Cora barely looks at the baby when she's born. She glances down at the mess that her daughter's made of the sheets. Her lips curl into a sneer. If they believe Cora will lie in this a moment longer, they are mistaken. She requires new linen, a different gown, perhaps a spelled one so her body aches a little less, and, mostly, a stop to the baby's weeping. Surely the child is not that miserable already, she's barely seen the world, seen the people she will one day control. Every person in this land will shrink before the sight of them, they will hear the name Cora and they will be the ones who falter.
A sound at the door pulls Cora from her thoughts. She barely needs to look to know who caused it. Henry's outside. She refused to have him in the birthing room. He hovers far too much for her liking. If she wanted to be coddled and held, she would stick her heart back in her chest.
Cora frowns. The mere thought of giving up so quickly turns her stomach. Her daughter will be queen. Already Regina's making progress. Cora had said, "I want their necks to break from bending." Outside, Henry strains his neck to catch a glimpse of Regina. Perhaps he can see her, once he's earned it.
Cora clears her throat. The nurse whirls around to focus in on her again. Cora declares, "I require rest. Bring me to my chambers. You may leave the girl here. And, tell her father that he has land to oversee. The whole world cannot stop for the birth of a child."
The nurse's eyes widen before returning to normal. She nods. "Of course. Right away." She turns from Cora, rushing out the door where she pauses to talk to Henry. He barely has eyes for the girl, so focused on spotting his daughter. Once he does see Regina, though, he changes.
From the crinkle in the corner of his eyes to the shaking in his limbs, Henry falters. He staggers forward a step, but the nurse holds him back with her palm against his chest. His eyes well with tears, though Cora cannot tell if the tears are of joy or of despair. Either way, he moves his gaze from the baby to Cora.
He speaks, stronger than she ever remembers hearing him, "You will not hurt her, Cora. I swear to it."
Cora laughs. "You swear to it? And what makes you believe you could stop me from doing anything I please?"
He steps into the room. His eyes burn dark. His fists clench. "Because I love her. Do not think I can be silenced like the rest of this land. I am her father."
Cora faintly remembers a dream then, one from the night before her wedding. In it, the birth of her child is in a room of a different home with a man of green skin and unmistakable power at her side. Rumpelstiltskin would be a fine father. Henry will be useless.
Cora dares him, "Then act like a good father and work. Make your daughter proud of you rather than ashamed to know you exist."
Henry seems fit to argue then. His chest puffs out, and his nostrils flare. He is not Cora's father, he would argue if he had the bravery to do so. He is a man of stature, a man raised to one day take the throne. He is not shameful. He is a prince. To which Cora would only respond, he is not a king. And, if he is not royalty, then he is nothing.
But Henry does not argue. Henry calms himself. He takes a look at Regina in the doctor's arms, and his lips thin out, smothering the words he will not say. He takes a step back. Cora smirks. He turns, his heels scuffing the flooring. A laugh builds in her throat. He walks away.
To his retreating back, she yells, "Coward!"
He does not take the bait. He never would, and somehow that hurts her even without her heart.
Yet, he almost spoke back. He almost fought her. The only other time Henry stood up to Cora was early on in their marriage, before he realized that he had been tricked into marrying someone far darker than he could have imagined. Now, he tries again. For what? A child who cannot speak, think, or move? Or for love?
When Cora loved, she considered leaving this all behind. She dreamed. Her eyes go to Regina. How would Cora feel now? Were she to love, to care? Could she even feel what Henry feels? Or has she lost the ability to do so?
Again, Cora clears her throat. The nurse rushes back to her side. Cora holds out a hand. "Take me to my chambers. Now."
Cora waits until the nurse is gone to clamber back out of her bed. She staggers far enough away to lift the bed from the ground with a twist of her wrist. She barely recognizes the thought it takes. I need my heart. I need to remember. I need to see. Another gesture removes the flooring and lifts a box from the gap. She catches the box in her hand, then returns everything to its proper place.
Cora sits on the edge of the bed. Her body screams at the movement, but the thumping of her heart rings louder. The rhythm sounds too steady in her ears, as if it doesn't match. It's a bit too fast, too eager almost. Cora is methodical. Cora is genius. She is not the hurried beating against the walls of this box. She is above it all.
Still, she opens the lid and takes her heart in her hand. It'll only be for a moment, she promises herself. Long enough to know. She squeezes her eyes shut, and in one swift motion, she plunges her heart back into her chest.
She cries out, loud enough to mirror her screams in birth. Her body aches all over. Her toes clench. Her knees lock. Her throat closes, and her mouth dries. She tries to force down oxygen, but she can't. Her eyes water as the emotions take over. The rage from her childhood, the embarrassment for her father, the humiliation at Eva's hand, the pride at the stolen dress, the love for…. Love. She cries out again. This time, the nurse responds.
The nurse bursts into the room, eyes wide and fingers laced on a poker from the fire. She spots no one but Cora and lowers her weapon. "M'lady, what do you require? Can you speak? Shall I get the prince?"
"No!" Cora shakes her head. She croaks out, "Regina. Get me Regina." Even the name sounds different now. Her lips pull up, both sides until she almost smiles before she catches herself. It is but a name, nothing special.
She repeats that to herself, knowing that is Rumpelstiltskin's name that brings him to the caller. Maybe, if she called for him….
"M'lady," the nurse begins at the doorway. Cora thanks her mentally for stopping that thought process. She might even offer her thanks aloud. She turns to look and finds herself winded. Her arms lift of their own accord. Her fingers flex and relax, beckoning the woman closer.
The nurse creeps forward, and the grin on her lips makes Cora smile as well. Warmth swells in her chest. She blinks too often and curses herself for it. Every blink is a second away from looking at Regina. If she only has a few minutes, Cora wants to spend them all staring at her, holding her.
Regina's small. That's the first thing Cora notices. It would be so easy for Cora to break her. Only Cora's certain she would do anything not to hurt this girl. She would burn the palace, shun it all, if it meant Regina stayed safe. Is that love, or is that instinct? Or is it simply instinct to love? Either way, Cora lets out a breath she's been holding for what seems like years.
She runs the pad of her finger over Regina's head. The small curls cling to her finger, the way Regina's hand seems to hold onto whatever's near. No, Cora corrects, to her mother. She knows her mother already.
"You're safe, Regina," Cora whispers, "No matter who may come for you, I'll protect you. I promise. You're mine, my precious little girl." She lowers her face to press her lips to the curls. "You can be my queen."
That said, Cora scoots back to rest against her pillows. She lifts her arm a bit to better support Regina's head. Regina keeps breathing steadily against her. At this point, breathing is all Regina can do. Somehow, for some reason that would escape Cora before, that thought makes her snuggle her baby closer until she knows that Regina is in her grasp. Regina's warm. Cora's warm. As her eyes begin to close, Cora thinks that maybe she can keep her heart just a little bit longer. For Regina's sake.