Chapter 1: The Tip of the Iceberg
The pain in her heart just wouldn't go away.
Regina marched herself down Storybrooke's main street at a clipped pace, her arms wrapped protectively around her waist in a vain attempt to hold herself together. She'd thought that it wouldn't be possible for her heart to break any more than it had in the past; she had already suffered so much. But she was wrong.
Her heart sagged under the weight of her crushed expectations and she was briefly tempted to rip it from her own chest, if only to rid herself of its needy bulk and make this whole ordeal a little more bearable.
Regina had done exactly what Henry had asked her to do: she'd believed in him. She had put aside her own personal grievances and concerns for her own wellbeing and martyred herself to a rather painful cause. But even when she had finally done the right thing, the noble thing… the good thing… she was still treated exactly the same. Pushed aside when her unique skill-set was no longer required.
Seeing Emma climb out of the portal had sent a confusing myriad of emotions flying through her; if she was being honest with herself she had actually missed the infuriating sheriff during her unplanned stint in the Enchanted Forest and Regina found that she had genuinely meant it when she told the blonde 'welcome back'. That did not however erase the sharp pinch her heart had endured at the sight of Emma clutching her son in a smothering embrace. Henry should have been thanking his real mother for ingesting a curse on his behalf.
Regina sniffed lightly in the cooling evening air. Her nose was starting to run.
Emma hadn't blamed her for ruining her life, hadn't accused her of being bad for Henry, hadn't said a single antagonizing thing to her since she got back. In fact, the blonde had thanked her as soon as she'd stopped cradling Henry's head to her chest and made a light remark about her mother being a bitch. It had made Regina's heart smile a little at the time.
It's what Emma hadn't said that set her teeth on edge.
Regina didn't expect to be redeemed in a day, but she did expect to be rewarded for progress, and saving their collective asses from a death curse suspended over a portal was one hell of a step in the right direction.
The spit caught in her throat as she tried to swallow down the angry bile that kept creeping up from her esophagus and her fists clenched until her fingernails were leaving white indentations in her palms.
Forming the words 'why don't you join us for dinner, Regina?' should not have been hard. Even a simple 'you coming?' would have sufficed. Hell, she'd have even settled for a head tilt aimed in her direction.
As it was, Gold's painfully truthful words echoed harshly in her ears as her high heels continued to clack against the sidewalk. "Congratulations. You just reunited mother and son. Maybe one day they'll even invite you to dinner." After all she'd done for him; she couldn't help but feel Henry's betrayal stinging sharply deep within her chest.
She had abstained from magic at his request. She had kept a constant vigil by his side while fiery nightmares swept him away at night. She had spent every waking moment he allowed her to be near him in his presence. And when she wasn't with him, she was coming up with ways to prove her worth to him. She had even saved his birth mother when he had begged her to.
She'd hoped that this would be enough. That he would see how hard she was trying. But it's difficult to be good when everyone was just waiting for you to slip up, biding their time and looking for cracks in your façade, waiting on baited breath and daring you to flinch so the blame can land squarely on your shoulders once again.
Hope was a dangerous thing. It was something Regina feared she had always had too much of. It made it all the more painful to lose.
She had hoped for Emma.
The ridiculous blonde had a kind heart and she was constantly coming to Regina's rescue, whether Regina felt she deserved it or not. The sheriff had saved her from a fire, rescued her when Gold had tied her up (immediately after slaying a dragon on her first try mind you), stopped an angry mob from killing her, and finally shoved her out of the way of a wraith hell-bent on digesting her soul.
Sure they fought like starving cats around a dumpster most of the time, but before Emma had gone and unwittingly hurled herself into a portal, Regina had noticed the sheriff going out of her way to bother her as of late. It made her feel important to think that someone thought she was worthy of bothering. She liked to pretend that it wasn't just because she was the adoptive mother of Emma's son, but that on some level the blonde found her fascinating as well.
They had made magic together… and where she was from that meant something. When Emma had touched her in the gallery, magic had swelled within her like a tempest and spilled from Regina's fingers like it was the most effortless thing on the planet. It had been calming and invigorating simultaneously, bonding them inexplicably to each other, and the overwhelming sense of rightness that had engulfed her in the moment, had later on left Regina feeling mildly unsettled.
She had been filled with magic in a world where it wasn't supposed to exist. Emma's touch was literally otherworldly, in the most poignant sense of the word, and Regina still hadn't quite come to terms with it yet. She wasn't sure if she even could. So much was wrapped up in that blonde enigma that she was almost afraid to scratch the surface.
In the sheriff's absence she had time to dwell, to fabricate, to misconstrue, and now she wasn't sure of anything. She had grown to miss Emma, only to bring her back and have her steal her beloved Henry away from her.
And then after Daniel… she stopped walking for a second as grief invaded her system again. She crumpled momentarily as she clutched at her gut, panting as she revisited the devastating loss of her first love. Daniel. He wanted her to love again. But how could she? How could she love anyone when no one would love her back?
In her sorrow she didn't notice the faint tendril of green ether beginning to hover around her like a fog.
The grief hurt too much. It felt as if her heart had already broken into a thousand pieces and now someone was tromping all over the shards in order to crush them into a fine dust. Mask it with anger. Anger was fuel. Anger was productive.
Regina's jaw clenched. She had sucked up a curse for those ungrateful heroes. The word burned on her tongue and her skin glowed a little. Ungrateful peasants the lot of them.
Regina was in a considerable amount of pain, and not just emotional pain if she really thought about it… which she didn't. Instead of stopping to consider the possible ramifications of such a thing she merely trudged forward, fueled by her desperate need to just get home, and adamantly refused to acknowledge any physical limitations on her part. Never mind that her body was nagging at her; odd aches twitched through her cold limbs and a dull throb had started to pulse just behind her eyes. Just what I need… a headache from all of this blasted crying. It was best just to ignore the sufferable pangs all-together.
Unwanted tears leaked from her eyes as she tried to stifle a breathy whimper. She had refused to let them spill out in front of Gold, but alone on this empty street she had no one to hide from. The whole town seemed to be celebrating the Savior's return at Granny's diner together.
At the thought of Henry laughing with people he found more appealing and more innately, intrinsically good than her, her stomach dropped even lower into her pelvis. Was it really worth it to change for the people you love? Especially when they are so obviously happy without you?
"Stop it, Regina," she chastised, her voice sounding oddly like her own mother's inside her head. "Some Evil Queen you've turned out to be. Just look how far you've fallen. Now you're nothing but a mother without a son."
It was probably a good thing she hadn't been invited to dinner, Regina moped morbidly. She wouldn't have been hungry anyway.
What she needed was a stiff drink. Vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. Maybe that would get rid of this irritating chill in the air that insisted on seeping through her peacoat. She tugged the jacket tighter around her slim form and failed to heed the warning crackle of a green spark sailing through the air around her fingertips.
Her perfect little boy. Her perfect little piece of Emma that she had loved with all of her miserable heart for the past ten years was now back with his biological mother, surrounded by (and now knowingly blood-related to) all of the heroes in the fairytales she used to read to him every night before he went to bed. The irony hurt just as much as her weeping heart.
She tried to cling to the memory of his tiny arms around her waist. Her little sliver of happiness. He hadn't hugged her like that since… well since Emma. And in that moment she had been whole again. Overwhelmingly and intoxicatingly whole.
But then suddenly he was gone… he was leaving… his hand slipping out of hers… the void in her heart ripping open anew as he muttered 'I'll see you around' as nonchalantly as if he didn't know how much she cared about him. The moment replayed relentlessly in her head over and over despite her constant efforts not to think about it.
The hair on her arms stood on end as the crushing cold plagued her skin, squeezing at her ribcage until she almost couldn't breathe.
Trying unsuccessfully to clear her head of the cruel sound his words had left in her ears, images from the past hour whipped through her mind: blurred, hazy and disjointed, full of faces she didn't like and words that were never spoken, until her heart unfortunately settled on the memory that hurt the most.
Henry had called Emma 'Mom'.
A choked sob clawed its way out of her windpipe as she reached her front porch. Her toe caught the edge of the step up to her door and she stumbled slightly, crashing her shoulder ungainly into one of the supporting pillars of her house.
Through her grief-stricken mind, Regina finally realized that something was off. She had thought that the crying and the night air were responsible for throwing her equilibrium askew and had previously not given it a second thought. Regina was always a picture of poise and elegance, no matter how terrifying her demeanor. But now she was sure that her body was not right; the Evil Queen never tripped.
Her skull was pounding, light-headed and swishy, and all-at-once her knees felt like they wouldn't be able to support her weight anymore. She clung to the pillar for support and it was only when she dropped her keys that she noticed her hands were shaking with a vicious tremor, quivering dangerously like the last autumn leaf on a winter branch. They were trembling so hard that through her bleary eyes she almost didn't notice the eerie green light that had begun to shine mutely beneath her skin.
Regina panicked as the light began to burn brighter and colder by the minute. Damn, whatever that stuff was, it hurt like hell. Glowing luminous in the darkening evening like some kind of poisonous toxic waste, Regina gritted her teeth against the sudden pain as she tried not to double-over, pressing her abruptly numb hands into her stomach and starting at just how cold they were. Her skin was as cold as death.
The green distortion was rushing wildly through her veins, licking up her stomach and knotting her heart until neon sparks spun out of her flesh like spider-webs and went popping violently off into the air. She gasped for breath as her chest constricted, shriveling her lungs as her sorrow finally consumed her and wholly submerged the dethroned mayor into her self-made pity party.
She was going to die here alone, in her own private little firework show, and no one would even mourn her absence in the morning.
This final thought sent her heart lurching in her chest as if she had been scalded with a poker from the fire, so hot it burned white and cold. Regina's eyes rolled into the back of her head at the searing stab of loneliness now radiating throughout her entire body, the sudden rush of pain and icy numbness making her extremely dizzy. The world spun around her, blurring into ominous shadows, fleeting heartbeats and harsh laughter that she couldn't be sure was real or not.
The last thing Regina saw was the cement of her porch speeding towards her face before her world went completely black.