Snow was talking to her. Asking if she was all right. Snow’s noses was swollen and bleeding from the crash. Her Jeep’s engine spewing steam. It had slammed into Gold’s shop after Snow had hit him with a car.
Regina didn’t have the time or energy to talk to Snow. Or to see who’d been in the car with her and was now stalking towards Gold’s shop. That would mean looking away from the crumpled form on the street.
She staggered towards the body.
A body meant he was somehow less than. That some part of him was gone and only flesh was left behind.
She wouldn’t let that happen. She’d broken worlds and resurrected a queen of darkness. She could bring a man back to life now. She could…she could do anything.
Could anyone in Storybrooke drive?
Emma coughed. Dust, smoke and steam from a 30 year old Jeep Cherokee smashing into a ratty pawn shop had attacked her lungs. It was hard to get a breath—and she was pretty positive she’d never breathe actual clean air again.
The last thing she’d seen was Regina going pale and then Mary Margaret careening onto the scene driving like she was Burt Reynolds. She’d smacked into their murderer and promptly lost control of her monstrous pre-power steering beast.
Now all Emma could see was the steam and smoke and dust. She could hear the tick tick tick of a rapidly cooling engine and a faint cough from where she’d last seen Gold.
Sunlight was filtering through the new drive through. A figure stood sillouhetted in the smoke. Sharp suit and assured posture.
Just like her daughter.
The smoke settled enough for Emma to see Cora ignoring her. She had her hand pressed up to the barrier Emma had created. “Powerful, but sloppy.”
“I get that a lot.”
Cora continued to ignore her.
“How’d you get out?”
A fireball formed in Cora’s hand.
It exploded against the barrier.
From the edge of her vision she spied a gout of flame exploding out from Gold’s shop. She couldn’t feel the heat of it. Part of her mind still processing details of the world around her knew that was because it was magical in nature—suggesting someone was trying to get into the shop.
And Snow was standing in front of her. Dark shadows already forming under her eyes. Red leaking from her nose. Talking.
Blocking Regina’s view of the crumpled form on the street.
A hand, warm and dry, wrapped around her own. There was no magic in Snow’s hand. No unusual heat or deadening chill. It was just flesh pressed against flesh.
“Regina,” the hand tugged on her. “Come on.”
“I—“ she gulped. Swallowed. Refused to take her eyes off the—
“You’re safe. Okay? And I need—we need your help to save Gold.”
She pulled away from the hand—not quite losing contact. “But he…” From a distance the form on the street was so small.
The hand tugged. Was insistent. Snow was insistent. Like she had a right. Like she was good. And honest. And noble. Like she hadn’t just kill—
The figure on the road stirred and that was enough. Regina pushed Snow away and ran.
Yeah, Regina had taught her how to hit like a Mack truck with magic. And yeah, she could rip through space and time if she really needed to. But Emma’s default reaction to a fireball to her face was still her gun.
Guns weren’t about feelings and mumbo bull crap. Guns were aiming down the sight and pulling the trigger.
She had hers out and trained on Cora.
“Not another step,” she barked.
Cora tilted her head like a Terminator. Passionless and terrifying.
A sharp smile curved her thin lips upward. She raised her hand—her wrist curling just like Regina’s did when she performed magic. Emma felt her gun being pulled from her grip. She gritted her teeth and held on tight.
She could just squeeze the trigger. Regina…Regina would expect it and block it. But Cora was a different beast entirely. She hadn’t spent thirty years living here. She probably didn’t even know what a gun was.
She wouldn’t be prepared to stop a bullet.
She exerted pressure, finger pulling back on the trigger. Cora’s smile shifted into a sneer and then—
Mary Margaret burst through the rubble. “Stop!”
She jumped between Emma and Cora and turned to Cora first. “Don’t hurt her,” and back to Emma, “I brought her.”
“You…you brought her?”
That pleased little look on Cora’s face confirmed it.
“Why,” Emma hissed.
“Because we need someone with magic—“
“We have Regina—“
“Who can’t help.” She looked back to Cora, her features stilling into hard steel, “Cora can.”
“If you want Rumpel to survive I’m the only choice you have…dear.”
She glanced back at Mary Margaret. Who seemed…she seemed okay. As cautious and angry and vicious and un-Mary Margaret as she was in that moment she still seemed like the woman who called herself Emma’s mom.
Emma’s gut told her Mary Margaret wasn’t being controlled or brain washed—that she really did think Cora was Gold’s best chance.
And Regina wasn’t there to say otherwise.
“It’s all right,” Gold said with a weak cough. “It’s not like she can do any more damage.”
Cora looked at him and it was the first time Emma could recall seeing something besides contempt or condescension on her face.
She looked—if it was possible—sad.
It was Henry.
As soon as she had her hand on his shoulder she knew it. He was bony and too skinny—with hard wiry muscle that urged her to tell him to eat. But she remembered those arms wrapped around her—remembered every ounce of him the way only a mother could. He was a part of her.
And he was alive. She could feel that too. Life thrumming through his veins.
She turned him over and studied his face—noting every change and imperfection. She could see a scar creeping up from his collar and his beard was longer than she remembered. And he was paler—with nearly black circles under violently angry eyes.
“Henry?” Her voice cracked. She could hear it crack. Could watch their moment on the street as if half a dozen yards away She was there in the moment and completely beyond it at once.
It was too mu—he was alive.
Something in him, almost imperceptible, seemed to soften. “Mom?”
Emma couldn’t see much of what was happening on the street—even with holes in the wall. There was a terrifying silence out there that she didn’t—couldn’t—focus on. Not with what was happening in the room.
Gold was laid out flat on his back and Cora sat on the edge of the bed beside him. She had her hand out hovering over him—her eyes closed. She was doing that thing her daughter did. Seeing the magic.
It made Emma itch and she scratched at the skin beneath her locket out of habit.
“How bad is it,” Mary Margaret asked. She was standing beside Emma and fighting the urge to wring her hands together.
“He’s dying,” Cora said softly.
Gold coughed, “She didn’t need you to tell her that.”
A hand that usually pulled unwilling hearts from chests lay gently against Gold’s sallow cheek. “Oh Rumpel, I’m so sorry.”
It was the sincerity that made Emma shiver. She was very comfortable believing Cora was completely incapable of sincerity. Or grief. Or really anything bordering on human emotion.
“Jealous,” Gold asked.
Cora tilted her head.
“That drunken pirate’s accomplished what you never could.”
“I never wanted you dead, Rumpel.”
“Didn’t you?” He surprised Emma with the ferocity of the question.
Cora shook her head, “You confuse me with Regina. I—“ She touched him again. It was an intimate gesture between two people who rarely knew the closeness. “I took my heart from my own chest just to stop loving you.”
That was a helluva way to break up with someone. Emma looked away—uncomfortable with the scene she was witnessing.
“How could I kill someone I love so dearly.”
“Lack of a heart helps,” Mary Margaret opined.
They both ignored her. Cora’s hand had drifted down to hover just above the wound. “There is…I do know one way to save you.”
Gold was perfectly still. His eyes dark and focused on Cora. “Regina refused.”
“I’m not my daughter.”
The hand hovering over Gold’s wound began to glow. He winced and stared down at the wound—watching as it slowly, excruciatingly slowly, began to knit itself back together.
“No, you’re not,” he grunted.
The light intensified. Shifted from the bright purple Emma associated with Regina and her mother into an iridescent gold. Scales—dirty and shining—sprouted up across Gold’s skin.
“I’m not as strong,” Cora declared.
Emma couldn't really understand much of magic but she knew something was wrong.
“Stop.” Gold's hand grabbed Cora's wrist, but the light show continued.
“It’s too late," she was gritting her teeth in concentration.
Gold tried to pull back.
Emma and Mary Margaret tried to move forward.
“Not another step,” Cora warned.
Mary Margaret was stricken. “I trusted you.”
Emma wasn’t as stunned. Instead she was carefully pulling her gun free from its holster again. “Pretty light show for a murder,” she mused aloud.
“It isn’t murder.” Cora was calm.
Gold cried out, “It’s worse.”
“What could be worse than death?”
“She’s taking his magic,” Neal announced. He’d arrived through that hole in the wall and he watched the glow of gold light awe.
Gold uttering that name was enough to earn Neal's whole focus. He stared at his dad with that petulant anger he was really good at.
“That’s what she’s doing right? Taking your magic?”
Her knees falling onto the pavement hurt. Glass and pebbles biting into skin. Pinpricks ripping skin pulled taunt over tendon and bone.
He was alive. Somehow alive and staring up at her—long locks of hair in his eyes.
She reached out. Caught herself. Curled her fingers away from his cheek. “I lost you.”
“I know.” His words were even.
She let her hand drop to his chest where her fingers could feel the heated beating of his heart. A heart she’d felt in her own hand. Cold and still. More like a carcass from a butcher than any piece of the life she’d known.
It was strong.
There was darkness in that smile. A visage she knew and love twisted into something malevolent and wrong.
And not Henry.
Suddenly his fingers were digging through her chest and wrapping around her heart and squeezing so tightly she could barely breathe.
“The dead are dead and gone, your majesty.”
Her eyes dropped from his cold and cruel ones to stare at his arm. His hand. His wrist. They were buried inside of her. Foreign and awful.
He gave a vicious tug, not removing her heart but pulling her close enough to see the faint grooves in his teeth.
“Your precious son is nothing but ash.”
“Please,” Gold begged. “Stop her.”
The scales on his skin were slowly fading as long tendrils of gold light moved their way across his body and towards the wound.
Cora was using his magic—his and hers both—to heal him. Sapping away his powers to let him live.
“She’s saving your life,” Mary Margaret declared.
“You have no idea what she’s doing,” he sneered. “No—“
“She’s breaking the curse,” Neal insisted.
“It isn’t a curse,” he said.
“Neal thinks so,” Emma said. Cora was still focused on her task, but Mary Margaret and Gold both looked to Emma. “He considers it a curse.”
Gold glared at her—his eyes shifting from gold to black and back again. Neal was standing in the room but this moment—it was just the two of them.
She’d heard all about Neal’s dad. Always oblique references that made her skin crawl and almost made her glad to have no parents of her own. Neal’s father abandoned him.
Her parents, she used to think, they’d at least known from the get go that raising her wasn’t their thing. But Neal’s dad, he’d held on to him. Tried to raise him. Then he’d turned into a monster. Made any dreams the two of them had had into a nightmare.
“Here’s the thing, the way I see it you need it to be a curse, because these people,” she knelt down so they were eye level, “they forgive a lot when it’s curses. Magic making them do it kind of makes the blame disappear."
Behind her Mary Margaret gasped or sighed. It was short and quick and barely audible.
"So if it isn’t a curse—if Cora really is stealing a part of you to save you—“ Emma leaned in close—close enough to smell the sickly sweet odor wafting off his wound— “Than what kind of monster does that make you?”
Gold's eyes had lost their magic. Still dark and watchful, but watery too.
No one spoke. The hum of Cora’s magic filled up the room. Outside Emma could hear a breeze through trees and distant cars and the long off drone of waves on the beach.
It was so quiet.
“They’ve stopped,” Neal said softly.
Mary Margaret looked towards the hole in the wall, “Did she win?”
“I don’t—“ Emma couldn’t finish her sentence. Awful coldness was rapidly spreading over her—through her. Starting in her chest. Seizing up her heart.
“I don’t—“ she tried again.
darkness clouded her vision.
“You’re—“ she had trouble speaking.
It wasn’t pain. Regina knew what a hand actually felt like ripping through sinew and bone to reach into a chest. That had been excruciating—tearing into parts of her she wasn’t sure she could ever revisit.
This was a sensation so much more rooted in magic. It was cold and terrible and seemed to leach all the energy out of her. She found a point of brightness far away inside of her and reached for it—feeding on the energy to stay conscious.
He sneered, “Can’t figure it out?”
She couldn't. He had Henry's face and for a brief moment he'd had his mannerisms. The magic snaking through her was familiar but she couldn't bring to mind a single face to associate with it.
All she could ask was, "How?"
How had he survived? How did he know of that world? How was he here?
He pulled her closer, she was supported only by his wrist, like a puppet--his hand still buried deep inside of her. "I slipped through the cracks you created with your little spells." His fingers walked across her cheek. "Just sauntered in," he said with too much relish.
"From," she swallowed, blinked and tried to stay awake, "From there?"
He grinned. "No."
"You're…you're from another world."
"Now that Evil Queen is catching on."
"Then why him? Why take that face?"
His hand dropped down to her shoulder and he shoved her back, his other hand and her heart pulling free from her body. She tried to stagger towards him but he stopped her with a thought--her entire body seizing up on his whim.
He held her heart up. It glowed brighter than it should have. There was a dark spot at its center, like a malignant cancer, but it was haloed in warm red light that reflected vibrantly in the fake Henry's eyes. Eyes that seemed to twinkle with malevolent mirth. "Because I was fond of him."
She surged up, sucking in deep breaths of air and clawing at her chest. As incongruous as it was her chest felt empty. As though something--her heart--had been pulled away.
It hadn't. She could hear her blood pounding in her ears and feel it pulsing through her thumbs. Nothing had been ripped away. But the empty ache was still there. Dull and distant.
Neal and Mary Margaret were both holding her, each one grasping an arm and trying to keep her steady. Mary Margaret had her other hand pressed down onto Emma's chest. "Are you okay?"
Neal had his other hand in her hair--supporting her head. "You fainted for a second."
They didn't share a look a look with each other but they both looked dubious.
She tried to stand and they helped her up. "Seriously. I'm fine." Her hand briefly touched her locket but she quickly snatched it away before anyone could realize what she'd been doing. "I just--I think I need to find Regina."
Neal was confused, "The Evil Queen?"
"It's too quiet out there. Whatever's happened she might need help."
Mary Margaret nodded towards the bed. "What about that?"
Gold and Cora were both completely silent--eyes closed, his body in repose and her's still like a statue beside him. The light that had been leaching the gold from his system had slowed down. Motes of dust that fell between them seemed to stop in place. It was as if time itself was stopping there on the bed.
Neal shoved his hands into his pocket and appraised the bed, "She's saving him right?"
Emma crept just close enough to know she didn't want to get any closer. It was hard to breathe when she stood too close. The air thinner--as if up on a mountain. She felt tired just standing close. "She's using their magic to save his life."
He nodded, "Back in New York Papa tried to say he'd do anything to have me back," he shrugged, "Guess now he's putting his money where his mouth is."
Mary Margaret came closer too--closer than Emma could get. She scanned the bed. "Without magic what happens to the Dark One?"
That close Emma could see the movement of the magic. It was slow. So slow. If she hadn't felt that constant pull she would have just thought it was a trick of the eye. But the light show--the dust--all of it was moving.
Neal shrugged again, "No magic. No Dark One. No dagger." He jerked his chin in Cora's direction, "She's doing what kings and even gods couldn't do."
Regina supposedly had the power of a god.
She'd said saving Gold was impossible.
It was actually easier to breathe now that her heart was out of her chest. It was still foreign feeling. She could feel his fingers on her heart even though he was a yard away. But it didn't have her on her knees like she'd been. She could stand and take deep breaths--sucking in dust and cool sea air.
He held the heart up to appraise it. "Henry used to always talk about you. We were these two lost boys, all alone. No parents. But he'd tell these endless and boring stories about how brave and good his dead mother was."
Regina refused to speak.
He stabbed his thumb into her heart--pressing at the darkness--and Regina staggered.
"But this isn't the heart of a good woman is it?" He moved his thumb around. The dull ache spread through her chest. "A good woman doesn't do what you did."
"You what?" He surged forward. Close enough that she could hear the faint thump of her heart beating in his hand.
"I did it to save my son. And--" Emma. "Whatever I destroyed wasn't really lost. It never existed."
"And what about all those travelers from other lands? Hmm?"
"Existed. Until you carved it out of the universe and forced this new one into its place. Did you really think you could snuff out a world and there be no consequences?"
"Is that what you are? My consequences?"
He stared down at her heart. Her heartbeat thumping in her ears like a loud drum. She could never remember it being so loud. So lively. It thrummed in his fist.
"Not today. I'm merely a harbinger."
He grinned and squeezed again. Hard enough to still her heart's movement. Her vision fogged as the blood in her body slowed. She lurched forward onto her hands and knees and tried to breathe. Tried to force her body to move. To work.
"Fate," he whispered in her ear, "karma. It's all working against you and this nasty little utopia you've all built. I may not be here for you specifically your majesty, but I'm the first in a long line of those who want nothing more--" he squeezed tighter--darkness filled her vision, "than to see this town turned to ash."
"Well, than let's hope your buddies like to monologue as much as you do."
Emma didn't wait for the creep to look at her. She shot a wave of magic at him just like Regina'd taught her way back in the Enchanted Forest. He flew backwards, bouncing across the asphalt like he was made of rubber--his body cartwheeling grotesquely before he smacked loudly against a building. The object that had been in his hand, meanwhile, popped like a cork up into the air. Emma stepped back, eyed it and then reached out and caught it smoothly.
She grinned down at a worn-out looking Regina. "Could have been all state softball if I'd bothered to show up for practice."
Regina sighed, "In the future could you perhaps not show off when it's my heart on the line?"
That was a helluva dramatic and romantic thing to sa--wait--Emma looked down at the object and then had to fight every impulse she had not to drop it. "This is--"
She held it away from her body. "Why is it not," she motioned at Regina's chest, "in you."
"He took it out. Now," Regina was unusually pale, "could you stop holding it so tight?"
"Right." She took a breath and chanced a look down at the object in her hand.
She'd expected gore. Bits of flesh clinging to the heart. Maybe some blood.
But apparently magic sanitized hearts ripped straight out of chests. It looked more like a toy than and integral part of human being. It was translucent and gave off a soothing warm glow and was pleasantly smooth like the back of Emma's phone.
But it also fluttered between her fingers.
It was alive.
Bound to the woman still panting at Emma's feet.
Carefully she cupped the heart in both her hands--suddenly nervous she might squeeze too tight and do something accidentally monstrous.
Regina watched her wordlessly.
"You have a whole vault of these," Emma asked. The stories were running in circles in her head. Regina's own idle threats replaying over and over again.
"I do." Regina was haggard looking, but even keeled.
It was a steady beat. A constant thumping that went up both her arms. "How does it feel? With it on the outside?"
"Gray." A muscle in Regina's cheek twitched. "It's hard," she hissed, "It's hard to feel."
Regina reached up and tugged on Emma's sleeve, pulling her down onto her knees across from her. She looked down at her own heart--kind of like a parent staring at their kid. "It's like…" she wrapped her hands around Emma's--closing Emma's hands over the fluttering muscle-- "Everything's muted." Which didn't make sense because she was looking at Emma with a helluva lot of affection.
A broken smile that did something to Emma's insides. "Almost everything."
A brick falling from of a building behind them ended the mo--the weirdness.
Emma swallowed again and tried not to think about how easy it had been just then to fall into--
"So I guess we should put this back in you?"
Regina stared out her, cocking her head to the side and creating another long quiet moment. "It never occurred to you did it?"
"Keeping my heart."
She looked back down at it. The soft glow. The translucent veins. Distantly she wondered how it work. How Regina or Cora or Mary Margaret could have kept on going without it there. How did their blood flow or their pulse race?
Cora had ripped hers out so it wouldn't beat in her ears when she kissed a lover or held her child. Super perfunctory.
Emma couldn't wrap her head around it. Seriously contemplating a heart or lack there of was creating a haze of white noise in Emma's head.
Regina's thumb grazed her hand and cleared the haze.
She let Regina guide her hands up to Regina's chest.
The top buttons of Regina's silk blouse had come undone in the fight and Emma could see the dark shadow of her bra. She swallowed--pushing more odd and uncomfortable thoughts out of mind.
"How do I--how do we do this?"
She got a half smile. "Carefully."
Regina pressed Emma's hand, and her heart, firmly against her chest. And then just…just kept pressing.
One moment a warm heart fluttered in Emma's hand and cool skin pressed against her knuckles and the next the warmth had spread over her entire hand and Regina was gasping and sagging.
Emma wanted to panic. She was panicking. Only Regina still had her hand on her wrist and her touch was just soothing enough to keep Emma's very loud screams all on the inside of her brain.
Regina started to speak. Stopped. Took a breath. And then another. She leaned forward to rest her forehead on Emma's shoulder. "Relax," she said.
Her thumb rubbed small circles on the inside of Emma's wrist.
"I didn't--did I hurt you?"
Regina shook her head.
Emma kind of knew Regina was right. She could still feel her heart. It was now drumming out a strong beat against Emma's hand.
And she could feel other things too. All the incongruous bits inside of Regina.
It wasn't right.
It didn't make sense.
Flinging people around with her mind and transporting herself through space and time made hundreds of times more sense than having her hand buried in a living body.
"Just relax," Regina intoned, her voice soft and maternal. "It's okay."
It didn't feel okay and Emma was struck by the sudden urge to cry. She had to blink back stupid tears that didn't make sense and focus on anything but the sensation of being in Regina.
"I don't know how--I don't want to hurt you," she said, and she gave the tiniest of tugs to help Regina to understand.
That thumb kept up with the tiny concentric circles and Regina sat up and smiled again. "You're not."
Like she could.
She couldn't see her hand. Everything past the wrist was gone. No way to fully understand where she ended and Regina began.
"Emma, it's okay."
She didn't want to breathe. Didn't want to--Regina pulled and Emma let her hand go limp. They both sighed in relief as she drew Emma's hand out of her chest.
She stared at the space where it had been for a just a second, but then had to look down. Had to inspect her hand. Everything she'd seen and she still expected there to be blood. For the places where her fingers touched to be sticky. That was what happened. In the real world that was what happened.
Regina's fingers on her cheek grounded her. And a second later Regina was covering her palm with her own.
"It's okay," she said again.
"Holding a heart isn't easy."
She sniffed--sniffled. Had she actually cried? "Ya think?"
"And I have to admit, you're the only person I've ever met that wasn't tempted. Even a little."
"Hearts belong in bodies." She looked away. "Not in my hand or your vault or Cora's purse."
"Do you? How can--how can you be okay with having that kind of power over someone?"
Regina didn't have an answer. She stared at Emma like Emma had hung the god-damned moon and her quick, steady breaths filled Emma's ears and her affection and sheer emotion flooded Emma through the stupid locket.
But she didn't have an answer.
Far behind them more bricks tumbled onto the street and Mary Margaret emerged from the rubble of Gold's shop. Regina turned to watch Mary Margaret over her shoulder. The fragile smile pulled into a frown.
"She did it," Mary Margaret announced. She was breathless from her quick jog down the street. "Cora saved him."
Her smile never reached her eyes. Instead it was a carefully calculated guise. Mary Margaret couldn't feel real joy anymore. Not without her heart. Every attempt she'd made at genuine emotion since was just theater. A show put on for everyone who didn't know better.
Emma knew better now.
Mary Margaret looked down to where Emma and Regina were still touching. Regina had laced her fingers with Emma's. Her other hand, that one with the graying bandage, was squeezed into a fist.
Mary Margaret frowned. Caught herself, and forced an even faker smile. "We all made it. We survived."
"Yes," Regina mused, her voice suddenly silky and dangerous. "We all did." She directed their attention to the crumpled form of their murderer.
"Who is he?"
"I don't know." Regina's voice dropped an octave. Emma's locket turned cold. "But I will."
Emma vetoed Regina's plan to rouse their mystery murderer and interrogate him immediately. When David returned, thunderstruck at the condition of Main Street, he was charged with taking the guy down to Cora's cell in the hospital. Emma then left Regina to take Gold and Cora to the police station.
Regina declined the offer for a ride. Seeing her mother looking content and magic-less was bad enough. Gold's obnoxiously pointed looks at Regina's hand were worse.
She went back to the hole in Gold's shop, her mother and Gold out of sight and now out of mind.
Snow and "Neal" were examining Snow's car and trying to figure out how to extricate it.
"I really think I can just back it up," Snow insisted.
"You took out a support beam with your old lady driving. You back it out and the whole building comes down."
"Is that so bad?"
"I…" Neal looked helplessly to Regina. "You want to explain to her why destroying buildings is wrong?"
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair.
"It's not like anyone in this town will miss this shop." Snow kicked a brick with the side of her foot.
"Yeah but what about all this stuff? I really doubt this is all my dad's."
"Regina can magic it outside. Right?"
"I'm not your moving service," she said sourly. "But in the interest of keeping peace--" She waved her hand and the Jeep appeared out on the street. Neal and Snow stared at the gaping hole, their eyes crawled up to look at the cracks that splintered out from it and grew larger as the the supports failed.
With one last pull of magic from deep inside of her Regina waved again and repaired the wall and devastated support beam.
It was impressive enough for Snow and the newest idiot in town. And hopefully they'd been so busy gaping at her magic to notice how flagged she was.
Neal stepped closer to inspect the newly repaired wall. "Guess I forgot magic can be good sometimes."
"Yes, I'm a regular Galinda the Good," Regina drawled.
Snow glanced at her with too much shared amusement for comfort and Regina crossed her arms, sandwiching her bandaged hand between her arm and torso. She hoped it was a coincidence or just something to do with her heart being attacked, but it was now clumsy.
Snow nodded to herself. "I think we should celebrate."
"My ability to move a car?"
"No. We caught a murderer. We survived. Everyone survived. We should celebrate."
"Doubt Papa's gonna want to celebrate."
"He's alive," Snow snapped, "That's more than enough. We are--" She nodded again. "It's official." She clapped her hands together trying to build up enthusiasm. "All of us are celebrating."
"I don't think--" Regina and Neal both started. Then Regina blushed and Neal looked away rubbing at the back of his neck.
"We are," Snow declared again, and Regina decided her extremely long and taxing day was the reason she didn't argue further.
As parties went, Emma had had better. Granny was running low on everything but beer so they were all eating crackers and chips from the gas station while Granny tried to make enough hot food to sop up the beer.
Which tasted just a little watered down.
Granny's even glare dared her to suggest it out loud.
Emma had had enough drama for one day and contented herself with drinking as much of the beer as possible. It was cold at least, and bland enough that it didn't hit her empty stomach too hard.
But it was three pints before she felt even remotely loose.
"Keep drinking that way and you're going to be like that guy over there," Neal joked. 'That guy' was twirling his hips for a gaggle of enraptured dwarves and nuns.
"That's Leroy," she blinked and shook her head, "Or Grumpy or whatever."
"A dwarf?" He cracked a grin and craned his neck to get a better look at him. "Where's his pickaxe?"
"In the mine."
He laughed. "This town, man."
"Yeah. Fairy tales and family. Super great."
Their son was sitting in a both, giant glass of milk between his hands, and in deep conversation with Regina. He looked surly and the way Regina glanced at her and Neal told her exactly what they were discussing.
"His--Regina seems…less than evil."
When Neal and Henry weren't looking Regina chanced a smile. Delicate and intimate. Emma looked away. "You met her mom. And your dad. I figure she's doing pretty good for being raised by them."
"My dad--he raised her? Really?"
"Or taught her. The way I understand it he's kind of a father figure."
Neal blanched. "But not--"
"Not actually." She frowned. "At least I don't think so. And for everyone's sake hope so." She didn't want to see what kind of complex Henry would have if it turned out his mom was also his aunt. Emma clapped Neal on the shoulder and leaned in. "You could ask her."
He laughed again. "Or I could ask my dad."
"That would require him to stop sulking and come to the party." After chatting with Gold and Cora at the station and getting multiple assurances that they wouldn't try to murder each other or anyone else in town she'd let them go. Gold had returned to his mansion.
Disturbingly, he'd invited Cora and she'd joined him.
"It's weird, you know, thinking of him without magic."
"Thinking of him at all right? I seem to recall you kind of hating him ten years ago--and running from him like it was your job this morning."
He shrugged, "And I seem to remember you never wanting to meet your birth parents."
They were at the other end of the bar. David's arm was casually slung over Mary Margaret's shoulder and she was laughing stiffly while trying to look casual.
She sidestepped the land mine Neal had happily set in front of her. "So now that Gold's safe--now that we're all safe--what are you going to do?"
He leaned over the bar to refill his glass. "I'm sticking around." She caught a quick glimpse of skin as his shirt and hoodie rode up and looked away.
"That's new," she said.
Neal didn't argue the point. "I figure I got a lot to make up for. And Henry…I want to be there for him."
"Guess my dad will need help to. How's he gonna get anyone to do stuff if he can't just torture them with magic?"
"That wasn't who I meant."
He squinted at her. Drank half his beer and set it on the counter. Sucked on his lower lip. "Maybe we should…you want to talk about this in private?"
The way he said it unleashed a flood of butterflies in Emma's stomach and she gulped down more of her beer to try and drown them. "Sure." It sounded like a squeak and she cringed.
As much as she hated herself for it Regina still tracked Emma's departure with Neal. Watched the way Emma rubbed her hands on her pants and Neal shoved his hands into his coat pockets and the way they both looked around the room to see who was watching.
"Do you think they're making up," Henry asked.
God, she hoped not. "They probably have a lot to discuss," she mused.
"Like why she didn't tell him about me?"
More like why Neal left Emma so she couldn't tell him about Henry in the first place. But Regina wasn't about to ruin Henry's image of his father. She'd tried that with Emma and had hurt her own relationship with Henry more. With Neal…with Neal she was going to force herself to be content and trust in his weak-willed nature.
"Or what he plans to do now," she said
"Move to Storybrooke." She arched an eyebrow and Henry wilted. "He could move here. Right?"
"He could." She watched him carefully, "Would you want him to?"
He chewed on his lip. A bad habit he had when thinking too hard.
She reached out with her good hand and ruffled his hair. "You know, today was a long day. And I think, whatever happens, Neal will still be here tomorrow."
"Do you like him," he asked suddenly.
She settled back onto the bench, "Why?"
"Because," Henry swallowed and twisted his glass around in his hands like Emma did when she was nervous. "He's my dad and--"
"You don't want me cursing people during Thanksgiving?"
He blushed but nodded.
She was being chastised by her pre-teen son. Obliquely, thankfully. The whole "party" wouldn't know that he'd just asked her not to kill people at the next family gathering. She grabbed her beer with her bandaged hand. Her fingers were rigid and difficult to control, but they managed to wrap around the glass and she brought it to her lips for a long sip.
How did a woman tell her son that she'd had a two year redemption tour and wasn't the same woman she'd been? How did she explain to him that just that morning she'd saved a life and resurrected an old foe when it would have been just as easy to kill her.
How did she explain to him that she'd changed?
Instead of leading her to the bed and breakfast Neal guided Emma to the alley behind the diner.
It smelled like rancid fat from the grease trap.
"This is nice. Very memorable."
"I figured taking you up to my room would send the wrong kind of message."
She motioned to herself, "Oh to me? Or everybody else? Because here's the thing Neal, serious talks in alleys that smell like a McDonald's dumpster? Kind of sends me a message."
"See, I knew you were gonna be mad."
"Honestly I wasn't. Then you decided we should have a heart to heart by thirty years of Granny's french fry fat."
"Fine. We'll go to the--"
"But is the park even necessary? Because I can kind of pick up what you're thinking from the smell."
"Oh my god. Emma it isn't that bad."
It really wasn't. "What's that?" She took a big dramatic whiff. "Is it…oh, it's the chicken nuggets Granny fried in 1985."
He sighed again. Ruffled his hair and screwed up his face. "I'm sorry. Okay?"
"For everything. For taking you out here, for leaving you ten years ago, for not knowing about Henry, for having my dad for a dad--"
Emma rolled her eyes.
"What do you want man? I'm trying to apologize!"
The thing was…
Okay, ninety percent of the time Emma knew what she wanted. When she'd come to Storybrooke she'd wanted to leave as soon as possible. Then she'd wanted to get to know her son. Then save him. Then get to know her family.
She'd given herself clear goals. Even most of what she'd done with Regina had been a part of her plan. Rehabilitate Storybrooke's Evil Queen.
But now. Now she had all these options. Choices she hadn't really been offered in over a year. Maybe longer.
And she had Neal. Right there in front of her! Her one in a million. The guy that had kind of ruined her for other guys. Back at the bar that afternoon he'd even joked that they were fate.
She didn't know what she wanted because in spite of everything Neal had done to her she still kind of wanted him.
She had to look away because she was pretty sure she was going to embarrass herself if she kept staring at him.
But he got the message. Out the side of her eye she could see him relax. Could hear the quiet sigh. "Emma," he started.
She heard him come closer, his shoes scuffing across the cement.
"Emma I--I'm engaged. Tamara and I--"
"I know. I mean, that's why you never came looking for me right? You found her?"
"No--yes. It's complicated. Whatever I felt--feel for you is complicated."
If Emma had been twelve again she would have taken the opportunity to run away. But she was an adult, a sheriff, and was nearly thirty because she'd worked had at surviving. So she turned around to face him. She wanted him to lay it on the table. She needed him to. If they were gonna stick their relationship in a coffin she had to watch him hammer in the nails.
"I called her before the party. She's coming to--to help me figure stuff out."
"Handy that you can just bus your support group in."
"Yeah, not all of us can teleport," he joked. "Sorry. That wasn't--" He stopped talking. Inside people were drinking and she could very faintly hear an argument about what music to play. "The magic thing for you is new right?"
"If I could have done it when I was a teenager I don't think Henry would have been born in a prison."
Inside someone cued up "We Are Family" to a myriad of cheers and groans. Neal and Emma looked at each other at the same time and burst into easy laughter. She slumped back against the wall of the diner taking some of the pressure off her feet.
"Welcome to Storybrooke."
"That's probably an unironic musical choice isn't it."
"A hundred percent unironic."
"Man, it's like living at Disney Land."
"Only with random crazy murderers and no rides."
"I wanted to take you there."
"You wanted to take me to Tallahassee too, but here we are in Maine."
"You could get there yourself."
"Would it be the same?"
He shook his head, "After August I don't think it can be."
Stupid August and his stupid selfishness. She should have shoved him into a wood chipper when she first met him.
Neal tapped her shoulder with his fist. Like a five year old being forced to make up on the playground. "We okay Emma?"
Probably not. She didn't know how she was ever gonna get to okay with him. But they were at least on the same page now. So she nodded. "We're okay."
"Good." And they were so not okay that he didn't catch the lie. "Good. You want to head back in?"
"Nah. I think I'm pretty sure they're gonna conga line soon. I'll wait till the next song."
Neal left and Emma looked up at the night sky. It hadn't even been twenty-four hours since Regina had taken her up to her roof and shown her two worlds in one. She squinted, wondering if she could see that other sky from the alley behind Granny's.
But she couldn't. There was just a dark sky muted by lights.
When David hit the replay button and tried to pull the Mother Superior into a dance Regina knew it was time to go. She said her goodbyes, which amounted to glaring at Granny, smiling apologetically to a weeping Belle being consoled by Red in a corner and enduring hugs from Snow and David.
Neal settled for a firm handshake. "I was gonna walk Henry back to his mom's place," he said, and Regina had to ball her hand up into a fist to keep from turning him into a six-foot sub the whole party could share.
"Call me," she asked Henry, and he nodded, promising her while never taking his eyes off his new father.
They went out the front door.
So she went out the back.
She was fidgeting with her keys in her pocket, jangling them against the silk lining and plotting how to deal with Maleficent when she got home.
Emma was at the other end of the alley, the moonlight haloed her hair in a cool blue glow and stole all the warmth out of her skin tone giving her a slightly ghoulish appearance.
"Your father was trying to start a nun conga line so…"
Emma smiled, "I told Neal there'd be a conga line."
"Hopefully not a successful one."
"We can only pray."
She jangled her keys again and took a bashful step forward. "Are you staying much longer?"
Emma glanced at the door to the diner. "I kind of don't even want to go back in."
"Probably don't need to. Your parents are busy and Henry's gone. Neal's taking him back to your apartment."
"You can," she sighed and took another step, "walk me home?"
In the moonlight, with the harsh green area lamp casting its sickly glow from the other end of the alley, it was hard to read Emma. Her face was distorted by the bad lighting and heavy shadows.
She looked nightmarish. Haunting.
"After today?" After Neal.
"That--I'm not--you told me last night that you couldn't. This isn't me trying to ignore that. This is just me…wanting to spend time with someone I like."
Emma smiled, but it didn't do much to make her easier to read. "Yeah I guess all your friends are out of town huh?"
"Maleficent's back at my house, but she's not really good for peaceful walks. She'd rather be cursing babies and practicing her cutting remarks."
"Can't wait to meet her."
"Snow will deny it, but I do think you'd get along. You remind me a lot of her."
Emma raised an eyebrow, "For my ability to turn into a dragon?"
"For how you can tell me the truth. You and Maleficent are always honest--even when it hurts."
Emma stepped back, officially out of the alley way, and headed towards Regina's. Silently Regina followed. They turned early, wordlessly detouring towards the beach. The water was as black as the sky. Endless darkness stretching out past the cove Storybrooke was nestled in.
"You know yesterday Neal was just this," Emma rotated her hands around in front of herself like she was creating a fireball, "this thing. He wasn't real. And then today he's Gold's son and he's walking Henry home and putting him to bed."
Regina suspected this little speech was more for Emma than herself.
"I've blow off a lot of people because of him. I told you I couldn't start anything with you because of him."
"You know, I guess I had this stupid dream he'd been taken away and one day he'd find me and we could just pick up where we'd left off. Like the last ten years were just this little detour on our way to Tallahassee."
"But he's engaged--"
"And he knew where I was. The whole time he knew who I was and he just--just let it all happen. Because of fate."
"I'm sorry." It came out before she could catch herself.
Emma glanced at her, "The curse. That was fate too wasn't it?"
"I thought you didn't believe in fate? I seem to remember you once told me it was just an excuse for people who did bad things."
"I don't know. I don't want to believe in it, but when the father of your child sends you to prison for a year because of it," she laughed shakily, "it kind of changes your perspective."
"I liked your perspective."
Emma rolled her eyes, "You liked some other version of me that lived in a cage or cave or something."
"And she--I like you Emma. Whatever she was you're the person I stopped from being a tree."
"That wasn't just wishing I was her?"
"We may lie, but magic can't."
Emma stopped walking. "So what do you think then? Should I tell fate to go fuck itself?"
"You wouldn't be you otherwise."
Emma nodded, slipped her hand around Regina's waist and pulled her close. In their respective shoes Emma was only an inch or two taller. She didn't loom so much as she consumed the space around Regina. Their breasts touched. Their thighs touched. Their lockets echoed heartbeats loud in their ears.
Emma's hand pulled her closer, her fingers pressing into the small of Regina's back.
Close enough now that moonlight and street lamps didn't matter. Emma was all shadows and muted colors but perfectly clear too. Regina knew from longing looks what color Emma's lips were. And how gold her hair would be in any other light.
"What are you doing," she asked, already knowing the answer.
Emma looked from Regina's mouth to her eyes, her own question then asked and answer. Then she smiled. Murmured.
"Giving fate the finger."
She pressed her lips to Regina's.
For that eternity her bandaged hand didn't bother her.