Entry # 1
I… don't know what to say. Or where the heck to start.
To me, writing has always been as painful as pulling teeth – maybe even worse.
I've been staring at this page far longer than Rufio's been hogging the bathroom, and if you think you're vain (yes, I'm talking to you, Regina), trust me, you've got nothing on this kid. Outside of Halloween, I don't think I've ever seen anyone take this much time and effort to make themselves look like the punky lovechild of Beetlejuice and Ronald McDonald. It's as hilarious as it is annoying...
...I need to pee. :(
Um… I guess what I was trying to say before I got a bit sidetracked was… beginnings are hard. And even though I wanted to start this thing off on a more poetic note, I guess you guys will have to make do with, I dunno, this. I'm pretty sure you're not expecting a lot from me, anyway; it's not like I'm writing this journal to impress a bunch of literary snobs. Oh. Wait…
So, I guess I'll just begin my first entry by simply saying... hi.
My name's Emma.
I am the Sheriff of Storybrooke, Maine.
I was once a foster kid, a small-time thief, a convicted felon, a former waitress, a one-time pizza delivery girl, and a kickass bail bondsperson.
I am the (reluctant) White Knight and Savior of Fairytale Land.
I am the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.
I am Henry Mills' other mother.
And I am someone's idiot.
My name is Emma Swan. These days, I also go by the alias Argos. And this, ladies and gents, is the PG-13 version of my... well... our story.
Enjoy, I hope?
Here we go.
SQ - SQ - SQ
The fire has been lit; the message delivered.
And as Paul stands against the side of the rusty, antiquated trailer - their home for the past five or so weeks - and watches the other version of his young friend take to his heels and sprint back towards town, he finds himself smiling inwardly and exhaling a deep breath. His chest that had grown heavy with anticipation with every day that passed, now feels as light as the flecks of snow that are starting to fall from the sky.
Their time of hiding in the woods and living like hermits in their own town is nearing its conclusion.
It's almost over, and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is so damn close that he can practically feel the heat prickling on his skin despite the cold winter night.
And as such, Paul's outward smile soon matches his inner one.
"Hey, old fart..." a quiet Rufio nudges him with an elbow, his forehead creased in a thoughtful manner.
"It's very firm, huh?"
"Hm? What is?"
"My ass," the lad simply says, his approving gaze glued to his other self's fleeing posterior. "Why'd you never tell me that I had a pretty nice butt?"
"Because I'm not in the habit of staring at people's rear ends – especially those that belong to seventeen-year old boys," Paul deadpans.
"I'm just saying, ya old geezer, this one? This a real man's ass. Solid. Hard."
"Yes," he bites back a sigh. "I'd say it's about as hard as–"
Paul smiles. "That."
"Seriously?!" Rufio hisses in affront, massaging the top of his skull. "Fucking hell, you trying to open up my stitches or something?"
"You exaggerate too much; that was just a little tap."
"Whatever; as if getting brain surgery wasn't bad enough, you probably killed what, another five hundred of my brain cells?"
"Trust me, lad, you don't need any help with that. You're doing an excellent enough job on your own."
"Asshole." The boy rolls his eyes.
He could very well argue that it takes one to know one, but Paul just drops the issue with a carefree shrug and tucks his cane on the crook of his arm. "So…"
"It's almost time. Are you excited to finally go home and see your brother?"
Rufio merely shrugs and scratches at the bottom of his nose, feigning indifference. "I'm more excited about seeing my bed."
"Tired of sleeping on the floor beside me, I gather?"
A dry look is what that query receives.
"I take that as a yes?"
"Old man, you snore like a tugboat and your fucking cologne reeks like embalming fluid," Rufio says matter-of-fact, candid and unapologetic as ever. "Do all geezers stink like death?"
"Only those who'd kill you in your sleep."
"Lucky we're parting ways, then."
"Lucky," Paul agrees with a tiny smile. "You know, there's still one more thing you need to do before you can go back home to Sheppard Lane…"
"Talk to you-know-who, I know."
"Well, yes, but there's another thing..."
"Huh? What other thing?" Rufio absentmindedly kicks at the snow at his feet, brows knit together. "We just went over the plan this afternoon; you never mentioned anything else aside from me playing messenger tonight. What more do I have to do?"
Preferring to elaborate by demonstrating, Paul makes a pair of scissors with his fingers and makes sniping motions near his head.
The leader of the Lost Boys frowns at him, and then blinks, and in an instant, the look of confusion on Rufio's face morphs into that of pure, unadulterated horror. "No…"
Rufio shakes his head vehemently. "No."
"Yes," Paul nods.
"C'monnnn," the boy whines. "Do I have to?"
"For your own brother's sanity, once again, I'm going with yes," Paul says, and before Rufio can open his mouth and whine, he lifts a hand and preempts any protests with a pointed, "Lad, you couldn't have possibly grown all that hair overnight."
"That's cause I didn't."
"Yes," Paul says patiently. "That healing potion you procured from Baba Yaga worked wonders on your headaches and your hair, I can see."
"Exactly! This ain't cheap, y'know?"
"I do know. But you also have to keep in mind that, even if it's been more than a month since you've last seen him, it's only been hours since Jackson last laid eyes on you."
"So, for the love of God, stop being so obtuse and get a damn haircut! You can't go home looking like that; you'll only make the poor man think he's lost his mind."
The pout on Rufio's lips is as petulant as the foot stomp the teen makes.
"Oh, for goodness sake, its hair; it'll grow right back."
"Says the dude who likes to wear stupid porkpie hats to cover up the fact that his no longer does."
Paul's expression levels out, unimpressed. Still, he doesn't take the bait.
"I'm like that Samson dude, all my power's in my 'do."
"You know very well that that's not true," he sighs. "Rufio, you defied the dictates of fate and rescued our friend when you were bald. I think you're putting too much stock on your goddamn hair; the power's in you, not in measly strands of keratin on your thick skull."
That seems to work. Or, at least, Paul thinks it does. Working his jaw, Rufio just looks away.
"Listen, it took you only a little over a month to grow all that, what's another five weeks?"
Lips puckering in a surly manner, donning the face of every teenager who'd just been coerced into doing something they didn't want to do by their elders, Rufio tucks his hands inside the pockets of his hoodie and stomps toward the path that leads out of their little clearing.
"Give her the last dose; I'll go back to the park and wait," he grumbles at Paul.
Waving a dismissive hand, not even looking back, the boy just continues to walk away. "I know, I know. I'll pass by the barber's before I go home and 'borrow' a fucking razor, too."
Appeased, Paul lets out a low hum. "And you're certain she's going to be at the park?"
"That lady almost ran me over, remember? I'm pretty damn sure."
"If you say so," he acquiesces, and through force of habit and some type of fatherly concern, he doesn't move an inch until Rufio reaches the tree stump that marks the boundary of their cloak-ward's influence; soon as the boy passes it, only then does Paul clamber up the metal steps into the trailer.
The second the creaky door swings shut behind him, the smell of musk and stale meat slaps him squarely on the face, and, as always, Paul's expression twists and sours as if he'd just sucked on a lime. He can never, ever seem to get used to the revolting aroma – nor does he really want to – and, thankfully, in a few hours, he never has to live with it again.
And if in the future, he suddenly gets hit with another bout of self-pity over his solitary existence, he'll just think back to this moment – to the time he shared a cramped little trailer with a teenaged slob – and nip that emotion right in the bud.
Standing on the threadbare rug, he pulls off his boots with a grunt and leaves them there, preferring to shuffle around in his wool socks than on dirty, damp footwear. The kitchen is within arm's reach, and as he heads for the shoe box sitting by the toaster, he grabs the remnants of Rufio's dinner from the sink and tosses it in the trash bag by the fridge.
He finds only one tiny vial left in the box – and it's not even full. There's only so much remaining for a single dose, but really, that's all they need.
Soon, his charge will get the proper treatment that she deserves; the right form of sustenance, the appropriate medical care. But, for now, he just tucks the vial in his free hand and totters towards the room at the end of the trailer, his cane thudding against the cold, metallic floor.
He pauses by the door, just like always, and merely observes the figure lying prone on the bed, motionless as a rock.
And like every single time he's checked in on his ward, Paul grips the door handle and waits with baited breath. The moment he sees her chest rise and fall is the moment he allows himself to breathe once more.
"Time for your meds, Emma," he says softly. "I know it tastes horrid, but bear with me one last time, okay?
Sitting himself at the edge of the lumpy mattress, Paul rests his cane on his lap and unscrews the cork from the vial, the stomach-turning smell of the putrid concoction making his face scrunch.
"Rufio just left," he murmurs, reaching over and gingerly parting the woman's lips with a thumb. "I finally told him about shaving his head, and just like I predicted this morning, he wasn't very happy about it."
Slowly, carefully, he pours the blue, shimmering liquid inside Emma's mouth, not allowing a single drop to go to waste.
"You always did complain to me about how vain that lad is; I never doubted it, of course, but I suppose one could never fully comprehend the extent of Rufio's vanity until they had to share a bathroom with the boy. Everyday, I thank the powers that be that I don't have an overactive bladder; I've packed a paltry amount of undergarments as is."
The vial now empty, Paul gently pushes Emma's chin up and closes her mouth shut. And not unlike the other times he's given her a dose of Jafar's elixir – a healing potion he procured by trading his knowledge of Asheneamon's most powerful wards to the part-time sorcerer turned full-time businessman – a tinge of red ever-so-gradually creeps back to Emma's face, coloring her cheeks and her pale lips.
Nevertheless, she still doesn't stir.
Once again, the hope flickering in his chest dims, and Paul's shoulders slump in disappointment.
"Ah, Emma," he sighs sadly, shaking his head. "When I told you about the failsafe and encouraged your decision to power up the sword with your own energy, I didn't mean you should sacrifice within an inch of your life."
He plugs the vial closed and discards it along with the rest of the empty ones, lying in a box by the foot of the bed.
Another sigh leaves his lips.
"But I suppose all heroic souls bear the same predilection for self-sacrifice, hm? All or nothing; go hard or go home. The honorable fools, as scholars like myself would often say; the subjects of countless tales of bravery and valor."
He covers her limp hand with his own, and even as a sad smile tugs at his lips, Paul gives it an affectionate squeeze.
"Well, my dear friend, you did not only save her, you saved us all. The town still stands because of your actions. And even though I'm grateful for the fact, I still wish you more than what you got in return for your selfless deeds. It's always the good that has to pay, isn't it?" Paul exhales ruefully, and then as an afterthought, he murmurs, "Not that I'm saying that life is more lenient towards evil, it's just that people like you are always more willing to pay the higher price."
And there is no greater reminder of this than the broken shard lying on the shelf; a piece of the Sword of Ashe that he and Rufio had great trouble wrenching out from underneath the dying woman's collarbone after the boy had pulled Emma out of the river. It's still a wonder how neither of them got nicked by the blade and had their souls absorbed, given the circumstances.
It had been quite an ordeal, yes, but what stayed with Paul the most about that harrowing point in time was the image of a wide-eyed Emma heaving out copious amounts of blood from her crimson-stained lips – and the way her fingers had scratched and curled helplessly against his shirt as if overwhelming pain was intermingling and warring with the knowledge – and acceptance – of death looming near. It was no different from the expression on his sick mother's face when she reached the end of her life, and the resemblance was so striking that he faltered for a second and fumbled with their box of elixir.
Taking matters into his own hands, Rufio had snatched the container from him – and without an ounce of hesitation, the boy then dumped the contents of a whole vial into Emma's parted lips and another onto her gushing chest wound.
Only then did the violent bleeding come to an abrupt stop.
That was the last time they had caught glimpse of those bright emerald eyes before her body's self-preservation instinct kicked in and hid them away from this painful, cruel world.
It's been more than a month, yet Emma hasn't woken up since then.
"Here's hoping that you're exactly like your mother," Paul murmurs as he pushes himself up with the help of his cane, his wobbly knees protesting in pain. "If twenty-eight vials of elixir didn't wake you, my dear friend, maybe a little kiss will."
It has to.
It simply has to.
Honorable fools deserve a happy ending, too.
SQ - SQ - SQ
Entry # 5
Hey, you wanna talk about irony?
How about this… after weeks of feeling like I'd been yanked out of my own, kicking and screaming by almost everyone in this small town – but mostly just my deputies – here I am again.
In a closet.
And the best part? I'm living in it, too.
I bet Ruby, Leroy and August would be pissing themselves if they knew.
This is the only 'room' that the Lost Boys could spare, you see. And since beggars can't be choosers, I bit my tongue, dumped all my junk inside and just settled right in. Besides, I've slept in way worse places (case in point, see entry number 3), and I could do worse than a small, dusty wardrobe that reeks like old newspaper and wet socks.
And, to be honest, it's not really that awful.
Sure, it's not my room in the basement, and yeah, it might be bad for every single muscle in my body that I have to sleep like a fetus just to be able to fit in, but at least this closet is a walk-in one, and I have my own pillow, my own blanket, and, best of all, my own space.
I have my privacy in this 'room'. And trust me, in a cabin chock full of kids who're always up in your business, that's all a person can really ask for.
In here, I can slip off my mask and let Argos rest; in here, I can be just plain Emma again.
And that's… refreshing.
I kinda miss her, y'know?
I mean, not as much as I miss you guys, but still.
I just never realized how much I loved living in my own skin until I had to wear someone else's. I guess sometimes you do have to take a step back and try to see yourself from another person's eyes to finally appreciate the things that you've always taken for granted. To accept and embrace the many glaring flaws that make oneself imperfectly… perfect.
And it's funny how it took becoming Argos for me to come into grips with the truth that, yes, despite my many shortcomings, I am worth something.
Even if that someone, after twenty-eight years of existence, is my own damn self.
SQ - SQ - SQ
Regina can't move.
She's hyper-aware of her surroundings; the faint humming coming from the heating vent near the floor… the flecks of paint chipping off the hallway walls… the illuminated sign by the fire exit flickering on and off… and the sound of her phone as it hits the floor when her arm slackens and eventually falls to her side.
She's hyper-aware, yes, but still, comprehension falls short and so is her control of her limbs.
It's been minutes since the call came to an abrupt end – perhaps even hours, for all she knows – and yet she's still incapable of moving.
Because… I'm Argos. And I–
She screws her eyes shut.
No… no… no… no… no.
That man is dead; that man is gone.
Emma Swan is alive; Emma Swan was just here.
And as much as you annoy the crap out of me, I could never, ever let anything bad happen to you...
A lump lodges itself in Regina's throat.
Emma is here.
That insufferable woman is just somewhere in this godforsaken town, on her way back to her for a much deserved lambasting. No one deserves getting a scare like that. No one… not even an evil queen.
The real reason I saved you from the wraith, Regina?
The fire exit sign flickers weakly once more… twice… and then, finally, dies.
I could no longer imagine living in a world where your snarky ass didn't exist.
And without warning, as if finding its focus, her brain regains a semblance of clarity, and then all of a sudden, those heartwarming words take on an altogether different meaning.
She hears her own blood rush to her ears, and as she pales, Regina lurches forward and sways on her feet. Reaching out, she steadies herself on the wall, the muted noise from the party reverberating against the cheap plywood to her skin.
Argos had saved her from the wraith; that person had succeeded where Emma Swan had failed. And for the longest time, Regina was never able to wrap her mind around that and comprehend the peculiarity of his uncharacteristically selfless action – nor his motivations for it. At least, not until–
No… no… no.
She specifically told that stubborn woman not to die on her account.
But… now… now she can't seem to breathe.
She can't even think.
All she can seem to do is feel.
And since denial had just fallen like a stack of cards in a storm, the all-too-familiar, all-encompassing anger soon takes it place and flares in Regina's chest.
Not that woman… not that idiot.
Regina inhales a shaky breath, her nails digging into her palm.
And just like that, her outrage is cut down to size and swiftly overwhelmed by the devastating sense of loss that suddenly grips at her heart.
"It's time for the secret santa thing. Grandma's calling for everyone to gather 'round the living room."
Swallowing thickly, she bites down on her lip and straightens her spine, keeping her back to her dear boy.
"Uh, mom? You dropped your phone, y'know?"
When she doesn't make a move to pick it up, an oblivious Henry carries on and probes:
"What are you doing out here anyway? Is Emma back?"
That's all it takes, and despite Regina's best efforts, a strangled noise wrenches itself out of her trembling lips.
And the next thing she hears is the apartment door closing shut and hurried footsteps coming near.
"Mom? Is… is everything okay?" Henry asks in a cautious manner, and as he steps around her, his brown eyes that are alight with concern widen when he sees her face. "You're crying…"
And it's only then, after she touches her cheeks with her fingers, that she feels the abundance of moisture on her skin.
She hastily wipes away her own tears, but just like facing the other direction, it's another exercise in futility given that no amount of wiping can erase what he had already seen.
"Henry, I–" she starts to say, and then frowns, the hoarseness of her own voice sounding foreign to her ears.
"Did something happen?"
"I–" she falters once more, and as helplessness and frustration gnaws at her from inside, the only thing Regina can manage is a weak, yet truthful, "I–I don't know."
"How 'bout Emma? Is she okay? What's going on?"
"I don't know," she insists with the desperation of a woman who's nearing her wits' end. "I don't… I just… I don't..."
"I don't know what the hell's going on anymore!"
She doesn't use that kind of tone on him often – they both know it – and as such, her outburst only serves to deepen the line between her son's brows, and a perturbed Henry merely mewls a feeble, "Mom…"
And that – mixed with the look on his face – sobers her up just enough.
"I–I'm sorry, sweetheart," she says quickly, reaching out to cup his cheeks. "I shouldn't have raised my voice. I'm just–"
"Scared," Henry observes, not sounding any different himself. Then, he goes absolutely still. "Is the wraith–?" Before he can finish the thought, he grabs hold of her left hand and wrenches it away from his face, his wide eyes zeroing in on her palm.
His facial muscles relax at the absence of a mark.
"Mom?" His gaze flickers up to meet her own, and with the contrived calm of a boy who is obviously struggling to put up a brave face, he asks, "Where's Emma?"
"That's… that's what I want to know as well, my dear," she admits in a quiet tone of voice.
"She was just getting more drinks, right? Did something–" he hesitates. "Did something bad happen to her?"
Her stomach churns, and the sides of her eyes start to prickle with fresh tears.
For her sake… for his sake… for both their sakes…
"I sincerely hope not."
"Henry? Regina? We're about to start."
As if this night couldn't possibly get any worse.
"Is Emma back?"
And… it just did.
Slowly, and despite her lack of composure, she turns around and faces the pixie-haired woman peeking out of the apartment door.
Just one look at her and Henry's faces, and Mary Margaret steps out into the hallway – a little less jovial and a great deal more subdued – a modicum of lucidity seemingly creeping back to her alcohol-addled brain.
"Is everything okay? What happened?"
Her throat constricting, Regina looks away and works her jaw, blinking so rapidly that a tear or two slip and roll down the planes of her face. It's a testament to her current state of mind – and heart – that she allows Snow White, of all people, a glimpse of her vulnerability.
"What happened?" Mary Margaret asks again, this time more urgent than before.
It's Henry who steps up to the plate and shakes his head. "We don't know."
SQ - SQ - SQ
Entry # 8
Guess what I did today?
My first act of larceny since getting out of juvie.
And no, I'm not talking about breaking into the mansion and getting clothes and money – I did that a couple of days ago as soon as I got sent back. Besides, since finding out the truth, I don't even consider robbing my stuff a felony anymore. It's not really stealing when it's yours to begin with, right? I should know, I'm the Sheriff.
So… what did I steal, you ask?
Oh, just a couple of lilac shrubs.
So, technically, my only real crime in Storybrooke is swiping your flowers, your majesty.
It was a pain in the butt, I do have to admit. Rufio and I had to make two trips, and we had to do it in broad daylight, too.
Nah, I just knew nobody would be at the house all day. Everyone's out combing the woods for a fissure; you know, the one I was responsible for (indirectly) when I arrived at the clearing? Yeah, that one.
Of course, considering that a cyclops will stumble into it several days from now and find its way into town – smack dab in the middle of the Fall Festival, too – let's just say that the whole 'searching the woods' operation will be one complete bust.
Don't worry, though – I've got it all covered.
Jackson's cannon – coupled with your magic, Regina – will end up saving the day. So, when I bought his bike, I made sure to plant the seed in his head. And since there was no trace of the cannon when I drove past Sheppard Lane this morning, it seems like my little scheme has already bore fruit. The guy's strapped for cash; the cannon should already be on display at Gold's pawnshop at this time.
Anyway, back to those lilacs.
I wish I could tell you I'm sorry for stealing them, I really do. But I'm not.
More than an instrument to taunt my past self with… more than a way to grab attention… more than anything else… those tiny little flowers serve no greater purpose than to make me feel less homesick.
So, rest assured, they're in good hands.
I'll take excellent care of them, I promise. And when the time comes and you're finally reading this journal of mine, please reach out to Rufio and have the kid take you guys here, to our cabin in the woods. Have him show you my garden; my precious patch of home away from home.
Take the shrubs and re-plant them back where they belong.
And when spring comes and they start to bloom, I hope you think of me, your little lilac thief, and remember that, like these flowers, I found my home with you.
SQ - SQ - SQ
The missing woman's words were prophetic.
Regina, indeed, becomes the party pooper.
The second the words 'Emma is Argos' leave her lips, a grim hush descends over the once-boisterous crowd – even the holiday music wanes and eventually fades – and for the briefest of moments, one can hear a pin drop. And then, as if propelled by an invisible force, every single person in the room springs into action at the very same time.
Now, it's all-around pandemonium.
"Doc, Sleepy, Dopey, you guys search the woods east of town. Bashful, Sneezy, Happy, go west," Leroy barks at the tipsy, half-naked dwarves, and then promptly addresses the men by the mistletoe. "Archie, you and your gay lover come with me; we're heading south."
"Everyone else with cars, go in pairs," August announces from atop the coffee table, knocking a plate of salted nuts and several empty cans to the floor. "Search every road, every alley. When you see any sign of Emma or the Bug, call the station's hotline. It should re-direct your call to me, Leroy or Ruby."
"I'll cover the docks and the beach," Granny declares, stomping towards the door with purpose, and then blithely flicking Marco's collar when she passes him by. "You're free to join me, old man, if you think you can keep up. Now someone call that granddaughter of mine and tell her what's going on!"
"I'll do it!" Whale pipes in, buttoning his shirt and tucking it in his pants on his way out. "I'll search the hospital and the school, too."
"I'm coming with you," Thomas follows, Ashley in tow.
"I'll mobilize the rest of the nuns," Blue tells the Charmings before she skitters away with Nova and her other minions. "We'll send word soon as we catch a glimpse of her."
"Let's go to Toll Bridge and Aris Cove," an ashen Mary Margaret turns to her husband, holding on to his forearm like a vice. "We'll find her, right?"
"We will." David kisses his wife's forehead. "We always do."
Regina, in spite of everything, rolls her eyes.
"Let's go home," Henry tugs at her hand, pulling her attention away from his galling grandparents and their equally tiresome catchphrases. "She's gonna be there, I know it. I mean, I know it's too obvious for her to be there, but it's always the last place you think of, right?"
That might be true, yes. But there's just one problem…
"That idiot drove us here," Regina pinches the bridge of her nose. "We'll have to walk because I can't teleport us home without her h–"
"I can drop you guys off," Michael Tillman offers, much to her surprise. The man's never been shy of letting her know just how much he hates her very existence, despite how their children seem to be the best of friends.
So, before she can even stop herself, the ever-dubious part of Regina blurts out, "And why on earth would you do that?"
"Emma reunited me with my family," he puts it simply. "Thought it'd only be fitting to help in reuniting hers."
"I…" she swallows. "Thank you."
Less than a couple of minutes later, she finds herself in the passenger seat of the mechanic's truck with Henry and Michael's offspring squeezing in the back.
The way people are frantically scrambling out of the Charmings' decrepit apartment building and into their respective vehicles, one might think the police had just raided a party full of underaged debauchers.
And if she wasn't just another shaky sigh short of a panic attack, Regina would surely have cackled at how, after all these years, she still has a way of clearing out a party.
One of the bumbling dwarves runs headfirst into a telephone pole.
And even as Michael winces beside her, and the children chorus a sympathetic 'ouch', Regina does little to fight the groan that resonates from deep within the back of her throat.
"I'm m'kay…" that Dopey fellow waves to everyone and no one in particular as his brothers cart him and his bleeding nose inside their stationwagon.
Regina grits her teeth.
Good luck finding that oh-so-foolish woman of hers with this kind of crowd comprising the search party.
It's difficult enough to try and locate a person in the dead of the night with road conditions as bad as they are this evening; she imagines it a thousand times more challenging when the people doing the searching are either: a) drunk out of their puny little minds, or b) running around like chickens with their heads hacked off, or c) all of the above – as is clearly the case.
The icy roads of Storybrooke are going to be inundated with panicky, drunk drivers tonight. It hasn't even truly begun, but this manhunt is already shaping up to be one hell of a ridiculously disastrous nightmare; a fiasco of catastrophic proportions.
Regina is not even remotely religious, nor is she spiritual, but she prays to whomever, whatever is out there that her idiot not be the one to pay the price for the ineptness of her would-be rescuers.
And as Michael maneuvers away from the curb, she presses her throbbing temple against the frigid window and tries to find even the smallest iota of calm amidst the chaos in her surroundings – and, also, deep within herself.
In the backseat, Nicholas and Ava are chirping incessantly like crickets, talking a mile per minute, asking questions that she can't even begin to answer.
"I don't get it, how can Emma be that creepy person?"
"I thought that Argos dude was a man?"
"Yeah, and isn't he, like, dead?"
Regina shuts her eyes tight and tunes them out, lest she lobbies a fireball to shush them up.
Even a disquieted Henry elects to ignore the relentless tittering of his insensitive friends. Leaning forward, he rests his forehead on the back of her seat and puts a hand over her shoulder, grabbing hold of a fistful of her coat as if seeking solace in their shared state of anxiousness.
"We're gonna find her, right?" he eventually speaks, his voice a mere whisper as his fingers tighten their grip. "I don't want her to die…"
"You and I both, sweetheart." Regina places a hand over his own, yet another errant tear slipping from her eye as her other hand touches the pendant hanging from her neck. "You and I both."
SQ - SQ - SQ
Entry # 15
It's past one in the morning and I'm writing this entry on my back with my legs propped up against the closet wall; a flashlight between my teeth and Thud Butt's jackhammer snoring booming in my ears. The eyeglasses I stole from myself keep on sliding down my nose, and I've lost count of the times I've almost stabbed my eye out with my pen when I push them back up. It's a struggle, I'm telling you, but as always, I'm managing. Maybe I'll duct tape them to my head, I dunno.
Anyway, as you'd have probably guessed, the gremlins are asleep. I call them gremlins, but believe it or not, I say that with a certain kind of fondness now. And it's not Stockholm Syndrome-y in the very least, trust me. These boys, these orphans, they remind me so much of someone I know. It's as scary as it is kinda heartbreaking. Looking at them is like looking in a mirror and seeing myself twenty years ago; the same jaded look, the same hardened expression.
Well... save for Pockets.
That boy is a special one. And though I remember Gold telling me that he's a True Love baby just like yours truly, I don't think that's what makes him unique.
I believe he's what you'd call an old soul.
Yeah, the grunt's a rascal like his buddies and has a mischievous streak that sometimes even puts Rufio's to shame, but somehow, someway, Pockets has managed to hold on to a solid amount of lightness and joy and purity that would make someone like Mary Margaret look like a frickin' scrooge.
And even though I've never been a fan of overly naive optimism, it's kind of refreshing to see such innocence in someone who's lived as long as he has.
He took a strange as hell liking to me, you know? He follows me around like a puppy, all eager to hang out and stuff in spite of the freaky mask and the even freakier sword. Not gonna lie, as touched as I am, I'm maybe also kinda worried about his sanity.
Little ol' Argos has a starry-eyed groupie. Ain't that a scary thing?
Anyway, speaking of my little fanboy... there he goes again. He sleeps in a cot near my closet, and just like Thud Butt's snoring, I hear him every single night. Pockets always – always – calls for his mother in his sleep.
And it never fails to give me god-awful flashbacks of my own childhood.
I don't think I've ever called for my parents when I was young – but that doesn't mean that I didn't wish for them or pray for them or hope against hope that, somehow, they'd magically appear right before my bed, apologetic and sad that they'd ever given me up.
I woke up disappointed every single day.
But, whatever, I got over it. Somehow, I did.
I know I already glossed over my time in the system a few entries ago, but let me tell you something quick about the foster system in this country again. Like most things in life, there are levels and criterions – good, better, best, and the like. See, there are some homes that are perfect… others that are good… a lot that are just plain and decent… and then, there're the shitty ones that would make a crack den seem like the most perfect place to raise children.
I told you I got bounced to a lot of different ones, and, well, you have one go at what type of home I often ended up in.
If you guessed the last one, you get a star.
My crappy luck meant that I always got the short-end of the stick when it came to foster homes. It's just the way it is, I guess.
Though, I did manage to land in a perfect one, once. Sweet, young couple, struggling to have children; Tim and Isabel Wilson, I believe their names were. They took me in and treated me like I was theirs. Then, of course, they got pregnant. And whatever plans they had of adopting me got scrapped, and a few months later, three-year old me found herself being carted off to another home.
I didn't find out about that almost-adoption until I was six; Tommy (yeah, also the same foster brother who tried to 'teach' me how to swim by letting me drown) told me about it after I had driven a hammer into his Tonka truck when he decapitated my Barbie (and, yeah, I also used to own one; don't laugh). I think that was the day I just stopped hoping. That was the moment the bitterness inside me just grew and grew and grew until it took over my whole chest and I couldn't breathe anything else but my own resentment. I mean, seriously, there must've been something really wrong with me if I had been rejected by parents, and would-be parents, not once, but twice.
I finally gave up on the thought of a family, then.
To me, a family was just as foreign as the flashy sports car that the guy next door owned. Sure, it was nice to look at, and probably even nicer to own, but even though I could imagine myself driving around town in it, I knew deep down that it was just one of the many things in life that I'd only get to admire from afar.
That car, like family, was just a nice pipe dream.
Then, of course, fast-forward twenty-two years, and this gutsy little kid knocks on my apartment door and basically twists my arm into taking him home to this little town in Maine.
So… I did.
And when I should've left, I stayed; when I should've walked away, I laid down roots.
Then several months later, I moved in with the kid and his mother in their big old house and, soon enough, I found out for myself what it was like to drive a fancy red sports car.
It was awesome.
Frightening, yeah, but holy shit was it exhilarating.
The best ride of my whole damn life.
And I say that despite of – or maybe because of – the snarkiest, bitchiest, sassiest backseat driver I had sitting right beside me.
So… thank you Henry… thank you Regina… for letting me ride in your Ferrari.
(even if I did have to jump out of its moving self in order to save it)
I'm sorry that I'm not sorry.
Because, really, why the heck would I be when all I'm doing is protecting my family?
P.S. We do have insurance, right?
Heh. Just messing with you. Humorless, remember? :P
SQ - SQ - SQ
Just like how they left it several hours ago, the mansion is pitch black when they get home.
Nevermind the outside shoes they still have on, the moment they step inside the foyer, they start running around the house calling Emma's name; Regina scouring the first floor and the basement with Henry covering the second floor and the attic.
They search every room, every closet, every nook, every cranny, and to her son's disappointment and her dismay, they find no sign of the missing woman anywhere.
Frustrated, unsuccessful, and simply terrified beyond belief, they meet up at the bottom of the staircase when all is said and done, identical looks of consternation painted on their faces.
Henry, her poor child, looks close to tears. "I really thought she'd be here," he murmurs, eyes downcast – as if them being unable to find his other mother in their home had been his fault. "Where could she be?"
The only response she can afford to give him is a feather-light touch on the side of his cheek.
She doesn't know either.
Closing her eyes, and feeling at a loss, Regina takes a moment to focus on her breathing, trying her hardest to clear her frazzled mind. They'd be doing themselves – but most especially, that stubborn buffoon of theirs – a great disservice if she didn't keep a level head throughout Operation Idiot.
And even though it's not easy to find clarity when heightened emotions and frayed nerves are clouding her head and impairing her ability to think, she absentmindedly grabs hold of her pendant, presses the pad of her thumb onto the swan, and wills herself to focus.
Inspiration comes after several trying moments.
And almost immediately, she starts to move.
Burning with purpose, she takes Henry's hand and leads them both out of the house with a determined stride, deciding to employ one of Emma's favorite tactics and go-to excuses when things inadvertently blow up in her face, like they always do. Regina goes with her gut.
And so, she takes the Mercedes and drives them both to Sherwood Park, where the winding paths are as desolate as the roads surrounding it... where burnt out street lamps grossly outnumber the working ones... where the abundantly thick foliage is covered in heavy snow... and where they almost run over a sprinting Lost Boy.
"Mom, watch out!"
Snapping her gaze away from the park and back towards the road, Regina instantly slams on the brakes; the next thing she knows, a loud thump echoes from outside as a pair of sneakered feet jump and slam down against her hood, agile as a gazelle but landing as heavy as a rhino.
"Sorry!" that Rufio character yells as he hops right off and continues to scamper in the direction of the houses nearby, the near collision neither breaking nor slowing down his stride.
"You," Regina hisses, her heart thundering in her ears, having half the mind to chase him down and actually hit him for real.
And then, like a flash, realization quickly edges out her anger. Given that Emma is Argos, that Lost Boy can – and will – give her answers.
Making up her mind, she's turns the wheel towards the curb, intending to follow after him like a snowplow going after a mound of snow with legs, but then, Henry thrusts a finger towards the windshield and screams:
Once again, Regina hits the brakes with a vengeance, and it's a good thing they're just at a slow, coasting speed because if not, they would've skidded off the road and into a ditch.
That slippery Lost Boy disappears inside one of the homes – maybe even Paul's, if she's not mistaken. But going after the teenaged rascal gets pushed to the wayside in favor of heading to the yellow eyesore that's sticking out like a sore thumb amidst the abundant heaps of white in the near distance.
She pulls up behind the parked car so quickly it's a wonder she doesn't rear-end the Bug.
And although her stomach drops when she peers inside the vehicle and sees no one inside, the key that is still jammed inside the ignition offers the smallest smidgen of hope.
The smile that tugs at the corner of Regina's lips is probably of the same sentiment as the relieved sigh that Henry lets out.
That woman is here.
Now they just have to go and determine exactly where.
And as Regina straightens and scans her surroundings, another inkling starts to make its presence known at the back of her skull – niggling and nagging like a persistent itch – although, before she can go and voice it out, Henry seems to come to the same conclusion and beats her to it.
"Didn't she say that the wraith popped up near the pond?"
Hand-in-hand, they're off and running in a heartbeat.
Reminiscent of their sojourn to Mifflin Street, they rush towards the frozen pond only to find no one there. However, that doesn't mean they didn't come across nary a single trace of Emma Swan.
The flakes that are falling from the skies have made them faint, but Regina can still make out several bootprints on the ground. And as she hovers over one set of prints and sees how they almost match hers in size, the tiny hairs that stand up at the back of her neck make her stop dead cold.
She shivers, but it's not because of the biting breeze nor the trepidation that's humming through her veins.
It's unmistakable, the residue of a powerful spell still lingering in the air like a potent perfume.
Regina breathes it in as easily as oxygen, and as it fills up her lungs and seeps into her very being, dread slithers down her spine and makes her tighten her hold on Henry's hand.
She knows this magic; she's stumbled upon it before.
It feels… smells… tastes… like the spell at the clearing a couple of months ago.
Because… I'm Argos. And I–
Turns out Paul dabbles in a bit of magic, too. He did some kind of spell and sent the wraith back in… uh, I mean, to… to…
Back in time.
Time-bending magic, that's what it is.
I got him to confirm that he was at the clearing on the day of the break-in… but a furry friend of his was responsible for the spell... he claimed that this friend of his was trying to get rid of the soul-sucker, not summon it back to town…
"Mom... what's going on?"
The real reason I saved you from the wraith, Regina? I could no longer imagine living in a world where your snarky ass didn't exist.
"No… no… no…" Regina whispers, shaking her head, her tone breaking in a way that she hasn't heard since Daniel's untimely demise. The overwhelming sense of deja vu is like a bitter slap to the face; only, this time, it hurts a million times more than it did before, partly because of the beautiful, innocent soul whose hand is entwined with her own – looking at her with those big, brown eyes. Bright eyes that will soon dim when she tells him what she thinks she already knows.
They're too late.
"Mom," Henry whimpers. "You're crying again…"
This time, Regina no longer makes a move to wipe the tears away.
"What's going on? Where do you think she is?"
A sob is all that comes out of her quivering lips, the pendant hanging from her neck feeling almost as heavy as her aching heart.
"Mom?" he prods urgently, tugging at her hand in an incessant manner.
Her throat is closing up and the tears continue to fall; one after another they slide off her chin and disappear into the faint footprints in the snow.
"Why are you crying?" he cries out in desperation, his own eyes starting to blur with tears. "What's going on? Where is she?"
"Waiting for you guys," a voice supplements from behind the nearby willow tree – a stone's throw away from the table where Emma and Paul meet for several rounds of chess every Tuesday.
And as they spin in place, Regina's hand up and ready to defend themselves with a spell that will most probably backfire and hit her, a boy steps out of the shadows and reveals himself, his own hands raised in a gesture of surrender.
"You," Regina hisses for the second time.
"Me," Rufio smiles. "Hi."
"Hey…" Frowning mightily, eyes still glistening, Henry looks over his shoulder at the bungalow several yards away, and then back towards their guest. "Weren't you just–?"
Regina stills. And then frowns. Now that her son's mentioned it, she's also quite certain that the boy who most likely left a dent on the hood of her vehicle had less hair than... that.
"Who the hell are you?" She wills a fireball onto her palm. Naturally, and almost crushing in its predictability, it turns into an ice shard. Close enough, she lifts it up and points it towards the boy.
"Rufio Jethro Peters," the said boy says with a flourish, neither flinching nor batting an eyelash at the sharp object floating above her opened hand. "Prankster extraordinaire and resident heartthrob. At your service."
Stepping in front of her son, and despite the tear tracks on her face that only serve to make her look susceptible and weak, Regina glowers menacingly at their smug guest.
"If you're Rufio, then who's…?" Henry looks back towards Paul's home.
"Me," Rufio manages a nonchalant shrug. "Or… I dunno, past-me, I guess? In a few hours that handsome bastard you guys almost ran over is gonna travel back in time and go on a big ol' quest with an old fart. So… I guess I probably should've also mentioned that I'm like, you know, the Savior's savior, too?"
Regina falters for only a mere second, but that's enough for a crack to appear on the shard.
"Is Emma alright?" Henry rushes before she can even open her mouth.
"She's… alive," Rufio replies cautiously, leaving it at that.
And despite the ever-present need to protect herself from further torment and heartache, the glimmer of hope that had died in her chest just moments before swiftly flickers back to life.
However, doubt has always been a constant companion, and so Regina hardens her expression and snarls:
"And why should we believe someone like you?"
"Simple enough," Rufio says, and with his dark eyes never leaving her own, his hand inches down his left leg and pulls out an object from his cargo pants' oversized pocket. He waves an all-too-familiar mask for her to see – cracked from top to bottom and matted with dirt and blood. "Because she did."
Several more cracks appear on the shard.
"I wasn't kidding when I said that she's been waiting for you guys," the blustery boy continues in a tone that's a little more softer and a lot less pompous, taking several brave steps forward. "I'll take you to her, I swear."
"And if you're lying?"
He stops within arms reach and extends a hand, offering the mask for her to take. "Then feel free to poke as many holes in me with that icicle of yours."
The said icicle fractures even further, and before Regina even realizes what's happening, it crumbles and falls apart as easily as the reservations she's harboring in her head.
Hope, it seems, is more potent than her cynical mind's fatalistic inclinations.
She takes the grubby, bloodied mask.
Rufio's lips quirk into an almost imperceptible smile.
SQ - SQ - SQ
Entry # 24
I beat Paul in chess for the first time ever.
And guess what? I didn't cheat.
Don't get me wrong, having your invisible hand guiding mine had been fun, Regina, and even though I had won against him a couple of times then, technically, those weren't my victories – those were ours.
This one, though? All mine.
You'd be happy to know that I listened to your advice. Remember you told me that Paul likes to start his games with that Queen's Gambit opening move? I had Rufio research it for me, and then I had him teach me how to beat it as well. It was a looooong-ass sleepless night, and towards the end I had to bribe the kid with new hair gel just so he wouldn't pass out on me, but it was damn well worth it.
Victory is, indeed, pretty darn sweet.
But I wish you could've been there to see it, Your Majesty. You probably would've scoffed and snarked that I could've beaten the old geezer in two moves less – but I know you would've been proud regardless.
I miss your sass.
I miss you.
All the damn time.
And as sweet as winning had been, I bet it would've been a million times better if you'd been there, mocking my every move.
If you're reading this, Henry, I'm sorry for being mushy. It's only 'coz I just got back from a date with my self (well, past self) – and I'm kinda in the mood for pepperoni pizza now. Not the real one, the metaphorical kind. Ask your mom about it.
Anyway, I gotta go and cut this entry short. Ace just got back with the Jason mask I asked him to get from the costume shop. Now I just have to wipe it clean of prints, typewrite a note, and have one of the boys drop off the package at the mansion tomorrow.
Remember the breakdancing moves of mine that you loved so much, kid?
SQ - SQ - SQ
The trailer's bedroom is no bigger than your standard closet. Fitting two people inside is difficult enough, let alone three adults, one pre-teen boy and a comatose woman, but through sheer force of will – or perhaps just a mutual sense of urgency – they all manage to squeeze right in.
It's a tight fit, but aside from Rufio's relentless shifting, nobody seems to mind.
His back flat against the wall, and regardless of his young friend's elbow digging into his side, Paul watches intently as a wide-eyed Regina carefully sits herself down on the mattress, bereft of speech and pale as a ghost.
The woman's son is faring no better.
Clutching at the strap on the back of his mother's black coat, an ashen Henry clambers onto the bed and grabs a fistful of his birthmother's moth-eaten blanket, his fearful gaze never leaving her slumbering form.
Tentatively, almost fearfully, Regina sets aside the sullied mask she's clasping and lets a trembling hand hover over Emma's face, hesitating for an agonizing moment before finally cupping her cheeks – as if petrified that the woman might be just a mirage that would crumble and vanish under her touch.
Nobody disappears, of course.
And as Regina exhales a shaky breath at the contact – at the mere confirmation that the blonde is indeed here – a tear makes its way down her cheek and lands on Emma's bare arm.
"What happened?" she asks, her voice but a whisper.
Paul sighs inwardly.
Where does he even begin to explain?
"Gold happened," Rufio murmurs darkly, speaking for the both of them.
The queen's gaze snaps upwards.
Typical of the impish teen – and akin to a person who fans a flame and then quickly runs away just seconds before it turns into a blazing inferno – Rufio shoots a poignant look in his direction; getting the hint, Paul stands straighter, clears his throat, and gamely takes point. "I may not know all the sordid details – Emma and that despicable man didn't give me nor the lad here much to go by – but I do know enough to give you an abbreviated version of events."
"Then tell me," Regina commands.
"Of course, Your Majesty," Paul nods indulgently, obedient as always. "You see, it all began with a sword, a dagger, and a hat…"
SQ - SQ - SQ
Entry # 26
Henry: This entry is probably gonna have some things you may not want to read about me and your mom. Just saying, better skip this part if you don't want to be scarred for life. Don't worry, you're not gonna miss much, I promise. But, in case you're being your stubborn self and want to read it anyway, don't tell me I didn't warn you, kid.
So… today is the 14th of November.
And while I sit here tending to my little garden of stolen lilacs (sorry, still not sorry), I can't help but feel excited and, honestly, more than a little jealous of my past self.
It's happening today, you see.
Well, technically, it's already happened. But for past-me? It's going down in about T-minus two hours.
Or, as I've come to call it in my head nowadays… When Emma Got Her Mack On.
Gotta nice ring to it, huh? :)
Looking back, I still can't believe how I got all up in arms when Paul brought up the kiss at the park – and how I fronted like making out with the infamous 'Evil Queen' was the last thing I wanted to do. Which, at that time, was something I kept on insisting to everyone but, really, couldn't have been farther from the truth.
Of course, I just didn't know it back then.
I was neck-deep in denial that when I got called out on it by my deputies, I got all defensive and angry and testy. Basically, I was so in denial that I was in denial about being in denial. That's how bad it was.
And now that I'm literally seeing things from a distance, I can't say that I blame Ruby and the guys for giving me hell and constantly harassing me about you, Regina. If I were in their shoes, I probably would've done the same. How the heck could I've ever been so damn blind, y'know?
I was practically living in a glass closet. And everybody – and I mean everybody – could see me falling head-over-ass for the mother of my kid, while there I was, ignorant and clueless as ever. I was tumbling down a slippery slope, my head catching and hitting every damn bump, and I didn't even realize it. I'd like to say that I was no better than my parents, but that would be a gigantic lie, because even they saw it too – if you go by Mary Margaret's many sad attempts to pimp me out to any, and every, available fool in town.
It's an endless source of embarrassment and amusement for me these days.
I'm just taking comfort in the fact that, in the end, I did manage to snap out of it. And even though it might've taken more than a little pushing and prodding from me – and by me, I mean Argos – and more than a fair share of abuse from my deputies, at least I got to the point where I had no choice but to confront my own damn feelings and be honest about it. To me; to you.
I kind of think now that you and I getting together, Regina, was inevitable. And that Argos and the guys were a pesky but necessary evil – some sort of annoying catalyst that just sped up the process.
Though, when I say inevitable, I don't mean that us being together was predetermined by destiny or any of that fate crap. I'm saying we're a certainty because we're… us.
I'm Emma; you're Regina.
Yin and yang; "light" and "dark".
And, somehow, despite our many differences, we just… fit.
And I know we never got to the point of making it "official", but in my head, and in my heart, I got you. We're an 'us', my royal pain in the ass. Partners in more ways than one. Short as it was, we had our moment in time; we had our chance, took it, and made the most of it as we possibly could. And when all is said and done, that's all that really matters.
So, yeah, no regrets.
I hope, that in time, you won't have any, too.
Today is the 14th of November.
A pretty big milestone, if you ask me. It's the beginning of the end for yours truly, because somewhere in Mifflin Street, my old in-denial self is in for a rude awakening.
I look forward to it as much as I look back to that moment with both fondness and melancholy.
I wish I could be there right now.
Or I could be there again. And again. And again.
And live forever in that painfully awkward yet oh-so-glorious moment.
SQ - SQ - SQ
The trailer is shaking.
It starts off very inconspicuously; the quivering hardly perceptible that Paul doesn't even pick up on it until his palm starts to itch from his cane vibrating in his grasp.
Thinking none of it, he pays it no heed and just continues on with telling his tale; however, the tremors get progressively stronger and increasingly violent the further along he goes, that when he reaches the end of his recountment of events, the trailer's metallic plating is already groaning like a dying ogre and the empty vials by the bed are clinking against each other like spoons hitting glasses at a wedding.
He's always taken pride at how his storytelling skills could bring a house down, but this is simply absurd.
Spooked, Paul grabs on to Rufio's arm in reflex, both of them wearing identical expressions of concern.
"Old fart," Rufio mutters lowly, giving him a reproachful look. "Next time you decide to tell the story, tone down on the fucking dramatics, will ya?"
Surrounded by a purplish glow, pulsing with magic, the queen is looking staggeringly homicidal.
Yet, at the same time, so heartbreakingly devastated that his own heart would've gone out to the distraught woman if it currently weren't so preoccupied with trying to beat right out of his chest.
The shaking intensifies.
Paul tightens his hold on his young friend.
His paperback novels topple off the shelf; Rufio's container of Altoids fall off the dining table and spills mint in every which direction.
The lights flicker on and off.
And just when Paul starts to think that they're about to be crushed inside this rank metallic box, an unlikely hero swoops in and presents itself in the form of an intuitive young boy.
Even when his eyes mirror Regina's despair and some of her anger, Henry has the presence of mind to put a hand over his mother's arm and mutter a quiet, yet firm, "Mom."
That's all it takes.
Regina's eyes regain a modicum of focus.
The brutal shuddering comes to an abrupt halt.
Paul and Rufio simultaneously sigh and sag against the wall.
"Where is he?" the intimidating woman asks, her tone subdued but no less deadly.
"Gone," Rufio replies. "Skipped town with that girlfriend of his soon as Emma went back."
"And you let him get away?"
"If I had a choice, I wouldn't have. But it's what she wanted."
"They had a deal," Paul confirms. "Your life in exchange for breaking his curse."
Just like that, the slight hummering of magic that's still buzzing like white noise in the background crescendos to a hair-raising degree as some of Regina's self-control falters once more.
And as Paul gazes at the infamous queen's blazing eyes and the shaking fist on her lap, there's no doubt in his mind that the infamous Rumplestiltskin will, one way or another, meet his timely end by this woman's hand.
Even though he considers himself a peaceful man – a scholar whose weapons of choice are a pen and a piece of parchment – there's a small, vengeful part of him that looks forward to that vile man's comeuppance.
The thrumming subsides to a less jarring extent as soon as Regina fixates on an unconscious Emma again, the hard, sharp look in those brown eyes losing some – if not most – of its edge.
Carefully, tenderly, she brushes away an errant strand of blonde hair and tucks it behind Emma's ear. And as she looks down at the woman and strokes her cheek with a thumb, Regina works her jaw and exhales. "You fool," she says under her breath, her voice cracking slightly. "I told you nothing good ever comes out of white knights trying to save evil queens."
"But there is, Your Majesty," Paul murmurs, smiling in consolation. "You're alive. And regardless of appearances, so is she."
"Cause you guys saved her…" Henry tears his gaze from the slumbering woman and looks at him and Rufio.
"No, lad," he says softly, shaking his head. "Your mother did."
The aforementioned woman stiffens.
"What?" Regina frowns.
Looking at the shelf, Paul takes that moment to point at the transparent plastic container lying on it, specifically, at the shard secured inside. It looks harmless enough, but looks can be deceiving. Even in its fragmented state, the Sword of Ashe is still as deadly as can be.
"We took that out of her chest… just below her clavicle..."
Looking vaguely nauseous, Regina hooks a finger inside the collar of Emma's black shirt and tugs down.
The potions have made the scar all but nonexistent, but if one squints hard enough, they'd see the faintest bit of white where the wound had once been.
Regina pales even further.
"So you see, Henry, Rufio and I may have intervened, but even if we had given her all the elixirs we had, if there's no soul left in the body, then there's no life to save. So, if you're looking for Emma's real savior, you don't have to look any further than your own mother."
"Willan's Incantamentum," Regina whispers, looking at him, eyes widening in realization. "It worked?"
Paul hums in affirmation.
"Willan's Incanta-what?" Henry wrinkles his nose. "What's that?"
"A protection spell," Rufio supplies, leaning against the wall like a model and eating up more space. The boy inclines his head towards the shelf. "Against that."
"Well… it's famous for being one, yes," Paul agrees, nudging the lad to give himself more room to stand. "But if my theory is correct, I believe it's more than just a protection spell."
"Huh?" Rufio looks at him, brows furrowed. "Theory? The heck you talking about now?"
"The witch Luciana – Willan's wife – once claimed to have gained the ability to tell if her husband was in any sort of peril after the spell was cast. I've never been able to prove my hypothesis because, as far as I know, this is only the second time it has worked, but deep in my gut, I sincerely believe it to be true."
"That the true strength of Willan's Incanamentum lies not in its capacity to grant protection against the Sword of Ashe, it's in its ability to tether souls."
"Tether souls?" Henry echoes.
A deep crease manifests itself between the brows of everyone in the room.
"Do you recall the incantation, Your Majesty?" Paul turns to Regina.
Swallowing thickly, the woman nods, once, licks her lips and then almost monotonously recites, "Dark and light, protect thy knight. Powers that be–" Regina suddenly stops.
Slowly, deliberately, Paul raises his eyebrows and gives the dark-haired woman a meaningful look, urging her on.
"Tie thy soul to thee…" Regina finishes, eyes alight with understanding.
He's always pegged the Evil Queen as one tremendously smart and cunning cookie, and she doesn't disappoint in the least.
"The formidability of the Sword of Ashe lies in its propensity to pull one's soul – a being's very essence – from its mortal shell and absorb it into itself. Willan's Incantamentum undermines this by tethering the protectee's soul to its caster, thereby ensuring that the blade be unable to absorb it. At least, that's what I postulate."
"That's some weird, complicated shit," Rufio comments.
"But it's simple when you really think about it," Paul counters. "Emma persists to live simply because a part of her is eternally bound to someone else. The very person she decided to sacrifice her own life for is the one that also kept her alive in the end; it's poetic, truly."
And as her glistening eyes transfix themselves on that pale spot on Emma's chest – and then at the pendant and the ring hanging from the woman's neck with a chain – Regina goes rigid for a moment, and then her lips begin to quiver.
"You…" she breathes out ever-so-quietly as she stares at the necklace, or at least, Paul thinks that's what she says. "At the store… it was you…"
Regina shakes her head and bites her lips, brusquely swiping away at her tears with a finger. "Emma Swan, you idiot."
"You can save her again," Paul murmurs softly.
Bringing a finger to his mouth, he taps his lips in a suggestive gesture.
"True Love's Kiss," Henry perks up.
Needing no further provocation, Regina promptly leans in and presses her lips against Emma's, seemingly oblivious to the audience watching with both baited breaths and rapt attention.
She kisses her once… twice… thrice… and then so deeply that the people in the room – except a shameless Rufio – avert their gazes.
Breathless and flushed, Regina pulls back and stares at Emma with blatant anticipation.
Everyone holds their breath.
And with every second that ticks by without the blonde's eyelids fluttering open, the hopeful little smile on Regina's face slowly wanes until there's nothing left but a grief-stricken frown.
"No..." Paul murmurs.
Regina's watery gaze flits in his direction, and the look of betrayal aimed towards him is like a vice to his heart, squeezing to the point of excruciating pain.
"You said–" Regina accuses, her voice breaking.
"I–" he swallows. "It should've worked..."
Despite its reputation as the be-all and end-all of the Enchanted Forest's most difficult dilemmas, True Love's Kiss fails to deliver.
Which begs the question…
"Are you even her true love?" Rufio blurts out, outspoken and filter-free as can be.
Head whipping up, Regina glares at the lad from under wet lashes, brown eyes flashing in rage. But instead of fear, pity is what Paul feels. Because behind that smouldering fury, it's painfully obvious that therein lies a deep hurt.
"What did you just say, you impudent monkey?" Regina snarls.
Jaws tightening, his own face marred with disappointment rather than offense, Rufio pours more salt onto the wound and says, "Fine, she was willing to die for you, so you must be hers. But how 'bout you, do you even love her?"
Regina's slit-like eyes widen in outrage. "How dare you!"
"Of course I do!"
She starts then, as if it's the first time she's said it out loud – or even acknowledged it to herself.
But Rufio, on the other hand, isn't quite done. "Then prove me wrong and wake her the fuck up!"
"Stop it," Paul puts a hand on his young friend's forearm. "Please calm down, both of you," he implores, and as he glances around the compact space – at the faces ripe with desperation and fear and all sorts of mixed emotions – it becomes clear as day. "I was wrong."
"No shit," Rufio mutters.
"Emma's in a state between life and death, and I had assumed that True Love's Kiss is enough to draw her out of it. But I was wrong. This isn't a matter of love, because, obviously, there is no shortage of it in this room."
Rufio looks away.
Refusing to meet his gaze, Regina just stares at Emma and absentmindedly strokes the blonde's cheek with a thumb.
"So, whether it be true or not doesn't matter," Paul continues. "Emma willingly offered her own energy – and nearly depleted her own life force at that – to give additional power to the sword. There's no curse to break, no spell to undo. Therefore, True Love's Kiss is–"
"–futile," Regina finishes hoarsely, tightening her hold on the unconscious woman. "Useless as ever."
Rufio grabs the back of his neck and looks down at his feet, perhaps now feeling a little ashamed for his outburst.
"So… how will she wake up?" Henry fastens his hand over Emma's. "When will she wake up?"
The only thing Paul can offer the boy is silence.
And as such, Henry's mother takes up the burden.
"I don't know, sweetheart," Regina murmurs, red-rimmed eyes blurring with more tears. "Only time will tell."
Paul sighs, his hand ghosting over the watch inside his pocket.
If only he still had the ability to jump forward to the future, maybe then he could bring them all to that moment.
Shorten the wait; cut down the worry.
Diminish the agony.
SQ - SQ - SQ
That's the amount of time it takes Whale to finally make a decision.
After days upon days of close monitoring and relentless testing, he comes to the conclusion that Emma's condition does not require hospital care. The elixirs did their job; the woman's as healthy as can be.
He elects to send the Savior home.
And soon after he signs all the necessary paperwork, he finds himself being pulled away from the nurses' station by an obviously troubled David, the man looking no less gaunt than his sleep-deprived wife.
Poor guy looks like he's aged ten years in the span of just several days.
"Can I help y–"
"What the hell are you thinking?" David blurts out, not even giving him the chance to finish. "Are you out of your damn mind? You can't just send her home…"
"With all due respect, I can and I just did," he inclines his chin at the papers he'd just been signing – the ones that are now being gathered by the Trinity Ward's supervising nurse. "They're about to prep her for discharge."
"She's in a coma," David stresses, and then he jabs a finger to his own chest. "I was in a coma for twenty-eight years and I never left this hospital."
"Because you didn't have a choice," Whale points out, calmly, evenly. "No offense, but at that time, you were a John Doe and you didn't have a family to see to your care; Emma, on the other hand, does."
"But she needs to be here..."
"No, she doesn't," he says carefully, making sure the other man not only hears but actually understands what he's saying this time around. He's already been through this with him and his wife just half an hour ago. "Like I said, what your daughter needs now is time."
"Time?" David frowns. "Time for what?"
Whale stifles a groan. As much as he loathes agreeing with Regina, he has to concede that the woman has a point when she lost her patience and snapped at David last week and told him that his mind is the polar opposite of a sponge; it can't seem to – or at least has trouble with – absorbing and retaining information.
"To recharge," Whale says in a tired tone, stating the obvious. "Look, we've both seen this before, it's similar to all the other times she's fallen ill whenever Regina would draw too much energy from her – only this time, imagine that a hundred fold. I'm telling you, all Emma's body needs now is time to recover, and she can do that outside of this hospital."
Exhaling hard through his nose, David scratches at the stubbles on his cheek, still looking more than a little unconvinced.
"If it makes you feel any better, Regina has already made arrangements for a nurse to visit her house once a day," he informs the ex-prince as patiently as he possibly can. "I know for a fact that Jamie's a very capable nurse; she'll make sure that Emma will get the best care possible. And for my part, I'm on call twenty-four seven; anytime she needs me, I'll be there."
"Being in a familiar place might do her good. Would you rather she wake up in a dreary hospital bed or in the comfort of her own home?"
"Okay, alright, alright," David says with an exasperated sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Can you at least give me a time frame? Are we looking at days? Weeks? Months? Years?"
SQ - SQ - SQ
"It's been eighty-four years…"
"Oh… God," Ruby rolls her eyes and smacks Leroy on the back of the head.
"Really, Leroy?" she gives him a dry look. "Really?"
"What? They're showing the movie at the cineplex again," the man shrugs, rearranging the beanie that her actions had left askewed. "Gotta say though, everyone bawled like crazy when that Jack person died, but I wanted to cry when someone used magic to butcher the best part in the frickin' film. Who the hell censors Titanic, anyway?"
"Nuns," August chews on a Twizzler. "You watched it with them, didn't you?"
"Blue put Kate Winslet in a fucking muumuu during that 'draw-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls' scene," Leroy grumbles, reaching inside the bag on August's lap and grabbing a fistful of licorice candy. "Saddest part in the whole frickin' movie if you ask me."
"Okay, don't watch movies with the fairy nuns, point taken. Can we go back to my report now?" Ruby gives the two – but most especially, Leroy – a pointed look.
The two men merely grunt and chomp on their Twizzlers.
"As I was saying," Ruby uncoils the ten-page printout she had rolled to hit Leroy with and turns to the person on the bed. "Em, it's been–"
"Eighty-four years," the two jerks chorus below their breath.
Ruby sighs and shuts her eyes, but instead of lashing at them, she just tunes out their snickering. Men have different ways of coping, she guesses. These two just happen to prefer juvenile jokes and general immaturity when dealing with stress.
"It's been eighty-four days since Christmas," she tries again. "Eighty-four days since your last day in office as Sheriff of Storybrooke."
Clearing her throat, she looks down at the first page and quickly skims the various paragraphs. "As Interim Sheriff, I'm pleased to let you know, boss-lady, that your town is still standing. Just like last week – apart from the usual traffic violations and some misdemeanor arrests at Pride Rock Point and the Rabbit Hole – things have been pretty uneventful on the workfront this week."
"You're really not missing much," August supplements, picking at a piece of candy that's stuck to the back of his teeth with a finger. "The only real exciting thing that happened was when Ruby made us organize all the station's files and we saw a spider inside one of the cabinets. And just in case you're wondering how many cops it would take to kill one, the answer's none."
"We had to call Granny," Leroy says with not an ounce of shame.
"Don't judge us," Ruby exhales, involuntarily shuddering at the memory. "It was ginormous; you would have freaked, too."
The two men nod solemnly in agreement.
"Anyway," she clears her throat again. "I wanted to read you a couple of minor incident reports from the other day, but... August wrote them, so..."
"Hey!" the said man exclaims when she tosses him the clump of papers in her hand.
"They're still wordy, overly descriptive and just overflowing with too much information," Ruby tells the unresponsive woman, ignoring the petulant pouting from her colleague. She distinctly remembers Emma complaining to her on more than one occasion how August's reports are more potent than any sleeping curse, so given her friend's current state of unconsciousness, Emma probably wouldn't mind if they skipped the readings today.
"All you need to know is that Facilier got into a drunken brawl with Whale at the Rabbit Hole over some girl, and that Mr. Gosling got caught by Mother Goose with his mistress and now his car's in the shop."
"I worked hard on these reports, you know," August mutters from his armchair by the bed.
"Then in the future, please don't work too hard and strain yourself," Ruby smiles sweetly, and then deadpans, "And by extension, me. This is about the only time I'll tell you – or anyone – that, so better take it to heart, August."
More like a child than a grown man, he just bites hard on a Twizzler, pulls the rubbery snack from his mouth with a snap, and then sulks.
Fighting an eyeroll, Ruby sighs inwardly and just focuses her attention back to their out-of-commissioned leader. "Oh, before I forget, Em, Jet paid us a visit yesterday."
"Jet?" Leroy pauses mid-chew.
"Old habits," Ruby shrugs. "Anyway, Rufio went to the station. I think you'll be happy to know, boss-lady, that after cleaning up the… um, art–"
"The schlongs," Leroy supplies.
"–that he spray-painted outside the admin office last year, Principal Weiner allowed him back to school last Monday."
"He also wants to volunteer at the station during the summer," Leroy tattles, not even bothering to hide the disapproval in his gruff voice. "That little fucker's claiming that he wants to study to become a cop as soon as he graduates."
"And considering none of us got any sort of formal training whatsoever, I don't know where the heck to even begin mentoring him," Ruby plops down on the bed with as much grace as an eleven-hundred pound elephant, and despite doing it on purpose to jostle the woman, Emma shows no sign of stirring.
She bites back a sigh.
"That said, I did tell him that if he's really serious about it, he has to step up and do months and months of community service first. He needs to wipe his slate clean; start making it up to the folks in town if he ever wants their respect when he's finally wearing a badge."
"Damn right," Leroy grouses, wiggling on his chair as if he's still feeling the phantom butt arrow that chasing Rufio into the woods had once earned him.
"And since we're on the topic of Rufio, I also offered Jackson a job as dispatch. He doesn't get to have a badge or a title; he'll be more like a glorified telephone operator, really. He came to ask me for work and I thought I might as well help the poor guy out; we've got funds to spare after Worthington upped our budget."
"Nepotism," August coughs.
"No ulterior motives, I swear," she denies.
"Mhmm," Leroy sasses. "No ulterior motives, huh? How 'bout romantic ones?"
"Oh, shut up," Ruby huffs at the dwarf, feeling her cheeks heat up. "I'm seeing a fireman, by the way," she turns back to Emma. "Early stages, nothing to report."
"Except that he has as much personality as a rock and he also looks like his face had been bashed into one," Leroy snorts.
"Looks aren't everything and he's just shy," Ruby frowns. "Joe's an angel."
"I thought you didn't believe in heaven or angels?"
"Well, I don't believe in hell or demons either, but there you are."
"Touché," Leroy snorts.
Speaking of her new boyfriend though...
"We better head out," she glances at her watch and sighs at the time. "Sorry Em, because of Ashley's little accident with a curling iron last month, Mary Margaret decided that the town needed another Fire Prevention talk at town hall. All government employees are obligated to attend."
"License to snooze and pig out," Leroy practically purrs as he lifts his arms and stretches, the laziest grin tugging at his lips. "Woody, did you bring more snacks?"
"That'll do, I guess."
"Don't worry, I'll keep them in line, boss-lady." Ruby exhales a weary breath, pushing herself up and off the bed. "We'll see you same time tomorrow for your daily dose of small-town gossip, 'kay?"
"By the way, they wanted me to tell you that they're gonna be a bit late this afternoon, but Mary Margaret and David are still dropping by to read you the paper and watch TV with you." August stands up too, balling the empty bag of Twizzlers and chucking it in the bin by the desk.
"Wake up soon," Leroy pats Emma's foot over the blanket. "We need you back at the station ASAP, sister."
"Cause Ruby's a slavedriver," August mock whispers.
"Yeah," Leroy agrees. "And I say this as a dwarf who used to mine dust for Blue without pay."
Pulling on her jacket, Ruby rolls her eyes for the nth time; seriously, a few more months supervising these two smart-asses and she's got a feeling that her eyeballs are gonna roll out of her head.
She lingers for a few moments under the guise of re-tying the laces of her boots and lets the two men go on ahead. The moment they close the basement door behind them, Ruby straightens up, and just as she does every single day, she leans in and presses a chaste kiss on Emma's forehead.
"Leroy's right, you know?" she murmurs softly, squeezing her friend's non-IV hand. "We need you back. Police work is half as fun and twice as tedious without you. Besides, I think our magic consultant would rather work with you than me or the boys. So, cut us all some slack and get your ass up and off that bed, 'kay?"
And as her ultra-sharp hearing picks up on the click-clacky footsteps echoing from above, Ruby tucks her hands inside the pockets of her crimson jacket, rocks back on her heels and just smiles.
Regina's been very good about keeping the sass to a bare minimum over the amount of foot traffic going in and out of her home for the past several months, but the woman still has a way of letting people know when they're overstaying their welcome.
Wearing sharp stilettos and stomping around the kitchen is one of them...
"Your girlfriend's being all passive-aggressive again…" Ruby whispers conspiratorially to her sleeping friend.
"And you're dilly-dallying as usual," the walkie-talkie by the bed crackles to life. "Run along now, Miss Lucas."
...and spying on them with the baby monitor taped to the headboard is another.
"As you wish, your highness," Ruby smirks. "We'll see you tomorrow."
"If you must."
SQ - SQ - SQ
Today's the day.
I was planning to write this thing, my last entry, last night. No matter how much I tried, though, the words just wouldn't come.
I was wrong; beginnings are hard, but endings are way harder.
Goodbyes are never fun.
And so I just sat inside my closet, staring at a blank page until my flashlight batteries finally crapped out and my 'room' was plunged in complete and utter darkness.
I just sat there for hell knows how long, eyes wide-open, soaking in the silence.
I remember thinking that I better get used to it, y'know? Being in the dark, I mean. In a few hours, that's all I'm gonna see.
I'm sorry if this is way too morbid.
I planned on ending my 'story' on a happier note – or at the very least, a bittersweetly hopeful one – but this is the complete opposite of happy; it's all bitter and no sweet, and it's practically without hope.
So... let me try again, okay?
I hope you're not mad at me. Remember how I told you that I wanted to give you your best chance? I meant it. Now, more so than ever.
I wish I could tell you that real life is just like one of your comic books, that somehow, people are as invincible (and as hilariously immortal) as guys like Hound Edge. But life is unfair, and to tell you otherwise would be doing you a huge disservice. It's just the reality of things, you know? It sucks, but we can't all be superheroes (though most of us try).
So, don't blame anyone; don't get pissed at people.
Don't worry about me, don't even feel bad about how I ended up.
I got you. I got your mom.
I got my happy ending.
I lived a full life; now, near the end, I'm glad to say that I'm making it mean something.
So, trust me, I have no regrets.
And I have you to thank for it.
Thank you for finding me, kid. Thank you for taking that trip to Boston and knocking on my door.
Thank you for dragging my butt here and bringing me home.
You're the greatest thing I could've ever contributed to this earth, and I am so damn proud to be one of your mothers. Love you, always.
I'm not even gonna ask if you're pissed or not.
I know you are.
But I cannot – and will not – apologize for doing what I did. And also what I'm about to do in a few hours.
And I know I'm in no position to ask anything of you at this point, but please, I need you to promise me one thing…
Live your life; try to be happy.
Don't let my actions – no matter how much I know you disagree with them – be in vain.
I'm not the only one who cares whether or not you live or die, you hear me?
Henry loves you, and our son needs his mother now more than ever. So please, please, no matter how tempting it is, don't give in to the darkness again.
I'll know if you do.
And if that happens, I'll haunt the shit out of you.
Because whether in necklace form, or as the frickin' ghost haunting your basement, I'll always be there.
I'll always be with you.
You'll never be alone.
I need to start packing my things soon and leave the cabin, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I can't end this without letting you know that...
Every time I shrugged off any of your well-placed barbs…
Every time I played along and fought right back...
Every time I smiled when you called me an idiot...
That was me falling in love with you.
And I know I should've said it sooner, but it's better late than never.
Goodbye, my royal pain in the ass.
I love you.
SQ - SQ - SQ
"Idiot," Regina mutters, letting her fingers trace the illegible, chicken scribble-like writing before closing the notebook with a sigh – the very same notebook that another pizza delivery boy brought to her home the morning after they took Emma to the hospital.
That was several months ago; the bleakest winter the town's ever experienced has come and gone, and now spring is officially here.
She's lost count of the times she's read the journal; lost track of the times she's pored over every entry by her lonesome and, on occasion, with her son. Still, the constant rereading doesn't make it any easier – not even in the slightest.
Snow White and her Prince Charming's offspring is by no means a Shakespeare, but the woman's writing succeeds in eliciting feelings that she can't even begin to comprehend, let alone get accustomed to.
It hurts in the most profound of ways, yet also, uplifts in the most unexpected of ones.
It's a frustrating kind of dichotomy that she's come to associate with someone as maddening as Emma Swan.
"Spirit of full disclosure, hm?" she murmurs to the person on the bed. "Then I suppose you should know, Emma, that every disparaging remark I made... every petty argument I instigated… every insulting name I called you... that was me loving you back."
In front of her, the illuminated numbers change.
Regina sighs again.
It's always the same time every single night.
Despite being in bed by ten, she'll always wake up just after midnight. It's the same thing day in and day out; she'll lie down for a minute, panic-stricken, and then'll press the baby monitor against her ear and check for sounds of breathing. She'll always hear those steady breaths, without fail, but still, she'll find herself pulling on her robe, putting on her slippers and making her way down to the basement.
The mind-numbing, chest-tightening anxiety only subsides when she sees Emma's chest rise and fall with her very own eyes.
Instead of heading back up, however, she'll always linger. And lingering meant pulling up an armchair beside the bed and reading an entry or two, and maybe even more, before calling it a night.
There are times when she doesn't even go back up; moments when Henry will get out of bed in the morning and find her just sitting there, oblivious to the passing hours because of the lack of windows in the basement.
Perhaps that won't happen tonight, because as Regina gazes at the flashing numbers on the alarm clock, she stifles a yawn and gingerly replaces the notebook on its usual spot on the bedside table.
She doesn't stand up, though.
"I believe the lilacs will start blooming next week," she makes small-talk instead, turning sideways towards Emma and resting her head against the back of the chair, her legs tucked under herself. "The buds are starting to form."
She turns the blonde's limp hand over, and without much thought, starts to trace lazy circles on Emma's palm with a finger.
Oblivious to her ministrations, the other woman lies as motionless as ever.
"So, if you want to see them blossoming, my dear, you better pull yourself together," she continues. "If you wanted to shirk your responsibilities so badly, Sheriff, I could've come up with better ways than taking an extended power nap."
She hooks her finger against Emma's and just stares at her silent companion.
"It's Sunday, by the way. Paul will be here after lunch with his chess set as per usual," she shares. "I'm very certain that you'd be more than happy to know that you have won all the games thus far. But before your head gets swollen, pillow princess, I should also tell you that there is no doubt in my mind that he's letting you win."
A rare smile tugs at the sides of her lips then.
"You have a knack for making the oddest, yet most faithful of friends, you know that? And as cloying as I've always found it, I suppose I should be grateful for the fact. You wouldn't be here otherwise."
A soft whirring sound draws her attention momentarily as the heater springs to life and hot air blows from the ceiling vent.
"Just so you know, I've been practicing every chance I get," Regina turns back to her companion. "It won't be too long now, I'm sure of it."
Planting her feet on the floor, she straightens her spine and closes her eyes, willing herself to concentrate.
Paul's words reverberate in her head.
Tethered, that man had said; a part of Emma is now eternally bound to her.
And as such, if she can just harness this and take advantage of the fact, there'd be no further need to siphon energy from the White Knight in order to get her magic to work properly.
Inside of her, entwined with her very core, is her own miniaturized Swan-battery.
And so, she takes in a deep, steadying breath and thinks of Emma.
Of how the woman has the uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos that is her magic and stabilize her abilities; stabilise her.
And when she finds her center – that small part of the Savior that never fails to ground her – Regina wills her favorite spell into life.
When she opens her eyes, there's a fireball on the palm of her hand, its heat radiating against her skin.
The smile that pulls at her lips is almost as bright as the flames dancing before her very eyes.
With more practice, she'll be able to do harder, more complicated forms of sorcery.
Like, perhaps, an energy transference spell.
She closes her hand into a fist and the fireball dissipates into thin air.
"True Love's Kiss might have failed, my dear," she murmurs, standing to her feet and affectionately caressing the side of her Savior's face. "But I will find a way to wake you, if it's the last thing I do."
Leaning down, she presses a kiss onto Emma's pinkish lips.
And then another.
And then one more for the sake of saying goodnight – for the second time.
She's halfway up the stairs when her ears pick up the strangest of sounds and a chill runs down her spine.
"You've been doing it wrong…" a hoarse voice chides.
Regina misses a step. Whipping around in place, her hand gripping so damn tight on the bannister, her heart jumps up to her throat at the bright green eyes looking at her from the bed.
"Just saying, your majesty, magic is different in this world. If you wanted to wake me up with a kiss, maybe you should've used tongue."
"You idiot," Regina sobs.
Reaching out to her, extending a hand, Emma merely smiles. And that lazy lopsided grin of hers is so blinding that it makes Regina's vision blur.
"I know. I love you, too."
SQ - SQ - SQ
It is the fourteenth of April.
A typical Sunday 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.
Because somewhere in the heart of Mifflin Street, a former Evil Queen and the bravest of White Knights are finally getting their happy beginning.
It is the fourteenth of April. A pivotal moment in Storybrooke's history and one of the happiest points in Regina Mills' life.
And the tale continues with a royal pain in the ass, her beloved idiot, and a whole lot of kissing.
SQ - SQ - SQ
"Your kisses are still wet…"
"And your breath is horrid."
"I was in a coma, what's your excuse?"
"What are you wearing?"
"They totally are. Missed me that much, huh?"
"If you're so concerned that I'm wearing something of yours, my dear, then why don't you just do something about it?"
A/N: And now we've come to the real end. Thank you for taking this journey with me - I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I loved taking you guys on it. Special thanks to Petri and J - my ever-present cheerleaders and sounding boards - for putting up with me during moments of doubt and extreme freak outs. Thank you for being awesome betas. This story wouldn't be what it is without your input. Thank you also to Alezabee, Maria and ExactChange. I'm super grateful for the help you guys have given me as well. To everyone who's read the story, thank you so very much. I appreciate all the messages, the art, the follows, the favorites and the reviews. Thank you for making my year.
Till the next story.