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There's a road we must travel.

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Before in ‘Your presence still lingers here’:

Arriving to the echo caves it was revealed that only one person with the ability to do Magic could enter. Quick thinking and action on Emma’s part left Tinker Bell and Regina on the outside of the cave, while the rest of the group went in search of the Sextant that will have the ability to bring them home.

 ‘I’ll get her back safe…’

Hazel emotion-filled eyes, so confusing, found hers and reassuringly squeezed, together with the fingers enveloping hers.

‘I…’

‘She’s going to be ok, Regina. You wouldn’t think I’d let anything happen to my daughter now, would you?’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Snow?’

The woman merely giggled while she let go, her stance and the fierceness in her eyes every bit the woman who had taken over the kingdom.

‘I’m not stupid, Regina. Do you think really think I wouldn’t figure out what Pixie Dust does?’

And with those words and a tight smile that was impossible to read, Snow White made her way into the caves to once again spill a secret. Leaving Regina with a pounding heart and the mere hope that this time, it wouldn’t be hers…

 


 

Chapter 18: Choosing my confessions, part 1

She felt disconnected, hollow in the strangest way since the moment she had set foot in the cave. The air was warm, thick and stifled and made her nose itch. Footsteps resounded against the high rock walls and despite the heat Emma felt herself shiver.

Magic.

She sensed it, the complete opposite of Regina’s, which melted into hers, entwined with it, filled her up. No, this, this was like oil in water or something, impossible to mix with her own and made her feel like she had to be on her toes at all time. The horrible smell of it was suffocating and she breathed as shallow as possible, guiding the group forward. Although there was just one path, really.

She sensed it before she could even see the flicker of gold coming from the plateau of rock surrounded by nothing but air. His enchantments surrounding it.

‘There!’

She pointed and the people she was leading, (which was still weird, and then 2 of them were her parents, which was even weirder) halted as if she commanded it. And then she blinked at the realization that probably, she had. She looked back at the woman who now laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it, the mother she had looked for all her life and tried to mirror the reassuring smile. Failing miserably.

Yes, they were a step closer to getting to Henry (even if that fucking sextant thing still looked like a thousand miles away) but she had felt empty and cold since the moment that stupid Magical curtain had closed behind her, cutting her off from… Well, she might as well admit it, since they were all going to be sharing secrets anyway (Were they going to braid each other’s hair as well?) Regina.

It was Regina she missed, the soothing vibrant hum of her Magic, always close, always connected. The possibility to reach out and touch the woman’s arm, feel her warmth, which in turn made her feel alive.

And leaving the other woman behind with the Firefly sure wasn’t helping her emotional rollercoaster.

God! Am I jealous?

The heavy feeling on her chest at the mere thought of the Fairy and the way she had touched Regina made her shake her head. Why was this effecting her so much? Yes, she and Regina had grown closer, it was as if the island and especially their common mission ‘Operation Henry’ had changed some of the anger and fear that always was lingering between them into… She wasn’t sure? Shared worry? But no, there was more than that. When Regina had first held her, no matter how awkward the touch had been, she had melted into it. The turmoil in those deep brown eyes was no longer coated by never-ending loathing and something had changed. Or maybe, something had fallen into place. Something that had been there, hidden, already for the longest time.

A fluttering squeezing feeling in her abdomen made her bite her lip and when she closed her eyes, she could almost feel the brunette next to her. Smell her. The fruity scent of her Magic, but also something that was just her… That was just Regina… Just…

Home…

She opened her eyes in shock, but the images and thoughts she had conjured up in her mind kept flowing… Regina, strong and unyielding. Regina, kind and warm in a requested embrace. Regina, tortured by her own voice. Regina in her arms, dancing. Regina close, so close… Their lips almost touching…

But also, the way she, constantly, found herself thinking about her son’s mother. The urgency to protect her, from angry mobs or taunting mermaids. The effect of the woman’s smirk or smile on her heart… Her heart…

‘The darker the secret, the louder the echo.’

She almost jumped at the sound of Hook’s voice and felt the secret she was only just admitting but couldn’t quite put into words, quiver against her midriff. Actually, she felt it everywhere, from the tingling of her fingertips, to the rapid pounding of her heart pumping the ticklish sensation through her veins.

And then, as she inhaled deeply, the warm oxygen filling her lungs, the smell of Pan’s Magic suddenly injected by a hint of Honey-crisp apple, it came to her.

Of course…

It was so simple and yet, so incredibly complicated. So inexplicable and yet so logical.

I am in love with Regina…

She blushed and jerked when Hook cleared his throat, announcing that he would be the first to spill his guts, when a moment of panic hit her. Was this the secret she would have to give up for the sextant? Telling a cave, a freaking cave, before the only person who would actually deserve to know?

But then, when she felt the trembling feeling in her abdomen again, the realization washed over her almost instantly.

The darker the secret, the louder the echo.

And this. This was confusing and weird and made it hard for her to breathe… It was stupid and impossible and everyone would hate it. Not least of all the woman who was the object of her so obviously undesired affection. But as she stood there, shadows flickering around her, and she felt the truth resonate through her body, making her Magic tingle in her veins she also knew: For her, it was anything but dark.

She felt disconnected, depleted in the oddest way as sat in front of the entrance of the cave, glaring as if merely that would make the Magical protection disappear. Regina’s heart still pounded, heavily, in her chest, increasing in frequency when she realized the sounds from within echoed in such a way she could hear every sigh, every step.

Footsteps, she recognized Emma’s easily, the thread in them, their rhythm and found herself closing her eyes, envisioning the woman next to her.

But, in a way, Tinker Bell had been right. Her darkest secret would hurt more than just her if it came out, and she was not sure whether the woman it involved, no matter how strong, could handle it. It was not a distraction they could use at such a crucial point in their quest to find Henry.

Regina sighed, trying to push away the confusion Tink’s words had evoked in her. The insecurities raw and ablaze and painfully present in every breath she took. Would the Fairy betray her, betray them? Was she collaborating with Pan? Keeping her main focus on the sounds from the cave, exhaling in relieve when she heard the people inside identify the object they were looking for, she turned slightly in Tink’s direction. Once she had trusted the woman beyond anything. She remembered the words, playful, kind, in jest.

“I’m a fairy, you might as well start believing in me.”

Tink hadn’t known what she had asked… Had, maybe, not even seen that Regina had lost all believe, most of all in herself. But the Fairy had been a light. A light so bright it was impossible to ignore after years and years of darkness. And, despite everything, she had done it. She had believed. For the shortest moment in time, she had actually allowed herself to believe again.

‘Regina…’

‘Are you working with Him, for Him?’

She focused on the response, wishing she had Emma’s superpower at this moment, but the dropping light in those mossy eyes as Tink shook her head gave her at least some indication.

‘Then how did you know? About the secrets?’

‘I have been here a long time, Regina… I…’

‘HOW!?’

The demanding word almost exploded through the air, her impatience only fueled by her worry for Henry, the people inside the cave, and her own uselessness. But she had expected an answer, not the piece of parchment that was pressed into her hands, folded so many times the creases had become weak and some of them had torn.

She opened it carefully and gasped when the charcoal became visible. The drawing she had made, not wanting to forget, so many years ago Regina couldn’t even do the math anymore.

‘Rocinante…’

Her fingers followed the dark lines she had once created, trying to hold on to the memory of her best friend, the only one she had trusted as a child. The one who had known all her secrets and never judged.

‘I found it. And if I had not recognized the horse, I would have recognized your… style… I asked Pan about it. He told me you had been here before. He told me… He told me you would be very important one day. He told me you are the key.’

‘To what?’

‘I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me, but the look in his eyes… It chilled me, Regina. It scared me. I… I don’t want…’

‘Shhh.’

Regina closed her eyes and focused, the voice of the Pirate not even close to the one she longed to hear but at least it was a connection to what was happening inside the cave. As she heard him admit to the kiss however, she couldn’t help but cringe, the pain physical as the image of what she had witnessed forced itself upon her again. The hand that reassuringly reached her shoulder, however, when Hook spoke of his deeper feelings for the blonde Savior, was quickly brushed off.

She got up, too restless to remain in her sitting position, when she heard Neal admit (as if they all weren’t painfully aware of the fact in the first place) that he was a coward. But Regina had to admit it made her swallow slightly when she heard him talk about his fears of becoming like the parent he had spend his life running from, the words hitting a little too close to home. She felt her fingernails find the soft skin of her palm when Neal spoke of how much he loved Emma and when he told her he would always fight for her, tears filled her eyes, and she found herself longing for the hand she had just so clearly rejected.

But she couldn’t… wouldn’t stand for the weakness love was bringing her.

Vigorously wiping at her cheeks, she stopped the tears before they have a chance to fall. And then, when she felt them on her fingers, she simply stared at them, as if they held the answer to everything. Because this was what she did. What she always did. Trying to stop her feelings before she had a chance to develop, before she actually had a chance to feel them.

Because love was weakness… Love was weakness…

She thought of her mother, staring at the wetness on her fingertips. She thought of the way she had fought to be good, to raise up to the expectations made of her. To be worthy of a love that now, now that she had a son, she knew should be given unconditionally.

She thought of Henry, and how her love for him had changed her.

The closed her eyes, and saw the image of Emma, close, so close to her, felt the sensation of Neal’s heart in her hand as his love for the blonde seeped into her fingertips.

And suddenly she knew.

Maybe love was her weakness… But it also was her strength…

The hesitance was the worst, Emma decided, feeling her heart drop at Snow’s confession. She could understand her wanting another child, but the looks and the words and the way she tried to say it so it wouldn’t be painful for Emma was in fact the thing that hurt the most. Because while her was trying so hard to make it sound like she was good enough, it really actually sounded, felt, like she was not. That this new baby was only desired because their first attempt had failed. And it threw her back into those feelings she had allowed herself to admit while trying to make the map appear.

Lost.

Never enough.

Yearning to be loved.

Comfort came from the strangest source, in a flash so short she was sure it was imagined. She smelled and sensed the tingle of Magic, not her own, raging through her chest. Warm and soothing and filled with understanding, and could almost see Regina roll her eyes.

We don’t have to question the genetic source of your way with words any longer, dear…

In perfect echo with Regina’s tone, the words resounded in her head and tugged on Emma’s lips, loosening the tightness in her throat slightly. She felt weak and everything around her was a blur when she heard David admit to his secret. The kind, sensitive, sometimes awkward man who seemed to understand so much more than he let on. She wasn’t watching him, however, when he spoke the words that made Pan’s earlier prediction, that she would be an orphan soon, resound in her head. She was watching the woman who had just shown her trust in their future together by admitting she wanted another child with him. She saw the strength in the stance falter, the eyes flashing with disbelieve and anger and pain. And then, she averted her eyes and found those of the man who was her father. And it was his understanding, caring smile that made her hear it, his eyes so filled with light, and pride and love. It was a sound like the shattering of the most fragile kind of glass, and she could imagine that was how the breaking of a heart would resonate through these rock walls.

It wasn’t until she felt the heaviness in her chest that she realized it probably was.

She swallowed, having trouble to find the strength she would need to voice her own secret, the one that would make the bridge that has formed, originating from the plateau where the sextant was waiting for her, connect with the ground she herself was standing on. She didn’t even know what she was going to say, until the words exited her mouth. Her wishing Neal had indeed been a vision, so she wouldn’t have to deal with her feelings for him, towards him. How much she blamed him for having to give up Henry. Her wishing her parents had died at her birth, so that that would have been the reason she had been in the system and not that they had given her up, not that they hadn’t loved her enough to keep her with them. Her wishing to escape it all by kissing Hook and her wishing that she never had because now even he wanted something from her. Now even he wanted to push her into a role. A savior, an orphan, a daughter, a lover… And never, never enough. Never was what she had to give ever enough.

She wasn’t sure which of the words actually exited her mouth, but suddenly found herself holding the metal instrument that would guide them back to the only home she had ever had. The only place she could see herself grow old. But her feet hadn’t walked the bridge that was now fully formed. Instead the sextant seemed to have materialized in her hands, the power of the secrets she was spitting out, much like one would spoilt milk, obviously enough to allow her to, involuntarily, do Magic again.   

Emma, stop…

The voice in her head was kind and panicked, understanding and raw, and so recognizable that, some time ago, she would have thought it a hallucination and checked herself into the nearest psych ward. Now however, she just gave in to Regina’s plea, without even the slightest bit of hesitation. She smiled at the irony of the thought…

Emma Swan finally believed. 

She was fairly certain her heart had stopped momentarily when she had heard Snow starting to speak. Part of her wanted to make a snide remark about the irony of the Princess who could not keep secrets being in a cave where she would have to give one up, but her fear of what was coming prevented her to even breathe. She only started to relax again, when she realized Snow’s admission was not of her feelings for Emma, and then felt terrible for her relieve as she heard the woman stumble over her words, each razor-sharp in their ability to hurt the blonde she loved so deeply.

The one they all, she knew now after Hook and Neal’s admissions, loved so deeply.

 She should be happy, she knew, that there was so much love in the other woman’s life. But the sad heavy envy (she wasn’t sure if it was just for so many vying for her true love’s heart or maybe also slightly about the idea of being so loved.) stung from within her chest, making her feel like the horrid person she was once more.

Especially when the oh so Charming shepherd had revealed his poisoned little secret and she could just hear the radars in Emma’s head work, and feel the other woman’s heart break at the realization she would have to leave the island without her parents…

And then, when Emma’s voice had lingered over, filling Regina’s heart with a sharp ache when she, almost lifelessly, let all her secrets spill from her lips, as if she couldn’t stop any more once she had started. She imagined she could hear Neal’s pout, the raise of Hook’s eyebrow, the drop of Charming’s jaw and the falling of Snow’s tears.

Emma, stop…

When the blonde stopped talking at exactly that moment, Regina only had a fragment of a second to ponder the curiosity of that strange coincidence, before the ground began to shake. The nauseating rambling a warning she recognized from one of her earlier visits to the caves.

It had been an accident then, and she hadn’t even realized what it was until much later, when Rumple had made her get in touch with her innate Magic. The one she had always, subconsciously, suppressed in her younger years, not wanting to become like the only user of Magic she knew. Her mother.

Yet spending time in Neverland as a child must have triggered something, Pan’s urge to believe, his feeding of her confidence with his constant reassurance that she, indeed, was the key he had been looking for for so long. His believe in her. Or maybe the combination of all had evoked it, the tingle of Magic as they had been sitting there, talking, drawing, laughing, sharing… And suddenly one of the pieces of parchment had started to sparkle and flown into his hands before the earth had begun to shake. Much like now… He had made it a game, and they had run, giggling, from the danger of the underground formation of rocks. When he had explained him Magic had made the cave react, she had not realized it was hers. And she had been surprised when he had refused to let her catch more than a glimpse of the charcoal picture of the boy he held in his hands.

But knowing the reason of the earthquake didn’t make the experience less unnerving. The fear that grasped her heart, knowing Emma had done Magic, knowing the others were inside of the cave were loose rocks could be as deadly as any well aimed curse, made her act without thinking. Pressing her hands forward, she felt the familiar tingling feeling fill her veins and she instinctively, focused on the warm feeling in her lower abdomen.

But the anger that was normally there, the emotion she always controlled her Magic with, drew it from, had been replaced by another, and she felt her body jolt at the intensity of the current rushing out of her.

It was beyond anything she could possibly have anticipated and the shiver that resonated through her had nothing to do with the violent shocks of the ground. She felt the power of holding up the rocks that were trying to block the entrance of the cave, the urge to protect the only thing that could occupy her mind.

And then, she jerked again. For an instant she thought the sheer force of her own emotions was throwing her back, the moment she caught sight of the group, of Emma, running towards her. It was not until she heard the Fairy scream that she even remember the other woman’s presence in the clearing, and she realized it was not her own Magic holding her back. She wanted to say something, wanted to urge Tink to help them, to save them or to let go of her so she could…

But then she realized the outcry of her name had not been accompanied by Tinker Bell’s Magic, which had always smelled like fresh cut grass and meadow flowers. Registered that the warning in the Fairy’s voice had not been not to use sorcery, as she had initially thought.

And she knew… Even before she saw the vines, wrapping themselves around her wrists, pulling her back, before she smelt the putrid scent of his Magic. She knew it was him before she caught sight of his amused eyes, observing her struggle. A struggle, she sensed, that was starting to be harder to maintain as she felt the fight that was left in her after the draining performance slowly starting to seep out.

 ‘Regina!’

He stood on a rock, covering the entrance of the cave, and at the outcry his eyes disconnected from hers and the smirk on his lips taunted her as she saw them focus on the one who had screamed. She felt the plants creep up to her torso, restricting her movement even further, but that was not what elicited the cold feeling running through her veins.

Because Emma, dear, sweet, heroic, foolish Emma, didn’t scream her name in a request for help from murderous collapsing caves, but in worry. Worry for her.  Emma, dear, sweet, idiotic, daredevil Emma, had no idea that the true Devil was watching her from above as she tried to lunge out of the cave and in Regina’s direction.

‘Emma! No!’

The words were cut off by a thick vine finding her throat and at the moment she felt the constriction she saw the flick of his fingers and the movement from the corner of her eye.

Tinker Bell attacked the plants holding her prisoner at the same moment the bars erected around Emma, pushing her back with a rush of ancient Magic that made Regina shiver. As she watched the twigs entwine in what she knew would be an impenetrable pattern of enchantments, she shortly caught sight of turquoise eyes. And in the strangest way, despite the suffocating pressure on her throat, that gave her air. 

He smiled lazily as he jumped down from his hiding place, landing, catlike and steady, ready to strike, and finally revealing himself to the others who she only now started to notice. Her main focus remained on the cage which now held the woman who had gotten under her skin and into her heart, as she tried to take in the situation, instinctively searching for an escape. But the black spots invading her vision made it hard to concentrate.

Snow had immediately drawn an arrow, but the weapon disappeared with a mere blink of his eye, before she could even fully aim it. The Fairy, who had known Pan was there even before Regina herself had noticed, gasped when one of the vines she was viciously attacking, (with what Regina now saw was Charming’s sword) lashed out to her, drawing blood, but she did not relent until his Magic, with a slow wave of his hand, pulled her away.

He tut-tutted, as if he was reprimanding a small child, while he took slow steps in her direction.

‘That’s not the way this works, Tink, don’t you know better than that?’

The tone in his voice was one she recognized, and she was quite sure that, had she been able to utter a sound, she would have whimpered. The memories that were threatening to overwhelm elicited a last surge of energy to fight and she wrestled to free herself, her limbs trembling with fatigue and fear.

But he knew, of course he knew. He had coaxed the memories out of her when she had been a little girl, erased them, and then tortured her with each and every one of them before sending her back. His voice was the first thing to change as he laughed, a quick twirl turning the boy into her nightmare. Even the smell of Cora’s Magic radiated from the figure, approaching her quickly.

‘Little Regina, here, simply adores games. Don’t you, darling?’

‘No! Please…’

The panic in her voice as she tried to shrink back into the plants holding her in place made her wince. Cora’s laugh echoed, eerily, through the Neverland jungle before it turned into Pan’s once more.

‘Let’s play.’