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you claw at your heart and yank it from your chest

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The door opens, a pajama-clad Emma Swan stares out at you warily, and you see a glimpse of Henry around the entryway hall.

 

And just like that, the hole in your heart is mended like it had never existed in the first place.

 

+

 

You wake up in the night with Henry’s name on your lips, more often than not, reaching for a child who is no longer yours in your sleep before reality sets in. And then you’re alone again.

 

Bits of Storybrooke have appeared in the Enchanted Forest with the advent of the renewed curse, and there are times you hate it, loathe the silence of the empty home you’d spent so many years in with a son who doesn’t know you anymore. It’s reminiscent of the loneliness of the year before, when you’d been at war with yourself and Henry had been only a visitor in your home.

 

But now everything has changed, and the wide berth the residents of Storybrooke had given you is gone. Snow is…Snow, and you aren’t sure which you prefer- the Snow who’d despised you after the curse, who’d written you off for good and avoided any contact with you; or this Snow, who’s decided to find your sacrifices in Storybrooke and Neverland as reason enough to embrace you as a friend once more.

 

After one too many friendly visits from the former stepdaughter who still takes too many liberties, you rather miss the former.

 

There had been a time when you’d dreamed of Daniel every night, when you’d awakened and searched for him with wild eyes and a rising dread even during slumber. Now you dream of joy and sorrow and a little brown-haired boy whom you’d learned at last to love properly.

 

Sometimes you dream of his other mother, flushed with cold and eyes swimming with tears, and lips that don’t know if they should smile or weep.

 

+

 

“Can I help you?” And Emma is shifting to block your line of sight to Henry before you realize you’ve been staring.

 

“I…” It’s a struggle to remember the words you’d decided on beforehand and to speak at all, now that you’re here and you’re so close, so impossibly close once more. The curse had only taken hold because you’d accepted that you would never see Henry again, that there had been not a chance in the universe that you would ever reunite. Because you’d found a way to take him from you forever.

 

And now he’s just feet away and even seeing Emma again is doing something to your long-bruised heart, expanding it and squeezing it at the same time and you’re afraid you might shatter right now in front of this woman who doesn’t know you, this woman who’d given you strength and goodness and faith and who remembers none of it.

 

“I’ve moved in next door,” you finally manage, the weight of the pie in your hands a reminder of your place here. “I thought I’d say hello and bring you some neighborly baked goods.”

 

“Oh!” Emma smiles at you, and now your heart is contracting again at the looseness of it, the easy smile with no reservation. This isn’t the Emma Swan you’d met on her twenty-eighth birthday, friendly but guarded, ready to run and remaining only when challenged. No, this is the Emma you’d gifted with twelve years of loving memories of motherhood and the little boy who had healed your own broken heart. She’s relaxed, carefree, and when she smiles there’s no heaviness behind it, no burden of saviorhood or magic to weight her. “Thanks. I’ve got a son with a sweet tooth who’s just become your best friend.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” you exhale, and you remember how to smile just in time. “I do hope you like apples.”

 

There’s a crease in Emma’s brow suddenly, an uncertain familiarity in her eyes that she shakes away in the next moment as she sticks out a hand. “Emma Swan.”

 

“Regina Mills.”

 

You shake the hand proffered and watch Emma shake her head again, her unfocused eyes taking an extra moment to clear. “Hey, why don’t you come on in and have some with us?”

 

+

 

They’d expected ogres and wild beasts threatening them when they’d returned home, and they’d found friends who’d evaded the curse. They hadn’t expected a witch who’d traversed worlds to set up house in your old castle and takes up the challenge of the returned kingdom with glee. She has magic, perhaps more magic than you, and she offers you a place in her castle.

 

You’re gratified to discover that the offer holds little temptation for you. Power has never been your vice- you aren’t your mother, you know now, and you have no desire to become her. You’ve done what you’ve done out of anger and vengeance and that ever-present craving for selfish love, and without those motivations, without anything left to you but a heart broken once more as it heals, you choose to use your magic only for good.

 

The people live in fear of this new villain and Snow has you putting up wards when possible against airborne bees and crows and monkeys, but you know you aren’t enough on your own. Not for this foe. Not if the people around you- people you still care little for, but are protective of all the same- want to be free again.

 

+

 

The curse can take vague ideas and transform them into a full-fledged life, and you hadn’t known what to expect from Emma’s and Henry’s home beyond the happiness you knew you’d laid the groundwork for.

 

You’d imagined sunshine for them, gleaming off of Emma’s golden hair and Henry’s dark eyes. A comfortable life, where they lack for nothing. Tasteful surroundings and good nutrition and a strong work ethic, because you can only indulge Emma so much without indulging yourself at least a little. Memories of Henry’s childhood with you, gifted to Emma without reservation- and there is no one else in the universe you can imagine granting those to, no one whom you’d trust more with Henry and your precious happiness.

 

And they have it, and there’s a lump in your throat when you sit down beside Henry at the table as Emma cuts out generous slices of pie for all three of them. They’ve taken what you’d given them and made something comfortable and warm for their family, and even as an observer, you can see that happiness isn’t something they’ve lacked in the past year.

 

And you’re about to take it away from them again, to break this curse and return them to the danger that had marked their lives until now.

 

“So are you from around here?” Emma asks conversationally, slipping into the seat opposite Henry and eyeing her pancakes and her plate of pie with indecision.

 

“I’ve spent most of my life in a little town in Maine. Storybrooke,” you offer, if only to watch the way both Emma and Henry’s eyes cloud over at the word. The curse isn’t airtight, you’d learned the hard way, and Henry and Emma have both been variables within it before. You’re counting on it again.

 

+

 

Sidney is in your mirror when you return, enchanted to be prisoner and unwelcome guest, and it occurs to you for the first time that there are some denizens of the Forest who may suffer more at home than they ever did under her curse. Archie, for one, who flutters in on one of the first days to find out how you’re doing and halfheartedly defends Blue’s decision to keep him as he is. “Talk to Tink,” you advise him, and if you’re imagining a fairy coup where you’ll happily back your old friend over the sanctimonious wretch who claims to be “good,” you don’t admit it.

 

Sidney is another story entirely, because you’re the one who enchanted him to begin with and you don’t particularly want him present anymore. You make him human again and send him on his way, and only then do you re-enchant the mirror and whisper forbidden words- weak words- into it. “Show me my family,” you whisper, and there they are, Henry and Emma walking down a city street together. Henry is chattering and Emma is rolling her eyes at his declarations, and you draw a single gasping breath before you fall to knees before the mirror.

 

+

 

You see Emma walking down the street toward your building the next day with bags of groceries and quicken your pace so that you make it to the elevator at the same time. “Miss Swan, isn’t it?”

 

“Regina!” You receive a warm smile- careless and freely offered and utterly unlike the Emma she knows- for your greeting, and you’re temporarily so dazzled by it that you can’t stop the smile that springs to your own face in response. “How are you settling in?”

 

You indulge in light chatter as the elevator rises to your floor and you take one of Emma’s bags automatically and walk with her to her apartment. Emma invites you in for coffee and you accept and smile on automatic and chat about your jobs (investment banker, you say, because it makes Emma’s eyes glaze over in ways that have nothing to do with the curse. “I thought you seemed like a Wall Street type,” is all she offers in response to that) and don’t talk about how very, very wrong this all is.

 

You can’t remember a single time when you and Emma had spoken like this, easy and empty and fleeting. It had always been angry or vicious or wracked with emotion, always been laden with fire and history and had left you furious or heartbroken or sometimes, hopeful for something more you can’t place. This…ease isn’t something you would have chosen from Emma, and you’re uncomfortable with it, with this developing friendship that holds none of the baggage of the past.

 

It’s only once you bid her goodbye and return to your spartan apartment for the night that you can concede that your emotions are borne more from terror than discomfort.

 

+

 

You forget to eat and forget to sleep (Who can sleep, when you can instead watch over your son as he curls into a bed that has never been his before and watch through tear-clouded eyes as Emma stretches out on his bed beside him, holding him like she’s lost him before though she couldn’t possibly remember it?) and revel in the agony that seeing your family brings instead. This is the price of the curse, the first selfless thing you think you’ve done since adulthood, and you’re satisfied for them- glad for them, even- as the pain of distance tears you apart.

 

They’re the two people in the universe who mean the most to you, and you’ve grown with one and been gifted with the other more recently and never noticed when hatred became tolerance became affection and desire to give. And now they’re happy and you’re alone.

 

You claw at your heart one day and yank it from your chest, staring at the glowing red light that leaks past the blackness that had once coated your existence, and wonder at the curious emptiness in your chest now. You feel too much and too acutely with your heart and you’re done, finished enduring this pain, and you hold your heart as far from you as you can, closer to the mirror and the vision of where your heart truly lies.

 

You hear the gasp too late and then Snow is standing before you, a hand pressed to her mouth, and there are tears running down her cheeks as she guides your hand back toward your chest.

 

You think you should have killed her for her presumption, but you don’t.

 

+

 

You get coffee with Emma in a shop around the corner and listen patiently (hungrily) as she talks about Henry. She writes off any of their recent conflicts as a herald to his teenage years and not to the fact that everything before this year has been an idyll borne of illusion, and you smile and agree and a secret, ugly part of you is glad that even now, Emma isn’t the perfect parent. (It’s overshadowed by uneasy thoughts of either of them ever being unhappy, because all you want for them is the happy endings you’d once tried to keep for yourself.)

 

Emma talks about Henry’s childhood, laughs through stories of parenting mishaps and childhood mischief and errors in judgment and it takes all you have to keep the smile on your face and to laugh with her.

 

You’d lived those same stories with Henry, and you remember the crippling insecurities that still flood you at those memories of times you’d failed him. Every mistake had been shameful, every time Henry had misbehaved had reflected poorly on your ability to love and guide him. Yet for Emma they’re simply anecdotes, well remembered years later.

 

You know that your caution had served Henry well much of the time and you can’t feel inferior to her in that, but you do wonder if he’d have been happier if you’d learned to laugh at your mistakes. You wonder if the three of you could have been a healthy family, if you’d each brought your individual strengths and supported each other’s weaknesses as Emma does now for your memories.

 

You don’t know why you’re thinking about that.

 

+

 

"I think...Emma wouldn't want me to give up on you," Snow says, and you laugh and laugh and laugh until there are tears streaming down your face and you aren’t laughing anymore. 

 

+

 

You know that you’re supposed to be trying to jog Emma’s memory or at least bring her home without them (Snow is adamant that Emma will find them regardless of what she remembers, and you sweetly threaten to take her voice like you had Ariel’s if she ever slaps that saying of hers onto Emma and your son again) and it’s how you persuade yourself that spending more time with Emma before you tell her the truth is necessary, because why would she believe the stranger next door?

 

You aren’t reluctant to complete your task. That’s absurd. You have no desire to stay here with a Henry who doesn’t remember you, with an Emma who looks at you like you’re friends instead of delightfully passionate mortal enemies. You aren’t attached to this peaceful existence they have here in New York.

 

You get coffee with your blonde neighbor and watch movies on her couch and when you recommend books to Emma, she reads every single one and disagrees with you completely on their messages. She lets you force her into stores she’d have never been caught dead in otherwise and invites you over for Christmas when she hears that your family is gone and drags you around the city, her gloved hand in yours as she leads the way.

 

“I don’t have many friends,” she says one day, shrugging it away like it doesn’t matter. “Henry’s classmates’ parents, I guess, but I wouldn’t hang out with them in my free time. I’m not really great at holding on to people.”

 

She regards you with eyes that are warm and a little wet, and you remember staggering onto the shores of Neverland and listening to her exhort you all to work together. (You want to be friends? you’d said disbelievingly, and her rejection had hurt in ways it had no business hurting.) “Well, then, it’s fortunate we’re just neighbors,” you respond, and you keep your voice light enough that her eyes don’t cloud over with offense.

 

“Sure is,” she agrees, and she squeezes your hand tighter in hers.

 

+

 

You don’t look in the mirror anymore.

 

Snow comes over nearly every day with another crisis for you to solve, another brief inconvenience that only your magic could amend. You know it’s out of pity rather than need, out of some mismanaged residual feelings of affection for you, and it aggravates you that Snow has once again appointed herself your protector. You don’t require her friendship and you certainly don’t desire it, and if she thinks you’ve hit rock bottom just because she found you pulling your heart out of your chest one time then she’s sorely mistaken.

 

“Please leave,” you tell her each time, but she’s nothing if not persistent and utterly unafraid. You might have privately admired it on her daughter, but it’s unbearable on Snow White herself.

 

To your horror, a month is all it takes before you begin to expect her presence, before you’re accustomed enough to her presence that feel her absence when she doesn’t come by. You find yourself lonely and aimless when you aren’t interacting with the rest of the kingdom, when there’s no Snow or anyone else to shrink back when you’re feeling sadistic and stare at you with grateful puzzlement when you’re feeling helpful. She’s grown on you. It’s a nightmare.

 

You never feel the urge to strike her, not when she’s soft and bends or yields at your rage. It’s too easy, too unsatisfying, and you tell her so if only to watch her flinch at the threat-that-isn’t. Instead she says, “Emma once broke my toaster because she was so furious with you,” with a fondness you wish you didn’t understand.

 

“Emma once punched me in the face,” you retort, and Snow ducks to hide her grin.

 

“Only once?”

 

You really wish you didn’t smile at that, too.

 

+

 

Emma’s chasing a bail jumper somewhere upstate this weekend, and Henry winds up in your guest bedroom for the night. You can’t tuck him in or kiss him goodnight without raising some serious questions, but you can make him his favorite lasagna and check on his homework and concede pseudo-reluctantly to play video games with him. It’s simultaneously your happiest night in a year and the closest you’ve gotten to despair since that night you’d taken your heart.

 

“What’s all this stuff?” Henry wants to know when he surveys the room he’ll be sleeping in.

 

You glance at the potions and ingredients and spellbooks artfully piled in one corner, at the perfect angle for him to see the titles and wonder when he gets to sleep at last. You’ve tested it out and rearranged them three times that day. “Just some herbal remedies,” you tell him. “A silly little hobby of mine I’ve sorely neglected of late.”

 

“Cool.” He drags his fingers across the smooth glass of the closest failed potion that he can’t possibly know was meant for him. “Mom’s been complaining about back pain for the past few days. Can you make something for that?”

 

You can produce that even in the unpredictable magic of this world, and you craft it while Henry sits cross-legged on his bed and listens to your explanations with interest. It feels oddly familiar, almost intimate, to be making magic for Emma with Henry.

 

After, you bid him goodnight and glance back only once to see him pick up the book lying on the night table and murmur the title to himself. “Once Upon a Time.”

 

+

 

Tink is your only other regular visitor, aside from Snow. You had gone to Kathryn-slash-Abigail’s castle once to rid her and her husband of some flying monkeys menacing their home and she had assessed you with cool eyes that might have invited conversation, and as much as you wonder if that friendship could be salvaged even now, you’re far too ashamed to make any first move there.

 

But Tink is idealistic and a dreamer still- much like Snow White without the heavy history weighing you both down (much like you yourself had been, before destiny had hardened you and made you bitter, and while you’d tried to do the same to Tink, you’re quietly glad that you hadn’t succeeded completely)- and she still looks at you as her closest friend and you kind of do, too.

 

“I found him!” she announces one day when she charges in, and you say, “Who?” even though Snow is sitting on the couch opposite you and you should certainly know better than to involve her in any of Tink’s schemes.

 

“The man with the lion tattoo!” Tink tells you both, her wings fluttering with excitement. “Your soulmate!”

 

You almost laugh, but then you remember the two hopeless romantics in the room with you and you excuse yourself before they make any plans.

 

+

 

“Henry’s been fascinated by that book you loaned him,” Emma informs you over the kitchen counter.

 

You miss a spot and dice your carrot unevenly. “Oh?”

 

Emma shakes her head. “It’s the strangest thing. He’s always been a reader but I don’t remember him ever being much for fairytales, and now all he talks about is Snow White and the Evil Queen and this apparent feud…” Her voice trails off. “It’s not exactly like the Brothers Grimm, is it?”

 

“It’s… an alternate interpretation, I think.”

 

“There are a few pages torn out at the end. And someone wrote a story into it.” Emma ladles out some soup to taste, frowns and passes it to you. You tip it into your mouth. It needs more dill. “We checked online to see if we could find another copy so Henry can find out how it ends, but no one’s got it on eBay or Amazon.”  

 

You slide the carrots from the cutting board into the soup. “It’s an old family storybook. I have no idea where it came from.” Which is true, technically, because Rumpelstiltskin had never confirmed that he’d slipped it to Snow during the curse. It might have been a construct of the curse itself, and survived in your house after Pan’s countercurse only by coincidence.

 

It might endure only as long as Henry still needs to believe.

 

+

 

A routine pass by Robin Hood and his Merry Men ends in disaster when a swarm of malicious ravens attack their camp and the Witch herself arrives behind them, smug and haughty in one of your old dresses. There are enemies on all sides and you’re clutching Robin’s little boy with one hand as you cast defensive spells with the other, and all you can manage is a bubble of magic keeping the Witch away from the innocents behind you.

 

“Really, Regina, this is just…pathetic,” she drawls, her eyes sweeping over you where you’re crouched on the ground, the boy still clinging to your back. He reminds you of a tiny Henry, so young and serious-eyed and needy, and you’re afraid to try anything more while he’s so close to you. “You were famously skilled, known even to my land, and now you’re just a pale shadow of the sorceress you once were. Goodness!” she spits out the word, jeering, and then a pulse of energy hits you square in the chest.

 

You’re rushed to the hospital and you don’t let go of the boy for an instant, not until Frankenstein is prying him from your grip and Robin Hood himself is murmuring, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” to you.

 

You see him wrap the arm with the lion tattoo around his son and you look away.

 

+

 

“There’s so much history between the Evil Queen and Snow White in here, see?” Henry is curled up on your couch, putting together another poultice for his mother as he speaks. “And the story written in about Pinocchio talks about the curse and the baby that Snow White sent away to another world. To this world.”

 

“And how do you think it ends, Henry?” You mash clay into sap and knead it together with your knuckles. “The Evil Queen is defeated and the baby returned home?”

 

“Come on, Regina,” Henry scoffs. “They gave us the Evil Queen’s origin story in here. You don’t do that to a character you’re not supposed to care about.”

 

The clay is too thin and the sap is sticking to your fingers but you can’t stop, can’t even look up at Henry. “Oh?”

 

“Yeah.” Henry ponders for a moment. “I bet it’s like Darth Vader at the end. The Evil Queen realizes that she’s loved Snow White all along, and she sacrifices herself to rescue them from the curse. Then Snow finds her baby and they all live happily ever after.”

 

It’s a grim story Henry’s written for you, one that isn’t as inaccurate as it might have been once, but you dive onto the one impossibility in the story instead of arguing about the rest. “The Queen doesn’t love Snow White,” you protest. “The book makes that very clear.”

 

Henry raises an eyebrow in studied disbelief. He’s gotten that habit from you, and Emma complains about it every time you’re all together. (“It’s like looking at a Regina clone! I don’t need both of you mocking me with your eyebrows!” she insists, and you both cock your heads at her in unison until she throws up her arms and surrenders.) “I don’t think so.”

 

“I do,” you say firmly, because Snow is irritating and useless and cares far too much about her nemesis, but that doesn’t mean you have to contemplate the possibility that it’s mutual.

 

He snatches the clay from you and begins folding it against a bandage. “Then how do you think it ends?”

 

You stare at the book, lying open on the couch to a page you don’t recognize. “Perhaps the Evil Queen does learn to love. But it’s the baby’s baby…it’s the baby she falls in love with.” Simplifying the story, skipping a generation lest you give away a little too much, and you feel discomfited by your new version. “Perhaps she learns in time to give him that happy ending before her own selfish one.”

 

When you look up, Henry’s squinting at you, staring as though he’s seen something unfathomable on your face. “Her,” he corrects you after a long pause. “The baby is a girl.”

 

“Her, then,” you murmur.

 

+

 

You choose to heal at home rather than under the ministrations of a man who specializes in dead people, and Robin Hood comes to visit you twice to thank you for your sacrifice and doesn’t seem to notice how uncomfortable he makes you.

 

“You’ve made a friend,” Tink says, and she’s made a friend, too, or at least a second eager matchmaker in Snow. “I think he’d like to know you better.”

 

“I have other concerns,” you snap at them both, wincing at the burns on your side that still sting when you move. “Such as the witch still terrorizing your kingdom, Snow.”

 

Snow has the decency to look guilty before she takes up the thread of conversation. “You deserve a chance to find some happiness, Regina. With Robin Hood or anyone else.” She lays a cool hand on your shoulder. “You’ve earned it.”

 

“I don’t want it.” It’d be just a facsimile of the world where you’d found joy before, the tiny world of you and Henry that had been your entire existence for ten years. You can’t live in a world of dull cream and grey when you’ve experienced a realm of vibrant watercolor. “I can’t replace one life with another.” You don’t mean it as a criticism of Snow (or perhaps you do, because you’ve seen her dress style change ever so slightly, to let in more space at the waist for child). “Roland will never be Henry, and Robin will never be Emma.”

 

You don’t catch what you’ve said until later, when you flush and shove it from your mind for good, but Tink and Snow do immediately. They exchange weighted glances and Snow says softly, “Of course not,” and they don’t bring up the subject again.

 

+

 

You’d thought that this mission would take only a month at most, enough to either break the curse or persuade Emma that magic is real, but now it’s been three months and you’re still reluctant to shatter the peace of the apartment where your son and his mother live in harmony with you. You’ve laid the groundwork and Henry has seized it, just as you’d predicted, but you can’t bring yourself to do any more, to be written off for your outlandish claims or to take away the happy ending you’d granted them.

 

You’re a coward, too enchanted with this paradise to take it away from them or to leave it yourself, even when your kingdom still needs you. The wards you and Tink had set up will hold for only so long, and you can’t leave the few people you do care about defenseless against the Wicked Witch. You need to bring Emma home.

 

But you wait, and you wait, and you keep waiting until the morning you’re quizzing Henry for a history test and Emma opens the door for Hook.

 

+

 

You aren’t the first one to bring up Emma’s name at one of Snow’s impromptu council meetings, but you must have been the first one to think of her. You can’t do magic anymore without thinking of Emma, of that immense potential and the woman who’d wielded it more than once to save your life. You don’t stop wondering about what she could have become, pure and untainted by the darkness that had urged your own magic on.

 

You think it might have been beautiful.

 

It’s Tink who says it, and it’s with a defiant glare at Blue as though they’ve argued about this before. (There may be that revolution soon, you think, and you daresay you’re looking forward to it.) “Regina might not be able to defeat the Wicked Witch on her own, but there is someone who could help.”

 

“It’s impossible,” Blue objects. “The Savior has fulfilled her duties in the other realm, and she can’t return here. She can’t even remember us.”

 

“There are ways for her to remember. And several magic beans survived last harvest.” The Witch sends her monkeys to find and destroy them periodically, but you know a few have been preserved in secret. You haven’t dared ask about them. You aren’t confident that you can resist that temptation.

 

This temptation is too much for you as well, and you rise brusquely and stalk to the balcony before you can hear any more.

 

+

 

He kisses her, and you think you might have beaten him for it if Emma hadn’t done it herself. Both you and Henry are standing behind her as she forcibly tosses Hook from the apartment- Henry bemused, you furious- and she’s about to slam the door when he sees you and gasps out, “Regina!”

 

Emma stops mid-slam and you say, quirking an eyebrow and still very angry, “I have no idea who he is.”

 

“Good.” She shuts the door on his stunned face. “I thought he might’ve been an ex-husband you’d been keeping from us.”

 

“No, my ex-husband’s dead,” you correct her, sighing as you know what you have to do. “But I do know this particular useless pirate.”

 

“Pirate,” Emma repeats, and Henry’s looking from you to the door with an odd expression on his face as he does.

 

But Emma opens the door again and Hook is still standing there, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck as he waits. “My apologies,” he says as soon as he sees Emma again. “I thought that might…” He frowns. “Regina, they’d thought you were dead by now when you didn’t return. Snow wept for you.”

 

“Who does?” Henry demands, his eyes gleaming with suspicions you’ve planted long ago.

 

Hook doesn’t disappoint him, though Emma takes a step back at his response and nearly falls into you before you lay a steadying hand against her waist. “Your parents, Emma.”

 

+

 

You stare into the distance and wonder who Snow will select to go find Emma and break her curse. True Love’s Kiss is the only way you know will work, but Emma’s True Love is either Henry or no one at all. You wonder if you could kiss Henry in the same way as Emma had and restore his memories. You wonder if you’re too broken to play savior.

 

+

 

“This is ridiculous!” Emma is pacing up and down the kitchen, sweeping her hands out in abrupt gesticulations to send utensils hurtling to the ground. You catch her hand before she hits the knife block, and she swings around to face you, your fingers still wrapped around her wrist. “Snow White? Captain Hook? The Wicked Witch of the West? You’re telling me that this is real? That’s bullshit!” She glares at you. “You were my friend! My… And now you’re some kind of crackpot fairytale cultist who claims that my memories are a lie? What the hell, Regina?”

 

Hook has had the wisdom- or perhaps only a healthy fear of your rage- to allow you to take care of the explanations, and you’ve avoided mentions of details that might have sent Emma running before you could stop her. You don’t dare tell her the truth about your identity or Henry’s parentage, not yet. Maybe not ever, if her memories don’t return, because you can’t do to her what she’d done to you three years ago. “I know it seems absurd-“

 

“Damn right it does! What kind of fucking-”

 

“Henry’s right here,” you remind her, and he rolls his eyes at you but doesn’t budge from his spot beside Hook at the table. They’re both watching you and Emma like spectators at a prizefight eyes moving from you to her as you speak. “Maybe you need some time to take this in. When you’re ready…I can show you.” Hook has his ship, and you have a bean secreted away in your apartment. And you’ve waited too long. There’s no time to get her accustomed to the idea, not without throwing her headfirst into the Enchanted Forest.

 

“Regina.” She stares at you, her eyes burning with betrayed indecisiveness. “Get the hell out of my apartment.”

 

+

 

Snow finds you after the meeting, when it’s already getting dark. “You shouldn’t be out this late,” you say, guiding her into your house before the Witch’s minions see her.

 

“It has to be you, Regina.” She’s breathing harder than she should be, and you pour her a glass of water and hunt down some crackers that haven’t been touched in nearly a year. “Baelfire offered, Ruby and Belle both want to make a trip of it…but we all know that it has to be you who finds her.”

 

“Why not you?” you croak, because you’d taken your heart from your chest cavity the last time you’d seen Henry and Emma and you can’t bear the thought of doing it again. “You’re her mother and her best friend. If anyone could convince her that this world exists, it’s you.”

 

Snow casts her eyes to the window then, a hand creeping over her stomach protectively, and you know that your suspicions have been founded, after all. “I can’t,” she says simply, turning dark eyes that beseech you to understand your way. “And you’re closer to Henry than anyone, and he’ll be easier to talk to than Emma. Anyway, I’m not nearly as persuasive as you are. You have a… quality.”

 

“Quality?” you echo, and Snow smiles at you with all the earnest love of the child you’d once saved. It doesn’t make you seethe as it has in the past.

 

“She won’t be able to stay away from you. No one can.”

 

+

 

It doesn’t surprise you when a key turns in your lock an hour later and Henry slips inside. “Henry, does your mother know you’re here?”

 

He regards you for a long moment. “You’re the Evil Queen, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And my mom is the Savior.”

 

“Yes.”

 

He blinks very rapidly. “The baby…the one you thought the Evil Queen would love…that was me, wasn’t it?”

 

“It was.” Hook opens an eye from where he’s stretched out on the couch to watch you both with interest. You tap his boots in warning until he removes them from your sofa.

 

Henry takes shaky steps forward until he’s standing right in front of you, his arms wrapped tightly around the book you’d long ago told him he could keep. “These fake memories…they didn’t just start three years ago.”

 

It’s too soon, it’s too much and it isn’t fair for Emma that Henry’s figured this all out, and yet your feet are rooted to the ground and you can’t look away as you whisper, “No, Henry. No, they didn’t.”

 

And now he’s crying and wrapped in your arms and you’re weeping too, weeping for yourself and for him and for Emma most of all as he babbles about dreams and suspicions and chants you were my mom, you were my mom, you were my mom with a certainty that you can’t deny.

 

You kiss the top of his head and you can feel magic pulsing, struggling to break free; and when it does, he clings to you tighter still.

 

+

 

“Your daughter is more capable of stubborn denial than anyone I’ve ever met when it comes to magic.” You can’t conceal the curve of your lips at the thought of Emma barging into Storybrooke and shaking the town to its foundation- literally, in at least one instance- and still denying her destiny throughout.

 

You must have loathed her then. You know you loathed her then, remember all the machinations and manipulations that had been designed to stave off the force of nature that was Emma Swan. But it’s been over two long years and now you recall Emma taking a chainsaw to your apple tree with fondness, recall Emma hauling you out of a burning building with gratitude, recall Emma’s burning defiance with affection and an emotion you can’t quite put a name to.

 

Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, though you remember frustration mingled with admiration of Emma even when you’d still been at odds. Emma had believed in you when no one else had, had saved your life more times than you care to consider, had understood you and had listened to your pain and had made enough magic with you to save your world. Emma had been the only one you’d been able to tolerate- the only one whose friendship you’d privately craved- for a long time before you’d ever parted ways.

 

You can’t hide the leap of joy and need that accompanies contemplating bringing her back, nor can you pretend that it’s only about seeing your son again. Not when Snow is assessing you with eyes that see an irritatingly far more than you wish to share. “There are ways to break the curse,” Snow murmurs. “I have faith in you.”

 

“There’s only one way we know of,” you correct her grouchily. “And even if I do somehow get through to Henry, we don’t know if True Love’s Kiss would work if it isn’t the savior’s kiss.” You scowl, not sure why it annoys you so much to consider it. “Send the pirate instead of me. He seems confident enough he can win Emma’s heart.”

 

Snow shakes her head. “You’re their best chance,” she says, and there are tears shining in her eyes that she doesn’t explain.

 

+

 

Hook’s ship is docked along the edge of Long Island, far from where curious boat owners might have seen it, and the cloaking job on it is shoddy at best. “Tink tried,” he says, waving at the Jolly Roger as it shimmers back into view. “But she’s been a tad busy with defense of the kingdom since you decided to take a vacation in this realm.”

 

“This is insane,” Emma decides, and you’re grateful for the distraction even if she still won’t look at you. Henry has been appropriately persuasive and stubborn and it’s the only reason why Emma’s here. Her false memories had been separate from Henry’s, more detailed and complete, and she shows no signs of changed memories. “How do I know you aren’t serial killers? Boat serial killers?”

 

“Really, Emma,” you say, exasperated. “Boat serial killers who choose New York as their hunting ground? Have you seen the maritime traffic on the East River?”

 

She almost smiles, and you almost feel your heart expand again.

 

Then you’re boarding the ship together and Henry is clutching onto you with one hand and Emma with the other as he chatters, exulting in his renewed memories. “The last time we were on here was when we were escaping Neverland!” he tells his other mother, and she quirks an eyebrow at him. “You and M- you and Regina saved me when Peter Pan stole my heart.”

 

Emma laughs, and it’s uncertain in the face of Henry’s conviction. “Sounds like Regina and I are pretty much the dream team in your shared delusion.”

 

“You are!” he beams at her. “You saved Storybrooke together with magic and you kissed me and broke the curse and when you aren’t fighting with each other, you’re awesome together.”

 

Emma’s cheeks are red, probably from the wind whipping through the Jolly Roger’s sails, and when she meets your eyes, she doesn’t look away. “Imagine that.”

 

+

 

When the Jolly Roger tilts forward into the whirlpool passage the bean has created to the Enchanted Forest, Emma screams and screams and you pull her against you as she hangs onto Henry, murmuring comforting nonsense into her ears as you pass into another world.

 

+

 

You emerge into an unfamiliar world, a forest that’s dark and sinister and framed by yellow fields and a castle looming in the realm. “Hook,” you growl. “What is this?”

 

Hook scratches at his beard. “Did I not mention that the easiest way to get to the Witch is through her portal?”

 

“It’s Oz!” Emma says, and she laughs the high-pitched laugh of someone close to hysterics before she leans back into you. “So…what? I’m Dorothy, you’re Glinda, and Henry’s Toto?”

 

“Hey!” Henry says, offended. “Maybe I’m Dorothy and you’re Glinda, Mom.”

 

Hook leers at Emma and you flick your fingers at him, sending a wave of magic at him that sends him tripping to the ground. You have missed magic. “And who am I in this magical journey?” he purrs, unfazed.

 

She raises her eyebrows. “You? Scarecrow,” she says dismissively.

 

You’re familiar enough with the lore to smirk appreciatively.

 

+

 

The Witch’s castle is unguarded on this side, her minions scarce and spread out across her kingdom. All her attentions are on the Enchanted Forest these days, and you’re able to sneak into her castle without being seen.

 

You take a moment to peruse her wardrobe, wrinkling your nose at the options. Black, black, black. No silk, no flattering designs, nothing that you’d ever put anywhere near your body. You almost can’t blame her for stealing your clothes.

 

“Regina?” Emma’s leaning against the wall, watching you warily. “What are you doing?”

 

You attempt to make it sound less petty and fail miserably. “She stole my castle and she wears my clothes. I was just… contemplating returning the favor.”

 

Emma’s eyes gleam with amusement. “Your castle. You have a castle? Of course you have a castle,” she answers herself. “You would be a queen, I don’t know how I haven’t guessed that one.”

 

“You’re a princess,” you point out.

 

“I’d be a terrible princess.”

 

“Maybe a tolerable knight.”

 

She waggles her eyebrows. “I’d love to be your knight.”

 

You don’t know what to say to that other than murmuring her name, and she sighs. “This is all real, huh? I’m just…I’m in freaking Oz right now with Captain Hook.” She hasn’t asked you who you were and you don’t volunteer the information. “It’s a lot to take in.”

 

“I didn’t know how to tell you these past few months,” you confess.

 

“Yeah, I don’t know how I’d tell me, either.” It’s the closest she’s gotten to forgiving you since she’d first sent you away when Hook arrived, and when she takes your hand and leads you back to where Hook and Henry have set down camp, it feels like wholehearted acceptance.

 

+

 

You teach her about magic for the rest of the evening, urge her to find her strongest emotions and channel them into power. There’s not enough anger in her anymore, not after thirteen years of happy memories with Henry, and you’re relieved to see that she can still find access to her magic through love and sheer determination.

 

She yelps the first time she accidentally sets the bed on fire instead of the candle you’ve set up for her, but she gets it the second time, and the third and the fourth and the fifth until she’s utterly spent.

 

She falls asleep on the bed that you’d chosen as your own and Henry’s already commandeered and passed out in as well, and you can feel yourself growing drowsier and drowsier until you curl up beside them and find easy slumber.

 

+

 

You wait three days until you’re certain that Emma’s ready and the Witch returns to her castle for the first time. You fight her and you lose again, even with Emma at your side, and she laughs and mocks you and calls you a failed Evil Queen until Emma squirts a bottle of water through a Poland Spring sports cap at her face.

 

It doesn’t quite melt her, but she’s blistered and injured and retreats first, back into the Enchanted Forest and your castle there.

 

“Still think I’m Glinda?” you ask dryly when you tend to Emma’s injuries. “The Evil Queen as the Good Witch?”

 

She rolls her eyes at you. “Please. If I’m Snow White’s daughter, you’re a seriously crappy Evil Queen.” A thought occurs to her and she shudders. “Wait, so does this mean I’m your…step-granddaughter? Because ew.”

 

You feel an equal shudder of revulsion at being related to Emma in any way but through Henry. “Your grandfather is long dead, and I’ve never considered myself Snow’s mother. So I would hope not.”

 

“Oh, good,” Emma says, and she leans in and kisses you.

 

+

 

You think she might run when she remembers you, that she might be horrified that you’ve become…friends and that she might feel violated by the way you’d come into her life without ever telling her who you are. You think she might stay away from you forever because that was fucking True Love’s Kiss and you’ve been in love with Emma Swan for longer than you’d ever admit and now she knows and she can’t possibly be okay with it, can’t shrug it off as some kind of redemptive journey for you like Snow seems to have. You think she must hate you now, and that she’s certainly terrified of you.

 

Instead, magic pulses from her to fill the room and Emma sags against you for a moment. “Oh,” she murmurs, and she tilts her face back to you and kisses you breathless.

 

+

 

Oh.

 

+

 

And you prepare together for a final battle and your voyage home.