Regina knew it was far too risky to drive through town in her signature Benz, and she didn't fancy dying without dignity in a car. No, if she were to die, it would be facing her accusers. It would be upfront and direct. She would be standing up with what little honor she had left. She checked her rear-view mirror often. Nothing followed but dust and mist.
She had never given much thought to how she would die. In her glory days, she was so consumed with hatred, revenge, and power that she never once considered the possibility that she might, one day, cease to draw breath. Once the Curse had been enacted, time stopped moving altogether. She was, for all intents and purposes, immortal. So what need was there to contemplate death?
But now? Regina was very mortal, and very vulnerable. She had so many enemies and exactly zero allies. Battle strategy had been part of her schooling in her youth, and she was taught to identify a fight in which no victory could be found. She was taught to know when to back down, when the losses would be far greater than the gains. This was one such fight; only, there was no withdrawing. There was no opportunity to let them win this one, whilst she planned for the next. She was barreling headlong into a defeat.
She pulled her car to the side of the road on the outskirts of town. She would have to walk the rest of the way, but her first priority was to go to the mansion. She had to find Henry. She had to know he was safe. The rest would come later.
If she was lucky, she could slip through the undoubted chaos that was most certainly taking place. With confusion, reunions, and the general haphazardness of fairy tale common folk, Regina doubted that they would be paying much attention to her. Besides, it was her town. She had learned all of its secrets in her twenty-eight years of residency. She knew every path, every alley, so concealment would not be an issue.
Regina wrapped her scarf around her face, pulling up her hood. With luck, it would cover her enough to get her to the mansion. A bitter chill befitting her mood blanketed the town, and she dug her hands deep into her pockets, setting off at a brisk pace.
Emma watched the black Mercedes disappear into the trees, weak sunlight filtering through the dirt that was kicked up. She was gripping one of the porch's support posts with impressive strength, and the tips of her fingers were all white. The blonde shivered suddenly, with genuine and real cold.
"What are you doing, Swan?" she muttered to herself. "What just happened?" She swallowed thickly, her mouth completely dry. It rapidly came to her attention how simply awful she felt. Whatever curse thingy had been over her, it kept her blind to the deterioration of her body. Her stomach groaned with hunger while her throat thirsted for water. Exhaustion stole over her, and Emma felt her body sag with all-around weakness.
She turned and went back into the cabin, grabbing one of the few remaining bottles of vitamin water, chugging it without pausing for breath. The bottle clattered to the ground, and she partially staggered over to the mantle, staring at the smoldering embers.
Regina told her to stay. Regina, supposedly her True Love. She shook her head, almost wishing for the fuzzy haze that the sleeping curse thing had left. Now, all she had was clarity in her brain, and a glaring issue: the brunette seemed to think that she was going off to her death.
Emma squeezed her eyes shut, groaning. "What have I gotten myself into?" Regina said stay, but that's all that she had been doing. She had been staying in the damned cabin, swimming in guilt, puke, magical insanity, and bad alcohol. She missed people, real food, and proper showers. More importantly, she missed Henry. Besides, Regina said she knew Emma would follow. Wasn't that her cryptic way of telling her to come after her?
Only, there was one more problem: Emma was still a wanted criminal. Then again, supposedly none of the people of Storybrooke were the ones she had come to know in the last year anymore. She swallowed nervously. What if they forgave her for her crimes simply due to their own hatred for Regina? Maybe they would even be happy she had attacked the brunette.
A sick feeling settled in her stomach. Nothing about that was right, and the very idea that it might actually apply made Emma's blood run cold. What if they really did hurt her? What if they actually meant to kill Regina?
"I'm saying, that the idea and practice of justice differs drastically between our worlds." Regina's words echoed in the blonde's mind. She read Henry's book. She knew of the brunette's crimes, of her betrayals. In fact, her own past was the result of one such wrongdoing. Was it evil? Absolutely. But, was it worthy of murder?
Emma shook her head again. "You're the sheriff, aren't you, Swan?" It was her job, after all. And she was more than the sheriff; she was supposed to be the Savior. If Regina was in peril, it was her duty to save her. Justice might be different in the other world, but all of these people were in this world, and she was going to hold them to all the rules that applied.
Emma backed away from the fireplace, picking up her leather jacket, holstering her pistol to her belt, and pulling out her keys. "Don't do anything too stupid." She snorted at Regina's request, remembering a movie she had seen late one night. She didn't remember much of it, but one quote had stuck firmly in her head: "Shepherd Book used to tell me, 'If you can't do somethin' smart... do somethin' right.'"
Regina didn't see many people during her travel; though, she was avoiding the main center of the town and houses. From what she glimpsed, most people were wandering around in confusion, some heading off in a very purposeful way, others embracing each other in reunion. She felt a strange pang in her chest. There wasn't anyone for her greet from the old world. No one she loved the way these people loved each other. She shook the thought from her head. There were more important things to think of.
Other than the smattering of citizens she saw, her journey was quiet and uneventful. She thought she saw a few eyes glance her way, but none lingered. On her approach to Mifflin Street, a great noise grew louder as she drew closer. She heard men and women yelling and shouting. Clearly a mob, just as she had predicted.
Regina felt a stone settle in her stomach. They came to the mansion for her. She wasn't there, but Henry... Her pace quickened. The fierce, angry, and vengeful were unpredictable and apt to do anything to get what they wanted, but her son was not a bargaining piece.
She briefly thought about approaching the mob head-on, but that would be foolish. She would leave herself too open to harm before getting to address the masses. Tactics mattered. She decided that she would sneak through to her yard, entering her house from the back. She'd be able to show herself without having to pass through a gauntlet of potentially-violent people. It wasn't perfect, but it was as good a plan as any.
Regina was never averse to doing things herself, and getting her hands dirty never seemed to bother her; however, the woman wasn't exactly used to climbing fences. It was ungraceful to say the least, but she got over the tall planks of wood nonetheless. The cacophony from the front was ungodly, and she wondered why they hadn't broken down her door yet.
There were really only two logical reasons. The first being that they were angry, but still scared of her. They would voice their displeasure, but Gods forbid they actually act on it. The only other reason would be that someone was keeping them at bay. But only just.
Her key slid into the lock on the back door, and she slipped in silently. She did a quick sweep of the first floor for Henry, but did not find him. All of her instincts said he was out front. She pulled down her hood and scarf, straightening her hair and schooling her expression. It was time for the people to meet their Queen once more.
She reached for the doorknob, and she noticed her hand was trembling. This moment wasn't what she imagined, not that she put much thought into it. However, she always pictured herself more as the woman she was when she cast the Curse. But in the past twenty-four hours, Regina found she was just tired. Tired of the games. She was tired of grudges and hatred. Tired of the weights hanging around her neck, and she was tired of the way the Gods seemed to damn her at every corner. And so, her hand shook.
The cool brass of the knob steadied her fingers, the shouts and protests from outside growing too loud. She turned the handle, the familiar heft of the door swinging open with unwelcome ease. A quiet stole over the dozens of familiar faces staring at the brunette. She looked stoic and impassive, but lacking the usual cruelness the people were used to seeing there.
She stepped out over the threshold, no retreat waiting for her. She looked to her left, staring directly at Snow White, whose lips were parted in surprise. Her shepherd-prince was close by, glaring deeply at the woman he hated.
"Snow," Regina acknowledged frostily.
"Regina..." The young princess seemed at a loss for words.
"Henry. Where is he?" she furtively enquired.
"Safe," the younger brunette stated.
Regina's eyes narrowed. "What exactly qualifies as 'safe'?"
"Granny and Ruby are looking after him." Snow's eyes glanced at the crowd. "He needed to be away from this. It's not safe-"
"Death to the queen!" someone shouted from the crowd, and the silence was broken. People cheered for the man, and others echoed his sentiments. Many yelled out threats, called for justice, or an execution. Several members of the mob threw small stones, but Regina didn't flinch. She didn't snarl, or present her power and authority. She didn't even utter a single word.
But Snow did, as she always seemed to. She strode forward to stand at the top of the porch steps, holding up her hands, Charming hovering close by. "Stop! Stop this right now!"
"Why? There's justice that needs doing!" another voice shouted.
"Yeah! Kill the bitch!" someone else spat out. Regina continued to remain tacit.
"Not like this!" Snow demanded. "I can see the anger in your eyes. I can feel it in my heart. I know what burns there, in all of you! But we aren't barbarians," she implored.
A face everyone knew emerged from the crowd, his mouth twisted in an unpleasant snarl. Dr Whale stalked up to the slight brunette, towering over her, but his eyes fixed murderously upon Regina's. "How could you ask for patience from us? Do you see what she's done to us? What she sentenced us to?"
The doctor turned around, facing the restless group and pointing at the Queen. "This woman! This woman here! She has betrayed us all! She doomed us to misery. She took away our very selves, lording over us in her vile victory. But no more. Now is our chance! Her curse is broken, and she has no allies!"
Charming stepped up to Whale, matching his demeanor. "You have no authority here," he growled. "You are going to back down. Now."
Whale sneered turning to face the prince. "She will die. She's the reason we're here in the first place," he bit out. "She should be punished."
Charming stood his ground, fingering the badge at his hip. "You're not the one who does the punishing, Doctor."
Whale smirked, looking as though he might stand down, but his desire for vengeance was too strong. He lunged forward, pushing the prince into his Snow White, the pair tumbling down in a clumsy tangle of limbs. The doctor made for Regina, his hands firmly gripping her shoulders as he pushed her against the house.
The brunette's breath caught in her throat, the man's fingers closing around her slender neck. Her mind locked up, and suddenly she was trapped in her office. Blazing emerald eyes stared unblinkingly at her, and pale hands wrapped around her throat. Regina let out a strangled cry when Whale's fingers squeezed.
Gasps, shouts, and cheers erupted from the mob at first; however, another strange silence stole over the crowd while the Charmings were nearly to their feet again. Whale noticed nothing until he felt a strong hand roughly bunching up the collar on the back of his shirt. The hand forcefully jerked backward, ringing the fabric harshly across his own neck. He stumbled backward, clutching his throat, coughing. He looked up at his assailant and saw Emma Swan staring menacingly at him. Regina was on the ground, massaging her neck.
The blonde was standing protectively before Regina, her fists balled, eyes focused sharply on the doctor. "Don't you touch her," she ground out in a tone so threatening, she saw fear flicker across his sweaty face.
"E-Emma?" the blonde heard. She looked to her left, seeing two familiar faces, looking more foreign than she remembered. Mary Margaret Blanchard and David Nolan were staring at her with roiling mixtures of emotions that made something in her stomach clench tightly.
She had the briefest urge to go to them. Her parents. The people she had been searching for her whole life. Only, there was still an asshole leading a mob that she had to deal with. She swallowed, returning her attention to her opponent.
"Ah, the Savior. Timely. Didn't want to let me finish what you started?" he said, a greasy grin sliding over his face. "Go on. Finish her. She's Evil."
"No," Emma said.
Whale rolled his eyes. "You people! Always so obsessed with doing things the right way! She didn't! The bitch deserves to die!" He lunged again, thinking he could move faster than the Savior. Without thinking, she pulled out her pistol, slocking him across the face with the barrel.
His head whipped to the side with sickening speed, and a deep, jagged gash opened along his cheek. He dropped to the ground, clutching his face, blood pouring from between his fingers. More gasps rose from the crowd.
"Fucking traitor," Whale grunted out. "She's protecting the Evil Queen," he managed to bark at the throng. Unfortunately for Emma, he still had sympathizers among them.
"She's betrayed us!"
"She's been corrupted by the Queen's magic!"
Other murmurs of agreement broke out, the mob growing restless once more. Charming walked to the top of the steps again, facing down the people, but he was simply one man. They were many. He and Snow attempted to calm them down again.
Emma helped Regina up, the brunette's eyes a swirl of fear and relief. "I thought I told you not to do anything too stupid," the brunette croaked.
Emma's face wrinkled. "I have to get you out of here."
"No," Regina tried to protest. "I have to do this..."
The blonde shook her head. "Getting publicly murdered by that smarmy asshole isn't...whatever you thought you needed to do."
"Didn't seem to bother you when you came at me, dear."
Emma scowled darkly, but she glanced over her shoulder. David and Mary Margaret's efforts were not bearing any fruit. She clenched her jaw, making a snap decision. "I'm getting you out of here," she reiterated.
Regina glared back, and then her eyes darted over the mob. Hostile was an understatement, and Whale was close by on the ground, still spewing blood from his face. She had foolishly thought she would have been able to peacefully surrender. Who was she kidding? They wanted blood in a vicious, immediate way. She looked back at Emma and nodded her head once.
The blonde pulled out her pistol again, the tip still sticky with the doctor's blood. "Sorry, but I gotta be a little rough to make this work." She gripped Regina's upper arm in her free hand, holding up the revolver. She fired two shots into the air.
The effect was immediate. Screams were heard, some of the people already edging away, looking to flee. She kept the pistol raised, advancing on the crowd, pulling the Queen along with her. "She's coming with me, and none of you are laying a finger on her!" Emma shouted. "Anyone who wants to visit the good doctor for a bullet wound, feel free to make your move," she warned, moving through the crowd, the people parting around her.
"If you get us killed, Miss Swan, I will spend every moment of my afterlife making yours the most miserable one any mortal has ever known," the brunette hissed.
"Bitch at me when we're dead. C'mon, we're almost through." Emma gave her "hostage" another tug.
"And if they follow?" she discreetly retorted.
"I still have three bullets left."
"And roughly forty of them. Truly ingenious, dear."
The pair broke through the crowd, hurrying down the street. Emma half-jogged, appearing to be dragging the Queen against her will. Both glanced frequently over their shoulders. All eyes were on them, but none seemed to be chasing them down.
Emma grinned at that sight, leaning in to whisper to Regina, "Yep, it was ingenious. None of them are willing to die to chase you down. Not even one."
"Where are we going?" She looked back at the mob jeering at their backs.
"Back to the cabin," the sheriff deadpanned.
"What? Is that even safe?"
"It's all I've got. Unless you have a place?" She glanced at the other woman.
Regina bit her lip, thinking of her vault. It would be more comfortable, but they would be at a greater risk of discovery. The cabin was tucked away, most people not knowing of its existence. It made sense, but only temporarily. They would need a place for a long-term wait if it came to that. If anything, the little cabin would prove a decent hideout for planning their next move. She met the Savior's eyes and nodded once in affirmation.
"Good. C'mon, this way." Emma let go of Regina's arm and took her hand, her other one still holding the gun. She guided them down a side street, and then cut across some of the properties.
"Where are you taking me to, Miss Swan?" the brunette huffed, stumbling over someone's hideous garden gnome.
"I parked my car closer," Emma responded, not looking at her companion.
"If you think I'm getting in that deathtrap of yours, you've seriously-"
"Listen, Regina," the blonde said, pulling the older woman closer to her. She looked around cautiously to make sure no one was there. "We shouldn't be stopping right now." Her eyes blazed into Regina's, and her voice was a rough whisper. "I have no idea why I came 'round to save your ass, but I did. I parked closer, which means we'll get to safety sooner. I don't care what you think about my car, but you're gonna sit your royal ass in it whether you like it or not. Got it?"
Regina sucked on her teeth for a moment, but the Savior was right. Taking the time to walk to the outskirts of town to get to the Benz would put them in a position to potentially come across hostile townsfolk. "Fine," she said curtly, gesturing for the blonde to continue leading the way.
Emma safely led them to her Bug, and they climbed in silently. Regina, of course, had to wrinkle her nose in distaste, but the sheriff could only roll her eyes in response. The engine gurgled to life, and she slammed it into gear, dropping the clutch. The car groaned for a moment, then shot forward. The brunette found herself clutching to anything she could reasonably hold onto.
Emma drove very aggressively, to the point where Regina was certain they would die in that appalling car. However, the sheriff was surprisingly agile behind the wheel, only slowing up when they exited the town proper. She pulled over across from the Benz when they came up on it. "Need anything from your car before we head out?"
"Yes." The brunette got out and walked briskly to her own vehicle, opening up the passenger-side door. When she emerged, she was holding two things: her purse, and Stuffles. She wordlessly slid back into the seat next to the blonde.
Regina winced at every pothole they hit, and she was certain that the nasty clunking sounds had to be parts falling off of the vehicle. The only benefit to Emma's driving was that the cabin came into view much sooner, but she wasn't sure if she should feel relieved or defeated. She settled on both.
The heel of Emma's boots scraped against the gravel when she walked up to the cabin, the brunette trailing behind her. Her footfalls seemed heavier, and she felt a tightness settling in her chest. She paused, her foot on the top step of the porch, when she didn't hear Regina behind her. She turned around to see the brunette, all stiff, hard lines, and dark clothes, back to the cabin, staring out across the partially frozen lake.
"You okay?" Emma ventured softly.
The brunette sighed, her head tilting downward. She turned to face the blonde, looking up at her with sadness in her eyes. "It just wasn't supposed to go this way."
Emma shrugged a little. "Does it ever?"
"You and I would know, wouldn't we?" She stepped forward, stopping at the bottom of the porch steps.
"I guess, huh? So...what happens now?"
"We plan. For anything. Any eventuality. We must be prepared."
"Okay. That's a good plan and all, but we've had one shitstorm of a day. I don't think either of us can do much now anyway, so we should rest up a bit. Regain some of our strength."
"Exactly how long do you think we're going to be here for, Emma?"
The blonde shrugged again. "We'll find out, won't we? So... Are you gonna stay the night?"
Regina stepped up to Emma's level, looking into her olive eyes. They were shy and uncertain, hoping that the brunette had more answers. One of those nervous, crooked smiles crossed her pale lips, and she fidgeted - as she always seemed to - waiting for a response.
The Queen leaned in, giving the Savior a petal-soft kiss. "Yes," she whispered against the blonde's lips. She moved away, leaving a breathless sheriff in her wake. Regina entered the cabin, leaving the door ajar behind her, waiting, finally knowing that the one she wanted was going to follow. The sound of leather boots crossing the threshold reached her ears, and she turned, hoping against all hope that it was supposed to go this way.
Well...that's the end of this story. I know that I left it open-ended, and I did that on purpose. For those of you who have not heard, there /will/ be a sequel. I do not know when I'm going to start it, but it will happen.
When I set out to write this fic, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought it would be something cute, fluffy, and maybe 12 chapters total. What I got was...something completely different. I found myself refining my craft, exploring the depths of my characters, and finding confidence in myself, thanks to all of you. I never imagined I would receive this much support and attention. Did you know that I'm being read in 80+ countries across the world? I couldn't be more proud of myself. I have a lot of difficulties finishing a project after I've started it, and there were a few times when I was tempted to walk away from this. I didn't, because I got so much encouragement from all of my readers. Telling me how much you love my writing, and how you're dying for the next update.
Thank you. All of you. Thank you to those who left reviews urging me to continue, and thank you to those who told me what you thought needed work. Thank you to my beautiful beta, Jasmine. I love you so much, and you've helped me become a better writer as well.
In conclusion, I'm not done with this. There will be times when I will come back and re-write sections. It's far from perfect, but I can say that I came to an end. I had such a hard time finishing this chapter. I was afraid to come to the end of it, but simultaneously thrilled to get there. It's been surprisingly emotional for me, and I wasn't sure I /could/ write the finale. Is it perfect? Hell no. But I can fix things later. I want to hear your thoughts, spark discussions about the sequel, ask me about my writing process...anything. Please, I urge you to contact me. Feel free to message me on Tumblr at Writers-Dilemma. tumblr. com