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this crown of thorns

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Daniel dies, and Regina breathes in, and breathes in, and breathes in.

--

“How can you do this?” Emma asks her, once, angry and hurting and tired of the war she was born to fight. “Why do you hate them so much?”

Regina feels her fingers dig into her palm like claws, remembers a little girl smiling widely at her as if she should be thanked, and then how there was nothing left but pain, settling inside of her like a lover. She fixes the smile to her face, and if it doesn’t reach her eyes, well, Emma probably isn’t expecting it to. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she says, makes the smile widen and gain too many teeth, turns herself into a predator, because she refuses to be prey.

“Of course you don’t,” Emma says harshly. “No wonder you’re such a terrible mother. What would you know about love?”

A lot more than you might think, Regina almost says, but doesn’t, because she has more defenses than that, because she refuses to show that much of herself. Love is weakness, she almost says, except that’s an even bigger lie than the ones she normally tells, because even she knows love is strength until it’s gone. “And what would you know about motherhood or family?” she says instead, because when she has nothing else left, at least she can still wound.

Emma flinches back like she’s been slapped, mouth twisting up with bitterness, but she says harshly, “And you think you know anything about it?”

Regina laughs and laughs, because it’s better than crying and she has to do something, can’t show her weaknesses first, says, “Well, aren’t we a pair.”

--

“You didn’t always hate me, you know,” Snow says.

Regina laughs. “Didn’t I?” she says, and conveniently forgets that it’s true, that once upon a time there was a scared little girl she only wanted to protect. “I don’t remember,” she says, smirking, and laughs when Snow blinks back tears. “Perhaps I was only pretending.”

“You weren’t,” Snow says. “And someday you’ll remember that and regret all of this.”

“I’ll only regret it if I fail,” Regina says, “and not because I used to care.”

--

“Henry, come here,” she snaps out, voice ringing out across the playground. He jumps, startled and half-guilty, grabs his backpack up and runs to her side, but Emma straightens up slowly, meeting Regina’s eyes steadily and without hesitation.

Regina looks back, grabs Henry’s hand in hers and holds it tightly, refuses to break their staring match first, refuses to lose any sort of fight to her.

“Mom?” Henry says. “Um. Are we going?”

“Yes,” she says. “Yes, of course.” And if she has to turn away first, she clutches Henry even closer to her and counts it as a win anyway.

--

At her wedding, she looks at her mother, her new daughter, her own hands clasped together so tightly she can barely feel them anymore. They are three generations of women with foolish fathers and no real mothers to speak of, and she thinks for a wild moment that one of these days, they should really try it the other way around.

--

“Why are you doing this?” Henry asks her, accusing as only children can be.

“Doing what?” she says, raises an eyebrow, pretends that if she keeps up the pretense he’ll forget about the truth, pretends that she can still go back to the days before he thought evil and meant it.

“All of it!” he says. “Why won’t you let them have their happy endings?”

She sighs, fakes exasperation. “Henry, there’s no such thing as a happy ending,” she says, and it’s not even a lie here, because the curse says only she can have one, but she’s waited and waited, and there’s nothing.

“There used to be,” he mutters.

She looks away bitterly, almost says, History is written by the victors, but stays her tongue at the last instant, plasters a smile on her face and says, “I’m sure you can find one, Henry,” as if that’s what he cares about.

He glares at her. “I just want everyone else to get theirs,” he says firmly.

She doesn’t say, Then I’m sure they will, because it feels too much like a prophecy, says, “Don’t you have homework?” instead, because she has nothing left to her but being his mother. He scowls at her even harder, and she almost laughs, because even after all this, she’s still bad at endings.

--

“What is it you want, dearie?” Rumplestiltskin says, smiles at her too wide, and she ineffectually tries to hide a shudder.

“I want to kill my mother,” she bites out, lifts up her chin and tries to look bold.

Really,” he says, drawing the word out. “Everything comes at a price, you know. And if you kill someone, whatever darkness was in their heart comes to yours. As evil as they were, so you will be. No going back.” He giggles, high and mocking. “Is that all right with you, my dear?”

“It’s fine,” she snaps. “I just want to kill her.” And maybe if she does, and that evil comes to roost in her breast, she’ll finally stop feeling quite so empty, quite so lost. “Can you help me?”

“Of course I can!” he cries out, beaming, and then holds up a finger. “For a price, of course.”

“Anything,” she promises, and he just smiles.

--

“Is this really all just about Snow White?” Emma says incredulously, staring at her with so much judgment she feels as if she must be on trial.

“No,” she says, and even though Emma is never going to understand any of it and isn’t trying, Regina almost wants her to. “This is really all just about me.”

--

“You don’t have to do this,” her mother says, and it is the first time she has ever heard fear in that voice.

“No,” she says. “I don’t.” And for a single moment, her mother looks relieved, but Regina smiles, and it falls away again.

She laughs, because she has never felt like this before, like she is powerful, and for a single, perfect moment, she thinks no one will ever be able to hurt her again. “Of course,” she says blithely, “that doesn’t mean I won’t.”

“I only ever wanted what was best for you,” her mother gasps, and Regina leans down far enough that the tips of her hair brush against her mother’s cheek, like a sweet caress.

“Congratulations,” she says. “I found it.”

--

Emma shoves her up against the wall. “I am going to beat you, Regina,” she says, “and then you’re never going to hurt Henry again.”

“I’ve never hurt him,” she hisses. “Never.”

“Oh, please,” Emma says harshly. “You’ve done nothing but. He hates you, and he’s miserable.”

Regina laughs and laughs and laughs. “Didn’t you know?” she says, leaning forward to look Emma in the eye. “That’s what being a parent is.”

--

Regina looks down at her mother’s body and tries to feel triumphant, pleased, sorry, anything, but she only feels cold.

--

“I do love him, you know,” Regina says, sitting back against the wall of her cell, iron shackles around her wrists.

“Who?” Emma says, looking at her incredulously from across the room. “Henry?”

“Of course,” Regina says. “Who else?”

Emma snorts, rolling her eyes and leaning back against her desk, hands shoved deep into her pockets. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

Regina watches her for another moment, and then looks away, up at the ceiling. “I always do.”

--

Henry leaves her, and she breathes in, and breathes in, and breathes in.