She never fantasized about Henry meeting his dad. Ever. Sometimes, in those first few years, she’d fantasize about Neal coming back. Apologizing. Telling her he’d been hit by a car, knocked into a coma and had never given up on her. But never, in all the years since she'd last seen him, has she ever visualized a world where he and Henry were in the same room and sharing the same air.
She cared too much about Henry for that. Hated Neal too much for it too.
She wasn’t prepared for Henry staring up at Neal and Neal looking down at him. Wasn’t prepared for the exact same look of awe they both shared. Wasn’t prepared for the crap that came raining down as soon as Henry realized his dad was alive, not a fireman and right in front of him.
She kind of now understood that look Regina had given her when she’d shown up. And really understood the terse way she’d kicked her out of her house after half a glass of cider.
It was weird understanding Regina Mills.
This new revelation proved to be too much for Henry and he darted out the window before any of them could stop him. Emma shot Neal a challenging glare—daring him to offer to give chase—and followed Henry. Her pants snagged on the rough seal of the window.
Behind her she heard Gold plea for Neal to stay and she faintly hoped he wouldn’t.
The fog was supernaturally thick, cushioning her fall like water. She smacked against it, sinking quickly to the cave floor and more stars crossed in front of her eyes as the impact forced all the air out of her lungs. The scuffed back of boots entered her vision and a hand reached down to blindly pat her face.
David. He’d pushed through the fog to her. He offered a hand she gladly took and he hauled her up. He also never took his eye off the seething monstosity at the center of the fog.
“You okay,” he asked.
She blotted at her temple with her finger and it came away wet with blood. “Been better.”
“Not the best time to betray us all.”
“No,” she said flatly.
Something in her voice forced David to glance back at her in apology. As if he was sorry she’d been betrayed by one of the few people she’d ever considered a friend.
His pity stung almost as bad as Killian’s attack.
“Poor Regina’s been betrayed. Wonder what that’s like?”
Thirty years since she’d last heard that acerbic voice. She wasn’t even surprised she’d missed it. She tried to stand a little taller and came to stand arm to arm by Charming. “Oh please,” she said—attempting to slip back into a costume she hadn’t worn well in years, “you were hardly betrayed. You knew the curse was coming.”
Maleficent stood on the other side of the pit, Mulan and a woozy Aurora stood between them, and fog continued to flow out and away from Maleficent and move thickly across the pit floor.
“Your cursed me into a six-ton dragon!” She floated across the fog, her bottom completely hidden. Almost like—like it was the fog. “You have any idea what that does to a girl’s body image issues?”
“Well, you look fabulous.”
“I’m a zombie Regina.” To illustrate her point Maleficent raised her two boney arms to show off her rotted rib cage and the gleaming white bone of her spine.
“You didn’t hear?” Regina curled her lip up in a half snarl, “Slim’s in.”
Maleficent only had half a set of lips and they twitched instead of curling in a return snarl. “And haven’t you heard. Snide bitches are out.”
The fog rose up and slammed into Regina—sending her smacking into the pit wall and into darkness.
“You’re just like her.”
Henry, like his adoptive mother, used words like weapons, and like Regina, he was damn good with them. The comparison, too apt for comfort, hurt. Sliced right through Emma and pierced something hard and sure inside of her.
She had compared herself to Regina before. Back in the Enchanted Forest they’d both found similarities. Joked about it.
But Regina and Emma had very different opinions of one another compared to Henry's opinion of them. Henry was still deeply wounded by Regina’s actions the year before. The comparison, when uttered by him, was spiteful.
The hurt wasn’t in the words. But Henry’s intent. For the first time ever Henry wanted to hurt her.
She had to brace herself against the fire escape. Had to keep standing and acting like it was all okay when it really wasn’t. And she had to keep acting like Henry hadn't struck as savage and sure a blow as he had.
But he knew. He was Regina’s kid after all. He saw how his words landed and he pushed her even though she was weak. “I want to meet my dad,” he said.
Emma, suddenly very alone and very small, had to oblige.
“Come on your highness. Rise and shine.”
Regina wanted to do neither. She wanted to curl up in these warm, smooth arms and sleep her whole life away.
“You’re being a princess,” murmered a warm voice in her ear.
And now she wanted to thump Emma. The pillow princess cracks were old even when they were new.
“Regina. Please. Wake up.”
Her eyes were closed. She was awake enough to know that. But she could see Emma squatting over her, her broken glasses slipped down her on her nose, her hair pulled back a little too tight, and delicate wrinkles pronounced around her eyes.
The wrong Emma Swan. But her Emma Swan. Alive and well and poking her to get her to wake up.
“You’re gone,” she said, but her lips didn’t move. They didn’t have to. It was all in her head. A whole perfect world shut behind closed lids.
“Yeah. So’s those eyesore airships and the heinously evil version of your mom.”
“How are you here?”
“How are we ever in each other’s heads?”
“But,” she swallowed and it was a real swallow in the real world. It hurt, the bits of her parched throat rubbing against each other. “You can’t…”
“Probably not.” She looked off towards something that flashed and clanged like a battle. “I’m probably just a bit of wish fulfillment. The real Emma rejected you and then you smacked your head and saw me. Or,” she reached down to stroke the locket and fire skittered through Regina. A moan—again in the real world—escaped her lips. “You’re wearing a locket I channeled magic into for ten years and there’s a tiny piece of me sitting in it.”
Emma smiled that perfect bittersweet smile she’d always given Regina. The one that was all the lost years and all the lingering love mashed together. “It’s time to get up Regina. Time to save the world.”
“Will I see you again?”
She leaned down and pressed warm wet lips to Regina’s ear. “Wake up.”
Neal was snide. And he clearly thought Emma had been raising Henry alone for the past ten years. And he clearly was ready to step in and do the exact opposite of what she wanted.
“I’m his dad,” he said, and Emma had to struggle not to roll her eyes or punch him.
She had to be civil.
Had to be polite.
Even though she wanted to rage or run or do anything but stand across from Neal and parent Henry with him.
Henry wanted to meet the guy, and as much as it made Emma’s skin crawl she wasn’t going to deny her son that chance. He deserved to know his birth father. Every kid did.
Neal started towards the fire escape and Emma reached out—snatching his arm. “Don’t break his heart,” she warned.
Neal didn’t hear the hurt that would forever linger in Emma’s voice. He saw his own hurt instead, and glanced at Gold, who was milling about and shooting them furtive looks. He promised he wouldn’t be like Gold. Wouldn’t abandon his son.
“Not like me,” she said.
And finally it hit him. Slipped through all that ego and that Gold-sized chip on his shoulder. Finally, even if for a second, Neal understood just how badly Emma was hurt.
He tried to apologize and Emma stepped away—not ready for platitudes. Not sure if they’d be sincere or not.
He slipped out the window with more grace than Emma had and she took a seat on his couch. It was lumpy and a spring pushed her phone up into the meat of her ass. She reached behind her and pulled it out—checking the recent calls and texts.
Still nothing from Regina. Nothing from David.
If she’d been a naturally anxious woman she might have been worried.
“Expecting a call,” Gold asked.
She ignored him.
“About our deal…”
“He talked,” she said. “You never said anything about him liking what you had to say.”
“I invited him back and he said no.”
“Is it?” He limped over and sat on the table opposite her. “Shouldn't Henry have the luxury of knowing his father?”
“Maybe, but that’s for me, and Regina, to figure out. If Neal doesn’t want to come back I’m not going to push it.”
“I saw the look you gave him Emma.” She rankled at how easily he said her first name. “You care for him. This would give you a chance to rekindle whatever you might have once had.”
“You think it’s funny,” he asked.
“I think you trying to manipulate me is. Don’t presume to know me or him Gold. You’ll only hurt yourself.”
He tapped his cane against the dark wood of the floor and shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn’t dare. But I do know a thing or two about regret Miss Swan.” He leaned in and motioned to her with his cane’s handle. “And if you let him go all that regret? It will eat you alive.”
“You’re being eaten alive!” Charming was panicking.
“I am not!”
“I’m being turned to stone, David. It’s very different.”
“It looks like—“
“I’m well aware,” Regina snapped. And crackled. That was the noise a person made when being turned into stone.
Which was apparently what was happening to her.
On the far side of the pit Mulan was dodging zombie Maleficent’s attacks and Aurora was in some sort of fugue state wrought by terror.
Regina was stuck with a one-eyed prince who panicked at the sight of a curse.
Regina tried to move, but her lower half was numb and the stone was rapidly creeping up her sides. She raised her hands to chest level to ward off the creep a little longer.
“What happened,” she asked. Last thing she remembered was a locket version of another Emma telling her to wake up.
“Maleficent zapped you with her wand and then went after them.”
“Shouldn’t you be helping?”
“Our best bet is having you in the fight.” He jammed the tip of his sword into the pit floor and knelt in front of her. “Is it just a casing?” He tried to pry the stone off and ended up just pinching her thighs.
“No.” She batted at his hands. “It is very much me! Stop that.”
“It’s a curse.”
He looked up—horror washing over his one eye. “She cursed you? I thought—aren’t there ingredients for a curse.”
“The good ones. This is a Witch’s First Curse kind of curse though. Practically the first thing you learn. No ingredients, just a lot of anger.”
“To turn someone into stone.” Charming was still horrified.
“Living stone. They’re well aware of it. Have a gnome in my back yard that’s been like this for years.”
“Regina,” he warned.
“It isn’t that big a deal.”
“Then break out of it.”
She twisted and tried. And it didn’t work because despite it being a very easy curse to cast it wasn’t exactly an easy curse to break out of. It required a lot of goodness on the part of the afflicted. Lots of selfless feelings and copious amounts of altruistic love.
Which was why witches never cast it. Usually they were battling “heroes” and “saviors” and those people had altruism to spare.
“I can’t,” she finally said.
Charming heaved his sword and took a hearty swing at her stone legs. It rattled straight up her bones.
“That’s not helping!”
“We’ve got to get you out!”
He paced away from her and watched the battle across the pit. He was physically antsy and kept running his fingers through his hair and rolling his shoulders.
Regina looked down at her slowly transforming self and tried not to think about how utterly embarrassing it was. Here she was the Evil Queen of fairytales getting turned into a rock by a mostly dead zombie fairy.
If Rumpelstiltskin ever found out she’d never live it down.
“What about Love,” David asked, his eye still on the fight.
Was that a capital "l" she heard in his voice? “Excuse me.”
“Love. That could break the curse.”
She closed her eyes. Of all the…Emma had told her dear daddy about what happened in the woods hadn’t she?
“Yes,” she sighed, “True Love could break the curse. Only mine are out of town.”
David swung back around and stalked towards her—licking his trouty lips like he had a terrible plan.
She reared back as far as she could with her bottom half frozen in place.
“There a reason your lips are coming any where near me?”
He nodded grimly, “I’m going to kiss you.”
It was a case of being in another person’s shoes.
Emma was still not crazy about it.
Chiefly because she was being forced into Regina’s shoes and the woman had monstrously large feet.
Also because her shoes were unequivocally evil. Well…not anymore. But when Emma had shown up out of the blue and embarked on a relationship with Henry Regina had been super evil. Murder people and poison people evil.
Emma, being a little nicer, did not like being able to empathize with that super evil version of Regina.
But watching Henry and Neal climb back into the apartment through the window she very much understood the appeal of cursed apple turnovers and cut brake lines and whatever else Regina would have or did do in that first year.
Henry was happy, and Neal, who Emma harbored a special hatred for, had made him happy.
“You okay,” Emma asked. Feeling especially maternal she stepped forward to run a hand through Henry’s hair, but he evaded her and nodded at his dad.
“Neal said we could go get pizza. He knows the best pizza in the whole city.” There was a lot of pride in the kid's voice. The kind of pride he usually had when talking about her.
Neal shrugged and Emma glanced at Gold, of all people, for support. “Didn’t Gold already get you a hot dog?”
“He should eat pizza,” Gold growled. “We all should. Makes the New York experience authentic.”
She narrowed her eyes at the fink traitor.
“Come on Emma,” Neal said, that pout that used to really work on her going into full effect, “I think it’s okay to spoil the kid today. Don’t you?”
No, she didn’t. The “kid” stowed away in Gold’s car the day after getting suspended from school for punching a girl and recieving a grounding to end all grounding from both his moms. He needed whatever the opposite of spoiling was that also wasn’t child abuse.
Gold dropped his arm down onto Henry’s shoulder, putting her son between him and his son. “Bae’s right Sherriff. Today is an excellent day for spoiling.”
Henry, wisely, didn’t comment.
“Emma,” Neal said her name again. The pout somehow…intensified. It chipped away at her mom resolve almost as insistently as Henry’s talk about betrayal had earlier.
The stupid pout—it had always been her pout. The one he only gave her. He used to joke about how she owned it and she’d always, not so privately, enjoyed that. It had been one thing that was all hers. No one could take it away—no one could take what they had away.
And there he was using it again. Like there wasn’t ten years and a jail sentence between then and that moment in his apartment.
She found herself giving into three generations of peer pressure. Only not because of the grandfather she’d made a deal with, or the son she wanted happy. But because of that father who could still smile at her like she was the only person in the world that mattered.
After all those years…she’d kind of missed it.
“Like hell!” Regina desperately wanted a bottom half not made of stone at that moment. Anything to get away from the incoming Charming.
Those glossy lips were pressed together grimly. “It’s our only plan.”
“Yes, if you’ve been harboring a secret for thirty years that’s going to ruin your marriage. We need True Love’s Kiss David. Your lips, as lovely as the may be, don’t suffice.”
“I’ve got a lot of love to give,” he said very seriously.
“So do puppies. You don’t see them breaking any curses do you?”
He scowled. With his hair in his eye and the dark bruise of stubble on his chin he almost looked menacing. He balled his hand into a fist, the crack of his knuckles just loud enough to be heard over the pitched battle on the other side of the pit.
Then he sighed. “You saved my daughter.” It was grudgingly declared. “And my wife. You didn’t have to but you did.”
She scoffed, “So you love me now?”
“I love anyone who puts my family before themselves. Even—” His eye raked over her. The stone was up to her ribs and it was becoming difficult to breathe. “Even you.”
“That’s not enough.”
“It just has to be love Regina. That’s it.”
“True Love,” she countered.
“Henry woke you. Emma woke Henry. True Love isn’t just what Mary Margaret and I had.”
She was too busy being turned into stone to point out the inappropriate use of past tense.
He came closer. More carefully then before. “I have to believe that True Love is a lot more powerful and lot more flexible then this curse.”
“And if it isn’t?”
He grinned. It was spontaneous and did something to his whole face that made him…almost…attractive. “Then at least only one of us will remember.”
It was the kind of stupid thing Emma would say.
Emma paused in the middle of the sidewalk and shivered violently. The kind of shivering a person did when they saw something brain searingly disgusting. Which…okay she was watching Henry and Neal get along famously and the jealous and bitter and angry parts of her did find that revolting. But not pause mid-step revolting.
“Something the matter,” Gold asked.
“They seem awfully happy.”
Yes, her son did seem happy. Though he’d made a crack about how his slice of pizza was a better parent than she was. Apparently she could take the kid away from Regina but couldn’t get the Regina out of the kid.
“Why don’t you all keep walking,” she muttered, drawing her phone out of her pocket and motioning ahead. “I’m right behind you.”
Gold glanced down at the phone, “Calling anyone in particular?”
She purposely ignored her. Knowing he was Neal’s dad, and had likely given him more than one of his bad habits, she now had a better blueprint for dealing with Gold. Currently he wanted something from her, which meant she had to ignore him to keep him from getting it.
She slowed down and three generations of men she loved and hated continued on. “Hey,” she said to her phone in a voice low enough that they wouldn’t hear her ahead, “I don’t want to sound like I’m getting nervous. But I am getting a little nervous.” Henry stopped to look into a window at a leather bag. Gold stooped over him and Neal glanced back at Emma. She ducked into a doorway. “Everything okay Regina? Because you’re usually much better about calling me back.” She peeked out to watch the guys all head into the shop, Gold holding the door open politely for Henry. “Even my dad’s usually better about answering,” she mumbled.
“Your dad?” Neal, popping up in front of her when she thought he’d gone into the shop, startled her so bad she threw her phone at his face in surprise. It smacked into his nose and he stepped back wide-eyed.
“Jesus,” Emma shouted. She reached down and snatched up her phone, quickly hitting END. “Haven’t you ever heard of privacy?”
“Did you…” Neal was still dazed and rubbing at a lump forming on the bridge of his nose. “Did you throw your phone at me?”
She shoved it into her back pocket. “You startled me.”
“Pretty vicious way of retaliating.”
“Not like you don’t deserve it and worse,” she shot back.
He ducked his head, doing that apologetic pout that was so damned good looking it made her angry. “True. Guess I deserve whatever you throw at me.”
“Including a few punches,” she muttered.
He winced, “I don’t know about that. I seem to remember you have a vicious hook.”
“It’s only improved with age.”
“Like the rest of you,” he grinned flirtatiously.
“One of us had too.”
“Guess I deserved that one too.”
“Definitely.” She jerked her chin in the direction of the store Henry and Gold had disappeared into. “Any idea what they’re looking at?”
“I think our son is trying to guilt his new grandpa into buying him a bag.”
“Kid loves his accessories.”
“Yeah, where they hell he get that from,” Neal asked.
He raised an eyebrow and looked Emma over, noting her distinct lack of accessories.
“His other mom.”
Neal continued to stare—that one eyebrow refusing to come back down.
“You really think an ex-con eighteen year old raised a kid that well adjusted? I gave him up. Regina adopted him, and until about a year ago was the only person in his life he called Mom.”
“Any reason she didn’t come on this field trip?”
She shrugged, “Curses. Witches. Fairies being murdered. The usual.”
David Nolan kissed like his daughter.
Which was maybe the most revolting truth Regina had ever learned in her considerable years in more than one realm. She had never wanted to know how David Nolan’s kissed. But now she knew. That he kissed like his daughter. That he was aggressive and tender all at once and that he—
“Was the tongue necessary,” she sputtered.
David still had her face cupped in his hands, and his wet lips were still centimeters from her own, and his one eye was still gently closed in reverence.
He swallowed—sort of like he was swallowing bile.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” he said—his mouth absolutely full of bile. He spun away to retch and Regina crossed her fully functioning and no longer cursed arms.
“You’re going to be sick? I had your tongue in my mouth. That means I essentially had Snow’s tongue in my mouth.”
She was going to gargle mouth wash until the end of time if they ever made it out of the cave.
David wiped his mouth with his sleeve and, still hunched over, looked over his shoulder at her. “But it worked?”
She waved down at her whole body. “Apparently your love is actually boundless.”
He was still breathless. “I told you. You risked your life to save my family. Sacrificed your life to save Mary Margaret.”
“So you love me?” And not just loved. Truly loved. If he could break a curse that easily his lips were maybe the most powerful magical item in Storybrooke. “Seriously?”
He nodded and stood up straight. “My family’s important to me. So is anyone who feels the same.”
Regina rolled her eyes, “You have an impossibly low threshold for love.”
“Oh honey, we knew that from his choice in wife.”
All the talk about curses and True Love’s Kiss had distracted Regina and Charming both from the battle at hand. They’d apparently missed Aurora being driven into a corner by tiny goblins made of brambles and Mulan being knocked unconscious and wrapped up in thorny vines.
The desiccated Maleficent was now watching the two of them with, what Regina assumed, was amusement. Reading her facial expressions prove difficult when half Maleficent’s face was gone.
“I see you made short work of Aurora and Mulan,” Regina observed.
She shrugged her boney shoulders, “Helps when that one’s afraid of me and the other one is afraid for her. Emotions tend to make things…messy.” The word rolled of Maleficent’s tongue. She was feeling rather proud for a mostly dead fairy trapped in a cave.
Regina squared her shoulders and stepped between Maleficent and Charming. She needed Maleficent focused on her. It was the only way any of them would get out of the cave intact. “You’re awfully proud of yourself.”
“I can afford to be. When you’re a mostly dead woman stuck in a cave there’s not a lot of places to go but up.”
“Or about six feet under,” Regina said with a smile.
Maleficent pursed what was left of her lips, “Really dear? We’re two of the darkest, nastiest and most magnificent practitioners of magic to ever live and you want to exchange idle threats?”
“You say it’s idle, but which one of us is mostly dead after spending thirty years trapped as a dragon?”
“And which one of us is traipsing around in the incorporeal form of her ex-best friend?”
The fog, for emphasis, pulsed around Regina’s legs.
David tried to pick his legs up out of the fog. “This stuff is…you?”
She rolled her eyes, “Well it’s certainly not natural,” and then to Regina, “is it just me or do the princes get stupider every year?”
Aurora made herself known with a helpless moan as a thorn goblin leapt towards her. Mulan still appeared to be unconcious so Charming, being Prince Charming, tried to rush to her aid.
Only to be wrapped in a set of thorny vines of his own.
“Doesn’t help that the princesses get stupider too,” Maleficent mused. The vines tightened around David forcing his chin up and giving Maleficent a better view of his face. “Now correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you Snow White’s prince? What happened? Needed a princess a little younger and dumber?”
David didn’t dignify the question with a verbal response. Just grunted and struggled.
“Like the eye patch though. Very rakish.”
“This was so polite of you Regina. My archnemesis’s child and two Heroes. What better way to get back into the Mistress of Evil thing than the slaughter of a few noble types.”
Maleficent raised her bony arms dramatically and the fog pulsed with evil portent. David grunted again and Mulan hung limply in her bindings and Aurora cried out in concern.
Regina rushed forward, her lower limbs still tingling from the curse, and grabbed Maleficent’s arm. “Let’s not be hasty here dear.”
“You want to protect them?”
“Maybe. Or maybe I want to protect you.” She nodded towards Mulan, “I’m ninety percent sure she’s faking being unconscious, and while the Aurora you knew had a tendency to simper the one I spent two and a half years on a boat with does not.”
The tears stopped immediately.
Maleficent was surprised, looking from the suddenly very serious Aurora and back to Regina. “You’re her friend? Really?”
“And yours,” she insisted.
She leaned in--her breath fetid from the rot, “You stuck me in a cave for thirty years.”
“You didn’t see the haircut I gave Snow White. Trust me. You got the better deal.”
“And them?” The vines tightened. Mulan, no longer pretending to be unconcious, glared at the back of Maleficent’s head. David continued to struggle and hissed when thorns bit through the thick denim of his pants. “What kind of deal did they get?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Maleficent shook her head, “I disagree dear.”
“What matters,” Regina said—raising her voice for emphasis, “Is the deal I’m offering you now.” It was kind of a spur of the moment idea. She was sure Aurora and Mulan would hate it. She waved at Maleficent's body and smiled cordially. “I can reverse that whole ‘mostly dead’ thing.”
Maleficent snorted. Something revolting and dead and possibly once part of her shot out of her nostril. “You couldn’t even bring your farm boy boyfriend back to life. How are you supposed to save a mostly dead fairy?”
The taunt stung—biting into places Regina had worked hard to heal. She briefly tasted the ash of Daniel’s remains on her tongue. Briefly felt all of her inadequacy. She could save fairies and battle gods but she was forever condemned to lose a man she’d once loved.
“Please, continue to taunt,” she drawled, “Here I am offering you a chance to get away from this bad Gollum routine you have going and you’re throwing it in my face.”
“I can get you out Maleficent. And they can help.” She spoke slowly, like Maleficent was a toddler.
She caught that. “How,” she said just as slowly. “Sacrificing a few of their hearts?”
“No,” Regina smiled, “just one of their souls.”
Henry continued to shop and Gold continued to watch over him in a vaguely paternal fashion and Neal stood outside, watching through the window and way more interested in what Emma had to say then in getting to know his brand-spanking new son.
“So his mom—adoptive mom. She’s a fairy tale too?”
Emma was slow to respond, her brain sluggishly trying to figure out how she’d explain who Henry’s mom was without making it sound like one or both of them was evil.
He lightly thumped her arm with the back of his hand, “Emma? Details? Maybe about the woman raising our son for the last ten years?”
He raised both eyebrows, the ‘yes’ not being enough of an explanation for him.
Emma huffed, “Yes, she’s a fairy tale person too. Everyone in the town is apparently.”
Neal stepped, rotating his hands, “Okay I’m gonna need more than that. Because I’m picturing Snow White.”
“That’s my mom.”
“Right,” he smirked.
She slapped his arm hard enough for the back of her hand to sting.
“Okay,” he said laughingly, “Sorry. No mention of your mom. Or the dwarves.”
“Which one is your favorite anyways? Sneezy or Dopey?”
“Every second you talk I regret finding you a little more.”
“Come on Emma, you gotta admit it’s pretty funny.”
“Maybe from the outside. From the inside I’m stuck in a shitty Disney fanfic where monsters from other universes regularly try to murder me.”
“Dementors, centaurs, and cannibalistic blood mages.”
“Yeah. Not fun Neal. Really not fun! And then I finally get back to the real world and find out my ex’s dad used to weave straw into gold.”
He shrugged, “Dad just likes people to be specific about that. Use to rip out people’s tongues and tack them to the door if they called it weaving.”
“And now he’s babysitting our impressionable ten year old son. Great.”
"Not that impressionable," Neal noted, "Kid's smart."
"You've known him for half an hour."
"Yeah," he agreed, "And he's smart."
"Sure as hell not because of either of us."
He snorted. "What was it you said that one foster dad always said?"
"Poster children for birth control."
He bumped her shoulder playfully with his, "That's you and me."
"We're classy," she muttered.
"Classy dwarf," he pointed at Emma with his thumb, "and Trashy dwarf," he pointed at himself. "Which brings us back to which little dwarf is our son's adoptive mom?"
She gave him her levelist, coolest, calmest, no time for anger or panic, gaze. "Evil Queen," she said evenly.
"Which one," he shot back without missing a beat, "The one that turns into a dragon or the one that turns into an old lady and jumps off a cliff being chased by birds."
"Are all your references going to be based on Disney movies?"
"I like the classics."
"I hate you Neal."
"I know." The wry little smirk wasn't there when he said it. Almost like…almost like he was finally getting it.
Aurora straightened herself and lifted her chin bravely. Defiantly in the right context. The fear that had been trembling through her since they'd made the decision to come to Maleficent was being shed--the brave young woman who'd faced down the god Loki and descended into the underworld to save Prince Phillip had finally returned. Standing tall despite her diminutive height.
"Mine," Aurora declared. Her soul in exchange for Maleficent's freedom.
"What? No!" Mulan struggled again. David managed to free one hand and tried to yank the vines away.
"You need a soul right," Aurora asked. "Take mine."
"Regina!" Mulan was furious, and breaking through the vines with the kind of absurd strength usually reserved for mothers pulling cars off their children.
"Mulan," Aurora warned.
"Yes, Mulan," Maleficent said, mimicking Aurora's tone. "If the girl wants to let me consume her soul let her. It's not like it's doing anything useful now." Green fire glinted in Maleficent's eyes and the fog cleared to form a path between her and Aurora.
Regina raised a finger, "No one said anything about consuming."
"How do you expect me to go from mostly dead to totally alive without consuming a princess soul?"
"You share a soul."
Maleficent's whole face wrinkled in disgust. "You want me to share."
"I don't," Mulan growled.
"You should," Regina noted, "If they share a soul then they're bound. One dies. So does the other."
"Leaving me without my revenge," Maleficent muttered.
"Leaving both of you safe. And alive. It's the best offer you're going to get today."
"And this was your plan all along," Maleficent asked.
"No. My plan was for Mulan and David to beat it out of you while I watched from safety and helped if necessary. But as we're all trapped in the miasma that is your lower half and I want to make it out of this cave alive I'm going with a new plan."
"This is a terrible plan," Mulan declared sourly.
"This is what we have," she growled back.
Maleficent tilted her head to the side, "It?"
Maleficent was catching on. "Care to elaborate?"
"I don't know, are you going to stop choking those two?"
She sighed and the vines wrapped around Mulan and David dropped to the ground in two ragged heaps.
"We need your help," she started.
"So you sent these two idiots to beat it out of me?"
Regina ignored her, "Fairies are being murdered and we keep hearing about a war. As it sounds like something that's been going on a few years longer than my curse I thought you might have answers."
"I might." She could be so stupidly cryptic.
Regina huffed, "I'm sorry. I thought you understood we were making a deal here Maleficent. You give us answers and I give you skin."
"And I'm sorry, but your original plan was to, what was it? 'Beat it out of me?' Excuse me if I'm not just hopping at the idea of working with you."
"I'm different now."
"Less cleavage. I've noticed."
Regina crossed her arms over her chest. "I mean I'm…" Everyone leaned forward--curious to see what she'd say. "Less inclined to betray you."
"That's not instilling confidence."
"You have my oath then," Mulan announced. She'd reclaimed her sword and returned it to its sheath. "If you give us help than I will see to it Regina keeps her word."
"Information for freedom?"
"And you have to promise not to kill anyone," David chimed in.
Maleficent tried to protest but between the firm stares of Mulan and David even she wilted.
"Fine, if you get me out of here and make me living than I, Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil, promise to tell you what I know about this stupid fairy war and promise not to kill anyone."
"Ever," Mulan said.
Maleficent rolled her eyes, "Ever."
Regina looked past her old friend to settle her eyes on Aurora. The princess was staring at the back of Maleficent's head, her lips pulled together into a grimace. She was unnervingly serious--even if her stare seemed a little blank.
"Aurora," she spoke her friend's name softly.
Aurora's eyes snapped into focus and settled on her. Aurora was trying to hide the wealth of conflicted emotions and, being a very good princess, was doing a passable job.
"Are you ready," she asked gently.
Her answer was measured and even and it left no doubt that she was one of those Heroes. The capital letter kind. The sort set apart from the rest of them--destined for great victories and great loves and ultimately great tragedies.
"But seriously. How evil are we talking here?"
Emma shrugged. "I don't know. Is there a scale?"
Neal shrugged too, "Well like my dad is supposed to be the Dark One. That's kind of the height of evil."
"He trained her," she supplied. "And then she cursed an entire land into a tiny town in Maine."
"And she was the reason the most famous lovers in Chinese lore were are seperated for eternity."
"But does she torture people in the house and then hang their tongues outside?"
"Not…to my knowledge."
He nodded, like Regina had fallen on an appropriate point on his evil scale. Which. Okay. His scale was probably pretty skewed if his dad was the evilest evil to ever evil.
Emma laughed. Neal, falling onto the same wavelength, laughed too.
"This is kind of ridiculous," she said.
"Right? I mean I'm used to it. I grew up over there. But you. Emma your mom is Snow White."
"She talks to birds."
His eyes widened.
"No I'm serious. She actually can have a whole conversation with birds. And apparently all princesses can?"
"Regina had me use them like carrier pigeons when we were stuck over there. I had to spend an hour in the forest cawing like an idiot."
"So," he was looking at her with a mixture of skepticism and amusement. Sort of like the time she told him she could get away with stealing a cop car if she really wanted too. "You can talk to birds."
"No. That's--okay its not the most normal thing I've heard today. But it could be up there."
"Is it all birds or just some or--"
In the store Gold was haggling with the salewoman. Impressive because Emma was pretty sure the store wasn't the kind that normally haggled. He said something and then handed the bag to a shiny faced Henry who turned and grinned at them through the glass.
Emma smiled back and Neal waved.
"Did you ever think about me," she asked quietly. Surprised at her own need to fill the lull in the conversation.
Neal kept staring through the glass at their son. "All the time."
"When'd you finally stop?"
He sighed and she watched his reflection as he turned to face her. She could feel those eyes of his. Warm and too clever for their own good. "I never did Emma."
Henry shoved the bag he already owned into his new bag and came running out, holding it before him proudly.
Joining one soul to two bodies hurt. It hurt the bodies being bound and it hurt the one doing the binding. Things on the inside seemed to tear, instilling a profound sense of destruction that stole breath and blackened vision.
When it was done Regina found herself on her knees, magic so dark it verged on black, still clouding her vision. She felt a strong hand haul her up by her bicep and sure fingers moved through her hair. For a brief moment it was Emma with broken glasses looking at her with tear welling concern. Then she blinked and it was the Emma she had--her eyes clouded by confusion.
Then it was David. Angry but worried.
"Are you all right," he asked.
She swallowed and wished, deeply, to never have to swallow again. "Yes," she said, and her voice was hoarse. "Aurora?"
"I'm okay," the princess muttered. Her voice thick too.
"Barely," Mulan said, and Regina's visioned cleared enough to catch the daggers she was shooting her.
"It was all we had," she said.
"And now Aurora is bound to…her."
The "her" in question was too enraptured with her own naked form to notice Mulan's anger. Regina had forgotten how perfect Maleficent's hair was. It fell in a shower of golden curls around her shoulders. The horns that used to sprout horrofically from the top of her head were gone in this world, making her look, almost, mortal. But mortal women didn't carry themselves like Maleficent. There was the hint of a god in her--like all the fairies. Something awful and powerful.
She savored her own skin with an orgasmic moan that made David blush. "I forgot how good it felt to have skin."
"Could you remember how good it is to have clothes," Regina asked.
A sculpted eyebrow (how was it sculpted when she was only just back from the dead) rose mockingly. "So besides cursing everyone to be miserable the curse turned you into a prude?"
"No, but poor David only has one eye now. And he's having trouble taking it off all…that."
"I am not," he sputtered.
"You are," Maleficent said, "It's okay. I plan on enjoying looking at all this in a mirror for hours later."
"And now," Regina asked.
Maleficent sighed and snapped. Green and purple smoke whirled around her and when it was gone she was dressed in a a lovely dark gown that would have looked just wonderful as she strode through a royal court cursing anyone who dared gawk at her.
"We live in Maine Maleficent."
"So you need something--" Regina didn't have the energy to explain. She waved her hand and Malecient was suddenly dressed in a slinky black dress and knee high boots.
Maleficent picked at the dress and looked at Regina significantly.
"Oh fine." Another wave and a very tasteful, if chunky, amethyst necklace settle around Maleficent's neck. "Happy?"
"I suppose it will work for now. So," she looked around, "How do we get out of this cave."
"First," Aurora spoke up, still breathless. She clung to Mulan to stay upright, "You tell us about the war. Who are the fairies fighting?"
"Surface first Sleeping Beauty. Then you get your answers."
They were nearly back to Neal's apartment. They'd been walking around SoHo for over a hour and a half and Henry was now dragging his feet. He'd already given Emma his new bag, and as sensitive as she was to parental connections lately, she decided to take that as a win. He hadn't even thought to ask Neal to carry it for him.
But he was still fascinated with Neal. Acting like his every stupid story was new and as interesting as any of the ones Emma had told him.
"I never did."
Neal's admission was running around in Emma's head. Jumping up and down on top of all the other huge chunks of news in her life. Like he was trying to compete with Mary Margaret, Gold, and even Regina for most world shattering news she needed to deal with.
"I never did."
Who--what right did Neal have to say that to her. Acting like he could love her--or just think about her--for the last ten years. Act like he had that choice after abandoning her.
He didn't. He wasn't allowed to. Not after what he'd done. Not after how deeply he'd hurt her.
"I never did."
Like…was he trying to compete? Did he know she had an Evil Queen giving her dopey love eyes every day? Did he get that she was finally being pulled into something…real…or honest or whatever was going on with her and Regina? Was he trying to blow that up?
The sick son of a--
Her phone rattled in her front pocket, causing her to yelp in surprise. Everyone eyed her warily and Neal grinned. "Having fun," he asked.
The urge to shoot him the finger was strong. Instead she waved him off and stepped back to watch him and the others go inside.
She'd glanced at the caller as she pulled her phone out, and kind of wanted a little privacy when she explained to Regina that her definitely never ever in the picture ex was now front-fucking-center.
"Hey? Did you get my message--"
"I saw you called. I've been busy underground. Are you okay?"
Emma raised an eyebrow. "I mean…yes? Should I not be?"
"And why were you underground?"
"We were following a lead." Someone on the other end of the phone snorted loudly. "Killian betrayed us."
"He is a pirate."
"Right. He betrayed us and his boat is gone Emma."
She tensed up, suddenly feeling the need to keep Henry in her sight at all times. She jogged for the door.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying he's coming for Gold. Do with that what you will."
She was saying Gold could be snuffed out of their lives if she just looked the other way. And Emma would have loved a chance, even just a second, to mull over that prospect, because she was pretty damn sure it would only be helpful in the current moment if one of her biggest problems was, you know, dead.
But she didn't get a chance to consider it because as she walked into the building foyer she was unceremoniously shoved into a wall. She heard Neal and Henry cry out. Then she saw Gold's bright look of surprise as Killian Jone's slid the long sharp point of his hook deep into his chest.
"Regina," she panted, "I'll have to call you back."