The first time Henry sees his daughter again, they’re in the graveyard in front of his tombstone and he doesn’t even grasp that it could be her for a moment.
It’s...Is this a mirage? Some ghost of a girl he’d once known, perhaps. Regina as the queen had been sharp and demanding and her love had been as deadly as her hatred. This woman walking toward him with trembling hands moves cautiously as Regina hasn’t since she’d been a child, eyes soft and shimmering and crinkled with what might be tears or joy.
And he thinks that this must be some cruel joke from Cora– Cora does love her cruel jokes– but then, the woman lifts a wobbling chin and whispers, “Daddy?”
No. It’s impossible. He stares at her, still and uncertain and disbelieving.
She shrinks back for a moment, her fingers folding and unfolding into her palm, and he notices for the first time that there are figures crowded behind her (he hadn’t seen anything but her before, this illusion of his sweet girl who’d once looked at him with this same gentle vulnerability in her eyes (daddy, I have to get away) and he’d been stunned into silence). He knows two of the people behind her, knows the woman who rests a hand on Regina’s shoulder in what’s almost impossibly maternal, knows the man beside the woman who lurks and looks so fond–
He doesn’t know the young man at her other side, who also gapes at him with the same expression as he gapes at Regina-who-was. He doesn’t know the woman beside the boy, fists balled and eyes narrowed as she watches him warily. But the first woman– the woman with a hand on Regina’s shoulder that Regina doesn’t shake off– this can’t be real. He’d thought he’d see Regina in the underworld someday (he’d dreaded it, been despondent when he’d imagined her full of rage and fury and nowhere to let it out, and he’d felt a little more grounded to this hell each time he’d imagined it) but not this Regina. Not with Snow White at her side and all five of them so unmistakably family.
The boy is the one who finally ventures to shatter the silence, and Henry is half surprised and half not when the boy says, “Abuelo?”
Something bends and cracks in the space between them.
He’s moving forward suddenly, gripped by this moment that seems to last forever. He’s touching the boy’s shoulder and the boy says, grinning up at him, “I’m Henry,” and oh. And there are arms around him, solid and emanating life like no one down here ever has been before, and he wants to turn his head– to see– this can’t be Regina, not like this– and his grandson is embracing him.
When he pulls away, he turns and meets Snow White’s shining gaze, and she nods and beams at him and blinks away tears she can’t possibly be shedding for Regina. The woman who stands behind Regina is still glaring at him, but her expression softens when he smiles at her. He still doesn’t know who she is, why she hovers like this behind his daughter, but he’s beginning to suspect–
He finally turns to his daughter, afraid she might fade away like an almost-memory, and she stares up at him with trepidation.
She looks at him as though she expects to be turned away, and the woman behind her says in a strained voice, “Regina, you don’t have to–” and Regina bows her head and waits.
She looks like a child again, like Regina before she’d destroyed herself with vengeance and before Cora had destroyed her with everything else. She looks like she’s awaiting punishment and penance and he can only think to say, “My dear child, I would have give you my heart a dozen years earlier if it had meant you’d find peace sooner.”
Regina crumples, sobs in place until her hands are on his waist and he’s clasping his hands on her cheeks so he can kiss her forehead. His grandson has a hand on Regina’s back and even the hard-eyed woman has her lips pressed together like she might cry. Regina slides her arms around him and he whispers into her ear– he’s so proud, he’s so glad, she’s comforted an old man long after he’d thought there could ever be comfort for him– and tears are still spilling down her face as she presses her cheek to his.
They make their headquarters at the house he stays in– it’s in the same location as Regina’s house aboveground, he discovers, and he should have guessed that before. “We perceive it a bit differently,” Regina says, tucked in beside him. Her son’s hand dangles loosely in her– they never quite seem to move apart. None of them do, Snow and her prince and the woman Young Henry had called Emma. They orbit each other and Regina and cling together like the family he’d thought they were from the start. “But this is home for me, too.” Regina’s eyes shine, shy but not unhappy.
“Does Cora live here, too?” Emma still sounds belligerent. Snow tosses her worried glances, but Regina hasn’t shown any sign that she’s noticed Emma’s tone.
“Sometimes,” he says. “It’s...well...she’s rather complicated.” He hadn’t been happy to encounter her down here, but he hadn’t been unhappy, either. She’s still the same old Cora, but there’s a new rawness to her when they talk about their daughter that belies some minute change within her.
“Right.” Emma breaks away from the group as they move upstairs, pacing near the door and shrugging off their queries, and Henry lingers downstairs as well.
If this woman is who she must be, he’s going to tread carefully. “Have I offended you in some way?” he asks mildly.
Emma shrugs, shoulders bobbing up and down as though she’s a grouchy child, but her eyes are still keen and wary. “Regina seems to love you, I guess.” She scowls, displeased with this nugget of information. “But I’ve met Cora. And Regina loved her, too.” There’s accusation in her voice, and he doesn’t know if he’s being condemned for being another who could hurt Regina or for not protecting her in the past. “I’m just looking out for Regina,” Emma mumbles.
He likes her at once, this sullen and watchful woman who looks out for Regina with the same alacrity as her son. He reaches for her wrist, grasps her hand between his, and says, “I’m glad she found you.” Emma’s lips part, startled. “After Daniel...” He closes his eyes. “I feared she would never love again.”
“Oh.” Emma is taken aback, sliding away from his grasp and shaking her head in tiny, quivering movements. “I’m not...we’re not...I’m her friend. I think. We’re family. We have Henry– I’m–” She’s stammering, stumbling over her words, and he watches her with amusement. “I just got out of a terrible, terrible relationship. Not with Regina! I mean–” She dances away from him, flushed and wide-eyed as she crosses the entrance hall toward the kitchens. “I should see if there’s people food down here. Living people. You guys don’t eat brains, do you?”
She won’t meet his eyes for the rest of the evening; and she nearly jumps out of her skin when Regina’s hand slides over hers, casual as she moves to a stove that must look different for them.
Young Henry keeps up a steady stream of exposition as Regina makes dinner, telling him the story of three decades done. Regina inserts her own commentary, a smile curling at the corners of her lips as she watches Young Henry talk to him. “And then I rewrote history and became the author,” Young Henry says, glowing with pride.
“Our hero,” David agrees from where he’s standing against the wall, grinning.
There’s something Henry still can’t grasp, even with the story as he’s heard it. “But the curse is broken now,” he says slowly. “And you’re still...” (happy? he doesn’t dare ask.)
“Emma broke the curse,” Regina explains. She nods to her. “The savior. And in time...” She spares a glance at Emma, who’s been sitting silently at the kitchen table, watching their movements but still outside them. And Henry hasn’t seen that look in Regina’s eyes since she’d begun skipping teatime to muck out the stables at sixteen.
“We became a family,” Young Henry puts in. His mothers are still staring at each other, something untouchable shining in their gazes. Henry is wise enough not to comment on it again.
Once everyone else is asleep, Regina sits with him, nervous again without her family there as a buffer. “There’s so much I want to say,” she murmurs. “You were lost for so long.”
As were you, he doesn’t say, but draws her hair back from where it swings over her face to see her clearly. “I have so many regrets,” he says instead. “So many times when I couldn’t give you what you needed.”
Regina shakes her head vigorously, but he plows onward. “But seeing what you’ve done– who you’ve become, the people who love you–” He calls her a revelation, calls her a sweet child, speaks about how she fills him with wonder with all she’s fought through and endured– (She gasps out a sobbing I’m so sorry and a sobs out a gasping I love you and he holds her close) –until tears are streaking down both their cheeks again and Regina is holding his hands tight enough that they’re numb and warm even in death.
And he can feel something within him opening up at last, tugging him somewhere new and different and right. He brushes it aside for the moment, embraces his daughter, listens to her whispers of hope (she still has hope, his wonderful, beautiful girl) and a future where she’ll be good, where she can be a hero and make him proud. “You already are,” he murmurs into her ear, and she holds him tighter as though she knows what she can’t yet.
She stands when it’s late and the sun is beginning to rise russet-red in the sky, and she says something about getting some air. He declines her invitation. “I’ll stay here,” he says, and she blinks at him as though she suspects... No. She kisses his cheek and steps outside to the porch.
Emma is first to rise, walking down the stairs a short while later with unsteady gait as though she hasn’t slept at all. She nods to him with less hostile, sleepier eyes, and steps out onto the porch beside Regina, their knees and sides knocking together as she sits.
Regina isn’t sitting alone anymore. He exhales, ready to go at last, the tugging within him stronger now. He rises.
A boy’s voice says from behind him, “You’re leaving us now, aren’t you?”
“It’s my time,” he tells Young Henry, who is unsmiling as he regards him from the stairs. “I have no more unfinished business.” Regina has forgiven him, has been given his forgiveness, has a family and a path. He can finally rest.
Young Henry shakes his head, brow furrowing and eyes sharp like Emma’s had been before. “No. We just met you. Mom just...Mom finally has you.”
“She has you. She has Snow and Emma.” The two women are speaking quietly on the other side of the screen door, silhouetted in the sunrise and their backs turned to their observers. “She has a place she belongs– a place where she can do good.” And he’s been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of it. “You’ll watch over her, won’t you, Henry?”
His grandson bobs his head. “Yeah, of course I will. But...”
Henry reaches for the boy’s hand, their fingers just touching as he finally surrenders to the light that’s been beckoning him for hours. He’s enveloped within it, ephemeral, safe and free.
He feels the slightest graze of his grandson’s fingers and turns around for one moment, to catch sight of Regina one last time–
She’s turned as well, Emma’s hand wrapped in hers and her eyes wide as she gazes into the maelstrom of light that’s taking him. Daddy, she mouths, eyes glittering with tears, and Emma pulls her close as he fades away.
He sees Young Henry run to them, sees him wrap his arms around Regina as they squint into the light. He sees Regina lean into him and sees Emma’s lips against Regina’s temple. He sees the three of them joined, locked together in each others’ arms, and then he sees nothing at all.
And he is content.