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The night everything changes (once again) is the kind of night everyone says they’ll never forget, but in this little fairytale town, remembering is harder than forgetting. It’s a miracle that everyone’s brains aren’t made of swiss cheese by now, but somehow the very magic that keeps ripping holes open across time and realms has a weird way of sealing the gaps up, locking away all the terrible trauma that should be there.

Well, sort of.

Some people have never had the luxury of forgetting the ugliness that Life so often tosses out in the name of teaching strength and resilience.

Some have always struggled to escape the iron grip of Fate and all its casual cruelty.

The seemingly inescapable: Life and Fate, two of the three gods – sharp angles of the Trinity that spins all worlds around. The designers of all that is and isn’t.

The third? Well, that’s Love, and that’s the real reason why we’re telling this story.

It’s why the one who never forgets anything is standing in the middle of the street, eyes wide and dark, her hand against the hilt of the blade that had been thrust into her belly only seconds earlier, blood dripping down the icy cold metal and onto her fingers, slowly drip-drip-dripping to the asphalt.

Her eyes flicker up to the man who’d stabbed her – Rumple’s incredibly damaged boy. He bobs his head in understanding of what’s just happened, and then there’s light crackling around him as Life adapts to what has just happened and tries to correct the terrible wrong which has been committed against this boy.

Helpless to stop Regina from surrendering her own life in order to change Fate.

You see, it wasn’t supposed to be Regina dying tonight. Her original role in the Final Battle was supposed to be something else entirely.

Her fate was meant to be entirely different; perhaps equally tragic, but more in the sad, cautionary kind of way.

That had changed when she had, but the person who was supposed to die tonight? Well, her role has never altered. The Savior was always supposed to be the one to sacrifice herself to save everyone.

Until Love decided to become the revolutionary, stepping in to ensure a different story has a chance to be told.

This is that story.

And yes, it starts with Life surrendering.

 


 

There's always this one haunting moment in any tragedy, the one thing which mentally replays itself over and over. Humans are broken like that, prone to tearing themselves apart and then picking at their scabs until they are red, raw and bleeding. It's why we're here at all, to be honest.

Because of a newborn baby girl who'd been put in a tree, tasked with the unimaginable responsibility Fate having declared that she will save an entire kingdom. That baby grew into a child who no one wanted, tossed back into the system repeatedly because of strange little things that happened when she was around. Things no one would dare actually admit to having seen happen. That girl became an angry, lonely teenager who fell into the arms of a man who promised her love, but then abandoned her. And that teenager became a woman so damaged and broken by years of callous abandonment and the inescapable feeling that nothing in her life has ever been her own that she would willingly twist and break her soul in half to try to not lose even one more person. 

Ah, but we're not just here because of her. We're also here because of a beautiful young girl, who was so terribly destroyed by the mother who should have protected her, and so horrifically manipulated by the teacher who played blind to the child screaming for help. That girl, that child, well she grew into a ferociously angry Queen who couldn't and wouldn't stop picking at the scabs around her youthful wounds. Even when they were oozing and grotesque, infected and full of fever and illness and so much delirium and insanity. She kept going, kept harming herself and then she tried to make others feel that pain, too.

And they did, but never in the way she did. So she kept picking and she kept picking until the day she and that newborn child we spoke of before collided, and and the Queen ended up destroying a world instead.

The irony of it all being that her failure at killing the baby and her success at obliterating a realm were the start of both of their journeys to each other.

We're not there yet.

Instead, the moments are beating down upon them all, the things they'll never forget.

For Snow White, it’s the flash of the red and black of Regina's military coat as she seems to suddenly appear from nowhere, practically throwing herself in front of Emma’s otherwise defeated form. It's the sound Regina makes when Gideon slams his hand forward, the way both the boy and Regina gasp in shock.

For Prince Charming, it’s the way Regina jerks when the blade enters her belly, her eyes going glassy as the reality of the sacrifice she’s just made crashes down on her. Unfocused, uncertain, like for a few seconds, she's somewhere else entirely. It's the odd smile which crosses her face.

For Belle, it’s the surreal quietness of the way Regina crumbles to the streets, her knees folding under her as an unexpected serenity crosses the former Queen’s features. It's the way Regina's blood pours out over her fingers, staining them bright red.

For Captain Hook, it’s the chilling way Emma screams out for Regina, her voice breaking as she falls to the ground, her knees scrapping against asphalt, her hands scrabbling to get to Regina. It's the numbing desperation he sees as Emma tries to push magic into Regina, pleading with her to please, hold on.

For Rumple, it’s the way the clouds in the sky suddenly seem to darken, growing almost inky black. It’s the way the ancient demon inside of him shudders at the energy all around them. It's the way Regina looks upwards, her expressions shifting from shocked, to calm, to frightened to looking almost hopeful. 

For Henry, it's seeing his mother on the ground, dying again. It's the way she gasps his name and reaches for him. It's the thousand other memories slamming against him, the times before this when maybe she didn't know how much he loves her. The ones where maybe she didn't know how much he needs her.

Those are the moments they remember. Everything else seems a blur. A muddle of emotion and tragedy, the terrible details mercifully forgotten.

That's a blessing, of course, but neither our Savior nor our Queen have ever been so blessed. 

 


 

As the lightning continues to crackle around her and Gideon, Regina hears someone screaming her name.

The day’s events flashes before her eyes – running from a vengeful alternate version of her son in another land, finding (and then losing) Robin Hood all over again, and then finally stepping through a tree with Emma, the two of them tracing a decades old path back to the Land Without Magic. She thought today would end with a warm lavender-scented bath and a cup of chamomile tea, recovering from yet another new set of traumas suffered.

But well, plans change.

“Regina!” the sharp and panicked sound snaps her train of thought. Emma’s voice, she realizes.

And then Emma’s touching her, gently guiding her down (Regina thinks it amazing that she’d managed to stay up this long). The first face she sees – the one she actively looks for – is Henry’s – his green eyes frightened as he kneels beside Emma. “Henry," she murmurs.

"Mama." That's all she needs to hear to know that this is terribly serious.

Well, she supposes that was and is the plan.

It’s okay,” Regina tells him. "It's all going to be okay."

He looks back at her in horror, aghast at her calm. This will be the second time she will have died in front of him, and she feels terrible sadness at this. She tells herself that it will be okay, that this will all be all right eventually, but his heartbreak makes her waiver.

Until she sees Emma’s face as the blonde leans in towards her.

“Emma,” she murmurs, her words slightly slurring, blood spotting her lips. 

“Damn you, why?” Emma demands as she presses her hands to Regina’s wound, trying to press her magic into her fallen partner even though she knows that she’s wasting her time; this blade had damaged the Evil Queen in a way which magic could not repair, and they believed (and feared) that the sword could and would do the same to Regina if given the chance. They'd been planning to use it against the Queen and against the cloaked figure.

Best laid plans and all of that.

“I could have beaten him,” Emma insists, her emotions welling up and spilling out. Equal parts heartbreak and anger – fury at Regina deciding to sacrifice her life for her. A culmination of the relentlessly savage redemption quest Regina has been on ever since she’d chosen to tear the Evil Queen out of her.

Before they’d ended up in the other realm together thanks to Genies and wishes, Emma had been terrified about how willing Regina had been to die. How quickly she would suggest that sacrificing herself was the only way to end the threat of the Queen. She’d stopped Regina then and there, but that same unsettling suicidal tendency showed up again in her willingness to allow the Wish version of her son to kill her rather than raise her hand against him.

There, Emma had been able to break free from her weak Wish version just in time to save Regina from certain death.

This, time, though, Regina had been the one stepping in.

Which, she supposes, is why Regina asks, “Did I save you?”

As if they haven’t been living a story where one of them is constantly saving the other one over and over again.

“Yeah,” Emma breathes, choking and breaking in the middle. “You did.” She moves dark hair away from Regina’s brow, noticing the beading sweat there, the signs of fever which won’t have time to take hold and turn dangerous before Regina’s body entirely gives out beneath the physical trauma.

“Good. I owed you that and so much more. You deserve so much better than the story that was never yours,” Regina replies. Though she is gasping for air, her words are clear, even though they shouldn’t be. She’s dying, and they all know this, and she should be nearly incoherent beneath the pain that has grown to be so sharp and intense as to be sanity-shattering. She should be struggling to get the words out, but she’s not. The words are there, and she’s somehow able to look up and into blue-green eyes which are so full of hurt and confusion, so incapable of understanding how this happened. Her hand lifts, and only then does she begin to shake as her eyes fall on the runny streaks of bright red blood on her fingers. Still, she brings her hand to Emma’s face and cups her soft cheek, feeling the blonde turn into her palm, probably not even realizing that she’s doing it.

"And you don't?" Emma asks.

Behind her, Emma hears her father say something about an ambulance, but they all know this will be over before help arrives.

They all know it was over the moment Regina stepped in front of Emma and took the death blow for her.

"I believe we have to make our own stories now." She smiles. "Emma. Emma. Emma."

"Hey, I'm here," Emma tells her, still touching her. She thinks Regina's delirious, no longer making sense. 

"I couldn't let you lose hope," Regina continues, gasping through another wave of pain.

“You think I could have hope after this?”

“I think you will,” Regina promises.

The words are incomprehensible, inexplicable.

“Why? Why did you do it? There had to have been another way,” Emma insists, her tears dripping down her cheek.

“There was, Emma. Me. It was always me."

“No –”

“You told me to challenge fate. You said we make our own. So I did. I changed our fate."

“I meant with Robin Hood. I meant for you to bring him back so you could be happy again.”

“That was never going to work; he’s not real. You are. My Savior. My Sheriff. My Emma. It was always only you. Just like it was always only me.”

“I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” The tears fall from her cheeks, splashing down to her collar and then onto Regina’s face, mixing with Regina’s own tears and blood, tasting of salt, iron and heartbreak.

“Your fate was always to die even when you wanted to live. Mine was always to live even when I wanted to die. That was what Fate decided for us. But I saw how things could be and I changed the story.”

“Regina, please,” she says again, head dipped down, forehead practically against Regina's even as she tries to push healing magic in. Henry's hand is atop hers, like maybe he can give her just enough extra to be what stops his mother from bleeding out.

If only it were that easy.

There’s the sound of boots above them, her parents moving closer. Only Hook stays back, shifting foot to foot, and wondering if the unsettling creaking noise he’s been hearing ever since Emma had taken on the darkness for Regina is the happiness he'd tried to create for himself finally coming fully apart.

Back then, he’d been too consumed with getting Emma back to really consider the implications of Emma’s selfless choice on behalf of the Queen, but during his time in the Underworld, he’d been taunted with it. Asked why Emma would try to save Regina’s soul, but choose to corrupt his.

He didn’t have an answer to that question then, and he wonders if he does now.

Wonders a lot of things as he watches Emma clinging to Regina, their small circle of heartbreak completed by the son they share.

Not that anyone notices the turbulence of his thoughts.

Especially not the two women involved.

“My baby,” Regina murmurs, her quickly dulling eyes flickering over to Henry. “My beautiful little prince.”

“Don’t leave me,” he whispers; Regina’s heart aches, he’s too young to understand any of this. Too innocent to understand what she’d seen in the moments before her decision, a vision flooding her mind with possibilities of a different, perhaps better and more hopeful future. A future, which admittedly, is hard to conceive of right now as she's dying in the street, but she thinks that even if it never comes to be, then it was still worth it if it means that Fate's entire design for them has been destroyed.

“Never,” Regina promises, and brings Henry’s hand to her lips, kissing it and leaving red atop it. She brings it to her chest, then, holding it against her own slowing heart. If this is the end – the actual end – she’s going to go out with him knowing that her heart has always beat for him, and she will take the warmth of his touch with her back into eternity.

But…she doesn’t think this is the end.

It can’t be. Right?

Another turn of her head, and she sees Rumple standing there, watching her with a furrowed brow, looking equal parts impressed, devastated and sickened. She simply stares at him. A tale of such deep tragedy and manipulation, but also a twisted kind of love behind them. Their eyes meet in understanding; he tilts his head like he sees something. Knows something. Then simply turns and walks away, knowing that it’s not his place to be here.

Regina lets out a deep, increasingly ragged breath, and then turns her attention back to Emma. Because Emma needs to understand, and time is growing so much shorter. So terminally short. It takes everything she has left in her, but she forces out the words she needs Emma to hear, barely escaping through lips stained red and wet with blood and pain. “I know that you think this isn’t hope, but it is. It’s what you showed me when you refused to give up on me all those years ago. Because it’s not Fate or magic that makes you who you are. Who you are, Emma – it's the courage, strength and love you have had deep inside of you no matter how many terrible things you've been through. That's what makes you everyone's hope. And it's what drew me you even when we hated each other. But I don't hate you, anymore, Emma. I love you."

Emma’s mouth opens, gaping at the gravity of the moment, uncertain how to respond. Feeling everything.

All she can do is whisper, “Please,” once more.

But Regina is fading too quickly to hear her pleas, her heart slowing beneath her son’s hand.

Her eyes roll to the side, landing on Snow and David, their shared story so full and yet still so incomplete. “You were right,” Regina says, and then the world grows dark.

The last thing she mumbles as her eyes close is perhaps to all of them, but most certainly to Emma, "We're going to beat Fate together."

High above them, thunder rolls and lightning crackles and a new battle begins.

 


 

Five years ago, the only reason people would have attended Regina's funeral would have been there either to gloat or to ensure her death. Now, the wet, green grass is packed with those she’s saved and those who have forgiven her and found unexpected strength in her redemption. As it turns out, they feel a loss they can’t explain, an emptiness they don’t understand. And some even feel a strange sense of wrongness about this moment, a feeling like it isn’t real.

Like it isn’t as final or as grandiose as the death of the Queen should be.

But then, some would most certainly argue, perhaps that’s because they’re not certain if the Evil Queen part of her is actually dead. Sure, the snake version of her was missing when they’d gone to check on her, and the assumption is she’d crumbled into dust upon Regina’s death, but no one knows.

Not for sure.

And Emma’s not entirely certain she could handle it if she did know.

For now, though, her thoughts are on the casket in front of her, red roses piled atop it.

She stares at it while Regina is eulogized, the air thick with emotions.

Snow speaks, Henry speaks, David speaks, even Leroy speaks.

When it’s Emma’s time, she stands and for a few moments just looks at the casket in confusion, as if she is in the middle of a bad dream.

Then murmurs, “I guess, you could say, she knew how to make an entrance and an exit.”

 


 

It’s later and she’s alone in the vault, a bottle of whiskey in her hand as she stares at the casket.

In the morning, it’ll be sealed, but for tonight, the heavy lid can still be moved aside. It’s grossly macabre, and Emma’s drunk, but she needs to see her one last time.

It’s absurd; this isn’t how she wants to remember Regina, but she can’t stop herself. She pushes the lid away and looks in, and then tears come crashing down her cheeks.

Most people say the dead look like they’re just sleeping, but Regina doesn’t. She's too quiet, too still. And while Regina had always been skilled at controlling her movements, the force of her presence was felt in everything she did. Always larger than life, the most bombastic if chaotic light in every room.

Now, there’s just the slight crackle of energy over her pantsuit clad body, her elemental magic still bleeding its way back into nature. It’s why they hadn’t needed to embalm her body for the funeral – because, apparently, magic can temporarily preserve better than formaldehyde ever will. At least until the magic is gone.

Which is almost too shattering a thought to even consider.

She takes a deep breath, telling herself that she needs to get her feelings under control.

Because she has a heartbroken son who has just lost one mother and now desperately needs the other to be strong. And she has boyfriend who wants to be more than that, his hand constantly dipping into his pocket like he has something in there he desperately wants to give to her.

Something she just as desperately needs him not to.

Which, she supposes, is its own problem.

But those words…

No. No, she refuses to think about Regina’s final words.

Because she lives in a town full of fairy tale characters who tell her that now the fated Final Battle is over, she no longer has to be the Savior, and yet they still look at her like she and she alone are the answer to every question.

Ridiculous, really, given that she can’t even answer any of the questions within her own heart.

Such as how she feels about Regina having taken on her fate just as she had once taken on Regina's when she'd stopped the Dark One from possessing Regina.

And more dramatically, why Regina’s final words had, for a brief moment, stopped it.

“Is there enough in that bottle for me?” she hears suddenly, the unexpected interruption making her breath slightly hitch in surprise. She turns slightly, and looking over, finds Zelena standing in the doorway. Unkempt, her eyes wet, and red hair flying in every direction. Visibly and horribly distraught.

“Yeah,” she replies, and hands the bottle over. “You weren’t at the funeral.”

“Regina and I weren’t exactly on great terms before…before.”

"Maybe you weren't but I'm not sure that matters. You were her sister and despite everything else, she loved you.”

“She was a fool,” Zelena retorts, her lip curling into a sneer.

“She was,” Emma agrees, thinking about that moment when Regina had stepped in front of the blade meant for Emma. And then thinking about how a year earlier in a realm created by the Author, Regina had done the same thing for Henry. There, just as here, she’d laid down her life for those she … loved.

Zelena doesn’t answer, doesn’t notice the way Emma is suddenly frowning, drawn in by her own complicated thoughts. She just takes a swig from the bottle, scowls at the sting of it, and then says gruffly, “I needed to see her one last time.”

“So did I,” Emma admits, shaking herself free of confusing thoughts she has no answers for.

“Yeah,” Zelena echoes, and then for a moment, they’re both just looking down at Regina, both marveling at just how wrong it is to see Regina so lifeless and quiet. After a time, Emma turns to Zelena and asks, “Do you think the Queen is gone, too?”

Zelena shrugs like it doesn’t matter but the movement is too rough, too mechanical to be anything but grief and despair. A loss suffered that she can't even begin to comprehend or come to peace with. “Wasn’t that always the goal of Regina’s suicidal redemption plan? Destroy herself to destroy the Queen?”

“You’re still angry about her splitting herself in half.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“I think the person who told me I could be better than the worst of myself was a foolish hypocrite who believed the only way she could ever be worthy of the ‘family’ she so deeply loved was if she was only the part of her that they could accept.” Her blue eyes snap fire. "And so she became that. For all of you."

“We accepted –”

“You let her maim herself,” Zelena cuts in, her voice almost the hiss of a wounded animal who has been through far too much. “If you'd actually accepted all of her, you would have stopped her from ripping herself in half to satisfy some desperate need for forgiveness, for that acceptance you were never going to give. She broke herself in half out of some desperate need to be loved and forgiven and in the end, all any of that got Regina was eternity in a stone box."

Emma looks down at Regina, and then says softly as she pulls her jacket tight around herself to ward off a sudden encroaching cold, "You're right."

There’s a moment when Zelena looks like she might keep attacking, but then she’s scowling and looking around, before returning her eyes to Regina’s too-still body. She says instead, her voice cracking beneath her words. “Did my sister ever teach you a preservation spell?”

Emma blinks in surprise. “Uh, no. Why would she have?”

“Because eventually the magic within her will be completely gone, and not everything is meant to be dust.” She holds out her hands, then and a light vaguely greenish-brown glimmer encompasses them, seeping from her fingers and onto Regina.

“What are you –” Emma stops short. “You’re preserving her body from…decay?”

“She might be a bloody fool, who for reasons beyond my understanding refused to give up on me, but she’s also the Queen,” Zelena says. And then adds, her voice quiet, “And she was my sister." The unspoken "And I loved her, too," hangs thickly in the air, almost suffocating them both with the anguish of it.

Overcome, Emma pleads, “Show me.” She tightens her shoulders, and readies her body for magic and finishes with, “Show me and then drink with me until this day goes away.” She gestures awkwardly behind her. "There are apples there, too. My mom thought Regina would be amused by the them."

"Probably. My sister had a fairly twisted sense of humor beneath all of that self-loathing and rigid stick-up-the-ass poise."

"I can't tell if that was a compliment or an insult. Or both."

Zelena smirks, but it falls away when she looks back over at the casket. She says softly, “We can drink until both of us are sick, but this day will never go away.”

“No,” Emma agrees.

And hugs her jacket even closer around her.

 


 

It’s three in the morning when she crawls into the bed on the upper level, wrapping her arms around her heavily slumbering son and pulling him close to her. She could have gone back to the house she now shares with Killian, could have let him comfort him, but that’d been the last place that she'd wanted to be.

For a thousand reasons she has yet to work through, but the most important one being that right here with Henry is where she should be.

“Emma?” he whispers, turning to face her, his sudden motion causing both the warming blanket and the quilt that they’re under (Maine winters have a way of bringing about bedding layering) to tumble to the floor. In the pale light of the room, she can see dried tear tracks on his cheeks, a sure sign that he’d cried himself to sleep hours earlier. “Did you just get home?”

“Yeah, Kid.” She smiles awkwardly, choosing not to correct the statement about ‘home’ because, despite the fact that she’s been sharing a house with Hook for a few months now, she’s still not entirely used to considering the massive old-fashioned house her home.

“You okay?” he asks, noticing her drift-off. He can smell alcohol on her breath, but there's also the cling of the icy air as well as salt water which suggests to him that after she'd been drinking, she'd been out walking around. 

“No,” she admits. “I’m far from okay right now.”

“Me, too.”

“Look, I know you’re older now and probably really not into sharing a bed with your…with me, anymore, but –”

Hearing what she'd been quick to try not to say, he just as quickly rushes to reassure her. “You’re my mom, too, Emma.” He reaches behind him and pushes a pillow towards her before reaching down and grabbing the warming blanket and yanking it over both of them.

She nods jerkily, unable to speak around the knot in her throat.

“I really miss her,” he says, facing her again, new tears on his cheeks.

“Me, too,” she echoes, and then leans in and presses her lips to the top of his head. Gently, she wraps her arms around him again, holding him as he cries into her shoulder. Crying with him. Eventually, they dose off together, the exhaustion of the day taking them without their permission. Neither of them realizing they’d never pulled the quilt back atop them.

And neither of them thinking a thing about waking up with the quilt settled over them.

 


 

It’s a few days before she’s able to make her way to the mansion, but she’s here now. Standing stiffly, even uncomfortably in the middle of Regina’s room (a room she’d never been into while Regina had been alive) and wondering just what she’s supposed to do now that all of this is hers. Well, technically, the mansion belongs to Henry now, but as his guardian and the (unexpected) executor of Regina’s estate, everything is in her hands including Regina’s home and all of her many curious belongings. Including the Mills family vault where she forever sleeps, preserved.

“I really hope you’re getting a kick out of the headaches you’re giving me,” she mutters, glancing into the air as if Regina is listening to her.

Ridiculous, of course.

“Mom?” Henry says from the doorway, entering with a gym bag slung over his shoulder.

“Just talking to myself,” she chuckles.

“I hear that’s the first sign of insanity.”

“Only the first?"

"Mom would say of many." He glances around, his eyes settling on a stack of sweater sittings on the counter, neatly folded, but not yet put away on shelves in the closet. “She was always so cold.  I think it was probably what her magic did to her body or maybe it was like…lady stuff, but whatever it was, she sometimes would shiver even in a super warm room. Sometimes I'd even find her all bundled up in the middle of summer. But she always wanted a window open, too."

“I remember,” Emma murmurs, glancing over the open window by the bed. Then, an eyebrow up, “Lady stuff?”

“Did it make you smile?” he asks, a cheeky grin on his face, his eyes dancing mischievously. Biologically, he’s not at all related to Regina, but in moments like this, he’s somehow all her.

“A little. You packed up?”

He shrugs. “Why can’t we stay here?”

“You really want Hook in your mom’s house? Because I kind of feel like she wouldn’t be terribly cool with that.” It’s said lightly, like it’s supposed to be a joke, but there’s a heaviness under the words, this feeling like all these broken pieces can’t possibly find a way back together again.

He cringes. “Not really.”  

There’s a clear second statement there that is impossible to miss. A clear suggestion he doesn’t particularly want Hook around at all. Which is a problem because the likely plan will be that at some point he will leave the loft and move in with Emma – and Hook.

“Right," Emma murmurs. Then moves closer to him. "Look, Henry, this place will always be yours. But for now…”

“I get it. You’re together and maybe eventually more. I’m sure –”

"Do you not want to live with Hook?"

"I want to live with my moms," he replies. It's an answer and not one at all. 

“Kid.” She steps in front of him. “Talk to me."

He meets her eyes. “I’m okay,” he says. "Really."

“Yeah, I mean aside from the living arrangements part, you kind of do seem like you are. Why is that exactly?"

“What?”

“We lost your mom a week ago. I still wake up every morning expecting twenty plus texts from her because she couldn’t sleep and decided to rattle off some new idea about improving Storybrooke or screwing around with the budget of the Sheriff’s department. Or, if she had taken too much of her allergy medicine, sometimes she would send me twenty texts about how she plans to kick all the fairies out of the convent, but not before she stir-fries their wings.”

“Yuck,” he grimaces.

“She really hated those fairies."

“Fairies in general, I think. They did kind of screw her over a time or two,” he reminds her, sobering in memory of the often sad and tragic life that his mother had led. A life that had rarely allowed her happiness.

At least, not long-lasting happiness.

“My point,” Emma says gently, hands on his shoulders. “Is that I haven’t stopped thinking about her, expecting her to somehow show up just to tease and annoy me, and I’d bet it will be a very long time until I do. So it’s okay if you are, too. You don’t have to the man of the house, Henry. And you don’t have to protect me if that’s what you’re doing. You don't have to be okay with anything you're not okay with. Even me and Hook."

He opens his mouth to protest, stopped only by Emma’s lifted eyebrow telling him he's wasting his time. Finally, “She’d want us to take care of each other. And she'd want you happy. That's what she'd want. And if he makes you that..." he trails off, incapable of fully committing to acceptance.

“You’re right. But that doesn’t mean you don’t allow yourself to grieve or feel what you feel. She wouldn’t want that for you, Henry.”

“Are you? Grieving?”

“In my own way. I’ve had a lot of experience with loss.”

“So have I,” he reminds her. “But she’s –”

“Different. I know. She's different for me, too."

“Yeah, I know.” He looks around the room, then says, “It’s really cold in here."

“It is.” She wraps an arm around him and pulls him close, rubbing his arms to warm him.

"We are going to talk more about this Hook thing, okay?"

"Do we have to do it now?"

"No. Not now."

Her eyes tracking from the open window and then down to the stack of sweaters that has fallen over.

 


 

Weeks pass, and it doesn’t get easier, but maybe that’s to be expected.

There’s too much anger and heartbreak and confusion for her to be able to start dealing with losing Regina.

There’s just too much…loss.

Of her coin-flip opposite, yet so alike; the woman she’d gone from being enemies to friends to….to what?

To what?

Those last words from Regina – the ones she’d pretended not to hear – blast through her mind.

“I love you.”

Maybe she’d meant as co-parents and magical partners. Maybe she’d meant as best friends.

But…none of that fits with everything else Regina had said.

“We're going to beat Fate together.”

Sitting slumped forward in her chair, her head in her hands as she rubs eyes, Emma tries to remind herself that Regina had been bleeding out and likely delirious during her last few minutes. It’s silly to try to assign any meaning to words that probably had indicated nothing beyond friendship. Friends say that kind of thing to each other all the time, and okay so maybe their friendship had never been conventional and normal by most standards, but they had certainly held a very strong affection and fondness for each other. At the very least, right?

“It was always only you.”

Screaming seems appropriate right about now, she thinks, thumbs pressed against now pulsating temples, a massive migraine coming on rapidly as her emotions shift and tumble.

So, of course, that’s when the door to the station opens.

She hears his approach before she sees him, his gait as always too heavy and lazy. “Swan,” he calls out as he enters. In his hand, he has a bag of food, grease staining white paper.

“Lunch?”

“Aye. For my lady.” He hands her the bag, grinning like he’s terribly proud of himself

“Thank you.” She opens the bag and peers in, finding a hamburger and fries. She hasn’t felt terribly hungry since Regina’s death, and now is really no different, but there’s always enough appetite for fries, she muses. She snags a few and looks up at him gratefully, feeling a flush of guilt about the thoughts she’d just been having about Regina. Well, more the questions she had about the words she’s trying to pretend Regina had never said.

Hook’s been pretending, too, but the wary way he watches her tells her otherwise. Like he’s just waiting for her to either run away and leave forever or perhaps possibly declare that she’s storming the Underworld again, and this time, she’s coming back with the one she really loves.

But Emma doesn’t say those words. She doesn’t say much at all to anyone but Henry, and it’s frustrating him. Since Regina's death, she's been staying with Henry at the loft again, instead of the house the two of them have shared ever since the return from the Underworld, and it's driving him crazy.

This isn’t how he’d imagined the lead-up to an engagement.

Which means he needs to shift the playing field. Get her away from thinking about Regina. Convince her to let Regina go and move on to happier things.

Like their future together, hopefully soon enough as Man and Wife.

“A romantic getaway,” Hook suggests finally, bright and warm, trying to remind her of their future. Because that’s where hope is for him. This wonderful idea of a perfect life for them. A life he’d very much like to get started on now that the whole fated-to-die Savior and Final Battle business is behind them.

“Henry needs me, Storybrooke needs me,” Emma replies, her voice dull, her eyes flickering up to take in the way he’s indolently slung across the desk. There’s a lazy casualness to his movements, betrayed only by the keen awareness in his eyes. The way he watches her, waiting for something to break.

Waiting for Regina’s final words to change everything.

Because doesn’t Love (even the suggestion of it) always end up changing everything? Sometimes for the better, but also sometimes for the worse?

Like in Camelot and that field when he'd been dying and she'd, in her frightened desperation, turned his already damaged soul into something far darker?

But no, they both try not to think about that. They’ve managed to move beyond it.

Well, mostly they’ve managed to just ignore it, but it’s worked out just fine all the same. At least he likes to think so as his fingers scrape the box in his pocket.

“Henry is safe at the loft. And your father can watch the town, love,” Killian reminds her, and then he’s stepping forward and wrapping his arms around her, like his touch will be enough to anchor her back to their story. “It would do you good to get away. It would do us good to have some time alone, together.

But his words and his touch aren't enough for her. Nothing is right now. “My father doesn’t have magic.”

“And Storybrooke hasn’t had a magical problem since the Queen and uh…Regina died. With the whole Final Battle rubbish behind us, we can move forward finally. You and me, I think we deserve some just us time away from this town and all of her misery. Don’t you?”

“Her?”

“The town, Emma,” he says gently, like he’s speaking to a child. Placating, but also annoyed.

Emma turns, then, and stares at him in confusion, like for a moment her name on his lips sounds weird.

“What? What is it now? What have I said wrong now?" he demands, and he’s spoiling for a fight he thinks they’ve been needing to have since the night Regina had fallen to the ground, a sword meant for Emma stuck in her chest instead.

“Nothing,” Emma finally stammers. “It’s just...we can’t - I can't - leave this town undefended.”

“So that’s it? We can never leave Storybrooke again? That seems dramatic and a bit ridiculous, you must agree.”

“I don’t know about never again,” she allows. “Just…not right now.”

“Emma, we should be getting ready to take the next step in our relationship,” he insists.

Her eyebrow lifts. “That’s why you want to go away? So you can –”

“Don't,” he warns, like he knows that if she intentionally ruins a moment which he’s been building up to for weeks, well, then maybe there’s no coming back from that.

She holds up her hands, not quite placating, but not entirely dismissive of him, either. “Look, I know you want to do something – get away, just the two of us and we will. Just…not right now, okay? The town is pretty frayed because of what happened. Whether they ever wanted to admit it or not - or even knew - she was their rock. They need me right now.”

“You’re not the Savior, anymore.”

It takes her a moment to reply, Regina’s last words once again rolling around in her mind. But they don’t make sense to her, and so she confirms his instead, “No, I’m not. Regina was that.”

“Emma –”

“I need to talk a walk. And to go check in on Henry.”

“The lad is fine.”

She turns to face him, blue-green eyes blazing defiantly. “The ‘lad’ is my son, Killian, and I’ll say whether or not he’s fine. He lost his mother only a few weeks ago. He’s not fine.”

“And you? How are you?” There’s a different question there, but he dares not ask it.

“She was my best friend and she was my partner,” Emma answers, and it’s not really an answer at all.

"Aren't I your partner?

"Killian -"

“Right,” he grunts, and then steps back because he’s been around enough to a disturbing non-answer when he hears one. “Will you be home for dinner?”

Her eyes narrow, like the words both sound and feel wrong, even though they’re objectively not unreasonable. “Honestly? I don’t know,” she finally answers, her tone chilly. And then, with that said, she’s standing up, and walking away.

“Emma!”

The door closes behind her, her name swallowed into the clicking of metal and wood.

Until the wind whispers it. A softly murmured sigh. It almost sounds like exasperation with a hint of worry.

She stares upwards, thinking she must be going insane.

Thinking maybe she already is it.

And then, she shivers.

 


 

She finds herself in the Mayor’s office a few days later.

Eventually, Archie will take over the job. Until there’s time for a full election, anyway. He’d long ago been named the unofficial Deputy Mayor in the city paperwork (apparently Regina had always had a succession plan in place, who knew?), and now it’s just being formalized. Or it will be eventually; he’s not yet ready to leave his job as counselor for a shaken town. All in time. For now, the office is quiet, the beautiful but melancholy wallpaper Emma’s only company.

Carefully, her mind churning with a hundred thoughts, Emma sits behind the desk, her eyes flickering up to a martini glass atop it, red lipstick pressed against the rim. She thinks about Regina telling her how she’d confronted the Queen in this office, using their unique split but still the same person to steal a wish from the Genie. And thus, save Emma from a lifetime of being a cowardly, simpering nobody serving a cold and cynical version of her parents.

This glass has been here almost six weeks, Regina has been…gone almost five.

She shivers and pulls her jacket tighter. It still doesn’t seem real or possible. And those goddamn words are still scratching at the back of her mind.

"I love you."

A thousand other things to say, and she’d chosen to say that. Why does it matter? What does it change? Nothing, right?

The love of her life is Killian Jones.

Regina’s was Robin.

Right?

And yet…

Tears fall down her cheeks.

And yet…

“Why?” Emma whispers. “You could have said anything else.”

She’s suddenly struck by an absolutely picture-perfect image of Regina staring back at her, that impatient smirk slightly lifting her lip even as her eyebrow soars upwards in bemusement. She can almost hear the exasperated, Miss Swan.”

Which is, of course, utterly ridiculous. But…it’s also not the first time over the last week she’s seen Regina in her head – or in her dreams. And the meetings haven’t been what she might have expected. Well, they haven’t been much at all. A gaze, a smile, maybe a word or two. Sometimes a curious moment of just looking at her and seeing Regina looking back at her. Fascinating, but hardly the kind of conversations you’d expect your subconscious to have with the dead.

Miss Swan.” More insistent now, perhaps even annoyed. 

She’s about to reply – which is madness – when she hears a sudden thunderingly loud crack coming from outside. Like something breaking. Wiping roughly at her eyes where moisture has gathered, she stands up and crosses to the window, pushing aside the curtains to look out onto the courtyard, Regina’s proud apple tree large and magnificent in the middle of it. Only it doesn’t look so magnificent right now, one of its large limbs having suddenly snapped right down the middle, red apples strewn across the bright green grass, one of them rolling several feet away and managing to settle straight up.

Emma notes with a sinking heart that the broken branch is the one that she’d severed from the tree six years ago. Regina had eventually healed it, returning it to its former glory, but she wonders if absent its caretaker, the limb has one again decayed, shattering beneath the previous injury.

Death is no simpler than life, Emma.”

The thought of the tree decaying without Regina and the sudden out-of-nowhere sobering words slam up against her still badly broken heart, and then just like that, Emma’s on the ground, knees hard against the marble, sobbing roughly into her hands, her shoulders spasming as everything spills out.

She feels arms around her a minute later, soft lips pressed against her hair. “Shh. Shh.”

She looks up, and into her mother’s worried green eyes. “Mom?”

“I just had this…weird feeling that I needed to be here. That you would need me.”

"I do," Emma murmurs, and holds on.

 


 

“Drink this,” Snow orders, offering Emma a glass of water as she makes her way back over the couch in Regina's office. Emma thinks to argue but the look in her mother’s eyes suggests that now isn’t the time to be stubborn just for the sake of it.

Instead, she murmurs, “I’m okay.” Her eyes flicker over to the fireplace, dormant absent Regina.

“You’re not," Snow corrects. "I’m not. I don’t think we’re supposed to be.”

“It’s stupid, right? I mean, I hated her when I first came to Storybrooke. We got on like cats and dogs that first year. I used to dream about running her over with the Bug. How awful is that?"

"You'd hardly be the first person to have fantasized about running her over with...things."

"Things?"

"Horses. Carts. A couple of battering rams," Snow says thoughtfully, no doubt playing back her own twisted history with Regina in her head. “But then everything changed. She changed. Because of Henry and you –”

“And because of you,” Emma adds.

“Because of all of us. Her family. We helped her find the best of her herself. We helped her become who she always wanted to be."

Emma frowns. “Did we?”

Snow’s brow knits. “I don’t understand. Of course –”

“We encouraged her to split herself in half, Mom. Was that…finding the best of herself? Was the last few months where she seemed so tentative and uncertain all the time who she wanted to be? Even after she was just Regina without the Queen, she looked at herself in the mirror like she was someone terrible."

For a moment, Snow doesn’t respond, as if she’s weighing Emma’s words. The troubled look that flitters across her face tells Emma that this probably isn’t the first time Snow has had thoughts like these. Finally, Snow says, “Emma, we just wanted her to be happy.”

“I know, but Mom, she wasn’t happy after she did that."

“She wasn’t happy before she did that.”

“She was. With Robin. Or at least she could have been. She was trying to be.”

“Maybe,” Snow agrees, and it seems like an odd non-answer.

“Mom?”

Snow sighs. “I’ve thought a lot about that night on the roof and the choice she made to split herself in half. And I’ve thought a lot about the choice I made to encourage it. I told her that we forgave her and the way she replied…now that I think about it, I should have realized that what she was saying was that even if we could forgive her, she couldn’t forgive herself. But I was so…eager to have the chance to get rid of the Queen once and for all, for her to have a chance to start over with a clean slate, that I didn’t stop and think about what cutting her in half could do to her psyche. I was selfish, and you’re right, she wasn’t happy afterwards because what she did to herself just reinforced all of the hatred and self-loathing she’s been holding onto for so long. And then she had was all of the guilt without any of the fire which had helped her to survive. We – I should have done better for her.”

“The Queen put you through a lot,” Emma reminds her. "Your choice was understandable."

"You don't think yours to support her was?"

"I think I felt guilty about not supporting her after Robin died and I felt guilty about Killian surviving. He was the one who was supposed to die, not Robin."

"It doesn't work that way," Snow insists. "Killian didn't live because Robin died."

"No, but Robin died because I brought everyone down to the Underworld to save Killian."

"Emma -"

"Point is," Emma cuts in, because that's very much something she doesn't want to talk about right now. "I think we all bad choices that night."

“And now they're both gone,” Snow replies, sitting heavily down beside Emma. "I still can't believe any of this is real. After everything I went through with Regina, after every bit of history and trauma she and I survived...for it to all just end so quickly...it just feels wrong."

They let Snow's words hang over them, both of them deep in thought until Emma asks one of the questions that's been bothering her since her conversation with Zelena, “Do you think she thought that the only way for her to ever get real forgiveness was for her to die for me?”

“I think…” Snow pauses, knowing what she’s about to say will crack the thin strand of denial that Emma’s been trying to cling to – and perhaps not just since that terrible night on the street five weeks earlier. “That Regina loved you very much. And not just as friends or as partner. She loved you, Emma. And Regina always loved with the heat of a thousand supernovas. She would have done anything for you. Even...that."

“Mom –”

“Emma.” She places a hand on Emma’s cheek. “I had the sometimes amazing and sometimes terrifying privilege of knowing Regina better than most people were ever allowed to. I knew her through the good and the bad times and I knew her through great happiness and even greater tragedy. I knew her heart and her eyes, and I knew the way she looked at someone when she was in love. I saw the way she looked at you. And not just that night. I saw the things she was willing to do to protect you. I saw her heart, and I think if you’re honest with yourself, you did, too.”

“But that’s –”

“That’s friendship, yes of course, and if you’re about to say it, yes, I’m sure it was always a little bit for Henry, too. But Emma, it was more than that and you know it. The journey the two of you went on together was incredible. Where you started and where you –”

“Ended,” Emma finishes for her, her voice dull.

“Doesn’t change what was there. Emma, you know.”

“No, no, I can’t because –”

“Because if you do, that means –”

“It means I lost another person I love.”

Their eyes meet.

Snows says softly, so full of understanding and compassion that it aches, “You love.”

No sooner are the words out of her mouth then there’s a sudden rush of air past both of them, spinning them around in its wake, and pointing them towards the fireplace which is now ablaze.

“What the hell?” Emma breathes, the heartbreak from a moment before pushed away.

Snow’s mouth opens around an answer and then closes again in recognition of its absurdity.

She shrugs helplessly, instead.

Their eyes both on the flames as they tickle the air.

Emma steps forward, and haltingly whispers, “Regina?” Like it’s insane to even think this.

But the flames surge when she speaks, turning from orange to almost translucent.

“Miss Swan.”

“Did you…did you hear that?”

Snow shakes her head, but there’s a strange softness to her eyes suggesting that she doesn’t think Emma’s going insane here. That maybe she does think that perhaps Emma can hear something no one else can. Before an answer can come, though, before they can actually start to believe that Regina is somehow talking to them from beyond the curtain of Life and Death, the flames suddenly flicker and fade.

Gone as quickly as they’d arrived, the fireplace dormant again. Leaving both women shocked and confused.

Emma finally manages, “Was that…did that…did that actually happen?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know,” Snow admits, staring at the now quiet fireplace.

“Right. I need to…I need to…”

“Emma.”

“Get back to work. I need to get back to work.”

“No, you need to go see Henry.”

“Henry? Why? Is he-”

“He’s as fine as anyone else is right now. But, Emma, whatever that was or wasn’t and no matter what you feel or don’t, Regina is on your mind. And in your heart. You need to be close to her right now and the closest you will ever be without her will always be through the son you share.”

“Yeah, okay.” She steps back, takes two steps, and then turns around and hugs her mother tight. “Thank you for finding me.”

“All family jokes aside, I meant it when I told you I just knew I needed to be here. Something told me that you would need me.” She glances back over at the fireplace, curiosity in her eyes.

Emma thinks to follow Snow down that rabbit hole, but it’s more than she can deal with.

Right now, Snow is right and what Emma needs most is Henry.

Regina’s son.

Their son.

Their original bond.

Not quite the original beginning of their journey (that had been Snow and Regina’s relationship many years before, and Emma does her best not to think of that because then it all gets really weird when she remembers that she’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and even years later that's still super strange to her), but the start of the one which had brought them to Regina’s final words to her.

"I love you"  and “We're going to beat Fate together.”

Words, which, at the moment don't seem terribly final.

An absurd and probably unhealthy hope.

Damn her Charming genes.

Emma leans in and hugs her mother again. Closes her eyes and lets herself be held.

Allows her mothers’ never-ending faith in things always getting better to seep into her bones if only for a moment.

And then she pulls herself up tall and says, “I’ll be with Henry.”

“Good,” Snow says brightly. She glances back at the fireplace and then says, “It will be okay, Emma. It always is. Even in the worst of times, even when everything seems hopeless or it feels like it’s crazy to have any, hope has always gotten our family through in the past –”

A flicker of flame licks against the wood, perhaps an ember from before, but…

“And hope will get us through this as well.”

"One of these days," Emma tells her, "I'll figure out how to actually believe that."

"You will," Snow promises. 

 


 

Emma finds him standing at the rail on the dock, the wind sweeping back his hair as he looks out over the water. “Hey,” she calls out, offering him a cup of hot chocolate as she steps in close.

“How’d you find me?” he asks.

“Well, you weren’t in school, and I checked all the many other places you’ve played hooky at.” He grins, but doesn’t say anything. “And I checked your mom’s vault. So, this was just next on the list.” She reaches out and touches his arm and asks gently. “Why here, Kid?”

“You might not know this, but mom loved the ocean. The smell, the sound, everything.”

“I knew,” Emma tells him. “She tried to pretend she couldn’t stand it after Killian came around, we she'd have us meet down here a couple times a week."

“She really disliked him,” Henry notes, thinking back on all their interactions.

“No, she hated him,” Emma laughs, but there’s a strangeness to the sound. An odd discomfort.

He turns to face. “What’s wrong?”

“Just thinking.”

“About Mom?” His brow wrinkles. “Or about Hook or about what she said to you? Or both?” He nods and continues before she can stop him. “Right. You’re wondering if she hated him because she loved you. I mean yeah, probably, but I think she had other reasons, too.”

“They have – had – a past. And I think they were both uncomfortably aware of how similar they were. Or at least used to be."

“Probably,” Henry agrees. “But it was probably mostly all about you.” He’s teasing a little bit, trolling and pushing, and she wonders if this all seems so very simple through a child’s eyes. Yes, he’s lost too much in his life, but nothing on the scale she has – and certainly not regarding love and lovers as she has. Not that Regina was a lover, but still…this is all so messy.

Emma chuckles. “You’re a pain in the ass. You know that, right?”

“I’m aware, after all, I come by it naturally. Don’t deflect.”

“I’m not. I’m just…not ready to deal with any of that.”

“Will you ever be ready?”

“Will it change anything if I ever am? Or if I’m ever not?”

“Means you might not say yes to Hook when he asks.”

Her eyes narrow. “Okay, that sounds like an entirely different conversation you and I need to have. I understand the house and not wanting to live with him thing, but you told me you were okay with him and I dating. Has that changed?”

“Actually, what I said was that I want you happy. And I still do. I'll support whatever makes you happy."

“But?”

He scuffs his shoe against the planks. “I’m a kid. What do I know?”

“You know who Peter Pan actually is, you know how to rewrite worlds -"

"Do I?" Henry cuts in. "My pen couldn't bring Mom back."

"Rules of magic," Emma notes.

"Except every rule we've ever known have has been broken a hundred times. Why not this one?"

"It's more complicated than that."

Oh good, the Regina-like voice is back.

"Rude."

Choosing to ignore the voice for a moment, Emma pushes on. "My point is, you've been through a lot. And I don't just mean with magic and fairytales. You also figured how to bridge the gap between me and your mom and that wasn't easy. We were really at war that first year. We needed you to show us both we could be a family and thanks to you, we became that. I’d say you’re a lot more than just a kid. And you’re my son. I want to know what you think. Always.”

“Okay. It's just...I think…maybe you two don’t bring out the best in each other and I think that sometimes, you two seem like you’re miserable with each other,” Henry tells her and then immediately cringes. Not like he thinks she will hurt him, but rather afraid that he’s hurt her and hates the very thought of that; that he once hurt Regina is still something which weighs horribly on him. Even if doing so had indirectly led to his mother’s choosing to try to redeem herself.

“Honestly? Sometimes – a lot of the time – I think you might be right about me and Hook.”

“And other times?”

“I dragged my family to the Underworld for him. It has to be True Love, right?” There’s an uncomfortable dullness to her tone, like these are words she’s said to herself a thousand times – the only way she’s been able to justify her terrible acts against her family while she was the Dark One. And then afterwards when she’d chased after a man who had treated her horrifically. Yes, she'd done him wrong first by making him the Dark One, but...

True Love, right? And doesn't true love explain everything? Doesn’t it justify everything?

“No, it doesn’t and who ever said you and Hook were True Love? A rigged test created by a bloviating fool with flames for hair? Swan, you're smarter than that."

She looks up sharply, towards the horizon and then towards the water.

“Emma?” Henry queries, brow furrowing in concern.

“Sorry – been dealing with a nagging headache that won't leave me alone."

“Do you want me to?”

If Emma didn't know better, she'd think Regina almost sounds wounded. But that's insane, of course. “Anyway, sorry, Kid; what were you saying?”

“I wasn’t but...have you ever thought about storming the Underworld for Mom?”

“Once is more than enough, Miss Swan.

Emma chuckles darkly. “I’m pretty sure your mother would have my head if I even considered doing that again. Calling me 'Miss Swan' the whole time even though she knows that annoys the shit out of me."

"Mom liked annoying you."

"I'm aware," Emma replies dryly. "In any case, she went down with me to Underworld the first time because …well, actually I don’t know why.”

“I went because you needed me.”

“Yeah, you do,” Henry tells her.

“It’s not that simple. I know you all think that love is some magical fix-all –”

“No,” he argues. “If it was, Mom wouldn’t be gone. She’d still be here.”

"Maybe, I'm still here."

Emma turns her head again, glancing once more out at the water before turning back to scan the dock and look for any unannounced intruders. “Henry, do you hear anything?”

“Just the water,” he tells her. “Why?”

She shakes her head. “It’s nothing. How about we get out of here and get –”

“He needs to be spoiled right now.”

She grins. “To Granny’s for some ice cream. I think we could both use it.”

“You’re kind of the worst sheriff,” he laughs, stepping away from the railing.

She stops and looks at him, serious and worried. “But I'm a good mom, right?”

“Yes, you are.”

Henry leans up and kisses her on the cheek. “You’re a great mom.”

She lets out a breath of relief, then says shakily, “Okay. Let’s get out of here.”

“Mom,” he says, turning to face her. “We are going to talk about her eventually.”

“We can talk about her anytime you want,” Emma reminds him.

“I mean about you and her.”

“Your ice cream is waiting for you.”

He scowls at her. Then, growing serious. “You’re my mom, Emma. I just want you happy. Even if that means coming to terms with everything."

"You first," Emma counters. "Because no matter what you tell me, Kid, you're not handling this. And while I am so proud of you and thankful for you - I don't know what I would do without you - it's not your job to protect me."

“Yes, it is,” Henry declares, his tone like steel, so reminiscent of Regina. “No matter how many times you tell me otherwise, it will always be my job. I'm your son. Just as much as I’m hers. You two always will be my mothers, alive or…it will always be my job to take care of you. Nothing will ever change that.”

And with that, he is walking away, heading away from the pier towards the street, leaving her perplexed as she tries to figure out what just happened.

She looks back towards the water, the breeze around her suddenly brushing past her cheeks and billowing her hair.

“I don’t know if I’m going insane or I just had too much coffee, but if you are out there trying to contact me from the great afterlife, it’d be real nice if you could somehow help me figure out how to make any of this better.” She shrugs. "I kind of miss you."

“I kind of miss you, too."

"Oh," Emma murmurs, because she doesn't really know what else to say. Especially if this is all in her head.

"But my time and my energy are short, Swan, and we have wasted far too much of both of them."

Emma blinks. “What?”

"Find the Queen."

“What?” Emma asks again, feeling incredibly stupid about speaking into the air.

Even stupider when she's greeted with nothing but the sound of silence, the wind continuing to kiss her cheeks.

“Hey, Emma? You coming?”

With a groan of exasperation, she trots down the pier. “Sorry,” she says when she gets to him. “I was just –”

“Listening to the wind,” he finishes cryptically, and then he’s walking towards the Bug.

Leaving her wondering if they’re all going just a little bit insane.