Emma was absurdly grateful that Graham kissed her. It dismissed her own restless insecurities about their relationship – whether she would give in, whether she would succumb. Blissfully, she felt nothing. He grabbed her face and pressed his whiskey mouth to hers and she felt zip. The only thing that lingered was a kind of unhappy indifference, a pitying acknowledgment of the fact that Graham was desperate, and he was drunk, and he was being a little pathetic, and did Storybrooke have a rehab facility, or would he have to go into that dank, creepy hospital?
But he staggered back like lightning had come crashing down between them, and if Regina'd been there, maybe it would have. With distance between them, there came the anger, familiar from years of temper tantrums; she didn't know what pissed her off more: that Graham had thought he could do this and get away with it or that in doing it he'd proved Regina right. Emma had wanted so badly for this to go away in the past couple of weeks, for her return as deputy to mean an easy slip back into platonic comradeship, the kind of friendship she always wanted with the men in her life but that never seemed to happen.
"Did you see that?" Graham gasped.
"How much have you been drinking?" Emma demanded. "That was way over the line, Graham. I'm married. For God's sake, you introduced me to Regina."
With the booze smell rolling off him in sickening waves, Graham said, "I just – I just wanted to feel –"
"Look," she said, heading him off. "Whatever it is you're wanting to feel, you're not getting it with me."
He looked at her, eyes glassy from drink, and she felt kind of bad but much more angry than anything else. "You'd better go home and sleep it off," she said, and turned away. She had a wife and kid waiting for her.
Working as a deputy had been easy, at work and at home – so easy that Emma wasn't really surprised that now this kind of shitty thing had to happen and fuck it up. After that first night of confession to Regina, it had been comfortable and smooth between them, no nighttime intrusions disturbing the peace or further emotional currents to navigate. She'd found herself wondering a little at Regina's willingness to play her part, asking Emma about her day when they regrouped for family dinner, solicitously inspecting her scratches and bruises after a particularly grueling couple of hours chasing Pongo out of someone's extensive briar hedge, playfully calling her "deputy" or "sheriff," claws sheathed. It felt so normal – and so utterly unlike Regina – that Emma found herself nervously testing this strange domestic bliss, trying to find the seam, where it would crack open and all the ugliness would spill out.
Henry's thoughts ran along the same line. Their alliance had been forged again over an illicit ice cream sundae at Granny's, and he was clearly pleased to have Emma back on his side for what he was calling "Operation Cobra," the undercover mission to make all the fairy tale characters realize who they truly were, about which he was ceaselessly optimistic. Emma was more skeptical. She couldn't deny the logic, though, when he said of his mother's apparent, benign domesticity, "She's just biding her time. She's waiting to do something really terrible."
When Emma caught herself agreeing, she made herself back up, reconsider. Hadn't she told Regina that she wanted to be like other couples? To be loving and considerate, to stop the constant fight for control? Maybe this was her wife trying to grant her wish. It wasn't Regina's fault that the guise fit her so imperfectly, not when she'd only donned it at Emma's insistence. (That made her feel pretty guilty. She was always resolving to bring it up, to raise the topic during their comfortably sexless nights or their occasional weekday lunch, but it just felt so damn nice to not be on guard all the time, to not be tense. She was hoping it'd help with her perpetual headache, but that lingered maliciously; for that reason, she didn't regret the lack of sex. It was probably better than they tried to be intimate without it, anyway.)
There had been no more meanness about Graham, no more fights about the dangers of the small office where Emma now worked. Of course, that'd all go to hell now.
Her hands shoved in her pockets against the cold, passing under the still, dead clock tower as she walked towards home, Emma bitterly concocted the diatribe she knew would unfold at the confession. All about how Graham couldn't be trusted, how Regina would fire him, take his property, turn him into a little bug and crush him, whatever mayors did to people they didn't like. Emma didn't want that – she really, really didn't want that. She was angry at him, sure, but he wasn't in his right mind – the whole town knew about his alcoholism – and, a little more selfishly, she didn't want people to see Regina running around stomping on whoever breathed in Emma's direction.
Just inside the house, Emma nudged the door shut behind her and reached down to tug off her boots, too frustrated to deal with laces right now. The return to her wardrobe of some of her old standbys had been another part of Regina's mysterious concessions to Emma's needs, but the successes of the past few weeks paled in comparison to the massive fuck-up that had taken place that night.
"Is everything alright?" Regina appeared, luminous as lamplight in the still house. "I kept a plate for you in the oven." Emma'd had to leave in the middle of dinner when Ruby called her from the diner, telling her Graham was drunk and getting a little dangerous with his dart game.
"Yeah, yeah," Emma said, running a hand through her hair and sighing. She hung up her jacket, mindful of Regina's thing about neatness. "Is Henry upstairs?"
"He's watching television," Regina said, and Emma finally spotted a place where the benevolence was wearing thin; Regina's tone was plainly displeased, the implication of Emma's bad influence laying thick on the words. There was the Regina she knew.
She couldn't help but crack a weak smile, the best she could manage under the circumstances. "On a weeknight?" she said. "I'll go in with him."
Regina smiled tightly and Emma tried a little harder to play normal, to grin at her the way she usually did. "I'll be in the study," Regina said and then, delicately, sniffed. "You smell like a distillery."
"Sorry," Emma said, immediately blushing, shamefaced. "That's, uh. That's Graham. I had to – manhandle him a little."
"Maybe you should shower before bed," Regina said, a suggestion where before it would have been a command. Emma didn't want to think about how that might change once she gave up everything that had happened.
"Yeah, will do," Emma said, moving past her quickly, towards the plate of lasagna waiting for her in the kitchen. She took it into the living room – technically breaking one of the cardinal rules of the house, which was no food anywhere outside of the kitchen or dining room ever. Henry grinned to see her breaking the law so openly, and they sat together, watching cartoons, no fairy tales coming up between them.
After Emma sent the kid off to his room, she went to the study, invited by the warm spill of light from under the door. She knocked gently, said, "Regina?" and let herself in.
There was something kind of beyond sexy about Regina in work mode, looking up with that expression of hard focus, lips slightly pursed, some mysterious file open in her lap. "I thought you were going to shower," she said. Emma was tempted to give up on this conversation and this whole no-sex dry spell thing they had going on, but she shook her head, letting the thought go.
"I, uh..." Emma, regretting this whole conversation already, put her hands in her pockets like a kid in the principal's office. "I wanted to tell you something."
"Well, of course, dear," Regina said, closing the folder, tucking it back in her orderly briefcase. With eyelids lowered slightly, watching Emma's face, she asked shrewdly, "Did something happen?" Then, "With Graham?"
Emma pushed out a laugh, dropping onto one of the low-slung couches. "I guess I shouldn't be so surprised," she said. "You being all-knowing and everything."
Regina gave her a pleased sort of smile; Emma couldn't tell what it was she liked so much – the compliment or something happening with Graham – and the ambiguity made her tense a little more, her headache making itself known again.
"Graham, uh..." Emma couldn't look at her directly. "When I was taking him out of Granny's, he got a little... He'd been drinking a lot, and..." She swallowed her reluctance. "He kissed me."
The silence that followed was far too deep to be safe. Just as Emma was daring to lift her gaze, Regina had already crossed the room in that silent way of hers, settling next to her on the small couch, her narrow arm around Emma's waist. "And you did... What?" Regina murmured, close to her ear, and Emma heard the edge of a blade wrapped in her seemingly gentle tone. Regina'd made Emma angry before, made her uncomfortable, made her nervous, but this was the first time Regina had ever made her truly afraid.
Emma's normal response to fear was to get angry, to get loud, but she heard her voice come out very quiet as she said, "I told him that it was over the line. That I was married to you, and – and that whatever he was looking for, he wasn't going to get it from me." The rush of adrenaline made her heart thump in her chest, so loud she could swear it was audible in the room around her; it magnified her headache like focusing light with a lens.
"Good," Regina said. She stroked Emma's hair lightly, kissed her temple. The danger remained, but it was muted now, farther away; Emma still couldn't bring herself to relax. "I trust you, Emma. I know you would never..." Another kiss, to her cheek, close to the corner of her mouth. Emma was conscious of the soft attentiveness in the touch, knowing Regina was trying to get her to open up, relax, unfold again. "Don't worry about Graham."
"He's, uh." Emma cleared her throat, trying to come back to herself. "He's in a pretty bad way, Regina. I mean – not in danger. But this is... I guess this has been building for a really long time. He needs help."
Regina's hand was still stroking her hair, more firmly now. "Graham's on a path to self-destruction, Emma," she said, a little of the gentleness gone from her voice, baring some of the steel. "When someone's destroying themselves that way, you can't always help them. You can't always pull them back from the edge."
"I don't believe that," Emma said, and she sounded more like herself now, firmer, shaking off some of her fright like clearing a fog. "Regina, no matter what he did, he's my friend. I have to do something. I have to believe I can help him."
"I wouldn't get your hopes up," Regina said.
"That's a really shitty thing to say, Regina," and Emma finally found her fire again, shaking off Regina's hand. "A really shitty thing to say. I know you don't like Graham –"
"Don't be ridiculous," Regina said. "Emma, I just want you to be realistic." Her hand came back to Emma's hair, forcefully; this time she played one of her favorite tricks, grabbing the hair at the nape of Emma's neck, effective as a leash. "Some people are just beyond help."
Emma felt really fucking far beyond help just then. "Regina –"
"Go shower," Regina told her, and it was a command this time, the facade of gentleness completely gone now. "You've had a long day. I'll be up in a few minutes."
Released, Emma got up on shaky legs, the remnants of Regina's deception bitter in her mouth. Her footfalls up the stairs were too loud; Henry's pale face poked out from behind his door. "Emma," he said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, kid," she said, wiping quickly at her eyes, not wanting him to see. "Yeah, I'm fine. Go back to sleep."
"I wasn't asleep," he said.
"Well, you should be," she said brusquely, walking past him towards the bathroom.
"Did she hurt you?" Henry asked, but his voice was quiet as a touch, and Emma, closing the bathroom door behind her, could fool herself into thinking she hadn't heard it.
Emma found Graham again the next day, emerging from the house – returning from seeing Henry – just as the afternoon began to turn, fading with characteristic New England speed towards evening. She hadn't spoken to Regina since the night before.
"Graham, hey," she said. "I hear you're having a rough day." He didn't look obviously drunk, but she couldn't count on him not being high-functioning or something, whatever the word was.
"Who says?" he asked, pulling up short.
"Everyone," she said. She'd gotten a call at the sheriff's station from Mary Margaret Blanchard, worriedly asking if she'd done the right thing, mentioning Henry and his book of fairy tales to Graham. Neither of them thought he was dangerous, but neither of them thought he needed to be told about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves either, not in his state. "Look, how about I take you home? You can get some rest."
"I'm fine," he said, and she moved forward, saying, "No, Graham, you're not fine. You just saw a ten-year-old for help."
"He's the only one making any sense."
"What's going on, Graham?" she asked, trying to be delicate about it. "What's really going on?"
Graham looked at her, absent of any delicacy; there was an urgency in his gaze that she associated with mania. "It's my heart, Emma. I need to find my heart. I have to follow the wolf. The Evil Queen took my heart – the curse –"
Jesus. "You can't really believe that's true!" Emma insisted. A flicker of movement caught her eye over his shoulder, and Emma, recognizing it, froze.
"What?" Graham asked, and followed her gaze around to the wolf watching them from down the street.
The animal led, Graham followed, and Emma followed him; picking her way across property lines in pursuit of a wild canine, she wondered unhappily if this was all worth it. Not the helping Graham thing – the playing along with the curse, pretending all of this was somehow logical, normal, like she hadn't stepped through the looking glass into some really scary world where Henry was obsessed with some imaginary stories he molded to fit his confusing messed-up life and Regina had become – Regina hadn't become anything. There was a reason why Henry thought she was the Evil Queen. He was smarter than Emma that way. This was who Regina had been all along.
It had been in her head all night, and all day until Mary Margaret called. What had happened in the study – that was another of those not-okay things, but "not okay" seemed way too mild to describe it. Emma'd never known Regina to do anything accidentally; everything about their exchange on the sofa – and the fear that had charged her like static electricity – felt deliberate as a wound. This was what had been hiding underneath the suits and the lipstick all this time, this malevolent stranger, of whom the controlling, possessive Regina that had kept Emma under lock and key was just a pale shade.
Emma's head had been pounding for hours; her eyes hurt, the skin under them fragile and bruised, her mouth drawn and unhappy, set deep into its natural frown. She felt like she'd cried herself to sleep and never completely recovered, a small price to pay for understanding; shame she hadn't gotten there sooner. Like, before she married Regina.
Better not to think about that. She'd sink her teeth into those regrets later. Instead, she followed Graham across the town cemetery, and groaned when he declared he'd found the vault, this was where his heart was. The mausoleum was sickeningly familiar.
"Oh, Jesus, Graham, not here," she pleaded. "This is Regina's father's grave."
"I have to try," he said, rounding on her, desperation clouding his face like a storm. "I have to get my heart back, Emma – it's got to be in there." When he went to force the door in, she ran forward – out of respect for the dead? Some misplaced loyalty to Regina? – and grabbed his shoulders, pulling him back hard; his weight made her stagger enough for him to wrench away and lunge at the door again, the wood splintering, the entrance giving way.
"Graham," she said again, but he was already inside; she could hear him rifling through whatever people put in mausoleums besides dead people. She went up to the entrance, hanging back, not wanting to enter the musty gloom beyond the doorway, the shadows there too familiar for safety.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" said Regina from behind her; her voice, like the crack of a whip, lashed up Emma's spine. Fucking Wednesdays.
She turned to face her, feeling like a captured criminal, the finale of a Law and Order episode. "Regina," she started to say, "we –"
"It's my fault." Graham stepped out of the mausoleum, looking remarkably put-together for a man who had just been investigating grave goods for his still-beating heart. Of course, he wouldn't want Regina to know about it. "I brought Emma here."
Regina was never more beautiful than when she was angry; her dark hair seemed to crackle with energy. "Emma," she said tersely, "you don't look well. I'm taking you home."
"Regina," Emma said quietly, "Graham's not doing so well. He's tired; he's had a really long day. I'm going to take him to his place so he can get some rest. I'll meet you at home, okay?"
Regina had opened her mouth to respond, the force intended for her words clearly visible in the set line of her shoulders and the clench of her hands; Graham cut her off. "She doesn't want to go home with you, Regina," he said, stepping forward, drawing up to his full height without a slouch, the kind of macho posturing Emma knew was going to piss Regina off.
"Graham," Regina replied, giving him a look that made it clear exactly what she thought of interlopers. "This is between my wife and myself."
Graham moved a step or two closer, protectiveness written on every inch of him. "It's okay, Graham," Emma said. "Don't worry about it. We're going to get you home."
Ignoring her, he said, "You know, Regina, I'm not afraid anymore? You don't scare me. I'm not going to let you take her back and lock her up like you own her. Emma's a person, not a pawn."
"Yeah, and Emma's right here," she said, trying to get Regina and Graham to look at her or something, to break off the hard stare they were sharing.
Graham continued as though she hadn't spoken. "You can't control her anymore like you controlled me." What? "You can't make her love you by tying her down, by trapping her. She's not an animal for you to cage. If you think she loves you – God bloody knows why she would –" and this offense was the last Regina could take; she struck out with snakelike suddenness and Graham staggered back, clutching his jaw; there was blood on his lip and on his hand when he drew it away.
Regina wasn't letting off, moving up to him, invading his space; Emma saw Graham almost lift his hand, then, forcefully, hold back, restraining himself. Regina laughed, a low, scary noise. "Too afraid to hit a woman?" she asked, her voice breathless, husky, and Emma recognized that voice from the bedroom.
"Jesus Christ," Emma said loudly, moving forward and wedging herself between them. "Stop it. Both of you just stop it."
Graham held up his hands, surrendering; Regina stayed where she was, jaw clenched, and then backed away a step. There was a nasty little smile on her plum-red lips.
"I'm going to take Graham back to his place and get him cleaned up," Emma said firmly. "Regina –" A pair of dark eyes turned on her, and Emma's voice died away; fear licked at her again, hot and familiar from the night before. "I'll meet you at home," Emma managed to say. "Stay here and – commune with your ancestors, or something."
As suddenly as Regina had become that frightening stranger, she was herself again, straightening up a little, smoothing out her coat. Emma caught the quick little motion at Regina's side as she shook out the hand she'd hit Graham with. "Of course," Regina said. "Not too late, please. You already missed dinner."
Emma walked away, guiding Graham, and glanced once over her shoulder; Regina stood there, face shadowy and indistinct in the nighttime darkness, and what she saw as she watched them walk away Emma couldn't guess.
Graham's apartment was familiar to Emma in the way that all Main Streets, dive bars, and gas stations were familiar, a pattern you saw in every town, in every city, no matter where you went. It was a bachelor's place, shabby and dark and not very clean, the kind of apartment she might have lived in left to her own devices, the furniture and walls stained by years of smoking and drinking alone. She sat him down in the La-Z-Boy recliner and went to rattle around in the little kitchenette, finding an ice pack, a first aid kit, but could they even do anything with it? She left the kit behind, her headache pounding at her temples.
"Emma, I..." Graham touched the split skin of his lip again with a grimace. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah?" she said, and shoved the ice pack onto his jaw ungently. "We're all sorry for something."
Holding the pack in place, he gave her a look. "I shouldn't have put you in mine and Regina's fight," she said. "She and I... With our history... I was already angry at her. But seeing her with you, that made it worse. Knowing she was hurting you now."
You can't control her anymore like you controlled me. Emma sat down on the recliner's matching footrest and swallowed. "Your history?" she said.
He took the ice pack away from his jaw. "She didn't tell you?" He exhaled heavily. "I suppose I'm not surprised." He shook his head and closed his eyes for a moment, his face going briefly still. "Just – just know I never meant to put you in the middle of it. When I introduced you to her... I never thought..."
Emma felt something cold crackle over her, like an autumn frost, the feeling that she'd been moved around like a chess piece; Graham's words from earlier came back to her again, Emma's a person not a pawn. "Graham," she said softly, "I don't understand."
"Emma," Graham said, looking up at her. "In all of this... You've been the only innocent one. You were the only one who was good. I..." She saw it in his face that he wanted to kiss her again, and when he leaned forward, she didn't move away: she wanted, for just a second, to have something she recognized, understood, and she understood, at least, the need to kiss and to forget. When he pressed his mouth to hers, she felt nothing, but there was recognition in his eyes when he drew away.
"Emma," he said. "I remember." There was a clarity in his face that called out to her; whatever he felt, something finally stirred in her in answer. He parted his lips again, but his next indrawn breath was a gasp of pain.
"Graham?" Emma scrambled up; Graham couldn't seem to catch his breath, he choked on it, his hand scrabbling at his chest. She reached out for him, seeing her hands move like they were someone else's hands, watching Graham stare up at her with wide unbelieving eyes. His weight in her arms carried her down to the floor, his lean frame sprawled in her lap; his mouth moved, a noise leaving him, but was it a death rattle or was it a word, Emma couldn't tell.
She shook him. "Graham!" She felt herself crying in the onrush of loss and fear, her eyes hurting with tears and with that fucking headache. His body was still and heavier than before, and when she put her head down to listen for a breath, to catch the whisper of a heartbeat, she heard nothing.
In the haze of sirens that followed, Emma wondered blankly who'd called an ambulance. It wasn't as though the EMTs from Storybrooke General could do anything about Graham, who was slack and dead on the gurney. She followed them step by rattling step down the stairs and out into the glare of the ambulance lights.
"Emma?" Regina, haloed by headlights, descended on her, an angel in black. Emma, her head still pounding, felt herself being drawn in, hungry for someone to tell her what to do and how to feel. She put her hands on Regina's sides and buried her face against her wife's shoulder.
"I'm taking her home," she heard Regina say in her clipped mayoral voice to the nearest person. "I trust you'll contact my office if you need to speak with us." Those were all reassuring words, home, trust, us, and Emma, her head fuzzy, let herself be wrapped in them, warming herself by Regina's take-charge tone.
Regina guided her, step by stumbling step, to the Mercedes, and then drove, with neat efficiency. "Come on," Regina said, bringing Emma up the steps of the front porch. "Not much farther now, Emma."
Inside, Henry's voice echoed to them from the top of the stairs. "Emma! Are you okay?" Then his tone grew hard, he was addressing Regina: "What did you do?"
"Henry, go to bed!" Regina snapped back at him, louder than usual; she hated having voices raised in her house.
Emma wanted to keel over, and she might have if Regina hadn't sat her down so firmly in the study. She put her face in her hands and didn't respond when Regina told her she was going to go get her a drink; she accepted the glass of scotch and water when it nudged her hand.
Regina's weight settled next to her and a hand stroked down her back, brushed her hair out of her face tenderly.
"Regina?" Emma's own voice sounded far away, as though coming to her through water. "How did... Jesus..." The scotch burned going down, but it seemed to snap her back to herself. "How could... I was just with him, he was just alive, and..." She'd seen a lot of people die before their time, but never in her arms, not like that.
"He was sick, Emma," Regina said soothingly; she gathered Emma into her arms as tenderly as she might a child, and Emma's headache began to beat in tandem to the sound of Regina's heart. "Sometimes people burn out. There was nothing you could do."
Surrounded by her wife's warm apple smell, Emma relaxed by slow degrees; a voice sounded suddenly behind the darkness of her eyes, some people are just beyond help, and then when I introduced you to her... I never thought... God, could she just fucking get out of her own head for once, could the echo chamber just quiet down, but there was Graham again, in all of this you've been the only innocent one,and the fear she remembered from the mausoleum, the fear from this same spot, being in Regina's arms, surged up in her; she felt like Dorothy falling to sleep amid a field of poisonous poppies, betrayed by her exhaustion, desperate for the comfort of slumber beyond dreams.
"Regina," she said, and pulled away. The glass shook in her hands. Regina's soft, lovely face was all tender concern, a flash there of the human frailty that Emma loved, but she didn't see it; she saw the stranger's face, the other Regina. I remember, Graham told her, his face clear as a window, and Henry warned her she's waiting to do something really terrible. "Regina, did you have something to do with this?"
Emma didn't know if it was pure paranoia or what, but she could have sworn that Regina's incredulous expression took a beat too long to surface.
"What?" Regina said. "Are you joking?"
Emma felt like gravity was sitting heavier on her than usual. "Do I look like I'm laughing?" she said quietly.
"I understand that you've had a very difficult night," Regina replied unkindly, "but I hope even you can tell how ridiculous you sound right now."
"You had a fight with Graham," Emma said, putting down her glass, getting onto her wobbly feet slowly. "Not even an hour before he died."
"So, what?" Regina got up as well, faster than Emma could. "I induced heart failure with the power of my fist?" Regina sneered; somehow, impossibly, the malicious cant to her features made her even more beautiful, like a natural disaster. "That's far-fetched, even for you, Miss Swan."
Emma stood her ground as Regina advanced on her, and the headache ripping at the inside of her skull was like a warning. "Need I remind you," Regina said, "that you are only a sheriff's deputy, with no formal police training, and no grounds for these accusations?" Then Regina straightened slightly, assuming her pose again, playing wife. "You've had a long day," she added. "Go to bed. You'll forget all this in the morning."
"Yeah," Emma said. "When you appoint a new sheriff and trap me in this house again."
There was the malevolence she now knew, teased out from under the surface by her accusations. "Don't be ridiculous," Regina spat.
"I can't stay here, Regina," she said. "Not after what you did."
"Please, Emma, what is it you imagine I did to Graham?" Regina moved forward again, invading her space. "Tell me."
"I don't know," she said. "I don't, but I know you did something." She pushed on, away from Regina, leaving the study.
"So that's it?" Regina demanded, pursuing, sneering to see Emma, still woozy, nearly overbalance when she tried to shove her feet back into her boots. "You're just leaving? Based on these – these paranoid inventions of yours?"
"Maybe I am paranoid," Emma agreed, feeling the scotch burn in her empty stomach; her conviction burned still hotter. "But this has been a long time coming and you and I both know that." She kicked the toe of her boot against the floor, sliding her foot into place, and thought, Henry,nearly stopping herself,but she knew the moment his name occurred to her that he was safe to leave behind for now: he was the only person in the world Regina would never hurt, and if she took him Regina'd probably make a case for kidnapping to that creepy prosecutor.
Emma picked up her coat and was shoving her arm into one sleeve, turning the doorknob with her other hand, when Regina manifested behind her, one hand flat on the door, shoving it closed again.
"If you walk out that door," Regina breathed into her ear, "if you leave me, you are never coming back." Her other hand came to rest on Emma's other side, against the door frame, pinning her.
Emma closed her eyes, surrounded by Regina, feeling the weight of her as though she were underwater, crushed on all sides by the killing pressure of deep ocean blackness. Then she turned the doorknob again and pulled the door open at the same time as she pushed back against Regina with one shoulder. Regina staggered and fell back, the first stair up to the foyer catching her at the ankle. Emma heard rather than saw her land.
"Emma, no." Emma was already a step out the door. Regina's voice got louder. "No! Emma, don't go! Don't you dare – don't you dare leave me! Emma!"
Regina's stricken voice, thick with fear and choked by what sounded too much like pain, faded out as Emma headed down the front walk. Far away above the stirring, restless town, the broken clock tower tolled the hour.
Note: Well! There it is! The final chapter. Thank you all for coming this far with me. This has been an incredible exercise and I've learned so much from exploring it, not just through the process of writing but through your reviews and your helpful criticisms. This piece isn't perfect, but it's mine and I'm happy with it, and I'm so glad I've had the time, opportunity, and support to follow through with its completion. Thank you so, so much for going through this with me and for reading, for reviewing, for following. I am beyond grateful.
See you in the sequel. ;)