Regina Mills had always been aware of her beauty, she had been Queen after all. There was a certain port and whether it had been bred or cultivated, no one could say. All that was certain was that she had been a Queen and looked like it. She questioned the reasons why she would open her door to a humble shopkeeper. Perhaps they were simple; there was some goodness left in her still. That it was easy to believe in someone who believed in her. The Queen busied herself with cutting the crusts of white bread and smiled without showing any teeth. It was polite, there were lessons she did not forget.
“How did it feel when you were first told you had a soul mate?” The shopkeeper asked as appreciated the Queen’s poise.
“I can’t say I remember,” Her eyes had a lovely darkness to them. “It was so long ago and I was just a girl.”
This shocked the shopkeeper, as it had not been the story told by the fairies. She remembered how thrilling it had all sounded. That hope should have been offered to the Evil Queen in the prime of her horror, that someone out there was destined to love her. A lesson in patience too, to know that pain was to be suffered before finally reaching that foretold happiness. But to learn that the story had been exaggerated, a fiction , made her heart clench in agony. Surely the Queen was being modest. Surely she was protecting her feelings about the Outlaw.
“But, when you met him again? Sparks must have flown!” She gratefully accepted a sandwich and took one timid bite. “Was it everything you imagined it to be?”
The Queen took a deep breath.
“I had never dared to imagine it.”
“Oh, isn’t that so…” It was intoxicating to think of a woman so beautiful, so regal, to have been so lost. “ Romantic .”
“I suppose it is.”
The shopkeeper squealed, unable to help herself. It was the tipping point of her life, it was something she could feel. There wasn’t a thing about this day she wanted to miss. Not the scent of the spices and leaves in the teapot. The distinct way the Autumn Sun came in through the kitchen window. The loose curls forming at the tips of the Queen’s hair, the ones that betrayed her origins. She noted how the marble of the counter felt cool and how polished the copper of hanging pots was. The shopkeeper could see her reflection on them and she dared to think, her future. The many, many afternoons to come when she could be the Queen’s confidant. Hear all about her day, offer to put on the kettle. Until finally, she was asked to stay for dinner. And delight at all the Outlaw had to say about his day once he joined them at the table.
“Ma’am, it is truly such an honor to…to.., you cannot imagine–”
Then, unexpectedly, the kitchen door swung open. Out of order, upending all of the shopkeeper’s hopes.
“Regina,” The Sheriff said out of breath with her fists flexed. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
She wanted to say yes to that question. There was nothing that the shopkeeper wanted more than to rewrite that second, make it so that her figure never appeared. Make it a better scene, the one she had pictured in her mind when she made sugar syrup to cover the delicate pastry of fig rolls. The ones she had gone through great pains to make. As she had everything else.
“Emma,” Something shifted in the Queen’s face. It made bitterness spread within the shopkeeper. “No, not at all. Miss Waters and I were just making conversation.”
“Right, OK.” The Sheriff moistened her lips and stepped closer to the Queen. “How do you feel about continuing that at the station?”
Just like that the sweet smells of the afternoon air turned pungent
Under regular circumstances Regina could have protested having a police jacket draped on her shoulders. She might have snapped at the suggestion that she needed it. But she was cold, her body chilled to the bone. The thick wool of the collar scratched her cheeks, the rest of her body wanted to curl in on itself. Thinking about the scents of the kitchen, of having to smile and talk of happiness, Regina thought of death. Not in the way she’d done for so many years, at times as relief. An escape for the noise contained in her mind, the only earned and logical ending for the Evil Queen.
As she had watched the expression Rose Waters’ take delight in every lie or omission Regina told she came to think of death as undesirable. Fearsome. All the things she would miss had pulled at her. Henry’s yawns in the morning. Essays to be proofread, long grain rice and chickpeas on Wednesdays. Dulce radura and hot oil. Filling Emma’s glass with the beer she would never say was expensive. The tentative touches on her knuckles and everything left unsaid between them. She had been afraid of losing it all.
Regina took a sip of the terrible station coffee and tightened her grip on the porcelain mug she knew was Emma’s. Little had been said about how Rose Waters might be responsible for the murders, all the woman had done was chatter nervously in the back of the patrol. Splutters about wanting to clear up a misunderstanding and sympathizing with wanting to keep the Mayor safe, of course. Emma hadn’t said a word back to her. In fact, she hadn’t said anything at all. Not even her fingers had brushed against Regina’s in the front seat. It had made her feel so brittle, like the chords inside her throat were nothing but salt crystals. Ready to crumble with the slightest touch.
The door to the Sheriff’s office opened and in walked Emma with a crease in her brow. Regina noticed the hunch of her shoulders and the tightness of her breathing. All things that had not been present in the Summer and not for the first time she felt a pang of guilt. Of having brought her back to Storybrooke. For refusing her offer to leave it. Emma tossed a barely held together manuscript on her desk and threw herself on the couch next to her.
“Did she confess?”
“No,” Emma tipped her head back and closed her eyes. “She thinks she’s cooperating in the investigation because she’s a good citizen or whatever.”
“That was to be expected with delusional fantasies,” Regina tightened her grip on the mug between her hands, knowing there were answers she had to demand. “How did you know to come looking for me?”
It was quiet for too long and there was a tremor permeating Emma’s energy.
“I don’t need you to spare my feelings,” She turned her gaze on her and found Emma already regarding her. “ I need you to trust I can handle myself.”
“I do trust you.” Emma said, moistening her lips. She retrieved the mound of paper off her desk. “ It’s just that she..umm, wrote about it. About you, for the book festival no less.”
The volume fell with a thud on the couch. It made Regina taste bile when she saw the faux-delicate font read The Queen’s Outlaw . Leather bound story books made her heart jump in a potent mix of fear and rage but to think that these dogeared pages held together by string could be causing her all this pain felt like a dagger at her side. It was revolting that so many versions of herself should be contained in writing.
“What else is in it?” Regina asked as she thumbed the corners of the thing. “Does it say who the killer is?”
“No, it reads like a shitty mystery novel,” Emma rubbed her temples. “It’s unfinished too. Mulan’s questioning her now. She denies the whole thing and can’t explain how her writing matches the murders.”
“Is the text directive or predictive?” She thought of those pale eyes watching her in the kitchen and suppressed a shudder.
“What do you mean?” Her chest rose and fell unsteadily, as if Regina had stumbled on something she’d wanted to keep secret.
“Do you think it’s directing people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t or is it merely anticipating their actions? Magic is still involved in both but prediction might be unintentional.”
“I’m inclined to think she has an accomplice somewhere,” It was a careful sidestep Emma took as her eyes drifted towards the manuscript. “More coordination and stalking than magic.”
“In Storybrooke? Not likely,” Regina reached for volume and opened it in spite of the sickness she felt. “Now, let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
Emma breathed in sharply and that tremor in her energy moved to her knee. She could feel the burn of her eyes on her skin, it made her ears throb with her pulse. Regina turned to the very middle of the book, where they might be stuck. In this moment that felt less than final.
In her guilt the Queen went down to her vault to search for a way to resurrect the fair maiden who was the Outlaw’s wife. The very woman whose heart she had taken in the forest. She wanted to be clean of it, she wanted to be absolved of all of her wrongdoing. Unworthy of the Outlaw’s love is what she thought she was. How could she be his true love when she had robbed him of happiness?
“I’m sorry, you don’t know–”
“Regina,” Whispered the Outlaw as he stepped out of the shadows and kissed her.
“It’s alright.” He said as he lifted her up against the wall.
“What is it?” Emma leaned forward, just shy of touching her. “What did you find?”
It was like staring into a warped mirror, a twisted image that resembled her. That the guilt, the terror of her past could have forced her down that path. It was violating, the dagger that cut through the scarred tissue that might have protected her. But like perfectly cut and trimmed pieces, everything inside Regina clicked into place. It felt good in that familiar and awful way, the comfort of knowing that she despised Rose Waters.
“Let me go in,” Regina said, slipping out of the police jacket. “I know what I have to do.”
Emma felt her pulse race and the unruly magic in her veins shake with something. Maybe it was the anticipation of a disaster. Regina had that narrow, hard look in her eye, the one that could scorch everything to ash. It had been gentler over the Summer, with melting ice cream in paper bags and left-overs in Tupperware. Softened until it turned pleading when Emma had that glass vial in between her fingers, not wanting to believe. And let go of that Regina, standing in front of her. Please, you don’t know how much I wish I…please, Emma. She should have smashed that glass vial when she had the chance. They wouldn’t be here, standing in a hallway waiting to be tagged in to question Rose Waters. A fucking psychic murderer, according to Regina.
“What are you going to do when we’re in there?” Emma whispered as she leaned closer to her.
“She’ll be lucky if I don’t actually rip her heart out–” Her lips twitched with restrained fury.
That elicited a deep sigh from her, a gaze that begged something out of her. It made Emma reach for the sleeve of her blouse, touch her wrist with the pad of her fingers. She wanted to tell her that they did not have to do this, there was a town line. Something that could so easily erase everything, make their problems simple. About lost keys, broken heaters and spoiled milk.
“I want her to admit it,” Regina told her quietly. “I want her to pay for it.”
“Yeah, I get that.” Emma swallowed, anchoring herself in the hum of her magic.
There were some of Rose Water’s words that still clung to her mind like gum to her hair. She wanted to unsee the images they created, the strong arms that held Regina. That pieced her back together after having been hammered into jagged and mismatched fragments. Emma couldn’t even bring herself to pity the woman.
“I only want you to be careful.”
“That’s what you’re there for, Sheriff.” Her fingers closed around Emma’s hand. “To keep me in check.”
The door to the interrogation room opened, Mulan emerged with a sullen expression. She bit off at the excess skin of her lips, her eyes rimmed with exhaustion.
“I…I tried . But she never even hesitated. Not a contradiction in anything she said,'' She told them, a frantic hand in her hair. “What if she didn’t do this, what if we’re wrong?”
“We’re not.” Regina’s voice was harsh as she walked past her.
Emma gave Mulan an apologetic look, one last one before taking the plunge into the bright fluorescence of the interrogation room. It made Rose Waters look smaller, like the clerk in a library who could have suggested she read something more suited for her age. The blue of her eyes looked almost milky and she smiled. Wide. As she watched Regina take the seat in front of her.
“Hello, Rose.” Regina’s back might have been a rod, her lips were parted just enough to give the illusion of openness. Emma had forgotten how dangerous, how sharp she could be.
“Madam Mayor,” Rose’s voice was chipper, it felt like cheap candy on a bad tooth. She spoke as if she’d been invited to the station for some shitty coffee and doughnuts. “How are you holding up, ma’am?”
“I’m fine, dear. It’s not as if there is a murderer out on the prowl,” She folded her fingers over each other, the tips just an inch away from the woman’s. “Unless you tell me otherwise.”
It made a vein throb in Emma’s neck, her hands curled on instinct. The burning white of her magic pulated in between her joints.
“I..I wish I could say. I truly, honestly, don’t know,” Her cheeks turned a deep shade of pink. “I’ve told Sheriff Swan and Deputy Hua that–”
“You have no idea how the killings match your writing,” Emma felt herself take a step towards the table. “Yeah, we got that. Loud and clear”
“Oh Rose, I thought we were friends.” The words were almost sweet, shy as Regina leaned forward. A perfectly calculated act. It might not be ripping the heart out of Rose’s chest but it was something close to it.
“You did?” Her chest swelled at the thought.
“Of course I did,” Regina told her gently. She liked toying with her prey, Emma remembered that now. There was the lure, the bait that could be so willingly taken. “After all, you seem to have me down to my taste in tea and spices, don’t you?”
“I’m observant,” Rose cheerfully snagged the bait. “I like picking up on details.”
“You’re thoughtful, deliberate,” She tossed her back and chuckled. “Which means you wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”
“I…I only want what’s best for you, ma’am, ” The woman swallowed and put a hand to her chest. “Whatever makes you happy.”
“See, there you go,” In an instant, Regina’s lips dropped and her eyes lit up with all the violence of her magic. “ Lying .”
“I promise you I’m not. Please, please..”
The table rattled her hands and the speakers above began to channel pure static. The woman in front of them gasped and winced, as if just looking into Regina’s eyes was painful.
Violet encircled them and Emma only knew to squeeze Regina’s shoulder before magic began to tighten around Rose Waters. Under her touch, she could feel the hard muscles of Regina’s neck begin to relax. The rage of her magic combined with the fury of hers until they were both dulled and extinguished.
“How are you doing it, Rose?” Emma asked her, her hand steadying Regina’s back. “Is someone working with you?”
“I..I.. I just write these things!” The stammer echoed in her ears until it rang false. “If they are coming to life then it has nothing to do with me, I swear!”
“I don’t believe that’s true,” She felt her vocal chords restrain themselves. “I think everything in your story is just one long wish. It might as well be a signed confession.”
“How else would you explain it? Is the manuscript an instruction book, a hit list?”
“That’s not it,” Rose shook her head as her eyes blinked away the tears. “You have to believe me, Madam Mayor”
“I don’t have to do anything, Miss Waters .” Regina spat out. “I owe you nothing but my contempt.”
The woman took Regina’s hands and gripped them fiercely. It made their combined magic boil and burn in Emma’s blood. It was like a tap to her knee, shielding Regina from the intended harm. She barely felt the energy dripping out of her body, growing into a shockwave that pushed Rose away from the table.
“Emma,” This time it was Regina soothing the magic away. A simple touch to her wrist. “I can see this is a waste of our time.”
The chair scratched against the floor as Regina got up and did not spare the woman another glance.Rose’s eyes suddenly grew watery as they did wider. Her lip trembled and her fists grabbed the bunched up fabric of her skirt.
“I’ll have someone bring you dinner to your cell.” Emma told her as she followed Regina on her way out of the room.
“Sheriff, wait,” The words came out broken. “ I don’t understand it either…I, it’s not working. Not the way I intended.”
“In my book, I’d written that the Queen falls in love,” Rose wiped at the corner of her eyes and let out a defeated laugh. The skin over her knuckles had tightened enough to make them bone white. “But I see now that…that it’s obviously impossible.”
“Yeah, and why is that?” Emma held her breath as she looked at the woman.
“The Queen is already in love.”
Emma’s heart hammered until her chest ached with the possibility.
Summer had made her life be composed of moments. Ephemeral and prized. Regina kept expecting a definite end to them. One final that she would forever treasure as the last of its kind. Rose Waters’s declaration, one that laid her bare so simply should have been the thing that marked the end of all those fragile moments. Every cell of her body had grown unruly, her lungs constricted painfully outside that interrogation. She had been so sure. So sure, it would be like their last night in New York. Those hours after they had been mellowed out by wine and Henry had gone to bed. Where the possibility of another life had expanded within her rib cage. Regina could have taken it, taken Emma’s lips with hers. It would have been a mistake. Yeah, lucky for us you stopped it, huh?
“Emma,” Regina had begun right outside the door, desperate to keep her. “She is clearly–”
She had shaken her head, her eyes brittle and Regina had grown silent. Emma had leaned forward and cupped her face. It had been so gentle, her touch so careful on her skin that it shattered every argument. They’d stood there in that hallway in a moment that had seemed to stretch out, with Emma’s fingers caught in the waves of her hair. With Regina’s hand going to her Emma’s waist, closing her eyes to feel the soft thrum of their magic. Her heart slowly settling into this new rhythm, one that accepted that perhaps there was no end . That things were not as breakable as they had once seemed.
But then Mulan’s hurried footsteps came down the hallway. There had been another body found, near the town line.The possibility of another killer still lingered in Emma’s mind, the shift in her gaze made it evident to Regina.
“Go.” The world had trembled out of her. “I’ll go back to my vault and search for a way to unravel this mess.”
“But–” Her thumb had lingered on her jaw.
“I’ll be alright,” Regina had promised her. “We need to work quickly and you can’t afford to play bodyguard right now.”
Emma had given her a reluctant nod and released her. Regina had taken herself to her vault and pulled every relevant tome off her shelves. Now that she knew, now that she understood the magic that had taken root then she counter it. It was coercive and intertwined with hope. That made it more volatile than anything born from rage, the loss of hope could make it explosive. Perhaps Rose had channeled that into the creation of a thing, a being that would do her bidding. While the town and everyone in it slowly bent to her words, it wouldn’t have felt invasive. The magic would have seeped into the carvings of their mind, they would have thought a craving. A feeling that came over them that seemed normal enough. It was frightening to consider.
If not for a season full of subway cars and the sound of her son’s laughter on wide sidewalks, Regina might have convinced herself that she should love the man who was supposed to be her soulmate. She could so easily come to believe she owed it to him, she had taken his wife and now his happiness was her burden. If not for Emma helping herself to seconds of her food and wiping her boots at the door because she never wanted to be told to leave. Her most hidden truth was that Regina had seen the point of no return with Emma when she had climbed out of the well and returned to their son. She had seen that horizon and chosen to rush past it.
A needle of pain pricked the middle of her chest just as there was a muffled sound at the top of the stairs. Sparkling fire at the tips of her fingers she checked the entrance to her vault and found it empty. The air had changed, grown thicker. Regina could feel how it swirled into her and made her ache. Another illusion of her mind, Regina could not allow it to progress. She took deep breaths and continued her search for a way to free from the whims of a shoddy-would-be-author.
Regina flipped through volumes and scrolls, finding nothing but warnings to the caster. Nothing for the trapped, all the knowledge she’d collected had never assumed she would ever be the captive one again. Emma had called Rose Waters’s writing one long wish and perhaps that was the answer. One that had been made over and over again, in so many words, against the will of the people contained in its pages. Wishes and yearnings were particularly pernicious, the magic would claw and resist its destruction. It was not as simple as a curse, curses understood they were meant to wound. They were certain of their purposes. Wishes and the magic involved in them were sugar coated poison. Victims would gladly suck on the sweetness until it killed them.
There was a click behind her, as if someone had unlatched one of her chests. Another trick of her mind that sent one long, painful chill down her spine. It made her magic electric in her blood as she chose to ignore it. Until she couldn’t.
Until glass broke behind her and she turned around only to find herself standing there. In heeled boots and a fine yellow coat, blinking at Regina as if she were a reflection.
The shopkeeper sat caged in a cell. Her heart had been snapped in half. As a young girl she had been told tales of the Queen’s cruelty and she had thought it wonderful. Wonderful that it should be the love of the Outlaw who would have made it subsume, transform her into someone good. He would have shown her the way of the woods, made her skirts wet in the creeks and rivers. The Outlaw would have made fires for her and given her a place around them. That cruelty would have only been reserved for their enemies. But the Queen herself had snatched that away from her. Destroyed everything the shopkeeper had wanted to give her, all for the Sheriff. Who the shopkeeper had never stopped to consider in her writing, after all when the faeries had never given her too much consideration beyond prophecies. A thief, that is what they should have called her. How could she have known, how could she have foreseen such a twisted turn of events?
“Oh, dear Rose, what’s the matter?” His voice made her gasp. “Why have they got you behind these bars?”
It was him, the Outlaw himself. The shopkeeper wiped her tears away with the back of her sleeve to appreciate his expression. Kind and understanding, like she knew he always was. If anyone could understand it would be him. Shining, gold heart.
“Just a precaution, they said,” She smiled at him. “There has been another murder.”
“Yes, I was hoping to speak to someone about setting up a Merry Men watch,” His brow knit, just as she always seen it. It was exhilarating to see it in person, the thing she had so described..“I don’t want to criticize the Sheriff’s ways but why leave you here unguarded? Surely she would want to keep you safe.”
Because he was good and just he could never think ill of the shopkeeper. Not the woman who baked pudding and short-bread cookies for his son. Who knew just the brew for those forest colds. He deserved to be rewarded, she believed. His service, his heroism could not be overlooked in favor of Sheriff whose qualities amounted to having been born as foretold. To rob her and everyone like her of their dreams.
“I..I don’t mind it, really,” A thought formed inside her mind. “But, could..I bother you for some paper and pen? It can get..lonely here. I'd rather keep myself busy.”
“It’s the least I could do.” He told her as he handed her a good number of pages and a pen.
The shopkeeper got to work as the Outlaw settled in a nearby chair. She imagined a whole future for him and the Queen. One where happiness could abound, a Queen that knew nothing of the Sheriff. Whose pain could only be lifted by true love. Her Queen would live beautiful, in love with her fate. With a final period on the page, the shopkeeper sealed her work. But as she should have come to expect, the Sheriff footsteps came to steal and destroy her careful design.
“What the hell are you doing?!” She threw the cell door open, furious.
“Just some light writing, I thought it wouldn’t do any harm–” The Outlaw stood up to her defense. The shopkeeper felt a pleasant warmth course through her, he would stay here while his destiny was fixed for him.
The Sheriff seized her pages and read in a frenzy. All the color drained from her face, there was something to be said about fear on a Savior’s expression. The shopkeeper knew she must have reached the end for she ripped the pages into the smallest pieces she could.
“I’m sorry,” She sighed. “But…but it was the only way.”
“For what?” Her voice was weak and wobbly.
That made the Sheriff abandon everything and run towards the lifeless body of the Queen.
“What are you?” Regina asked, her breath faltering.
The thing said nothing but it breathed. It took up space, the stitching of its clothes were exquisite. It bore the same scar on her lip, the same mole on her neck. It was awe inducing like all terrible, horrifying things were. To see the infinite vacancy in her reflection’s eyes. Regina stood in front of it with her first on fire and breathing on the air grew thicker. It, the thing that bore her face, looked right past her. This was Rose Waters’s long wish, this version of herself who had thoughtlessly committed atrocities. Perhaps the idea was that Regina would become more like her, malleable and helpless. That in the end she would have been too desperate to atone, begging to be forgiven.
But seeing it now, slowly inching towards her she knew the plan must have changed. Regina hurled fire at it as she put distance between them. A being of pure magical energy, it only absorbed the flames into itself. Her reflection matched her steps, the heel of their boots had a rhythm to them. It was a macabre dance she recognized but Regina had grown unaccostumed to following another’s lead.
In an instant the thing that stole her face closed the distance between and plunged its hand into her chest, like the sharpest of daggers. Se me la vida, she thought. Those pieces, those cogs that had always worked with so much precision told her that was the end. Stories always come to them, and it was just that this should be hers. Here was the moment where that precarious balance was lost and the fragile, crystal pieces shattered.
Tears burned in her eyes as the grip around her heart tightened and her bones began stiffening with it. Can you stay forever? And make flan every weekend! What, suddenly you’re too good for freezer cheesecake, kid?” She was so far beyond that horizon now, to sink into nothingness now made her weep. To miss early morning yawns, long-grain rice and the possibility, the possibility of life. Her life. If this magic would claw at her then so would she.
There was power in refusing to submit, in the obstinate determination that had always been hers. Regina called her power to make her fingers blades that could cut into her reflection’s rib cage. Her hand went past the bone until it found the muscle, until she felt beat in her grasp. It was unlike any other heart she had taken in the past, this one was still flesh and fibers. She squeezed tighter and tighter and her reflection mirrored her.
Her own heart had been glass in its cold fingers, she could feel how it would fracture. Split down the middle then turned to dust. Regina dug her nails into the muscle, tore, tore and tore at it. Blood ran down her elbow and tainted her clothes red. Fuck . The glass of her heart had begun to splinter as they both collapsed onto the ground. The thing with its emptiness pressed down on her, quietly. It was worse that it was not angry, that it did as it was told. She pressed the organ harder in her grip, its flesh wet on her finger tips. Don’t you ever think about what we left behind? Regina’s vision was clouded with red, red, red until it was black.
Until it was nothing, until she was nothing. A gentle force rocked that nothing from side to side. It was warm and she thought it was not so bad. That this should be her fate.
“Regina, Regina!” A voice called out to her. “Oh my God, shit. Oh my God..”
That warmth pressed its lips against her temples. Kissed her hair, her cheeks. Her lips, as it was searching for an answer and could not find it.
“Wake up, please. Please, please.” The warmth cried and encircled her.
The black, the nothingness began to dissipate and her chest was filled with air. Emma’s face hung above her, strained and wet. She was alive, she was alive. A long sob tore its way through Regina’s body with careful arms wrapped around her middle.
“I got you, it’s OK.” Emma buried her face in her hair and cried with her. “I got you.”