When she was young - at the ripe age of seven, no more - she used to picture what life would be like when she grew up. Days of omnipresent sunshine, carriages spilling over with wheat or corn, tricksters' caravans, in which gypsies practiced their magic behind closed doors before showing it outside for all the world to see. Children running around town hand in hand, stealing apples from the old hag at the market, only to feed them to the horses carrying passers-by and come back to pay later. Nights brimming with the pale glamour of a thousand stars dotting the sky the way brush dots paper. When she grew up, every child would have their own little star, and every older brother and sister would have a star that was a little bigger, and every mother and father would have one of those big stars that stand out in a group of several smaller ones, and every grandmother and grandfather would have the biggest, brightest star in the constellation. And when a child, brother, sister, mother, father, grandmother or grandfather passed away, so would their star, leaving everyone to watch what direction their beloved have gone, so that they could look for them again. If someone lived long enough to see multiple stars fade, they would see that they point out the way to paradise.

She was born pathetic, and it was only natural she should revert to that state in times of crisis.

"Look at you, Regina," came the sound of dripping honey and liquid disappointment. "I didn't raise you the way I did to see you weeping over a pillow."

In reality, there were no visible stars; not from her point of view, at least. She would ask about the whereabouts of her star and the fairies would answer 'Yours is dimmed.'

All of them would have expected her reaction to be different; a display of rage on a palette of fear, or perhaps guarded self-defense sprinkled with sickly sweet disdain and condescension. However, all such quality meals require one primary ingredient in order to be cooked - feelings. And right now, atop these ice cold tiles and the ground under which her lover lies, princess Regina feels nothing, nothing but the slight quiver of her jaw, the one part of her body that is still sensitive to touch. Her legs are numb; so are her arms and her lips, where the common breath of cold air is replaced by the irritating tinge of electricity and false hope.

"I was so proud of you."

Ah, of course. Cora's daughter had had everything her mother herself had once desired; obedience, respect, and most importantly raw power. All the things the little girl with stars in her eyes had been trained to achieve.

Regina can feel one sensation - the unearthliness of being oddly detached from her body. After all, when nothing remains, what can you hold onto? What can you salvage except for a pillow that smells like baby oil and trouble in your arms? "And that is what makes this all so sad."

A sigh leaves Cora's lungs. She does not move an inch, yet somehow it feels like she is approaching with the velocity of a tidal wave, making Regina shiver. "Regardless of what you know or think you know, Regina, I am here to help you. You still have a chance to fix this. You can get everything back."

Regina winces. Yes, that is what she wants. She wants to revert it all back to the way it was before; before the storm, before the poison, before the murder, before Emma, before the book, before her father, before the king, before the bolting horse, before the tea parties, before the elegant dresses and eloquent speeches, before magic, before, before, before. "Everything?" she whimpers as her fingers close around the hems of the pillow.

"Of course, dear. You've always been weak, but luckily for you, the ones around you have been weaker... with the exception of her."

Regina swallows nothing but air.

"Do you really not understand, child? Are you truly oblivious enough to miss what caused your misery?"

Something inside Regina snaps; she can almost hear it, hear the ocean crashing against the cliffs inside herself. This woman standing behind her has no right to patronize her. She has lost that right countless eons ago when she sold Regina for a feeble ransom of projected suffering. She stands up - she knows she will surpass her mother in height, for what it's worth - and her fingers curl and uncurl to the rhythm of her heartbeat without her consciousness having anything to do with it. There is a spark igniting what could either be melting candle wax or a majestic volcano, but as soon as she turns and her eyes capture Cora's face for the first time, she knows the flame will most likely take a detour towards the first. Still, cradling the remnants of her dignity as best as she can, she mumbles, "You did."

The sound rippling in Cora's throat Regina hasn't heard in a long, long time, yet it is tragically soon for it to happen again. It is what used to mock her entire existence and pity the forever lost time of everyone around her. The flame burns a little brighter.

"Foolish child. You may blame it all on me all you want, but the truth remains; the truth that you were too weak to cut this nonsense at its roots. You could have prevented this, Regina. You had all the time in the world to do so. Unlike you, she had no power. You could have killed her and ended it all before it even began. The outcome would have been much more positive than this mess you have gotten yourself into.

Alas, you were too blinded by your weakness for the boy to put an end to her miserable existence before, so I ask of you now, Regina: kill her. Listen to your mother and for once in your useless little life, stand up to do what is best for you!"

For once in your useless little life, stand up to do what is best for you.

Regina's shoulders rose in sync with a slight tilt of her head forward in a final act of defiance. Sometime during the soliloquy, the pillow fell to the ground, but Regina could still feel the fabric slipping from her hands along with her fingernails drawing rough lines on her palms, right across the M formed by the natural ones, the M that has always stood for mother, and while numerous sensations rock her body - pain, exhaustion, horror and confusion, to list a few - all that runs through her mind are her mother's carefully handpicked words.

For once in your useless little life, kill her.

And that is precisely the course of action I am going to undertake.

She fails to see the lion that is her mother lurking in the tall grass and waiting for her to fall into the lion's den. What happens next is an instinct, wondrous fireworks of something primal in the core of her being, something that she hasn't gotten in touch with since the day she was born. A thick cloud of purple smoke erupts from her fingertips and slithers through the blackness like a plains viper, homing in on Cora's neck. Instead of a warning hiss, this viper makes no audible notion of its presence; it rises to hover perilously high over Cora, examining her for just a split second - one split second of hesitation that never meant anything either way - before it strikes.

Regina's eyes widen in horror and the image unfolding in front of her as tens, possibly hundreds of blue shards fly out of the snake's throat, cutting it open from head to tail and fluttering in the air. Blue and white and purple flicker in her vision in rapid succession and it takes her a while to register that the shards are in fact but harmless butterflies, whose wings whisper songs of something far less ferocious than what's coursing through Regina's veins. They do not cut as she intended for them to, and they do not spit venom in their victim's neck, and neither do they choke the life out of it. The butterflies dance peacefully, if appearing slightly unsettled, and make way for Regina to see the figure kneeling in their midst with her arms tied behind her back and one of Cora's cheaper scarves stuffed inside her mouth.

It's the savior.

The woman appears to be asleep but not quite; she is just conscious enough to hold herself upright, only leaning forward innocently. She must be at least remotely aware of her surroundings, because a muffled whimper escapes her throat and the chains rattle against her lower back while blonde hair cascades further down her chest. Regina thinks maybe she's opening her eyes, but there's nothing but a hooded shadow of filth in them. No sign of Emma.

The witch's jaw drops; Cora, who is standing way out of the shooting range, appears to be in spite of all her wit quite puzzled herself, and if Regina had the mental capacity to do so at this moment, she would celebrate the triumph of finally surprising her mother, just this once. However, she is too startled herself to react in any way.

"Her? You love her?" This is obviously a fatal flaw in Cora's plan. She did not anticipate anything but serpents from the fiery pits of hell itself to engulf all three of them in flames. "But why, Regina? Didn't I teach you better than that the first time? Why would you force me to do it again?"

Regina shakes her head in a gesture oh so reminiscent of the little girl with stars in her eyes that dared yet deny the magic her mother possessed. Nothing makes sense. How can this be real? And she's back at the stables again, where the horses are mute and the butterflies have died. She wants to scream, no, don't, please, anything, but then she subconsciously stretches out her hand in the very first cells of a self-defense attempt and Cora interrupts this action before the impulse to fire even reaches her brain.

"You know magic reflects your feelings," Cora breathes and her chin appears to race with the tip of her nose for a moment over who can cross the finish line first in sheer superiority. The implications are clear. Do not touch your magic, or you shall face the consequences of mine.

Regina makes no move to retreat. It is at this moment that all the times she has been tied and beaten and left lying helplessly on the floor come surging back. All the times Mother has told her she loved her, pretending to know anything but a dictionary definition of the word she's using. Emma's head lolls to the side; the things she would give to go to sleep. Her eyes brim with decades of unshed tears as she whispers "Precisely."

She runs and the butterflies follow. She runs because, really, there's nothing else to do. Sometimes you have to run across seven mountains and seven seas and even then you mustn't stop, but rather run farther and farther away until the last star you've ever known fades away into paradise. Sometimes, the only thing left to do is to run to the ends of the earth and howl.

(A/N: I intended for some of the sentences to have double meanings. If you thought something was off about the pronouns, that didn't necessarily have to be my lack of grammatical proficiency, I swear!)