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until fate lays down her weapons

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It’s easy enough for Emma to slip through the crowd and out through the back door, the one she’d noticed when she came in. The door leads to a small courtyard with a decrepit fountain in the middle. It’s not a big space—she’d been hoping for a field, or a parking lot—but it’s enough room for her to breathe.

The fountain’s not working, but there are still coins on the bottom, silver and copper glittering in the faint light of the electric lamps mounted on the wall of the courtyard.

Emma fishes through her pocket and finds a few coins. The wishing stuff is crap, obviously. But when she’d been living on the street, she’d taken coins from fountains sometimes, and that helped a little. She may as well return the favour.

She tosses the coins in one after the other. They make little plunk noises when they hit the water.

“Are you making a wish?”

Emma almost jumps at the surprised voice behind her. She turns to see a tiny blonde woman dressed in a fairy outfit and holding a plate with one candy apple on it. “No,” she says, dropping the last of the coins in the fountain and stuffing her hands in her pockets. “I was, uh, getting rid of some change. That’s all.”

“Oh. I see.”

“The party’s in there,” Emma says, nodding her head at the door leading to the ballroom.

“I know,” fairy lady says. “I just… thought I might find someone here. It’s a nice place, isn’t it?”

Emma looks around at the dirty brick walls, the benches covered in bird poop, the cigarette butts and weeds littering the cobblestones. “It is?”

“I mean the fountain,” fairy lady says. “All the wishes. It’s nice to see that people do that, even here.”

“Even here?” Emma repeats, confused. Here as opposed to where?

Fairy lady shakes her head quickly. Her eyes dart around nervously, not focusing on anything particular. “I mean, everywhere. It’s nice that people do it everywhere.”

“Are you okay?” Emma asks.

Fairy lady looks at her when she says that, her eyes widening like she’s surprised Emma asked that. “I… yes.” She shakes her head. “Yes. Would you like an apple?” She holds out the plate with the apple on it.

There were apples in a basket on the food table, part of the whole fairy tale theme. Fake poison apples. This one’s even brighter red than the others, almost artificially ripe and shiny. Regina would be all over it, but Emma shakes her head. “No thanks, I’m not interested in a poison apple.”

Fairy lady frowns. “What? How would you… It’s not poison.”

“Yeah, I know,” Emma says. “It’s part of the fairy tale theme, right? Like, from Snow White?”

“Oh.” Fairy lady smiles. “Yes, it’s a fairy tale thing. Would you like it?” She offers her the apple again.

“Thanks, but I don’t really like apples,” Emma says.

Fairy lady frowns. “But won’t you just try this one?”

“No thanks.”

“Come on, please?”

Emma debates arguing her down, but she’s tired, so she sighs and says, “Fine.” If she takes it, maybe the perky lady will leave her alone. Besides, she’s just doing her job. She takes the apple, hoping the fairy lady will leave.

But she doesn't. She just stays there and looks at Emma expectantly.

“I took it,” Emma says. “You can, uh, go.”

“Aren’t you going to eat it?” fairy lady asks, blinking up at Emma in a way that sets her nerves on edge.

What is this lady’s problem? Why does she care so much about whether Emma eats the apple?

Whatever. Emma will just eat it and then this lady will leave her alone.

It’s not like she was lying when she said it wasn’t poison, so what’s the worst that could happen? She sighs and raises the apple to her mouth, ready to—

“EMMA! NO!”

Regina comes tearing into the courtyard, a confused Robin close behind her. She looks absolutely terrified. “Don’t eat that!”

Emma drops her hand. “Why not? What’s going on?”

“Just give it to me,” Regina says, reaching for the apple. “Please.”

Emma pulls it away and holds it out of Regina’s reach. “If it’s bad, I’m not giving it to you.” Regina’s looking at it like it’s a bomb or something—is that possible? An apple bomb? No, that’s ridiculous.

“Emma, please listen to me.” Regina makes another grab for the apple, but Emma keeps it away from her.

“Not it you won’t tell me what’s wrong with it.”

“What are you doing?” fairy lady hisses at Reigna.

“Regina, what’s going… oh.” Of course: the fairy tale thing. It always comes back to the fairy tale thing. “Hey, it’s just an apple,” Emma says. “They’re just calling it a poison apple as a joke. It’s not really poison.”

“You don’t even like apples!” Regina points out. “Emma, please, don't eat it.”

Emma hesitates. Regina looks terrified, and Emma hates going against her on this. On the other hand, this is the perfect opportunity to prove to Regina that fairy tales aren’t real. And maybe if she stops believing in fairy tales, she won’t leave. She won’t go back to live with those awful people.

“Regina, it’s okay,” she says, raising the apple to her mouth again. “I promise it’s okay.”

Emma —” Regina makes a grab for the apple, but Emma pulls it away. Before Regina can stop her, she takes a bite.

It’s sweet, crisp, a little crunchy. Just like a normal apple. The texture is kind of gross, like it always is, and Emma winces a bit as she swallows it down. “There,” she says, spreading her hands. “I’m fine. See?”

Regina grips her shoulders gently like she thinks Emma’s about to fall. She looks heartbroken, and Emma feels a pang of guilt for putting her through this. But it’ll be better in the long run, for both of them.

After a few moments of nothing happening, Regina starts to look confused. “See?” Emma smiles at her. “Just an ordinary apple.” She takes another bite, just to prove it, and again nothing happens.

“I don’t understand,” fairy lady says. “That should have worked. Why didn’t it work?”

Work? “Wait a second,” Emma says. “You were trying to poison me?” Realization dawns on her. “Seriously? You’re part of this too, aren’t you? The whole cult thing? Look, magic isn’t real, and I just proved that, so can you people just… you know, chill?” This is getting ridiculous.

Regina’s still holding onto Emma and she looks completely puzzled. Then, slowly, comprehension dawns in her eyes. She pulls back and smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes.. “Yes,” she says. “You’re right, Emma. I see that now. Magic isn’t real.”

It’s a lie. Regina just lied to her, but why? Magic may not be real, but Regina still thinks it is.

A small woman in a blue fairy outfit walks in carrying a giant leather book. She notices the apple in Emma’s hand, with the two bites missing, and she scowls. “Why isn’t she asleep?” she asks in a tone that reminds Emma of an irritated principal. “Green, don’t tell me you mixed up the apples.”

“I didn’t!” fairy lady—Green?—says, shaking her head rapidly. “I gave her the right one!”

What kind of shitty cult is this?

“I performed the curse correctly,” the woman in blue says. Her voice is quiet, barely above a whisper, and it sends chills down Emma’s spine. “There’s only one explanation.”

Blue narrows her eyes at Regina, who crosses her arms and meets her gaze coolly. “I was wrong,” she says in a tone of wounded regret. “You are the villain.”

“Hey,” Emma snaps immediately. “Don’t talk to her like that.” If Regina was surrounded by these people for all that time, no wonder her brain got all screwed up. Right now, she’s flinching back like she believes what the woman in blue said to her. Emma puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Blue, are you—are you sure we can jump to that conclusion?” fairy lady says. Seriously, these people are all named after colours?

Blue narrows her eyes at Regina. “You have to die.”

Okay, that’s it. “Leave her alone!” Emma yells at Blue. “Who the fuck do you think you are? I’m calling the cops.” She pulls out her phone and punches in the number, but the signal drops out before she can dial.

What the hell?

“This doesn’t concern you,” Blue says. “You may leave.”

Emma steps in front of Regina, drawing Blue’s eye contact, and curls her hands into fists. “The hell it doesn’t concern me. Regina is my friend, and I don’t know what kind of weird fairytale cult you’ve got going on here, but she doesn’t deserve this. Now let her go.”

Regina moves from behind Emma to stand at her side and look her in the eye. “Emma, it’s okay,” she says gently. “Stay out of this.”

“She’s right,” Blue says, barely glancing at Emma as she speaks to her. “This isn’t your story.”

“I don’t care whose story it is,” Emma says. “I won’t let you hurt her.”

Blue finally looks at her—no, she glares at her. For a split second, Emma thinks she’s going to throw the book at her, or maybe whack her over the head with it. She braces herself, refusing to move from Regina’s side.

Then Blue pulls out a pen from some hidden pocket and, with zero hesitation, stabs herself in the arm.

Robin gasps and fairy lady lets out a shrill yelp. Emma turns to Regina, who doesn’t even look surprised. She looks more scared than Emma’s ever seen her.

“Regina? What’s happening?” Emma asks.

Regina turns to her. “Nothing,” she says unconvincingly. “Everything’s fine.”

Blue withdraws her pen, which is now covered in blood, and opens her book to a blank page. She starts to write. Emma cranes her neck, but she can’t see what Blue’s writing except that it’s in ancient, cursive handwriting. Small drops of blood drip off Blue’s arm, forming small dark red splotches on the stones.

“Tink, what’s she writing?” Robin asks.

Fairy lady—Green? Tink? whatever her name is—leans over and reads, “Regina the villain finally had her punishment, as her dark heart got the best of her.”

Blue finishes that sentence, dots it with a period, and starts on the next one.

That’s when Regina collapses.

“Regina!” Emma shouts, catching her just in time to stop her head from hitting the hard ground. Her eyes are glassy and her normally olive skin has turned weirdly pale. But the most worrying thing is that she’s grasping at her chest as though it’s burning her and heaving large gulps of air like she’s being strangled.

Robin rushes over and drops to Regina’s side, taking him in his arms. Emma doesn’t want to let him, but Regina would probably rather have him there than her.

“What’s happening to her?” Robin asks.

“I think she’s having a heart attack,” Emma says. She’s not an expert, but it’s the only explanation for what’s happening. Or maybe it’s a stroke? No, strokes don’t involve the heart, right?

While Robin strokes Regina’s face and murmurs comforting words, Emma whips out her cell phone. Still no signal. Should she find a payphone? She’d have to leave Regina to search for one, and that’s the last thing she wants, but if her phone is broken…

“Emma? Are you in here?” Marian enters the courtyard and as she sees what’s going on, her face turns from confusion to shock. “What the hell is going on? What’s wrong with Regina? Has anyone called 911?” She takes out her phone and starts tapping.

Blue looks up briefly and flutters her hand in Marian’s direction. Marian frowns. “Wait. I don’t have a signal.”

What’s going on?

Tinkerbell is frozen in place and Blue is still writing furiously. Robin seems to come to the conclusion that Blue’s writing is somehow causing this because he leaves Regina’s side and starts trying to knock her over. She’s a surprisingly strong woman, because he doesn’t manage it.

Emma grips Regina’s shoulders. “Hang on, okay, Regina? We’re gonna get you help. It’s gonna be fine.” She still looks like she’s in agony, but she gives Emma a small nod.

Do heart attacks normally take this long? Emma vaguely remembers when her ninth foster dad had a heart attack. He’d gone down instantly. It hadn’t looked anything like this. But if this isn’t a heart attack, what the hell is it?

Robin finally knocks the Blue Fairy over and the pen skitters out of her hand. She lunges for it desperately. Tinkerbell gets there first, and with a wild look in her eye, she snaps it.

“No!” Blue screams, her voice shrill and horrible.

As soon as the pen breaks, Regina stops convulsing. So there’s obviously a connection between the pen breaking and what’s happening to Regina. But that doesn’t make any sense. How could a few words written on a page make someone’s heart hurt?

Psychosomatic. That’s what this is. Regina thinks it’s real, thinks she’s a villain who deserves to die, so her body reacts like this. She may not be seizing anymore, but her skin is still pale and covered in sweat, and she’s still clutching at her heart as though it’s got a knife through it.

Emma bends close to her and says, “Regina, it’s all in your head. Okay? I promise, it’s not real, please, can you please believe me…” She’s fighting back tears, holding Regina with both hands, begging her to do the thing she’s been unable to do up until now. “Just because you think it’s real, doesn’t mean it is, Regina. You’re not a villain. You’re not .”

Regina doesn’t answer. She looks up at Emma briefly, like she wants to say something, but then collapses back down in another series of coughs. Blood drips out of her mouth and spatters on the bricks.

And Emma realizes it doesn’t matter whether this is a random heart attack or just in Regina’s head. There’s no difference, because either way, the outcome is the same: Regina is going to die. Just because she believes she will.

But that’s impossible . There’s no logical explanation for what’s happening right now… except.

Except there is an explanation. It’s not logical, not even close, but it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

“It’s real, isn’t it?” she whispers. “All of it.”

Regina shakes her head weakly.

Wait. If it’s real, if Regina has magic, why didn’t she use it to defeat Blue? And why would she say that it’s not real just when she might finally be able to make Emma believe?

Then Emma remembers what Regina told her on the night of their stakeout, when they’d sat together and laughed together and Regina had shared everything about the sleeping curse. How it only works when people made the choice to be cursed.

Can you make the choice to be cursed if you don’t believe the curse is real?

Probably not.

No wonder Regina doesn’t want her to believe.

Emma takes a split second, because she’s only human, to wonder what sort of regrets she might be stuck with for the rest of eternity. Then she decides it doesn’t matter. Only Regina matters, and Emma squeezes her hand before she stands.

“You were right,” she says to Blue. “I get it now. I’m the villain.”

Blue narrows her eyes at Emma, unconvinced. “You are?”

“Yeah. It’s not Regina’s fault she tried to help me. I brainwashed her. I had her convinced. But you were right. And I deserve…” Emma takes a breath. “I deserve to be punished.”

“No!”

Emma ignores Regina’s hoarse scream. “I want to try again,” she says. “With the apple. I think I need to believe for it to work.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Blue says coldly. “But even if it wasn’t, I doubt that plan would work, considering you don’t believe in anything.”

Emma looks over at the woman on the ground, staring at her in horror. “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I think I do.”

Regina opens her mouth again, but nothing comes out except a choked gasp.

For the third time, Emma brings the apple to her lips. Unlike the first two times, her hand is shaking.

She takes a bite.

The apple tastes different this time. It tastes like alcohol, like prison food, like the cupcakes she eats on her son’s birthday, like the ash in the air when Cleo died. And underneath that, there’s another taste, something ancient and terrible. Emma almost chokes, but she forces herself to swallow it.

Around her, everyone is frozen, staring at her, wondering whether this can possibly work. The only sounds are faint conversation from the waning party, Regina’s shallow gasps for air, and the clock tower chiming midnight.

Dong.

Nothing’s happening. Why is nothing happening? Maybe it’s because there’s not enough magic here, so things are just slow.

Or… maybe she’s not believing hard enough for this to work.

Fuck.

Dong.

She’s tired, but is she tired enough? Is that the curse or is she just tired because she didn’t sleep much last night?

Emma looks at Regina, still on the ground, her breathing shallow. Even if this works, there might not be enough time to save her.

Dong.

No. This will work. It has to; Regina’s come too far for it not to. Yes, she used to be evil—and Emma believes that, she does—but Regina’s gone to therapy, she’s started apologizing, she’s started caring about people. She’s been trying. She doesn’t deserve to die.

Dong.

Emma’s next breath catches in her throat: her lungs aren’t working right. Is it the curse or is she just afraid?

It’s the curse. It has to be. Isn’t it?

It is. She believes it.

Dong.

Emma keeps concentrating. Regina’s the hero… and she is the villain. She’d been right about one thing anyway: she’ll never get the fairy tale.

But that’s okay, because Regina will.

Dong.

Things are happening more quickly now. All of a sudden, she can’t feel her hands, can’t feel her face, can’t feel her legs, and she starts swaying on her feet. She’s going to collapse, but she can’t move her muscles to stop it.

Dong.

As she starts to fall, Marian runs forward and helps her to the ground, lays her on her side so she can look at Regina.

Regina’s eyes are barely open and there’s no light in them, but at least they’re open and does that mean she’s getting better does it mean this is working does it mean—

Dong.

Her head is foggy, swimming with exhaustion. Black spots appear in her vision; sounds fade out. Her skin grows warm, then hot, then it’s burning, everything’s on fire, and Regina’s still not waking up…

Dong.

She tries to keep her eyes open, just long enough to see if Regina’s getting better, but she’s so fucking tired, and she can’t…

she can’t help it, her eyes slide shut

dong.

she can barely hear anything anymore and her skin is on fire.

 

And then she feels something cool, something like—

a hand?

against her hand

 

Regina?

 

does that mean—

 

dong.

 

no, wait

 

fingers wrapping around hers

 

a cool palm gently squeezing

 

maybe?


and then

 

it’s gone


(dong.)



and

 

everything

 

hurts.

 


 

No.

No no no no no no.

It’s not possible. It’s not. This must be a trick of some sort. Perhaps Emma’s just pretending, to convince the Blue Fairy that she’s been cursed after all. That must be it.

Except… Emma would never take that kind of chance on something this important, would she?

Regina regains energy slowly. She’d only been able to move her hand at first, reaching out to lightly hold Emma’s, but now she moves her body closer to Emma’s and reaches up with her other hand to touch Emma’s face.

Snow had looked peaceful under the curse, but Emma simply looks wrong . This Emma is still, and her Emma is never still. Even when she’s sleeping, or on a stakeout, or eating breakfast, she’s always moving, fidgeting with something, or merely alert.

Surely there’s been some sort of mistake, and at any moment, Emma will sit up and look at her with those sparkling green eyes and smile at Regina the way she does, and Regina will yell at her for being an idiot and everything will be fine.

“Emma?” she whispers.

Emma does not respond.

As Regina lies there, voices filter into her consciousness from above.

“I don’t understand,” Blue says. “The book says she should be happy. Why isn’t she happy?”

“How the hell is she supposed to be happy? You killed her best friend!” Marian, angrier than Regina’s ever heard her.

“I did not kill her,” Blue says coldly. “She’s under a curse.”

“Excuse me if I, for one, fail to see a difference,” Robin snaps.

“This should not be possible,” Blue says again. “She should be happy. The book always tells the truth.”

“I can fix it.” Tinkerbell, chiming in nervously.

“But the book only tells the truth. It has the power to make things happen. You should be happy because the book says you are. Why isn’t it working?” Blue flips through the pages in frustration.

“It doesn’t matter,” Tinkerbell says, her voice full of awe. “Because she doesn’t believe. The book doesn’t have power over her.”

A small part of Regina thrills at that. She’s free now. No one can control her destiny. But what does it matter, what could it possibly matter, when Emma is gone?

“That’s not important. We have to hurry to make the portal,” Blue says briskly. “We can sort this mess out once we get back to the Enchanted Forest. But if we don’t go soon, the magic will run out.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think Regina wants to go anywhere right now,” Marian snaps.

“I’ll talk some sense into her,” Blue says. “We’ll figure out what’s gone wrong later.”

A few moments later, Regina registers Blue’s presence next to her. “Regina,” she says in a soothing tone, as though she’s addressing a troublesome toddler. “It’s all right. The villain is defeated. You’re safe now.”

The villain is defeated.

Without even thinking about it, Regina hauls her still-exhausted body upwards and launches herself at Blue, scratching and clawing and screaming as best she can. She aims for Blue’s injured arm, still bleeding from the stab wound, and despite her weakness she manages to land some good blows before Robin and Marian pull her off. She turns on them, furious until she sees the concern in their eyes.

“Regina, she’s not worth it,” Robin says. “I’m sorry, but nothing can undo what Emma did. She sacrificed herself for you.”

“I know,” Regina snaps. Is that supposed to be a comfort, the reminder that this is all her fault? That if it hadn’t been for her, Emma would still be… well, not happy, but alive and well. Now, thanks to Regina, she’s gone forever.

There’s only one way to undo a sleeping curse, after all, and Emma will never be able to access it. There are no soulmates in this realm, after all.

“I understand that you’re upset. Clearly something has gone wrong here,” Blue says in a soothing tone. “But I promise, if you just come with me, you can fix this.” She puts the book in front of Reigna, open to the page with her story on it, as though that will convince her. Regina refuses to look at it, keeping her gaze on Emma’s unmoving form.

Tinkerbell puts a hand on Regina’s. “I’ll make you a forgetting potion,” she says quietly. “You won’t even remember her. You can move on.”

Regina stares at her blankly for a moment before the words sink into her consciousness, and then she shakes her head rapidly. “No. No, I don’t want to forget her.” She was supposed to write Emma into her story. She was supposed to tell the world that Emma had been good.

She does look at the book now. It shows a picture of her and Robin getting married. Emma isn’t in the picture, but the passage next to her contains words such as unbeliever and got what she deserved and the villain was defeated. She cannot see Emma’s name anywhere.

It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. It had been wrong when it happened to her, and it’s just as wrong now that it’s happening to Emma—if not more so. If this is meant to be Regina’s happy ending, she’d rather have died.

Marian crouches next to Emma. “Is she… sleeping?”

“Yes,” Regina says quietly. “In a way. Her soul is in another realm—a torture chamber of her deepest regrets, her worst failures.” She’s seen drawings of the realm in ancient spellbooks: fire everywhere, demons in every corner, everything dark and horrible and painful.

Oh, Emma…

“I don’t think she’s breathing,” Marian says. “How can she be alive?”

“The curse stops her heart and her lungs,” Regina says, “but magic keeps her alive.” As she says that, she realizes something horrible, and her chest fills with ice.

Marian articulates it before she can. “But isn’t magic running out? What happens when there’s no more magic?”

Regina can’t say it, can’t bring the words to her lips. Robin says it for her. “She’ll die.”

He looks to Regina for confirmation. Instead of nodding, Regina reaches out and grips Emma’s hand. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but it feels cooler than it was a minute ago.

“What if we bring her back to the Enchanted Forest?” Robin says. “That will keep her alive indefinitely, while…”

“While what?” Tinkerbell asks. “While we find her true love? She doesn’t have one. Only soulmates have ever shared true love, and Emma doesn’t have a soulmate.”

“But it would buy us some time,” Marian says. “We can find another solution.”

“There is no other solution, but it doesn’t matter anyway,” Tinkerbell says. “The book says Emma’s a villain. She believed that. There’s no turning back from that now.”

The book. The stupid fucking book that started it all, when Tinkerbell found that page Blue ripped out—

That Blue ripped out, and Regina’s path went from “hero” to “villain,” just like that. Her entire destiny, altered.

Would it work in reverse? Tear out the story, change a villain to a hero? Regina grabs the book and starts to tear at it, blindly ripping at the pages.

“No!” Blue screams. She yanks the book out of Regina’s hands and throws herself across it, shielding it with her body.

“Regina, what are you doing?” Tinkerbell asks, her voice shrill.

“My story was part of the book once,” she says while trying to pry the book out from under Blue. “My happy ending with Robin was in there. Years ago, Blue ripped it out, and that changed it.”

“That was about changing the future, not the past,” Tinkerbell says, grabbing her arm to stop her. “You can’t change what’s already happened. Emma became the villain.”

“Heroes always get happy endings,” Regina says. “If we can convince the book that Emma is a hero, something will work out. Things always work out for heroes, no matter what trouble they find themselves in.” It’s a long shot, perhaps… but it could work. It could.

“But how would we convince the book she’s a hero?” Tinkerbell asks. “The book runs on belief. The four of us may believe it, but that’s not enough belief to change the course of fate. There’s not enough magic.”

“What about an entire roomful of people?” Marian asks. “What if we got them all to believe? We could convince them somehow.”

“That might hold the magic long enough to keep Emma alive while we rewrite her story,” Tinkerbell says carefully. “But I still don’t know if it would work. And we would have to tear out your story, Regina—”

“I don’t care.”

“Which I don’t know is even possible. And I know your happy ending isn’t… working, but we could probably fix it if we—”

“I don’t want to.”

“But you’d be giving up your happy ending for probably no reaso—”

Let me do it.

“Think about this, Regina,” Tinkerbell pleads. “It might not work. And this isn’t just your happy ending. It’s Robin’s too.”

Regina’s got her mind made up, and even if Robin disagrees, that won’t change anything. But Tinkerbell’s right, this does affect him, so she turns to him, ready to argue her position.

As soon as she sees him, she knows she won’t have to. Robin looks sad, but not as sad as Regina might have expected, and she realizes abruptly that she isn't the only one in their relationship who wasn't feeling as much as she should. “If this is what will make you truly happy,” he says slowly, “then of course this is what you should do.”

Regina has never loved him more than she does in that moment.

Robin moves to where Blue is curled around the book and wrenches her off it, Marian joining in to help. “What are you doing?” Blue shrieks as Regina seizes the book, flipping to the pages with her story in them.

She rips them out. Her entire story, her happy ending, everything she’d wanted for as long as she can remember, she tears it all out. Then, for good measure, she shreds it into tiny pieces and scatters them on the ground.

Tiny sparks fly up and down the spine of the book, and then the ripped area heals itself, melting back into the spine as though nothing had ever been there. Regina’s disappointed. She’d wanted there to be a scar.

“Now what?” Marian asks. “We need a pen, right?”

Tinkerbell holds up the pieces of the pen she broke. “I don’t think we can use this one.”

“Here,” Robin says, fishing in his pocket and holding out a pen. “Emma gave it to me.”

Tinkerbell takes it and studies it, looking skeptical. “It’s not a magic pen.”

“Neither was the other one, until people believed in it,” Regina points out. She uncaps the pen and tries to write in the book, but nothing happens.

“Only fairies can write down the fairy tales,” Blue says, sneering at them from the ground. “I made sure of that.”

“I don’t imagine you’d be willing to help out?” Robin asks angrily.

Blue lifts an eyebrow. “Of course not.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we have another fairy,” Regina says. She turns and thrusts the pen at Tinkerbell, who backs away.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Tinkerbell says. “I… I’m not even a real fairy yet. I haven’t passed the tests, I got kicked out of the classes…”

“She can’t do it,” Blue says. “Green isn’t a fairy, she’s a disgrace. No one will ever believe in her.”

Tinkerbell looks rattled and close to tears, so Regina leans in and puts a hand on her shoulder. “Listen to me, Tinkerbell. I believe in you. You risked everything to save me because you thought I deserved a second chance. You’re more of a fairy than that blue-clad hypocrite will ever be.”

When Tinkerbell starts to cry, Regina softens her grip on her shoulder, but she keeps her voice stern. “Emma needs help too. She’s never had a fairy godmother, but she deserves a second chance just as much as I ever did. More. So do your job, fairy.”

Tinkerbell swallows hard, nods, and picks up the pen.

Robin picks Emma up, ever-so-gently, and he carries her into the main room of the hall. Marian and Regina follow them, leaving Blue behind to cradle her injured arm.

Marian walks onto the stage and taps nervously on the microphone, producing a screeching feedback noise that makes everyone cringe. “Hello, may I get your attention, everyone?”

The crowd does not look overly excited to be called back to attention when they were ready to leave, to go back to their own homes and their warm beds.

Marian smiles at them. “I have a friend I’d like you to meet. Her name is Regina, and she’s going to tell you a story.”

Regina walks onto the stage and takes the microphone from Marian. In her peripheral vision, she can see Tinkerbell with her pen poised over a blank page, ready to write down everything she says, but she keeps her eyes focused on the crowd. All she has to do is convince this entire room of people that Emma is a hero, and then everything will be fine.

How hard can that be?

Regina opens her mouth, ready to tell the audience all about Emma’s goodness, her unfailing strength, her pure heart. Her heroism.

Then she stops. She can’t do it. She cannot stand in front of these people and tell them that Emma was a perfect hero. How can she get these people to believe that story when she herself doesn’t believe it, when Emma wouldn’t believe it?

She’s not the Blue Fairy. She doesn’t want these people to believe yet another lie.

So instead, she tells the truth.

“I want to tell you about Emma Swan, a woman who was sometimes selfish, and sometimes scared, and sometimes hurtful. But she wasn’t evil. She was a human being in a difficult situation who tried her best for someone she cared about.”

Tinkerbell looks up at her, her expression indicating that she thinks Regina’s gone mad. Regina doesn’t care. She takes a deep breath and tells the story of a perfectly imperfect woman who lost her family before she even knew what that was, who was rejected time and time again by the people who were supposed to care about her, who found it in herself to care about others anyway.

She tells them about pancake breakfasts and late-night stakeouts and ice cream at three in the morning, just because. She tells them about Emma sending Robin to prison and Emma bailing him out again and the drinks that showed up for her for the next two weeks, every single morning. She tells Emma’s story, their story, as thoroughly but as quickly as she can, conscious that with every minute that passes after midnight, magic is dwindling and their chances of bringing Emma back are slipping further away.

She tells the story of a woman who is a hero not in spite of her flaws but because of them, because she worked so hard to overcome them when it mattered most.

“I always thought that goodness was what heroes used to smite villains, and I was always on the wrong side of that,” she says at the end. “Emma taught me that being a hero isn’t about destiny or perfection or living your life according to what someone else thinks your story should be. Emma knew that true heroism is getting up every day and trying to do the right thing, no matter what you’ve done in your past. And that’s how she taught me to believe.”

When she finishes, she’s out of breath from both stress and the exertion of talking so much. And Emma… Emma is still sleeping.

Is there not enough belief? Regina scans the crowd, looking for signs that they believe her story. She thinks they do—they seem engaged, at least—but it’s impossible to tell.

After several moments of nothing, the audience starts to murmur, clearly having expected something to happen. Tinkerbell’s still writing, her forehead wrinkled with concentration. Regina doesn’t care about that, doesn’t care about anything except Emma’s lifeless form.

Robin presses his fingers to Emma’s pulse point, then looks up at Regina and shakes his head.

Marian comes up and puts an arm around Regina’s shoulder. Tinkerbell finally stops writing and looks down at Emma, then looks up at Regina. I’m sorry, she mouths.

Regina doesn’t care about any of it. Emma is gone. She’s failed her. That is all that matters, all that could possibly—

A burst of rainbow light explodes from the page, right where Tinkerbell was writing. It ripples out through the room, blowing everyone’s hair back, knocking over the microphone stand and several plastic cups before passing through the walls of the room.

What the hell was that?

Regina drops the microphone and runs to Emma, ignoring the screech of the microphone as it clatters on the stage. She crouches down and grips Emma’s face in her hands. Her eyes are still closed and she’s deathly pale. Regina brushes her thumbs across Emma’s cheekbones, hoping, praying

She leans in and whispers, “Emma?”

Slowly, so slowly, Emma opens her eyes.

She blinks up at Regina, not seeming to realize where she is. She doesn’t look like herself. Her eyes are haunted, as though she’s seen horrible things. A prison of regret, Regina thinks, and a fear drenches her like a wave. Emma’s come back wrong, she’ll never be happy again, and Regina can’t help her…

It takes several seconds, but Emma’s eyes clear. Regina holds her breath—is she okay? Is she going to be all right?

Then Emma says, very softly, “Hi.”

Regina buries her face in Emma’s shoulder, hugging her tightly. “Hi,” she whispers back.

Beside them, Marian starts to clap. “Thank you very much for that lovely performance,” she says loudly. “Let’s give them a big round of applause, everyone!”

Around them, the crowd starts to applaud—slowly at first, confused, but then louder until the room is bursting with noise. Regina barely hears it, she’s so relieved that Emma is alive. Emma wraps her arms around Regina and holds her as tightly as she can, although she’s clearly still very weak.

“What—what happened? Did I do it wrong?” Regina hears in her ear.

She pulls back and smiles, moving her hands from Emma’s back to cup her face gently. “No. No, sweetheart, you did everything right. You saved me.”

“I did?” Relief sweeps Emma’s face. “Good. I’m glad. But, wait, how did you wake me up? I thought only true love could wake someone up from the curse.” Then her eyes widen. “Did you… did you kiss me?” She sounds almost… hopeful?

“No,” Regina says, “I didn't kiss you. I made sure the book knows you’re a hero. And heroes always win. That’s why you woke up.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Tinkerbell says. She points at the book. “I didn’t figure it out until pretty late, but like I said, true love is the only thing that can change someone’s destiny.”

True love?

It’s Marian who reads the words they can all see. “Regina, in her despair, sacrificed her own happy ending to write Emma’s story. And it was this act of true love that woke Emma from the sleeping curse.”

True love.

“You did that?” Emma asks, and her eyes are wide with awe as she looks from Regina to the book and then back to Regina. “You did that for me? You… you love me?”

“You love me? ” Regina whispers. It’s overwhelming, that someone who wasn’t even her soulmate could still see her for all that she is and love her anyway. Accept her anyway.

But Emma must; there’s no other explanation.

Regina leans in, intending to kiss Emma the way she’s wanted to for weeks, but she hesitates. Perhaps she’s wrong about what this means. Perhaps Emma only loves her in a friend way. Perhaps—

Emma kisses her. It’s soft and sweet and passionate all at once, and it feels like coming home.

After a few long moments—or minutes, who could say?—Regina pulls back and looks Emma in the eye, oblivious to the people around them who have gone back to their lives, oblivious to Robin and Marian chatting animatedly a foot away, oblivious to everything except the woman in front of her.

The woman in front of her is smiling. “You know what? It wasn’t me being a hero. It had nothing to do with me. Regina, you were the hero.”

“I wasn’t being a hero,” Regina protests. “I just knew the book was wrong. You’re not a villain. I had to do something.”

“I’m not an expert,” Emma says, “but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the kind of thing a hero would say.” She smiles broadly.

Then her smile fades. “Are you sure?” she asks, still insecure even after everything. “Is this enough of a happy ending for you? I mean, I’m still not your soulmate.”

“I don’t know if it’s a happy ending,” Regina says thoughtfully. If this story doesn’t have a villain, after all, then the only people paying for their happiness will be them. The thought doesn’t bother her as much as it once might have. In fact, it doesn’t bother her at all.

Too late, she notices that Emma’s face has fallen. She quickly adds, “I think maybe it’s something better.”

“What’s that?” Emma asks, confused.

Regina leans in to kiss her again before she says, “A second chance.”

Emma’s smile returns at that. “Sounds good to me,” she says. “So what do we do now?”

Regina presses a kiss to her cheek, then stands up, bringing Emma with her. “What do you say we go home?”

“Yeah,” Emma says, grinning. “I think I could use a nap.”

It’s the worst joke ever, and Regina laughs so hard she thinks she might break. “Don’t you dare .”

Marian and Robin have drifted away and are cleaning up, perfectly in sync. Regina looks at Robin and doesn’t feel any regret at all. Ten years ago, he’d have been perfect for her. Two months ago, even, he might have been good. But now…

Now, Regina puts her arm around Emma’s shoulder, leans in for yet another kiss, and smiles. “I love you,” she says, because she wants to, because she can, because there is no reason not to.

“I love you too,” Emma says, her voice shy and earnest all at once. “Now let’s go home.”

And they do.

Together.