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Once Upon a Time Unfinished Dead Stories

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Chapter One

“I hate you!” Henry’s high-pitched voice rang across the Storybrooke street where he stood, feet braced well apart, small hands tightly fisted at his sides. “I wish you were dead instead of Archie!” he screamed at the woman standing on the opposite side of the street.

Regina Mills took a step back, every last trace of color draining from her face. She stared at her adopted son, shaking her head helplessly as she backed up a step. “Henry, I didn’t—”

Still frozen next to the bench where she’d sat with Henry to break the news about Archie, Emma Swan could only stare in horror. She’d barely told him that Archie was dead when Henry suddenly glanced over his shoulder, perhaps a sixth sense after so much conflict with his adopted mother, and taken off, screaming in fury.

Looking like hell, Regina had stumbled from her car and stood in the middle of the street, facing her son and shaking her head in denial.

Oh hell. No way her highness would remain that passive for long, particularly not with Henry out of control and howling his rage at her. Regina’s temper was too explosive. She’d been called the Evil Queen for a reason. Emma was under no illusions that Henry was likely to be spared her fury.

“I should have let them kill you after my real mother broke the curse!” her son continued to rage. “Then Archie would still be alive!”

Regina put a hand up in what would normally be a calming gesture, but with her, it could easily turned to a fistful of fire she could fling at will. “Henry, I swear, I didn’t—”

“LIAR!!” Henry yelled. He was nearly halfway to her.

And then Emma shook off the paralysis and broke into a run, drawing her service weapon as she moved. She was already taking aim when she saw Regina start to raise her left hand.

Knowing how the bitch worked, a fireball would be next.

Emma didn’t pause to debate. As she skidded into position in front of Henry, putting herself between her son and danger, she simply opened fire. Three shots, in a tight grouping, aimed at the center of the largest mass. Just the way she’d been taught.

The queen’s reflexes were freakish. She could catch arrows in flight. But bullets are a lot faster than arrows.

More destructive too.

Regina twisted and arched to the side in a dodging motion, moving fast enough that the bullets missed her heart. At the same time, her left hand came up, muscle memory driving her to try and block the attack.

Instead, her hand jerked twice. Blood and flakes of bone spattered her and the ground around her even as something fluttered from badly damaged fingers. The third shot punched her shoulder, jerking her upper body back and to the side so hard she stumbled. Her balance wavered badly, but she caught herself somehow and remained on her feet.

“See!” Henry shouted from behind his birth mother. “Emma won’t let you hurt anyone else!”

Expecting rage, Emma was caught by surprise when her enemy looked up and just shook her head dazedly, her expression twisted by pain that could have been purely physical or more than that. She peered at her damaged hand for a moment, then her gaze swung back to Henry.

Emma was taking aim again, recentering her weapon when Regina flicked her uninjured hand in a loose motion and was swallowed by purple smoke almost instantly.

Henry darted around Emma before she could stop him and hurtled forward, punching at the dissipating fog as if he could somehow stop his adopted mother from fleeing and force her to face justice. “NO!” he screamed and toppled to his knees. His head fell forward into his hands. “It’s my fault,” Henry choked between ragged, sobbing breaths. “It’s all my fault.”

“Henry, no, what are you—”

“After the curse broke and again after you and Mary Margaret fell through the portal, I stopped everyone from killing her. I shouldn’t have,” he sobbed. “I just thought .... but if I hadn’t, Archie would still be alive—”

“Henry, no,” Emma broke in, kneeling down to pull him to her. “You showed mercy and kindness—”

“She didn’t deserve them and I knew that, but I just...I wanted her to change so bad...”

She pulled his head into the curve of her shoulder, holding on tightly. “You didn’t do anything wrong, kid,” Emma whispered desperately.

“But I—”

“The only person responsible for Regina’s evil is Regina.”

He shuddered in her arms, shaking with the force of his emotions. “I should have let them kill her,” he repeated brokenly. “We’d all be better off if she was dead.”

Emma saw Ruby come out of the diner moving fast, her eyes wild as she searched the area for any sign of another attack. Granny stood in the diner doorway, crossbow in hand, clearly covering her granddaughter. They had obviously seen at least some of the confrontation and understood how dangerous the situation was.

Emma held up a hand to keep the other woman back, then settled it on Henry’s shoulder and leaned back so she could look him in the eye. “As much as I want to stay here with you—”

“You have to go after the Evil Queen,” he said, his voice unsteady. He looked away for a moment, straightening his shoulders and firming his resolve before he turned his gaze back to her. “You can’t let her hurt anyone else, Emma,” he said very softly, the shakiness gone. “You have to kill her this time.”

Sick to her stomach at the weight on her son’s shoulders and enraged at the pain his adopted mother had inflicted, Emma could only nod. He was right. Regina had to go down before she could do any more damage, particularly to Henry. A hard swallow broke up some of the tightness in her throat until she thought she could speak. Holding tight to her son’s shoulder, she pushed to her feet, her tone deadly serious as she addressed Ruby. “Get him to the jail. It’s more defensible.” Emma tossed Ruby the keys. “Then call my parents and anybody else you can think of. You’ll need an army if she comes for him.” Then she looked down at her son, silently promising him it would be over soon.

“Emma?” Ruby whispered, her tone questioning.

“If she shows up, call me, try to keep her off you until I get there, but do whatever it takes to keep her from getting Henry...and if you have a chance to take her out, do it,” Emma gritted out. “No more quarter. She has to be stopped...permanently.”

Color drained from the waitress’ face, but she nodded. “She won’t get him.”

Crouching down, Emma barely resisted the urge to drag Henry into her arms, pile into the bug and run for it. Only the thought of the smoking ruin Regina would make of the town held her back. “You stay with Ruby and Granny,” she told him. “Do what they tell you.”

He nodded, staring at her with an expression of such absolute faith that it almost hurt to look at it. Never in her entire life had she been remotely worthy of being looked at with so much belief, not when she’d let everyone she could think of down.

She wouldn’t fail. Not again. Not him.

Once she was through, Henry would never have to be afraid again.

Chapter Two

The mansion on Mifflin was quiet when Emma pulled up out front, nothing moving, no sign of trouble, the grass and trees green and well trimmed. It was a picture of normalcy totally at odds with the harsh reality that evil dwelled in this place.

Emma checked her weapon, then shoved a couple of spare magazines in her back pocket.

It wouldn’t do to run out of ammo in a fight with the Evil Queen. She took a deep breath to settle herself and push off any uncertainty that she was up to this.

Okay, so Regina had magic, but Emma had her own magic, more powerful by all accounts, even if she was untutored in its use. Plus she had furious rage and raw desperation to protect the one person in all the universe that she unreservedly loved.

Henry needed this, she reminded herself. He needed to feel safe, and she needed him to be safe. Time to man up and do what was needed no matter how much it terrified her.

She trotted up the front walk, slowing as she drew nearer and saw that the front door stood open several inches.

Every sense screamed trap as she carefully edged forward, leading with the barrel of her weapon, ready to fire at anything that moved. The door swung easily, the hinges utterly silent.

Heart thundering, Emma was a little surprised to find the foyer of the mansion quiet and empty of life.

Regina had been there though. Fat drops of thickening blood stained the floor, while reddish brown handprints marred the white paint on the walls at regular intervals, as though Regina had needed to pause and lean frequently.

Given that she’d been shot, perhaps she had.

Emma hoped so because the worse off Regina was, the better for everyone else in town.

Meanwhile, there was still the final touch, a chair sitting dead center of the foyer. White, expensive, probably an antique, or at least a magical approximation of one. Several notebooks—photo albums by the look of it—were stacked on the seat, and on top of those, standing upright, leaned up against the chairback so it couldn’t be missed, was a manila envelope with Emma’s name written across the front. The handwriting was Regina’s, though it was a shaky version of her normal graceful script

Brown fingerprints were easily visible on cream paper.

Still tracking her surroundings with her weapon, Emma grabbed for the envelope one handed.

It wasn’t sealed and she shook the papers inside up enough that she could see the first several lines of text. Interspersing quick, suspicious glances around the room with speed reading, she got enough of the gist of it to shake her head in confusion.

Legal papers. The top layer gave Emma full custody of Henry and came complete with sticky notes—one giving the name of a bank clerk who would notarize them, no questions asked, for a small, under-the-table fee, the second was a lecture on how Emma might not think these things were important, but Henry was smart and when he was college age, the outside world would need more than a claim that his grandmother was Snow White. It would almost have been funny were it not for the bloody fingerprints on the page’s corners. Below that were bank documents, paperwork for a living trust in Henry’s name with Emma set as the successor trustee, and an introductory letter from a law firm upstate that had been informed of the situation—though Emma suspected they were short on the details—and was prepared to deal with things. A quick ruffling of the papers revealed a few more legal documents, a safe number, the deed to the house. Everything needed to take over the queen’s business and see to Henry’s future.

No way in hell would Regina...

Suddenly Emma spun, bringing the gun to bear as it occurred to her that it would be the perfect bait to draw her attention in order to spring a trap. Heart slamming in her chest, eyes wide, she did a slow pivot, checking each door and archway with extra care as she braced herself for the expected attack.

Only it never came. Nothing jumped out of the shadows, appeared from magic smoke or even just walked through the door.

There was only dead silence.

Emma felt sweat gather between her shoulder blades to trickle down over tightly knotted muscle, the weight of her weapon seeming to increase with every moment she held it at the ready and nothing happened. Tossing the papers back down, she moved on, hurriedly checking the house, though instinct told her it would be empty.

Whatever game Regina was playing, it was too subtle for Emma to easily divine the rules. All she knew for certain was the bitch was a killer, absolute poison and it was time to make sure she couldn’t hurt anyone else.

Needing to be certain Regina wasn’t hidden away in another room, she made quick work of going over the house and by the time she finished, was utterly unsurprised to find nothing else of any interest. Regina had been here, but she hadn’t stayed. Returning to the foyer, she paused long enough to flip open the top album from the stack on the chair.

It was a photo album full of images of Henry as a child. A moment’s effort and some clumsy fumbling confirmed the other two albums were much the same. Emma shook her head, uncertain why. Maybe a way of roiling her emotions and getting her off track, or perhaps just a headgame to make sure she understood who had spent all those years with Henry. Hell, maybe it was some kind of magical fakery, given that the kid was grinning happily in all the pictures and she’d never seen him smile that way for his adopted mother.

No, whatever this was, it wasn’t what it looked like, which was unconditional surrender, because, injured or not, no way in hell did the Evil Queen give up what she considered her property, namely Henry. No, this was just one more act of mind-fuckery by a class-A bitch, who’d turned screwing with people’s heads into high art.

Letting the rage carry her forward, Emma snapped the albums closed and grabbed the manila envelope, quickly folding it to shove it inside her jacket. Maybe Regina’s little mindgame could be turned against her somehow. If nothing else, Henry deserved to know she was willing to just give him away for a strategic advantage, like he was nothing.

That decided, Emma took off. If the bitch wasn’t here, Emma could only think of one other rock she might slither under.

Her little home away from home where the dead things played.

The family tomb, which would double quite nicely as a goddamned fortress.

Chapter Three

Emma rolled the bug to a halt a short distance from the front of Mills family crypt. It looked quiet, but she was under no illusions that meant anything. Weapon in hand, she slid out of the bug, already hunting the surrounding graveyard for any sign of a threat.

Nothing obvious, but who knew what traps there might be that weren’t so obvious. Still, she made it to the front of the crypt and slipped inside without incident. She was almost starting to think she was wrong, that Regina hadn’t run here.

Then she saw the bloody handprint on the wall.

And another.

Then the way the sarcophagus that covered the entrance to her lair was several inches out of place.

Emma’s pulse slammed into overdrive and she gritted her teeth against the fear-driven impulse to run like hell. Forcing the panic down, she tightened her hold on her weapon. She’d already hurt the murderous bitch, she reminded herself, hurt her and bested her. She could do it again.

For Henry.

She could do anything for Henry. He was her son and soon, no one else would have a claim on him and he could start forgetting he’d ever called anyone else ‘Mom’, forget there had ever been a time they weren’t together.

She pushed the sarcophagus aside. Perfectly balanced in spite of the massive weight of granite and marble, it slid easily and silently. There was light in the room below, not bright, but enough to see by, and brighter than where Emma stood. She had the advantage, even if it was likely it would only be momentary.

Seeing a hint of movement, Emma made a quick decision. She dropped down through the open hatch, moving fast, boots only hitting every third stair as she scanned the room, hunting for a target.

She found one.

Across the room, low and against the wall, under a smear of blood that dragged its way down cut granite.

The queen. Sitting up on the floor, arms draped over her upthrust knees, head leaned back against the wall, eyes closed.

Emma centered her sights and her finger tightened.

Then brown eyes snapped open and she froze.

A dark eyebrow tipped upward, a hint of a smirk curving full lips as Regina drawled, “Miss Swan.” She angled her head ever so slightly to the side, seeming to contemplate Emma. “Come to finish the job, have you?”

It was then that a dozen other details struck Emma. Regina’s left shoulder was a bloody mess, her left hand shattered, maybe destroyed. There had to be an exit wound in her back, judging by the bloody smear on the wall. It matched up too perfectly with her placement not to have been left there when she slid down into her current position. There was also blood on her lips and more than a few spatters on her blouse. Regina’s eyes were glazed, while her skin was papery pale, like the blood had stopped running beneath the surface.

Probably none of the injuries were fatal, but the aggregate of them coupled with no treatment...

“Yes...dying,” Regina confirmed the thought suddenly running through Emma’s head. As if to punctuate the words, a harsh cough rattled through her and more blood dotted her lips.

Emma didn’t know what to think or how to respond. Logic told her it was just one more trick, but instinct said it was all too true. Regina shifted ever so slightly, readjusting herself, and Emma tensed, taking fresh aim just in case.

“You needn’t worry.” Regina tipped her head back and closed her eyes again. “This won’t last much longer.” As if to punctuate the comment, the floor trembled gently and there was low rumble somewhere in the distance.

Emma’s eyes snapped upward, her expression nervous as the rumbles continued. “What the hell are you up to?”

“Still dying,” Regina sighed, then blinked her eyes open and peered at Emma.

“And this?” Emma snarled, grabbing the envelope from inside her jacket with one hand and waving it.

The former queen raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to be Henry’s sole parent now. That gives you the legal rights and monetary security to do whatever’s needed.”

“You really expect me to believe you’d surrender this way?”

“No matter what I do, I’ve lost.” Regina’s head bobbled as though it was getting harder to keep it upright. “And no matter what you believe, I love my son. That’s the primary thing left I can do to secure his future.”

A harder rumble shook the crypt, sending thin clouds of dust down on their heads.

“And what the hell is that?” Emma demanded, no longer able to ignore the quakes.

“One other thing.” Regina’s soft laugh had an pained, beaten quality to it. She tipped her head back, eyes fluttering closed. “You need to leave now,” she sighed.

“Regina!” Emma growled, surging forward, though she had no idea what she intended to do.

Dark eyes snapped open. “No.” Regina waved a hand and Emma slammed into some kind of barrier.

The blonde fell back a step. “What the hell are you doing?” she demanded, pushing at the blockade, then running her palms along it in search of an edge or a weakness.

A hint of a smile touched crimson lips. “I think you know the answer to that, Miss Swan.”

More quakes shook the place while the walls around them seemed to grumble and growl.

Emma shook her head, denying the obvious. Tipping her head back, she noted microfractures in the ceiling, then did a slow pivot, listening to the sounds moving all around them. “You’re gonna bring this place down on your head,” she said at last and did a slow pivot to glare at the other woman.

Summoning a last reserve of strength, Regina straightened and glared right back at Emma. “There are things here I won’t risk falling into other hands,” she intoned grimly.

Emma shook her head in disgust. “Still keeping your secrets.”

Even as badly as she was injured, Regina bristled. “More keeping my mother’s secrets from hurting anyone else,” she shot back, then sagged against the wall at her back, the brief bout of anger enough to sap most of her remaining strength. “You need to leave now,” she exhaled heavily, dark eyes sliding closed as she waved a dismissive hand at the blonde.

Emma just stared for a moment, the reality that the other woman wasn’t just injured, she was fading. Despite her initial intention to end her, it suddenly seemed all wrong. “This is suicide,” she said very softly, her tone chiding.

A wry smile touched bloody lips. “Disappointed you don’t get to put the final nail in the coffin?”

A flinch rattled through Emma, the accusation striking closer to home than she would have liked. “I’m not the one who started this.”

“Given who has the bullet holes, I’m inclined to disagree,” Regina mumbled, her voice growing weaker with every word.

The crypt shook around them bringing more dust down on their heads and reminding Emma that time was growing short. “Whatever,” she growled, slamming a fist into the barrier still between them. “Right now, we need to get out of here.” She struck it again, startled to feel a bit of give this time. “Which means you need to let this barrier down.”

“No, dear,” Regina drawled, slumping further down.

Shoving harder, Emma felt her hand sink deeper into the barrier. “Don’t do this,” she begged. “Let me get you to a hospital. Henry—”

“Will be relieved,” Regina cut her off, straightening ever so slightly. “You heard him.” Her voice choked off for a moment and she shook her head. “He hates me...think I’m...” She trailed to a halt, swallowing hard before she continued. “He thinks I’m exactly what I am,” she admitted, her tone wry. She looked up and speared Emma with a hard look. “But I did not kill Archie.” She laughed very softly. She coughed and a fresh spatter of blood colored her lips. “Doesn’t really matter now.”

The former queen sagged further, sinking down the wall, and Emma suddenly noticed how ragged her breathing had become. “Regina—”

“No one will be able to use the things hidden here,” Regina whispered.

The hardest tremor yet shook the floor, nearly toppling Emma off her feet.

“You need to leave, Miss Swan—” Regina gasped through soft pants.

The barrier faded. “Regina—” Emma managed two steps.

“—now.” All it took was the tiniest of waves from Regina’s uninjured hand.

Emma reappeared outside the crypt, purple smoke still fading around her. The ground shook again, the force enough to topple her to her knees. More tremors rolled through the cemetery as she fought the confusion and shock that came with the sudden relocation. Suddenly, she shook off the daze, scrambled for her feet and took off running.

She only made it a few feet before the hardest quake yet tore through the graveyard, rending it asunder in a rolling roar of sound and fury. Dust rose in a giant cloud that swept outward from the crypt.

Or rather, from where the crypt once stood. Emma realized in a rush of nausea. She was seeing sky where she should have seen the distinctive, sharp edge of the crypt’s roofline.

She staggered a step or two, then toppled to her knees, hands hanging limp at her sides even as the shaking began to die away. Minutes passed while the dust continued to settle around her and soft tremors and the sounds of rock settling echoed and slowly faded away.

And finally...

Dead silence.

The crypt was completely gone and in its place stood a forest of upthrust granite and shattered rock utterly devoid of any life. Not even a weed remained. It was as though some alien landscape had been dropped in the middle of the cemetery.

Every move achingly slow, Emma pushed to her feet. There was an impulse to call the fire and rescue services, but as she stared at the scene, she knew it would be pointless. Nothing could have survived what she was looking at, and clearly nothing was intended to. Regina had promised no one would use the things stored in her vault. This had been her way of making sure of it.

As she stumbled forward, she half expected some kind of epitaph on one of the huge crags of rock standing like makeshift gravestones, but there was nothing, just cracked granite slabs. She did a slow pivot in expectation of some level of excitement from the town in the wake of the earthquake, but all was quiet. It was as though Regina’s spell had limited it to a small bubble around the crypt.

And maybe she had. Emma shook her head slowly, finally turning to make her way back to the bug. It was dusty, but otherwise undamaged and she drove back to her parents’ apartment in a haze, numb in the aftermath.

She was just fitting the key in the lock when the door was suddenly flung open and Henry barreled into her, clinging desperately to her waist.

“She didn’t do it, she didn’t,” he told her, his voice muffled against her side. “My mom didn’t kill Archie. We’ve gotta find her so she knows she can come home.”

Emma tipped her chin up to see the psychologist and former cricket standing on the opposite side of the room.

He ducked his head in acknowledgment. “Regina did nothing to me,” he said, his voice a little shaky, but decisive. “It was her mother, Cora. She set her own daughter up...pretended to be her so she could use us to break her completely.” He shook his head. “Then she could sweep in and take control the way she always has. She tortured Regina as a child...used her... She bragged about it...how she broke her down.” Another head shake as he muttered one word under his breath, “Monstrous.”

“Please, Emma,” Henry broke in desperately. “She really did keep her word, but she’s hurt, and we gotta find her and make sure she’s okay.”

“Henry,” Emma exhaled, shaking her head slowly. Her mouth worked for a moment, but no sound came. When she finally did manage to speak, her voice was harsh and creaky. “We can’t.” She wanted to run, run and not stop because she’d done this, pushed it and pushed it until the other woman broke. And now she’d won.

And it was all for nothing.

He was staring at her in confusion, as though it was her responsibility to make everything right. “But my mom, she didn’t do it. I know you’re mad at her, but she’s hurt and we gotta help her.”

“We can’t,” Emma whispered, wavering gently on her feet.

“But—”

“It’s too late, Henry.” Then her knees buckled and she hit the floor with bruising force. “It’s too damn late.”

He didn’t understand. “But—”

“She’s gone.” And then her head fell into her hands as the reality of what she’d done washed over her. “She’s gone, Henry...she’s...her crypt...she was in it...and it’s gone...and she was in it...” She shook her head back and forth as if to deny the obvious, unable to quite believe someone so alive could really be gone.

Henry was just staring at her, face set in an expression of denial and hope.

“I’m so sorry.” Emma suddenly realized she was crying. Why, she didn’t really know except her son had lost his mother today, and maybe she’d lost something too. “Henry, she’s gone. She’s dead.”

“No!” he exploded and backed up a step. “She didn’t do it. She was innocent—”

“Henry,” Archie said very gently as he stepped forward and settled a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“No!” Henry shook off the light touch and backed away from the adults. “She wasn’t lying.” His voice cracked and scratched painfully, and fat tears slid from his eyes.

“Henry—” Archie repeated, his tone even softer, one hand outstretched.

“NO! She can’t be dead...” Henry dodged backward another couple of steps. “She finally...she did what she said she would.” He stumbled back another step and toppled, sitting down hard. “I-I told her I hated her, that I wanted her dead.”

Dropping to one knee, Archie wrapped an arm around the boy. “She knew you didn’t really mean it,” he tried to assure him.

“But I did mean it,” Henry sobbed. “I thought she’d lied, killed you...betrayed everything she’d promised.” He drew in a huge, gulping gasp of air. “I saw the look on her face.” He shoved Archie away.

* * * * * * *

 

 

Notes:

Chapter Three

Starts with Regina working at a riding school she owns. She's been out of Storybrooke for ten years or so. She's working with handicapped kids, teaching them to ride when a cab drives up and Henry gets out, only somehow he's still the age he was when she left (no clues yet as to how that was).

She just stares as he looks like a child, but talks to the cabby like an adult and his eyes are older than he appears.

He's been on Neverland. Without Regina there to protect him, Pan held him on Never land and he spent years there. He's found a way to escape, but Pan will be after him. He has magic now, which is how he realized Regina was alive, but Pan will be coming for him and he needs her help.

"Please, Mom."

Regina hugs him holds on.

Which sets up the mystery, how has she survived and what happened to Henry? Also, how can they win a fight with Pan.

Chapter Four

Storybrooke: Emma is sheriff, blah, blah.

 

Chapter Text

Gone



They come for Regina in the dead of night, grabbing, hitting, slamming a thick black cuff onto her right wrist that kills her magic before she can so much as grab a breath, and then they’re pulling her to her feet, moving fast. Allowing no time for her to catch a breath or clear her head, they haul her toward the grand staircase.

They’re halfway down the stairs when she finally gets her feet under her and wrenches a wrist free, gaining enough space to elbow Emma with a solid shot to the stomach. It knocks the blonde back for a brief moment, but she comes back with a hard fist to the kidneys that nearly takes Regina to her knees. Then Charming’s elbow cracks into the side of her head and the world spins.

She’s still trying to shake off the daze when they hit the ground floor. She’s willing to kick and bite and do anything, but so are they and as dizzy as she is, it’s hardly an even fight even if she wasn’t outnumbered.

Then they drag her through the foyer and she sees the keyring tossed onto an end table. Henry’s.

Her heart breaks, because she knows he was a part of this. He wants this, she accepts as she realizes he must have also told Emma how to turn off the alarms. He helped them catch her unawares.

She’s not angry at him. She knows she made horrible mistakes, but it hurts more than she imagined possible. Not since she held Daniel’s lifeless body in her arms has anything left her so utterly undone.

She sags, barely resisting as they haul her away from the house and into the darkness. She knows she won’t be coming back. They wouldn’t have started this if there was any chance of that.

Most people would be screaming at that point. Regina isn’t. She won’t let them see her fear and no one would care anyway. Hell, there were more than a few who’d probably enjoy the show.

The veins in her forehead pulsing, full lips drawn back from clenched teeth in a feral snarl, she tries to plant her feet and force them to pause and fight where she might have a chance. She wants the intimidation game over, but Emma understands how to control a prisoner. She grunts a colorful curse, when Regina twists a wrist look and gets in a couple of punches, but hits back with a blow to the stomach and another to the back of the knees that leaves Regina helpless, and goes back to dragging her.

Nothing Regina tries works. The thick black band wrapped around her left wrist assures that she can’t fight with magic, and she’s too small, too weak, and too overwhelmed to win a wrestling match with two people who are both larger and more skilled at physical combat. Which means that, as hard as she fights, winning is never in the cards, particularly when David’s fist impacts her ribs in several sharp rabbit punches that bruise and tear and Emma’s elbow again catches the side of her face solidly enough to crack bone.

They drag her into the forest that borders the rear edge of her property, and it’s not long before Regina’s getting weaker. She’s still fighting because she doesn’t know any other way, but there’s no strength left in her when David wrenches her arm behind her and loops a plastic tie around her wrist, yanking it tight enough that it feels like a knife on her skin.

The pain acts as a motivator, briefly reinvigorating the fight, but it doesn’t last long. She’s too tired, too battered, too aware of her own mortality. When Emma twists her free hand back and forces it into the plastic cuff, it’s all but over.

Then Charming tangles a hand in her hair and hauls her head back and finally she can’t quite contain a tiny cry of pain, though it’s quickly muted as Emma grabs her by her shirt front and hauls her forward.

“I didn’t want this,” the blonde snarls, pale eyes glittering with rage, her hot breath playing over her prisoner’s face. “But I’m not letting you murder my mother.”

Regina tips her head back, careless of the pain, to glare at the blonde. Her eye is swelling shut, so her vision is blurry, but her expression is sharp. It’s bitter cold out and she’s wearing nothing but the loose grey pajamas they’d hauled her out of bed in, so her hands are numb even without the circulation restricting cuffs. The brief pause lets the pain in her bare feet catch up. They’re cut and bruised by the forest floor and the rough handling, every footstep leaving drops of blood on the smattering of snow. Unlike her hands, the cold brings no numbness though. Instead it seems to intensify the throbbing agony until she probably couldn’t do more than hobble a few steps even if she could get loose.

As they pause, she tries to shake off some of the daze, but her vision threatens to double, leaving her to suspect the elbow to the face left a concussion in its wake. “So,” she drawls, tasting blood as she does so, “is it to be the headsman’s ax, a noose and a tree or a simple bullet to the back of the head?” She keeps her tone flat, practical, unwilling to give them the satisfaction of showing fear.

“Nobody’s dying tonight,” Emma grunts, sounding nearly as pained as Regina.

Regina laughs at that. She can’t help it. The notion that they’ve gone to this much effort to drag her around town for no reason is the worst lie ever. “You’re a poor liar, Miss Swan.” Her feet are in agony along with the rest of her and she’s so damned tired of fighting. She remembers the keys on the foyer table.

She wonders if Henry knew Emma’s intentions. She hopes not, but forgives him if he did. He’s a child and he’s put Emma on a pedestal. He doesn’t understand how cruel heroes can be. She’s oddly proud of that. Despite everything, she protected his ideals.

* * * * *

NOTES:

Emma throws Regina out of town, then uses her magic to bar her from returning and uses Regina's spell book to erase her from Henry's memory (at Snow and Charming's insistence)

E: "He won't remember you ever even existed."

S&C: "It's best for everyone. You and Henry can have the life you were meant to have...instead of what she inflicted on all of us."

But of course Henry does remember eventually or maybe just has a sense something's wrong. He finds Regina. She has amnesia, but has built a life.

Emma finds them together and realizes her mistake. Gradually falls for this version of Regina, but also realizes how awful what she did to Henry was. Needs to fix it all, but doesn't know how.

 

Chapter Text


The Lies that Bind

Prologue

Bodies moved in slow syncopation, sweat slicked skin sliding smoothly in time with the soft, human sounds familiar to lovers everywhere. Outside an open window, the soft sounds of night, crickets and the rustle of leaves, floated on a cool breeze.

Emma Swan clawed her fingers into obscenely smooth Egyptian cotton sheets, taut muscle rippling as she controlled the tempo, refusing to be guided by the slender fingers clinging tightly to her back.

“Please,” Regina begged, her voice little more than a velvet rasp as her body shuddered and bucked, instinctively chasing after every bit of brushing contact from above.

“Not yet,” Emma growled, pulling back enough to deny Regina what she sought. “Trust me, this’ll only make it better.”

“Emma,” Regina groaned, fingers digging into firm muscle as she fought to pull the blonde closer.

“Tsk, tsk, Your Highness,” Emma taunted, her tone light and teasing. Ducking her head, she dragged her teeth across the faintly corrugated surface of the brunette’s windpipe, tasting the low moan that bubbled up from her chest. Triumph glittering in her eyes, she skimmed a hand up smooth curves, brailing the queen’s torso. In that moment, she had to admit every part of what she was doing felt good. Maybe it made her a bad person, but the sex felt good, the control felt good, and god knew, it felt fantastic to get one up on the Evil Queen, the woman who’d taken her parents from her and destroyed her childhood.

The woman who’d cold-bloodedly murdered Archie Hopper, probably the most decent man she’d ever met.

Then Regina shifted, her slender frame again rising to chase after Emma’s retreat while slim fingers moved from her back to slip between their bodies. Emma tensed as her stomach was stroked, but couldn’t exactly shove the queen’s hand back, certainly couldn’t admit she didn’t want the soft caresses to slide lower. Muscles taut, she tried to shift her body enough to block gently questing fingers, but as she was distracted, soft lips fluttered against her shoulder, dropping delicate kisses along the line of her clavicle.

In spite of clenched teeth, taut muscle, and good intentions, Emma’s body reacted. Nerve endings sparked, a quiver slid over soft flesh and her eyes threatened to roll back in her head.

“Beautiful,” the former queen exhaled, the warmth of her breath a ghostly tease on Emma’s skin. “God, you’re beautiful.”

Emma shuddered and a flare of sensation nearly undid her as questing fingers pressed deeper, exploring with light strokes. A soft whimper escaped her lips and a hot rush of pleasure flared outward from those soft caresses. Nosing into Regina’s shoulder, she fought the pleasure, tried to push it back and remember this was a game. There was nothing real about what she was doing, no matter what it felt like.

Then Regina whispered in her ear. “It’s all right.” She worked her free hand into Emma’s hair, tugging her head back to peer up into sea green eyes. “I won’t let anything happen...” Releasing her light hold on pale hair, she trailed her fingers around to stroke a silky cheek. “You’re safe.” The look in her eyes was heartbreakingly soft.

And for that moment, Emma was lost, her hate forgotten, her heart far more engaged than it had any right to be given the game she was playing. It didn’t last long, not even a minute.

But it was long enough for Regina to peer up at her, the expression in her eyes more open than Emma had ever seen it. And suddenly she was lost to a rush of pleasure that was more than physical even as she felt Regina tremble and cling, heard her breath catch, smelled the tang of sweat and arousal. Their gazes held as the rush ran over and through them in a wave that glowed with their combined magic.

“Emma,” Regina exhaled so softly, so lovingly, that Emma had to fight the urge to confess everything and swear to protect this woman for the rest of her life.

Ducking her head, she buried her face in the curve of the brunette’s neck, hiding away from the raw emotion of the moment, pushing down her reasons for doing all of this, nearly forgetting it all in the rush of pleasure and ensuing afterglow. She felt slender arms tighten, holding her close as Regina petted her hair and massaged her shoulder and whispered in her ear. The last of her strength ran out and she collapsed bonelessly into the body beneath her, nuzzling into the warmth of Regina’s throat, the taste and smell of her thick and sweet.

It was so easy to just lose herself and let go, to just feel. The queen’s arms were warm and gentle and despite everything, left her feeling safe and wanted.

So very easy.

“Thank you,” the former queen exhaled and tenderly ran pale gold hair back from Emma’s brow, “for believing in me.”

And suddenly it wasn’t easy anymore.

Because Emma remembered...

Everything...

Chapter One

Three Days Earlier

“It won’t work,” Henry declared as he stepped forward. He'd heard enough. He’d opened the front door to Mary Margaret’s apartment quietly and entered unnoticed, then just stood and listened as his grandparents and the blue fairy laid out their idea for how to catch his— He cut that thought off, and shifted gears inside his head. How to catch Regina—the Evil Queen. His mother was Emma Swan.

Emma, meanwhile, jumped to her feet at the sound of his voice, eyes going wide as she spun toward him.  “Henry,” she exhaled sharply, panic showing in her expression as her gaze fell on her son’s small frame where he stood in the doorway to their apartment. She bounced on her feet, clearly uncertain what he’d heard nor how to tell him what was going on. “We need to talk. Something’s happened and—”

“I know,” Henry said, his tone flat, stomach clenching with barely controlled hurt and rage. “Archie’s dead...and my...” He choked as he realized he’d repeated his mental mistake. She. Was. Not. His. Mother. He took a breath and started over, “Regina did it.” His voice broke a little and he shuddered. He’d wanted so much for his—for Regina—to be telling the truth, to really want to be better, but he had to accept she hadn’t and she didn’t. She was every bit as evil as she’d ever been. His stomach clenched again, harder this time because deep down he knew she’d probably done it because of him, because Archie was his friend, and she couldn’t abide that he had anyone other than her. He looked at Emma and the Charmings. She would come for them next, he reminded himself. If she wasn’t stopped, she would take everyone he cared for. He shook his head sharply, fighting to throw off the guilt and terror that made him want to hide in a deep, dark hole and never come out. He took a breath, then explained, “I stopped by Granny’s after school and I overheard Ruby telling Granny. She said you know for sure that Mo—Regina—did it.”

Emma flinched, her eyes wide and said. She gestured toward their room. “Why don’t we go—”

“No.” He stepped past her, almost ignoring her as he stared at the papers spread across the table, frowning at the notes jotted in Emma’s familiar scrawl. He knew what she wanted, to go back and talk about it and reassure him it wasn’t his fault, and say all the ‘right’ things and he really didn’t want to hear it. He needed to do something, not talk about it.

He was aware that Emma shared a worried look with her parents before she drew closer and settled a hand on his shoulder. “Why don’t you and I—”

“It won’t work,” Henry repeated, his attention on the notes they’d made. He recognized the plan almost immediately and it was just as bad as he’d thought from the few details he’d overheard on entering.

A frown creasing her brow, Emma crouched down to put them on level and caught her son’s shoulder to bring him around until he was facing her. “This isn’t your problem, Henry. You need to let us—”

“You’re planning on doing what they did before, right?” he asked, nodding to indicate Blue and his grandparents. “To catch the Evil Queen,” he clarified.

“That’s how we know it’ll work, kiddo,” David inserted in an effort to reassure the boy.

Henry sighed softly and rolled his eyes. He loved his grandfather, but there was a reason his m—the Evil Queen—had beaten them so many times despite having a far smaller force and it wasn’t just her magic. “And that’s why it won’t work.” He shook his head, amazed they couldn’t see the obvious. “You can’t do anything you’ve done before or she’ll see it coming,” he explained carefully.

“I think we know what we’re doing a little better than you do,” Snow added, her tone soothing. “We’ve beaten her before. We can do it again.” She offered her trademark smile, wide and honest and supremely confident. “Remember, good always wins and evil always loses.”

That earned a sidelong look and a soft sigh. “She’s smarter than you think,” Henry pointed out.  Yeah, Snow White was good and all, but his mom—no, Regina—was smart and wily. Even if good always won and evil lost, it didn’t necessarily happen quickly, and a lot of damage could be done in the meantime. “And she doesn’t trust you. She’ll be on her guard.”

“That’s why I’m gonna keep her attention on me,” Emma broke in. She offered a wry smile tinged with sadness. “God knows, I don’t have a problem pissing your mom off.”

He shook his head. “It won’t be enough,” he insisted, frustrated they couldn’t see the obvious. If David and Mary Margaret were there, Regina would be looking for a trap. And while she might trust Emma a tiny bit, she wouldn’t if she came storming in with Snow White and Prince Charming to back her up. “She’s the Evil Queen. She’s fast and she’s smart and she doesn’t trust you.” He shook his head again. “And even if you can trap her with the fairy dust—” which he wasn't sure they could “—it won’t last very long...and then what? How are you gonna hold her?” He smirked as the adults traded worried looks before looking back to him. He saw his grandparents’ expressions brighten and ease as they decided he didn’t know what he was talking about. Emma—his mom—at least had the grace to look a bit uneasy. The blue fairy just smirked and rolled her eyes, clearly impatient with the delay.

“Henry, you really shouldn’t be—” Charming tried to break in, but the boy shook his head.

“How?” he demanded again. This was too important to ignore.

“The dwarves have assured us that they can quickly reconstruct Rumple’s cell in the mines,” Snow White inserted with a sweet smile clearly meant to ease his mind. “She won’t be able to hurt you, Henry, not once she’s locked up down there.”

He flinched, not wanting to think of his mom—even if she was the Evil Queen—trapped in a hole underground. She hated the dark and enclosed spaces, hated feeling trapped. Locked in a place like that she’d... He couldn’t even finish the thought. He shook off another wave of something akin to guilt because he was intent on helping do that to her. No, he reminded himself, she’d done it to herself with her actions. He just wanted to help serve justice and make sure an evil person couldn’t hurt any more people, particularly his family.

“And how long will that take?” Henry heard his voice as if from a distance and was startled by how much he sounded like Regina, the crisp tone, the note of command, the barely contained frustration bordering on anger. He didn’t know whether to be disgusted or impressed with himself. He just knew it felt like the only way to get anything done.

“Four to five days,” David said and got an eye roll in return.

“And from what I’ve read, the fairy dust won’t hold her more than a couple of days.” Henry shook his head. “And that’s if you can get her trapped, which with your plan, you probably can’t.”

David frowned ever so slightly, then asked, “So what do you think we should do, Henry?”

Henry was more than smart enough to hear the subtle sarcasm in his grandfather’s voice and knew David was expecting him to have no answer to the question. He hid a flinch, hurt to find his opinion dismissed when he was the one who was responsible for initially figuring things out and breaking the curse. Squelching the urge to grumble back, he turned to peer at Prince Charming, trying hard not to react like a little kid. “You can’t attack her openly. She’ll expect that.” He glanced down at their plan again and shook his head. “You have to make her believe you think she’s innocent.” He looked up again, his gaze turning pointedly to Emma. “You have to make her trust you...and to do that you need my help...”

Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Emma shook her head slowly, but he could see the doubt in her expression, not of him, but of her parents and their plans. “Kid...” she exhaled slowly.

“You know I’m right.” He firmed his stance, almost but not quite glaring at her.

“Kid...” she said again, her tone oddly pleading.

“Please.” He couldn’t have explained it, but he needed her to show some faith in him, especially now when his own faith felt so shattered.

Their gazes held for a long moment, a kind of silent communication that had nothing to do with words and was theirs alone. Finally, Emma nodded. “Okay, kid,” she said softly. “Tell us what you think we should do. How should we handle your mom?”

“She’s not my mom,” Henry said firmly. “She’s the Evil Queen...and like I said, you need to get her to trust you...”

* * * * * *

Chapter Two


After coasting the bug to a halt across the street from 108 Mifflin, Emma peered at the house for a long moment. There was something painfully intimidating about the place, not so much the size as the perfection—perfect white paint, perfectly trimmed grass, perfectly pruned fruit trees with perfectly formed fruit. Of course it was magic. Real things had a blemish here and there, but not Regina’s place. No, the Evil Queen’s home was utter physical perfection.

Much like the lady herself, the thought went through her head before she could call it back, but now that it was there, she consciously offered a mental shrug. Okay, so, yeah, Regina was gorgeous, but she was rotted through and through, she reminded herself. Which was why she had a responsibility to make sure the former queen couldn’t harm anyone ever again. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on settling her emotions so she could get through the mental game ahead of her because there was no question in her mind it would be a chess match. Regina was smart as Hades and twice as suspicious. Emma needed to be every bit as smart, and much wilier, and she needed to bear in mind all the lessons she’d learned scamming and playing perps while chasing down bail jumpers. One the biggest secrets was finding a way to believe the scenario while in it.

Which meant she had to find a way to believe Regina was innocent by the time she got out of the car. She focused on those minutes in the jail when they’d first brought the brunette in and she’d actually had a little faith in her love for Henry. Feeling her stomach knot with anger at being lied to, she pushed that idea aside in order to hunt for something else.

And came up with the woman she’d been the night of the celebration of her own and Mary Margaret’s return from the Enchanted Forest. Regina had been so gentle with Henry for that little while, and seemed so determined to be the mother he wanted.

It was something Emma could use, cling to even, to keep from punching the woman in the mouth the moment she saw her. Taking a deep breath, she released her anger on exhaling, mentally imagining it leaving her body.

“Emma?” Henry whispered after a long moment, then was silent for a beat before adding, “Mom?”

“It’s okay,” she murmured, calmer now. Finally, she blinked and turned toward her son to find him staring at her with a worried frown. “You sure about this, kid?” she asked quietly. She flicked a quick glance toward the house. “If she realizes...” She trailed off.

“She won’t,” Henry insisted and reached out to pat her hand where it rested on the gear shift. “She’d never believe you’d let me anywhere near her if you weren’t sure she was innocent.”

It struck Emma how that suggested maybe the Evil Queen was a more responsible mother than she was, which wasn’t exactly a point of pride. Tamping down a flinch, she nodded slowly and offered a queasy smile. “I want you out of there as soon as possible,” she reminded him. It was the only way she’d agreed to his plan.

He nodded. “But I’ve got to stay long enough to really make her believe I trust her, that I’m sure she didn’t kill Archie.” He patted Emma’s hand again. “She’ll wanna believe.” Another hand pat. “And it’s the only way we can catch her and make sure she doesn’t get a chance to hurt anyone else.”

“Hen...I just...” Emma shook her head slowly, incredibly uncertain of this plan. Oh, she was sure it would work—the kid was smart and knew his mom—but the possible cost to him? That scared the crap out of her.

“I need to do this, Emma...Mom,” Henry whispered, his voice tight with emotion. “I need to do it for Archie. I owe him.”

Green eyes slid closed. Emma understood Henry’s drive to pay back a friend all too well. She heaved a sad sigh, then peered at him again. This was so damned unfair. He shouldn’t have had to worry about stuff like this so young. “I get it, I do,” she assured him. She reached out and ruffled his hair with a gentle hand. “But the most important thing to me is that you’re okay. Nothing else matters as much.”

He nodded. “I will be,” he assured her, then added, “She won’t hurt me.”

Yeah, probably true, even if Emma wasn’t nearly as comfortable with that assessment as she would have liked. So the best she could do was make sure that nothing and no one had a chance to hurt him. And she would do that.

Whatever it took.

* * * * * *

Chapter Three

Regina was in her study when the doorbell rang. Head down, she was busy pretending to work, but in reality there was no work to be done.  She wasn’t the mayor anymore, not really. Oh, they hadn’t bothered to take her name off the door, but now that everyone thought she’d killed the bug, the glares that had just begun dying down had ramped right back up and for the first time in a very long time, she was utterly irrelevant.

Which was why the bell caught her by surprise. There was no one she could imagine visiting, which left very few choices, and the lead option was Emma Swan. The blonde had believed her before, but after a few hours of Snow and Charming working on her, what were the chances she still did?

A quick glance through the peephole when she reached the front door confirmed her guess. She still lurched back a step, heart suddenly hammering in her chest.

Emma Swan, her expression serious.

She could not envision a scenario where her arrival was good news.

“Regina?” the blonde called out as if on cue.

Regina stepped back another pace, seriously tempted to disappear in a wave of smoke.  She had her hand raised when suddenly—

“Mom!”

Henry.

Suddenly Regina was stepping forward, her heart pounding for an all new reason.

Then he was hammering on the door, small fist thudding against the wood, the vibration shuddering at her waist level. “Mom,” he called again.

She couldn’t help it. Even knowing she shouldn’t, she flipped the lock and swung the door wide. “Henry?” she whispered as her gaze fell on her son, not quite believing he was really there.

Suddenly his arms were around her waist and he was holding on tight, hugging her like his life depended on it. “I know you didn’t kill Archie,” he insisted, his voice muffled against her chest. “You wouldn’t.”

Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, she rested her cheek on the top of his head, soaking in the smell and feel and warmth of him after so long apart. “No, I wouldn’t, Henry, I swear.” She clung a little tighter. “I swear I didn’t hurt Archie.” She glanced at Emma, her expression questioning.

“The kid wanted you to know he believes in you,” Emma said very softly.

Dark eyes snapped closed as Regina fought to breathe and held on desperately to her son. She nodded shakily, her voice little more than a ragged shadow of itself as she whispered, “Thank you,” every bit as grateful to the blonde as she was to her son. She settled against him again, enjoying the feel of his silky hair tickling her cheek as she held him close. He was trembling gently, but with time, the shaking eased and he relaxed against her.

Finally, they separated ever so slightly and Regina crouched down, putting herself on Henry’s level. Resting her hands on his shoulders, she peered at him with a watery smile. “I swear, Henry, I’ve done everything in my power to live up to the promise I made to you. I haven’t hurt anyone.”

Henry blinked and for the briefest second, Regina thought he didn’t believe her, even braced herself against the vitriol she half expected him to spew, then he offered a wide smile and lunged into a fresh hug.

“I know, Mom,” he spoke into the curve of her neck.  “I’m really proud of how well you’ve done.”

They stayed like that for a long time, then finally he pulled back and he smiled. “So can I have some hot chocolate? You make it the best.”

Emma cleared her throat. “Henry,” she inserted and rested a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve still got that school project you’re supposed to work on at Tim’s.”

Regina’s gaze swung up, silently pleading with Emma for more time, but the blonde shook her head ever so slightly.

“Besides, I really need to talk to your mom...alone,” Emma added when it looked like Henry might argue.

The boy sighed heavily, but nodded. “The project is some stupid volcano for the science fair,” he explained with a dramatic eye roll.

“I-I’d love to see it when it’s done,” Regina whispered, startled to hear her voice shake and echo with hope and desperation.

“Sure,” Henry said, then hugged her quickly and pulled away. “Tim’s just on the next street over. I’ll bring it by after we get it back from school.”

Regina had to pull her hands back and knot them into tight fists to keep from grabbing him back and holding on tight, but she managed to smile as he waved and slipped back out the front door.

She was still crouched down when Emma cleared her throat, then spoke, her tone firm. “We need to talk.”

Brows drawing into a deep frown, Regina tipped her gaze up to stare at the other woman uneasily, well aware that the blonde had all the power in their relationship. “When can I see him again?” Fear made her tone sharper than intended.

An expression slid through green eyes too quickly to be read. “Regina—”

Feeling her stomach knot with bitterness, and reminded of Emma’s recently refusal to even consider allowing any visits, Regina pushed to her feet. “Is this where you tell me not to plan on anytime soon?” She should have known there were more shoes to drop, that Emma was just using Henry to control her.

“Whoa,” Emma said, holding up both hands in surrender. “It’s not like that,” she insisted. “You’ll see Henry...it just may take a little while.”

“Meaning?” Regina demanded.

Emma sighed, her tone placating as she explained, “Right now, I’m not sure how safe it is.” She took a breath, visibly settling herself before she continued. “A lot of people think you killed Archie...and some of them are planning to try and take you down. I don’t want to risk getting Henry involved. And I sure as hell don’t want to risk him getting hurt.”

Regina reared back, eyes sharp with barely contained rage. “I would never let anything happen to Henry.”

“I know,” Emma assured her, holding her hands out in a placating gesture. “I. Know,” she repeated pointedly. “But they’re scared and scared people do stupid things. We can’t take any chances, not with his life.”

Regina flinched, the notion that her presence could harm her son hurting more than she cared to admit. A long moment passed, then she nodded slowly. Much as she wanted to fight, the Savior was right.

“Trust me,” Emma added quietly, her voice soothing. “This has shaken him up...made him realize he needs you in his life...and I’m going to make that happen.” She took a breath. “It just may take awhile, and in the meantime, I need to make sure you’re safe.”

Regina snorted disdainfully. “I assure you, Miss Swan, I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah...you can.” Emma ran a hand through her hair. “But that’s not necessarily what’s best for either of you.”

Regina drew a breath to argue only to snap her mouth shut as Emma held up a hand. She glared but remained silent as the blonde cleared her throat and visibly took a moment to gather her thoughts.

“I don’t doubt you can take care of yourself...and Henry if he’s here,” Emma began after a beat. She speared Regina with a sharp look. “But people are angry, and they sure as hell don’t trust you. Most of them think you killed Archie, and more than a few would like to take things into their own hands...and if you hurt any of them—even if you’re defending yourself...or someone else—nobody’s ever going to believe you’re not guilty.”

Dark eyes slid closed as Regina braced herself against the firmly spoken words, painfully aware that the list of those who wouldn’t believe likely included her son. She spun away, refusing to have the other woman see her feeling blocked in and vulnerable. “So you’re saying that I need to stay away from my son and if a mob comes for me, I’m to what, just let them beat or murder me?” She snorted bitterly.”Well, that should remove one problem from your life...me.”

She heard a low, tired sigh, then the soft squeak of boots shifting on tile. “That’s not what I’m asking,” Emma said when she finally spoke. She paused as if waiting for Regina to say something, sighing again when several moments of uncomfortable silence passed without comment. “Okay, then,” she muttered under her breath before raising her voice to continue. “My plan at the moment is to stay here and make sure you’re okay until the investigation is—”

“Stay here?” Regina repeated and spun, staring at the other woman with a look of sheer disbelief. “Miss Swan, I don’t know what you’re—”

“I’m trying to keep everyone alive,” Emma snapped. “Including you,” she added, her tone softening faintly. She paused to draw a fresh breath before trying again. “Look, you and I aren’t friends and I’m not talking about a sleepover where we tell ghost stories and braid each other’s hair, but right now, things need to stay calm...and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is for me to keep you safe...make sure nobody starts anything, or if they do, that I handle it, not you...until I can figure out who actually did kill Archie—”

“And how do you plan on investigating if you’re busy here, babysitting me?” Regina demanded. “Or are you going to leave it to your idiot father, because if you are, I might as well just plan on a date with the headsman now.” Snow and Charming would make sure she went down, no matter how innocent she might be.

Nodding, Emma held up a hand. “I agree,” she assured Regina. “Which is why Ruby’s helping out—”

“Even better,” Regina threw up her hands. “You do know that she’s the only witness against me, right?”

“She’s also the one who picked up a scent in Archie’s office that didn’t belong to you...or Archie.”

Regina reared back ever so slightly, brows drawing into a frown. “She smelled someone else?” she whispered, feeling a rush of hope that maybe they really could prove she hadn’t hurt the bug.

Emma nodded. “Obviously, that’s not something we want getting out...could give the creep a chance to run.”

Still a little dazed by the news, Regina nodded her understanding. “No, no, we don’t want that.” She massaged her temple slowly, fighting to push down a rush of hope that was far too dangerous. Hope could make a person careless, and lead to destructive heartbreak when it was lost again.

“So are we good?” Emma asked, knocking Regina out of her introspection. “About my staying here until we’ve got things straightened out?” the blonde clarified.

Regina’s head bobbed slowly, her nod uncertain and a little nervously given. “From the sound of it, I’ve little choice in the matter,” she sighed and moved to turn away. She was startled when a warm hand landed on her shoulder and gently tugged her back around.

“I promise you, I’m going to find the asshole who killed Archie, but until then, I need to make sure you’re okay and maybe, if things stay calm, Henry can spend some time here in a few days.”

Regina stared, heart slamming against her sternum, wanting to believe, but terrified to give in and do so. She nodded stiffly, her voice ragged as she rasped, “Thank you.” She took a moment to gather herself, then waved toward the stairs and focused on practical matters. “Well, I assume if you’re going to stay you’ll need a place to sleep. The guest room is up and to the right.” She pivoted to peer at Emma, her expression purposely clear of emotion. It was all too much to hope for and she couldn’t afford to give herself away. “You might as well bring your things in while I make the bed.” That said, she pivoted and climbed the stairs.

* * * * * *

Emma watched Regina for a moment, spun and hurried out, grateful for the respite when she closed the front door behind her. This was harder than she’d expected. The look in Regina’s eyes when Henry hugged her and she thought—

Emma shook the guilt off and reminded herself what had happened to Archie, what Regina did to Archie. Gritting her teeth, she took a deep breath. She could do this. She shook herself, throwing off any guilt and reapplying her game face. Finally, she took a deep breath and trotted toward the bug.

* * * * *

Chapter Four

The rest of the day was quiet, almost peaceful, Emma mused, well aware of the irony that her calmest day in the last several weeks had come in the company of her worst enemy, an enemy she was stalking in the cruelest manner possible, by deliberately lying to give her hope she could have what she most wanted, her son's love.

Yeah, ironic.

Regina had been prickly at first, tense, resentful, flinging snarky remarks at the smallest provocation. Basically, she’d been Regina and then some. Then Henry called, ostensibly just checking in. Speaking with Emma first, they’d traded the code phrases they’d worked out so she could let him know she was okay and he could let her know the dwarves were hard at work.

Then Emma handed the phone over to Regina.

She had to give the kid credit, he played Regina like a damn Stradivarius. By the time she hung up, lips that could hurl slashing remarks and curve into brutal smiles were soft, and barely turned up in the gentlest expression Emma had ever seen on the former queen’s face.

It went surprisingly smoothly after that. Not much conversation, but Regina was almost polite, albeit formal and reserved. It was the closest to welcome Emma had ever felt in the house on Mifflin.

It was late afternoon when Emma heard the soft sounds of activity in the kitchen, then smelled something that made her stomach rumble. The queen, she realized, was cooking. Which left her with some sense of uncertainty because Regina was a hell of a cook, and Emma was hungry, but then again the queen’s cooking was also had the capacity to be straight from hell. Or perhaps, more correctly, the capacity to send the diner straight to hell.

Moving on light feet, she eased through the swinging door that led into the kitchen, hanging back to silently watch Regina work. The former queen’s back was to her as she chopped vegetables and occasionally reached over to stir the contents of a frying pan.

Emma remained where she was for several minutes, quietly watching and uncertain how to approach the other woman.

She was still contemplating several options when Regina cleared her throat, not turning back as she spoke. “Simply ask your question, Miss Swan.”

“I...uh...just...” Emma stammered and made a rough gesture toward Regina. “Something smells really good,” she said at last.

“Sautéed peppers and onions,” Regina murmured. “For a meatloaf,” she added with a loose wave toward a large bowl of hamburger.

“Oh, I...uh...that sounds great. Why meatloaf?”

“The hamburger was in the freezer. I know you often get hamburgers at Granny’s.” Regina did a slow pivot. “But I assumed you’d be more comfortable if it was something a bit more communal, so I couldn’t use it to poison you without poisoning myself as well.”

Emma blanched, but nodded.

“The leftovers also make excellent sandwiches,” Regina added, her tone blandly practical. “While the mashed potatoes are good as potato cakes the next day, and the steamed vegetables rewarm nicely.”

Other than the vegetables, it all sounded wonderful. “You don’t have to wait on me, you know,” she felt the need to demur.

Turning back to her cooking, Regina shrugged. “You’ll need to eat while you’re here, and since you cooking in my kitchen is out of the question, and going to Granny’s seems like to invite trouble...” She shrugged again. “It seemed logical.”

“Well...uh...thanks,” Emma mumbled at last.

“You’re welcome,” Regina replied, her tone even and free of emotion.

Seeing nothing else to do, and not wanting to make some kind of error Emma started to turn away, only to be stopped by a husky voice.

“Miss Swan,” Regina said, her diction crisp, but her voice unusually soft.

Emma did a slow turn back. “Yeah?” she said hesitantly.

“I...I need to thank you.” Regina’s voice was low and a little halting. “For Henry...for letting me speak to him,” she clarified.

Emma froze for a second, distantly wondering if Regina was being sarcastic or if she was in some way suspicious, but no, there was no indication of anything out of line. “He wanted to talk to you,” she whispered, trying not to think about the small triumphant laugh the boy had uttered at one point in their conversation on the way. “He-he wanted to talk to you, Regina,” she explained with only a small bobble in her voice, then added, “It was his idea.” And so it had been, just not in the way Regina believed.

“Nevertheless, I know how he worships you. You could have stopped him with a few well placed words,” Regina murmured and turned back to her cooking. “So thank you for encouraging him.”

“You’re welcome,” Emma murmured. Then the former queen fell silent, and Emma slipped out, though she continued to stay close, listening carefully, well aware she’d lost track of the other woman for a time. That was a mistake she couldn’t afford to repeat. This was the Evil Queen she was playing chess with after all. Margins for error didn’t exist.

So she theoretically worked on reports, but in reality, mostly listened, carefully tracking Regina by sound, cautious of any noises that might indicate she was plotting something.

But there was no indication the other woman was up to anything except making dinner. By the time the meal rolled around, Emma had more or less given up her suspicion for the day.

Besides, she was hungry and Regina was a helluva a cook, though as they shared the silent repast, Emma found herself growing steadily more uneasy. She was natively a fairly social person and the deathly quiet broken only by the soft clatter of silverware on china got on her last nerve until she couldn’t stand it any longer. “So...uh...Henry says you play chess,” she said, her voice coming out more breathless than intended.

Regina looked up and a dark brow quirked high on her forehead. “A bit,” she answered cautiously.

“Would you consider a game or two after dinner?” Emma asked. “I’m not very good, but it might be fun.” Fun in a blood sport kind of way, Emma suspected, given how competitive they both were. Still, it would give them a chance for additional time in each other’s company and she needed that if she was going to keep earning Regina’s trust.

And maybe, if she really concentrated, she could even intentionally lose.

The eyebrow tipped higher and though Regina didn’t say anything, Emma could see her doubts written plainly across her face.

“Come on,” Emma coaxed.

“All right,” Regina exhaled hesitantly after another beat.

Emma’s grin was more real that she would have wished, and broadened another notch when she got the faintest of smiles in return.

* * * * * **

Chapter Five

A little over an hour later, with leftovers stowed, the kitchen cleaned, and the dishwasher running, Regina leaned closer to the chess board, studying the layout carefully. “I thought you said you weren’t very good,” she murmured and turned a curious look at the blonde who offered a grin and a hapless shrug, her usual response to any suggestion she wasn’t a complete moron. Regina peered down at the board again. No, Emma definitely wasn’t a moron. She was good. Very good. After some thought, she made a move, watching closely as Swan then made a show of doing the same, even though she was comfortably certain the blonde had known what move she was going to make the instant Regina made hers.

From there, they jockeyed back and forth, surprisingly evenly matched. Regina was the more thoughtful player, careful, technical, while Emma seemingly played by instinct, quick, impulsive, and unpredictable.

Stalemate.

They played the first two games to draws, then Regina won the third, but only barely. She offered a small, triumphant smile that broadened a notch when Emma’s gaze narrowed ever so slightly. The blonde ducked her head in silent acknowledgment even as her expression firmed with determination.

Emma started to reset the pieces.

Smirking, Regina made a show of checking her watch as she pushed to her feet. “Getting a bit late to start another game, don’t you think?” she drawled, one eyebrow ticking upward.

Emma paused to peer at her with a wry look. “Aren’t you gonna give me a chance to catch up?”

“I believe best of three is the traditional way of these things,” she pointed out, drawing a certain degree of pleasure from the annoyed expression turned her way.

“Scared?” the blonde taunted a beat later, irritation morphing into a smirk.

A dark brow slanted higher. “Really, Miss Swan,” Regina drawled. “I’m not ten and very unlikely to be manipulated by schoolyard taunts.”

Emma was still carefully placing pieces as Regina turned away. She made a soft clucking sound.

Exhaling a very soft, very controlled sigh, Regina slowly pivoted, head tipping to one side as she assessed the blonde. Emma’s mouth was twisted into a taunting grin that raised Regina’s hackles in a not entirely unpleasant way, reminding her of every time she’d been bested by the other woman and how much fun it would be to get a bit of revenge. “All right,” she said after a moment. “If you’re that eager for another beating...” She sank back into her chair, then reached out and pushed a pawn forward. “Who am I to deny you?”

The blonde chuckled softly. “So confident,” she exhaled as she made her own move.

They made the next several moves in near silence, the only sound their slow breathing and the soft scrape of pieces sliding across the board. Then Regina couldn’t quite contain a tiny snort as she pushed a knight into place to endanger Emma’s bishop.

Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, Emma nodded, leaning back to study the board carefully. She was just reaching out when something slammed into the front door.

Regina was on her feet in an instant, brow creased into a deep frown. No one came here. Maybe Henry had—

Then the hammering started, hard enough to jar her door with every pounding knock.

Definitely not Henry. He couldn’t have hit like that if he’d tried and she‘d raised him better than that anyway.

Shouts rose, muffled, but the words still comprehensible, all ugly slurs and vicious threats.

Regina didn’t care what she’d agreed to, she wasn’t going to tolerate that on her own porch. A snarl erupted and she didn’t think, just reacted, disappearing in a wave of smoke and reappearing at the door.

“Regina, no!”

Emma’s shout barely registered. Certainly it didn’t slow Regina down. Summoning fire with one hand, she flung the door open with the other.

And screamed in agony as a handful of dirt hit her from her right side, the powdery grit like tiny razorblades as it hit her eyes. At the same time something solid slammed into her temple from the left. Fire choked out as her magic was lost in a wave of pain and sweeping blindness. She stumbled backwards and went down hard, fully expecting attack from all sides.

Nothing came at her immediately, but there was no doubt in her mind, it would happen. Snow wouldn't let this opportunity for revenge go. Blinking desperately to clear her eyes, she scrambled, trying to get a wall at her back even she tried to marshal her concentration to summon flames to her palm.

“NO!” Emma roared and a hand closed over Regina’s, forcing her fingers closed with unusual strength and snuffing any hope of defending herself.

Regina jerked back with a snarl, ready for a fight. God, she was a fool. The Savior had tricked her one more time and she was going to pay for trusting the bitch with her life.

Then suddenly her hand was released and Emma stormed on past her. “LEROY!” Everything after that was badly garbled, with occasionally discernible words but mostly bitter, furious tones. Scrambling, she found a wall and kept it to her back, scrubbing frantically at her eyes between blinks. Whatever the fight was about, they seemed to have forgotten about her. Good. That bought her time.

Unfortunately, other than a few slitted glimpses of light and hints of movement, Regina couldn’t  see a thing, could barely even open her eyes. Every time she tried, it was like a fresh measure of acid straight to her retinas. Not just any dust would do that. The little bastard had used dirt from the mine. Fairy dust, with his emotions imprinted onto the magic until its mere touch was like a blow torch.

There was no question in her mind that he’d done it intentionally, well aware the pain it would cause.

Fine then. She could play that way too.

Breathing hard, her entire body trembling, she pushed to a crouch and dug deep, concentrating past the pain to summon a fireball to her palm, comforted by the familiar heat even if she was still too blind to see her old friend. So far, she’d held back in spite of the wrongful accusation, insults, and threats, but now they’d moved on to outright attack. Well, if they wanted a war, she’d give them one.    

Then suddenly she felt as much as saw a shadow fall across her.

Regina raised her hand, a snarl twisting her lips as she prepared to launch a volley of flames. She might go down, but she intended to fight all the way to the end.

“Regina, no!”

“Why, Savior, so you can finish me off instead of letting the dwarf do it?” she demanded, furious that she’d let the other woman in, even trusted her a bit. She could almost hear her mother’s voice upbraiding her for being an idiot.

“Why the hell would I hurt you?” Emma shot back, her tone thick with righteous indignation. “I just protected you—”

“Or maybe cooked up some plot,” Regina snarled, still mostly blind and struggling to track Emma by sound as the woman moved around the foyer. “But you won’t succeed—” Then suddenly the chandelier overhead flared to life and she nearly collapsed as bright light hit her slitted eyes. She slumped into the wall at her back and briefly lost the flame in her palm as she flung an arm across her face.

She lost track of Swan for no more than a second, but in that second the woman had drawn within striking distance.

Regina reacted. Running on pain and fear driven adrenaline, she pushed to her feet and thrust her right hand forward, forcing energy ahead of her clenched fist in a wild, magical roundhouse punch.

Emma went flying, hit the far wall and tumbled to the floor with a grunt. She was silent for a moment, then her voice came rough and furious sounding. “Goddamnit, Regina,” she hissed. “I’m not attacking you.”

“Right, dear,” Regina snarled, her hand still up, ready to face Emma down if the woman came at her again. “You’re just being helpful,” she sneered disdainfully.

“Actually, I am,” Emma panted.

With the light too painful to keep her eyes open for even a second, Regina tracked Emma mostly by sound, just catching brief shadowy glimpses between blinks. She heard the soft grunts and curses, the soft squeak of boots on tile as Emma made her way to her feet. She opened her eyes enough to glimpse the Savior’s silhouette, bent over and leaning on one hand against the wall, then snapped them shut again. Emma was visibly staggered. She had a little time. Sharp ears perked, listening for any sound to indicate the Savior had moved.

Nothing. Silence stretched out until Regina was beginning to wonder if she’d truly hurt the Savior. Then suddenly she felt a presence to her right.

“Regina.” Emma’s voice was soft.

Startled, she blinked enough to realize the blonde was right there, mere inches away. A hand instantly clamped on Regina’s wrist as it came up to cast, and something warm and damp was pressed into her palm. Somehow, Emma had moved from her spot near the wall without Regina realizing.

“What?” she exhaled sharply, mind already racing on strategies to stay alive.

“Wet cloth,” Emma explained quietly. “For that crap on your face.”

Regina froze, registering that Emma had not only moved, but found time to get a kitchen cloth. Meanwhile, the pause had given Regina enough time to remember what it would cost her if she hurt Emma. Henry would never believe and never forgive. She closed her hand on damp fabric, clutching so tightly she could feel how the tendons in her hand scraped across her knuckles, then froze, uncertain what to do next. She flinched a moment later as smooth fingers tucked under her chin, too startled to resist when Emma tipped her head up.

“He really did a number on you,” Emma murmured, peering at her with a frown. “What the hell is this stuff?”

“Fairy dust,” Regina exhaled, tensing even more when Emma reached for her hand again, but the blonde only retrieved the trailing end of the cloth and tugged it back into her possession.

“How?” Emma asked. “I mean, I know you’ve handled the stuff before without this happening. Why did it burn?” She kept her finger under Regina’s chin and began lightly dabbing injured flesh.

Flinching as damp fabric brushed her burning cheek, Regina explained, “Dwarves are magical creatures even if they can’t use magic. With concentration their emotions can affect the dust...the effect fades quickly, but his hate...it did this.” She heard Emma’s breath hitch and felt the slightest jump in the hand under her chin.

“That’s messed up,” Emma exhaled, then her tone shifted, becoming more business like. She cursed softly and leaned back. “This isn’t doing it. Maybe running water...”

“There’s a sprayer on the sink in the master bathroom upstairs,” Regina murmured warily, uncertain what to make of the Savior’s behavior.

Emma curled a hand around her upper arm. “Come on. Let’s see if it’ll help,” she said almost gently, her touch light as she urged Regina toward the stairs.

Regina twitched her arm free. The support might feel good, but she wasn’t foolish enough to believe she could trust it. The Savior wasn’t on her side and she couldn’t allow herself to forget that fact. She pulled away, confident that she could navigate her own house, even blind.

And almost immediately slammed her shoulder into a doorframe. Unbalanced, she staggered and would have gone down if not for the hand that cupped her elbow.

Regina didn’t think, just spun. She’d regained enough control that fire appeared instantly in her palm as she faced the blonde, mouth twisted into a suspicious snarl. She cracked her eyes open. Emma was little more than a hazy shadow, but that was all she needed to take aim.

Emma pulled back a half step and her hands snapped up, the gesture looking more like a suspect stopped by the police than anything else. “Y’know, you’re very hard to help,” she said softly.

Regina stood perfectly still for a long moment, still suspicious, but also aware of what she would lose should she move against this woman in any way. Her eyes still slitted, she hunted for any sign of aggression, but Emma didn’t move, just stood there, hands up, waiting. “Help?" Regina repeated, then snorted. "It’s not exactly something I’ve experienced much of,” Regina responded when she finally spoke, her voice low and bitter.

Still holding her hands up in surrender, Emma shook her head. “Well, that’s all I’m trying to do, Regina.” She nodded to indicate the brunette. “So you can let me help you...or you can go on suffering.”

“I can take care of myself, my dear,” Regina sneered.

Emma nodded. “Yeah, you probably can,” she allowed. “After you’ve pinballed around the house for awhile, maybe added some bruises and given the fairy dust time to do some more damage...” The blonde trailed off into a meaningful pause, letting her words just hang there.

Jaw muscles compressing painfully, Regina took a deep breath and slowly let it out, struggling to control pain and frustration-driven rage.

“Or you could let me help you.” Emma shrugged. “Your choice. But while you’re debating, you might want to know that you’re headed the wrong direction.”

The world a burning blur, Regina looked around enough to realize Emma was right. She did a slow pivot, her expression set in a rigid line in the wake of the embarrassment. “If you try anything...” she warned the blonde in a tacit surrender. She couldn’t see well enough to be certain Emma rolled her eyes, but she had little doubt.

“If I was going to try anything,” Emma growled, her tone making Regina wonder if she’d finally been pushed too hard. She strode forward to lean into Regina’s personal space in a way meant to make a point, “I already would have.”

Intensely aware of the other woman’s sheer physical presence and well aware she’d likely lose a fight, Regina had to concentrate not to shrink away. Instead, she consciously lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders as she glared back. She closed her hand, very deliberately snuffing the fire in her palm. “Fine,” she exhaled, then started to add more only to catch herself before she uttered something harsher than seemed wise. She paused a beat, then started again. “Please help.”

Emma nodded, stepping aside and gesturing Regina toward the stairs with a light hand on her shoulder. “Let’s go.” She stayed close as Regina traversed the stairs, hand hovering near her lower back. And when the former queen wavered at two separate points, she made contact, steadying her charge in spite of the way Regina tensed, ready to fight if need be.

The brunette almost felt guilty for her response. Almost. They passed through her bedroom, and she could feel Emma’s curiosity and the way she studied this new landscape. Suddenly uneasy with allowing her enemy into her personal territory like this, Regina bristled. “Care to go through my drawers while you’re here?” she sneered.

“And we were doing so well,” Emma sighed as she pushed the door to the en suite bathroom open.

“Miss Swan,” Regina bit out resentfully, but Emma just stepped ahead of her.

“Save it,” the Savior snapped over her shoulder. “I get it. I’m the enemy, not to be trusted, but could you at least kill the fire when I’m trying to help?”

Suddenly aware of the flames once again dancing on her palm, Regina closed her hand, snuffing them. She almost apologized, but snapped her jaws shut before the words could escape. Given everything, she owed this woman nothing, and her automatic suspicion was only sensible.

“The water should be good now,” Emma interrupted Regina’s thoughts, stepping aside as she gestured to indicate the sink. “The temperature,” she clarified. “Cool, but not too cold.”

“Ah,” Regina exhaled, startled by how tempting the idea of cool water was. She’d adjusted to the burn and was managing to function through it, but it still hurt like hell. And then she was leaning over the sink, cool water sluicing over her face. She exhaled a harsh sigh of relief as the burn began to ease, startled by the faint weakness that slid through her.

“Make sure you open your eyes,” Emma advised. “It’ll probably hurt like hell, but it’s the best bet for getting all of it out.”

Regina merely nodded, her full concentration reserved for staying on her feet as she deliberately blinked her eyes open. The water hit like brass knuckles dipped in acid, forcing her to grab for the edge of the sink for support. Then she felt a hand land on the back of her neck and pushed upright in an instant, blinking rapidly to clear her vision just as the Savior stepped back a pace and once again threw her hands up in the air.

“Easy,” Emma soothed. “I was just steadying you,” she explained. “You looked like you might go down.” Shrugging, she offered a wry smile and nodded toward Regina’s hand, which once again sported flames. “Some reflexes you’ve got though.”

Still blinking rapidly, her vision already starting to clear, Regina closed her hand to banish the flames, then reached for the sprayer.

“You okay now?” Emma asked after a long moment.

“Fine,” Regina responded, her tone flat.

“‘Kay, then,” Emma sighed. “I’ll...uh...go make sure the front door’s locked.” She paused for a second. “Call if you need help.”

“I won’t.”

“Right.”

* * * * * *

Barely able to control the tremors shaking her from head to toe, Emma pulled the bathroom door shut behind her. So much for any thought of taking Regina tonight.

She patted her hip pockets, feeling the bulge of the pair of magicked handcuffs Leroy had passed her during their ‘fight’ and the tiny plastic syringe case with an explanatory note inside. Still there, still safe. She tapped her right front pocket and felt the final item he’d slipped her, some kind of black leather cuff that he’d insisted would kill Regina’s powers at least temporarily.

He’d been confident the queen would be easy pickings with what he’d done to her, and like her parents, absolutely certain they could hold her as long as they needed, especially after “The Treatment” as he’d called the fairy dust. Clearly, he was a thousand kinds of wrong because the pain hadn’t slowed Regina enough to worry about, but it had sent her paranoia skyrocketing so high that she’d been ready for a fight every time Emma had gotten close enough to even consider trying for a takedown. The woman had been ready to kill, summoning magic, fire, and force even through what was clearly agony. No question that an actual attempt to capture the queen would have left any attackers thoroughly skewered and flambéed.

Because god knew, the woman knew how to kill.

Remembering the cold, brutal expression on Regina’s face as she’d throttled Archie, Emma couldn’t contain a hard shudder. Even the watery, amber view through the dreamcatcher had been enough to curdle her blood. No way in hell did she want that look turned her way, but more than that, no way would she risk seeing it directed at Henry because if she screwed this up and Regina realized he’d been in on her downfall, Emma had no idea what the woman might do.

Stepping into her assigned room, Emma quickly yanked everything free and shoved it all into her duffle, afraid Regina might recover enough to check and see if she was carrying anything dangerous. All it would take was one mistake and a fight would be on.

And she was under no illusions she had a chance of winning under those circumstances.

That done, she moved fast, hurrying downstairs to do exactly as she’d promised. All they didn’t need was some idiot stumbling in on this in an effort to play hero.

* * * * * *

Chapter Six

Nearly a half an hour later, Emma climbed back up the stairs and knocked lightly on Regina’s bedroom door. Uncertain what to expect, she jumped when the door snapped open no more than a second or two later.

“What, Miss Swan?” Regina clipped.

“I just wanted to check on you, make sure you’re okay,” Emma explained, peering at the other woman with a frown. She looked better and her eyes were fully open, but they were bloodshot as hell and rimmed in red, while her cheeks looked like she’d gotten a bad sunburn. “Does that hurt as much as it looks like?”

Slim shoulders rose and dipped in a hint of shrug. “It’s not terribly pleasant, but it’s not dangerous.” Crimson lips twisted in the faintest of smiles. “And pain is hardly a new experience.” The smile turned a little more vicious. “The dwarf should have chosen differently if his intent was to immobilize me.”

“Clearly,” Emma exhaled, uncomfortably reminded of the challenge she faced in trying to bring this woman down. Even blind and in agony, she’d been alert and ready to defend herself.

Regina snorted something under her breath and surged forward, backing Emma up until there was room to slip past her. “I could use a drink,” she said over her shoulder. “You’re welcome to join me if you care to.” It was likely as close to an expression of gratitude as she was able to come.

Emma peered after the other woman for a moment, then followed. After all, if this was all about earning her trust, what better opportunity than to have a few drinks together? She caught up with Regina in the livingroom where she was already pouring two tumblers of gold label scotch. She handed one to Emma, then took one for herself before moving to a nearby wing chair, where she sank down, folded her legs under her and peered at Emma over her drink.

Fighting the urge to flee in the face of that intelligent, contemplative look, Emma took a seat on the far end of the couch and suddenly found her drink incredibly interesting. For reasons she didn’t quite understand she found thoughtful Regina more intimidating than the enraged version.

“You’re a very good chess player,” Regina observed after a long, uncomfortable silence.

Emma shrugged and risked a quick look from under the cover of thick lashes. “Not really...used to play for money in the park sometimes.”

“Don’t undersell yourself,” Regina drawled. “You’re quite good...especially given the probable lack of training.”

Sweat suddenly beading on the back of her neck, Emma shook her head. “Nah, had training,” she mumbled. “There was this old guy in a park I used to hang in. He’d been some kind of chess master. Saw me lose money a coupla times. I dunno, I guess he felt sorry for me, so he made a few suggestions. I took ‘em and made money rather than losing it, so when he offered to teach me more, I listened.” It suddenly occurred to Emma that she’d said far more than was even remotely wise. She tensed, staring back down at her drink. “I guess you learned from the curse,” she muttered, wanting the attention elsewhere.

“No,” Regina denied. “I learned because of Henry.” Her tone shifted, becoming soft and distant, as though she was remembering another time. “He was fascinated by the chess set...would play with the pieces from the time he could crawl.”

The set was carved from black and white marble, the medieval style figures intricate and beautiful, their clothing and faces amazingly detailed. Emma could easily see any child being fascinated by it.

“When I explained it was a game, he wanted to know how to play, but I didn’t know how...so I read every book in the library...which wasn’t a terribly impressive array, but enough...”

Emma looked up in time to see a small flinch rattle the other woman. She was staring off into the distance, the faintest hint of a smile on her lips.

“He wasn’t much more than a toddler when I started teaching him. He loved it, wanted to play all the time and...” Another—harder— shudder worked its way through her and she trailed off. She was deathly silent for a long moment, then suddenly shook herself as though throwing off a thought. She peered down at her drink, then finally tipped her chin up and stared directly at Emma. “So,” she drawled, stretching the word out. “Your chess master, what did he teach you first?”

“A few opening moves...and how important they are to establishing your position in the game.” Emma accepted the subject change with a shrug. “What about you. What stuck with you from the books?”

“How important it was to think as many moves ahead as possible...” Regina trailed off for a moment as she appeared to consider Emma carefully. “And always have a backup plan.”

She knows. The thought went through Emma’s head as a rush of panic washed over her, but she caught herself and didn’t bolt, even managed to face the other woman with a carefully bland expression. Thank god for her old training as a skip tracer. “Yeah, that is something chess will teach a person,” she agreed. “So how’d Henry do?” she asked, deliberately needling the queen’s weak spot in hopes of throwing her off. “At learning the game, I mean.”

“He had a talent for it,” Regina admitted quietly, her gaze turning distant again.

Emma could imagine he did, but she suddenly wasn’t sure that was a good topic all things considered. Meanwhile,  with the way Regina looked away, the fear of discovery suddenly eased. No way her highness would take her eyes off someone she thought was a danger. “So how was it learning to play from a book that way? Must’ve been hard, not having anyone to play against.”

“I had Henry.” Regina shrugged, then looked up from her drink, spearing Emma with a sharp look. “But you, playing for money when you can’t have had much...” She trailed off thoughtfully.

Emma offered up another shrug. “It meant sometimes I was down to nothing but ramen...other times I could afford a good burger and maybe even some fries.” Memories of winning times slipped through her head and she grinned in spite of herself. “Hunger motivates,” she added after a beat, then tensed as Regina made a face. “I guess you wouldn’t know about that,” she added, her tone more bitter than intended. After all, leading with anger was hardly the way to earn Regina’s trust.

“Actually...” Regina began only to trail off. “Doesn’t matter.” She waved the topic off when Emma drew a breath to ask. “So your chess master...” she changed the topic again, “what else did he teach you?”

Despite the temptation to pry, Emma pushed down any anger and launched into a story about her early chess lessons in the park that she’d told lots of times before. It was a bit funny and a bit poignant and had put more than one target at ease, diverting their attention when they should have been watching her. There was a reason she’d been good at her job. She knew how to distract, how to be charming, and how to talk a lot and say very little. It was a game, and she played it well.

Usually she was also good at teasing information out of her targets, but Regina was deft at bouncing questions back or changing topics, her own arsenal of skills coming to the fore so automatically it was hard to be certain she even knew she was doing it. Emma considered pushing harder, only to back off and accede to the queen’s wishes. Instinct told her it wasn’t the time to press. Better to let Regina think she wasn’t after anything, just chatting, opening up and maybe being a little too talkative.

Life was always easier when the target thought she wasn’t very bright, and Regina already came close enough to thinking she was a moron. A few more nudges that direction could only help.

So Emma talked, chattered really, telling funny stories, most of them at her own expense, and making silly jokes until, slowly, some of the wary suspicion in dark eyes dimmed, though it never disappeared completely. That was okay. She could work with that.

So she told another story, and told it well, even cadging the tiniest hint of a smile from Regina when she hit the punchline, which involved herself and a commercial espresso machine hellbent on her destruction even as she sent it to its earthly doom. “I wasn’t meant for the life of a barista,” she sighed as she finished, oddly proud that she earned the tiniest of low chuckles from the other woman.

A few more stories followed, each a bit more ridiculous than the previous, but Regina never offered more than a word or two or the faintest of smiles, and finally, she ducked her head with that same bland expression. “I’m afraid it’s getting a bit late for me,” she murmured and pushed to her feet. “So I should probably head for bed. Feel free to watch television or whatever else you might like.” Then she slipped out without further word, leaving Emma staring after her in silent bemusement.

* * * * *

Upstairs, Regina silently pushed her bedroom door closed in her wake, then stood perfectly still, palm resting lightly on the thin wooden barrier, painfully uncertain what to make of Emma’s behavior. It was so appealing, the notion that after all these years someone actually believed her—believed in her that she was tempted to return downstairs and quiz Emma about her reasons, but Regina knew all too well how destructive hope could be. She was trying so hard to just stay on an even keel, not let the anger over being wrongly accused spill over into rage, not let her own hope that maybe she could be found innocent for once raise her up high enough that the inevitable fall would destroy her.

Because the notion that anyone would think she’d killed the cricket appalled her in a way she couldn’t even begin to explain. He’d saved Henry in the mines, and as angry as she’d been when he shared things she’d said with Emma, she owed him for that. Besides, he was the closest thing she had to a friend, and one thing she’d never been accused of was disloyalty. The men who’d served her had never changed sides, not because of fear, but because they knew she would fight beside them to the end.

* * * * * * *

Chapter Seven +

 

Notes:

Emma makes it through three days, then finds out there’s been a delay, has to push it two more days, maybe more. She's feeling guilty, but also scared because the more she sees of Regina, the more she knows this will hurt her, and she's most dangerous when hurt or scared.

They talked late into the night, or at least they sat and sipped good scotch and the frequent bouts of silence weren’t too terribly hostile. What discussion was had mostly covered chess, but it was polite and Regina actually seemed mildly interested as Emma talked about learning to play while still a teenager on the run. She’d found she could earn bits of money playing on warm afternoons in local parks. Already an experienced pool shark by then, she learned the finer points of the hustle faster than the game itself, up the underlying hustle. All she needed to learn was the actual game of chess. There was never as much money in it as a pool hustle, but the players were less inclined to take chunks out of her hide if they lost and getting hit with a chess piece hurt a hell of a lot less than a pool cue.  More than once it had kept her fed, especially in her early days as a skip tracer.

Emma notices that Regina is very aware of her, not just in a suspicious way, but in ways that suggest attraction. She starts using it, not openly flirting, but very subtly. Admits at some point that the first time she saw Regina, she was gobsmacked. Regina waves off the flattery, but Emma really was attracted and makes it sincere. Chides Regina for "false modesty." "Please, your highness. You know you're hot as hell...and you use it."

It's not supposed to be real. She's supposed to be playing the woman, not learning to care for her.

The box Leroy brought are needles with sedatives for Emma to use. There is a risk though because the dose is so strong. She needs to be be careful and not use them on anyone else, could kill them. Could kill her too, but that's okay by Whale.

Cell still delayed and meanwhile, they're getting closer and Emma is putting REgina's questions about the investigation off because there is no investigation.

Henry goes to Regina, tells her he knows she didn’t kill Archie. She woulddn’t do that to someone he cares for. When Emma shows up, she pretends to agree with Henry, but still tells him to go home. Tells Regina it’s to keep the peace. Says she was wrong not to promise to let regina see the kid after the party. Etc. They talk until late, but Regina isn’t trusting, but she's much calmer and Emma uses Henry, what a great kid he is and what a great job Regina did raising him. Emma ends up seducing her because every time she thinks about the drugs, Regina seems to sense it and tenses, get suspicious.

There’s a moment when they’re making love that Emma forgets it’s a trick

Emma goes to use the milder of the needles on Regina, but wakes her as she jabs her, only gets a partial dose. Emma gets one cuff on, Regina is woozy, but conscious. They fight, finally has both cuffs on. Calls her parents, who show up as she’s pulling Regina out of the house. Henry was supposed to go home, but hasn’t. Shows up, asking if it worked. Regina realizes it was Henry who came up with the plan and just sags in Emma’s hold and stops fighting.

Keep her in the jail initially using the cuff to douse her powers, and real handcuffs to keep her physically restrained. Attempted rape by Whale?

Emma seriously considers killing him.   

The crack of flesh on flesh battered the air, then Emma’s voice low and deadly soft. “Get out.”

What smirked. "Why should you be the only one to have some fun with her?"

She grabbed his shirt front and hauled him up until they were nose to nose. "I know who and what you are."

From there, Regina just stops fighting, also eating and drinking. She’s destroyed. The most life she show is a time or two when she insults Emma for the "trick" she played, implying the sex, but never openly saying it. When they move her to the underground prison, she makes no effort to resist, says she knows they’ll never let her out. Emma is combative, but also guilt ridden. Tells herself that she just did what she had to, but also knows that there was a certain thrill in getting one over on the evil queen.

Rumple puts a spell on Regina to keep her alive, but admits it’s not perfect. She will fade if she doesn’t start eating and drinking on her own. He also puts magic on the cell that will let them give her limited orders.

“Can we just order her to eat.”

“You can try, dearie, but she’s strong enough that the more you use it, the more time she’ll have to find ways around or just bully through...and eventually she’ll succeed. Personally, I’d save it for when you really need it.”

She’s been down there over a week when Archie shows up. He’s escaped from Hook’s ship. Tells them that Cora was there, but she left, disgusted with her daughter for giving up when she should have been laying waste to the town. She shoved Archie off the ship as they left, intending he should sink and drown, but he managed to free himself and swim to shore (or a mermaid out for a swim found him...gives a name, “She’s a mermaid?” “Everybody knows that.”).

Despite her proven innocence, Snow and Charming refuse to let Regina go. Now that she knows the cell  exists, she’ll never allow to it continue. She’ll destroy it and they’ll have no way of stopping her and she’s going to be angry. She’d kill them all.

"So she was innocent this time, Emma, but sooner or later, she won't be, and we'll need that cell, but now that she knows, she'll make sure we don't have it. We can't afford to let her go, no matter what deals anyone made."

Henry’s not so much angry as hurt. He trusted them to do the right thing and they’re failing. He made a deal with his mom, if she behaved, she could have a second chance. She’d kept her word. They were the ones who lost faith and broke the deal.

Regina begins to suspect she’s pregnant (yes, indeed, it's a magic baby, how soapy can you go story).

Make this two separate visits. They're keeping Regina in total darkness, and the cell is magicked so she cannot harm herself. It's driving her faintly insane. Have Regina yell at the “Halucination” during the first confrontation when Henry tries to tell her he loves her. Call him a liar, knows her son wants her dead, that she’s lost everything. Henry tries to talk his grandparents into releasing her, but they won’t, so he visits again. She won’t ever look at him.  Henry sneaks down to see his mother, but she’s on the cot in the farthest corner, thinks it’s the dwarves taunting her at first (revealing they've been awful to her), then when Henry speaks, thinks it’s a hallucination, knows her son doesn’t love her, doesn’t care, wouldn’t visit. She’s weak and lost, won’t even roll over and look at him. Emma finds them, sees how bad off Regina is and makes up her mind this can’t continue. Manages to break the spell and open the cage. Hands her keys to Henry, tells him to go unlock the bug. Picks Regina up, sort of realizes something’s off, but is too panicked to note much.  Runs into Grumpy, “You can’t release her.” “I just did.” Can’t decide what to do. Whale’s still at the hospital, can’t take her there. Finally, takes her home to Mifflin. Puts her in her room, then goes to do something. When she gets back, Regina is up, shaky, but on her feet. She orders Emma out. “Regina, you’re in no shape to—” “Get. Out.” She hadn’t summoned any fireballs. Emma had no idea if she even could, but the rage in her eyes said she’d try and if that failed, she might just hurl herself forward. She threw up her hands in surrender and backed up a step. “I get it. You hate my guts, but—” A low, inhuman snarl interrupted her. She tried again. “If you need help, call,” Emma whispered, quickly retrieving Regina’s phone from her pocket to set it on the nearby dresser. Then she spun and fled, Regina’s low utterance following after her. “Hell will freeze first, Miss Swan.”

Henry wants to know if she’s okay, but Emma just says they need to give her some space, and takes him home.

Alone, Regina collapses, uncertain if this is an hallucination or real. Later, when she has herself under control, Archie calls, apologizes for what was done in his name, tells her he’ll do anything in his power to help her get stronger, that she can trust him. Regina realizes that Emma must have called him. She congratulates him on being alive, but when he offers to help, sneers, “So you can report on every word out of my mouth?” She rails at him, lets slip about Leopold and Emma both...on purpose, or accident, not sure. Hears a gasp, recognizes Emma, slams the phone down

Archie’s office: Emma was indeed listening and flinches, while Archie hangs his head. “I shouldn’t have agreed to this,” he mumbled. “Just like I shouldn’t have spoken to you before.” He shook his head slowly. “She’s right.” Emma’s sympathetic, trying to buck him up, but they both know they’ve ended any chance of Regina turning to the counselor.

Regina runs into Henry somewhere (bay overlook maybe). She assures him she’s not angry, but says she finally accepts that he doesn’t love her, she thought it was just a phase, that he’d remember all the fun they had, but now she accepts that was just her, and that if anything he hates her. He’s struck dumb, but regains his ability to speak, tries to reassure her, but as he steps forward, she jumps back and he sees fear in her eyes. She flees while he’s still processing that. Later, he tells Emma and just cries while she holds him. “We screwed up really badly this time, kid.”

Snow and Charming, meanwhile, are furious that Emma released Regina against their wishes, Charming in particular. Snow is more sympathetic, while Charming wants to raise an army and kill her before she can rise up against them. Emma meanwhile, figures out Snow knew about the pregnancy and was planning on taking the child and pretending it was her own. That way the child would still be family, but Emma would have no ties to Regina whether she was alive or dead.

Regina meanwhile is just avoiding everyone, weak, mentally messed up. Emma goes to see her, and they argue, then Regina passes out. Emma takes her to a different dr. or out of town to a doctor. Finds out she’s pregnant. Emma’s confused. When Regina wakes up, her memory is gone.  Her amnesia is selective. She remembers Storybrooke, the Enchanted Forest, the curse, but nothing personal, not herself, Emma, Henry, etc. It’s magical in source. Emma feels horrible because it’s what they did to her that caused it.

Later it’s Rumple who tells Emma the baby is hers.

Emma lies through her teeth to Regina, tells her they were lovers, that’s how they made a baby. Regina trusts her completely.

At some point Regina remembers, of course, then Emma needs to prove her love.

TTFN

Chapter Text

War

Chapter One

As reality winked back into existence, Emma Swan did a fast pivot and allowed herself a moment to assess her surroundings and throw off the disorientation that came with being blinked from one place to another in the span of a heartbeat. Neal was next to her, seemingly uninjured, but bent over and visibly out of breath. She noted absently how thoroughly muscle had turned to flab in the years apart, then pushed the thought off in the interests of calculating their position.

They were in the forest, thankfully on a road. She recognized the spot. A hard run would get her back to Gold’s shop in five, maybe ten minutes at the most. She snatched the sword out of Neal’s hand with the barked order, “Get to Henry.”

“But—“

He started to argue, but she cut him off as she fished out her car keys and tossed them his way. “If Cora and Regina win—” which seemed entirely possible given the situation just before they’d been whooshed here “—you can get him out of town.” Like her and Henry, Neal wasn’t tied to the curse. He could leave Storybrooke with no ill effects. And she didn’t want her son anywhere near Cora Mills if things went bad. Regina, she didn’t think would hurt the kid even at her worst, but her mother?

Oh yeah, she was more than capable. Cora was a piece of work—downright psychotic, in fact—and Emma could see her doing away with Henry if only because he would be competition for Regina’s attention.

“Em—”

“GO!” she roared at Neal even as she took off. She never looked back to see if he did as told, just ran, long legs eating up the ground, every bit of thought and energy thrown to the problem of getting back to the pawn shop as fast as possible.

Already in good shape, she was barely winded as she hit the front of Gold’s place and deliberately skidded to a halt, suddenly on alert.

Regina and her mother had blown the front door off the hinges during their initial assault and Emma paused to peer cautiously through the open archway.

The front room was silent and still, shattered glass on the floor, but no immediate sign of death or major destruction. She stepped inside, careful to pick a path that avoided the worst of the detritus, though there was no way to avoid all of the scattered glass. She paused beside a display cabinet that had been destroyed when she flung Regina into it. A few flecks of blood were visible along the sharpest edges and at the bottom of the cabinet lay the knife Emma had held to the other woman’s throat.

Her stomach rolled as she realized there was a thin line of rusty brown—drying blood— on one edge of the blade and she flashed on a memory of dragging it across Regina’s throat when Cora went for Rumple’s dagger. It was jarring how keenly she remembered the feel of the motion, the faint resistance of flesh to steel, the rippling muscle of the body in her hold, followed by the tiny tremors that shook Regina as the pain hit. Had she truly been trying to kill Regina and failed or just trying to scare Cora enough to make her stop? It frightened Emma that she didn’t know. She’d nearly killed the woman who’d raised Henry, who, despite any other failings, had brought up a kid anyone would be proud of and who he still loved even if sometimes he was ashamed of it. There was nothing right about any of this.

“God, how the hell did we get here?”

As if to answer the question, a tiny whimper reached her ears.

Spinning toward the back room, she hurried that way as fast as she could without making any more noise than was absolutely necessary. Even so, glass crunched under her boots with every step and she fully expected to be blasted by Regina and Cora as she stepped through the open archway, sword at the ready.

She spotted her parents first. No sign of blood, but David had his sword up, and was poised on the balls of his feet, muscles rigid where he stood protectively in front of Mary Margaret. Her mother, meanwhile, was shaky and pale, one fist pressed against her mouth as though she was fighting not to vomit.

A tiny flick of noise and her gaze swung to the side as a figure took a single step forward. Slight and not even as tall as she was, he still somehow managed to be larger than life.

Gold, aka, Rumplestilskin, dealmaker extraordinaire, who always saw to it he was on the winning side of any contract. Apparently he’d done it again, she realized in an instant, because when she left, he’d been at death’s door. Now he was up and looking like he might unleash the fires of hell at any moment. His shirt hung open, the brutal chest wound that had been killing him, nowhere in evidence. Instead, there was only unblemished skin. Gold was fond of pointing out how magic always came with a price. He was generally less inclined to admit how adept he was at making certain others picked up his check.

Another tiny, keening cry yanked Emma forward a step and pulled her gaze down...

To where Regina Mills knelt, rocking gently, her body folded over and around a figure draped across her lap. There was only one person other than Henry that the former Evil Queen was likely to mourn so deeply.

Her mother Cora.

Emma had seen enough death—suicides and overdosed junkies were all too common in her former line of work— to recognize all the signs, but her stomach rolled as she caught a glimpse of the wound that had cost Cora her life, the size and placement exactly the same as the one missing from Gold’s chest.

Apparently Cora was the one picking up Gold’s tab this time. Not that she didn’t deserve it, but...

Regina let out a soft sob as she continued gently rocking her mother, the sound so broken that Emma felt her heart clench in sympathy. As much as she despised the woman and blamed her for this mess, she couldn’t help but flinch at her very human agony.

A small movement drew her gaze back up and she realized that David’s sword was poised above the back of Regina’s neck. He kept the blade razor sharp. It wouldn’t take much force to end it. Lost in her agony, Regina would never see it coming, probably never even feel it. With luck, she’d be gone before the pain caught up with the cut. Tipping her gaze up, Emma couldn’t quite contain a flinch as she saw the question in his eyes.

She felt her stomach roll as an image of Regina’s head cleaved from her shoulders ran through her brain, but like it or not, there was a certain, perverse logic to it. With Cora already gone, Regina’s death would guarantee an end to the battles. It would keep them all safe, especially Henry. No more fights over the boy, no more fears of the Evil Queen stealing him away.

It would stop a bloody war in one fell swoop.

She could finally breathe easy that her son was truly hers.    

Not that she was under her mother’s self inflicted illusion that Henry wouldn’t care. He’d hurt. He might be ashamed of loving Regina, but no matter what Emma did, the other woman would always be the mother who’d raised him. Yeah, he’d hurt, but he’d get over it. After all, he was the one who’d wanted Emma to end the curse, wanted this war, and even if he didn’t fully admit it, worked toward his adopted mother’s destruction from the moment he went in search of Emma. He’d understand that—despite Regina’s brief efforts to change—ending things peacefully just hadn’t been on the table anymore once she joined forces with her mother.

And if he didn’t, then Emma would have to get him through, even as she cursed Regina for what she’d done to them all.

Gold shifted a step closer. “She can’t just disappear, not without leaving Cora,” he whispered as if to confirm the plan, the words pitched low enough to be for Emma’s ears only. “The wards on the shop won’t allow it.”

Unable to run, distracted and probably weakened from the beating she’d taken and the amount of magic she’d already expended, Regina was at the lowest they were ever likely to see her. This was it, their one shot to take her out without losing any of their own. Ignoring the sick rush of horror, she held her father’s gaze and dipped her chin in the smallest of nods.

His answering chin bob told her he understood the plan. Firming his grip on his weapon, he shifted his weight so he could bring maximum force down on her neck when he swung.

Only to have Regina sense the movement just before he swung. Her head came up and around too quickly to track and she glared at him as she hissed, “No!”

David froze while Emma braced to attack, fully expecting hellfire and brimstone when Regina recognized their intentions.

But instead of attacking, Regina hugged her mother’s body closer, her voice thick and ragged as she snarled, “You don’t get to hurt her again.” She shook her head wildly, tear-filled eyes raking over Charming before she dropped her chin back down. “Never again,” she whimpered, her voice barely audible, utterly oblivious to any danger to herself. “Nobody will ever hurt her again.”

Emma had seen it a few times before, real hardcases who finally hit critical and broke. Regina Mills was broken, shattered really, no longer a larger than life Evil Queen bent on destruction, but merely a badly damaged human being who’d finally succumbed to life and circumstances.

Circumstances that Emma had helped create in believing Cora’s lies—and if she was honest, her own wishes. She cringed as that thought floated, unbidden, through her brain. She thought she’d wanted Regina to be innocent, but in a flash of total honesty, she realized that wasn’t entirely true. Oh, a part of her had hoped for Henry’s sake—he was so desperate to believe his adopted mother could change—but another part, one she wasn’t at all proud of, had wanted her to be guilty every bit as much. A guilty Regina could be forced out of Henry’s life with no complicated emotional baggage, a guilty Regina would no longer serve as a reminder of just who had mothered Henry for the first ten years of his life. Lastly, and she feared, most importantly, a guilty Regina would never be the mother he loved most, or even at all. She could be relegated to a status of pure evil, wiped away, erased, and Emma could pretend she was the only mother he’d ever had.

She didn’t like herself very much as that thought occurred.

Even knowing she shouldn’t, Emma’s eyes found David’s again and she shook her head, the will to end Regina gone in an instant.

He’d already dropped his arm to his side.

“Fools,” she heard Gold mutter in the background.

Emma ignored him and stepped forward, grabbing a folded tapestry that sat on a nearby counter as she moved. She advanced slowly and made plenty of noise, careful not to appear aggressive or like she was trying to sneak up on the other woman as she drew close and crouched down. “Regina.” She kept her voice pitched low, her tone soothing, as though she was trying to calm some feral animal who could turn in a blink and tear her limb from limb.

Which, in some respects, she was.

A hard shudder shook the dark-haired woman, but she didn’t look up, just clung to her mother’s body that much more tightly. “I won’t leave her,” she ground out, her voice little more than a ragged shadow of itself.

Which suggested she understood she was trapped.

“I know,” Emma said, still using that same soothing tone. She shook the tapestry out, then loosely gathered it as she laid one end over Cora’s feet. “I’ll help you.” Moving slowly, she stretched the fabric up over the dead woman, tucking it around her in a makeshift shroud. “We’ll take her out of here so you can ... leave.” She didn’t really know how to refer to the other woman’s ability to disappear in a boiling wave of purple smoke.

Brown eyes tipped up and dark brows drew into a deep frown. “Why?” Regina rasped suspiciously, her body trembling in time with her ragged breathing.

Emma was startled to feel the burn of tears in her eyes even as her throat tightened, making it hard to speak. “Haven’t we all had enough hurt?” she whispered. “I just ... no more fighting,” she begged.

Regina shook her head, the movement oddly uncoordinated for someone usually so graceful and controlled. “It’s not over.” She lifted her head, gaze shifting from Emma to Mary Margaret, her glare full of acid and fury. If hate could be distilled, that’s what it would look like. “It can’t be over ... not after what she ... not after she made me...” Her voice choked off, silver tears rimming her eyes as a tremor started in her chin, then seemed to ripple through her whole body.

Emma twisted, following the line of Regina’s gaze to where her mother stood behind her father, pale and silent, seemingly shrunken inside her own skin and cowering under the weight...

Of what? Regina’s hate?

No, that was old news.

Cora’s death?

Given the witch had been trying to kill them all, even Snow White shouldn’t be too horrified by her demise, even if she’d been the one to deliver the final blow. No, Emma had seen her mother ready to kill, and from what she knew of the old days, she’d taken plenty of lives during her war with the Evil Queen and never had a great problem with it. She might not like killing, but—Henry’s fantasies aside—she was more than capable of doing so without falling apart.

So just what the hell had happened?

Then she threw off her curiosity with grim determination. She could worry about the story later. Right now, she needed to get this situation under some kind of control.

Swinging her head back around, she peered at Regina for a long moment. “Then just for today,” she pleaded at last. She gently tugged the tapestry up over Cora’s face, her movements careful so there was no risk of Regina thinking she was being disrespectful. “Please,” she whispered. “Go home ... bury your mother...”

Dark eyes snapped shut and another violent tremor shook the brunette.

“I just ... I don’t wanna die...” Emma knew she was begging, trying to find some touchstone in the other woman that might soften and let this war end. She considered mentioning Henry, but backed off, instinctively certain that at that moment, it was every bit as likely to trigger rage as any other emotion. Things were too wound up on that front. “...and I sure as hell don’t wanna kill anyone...”

Regina’s answering laugh was impossibly grim, and more than a little defeated. “Somehow I doubt that.”

Emma reached across the distance between them before she could think better of it and laid a hand over Regina’s forearm, her tone sharp as she snapped. “Don’t.”

Brown eyes snapped up to clash with green. Shaking loose of Emma’s light hold, Regina raised her hand and her fingers found the dark line across her throat. It wasn’t just a scratch. The knife had dug in deep enough to draw blood and a few dried rivulets trailed down her chest and stained her otherwise pristine white shirt.    

A hard flinch shook Emma and her stomach rolled violently as she stared at the evidence of her actions, of how close she’d come to... She’d done plenty of awful things in her life, but never that, never killed. And now... She shook her head. “I didn’t want...” she began only to trail off. It took her a moment to settle herself and start again. “I don’t want to kill ... not anyone.” Not even you, was the clear subtext.

For a moment, something seemed to soften in dark eyes. “I never wanted...” Regina began, but didn’t finish, the words fading away much as Emma’s had.

Leaving Emma to wonder what the hell it was the other woman hadn’t wanted, because from her perspective, it seemed as though she’d always been about death and destruction.

After a long moment, she folded the tapestry back from her mother’s face and stared down at familiar features, then traced them with a gentle finger. “She’s not there anymore.” Her hand trembling faintly, she carefully replaced the tapestry and tucked it into place. Head still down, she continued smoothing the fabric around her mother with slow strokes.  

As she watched, Emma thought Regina was going to give way a little, but then she shook her head and consciously pushed that hope off, refusing to slide into any kind of complacency where the other woman was concerned. The queen was just too dangerous to allow even a modicum of hope or trust.

”I can’t give you what you want.” Regina laid her hand over her mother’s chest, almost petting the space above her heart. “She finally saw me ... for just a moment ... and then...” She looked up, sharp gaze skewering Snow White where she still cowered behind her husband. Dark eyes snapped shut and Regina shook her head and flinched as though struck. “The rest of the week,” she rasped, then opened her eyes again, but kept her gaze on Emma. “I can’t give you anymore than that. Not after what she did.”

It wasn’t nearly as much as Emma wanted, but she knew damn well it was more than the other woman would have done before. Hell, given the ugly emotions running through the room, it might well be more than she would have done if their roles were reversed. “Thank you.” Even knowing it wasn’t over, Emma was grateful for anything that might give her a little more time to figure a way out of this that didn’t cost more lives.

Then there were no more words between them as they levered Cora up and moved her body to the sidewalk outside the shop.

Finished, Emma stepped back, though her gaze remained on the woman in front of her.

Regina’s head was down, but she still knelt and her body shook as though she was being beaten.

“Henry was glad you had nothing to do with what happened to Archie,” Emma whispered, hoping that maybe the other woman had calmed enough that a mention of their son would help remind her of the road she’d been on before everything went to hell and make her want to return to that place.

Instead, Regina inhaled sharply and tipped her head up, teeth gritted, eyes gleaming with a rage that bordered on madness. “My son?” she sneered, though her voice was rough and barely audible. “You mean the one you and your mother both told me I would never see again ... had no right to ... the son you’ve poisoned against me until he probably wishes I was the one under that sheet—” She pushed to her feet as if driven by the words and Emma fell back a step.

“No,” Emma broke in sharply, needing to stop the ugly words. “He doesn—”

“Don’t lie,” the former queen snarled, though there were tears in her eyes.

Emma froze, uncertain enough of Henry’s feelings that she didn’t know what to say, while the sheer agony she was witness to nearly took her to her knees. In that instant, her throat locked up and she froze.

Mouth twisted in a rictus of pain and hate, Regina leaned forward, invading the blonde’s space.

Emma fully expected some kind of attack as she felt hot breath hit her cheek, so close now that she could see her reflection in sable eyes.

But Regina only spoke, her voice a soft, sibilant hiss meant for Emma’s ears alone. “I know my son cares nothing for me.” She flinched, but almost seemed to calm as she added, “If nothing else, asking me to absorb a death curse to save your life made that quite plain.” Jaw suddenly clenched, she blinked, lids tightly compressed for a second, and twitched as if to throw off tears. “But because he is my son, and no matter what he feels or doesn’t feel for me, I love him, I’ll warn you Miss Swan ... your new ally...” Her nod toward the pawn shop made it very clear who she meant. Gold. “Be very careful.”

Despite the palpable threat, Emma rolled her eyes, frustrated by what seemed like excuse. “So now everything’s Gold’s fault—”

“You have no idea what he is—”

Emma shook her head. “Why do I even bother?” She muttered. “This is just one more mind fuck from the Evil Queen.”

“No!” Regina snarled. “You have to keep him away from Henry.”

“I don’t have to do one damn thing you say,” Emma shot back. “In case you haven’t heard, you don’t have a say in Henry’s life anymore. If Henry wants to see his grandpa, he’ll see him,” she said, deliberately taunting the other woman.

Snarling a soft curse, Regina leaned in a little more, deliberately crowding Emma. “Whatever you think of me, he is a thousand times worse. He’s the Dark One...barely even human...and the only reason he does anything is to serve his interests. He created the curse and then played me and created me...” Her voice broke ever so slightly and she had to fight for breath for a moment, then continued, “Then he turned and worked your parents. He wanted the curse cast for his own reasons...and he cheerfully manipulated both sides, driving war and destruction for his own ends, caring nothing for what happened to anyone else—”

“So your crimes are all his fault—”

“No!” Regina snapped impatiently. “My crimes are my doing, but don’t be so foolish as to think he was some innocent bystander. He’ll cheerfully destroy everyone and anyone to get what he wants—”

Emma couldn’t have said why, but she bristled at the attack on the man who was Neal’s father and Henry’s grandfather. “Or maybe you’d just like to avoid a little responsibility.”

“Given that my own son begged me to save your life, well aware that it was likely to cost me mine, I’ve avoided nothing.”

Emma froze, staring into eyes that were nowhere near as insane as she might have wished. It would have been so much easier if she could write Regina off as crazy.

“He’s the Dark One ... and anything he does serves only his interests.”

Overwhelmed, Emma would have looked away, but a slender finger drew her chin back around, forcing her to return her attention to the queen.

“He manipulates and molds any darkness he can find ... taking anything pure or innocent and twisting it...” For the first time, Regina’s gaze broke from Emma’s and she seemed to rock gently on her heels, then abruptly shook herself. “Keep him away from Henry,” she ground out after a beat. “Because if you think I’m a monster—” her voice dropped, once again becoming that deadly, soft hiss “—then he’s a thousand times worse because he’s what created me, and believe me, it was no accident. It was a cold blooded plan.”

For a brief second, they both just stared, the whole thing too complex for words.

Another moment passed, then Emma moistened her lips, too many questions dancing on the tip of her tongue. “Tell me—” she began.

But Regina and her mother’s body were already gone in a flow of purple smoke, leaving Emma alone. She knew she should be grateful the queen was gone without more violence, but instinct told her it wasn’t over yet. Then soft sounds from inside Gold’s shop brought her out of the momentary daze.

A moment later she stepped back inside to find Gold busy cleaning up the mess behind the shattered counter. He looked up on her entrance, one eyebrow quirking upward. “Your parents left while you were busy, dearie,” he informed her, spinning the words into something that bordered on an insult. “I think they were hoping to get home ahead of the storm.”

“What happened?” Emma demanded without preamble.

“You’ll have to talk to your parents about that, Miss Swan,” he deflected neatly.

She stormed forward and got into his face, hands braced wide enough on the counter to avoid broken edges of glass. “I’m talking to you,” she growled. Her gaze dropped to his uninjured chest. “Now what happened?”

A wry smirk twisted his mouth. “So many things.” He laughed softly, triumph in his eyes. “Could you be a bit more specific?”    

“Cora’s death.”

For the briefest second she thought she saw the tiniest flicker of actual emotion in his eyes, then he grinned and it was hidden behind walls carved of hurt and guardians molded of madness. “I’m afraid you’ll have to ask your dear mummy about that,” he drawled.

Slim fingers clawed into the already bent display case frame as Emma leaned forward. “You really love all this pain, don’t you?” she sneered, accepting she’d never get more out of him than he cared to give, and even that would be twisted and meant to twist. To hell with him and all of it. She started to turn away only to glimpse the oddest mix of glee and regret. It faded before she could turn all the way back, leaving her wondering if she’d imagined it. “Poor Neal,” she exhaled after a beat, suddenly understanding how her ex could have gotten so wound up inside. “He actually has some hope you’ve changed.” She shook her head, expression sad. “You’re going to break his heart all over again.” She was caught by surprise when his expression darkened, the guilt becoming more prevalent, but carrying with it a kind of self righteous anger she wouldn’t have expected from someone so openly evil.

“I love my son,” he ground out, glaring at her as if to dare her to deny it.

“Just not enough, right?” Emma shook her head, expression twisted into a disdainful smirk.

Rage glittered deep in the pawnshop owner’s eyes. “Well, I didn’t love my son enough to give him away, if that’s what you mean,” he sneered.

“No, you drove him away,” Emma shot back. “And you’re playing the kind of cruel games that will do it all over again.” She spun away and started to leave.

“You want an answer to what happened, Miss Swan?” he taunted.

She spun back and just glared at him.

“I saved my life,” he ground out, thick terror underlying the angry words.

“At what price?” Emma demanded.

He shrugged. “Cora’s life, of course.”

“So you did kill her.” But that explanation didn’t feel right even as the words left Emma’s mouth and his answering smirk confirmed that thought.

“No, dearie. That was your mother.” He thought about it a moment, then added, “Or perhaps it was Regina.” There was another pause while he took a second moment’s consideration. “I suppose we could call it a team effort,” he decided at last, his mouth turning up in a cheerful grin.

Emma’s twisted into knots and she barely restrained the urge to grab him by the throat and shake the truth out of him. “What the hell do you mean?” she snarled. “What did you trick them into doing.”

The happy grin remained in the face of her fury. “Ah-ah,” he tutted, waving a finger in her face. “I didn’t trick anyone. Your mother knew exactly what she was doing.” He shrugged. “Now Regina...no, I don’t think she did. After all, she thought returning Cora’s heart meant mummy would finally love her.” A tiny cackle escaped, then he waved the topic off with a dismissive, “You’ll have to ask you mother precisely why she thought that.” His grin took on an evil twist and he offered a small shrug. “After all, that was her trick, not mine. I guess she thought it was worth it to save my life now that we’re...family.”

Emma’s stomach did a nauseous roll. She didn’t know exactly what happened, but she knew her mother had somehow used Regina to kill Cora, and she knew that if she’d thought the war was bad before, it had just hit all new heights. “Bastard,” she whispered very softly. “You really enjoy this garbage, don’t you...maximizing the pain.”

He only laughed very softly, the madness in his eyes chilling to behold.

Emma shook her head. “Y’know, I get why my parents and the others hate her, but what did Regina ever do to you?” She peered closely at him, watching for any sign of response. There was a flare of something dark and bitter in his inhuman gaze and for just a moment she thought he might answer, then one of the tiny, mad giggles escaped.

“She actually thought she mattered,” he mused. “Thought she deserved some kind of life other than what I intended for her.” He shook his head. “Silly fool thought she was a human being rather than my tool.” His voice hardened and his eyes grew more flinty with each syllable.

Horror crawled Emma’s spine as she felt her stomach roll with nausea. Bastard. “And god forbid anyone be anything but what you choose,” she accused, her voice low and disgusted.

Rumpel laughed very softly. “Precisely.” He shrugged, idly polishing dried blood from the knife Emma had held to Regina’s throat. “She was never meant for anything else. She was literally born for me to use any way I wished...with a task I chose for her. All the rest of it was...extraneous, shall we say.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” For the briefest second Emma thought she caught a glimpse of something akin to regret in his eyes and then it ghosted away, leaving her to wonder if she was imagining things because he suddenly offered up a wicked grin.

“What are we talking about?” he mused aloud, then answered his own question. “So very, very many things...hearts that kill...graves that aren’t...children never born...so very many things.”

Notes: the hidden secret is that Leopold cursed Regina to ensure there would be no children who could compete with Snow for the throne, only she was pregnant when he placed the curse, which meant she went through pregnancy, birth, etc, but no child was there. That's why she killed him, not her anger at Snow.

Chapter Text

Birth Days

“I hate you,” Emma Swan muttered, though there was no heat to the softly spoken words.

“No, you love me,” Regina Mills corrected, her voice low and softer than Emma had ever heard it before. Of course that could just be the painkillers.

“Yeah,” Emma admitted. “But sheez, couldn’t you have waited another couple of minutes until I was with you?” Her eyes fell on the bundle in Regina’s arms. “I was in labor for seventeen hours with Henry,” she added, then tipped her gaze up to meet brown eyes. “You couldn’t manage five more minutes?”

A dark eyebrow arched high on Regina’s forehead as she considered the question. “It hurt,” she answered, tipping her chin down to peer at the figure in her arms as she added, “And she was growing upset with the contractions.”

Emma sighed softly as she crossed the space between them and sank down on the edge of her lover’s bed, their bed now, she reminded herself, and wrapped one arm around Regina’s back, snuggling her close. “It’s just...well...I wanted to be here.” She reached out with her free hand, fingers finding the edge of the blanket bundling the tiny figure in the dark haired woman’s arms. “Y’know, to support you ... and her.”

“Perhaps you should have taken the day off and stayed closer to home if you wished to attend,” Regina snipped, her tone ever so slightly frosty.

“Oh, hush,” Emma shushed, used to Regina’s temper and unable to do anything but smile as she peeled the blanket back and a tiny face peered up at her with violet eyes that seemed unusually curious and intelligent. She petted the patch of fine, near translucent hair, then ran a fingertip along a rounded cheek. She remembered her own experience giving birth, sweaty, in agony, scared to death, then Henry screaming when he finally appeared. This was just so ... peaceful. “It is a girl, right?” she whispered a little hesitantly.

Regina couldn’t quite contain a tiny sigh. They’d gone over this before, and she found it faintly appalling that, despite being from a land where the technology level was roughly equivalent to this world’s middle ages, her understanding of science was better than Emma’s. Really, the public school system clearly had a lot to answer for. “Lacking any Y chromosomes between us, yes.”

A dark blonde brow arched high on Emma's forehead. "I just annoyed you by not remembering the DNA stuff, didn't I?" she asked with a wry smile.

"Chromosomes aren't actually..." Regina trailed off as she noted her lover's smile. "I just gave birth," she grumbled and snuggled deeper into the mattress. "You should be nicer to me. and not tease."

"Ah, you know you love it." Emma pressed a small kiss to Regina's temple.

"You? Yes. The teasing? Not so much." She studied the tiny face staring blearily up at her. "But given the gift you've given me today, I'm willing to overlook any minor irritants, at least for the moment."

Most people would have quaked at the expression on Regina's face. Emma just laughed. "I'd say that gift was to both of us," she mused and scooped an arm around her daughter, amazed by the magic that flowed back and forth between them, then expanded outward to include Regina in the shifting waves of energy. "She's gonna be a challenge," she said through a laugh.

Regina managed a tired chuckle. "Given her mothers and older brother, I'd be amazed if she was anything else."

Feeling happier and more content than she could ever remember feeling before, Emma nodded. "Truer words have rarely been spoken."

"Mmm," Regina mumbled in agreement, tipping her head back as soft lips came down to meet her mouth.

Truer words indeed.

End

Chapter Text

Life’s a Bitch, or Maybe That’s Just Sisters

Sibling rivalry was a serious bitch.

Or maybe it was just siblings.

Well, some siblings anyway, Regina Mills mused. Or mused as much as anyone can when in a barn straight out of Kansas — by way of a small, fairy-tale-infested corner of Maine — and under attack from a psychopathic Wicked Witch (of the west, of course) who among other little surprises, flung out a swirling green mist that rolled and reformed itself even as it slice and burned everywhere it touched. Already sporting a couple of painful burns and bleeding from several nasty slashes, Regina dug in, fighting to pull more light magic out of herself and the ether in order to keep fighting her sister. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really her medium and the very best she was managing was to slow Zelena down.

It was better than she’d done before with dark magic, but even with the improvement, the sad truth was it wasn’t enough.

Zelena was winning.

Most of the volunteers who’d arrived at the barn to face her were scattered around on the floor, either unconscious, dead, or barely moving. More than a few were bloodied. Rumplestilskin had seen to it they would be of no assistance in this little family squabble.

As Regina was forced back by the stabbing, pricking green smoke, strange lights began to swirl around the circle carved into the floor of the barn. Pale green, the light moved and flowed, following the pattern like water in a trench as it gained intensity and velocity with frightening speed. Then it completed the pattern and the four points of the circle — Regina’s heart, Rumple’s brain, Prince Charming’s sword, and Snow White’s son — began to throb and glow.

“Almost time, sister,” Zelena crowed, voice thick with the joy of her impending victory.

“Like hell,” Regina snarled, though the profanity had no real force to it. She was tiring quickly. Dying, she feared, wasn’t far behind the exhaustion. Then as if to prove the point, the fog doubled around too fast for her flagging reaction time and zinged her hip and lower back, cutting through cloth, then flesh and leaving a fresh flow of blood. Cursing, she stumbled to one knee even as she flung a fast warding spell at it and tried to push off the fury and maintain some level of emotional balance. Light magic could come from emotion, even anger, but not hate.

“Not much longer, little sister,” Zelena taunted as she continued to weave the complicated spell that would take her back in time to undo all the sins she felt had been committed against her.

Another spiking cut tore into Regina’s upper back, the pain enough to draw a small cry. As the glow around the four points of the circle brightened, her chest ached with ever-increasing violence — the stresses on her no-longer-in-residence heart no doubt — but she refused to surrender.

Zelena laughed, clearly enjoying her half sister’s pain. “Isn’t it wonderful? I’ll be able to build my new kingdom on your corpse,” she crowed victoriously.

Then the baby started to cry, scream really, the sound a pulsing wail of increasing agony. The same energy tearing at Regina’s heart was undoubtedly bearing down on the infant. Even as that thought ran through her, Gold’s knees abruptly buckled and he grabbed for his skull with both hands. Meanwhile, Charming seemed to have gone entirely missing.

The infant started wailing again, the sound piercing, each cry lasting as long as his lungs could hold a note, then fading momentarily while he grabbed a fresh breath, then starting again.

It was agony just to hear it, much less live through it. A shudder of horror slid through Regina as her own heart pulsed in time with the baby’s wails. She knew how he felt. The pain in her chest was ramping up, increasing with every ragged beat of her missing heart.

If someone had told Regina once upon a time that the thought of Snow White’s child dying would rock her to the core, she would have laughed at them, but the infant’s cries seemed to tear right through her, the child’s agony somehow hurting even worse than her own.

 “But rest assured, at least your enemies’ son will suffer an even worse fate,” she taunted, her voice thick with joy.

Then she giggled.

Giggled.

Regina’s stomach rolled. Even at her worst, she’d never been ... that.

“Screw. You. Bitch,” Regina ground out, her voice hard and precise in spite of the myriad of pains. Since direct attacks weren’t working, time for a change of pace. She flung a wild spell at the open beams above Zelena’s head — dark magic this time because she had more skill and power and the barn didn’t give a damn what kind of magic she used. Wood cracked and shattered, the sound tearing through the air as a section of the hay loft started to collapse.

“Cheap parlor tricks?” Zelena demanded disdainfully as she spun toward the threat. She swept her hand in a broad arc, forcing the breaking beams back into proper alignment. Another quick flick of magic started to reknit the shattered wood.

Regina flung another dark spell, doing her best to shred and splinter the wood. Anything to distract her sister.

“You’re only delaying the inevitable,” Zelena snarled even as she was forced to deal with the threat to avoid being crushed.

The baby’s cries had faded into the background, not because the pain had disappeared, Regina was sure from her own experience, but because he was running out of strength.

Zelena’s triumphant laughter sliced the air as Regina felt herself stumble and fall. Then she heard the baby again, somehow found his pained, panicked wails in spite of the din. It gave her strength somehow. Those screams still echoing inside her skull, she braced her feet and kicked off, hurtling forward.            

Zelena swung one hand, hurling her power outward.

In an instant, the green collapsed and coalesced on Regina, clawing at her as she pressed forward, every step coming at the cost of blood and her own screams. The mist followed her, prickling and stabbing at every patch of exposed skin even as Zelena’s mocking laughter hung in the air.

Then suddenly Emma surged up from behind Zelena, swinging a broken ax handle like an impromptu club. It crashed into Zelena’s back, slamming the witch to her knees and buying Regina an extra second or two.

Boots digging furrows in loamy, straw covered earth, Regina flung energy with her right hand even as she grabbed for any purchase she could reach with her left, fingers scraping dirt in the effort to pull herself along against the energy trying to force her back.

Emma managed to get in a second hit before Zelena flung her away. Suddenly airborne, she flew several feet, hit the hay and tumbled several more feet.

It bought Regina just enough time to slide her left arm under the tiny, screaming form and scoop him up against her chest.

Suddenly the energy in the circle faded, not quite winking out, but close.

Roaring her fury, Zelena flung a hand out to hurtle a bolt of pure energy at her half sister.

In spite of the death sentence headed her way, Regina curled a hand to the back of Neal’s head, supporting him just as she had Henry one upon a time. For a second time she found herself standing with her worst enemy’s child in her arms, their safety her responsibility.

The first time she’d ended up with a son she loved more than life. Who knew what this child would bring, but she was damn well going to find out. Holding him safely against her body, she turned, only slightly aware of the white lights that formed around her like a celestial fogbank.

She wasn’t quite sure what was happening, only that she no longer felt threatened by her sister. It was all so simple now. The light boiled around her, literally lifting her off the ground and stealing the weight from her shoulders. Neal relaxed in her hold, his breathing turning easy, his expression no longer creased with agony.

He snuggled deeper into her hold, settling in as she swept a hand around them in a trail of white magic.

Suddenly Zelena was no longer giggling or even whining. Instead, she was down and pinned in place by a shaft of light, her screams no longer sounds of rage. Now they were pure, stark terror.

Chapter Text

I Could Make You Go

Regina Mills had never thought she would—even could—know anyone’s body better than her own. Had anyone asked, she would have been quite confident in assuring them that she was far too selfish, too uncaring of others, quite simply too screwed up to ever be that attuned to another person. But as fingers landed on her bare back, delicately brailing their way along her spine, even half asleep, she knew instantly who was touching her simply by the shape and texture, fancied she could recognize the unique whorls of every fingerprint.

Lying on her belly, arms folded under her cheek, she remained limp as she felt the sheet that only partially covered her slide lower and the wandering fingers brush the small of her back before drifting upward again, even that light touch enough to leave heat trails on her skin. Then the light caresses played over the dip just below her right shoulder blade and Regina let out a sharp, pained, hiss as tension rippled through her muscles.

“Dammit.”

“It’s nothing,” Regina denied, already moving to push upright.

A hand settled on her upper back, the weight unnaturally heavy and she sank back into the mattress. She couldn’t quite contain a flinch as a tiny flick of moisture—a tear she was sure—splashed onto her upper back, the heat of it enough to draw attention if not do damage.

“Nothing?” Emma whispered, her voice raw. “It’s a burn, Regina.” She drew a ragged breath, the sound of it echoing in the dark. “I burned you.”

“You didn’t mean to,” Regina assured her. She would have rolled over and pulled Emma to her, but Emma’s hand remained on her upper back, silently keeping her right where she was. The urge to push it off and do what she would was there, but she tamped it down. Regina had learned not to fight, nor to resist in any obvious way. Emma was there, but so was the Dark One and for the moment at least, neither dealt with open defiance well, particularly when it came from her. It set too many old tapes playing for Emma, and she possessed too much power that might prove threatening for the Dark One. “It’s all right.”

Whatever the Dark One was, it had burrowed deep inside Emma, far deeper, Regina suspected than it ever had in Gold. It was wedded to her in a way it never had been with Rumple, perhaps with anyone.

“I’m sorry,” Emma exhaled, her voice breaking. She skimmed her hand down, spreading her palm over damaged flesh, healing it with little more than a thought.

“Emma, I told you, it’s—” Regina began, but Emma cut her off.

“Don’t,” the blonde ground out. “Don’t say it’s nothing or it’s all right when it’s not.” She fitted her hand to the curve of Regina’s waist, her touch unnaturally strong and more than a little possessive, but still gentle. Emma was back in control, even if the Dark One was lurking. “It’s not,” She repeated more firmly. “I should...” she whispered, but didn’t finish.

Regina knew what she was thinking. She should send Regina away for her own sake.

Settling on the edge of the bed, Emma leaned down until her forehead just touched Regina’s upper back. “But I can’t seem to...” Again, she didn’t finish, but her voice echoed with longing and fear.

Regina felt another few drops of hot moisture spatter her back, but her flinch was purely emotional. It didn’t physically burn this time. “I know,” she whispered, understanding the conflicting wants and needs all too well. She’d been there more than once in her life. It was one of the reasons she was so determined not to leave Emma to face the darkness alone even if there were times when she was walking a razor’s edge just to survive. Moving very slowly, careful not to do anything that might qualify as aggressive, she eased over onto her back and reached out to stroke hair that had been the color of sunshine and now gleamed with odd, inhuman silver lights. “I wouldn’t go,” she whispered very softly. She tensed as powerful hands molded to her torso and Emma pushed up, her expression bordering on an annoyed glare that left Regina wondering if she’d overstepped too far.

“I could make you,” Emma growled, the words coming slow and measured, the look in her eyes a silent warning. Emma might want and even need Regina, but the Dark One understood that Regina wanted it gone even if it desired her almost as much as its human host did.

“You could kill me,” Regina admitted. “But that’s what it would take.”

Emma’s whole body seemed to rattle under the flinch that shuddered through her, and the glare fled as she shook her head wildly. “Don’t say that, Regina, please,” she begged, letting her head fall forward until it was resting on Regina’s sternum. “Don’t...don’t let it come to that,” she whispered desperately. “Henry needs you...and I...I need to know you’re okay more than I need...”

Regina wrapped her arms around Emma, shielding her in a protective hold. “I’m not going anywhere...and you’re not going to hurt me,” she soothed, petting silky hair and tugging familiar curves close. “I trust you, Emma,” she whispered, giving the one gift she still absolutely possessed, herself and her utter faith in the other woman. And as hands turned possessive, then hungry, she arched into Emma’s touch, surrendering herself in the understanding that it gave her lover some peace, an escape, no matter how brief from the clinging darkness.

And later, she healed the faint bruises left behind when the Dark One felt the need to punish her for her influence over its host, then quietly slid back into bed and wrapped her arms around Emma.

“R’gina,” Emma mumbled, desperate for sleep, but also afraid of the nightmares it usually brought.

“I’m here,” the brunette assured her. “I’ll always be here.”

“I know,” Emma sighed, turning toward Regina to sink into her warmth. Finally, she slept.

Fin

Chapter Text

Hell is for Motels

“And your home phone number and address?” A bony finger tapped next to the appropriate space on the motel registration card.

Emma exhaled a soft sigh as her gaze snapped up to take in the desk clerk at the Happy Wayside Motel. Tall, scrawny, with a thin face and a too inquisitive gaze, he smiled back and tapped the card again, his expression so bland that it felt oddly threatening, like he was hiding things—dark, disgusting things—a quality only enhanced by the probing questions he’d already asked about their trip, reasons for stopping and now home address. “Why?” she demanded. “We’re paying cash.” Which probably only intensified his curiosity she realized belatedly. By the look of the place, it didn’t get many guests and judging by the way he was staring, none as interesting as herself and Regina.

A smirk ghosted through the smile. “In case of emergency. Had a couple of girls—“

“Girls?” Regina repeated softly from her position behind Emma, her tone such that Emma didn’t need to look to know she was rolling her eyes and looking disgusted.

“—check in a few years ago...then in the dead of night, one of ‘em ended up giving birth—”

“I really don’t think that will be a problem,” Regina snorted.

Emma could cheerfully have throttled the queen as the clerk’s already speculative expression turned decidedly lecherous. He definitely thought he knew why pregnancy wasn’t likely a problem and it wasn’t because he thought they both used really good birth control. “Thanks for the input, Regina, but I’ve got this.” She glared at the clerk. “I really don’t see why,” she grumbled.

“It’s policy.” He tapped the card again and continued to stare at with her until finally she wrote down an old address in Boston that wouldn’t do him any good.

When she was done, he inclined his head ever so slightly, then asked. “Bathtub or shower?”

Heaving a sigh that suggested the question was an all new level of stupid, Regina answered before Emma could get a word out. “Tub, of course. We’ll both need a long soak after the day we’ve had.”

Emma almost buried her face in her hands. Oh yeah, that should help clarify things.

The clerk twitched, leaving Emma comfortably certain he was having a hard time not staring at the deep vee of Regina’s blouse. And if she was honest, Emma couldn’t really blame him. It was an impressive sight.

“You want two twin beds or one king size?”

“I don’t do twin beds,” Regina insisted crisply.

Emma rolled her eyes. Of course she just had to say that. Regina meant that she didn’t sleep in small beds—ever—and if there was only one large bed, her highness probably also planned on Emma taking the floor.

But that wasn’t how the clerk read it.

His expression turned distant as his gaze flipped back and forth between the two women, his fantasies all too clear.

Emma decided it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as disturbing had he not borne a distinct resemblance to Norman Bates. Yeah, that was the crowning glory. “Whatever’s cheapest,” she mumbled, hoping maybe a practical focus would cut short his speculation.

Judging by the grin that ghosted across his expression, it didn’t.

Mortified, she felt her cheeks heat as a blush colored her skin. Gah, she just wanted out of there so she could grab a shower and crash before starting day two of their latest adventure in Storybrooke insanity and now she was going to be nervous and edgy about the whole thing.

And given that fairy tales came from real life lands, was there any chance Hitchcock movies did too? And was it possible they might have found their way here just like the denizens of the Enchanted Forest, because he really did look like Norman.

And she really needed to stop thinking like that.

She shoved that thought off as the clerk turned away and grabbed a key ring off the board behind him. “You’ll like this room,” he assured her as he pivoted back and held it out. “It’s quiet. Good, thick walls.”

There really was something creepy about his eyes.

It suddenly occurred to her that Regina had abruptly gone very still and quiet. Emma risked a quick glance and raised an eyebrow as she noted that the brunette was staring sharply at the clerk. Oh good, the queen of Not-Noticing-the-Obvious had apparently glommed onto the fact that their host was a perv. Well, better late than never.

“Nobody’ll bug you.” His expression never changed, yet somehow it got even oilier. “Don’t worry, you can make all the noise you want, it won’t be a problem.”

Regina made a face—royal disapproval along with a fair degree of genuine icked-out-ness—and took a half step back.

Emma snatched the key and darted back. “Thanks,” she muttered and spun. And ran straight into Regina.

Who was glaring at the clerk. “He thinks—” she began.

Emma’s hand landed on Regina’s sternum, shoving firmly in an effort to get her moving toward the door. Given that a graceful exit wasn’t on the table, she was going for speed. “Off to our room, dear,” she said, her voice a treacly-sweet mockery of Regina’s more acid moments.

“But—”

“Now, luv,” Emma said sharply, applying more pressure as she stepped into Regina’s space, standing almost nose to nose as she added, “After all we can make all the noise we want.” Okay, so she shouldn’t have given Norman as she now thought of the Prince-of-Perves, the free wank material, but it was worth it for the petty revenge. After the way Regina had obliviously added to the clerk’s mistaken impression, it felt good to watch her eyes narrow and her lips thin with irritation.

Join the club, sweetheart.

“Em-ma,” Regina growled in warning.

Applying more pressure, Emma took a step forward, a hint of smile in her eyes as she pressured the brunette back a step. “Let’s go...honey.”

Dark eyes flicked up—Regina’s expression darkened right on cue—then came back to Emma. She didn’t say a word though and Emma was struck by the thought that it was one of those rare moments when the other woman truly didn’t have a snarky response.

Probably ought to enjoy that while it lasted.

In the meantime, Emma crowded the other woman back another step and then another. She grinned triumphantly as Regina’s back hit the door firmly enough to make the bell jingle softly. Still offering that wicked smile, Emma reached past her and unlatched door to push it open. “Let’s go, dear,” she taunted again.

Regina glanced at the clerk again, clearly calculating what she might say that would simultaneously put Emma in her place and put an end to every last bit of speculation by their audience without requiring a bloodletting.

Emma snickered softly as she saw the other woman come up blank. She took another step forward, grinning as Regina was forced back another pace.

“Miss Swan,” the queen hissed.

Another step in their strange dance and they were through the door. Heaving a sigh of relief, Emma shoved it closed in her wake, then glanced down at the room key and around at the nearest room numbers, before taking off.

“Miss Swan,” Regina called to her retreating back as she wheeled around, almost trotting in an effort to catch up.

For reasons she couldn’t entirely name—or wouldn’t anyway—Emma lengthened her stride and poured on the speed.

“Very adult,” Regina snapped impatiently and hurried her own stride. She pointed back toward the office. “You do realize what that man,” she put enough of a twist on the last word to make a pretzel factory envious, “thinks...although I use the term loosely.”

“Yes, Regina, I’m aware,” Emma confirmed, still moving fast.

“He thinks we’re—”

“I KNOW!” Emma bellowed and spun, coming to such an abrupt halt that they collided. She had a brief glimpse of her reflection in black irises and a disturbing sense of luscious curves slamming into her chest before Regina darted back a step, her cheeks pink, expression flustered. “And in fact,” Emma punched a finger into her highness’ chest to emphasize her words, “I knew when you made a point that neither of us could possibly be pregnant, and again when you detailed our mutual need to soak in the tub, and yet again you refused twin beds. I. Knew. The. Whole. Time.” Finished with her rant, she just stood there, smiling a little crazily at her partner in crime.

“You’re blaming me for this?” Regina demanded, outraged.

“Why, yes, I am,” Emma agreed, then spun and stormed off with a muttered curse. She didn’t slow down again until she was the motel bathroom with the door locked, and the shower on. She was hot, tired, pissed off, and didn’t give a damn that Regina called the bathroom first. In fact, it was a decidedly pleasurable moment when she managed to slam and lock the door in the former queen’s face.

Emma was just starting to unbutton her blouse when an unwelcome thought occurred. She froze, a nearly forgotten movie scene playing in her brain—it involved Anthony Perkins, a hole in a wall, a small bathroom. Just. Like. This one.

There was also a blonde clueless to the fact she was about to be slaughtered.

All of which suddenly felt entirely too close for comfort. She wasn’t going to be that blonde, and if Normy was in the walls, hoping for a free show, he was going to have a really bad night. After the day she’d had, she’d appreciate a righteous reason to beat the crap out of somebody.

That thought running through her head, she proceeded to minutely check the tiny bathroom for any unusual holes, loose tiles,or anything else that might indicate unwelcome watchers. Then, when she was finished, she flipped off the lights, and did it all over again, this time hunting for bits of light where there shouldn’t be.

Finally, confident she was truly alone, she turned the lights back on, then stripped down and crawled under a hot shower, soaking and soaping and resoaping until her skin resembled a peach colored prune.

Much better, Emma decided when she finally stepped out of the tub and wrapped herself in a towel. Unfortunately, her clothes were sweaty and dirty enough that she had no intention of putting them on over newly-clean skin. After fingercombing her hair, she took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and braced herself to deal with an undoubtedly pissed off former Evil Queen.

Which she was going to have to do while wearing nothing more than a cheap towel that left very little to the imagination. Major girding-for-battle fail any way you looked at it. That was what she got, she supposed for not going back to the bug for her bags, but she’d hit her limit and needed a shower. Or maybe just to be behind a locked door. Either way, time to pay the piper.

“You can do this,” Emma lectured, then took a breath and flung the door open, ready for the knock down drag out fight she was sure was going to ensue.

What she wasn’t prepared for was to find that Regina had spent the time bringing their bags in, getting ice and apparently denuding some sort of snack machine of most of its contents. Emma’s duffle was on a luggage rack, while the ice bucket and the grease, sugar, and salt laden stash took up most of the small table that sat in one corner of the room. A couple of cans of root beer were chilling on ice.

Okay, so maybe Regina wasn’t entirely awful after all.

“I...uh...I thought maybe you might be hungry when you got out,” the brunette offered. Stepping away from the table, she peered at Emma for a moment, then suddenly seemed to find the generic print on the wall behind her utterly fascinating. “Are you finished...in...” she waved to indicate the bathroom.

“It’s all yours,” Emma assured her, carefully stepping aside when Regina retrieved her bag and all but fled into the bathroom. Well, that was...interesting, she mused. Yanking on a tank top and short, she grabbed a root beer and a bag of Doritos, she munched between sips as she subjected the room to the same thorough, inch by inch, investigation she’d used in the bathroom.

If Storybrooke had taught her one thing, it was that you couldn’t be too careful about some things, and no idea was too crazy to be true.

And Norman really did look kinda like an older version of the other Norman, the knife-wielding, mom’s-dress-wearing one, and she was taking no chances. After all, fairy tales were true, so her thoughts about a HitchcockLand didn’t seem quite as crazy as they might otherwise.

As she heard the water come on in the bathroom, a blonde brow climbed high on her forehead, a hint of a smile playing about her lips as she considered that between bringing the bags in and grabbing all the junk food—which she doubtless disapproved of—Regina had probably come as close to offering an apology as she was ever likely to get. Finally, satisfied the room was secure, she flopped down on the bed with a fresh bag of chips, a package of cookies and another root beer and flipped on the TV.

By the time Emma heard the bathroom door open and close, she'd satisfied herself there were no peepholes, and turned out the lights. Her belly was full and she was dozing peacefully, so she more felt than heard the soft pad of bare feet as Regina drew close to the bed and paused. Barely slitting her eyes, Emma peered through thick lashes at the slender figure silhouetted by the shifting glow of the TV. Thin pajamas—silk, nothing else moved quite the same way—flowed around her slender frame, clinging in all the right places without being too revealing.

Emma couldn’t help but appreciate the sight as she lay there, somewhere between sleep and waking. Regina stood by the bed for a long moment, openly watching Emma even as Emma covertly watched her right back.

Maybe that was why she didn’t respond when Regina whispered her name almost inaudibly, obviously trying not to wake her if she was already asleep. The brunette waited a long moment, then heaved a soft sigh, leaving Emma with the distinct impression she wasn’t entirely happy with the lack of a response.

The thing was, it was fascinating watching the woman as she finished readying for bed. She fetched something from her bag, then sat on the edge of the bed and began smoothing some kind of cream onto her arms and legs, pushing fabric out of the way as needed. Every motion was graceful and oddly sensual, even a bit erotic.

Whoa. Emma tensed. Where had that thought come from?

As if aware of the direction of Emma’s thought, Regina did a slow turn and sat silently perusing the Savior.

Heart suddenly hammering in her chest, Emma tried to lie perfectly still, but it was hell controlling her breathing. With her ramped up pulse came the sudden need to gasp for more air.

A need which only increased when Regina softly whispered, “Emma?”

Despite, or perhaps because of the desperate effort to remain unmoving, Emma suddenly twitched, and not a little twitch either. No, it was a giant, unmissable, full body spasm that started at her feet and rattled her all the way to her head.

Regina visibly started. “Emma?” she whispered again, her tone taking on a worried note.

Emma made a show of stretching and yawning

“You a rightie or a leftie?”

“I...what?”

“Which side of the bed?” Emma clarified.

“Oh.” Regina paused for a moment, then finally mumbled, “You look comfortable where you are. I can take the other side.”

“A leftie then.” Emma sighed and snuggled down a bit, gesturing to the other side of the bed. “Cheeto?” she offered, holding out the half empty bag.

“Ahm, no, thank you.” Regina shook her head. “Dayglo food seems...unwise.”

Emma glanced in the bag, then shrugged. “Your loss.”

Regina was silent for a long moment, her body language unusually hesitant. Finally, she cleared her throat and spoke haltingly. “And I thought maybe...well, anyway...I suppose I might not have handled the scene in the motel office in an entirely ideal manner.”

As peace offerings went, it was actually pretty impressive by Regina Mills’ standard.

“Yeah, that...uh ...I...uh...I might have been a little unreasonable,” Emma admitted as she massaged the back of her neck. Yeah, Regina hadn’t exactly helped things, but the pervy clerk wasn't her fault. “That guy was gonna be a creep no matter what you or I did.