It's not an ending; it's simply an eternal middle.
That's what she'd told the thief, and it's true - not that it's any of his business. This is her choice, and she'll be damned if she allows a simple outlaw to get in her way.
She lowers the protection spell to allow Snow and her band of heroes inside, and then it's time. Sitting on a stony bench overlooking the kingdom that used to be hers, Regina takes a few moments to remember her son, the son who doesn't even know she exists.
It's too painful, but then she's never been good at staying away from things that might hurt her. She wants to remember him once more before she goes to sleep indefinitely, because he deserves more than to just be forgotten. A sad, watery smile crosses her face, and a tear rolls down her cheek as she raises the cursed hair pin and remembers a boy lost to her forever.
The slim pin pricks the queen's finger, drawing out a single crimson bead. An overwhelming sense of calm comes over her as the curse taints her blood, and suddenly the near constant pain in her chest is less. For the first time since leaving Henry, she feels like she can breathe, and her mind fogs over, offering a reprieve from the demons that haunt her day and night. It's a state of tranquillity, and she wouldn't mind staying like this forever, but she also knows that Snow would find a way to bring her out of her trance.
No, this more permanent method is the only way.
Then she's falling, slumping sideways on the bench she's sitting on, and her eyes are slipping shut. The world seems so far away, distorted and spinning, and then there's nothing but blackness and silence. Her last foggy thought before the sleeping curse knocks her out completely is 'Henry'.
When Snow and her army enter the palace, the queen is nowhere to be found. A seed of panic sows itself in her gut, yet she forces it down, tries her best to ignore it. Regina must be here somewhere - she lowered the protection spell just minutes earlier, after all.
Snow spins around to see an alarmed looking Robin Hood dash into the room. He's puffing heavily, as if he's run quite a distance, and his eyes are wide and anxious. "Robin?"
"It's the queen," he reveals, and then waves a hand, beckoning her to follow him. Then, the thief runs from the room again, with the bandit hot on his heels.
Several flights of stairs and too many long corridors later, they reach a large, grandiose room that appears to be the queen's chambers - or a part of them, at least. Snow remembers this room from when she was a girl, remembers the days she'd spent with Regina during those years of unhappy marriage. The princess feels a pang of guilt and a flare of annoyance at her younger self, and she has to repress these emotions before they can get the better of her; this isn't the time.
"Here," Robin says as they near the bench where the queen is slumped in a decidedly unregal fashion.
Snow's eyes widen, and she runs the last few metres. Regina's out cold, bent awkwardly across the bench. She presses two fingers to the brunette's pulse point, places her dagger below Regina's nose. There's a weak pulse and the metal steams up, and only then does the princess allow herself to breathe.
"It's a sleeping curse," the thief explains, watching as the younger woman moves about the queen with gentle familiarity, like they've been close for a long time. He hasn't noticed it before, but the women share a bond - a sort of mutual respect and familial love for one another - despite everything they've been through and done to one another.
"We need to move her somewhere more comfortable," Snow commands, now in full-blown hero mode. "Can you carry her?"
Robin nods, coming closer and then leaning down to wrap his arms around the queen and lift her up. She's oddly small and light - she seems much larger and more threatening when she's awake and on guard.
Snow leads the way to where Regina's bed is, and nods for the outlaw to set her down there. He does so ever so gently, adjusting the pillows to keep her as comfortable as possible - or at least make sure she doesn't awake with terrible cricks in her neck.
"Will she be alright?" he asks, moving away, his eyes never leaving Regina's prone form.
Snow perches on the edge of the bed and pushes a few stray hairs out of the queen's face. "She'll be completely unaware," she replies, her voice quiet. "If - when she wakes, it'll be like no time at all has passed." It's a non-answer and they both know it, but it's not like the curse is a magic cure-all; if she wakes up, Regina will be just as hurt as before she went under unless, by some miracle, Henry returns.
Robin nods. "Alright. Good," he mumbles. Understandably, he's still a little shaken.
"I'm going to make her comfortable," the princess says then. "You should probably go." It's not that she means to be rude - just that she very much doubts Regina would appreciate her changing her clothes in front of anyone.
"Right," the thief says with another nod. Taking a last concerned glance at the queen, he leaves and shuts the door quietly behind him.
Snow visits Regina twice a day, often bringing books and reading to the sleeping woman like she'd done once with David. It comforts her to just sit with her step-mother and read, even if Regina can't hear or appreciate it. There's a sort of serene feel to it compared to everything else going on in the palace.
That said, she'd much rather the queen was awake and being her usual rude, witty self. Snow misses her sarcastic comments and eye-rolls, regardless of how irritating she may or may not have found them before. It's too quiet without Regina around, and she can tell the civilians feel less safe without a strong, experienced sorceress on their side - because as scary as Regina is, she's kept them safe with her magic time and time again.
Snow supposes she should have seen this coming - the letter in her saddlebag, the heart incident in the woods, Regina's reckless behaviour in general. The older woman has always had a self-destructive streak, and while this may not class as self-destructive - she's doing it to ease her pain, after all - it does fit the pattern.
"Damn it, Regina," Snow whispers, stroking Regina's forehead.
It's a surprise to everyone when a pirate, a saviour, and a fourteen year old boy arrive at the palace on horseback.
Snow is the first to see them, and she can barely believe her eyes. Her daughter - her daughter! - and Henry are here, in the Enchanted Forest, alive. "Emma?" she breathes, and a grin spreads across her face.
The blonde just smiles sheepishly before being pulled into a tight hug.
"I missed you so much," the brunette whispers as she finally pulls away. There are so many questions in her mind, but now isn't the time.
"I missed you too," Emma admits, eyes damp but bright.
Snow turns her gaze to the boy. "Does he…" She trails off, not wanting to ruin things if he still has no memory of his life in Storybrooke with his other mother.
"I remember everything," Henry tells her with a knowing smile. He's grown a lot, his features sharper and less boyish, and his voice low and awkward. "Including my mom."
Snow's face darkens, and she guides Emma a little way from the group by her elbow. "Emma," she says lowly. "There's something you need to see." She glances nervously at Henry, who is watching them with suspicion despite the fact that Hook is trying to entertain him and distract him from the whispering women.
"What is it?" Emma asks, frowning deeply. "Is everything ok?"
The dark-haired woman's lips form a line, and she seems to be debating whether or not to explain the situation or just show her.
"Is it Regina?" The blonde's tone is more urgent, more concerned. If it's Regina and Snow won't even talk about it, it must be bad, and nothing is ever simple with the queen.
Snow nods. "I think it's best if you see her before Henry does. Then you can break the news gently to him."
"Ok," Emma agrees anxiously. Then she turns to face her son and the pirate who is desperately trying to pull his attention away from the women's conversation. "Hey kid," she tells him. "I'm just gonna go and check something out with Mary-Margaret, ok? Stay here."
Henry watches her for a second, trying to figure her out, before nodding. "Sure." He's a bright boy, always has been; he knows something's up, but he's not going to push it right away. He hopes they'll tell him soon though rather than keeping him in the dark like a small child.
Emma shoots him a forced smile before she and Snow head deeper into the castle. The brunette leads the way, chewing on her lower lip.
They stop at a large, decorated door, and Snow pushes it open before walking into the dimly lit room. A few candles burn, giving the room a warm glow and throwing shadows that flicker and writhe across the room .
The sheriff follows Snow deeper into the room until they reach a king-sized bed complete with drapes and posts - the whole deal. Beneath the thick covers lays Regina, long hair spread across the pillow and dressed in a thin ivory nightgown.
"She's just sleeping, right?" Emma asks in a small voice. Dread sits in her stomach, thick and heavy.
"In a manner of speaking," Snow responds, glancing at the sleeping woman. "It's a sleeping curse."
Emma gapes. "Like the one she put you and Henry under?"
Snow nods. "The very same."
The blonde rubs a hand over her face. "So we get Henry to give her True Love's kiss and then she'll wake up," she suggests quickly.
"Do you think it'll work?" Snow's thinking of the time when Henry wouldn't be anywhere near his adoptive mother - around the time when she'd given him the book. She can't help but feel a pang of guilt about this, but Snow also knows that Henry had needed it then - they all had.
"We both know Regina loves Henry to death. I know the kid loves her too," the blonde says. "And we haven't exactly got a lot of options."
"I'll go and get him then." There's a hint of a smile on Snow's face as she turns and heads out of the room, leaving Emma alone with Regina.
The blonde moves closer to the bed, simply watching the sleeping woman. Regina's form is relaxed, her face neutral - not a stony mask but a simple lack of pain; all that fear and anger and god knows what else is gone, leaving only tranquility. Emma almost feels guilty for waking the older woman up, because she knows that as soon as she does, everything will come flooding back to the queen.
Maybe that's why Regina did it - because Emma can sense the magic in the curse, and it most definitely belongs to Regina. Maybe it all got too much for her.
It makes sense; Regina is a mother completely and utterly centred around her son, and she lost him for what she thought would be forever. She lost Henry, and she lost her hope and reason to live.
"God, Regina," Emma murmurs, smoothing the brunette's hair gently. "I'm so sorry any of this had to happen."
Something comes over Emma and maybe she's allowed herself to get caught up in the moment, but it feels right to lean down and press a feather-light kiss against Regina's forehead. So she does.
Someone gasps and the blonde fears she's been caught - how the hell is she gonna explain this? But she knows that sound well, and she knows who it's from.
Impossible, Emma thinks. She pulls away, and her mouth drops open. Apparently not.
Regina's eyes flutter open and dart around, surprised and confused. A moment passes as she takes in her surroundings and realises where she is and what has happened. "Emma?" she breathes, becoming aware of the blonde woman hovering over her.
"You're awake," Emma just says, more than slightly gobsmacked.
"Yes," Regina agrees, her voice dry and raspy. "And…you woke me up?" Her face is unreadable, and both women are full of questions.
"Would appear so," the saviour says with a sheepish shrug. She's still looking at Regina as if the queen is a miracle.
"How are you-" Regina starts to ask her first question of a million but is cut off by the sound of feet against stone. It sounds like running.
Panic flickers across Regina's face, but still she pushes herself up on her elbows to get a better view of the door.
Two people explode into the room, pink-cheeked and out of breath.
There's a moment of silence. And then another.
Regina is the first to speak. "Henry?" she whispers, as if saying it any louder will shatter whatever illusion this must be.
"Mom," he greets with a growing grin. The low pitch of his voice is shocking at first - he was so much smaller and more boyish when they parted. Has it really been that long?
But then she's smiling too, and he's rushing into her arms, hugging her gently as if she might break, but with all the passion of a boy reunited with his mother. "You're awake," he mumbles into her shoulder.
Her arms wrap tightly around him, and she chuckles at his stating the obvious. "I am."
"How?" he wonders, pulling away and looking at her as if she's a puzzle.
"Emma," Regina responds simply, catching the blonde's eye briefly. She doesn't understand this, but the saviour deserves to be able to take the credit, and it's an easy answer to give.
Snow just glances between the two other women, cogs in her brain whirring.
Henry frowns. "But I thought the only way to break a sleeping curse was-" He stops and his eyes widen. Another smile spreads across his face as it all clicks into place.
Regina just blushes and refuses to meet the eyes of either Snow or Emma. Clearing her throat, she changes the subject. "What have you been up to?"
She's sitting outside in the palace gardens by her old apple tree. The cold night air bites through her thin lace dress, but it's nice; it's grounding, and reminds her that she's really here, awake and breathing. Once, this would have been a curse, but now her son is back, Regina thinks it might be a blessing.
Everyone else is inside the palace, celebrating the arrival of the saviour and her son. Regina can't find it in herself to attend, however - she has too much to think about, and she's sure it'll be a bore anyway. Whilst she may be 'redeemed' in a way, she has no desire to spend time with those idiots.
Somehow, all of the 'too much to think about' revolves around Emma Swan.
How did she get here in the first place? Why? How was she able to wake Regina up? What happens to them now?
"Snow told me I might find you here."
Regina flinches at the sudden interruption, but quickly composes herself. She recognises the voice of the intruder, and they're no one to fear, not anymore. "Did she now?" she says flatly.
"Mhm," Emma hums. "Is this the same tree that was back in Storybrooke?"
"It was here before it was there," Regina replies. "But yes." She pauses. "I'm sure you didn't leave the fun in there to talk to me about my tree. Why are you really here?"
The blonde shrugs. "It's not all that great in there, actually, but you're right." She sits down beside Regina, leaving some space between them. "I wanted to see how you are."
"That's convincing," Emma throws back sarcastically.
Regina crosses her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and exposed in the stupid white nightdress. "What makes you think I want to talk to you about my feelings?"
Emma shrugs and unzips the red leather jacket that she's still wearing despite the fact that she's in an entirely different realm. She produces a bottle and two goblets that had been hidden inside her coat. "Because I smuggled wine out here especially for you?" she offers lightly, holding out one of the goblets.
Regina snorts, and takes the proffered cup. "My hero," she drawls, watching as Emma uncorks the bottle of wine. It's the good stuff, vintage and from her own personal wine cellar. The brunette feels a pang of annoyance that they'd dare to raid her wine cellar without asking, but then she supposes she hadn't really been in a condition to grant permission, and she's benefiting from it now.
The blonde pours her a full glass, and the crimson liquid sloshes dangerously close to the edge when Regina lifts it to her mouth. She almost moans as the wine passes her lips; she hasn't had a drop of alcohol since they left Storybrooke - there hadn't been time during the journey to the palace, and then she'd been asleep for a year. This stuff is just too good, especially after so long without it.
"So," Emma interrupts again, taking a sip from her own goblet and then setting it down on the stone wall they're seated on. "You never answered my question. How are you?"
Regina breathes out slowly through her nose. "I'm coping," she answers simply. "Confused, but coping."
"Confused?" Emma asks, eyebrows pulling together.
"There's…so much-" Regina stops herself before she can babble; it's not befitting for a queen. "How are you here?"
"Hook," the saviour replies. "He found us in New York, told me my family needed me. He gave us both a memory potion and then brought us here on his ship."
Regina nods. "Ok." She takes another large sip of her wine, closing her eyes as it washes over her tongue.
"Did you do it to yourself?" Emma asks quietly. She knows the answer, but she wants to hear it from Regina rather than just assuming it.
The brunette swallows. "I had to," she murmurs. "It was too - it hurt too much, being without him." Regina doesn't need to name 'him' for them both to know who she's on about.
"And this - almost suicide - was better?"
"It wasn't suicide," Regina snaps quickly, suddenly defensive. She takes a second to get herself under control. "It was just…an eternal middle," she explains, using the same words she'd told the thief. "And yes, it was much better."
Emma looks at the brunette with concerned eyes.
"It didn't hurt," Regina clarifies. "It was calm. When I woke up, I wasn't even aware any time had passed." She's not sure why she's doing this, soothing the blonde's fears. She just knows it feels better when Emma isn't worried. Maybe she's defending herself too, proving that she's not self-destructive, though she and Emma both know she is.
Her words seem to pacify Emma a little, and the blonde relaxes.
Regina drains the last of her wine quickly and holds her glass out for a refill. Emma obliges with a smirk, pouring her a glass as big as her first. "Careful, Your Majesty," the blonde teases. "I don't want you telling me I'm trying to get you drunk."
Taking her full goblet back, Regina rolls her eyes. "I can hold my liquor."
"Whatever you say," Emma retorts with an eye-roll of her own.
This is nice, this playful bickering. Regina's missed it; everything has been too dark for too long, and she needs this light-hearted banter like oxygen.
She has to break it up, though, because she has another burning question. She has many, actually, but this is the most pressing and confusing one. "And the other thing," she prompts.
Emma frowns at her. "The other thing?"
The brunette glares at her. "Don't pretend like you don't know," she says lowly. "I answered your question. It's your turn to answer mine."
"There are a lot of things, Regina," Emma replies. "Which one do you mean?"
The former queen huffs, looks anywhere but Emma for a minute. "You…woke me up. From a sleeping curse." She remembers waking up to blonde locks trailing over her skin and the scent of cinnamon and leather. Regina is very aware that the blonde had been hovering over her at the moment of her awakening, which can only mean -
"I kissed you," Emma blurts out. "On the forehead," she amends quickly, shaking her head. "It felt right in the moment."
Both women are silent for a minute as they sip their wine and try to work out whatever this is.
"Was it-" Emma cuts herself off.
"True Love's kiss," Regina answers, her lips forming a line. She gazes past the tree, at the horizon. It's calming and pretty, and most importantly, not Emma.
There's another pregnant silence, and then Emma speaks. "What are we going to do?"
Regina shrugs. "What do you want to do?"
"You're leaving this up to me?"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but a relationship involves two people. You are one of those two," Regina explains haughtily. "So I'm asking what you want."
Emma sits in stunned silence for a minute before resorting to finishing her wine. To be honest, she has no idea what she wants; it's not like she's put a lot of thought into this. Regina is an attractive woman, yes, but Emma has never even dreamed she'd have the chance to hit that.
Finally, Emma speaks. "I think we should do whatever's right for Henry."
Regina nods. "As do I, but you saw him earlier when he put two and two together; he was delighted. So I'll ask you again: what do you want?"
Emma thinks again. "We have a good thing working for us here, don't we?" she starts. "We're friends - or, at least, I consider you my friend, and I consider myself your friend."
After a surprised but confirming nod from Regina, the blonde continues. "I don't want to ruin that by rushing into something too fast just because we broke some curse," she says. "So I think we should wait and see where this - whatever this is - goes."
The corners of Regina's lips begin to curl up into a smirk. "So there are brains in that pretty little head of yours."
Emma rolls her eyes and allows herself a crooked grin, because it's so Regina to respond to something like that with a jibe. "You think I'm pretty?" she teases.
Regina shrugs. "Occasionally, at the right angle and in the right light," she cracks playfully, finishing the last of her wine and standing, swaying only slightly. "Thank you for the wine, Miss Swan. You can smuggle me my own vintage red anytime." With that, she leaves, walking with all the poise of a queen despite the fact that she's tipsy and wearing only a flimsy nightgown.
Emma watches the older woman disappear inside, and then snorts. Maybe this thing they may or may not have will come sooner than they think.