Cover Art created by The Dragongirl.
"Follow Me Down", by S.J. Tucker, from Haphazard
The day that completely changes Emma Swan's life starts out as a fairly typical one.
She's rummaging through her dresser, looking for a specific pair of warm, wool socks, when it just appears at the bottom of a stack of her t-shirts: a small, leather-bound book that has the look and feel of something antiquated and important. She stares at it for a moment, closes the drawer to glance at the door, wondering if this is some trick of Gold's, before finally opening it again.
The book is still sitting at the bottom of the drawer, half-covered by some of her oldest and most comfortable t-shirts. She sighs softly and stares at it for another moment. What could be the worst that happens if she picks it up? Didn't her own mother take the same leap of faith upon finding Henry's storybook in her closet? Breathing deeply to steady her nerves, she picks it up, half-expecting to get a jolt of recognition like she had when she'd picked up Henry's book in the hospital that fateful day.
But there are no jolts of recognition, no sudden recollections of long lost memories, no changes in the world around her. She's simply standing in her bedroom, wearing a bra and panties, and there's a journal in her hands that is worn smooth with use. Even more than that, it feels completely at home in her hands, like it should be hers, but she knows it isn't.
She considers asking Snow about it, but quickly changes her mind. This feels special, private, not something to share with her mother just yet. If ever...
"Mom!" Henry's voice wafts up the stairs. "Hurry up, or I'll be late for school. You know we'll both be in trouble if I am."
Glancing at the alarm clock, she sighs and starts to return the book to the drawer. At the last second, she changes her mind and slips it under her pillow with a gentle pat. "You'll have to wait for later," she whispers. "I can't let Henry be late. Regina will kill me."
When she finally trudges into the loft, all she wants to do is take a long, hot shower and pass out for the night. With Henry back at Regina's for the next few days, and her dad on the late shift, there's a good chance she'll get her wish. A note from Snow indicates she's still got a couple of hours to herself before having to deal with her teething brother, which means she can have a long bath instead. A smile spreads across her face as she takes the steps two at a time up to her room to strip off her clothes and slip into a robe. Heading back downstairs, she starts filling the tub, then goes into the kitchen to get a glass of the red wine that Regina had brought over with lasagna the night before last. She loves when Henry's other mother cooks. It's seriously the best food she's ever had.
Taking the glass back into the bathroom, she finds some classical music on her iPod to listen to while she soaks. Adding a few bath salts to the water fills the room with the scents of lavender and citrus, just spicy enough to keep her from falling asleep in the tub. Her robe goes onto the hook on the back of the door before she slips into the tub. She groans happily as she settles down into the steamy water, eyes fluttering shut. She sits for a moment or two before dunking her head under the surface, letting the heat soak into her pores and pull out the grime and exhaustion of her day. Lifting her head when she needs oxygen again, she wipes at her face before taking a sip of wine. It warms her from the inside as the water does the same from without.
She lets the music clear her head, content to just soak and relax until her wine is gone. Once again, she slips below the surface of the water, but it's not quite what she wants anymore. A deft toe releases the plug while she rests at the bottom of the tub. Only when her face once again touches the air does she consider getting up. Her movements are slow and languid as she carefully stands and pulls the curtain closed before turning on the shower. Hot water soon beads down on her hair and skin, an impromptu massage that releases another groan from her lips. Shampoo and body wash are soon lathered from tip to toe, followed by a cool water rinse that raises gooseflesh across her body.
She towels off quickly and slips into the softness of her robe to stay warm. A quick trip to the kitchen to refill her wineglass, then she heads up to her room. If she's lucky, the wine will further relax her and let her sleep before her mother and brother return to the loft. She slips into a pair of red panties and a white tank top, then between the sheets of her bed. Her iPod continues to play classical music and it works with the wine to soothe her further.
It isn't until she tries to go to sleep that she realizes her pillow feels odd under her head. Her attempts to fluff it up reveal the book again, and curiosity takes over. She adjusts her pillows against the wall, sitting up with her knees drawn close to her chest. She studies the book again, turning it over in her hands to inspect the binding and the worn leather. She can tell that it once had been a deep brown, but time and use had smoothed it to a cinnamon color in some spots. Without thought, Regina's eyes come to mind as having a similar hue. Letting out a nervous breath, she opens the book and smiles at the faint scent of sun-warmed grass and something else vaguely familiar.
Wait a minute! She flips through the journal's pages. They are filled with letters to her, and a few to Henry. And then she recognizes the handwriting as Regina's.
"How in the hell?" She finds herself returning to the first page, the first letter written to herself. "Okay, just one letter. Just because they're written to me doesn't mean Regina wanted me to see them."
Words cannot express the things I am feeling right now. Watching you and Henry drive away, never looking back as you forgot everything about Storybrooke and your lives here. Your family… Knowing that I'll never see Henry grown into manhood, get married, father children, continue the Mills name… I would sooner die than continue to live without him in my life. And since he cannot live without you in his any longer, I would need you in my life, as well.
I managed to do what was necessary to reverse Pan's curse. Storybrooke no longer exists. Not that you'd remember it anyway at this point. You should be in New York by now, settling into the lives I gave you. I do hope you'll understand what I did and, more importantly, why I did it. I want you and Henry to have good lives, even if I can't be a part of them. You both deserve so much more than I could give you on such short notice, but I did the best I could.
The pain I feel right now is… I honestly think death would be less painful. I know that's probably not something you want to hear right now. If you still had your memories, your guilt would be so strong, just like it was when we had to force you to go along with the plan. I'm not even sorry that I guilted you into staying with Henry. He needs you, Emma, he needs to have a stable family life. You can give that to him. Give him a good life, Emma. Give him all the love and attention and encouragement that I've tried to give him these past eleven years. Be mother and father to him and make sure he never feels like he's not the center of your universe.
Your mother is coming and I don't want her to see this, so I must end this for now.
Take care of our son.
She blinks back tears, wiping at her eyes with the back of one hand. Her intentions of putting the book aside to return it to Regina in the morning go flying out the window as she turns the page and begins to read the next letter.
It has been two harrowing days of dealing with your mother hovering over me like some demented nanny. I've barely had a moment to myself to relieve my bodily functions. She may not be watching me attend to my business, but she barely lets me out of her sight. I feel like I'm suffocating, and your father is incompetent at keeping her away from me. The urge to kill her grows stronger with every minute I am away from Henry …and you. Charming tries to be my moral compass, like you and Henry were, but it's just not the same.
When I finish this letter, I'm going to start heading back to my castle. Snow and the others are going to head back to their castle, the place where you were born. Your parents seem to think it's the safest place to be, despite the stories that you and your mother told us of it being destroyed. Honestly, they can do whatever they want, but I've no desire to be anywhere near them and their endless hope in finding a way back to Storybrooke. It's not going to happen, and the sooner they all accept that and get about returning to their lives here, the better it will be for everyone.
But they don't need me any longer and, despite what they say, they still blame me for all of this. It all boils down to the original curse I cast nearly thirty years ago. Now they're back where they wanted to be in the first place, but they're still not happy. Now they miss the comforts of your world. Nothing I do will satisfy them, so I'm just going to leave them to their lives and their families.
My life, my family, is gone. My parents are both dead at my hands, my son is gone forever, and the only person who truly saw that I was trying to change after the curse ended is gone with him. Even the bug stays away from me. In Storybrooke, he couldn't leave me alone, wanting me to talk about myself and my magic addiction. And now, when I've had to use it to save him and everyone else in this benighted land, when I've had to lose everything I hold dear, he's nowhere to be found.
Henry's book is right. Villains don't get happy endings. Villains can't redeem themselves. All villains get is pain, misery, and the short end of the stick. I give up, Emma. The things that made me want to be good, the people that made me want to be good are gone. I have no reason to be good anymore. And I have no reason to be evil either. It doesn't get me anything.
When I get to my castle, I'm going to remove my heart. Actually, if I can manage to keep your mother from sniffing around so much, I'll do it sooner. I can hear her skulking about in the underbrush nearby, you know. She never leaves me alone. But if I can find the time, I will take out my heart and put it in a box. If I've not yet reached my castle, I'll give her the box and tell her it's a magic talisman to keep them all safe. If not, I'll set it aside in my castle. And then, I won't feel anything at all. No pain, no regret, no hatred, no loneliness, and no love. I have no reason for any of those. I'll just live out the rest of my life in solitude, however long that may be.
I know I'm letting you and Henry down by doing this. I'm sorry for that, Emma, I truly am. But I cannot live like this any longer. I cannot live without the only good things to happen to me in a long time.
I'm so sorry, Emma. Please believe me.
Setting the book aside gingerly, she wipes at the tears slipping down her cheeks. She's always been fascinated by Regina's precise handwriting, but there's just so much pain and devastation in the neatly written words. Easing into her robe, she's on her feet and heading downstairs to refill her wine glass once more. Now that she's started reading the letters, she can't stop. There's something about the stark desolation in Regina's confessions that calls to her. Once back in bed, she resettles and picks up the book again.
They won't leave me alone. None of them will do as I request and just leave me alone in my misery. They have each other to console. Why do they need to involve me in anything they do?
Your mother still wants to rebuild the White castle, but won't stay there. They've all trudged along after me like a gaggle of lost ducklings. I don't understand why they think it's all right to intrude upon and ignore my desire for solitude. Snow keeps telling me how much everyone needs me, and how everyone should stay together for safety reasons. I have magic, I don't need them. They have numbers and a shared cause, they don't need me.
If you and Henry were here, I'd magic us away to my castle and erect the strongest possible magical barrier to keep them all out. I still plan to do that when I eventually get there, but if you both were there with me, it wouldn't feel so lonely and prison-like.
I hope you're both doing all right. It's only been three days since you left, but it feels like an eternity. How am I supposed to continue living my life without the chance for hope or happiness? I've… I've been considering something a bit more drastic than simply removing my heart to ease the pain. No, I won't end my life. That accomplishes nothing. But I am considering making a new batch of the Sleeping Curse that I used on your mother so long ago. I can adjust the potion to allow me happy memories. I'll just spend the rest of eternity in a deep sleep, filled with memories of what might have been, what should have been. It's the best for everyone, I think.
As much as I want to believe that I'll find a way to reverse this damnable curse and get you and Henry back, I have to be honest and say that I don't think it's possible. And I would rather live a dream in oblivion than accept the loss of my reasons for being good. The darkness is so close to the surface right now, particularly in this land where magic flows so freely. I cannot break my word about becoming evil again, so taking myself out of the equation guarantees that I keep my promise and end my suffering in one fell swoop.
I can't apologize enough to you and Henry…
She keeps turning pages, reading the words Regina so painstakingly put to paper of her despair, her hopes, her fears… Everything she felt and thought was laid bare on the pages of that book. Before she knows it, light is creeping in through the curtains. She doesn't remember falling asleep or finishing the book, but it's clear she's done both. Her sleep was deep, dreamless, but incredibly restless.
Without thought, she's up and getting dressed. The seeds of her plan have begun to sprout in her mind and she's going to act before doubt stops her. Slipping the journal into her jacket pocket, she heads downstairs and waves away the cup of coffee her mother offers. "Sorry, Mom, no time. I need to get to a meeting before I'm too late."
The drive to the mansion feels far longer than it should, and doubt finally begins to creep in. A couple of deep breaths and the reminder of the words carried in her pocket reaffirm her need to do this. She parks the cruiser in front of the house and makes her way up the walk, feeling every bit as nervous as the first time she did this. A knock at the door is quickly answered by a confused Regina.
"Emma? Is something wrong?"
Before she can stop herself, she leans forward to press her lips to the darkly stained ones in front of her. Her hand slips up to cup a soft cheek as lips part in a startled inhale that quickly turns into a soft sound of pleasure. When Regina's hand grips her forearm, she pulls back from the kiss, eyes closing as their foreheads touch.
"E-Emma? What's going on?"
She fumbles in her pocket with her left hand, right still cupping Regina's cheek, and offers the book. "Let me in? Let me help?"
"I don't understand. What are you talking abo-- Where did you get that?"
Slowly, with eyes still closed and foreheads still touching, she explains the events of the last day. Nothing is left out or sugarcoated to make it easier for either of them. To do that would be a disservice to everything Regina had gone through in the missing year. She finally pulls back to meet Regina's gaze as she says, "So please just let me in. I'd hate to know that I caused you any pain or heartache like you described in that book. Let me give you reasons to write another journal, full of happiness and love and belonging. Please, Regina?"
She watches Regina open the book, randomly stroking a finger down pages covered in her own handwriting. When dark eyes finally meet hers again, glistening with tears, she offers an encouraging smile that's shyly returned.
"It--" Regina falters and clears her throat. "It won't be easy to be involved with me, Emma, and I fully understand if you--"
She cuts off the woman's words with another gentle kiss. "I'm not afraid of a little work, Regina."
That earns her a brighter smile and a tug on her forearm. "Come inside, Emma, and have breakfast with us. Henry will be glad to see you're here. And when he's off to school, perhaps you and I can sit down and talk about this. If you're still interested in pursuing--"
"I can't wait," she says, cutting in smoothly as she steps over the threshold. "Lead the way, Regina. I trust you."