Chapter 1: beginning
In this beginning, a war is waged.
People fall either side, as they must: with or against. There can be no in between. Those who linger get caught in the crossfire. They are the ones who burn the fastest.
It’s hard to predict who will follow Emma, prophecy or no prophecy. Regina is a useful ally—her power is the closest they’ve got to matching Rumpelstiltskin’s—but her crimes are too fresh in everyone’s memory, and she proves just as much a burden as a service.
“Perhaps it would be wise to distance ourselves from her,” James suggests to the Council when they still meet at the Town Hall, speaking as he and Snow always do: as though Regina is not there.
Regina’s gaze has been fixed steadily on her own lap. It’s not a nervous gesture, but one of disinterest. She knows as well as Emma does: “That was never an option.”
She raises her chin, peers down her nose at Emma with heavy lids when she hears her speak, lips pressed tightly together. Emma’s eyes meet hers. She can never be her father’s daughter, can never ignore the woman who has shaped her life, from the rickety cradle of her nineteen-eighties children’s home to the grave that this war will most likely lead her.
Since all beginnings, they have been bound.
Chapter 2: accusation
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
Three years since the too-small casket was lowered into the ground, they meet by accident in the cemetery.
“I should have figured you’d be here.”
Without turning around, Regina attempts to tug a weed from the base of the marble slab that marks his name, but the ground is frozen solid and keeps its grip on the roots. The weed snaps.
“Every week. Is this your first time?”
She can almost feel Emma flinch from somewhere behind her. She hears the leather of her sleeve swipe against the body of her jacket as she moves, imagines her hiding her face behind her hands. As well she should.
Regina presses her fingertips to the engraving, feels out the marks with eyes pressed shut, as if touching the words chosen to remember him will lend some new part of him to her: the smooth curves of the ‘B’, the three sharp prongs of the ‘E’. But they offer nothing new, not this time or any other.
They are not words for him, even if they are true. They are vacant words. They are words for onlookers, strangers who would frown at no words at all for a child. All they conjure for her now are hazy memories of selecting stone and fonts, the choice between burial or cremation, closed casket or open, full-sized coffin or one custom made, chrysanthemums or carnations. And not least the recollection of her fingers dialling Emma’s number between decisions no mother should have to make, and only hearing the dead robotic sound of ringing. That is until one day the wrong voice entirely answered: “This number is no longer in service.”
She had not known how empty a house could feel, even when all it missed was a boy who ran off whenever he could anyway. She had not known how sheets of cotton could turn to that of ice, when the only warmth they lost had been occasional, and brief at that.
“You weren’t at the funeral,” she accuses, as if it were only yesterday, as if that were the single moment Emma needs to atone for, not three years, not three years of nothing as Regina had ached for her to return and flesh out her bones, fill in the gaps that he had left. Regina finds she sounds angry, still. She supposes she is, though she had forgotten until now; she can feel it prickling at the back of her throat.
Or maybe all of that is just for him now. Mostly, she cannot separate the two of them. There is no grave for Emma, but she has mourned them both.
“Why are you here now?”
“You know why.” She pauses. “It’s the anniversary.”
“There have been two of those already. They even did a service last year. To commemorate the day the war ended. Two years of peace. It was nice. You’d have hated it. So why now?”
“It seemed like it was time.”
Regina laughs: the fullest laugh of which her lungs have been capable in a long time, and it goes on, too, until she’s dizzy, until her sides ache. It’s the kind of laughter of a lifetime ago, that Storybrooke has never before witnessed.
When she pushes herself up off her knees still wheezing and turns to face Emma, she finds her staring aghast.
Regina brushes herself off, stray blades off grass fall from her knees. She gestures towards the grave.
“It’s all yours,” she says. “In your own time, of course,” she adds, her intonation not one she’s adopted for years, since she had tried to slyly scare an intruder out of town beneath smiles and threats laced with a sickly sweetness.
She doesn’t wait for a response. She’s not doing it to get a rise out of her. Emma’s reaction is meaningless to her now.
Chapter 3: restless
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
With the intoxicating sway of magic drifting through her veins, lighting up her nerves and itching in the tips of her fingers, being holed up in the house under Snow’s unflinchingly watchful eye is rendered all the more excruciating.
Once the protective enchantments have been cast over the walls, there’s little use for her powers. She finds herself mindlessly flicking light-switches from across the room, just for the thrill of exerting the power of one world over the power of another. The little sparks need somewhere to go. The habit gets under Emma’s skin, makes her clench her jaw visibly when she does it, which, if Regina is honest, is part of the appeal. Besides, by now Regina has taught her at least a little of the full weight of desire left to fester, so she ought to understand.
“I want to do something.”
Emma blinks. “Soon,” she promises.
Regina sighs, because it’s always soon and it’s never now.
Three buttons pop off Emma’s shirt.
Regina shrugs. “I told you magic was unpredictable here. You shouldn’t let it build up.”
Emma laughs, and it’s a sound that comes so rarely from her that Regina is always startled by it.
“Come here,” she says, and they find an outlet, something for Regina to do in the meantime.
Chapter 4: snowflake
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
December, 2013: the snow falls thick, coating the front lawn with a perfect greeting card layer of white. Henry presses himself up against the front window, peers out as his breath fogs up the glass. When more flakes begin to fall, he sticks his tongue out and imagines himself out there, the white turning clear as it melts in the warmth of his mouth.
“Come away from the window, dear.”
His mother doesn’t bark orders anymore. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of nearly killing him, or maybe she just doesn’t feel the need to, now that he doesn’t shrink from her in moments like this when she runs her fingers through his hair and guides his head so it rests on her chest.
It’s not the easiest adjustment in the world, but they are both learning.
“Mom, could I go out for just five minutes? I’ll be careful.”
He will anyway, no matter what she says. He’s already decided that, but at least now he bothers to ask.
“Maybe next year, Henry,” she says. “If it’s safe.”
Next year could be anything from a few short weeks to a long and dragging twelve months; Henry knows what games she plays with words. There is a lot of that, these days.
She smooths down his hair as he looks up at her and smiles, afraid that if he says anything he’ll give himself away, and she’ll know he intends to defy her.
“How about a hot cocoa?” she asks.
“I’m sure Emma’s been keeping us in stock.”
He nods. “Okay.”
Outside can wait just a little longer, he thinks.
Chapter 5: haze
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
The moment itself, like all important moments in life (etc.), is something of a blur.
He thinks it is something he’d want to remember, really: his death. (Or rather, his dying, because death is the part that comes afterwards, the now and the forever.) Henry suspects his death/dying would make a good story.
Not that he has anyone to tell it to.
He remembers… he remembers Mr Gold—or, well, Rumpelstiltskin, that’s who he really is. Was. Henry had never quite figured that one out for himself, though it had made sense when Emma had told him. It was just that… well… Mr Gold had always seemed more smarmy than impish, that was all. Although, both words were too small for what he really was. He was—maybe that word he previously reserved for his mom was a better fit—evil.
Not that Henry really believes in good and evil anymore. Not when he thinks long and hard about it. The lines between things that had once seemed so rigid are less defined now.
Right / Wrong
Good / Evil
Life / Death
He remembers… finding a moment to go outside. Under No Circumstances had been the rule. Under No Circumstances Are You To Leave This House. But Emma did all the time. So did the other grown ups who also didn’t have fireballs up their sleeves like his mom did (“they’re not up my sleeves, Henry; don’t be ridiculous”) and they had all been fine. And he’d only wanted a moment, a hot (cold) minute to taste the snow; a single flake on his tongue would have done.
But it took less than that, in the end, for them to take him.
He remembers… the liberating scent of the fresh air, the way it had filled every far reach of his lungs, sharp and ice cold, the way his chest had expanded, like the broad chest of a Prince, even as he shivered.
He hadn’t even put on a coat. That was how short the moment was going to be.
That wasn’t when he died though. Just the last thing he remembers—being taken. He doesn’t even remember where to. He doesn’t technically remember who by, he just knows that it was Gold, the way you know your heart is beating in your chest even when you can’t feel it pumping away in there. Well, his isn’t. But that’s not the point.
The most about his death (not dying) he does remember is the commemoration of the thing: his funeral. He felt like he shouldn’t have been there, really, but he couldn’t help himself. For all it was about him it was really about anything but. Emma wasn’t even there, and his mom didn’t speak for the whole day, except to greet people, a civility that was an odd fit for her, given everything. Archie, of all people, did the eulogy. He said something about how only the vivid imagination (overrated), the unbridled optimism (well) of a child could have saved them, and even though he died they could all learn something from him. Something to that effect. Archie said nothing about the how of his death (which was sort of what he was hoping to ascertain) and only skimmed over the why of it. Instead, he spoke in clichés, sounding more like a teacher on a report card than someone talking about a whole life. Only, instead of “Henry is making sound progress” and “Henry is a talented student” the past tense got in there, like, “Henry was a bright young boy”, he “had been a promising child”. He wonders, sometimes, if there were ever a child who died and was called dull or accused of having limited prospects.
As much as he discovers death isn’t necessarily the opposite of life (because, hello), he realises it does reverse a lot of things.
There was more to Archie’s speech, but it’s all a bit murky because it was his mom he was paying attention to: the tears in her eyes that seemed to ebb and flow with the waves of her thoughts. He doubts she was really listening to Archie. She was thinking herself in and out of tears—the way he used to be able to think himself in and out of feelings (boredom, mostly, but sadness and others too) when he was at the house, trapped.
He thinks of the first time he saw her cry openly, at the hospital after he died for the first time. (He remembers that one, that death. His mother always did make a killer of an apple turnover, haha.) It sort of makes him want to cry, too, that memory, how he hadn’t told her he loved her, but she knew, right?
He wants to cry, but he can’t. Just like his heart can’t beat.
“Emma didn’t come?” James had asked her, face all sincere, but he sounded disappointed like he already knew the answer. Henry wondered why he asked, if he already knew, if it was that he meant to wound—but his grandfather had never struck him as particularly petty. Maybe he was just making conversation, but there were a thousand questions that could easily have taken its place, and yet he picked the most hurtful.
His mom blinked. “No,” she said, slowly, drawing out the syllable, as if she hoped to be contradicted at any moment, as if when she turned around Emma would be standing there with a wan smile and a, “Gee, sorry I’m late. Did I miss much?”
But she wouldn’t and the three of them knew it, even then, like they knew that his mom’s heart beat fresh in her chest and his didn’t.
Henry knew it best of all, even though he couldn’t catch his mom’s eye in that sad sort of shared confirmation that James did, that sort of mutual knowingness. He knew best because he’d tried to follow Emma, when she’d run, and, oh, she had run with purpose. He followed her as far as he could, but then she went in a different direction from Boston, and that’s when Henry discovered that he can only go places he remembers. He can’t even go into the houses in Storybrooke he’d never been in in his life. And, just like that, poof, Emma was no longer on the route the Greyhound had taken him (the only route out of town he’d ever taken—sad, really) and she was out of his life. Death. Out of his death.
He went back to the house, to his mom’s bedroom where she was sleeping, and willed her to wake up, to be quick off the mark and catch up with Emma before it was too late.
Mom! Mom! he had screamed, as much as screaming is possible (it isn’t) in death. Haven’t I taught you anything? You have to guilt Emma into doing the right thing! You have to guilt her into staying!
But on she slept. Henry thought about ghosting through her. He tried it on Ruby once in the Diner, just to see what would happen, just to find out if he could interact with the world at all. But she’d only shuddered and then been off kilter all day, distracted by the thought of him. Henry supposes that’s what haunting really is.
(He can tell when he’s being thought of—which was constantly, at first—because it makes him more there than not.)
Anyway, his mom had looked so peaceful, just lying there, and for all he knew it was the last good night’s sleep she’d ever get. He let her have it.
He feels Emma remembering him pretty strongly a lot of the time, and for a good long while it’s all he gets of her. His mom, the one he actually sees, does her best not to dwell on her—a valiant effort for someone who had dwelled endlessly on the last person she loved, and dwells and dwells and dwells on him at even the slightest reminder. He is, for all intents and purposes, alone in missing Emma so acutely.
He feels a pang of her one day, so strong it raises a level of unexpected confidence in him to branch out a little. It’s funny that he still fears stuff, now, but he does. Anyway, in a fit of bravery he finds himself at her old Boston apartment, where he nosies around a bit. He can’t look in the bedroom or the bathroom, because he’d never seen them in the first place, but you get used to gaps in the landscape, whole streets being off limits, so a room or two is no big deal, and the living room is still fair game. A bachelor lives there now, a young lawyer. It gets him thinking, coursing through the what-ifs and the imagine-thats of a life that will never be—stuff that most twelve-year-old boys think about anyway, he supposes, the “in ten years I’ll…”, “in twenty years I’ll…” Would he have left Storybrooke, lived in an apartment like this, been a lawyer like the bachelor, or a doctor, a writer, a detective, a…
“Henry was a promising child.”
But no one will ever know exactly what it was he promised. Henry had been too busy thinking about their eventual happiness in the Enchanted Forest to be concerned with speculating on the subject, and it all seems a bit redundant now.
Things never quite turn out the way he imagines them anyway, so there’s no reason that would have been any different. Life teaches everyone that at an early age, whether you’re open to learning the lesson or not. Henry only had twelve-and-a-bit years of life, and even he had cottoned on. He used to lie in bed, awake, paralysed by the fear of it. (There’s no harm in admitting doubt now, is there?) The fear that he was ruling out a multitude of marvellous possibilities simply by virtue of having had the nerve to imagine them.
He wonders if that was why Emma had left, why he died, why one day when his mom finds a jacket she left behind stuffed in the cupboard under the stairs she gets this look of absolute rage in her eyes (the kind that always seemed reserved for his grandmother)—if he had made it all happen simply by having pictured the opposite: the war ended, the three of them out in the snow together. Emma might have even worn that jacket in the fantasy (he can’t quite remember). The three of them: happy. A family.
He had wanted it, thus it became impossible.
It’s one of the few farfetched notions that even he had dismissed when he was alive, but death had taught him even more strange things about the power of the mind.
(Like now that they think of him less he can feel himself slipping away. Death reverses a lot of things. His thinking made things impossible; their not-thinking makes him impossible. Huh.)
His mom throws the jacket in the trash and storms off. He thinks something ridiculous like, What if she comes back for it? He lingers, tries it on. It wouldn’t have fit his body, but he fits it. He can almost will himself to feel the texture of the leather, softer than you ever expect just by looking at it. A bit like Emma. He imagines burying his face in it, breathing in like that last breath he remembers in the snow and the cold, and smelling… smelling…
He has forgotten what Emma smells like.
Chapter 6: flame
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
The first time the smoke rises over Storybrooke—real smoke, the kind that billows grey and sooty, not the rolling pink vapours that had come before—the fire towers so high the tips of the flames could be trying to lick the heavens.
The smell of burning flesh lingers for days. It catches in Emma’s throat, and she vomits.
“You get used to it,” Regina says, trying to comfort her in her own impatient way.
She’s not entirely oblivious to what that sounds like when she sees Emma look up at her, horror-struck.
Regina sighs. “No, not really.”
Chapter 7: formal
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
When the knock comes at the door, Emma’s half expecting it to be Red in some fucked up echo of her grandmother telling her about city ordinances and how she can’t quite let her stay after all. She’s not expecting to relive either of her other visitors—Graham’s been gone a long time now, she hardly ever even thinks of him anymore, and Regina… Well. They’re a little beyond booty calls these days, and baskets of (poisoned, probably) apples too.
But then, there Regina is. She never did quite stop having the capacity to surprise. But this time, instead of the basket, she’s carrying a large paper bag, hugging it to her chest, with her fingers tucked under the bottom. The handles block her face slightly, almost like she’s hiding, even though she obviously isn’t. The smell of Chinese food wafts into the room.
“Have you eaten?” she asks as a greeting.
It’s not quite a lecture on the nature of the honeycrisp, but Emma suspects it’s likely to go in a similar enough direction: well, eat up, and you’ll have plenty of energy to get out of town. It’s late, yes, but then it was the last time too, wasn’t it?
Emma’s about to say yes, she has actually thankyouverymuch, but then her stomach gives her away, gurgling at the promise of a full dinner.
“No,” she admits, expecting Regina to roll her eyes at Emma’s apparent inability to look after herself, but maybe even that’s a gesture too familiar for them now. Although, that does bring into question how bringing her dinner unsolicited isn’t.
“I thought not,” Regina says, tone distant and clipped. “I brought this.”
There’s definitely enough food for two in the bag—more than that probably. Maybe it’s a sort of peace offering, after earlier at the graveyard, whatever that had been that had passed between them then. Peace offerings aren’t exactly Regina’s style, though, not without some hidden surprise: a message between the lines, a deadly poison—and they had just been the ones for her. But it doesn’t seem particularly likely that Regina’s trying to stuff her into some kind of lethargy so she can be casually rolled out of town. Somehow, even though it’s her, ‘peace offering’ makes more sense.
“Oh. Um. You want to come in?”
Regina purses her lips like it’s the very last thing she wants, but when Emma steps back and clears the way she takes a wide but stiff step over the threshold, peering around her.
“Is there somewhere I can…?” She shrugs the food in her arms.
“Oh, uh, here,” Emma says, stepping towards her and relieving her of it, placing it gingerly on the bed.
Regina folds her arms and just stands there.
“You’re joining me, right?”
She seems startled by the question.
“It’s not poisoned or anything?”
Regina blinks and recoils a little, almost imperceptibly, but Emma catches it and feels instantly guilty.
“Sorry, that was… that was a shitty thing to... I’m an asshole. Please just… stay.”
“Miss Swan,” she says, and really, the fact that after all this time she can still slip into that mode of address so effortlessly is… a little unnerving. But Emma knows these tricks a little better now—Regina, ever the politician, hiding behind formality. “I think you’re forgetting who it is that usually finds staying a challenge.”
Ouch. “I deserved that.”
Regina falls quiet.
“You want to sit down?” Emma asks, doing so herself, slouching on the bed and beginning to fish some of the boxes out of the bag, splitting a pair of chopsticks and holding them out to Regina.
Regina doesn’t sit down, but she accepts the proffered utensils, her fingers ghosting over Emma’s, almost touching her, but not quite. Emma finds herself staring at Regina’s hand, holding on a split-second too long as she does, and when she looks away she spots Regina looking at her properly for what she realises is the first time in three years. Here, and at the cemetery, it had all been averted eyes and turned backs.
“It’s snowing,” she says unexpectedly, and tears well up in her eyes.
“Oh,” Emma says, and a glance towards the window confirms it. She can just make out the flakes as they fall past, lit up only by the soft glow of the lamp in her room. “I can shut the curtains if—”
“No,” Regina interrupts, turning on her heel and sitting down next to Emma, perching on the edge of the bed straight-backed, feet together. “He always watched it, remember?”
“I fucking hate snow.”
It shouldn’t be funny, the unintentional throwback to older priorities, but it is. Regina hates Snow; Regina hates snow. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny—not much ever has been for Emma; she’d always been accused of being a little too serious—and it’s even a little sick, but it’s the first thing all day that even lets the corner of her mouth turn up just a little.
Regina isn’t smiling though.
“You live in the wrong state for that,” Emma points out.
“I can’t leave.” Regina sounds accusatory and envious all at once.
“I know,” Emma says, and passes her one of the boxes from the bag.
“You seemed to find it easy though,” she mumbles as she prises it open.
“It wasn’t easy. I just… couldn’t stay. Do you find holding on so easy?”
“I guess not.”
“You can’t let things go; I can’t hold onto them,” Emma says, scooping a load of noodles into her mouth. “Quite the pair we make.”
“What do you think Henry would say, if he could see us now?”
“I think he’d say we’re both idiots,” she answers through her mouthful.
“Maybe. But I’m still mad at you.”
“Well, I still want to run.”
That makes Regina smile, light and close-mouthed, but it’s tinged with despondency all the same. “It seems we are at an impasse,” she says.
“I don’t know… I could work on sticking around if you could work on forgiving me?”
Regina sighs. “You’ve only been back a few hours, Emma. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” She hesitates. “I need a drink. What have you got?”
“What makes you think I have anything?”
“Alright,” Emma concedes, finding herself almost embarrassed that she is so apparently predictable, that of course she’ll be drinking tonight. Avoidance is so much her raison d’être that this sort of drowning of her sorrows is inevitable. But then Regina’s handled grief in more destructive ways, really. “I have whisky. Cheap, though. Not the classy shit you like.”
“I shall endeavour to get over it.”
Emma grabs her overnight bag from the floor by the foot of the bed, and pulls the bottle of bronze liquid from it and hands it over to her.
“I don’t have any glasses.”
Regina quirks her eyebrow but doesn’t say whatever scathing comment had clearly just graced over her lips, and instead sets the chow fun she’d been holding aside and twists the lid of the bottle open, bravely taking a large swig. It’s a weird sight, Regina, proper to the last with the world’s greatest posture, swigging cheap booze from the bottle like a teenager on a park bench. Emma can’t imagine her as a teenager, never could, though what the hell did she know about teen years in upper class Enchanted Forests? She probably had had to grow up a lot faster than she would have here.
“My,” Regina says. “That is quite special.”
Emma takes the bottle back from her, taking a gulp herself and wincing at the taste as Regina fidgets with the cap in her hand. She’s suddenly struck with the idea that it’s Henry that should be doing this, not them. He’d be fifteen—Emma had started drinking before that age—probably sneaking a bit of bourbon from one of Regina’s seemingly infinite number of decanters.
She coughs a little, as the thought forms a lump in her throat.
Dinner and half the bottle later (though Regina only really pokes at her food, and all in all they both leave more than they eat), Regina looks a little more relaxed, but only a little. Her cheeks have that slight alcoholic flush that reminds Emma a little too much of the other way those cheeks used to get that glow and all she wants to do is reach out and skim her fingers lightly over it, tuck that stray hair behind her ear.
But then Emma’s been drinking too, so the thought becomes an action without her really giving it permission to do so. Regina doesn’t withdraw like Emma would have expected.
“I’m not going to sleep with you,” she says, matter-of-factly, but presses her eyes shut and Emma can’t help but suspect that she’s trying to tell herself that just as much as she’s trying to tell Emma.
And well, there’s no reasoning with a tipsy Emma after that kind of thought occurs, apparently, and she kisses her anyway. It’s light, if a little imprecise, and Regina’s mouth opens just a touch. She tastes of take-out and whisky, obviously, but something almost indiscernibly familiar underneath that tastes a little bit like coming home and that scares Emma shitless.
“Oh,” Regina says when Emma pulls away again. “Well, if I do sleep with you it doesn’t mean that I like you.”
“Did it ever mean that?”
Regina answers her with a kiss.
Chapter 8: companion
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
“I understand the desire for… companionship in a time like—”
“Mary Margaret, please. Companionship?”
“My name is Snow, dear. I get the not addressing me as your mother thing, but at least use my name, and not the one that woman gave me.”
“Well, you could use her name.”
“You do realise what she did to us, right?” Snow says, ignoring her. “To you.”
“Of course I do. This isn’t exactly straightforward for me. And it’s not exactly the first thing about this whole situation that I didn’t ask for either.”
Snow sets her tea down. Her eyes show flash of guilt. “Well, she’s not who I’d have picked for you.”
“Because you were King George’s first choice, right?” Talking of what happened in Henry’s book, of kings and true love and magic, like it all actually happened is still weird for her, and she can feel herself grimacing as she says it. Snow doesn’t seem to notice though as she bites her lip and studies Emma for a second in thought, with that weird look on her face she’s been wearing around Emma ever since the curse broke. Kind of like how Regina looks at Henry sometimes these days.
“You know if I’d have raised you, you’d be less of a smart-ass.” She pauses. “Do you love her?”
“That’s not the point.”
“I’d have thought that’s exactly the point.”
“We’re not in fairytale land, Mar—Snow. It doesn’t always work like that here.”
“I’ve lived in this world as long as you have, Emma; don’t give me that. Love is just as much of a thing here as anywhere.”
“Well, if you’re asking if we’re the next Snow and Charming, then no. But she’s Henry’s mom—that’s got to count for something—and she’s fighting for us now.”
“A few months ago you wanted to take Henry from her. What could possibly have changed?”
“Everything changed. You didn’t see her. She gave up everything for him—every last thing.”
“You do love her.”
“Shut up. I told you it’s not that simple.”
“What makes you think anything about love is simple?”
Emma glares at her.
“Alright, so it’s more complex than your simple mother can understand. You win. I can’t be nice to her, but I guess I won’t kill her in her sleep.”
“Well, I guess that’s more than I could have asked for. Thank you.”
Emma places her mug in the sink and makes to leave before Snow can take any of it back, so she (and Regina too, she supposes) can have this small victory for at least a few hours.
“But, Emma,” Snow calls after her, and she curses herself for not being fast enough, turning around slowly to see Snow’s deadly serious expression. “If she hurts you she’ll have a whole other war on her hands.”
On Mary Margaret that kind of threat might have looked ridiculous, but this new woman that Emma’s been getting to know pulls it off. Emma almost feels a little scared for Regina, for a fraction of a second, before she remembers how Regina is quite capable of holding her own in a fight.
But then another thought comes to her that’s scarier than the two of them put together: that she hopes it doesn’t come to that for more than just a fear of such a fight.
Chapter 9: move
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
“Get out of my way, dwarf,” Regina snarls.
Grumpy crosses his arms at the doorway in steadfast defiance. “I don’t answer to you, lady,” he growls. “I answer to Snow White, and if she says we wait, we wait.”
Regina twists her hand in front of her, and the air moves around it, warming and glowing red—soft, but a clear threat of danger.
“He has my son. Now move. I won’t ask you again.”
“Regina,” Snow says, and from the simple utterance of her name comes the warning, loud and clear. “We need to be careful. We need to stick to the plan. If you storm in there and start throwing your magic around, anything could happen.”
It takes everything within Regina not to turn on her, to mute her with the storm of magic that brews in the clouds at her fingertips. In the end, it may well only be the gentle warmth of fingers coiling around her wrist that prevents her from levelling the whole house just to silence them all.
She tries to jerk away, but Emma’s hold only tightens. Regina attempts to catch her eye warningly but Emma’s attention is fixed on Snow. It’s a foolish thing, to touch someone else’s magic, but Emma has always seemed to pride herself the most on acting like a fool. Regina relaxes her arm and the air loses its light.
“Mom,” Emma says, and it’s barely louder than a sigh. From the flash across Snow’s features, it’s clear she heard. “Please.”
It’s all it takes, somehow, for Snow to turn away, give a simple nod to Grumpy to stand down. Sometimes, Regina concedes, she might need to give Emma a little more credit for knowing what she’s doing.
Emma tugs on Regina’s arm until she turns such that they face each other, and leans in towards her ear. Regina expects a plea for Henry’s safe return from Gold, if anything.
“Kill him,” Emma whispers instead.
Chapter 10: silver
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
More than a few bruises have already taught Regina that Emma Swan is a throw-you-against-the-wall first, ask-questions-with-her-hands-at-your-throat later kind of girl. This time, though, it’s the barrel of a gun pressed underneath her jaw, the lapels of her blazer bunched in Emma’s other fist, as Regina is arched backwards over the desk in her study.
“What the hell is this?” Emma asks.
“I was about to ask you something similar,” Regina croaks.
Regina is just wondering how long this latest episode of breathing heavily in one another’s faces is going to last—and she’d almost be getting used to it, were it not for the strain on her back—when Emma unexpectedly lets up, releasing Regina and stepping backwards.
Regina straightens her spine, rolling her shoulders.
“I found this in your desk, loaded,” Emma says, holding up the gun. Regina should have seen this coming. Opening up her house as a base had come with conditions—one of which was that Regina should have no secrets. Emma has looked through her things before. “Why the hell do you have this?”
“You have heard of the Second Amendment, no? It’s not a crime,” Regina says. “Though I am aware you sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between what is and isn’t, Sheriff.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “This was in the chamber,” she says, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a bullet.
“Well, what were you expecting? A tic tac?”
“It’s fucking made of silver, Regina. Don’t think I haven’t figured out who this is meant for.”
“Then why are you asking me about it?”
“Ruby hasn’t changed once since… magic came here.”
“Hence why there’s been no reason to use it. And her name is Red.” Regina isn’t sure why she bothers making the correction. The girl is nothing to her.
“Do you have some back-up to kill all of our allies? Is there a bullet somewhere with my name on it?”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.”
“I’m not being dramatic, Regina. I just don’t trust you.”
“Good. You shouldn’t trust anyone. Because if the magic here starts playing up and something like that happens, something like Red’s curse returning, the last thing that is going to protect Henry is how much you trust her. Besides, it’s only been four months, and four full moons is not a sample size that should put anyone at ease.”
Emma can’t maintain their eye contact after that, blinking lightly, her gaze flitting over anywhere but Regina—the hardwood floor, mostly. It might have felt like a victory, once.
With a small flick of her wrist both gun and lone bullet are pulled out of Emma’s hands and into the air, from where Regina plucks them. She releases the magazine and slots the bullet back in. Emma doesn’t try to stop her.
“Should I set one aside for you, too?” she asks instead, nodding towards the weapon in Regina’s hand.
Regina clips the magazine back in with the heel of her palm, pulls back the slide. It might have been a more crude form of protection than her magic, but in a land where magic wands had been little more than benign toys that Henry used to play with, one took what one could get. The click of the bullet loading isn’t exactly this world’s least satisfying noise, at any rate.
“Your father’s sword might be more effective in my case,” she admits, returning the gun to the drawer where Emma found it. “But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
When Regina tries to walk past Emma to the door, she’s stopped by a hand on her bicep. Regina had rather hoped the manhandling would be done for the day.
“Why would you even tell me that?” she asks incredulously. “Do you… you don’t trust me. Do you?”
Regina tugs her arm away. “Don’t be an idiot,” she says, but it comes out with far less bite than she had intended.
Chapter 11: prepared
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
There’s a lot of waiting, in war. Or at least, in this kind of war. Six months ago, if someone had told Emma that she would be a soldier in a conflict that spanned two worlds, after the disbelief she might have imagined trenches, gunfire, a scuffle between two dirtied bodies. But in Regina’s too-clean mansion, all there is to show for their struggle is the single wall in the living room devoted to it, adorned with maps and timelines, colour-coded post-it notes scrawled on with what little intelligence they’ve managed to glean, strategies in code, contingency plans, rotas.
“I’m so tired I could die,” Emma breathes, leaning back on the sofa that faces it and rubbing her eyes. She thought she knew exhaustion before, had worn herself down so hard until her muscles twinged in protest at every movement, until her very joints ached, but the physical strain that often went hand in hand with her old life is nothing compared with the fatigue that clouds her mind now.
Regina doesn’t respond, just stands in the corner and pours two drinks.
“Are you sleeping?” Emma asks her.
Regina’s head darts up. She looks confused. But, then, Emma supposes there’s no one who asks her these things normally. Emma has Snow and James with brows furrowed in eternal worry asking her question after question about her wellbeing. Regina has, at most, an increasingly stroppy preteen who doesn’t know how to talk to her at the best of times.
“Some,” Regina says after a pause. “Are you?”
Emma nods. “A little. Not enough. My brain won’t switch off. I… I’m worried about Henry.”
There’s a flash across Regina’s features as she strolls over to join Emma on the couch, like the instinct to remind Emma that Henry isn’t hers to worry about is still in full effect within her, but instead she says, “Me too,” and presses a glass into Emma’s hand.
“You still think Gold will target him?”
Regina worries her bottom lip. “It’s what I’d do,” she says sadly. “But we’re prepared for that, right?” she asks, nodding towards the wall.
“Right. We’re prepared for almost everything.”
“Almost,” Regina agrees, and they both know it’s not enough. Tonight will be spent lying awake, staring into the darkness, listening out for even the slightest sound of intrusion. There will be someone on guard, of course, but there always is. It doesn’t help.
Emma leans across the space between them and kisses Regina lightly. Regina makes a surprised sound, like she has done every time, but she leans into it much more easily now. When the kiss deepens, Emma can taste the downed scotch on Regina’s tongue, can feel her fear in the way her fingers curl tightly in Emma’s hair as she straddles her lap.
This part is newer, unplanned and dangerous, and yet the only thing in the world over which Emma ever feels like she has any control.
Chapter 12: knowledge
Chapter by natalah (icicleair)
“This is so stupid.”
“No it isn’t,” Emma says. “But you will be if you don’t keep up with your work.”
Henry scowls. “The Dark One takes over the school and I still have to do my math homework,” he sighs. “There’s a war going on, you know. I’m not sure that knowing how much”—Henry squints at his paper—“Jacob has to pay for three oranges is any use to that.”
“One day, Henry, this will all be over,” Regina says from the corner of the dining room she’s been standing in since she called for Emma. “And you’ll be thankful you’re not behind on your studies when that day comes.”
Henry rolls his eyes. Yeah, because that’ll be his first thought when Rumpelstiltskin is defeated: Gee, war was hell, but at least I got a handle on worded math problems.
Emma ruffles his hair. “You let us worry about the war,” she says. “Your priority is not letting that brain turn to mush.”
A couple of months ago, he could have sworn Emma would have been jumping at the chance to tell his mom to go easy on him. Now she’s catching her eye and smiling—only lightly, but it’s noticeable enough—while they force him to work. He doesn’t know what’s changed, but it’s possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to him.
“I liked it way better when you were on my side,” he mumbles, and Emma just laughs.
“I’m always on your side, kid,” she says. “It doesn’t mean your mom isn’t right. Do you know what I would have given to have had a mom who cared enough to pester me about my homework when I was your age?”
“I’m hardly pestering him.”
“Fighting your corner here, Regina.”
Henry sits back in the dining room chair, takes his pencil between his teeth as he looks back and forth between the two of them. His mom just backed down way too quickly.
“What’s going on?”
His mom raises an eyebrow and looks at her watch. “If you get going now you should be be done by five,” she says, ignoring his question. “Emma?”
Emma gives a single nod to her as she walks out of the room. “If you need any help, just ask,” she says, pushing out of her own chair and following in the direction Regina just went.
This can’t be good at all.