title: The Queen's Dreams
chapters: 1/1
fandom: once upon a time
character/pairing: regina mills, emma swan (feel free to read with your SQ goggles)
rating: t
word count: 2585
summary: In hindsight, Emma probably should have used the dreamcatcher on Regina before she told Henry his mom was a murderer. / Post-"The Cricket Game" (S2E10)

author's note: Watching the episode, I really wanted Emma to use the dreamcatcher on Regina, so here we have Emma making the decision to do just that after she tells Henry what they thought to be true. Hope you enjoy!

In hindsight, Emma probably should have used the dreamcatcher on Regina before she told Henry his mom was a murderer. She realized it once Henry's face crumpled on the bench. The way it happened, so slowly falling into this picture of despair, it made her breath hitch and her mind flash back to when Regina heard about Archie. How could Regina look so lost if she'd killed him? How could Regina not have killed him? How can I know for certain?

Henry asked, his voice muffled by the collar of Emma's wrap, "Are you sure? One hundred percent sure?"

Emma faltered then. She tried to seek help from Mary Margaret and David, but her eyes caught on the familiar car parked just barely in view of them. Regina met her gaze through the mirror, sniffled, and started the car. As the former mayor drove off, Emma tightened her grip on Henry. She promised him, "Not yet, but I will be."

Emma stopped by Gold's shop after that. The closed sign was on the door, so she knocked until he hobbled over to open for her.

As per usual, she wasted no time in demanding what she wanted. "The dreamcatcher. I need it, and I need to know how to use it completely by myself." She punctuated her request with a short clap of her foot onto the ground of his shop. He peered down at it and then up at her, eyes positively delighted. She fought the urge to fidget. She knew that look. He gave her that look every time she played into his plans. Maybe it was Gold.

He quirked an eyebrow. "Whose mind are you reading, dearie?"

She shook her head in response. "It's not important. Just teach me." She hesitated before adding, "Please."

At that, he laughed. "Please. One of my favorite words in this land." He spun on his heels to go towards the counter. The dreamcatcher still waited atop it. Emma frowned at that. Was he expecting her to return? How did he do that? How did he simply know everything she was going to do or say? God, she hated that guy.

He plucked it off the counter and spun it in his hands. She reached for it, but he pulled it close to his chest. He ticked one finger side to side as his smirk grew on his face.

She huffed. "I don't have time for games."

"No games." She scoffed. He went on, "Just a warning. All magic—"

"—Comes with a price," she finished. Her mind again went back to Regina. She had said that on the porch when they tried to capture her. Emma pushed the thought away.

Gold nodded. "Yes, but for this magic, the price is the knowledge. What you take from a person's mind is sacred. Our thoughts and memories are what separate us, what allow us to build barriers. To know one's thoughts are to know that person in a way no one else can. Be careful with what you learn, Miss Swan. It could change everything."

Emma did fidget. Then she steeled herself and reached for the dreamcatcher a second time. "You sure are saying a lot I didn't ask for. How do I use it?"

His shoulders rose with his eyebrows, a silent way of him telling her she was asking for what she got. He explained, "You run the feathers from the top of the head down to the base of the neck. Think about the time you'd like to see, will it to catch, to appear, and I'm certain you remember what to do once the catcher glows." He dangled it in front of her.

She snatched it. "I do." She glanced down at the key to her new answers. "Thank you." She turned from him. He called out after her.

"Miss Swan!" She paused. He told her, voice almost in singsong, "I meant what I said about what it does to you. You won't be able to stop yourself from caring once you know what she's thinking. You'll die to hear the words, to know once and for all what she has to say. You'll do anything to hear it from her."

Emma walked out. She closed the door behind her, but even still, she heard his last whisper on the nape of her neck. Anything.

Emma changed her mind exactly four times.

Once, when she got back into her car and thought about how ridiculous her life had become.

A second time, when she went home and stuffed the dreamcatcher in the waist of her pants so no one would see it and question her.

A third time, when David mentioned at dinner how similar their situation was to the old days. ("And just like then, Regina's proving to be incapable of change. Even I was starting to believe her this time.")

And, the final time, Emma changed her mind was the moment Regina's eyes locked on hers on the porch. In a split second, the former queen's eyes had gone from curious to aflame. They blazed in indignation, curses flowing out of them as easily as they could spill from her fingertips. Emma's hand clenched on the dreamcatcher, which was enough movement to bring Regina's gaze down to it.

Regina scoffed. "A dreamcatcher? Honestly?" Humor danced on her face briefly. "Are you in the third grade?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "No, I'm getting your side of the story." Regina faltered. Nothing too big, just a quickening of her breath and a flash of surprise as her eyes widened. She controlled it fairly quickly, but Emma almost smirked at catching it. She thought better of the smirk, though. She didn't need to get any further on Regina's bad side. She held the dreamcatcher out. Regina didn't take it.

Instead, Regina asked, "Aren't you afraid I'll put a spell on it when I touch it?"

Honestly, Emma hadn't even considered that possibility. She wanted to show a sign of trust, even if Regina hardly deserved it. If the queen did it herself, then obviously she was trustworthy. Emma reasoned to her, "I'm more afraid that you'll blast me back again for getting too close to you."

Regina glanced away. She studied a leaf on the ground before speaking, as low as if to the plant itself, "I won't blast you." She cleared her throat. With it, her voice rose to a normal volume. "Do it yourself. Once you see I didn't do this and no doubt pass the message along, I want no reason for people to doubt the results."

That reasoning made a lot more sense. Emma would have to do this then. Use magic for the second time. Or third if she counted when she stopped Cora. Fourth, if she counted when she got the hat to work. She frowned internally. Stupid hat. She could do this. This would be nothing. Emma stepped forward.

At the motion, Regina turned so that her back faced Emma. The savior — that's why I'm doing this. I help people, even Regina, and especially Henry. I can do this. I can — rose the dreamcatcher to above the other woman's head. Slowly, she trailed it down, watching as the feathers glided down the obsidian hair. Whoa, how soft is her hair? Was that enough? Emma hesitated with the feathers at the base of Regina's neck.Maybe once more. She went back to the top and followed the same path, stepping in a second time in case the closeness mattered. Emma's gaze drifted from Regina's hair, to the hands of the woman herself. On her right hand, Regina's fingers twitched before calming. On the wind, Emma could even hear the hitch of the other woman's breath. The center of the catcher glowed. Emma looked to it, noting that her hand had gone further down that time. No wonder Regina shivered, it'd gone down her spine, brushing against the thin layer of her blouse. Does she own a normal shirt?

Emma gripped the dreamcatcher with both hands. She moved back and willed it. Begged it to work and show that they had been wrong. Henry believes in her. I believe in her. Show me I'm not wrong to do that.

Images began to appear. Regina arguing with Archie as Red ran by. Emma willed it to speed forward. It continued. Regina going home. Regina making dinner for two and putting the second set into a container. Regina putting that container in the fridge where there was a stack of them, one for each day since Henry was last with her. Regina drinking wine by the window, the reflection making her eyes appear glassy. Regina staring at the phone. Regina dialing. Regina hanging up. Regina going to her bedroom and unbuttoning her blouse. Regina gripping the straps of her bra and—

"Miss Swan, do you think it's appropriate to watch that?"

Emma's concentration snapped. The image blurred just as the memory-Regina tugged her bra away. Emma mumbled an apology to the real one and gazed back into the murky yellow picture. Okay, skipping the nudity. Regina brushing her hair and teeth. Regina slipping into bed, the clock beside her the same time as the murder. Emma stopped watching.

"You didn't do it," Emma stated.

Regina nodded once. She straightened her back, but at the same time, her features softened. Emma could have even sworn her eyes seemed watery again.

Regina restated. "I did not do it."

Good. The corner of Emma's lip twitched up. She brought it back down and held the dreamcatcher beside her hip. Good. Regina didn't kill Archie. She spent the whole night alone. How many other nights did she do the same thing? How many times had she picked up the phone to call and hear her son's voice only to hang up for fear of what Emma would say in response? If only she had called, then she would have an alibi. She would have something that could have proven it wasn't her. This worked, but so far only Emma knew.

Emma said, "We'll have to do this again, to show Mary Margaret and Ruby and Henry too."

Regina raised an eyebrow. "You didn't mention your father."

Emma hardly flinched at the words. She was getting used to it, used to referring to David as Dad in her mind, used to accepting the fact that she had parents to protect her. She had people to protect as well, and Regina was quickly becoming one of them. Emma understood her. She understood David too. "He'll need a lot more than this to believe you. The others, they're a bit more trusting."

"So you take after your mother then?" Regina asked. Emma snapped to meet her gaze, scanned for any hint of ill thought or promise of danger. Nothing. It was a simple question. Emma wondered it too.

"I don't know," she admitted. She wished she knew. Wished she had a million memories to compare herself to them. She felt more like a daughter of this world. She stiffened at strangers like the streets of Boston. She watched the New Year ring in with a bottle of champagne like New York City. She fought hard for what she believed in like Tallahassee. She lost everything like the home she grew up in that was torn down a year after she left. She was her parents' daughter, but the world raised her. She ran a hand over the lining of her pants. "You know my mom better than I do. Am I like her?"

Regina pursed her lips. She thought it over. "There was a point in our past where I spent a lot of time with Snow. We were at odds. I was trying to kill her, and she was actively trying to find a reason not to do the same to me." Emma grinned at the wording, at the image in her mind of the defiant Snow White, the righteous, the forgiving. "In that way, you are like her. You're driven and hopeful, even if you pretend you are not. You seek for the best, and when you cannot find it, you adjust. I suppose the only real difference is that I am not trying to hurt you." Her eyes met Emma's once again, and the sincerity made her next words what they were. "And I never was, not really."

They were a joke. A right laugh. Emma chuckled disbelievingly. "So the poisoned apple tart wasn't trying to hurt me?"

Regina shook her head. She explained, "It was merely to get you out of the way. No need to worry, dear. I'm done with curses. Not for Henry, but for myself. They seem to come back and bite me. Or, frame me, as the case may be."

Emma laughed again. Regina cracked a smile. Who knew she had a sense of humor? Was she always this funny? She had gallows humor, the dark and dry type that made a person laugh and feel bad at the same time. Emma was the same way. Were they not at odds themselves, Emma figured, they would have probably gotten along.

Whoa there. Her laughter stilled at the thought. This is exactly what Gold said would happen. You're relating to her. You're not thinking clearly. This is the magic. You and Regina? Yeah, right. Before she could berate herself further, her walkie talkie went off at her hip.

"Mom!" Emma grabbed it, pretending not to notice the way Regina's face sunk at the title. Henry was oblivious, which Emma noted he was regardless of being around Regina or not. "Mom, you there? I have a theory!"

Emma lifted the walkie to her lips. She hit the speech button. "About what, kid?"

He answered immediately. "My mom. She didn't do it, Emma. She couldn't have." Emma opened her mouth to tell him she agreed, but he barreled on. "You said Pongo was jumping, moving towards her. He doesn't do that. He doesn't move towards people he knows when he's in the office. Archie trained him to stay still unless there was danger. I went there for months, and my mom dropped me off almost every time. Pongo never moved towards her."

Emma sought out Regina's wide eyes. She hit the button. "So you think it was someone who looked like your mom?"

"Yes!" Henry sounded exasperated and excited at the same time. "Someone used magic to look like her, then they killed him so everyone would be afraid of her again. She didn't do it! You have to believe me."

"I believe you," Emma said to the both of them. "But that doesn't explain who did it. Gold wouldn't have let us figure any of this out if he was behind it. It has to be someone else. I just don't know who."

Henry hummed the way he did when he had something to say that he wasn't sure about. Regina whispered, "Tell him to say what he's thinking." Emma did as told.

Henry burst the second he got the approval. "What about her mom? I know she didn't get through, but what if she found another way and now she's here and she wants to ruin everything?"

Emma's face paled. She looked to Regina who grimaced. Regina mumbled, "I would've rather just done it myself."

Emma nodded, her own memories with Cora resurfacing. If that witch had truly gotten there, one frame job was the least of their worries. "Me too."