The first time she is engulfed by purple mist, she throws back her head and laughs, surrounded by her victory and their loss and her anger.
The second time, she stands there watching them drive away, her son and the only mother he'll remember, and she smiles through the haze, through the tears that she fights to hold back, as they fade into the distance.
When the smoke clears, they are gone and she is alone in a crowd of mourners, each reveling in their own loss – the loss of a friend, a child, a grandson, a lover, a nice house, a comfortable life. Belle and Bae (because in this context, he is Bae and not Neal – Rumple's son, not Henry's father) cling to one another, Rumple's death filling the space between them.
She almost feels for Bae, losing the father he'd only just forgiven and the son he'd only just met in the same day, but her own grief leaves no room for compassion and she thinks that maybe she'll feel sorry for him another day. But not today.
Charming holds his wife close to him, neither saying much, both looking at the forest that now surrounds them. Regina doesn't need to look around to know where they are. The air smells different, less like car exhaust and more like magic, and the weight of it feels heavier in her lungs and on her shoulders.
"Regina," Snow steps forward after several moments, "I'm sorry."
She nods in acknowledgement but stares straight ahead at the trees that used to be a road that used to lead to home. She should offer her own apologies and her own condolences – Snow has lost a child every bit as much as she had – but she can't and she won't because she did what she had to do to save them and she isn't sorry for that. Because Henry is safe and Henry is happy and in the end, that was all that ever mattered anyway. Henry Henry Henry.
"Thank you," she says instead, and it occurs to her that this is the first apology she's accepted from Snow White. She almost laughs because they're back in the Enchanted Forest where it all started and the apology is half a century too late and Snow's regret and her sorrow and her pain aren't satisfying at all, not in the way she had wanted them to be, once upon a time.
"Emma and Henry?"
"Will be fine. They are together."
It doesn't escape either of them that in years prior, she had gone to extremes to prevent that very outcome, baking a sleeping curse into a turnover for fear of losing her son.
"But they won't remember?"
"No. They won't."
She turns her head away from the road and looks at the woman next to her, finally seeing more Snow than Mary Margaret. "They will have a good life. Emma will have new memories, ones of Henry – his first steps, his first words, the first time he was sent to the principles office for skipping class to hang out at that death-trap castle of his. She won't remember giving him up; it'll be like it never happened."
She pauses for a moment. "His memories will be largely unaltered. The people will change, of course – it will be Emma instead of me, other faces in other roles – but the events of his life, the things that have happened to him, won't be drastically different."
"You gave her your memories."
She prickles for a moment, defensive. "They aren't all bad. They're –"
"Regina." A hand on her elbow. "I know."
"It was the best I could give them."
Snow nods and they fall silent, listening to the dwarves argue about where to go and what to do and whether it will be worse to live without electricity or indoor plumbing.
"Why did you do it?"
She doesn't answer, so Snow continues.
"They could have remembered. We all did."
It sounds like a statement of fact and not an accusation and when she looks at Snow she sees someone as tired and sad as she feels and she thinks that, for all of their baggage and all of their history, here and now they are both mothers who have lost children, and Regina owes her the truth.
"Yes. If I hadn't given them memories, maybe they could have remembered us. But I know my son and we both know Emma – what do you think would have happened if they'd crossed the line and we disappeared?"
It seems to dawn on Snow. "They would look for us."
"More than that, they'd find us." Regina pauses for a minute, waiting to roll her eyes at Snow's 'family always finds each other' bit, but it didn't come. "They'd find us and then what? The curse was designed so that I had to give up what I love most in order to break it. Who knows what would happen if they trounced in here with 'Operation Python'? It could destroy all of us, and them too."
There is much that she tells Snow: about the curse, about the consequences of seeing Henry again, about Emma's role as the Savior. She tells her that she gave them fake memories to save them, to save the Enchanted Forest, to save everything. She says that the fake memories will insulate them, protect them, keep them safe.
What she doesn't tell her is that the fake memories were to insulate her, too. If they had kept their knowledge of Storybrooke, of her, and they hadn't tried to find her, if they'd just gone on with their lives, the pain would have destroyed her in ways that losing them to a curse could not.
It is selfish, maybe, but she is selfish, and ripping apart her own curse didn't change that.
She is who she's always been.
Even in the face of her redemption, she keeps a piece for herself, guards her heart, "Love is weakness" chanting in her head over and over and over again. She is her mother's daughter.
But she is also Henry's mother, keeping him safe, giving him and Emma a happy life with each other (a life which, in another world, she could have been a part of), and saving the town and the people in it who she's grudgingly grown to care about, in her own way. Today her love was her strength. And maybe it's enough to be just Regina again, even here in the land where the Evil Queen was made.
She thinks that maybe when the worst of her grief has passed, if it ever passes, she will be proud of the person she has become and of the choices she made in the end, proud that he fought her own darkness and won.
"Still, you gave her a good life, a happy ending. You didn't have to do that. You gave Henry one, of course, he's your son, but Emma, she -"
"She deserves one."
Snow looks at her and smiles and Regina shifts, uncomfortable, and looks straight ahead. "Thank you, Regina."
A pause. It is probably time to move on, to let Snow and Charming return to their castle and to figure out what to do with her life now that she isn't living it for Henry or for vengeance, but for herself. But she stays rooted to her spot, staring out into where they were only minutes before like maybe they would somehow return and she'd see that pile-of-junk that Emma calls a car making its way through the woods and back towards her with Henry waving from the front seat. She isn't ready to say goodbye. Not yet.
Snow grabs her elbow again.
"The curse said you had to give up what you love most?"
"I believe I've covered that. Yes."
"Which was Henry."
"Regina, the curse didn't say that he had to stay away. Just that you had to give him up, to say goodbye."
Regina doesn't say anything.
"If he comes back to you, if they come back home, you'll still have given him up. That won't have changed." A pause. "We could get our family back."
"So maybe there's hope."
Regina wants to roll her eyes at Snow's never-ending optimism. She wants to tell her that she's wrong and that there isn't hope, not here and not now and not anymore. She wants to laugh at the absurdity of it all. But she doesn't roll her eyes and she doesn't scoff and she doesn't laugh because maybe, just this once, Snow might be right.
Slowly, she smiles.
"Maybe there is."