It had felt like being stretched very thin, as though a powerful force had taken hold of every limb and extremity, and pulled until the only thing holding her body together had been the memory of who she was. She had filled the sky, as transparent as starlight and as far-reaching and all-seeing. Then she had snapped back together. There had been a moment of blinding pain as she had been forced back into bottle of her body. Someone gasped besides her, but she was too distracted by the turmoil of her own thoughts, and the roiling of her stomach, to pay much attention.
Her mind was chaos. Layers upon layers of images and sounds and memories, all fighting for space, mingling and folding over and into themselves, until she felt overstuffed, like she contained a multitude of lifetimes.
When the chaos finally stilled, the first thought in her head was her child.
Their two voices spoke in the same moment - her and Emma both dropping to their knees so they could wrap their arms around their daughter's shoulders.
"I feel sick," the child said in a piteous little voice. She buried her face in Regina's neck and clung to Emma's arm.
"It'll pass, sweetling," Emma said shakily, speaking from recent experience.
"Keep your eyes closed and concentrate on breathing," Regina added.
She rubbed soothing circles against Amanita's trembling back until she felt the tension leave her body.
"That was really weird," Amanita said as she raised her head slowly. She looked around her. "Where's Kitty?"
Emma and Regina stood, carefully. Their legs were shaky beneath them, as though they were just stepping onto firm land after weeks at sea.
"Did he make it through?" Emma questioned Regina, her voice concerned but quiet. Despite her precautions, Amanita heard her.
"He did, he did Mama. He was right with me, and then he ran away! May I go look for him?"
Regina took stock of their surroundings. They stood in a garden, not a very large one when compared to the castle gardens of a her childhood, but well manicured and landscaped. The lawn stretched before them until it ran into the barrier of an odd sort of fence, made with short stakes of white wood that had been stuck into the ground with the pointed edges facing skywards. This fence would have proved no deterrent at all to any intruder; a long-legged man could have stepped over it without too much exertion.
There were trees beyond the strange fence, and she could just make out two or three roofs through the foliage, a fair distance from where they stood.
"Okay," she told Amanita cautiously, "but be sure you stay within the wards. No. The fence. Stay inside the fence."
"Yes Mother," Amanita replied cheerfully and dashed off towards a boundary hedge that had been so neatly clipped, even a head gardener accustomed to Cora Mills' demands could not have found fault with it.
"Weird..." Emma tried out the word thoughtfully. "That is a good word. Accurate."
"Does your head feel..."
"Like there's two of me in here?"
They walked after Amanita, moving slower than their daughter had. Behind the hedge was a house, made of more slats of pristine white wood; a stray thought in the back of Regina's mind wondered how on earth they were going to keep it clean. Then she wondered when she started using the phrase 'how on earth'.
"It's bizarre, Regina. I can remember her. The Emma Swan who was a Light witch. Who rode around on a broom and could barely string a spell together before I met you. I remember standing in Maggie Horner's tower and opening the portal with you. But then I also remember looking at this house with you. Deciding that this is where we wanted to move our lives to."
She shook her head, reminding Regina of a horse tossing its mane to shake itself free of a bothersome fly.
"It'll pass, Emma," she said reassuringly. "Our minds are trying to make sense of what's happened. To absorb the adaptations Maggie and I built into the spell. It'll become more seamless soon. It wont feel so - bizarre."
"Will we forget?" Emma asked, suddenly worried. "Will we forget the Blackwoods and-"
"No. No. Those are our true selves. Those memories will always be with us. But they'll be faded. They'll stay in the background, until we need them."
"And our magic?"
Regina held out her hand, twisted her wrist through a familiar gesture, and fire blazed in her palm.
"Still part of us. We'll need it. To complete Amanita's training. The price must still be paid."
"It feels like a dream," Emma muttered. "The first time I met you - in the Buckle's cottage, but also at that fundraiser, where you were making a speech -"
"- and you heckled," Regina pointed out dryly.
"It was a good speech," Emma grinned cheekily. "But you were so sure of yourself, I had to do something."
"Of course you did, dear."
"Hey. It worked. You went out with me. I remember our first kiss." Sudden colour suffused her face. "Not the one in the cottage. The other one. On the beach."
"With all the sand. And the sandflies."
"Not my greatest idea," Emma said with a sheepish grin. "Have I said thank you, for giving me a second chance?"
"Once or twice," Regina smiled.
"Oh...this is weird. Two firsts of everything."
"Hmm," Regina agreed. Two first times of meeting Amanita, two first times of making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, two first times of realising she loved Emma Swan and wanted to build a life with her. "We did it in a different order though."
"First fall in love, then have a child together," Emma agreed with a laugh.
"Speaking of which, where on earth has she got to?"
They searched the garden - no rose bushes Regina noted with some relief - until they found Amanita.
She was sitting cross-legged on the grass, her lap filled with the biggest cat ... no, the second biggest cat Regina had ever seen. Instead of tawny fur with dark markings though, this creature was dark grey, shot through with stripes of white and black. He had long, elegant legs, covered with the same grey and dark strippling, but ending in neat white socks. That, and his ruffed chest and tufted ears, lent him an elegant air; he looked like a man all dressed up for a ball. But when he yawned and stretched, extending his claws and showing inch-long fangs, it was obvious that this dandy gentleman came armed for a fight. When he fixed Regina with an alert green gaze, she had no further doubt.
"That looks nothing like...how...that's not a helcat!" Emma spluttered.
"This world must not have helcats as we know them," Regina mused. "So he's been adapted. To a breed that looks like it fits here."
"Edge magic can do that? Work on a helcat?"
"That was an ancient magic we used, Emma. World-building magic. Even Kitty would not be able to resist it."
"He's not Kitty anymore," Amanita interrupted her mothers' discussion.
"Oh?" Emma asked, sitting down besides Amanita on the grass. She scratched the cat behind his furry ears, and he closed his eyes in pleasure. His chest rumbled with the strength of his purr.
"He looks exactly like a Kitty to me," Regina smiled, taking a seat on Amanita's other side.
"No, Mother," Amanita said with an eye-roll that was such a perfect imitation of Regina's that Emma couldn't stop herself from grinning. "That name's all wrong for him now."
"So, what is his name now?"
The cat opened his eyes and blinked sleepily at them. He rolled over in Amanita's lap, presenting his furry white belly for rubbing.
"Fang," Amanita said decisively.
Regina sighed. "Okay. Fang it is."
"Do you get a new name too?" Emma asked.
"No Mama!" Emma received an eye-roll of her own. "I'm Amanita."
"Well, that's a relief," Emma grinned. "My mind's confused enough as it is right now."
They heard the sound of running feet and young voices calling and laughing.
"There's children, Mother!" Amanita said, excited.
"Yes, my darling," Regina said.
"That's why your mother and I picked this town," Emma added.
They had looked at several places and finally decided on this sleepy little town with the fairytale-like name because it had seemed the perfect place to raise their child; small enough that it felt friendly and welcoming, but big enough that there was a really good school and lots of children for Amanita to make friends with. There were woods and hills for them to go hiking in, and a lake where they could swim and sail; there was a good library and a semi-decent theatre group, and a diner that served the sort of greasy food that made Emma delighted and Regina despair. (They would compromise on family breakfasts in the diner once a week.)
"Can I go play with them?" Amanita asked eagerly.
"Not just yet, sweetling," Emma shook her head. "We've got stacks of boxes to unpack yet."
The movers had driven away not half an hour ago. They wanted to at least make a start on getting everything sorted and stowed away tonight.
"There's a picnic down by the lake later," Regina said. "There'll be music and games."
They had seen the flyers the last time they'd been here, to sign the final paperwork and take possession of the keys. They had thought it had been a good sign - that there'd be something fun to do on their first night here, and an opportunity to get out and meet a section of their new community.
"You'll have lots of time to play with your new friends then," Emma promised.
"Okay," Amanita said, "But let's go unpack now!"
"Some rules first, Amanita."
"Do you remember, where we really come from?"
A frown of concentration, then a semi-confident, "Yes Mother. We're witches."
"You'll still be our apprentice for a little while," Regina smiled, "But yes. We're witches. This world though, it does not really understand magic, or witches. So we have to be very careful when we leave this house."
"No magic beyond the fence?"
"Yes. No magic beyond the fence. No speaking of magic beyond the fence. No speaking of other worlds beyond the fence."
"I understand, Mama."
"And always remember, your Mama and I love you."
"And we will always be here for you."
"No matter what."
"I know, mums. Now, can we go unpack? The sooner we unpack, the sooner we can go to the lake!"
She dashed off towards the house; the large cat padded along in her wake, his long legs easily keeping up with the running child.
Emma got to her feet and extended a hand to help Regina, even though she didn't really need the assistance. Regina smiled up at her and tucked Emma's arm around her waist as they made their, more leisurely, way towards the house.
"It's getting easier," Emma noted. "The two stories of our lives are settling."
"Hmm," Regina agreed. "Soon, you won't have to focus to remember what it is I do for a living now."
They had made it as far as the door of their new house, but Emma had to pause for a moment to think.
"English professor," she said finally, grinning. "And a writer. Perfect."
She could see Regina's latest hardcover in her mind's eye; Regina wrote stories, set in fantastical worlds of sorcery and swordplay, that regularly ended up on best-seller lists. She had a relatively small but impassioned following. Even though she taught in a small college better known for its science faculties, her classes were always oversubscribed, and her public lectures were delivered to packed rooms. If English Literature were a realm, Regina would be considered one of its eccentric royals.
"And I'm..." Emma focused and then glared at Regina, her eyes narrowed in challenge. "I'm a vet?!"
Regina spluttered with laughter as her own new memories filtered through.
"Oh my goodness. You are!"
"Is this payback for all the goats?!"
"No! Oh sweetheart, really. There was no conscious choice! It's the spell. It seeks out what was closest and most realistic to our true selves in this world."
"And your adaptive spell decided I'm a vet."
"Well, you are good with animals," Regina pointed out reasonably. "And you like to help, and you're strong, and you love working outdoors and to get your hands dirty, and-"
"Yes. Yes. All right," Emma cut her off, her initial irritation already passing as more of her new memories came to the fore. She really did love what she did. "I'm a vet."
"A very good vet," Regina added loyally. "The best vet in the entire-"
Emma kissed her, laughing.
"That's the sort of thing that makes me love you," she whispered fondly. "And is why I-" She broke off. Her eyes widened and her jaw went slack.
"Why I married you," Emma whispered. "We're married."
They'd been married for years. Before they had Amanita even.
"You're my wife."
Emma's voice was still hushed, and Regina could not tell from her tone how she felt about this revelation.
"Is that...are you alright with this, Emma? It - being married - it must be how the spell interpreted what we are to each other. It doesn't have to mean more than that." She was rambling, but she couldn't stop herself. She did not want Emma to feel she'd been tricked into something she was not ready for, or did not want.
But Emma was smiling, her mouth stretching slowly into a smile so wide and with eyes glowing with so much happiness, Regina felt an answering joy clutch at her chest.
"It's perfect," Emma whispered. "It's exactly right. You're my wife."
"I am," Regina smiled tearily up at her.
Emma kissed her, and it felt like a first kiss all over again, one that had no counterpart in this world or any other.
"I like this spell of yours," Emma murmured against her mouth, in between pressing soft kisses to Regina's lips. "It knows what it's doing."
Regina sighed, leaning into Emma's body and winding her arms around her wife's neck.
"I'm glad you approve. You're still not allowed to bring any goats into the house though."
Emma bubbled with laughter, and deepened their kiss; and things may have got a little more heated if Amanita hadn't come bursting out of her room onto the landing above them, shouting excitedly:
"My blanket! My blanket is here!"
She waved a wrap of pale wool down at her mothers. The border of neatly embroidered daisies stood out as fresh as the day they had been made. Her other arm clutched a threadbare old toy to her chest.
"And Rabbit!" Amanita added excitedly. "Thank you, Mother!"
She disappeared back into her room as quickly as she had appeared. They could hear boxes tearing open, and Amanita's voice as she talked happily to Fang.
Emma sighed, and pulled Regina even closer against her.
"You really do think of everything, don't you?"
"It wasn't so hard to do," Regina shrugged. "Once we managed to get the portal open, it was just a matter of a simple transport spell."
"What else did you bring with us?"
"A few things," Regina said casually. "Books mostly, some of your potions. Things that will help us train Amanita."
"Ah. That makes sense."
A book appeared in Regina's hands. It was an old leather-bound journal. She gave it to Emma, who held it like the treasured possession it was.
Regina had sworn to pay the price for the magic that had brought them to this place of sanctuary. She had sworn to be her family's protector. For her, this in part meant ensuring they got everything they needed to thrive, no matter what world they ended up in.
"Amanita will have roots, Emma Swan. I promise you that."
Emma sighed and kissed Regina again.
"Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
The lake had been fun. Her ladies had eaten so much barbecue, Regina couldn't understand how Emma had managed to keep her eyes open long enough to drive them home. (Emma had categorically refused to show up at the festivities in Regina's classic old car. "We don't want people to think we're snobs, Regina!" she had protested, as she'd loaded her old yellow Beetle with the picnic basket, ignoring Regina's comeback of, "So much better they think we're a bunch of paupers with no aesthetic sense at all.") Amanita had fallen asleep in the backseat almost as soon as they had got her to sit still for five seconds. Fang had chosen to curl up in Regina's lap. He'd stand up to butt his head against her forehead occasionally, but mostly he'd just sit there and rumble with contentment.
They had met several people, including one of Amanita's new teachers, and several children who would be in her class. Amanita had spent most of the evening careening around in the bouncing castle with her new friends, giving Regina and Emma plenty of time to make some new acquaintances of their own. Surprisingly, they had met only one person - the local librarian - who had ever heard of Regina. More people were keen to learn about Emma's new surgery. The people of this town loved their pets, and Emma already had two new clients lined up; a nice man and his dalmatian, and a strangely intense woman with flaming red hair, who ran a sort of exotic petting zoo; she'd been having some trouble with her monkeys, and hoped Emma could help sort that out.
By the time they got home, and got Amanita cleaned up and in bed, everyone was exhausted. Which was why, when something bothered Emma awake, she was surprised to find the bed besides her empty. Concerned, she went in search of Regina, and found her out in the garden, standing under one of the three apple trees they had on their property.
"It's cold, Regina," Emma said quietly, as she approached her.
"The stars are different here."
Regina's voice sounded so lost and so forlorn that Emma's heart beat faster with panic. She wrapped her arms around her wife.
"It's alright, Regina," she murmured against her forehead, running her hands soothingly along her back. "I'm here. We'll learn about these new stars. We'll learn all their stories."
Regina's laugh bordered on the hysterical. She hadn't expected to feel this way. She had wanted to look at the night sky, and had crept out of bed and made her way out into the garden, as she had done often enough before. But then she'd looked up, expecting to see inky blackness and a sea of bright points of light; but the sky had been a pale shade of pink, and the few stars that were able to shine through had been alien and unfamiliar and cold. They gave her no anchor, they told her nothing. And she had felt the despair engulf her. She had never felt Nan Locket's loss so keenly, not even in the moment she had first learned of the woman's death.
Then Emma was there, her arms warm and strong and familiar as the stars above her were not.
Regina leaned into Emma's strength and sighed. She began to understand what Emma had meant when she had said home was wherever her family was. It didn't matter what strange foods you ate, or the odd words you had to use, or that you looked up at alien stars. What mattered was the people who stood and faced these things with you. The people who would hold you up when you faltered. The people who would love you, even when you could not be strong.
"My evening star," she murmured, and she kissed Emma, her cold lips warming as Emma's moved against her. "I don't need any others."
"Come to bed, Regina," Emma said.
Regina let Emma lead her back to their room.
Maggie Horner had told her to not be too proud to ask for help. And sometimes a protector needed saving too.
Several years later
When the portal opened, and a tall woman with pale hair and dark eyes stepped through, everyone knew exactly who she was. They didn't even need to see the helcat at her side to be sure. The other witches bowed, even though they technically did not need to. This was still the Queen's heir, even though she'd been absent for years now; better to be safe and show due respect.
The tall woman returned their bows perfunctorily and stalked through the gardens towards the throne room. No one dared to challenge her.
The Queen was not in the throne; the chair carved from a living tree still held pride of place in the centre of the room, but the Queen preferred her far simpler desk and chair, set off to the side, where the light was better. She needed the light; her desk was covered with piles of paperwork, all of which had to be read and responded to. The Queen was fond of saying that the world of witchcraft ran on ink and the wiles of bureaucrats.
It hadn't always been this way of course. Most of the witches were old enough to remember when the world of witches was governed by fear and ran on the blood of your enemies.
That had been before the Dark Queen had crossed worlds to challenge her heir, and the Shadow Witch had come to her power, and the battle between the Shadow and the Dark had nearly destroyed them all.
The Queen claimed neither Dark nor Light nor Shadow now.
Or rather, she claimed them all.
Never before had the witches been faced with a woman who wielded more than one power; rumour had it that the Queen was virtually an Edge witch too; but that had to be false. No Queen would ever have bothered with a magic of so little power.
Regardless, the Queen had united all the powers. No longer would conflict between Dark and Light be tolerated. It had taken years, and had not been won without bloodshed, but there was a peace now that went further than the hope of any truce. A truce meant putting hostilities on pause, merely banking the flames until someone determined enough came along to fan them back to life. But when the Queen spoke of reconciliation and respect and acceptance, everyone knew that the first person to challenge her peace would be the only person to burn; and they would burn before they had a chance to drum up any support at all. The Queen was ruthless in quashing rebellions, but efficient too.
Not that any one really wanted to rebel. Except for a handful of disgruntled Dark witches, who had believed too wholeheartedly in the Dark Queen's promises, most witches saw the wisdom of a united witchdom. Once Cassandra Spindler and her minions had fallen, there had been virtually no challenges to the new Queen's reign.
Regina looked up as Amanita paused, hesitating in the doorway.
"Hello Mother," she said carefully. "I'm home."