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The Heart of Redemption

The Heart of the Truest Believer

May 11, Evening, Three and a half years later. Regina stood eyes-wide, stunned at the scene unfolding before her eyes. It was history repeating itself as a horrible feeling formed in the pit of her stomach. She didn't recognize the younger woman, but she knew by Roland's reaction and Robin's whisper of the stranger's name exactly who she was. She stood there, unable to speak, with a similarly stunned Deputy Sheriff Emma Swan.

Regina's night had begun pleasantly, having dinner with Robin and Roland, then relaxing in front of the fireplace with her new beau while his son entertained himself with one of Henry's old video games. She was enjoying getting more familiar with every contour, every curve of Robin's ruggedly handsome face, not to mention his strong lips and mouth, when the sound of her doorbell interrupted them. Sighing, she got up and answered the door to find Graham, who at least had the decency to look sheepish when Robin came down the entryway steps behind her. After apologizing profusely to the couple, Graham informed the mayor of the fantastical trip that Hook and Emma had taken through Zelena's now closed time portal. He mentioned they had returned with a young woman, but was unclear on many of the details.

Regina knew the spell Zelena had cast was a treacherous one, one that could have far reaching ramifications beyond what was currently obvious. So after Graham left, she, Robin and Roland had wandered over to Granny's for some ice cream and information. She needed to learn all she could about this woman and how her appearance had changed things. Regina was under no illusions that something wasn't different, the "grandfather paradox" was in full force in any discussion of time travel. Storybrooke's family tree was convoluted enough as it stood so she was anxious to ensure none of its fairly twisted branches had broken off. She never imagined what the woman's identity would ultimately cost her.

Upon entering Granny's Diner, Robin and Roland grabbed a table as Regina spotted Emma, who was already on her way over to speak to the mayor. After a moment discussion, Emma waved to the mystery woman who slowly came toward them. Regina could see the anger in her eyes, the distrust in her stance and it didn't surprise the former queen in the least. She was about to speak when her world was shattered by hearing Robin utter the woman's name. Marian. The name of his dead wife. She stood speechless as Robin jumped up and hugged the woman tightly to him and Roland grabbed the woman around her leg.

Regina stared, immobile, her happiness torn from her once again. Only recently she had begun to hope that it was truly possible to move beyond her past. She believed she had found someone who could see her as Regina, not the Evil Queen. Someone who maybe, just maybe, could love her and give her the happy ending she had yearned for her whole life. Someone, too, that she could love in return wholeheartedly, without fear.

Now, in an eye blink, her dream evaporated like smoke, rising up and floating away...torn from her once again at the hands of a Charming. Not only was fate a fickle mistress, she was cruel beyond belief. Regina's blackened heart clenched in her chest and she was barely able to breathe. Slowly, she turned to face the woman who had delivered this nightmare to her without understanding or caring about the consequences. All magic comes with a price. It seemed to Regina that she was always the one left to pay that price whether she was responsible for the magic or not.

"I'm so sorry, Regina," Emma said. "I didn't know, I couldn't leave her… you were going to have her ... well, us … executed!"

"What?" Regina whipped back at Emma, her eyes burning. "What do you mean executed?"

"I was a prisoner, along with Marian, in your dungeon, we were to be executed the next morning, I couldn't leave her to die," Emma said defensively. She held the former Queen's gaze for a moment longer, before looking off. "I couldn't…"

"Executed?" Regina said in a tight, low voice. "I've never seen her before in my life! And trust me, anyone I actually locked in my dungeon? I remember their deaths. Most of them haunt my dreams. So tell me, Ms. Swan... why I don't remember her? And then tell me ... why … I don't…remember...you?"

Regina stepped up into the deputy's personal space, brown eyes blazing, hiding her anger, her pain, wrapping it in the deathly quiet of her voice. "You are just like your mother. I sincerely hope, for all our sakes, you didn't bring anything else back with you."

Bitter emotion welled up inside of her. She had to get away before she lost the last vestige of control she possessed. Unwilling to give her detractors any satisfaction, Regina rushed into the safety of the darkness outside.

Ruby watched the exchange between the two women. She understood immediately the implications of the mystery woman's appearance for her friend. The party was still in full swing, no one really noticing the tension between the sheriff's deputy and town's mayor. Ruby looked over at the newly reunited couple with their son. Robin appeared to be somewhat uncomfortable, but Roland was happily sitting on his mother's lap filling her ears with his enthusiastic ramblings. Uneasy with the situation and all the noise bombarding her heightened senses, she looked around the diner for the one person she knew might could raise the spirits of the distressed former queen. She spotted the object of her search perched on a stool at the end of the counter eating ice cream. Or rather, he was picking at it, which wasn't at all like him.

Ruby ignored several calls for attention from the partygoers as she made her way over to the youngster and nudged his shoulder.

"Hey." She spoke directly in his right ear to get his attention while she moved to his left side.

Henry looked up, around, then caught up to her, smiling. Obviously preoccupied, he continued working on the sculpture he was designing out of his frozen dessert.

"Wanna tell me why you're building a castle out of Rocky Road?" she asked him. He put his spoon down, still not meeting her gaze.

"Will you help me," he countered. "Right now, you're probably the only one who can."

"This has to do with your Mom doesn't it? You saw what happened."

"Yeah, and we need to go find her. She can't be taking this very well." He nodded toward Sherwood Forest's famous couple. "He's supposed to be her soulmate, her True Love. And now, she's had one more thing taken from her. And it's Emma's fault… it's just … wrong."

Henry's bluntness could be brutal at times, fortunately for Emma, she wasn't paying them any mind to see, much less hear how upset Henry was. Ruby smiled at him, not really surprised they were on the same wavelength. "Amazing. That is exactly why I came over to talk to you. I'm worried about her too."

"You're worried about her? Or worried about what she might do?"

"Henry, I know you know this, but Regina is not going to revert to Evil Queen status now. She's just hurting." Ruby sighed as she ran her hand through her dark hair. "She's done so much for this town, even if no one else sees it. I know how hard she's trying, how far she's come… and I know Emma didn't mean to do anything to hurt her. This really sucks."

"Yeah, I know, I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same thing Emma did, but it doesn't change anything. Mom doesn't need to be alone. Ruby, we need to find her."

"Yeah, we do. So, will you come with me? Help me track her?"

Henry nodded. "Please... yes! She trusts you. I know you've been my Mom's friend for a long time, I remember you and Graham coming over for dinners when I was a kid. She was always comfortable with you, more than anyone I ever saw her with. I didn't understand when I found out who she was, it was all black and white, heroes and villains, nothing in between. But you saw the good in her long ago before anyone else. You gave her a chance when no one else did... including me." He hung his head at that last admission and she knew it was a hard one for him. "I've missed you Ruby, and it's my own stupid fault. You were right about her."

"Yes, I was. But… you remembered what a great Mom she's been to you. You've turned into a wonderful, caring young man and that isn't because of Emma, Snow, or Charming. It's because of your Mom. She loves you more than anything… or anyone." Ruby smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. "I've missed you too."

She glanced around. "Granny can handle this crowd, we're mostly doing refills. So, was Emma supposed to take you home? Will she let you leave with me?"

"I'm not going to tell her, I'll text her once we've left to let her know I'm with you and you're taking me. I don't think she'll mind. She's probably worried about upsetting Mom further, but I'd rather not take the chance. What's that saying? 'Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission?' "

Ruby laughed and nodded. "Yeah, you got it. Let me tell Granny what we're up to and that I'll be out for however long it takes. Meet you out front, Henry." Ruby moved off just as Henry jumped down from the stool and grabbed her in a huge hug.

"Thanks, Ruby." Releasing her, he wove his way through the crowd, then disappeared out the door.

Smiling to herself, she informed Granny what she and Henry were up to. Granny's face relaxed and she didn't argue. Ruby realized then that her grandmother was concerned too. As she headed out the door after the youngster, Ruby could only hope that Regina's beloved son could be that lifeline that she needed right now. For if he couldn't, it was likely no one could.

Emma sat at a table outside the diner staring at nothing. She knew Regina was right, she'd taken a great risk bringing the woman back. She also knew she wouldn't change what she had done. One simple decision had caused tremendous joy … and equal pain. She resisted the urge to follow Regina, it wouldn't help until the woman had a chance to cool off, hoping that she could. Regina had made great strides in overcoming her darker self. Emma feared her spur of the moment decision would result in more than saving the life of a simple maid. It could culminate in the rebirth of the Evil Queen, and that would be catastrophic to the entire town.

"Are you ok, Swan?" Captain Killian 'Hook' Jones, spoke softly as he took the seat beside her. She couldn't reply, fighting the sick feeling in her gut and the tears threatening to spill down her face. She sat for several moments with no reaction to his question. Thankfully, he made no move to touch her nor did he try to fill the silence with unwelcomed platitudes.

"No, not really." Her voice trembled as the simple act of speaking fueled the turmoil churning inside her. "How did this happen? I was so stupid, I should have listened!"

"Whether or not I agree, I can't say that you made the wrong decision, Swan. It's not in you to make a different one." Hook's quiet voice caused her to seethe inside.

Getting to the root of the issue, Emma exploded. "But Regina has come so far! After everything we'd been through, all the crap, I was beginning to consider her ... a friend, sort of. We were at least getting along! I knew the risks of bringing that woman with us, I knew it and ignored it. I've ruined Regina's chance at happiness… just like my mother."

"Emma, we don't know that this will change anything. One thing I do know, something I began to see on our little excursion into Neverland. I began to see a side of Regina I never would have believed existed. She was able to grow beyond her anger and her hate, beyond the manipulations of her mother, the crocodile and her husband… you know, your grandfather, the king, … just in case you forgot."

He must have caught the look of incredulity on her face because he cleared his throat before continuing his exaltation of the former queen's character. "Sorry love. Anyway, as I was saying...oh, where was I? Oh yes. Umm… does it excuse the evil that she perpetrated on the kingdom? Well no, of course not. She and I did some inexplicably cruel and nasty things against, if not to each other. But we've moved beyond that hate now. What I observed when we were fighting Pan was a woman who understood love, or at least what love looked like. She sees it every time she looks at the face of her son. The same son that rejected her as the Evil Queen. And yet, she still loved him and fought to get him back. I won't even mention the whole 'giving him up forever to break Pan's curse thereby saving the citizens of the Storybrooke' escapade. One you benefited from because she gave you and Henry a wonderful life in New York."

Emma shook her head in disbelief. "You absolutely suck at pep talks. This is supposed to make me feel better? Newsflash… it isn't working! Oh yeah, you left out the part where I took Henry away from her in the first place. I had no idea what pain I caused her back then. I'm sure there's some other despicable acts I committed thinking I had the right because I had broken the curse and I was the savior."

"Emma, I'm simply pointing out some things for you to consider. There are no true heroes as there are no true villains. We are all products of our pasts and Regina is no different. Neither are you. It's how we choose to deal with our pasts, our adversity if you will, that shapes who we become. Some of us just do a better job of it… ", Hook pointed to her before continuing, "...than others obviously." He finished the statement by gesturing to himself.

Leaning forward, he took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up. Emma didn't fight the touch, on the contrary she discovered she wanted it. "You felt the need to rescue that woman and you did. The consequences be damned. The old Regina would have incinerated you on the spot. The new Regina? Well, that Regina threw valid arguments in your face and left the building… a building that's still standing I might add."

Emma teared up as she looked at him and spoke, her voice breaking. " 'I've always believed that evil isn't born, it's made.' Regina told me that once and only now do I really get it. She was talking about herself. I'm just one more person piling on to bring her down. As you've so eloquently reminded me, what chance did she ever… really have?"

"Emma, your intentions were honorable. I've only reminded you of how far Regina has come. I think I know you well enough to know your mind is trying to fix this, but this is no easy fix. You're going to have to give Regina time, love. However, I do believe there is one person that can help our distraught former queen with his mere presence."

"Henry." Emma spoke his name so softly as to have not spoken at all. At Hook's last words, her thoughts focused on her son. No, Regina's son. In her heart, she knew Henry would be who Regina would need to help her through this pain. "You're right, about everything, no matter how hard it is to hear." She sighed, leaning back in her seat. "I'll go talk to him, convince him he should stay with Regina. He's been asking to spend more time with her lately anyway and I owe it to both of them to let him. Truth is, I don't have any legal rights to keep him from her, he's her son, not mine. Crazy fairy tale land laws don't apply here."

Hook nodded in agreement. "Well, I wasn't going to bring that up, but now that you mentioned it—"

"Shut up, pirate, you've berated me enough already!" Emma scowled as Hook laughed, obviously recognizing that she really wasn't angry at him. They both rose from their chairs and Emma stopped him before he could move away.

"Thank you. For a rapscallion, thieving pirate, you're not too bad at this consoling crap." Her heart felt a little lighter now that she had a plan of sorts.

"I prefer dashing and devilishly handsome," Hook responded to her compliment, his smile taking up his entire face.

As they moved toward the diner, Henry came barreling out, looking down at his phone, while frantically punching buttons.

"Henry?" Emma had moved to catch him before he crashed into her.

"Ummm… Hi?" Henry looked like a rabbit in a trap which immediately pinged Emma's radar.

"Ok, kid, what's going on?"

"I ...I was just sending you a text," Henry said as Ruby approached them.

Placing both hands on the youngster's shoulders, Ruby's tone of voice as she addressed Emma brooked no argument. "Henry and I are going to find his Mom. He will be with me the whole time so you don't need to be concerned. Once we meet up with Regina, I'll leave him with her."

Emma studied the woman. She didn't care for Ruby's attitude, but given that she was Regina's closest friend, she couldn't blame her. She knew Henry was in good hands with the young woman so she nodded. "I know this doesn't help, but I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to hurt Regina."

Ruby's glare softened. "I believe you, but it doesn't fix anything does it?"

"No, but if I can do anything to help, please tell me. I know I'm the last person she wants to see, but I sincerely mean that. Henry, stay with Ruby, don't get creative with Operation 'whatever you're going to end up calling this'. Ruby, please let me know when you find her."

Ruby nodded as she and Henry took off down the street.

"Well, that went well," said Hook as they watched the pair disappear into the night.

"All things considered, I have to agree. I need to get out of here so I'm going to tell Snow and David goodnight."

Suddenly, a chill swept over them and they both shivered.

"Well, that was eerie." Hook looked as confused as she felt. Shaking his head, he turned back to her. "Go on then, I'll wait for you here."

"So you're going to walk me home, huh?" Emma grinned at him.

"I can be your knight in shining black leather if need be," Hook said laughing.

As Emma turned to re-enter the diner, another chill blew across leaving her bewildered as to its source. "Are we supposed to be having a cold snap?"

"No idea, love, but that was a decidedly ominous feeling," Hook remarked while looking around.

As Emma went to tell her family she was leaving, she observed the man stare long and hard into the darkness. She wondered if he felt the same inexplicable feeling of dread come over him that had suddenly come over her.

Ruby and Henry walked silently together down the street toward the docks. Not finding Regina at the manor, they backtracked to the diner and found her car parked across and down the street. Retracing their steps, Ruby picked up her scent and they headed off.

"Penny for your thoughts." Ruby unerringly followed the distinctive fragrance of her friend.

"I'm not sure what to say when we find her. I haven't treated her right and all she's ever done is love me. I know that now and I've tried to be a better son, but I still feel so …"

"Bratty? Punky? Jerky? Slimy? How 'bout lowest of the low?" Ruby came back laughing. Henry gave her a pointed look, but she knew she'd hit a nerve. She also knew he was genuinely remorseful so she gave the kid a break. Running her hand through his hair, she chuckled while pulling him to her in a one-armed hug.

It wasn't long before she spotted their quarry and steered her young charge toward his mother. "There she is." Ruby nodded at the figure leaning against the dock railing. Regina seemed lost in thought, her unfocused gaze caught by the gentle lapping of the water against the pilings. Ruby stopped and turned Henry to face her. "So ... think about how much she means to you and how much she's hurting. You may be the only one who can help her now."

"Thanks Ruby."

She smiled and watched him walk to his mother. Regina turned at her son's approach, her eyes full of tears and questions.

Ruby watched Regina smile sadly at her son and hug him. Regina spotted her and Ruby felt the thanks that Regina conveyed in that single look. Nodding to her, Ruby stood watching, a stalwart sentinel ensuring mother and son were not disturbed.

She hadn't wanted to alarm Henry, but her wolf senses were signaling an alert. She had an uneasy feeling of being watched and as a natural hunter, this disturbed her greatly. She looked around, unable to see much, even with her acute senses, but she chose to remain between the two talking quietly on the dock and the increasing danger she felt rising behind her.

Not wanting to alarm Regina or Henry, she sent a quick text to Graham to meet her there while being mindful as to whether something or someone was out of place. Then she settled down to watch and wait for his arrival.

Regina was surprised but pleased to have her son's arms wrapped around her right now. She derived so much comfort from him being there with her, not to mention Ruby came with him to track her down.

She appreciated the younger woman who she had come to love and respect a great deal. Graham and Ruby were the closest thing to family she had besides Henry. She knew she could count on both when she needed them. Even Granny had softened towards her, most likely due to Ruby's influence, but she appreciated and respected the grand dame of Storybrooke. It was odd, considering their history, but it was something she had decided not to question. It brought her great solace to have them on her side, especially considering Ruby had been Snow's best friend in the Enchanted Forest.

At one time, it would have brought her great pleasure to rub their friendship in Snow's face. However, in trying to be a better person, that was one more past pleasure she was willing to let go especially since that wasn't the reason she and Ruby were friends. She genuinely enjoyed the younger woman's company. They had an interesting, if not complicated history, dating from the time before the first curse. Graham became a bonus companion when he started dating Ruby a few years back. Considering how she had manipulated him in the past, it was an unexpected but welcome relationship.

Looking away from her friend, she smiled as she looked down at her son. She knew him very well and could see he was upset. "Henry, what's troubling you?"

He hesitated before barreling forward as only an almost teenager would do. "I hate what's happened, I hate what that woman being here has done to you." The anger she heard in his voice felt like hammer blows. "It's not fair! You've done so much to change that you deserve to be happy! You deserve your happy ending." He buried his face in his mother's shoulder overcome with the emotions of injustice he obviously felt on her behalf.

Regina was floored. She never expected Henry to take her side in this considering he had done everything to push her away. Despite these past few days when he spent more time with her, talked and shared things with her, seemed so happy that she had found Robin, she still couldn't believe she had him back. That he really loved her. Until now. The evidence was wrapped in her arms with his face buried in her chest, distraught over her pain.

Regina kissed him on the top of his head. "I love you more than anything, Henry. That is all I know right now and that is all I believe. I'm trying so hard not to be the villain, so hard to be worthy of being your mother, to be worthy of a second chance..." her voice broke.

"Mom, you are worthy and you're not the villain. That was the Evil Queen and you're not her." He smiled up at her.

Staring into her son's eyes, she saw the sincerity there. "I wish you were right. Except for you, I've experienced nothing that would have me believe that I will ever find happiness. I thought I had finally escaped my past, and then…"

"No! Mom! I believe you can have your happy ending. Remember what I told you before the final battle with Zelena?" Henry was insistent. " 'Once Upon A Time you were a villain, Mom, but you've changed. You're a hero now and defeating bad guys is what heroes do. I believe in you. Now you need to believe too.' I do believe in you. Please Mom, please believe in yourself."

As Henry spoke, his love and faith in her showed clearly in his eyes. Regina felt the tears forming, but she refused to let them fall. She closed her eyes and leaned her head down against his.

She remembered her mother's last words to her, that she, Regina, was enough. Henry's words were a balm to her battered heart, soothing away some of the distress. Henry could be enough, she knew beyond any doubt, but he had pulled so far away recently, she couldn't cling to him and hope to survive no matter how much she wanted. Instead, she stood up straight while never breaking eye contact.

"So much has happened... my happy ending has always been taken from me and now, it's so far beyond my reach as to be a dream..." Regina didn't want to break down in front of her son, but her walls were crumbling fast.

Henry reached up and touched her face, his bright blue eyes gazing into hers.

"I have faith in you. I believe that you are changing and want to be a good person. I know you love me and would do anything for me. You will find happiness! You will find your happy ending. And I'm not the only one who has faith in you." She was reasonably certain he meant Ruby and Graham. Their home had become a safe place for Henry to go when things got too messy between her and the Charmings. Ruby and Graham had earned her trust in so many ways and she had given them hers in return. She didn't know of anyone in her life she relied on more.

Henry smiled at her with his open, impish grin, again repeating his mantra. "If you believe with all your heart, you can find happiness! You can find True Love...and Mom? You are worth it. You have killed the Evil Queen. She's gone."

"So, if I'm not the Queen, then who am I?" She was interested if not concerned as to how he would answer her.

He simply said, "You're Regina Mills, Mayor of Storybrooke, my Mom… and my hero."

"Henry…" Regina was speechless against the force of Henry's words.

"More than anything... please believe that I love you and... I'm proud to be your son." With those words, he broke his gaze and grabbing her around her waist, hugged her tight.

She lost the battle of holding her tears in check. She hugged her son to her, the vise around her heart loosening as the tears fell unchecked. Maybe, just maybe, there was a happy ending for her. If only in regaining the trust and love of her son, then it truly would be enough.

She was watching from the darkness as the two conversed. She had seen the Queen leave the diner and followed her staying in the shadows. The awareness of the wolf child was annoying, but nothing she couldn't disguise.

Her excitement at hearing of the Queen's dilemma was great. The Queen had taken everything from her and the Queen would be made to pay for it. She knew her weakness was the boy wrapped in her arms and she began to formulate a plan. She was here now, a place never of her choosing, a place that she had come to despise. She was trapped here, but she could still enact her revenge against the woman who had caused her pain.

In her excitement, her aura caused a pervasive chill to sweep through, alerting the two at the dock and their guardian protector.


The woman faded into the darkness, returning to her lair, laying plans to enact her revenge against the one who had brought about her destruction and anyone else who got in her way.

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