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A Dark Ocean

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---

 

Emma found Nova and asked for her help doubly reinforcing the bars in the jail. George hadn’t spoken other than to say that he wanted a lawyer, at which point all of them looked around, speechless.

 

“Is he fucking serious?” Ruby asked.

 

David shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. This is a magical jurisdiction, and he and his pals just tried to kill me and my entire family. He’s not getting a lawyer today.” He turned to Leroy. “Keep them fed, but right now I’m thinking about locking them up and throwing away the key.”

 

“Where’s the other guy?” Emma asked. “The one I--” wanted to kill, she nearly said, since her first instinct earlier that day had been to set him on fire.

 

“The hospital,” David said, which reassured Emma that she hadn’t actually killed him. “Whale said he had a concussion, but he’d live. Blue’s there watching him, so he’s not going anywhere either.”

 

“Great. At least one thing didn’t end in disaster,” she said.

 

David eyed the two men behind bars, and asked Nova, “Can you put up some kind of barrier so they can’t hear us?”

 

She nodded eagerly. “Of course!” She immediately waved a hand, and the jail cell became invisible.

 

There was an awkward pause. “Could you make it so we can see and hear them, but they can’t see us?” David added.

 

“Oh. Sorry!” In a moment, she had adjusted the spell, and George and the lackey were back, but neither of them looked up.

 

Emma took that to mean that the spell had worked as David intended, but she didn’t really care. Their motivations were irrelevant at this point; she had only one person on her mind. She would allow her father to deal with this madness. Regina had taken bullets for her and protected all of them from being murdered, so she deserved a reward. Emma did too, goddamn it. “Listen, I’ve gotta go. I--I’m sorry.”

 

“Go, Emma, we’re covered. Good luck.” He came closer and enfolded her into his arms. “I know you’ll find her. And when you do, thank her for me, will you?”

 

She gripped his shoulders tightly. “I will.”

 

By the time she had picked up Henry from Snow’s apartment, it was late afternoon. She and Henry barely exchanged any words as they made their way to Mifflin Street. Anxiety had settled like a band around her belly, and she was hyper-aware of the smallest details all around her. The sun had vanished, disappearing behind a heavy marine layer that had rolled in from the east, but the humidity had only thickened. A storm was coming, she was sure of it.

 

When they parked in the driveway, neither she nor Henry moved for over a minute.

 

“You think she’s in there?” Henry asked.

 

“Yeah,” Emma replied, not at all certain. Her son got out first, and she followed. She had no idea what to say to Regina if she saw her, and no idea what was wrong. They'd saved one another so many times that it was stupid to even pretend they weren't meant to be together, each doing what was necessary to take care of the other.  And Emma couldn't bear the idea that by saving Regina, she might have lost her.

 

Thunder rumbled overhead. Henry shivered next to her, so she took his hand as they went to the house and opened the front door.

 

All around them was silence. She was tempted to call out, but then again, she didn't want to scare Regina away. Instead they went room to room, peeking inside the spaces on the first floor, coming up empty every time. Carefully they climbed the stairs, checking Henry's room first, and when no one was inside, Emma's heart sank. The master bedroom's bed hadn't been used for a while, and the duvet remained undisturbed. That left only Emma's room, where she and Regina had slept and laughed and made love for the first time and so many times after.

 

She went to the closed door and pushed it open; she heard Henry's little exhalation when they both saw the figure under the covers. "Thank you," Emma exhaled softly, and Regina didn't move. Either she was asleep or she hadn't heard their movements. Henry went to her first, while Emma hung back.

 

"Hi, Mom, we're home."

 

Regina sat up and looked around, and only then did Emma spot the bottle on the nightstand. The whiskey had descended a few inches since they'd last indulged, and Regina's eyes were red and puffy from crying.

 

"What are you doing here?" she asked, not really directing her question at either of them.

 

"We live here," Henry said smoothly. He was as nervous as Emma was about spooking her.

 

"But--" Regina swallowed, and she appeared confused. "You shouldn't stay here anymore. I'm--I'm not the same person you saw this morning, Henry. I'm very, very different. It would be simpler if you stayed with Emma and her parents at their home."

 

"Thisis my home," Emma reminded her. "I've been living here for months."

 

"You only moved in because I was injured--"

 

"I moved in here because I wanted to be near you. Sure, it was convenient because of the amnesia and everything, but I wanted this. I had for a while, anyway. I just hadn't let on."

 

Regina laughed, and it was that old, slow, dirty chuckle that used to make her toes curl. Emma actually caught her breath at the chill of arousal it sent through her, embarrassed at how easy she'd become. "You don't have to lie, dear," Regina said, and Emma sneered.

 

"You know I don't like being called that," Emma reminded her.

 

"That was when we had a relationship. We don't have that anymore."

 

"Bullshit," Emma spat, and Regina looked at Henry, aghast at the language. "Oh, don't worry, he's heard it before, and he's definitely thinking the same thing." She looked down, and he nodded in agreement. "See? He knows you're full of it. You aren't going to push me away. There's not enough magic, or whiskey, or anger in the world to keep me from you, Regina. I love you," she said firmly, "and you know it. I loved you before the accident, then after, and I still do. Get used to it. You're mine, see?" she glared, daring Regina to remember the morning they'd spent together. "Like I'm yours."

 

"That girl is gone," Regina said, reaching for the half-full tumbler on the nightstand.

 

Emma reached out and pulled the glass out of her hand, spilling dark liquid on the rug. "Cut it out. Your kid is home, and so am I. You don't need a drink. You need dinner, and we're going to make it for you. Get dressed and come downstairs." She checked her watch. "You've got half an hour, and if you're not down by then, we'll come up here and drag you." She caught Henry's belligerent nod out of the corner of her eye. She grabbed the whiskey bottle too and turned, marching out of the room. Henry followed, and over her shoulder she called out, "Half an hour, Regina."

 

In the kitchen, she and Henry stared at each other over the island. "Grilled cheese and tomato soup? Or pizza?" Henry offered.

 

"No. We're making that Greek thing she liked a couple of weeks ago. I bought feta and olives--get them out, and I'll butterfly the chicken."

 

Henry balked. "Are you sure we have time?"

 

"Yeah. Get me the recipe book and we'll follow every step, just like she showed us." She watched his dark head disappear into the fridge as he hunted for the cheese, and she knew this was going to help them get closer to where they needed to be. When he dumped his supplies on the island, she reached out to ruffle his hair. "Have faith, kid. I do."

 

For the first time since earlier that day, his smile was hopeful.

 

---

 

The thirty minutes passed, and Emma was plating the chicken when Regina appeared in the doorway. One step in the right direction was all she wanted. Her eyes met Henry's, and his mouth twitched in approval.

 

"Set the table, Regina?" Emma asked, as if nothing at all unusual had happened that day.

 

To Emma's surprise, Regina didn't say a word; she went to the silverware drawer and removed what they needed, retrieving cloth napkins and glasses as well. When Emma brought the plates to the table, Regina moved silently around it, setting a place for each of them. "Thanks," Emma said as she poured bubbly water for herself and Regina, and flat for Henry. "I made that chicken you liked. There's couscous and salad too."

 

Regina sat in her usual chair, staring down at the perfectly portioned plate of food as though it were an alien meal.

 

"I didn't forget how to cook between this afternoon and tonight, Regina," Emma told her, sitting down across from her. "I didn't forget anything. Now eat. You'll feel better."

 

"I'm not hungry--" she said, but Henry interrupted.

 

"Try it, Mom. I made the couscous myself."

 

Regina's eyes seemed to open all the way then; she emerged slightly from her stupor at the sound of her son's voice. Without another word, she picked up her fork and took a mouthful. Emma heard her sigh of pleasure from across the table, and she kicked Henry's chair when he began to smile. His grin vanished right away into a bland expression, and satisfied, Emma started in on her meal.

 

They didn't speak as they ate; only when Regina put down her silverware did Henry even look up at her. "It was good, wasn't it?" he asked.

 

"It was wonderful, Henry. You--" she swallowed, "--and Emma are wonderful cooks."

 

"Yeah. It was fun to learn all that stuff together, wasn't it?" he said.

 

The words got stuck as Regina tried to speak, so Emma said them for her. "Sure was. And we have lots more time to learn to make even more good stuff, right?" She stabbed and ate her last piece of chicken then, even though she wasn't hungry, nor had she been for the entire evening.

 

"This can't continue, Miss Swan," Regina said.

 

Emma had a vision then, of herself overturning the dining room table and tackling Regina to the floor in an attempt to smack some sense into her. She pictured herself throwing their glasses at the wall and watching them shatter as she screamed. Instead, she sipped her water while digging the nails of her left hand into her palm until she felt a faint trickle of blood. "What can't continue?" she asked.

 

"This charade."

 

"This is no charade, Regina. I love you. Henry loves you. We're here for the duration."

 

"You seem to have forgotten who I am, Miss Swan--"

 

Hearing that name a second time inflamed her. "We were past that title before the accident, if you'll remember correctly, your majesty," Emma said angrily. "We were well on our way to this exact spot. And I haven't forgotten one single second since then. I know who you are. I have always known, get it?" She put her silverware down and leaned forward. "You may not have, but I never forgot who you were. And I loved you anyway."

 

"Me too, Mom," Henry said.  Emma turned to him and gave him a tight smile.

 

"But--" Regina began, shaking her head. "You had no right to who I was then," she said, her voice laced with rage. "You should never have met that girl! She was dead and gone long ago."

 

Emma frowned. "What do you mean? We had no right to know that you liked chocolate and bananas with your pancakes, or that you love driving fast, or that you're the best horse woman I've ever seen?"

 

"Yes!" she shouted. "Those things are none of your business!" Regina looked terrified at having revealed so much, her chin trembling with emotion.

 

In that moment, Emma had a flash of inspiration. She got it. She had unraveled what Snow had meant when she said Regina wasn't brave enough to love. She was afraid to be loved too, for who she was, and who she could be. All at once the band that had been strung so tightly around Emma’s heart loosened, and she was able to breathe again.

 

She would wait Regina out. She'd done it before, and it had been worth the effort.

 

"I'm so sorry that this hurt you, Regina. I really, really am. We never meant for that to happen, did we, kid?"

 

"No!" he said, his eyes filled with pain. "But I’m not sorry it did. It felt like--" he swallowed, as if gathering up all his courage--"Like I got to know you. You were cool, but I missed the way you were before, too. I wanted my mom back because you remembered me when I was a baby, and loved me more than anyone else in the whole world."

 

Nice one, kid. She could not have done better herself.

 

The words hit home for Regina, whose mouth screwed up as she tried to hold back tears. “Henry, none of this is your fault.”

 

“I know!” he said, exasperated. “It’s not Emma’s either. She used magic today to save you. She loves you.”

 

Regina was going to deny it, Emma could tell, but ultimately, she didn’t. “Everything’s going to be fine, dearest,” Regina said, reaching out to her son. He went to her and they clung to each other, until Henry’s shoulders began to hitch. He was crying, and Emma turned away as she heard the sound of the breath lurching from his chest. “Shh, Henry, I’m all right,” she said, rubbing his back and rocking him in her arms.

 

“You could have died,” he said, the sobs coming more freely now.

 

“But I didn’t,” she replied. “I’m right as rain. Emma, I’m fine, aren’t I?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, unhappy when the word came out broken. “We’re all good, kid.” Although Regina still seemed skittish, Emma went to the both of them and knelt. She put a hand at Henry’s back, and he reached out for her too, pulling her close. It was the first time since that afternoon, when she’d held Regina’s bleeding body, that she’d been near her. It was a balm to her soul. Just the feel of Regina’s skin against hers made her magic flare.

 

Their eyes met, and Emma felt the thrill soar through her soul.

 

Regina still loved her.

 

---

 

Henry settled down soon after, and without acknowledging the weird energy in the air, the three of them got up and collected the dishes to carry them into the kitchen. They washed up on autopilot, and Emma decided not to turn on the stereo yet.

 

“Let’s read tonight, okay, Mom?” Henry asked. Before Regina answered, Emma was sure she’d agree to it. There wasn’t much that would keep her away from her son if he asked for anything with that particular tone.

 

“I’m very tired, Henry,” Regina tried, but she melted into a smile at Henry’s wide-eyed expression. “Just for a few minutes.”

 

He nodded, and Emma felt heart-wrenching sadness at the missing enthusiasm. Only 24 hours before, Regina would have been overjoyed at the simple idea of falling into the world of Harry Potter. It reminded Emma just how much Regina had lost over the years, not the least of which was her sense of wonder.

 

“We’ll get ready for bed and be in shortly, okay, Henry?” Emma said, ignoring the sharp look from Regina, who probably wanted Emma out of the house as soon as possible.

 

“Okay.” He ran to the stairs and leapt up them in a hurry, leaving the two of them alone.

 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea that you stay here tonight.” Regina’s tone was flat and clear.

 

Emma just went on drying one of the glasses in the dish rack. “I won’t sneak into your bed tonight, you don’t have to worry. You're in charge.”

 

Regina snorted, and Emma smiled at the familiar, derisive sound. “Then I want you to leave.”

 

“Well, I won't do that. But anything else,” Emma said innocently, and with that, she snapped the dish towel gently toward Regina’s thighs. More than one an evening they had spent at war with towels, each trying to best the other with their skill at twisting and snapping them in the air for the best sound.

“Cut it out,” Regina said with a frown.

 

Emma did it again. “Um, no.”

 

Regina started toward her and Emma blanched, because her opponent didn’t look very cheerful. Regina grabbed the towel out of her hands and ended the game by turning her back and drying another dish.

 

The words “You’re no fun” were on the tip of Emma’s tongue, but just in time she realized that would be the worst thing she could say. Instead she went to the dish rack to put away the pans. When she’d closed the last cupboard, Regina was standing at the sink, staring out at the dark backyard. Emma could only see the vague, sloping shadows of the garden there, so she assumed Regina was looking inward. Gently she placed her hands on strong shoulders, unsurprised when they twitched in discomfort. It had been a while since that had happened.

 

“Don’t,” Regina said, and Emma lightened her touch.

 

“Just letting you know I’m here,” Emma said, stroking one finger along the bare skin near the base of her neck, then stepping away. “Come on up to read when you’re ready.”

 

Emma went to her room--which used to be their room--and dressed in the silk pajamas that had become hers over the last weeks. She didn’t wear them often anymore; usually after they made love she pulled on a tank and a pair of shorts to sleep in, just in case Henry woke up in the middle of the night. She started doing it after a close call one morning when he walked in unannounced, but fortunately the sheets had been appropriately positioned.

 

“Hi Emma,” Henry said, making her jump. She’d been standing in the middle of the room, staring at the bed for a while.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Are you okay?”

 

She nodded. “Sure.”

 

He didn’t move. “Are you sad?”

 

She gave him a weak smile. “A little.”

 

“Me too.” He went to her then, and she put an arm around him. “This is weird,” he whispered. “She’s not the same as she was, either before or after the accident. What’s happening?”

 

She took a deep breath, trying to wrap her own mind around the conundrum. “Your mom is sad too. After I healed her she remembered more than just you and me and Storybrooke--she remembered bad things from her past.” She hugged him more tightly. “It isn’t just the bad things she did, either. She was hurt by a lot of people. It’s probably really hard for her to have those memories again.”

 

He nodded, and it was quiet for a few moments. “You won’t go away, though, no matter how mean she is to you?”

 

Emma looked down at him, meeting his eyes. “Not a chance. You two are my family, and I love you. I’m staying.”

 

He exhaled in relief, his eyes going toward the doorway. “Hi, Mom,” he said casually, and Emma saw Regina standing there, caught. Emma had no idea how long she’d been there, but it was long enough to hear at least a little of what they’d been saying.

 

“Want to get in your pajamas and meet us in Henry’s room?” she asked.

 

Regina nodded wordlessly, and Emma brushed by her, completely ignoring the fact that she’d been eavesdropping. “Brush your teeth, kid,” she told Henry. “See you in a minute.”

 

She went to his room and got on the bed, willing her heart to slow its pace. She waited patiently, flipping through “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” careful not to lose their place. Henry seemed to be a big fan of this one, and she hoped Regina would be willing to read tonight. She soon appeared in the dark blue silk pjs that matched Emma’s, and sat down on the opposite side of the bed. Emma handed her the book, slipping the Iron Man bookmark up so she’d be able to see it easily.

 

“Thank you,” she said stiffly.

 

Henry raced into the room and jumped onto the bed between them to arrange the pillows the way he liked. “Okay, Mom, do you want to go first?”

 

“Would you like that?” she asked hesitantly.

 

“Sure. I’ll go after, and maybe Emma can take a turn too.”

 

Her eyes flashed to Emma briefly before returning to the book. She opened it and found their starting point near the beginning of the third chapter. She was going along smoothly, and Emma was lulled by the low, even sound until Henry interrupted her. “Mom, you’re not doing the voices!”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s not how you sound when you’re doing Hermione.”

 

Regina’s brow creased, but she just shook her head. “Oh, Henry, you don’t need me to do those silly voices. The story is the same with or without them.”

 

Henry’s mouth opened slightly, in either disappointment or disbelief. Emma couldn’t quite tell. “But you always do the voices,” he said softly, shrinking into himself.

 

“I--” She looked at Emma, who didn’t move a muscle. “Henry, you’re almost twelve,” she said, as if that was reason enough.

 

Emma closed her eyes. She was starting to wish Regina’s memories had not come back at all.

 

“It’s okay. Emma, you read now,” Henry said, reaching to take the book from her hands.

 

“No!” Regina barked, recoiling and holding the book to her chest. “It’s still my turn.”

 

Henry leaned back against his pillow. “Whatever. I’m tired anyway. Just finish the section and we can be done.”

 

Only then did Regina seem to recognize that this was something important--something she would lose if she didn’t allow herself to do funny voices for her son. It amazed Emma that the recovery of memory had set Regina back emotionally; if she was willing to go back to therapy, Archie was going to have a lot of work in front of him. “All right,” she said, and swallowed. She cleared her throat. When she began to read, she came through, to Emma’s immense pleasure. She did her version of Hermione, then Ron, then Harry, and back again as they visited the Magical Menagerie and the Leaky Cauldron. Emma snuck a look at Henry, who had clearly been waiting to catch her eye. He grinned madly, and Emma bit her lip to keep from smiling back.

 

In fact, Regina read for the whole hour, never passing the book to either Emma or Henry, until they were all ready to stop. She kissed her son  goodnight, and waited for Emma at the door until they closed it together.

 

“I hope he doesn’t have nightmares about dementors tonight,” Regina said with a shiver. “They sound like the wraith.”

I hope you don’t have nightmares about the wraith tonight, thought Emma. “Well, I’m going to hit the sack. And I guess you want some privacy--” Emma began.

 

“Of course,” Regina replied, eyebrow raised. “Good night.” She disappeared behind the door of her bedroom. Emma heard the snick of the lock and rolled her eyes.

 

---

 

In the middle of the night, Emma finally fell asleep. She knew it was late, having stared at the clock till well past two, but she’d been hesitant to go downstairs and watch tv, as she and Regina had all those months ago. Instead she just glared at the ceiling and wished she’d thought to wash the sheets, which smelled just enough like sex to make her want to kill someone.

 

Therefore, when Regina cried out just before 3, Emma was so groggy and disoriented that she broke down the door to Regina’s room, instead of taking an extra few seconds to pop open the lock with a paper clip. It didn’t come off the frame, but the wood splintered near the jamb. Emma ignored it and went to the woman writhing on the bed, who was repeating the word “no” over and over.

 

“Wake up, Regina,” Emma said, laying a calming hand on her back. She reached out with her magic in the hopes of soothing her, and also in the hopes that she wouldn’t get a punch in the face for waking her. “You’re safe.”

 

The magic seemed to work, for Regina stopped crying, but she didn’t stop moving in the bed. She turned from her side onto her stomach and arched, making a sound that was distinctly like a moan. A familiar moan at that. Emma gritted her teeth when the arousal struck fiercely between her legs. She tried to think about gross things, things that would help keep her from accidentally causing a rainstorm in this room. Regina would not take kindly to that.

 

“What are you doing?” Regina said; she’d woken without Emma’s knowledge, turning over to sit up. “Get out of here.”

 

“You were having a nightmare, Regina. I wanted to check on you.”

 

“I wasn’t, I was dreaming about--” She glanced around in the darkness and seemed to lose her train of thought. Emma heard the sound of her breathing, still a little faster than normal. “Perhaps I was.”

 

“Want to come down and watch tv with me?” Regina didn’t say anything for a while, so she elaborated. “We missed Game of Thrones the other night.”

 

“Aren’t you tired?” Regina asked.

 

“Not really,” Emma lied.

 

There was another endless pause. “All right.”

 

Emma nodded and got off the bed, tripping over her own feet. She didn’t bother with a robe, figuring if Regina was uncomfortable she could get Emma’s robe herself. But she didn’t; once downstairs they settled on opposite ends of the couch and started the show.

 

She fell asleep about ten seconds after the opening credits rolled.

 

---

 

When she woke, she was no longer sitting up. Instead she was lying across the couch, her head resting on Regina’s thighs, and a hand was stroking through her hair. The tv was off, and the room was completely dark. She moved a bit, just so Regina would know she was awake, but she didn’t say anything.

 

“I don’t know how to deal with this,” Regina said into the darkness. Another minute went by before she said, “I’m not like she was. Like I used to be.”

 

Emma placed a hand on one knee in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. “You don’t have to be that way.”

 

Emma heard her struggling to speak, and there were tears in her voice. “Everyone in Storybrooke liked that girl, far more than they ever liked the Mayor, or the Queen.”

 

With a sigh, Emma said, “She is you, Regina.”

 

“She hasn’t been for many, many years. I couldn’t be that way after--after so much happened. I was so free with my feelings when I was young. I loved deeply. I’m not sure I can ever do that again.”

 

“But you love Henry that way,” Emma reminded her. “And you care about me, whether you admit it or not. Everything that we had didn’t just vanish in an instant. Just because you remember now doesn’t mean that stuff never happened, or that it doesn’t count. It sure as hell counts for me,” she said. A tear slipped down to land on the silky fabric beneath her cheek.

 

“I told you once that I never believed I would love again,” Regina whispered. “I never thought I should even try, until Daniel told me to.”

 

“Until Daniel--” Emma sat up and wiped the tear from her cheek. “When was this?”

 

Regina sniffled; she was crying too. “When I saw him at the stables, after Whale brought him back. Before he--died--he told me to love again.”

 

Emma was overwhelmed; she’d never heard that part of the story. She doubted Regina had ever told anyone. “I’m so sorry, Regina.”

 

“What’s strange is that I know you’re truly sorry, Emma,” Regina said. “I believe if I could have Daniel back, you’d step aside and let me be with him, because you love me that much.”

 

Just the thought of it made Emma burn with agony.  But Regina was right. “Yeah, I would,” she croaked.

 

“That’s love,” Regina said. “That’s real love,” and then she was reaching out and they were embracing, and Emma thought her whole heart would shatter at the feel of Regina’s arms holding her so tightly. “And I still feel that for you, even if I’m terrified about all of this. I don’t think I can stop loving you. Even if Daniel were to walk in here and whisk me away, I couldn’t let you go.”

 

Emma wept openly now. The relief was incredible, to hear the words and believe them. “You don’t have to,” she said, “I’m right here.”

 

“You’re staying,” Regina said, repeating her words from earlier that evening.

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, and smiled through her tears. “I really am.”

 

Regina’s lips brushed near her ear, and it sent a shiver through her body. “Things will be different now. I don’t have the capacity to be so... open.”

 

“I like a challenge,” Emma countered.

 

“I don’t,” Regina told her seriously. “It’s going to be unpleasant for me, and I will undoubtedly make it unpleasant for you in turn.”

 

“Point taken,” Emma conceded. “I understand, and I’ll try to be as okay with that as I can be.”

 

“And we’re going to argue. A lot.”

 

“I’m looking forward to that part, actually,” Emma said. “That’s something I missed.”

 

“You would,” Regina said, and Emma loved the way she said the words, so snarky and familiar. “But I mean it. I will raise my voice far more than the--other me ever did. I don’t even know how to talk about this in a way that makes sense.”

 

Emma reached and found one of Regina’s hands to hold before kissing the palm. “We’ll figure it out. This is worth it. I mean,” Emma floundered for the right way to ask this. “When we first... got together, didn’t it make you happy?”

 

The stretch of silence was so long it made Emma uncomfortable, at least until Regina squeezed her hand in reply. “Yes, Emma. It made me very happy.”

 

Emma sighed in relief. “Okay then. Let’s just start with that.”

 

---

 

They slept together in Emma’s bed for the few hours until Henry woke up. He barged into Emma’s room, startling them both with his cheerful, “Hey!” sometime after 8. “What happened to Mom’s door?”

 

Emma had forgotten about that, leaving it hanging open when they’d come upstairs before dawn. “The lock got stuck,” Emma said, wiping the drool from the corners of her mouth. “What time is it?”

 

“I don’t know.” He frowned, eying the two of them together under the covers. “Are you guys okay again?”

 

Emma turned to Regina, who looked down at her hands shyly. “I--I suppose, yes.”

 

His eyebrows went up, and somehow he managed to keep his cool. “That’s awesome,” he said, and Emma nodded to reassure him. “Could we--it’s okay if we don’t--go to Granny’s for breakfast?”

 

Again, Emma let Regina answer. “Okay.”

 

“Great. I’ll go get ready. Meet you downstairs!”

 

He was gone in a flash, and although Regina looked uncomfortable, she didn’t rush off, away from Emma. “Morning,” Emma said easily. “Sleep okay?”

 

“I did,” Regina replied. “And you?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, even though she had slept very little, preferring to stay awake and listen to the sound of Regina’s calm, even breathing. She’d pay for it later with exhaustion, but it had been worth it.

 

“So we’ll get ready then?” Regina asked, never looking up.

 

“Okay.” Emma reached out and pulled her down to the mattress again for a hug. It went no further, but it was good to reconnect, even if it felt awkward. “Sorry,” Emma said as she pulled back.

 

Regina blinked sweetly, as if she was surprised to have been drawn into such an embrace. “Don’t apologize,” she said. “It was nice.”

 

Emma said, “Yeah,” and before she decided to try something less innocuous than a hug, she rolled off the mattress to get ready.

 

Their collective morning routine was remarkably unchanged, considering the events of the prior day. Regina showered first, and the only difference was that Emma stayed clear of the bathroom instead of wandering in and out. When they passed each other, Emma ignored the drops of water that dripped from the ends of Regina's hair.

 

“Emma,” Regina said, her smile reaching her eyes this time. “As I was showering and brushing my teeth, I remembered you teaching me how to flush a modern toilet.” They both chuckled at the memory. “You were very patient with me.”

 

“It was fun, teaching you stuff like that. And I learned a lot about music, you know. Your taste is pretty eclectic.”

 

“It is compared to yours, certainly,” Regina said slyly.

 

“But what's with all the Springsteen?”

 

Regina shrugged. “Who doesn't love The Boss?”

 

“Uh huh,” Emma said. “You'll have to tell me about some of those other bands we never got around to listening to,” Emma began, until she started to blush, thinking about the things they'd been doing instead of hanging out listening to music. “Um, later.” She slipped into the bathroom and closed the door. The space was warm and steamed, and again, it smelled of Regina's soap and hair products, and that other scent that was so distinctly Regina. Emma couldn't help but want her, and she leaned against the door with a deep sigh.

 

When they arrived at Granny's, Emma expected everything to be the same as usual, but the whole place went silent as soon as they walked through the door. Apparently everyone knew what had happened; maybe they were expecting Regina to freak out or curse them all again. Shit, Emma thought.

 

That was, until Granny came bustling out of the kitchen, arms open. “Oh goodness, you're here. We were all so relieved that you're all right!” she said, and went to Regina first, hugging her in what was undoubtedly the most authentic welcome at Granny's Regina had probably ever experienced with her memories intact.

 

The look on Regina's face was priceless; she was stunned, but her arms went around Granny's waist like a reflex. “Thank you,” Regina replied.

 

“Oh, get over yourself, girl, and hug me,” Granny told her, pulling back to look at her. “You might have been the Mayor, and the Queen, but you're just plain Reginanow. You saved Emma's life, and probably the rest of the family's too—everyone's talking about it. So unless you plan on reverting to your previous personality, I'll expect a proper hello when you come in here from now on.”

 

Regina was so stunned her mouth opened and she blinked furiously; Emma knew she was trying not to lose it. Plain Regina. Emma liked the sound of that. She watched as Regina went into Granny's arms again, this time embracing her fully.

 

“I hold a grudge like a champ,” Granny said, eying Emma with a nod. “Always have. But sometimes you have to give them up and get on with it. I think it's time we all did that, don't you?”

 

Regina's fingers fisted in Granny's blouse, but that was the only obvious sign of her distress. “Yes, Granny, I do.”

 

Emma glanced around at the rest of the diner, and all the faces there—Kathryn, Fred, Ruby, and more from the town who were familiar but not friends—watched Regina with open, ready expressions filled with acceptance, if not outright forgiveness. Ruby could wait no longer, throwing her long arms around her grandmother and her friend, kissing Regina soundly on the cheek.

 

“Nice one yesterday, Regina. Really.”

 

Regina nodded, overwhelmed. “Thank you,” she said, curling into herself, until she felt Emma's hand on her lower back. That seemed to help, and she stood a little straighter. “I was very fortunate Emma was there.”

 

“You sure were,” Ruby said, and asked Emma, “Hey, I never found out where you learned all that healing magic. I didn't know you could do that!”

 

Emma shrugged. “I didn't either,” she replied. She had no other explanation. “Just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.”

 

That elicited a stronger reaction from the group than Emma expected. Granny clapped her on the shoulder so hard she nearly fell over. “Well, good on you, Sheriff! I've always heard that magic came from strong emotions, which means we all know how you feel about Regina here. When's the wedding?”

 

If Emma could have melted into the floor, she would have. “Hell, Granny, cut it out. She just got her damned memory back. Give us a little time to adjust,” Emma reasoned, hoping Regina wouldn't bolt.

 

But she surprised Emma by taking her hand and gripping it tightly. “We'll be sure to let you know, dear,” Regina told Granny, with the tilt of an eyebrow. “Shall we sit down?”

 

“Yeah,” Henry said, startling Emma with his proximity. She'd practically forgotten he was there. He went to a free booth and took a seat, perusing the menu that he already knew by heart. Regina and Emma slid in across from him, and Emma liked the feel of Regina's ankle bumping against hers. “Mom, what are you having?”

 

Emma waited for her to say, “Oatmeal,” but instead, she replied with, “I think I'll go with strawberry pancakes.” She looked at Emma curiously. “And you, Emma? What will you have?”

 

“That sounds pretty good,” Emma said, “but I think I'll go with eggs this morning. I could use some protein.”

 

Henry nodded. “I think I'll have apple pancakes today. You can have some of mine if you want, Mom,” he said offhandedly.

 

But Regina was touched; Emma heard her breath catch. “Thank you,” she said simply.

 

They talked a little bit as they waited for the food to come, until Regina's cellphone rang. She hunted for it in her purse and brought it out with a frown. “Oh, dear,” she said, and answered it. “Hello?”

 

Emma waited to figure out who it was, as did Henry.

 

“Yes, Jerome, I'm fine, thank you,” Regina said, her brow still creased. “Well, yes,” she said, and there was a pause as she listened. “I suppose I could, but do you really think anyone will--” she swallowed uncomfortably, glancing around. “I'm not certain my students will want to continue with the course now that I've gotten my memory back.”

 

Emma blinked in shock. Henry went still across from them, watching his mother carefully as the seconds ticked by.

 

“Really?” Regina said, her voice high and pure, and just the sound of it brought Emma back. “All right, if you're certain. I'll be there at 9, then.” She smiled into the phone. “Yes, yes, I will. Thank you, Jerome. I'll see you tomorrow.” She hung up and turned to Emma. “I'm teaching tomorrow. Jerome seems to think there won't be any... problems with me continuing the classes.”

 

“That's cool, Mom! I have my class too. We can go together like always,” Henry said.

 

Regina nodded, still trying to take it all in. But she and Emma were both distracted by Ruby's arrival with their breakfast.

 

“Here you go,” Ruby said, setting down the plates expertly, along with an extra one filled with fresh whipped cream. “Just made it myself,” Ruby added, “for you, Regina. Hope you like it.” She winked at her, and gave Emma a bright smile. “Enjoy.”

 

Regina stared at the bowl before turning to see if anyone around the diner was watching her. No one was, so she spooned a healthy dollop of it on top of her pancakes, transfixed by the way it melted across the fruit. “Wonderful,” she murmured as she sliced into it with her knife and fork.

 

Emma agreed. It waswonderful.

 

---

 

Emma left them after breakfast to check in at the station, but she was distracted from the three people in her jail by a mountain of paperwork she'd deliberately ignored for the last couple of weeks. There were traffic citations, noise complaints, a handful of petty thefts (probably enacted by some of the Lost Boys again, since they were mostly of booze and cigarettes from the local convenience store) that needed follow up. Emma found it pleasant to get lost in the minutia, the weight of George's capture finally off her shoulders. His representation talked a good game when he arrived that afternoon, but Emma just ignored them and asked Leroy to make sure all their public conversations were recorded. She knew that she was supposed to subscribe to “innocent until proven guilty,” but that ship had sailed, far as she was concerned.

 

The day breezed by until Ruby arrived for her late shift. “Emma, why aren't you home?”

 

“What is it?” she asked. “Is everything okay?”

 

Ruby stared at her like she was the biggest idiot on the planet. “Um, yeah, other than the woman you love got shot yesterday and you're sitting here fucking around with paperwork. Don't you think you should be spending time with her?”

 

Emma exhaled, glad it wasn't more serious. “I'm giving her space. She had kind of a,” Emma looked up at the ceiling as she tried to put into words what happened, “freak out. Sort of. She didn't go nuts or anything, but getting her memories back really screwed her up.”

 

Ruby sat down, eyes wide. “What happened?”

 

“I don't know, she just has to deal with all the stuff she forgot. Believe me, she was probably happier not remembering.”

 

With a nod, Ruby tapped her chin. “Yeah, I get that. She was awfully happy for a while, wasn't she.” She tilted her head as she watched Emma. “Think you two will get through it?”

 

“What, are you planning to make a move?” Emma quipped.

 

“I would if I thought I had a chance,” Ruby shot back with a teasing grin. “Which I don't, sadly. I think you two are meant to be.”

 

Emma had to agree. “Yeah. I think so too.”

 

---

 

When Emma got home, the house was filled with music coming from the stereo system in the living room. The sound was familiar but she couldn't put her finger on the name of the singer. Despite that, she felt soothed right away by his voice and the vibe it created. She closed the door and was greeted by Henry, who poked his head around the doorway of the kitchen. "Hey, Emma. We're making dinner!"

 

She dropped her bag on the wood floor and smiled, "What are we having?"

 

"Roast chicken, rice and vegetables. And Mom made lemonade, and I made an apple pie."

 

"You made an apple pie?" Emma asked. "I should have come home earlier. I would have liked to see that."

 

"Oh don't worry," said Regina, appearing behind Henry. "We'll be making a lot of them. My harvest is coming in beautifully." She licked her lips. "I do hope you still like apples."

 

Emma nodded. "Yeah. I sure do." She put her elbows on the island and pretended like she wasn’t giving Regina the eye. “Who’s on the stereo?”

 

Regina scoffed. “Uncultured heathen,” she said, but Emma didn’t feel the sting. “Bill Withers. Your musical education will continue indefinitely, Miss Swan,” she added, but her look was so alluring that Emma thought she could manage hearing the nickname delivered in that tone.

 

They had dinner outside at a picnic table Emma and Regina dragged out from behind the garage. It was kind of rickety, but it held up. The tablecloth and candles added a little ambiance, as did the little lanterns Regina had unearthed from the attic and hung across the yard. The meal was delicious, and the tension that had started to dissipate amongst them was altogether gone by the end of the evening. There was laughter and music and company, and Regina was more herself than ever, but without so much bitterness that tinged some of their earliest interactions. When Henry went inside to bring out his apple pie creation, Regina met her eyes. Emma wondered if they were thinking the same thing: if every evening they spent together could be even half this good, they'd be fine.

 

Regina reached out to take her hand for the second time that day, and Emma thought back to a couple of nights ago, when Henry was missing his mom, the one who knew how to comfort him when he was sick, and who put his A-graded tests on the refrigerator door. "He's glad you remember, Regina. I wanted you to know that."

 

She turned her face toward the lanterns, and the light cast gentle shadows on the planes of her face. "He told me himself." She chuckled. "I am very grateful. And lucky."

 

"Me too." The quiet was broken by Henry's emergence with his perfect pie, balanced on both hands.

 

"Ready?" he asked.

 

"Bring it on, kid," Emma said. "I've been waiting all night."

 

Happily, the pie was not just passable; it was delicious, especially considering the extra granulated sugar Henry had liberally sprinkled on the crust's top. They ate while the crickets sang to each other, and Emma got the feeling that none of them wanted the evening to end. But the hour grew late, and Henry and Regina had to be up early for their visit to the stables. The clean-up was easy since Regina had done most of it before the dinner even began. Emma appreciated that quality, which her younger incarnation definitely didn't possess.

 

They skipped reading for the night since it was already late, and Emma was dead on her feet. She brushed her teeth and collapsed on her bed, only to be woken at some point later by Regina, who convinced her to get into her night clothes. “Sorry,” she said. “Are you going to your room?”

 

“I think this will be fine for me tonight,” Regina replied. “Just get under the covers. I’m going to have to wash this duvet because of your filthy clothes.”

 

Emma grinned. “We got it dirty long before today, didn’t we,” she smirked, until she remembered exactly who she was talking to. “I mean, just kidding. Tired.”

 

“You’re so tired you’re delirious.” Regina leaned down and touched soft lips to her forehead. “Sleep now.”

 

Emma caught her hand before she pulled away. “Had a good time tonight,” Emma said. “Just being together.” She felt like a dork for saying it aloud, but now was not the time to pretend that she didn’t care about anything. Her poker face could use a few weeks on the shelf.

 

“Yes,” Regina answered, and Emma heard her future in the sound of that single word.

 

---

 

The following day, Emma was up early since she was asleep before ten. She decided to take a run for the first time in ages, especially since her jeans were starting to fit a little more tightly these days. All those pancakes were starting to take their toll. Not to mention that she ought to do a little cardio in preparation for whatever potential paces Regina might put her through in the sack.

 

If she was lucky.

 

When she got home, Regina and Henry were packing for their trip to the stables, where Regina would teach her class for the first time as herself, or at least as the new version of herself. She looked like she had not a single care in the world as she tossed a goodbye over her shoulder on her way out, but Emma knew better. She kept her ringer on all morning in the hopes that she’d hear from her sooner, but it was nearly lunch when she finally got a text.

 

It went well. Henry and I are taking a ride today. See you later?

 

Emma closed her eyes and inhaled, almost light-headed at the feeling of relief. Sure, have fun. Wear a helmet.

 

She almost erased that last thought, but hit send before she could do so. She didn’t need any more accidents involving head injuries.

 

Yes, darling.

 

Emma grinned.

 

She went to the diner for a grilled cheese, but she decided to have a salad on the side along with fries. Couldn’t hurt to be a little healthier than usual. Ruby only smirked but didn’t say a word when she brought her plate, and she waved to Snow when she came in at the same time.

 

“Hi, honey,” Snow said, a concerned expression on her face as she approached the table. “How are you?”

 

Emma took a bite of her sandwich and nodded. “Pretty good.”

 

Without asking permission, Snow slid into the other side of the booth. “And Regina?” She glanced around the diner. “Is she here?”

 

Emma shook her head. “She’s out riding with Henry. She taught her class today. That might end up as her actual job, since the mayor thing is probably not going to happen.”

 

Snow lifted her shoulders non-committally. “You never know. Everyone seems to be happy here, for the most part, so aside from a few individuals who are hell bent on getting back to the Enchanted Forest, we will probably stay. Don’t you think so?” she asked.

 

Emma nodded, still chewing. After she swallowed, she added, “I don’t want to go back there. No offense, but it’s not really my speed.”

 

“I’m starting to think it’s not mine either, anymore.” She turned to look around the diner, and her face was serene. “I like it here. More than usual, lately.”

 

Emma watched her carefully, searching for a deeper meaning behind the words. “Why?”

 

“I don’t know... It just feels right.” She focused on Emma. “You’re here, and you’re happy. Perhaps  we should just settle down and stay. I suspect if we do, Regina will grow bored at the stables. If she decided to run for election once we re-establish the Mayoral position alongside the council, she might win.”

 

Emma gaped at her mother, who sounded like she’d had a personality transplant since last week. “Excuse me?”

 

“I’m just saying, it could happen. After the last few months, everyone sees her differently now.” Snow snuck a fry off Emma’s plate.

 

“Including you?”

 

Snow ate her fry, and she was clearly thinking deep thoughts. “I’m not going to say that I trust her. And I’m not going to say I like her, or  that I will ever like her. But she’s family, yours and Henry’s. And in some way, she’s still mine, too. She hurt me a thousand times over, but I want to... move forward. Or at least try.” She sniffed. “For the dozenth time,” she added under her breath with just a shade of bitterness.

 

Emma laughed at that--it seemed much more like Snow than the belief that Regina could be electedMayor by the community she cursed. But she appreciated the effort her mother was making. “I know she’ll appreciate that.”

 

Snow blinked, her eyebrows lifting. “Really?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Snow considered that. “I’m glad she’s riding again,” she said thoughtfully. “After the curse broke, I remember being surprised that she didn’t have a horse at the stables. She was amazing with animals, and not just horses.” Snow looked off into the distance, as though lost in memory. “She adored Rocinante. I used to think she loved him more than she loved me.” She smiled sadly. “Of course she must have.”

 

Emma reached out and held her mother’s hand. “I wouldn’t be so sure. There’s a lot of water under the bridge between you. Let’s just see what happens, okay?”

 

With a nod, Snow waved to Ruby to place her order, and Emma considered something she said, about Regina and animals. After Ruby departed, Emma asked, “Do you think we should get a dog? Regina really loves Pongo, but I don’t think Archie has any intention of giving him up.”

 

Snow grinned and rested her chin on one hand. “Domesticity suits you, Emma.” Her smile spread wider. “My little girl.”

 

Emma rolled her eyes, but privately she thought that was sweet. It was odd being like a little girl to the woman across from her, but not a bad kind of odd. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

 

“Well, I think we should take a walk to the animal shelter before you head back to the sheriff’s station. How’s that?”

 

Surprised, Emma sat back. “That’s kind of fast.”

 

“There’s no time like the present,” Snow countered.

 

With a deep breath, Emma made the decision. “Okay. Okay, let’s do that.”

 

---

 

That night, when Emma got home, everything was quiet. Either Regina and Henry weren’t around, or maybe they’d gone out to dinner. But when she went into the kitchen, she saw that a meal had been cooked. She looked into a pot on the stove and saw pasta and green sauce, probably pesto. “Regina?” she called.

 

“Outside,” she heard, and went to the back door that was open a few inches.

 

And yes, she did find Regina outside, alone and beautiful in the fading light. There were candles on the table, plates of food, wine poured. “Am I late?” Emma asked, stricken with the notion that they had made plans and she’d forgotten.

 

“No,” Regina replied. “Surprise.”

 

Emma relaxed, and stepped down into the yard. “Where’s the kid?”

 

“Staying with his grandparents tonight.” Regina sipped  her glass of wine. “Come, sit.”

 

Emma did, as she thought about why Regina sent Henry out of the house. It was either good news or bad, and she had a feeling it was probably very, very good. She picked up her glass and reached out, clinking it against Regina’s. “What’s all this for?”

 

Regina glanced around, lifting a hand to magically light the lanterns overhead. “Just a proper thank you.”

 

“For what?”

 

Regina chuckled. “For what? she asks. Only for teaching me everything I’d forgotten about this world when I woke with amnesia. For taking care of me, and keeping Henry with me, and sending me to therapy, and most of all, for never, ever pushing me into something I wasn’t ready for.”

 

“Oh,” Emma replied, startled. “Well, cool. I--” she tried, stumbling, not sure how to respond.

 

“You gave me so many choices, Emma Swan, so many dozens of choices every day, after coming from a place where I had none. Things as simple as what to eat, what to wear, how to do my hair--which I’m cutting, by the way--were not decisions I made before. It was revelatory to be able to choose what I wanted, with no consequences. That was all because of you.”

 

“Um,” Emma began, “Anyone would have--”

 

“No one would have, not in this town. Only you. And I will be eternally grateful.”

 

Still unable to come up with a proper reply, she simply said, “You’re welcome, I guess.”

 

“Good. So now, we eat. I think you liked this one last time we made it, right?” Regina said, gesturing to the little piles of pasta and vegetables on her plate.

 

“Yep,” Emma said. “Did you make the pesto?”

 

“From the basil in the garden,” Regina replied, picking up her fork. “I’ve been keeping it warm for you.”

 

Emma’s stomach growled. “Magic is good for lots of things,” she said, and dug in.

 

After dinner they cleaned together as usual, while music played in the background. Regina hummed along, and Emma thought back to what her mother had said that afternoon, about domesticity. She never expected to have a normal life, or at least as normal a life as one could have while living with a magical evil queen and the son she’d given up for adoption. Emma was drifting in her own thoughts when she turned around and nearly bumped into Regina, who was right in front of her. She smelled wonderful, like basil and wine and herself, and Emma’s eyes drifted shut for a second.

 

“I have something else to thank you for, by the way,” Regina said in a low voice.

 

Emma’s legs were like water; she put a hand on the counter to steady herself. “What’s that?” she managed.

 

“I think you know,” Regina said, stepping closer, right into her space. “You gave me something very precious when I asked for it. And I will never, ever forget that day.”

 

She swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. She did know. She just didn’t think Regina would ever bring it up again. “Me neither,” she whispered.

 

“I’ve been hesitant until today, about being with you.” She toyed with the ends of Emma’s hair. “You’ve been patient. I believe that patience should be rewarded.” Regina’s lips brushed Emma’s cheek; her body was aflame with that tiny touch. It was like the first time they’d kissed, when Emma had been both aroused and uncertain. “Does that sound good to you?”

 

Emma nodded once. She could hardly breathe. Lips touched her ear and she shivered violently. Every cell was turned on in an instant.

 

“My goodness,” Regina sighed. “Are you ready?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma replied, trying and failing not to sound desperate.

 

“Then let’s go upstairs.” Regina turned around and strolled out of the room, and Emma nearly collapsed on wobbly knees.

 

“Fucking fuck,” Emma said, and followed her in a hurry. Like before, Regina ran the steps, so Emma chased her, and when they collided into each other’s arms in Emma’s room, the lightness she’d been missing returned. Regina’s mouth fitted to hers as if it had never been absent, and it was like finding home. “Missed you,” she said.

 

Regina nodded in reply. “And I you,” she said, tearing at Emma’s belt. They stripped each other quickly and fell on the bed, knees bumping together as Regina rolled on top. That was new, or maybe it wasn’t; it might just be new to Emma. Her eyes got wide as she realized that this might be really different than it used to be. “Don’t look shocked, darling,” Regina said. “I won’t hurt you.” She grinned. “Unless you ask me to.”

 

“Another time,” Emma said, grabbing the back of her neck and pulling her down for another kiss. This wasn’t be so different. She reached for Regina’s breasts, holding their weight and brushing the nipples as she rocked beneath her.

 

“You were so gentle with me,” Regina said. “I’d never had that. Ever.” She kissed Emma feverishly. “When you made me come that first time it was like my whole body exploded. It was incredible,” she breathed, already panting with desire.

 

“For me too,” Emma replied, sitting up and letting Regina wrap her legs around her. She reached down between her thighs, only to be surprised to find a lot less hair than there had been. “What happened?”

 

“Oh,” Regina said, somehow managing to blush in the dim light. “I thought you’d prefer this, since you keep yourself very--” she searched for the right word-- “tidy.”

 

“No need,” Emma said, fastening her mouth to the corded muscles of Regina’s throat. “I liked it. Wild. Like you. But if you like it this way, I don’t care either. Whatever.” Her fingers slid through the slickness and she groaned. “Fuck, I love touching you.”

 

“Inside,” Regina said, clearly not in the mood to wait. “Yes,” she hissed, her head tilting back, thighs pressing against Emma’s hips. She wrapped her arms around Emma’s shoulders and moaned with each push of Emma’s hand. “I want three,” she asked. Emma complied, and used her left hand to zero in on Regina’s clitoris. “Not yet--I’ll come. I want to feel you inside me.”

 

Emma groaned, biting her lip against her own desire to come.

 

Regina shifted her weight, using her legs to gain some leverage and start moving on her own. Emma’s hand cramped slightly from the position but she kept on going until Regina grabbed her free hand and pressed it where she wanted it. Her eyes opened, a dark ocean Emma wanted to drown in. “Harder,” she commanded, so Emma thrust harder, using her thumb in circles, until Regina curled forward with a final effort and paused, hovering right on the brink endlessly before the wave crashed down on her. She cried out as she came, and Emma stared at her in awe, as she first had all those weeks before. When it was over, Emma held her, kissing her damp shoulders, her collarbone, her cheek.

 

“Beautiful Emma,” she whispered, and Emma felt cherished once again.

 

“I love you,” Emma said, unable to hold back the thought.

 

Regina pulled away and looked down at her. “I love you too,” and Emma melted, because it was the first time since she’d come back, since she’d remembered, that she’d said the words. “You don’t have to--”

 

“Yes, I do. I owe you the truth, especially now. I am still yours, Emma, if you’ll have me.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, trailing her fingers gently along Regina’s back. “I will.” Their mouths met, and Emma let her press her down into the mattress, mapping out her body with her mouth and tongue and fingers.

 

“I don’t ever want to forget again,” Regina said, her words mumbled against Emma’s ribcage. “I couldn’t bear to lose the memory of you.”

 

“You won’t,” Emma assured her. “And hey, I figured out how to fix it, so we’ve got a back up plan just in case.”

 

Regina laughed; something in the sound reminded Emma of a cat purring. “Let’s just hope you never have to use it.”

 

“Definitely.”

 

With sigh, Regina sat up and gazed thoughtfully at Emma’s prone body.

 

“What?” Emma asked.

 

“Where did you hide the Pleasure Chest?” she asked.

 

“Uh,” Emma said, swallowing thickly. “It’s in my bottom drawer. Locked up.”

 

Regina licked her lips. “I’m pleased you never did get around to trying out any of those new dildos.” With a wave of her fingers, Emma’s bottom drawer opened, followed by the lid of the chest within it, and a second later there was a toy and harness in her hand. “Want me to give it a shot?”

 

Emma smiled.

 

A minute later, when Regina leaned over and slid the toy inside her, they were so close, and Emma’s chest opened up, and her heart raced, and she felt everything expand to make room for all the love she had inside. Regina moved her hips, and Emma moved with her, and they watched each other until Emma couldn’t keep watching anymore, and Regina’s hand found its way between them to press just where she needed it most. When Emma came she saw sparks bursting behind her eyes, and Regina’s hand moved to work between her own legs until she too jerked forward, pushing the toy just a little deeper as she gasped out her pleasure.

 

When Emma finally opened her eyes again, Regina looked as stunned as she felt. She laughed at the expression, and Regina just blinked lazily. “That was fun,” Regina said, sounding almost tipsy.

 

“Mm-hmm,” Emma replied. “You know, we never did make it to your magic number 10. I mean we got close once, but--”

 

“Is that a challenge?” Regina asked, perking right back up.

 

“Well, I’m just saying--”

“You always did need more recovery time than I did, so go ahead and relax for a minute,” Regina drawled, shimmying backwards and removing the toy from between them. She unceremoniously dropped it on the floor. Sauntering out of the room naked, she called out, “I’m going to get us some water. It’s going to be a long night.”

 

Emma’s eyebrows shot up. “Bring the ice cream while you’re at it,” she shouted.

 

“Yes, darling.”

 

---

 

In the morning, they were appropriately dressed when David dropped Henry off. Neither one of them had gotten enough sleep, and Emma’s calves were so sore she almost decided to skip her run. But she reminded herself: need more stamina, and pulled on her running shorts and top. She went to the kitchen table to find Regina and Henry arguing over how much cinnamon to add to the appley oatmeal she’d cooked for breakfast.

 

“Add more to your own if you want it, kid. And go easy on the sugar,” Emma told him, and he sat down at the table in an exaggerated huff.

 

“Whatever. What’d you guys do last night anyway? I saw the dishes in the sink this morning.”

 

Emma paused only for a second before replying smoothly, “Just got to talking. Getting settled again after all the stuff that’s been happening lately.”

 

“Oh.” Henry said, playing with the flip-top cap of the cinnamon container. “Did it go okay?”

 

In that moment she saw him so clearly--a young boy, close to manhood, who wanted his parents to love each other and be together as a family. “Yeah, it was good.”

 

“It was very good,” Regina added, setting a bowl down in front of her son with a kiss to the top of his head. “Everything is just fine.”

 

He grinned down at the table, unable to hide his pleasure. “Okay.” He looked up at his mom, who was scooping out a bowl for Emma. He met her eyes, and in a whisper, he said to her, “She’s really back.”

 

Emma smiled at him. “Yeah.”

 

He nodded to himself. “Cool.”

 

A bowl landed in front of Emma too, along with a cup of coffee. “Thanks. Don’t I get a kiss too?”

 

Regina gave her a fond smile, but rolled her eyes so she wouldn’t look too eager. “I suppose,” and pecked her on the lips.

 

Henry didn’t say a word.

 

Regina handed her a tiny iPod as she was about to head out for her run. “I made you a collection to listen to. For your continuing musical edification,” she added with a raised eyebrow. “Would you care to meet Henry and I for lunch? We’ll be at the stables for most of the morning.”

 

“Sure. And thanks for this.” She glanced down at the player and thought, She made me a mix tape. Awesome.

 

“See you at 12:30,” Regina said, patting her on the butt possessively.

 

“Bye,” Emma said, putting on the headphones as she made her way down the front walk. She picked up into a run as she opening beats of a song that sounded familiar to her began to play.  The voice was the one from yesterday, Bill Withers, Emma remembered. And when the lyrics continued on past the first verse, Emma’s heart beat far faster than it should have at her current pace.

 

Then I look at you, Emma heard, and the world’s all right with me. She came to a stop, listening. Just one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be... A lovely day.

 

Emma turned around, letting the song keep playing. She jogged back home, only to catch Regina and Henry loading up the car for their day.

 

“Did you forget something?” Henry said.

 

“Yeah,” she replied, going straight up to Regina. “I forgot to say I love you,” she said, and kissed her with everything she had in her heart.

 

Regina kissed her right back.

 

When she pulled away, she said, “See you later,” and wondered if Regina saw the sheen of tears in her eyes. In a moment, she knew Regina had, because when she nodded, her smile was small but filled with meaning.

 

“And you too kid,  love you,” Emma said, going to him for a hug.

 

“Love you, Emma,” Henry said. “See ya.”

 

She turned around and put the music back on as she hit the sidewalk, waving a minute or so later as the Mercedes passed her by.

 

---

 

As Emma headed toward the diner, leash in her hand, she wondered if she’d made a terrible mistake.

 

She’d stood at the shelter for about half an hour, hemming and hawing, even though she’d immediately known yesterday which dog she wanted. Eventually she’d left, still picturing the animal’s face as she’d first walked by him in his cage. He was a few months old, and she no idea why he’d been abandoned; most of the dogs at the shelter had been picked up or adopted after the curse broke. This one was shy, and he hadn’t approached her or barked as she’d gotten near him. Something about him said, “I’m the one you want.” The shelter volunteer told her he was some kind of an Australian Shepherd mix, maybe with collie or another kind of shepherd. He was small for his age, and probably wouldn’t grow to full size since he’d been underfed as a pup. He’d been filthy and hungry when someone had dropped him off after finding him by the side of the road in the woods.

 

“Probably a runt,” the young woman had said. “He doesn’t bark too much, doesn’t cause any trouble. He’d want a lot of exercise, so if you have space for him to run that would be best. And he’ll probably try to herd you and your, uh, family.” She’d clearly known who Emma’s significant other was, even though they’d never met. “If he takes to everyone he’ll be really protective, but he won’t like being alone that much, so if you plan on leaving him by himself a lot that might not be a good fit.”

 

Emma had been thinking of Regina at the stables, and what would happen when Henry went back to school.

 

“Okay. I’ll think about it,” she’d said, and departed.

 

Five minutes later, the image of the dog’s bright blue eyes in her mind, she went to the drugstore and bought a leash. She returned to the shelter in a hurry, suddenly worried that someone else had snapped up her dog. Once they’d approached his cage with the clear indication that he was the one she’d chosen, he’d stood up, wagged his tail, and smiled the cutest damned doggie smile she’d ever seen. Ten minutes after that, she paid the adoption fee, signed some paperwork, and walked out the door as a pet owner.

 

She had no idea what she needed to take care of him, other than food and water and something for him to sleep on. But Regina would help, if she didn’t kill her first. Emma wanted so desperately for this to be a good surprise, so she held her breath.

 

She saw Regina and Henry walking toward the diner from the opposite direction, talking to each other. The puppy lurched forward as if he recognized them. And when Regina saw them, Emma had no idea what she was thinking; the range of emotions on her face was like mercury, running one into the other in the space of a few seconds. In the end, what Emma thought of as her most impenetrable Mayoral mask descended. That was better than the angry Evil Queen glare, so there might be hope yet.

 

Henry ran toward them. “Emma, why do you have a dog?”

 

She had no idea what to say. “Well, I guess I... thought it would be fun for us to get one.”

 

“Get a dog?” Henry said, overjoyed. “Mom never let me get one before!”

 

“No, I did not,” Regina said smoothly. “And you thought it was a good idea to get an animal without asking me?”

 

“I wanted it to be a surprise.” Her heart started a slow, steady plummet. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want him in the house, I can,” she swallowed unhappily, “I can keep him at my old apartment. David and Snow are looking for a house, and I never officially moved in with you, with your permission anyway--”

 

The dog was licking Henry’s face as he giggled, and Regina walked past Emma and knelt on the sidewalk. The dog came to attention, and sat in front of her as if waiting for instructions.

 

“So. Do you do as you're told?” Regina asked the puppy.

 

He tilted his head once, otherwise remaining still.

 

“Are you house-trained?”

 

He tilted his head in the other direction and yipped once.

 

“The volunteer at the shelter told me yes,” Emma said quickly.

 

“Will you be a good dog and protect the family?” Regina asked, with total seriousness.

 

The dog stood up and barked, tail twitching faintly.

 

Regina sighed, and the mask fell just enough. “All right. As long as you follow my rules, you can stay.”

 

The dog barked again and his tail began to wag in earnest. Regina adjusted her position to kneel more comfortably on the sidewalk, and the dog went to her, stepping onto her thighs. He licked her on the nose, and the first real smile emerged like the sun. She started to pet him and Henry joined in, and the little dog’s whole body wriggled in excitement.

 

"What on earth inspired you?" Regina asked, allowing her pleasure to show. "He is very sweet."

 

"Well, yesterday, I was--" Emma decided to leave out the part about her mother, "at the diner, and the subject came up. I know how much you love Pongo, and I always did want a dog. I just... never... had the right life to try it."

 

Only as she said the words did she realize how much that was true. Regina looked up at her, a little sadly. "And this one? Why did you choose him?"

 

"Somebody abandoned him by the side of the... road," she said, feeling silly, thinking about her own circumstances. "In the woods. He was half-starved."

 

Regina's face froze, and she looked down at the puppy, so eager to love and be loved. “By the side of the road,” Regina repeated. “Well I guess you simply have to stay then, don’t you?”

 

The dog barked again cheerfully and ran in a circle around their group two, then three times until Emma picked up his leash and handed it to Henry. “Want to run him around for a few minutes?”

 

Henry nodded and the dog went with him down the street, leaping and jumping alongside him. “You can take him to the stables,” Emma said. “He needs lots of exercise, and he can come running with me in the mornings. I’ll take care of all the gross stuff, if he poops in the house or whatever, and if he needs to go outside in the middle of the night--”

 

“We’ll take turns,” Regina assured her. “It will teach Henry responsibility.” She watched Henry and the dog bounding around each other, until Ruby came out of the diner and joined them. Ruby bent down to pet the new puppy, cooing so loudly Emma could hear her from down the block. “And perhaps it's time you pack the things you’ve left in the apartment and moved them to the house.”

 

Emma turned to her, and took her hand. “You sure?”

 

Regina nodded. “It won’t be perfect--”

 

“I don’t need perfect,” Emma said, squeezing Regina’s hand.

 

“Well,” she said, with a deep breath. “Then I’m sure.”

 

Emma glanced over at Henry and the dog and the small  crowd of diner patrons and passersby who had gathered around them. “So this is going to be our life?” Emma asked.

 

“Yes,” Regina said.

 

“Then let’s make it good,” Emma said.

 

Regina looked at her, eyes shining in the sun. “Okay.”

 

---

 

the end