"Is this really what you do?"
"But it's so... Boring."
Regina frowns, taking a sip from the cooling coffee she clasps between both hands in an attempt to warm them through the sleek, red leather of her gloves. The fact that Emma has informed her cheerily enough that turning on the bug's heating would be 'pretty idiotic' just serves as the cherry on top of this already unenjoyable evening. Her irritation doesn't seem to be shared by the blonde, however, who simply busies herself picking almonds off the top of her pastry with sugar-dusted fingers; licking them clean periodically.
Regina struggles to keep from scolding the younger woman for such childish behaviour, as she would their son.
Emma shrugs, slipping the top off of her own paper cup and retrieving several sachets of sugar from the ashtray between them. Long ago, that little nook had actually been used- albeit sporadically- for its intended purpose, but it has been a good six years or so since she last bought a pack of cigarettes- on impulse, always on impulse, as with so many of her mistakes- and even longer since she's shared a ride with anyone else that might be partial to the habit.
Yeah, Henry doesn't really seem the sort...
No, and her eyes widen as she muses absentmindedly on the fact that apart from the boy- and a goddamn pirate- she doesn't think she's let anyone else ride along with her since moving back north a little over eight years ago.
Well, what a marvellous way to break that tradition...
She catches a theatrical sigh from her right that seems entirely in agreement and chuckles quietly.
"Nothing, I was just thinking about stuff."
"Was any of that 'stuff' some form of plan? Or are we just going to sit here all night freezing to death?"
"Hardly. Your core temperature would need to drop to like eighty-two degrees before you even-"
"-I was being facetious."
"You were being dramatic."
"I-... Nevermind. Though why you would know something like that off the top of your head is something I'm not even going to ask."
"I think it was on Scrubs."
"About ridiculous ways to perish due to another's stupidity?"
"Mmhmm, and doctors."
The Queen sniffs as she watches the blonde create a sugary whirlpool within the tar-black depths of her coffee. She tuts lightly with her tongue against the roof of her mouth and Emma turns to her with a bemused rolling of her eyes.
"What now, Your Majesty?"
"Oh, nothing. Just sympathising with your insides that are about to be doused with three times the amount of sugar I believe I have ever witnessed anyone use before. Do you know how unhealthy that stuff is?"
The younger woman offers; taking a pointed sip from her cup.
"-And you're rather opinionated for someone that would love to see me dead."
"Ah, much as it irks me to admit it, I'm afraid you're of rather more use to me alive these days, Miss Swan."
Regina confides, and the blonde laughs throatily as she returns her attention back to the high windows of the Mayor's office across the street. After a minute's silence, she sighs and turns her keys in the ignition; swearing irritably when the lights of the dashboard spring to life in the darkness. Grabbing a sweatshirt off of the backseat, she shrouds the illuminated dials swiftly, before cranking up the heat with a thinning of her lips.
Raising an eyebrow and studying the Sheriff curiously as the latter remains fixated on the building in front of them, the brunette slides the vents so that they are angled with a little more precision and follows suit.
"Have you ever considered that this is a rather curious choice of car for your apparent line of work?"
"Well, it's a little old, but it's more or less reliable."
"It's also yellow."
Regina frowns, and Emma offers her a quick grin.
"You noticed that, then... Well, back in the real world, that's not too much of an issue. I mean, I'm not the cops or anything, and people tend not to be very observant if you don't fall in line with what they suspect. Here, well, I live here- at least for now- so why shouldn't my car be parked somewhere in town? It's not the car we don't want to draw attention to, anyway, but rather the fact that we're inside it."
"Well yes, but-"
"-Don't you shush me! I-"
The blonde hisses; pointing up at the newly illuminated window at the top of the building.
"Right... So... What now?"
"We go in."
But the younger woman is already slipping from the car with a quiet grace that surprises the brunette; closing the door behind her carefully. Following the Sheriff's lead, Regina does the same, before catching Emma's eye over the roof of the bug and nodding when the blonde mouths at her to stay close. She doesn't particularly enjoy the fact that Emma seems to have taken charge of this little endeavour, but she trusts the blonde in a curious way to at least offer some form of mutual protection so long as she doesn't wander out of sight.
Slipping her keys into the lock to the entrance of the building, she discovers such an action to be entirely useless as a dark slash of melted metal hangs where the catch once was.
"I don't like this..."
She admits warily, and any mockery she might have expected in response to her nervous tone is held back as Emma nods and reminds quietly
"Me neither, but it's what we came here hoping for, remember?"
"Indeed, and I plan on making my displeasure swiftly known."
"You are good at that... You're sure they can't escape though, right?"
"Not a chance, dear. A blood-bond is infallible; even Rumple would find himself trapped with no means of a magical escape. I know what I'm doing."
Regina whispers, frowning as they creep up the stairs; finding the words she is forced to use to explain her methods around Emma a little clunky, but the relief that crosses the blonde's shadowed features at the mention of even the Dark One having difficulty besting their little ploy is clear.
Watching as the younger woman draws out her gun, the Queen complies when instructed to keep behind her; holding her breath as Emma places her hand on the doorknob to the Mayor's office and twists it slowly.
When the door opens, the signs of a break-in are immediate; vials and papers strewn over the desk and floor. Frowning, with her gun held out at the ready, the younger woman nods as the brunette whispers
"It worked. We were right..."
Before catching a flicker of movement from their far left. Turning sharply, she cocks her gun and raises it warningly.
"Freeze! There's no way of escaping, so-"
But the shrouded figure begins to do just that; cloaking itself within a thick sheet of emerald smoke without warning. Caught off guard, the younger woman pulls the trigger; just enough going through her mind to lower her aim from fatal to incapacitating, but it does her no good. The figure disappears as the bullet leaves the barrel; the slug travelling through the last wisps of lingering green before piercing the large bay window with a deafening crash. Caught in the strange pull of their perpetrator's magic, the splintered shards spray out improbably around the room; lodging themselves deeply within the furniture and scraping off the walls.
The blonde yells and Regina doesn't need to be told twice; both women throwing their arms protectively over their heads and cowering from the jingling madness of glass before everything becomes once more silent.
The younger woman hisses; wincing at a sharp pain in her thigh. Gritting her teeth as her fingers catch on a large shard of glass when she blindly inspects the area, she glances down at her reddened fingers with adrenaline-fuelled distraction as she grumbles
"I thought you said they couldn't do that!?"
"They... They shouldn't have been able to! No one can break blood magic!"
Regina replies, looking utterly stunned.
"Then... What the hell are we dealing with?"
The blonde breathes, and the Queen swallows as she deems this to be both an excellent and rather distressing question.
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out... Let's just get out of here for now, before we step on any of this mess and hurt ourselves."
Emma nods in agreement, and the brunette gestures towards the blonde's leg.
"Speaking of... Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Come on, let's go."
The Sheriff's response is as clinical as the darker woman's enquiry; little time for niceties now that fire of their fears has been stoked with this new obscurity.
Hurrying down the stairs, the blonde does so with a steadily worsening limp; falling behind the Mayor as they head out towards her car.
"Well, that changes things a little... For such power to exist to break a blood-bond, I don't even... That spells bad news for the rest of us! Though, I'm not entirely sure what you were thinking shooting away like that, I mean, what were you hoping to... Emma?"
The brunette frowns as she opens the passenger-side door and glances over the roof of the bug at her companion. The blonde's face is a rather alarming shade of pale as she leans against the car heavily.
"-I'm fine, quit pestering me."
The younger woman grunts as she falls into the driver's seat. Slipping in beside her, the Mayor takes in the way the Sheriff grips at her thigh with mounting concern. In the dull glow of the overhead light that remains hazily loyal with the blonde having yet to close her door, the dark denim of her jeans glistens wetly, while blood oozes slowly between her fingers.
"You are not fine!"
The brunette cries; alarm now quite clearly apparent in her tone as she watches a small pool of scarlet begin to form on the tan leather beneath the Sheriff.
"I-... O-on second thoughts, maybe you're right..."
The blonde giggles- a little shrilly- as she takes in the small puddle that holds Regina's anxious attention. She processes the vague thought that she's seen movies where this kind of thing has happened- a slashing of the... what was it? femoral artery or whatever- and doesn't remember many of them ending all that cheerfully.
How long does it take a person to bleed out, anyway? A couple of minutes? Hours?
She doesn't know, and imagines it's all dependent anyhow; the same way everything seems to be with doctors when all you want is a fucking straightforward answer.
Ignoring the younger woman's disconcerting hysteria, Regina leans forward and tries to pry away the Sheriff's hands; speaking with much more rationality than she actually feels.
"Stop it, I'm trying to help! Stop squirming! Emma!"
A curt yelling of the Sheriff's name, and she holds the latter's wide-eyed gaze seriously, before pulling away dripping palms.
"C-can you do something? Only, I'm not sure I should be leaking like that..."
Emma asks with a pained grin that is made up of far too many teeth as her breathing becomes short and shallow; her attention fixed on the slow but steady spreading of the gruesome puddle collecting beneath her in the seat.
Rolling her eyes- more out of habit than anything else- the Queen nods and hovers her palms over the laceration to the Sheriff's leg.
"Hold still, okay? Honestly, I would rather Rumple do this- healing was never my forte- but I'm beginning to think we may not have time for that!"
"Y-your bedside manner is great, by the way; t-totally reassuring! 'Oh, y-yeah, I kind of suck at this, but'-"
"-Will you shut up?!"
"Will you hurry up and do it, already!?"
The blonde shouts with a rasp to her voice, and the Queen looks up from her frowning study of her hands to regard chalky features and frantic eyes nervously.
"I... I'm trying... It's not... I don't understand! It should be working!"
"Well, it's not..."
Comes the ever-helpful response, but the brunette finds little will for irritation towards the younger woman's mannerisms as the latter's eyes slip shut for longer and longer periods of time.
"I can see that! But right now I don't have time to figure out why. You don't have time for me to figure out why! Come on-"
"-Come on what?"
Emma mumbles with her lashes fluttering down.
Reaching for the sweatshirt the Sheriff had used to block out the lights of the dashboard, Regina struggles to wrestle it beneath the younger woman's leg- sniffing in distaste as her hands slip through slick wetness- and ties it in place as tightly as she can.
"I need to swap seats with you."
She orders as she moves quickly from her side of the car and around to the driver's side. She pulls at the younger woman with difficulty; Emma sagging into her and bitching at her irritably to quit it. Managing to pull the blonde halfway out of her seat, she comes to the slow realisation that she doesn't think she's going to be able to drag her around to the passenger side and sit her back down without doing more damage than good and losing too much time.
"What are you doing?"
Emma growls, looking up at her with hazy confusion as the brunette stands panting with her hands supporting the blonde under the arms, midway through her failing endeavour. Despite her dazed delivery, there is an undeniable note of disgruntlement apparent in the younger woman's tone which serves as an obscure source of comfort to the Queen, who- all feelings and opinions about the woman in her arms aside- hadn't planned on ending the evening covered in the irksome blonde's blood.
"We're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Well, my old-fashioned way. It'll be much quicker. Hang on though, I can't do it with you weighing down my hands."
"What way? What are you-"
"-Hush, and get ready for a small bump. I'm going to pull you the rest of the way out and onto the ground."
"But why? What...?"
"Why?! Because I need to get you to a hospital, you idiot! And you're not as light as you look, so quit wriggling!"
"No, no! I don't want to go to hospital, you can't take me there... T-try again with your hands and magic or something!"
"I've tried, Miss Swan, and for some unknown reason, I have failed."
The brunette mutters as she tugs the younger woman out of the car to land with a low yelp in the dirt. She glances back up at the smeared scarlet that paints the seat and leans over awkwardly to slam the door shut so that she can be spared such gruesome sights.
The blonde protests; struggling up onto her elbows to regard the darker woman with ashen alarm.
"Please, what?! Leave you to bleed out in the street while I work on my methods?!"
"Please don't take me to hospital! If you can't use your magic, use like a band-aid or something! Please-"
"-A band-aid?! Have you seen the state you're in?"
"Fine! A pack of band-aids! Whatever, just please don't-"
But the rest is lost in the haze of smoke that blankets them as the brunette flicks her wrist with practised grace, and this time, she has no problem working her magic.
"You mean to tell me that you saw nothing that would aid you in identifying the person? Despite both you and Miss Swan walking in on them under your rather ostentatious choice of lighting?"
"I've already told you; I don't know. I believe she was female, but she was wearing some form of cloak. Now tell me what's wrong with my magic."
The brunette growls as she stands in the living room of the Pawnbroker's expansive mansion. She catches a shadow of movement from down the hall, and imagines her pounding at the little man's door will have awoken Belle as well as Gold himself, but the young beauty remains smartly out of sight.
She had scrubbed her hands ruthlessly after talking Whale through the happenings in her office. She'd wanted to do a whole lot more to distance herself from the situation entirely, badly shaken when the blonde had reacted quite alarmingly once they had appeared outside the hulking brick of the hospital; pleading semi-lucidly to be taken anywhere else with such terror it had taken the form of tears. The doctor had swiftly reassured her with some garbled rambling about hysteria and shock, which she had gladly accepted, along with the relief of depositing her burden onto the young man and- literally- washing her hands of the ordeal.
Well... Sort of.
The Sheriff's blood still stains her clothes, and the younger woman's sudden shrieking as a nurse had wrestled her into bed still echoes in her mind distressingly. By this point, the blonde had been trembling and making very little sense at all, but there had been little left unclear by that awful sound...
"Why wasn't I able to fix her? I have done so a hundred times before, and my magic worked perfectly well to get us to the hospital."
"When have you done so?"
"Many times! When those of value within the Royal Guard were wounded. When the messenger boy was-"
"-Ah, I don't dispute that you have used your powers to heal, dearie, however sloppy a job you might have made of it... But, you haven't tried to heal Emma before, have you?"
"But, but, but! Fear not, it has nothing to do with your magic. The problem lies within Emma herself. She's the Saviour; you can't touch her, whether your intentions are good, or otherwise."
"What do you mean? How do you-"
"-The Curse. It's all written in. Not by conscious design in this case, but simply a facet of something much larger. Much like disposing of the Saviour before her time would have resulted in The Curse being broken, she is also incapable of being aided. At least, magically. A few errant blasts of power in your anger at the young woman's expense- oh yes, I know all about such things!- might have sent Miss Swan sprawled out on your garden path, dearie, but if you had attempted to cause her intentional, targeted harm, you would have found yourself disappointed."
"I don't understand..."
"Why, it's really quite simple! When Emma came to me following her little trip through the Madman's hat, she accused me- accused The Curse- of dictating her very purpose and existence. Understandably, the poor dear was rather upset at such a notion, and I consoled her swiftly that it was not so. No, Miss Swan might be a product of The Curse- of True Love- but her experiences of emotion, her decisions and their consequences, her relationships... Those are all entirely real and of her own design. That said, technically Emma exists as a mere instrument to a greater design. Who she has become, and how she goes about her life; those things are entirely out of my hands. Her vitality, however? What she is? She is a product. A tool. And, when it comes to the little mechanisms that keep a tool running... There are rules. Emma not only has magic, she is magic. In its purest form. You can toy with her location as you can any object, and, as you have seen, you can do so with a fair degree of roughness if you so desire. But the woman herself is... Hmm. 'Immune' is both the wrong word, and yet the right word entirely...
You cannot alter the life- the physical, vital life- of the Saviour using the very thing for which she was created."
"Were you planning on telling me this at any point?!"
"For what purpose? Tonight's events were undesirable, I sympathise, but in the grand scheme of things, my little... realisation as it were... Seemed obsolete. It also seemed something unnecessary to inform the young woman herself of... Or do you imagine such a thing would go down well with Miss Swan?"
Pursing her lips, the brunette murmurs her agreement that perhaps such things might be best left unexplained. The Pawnbroker nods wearily, pointing out that his knowledge on the matter consists of little more than assumption, but that this has served him well in the past. Ushering the Queen to the door with the affirmation that she has nothing to be concerned about in regards to her magic, he pauses at the threshold as Regina turns to him with a frown.
"Now that the original curse has broken... What would happen?"
"In what context, dearie?"
"If she dies... If Emma dies?"
"... Nothing... Save for leaving behind a very unhappy young boy I'd imagine."
"But... it won't impact the way things work?"
"Magically? No... But I'm sure you know as well as I do that Miss Swan's influence isn't entirely born from prophecy... That was a clever little ploy devised between the two of you in the Town Hall today. I imagine it was your idea to use the dwarf to further your plans? Still, you saw how fast they were to turn on you... Don't hold them entirely in contempt for it though, dearie. Their quick judgement might be unjust, but don't forget that you staged that little scene to seem as though you were going up against the woman that freed this town. Things have happened hard and fast and left us with little time to reflect, but not everyone here in Storybrooke has been so involved, and those who have sat in the comfort of their homes at night, reunited with family and friends, perhaps view this town's hierarchy a little differently than any of our own little misfit group might imagine.
In short... You best hope that she doesn't die. Things will run much more smoothly with Emma around, however unlikely that may seem to any who have suffered extended periods of time in her presence. But, then, I believe you know this. Or else her blood wouldn't be drying all over the cuffs of your shirt."
And with that, the little man closes the door; leaving the Queen mulling over these final words. In all honesty, she had asked the question merely out of curiosity. She can't truly fathom the blonde actually dying; especially not as a result of such an ill-timed little fluke. Something so mundane as a gash to the leg! A deep gash, yes, but a gash just the same. After all, they've been through so many cuts and scrapes between them that a little blood seems almost common-place. The woman fought a damned dragon, for heaven's sake... To be done out by a simple laceration that would have had none of the devastating effect if it had merely caught her at a slightly different angle...
No. It doesn't bear thinking about.
And the Scientist might be a hack and a drunk, but he has shown that he at least understands what goes where when it comes to human anatomy, and the broken screaming coming from the blonde when the burette had taken her leave had suggested that Emma would more than likely let him know if he got it wrong.
"People at death's door simply don't make that kind of unnecessary racket..."
She muses with a small smirk.
Her mirth falters somewhat as she makes her way up the spotlit street towards her office. She has no plans on revisiting their earlier scene inside, but to pass the lawns and the younger woman's bug are inevitable unless she wants a detour home.
Walking up to the blonde's bug, she notes that the dusky yellow bulb remains lit illuminating the car's interior; the passenger door still slightly ajar. Sighing, she stalks over and pushes it shut, her brow furrowing as she takes in stained leather and the further away glittering of glass speckling the lawn. She almost turns away from the scene entirely, before catching a silver glint out of the corner of her eye that has her once more peering through the bug's window.
Sighing, she walks round to the driver's side and opens the door; pulling the Sheriff's keys from the ignition before letting it slam shut once more. Locking the car, she examines the selection of keys in her hand pensively before pocketing them and deciding she'll have to make a slight detour after all.
Fortunately, visiting the hospital only extends her journey by about ten minutes, as by the time she makes her way up the neat stone steps, she has once more begun to wonder about the possibilities of freezing to death. It is late- long past visiting hours- and the hallways are all but empty and bathed in a dull tungsten glow. Still, being the Queen- even the arguably Evil Queen- has its perks, as she doesn't imagine she'll receive much more trouble than a few sour looks.
On that count, she is correct; the night nurse greeting her with a weary glower that in no way softens when she asks after the blonde. She imagines the ageing redhead might be wondering whether it's a good idea to divulge Snow White's daughter's room number and status to the woman who has sought so long to destroy her, and Regina wonders in turn what she might make of it should she inform her of the fact that she and Emma had frequently wandered off together to source out firewood while stranded on an island that would have given her the perfect excuse to finish what she'd started.
Instead, she merely taps her foot impatiently and tosses back silken locks.
"I have something of hers that she'd most likely appreciate getting back. I'm not planning on sticking around, despite the oh so appealing ambience."
Pursing her lips, the nurse mutters directions to a small room down the hall, and the Mayor nods curtly.
"Thank you. Is she... Is she stable?"
"My monitor would be flashing blue murder if she wasn't. Whale operated almost immediately and placed in a shunt. She's weak, but she'll be fine... Although..."
"I suppose her wellbeing all depends on how long we can keep her bed-bound."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean that the first thing Miss Swan did after coming round- when most patients ask for water or a general explanation of what's going on- was ask if she could be discharged. You would think the needles coming out of her arm would answer that question quite clearly, but apparently not. Nor did she take the answer all that kindly."
The nurse sniffs with a polite breed of irritation that the brunette can sympathise with- knowing Emma better than she would like- but it has her thinking curiously back on the rather extreme reaction the blonde had demonstrated while being admitted.
"Oh, the Sheriff has little time for rationality, I'm afraid."
Regina offers in parting as she stalks down the hallway and takes a left. Spying a door bearing a small, silver seven, she pushes it open gently to allow the dim light of the hallway to bleed into the darkness of the Sheriff's room. Much like the rest of the hospital, it smells dry and sterile in here, and she waits for her eyes to adjust to the darkness well enough to spy the vague shape of the younger woman beneath the sheets and a small table on which her clothes have been neatly folded.
Making her way over as quietly as possible, she takes the blonde's keys from her coat pocket and places them on top of her jacket. Turning back for the door, she frowns as she catches a telling gleam from the bed. Taking a few steps closer, she affirms that the younger woman does, in fact, lie rigidly still with her eyes wide open.
A short response, but from the alert look the Sheriff throws her, she doesn't imagine the reason to be any lingering effects from the anaesthetic. Frowning, she runs her tongue over her bottom lip and tries to find something to say.
"...How are you feeling?"
"I need to go home. I can't be here."
The younger woman's voice wavers slightly, and dark brows furrow in the shadows as Regina slowly realises that the blonde trembles beneath the sheets. Studying her pensively, she slips her hands into the warmth of her pockets and cocks her head to the side.
"You're shaking. Are you in pain?"
"I really can't be here, Regina, I-"
"-So you've said, but that's not what I asked. Are you in pain?"
"Wh-what? No. No, I can't really feel anything. Numb."
Nodding, the darker woman makes her way briskly towards the door and flicks the light switch; squinting against the resultant ghastly assault of fluorescents that strive to blind her as the Sheriff does the same. Adjusting to this new brightness swiftly, she stalks back over to the bed and pulls out the cheap plastic chair from the corner and takes a seat. Emma watches her warily; eyes startlingly wide and the corner of her mouth ticking nervously.
"What are you doing?"
"Well, I'm not about to stand around in the corner like an ill-behaved child."
Regina snaps sharply, and the blonde hesitates before broaching quietly
"Why are you here?"
"I assumed you might want your keys."
"-I also see it as rather bad manners to leave and walk off home with you shivering away like a pathetic little rabbit caught in a trap without at least investigating the matter a little further... Plus, my feet are tired. I've walked quite some way in these heels tonight, Miss Swan, and am paying the price. I had been relying on you for a ride both to and from our destination."
She folds her arms across her chest irritably and raises an eyebrow as if waiting for an explanation.
Which she is.
But she doesn't imagine things are about to be quite that simple.
Sighing when the prevailing silence proves her point, she leans over towards the side of the bed and depresses the small green button that elevates the younger woman into a seated position. Ordinarily, she would expect a childish reaction to the whiny hum and ridiculously slow compliance of the bed, but she gets nothing but a short expulsion of air. Breaking the silence herself, she muses thoughtfully
"These things are pretty awful, aren't they?"
"These beds. They differ from the way things work back home- there I would have clapped my hands and a maid would have propped you up with pillows- but it's all the same. A hideous insight on what old age will be like. With you absent, it was never a burden on my mind, but now that time has come for us as it does for everyone else... Well, I don't imagine I shall find much dignity in lying infirm and haggard under youth's pitying gaze."
Emma greets this admission with silence but with a slow change in her expression from inexplicable terror to weary curiosity, and the brunette takes this as a good sign.
"Not that I meant a great deal of offence by that, dear. You're still fairly young, although you might find it beneficial to frown less. I was merely thinking out loud. You wear bed-ridden better than most."
She smirks sarcastically, and Emma glances down at the shapeless gown that is blanched almost the same colour as her complexion.
"Bloodless is a good look for me."
There is still an edge to her tone, but she has yet to begin pleading for release once again, and the Mayor takes advantage of that fact.
"Yes, I imagine you're a couple of pounds lighter than at the beginning of the evening."
"Though it might be in ill-taste to make light of the situation... I imagine you'll need to deep clean your car. And I will have to contact Marco about fitting a new window. I'll just take the required amount out of the Sheriff's office funds, as it was your bright idea to go shooting your gun off in the first place."
No outraged reaction, just a weary sigh, and the brunette frowns and clasps her hands in her lap.
"...Who was it?"
"Who was it that was rushed to hospital with the promise that they would be fine, only for that to end up being far from the truth?"
Emma frowns in confusion before a flicker of understanding alights her eyes and she shoots the darker woman a sour look.
"-Because you are going to be fine, dear. I mean, you're-"
"-No one, Regina. I just need to get out of here."
"All in good time, but-"
"-My phone's dead."
The blonde suddenly blurts out, and the Mayor's brow furrows as she struggles to find the relevance of such a thing.
"Well, I'm not sure you're really supposed to use your phone around all these fancy machines. You-"
But the switch in the younger woman's expression once those obscure words fall from her lips is startling, as is the immediate quickening of her breath. Fumbling in the pocket of her coat, Regina pulls out her own cellphone and proffers it swiftly.
"Calm down, it's hardly the end of the world. You can use mine if you-"
"-I didn't know... For like two days, I didn't know..."
The blonde whispers shakily, and the Queen holds her gaze as she slowly lowers her phone back down into her lap.
"What didn't you know?"
"I kept telling myself it couldn't be true, it just couldn't be true, but time kept on dragging on and on and on and on-"
"-and on... And I started to think... What if? You know? What if he's just one of the ones they haven't identified yet? What if-"
Breath catching in her throat, the brunette stills, before lowering her gaze down to her hands and inspecting her nails with a swallow.
She tastes copper.
"Henry is at home- well, your parents' home- sound asleep, dear. I called them after I brought you here to let them know you would most likely be returning to Granny's tonight as it was going to be rather later than expected. I apologise if this was a little deceitful on my part, but I'd imagined you would perhaps rather skip the bedside vigil and decide what to tell them of our little escapade yourself. If you wish to call them now, then I'm more than happy to lend you my phone to do so, though I don't suppose the night nurse will be very impressed by a small gathering. Such issues are her own, however... But, I would perhaps suggest that you at least wait until they unhook you from those fashionable tubes before allowing Henry in..."
"...You're sure he's alright?"
"Of course I am; I'm his mother. It's my job to make sure of such things."
The darker woman snaps with a little more spite than intended, before leaning back in her chair and putting her phone away.
"As are you, and I would go so far as to call your current situation a viable excuse for not being entirely on top of the boy's immediate wellbeing... Now, what happened? Henry was in hospital?"
"-I was... I was in hospital and there was a fire."
The blonde chokes, and the Mayor simply waits as the younger woman gathers herself back under control.
"A-afterwards, I did some long, hard thinking about my career and whether it was at all appropriate when I had a kid back home, especially when it was just the two of us, but... In the end, I guess I realised I was more or less stuck with it if I didn't want things to change... I was good at what I did, and it paid well. I probably could have gotten work in security, but it would have meant a pay cut- a big one- and New York rent doesn't come cheap. Plus, Henry always had so many things he wanted to go and do. Fun things, you know? And I didn't want to have to tell him he'd have to choose just some of those things because of money... I'm not sure the kid would have cared in the slightest, but I would have. And-"
"-and, you're starting from the end... What happened?"
Gentler this time as Regina leans forward in her chair and fixes the Sheriff with an attentive gaze.
"I went to meet a perp a couple of blocks down from where we were living at the time- still in New York, but a little closer to Brooklyn than our place now-and it kind of all blew up within five minutes of me sitting down. I met him in this little cafe... I tend to prefer night jobs as they have a habit of going more smoothly, but working during the day means I can come home before Henry gets out of school and spend the evening with him. I mean... I have a sitter, and she's nice enough. Henry likes her; she's taught him a little Spanish and helped him with his math. I prefer it when it's just the two of us, though... Even when I was dating, I guess I tended to beg out a lot... Anyway, this was supposed to be a quick job; the leg work was done.
Only it didn't really turn out that way.
He ran, and I followed. That happens more often than you'd think; there's a reason they include free access to the gym in the benefits package, and they expect you to make your use of it. I got out into the street and suddenly I couldn't see him."
"He attacked you?"
"No, no, nothing like that. That is rare. I mean, these guys are assholes, but you're still usually just some woman in a pretty dress that they barely know. It's a retarded form of chivalry, but it's chivalry. They're likely to call you all sorts if they get tipped off on who you are, but take an actual swing at you? In my career... Well... In the part that actually happened... That's only ever happened twice. And I fought a dragon, so..."
The Mayor offers a thin smile before gesturing that the blonde should continue. She is used to Emma being one of few words- actual, useful words, anyway- and is surprised by the younger woman's apparent decision to lay some ground to her story. She is intuitive enough to imagine Henry's part in things to play a role; having witnessed several times now the apprehensive timidity that crosses the younger woman's sharp features when the boy speaks of what he imagines to be his life.
She understands the blonde doesn't want to provide any opportunity to be told she's done a poor job, and Regina finds herself both irritated and amused by the fact that she has been pleasantly surprised by what she has found out so far. Henry is in no doubt different for his time spent with Emma alone, but he is also functioning much like a twelve-year-old should, and this is a luxury he has been deprived of due to circumstance before now, and one for which she is begrudgingly in favour.
"Yes, I don't imagine you'd hold back particularly if challenged... But this was different? This, um, 'perp'?
"Mostly due to the fact he had some actual common sense. I couldn't see him it turned out because he'd jumped out of the way of a motorbike that had taken a sharp turn into the street we were on. My reactions weren't as great."
"It hit you?"
"Creamed me. I had to wear long sleeves for a couple of months after that; imagine carpet-burn, but with asphalt, and being thrown across it at high speed. At least, that's what I presume happened. I really don't remember very much. I just know that I couldn't really move, and I remember thinking I'd actually lost my legs or something because I couldn't feel anything from the waist down. Turned out I'd just smashed my tailbone so hard everything had gone entirely numb. Either way, it was my head that turned out to be the problem- I hit it pretty hard- and I must have blacked out because I woke up about an hour later in hospital.
When I do come round, this doctor starts telling me all this crap, and I have no real clue what he's talking about; concussions and brain bleeds and whatever. I was looking down at all this fluffy white bandaging and thinking I looked pretty damn sorry for myself, but that I was probably alright, because I still knew who the president was, and could flex my feet and everything like that, but mainly I was just thinking that it must be getting on for four by then and that Henry was going to get home and wonder where the hell I was. I remember thinking 'well it's fine, he has keys. I'll just call him and let him know that it's no big deal but that I got a bit scuffed up,' and that he should call Mrs Q or go over to his buddy Brogan's house because his mom owes me about a month's worth of kid-watching and works from home.
It should have been that simple, you know?
But, it turned out I wasn't quite as 'alright' as I'd thought, because as I'm opening my mouth to tell this doctor to shut the hell up and get me a phone- or at least relay a message- things kind of all go out of whack, and the next thing I know it's now three hours later, and I have a fucking tube sneaking out from under the covers, and I know full well what that's connected to, and I imagine that isn't the best sign."
The blonde sighs and glances around the room with a soft, nervous hatred.
"I kind of thought that was as bad as things were going to get... Seemed like a fair serving of shit for one week, you know?"
Sharp teeth nip at her bottom lip as her lashes thicken with unshed salt, and the darker woman sighs and makes a small movement with her hand; prompting two cans of coke to spring into existence on the nearby windowsill in a flurry of smoke. Handing one over to Emma- who winces as she curls her fingers and sends the IV needle digging deeper into her hand- she pops open her own and offers the blonde a stern look over the rim.
"Not a word about this, you understand. I neither condone stealing- magic can only do so much; the vending machine down the hall will now be two cans short- nor excessive sugar, but I'd say we've earned it... And, if you're not supposed to be drinking this trash and go into shock or something, you didn't get that can from me!"
She winks slyly, and Emma offers her a small grin in return.
"Course not; I crawled out of bed and went venturing down the hall."
"The worrying part is that such a thing wouldn't surprise me in the slightest."
The brunette jokes, before her expression becomes once more serious.
"Was Henry very worried?"
"... I didn't know. I explained the situation to the nurse and asked her to see where my stuff had been put so that I could call him. She came back and said she only had the clothes that I arrived in in the little locker they use, and I realised I must have left my bag in the cafe. She offered to call through herself, so I gave her Henry's cell number, but she came back saying it was going straight to the messaging service, which was full. Not the biggest surprise in the world; Henry walked home from school every day, and if I was going to be around, I'd often tell him to meet me in the park or the gelato place for a treat. Kid would be at school: I'd leave a message... Add that up with him never deleting a damn thing off that old phone I got him, and a full inbox wasn't exactly going to induce a hell of a lot of stress.
What did that was asking her to check the landline.
She took down the number and said I might as well give her the address because if she couldn't get hold of him, she'd be able to send a cop round to check up on him and make arrangements as he was underage. I gave her the apartment number and the street, and she just gave me this strange look and asked me to bear with her a second. She came back about ten minutes later with the doctor from before who's suddenly using this slow, placating voice that pretty much reeks of something being wrong.
Sometimes, when shit hits the fan, it fucking storms, I guess.
Suddenly, he's trying to, oh so gently, inform me of the fact that things are a little unclear at the moment, because 'not everyone has been evacuated'. I ask him what the hell he's on about, and learn that my apartment building- and half of the one next to it- are now nothing more than open, charred brick carcasses flashing up on the news."
"There was a fire. It started two floors below ours, and if fate is the bitch I think she is, I'm just going to keep on believing that the drunken idiot that put her can of soup in the microwave did so at the exact same moment as that bike chose my ass for a parking space... And I use the term 'drunk' kindly, as you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. Apparently."
"Oh my. Was Henry-"
"-Henry- it turned out in the end- had come home early as he had been excused from gym class at the end of the day. Academically, the kid does great, but he and I have vastly different opinions when it comes to breaking a sweat; his being that he will worm his way out of doing so via any means possible."
She smirks with bemused fondness, but it is short-lived; her story not exactly stand-up material.
"He got in at around three and hung about for a bit presuming I might have been delayed at work. Ordinarily, I would call him if this was the case, but he explained later- much later- that it never really struck him as all that strange that I hadn't. I mean... I was bound to forget just one time was all he thought... I guess we both had different opinions on that before all too long. When I didn't show up, he decided to go over the street to his buddy's house and left me a note to say where he was. Looking back, that makes total sense, as he hadn't been able to reach me on my cell... But, it was unusual that Henry would go anywhere without telling me, however hard that might be to believe..."
"Not if you gave him no reason to feel the need to do otherwise. Which I don't believe you would have. I have often professed you share far too much with the boy and that it gets him into trouble... And for that, I imagine he trusts you almost completely."
Regina muses irritably, but there is little venom in her tone, and her posture becomes a little more relaxed after ascertaining that no actual harm had come to their son.
"I guess... The thing is; I knew none of this, you understand? All I knew is that there had been a fire in our apartment block and I couldn't get hold of Henry. I've never felt so badly like I needed to get out of somewhere and do something. I just couldn't understand why people weren't doing more about it, and how no one could know anything. My kid was out there somewhere- at least, that was what I kept telling myself because the alternative was too awful to consider- and I couldn't even get up to fucking pee.
I couldn't do anything about it...
Up until then, I'd never even gone an hour or so without knowing where the kid was. At least... so far as I knew at the time, I hadn't... I guess that was the other thing about Hook giving me that potion... It wasn't just the fact that things had all been easy and normal and nice, and then suddenly having to remember that our lives were filled with a whole lot of crazy... It was realising that everything I thought had happened, didn't. I thought I'd done a good job... Henry and I... We got on almost disgustingly well. I would see some of the other kids acting up when they came over or we were out in the park, and I would just think to myself how I was probably one of the luckiest parents in the world because my kid basically thought that if I bent over the sun would shine out of my ass, and the feeling was mutual... What we had was really good... And I tried really hard. I... I was a good mom. I was... Only... I guess the reason we had such an unrealistically perfect relationship now makes total sense. It wasn't real. I gave the kid up, and, while I knew that before, there's something so much worse about 'remembering' all those nice things we did together that... We never did.
B-but anyway... At the time... I'd never let him down like that, at least to my knowledge. Failing was a new thing, and the hours just went by so slowly, and then there started to be 'bodies' not just 'victims', and I didn't know what my own kid was classified as anymore."
Swallowing as tears roll unchecked down the younger woman's face, Regina sips at her coke silently, averting her eyes down to her lap.
"Henry's safe, Emma, and he has people looking out for him here while you're stuck in bed. Something that only happened because you came back to help your family. He has people here, whether he knows it or not. People that would no more let harm come to him than you would...
... And, it's a funny thing how memory spells work, dear. Did you ever stop and think how preposterous it would have been for me to create lives and memories befitting each and every one of the people living here? It would have been entirely impossible to do so, and a complete waste of my time. No... The way it worked is that their memories were tapered to suit a general idea of themselves and their demeanour. I took away their pasts and simply allowed their personalities to do the rest, with a little added malice and misery, I admit, and a little further meddling in the case of those I despised most. It's a complex thing, and I am in no mood to discuss the minor details of how it works... But I will tell you the most important part, so you best listen to me closely now...
I told you before you crossed the town line that I wouldn't give you bad memories like I did the others, and I remained true to my word. But, I didn't specifically give you good ones, either... I simply used your existing relationship with Henry, and the feelings experienced and shared between the two of you. In other words... Your 'memories' were formulated from fact, even if they were fiction. I'm not saying that they tell the story of exactly how things would have gone if you'd kept him- Henry being unnaturally inquisitive, and you being ruthlessly untrusting speak of a residue of the way your minds worked before I cast my magic- but... Don't imagine everything that was good was a lie. Those things you remember could have happened. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"I... I think so."
The Sheriff whispers, and the brunette nods as if in agreement.
"You and I have our qualms, Miss Swan, and do not think for a second that I don't wish I didn't have to share the son I raised to the best of my ability. That said, while he's here, Henry is protected... Which is prudent as, no matter what you might think, you can't guarantee that you're going to be there to protect him every waking second. It's just not how life works, dear. I learned that the hard way... But I know that I am a wonderful mother. I love my child unconditionally. That's one of the most important parts of the puzzle after all... And that part, you can guarantee."
She smiles in spite herself- in spite of all that has come to pass between them- as the blonde rests sleepily back against the pillows with a small grin of her own; much more at ease now.
Supposing that when she looks at the grander scheme of things, the younger woman isn't quite so bad after all, Regina settles back in her chair and muses quietly
"I should let you rest... But, at least finish your story first."
"Well, you and Henry both seem very much alive, and- your leg being the exception- no worse for wear. There must have been a happy ending to all that doom and gloom. You managed to get through to him?"
"He got through to me! The anxiety went both ways. He couldn't get hold of me as I'd left my cell in the cafe, and by the time it started to get dark, he'd decided it was more than just a little odd that I hadn't tried to contact him. Brogan's mom called the police but, with the confusion of who had and who hadn't been in the building during the fire, all they'd really been able to do is ask her if she was happy to remain in charge of the kid until plans could be made. It was Henry's idea in the end to call my agency, amusingly, just before I had the same idea. After realising I couldn't do anything, I knew I had to get someone else- someone who wasn't going to answer the phone with 'we're doing everything we can so stay calm'- to do it for me. I'd initially thought of calling Walsh, but... I guess in the end my 'ruthlessly untrusting' side came out... Walsh knew good places to eat and not to buy me flowers that I would inevitably kill within an hour of displaying them, but coming through for me when it came to something like this... I just... I called Brett, my partner- my work partner- instead. I started trying to explain things to him, but suddenly he's yelling down the phone a mile a minute, and telling me Henry's been calling him non-stop for the past hour. When I hadn't turned in my paperwork at the end of the day and there had been no progress made on the case, there had been some questions raised, but a check at the rendezvous point had turned up nothing but my bag and a broken-English suggestion that I might be the one taken by the ambulance.
Anyway, long story short, about half an hour later- this is day two- I'm struggling to breathe as a kid that really needs to slow down growing flattens me, much to the doctor's disgruntlement. Henry then suggested that, due to the hectic events, he should probably, maybe be excused from school at least until I got out, and I sweetly assured him that he probably, maybe shouldn't.
After that? I was discharged a couple of days later, and we holed up in a hotel for a little while. I have a friend- a long-ago perp, and a long story- that works in insurance, and while he didn't work for the same company that I was signed up with, he gave me enough pointers to make sure I got what I was entitled to. We moved into the place we have now- some furniture survived and some didn't- and had some fun decorating.
We had a talk... About what had happened, and about my job... And in the end, Henry convinced me to see the bigger picture... Which was more or less that it was kind of cool having a mother that's a 'secret agent', and that he wanted to go to Disneyland.
We also had an argument- not a big deal, but they happen so rarely that things tend to get a little tense- after I tracked his phone. He was of the opinion that his privacy was being grossly breached... This was while standing with his arms crossed sullenly after having barged into the bathroom while I was in the shower, mind.
Other than that... It took about two months of working boring background checks and paperwork before I could get back into my job properly. Apparently, scuffed-up from ankles to chin is not the most alluring of looks.
It also took about three months for Henry to quit pointedly holding my hand with a shit-eating grin while crossing the road.
Things were normal for a while after that...
Until Hook showed up...
And... Here we are. Staging arguments reminiscent of the good old days, and finding magic you didn't even know existed. I would tell you I'd missed this place, but..."
"I would laugh at the very notion."
The younger woman smiles, yawning sleepily. Requisitioning her empty coke can and moving from her seat with a feline stretch, the darker woman disposes of it neatly before buttoning up her coat.
"I imagine you might have to stay here for a few days, but I'll make sure that your parents let Henry know where you are."
"Ha, thanks... Or, you know... You could tell him..."
Emma proposes softly.
"My dear, I don't think that's exactly feasible. Why would the Mayor come baring such news?"
"The same reason 'old friends' he's never heard of seem what must appear creepily adamant that he should spend time with them?... It's complicated, I know... But... I really think you should 'meet' him, Regina."
"I... And what on earth do I provide as my reason for you being bed-bound and being the first to herald the news?"
"Just tell him I cut my leg on some glass and you helped me. It's the truth, so..."
"Yes... I suppose it is..."
The brunette muses quietly as she heads for the door.
"... Thank you."
"Well, it's not as though I haven't been hoping for a chance to speak with him."
"... Thank you for sitting with me."
"Oh... Why, you flatter yourself! I was merely taking the opportunity to warm up before being forced to walk home."
Tired eyes roll as the younger woman smirks wearily.
"Yeah, yeah. Goodnight, Regina."
"I'll be round for your signature regarding the payment for my new window tomorrow."
"You realise I'm not actually the Sheriff anymore, right?"
"So you keep saying... Get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."