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A Dark Ocean

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The Thunderbird sped down the road, much faster than Emma's Bug. She shoved her foot down on the pedal as far as it would go, but it seemed to make no difference; her car could only go about 65, and on a cold day like this one? Forget it, 60 was tops.

 

"Fuck. Fuckity fuck fucking fuck it all," she mumbled, wondering if King George had really thought this plan out. So what if Snow and David forgot who they were? Did he really think  that everyone would suddenly start following him if their leaders forgot their identities? Especially with Emma following behind--even if she crossed the line, she wouldn't forget who she was. Probably. She hadn't been out of Storybrooke in over a year, not since she first came to town, but she'd never really been under the curse. A curse that was now mostly broken, with the exception of that damned line.

 

She grabbed the walkie. "There's no way I'm going to reach it, Ruby," she barked. "They're going over the line. Including whoever's driving the car--"

 

Ahead of her, the door to the Thunderbird flew open. Like a shot, a blur leapt from the speeding vehicle, slamming to the pavement and rolling into the grass. Whoever it was was definitely hurt, if not dead. But that was incidental, because the car didn't slow down at all. The gas pedal must be clamped down, and if there was no driver, then Snow and David wouldn't just lose their memories--they'd be killed slamming into a tree or whatever the car hit first.

 

"Ruby, this is bad," she said, and for the first time, she believed that her parents, whom she'd known were her parents for all of seven months, would die, and she'd be an orphan again. Her eyes grew wet, blurring her vision as they got closer and closer to the line. "l don't think we're--"

 

"Help's on the way, Em," Ruby said firmly. "Stay cool."

 

"What do you mean, help? There's only one road--"

 

"Who knows this town better than anyone who lives here? Who made this place from scratch?" Ruby asked. "She's headed in your direction."

 

Regina. Emma didn't know whether to be relieved or irritated. "What's she going to do, shoot out a tire?" Actually, Emma hadn't really thought of that until right then, and it didn't seem like a bad idea. Or if only there was someone who could get ahead of them and throw down a spike strip--

 

"Don't know. Michael was here at the diner when you first put the call in--she grabbed his keys and took off in his truck. She should be there by now--"

 

Emma didn't know where the hell she was, but the line was ever closer--it couldn't be half a mile away by now, less than 30 seconds till her mom and dad crossed it, and then they'd forget her, forget their lives, forget getting married and falling in love again and loving her too--

 

Nearly standing on the gas pedal, Emma's stomach rolled over. She tried to control her emotions, because she had to keep a clear head. This was something she'd survive. She'd lived through so much worse, years and years of worse, so finding then losing something again wasn't really that bad--

 

Out of the woods, a truck blasted through the overgrowth onto the road. With a skill Emma could never have pulled off, it caught the back bumper of the Thunderbird, shoving it off course and into a spin, but otherwise hardly damaging it. Pit maneuver, Emma's sheriff brain thought, all the while staring at the way Regina's truck flipped in a magnificent arc and rolled toward the line.

 

Her parents were probably safe--dizzy as hell, banged up and terrified in the trunk, but (hopefully) okay. Regina, on the other hand... The truck landed on its four wheels again, remarkably still in one piece, but it was at least 50 yards over the line in a shallow ditch. The "Welcome to Storybrooke" sign loomed near Emma's Bug.

 

"Fuckity fucking fuck," Emma said, watching smoke stream from beneath the truck's hood. That was not good. She got out of the car and looked at the line, orange and ridiculous in the middle of the street. Emma hesitated for a split second, but when she heard the "whoompf" and saw the tongue of flame licking the underside of the truck, she took off. When she crossed the line, nothing at all happened. She felt perfectly fine, no headache, no memory loss, not even a twinge of nausea. Good luck had finally come her way.

 

Her run was fueled by adrenaline, so she made it in less than ten seconds. She ripped the front door open and found Regina slumped over, blood splashed against the driver's side window. "Regina!" she shouted, reaching for the seat belt that would not come loose. "Regina, wake up," Emma said, glancing at the hood of the truck, smoke rising higher now. The flames were small, but that would change, and she didn't have a fire extinguisher handy.  "Okay, come on luck, come back to me baby," she mumbled. "I need a little more of you, okay?"

 

She took a deep breath, pressed down firmly on the seat belt button, and was almost lightheaded with relief when it clicked open. In a move she'd practiced about four hundred times since she'd become sheriff but never used once in an official capacity, she pulled Regina Mills, former Mayor of Storybrooke and Evil Queen of Fairytale lore, into a fireman's carry and hauled her from the burning vehicle.

 

The ambulance siren sounded more like a scream by the time Emma had crossed the line back into Storybrooke. Ruby had arrived and already gotten the Thunderbird's trunk open to free Snow and David. They were watching her as she carefully (or as carefully as one could with a hundred ten pounds of dead weight on her shoulders) laid Regina down on the waiting gurney. Whale and an EMT she knew only by the name of Russ hovered over her unconscious form, and as much as she knew she had to go to her parents to see if they were all right, she didn't want to move. She couldn't really, not knowing if Regina was alive or dead or just unconscious, or what the hell would happen to a magical being who had crossed the town border. Regina had cast the curse. Surely she wouldn't be affected by the line, would she? If she had deliberately put herself in harm's way to save her parents, she must have known she'd be fine.

 

"Emma," David said at her shoulder, and she turned to him. He pulled her into his arms. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice filled with emotion.

 

"It wasn't me," she croaked, fingers digging into the muscles bunched at his shoulders. "It was Regina. I couldn't catch up," she explained. "Think it might be time to get a new car," she laughed, feeling hysteria creeping in but trying to swallow it back.

 

"Regina?" Snow said, arms around the both of them. "Are you joking?"

 

Physically Snow seemed okay, Emma was relieved to find, except for a nasty looking bruise on her cheek. But she looked as spooked as Emma felt. "No. She stole--"

 

"She's coming around," Whale said, and Emma pulled away from her parents. She was at Regina's side, heart in her throat, as the woman blinked blearily. She was bleeding profusely from a cut on her scalp, and the side of her face and jaw were starting to swell, but she was alive.

 

"What happened?" Regina said, sounding shaky. "Where am I?"

 

"You've been in a car accident."

 

"Pardon me?" Regina asked, wincing when the EMT touched her wound with gauze. "Get away from me, especially you, Victor. Where are my guards?"

 

Emma blinked and looked up at Whale. He had stilled, hands frozen in mid-air. No one spoke.

 

"I said, where are my guards? My head is splitting. Did I fall from my horse?" She exhaled, as though trying to fight the impulse to throw up. Emma was having the same feeling. "The King is due back this evening and he'll be very angry if I'm not on time. You must--" Regina sat up and looked around for the first time, and Emma saw such pure confusion on her face that she knew, right away, what had happened.

 

She'd forgotten.

 

"What in the world?" she breathed when her eyes found the truck she'd been driving. "What is that--" she managed to get out before the vehicle exploded in flames, the hood flying across the street like a shield of fire.

 

Regina screamed in abject terror, actually throwing herself off the gurney. The EMT caught her, and she groaned in pain. "Where -- where am I?" she cried. "What is this place?"

 

"Regina," Snow said, stepping closer. "Regina, stay calm."

 

"Who are you? You--" Her dark eyes narrowed. "You seem familiar, but you--your clothes, I don't--" And when she met Snow's eyes, whatever color she still had after the accident drained from her face. "What magic is this? Are you--King Leopold's first wife?"

 

"This is not happening," Snow said, shaking her head. The bruise on her cheek was darkening by the minute. "She's lying. It's ridiculous."

 

David hadn't looked away from Regina; Emma had watched both him and Whale as they stared. "Snow, don't--"

 

Regina's gasp was like a gunshot. Her eyes were so wide Emma thought they were going to start rolling in their sockets. "Snow White is just a child. I only left her a few hours ago when I took Rocinante out."

 

What the hell is a Rocinante? Emma thought.

 

But no one seemed to be listening to Regina anymore, because there was so much electricity between the two women staring at each other. "Regina, stop pretending. I know you remember," Snow said.

 

Regina swallowed. "I remember Snow White perfectly. You are not she. You must be a sorceress--you all must be a figment of my imagination, or you have been conjured up by a spell. This is not my home. This is not the Enchanted Forest."

 

"Sure as hell isn't," Emma said under her breath.

 

For the first time, Regina seemed to notice Emma. The lines across her bloody brow faded, and she tilted her head. Emma felt the spark light her up, as strongly as it ever had between them. "And who might you be?" Regina asked, in that low voice that sounded like sex in public, like garter belts and lace and chocolate covered cherries served on bare skin.

 

When Emma opened her mouth to reply, Regina's eyes slid shut, and she slumped onto the gurney in a dead faint.

 

---

 

The ride to the hospital was peppered with questions from both Snow and David. No, she didn't know where King George was. No, she didn't know why Regina had rescued them. No, she didn't have a plan to deal with the lackey Ruby had captured in the woods, other than throwing him into jail after they'd treated his broken bones. Yes, she believed that Regina did not remember the last few decades of her life. Regina had no reason to lie at this point; the town had simply let her be after they'd vanquished both Hook and Cora. The former Evil Queen wasn't liked, but she wasn't being chased by angry mobs every other day either. Henry hadn't quite come around yet, but Emma could see he was on his way. Emma had made sure they had a weekly dinner together, and Henry was always cheerful after it.

 

And Emma in turn enjoyed listening to Henry talk about his mom. She usually enjoyed thinking about his mom in general. They hadn't kissed, and she didn't really have plans to make a move, but if Regina did? She wouldn't say no. She probably wouldn't say anything other than, "Your place or mine?" Nobody in town would have to know, at least for a while, and if they just happened to start spending more time together than they already did, it wouldn't seem totally out of the ordinary. They did share a son after all.

 

But chances of that happening now were slim to none, although she did like the way Regina looked at her, like she was a tasty ice cream sundae just waiting to be eaten. But there had been no weight behind it, the kind that comes from shared experiences and saving each other's lives (and punching each other once in a while too). All that was gone, and Emma wondered how she'd survive it.

 

She also wondered if it was because she'd crossed the line. If so, it was a weird kind of amnesia, not like what Sneezy had been stricken with. This Regina seemed to be experiencing the opposite of that, forgetting only her Storybrooke memories, and not her fairytale ones. Maybe Whale would know more at the hospital.

 

Emma wanted to go straight for Regina, but instead she sat with her mother while she had the bruise on her face checked out. Ice and ibuprofen were going to be Emma's suggestion (she'd had worse herself in her bounty hunting days), and that matched what the nurse doled out too. David wasn't really injured aside from his pride, so he just hovered at Snow's side the way he always did. Emma liked that her parents were still in love after all these years, but it was kind of cloying to watch. Regina's edge always relieved some of that spun sugar rush she was left with after spending a lot of time with them.

 

"I want to check on Regina," Emma finally said, after watching her dad kiss Snow's cheek the twentieth time.

 

"I'll come with you," Snow said in return, hopping down from the gurney.

 

"I'd rather you didn't," Emma said quickly, wanting to nip this in the bud. If Regina thought Snow was a kid, what would she do if she found out how much time had passed?

 

Snow just shook her head. "Sorry, honey. I need to know what's really going on here. I'm coming."

 

So Emma ended up following both her parents to the second floor, where a nurse sent them. When they reached Regina's room, she heard yelling coming from inside. She didn't even knock before turning the handle and stepping inside.

 

"Get that away from me," Regina was shouting, although Dr. Whale only seemed to be holding a penlight. "Step away or I'll make you sorry you ever met me, Victor."

 

Emma had never even realized his name was Victor, but apparently Regina knew.

 

"Your majesty, I need you to lie still and allow me to examine you properly. You've had a terrible injury and you must relax."

 

"Relax. I've no clue where I am and you have told me exactly nothing other than the fact that I've been transported to another world as part of some dark curse. I need information. I demand it. I may not know what's happening but I am still a Royal, and you'd do well to acknowledge--" Regina finally noticed that Emma, David and Snow were standing in the doorway.

 

"You," Regina said, beckoning to Emma. "Who are you?"

 

Emma took a step, but Snow snuck around her and went to Regina's bedside. "Stop this, Regina. No one believes you."

 

Regina stared up into Snow's face, unblinking. "You are so like her," she breathed. "Like the painting in the King's chambers. It was as though the eyes followed me, glaring at me every time I set foot inside Leopold's rooms." She turned to David, then Dr. Whale. "Where is he, then? The King. He'll want to know where I am, as always."

 

Snow opened her mouth before David could interrupt her. "My father is dead, Regina."

 

Regina's face transformed; Emma could see the whites of her eyes in a perfect circle around the irises. "Dead," she managed, her voice high and small.

 

"You killed him," Snow spat. "You would know."

 

Regina's mouth twisted. "Killed him? I did nothing of the sort. He's negotiating protection from the Ogres who've united at the west. They'll come in spring if we're not ready, destroying all in their path. The king is certainly not dead. And why would I kill my own husband? The man who made me a Queen?"

 

"We both know that's not what really happened. Your mother forced you to marry him, and you've never forgiven me for it. But Regina, this charade won't change the past, and it won't bring back Daniel--"

 

A light bulb under a lampshade on the side table exploded. A second in the ceiling followed it; there was a fragrance of smoke and ozone in the air. David laid a hand on Snow's shoulder. "Snow, you'd better--"

 

"What do you know of Daniel? Victor, what have you told them? And why do you insist on being called Snow--" Regina insisted, before Snow cut her off again.

 

"Because I am Snow White. My father's been dead more than thirty years, and you cursed us all to a land without magic until my daughter Emma broke your spell. Is that what you want? For me to pretend that you have no memory of any of your terrible misdeeds? You want to forget the lives you've destroyed, including that of my father and your own? What on earth do you plan to gain from this?"

 

"My father is alive," Regina said, her voice cracking. "He is just... missing."

 

"He's dead because you killed him to cast the curse--"

 

A slap rang out in the room, and Snow's face showed a dark red mark on an otherwise pristine cheek. She'd have bruises on both sides of her face if she wasn't careful. "I would never harm my father. Never."

 

But Emma knew that wasn't true.

 

"I won't listen to this," Snow said, grabbing David's hand and pulling him toward the door. "We'll have to deal with her later. Emma, come along."

 

"Sorry, Mom." Emma shook her head and moved closer to the bed. "I think I'll stick around a while. Just to see how things go."

 

"She's lying, Emma. Don't believe a word she says." Snow glared at her nemesis. "She's a very good liar. Obviously."

 

Emma turned to Regina, who could not stop watching Snow. It seemed that she was finally starting to believe that this woman was the child of her memories.

 

"Snow?" Regina asked almost plaintively.

 

But Snow White was already gone. Emma looked to Whale and motioned with her head toward the door. "Regina, we're just going to take a minute, okay? Be back in a sec."

 

Regina didn't respond. Emma figured her brain was occupied with bigger things to worry about than where Emma would be.

 

She yanked Whale toward the hall and shut the door so they'd have a modicum of privacy. "What the hell?" she asked. "Could she be faking it?"

 

Whale snorted. "Of course. I wouldn't put anything past Regina. But do I think she'd choose retrograde amnesia? Certainly not. If Regina were to fake memory loss, I'd guess she'd pretend to forget her Evil Queen counterpart, not the Mayor." He nodded to himself, lost in thought. "It's safer, for one thing, since she'd write off all responsibility for casting the curse. That said, she seems to be doing that now, since she's lost decades of her life."

 

"She knows you though, " Emma said. "How much time do you think is gone?"

 

"It has to be after I tried to bring back Daniel, but also after her father was kidnapped to Wonderland, which was later. Not including our 28 years in Storybrooke, I'd estimate twelve years or so. Perhaps more, perhaps less. The one who could say best is likely Snow White, and I don't think she'll believe a word Regina says after this."

 

Emma had heard from Regina about Daniel's recent "return" from the dead, after she'd come home from the Enchanted Forest. She knew few details, except that Daniel would never again return to claim the heart of the Queen. Regina had cried a little, and it was the first time Emma had held her hand for more than a few seconds. Regina had clung to it, and looked grateful.

 

But if Regina had forgotten it all, Daniel's first loss would still be fresh. So would her rage, however hidden. Right now she just seemed sullen and spoiled, but Emma knew the anger that lurked beneath the surface. As much as she hadn't intended to fill the woman in on her own history, now that Snow had dropped some major details, she might have to.

 

"What kind of amnesia did you say?" Emma asked.

 

"Retrograde. I've never seen a case of it, but of course I've only practiced medicine here. My previous studies involved... other medical pursuits. In any event, the subject loses a period of time, occasionally remembering certain skills but not others. For example, if she played an instrument, she could remember that, but not how she learned. She might remember how to drive, or how to cook, or not. We'll have to wait and see."

 

"Should I tell her about the past?"

 

Whale gazed down the hall and out the window. "Honestly? I have no idea, I’ll need to look into it. Let me run some tests before you start revealing her deep dark secrets, all right?"

 

"What tests?"

 

"A CT scan, and an MRI. I need to be sure there aren't further internal injuries."

 

"If she's afraid of a penlight, you might have a hard time convincing her to get in an MRI machine."

 

"I'm sure you'll be a big help in that respect," Whale said.

 

"Me? Uh, I don't think that's going to help. She doesn't even know me."

 

"Well you're the only one here. The job is yours."

 

Without another word, Whale returned to Regina's bedside, and Emma had no choice but to follow. "Your majesty, I'm going to run a few tests on you to make sure you're physically all right. Do I have your permission?"

 

Regina seemed to sink back into the mattress. "I--I don't know. I don't understand what's happening to me."

 

Emma went to her. Whale was right. She had no one, so Emma would have to do this. She didn't have much else going on anyway--in an hour or two she could check in on Ruby and their prisoner, and they already had a BOLO out for George, not that he'd show his face in town since his plan had failed so spectacularly. "Listen. You were hurt, but you're going to be all right. I'll stay with you, and we'll figure it out together. Okay?"

 

Regina blinked at her, and Emma again marveled at how lost she seemed. How young and afraid. "Are we... friends?" Regina asked.

 

Emma glanced briefly at Whale, who busied himself looking at a chart. "Yeah. I guess you could say we're friends."

 

Regina looked down at her hands. "That's nice. I don't remember having a friend. Not for a very long time."

 

Heart breaking, Emma hoped like hell Regina wasn't faking it.

 

---

 

Emma had to answer what felt like a thousand questions between the CT scan, the MRI, and the minutes in between. "How is the light captured in those tubes in the ceiling?" "What is the material your trousers are made of?" "What was the machine that exploded earlier today in the forest?" "Do I really have to be inside this metal tube for so long?" The last was asked as she was being given a gown before her MRI, which Emma sat through, holding onto Regina's smooth, smooth shin. She was too afraid to be alone in the room, especially with the clanging of the scanner. The earlier CT wasn't so difficult, since the time period was far shorter, and there wasn't nearly as much noise.

 

When the MRI was completed, and Regina had swayed on her feet, Emma had demanded that she be allowed back to her room. She'd already been diagnosed with a concussion, and the cut at her head had bled through the gauze sometime that evening. By the time all the tests were done, the sun had set, and Emma's phone had a total of seven messages stored up in the voicemail. Scrolling through her missed calls, she identified Henry, Snow, Ruby, Archie, Henry again, then David, and Snow a second time. She'd get back to Henry as soon as she had a free moment. That might not be for a while.

 

Her most awkward exchange with Regina came when she had a strangely desperate look just a few minutes after her first exam. "What's wrong?" Emma had asked.

 

Regina had just blushed and shaken her head.

 

And then Emma had noticed she was sort of crushing her legs together, and she had immediate sympathy and understanding. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"

 

Regina had looked at the ceiling and replied, "If that's what you call a water closet."

 

"Yep," Emma had said, and taken her by the elbow. Whale had nearly had a fit when they'd taken a detour on their way to the MRI room, but one look from Emma had shut him up.

 

Emma had pointed at the toilet and kept it simple. "Do your business in there, and when you're finished, push that silver thing down."

 

At Regina's blank look, Emma wished that of all the things that she could have remembered, this was one of them. "Like this," she said, and demonstrated flushing the toilet. Regina actually stepped back in surprise, watching the disappearance of the water with great interest. Emma showed her how to use the faucet as well, making sure to insist that she wash her hands when she was done. "Clean is sort of a big thing in this world," Emma added, although Regina hadn't looked disturbed when told to wash up.

 

When Regina emerged from the bathroom after more than five minutes, she looked almost excited. "The mechanism is absolutely fascinating," she said. "Have you ever looked inside the large tank behind the bowl? There's a floating ball, and a chain attached--"

 

"Yeah, actually," Emma said, realizing that Regina hadn't been doing anything suspect or embarrassing--she was just busy investigating. "I've fixed more than my fair share of busted toilets."

 

"Toilet. That's what it's called?"

 

Emma had nodded, wondering what other modern conveniences she'd have to explain to this woman, who seemed so young and so terribly sad at the same time. She really was different from Regina Mills, Mayor of Storybrooke. Of course when Emma thought about it, Emma would be just as different compared to herself in her early 20s, and she'd only aged a handful of years compared to Regina's forty.

 

She decided not to think too much about that.

 

Once Regina was back in her room, Emma didn't know what to do with herself. She had a bunch of calls to make, but she was also afraid to leave Regina alone. Sensing her urgency, Regina simply said, "You make take your leave, Miss Swan. You must have many responsibilities, especially as the sheriff of this town. I suppose I might... see you soon?"

 

"I just need to call a few people, and I can't use my cell in the hospital--" Emma explained, holding up her phone. At Regina's newly familiar blank look, she tried to think of the easiest way to make the complicated world of modern communication clear. "This little thing makes it easy for me to contact people. If I call someone, I can talk to them by voice. Or I can send a written message that they get instantly."

 

Regina was more taken with this device than any other she'd seen so far, including the toilet. "Amazing." The joy faded after a moment. "I would like to have one of those, if I had someone to communicate with."

 

Emma just smirked. "You have me, and more. Besides, you have a phone, so I'll remind you how to use it. You'll be able to reach me any time." Emma decided not to think too much about that either. The fact that she was acting like Regina's best friend, or hell, her lover, was too much to consider. "Besides, I won't be long. You aren't alone, okay?"

 

With a nod, Regina smiled gently, and Emma felt her heart do a little flip.

 

Once outside the hospital, she parked herself on a bench with a cup of blazing hot cocoa from the commissary. Henry had to come first. She didn't even know what he knew about what had happened yet. He picked up before the first ring was complete. "Is Mom okay?" he asked.

 

Depends on what you consider okay, she thought. "She's physically all right, but she... lost some of her memories."

 

"Which ones? Was it because she crossed the town line? I thought that wouldn't affect her since she cast the curse. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe we should try taking her back across the line, and seeing what might happen. Or maybe Rumpel--"

 

"Henry," Emma interrupted. "I don't know that the line is what did it. Dr. Whale thinks it's not magical. He thinks it's a brain injury. And I agree with him."

 

"But did she forget she's the Evil Queen?" he asked.

 

Emma took a deep breath. "Not exactly. She's forgotten the last forty years or so. She still thinks she's married to King Leopold. And that Snow White is only a child."

 

There was a long silence on the other end of the line, so long that Emma thought the call might have dropped. "Henry?"

 

"I'm here," he said in a small voice. He sounded younger, somehow. "Did she forget me?"

 

Emma watched the stars for a second, not sure how to answer. "I think she may have, kid. It's not her fault though. She did it to save Snow and David." She did it to help me, said a little voice inside Emma. That was the only explanation that made sense.

 

"She did it because it was the right thing to do," Henry added, and Emma agreed. Regina had come a long way in the last few months. She really had changed. Unless she was lying, which would make her the worst person on the planet, as far as Emma was concerned. Emma would not forgive her if that was the case.

 

But she wasn't lying. Emma was sure of it.

 

"I want to see her, even if she doesn't remember. I want her to know I'm on her side," Henry said. "Will you let me visit?"

 

"Tomorrow," Emma said. "She's had a long day, and so have I. So have you. I want you to stay with your grandparents tonight. I'm going to stay here at the hospital, okay?" She hadn't realized she'd already made the decision till she said the words aloud.

 

"That's good, Emma. She shouldn't be by herself. She must be really scared. Weren't you when you got transported to the Enchanted Forest?"

 

"I sure was."

 

"And you had Snow White with you. She's your family. My mom doesn't have anybody except us."

 

Emma smiled. "You're a smart kid, Henry. Your mom raised you right."

 

"Yeah," he said. "I guess she did."

 

"Okay. So I'll come get you in the morning. You can miss a day of school this once, but make sure you get your homework from Grace at the end of the day."

 

"I will," he said in that exasperated kid voice Henry always used when the word "homework" came up. "I'll see you tomorrow. Tell Mom--well, I guess, nothing. I'll see you."

 

"Bye, Henry. Love you," Emma said, as was her habit now.

 

"Love you too." The line clicked off, and Emma took a deep breath.

 

She proceeded to call her parents, neither of whom were particularly interested in hearing the details of Emma's day. Mostly, they just continued to assure her that Regina was manipulating her, and deserved a fate worse than death. Emma kept the chat short, hanging up after a quick goodbye and thank you for keeping Henry overnight. Her next call was to Ruby, who assured her that King George had not resurfaced, and his minion didn't know how to do much of anything other than drive. Ruby seemed convinced he'd been a soldier without special skills in the old world, so he was an unlikely threat here. Of course, he'd been able to bind her parents, dump them in a trunk and drive away, so he wasn't totally harmless. He'd get his day in court eventually. For now, Ruby would let him gather dust in one of their new cells, forged with fairy dust mixed with silver. Nobody would be breaking him out anytime soon.

 

Her last call was, for the moment, the most important. Like Henry, Archie picked up on the first ring. "Emma, I was hoping I'd hear from you. I heard about what happened. Is Regina all right?"

 

"Depends on what you mean by all right. She's got amnesia. And the real kind, not the magical kind. She's lost somewhere around forty years, give or take."

 

"Goodness," Archie sighed. "That's not what I was expecting."

 

"Did you hear something else?" Emma asked, wondering if Regina's memory loss was being passed around as gossip or fact.

 

"People had heard she lost her memory, but they didn't know the details. They thought it was because of the curse."

 

"Yeah, I wondered that too. Whale can't be a hundred percent sure but he thinks it's a traumatic brain injury from the accident. Something about mild edema, which I guess is swelling?" Emma tried, not remembering much of the terminology.

 

"Of course, from the accident," he said, sounding distracted. "So forty years. That puts her... a couple of years into her marriage. Before she truly started to wreak havoc."

 

"She's talked about Leopold. When Snow declared that he was dead, and that she'd killed him, Regina had no idea what she was talking about."

 

Archie laughed sadly. "Can't imagine that conversation was very pleasant."

 

"It wasn't. Snow doesn't believe she's really forgotten."

 

"Well, she's been burned. We all have. But I've worked with Regina for long enough that I'll trust her as long as she gives me reason to. Sounds like she put herself in harm's way to save two people she hates, which means I still trust her." He paused. "How about you, Emma? Do you trust her?"

 

Emma thought long and hard, weighing everything she'd seen, combined with everything she knew, and everything she felt about Regina. "Yeah. I trust her."

 

"Okay then. How about I meet with her tomorrow? It won't be a real session, since obviously this Regina's not going to be familiar with the concept of therapy, but I'd like to talk to her. Offer my help as a neutral sounding board. She won't recall our relationship, past or present, fortunately."

 

"Sure, Archie. And thanks. This is... pretty weird. You'll be a big help for both of us."

 

"That's what I want, Emma. See you tomorrow afternoon--I'll call first, since I'm not sure where either of you might be. Will Whale want to keep her in the hospital long?"

 

"No idea," Emma said, wondering where Regina would stay once she got out. Emma couldn't let her go home to Mifflin Street alone, not when she didn't even know how to work a shower. She'd probably blow the house to smithereens with the gas oven. "I'll let you know."

 

"Until tomorrow, then. Good night, Emma. Thank you for calling."

 

"Sure, Archie. G'night."

 

She went back inside, taking a few deep breaths before knocking on Regina's door. "Come in," she heard faintly.

 

In the room, Regina was on the bed, sitting in near darkness. "Why is it so dark in here?" Emma asked, going to the bedside and flicking on the remaining lamp that Regina hadn't blown out earlier in the day.

 

"I couldn't find a candle," Regina replied, staring at the lamp with suspicion. "Although it appears I don't need it."

 

"Yeah. You'll get used to this. And everything else." Peeking at her watch, she realized that she'd been gone well over an hour--plenty of time for the room to lose all its light. And Regina hadn't made an effort to deal with that. Emma wasn't sure what that meant, if anything. Maybe she didn't mind sitting in the darkness. Or maybe she was just scared to ask for help.

 

"Emma," Regina said, her voice tentative, "I need to know what's happened to me. Have I really forgotten so many years? If the woman from earlier is truly Snow White, and I've done all the things she said I've done, then why am I here, and not locked away in a prison, or even dead and buried in the ground?" A tear slid down Regina's cheek, and Emma thought she'd figured out what Regina had been thinking about during her absence. "Have I done so many terrible things?"

 

Emma sat at the bedside. She didn't reach out for Regina's hand, not yet. "Everything is pretty complicated, but essentially, yes, you did."

 

"I killed Leopold. And my own father. And many others, and I cast a curse on the old world and brought it here." She shook her head. "I can't imagine how something like this could have happened, unless--" Regina blinked in surprise, as if she'd had a memory. "Is Rumpelstiltskin here as well?"

 

"He was. He's the only person in town who has been able to leave without losing his memory, but no one's sure how he did it. He left some time ago, with Belle."

 

"Belle," Regina replied, "I don't know her. But I know Rumpel well. He had to have been involved."

 

Emma nodded. "You told me once you got the curse from him."

 

"Ah," Regina said. "I used to wonder why he'd taken me under his wing. He said I had so much power, and he simply wanted to help me harness it." Regina smirked. "I never really believed him, but then again I didn't care what he wanted. I never did. He helped me be rid of my mother, once and for all."

 

Emma's mouth opened, and her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Well, actually, he didn't. She uh, turned up here a while ago, but she's gone now. For good." Emma didn't think it mattered if Regina knew that Emma herself had swung the sword that had killed Cora. Just in time too, since at the time Cora had her hand inside Regina's chest, about to steal her heart and crush it to dust. Maybe she'd tell her someday, but not today.

 

"My mother was here? In this world?"

 

"It's a long story," Emma said. "Super long. Like, decades long."

 

As Regina turned her face toward the light, Emma's eyes traveled along the line of her neck and across her shoulder. The shadows only seemed to enhance her beauty, making Emma long to experience the softness of her skin, the warmth of it. "Will you tell me my story, then? All of it?"

 

"I don't know if that's such a good idea tonight, Regina. You've had a terrible trauma--"

 

"Please," Regina begged, her voice broken. "I need to understand. Nothing makes sense. Everyone knows me, but I don't know myself. Can you imagine how terrifying that is? My life is a mystery, and I need you to help me unravel it." She looked down at her own hands, twisting in the scratchy bedsheet. "Please, Emma. If you're truly a friend, you'll tell me."

 

Emma thought that explaining it all was the worst idea ever. But the fathomless dark eyes shining up at her held a power as strong as any magic Emma had experienced, and she would not resist. Could not.

 

"All right. I'll tell you."

 

So she did.

 

---

 

It took nearly four hours. They were interrupted more than once; by Whale, who checked her eyes and vitals in relation to her concussion, by a nurse who took blood, by a volunteer who looked terrified as she brought in two trays of rather bland, inedible food, and finally, by Ruby, who brought them a burger (for Emma) and a grilled chicken salad (for Regina). Ruby was their only welcome visitor. She was pretty surprised that Emma was dumping a whole boatload of facts on Regina, but she'd shrugged and said it wasn't her place to judge.

 

She hadn't stayed long, only long enough to hear Emma explain what she knew about Snow and David's wedding, and the Evil Queen's big entrance. Then Ruby's cell had rung, and even from across the bed Emma could hear Granny railing about Ruby coming back to work, and what was taking her so damned long anyway? Regina's smile had been bright as she'd said goodbye to Ruby (she'd actually said "farewell," which Emma had never heard before in real life), and Ruby had been struck dumb at the sight.

 

Emma could relate.

 

Ruby also seemed amused by Regina's exceptional interest in Emma's french fries; Emma had never before seen Regina eat a fry, but she could not get enough of them. Her mayoral self must have had unbelievable discipline, since the only thing Emma had ever seen her eat at the diner was a salad. Ruby promised to bring more tomorrow, along with a few other options, since it was pretty clear she only ate the chicken salad out of politeness.

 

Emma did her best to explain what she could of Regina's history, even though there were holes in the story--great big gaping ones that other people would have to fill in. Snow could do the job, if she would agree to, though she probably wouldn't. David too, but he'd side with Snow. Archie was Emma's best bet; he'd been on the council in the Enchanted Forest and had known Regina at her worst.

 

Tomorrow, he could help. For the moment, Emma did what she could.

 

Until she had to tell the part in which Snow gave birth, and David put Emma in the magical tree, sending her to Maine and a life of foster care and loneliness.

 

Regina didn't much like hearing that part. Emma made it sound a little nicer than it was, but even without the experience and darkness of the old Regina, the Queen could read between the lines. Emma moved on quickly, talking instead of Storybrooke, its residents, and their alter egos. Regina was shocked to hear that Ruby was a werewolf, but she'd smiled slyly about Mary Margaret and David's curse-induced 28-year separation.

 

"That does sound... like something I could be capable of," Regina had said. Emma tried not to roll her eyes.

 

Emma didn't quite know how to explain one thing, though: Henry. She just decided to spell it out as clearly and simply as she could.

 

"So when I was almost 18, I got pregnant," (Regina looked slightly scandalized at that), "and I was, uh, in jail," (even more scandalized,) "and I gave the baby up for adoption. Do you know what that means?"

 

"I know what the word means--you...gave your child to someone else to raise?"

 

"Yes. Here it's a very formalized process, legally binding. I couldn't care for a baby, so I gave him to an agency who placed him in a home, where if I was lucky, he'd be cared for. I hoped that he would have better luck than I did in the system. I wanted him to have his best chance, you see?" she asked.

 

Regina nodded, and her eyes were filled with compassion. "That must have been horrible."

 

"Yeah," Emma said, not wanting to dwell on the memory, or the look on Regina's face. "Anyway, I gave him up--"

 

"A boy?" Regina asked, her voice small and sad.

 

Emma just nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. "What I didn't know is that Rumpelstiltskin--Mr. Gold in this world--somehow got his hands on him. And he gave him to you to raise."

 

Regina's eyes were enormous. If she was acting, she was better than anyone she'd ever seen on screen. "Me?"

 

"Yep. You raised my son."

 

"That's not possible," Regina replied. "I couldn't forget something like that. A child--a son--why did I--and how could I even--"

 

"His name's Henry," Emma interrupted softly, before she could get too wrapped up in the thousand questions swirling through her mind.

 

"Henry," she breathed. "After my father."

 

"He's eleven and a half now, and a great kid. He's the one who realized there was a curse. Of course he had help from Mr. Gold, but he's really smart. We used to argue over who he got that from--you or me," Emma told her with a rueful grin. "I'd say it was me, and you'd just roll your eyes." Gazing at this version of Regina, Emma realized how much she missed that superior, scoffing expression. The woman in front of her didn't seem capable of that look.

 

"How could I have forgotten a son?" Regina asked. It was a terrible plea.

 

"You'll remember," Emma assured her, and herself too. If she kept saying it, maybe it would happen. "I know you will. It will just take a little patience. People come back from stuff like this all the time."

 

"Really?" Regina asked, the hope plain on her face.

 

"Sure. I read about it. You're going to be okay." Emma figured a white lie like this one wouldn't hurt anybody. She'd never read about amnesia in her life, much less heard of someone recovering from it. "No matter what, we'll figure something out."

 

That seemed to ease Regina's mind, and she settled back more fully against the pillow. Her eyes were starting to droop. "So I adopted a son. Your son. What happened after that?"

 

Emma smiled, and started with the night Henry showed up on her doorstep.

 

---

 

Emma slept fitfully on the cot a nurse brought in to set next to Regina's bed. She was awakened multiple times during the night by staff checking in on Regina. Each time Emma hoped that she'd recovered her memories, or hell, any memories, but each time she was disappointed. They'd stayed up too late as Emma recounted everything she could about her time in Storybrooke, stalling only when she reached the months of her absence in the Enchanted Forest. That was because she had to talk about Cora, and she had to talk about Daniel. Explaining Hook and Cora's appearance in town and eventual banishment (for Hook) and death (for Cora) seemed to stun Regina into silence. She didn't cry exactly, but she certainly didn't seem happy. Far worse was telling what little she knew about Daniel's zombiesque return, and the fact that Regina herself had been the one to release him from this world, to let him finally rest in peace.

 

She cried then. She cried and didn't stop for a long time. Emma imagined that after four decades of mourning, the old Regina would have been devastated to experience the loss. But to witness this agony up close, far fresher after only a few years, still hoping for a reunion... it was awful. All Emma could do was hand her tissues as she wept. Some things couldn't be fixed, and this was one of them.

 

The last thing Emma told her was of her heroic rescue of Snow and David, and the car accident that stole her memories. Regina herself seemed surprised at her own actions, shaking her head until she realized that it still hurt quite a lot. Her bruises had settled into two black eyes, one darker than the other, and a mottled purple mark that stretched from her jaw to her temple. The ice they'd applied had brought down the swelling, thankfully, but she still looked like she'd been through the wringer.

 

Emma didn't ask if she could do magic. She knew it was present, since the exploding light bulbs, but beyond that it was a mystery. She'd made it clear that her magic didn't work the same way here as it did in the other world, but Regina had given no hints as to how she felt about that.

 

In the morning, she discovered that Regina was really, really upset about being in this world, despite her fascination with the toilet, light bulbs and french fries. She also discovered that yes, Regina could do magic, but she still had issues with it. That was because she accidentally teleported both herself and Emma into the mayoral mansion. More specifically, she teleported them both into the enormous bed of the master suite.

 

"What the fuck?" Emma said, sitting up and inadvertently catapulting herself off the bed. "What just happened?" She'd had barely any rest, and the vertigo caused by the unexpected trip made her head spin.

 

Regina just looked at her with that same wide-eyed expression she'd worn since yesterday. It was starting to get a little irritating, mainly because she was so damned pretty. "I tried to send myself home."

 

Emma put her hands on the duvet, trying to steady the seasickness that had come over her. "This is your home. This house is where you live in Storybrooke."

 

Frowning, Regina glanced around. "That’s not possible. It's so... plain."

 

"That's all you've got to say?" Emma asked, swallowing against rising nausea. At least the room was starting to even out now.

 

Regina blinked and looked down. "I’m glad to see that the bed is more comfortable than that slab at the hospital. I've been better off sleeping in a stable."

 

Emma thought that was probably true. "Yeah, well, we've still gotta go back there. I'm sure Dr. Whale--er, Dr. Frankenstein or whatever--will be wondering where we've gone off to. And you might need more tests." Emma had a thought, one she really should have considered earlier. "Hey, can you heal yourself? You must know some spells. I've seen Gold do all kinds of healing magic."

 

Regina pursed her lips. "Rumpelstiltskin never taught me much healing magic. In fact I know almost none. Although I can heal a lame horse. That came naturally to me, when I needed it."

 

"What do you mean, naturally?"

 

"Only that some spells I never needed to learn. I knew that I had magical abilities from a young age, because of my mother, but I never practiced. She wouldn't have stood for it, and besides, I hated magic. It had only been used to hurt me as a child, never to help. But after I sent my mother ... away, and I'd started learning from Rumpel, I was out riding Rocinante--"

 

"Oh," Emma said, understanding at last. "Your horse. Got it."

 

"--Yes," Regina said, looking a little annoyed at the interruption, "and he stumbled down a steep ravine. I never should have taken the chance, but I was foolish and angry at the king in the moment, for something which escapes me now. In any case, Rocinante is--was--my dearest, my only friend. I held his leg in my hands, wishing I had thought to bring a weapon so I could put him out of his misery. But something just... happened. A few moments later he stood, his leg as straight and strong as it had ever been. I'd healed him without even trying."

 

Emma was impressed. "Ever tried it on yourself?"

 

"No," Regina replied.

 

"What's the worst that could happen?"

 

Regina smirked, and the archness of it sent a pleasant little frisson down Emma's spine. "Oh, I might melt my face off."

 

"Oh." Emma's hope deflated. "Guess that's not the best idea, then."

 

"In truth," Regina admitted, "it's quite a good idea. I'd need a mirror though. Are you certain these are my chambers? I can't imagine having a room without a single mirror."

 

Emma didn't have a reply to that. She'd never spent much time in this room although admittedly, she'd thought about it. Once in a while. Or more. She led Regina into the bathroom, where she seemed thrilled to discover yet another toilet, and more fascinated still by the showerhead and enormous bathtub.

 

"Will you show me how to use this later?"

 

Emma hoped that it wasn't too obvious that all the blood in her body rushed directly to her face inside three seconds. "Um, yeah, sure." She restricted herself from considering the broad expanse of skin visible at the back of the hospital gown that she still wore. The skin that would be very much on display if Regina were to step into the shower or tub. It almost felt like cheating, even though for one thing, this was still Regina, and for another, they weren't together. They were barely friends.

 

But if Emma really thought about it, they were friends. Regina knew more about her than anyone; over the last months, every insecurity, every fear, every hope had been laid bare in front of her, and she never ran. She laughed, sometimes, like when Emma revealed how much she hated (aka was terrified of) possums, or that she'd grovel on hands and knees for fresh whipped cream, or that she'd turn down the most expensive chocolate in the world for a simple Hershey bar (no almonds, ever). But even when Emma let herself be vulnerable, Regina didn't once reject her. It had taken time for them to get to a place where Emma could, without fear of retribution, tell Regina that she adored Henry and wanted him to be in her life forever. A year ago that would have put Regina into a frenzy that might have ended in a second curse being cast. Now it just caused Regina to nod her head in understanding and echo the same sentiment herself.

 

She didn't have to worry about retribution now. This woman had never even met Henry, although she would soon enough. Maybe today.

 

Regina was staring rather seriously at herself in the mirror, and when she saw the little puff of smoke fly up out of her hand, Emma stepped forward. "You, uh, the other you, that is, warned me many times that magic doesn't work the same way here as it did in the Enchanted Forest. You should start small. Test it on something."

 

Regina inhaled impatiently before rolling her eyes. "Fine. I'll need something sharp, then."

 

Sharp?  Emma reached forward and swung the mirror open to reveal the medicine cabinet. Regina made a little sound of satisfaction, and her hand reached for a straight razor sitting right there on the second shelf. "What the hell are you doing with a straight raz--oh, shit, hey!" Emma exclaimed as she watched Regina slice her own arm open with the razor. The cut was shallow, but it bled nonetheless.

 

"You said to start small," Regina countered, and tossed the razor into the sink, where a few drops of blood slipped down the porcelain. After that, Regina held one hand above her arm and stared at it. Her mouth moved wordlessly. It seemed to take intense concentration and a lot of effort, but slowly the wound began to heal, the tiny line of blood vanishing. There was a faint pink mark left behind, but otherwise, it worked.

 

"Wow," Emma said, peering at the skin. She let her fingers reach out before she could think not to, and was shocked at the coolness of it. "You did it."

 

Regina's chin came up proudly; Emma almost laughed. "I'm very talented," she reminded Emma.

 

"Of course. Hopefully you won't melt your face off, then."

 

Emma saw the corners of her lips tip in what might have been a grin if she'd let it happen.

 

Ten minutes later, the worst of the bruising had faded, but Regina's energy had been sapped. At least now she didn't look like she'd gone a couple of rounds in a boxing ring and lost. "That's enough," Emma assured her, tilting her head at Regina's sallow skin in the mirror. "You've still got a concussion; you shouldn't tire yourself out."

 

"I don't know this word, concussion," Regina replied, touching her temple. "What is it?"

 

"It just means you hit your head really hard, and there are lingering side effects from that. You might get tired, or dizzy or sleep badly. And you know, the amnesia. That's part of it too."

 

Regina sighed and stared at herself in the mirror. "I don't know if I can heal that as well." She frowned, leaning close to the glass. "I see how I've aged, but it's just... gone. Everything. I wouldn't even know where to start."

 

Emma put a hand on her shoulder, swallowing hard. "It's okay. It will come back in time. I told you, it happens often. People do remember."

 

"Perhaps." Dark eyes closed in resignation. "Then again, I'm not sure I really want to remember. All you've told me sounds... horrible. And Daniel, too..." Emma watched tears slip from beneath her eyelids to splash on the sink. "I can't believe I was the one to finally end it. After so many years of hoping..." she trailed off.

 

Emma squeezed the muscles of her shoulder in sympathy, and exhaled slowly when Regina's fingers covered her own.   

 

---

 

Dr. Whale--or Frankenstein, Emma corrected mentally, though that sounded even sillier than thinking of her mother as Snow White--gave Regina a passingly clean bill of health. He also gave a list of warning signs for Emma to watch out for: a headache that wouldn’t go away, slurred speech, vomiting, or clumsiness in Regina’s gait. Why he was so sure she would be watching over Regina was irrelevant, since she’d pretty much taken responsibility for her care. Snow would probably be pissed, but that didn’t much matter.

 

As Emma waited for the paperwork to be completed, she got a text from Henry.

 

When can I see you and Mom? Is she okay?

 

Emma typed quickly.

 

She’s feeling better, but she doesn’t remember you, kid. I don’t want to upset you.

 

I won’t be upset. I just want to see her.

 

Glancing at Regina in a riding outfit she'd conjured up out of nowhere back at the house, Emma took a deep breath.

 

Where are you?

 

At the loft, but I can meet you at Granny’s.

 

Okay. Give us about fifteen minutes.

 

K.

 

Emma glanced over and watched Regina nod at Dr. Whale, letting her eyes travel lazily down her legs. Those pants were... flattering, to say the least. The curve of her calf was elegant and alluring as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She wasn’t even trying to be sexy; she just was. Regina seemed less physically conscious of the way she looked than she usually did; she held herself differently, although Emma couldn’t put her finger on the change.

 

Whale put a hand out and patted Regina on the arm, and a nurse snuck by the two of them, looking wildly suspicious. Emma swallowed and stood, slipping her phone into her pocket. Regina turned toward her and smiled, so openly that it made Emma catch her breath. That expression of acceptance and belief that Emma was only interested in helping her wasn't making Emma feel any better. Mainly it was making Emma wonder exactly what had happened to Regina over the years to create the impenetrable wall that separated her from the rest of the world. She knew of the death of her loved one, and the marriage to a man she didn't love, and the raising of a child who had betrayed her trust, but the rest of it was hazy. Henry's book had never told the story of the Evil Queen beyond how it affected that of Snow and Charming. Emma wondered who'd written that blasted thing in the first place, and why the other side of the story had never been told.

 

It occurred to her, not for the first time, that the book was only a means to an end, written to deliberately leave out some parts of the story, creating sympathy for some and none for others.

 

“Dr. Frankenstein has released me,” Regina said. “I just need to stop in the water closet before we go, I--” she made an awkward motion with her head-- “Can you wait?”

 

“Sure thing,” Emma replied, leaning against the nurse's station. The nurse with that odd 40s hairdo was there, raising an eyebrow at her insouciance. She always looked like she wanted to take Emma's head off, and today was no exception.

 

“She's as fine as she can be, considering the circumstances,” Whale said. “Just remember what I told you about the warning signs.” He sighed, looking around her shoulder toward the bathroom Regina had just stepped into. “Apparently at this point in her life she knew very little about healing. I was very sorry to discover that; I'd hoped that by today something would have come back to her.”

 

Emma was surprised. “You mean later in her life, she did know how to heal?”

 

“Of course!” Whale replied, looking affronted by the question. “She's as strong a healer as Rumpelstiltskin, and he reattached my arm without breaking a sweat a few months ago. Regina could have done the same. She just can't recall how.”

 

“That sucks,” Emma lamented. “Sure would have made this easier.”

 

“You'll have to just... remind her that she can do it. I did some reading this afternoon, and in some cases reminding someone with amnesia can help them remember. Of course it doesn't always work, but it's worth a shot. And I know that you and Snow have already revealed far more of her past than I would have preferred this early on, but I can't control the universe, sadly,” he said.

 

“I'm sure that came as a shock,” Emma said under her breath, keeping an eye on the bathroom door. She was ready to get the hell out of here. She heard Whale make a noise of dissatisfaction and assumed he was preparing to display the “blowhard idiot” part of his persona when the bathroom door swung open to reveal Regina... Only, she had long hair, styled in a French braid that rested on one shoulder.

 

She looked pleased with herself. “Do you like it?” she asked, stroking the length of the braid. “I didn't look like myself in the mirror. I still don't, not really, but at least it's closer.”

 

Emma smiled in spite of herself. It was strange to see Regina look so shy, as if searching for approval. “Yeah, it's pretty,” she replied. And it was. Emma wanted to reach out and touch; instead she held her hands very still at her sides. “Are you all set?”

 

“If you mean am I set to leave this horrible place, I am very much so. Good day, Dr. Frankenstein. I suppose I'll have to see you again soon, but I will be in no hurry to do so.”

 

“Of course, your majesty. Until then,” he said, skulking off before either of them had a chance to insult him again.

 

“What shall we do now?” Regina asked. “Must we go back to that--my house again?”

 

“No, I thought we could stop by the diner, where Ruby works. You remember her from yesterday?”

 

“I do. She’s very kind. Maybe she can make me more of those potatoes,” she said, and Emma pressed her lips together.

 

It was a little early in the day for fries, but she wasn’t about to argue. “I’m sure she can. And there’s someone who wants to see you. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, but he’s been asking.”

 

Regina didn’t look over at her as they stood in the elevator, more concerned with the oddness of riding in a box that moved from place to place than anything else. She placed both hands against the railing until the door opened to let them out. Only when they stepped into the hallway did she ask, “What were you saying?”

 

“Henry, your son, wants to see you,” Emma said. “Are you okay with that?”

 

The little frown line appeared between her brows, but she nodded. “He knows that I don’t remember?”

 

“He does. He just wants to say hello and visit with you. You don’t have to feel any pressure. Just... show up. That should be enough for now.”

 

“All right.”

 

Emma recalled another conversation she had yesterday. “I also want you to meet with one other person. His name is Archie, and he’s a friend of yours, sort of. Someone you’ve been... working with. On becoming a--” the words “better person” seemed pretty insulting, so Emma went with, “a more relaxed person. You’ve been pretty stressed out lately.”

 

Regina smiled and shook her head. “It’s odd, Miss Swan, to hear you speak. Your turns of phrase--I understand them, but they are so unusual. I suppose that I will get used to them in time.”

 

“Turns of phrase?” Emma asked.

 

“Stressed out,” Regina repeated. “There were a few yesterday as well that took me time to decipher, but I rather enjoyed hearing them.”

 

“Oh,” Emma said, feeling stupid. “If I ever say something that you can’t figure out, just tell me. I’ll explain.”

 

Regina slipped a hand under Emma’s elbow as they walked along in the sunshine. “I know you will.” She glanced over, and Emma felt her heart stumble at the little sideways grin Regina gave her. “You don’t seem the type to make fun of someone.”

 

Emma laughed. “Oh, I am, but not of you,” she said, and fumbled for a way to make that sound less flirtatious. “I mean, not right now, anyway. I used to tease you all the time. It was kind of our thing. But you teased me right back, so it was okay.”

 

“Oh?” Regina bobbed her head softly. “‘Our thing.’ That sounds nice.”

 

Swallowing, Emma took a breath. “Yeah. It was.”

 

They walked in silence to Granny’s; Emma left the Bug in the hospital parking lot mostly because it was so nice to be out in the sunshine. She’d also noticed Regina’s discomfort at being in the car and other small places, like the elevator. Maybe her nervousness would ease in time.

 

When they arrived, the place was mostly empty except for Ruby behind the counter, and Henry in their regular booth. He didn’t jump up out of his seat, instead standing up slowly and approaching them with wide eyes. “Hi,” he said to Regina, never once glancing at Emma. “My name’s Henry. I’m your son.”

 

Regina held out a hand, almost like she was offering it to one of her subjects. He took it with some uncertainty, not kissing it, but grinning. “I like your hair.”

 

She exhaled with a small laugh. “Thank you, dear. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

 

“From Emma, right?” Henry asked.

 

“Yes, from Emma. She’s your mother too,” Regina said, as if reminding herself.

 

“Yeah, but you raised me. I know lots about you. Do you think I might be able to help you remember?”

 

It was bittersweet to watch them; Regina seemed to want desperately to recall Henry, and Henry looked so hopeful as he stared up into her face. She wished that of all of those who Regina might remember, Henry would be the one.

 

They sat down at the table, and Ruby greeted them with a cheerful smile and a menu for Regina to read. “Henry, can you tell me about these? What is french toast? I like french fries, so perhaps I would enjoy that too.”

 

“Oh, you don’t usually eat that. It’s toast dipped in egg, then I guess fried in something?” Emma nodded that he was right. “Then you put syrup on it.” Regina made a face that said she definitely wouldn’t want to try it. “Sometimes you don’t eat breakfast at all. You just have coffee. But most of the time you have some grapefruit or a banana and oatmeal.” Regina looked deflated at these options.

 

“That doesn’t mean you have to eat that,” Emma said, wondering why she ate things she didn’t like, unless she was really that health-conscious. “There are like, a hundred choices on the menu. And I bet if there’s something else you want, Ruby would make it for you. Unless it’s some weird animal we don’t have here, like um,” she thought about it for a second, “chimera.”

 

For the first time, Regina burst out laughing, and the sound of it startled all of them; Henry sat up straighter in his seat, Ruby gawped, and Emma tried not to drool. She really was remarkably beautiful when she laughed. Again, Emma marveled at the change in her. She knew that by this time I her history Regina was well on the path toward Evil Queendom, training with Rumpel, plotting against a young Snow, probably having already killed or maimed or something just as bad. Why then did she seem so completely... loveable?

 

Her reply interrupted Emma’s train of thought. “I don’t want chimera, but thank you for the offer. Pancakes, though, we had those back home. I rarely got a chance to indulge. Leopold didn’t like me eating them.”

 

“Why?” Henry asked.

 

Regina blinked at him. A few moments passed, and Emma watched Regina close right up. “No reason.” She looked down at the menu.

 

Henry met Emma’s eyes. Emma could tell he was chewing the inside of his cheek, debating whether or not to say something. She gave him the tiniest nod. Go ahead.

 

“You don’t have to pretend, Mom. I mean Regina. You never talked about him, before.”

 

Regina didn’t look up, but Emma could see her wrestling with the choice to speak, or stay silent. “He didn’t want me to eat sweets or anything rich. He liked me to be slim, for the court.”

 

Emma lifted an eyebrow. “Sounds like a real jerk.”

 

Regina looked up, and the electricity between them was immediate. “I don’t know that word, but I think I can understand its meaning.”

 

“Yeah, he does sound like a jerk.” Henry frowned, probably realizing that he’d just called his great-grandfather a jerk. “I don’t usually think about you being married. That seems weird.”

 

“I understand it’s been a long time since I was married, although for me, it doesn’t seem to have ended. I still feel married.”

 

That spurred on a question from Emma. “How long have you been with the king?”

 

“A little over two years. Two... interminable years.”

 

“Oh,” Emma said, and thought about it. That meant that she’d been married a hell of a longer longer before she’d actually killed her husband. Snow had told her that her father had died when she was 21. “And how old was Snow, for you?”

 

“She had her 13th birthday not long ago. There was quite the celebration.”

 

That meant there would have been eight more years of being married to a guy she didn’t love, with whom she had been forced into a union. She wondered what else Leopold had done to her; restricting diets was one thing, but what else was there? Emma was torn. She wanted to know, but Snow still adored Leopold. She talked about him like he was a saint.

 

“I think we should start with pancakes and bacon and eggs,” Henry said, and Emma was sure he was trying to lighten the mood. “Do you like whipped cream?”

 

Regina shook her head, coming back to the present. “I--I think I do. My father gave it to me when I was a child, with a hot cinnamon drink I’d have before bedtime. My mother didn’t like me to have it, but sometimes we would sneak down to the kitchen and share one. Mother thought it would keep me from sleeping through the night.”

 

“Sounds like you went from one winner to another,” Emma mumbled, drawing Regina’s gaze. “I mean, I think we should get chocolate chip and banana, with whipped cream.”

 

“And hot cocoa, with cinnamon. Do you want that, Mom?”

 

“I think I’d prefer coffee, with milk. And sugar?” she asked, as though she needed permission.

 

Emma slid the little collection of sugar packets over to her side of the table. “You can have all you want right here.”

 

Regina smiled, her eyes alight.

 

Emma thought that for a Queen, she must have had one miserable life if she could get excited about a packet of sugar.

 

Ruby took their order and flounced back to the counter, while Regina watched her. “Her skirt is... very short.” She turned to Henry. “Is that normal?”

 

Henry giggled. “It is for Ruby. And it’s not as short as usual.”

 

Regina’s mouth dropped open as she glanced back toward Ruby, who was singing to herself and swaying to the music playing over the speakers. “Oh. Well. The styles here are quite different.”

 

“Come on, I’ve heard about your um, Queen outfits. They didn’t sound exactly conservative,” Emma quipped.

 

“Well, at least I covered my legs,” she replied primly.

 

“In skintight leather,” Emma retorted, eyebrow raised.

 

Regina tilted her head in Henry’s direction. “Do you always speak so freely in front of your son?”

 

With a roll of her eyes, she looked at Henry. “What do you say, kid? Do we always talk like this in front of you?”

 

Henry nodded. “Oh yeah. This is nothing. You don’t usually curse though. Once Emma did and you got really mad and wouldn’t let her come over for three days.” He turned to Emma. “Remember that, Em?”

 

“Oh yeah, I remember,” she replied. “In your defense, it was kind of a bad curse word, which Henry has agreed to never, ever say,” she added, nodding toward him solemnly. “At least not in our presence until he’s 25 or older, and maybe not even then.”

 

“Yeah, I got it,” he said.

 

“I see,” Regina said, and lifted her shoulders. “Or I should say I will see. I will learn this world’s customs and adopt them for myself. But I don’t know that I will wear my skirts quite so short.”

 

Too bad, Emma thought.

 

---

 

When the pancakes came, Regina took one look at them and didn’t breathe until she’d finished her whole plate. She drowned them in half a container of syrup, and mopped up as much of the sugar as she could with her final bite. Emma pictured her licking the plate, which she didn’t do, but there was a moment when Emma thought she’d go for it.

 

Henry stared at her the whole time. He was as gobsmacked as Emma was. Ruby came to the table hesitantly to refill her coffee, and her eyebrows flew up at the clean plate. “Um, can I fix you some more, Regina?”

 

Regina blinked as if waking from a dream. She swallowed in a fashion Emma couldn’t consider anything other than orgasmic. “Oh, no, thank you Ruby. It was marvelous. I really shouldn’t.” She patted her stomach delicately.

 

“‘Shouldn’t’ is no reason not to,” Emma offered. Regina looked surprised at the suggestion. “We’ll have some fries, too. Anything else?” she asked.

 

“Perhaps,” Regina began, not meeting the eyes of anyone around the table. “Perhaps just one more.”

 

“How about strawberry, then? Goes great with the whipped cream.”

 

“Yes, that would be nice.” Regina wiped her mouth primly with the corner of her napkin, looking for all the world as though she hadn’t just inhaled, at the very least, 2000 calories.

 

“We’re having fries for breakfast?” Henry questioned. “Cool.”

 

The second batch of strawberry pancakes arrived as Henry was finishing his four silver dollars, and Emma couldn’t quite make it through her serving. But Regina was as eager about those pancakes as she had been the first go round, except apparently she enjoyed the strawberry version even more. She was breathing heavily by the time she’d polished them off, but she didn’t look a bit like she regretted it. “Delicious. Is all food in this world so incredible?”

 

“I guess you’ll find out. It’s only day one. So far, we like fries and pancakes. But not chicken salad.” Emma sipped her cocoa and winced; despite her usual sugar habit, she’d about reached her limit for the morning.

 

“No chicken salad?” Henry asked. “You used to eat that all the time.”

 

“I found it rather bland,”Regina said, almost apologetic. “I could certainly try again--”

“It’s just food, Regina. You get to have anything you want. You’re an adult. You decide.”

 

Regina gazed openly at Emma, stunned. “Yes. I decide. That’s right.” She picked up a fry and ate it with a defiant little huff.

 

Emma hid her grin and saw Henry doing the same; he was heroically gnawing on his lower lip. They were distracted by the jangle of the bell, and Kathryn and Frederick came in the diner. They spotted Regina immediately, and their faces reflected the same surprise Emma had felt when she saw her new attire and hairstyle.

 

“Do I know those people?” Regina asked. “I suppose I would.”

 

“Yes, that’s Kathryn and Frederick. She’s the daughter of King Midas, once engaged to David, who married Snow. Frederick is--” the gym teacher, Emma almost said. “A knight, I guess.”

 

“That’s right,” Henry said. “He got turned to gold, but David brought him water from Lake Nostos and he was freed.”

 

“Lake Nostos?” Regina echoed. “The lake guarded by the siren?”

 

“Yeah. David defeated her.”

 

“Ah,” Regina said. “He must be very brave,” she added with a cringe, as though it pained her to say it.

 

“He is,” Henry said, then seemed to realize why Regina was frowning. “But the important part is that once the curse broke, Kathryn and Frederick were reunited. Her real name is Abigail, but she got used to Kathryn, which is the name she got when she came to Storybrooke. Same with Ruby. She used to go by Red.”

 

Tilting her head, Regina fastened her gaze on Henry. “You seem to know a great deal about everyone’s stories here, dear. How did you learn it all?”

 

“From the book.” At Regina’s blank look, Henry turned to Emma. “You didn’t tell her about the book?” he asked.

 

“Not really,” Emma admitted. “We talked about lots of things last night, but I didn’t explain how you knew that there was a curse, or how you found me.”

 

“What sort of book is this?” Regina questioned.

 

“It’s fairytales. All about Snow and Charming, I mean David, and Red Riding Hood and Granny, and the Blue Fairy and Pinocchio and Gepetto and everyone. You’re in it too, Mom, but I found out later that it only told part of your story. Not about how you grew up or anything. It was more after you became Evil.”

 

Leaning back, Regina nodded, although Emma could see the pleasure visibly slip from her expression. She did not mask her emotion very well. That skill must have developed over time. “I see.”

 

“Maybe you’d want to look at it with me later. Maybe it could help you remember stuff?”

 

With a swallow, Regina replied, “Of course, dear. You’re very considerate.” She glanced down at her empty plate again. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”

 

Henry brought out the boyish grin that Emma had grown so fond of. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. You were rescuing Snow and David, and since you don’t use magic anymore you had to do it on your own.”

 

Regina inhaled sharply. “Why wouldn’t I use magic anymore? I still have power. I can feel it.”

 

“It made you bad,” Henry said. “You said it was like you were addicted to it. The more you used it, the more evil you got.”

 

Turning to Emma for confirmation, Regina looked helpless. Emma could only shrug. “That’s how you talked about it. When magic came to town once the curse broke, you said it was hard to resist.”

 

Sighing, Regina watched her clasped hands on the table. “I understand.” She got lost in thought, and although Henry was eager to say something, Emma caught his eye and shook her head. They waited, and Regina continued, “I imagine that could be possible. I imagine that could very easily be possible.” Carefully, Regina looked at Henry. “I won’t promise not to use magic, Henry. I think... I may need it here. For a time, in any case.”

 

Emma wasn’t surprised to hear that. She also didn’t fault Regina for it; for now it was the only familiar thing she had in her corner in a totally foreign world. “Kid, so far the only thing she’s done is heal some bruises and accidentally teleport us somewhere. Nothing else.” She decided to give Regina the benefit of the doubt, for once. Even though she was probably making a huge mistake. “Let it go, for now. Okay? Things are pretty different than they were.”

 

“I don’t know,” Henry said, looking genuinely distressed. “It could make you go evil again.”

 

“Yes, it could,” Regina said. “But I need it, Henry. Would you rather I lie, and tell you I won’t, than break my promise?”

 

Emma raised an eyebrow and watched Henry wrestle with the idea. “No, I guess not.” After a few moments, he nodded once. “Okay. But no killing people, and no hurting people. Especially my grandma and grandpa.”

 

When Regina frowned, Emma added, “Snow and David.”

 

“Oh,” Regina said, exhaling. “I wasn’t thinking. It’s all... rather complicated.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve had that same thought,” Emma said with a chuckle.

 

“All right then, Henry. No hurting, and no killing. Only for good. After all, even though Snow is here--” her lip curled with the name-- “my circumstances have improved immeasurably since yesterday. I seem to have a home of my own, and friends,” she glanced at Emma with a smile, “and family, and a place. Even if I am not beloved in the eyes of the town, I don't mind. There is something to be said for disappearing into the woodwork, in my opinion.”

 

“Doesn’t sound much like the Evil Queen I knew,” Emma said.

 

Eyes flashing, Regina directed a fierce glare at Emma. “Consider that you might not know me at all,” she said firmly. “I only want to be myself. This is my chance at freedom, and I will take it.”

 

Despite herself, Emma liked seeing that fire again. She smiled. “I can live with that.”

 

When they were finished, Emma paid using a credit card, which Regina eyed with great interest when Ruby took it away to swipe. “What is that?”

 

“It’s called a credit card. I buy things with that card, and then I get a bill later and I pay it. It has a number on it that’s just mine.”

 

“Where do you get a card like that?”

 

“Um,” Emma said, wondering how on earth she was going to explain the state of banking in the US to someone who had just been introduced to light bulbs. “See, there’s a big bank that has lots of little branches. I use one of the branches here.”

 

“A bank?” she asked.

 

“Oh boy,” Henry said.

 

“It’s a place where people keep their money, so it’s safe.”

 

“Your money is protected in this bank?”

 

“Yes, I mean, as much as it can be.”

 

“Oh,” Regina said. Ruby returned with the card and slip for Emma to sign. “Thank you, Ruby, for the delicious meal. I enjoyed it very much.”

 

Ruby’s smile was enormous, and she started playing with her hair. “Thanks, Regina. You know, I love your new style. It’s really pretty.”

 

Regina bowed her head almost shyly and touched her braid. “Thank you. I found it strange to have it so short.”

 

“This suits you. I’ve never seen it like this.” And Ruby batted her eyes.

 

Emma wanted to throttle her. “Thanks, Ruby,” she said, her voice a little sharper than usual. Ruby seemed startled at the sound of her voice. “We’ll see you later.”

 

“Sure, Em. Bye Henry. Regina, you make sure you come back, and we’ll make everything on the menu to find out what you like,” Ruby offered with the lift of an eyebrow.

 

Regina’s expression said it all; Emma had a feeling they’d probably be back for dinner. Emma just had to figure out a way to keep Ruby from trying to get into Regina’s pants. She’d always had a crush on the mayor, and had confessed this more than once to Emma back before the curse broke. Apparently the crush had not gone away. When they’d stood up, as Regina brushed invisible crumbs from her trousers, Emma bit the bullet and mouthed silently to Ruby, “Cut it out.”

 

“What?” Ruby replied in the same fashion. “I didn’t do anything.”

 

Emma rolled her eyes. She decided to walk them past Kathryn and Frederick, who had not taken their eyes from Regina for much of their stay. “Hey. So I don’t know if you heard--”

 

“Yes, we have,” Kathryn said, standing. She appeared to want to reach out and pull Regina into her arms; Emma had always found it curious that of everyone in town, Kathryn remained certain Regina had changed for the better. All the while knowing the Mayor had tried to have her killed, and kept her from her true love for 28 years. It never ceased to amaze. “Regina, you won’t remember me, but we were friends here in Storybrooke. I think we were friends, at least.”

 

“It’s nice to... see you, Princess,” Regina said, holding out a hand in that unusual way.

 

Kathryn appeared a little shocked by the term, until turning to Emma, who said quickly, “I told her who you are.”

 

“Ah,” Kathryn said, taking Regina’s hand and bowing her head in a gesture that Emma wasn’t familiar with. It wasn’t a curtsey, but beyond that, Emma had no clue. “You must call me Kathryn. Meet my husband, Frederick,” she said.

 

Frederick stood and kissed Regina’s hand smoothly. “Your majesty.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Regina admitted, glancing between them. “It pains me to know I separated you for so many years. How you must detest me.”

 

Fred was clearly startled, and he simply placed a hand on Kathryn’s back. “We have come to terms with our losses, Majesty. We seek only to go forward. As I expect you do too.”

 

“Regina, come for dinner, won’t you? I do wish to know how you are,” Kathryn added. “You must be so tired, from your injury. Perhaps next week?”

 

Regina looked to Emma for confirmation, or permission, so Emma just smiled. “That’s nice, Kathryn. She’d love to, I mean, right?”

 

With a nod, Regina asked, “May Miss Swan attend as well? And Henry, if he likes?” she asked, as a question to her son.

 

Henry grinned eagerly. “Sure! I never get to see Kathryn, and I know Frederick. He’s awesome at basketball.”

 

“I’ll give you some pointers while the ladies catch up,” Frederick offered.

 

“Cool!”

 

Kathryn extended a hand to Emma. “You must come as well.” She gripped her fingers tightly. “We haven’t spent nearly enough time together lately.”

 

“Sure,” Emma said, feeling the color come to her cheeks for some reason.

 

“Then let’s try for Tuesday.”

 

“Should we bring anything?” Emma asked. She was never sure what to do when asked to a more formal dinner than she was used to.

 

“Just yourselves. We’ll take care of everything.” To Regina, she said, “And you let Emma take care of you. She knows you best, she’ll be able to answer any questions you have.”

 

Regina’s eyes brightened. “I’ve noticed that. I--it’s nice. I feel... safe. For once.”

 

Emma bit her lip and tried not to read anything into that. She also tried not to let herself fall any harder than she already had.

 

They waved goodbye and left the diner. The sun shone more strongly and Emma shielded her eyes. “What now?” Henry asked.

 

Emma gazed down the street, toward Archie’s. “There’s someone else today who wanted to talk to you today, Regina. You--you’ve been visiting him a lot lately, and I think it might be good if you at least stopped by to say hello.”

 

“Who?” Henry inquired. Emma didn’t know if he knew how long Regina had been in therapy, but he was about to find out.

 

“Archie.”

 

“Still?” Henry squawked. Turns out he didn’t know.

 

“Yep.”

 

Regina paused in her step. “Who is this Archie, and what does he want with me?”

 

“He doesn’t want anything. He’s kind of like a doctor. I mean, he is a doctor, but he’s more like an, ah... He deals with emotions. Like when someone hurts you, or something bad happens, you talk to Archie. He does what we call therapy.” That was a terrible explanation, but it was the best she could do.

 

Regina stared at her, looking uncertain. “And what does one do in this therapy?”

 

“Talk,” Henry offered. “I’ve done it. It’s pretty okay. Archie’s great, and his dog is really nice. His name is Pongo.”

 

“So this Archie wants to see me, to do this talk therapy. What will I talk about?”

 

Emma shrugged. “Anything you want, I guess.” She’d been in a lot of therapy between foster homes, group homes and the occasional stint in juvie. She’d had a couple of good social workers, but she never got to have a permanent one since she was always moving around. And Archie, well, he was a friend now. She couldn’t see him even if she wanted to. Which she didn’t, but sometimes she thought it might be nice to talk to somebody about all the crazy shit in her life that would only make sense to someone who lived here. Too bad Archie didn’t have any competition in town.

 

“But I don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t even know him.”

 

“Let’s just go see him. He called me specifically yesterday to make sure you’re okay, so I promised I’d at least stop by.”

 

“Come on, Mom, I mean Regina. Archie’s great, and I haven’t seen Pongo in a while.” Henry looked up at her so sweetly that Emma thought he was laying it on a little thick. “Please?”

 

“All right,” Regina said, placing a hand on Henry’s head, sliding it down beneath his chin in a heartbreakingly familiar manner. Just seeing it made Emma lose her breath a little.

They got quite a few funny looks from passersby as they strolled. Regina seemed not to notice, or maybe she was just used to being stared at. It was probably a little of both. Once they climbed the stairs to Archie’s office, Emma knocked on the door and hoped he didn’t have a client. He didn’t; the door swung open right away, and he grinned as he motioned for them all to come in. Pongo got up from his doggie bed in the corner with a wagging tail, but he didn’t approach until Henry said, “Come here, boy!”

 

“Hi, Regina. Or Your Majesty, if you prefer,” Archie began. “I know your memories have been affected by your accident, and I’ll call you whatever you like. I’m glad you came.” They shook hands, and Regina nodded.

 

“I appreciate that. Regina is acceptable. I am a queen no longer. It’s rather a relief.” Pongo approached Regina and pushed his nose into her hand. He didn’t bark exactly, but whined for her attention. “This must be the Pongo I’ve heard about.” She knelt down and Pongo nearly jumped in his excitement, licking her face. “My, I think of everyone in Storybrooke, you’ve been the happiest to see me,” she told the dog.

 

Emma’s smile faded, and when Henry looked up at her, she could tell he was feeling the sadness too.

 

“You want to stay a while, Regina? We can just get to know each other, but only if you’re comfortable. I won’t force you stay.”

 

“I... suppose I wouldn’t mind. But you won’t go far, will you, Emma?” Regina asked.

 

“Nah, we’ll just hang out around the neighborhood,”she replied. “Archie, give me a call when you’re through. You want us to take Pongo for a walk?”

 

Glancing down at his dog, who was plastered to Regina’s side, Archie said, “No, I think Pongo can stay.”

 

“Good,” Regina said, leaning down to pet Pongo’s snout, and the dog’s behind wiggled ecstatically.

 

“Got it. So Regina, we’ll see you in a bit.” Emma waved her phone toward Archie. “We won’t be far.”

 

“Thank you, Emma,” Regina said sincerely. “Goodbye.”

 

“See ya.”

 

Henry waved too, and in moments they were out on the sidewalk, gazing up at the bright sun. “How about a walk to the beach?” Emma suggested.

 

Henry nodded. “Cool.”

Chapter Text

---

 

Emma kept an eye on the time and started to get nervous after an hour and a half passed with no word. She and Henry had played catch with a tennis ball they’d found on the beach, stuck their feet in the freezing water, played Draw Something for a while on her new phone, and talked.

 

As he shook the sand out of his socks, Henry asked, “Do you think she’s all right?”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Emma responded, not mentioning the strange heaviness in her gut. “She’s with Archie, and I’m sure there’s just some stuff for them to discuss.”

 

“I never liked therapy when I used to go. Archie didn’t believe in the curse, so I spent a lot of time making stuff up to talk about so Mom wouldn’t be mad. I haven’t been back since.” Pressing his two hands into the sand, Henry said, “I might want to go again, though. Do you think that’s weird?”

 

Emma tilted his chin up to look into his eyes. “No, I don’t think it’s weird. At all.” Before things got too uncomfortable, she let him go and turned toward the water. “Would you want to go on your own, or with your mom?”

 

“Probably on my own at first. And maybe if she gets her memory back, we could go together then.”

 

Emma nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.” She moved a little closer to him and put an arm around his shoulders. Gazing out on the ocean, Emma thought this was the best afternoon she’d had in a long time. It was rare that she and Henry just spent unexpected time together with nothing in particular to do. She usually tried to plan stuff, unless they were both going to be at Regina’s; then she usually just showed up to go with the flow. Regina was the one who would decide the trajectory of their evenings, letting them play games as she cooked dinner, making the call when it was time to eat, and when it was time for Henry to go to bed. Emma had grown to savor the nights when Regina left the option open for her to stick around for a drink, and it had been happening more and more often.

 

Now, Emma figured she’d be doing most of the planning. And she’d probably be staying at the house.

 

The house where Regina would be sleeping, and Henry would be there too. She didn’t want to want it, but it was far too late. Her heart burned with it.

 

“Emma!”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Pick up!” Henry was shoving the phone in her face, and she grabbed it and swiped. “Hello?”

 

“You can come back. Regina’s about ready to go.” Archie sounded totally normal, which was good.

 

“Okay?” Emma said, hoping the question was apparent in her voice.

 

“Yes,” he said, but the smallest trepidation said everything she needed to know.

 

“Be right there.” She ended the call. “Let’s go, kid.”

 

They didn’t run, but it was a near thing. Less than five minutes later Emma sprinted up the steps with Henry right behind her. She didn’t even knock, and discovered Archie in his regular chair, and Regina on the sofa with Pongo lying across her lap. She jumped when she saw them both burst into the room. There was a box of tissues next to her, and her eyes were puffy and red from crying.

 

Emma’s mouth opened and she stepped forward, but Archie spoke first. “Hi Emma, Henry. Listen, Henry, can you stay here for a minute while I talk to Emma? There’s some town business I wanted to bring to her attention. We’ll just step outside into the hall.”

 

“Sure.” Henry sat on Pongo’s other side and petted him. “Hi.”

 

Regina’s reply was only a soft, gravelly “Hi.”

 

When the door closed, Emma whispered, “What the hell happened?”

 

“You know I can’t discuss the details, Emma,” Archie reminded her, and Emma wanted to scream.

 

“Isn’t this at least a special circumstance or something?”

 

“It is, in fact, which is why I’m talking to you at all. Normally I wouldn’t even acknowledge a client relationship to you, but you’re involved whether you like it or not. All I’ll tell you is that everything is very, very close to the surface right now. Wounds that had been festering for decades within the Regina we knew were much more recent for the woman in that room.”

 

“You mean Daniel dying?” she asked.

 

Archie ran a hand through his hair. “I mean a lot of things. That’s certainly part of it, but her trauma’s source is deeper than a single event. And the mask that hid her pain is far more transparent.”

 

Emma’s heart sank. “I take it she... talked to you, then.”

 

He sighed and bobbed his head once. “The trust between a patient and therapist should be absolute, Emma, but it’s essential that you be prepared for mood swings, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and even panic attacks. I assume Henry will be staying with you both?” At Emma’s nod, he continued, “He should understand that the woman staying with you may look the same, but she is not the same.”

 

“Yeah, we’ve figured that out,” Emma said, thinking back to breakfast.

 

“It’s more than just superficial. I want you to be ready for anything.”

 

“I’m always ready for anything when it comes to Regina,” Emma quipped, but there was a lingering dread in her belly that had yet to disperse. “Should I be afraid?”

 

“No, not of her. She’s more a threat to herself at this stage--” he stopped, and shook his head. “I’ve said enough.”

 

“What the fuck does that mean?” Emma hissed. “A threat to herself?”

 

“All I mean is that this Regina is young, Emma. She’s experienced more challenges in her life than many people at her age--well, I suppose I shouldn’t be saying that to you. In any case, she is psychologically in her early twenties. For years she’s been trapped in a castle with Snow White and a man she was, for all intents and purposes, sold to. Am I making myself clear?”

 

Sold to, Emma heard him say. “Yeah,” she said, the word bearing down on her like a freight train.

 

“Good. Call me anytime, day or night. You have my cell, and you may want to give Regina her phone so she can feel comfortable contacting me privately. As open as she seems, she may not want to share it all.” He put a hand on Emma’s shoulder and squeezed. “This is going to change everything, for all three of you. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

 

“‘Kay,” Emma said, stunned and uncertain. Archie opened the door to his office and returned to his seat with a relaxed smile. Regina hadn’t left the spot she’d been in earlier, while, Pongo’s tail wagged as Henry petted his head. “Hi,” she managed, swallowing down her anxiety.

 

“Hello,” Regina said. “Thank you for coming back to get me.”

 

“Sure,” Emma replied, trying not to notice the redness of Regina’s eyes and nose. “Henry and I were just at the beach. We had fun.”

 

“So he told me,” Regina said, and the roughness of her voice was still apparent. “I’m ready to return to my home now.” Carefully she eased Pongo off her lap, and he whined. “Dr. Hopper and I have decided to meet again tomorrow, Emma. Will you bring me back?”

 

“Tomorrow?” The surprise in her voice was obvious, but she tried to play it off. “Oh, yeah.”

 

“Is--is that not normal?” Regina asked, stricken with discomfort.

 

“We can meet as often as you like, Regina," Archie said. "People come to therapy when they need it. Sometimes that’s once a week, or once a month. Sometimes it’s daily, at least for a time. When there is a crisis it’s much more common.”

 

Regina smiled slightly. “I suppose losing decades of memories could be considered a crisis.”

 

“Totally,” Henry assured her, taking her hand as they stood. “I’m glad you’re coming back. Archie is a good person to talk to.”

 

“He is,” Regina said. “Thank you, Dr. Hopper.”

 

“My pleasure. See you at 11.”

 

They made their way out the door, and Pongo barked once until Archie quieted him. They were silent as they climbed down the stairs and out into the cool of afternoon. “I’m quite tired,” Regina said. “I’d like to go back to that house and rest.”

 

“Sure,” Emma said. As they came to Granny’s, she noticed Regina’s black Mercedes parked on the street, waiting there from before she had leapt to Emma’s assistance in the forest. “I can drive us back, if you’re tired. Your car is here.”

 

“My car,” Regina said absently.

 

Henry was eager to explain. “It’s also called an automobile. Like a carriage, but without horses. They make all kinds in this world. They go really fast, some over a hundred miles an hour. Your car is old but it’s really nice inside. You always kept it really clean and took care of it yourself, most of the time. Michael did the major stuff though.” He frowned. “You probably don’t remember Michael though. He has two kids, Hansel and Gretel.”

 

Regina touched her temple. She looked exhausted. “I’m sorry, I don’t recall, Henry dear.”

 

“That’s okay. You will.” He seemed so sure of himself. Emma had no such confidence.

 

“Let’s drive. It’ll be really quick.” Emma didn’t want to wait to get her back to the house.

 

With a nod, Regina followed Emma to the car and got into it carefully. Henry assisted with the seat belt before he got settled into the back. Just the sound of the engine starting to life startled Regina, who stared straight ahead through the windshield. Emma went five miles below the speed limit, hoping to keep her from freaking out. The trip took only a few minutes, and when they pulled into the driveway, Regina seemed to deflate in relief. She struggled with unhooking the seat belt, and Emma flashed back to the panicked moments trying (had it really been only a day?) to free her from Michael’s truck when they fire had broken out. The spike of adrenaline at the memory made Emma sick to her stomach, but as calmly as she could, she showed Regina how to release the buckle’s catch and opened the door.

 

Regina nearly stumbled out into the fresh air, slamming the door behind her. Emma took a second to pull herself together, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Maybe she’d have to pay a visit to Archie after all. The smell of the car fire was in her nose and hair; she heard the sound of the explosion in her mind as clearly as if she were there again.

 

She jumped when Henry knocked on the window with a confused expression. “Emma?”

 

“Sorry,” she said, hoping she wasn’t sweating. “Sorry.”

 

Inside, the house was the same strangely quiet place it had been that morning. “Want some water, or tea or something?” Emma asked, hoping that if she pretended to be comfortable, she would be.

 

“No, thank you. I’ll just... show myself to my room.”

 

“I’ll take you in case you don’t remember. Come on,” Henry said, grabbing her hand and leading her to the stairs. She didn’t turn around as she climbed them. Before anyone could catch her, she slipped into the study and poured herself a tumbler of vodka, mostly in the hopes that Henry wouldn’t smell it on her when he came downstairs. As she picked up the glass she noticed the shake to her hand; she downed a mouthful quickly, relishing the heat as it traveled down into her belly. She wondered if Regina could use one herself. The cider was kept in bottles down in the wine cellar, cool and sealed until Regina decided it was ready to drink. There wasn’t any up here now, which meant that after Emma’s last visit over the weekend, Regina hadn’t brought up a new batch. She wondered at what time of her life Regina had learned to make the stuff, and if she remembered when it was best to drink after fermentation.

 

She stood over the small bar, drifting in the memories of the last time she was here, enjoying a drink with Regina as they chatted amiably. They’d taken to spending more time in this small study when it was just the two of them; the family room was where they hung out with Henry, along with the dining room or the kitchen. Lately after he went to bed they gravitated toward the study, where Emma had first sat with Regina before she’d ever known she was a Queen. It was as though Regina was most relaxed in this room, where they played music and toasted each other in front of the fireplace. It was a spot Emma could escape the weight of her past, and the burden of her present.

 

Melancholy flooded her, and in that moment she missed the Regina of yesterday desperately. The one who smirked at her, or picked on her, or handed her a drink and smiled in that way that made Emma’s stomach drop right out from under her. The one who made her feel like it didn’t matter that her parents were irritating, or that she really didn’t love all the savior bullshit that kept getting shoved down her throat.

 

“Emma?” Henry said, bringing her out of her thoughts.

 

“Hey, kid.”

 

He crept into the room quietly, looking unsure of himself. “It’s weird to be in here. Usually this is where you and Mom sit.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, wishing she could just give up being the strong one.

 

He pressed up against her side. “I miss my mom,” he whispered. “I know it’s her upstairs, but she’s... not the same.”

 

“I feel the same way, Henry.” The words felt like a betrayal.

 

“She’s nice. She’s nicer than Mom, even. I don’t know what it is about her that makes me miss my mom.”

 

Emma blinked, knowing that decades of sadness sure as hell changed a person. “She’s younger. She hasn’t experienced a lot of the stuff your mom went through. In a way, that’s good, but also, it makes her a totally different person.”

 

“And she doesn’t love me,” Henry said, sadly.

 

“She will,” Emma told him. “Bet it takes her a week, tops.”

 

“She doesn’t love you either,” he added. “But I think she did.”

 

Emma pressed her hand against his hair and reminded herself that it wasn’t a good time to cry.

 

---

 

Emma let Henry play all the Mario Kart he wanted that afternoon; she was tired too since she’d slept the previous night in a chair. The shot she’d had put her out for a good forty five minutes in the comfortable recliner in the corner, and she was dreaming about swimming in the ocean with Regina when Henry cheered for himself after finally getting one star on Rainbow Road. Her mouth was dry when she woke, so she went to the kitchen to get some water. Looking in the refrigerator, she noticed it was stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt, plus snacks like the celery and peanut butter Henry liked after school, and the string cheese that Emma sometimes munched on when she dropped in. Even that made her feel inadequate. How the hell was she supposed to live up to a woman who knew everything about the both of them?

 

It had been a few hours since they’d eaten, and she wondered if either Regina or Henry were hungry. He was a growing kid, so maybe those celery snacks would hit the spot. She poured him some water and put a couple of celery stalks on a plate, leaving them next to him. When he was between courses, she watched him shove one of the stalks into his mouth, and decided she’d done the right thing.

 

As for the woman upstairs, Emma knew it was time to check on her. She climbed the steps silently, hoping she’d find her asleep. Peeking into the large master bedroom, she saw Regina in a rocking chair, gazing out on the apple tree she’d brought from the old world.

 

Emma leaned against the door’s frame. “Hey,” Emma called out softly, hoping not to startle her. The regal head didn’t turn. “Can I come in?”

 

“Mm,” Regina replied, which Emma took as a yes. There was no place to sit in the room except the bed, so instead of acting as uncertain as she felt, she simply flopped into the rumpled bed sheets. They were cool and soft, and they smelled of Regina. Emma inhaled as unobtrusively as she could.

 

“Is that really my tree?” Regina asked.

 

“Yes,” Emma replied. “You brought it with you, along with a few other things.” Emma knew that she’d taken her father’s body, along with Daniel’s, plus a handful of small objects with her. Not to mention a collection of hearts, most of which had been returned to their rightful owners.

 

“My father planted that tree from a seedling. He tended it until it took root, then he asked me to help it grow and flourish, so I would learn how to take care of a living thing.” She rocked back and forth in the chair. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”

 

Emma didn’t say anything. What comfort could she offer?

 

“And Daniel, a second time. After trying so hard to bring him back.” She didn’t make a move, instead just staring outside. “But I think Victor didn’t even make an effort. I was simply a pawn in Rumpelstiltskin’s game. Victor never had any intention of bringing Daniel back. Not then, in any case. Dr. Hopper made me see it.” She smiled, shaking her head. “Rumpel needed me. All of this happened because one man wanted it.”

 

Finally, she turned to Emma. “You more than anyone must understand what it is to realize that your destiny is not your own. That you are nothing but a means to an end.”

 

Emma snorted into the sheets. “I’ve had a little more time to get used to the idea than you have. But yeah, I get it. I think it’s what made us friends.”

 

“I understand.” Regina kept on rocking, and turned back to the window. “It was very unpleasant to speak to Dr. Hopper today. I don’t know why I will return to see him tomorrow. I would prefer not to.”

 

“You can change your mind. I thought you must have liked it if you were going back.”

 

“I did not,” Regina sniffed. “He asked very few questions but I found myself revealing secrets I’ve never told a soul. Why do you think that is?”

 

“He’s just good at his job, I guess. He gets paid to help people with their problems. But I think he’d do it for free.”

 

There was silence between them for so long that Emma started to drift off again, until Regina spoke. “He told me that in this world, what my husband did to me was wrong.”

 

Emma’s stomach dropped. She waited, hoping that was all she’d hear.

 

“Do you agree with Dr. Hopper?”

 

Emma didn’t even want to know the details. “Yeah, I agree with him.”

 

“In my world, I was his to do with as he wished,” Regina reasoned. “And he was your grandfather.”

 

“I don’t give a shit who he was. Blood doesn’t make family. You and Henry are a perfect example of that.”

 

Emma heard Regina take a long breath. “I suppose.” Wind rustled the branches of the tree outside the window. “I’m relieved he’s dead. I’m not even sorry I did it.” She looked at Emma. “That makes me evil, doesn’t it?”

 

From her comfortable position on the bed, Emma just reached out a hand and motioned for Regina to come to her. She didn’t know what she was doing, only that it felt like the right thing. To her surprise, Regina did, approaching the bed and lying down next to Emma. “Just close your eyes,” Emma told her. “If you have a bad dream, I’ll be here.”

 

Again, Regina did what Emma asked. And when Emma noticed the tears sliding down her nose into the cool sheets, she just reached out to touch her hair, stroking it till Regina fell asleep.

 

---

 

It was dusk when Regina stirred. Her movement woke Emma from the dream she’d been having, the memory of which vanished like wisps of smoke the moment brown eyes opened. Her smile was gentle and kind, not to mention relieved to see her. “You’re here,” she said with a sigh.

 

Emma swallowed against a dry mouth. “Yeah.” She had a terrible desire to pull Regina into her arms.

 

“What a strange day,” Regina said.

 

Emma had to agree. “Do you feel better?”

 

“I do. Not quite normal, but better.” She sat up and looked around the room. “I still can’t believe this is my home. It’s very bright. And small.”

 

Emma laughed, thinking about some of the places she’d lived over the years. “You can change it if you want I guess. It’s your house..”

 

“It’s--I believe I will become used to it. Although the clothing in the... my cupboard is very unusual. I prefer riding clothes to anything there.”

 

Emma shrugged. “I don’t know, I always liked your outfits. Not that I ever told you that,” she mumbled. “But if you want to wear that stuff you can. I like it too.”

 

“Your choice of attire is very informal, correct?”

 

“Yeah. I like like jeans and t-shirts and tanks. That’s what this is,” Emma pointed to her own shirt. “Basics. It’s comfortable.”

 

Eyebrow lifted, Regina smiled. “I might prefer something like that to my other things. Perhaps I could try something new.”

 

“We can always go shopping in town tomorrow. See what you like.” Emma thought that sounded pretty fun. If weird. Her stomach made a loud noise, and she glanced at the clock. “It’s after five--we’d better get something for dinner. I’m sure you’re hungry, er, are you?”

 

“Yes, something to eat would be nice.” She rolled off the bed and pointed to the bathroom. “I’m just going to...”

 

“No problem. Meet you downstairs.”

 

As Emma descended the steps, she smelled something so enticing it made her race just a little faster. "Henry?"

 

She found him in the kitchen, standing on a stepstool, sprinkling red peppers on a pizza. "Where the hell did that come from?" she asked.

 

"The freezer. Mom started getting them when I came over because I asked. Can you believe it? She actually likes frozen pizza too, but we always put salad on it so it's not totally bad for you. Can you get the bag of arugula out of the crisper?"

 

Emma didn't say a word, but went into the crisper in the fridge and brought out the requested bag of greens. No plain old lettuce for the Mills clan. "Mom might not like it now, but I figured you guys were too tired to go back to the diner, and I know how to make this."

 

Emma put an arm around Henry and held him for a moment. "You did good, kid. Thanks."

 

Usually she'd stick with water or the old school cream soda she'd started drinking lately since Regina kept it for Henry, but there was a bottle of white stashed in the back of the fridge, and she wanted it. She snagged it and not even thinking about the fact that she knew exactly where the wine opener was, she uncorked it. Regina appeared in the doorway with that same hesitant, fresh-faced smile that both drew and unnerved her. "Hello. Something smells very good."

 

"I made dinner. Pizza. Have you heard of it?" Henry asked.

 

"I have not, but if it's as good as my breakfast I'm certain I'll enjoy it."

 

"It's my favorite meal. You didn't always eat it, but you started to lately. I think you like it. This one has pepperoni on it, plus a bunch of vegetables. And we always put salad on it, but you can have it on the side if you want."

 

"I will do as you do, dear. Where are your ovens?" Regina asked, glancing around.

 

"It's that," Henry said, pointing to the gas stove.

 

Emma cracked up at her expression. "It seems a bit small," she said.

 

"I'm starting to think everything in your Enchanted Forest was just really big," Emma told her. "Usually you only cook for two or three here. You don't need much more than what you have, except for big holidays and stuff."

 

"I do the cooking myself?" Regina touched her chest, as though she'd never thought of such a thing. "I don't know how to cook."

 

"Uh oh," Emma said as she poured herself a glass. "Henry, the chef has left the building. Looks like you're in charge now."

 

"I know how to follow a recipe, Emma. I used to cook with Mom all the time. Don't worry about it." Henry picked up the pizza cutter and slashed into the pizza like an expert, slicing it into ten perfect pieces. "Get some plates, okay?"

 

"Yes, sir," Emma replied, doing as asked. She also poured Regina a glass of wine, assuming she'd want it, and she accepted it without asking what it was. When she took a sip, she sighed in pleasure. Looks like her tastes hadn't changed that much.

 

They brought everything to the dining table where they had shared so many meals over the last few months. Even though they didn't make much conversation, it felt all right, for a change. Not uncomfortable; it was more like they were just figuring it out.

 

"Do you like it, Mom?" Henry asked.

 

It took Regina a few moments to chew and swallow before she answered. Apparently she was much too polite to talk with her mouth full. "Indeed I do, Henry. You are quite the cook."

 

"I just warmed it up. You bought it at the store for me last week. But thanks anyway."

 

"Oh. Well. You're welcome." She sipped her wine slowly with a shy grin. Emma drained her glass and poured herself some more, because she deserved it.

 

"What shall I do tomorrow?" Regina asked. "I'm sorry to take so much of your time. I'm certain you both have lives that should go on as normally as possible. If you give me some ideas, I will entertain myself. Will you... remind me what I do during the day?"

 

Both Emma and Henry stared with mouths slightly open, and Emma realized she had no clue. Since she'd left her position as Mayor, Regina had mostly kept to herself at the mansion, but Emma didn't know what she got up to. Maybe she was practicing magic, or watching tv, or gardening, but none of those things seemed like they took up very many hours.

 

"I’m not sure, but I think you go riding sometimes," Henry said. "I never saw you there, or went with you, but sometimes I saw your boots on the back porch."

 

For the first time, Emma saw the eagerness of real anticipation on her face. "That sounds perfect, Henry. Are the stables very far from here?"

 

Emma shook her head. "Nah, I can take you after you go see Archie. I'll um, have to go to the station in the morning. I haven't checked in much today, but I assume we're still on the hunt for King George. He's the one responsible for this whole thing anyway, so I'd love to get on with searching for him."

 

“Of course,” Regina said. “I’m familiar with George. I’m not surprised to hear of his involvement.”

 

“Want to take me to school, Mom? We can go to Granny’s in the morning for breakfast and then I’ll go to school, and you can, I don’t know, hang out till you go to therapy. Maybe read a book or um, walk around.”

 

“Yes, I’d be very glad to do that.” She held her glass of wine tightly in one hand. “You’re a very good boy, Henry. I can see how lucky I must have felt to have you for a son.”

 

Despite the kindness of the words, Emma’s heart fell through the floor, and she could see Henry’s eyes lose a little of their light. He looked down at his plate, with a whole slice of pizza still left on it, but he didn’t pick it up.

 

“I’m sorry,” Regina said with a little gasp. “I’ve said the wrong thing. I tried to--I don’t seem to know what to do about all of this--”

 

“Don’t apologize, Regina. None if this is your fault. I think we just need to get used to each other. Just be together. Want to watch a movie, or a tv show, Henry? Think there’s something we could watch that would help Regina figure out what this world is all about?”

 

He grinned, and Emma exhaled as subtly as she could. “Cool. Let me think about it.” Picking up his pizza, he started eating again, lost in thought with a little line between his brows.

 

Regina reached out a hand and took Emma’s. “Thank you,” she mouthed.

 

Emma gripped her fingers with a smile.

 

They brought all of their plates and glasses into the family room as Henry explained what “TV” was, and what “movies” were. She had yet to experience the wonders of their 48” Sony LCD, and Emma hoped it didn’t freak her out. When the screen came on, she inhaled sharply. “Maybe put on Discovery or something till we figure out what to watch,” Emma suggested, so Henry turned to the channel. There was a documentary about underwater sea life in the arctic, and Regina’s eyes widened to saucers.

 

“Amazing,” she said, reaching out toward the screen. She stood and glanced around at the back of the flat screen. “How does it work?”

 

And Emma realized something that made her feel just a little pathetic: she had no idea. “Um, I don’t know. Do you mean the television or the pictures that come through it?”

 

“Both!” Regina exclaimed. She was less than two feet away from the bright blue of the ocean and the fish that lived within it. Staring, she bent down close to the screen and touched it; it shocked her and she jumped with a laugh. “It’s beautiful!”

 

“People can take something called video, that captures events that happen in real life. It’s also used to make stories like in books, and sometimes those stories are told in chapters once a week on tv, an hour or so at a time. Sometimes less, sometimes more.” It amazed her how hard it was to explain television to someone who had never heard of it, much less experienced it. “It’s kind of difficult to explain.”

 

“It looks so real,” Regina breathed. “Like it’s happening right in front of me, but I know it’s not there. It’s like magic.”

 

“There’s lots of other stuff too,” Henry said, and turned the channel. It landed on a reality show; Regina reared back at the enormous eyes and eyelashes and boobs on screen.

 

“Keep going, kid,” Emma suggested. This was the last thing she wanted Regina watching.

 

He turned again, this time landing on a commercial that was selling a car, which Regina pointed at. “That’s an automobile,” she said, as if pleased with herself for understanding.

 

“Right!” Henry said. “This will be a cartoon. It’s called SpongeBob SquarePants. You can tell what the show is by hitting this button,” Henry explained, even though Regina wasn’t paying attention. She was still glued to the screen, this time of a Pine Sol commercial, followed by an ad for Burger King.

 

“French fries!” Regina exclaimed, and Emma took a deep breath. Maybe this tv thing wasn’t such a good idea after all.

 

---

 

Two episodes of SpongeBob, two episodes of “The Nanny,” and an hour of “Frozen Planet” later, Regina allowed them to turn off the tv. She was almost delirious with pleasure; Emma had never known anyone in her entire life who actually liked commercials as much as she liked the show she was watching. She sucked in information like desert soil during a rainstorm, asking question  after question about everything from fashions (Fran Fine’s dresses were a big topic of conversation) to what “animation” was, to how she could get her own “Chase Sapphire Card.” As much effort as it took for Emma, she had to admit she kind of enjoyed it too, and Henry suddenly thought his mom was hilarious. When it was time for him to go to bed, Regina thanked him for helping her learn so much that night, and for making them all dinner.

 

“Good night, my dear boy. I-I know I will come to adore you as much as I once did. I am already well on my way,” Regina told him. “When I see your face, I feel great comfort, even if I can’t put it into words, or know why that is.” She touched his cheek, cupping it tenderly. “You’re so very young, but so wise. Thank you, H-Henry.”

 

Henry threw himself into her arms, and Emma thought back to the months that he would barely speak to her, much less touch her. They were both lucky that he was growing up.

 

Emma tucked him in, or pretended to at least, since tucking in wasn’t really her expertise. “You did good tonight, Henry. Your mom needs you, and I do too,” she told him. “I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m freaking lucky to have you around.”

 

“Welcome,” he replied. “Mom’s totally weird but nice, too. I haven’t watched SpongeBob with her since I was like, five.”

 

“Nice. It was fun, wasn’t it?” she asked, hoping.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s neat. But she seems sad. Maybe my mom has been sad all this time, but she was better at hiding it.” He looked thoughtful. “Do you think that’s true?”

 

Emma rubbed her thumb across Henry’s forehead in a gentle massage. “Could be. But I don’t want you to worry about that, okay? She’s going to be fine, and we’re gonna help her. But you need sleep first, so close your eyes. We’ll be up to take you to school. Or your mom will be. And if anybody asks about homework, tell ‘em we’ll get to it later, got it? We’re dealing with kind of a crisis at the moment.”

 

“Got it,” he replied with a cheeky grin. When Emma leaned down to kiss his cheek, he held her tightly before releasing her and sinking into the mattress. “G’night.”

 

She left the door cracked, peeking over her shoulder and watching him turn over on his side, holding a second pillow like a teddy bear.

 

Regina had already gone to her room to dress for bed, so Emma went back downstairs to clean up their mess. Regina was probably used to having a maid pick up after her, so maybe she could get them a housekeeper. She wondered if anyone in town would be willing to clean the Queen’s house without trying to fuck her over.

 

Probably not.

 

So Emma picked up the dishes and loaded the dishwasher, wiping down the countertops and straightening up the family room. She checked the doors and windows before climbing the stairs and feeling oddly at home. It was strange to feel like the one in charge after so long being in the dark. Now Regina was the one who was flailing in a new environment--hell, a new universe-- and it was Emma’s job to show her the way.

 

Emma wished she felt a little more capable.

 

In front of Regina’s closed door, she was tempted to knock, but she resisted. Instead she went to the guest room where she figured she’d settle in for the night. She didn’t have any of her stuff with her, so she made a list of what to get the next day at the apartment. She also spent a few minutes trying to decide how she’d explain to her mom and dad that she was probably going to be staying in this house for a while.

 

“Emma?” she heard Regina call from somewhere in the hallway.

 

She went to the door. “Hey.”

 

Clad in a soft, dark blue robe, Regina exhaled in relief. “Oh. I thought perhaps you’d left and gone home.”

 

Emma leaned against the door frame and grinned. “Nah, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

With that unfamiliar smile that still surprised Emma, Regina said, “That’s good. That’s very good. But you haven’t gotten ready for bed. Will you be awake for long?”

 

Looking down at her tank, Emma shrugged. “I don’t have anything to wear here. I’ll get some clothes in the morning from my place.”

 

“Oh!” Regina turned back to her room and waved Emma to come with her. “Why don’t you take something of mine? I seem to have a great many night clothes. Do you prefer a dress or trousers?”

 

Emma frowned. She hadn’t really thought about Regina wearing “trousers” to bed, but at Regina’s insistence, she found herself looking on what seemed like half a closet-full of night wear. She stepped forward and wanted very badly to touch the material of one of the shorter pieces of lingerie, but shook herself out of it. There were traces of Regina’s perfume in the air, and Emma was light headed. She selected a set of dark, silky pants and a buttoned top; that seemed safe enough. But when she turned around, Regina had opened her own robe to reveal a long, inky nightgown edged with lace. “I chose this one. it’s very soft.”

 

Emma got an eyeful and tried not to choke on her breath as she jerked her gaze toward the ceiling. “Yeah, that one’s really nice.” She swallowed. “You don’t have to show me, though.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” Regina said, coloring as she closed the robe. “I wasn’t thinking.”

 

“It’s okay. I’m uh, just shy or something. Whatever,” she said with a laugh, feeling silly.

 

“I would not have guessed that,” Regina replied. “Still, I apologize.”

 

"Forget it," Emma told her, slipping around her and heading for the bathroom. "Mind if I take a shower?"

 

"Not at all. Will you show me how to use it?"

 

"Right, I did tell you I'd do that, didn't I?" Emma muttered. "Yeah, come on in." She was blushing, which wasn't really Regina's fault, unless you considered her showing off that smoking hot figure beneath midnight blue silk a problem. Which Emma did.

 

Inside the palatial bathroom, Emma took a deep breath. "So, uh, you know the toilet business, but both the shower and the tub and the faucet all use the same kind of mechanism. Left is hot on the tub, right is cold."

 

"You can set the water temperature? Marvelous," Regina breathed, eyes wide.

 

"You guys really didn't have a whole lot of the modern conveniences, did you?" Emma said.

 

"No, nothing like this. But you can be sure that if I were to return, I would do my absolute best to integrate this into our society." She reached out and turned the faucet on the tub, which immediately spewed with water. "Oh that is marvelous."

 

"The shower's similar, but it only has one, um, thingy. You turn it and move it to where you want the temperature. Stand back," she said, turning it on. Regina whooped in delight when the spray hit the smooth walls. "You've got all sorts of stuff here," she pointed, "for your hair and I don’t know what else. It should say on the bottles. And there's bath oil and salts over there for the tub." She went to the linen closet and pulled out fresh towels. "I'll just need one, and I'll leave the other ones here for you. One thing I do need is a toothbrush--let me see if I can find one." She rummaged around in the closet and found one sealed. Quickly, in case Regina laughed at her for showing her how to use one, she put some paste on the brush and cleaned her teeth, realizing only then how gross her mouth had been. She spit and rinsed under Regina's watchful gaze, and she didn't seem like she was in that much of a hurry to leave. "So I guess I'll just..." She motioned toward the shower stall with her head, and Regina got the message.

 

"Of course," she said, and slipped out.

 

Emma stripped and started the water, showering quickly but relishing the scents she used to wash with; they all smelled like Regina. White ginger and hibiscus filled the room, and Emma leaned against the cool wall, wishing for things that were well out of reach.

 

When she was done, she knocked on the door to Regina's room. "Come in."

 

"All yours," Emma said. Regina stood and they passed one another a little too closely for Emma's comfort. "Good night. If you need anything I'm just across the hall," she added.

 

"Thank you, Emma. Good night, and sweet dreams."

 

Emma closed the bedroom door behind her and went to the guest room, wondering if anyone had ever stayed here before.

 

Probably not.

 

--

 

It wasn't a scream that woke Emma; it was more like shouting that drew her from her bed. She leapt toward the noise and burst into Regina's room. Regina was sitting straight up in the bed, eyes open, and Emma went to her. "Are you awake?"

 

Regina nodded. "Sorry. I woke myself up--I'm sorry."

 

"It's okay, you're fine." She glanced at the clock--it was just past two. She put a hand to Regina's shoulder, and to her surprise, Regina leaned against her, pressing her face into Emma's throat. She nudged a little closer and made it a hug, shutting her eyes against the pounding of her own heart. "It's okay."

 

"I'm sorry," she said again, and Emma wondered what she thought she'd do to her for waking her up. "You can go back to your room, it's all right."

 

Emma chuckled. "Not a chance. I'm up now, might as well hang out for a few minutes," she said, squeezing Regina a little tighter. "Have a bad dream?"

 

"Yes," Regina whispered, her forehead damp against Emma's skin.

 

"Wanna tell me about it?" she asked gently.

 

"No, please," Regina said, and Emma stroked her back.

 

"Okay. We'll just sit for a while then. I think I was dreaming about a dog. He kept taking my hand in his teeth, trying to get me to play with him. We were rolling around in the snow." She rubbed her chin against Regina's velvet soft hair. "What do you think that means?"

 

Regina shivered in her arms. "I don't know. It sounds nice, though."

 

"Yeah, it was." She pulled away. "Want some water? Or tea, maybe? Or warm milk?" She thought that was what you gave someone after a bad dream. "How about ice cream?"

 

"You drink cream with ice?" Regina said, wincing in the darkness. "That sounds terrible."

 

"Oh damn, you've never had ice cream. I think that's the perfect thing that will drive away nightmares. I just hope you have some in the freezer, otherwise I'll be making a midnight run to the corner store. Come on, let's find out."

 

Downstairs, Emma turned on the light over the oven, keeping them in semi-darkness. It felt intimate and fun, sneaking downstairs to have dessert. "Okay, let's see..." There were quite a few interesting things she found: popsicles, containers with what looked like pre-cooked, homemade meals, vegetables, cookie dough (Emma almost squealed at that one), and yep, ice cream. Except it wasn't ice cream; it was raspberry sorbet. "Ugh," Emma said. "This is not going to work."  She peeked in the back of every level, and when she hit the top one (well out of Henry's reach), she struck gold. "Ha. Got it. Apparently you have a sweet tooth, because this is some serious stuff." Ben and Jerry's Half Baked, plus New York Super Fudge Chunk weren't even opened; maybe she had them just for emergencies. This definitely qualified.

 

She got out bowls and scooped some of both into them before handing one over. "Okay, don't eat it too fast, otherwise you'll get a headache."

 

Regina looked carefully at the concoction before tasting it; as had happened that morning with the pancakes, she closed her eyes and hummed in pleasure. They sat on stools and ate in silence; Emma need not have warned Regina to eat it too quickly, because she ate ice cream more slowly than anyone she’d ever seen, savoring every bite. When the bowl was empty, she looked so disappointed that Emma grabbed it and gave her a little more of both flavors. “Just this once,” Emma said, and took a spoonful for herself.

 

Regina smiled. She ate the rest happily, and Emma rested her head on her palm, enjoying the experience. This part of Regina’s ordeal was pretty nice, if she was honest with herself; showing her new things that were fun (rather than depressing) was something she could get used to.

 

When she was through. Regina set her spoon in the bowl and licked her lips. “That was delicious.”

 

“Glad to hear it,” Emma said, and she took their dishes and stuck them in the dishwasher after a rinse. She was determined to keep this place cleaner than her own apartment, which had a tendency to get a little out of hand (at least it had until she’d been living with her parents rather than Mary Margaret). Since she wasn’t quite ready to go back upstairs, she put the kettle on and got out the teas Regina kept in the cupboard by the stove. “Chamomile?” she asked.

 

“Please.”

 

As they waited for the water to heat up, Regina finally said, “It was about the King.”

 

Emma blinked. “You don’t have to tell me--”

 

“He was a very loving father to Snow White.” Her voice was flat. “At best I was a possession. Invisible on most days, and on other days, the experience was... unpleasant.” Her eyes were wet, but no tears fell. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be free of that life. I understand that in reality, I wasn’t, not for many years, and I destroyed lives because of it. But tonight, on this night, it feels as though the whole world has opened. I awoke and he was gone. I wish I could express it properly, but as difficult as this new world will be to navigate, it is also a miracle.” Her lips curved, and she took a deep breath. “Leopold is dead, and my mother is truly gone. There is no one to keep me from living exactly as I please. I have a son and a friend, and that is everything I’ve ever wanted. To be free. To love and be loved.”

 

Emma felt tears gather in her own eyes, wondering how many terrible things must have happened to create such evil from someone who had so much to give. “That sounds like a good life,” she said.

 

“I do regret Snow’s--your mother’s, that is--presence in this town. I would prefer to never see her again for the rest of my days.” She seemed to bite back more angry words, shaking her head. “I must find a way to let go of the rage that has taken root inside me. Dr. Hopper, today, seemed to know exactly how to bring it out of me--I broke his lamp inadvertently with my magic this afternoon. But he didn’t mind. He told me expected it.”

 

“He’s pretty smart,” Emma said.

 

“It’s foreign to me... talking about the past. I could never have done such a thing without consequences in the other world.”

 

“I get that,” Emma told her. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to keep it all bottled up.

 

“You are very patient. I’m so glad to have you, as a guide. And a friend.”

 

Emma didn’t know what to say, so she just said, “Thanks.”

 

She poured their tea before the kettle whistled so as not to wake Henry, and they each carried cups upstairs. As much as Emma was drawn to Regina’s room, and her bed, she didn’t even consider the option of staying close. She could have, and she had no doubt Regina would have accepted her presence next to her, but there was a simmering attraction between them that she believed Regina was not attuned to. And that was all right by Emma, because who the hell knew what would happen if it surfaced. It would be too easy to roll over in the middle of the night and take her in her arms, and waking up next to someone so beautiful would be a problem. Emma had her limits. She might be a savior, but she wasn’t a fucking saint.

 

---

 

In the morning, Henry woke her. “Time to get up. Mom’s already dressed. She’s in that crazy riding outfit again, but with a different jacket. You think she’s using magic to make that stuff?” he asked.

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Emma said, trying not to breathe her morning breath into his face. “God, what time is it?”

 

“Almost 7:30. We’re going to Granny’s for breakfast and then I’ll go to school. You wanna meet us there for a bear claw or something?”

 

“That sounds good, kid. Sorry I slept in.”

 

“It’s okay. I heard Mom wake up in the middle of the night. Is she okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, not surprised he’d heard them. “She’ll be fine. Just a bad dream.”

 

“Okay. See you later.”

 

Emma stumbled out of bed after him, readjusting the pajama pants that had inched up her calves. She had no robe so she just climbed down the stairs to see Regina staring up at her, perfectly poised and smiling. “Good morning,” she said.

 

“I slept late,” Emma said. “Sorry.”

 

“You didn’t. I was up early. Your tea helped me a great deal. I slept very soundly.”

 

“Cool. So you and Henry are getting breakfast.”

 

A little line formed between Regina’s brows. “Would  you rather we wait?”

 

“No, I’ll stop by there before I head to the station. Do you, um, need anything?"

 

"No thank you. I'm perfectly well. See you soon."

 

Emma ran a hand through her hair. "Okay. Bye." She felt awkward standing there, like she'd rushed down the steps without thought of what she looked like, which of course was exactly what happened. "Get the Eggs Benedict at Granny's. It's a specialty. And hashbrowns."

 

Regina's eyebrows raised. "Benedict?" she repeated.

 

"Yep. Can't go wrong. You like potatoes, don't you?" Emma asked.

 

"I do indeed," Regina replied, taking the end of her braid and twirling it between two fingers.

 

"You'll love it. See ya." With that, Emma bolted back up the stairs, not caring if she looked like an idiot, considering she already felt like one.

 

That morning she took her time getting ready, spending a good fifteen minutes convincing herself out of putting a hand between her legs while in Regina's shower. It was a bad idea, but so, so tempting; she managed to resist, in the end. She drove the bug down Mifflin towards town and wondered what this day would bring for all of them.

 

She parked at the station and checked in first; Ruby was there, alongside David and Leroy. They all looked liked they'd been awake at least half the night; the place stank of burnt coffee and leftover Chinese food. "Hey guys," Emma said. Leroy groaned in response, and Emma knew right away that not everyone believed that Regina had truly lost her memory.

 

"So uh, you wanna know what's up with me?" she asked.

 

"You got taken by the world's worst con," Leroy said.

 

"Nope," Emma replied. "Regina's going to be disappointed you're not going to be making her Eggs Benedict this morning, Ruby. She really loooved those pancakes yesterday."

 

With a frown, Ruby whined, "No fair, Em That is totally cheating."

 

David looked at her in shock. "What does that mean?" he asked.

 

Ruby rolled her eyes. "Emma, you are in trouble, so let's just move on. Don't you want to know what's happening with the guy behind George's kidnapping of your parents?"

 

"Well if it was anything worth knowing I assume you'd have already called me." There was silence all around. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

 

---

 

Regina and Henry were sitting across from each other at their usual table when Emma came in. They had a bunch of plates in front of them, and there was a bowl of fruit between them that neither looked very interested in eating.

 

Emma nabbed a bear claw out from under the glass dome where they were kept and called out, “Granny, I’ll take a cocoa when you’re back.”

 

“Sure thing, Sheriff,” Granny replied.

 

She nudged Regina over a few inches into the booth and slid in next to her. “Hi there. What’d you have?”

“Your recommendation,” Regina replied with something like glee. “It was amazing. As were the hashed potatoes.”

 

“Hash browns, Mom. Granny made us some extra. You want some?” Henry pushed a plate of still-warm potatoes in her direction.

 

“No problem,” Emma said, snagging his fork and taking a bite. She always had room for hash browns. “You ready for school?” she asked.

 

“Yeah. I showed Mom my book on American history. I think she might want to do some reading on the internet later, so can you show her how to use the computer?”

 

Emma raised her eyebrows. “Sure. You think she’s ready for that?”

 

“I’m right here, Emma,” Regina said, looking down her nose in that insufferably regal fashion. “And yes, I think I can handle any information that I happen to stumble across.”

 

Emma considered that, and decided she might need to make sure the parental controls were at their highest setting. Maybe she’d just log her in as Henry to be sure.

 

They both saw Henry off to school down the road, and Emma checked her watch. “You don’t have to stay and observe me every moment of the day, dear,” Regina told her. “I’m not a child.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Emma scoffed. “You were just in an accident, though, and you’ve got a brain injury and amnesia. I don’t think I’m acting too protective.”

 

“Perhaps not, but you don’t have to hover, either. You’ve been neglecting your work, and I’d appreciate it if you could find King George and those who follow him. From what I’ve been told he’s quite a powerful man, and bears a great deal of ill will toward your family. Especially your father, which puts you--and Henry--in danger.”

 

With a nod, Emma had to agree. “Got that right,” she admitted. “And I’d like to knock his block off for what happened to you, even if it wasn’t his first intention.”

 

Regina pursed her lips. “I don’t know the phrase, but I believe I can deduce its meaning,” she replied. “That’s very noble of you, dear.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma shrugged. “Anyway, think you can entertain yourself till your appointment with Archie?”

 

“Of course. I’ll return to the diner for another cup of tea and then I’ll go. Shall he... call you when we are finished, like yesterday?” She stumbled over the word “call,” as though getting used to the new meaning.

 

“Yeah. I’ll come get you and take you to the stable. But maybe you shouldn’t ride. Don’t want to knock your head around. It’s only been a couple of days.”

 

“I am perfectly fine,” Regina assured her, although Emma didn’t buy it. “I will not do too much. Now run along and solve your mystery. I’ll see you soon.”

 

“Okay.” Emma had the maddening thought of hugging her goodbye, which meant she should just turn around and walk away. “See you.”

 

But Regina stepped forward and brushed her enticing, soft lips against Emma’s cheek. “Have a nice morning.”

 

Emma swallowed and tried to keep her eyes from falling shut. “You too.” It came out in a whisper.


---

 

It was nearly one when her cell chirped. She and Ruby were on their way back from the initial crime scene, searching the area one last time for any evidence they might have missed. Ruby’s wolf senses hadn’t helped much, which led Emma to believe there wasn’t anything else to find. Their little “friend” in the jail cell hadn’t copped to much of anything other than allegiance to King George and an assertion that yes, he’d chosen to try and off Snow and David, boo-fucking-hoo. Emma was tempted to grab his broken wrist and yank his shoulder back out of the socket, but she doubted it would get them much more than grief and a lawsuit.

 

Emma kept her eyes on the road as she swiped her phone open. “Hello?”

 

“Hi, Emma. Regina is ready for you to pick her up.”

 

“Okay. I’m on my way back into town--we were at the accident scene. Maybe ten minutes?” she said, as if asking a question.

 

“That will be fine. I’ll just have Regina take Pongo for a quick walk then,” he replied.

 

Emma waited. “Is that some sort of code asking me to stay on the line when she leaves the office?”

 

“Not really,” Archie chuckled. “Pongo needs to go, but he’s not ready to let her leave, either. We’ll meet you outside.” There was a pause. “We had a good session, Emma. No need to worry.”

 

Letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, Emma deflated in relief. “Good. Great. I’ll see you there.”

 

Archie disconnected, and Emma tucked the phone next to her leg in case she needed it again. She didn’t say anything, and Ruby didn’t either. For the first minute, at least.

 

“So, you and Regina, huh?” Ruby asked. She wasn’t teasing, either. She sounded completely serious.

 

"What’s that supposed to mean?” Emma hedged.

 

“She’s got you all tied up inside. And now you smell funny.” Ruby winced and made a face.

 

“What kind of funny?” Emma demanded nervously. She had no idea what Ruby was smelling, but if it was anything--

 

Ruby laughed. “Not sexy funny, Ems. Just like you got a little jolt of adrenaline, which I’m guessing you did. Is everything okay?”

 

“Yeah. She’s um, seeing Archie. And no, I don’t know what they talk about. But she’s got a lot of shit on her plate, so I figured it might be good for her to talk about it with someone who can actually help her. Someone who’s not me, that is.”

 

“I think you’re helping her plenty.” Emma saw her grinning out of the corner of her eye. “And I for one think it’s very romantic. But don’t tell Snow, she’d kill me. She’s still convinced she’s faking the amnesia thing.”

 

Emma nodded. “Yeah, I figured. She’s not, though. I know it.”

 

“I believe you. She’s different. Nicer, but a little more obvious about her superiority than before, at least that I can remember. Like she can’t quite forget she’s a queen even though she’s totally not anymore. A few days ago, that wasn’t there at all, you know what I mean?” Emma turned the radio down as Ruby continued. “She’s younger, for sure. And she’s not so good at pretending. Mayor Mills never told me a single time during the entire curse that she liked anything I made at the diner. Did you know that?”

 

Emma bit her lip, trying and failing to hide a grin. “No.”

 

Ruby bobbed her head with enthusiasm. “She didn’t insult my cooking, not directly anyway, but she acted like she didn’t care if I lived or died. I’ve had more compliments in the last two days than I have in probably my whole life. I think she’d go down on me every night if I promised to make her hash browns the morning after.”

 

Emma held back the bark of indignity that almost burst from her throat. “She will not be going down on you anytime soon, Rubes.” I don’t share, Emma wanted to say. “She’s got a head injury and you’d be taking advantage of her.”

 

“Yeah, and you’re jealous as hell. Just wanted to let you know that I know, and I promise to lay off. Mostly.” Ruby punched her lightly on the arm as they cleared the forest. “Think she likes you?”

 

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, Emma said, “I think what she remembers is that three days ago she was married to a guy who--” the words caught in her throat.  “Listen, Leopold was a real dick to Regina. I don’t plan on talking about this with Snow, by the way, so I’d rather you kept it to yourself. Besides, for her, Daniel just died, again. Romance is the last thing on her mind.”

 

Ruby was silent for a long time. Gentle fingers patted her thigh. “Sorry, Em. Really.”

 

Emma turned to her briefly, to see Ruby’s enormous eyes filled with sympathy and understanding. “She just needs to get well. Then... I don’t know. Maybe. Just have to wait and see.”

 

A few minutes later they pulled up in front of Archie’s place. Regina was sitting on the curb with Pongo under her arm, while Archie leaned against the brick wall behind her, ankles crossed. “Hi, Emma. Ruby,” he said.

 

“Hey Archie. Hi Pongo!” Ruby said, leaning down and petting his head. His tail wagged, but he was surprisingly subdued, not budging out from under Regina’s touch. “Hi, Regina.”

 

“Hello, Ruby. I missed you this morning at the diner, but I still enjoyed my breakfast. Your grandmother is an excellent cook.” She smiled sweetly, and Emma watched Ruby melt.

 

“That’s awfully nice of you, Regina. I’ll have the early shift tomorrow if you want to come by again with Henry. I’ll make you something special.”

 

“All right.” Regina glanced up at Emma. “Hello. Thank you for coming to get me.”

 

“Sure. Ruby and I can take you to the stables if you still want to go,” Emma said.

 

“Of course. I’ve been looking forward to it.”

 

Archie stepped forward and took Pongo’s leash from Regina. “You take it easy today, Regina. Nothing strenuous, all right?”

 

“Yes, doctor.” Regina nuzzled Pongo, who licked her face (Emma had to force herself not to gape) before she stood up. “See you on Monday.”

 

“Call if you need to, and I mean it,” he told her. “Emma, you have the number. Day or night, got it?”

 

“Got it,” Emma said with a firm nod.

 

As they turned to get back in the car, Pongo strained on his leash. “I think Pongo’s got a crush,” Emma murmured.

 

“He’s a very good dog. Goodbye Pongo,” she waved to the animal, who barked in reply.

 

In the car, Regina settled into the back seat, struggling briefly with the seat belt until Ruby reached back to help. “It’s not too far,” Emma said. “Think you’ll be okay?”

 

“I think so. This car is larger than the yellow one, or the one that’s mine. I prefer this one.”

 

Emma glanced around at the inside of the decade-old squad car. “Uh, okay. Whatever works.”

 

---

 

Regina nearly leapt out of the car toward the stables when they arrived. Emma and Ruby followed, avoiding the patches of mud and who knew what else leading toward the barn. Inside, the man who ran the stables, Jerome, was staring at Regina with wide eyes, backed up against the far wall.

 

"What's she doing here?" he asked nervously.

 

"She wants to go riding. Hasn't she ever been here before?" Emma asked.

 

"Yes, but she's barely spoken to me. She--" he gulped, "she hugged me when she came in. What the hell happened to her?" His faint Irish accent became a little more prominent then, and Emma bit her lip.

 

"She had kind of an accident. Well, not kind of. She has amnesia. She's okay, but she forgot most of that Evil Queen stuff, so consider her...” She thought about it. “Consider her an Evil Queen in training, except we're not training her to be evil. We want her to be nice. Get it?"

 

Jerome shook his head. "Nice?" He watched Regina fiercely rubbing the muzzle of one of the horses as the animal whickered in pleasure, shaking its mane. She giggled and leaned her head against it. Emma thought it was cute. Jerome looked creeped out. "Nice," he repeated. "Right."

 

"Which one is mine?" Regina said, so pleased she was nearly bursting. "I want to go out this afternoon."

 

"Yours?" Jerome asked, inching closer. "You don't board a horse here, Majesty."

 

When she turned to face them, the cute queen was gone, replaced me a mildly angry one. "What?" she snapped.

 

"You don't have a horse here. You never have, Majesty. Henry comes once in a while with David to ride Larry, and you visit only rarely."

 

"That's ridiculous," Regina insisted. "Emma, you must know that it's simply not possible that I have no horse. Even here in this world, I must have a horse. Mustn't I?" Her hand ran up and down the horse's forehead almost unconsciously, as though she were trying to comfort herself, or convince herself that it couldn't be true.

 

"Regina, I don't think you come here very much. In fact, the only time I know for sure you have was when... Daniel was here." When he died.

 

It looked as though Emma had reached out and punched her in the gut; she leaned forward a few inches with her mouth open. Emma thought she might be ill right there in the hay, but she managed to hold it back. She swallowed repeatedly and turned around, the fingers on both hands splayed out. She walked a few steps then ran out the other end of the stable into the grass. Emma didn't follow, nor did anyone else.

 

They waited but heard nothing, which was both a relief and a curse, so to speak. Emma looked to Jerome. "She needs a freaking horse to ride. Please tell me there's an option. Otherwise I'm not sure what we're going to end up with."

 

Jerome stroked his chin in thought. "Yeah, I guess. One of the horses has been here for a couple of months--a trainer from the dressage school brought him in, but he turned out to be too difficult to work with. I haven't known what to do with him so far, but I can't... destroy him. I don't do that unless it's absolutely necessary." He walked to the far end of the stalls, where an enormous chestnut horse with a reddish mane was rearing his head. "I let him out into the paddock every day but he doesn't get on with the other horses." The animal kicked the wall behind him before jumping slightly toward Emma.

 

"That's the only one you've got?" Emma asked. "Can't she, I don't know, borrow one from someone, or something?"

 

"Yeah, she could, but if anything happens to it, I've gotta explain that the Evil Queen commandeered a horse for whatever reason, then they'll be furious, and who knows what kind of trouble--"

 

"Geez, Jerome, it's a horse. You sure do worry a lot," Ruby interrupted. "Saddle somebody up and let her go for a ride."

 

Emma winced. "She's not even really supposed to ride. She's got a head injury. Maybe she can, I don't know, just brush one of them. Or feed them, or... something." She had no idea what else was involved in the care of any animals, much less something as big as a horse.

 

"You want the Queen mucking out a stall?" Jerome asks.

 

"That sounds fine," came an imperious voice behind them. Regina was there, pulling on a set of snug gloves that Emma figured she'd conjured up out of thin air. "I'll need a pitchfork. Where should I begin?"

 

The three of them stared at her.

 

"I said, I'll need a pitchfork, Jerome," she snapped. "This back stall is ridiculous, I can smell the stench from outside. I suggest you do as I ask, otherwise I plan to complain rather vocally to everyone in town that you're not caring appropriately for the community's horse population." She pursed her lips and looked to her left, at the chestnut stallion. The horse was watching her with what Emma identified as suspicion for some reason, and Regina stared right back.

 

Emma felt her lips curl. She might be witnessing the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

---

 

Emma dropped Ruby off at the B&B, giving her a little down time before she took the night shift at Granny’s. She felt badly that Ruby was working so much, but then again, Ruby had been bored out of her mind just waitressing, and she felt so much more important working with Emma now that the curse was broken. Her tracking skills had been invaluable time and time again, and now was no different. She also seemed to need less sleep than your average person, so she had more hours to kill in a day than Emma did.

 

The sun was dropping low in the sky when Emma neared the stables. No news was good news, she hoped, since she hadn’t heard from Jerome all afternoon. No one was in the barn other than the horses, so Emma was relieved to find Jerome outside, leaning against a fence as Regina stood in the center of a large ring with a horse tethered to a long rope. “What’s she doing?” Emma asked.

 

Jerome removed a piece of hay between his teeth. “Damnedest thing. She’s longing that bastard of an animal that no one’s been able to get near. I bet if she comes back she’ll be riding him in a couple of weeks or less.” He shook his head. “Damnedest thing, really.”

 

“What’s lunging?” Emma pronounced, unfamiliar with the term.

 

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he grinned. “Longing is the way she's training him. It means she’s getting to know him, and he’s getting to know her. He'll learn certain commands, and it helps them trust each other. Plus, he’s gotten loads of exercise today, and I can see he’s already in better spirits. Just kicking around the paddock wasn’t doing much to keep him calm, and an animal like that needs to work off his energy on a regular basis if he’s going to be manageable.” He nodded toward Regina. “She cleaned out his stall, plus a bunch of the others, and helped me feed and groom the whole lot.” He took a breath and turned to Emma. “She asked if I need a stable hand to help out around the place. Told her I couldn’t pay much and she laughed in my face. Said she just needed something to do. A lot like that horse out there.” He narrowed his eyes. “I told her she’s welcome any day of the week, whether I’m here or not. I trust people when animals trust them. Even her, apparently. But that woman... I thought I knew who she was but I don’t. Don’t know if she knows herself, either.”

 

Emma watched Regina talking to the horse, tilting her head this way and that as he danced in a wide circle around her. “Yeah,” she replied. “I think she might still be figuring it out.” Regina was covered in dirt, from the tips of her boots to the streaks of mud across both cheeks and forehead. And she was smiling and laughing as the horse whinnied, almost as if they were having a conversation. She clicked her teeth and started walking the animal toward Emma, who leaned on the fence next to Jerome and waited.

 

“Hello, Emma,” Regina said. She glowed with vitality and ease that Emma had never before seen. “Thank you for bringing me here. I’ve had a wonderful day.”

 

“I see that,” Emma replied. “Who’s your friend?”

 

Regina looked up at the horse, who brushed one hoof in the dirt, his great head dipping to nibble at the grass around the ring. “I don’t know yet. Jerome told me he doesn’t have a name.”

 

Emma frowned. “Can’t you just pick something?” she asked.

 

“I suppose,” Regina said, her hand resting on the horse’s shoulder. “But I’d rather he tell me more about himself first. Then we’ll decide together, if that’s all right with Jerome,” she said, glancing at the man.

 

“S’all right by me,” Jerome said.

 

“Well then,” Regina sighed, leaning her weight against the horse. “I’ll just brush him and check his hooves before we leave if that’s all right?” At Emma’s nod, she continued, “Good. He’s worked very hard today and deserves a little rub down.”

 

Emma followed her into the barn and watched her work, humming and cooing a little in the stall as she tended to the animal. She gave him water and cleaned out his shoes, brushed him and rubbed his long muscles with intense focus. When it seemed like she was about finished, she put her forehead against the side of his head and whispered to him as he shifted his stance, neighing softly. With a final pat, she left the stall and closed it up almost sadly.

 

“How about we come back tomorrow?” Emma asked. “It’s Saturday, so Henry’s off from school, and he rides a horse here. Maybe you can teach him a few things, and introduce him to your new friend?”

 

Regina looked thrilled, and she clutched her hands together. “I would like that so much. Jerome, what time are you here tomorrow?”

 

“Seven. There’s an intermediate riding class tomorrow from 8 to 10, but the ring’s open after that.”

 

“We’ll come after, then,” Regina replied. “Thank you, Jerome.”

 

“Thank me?” he laughed. “Thank you, Majesty. You’ve been more help to me than any stable boy I’ve had in the past ten years.”

 

When Regina slid into the car and closed the door, Emma made a face; in the small space, the smells of a day of hard work and horses overpowered her for a moment.

 

“What is it?” Regina asked. “Are you ill?”

 

Emma blinked against the scent. “Sorry, it, uh, just kind of smells like... shit.”

 

Regina glanced down at her boots. “Oh, whoops.” She waved a hand, and in a moment, she’d cleaned herself and Emma’s car up back into pristine condition. “When you’re used to it you don’t even smell it. My apologies.”

 

Emma just smiled. “That magic thing is awfully handy sometimes,” she said as she started up the engine.

 

---

 

That night, Henry got out Regina’s huge, handwritten recipe book and chose an old favorite that Regina had no memory of whatsoever: chicken marsala with couscous and a salad. Regina had never heard of couscous, so she was pleasantly surprised by its consistency and flavor. Even though Emma was hopeless at chopping mushrooms, Henry showed her how to do it, and they made a remarkably delicious dinner. Regina’s eyes lit up at first bite, and that made Emma’s struggles with the wine opener (she had managed to get most of the cork out of the pinot grigio after all) worth it.

 

“See, you just follow the directions and if you measure everything right, it turns out really good,” Henry explained. “You taught me that, Mom. This one is pretty easy, but I haven’t tried the harder ones. Lasagna is your specialty, but I like lots of other stuff too.”

 

“Lasagna?” Regina asked around a mouthful of chicken and mushroom.

 

“Yeah. It’s layers of pasta and cheese and sauce, sometimes with meat or spinach or anything, I guess. You make good meatballs too, and you also started making this thing called ceviche, which means you cook shrimp in lemon juice instead of heating it up.”

 

Emma winced. “I don’t know about that one,” she said.

 

“I liked it, and I didn’t even want to try it,” Henry said, finishing the last of his couscous. “I didn’t eat Indian food or Thai food or Japanese food much before the curse broke, but after that, Mom started making everything.”

 

“I don’t know any of those cuisines,” Regina said, “but I’d be happy to try them with you both.”

 

Emma thought back to one of their more recent meals that Regina had invited her over for. “I was here a couple of weeks ago, and you made this Indian butter chicken with about 24 spices. It was good, but you decided that next time we’d just order in. There’s a place off Oak that delivers, and it takes about half the time that it does to actually cook the same stuff. Plus, there’s no mess to clean up.”

 

“How about tomorrow?” Henry offered.

 

“All right,” Regina agreed, still enjoying her dinner from tonight. “I apologize for focusing so much on food, but the choices here are so vast compared to what I had at home. Here it seems to be a feast for every meal.”

 

“Didn’t being a queen mean you could eat whatever you want?” Henry asked innocently.

 

Regina’s face lost a little of its brightness, but she at least managed not to frown. “No, dear. Not usually.” The moment of memory didn’t kill her appetite; she kept on eating, head slung low over her plate to make sure she didn’t drop a single morsel.

 

They cleaned up together, and Henry spent a little while getting a jump on his homework while Emma flipped through Regina’s CD collection. “You have a lot of Springsteen,” Emma noticed. “And Nat King Cole. Who’s Fats Waller?”

 

“Don’t know,” Regina said, examining the rainbow shimmer of the CD in the light. She noticed that Emma was peering closely at one in particular. “Which is that one?”

 

“Django Reinhardt. I like the cover. I’ll put it on.”

 

She slipped the disc into the player, and old-fashioned jazz floated out of the speakers. “You listen to this?” Emma asked, then rolled her eyes at herself. “I mean, I guess you did. None of these look like Henry’s taste.”

 

“Mom played that stuff all the time when I was little,” Henry said, lifting his head from his math problems. “She stopped a couple of years ago, after we um, started not getting along so good.”

 

“So well, dear,” Regina corrected, seemingly without thought.

 

Henry caught Emma’s eye cheerfully, and gave her a thumbs up. Old habits died hard, she figured.

 

Regina couldn’t stop staring at the CD, turning it over and over in the light. “How does it work?” she asked.

 

Emma opened her mouth to try and explain something about a laser and reading data off the surface of the disc, which sounded exactly like the bullshit it was. “No clue. But I like it. It’s old technology though, on its way out. Now everyone buys music on the computer.”

 

Regina’s eyes grew wide. “Where is this computer I keep hearing about?”

 

Uh oh. Emma hadn’t done her due diligence, checking out the security on the system in advance. “I uh, don’t know your password. Maybe we can watch tv tonight instead? Or a movie?”

 

The raised eyebrow told Emma she didn’t buy that one bit, but she also didn’t argue. “I suppose, in a while. I’d like to listen to more of this music.”

 

Emma nodded, so they each took one side of the couch, their feet meeting to rest next to each other in the middle. With Henry scrawling on his pages in front of them at the coffee table, Emma was struck by the sudden domesticity of the scene.

 

It all felt awfully, miserably comfortable, as though at any moment, something unforeseen would shatter the peace. But nothing did. Henry worked till he was done, and asked Emma to pick out a movie from his mom’s collection. It was large, but many of the choices were out of the question (including Goodfellas, The Godfather, and the entire run of The Sopranos--apparently Regina had a thing for the mob). She also passed by Psycho, Jaws, and the Shawshank Redemption until she noticed Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perfect.

 

Henry passed out halfway through, but Regina was absolutely gripped by everything about the movie; the story, the cinematography, the music. Emma hadn’t seen it in years, and watching it with Regina was almost like experiencing it for the first time. Near the end, Regina leaned forward, gaping at the screen, and she nearly jumped off the couch more than once. When the credits rolled, she collapsed on the cushions in relief.

 

“That was... a strangely visceral experience, considering I’ve been sitting still for so long.” She grinned at Emma in the muted light of the screen. “What an unusual medium. Something like a novel, but vastly different as well. I like these ‘movies.’ I’d like to see more of them.”

 

“You’ve got a big collection, and we have plenty of time.” She paused the DVD and sat up, realizing only then that one of her bare feet was touching Regina’s socked one. Those few inches of her body sent a hot streak up her leg, and she felt flushed and sweaty almost immediately. She yanked her foot away and sat up, resting a palm against Henry’s back where he lay on the floor. “Come on, kid. Time for bed.”

 

“Just a few more minutes,” he mumbled.

 

“Come along, dear,” Regina prodded gently, her voice soft and soothing even to Emma. “We’ll tuck you in.”

 

And a few minutes later, they did that very thing. Henry kissed both of them goodnight, and with him in his own room, asleep, the tiny hallway separating their sleeping quarters seemed both enormous and miniscule.

 

“So, goodnight, Regina,” Emma said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“Thank you for taking me to the stables today, Emma. And for dinner, and the movie,” she said. “I can’t recall a more lovely day.” The words struck them both as funny, considering the circumstances, but Regina’s laugh was bittersweet. “I can’t remember any lovely day in such a long time. You can’t know how--” The words caught, and she blinked quickly. “Thank you.”

 

Emma nodded once. “Welcome.”

 

Regina lurched forward and kissed her cheek, as she had done more than once in the last few days. After Regina disappeared into her room, Emma’s skin burned with the mark of her mouth for the rest of the night.

 

---

Chapter Text

---

 

Over the next weeks, they settled into a routine, of sorts. Regina would walk Henry to school during the week, while Emma would head to work early. She was keeping odd hours at the station, mostly so she could be available to Regina, who needed a ride to the stables in the afternoons. She was also doing frequent patrols, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious that might lead them to King George. He’d gone underground but was likely well within the town boundaries, and their prisoner Anthony either knew nothing or was damned good at keeping his trap shut.

 

Regina spent her days training the horse who still didn’t have a name, and in the late afternoons, Emma would pick her up and they’d meet Henry together. The three of them would either visit the grocery store and plan their dinner, or they’d get something decadent at one of the handful of new restaurants that had sprung up in Storybrooke over the past few months. So far she was a fan of every cuisine they’d tried, including those they’d attempted to conquer in the kitchen. Emma, despite herself, had learned to cook. Which really meant she’d learned to follow directions, and as it turned out, it wasn’t so hard when there were two other people around to make sure you were doing it right. She’d even tried and succeeded at creme brulee, and Henry had loved it when Regina caramelized the sugar on top with a tiny flame from her index finger.

 

They watched movie after movie together, some with Henry and some after Henry was sent off to bed. There weren’t very many romantic movies in Regina’s collection, so she wasn’t subjected to many love scenes that might make either of them uncomfortable (for various reasons), so that was a relief. Regina was not particularly interested in reality tv, preferring dramas and the occasional smart comedy. Now and then Emma would catch her sneaking peeks at reruns of Buffy, which Emma could appreciate, since she’d watched the show between foster homes, jail, and the crappy apartments she’d found her way into after she got out.

 

In all, considering the fact that she was living with the Evil Queen of Fairytale Land (who just happened to also have amnesia) as well as the kid she’d given up for adoption all those years ago, everything was pretty normal.

 

Snow had not adjusted to her close relationship to Regina. At all. David had come to agree that it was pretty clear the amnesia thing wasn’t a trick, but her mother still stayed a safe distance away, continually trying to convince Emma to move back home to their tiny apartment.


Emma had no intention of doing that. Not when Regina and Henry were starting to feel like family. Even if that feeling was dangerous, Emma couldn’t move away from it.

 

So the people (other than Snow) of Storybrooke got used to Regina with her long hair and riding clothes and muddy boots. They smiled at her when she smiled at them, and overall folks seemed to be getting over the whole curse thing, at least partly. They were opening their own businesses and marrying their sweethearts, having babies and buying new homes. Life was moving on.

 

And Emma was happy. So happy that, as usual, she waited for something to change. Because this waking up at the same time and sharing morning coffee and doing laundry and listening to music together thing was not going to last. How could it? Stuff like that was for other people, not her.

 

But even if nothing changed, Emma still felt the longing in her heart for more. Then again, she told herself she was happier without it, because if she had even more good in her life, she doubted she’d be able leave the house every day for fear of losing it.

 

Then, something did change. Something Emma never expected, at least not the way things unfolded.

 

One night, Emma was up around 3, wide awake. She hadn’t heard a noise that she could remember, or had a bad dream, but she got up since it was pointless to lie there tossing and turning. Oddly, she noticed Regina’s door was open, but she wasn’t in bed, so Emma went to the top of the stairs to see if there was light coming from the kitchen or family room. The white flickering of the tv was visible, so Emma pulled on the robe that had become hers over time (she’d gotten used to wearing it with the kid around) and climbed down the stairs.

 

She saw Regina from the darkness of the hallway, staring at the screen with wide eyes. She was eating something out of a bowl, and there was an empty wine glass on the coffee table. Emma grinned. Looked like her housemate was enjoying the finer things in life, and she was about to have company.

 

“Hey,” Emma said, and the bowl on Regina’s lap went flying, and popcorn went all over the floor and coffee table. Before Emma even had a chance to step forward to help her clean it up, the room went dark with a click of the remote control. The room was silent again. “Uh, Regina?”

 

There was a very long pause. “Hello, Emma.”

 

Emma’s eyes took their time adjusting to the darkness. “Think you can flip on a light, or turn the tv back on so I can see where I’m going?”

 

“I’d rather not.”

 

“Listen, Regina, whatever you were watching, you don’t have to be embarrassed. Even if it’s porn--” she found herself saying, cringing at the words-- “it really doesn’t matter. At least I’ll be prepared for a really big cable bill at the end of the month if you warn me. Heh.” Her face flushed.

 

“What is porn?” Regina asked, still shrouded in darkness.

 

At least that means she hasn’t dug too deep on the internet, Emma thought. “If you don’t know, maybe now’s not the best time to talk about it. Just, how about a light or something?”

 

“I--” Regina began, then Emma heard her sigh. “All right.” The tv clicked back on, and Emma could see again. She watched Regina wave one hand, and the room was illuminated by a dim lamp in one corner, and with her other hand she swept up all the popcorn (SmartFood, Emma suspected by the faint scent of cheese in the air). Emma glanced at the screen and recognized the show instantly even though she’d never seen it: True Blood.

 

“Hey, I heard this is really good!” Emma declared. “Why were you hiding it?”

 

Regina’s pretty mouth opened faintly, and she swallowed.

 

Emma was flummoxed. “How about a refill on that glass, and I’ll get us some more popcorn?” Emma asked.

 

A nod was her reply.

 

A minute later she’d poured a two sizable glasses of pinot noir, killing the bottle they’d opened at dinner. Emma had started to learn a little more about wine now that she knew someone who could teach her about it. Regina was admittedly not the most educated sommelier, but Emma liked whatever she opened, so it all worked out in the end. And right now, she figured she was going to need a little liquid courage. She handed the glass over and set the bowl down on the coffee table. “So, spill. What’s up?” Regina stared at the ceiling for so long that Emma finally caved. “I assume you have questions or something about what you saw?” she said. “Oh damn, is it about vampires? They don’t exist in this world, but I don’t know, after all this stuff, maybe they actually do. Do you know vampires? I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but damn, I really figured they were some made up bullshit by that guy--”

 

“That’s not it,” Regina interrupted.

 

“Oh. Okay. Is it...” She thought hard for a minute. “You’re going to have to just tell me.”

 

With a great intake of breath, Regina appeared to steel herself. “There is... well, many people have sexual relations on this television series,” she explained, as if to a child.

 

“Ah. Yeah.” Emma had known that in the back of her mind, but she hadn’t really been thinking too much about it in the two minutes since her discovery of Regina secretly watching HBO. “Does that upset you?”

 

“Quiet,” Regina snapped. Emma shut her mouth. “I have watched many hours of this particular program--”

 

“Many hours? When the hell have you been sneaking--”

 

“I said quiet, Emma!”

 

Oops. “Sorry. Go on.”

 

Another deep breath. “As I was saying, there are also... sexual relations between women. Sex, and also kisses.” Regina was looking anywhere but at Emma. “Affection. One might say... love.”

 

Emma suddenly felt like she was 15 again, except when she was 15, she probably wouldn’t have had to explain lesbian vampires to any of the girls she’d known. Especially not to a girl who she would be thrilled to play lesbian vampires with under the cover of darkness. “Uh huh.”

 

“Does this not surprise you?” Regina asked.

 

What was she supposed to say? “Not really,” she managed.

 

“Oh.”Regina seemed almost disappointed. “Well. Of course.”

 

Emma took a gigantic gulp of wine. She hoped that might explain how red she’d just gone in the face. Regina followed suit, setting her glass back down on the table with a little too much gusto. “Would you like to watch the rest of this episode with me, perhaps?” she asked timidly.

 

Emma felt her mouth curving up to one side in pure pleasure. Wine and popcorn and lesbian vampires and Regina, in the middle of the night. It was the perfect combination. “Yeah. I totally would.”

 

So they settled in, and Emma had a hundred questions about the storyline, all of which Regina dutifully filled in. Apparently she had discovered the joys of on demand access to all of the cable networks they subscribed to, and she’d been slipping downstairs in the dead of night to inhale them en masse. She started the most recent season of True Blood, and was engrossed. She’d explained her shock at the explicit nature of the love scenes, and Emma said it was pretty common and only simulated (except you couldn’t really simulate kissing). But then she dug her own grave by telling Regina about porn, and that in those movies sex wasn’t simulated, and that people really did it on camera and got paid for it.

 

That scandalized Regina, who looked remarkably put off by the whole idea.

 

Emma told her to hit “play” then, and decided to move past the concept of porn and get back to the show. She wouldn’t bother mentioning that she’d watched her fair share of all kinds of porn over the years, and that it had its place in the universe. And that if she ever caught Henry looking at it, she’d cut off their internet and cable subscription, forever.

 

So they watched the last two episodes of the season, and then, just before the end, the character of Tara rescued her vampire maker Pam, and they kissed in a surprising display of emotion. And Regina gasped, her hand against her heart as she watched them show their affection, finally.

 

In that moment, Emma knew she was screwed. Because when Regina turned to look at her, it was clear that a bomb had gone off inside her head. All the stuff Emma had been trying to avoid, the soft looks and sweet smiles and the gentle touches that Regina so effortlessly offered, made sense. It was written all over Regina’s face.

 

That weird thing between them that only Emma had known about was out now, and there was no shoving it back in the bottle.

 

The episode wasn’t over then, though, not quite, and they both sat there and watched, although Emma wasn’t paying a bit of attention. She was pretty sure Regina wasn’t either. She nibbled her popcorn and sipped her wine (the two tastes didn’t exactly go together, but she wasn’t one to complain). The show came to an end, and Regina didn’t look over at her, fiddling with the remote. She was clicking back to the menu, searching the episode guide for something.

 

“Why is there no next episode?” she demanded.

 

“I guess that’s the last one of the season.”

 

“But there has to be more!” she said. “That cannot be the end. What about Pamela and Tara?” she whined. “What happens to them?”

 

Emma shrugged sadly. “Guess we have to wait for the next season to start before we find out.”

 

“Next season?” Regina hissed. “When is that?”

 

Emma tried really, really hard not to laugh. “I promise I’ll look it up tomorrow. I’ll find out when the premiere is.”

 

“I don’t like waiting. I find it unpleasant.”

 

Emma smirked. “Yeah, I got that. But you didn’t watch all the seasons, did you? How come you skipped to this one?”

 

“I didn’t realize what I was watching at first, and when I realized I’d started in the middle I didn’t want to go back.” She sighed. “I suppose I could go back to the start and watch that. But I’d rather watch what comes next, not what came before.”

 

“Understood. I’m sorry there isn’t anymore. TV’s like that. Some things just end, and you never get to find out what happens to the characters at all. At least with this one I know that more stuff is going to happen. And hopefully it will be in line with what you want.”

 

Regina nodded, staring at the dark screen. “I never realized entertainment could be so stressful.”

 

At that, Emma did laugh. She glanced at the clock on the DVR--it read 4:37AM. “Think you’re too stressed to get some rest?”

 

Looking pouty in that ridiculous, adorably petulant way she had, Regina nodded.

 

Emma wondered then if there was more to these nightly excursions than just “entertainment” value. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”

 

At the look of surprise, Emma knew she’d caught her. She reached for her wine glass, which was empty, so she sat back against the sofa cushions. “Sometimes.”

 

Emma could hardly bear the expression of loneliness, of longing she saw there. To connect. Emma decided it was time to stop pretending she didn’t want to spend every second of the day with this woman. Regina might just have had some kind of sexual revelation about women (or Emma specifically), but Emma’s had been simmering way too long to ignore this cry for help. “You don’t have to be alone, you know. Or suffer by yourself. If you wake up, come get me.”

 

“You already do so much for me, dear--”

 

“I don’t do enough. And don’t call me dear, it freaks me out,” Emma added, the wine having loosened her tongue. “It sounds impersonal, because you call everyone dear. I’m more than dear, aren’t I?”

 

Regina watched Emma very closely; the look in her eyes was like quicksilver, shifting and changing in the light. “You are, very much, more than dear.” She licked her lips. “Emma.”

 

Oh god, Emma thought. This better end up going somewhere or I will die. If her saying my name just that way turned her on, then if they ever got a chance to touch, she’d combust. “So yeah. Come get me if you can’t sleep. I’ll sit with you, or we’ll watch a show, or whatever. Okay?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Before the tension got so thick that Emma couldn’t breathe, she pushed herself off the couch. “So let’s go up. It’ll be light soon, and Henry’s got school.”

 

Regina followed her into the kitchen to clean up their few dishes, and then she trailed after her up the steps. And when Emma turned into Regina’s room instead of her own, and made herself at home on the undisturbed side of the bed, Regina didn’t say anything. She just slid under the covers too, and they lay down facing each other.

 

“This way if you can’t sleep, you won’t have to go anywhere. I’ll be here.”

 

Regina’s lips curled up at the corners, and her eyes closed in what looked like contentment.

 

Emma tried to wait for Regina’s breath to even out, but she was so tired. She barely stirred when she felt gentle fingers in her hair, coaxing her to sleep.

 

---

 

After that, Regina did come and get Emma at least a few nights a week. Emma asked Archie about it, but as usual he was very close-mouthed about what he and Regina were discussing. He also said he didn’t advise medication for her to sleep at this point, mainly because Regina herself hadn’t asked for help. Her two visits with him every week seemed to be enough for both of them, and if Emma was the one who was anxious about things, he couldn’t do much about that.

 

One thing that seemed to help was Henry, who had asked if Regina wanted to read with him at night. They’d started the first Harry Potter, which Henry insisted she would enjoy since it was about magic. She had criticized it privately with Emma at the start, saying the book's portrayal of magic was completely unrealistic, but after a few days she embraced the story. Emma ducked in to listen to them read to each other now and then, but most of the time, she let them have their hour alone.

 

After they started reading together, Regina woke up less often, that Emma could tell anyway. She usually slept as though dead to the world, and her alarm was the only thing that would get her up.

 

One afternoon when spring had finally settled upon Storybrooke, they were in the car on the way to the stables when Regina asked, “Will you teach me to drive?”

 

Emma grinned. “Really?”

 

“I don’t like that you have to interrupt your day to transport me. And since I can’t have the horse at home, this will be the next best thing. That black car just sits in the garage, gathering dust.”

 

“Sure, Regina. That would be great.”

 

On the following Saturday, they sat together in the Mercedes, Regina’s two hands on the steering wheel. Emma had no real skill in teaching anyone to drive, considering she’d never been officially taught herself. Her abilities came through figuring it out on her own with each successive car she’d stolen and abandoned through her teenage years.

 

“So usually, if you look at the wheel like a clock, you keep your hands at ten and two, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. The gas pedal on the floor is what makes the car go, and that’s on the right. The pedal next to it is the brake--that’s the most important thing to remember. Here’s the gear shift, and you use that when--”

 

As Emma was talking, Regina stuck the key into the ignition and turned it. Without hesitation she put the car in gear and took off down Mifflin.

 

Emma leaned back. “What the hell?”

 

“I remember,” Regina said. “I remember how to drive. I wasn’t sure, but--yes!” She sped up until Emma started shouting at the stop sign looming close.

 

“Stop means stop Regina! Stop at the sign!”

 

“Oh,” Regina said, and slowed down more sharply than Emma found comfortable. “Fine.” The car paused very briefly before she laid her foot down on the gas and they zoomed down the road.

 

“Maybe we should avoid town for now, just while you get used to it again,” Emma suggested, not entirely certain Regina could remember all the intricacies of driving. If they were going to crash into something, she’d rather it be a ditch in the forest than a person on the street.

 

“Of course. Let’s go this way,” she said, screeching around a corner and shooting down Maple Lane toward the stables. Her grin was huge, and she sighed in pleasure. Fascinated, Emma watched her press a button on the door to lower the window. “Can you believe it? Something I actually remember!”

 

In fact, Emma couldn’t believe it. It had been weeks of nothing but explanations for everything in the modern world. Regina had no understanding of the technology she’d been learning to use, although come to think of it, she was pretty fast at typing. “Maybe it’s muscle memory,” Emma mumbled.

 

“Pardon?” Regina said over the sound of the wind.

 

“You’re going kind of fast,” Emma reminded with a frown. “I think the speed limit is--”

 

“Oh, lighten up, Sheriff,” Regina said, and put her foot down on the floor. “I want to try something.”

 

Lighten up? She’d been spending too much time with Ruby. “Um, I don’t think this is a good idea--”

 

“Hang on!” Regina shouted, and jerked the steering wheel to the left, hand on the gear shift as the car did a perfect 180 in the middle of the road. Without a moment’s pause they took off again in the opposite direction as Regina laughed joyfully. “I did it! I knew I could.” She raised an eyebrow at Emma. “You’re a very cautious driver, Emma. I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks.”

 

Emma was staring straight in front of her, heart racing like thunder as she realized what had just happened. “Where the hell did you learn that?”

 

“I have no idea,” Regina said, chuckling. She glanced at Emma’s window and rolled it down from her side of the car. “But I’m driving from now on.” The car came to a stop and Regina put it in reverse. She looked over her shoulder and Emma started to get nervous. “Okay, ready?”

 

“Ready for what?”

 

The force of the turn threw Emma to the right, and she hung onto the car door with white knuckles as Regina somehow whipped the car around, shifted gear and leapt forward again.

 

Emma shook her head and hoped she hadn’t pulled a muscle. “Were you a stunt woman or something in another life?”

 

“Perhaps I was. But I definitely know how to drive.” Their speed settled into something a little less terrifying as Regina relaxed into her seat. “Why do you suppose I can remember this, but not other things?”

 

“I don’t know,” Emma replied, trying to calm the racing of her heart. “Different part of the brain, maybe. I’ll do some research, or ask Dr. Whale. Er, Frankenstein.” As usual, Emma grimaced as she said the name.

 

“Since I don’t have to learn to drive, shall I go home and pick up Henry, and we could visit the stables early for a picnic?”

 

The weather was gorgeous, so Emma nodded. “That sounds good. I’ll call him. But listen, can you just turn around normally? I don’t want to die of a heart attack today.”

 

Regina smirked. “Oh, fine.”

 

An hour later they were on their way to the stables after a quick stop at the store for a few essentials. Emma didn't have a lot of experience with picnics but Henry had very specific instructions, so he and Regina did most of the shopping. "Apples, bread, cheese," Henry had rattled off. "Cold fried chicken if they have it. Grapes, maybe. And cupcakes."

 

"Cupcakes?" Regina had questioned.

 

"Definitely," Emma assured her.

 

If it had been a kidless afternoon, she'd have grabbed some wine, but not this time. "Get crackers, too, kid. We're out at home."

 

Once they arrived, Jerome was wrapping up with the regular Saturday classes. Regina went to see her horse first, and the huge beast greeted her like an old friend, nuzzling at her collar as she stroked his head. "You still haven't named him?"

 

"No, but I have an idea. I want to see what Henry thinks." Emma didn't go close to the horse, preferring to keep her distance. "You don't have to be afraid, Emma. He's very sweet."

 

"Yeah, well, horses and me, we don't get along great. I'm good over here."

 

"Haven't you ridden before?" Regina asked. "I know you spent time in the Enchanted Forest."

 

"I managed to avoid it for the most part. We walked a lot. I did get my hands tied to a horse at one point, so that was exciting."

 

"We'll fix that for you, won't we, honey," Regina murmured to the horse. "I think we're going to take Emma for a ride today."

 

Emma laughed. "I don't think so. Thanks but no thanks."

 

"We're not taking no for an answer. We'll have a little lunch, then I'll work with Henry for a while, then we'll see."

 

"Nice try, but no way. I'm not getting on that horse."

 

---

 

Emma had to eat her words.

 

After lunch, she watched Regina work with Henry in the ring, helping him learn to control his horse Larry (Emma still cracked up when she heard the name). By the end of the informal lesson, Emma had learned all about cantering, which Henry was doing like a pro. "Looking good, kid!" Emma called from her place outside the ring. She thought she might be bored, but it was surprisingly interesting to observe mother and son together. That was partly because everything Regina did was interesting to her, and she was only a little embarrassed about that. The way she moved captivated Emma, and in her favorite riding pants and jacket, Emma had no chance.

 

When Regina left Henry to groom Larry, she had eyes only for Emma. "Come along, now." She crooked her finger, and Emma couldn't help herself. She followed. "I know you can do this. I'll help you. We'll ride together."

 

"I really don't think this is a good thing, Regina. Horses don't like me."

 

"But I like you, and I want us to go for a ride. Won't you this once, for me?" And then she batted her eyelashes.

 

Fucking hell, Emma thought. "Fine. But if I fall it's on you."

 

Regina's mouth curved into a smug grin. "You won't fall. I'll be there to hold you, and I'll use a little magic just to make sure." She helped Emma hoist herself up into the saddle. "I've been riding my whole life, Emma. We'll be perfectly safe."

 

Emma barely heard her; this horse was gigantic. She felt like she was ten feet off the ground, and any second the animal was going to buck her off and she'd go flying. "Okay, that's enough," she said, and started to get down, until Regina's hand covered her thigh. That pretty much short circuited her brain the rest of the way.

 

Regina used the stirrup to climb up behind Emma and the saddle. Emma didn't feel very stable, especially when Regina's mouth came very close to her ear. "See? It's easy." She clicked her tongue and did something with her legs, and the horse started forward. "We'll start slowly, okay?" The motion threw her off balance, and Emma gripped the horn of the saddle tightly. "Relax, Em." A hand snuck around her middle, and Emma's eyes drifted shut. "Granger knows what he's doing."

 

Most of Emma's focus was on Regina's hand, but she did realize that the horse had finally been christened. "Granger?" she asked.

 

"After Hermione, from Henry's books. He's quite the fan, and I'm enjoying her character very much, indeed." Emma heard her chuckle. "I like a smart witch, even if she's a bit of a know-it-all." She clicked her tongue again, and the horse started to move more quickly.

 

"Regina, I--"

 

"Shh," Regina said, her breath hot against Emma's neck. "You're fine. I'll just--" Emma felt the spike of magic, and Granger jumped into a faster cadence. "What?" She pulled on the reins, and the horse slowed, tossing his head. "What was that?"

 

"What was what?"

 

"I cast a spell for your stability, and mine, but I felt -- something from you. It was like you... amplified my magic." The horse came to a stop, and Emma turned slightly to look back at Regina.

 

“This isn’t the first time that’s happened,” Emma admitted.

 

“How--do you--” Regina blinked, eyes enormous. “Do you have magic?”

 

Emma’s mouth twisted as her shoulders came up. “I guess.”

 

“All this time, I never knew,” Regina breathed. “How--can you cast spells, or... What are your abilities?”

 

“I don’t have any, that I know of. Once, you were trying to do a spell, and it only worked when I touched you. And your mom, um,” Emma winced, “she tried to steal my heart but it didn’t work. Other than that, I’m not really sure. Rumpel told me it was because I was the product of true love.”

 

“I can’t believe I didn’t sense it,” Regina said softly, her eyes filled with sadness. “Here I thought I was alone in the world, but once again you’re right here with me.”

 

Emma smiled. “Yeah.”

 

Their hands joined then, and whatever spell Regina cast, she did it with her eyes closed. All of a sudden, Emma wasn’t afraid of falling off the damned horse anymore, and Regina looked utterly content. She glanced at Emma with hooded eyes, her expression intense. “Are you ready to go?” she asked.

 

Emma nodded, and turned around. Regina kicked with her heels and the horse came alive beneath them both. He ran, and Emma leaned forward as Regina held on with both hands. She’d never experienced anything like it, as if she was flying. Regina was in sync behind her, their legs bumping against each other as the landscape raced by. She felt all powerful, as though nothing could stop either of them, that they could defeat any evil that came their way.

 

She’d never ridden a horse before, but something inside told her that Granger’s heart beat in time with hers; his legs thundered against the ground, and Emma was sure that he could feel her emotions as perfectly as she could feel his. With Regina’s hands at her hips, she was the strongest she had ever been in her life--if they had taken off into the sky she wouldn’t have been surprised. But Granger simply ran, and Emma found herself unafraid as they all moved as one.

 

She didn’t know how far they rode, but eventually Regina turned the horse back toward the barn. Some time before they reached it, Granger slowed to a careful gallop until he stopped, prancing near the tree line and neighing. Regina slipped down to the ground, holding out a hand for Emma. She took it and joined her, not knowing quite what to say.

 

Regina paced around in the grass for a minute before turning to face Emma head on. "Dr. Hopper told me that it's normal that I feel strong emotions for you, because you've been so much my rescuer, my caretaker." There was sweat at her temples, and her eyes sparkled with fire and life. "He says that my affections might be somewhat misplaced, and that you may not return them, for many reasons. I've committed countless evil acts, and even if I don't remember many of them, you do. As does your family, so it's likely that you could never return anything more than friendship, if that." She looked down at the ground then, kicking the dirt with the tip of her boot. "He also told me I may be misinterpreting my own emotions, because of my recent injuries, and confusion resulting from my marriage, and Daniel's death, and the intense stimuli in this world."

 

Emma winced. "That's a mouthful."

 

"It is," Regina smiled, a little shy. "I--I don't know what to feel, how to act toward you. You--I--I want so much to be near you, and I am, but sometimes it doesn't feel like enough, and I'm terrified of doing something that could send you away--"

 

"That's not going to happen," Emma said firmly. "You've already tried to kill me at least once. If I haven't run by now, chances are I'm not going to."

 

Regina watched her with suspicion. "You don't seem surprised at anything I've said. About feelings." She frowned.

 

"I guess I'm not that surprised." Emma said. "Or upset. In the least. I, um, feel stuff for you too. But it's strange, because you're so..." Emma trailed off. "Young. And it's hard to know if what I feel is coming from memories of us before, or things that have happened lately, or all of it wrapped up together." With a grin, Emma told her, "I'm pretty impressed you brought any of this up. It's complicated."

 

"Dr. Hopper recommended it, so I don't, in his words, 'get in too deep.' Now is as good a time as any. Especially since I know you have magic, like I do." She reached for Emma's hand, and Emma felt the shock of it all the way through her body.

 

"Stop that," Emma chided.

 

"What, you mean this?" More energy traveled up Emma's arm, and despite her best efforts, it was a total turn on.

 

"Yeah, I mean that." She had no way to counteract it, and somehow, the feeling magnified, bouncing back and forth between them until Emma's knees were weak. "Cut it out."

 

When Regina didn't, Emma felt helpless, and she shook her head against the sensations bombarding her. To her stunned shock, rain started to fall above them both, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

 

"What?" Regina cried, covering her head with one arm. "That's you! You're doing that!"

 

"Sorry. Wait a second, I'm not sorry. I told you to cut it out!" And they were laughing, both of them breaking off and running in opposite directions, but the rain still fell on both of them. "Can't you cast some kind of counterspell to stop it?" Emma asked.

 

Regina shook her head, laughing. "I might, but who knows what effect it could have?" She raised an eyebrow and licked her lips. "We could inadvertently create some sort of weather event that would take out the entire town. I believe we'd have that kind of power if we worked together." Regina approached again, so Emma backed up, finding herself trapped. If she went into the forest, she might get lost; if she stayed in the open, she was a target. She reached back blindly and found a tree to lean against; Regina followed. "Our combined powers could be limitless."

 

Water dripped down her face, cool and sweet. "You're as dangerous now as you ever were, you know that?" Emma asked.

 

"And you are just as dangerous to me," Regina replied, placing two hands on the tree trunk at Emma's sides. "Perhaps more so," she whispered as rain pelted them both. Gentle fingers touched Emma's cheek. "Yes, you are very dangerous, Emma Swan."

 

Emma blinked water out of her eyes as Regina's face came close. "You sure you want to do this?" she asked, her voice nearly lost in the sound of the rain.

 

"Yes," Regina said, and kissed her.

 

Regina's mouth was hot, lips unbearably soft as they melded with her own. It was a curiously chaste kiss, as things went; all lips and rain and hands in her hair, but no more. When Emma flicked her tongue against Regina's upper lip, there was a gasp of surprise. Emma went no further, allowing Regina to lead. A strong leg moved between hers, so Emma pulled her close, groaning into her mouth. One hand yanked at her shirt collar, while the other gripped her hair at the roots near the base of her neck. Emma was this close to pushing her hips forward, because oh, god, did she ever want to do that, but this was, as Regina had said, dangerous. She needed to move slowly. Spooking this woman was not on her agenda.

 

The rain had vanished by the time they parted, but their clothes were soaked. Emma licked her swollen lips as Regina gazed down on them. "Are you all right?" Emma asked, her voice hoarse.

 

Regina nodded, but she did look stunned. "I want... more," she murmured, and leaned forward.

 

As much as it pained her, Emma turned her head to let Regina's lips fall against her cheek. "I want that too, but I think we should go back. Henry's probably wondering what happened to us."

 

Regina blinked slowly. "Oh." She nodded, and Emma thought she looked totally out of it. Of course, she felt pretty out of it too, so it wasn't like she could act so smug. She was wet between her legs, without a doubt, and she could tell that getting back on the horse was going to be... interesting. "Perhaps we should leave now, then, before it gets too late," Regina said, one hand sliding down Emma's back to stop just above her hip. Emma tried not to tilt her pelvis forward in a plea to keep going.

 

Whatever she called this next phase of their relationship, it was going to be rife with new challenges, most of which would probably involve *not* throwing Regina down on the nearest flat surface and having her way with her. "That sounds like a good plan," she said, wondering what it would be like to run her tongue along that tiny scar--

 

"Emma, you're not helping," Regina said, shoving her back against the tree. Then they were kissing again, except this time Emma really did wrap her arms around Regina tightly, and their tongues slid against one another. She got two hands on Regina's butt, squeezing, as a thigh wrapped around hers. When Regina pulled away, Emma gasped for air with the words, "Oh, fuck. You'd better--" Emma put a hand on Regina's sternum and pushed her backwards. She didn't shove, but she did ease her away, because if she wasn't careful, she was going to combust. So much for the fact that she wasn't that 15-year-old she'd once been, because she sure as hell felt like her now, all hormones and aching with desire.

 

"Let's go," Emma insisted, returning to the horse she'd sworn not to ride.

 

Granger reared away from her, and Regina took her by the arm. "Not on that side, you have to mount from here." So Emma shoved her foot into the stirrup again and firmly decided not to care that Regina was about to get up behind her and hold onto her body. Which meant that when, seconds later, Regina actually did climb up behind her, it sent goosebumps along the back of Emma's neck. And when a single fingernail trailed down that same path, it gave Emma the shivers.

 

"Please, don't."

 

Regina actually jerked away from her. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize--" With that, Regina took her hands completely off Emma, and held on to the saddle instead. "I'm--I'm sorry. Granger, hold," she said, and slid back to the ground. "I'll walk. I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I thought--"

 

"Get back up here, Regina," Emma said. "I want you with me."

 

Regina's eyes were very wide and confused. "But you said 'don't'," she pleaded.

 

"Yeah, but I said 'don't' because it feels good, but I think it's too fast, and I need to cool off. Not that I don't want you near me or touching me or kissing me. Because I really, really want all of those things. God, you have no idea how badly. I just--" she swallowed back her pride, "I don't have a lot of willpower right this second. I liked holding you, a lot. Too much. Can you understand that?"

 

"You--you do," Regina said, placing one hand on Emma's calf, "want me?"

 

Emma gazed down in wonder. "Yeah. I do. But all that stuff we talked about earlier, that doesn't just go away because we want each other. The last thing I want is to rush into something, especially since you--" The thought of Regina's marriage to Leopold made her slam the door on anything more physical right now. "Let's just take it easy, okay?"

 

Regina pursed her lips. "What are the rules in 'take it easy'? You must be more specific so I know what not to do."

 

Of course she wants to know the rules. Because the universe was punishing Emma for something, although she had no idea what it was. "How about you come up here, and we go back to the stables. If I don't like something, I'll say stop. It won't be a mistake. And you can always say stop too, and I'll listen. Always."

 

Hesitantly, Regina nodded. She mounted the horse behind Emma, who slid back on the saddle so they'd be closer. She reached for Regina's arm and wrapped it around her middle, shivering this time for a different reason. "Your clothes are still wet," she said.

 

With a wave of Regina's hand, they were dry again, and Emma relaxed back against her. "How is this?" she asked.

 

Regina made a little noise of pleasure, and Emma felt glad that it only caused the tiniest jolt low in her belly. "Nice. This is nice."

 

"For me too," Emma assured her. With the click of Regina's tongue, Granger walked on. They rode more slowly back to the barn this time, and the ride was sensual but not overly so. Regina's magic bound them safely together, surrounding them for a moment with purple smoke. And when Regina buried her lips in Emma's hair and inhaled, everything felt so right that Emma was sure they'd probably fall off the horse and die on their way back.

 

They didn't, though. Henry was with Jerome in the stables, grooming another horse, but he didn't seem at all upset at their late return. "Emma, how did you like riding? I bet it was awesome. I saw you at first. You guys were going fast!"

 

They both got down from Granger, and Emma patted his rump fondly. "We sure were. I was scared, but I got used to it. It was... kind of great."

 

"Cool. Then you can come with us on the weekends now, right? You'll learn to ride like I am?"

 

She glanced at Regina, whose face was filled with as much hope as Henry's. "Yeah," she said, regretting her agreement almost instantly. "I guess I'm in."

 

He held up a hand to Regina, and they slapped their palms together. She turned to Emma. "That was a high five. Are you familiar with it?"

 

Emma laughed. "Yeah. I'm familiar."

 

---

 

Emma had never been so relieved to have Henry around to distract her from Regina's ass in her jeans. She'd started to adopt more modern clothing, and instead of wearing the suits she already had in her closet, she seemed to be shopping with Ruby. Her jeans were as tight as Emma's were, and often worn with buttoned shirts and Emma's brand new weakness: vests. At least they weren't leather, which was Emma's only saving grace.

 

Tonight they got take out from an Italian place Regina favored, and ate at the dining room table with one of Regina's old school "mix tape" CDs playing in the background. As Emma watched Henry and Regina enjoy each other's company, she realized that this dining room table had probably seen more happy hours in the last few months than it had in years. Emma held up her wine glass to Regina's out of nowhere, and without asking why, Regina toasted with her. Henry joined in with his glass of lemonade.

 

None of them was much in the mood for tv, so instead Emma did some work at the table while Regina and Henry took their usual turns reading from Harry Potter. She didn't have a whole lot of paperwork; the town was mostly back to typical petty crimes, often committed by a handful of Lost Boys, or complaints about regular neighbor crap like barking dogs or fences that needed repair. Even Leroy had cleaned up his act, since he and the former Sister Astrid were getting hot and heavy. Granny suspected an engagement was imminent, and Emma wished them well. She knew the Blue Fairy wasn't happy, but she also couldn't do anything about it. Not in Storybrooke, anyway. All bets would have been off if they were in the Enchanted Forest.

 

Emma let Regina tuck Henry in that night, because she was hoping to somehow get to her own bedroom without having to see Regina after she put on her pajamas. She was outrageously nervous, and in a less pleasant way than she'd anticipated. The stress of avoidance was getting her down, because how could she try and resist putting the moves on a woman she so clearly wanted to bed?

 

Unlucky for her, Regina had no intention of letting her get away so easily. She barely even knocked on Emma's door before she came breezing in, dressed in her usual nightdress and robe. They were demure but fitted, so Emma, already under the covers up to her neck, turned away. "Night, Regina," she mumbled. "Sleep well."

 

"Ohh, no," Regina said, approaching the bed. "You're not getting away from me that easily. Come on, I have plans for you." The sheet was torn off her body, and Emma yowled as Regina took her by the wrist.

 

"I'm super tired," Emma complained, but still she was dragged out of her own room and down the steps into the family room, which was dark with the exception of a dim lamp in a corner. As usual, music was playing on the CD player, and while Emma sort of liked the voice that crooned from the speakers, she didn't quite recognize who it was. "What am I doing down here?"

 

Regina grinned. "We're going to practice," she said. All Emma could think was, We're going to practice making out. I am officially going to die. But then Regina placed a candle in the middle of the coffee table and sat down on a pillow on one side of it. "You sit there," she pointed to the opposite side.

 

Emma sat, as instructed, and Regina reached her two hands out. Emma took them, as she assumed she was supposed to. "Close your eyes," Regina said, so Emma did. "Now, think about lighting the candle."

 

That was pretty much the farthest thing from Emma's mind, so she opened her eyes. "What?"

 

"Try and light the candle," Regina repeated with the smile she'd give to a child who wasn't paying attention. "You need to work on your skills."

 

"Skills?" Emma repeated. "I've got skills," she said, then wished she could take the words back, because clearly Regina was not following her train of thought.

 

"Perhaps, but you must learn control," Regina reasoned. "You started a rainstorm without even trying today. Who knows what trouble you could cause, once you put your mind to it?"

 

Many thoughts jumped into Emma's head in that moment; she chose not to say a single one of them aloud, because she wanted to keep it clean and not scare off her partner in... whatever this was. "Okay, I guess. So you want me to light the candle?"

 

"Of course," she said, rolling her eyes. "What did you think I meant?"

 

"Nothing," Emma mumbled. "So what do I do? Stare at it until it lights?"

 

"Well, that could work. Just try to think it into being. Tell yourself you want the candle to light, and it will. But you must want it. Magic is about emotion. You must feel it strongly."

 

Emma stared at the wick, black and charred already. "Okay. Emotion. I have a lot of that." So Emma stared at the candle, and thought. She thought about wanting the candle to light, and wanting to please Regina, and wanting the candle to light some more, and nothing happened. Zippo. Zero. Zilch.

 

Soft fingers squeezed her own, and Emma inhaled. "Keep trying."

 

"Yeah," Emma said, but a few seconds later, she wasn't thinking much about the candle anymore. Instead, she was thinking about the heat that was coming off of Regina's fingers, and the electricity that was starting to arc up her wrists as two gently rounded fingernails began to stroke the veins there. When she opened her eyes, the candle wick didn't just light--it erupted in an enormous flame. She jerked back away from the table, shocked at the sight. Regina held out a hand and seemed to command the flame to lessen. "Sorry," she said. "I mean, that was me, right?"

 

"I believe so," and the candle went out with a wave of her hand. "Let's try that again."

 

"Maybe don't touch me, this time," Emma said, and Regina nodded in agreement.

 

Three minutes went by as she stared at the thing. Nothing happened, at all. Not even the tiniest flare of energy.

 

"I don't think I can do this," Emma said, frustrated.

 

"You can. You did!"

 

"It was a fluke. Or something," she added, unsure of everything. "I told you, I'm not going to be great at this."

 

"You just have to try," Regina said, her voice soothing.

 

"I did. I am. I just--" Emma looked at the candle, shaking her head. "It's not happening."

 

"What were you thinking about before, when it lit?" Regina asked. Emma blanched, not wanting to say the simple thing, which was that she had sex on her mind. Sex with Regina. Sex during which she would get to put her hands all over this nascent evil queen, who had a perfect mouth, and soft hair, and legs that looked just so goddamned good in--

 

The candle lit with an audible poof. So did every candle in the room, simultaneously.

 

"Whoa," Emma declared, wondering if maybe this learning magic thing wasn't such a good idea. If every time she thought about sex she'd light a fire, this whole town was going to burn down in a few days' time. "Um, right."

 

"See?" Regina said, clearly pleased. "What was it?"

 

Emma gazed on the smooth, silky skin of her cheek. "I can't tell you," she whispered, and the candle flame flared for a moment.

 

Regina was smiling though. "Why not?"

 

"This isn't a good idea--"

 

"Emma, whatever it is taps into your emotions, and that's not something you should be afraid of. Dr. Hopper taught me that. And magic, even if Henry believes it's some sort of an addiction, doesn't have to be that way. It exists in nature and some people have... an affinity for it. I do. I always have. And you do as well." She reached out for Emma's hand, stroking it again. "I feel it in you, now that I know it's there." She smiled encouragingly. "Just tell me."

 

Emma bit her lip. She didn't want to lie. "I was thinking about how attractive you are," she said. That didn't sound totally offensive. "I was thinking about you. And me." She swallowed against a dry mouth. "Together."

 

Regina's eyes grew very wide, and where their hands were connected, Emma felt a little flare of... well, sex. It was like she could feel Regina's desire for her through the magic. All the candle flames expanded, wavering unevenly in the dark room. Emma wasn't sure which one of them was doing that.

 

“I--” Regina said, her gaze shifting away from Emma. “Like today, in your rainstorm?” she asked.

 

That sounded simple enough. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”

 

“Your feelings are that strong,” she said. “For me.” Her voice was full of wonder.

 

Emma’s forehead creased in confusion. “Yeah.” This didn’t seem like Regina was faking it. “I have for a while, but I’m not in any hurry, and I don’t want to put pressure on you. I--” she took a breath-- “care for you. It’s not just physical,” she added, feeling stupid as soon as the words came out of her mouth. “I mean, it is but not totally. I like you. More than anyone.” She cringed. It was time to stop talking now.

 

Regina seemed to be pondering Emma’s words. “Only one person has ever felt that way about me,” she finally replied.

 

Daniel, Emma thought. Dead Daniel, whose memory Emma would never supplant.

 

“I mourned him for a very long time. I will until I die.” Regina sounded very clear about that, and Emma figured that their two kisses this afternoon would go no further. “But he would never want me to turn away from--” She bit back something; it was a word Emma suspected they’d both thought about in a very distant way. “Away from someone like you, Emma. Someone who makes me feel so much less alone.”

 

That wasn’t really what Emma was hoping for, as mildly romantic declarations went, but she’d take it.

 

“I want you to know that in my entire life, the time I spent with Daniel was the happiest I’d ever felt. My mother--well, you know enough of her, I suspect, and my father adored me, but he went along with my mother. With good reason, but still, I was isolated. Daniel knew me, heart and soul, and he loved me.” Regina reached out for Emma’s hand, and there it was again, that little spark. “You know me, and you haven’t run. That is more than I could ever hope for, Emma. It is everything.”

 

Okay, so maybe this isn’t so bad, Emma figured. She let herself smile a bit.

 

“I will teach you magic,” Regina said slowly, “if you will teach me...” She blushed. “Everything else.”

 

Emma watched her. “Everything else,” she repeated.

 

“Your kisses were--” The heat between them felt almost visible, shimmering in the candlelight. “I want that again. My husband,” she practically spat the word, “knew little of kindness or care or affection. It was not what it should have been, between a man and wife.”

 

“And Daniel...” Emma said, as a question.

 

Regina pulled her hand away and shifted in her seat. “We never--” She shook her head, and left the sentence unfinished.

 

Emma closed her mouth, which had drifted open in a dopey expression of disbelief. “Oh.” It felt a little as if there was a swaying sort of earthquake going on in the room. “Okay,” she sighed.

 

That perked Regina up. “You mean you agree?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma said, barely able to think coherently. “Um, agree to what?”

 

Regina rolled her eyes. “To magic. And,” she said, her lips curving sensually at the corners, “kisses. And other things.”

 

Emma’s mind went straight to True Blood. She wondered what other things Regina had seen that she was interested in experiencing. “Sure,” she said, proud that her voice didn’t waver. “That sounds all right.”

 

Understatement of the century, she thought.

 

After that, it was easy for Emma to light candle after candle. She focused harder, and thought less about sex, because mostly she didn’t want to set the house ablaze before she had a chance to get another kiss. She made an effort at levitating a candle, and managed to get it an inch off the table once or twice. When Regina said that was enough for the night, Emma was surprised until she looked at the clock. She’d been practicing for almost two hours, and barely noticed the minutes passing.

 

Good company, she supposed, made the time fly.

 

And when Regina stood up from the table and held out a hand, Emma took it in a daze. All the lit candles went out with the wave of a few fingers, and they were in the dark. “You’ll tuck me in, won’t you, Em?”

 

Emma didn’t reply as she followed her up the steps. As they came to Regina’s room, Emma told herself, just a few minutes. No more. No pushing, or trying anything serious. So when Regina pulled her inside and shut the door, Emma tried to open it, only to find herself pushed against it. “Say stop if you want me to stop,” Regina said, then kissed her. Emma’s hands were drawn to Regina’s perfect ass, and when Regina sighed into her mouth, Emma didn’t pull away.

 

She let it go on for a few minutes, because Emma was already wet as a river, and she was only human. She wanted to kiss Regina for hours, but she’d save it for later. Like, tomorrow morning, if Henry was asleep when they woke up. And they could lock the door. Emma was starting to rock against the pelvis that cradled her against the door when she realized what she was doing. One hand pushed Regina away, while the other tried to draw her close again--her brain was at war with itself. “I should go,” Emma said.

 

Regina touched her damp mouth with her fingers. “Are you sure?” Her voice was pure sex, and Emma wanted to howl.

 

“Yeah,” she croaked. “See you in the morning.” She didn’t go for another kiss, just in case. Regina didn’t even reply, so Emma closed the door and went straight into her room and got under the covers.

 

She fought the urge for exactly fourteen minutes. Two minutes later she came silently against her own hand. When it was over, she was embarrassed by the state of her underwear, so she changed it and shoved the old pair in the bottom of the hamper that hadn’t been touched in over a week.

 

“Tomorrow I won’t do that again,” Emma told herself.

 

Yeah, right.

---

 

Three days later, Emma sipped strong, black coffee at the diner counter. She felt guilty already and she hadn’t even seen her parents yet for their scheduled breakfast, but just the idea of looking at their faces was enough.

 

“You okay?” Ruby asked. The sound of her voice made Emma jerk in surprise, and she spilled coffee on the counter. “Oh, geez, sorry,” Ruby said. “You’re awfully jumpy.”

 

“I’m okay,” she said, drying her hand on a napkin, happy she hadn’t been burned. “Just tired.”

 

Ruby raised an eyebrow. “Regina keeping you up late?”

 

Emma kept her eyes on her coffee. “You could say that.”

 

Ruby dropped her dishtowel on the counter and leaned over. “Do tell. That sounds like dish.”

 

It sure was dish, but Emma wasn’t about to spread it around. It felt like a precious secret she needed to protect, these feelings she had for Regina. And she had no intention of sharing the way she’d been acting on them, like a thirsty woman who was given just enough water to keep her alive, but no more. Every kiss with Regina was like that. Each began like it could go on forever, but she was so careful not to exert any pressure it was giving her anxiety. She never held on too tightly, or pressed too hard, or gave any reason for Regina to pull away. But pull away she did, sometimes right in the middle of a hot and heavy make out session on the couch, or in one of their beds late at night. She never seemed out of sorts or even aware of Emma’s unbearable yearning, but Emma was pretty sure she was enjoying herself. She definitely was, Emma thought, from the sounds she made, and the way she’d get lost in the feel of Emma’s mouth or hands against her skin.

 

Emma’s eyes glazed as she recalled spending at least ten minutes running her lips along Regina’s hands and fingers last night. After an hour or so of training Emma in magic, Regina had been eager to receive her own lesson, which Emma was glad to grant.

 

“Damn. What the hell have you two been up to?” Ruby asked with a whine.

 

“Up to?” Snow asked, taking her seat next to Emma and pulling off her beret. “Hey Ruby,” she said. David took the seat on the other side of Emma, and her spine straightened. “How are you, sweetie?” she asked.

 

“I’m good,” Emma said. “Thanks. How are you?”

 

Snow frowned. “I’m fine... But I was hoping for more of an answer than just ‘good.’ What have you been doing, anyway? I’ve barely seen you.”

 

“Oh, you know. Work. I see David all the time, don’t I?”

 

David nodded agreeably. “Of course. But your mother means what have you been doing after work? We haven’t seen much of either you or Henry. We’d love to have you over for dinner in the next few days,” he said, and Emma heard the words he didn’t include as clear as day.

 

“I can’t come without Regina,” Emma said. She said it offhandedly, in the hopes that both her parents would just shrug and accept the request.

 

“No,” Snow said flatly. “She’s not invited.”

 

Emma let her eyes fall shut for a moment. “Listen, Snow, it’s been weeks. You have to let it go. Regina can’t remember. She's got a brain injury--”

 

“She has blinded you, somehow,” Snow insisted. “She’s used mind control, or the power of suggestion to convince you she’s telling the truth. But her heart is black, Emma. You can’t trust her.”

 

Emma shook her head. “What’s the worst that could happen? She tries to kill me? She succeeds in killing me? She hasn’t made a single move to hurt me or Henry or anyone at all in months, long before the accident. It’s time to grow up and move on.”

 

Snow gaped at her. “Grow up?” she sputtered. “Are you hearing yourself? You’re my daughter, and I expect at least a little respect--”

 

“I do respect you,” Emma said, leaning forward. “But you’re a fucking broken record. Stop obsessing over Regina! There’s plenty of other stuff happening in my life that isn’t related to her. So let’s talk about that.” Emma was fibbing a bit; everything in her life right now seemed related to Regina. Sleeping, eating, work, play, and all that came in between was about her. But Snow didn’t need to know that.

 

“Fine,” Snow huffed, while David put a hand on Emma’s forearm in comfort.

 

“Tell us then,” David said, “what kinds of things are you doing?”

 

Emma picked up the menu, checking the same list of foods she’d looked at about a thousand times in the past year. “Actually, I’m learning to cook.”

 

Snow laughed. Emma caught David looking up at his wife with a stern look, and the laughter faded. “Are you--are you serious?” she asked. “Is that why we don’t see you here in the evenings anymore?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma replied, irritated. “I’m not a total idiot, you know. I can follow directions if I feel like it.”

 

“Oh, I know, sweetie,” Snow said, brushing the hair back behind Emma’s ear as she tried not to flinch. “I’m just surprised. You’ve never shown an interest in cooking before. Eating, yes, but cooking takes patience and attention, and you’ve always just seemed... bored by it.”

 

“Well when you’re cooking for one, it seems like a waste of energy,” Emma said, truthfully. “And when we lived together, you weren’t interested in cooking either. So we always ate out, or had simple stuff. Now, it’s different. I like it. I like the process, and even when it doesn’t really work--” which it hadn’t, many times, “it’s still fun.”

 

Because of Henry and Regina. They were what made it fun.

 

“That’s--” her parents’ eyes met across the counter-- “great,” David finished for Snow. “It’s great. Maybe you’d like to cook for us then. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

 

Emma had a minor panic attack internally at the idea, but swallowed it down. “Yeah. I could do that. You could come to the house. Next week, probably.”

 

“The house,” Snow repeated.

 

“Yeah,” Emma said. “Where I live right now. I’ll talk to Regina, but her schedule’s a lot more open than mine, considering she’s not working right now. Except Jerome asked her if she wanted to take on a dressage class at the stables--”

 

“Emma, I want you to move out of the house. Regina seems recovered enough. Heck, I saw her driving around the other day in her Mercedes. I’m sure she doesn’t need the same sort of help she did when she was first in the accident,” explained Snow.

 

"Okay, so I think we need a rule," Emma said, already sick of the conversation after five minutes. "You don't tell me what to do, and I don't walk out of here right now. Leave Regina out of the conversation. This is the second time I'm bringing it up, and this time I'm not asking."

 

"Emma, we want what's best for you," Snow began.

 

"And what's best for me is to talk to me about what's going on with you. Clearly we can't have a civil conversation about Regina, who saved your life all those weeks ago, let's not forget--"

 

"After trying to kill me multiple times--"

 

"People change--" Emma tried.

 

"Regina doesn't," Snow said with finality. "If you want to be a part of our lives, you'll leave that house. Bring Henry with you. Let Regina have her own life, and you don't have to be a part of it."

 

Emma looked to David, who seemed poised to say something, but couldn't get the words out. She shook her head, and he looked with pleading eyes at Snow. "Let's not do this, Snow," he asked. "There are so many more important things happening, with you, and me, and--"

 

Snow cut him off. "We are doing this," she said. "Emma, you are my baby, my family. I want to keep you safe."

 

"You gave up that right a long time ago," Emma said, when you put me in a tree and wished me luck. "I've kept myself safe since then. I think right now it's better if you just go on about things. Maybe we'll try again in a while, and I'll make you that dinner." She pushed off the stool and drained her coffee. "David, see you at the station."

 

"Emma, please don't--"

 

She was already out the door by then, and the bells drowned out the rest of Snow's words. Tears blurred her vision for a moment and she blinked them away. A single one fell and she caught it before it could slip down her cheek. Instead of going straight to work, she headed for the docks, just to clear her head. She'd have to get something to eat at some point, but she wasn't very hungry anyway.

 

She sat staring at the water for a while, clearing her mind of everything that had just taken place. She understood Snow's point of view, really. But she couldn't go along with it, not ever. Not even before the accident would she have agreed to cut Regina out of her life. And not only because of Henry. Why this change of events had made Snow so completely certain of Regina's evil nature was beyond her; it made little sense. But it wasn't Emma's job to placate her mother, and her father had not once made a real effort to stand up for her. David knew that Regina had risked her own safety to save them near the line; to save them from the loss of their real identities as well as possible injury or death. Why couldn't he reason with Snow?

 

She heard footsteps behind her and prayed it wasn't either of her parents; it wasn't. Ruby sat down beside her and handed her a bag. "It's a grilled cheese and a cup of soup. Not the most breakfasty meal but it's portable, and I know it's one of your favorites. I don't get to make it that often now that you're eating at home a lot."

 

The gesture again made tears leap to her eyes. "Thanks, Ruby." She was mortified when her voice came out as if she'd been crying, which she hadn't. She opened the sandwich and took a huge bite; the carbs and cheese had an immediate calming effect. "'S good."

 

"Cool." They sat together for a while, not saying anything, but it was sure nice to have company.

 

---

 

That night before dinner, Regina talked about all of her plans with Jerome at the stables; not only was she going to be taking on a dressage course with six students, she would be teaching an intermediate jumper class with a handful of students who had never had formal training. And even though Regina was not well versed in the official rules of modern-day dressage, she had easily learned them in the last weeks and was certain she could make a strong showing as a teacher. When Emma had little to contribute to the conversation, Henry chimed in, asking questions and wondering if he would ever be able to jump as well as his mother did.

 

"With time and training, of course you will," Regina assured him. "But no jumping for now, dear. It's a little early, and you've only just started riding. You have plenty of time."

 

Henry glanced at Emma, who was listening, but not really paying attention. "Yeah," she said, hoping that the reply made sense.

 

Emma flipped the channel on the tv, turning it again and again until she reached the end of the listing, then starting over. A few minutes later, she realized she was alone in the family room. She shrugged and finally landed on an episode of Seinfeld, and closed her eyes.

 

Something kicked her thigh, and she woke up. "What?"

 

"It's just me." Henry sat on the couch at the opposite end, and he'd nudged her. It amazed Emma in that moment how much he'd grown lately; his legs reached much farther than they used to. She missed the old Regina briefly then, who would have felt the same melancholy longing for the little boy who was becoming a young man too quickly for her own taste. She'd missed so much, and the days were flying by. "What happened this morning?" Henry asked.

 

Emma's eyes opened all the way then. "Nothing. Why?"

 

"I know you were supposed to have breakfast with Grandma and Grandpa. But when Mom was walking me to school, we went past the diner and you weren't in there. But they were."

 

Emma looked at the tv, which was off. She had no escape. "Yeah. I saw them for a little bit. We had a good visit."

 

"Is that why you aren't talking to me or Mom?"

 

"What do you mean not talking? I'm talking to you right now."

 

Henry crossed his arms. "No you're not. She had all that stuff to tell you about the classes, and you ignored her. And I told you I got a hundred on my math test that we studied for together and you didn't even say anything."

 

Emma covered her eyes. She felt like a world class bitch. "Sorry, kid. I've been kind of out of it."

 

"Is it because Snow still hates Mom?" Henry asked.

 

Sometimes his level of understanding of her relationship to her parents unnerved her. "I wouldn't say hate--"

 

"I would," Henry said. "Whenever I'm with her she talks about Mom. It's starting to get annoying. We barely talk about me."

 

"Yeah," Emma said, feeling a kinship with him, complaining about family. "She wouldn't leave me alone about it. She wanted us to--" She swallowed the words down, not needing to say exactly what had happened.

 

"What?" Henry demanded. "What did she want?"

 

"She wanted us to have dinner together in the next couple of weeks. I promised to cook."

 

Henry pursed his lips and kicked her thigh again. "Come on. Tell the truth."

 

"It is the truth," she hedged, wishing he hadn't inherited her lie detector skills. "I told her right now wouldn't be the best time, but pretty soon."

 

"I still don't believe you, but whatever. Last time I stayed over with her, she was bugging me about us going to live with them. I told her that was stupid when everything here was awesome. I have you, and Mom, and stuff's going really good. It was okay to live with her and David when you were in the Enchanted Forest, but not now. No way." He wasn't watching Emma's expression, which was good since it gave her a chance to not look enraged or upset that her mother had tried to use her own son to manipulate her. "Besides, you and Mom really like each other now. I don't want you guys to be apart."

 

This time, Henry was watching her, so when her eyebrows flew up, he rolled his eyes skyward. "Come on. I'm with you like, every second of the day practically, unless I'm at school or you're at work. You hardly even argue anymore, except when you do it's like you're joking, and it doesn't really count as being mad. And I never saw Mom so happy, not ever. And I remember her before. She really likes you." He glanced down at the sleeve of his shirt and picked at a loose thread. "I think she loves you."

 

Emma let herself smile a little, even though the word love absolutely terrified her. I think I love her too. "Maybe," she said.

 

"Yeah," Henry added. But he looked pleased with himself. "So whatever, I'm not leaving. And you aren't allowed to either."

 

"Nope, not going anyplace," Emma told him, nudging his legs to make room for her own.

 

They got into a minor war for space on the cushions, which Emma was nearly winning when Regina interrupted them with a call for dinner. Henry flopped off the couch onto the floor instantly and ran toward the kitchen. "I'm getting the biggest piece of lasagna," he crowed.

 

Emma grinned and chased after him.

 

---

 

Later, they skipped magic training, probably because Emma's mood hadn't quite evened out after the rough day. Regina sensed it, Emma was certain, because instead of their usual intense make out session, they lay on Emma's bed together as Regina stroked her hair and kissed her softly. It felt more like comfort than sex, which was a relief. Their knees bumped now and then as Emma shifted toward her, running fingers along the strong muscles of Regina's back and getting lost in her unbraided hair. She'd always liked the style of the Mayor's hair, even when they hated each other, but there was something to be said for the long wildness of it now.

 

Minutes passed that turned into an hour before Regina spoke. "Are you all right, my darling?"

 

Emma hummed, happy to reply honestly, "Yeah. I am now."

 

"I'm glad. Will you let me sleep here tonight?"

 

"Sounds good."

 

They each got ready separately, and Emma crawled under the warm sheets first to wait, hands linked behind her head. She guessed this was how normal people got to feeling better after a bad day when they had a lover who cared about them. Something about Regina's touch relaxed her; she felt safe and good, like the conversation with Snow was miles away. And it just didn't seem so important anymore either. Snow didn't understand what Emma needed, and while it wasn't her fault, that was no excuse. Some time apart would do them good. Maybe she'd come around, but this thing with Regina was too... right to let go of.

 

When Regina returned, it looked like she was sneaking in; she closed the door silently and tiptoed to what was now her side of the bed. Carefully she slipped under the covers and arranged herself against Emma's side. She snuggled her head in the crook of Emma's neck and slung an arm across her middle. "Good night, Emma."

 

"Night, Regina." Again she felt the word love rumbling around inside, and she didn't know why she wasn't ready to say it. All sorts of romantic words were coming to the forefront lately; wonderful, happy, mine, everything, always. Instead, she whispered, "Thanks."

 

Lips pressed against her throat tenderly, so she wrapped an arm around narrow shoulders and sighed in pleasure.

 

---

Chapter Text

---

 

The following Sunday, Henry was invited to a birthday party that was supposed to go most of the afternoon. They were having a movie outing first at the only theatre in Storybrooke, then were scheduled to hit the new pizza parlor for an early dinner before getting ice cream and opening presents. To Emma it sounded like a great day, even if she wouldn't get to spend much time with Henry. It was different than before, when she relished every second with him, because there had been so few of them. Now they saw each other daily and she felt a little less greedy than before.

 

They all had their riding activities in the morning; she had decided to join Henry's beginner's class so Regina wouldn't have to teach her the basics. Emma was the oldest student there, but at least there were a few teenagers and one man who looked a little closer to her own age than Henry’s. Meanwhile, Regina brushed up on a bunch of stuff that looked pretty weird to Emma, making Granger prance around sideways and diagonally and backwards. After a while the two of them disappeared across a nearby field faster than Emma thought was safe, but she couldn’t very well shout out during the middle of her class without looking like an idiot.

 

Regina dropped Emma off at the station for a couple of hours when they left the stables; she had a lot of paperwork to fill out for the end of the month, though why she was worried she had no idea. No one was going to be paying Storybrooke a visit to conduct an audit, but it at least made it seem like it was a normal town.

 

She got a couple of texts from Henry; he was teaching his mom the basics of computers, and she was learning fast. Before he left for his party, he reminded her to be home by 1 so she and Regina could have lunch together, so “Mom won’t get lonely.” Emma assured him that she’d be there.

 

You’re a good kid, kid.She smiled as she sent the message.

 

I know, think about that when I ask for a raise in my allowance, was his reply.

 

The little alarm she set went off at 12:45, so she put her papers together in a pile and locked them up (even though she’d gotten through far less filing than she’d intended). The fact was that there was always more to do, and if she didn’t leave, she’d waste her whole weekend. And that was a crime, considering who was at home waiting for her.

 

The house was dead silent when she walked in; the stillness was almost eerie. “Regina?” she called. No answer. She went further into the foyer and heard a noise, which for some reason made her jump. It smelled kind of odd in the house too, like--magic, she realized. That put her on edge, and she shouted, “Regina!”

 

The door to the study flew open, and then Regina was standing in the hall, looking perfectly ordinary. However, she was staring at Emma in kind of an intense way, like she hadn’t laid eyes on her for weeks instead of hours.

 

“You’re home,” Regina said.

 

“Yeah,” Emma replied, stepping closer. “Are you okay?”

 

“Yes. But we have to talk.” She returned to the study, and Emma’s anxiety ratcheted up. Slowly she followed her in, noticing the cinnamon candles lit around the room.

 

“Smells nice in here,” Emma said, hoping to distract Regina from whatever trouble she was in, because it definitely felt like she was in for it.

 

Regina motioned toward Emma’s usual chair, instead of the couch where they’d made out a few times in the last week. “Have a seat.”

 

Emma did, trying to slouch and look cool instead of totally freaked out, which she was. “So, what’s up?”

 

Regina stared at her hands for almost a minute, during which Emma felt sweat start to gather under her arms. “Come on, Regina, I can take it--”

 

“I’ve been learning about new things today, and I’ve decided I want you to give me an orgasm. Then I’ll give you one, if you want.”

 

Of all the things Regina could have possibly said, that was pretty much the last thing Emma was thinking of. She thought maybe she’d forgotten to flush the toilet, or maybe she’d left her shoes out for Regina to trip over, or she hadn’t been open enough about her foul mood from the day before.

 

Comparatively speaking, the subject of mutual orgasms seemed pretty fucking awesome. “O-orgasm?” Emma said, cursing the fact that her voice actually cracked.

 

“Yes. It’s a part of sex,” Regina said very seriously. “I’ve never experienced one, and as of today, many things make sense that I didn’t understand, and I don’t want to waste another minute of waiting. But only if you want that too. Do you?”

 

Emma’s mind was caught on the “never had one” bit, until she realized it sounded like Regina wanted an orgasm right now, not eventually, or at some point, like maybe next week. “Um, what brought this on?” she replied, instead of, “Yes, how about right here on the floor?”

 

“I found some videos on the internet. They’re of people having sexual intercourse. I believe you referred to it as... porn.”

 

Emma’s heart fell. She hoped Regina wasn’t thinking their sex life was going to be like porn. She wasn’t really all that flexible, and those women usually were so ridiculous--

 

Ignoring Emma’s reaction, Regina continued, “It made me uncomfortable, yet I still found myself aroused. So I investigated further, and discovered orgasms. You can’t know how relieved I was to discover why our kissing always seemed to end in a sense of loss. I didn’t realize that there was more to be felt, and experienced,” Regina explained. “My time with Daniel--looking back if I had to do it all over again, I would have made love to him day and night, every moment I could. Especially knowing what was in my future.”

 

Emma swallowed and nodded sadly. “I see. I mean, sort of.” She cringed, feeling like those were the wrong words.

 

“I’ve told you before that my--couplings, if you could call them that--” Regina’s face screwed up like she was sucking a lemon-- ”with my husband were not my choice, but they were my duty. I never once felt pleasure. I want to leave that behind. I want to wipe his memory away, because what happened to me was not fair, do you see?” she asked, sounding slightly hysterical. “I am no virgin, my darling Emma, but I knew nothing, literally nothing of sex when I married. Other than to follow the instructions of my husband, which I did.”

 

This was a conversation Emma wondered they’d ever have; Leopold came up rarely in their daily life, but his specter hovered over them both at inopportune times. “It wasn’t fair,” Emma told her. “I wish you could’ve forgotten him too. I wish he had never laid a hand on you.”

 

Regina looked glad at that, but she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t. He’s dead, and I want to move on. I want to have you, completely. You know how to have an orgasm, don’t you?”

 

Nobody had ever asked her that question so straight out before, and she was close to cracking up. She didn’t even smile, though, because this was not the time. “Um, yeah. I mean, yes.”

 

“Then it’s time you showed me,” Regina said smartly, and stood up with her hand out. “Are you ready?”

 

Emma wished she could pound a quick slug of scotch from the decanter across the room. She stared up, dry mouthed, until finally she managed to respond. "Are you sure you don't want to, you know, have a romantic night out, maybe get dinner and have some wine before we, ah, give it a shot?

 

"Why?" Regina asked, genuinely confused.

 

"I don't know," Emma shrugged. "To put us in the mood. To have this mean a little more than just--" having an orgasm, she wanted to say, but instead, she said, "accomplishing a goal. It's not just about the end result. Or it isn't for me, and I don't think it is for you, either. It's more."

 

At this, Regina seemed relieved. "Oh, I thought perhaps it was because it's not proper to do this in the daylight." She raised an eyebrow. "That isn't a problem, is it?"

 

"No," Emma said, and this time, she did laugh. "There aren't any rules, I guess, other than consent, and desire. And I have a lot of desire for you, Regina, a lot." Her laundry could attest to that; she felt like an adolescent boy lately. Which made her think that Regina should have been doing the same thing at night after they parted, but wasn't. She was just going to an empty bed, frustrated. The thought of that made Emma question her hesitation. "You don't touch yourself then, do you?"

 

At this Regina did look shocked. "You mean--" She glanced down between Emma's legs. "There?" Emma nodded. "Of course not! My mother told me--" And Regina froze. Apparently her mother's lessons of no touching had been so ingrained in her psyche that it hadn't even occurred to her to disobey, or disbelieve. "Do you... do that?"

 

Emma suddenly realized she never should have asked the question. "Yeah. I think everyone does, or at least most people do. There's a stigma about it in some cultures or religions, but I never worried about that." She definitely hadn't. Not when she finally figured out how everything worked. "But I guess you..." Emma trailed off, because Regina's eyes had glazed over. "Regina?"

 

She blinked, dazed. "You touch yourself between your legs?" She sounded drunk, and was breathing heavier.

 

In no time at all Emma tingled in the place Regina was referring to; her nipples got hard at the same time. Regina saw it, glancing down, and she groaned. It was unlike anything Emma had heard from her before, and all at once the notion of waiting for a romantic evening and a glass of wine and all that stuff that was supposed to happen before first time sex didn't seem all that important. Because here was a gorgeous, desirable woman, waiting for everything, and Emma wanted to give it to her. She stood up then and all the space between them disappeared, mouths open and devouring each other with a previously absent urgency. Emma started backing up, dragging Regina with her, and before she could get completely distracted, she reached out a hand and with her magic, blew out the candles around the room in one go. "Let's go upstairs," she said, and Regina nodded, her hands already down the back of Emma's skin-tight jeans.

 

They raced and Regina won, bounding into the bedroom and turning to catch Emma in her arms as they fell on the bed. She thought about all the nights she'd dreamed of this very thing, and before she could get too far, she used her magic once more to close the blinds, throwing the room into semi darkness. There were more candles at the bedside, and she lit them too; apparently sexual desire really did help her focus her abilities. "How about some music?" Emma asked.

 

"Not this time," Regina said, and her voice was like liquid sex to Emma's ears. "I want to hear you."

 

Oh, fuck, Emma thought,am I ever in for it. "Yeah, okay, that sounds better," she said, and went in for a kiss. Regina's hands grabbed at her head, drawing her closer, until her fingers snaked down and grabbed Emma's ass once again. Apparently she was into Emma's butt, which made her get up and start yanking her stupid, inconvenient jeans down. Regina was smiling as she watched Emma struggle, but her grin faded when Emma pulled her underwear off at the same time, followed by her tank and bra. Naked, she suddenly had the thought that she should have gone a little more slowly, or that Regina could use some time to adjust to all this skin, since they'd hardly done more than kiss over the last weeks.

 

But Regina only needed a moment to adjust, pulling Emma back into her arms with something like reverence. Her eyes traveled down Emma's body, and her hands followed as she inhaled deeply. Her lips reached out for Emma's breast and kissed above the nipple. "Yes," Regina whispered, and allowed Emma to help her out of her riding jacket and blouse and boots and jodhpurs. Emma didn't touch her underwear, because that had to come from Regina; she would do nothing without explicit permission. Goosebumps rose up across Emma's skin, since the cool air and warm hands and hot mouth had her whole body at attention. Regina rolled her over onto her back and looked down, her eyes so filled with awe it made Emma want to cry.

 

"I believed I would never love again," Regina whispered, her lips curving up at the corners. "Or be loved."

 

Emma reached out and touched her swollen mouth, overwhelmed. "But you are."

 

The faint curve became a smile. "And I do." Regina kissed her fingers. The words, although indirect, were out now, and it wasn't as frightening to think them as it used to be. Emma hadn't let anyone get so close to her since she’d fallen for Neal, but this time all that girlhood naivety was gone. She knew the darkness as well as the light of Regina Mills, and she loved her. And was loved in return. It was a fucking miracle.

 

They kissed again as Emma melted into the duvet, wanting the moment to last forever. Regina's hair was soft and fragrant, falling all around her, and Emma couldn't get enough of the feel of it. When Regina nudged Emma's legs apart to fit their hips together, Emma pushed up and wrapped herself around her, trying not to cry out with pleasure. Then the remembered Regina's words, I want to hear you, and let out the moan she'd been holding back.

 

It made Regina stiffen, but not with fear. Instead she sat up and removed her bra, then her underwear. Emma didn't know where to look first; she was smooth and golden and glorious, and the hair at the juncture between her legs grew wild and free. The women Emma had been with in the past were always groomed to a fault, but whatever routine Mayor Mills once performed had been abandoned by this woman who had no desire to appear a certain way. When Emma looked up at her face, there was some trepidation there until Emma muttered, "Gorgeous, you're gorgeous, get down here." The smile returned with a sultry edge, and their next kisses were deep and long as their bare bodies came together for the first time. A hand grabbed at her breast with so much eagerness that Emma gasped in pain; at the concerned look, Emma said, "Easy does it." The touch softened into a dance of fingertips that had Emma arching and begging for more, until she covered Regina's hand with her own and squeezed. She got lost in the sensation for a while till she recalled what she was supposed to be doing.

 

"You’re supposed to be first," Emma reminded her.

 

Regina shook her head. "You. That's what I want."

 

Emma raised her eyebrows, but Regina was resolute. She switched to Emma's other breast and showed off the skills she'd acquired so quickly, bending her mouth to one nipple. In minutes she had Emma writhing, her hips lifting in need. Keeping an eye on Regina's face, she searched for any hesitation when she moved their joined hands down her belly. When they finally came to the warm, wet place at the juncture of Emma's thighs, Regina whined. "Tell me what to do. Show me," she said, desperation in her voice.

 

Emma began moving her fingers alongside Regina's, trying desperately not to go off like a rocket. But when Regina's knuckle brushed against her clitoris, Emma sort of gave up on the whole lasting a while idea and decided to just have another go later, and maybe another one after that. She moved Regina's thumb there again and keened, gritting her teeth as she arched as her nerves came alight. Regina seemed to catch on, and when she pressed and rubbed, Emma grabbed the sheets, twisting as she thrust mindlessly. "Yes, yes," she chanted, until a moment later she came with a cry that filled the room, throbbing against Regina's hand and holding it still as she crested. She tried to watch Regina, who was staring at her avidly, greedily as it happened. Their kiss was intense as Emma came down, and before she knew it, Regina had taken her hand and pressed it between her own legs.

 

"Now, now," she begged, "Make me feel that too."

 

Emma nodded and rubbed lightly as Regina's hips jerked, out of sync with her touch. She was out of control and awkward in her motions, but Emma rolled her over. Her first careful touch at her clit had Regina clutching at Emma’s back, rigid with tension. “Again,” she demanded, and Emma happily did as she was told, easing the pressure and focusing there. Regina began to follow the rhythm, moving with her, dark eyes watching Emma all the while. Her mouth fell open; she was close, Emma was sure of it. "I want," she began, "Emma, please." Emma leaned down and kissed her.

 

"It's going to be so good," she murmured, "So good."

 

She kept moving, listening to the sounds Regina made, until her breath caught in her throat. Nothing more was needed, and Regina threw her head back in a moan as Emma felt it begin. Her head got hot as she watched her lover in ecstasy. It was as magical as anything she'd ever experienced.

 

They both trembled in the aftermath, Regina panting and Emma waiting for some kind of reaction. Afraid to break the spell around them, she didn't say a word until Regina opened her eyes. "Are you all right?"

 

Regina nodded. "That was an orgasm," she said, still breathless.

 

"Yeah," Emma laughed. "Was it okay?"

 

"Yes, but I have an important question," she said, and Emma braced herself. "How long do we have to wait to do it again?"

 

Emma glanced up at the ceiling, feigning deep thought. "Oh, about ten seconds."

 

Regina grabbed her and rolled on top. "You won't mind if I start early, will you?"

 

"Nope."

 

They kissed again, playfully this time, and Emma felt the laughter shaking Regina’s body. It made her feel hope for the future, since there was nothing heavy in the room, no fractured history between them, no thought of the things that had once separated them so definitively. “I want this,” Regina said, pressing Emma’s clit and making her jerk like a marionette.

 

“I might need like, maybe more than ten seconds,” Emma said, shifting Regina’s fingers lower, sighing when they slid amidst the wetness there. “I’m too sensitive there,” she said, “but here is good. Very,” she said, tilting her head back on the pillow. “Just touch me.”

 

So Regina lowered her mouth to Emma’s body, glancing up frequently as if wanting permission with each new patch of skin she explored. Sharp teeth raked across her knees, moved lightly along her belly, nibbled at her throat. Emma was spoiled with all the love she was getting, and she sucked it in like a sponge. When she couldn’t take anymore, she reached for Regina’s hand and brought it back between her legs and decided to ask for what she wanted. “Will you go inside? With your fingers?”

 

Regina was breathless with anticipation. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said. “I might hurt you--”

 

“You won’t,” Emma assured her, “I’ll tell you.” Emma eased her two fingers inside, exhaling as she lifted her pelvis. “Don’t be afraid,” she repeated, “I like it.” She wanted more, and harder, she wanted to tell her to fuck me but that could come later, once they were comfortable and used to it and Regina didn’t have the fears she had now. “One more?”

 

“Really?” Regina asked, kneeling and leaning over Emma, concerned. “I--all right.” A third finger worked in with the other two, and Emma gritted her teeth, loving the burn. She reached to touch herself, and Regina joined her, eager to please. Emma nodded and let her take over, pushing up on her hands. That little adjustment brought her much closer to climax, even so soon after the first. It didn't help that when Regina pushed inside more firmly, she moaned with excitement. “Is this okay?” Regina asked, biting her lip with a roughness to her voice.

 

Emma nodded frantically, her eyes rolling to the ceiling as Regina’s thumb started to make smaller circles.  "Uh huh," she breathed, "Oh fuck, yes." Emma chased the edge with intensity now, as Regina leaned down and nipped at her breast. And when her lips fastened more tightly, tugging, Emma let out a strangled yelp and came, her body shaking with release. She heard Regina's gasp, saw her surprise, but couldn't react as the waves rolled over her. When she calmed, she fell back on the bed, fantastically sated. Carefully Regina removed her fingers and knelt on all fours over Emma.

 

"I felt your orgasm!" she said with astonishment. "It was remarkable. And you enjoyed having me inside you?"

 

Still breathless, Emma nodded. She took a moment to recover before explaining, "Yeah. I like lots of different things too, but usually that's one of them. You don't have to yourself though," she added quickly, in case Regina was getting worried. "It's up to you."

 

Regina sat on Emma's thighs, and even now it thrilled her to feel the heat and weight of her so close. "I think... yes. I--will you?" she asked, almost as if she was afraid Emma would say no. She scratched at her throat nervously, leaving a red patch behind.

 

Emma sat up to face her and ran her hands through dark hair. "Anything you want. Anything at all, I'll give it to you." She kissed her cheek, moving to her ear. "It's just us here," she added, pulling Regina into a strong hug, stroking her back. "There's no rush."

 

The tension seemed to leave Regina then, as she exhaled audibly. As Emma ran her short nails up and down the long muscles of her back, Regina hummed and purred and shifted her weight. Soon she was rocking against Emma with desperation, breath coming in tiny gusts near her ear. "I want--" she said, swallowing thickly.

 

"You help me," Emma suggested, taking a hand and sliding south. "Guide me."

 

With exquisite slowness, Regina pushed the back of Emma's hand, and Emma slipped her index finger inside. Regina inhaled as though she expected it to hurt; when it didn't, she opened her eyes. Emma moved slightly, pressing against her clit with her hand. "Oh," Regina cried, jerking forward. She nodded in encouragement, so Emma did it again, and a set of fingernails dug into her shoulder. Emma pressed a little harder with the pad of her finger and Regina's head lolled back as her hips thrust forward, and then it really started, the push and pull of two bodies in sync. Emma lost her hesitation, reaching out and kissing everything she could get her mouth on as Regina moved faster. After a bit, Regina asked, "Another?" Emma understood and complied with a second finger, and Regina's head bobbed in assurance as her eyes focused on Emma's. She held Emma's face with two hands, mouth open, body moving of its own volition as she discovered, or rediscovered, what making love could really be. And it was about love this time, especially for Emma, who felt so much pleasure in knowing she could give this simple yet immeasurably complex thing to the person she desired and adored above all others. "I'm -" Regina said, but Emma already knew she was nearly there, so when she felt the crush and heard the cry of exultation above her she reveled in it.

 

They both collapsed against the mattress, bodies slick with sweat, and Emma felt like laughing with utter happiness. So many times she had sex and felt immediate regret, but those days were dead and gone. Regina lifted her head, and when they looked at each other, Emma read a thousand things in her smile: satisfaction, joy, relief, excitement, but more than anything, release from the burden of of the past. There was freedom in that smile, and Emma wanted a taste of it, so she stole the sweetest kiss they'd ever shared.

 

Regina laid her head on Emma’s shoulder and sighed. "Darling," she said, "I understand why people want to have sex all the time now. That was amazing!"

 

Emma felt, in a word, awesome. "It was, wasn't it?"

 

"How many orgasms can you have in one day?"

 

Emma chuckled. "You know, I never really thought about it."

 

"I should think a lot," Regina reasoned, perfectly serious. "Perhaps ten. Although that could be exhausting."

 

"Ten between us or ten each?" Emma asked, wondering if she could pull either off.

 

"Each, silly. We've already had four, and it's only--" she gasped and grabbed the alarm clock at the side of the bed. "Is this time correct? It can't possibly be--"

 

Downstairs, they heard a door slam.

 

"Shit!" Emma hissed.

 

They both leapt off the bed and pulled on their clothes, and for the hundredth time, Emma wished she wore looser jeans. “Next thing you need to teach me to do is get myself dressed with magic. These things are killing me.” Regina glanced over and realized she could fix their situation very quickly; with one swoop of her hand they were dressed, and the bed was made. “Thanks, Mary Poppins,” she said, checking herself over one last time. “What do we say we were doing?”

 

Regina frowned and glanced around. “Cleaning. Your room is often far too messy for my tastes,” she said with an arched eyebrow. “Who is Mary Poppins?”

 

“Tell you later,” Emma said, pulling the door open a little too fast, jumping out of the room just as Henry was shouting, “MOM!” at the top of his lungs on the steps.

 

“Oh, hey, Emma. What are you--” Regina left the room at the same time, bright grin firmly in place. Henry’s face crumpled into an epic wince. “Wait a second. Were you like, making out?”

 

Emma turned to Regina, who didn’t lose her smile; in fact, it froze in place. “Why on earth would you ask that?”

 

“Because you look weird. And happy. Ugh, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.” He rushed up the rest of the stairs and went straight to his room. “I swear, I even texted you that I was coming home. Didn’t you get it?”

 

Emma had no idea where her phone was; at this point she couldn’t remember anything other than the taste of Regina’s skin, or the way her lips trembled when they kissed. Or how it felt to be inside her, to feel the strength of her muscles and the softness--

 

“Emma!” Regina said, breaking her out of her trance. “Your phone?”

 

She shrugged. “No idea. I’ll call it from the landline.”

 

She did, and discovered it on the floor of the study. She’d missed Henry’s text, plus two calls. One was from Snow, which she didn’t really want to listen to, but the other was from Ruby, who followed up with a text that asked if she and Regina would want to come out for a girls’ night at the Rabbit Hole with Kathryn and Ashley, and maybe Snow too but she wasn’t confirmed yet. “Hmm.” She went for the voicemail then and heard her mom’s voice: “Hi Emma. I know you probably don’t want to hear from me yet, but Ruby invited me to go to the Rabbit Hole, and I don’t want to keep you from going, so let me know if you don’t want me there. I’ll understand. Just call me.” There was a pause. “I love you, honey.”

 

Emma sighed. Regina would want to go, but if Snow was there? That added a whole new layer of freakshow. Plus Henry was going to need a babysitter--maybe they should just stay in. And practice what they’d been up to earlier. She thought they might easily be able to get up to ten orgasms each if they attempted it within a 24 hour period.

 

“Hi,” Regina said, approaching from behind and sliding her arms around Emma’s waist. “Did we miss anything important?”

 

“Nothing that couldn’t wait,” Emma replied, considering her options.

 

"What is it? You look upset."

 

"Not upset exactly," Emma said. "I--Ruby wants us to come out for drinks tonight. But Snow might be there."

 

Regina went rigid behind her. "That answers that question," Emma muttered.

 

"No," Regina said. "I think she should attend. As should we. I must... become used to her presence. She is a part of my life whether I want her to be or not. And she must become used to me, because we are together, and I won't force you to sacrifice a mother who loves you. Although I cannot agree to like her," she said with a shiver. "That will not happen. We will co-exist, and that's all."

 

Emma looked over her shoulder. "You sure?"

 

Regina lips flattened out in a firm line. "No, but I will make the attempt."

 

With a nod, Emma grinned. "I can live with that."

 

---

 

Emma got dressed quickly; she didn't have a lot of time to get ready since she'd just dropped Henry off with Granny and spent a few minutes talking. After Granny closed up the diner, they'd probably end up playing video games and watching movies at the house. Henry had been cute when she'd hugged him goodbye, whispering, "Be careful tonight. And don't drink and drive."

 

"Yes, sir," she'd said with a salute.

 

She pulled on her nicest jeans and one of Regina's blouses that she never wore anymore. Somebody might as well get some use out of them. Ten minutes later she was out of the bathroom after putting on her makeup, which she hadn't used lately, but tonight would be special. They'd be "out" together for the first time, and Emma didn't have any intention of pretending they were only pals. She might get some dirty looks from other patrons, and hell, even her friends, but it was too late now. She was in deep, and happy for the first time in years.

 

She sprinted from the room, checking her watch; they were going to be late. "Regina, are you ready?"

 

"Yes, darling," she called out from downstairs. "I've been ready for fifteen minutes."

 

"Yeah, yeah," Emma mumbled, used to it. Somehow her penchant for being late annoyed all versions of Regina, but this one was a lot less critical than the previous one, for which she was grateful. "Sorry." And then she saw Regina in the kitchen, putting the last of the dinner dishes away and looking hotter than anyone in the universe had the right to. Skin tight black jeans (were those Emma's?), black knee high boots, a matte leather vest that laced up to reveal a startling amount of cleavage, and a black leather jacket, just to finish the whole look off. "Um, wow," she breathed, eyes wide.

 

"Do you like it?" Regina asked, looking down at herself. "I borrowed your jeans. They're a little too long, but with the boots no one will notice."

 

"I don't think anyone would have noticed anyhow," Emma said, rethinking the going out thing altogether.

 

"I rarely wear black here, but it's a special occasion, so I wanted to try something different." She turned, showing off the ass that Emma coveted.

 

"If anyone makes a pass at you, don't kill them, okay?" Emma said, only joking a little. "That outfit ought to be illegal, but you look incredible. Just make sure you keep everything fastened, okay? Nobody get to see what's under there except me."

 

"Mm, possessive," Regina said. "I like a jealous streak."

 

"You would."

 

Emma drove to The Rabbit Hole after a very brief argument over who would be the designated driver; only when Emma had said she'd promised Henry that she'd be the responsible one did Regina relent. Emma had no idea how their guests were all going to fit in the back seat, but one by one they piled in; Snow first, then Kathryn took the middle, and Ruby's knees were somewhere around her ears, but they fit. "Next time, we take a cab," Ruby swore, and Emma laughed. At least Ashley had gotten her own ride, otherwise Ruby probably would have ended up on the roof.

 

Conversation was minimal on the way over, but it didn't take long to get there, so Emma was finally able to take a deep breath when they got out of the car. Ruby was walking next to Emma when she got a look at Regina's vest, and her eyes nearly bugged out. "Damn, girl, you brought out the big guns tonight! You looking to get laid?"

 

Regina blinked, uncertain. She touched her chest. "Is it inappropriate?" she asked. "Emma, why didn't you say something? And if 'laid' means what I think it means, then yes, but not by anyone inside this bar."

 

Ruby's mouth dropped open. She looked at Emma, as did Kathryn and Snow. Ruby grinned, her teeth glimmering under the street lights. “Oh, Emma, you are a bad, bad, girl,” she said, and something in her eyes reminded Emma of the wolf she would become in exactly three days.

 

“Oh my god,” Snow said, clearly horrified. “You aren’t.”

 

“Thanks a lot, Ruby,” Emma complained. “Yes, we are. And it’s not like it wasn’t going to happen anyway, way before this amnesia thing, Snow. You knew it, I knew it, Regina knew it, and it only got held up by the accident, during which I might remind you, Regina was saving your ass. So let’s ignore the fact that you two hate each other and have a decades-long blood feud between you, and we can all have fun tonight and enjoy ourselves, okay? Otherwise, I’m getting back in the car with Regina and you can all find your own ride home, got it?”

 

There was silence all around. “Got it,” Kathryn said, moving to Regina’s side and placing a hand on her arm. “I’m happy for you, Regina.”

 

Regina looked touched at the sign of support. “Thank you, dear.” She covered Kathryn’s hand and squeezed it.

 

Ruby put her hands up in defense. “You know I’m glad, for the both of you. I mean, mostly glad. I would have liked to take a shot--” Emma punched her lightly in the shoulder before she could go on, and Ruby frowned. “Right, sorry. Anyway, it’s cool with me.”

 

Snow was glaring at all of them in that way that made Emma crazy. “I am not happy about this, Emma,” she said. Turning to Regina, she opened her mouth to say something, but the words seemed to evaporate before Emma’s eyes. “I--” Snow began, as Regina steeled herself for whatever she was about to say. “Fine. Let’s go.” She stalked off toward the bar. Ruby scurried after her, motioning for the rest of them to hurry the hell up.

 

Kathryn gave them both an apologetic smile and went after them. Emma stepped toward Regina to take her hand. “So, I guess that could have gone worse?”

 

Regina nodded. “It certainly could have.” She leaned in for a brief kiss. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

 

Emma touched her mouth tenderly, her heart aching with love. “No, but I'll make the attempt,” she said, meaning every word.

 

They went into the bar together, not holding hands, but side by side. A few people turned to glance at the new visitors, and aside from a few shocked expressions (Emma wasn’t sure if it was the leather or the simple appearance of the Evil Queen), people ignored them. Ruby, Kathryn and Snow had joined Ashley, who had claimed a table in advance, leaving two seats available. They made their way through the semi-busy crowd and took their chairs without saying anything.

 

“The first round is on me,” Kathryn said. “What does everyone want?”

 

Emma spoke first. “Diet Coke,” she said. “With lemon.”

 

Regina ordered red wine, which Ruby scoffed at. “Boring. You must have that all the time at home. Try something different for a change!” she encouraged.

 

“What are you having?” Regina asked.

 

“There’s a local IPA that the dwarves brew. It’s got a huge kick. Want to try it?”

 

“I don't know IPA,” Regina replied, “but I like to try new things,” she said, glancing slyly at Emma.

 

She didn’t react other than a smile she tried to mask, but Snow still caught it. But really, in the end, who gave a shit? Her mom obviously knew she’d had sex in the past, and that she was having it currently. Snow had that same irritated, blank look she’d been wearing since Emma had moved into the Mifflin Street house, but she knew the score now. She’d have to get over it.

 

A waitress Emma didn’t know brought them drinks; three fruity, frothy drinks were set down on the table, along with two beers, and a Diet Coke. “Soda’s on the house,” the girl said with a nod. When she recognized Emma, she looked around the table and saw Regina. She inhaled sharply and nearly dropped her tray.

 

“What’s your name?” Emma asked, hoping to keep her from losing it.

 

“Um, Jess,” she said. “Jessica, Sheriff Swan.”

 

“Thanks, Jessica. We appreciate it. We’re just here for a night out, and I’ll make sure things don’t get out of hand.” She glanced at Ruby meaningfully. “Right, Ruby?”

 

Ruby rolled her eyes. “I’m not always the troublemaker,” she said.

 

“Yeah, sure,” Ashley said with a laugh. "Last time we were here you tried to reenact that scene from 'Coyote Ugly'--"

 

"Shut up, you're going to get me fired," Ruby hissed. "I'll keep the baying to a minimum tonight, anyway. Bottoms up," she said, tapping her beer against Regina's.

 

"What is an IPA?" Regina asked before peering closely at the bottle.

 

"Just a beer, it stands for India Pale Ale," Ashley said. "But watch out, Ruby wasn't kidding about that kick."

 

Ruby scoffed. "It’s got a lot less booze in it than that fancy thing you're having. Kathryn, is that a dirty martini?"

 

"It is. Thanks for driving, Emma. I haven't had one of these nights out in ... Well I can't recall a time we've ever all been out together. It was a nice idea."

 

Emma thought about the fact that for all the years in Storybrooke, Regina had set herself apart from everyone at the table, except maybe Emma. "It was a great idea. Regina can't remember most of you--" she spent less than a second looking at Snow--"and I know she's wanted to get to know you."

 

"Do you really not remember casting the curse?" Ashley asked, point blank. Snow looked startled, and everyone around the table sat up a little straighter, but Regina didn't appear perturbed in the least.

 

"No, I don't. It's odd, I know how to do certain things I can’t recall learning, but beyond that, all of Storybrooke is new to me. Or some months old now."

 

"Even Henry?" Ashley asked.

 

"Yes," replied Regina, sadly.

 

"Gosh, I can't imagine forgetting my baby. It must be horrible. Are you very upset about that? And how is Henry handling--” Ashley paused, eyes wide at realizing that she’d been babbling. “Oh goodness, sorry, I had a drink before you all got here, and now I'm getting all crazy with the Evil Queen, but you just look so different, even though I'm sure you're still kind of ev--"

 

"Ashley!" Kathryn interrupted. "Regina agreed to--"

 

"No, really, Kathryn, I don't mind," Regina said with a strangely kind smile, and in that second Emma understood just how lonely she must have been for companionship. Emma had been enough, mostly, but when she got right down to it, Regina had no friends, and she hadn't had any for a long time. Now even friends who asked uncomfortable questions and called her evil were better than nothing. "I do hate not remembering Henry. He is wonderful, and we're having a lovely time getting to know one another. Sometimes I think we knew very little of each another as it was, so in some ways he's learned more about me in the past few months than before the accident," she said before taking a long pull from her beer. "He didn't even know I could ride horses. Can you imagine?"

 

"I didn't know you rode either, Regina," Kathryn said. "Have you been out to the stables?"

 

"Yes!" Regina said cheerfully. "I'll be teaching two classes starting next week."

 

"Do you have any students?" Snow asked. There was skepticism in her voice. "I don't know many who would allow their children to be taught by you. No one in this town has forgotten what you did, you know," she added. "We have long memories."

 

Regina's face smoothed out, and Emma saw a flash of the woman Regina had once been in the slow blink of her eyelashes. "Yes, dear. So do I." She drank again. "In any case, yes, I do have students. A full roster. I'm looking forward to having something more scheduled to do with my time."

 

"And you drive, too, I saw you out the other day," Ashley said, leaning on her hand. "How does that work? Didn't you forget how?"

 

Snow looked intrigued, though she couldn't have been surprised to hear this. Regina had been the talk of Storybrooke when she'd been seen tearing down Main that first day. “Some things I just... know how to do. I am a very fast typist, and I can chop vegetables quickly, and I remember some song lyrics too, but not all."

 

That was news to Emma. She'd have to ask which songs were familiar, since she'd never said anything about it.

 

"Most things are just... gone, completely. But Henry and Emma are teaching me so many things. I've learned to cook many dishes, and I'm getting good at lots of video games--"

 

"Come on," Ruby said, awestruck. "That's ridiculous."

 

"It's the truth," Regina said with some pride. "Henry has a dance game that I have won, twice. He still beats me at most of the others, but I'm quite a good dancer. I always have been." She peered at Snow from the corner of her eye. Emma wondered what that was all about.

 

"Well if you're a good dancer, I suggest we move this little party to the dance floor over there and start raising some hell," Ruby suggested. "Let's go ladies. And bring your drinks. Just don't drop them--last time I broke a glass here they made me mop it up myself and I am totally not in the mood for housework tonight."

 

Regina looked to Emma for, if not permission, then at least a blessing. "Go on. I'm going to sit this one out."

 

"Me too," Snow said.

 

Emma took Regina's hand briefly under the table and held it. "I'll be here. You have fun."

 

"All right," she said, and though she nearly went in to kiss Emma purely out of habit, something stopped her. Snow's presence, undoubtedly.

 

Emma sat quietly for awhile, watching as the three friends starting showing Regina their own moves, all with varying degrees of skill and success. Ashley was the best of all of them in Emma's mind, keeping in time with the music and not using it as an excuse to look sexy (as in Ruby's case). Kathryn was subdued but seemed to be enjoying herself, and Regina started to join in after a while. She peeked over at Emma shyly, so Emma turned away. She didn't want to make it obvious that she was watching.

 

"I can't believe you of all people have allowed that woman to seduce you," Snow finally said. She sounded like a volcano waiting to blow.

 

"How do you know she seduced me?" Emma asked, not looking at her mother.

 

"She is a master of deception, Emma. She always has been."

 

That was enough of that. "Even when you first knew her? Even when she saved your life? Even when she was forced to marry a man she didn't love after the man she did was murdered in front of her eyes?" Emma demanded to know. "Nice try. The Regina you and I knew is gone, Snow. That woman might look the same, but she isn't. And you know what's crazy? Sometimes I think that even if she was lying, I wouldn't care. Because I am happy. I feel loved. My kid has two parents, and one of them is me. You think it ever occurred to me that something like that could happen when I was giving birth to him in prison? A prison where Neal left me to rot, because he had to wait for all this shit to go down, because that was what was 'supposed' to happen?" She snorted into her soda. "Give me a break. Neal took the easy way out. He was afraid to defy your version of the natural order of things. Prophecies and seeing the future and all that bullshit--I don't want to hear about it. I don't care. Regina got screwed in this life just as much as I did. Later on, she did the screwing, but who's to say I wouldn't have ended up the same way in her shoes?"

 

"Emma," Snow said, her hand forming a fist. "You would never do the things she's done--"

 

"Oh believe me, I had some thoughts, dangerous thoughts, in my life. It doesn't matter now. I won't say that I forgive her for her crimes--it's not up to me. She is living with it, or she was, until the accident--"

 

"The very convenient accident," Snow said.

 

Emma sighed, leaning forward to take Snow's hands. "Listen to me. I care about you, and I care about David. I want you to let this go. If this is a mistake, let me make it. I've been making my own mistakes my whole life. You can't protect me any more now than you could when I was a baby. You don't get to choose for me. I do. And I choose her."

 

Snow gripped her fingers tightly. "Emma, I can't bear the thought of you having your heart broken, but beyond that, I'm afraid for your safety. You can't protect yourself from her magic."

 

"Who says?" Emma asked, snapping her fingers and conjuring up a tiny little flame. She'd been practicing.

 

"How--how did you--"

 

"Regina is teaching me. Not the stuff she got from the spell books. That stuff's what made her so crazy, if you ask me. This is from nature. It's in the air, all around us. And it's in me, because you and David put it there."

 

"How do you know she's not showing you the way to your own destruction?"

 

Emma smiled. She never thought she'd be one to say this, but she knew it from the bottoms of her soles to the top of her head. "Faith."

 

Snow stared at her. "Blind faith, if you ask me. Foolishness."

 

"Nobody ever called me the sharpest knife in the drawer."

 

With a deep sigh of frustration, Snow sat back, throwing up her hands. "I can see you won't change your mind. but don't come--"

 

"--Crying to you if it doesn't work out?" Emma finished for her. "I won't have to. But I'm still glad you came tonight. I wanted us to talk. I don't like the way we left things."

 

"Me neither." Snow lifted her martini glass filled with purple liquid and touched it to Emma's Diet Coke. "I won't act like we’re friends, though. And I won’t agree to like her," she added.

 

"Don't worry, she doesn't like you either," Emma said with a smirk.

 

An hour later, Regina was on her way to well and truly blitzed. Emma had spotted Ruby sneaking her two shots alongside another beer, and while her tolerance for a good red was significant, hops and liquor were a lethal combination. The bar had filled to near capacity, and the dance floor overflowed with bodies, male and female, dancing close together. So far no one (other than Snow) had said anything rude to Regina; Emma wondered if the town was starting to accept that she really had changed, or at least that she deserved the second chance that so many in Storybrooke had received.

 

She and Snow had talked a while longer, and it was nice to settle into more regular conversation. Snow had also been tracking George, who was no closer to being located than he had months ago. It didn't make them feel very comfortable or confident knowing he was out there, probably plotting to either take over the town or simply to escape back to the Enchanted Forest to raise an army before anyone else got there. There was nothing keeping him here, so it seemed like that was the most logical assumption. Why he'd felt the need to off Snow and David was uncertain; there weren't nearly enough residents angry with the current circumstances to want to revolt against the current "regime." Snow wasn't the mayor, strictly speaking, but she had reformed the council and was handling most of the town's business and general upkeep. It was a good thing too, since Regina now had absolutely no interest in being in charge. She didn't appear to care at all about regaining power over anyone or anything, with the exception of the remote control for the tv. She was kind of bossy about that, especially after she'd discovered "Game of Thrones."

 

Emma glanced over at the crowd, narrowing her eyes as she searched for Regina. "Go ahead," Snow told her. "I want to have a word with Caroline anyway," she said, gesturing toward the bartender. Emma didn't think Caroline was mentioned in Henry's storybook, but she was sharp as a tack and had turned the Rabbit Hole into quite the hot spot since the curse had broken. Maybe she'd run a pub back in the old world or something. Emma would ask later.

 

For the moment, she nodded with a grateful smile and got up from the table. She spotted Regina dancing with Ruby and Kathryn, grinning wildly. Her hair was out of its braid now, the waves flying around as she moved. When she noticed Emma coming toward her, her smile lessened; she immediately looked guilty. "Hi," she said in a small voice.

 

"Hey," Emma replied over the music. "I'm not here to interrupt. I wanted to join you."

 

"Really?" Regina replied, clearly thrilled. "Oh. Well, good." She threw herself into Emma's arms. "That's nice." Emma held her close, enjoying the feel of her, the smell of her perfume and white ginger shampoo magnified by the heat and sweat of her body. They started moving together as one to the beat of the heavy bass, and she heard Regina's gasp of approval. Emma kept her hands in appropriate locations, but the look on Regina’s face surely gave away who they were to each other to the entire bar.

 

“Have I told you how much I love your outfit?” Emma asked, subtly glancing down.

 

“Yes,” Regina said, blinking slowly. “I can’t wait for you to take it off me later,” she said, leaning close just a little uncertainly. “How long will we stay?”

 

Emma glanced around to catch Ashley and Kathryn watching them with surprisingly gleeful expressions. They each turned away as if they hadn’t been caught out staring, but Emma didn’t mind. “Not too long. Aren’t you having fun?”

 

“Yes, but I also had fun earlier today. If you catch my drift,” she said, and Emma laughed at her salacious tone, delivering what sounded like a foreign language coming out of her mouth.

 

“I know what you mean. I promise, we’ll uh, do some more of that. You might want to cool it with the beer, though. Otherwise you’ll conk out on me, and we won’t be able to come close to that number 10 you were talking about earlier.”

 

Regina appeared immediately more solemn. “I will drink only water for the rest of the night,” she said, and licked her lips.

 

Emma thought long and hard about kissing her, with tongue, right in the middle of the dance floor. But out of the corner of her eye, she caught Snow watching her with such a naked sense of longing and sadness that it curbed her desires. For some reason, Emma saw in Snow’s gaze something she hadn’t considered before. For the last few months Emma had focused intensely on the need to remain her own person, fighting for independence from her parents despite her lifelong yearning for family. It struck Emma that she would have to accept the loss of that dream for both herself and her mother, because Snow was not yet ready to give up the belief that Emma could be the child she had once been. Sure, Emma might call her “Mom” someday, but that wouldn’t fill the years between the night she’d been abandoned on the side of the road, and the morning Mary-Margaret had transformed into her mother.

 

Right now, Snow watched her with a look so desperate that it sent a wave of compassion over her, and Regina sensed her distraction. “Are you all right?” she asked.

 

“Yeah,” Emma said. “I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”

 

Regina nodded and touched her cheek sweetly.

 

Emma left the crowded dance floor and made her way to Snow, seated at the bar and watching her closely. As if steeling herself for yet another rejection, Snow lifted her chin and crossed her arms in front of her. But Emma just reached out and pulled her into an embrace. “It’s okay,” Emma said, not knowing exactly what she was trying to say, but feeling an overwhelming need to connect. “You don’t have to be afraid. We’ll be fine,” she told her. “You and me. We’re going to be okay.”

 

Snow’s arms wrapped around her and squeezed just a bit too tightly for comfort. “You can’t know that,” she said, unable to mask her worries.

 

She chuckled. “Sure I can.”

 

Snow pulled away and held Emma’s cheeks between her hands. “Emma--”

 

“I need you to have faith in me,” she said. “You just have to do it. You have to start right now.”

 

Snow glanced over Emma’s shoulder, undoubtedly toward Regina. Emma didn’t know what she saw, but whatever it was made her eyes widen. With that, she turned back to Emma. “I’ll try.”

 

Emma felt a stress she’d been living with so long lift away from her shoulders. It was like she could breathe again. “That’s all I want.”

 

Snow smiled, tilting her head. “I love you, Emma. And I will really try. But I’m going to go home now. It’s just... better that way.”

 

“I get it,” Emma said. She also knew it would be easier to be in Regina’s arms without Snow’s eyes following her every move. “Thanks for coming. It meant a lot.”

 

“I know,” Snow said before kissing Emma’s cheek. “My baby,” she whispered in Emma’s ear as they hugged again.

 

Emma’s heart lifted for a moment. Within a few minutes, Snow had said her goodbyes, including a mutual, albeit non-verbal nod toward Regina, who was probably more grateful than anyone for her departure. After she was gone, Regina’s eyes met hers and they came back together as if they had no choice; Regina was in her arms, swaying with the pounding beat. Emma hadn’t been dancing for a long time and it felt amazing to be so free. Regina tugged on her blouse, inadvertently pulling it out of her jeans. Fingers disappeared beneath the silk, trailing over her skin and sending shimmers of sensation through her body. The club’s spotlights shone in dark eyes, making them sparkle. Looking down at her, Emma thought she might love Regina in any incarnation;  young or not so young, good or not so good. Something within her called out for this other half, who seemed just as drawn to her in return.

 

Behind her, she felt someone touching her shoulder; it was Ruby, and Ashley was with her. They were each smiling, and before it got too hot to resist making out with Regina on the dance floor, she eased away and allowed the other two women to join them. But Regina’s hand continued to brush against hers, the contact electric. She felt their magic blend, and alongside the familiar faces around her, it made her feel like she truly belonged.

 

---

 

She slipped away to the bathroom a short time later; when she stepped from the stall, Regina was waiting for her. Oddly, she looked... like the old Regina. It made Emma remember the fire of their attraction, how it would feel like they would explode when they shared the same space, even when they hated each other. At the moment, it looked as if Regina wanted to eat Emma alive, and she very nearly pounced. The kiss was rough, and there were no bones about what Regina wanted to do, right here. She shoved Emma backward into the largest stall of the three and slammed the door shut.

 

“Me first this time,” Regina said, unzipping her jeans. Emma’s jeans, really; they looked goddamned amazing, and Emma had no problem turning them over to her lover, forever.

 

“Stay quiet,” Emma said. “Someone could come in.”

 

She giggled--a surprising sound. “I know. But I’m very... ready.” They kissed again and Emma maneuvered her hand down the front of the denim, where it was damp and sweaty and unbearably slick.

 

Her own eyes rolled and she wanted to fall to her knees, but there was no way she was going to do that for the first time at the Rabbit Hole. Although right this second, it would probably get Regina off pretty quick. She was panting for it, head back against the stall door, biting her lip. Emma slid two fingers inside, listening to Regina’s purr of excitement. Then they both heard the bathroom door open, and two other people came inside. Emma didn’t focus on the voices, but Regina’s eyes were wide with fear. Emma just nodded and kept going, moving her fingers to rub higher, and those eyes fell shut. Emma saw her swallow, the tendons of her throat going taut. Her mouth was open as Emma moved in circles, trembling despite the voices chattering only feet away. “Tonight,” Emma whispered, “when I get you home, I’m going to lick you between your legs. I’m going to put my tongue inside you--”

 

Regina came, right then, her body arching in a silent, powerful release. The voices on the other side of the stall departed as Regina came down. She grabbed Emma’s head and kissed her, tongue eager. When she pulled away, she asked, “Are you really going to do that? Or were you just saying it to make me--”

 

“I’m really going to do that,” Emma said.

 

Glancing down between them, her expression was... hungry. “I want to do that too. I want to--”

 

The door to the bathroom opened again, and Regina closed her mouth. Emma decided they were leaving shortly, whether the gang was ready or not.

 

It took a half an hour to herd the girls to the car; Emma had forgotten this part of nights out. Of course, less than a minute into the ride home, Ruby exclaimed from the back, “Emma Swan, what have you been doing?”

 

Emma straightened in her seat. She didn’t feel guilty, exactly, but she’d forgotten about Ruby’s rather sensitive nose. She rolled down the window. “Nothing.”

 

Ashley gasped. “Were you smoking pot? I thought you didn’t do stuff like that?” She giggled. “Not that I would ever do that. I mean, I sort of want to, but I never got the chance.”

 

“No, Ash, I haven’t been smoking pot.”

 

“What is pot?” Regina asked.

 

“Don’t change the subject,” Ruby interrupted. “You couldn’t keep it in your pa-”

 

“Ruby, one more word and you can walk home,” Emma warned.

 

Regina seemed to understand what Ruby had picked up, and turned sharply toward their companions in the back seat. She waved a hand around herself and Emma, and suddenly the car smelled like night-blooming jasmine.

 

“Ooh, that’s nice,” Kathryn said.

 

Emma caught the look on Ruby’s face in the rearview mirror. “Next time remember to do that before you get in the world’s smallest car with a werewolf near that time of the month,” she drawled.

 

“Sorry,” Regina said, sounding way too apologetic for what she’d been caught out doing.

 

“Was that you two having sex in the bathroom?” Kathryn crowed, sounding way more drunk than Emma had realized. “Oh my god, I had no idea!”

 

Regina covered her face with two hands. Emma groaned. “Thanks, Kath.”

 

“You had sex in the bathroom?” Ashley cried. “You go, Regina!” Ashley patted her on the shoulder, and Regina slumped down further in the seat.

 

“New topic,” Emma tried, checking the clock and hoping she survived the next ten minutes. “Kathryn, how is Fred?”

 

“He’s going to be really happy when he finds out you two are finally doing it,” she said, steering the conversation right back to where Emma didn’t want it going.

 

“Oh god,” Emma muttered, wondering if she could just open the doors right now and make them all walk home.

 

“Don’t act so surprised, anyone could see it,” Kathryn said, scoffing noisily. “And Grumpy’s been complaining to Fred during their poker nights about how all you ever do is talk about Regina, instead of focusing on finding George. Maybe now that you’re getting some you’ll be able to hunt him down.” She laughed again to herself. “Mm, love really is marvelous, isn’t it?”

 

“Especially when you find it in the little girl’s room at the Rabbit Hole,” Ruby quipped.

 

Emma pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal.

 

---

 

It took forever to get everyone home. Mostly that was because they had to help Kathryn into her house, and then Fred insisted that they catch up with a chat. At least Kathryn didn’t reveal their little incident from earlier, which might have killed Regina’s libido, and Emma’s along with it.

 

When they stumbled into the house at half past midnight, Granny was on the couch playing one of Henry’s Batman games on the xbox. “The boy’s been asleep since 10; he tried to stay up but I sent him to bed after he fell asleep on the couch.” She saved her progress on the game for next time and brushed pretzel crumbs off her long skirt. “Next time you need a babysitter for date night feel free to call me. I’m on a side mission with the Riddler that I’d really like to wrap up.” Emma’s eyebrows rose; she hadn’t mentioned that she was on a date, only that she had a girl’s night planned. “Oh, don’t give me that look. I’ve got eyes, don’t I?” She clapped Emma on the shoulder before heading out the door. “Night, kids.”

 

Emma shook herself out of her daze when Regina swooped in for a kiss. “You’re supposed to take me upstairs now,” she said in a low voice.

 

Minutes later, Emma had magically soundproofed her own room (the one not next to Henry’s) and locked the door. She also had stripped Regina of her jeans and vest and everything else, and was busy pulling her own jeans and blouse off as Regina looked up at her with wide, almost fearful eyes. Emma fell over for a second, because it was difficult to keep her balance considering how much she was hurrying. When she was finally done, she crawled onto the bed on all fours and fell right into Regina’s welcoming embrace. “Can’t believe I managed to resist you for this long,” she breathed as long fingers gripped her ass.

 

They kissed, and Emma let her hand meander down between Regina’s thighs. She was quickly becoming familiar with what her partner liked; firm pressure in circles, not too much tongue in a kiss, sharp teeth at her breast, the lightest touch imaginable along the tops of her knees. But there were so many things to learn, especially because everything was so new and fresh and sweet.

 

“Emma,” Regina moaned, fingers tangling in gold hair as Emma moved down her belly. She lifted her hips and Emma decided not to wait, pressing her mouth in a tender, damp kiss between her legs. “You, oh please,” Regina cried, “I want you.”

 

Sliding two fingers inside, she licked at her clit, keeping her tongue firm, nose tickled by dark curls.  Regina’s legs fell apart as she sat up in surprise. Her mouth hung open as she stared down, eyes wide as Emma worked. “Is this okay?” Emma asked, because better to ask than be uncertain.

 

Regina nodded hurriedly, pushing hips up slightly in an unspoken invitation.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Emma replied, and got back to it. Regina smelled musky and rich, and briefly she moved to press her tongue inside along with her fingers. Regina made a noise of encouragement so she did it again and again until Regina’s legs began to quiver. She touched her clit with her free hand and there was a cry from above, so she moved her thumb gently there, back and forth. Soon Regina was moving along with her, panting as though she was in a race, and in another moment Emma felt her explosive orgasm; smooth thighs closed around her and everything convulsed in a perfect storm.

 

Regina fell back, still gripping the sheets with white knuckles. “What is it you always say?” she asked. “Fucking fuck,” she finished, and Emma couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“How appropriate,” she said, mouthing the thigh just to her right. It was warm and solid and strong beneath her lips. “How many does that make for today?”

 

Regina covered her mouth with one hand as she tried to slow her breathing. “I can’t remember.”

 

“I do. Six, total,” Emma said with a grin. “And you’re ahead of me by two.”

 

Regina stilled, and laughed. “Then I suppose we’ll have to catch you up.”

 

---

 

Later, after Regina learned to kiss Emma between her thighs, after she lapped her up like a cat in delicious cream, Emma lay sated in her arms. The room was warm and cozy, a far cry from what it had been like when she had first stayed here. The only word her brain could think of was “good.” This was nothing like the life she had imagined for herself, yet in this house, and this small town, it was everything she wanted. And she had just started to think that she might be able to hang on to it.

 

“Emma?” Regina asked, running gentle fingers along the base of her neck.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I’d like to ask you something, but it might upset you.”

 

Figures, Emma thought. One perfect night couldn’t stay that way. “Go for it.”

 

“When you first told me all the things I’d done, back in the hospital, you told me about growing up without a home. In foster care.”

 

“Yeah,” she replied, stiffening.

 

“That means you stayed with a family for a time, then moved to another family, right?”

 

“Or to a residential place for other kids like me,” Emma said. “But yeah, that’s it.”

 

“Did you ever have a place where you stayed for a long time?”

 

Biting her lip, Emma swallowed. “Once. When I was little. But after that I kept moving, till I came here.”

 

“You're 29, aren't you?”

 

She nodded. The quiet was heavy with meaning as Emma waited for the next question.

 

“What happened, when you were little?”

 

Emma didn't really want to talk about this, but if she didn't explain, Regina would probably ask someone else. “I lived with one family till I was three. But they had another baby and gave me back.”

 

“Gave you back?” Regina asked. Emma couldn't see her face, but she heard she disbelief in her voice. “Why on earth would they do that?”

 

Emma had wrestled with that question for nearly her entire life, as long as she'd wondered why her parents had abandoned her at the side of the road. “They had a real baby, I mean a baby that was theirs, after they thought they couldn't. They didn't need me anymore, I guess.”

 

There were tears in Regina's voice when she said, “Oh Emma, how can you bear to be with me?”

 

“What?” Emma said, sitting up in the bed.

 

“I destroyed your life. I don't remember doing it, but you've told me before that you cared for me long before I—I forgot. How can you be with me knowing that my actions are the reason you grew up without someone to love you?”

 

Emma sighed as one of the candles at the bedside blinked out, leaving the room darker. “You were a cog in a wheel, Regina. You did a lot of awful things. I mean, really awful. But your path was plotted out for you by Rumpelstiltskin, just like mine was.” She shook her head. “You could have chosen differently, and probably should have, if we're honest,” she said, chuckling. “But that doesn't mean I can't care for you. Love you,” she added, even as the words still frightened her to say. “I'm not perfect either.”

 

Regina's mouth firmed. “You are perfect for me,” she said.

 

Emma relaxed then. “Yeah. I think that might be true.”

 

Regina settled back against the pillow, and Emma retook her position in her arms. “I can't imagine giving a child back after three years of loving her. I could never do that. Your heart must have been broken.”

 

Emma shrugged. “I don't remember a lot of it.” That was a lie, though. Emma remembered the important things; how it felt to be worthless, to be unloved.

 

“You deserved so much better. You deserved to be showered with affection.” Fingers found their familiar path along the back of Emma's neck and caressed her in a way that Emma was becoming quickly addicted to. “I will do that for you, Emma. I will love you so much. I promise.”

 

That devil on Emma’s shoulder tried to call out that this couldn't last, because it never did. But she ignored it. Henry was hers, and so was Regina, and they would be always. But there was one thing that was still bothering her about the way they were now, and she decided to finally bring it up. “What if you remember?” she asked, her tone far more timid than she’d meant it to be.

 

Regina’s caress paused. “You mean if I get my memory back?” Regina said.

 

“Yeah. What if you remember and realize that you don't want to be with me?”

 

Regina laughed, and kept laughing. “I have no doubt that if I remember I will be grateful that you've accepted me as I am. Dr. Hopper agrees.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes,” Regina assured her. “He seems quite certain that I would not be unhappy. He also thinks that we would have become a couple regardless before the accident. After I told him how I felt about you, he wasn't surprised.”

 

“Wow. I didn't know that. I didn't even realize you'd been seeing him before the accident.”

 

“For a few months. Especially after my mother—died.” Her voice broke over the word, as it often did when she spoke of Cora. “We talk of different things now, I suppose.”

 

“So you talk about us?”

 

She chuckled. “Not exclusively. About Henry too, and coming to terms with who I became. Not to mention my life before I came to Storybrooke, and all that went with it.”

 

Emma thought about all those things in the silence, and she was once more grateful that Archie was helping in that area. Those were problems Emma had no idea how to tackle. She'd made fun of Archie now and then after the curse broke since his degree wasn't exactly from an official university, but he was damned good at his job. “You deserved love too, Regina. More than what you got. I'll try to make up for it.”

 

“I'd like that.”

 

Regina’s arms clung just a little more tightly around her then. They’d both lost everything, over and over, but if they tried hard enough, this just might stay. For good.

 

---

 

Chapter Text

---

 

After that, they spent a couple of weeks having a lot of sex. Every spare moment, Regina seemed to drag her into a room, or a coat closet, or a bathroom (Ruby gave her a good talking to about that on one Wednesday morning before Emma had even gotten a chance to finish a cup of coffee).

 

“It wasn’t my fault!” Emma had protested, but Ruby just rolled her eyes and told her to quit stinking up the diner with her pheromones.

 

Henry was confused about why they watched a lot less tv than they had before, but he didn't seem to mind having more time to read his comics. The three of them did, however, continue reading Harry Potter together, and had made their way well into the third book. Emma liked the stories a lot, and sometimes (though she'd never admit it) related to Harry, an orphan who’d discovered he was the chosen one in a world full of magic. Henry, of course, pointed out Harry’s similarities to Emma frequently, but Emma just told him to keep reading. Regina was sympathetic to Snape, even early in the series, sensing there was more to his story than she was being told. Also, her character voices while reading were way better than Emma's. Sometimes when Emma watched her and Henry together, it was as if Regina hadn't forgotten anything. They were so much mother and son, and Emma felt lucky to be able to be there too.

 

She also felt like she'd unlocked some hidden treasure trove in the form of Regina's libido. She'd had good sex in the past, but she'd never been particularly adventurous. That had changed one afternoon when she'd “gone home for lunch,” and gotten a dirty look from Leroy and a frown from her father. After a quickie on the sofa in the study, Regina had asked, “Do you think I had so many orgasms before I forgot everything?”

 

Emma had laughed, and before she could think about what she was saying, she replied, “I'm almost 100% positive you did.”

 

Regina had gaped at her. “You sound awfully sure of yourself.” Emma had tried to keep her face still, afraid to give anything away, but Regina just nudged her side. “What are you hiding from me?”

 

“Nothing!” Emma had said, but Regina was relentless, following her from the study and into the kitchen after they'd gotten dressed. Even after Emma made them both grilled cheese sandwiches, she continued to pester her until Emma finally caved. “Oh, fine. A few days after you first came home from the hospital, I was looking in your dresser for something to wear, and I found a locked chest of your stuff. I took it to my room because I didn't want you to freak out if you saw it.”

 

“Why would I get upset over a locked chest? And how did you even know what was in it?”

 

That gave Emma pause—what she'd done was quite an invasion of privacy, but the woman who’d hidden it wasn't here, sort of. “Well, I picked the lock.”

 

Regina had been shocked. “What?”

 

“Well, it could have had some kind of evil queen weaponry in it, and I couldn't just leave that lying around the house now, could I?”

 

“But it didn't,” Regina reasoned, and Emma had been forced to shake her head.

 

“No, it didn't.”

 

“So are you going to tell me what was in the box?”

 

Emma had taken a bite of her sandwich as Regina stared at her. “Fine,” she'd relented. “It was full of sex toys.”

 

Regina's eyes lit up. “What kinds of sex toys?”

 

Emma was expecting the question, “What are sex toys?” so this was a surprise. “Huh?”

 

“What kind of sex toys?” Regina said more slowly. “Were they phalluses? Vibrators? Handcuffs? Was there a riding crop?” She was absolutely ravenous for information.

 

“Jesus, Regina, what have you been doing while I've been at work?”

 

“Research!” she'd exclaimed, and grabbed Emma by the hand. “Show me, right now! I want to see everything.”

 

She should have known. The internet was both an awesome and terrifying thing these days for Emma. So she'd scarfed down the rest of her grilled cheese on the way up the stairs to her room, where she kept the box. Carefully she'd unlocked it to reveal its contents, which admittedly had titillated her upon discovery all those weeks before.

 

“Oh my,” Regina had said, eyes wide and eager. Emma hadn't exactly dug through everything, but she got an eyeful as Regina starting selecting items and holding them up. There were a few dildos, two of which were still sealed in their original packaging. A Hitachi magic wand, which Emma had been tempted to borrow, but she’d resisted. Two other vibrators of differing sizes and lengths. Blindfolds and silk scarves. And yes, a riding crop. Emma wondered if she was going to get a taste of that in short order.

 

She didn't that day, but the magic wand had been put through the ringer by both of them until Emma had gotten a phone call summoning her back to the office. She'd left Regina in the bedroom with a kiss and a request not to burn the motor out before she got home again. Regina had promised she'd put it away, but the blush she'd worn when Emma had gotten home that night made Emma wonder.

 

They hadn't gotten to the other items yet, but she thought they might very soon. She counted on it.

 

In the meantime, life went on. Spring turned to summer, and the beauty of Storybrooke and its immediate surroundings seemed much more vivid than it had the prior year. Of course she’d missed some of it, being trapped in the Enchanted Forest back then, and this year the town was lush and green and cool and filled with sunshine. Flowers overflowed in Regina’s backyard, and her gardening skill was as strong now as it had ever been before.  The snapdragons and daffodils came first, their stalks springing up almost overnight, and blossoming each morning that Emma gazed out the window. The roses came next, along with pansies and violets and lilies. Emma would come home from work to find cut flowers from the garden dotting side tables or countertops. Sometimes it amazed her just how comfortable, hell, how normal, their lives had become.

 

Even Henry commented on it. Out of school on break, he mentioned to Emma that he liked his mom being around more during the day, instead of at the Mayor’s office. Regina had taken on small classes at the stables four times a week, and often Henry went with her, whether to ride or just spend time with the animals. When he didn’t go along, he went to a day camp with the other kids in town. He no longer had the desire to live in Fairytale Land, and Emma was glad of that. She sure as hell didn’t want to go back there either.

 

He did have one concern though, and it took a while for Emma to draw it out of him. As they tossed a ball around one evening while Regina made dinner, Emma cornered him. After much pestering, he confessed, “It’s Mom.” He looked guilty immediately, glancing toward the house. “She’s just... I don’t know. She likes me--”

 

“She loves you, kid. She loved you right away.”

 

“I know, and she’s awesome. She’s super cool, and she’s not as tough on me as she used to be...” He paused, and Emma knew there was more.

 

Emma caught the ball when Henry threw it, and this time she held onto it. She approached, glancing back at the bay window to make sure they didn’t have an audience. An arm around his shoulders, she leaned closer. “Go ahead. You can tell me.”

 

His lips pressed together hard until he finally let it out. “I kind of miss my old mom.”

 

Emma was startled. Henry and Regina had seemed to grow so close since the accident, and they did far more together than they ever had before. They played games, they cooked, they rode horses, they read to each other. Before then, as far as Emma knew, they’d rarely, if ever, done anything similar. “How come?” she asked.

 

“She just... knew how to do everything. I mean, I hated her for a while, before the curse, and even after, but then, I got used to it. And she -- I don’t know how to say it. She was just... my mom. And now, she’s not.” His eyes screwed up, and Emma could tell he already regretted his words. “I still like her. I love her. But she doesn’t love me the same as she did.”

 

A hollow opened up in Emma’s stomach, and there was nothing she could do to fill it, nor could she do anything to solve Henry’s dilemma. She could try to deny it, but it would be a lie. Things were different for all of them now; Emma just got the better end of the deal. “I’m so sorry, Henry.”

 

"I know," Henry said. "It's not your fault. It's not even her fault. But--" he sniffed, and Emma saw tears in his eyes. Her nose burned as they gathered in hers as well. "I still wish she could remember."

 

Emma nodded, pressing her lips to the top of his head. He smelled so familiar to her now, like family. "Me too, kid."

 

"She's a lot easier to deal with though," he said with a snicker. "She never minds if I have extra maple syrup on my pancakes. And she always makes time for me, way more than before the curse broke." He wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Maybe she'll seem more like my mom someday. Do you think so?" he asked, with so much hope Emma couldn't bear to disappoint him.

 

"I absolutely do. Just give her time."

 

His faint smile faded slowly. Damn that stupid built-in lie detector. "Yeah," he said, but his heart wasn't in it. "Me too."

 

Regina called them to dinner not long after that, and they went in as the sun’s pale light began to change. Days were so long now that summer was here, and Emma usually loved it. Tonight though, just tonight, it was bittersweet to sit down to dinner across from a woman whom she loved so fiercely, even at the same time mourning the absent parts of her. All the sharpness, and the sarcasm, and the strangely charming irritability was gone. Instead, this was someone who was cheerful, kind, nervous and giving. Emma wanted to kick herself for aching for old Regina for even a second. Sometimes there were flashes of darkness that reminded Emma of those past miseries, but Regina was just so happy to be out of her old life and into her new that it was easier for her to embrace the pleasure of simply living. The years between marrying Leopold and casting the curse had done unbelievable damage; the Regina who made tonight’s dinner seemed like a new soul. And when she glanced up at Emma while scooping up a forkful of mashed potatoes, she waggled her eyebrows.

 

Emma smiled then, and some of the bitter in her heart dissolved in the face of such happiness. "Good mash," Emma said. "You've mastered them."

 

"The secret is not to over mash," Regina instructed. "Granny taught me."

 

"They're good," Henry said. "Mom," he added, not quite as an afterthought.

 

"Thank you, dearest," she said, and reached over to tug his ear.

 

He giggled, and Emma heard the little boy in his voice who would soon be gone.

 

But he wasn’t gone yet. They still had a few years left.

 

In bed, for the first time in a while, they didn’t make love. Regina sensed that something was off, but she didn’t push. She did, however, ask very softly, “Is it something I did?”

 

Emma meant to deny there was anything wrong. But what came out was, “No. Not at all.”

 

Strong arms squeezed Emma around the waist a little more tightly. “Still, I’m sorry.”

 

Emma just swallowed and held on, stroking Regina’s hair in the darkness.

 

---

 

Both Emma and Henry moved on quickly from their brief evening of melancholy; Henry was back to his old self the next morning, and Emma felt pretty good too. The two of them made pancakes together while the coffee brewed. They had decided on a few chocolate chips in the batter and banana slices on top, so when Regina came downstairs dressed for the stables, she was as excited as usual about breakfast. Henry hugged her to say good morning, and when he turned back around, his expression bore no trace of unhappiness.

 

Emma liked the look of that. She liked it a lot.

 

She joined them that morning at the stables; the weather was ideal, and Emma was getting more comfortable in the saddle. When they arrived Henry went off for his class, and Regina asked Emma if she wanted to go with her on Granger.

 

“Sure,” Emma said, and helped her groom him. After they brushed him once, Regina insisted on doing it again with a different brush. “Does it always take this long? He’s just going to get dirty again.”

 

“Yes, Emma, it always takes this long,” Regina replied dryly. “Have you learned nothing since you’ve been coming here?”

 

Emma bit the inside of her cheek, trying not to smile. “Guess not.”

 

Regina tossed over a comb. “Here, work on the knots in his tail and mane.”

 

Rolling her eyes, Emma complied.

 

It took another fifteen minutes to groom Daisy, the horse Emma liked to ride. She was smaller than Granger but just as quick, and had a sweeter nature than any of the other horses. She’d been very patient as Emma learned, and she got along with Granger well enough, unlike many of the other animals. He was still standoffish with most everyone who wasn’t Regina.

 

Once they mounted, they took off into the fields and over the hills, and the grass smelled fresh on the wind. Regina rode bareback, smiling as sweetly as she ever had, her hair flying behind her in its braid. Emma thought perhaps this was how Regina had looked as a young girl, before... everything. The last of her sadness fled; this was a gift Emma could not imagine undoing. She would embrace her life, and their lives together. When Emma looked forward now, she saw Regina and Henry and the house on Mifflin Street, and Snow and Ruby and David and Leroy and Nova and everyone in the town too. It seemed that nothing at all could change that. Not the memory of Cora, or Leopold, or even Rumpelstiltskin if he returned; not George or Hook or any bad guy who happened to appear, ever.

 

This was a life worth fighting for.

 

Regina turned to her, her smile sparkling with joy. “It’s good, isn’t it?” she asked.

 

Emma nodded and said into the breeze, “Yes, it’s good!”

 

They kept going until they came to the edge of the forest, where they’d first kissed and started a rainstorm. Regina conjured up water for the horses to drink as they rested. The sun was strong, so Emma reclined in the lush, thick grass and crossed her ankles. Inhaling deeply, she sighed in contentment.

 

“Are you hungry?” Regina asked. Emma looked over to see her holding out a perfectly shiny red apple.

 

The strange familiarity of the gesture and all its layers of meaning startled Emma, who stared for a moment.

 

“Emma?”

 

Emma just took the apple, admiring its even color. She took a bite, and the sweetness burst across her tongue as the juice flowed down her chin. Regina’s gaze took on a slightly different hue as Emma licked her lips. “Thanks,” she said, and Regina blinked once before leaning down for a kiss.

 

Emma dragged her into her arms, rolling her over in the grass. “You’re mine, got it?” Emma said, feeling possessive. Regina had never once looked at another person (aside from Ruby on occasion--everyone checked out Ruby), but Emma wanted to make her claim here and now.

 

“Yes,” Regina replied, and although it was said lightly, Emma knew there was more weight to the word. “I am,” she said, lifting her head for another kiss that went on and on.

 

They didn’t get their clothes all the way off, but they didn’t need to, either. It felt right to make love here, and as Regina slipped Emma’s jeans lower and her hand found its mark, Emma closed her eyes and reveled in it. Lips and tongue traveled along her neck as Emma breathed her in.

 

It was easy to come with Regina leaning over her, so beautiful in the sunlight. As her cries faded to silence, Regina whispered, “You’re mine, too.”

 

Emma nodded slowly. “Yeah.” She unbuttoned Regina’s trousers and in minutes she had her calling out, shivering with anticipation. And when she came, Emma couldn’t wait to make it happen again. Maybe that night they’d finally get to try a few new toys from what they’d started calling the Pleasure Chest.

 

After a while they ate their apples, lying on their backs and drowsing. Granger came over to graze nearby, and Regina took a breath. “Henry must be done with his class by now.”

 

Emma nodded. “Just a few more minutes, okay?”

 

They stayed a little longer before Emma relented and mounted her horse. She thought she might be a little sunburnt across her nose; maybe Regina could help out with that. They’d been neglecting her magical training in favor of more hedonistic pursuits, but Emma shrugged. They rarely needed magic these days, since the town was running smoothly, and aside from the still-missing George, there weren’t any bad guys roaming around. Emma felt the power rumbling around within her body, but she’d learned to keep it inside, mostly. While rainstorms were pleasurable in the forest, they were rather inconvenient in the bedroom.

 

Henry was brushing one of the horses when they got back. “What took you guys so long? I’m hungry.” Emma spared only the tiniest glance at Regina, who looked as innocent as ever. “Can we go to Granny’s?”

 

Their eyes met in unspoken communication, and Emma said, “Sure, kid.” There were other, more suggestive things on the tip of her tongue, about a long hard rideand working up an appetite, but she bit her tongue.

 

When they led the horses to Jerome, who promised to untack and groom them, Regina said, “I know what you were thinking. You are a very bad girl.”

 

“Who, me?” She smirked. “I promise to be a very bad girl again. Later.”

 

She appreciated the blush that put a flash of rosiness into Regina’s cheeks.

 

Regina drove them back to town and parked near the diner. Nova waved as they passed by on the sidewalk, and while Leroy didn’t smile, he didn’t frown either. Regina was cheerful as she said hello and stopped to greet them. Once inside, they took their usual booth, but Regina first went to the kitchen, where Emma saw her welcomed into a hug from Granny. Emma tilted her head as she watched; they chatted like old friends, like people who cared about each other. Granny acted out stirring something with a wooden spoon, and Regina was nodding, until their hands clasped briefly and Regina returned.

 

Emma asked, “What was that about?” as Regina slid next to her in the booth.

 

“Oh, nothing special. Just some cooking ideas,” she replied.

 

Henry frowned at the menu as he thought about what he was going to order, even though Emma was sure it was going to be a hamburger. When Ruby approached their table, the bell over the door rang out, and Snow and David came in. Emma smiled, and to her surprise, Regina said, “Ask them over.”

 

Emma turned to her. “Seriously?”

 

She bobbed her head once and turned away nonchalantly, investigating the napkin holder.

 

As her parents went to a table across the diner, Emma called out to them, “Hey, guys. Want to join us?”

 

They were both as surprised as Emma was, but hesitantly they approached. “We don’t want to interrupt your lunch--”

 

“It’s not an interruption,” Regina said, only a little shortly. She put on a smile that was not a hundred percent authentic, but the simple fact that she did it said to Emma that they were making progress.

 

Snow and David sat down next to Henry, who glowed as his whole family gathered around the table. And while Emma felt uncomfortable as Regina and Snow tried not to make eye contact, she was happy too. She nudged Regina’s thigh under the table and got a slight grin in reply.

 

Henry led the conversation, talking about everything he’d been up to at camp and home. While Regina was quiet during their lunch, she also didn’t sneer, nor did she bite Snow’s head off. The best word for the entire exchange was “civil,” which was more than anything Emma could have expected. David even offered to pay for their meal, and though Emma tried to talk him out of it, the look on his face made her realize he was as grateful as she was at the detente.

 

Ruby gave Regina a wink as they were on their way out, and the waitress laughed when Emma rolled her eyes. “Hands off, Rubes.”

 

“Mm-hmm,” Ruby replied, smacking Emma on the ass once everyone else had gone outside. “Sorry. Well, I’m not really sorry, but you know how it is,” she drawled. “I need to get laid.”

 

“You sure as hell do,” Emma said. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

 

The warm, humid day had the air smelling of salt, and Emma saw Archie approaching with Pongo, who strained against his leash. He went straight to Regina, who got down on one knee. She put on that kooky “I’m talking to a dog” voice that she got whenever she saw him, and Snow’s brow crinkled as she watched the two friends greet each other.

 

“How are you, baby? I’m coming to see you tomorrow morning, aren’t I?” Regina said, rubbing the top of the dog’s head as he yowled softly in pleasure. “Hello, Doctor Hopper.”

 

“Afternoon, Regina. You’re looking well.”

 

“I’m feeling well, thank you. And you?”

 

“Great. Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He turned to Emma and the rest of them. “Hi everyone. What’s going on?”

 

David put an arm around Snow. “We just had lunch.” At Archie’s look of disbelief, he reiterated, “Together.”

 

“Well that is wonderful.” He nodded as if to himself. “Yes, just wonderful.”

 

David looked at Snow briefly before saying, “I was thinking... should we go for a walk down to the docks? It’s such a nice day, and --”

 

“Yeah,” said Emma, touching her nose since it was starting to get sore. “I might need some sunblock though.”

 

“Oh! I have some,” Snow said, and she rifled through a much-too-large purse until she found a small bottle and handed it over. “I never leave home without it.”

 

Regina opened her mouth but closed it again, swallowing whatever insult was there. She gave Pongo a last scratch behind the ears and stood. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Doctor. Enjoy your day.”

 

“I will, you too, Regina. See you all soon,” he said, and continued on his way.

 

They walked together, the five of them, and Emma decided it was time to let everyone know the deal, just in case they didn’t. With great deliberation, she slid her hand into Regina’s as they strolled, and she enjoyed the way her lover’s lips curved up in a half smile. Henry appeared at her other side and took her free hand, swinging it back and forth.

 

As they came to the pier, Emma looked out onto the sea and decided she’d done herself a disservice over the years. She had so few dreams for herself, but if she’d thought to come up with

some, this would have been one of them. Love, and family, all around her.

 

“Hey, who’s that?” Henry asked.

 

Emma glanced around at the same time as David, and they both saw the two black cars creeping near the pier, blocking the road back into town. Something about the tinted windows gave Emma pause, and her internal warning signal started screaming. “Henry, everybody, let’s head over--”

 

The first car’s back window rolled down, and although Emma couldn’t see exactly who was there, her instincts told her: it was George, come to call after all these months and weeks. A door opened in the second car and a man got out. There was a gun in his hand. Neither she nor her father were on duty or armed--she looked to David and said, “Run!”

 

“No, no, come on, now, we just want to talk,” the man said, and Regina lashed out with her magic, throwing the man back against the car. He smashed into it and in moments a different man got out on the other side, ducking down near the hood for cover. Regina held out a hand and Emma saw a shield form around them.

 

“There’s nowhere for us to go,” Regina said, breathless.

 

“Teleport us out of here then,” Snow cried as David stood in front of her.

 

“I can’t... I’m not strong enough to get all of us out of here, only myself and maybe one other. That’s not going to happen.”

 

“You can hold them off, Regina,” Emma said. “Take my hand.” Emma grabbed her left hand and the shield’s power magnified. “Are you sure we shouldn’t try transporting?”

 

“And accidentally end up with us reappearing somewhere unsafe? I won’t take the chance.”

 

David came to Regina’s side, his shoulders square and broad. “How long can you hold them off?”

 

“I don’t know. They don’t have magic, and with Emma here I’m stronger, but I can’t go on the offensive if I’m shielding us. We’ll have to just wait it out--”

 

The second man fired a shot that slammed into the shield and disappeared. Regina flinched. “Bullets are not like an arrows--I’ve more experience with arrows.” Another shot went off and she jumped again.

 

The second car revved its engine and inched forward. “Why is he doing this?” Snow said, her voice a whisper. “We’ve negotiated before, and it’s always worked out--”

 

“In our favor,” David insisted. “I guess he’s over waiting.”

 

The car shot forward; Regina blanched. “I don’t know, Emma, I don’t know if I can keep a car away from us.”

 

“Blow the tires, set the damned thing on fire. Drop the shield for just a second.”

 

Out of nowhere a third car came barreling toward them--it was an ambush. George must have been waiting to get them all together, instead of just going for Snow and David. “Now, Regina. We might not have another chance before--”

 

In that instant Regina did as Emma asked, dropping her defenses to blow the tires on the third car, then the second. But Emma turned, and out of the corner of her eye saw the man Regina had taken out initially raise his arm, and with it, the gun in his hand. “Gun! Everybody down!” she shouted, and it was like she couldn’t hear anymore from the fear as she grabbed at Regina, but that didn’t work, because Regina was grabbing her too, using herself as a shield. “I said get down!” Emma cried, but then the gun went off, and Regina’s face went white, and there was screaming around her, screaming and silence at the same time, and Henry was crying and Snow yelled Emma’s name, but Emma couldn’t hear anything at all because Regina was falling in her arms, falling to the ground while blood spattered the pavement.

 

Emma looked up and everything was red, red rage, because Regina had been shot, yes, hadn’t she? She was blinking still, alive, but hurt so badly, and it was that man’s fault. Using whatever magic she had access to, she yanked the gun out of his hand, because now she could do it without even thinking, and in a second, she had him in the air, shaking him like a rag doll, till she tossed him in an arc into the ocean. Then she threw fire--not just a little spark of it like she used to light a candle--but a long line of it toward the car where she was sure George was hiding, because he was a coward who let other men do his dirty work, and the car got only a few feet before it was engulfed in flames. Emma hit the last car too, just in case, because if there was anyone else with a gun she didn’t have time to deal with them. Because Regina was dying before her eyes, bleeding out as though her body could no longer contain all the blood within it.

 

“Regina,” she whispered, “We’ll get you to the hospital. David, help me.” David went to her side and helped roll Regina, only to gasp.

 

“Oh my god,” he said, and looked up at Emma with the most hopeless expression she’d ever seen. “Emma,” he began, “I don’t think--”

 

“Mom, no!” Henry cried, before telling Emma, “You’ve got to save her, Emma! It has to be you! Can’t you heal her?”

 

But she couldn’t, could she? She could barely do anything with her magic without Regina’s help, Regina, who lay in her arms, the light in her eyes dimming even now as Emma gazed down at her. She could lose this, lose everything now, and Regina knew it too,  because she was opening her mouth to say goodbye, Emma was sure. “No,” Emma said, “I won’t let you go,” and she gathered Regina close and shut her eyes, calling on everything inside her to save the woman she loved, the woman who had saved her too, every single day. “Stay with me,” she said, pouring it out in a flood, not really understanding what she was doing but believingit would work, because the alternative was not an option. Like Regina had saved Rocinante all those years ago, she would do the same now. She had to. She heaved it out of herself, and something happened as Regina jerked in her embrace; there was a white light everywhere, and the body beneath hers arched as if in pain, or ecstasy. “Please stay,” she begged, trying to exhale the magic from her very soul, and then the light was so bright it blinded her, and still she tried, and tried, and tried, until the light went out, and everything was quiet again.

 

It was utterly silent, except for a mourning dove that cried out somewhere above them. Emma didn’t breathe, ready to explode as her heart broke within her body. A thousand heartbeats later, or perhaps only one, Regina opened her eyes, and the light was back. Emma sobbed, and realized there were tears rolling down her cheeks, blood on her hands. “You-” Emma tried to say, but her mouth was dry and slow to work. “Are you--”

 

“Emma,” Regina said tiredly, but clearly. “You healed me.”

 

“Mom,” Henry said, falling to his knees by their side. “Are you okay?”

 

Regina began to sit up, and Emma tried to help, but she was weak and sick, and the smell of melting rubber made her want to throw up. “Henry, darling, yes--I,” Regina reached around to touch her own back, and nodded. “I am. And...” When she looked at Henry, her face was so much the same, but there was something in it, something more than just familiar. “I remember.”

 

Emma felt all the energy leak out of her, and she slumped to her side. Voices called her name but she was exhausted beyond comprehension. In the distance she heard more shouting, maybe Leroy’s voice alongside her father’s, but she had no idea what they were saying. Whether they’d captured George or his lackeys or not. Emma didn’t really care; all she knew was that Regina had almost died, but she was alive now, and she remembered.

 

Her eyes rolled in their sockets, and the sun was the last thing she saw before she passed out.

 

---

 

When she came to, Emma heard birdsong again, but this time there were two doves calling and answering one another. Someone was stroking her hair; surely it was Regina holding her. But when she turned her head and opened her eyes, she saw her mother’s face, tear-streaked and smiling. “Hello,” she said. “You’re awake.”

 

“Regina,” Emma sighed. “Where is she?”

 

Snow’s smile faded. “Over there, with Henry,” she said, pointing. Emma lifted her head a few inches and saw Henry and Regina a few yards away, embracing on a bench. She couldn’t see very clearly, nor could she get up.

 

“Is she okay?”

 

Snow nodded, but she was frowning. “She remembers, Emma.”

 

“I got that.” She struggled to at least sit up, and Snow helped. “How much does she--”

 

“I don’t know, honey. I really don’t. But she’s alive. That’s something, isn’t it?”

 

Emma lost her breath. “Why would she remember now? What the fuck happened?”

 

“The best I can determine is that when you healed her, you healed all of her. Including whatever injury she had during the accident.”

 

“Oh,” Emma said, almost unable to understand everything that had happened in the past ten minutes. She was dizzy and still nauseous, and all she wanted was to be near Regina and Henry. “And George?”

 

“David has him. Leroy and Nova came as soon as they heard the gunfire. Everyone is headed to the station. They pulled the other man from the water too. He’s alive.” Snow’s cool hand stroked the back of her neck, and it was comforting. It wasn’t what she wanted, but she’d take it.

 

“Emma!” Henry called when he noticed her moving around. “Mom, come on,” he said, pulling her from the bench to Emma’s side. He knelt and embraced her, and Emma suddenly felt tears spring to her eyes. “You saved her,” he said. “I knew you could.”

 

“I got pretty lucky, kid. We both did. Are you all right?”

 

He nodded against her. “Are you?”

 

She couldn’t get up, and she sure as hell couldn’t stand or walk, but she was alive. “Yeah, I’m great.” Funny thing was, she actually meant it. She looked over at Regina, who was gazing somewhere around her collarbone, deliberately avoiding her eyes. “Hey,” she said, her voice soft and affectionate. “Regina.”

 

Dark eyes looked down then, and Regina’s brow furrowed. “Emma.”

 

“Are you really okay?”

 

She bobbed her head, her lips trembling faintly. Her eyes were wet, and a tear fell from one eye in a stream. “I’m fine.” She sniffled, and when she finally, finally looked up, the electricity was astonishing. “You saved my life.”

 

Emma smiled. “And you saved mine.”

 

“Mine too,” Snow said. “Twice.”

 

Regina frowned at that. “What do you mean?”

 

“Once all those months ago, when you were in the accident. And once today, when you took three bullets to save my daughter, because I don’t know if I could survive losing her again.”

 

Regina was speechless at that, and Emma used what little energy she had left to hold up a hand in search of Regina’s. She jumped when their skin touched, and Emma inhaled at the contact. It felt good. “You look terrible,” Regina said. “Are you unwell?”

 

Emma shrugged her shoulders. “I think I’m out of juice.”

 

“Here,” Regina said, holding her hand and closing her eyes. In an instant Emma felt life sing in her veins again.

 

“Jesus,” Emma breathed, trying not to look like she was turned on by the jolt of magical energy flowing through her body, coming directly from the woman she loved so deeply. It felt familiar, reminiscent of that first time they’d kissed, except it was darker, richer now.

 

Regina pulled her hand away, and when Emma opened her eyes, she saw the flush to her skin, and she knew the feeling was mutual.

 

“Did that help?” Snow asked, and that was enough of a cold splash of water to shock Emma back into coherence.

 

“Yeah, a lot,” she said, able to sit up on her own. “Regina--I”

 

Regina cut her off. “I have to go, I--I need to, to--”

 

“Please stay,” Emma said, and Regina inhaled sharply. It brought Emma back--was it only a few minutes ago?--when she’d said that very thing as Regina lay dying in her arms. She took a breath so deep it made her light-headed. “I--I need you.”

 

Regina’s expression was sad, filled with regret. “You don’t need me. I’m sorry.” She looked at Henry and stroked his face. The smoke was startling as it began to form, and Emma reached out, her fingers brushing through it as Regina vanished.

 

Henry stared at the empty space in disbelief. “What the heck?” he exclaimed. “Why did she leave?”

 

Emma opened her mouth, but Snow was the one who spoke first. “She’s afraid.”

 

“Afraid of what?” Henry demanded to know.

 

Snow laughed lightly. “Of love. Real love. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you two are going to have to convince her to be brave. I never could.”

 

“But she already loves me and Emma. Now she just remembers more of her past. And besides, they liked each other before,” Henry reasoned, turning to Emma. “Didn’t you?”

 

“Yeah, we did. We liked each other a lot.” Emma sighed and got up off the ground. “And I really, really want to go get her and talk some sense into her, not to mention the fact that she ought to stop by the hospital to get checked out. But I should go to the station and check on everything.” She pulled her cell from her pocket; she had no messages or texts. Glancing back toward town, she saw Ruby running full tilt towards her. She’d changed out of her crazy heels and short skirt into what she usually wore at the station, and she looked frantic.

 

“Oh my gosh, Em, are you okay? David--I--we saw him with George, and someone said Regina was shot, but that you healed her! Is that true?”

 

Emma nodded, her head feeling heavy with dread.

 

“Amazing!”

 

“I just... gave it my best shot, and it worked.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Almost too well,” she added.

 

“Henry, come here,” Ruby said, pulling him into a hug, and Snow too. “What do you mean, too well?”

 

Emma was about to begin, when she realize she was probably going to be telling this story to a lot of people, over and over. “Come with me to the station and I’ll explain. Snow, can you and Henry hang out elsewhere,  while I deal with this stuff?”

 

“But Emma, we need to go see Mom,” Henry said. “She’s really upset.”

 

“I have no doubt that she is, kid, and I promise, we’re both going home to her today. Just not yet. I need to make sure George is behind bars that are strong enough to keep him secure, get it? Then we’ll find her together. Okay?”

 

He didn’t look satisfied, but he nodded anyway. “Don’t be long.”

 

“That’s the last thing you need to worry about.” She patted his shoulder. “I promise. I’ll come get you.”

 

With a final nod to her mother, she and Ruby set out in a jog back toward the station. “Where’s Regina?” Ruby asked.

 

Emma exhaled. “That is an excellent question.”

 

Chapter Text

---

 

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