A few strong curse words and some vague mentions of child abuse (just in case, but it's nothing graphic - never graphic).
*BEEP* *BEEP* *BEEP*
The sudden clamor of a blaring alarm clock shattered the early morning silence on yet another dreaded Monday. Virtually immune to its incessant screeching, Cameron remained buried beneath a mass of blankets and pillows as a lone, bare arm reached across the empty space and smacked it into submission – for another nine minutes at least.
Ever since she'd gotten the call mid-Saturday morning that Regina had awoken, she'd wavered between racing to the hospital just to make sure the other woman truly was conscious and waiting until she went into work – and therefore had a legitimate reason to act on her concern. Common sense had prevailed, however.
Well… not really.
Fear had actually halted her feet mid-stride as she rushed for the door immediately after hanging up with Maddy. Her sheer relief at Regina's recovery, she was sure, was written all over her face. Hiding even the smallest flux of emotions was a daily struggle, but with pure elation thrumming through her veins, her attraction towards her raven-haired patient would be plain for all to see – including the woman herself.
That alone was enough to cause her hesitation and as reason took a stronger hold, she remembered what she'd written in the other woman's journal. Even if Regina was completely incapable of reading her expressions, the words she'd put to paper would leave little doubt as to her intentions. While it was unlikely that the brunette had seen them so soon after waking – she had planted them towards the back of the notebook for a reason after all – just the possibility of discovery was enough to turn Cameron back around and firmly plant her ass on the couch for the rest of the morning.
Anticipation and apprehension had warred within her agitated mind, creating a swarm of butterflies that fluttered through her stomach one moment only to drop like stones the next. In a futile attempt at distraction, she'd filled the daylight hours with a multitude of errands and had cleaned her apartment until it shined – though it'd done her little good – but at night, she'd been unable to ignore these vacillating emotions.
Two nights of restless tossing and turning had left her completely exhausted, but as the alarm cried out for a second time, she reluctantly clambered out of bed to start her day. Goose bumps prickled her exposed limbs as cool air met her sleep-warmed skin. Shivering slightly, she made her way barefoot to the kitchen for a much needed caffeine jolt, rubbing the haze from her eyes as she slumped onto a nearby bar stool.
Now that the day had finally arrived, an unexpected calmness settled around her and going to work no longer seemed quite so terrifying. What would come would come no matter what and she refused to waste any more energy trying to predict what would happen when she finally laid eyes on Regina. It was unfortunate that she hadn't been able to reach this conclusion a couple of days ago – maybe she wouldn't feel like death warmed over if she had.
What had come, was a packed train ride on the green line followed by a short walk under heavy, grey clouds as a frigid, blustery wind gusted between buildings and cut through even the thickest of layers.
A quick call to the charge nurse on ward three, after she entered the office and quickly shucked her coat and bag, assured her that Regina had returned to her room and seemed to be faring well enough after her ordeal. Cameron sighed silently in relief and told the other woman to bring the brunette in at her normal appointment time before she rushed off to the weekly staff meeting – three minutes early, a new record.
Once she was able to settle behind her desk for good, the rest of the morning flew by in a whirl of paperwork and patients. If not for Angelique's kindness, lunch would have definitely come and gone without Cameron ever noticing.
Finally, at one o'clock sharp, the knock she'd been anticipating all day – but studiously avoided thinking about – sounded throughout her quiet office. She issued forth a firm "Come in" that squeaked a bit more than she'd intended.
Her first glimpse at the normally poised woman after nearly three days, left her completely gutted. Formerly piercing brown eyes lay blood-shot and hollow behind limp, greasy locks of dull brown hair while visible tear tracks ran over dark circles and down drawn, pale cheeks. Long arms wrapped protectively across the Cal Tech sweatshirt enveloping her torso, but despite the warm covering, Cameron clearly spotted her constant shivering.
Any and all selfishly-happy feelings she'd had before were now gone as an overwhelming urge to pull Regina into her arms and shelter her from the rest of the world stole through her. Knowing such an advance – along with any other sign of compassion or pity – would be ill received by the strong, independent woman, Cameron schooled her features into a bland mask of professionalism and greeted Regina as she normally would and prayed the woman before her was not as broken as she appeared.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Mills."
"Doctor," came the raspy reply.
Cameron ignored the jolt to her heart at the dispirited tone as Regina took a seat, one leg curled beneath her and the other held tightly to her chest, the sock-clad foot resting on the edge of the chair.
Long moments passed in silence and neither woman moved.
For her part, Cameron had no idea where to begin. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind as the minutes ticked past and while blunt questions and straightforward dialogue had always been the best when dealing with a willful Regina, she could not bring herself to be so callous this time. It was clear the older brunette was still processing the shattering information Cameron had imparted the previous Monday.
Consequently, she resolved herself to hold her tongue and waited silently as Regina starred vacantly across the room, her face turned away as if to shield herself from the young doctor as much as possible in the confined space.
Another span of indeterminable time lapsed.
"I remember how my mother died," Regina stated apropos of nothing, almost as if she were speaking to herself.
"I-I'm sorry?" Cameron stammered, caught off guard by the unexpected comment and unsure if she'd heard the soft voice correctly.
"My mother," the brunette repeated, brown eyes meeting green for the first time since she'd entered before flicking away again. "Actually it's not just her. I remember both of my lives. Well… parts of them anyways."
"Both?" Cameron asked, immediately aware of the significance such a statement entailed, but carefully maintained her placid façade despite her rising hope that Regina had finally experienced the breakthrough she needed in order to heal.
"Yes," the brunette nodded slowly, eyes still affixed into empty space, "the real one, and the one I'd… invented to escape my mother's abuse. It really shouldn't surprise me that they parallel to the extent they do. I'm not half bad at painting and drawing – or so people have told me – but I was never really any good at story telling. That was always more Emma's thing."
Cameron's heart clenched at the mention of Emma, not out of jealousy – she would never want to take away the love and joy Regina experienced with Emma and Henry – but because of the pain that radiated from the older woman's troubled eyes and the quiver in her husky voice as she said her name.
"I still hear her sometimes, even when I'm awake," she confessed, her hushed tones barely carrying across the short distance separating them. To Cameron it might as well have been the Grand Canyon for all the good it did her. "I'd originally assumed she was calling to me in as I slept in Fairytale Land, trying to wake me or comfort my nightmares… this nightmare." She shook her head, "Turns out, I really am crazy after all."
"No," Cameron countered with conviction, pulling Regina from whatever plane of existence she'd been wandering through as she spoke. "I've said it before and I meant it then as much as I mean it now – you ar not razy."
Dark eyes widened in surprise at the intensity behind her words, their gazes fully locked for the first time since the brunette had entered, and Cameron reminded herself to rein it back a bit and keep them on track.
"Please believe me when I say that working through your most recent sorrow is not insignificant, but I feel that we should start with your mother – the self-professed reason behind the world you created – and work forward from there. By learning to deal with that past pain and put it into proper perspective, it should allow you to grieve all your losses naturally without the added shelter of your fairytale land."
Eye contact was broken as Regina, yet again, focused on the middle distance. Glassy, brown orbs danced around the room, never settling on any one object, as the brunette obviously debated whether or not to confide further in the doctor. Compared to their previous sessions – where Cameron had been the one providing the forgotten details in an effort to jog the older woman's memory – Regina had already volunteered a wealth of knowledge about her past and current suffering and Cameron would not push her further than she was willing to go… not today.
"I wouldn't even know where to begin," Regina sighed, decision made.
"Just tell me what you remember about her," Cameron prompted gently as if speaking too loudly or too fervently would scare the other woman silent once more.
"Which version would you care to hear about first?"
"Either, both… whichever one you choose is fine," the younger woman reassured.
With a deep, shuddering breath, the brunette began her story.
"There's one thing you must know about my mother in order to understand her; sh always ared more about advancing the family name than Daddy's happiness and mine, especially. We were merely tools, trophies she utilized to gain affluence and prestige in order to impress her circle of pretentious, busybody friends.
She decided nearly every aspect of our lives with little or no input from us. Daddy changed careers and took up golf in order to satisfy her ideal of what he should be. I got a master's in finance from North Western, because she was adamant that I'd never make a living painting and how could I argue when she was the one paying? Believe me when I say, that was something she never let me forget.
If controlling my future career weren't bad enough, she also took it upon herself to dictate those I saw socially. Friends were dismissed if they didn't meet her rigid criteria and she chased away the man I'd set on marrying because he wasn't from the right family. Then there was the time, not long after I'd turned eighteen, that she tried to convince me to wed some wealthy man thirty years my senior because he was a prominent lawyer in town and rumor had it that he was looking for a new wife.
Luckily, my father stepped in before that happened – the one time he actually stopped a plan from the beginning as opposed to picking up whatever pieces of me that were left when it was over. As grateful as I was for his support, I believe it was only because I was of age, and therefore no longer legally under her control, that she didn't force me to go through with it despite our protestations. The risk of scandal was too high even for her.
Things in Fairytale Land were very much the same and yet, remarkably worse. It seems even in my imagination she was an exceptionally cruel woman, more so perhaps, because she could use magic against me; restrain me with vines or ropes, lash me with conjured whips, use me as a guinea pig for her potions, crush the beating heart of my first love to dust with just her hands.
There, I was forced to marry the man because he was king and there was no way mother would ever turn down a chance at being part of a royal family. You would think," Regina laughed humorlessly as a wayward tear tracked down one cheek, "that a world of my own design would be a happy place for me, yet it never was."
"Why do you think that was?" Cameron asked, thankful that Regina was too preoccupied with her own thoughts to catch the noticeable hitch in her voice. The more the older woman revealed, the harder it was for Cameron to remain silent and maintain the pretense of impartiality.
"Because I didn't know ho to b happy," the brunette answered, emotion tingeing her words. "Being told day in and day out that you're worthless/insignificant/useless/unimport
"How do Henry and Emma come to play in this? Did you still maintain the fantasy world during all those years with them?" Cameron asked curiously. It was the one question that had been at the forefront of her mind since learning that the young mother and son were not, in fact, figments of Regina's imagination.
"No," the brunette shook her head. "They were the ones that taught me how to love, how to be happy. They were my salvation and the life I'd never been able to imagine before. I didn't need to escape anymore because the wer my escape. Lo-losing them just brought it all back stronger than before. I can remember scattered hours of lucidity here and there, but mostly I stayed with them in my mind – put them in the world I'd created to keep them safe always. It was the only way I knew to cope."
"And now that you know, that you're finally present in this world with all its pain and heartache, do you think you'll be able to stay here" with m "and deal with it?"
"I wish I could say for sure," Regina replied, running her hands through dirty, raven locks, "but I don't really believe I have much of choice at this point."
Cameron's confusion must have been evident, because Regina clarified, "It's been a long forty-eight hours, Doctor. I haven't slept much and what little I was able to get was filled with memories from both worlds bombarding my subconscious. You may not recognize the significance of that statement," and she really didn't, "but not one single night has passed since I've been in this hospital or even the past year, really, where I have not returned to Emma and Henry in my dreams."
True understanding dawned. When Regina had mentioned remembering both of her lives at the beginning of their session, hope had taken hold of Cameron and blinded her to all that this breakthrough entailed. In the span of two short days, Regina' entire xistence had come crashing down around her for a second time and she'd been left to deal with it alone yet again.
The guilt Cameron had thought she'd gotten over with the news of Regina's recovery came rushing back at the realization that her little newspaper stunt was the cause of the older woman's current misery. It didn't matter that it had achieved the desired results; her plan to gradually ease the brunette back into reality was destroyed by one moment's thoughtlessness and it was Regina who had suffered the consequences.
"It was actually seeing one of your new orderlies that did it," Regina continued, unknowingly twisting the knife deeper. "He took on the role of my guard captain in Fairytale Land — he was rather adept at it, too. Recognizing him made me finall se what was here and in the faces surrounding me I saw my maids, cooks, soldiers—people that had not populated my world until a few short weeks ago. Before, it had always just been Emma, Henry, and I. That others existed was implied, but they were never seen."
Haunted brown eyes met hers once more as she dispassionately spoke, "I suppose congratulations are in order, Doctor Cameron. It seems as if you've finally cured me."
Looking at the shattered form of the previously strong-willed, confident woman sitting before her, Cameron doubted she'd done Regina any favors by taking away the one thing that had made her happy.
Maybe sometimes it is better to live in a fantasy world.
A/N Sorry for the small delay but at least it was only two days this time! That being said, there probably won't be an update this coming week, but I have a really good excuse! I'm hoping to submit a SwanQueen piece to ralst on P&P for her Valentine's Day Challenge. Deadline is the 12th though, so I may miss it. If I do, I'll still post it there and here (which I'll do anyways once it's up on the P&P site). So even though you won't be able to read this story, at least you'll have something to make up for it and hold you over until I get the next chapter done. It will also contain far less angst (though there will be a little) and lo more fluff. It wouldn't be a true Valentine's Day without a little of both. lol. Thanks, as always, for reading/commenting/following. Those emails make my day (especially when I'm suffering at work) and I can only hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it!