After everything that had happened Regina didn't know how she was suppose to relax. Her mother was still out there somewhere, Lucy was having nightmares just about every night, Henry had become clingy, some thing he had never been before, and despite all of that Emma had insisted they go out for the evening simply because it was Regina's birthday. She had been told by her lover that she needed to stop hovering over the children and that everyone in town was looking for Cora so it was only a matter of time before they found her, and that for one night she needed to just take a breath, relax, and enjoy the blessings in her life. But how was she suppose to enjoy a romantic dinner with Emma at Remy's followed by cake, ice cream and presents at Granny's with her children after what she'd done? Regina had been a real mess when she realized that in the aftermath of watching Daniel die again, this time in the arms of their ten-year-old daughter, she had forgotten the heart shaped jewel Rumple had said needed to be destroyed along with the book. When she and Emma had gone back the jewel was gone. How was she supposed to enjoy her birthday when her mother lurked in the darkness with a flicker of magic?
But Emma was Emma and in the end Regina found herself getting dressed for a night out. So there she was in a navy and silver lace v-neck Tadashi Shoji fresh out of the box from Bloomingdale's doing her best to smile and enjoy the quiet and very romantic meal at Remy's with Emma, who she had to admit looked beautiful in a tailored light grey pant suit. She wasn't sure when or how it happened but as Regina sat there at the small candle lit table with Emma so close she could feel her body heat, she slowly began to relax and enjoy the evening. Emma whispered in her ear and she laughed softly. She leaned in close and chastely pressed her lips to Emma's. She smiled seductively as she used her index finger to spread a hint of cream sauce over Emma's bottom lip before kissing her not so chastely. It was perfect and for the first time since hearing Daniel's voice again Regina wasn't filled with dread or pain or sorrow. She was happy.
"See," Emma said as they walked close together down the sidewalk heading towards Granny's. "I knew you'd enjoy yourself if you just relaxed a little bit."
"Are you expecting a, yes dear you were right, from me?" Regina teased as she tightened the hold she had on Emma's arm. "Because if you are you will be waiting awhile."
Emma laughed and used the few moments they had waiting on a streetlight to steal a kiss.
Truthfully they had both felt really apprehensive about leaving the kids after what happened but they knew they couldn't keep hovering over them all the time. That wouldn't help Henry or Lucy, so they left them in the care of the people they trusted the most, Snow, James, and the Lucas ladies. Emma took reassurance from knowing her parents would protect Henry and Lucy while Regina took reassurance that Red would turn into a wolf and eat anyone who tried to mess with the pups as she called them. Lucy wasn't thrilled with the idea of being away from her mother but Snow reassured her that everyone would be fine for a few hours. Red promised cake.
There had been a slow change happening with some people as far as Regina was concerned. A seed of forgiveness was planted within James when she brought his wife and daughter home, a bit of non-judgment from Red who had her own dark past, a flicker of understanding and compassion from Granny after finding out who her mother was. Hell even Grumpy felt sympathy for her after finding out about having Daniel forced from her life by a bitch with "good intentions" though comparing the Blue Fairy to Cora might have been a little overkill. But it was Snow who Regina wanted something more from, and not just because she was in love with Emma, but because once upon a time a young girl still pure and innocent of pain and hate could have so easily loved a child who simply wanted what Regina herself had never had, a loving, caring mother. If Cora had just left them alone, if Snow had just kept her secret a little bit longer, everyone could have been happy. Once they were married she and Daniel would have returned to the King, Regina would have gladly taken charge of Snow while Daniel worked in the stables. The King had no need of a wife and Regina could have been a mother to Snow without being married to the King. But Cora wouldn't allow that and destiny had had other plans.
The moment Regina walked into Granny's Dinner she was greeted with warm smiles and genuine wishes of happy birthday. She'd barely had a change to reply when she felt something, or rather someone, slam into her, wrapping arms around her and looking up at her with beautiful brown eyes.
"Happy Birthday Momma!" Lucy said with a huge smile.
"Thank you my darling." Regina replied. "Again, for the fiftieth time since I woke up this morning."
Lucy giggled. It was a sound that both Regina and Emma hadn't heard much of since the caretaker's cottage and Cora.
"Granny baked a cake!" Henry said excitedly. "We've been waiting forever for you to get here."
James chuckled at his grandson. "Henry's been eyeing it all night."
"We've had diner." Henry informed his mothers. "Can we have cake now?"
Regina laughed as she put her arm around her son's shoulders. "I don't know Henry. It's a bit late for all that sugar don't you think?"
"Mom!" Henry nearly whined. "It's a special occasion."
Regina made a show of thinking it over before finally smiling and agreeing, "Yes, we can have cake now." Her children cheered, bright smiles on their faces that lit up their eyes, and for a moment surrounded by these people and the people she loved most, it all felt so right, so normal.
"You have to blow out the candles, Regina." Ruby said as she lit several candles scattered around the round chocolate frosted cake. "We weren't sure how many to use though. None of us could figure out just how old you are."
"I'm old enough and that's all anyone needs to know." Regina replied as she stepped up to blow out the candles.
"Wait!" Lucy cried out. "Henry said there's a song!"
"Did Henry teach you the song?" Snow asked. When Lucy nodded, rather comically like a bobble head, she smile and said, "Then we'd better sing it."
At the counter of Granny's Dinner Snow White sang Happy Birthday to the Evil Queen. Emma couldn't stop laughing long enough to join in, which got her glares from both her mother and her lover.
With the cake demolished and unhealthy amounts of ice cream consumed, presents were opened. Henry, ever the bookworm, had made her a scrapbook full of all the moments the four of them had had as a family, she and Emma had had as a couple, and she'd had as a better mom. Lucy gave her a new apple tree sapling. "I grew it from the apple seeds I found in your castle." The girl explained. "Rosetta helped. She did the special graphing that'll help it grow in your orchard here."
Emma's gift had been romantic and sweet, Red's silly, Granny's practical, and Grumpy's alcoholic. Regina was feeling a little overwhelmed.
"What's wrong?" Emma asked gently as she stood close behind Regina, barley a breath between their bodies.
"Other than the little handmade gifts from Henry the last time I received a real gift for my birthday, it was from…"
"Me." Snow said softly. "The crystal apple you keep you on your desk at home."
The two looked at each other for a long moment before Regina softly said, "Snow…"
"Momma!" Lucy cut in while carrying over another wrapped present. "There's one more!"
Regina looked a little confused. She thought she'd opened everything but apparently she'd missed one. As she tore away the paper Emma asked who it was from, only than did she notice there wasn't a tag or card. The air in the room changed. Snow pulled Henry and Lucy close to her and a little further from Regina and Emma. Emma stood close to Regina as if to protect her from what lay inside. Regina opened the box slowly, jerking her hand back as if what was inside might bite her. Nestled inside were two decorative glass jars. One held ash while the other was empty. Picking up the one full of ash Regina's heart thumped painfully in her chest as the dust inside began to glow with the faint residual magic of the most innocent of true love, first love.
"What is that?" Emma asked as Regina's hands began to shake.
Regina's voice trembled. "Daniel's true heart."
"How…" Emma asked, eyes wide.
"My Mother." Regina answered. "She's sending me a message." She put the jar with the ashes of Daniel's heart in it back in the box and picked up the empty jar. "This one is meant for yours."
Before Snow had a chance to say how she felt about the prospect of Cora taking her daughter's heart she felt Lucy began to shake in a way that let her now the girl was terrified. "Lucy? Honey what's wrong?"
Lucy's eyes were wide and her heart was pounding as she raised her arm to point. Standing outside in the street stood Cora, smiling and waiting, as if she were simply about to join them in their merriment. Emma's instincts to protect Regina kicked in and before anyone could stop her she was rushing for the door.
"Emma!" Regina cried out. "No! Don't!" She ran after Emma but she wasn't quick enough. The moment Emma stepped out of Granny's Cora had her magically hovering in the air, pulling her towards her.
"You are a mother now, Regina." Cora said as she drew Emma close and set her down in front of her. Around her neck she wore the heart shaped jewel and as she used what remained of it's magic it glowed a haunting blood red. "You should understand the sacrifices a mother makes for her children. And yet you continue to be ungrateful, you continue to defy me like a spoiled child! Well, when children are naughty they are punished, they have their favorite things taken away from them."
No, no not again! Regina would not stand by and let her mother kill her true love not this time, not Emma! Rushing forward, first with her magic and then with her body, Regina shoved Emma out of Cora's reach. It all happened so quickly that Cora couldn't stop. Her hand sank into Regina's chest and when she pulled back she held her daughter's heart in her hand. Regina gasped in pain, her eyes wide as her hands clutched at her now empty chest, tears welled in her eyes and flowed freely down her cheeks as she sank to her knees.
"Regina!" Emma cried out as she got to her feet after falling from Regina's shove.
Cora was in shock but only for a moment. With her daughter's heart she could either kill her or now completely control her. She would leave the choice up to Regina. She gave the glowing, beating heart in her hand a squeeze and Regina cried out in agony. "If I can't have you darling no one will. Make your choice wisely."
Pain filled brown eyes looked up at Cora and then at her children who were being held back, shielded as best as they could manage, by Snow and James, and then over to Emma. Those eyes begged Emma as she gasped out, "Lucy, Henry, protect them, love them, remind them that…" She gasped as Cora squeezed harder. "Remind them that I loved them, that I loved you, that I choose you." Regina staggered to her feet and lurched herself at her mother but Cora squeezed again and Regina dropped to the ground with an agonizing cry.
As she watched Cora squeeze the life from Regina's glowing heart Emma wished she had a sword, she wished, preyed so hard, that a bright flash of white magic blinded all who were watching. "Hey!" Emma screamed, much the same way her own father had once screamed at Regina. "Bitch! That heart you're holding belongs to me!"
Cora only had a second to turn and look and all she saw was the light as it reflected brightly off the steel of Emma's sword just before it came down severing her hand just above the wrist. She cried out a blood-curdling scream as her hand and Regina's heart fell towards the pavement. Emma rushed forward as Cora was falling to her knees, snatching up Regina's heart and cradling it against her own chest as she used the tip of her sword to rip the heart jewel from Cora's neck. The moment it hit the ground Emma crushed it with the heel of her boot, and once again Cora cried out in a roar so full of hate and despair it drew people from their buildings.
Nearly the whole town gathered and watched the scene unfold.
Dropping to her knees beside the dying woman she loved so much Emma couldn't stop the tears as she begged, "Help me, Regina, help me! Tell me what to do!" She placed the heart on Regina's chest, picked up Regina's hand and placed it over the heart, before wrapping her own hands around both. "Regina! What do I do! How do I put it back!?"
Regina licked her dry lips and tried to speak but the light in her heart, the light in her eyes, was growing dim. She was almost gone. Cora's damage had been done.
"No!" Emma cried out. "No! Regina! Damnit tell me what to do! Please! Please! Tell me how to put it back!"
Regina lifted her free hand and brushed at Emma's wet cheek. She smiled, thanking Emma for giving her a second chance and for showing her love again. Then her eyes fluttered shut and her hand dropped back to the ground. She was gone.
"No! No! NO!" Emma wailed.
"Emma." Snow said gently as she walked over and out her hand on her daughter's shoulder. Ruby held a sobbing Lucy while James clung to his grandson. "I'm so sorry."
"No!" Emma jerked away from her mother. "No!" Her tears ran down her face, falling, splashing onto Regina's now lifeless heart. Picking up Regina's lifeless hand she pressed it to her own chest. Closing her eyes Emma thought of only one thing, their hearts, beating as one, loving as one, her heart beating for Regina's and Regina's beating for hers.
Snow went towards her daughter again but then stopped, a gasp of pure wonderment slipping past her lips.
Emma glowed with magic and it was brightest where Regina's hand rested, over Emma's heart. Slowly the magic spread from Emma to Regina, engulfing them both. Everyone watching was in awe as they watched Emma lean in and kiss Regina gently on the lips. There was a soft gasp from someone, Snow, Ruby, as they watched Regina's heart fill with light and then sink back into her chest, leaving Emma's hand resting in the same place hers was on Emma's chest. The pulse of true love's magic that burst from the pair knocked the people closest to them backwards, it was so strong that it was felt not only in all of Storybrooke but in Fairytale Land as well.
Everyone watched, waited. Even Cora, now magicless and restrained by Thomas and Jefferson, watched in complete astonishment as they all waited for that moment, that moment in the story just before happily ever after.
When Emma pulled back from Regina she held her breath until Regina's eyes snapped opened and she gasped for that first breath of air. Turning to look at Emma, Regina's brown eyes locked with Emma's green ones. Two hearts so long alone had finally found each other. Two hearts shattered, scared, and broken were healed and whole. Two hearts that now beat as one.
Regina smiled, "You saved me."
"You saved me first." Emma said with a euphoric laugh.
They shared another kiss one so full of love everyone watching could see it. A kiss ended only by the sudden collision of their children wrapping themselves around Regina's body in a hug so tight it was nearly crushing.
Turning away from the scene Snow walked over to where Cora was, she was pale and nearly done from loose of blood. "Take her to the hospital. Have her arm treated. She is to be locked up and guarded at all times. She may still have allies among us, so only those most loyal to me as guards." She ordered before lifting Cora's chin and looking her in the eyes. "You are done hurting me and mine. This town has been out for blood since it woke up. I think it'll finally get what it wants. You caused all of this, you and Rumple, and now at least you're going to pay." Jerking her head Snow ordered, "Get her out of my sight."
"Snow." Regina said hoarsely when the younger woman joined them once more.
"You gave your life for my daughter's Regina." Snow said firmly and so all could hear. "I think it's time we start working on forgives, don't you?"
Regina smiled. "Yes, yes I do."