Be the Change – Chapter 11
"Emma! It's a glamour!" Regina cried.
Emma couldn't move. She was transfixed and Regina's voice did nothing to distract her. She stood stock still as Graham's decaying body took a few more steps towards her, his gait thankfully slower than Emma's ability to respond.
"But he's– he's wearing the suit…" Emma managed between ragged breaths. She could still remember seeing him in the plain, grey jacket and blue shirt. In his coffin. She had dragged a finger along the collar at the visitation and wondered who had picked it out for him, the clothes he would be wearing when he was put in the ground. She had wondered at the time if it had been Regina's choosing.
Regina grunted as she tried to push Daniel's heavy hands away from her. She was only lucky he was slow – Cora must have used some very old bodies to reanimate for her little stunt. Still, he was gaining; his hands were getting dangerously close to her throat. She was horrified by the possibility of reliving that experience again, of being choked violently by her former love.
"She wouldn't – be able to bring him back," Regina grunted, almost afraid to share the next part for fear of what the blonde would think of her, or what conclusions she would come to. But if it was a revelation that could stir Emma to action to save herself, then Regina could not hesitate any longer. "He didn't have his heart when he died – she wouldn't be able to control him! It's NOT HIM!" Regina managed to shout with a final push of effort. But that push meant that the strength she'd been holding Daniel's hands back with was all but sapped. His grip slipped forward and his fingers clamped down roughly around her throat, cutting off her air.
Excalibur, still heavy in her right hand, glowed suddenly, heating Emma's palm and breaking her trance. She looked down to it and then back up to Graham. She blinked at the man she'd known as Sheriff. Not him. Only a glamour. Her mouth closed, no longer gaping in horror. Her head snapped to her left where Regina was choking against Daniel's fingers, her face red with strain, her body railing against the one on top of her. As Regina's limbs weakened in their assault, Emma panicked. She raised her sword, knowing she wasn't close enough to attack properly and couldn't cross the distance in time. She focused on Regina's attacker from afar. Then she struck her sword through the air in front of her.
Her magic responded easily, running down the length of her blade as it shifted across the cemetery and came clear across Daniel's body, hacking one arm clean off. Emma winced a little at the barbarity of it in light of who the man looked like, but as Regina scrambled to her feet and away from the fallen corpse, Emma found that she didn't much care for subtlety at the moment. She ran towards the zombie, who was distracted by his futile attempts to get upright with only one arm. When she was a few steps from him, she swallowed hard. She looked up to where Regina was standing, soothing her sore neck, still catching her breath. They locked eyes and Emma asked a silent question. Regina didn't spare a glance at the corpse; she only nodded. Emma looked down at her prey and raised her sword. She brought it down hard, bringing it hard across his neck. The head fell with a thump and rolled a few metres before stopping completely, the corpse stilled finally.
"Hit the spine!" Emma shouted to her parents. Regina came to her side again and they faced Graham head-on.
Snow, meanwhile, had crept back towards Archie, who had finally figured out how to stand again and she pulled a long dagger from her belt. She repeated a small mantra – Not Archie, not Archie, not Archie – and then dodged around him, out of his reach and to the side, before striking him from behind, her dagger plunging deep into the back of his neck. His limbs stilled immediately and he fell to his knees and then forward onto his stomach in the dirt.
James was quick to follow instructions as well: pulling Kathryn forward and past him, he forced her to stumble, so that he could attack from behind, drawing his sword down and slicing across the back of her neck, large chunks of her yellow hair drifting to the ground around her as she fell too. He turned his attention on the approaching, shambling Leroy-monster and Snow appeared at his side to help finish the deed.
Regina and Emma faced Graham side-by-side, but before Emma could move forward to strike, Regina stilled her arms with a touch. Emma threw her a confounded look.
"My turn, dear." Regina said sombrely, not lifting her hand until Emma had dropped her sword completely and stepped back. Regina turned her focus on Graham's encroaching form and lifted her hand. Thick vines sprung upwards from the earth around him. His dry, slow eyes tried to follow the movement but were too slow to react to the long plant life wrapping eagerly around his limbs and torso, pinning his arms to his side, his legs together, rendering him completely immobilised. He wriggled a little against the restraints.
Regina's mouth was bent in a grimace as she stepped slowly towards the captured creature. The one that looked so much like the man she'd kept as her pet – unwilling and then unaware – for so long. When she was close enough to reach out to him, he struggled more violently against the vines. They only tightened further.
She brought a hand upwards and then dragged it down through the air; the vines kept their grip on the man but lowered him slightly into the earth until his eyes were level with hers, his feet following the source of the vines a foot into the ground to accommodate.
She looked into his bloodshot eyes sadly. In truth, she'd become quite attached to him over the years. It had caused her disdain at first, to realize she'd begun to care at all about a man that had started out in her service as a mere plaything. But having him at her easy beck-and-call had been a kind of odd comfort in the lonely era of Storybrooke. And looking into the shadow of his face only reminded her of his end at her angered hand. By now, Emma would understand fully that Regina was at fault. This fact, this hard truth, would bring about the end of what they'd begun. She felt sure of it. And terrified by it.
Regina could feel Emma's eyes hard on her back. She reached up a strangely unsteady hand to the corpse's cheek, petting it lightly. Bits of crusted skin fell away at her touch.
"I know it isn't really you," Regina said softly, unheard by any but herself and the reanimated corpse's dead ears. "But I am sorry. For everything. I'm sorry."
The words were useless. But she felt like saying them anyway. More to his memory than to Cora's crumbling display. It wouldn't change a thing, yet the need was filled. All that was left was her duty.
With one last look into the eyes that almost certainly could not see her properly, Regina pulled back her hand from the thing's face and turned her palm in the air 180 degrees. As her hand turned, so did the vines, spinning the corpse's body in the same manner, until she could see the back of his head. She put her palm there, at the base of his neck, and closed her eyes.
A thick pulse of light burst in an orb around her hand. Then the light went out. Regina withdrew her hand, opened her eyes. She stepped back and the vines withdrew from the body. Its muscles fell limp as the others had before; the weight of him hit the earth.
At the sight of the form sprawled on the ground, Regina closed her eyes again. Some small voice inside her wished that another of her mother's zombies would spring out, throttle her to the ground and finish her completely. It was what she deserved. It would be at least a small retribution for the horrors she'd wrought. Some diminishing return on the life she'd stolen from so many.
Then she felt strong arms pull her in close and her eyes snapped open just in time to glimpse Emma's chin before her face was brought into the crook of the woman's neck. Emma's hands soothed over her arms, up her spine. She said nothing, but Regina could feel the currents of Emma's magic instilling calm and peace. Regina sighed. She looked over Emma's shoulder to see Snow and David similarly embracing, checking one another for injury and wearing matching grins of victory. Regina had never thought she'd be on the same side as these victors, sharing in their success, but in the arms that held her, she didn't feel any sting of regret or unease. Only a happy glow.
"It reeks in here." Ruby squirmed as she stepped lightly down the stairs into the belly of the Jolly Roger. Her nose had led them easily to the harbour, though finding an empty dock had been discouraging. Belle, trusting Ruby's keen senses, had insisted on searching further, and nearly tripped headlong into the water when she stumbled across the boarding ramp.
"Will you be able to tell if anyone's coming?" Belle asked, making her way into the various cabins below deck, searching them one-by-one.
Ruby stopped and sniffed even as she grimaced at the action. "Yeah, I can still smell things… underneath. It's just harder."
"Where is Cora's scent strongest?" Belle asked, pausing in her efforts.
Ruby closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. After a few moments her eyes reopened and she took off towards the furthermost cabin. "This way," she beckoned to Belle to follow.
They ended up at the only cabin with a solid door. Through it lay what could only be the captain's quarters, though by the scent that draped the place, Ruby very much doubted Hook had been allowed in very often. It had become Cora's centre of operations, she was sure.
They began to frantically search every drawer and nook and shelf of the room, desperate for some clue.
"So what are we looking for exactly?" Ruby asked, shuffling through a stack of maps.
Belle shook her head. "I don't really know. A box that would carry the heart in it, I suppose. But she wouldn't exactly leave that lying about," She paused and lifted what she'd found in the bottom of a drawer: a book that looked well-aged and worn, as though read thoroughly countless times. She lifted it in her gauntleted hand.
Ruby looked up when she heard Belle stop rifling through drawers. She chuckled. "Leave it to you to find a book." Her smile fell when she noticed Belle was inspecting it sombrely. "What's in it?"
"It looks like a story or something. But it feels… wrong somehow."
"Well maybe we should just leave it then. Cora's probably got some pretty bad stuff in here."
"I think-I think it's about her."
Ruby crossed the room to Belle's side and looked to where she'd set the book on the desk. It was difficult to read, the text obscured by ash and ink marks, but the illustrations were still bright. There was a picture of a caterpillar in a cocoon of smoke, and a woman waiting outside of it, her hands waved in front of her, as though she were ready to strike.
"I'd bet that's Cora."
"Does it look like her?" Belle asked.
"Don't know. Never saw her myself. But Emma mentioned her stint in Wonderland. Looks like she's about to fry herself a butterfly."
Belle flipped a page backwards. "Rumple said she removed her heart a long time ago. Maybe there's something in here." She flipped until she found a picture showing a younger version of the same woman, this time placing a bright, red heart in a metal case. The woman also appeared to be pregnant.
"Well the picture's not much help," Ruby said. "Can you see what's written?"
Belle brought the book up closer to her eyes, scouring the text as best she could. "It's in a very old language." She tilted her head. "Several languages, actually."
"Languages you're familiar with, I hope." Ruby replied.
Belle turned slightly to beam at her. "Thankfully, yes." She turned her attention back to the muddled script and began to read aloud.
"Her deal made, the queen-to-be laid down her cursed heart,
And hid it in a place beyond the frame where vanity starts."
"The frame where vanity starts? Who wrote this thing?" Ruby scoffed.
"Someone under duress, I imagine," Belle said with a slight smile. The smile faded as she puzzled out the words. "The frame where vanity starts." She repeated. She put the book down to the desk and began to look around the room again, dragging her palms over the walls, pulling and pushing at fixtures and knobs and knots in the wood.
"And what exactly are you doing now?" Ruby asked, totally perplexed.
"I'm looking for a," she pulled at a candelabra on the wall. "A way through. She wouldn't have kept the heart here, out in the open where Hook could stumble across it."
"Okay, so you're feeling up the walls because…"
"Because there might be another room or something. She would need a place to hide it."
"Do you know what the words in the book mean, then?" Ruby went to the opposite wall, mimicking Belle's movements.
"I have an idea." She stopped moving and turned back around to Ruby. "Can you maybe, sniff it out? I imagine Cora's scent would be strong wherever her heart is."
Ruby closed her eyes again. She winced a little at the awful stink overlaying everything, and then inhaled deeply through her nose. Without opening her eyes she stepped across the room in a few different directions. She stopped sniffing for a moment, her eyebrows contorted, and she turned her head to the side, her ear towards the far wall. She stepped up to the same wall and placed her ear against it.
"I can hear it. Beating." She said softly.
Belle immediately joined her at the wall, repeating her prior actions, placing her hands on all spots over the wood. When her fingertips met a particular spot low on the wall, she pulled it back with a cry of shock.
"What, what is it?" Ruby asked, taking in her friend's distress.
"The wall it… burned me." Belle looked at the sore, red fingers in dismay.
"Try the gauntlet."
Belle knelt back down to the spot she'd just touched. This time she brought the steel tips of the gauntlet to the wall. She could feel the heat still, but instead of the metal holding the heat and burning her anew, it seemed to still the current and keep it back. She pressed harder with her entire hand, bringing the full weight of it against the wall. Ruby knelt beside her and put a little of her weight behind the hand.
A few moments more of pushing and the section of the wall sank inwards. When it did, the entire wall began to shift, pulling aside as if by some mechanism.
They both stood and observed the small hallway behind the hidden door. It appeared mostly as the rest of the ship did – crumbling wood, filthy and damp from the sea – except at the end of it was an unsuitably ornate half-circle end table. And above it, fit against the wall, a large, pewter, portrait mirror, showing them their own unsettled expressions.
Ruby watched as Belle's face curled in a smile.
"Well that was what I thought it might mean. A mirror." Belle said.
"The frame where vanity starts." Ruby repeated. "All right, then. Now what?"
"The book said 'the place beyond,'" Belle replied, leading them both to stand in front of the mirror.
"The place beyond the mirror." Ruby added.
Belle looked down at the gauntlet around her hand and then back up the mirror. She slowly reached out the index finger towards the glass.
Ruby grabbed her arm. "Careful. I don't want to have to tell your dark-magic boyfriend that I let you get blasted by a homicidal mirror." Ruby masked her voice in lightness but her worried expression gave her away.
Belle smiled at her friend for comfort but said nothing. She turned her attention back to the mirror and let the gauntlet touch the mirror's surface. Only it didn't stop. The tips of the fingers went through it, as if dipping into the surface of a pool that did not stir or ripple. Ruby was completely silent.
Belle, knowing her friend's concern, spoke up. "It feels a little like the door, very warm. It would probably scald me without protection." She felt around inside, unable to see what actually lay beyond. She could feel the metal of the gauntlet heating further. Soon her skin would be burning regardless of the glove's power.
She gritted her teeth and felt around for anything, resisting the urge to plunge her other hand in to help search. Just when she thought the burning sensation would be too much, she felt it: a corner, and then an edge. The feeling of metal on metal. She reached in further, ignoring her rebelling nerve endings and grasped the box. She met resistance trying to pull it towards her, as if something were on the other side, pulling it back.
"Help me pull!"
Ruby complied immediately, grasping Belle and pulling along with her with all her strength. By now, Belle was sure that her hand and wrist were littered with ugly burns. She could feel the skin blistering. Her forehead gleamed with sweat and strain as she made a final effort to pull, putting one foot against the table under the mirror to give her leverage.
"On three," Belle said and Ruby nodded to confirm. "One, two, three!" They pulled and Belle pushed her foot against the table with a firm kick. The two of them flew backward with the sudden force, skidding against the floor in a heap, breathing hard.
When Belle conjured the effort to sit up, she noticed the weight in her gauntleted hand: the iron box, just as it appeared in Cora's book. She smiled and laughed in delight.
"You did it!" Ruby cried brightly, pulling Belle into an unexpected wolf-hug.
Belle pulled back from the embrace. "We did it." They beamed at each other and Belle quirked one eyebrow. "Should we check to see what all the fuss is about? Wouldn't want to have come all this way just to find it empty." Ruby nodded in agreement and turned her eyes to the iron case.
Belle cautiously lifted the lid, exposing its contents. Both of them paled at the sight. The heart inside was beating slowly, heavily. Its colour was not red, but black and sickly. It oozed what looked like thick, bubbling tar from its centre. A thin tendril of smoke curled up from one side. Belle snapped the box shut with a wince, bringing the gauntlet to her stomach to guard her hurt hand.
"Did you get the feeling that it could –" Ruby began in a quivering voice.
"See us? Yes, I felt that."
"Do you think – do you think Cora knows?"
Belle worried her bottom lip between her teeth. "She might. But then again, she's been separated from it for a long time. Perhaps she can't sense it so well. If we're lucky."
"Good thing I'm always lucky, then. Come on, let's go." Ruby stood and reached out a hand to Belle. She reached for the gauntlet without thinking and made to yank the woman to her feet, but Belle recoiled immediately, drawing back the iron grip to hold it against her again. "Belle?!" Ruby's face twisted in concern. "What's wrong?"
Belle took the iron box in her bare hand and lifted it to Ruby. "Hold this for a moment, would you?" When Ruby complied, Belle brought her hand to the gauntlet and tugged lightly at it to pull it off, but before it moved an inch, she cried out, her eyes falling shut at the enormous pain running through her skin.
She opened her eyes to see Ruby's wide-eyed, worried face.
"I think the glove is stuck." She said. She didn't elaborate that her hand had probably burned to the inside of it, making it unmovable without tearing off a layer of skin.
"We have to get you to Gold. He can get it off, right?" Ruby said frantically as she helped Belle stand more carefully this time.
Belle shook her head. "You have to get that heart to Emma and Regina. I'll go to Rumple alone."
Ruby searched Belle's eyes for leniency – she didn't want to leave her friend when she was visibly in so much pain. But there was only a hard determination in those eyes. She nodded.
"Okay. Let's get the hell off of this boat. I'm sick of the stink."
The owner of Storybrooke's finest – and only – pawn shop had never looked so uncomfortable. He had never been a patient man; he hated waiting. And the thing, or rather, the person, he was waiting for was the one he truly hated the most, which made the wait all the more maddening.
He was sitting in his armchair, poised in front of the centremost counter, facing the front door. He would be the first and last thing Hook saw. Aimed at the entrance, ready to fire, was a stasis spell to halt the pirate in his tracks. It would halt the man so suddenly and so completely that he would be completely at the Dark One's will. And then Rumple could make his final remarks to his enemy, and end his sorry life. Rumple grinned at the thought as he sat a little more upright in his chair, hoping to appear more daunting and confident. His knee seized a little and he soothed it with his fingers, hating that he was showing any weakness.
It was only when he heard the bell of the door that his head snapped back up to see Hook – impossibly unchanged by the many decades since their last meeting – walking cockily through the door, unharmed.
"Rumplestiltskin." He said casually.
Rumple swallowed hard, baffled by his spell's failure. It should have fired by now – the pirate was past its mark.
"Hook." He returned in a steady voice, betraying nothing at first. Then his eyes shifted momentarily to the corner were the spell was to have emitted from.
Hook looked around as if searching for something to happen before returning his gaze to his adversary. "Did you have something planned for me? A little trap, perhaps?" Hook grinned, looking entirely too pleased with himself. Rumple ground his teeth together.
"After all this time did you really think it would be so easy, croc? Or did you let yourself believe Cora would actually give you the upper hand?" Hook pulled a small object from his vest: it was pocket-watch sized, but made of wood and etched into it were a series of symbols, painted in a dark crimson that could only be blood. He waved it towards Rumple before returning it to his clothes.
"She gave you a disrupter," Rumple said darkly, standing to his feet and steadying himself on his cane.
Hook only grinned wider. "I'm not fool enough to believe she cares for me, but she doesn't care much more for you. Today you'll have to fight like a man instead of a monster." Hook glanced down at Rumple's sore leg. "Or rather, half a man. Since that is all you ever really were."
He was barely done speaking before Rumple lashed out with his cane, aiming to strike Hook across the face but missing as the Captain stepped easily out of the way, laughing at the old man's fumbling attempt.
Rumple stumbled a few steps before regaining his balance. He flashed back around to face Hook again, in utter disbelief that the man was still as spry and evasive as ever.
"Wondering why I haven't aged?" Hook asked as he circled the shop, weaving behind one of the counters and picking up an old relic – a heavy crystal ball, green in colour – and inspecting it curiously as he continued speaking. "We can't all remain fixed like the Dark One, but I took a little journey to a place called Neverland. Kept me quite young. Well, it kept everyone quite young." He dropped the ball from his view and locked eyes with Rumple. "Did I mention that I met your son there? Saved him from the sea, won his trust. Then I sold him off to Pan for protection."
Rumple's face went red and his heart beat wildly. "You bastard!" He stepped forward again, swinging his cane over the counter at Hook but this time the Captain caught the end of the stick midair. He gripped it firmly, his expression turning stony and vengeful as he wrenched it from Rumple's grasp. The older man gripped the counter to steady himself but was too slow to react as Hook rounded it and used the walking stick to sweep Rumple's legs out from under him. Rumple collapsed hard against the ground, his back and bad leg screaming in agony. He cried out in pain, writhing on the floor, eyes shut.
Hook looked down at the man, disgusted and intrigued. "Without your magic you are nothing. And you will die as nothing as you should have long ago. Before you ever caused such pain to so many."
Hook lowered himself to the ground beside Rumple and then straddled his hips to lock him in place. Rumple struggled as Hook brought the cane across his throat and pushed it hard against the man's neck. Rumple pushed back against the stick but could feel his opponent's superior strength. He choked for air and felt his face turning purple, bulging with strain and blood. He pushed back still, trying to regain some semblance of control, but failing. He could see his end, the edge of death nearing and nearing. He would die a weak man, but not a coward. There was that at least.
Suddenly the force of Hook's hands let up; the cane weakened in its assault. The Captain's eyes went wide and his face paled. He looked as though he were about to fall over onto Rumple entirely before his torso was roughly pushed aside. His body fell to the floor beside Rumple as Belle stood, chest heaving and hand bloodied, staring down at him in fear.
Rumple caught his breath and reached out to her. She pulled him to his feet and into a firm embrace.
"You saved me, my love." Rumple said into her neck, gripping her tightly.
"He almost killed you," Belle said, her tone still conveying her terror.
Rumple pulled back in her arms and locked eyes with her. "But you saved me." He said firmly. His eyes twinkled as his mouth slipped into a wise smile. "Again." He looked down to Hook's crumpled form to see the knife plunged far into his back.
"Ruby insisted I take it." Belle said, responding to what had drawn his attention.
Rumple collected his cane from the floor where it had fallen and firmed up his stance. He turned back to Belle and noticed she was holding her gauntlet hand oddly, pressed against her as if it were a wounded wing.
She followed his gaze, gave him a sad smile, and then reached the gauntlet out to him.
"I had a bit of trouble getting to the heart, but Ruby has it. She's taking it to the others now."
He took the gauntlet in his hands tenderly, noticing her wince of pain when he handled it. He waved a hand over it and slipped it from her fingers with the other, his own face contorting in horror at the weeping burns beneath.
"Oh, Belle. I am so sorry."
"It isn't your fault. If it wasn't me it would have been someone else. Besides, I'm sure you will put me under the best care I could ask for." She smiled warmly.
"Of course I will." He retrieved a jar holding some kind of salve and a roll of gauze and began to tend to her injury. "We should get to the cemetery with the rest of them. I should like to see the end of the Queen of Hearts."
"The cemetery? How do you know they're there?" She asked softly, watching him work.
"I've been feeling power surge from that point. I'd guess she ambushed them once they hid the rest in the crypt."
"Can you tell – are they all right?" Belle asked, terrified of the answer, of what she might have sent Ruby headlong into.
Rumple shook his head, finishing the wrap around her hand and pinning it. "I can't say. Which is why we should make haste."
The applause of a single, captivated audience member wrung out through the cemetery grounds as the thick fog rolled out as quickly as it had rolled in. The clapping slowed as Snow, David, Emma, and Regina all turned their attention to its source, their happiness falling away.
Cora sat on top of a large, squarish tombstone, grinning in delight, her hands finally coming together in a final clasp.
"What an impressive display! It seems you've trained them all well, Regina. How studious of you."
Regina reacted immediately, lashing an arm out in her mother's direction. Nothing stirred: no magic, no weapon, nothing came of it. Regina snapped her hand back and looked at it as if it were a traitor. Cora's grin only widened.
"All spent, my love? I suppose you have been rather busy today. Expending plenty of magic to protect so many who still despise you."
Emma felt her phone buzz in her back pocket. She lost track of whatever Cora was saying as she tried to reach for it as stealthily as possible, desperate to avoid drawing attention. She slipped it out and pressed the screen to life without looking. When she thought she had a second, she glanced down to it to see a message from Ruby: "I'm here. I have it." Cora hadn't stopped in her monologue, but she had noticed Emma's distraction.
"Do you really think they'll ever forgive the Evil Queen? None of them will. Not even your blonde whore. Look! She can't even pay attention while I threaten your life." Cora waved a hand and Emma's phone flew from her grasp, arriving promptly in Cora's open palm. She looked at the device and grimaced before watching the phone combust in a handful of fire. She dropped the melted pieces to the ground.
"That was very rude, dear. So little respect." Her voice curled into a seductive growl. "Why don't you let me train you better. You could call me master; I could call you slave."
Regina stepped forward, about to launch herself into a full, enraged run at Cora before Emma pulled her back, restraining her tightly.
"She's just goading you," Emma murmured to Regina without taking her eyes from Cora's. She glanced briefly over to Snow and David who began to take slow steps to come closer to her.
"What do you want, Cora?" Emma called out. "Seems an awfully long trip to take just to terrorize your daughter."
Cora nodded and her face turned serious in consideration. She tapped a finger against her chin. "Quite right. In fact, there were so many reasons I wanted to come here. To see Regina, sure. To see the sights of this world, perhaps – so far, I am severely unimpressed, I might add. But I think what really inspired me to come all this way was something you said, Princess."
When Cora paused, clearly waiting for someone to prompt her, Emma finally gave in. "And what was that?" Out of the corner of her eye, Emma noticed a familiar shape – Ruby – huddled against a tall tombstone, holding a small, metal box. No doubt holding the heart of Regina's mother.
Cora's sickly smile spilled into her features again. "You said I had a grandson. I wanted so desperately to meet him." She turned on the tombstone to look behind her somewhere. "Henry, dear. Come on out. The whole family is here!"
Regina and Emma looked to where Cora's gaze had fallen and waited, barely able to breathe.
Henry's face was pale, his clothes were strange – no doubt he'd been redressed by Cora – and his body was stiff. He stepped beside the stone where Cora sat astride and he stopped dead, his eyes fixed on some space ahead of him, blankly staring into it as if he could not see.
"Is it a glamour?" Emma asked in a whisper.
"No." Regina responded darkly.
Cora laid a hand on his head and petted his hair. "There's a good boy. So obedient. So good for your grandmother, aren't you dear?"
"What the hell did you do to him?" Emma yelled. Her entire body tensed in anger.
Cora focused on Henry and made no attempt to answer. Regina did it for her.
"She has his heart." Regina said in a shaky voice.
"No," Emma said weakly, almost a whisper.
"And such a bold little heart it is." Cora cooed. "I think he thought he could overpower me somehow. Silly little pet."
"What do you want, mother?" Regina cried out. "If it's a heart you want, take mine! Take mine instead of his."
Cora ceased her stroking of his hair and turned slowly towards her daughter. "What would I want with your heart? That corrupt, ashy, little lump of an organ. My dear, I want what I've always wanted. Power. And the most powerful thing in any world…" she turned her head to look at Snow and David. "Is true love, isn't it?" She turned her head once more to look directly at Emma. "Which makes the Saviour's heart the most powerful thing there is."
Regina's face drained of blood. "No." She said in a desperate exhale.
"I felt it that day on the beach. I held it in my hand – so close, so close to having it for myself. With its power combined with mine, I would be unstoppable." Cora slipped gracefully from the tombstone, brushed herself off casually, and stood firm. "As it happens, I cannot tear out the Saviour's heart. But you can." Her eyes glimmered with a psychotic light.
"What?!" Regina's legs threatened to give out.
"Her heart is open to you, dear. She gives it willingly. You reach in and take it out right now and I'll return Henry to you – heart and all."
Regina faltered, taking a step back. "I – I can't."
"Sure you can." Cora responded immediately. Her smile fell a little and she took on a very serious expression. "Or are you trying to tell me she means more to you than your son?"
Regina's mouth fell open, her eyes wide and unblinking as she looked at her son's stony visage.
"Do it." Emma said firmly.
Regina whipped around to look her in the eye and saw the gritty, stupid bravery she'd come to recognize in every Charming. "Emma, I can't!" She sobbed.
Emma gave a small smile, took Regina's hand and brought it to her chest. Regina felt the heartbeat beneath, pumping strong and steady. "You have to."
Regina stepped in closer to Emma, their faces a breath apart. Emma focused on Regina's eyes and tried to think her way into her mind. They'd never touched on telepathy in any lesson – hell, Emma wasn't even sure that was one of the talents their magic allowed – but she had to try and send the message anyway. She needed to tell Regina her mother's heart was close enough to reach.
Emma brought their foreheads together and thought hard. She sent the message as best she could, but with no confirmation from Regina, visual, verbal, or telepathic, she could only hope it was received.
"I love you," Emma's voice was too low for anyone but Regina to hear and for a moment, Regina thought she hadn't heard, couldn't have heard those words from those lips, from any lips. But one startled look into Emma's eyes confirmed that it was true.
"I love you too." Regina replied, her cheeks wet with tears. "And I am sorry."
Regina's hand plunged into Emma's chest as Emma took in a harsh lungful of air at the sensation.
"NO!" Snow cried out, both she and David lunging for Regina and Emma. They were stopped abruptly as if hitting an invisible wall. They looked beyond to see Cora's hand raised, stopping them from any intervention.
Tears spilled out of Regina's eyes. She held her hand inside the woman's chest for a full minute before she re-emerged with a bright-red heart, pulsing hard in her palm. Emma looked down at the organ, her own eyes watering from the pain. With one last look in Regina's eyes, she fell to her knees in the dirt. Regina turned away, taking firm steps towards her mother, completing what felt like a death march to close the distance between them.
Cora's face was gleaming with maddening intensity, her smile split wider than ever and her eyes trained solely on the Saviour's heart.
Regina stopped a few paces from the woman.
"Return Henry's heart." Regina said, her voice dark and emotionless. She sounded exhausted.
Cora conjured his small heart into her hand. She crooked a finger to beckon Henry closer and she roughly pushed it into his chest. He cried out in pain and Regina winced, unable to tear her gaze away from his twisted features. Cora pushed him back lightly, his heart in its place, and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
"There. I have fulfilled my promise. Now it is your turn." Cora held out an impatient hand.
Regina stepped very close to her mother, less than an arm's length between them. "Here, mother. All the power you've ever wanted." Tears streaked Regina's face but her expression stayed stony.
Cora grinned as she took the heart from Regina's hand, but the minute she possessed it, her features sank. Her eyes widened and she looked at Regina in horrified realization.
"What are you–"
Cora didn't have a chance to finish her thought. Regina tackled her mother to the ground and put all of her weight into pushing Cora's hand, heart still clutched in her fingers, into Cora's chest. Cora spasmed on the ground, railed against her daughter's weight, but Regina stayed firm. Suddenly Cora stopped struggling and turned her eyes up to meet Regina's.
Cora's hand slipped from her chest where the heart was fixed inside. Regina's hands lifted and she adjusted her weight, no longer needing to restrain the woman who was now looking at her with a kind of affection Regina had never seen there. The Queen of Hearts was paling quickly and her body seemed to wilt a little more with each passing second.
Cora reached a hand up and Regina flinched. But the hand strike or retaliate, it only cupped Regina's cheek gently, a thumb soothing over her skin.
"I wish," Cora tried to speak but she broke out into a wheezing cough.
"Mother, don't. It's all right," Regina soothed, her tears falling faster now.
Cora shook her head. The veins underneath her skin were darker now, almost black and her eyes were clouded. "I wish I could have been better for you." She put her remaining energy into a weak smile. "You would have been enough."
Regina held Cora's hand against her cheek. She watched as her mother's body wracked with a fresh wave of pain, shaking hard against the ground. Her eyes were screwed shut, her body shaking, until little by little the movements subsided and Cora's body fell limp. Regina let out a choked sob and fell over her mother's body, her hands clutching at the dress madly.
She cried until someone came to pull her away. She couldn't tell who because she refused to open her eyes. She couldn't conjure any more energy. She was drained of magic, drained of emotion. At some point she felt herself lying still but also moving and thought she must be in a car. When she couldn't fight the weariness anymore, she slept.