"Who ever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back."
--Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis
“I'm sorry, Henry,” Emma tells him. She says it over and over. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I tried.”
She's telling the truth. Emma may not have liked his mother any more than he did, but she did try. He's only ten, which means at times like these, adults don't want to tell him much. But he's able to gather the facts as the EMTs force Emma into an oxygen mask. His mother had been trapped under a fallen beam, and Emma had tried to save her. She had tried until the firemen came and dragged her out, and then they had tried, but they were too late to save his mother.
He feels a bit sick, and very hollow. Isn't this what he wanted, the Evil Queen out of the way? But it's not, he thinks desperately as he clenches his fists at his sides. He wanted her to pay for all the things she had done, he wanted her to be punished. But he didn't want her to die. She may have been the Evil Queen, but—he's realizing moments too late—she had also been his mom.
They bring her body out in a bag and he tries to see, but Miss Blanchard hugs him close to her and whispers, “Don't look, Henry.” He doesn't know why it matters; she's all covered up.
He had been rude to her that day—he was always rude to her. Now he'd never talk to her again, and she died thinking that he hated her. An hour ago, he thought he hated her, but now he's not sure he ever really did. He thinks of her face and starts to cry, finally, and it doesn't matter that he's crying in front of his teacher, because she's also Snow White, and his grandmother, and he thinks it's probably okay to cry in front of your grandmother. Even if you're a boy, even if you're ten. It's okay to cry for your mother.
Emma isn't legally his parent, but no one tells her she can't take him home with her. Emma's the sheriff, sort of, and no one knows any better place for him to go, anyway. His mom hadn't had any family, not in Storybrooke and certainly not elsewhere. So Miss Blanchard drives them home in Emma's car, and by the time they get there, Henry's stopped crying.
Emma's voice sounds deep and sad and strange to Henry when she tells him he can stay in her room, and she'll take the couch. He says he doesn't mind the couch, wiping at his eyes, and he thinks he might be scaring her a little bit. He thinks she doesn't know what to do with other people when things get really bad, because when things got really bad before she'd always been alone.
He hugs her then, and her clothes still smell like the fire but he holds on anyway. Her hand rubs up and down his back, and she doesn't know what to say, but it's all right. She's there.
Miss Blanchard brings him blankets and a pillow for the couch. He's never seen her look so sad, and it must be for him, not his mom. “If you need anything,” she says, “we're both here. It doesn't matter what time it is, okay?”
“Okay,” he says, nodding slowly, because suddenly everything seems very slow. It's too early to go to bed, but they all go anyway. Henry lies on the couch and stares at the wall in the dark living room for what seems like a long time, until suddenly, it feels like someone's watching him. He sits up and looks around, his eyes already adjusted to the dark, but no one's there.
“I'm sorry,” he whispers as he lies back down, and when he closes his eyes he imagines his mom, eyes a bit softer than they've been lately, telling him she knows.
Emma is sure that anywhere else, it would be a longer process, more difficult. They'd go to court, and she'd have to fight for him, and in the end she might still lose. But it's Storybrooke, and she's starting to realize that things really are different here. All she has to do is sign some papers and Henry is hers.
She's never heard of anyone owning a fire department, but apparently Mr. Gold owns Storybrooke's. He makes sure to tell her that the firemen determined the cause of the fire was accidental—faulty electric wiring. “A blameless tragedy,” he says.
Sidney drops out of the race for sheriff in order to run for mayor, and he and Emma both win their elections unopposed. It's a week after Regina's funeral and Emma has a son and a badge, and though she wants Henry and wants the job, she wouldn't describe herself as happy.
“You feel guilty,” Mary Margaret explains as she pours Emma's coffee. It's Saturday morning and Henry is still asleep on the couch—he sleeps a lot, these days, and Archie says it's all right to let him, for a little while.
“I don't feel guilty,” Emma argues weakly, and takes a sip. “I feel... I don't know. I don't know what this is.”
“You lived, and she didn't. You hated each other, and you wanted Henry, but you didn't want her to die. You feel guilty.”
“I tried to save her,” Emma says, closing her eyes and trying not to remember the smoke or the flames, or Regina begging for help.
“I know,” Mary Margaret says, with that look on her face that means she's hurting because Emma is hurting. Emma's still not sure what to do with that. With this woman who knows her without having to try. “It wasn't your fault.”
“Then why do I feel like this?”
“Because you wonder if there's something more you could have done, if you could have tried harder, been stronger. But you did everything you could, Emma.”
Emma isn't a hugger, and Mary Margaret usually gives her her space, but she's glad when Mary Margaret reaches for her hand across the kitchen counter and holds it tightly. “You're going to be all right. It'll just take some time.”
Emma tries to remind herself of this as she arrives at work that morning. She'll do fine as the sheriff, but she's discovering quickly that no matter how much she loves Henry, she knows very little about actually being a mother. Mary Margaret knows exactly what to do, which makes moving out all the more unappealing, but Emma knows she has to do it. Mary Margaret insists that they don't have to, but the apartment is too small for three. “Henry does need a room,” she concedes sadly. “And it's probably inappropriate for him to be living with his teacher, anyway.”
Emma doesn't know why the idea of leaving Mary Margaret's seems so unpleasant to the both of them, but she suspects it has something to do with the fact that it's been the only place to ever really feel like home to her. There's a house for sale on the street where David and his wife live, and though the idea of owning a home scares the hell out of Emma, and the thought of visiting her in that particular part of town makes Mary Margaret's face twist in displeasure, it seems like the best option.
It's because of this, the way her mind is full with thoughts of downpayments and being solely responsible for another person's life, that it takes her a moment to notice the woman sitting casually on top of her desk in the otherwise empty Sheriff's department.
“Shit,” she says as she scrambles backwards, nearly tripping over a chair but somehow managing to stay upright.
It's Regina, looking quite pleased with herself, legs crossed and hands resting on her knee. “Good morning, Sheriff Swan.”
Emma wills her heart to stop beating quite so wildly and her hands to stop shaking as she walks forward again, throwing her jacket over her chair. “I wasn't aware faking your own death was a low you were willing to stoop to, Madam Mayor.” The wracking guilt she had felt mere moments ago had been abruptly replaced by anger, and something like panic. She would take Henry back. She would take Emma's job.
Regina laughs. “Oh, Sheriff Swan. That's an excellent idea, but unfortunately it's not what transpired. I'm afraid I'm still quite as dead as you had assumed.”
Emma realizes, belatedly, that Regina's wearing the same outfit she had on the night of the fire, but that it's pristine, without smudge or burn or tear. It seems like such an elaborate joke, and Emma can't see what Regina would stand to gain from it. Why she would put Henry through something like this. “That's enough. The game is over, all right?”
Regina hops off of her desk and reaches down for Emma's telephone. Her hand passes right through it. “It's not a game, Miss Swan. I'm dead, buried in the ground. Though I'd imagine haunting you might become a bit of a game, depending on how well you play your part.”
Emma steps forward, reaching out gingerly toward Regina. She looks solid enough, but Emma's fingers pass through her arm just as if it were air, and she pulls her hand back, cradling it against her like she's been burned. “What the hell is going on?”
“You're a bit slow, aren't you? Thank God Henry didn't inherit your IQ.” Regina rolls her eyes impatiently. “I died. I stuck around. I'm a ghost, and you're being haunted.”
Emma feels a bit like she might throw up, which is unfortunate as she doesn't trust her frozen legs to carry her to the bathroom in time. She has plenty of questions, but the only one she can seem to give a voice to in that moment is “Why?”
Something changes in Regina's face, then. Instead of delight at Emma's near heart attack, she seems to suddenly deflate, and she looks vulnerable in a way that Emma had never imagined she could be. “Because you tried to save me. I wanted to know why.”
Emma just stares at her for a moment. “You know, the fact that you have to ask that question says a lot about what's wrong with you,” she says finally.
Regina's expression hardens again. “Wrong with me?”
“I tried to save you because I'm a decent person who's not in the habit of abandoning people to die. Are you saying you wouldn't have tried to help me, if our roles had been reversed?”
“I don't know,” Regina answers, and Emma has to at least appreciate her honesty.
“You know, I'm still not convinced that you're not...” Emma waves her hand indistinctly. “Projecting yourself as a hologram, from a hidden location.”
“Oh, Miss Swan,” she says, letting out a short laugh. “You watch too much television. I never did get used to television.”
Emma wants to believe it's not true, but just like Henry's stories, it's becoming harder to deny. Regina had fought for Henry with every weapon at her disposal from the moment she'd laid eyes on Emma, and Emma doesn't believe she would leave him to be claimed by his birth mother if she'd had the choice. “You were sitting on my desk, but you couldn't touch my phone and I couldn't touch you. How?”
Regina sighs and steps toward Emma, though her heels don't click against the floor the way they should. In fact, she seems almost to be floating right above it. Hologram, Emma asserts to herself silently.
“I can make contact with objects if I want. With people, if I want. But it takes a lot more out of me than merely being visible, and I don't imagine I'll expend the effort when it's not required. Though I suppose, if it helps convince you...” She lifts her hand and places it against the side of Emma's face.
It doesn't feel like a living person's flesh. It's not cold, the way ghost stories would have her believe, but it's not warm, either. It just is. She feels a tingle, or a hum, like something passing between them, or two separate worlds meeting. Land and the sea. Her instinct is to step back, but she makes herself stay still, and for a moment forgets to blink.
And then suddenly Regina's hand is falling through her, fingers sliding through her jaw. There's a strange kind of bravery in her eyes, daring Emma to challenge her now. “Okay then,” Emma says.
“So we have an understanding.”
“I don't know if I'd call it that. But I believe you.” They hold each other's gaze, still, standing close together. Emma thinks suddenly of their son, at home with Mary Margaret. “Can other people see you?”
Perhaps Regina is thinking of him too, because she looks away from Emma, then, staring at a blank spot on the wall. “If I choose to let them. You're the first.”
Emma raises an eyebrow. “Lucky me.”
“Yes, Sheriff Swan. You are the lucky one,” Regina answers, suddenly disappearing from sight.
Henry wakes at noon to a quiet apartment and a growling stomach. “Emma?” he calls out.
“She had to go to work, sweetheart,” he hears Miss Blanchard answer from her bedroom, though in a moment she pokes her head out of the doorway to see him. “I think she'll be home in a few hours.”
Miss Blanchard comes out to the kitchen. “Are you hungry? Breakfast or lunch?”
He thinks it over as he rises from the couch. “Breakfast, I think. Can we have pancakes?”
“We can have pancakes,” she says, smiling as she opens a cabinet.
Henry sits at the counter and watches as she takes out ingredients. “My mom never cooked,” he says.
Miss Blanchard pauses just for a second in front of the refrigerator, and then turns around to face him. “Your mom was a busy woman,” she tells him, but the way she says it is kind, not like she thinks his mom was too busy for him. “I bet she did other things for you, though.”
“Sometimes.” He thinks of his other mom, younger and softer and more awkward, but every bit as stubborn and lost. “Emma doesn't cook either, does she?”
This makes Miss Blanchard laugh. “No. No, she's a bit lost in the kitchen. I'm not sure how she managed to feed herself, all those years on her own.”
“So you'll have to come visit us a lot, right? To make sure we're not starving.”
She turns the stove on. “Of course I will.”
“Maybe you'll run into David sometimes.”
“Henry,” she warns.
He thinks about pushing it for a moment, and telling her that if they just spent some time together, maybe it would help them remember... but he doesn't. For the first time, he feels childish and silly, talking about the curse. All that hardly seems to matter anymore. Instead, he changes the subject. “What do you think happens to people when they die?”
Miss Blanchard turns to him then, full of compassion. He can see Snow White in her face when she looks at him like this. “I've always believed that they go to a better place,” she says, reaching out to gently push his hair out of his eyes.
“Even if they've done bad things?”
“Oh, Henry.” She stops in the middle of mixing ingredients. “Your mother wasn't perfect. But she loved you, and I think love goes a long way. Wherever she is, she's all right.”
Henry wants to believe her, but she doesn't know the things his mother had done. If she got her memories back, he wonders if she'd ever be able to forgive his mother. Or even if she should. He's not sure why he's forgiven her, either, only that he has, and that he thinks he might give almost anything to be able to tell her that.
Emma spends the rest of the day trying to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. For a while she tells herself she's dreaming, but she knows she's not, and instead of paying attention to her arguably important duties, all she can think about is Regina. She doesn't know where she went, or what she's doing, or if she'll come back.
She shouldn't want her to come back. She kind of does.
She goes home in the late afternoon, still on edge, but when she opens the apartment door to see Mary Margaret grading papers at the table and Henry playing his DS on the couch, she feels inexplicably better. This is what coming home to family is like, she realizes.
She does an all right job that evening of not seeming too shaken up, and if she's careful she can go as long as thirty minutes without thinking about the fact that she'd met a ghost only hours earlier. When she goes to bed, though, she whispers to her quiet room, “If you're watching me right now, you'd better not do anything creepy.”
Regina comes back on Monday morning. Mary Margaret and Henry have already left for school, and Emma is on her way out, when Regina materializes right in front of her, blocking her bedroom door.
“So we're on a first name basis, now, are we?” Regina looks so smug that Emma resolves to be less startled the next time this happens.
“Yeah, well, I figured since you're dead, we'd just dispense with the formalities.”
“As you wish. Emma.” Regina remains in front of the doorway, crossing her arms.
Emma can't quite get past the shock of Regina Mills telling her she may have something as she wishes. “Were you watching me get dressed?” she asks, eyes narrowing.
“Don't flatter yourself,” Regina says.
Emma pulls on her jacket and stares at Regina, who still blocks her door. Even knowing that she probably hasn't made herself solid, she doesn't dare try to walk through her. Somehow it seems far too intimate. “Don't you have anywhere else to be? Why don't you go bother Kathryn. She's your friend, right?”
“She was my friend, yes. But I don't believe she's sturdy enough to withstand a haunting. It's not my aim to terrify the people I care about.”
“So it's just your aim to annoy the hell out of me, then?”
“Not entirely, but that's part of it, yes.” Regina steps aside, finally.
Emma walks out into the living room, having to look behind her to check that Regina is following. “I don't like that you don't make any noise. It's creepy.” She frowns. “You're creepy. No offense.”
Before, Emma thinks, Regina would probably have had a scathing comeback. But now she only raises one eyebrow, looking like she might even be the slightest bit amused. Death seems to have mellowed her. “An unfortunate side effect of my condition,” she says.
“Yeah, about your... condition. Aren't ghosts supposed to have unfinished business? What's yours? Why are you hanging around?”
“Everyone has unfinished business, Emma,” Regina answers, sounding impatient. “There comes a point where one can either let it go, or... well. I've never been good at letting things go.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, sarcastically. “I've noticed.”
Regina picks up a comic book from a pile Henry had left strewn across the coffee table. “I'm here because I have a son, Emma. And despite what you or he may think, I love him. More than anything else in this world, or any other. I want to see that he's all right.”
Regina seems almost to flinch. She puts the comic book down. “Of course he is.”
Emma's not sure what it is that's making her want to be kind to Regina right now. Maybe it's that guilt Mary Margaret had tried to explain to her, or maybe it's because like this, Regina is no longer a threat. Either way, she amends, “I mean, he's not all right. But he's safe with me. I'm going to take care of him.”
“No.” Regina takes a few steps away, her back to Emma as she speaks. “Of course, he's just fine. Why wouldn't he be? He gets to be with his real mother, now.”
“Regina...” Emma reaches for Regina's arm to turn her around, but Regina doesn't let herself be touched and Emma's fingers grasp at the air. “He misses you.”
“He hated me.”
“He's devastated.” She's going to be late for work now, but it doesn't really matter. “He lost his mom. Yeah, the two of you clashed... over everything... but when you lose someone, that stuff doesn't matter anymore. He loves me, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love you, too.”
Regina turns around, and there is nothing of the cold, controlled Mayor Mills left in her face. “He'll be happier with you.”
Emma's not sure how to answer that. Henry was a very unhappy, troubled kid when he'd shown up at her door in Boston, but he couldn't always have been that way. No child as sweet and caring and open with his emotions could have come from an entirely dismal childhood, she knows that as well as anyone could. “He was happy with you, once, wasn't he? Before the book?”
“We were very close, when he was small,” Regina admits, wrapping her arms around herself. “He used to cling to my leg when I left him with a babysitter. He'd beg me not to go. And he used to like for me to read to him. He would climb into my lap with a book, and every time we finished one he would plead with me, just one more. I bought him so many books. It was extravagant. But I just wanted him to be happy.”
“See? You have good memories with him. That's what he's remembering now. You should, too.” Emma tries to picture Henry as he grew, during all the years that she missed. She can still remember how he looked when he was first born, pink and perfect and so small. She hadn't held him—she hadn't wanted to make it harder to let go. If Regina hadn't moved on because she couldn't let go of Henry, then that made all the sense in the world to Emma.
“I want you to promise me you're going to take care of him. I know you're new to motherhood but you'd better learn, fast.”
“I will. I promise.”
Regina nods, and looks at Emma for a moment without saying anything more. And then it's as if her crumbling wall is rebuilt in an instant, as the sadness leaves her eyes and she seems to stand a little straighter. “Well let's go, then. You should have left for work ten minutes ago.”
“Wait,” Emma says, shaking her head. “You're coming with me?”
“Of course I'm coming with you,” Regina says, opening the front door and placing a hand on her hip, looking impatient. “I made this town what it is today. I built it up from practically nothing, and frankly, I'm not yet convinced that you're up to the task of protecting it. What better way to assuage my fears than to observe you on the job? I can give constructive feedback as needed.”
Emma stands rooted to the spot. “You're kidding, right?”
“Oh, Emma. The proper care and keeping of a town is nothing to joke about.”
Emma glares at Regina and her satisfied smile, trying to come up with an escape plan, but there's no hiding from a ghost. Finally, she stalks across the room and out the door, muttering, “Great. This is gonna be the best day ever.”
Miss Blanchard helps them move, and though she tells David his assistance isn't needed, he comes over to help, too. Henry likes the new house. It's not as big as his old one, but that doesn't really matter. It's big enough for the two of them.
They go over to his old house to get the rest of his stuff, and while Emma and David maneuver Henry's bed out of his room and down the stairs, he wanders into his mother's bedroom. All of her things have been boxed up and packed away, and he sits down on the floor in the empty room, thinking it seems smaller.
“Hi, Mom,” he says, looking over his shoulder to make sure he'd closed the door. “Archie says I can talk to you, if I want, and maybe it would help me. I asked him if you'd hear me, and he couldn't really give me a good answer. But I thought, maybe since you... maybe since you were a witch, you can do things that other people can't do when they die. Because sometimes I feel like someone's watching me, and no one's there, and... maybe it's you.
“Anyway. I just wanted to tell you that I don't hate you anymore. And that if you came back, I wouldn't want to put you in a dungeon. Not forever, at least. Not if you were sorry. I don't know. Archie says it's all right to be confused. It's like, I miss you, but if I think about all the things you did, I'm still mad, but I don't know how to be mad and miss you at the same time, so I'm just sad instead. And I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry for being mean to you and... I love you.” He scrunches up his face, because it feels funny to say those words after what feels like a very long time.
“That's all, I guess. Oh. And try not to be mad that I'm living with Emma, now. I know you didn't like her, but. Just try, okay?”
There's a knock at the door, and Henry whips his head around to look behind him, afraid someone has heard him talking to an empty room.
“Henry? You in there, kid?” It's Emma, and she opens the door to peek in as he's getting to his feet. “Hey. You all right?”
He nods. “I was just thinking.”
“Oh. Well, everything's loaded up. You ready to go?”
Henry nods again and walks to the door, where Emma puts her arm around his shoulders. “Are you sad to be leaving this house?” she asks as they go down the stairs together.
“A little,” he says. “You're sad to leave Miss Blanchard's, aren't you?”
“A little,” she agrees. “Never saw that coming, before I moved in. But we're gonna be okay, right? You and me?”
“Yep,” he says as they go outside, where Miss Blanchard and David are waiting for them and trying awkwardly not to catch each other's eyes. “We're gonna be okay.”
Something strange happens to Emma, along the way. She starts to look forward to seeing Regina. She starts to miss her, if a day goes by that Regina doesn't show up to pester her.
It's strange, keeping it a secret, and there are about a thousand times that she wants to sit Mary Margaret down and ask her if she believes in ghosts, but she doesn't give in to the urge. Instead, she asks Henry, as casually as she can manage, if there are any ghosts in his book.
He says no, looking at her curiously, and she lies, saying she'd only asked because she likes ghost stories.
Regina appears to her at the Sheriff's department more than anywhere else, because it's where she's most often alone. It's been long enough now that Emma has learned not to be surprised, and so she doesn't jump when she looks up from her desk to see Regina standing in front of her. “Hello, Regina,” she says, looking back down at her paperwork. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Regina shrugs. “I was bored,” she says, but Emma is struck with the feeling that when she says “bored,” she might actually mean “lonely.” She wonders where Regina goes, when she's not with her.
“I asked Henry, you know, and there aren't any ghosts in his book, so you're breaking into new territory, here.” There's no answer, and so Emma looks up again. “Regina?”
She has a strange look on her face—guilty, almost. Emma thinks it's because she mentioned Henry, but when Regina finally speaks, it's a confession. "It's true, you know."
"Henry's book. The curse."
"It's true,” Emma repeats, incredulous. Though she has to admit it's been harder lately, not to wonder if Henry's stories might be true. When you've become sort-of friends with the ghost of your former enemy, it becomes natural to question the possibility of other impossible things.
"Every bit,” Regina says. “I'm the Queen. I'm a witch." There is a stapler on Emma's desk, and she points to it, and when she flicks her wrist it rises into the air. Another quick movement sends it flying across the room where it collides with the wall and falls to the floor.
Emma is still skeptical. "That doesn't prove anything. That's just… ghost stuff. And that was my good stapler, so it better not be broken."
Regina rolls her eyes and looks supremely irritated. "You can argue with me, Emma, or we can just do this efficiently and skip to the part where you begrudgingly accept my word as truth."
Emma crosses her arms and leans back in her desk chair. "If the curse is real, why would you tell me now?"
It's a moment before Regina answers. "Because I'm dead, and it no longer matters. I've already lost."
Emma still doesn't want to believe it. Even now, it seems like too much. But Regina hasn't lied to her once since she died, and Emma thinks some part of her had been expecting this the whole time. "You're really the Evil Queen?"
"I am the Queen," she corrects, "who committed each of the atrocities of which my son has accused me. I am the Queen who ordered the huntsman to cut out your mother's heart, and I have kept her and everyone else in this town trapped for the past 28 years. But it appears that my reign is over."
"So Mary Margaret is my mother? David is my father?"
Emma takes a moment to absorb this as she remembers her long, lonely childhood, wishing for a family who had never come. "And they loved me?"
Regina looks away. "Yes."
"And you're the reason I grew up miserable and unwanted. They had to send me away because of you." Emma's voice is steady as she stands up, but her insides are churning. She's been angry with her parents her whole life, and now, finally faced with the person who truly deserves her anger, she can hardly see beyond her rage.
"I think they might have found death to be less painful than being separated from their child," Regina says. It's as if she means to be disgusted, but instead she only sounds broken.
“What?” Regina sounds startled, but Emma has no sympathy for her now.
Emma raises her hand to slap Regina across the face, realizing in the split second afterward that the action is stupid, that of course Regina won't allow herself to be slapped, of course her hand will pass through. But it doesn't. Regina is solid. Her skin doesn't turn red at the impact, but she raises her own hand to her cheek, and Emma knows that it stung.
“I suppose I deserved that.”
“I want you to get out of here,” Emma says. “I don't want to see you again. I don't want you appearing to me, I don't want you watching me, and I don't want you watching my son.”
Emma half-expects Regina to refuse her, to tell her that she's a ghost and a witch and can do whatever she pleases. But she just stares at her for a moment, her expression curiously blank, before walking across the room, disappearing at the door. For the first time it feels to Emma like she has truly gone.
Something is wrong with Emma, Henry knows. Something's been wrong with her for almost two weeks. He's only a kid, but Miss Blanchard always told him he was clever, and when you're bad at making friends, you get pretty good at watching people.
It's not like right after his mom died, when Emma was sad and guilty and worrying about him all the time. But she seems distracted, and a bit too serious. And whenever she sees Miss Blanchard, it's like Emma suddenly doesn't know how to act around her, even though Henry knows that she's kind of like Emma's best friend. When she comes over for dinner one night, Emma's nervous with her, and looks at her for too long, and after a while even Miss Blanchard starts to notice.
“Are you all right, Emma?” she asks, finally, as she's leaving. She tilts her head and places a hand on Emma's arm, and Henry thinks she looks exactly like a concerned mother.
“I'm fine,” Emma insists, but her smile is forced, and neither Henry nor Miss Blanchard are convinced.
When she leaves, Emma stands in the living room and looks around, like she's forgotten what she came in the room to do, and Henry decides it's time to ask her what's going on.
“Emma?” he says, and it takes her a moment to react and look at him. “You're not fine, are you?”
She looks a bit sheepish as she sinks into the couch, patting the spot next to her. “No. Not really.”
Henry flops down beside her. “What's wrong?”
“I don't want you to worry about me,” she says, shaking her head.
“I'll worry about you if you don't tell me,” he reasons, and she gives him a sad little smile in response.
“I know we don't talk about your mom a lot--”
“We don't have to talk about her,” Henry interrupts, but Emma continues.
“And maybe I'm not doing everything for you that I should--”
“You're doing fine!” Henry cuts in again, more forcefully this time.
She smiles at him again, looking sadder still, and if there's one thing he's still mad at his mother for, it's that she's still making them hurt, even now. “Did you forgive her? For the things she did?”
Henry blinks at her, confused. “Yeah. I forgave her.” Emma doesn't like to talk about the curse like it's real. She believes that he believes, but that's as far as he's ever gotten. Maybe she's only talking about the things his mom did here, but it doesn't sound that way.
“Is it all right if I ask why?”
Henry has to think about it for a moment, realizing he hasn't really made sense of it himself, yet. “I guess... because she died,” he says, shrugging. “Because I'm never going to see her again.” But that's not quite it, that's not the whole reason, and he struggles to string his feelings together logically. “And Archie said that sometimes when people act the way my mom did, it's not because they're evil, it's because they're sad. And I didn't want to believe him, but then she died, and I started thinking about it more. I think something bad happened to her. I think she did those things because she was really sad, and it made her want to make other people sad. But it didn't make her feel better.”
“It just made her feel worse. That's why she was different from Rumplestiltskin. He likes hurting people.”
Emma looks down at her lap, studying her hands. “But she kept hurting people anyway.”
“I know. I think she needed help.” Henry's eyes burn like he's going to cry, but he swallows hard and tries to make the feeling go away. She needed help, and Henry never tried to help her.
Emma seems to realize what he's thinking, because she pulls him into a hug and says softly, “Oh, kid. It's not your fault.”
He hugs her back and squeezes his eyes shut, hoping that she's right.
That night, Emma waits until she's sure Henry is asleep, before closing the door to her bedroom and declaring in a quiet voice, “Okay, Regina. You're un-banished. You can come back.”
Regina travels through the walls of Emma's house, into her bedroom, and makes herself visible once she's sat down on Emma's bed. “It's cute that you think you can banish me, but that takes a kind of magic I'm afraid you're not quite capable of.”
Emma flinches, and hisses in an overly loud whisper, “Have you been here the whole time?” She's sporting that little angry badger face she so likes to wear, and Regina is forced to admit to herself that she's missed it.
“Of course not, dear. I thought it best to give you your space while you were angry.”
Emma crosses her arms, petulant as ever, and asks, “Then how did you get here so fast?”
Regina rolls her eyes as if she's annoyed, but really she just feels pleased. “You called for me. I heard you, and I came. Ghost stuff, I believe you call it.”
“I wasn't calling for you,” Emma protests.
Regina stands and takes a few steps closer. “And you haven't forgiven me, either.”
Emma fixes her with a glare, but fails to look altogether intimidating. “No.”
“No, I suppose you shouldn't.” She is standing a bit too close, but Emma doesn't step back.
“It didn't make me feel any better to have you gone. So you can go back to hanging around all the time, I guess. If you want.”
Regina wants to say that she doesn't need Emma's permission, and she'd only stayed away as a courtesy she's not sure Emma deserved. Instead she finds herself giving a quick nod and answering, “Fine. Maybe I will.”
“Okay,” Emma says, and then neither of them know what to do for a few moments, until Emma speaks again. “Do you even... do you regret any of it?”
She is steady, matter-of-fact as she answers, “Sometimes, I think I do.” It's not the answer Emma wants, but it's the best Regina can offer her.
“Well,” Emma says. “That's a start.”
Regina wonders, briefly, if this is all she will ever have. Following Emma around like some pathetic lost puppy, until one day even that will be gone. When Emma breaks the curse—it's when, not if, now, she knows—Regina fears she may be left to walk this world alone. All magic comes at a price. She should have known how high the price for her curse would be.
“How is Henry?” Regina asks, because she really had stayed away. The closest she'd gotten to him in the past two weeks was to watch him going into school from across the street. Just to see him, just to know he was all right. The rest of the time she'd spent watching over Kathryn, and keeping tabs on Mr. Gold. She knew he set the fire, that he counted her death as an unexpected victory, but she wouldn't try to destroy him. She would let Emma do that, someday.
“Henry's fine,” Emma says. “He's doing better. He's the reason I let you come back.”
This surprises Regina. “Is that so?”
“He has a new theory. He thinks you became the Evil Queen because you're sad. He thinks something bad happened to you.”
It still hurts, even so many years later, and she stiffens immediately as she says, “Something did.”
At least Emma knows a little something about keeping your feelings buried. “You'll tell me, one day?” is all she asks.
“One day,” Regina agrees, and that seems to satisfy Emma for now.
It aches in a way she hadn't anticipated, that her son might finally begin to understand her, after it's already too late to mend their relationship. She doesn't appear to him as she does to Emma—with Henry she only watches, silent and invisible. He's too young, and already in therapy, and most of all he might have rejected her. But now, she thinks, someday she might speak to him again. Someday she might tell him everything.
Emma steps around her and stands at the side of her bed. “Well. I have to get up early, so...” she segues awkwardly. “I'll see you tomorrow?”
Regina finds herself favoring Emma with an involuntary little smile. “Yes. You will.”
Sometimes, when Regina isn't with Emma, she visits her father's grave. Or what she had told everyone was her father's grave. She stands in the empty mausoleum and lets herself sink through the floor, down into the room below, where a wall covered in tiny doors is always waiting.
Her heart is in the box at the top left, the very first. It no longer beats, but that doesn't mean it won't. She is a witch, a powerful one, and she is not bound to the same rules of life and death as mere humans. Being dead is not so much worse than being alive, but as long as her heart remains intact, her death need not be permanent. If someone opens the door, the first door on the wall—someone who truly wishes it—she can come back.
In the end it doesn't take much convincing.
Emma makes an offhand comment one day, a bad joke about Regina being heartless, and instead of a biting retort, Regina finds herself admitting the truth again.
“Wait,” Emma says, glancing over at Regina, who sits in the passenger seat of her patrol car as she drives through town. “You ripped out your own heart?”
Regina shrugs as if it wasn't a big deal, though it was, and she holds back a shudder as she remembers it. “To protect myself.”
“Yeah, and how'd that work out?”
Regina looks over at Emma, one eyebrow arched. “Better than you might think.”
“What does that mean?”
Regina sighs, and says sharply, “It means, Emma, that if anyone were to open the box where it's kept, and to wish for my life to be restored, I would live again. But as my relationships with both you and my son seem to be much better with me dead, it's not likely to happen.”
They don't look at each other, each staring straight ahead as Emma continues to drive. “I'll do it,” she says.
“I'll do it,” she repeats, sure of herself, sounding as if the decision was no more difficult than choosing where to go for dinner.
“You have to want it. You have to want me to come back.” It won't happen, Regina thinks. There's no way.
“I do want it. For Henry's sake. You deserve a second chance, for him.”
Storybrooke was her second chance, but she doesn't point that out. “You'd give him up? Again?”
“No!” Emma says, gripping the steering wheel too tightly. “No. You can't ask me to—we'd work something out.”
“Shared custody?” Regina scoffs. “We're not divorced lesbian mothers, Emma.”
“I need him,” Emma says. “I think that's something you can understand.”
It's the fact that Emma's been her only real tether to this world since the night of the fire, Regina thinks, that makes her relent at the hint of desperation in Emma's voice, instead of using it against her. “All right. I won't take him from you.”
“Then let's do it,” Emma says, sounding resolved. “Let's do some magic.”
Regina sneaks into her old office to retrieve the keys, which Sidney, unaware of their importance, thankfully hadn't moved. He's redecorated the place appallingly, however, and if this works, Regina will take great pleasure in ousting him.
She leads Emma down into the secret room at night—this type of magic always seems best done at night. Emma leaves Henry with Mary Margaret, saying she has important Sheriff's business to attend to, and that she won't be long.
Emma pauses, key in hand, before she inserts it into the lock. “All I have to do is open it?”
“Open it, take out the box... and hold the heart in your hands.”
Emma's arm falls to her side. “Wait. You didn't say anything about touching it.”
Regina rolls her eyes. “This isn't a cartoon fairy tale, this is the real thing. This is how it's done.”
“Fine,” Emma says, glaring at Regina, and raises the key to the lock once more. The door opens easily, and Emma removes the ornate, golden box slowly. There's nowhere to put it, so she sets it on the ground and stoops over it, raising the lid. She looks up at Regina, who tries to nod encouragingly.
“You have to want it, Emma,” she says, suddenly nervous.
“I know,” Emma answers. She looks entirely too squeamish to be respectable, but she reaches for the heart bravely and holds it in her hands, rising to her feet.
It's only seconds before it starts to hurt, an awful, sharp tugging in Regina's chest that seems like it might split her in two, and she realizes that something is wrong. It doesn't feel like she's coming back together, it feels like she's being pulled apart and scattered, and she falls to the ground on her hands and knees. It hurts more than tearing her heart out, it hurts more than dying, and this isn't the way it's supposed to be, she's sure.
She's been crying out, she realizes. Emma has dropped to the floor beside her, frantic. “Oh God, Regina, I don't know what to do, I don't—I don't know what's wrong. I wanted it! I swear, I wanted it, I don't know what's happening. I don't... I'm sorry. Regina, Regina, I'm sorry.” Emma's crying, which is absurd, and Regina wishes she would calm down. She wishes it could be quiet. Emma holds Regina's heart against her body with one hand and reaches for Regina with the other, and Regina tries to be solid. She wants to be touched, more than anything she wants to feel someone with her in her last moments of existence, but Emma's fingers grasp at nothing and Regina's strength is gone.
She will never see her son again. She won't get a third chance.
And then suddenly, Emma's hand closes around Regina's wrist, and the tearing pain inside her starts to subside. Their eyes lock, faces only inches apart, and they can both feel it. Regina's heart is beating.
“It worked,” Regina says, the first to find her voice as Emma helps her stand. She looks down at her body, flesh and blood and bone, and solid without effort.
Emma seems to realize she's still holding a human heart in her hands, and suddenly she looks pale and sick. “Oh, God, what do I do with this?”
Regina smirks and nods at the box lying on the ground. “You can put it back.”
“But you're gonna... you're gonna put it back in, right?” Emma bends down and places Regina's heart back in its box, and then shakes her hands out as she straightens, shivering.
“I don't think you want to watch that, do you?”
“No. No, you're right. I really don't.” Emma stares at her, wide eyed, and then seems to lose all sense of propriety as she closes the distance between them, pushing Regina up against the stone wall as she kisses her.
Regina finds that it's just as good as she imagined it would be. She holds Emma close to her, one hand at her back and one on her hip, but eventually Emma pulls away.
“Regina, you came back from the dead!”
“Yes, very good,” Regina says, the corners of her mouth turning up slowly in a satisfied smile. “I'm glad you're following.”
“How are we going to explain this to Henry?” Emma asks, finally realizing exactly what they've done.
“Emma, I was dead, and now I'm not. How are we going to explain this to everybody?” Regina points out.
“Right.” Emma's shoulders slump. “Everybody.”
“You were right, though. Henry first.” Regina retrieves the golden box from the ground, closing the lid as she stands. “Let's go get our son.”
Regina holds the box in her lap on the way home, and Emma keeps stealing glances at it as she drives, as if it might upend itself and get heart all over her car's interior. It's enough to make Regina want to pop the latch and send it flying, but that seems unnecessarily cruel. Even if she does find Emma's tacky yellow piece-of-junk vehicle to be entirely distasteful.
And then, as if she hadn't behaved ridiculously enough already, Emma takes one hand off of the steering wheel and grabs for Regina's, squeezing as if Regina might go somewhere if she loosens her grip.
“Honestly,” Regina says disdainfully, but she squeezes back. “I'm right here.”