“I have someone with me and I don't want you to freak out.” Emma's words tumble out of her, rushed, as she stands outside Mary Margaret's door. She peeks over Mary Margaret's shoulder to see Henry, sitting on the couch still engrossed in his comic books, just as she left him.
“Oh, Emma, you didn't bring David here, did you? You're just as bad as Henry,” Mary Margaret says, exasperated, face falling, and Emma can't help but smile a bit and think to herself, this woman is my mother. In all the excitement and impossibility of the last hour, she's forgotten to feel awkward about it.
“It's not David,” Emma says.
Henry looks up. “Hi, Emma,” he says distractedly, and then turns back to his comic book. “Are we going home?”
“I just need to talk to Mary Margaret for a minute,” she says, and then to Mary Margaret, “Just come out in the hall with me for a second. And don't freak out.”
“Are you feeling all right?” she asks gently, reaching up to feel Emma's forehead, but Emma ducks away.
“I'm fine,” she insists, and tugs on Mary Margaret's arm to pull her out into the hallway.
As soon as she sets eyes on Regina, she gasps, hand flying to her mouth. “Oh my God!”
“I told you not to freak out,” Emma laments, as Mary Margaret steps backward and Regina just stands there, silently, looking smug.
Henry appears outside the doorway, then, interest finally piqued by the outburst, and freezes for only a second before launching himself at his mother with enough force that he almost knocks her down. “Mom!” He latches his arms around her middle as he says, voice muffled against her, “You came back.”
“I came back,” she says, arms wrapped tightly around him. “Oh, Henry, I missed you so much.” She holds him like she might never let go, closing her eyes, and Emma knows she's done the right thing.
Mary Margaret shakes her head, backing away further still. “What's happening? Emma, what's going on?”
Emma shrugs, grinning. “I brought her back.”
“I don't understand. Brought her back from where? We went to her funeral, Emma.”
Emma looks at Regina. They had agreed in the car on the way over, they would tell Henry the truth. He deserved the truth, had suffered enough in knowing it all along. “If we tell him you lied, he'll just hate you again,” Emma had said, and Regina had clutched the box containing her heart with the hand not trapped by Emma's, and given in.
For everyone else, though, they will lie.
“I'm sorry to disappoint you, Miss Blanchard, but I'm afraid I continue to be very much alive.”
Mary Margaret is pale to begin with, but Emma thinks she looks at least a shade whiter. “Emma, please tell me I'm not going crazy right now.”
Emma remembers that feeling well, and gives Mary Margaret a sympathetic smile. “You're not.”
“I had to disappear for my own safety, but the threat has passed,” Regina says, as if Mary Margaret wouldn't need or didn't deserve any more details than that. As if it were commonplace to disappear for several months while everyone believed her to be dead.
Maybe they aren't going about this the right way, Emma thinks, as Henry pulls away from his mother.
Regina continues. “You'll hear all about it tomorrow. But for now it's getting late, and I need to take my son home.”
“You lied?” Henry asks, sounding hurt and betrayed, his face turning red.
“We'll talk about it in the car,” Emma says.
“No! I'm not getting in a car with her!” he says, and turns around as if to run back into Mary Margaret's apartment, but Emma catches him by the sleeve of his shirt.
“Henry. I said, we will talk about it in the car.” Her voice is as stern as it's ever been with him, and the shock of that alone makes him stop and turn around to face them again.
“Fine,” he says, yanking his arm out of Emma's grip. “I have to get my stuff.”
As he marches back inside to retrieve his jacket and backpack, Emma turns back to Mary Margaret. “Everything's fine, I promise. We'll talk tomorrow.”
Mary Margaret doesn't look convinced, and Emma's not surprised. But all she can do is look at her apologetically as her sullen son emerges from the apartment again.
“Let's go, Henry,” Regina says, and tries to place her hand on his shoulder. He shrugs it away, roughly, and stomps down the hall ahead of them.
“First thing tomorrow!” Mary Margaret calls behind them as they leave. “We're talking sun up, you're giving me a better explanation, Emma!”
She sounds like a frustrated mother, and Emma almost laughs. “First thing,” she promises. “You can hold me to it.”
They are all silent as they get into Emma's car. Henry sits in the back seat on the driver's side, as far as he can get from Regina in the small vehicle. As soon as the doors shut, he says quietly, “I'm not going home with her.”
Emma waits, but Regina doesn't answer. “Henry, your mom didn't lie to you.”
“She pretended to be dead! I take it back, about forgiving her,” he says, venom in his voice. “Did you know the whole time?”
“I wasn't pretending,” Regina says finally. “I did die, Henry.”
Emma glances over at Regina, whose face betrays nothing. She is a living queen again, and rebuilding her walls. “I died. Emma brought me back.”
“Emma?” Henry says, and she doesn't know if he's asking for confirmation, or reacting to Regina calling her by her first name.
“She's telling you the truth, kid.” She looks at him in the rear view mirror, and it's like he wants to ask something, but doesn't know if he should. “What is it?”
“Is it... because you're a witch? You could come back because you're a witch? And Emma knows about the curse now?”
Regina nods once. “Yes,” she says, and Emma is struck with the odd urge to reach over and hold her hand again.
In different circumstances, Emma's sure that her belief in the curse would have Henry chattering excitedly, renewing their efforts to break it, and to bring Snow White and her Prince Charming back together. Tonight, he only mulls it over quietly. “Did you do a spell?”
“She made a wish,” Regina replies, and Emma hopes they can get by without mentioning the heart resting in its box under Regina's seat.
“Why would you...” he trails off, trying to decide on a nicer way to ask, but failing. “Why would you want to?” It's a fair question. They were sworn enemies, the last Henry knew.
Regina sits rigidly beside her and Emma almost, almost reaches for her. “Your mom and I have called a truce.”
“A tentative cease fire,” Regina corrects, though Emma remembers Regina's tongue in her mouth and thinks it's definitely more than that.
Henry's next question is hesitant. “Who am I going to live with?”
“Both of us,” Emma answers before Regina has a chance to respond.
Judging by Henry's surprised “Oh,” it's a better answer than he was expecting. “At the same time?”
Regina laughs at that. “Certainly not,” she says, and Emma's not sure why it feels vaguely like an insult.
“What about tonight?” Henry asks.
Regina opens her mouth to answer, but Emma beats her to it again. “I thought she could stay at our house tonight.”
“That's not necessary,” Regina says, but Emma interrupts her.
“Your house is empty. I have an extra bedroom.”
“Fine,” she relents, looking agitated. “But just for tonight.”
When they get home and into the house, Henry hugs his mother again. “I'm sorry,” he says in a small voice.
She just holds him, quiet for a moment, and then says, “You'd better get to bed, Henry.”
Regina holds a town meeting the next morning, which allows Emma to sidestep answering to Mary Margaret herself. Regina spins a tale so light on details and plausibility that Emma has to wonder if she hasn't put everyone under her thrall to keep them from questioning it.
“I regret that I had to deceive you all,” she says, looking confidently out at her subjects, “but it was necessary for my safety, and the safety of my son, Henry, that I disappear until my attacker could be brought to justice. The fire at City Hall was an attempt on my life, and I couldn't risk the chance that the next attempt would be made at my home. I had to protect Henry.”
They eat it up, despite the fact that Regina gives no information about her mystery attacker, or how exactly he had been brought to justice. Emma, waiting backstage with Henry, looks down at her son with her eyebrows raised. “Your mom is kind of a piece of work, isn't she?”
He shrugs. “You say that like it's news.”
She grins at him before turning her attention back to Regina.
“I would like to thank my good friend, Sidney Glass, for looking after Storybrooke in my absence. I'm sure he's eager to get back to his true calling at the newspaper, just as I'm eager to once again take my place as the mayor of this fine city.”
Emma can only see the back of Regina's head, but it's not hard to imagine the satisfied look on her face.
Kathryn Nolan shows up at Emma's house afterwards, with David tagging along awkwardly. Kathryn fawns over Regina, teary-eyed and clingy, which Emma thinks is odd until she realizes that Regina is really Kathryn's only friend. Henry has explained that her name used to be Abigail, and that she wasn't meant to be married to Emma's father. That she wasn't a bad person, that she'd been happy, once.
She brings food, and though Emma's pretty sure that's what people do when someone dies, and not the opposite, she's not going to complain. She still doesn't know how to cook. Kathryn and Regina disappear into the kitchen and don't emerge, and when Henry goes upstairs to his bedroom, Emma is left alone with David.
She's had time to get used to the idea that Mary Margaret is her mother. It's still incredibly strange, but seeing Mary Margaret almost every day had necessitated that Emma deal with it. But she doesn't see a lot of David, and Mary Margaret doesn't like to talk about him, so being alone in her living room with her dad is just a bit more than Emma's prepared to handle.
“Sorry to just show up like this,” he says, with that earnest smile on his face, and it's not hard to see why her mother had named him Charming.
“It's fine,” she assures him, wondering why her son has chosen this of all moments not to be nosy. She could really use a buffer.
She sits down on the couch and he follows, saying, “Kathryn's just really glad to have Regina back.”
“So is Henry,” Emma says. And so is she, though she's still trying to figure out what that means.
“I'm a little surprised she's staying here. I didn't think you two got along.” He's not exactly prying, but it makes her nervous anyway.
“We've sort of... reached an understanding. And it's just for a couple of days. You know. Until she gets back on her feet, and everything.”
“I didn't know what to do for Kathryn, when she... when we thought Regina was dead.” He looks guilty, and Emma wishes she could be more like Mary Margaret, who always seems to know what to say.
“I'm sure you helped her just by being there,” she tries. “Sometimes that's all you can do.”
He shakes his head. “But I should know what to do, right? I mean, she's my wife. And I can remember loving her, but...” he looks toward the kitchen, where the sounds of voices, muffled by distance, are interrupted by laughter. “I don't, anymore.”
Emma opens her mouth and then closes it, as she definitely doesn't know what to say to that.
“I'm sorry,” David apologizes immediately. “I don't know why I told you that.”
“No, it's fine,” she promises, but she's not cut out to be a marriage counselor, especially not her father's.
“I don't mean to put you in an awkward position. I know you're close with Mary Margaret.”
“It's really okay,” she says, and decides that she means it. “We all need someone to talk to, right? I can be friends with both of you.”
David smiles at her again, his face alight at the idea of having a friend, and God, Regina had made them all so lonely.
“You'll figure out the right thing to do,” Emma tells him, as Regina and Kathryn finally reappear from the kitchen. “We both will.”
Regina settles back into her job easily enough, and thankfully Sidney hadn't made too much of a mess of things while she was away. The little weasel hadn't wanted to give Regina her job back, but it was easy enough to get him to back down.
“I won the election,” he'd said, looking confident. “You'll just have to wait for the next one.”
But she needed only to remind him that, as they'd been working together for years, she knew each and every one of the less than respectable undercover assignments he'd been on.
“Assignments for you, Regina!” he shouted, sounding as if he might even go so far as to stomp his foot.
“Yes, but who would believe you over me?” She crossed her arms, feeling deliciously superior. “Right now, the people love me. They've never loved me more. I sacrificed everything to protect my son, and what kind of person would you be to deny me my job upon my return?”
She could ruin him easily, and he knew it. It was enough to send him shuffling back to the newspaper with a scowl on his face and his tail between his legs.
One night turns into two, and two into five, and a week later, Regina is still staying at Emma's. They haven't talked about it—not even Henry has dared to upset this new, fragile balance by acknowledging it—but the mayor's house stands empty at the center of town, and little by little, Regina's belongings begin to trickle into Emma's house. They eat dinner together in the evenings, and it feels oddly like family in a way that makes Regina uneasy. Still, though, she doesn't leave. Her son wants to be with Emma, and she wants to be with her son.
She passes Emma in the hallway after Henry's gone to bed, and Emma stops her, a hand on her arm. “Hey. How are you doing?”
“I'm fine,” Regina answers, brow creased in confusion, and Emma watches her patiently.
“You know, just because you're the Evil Queen doesn't mean you have to pretend not to be affected by the whole... dying and coming back to life thing.”
“I'm not unaffected. I just don't feel the need to discuss it at length.”
Emma looks irritated, the way she does when she thinks Regina's being unreasonable. “I'm not saying we have to sit down and have a three hour talk about it. I'm just trying to-”
“To what? Reach out to me? Please. Let's not pretend we're the type to stay up late having heart to hearts with each other.” There's a little too much derision in her voice, maybe, and from the way Emma frowns it seems like her feelings might actually be hurt. It's jarring for Regina to realize that she feels bad about it. It's hard for her to reconcile the way she hated Emma before she died, and the way she had come to depend on her afterwards, to keep her connected to what she'd left behind. It's hard for her to understand the way she feels now, the way she doesn't mind having Emma around to exchange sarcastic comments with over coffee in the mornings.
“You know,” Emma says, “for someone whose life I restored by wishing for it, sometimes you don't say the nicest things to me.”
If Regina were a different person, she might tell Emma she's sorry. Instead, she arches a perfect eyebrow and says, “If things are to remain civil between us, you'd do well to be less sensitive.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Shut up, Regina,” she says, and in another prime example of her consistently inappropriate behavior, she kisses her.
It's not until she's unbuttoned Emma's jeans, and been pulled hurriedly into Emma's bedroom, that Regina realizes just how grateful she is to have her body back. “See?” she says, between straddling Emma on the bed and deftly unhooking her bra. “Much better than talking.”
Regina had returned her heart to the vault the day after Emma brought her back and intended not to speak another word about it, so it's an unwelcome surprise when Emma shows up at her office, holding the golden box in her hands and looking impatient. “I thought you were gonna put this back in.”
“How did you get that?” Regina demands as she stands up.
“You left the keys in your room.” Emma shrugs, without even the decency to look apologetic.
Regina sighs. “Don't you have a city to serve and protect, Emma?”
“Don't try to change the subject.”
Emma places the box down on the desk, and Regina eyes it warily. “I don't believe it's any of your business.”
“You said you'd...” She gestures between the box and the vicinity of Regina's chest. “Put it back.”
“I said no such thing.”
Emma stands in front of her, blinking. “Well, it was implied.”
“I actually have a town to run, so if you'll excuse me-”
“You're scared, aren't you?” Emma interrupts her.
Regina laughs and takes her seat again. “Don't be ridiculous, dear. There's very little in this world or the last that can scare me.”
“Are you afraid you'll die again?” Emma asks. She pushes, just like Henry, and sometimes her son and his birth mother are so much alike that Regina can't stand it. (Sometimes, she's just grateful that Henry's not like her.)
“No,” she answers, and she isn't, not really. After you've done something once, it doesn't seem so frightening anymore.
“If you did,” Emma says, “We'd figure something out. We'd bring you back again. There's got to be a way, right? I mean, you're a witch.”
Regina shakes her head. There are ways, yes, but she would come back wrong. She would come back as something else. And she's already had more than her share of chances. “I'm not afraid of dying,” she says.
“Then what, Regina? This isn't right! I saw what being without his heart did to Graham, and I see what it's doing to you.”
“I'll thank you not to presume you can decide what's right or wrong for me, Miss Swan,” Regina snaps, incensed at the mention of Graham and the suggestion that they are anything alike.
“So it's Miss Swan again when you're mad at me, huh?” Emma doesn't back down, and there's no question that someone so irritating could only have come from the union of Snow White and her pathetic excuse for a prince. “You can't go on like this, you know.”
“I've gone on like this for longer than you've been alive, and it's very unbecoming for you to assume you know what's best for me.”
“I know what's best for Henry,” Emma says, and it's not a threat, not truly, but even so, Regina's fear of losing her son churns angrily within her. “I didn't used to, but I've had some time to figure things out. He deserves more from you. He deserves a whole person.”
“Get out of my office,” Regina says, but it comes out sounding more tired than angry.
Emma throws Regina's keys on her desk before turning away. “Fine,” she says. “But don't think we're done talking about this.”
Emma picks Henry up from school in the afternoon, wondering what she'll tell him if his mom doesn't show up at home that evening. She does, though, with a look that dares Emma to say anything about it. Their disagreement that morning was far from the worst fight they'd ever had, but suddenly Emma wants to be anywhere but in the same house as Regina, and she ducks out quickly, ruffling Henry's hair and telling him she'll be home before he goes to bed.
She lets herself in at Mary Margaret's, because she still has a key and she knows Mary Margaret won't mind.
“Hey,” she calls out as she shuts the door and heads for the couch, where she drops ungracefully onto the cushions and lies down, frowning.
“Emma!” Mary Margaret says brightly, coming out of the kitchen. “I was just about to make dinner, are you hu... Oh,” she stops as she sees Emma's expression. “What's wrong?”
“Regina,” Emma grumbles. “What else?”
Mary Margaret leans over to pat Emma's knee. “Make room,” she says, and Emma complies, swinging her legs over the edge of the couch and sitting up. She slumps backwards, as if she might like the cushions to swallow her, as Mary Margaret sits down beside her. “She's still staying at your house?”
“Yeah. But that's not what's wrong.”
Mary Margaret makes a face, unconvinced. “It's not?”
“I thought she was going to be different this time, but she's just the same old Regina,” Emma says, leaning her head against the back of the couch.
“Hm,” is all Mary Margaret says.
Emma lifts her head to look at her friend. “Hm? That's all you've got?”
“Well, no,” Mary Margaret says carefully. “Does this have anything to do with where she went?”
“What? No,” Emma says, but she answers a bit too quickly.
“Because I've been thinking about it, you know, and I just... I'm not sure that I buy it.”
“You're not sure that you buy it?” Emma repeats.
“Her story, I mean. It's just that we both know she's not the most emotionally demonstrative mother, but I do believe that she loves Henry. It doesn't seem right that she'd let him believe she was dead.”
Emma leans back again, looking at the ceiling. “I miss living here, you know.”
Mary Margaret smiles at her indulgently. “You know, changing the subject makes it seem a little bit like you're hiding something.”
“I mean it. I know I wasn't here for very long, but... it was nice.”
“Emma,” Mary Margaret says softly, and a bit sadly. “I miss you being here, too.”
Emma sighs. “Do you remember when I first came here, you said you trusted me, even though we didn't know each other yet? And how you felt like we'd met before?”
“Yes. Emma, what does that have to do with--”
“Did you ever wonder why?”
Mary Margaret looks at her curiously. “No. I just thought it was one of those things. I didn't think too much about it.”
Emma tugs at the sleeves of her jacket. “Did you ever read that book you gave Henry?”
“I... well I'm sure I must have, sometime. I hadn't touched it in years, it had been lying around the apartment for as long as I can remember.”
“Did he ever tell you that Snow White had a daughter?” She didn't mean to do this, not tonight, but isn't this what's supposed to happen? Isn't she supposed to break the curse, isn't her mother supposed to remember who she is?
“Snow White... as in me, Snow White?”
“No. He didn't. Emma, I don't understand what--”
“I have to get something from my car,” Emma says, standing. “I'll be right back.”
She returns quickly, clutching an envelope in her hand that, having read its contents upon receiving it a few days ago, she'd shoved promptly in her glove compartment and completely ignored.
“What's that?” Mary Margaret asks.
Emma holds it out to her and bites her lip nervously. “It's a DNA test. I stole some hair out of your hairbrush when I was here a few weeks ago, and I sent it out with some of mine.”
Mary Margaret unfolds the contents of the envelope and scans the front page, silently, finally looking up at Emma when she's done. “I don't... what does this mean?”
Emma feels shaky, suddenly, and scared, and thinks that it must have been so hard for Henry, carrying this truth on his own. “Twenty-eight years ago, you had a baby. And to protect her—protect me—from Regina's curse, you sent me away. You sent me... through a magic wardrobe, and I landed on the side of a road and got put in foster care.”
“The book,” Mary Margaret says, looking at Emma like she might just be crazy. “The stories are real?”
“More of a personal history than a fairy tale,” Emma says with a tentative smile. “Henry was right, Regina is the Evil Queen. And she wasn't in hiding. She died. I brought her back to life.”
“Emma,” Mary Margaret says, shaking her head. “This is impossible.”
Emma nods at the papers in Mary Margaret's hand. “According to those test results, there's a 99.99% chance that it's not.”
Mary Margaret studies Emma's face. “You do have my chin,” she says, and Emma laughs, but Mary Margaret shakes her head again. “I don't remember. I don't remember you.”
“Well,” Emma shrugs. “We're kind of even. I was a baby, so I don't remember you either.”
Mary Margaret laughs then, but quickly covers her mouth with one hand and looks like she might cry. “No. I should remember you. If you're my daughter, I should know.”
“I think you did, in a way. You bailed me out of jail and gave me a place to live, didn't you? That's pretty maternal, isn't it?” Emma's smile is hopeful, and for a moment she feels like a little girl again, so desperate for a family to love her. Mary Margaret reaches for her then, pulls her into her arms, and Emma can feel it, really feel it, for the first time. She is part of a family.
“And Regina... cursed us?” Mary Margaret asks finally. She pulls away from Emma and swipes at her damp eyes.
Emma answers reluctantly. “Yep.”
“But you're letting her live in your house?” Mary Margaret asks, as Emma presses her lips together in a straight line.
“It's kind of a long story.”
“Well then,” Mary Margaret says, looking again at the test results in her hand. “I think as your... as your mother, I deserve to hear it.”
Emma feels some of the tension in her body start to uncoil. “Okay,” she agrees. “How about I tell you while you make us dinner?”
Sometimes, though she's loathe to bring up the subject, Regina wants to tell Emma that Graham had grossly exaggerated the situation. You can feel, without a heart. It's different, though. Her emotions are far away, like a memory, or like they belong to someone else. The things that hurt don't threaten to tear her apart, anymore, and it had seemed a fair trade, that kind of peace in exchange for the ability to feel true happiness. Nothing had made her happy in so long that it was almost as if she hadn't given anything up at all.
Things break through in bits and pieces; fear, desire, hate, but she'd always been able to control them. The only person who's managed to make her feel anything the way she did before is her son. With Henry, she's felt joy and pain just as strong as any she'd experienced in her lifetime. He changed her, as children do. She thinks of her father and knows, now, why he didn't fight her. She would do anything for Henry, give him anything. She would give her life a hundred times.
Since she's come back, things between the two of them have been more like they used to be, when he was very young. But it's not exactly the same. He's older now, and he knows the truth, but he doesn't tense his body when she touches him anymore. He smiles at her, sometimes. He seems to want her around.
And when Emma leaves the house, looking cagey and irritated, Henry's tone is only barely accusatory when he asks, “Did you guys have a fight today?”
“A disagreement,” Regina corrects him. “To be expected, I suppose. We were overdue.”
“Disagreement just means fight,” he says. “What happened?”
She almost tells him it's nothing to concern himself with, but instead, she picks Henry's backpack up off the floor, holds it out for him to put away, and says, “I think she was under the impression that I was going to change.”
“Oh,” he answers, and looks uncomfortable for a moment. “But didn't you?” He tosses his backpack onto a chair.
“Not enough, it would seem,” Regina says.
Henry looks resigned, disappointed, as he asks his next question. “Are you going back to our old house?”
“I think that's for the best.”
“Oh. Am I going with you?” he asks, and the hesitant way he says it, the way he clearly doesn't want to leave his home with Emma, makes the empty space inside Regina's chest widen and ache.
“I thought you could stay with me half the time, and here with Emma the other half. You don't have to come with me right now. But I'd like you to be with me, Henry.”
“I wanna be with you too, Mom,” he says quietly.
It's that, the simple confirmation that her son does want her, even if he wants Emma too, that makes her wonder if maybe Emma had been right. He does deserve better from her.
“Will you stay tonight, though?” Henry asks. “Just one more night here. Please?”
“All right,” Regina agrees. “One more night.”
Regina leaves Emma's house the next day, and Emma doesn't do anything to stop her. It's all perfectly civil between them; no one yells or brings up missing hearts or closed adoptions as they work out a schedule for co-parenting their son.
They trade Henry off week to week, and Emma quickly learns to hate her weeks alone. She had been on her own for a long time before coming to Storybrooke, and it's only her second turn to be without Henry, but her house is too still and quiet and she ends up at Mary Margaret's most nights, sleeping in the extra room that was hers and waking up to the sounds of her mother making breakfast.
“It's better than it could be, though, right?” Mary Margaret tells her soothingly. “At least you get him half the time.”
They are the same with each other, mostly, though Mary Margaret hugs her all the time now at the strangest moments, holds her tight and runs her fingers through the curls of Emma's hair, and Emma spends more time than ever wondering what it would have been like to grow up with Mary Margaret as her mother. Someone who loves her even now, with no memories of a pregnancy and a baby, of an enchanted vessel that took her away.
They talk about David now, too. “He's not happy,” Emma says. “He doesn't love Kathryn. I think he's just trying to do the right thing without really knowing what the right thing is.”
“But he doesn't remember me,” Mary Margaret says, shaking her head. They sit on the couch together, a bowl of popcorn between them, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the TV. (Research, Emma had called it, holding up the DVD as she stood in Mary Margaret's doorway, and her mother had laughed, ushering her inside.)
“He doesn't remember Snow White,” Emma corrects her. “He knows you. He cares about you. Besides, you don't remember me, and that's worked out okay, hasn't it?”
“Oh, Emma,” she says gently. “It's worked out great.”
They watch the movie quietly for a few more minutes until the dwarves break into song about whistling while they work. Mary Margaret turns to Emma again. “You know, I've never actually seen this movie.”
“Really?” Emma answers, surprised, and then confesses, “I never liked it much.”
“I always thought she was kind of a wimp,” Emma admits.
Mary Margaret just frowns at her, eyes narrowed.
“I mean, no offense! In Henry's book it seems more like you were kind of a badass.”
“None taken,” Mary Margaret says primly, and Emma chuckles behind her hand.
“I wonder what Regina thinks of her portrayal,” Emma says, nodding at the screen.
Mary Margaret doesn't answer, just stares at the TV and twists her ring around her finger.
“She's different now,” Emma says. “She's not the same person she used to be.”
“None of us are. But she took away my husband, and my child. That's not really something you get over, even if you don't remember it.”
Emma sighs. “I don't know what to do.”
Mary Margaret moves the popcorn bowl to the coffee table and links her arm through Emma's, leaning against her. “I don't either. At least knowing the truth is a start.”
David shows up at Emma's house the next evening, and Emma wonders if he's picked up some kind of awkwardly supportive father sixth sense, as he explains that he thought she could use some company. “Kathryn told me about your, uh, your joint custody thing, and I know Henry's with Regina this week.”
She invites him in and they end up sitting on her back porch, drinking beer and looking at the stars, and he really is very sweet. He would have been a good father. They talk about Henry, how Emma needs him in a way she'd never expected to, and they talk about David waking up, how his limbs still feel awkward and how he remembers his life but still can't quite fit into it.
“It's like it's not really mine,” he says. “Like I'm remembering something that didn't really happen.”
Emma keeps her mouth shut about the curse this time. She'd spilled her guts to one parent, sure, but she's still just getting to know David.
“I keep trying to remember my childhood,” he tells her, “but huge chunks of it are just gone. I don't know if I can get them back.”
Emma takes a swig of her beer and looks at the sky. “I wish I could forget huge chunks of my childhood. Can't seem to get rid of them.”
“The grass is always greener, I guess,” he says, and it sounds like an apology.
“I guess. That or we're both just really fucked up.”
It's the first time she makes her father laugh. “That too,” he says, opening another bottle.
Regina can't quite explain to herself why she changes her mind. It's Henry, partly, that he sees her differently now and that she wants so badly to deserve him. And it's the way the thump of her heartbeat calls to her from across town in a way she'd never noticed before. And yes, if she's honest, part of it is Emma, how the infuriating spawn of her greatest enemy has made her think that change might not be the scariest thing.
She retrieves her heart and its box from their hiding place while Henry is at school and takes it home. Emma's voice on the other end of the phone is surprised when Regina asks her to come over, which she expected—the only times they'd spoken in the last few weeks were to say hello and goodbye quickly as they'd exchanged Henry at one house or the other.
“I think you'll find I have a town to serve and protect,” Emma says, sounding tired.
Regina doesn't have time to argue. “Just come,” she says, and hangs up.
Curiosity seems to get the better of Emma, as she shows up twenty minutes later. “Is this, like, a booty call?” she asks as Regina leads her up to her bedroom.
Regina casts an irritated glare in her direction. “Hardly.” She picks up the box from the table by her bed. “I know you said you didn't want to watch, but I didn't think you'd believe me unless I did it in front of you.”
Emma doesn't seem to know what to say, and Regina becomes impatient, waiting for a reaction that doesn't come. “Well?”
“Why now?” Emma asks, finally.
“Because now is when I've decided to do it,” Regina answers. “And this is for Henry, not you, so I would advise you not to fall under the assumption that you have any influence over my actions.”
“Of course,” Emma says, but she seems pleased, anyway.
Regina wishes that Emma's look of satisfaction didn't matter, but it does, just a little. She opens the lid of the golden box and Emma looks sick immediately, even standing several feet away where she can't see Regina's heart.
“Honestly, Emma. I thought you might have gotten over this childish aversion by now.”
“Sorry,” she says, grimacing. “It's just... kind of gross.”
Regina scowls. “Feel free to stand outside.”
“No, no, I'm fine,” Emma says. “Go ahead.”
Replacing a heart is a lot like removing it, just in reverse. Regina unbuttons her shirt and holds her heart in her hand, but pauses, afraid for a moment that this process is a type of magic unavailable to her in this world. Emma looks like she's holding her breath, and it won't do to have her pass out from lack of oxygen, so Regina braces herself, thrusting her hand inside her chest. It goes easily, just as it had in her last life.
She expects it to hurt. It had been very painful, the first time. But all she feels now is a great deal of pressure, like something very large is pressing down on her. Her eyes slip shut and she feels like she can't breathe for a moment, and her knees buckle, but suddenly Emma is there to catch her.
“Regina. Hey,” she says, and Regina opens her eyes and concentrates hard on standing up straight as her heart pounds against her chest, over-zealous after almost thirty years of separation. With every beat of its steady rhythm she feels a bit stronger.
Things are coming back to her, despair and anger and a weak, pulsing, vaguely remembered happiness, but before it becomes too much, Emma places her hand gently on Regina's chest, and it makes everything seem somehow bearable.
“You're okay,” Emma says, relieved. Her thumb strokes lightly over Regina's breastbone. “It didn't even leave a mark.”
It did, though, Regina thinks. Just not one they can see. “Thank you. For being here,” she says, and the words feel awkward coming out of her mouth, but Emma seems to believe the sentiment is genuine. She presses her lips briefly to Regina's and then rests her forehead against Regina's shoulder.
“This doesn't solve everything, you know,” Emma tells her.
“I know,” Regina says, but it hardly seems to matter. She's made it this far. She's strong, she's a survivor. She is not alone.