You're at the table, eating dinner. Henry sits across from you, brings a forkful of food to his mouth. The colors in your dream are dull, muted beiges and greys, the single startling exception being the scalding red of the apples on the table between you.
The door chimes. You stand to answer it. Who would dare interrupt you at dinner?
You open the door and suddenly you are being pushed back into the house by a swarm of people. Mary Margaret Blanchard with the hardness of Snow White. Seven short men. Granny and Ruby, Dr. Hopper and Dr. Whale. And dozens of nameless townspeople, their eyes cold, triumphant.
They shove their way in, no respect for your space. You tell them to go away, to leave you alone, but they push closer. Multiple sets of hands grab your shoulders, push you roughly out the door and down the walk.
Outside on the street there is a chill in the air. Everything is grey – the pavement, the light, their faces. Your beloved apple tree is rooted to the concrete, its branches stretching tall into the night.
They tie you to the tree.
You try to tell them that you've changed. That you're no longer the person you once were. But loud, angry voices list your crimes, drown out your pleas. They form a tight circle with you at the center, their torches sending acrid smoke into the night.
Mary Margaret steps forward and rips an apple from the tree. She holds it close to your face, squeezes. The apple oozes black tar and a putrid, rotten smell fills the air.
"Rotten to the core," she declares, sealing your fate.
David Nolen pushes to the front of the crowd, drawing a sword with the confidence of a king. His face is cold, determined. You realize that he intends to slaughter you with the same dispassion that he used to dispatch animals on his mother's farm. And no one will stop him.
You sink against the tree but there is nowhere to hide. There is no escape. You struggle to keep your eyes open, to meet the end with dignity.
The blade flashes as he raises it above his head, preparing to strike.
And then a small body rushes in front of you, arms outstretched, holding back the crowd.
"Henry!" you gasp, willing him to flee, willing him to be safe. But he stands firm, his small body rigid and determined.
David hesitates, the raised sword wavering in his hand, a flicker of confusion on his face.
A moment later strong feminine fingers grip his forearm, holding him in place. The sheriff is stern and powerful in the grey light, her muted red jacket glistening with drops of rain. Funny, you hadn't even noticed it was raining before, but now you can feel it coming down, hard cold drops against your cheeks, weighing down your eyelashes.
The sheriff says nothing, just extracts the sword forcefully from David's hand and flings it away. The blade skitters along the sidewalk and you wince at the scraping sound.
But the blonde has already dismissed the weapon. She strides towards you, her eyes flashing in the dark. She takes a stance beside Henry and together they face the crowd, a barrier between you and your prosecutors.
The mop regroups, a dense knot of people shooting murderous looks at you over the shoulders of your son and lover. After a moment Granny separates from the crowd, steps forward with a snarl on her face.
"It's coming to an end," she declares. You stare, mesmerized, into her eyes which are suddenly black as the night.
"It's coming to an end, your majesty," she spits. "Best be prepared."
You lunge against the ties binding you to the tree, desperate to be free, desperate to stand beside your two protectors. It can't end this way.
And then suddenly you're awake, fighting against the sheet that is twisted around your torso. You cry out, gasp for air. Your panicked fingers claw at the sheets, tear them from your body.
Now free, you collapse back into the pillow with a sob. Your eyes blink rapidly as you try to focus on the ceiling above you, try to separate dream from reality.
Then soft fingers are running across your furrowed brow, wiping away tears that you didn't even know had pooled in your eyes.
"Hey," your lover's voice is soft, soothing. "Regina, it's okay. It was just a dream"
She smooths the hair from your sticky forehead, then claims your hand and plants a kiss to the back of your fingers. She draws your hand to her chest where you can feel her heart beating, strong and steady against your palm.
You take a deep, shaky breath. Your pulse slows, the sweat begins to cool on your skin. Finally you roll onto your side to face her.
Her eyes gaze at you sleepily in the darkness, warm and gentle. Safe.
She smiles, kisses your fingers again and then entwines them with her own.
And you know that it is indeed coming. Your curse is breaking, the world falling apart around you. It could be hours, or it could be weeks or months. But inevitably your curse is going to fail.
You curl into her body, bury your head against her chest. Strong arms wrap around you, holding you close.
And in that moment you know. When the curse breaks, you won't be facing it alone. You will have Henry. And you will have Emma.
This time you're going to win, although your victory will have nothing to do with power or vengeance because this time you truly have something worth fighting for. This time you have love on your side.
This time you will not be broken, you will be whole.
A/N: If it's true that evil isn't born, it's made, then goodness needs to be made as well. And that doesn't happen in an instant. It takes time. I purposefully left Regina here, not fully redeemed but with her feet on the path and her wounds healing. She's got two amazing allies now, so you know she'll get there.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your great reviews along the way!