It takes them almost two long days at sea to finally even begin to see the misty shores of Neverland.
Two days where the former Evil Queen keeps her spine as straight as an board and her head held up high enough to make her neck crink even as she feels the precious remaining energy draining from her body, a bit more with every moment that passes. The pain she still feels from the electrocution is constant - a kind of buzzing agony in her muscles. Even so, she sleeps only sparingly, perhaps an hour or two at a time at most. The rest of the time, she spends at the rail, her dark narrowed eyes focused on the horizon, like perhaps she can see what's out there.
Like perhaps she can figure all of this out if she can just make sense of all of the shadows.
"You should sleep," Snow suggests on the evening of the first day, a light hand settling on her former stepmother's forearm as they stand side by side at the rail. The touch is gentle, but tentative, uncertain and careful. Regina doesn't know that Snow had seen what she'd gone through while strapped to the table, and frankly the younger woman has no intention of letting her in on the secret; she's pretty sure that Regina wouldn't take well to knowing that her pain – her weakness – had been shared.
And so Snow is cautious about her offered comfort.
Cautious but sincere because it's never felt more necessary to be whole than it does right now. There's something inside of Snow that craves Regina in a way that reminds her of her youthful self. Back then, she'd gravitated to the older woman, hypnotized by a beauty that she'd seen both inside and out.
She wonders these days more than ever how she'd missed the shadows.
How she'd failed to see the corrosive darkness that had taken over the woman that she'd first met, pulling her down beneath the undertow of all of her rage and hurt.
And she wonders what she can do to repair that stain within both of them.
"Of course," Regina murmurs, nodding her head in a way that makes it quite clear that she has absolutely no intention of bedding down. There are purple and black bruises around her eyes, physical representations of her bone deep exhaustion, but she's unrelenting in her vigil. She offers Snow the thinnest of smiles, one meant to reassure her in some kind of off-handed way, and then she returns to staring at the water, so terribly limitless and expansive.
"Regina," Snow says, and there's so very many things that she wants to say. So many questions that she wants to ask.
"It's going to be a cold night," Regina cuts in, squinting as she tries to see if a shadow that her eyes have settled on is land or just a figment of her feverish imagination. After a few moments, she sighs, wincing through a sharp jolt of mind through her skull. There's nothing there.
Nothing at all.
"Then why don't you come down below," Snow suggests. "It's cramped, but warm." She shrugs her shoulders. "Nothing else we can do for now."
"No, I suppose not," Regina agrees, blinking slowly.
Snow nods her head, and starts away, not sure what else to say. She stops, then, a slight frown marring her features. "What happened to the burns?"
"When we found you, you had burns on your hands and your head."
"They're gone now," Regina says, her voice sounding distant and disconnected. She looks down at her finger, the one which just a day earlier had sported a rather gruesome burn mark courtesy of Owen.
"You healed them yourself. Isn't that just redistribution of energy?"
"They're gone now," Regina repeats. Then, turning slightly to look at Snow. "It's cold and I'm sure David is wondering where you are."
"You'll be down soon?"
It's a blatant badly told lie, and they both know it. And allow it. Because whatever else they are to each other, they're not enough to be able to call each other out on the lies – be they white or black.
When Snow reaches the stairs heading down, she looks back once more, she sees Regina staring out again, her fingers tightly gripping the painted wooden rail like she thinks that anything less might not be enough to keep her from failing into the bottomless ocean.
She has a brief moment of panic – a moment where she wonders if Regina plans to throw herself to the waves. She knows better, though; Regina is many things, but able to surrender all by herself is not one of those things.
Snow's amazed by just how thankful she is for this realization.
She slips into the crew cabin and shuts the thin door behind it, hearing it creak as it shifts against the wooden panels of the floor. David stands when he sees her, and smiles at her, his blue eyes crinkling in that way that is uniquely him. He steps towards her, arms out.
Welcoming and loving.
She feels David's arms wrap around her, warm and steady as she leans against him. He kisses the top of her head and asks her if she's all right.
He tells her that everything is going to be all right.
Because that's what he does.
Which is sometimes blind and naive and utterly foolish.
And she'll thank whatever god might be listening for the rest of her life that she has it because she's terrified of who she'd be without it.
On the second night at sea, and with the waves rocking the Jolly Roger enough to make everyone more than a little nauseous, it's Emma who joins Regina at the rail sometime just after the sun has begin to set in the sky.
Coming to her side, she offers Regina a cup of coffee and a blanket. The blanket is terribly thin and scratchy in all the wrong ways, and the coffee is bitter like it was made by someone who thinks that strong brew is a test of masculinity, but Regina seems to accept both in the spirit that they're intended.
"Thank you," she says quietly, and if Emma had been considering any more conversation than that, the words float away thanks to the finality she hears within Regina's low throaty voice. She simply nods her head, and follows Regina's gaze out towards the water, a deep blue against the setting sun.
She stays for about fifteen minutes after that, standing next to her former enemy without saying another word. It's only once the cold mist starts spraying down on both of them that she steps backwards. Her hair is already frizzy, and she well imagines that the oncoming rain will likely make her look like a drowned rat. Even the sleekness of her terribly adult pure black peacoat can't change that unfortunate reality.
Two more steps towards the stairs leading to the cabins, and then with a sigh as she realizes that Regina hasn't moved, "You should –"
"I know," Regina chuckles. "Sleep."
She nods her head slightly. "I'll be in shortly."
Emma thinks that she should let this go. She should simply nod her head and accept Regina's words. She doesn't owe the older woman anything more than that, right? She doesn't owe her the concern that she feels for her, the worry she has about the former queen's curious mental state.
And yet she does worry. And she does care. And she wishes she didn't because it would all be so much easier if she didn't.
"Like you were last night?" Emma challenges, sighing as she does.
Regina lifts a perfectly manicured brow up, and though Emma's not sure exactly why, the familiar haughtiness of the motion warms her insides up just a little bit. "Keeping an eye on me are you, Sheriff?"
"Hardly, Your Majesty," Emma shoots back, though with noticeably less snap and pop than had previously existed between them. "But since we're sharing a bunk, I kind of notice when you come and go. And well, you didn't. Come or go, really. I mean you came, but, well you know."
"Honestly, I'm not sure what I know after that…explanation," Regina chuckles. "But for what it's worth, I did sleep for a few hours last night."
"Two. And you didn't really sleep so much as move around a lot."
"So you are keeping an eye on me."
"No, you just nearly tossed me off twice. Not really loving the idea of doing a face first plant into the wood," Emma responds, smiling slightly. "Sounds like an easy way to a broken nose, and with your magic still on low power, that leaves me with Gold, and you know I'd just rather not."
Regina chuckles, the sound rich and amused and in spite of herself, Emma lets out a breath because if Regina can still mock her, well that's something.
And these days, she'll take what she can get even if she doesn't know why.
"So noted," Regina responds. "I'll try to move around less."
Emma frowns a bit because really, that hadn't been the point. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Goodnight, Sheriff."
"Emma," the blonde says softly. "We saved Storybrooke together."
It's a complete absurd non sequitur; one that frankly only Emma would even bother to attempt - but Regina understands it just the same. She nods.
And says once more, "Goodnight."
Emma knows a dismissal when she hears it. She considers fighting it, and insisting that Regina get some rest, but ultimately decides against it because they're not friends and why should the former queen listen to her?
These days, she wonders why anyone would or even should.
She thinks about lost former lovers, missing little boys and the frighteningly constant buzz of magical energy within her veins. She thinks about anger and loneliness and fear and despair, and God, she thinks about the easy way out, which is never as easy as everyone believes it to be.
She thinks about cowardice and how it bleeds within her in ways that people dismiss simply because of who she is. She thinks about running away, and how very close she'd come to never experiencing any of this just a year ago. She thinks about a pair of sneakers she hasn't worn in months.
She thinks about trying to convince everyone to leave Regina to die so that they all could live. She wonders if that was cowardice or a desire to see Regina achieve the redemption that she'd desperately craved.
She wonders if redemption is a word that only those who have never had to fight for it actually understand. She wonders if it is ever achievable, and then decides that it must be because it must be.
It must be.
She thinks of a thousand forgiven sins, and wonders why she's worthy.
The ship teeters, and her eyes go to Regina's hands; clenched into the railing, paint peeling away where her fingers impact the hard wood.
Her stomach rolls violently. She closes her eyes.
It begins to rain.
She gets ahold of herself, breathes in and then out again. She descends the stops slowly, one foot on front of the other, mindful of the slips.
And she knows that Regina won't be down to join her for a while to come.
On the morning of day three, Emma leans against the wall of Hook's cabin, watching Regina at the rail, all the while wondering when the woman who had been shocked nearly to death, and then had absorbed an insane amount of magic, will simply collapse beneath the weight of it all.
She wonders how Regina hasn't done exactly that yet.
There's stubborn and there's persistent and then there's this.
It seems admirable, and to a degree it even is, but then, well there's this.
"She's going to fall eventually," Gold says, coming up beside Emma. His cane scrapes the ground, thumping against it in a show of blatant disgust. After a moment, he collects himself, and he folds his hands atop of his cane, seeming suddenly serene in a way that makes her stomach clench and roll.
Because they're on a floating pile of lumber in the middle of the ocean, and he's in a goddamned suit acting like he's some kind of magical mafia king.
She wonders if anyone would mind if she nailed him in the face with her elbow. And then she sighs because that sounds like the old her.
The one without infamous parents and a son and magic.
The one who was allowed to be less responsible.
She turns to face him, her expression grim, and his oddly fascinated. His face is stubbled with salt and pepper, and his hair is stringy and limp thanks to the salty sea air. Still, his dark eyes burn with a curiosity that she finds unsettling and she wonders if she can get away from him without being obvious about it. Not that Emma Swan will ever run from anyone.
"We all do," Emma mumbles, more to herself than him.
"How terribly philosophical, Miss Swan," he chirps, and she feels her hand swell into a fist without orders from her brain.
She gives him a wary look, then turns away from him, and makes to walk towards the stairs leading down to the crew quarters.
"Miss Swan," he calls back, still standing there so terribly calm.
She turns, green eyes tired but focused. She tilts her head and waits.
"She will fall."
He nods his head, his lips quirking into an odd smile. Not quite amused, but not exactly heartbroken, either.
"What do you mean by that? What do you mean she'll fall? Do you mean down and do you mean…" Emma demands.
"Well, down first. She's exhausted," he says. "Running on fumes. When we reach Neverland, we're going to encounter things beyond what even she can well imagine. The evils there…well they're my kind of evils, not hers."
Emma frowns at this. "She was the Evil Queen."
"He is beyond that."
"Peter Pan? You're telling me that Peter Fucking Pan is a bigger bad guy than the Evil Queen?" Emma demands, stepping towards him.
"I'd think you of all people would know by now, Miss Swan, that nothing you think you know is as it actually is, yes?"
"Yeah, I'm getting that," she grumbles. "Okay, so fine; good old green-tights-Peter-Pan is kind of a prick who likes little boys. Creepy."
"Tactfully put as always," Gold chuckles as he leans on his cane. "And while you're not exactly wrong – though I don't recall tights - he's more of a monster than that, and he will not hesitate to hurt all of us to get to whatever his endgame is. We're going to need Regina to get through this."
"That must piss you off to say," Emma taunts, taking one more step in so that she's right close to him. "After all you've done to rob her of power."
He simply smirks in response. Then, tilting her head. "She's no innocent."
"None of us are. Some are just…well maybe a little more guilty."
"She made her own choices," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Their eyes meet, and Emma smiles thinly, almost coldly. "You always make sure that your hands are clean, don't you, Mr. Gold?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, dearie," he responds, unable to stop himself from sneering as he says the words. There's a dangerous sparkle to his eyes, something that comes just short of outright menace.
She thinks maybe she's supposed to be afraid of him, and she thinks maybe if she was smarter, wiser and all those things that heroes are supposed to be, maybe she even would be. But she's one of those things that heroes almost always are – foolishly brave; she simply stares right back at him.
And he her.
"Of course not." She sighs, then. "Fine, what would you have me do?"
"Talk to her. Convince her to get some rest."
"Regina does what Regina wants to do," Emma reminds him, glancing over at the older woman who hasn't moved so much as an inch.
"True, but she can be…"
"I think the word you're looking for is manipulated," Emma suggests, her tone both full of disgust and loaded down with awe. It's amazing to her how much this man is involved with, how many things he knows, and she understands that what she thinks she knows of him is just the beginning of it all; he has been around for hundreds of years and his sins are many.
Then again, this boat could sink beneath the weight of the combined sins of its six passengers; not a one of them is as pure as they might like to think.
"Negotiated with," Gold suggests instead, with a smile that tells her that her original word was probably far more accurate. "And she listens to you."
"Really? Where the hell would you get that idea from?" Emma laughs.
"My eyes," he says calmly, with as much certainty as her previous decidedly not calm reaction had shown. "Do what you must, Miss Swan, but just understand that the Queen was hurt quite badly just three days ago. What she did down in the mine, however heroic it might have been just exacerbated her issues and drained her even further. It'd be a terrible thing for all of us if she were to collapse when we needed her most."
"Your compassion is overwhelming," Emma drawls, her tone as dry as the paint that continues to flake away from the wooden edges of the ship.
"I'm here to pay a debt to my son," Gold reminds her with a careless shrug that plainly tells her that he really doesn't give much a damn and never will. "Nothing else. Saving your boy – saving Bae's boy - does that. After that, well I can't say as that I care what happens to anyone on this floating piece of garbage. Until that point, however, well everyone is needed."
"Including your former apprentice?" Emma prompts. She's found herself more and more curious these days – perhaps thanks to her new ties to Gold because of Neal or perhaps because of the magic, which now flows like molten lava through her veins – about the nature of his relationship with Regina. He'd been her mentor, certainly, but what kind of teacher leads his student down the path to hell quite so willingly?
What kind of man does that?
"Her most of all, perhaps," Gold admits, sparing another glance over at Regina. "She's powerful, Miss Swan; she'd have to be to still be alive after what she's gone through. I see that power within you as well."
She snorts. "If you're about to ask me if you can be my Yoda, dream on."
He wrinkles his brow, clearly unfamiliar with the reference, and she wonders if he'd ever turned a television on during the twenty-eight years where he'd been just Mr. Gold the asshole who owned everyone in town as opposed to Rumplestiltskin, the magical imp who'd played everyone like a puppet. "Shame," he finally shrugs, but his smile says he'd expected as much.
"Yeah, not so much," she says. Then, with a weary sigh, "But hey, at least you're honest. For once, anyway. Points for that, I guess."
"I have my moments," he acknowledges, and then turns and walks away, off to the side of the boat that he has been haunting since this trip began. He passes by Hook, and they exchange the kind of look that makes all of the hairs on the back of Emma's neck stand at attention. She's already told herself a dozen times that she needs to keep an eye on these two, but she repeats the message a few more times. Just to be safe.
Because the last thing anyone needs is the one guy who knows how to sail this boat getting gutted because he thought he could take on Rumple.
Jesus, these people and their vengeance. You'd think they'd learn.
You'd think how many times they've failed at achieving it – failed at setting themselves at peace - would be the greatest kind of cautionary tale ever.
She supposes, though, that vengeance is just one of those things that you have to learn from failing at.
Well, hope to learn at.
Assuming it doesn't destroy you first.
She stares after Gold for a long moment before glancing back towards the water. The shores of Neverland, dark and foreboding, are coming into view now. Hook says that actual land is still about six or seven hours away.
Which means that there's still time to rest.
Time to get ready for battle.
She takes a deep breath and steps towards Regina.
And wonders why this feels like battle, too.
"I'm fine," Regina says, without even turning. It's just the feeling in the air, the energy popping around Emma. The sheriff has always carried a kind of nervous anxiety about her, a general discomfort within her own skin. Which is not to say, of course, that she's not able to handle confrontation. Quite the opposite, really. It's simply that Emma is awkward at almost everything.
It's almost endearing.
Well, it would be if not for the fact that this woman has been her downfall in about fifteen different ways. Some of them rather creative and entertaining if she's honest with herself, but most damned infuriating and humiliating.
Really, there's nothing quite as humbling as being defeated by a woman who likely thinks Hostess is one of the major food groups.
"Are you?" Emma presses, coming up to stand next to her at the rail. Her hand slides out to touch it; fingers curling around the wood like she's not completely sure that she won't end up pitched into the ocean should the ship roll a bit. And well, it has been a rather turbulent afternoon.
Emma tilts her head, and smiles just a bit, the sun catching off of her green eyes. "Surely, you don't think that that will actually work on me, right?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"How strange," Emma comments, her voice sounding almost lazily disinterested. Regina knows better, though; Emma might be unrefined, but she's far from stupid. This is a woman who fashioned for herself a career out of luring bad guys into traps by making them underestimate her.
Regina refuses to do that.
"Oh?" she asks, trying to sound just as disinterested.
"Yeah. You know, Gold just tried to pull that shit on me, too. Well, I guess like teacher like student, huh?" She shrugs her shoulders when she says this.
Regina feels the impact of the words almost before she hears them.
Feels the history boil through her blood.
And feels the pain of all of that history.
All of that time and age. And pain.
It has brought her here.
Wherever the hell that is.
Emma both feels and sees the way Regina flinches; the motion made more dramatic by the exhaustion the former queen is feeling. What might have been a subtle shift to show displeasure becomes almost limbs flailing out, and a jaw dropping open for a moment before snapping shut audibly.
"Exactly," Emma observes, her smile growing. It's not a cruel smile, though, so much as a knowing one. The kind of one that says "no more lies, huh?"
And it works because all of the pretension just seems to seep away from Regina, leaving her both very young and very old looking. Youthful in her weariness and aged by her sadness. "What do you want, Emma?"
"My first name. All right, well that's progress."
Regina grits her teeth.
Softening her voice, Emma says gently, "I want you to rest. That's all."
"As I told you, I'm fine."
"So are most people who come within a breath of dying thanks to electrocution," Emma answers with a sharp mocking nod of her head.
"Your sarcasm is duly noted."
"But completely ignored."
"On the contrary, dear, I never ignore your sarcasm. It's hard to do so considering how omnipresent it is. A protective device I expect, yes?"
"Oh, is this the part where we volley back and forth in order to keep each other from realizing that we're both exhausted out of our minds?"
The former queen snorts, but says nothing else. If there's an insult to be made, she leaves it hanging, up to the imagination.
"Regina, even you have your limits."
"You have no idea what my limits are."
"Maybe not, but I'm guessing that if you don't start realizing them, our son is going to be the one who does. When he needs you the most."
It's the lowest of blows, and Emma's not one bit surprised when Regina reacts by snapping around, her tired dark eyes furious and hurt.
"How dare you –"
Emma lifts an eyebrow in reaction, and just like that, the fury floats away, into the salty air.
"You really think I need anyone else trying to control me?" Regina snaps out indignantly, and perhaps the words are meant to have a sharpened and enraged edge, but they come off dull and weary.
"No, and that's not really what I'm trying to do here, but I also think that right now you believe that if you close your eyes and allow yourself a few moments for yourself, that you're letting Henry down."
"I am," Regina says softly, and it speaks volumes to how worn down she is that she is saying this to Emma at all.
"You put your life on the line to save him," Emma reminds her.
"After I endangered it by digging up that trigger in the first place," Regina reminds her. "Let's not rewrite the story quite so soon, my dear. We're in this situation because of the things that I have done. Henry is in this situation because of my sins. The very least I could do –"
She stops and turns back towards the ocean, blinking rapidly.
"Is die for him?" Emma prompts. "That would have made everything simpler, wouldn't it have? Certainly easier for everyone."
"Easier for me. Henry, too."
"I tried," Regina whispers, her voice sounding grated and pained. It's just about enough to make Emma back off, but she fights with herself not to.
She presses on because Gold – bastard that he is – is absolutely right; without Regina, they're all lost. Perhaps Henry most of all.
"Yeah, well, what makes you think that's what any of us wanted?"
Regina laughs harshly, the sound almost violent. "Any of us? Please. Snow may be struck by the need to square the ledger in regards to my mother, but don't mistake that to mean that neither she nor her shepherd would be happy to see me buried six feet beneath the ground."
"Because you understand so very much about your mother and I?" Regina snaps back, turning to head to face Emma. There are tears gathering at the corners of her eyes, forced back thanks to the coldness of the air that continues to hit both of them square in the face. "Is that it?"
"No I admit I don't who she was, but I do think I understand who she is now a bit better than you do. And maybe she did want to even the books, but she went awfully damned far to do it if that's all it was about," Emma insists as she presses her hands into the pockets of her peacoat. They're all still wearing the same clothes that they'd departed Storybrooke in, and though it's an entirely inappropriate time for such thoughts, she finds herself wondering if there's a place to get new garments in Neverland.
Because she really would hate to spend two more months wearing the same clothes as she'd had to during her first world-hopping tour. She's pretty damned sure that she'll never look at that red leather jacket of hers again – much less wear it – thanks to the forced intimacy with it.
"She thought she was sending the diamond to another world," Regina reminds her, pulling her thoughts back to the present and away from petty things like clothing. "That's hardly walking barefoot through coals."
"But feeling what you did was."
Regina frowns, and tilts her head. "What are you talking about?"
Emma stares at her for a long moment, realizing, then, that Regina doesn't actually know of what she's speaking; she has no idea that Snow had been connected to her and thus seen and felt what she'd been going through.
Though she feels a bit bad for it, she takes advantage of Regina's exhaustion and her inability to focus for too long because of it, and quickly changes the subject to something safer. "What about Henry? What about what he wanted? He didn't want to lose you, Regina. He never wants that."
He's a child, Miss Swan."
"And back to that."
Regina ignores her. "He thinks about his emotions and what he believes that he wants, not what he needs or what should be."
"He thinks about the people he loves. You, me. His father."
"A man he barely knew," Regina reminds her with a chuckle meant to disguise flaring hurt. "And yet your ex is comparable to me in his heart."
"No, he's not," Emma replies. "Neal meant something to Henry, absolutely. Neal represented his history, his past, where he came from in this world and the one you're from. They were bonding and getting to know each other, and Henry did love him because he's a kid that loves easily, but in time, Neal would have been just a good story, something that Henry could say was formative. You're his mother, Regina. He never would have gotten over losing you. And he never would have forgiven me for not going back for you. Whatever else you believe, you need to believe that."
"I…" she shakes her head and swallows. "You still should have let me do it."
"Because it was the end."
"And it looked pretty damned heroic, didn't it?"
Regina smiles sadly, reaching up to brush a tear away. "No, not heroic. It just looked like the end. And maybe one that he could be proud of. If that's heroism in his book, well then yes, that would have been enough for me."
"But not for him.
Regina shakes her head. "I've been fighting my entire life. I'm tired." She looks up at Emma. "The fight never stops."
"No, it doesn't. But maybe the problem isn't that you've been fighting, but that you've been fighting for the wrong things. Making everyone else hurt like you do will never make you happy. It never has."
"You don't know that."
"Am I wrong? Has it?
Regina says nothing, just looks out at the water.
"Right. Then maybe now you start fighting for the things that will actually make you happy instead of just the ones that just make you hurt less." She lifts an eyebrow when she says this, daring Regina to contest her words.
"You think you understand."
It's a challenge, and Emma thinks that it should be delivered with more passion, but the weariness that marks Regina's face and eyes make it almost empty – like these are just words being delivered for the sake of it.
"No. I can't even begin to understand the things that you've gone through, and I'm not saying this to humor you because I think you've done some pretty fucked up and awful things, but you know what, Regina, I do understand wanting to say to hell with it all. I do know what it's like to give in and want it all over." She chews her lip for a moment like she actually might say more than that, then settles with, "And I know what it's like to wake up after that and realize that you have to find a way to keep on."
"More chances to disappoint him."
"Or more chances to make yourself proud. You can't live just for him."
A choked and pained sounding chuckle greets these words. "And what is there about me to live for, my dear?" There's a wild desperation in her eyes, and Emma is struck by the realization that Regina really does believe the words coming out of her own mouth. Sure, exhaustion is making everything that much more dire, but there's a heartbroken edge to what is being said.
Regina really does want to know why it couldn't just have all been over.
Why she couldn't just have gone out a hero.
Why she couldn't have just had peace.
"Maybe it's time to find out," Emma says gently, pulling a hand out of her pocket and reaching out for one of Regina's. She ends up pulling up just short of putting it over the one of Regina's that rests upon on the rail. "For thirty years you've been as much a prisoner of your own curse as anyone else. Maybe it's time to figure out who Regina Mills actually is now."
"Someone who should have died down in that mine," the former mayor says sullenly before pushing herself away from the rail. "Someone you should have let die. But you're always the Savior aren't you?"
The words are delivered with a bitterness that doesn't quite ring true, vitriol that seems more turned inwards than outwards.
"Yeah, I guess I am," Emma replies gently, reaching for her again.
"Well, I don't –" And then she stops speaking, all of the color draining away.
Emma sees it before it actually happens.
She sees the way Regina's knees buckle violently beneath her, and then the way her back bows. She sees one of the former queen's hands fly outwards as if to break the inevitable fall, and then Regina is just collapsing.
Moving completely on instinct, Emma lurches forward, just managing to slide her hands beneath Regina, just barely managing to break the fall and keep the older woman from colliding with the hard deck.
She drops to her knees, water seeping through the knees of her black pants as she holds the unconscious woman in her arms, and sighs.
Because, yeah, eventually everyone falls.
When she opens her eyes a few long hours later, she feels softness beneath her back. It's not exactly up to the standards that she's used to, but it's quite a bit more comfortable than the hardness of the bunk that she'd been sharing – well kind of – with Emma.
She groans and tries to sit forward, blinking.
"Take it easy, Your Majesty," she hears, the heavily accented voice of the captain of the Jolly Roger floating through her consciousness.
"Captain," she says, wincing as she forces her eyes open. She seems him sitting above her, on the edge of his own bed. The one which she's currently within, heavy blankets covering her from toe to torso. They're within his fairly spacious quarters, the dim lights from around casting shadows about.
"You passed out," he tells her, offering her a mug. She sniffs it – much to his amusement – pleased to note that it's not alcohol that he's giving her.
Simply crisp cool water.
Water that thankfully smells like neither salt nor fish.
She brings it to her weather chapped lips and drinks generously. After she's finished the water, she hands the mug back to him and nods her gratitude.
"Better?" he asks, eyebrow lifted. He shifts on the bed, causing it to move.
"How's the head?"
He shrugs his shoulders. "I've been around awhile. I've seen torture more times than I care to admit. Never got a taste for it. Seems to me if you want to hurt someone, best to just kill them and be done with it."
"So you're saying you wouldn't have handed me over to them if you'd known what they would do to me?" she queries, tilting her head.
"You betrayed me first," he reminds her with an impish smile.
"Seems to me, Captain, that you were always planning on handing me over to them," Regina counters as she sits further up in the bed, placing her back against the wooden frame that houses his books. "All in the name of killing your crocodile. Whom by the way, you're now breaking bread with."
"I wouldn't go that far, and I won't say as that I'm over it, but well, it seems maybe the universe has been trying to tell me something for awhile now."
"Come up with better plans?"
"Says the woman who thought that cursing a bunch of peasants and spoiled nobles to a quaint little fishing town was a good idea," Hook shoots back.
"For thirty years, it worked," she tells him, because he doesn't need to know just how much it hadn't actually been working.
"Indeed," Regina sighs.
"So why don't you hate the girl?"
"I wish to hell I knew," she answers with a laugh that almost sounds hysterical. But he gets it, and shares the cheeky smile.
Sometimes it's all about having someone who can match you. Even if that person pisses you off enough to make you try to kill them a time or two.
"The boy you share, then?"
"Ah, but she's not like the rest of this lot, is she?"
"No, she's not." She lifts an eyebrow. "Is it true that you've been chasing her? Because even though her taste in men is suspect –"
He chuckles. "I chase everyone, love. Including you."
"That I recall," she muses. Then, sighing once more. "All right, help me up."
"You're ready to face the rest of them?"
She frowns. "Depends. What happened? I mean, after I passed out."
"Swan caught you."
"Of course she did."
"They've been decidedly rare in my travels, Regina, but there really are good people out there," he says, glancing towards the closed door leading out to the deck. "And Emma Swan just might be one of them. For all of her damage, well, she's not unlike us, but she's not quite the same, either."
"I suppose you're right," Regina admits. She stands up, then, using his arm for leverage and balance. Her fingers go to her temple, and she rubs.
"So there are headaches?"
She nods slowly, wincing slightly. Her body feels more rested – however forcibly so – but now the steady pounding in her head is muddling things.
Making her want to throw up and cry all at the same time.
"It'll pass," she tells him.
"And if it doesn't, I've got some whiskey that might help."
"Of course you do, Captain," she chuckles, almost affectionately.
"For what it's worth, what I said earlier is true; if I'd known that they were going to do that to you, I wouldn't have handed you over to them."
"But if they'd just killed me outright?"
"Such is our way," he says with the smallest of shrugs. She knows that he could lie and say otherwise, but it'd be just that.
And such shallow well-meaning deceptions are for others, those who don't understand and never will. People like Snow and David.
She nods her head. "How far from land are we?"
"A couple hours now. Do you have the strength to go ashore?"
"He's my son, Hook; I'll find it."
"Well, you'll have me at your back. Seems I owe you one or two."
Their eyes meet, and they both understand that he's not speaking about what the two anti-magic maniacs had done to her.
"If you'd killed her –"
"I know," he offers, choosing not to force her to mention her mother.
"Either way, I accept your assistance."
"It's given gladly." He nods towards the door. "What about Swan?"
"What about her?"
"Word I heard was that the two of you created some magic together down in the mine." He wiggles his eyebrows suggestively when he says this.
"Meaning what exactly? Actually, I'm not sure I want you to answer that."
He chuckles. "Meaning what of her magic?"
"It's elemental," Regina says, unwilling to call it what others have so simply shrugged it off to being – the product of true love. It's more than that, and understating it does no one any good. "But it's unrefined and very raw."
"It'll need to get better. I've gone against this Peter Pan. Only here, we call him the Shadow and he makes my Croc look like one of your fairy godmother. Whatever he wants with your boy, it isn't good. You'll need Swan to be strong, and you'll need to be strong. Anything less won't be enough to stop the Shadow or his people."
"Understood," she says softly. "Thanks for the bed."
She regrets the words almost the moment they've left her lips because then he's grinning like a frat boy who just saw a girl without a bra.
She gives him a look of disgust and he just grins all the more for it.
Some things, though, are a strange kind of comfort.
Because this world, well she does understand it.
It's one whether neither she nor Hook are what anyone sane would call good people, and though they both hate such, they both accept it as well.
The world on the other side of the door is different.
It involves things like living and hope.
And fighting back for reasons other than just to fight.
It involves trying to find a way to be happy even when the pain is intense.
And it contains people like Emma Swan, who for all the hell she's been through, yeah, just might be one of the good ones after all.
Emma's sitting on the stairs talking to David when Regina and Hook exit together. Regina's wobbling a bit, still not quite steady on her feet, but her color has returned to her cheeks at least, and well, that's something.
"Hey," Emma says, standing up quickly. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. I hear I owe you thanks for not having a concussion as well."
"Yeah. How about next time you just take a nap instead."
Regina lifts an eyebrow.
"Right," Emma drawls. "Because that would just be too damned easy."
"Are they always this much fun?" Hook asks David, smirking as he speaks.
"This is about as well as they get along," David admits, and then he moves away from Hook like being too close to him might rub off on him somehow.
Both women exchange a look, and then roll their eyes in sync.
"Ah, together then," Hook chuckles.
"Hook," Emma growls. She wonders if he saves this routine just for her or if he's actually stupid enough to use it on Regina. She thinks not, though, because Regina has never struck her as the type to humor fools gladly.
Certainly not ones that sound like they come out of a bad frat movie.
The Captain holds up his hooked hand, almost as if in surrender. He glances out towards the water, then, growing serious when he speaks, his words firmer and more to direct, "We're coming close to an anchor point. I'll go settle her in and get us ready to go ashore. I'm thinking a small party should go in, at least at first. We don't want to leave the ship unguarded."
David nods his head. "Good idea. Emma?"
"Me and Regina, for sure," Emma says slowly, trying not to betray her surprise at being given control of the landing party, especially in the presence of a Queen, a Captain and a Prince. "I think it's probably best that Gold stay behind; we don't want both of our magic users in one place."
"I don't have much magic right now," Regina reminds her. She flicks her fingers against each other, and just the smallest bit of flame appears.
"But you have some. Hook, that means you're with us."
"Wait," David says immediately, and though Emma knows she shouldn't, she feels herself chaffing beneath his doubts. "I don't like the idea of –"
"Her with two villains?" Regina asks, eyebrow up.
"Regina," Emma cautions, feeling that old familiar weariness seep into her muscles as she regards the older woman. Just for once she wishes that Regina wouldn't rise to the bait. Sure, David is being kind of a jerk about this right now, but it's not like his doubts are without reason or logic.
"Actually, yeah," David confirms, his hand settling on his hip. Emma wonders absently if he's feeling for a gun or a sword.
"So much for family."
"Family or not, Regina," David counters. "Just a few days ago you were willing to kill us all. You'll excuse me if that gives me pause."
"Yes, well, now I'm not. Need I also remind you that just a few days ago, I was also willing to die for all of you? Or do only the sins matter?"
"Of course not."
"Then perhaps you should trust that what your daughter and I want is the exact same thing; we both want Henry home and safe. That doesn't happen if I suddenly turn on her for no real reason other than just to do it. As for Hook, well he knows Neverland like no one else with us does. It's in our best interest to have the most knowledgeable person with us while we're trying to come up with a plan of action. Wouldn't you agree?"
He nods his head, and Emma finds herself almost visibly exhaling in relief.
"Then we're settled."
His jaw clenches, and Emma thinks for a moment that he's about to say something profoundly stupid like, "if you hurt my daughter, I'll kill you" but thankfully he holds his tongue and just nods once more.
"Regina," Emma says after a moment. "What about clothes?"
"You're in a skirt and I'm in slack, and we're both in heels that aren't exactly functional for wandering around an island."
"And you'd like me to use the last of my magic reserves to snap us up some new fashions, is that it, dear?" Truly, only Regina can make such a request sound so absolutely idiotic. It's a skill really, Emma muses.
"Well, when you make it sound like that…"
"She does have a way," Gold chuckles as he sweeps in from behind the group in a way that pretty much unsettles everyone. Emma doesn't miss the way Regina's shoulders tighten as her former teacher slides past her.
"There you are," Regina notes, suddenly tense and wary.
"Still here, dearie," he assures her. Then, to Emma, "Perhaps I can help."
"How?" Emma prompts.
"The Queen might not have much of her magic at her disposal, but I don't seem to be likewise challenged. He glances over the two women for a beat. "Functional," he muses. Then, to Regina, "You always had a thing for vests."
His hand twirls in the air, and it's so much like a magician's ridiculous brand of hocus-pocus that Emma almost laughs.
That is until she sees the way the purple and gold sparkles surround Regina, covering her up almost completely only to clear away a moment later. And when they do, she's standing there in tight leather pants and a rust colored vest that happily hugs and lifts her best features. On her feet are boots that are steadier, meant for moving around, even across rocks and sand.
Regina nods her head in approval. "Better."
"He just undressed and redressed you?" Emma says, blinking.
This time, it's Gold and Regina exchanging a look, and Emma's none-too-pleased about it because it's completely at her expense.
"Functional," Regina repeats to Gold. He nods his head and swirls his hands again. The gold and purple surround Emma, and she actually closes her eyes both trying to feel and to not feel her clothes being removed from her.
But it feels like nothing except air moving around her.
And then it's gone and she's in dark breaches and a white shirt.
Hell, even the sleeves are rolled up.
"That'll do," Hook muses, lifting an eyebrow meant to suggest his approval of both of their woman and their new attire.
"Captain," Regina says. "Our anchor."
He bows his head in deference to her, and then sweeps away.
It's at that moment when Snow arrives. "We're here?" she asks, glancing over the new clothes that Regina and Emma are wearing.
"Yeah," Emma nods. "We're going to go in and check things out."
"Is that wise?"
"It'll be fine," Emma assures her, a hand settling over Snow's forearm.
"She taking Hook and Regina with her," David says, and Emma gets the strange feeling that David is almost telling on her. Perhaps if he wasn't her father, this wouldn't annoy her as much as it does, but damn does it.
Snow looks at her daughter carefully, and then looks at Regina and nods.
"You'll be careful?"
"We're just looking around," Emma says gently. "We'll be in and back."
"All right. Regina, can I have a moment?"
"Mary-Margaret," Emma starts because she can think of a thousand things these two can say to each other, and none of them will help a bit here.
Regina holds up a hand. "It's fine."
And then head held up and high like the Queen she is, Regina walks with Snow over to the rail where she's been perched for the last three days.
"They won't throw each other in, right?" Emma asks her father.
"They might," Gold says.
She glares at him. "Not helpful."
"I suppose not. You think you're ready for this, dearie? You remember what I told you about the creature who lurks these sands?"
"Not a song singing merry-maker who just wants to have a good time?"
"No, not that at all, I'm afraid" Gold chuckles. "You'll need to be aware at all times. He can make things around you seem different than they are. He has a way of climbing into your mind and changing things around."
"What does that mean?" David demands.
Gold ignores him, focused only on Emma. "Stay on your toes, and do what you must to protect yourself and your group. Trust your instincts, Miss Swan. The moment you cease doing that, all of you will fall."
"Well that's cheery," she says.
"But also truthful."
"Don't worry," Emma assures them both. "Everything is going to be fine."
She smiles when she says this, tries to square her shoulders and look confident and determined, sure of her own words.
She just wishes to God that she felt the way she sounds.
And she wishes that David would stop looking over at Snow and Regina like he thinks one of them is about to pull a knife.
"I have no intentions of hurting your daughter today," Regina assures her once they reach the familiar rail. She puts a hand on the wood, tightening her fingers around her. Exhaustion is still running deep within her, and the headache that she feels is still pounding away, but is stronger.
She can do this.
"I know," Snow says softly. "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"What then? Us?" She looks almost stricken when she says the last of this, like she's absolutely terrified that yes, this is what Snow wishes to speak to her about. And while she's thankful for Snow having saved her life (twice, well perhaps a bit less the second time), she has no desire to speak of the past with her. She has no wish to speak of their shared pain.
Perhaps not ever.
"It is about Emma," Snow says, "And magic."
Regina tilts her head. "I don't –"
"Someone needs to teach her."
Regina's head snaps back on her neck, sharply enough to make several muscles twinge with just a little bit of discomfort. And suddenly, her head is pounding again, this time not thanks to the torture. "What?"
"She has enough in her to stop someone from stealing her heart and enough to help you deactivate something that didn't have an off button. I don't know much about magic, but I'm guessing that she's powerful?"
Regina nods slowly. "Yes."
"And bad things can happen if she lacks control, right?"
Again, Regina nods.
"She can hurt herself?"
"I don't want that for her."
"So someone needs to teach her."
"Rumple?" Regina says almost weakly, the words sticking in her throat.
"No," Snow says immediately. "No. I know what he did to you."
"I did it to myself," Regina answers, because suddenly she's desperate not to be seen as anyone's victim. Especially not his.
"Perhaps, but you had help."
Regina says nothing, simply stares at Snow.
"I want you to teach her."
"Absolutely not," Regina responds immediately. "I won't have that–"
"You already do. If she'd grown up in our world, she would have tutored with the best sorcerers of our age. Ones that would have taught her control from the first moment she showed magic aptitude. True?"
"But she grew up here, and didn't find magic until she was twenty-nine."
"This is the worst guilt trip ever," Regina growls out. And it's true, but what's even worse is that it's actually working, too.
"Maybe, but it's what I have. She's my daughter, Regina, and whatever you feel or don't feel for me, she's a good person. An actually good person."
"So everyone keeps saying."
"You know it's true."
"Magic corrupts, Snow."
"Then teach her to resist it. Teach her to control it. You know what it feels like to…fall better than anyone."
"Fall," Regina repeats, but says no more.
"Fine. Because my own magic appears to be somewhat maimed thanks to, well…and we might need the assistance to save Henry."
"That's good enough."
"You're a fool to trust me with this, Snow."
"And I suppose I was a fool to save you, too, right?" Snow asks, lifting her chin up and staring her former stepmother right in the eyes. That weird unsettling righteousness shines in her eyes, and it's enough to make Regina's skin itch, enough to make just a little bit of anger rise up in her.
"Does that make you feel better about yourself? Having done it?"
"No. It wasn't about that."
"Then what was it about, Snow? The darkness on your heart? Because it isn't that easy to –"
"It was about knowing that I wasn't ready for us to never again have a chance to make amends," Snow says, offering up a watery smile. "And maybe that's completely selfish, but I guess I still have hope for us."
"It was selfish," Regina whispers, her own eyes watering just a bit as she refuses to dwell on the idea of eventual forgiveness. "I was ready to go."
"We weren't ready for you to," Snow answers, and then moves away, back towards David and Emma, who are both watching with nervous expressions.
She doesn't see the confusion on Regina's face.
Doesn't see the way her chin wobbles, and for a moment her legs turn to jelly like perhaps they're about to give away beneath her once more.
And she doesn't see Regina shake her head like she just can't understand.
It would have been easier for everyone, she thinks.
So much easier.
But apparently even in things like this, Snow and her damned family have to turn everything upside down and inside down.
And now, well now Snow wants her to teach Emma magic.
She should know better.
She should never trust Regina with this, with her daughter.
But she does.
And that just makes no damned sense at all.
Her eyes track over towards the trio that is gathered together, talking softly. She sees Emma lift her head and their gazes meet.
Emma lifts an eyebrow, almost challenging her.
And Regina sighs.
Because she realizes then, in spite of herself and her fears and everything else, that there's no way in hell that she'll Emma Swan to fall as she had.
Simply no way at all.
The little wooden boat that the landing party takes in towards the shore is old, but steady enough according to Hook.
Still, Emma thinks how absolutely wrong Regina looks within it, even in the leather clothing that makes her look many years younger. Both women have put their hair up and back – Regina's piled in a bun atop her head, and Emma's slung behind her in a braid that looks far fancier than it is.
And Hook, well he's almost serious for once.
And Emma finds herself remembering that he has history here.
History that he's not proud of. Well, join the club, she thinks.
"What should we expecting?" she asks softly, once the sand is near.
"Not sure," he admits with a shrug that isn't quite as casual as it's probably meant to be. "It's been a time. But, if things haven't changed much, and honestly there's no reason to expect that they have, we'll have but a few minutes to find ourselves somewhere safe to hide and watch from. There used to be a shore patrol of the Lost Ones."
"The Lost Boys?" Emma prompts.
He nods. "Far less fuzzier than your stories would have you think."
"So I'm learning about all of your fairytales," Emma notes. She glances over at Regina, noticing the way that the older woman is glancing about. "Not a fan of water, Regina?" she queries, then remembers the last three days spent at sea. Regina had never looked exactly pleased to be on the ocean, but nor had she seemed as apprehensive as she does right about now.
"I'm guessing our Queen is not a fan of rickety little boats," Hook chirps, a full smile coming to his lips. He flashes it at Regina, and she rolls her eyes.
"The Captain would be correct," Regina drawls. "How this thing is afloat is beyond me, Hook. Is it enchanted?"
"Only by the hands that built it."
"Mm. Remind me to find a way to enchant it, then. Just to be safe."
He chuckles. "We're just a bit off now. Quiet up a bit."
Emma's almost surprised to see Regina immediately obey the command, like maybe somewhere beneath the Queen is a woman who doesn't completely mind taking direction and not being in charge every now and again.
"When we step on the sand, follow me. I'll lead us away to somewhere where they won't see us," Hook states, his voice much lower now.
"What about the boat?" Emma queries.
"We'll hide it in the bushes." He points ahead. "There. They won't know to be looking for anything so it's unlikely they'll be searching the shrubbery."
"You don't think your Pan friend will know that we're coming?" Regina asks in a tone that is uniquely hers, deep and demanding.
"First, he's certainly no friend of mine, and second, if I'm the two blokes who kidnapped your boy, I'm likely looking for a payday and a quick out."
"Which means I'm probably not about to tell the people I'm handing Henry over to that there might be others coming after him," Emma nods. His words are sound and make good logistical sense. They're what she would do if she were someone who…kidnapped children. She shakes her head.
"Right. Whether that holds up, we can't be sure," Hook finishes, "But I think for now, at least, we should have some element of surprise."
"Until Henry tells them that his mother the Savior is coming for him," Regina informs them, seeming both amused and a bit jealous.
"Followed by his mother the Evil Queen," Emma adds. "Who by the way probably has a bit more of a reputation than I do. You know, curses and all."
Regina tilts her head in acceptance of this.
"So our window might be very short indeed," Hook acknowledges with a chuckle. "But all we need to know is what we're dealing with and then well, as your boy will probably tell them: his mothers will be coming for him."
Emma smiles at this, and though it's a cold one, it's a powerful one.
She looks at Regina, "You feeling up for this?"
"I am," she says as the bottom of the boat scraps against the soft ground of the shore, the front of the little boat surfacing from the water.
"We're going to bring our son home," Emma assures her. And then she reaches out with her hand, wraps it around Regina's and squeezes. It's something that makes the air catch in her throat and she waits for Regina's reaction, but it also absolutely feels like the right thing to do right now.
A moment passes, and then strong fingers slide between hers – for just a second or two – and their hands are laced together.
Like they really are in this together.
Regina squeezes back, and Emma exhales.
"We're here," Hook says softly, eyes on the beach ahead. If he'd seen the moment behind them, he gives no sign of it. He's all business now.
Their hands separate, and they move away from each other.
Emma licks her lips, takes a breath, and then steps out of the boat.
She sees the shadows almost as her boot is sinking into the mud, a sucking sound disappearing into the air. Eyes wide in horror, she watches as each of the shadows becomes the strong formed of a well-armed teenage boy.
She hears Regina curse.
"Hook," she calls out because she needs him to tell her that this isn't happening. This isn't the plan. Apparently, she thinks, there is no window.
His eyes widen and Hook says urgently, his voice rising, "Run. We need to run. Now." He reaches out for the first hand he can get to, his fingers settling over Regina's thin wrist. He pulls, and yanks her towards him.
He extends his hook, then, like he might be able to do the same to Emma, but she knows better. Her eyes lock with Regina's, and she sees fear there.
"Emma," she says, offering her own hand again. But she's too far away.
Emma feels the pain in the back of her head, then. Like molten fire through her skull. Like tiny explosions tearing across each of her nerve endings.
She hears Regina screaming out for her, the sound terrible and frightened and so terribly unlike the woman that she has been at war with, and she thinks she hears someone saying, "We have to go or we're all dead."
After that, there's nothing.
And then, she's the one falling.