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You do not have to walk on your knees

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You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

(Wild Geese by Mary Oliver)

 

--

 

 

By the time that Emma finds out that Archie’s not dead – therefore establishing that Regina didn’t, you know, viciously murder him – it’s too late. Regina has already gone full on Evil Queen. Which is to say, she’s joined up with her mom and Captain Skeeze and started wearing a lot more eyeliner. She keeps showing up in random bursts of purple smoke and announcing the impending doom of everyone in Storybrooke. She vanishes before anything doomy actually happens, but considering the amount of eyeliner she’s rocking, Emma suspects it’s only a matter of time.

 

It’s a lot for a new mom to take.

 

So it’s possible that Mary Margaret walks into the apartment one afternoon to find Emma lying on her bed staring blankly up at the ceiling. Listening to Adele.

 

“Oh, Emma,” Mary Margaret says, concerned, and perches on the side of the bed.

 

“What did people do when they were sad in fairytale land?” Emma asks dully. “No Adele. I mean, that must have been rough, right? How did you guys even process emotion?”

 

Mary Margaret pauses thoughtfully, her hand soft on Emma’s shoulder. “Sometimes, I would talk to a bird about it,” she says at last.

 

Hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited, contributes Adele.

 

“Still weird,” Emma decides.

 

“They’re very good listeners.”

 

“I’m pretty sure they’re just being birds.”

 

Mary Margaret looks kind of offended. In a subtle, princesslike way, but still. It’s definitely there.

 

“Let’s agree to disagree,” she says delicately.

 

“Good enough for me,” Emma mumbles.

 

“Emma,” Mary Margaret attempts again, “what’s wrong?”

 

“I did this,” Emma tells the ceiling. “It’s my fault Regina went dark again. I knew in my gut that she didn’t kill Archie. When I looked into her eyes, I knew she wasn’t lying. But I still let myself turn against her the first chance I had. It was selfish and stupid, and now she’s gone, and it’s my fault. And of course there was a part of me that wanted Henry all to myself, but – but so what? That was putting my interests before his. Storybrooke’s been invaded by sadistic fairytale lunatics, and you know who I really want on my kid’s side now? A badass evil witch queen. And I don’t know how to do any of this. When I made him lunch the other morning, it was a Coke, a bag of Fritos I found in the back of the cupboard, and a low-fat yogurt. I could practically feel Regina strangling me. And, like, laundry. Laundry! Should I have to wash his underwear? I mean, he’s eleven. It seems invasive. Is there a parenting book about that? I need a parenting book. I might need all the parenting books.”

 

“I’m probably not the person to ask about that,” Mary Margaret says, which makes Emma feel a whole new level of crappy. They still haven’t gotten very good at talking about the whole ‘you missed out on the first twenty-eight years of my life’ thing.

 

Emma decides to stick to the problem at hand. “It’s my fault Henry lost his mom.”

 

“You’re Henry’s mom, too,” Mary Margaret reminds her gently.

 

Emma hugs a pillow to her chest, trying to be gruff about it. “That doesn’t make up for him losing his first one.”

 

Never mind, I will find – someone like youuuuu, Adele contributes.

 

Finding someone else like Regina seems like kind of a tall order. That’s probably a good thing. The world can barely handle the one it’s already got.

 

(Plus, Emma likes the one the world has already got. In a nemesis way.)

 

 

+

 

 

As it turns out, there is something more insufferable than Emma Swan, and it’s having one’s mother invade one’s house. Outside, a protective shield crackles around the mansion grounds, glowing bright blue and malevolent. Anyone who dares cross it will be slowly and painfully reduced to smithereens.

 

Regina, trapped inside, can entirely sympathize.

 

“At first I was unimpressed by this world,” Cora says, “but I’ll admit it has its uses.”

 

“It’s ice cream, Mother,” Regina says flatly. “You’ll get used to it.”

 

Cora primly finishes the rest of her bowl of mint chip, then dishes out a few more scoops. She muses, “How long do you think it would take, to become queen of such a demesne?”

 

Regina scoffs. “Believe me, it’s not worth the effort.”

“Really?” Regina knows not to trust the gleam of seemingly pleasant interest that comes into her mother’s eyes. “You seem to like it here.”

 

“Here a woman can make a life for herself without having to destroy everyone in her path to do it,” Regina answers. She sounds perfectly poised, but something tugs at her heart. A foolish yearning. “Have I mentioned that I reigned as mayor for twenty eight years while raising a child on my own?”

 

“Do mayors reign?”

“Essentially,” Regina sniffs.

 

“You made yourself mayor, dear. It’s not like the squalling masses had a choice in the matter.”

 

“The squalling masses had nothing to complain about.” Regina chooses not to mention the whole curse part. “I always had Storybrooke’s best interests at heart.”

 

“Yes, but it’s not as if it mattered, did it? And we really must see about getting that boy a father.”

 

“Henry has more than enough parents already, thank you very much.”

 

“Really, Regina. You could at least attempt some guise of propriety.”

 

“Things are different here, Mother. A woman doesn’t need a man to be proper. Henry has me, and Emma Swan, not to mention those insufferable grandparents of his. I doubt he’d want to welcome a father into the fold. Besides, I don’t really have time to date, and sorry to inform you, but arranged marriages aren’t exactly in fashion any longer.”

 

“A lady doesn’t date, Regina. Whatever on earth that is. A lady is courted.”

 

“Well, I’m not courting,” Regina snaps. The word sounds ridiculous. Perhaps she’s grown more attached to this world than she realized.

 

“Don’t get angry, dear,” Cora orders. “Not when we have so much catching up to do.”

 

“Of course not, Mother,” Regina says, her voice dropping demurely without her own permission. As soon as she’s said it, she wants to take the words back. She hasn’t sacrificed everything (lost everything) just to become the scared girl she was so long ago.

 

“Why do you keep mentioning her?” Cora asks after a moment. “Emma?”

 

“She stole my son from me,” Regina snarls. “Forgive me if she’s on my mind.”

 

“She’s very uncouth,” Cora says, wrinkling her nose. “What is it with you and obsessing over your lessers? First that insipid stable boy, and now—”

 

Regina explodes the bowl of ice cream with her eyes.

 

“I chide because I care, Regina,” her mother says calmly. No one should be able to look that superior with ice cream dripping down her cheek.

 

“Besides, Cora, you can’t blame her for a spot of obsession,” comes the leering voice of that insufferable vagabond Hook. He swaggers into the room. Regina shudders to think what filth he’s besmirched her house with. He hasn’t even taken his boots off. Of course. “Emma Swan knows how to leave a person in thrall.”

 

“Do silence yourself, Romeo,” Regina orders regally, and imagines setting his head on fire.

 

 

+

 

 

The look on Henry’s face when she tells him about Archie simultaneously renews Emma’s faith in the world and completely terrifies her. Sometimes she feels like she’ll never get used to loving someone this much.

 

“You know what that means, don’t you?” he cries. “We can get my mom back!”

 

“Oh, Henry, it’s not that easy,” Emma sighs. “You know how she’s been acting, since—”

 

“But that’s not what she wants,” Henry protests excitedly. “That’s just because she’s hurt. If she was really evil, she couldn’t hurt. Don’t you get it? She loves us. I bet that if we say we’re really sorry, and let her know we mean it, she’ll come back to our side. She’ll help us stop Cora and Hook, and maybe she’ll even teach you how to control your magic—”

 

“Whoa. Slow down there. And besides, she loves you, kid. Not us. Definitely not any ‘us’ that I happen to be a part of.”

 

“Oh,” Henry says. “Yeah. Me. That’s what I thought I said.”

 

It’s slightly too casual. Emma is struck by a sudden, stupid, insane suspicion.

 

“Henry,” Emma says slowly, “you’re not having ... Parent Trap thoughts, are you?”

 

“What’s a parent trap?” Henry asks earnestly.

 

Oh, thank God Regina apparently never let him watch television.

 

“Never mind,” Emma says. “Let’s go find your mom.”

 

 

+

 

“A lady doesn’t walk,” Cora informs her when Regina says she’s going out for a walk around the yard. “She strolls. Beneath a parasol, if at all possible. Do you even own a parasol? And besides, it’s already getting dark.”

 

“Don’t wait up, Mother,” Regina replies, trying to keep the venom out of her voice. She doesn’t try very hard.

 

“A mother always waits up, Regina,” Cora’s voice trails after her.

 

The last time Regina spotted Emma Swan from her window, she had a chainsaw in tow. This time, she has Henry. It fills Regina with the kind of rage that makes the chainsaw debacle look positively quaint in comparison.

 

 

+

 

 

“What the hell are you thinking?” Regina demands when she reaches them. They stand on the other side of the magical barrier, their faces slightly distorted by the quivering waves of blue. They’re only feet away, but the distance might as well be miles. “Bringing him here. Do you know what these people would do to him without a second thought?”

 

“I know,” Emma says, “but he insisted—”

 

“What do you want, Henry?” Regina asks. The words come out sounding tired.

 

“Mom,” Henry says, the urgency in his voice like an arrow to her heart. “We’re sorry. Archie’s back, and he told us about Hook and Cora, and we know now that you were telling the truth, and we’re so, so sorry that we didn’t believe you.”

 

She tries to stare frostily down at him. Henry stares up at her, undaunted, his expression full of hope. Her whole heart breaks and mends all at once.

 

Bursting into tears is an unfortunate side effect of the feeling.

 

“Oh shit,” Emma says. Eloquent as ever.

 

Really, Miss Swan?” Regina manages crossly through her tears. “With Henry right there?”

 

“I mean, uh, shoot,” Emma fumbles. “Henry, just – pretend you didn’t hear that.”

 

“Hear what?” Henry says obediently.

 

“Good. Um, Regina – why are you ... uh, don’t cry. We know you’ve been through a really hard time lately, what with being framed for murder – and it’s probably a good thing you’re figuring out now that that’s not a nice thing to have happen to you, because when you did it to Mary Margaret it seriously wasn’t cool – but, um, I guess we can talk about that stuff later, because everyone’s been under a lot of pressure lately, and I bet that includes you, because your mom is a raging psychotic super bitch, but – um, oh, crap. I meant your mom is ... not a nice person?—”

 

“I’ll allow that one,” Regina sniffles.

 

“Oh, thank God,” Emma says. She actually smiles a little, which has the effect of making her attack of word vomit slightly more palatable. “Anyway. The point is, we’re sorry. Please. Come with us.”

 

She lifts a hand – which is ridiculous; what does she mean to do, take Regina’s? – and her fingers hover perilously close to the barrier.

 

“I can’t,” Regina snaps, wiping her cheek with her sleeve. “In case you’ve failed to notice, this is a barrier.”

 

“You mean you can’t just ...” Emma waves her hands in a very insulting impression of what Regina guesses is a spell. “Poof!, and then you’re through?”

 

“Only if I want to die an agonizing death. And though it’s tempting, I’m not quite there yet, thank you.”

 

Emma frowns. “So she trapped you, too?”

 

“Trapping me has always been a special hobby of hers,” Regina says bitterly.

 

Saying it in front of Henry, she finds herself reminded, painfully, of turning the trees against him. Locking him in his room like the villain she is.

 

She deserves to stay here forever, listening to Captain Hook ramble drunken sonnets to Emma’s breasts while her mother consumes all the ice cream in Storybrooke.

 

God.

 

“We’ll get you out,” Henry insists; it makes her want to start crying all over again. Then he takes the slightest step forward.

“Henry, don’t you dare!” Regina orders, her heart lurching. “Emma, keep him back.”

 

Even as the words are coming out of her mouth, Emma already has her arms tight around Henry.

 

“I’ve got him,” she says. “Not a step, kid.”

 

“We have to get her out,” Henry protests, struggling.

 

“We will,” Emma says firmly. “We just have to do it right. Regina, what will happen if we go through?”

 

Regina goes to the nearest apple tree, picks one, aims it directly at Emma’s face (might as well get some catharsis from the experience), and throws.

 

Seriousl—” Emma begins to say.

 

She falls quickly silent when the apple hits the barrier, is momentarily outlined in a crackling current of blue, and then explodes. A modest pile of dust spills over onto Henry and Emma’s side of the yard.

 

“Oh,” Henry says in a small voice.

 

“Right,” Emma says.

 

“Exactly,” says Regina.

 

Emma is quiet, an expression of truly foreboding thoughtfulness on her face. At last, she says, “I bet I can come through.”

 

“What?” Regina and Henry demand in unison.

 

“Cora couldn’t take my heart. Maybe her magic doesn’t work on me.”

 

“Or maybe you’ll dissolve into a pile of dust,” Regina counters.

 

“I’ll start small, then.” Emma lifts a hand toward the barrier.

 

“Emma, don’t be ridiculous,” Regina orders. Fortunately, the panic she feels manifests itself as disdain in her voice. “The last thing our son needs is the severe trauma of watching you lose a hand—”

 

The our son feels so natural that Regina doesn’t realize it until it’s been said. Emma’s eyes flick from the barrier to meet Regina’s. Regina can’t begin to decipher the expression on her face, but it doesn’t look much like loathing.

 

The moment is about as excruciating as she suspects stepping through the barrier would be.

 

“Or do it, if you insist,” Regina forces herself to continue. “Be my guest. Maybe you and your pirate paramour can get matching hooks.”

 

“Ugh,” Emma grimaces. “Has Hook been talking about me?”

 

“And very little else.”

 

“Gross. I cannot stand that guy.”

 

“Really?” Regina asks lightly. “I thought he seemed like your type.”

“Yeah, maybe if my type was the worst,” Emma scowls.

 

“Like attracts like,” Regina says innocently.

 

“You guys!” Henry interrupts. “Knock it off! You can argue once we get Mom out!”

 

Regina feels a little flash of pride, amidst the slight embarrassment.

 

“Right,” Emma says. “The point is, Cora’s magic didn’t work on me once. Might as well try again.”

 

“Be careful,” Regina says, uselessly.

 

Emma lifts her hand to the barrier, trembling visibly, and pushes the very tip of her pointer finger against the blue. Immediately, her finger is surrounded by soft gold light.

 

“Whoa!” Henry says.

 

“Score,” Emma says.

 

“Well,” Regina says, “fine then.”

 

Emma takes a deep breath, then steps through the barrier.

 

For a split-second, she’s limned in gold – the most radiant thing Regina has ever set eyes on, never mind her jeans and messy hair and damned red jacket. She looks so simply, purely good that for a split-second, even Regina can believe in Storybrooke’s savior.

 

“Fancy seeing you here,” Emma says then, shattering the illusion, standing beside her. She’s slightly out of breath.

 

“Indeed,” Regina answers, trying to sound poised.

 

“Come on, then. I think that as long as you’re touching me, you’ll make it across fine.”

 

“Are you sure this isn’t just some elaborate ploy to disintegrate me?” Regina arches an eyebrow.

 

Emma chuckles. “That’s not really my style.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I’m more of a punch-you-in-the-face kinda girl.”

 

“I remember,” Regina answers dryly.

 

“You punched her in the face?” Henry asks, frowning.

 

“To be fair,” Emma says, “I think it was more of a mutual punching situation.”

 

You punched her in the face??” Henry exclaims to Regina.

 

“Never mind all that,” Regina says briskly.

 

“Weird,” Henry decides.

 

“Um,” Emma says to Regina. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

 

Emma awkwardly holds her hand out. Regina stares at it for a moment, feeling absurdly flustered, then clasps Emma’s fingers with her own. There’s a slight jolt that comes with touching her, but a pleasant one, like the golden magic that granted her safe passage across is still dancing in her fingertips.

 

“Milady?” Emma says faux-gallantly.

 

“Don’t be cute,” Regina orders.

 

“You’re fun as ever,” Emma grumbles.

 

Then they step through.

 

As promised, Regina doesn’t turn to dust.

 

It’s (though she will never tell Emma this) amazing. She feels the magic writhing around her – that familiar darkness striving toward her body, her heart. But this time, it stays at a distance. She stays calm, Emma’s magic as gentle and sure as sunlight, their linked hands an anchor. For once, magic feels nothing like being hollowed out.

 

But Regina doesn’t have much time to reflect upon that. As soon as they’re out the other side, Henry throws his arms around her.

 

“Mom,” he says, his voice muffled.

 

“Henry.” Regina blinks back tears again, one hand coming to rest on his hair.

 

Henry pulls away so he can grin up at her. “You’re one of the good guys now.”

 

“Yes,” Regina says after a moment, and finally lets herself smile. “I suppose I am.”

 

Henry clings to her again. She meets Emma’s eyes, her fingers still tingling with slight pleasant warmth, and can’t find it in her heart to hate her.