She would always claim that the cause of all the insanity had been a simple little crystal phial, sitting next to the bed they put Gold on, and looking altogether too innocent to belong in that man's possession. Later, Emma would kick herself black-and-blue for ignoring her instincts and not tossing the damned thing out the nearest window the moment she saw it.

Admittedly she had been a bit distracted by the imminent death of her son's grandfather (aka Gold, aka Rumpelstiltskin, aka The Dark One, aka The Man that Everyone Apparently had Perfect Justification to Want Dead), as well as the imminent arrival of her son's murderous adoptive-grandmother (aka Cora, aka The Original Evil Queen, aka The Main Reason My Son's Adopted Mother is Evil, aka When the Hell Did This Become My Life?). And, of course, there was the whole matter of her son's biological father (aka Neil, aka The Man Who Abandoned Me to Give Birth in Prison Because Pinocchio Told Him to, aka No Seriously Who Did I Kill in a Past Life to Deserve This?) suddenly reappearing.

At least, that was what she told herself to make all the stress and headaches a little more manageable, if only for a moment.

To be utterly honest, however, it was really a combination of the crystal phial, a loose floorboard, and a bit of incredibly bad luck.

Things had been painfully tense in the backroom of Gold's shop. Neil – torn between a dying father he once adored and the monster who had betrayed and abandoned him – was perched on the edge of his seat, griping a sword in one hand while the other occasionally darted out to grasp Gold's hand before retreating again. Emma – admittedly still learning to cope with the whole "Fairy Tales are real" thing, as well as dealing with Neil's reappearance and her newfound relation to Gold – stood a few feet away, shifting constantly and fighting the urge to pace. And then there was Gold – and frankly, trying to decipher his emotional state at any given moment was enough to make Archie shudder and reach for the nearest container of alcohol – who was, of course, dying. Painfully.

In the end, it had almost been a relief when Cora and Regina entered the shop in their swirl of dark clothing and unresolved issues. ('Honestly,' Emma couldn't help but wonder, 'were there just no therapists in Fairy Tale Land?')

She and Neil placed themselves between Gold and the intruders, ready for if (when) the barrier fell. For a moment, Emma allowed herself to feel a twinge of pain at the sight of Regina. True, the other woman had been The Evil Queen who made everyone life miserable and literally cursed, but… Ever since Emma and Mary Margaret (she still couldn't bring herself to think of the former schoolteacher as anything else) had returned from Fairy Tale Land, she couldn't deny that Regina had changed. She had seemed fragile and confused, but had appeared to be making a genuine attempt to reform, to be the sort of mother Henry deserved. Even if she hadn't liked her, Emma had at least felt a little bad for her, especially after learning a little about her past. That sympathy, combined with Regina's attempt to change, had led Emma to extend an olive-branch.

Of course, all of that had gone down in screaming flames when Cora framed her daughter for Archie's murder, and they played right into the witch's hands. The eventual reveal had made Emma feel even worse (in no small part because, damn, what kind of mother actually frames her daughter for murder?!) and not a little guilty. Even now, standing in Gold's shop, staring down Cora and Regina, Emma couldn't escape the simple truth that they had all shared in the former queen's descent back into darkness.

And now? Who could say what the fallout would be.

She shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind, though. Because right here, right now, they had to deal with Cora looking all smug and giving a speech that hit nearly every villain cliché in the book. Insulting descriptions of their strength and ability? Check. Overblown descriptions of personal strength and ability? Check. Promise to show leniency in the face of surrender? Check. Oy, all that was missing was for her to say-

"You must know that we will get what we want. Your silly little attempts to resist us are futile."

No. No she did not. Emma's jaw actually dropped a little at that, an action mirrored by Neil's sudden stiffening and a startled expression on Regina's face.

Emma knew she should resist, this was certainly not the time or place, and Cora probably wouldn't even understand it. But… when a door like that opened…

"So what? You want us to just drop our shields so you can assimilate Gold into the Collective?"

Neil made a strangled noise that meant he was desperately trying not to burst out laughing, while Regina was clearly fighting the urge to bury her face in her hand. Cora, understandably, just looked confused for a moment, before her features hardened again.

"Whether you lower the barrier or not, we will enter that room. I am simply offering you a chance to survive that moment."

"Yeah, you keep saying that, but I notice that the barrier is still here, and you're still out in the cold. So," Emma put on her best infuriating smirk, "how about I 'simply offer' you a chance to avoid any more embarrassment by hauling your ass out of here now." She raised an eyebrow at Cora's shocked expression, "Warp Factor Nine."

Cora… looked like she was ready to swallow an army of flies. Then, slowly, her entire body started to tremble, her face twisting into an ugly expression of pure hate. Emma felt a full-blown chill down her spine, and across the barrier Regina looked like she wanted to run for the hills. Eyes burning, Cora opened her mouth, stepped forward, and-

-squeak-

Everyone froze. Between them, the barrier settled, its surface becoming smooth again. Slowly, Cora looked down at her foot. Or, rather, at the board under that foot. She pressed down.

-squeak-

The barrier rippled again, as the board under it lifted slightly. Cora looked up with a cruel smile. Emma felt sick.

Suddenly the board was gone and, with its foundation disturbed, the barrier collapsed. The next thing she knew Emma was flying into a very sturdy wall, and something intangible was holding her there by her throat. She struggled, helpless, trying desperately to catch a breath of air. Neil was on the floor, Regina standing over him, her arm outstretched and curled into a claw in Emma's direction.

Within the fog of her slow descent into unconsciousness, Emma had enough presence of mind to think: 'Huh, so this is what it's like to be Force-choked. Ow.'

Through the growing haze over her eyes, she saw Cora moving slowly towards Gold, pulling a twisted dagger from… somewhere. The dying man was staring up at her, apparently without any sort of strength (or will) to move away. Cora was looming over him and then-

The next events happened in a blur. There was a muffled shout, and suddenly Emma was on the floor gasping for breath. Hazily, she saw that Regina was staggering at Gold's bedside, and Neil was grappling with Cora for the knife. Somehow, Cora shoved him away, and was suddenly holding a ball of fire in one hand. Emma found her feet, and launched herself at Cora just as the older woman threw the flame. The impact interrupted Cora's aim, and the ball flew past Neil, directly into a simply little crystal phial, sitting innocently next to the spot occupied by Gold and Regina.

And then there was fire. Fire, smoke, a remarkably loud noise, and a shockwave that sent Emma, Cora and Neil flying.

Later (she wasn't sure how much later) Emma felt someone shaking her. The world spun and flickered before her eyes, sounds muffled and echoing as though she were under water. She shook her head, nearly threw up, and finally managed to make out that Mary Margaret and David were kneeling over her.

She tried three times before finally managing to sit up, and nearly fell over again before David caught her. Through the (slowly fading) cloud over her eyes she could see Ruby performing a similar task with Neil. Slowly, she looked around Gold's showroom (and how exactly did they get all the way out there), noticing a distinct absence of Cora or Regina.

Her hearing clearing alongside her vision, she managed she wave off Mary Margaret and David's repeated concerns and staggered to her feet. "C-Cora?"

Judging by the winces, her hearing wasn't good enough that she could properly manage her volume. Mary Margaret shook her head and replied, "She was gone when we got here." (Either that or, "She was wrong, do you want beer?" which made a little less sense, but actually sounded really nice right now).

Emma shook her head again, glancing briefly to where Neil had managed to regain his footing, before looking towards the backroom. The sick feeling in her stomach had not gone away. "Regina? Gold?"

Both Mary Margaret and David look anxious, "We… we just checked to see if anyone was in there and then…" David shrugged helplessly, "You were hurt."

There was a gentle flicker of warmness at that, though it quickly died away when she saw the look of utter terror on Neil's face. Luckily, Ruby saw the same look.

"It's ok," she grasped his shoulder firmly, "I can hear two heartbeats in there, and they're both going strong."

Neil sighed, sagged slightly under her touch, before stiffening once more. "Wait… th-that's…" he looked around, bewildered, "Why would they both be strong? Even without the explosion, he was…"

Everyone's gaze darted to the direction of the backroom, and then they were moving as one.

The room was in shambles, furniture splintered and smoldering, scorch marks covering every surface, shards of various kinds strewn about the floor. And there, on the other side of the room, two unmoving figures were sprawled over the bed, all untouched by any sign of the explosion.

Emma stared down at the unconscious pair, mind unable to fully process what she was seeing. On top of the bed was a girl, tall for her apparent age but still swimming in an oversized suit. Beneath her was a boy barely larger than Henry, almost completely obscured by the girl and the bedding. Both children seemed so eerily familiar, and yet Emma couldn't bring herself to connect their faces with two others she knew well.

Slowly, she tore her eyes from the bed and its inhabitance, and looked at the others by her side. Mary Margaret, David, Ruby, and Neil all worn identical expressions of utter shock and disbelief.

The sick feeling in Emma's stomach grew, as her eyes were once again drawn back to the bed.

Oh yeah. A beer sounded really nice right now.


AN: Hey everyone, hope you enjoyed this! I've got a pretty firm direction for this whole story, so I'm going to try and update this pretty frequently. That said, I'm currently working on three other fics right now, in addition to all the other lovely things that happen in rl. As such, and because I tend to write as inspiration strikes, I make no "once every week" etc promises. But hey! You know something that really helps the inspiration strike? Reviews! Yes Virginia, that's right. Just shoot me a quick review letting me know what you think, and you will be feeding my plot-bunnies and beloved muses! Isn't that right my darlings?

Riku: We are being held against our will. Call the police.

Hoykar: Please, for the love of all things right and good, she's insane.

Loki: Can I go back to the void? Please?

Aren't they adorable? Anyhoos, now you know what to do! Remember, R&R feeds my insanity, and gets you more story!

-Ja ne! ^-^