In the days After, she does her best to focus on Henry.
Henry is safe.
Henry is happy.
Henry has a family.
Henry is loved.
So, so much.
Henry is safe, safe, safe.
Henry is gone.
This is not the first time she has lost someone; it isn’t even the first time she’s lost Henry. But it is the last time, and now she is alone with nothing left to lose.
When Emma Swan stomped into Storybrooke with Henry in tow, Regina knew that this time would come. Her son had sought out another mother and she lost him a little bit every day.
“I found my real mom,” he’d said and her heart, whatever was left of it (after Daniel, after the curse), broke.
Emma Swan was there to take away her son. And then the turnover, the stupid turnover had nearly cost her everything (Henry – Henry is everything), and there was Henry in a hospital bed, so still and so cold and so small and so alone. And the curse was broken and the truth -- the loud, screaming truth – rushed out and then she was the Evil Queen and Henry, Henry, Henry, was no longer her little prince but theirs. Emma’s.
She tried to hold on, squeezing tightly and holding him close, so close, in hopes that he would love her back, that he would somehow know (because he was Henry and he was bright and perceptive and wise beyond his years) that the Evil Queen was only a part of her story.
And then Henry was learning to sword fight and ride horses from his grandfather instead of from her and she tried to let it go, to let him be happy.
Her house was empty; his room no longer smelled like him.
Then her mother (she still can’t think about her mother, not yet). And Tamara and Greg – Owen, sweet little Owen, who had liked her but not loved her and who had left like everyone else – and the trigger and impending doom. But there was “I love you, too” and forgiveness and she could smell his hair when he wrapped himself around her in what should have been their final moments.
He was with her and not them and even though it was an ending it was also a victory and it tasted sweeter than she’d been able to imagine, all those years ago when her anger and her darkness swirled around her and she wished for peace. She found peace in Henry, in the love he could finally return, with full knowledge of who she is – Regina, Mayor Mills, and the Evil Queen (almost full knowledge – so much of her life would always be a secret from him because so much of her life was too awful to bear repeating, the things she’d done and the things that had been done to her).
Of course it had been too good to last.
She has been saying goodbye to Henry for years.
“I don’t know how to love very well,” she had told him once, and watched as he ran out her front door.
She knows how to love him now, how to keep him close without force, how to be a family.
She wishes she had the chance to show him.
Henry is safe.
Henry is happy.
Henry is loved.
When she takes Emma’s hand and gives her the life she’s spent her own life dreaming of, it is the first selfless thing she’s done since chasing after a child on a runaway horse. Even watching her drive away with Henry in the front seat, she does not regret it because at least Emma will have happiness, even if she won’t, and Emma deserves it.
She wasn’t trying to take Henry after all.
She almost laughs at the irony of it all: she is finally rid of the Savior, the woman who made her life hell for the better part of two years, and she freely gives her joy and wishes she didn’t have to go. It was nice to have an ally, to not be entirely alone.
She stays with Snow in the castle they used to share as they both mourn their losses.
They are in separate rooms, separate corners of the palace, but they find each other one night on the north tower and they stand in silence until Snow confesses that she is pregnant, whispering like she’s ashamed instead of glad, like she would trade the new life inside of her for the adult daughter she abandoned in a tree and would have left a second time on Neverland. Her pregnancy is remorseful instead of joyous, and while Regina does not offer words of comfort, she doesn’t take pleasure in Snow’s anguish either, and she thinks that maybe that’s something.
She dreams of them often, seeing Emma making breakfast and Henry watering plants and she wonders briefly if she’s seeing something beyond a dream but then she notices the greenness of the plants and remembers Henry’s brown thumb – six-year old Henry crying because he overwatered her basil and he killed it, Mama – and discards the idea.
Her dreams are just dreams.
She misses him.
(She misses Emma, too, but that is harder to admit because she’s not supposed to and it isn’t her place. Snow and Charming have a right to miss Emma; she does not.)
(But she does, just a little, and only because she misses the parts of her that are so like Henry that it’s basically missing Henry all over again.)
Snow and Charming split their days between preparing for the baby and devising a plan to get Emma and Henry back.
After several weeks (she thinks it’s been weeks, but time is so different here and it’s so hard to keep track without council meetings and budget deadlines and school plays – Henry was half of Jack’s house in his third grade production of Jack and the Beanstalk and Regina had nearly burst with pride), Snow comes to her for help. With magic, there may be a way to go back, to get Emma, to convince her to come home.
Regina says she can’t (oh but she wants to), asks Snow to leave and, after she’s closed the door behind her, she sinks the floor and cries.
Henry is happy happy happy.
It is all she can think about as she tries to keep her heart from breaking.
She explains later.
She can’t help because she wants too badly to succeed and they absolutely cannot succeed.
That is the price of the curse.
This is her curse, but she looks at the Charming’s faces – not as young or as hopeful as they used to be – and she sees that it is theirs too.
She should feel happy, she thinks, that her actions have finally given her what she wanted – a broken Snow White – but all she can feel is sadness and something that reminds her of remorse.
In some of her dreams, they are happy and they laugh and they don’t miss her at all.
In others, they seem unsettled, like they know that something is not quite right. She lets herself believe that they remember just a little.
She doesn’t know which dream is worse: that they’re happy without her or that they’re not and her attempt to give them happiness had failed.
She meets Robin and Roland on Henry’s birthday.
Roland reminds her so much of Henry and Robin is a little like Emma and for a second they make her smile through her pain and it is enough.
She doesn’t know when she started missing Emma apart from Henry, but she does.
She is surrounded by people who glow with light and goodness, and all she wants is to sit with someone else’s darkness and exist.
That is what Emma had given her.
Snow finds her on the north tower again. It is where she goes to think, to try to find a way to bring them home without tearing apart the fabric of reality (because even though she knows she shouldn’t, she can’t stop trying. But she’ll never tell Snow that).
She isn’t out here every night, but most nights these days (it has been so long since she’s seen them and she’s starting to forget Henry’s laugh) because this can’t be it, can’t be the end.
She isn’t done yet.
She’s not the Savior but maybe she can save them.
(But then, in saving them, wouldn’t she destroy them yet again? Their happy lives, happy memories all for nothing as they are faced with unhappy realities – an unkind mother, a bitter rival, a world that makes no sense. Wouldn’t saving them be leaving them as they are?)
(This is why she is the villain; her selfishness knows no bounds, not even the happiness of her child.)
Snow stands with her but makes no move to speak. This happens sometimes: they stand in solidarity, missing their children.
Regina’s words are quiet.
“I miss them.”
If Snow notices that she says “them” instead of “him,” she doesn’t comment. All she says is “So do I” and the conversation ends.
Snow decorates her nursery with a unicorn mobile above the crib.
Regina lets Roland braid her hair.
They are both replacing their children, little by little.
She sees Robin’s tattoo and she is resigned to her fate.
She would have thought that destiny would feel happier.
But she lies next to him in his bed and tries to accept what has been given to her. She tries not to think about Leopold because it shouldn’t, can’t, feel the same.
(But it does, a little.)
Snow has her baby, a girl, and names her Cora – a life given for a life taken.
Regina doesn’t know how she feels when she hears the news.
Some days, she thinks she should accept that they’re gone, that Henry’s happy and safe and loved and all of thing that she wanted him to be.
But she can’t.
As fond as she is of Roland (he is a sweet boy, kind and trusting), he is not Henry and he is not enough, not now, not while part of her still thinks that she can have Henry again, curse be damned.
Robin seems to know this. “We’re just temporary for you, aren’t we? Until you get them back?” he’d asked her one night after they’d come together and he’d risen and fallen above her and she triedtriedtried not to think of Leopold.
She said, “Yes” and he nodded, pulling her forward to kiss her forehead, and then rolled over to sleep.
He is a good man.
She wishes she could love him.
A month after Snow gives birth and nearly a year after she watched the life she’d built disappear in a purple haze, she comes up with what she thinks might be a workable solution, a way for them to come back. (Henry and Emma would want to live a life rooted in reality – Emma had said so herself at the line. That is how she rationalizes, justifies, condones. She will take away the happy ending she’s given them, but that is what they would have wanted.)
Snow, infant in her arms, gathers the players and puts her plan into motion.
Regina tries desperately not to hope that they will succeed.
Later, when she and Snow are locked in Rumplestiltskin’s cell, imprisoned by the Green Witch and guarded by flying monkeys, Snow says what she always says and Regina tries not to strangle her.
“They’ll find us.”
“They don’t know we exist.”
“Still. We’re their family. They’ll find us.”
Regina want to believe her, wants to have blind faith in Snow’s daughter and her son (because she is the Savior and he is Henry and when has “Operation” anything failed when it comes to them, really?), but she can’t. Instead, she focuses on the thing that has kept her going, the only thing that matters, when it comes down to it.
They are safe.
Because of her.
They are happy.
They are loved.
She leans against the wall of the cell and breathes.