny squeak of horror. "Not her."
Emma's head whipped around to look. A middle-aged woman with a few streaks of grey in otherwise dark hair had apparently materialized out of nowhere, hints of purple smoke wisping up from her clothing. "What the fuck-?"
"Get down!" Henry screeched, grabbing his mother's arm and clinging to her tightly.
"Isn't that the mayor's secretary?"
With a savage grin, Cora only smiled at mother and child huddled together in the car. Then she approached the car, her fingers wide-spread, as if about to move.
Emma curled herself around her son, not realizing just how much the gesture was reminiscent of Regina. Henry was near-sobbing, clenching into her so tightly it hurt, but she didn't even care, focusing only on not letting him go. "What the fuck do you want, lady?!"
Cora only smirked, coming up directly in front of the driver's side window. "An odd little family, aren't you?" Her words were only a little muffled through the car, but not enough for Emma not to hear them. "I really couldn't imagine you could fine much in common with Regina. Save perhaps concern for the boy. And a certain amount of dislike for the mayor."
"'Dislike' doesn't quite cover it," Emma growled, a hand reaching out for the door handle to try to keep it closed against the crazy woman outside.
"Emma," Henry whimpered, burying his face in her tank top, "we need to get out of here. Now!"
"Just another minute, kid," she murmured under her breath, eyes never leaving the threat outside the door, to whom she replied, louder, "I can't say I'm fond of you, either, bitch."
"Such language!" Cora tut-tutted, leaning down so her face was just outside the window, "and in front of your son, no less. My, my. What would your mother say?"
"Now!" Emma propelled the car door open, smacking the glass into Cora's face with enough force that it bowled her over. Pulling Henry with her, Emma bolted out of the car and ran towards the door of the club, nearly carrying her shocked son.
"How'd you do that?!"
She managed a smirk as they neared the club."Please. What am I, an amateur? I can break a child-lock in my sleep."
A whirl of purple smoke appeared in their path, and when it cleared, the crazy receptionist was suddenly in front of them, a nasty cut on her forehead and a crazed look in her eyes. "Foolish girl!"
Cora's hands were glowing, and Emma suddenly found herself unable to move. "What the fuck?!"
"Magic, dear." she said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "so kind of you to bring it back into this world."
"Oh, Miss Swan. You really... should have stayed in my daughter's car."