As far as parties went, this one was turning into a resounding success. The guests were enjoying the free food and the free entertainment from the impromptu jam session that the actors and musicians organized by pulling out instruments and urging the townspeople of Storybrooke to show their talents. The atmosphere is jovial and as Regina looks over the revelers, she sees happiness in their faces. Some look happier than she's ever seen them.
Selfishly, she watches them, her anger slowly coming to a simmer at them not knowing that she is the one giving them this. She is the one that feeds the well that sustains their happiness. It is her magic and her skill that allows them these privileges of humanity that they may have never experienced in their own world.
Often, their world of magic was a dangerous and unforgiving place cloaked in the beauty of mystical forests and wondrous oceans. It was all too common for high kings to send their soldiers to fight battles spawned from trivial disputes. Everyone knew war from having seen it firsthand. For all of the pomp and circumstance that shrouded their world, it was a brutal place.
This world without magic, while it could be brutal, was still far more peaceful. The people fought for equality even if at times they didn't understand the words meaning. They didn't accept war as a given circumstance, but questioned its merits. Its people had evolved past high kings and rally for freedom and independence instead.
Here, even Snow White would be judged harshly for ruling a kingdom that didn't participate in democracy. She wouldn't be accepted merely because she touts to be on the right side of Good. In this world, there is no such thing as perfection. Everyone has cracks.
"What are you thinking about?" Emma questions as she steps in behind Regina and then wraps her arms around her wife's waist.
Regina falls into Emma's embrace, finding comfort in the feeling of Emma's sturdiness against her back. "They look happy," she says.
Emma looks out at the crowd. One of the actors is attempting to teach Sydney a hip hop dance move. It's an attempt that is sure to fail, but the people surrounding them are smiling as Sydney stiffly attempts to mimic the actor's movements. "They're having fun."
"And why aren't you out there dancing with them?" Regina wonders.
"I haven't had enough to drink," Emma admits.
"I'm sure they'd love for you to join them," Regina pushes, knowing that there are times Emma will hold back because of misconceived notions of Regina judging her.
There was, perhaps, a time when Regina might have urged Emma to hold back and would have called for restraint, but she sees no point in doing so now. If they are living in their last chance, then she wants Emma to live without walking under a cloud of regrets. Regina is willing to carry both of their burdens and regrets alone.
"Join me?" Emma asks after a moment of hesitation.
"You want me to do Hip Hop?" An incredulous look covers Regina's features. She's not one for making a fool of herself.
"No," Emma answers, knowing her wife would never so openly step out of her element amongst the people of Storybrooke. "I might have requested something a little different."
Just then, the same actress that played the Woman in Black steps out into the middle of the crowd and raises her arms. The music stops and Sydney is given a break from tripping over his rhythm-less feet. The crowd settles, smiles of enjoyment still displaying across their faces. The actress sits at the Grand Piano Regina has kept in her home mostly for show—it's just another symbol of their manufactured world.
"It's been a great night hasn't it?" The actress asks instantly garnering applause from the crowd.
She grins as she runs the fingers of her right hand through her dark curly hair. Off of the stage, the actress has transformed. She no longer looks ominous, but instead seems demure. She's changed into fitted white tuxedo pants accompanied by a white tuxedo shirt and is the direct opposite of the Woman in Black.
"Okay," the woman continues, "so since there's a beautiful full moon outside, I'd like to sing something for the lovers." She looks over the people surrounding her. Her hazel eyes linger on Emma for the briefest of moments. The silent act of communication instantly lets Regina know that Emma's request is being granted under a guise of discretion.
"Come on," Emma whispers as she steps up next to Regina and guides her closer to the impromptu dance floor. As soon as they stand benignly in the crowd, their entertainer turns to the piano and gently lays her fingers upon the keys. She plays the opening notes to the song and the crowd pairs off. Someone dims the lights and the room is transformed. Those without Lovers wander off towards the plates of food or form their own circles of conversation. The Lovers are left to sway against each other from under the gentle push of the music.
As the open room and its occupants give into the transition, the Woman in White's voice begins to accompany the strokes of the piano's keys. It fills the room with a lover's song that is slow and even, mindful that there is no reason to rush to the end. The night isn't young, but in this world a clock striking midnight doesn't mean the end of a spell. Here, midnight just means the beginning of a new day.
Regina lets Emma lead them in the dance. She rests her body against Emma's, finding comfort and protection from all the things and thoughts that plague here with growing frequency. She is trying to figure out how she had lived in a cursed world for so long before. She is searching for the secrets she has forgotten, because she must sustain Paradise. She is the only one ensuring that their world doesn't implode.
"You're thinking again," Emma whispers, not bothering to hide her disappointment in her inability to pull Regina from whatever keeps tearing her away.
Regina shakes her head. "I'm not," she defends herself.
Finding some hint of hibernating bravery, Emma leans forward. "What's going on with you?" she asks, not unkindly but also without room for Regina to retreat.
"I'm sorry," Regina automatically replies since she has grown accustomed to apologizing to Emma.
Emma hears the rote response and sighs. She stops their movements but doesn't release the hold she has on Regina's waist. Before Regina can protest, Emma leads them away from their guests, who must assume that their mayor and sheriff are going off to indulge in what it is lovers do. It is a natural assumption to be made based on how closely Regina and Emma danced and how quietly they whispered words only meant for the other.
As Emma and Regina reach a safe distance away from the crowd, the final notes to the lovers' song plays. Soft applause invades the confines of the room but is quickly muffled as Emma shuts the door to Regina's office. Concern has finally overridden her desire to maintain ignorance over whatever it is that pulls Regina away. The breaking point had come as she watched Regina overlook the crowd. She could not recall Regina ever looking so bitterly angry before, and it is worrisome that Regina would display such emotion over a group of friends enjoying themselves.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" Emma asks.
"There is nothing going on," Regina easily denies, and her denial is truthful. There is no big bad coming to knock down their door. They are far removed from the day pleas fell from Emma's lips asking Regina to defend Storybrooke against the evils that befell it and its heroes.
If Regina's uncharacteristic passivity jars Emma in any way, she doesn't show it. "I just made an outrageously romantic gesture out there." Emma points to the closed door. "And all you did was dance with me."
Regina looks to the nearest clock. It's twelve-fifteen. They had agreed that the party would be over by ten. "I'm just tired." It is a weak excuse, almost as bad as feigning a headache to avoid unwelcomed advances or citing a need to do laundry as reason to cancel a date.
If she didn't know with absolute certainty that Regina loved her, then Emma might assume her wife was having an affair. "Damn it, Regina," Emma pleads, "you can talk to me."
Regina closes her eyes and takes in a careful breath and then slowly releases it. She does want to talk, but she can't. "Did you know that the Governor wanted me to campaign with him while he makes his bid for the senate?" she casually asks.
"What?" Emma tries to grasp onto this new conversation. She has lost practice in decoding Regina's language that sometimes takes on the complexity of a six lane highway as opposed to maintaining the simplicity of a two lane country road.
"He thought I might make a worthy successor." Though, it is clear that his real intent was to use Regina's charisma and charm than to provide her the opportunity to climb the political ladder.
As one of the few people in Storybrooke that can recall a life outside of it, Emma isn't particularly thrilled at the prospect of engaging in a political life. "Do you want to be Governor?"
Who, Regina wonders, would want to be Governor when they had been a Queen? It is a demotion that doesn't carry any appeal. "Of course I don't," Regina easily admits, speaking only the truth. She has no aspirations to be anything more than she currently is.
"Then why bring it up?" Emma wonders.
Emma's question is a valid one. Regina could have mentioned the Governor's desires at any time in passing, but instead she chose to use it now as a barrier. It is something she can talk about that is safe and uncomplicated. It doesn't involve curses twice cast or royalty.
Again, Regina looks at the clock. They've been talking for no longer than a couple of minutes, and though much could have been said in that time very little has been. In Regina's mind, there isn't much to say.
"Full disclosure, Dear," Regina eventually answers her wife's question. "I wouldn't want you to be caught unaware if the subject should come up."
Still lost in the waterfall of this conversation, Emma isn't sure if she can take anything Regina says at face value. The wave of doubt that fills her is comforting in its familiarity. Her very being knows that Regina's words cannot always be trusted. "Is that it then?" Emma questions. "It's the only thing you have to say?"
Regina looks over her wife and she knows that she is looking at a hero. Hell, she is looking at her hero. Even a curse twice cast can't sustain the barrage of Emma's unknowing conviction. "What if," Regina licks her lips and pulls at the bits of bravado she's maintained from being the Evil Queen. "What if I were to tell you that you once begged me to cast a curse?"
Emma's eyes rake over her wife. Her body stills and she is suddenly aware that she has pushed things too far. She is standing on the precipice of learning something that she has willingly kept on the edges of her periphery vision. "We should get back to the party," Emma says as she turns away, the bravery she found is now gone.
"What if," Regina continues as if Emma didn't opt for retreat, "I told you that we once had a son?"
It wouldn't take much for the dam of Emma's memories to break—she is the hero after all. She could never be completely disconnected from the consequences of the curse. No matter Regina's design, Emma has always had access to the past. It has just always been her choice not to access it.
"There is no curse," Emma carefully enunciates. "There's no such thing as magic."
Regina's eyes widen and she is equally stunned by the fact that her curse isn't as strong as she had thought and that Emma has so willingly pushed away the responsibility of being the savior. "Why?" She whispers, mostly in an effort to understand why Emma so readily let Regina carry the burden of the curse alone.
Emma doesn't turn back to look at Regina. There is no excuse for the lies she is participating in. All of her memories aren't completely comprehensible, she's known that this world isn't quite as it should be. There are things pulling at her that let her know that it is she who should stand up and fight. Though, she is unsure what it is she should be fighting against. "Let's go back to the party," she says in lieu of an explanation she can't offer.
Suddenly, the power behind her curse makes sense. Regina never did have complete control of magic in this world. She always needed Emma's assistance to make anything magical stick. It was the original thing that had bound them in this world, and it would seem that it continued to bind them.
"I think I need to take a walk," Regina keeps her distance. She doesn't want to engage Emma in further conversation and she isn't quite prepared for the onslaught of anger that fills her.
"Do you want company?" Emma offers knowing that her wife needs her space and that their conversation will have to reach its conclusion at another time.
"No," Regina is quick to answer. Now that she knows she is dealing with her Emma, she sees no reason to walk about and play the part of the doting wife. There is reason for her to be angry and she needs distance to sort through exactly what it is she is feeling. She walks past Emma and then opens the closed door so that she can escape the stifling weight of Emma's unexpected revelation.
She walks through the house until she exits to her garden and is looking upon her apple tree. It is alive and well, and Regina can't help but wonder if it is Emma's magic or hers that keeps it alive. She no longer knows which parts of this world is sustained by her magic and which parts are sustained by Emma's. This is now their curse cast together—Regina as the spark and Emma as the flame.
"I'm sorry," a voice calls out from the darkness. "I didn't know you were out here. I just wanted some fresh air."
"Nonsense," Regina replies as she easily falls into the role she is so familiar with, "feel free to join me in enjoying the night air."
Turning to the source of disturbance, Regina easily finds irony in the fact that the woman who sang the song for Lovers is the same woman who is now disturbing her.
The woman walks up next to Regina and looks at the tree. "I didn't know that apples grew in winter."
It is a sign of how strong Emma's and Regina's magic are together. "This is a special tree," Regina idly comments. "It's been bred to sustain the seasons."
"Oh," the actress dumbly replies clearly trying to reason out the benefits of a tree never going dormant. "That's interesting."
With nothing further to say, they fall into silence each looking upon the tree full of red apples glistening with life on the cold winter night. The actress wraps her arms around her torso, perhaps trying to fend off the cold that her thin blouse offers no protection against. Her right hand rubs across her left arm, causing the stones on a ring adorning her ring finger to glisten against the light of the moon.
"That's a beautiful ring," Regina comments.
The actress pulls her hand away from her arm and gazes down at her ring, almost as if to offer a reminder of what it is she's wearing. It is a simple white gold band that contains a row of black diamonds that run opposite of a row of brilliant cut diamonds. The rows touch just briefly before they break apart turning in opposite directions. It reminds Regina of the contrasts the woman has been presenting throughout the night.
Regina cuts her eyes away from the woman and looks back at her tree. "Who are you?" she asks knowing that some of the most dangerous predators announce themselves from under a shroud of benevolence.
"Did you enjoy the show?" The woman answers the question with one of her own, but doesn't give Regina the opportunity to answer. "I thought a parable on the merits of mercy would be more to your liking than a fairy tale."
"And why would you care to entertain me, dear?" Regina feels the crackle of magic pushing at her in preparation for her defense.
"I was hoping to, perhaps, gift you with a lesson," the woman replies.
"On the merits of mercy?" Regina wonders since she learned that lesson long ago when she first fell in love with Emma.
"No," the woman easily answers, "that lesson was for everyone else. The lesson for you, my dear Queen, was that not even Mercy can save you. The evil witch did still die in the end."
Magic crackles on Regina's fingertips. "Who are you?" she asks again.
The woman looks down to Regina's hands. "There is a reason why magic was cast from this place."
"I'm not the one that brought it back," Regina quickly points out, "Rumplestiltskin did. Unfortunately, he died in the battle with Cora and Hook so I guess you have no reason to be here."
"I could protect you when you first came." The woman looks up at the sky. "You came without power and your hero was always destined to break your curse, but now," the woman sighs, "I can't stop it."
"The evil of this world is drawn to power and you, Child, have broken the balance." The woman turns back to Regina and moves in closer. "Magic always has a price."
"I've already paid it," Regina declares, "with Henry."
The woman tilts her head and looks at Regina as a disappointed teacher might gaze upon her student. "His loss was not your price. You weren't the only one to cast the curse."
Regina stands straighter, ready to lash out at the woman who has quickly overstayed her welcome. "I think it's time you left."
The woman moves faster than Regina's eyes can track. She pushes Regina up against the apple tree, the palm of her hand flush against Regina's chest. Her touch is hot and burns away any chill Regina might have been experiencing from the winter air.
Regina is ready to lash out with her magic, but stops when she realizes that they are not alone. They stand outside a house full of people who know nothing of magic or its power. "Release me."
"Be prepared to draw your swords. Evil comes in many forms." The woman cautions, then releases Regina and turns away. She walks back into the house without turning back to see if her warning leaves an impression on the Queen.
Regina sags against the tree and slowly slides down the trunk. "Fuck," she curses under her breath not quite sure what else she can do. She knows she must take the warning she has been given seriously since this is the first time any being with power in this world has bothered to make its self known. Though, she suspects that she should have been more mindful of this world's natural laws. She shouldn't have assumed that she and Emma were the only ones with power.
Feeling eyes upon her, Regina looks to her home. Emma is standing in the doorway, keeping her distance but still offering a watchful eye. Regina meets Emma's gaze and she wonders just how long Emma has stood and watched choosing not to interfere. She wonders just how often, since the recasting of the curse, Emma chose to turn away.
Regina pulls herself up from the ground, never breaking eye contact with her wife. She brushes off her clothes and then walks back to the house where Emma is waiting with an open door. "You will tell me everything you remember," she orders as she reaches her wife.
Emma visibly swallows as she nods her head in agreement. "You'll hear my side," she promises, "but I don't think it's gonna change anything."
"No," Regina sighs. "I suspect that it won't."