You see her when you get back and maybe there's a part of you that's desperate to know that Henry's mother can be redeemed, that she hasn't given herself over to evil completely this time, so you spend more time searching her face than watching out for magic and you're nearly strangled for it.
Next thing you know, Snow is found unconscious in Regina's secret lair, Rumpelstiltskin's final machinations a failure and Cora's final attempt on his life a success. There's a new Dark One in town, and you're all equally wary about what this might mean.
So it's surprising to see Regina at Granny's the next morning, sipping a coffee and eating an apple croissant as though it's just another morning.
Henry cowers and Regina flinches, and you think it might be best to send your son to school a little early today. You're terrified enough of what Cora will do to him to worry about what Regina might try, and today is sufficiently exhausting without a confrontation at breakfast.
And it seems like Regina might agree, since she waits until he's gone before she makes eye contact with you. You narrow your own eyes and slide into the chair opposite hers anyway. There's a collective intake of breath in Granny's, but you ignore curious glances in favor of focusing on Regina. "You were the one who hurt Mary Margaret yesterday."
Regina blinks at you. "She had my mother's heart. I love my mother."
"More than you love your son?" It's a low blow, but you don't have much time before you have to be out waiting for Cora's next move again. There's no place for polite conversation today. "I was wrong about Archie, but this is so much worse. It's going to destroy Henry to see us fight like this."
"I love my mother," Regina repeats, but there's a quiet hopelessness in her tone, desperation on her face that bespeaks reluctance. And you begin to wonder if Regina isn't just as captive to Cora's whims as the rest of you.
You lean forward, lowering your voice so the eavesdroppers at the counter can't hear anymore. "Look, Regina, I know you probably feel like you…owe your mother something, but from what Snow's told me, she doesn't deserve anything from you."
"I love her," Regina says, and her eyes are telling another story at the same time, angry and dark and confused and staring at her croissant. "Whatever's happened between us is in the past now."
You don't know much about who Regina had been before becoming the evil queen, but you know that look. You'd seen it in the mirror every day at one of your oldest foster homes. "She used to hurt you, didn't she," you guess, and when Regina's wounded gaze jerks up to you, you have your answer.
"You don't have to do this." You're whispering now, pleading with her, the whole of the room grounded around the two of you. "Come back with me. Show Henry that you're still trying." Show me, you think, because you're still craving her redemption as deeply as she does, aching for the first person you've taken a chance on in ten years to prove herself.
She looks up at you through dark lashes, and you can't read her expression at all but her hand is suddenly gripping yours atop the table, tight and needy. "You have to be sure that she doesn't take Henry," she murmurs, and her hand is quaking in yours. "You can't let her touch him."
She pulls away, stands, turns on her heel, and walks out. The croissant remains, untouched.
She's there fighting alongside her mother when the frantic call comes in from home. You try firing a bullet at Cora before she notices you, but Regina waves a hand and the gun vanishes from your hand.
"Really, Regina, that's cutting it a bit close," her mother says sharply, and it's the last thing you hear because you're running, running, dragging Henry along with you as you flee.
You feel so helpless, when there's no magic on your side and you can't win this any other way. You can leave, go across town lines with Henry and hope Cora won't chase you, run away from home again.
Or you can keep fighting. There's something about this town that encourages it from you.
You meet Regina at Granny's again the next morning, and this time Henry is planted firmly beside you. You aren't leaving him for a moment for as long as Cora's in town and has designs on him.
"I told her I didn't want Henry around anymore," Regina admits to you in a low voice when Henry runs to the counter. "That I didn't need a…" She pauses, her face contorting at the words, and she seizes your right hand as though she needs it to make it through her admission. "Charming spawn to love."
You tense at the words, and her hand tightens on yours. It occurs to you that this is the most contact she's getting with anyone but her mother right now, that she must need your touch like a life preserver for a drowning man. "What did she say?"
"Nonsense." She stares down at her uneaten croissant.
"Well, it is," you point out, and you turn your hand around in hers so you're gripping her, too. "Regina."
She doesn't respond.
"I can't beat Cora without you. And we both know that she can't be allowed to get to Henry." You glance at him out of the corner of your eye, relieved to see Ruby still distracting him from your conversation. "If she does to him what she did to you-"
"I can't." It's in a miserable, tiny voice. "I love my mother."
"You keep saying that." Frustration is building, Regina's inexplicable loyalty to her mother first and foremost finally reaching your breaking point. You don't give a damn about how she feels about her mother. Henry comes first, has always come first, and there's nothing in this world short of magic that can change that.
"Mom?" It's Henry, standing a few feet from the table, his eyes on you. Regina carefully pulls her hand from yours and stabs a fork into her croissant. "Can we go now?"
You stare at Regina, at your empty hand, still bent as though clutching onto another for dear life. It isn't all that inaccurate. "Why don't we stick around for a few more minutes?"
You shift over and pat the seat next to you, and Henry's eyes go wide but you can see the longing there, hidden beneath the stubborn black-and-white knowledge of youth. Regina talks haltingly at first, but with increased confidence as they continue, and Henry follows her cue. His hand is tightly in your left one under the table, though, and your right hand still feels bereft.
They talk about school and New York and carefully avoid discussion of Cora, and you watch Regina as her face relaxes and she smiles the way you haven't seen since the night of your welcome home party. It sends warmth spreading through you, straight from your heart stretching to your fingers and toes and the smile on your face. And you're certain that Regina wouldn't choose to love Cora all that much, not when your son is at risk.
Henry gets it faster than you did, after one final plea is turned down with regret and Regina exits. "A love spell," he decides. "It's the only way she'd love Cora so much more than me." He ducks his head, and you think that he's never been more childlike or more vulnerable when he asks, his voice small, "Do you think she still loves me?"
You pull him to you and you stare out into the distance, down the street where a black-clad figure returns to the prison that is her own mother's arms. "I'm not the greatest fan of your mother, but I've never doubted her love for you."
And here Henry is, in your arms, and there's so much that's perfect and unfair about that fact.
You find him crying in his bed that night long after his bedtime, curled around a pillow and sobbing like you've never seen him before. Henry is driven and stubborn and determined, and he's taken everything in his ridiculous life in stride until today. It's terrifying to see him so afraid.
Between sobs, he manages to gasp out, "What if I'm not enough? What if I can't do it?"
You want to ask do what? But then you know, and you're just as terrified for both of them at that moment.
You go to Regina's house later that night and throw rocks at her window like a secret lover slipping past domineering parents. When she does poke her head out at you, you actually hit her with a rock to the cheek before you can see her dark hair glinting off the light of a streetlamp.
She reappears in front of you in a cloud of smoke and you touch the mark you've left, frowning as it darkens against her skin. "Sorry about that."
She doesn't react, just leans into your palm, and you kiss her right then and there.
She pulls away, and her smile is sad. "I do still love my mother."
"I wasn't trying to-" Maybe you were a little. But it's too soon, and there's too much baggage between you two to jump into true love quite so quickly.
Still, though, her lips are nice and firm against yours and there's a flush in her cheeks that has nothing to do with the rock she'd gotten in the face; and you like the way she looks in the moonlight, unsure and damaged and impossibly soft. "Maybe in time," you acknowledge, tracing her cheekbone with gentle fingers.
She cocks her head, surveying you for a moment, and when she leans in to kiss you it's nothing like the softness of the first. It has a whole different appeal, and you're gasping into her mouth, your hands tangling in the hair at the nape of her neck and your waist rotating against her almost unconsciously.
You stand entwined on her dimly lit lawn, wrapped around each other in a mosaic of dark and light, and you think that it might not take too long before Regina doesn't love her mother quite so much anymore.
You do pull away after a few minutes, more aware than ever of the Dark One keeping house a few feet away. "You need to go back inside," you murmur into Regina's neck.
She nods against you. "And Henry?" It's connected to everything and nothing that has happened tonight, and you kiss her one last time so you don't have to admit that you don't know.
Cora destroys the sheriff's station the next morning, sets it aflame while Regina watches grimly from behind her. You make it out in time and for an instant Regina's eyes flicker with relief, but she doesn't meet your eyes.
You wonder if a love spell removes all other emotions when the object of the spell is around. You wonder if Regina had known that you'd be there so early when she's absent from Granny's. You wonder what Cora knows.
You wonder why your heart hurts so much when Regina has eyes only for her mother.
You kiss her anyway when you see her next, days later. It's right in front of Henry, who shakes his head and mumbles something about the stories being all wrong, but you don't care. It's been days since she's stopped coming to Granny's and you're afraid it's because of the town rediscovering their hatred for her again, but she tells you when you catch your breath, millimeters from her lips, that it isn't. "My mother has decided that it's best I don't spend time away from her," Regina tells you. "Particularly not with you."
You kiss her again, feel a stirring of magic that just isn't enough yet. "How'd you get away?"
"This is more important." She slides something cool and sharp into your hand, and you stare down at the dagger that now has Cora's name spelled out on it. You try to take it from her, but her grip is still tight on it.
She winces. "It seems I haven't quite persuaded myself that this is an act of love." She grabs it back from you with a sharp tug, raising it to stare at the name inscribed upon it.
The voice is cold behind you, and only then do you realize that Henry has disappeared from your side. "Give me the dagger, Regina," Cora says. She's gripping Henry by the shoulder but he's otherwise unharmed, and you're suddenly very conscious of the fact that no one has told Cora how the last curse had been broken.
Cora's voice is low. "Don't you love me, Regina? Do it for me. Do it for him." She looks down. Henry doesn't say a word. Good boy. "Give me the dagger."
You can try to wrestle the dagger from Regina and control Cora, but instead you stand silently, waiting for a miracle. And in the next moment, Regina steps forward, dagger in hand outstretched to her mother. "Henry, are you all right?" She bends down, though her legs fight her every step of the way, and when Henry kisses her on the cheek, her knees buckle and she falls backward with the force of their magic.
You rush forward as Cora seizes the dagger, and for a moment your eyes meet. Hers are cold and unyielding but you think that yours are too, and you aren't afraid anymore. The tide of this battle has turned.
She vanishes in a puff of smoke and you rush to where Henry is wrapped in Regina's arms, and she's whispering I love you, I love you, I loveyouloveyouloveyou at him and burying her face in his hair as he cries into her shoulder, and she looks up for a moment mid-I love you to reach a hand out to you.
You allow them their reunion alone- it feels like an intrusion, really, on something precious that you still can't touch- but you take her hand and hold it in your own, her fingers dancing a pattern against your skin.