Title: Toxic is the Unyielding Love (20/20)
Characters: Swan Queen
Spoilers: Veers from canon after the third episode of season 2.
Disclaimer: Of course I don't own them. All the lady loving would be hella canon if I did.
Summary: After the events of "Destiny is the Rabbit Hole" Regina returns to Storybrooke to find the world changed in ways she could not have fathomed. Now she's on a quest to discover the new Storybrooke's dark secrets and her journey will take her into the jaws of a fire-breathing serpent, the lair of a mad scientist and to a masquerade ball where too many of those dark secrets could be revealed.
Author's Note:Whew. Here it is. The final chapter of Toxic is the Unyielding Love! Thanks to everyone who suffered through the abject misery of the last nineteen chapters to reach this point. I'll try not to disappoint.
And as a special treat at the END of the chapter is the summary for part 3 of the Monomythical Adventures, Dangerous is the Vexed God.
Vexed will start up in October after the completion of my Grey's Anatomy fic, Causal Fallacy. Can't wait to see y'all on the other side!
Aurora let her arrow fly. The arrowhead pierced Cora's breast with a thunk. She grinned, yanked it out, turned it into a ball of fire and flung it back.
So…immortality was new.
"We got to get Henry out of here," David said.
Emma agreed. Big time.
She watched Aurora dodge the fireball like a freakin' acrobat. Regina caught it and snuffed it between her bare hands with a snarl.
Hook leapt from his place at Emma's side and lunged at Gold, his sword an extension of his arm. Gold deflected with his cane. When Mulan launched her own attack a sword materialized in Gold's other hand and he parried.
Despite the odds the three were evenly matched, Gold was faster and stronger than could be humanly possible and he just barely kept the two others at bay. And Hook and Mulan…
They moved like dance partners. There were no words and yet they read each other's every motion as though intent were telegraphed. One ducked under the slashing blade of the other and one thrust at Gold's blind side while the other blocked both swords. They were disturbingly simpatico, and the part of Emma that loved a good fight movie was enchanted.
Then Regina raised both of her hands as though she was holding two marionettes on strings. Behind her the rubble lurched upward into the shape of two enormous—
She was making giant people out of stone and glass and the board Granny used to announce specials. The special was coconut meringue. The creatures both screeched and as their vocal cords were made of metal and rock and glass it was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Everyone not currently engaged in mortal combat covered their ears with their hands.
"Cool," Henry shouted in awe.
"Not cool," Emma shouted back. "Mary Margaret we got to get him out of here!"
Mary Margaret nodded, grabbed Henry and shoved him towards Leroy. "Get him back to my place and keep him safe. Don't let him out of your sight."
Leroy caught Henry by the shoulder but didn't actually move, "What are you doing?"
"We're providing back up," she said, then without even flinching reached out and caught a freaking arrow that had nearly flown into Leroy's face.
"Sorry," Aurora called from the other side of the fight.
Cora had brought her own monsters made out of the diner into play. They were dinky little things made out of bench cushions and stools and—
There was a scream of metal and then the oven from the back of the diner came charging through the dining area like it was a flippin' bull in a china shop. It smacked into the dinky monsters to make one massive monster that roared with the heat of that industrial oven.
Hook stopped fighting long enough to gape. "That's not good-"
The monster smacked him so hard he flew over Regina and Aurora and into the cloud of dust where the street used to be.
"I'm thinking…" David started.
"We should get out of here too," Emma finished.
Which was easier said then done. Leroy and the other "dwarves" had gone out the back and the whole point of sticking around was to give them time to get away. Following was kind of the opposite of that point. But going out the front meant weaving through the battle between witches and a wizard.
Hook came charging forward again with a battlecry only to get smacked again, this time in the face with the hilt of Gold's sword.
Ruby, who hadn't fled with the others, growled "To hell with this," and then she charged Gold, shifting into a god damned wolf as she went.
Emma's resolve to not call the whole battle "cool" wavered. Just a little.
But she didn't have too much time to worry about cool factors because Cora's oven monster decapitated one of Regina's ruined front of the diner monsters and its head, a plate of glass shaped like a giant guillotine blade, made a beeline for Emma's neck. David shoved her out of the way, and used his arm to deflect the glass. It shattered, shredding his jacket and flinging tiny shards of glass into his face.
They leapt over the bar and landed on the rubber mat beside Mary Margaret, who gasped in horror.
Fine was subjective. Most people with a piece of glass as big as Emma's thumb sticking out of their eye socket would not be considered fine. She fought the urge to retch.
Mary Margaret tried to fuss over him but David just grimaced and yanked it out with a grunt. Blood poured out and Mary Margaret reached above him for a towel and stymie the flow.
Emma had no idea what she was supposed to say after witnessing that.
"Maybe Mother Superior can fix it," Mary Margaret hoped.
"I'm fine," his good eye focused on Emma, "you okay?"
So that was how to play it. Act like a guy wasn't half blind. She could do that. She nodded, "I'm fine, but we need to figure out a way to stop this or the insurance premiums for the whole damn town'll go through the roof." And more decent guys would lose an eye.
Mary Margaret peeked over the counter, but ducked back down when something smashed into it. "We've got two witches in a full blown war and a Dark One fighting a pirate, warrior, and a werewolf. What we need is to get this whole show away from town."
There was a brief shadow and then Aurora flopped over the side of the counter. Her hair was a wreck and she was breathing hard, but she was focused too. "Regina insists you all are useful," she panted. She just barely glanced at David and the makeshift bandage Mary Margaret was tying around his head. "Cora is wearing a satchel and we need it."
The three all furtively looked over the counter as one. "What's in it," Emma asked in a stage whisper.
"Someone's heart I think. Regina wasn't clear on whose. We just need to get it."
"She stole someone's heart?"
Mary Margaret blanched.
Aurora shrugged, "I guess. I just need you all to get the heart and keep her busy. Then we can stop Cora. Which means no war, and no Dark One trying to kill my girlfriend."
Said girlfriend had found rope and was quickly tying a makeshift lasso while the werewolf and pirate kept Gold busy.
"You and Mulan are dating," Mary Margaret asked in friendly surprise.
"We haven't been official because the last time I dated someone I was engaged at sixteen and in a coma for thirty-five years but yes we are."
"Mulan's the girl pirate right," David asked.
"She and Aurora were both in love with the same prince," Mary Margaret helpfully explained, "he got cursed into a coma when Emma and I were sucked into the Enchanted Forest by the wraith."
"And no one lived happily ever after—could you all focus," Emma snapped.
Her would be parents both looked duly chastised. Aurora just look bored.
"So we get the heart and this all stops?"
Emma rooted through the cabinet under the counter and produced a box of vodka so rough that Emma had it on good authority could strip paint. "Then let's get to it," she said.
Emma fell madly in love when she was eight. She was fourteen, had thick black hair, actual boobs, and a penchant for cigarettes. She wasn't the neighborhood slut, because that was her sister. Instead she was the queen and all the boys and a lot of the little girls were her loyal subjects.
And it was that fourteen year old girl, sitting in a throne made out of rotting crates and old tires in an abandoned lot between a 7-Eleven and an empty office building, that taught Emma how to soak a rag, stick it in a bottle of something flammable, light it, and fling it.
They'd used Snapple bottles and gasoline, but the paint peeling vodka from under the bar and the roll of paper towels David found worked nearly as well. Emma chunked them like a world class softball player, delighting as each smashed at Cora's feet and splashed flame everywhere.
David laughed nervously as he lit and handed her bottles. "Should I be worried at how much you're enjoying this?"
Some spiel about abandonment formed in Emma's head, but hashing out those issues in the middle of a literal fire fight seemed like a bad idea. So she just took another flaming bottle and flung it.
The fire startled Cora, and she had to pause to whirl it all up into a giant ball of flame over her head. Before she could lob it at Emma and David Regina caught Cora's arm in a long tendril of vines from the little garden that used to be in the front of Granny's diner. The tug was enough to ruin Cora's aim, and her ball of fire instead smashed into Gold, who stumbled under the onslaught as Mulan, Hook and the giant Ruby wolf leapt out of the way.
All of it was just a giant distraction. While Cora reeled Mary Margaret scuttled under flying balls of fire and pointy arrows to cut the satchel away from Cora's waist in one smooth motion.
Cora screamed in frustration and appropriated half of one of Regina's rubble monsters to fling as debris at Mary Margaret. She tossed the satchel to David with one hand and used her other to pull herself behind an upturned table. Glass and rocked plinked uselessly against the wood.
Regina cried out too, calling to David and asking for the satchel.
But his face hardened.
"David," Emma warned.
The original Prince Charming wasn't living up to the name in that moment. As soon as he had the satchel the attempts at light humor and optimism vanished. His face was like stone and that one remaining eye had turned into a chip of ice. He drew the heart slowly from the bag, and seemed to marvel at it.
She wondered if he'd even seen one before.
Emma hadn't. She'd seen Regina reach into a body but she'd never seen the heart come out. She'd expected something…gooey. Something alive.
But it was translucent and a bright red glow emanated from its center—too red to be real. Not like the blood dripping down David's face. It wasn't a heart but a vessel, one for the kind of magick with a k Regina had intoned a couple of times in the Enchanted Forest.
"David please you don't know what you're—" Cora flung Regina back, silencing her protest.
"Give it back," she demanded. Her hand was held out and the fingers curled cruelly.
The hairs rose on the back of Emma's neck. Regina was trying to push herself back up and Ruby was holding onto Gold's ankle with her teeth while Mulan had him bound up in a piece of rope and Hook was stalking towards him with a scowl and that glinting silver appendage and Cora was just glaring.
She wasn't rushing David or using her magic. She just had her hand outstretched like claw.
"I won't let you hurt my family," David pronounced, "or anyone else."
He was thinking of himself in the moment. Of the place where he'd just had an eye minutes earlier.
David squeezed the heart and Cora did look a little uncomfortable, but it was Mary Margaret, partially hidden by a table, that drew Emma's attention. She was clutching her chest and grimacing in pain.
Things slotted into place as David's fingers dug into the soft flesh.
Mary Margaret had said she'd been alone with Cora. She'd mentioned it just yesterday. And then she'd insisted they all leave their weapons at home before going to the party and—
The heart was there and then it was ash. A deathly white kind the same shade as Mary Margaret when all the color drained from her face. She slumped forward, her empty palm facing upward and her fingers curled in that specific way of the dead.
Even the battle with Gold stopped when Cora started cackling. Snow white ash drifted softly away from David's inert hand. The color of it made it all click in his head and he tried to walk towards Mary Margaret but his feet didn't work right. He stumbled. His knees struck the ground and dust—or maybe just leftover heart—coated his jeans.
Emma felt dead.
The closest she'd even been to dead was feeling Regina's death through the stupid locket around her neck. It didn't hurt half as much. It wasn't even pain. This was a distinct lack of pain. A hole where grief for a dead mother should reside.
She'd never even bothered to call her mom. Mary Margaret had always just been easier.
Cora laughed, "Did you really think I'd just keep my heart with me?"
"Mother," Regina cried. She sounded angry. Like she was actually upset by Mary Margaret's death.
"There's your revenge dear. Aren't you happy?"
"She was your enemy. And now she's gone."
"God. You ruin—" Regina couldn't say the words. Maybe because she'd sound like she was fifteen. Or maybe because deep down that was still her mom standing there and it was hard to truly hate the person that had brought you into the world.
Emma didn't know.
Then Mary Margaret coughed.
There was no coming back from a crushed heart.
If the heart was destroyed the body died. No magic or science or wishes to a worthless fairy godmother could fix that.
A heart had to exist for a body to live.
Snow coughed and stirred like a living person.
Right after Regina had watched Snow's husband crush her heart.
Cora and Rumpel both gaped and their open mouths and wide eyes would have been funny if Regina wasn't fighting a more bitter laugh.
Of course Snow White would survive.
Another Cora had sent her heart away and somehow it had ended up outside of Storybrooke when it was destroyed and now, with its original owner evaporated into time itself it clung to this Snow and gave her a second chance.
The object of everyone's shock looked around in confusion. "What happened?"
Her husband shook his head because he had no idea.
So it was Rumpel, of all people, who said, "It's a miracle."
"It's a miracle," Gold said, like he was seeing Jesus fricking Christ sitting there on the ground.
The only one who found that line more ridiculous than Emma was Regina with her sharp bark of laughter.
"A miracle," she said haughtily. "Snow White defies all odds and survives certain death and you're saying it's a miracle."
Gold must have felt pretty sure of his assessment because he looked at Regina like she was stoned out of her mind and a little crazy on top.
"The woman survived because of magic you idiot."
"Magic doesn't bring back the dead, as you well know," he sneered.
"And I'm beginning to think what you know of magic could fill a thimble Rumpel."
"Blame that one on me," Hook claimed, pointing at his self with his sword, "a few years in my company and the Dark One doesn't seem quite so all knowing and evil."
"Oh enough of this," Cora shouted. "I don't care how Snow survived. She dies. Again. Now." That last word with the flight of that dagger. Handle over razor sharp edge it flew through the air.
Only to be intercepted by Regina. A flash of purple smoke and she was standing in front of Mary Margaret, the blade caught smoothly in her hand and its tip just a few inches from Mary Margaret's surprised face.
Cora's face fell as she struggled with— "Regina, I'm trying to help you."
Regina tilted her chin up defiantly. "I made a promise."
"Who would force you to do that?"
Emma had to admit to being curious herself. Regina had once assured her that she and Mary Margaret would make it through the portal alive because of Henry, but she'd just stepped between Mary Margaret and death when she could have invented a whole slew of reasons not to.
It didn't make sense.
Just like it didn't make sense when Regina's eyes flickered over to Emma and then back to her mom. It was the way they remained on Emma just a fraction too long, and the way a spark of heat flared in the locket.
It felt kind of like Emma had fallen asleep during the important part of some movie.
She was completely lost.
"Why can't you understand this is all for—"
"Your own good," she spat. "You want to build yourself a kingdom and use me as an excuse to do it, and I can't allow it."
"I'm doing this because I love you."
"You can't love. Not without a heart. All you can do is…" She shook her head. Blinked like trying to clear a fog in her mind. "All you can do is…" The blood seemed to drain from Regina's face and she fell to her knees.
Slowly, like unwrapping a precious gift, she unfurled her hand. The dagger dropped to the ground with a heavy clang, and red welled up for all to see.
A cut clear across Regina's palm. She pressed the thumb of her other hand into it and stared with wonder.
"Oh my darling," Cora said in sympathy—her own urge to argue vanished.
"What," Emma asked. "What the hell's happening?"
Gold limped over and knelt to pick the knife up off the ground. Regina and Cora made no move to stop him, both too focused on the deep cut in Regina's hand.
Emma called Regina's name and it was like only Emma saying her name worked. It snapped her out of her shock long enough for her to look at Emma with…
"What's going on," Emma asked again.
Gold spoke softly to Regina, "You don't have much time."
"For what," Emma asked. "Seriously what's happened?"
Regina looked back down at her hand and truly happy laughter erupted from her mouth. And Emma knew the difference. She'd heard her laugh in evil delight. Heard her full on cackle. Even heard a mad laugh.
But this was just a disturbing kind of joy. Unnerving and so sane as to be insane.
The laughter rang off the ruins around them. Seemed to touch every single person there. Gold, of all people, looked almost ashamed.
"Of course," Regina said to herself. "Happy endings come with a price don't they?"
Emma took a careful step towards her, but the heel of her boot crunched the glass underfoot and Regina looked up sharply. There were a number of emotions that quickly flitted across her face. Ranging from grief to horror to longing and even to love. Too many emotions for Emma to really understand and Regina seemed to get that too. Like she'd looked to Emma to wordlessly communicate something critical and realized she'd failed.
Her face went slack as every ounce of those emotions evaporated. She looked back down at her bloody hand and in silence disappeared.
The purple smoke from her departure lingered just a little longer.
Gold held the knife up and red glittered on its edge like jewels. "Even a nick is fatal if your name's not on the blade."
"As dead as you all will soon be," Cora declared. Magic actually flared around her body and she raised both her hands. Wind whipped at her skirts and blew dust into Emma's eyes. The whole sky darkened with thunderclouds. Lightening bolts smashed into the ground around them with screams and sparks.
Gold tilted his body so his knife was turned away from Cora and his eyes suddenly shifted from their usual brown to something like gold paint. He sneered.
"If I cannot have my daughter," Cora boomed, "then you cannot have your li—"
Her threat was interrupted by a sound like a hammer hitting a melon. Her eyes rolled back up in her head and she collapsed in a heap on the ground. Immediately the sky returned to its normal blue hue and cloudless state and the harsh winds turned into a gentle breeze.
Standing directly behind her and holding an actual hammer was Aurora. "It's all the theatrics they do," she explained, "leaves them wide open."
Mulan was the one to break the stunned silence, "Did you get it."
Aurora nodded and held up a box. "The heart of the Queen of Hearts. As requested."
"That's lovely," Hook said, "only Regina's been nicked by Rumpelstiltskin's knife and fled."
"But I've got Cora's heart. We can make her not evil."
"I don't—" Emma tried to form words and kept having trouble. She finally settled on "What the hell is going on!"
It was Hook who explained it. Aurora and Mulan hunched over Cora's unconscious form and Gold winced as they tried to figure out how to put the heart back in the body. Emma, her "parents," and Ruby gathered around Hook and listened to him spin some tale about how the four of them were a "band" of "thieves" and they'd concocted some plan to save Mary Margaret (who'd had her heart stolen) and Cora (who'd removed her heart decades earlier).
"And you didn't mention any of this before hand because?"
"Well, a good plan's rather worthless if the enemy hears it isn't it? And you lot would have been so upset about her missing heart that you'd blow the whole thing."
At every mention of the word "heart" Mary Margaret would put her hand on her chest like she was trying to feel for what, according to Hook, wasn't there.
"But I destroyed a—her—the heart. How's Mary Margaret still alive," David asked, pulling his wife closer.
Hook shrugged. "That'd be a question for one of the heart experts. I just steal the things."
"No, you're a distraction while I steal the things," Aurora said. "She had it in Regina's back yard surrounded by a ring of fire—"
Emma snapped her fingers in between them. "It's like you two aren't even speaking real words. Can we focus on what actually matters now? Regina's missing and we need to find her."
"There's nothing to find," Gold said. "She's dead. Or will be soon enough."
"You would say that," Hook glowered, "but I know the woman, and she's survived tougher scrapes than one from your dagger."
"It's fatal, and if you come a bit closer I can show you just how."
Hook actually started towards Gold, before Emma stepped between them. "No. No more fighting today. And you," she pointed at Gold, "there's got to be a way."
"He could die and then Regina'd live," Hook said over her shoulder.
Gold continued to scowl, "And she'd be the Dark One. Which I suspect Henry would frown upon."
If his mom went and died saving Mary Margaret it would definitely improve his view of her. Downside: her being dead and Emma suddenly being a single mom. Also: having to explain it to Henry and watching his little face fall as he realized she was gone.
And knowing the kid he would absolutely blame himself for it.
"Ah ha," Aurora shouted, her arm elbow deep into Cora's back. "I did it!"
Gold winced. "You should take your hand out now unless you want to kill her."
Aurora paused just long enough for Mulan to thump her arm. When she finally pulled her arm all the way out the unconscious Cora began to stir.
Gold limped over to her, leaning heavily on his cane. "We need to get her somewhere secure before she fully comes to. She was a piece of work even before she lost her heart."
"Seems to me we should put you both somewhere secure," Emma said.
"As long as I have my dagger we won't have a problem dearie."
"The padded cells as the hospital," David said, sticking his thumbs in his belt loops, "We can put her there. I'll call Mother Superior to help make it secure enough."
"And Regina," Mary Margaret asked. She'd gone from just keeping her hand on her chest to bunching the front of her blouse up in her hands. "We can't just…let her go."
"We won't," Emma assured her. "David you and Gold get Cora to the hospital and then Gold? You're going to figure out a way to save Regina. The rest of us need to spread out and find her."
Instead of agreeing they all looked at something right behind Emma.
"You're looking for my mom right?"
Son of a—
Emma closed her eyes and cursed all 6 of the stupid "dwarves" and the one guy who couldn't remember being one. Henry was a genius and all sure, but was it really that hard to keep an eye on him?
She slowly turned around to face her son, who was trying to stare at her but kept being distracted by the wreckage that used to be Granny's diner and the bedraggled state of all the participants of the battle.
"Isn't he adorable," Aurora asked, only to be silenced by a swift elbow to the stomach from Mulan.
Emma took a deep breath and stepped closer to Henry. "Yeah kid, she's…gone."
"Because—" Because her mom tried to kill Emma's mom and she got in the way and wanted to go off and die in peace?
How the hell did you tell a kid that?
"Because she got hurt saving my life," Mary Margaret said gently, "and she didn't want us all to see her hurt." She smiled like that fourth grade teacher Henry used to have. "You know how she is."
He nodded sagely, and Emma had to admit she was impressed with how Mary Margaret had cut through the bullshit.
Even if it reminded her that the two people who knew Regina best were the kid, and the woman who wanted to be her mom.
"So we got to find her and make sure she's okay. And you need to—"
"I'm going," Henry insisted. "I know my mom, maybe better than any of you, and I'm gonna help."
Magic always comes with a price.
It was the first rule of magic. The only true rule of magic. Everything else was flexible.
But price was non-negotiable.
Regina saved the world. Saved everyone she cared about.
Knowing Aurora she'd even saved her own mother.
And Regina was going to die because of that.
The blood leaking from her hand was no longer red. It was pitch black and it had worked its way up her veins, turning her whole arm gray. And numb.
She'd expected impending death to hurt more.
It had hurt when Emma had died. She'd felt the aftershocks of it through the locket. Pain so immense as to make a woman breathless.
But Regina's own death was just cold and sweaty. And bleak.
She wanted to be terrified. She was terrified.
But Henry was safe. Henry was alive.
Emma was alive.
So a short and bleak future wasn't so scary. She'd get to rest. And maybe there'd be an afterlife. One with Daniel and Emma, who both tell her in soft, haunting voices that she couldn't love them enough. One where Henry and her understood each other. Where they could speak with a look and love with a touch. A mother and son united by their own terribly warped senses of self.
Would he forgive her for not saving him? Would he love her?
Would any of them?
The Henry she watched sleep the night before hated her. She knew that. He was still young and naive and he despised her and her curse. He couldn't even wake when she'd kissed him in the hospital. Emma and him. That was True Love.
She didn't have him. Or Emma. She hadn't even had Daniel.
She had no one.
How terribly bleak.
She didn't know her eyes had fallen closed until she opened them again. She was drifting in and out and at first thought that small voice was in her head. But when she pried her eyes open she found Henry and Emma were standing over her and looking down. They reminded her of nesting dolls with their identical frowns.
She smiled up at them and it was a great effort. Dying did that. Sapped the strength. She could barely do more than turn her neck. Her arms and legs were useless.
Henry knelt beside her and he was surprisingly warm. Or perhaps she was just that cold.
He took a hand in his burning hot one and held it so tight.
"Do you remember this," she asked.
And he frowned again. His young brain trying to catch up with her terribly old one.
He looked around then his frown deepened. "We used to come here," he finally said. "We had picnics."
He did remember. "Good."
"Regina," Emma started.
"Save your breath Ms Swan," she managed to say with a little of her old regal flare. "You won. And evil is vanquished."
"Maybe we can—"
"It's the price." She managed to put just enough fire in her voice to force Emma to look her in the eye. "Someone has to pay it," she said fiercely.
One corner of Emma's mouth twitched upward in a half smile. As if to say "I never thought it'd be you." But wry jokes about impending death weren't appropriate in front of a child.
"You saved Snow White's life," Henry whispered.
"But you hate her."
"And someone I loved more made me promise to save her. To save all of you."
She'd first begged for her own life and when it was being stolen from her that other Emma had instead begged for theirs. "At least keep them safe," she'd whispered as her body turned heavy and unwieldy in Regina's arms.
Heny frowned. Like he did when he was working on a puzzle at the kitchen table while she made dinner. Only he was missing a piece of this particular puzzle and Regina didn't have the energy to give it to him.
"I want you to promise me something Henry." The furrow between his brow softened. "Be good."
They'd found her sitting against a tall tree on a bluff overlooking town. Barely moving. The woman looked like hell, and a big part of Emma knew that this was going to be it. That this time she'd feel her die and there'd be no coming back. She was gray all over. Not gray like a doctor would use the word. Actually gray. The poison was turning her blood black and had leached all the color out of her and provided its own absence of color instead. She looked more like a statue that a person.
And she was staring at Henry with completely black eyes and telling him to be good.
She ignored Emma and with her uninjured hand reached out for Henry. Her hand dug into the thick fabric of his coat like a claw. "Be good," she said again, "and know trust yourself. Know how clever you are. And how brave."
"And know that you were wanted. And that I love you. And that in the end," she smiled, "I was good too."
Emma would remember that smile. She'd be old and infirm and rotting away in a hospital bed somewhere in Utah and she'd remember that smile.
It was incandescent. She wasn't a religious person, but that was the kind of smile that showed you a woman's soul. Regina said those words and believed and Emma, even knowing all she did, believed them too.
And then that was it.
"All she wrote," foster mom number one would have said.
Everything that Regina was seemed to fade and there was just a sad gray body left behind.
Emma had to close her eyes. Just for a minute. She knew she had to be brave and be the adult, but for just a second she closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to ever know that look on her own son's face.
"Mom," he said again and as often as he used that term when talking to Emma she knew it wasn't for her.
He was shaking Regina. Jerking her back and forth as much as an eleven year old could manage a grown woman. And she wasn't getting up.
He couldn't hear her. He was tugging on his mom and then hugging her and begging her not to go.
And would if it were so easy. If you could just beg and a person would stay. The kid wasn't supposed to know that wasn't true. He wasn't supposed to have that lesson yet. No kid should.
"Mom please," he cried. He tucked his head into the crook of Regina's shoulder, his face pressed up against her neck. "You can't leave me."
His lips pressed to her neck. It was a kiss a kid gave their parent. A peck. Ephemeral.
It was enough. In the end.
Henry once told Emma Regina wasn't his real mom and that she could never love him. But he could love her. And he did.
Death wasn't supposed to smell so much like antiseptic. And there wasn't supposed to be so many beeping noises, or scratchy sheets or loud talking in the distance.
Regina opened her eyes.
Death definitely wasn't supposed to involve that hideous ceiling or those awful flower arrangements near the window. And it wasn't supposed to hurt. But there was her arm, on fire. She looked down expecting to see her hand engulfed in flames, but it was just wrapped in thick white bandages.
"You're alive," Emma said softly.
She wasn't supposed to be wherever death was. Yet there she was, sitting in an uncomfortable chair beside the bed, and leaning forward, her elbows balanced on her knees.
"You've been asleep for the last week. Apparently even True Love's kiss doesn't just go and heal whatever mojo's in Gold's knife."
"How—" Regina's voice was thick and her throat dry.
"Henry figured out where you were. Made me take him up into the forest where you two used to picnic. Do you remember?"
She remembered slowly dying. And Henry holding her hand.
"He knew," she croaked.
"Kid's smart," Emma said. "And he keeps campaigning to live here until you're awake."
"Mary Margaret took him to watch the fairies rebuild Granny's. Apparently they've got enough fairy dust or whatever to do it right." She shrugged, accepting that she'd just referred to fairy dust as something real. "Kid's not the only one that's been haunting this place either."
"Your 'Four Thieves' or whatever. Which you're going to have to explain some time, because somehow they think you guys spent nearly three years together when you were only gone a couple of hours."
Regina nodded and tried to sit up.
Emma tilted her head. "And they're not the only thing I'm curious about. A lot of things aren't adding up Regina. There's how you knew where Cora's heart would be, and who convinced you to save Mary Margaret, and how she's alive when she doesn't have a heart. But you want to know what the really big question is—"
She held her fist over Regina's head, and her locket dropped down. No. Not Emma's. Or this Emma's. It was the locket the other Emma had given her. Because this Emma's locket was visibly around her neck.
The one in her hand caught the sun light and Regina squinted.
"Why the hell are there two of this locket?"
The Monomythical Adventures of Regina Mills and Emma Swan will continue next month in Dangerous is the Vexed God.
Summary: Emma Swan just wants to adjust to life in a post-Curse Storybrooke. She wants to get to know her kid. Get to know her parents. And maybe learn how to use her magic. But the town has an epidemic of flying monkeys, there's a drunk pirate walking down Main half naked, Regina Mills keeps looking at her like she's seen her naked, and, oh yeah, someone's killing off fairy godmothers.