After the curse broke the first time, memories of dual lives flooded the minds of the citizens of Storybrooke. As the evil queen fled the hospital, an ominous purple cloud blew through town leaving things forever changed. The confused townsfolk found themselves full of anger and fear. Some joined David's mob to hunt down the former mayor, while many fled, hiding in their houses and locking their doors.
Now the townsfolk feel another shift. Some are hopeful, but most brace themselves for the worst as their world fades away...
...And then a bird sings.
Seven dwarves find themselves marching in line, singing a tune.
The Blue Fairy stretches her wings in pleasure.
A princess bounces her baby while her prince looks on with delight.
A man is running through the forest on human legs, a cricket buzzing by his side. They burst through the trees into a clearing where an old man is tinkering with a broken clock. The old man looks up at them and smiles.
A girl and her younger brother sit with their father in a small hut.
And another man hugs his daughter in delight before plunking a large, felt hat on her head.
The girl giggles.
Snow White stands beside her beloved Prince Charming in a high tower at the south end of their castle. They're standing at a large window cut in the stone, looking down at their kingdom below.
"Do you think they're okay?" she asks wistfully.
James puts an arm around his queen. "I'm sure they're fine," he reassures her. "It's better this way. She did the right thing."
Snow doesn't know if he's referring to their daughter or to Regina. She chooses not to ask.
"Take care of them, Regina." She speaks the words into the breeze. "I forgive you."
Rumpelstiltskin is standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean, Belle by his side. The breeze is flitting playfully around their bodies, causing Belle to reach up with an absent hand to pull her hair back from her face. She's listening with concern to the man beside her.
"Where do we start? I don't know where to start," Rumpelstiltskin laments. He's been repeating the same concern since they awoke this morning.
His skin is pink, his eyes brown. When they appeared in this land three days ago he had felt the transformation as Regina drained his powers, somehow taking away the curse of the Dark One and leaving him nothing but a shell.
A farmer had found them, fed them, and let them sleep in his barn that night. The next morning they had begun their search.
At first Rumpelstiltskin was angry, furious with Regina. He was determined to find a source of power and take his revenge.
Now, three days later, he feels calm. At peace in a way that he hasn't felt since before he had stolen the knife and become the Dark One himself. The knife too is gone; it didn't make the journey with them.
Belle turns to him and he is struck once again by her beauty. Not just her external beauty, but her internal beauty as well, the kind of beauty that was able to love a beast.
He is about to thank her for sticking by him when they hear a voice.
Rumpelstiltskin whips around and his heart swells with a foreign feeling. That feeling is joy, something he hasn't felt in so long that it's strange and wonderful and almost painfully large in his chest.
"Bae!" he cries out.
His feet are moving of their own volition. With stumbling steps he and Baelfire crash into each other. Desperate arms grab his son and hold him close.
After several long moments he pulls away to examine the boy in his arms.
"Bae, you look just the same!" he exclaims. And it's true, Bae hasn't aged at all.
Belle is watching them, her eyes full of happy tears.
"Where did you go, son? And how did you get back?" Rumpelstiltskin needs to know.
"I went into the vortex. You didn't follow."
"I know son, I'm sorry."
"But you're back to normal now!" the boy exclaims.
"Yes I am."
"Good." The boy's voice is pleased, relieved. He pulls his father in for another hug. Rumpelstiltskin feels the last remnants of his desire for power fade away, never to return.
"What happened after you went into the vortex?" Rumpelstiltskin demands gently. "What did you find?"
"Another world." Bae's voice is full of wonder and fear. "Everything was grey. Grey buildings, grey streets. It was raining. Some people found me and took me to an orphanage."
"I'm so sorry, Bae."
"It's okay, Father. I was only there three days. And then a pretty lady with dark hair found me. She said it was time to come home. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I was here!" His eyes are shining, his voice high-pitched and sweet.
"Well, over there," he corrects himself, pointing down the bluff and into the little town below. "For some reason I decided to come see the ocean... and I found you!"
Rumpelstiltskin holds his son close. His heart feels light and full.
Thank-you, your majesty. The thought is pure, honest. The queen has remedied the two biggest mistakes he's made in his life, trading his goodness for power, and betraying his son. He has a second chance.
He reaches out his hand and pulls Belle, his own personal savior, into their little family circle.
"Bae," he says, "there's someone I'd like you to meet."
California isn't the quite paradise that Emma had imagined. It's been raining for three days straight, for one thing.
But Emma has never been happier.
Henry is lingering by a poster advertising Golden Retriever puppies for sale. Regina slides up beside Emma and rolls her eyes.
"We're not getting a puppy," she mutters.
"I dunno Regina. What if that's part of his happily ever after?" Emma is teasing, but she can see the point hit home.
Regina sighs. "A puppy, huh? You can get up in the night to take it out to pee, then. I already did my time with Henry."
"Fair enough," Emma grins. Truthfully she's always wanted a dog. But you need a stable home first. This is the first time she's ever had one of those.
Regina leans in close and places her chin on Emma's shoulder.
Emma feels the other woman's breast pressing against her arm and warm breath on her neck. A familiar heat rushes through her body and she can't help the grin that splits her face.
By choosing to stay in this world Regina had to give up her magic. She doesn't seem to miss it, but Emma sometimes wonders.
Their relationship isn't perfect. Emma still struggles with commitment, with staying in one place for too long. And Regina still has a wicked temper.
Emma is learning Regina's insecurities and is finding herself much more able to navigate them. Regina is slowly relaxing, learning to be safe. Learning to be happy. They're fighting less these days, although the fights they do have are always still spectacular. And so is the make-up sex.
Regina's dark eyes meet hers. In this close proximity she feels like she can see into Regina's soul. Damaged, to be sure, but healing. Good and pure.
Henry rushes over to them. "Mom! Emma! Did you see? Puppies! They're going to be ready to go to new homes in a week!"
Regina sighs again, but it's a happy sigh. She claims Emma's hand and lets Henry drag them both over to the poster advertising the pups.
"Alright Princess," she says, throwing a fond glance in Emma's direction. "Let's get the number for these puppies."
There are many different kinds of magic in the world, and there are many different kinds of happily ever after.
For Emma Swan, happily ever after is found in a small town on the American west coast with the family she'd never expected to have. Her son is on the floor playing with a golden puppy. At her side, a reformed evil queen laughs in delight at the pup's clumsy antics.
She leans in and nuzzles her love's neck. A familiar spark of electricity races down her body, the last, fleeting remnants of magic that pass occasionally from Regina's body to hers.
Final A/N: I need to give a big thank-you to everyone who provided feedback as I was posting this story. The story was essentially complete before I started posting - I dislike unfinished stories so I never post the first part until I also have the end. However, as the pieces got posted one at a time, your feedback resulted in three additional chapters, the answer to "Where are Emma's parents and what do they think about her shacking up with the evil queen?", and a deeper exploration of Regina's inner turmoil. So thank-you for all the thoughts, comments and support along the way! I read every single comment, and each and every one was very much appreciated. Thank-you. - DK