CHAPTER ONE: October 6, 2012
"If you leave, you can never come back. Do you understand that? Do you understand what that means?"
"Do you really?"
"I'm here, aren't I? I know what I'm getting myself into."
"And you're... you're prepared to make that sacrifice?"
"This is for the best. It has to happen. It needs to."
"She has to live."
"At the cost of your own life?"
"This is my choice."
"You have some balls, I'll give you that, but you're also out of your damn mind..."
"Someone I admire once told me that every act of bravery requires a smidgen of crazy, so I'll take that as a compliment."
"Is there anything I can do to make you reconsider?"
"No, I'm sorry."
"You'll lose everything if you do this."
"I will lose everything if I don't."
"Love is not finding someone you can live with;
it's finding someone you can't live without."
– Rafael Ortiz
It is the sixth of October.
A typical Saturday in sleepy Storybrooke, Maine; a day that should've been insignificant in the greater scheme of things. But it isn't. Far from it, actually.
Today is no ordinary day, but nobody will realize just how important the sixth of October is until it is too late. A year down the road, people will begin to see it in a different light. And they will come to appreciate the blessing, the sacrifice, the devotion that would forever change a broken woman's life. They will know, but will not fully comprehend, the essence of one soul's sacrifice in order to save another.
No one will, until it's too late.
It is the sixth of October. A pivotal moment in Storybrooke's history and the turning point in Regina Mills' life.
And it all began with a spell, a Sheriff, and a thief.
Regina starts her day with coffee. Black, hardly any sugar; simple and nearly down to its purest form. She enjoys how the liquid burns down her throat, how the flavor dances in her tastebuds, and how its scent lingers in the air around her like a fragrant perfume. She had developed quite a taste for it since arriving in this world and making it her new home. In the old land, she was raised to deprive herself of such a simple pleasure. Coffee, her mother had said, was for peasants, servants and soldiers. A proper lady only drinks tea.
Regina sneers at that idea now. Excluding the time she held Rumpelstiltskin's precious Chip hostage, not once has she touched a teacup in all her twenty-eight years in Storybrooke. Tea and teatime evoked unpleasant memories that she'd rather stay buried in the charred remains of the Enchanted Forest. Breaking her spirit and everything she loved was about the only consistent parenting skill that Cora had possessed. And somehow, in a warped way, Regina had come to associate tea with it.
The sound of water running down the pipes inside the walls, and movement from the floors above and below, pulls Regina out of her thoughts. She palms her coffee mug with both hands and holds it by her nose, inhaling the aroma with deep, even breaths. Glancing at the numbers flashing on the microwave, she notes with mild surprise that both her housemates had somehow managed to extricate themselves from their warm beds before their respective alarms were set to blare. That is a miracle in and out of itself.
Regina takes a healthy sip and wonders who the unfortunate victim of the day would be; it's always a toss up – the two appear to share the same habit of lingering in the shower far longer than necessary. Henry would sometimes fall asleep in the middle of rinsing, and Regina suspects that his birth mother does the same when Emma's grating voice suddenly stops butchering a song, even though she can still hear the water running from inside the bathroom. Hot water had never been a problem in the Mills household in the past, but now that there were three bodies forced to share it every morning, the consistency and reliability of her water heater had been duly compromised. Regina, having learned her lesson from the very first day that Emma Swan had invaded her home, took it upon herself to wake up before everyone else did and bathe first. Never again would she be the one screaming and jumping out of the shower with soap suds all over her body and shampoo in her eyes.
Twenty long minutes later, she finally gets her answer. Regina smiles as she hears the faint sound of Henry's footsteps padding upstairs. Her smile further widens into what could only be described as a sinister grin at the muffled yodeling coming from the floor below. It looks like the monster living in the basement would be the one at the receiving end of an arctic blast today. Perfect. Inexplicably delighted at the thought of Emma Swan's discomfort, she finishes the rest of her coffee and begins to wait, anticipating the shriek that is bound to break the silence of her home.
Unfortunately, she never gets to hear it.
The moment Regina sets the empty mug down to grab a piece of strawberry, something very peculiar happens. A shift in energy. It's like the earth tilted off its axis for a moment, and she has to hold on to the sides of the table just to keep herself upright. It knocks the air out of her and makes her nauseous. And like all things that leave a lasting impression, it's gone as quickly as it came. Shaken, Regina gulps in a generous amount of oxygen into her lungs and takes a few moments to get her bearings back. She knows what had just occurred. She felt it; that undeniable tingling at the base of her neck that spreads and sweeps across her skin whenever powerful magic is at play. It didn't come from her, she is certain of it.
Someone, somewhere, is playing with fire.
Trust the imbeciles in this town to ruin a perfectly nice Saturday morning.
Regina gives out a low hum of disapproval before standing up and depositing her mug on the sink. Being at the mercy of Snow White and that excruciatingly dense prince of hers, means that whatever magical conundrum happens in this town is Regina's job to figure out and fix. It isn't enough that they forced their precious little princess into her home as some sort of spy-slash-warden-slash-guardian, they also had the nerve to make Regina work as Storybrooke's resident "magical defense expert" – a ridiculous consultancy position that's under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff, no less.
It is absurd – being downgraded from almighty Queen to powerful small-town mayor to Emma Swan's magical lackey. The Evil Queen in her had wanted to turn everyone into toads, skewer them with a stick, overcook them in a stone pit and feed their rubbery hides to the trolls lurking underneath Toll bridge. But, alas, the mother in her overpowered her desire for vengeance. In the end, having Henry in her life again is enough incentive to play nice.
Regina goes through the list of possible suspects in her head while she readies Henry's breakfast; her body moving seamlessly inside the kitchen as if on auto-pilot. She places her son's cereal of choice and a carton of milk on the table and grabs a bowl and spoon from the dishwasher. Without thinking, she also puts a banana and a dark green mug beside the pot of coffee she had brewed earlier. Emma, ever the audacious interloper, had laid claim on that mug from her very first morning in the Mills home three months ago. It used to grate at Regina's nerves how comfortable the blonde is in her own house. She suspects that Emma acts that way on purpose just to get a rise out of her. And boy, does she.
But, to Regina's chagrin, the overwhelming urge to throttle Snow White's precious princess didn't seem to have that much staying power. Although she'd tried her very best to hold on to it, her annoyance slowly ebbed away when Emma made herself useful and started doing chores around the house without Regina's prompting. The old lady that used to clean for her didn't want to come anymore since the curse broke. Emma stepped up the plate and took up all the tasks that Regina hated – vacuuming, dusting, weeding, you name it. And, much to her surprise, Emma hadn't broken anything yet – not that she knows of, anyway. It is oddly... pleasant... how Regina didn't have to do every single thing anymore. Having someone to depend on felt nice, if not a little odd. Not that she'd ever admit that to anyone, let alone Emma Swan. As far as Regina is concerned, she now has a live-in maid in her home. That arrangement, she can handle.
Still bothered by what had happened a few moments ago, Regina taps her fingers absentmindedly on the granite countertop and stares outside the window overlooking the garden, her brown eyes distant and unfocused. This isn't a matter that she can easily brush off. Magic is unpredictable in this world; and, as she discovered a while back, it has considerable consequences.
Regina mulls over what she knows so far: a) what she felt earlier was definitely some sort of shockwave from a powerful spell; b) it was, much to her surprise, white magic; and c) the force was enough to push her body sideways to the right – which basically meant that the magic had originated from the west.
The forest, Regina's eyes narrow at the thought. If the epicenter is there, and she felt it all the way here, then the implications were troublesome indeed. Potent magic – no matter if it were dark or light – could trigger another fissure to open.
And, if it is anything like the last time, they now have a big problem in their hands.
She hears someone call from the floor below, startling her out of her worrisome thoughts. It only takes a second for the basement door to bang open, rattling the expensive china in the cupboard and almost throwing a painting off the wall. Regina winces at the noise and turns towards the doorway with a murderous gleam in her eyes, intent on giving the caveman of a sheriff a piece of her mind.
"Miss Swan, I d–"
The former Mayor of Storybrooke never gets to finish that sentence.
Of all the things she is expecting to see, the sight of Emma Swan wrapped in nothing but a towel is certainly not one of them. The blonde is clearly out of sorts, distress radiating off her body so intensely that Regina feels a wee bit nauseous from all the nervous energy.
She lifts an eyebrow at the harassed-looking sheriff, but her look of confusion immediately gives way to a glare as her eyes spot the puddle of water that's beginning to pool by the blonde's feet. The woman is dripping wet. Regina lets out a vexed huff. Trust her uncivilized housemate to throw her completely out of kilter by barging into her kitchen practically naked and making a mess of her immaculate floors.
Emma sees the look on Regina's face and promptly gets the hint. She moves back and stands on the top step of the stairs leading down to the basement.
"I'll mop that, I promise."
"You had better," Regina's jaws set.
She slips back into her usual all-business and no-nonsense mask, willing her cheeks not to flush. She forces her eyes to focus on Emma's face. This is embarrassing enough for the both of them; she didn't – wouldn't – be caught dead gawking.
"Miss Swan, I know you have an unfortunate predilection for prancing around in your underwear during the morning, but can't you keep this exhibitionist behavior of yours confined in your cubby-hole downstairs? My son could go down any minute and–"
"I don't have any clothes," Emma blurts out.
"That much is obvious, my dear."
"No, I mean, I don't have any clothes," Emma stresses, shuffling from one foot to another. "There's nothing in my dresser. Nada. All I have left is a pair of old jeans that I've been meaning to throw away."
"Miss Swan, let's not kid ourselves here. Most of your clothes belong to the trash anyhow," Regina says in a bored tone. "And, before you blame me for this fortunate mishap, let me just say that I didn't have anything to do with it. Check the washing machine; Henry might've taken pity on your filthy clothes and did your laundry for you. I, on the other hand, wouldn't touch your clothes without a Hazmat suit on and a tub of disinfectant."
Emma rolls her eyes but brushes away her insults easily enough.
"Noted, Regina. And, for the record, I didn't think it was you either," she says, absolving Regina of a crime she didn't do. Emma meets her gaze dead on, her voice grim. "I think somebody broke into our house."
That gets Regina's attention. Her magic has been erratic as of late, but it's still powerful enough to be feared. Apart from the angry mob that demanded her head when the curse broke, nobody's dared to set foot near her mansion for months. And, though she would never say it out loud, the fact that the Sheriff now resided in her home also deterred potential troublemakers. Before she can stew on it, a thought strikes and Regina tenses.
If somebody had broken in then... "Henry!"
"He's fine. I just talked to him on our walkie-talkies. He's checking to see if any of his things are missing too," Emma is quick to reassure, lifting her hands up in a placating gesture.
Her towel almost slips away and Regina averts her gaze in a snap. She's certain her face had instantaneously turned red with worry for her son, and she doesn't need Emma to see it turn purple at the mere sight of the sheriff in her birthday suit. That would be mortifying to say the least.
"I'm positive my things were still there before I went in the shower. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I felt a draft and I saw the hatch that led outside wide open. The lock was hacked off. Did you see anyone in the garden?"
"I.. no. I was a little preoccupied."
"Did anyone go through this door?" Emma questions, leaning her hands against the doorframe. Regina wishes she'd stop doing that. The towel's barely hanging on as is.
"Just you," she says stiffly, nailing her gaze on the light above Emma's head.
"Do you think any of your things are missing?"
"I don't know, I'm not sure," Regina murmurs, pursing her lips. She'd have to go around the mansion and take a quick inventory of her belongings. Anything of real value to her, she keeps in her safe. Regina makes a mental note to check that first.
"Okay, tell me if any of your stuff got stolen. The thief might've never made it past the basement but it doesn't hurt to be sure. I'll call the station and ask Ruby to get her ass over here and dust for fingerprints."
"Yes, well, you might want to throw on some clothes first before your deputy arrives," Regina suggests in a dry tone, casting a wary glance at the doorway leading to the living room and foyer.
Henry might come down any minute now, and, well, it's getting increasingly difficult for Regina to find something else to look at without appearing like she has some sort of attention-deficit disorder.
"Um, funny you should mention that–" Emma forces a chuckle out of her lips, a hand unconsciously scratching the back of her neck in a sheepish manner. Regina marvels at how tiny she sounds all of a sudden, and, before she knows it, her eyes go back to look at the blonde. "I kinda wasn't exaggerating when I said that all of my clothes got stolen," Emma mutters, unable to meet the brunette's gaze.
"What about the clothes you wore last night?"
"I slept in the nude."
"Oh." Regina definitely didn't need to know that. Now she's got that mental image flashing in her he– "Remind me to wash your sheets three times in scalding hot water when I do the laundry," she says too quickly.
"Yeah, yeah," Emma mumbles, still incapable of making eye contact.
Regina tilts her head, looking at the other woman curiously. And then, it sinks in. Oh. Well, that is just precious.
"You don't have any underwear," Regina states plainly, her eyes twinkling with amusement.
The red tint that explodes on Emma's face and neck says everything.
"I suppose I can lend you a blouse, but that's it," Regina says with an evil smirk, thoroughly enjoying turning the tables on the other woman. The sight of Emma being thrown out of her comfort zone for a change gives Regina a pleasant buzz.
"You just have to settle for wearing that one pair of jeans you have left. I'm not lending you any of my trousers knowing that you have to go without panties today -– the last thing I need is to get infected with your germs and get a rash. And no, before you ask, I don't have any new, unused underwear to spare," she continues, effectively killing whatever Emma is about to say.
"I'm already forced to share my son and my home with you, Miss Swan, I draw the line on underwear."
Emma's mouth flaps open and close like a fish, completely at a loss for words. After a moment, she drops her head and just sighs in defeat.
"Okay, I get it. No panties, no pants, no rash. Thanks for the blouse," she mumbles half-heartedly.
"I gather the blue one my son had oh-so-generously loaned you in the past is sufficient enough, Sheriff Swan?"
Emma manages a weak nod before turning on her heels and trudging down the stairs to the basement. Regina lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding in.
That poor towel had been hanging on for dear life. She's no prude, but just the thought of seeing one of her greatest adversaries that exposed makes her feel extremely discomfited. Emma Swan is already a thorn in her side, Regina didn't need her to be the (naked) nightmare haunting her dreams too.
Still, it had been rewarding to witness the normally outspoken Sheriff so flabbergasted.
Regina indulges in a few moments of gloating before heading to her room to fetch the said blouse. She'll take her victories, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they were. With the Charmings taking over her town, they were few and far in between.
Emma suspects the universe is conspiring against her when she tries to slip on her pants. It's bad enough that she has to go commando, but now she finds herself jumping up and down like a loon and clenching in her butt cheeks just to get it over her hips. Skintight does not even begin to describe this ratty pair of Levi's. Not only are her faded moth-eaten jeans a couple of years old – she had outgrown them significantly since moving to Storybrooke. Work as a bail bondsman often meant long hours without sleep and meals. Life as a small town Sheriff, and overall White Knight, is the exact opposite – well, not that the sleeping part had improved significantly, but the quality and quantity of meals certainly did. And now, she's paying for it.
Maybe through sheer force of will, she manages to squeeze herself into it; but, to add insult to injury, it also takes her an absurd amount of time to button it up. It takes another minute or two to pop it in the hole, but as soon as it goes in, she plops down on her bed, sweaty and topless, chest heaving from the effort.
"Jesus effin' Christ," Emma breathes out, utterly exhausted.
She stares at the ceiling fan hanging over her bed, letting herself get hypnotized by the rotating blades. It's the start of October and the weather's starting to get too cool for fans, but she keeps it on anyway. Living in Regina's mansion means that she can enjoy the perks of centralized heating. She just likes the sound the fan makes; she enjoys a bit of background noise.
The basement can get too quiet sometimes.
Whenever anyone aside from her immediate family and closest friends bother to ask her about her peculiar living arrangements, Emma just shrugs and tells them that she's living in Regina's guest room. Technically, it's not really a lie. Emma is a guest and she's living in a room. Case closed. Other people don't need to know that said room is in the basement, that it's the tiny extra bedroom where Henry and Regina used to store old toys and holiday decorations, and that on occasion, Regina would refer to it as her dungeon. She's joking, of course, but that didn't stop Emma from scouring every corner of the basement for blood spatters and torture devices during her first night at the mansion (for the record, she didn't find any).
Emma can't really complain about it though. She actually loves her room – sparse and isolated as it may be. She has her privacy. Her own bathroom. Her own TV. Her own computer (even if it's one of Regina's mammoth models from the early 90's). And best of all, she lives under the same roof as her son. Oh, Regina isn't bad company either. She's great fun if you enjoy a good pissing contest now and again. That, and she's a delightful cook (when she holds the poison).
Speaking of Regina...
Emma reaches out a hand and blindly feels for the shirt that Regina had earlier tossed down at her shivering, towel-clad self. She was half-expecting the brunette to throw in another snarky 'enjoy my shirt, Miss Swan' for old times sake, but Regina just cackled at how pathetic she looked and sauntered away from the basement door. Emma swears she can still hear that diabolic laugh ringing in her ears. Clearly, despite being on her best behavior for the past months, somewhere deep inside the enigma that is Regina Mills still resides the Evil Queen.
Emma finds the shirt on top of her pillow, and it takes a great deal of effort just to force herself to sit upright in order to slip it on. The silky garment is nice and cool on her skin. It kinda feels a little weird without a bra on, and she could actually see her nipples protruding through the fabric; but, nevertheless, she marvels at the material like she did the first time she wore the shirt. Emma can fault Regina for a lot of things, but the woman clearly has an excellent taste in clothes (and everything else, if she's being honest).
The thought of clothes slams Emma back into reality. Being used to a nomadic existence, every article of clothing she owned could fit perfectly inside a duffel bag. If one would look up 'flight risk' in a dictionary, her name would be under it. She didn't have much in terms of clothes; she didn't really need it. Her style is more practical than fashionable; hence, all the tight jeans and tanktops and every other piece of clothing that Regina mocked on a daily basis. Her jackets – all four of them – were about the only pieces she spent a great deal of money on (and, even then, Regina still found them offensive to look at). Emma didn't have many clothes to begin with, and now, she had nothing at all. Aside from the all-too-small jeans she's wearing, not a damn thing. No shirts, no tanktops, no pants, no jackets, no socks, no panties, no bras. Thank God she stopped hiding her money in socks or else she'd be royally screwed.
Emma's eyes widen comically. "Crap!"
She jumps off the bed and almost trips on her own feet, her legs scrambling towards the shoe rack by the dresser. Two pairs of shoes are missing, but three were thankfully left alone. On her knees, she sticks both hands inside her beat-up Doc Martens and pales when she feels nothing but the scratchy in-step of her boots.
Her rainy day stash is gone.
A nice chunk of the payments she'd received for her last five successful assignments as a bail bond agent, all gone.
Yeah, most of her money is safely stashed in the bank, but still. Three grand is still three fucking grand. Whoever the perp is, Emma has half the mind to set his face on fire, put the flames out with a fork and stomp on it with Regina's three-inch Jimmy Choo's. She's the Sheriff and she needs to uphold the law, but damn does retribution seem like such a sweet idea right now. That bastard had targeted her specifically; only her things got stolen. Henry and Regina's stuff was left untouched.
This is personal.
Her legs like jelly, Emma lumbers back to her bed, drops face down on the sheets and muffles a scream into her mattress. This day couldn't possibly get any worse.
But, like Mary Margaret always says, it's always darkest before dawn. And, if this isn't the darkest point yet, then she's in for quite a ride.
Though, someone up there takes pity on her and decides to throw her a bone.
Emma smells it before she even sees it.
Her perfume. A little bit of sweat. A whole lot of leather.
She almost gets whiplash from the way her neck snaps towards her pillow. Something's peeking underneath. The color of blood and apples. Without a second thought, she grabs the said pillow and flings it behind her. It knocks a few DVD's and magazines off her desk, but Emma couldn't care less about the mess.
Emma stares at the piece of clothing before her and almost weeps.
She's lost a whole lot today, but at least she still has this. Maybe that's enough. For now, at least.
Regina knows she should've been doing this inside her study, but when she sees Henry sitting all alone for breakfast, she takes her maps and her tools and lays everything across from him on the kitchen table. It may seem pathetic, but lately, she'll jump at any excuse to be in his company. Their interactions are no longer as stilted and awkward as they had been in the past, but they're still a far cry from the way he acts around Emma.
Regina envies how easily her son gives affection to the other woman and she finds herself craving for the same treatment more and more with each passing day. It's a bitter pill to swallow; but, what else can she do but take it silently and hope that she won't choke on her jealousy any time soon? It's hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, but she's trying. She hopes he sees that at least.
"You don't have to rush, he won't be here to pick you up for another hour," Regina tells Henry when she notices the hurried way he's shoveling food inside his mouth.
He seems to relax at her words; slumping against the back of his chair and chewing at a slower pace.
Regina offers him a small smile before returning her attention to the map spread before her.
Henry would normally sleep in until nine during weekends; but, for the past few Saturdays now, her son has been learning the ways of the sword with his grandfather. Henry is not a morning person and he probably never will be, but wooden swords, it would seem, have enough power to draw her precious young boy from the temptation of a few extra hours in bed. Regina wishes she knew that five years ago, when she would pull every muscle in her body and test the very limits of her patience when she'd get him ready for school by bathing, dressing and spoon-feeding him herself because he was practically catatonic in the morning.
Regina can't help the wistful smile that tugs at her lips at the memory. Henry looks at her peculiarly from across the table but doesn't say anything.
No matter how trying those moments had been, Regina had enjoyed every minute of it. Sometimes she wishes that they could just go back to the time when she was the center of Henry's world. When he would give the sweetest kisses and the tightest of hugs as freely as he would say 'I love you' to her every single night before he went to bed. Days she was everything he idolized and she was every bit his hero – not the villain that he would come to fear since he came into possession of that book. Regina just wishes, hell, desperately wants, to go back to those precious years when Henry would crawl beside her in bed and play with her earlobe until he fell asleep. It wasn't perfect, but it was as close to it as they ever got. And, she had taken it all for granted.
The road to redemption is long, lonely and hard. Regina knows this now; yet still, she is willing to go through hell and back for even the smallest morsel of affection from her son. Their relationship is still not how it used to be, but they are getting somewhere at least. She knows deep inside he loves her still, but too many lies and secrets and betrayals compounded all the hurt, and, whatever love he had for her is buried so deep that her little boy is having trouble seeing it – let alone remember that it exists in the first place. Bringing Emma Swan and Snow White back to Storybrooke had helped in restoring a tiny bit of his trust, but it's still not enough. Mending fences is a slow and arduous process that requires patience and understanding, and Regina's pouring all her strength into repairing the bridge that she herself had burned down so carelessly because of her foolish desire to uphold a curse that did nothing but gnaw at her soul in the first place.
She wants to earn his trust. Gain his respect. Deserve his love.
Henry is her world, and if she does things right, maybe in time he'll let her fully back into his.
"I felt something earlier," Henry shares in a quiet tone, playing with the cereal in his bowl with a spoon. "I'm not sure, but I think it was magic."
A burst of pride fills Regina's chest. He truly is a gifted and extremely perceptive boy. Not a lot of people would pick up on that.
"It was. I felt it too."
"It wasn't you?"
"No," Regina shakes her head. "But I'm going to figure out who."
Henry nods and returns his attention to his breakfast.
"What are those for?" he asks over a mouthful of cereal, looking at the assortment of objects spread before her.
"I'm trying to find concentrated energy spots," Regina explains in a patient tone. She lifts her hand and shows him the dull white crystal that she had been dangling over the map of Storybrooke with a string. "This crystal was given to me by Malefi–an old friend of mine. It has special properties, one being that it's drawn to magical energy. Think of it as some sort of compass. I'm trying to pinpoint the origin of the magic we felt earlier. When the crystal finds the spot on the map, it will glow bright blue."
Henry seems to absorb this information like a sponge, and from that moment on, he begins to watch her work with an eager set of eyes.
"Will that help you figure out if another fissure opened?" he asks after some time.
"That's what I'm hoping for," Regina answers softly, eyes flitting from the map to the face of her son.
Henry is trying to be the brave young prince, but she can tell that he's getting antsy. Those tiny creases between his brows spoke volumes. She can't blame him; the last time a fissure appeared in the forest – the day Rumpelstiltskin mysteriously disappeared from Storybrooke, no less – goblins came out of it and wreaked havoc around town. It took the Sheriff's Department two days to wrangle the goblins together and put them down for good. Regina came out of that experience with a nasty gash on her right shoulder while Emma survived with an assortment of cuts and bruises on her arms and legs. The other deputies suffered minor burns and everyone looked like hell for days. Henry couldn't sleep for two straight nights, worrying about them, stressing over the fact that they almost died. Regina doesn't want him to go through that ordeal again, so she is quick to offer some reassurance to her son.
"If there's a fissure, I'll find it right away and seal it before anything comes out. Don't worry, everything's going to be fine."
Henry smiles weakly and nods, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into his mouth.
"Mom?" he speaks up again after a moment.
"When you find it, take Emma with you. Don't go off on your own again like last time."
Regina smiles softly, and she feels her heart clench and expand, touched by his concern. The words claw out of her throat. "O-of course."
"She's the White Knight, it's her job to protect the weak," he continues.
Regina wants to argue that she's far from being a weakling and needing protection – least of all from Emma Swan – but she decides to bite her tongue and let her son continue to share his mind. Brushing away his opinions never did their relationship any good.
As if reading her thoughts, Henry backtracks a bit and clarifies, "Mom, I know you're not weak. But monsters are scary and dangerous and you need your magic to defeat them. And, without Emma there to hold your hand, your magic gets... weird."
"No, it doesn't," Regina is quick to deny. "Magic is different here, you know that. The rules are not the same. In the old world, one plus one is two. In here, one plus one equals three. It will take some getting used to. Besides, it's been twenty-eight years without practice, I've just been a little rusty. My magic is working just fine."
Henry floors her with a knowing look. "You turned our car into a pony."
"That was an accident."
"He's still in the petting zoo. It's been three weeks."
"The spell will wear off," Regina dismisses with a wave of a hand. Henry lifts an eyebrow. "–eventually," Regina finishes lamely.
Unfortunately, Henry isn't done. "When Emma fell in the lake, the wind spell you used to dry her clothes gave her gas instead."
"Maybe I did that on purpose."
You turned our apples purple," Henry narrows his eyes.
Regina shrugs, faking nonchalance. "It's my favorite color."
"You gave Leroy boobs."
"Everyone has... breasts, even men. It's human anatomy," Regina mumbles feebly, her cheeks coloring.
She was trying to heal the man after the goblin attack, but well. Her intentions were good, that's all she can say. At least the dwarf had shrunk back from a D-cup to his normal chest size after a week (which is probably a modest B).
"Mom," Henry sighs wearily, sounding so unlike the ten-year-old boy that he is. "The chicken you were cooking in the oven was running around the garden yesterday."
Regina bristles in her seat. "You saw that?"
"Why did you think I didn't eat dinner last night?" Henry makes a face. Despite his obvious disgust at seeing a headless, skinless half-baked chicken frolicking in their backyard, Henry looks at her and grins cheekily. "It's kinda mean that you fed it all to Emma though."
"She liked it," Regina shrugs and before she knows it, she's sharing a rare quiet laugh with her son. Warmth spreads across her body. It feels... nice.
Regina's more receptive to his words after that brief bonding moment, so she doesn't offer any more excuses when he starts to speak his mind again.
"Emma kinda makes your magic work okay. She thinks she's your magical savior or something. So, please mom, let her protect you," Henry pleads, his expression deathly serious. "And, when your magic isn't acting weird because she's there, you can use that to protect Emma as well. Gramps told me that she's not pretty good with a sword – and, that I'm actually better at it than her."
Regina can't help but snort at the truth in Henry's words. Emma being bad with a sword is the understatement of the century. The White Knight does not swing swords; she flings them at her enemies. That's about her one and only go-to move. If sword fighting is in any way like throwing a javelin, maybe Emma Swan might actually be decent at it.
"Mom? Promise?" Henry prods, looking at her with expectant eyes.
Regina exhales slowly and gives him a sincere smile. As if she could say no to this boy and that face.
"You have my word," she murmurs.
That sets his mind at ease. He smiles shyly at her before going back to finish the remaining bits of soggy cornflakes in his bowl. Regina thinks she knows where this is coming from. Henry has always been a very loving child, always concerned with the welfare of the people he held dear. The simple truth is that he simply doesn't want both of his mothers hurt; and, if that means that she and Emma would have to work together and have each other's backs despite their differences, Henry's prepared to make at least one of them swear on it for his own peace of mind. Her son is both caring and cunning – a perfect combination of the White Knight in his blood and the Evil Queen in his upbringing. Regina can respect that. And damn if it didn't make her eyes water a little.
"We have some good news and some bad news," Emma declares as soon as she enters the kitchen with Ruby in tow. "Which one do you guys wanna hear first?"
"Bad," Mother and son chorus, much to Emma's amusement. Regina and Henry always did seem to want to get the bad stuff out of the way before hearing something good.
Emma looks at Ruby and motions her forward with a hand, giving her deputy the floor.
"So, I just finished dusting Emma's room as well as the hatch the perp used to enter the basement. The hatch and the hacked off padlock were totally clean, which would suggest that the thief wore gloves or wiped his prints before he left," Ruby explains while removing the latex gloves she had on and stuffing them inside her crime kit. "I got prints in Em's room but they're more likely hers than–"
"He?" Henry interrupts. "You said 'he', so the thief is a guy?"
"We're not a hundred percent sure, but it's very likely that our suspect is a man," Emma speaks up, leaning against the island counter with her arms folded on her chest. "Or a boy. Or boys. Rufio and his gang of juvenile delinquents have been busy with pranking just about everyone in town recently. They've never been so bold as to target me directly though."
"The Lost Boys?" Henry grins, his eyes lighting up like stars. Emma and Regina share a knowing look. Of all the people their son could hero worship, Henry has to fanboy all over those immature brats. They hope it's a phase that will soon run its course; he needs better role models.
"Maybe, maybe not. Not sure yet," Ruby smiles at Henry.
"I don't think it's them. They're jokers, not thieves."
Emma fights the urge to sigh at the kid's words – he's always quick to defend his idols whenever those pranksters come up in a discussion.
"Either way, we're not ruling them out until we find something concrete," she tells Henry, earning a disappointed pout from the boy. "Storybrooke is a small town; a lead will turn up eventually. And, it's not like anyone can leave this place. We'll find that bas–bad guy soon and throw his butt in jail."
"Why are the two of you so sure it's a man? Isn't it too early to jump to conclusions?" Regina probes, finally joining the conversation. Her voice carries the same authoritative tone that is often used by a certain Mayor, and without noticing, Emma and Ruby stand a little straighter. Judging from the way she's looking at them, Regina is clearly unimpressed. "Like you've said, you barely have any proof in your hands," she finishes.
"It's more of a gut feeling," Emma averts her eyes, not really in the mood to go into details.
"Emma's underwear," Ruby admits without preamble, much to her friend's annoyance. Ruby ignores the murderous look Emma throws her way and explains, "Stealing pieces of clothing like jackets, pants and shirts is understandable. The thief could use those things, maybe even sell them. But, another person's underwear? Far too intimate to reuse. So this could only mean one thing: the perp's a perv. Yeah, we know a panty perv can also be a woman, but in most cases, it's a man."
"What's a perv?" Henry inquires.
"Something you shouldn't aspire to be," Regina answers easily.
"God, that perv is probably doing you-know-what to your undies, Em," Ruby leans closer to her and says in a low voice. But of course, her son and his super sensitive hearing catch it anyway.
"What's he doing with it?" Henry asks, the face of purity and innocence.
"Rubes," Emma warns through gritted teeth.
"He's doing what?" Henry repeats.
"Uh, burning them," Ruby lies smoothly.
"Well that's something he and I can both agree on," Regina mutters under her breath, earning a pointed look from a red-faced Emma.
"Anyway, I better head out," Ruby inclines her head towards the doorway and gives Emma's shoulder a squeeze. "I'll run the prints through the database and see if there's a match. See you at the station?"
"Yeah, but I'll uh, be a bit late. Have to swing by someplace for a few minutes to buy... you know." Emma gives her deputy a loaded look, hoping she'd get the hint.
She's planning to spend her lunch break replenishing her depleted wardrobe over at one of only three clothing stores in town; but, right now, there is one article of clothing she can't do without any minute longer. Emma is getting chafed in places where one isn't meant to be chafed. Whoever said that going commando is sexy should try doing it while wearing skin tight jeans. Just the simple act of walking makes her feel like she's getting rubbed by a blunt saw down in her nether regions and damn if it doesn't make her fear for the integrity of her lady bits.
"Sorry, you're going where?" Ruby asks and Emma fights the urge to groan. Trust her bestfriend to pry.
"Little Miss Muffet's," Emma mumbles, finding the floor interesting all of a sudden.
Ruby's eyes light up like a Christmas tree.
"Ooh, I was just there the other day! They have these super sexy lace ones that just came in. They come in a lot of colors," Ruby presses her body to Emma's side and whispers in her ear, making sure that Henry won't overhear them this time around.
Emma doesn't see it, but she thinks she feels a pair of eyes burning a hole through her skull. She's sure it isn't Henry. But, then that would imply... no. Nope, not possible.
"Buy a couple, I bet you'd look hot in them – might even make you feel sexy enough to finally make the moves on someone in this town. God knows you need to get laid," Ruby finishes off with a salacious wink.
Emma just rolls her eyes and chuckles, gently nudging her friend towards the doorway.
"Okay, go do your job, I'll meet you there soon."
"Yes, Ma'am! I'll see myself out," Ruby salutes the Sheriff and waves Henry goodbye. She merely inclines her head in Regina's direction before turning on her heels and taking her leave.
"What's the good news?" Henry turns to look at Emma, his fingers playing with the straps on the backpack sitting on his lap.
"You said you also had some good news to tell us," Henry reminds her.
"Oh, that. Yeah, almost forgot."
"So, what is it?"
"You're looking at it," Emma smiles from ear to ear, puffing out her chest.
Henry and Regina both look positively clueless. Emma exhales in disappointment, feeling her bubble burst.
"I still have my jacket," she states the obvious, motioning to the red leather jacket she's donned with a flourish of a hand.
"How unfortunate," Regina sighs, going back to whatever sorcery she's doing with a crystal and a map. "The thief wasn't very thorough."
Emma bites her tongue and settles for glaring at Regina instead. As can be expected, she is ignored.
"Emma," Henry tugs at the end of her sleeve, drawing her attention back to him. "How come it's easy for police on TV to find criminals? Sometimes they just find a piece of hair and then they'd catch the bad guy right away."
"They have a whole lot more resources at their disposal, Henry. Labs, tech, whatnot."
"Why don't you have any of those?"
"With the budget I'm working with?" Emma snorts, fighting the urge to laugh out loud. "I don't know kid, maybe we'd have better tools if a certain someone didn't cut my budget and deny every single one of my requisition orders."
"The annual budget was approved at a time when the only thing your department was doing on a daily basis was rescuing cats from big bad trees and arresting Leroy for drunk and disorderly behavior at Granny's," Regina says in a tone so professional it gave Emma flashes of her favorite demanding Mayor.
She kinda misses Mayor Mills a bit. Not much. Just a bit. She can be a pain in the ass. A hot one, yes, but still a pain.
"Clearly, during my tenure as Mayor, my office did not foresee that you would break my curse and we'd have trolls and goblins running amok in Storybrooke. If I did, maybe I would've considered your request for flashbang grenades and a rocket launcher."
"You asked for a rocket launcher?" Henry's eyes widen in awe.
"I, uh, kinda had a beer when I filled out that requisition form," Emma admits in the tiniest of tones.
Henry and Regina both give her identical looks of disbelief, clearly not buying her story.
"Okay, maybe four. Five. Seven beers," she amends just as quietly.
Regina rolls her eyes at her revelation. "I suspected as much."
"Miss Swan, you drew a stick figure of yourself firing a rocket to my face."
"I did?" Emma's voice rises up to a squeak. She honestly cannot remember much of that night aside from being drunk and pissed off at some inane thing Regina did.
"Yes, and, you were kind enough to put a caption underneath just to make sure I understood your message."
"What did you write?" Henry asks her. When Emma couldn't answer, he turns to Regina. "What did she write, mom?"
Regina, smirking oh-so deviously, is more than happy to indulge in her son's curiosity. "Well, Henry, to quote Miss Swan: just in case you were wondering what I needed it for – here's a rocket, from the goodness of my heart to the lifeless black void that is yours."
Henry gapes at her and Emma wants nothing more than to turtle up and crawl inside her skin and hide. She can't believe Regina even took the time to memorize that. She really must've left an impression – however bad it may have been.
"She also drew herself lobbying flashbang grenades at me to 'brighten up my day'," Regina goes on, much to Emma's horror. "If she hadn't drawn it in crayon, I would've taken her threats seriously and had her deputy throw her in jail."
"Emma," Henry says in reproach, shaking his head at her. He sounds so much like Mary Margaret then when she caught her playing poker and gambling with her deputies during a slow day at the station. Only this time, the disappointed edge in Henry's voice cut worse.
"I do believe I still have the form in my study. Do you want me to frame it for you?" Regina smiles dazzlingly, clearly enjoying her discomfort.
More than embarrassment, overwhelming shame floods Emma's system. It makes her head start throbbing. What an example to set to the kid, huh?
"I'm sorry," Emma murmurs softly and tentatively meets Regina's surprised gaze, lacing her voice with as much sincerity as she can muster.
It isn't that hard, considering she truly does regret acting so childishly. The look of disappointment in Henry's eyes flashes in her head. She's the White Knight, of pure heart and noble intentions; he expected more from her and it shows on his face.
"I shouldn't have done that, it was wrong. No matter what you did to me that day, you didn't deserve that kind of immature behavior from me. Plus, it was a waste of the town's requisition papers and Mary Margaret's crayons."
Regina, ever the tormentor, lets her stew in silence for a full minute before letting her off the hook with a simple: "Okay."
Emma smiles and Regina responds with the tiniest, barely perceptible upward quirk of her lips. Henry observes the two of them with a curious tilt of his head before the sound of David's truck pulling up the driveway sends him running towards the front door, backpack swinging wildly in his arms. He's gone before his mothers could even call him back for a hug or a kiss farewell.
"Not even a simple goodbye," Emma clicks her tongue in disapproval.
She steals a glance at Regina and immediately feels bad at the quiet resignation on the other woman's face. Her expression is that of someone who has seen this thing happen one too many times. It sucks to think that Regina must've gotten pretty used to having her son constantly leaving her without a word or even a backward glance. And, somehow, without warning, Emma's heart goes out to the other woman. Regina might be a lot of things, but she's not a bad mother. Emma makes a mental note to have a talk with Henry about it soon. He's a good kid, it's just that sometimes he doesn't realize what he's doing is wrong until someone points it out to him. He'll listen, she knows he will.
Emma walks over to the pot of coffee on the counter and pours herself a cup. She palms her green mug with both hands and holds it near her nose, giving the liquid inside a good whiff. A contented sigh escapes her lips.
"So, what are you working on?" she looks in Regina's direction and takes a tentative sip from her cup, her eyes fluttering briefly as the hot liquid goes down her throat.
Regina, concentrating hard from the looks of it, doesn't even look up from today's important task.
"Finding magical energy," she simply says.
Emma leans her weight against the counter and tilts her head to the side, studying the frown on Regina's face. Poor woman looks exhausted. Also, more than a tad frustrated. Over and over again, Regina dangles a piece of crystal tied to a string and lets it hover above every inch of the Storybrooke map she has spread before her. Emma has no clue what's supposed to happen, but it's apparent that it hasn't – or probably wouldn't – be happening anytime soon. It seems Regina's magic is acting wonky as usual.
After a while of watching Regina drive herself further and further into frustration, Emma decides to lend a helping hand – in the most literal sense. Leaving the now empty mug beside Regina's own one on the sink, she grabs the banana that Regina was nice enough to set aside for her and goes around the kitchen table to stand beside the brunette's chair.
Quietly, Emma extends her free hand towards the former Mayor and waits to see if Regina will take the bait. Emma watches Regina's face for a reaction and fights the grin that's just begging to break out on her lips. Judging from the 'I-just-sucked-on-a-lemon' expression that she has on, it's abundantly clear that Regina would rather be maimed and disemboweled by a werewolf than accept her help. But, if her slightest hand twitch is any indication, Emma knows that the brunette is at least tempted.
"Need help?" she asks softly, this time vocalizing her offer of assistance, throwing the ball in Regina's court.
It takes a few moments for Emma to get an answer.
"No, thank you," Regina says stiffly, her pride winning over.
"Are you sure?"
"Are you really? Cause you look like you could really use some help."
"I am one of, if not the, most powerful witch of my time. I don't struggle, especially not when it concerns magic."
"Okay, not struggling. Miserably failing, then."
"I have not failed."
"This takes time, I almost have it. I'm getting there."
"If your plan is to get nowhere, then yeah, you're getting there alright."
A menacing growl comes out of Regina's throat. "Sheriff Swan, don't you have better things to do, like I don't know, catch a thief?"
"Yes, I do. Which is why you have to let me help you so I can leave the house already and start hunting that bastard down. It won't be very knightly of me to leave a helpless soul in her time of distress. Now, let me help so I can go."
"I'm hardly helpless," Regina scoffs.
"One could argue that you hardly have a soul either, but that's not the point," Emma cheekily fires back with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Now stop being stubborn and take my hand."
"I'm not asking for it."
"Well, you're getting it anyway."
"I don't want to hold your hand, Miss Swan."
"Your twitchy fingers say otherwise."
Regina balls her free hand into a fist, glaring at it as if it had betrayed her. And yeah, maybe it did. Emma exhales deeply at the conflicted expression that crosses the other woman's face. Regina's probably so used to demanding and threatening people to do her bidding, that when help is offered freely and without any strings attached, she has no clue how to acknowledge - let alone accept - it.
"C'mon Regina, think of it this way: your magic is like a shot battery and my touch is your jumper cables. I'm your walking, talking, breathing power source. Whether you like it or not, you need me," Emma continues in an utterly unapologetic tone. She practically shoves her hand in front of Regina's face. "Touch me, use me. You know you want to."
The look Regina gives her is one of surprise, disgust, curiosity and something else all rolled into one wide-eyed and open-mouthed package. Emma doesn't mean for that last statement to sound tawdry, but it did, much to Regina's horror and Emma's amusement. Gathering her wits, Regina slaps her hand away as if Emma's holding a turd and letting her sniff it. Knowing she just got gloriously rebuffed, Emma chuckles to herself and goes around the table, plopping down on the seat that Henry was occupying before he left.
"Go to work, Sheriff. Why are you still here?" Regina sighs, sounding very much annoyed and exasperated by her continued presence.
"Breakfast," Emma answers simply, peeling the banana in her hands and taking a huge, unladylike bite. "Why are you trying to find some 'magical energy' crap anyway? Did something happen?"
The crease between Regina's brows deepens at her query. Emma observes the way her jaw tightens with interest. After a tense moment, Regina tears her gaze from the crystal and looks at the blonde, her expression grave.
"Henry and I felt something earlier."
Emma stops mid-chew. She swallows hard and almost chokes on the chunks, but she forces it down her throat.
"When?" she asks gruffly.
"When you were in the shower."
"Magic?" Emma questions, her voice going quiet.
"Strong enough to open a fissure?"
Regina nods weakly and Emma feels her stomach drop.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" Emma frowns, unable to keep out the accusatory tone in her voice.
Of course, Regina is quick to go on the defensive, obviously not liking her tone one bit. She fixes Emma with a hard stare.
"I wanted to figure out where it originated from before going to you with my findings. I didn't want to hand over information that is grossly incomplete, that is not how I do things. I may not enjoy working under you as a consultant, Sheriff Swan, but when I'm tasked with important matters, I never give them any less of the attention that they deserve."
The two women stare each other down for a moment, both too strong-willed and stubborn for their own good. Unsurprisingly, Emma's the first to relent.
"Yeah, you're right. I know about your work and how thorough it is. And, I appreciate that. I'm sorry."
Emma's apology takes Regina aback and completely disarms the brunette. She means it too, which is even more surprising, but Emma probably wouldn't have said it if she hadn't felt so disquieted by the threat of another fissure appearing in town.
"Do you think Gold's behind it? Is he even back in Storybrooke?"
Regina answers her question with a quick shake of her head. "No. And it's definitely not him."
Emma's eyes narrow with suspicion. She's never one to be easily convinced. "How can you be so sure?"
"Magic always leaves a certain... residue. I guess you could think of it as some kind of mark. It's unique to the one who possesses it, like a fingerprint, if you may. It's difficult to pick up on; it's mostly a distinct feeling, and one must be extremely well-versed in the magical arts to catch it. I've known Rumpelstiltskin long enough to become familiar with his brand of magic. Believe me, Miss Swan, it wasn't him," Regina says, matter-of-factly. "What Henry and I experienced earlier lacked the feeling of emptiness and desperation that I've come to associate with that imp. What we felt was powerful and... pure. White magic."
Emma takes a moment to absorb the information. If it's white magic, it can only mean one thing.
"The fairy nuns, then," Emma deduces.
Regina nods in agreement. "That would be the most logical conclusion."
"Oh God, fucking celibate fairies," Emma moans, rubbing her face with her hands in annoyance and fatigue. "Sorry, language. I know, my bad," she mumbles quickly when she sees the disapproving look on Regina's face. Emma sighs and runs her fingers through her hair. "Jesus, find a bit of fairy dust at the mines and already they're going to town with it – literally."
"What did you expect, Sheriff Swan? Were you really so naïve as to believe that the Blue Fairy would be able to stop herself from doing magic now that she's in possession of her precious dust?"
"They only found a small pouch worth of that fairy crack. I thought she was wise enough to save it for a rainy day," Emma shrugs weakly, feeling annoyed at her own naivety.
She should've made the Blue Fairy swear an oath or something equally binding. Small spells she could ignore, but powerful ones that may open magical crevices? Emma cannot, and will not, turn a blind eye on that. Not after last time.
"I'll swing by the convent and get to the bottom of things," she says, sounding older than her years. This day is just getting better and better, isn't it? "I don't care if we don't have a law against magic use in this town, but if a fissure does appear and the fairies had something to do with it, I'm going to haul their asses in jail and slap them with a fine so big they'd be selling candles forever. I don't give a damn if I look like the town's biggest villain for locking up nuns."
"You go and embrace your dark side then," Regina says with a devilish little smirk before turning her attention back to her all-too-important task. "I'll call you when I locate the spell's point of origin. I have a feeling it's somewhere west of here. Maybe the patch of forest near Camden road."
Emma nods and pulls out her cellphone from her pocket, planning to give the station a call to fill her deputies in on the latest developments. Underwear shopping and thief chasing will have to wait. They have more important matters at hand. Emma's just about to push her seat back from the table and take her leave when a chill runs down her spine. Regina's last words wash over her and anchor her on the chair. What if...
"Regina," she says timidly. "Camden road is just a block from here. You said that I was in the shower when you and Henry felt powerful magic, and I'm pretty sure I was still taking a bath when my stuff got stolen. Do you... do you think what happened is somehow connected to the break-in?"
Regina's hand freezes and the crystal dangles limply from the string. It's clear that she hasn't considered that possibility until now. Brown eyes meet her own green ones, and, Emma's sure the same worry that's evident in Regina's eyes is also flashing in hers.
They need to get to the bottom of this.
"Regina," Emma leans forward on the table and extends a hand out to the brunette, and in a soft, pleading tone, she murmurs: "Please."
And, that is all it took.
Emma doesn't have the same power that Gold used to lord over Regina, but nevertheless, that one simple word is enough to prompt the former Queen to let go of her pride, reach over and take her hand. Maybe they are right; maybe please really is the magic word. As soon as their palms meet and their fingers intertwine, they feel it. That tingling sensation that prickles their skins from the soles of their feet to the tops of their head. It's like getting struck by lightning; that feeling of electricity flowing freely between their bodies making them both shiver in their seats. Both of them have to suck in a huge breath, feeling overwhelmed and disoriented. The air seems to crackle and spark, and before they know it, the crystal starts spinning wildly over the faded map.
Regina gasps and Emma gawks. Both of them turn white as a sheet when the crystal turns bright blue and stops over a spot that they know all too well.
Regina had been right about one thing. The magic had originated from the west.
But it isn't the forest near Camden road.
It's the clearing in the small patch of woods behind their house.