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Starting Over Again

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Regina never liked Bill Murray. Well, she never liked him as an actor. She didn’t know the man personally, of course, so she couldn’t speak to whether she’d like the person or not. However, as an actor, she found his choice of roles juvenile, moronic, and irritating. His choice of comedy styling was somewhere between a 10 year old boy’s humor and someone with the mental capacity of a turnip.

To put it quite simply, she felt Bill Murray was an idiot, in an artistic sense.

When Henry was around 4 years old, he discovered Bill Murray, much to Regina’s annoyance, and he began to go through the man’s entire repertoire of movies. She managed to filter out the R rated movies, but that didn’t save her from having to listen to everything else, and, it was during this phase of Henry’s obsessive entertainment needs that he decided ‘Groundhog Day’ was his new very favorite movie ever.

This, of course, meant that, by the time her son moved on to his next obsessive thing, she knew every line of the movie by heart, much to her aggravation.

It came to a point where, instead of thinking about what might be happening on the screen, Regina began to consider the logistics of the main character’s situation. After all, she was stuck in a similar situation, and, despite it being Bill Murray, it was nice to have some character somewhere to which she could relate. She managed to figure out that he was probably stuck in the same day for about 34 years based on his skills by the end of the movie, which seemed like a fairly short amount of time compared to her situation in which she would be stuck for all eternity with no real way out.

Her sympathy of the character’s plight was a bit on the low side.

However, she did take a few things to heart the movie showcased Phil doing over those years. He learned some very handy life skills, and, she reasoned, she could do the same. Based on what she knew of the curse, the town was going to live through the same weekly routines for eternity, so why shouldn’t she learn some new skills? She’d already learned how to cook. How hard would it be to take up something else?

She’d always wanted to learn to play piano. She had started learning as a young girl, but her marriage had cut that education a bit short. It couldn’t hurt for her to learn a new language. It would be good for Henry to learn one, too, and they could learn together. She’d been wanting some decent apple cider, but there was none in the town. She had the tree. Why not make some herself?

There were so many things she could learn or at which she could become better. Being mayor of a town that didn’t change and had an exacting equilibrium which meant it required no attention to run whatsoever, which freed up a great deal of her time, and, now that Henry didn’t need diaper changes, it seemed like a great time to take a cue from that idiotic film and learn a few things.

What could it hurt?

The film also made her appreciate that she wasn’t actually reliving the exact same day over and over again. It was more she was living in a very extreme rut of the same routines. The very idea of waking up to ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ for 34 years in a row became one of many things she put on her mental list of ‘own personal hell,’ along with being friends with Snow White, having sex with Whale, and spending longer than a few minutes in the same room with Gold.

Of course, that list change significantly after Emma Swan arrived, and Regina’s personal Groundhog Day situation ceased to exist.

No longer did she have a routine at all. Instead, she found herself going from one emergency, life threatening situation to another. What she wouldn't give for just a few weeks of her old, boring routine. Her life was becoming more ridiculous than anything she could have made up on her own. For example, in the course of less than a week’s time, she’d been nearly tortured to death, saved Storybrooke from destruction via a trigger she’d created, left through a portal to Neverland, fought Pan’s Lost Boys, retrieved her son, gone back to Storybrooke, fought Pan again, and then destroyed her original curse which reset everything and forced her to say goodbye to her son forever.

Who has weeks like that?

Apparently, she did.

After all of that, she’d found herself without a memory of an entire year and back in Storybrooke, so, to her, that rounded out her week, which, she mused to herself, sounded about right for how life rolled along these days.

Of course, it took Emma Swan’s arrival to change her situation yet again, and, in less than four days’ time, Regina found she had an older half-sister, Gold was still alive, her soul mate was Robin Hood, her mother had lied to her for her entire life, she fought Zelena and was nearly killed, she broke a curse and defeated her sister using light magic, and then lost her soul mate because of Emma Swan’s incompetence.

Far be it for major happenings in her life to go on over the course of a month or more. No, of course not. The saying was, “When it rains, it pours,” and that seemed to be fully accurate.

With a heavy sigh, Regina downed the rest of her cider and walked over the dry bar to pour another glass. She plopped down on her sofa and resumed watching ‘Groundhog Day,’ not really paying attention to the movie. She let her mind wander over what her life had become.

Somewhere in the universe some higher powered being had decided she was going to be the whipping boy for every bad thing to happen to a person ever, and she was getting tired of taking the licks. Every single time something great happened in her life, it was ripped away from her within days, literally days, of the happening.

Villains don’t get happy endings, they tell her. Really? Gold not only has his true love, but is married to her. That filthy pirate somehow managed to wear idiot Charming number 3 down enough to give in to his misogynic advances. They got happy endings, and what did she get? She got a decent apple cider and ‘Groundhog Day.’ That’s what she got.

They received acceptance and love because they somehow redeemed themselves, and she was given a swift kick by whatever force in the universe decided to hate her to an extreme measure.

She swirled the cider around in the crystal glass in her hand and snorted. She let her mind trail off into a lovely buzz of nothing as she watched Phil take the groundhog on a joy ride. A random thought occurred to her. Maybe she should just leave town? What could it hurt? There wasn’t much keeping her here except Henry, but he could leave town and come visit her. Maybe Miss Swan would hand over her apartment in New York? It was the least she could do after bringing Marian back from the great beyond to steal Robin away.

She shook her head. No, not steal. Marian was Robin’s wife, and, in all fairness, Regina, as the Evil Queen, had ordered the woman’s execution. She couldn’t really be mad at either Robin nor Marian for being together.

She could, however, be angry at Emma Swan for bringing Marian back and changing the timeline. That she was perfectly in her rights to do, and she was taking full advantage of it. She took another sip of cider, watching Phil work on his piano skills. She could probably find a job in a political office in New York. She had enough skills, and she’d spent years learning the laws of this realm. She had plenty of money, enough to probably last the rest of her lifetime, such as it was. It wouldn’t take much to leave.

She could pack up and be out of town within the week. Of course, getting a moving truck to move…

She sat up in her chair, startled by another thought. She couldn’t leave town. If she did, she’d lose all her memories because, this time, she hadn’t been the one to cast the curse. She was stuck here just like everyone else, and, unlike everyone else, she didn’t have a second identity. If she passed over the town line, there’s no telling what would happen. She could potentially be a completely blank slate, or she could revert to some younger version of herself, or she could have some other personality that the curse did create but was lost because of how the curse was implemented. Who knows?

Flipping the television off, she walked back to her dry bar and poured her fourth glass for the night as she mulled it over. If she crossed the line, it would erase everything… everything. She shook her head and frowned. It would erase Henry, and she didn’t want to give him up. He was everything, but, then again, he wouldn’t be around forever. He had his own life to live, and maybe he’d be better without her? Maybe it would be better if she wasn’t there with the massive amount of emotional baggage she carried with her?

Maybe… maybe she could keep Henry and get rid of everything else. What she needed to do was be very prepared.

With a nod to herself, she downed her glass and put it away before heading upstairs to prepare. This was going to take her some time to get right, and she didn’t want to miss any detail. It could mean the difference between losing everything but Henry and losing everything.

Chapter Text

She sat behind the wheel and looked around as the car idled in the middle of the road. Where had she been going? Better question, from where had she come?

She blinked a few times, trying to shake the fuzz from her mind, but it wouldn’t seem to go away. Where was she? Was she drunk? She didn’t remember drinking to excess. Now that she thought on it, she didn’t remember anything at all. Nothing. She couldn’t recall anything, not who she was, where she was, what she was, or even if there was someone who was expecting her someplace.

She didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. It was as if she’d somehow magically come into existence, which couldn’t be the case. There was no such thing as magic. At least, she was reasonably certain there was no such thing as magic. Actually, she wasn’t sure, but it felt like the right assumption to make.

A chirping sound caught her attention. Looking down, she found a cell phone flashing from her passenger’s seat. Hesitantly, she picked it up. There was a calendar notification, and she assumed it was her phone so likely her notification. She pressed the button, and a long note greeted her from the calendar app.

She read it aloud as she tried to focus on the bright screen in the dark car. “Your name is Regina Mills. You are the mayor of Storybrooke, the town about 20 minutes behind you. You have a reservation in Boston at the Four Seasons Hotel there. They are expecting you to stay there for a week. Items with further explanations of your situation are waiting for you in your room.  There is enough cash in your purse to cover tips, gas, and the like, and there is a credit card for additional expenses. Do not answer this phone nor call anyone in the address book until you’ve gone through the items in your room at the hotel. The GPS in this phone is set to direct you there. It will take you the rest of the night to arrive. Yes, you have been drinking and are likely intoxicated. Don’t get pulled over. Yes, it is 10 at night, so do be especially careful. Yes, you did write this message. No, you won’t find an explication for why you can’t remember anything. You’ll simply have to trust that your judgment was best in making the choice that brought you to this point, which, yes, will make you feel uneasy. Trusting isn’t your strong suit. Stop staring at this screen, activate the GPS, and get going. You have a long drive ahead of you.”

Regina blinked at the screen. Was this really happening? Should she even follow these directions? Maybe she should turn around and go back? If there really was a town back there, maybe someone could help her? She frowned deeply. A deep seated nagging feeling told her that was a bad idea. With a frustrated grunt, she closed the calendar app and opened up the GPS. The hotel’s address was programmed in, just as the note had said, and she decided one unknown was just as sketchy as another, so, with a shrug, she activated the directions to Boston and hit the gas again.

Her fuzzy mind tried to hold onto the very little bit of information provided to her. Her name was Regina Mills. She was a mayor, and she was expected to be gone for a week. She wondered if a week was long enough to understand what was happening. She highly doubted it, but she had no choice. If she really had written that note to herself, then it was best to follow the plan. Surely, she had been sure to pay attention and be exacting in details.

She shook her head, both worried and angry at what was happening.


 

“She just left?” Emma raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side. “Gone? To where?”

“She said she needed a break from everything here, so she’s going somewhere for the week.” Mary Margaret shrugged. “I think it might be healthy for her to go. A lot has happened.”

“Yeah, but…” the blonde furrowed her brow, trying to find the words for the question tickling her brain. “What about her memories?”

“They’re fine, love,” Killian assured from his sprawled out position on the sofa of the Charmings’ apartment. “Back when I came in with Cora, Regina told me she could cross the town line just fine. Something about how the curse was set up or something.” He shrugged. “She’s fine. She’ll probably come back into town well rested and with some kind of plot for revenge against you.”

“Okay,” Emma nodded, rubbing at the back of her neck as she thought over this new information. “I guess that makes sense. She couldn’t have adopted Henry if she couldn’t leave town.” Shaking her head, she turned at her spot at the kitchen island and stared down into her coffee. “Why would she tell you?”

Mary Margret gave her a confused look. “What?”

“Why would she tell you? She hates all of us now, except Henry. I’m pretty sure she wants me dead, and we all know she’s been trying to kill you for nearly 3 decades, so why would she tell you that she’s leaving town?” Emma’s frowned deepened. “That doesn’t make sense.”

David placed a hand on his wife’s back and stepped in. “She came here to see Henry, but he was out with Hook.” He pointed at the container full of treats sitting near his daughter on the island. “She had that for him, and, since Henry didn’t take his phone with him, she couldn’t call him. She told us what was going on to tell Henry.”

“Wait a minute.” Emma startled out of her deep thoughts. “She left town for a week without first saying goodbye to Henry?” She glanced at her son, who had the same startled and surprised look on his face. “Did she leave you a voicemail?”

Henry shook his head. “Nothing that says much. She said she left some cookies with Grandma and Gramps and that she’d be back in week, and she said the usual. You know, for me to behave, not to go to her mansion by myself because it could still be dangerous because some people still hated her, and for me to make sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour.” He shrugged, adding as an afterthought, “Oh, and that she loved me.”

His mother shook her head in the negative. “That still doesn’t sit right with me. Regina wouldn’t just leave like this and not at least say goodbye to you in person, kid. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He looked down at the floor, eyes narrowed in thought. “Mom’s not a runner.”

“No, she’s not.” she shot him an approving look. “She fights, sometimes a little too hard, but she doesn’t just walk away.”

“Emma,” Mary Margret cut in, voice full of chastisement, “a short vacation is not running away. Everyone needs breaks, even Regina.”

“And can you blame her?” Hook motioned around the room. “There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t hurt her in some way, no offense love.” He held a hand up in innocence at her glare. “I’m just saying, intentional or not, we’re all reminders of all the bad that’s happened in her life. I get it. Redemption is hard. It takes a lot out of person. Sometimes you have to step away from everything tying you down to clear you head.”

Emma sighed, giving in to the reason presented to her. “Okay.” Pushing off the stool, she checked the time. “Kid, it is way past your bedtime. Go get ready for bed.”

“It’s only 10:30!” Henry gave his best pleading expression. “Can’t I at least stay up until…”

“Nope. Bed, now.” She pointed up the stairs. “I’ll be up in a couple to check on you.”

“Fine.” He rolled his eyes and made a circle of the room to say goodnight.

After he climbed the stairs and the bathroom door shut, Emma turned back to her mother. “You know something isn’t right here. Tell me I’m wrong.”

The pixie haired brunette shook her head. “You’re not wrong, Emma, but can we do? We don’t even know where she’s gone, and, even if we did, what would we do? She doesn’t want to see anyone of us, except for Henry.”

Emma winced. “I know.” She ran a hand over her face in exasperation. “I know,” she repeated warily, “but that doesn’t keep me from worrying. If she’s done something that could mess with Henry more…”

“She’d never do that,” Mary Margret assured. “She’d never intentionally hurt Henry.

“Just give her sometime, Swan,” Hook assured as he stepped over to where she stood at the island. “Take it from me. I know what she’s going through. I had a whole year to run away after my attempts at redemption failed. I’d say a week isn’t so bad.”

Emma stared at him for a long moment, considering something. Finally, she turned away and started for the stairs. “I’m going to bed. I’ll see you later, Killian.”

The three left behind watch her ascend the steps in confusion. Hook frowned. “Not even a kiss goodbye?”

David narrowed his eyes at the other man. “What did you do?”  

“Nothing!” Hook protested. “I’ve been with the boy all day. We had a fine time.”

“I think she’s just tired. It’s been a rough few weeks. Just let her get some rest, okay?” Mary Margret walked to the door and began to open it. “Come back by tomorrow around lunch, Killian. I’m sure Emma will be better by then.”

“Alright,” the pirate gave a nod to David before walking out the door. 

Chapter Text

Regina looked around the spacious hotel room, her eyes stopping at the pile of notebooks stacked neatly on the desk situated to allow her to look out the window and take in the breathtaking view of Boston. She would probably have felt impressed by it had she not felt so exhausted. It was a little past midnight, and the drive had been trying once she’d arrived in the city.

The bellman had been a godsend. Not only had he helped her with the surprising amount of luggage she’d found in the back of her car, but he’d been very informative about the city itself. He happily chatted on about new shows that were in town, new restaurants she might want to try out, and the details on the various services provided to a high level member such as herself, which he had assumed she already knew but he wanted to let her know about a few additional amenities that had been added since her last stay.

She had somehow managed to act as though she knew most of what he’d expected her to know and had given what she had hoped was the appropriate reaction to what he’d informed her was new information. Apparently, he knew her. She could only guess she was a regular, and he was her regular bellman, though she really had no idea. Based on how friendly and familiar he seemed with her, she felt reasonably sure the assumption was likely correct, so she went with it. He had cheerfully talked on about how happy he’d been that the hotel could accommodate her by giving her ‘her usual’ room. Though it had been a few years since she’d been, everyone was happy to see her back in the area.

She’d tipped him well and now found herself alone in the quiet of the giant space with more questions than any sane person should have. Of course, she assumed she was sane. Perhaps she wasn’t? That would explain quite a bit.

With a heavy sigh, she began opening the suitcases to find what she needed to get ready for bed. The questions she had could wait; she needed to sleep first. She was simply too tired to do anything else at this point. Much to her relief, she found her suitcases packed in a fashion that made a great deal of sense to her, and didn’t take much time at all for her to find clothes to sleep in and toiletries.

She was in the fluffy king sized bed less than twenty minutes later and asleep just a few moments after that.


 

Emma lay awake in her bed, staring at the ceiling. Her mind wouldn’t rest about Regina. Her instincts screamed something was very, very wrong. Regina may hate her guts, but she didn’t hate Regina. After everything they’d been through, she considered the other woman a friend, and she didn’t have many of those. She’d like to at least try to mend what she could of her friendship with the older woman.

Yes, she was going to give Regina some time to process, and everything everyone had said about Regina’s sudden departure made a lot of reasonable sense. It really couldn’t hurt for Regina to take some time away from Storybrooke to calm down and collect herself. Goodness knows Emma would give a lot to be able to spend a couple of weeks back in New York for the same reason.

She huffed in frustration. She was the runner. It made sense for her to want to get away. But Regina? No. Nope. Not even a little bit.

There had to be something else going on, and her gut twisted at the unknown possibilities. What if she was being forced to leave town? What if there was another big baddie out there who had it out for Regina had somehow forced the mayor to leave in order to protect Henry? What if, right now, Regina was lying dead in the woods somewhere?

Emma swallowed down the thick lump that jumped into her throat at the last thought. There was no way she could let this go. She needed some kind of reassurance Regina was alright and not being held captive. The idea Regina might be enduring yet more torture at the hands of someone or, worse, killed by yet another person out for revenge both terrified and angered the blonde.

Regina didn’t deserve that. She’d done everything right, been the good guy for once, and she didn’t deserve to continually be kicked around like this.

Running a hand through her hair, Emma sighed. When had she become Regina’s cheering section? Could she even be the brunette’s cheering section if said brunette hated the very air the blonde breathed? Apparently so because Emma certainly found herself being Regina’s biggest supporter these days despite everything.

With a groan, she rolled over in bed and curled in on herself. She’d really messed it all up this time. She was so torn between feeling more guilt and sorrow for bringing Marian back and ruining Regina’s second chance at happiness than she’d ever felt about anything in her life and not feeling guilty or apologetic for saving Marian’s life. It was the weirdest mixture of emotions she’d ever experienced, and it was a taxing mixture.

As she tightened into a ball, she made a mental note to run by the mayoral mansion the next day and do a little investigation. She was already on Regina’s shit list. She supposed adding breaking and entering to the list wasn’t really going to make it much worse.

Chapter Text

As you can no doubt tell, you’re well off. Regina sipped thoughtfully at her coffee as she started to read the first notebook, titled simply ‘Number One.’ Clearly, she was a person who believed in brevity. She picked up her chocolate croissant and took a small bite, chewing slowly as she continued to read. You have a family, but it is exceptionally complicated. All you need to know is that you have a son. She stopped chewing. She had a child? Why would she have left her child? You didn’t leave him alone, so do stop panicking. He’s safely with his other mother, Emma Swan. No, you two were never lovers. You adopted your son, Henry, when he was a baby. He found his birth mother on his own and brought her to town. She now lives in Storybrooke. You share custody.

Slowly setting her food down, she let this information roll over in her mind. That didn’t seem like an extremely complicated state of affairs, though that did beg the question as to whether or not she had a lover at all. She glanced down at the page. You don’t have a lover. Well, that answered that. Was there even anyone who… You have no prospects. It’s better if you keep it that way. Yes, you’ll find you’re attracted to both men and women. No, it is an exceptionally bad idea to even entertain the idea that you and Emma Swan would be anything more than acquaintances. Most of what you’ve known about Miss Swan is something you want to forget, so leave it alone. Regina frowned. It sounded as though her life was a lonely one.

There is a young couple with a baby that Henry will call his grandparents and Emma might call her parents. Don’t worry about the particulars. Accept that they have an arrangement, and the couple is safe. They love Henry and will protect him at all costs. Know that you and the couple are not on good terms. It’s best to speak as little as possible to all three of them: Emma Swan, Mary Margaret Blanchard, and David Nolan.

She sighed. Was there anyone she was going to be around that she was friends with or, at the very least, wasn’t on bad terms with. She turned the page and gave a humorless chuckle. No one likes you. You’re hated in the town, but the town needs you. The assumption is that you’ve retained the memories needed to be mayor. Steps were taken to ensure that. She closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. This was ridiculous. She didn’t know anything about… no, that wasn’t true. As she thought about it, she realized she did, in fact, know how to run a small town. Why would she know how to run the town but nothing of her son? You owe it to the town to remain mayor for as long as they’ll allow it. It’s best not to ask why. It’s one of the things you wish to forget. You can’t remember your son because of his interconnections to the myriad of things you wish to forget. There was no way to separate him out. Accept that you have a good job that pays well and is, possibly, the most secure job anyone anywhere would ever find. Accept you have a son that does love you, and you do love him. Be grateful you have these things.

Grateful? Who did she think she was to tell her that? She rolled her eyes. She was suddenly angry at herself. It was probably best to let that go. With a sigh, she read on. Be the perfect politician and mother. It’s what you’re best at doing. Smile, shake hands, kiss babies, make Henry lunches, and be a cordial and respectful hostess whenever he wants to bring people over, except the three already mentioned. If Henry insists they visit, allow it, but say very little. Trust it is better this way.

Who were these people that she hated them so much yet was forced to share her son with them? What kind of madness was this? She slowly shook her head back and forth. Her life felt like it was a hot mess.

The remainder of this book contains photos of your son and the three people mentioned along with explanations of specific events about which you should probably know.

Taking in a deep breath, she turned the page and found the bright, shining face of a young man with eyes that sparkled with warmth staring back at her. Her heart sped up. This was her son, and he was beautiful. Why would she allow herself to forget him? How could she do that? Clearly, she wanted to keep him, and her instructions indicated there was an expectation for her to return to this town with these people… and her son.

She stared at the photo, running a finger along it as she studied his face. For him, she’d go back despite going in blind. She felt a tug that said all she really needed to know. He would be worth whatever else she’d have to deal with.

Nodding to herself, she moved her eyes to the next photo, a picture of a tall, athletic looking woman with long blonde hair and remarkable green eyes. The caption told her it was Emma Swan, Henry’s birth mother. The woman was absolutely striking. Even in clothing that didn’t highlight anything about her body, it was clear she was beautiful, and she held herself with a cocky confidence that very much appealed to Regina’s sensibilities. From the photo alone, Regina was intrigued, but the caption held a warning. Don’t even consider it. She sighed and moved on.

The last photo in the spread was of a couple holding a baby. Mary Margaret Blanchard, David Nolan, and baby Neal Nolan. They looked nice. What could they have possibly done for Regina to dislike them so much? She shrugged. Maybe they were animal abusers or something? No, that didn’t feel right, but, whatever it was, it was something that made her feel anger toward them even though she had no idea why. It wouldn’t be an issue for her to follow the instructions regarding them.

Taking another sip of coffee, she flipped the page to find more pictures of Henry from various ages. She smiled and leaned back in her chair as she slowly went through album of photos of her son.


 

“Where are you going?” Henry’s voice forced Emma to stop in her tracks.

She winced and slowly turned around. “For a walk?”

“At 8 in the morning?” He shook his head. “No way. You work out at night, Mom. You’re going to the mansion, aren’t you?”

She tried to put on her best nonchalant face. “Why would you say that?”

“Because I thought about it, too, but I figured you’d be really mad at me if I went alone.” He shrugged.

“You’re not coming. She was right. It really could be dangerous.” She narrowed her eyes at her son. “You didn’t buy the ‘she needs a break’ thing, either?”

“Nope.” Henry finished walking down the stairs as he fished in his front pocket. “Here.” He held at key. At the question on his mom’s face, he rolled his eyes. “It’s the key to the house. Mom would have a fit if you broke something trying to get in.”

“You’re not going to demand I take you with me?” She reached out slowly for the key.

“I want to, but I know that it’s not going to help if I get kidnapped again, but,” he put on his best threatening face, and Emma took a quick second to appreciate how well he mirrored Regina’s best threatening face, “promise me you’ll tell me everything you find out.”

If I find something, I’ll let you know.” She snatched the key from his hand and stuck it in her pocket. “Will you tell Mary Margaret and David I went for a walk?”

“Nope.” He shook his head again and then grinned. “They won’t believe me. I’ll tell them you went the beach to watch the waves because you didn’t sleep well last night.”

“I’m not going to ask. Whatever you think they’ll believe.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek goodbye. “Thanks, kid.”

He wiped at his face and grumbled as he shut the door behind her.

She chuckled at his typical teenage antics before going back to business. Pulling the key out of her pocket, she held it in her hand and stared at it. Should she really do this? She shrugged. It didn’t matter. She was going to do it anyway.

Clutching it in her hand, she hopped in the bug and headed for the mansion. It only took a couple of minutes before she was parked and walking up the front porch steps.

The key worked just fine, and she carefully entered, half expecting some spell to propel her back out the door. When nothing happened, she quietly closed the door behind her and looked around.

Everything looked the same. Nothing was out of place, per Regina’s usual housekeeping habits, and nothing felt off. She frowned, trying to decide what to do first. If she were Regina, where would she keep damning evidence?

Nowhere. Regina was smarter than to keep it at all.

She rolled her eyes. This was an impossible task. What she needed right now was a drink, and she happened to know the right place to go. She made a beeline for the study and the dry bar therein. She almost yelped out loud when she found an envelope with her name written in Regina’s distinctive cursive.

She sighed. Regina had known Emma would somehow break into her house. The brunette just seemed to know what Emma would do. The blonde frowned as she picked the envelope up. Truth be told, Regina knew Emma, just as Emma knew Regina. There was a connection there wrought from everything they’d been through. She really shouldn’t be surprised Regina would know she’d come snooping around to make sure the brunette was okay.

Turning the envelope over, she broke the seal and pulled out a folded piece of paper with a hand written note on it. She gave a small smile. Regina always had liked giving things a personal touch.

Miss Swan,

Try to refrain from drinking all of my cider while I’m away. I’ll be back in a week’s time. I probably won’t act the same. At least, I hope that to be the case. I’m taking a break from Stroybrooke and all of you to clear my mind and reset my goals.

There are many things I have to accept that I cannot change nor control. For me, this is a difficult realization, as you might imagine. However, there is much I can control, such as how I interact with you, your family, and citizens of this town.

I’ve decided to take a political retreat, catch up on recent policy changes, and come back refocused on being effective mayor and mother for Henry.

I’d appreciate it if you’d at least respect me enough to support this decision and, unless I must interact with you for Henry’s sake, to leave me alone. Yes, I still hate you. No, I doubt highly that will ever change.

Lock the door on your way out.

Regina

Emma sighed. She supposed that made sense, and, if she were honest with herself, it would actually be remarkably healthy for Regina to focus on something other than revenge or keeping Henry with her. He wasn’t going to go anywhere, and trying to get revenge hadn’t ever worked out well for the brunette.

Slipping the paper back into the envelope, she stuck it in her pocket and turned to leave. She supposed there wasn’t anything left to worry about. Of course, if Regina didn’t come back in a week, she’d start snooping around again, but, for now, the letter was enough.

The last thing she wanted to do was tick Regina off more by not respecting the woman’s requests to be left alone. She owed Regina at least some privacy. She winced, realizing she wasn’t even giving Regina that much. Quickly exiting the house and making sure to lock the door behind her, she made a hasty retreat to her car.

She’d let Henry read the note and then let it go for now.

Chapter Text

Regina flipped through the second notebook for a third time. It was a list, complete with photos, of important people in town she should know, why they were relevant to her needs as mayor, and various warnings that all said, basically, the exact same thing. She shouldn’t interact with them outside of the purely professional.

The notebook was probably the thickest in the stack, and it had taken her most of the day to go through it all. It was verging on 7 at night, and she’d just come to a point where realization hit that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

She stared down at the notebook and wondered how she would ever remember everything she’d just read. It was too much information. She needed to let it soak in before she attempted anything more.

What she needed was dinner and a bath.

She pulled the room service menu from the desk drawer and looked it over. What to eat? What did she even like? Was she craving anything? She scrunched her face up in thought. Apples. She wanted something with apples in it, but she didn’t want a dessert. In fact, something sweet did not appeal to her in the least.

Looking through her options, she found on a summer salad that had apples as part of the mix, but that didn’t appeal to her either. What she wanted was… cider. She wanted apple cider. Her mouth watered at the thought. A quick glance through the menu told her apple cider wasn’t an option.

She sighed. What she wanted was a glass of apple cider, a fruit and cheese plate, and to relax in the tub. Maybe the hotel had something close? She picked up the hotel phone and called room service.

“Good evening, Ms. Mills. How may we help you?”

Regina frowned. Despite knowing that was her name, it felt weird to be called by that name, as if she were expecting them to call her something else, a title perhaps? Maybe she was accustomed to people calling her Mayor Mills? She shrugged it off. “Yes, I hate to ask, but do you, by chance, know where I could find apple cider?”

“Your cider is still here. Would you like for us to bring a bottle up to your room tonight?”

She blinked in confusion. Her cider? “How many bottle do I have here?”

“We show you have eight. Is there a specific vintage you would like?”

Again, this was insanity. “Not particularly, no. In fact, I’d prefer just a glass for tonight.”

“Of course, Ms. Mills. Would you like your usual order as well?”

She was afraid to ask. “My usual order?”

“Yes. We have that down as a fruit and cheese plate.”

Of course they did. She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “Yes, that would be fine, thank you.”

“We’ll have that right up. Is there anything else we can do you for you?”

“No, thank you.”

“Have a wonderful evening, Ms. Mills.”

When the line went silent, she slowly replaced the receiver. She glanced over to the notebooks. Number 3 wasn’t as thick as Number 2 or Number 1, but she had a suspicion that it would contain the answers to the question currently running around in her head.

What she wanted to know was what her favorite things were because, obviously, she had a few.

Slowly reaching for the third notebook, she pulled it into her lap and opened the first page. You like apples. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath as she placed the notebook back on the stack. She’d read it while taking her bath.


 

“A political retreat, huh?” David took his spot at the table after setting the last of the meal down in the middle. He picked up a bowl and served himself before passing it around.

“Yeah, that’s what the letter said.” Emma shrugged and snagged a breadstick from the basket near her. “I wonder what she meant by ‘acting different,’ though. I mean, how different are we talking here?”

“Maybe she’s trying to find a new outlook on life?” Mary Margret took the bowl from David. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Only if her new outlook isn’t anything like her old outlook before the previous new outlook kicked in,” Killian commented dryly while trying to manage serving himself using only one hand.

“Mom’s not evil,” Henry shot back, eyes leveling on the pirate. “She was before, but she’s not now. She’s one of the good guys now. Even if she’s hurt, she’s not going to do that kind of evil stuff anymore. She’s not like that now.”

“I’m not saying she will,” the pirate defensively replied. “I’m just saying that Regina can be a little unpredictable even at her most stable. Look, lad, I’m not saying she’s going to go back to being the Evil Queen. She loves you too much to do that. I’m just saying that she might decide some things she did while she was the queen might be good to go back and do again.”

Henry narrowed his eyes. “Like what?”

Hook shrugged. “Like trying to make your grandparents’ lives a living hell? Like finding ways to take out her bad mood on the townsfolk? Like trying to bribe other people to do her dirty work?”

“Killian,” Emma’s voice was quiet but firm. “That’s enough. Regina isn’t going to destroy everything she’s worked toward.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “I’m just saying it might be smart to be prepared. You know, just in case…”

“Just in case she goes back to being evil again,” Henry finished for him, clearly angry at what Hook was saying.

“I think we need to give Regina the benefit of the doubt. We owe her that much. She’s saved us at least four times I can think of off the top of my head, and that was over the past six months. The least we can do is respect her enough to not assume she’s out to do us all harm.” Emma angrily snatched the bowl out of Killian’s hand and served him before serving herself. “She’s not our enemy anymore.”

“Well, no offense, Swan, but she hates you right now.”

“Yes, she does, and I sort of deserve it.” Emma gave her mother a look that said Mary Margaret’s reassurances her daughter had done the right thing were not welcome in this moment. To her credit, her mother kept her mouth closed. “Even if she hates me for the rest of my life, she is still not the enemy. She’s the mayor of this town. She’s Henry’s other mother. She’s Regina. She is not the Evil Queen, so you can stop.”

“Fine,” he shrugged. “Fine, whatever you say, love.” He picked up his fork and shoved food into his mouth to keep from having to say anything else.

Henry bounced in his seat for a moment before growling out a request to be excused. Emma gave it without question and then followed behind him a moment later after giving another pointed look to Hook.

She knocked before going into his room. He sat on the bed, staring out the window. “She’s never not going to be the Evil Queen, is she?”

“Not to most of the town, no,” Emma answered quietly as she sat on the bed near him.

“But she’s not. She’s my mom.” He huffed. “Hook knows that. He knows she’s not evil anymore.”

“Hook knows a lot of things,” she replied, annoyance at the man in question lacing her words. “But there’s a lot he doesn’t know, and sometimes I think he says things just to stir the pot.”

“I wish he wouldn’t do that about Mom.” He finally looked back to Emma, his eyes full of emotion. “This is all my fault. I know you and Mom say it’s not, but, if I hadn’t brought you here…”

“Then Regina would never have had the chance to prove how good she actually is.” She reached out and placed a hand on her son’s leg, giving it a squeeze.

He sighed. “I’m afraid, Emma.”

She blinked at him, not entirely okay anymore with him calling her by her first name. She let it go. It didn’t matter. “About what?”

“What if she’s done something to herself and she set this all up so we wouldn’t stop her?”

“Why would she do that?” The blonde tilted her head in question. “What would she do?”

“I don’t know.” Henry leaned over and opened the nightstand drawer. He pulled out a small notepad and opened it. “She’s been acting strange all week. I started taking notes because… I don’t know why. I just thought it might be good to try to remember what she was doing because she was so weird about it.”

Emma narrowed her eyes. “Weird how?”

He looked over his notes. “She spent three days making copies of photos from when I was baby until now. She spent a day going around town taking pictures of everything, like people and places and stuff. She bought six notebooks, and she spent two days at home in her study writing something, but she wouldn’t tell me what. She just said she was writing down a few things before she forgot them, and, when I really tried to get her to tell me what, she said she was older than she looked and her memory wasn’t as good as she would like, so she was writing a memoir of her life. But,” he shook his head, “Mom’s memory is like a steel trap.”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded in agreement. “She doesn’t forget much.”

“She doesn’t forget anything,” he corrected.

“No, she doesn’t.” They sat in the quiet for a long moment and considered what they knew. Finally, Emma stood with a groan. “If she doesn’t come back in a couple of days, you’re going with me back to the mansion. Maybe I missed something?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, slipping the notepad back into the drawer, “Okay, but not with Hook.”

“No,” she agreed, “Hook’s outlasted his welcome for a few days, I think.” She stopped at the door to the bedroom. “Hey, you going to be okay tonight, kid? Do you need me to do anything?”

“I’ll be okay,” he said with a nod. Smirking, he added, “Kick Hook out, and I’ll be awesome.”

She laughed. “You are your mother’s child. Do you know that?” He gave her a confused look. “Regina,” she said by way of explanation. “That is straight up something your mother would do and say.”

Henry’s smirk became a grin. Emma shook her head, returning his grin, before heading back down the stairs to send Killian on his way for the night.

Chapter Text

Regina woke up from a peaceful sleep and smiled. The room was full of soft morning light, and the bed was wonderfully cozy. It was remarkably peaceful.

She had spent the remainder of her night pampering herself instead of reading and had gone to bed relaxed. As she awoke from a serene dream in which she was riding a stunning horse through a picturesque meadow, she lightly considered spending the day wrapped up in bed. It was an appealing thought. The dream was still on the verge of her consciousness, and she wouldn’t mind going back to it.

However, her curiosity regarding the third notebook was enough to pull her out of the comfort of the bed. She groaned, enjoying the simple pleasures that come with a good morning stretch. Glancing around the room, she debated what to do first. She settled on ordering food before stepping in for a quick shower.

The day looked wonderful, and she thought that, after reading ‘Number 3,’ she might go out and enjoy the city for a bit. It couldn’t hurt, and she didn’t want to remain cooped up in her hotel room for the entire week. She made a mental note to check over the material the hotel had in the room outlining places to go and places to see in the city before reaching for the phone and calling room service.


 

“What are you thinking about?” Ruby plopped down in the booth opposite Emma, startling the blonde and causing her to jump. “Sorry,” she said through her smirk.

Emma scowled. “Regina. I’m thinking about Regina.”

“Trying to figure out a way to make it up to her? Because, if you are, I think you’re fighting a losing battle, Em.”

“No, not that,” the younger woman made a dismissive wave with her hand. “Why she left.”

The brunette shrugged. “I thought you said it was for some kind of retreat, right?”

“Yeah, I did, but something’s not right. Henry said she was acting weird all last week, and I get the feeling something is really off, Ruby.” Red tilted her head in question. Emma shrugged. “I can’t explain it. It’s just a gut feeling.”

Ruby reached out to give the other woman a little pat on the arm. “Maybe you’re feeling like that because if seems like, at least once a month, something bad goes down?”

“Like I’m preprogrammed to expect a catastrophe to be on the horizon, so I keep looking for one to hit?” When the waitress nodded, Emma laughed. “Maybe. I am the Savior. What would I do if I didn’t have anyone or anything to save?”

“So you’re trying to save Regina?” Ruby laughed. “From what? Out of everyone in this town, she’s the last person I’d think needs help taking care of herself.”

The blonde shrugged. “I don’t know.” She laughed. “Maybe I’m trying to save her from herself?”

“Now, that’s a losing a battle,” Ruby said with a chuckle as she slid out of the booth. “Maybe you should let her do her thing, Emma? I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Yeah,” the other woman nodded. “You’re probably right.”


 

You like apples. Your favorite color is black, though red comes in a close second. Your birthday is February first, and your only family now days is Henry. Your parents have passed away, and your half-sister, Zelena, recently committed suicide. People may mention this. You didn’t know your half-sister very well, though you were known to refer to her as ‘wicked’ from time to time. It’s best to try to stop any conversation about her and change topics should she come up.

Regina frowned. She really did live a lonely life. No wonder Henry was so important. She pulled her eyes away from the page and out across the city. The weather was perfect, and the morning air was lovely against her cleanly washed face. The balcony she sat upon overlooked the bustling city without making her a part of it. She could quietly observe, and she liked that ability. There was something very satisfying about being several stories above the crowd and being able to look down upon them. Perhaps it was the solitude it provided? Perhaps it made her feel superior to the people below her in some way? A small voice in the back of her mind said she was superior to them. She snorted at it. She wasn’t. She was just a person who didn’t know who the hell she was. How did that make her superior to anyone?

She went back to her reading. You love riding horses. You’re very proficient. Well, that explained her dream last night. You’ve been riding since you were a young girl.

You’ve been married. Your husband is dead. It was a forced marriage of convenience, not one of love. His death was not something you mourned. No one is likely to bring him up. However, if they do, they might refer to him as ‘the king’ or ‘King Leopold.’ He was eccentric and old enough to be your father at the time of your marriage to him. It’s best to leave it at that.

She winced, realizing what the implication was there. She was glad not to remember that. She flipped the page, turning away from what being married to a man twice her age might have meant for her. The next paragraph caught her attention enough to pull her thoughts away from ‘King Leopold.’

Your father’s name was Henry. You named your son after his grandfather. Your mother’s name was Cora. She was the daughter of a miller. You are the granddaughter of a miller. A miller? And her surname is Mills? Hmm, that was an interesting coincidence, Regina mused. You never knew any of your grandparents.

You developed your love of reading from your father. You prefer mysteries. You are not fond of television, though you do occasionally go to the movies. You will watch shows with your son if he asks. Of course she would, Regina thought with an eye roll. Why wouldn’t she want to spend time with her son? You are not known for being friendly nor welcoming. You are known for getting things done.

You can speak Spanish and a little Italian. You’re an excellent cook. You make the apple cider you had last night from scratch. Regina stopped reading again. It was eerie how well she apparently knew herself. You’ll find you’re a proficient piano player, you sing well, and you love to dance, though you rarely do any of those things. When people learn you have these talents, they will be surprised to know it.

So she was a stick-in-the-mud? Fantastic. No, they don’t think you’re fun to bring to parities. Prove them wrong. Reinvent your image. You’re the mayor, and you will want to be reelected. Make your hidden talents work for you.

Regina took in a deep breath. She had a lot of work to do if she was going to reinvent the wheel to win the next election, but, then again, did she really want to? Her notes said she owed it to the town to be mayor for as long as they wanted her in office, but maybe it’d be best to not run again if she was so disliked?

Show you’re not the evil mayor from the past, and they will like you. Be a good leader, and they will reelect you. You owe them your service. Give it willingly.

Evil mayor? Had she been a dirty politician? She hoped not, but that would explain why her notes insisted she owed the town so much. No matter, she certainly wouldn’t be dirty from now on. She flipped the page, determined to finish the notebook before lunch.

You prefer Prada…

Chapter Text

Regina ate lunch at a lovely Italian bistro within walking distance of her hotel. She tried her Italian skills on a waiter who seemed to have the right accent for it. Come to find out, she did, in fact, know a bit of Italian. She enjoyed herself, laughing and talking with the waiter and, later, with a nice couple who was sitting at the table near her.

The couple had invited her to go with them to the museum, and she’d readily agreed. They were wonderful people, full of life and happy smiles. One was a tall, lanky brunette who seemed a little on the sporty side. The other was a lovely honey haired woman who seemed to hold similar interests to Regina.

The two women showed her around the city a bit, and she’d wound up having dinner with them at a pub that specialized in local produce and healthy food items. She’d had a wonderful time, and she’d managed to forget about her unusual plight for a good half of her day. She knew enough about herself to answer the basic questions, and, when asked something she didn’t know, she managed to fake an answer well enough to get past it.

Once back at the hotel, she was faced with the second half of the stack of notebooks, and her stomach dropped. She’d had a nice day, and she honestly didn’t want to taint it by having to go back to playing detective about herself again.

She waved a dismissive hand toward the stack mocking her from its place on the desk, called room service to bring up the rest of her bottle of opened cider, and changed into something comfortable. She was in the mood to read, but not to read about herself. She recalled finding a book in one of her suitcases, and she pulled it out with a smile. ‘The Surgeon,’ she read the title again. It looked promising. She wondered if she’d read it before.

She shrugged. Everything old was new again. And, really, was there anything better than rediscovering a good book? After letting room service in to set up for her, she poured a glass of cider and then crawled into the middle of the bed to settle down for a nice, long read.

‘Today they will find her body. I know how it will happen…’ Regina smiled. Yes, this was going to be good.


 

Emma sat in her bug and stared at the darken house across the street. She narrowed her eyes as she watched the windows, knowing Regina wasn’t inside and wondering where in the hell the mayor actually was right now.

She sipped her coffee in contemplative thought. Wherever Regina had gone, she’d driven there. The Mercedes wasn’t parked in its usual spot. According to the people she’d talked to around town, Regina had mailed a rather large package somewhere, but the post office worker wouldn’t tell her where without a warrant, which she couldn’t get because she didn’t have a reason to have one, and there was the pesky detail about her not being sheriff anymore.

Emma had to think about the post office actually being operational. She wasn’t even aware people could mail things out of the town, but Gold explained there were loopholes in the curse that allowed for commerce to keep the town running. She probably would have figured that out eventually.

Gold had seemed extremely interested to learn Regina had skipped town for a week, but he refused to explain why. Instead, he told Emma to let him know if Regina did show back up and then said something about being interested to meet the ‘new and improved mayor.’ His smile after he said that gave Emma the creeps, and she’d left with more questions than when she had stepped into his shop.

After going about Storybrooke for the better part of her day, she’d found herself parked outside of the giant white house with no particular reason why. She just had a need to be near where Regina ought to be.

She took another slow sip her coffee and choked on it when someone tapped on her passenger’s side window. She turned to glare at whomever it was, only to find Hook smirking at her through the glass. She rolled her eyes but unlocked the door.

“Hello, love,” he said with a smile as he slid into the seat next to her. “Are you waiting for something?”

She glared at him. “Are you stalking me?”

“No,” he said, drawing the word out, “but I might ask the same of you about Regina.”

She turned away to look at the house again. “What are you talking about?”

“Word around town is that you spent all day tracking Regina’s movements over the past week.” Hook leaned a little closer to her. “Is there something we should know?”

“No,” she with a slight shake of her head. “Everything’s fine.”

“Well, if that were true, Swan, you wouldn’t be staked out in front of her house right now.” He nudged her with his shoulder. “Want to tell me what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?”

“Mind not being so damned condescending?” Emma turned back to him, eyes aflame with irritation. “Why are you here, Hook?”

He shrugged, letting her snappiness roll off of him. “We’re all getting a little worried about you, so I came to check on you.”

“We? We who, Killian?”

He raised his eyebrows and gave her an apologetic look. “You know, me, Ruby, your parents…”

“Seriously?” Emma rolled her eyes. “I’m afraid to ask.” She sighed. “Why are you worried about me?”

“Well, you’ve been obsessing about Regina quite a bit since she left. We’re starting to wonder if, maybe, you’re looking for something to do, which, if that’s the case,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “I can think of better things for you to do than obsesses over Regina.” He gave a salacious wink.

“Get out.” Her voice was deadly calm, but her eyes danced with anger.

“Oh, come on, Swan. Don’t be like that. I was just having a little bit of fun. You know I didn’t mean…”

“Killian, get out of my car, and, while you’re at it, stay out of my affairs. Whatever little club you, Mary Margaret, and David have going on can stop meeting up, too. I can take care of myself. I don’t need all of you to gang up on me when you decide I’m not doing what you want me to do or what you think I should be doing.” Her voice grew louder with each sentence. “Get out of my car.”

“Emma…”

“Hook, get out of my damned car before I force you out.”

He held his arms up in defeat and opened the door. Stepping out, he leaned over to address her one more time. “You know, we’re only worried about you because we love you.”

She leveled him with a cold stare. “Don’t come visit tomorrow.”

He gave a reluctant sigh, shrugging as he closed her door and walked away.

She sat in her car and seethed for a bit. She was beyond angry that he felt he had a right to step into her business like he was doing, and she was equally angry that her parents were encouraging him. He wasn’t her keeper. She didn’t need him. She could function just fine without him or anyone one, except for Henry.

A growl escaped her, and she closed her eyes against the red she was seeing. The level of presumptuousness happening between the Charmings and Hook was enough to make her want to set things on fire. She opened her eyes and, much to her shock, a small bush across the street burst into a bright ball of flames.

She panicked for a second, not sure of what to do, but she heard Regina’s voice in her mind telling her to calm down and focus, so she did. She took in calming breaths and focused her thoughts until she could put the fire she’d just started out. The bush would never be the same again. She groaned and added it to the long list of things Regina was going to hate her forever for, but at least Emma had managed her magic well enough to fix the accident she’d created.

She smiled to herself. Regina would have been proud of her for handling that so well. The thought made her frown again. Regina never wanted to speak with her again outside of Henry’s needs. She didn’t give a care to how Emma handled her magic now days.

The blonde sighed and turned her car on. It was late, and she should probably get back. Whether she wanted to see Mary Margaret and David right now or not, it didn’t matter. That’s where she was staying. She might as well bite the bullet and get going.

Chapter Text

Your house is three stories tall. That seemed excessive for someone who only had one son and no friends or family to speak of, Regina mused to herself as she read through ‘Number 4.’ The town calls it the ‘Mayoral Mansion,’ but the house is yours. It does not belong to the city, and, should you be voted out of office, you will not be forced to move. She pursed her lips in thought while she flipped through the pages of pictures of her house, the rooms in it, and the exterior. She stopped at the picture of the apple tree and smiled. It was a beautiful tree. Of course, she rolled her eyes, there was a caption for this one. You’ve tended to this tree since it was a sapling. It’s a honey crisp tree. That’s your favorite type of apple.

She attempted to make a mental note of that and then flipped on. The house was massive, and the interior was done in extremely harsh lines and angles with black and white as the dominate color scheme. Inviting, it was not, but that went along with the fact she wasn’t a well-loved person among the people in town. Décor tended to reflect the personality of the person who chose it.

She sighed and moved along to City Hall. Again, her office looked massive and stark. She had to admit it would be the perfect place to intimidate, which might not be a bad thing as mayor. Try to remember to keep fresh apples stocked in the bowl on the coffee table. No one will eat them. It’s for show, but you have plenty, and the effect it has on the townspeople will be helpful to you. It doesn’t matter why it has an effect on them. Only know that you with an apple is a scare tactic. Use it sparingly.

She scoffed. An apple? Why on Earth would anyone be scared of an apple? She rolled her eyes yet again at the information provided to her and continued to flip. There were several floor plans, detailed maps of the town with important places highlighted, and many photos of the town. She tried to picture herself going around the town taking photos of all of this and couldn’t. It seemed out of character if she was the type of person she thought she was.

Not that she was complaining. The pictures were incredibly helpful. She found she was a very visual learner. But, then again, she would have known she was a visual learner, so the massive amount of floor plans, maps, and pictures made sense.

Sighing, she went back to the notebook, to study the town layout a bit more.


 

“I think she’s in Boston,” Emma mutter. The comment came out of nowhere, and everyone in the living room turned to look at her.

Henry nodded from behind his book. “That’s what I’m thinking, too.”

“Extended stay hotel?” She asked him, ignoring the narrow eyed stares from her parents.

“No way. That’s way too lowbrow for Mom. It’d have to be something swanky.” He lowered his book, also ignoring his grandparents. “You know, like a four or five star place.”

Emma nodded in agreement. “Hilton?” He shrugged. “Marriott?” He shook his head in the negative. “Four Seasons?”

He smiled. “Yeah, that’s about Mom’s speed.”

“That place is super pricey.” She chuckled. “So, yeah, you’re right. That is your mom’s speed.”

“You’re his mother, too, Emma,” Mary Margaret commented quietly from her corner of the room.

“Well, yeah, but that doesn’t make Regina less his mom.” Her eyes flashed as if she suddenly remembered something, and she chuckled. “Henry, remember the time I left that frog in Regina’s office?”

“Are you kidding me? How could I forget it? I told you it wouldn’t end well.” He laughed. “I thought she was going to lose it when she read the note.”

Emma shrugged. “I figured that, if this was really a place full of fairytale characters, and she was really royalty, that it wouldn’t be too much for her to kiss the frog and turn him back into a prince, right?” Her grin grew as she recalled the encounter.

“I really thought she was going to kill you, Emma,” Henry said between snorts of laughter.

David quirked an eyebrow. “When did this all happen?”

Emma shrugged. “Before the first curse was broken and just after I was made sheriff. We had this game of one-ups we played to see who could annoy who the most. She normally used excessive amounts of paperwork as her weapon of choice, but I liked to be a little more creative. I was at the pond one day with Henry, and this frog jumped up on from the water. I couldn’t resist. I caught the little guy, put him in a shoebox, snuck into Regina’s office at City Hall, and left him on her chair with a note stuck to the top of the box.”

“She wrote, ‘Madam Mayor, I thought you could use a love interest, so I caught one for you. Give him a kiss and then give it a rest. Sheriff Swan.’ Mom read it, opened the box, and her face turned so read I thought she was going to explode.” Henry added with another laugh. “Looking back on it, it was really funny.”

Emma smirked. “It was funny then!”

“I can’t believe you did that,” Mary Margaret chuckled. “I can only imagine Regina’s face.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it for myself,” the blonde said as her chuckles died down. “I miss that.” She shrugged at her mother’s questioning look. “I miss the banter and the little fights Regina and I had when I was sheriff and before I was the Savior. It was fun, it kept me on my toes, and I liked getting under Regina’s skin. There was, I don’t… something. We always had this weird mutual level of respect for each other even when we hated each other’s guts.” She sighed. “I miss that.”

“Maybe she’ll calm down enough for you to at least have that again,” David soothed.

“Maybe.” Emma shrugged. “Maybe you’ll give me my job back?”

He grinned. “I wondered when you’d ask me that. I figured it’d happen once you decided to come back to town. You know, people have to vote for their sheriff…”

“They did! I won. You only got it because the second curse put you in that spot because I wasn’t here. I deserve to get it back.” She smiled widely at her father. “It’s not like you won’t still get to carry a gun around. You know you’d still be my deputy.”

“You make a compelling argument,” he said with a shake of his head. “I already asked Regina about it. We talked about it last week before she left. The paperwork for HR is sitting at the station. She already signed her part. All we have to do is fill in ours.”

“You mean she agreed to let me be sheriff again? I can’t believe it.”

He shrugged. “She said you made a good sheriff despite you inability to be good at something simple, like not mucking up the timeline.”

She groaned. “At she’s consistent with her hate.”

“It’s one of her stronger qualities,” Mary Margaret deadpanned in response.

“Let’s go do it now,” Emma said as she stood up. “I sort of miss having the badge on my hip.”

David nodded. “Yeah, I saw that coming, too.” He turned to his wife. “We’ll be back in an hour. Want us to pick anything up?”

She shook her head. “No, we’ll be fine. Don’t spoil your dinner with something from Granny’s.”

Father and daughter made a face as they walked out the door, and Emma called out, “I promise nothing,” just before it closed.

Henry shook his head, turning back to his book. “You know they’re stopping for coffee and cocoa at Granny’s right?”

His grandmother sighed. “Yes,” she groaned before going back to her own book. “Like father, like daughter.”


 

“This is nothing but a book full of reports,” Regina commented aloud as she opened up and then flipped through ‘Number 5.’ “I don’t want to read this,” she groaned. Her eyes scanned the first report. It was a sheriff’s stations report about a cat being stuck in a tree. She rolled her eyes. As she began to read it, however, she started to smirk. The sheriff who had written it clearly had a solid sense of humor, charming even. It read like a short story, and she found herself chuckling by the end of the report. Curious, she checked the name of the attending officer. It was Sheriff Emma Swan.

She huffed in frustration. Of course it was. Of course the person who wrote this who was so plainly funny would be the person she wasn’t supposed to think of in any capacity except professionally and with regards to their son. She flipped the page to find a note.

Yes, she’s quite charming, and, no, she doesn’t mean to be. In fact, she’s unaware of just how gorgeous and how charismatic she actually is. It would be very easy for you to fall for her. She possesses many very admirable and attractive traits.

However, she’s involved with a man who wears the same leather outfit every day of the week, and she’s betrayed your trust on a number of occasions. Though always with the best of intentions at heart, she never thinks of the consequences of her actions. She’s a good mother for our son. She’s a good sheriff. She’s not to be entrusted with your personal trust. It will only lead to you getting hurt.

As it’s been made clear by now, don’t even entertain the notion. Emma Swan is poison for you.

Regina could feel the corner of her mouth twitch down. How could someone with so many positives listed be so bad for her? Their history must be incredibly complex. She shook her head, flipping the page to a report from the Miner’s Union.

She didn’t want to read it, but, if it was in there, it was in there for a reason. She was supposed to know whatever it was, so she read on.

Chapter Text

By now, you've read everything that is pertinent in order for you to function as the mayor of Storybrooke and as Henry's mother. Regina cocked an eyebrow. "That's questionable," she comment in response. She'd taken to saying aloud whatever she was thinking as she read through the material. Somehow, it made her feel less alone when she did. You probably doubt the truth of this statement, but it is true. If you abide by the guidelines listed for you, you should flourish once you return home.

With a grunt, Regina rolled her eyes for the umpteenth time. Was it really flourishing if all she did was her job and look after Henry on her appointed days? It seemed to her that she had expected herself to be happy living the same day on repeat. How was that enjoyable? She didn't know and couldn't begin to guess what she'd been thinking before her world disappeared.

You likely have one more day left before you must drive back home. "Of course I do, but you knew I would. Am I always this annoying about things?" Consider going to the comic book store listed in this book and picking up a few of the trade paperbacks listed two pages back from here. Henry is an avid comic reader, and he'll appreciate the gift.

Her son seemed like an animated and bright young man. That was something, at least.

Go to the coffee shop listed and buy four pounds of the light roast for your personal assistant. She's a coffee drinker, and you always bring some of this coffee back with you when you return from this trip. It makes her happy, and her happiness means your work goes easier. Be kind to her. She keeps you afloat by being extremely competent behind the scenes. Praise her often, and be genuine about it. She can tell when you're not, and it only serves to irritate her.

She could see where this was going. It was a grocery list of things for her to do before she made it back home. She sighed yet again.

Take in a movie while you can. The movie theater in Storybrooke doesn't often get new movies, so it is a treat to be able to see a new release in theaters. Consider watching the Disney movie 'Maleficent.' She's always been one of your most favored Disney villains. She told herself to go watch a Disney movie? That seemed odd. It was unlikely she would even know anything about Disney movies. Based on what she'd read, she struck herself as more the kind to enjoy foreign films and highbrow drama. Speaking of Disney movies, you loathe 'Snow White.' You think the entire movie is tripe. She made a mental note to watch 'Snow White' so she'd know why she hated the movie so much.

Wiping at her eyes, she leaned back in the desk chair. The gaps in her memory made no sense to her. She knew what Disney was, but couldn't recall ever seeing a movie. She knew what the latest fashions were, but she couldn't recall ever reading about them. She knew how to speak Spanish, but she couldn't recall how she knew. It was very strange. It was like having Swiss cheese for a memory bank, and that comparison in itself was strange as she couldn't remember if she'd ever eaten or even actually seen a slice of Swiss cheese.

She turned back to the notebook. You'll get frustrated. Do not lash out. You'll feel lonely. Do not seek solace in the people of the town. You'll want to confide in someone. Do not place your trust in anyone, even your son. No one can know that you don't remember everything about your life. It will put you at a great disadvantage. It will make you appear weak.

You are not weak.

You are resilient. You are strong willed. Arguably, you may be a touch evil, but you are not weak. Remember who you are and take your confidence from it. You are Regina Mills, Mayor of Storybrooke and mother of Henry Mills.

Know who you are now and make it who everyone knows you to be, and you will find your happiness.

Regina reread the last few paragraphs several times. Something about the pep talk that wasn't really a pep talk told her that, when she returned, her already complicated situation would become even worse. She wondered why she should even trust what her former self had written. Was it really wise to trust no one? How could she go through life like that? How could anyone? That was a lonely existence. Wouldn't it be miserable?

She rubbed her eyes agains. It was nearing the end of her fifth day at the hotel. The sun was already setting, and her confidence she could return to this town she couldn't remember and interact with these people she didn't recall ever knowing was sinking with the sun.

What would happen if she couldn't make this work? Why was it so important for her not to inform anyone of her current situation? There wasn't so much as a hint to those answers anywhere in any of the notebooks.

Closing the last of them, she placed it atop the stack on the desk and stood with a moan. She was going to go down to the bar and spend some time nursing a glass of wine some place with background noise. She needed to be around people even if she wasn't sure she should be interacting with them. Tomorrow would come when it came, and there was nothing she could do about it and no options that were really any better than her returning to Storybrooke.

She walked into the bathroom to change. At least, for tonight, she could pretend to have a little break from her strange reality.


"Whatever you want, you can save it," Emma snarled over the music playing at the Rabbit Hole. She pulled her bottle of beer a touch closer to her and slouched a bit more on her stool.

"You're still mad, Swan?" Hook leaned against the bar, giving her his best boyish grin. "I thought you'd be over that by now. It was just a little disagreement."

"You're an ass, Hook," she spat back, not bothering to look at him.

"Come now, what's a little tomfoolery between two people who love each other?" He bent lower, trying to get her to make eye contact with him. "Was what I said really all that bad?"

Finally, she turned, locking her eyes with his and shoving her nearly empty bottle away from her as she stood up from her spot. The glass bottle clattered to the floor causing the people around them to turn to the ruckus. "No, what you said wasn't 'that bad,' Killian, but that doesn't make you less of an ass, and, just because I have feelings for you, doesn't mean you get a free pass to be a jerk or to assume that you can start meddling in my life. That's not how this works. I'm not some piece of property that you and my parents can talk about and decide what's best for when I'm not around, or even when I am around. I'm my own person..."

He held his arms up in a show of innocence. "I've never said otherwise, Swan." Glancing around, he realized they were starting to make a scene. "You know, maybe we should take this somewhere more private? Someplace quieter where we can talk, yes?"

"No." She gave him a hard look. "You don't get to tell me what to do or wh to do it with. If I want to make a scene at the bar, then I will, and, if I want to stalk Regina until I knew she's safe and not messed up in some new way, then I will." She poked him in the chest hard enough to make him flinch. "I'm not a princess, Hook. I'm the White-Freaking-Knight, and I'll save whoever in the hell I want to save. You go that?"

He swallowed and glanced around again at the now eerily quiet bar. Obviously, Emma had been drinking for far longer than he'd thought. She was clearly drunk, and he really should get her out of there before she did something they both regretted. "Okay, love, okay, whatever you say. Just... why don't we..."

"Why don't you shut up? You think one time travel adventure makes you the end all and be all of determining what's best around here? This isn't even your town, Hook. You don't belong here. It's not yours. None of this is yours." She motioned around, and, to her credit, didn't even sway as she did so.

Narrowing his eyes and lowering his voice, he took the bait. "Whose is it, Swan?"

She leaned in, her words crisp even as the smell of beer rolled off of her. "Hers," she hissed. Leaning back, she reached into her pocket and threw money on top of the bar. "Leave me alone, Killian," she yelled as she walked a straight line to the door. "You're on my shit list and about two spots away from my 'I'm done with you' list."

She let the door slam behind her, and it was only after she was certain no one was following her and no one could see her that she allowed her bravado to fall away. She swayed and then stumbled into the alley behind Granny's where she slid down the wall onto the dirt. Wiping at her fact, she pulled her hand back to find it wet. She'd started crying, and she didn't understand why, but now she couldn't stop crying.

She gave up trying to get herself under control and permitted this moment to be emotional. She'd lost so much in such a short amount of time, and the one person who probably got her the best of anyone in this town was the exact person she'd screwed over. Good intentions or not, she hated herself for taking Regina's happy ending away. She hated that she couldn't do anything to fix it. She hated that no one else seemed as concerned about Regina as she did, and she hated that Regina seemed to consume her waking thoughts and was starting to sneak into her dreams.

Nothing about this was normal or healthy, but, then again, her life had never been either one, and she hated that, too.


"I can't believe you're drinking that alone," a smooth baritone voice commented cordially. Regina turned to find a handsome man in a well tailored suit sliding onto the stool next to her. She quirked her eyebrow at him, and he smiled in return. "Wine as lovely as that should be savored over a nice conversation with someone interesting."

"And you're just the interesting person to provide me with the conversation?" She gave him an almost smile. She didn't have a doubt in her mind he was flirting with her, and she felt like having some fun. "What do you considering interesting?"

"Well, for starters," he replied while flagging the bartender down, "your name. Mine's Andrew."

"Regina." She gave a small nod of her head.

"That is a lovely name, Regina. It suits you." Andrew paid for his drink with cash, leaving a handsome tip along with the change.

She raised her eyebrows. "And why is that?"

"It means 'queen' in a a few languages, and, in others, it means 'royal', and you certainly hold yourself with poise." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Be honest, you're some kind of duchess or something from overseas, and you're slumming it in Boston just to get away from the bore of being a royal, aren't you?"

He waggled his eyebrows for added effect. It worked. She laughed, allowing her smile to blossom across her face. "Hardly, though thank you for the compliment."

"You're welcome." He took a sip of his wine, obviously savoring the taste. "So, are you here to meet someone tonight?"

"No," she shook her head. "I'm here to... to forget a few things before I have to return back to work tomorrow." She could see the sparkle of hope in his eyes. Before he could say something else, she held her hand up. "I have a teenaged son, and I'm a small town politician, so the only thing I'm going to do to forget is have maybe another glass of wine and then return to my room... alone."

The sparkle faded from his eyes, but he managed to keep the disappointment from his face. "Married?"

"No," she chuckled at the very idea given what she knew of herself. "Widow."

"I'm sorry," he said with genuineness. "Okay, so I get you're not interested in any company later, but you seem like a nice enough person. Would you mind just talking? I'll be honest, I've probably hit on ever woman in this bar tonight." He winced apologetically. "I know, I have no shame, but, to tell you the truth, I'm not even interested in going to anyone's room tonight."

She gave him a look of disbelief. "Then why try to pick everyone up?"

"Because sometimes it's nice to know you're still desirable, even at my age." He laughed at himself. "Actors, we're a narcissistic lot."

"Oh," her eyebrows rose in surprise, "you're an actor? I'm sorry if I should recognize you. I'm afraid I don't watch much television, and I'm terribly selective about the movies I see." At least, she was reasonably sure she was terribly selective about the movies she watched.

"Don't be sorry. I'm a bit actor. No one recognizes me, but at least I make a living at it. I'm only in Boston this week for a family thing. I'll be back in LA by Monday morning. I got a gig on a TNT drama. I'm the dead body." He shot her a proud grin.

"Well, that sounds very challenging." She chuckled. "How long do you hold your breath for a take?"

He shrugged. "Couple of seconds? They try to not actually film full body shots for longer than that because we do have to breathe."

She nodded her understanding. "And how did you come about this prestigious role?"

"Are you mocking me?" He gave her a playful glare. "Because I think you're mocking me."

She smiled again. "Perhaps a bit."

"Don't mock me!" He called out in faux defense. "At least I'm an employed actor. Do you know how many actors out there are the unemployed type?"

"No," she shook her head, giving a sly look. "Just how many servers and fry cooks are there in the world?"

His laugh was melodious. "I see what you did there." He winked. "Nice."

Again, she gave a small tip of her head. "So, Andrew, tell me about LA. I've never been to the other coast..."

Chapter Text

Brunch at the hotel's restaurant had been nice. Regina met Andrew there, and they picked up where they'd left off on their conversation from the night before. He chatted about Hollywood, the west coast, and what his profession was like, and she spent a lot of time actively listening, smiling, and asking questions.

It turned out to be a great way to learn how to interact with people she wasn't sure she knew because talking to Andrew would, essentially, be exactly like talking to the people in Storybrooke. She felt much more confident about her situation as she made her way to the early showing of 'Maleficent.' She'd mentioned that was her next stop, and he'd spent a solid ten minutes praising the movie without giving away anything to spoil it, which had been quite the feat.

She had left him feeling much better about everything and honestly looking forward to seeing the film. Her day was feeling solid.


"Emma?" Ruby's voice broke into a nasty dream Emma was having in which she was fighting some weird invisible force that was holding Regina captive. She could see the other woman and hear her, but she couldn't actually get to her. There was something holding her back, and she was so frustrated she wanted to scream, but she just kept fighting. "Emma, are you okay?"

She opened one blurry eye and quickly shut it. Her head was pounding. "No," she grunted out.

"Did you pass out back here last night?" Ruby squatted down to look the younger woman over. "I heard a rumor you and Hook had it out at the Rabbit Hole."

"He's an ass," the blonde mutter, wincing against the pain talking caused her. "Hung over."

"Yeah, I'd say you are." Ruby chuckled. "Come on, let's get you up. I'll put you up in an empty room so you can sleep that off on a bed, but," she sniffed and then coughed, "you have to take a shower first. You smell like death."

"Feel like it, too," Emma mumbled. "Got clothes?"

"Yeah, for you to borrow to get back home. Just sleep nude. Who's going to know, and you don't have anything I haven't seen before." Ruby pulled the still disoriented sheriff in through the back door and up the stairs. She opened a room with her master key and led the blonde to the bathroom. "You shower, and I'll go grab you some water and a couple of aspirin. They'll be on the nightstand when you get out, okay?"

"K," Emma grunted, stumbling into the bathroom and removing her clothes with fingers that didn't want to work like fingers should.

Ruby watched her for a moment. "If you fall in the shower, yell. I'll come get you."

Emma grunted as she finally managed to pull a boot off. "Thanks."

"Yeah, no problem, Em." The waitress headed for the door but stopped short. "Hey," she called out and waited until the other woman poked her head out of the bathroom door. "Just give her sometime, okay?"

"Her?" Emma blinked in complete confusion. Her head was too fuzzy to follow the conversation she was in. "Her who her?"

"Regina." Ruby gave a small, sad smile as she shook her head. "I know, Emma. I notice things other people don't, and it's okay. It took me a while, but I finally came to terms with it, and I just think she needs time to settle."

"Rubes, are you sure I'm the one that's been drinking?" Emma tilted her head and immediately regretted it.

"Take a shower, Emma." Ruby laughed. "I'll be back in a couple."

Emma watched her leave and then went back to the task of undressing herself. It took far longer than it should have, and turning the water on was a monumental undertaking. Finally, she stepped into the spray and spent a good minute or two with her face raised to the shower head and her mouth open so she could drink the water.

If this was how her day started, she thought as she began to wash her hair, it could only go up from here.


True love's kiss to break a curse? That didn't really seem particularly original, and, for some reason, Regina had an extremely difficult time buying into the idea that Maleficent was a good fairy who was just misunderstood. She had no idea why, but she felt extremely certain that such was not the case.

She tried to shake it off as she made her way to the comic book store. The gangly teenaged girl behind the counter gave her a bright smile when she entered, and they'd spent the better part of two hours looking for comics for Henry.

The young lady was very knowledgeable about comics in general, and Regina happily played the clueless parent she was. By the time she left with her stack of comics, her head was swimming with even more new information, which she tried to hold onto. She felt like she should know it for Henry's sake because she very much wanted to be interested in whatever her son was interested in. She felt this was something important for her to do, to take an active interest in his interests.

Her final stop of the day was at the coffee shop. This would be the real test. Apparently, she came here whenever she was in town, and it looked to be a local spot, which meant she would probably be recognized.

She stood across the street and stared at the front for a while, noting the people coming and going from the front door ranged from clean cut young people to people who were likely hippies in the 1960s. That spoke highly of the coffee. It was likely high quality if it could bring in that assortment of people.

Taking in a deep breath and gathering her courage, she crossed the street and entered the establishment. She was met with the aromatic smell of coffee. The air was practically charged with caffeine, yet the store felt welcoming. She smiled as she looked around.

"Well, if it isn't the mayor herself!" A bold, deep bass voice boomed out from behind the counter. Regina turned, smile in place, to meet the welcoming face of an older gentleman with a full beard and mustache and a wide grin. "I didn't think you were ever coming back. Did that personal assistant of yours finally figure out a way to get you back here so she could get her coffee?"

"No," she answered with the confidence she didn't have. "I came on my own this time. I thought a little break was in order."

"I hear that," he said with a laugh. "All work and no play, right?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Something like that."

"So, four pounds of the usual for your girl?" He was already starting to gather the order.

She nodded again and then turned to look around while he worked on her order. It was a small store with only a few chairs, but it was busy. The door was constantly opening and closing, and it occurred to her that she'd cut in front of at least three people. She blanched. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" She looked to the people who were staring her down. "I didn't even realize... that was rude of me."

"Don't mind those three, Madam Mayor. They know who you are." The man behind the counter called out. "You probably don't recognize them because they all got haircuts and shaved, but those are just my boys."

"Oh," she raised her eyebrows in surprise, and, frankly, confusion. "I didn't realize..."

"It's cool 'Gina," one of the young men said with a sly smile. "We're not even mad." He winked at her.

She scowled back at him, the reply on her lips before she knew what she was saying. "I have a full name. It's Regina Mills, but you may call me Ms. Mills or Mayor Mills. The choice is yours."

"Every single time," he said with a laugh. "Alright," he shrugged, "Sorry, Madam Mayor."

She sighed, turning back to the counter, but, in reality, it was to turn away from further talks lest she give away the fact she didn't really know them.

The man handed her the order. "You're still as pretty as the first day I ever saw you, and you don't look like you've aged a day. You sure you won't tell me your secret?"

She had no idea how long she'd known these people. She gave her best mysterious smile. "Juice cleanse," she responded. "It does wonders."

"Yeah, that's what you tell me," he said with a laugh. "You want anything else? We have a new blend. It's a roast that has a hint of apple pie in it. I made it myself."

"Yes," she nodded. "I'll take two pounds of that, as well."

He nodded. "I thought you might." With a grin, he went about filling the rest of her order.


Emma opened her eyes and tried to remember where she was. It took her a few before she remembered Ruby pulling her up the stairs and into a room at the inn. She groaned, rolling over to find three bottles of water and two aspirin waiting for her on the nightstand.

With a little effort, she sat up and grabbed the pills and a bottle of water. Downing the pills with her first swig, she finished off the water in record time.

Her head felt better, and she didn't feel like vomiting anymore, so that was an improvement. Her clothes were neatly folded and sitting on top of the nearby dresser. They looked clean, and she assumed Ruby had washed them with the inn's laundry for the day, which told her she'd been out for way longer than she liked.

It also meant Ruby had seen her in the nude, and she wanted to be embarrassed by that fact, but she couldn't feel enough strength to care. Maybe later? Probably not.

She grabbed the next bottle and opened it. This time, she drank at a normal pace as she considered her options for the rest of the day. At some point, she was going to have to go home and face the firing squad. By now, the entire town would have heard about her falling out with Hook, which meant Mary Margaret was probably on the verge of being mental.

Her mother was positive Killian was it for Emma, but Emma was starting to think what he was wasn't anything to write home about.

She groaned and pushed off the bed to stumble back to the bathroom. There were toiletries waiting for her on the sink. She made a mental note to do something really nice for Ruby soon. Mustering what little strength she had left, she got dressed and made her way down to the diner. She needed food – hot, greasy, bad-for-you food.

She had just settled into a booth when Ruby came by and sat a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and a giant burger with a heaping pile of fries down in front of her. "I owe you so much for this, Rubes."

"You owe me details the next time I ask for them," the waitress said with a smirk.

"What does that even mean?" Emma narrowed her eyes, trying to follow.

"It means what it means." Ruby shrugged as if to say it was all very simple. "The next time I ask you for details, you have to give them to me. Deal?"

"I'm sure I'm going to regret this, but deal." Emma grunted and took a sip of coffee.

Ruby nodded and bounced off to wait on other customers. The blonde watched her go, wondering what she was up to and what details she had in mind.

Chapter Text

Where to eat dinner? Regina glanced over the recommendations from the hotel, but nothing caught her eye. In truth, it wasn’t that she wasn’t hungry or in the mood for anything, it was that she didn’t want to dine alone.

She considered calling Andrew, who was just a few floors below, but she didn’t want to interrupt him if he was out with his family. Her mind circled around to the couple she’d met earlier in the week. It was Saturday night, though. There was a good chance they were out on a date together, which she certainly didn’t want to interrupt.

She plopped restlessly down on the edge of her bed. What did she want to do? She turned and looked out over the darkened city. This was her last night to be her before she had to go back to Storybrooke and be Mayor Mills and Mama Mills. Of course, she really had no idea who she was. In theory, she was both of those people. However, she felt like she was so much more than that, but she couldn’t recall what she was nor who she’d really been before.

Sighing, she stood up again and walked around the spacious hotel room. Shaking herself out of her momentary funk, she marched to her clothes and pulled out a three piece power suit, matched it with a nice pair of Pradas, and then took in the shower. She didn’t need anyone to keep her company when she went out tonight. There was a very nice restaurant in the hotel, and she was going to go there and enjoy it. If she were lucky, maybe she’d make another friend.


 

“Where have you been?” Mary Margaret pulled the door open before Emma could get her key fully in the lock.

“Granny’s,” her daughter answered as she slowly walked into the apartment. “Just had dinner.”

“And where were you for breakfast and lunch?”

Emma ignored the question, and, instead, walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. “Where’s the kid?”

“He’s with David. They went to the movies.” Mary Margaret stared Emma down, arms crossed and expression making it clear she wasn’t going to drop anything or let a single thing slide by. “The whole town is talking about your disagreement with Hook last night.”

“Of course they are,” the blonde mumbled from behind her glass. “These people need to watch more soap operas and leave me and my personal life alone.”

Her mother rolled her eyes. “Emma, he came by looking for you today. He was really upset.”

“Good. He should be.”

The smaller woman huffed. “Are you going to at least tell me what’s going on?”

Emma shrugged and turned to refill her glass again. “I don’t like it when people start thinking they can tell me what to do or when they start thinking they know what’s best for me to do. I really don’t like it when people start nosing around in what I’m doing without my consent. What I do with my time is my business, and if Hook, or you, don’t like what I’m doing, then you need to come talk to me, not talk amongst yourselves as to how to handle me.”

“We’re just concerned, Emma. You’ve been obsessing for days.” Mary Margaret reached out to place hand on her daughter’s arm, but the blonde pulled away. It clearly hurt, but she let it go, dropping her hand back to her side. “Why are you so worried about Regina?”

“Because someone needs to be, and I’m apparently a glutton for punishment.”

Her mother sighed. “She can take care of herself. She’s always been able to, and, right now, she’s not letting anyone in. She’s hurt, and she’s angry. It’s best to leave her alone and let her calm down. Trust me on this one. I know from experience that pushing Regina when she’s not ready will never end well.”

“Who’s pushing? I’m not.” Emma set the glass down on the counter with a heavy thunk. “And why is it that Henry and I are the only people to be concerned that Regina, who doesn’t run from anything, took off without tell anyone where she was going and without telling Henry goodbye in person? Doesn’t that strike you as the least little bit weird?”

“I’ll admit that it’s a little out of character for her, but…”

“But what?” Emma shook her head. “This is exactly why Regina is the way she is. Name one person you can think of in her life that honestly cared about her and worried about her that wasn’t someone who was trying to use her to get something. One person. The only person I can think of is Henry.”

“Daniel.” Mary Margaret frowned deeply, guilt cutting her face into hard lines. “Daniel loved and cared about Regina for Regina.”

“And how long ago was that? Forty something years?” The younger woman pushed away from the counter and began to randomly walk around the open space of the apartment. “You know, I get it. I understand learning that you can’t rely on people, that you’re the only person you can count on. I learned that lesson the hard way. Years in the system…” She trailed off, waving her hand in the air to both dismiss her train of thought about her own personal history and stave off her mother’s inevitable apologies for her daughter ever having been in that situation in the first place.

“But now? Now I have people who honestly love me for me and not because they want something from me, and they care about me. They worry when something’s wrong with me, and they honestly want to help, and it’s weird. I still don’t know how to deal with it sometimes. It’s hard to trust you even knowing that I can. But I have you, and I’m really lucky.”

She stopped pacing the apartment and turned to face her mother again. Wiping a hand over her face, she took in a deep breath. “Regina had that for the first time in forty something years.” At the question written in Mary Margaret’s eyes, she explained further. “Robin.” Emma began to pace again. “Robin cared for Regina because she was Regina, and now he’s back with his wife because I brought her here. I did that. Just like you did with Daniel, my actions resulted in someone who genuinely loved and cared for Regina being ripped away from her, and I just…” She faltered, the guilt for a moment overriding her justification at saving another person’s life.

“Knowing what I know about how it feels to finally have people that want me around and don’t want to use me, I cannot imagine how devastated Regina is right now. To have that ripped away twice…” She shook her head. “I don’t think I could handle it once, and, frankly, I don’t know what I’d do if everything was torn away from me and I could remember it. It’s not like New York, where Henry and I had a good life. We didn’t remember anything from here, but Regina remembers everything, and the pain…” She stopped talking, her eyes widening as a thought suddenly struck her.

“Emma?” Mary Margaret stepped closer, concerned. “Emma, what’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to Gold.”

“Sweetie, it’s 9:30 at night. Don’t you think you should wait until…”

“I have to go. Tell Henry I’ll see him tomorrow.” The blonde rushed out the door, leaving her mother standing in the kitchen, confused and more concerned than ever for her daughter.


 

“Hello?” Regina regarded the tall, statuesque blonde in the striking pantsuit with a curious eye. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” She sincerely hoped she hadn’t just severely offended a constituent she was supposed to know well.

The blonde smiled brightly and shook her head. “No, we’ve never met.” Regina was immensely relieved. “I hope you don’t mind, but I actually came over to ask you where you bought your shoes.”

“My shoes?” Her eyebrows rose in surprise at the question, and she glanced down at her feet. She blushed a little as she sheepishly admitted, “You know, I don’t know.” She gave an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I just thought it couldn’t hurt to ask. They’re Prada, aren’t they?” The woman smiled warmly. “I have soft spot for Prada, and those look practically retro. I really love them.”

Regina matched the smile. “They are. You have a good eye.”

“I’m a detail person,” the blonde admitted as she pushed her dark rimmed glasses up her nose. “Comes with the job, I suppose.”

“What’s that? Are you some sort of investigator?”

“You could say that.” The woman chuckled. “I’m a lawyer.”

“Well, that’s very interesting,” Regina said, her smile widening. This woman was intriguing and very attractive. “I’m a mayor.”

The woman quirked an eyebrow. “Of what city?”

“Storybrooke. It’s a small town in Maine.” Regina motioned to the empty seat across from her at the table. “I just sat down to dinner. Would you like to join me?”

Nodding, the blonde took the seat. “Thank you.” She gave a polite smile, blue eyes sparkling in the low lights. “I’m here on business, and I don’t have anyone to eat with tonight. I don’t always mind eating alone, but…”

“Sometimes you’d simply like the company.” The brunette nodded in understanding. “I had the same thought tonight before I came down here to eat.”

“Being a workaholic has its drawbacks, and finding enough people to put up with you being a workaholic so you have someone to call when you don’t eat want to eat alone is one of them.” The blonde shrugged. “I’m sure you can relate.”

“Yes,” Regina agreed, though she really didn’t know. She assumed she was a workaholic, and there’d been no mention of friends, so she could only assume she lived an extremely solitary life. Shaking that very depressing thought from her mind, reached across the table to offer her hand. “I’m Regina, by the way.”

The other woman took it and gave a firm, quick shake. Smiling brightly, she replied, “Alex.”

Chapter Text

The dinner was delicious, and her dinning partner turned out to be very enjoyable company. They talked about wine, books Regina should read, the movie she’d just seen, and fashion. Their evening ended with a glass of wine and a shared dessert.

“This is sinfully good,” Alex said as she scooped another bite of the decadent chocolate dessert onto her spoon.

“Yes,” Regina nodded from behind her wine glass. She took a sip, watching the blonde slowly savoring the taste and enjoying what she saw. “I’m not really a fan of desserts, but this one is lovely.”

“No? So you’re a savory kind of person?” Carefully setting her spoon on the plate, Alex pulled away. “I have to stop. I’m going to eat it all at the rate I’m going.”

“It wouldn’t hurt my feelings. Really all I wanted was a taste.” Regina gave an almost sultry smirk. “Sometimes that’s all you need.”

Alex quirked an eyebrow. “Sometimes you think that’s all you need, but it turns out to be an addiction you didn’t know you had.”

The brunette tipped her head to the side. “Sounds like you have experience.”

“A little.” Finishing off her glass of wine, Alex leaned back from the table with a sigh.

“This wine is lovely, isn’t it?” Regina changed gears. She was circling for the attack, and she knew she was, but she had no idea how she knew how to do this, but she seemed to do well with it.

The other woman nodded. “I’ve had better, but this is up there.”

“Yes, as have I.” Setting her own glass down, Regina gave her best mysterious smile. “I actually prefer apple cider.”

Alex narrowed her eyes, giving her own version of the smile. “I can’t image where you’d find something like that around here that was worth drinking.”

Regina’s smile broadened just a hair. “You don’t, but it just so happens that I keep a private stock here at the hotel for when I visit.”

“Oh?”

Giving a hum of confirmation, Regina leaned in a bit further. “I make it myself.”

The blonde’s smile broke into a look of surprise. “You make your own cider?”

“I do,” Regina declared proudly. She stood, looking down at the other women as if presenting her with a dare. “How would like a glass of the best apple cider you’ve ever tasted?”

Alex smile again, allowing her eyes to pull over the brunette’s body. “You know, I think I’d like to give that a try.” She stood, stepping around to the other woman’s side. “Lead the way.”

Haughty smirk on her face, Regina turned gracefully on her heels and started to the elevators, not bothering to check to make certain the blonde was following her. She had no doubt she was. They stopped at the desk so Regina could request a bottle be brought up to her room immediately, and then continued on their way.

Regina felt remarkably empowered by how her night was turning out.


 

“Gold!” Emma pounded on the door to his house, not caring if she woke the neighbors or not. “I know you’re in there! Open this door!”

Much more slowly than she would have liked, the door finally opened to reveal Belle, not Gold. “Emma, it’s nearly 10 at night. Can’t whatever this is wait?”

The blonde glared, leaning to look past the other woman. “No, it can’t wait. Where’s Gold?”

“He’s not here,” the red head said with a huff. “I don’t know where he is. He said he would be doing some inventory at the store, and then he was going to go spend some time in the woods.”

“In the woods?” Emma narrowed her eyes. “Why the woods? What’s he doing there? Trying to find the gingerbread house?”

“No, the witch who has the gingerbread house has enchantments to keep certain people out,” Belle answered on reflex.

Emma let it go. Now was not the time to feel surprised about yet another fairytale being real. In fact, she should probably stop being surprised by these sorts of things. “I need to talk to him, Belle.”

The smaller woman shifted uncomfortably while she considered what to do. Finally, she gave a defeated sigh. “He goes to the woods about once a month to use magic someplace where no one will see him or get hurt. It… it builds up, and it gets harder for him to control it if he doesn’t use it, so he takes off to, I don’t know, turn trees into gold or something mundane that’s not going to hurt anyone or anything.” She shook her head. “You really shouldn’t go after him tonight, Emma. It really could be dangerous. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”

For a moment, Emma deliberated on whether or not this could wait, but the fact was it could, and the last thing she wanted to do was walk into the middle of some kind of dark magic shit storm. “Can you tell him to call me first thing? I really do need to talk to him.”

“Yeah, of course.” Belle nodded, seeming to finally be awake enough to really understand what was going on. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, I don’t think so, and I don’t want to… No.” The blonde shook her head again, deflated. “Thanks, Belle. I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“It’s okay, Emma. I’ll let him know.”

Giving a nod of thanks, Emma turned to head back to apartment only to reconsider. She needed to know if she was right about her hunch, but she didn’t want to let anyone else know. It could mean real trouble for Regina, and she’d caused enough trouble to the other woman.

In fact, talking to Gold might actually be a terrible idea now that she thought about. She sat in her bug, mulling everything over. Where could she go to find out the answers she needed without alerting the entire town to what might be happening?

A moment later, her mind came up with the answer. The vault.

Newly determined, she started her car and headed to the cemetery, stopping for coffee along the way. It was about to be a very long night.


 

The sun filtered in along the sides of the curtains, gently landing on Regina. She scrunched her face up, fighting to remain asleep, but her body declared it was time for her to get up. Slowly, she opened one eye and then the other.

She took in the room. Her clothes were scattered haphazardly across the space, the cider bottle lay on its side, empty and discarded on the floor by the desk, and there was a cell phone she didn’t recognize flashing away with a message indicator light on the nightstand.

She smiled. It’d been a delightful night.

Giving a little stretch, she rolled over to find her companion still peacefully sleeping on the other side of the gigantic bed. Even with her mouth slightly open and a gentle snore escaping now and then, Alex was still stunning, and, come to find out, extremely talented in more than one area.

The smile on Regina’s face broadened. Yes, it’d definitely been a delightful night.

However, checkout was in a few hours, and she had much to do before she had to leave, so it was time for the lovely blonde to take her leave. Reluctantly, Regina reached over and gently tapped Alex’s shoulder with her forefinger. “Dear, I’m afraid it’s time for you to get up.”

The other woman grumbled incoherently and turned away from her. Regina chuckled, scooting closer and wrapping herself about the other woman. She nestled her face in the now very messy blonde hair and whispered gently into Alex’s ear, “I’m very sorry. I’d love to sleep longer, too, but I’m afraid we can’t. You need to get up.”

Taking in a deep breath, Alex let it out in a moan. “You’re insatiable.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining last night,” Regina countered, the smirk on her face echoed in her voice.

Alex chuckled. “Fair enough.” She scooted back, reaching over to pull the women behind her closer. “You were right. That was the best apple cider I’ve ever tasted.”

Regina hummed in approval. “If you give me your address, I’ll send a few bottles the next time I make a batch.” Whenever that would be. Apparently, she made cider on a regular basis, and, if she didn’t before, she was going to now. It clearly came in handy to have a few extra bottles around.

“I’d like that.” With a disapproving groan, Alex began to disentangle herself from the bed and from the brunette. “I’ll put my contact information in your phone before I leave.”

“Speaking of,” Regina said as she turned to grab the cell phone from the nightstand behind her. “This was flashing at me this morning. It looks like someone’s been trying to find you.”

Alex took the phone, checked it, and rolled her eyes. “My addiction.”

“Ah,” Regina said with a knowing look. “Not another apple cider, I presume?”

“No, not even by a long shot.” The blonde sighed. “It’s complicated.” She shook her head. “The woman doesn’t really know what she wants.”

The brunette raised an eyebrow. “But she wants you?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes she wants… wanted her partner, the man she worked with for over a decade. Sometimes she wanted a different guy. Who knows? God knows I don’t.” Alex flipped her phone off and tossed it to the end of the bed. “Whatever. I’ve moved passed caring, I think. Anyway, we’re not complicated, and, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to keep that way.”

“I’m agreeable to that idea, yes.” Regina finally sat up, not bothering to keep herself covered and not bothered by the hungry eyes that roamed over her exposed skin. “Perhaps a shower before we take leave of each other?”

“Yes,” Alex growled out, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Definitely yes.”


 

Emma groaned, her body aching in places it hadn’t since sleeping on the bunks in prison. Everything thing hurt, she was cold, and her joints were stiff. With effort, she pushed herself up and looked around. She’d fallen asleep in Regina’s vault, and the cold stone floor was not the greatest of sleeping locations. She’d felt better after waking up half drunk in the alley behind Granny’s the night before.

Her pain wasn’t for naught, however. After rifling through the massive library of books on magic she’d found in one of the rooms, she’d finally come across a book she could actually understand. What’s more, it contained information on curses, how they work, the nature of what happens to the person casting the curse, and the like. It was exactly what she needed, mostly.

The curse Regina had originally cast was apparently something very unique. It’d never been done before, and, therefore, some of the particulars of what happens to the person who casted it were simply unknown variables.

What she did learn from the book was that those who cast a curse were very rarely affected by that curse. It was one of the benefits, to be able to watch everyone suffer. However, the curse Regina originally cast was specifically created for her. It wasn’t generic, like most curses tended to be. Ordinarily, the only difference with, say, an aging curse, or whatever common curse out there you could think of, was who actually cast it.

Therefore, it was entirely possible that, regardless of who cast the curse that was specifically created for Regina, it wouldn’t affect Regina in the slightest. On the other hand, if the curse followed most edicts of curses, then, when Snow White cast the curse a second time, Regina would be subject to whatever parameters the curse had for those affected by it as well as whatever intentions Snow, as the person casting the curse, wanted to happen.

Emma rubbed at her temples. She could feel the headache forming.

Glancing down at the book still open on the floor beside her, she flipped the page, picking up where she’d stopped reading last night. The paragraph on theoretical curse casting confirmed what her gut had been telling her since this all began.

It was entirely plausible that, when Regina crossed over the town line, she’d lost her memories. 

Chapter Text

So this was Storybrooke? Regina glanced around, recognizing what she saw from the photos. It looked like a sleepy little town in Maine, which, if her notes were to be believed, it was.

As she drove through the town, trying to recall the maps she’d studied, she noticed people glancing at her car. Their faces would grow tight, some would turn away, and others would stare at her with a death glare that she could practically feel boring into her.

So far, the notebooks hadn’t lied. It was evident she wasn’t a well-liked figure in town.

With a sigh, she turned onto Mifflin Street and then parked where she recalled she was supposed to park at the house she had no doubt was hers. It was huge and imposing with a perfectly manicured front lawn. As she stepped out of her car, she surveyed her domain. It was as impersonal as she assumed it would be. Her eyes wandered over the perfectly mown grass, the artfully arranged seasonal flowers in the beds in front of the house, and the pristinely kept hedges.

She frowned. Something was off with one of her hedges. She slowly walked to it while she tried to figure out what was wrong. As she came to a stop beside the poor hedge, she realized it had been badly burned. Her frown deepened. Was this a message? Was there someone who hated her so much they had set her hedge on fire? Who would do such a thing? Her entire house could have gone up in flames, and then what would she have done?

She reached out to run a finger over the charred remains of leaves and branches. This was not good.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” A voice from behind her startled her out of her thoughts. She managed to keep from jumping, but only just. Pulling her hand away, she slowly turned around and hoped her face showed mild contempt and disapproval. That seemed to be the right emotional mix for the moment.

The voice belonged to Emma Swan. She immediately recognized the woman from the photos, and she was every bit as beautiful in person as she had been on the page, if not more so. The late afternoon sun created a halo effect about the unruly blonde curls, and the woman’s practically porcelain skin glowered in the dying embers of the sun. She was a vision dressed in skin tight jeans, white tank top, and red leather jacket.

“Is this your doing, Miss Swan?” Regina was particularly proud of herself for remember the woman’s name and managing to sound like an irate Type A personality while internally being absolutely tongue-tied.

“Yeah,” the blonde nodded, blushing a bit. “I… um… might have managed to accidentally catch it on fire the other night. I’m really sorry about that.”

For a very long moment, Regina stared at the other woman while she considered what to do. She was extremely curious as to how this had happened, but her notes said not to talk to this woman more than necessary. She could already tell that mandate was going to be a difficult one.

Deciding to find a middle ground on how to deal with the blonde beauty, Regina pointed to the hedge behind her. “I don’t want to know.” She wanted to know so badly she could taste the desire. Well, she was going to lie to herself and say it was a desire to know and not a desire for something else altogether. “I expect it to be replaced within the week.” That sounded reasonable.

Emma cocked an eyebrow. “Seriously? Can’t you just fix it?”

How, exactly, would the brunette do that? “No, Miss Swan, I can’t ‘just fix it,” she spat back, trying to sound as angry as possible and stepping into the other woman’s personal space to add to her menace. “You will replace my hedge by the end of the week. You damaged it, and you will replace what you’ve damaged.”

Holding her hands up in defeat, Emma took a step back. “Okay, alright… fine. I’ll replace your hedge.” She tilted her head to the side and watched as Regina stepped around her and moved to open the trunk of the Mercedes. “So… are you still super angry at me?”

The brunette straightened but didn’t turn around. Had she been mad at the younger woman? Well, that would explain the notes about her being poison. Stiffly, she reached in to grab a suitcase. Changing the subject was in order. Stick with notes. “How’s Henry?”

“Henry?” Emma narrowed her eyes at the back she was staring a hole through. “He’s fine. He and David went to see a movie last night.”

“Nothing R rated, I hope?” Mama Mills, yes. Regina could do that fairly convincingly.

“Honestly, I’m not sure, but I doubt it.” Crossing her arms, the blonde waited for the inevitable attack this statement should cause. She expected the other woman to whirl around and throw a long list of biting remarks at her for her poor parenting skills.

Instead, Regina pulled another suitcase from her trunk and set it down on the ground. “Do you need something, Sheriff?”

Emma tilted her head in confusion. Something was definitely not right here. “I… just wanted to know if you wanted help getting your stuff back inside?”

The young blonde was persistent. Regina would give her points for that. She turned to face the sheriff, crossing her arms and staring her down. “I don’t need help from you, Sheriff Swan. If I do, I’ll let you know. Now, unless there’s some kind of official town business you need to discuss or there’s something we need to address regarding Henry, I’d like for you to leave.”

Emma didn’t budge. Instead, she gave the older woman a look of challenge. “We still have that issue about the mines. What do you think we should do there?”

“There’s a meeting tomorrow to discuss that, as you well know. However, my opinion is that we should allow the Miners' Union some leeway in handling the specifics of how to process the ore so long as they remain within the regulations set by the EPA.” Regina’s eyebrows rose, and she pursed her lips. “The city will expect the sheriff’s department to enforce the private property rights of the mining company and continue to keep the protestors off the privately owned land.”

The sheriff leaned back, regarding the brunette. She nodded. “Henry’ll be over tonight. He misses you, and he said something about wanting more cookies.”

“Good day, Sheriff,” Regina replied curtly as she turned around to shut her trunk and gather the suitcases she’d pulled out. She would get the rest later, when the blonde wasn’t hanging around.

Emma finally took the hint and left, much to Regina’s relief. As she entered the house and closed the door behind her, all she could think about was how grateful she was to herself for that notebook full of reports and the planner she’d looked over before she’d left to come here.


 

“She’s lying.” Emma pulled Henry into his bedroom and shut the door. “I just got back from seeing Regina, and she’s lying.”

Her son looked both excited and confused. “She’s back? How do you know? What’s she lying about?”

“Kid, I know when your mom is lying. I always have, and she’s lying about being angry with me.”

“You mean she said she’s not still mad at you and she is, or…” He was completely lost.

“Like I asked her if she was still mad at me, and she changed the subject.”

“Emma, that doesn’t mean she’s lying.” He shrugged. “Maybe she just doesn’t want to talk about it anymore?”

“Henry, there’s more going on here. Look, I did a little research last night on curses, and I think,” she wiped at her face and looked around as if she was making sure no one else was in the small bedroom, “that your mom lost her memories.”

He balked. “What?”

“Okay, just stay with me here.” She held her hands up. “The person who casts a curse is immune to the curse, right?”

“…yeah.”

“And that meant that Regina was immune to the effects of the curse that created the town, right?”

“…right.”

“But Regina didn’t cast the second curse, Snow did.”

Henry’s eyes widened. “So that means Grandma is immune to the effects of the curse but Mom isn’t?” He blanched. “Emma, do you think Mom knew that?”

“Henry, this is Regina we’re talking about. Of course she knew.”

“But why? That means she would have forgotten everything, right?” He shook his head. “She wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t get rid of me like that after everything we’ve been through to stay together as a family. Why would she do that? I don’t understand.”

“Obviously, she came back, and you were one of the things she asked about directly, so she didn’t give you up, kid. Look, either she remembers and I’m wrong, or she’s remembers bits and pieces, or she doesn’t remember but somehow knows.” She shook her head. “I don’t know, but I do know we need to figure it out. I told her you were coming over at some point tonight because you missed her, so she’s expecting you. See what you can figure out.”

“What if she catches on that I think she’s lost her memories?” He rolled his eyes. “Why wouldn’t we tell Grandma and Gramps? Maybe Gold can help?”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea yet. We don’t even know what’s really going on, and, if Regina really is a blank slate somehow, I think we should protect her. Telling everyone her business isn’t the best way to do that.”

“You don’t trust Mary Margaret and David?” Henry looked crestfallen.

Emma shook her head slowly from side to side. “I don’t trust them to keep a secret, and this should stay a secret until we can sort it out.”

Her son smirked. “I want to say something about how important it is to trust people, but I think you’re right.”

“That year in New York really made you less of a black-and-white person, didn’t it, kid?”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “I’m going to pack and head over to Mom’s. I’ll text you tonight.”

“Okay, but, if anything happens, call me, and I’ll be right over.” She grabbed him by the arm and looked him straight in the eyes, determined for him to understand how serious she was. “Henry, we owe it to Regina to do right by her. We can’t mess this up. She may not realize it, but she needs us right now.”

He nodded. “I know, Emma. We’ll help her this time.”

She straightened back up, giving him an approving look. “Good. So… what are we calling this?”

A smile broke out over his face. “Operation Groundhog.”

“Operation Groundhog? Do I want to know?” She chuckled.

“Mom and I used to watch ‘Groundhog Day’ a lot when I was little.” He shrugged. “It made sense to me.”

“Okay then, Operation Groundhog it is.”

Chapter Text

“Mom?” Henry closed the front door behind him, glancing around. Everything looked normal. He resituated the bag on his shoulder and headed up the stairs, yelling as he went along. “Mom? I’m headed to my room!”

At some point, she normally yelled at him for yelling in the house. Ordinarily, regardless of where she was, inside or outside, she always knew, but, so far, nothing had happened. He huffed and opened his bedroom door to toss his stuff inside. His room looked just as it always had. Turning, he went back to the landing. “Moooom?”

His voice echoed through the house. Something was definitely up. By now, he should be grounded for yelling. Keeping a keen eye out, he walked back down the stairs made a circuit of the house. His mom was nowhere to be found. Finally, it occurred to him she might be on the back porch.

He made a beeline for the back, and looked out the windowed door to find his mother sitting beneath the apple tree, which wasn’t that odd. What was odd was that she was wearing jeans and loose fitting shirt, and she wasn’t reading. She had a book, but she was staring up at the stars. She hadn’t done that in a long time.

They used to look at the stars together when he was a little boy, but that stopped years ago, and she never stargazed alone. It was weird to see her just sitting out there in open, unprotected and all alone. It was dangerous, actually. Someone could decide to ambush her.

He pulled the door open and stepped outside. “Mom?”

She pulled her eyes down toward Henry and smiled. “Hello, Henry.” She motioned for him to come sit by her. He did so, but slowly, not sure what was going on. “You look handsome tonight, my little prince.”

He looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. She hadn’t called him that since… Well, she’d called him that on Hook’s ship on the way back from Neverland, but that didn’t count. It wasn’t the same. She’d stopped calling him her prince when he’d started calling her the Evil Queen.

She smiled up at him, patiently waiting. Slowly, he settled in next to her. “What are you doing?”

“Looking at the stars. It feels like forever since I looked at them last.” She gave his leg a pat as she turned back to the sky. “Aren’t they lovely?”

He continued to stare at her. “Well, I guess so, yeah.” He shrugged. “I mean, they look like they always do.”

“You can’t see them in Boston as well as you can here,” she commented absentmindedly. “I was surprised to see how clearly visible they are here.”

That was an odd thing for her to say. Curious about Emma’s theory and worried his other mother was right, he decided to test the waters. “Do you remember when we used to look at the stars when I was little?”

She gave a very small smile. “You said you didn’t see the pictures like I did.”

That was true. Regina tried to teach him the constellation, but he was too young to understand the concept. He just wanted to know where the pictures were his mom saw in the sky. “Yeah,” he chuckled. “I used to call the North Star… something.” He knew what he used to call it. He wanted to see if she did. “It’s been a while. I can’t remember what, though.”

“Sparkles.” Regina slowly returned her gaze back to her son. “Miss Swan tells me you were expecting more cookies.”

“I think she meant she was expecting more cookies. I think I got, maybe, 6 out of the whole batch you brought over.” That was true. Emma had a thing for his mom’s cooking. They chuckled, and then he turned serious. “Hey, Mom, how come you didn’t wait to tell me bye before you left?”

Her face flashed blankly, as if she didn’t understand the question. “I… I don’t know.” She seemed lost for a moment. “I guess I didn’t want to bother you?”

Henry frowned. That wasn’t like his mother at all. “You know that, even if I’m with Grandma or Gramps, you can still see me, right?”

“Yes,” she sounded uncertain and slightly confused. “Of course, Henry. Why would say that?”

“Well, I know you don’t like them again, and I kind of figure you’re avoided everyone since Emma brought Marian back, but you know it’s going to be hard to avoid them, right? I mean, as long as I’m around, you’ll probably have to talk to them some.”

She looked away from him and toward the house, keeping her eyes on some distant point beyond for a long time, and Henry wondered if she was trying to find the correct answer to give him or if she was simply emotional and didn’t want to show it. It was hard to tell. “Henry,” her voice came out softer than normal, “I’d prefer to leave certain aspects of the past in the past.” She turned back to him, and small yet reassuring smile on her face. “I accept I’ll have interaction with them, and I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye to you. It won’t happen again. I promise.”

He nodded, tilting his head to the side in thought. “Are you going to hate Mom forever? You know she didn’t mean to take away your happy ending. She was just trying to do the right thing.” He was baiting her, and he knew it.

“Whatever is going on between me and Miss Swan is not something for you to worry over,” she responded in her typically stern manner. He’d expected her to lash out. “What’s done is done, and we can’t go back into the past an undo it.” Actually, he thought, they could, but it seemed like a lot of work and sacrifice. “Sometimes, it’s best to simply let certain things go and move forward.”

He felt his eyebrows fly up in surprise. That was a remarkably healthy attitude, and the most unlikely comment to ever come from his mother. “So, you’re saying that you and Emma can be friends again?”

“No.” Instead of the answer being cuttingly dry, it was soft and gentle. Her expression was apologetic. “Some things just can’t happen, Henry, and that’s one of them. I’m sorry.”

She meant it. She meant she was sorry. What madness was this? This wasn’t his mom talking. She’d never be sorry for rejecting someone who hurt her as much as Emma had. “Ever?”

She sighed heavily. “I just don’t know, little prince.” She turned to look up at the sky again. “I really don’t.”

The uncertainty in her voice and look of conflict on her face was enough to convince Henry that Emma might be onto something. He decided that it might be good to give it a rest, though. She looked tired. “Mom, do you think you could drive me to school tomorrow?”

She gave him a quizzical look. “Don’t I always?”

No, she’d stopped after the first curse was broken. Okay, Emma was definitely onto something. “Yeah,” he lied, “but I was wondering if we could leave super early and maybe get breakfast at Granny’s? I really missed you this past week. It was weird not having you around.”

She smiled at him again and nodded. “What time do you want to get up?”

“An hour earlier than usual?” He was testing her again.

“I don’t know that you can get up at 6 in the morning, Henry. Are you certain?”

He gave his best charming grin. “Yeah, I can do it. Worst case? You can throw some cold water on me to get me up.”

Giving a little chuckle, she nudged him with her shoulder. “It’s getting late. Don’t you think it’s time to go to bed?”

Was she giving him a choice? This was so weird. “Yeah, probably.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek before standing up. “Goodnight, Mom. Love you.”

“Good night, Henry,” he heard her call as he headed toward the house. “I love you, too.”


 

Regina watched her son go into the house, and she let out a relieved sigh. That had been trying. There hadn’t been anything in the notes about her leaving without telling Henry goodbye. That was poor planning on her part not to alert herself of that situation.

Thank goodness the first notebook had such detailed notes about Henry scattered throughout the pictures. If those hadn’t been there, there’s no telling how lost she would have been in that conversation, and she still didn’t understand why she hated these people she was supposed to hate.

What had Emma Swan done? Who the hell was Marian? From where did Emma bring this Marian person back?

She shook her head. There were too many holes.

From what Henry said, she and Emma had been friends at some point. Why wouldn’t she want to at least be friends with the person she was supposedly co-parenting with? It made no sense. None of this made sense.

Frustrated, tired, and irrationally angry, she decided to call it a night. Maybe sleeping on it would make it easier the following day? She doubted it, but it was worth a try.

Per the instructions left regarding her routines, she made a circuit of the first floor of her home, making certain every window and door was closed and locked. Her notes indicated she had political enemies that might actually try to do her some harm. She assumed some sort of vandalism, but she didn’t want to take chances, which meant following the instructions to make certain her home was on lockdown before she went to bed.

She stopped by Henry’s room to make certain he was in bed. He was, but he was far from being close to sleep. Instead, he was reading a comic book.

She smiled and shook her head. “Henry.” He jumped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, it’s okay. I just… I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll go to bed now.” He seemed to scramble to comply with a request she hadn’t made.

She furrowed her brows in confusion. Was he nervous around her? “It is getting late, and I want you to get enough rest so you can function at school tomorrow.” She stepped inside his room and sat on the edge of his bed. “What are you reading?”

He was staring at her again. It made her uneasy. Was she giving off signs that she didn’t know who she was? “Batman,” he answered cautiously.

She nodded, smiling and trying to remember what she’d learned about comics. “From the New 52?”

His jaw dropped almost comically. She’d surprised him. “Yeah, it’s the Batman Eternal comic.”

“That one is fine, but I don’t want to catch you reading ‘Death in the Family.’ That story arc is too gruesome. I don’t want you exposed.” She stood up again, running her fingers through his hair as she did so. “Don’t let me forget that I brought something back for you from Boston, okay? I’ll give it to you tomorrow morning.”

She was very happy to see the excitement in his eyes. “You did? What did you bring me?”

“It’s a surprise.” She winked at him, retreating to the bedroom door to turn off his light. “Goodnight, my little prince. I’ll be around to wake you up at 6 sharp tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, goodnight, Mom.” He gave a strange look, something she couldn’t identify. “Love you.”

That was the second time he’d told her that, and, though she did like hearing it, it seemed strange that a boy of his age would tell his mother that often that he loved her. She decided not to question it lest it stop. “I love you, too, Henry.” With that, she stepped out of his room and closed the door.

She groaned as she walked down the hall to her bedroom. Tomorrow was her first day back as mayor. If tonight was anything to go by, tomorrow was going to be killer.


 

The Kid: Mom?

Emma picked her phone up off her nightstand and shot out a quick reply. Well?

The Kid: You’re right. Something’s up. She’s acting too normal.

She furrowed her brows. What did that even mean? Too normal how?

The Kid: She didn’t yell at me for yelling in the house. She’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t get in trouble for reading comics instead of going to bed. She didn’t seem to remember not telling me goodbye before she left, and she actually knew something about comics.

Yes, that was all pretty weird. Like legit knew, or knew because she read some headline off of HuffPost?

The Kid: Legit knew

None of that sounded like Regina’s regular MO. Yeah, that’s weird.

The Kid: We’re going to Granny’s for breakfast tomorrow. You going to be there?

She had planned on sleeping in since she hadn’t slept well in two days, but she guessed that wasn’t happening. What time?

The Kid: 6:45 at the latest.

She groaned. Why her? Yeah, okay. It’s late, kid. Go to bed.

The Kid: Goodnight, Mom. Love ya.

Having Henry call her mom and tell her he loved her would never get old. She smiled. Love you, too, kid.

She set her alarm and plopped her phone back down on the nightstand. At the rate she was going, she was going to be sleep deprived for the rest of her life.

 

Chapter Text

“What’re you going to get?” Henry bounced down into the booth opposite Regina.

She smiled at how much life he seemed to have about him. “I’m not sure,” she answered as she picked the menu up. She immediately realized that was the wrong answer as she recalled she had a usual breakfast order. Quickly, she added, “I think maybe I’ll try something different this time. What do you think?”

He gave her a perplexed look. “Like what?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps an omelet or maybe a crepe?” She ran her eyes over the menu quickly, hoping that something looked better to her than apple pancakes, which was her standing order.

“You don’t want the pancakes?” He scoffed at her. “Come on, Mom, you know you want them. Don’t tell me you’re going on a diet or something.”

She glanced up at him and realized he was teasing her. She smiled. “No, little prince, but sometimes a person likes to change up their routine. It keeps life interesting.”

Henry leaned back a little in his seat and cocked his head to the side. “I thought didn’t like to change things up? You always tell me that routines are important.”

This information probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to her. She had at least 15 different routines and backup routines in her reference books. She probably should have seen that coming. Sighing, she set the menu down gently on the table. “Alright, you caught me.” She was working fast to come up with something that would satisfy her son’s curiosity. Clearly, the boy was sharp. “I went to Boston to learn a few things, and I’ve decided to take some advice from everything I’ve learned.”

He crossed his arms and looked at her as if to say he was waiting to hear whatever this advice was. She wondered if he’d learned that stare down technique from her, and, if so, she hoped it was still stuck in her brain somewhere because it was highly effective.

She actually squirmed a bit in her seat, which only caused him to narrow his eyes. “Someone told me that I should be a better mother and a better mayor, and that would lead to me finding some measure of happiness.” He didn’t really need to know that she had told herself that via written notes to herself. “After thinking on it for a bit, I have to agree, and I’ve decided that part of being those things is allowing for some changes to our routines.” She gave him a tight lipped smile. “There’s no reason we have to essentially relive the same day over and over again, is there? Where’s the enjoyment in that?”

“You don’t want to be Bill Murray?” Henry asked with a smirk.

She had no idea who that was, and it showed on her face. “Bill who?”

“You know? Bill Murray?” She shook her head in the negative. “Phil?” Still nothing. “Come on, Mom! You can’t have hated the movie that much, jeez. I mean, I know you don’t like Bill Murray, but…”

“Who doesn’t like Bill Murray?” Emma strolled up to the booth and looked down between the two occupants.

“Mom,” Henry said, motioning toward Regina. “She hates Bill Murray.”

“Really?” The blonde motioned for him to scoot over and slid in next to him as she eyed the brunette. “How can you not like Bill Murray?”

“First of all,” Regina couldn’t believe she was going to have to deal with Emma Swan so early in the morning. She wasn’t ready for this. “I don’t believe I recall inviting you to eat with us this morning, Sheriff Swan.”

Henry whined. “But, Mom, why can’t she? Please, can Emma stay and have breakfast with us?”

Despite herself, Regina really wanted to readily agree. She was drawn to the sheriff, and what would be so wrong about having a family meal together? She sighed. “Fine.”

“Yes,” her son hissed in celebration.

She ignored him. “Second of all, I have no idea who Bill Murray is, so I can’t say whether I like him or not.”

“He’s an actor,” Emma explained plainly, not even a hint of teasing in her tone. “He’s done a lot of stuff, including the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ which is a movie about a guy who relives the same day over and over again until he gets it right. You probably don’t know him because most of his stuff is pretty juvenile humor.”

“Mom,” Henry grabbed Regina’s attention with a small wave of his hand, pulling her from his other mother’s rather piercing gaze. “You know who he is. He plays Phil in that movie. You and I used to watch it all the time when I was little. In fact,” he said in a considerate voice, “I think we still have the VHS at the house.”

“Ah,” Regina answered, still unsure but not wanting to give more of her ignorance away. “How could I have forgotten?” She tried to brush it off. “Well, Sheriff, since you insist on eating with us today, what are you getting?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I sort of want apple pancakes, but then I sort of want an omelet.” Emma shrugged as she read the menu over Henry’s shoulder.

Henry looked from one mom to the other and grinned. Regina instantly knew he was up to something, though she wasn’t sure if she should trust that instinct just yet. “Why don’t you and Mom split stuff? I know Mom wants the apple pancakes, even if she says she doesn’t, and I know you want the omelet, and you both want something different, so why don’t you both get your regular orders and then split them?”

Emma gave him a hard look. Regina assumed she was thinking the same thing. Their son was up to something. “I’m not sharing a plate of food with Miss Swan, Henry.”

The blonde rolled her eyes. “Why not? I don’t have anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

No, that wasn’t even on Regina’s radar of things to worry about. “You really want to split our meals between us, Sheriff Swan?” She sounded defeated, even to her own ears.

“I wouldn’t mind splitting it, no.” Emma shrugged. “The kid’s got a good plan. Maybe we should go with it? Besides, Madam Mayor, it’s getting late. If we don’t order soon, the kid’s going to be late to school.”

“Fine.” The brunette set her menu down with a little force. “Flag someone down so we can order.”

Henry cocked an eyebrow, which didn’t go unnoticed by his older mother. Was she normally the one to flag someone down? Or was it odd that she’d so easily agreed to split something with Emma? It was too late to change it now.

By the time the waitress finally made it to their booth, Regina had all but forgotten her worry about her son’s skeptical look. She had been drawn into a story he’d read about in a fairytale book about Red Riding Hood, but it wasn’t anything like the other stories she seemed to know. In this tale, Red was both the person and the wolf. It was a fascinating take.

The rest of breakfast went off without much difficulty. Emma and Henry were quiet while they ate, and Regina rushed them all out the door so they would be on time to work and school, which didn’t leave time for either the sheriff nor their son to say much that would catch her up.

The relief she felt after she dropped him off at school was palatable, until she realized she’d forgotten his gifts and her personal assistant’s. She turned her car around and headed back to her home to get both. She wasn’t about to walk into her office empty handed. The last thing she needed was to anger the one person who could make or break her work life right now.


 

“So,” David said as he strolled into the station, “the rumor around town is that you had breakfast with Henry and Regina this morning.”

She shrugged. “I was there when they were there, so I joined them.”

“Does this mean Regina’s not mad at you anymore?” He crossed his arms and gave her his best ‘dad’ look.

“No,” she slowly shook her head in the negative. “In fact, she’s treating me like she used to back before the first curse was broken.”

He winced. “I suppose that’s better than nothing. Does this mean that you are done obsessing with her now that you know she’s fine and she’s not going to hate you forever?”

“This is a thinly veiled ploy for me to start talking to Hook again, isn’t it?” She threw her head back in an overly dramatic fashion and let out a long, strangled groan. “Why can’t I just not like someone without people being all up in my business about it?”

“You did go from making out with him in front of Granny’s to yelling at him in the middle of the Rabbit Hole to shove off in record time.” He nonchalantly shrugged. “It just seemed to be a pretty quick turnaround.”

“Look, I know you like him, and I know you think he’s a great guy, and I know you and Mary Margaret think he’d be good for me, but the truth is,” she made a random gesture with her hand, “I think I just gave in.”

David shook his head, clearly confused. “Gave in how?”

She gave him a look that said she thought he was being dense. “David, he chased after me for a really long time. The man was super persistent, and then he’d do these really grand gestures to show he changed and how much he loved me, and you know I told him no for a long time.” He nodded. She heaved another sigh. “When two people go through a lot together and one of them is as persistent as Hook’s been, one of two things is going to happen. The person being chased is either going to give in and give it a try, or they’re going to go running for the hills. Well, I can’t run, so I think I decided to give it a try.”

“And it’s not working?” He didn’t sound as disappointed as she thought he might.

“I don’t need someone who follows me around like a lost puppy dog or thinks they need to protect me from whatever.” She shrugged. “I’m not a damsel in distress or a princess stuck in a tower. I don’t need that kind of romance.” She made a face that showed exactly how distasteful the idea was of having that type of romance was to her. “I don’t want it. I want an equal, you know? Someone who gets that I don’t always want to talk and sometimes I’m going to want to not be in charge. I want someone who balances me out. I need a person who gets that I’m not a prize to be won or an honor to be gained.” She leaned forward in her chair, placing her elbows on her arms and looking down to the floor. “I want someone who sees me and who recognizes that I am a person who is an equal to them in everything.” She glanced up to her father. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” he said, taking in a deep breath. “You’re still looking for your true love.”

She grunted. “Hook’s not it.”

“No, I suppose not.” He dropped his arms and hooked his thumbs into his front pockets. “That’s okay. I’ll talk to your mother about it.”

“Thanks.” She looked over and happened to catch the time. “I have to go. There’s a meeting with the Miner’s Union in twenty, and I don’t want to be late.”

He nodded. “I’ll hold down the fort. Good luck.”

“I’m going to need it,” she said as she grabbed a couple of folders and ran out the door.

Chapter Text

"Operation: Groundhog' is too successful, Mom," Henry said between sips of his milkshake. "It's been almost a week, and I keep running into stuff that she's not getting right that she should."

"I know what you mean, kid. She's just that much off. It's like you can't put your finger on it, but you know that's not quite how she would handle something." Emma pushed a fry around on her plate. "And she's not as much fun to fight with anymore."

"You mean because she shuts you down and walks away instead of taking the bait?" He smirked. "I can tell that's really bothering you."

"Part of the fun of being sheriff of this one horse town is being able to rile the mayor up. If I can't do that, then the only thing I have left is saving Mrs. Leon's cat from her tree."

They sat in silent contemplation for a time. The diner bustled with activity. For a Friday night, the crowd was about right, and the noise level was fairly high for the diner. It was the perfect time to have this talk. Too many people in too small of a space all trying to concentrate on their own little social bubbles meant they had a lot of privacy.

"What are we going to do?" Henry's jaw flexed as his mouth pulled down into a straight line. "If we just confront her about it, you know she'll deny it, and she's stupid good a deflecting stuff. Plus, she does know some stuff, and, if she really did lose her memory, then how does she know that stuff?"

"You know what our problem is, kid?" Emma pointed at him with a ketchup tipped fry. "We've been going about this all wrong. We've been trying to think about what it is we can do for her, but what we should be doing is trying to think like her."

"You mean do the whole 'if we were my mom what would we do' thing?" He shrugged. "Couldn't hurt."

"The problem is trying to figure out where to..." she trailed off as the subject of their musings walked in. They were seated in the back corner booth, and, with the crowd, that hid them from the mayor's view.

Henry turned to see what had caught his mom's eye, and he remained staring as he watched his mother walk over to the counter and give Ruby a genuine smile. "Okay, this is weird."

"Yup," Emma said and then waved her hand between the two of them. Suddenly, they could both hear what the waitress and mayor were saying.

"Madam Mayor, what can I do for you?" Ruby was cordial but cautious.

"Good evening. I'd like my usual to go, please, and," Regina's face blossomed into the most sincere look she'd possibly ever given the werewolf, "if I haven't said it before, thank you for always being so efficient in your job, Ms. Lucas. It truly makes the day better to know I can depend on you to always get my order correct, and I know," she leaned in, giving a little wink as she did so, "that Henry appreciates the extra fries you give him when you think I'm not paying attention." She stood up straight again. "Thank you for taking good care of us."

Both Henry and Emma's jaw dropped, which perfectly mirrored Ruby's own stunned expression. "Ummm... thank you?" She looked completely bewildered.

The mayor gave a slight shake of her head. "No, Ms. Lucus. It's I who should be, and am, thanking you. From now on, I am going to try very hard to do better at thanking you. You work hard, as do most people in this town, and everyone deserves to be praised for all the positive things they contribute to making Storybrooke a great place to live."

"Holy hell," Emma mumbled. "She's, like, the perfect politician. What the actual fu..."

"Wow, Regina, that's really... um... thank you," Ruby fumbled along, completely dumbfounded by the conversation. "That... that actually means a lot coming from you. I didn't even know you noticed us peasants."

"Peasants?" The older woman literally scoffed aloud. "No one here is a peasant. This isn't the Middle Ages. We live in a republic, after all, and I am happy to be on of many who have the honor of serving the public interest." She glanced at the clock and stiffed. "Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry to cut this short, but I'm afraid I'll be late for my appointment tonight if you don't put my order in. Do you mind?"

Still at a loss, Ruby had to take a couple of seconds to shift gears from utterly confused to waitress mode. "Uhhhhh... no? I mean, no! No, of course not, Mayor Mills. Let me go put that in. It shouldn't take long."

"Thank you," Regina tilted her head, payed for the order, and then walked to an open seat at the counter.

Henry turned around to give Emma a look that said, 'Did you see that?' In turn, Emma nodded and gave a look that said, 'I have no idea what is happening here.'

They continued to listen to Regina talk. By now, she had settled into a conversation with Mother Superior. "And how is the convent? I understand your cloister has decided to start a new campaign to better raise awareness of those in need."

Blue looked as though she were watching a cobra dance in front of her. "Yes," she cautiously answered. "The other sisters and I thought it would be good to start taking up donations for the more impoverished of our community." She gave Regina a suspicious look.

"I think that is a fantastic idea, Mother Superior," the mayor said, face completely open and full of approval. "In fact, I like the idea so much that I'd like to offer space at all of the public buildings for the sisters to place a collection site at each location." Her face fell into one of slight remorse. "I really wish I could do more. As mayor, one would think I had a lot of control over how these sorts of issues are handled. Unfortunately, I don't. I do plan to bring our need to provide more services to the poverty stricken of the town during our next council meeting. I have a plan I've been working on that would allocate more funds to clinics, shelters, and community areas. I'm hoping to get it passed before the next bond election so the citizens can vote on it."

"You... what?" Blue scrunched her face up, torn somewhere between angry, confused, and terrified. "Is this some kind of joke, Regina?"

"Why would I joke about a thing like this?" The mayor tilted her head, clearly confused. "I'm being very serious, Mother. I think it's vitally important that we help where we can. I am doing my best."

"You are doing your..." Blue grunted. "You think it's important to..." She sighed, closing her eyes and centering herself. "Okay, if that's the game you want to play, fine." She opened her eyes again. "The sisters and I would love to place collections boxes at the library, City Hall, and the post office."

"I've already had spaced cleared by the main doors of each facility," Regina replied with a smile.

"Okay," the other woman was starting to looked slightly freaked out. "And I'll speak to the sisters to see if we can do anything to help promote your proposal after we've seen it, of course."

"I wouldn't want it any other way." Holding up a finger, Regina started digging around in her bag. "I may actually have a copy, but, if I do, it'll be dogeared. I've been going over it most of the week to ensure it's what we really need." She frowned as she pushed papers this way and that. "Oh! Here we go." She pulled out a very worn looking stack of papers. "Please forgive the coffee stains, and do feel free to copy it as many times as you'd like. I have a soft copy at home, but I don't want to get to my office tonight, get distracted, and forget to send this to you."

Slowly, Blue took the stack from Regina's hand. "Thank you." She looked down at the papers as if they might explode at any moment. "I'll be sure to look this over."

"Thank you for taking the time, and please don't hesitate to give me a call if you have any suggestions for improvement or questions about the proposal." The mayor turned to find Ruby walking toward her with her order. "My food is here." She stood as she gave Blue a gentle pat on the arm. "Really, Mother, thank you for your time. I honestly appreciate it." With a final thanks to Ruby for a job well done, Regina left the dinner.

Henry slowly turned back around to face Emma, who flicked her wrist again before talking. "This isn't going to end well," she said more to herself than to her son.

"When did Mom become a people person?"

"About the time she forgot all about being the Evil Queen." Emma ran a hand over her face. "She's really trying to be a good mayor."

"That's not a bad thing," Henry offered half-heartedly.

She shook her head. "No, it's not, but it's tripping everyone out. Ruby and Blue look like they've seen a ghost."

"Speaking of being a little tripped out," he said, giving her the stink eye. "When did you learn to eavesdrop using magic?"

"I picked it up from one of the books in your mom's vault." She rolled her eyes at him. "Don't look at me like that, kid. I read more that night I figured this out than I have in my entire life! So what if I learned a couple of cool tricks? Is that so bad?"

"It's handy at least," he begrudgingly admitted.

"Am I to assume that your new found magic tricks are handy?" Emma nearly jumped out of her skin as Gold's voice rolled over her shoulder.

"Jesus, Gold, you nearly gave me heart attack."

"You've been avoiding my calls, Sheriff, and, dare I say, me." He walked around to the side of their booth. "Now why is it that you came to my home and woke my wife at 10 at night demanding to see me and now you're avoiding me?"

"I realized I didn't need you," she shrugged. "That's all."

"Is that so?" He looked down his nose at her. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the Mayor's sudden interest in her constituents' happiness, now would it?"

She sighed. Of course they were going to play this game. "Can we not do this?"

"Do what?"

"You know what? I know. You know. I know you know. You know I know. I know that you know that I know. You know that I know that you know. We all know, so can we, you know, not?"

From his spot across the table, Henry tried, and failed, to stifle a chuckle. Both adults threw him a look that quickly quieted him back down. He went back to paying special attention to his milkshake.

"Alright," Gold shrugged. "Fine. Then let me ask you this, Miss Swan. What are you going to do about it?"

"What can I do about it?" She refused to back down or look away. This was a battle of wills, and she was determined to win it.

"Well now, that depends. How long do you think you can protect her from herself?" He kept his eyes on her but motioned around the room. "Eventually, something will happen, and they will know, and then what?"

"You owe her." Emma said with a growl to her voice.

He gave her a mocking half smile. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me, Gold. You owe her. I don't care what anyone says. If it weren't for you, she would never have ended up how she is. You needed her to enact your curse so you could get to Neal. You. Owe. Her."

He scoffed at her presumptuousness. "Please. She made her own choices."

"No, she made the choices you gave her, and now it's time to make it up to her." Emma stood, putting herself at eye level with him. "You owe her, and it's time you paid up."

"What do you suggest I do, hmm? I can't give her back what she's lost, if that's what you're suggesting. It's a curse. You know what it takes to break one of those." He shrugged again. "Nothing to be done there, dearie."

"Put a protection spell on her, her house, her office, her car, and her family's mausoleum." She crossed her arms leveling her best glare at him. "My magic is still kind of unstable. I need Regina to be herself in order for me to really do it right because I'm still learning, but you're the Dark One. You don't need anyone to make a protection spell work, and you owe her at least that much. You and I both know that, so long as she's like this, she's vulnerable. You owe her some protection, for once."

"You can't be serious." He stared at her, and she returned the glare. Neither was willing to back down, and it was Henry who broke the standoff.

"She's my mom," he said quietly. When they both turned to look at him, he repeated himself just a bit louder. "She's my mom, and you can't let her get hurt. Dad died so that we could all be safe, and I know he'd be really mad at you if he knew you could help protect my mom, and you didn't."

Gold's jaw flexed as the boy's words sank in. "Alright." He rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll go around tonight and take care of it, but..."

"Don't you dare say that makes you even because there is no way throwing up a few protection spells makes you even for literally destroying an innocent woman's life and tearing her down only to build her up as your little pet monster." Emma gave a tight shake of her head. "No. Just no."

He ran his tongue over his teeth as he considered her and then nodded, saying nothing else and simply walking away.

Emma turned and slid back down into her side of the booth, glancing around to see if anyone had noticed the scene. Apparently, no one was interested in her family drama tonight, and, for that, she was thankful.

Henry pushed his milkshake to the center of the table with a huff. "I"m scared for her, Mom."

She nodded. "So am I, kid."

Chapter Text

“Listen here, sister, I don’t know what you’re thinking you’re going to pull, but we’re onto you.” Leroy pointed a finger at Regina as he stormed her office.

“I’m so sorry, Mayor Mills. I told him you were busy, and I tried to get him to make an appointment, but he just blew right past me.” Her assistant looked torn between extremely angry and very terrified. “I’ve already called the sheriff.”

From her place behind her desk, Regina slowly dropped her pen and looked the small, stout man over. She knew he was the head of the Miners’ Union. She knew his name was Leroy. Based on the experiences she’d had over the past two weeks, she knew the town had a strange respect for the man, though she had heard a few people refer to him as being grumpy.

What she didn’t know was what he was currently talking about. She had thought her recent meetings with his union and his company representatives had gone well. Everyone seemed to have come to an amicable solution regarding zoning and how to properly fall into compliance with EPA guidelines while still maintaining the integrity of both the dig site and revenue having the company in the town created.

She looked behind him to catch her assistant’s attention. “It’s alright, Ms. Hawthorne. I can always make time, but please move my next appointment to lunch. Ask Marco if he’s willing to have a working lunch with me today to go over the plans to repair the school’s playground.” She smiled gently. “Tell him the check’s on me.”

Her assistant stared at her as if she were trying to decide if she were going to follow the directions just given to her or try to grab Leroy and pull him out of the office. The wait was long enough that Regina felt the need to prompt her assistant. “Ms. Hawthorne? Is there something else?”

“I… no?” Her assistant looked extremely confused. “I don’t know think so. No, but…” She seemed torn for a moment, glancing at the unwelcomed visitor as if trying to determine if what she wanted to say was something she ought to say in front of him. Finally, she seemed to decide it didn’t matter. “Forgive me for asking, Mayor Mills, but are you feel well?”

“I feel fine.” She gave her best confused face, though alarm bells were going off inside her head. She’d obviously done something to tip her hand. She should have known better than to let her guard down with her assistant. It was likely this person knew her better than anyone outside of her son. “Why do you ask?”

“You just seem… off.” Ms. Hawthorne took in a deep breath and let out slowly. “I’m sure it’s nothing.” She seemed to collect herself and turned to Leroy. “Sheriff Swan is coming, dwarf,” she said in a cool, even, rather threatening tone. “Try to behave until she gets here.”

Before Regina could chastise her assistant for being so utterly rude to the head of the Miners’ Union, Ms. Hawthorne was gone, closing the office door behind her. The mayor made a mental note to correct the behavior. There was absolutely no reason to be threatening.

Turning away from those thoughts for the moment, she redirected her attention to Leroy. “I apologize for my assistant’s rudeness. You have my word that I’ll be reprimanding her later for that behavior. It’s absolutely unacceptable.” She shot him her best apologetic smile, but dropped it a moment later when his return was to scowl harder at her. “So, what brings you here today?”

“Like I said, we’re onto you, Regina.” He pointed at her again. “You’re not fooling anyone with this nice act. You may have changed, and I’ll give it to you that you’ve saved us a few times, but there’s no way any of us are buying this 180 act you have going on.” He stepped closer to her desk. It would have been quite intimidating had he not reminded her of a teddy bear trying to look like a grizzly. “Whatever you’re planning, I’m here to tell you that you might as well stop now because we’re watching you.”

She was honestly confused. Saved them how? Was he talking about the tax cuts last year? Who was watching her? The Miners’ Union? Why would they be watching her? She couldn’t keep the puzzled look off her face, and she stopped trying to because, in truth, there was nothing in anything she’d learned to help her with this. “What is it you think I’m trying to do?”

“I don’t know.” He threw his hands up in the air. “No one knows what you’re going to do half the time, but it’s normally not good. Who knows that you’re planning? Maybe you’re going to try to destroy the town again? Maybe you’re going to try to curse us again? Maybe you’re going to bring some kind of monster over from a different realm to terrorize us? Who knows, but what I know is that we’re onto you, and, whatever it is, we’re not going to let you do it.”

Destroy the town? Curse them? A monster from another realm? Was he drunk? She shifted in her seat, feeling very uneasy. If he was drunk, he might decide to physically attack her. Given how angry he already seemed to be, it seemed a likely next step, and she wasn’t sure she could protect herself if he decided to hurt her. He was much stronger than she was physically.

“I assure you, Leroy, I am not trying to do any of those things.” She glanced back at her door, hoping the sheriff would come sooner than later. “The only things I’m trying to do are set a budget for next year, get some much needed repair work done on the school’s playground, and have the council pass a measure to put in a vote at the next bond election to allow more money to fund my plan to improve the town’s facilities for the poor.”

“Right, and you really expect us to believe that?” He snorted with discontent.

“I… well, yes because it’s the truth.” She could not wipe the confused look off of her face. This entire conversation was beyond ridiculous. Where on earth was he even coming up with these things? “As your mayor, it’s my job to do what I can to…”

“Please!” He folded his arms across his chest and glowered at her. “You’re only the mayor because you made yourself the mayor. You’re the one that set yourself up with this gig when you enacted the first curse.”

Again with accusations of cursing people? Was he a Voodoo practitioner? Where was this coming from? She shook her head. Clearly, her previous self had left out some really important detail about this man that would have come in handy when having to deal with him. She sighed. “Leroy, I don’t know where you’re getting these ideas, but they’re just not right. I’m not out to harm anyone. That’s not why I’m here.”

He snorted again. “Right,” he said incredulously.

“It is true, whether you want to believe it or not. You make it sound as if I’m some kind of witch.” She sighed. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“As you kidding me?” His voice bellowed, completely filling the large cavernous office space. “You are a witch! Where do you get off trying to deny that now?”

“What? I’m not…”

“Don’t even try it, Regina. You’re not just any witch, you’re the witch. You’re the Evil Queen, and no one is ever going to forget…”

“That’s enough, Leroy,” Sheriff Swan cut into the little man’s rant. She slammed the door closed behind her and stalked over to the miner.

If looks could kill, Regina thought to herself, she was certain the sheriff’s would have obliterated Leroy. Sadly, it didn’t. However, it did have the effect of shutting him completely down in the middle of his rant, to which Regina was very thankful.

“What are you doing here?” The blonde stopped beside him and towered over him, using the height difference to add to her intimidation factor.

He looked nervous but he didn’t step back. “I came here to tell Regina we know she’s up to something, and then she has the never to tell me she’s not a witch.”

“She’s not.” The sheriff crossed her arms and continued to glare at him.

From behind her desk, Regina watched the interaction curiously. There was something more going on here than this man simply feeling the effects of being confronted by the sheriff. His body language changed. It was as if he saw her as something more than a public official, as though she were far above him in social standing, which wasn’t the case at all. He and Emma Swan were about on par with each other socially.

“What do you mean ‘she’s not?’ Of course she is! She’s the Evil Queen, Emma. That’s not ever going to change,” he barked back, but his façade was starting to crumble under the blonde’s continued stare down.

“She’s not that, either.” The sheriff took another step so that she could again tower over him. “She’s your mayor, and I think it’s about time you started showing her a bit of respect. Tell me something; what has she done in the past month to make you think she has anything but the best interests of the town at heart?”

“Well, she…” There it was. Regina saw the exact moment he knew he’d lost this argument. “Well, it’s not like we can… Come on, she’s a schemer! We all know that.”

“The only schemes she’s up to are ones that involve improving the town.” Emma crossed her arms, raising her head to look down her nose at him. “You need to leave her alone, Leroy.”

“But,” he looked like a kicked puppy. Regina almost felt sorry for him. “Princess…”

Regina startled. Had he just called the sheriff ‘princess?’

Emma rolled her eyes. “I mean it, Leroy. If you have problems with how the town is run, make an appointment and bring more than baseless accusations with you. There’s a process, and it’s time we all started following it.” She snapped a hand out and pointed at him, narrowing her eyes. “And don’t call me that.”

“Alright,” he held his hands up. “Fine, if that’s how you’re going to be, but, when things come crashing down and it’s all her fault, don’t come crying to me about it.”

“Believe me, Leroy, you are the last person I’d go crying to.” She motioned to the door, and he grunted, turning and leaving without another word.

Regina closed her eyes in relief as her office door shut behind him. “Thank you, Sheriff.”

“No problem. It’s what I’m here for.”

She opened her eyes to find Emma leaned against the back of her sofa. She looked way too relaxed to have just come from a confrontation, but, then again, she always seemed to look like she hadn’t much of a care in the world. The look suited her. Regina smiled warmly despite herself. “Still, I do appreciate it. I was afraid he was going to get physical with me before you arrived.”

“Nah,” Emma shook her head, chuckling a little. “Leroy is all bark and no bite.”

“He seems extremely easy to agitate, doesn’t he?” The older woman shook her head, standing to walk to her dry bar. “I’ve heard of people hating their politicians, but I’ve never heard of anyone deciding we were witches and warlocks.” She pulled out two glasses and poured a little cider into each. Turning, she handed one to the sheriff, who took it with a nod of thanks.

Regina took a sip from her own glass as she allowed the events to roll over in her mind. “He called me the Evil Queen.” She frowned. “Is that how the citizens really see me, Sheriff? Am I such a bad mayor that they hate me so very much?”

The sheriff took a sip, keeping her eyes on Regina as she did so, and the mayor felt as though she were being inspected from the inside out. She shifted uncomfortably under the gaze.

“No,” Emma finally answered quietly. “You’re not a bad mayor, Regina. In fact, this town couldn’t run without you. You’ve practically built every bit of working infrastructure from scratch. When you arrived, there wasn’t much. You practically created the entire town, and,” the sheriff walked over to the window and gestured outside, “look at it. It’s a prosperous town full of people who have good jobs and nice places to live. The crime is practically zero, the unemployment rate is less than 1%, our buildings and roads are well maintained, the town is clean, and our economy is stable.” She turned around to face the brunette and lean against the windowsill. “All of that tells me that you’re a good mayor, Regina. So what if a few people don’t like you? You can’t please everyone all the time.”

Regina walked over to the window and looked out past the well landscaped greenery of City Hall to what was beyond it, and she saw a sleepy yet thriving little town. The other woman was right, Storybrooke was in fine order. If she were a poor mayor, such would not be the case.

She took another sip of cider and turned to lean her hip against the windowsill as she regarded the sheriff. Why was she supposed to hate this woman? It was becoming less and less clear with each passing day. “Thank you.”

“None needed.” The blonde finished her cider, setting the glass down on a coaster on the mayor’s desk. “I’m just making an observation.”

Regina gave a hum in response. “Speaking of observations,” she smirked, looking at the other woman with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. “Did I hear Leroy call you princess?” The blush in response was all she needed for confirmation. She chuckled. “Did you two date, Miss Swan?”

“What?!” Horror blanched the blonde’s face. “NO! Ew, God, no.” She shuddered. “Oh man, that is… no. I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth just now.”

Despite herself, Regina laughed, her face breaking out into a smile. “Well, then, how did you wind up the princess to my evil queen, hmmm?” She finished her drink and picked up the empty glass on her desk on her way to deposit them back on the dry bar. “Does this town have a weird kink about royalty that I have managed to be unaware of?”

She turned to find Emma hiding her face in her hand. “No,” came the muffled response. “Besides,” she continued as she dropped her hand, “I’m not a princess.”

“No? Well, you do have the curls for it,” Regina teased motioning with her hand to indicate how the sheriff’s hair was styled.

“Please! Princesses don’t get to carry around a gun and kick ass,” the younger woman declared with a bit of bravado.

“Alright,” the brunette drew the word out, a smile keeping the corners of her lips slightly upturned. “Then what are you, Miss Swan?”

Emma waggled her eyebrows, a dopey smirk pulling at her mouth. “I’m a knight, of course.”

Regina laughed. “Is that so?”

“Of course,” the sheriff replied with even more bravado. “Knights come in and save the day. They protect their…” Suddenly the bravado was gone, and the shift in mood actually physically threw Regina off kilter. She caught hold of the bar to steady herself as she watched Emma sober from their moment of light heartedness.

Clearing her throat, Emma tried again, but her words were far more serious this time. “Knights,” she declared with absolute certainty, “protect their queens.” She pushed off the windowsill and walked across the room. In a sweeping gesture that, a moment before, would have been comical but now was anything but, she bowed before the mayor. Locking eyes as she stood, the sheriff quietly declared, “It’s what we do.”

Regina swallowed a few times. This was a strange turn, and, frankly, she wasn’t sure what to do. The little voice she associated with her previous self kept reminding her that she needed to keep her distance. Emma Swan was poison, but Emma Swan was… something. The world captivating came to mind.

“Then,” the mayor’s voice was a note darker, even to her own ears, “as your queen,” the word rolled easily off her tongue, and she liked the way it felt, “I accept your protection, Sir Knight.” She gave a wry smile. “And I appreciate it.” So what if she was supposed to be mad at this woman? So what if she wasn’t supposed to even like her? She was quickly coming to not care what she was supposed to be, do, or feel.

“I’m honored to provide it,” Emma said with a tip of her head. “I’m also running late. I was supposed to be at the school five minutes ago to give a safety lecture. I’ll see you tonight?”

Regina blinked. “Tonight?”

“To pick up Henry. Your week is up.” Emma smiled brightly.

Ah, yes, their son. “Come early, and I’ll cook dinner for us,” Regina offered and then quickly wondered where that offer had come from because she certainly hadn’t planned it.

“Sounds great. Text me what I should bring.” Emma opened the door, giving an apologetic smile as she exited. “I’m sorry; I really have to go. I’ll see you tonight!”

As her office door closed once again, Regina forced herself to return to her chair. She slowly slid down, slumping into it with a groan. What was she doing? She didn’t know, and now she was worried she was going to make whatever it was she was trying to forget worse. 

Chapter Text

“Mom, what’s wrong?” Henry watched as Regina ran a hand through her hair and flattened the nonexistent wrinkles in her clothes for, perhaps, the fourth time in ten minutes.

“Nothing’s wrong.” She smiled at him, but even that seemed more off than even normal to him. “Why would ask?”

“Because you seem nervous. Did something happen at work or something?” He’d already heard about Leroy storming the office that afternoon. Emma had told him via text that Operation: Groundhog had hit a grumpy little snag but she’d have to tell him more in person. The rest of the rumor mill had filled in the gaps because anything Leroy knows everyone will know by the end of the day.

When he’d stopped by the diner afterschool for his Friday milkshake, a lot of people had asked him if his mom was feeling okay, some had mentioned they were enjoying the ‘new and improved Regina,’ and a couple of people had asked him if the Charmings had put some kind of spell or enchantment on her because they were fairly certain Regina would never act so genuinely caring all on her own.

He’d lasted about 15 minutes in the diner before he had to leave or blow up at how hateful everyone was being about his mom. Yes, he understood their mistrust. She had, after all, cursed everyone in the town, but, now that he had some time to think it over, he realized things could have been a lot worse. She just kept his grandparents from getting a happy ending, but she did give them stuff like electricity and running water, which was way better than what they had in the Enchanted Forest.

What he wanted to tell people was, if they could give Gold a second chance to prove he’d changed, then they could cut his mom a break, too, but he figured that’d just make it worse. People just liked to rag on him mom because she was who she was, and he was slowly starting to accept that was just how it was going to be, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

She’d redeemed herself. At least, to him she had. She was a hero now, and she’d lost a lot. The least the town could do after everything she’d wound up doing for them over the past year and a half was give her the benefit of the doubt about trying to be a better mayor, so to hear them talk about how she must be under some kind of spell or plotting something to be so nice really made him angry.

He’d spend the better part of twenty minutes walking around town trying to cool off before he went home. He and Emma had decided to wait it out for a bit and see how this Regina could handle things before doing anything drastic, though they were still trying to figure out the particulars as to why she’d done this thing to herself and how she knew what she did if she didn’t have any memories of anything.

After they’d talked about it for a few days and watched how Regina was interacting with people around town, they realized she seemed much happier than she ever had, and they just couldn’t bring themselves to pull her happiness away from her again. So, instead, they’d both vowed to keep her as safe and protected as they could, even if that meant going against the entire town and being called “the Evil Queen’s lapdogs,” which had already happened a few times over the past couple of weeks.

It didn’t matter. His mom was at least content for the time being, and he was going to be her prince. He was going to protect her and keep her safe, unlike how he’d been since he brought Emma to town. This was his way of making everything up to Regina, even if she didn’t remember what he’d done or that he’d hurt her. He wasn’t going to hurt her again. He was going to make it right.

Regina sighed and shook her head. “No, nothing happened at work that was unusual.” She checked the clock again and frowned. He noted it was a little after time for his other mother to be there. He expected Regina to be angry, or at least irritated, that Emma was running late, but, instead, she seemed to become even more anxious. “I did have a visit from the sheriff. I’m sure it’s all over town today that she had one of the miners removed from my office, but there’s nothing to worry about there. Sheriff Swan is good at her job. I trust her to keep me safe.”

He raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t a sentence he ever expected to hear come out of his mom’s mouth. “So, you two are friends again?”

“Yes,” Regina answered without a moment’s hesitation. Her eyes widened a touch as if she realized what had just come out of her mouth, and she shook her head. “I mean no. No, we’re not friends. We’re just… well, Henry, we do work closely with each other. It’s important for us to have a solid, positive working relationship.”

She was giving him political speak, but he wasn’t buying it. “So,” he said with a smirk, “yeah, you two are friends again.” He nodded happily. “Good. I hate it when my parents are fighting. It makes it harder to hear my video games over the yelling.” He grinned at her.

She scowled at him. “We don’t yell, Henry.”

“Well, not anymore because you’re friends again.” His grin only grew at her deepening scowl. “You know, Mom’s always late. She’ll be here in another ten minutes. Don’t worry, she didn’t stand us up.”

“Who said anything about me being concerned?” He wasn’t buying this denial either. Something was up between his moms, and, between Regina losing her memories and Emma being very focused on taking care of Regina and Emma breaking up with Hook, he was starting to piece a few things together. He was good with it. In fact, he was going to encourage it because every queen needs a knight to protect her.

He chuckled. “Sure, Mom, and that’s why you came home, started the lasagna, and then spent the last hour picking something out to wear.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you spying on me?”

“What? No!” He made a face. “That would be super weird.” He shuddered. “No, I heard you digging around in your closet because, you know, my bedroom shares a wall with your closet.”

“Oh, right,” her lips twitched down for a second. “Of course.” She sighed and again ran a hand over her blue dress. “Ten minutes?”

“Probably, and she’ll probably look like she fell in a bunch of bushes just before she got here. Mom’s the worst at being on time.” He smiled. “But you know that. You complain about it all the time, how she’s always late to meetings for work and stuff.”

“Right,” Regina agreed uncertainly. “Perhaps you should text her and see what’s keeping her?”

“Maybe I should just set all of her clocks forward by fifteen minutes this week while I’m staying with her?”

That made Regina laugh, and it was a great sound. In fact, he wasn’t sure he’d ever heard his mom laugh like that. It was… unguarded. He liked it. “Perhaps you should, my little prince.” With another sigh, she walked around the kitchen’s island and took a seat next to him, turning to look him in the eye. “Henry,” her tone said this was probably going to be something serious. He stopped playing on his phone to give her his full attention, “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course, Mom. You can ask me anything.” He started to worry.

She nodded, glancing away for a moment before barreling on ahead. “The miner, Leroy, called me a name today when he barged into my office, and I just want to know if… if it’s something that a lot of people think of me as. Will you be honest?” He swallowed; he knew what was coming, and he wasn’t sure he was ready, but he nodded yes anyway. “He called me the Evil Queen.” She looked honestly distraught by the name and the implications behind it. He wanted to wipe that look off of her face. It didn’t suit her. Now that he’d seen what she looked like happy, or at least not in constant pain, he wanted to keep it that way. “Am I… do people think I’m such a horrible person?”

He frowned deeply. The truth was, yes, almost everyone thought of her as the Evil Queen because she had been the Evil Queen, but she didn’t know that, and he didn’t want her to know that. He glanced at the time, mentally cursing his other mother for not being there sooner. Forcing himself to look Regina in the eyes, he winced. She looked so hurt. He didn’t want to do this, but he wasn’t going to lie to her. He settled on a half-truth.

“You’re not evil, Mom. If that’s what you’re worried about, don’t. I think just about everyone knows that, but,” he grimaced, this was going to hurt him to say as much, if not worse, than it was going to hurt her to hear it, “a lot of people have thought you might be a dirty politician.” That was sort of true. Before the first curse broke, she pretty much had been a dirty politician. “I think, maybe, those rumors are there because some people don’t like your policies, but that’s true of any politician. You know, political enemies or whatever.”

She gave him a nod to let him know she was following what he meant. He nodded back, again glancing at the clock before forcing himself to keep going. “I think… I think a lot of people expect you to do bad things because of stuff they’ve heard you did, even if you didn’t really do it, and I think that’s why some people still call you evil, but that doesn’t mean any of it is true.”

He watched her perfect posture slump just a touch and her eyes unfocused as she turned to look away from him, a touch of shame written across her face. He immediately hated himself for telling her what he just had. He should have lied. “Henry,” her voice was quiet, cautious, “do you think that of me? That I’m some kind of Evil Queen.”

Oh god, he internally groaned, this was karma coming back to bite him. He was sure of it. “No, Mom,” he answered without hesitation, “I don’t believe you’re the Evil Queen.” He smiled warmly at her. “You’re not a villain. You’re my mom, and you’re the mayor, and you’re great at both.”

She smiled at him, the worry in her eyes slowly melting away. “Thank you.”

“Hey, don’t let Leroy get to you. He’s one of those guys that just likes to stir things up, you know?” He shrugged. “Mom says he’s all bark and no bite.”

“Yes, that’s what she told me today, too.” She looked at the clock again. “Speaking of, I think I’ll go to the door. If you’re right, she should be arriving soon. Want to walk with me?”

“Yes,” he said, sliding from his stool and offering Regina his arm.

She happily took it as they headed to the front door.

 

Chapter Text

Emma raced from the station and nearly couldn't stop when she finally made it to her bug. She was at least fifteen minutes late, and, at the rate she was going, she was going to be half an hour late if she didn't get a move on.

She winced, remembering all the times she'd been late and the heated jabs and thoroughly disapproving looks Regina had thrown her way each time. The last thing Emma wanted to do was tick Regina off yet again, but it looked like it was going to happen anyway.

It couldn't be helped. She'd had a last minute call about a disturbance at the mines. The caller said they heard some kind of loud banging sound. She'd assumed it was a couple of the Lost Boys making trouble, but she'd been very wrong. Someone, or worse, something had completely obliterated the entrance to the mine.

She'd called David in, and they'd looked the site over for a good hour trying to determine how the destruction had happened. They'd eventually concluded it had to be magic because a blast strong enough to do this type of damage which used regular explosives would have shook the entire town. As it stood, someone on the outskirts of town happened to hear a little noise.

It was magic. It had to be.

She and her deputy had discussed their options on the way back to town. David, naturally, said they should tell Regina right away. After all, she could probably pinpoint whatever it was they were not seeing. Emma had countered that it should be Gold they spoke with about it because, as The Dark One, he knew the most about magic in general, and, now that he was trying to be good for Belle, it'd be easy to get him to help without asking for favors.

The conversation, which was turning into an argument, finally ended when Emma had agreed to at least tell Regina about the situation when she went to the mansion for dinner that night. She'd promised David she would see if the mayor wanted to handle it or have Gold look into it first.

When David finally left the station, it was in a huff, and Emma was internally panicking. She and Henry hadn't thought this over very well. It'd never occurred to them yet another magical bad guy would show up in Storybrooke. They'd been so focused on keeping Regina happy and safe that they'd completely blinded themselves to the possibility they wouldn't be able to keep her the way she was forever.

The truth was, Regina was one of the most powerful magical practitioners in any realm, and she had made a lot of enemies over time, which meant that, despite what Emma and Henry would prefer, Regina needed to be Regina to not only keep herself safe but to help keep the town safe. Regina had a responsibility to everyone. She'd put everyone in Storybrooke in the first place, and, when her enemies came to town to cause havoc, they undoubtedly unleashed said havoc on the townsfolk in a bid to catch Regina's attention.

Regina needed to be herself to handle the situations she'd created by default of being who she'd been in the Enchanted Forest.

Emma knew all this was the logical, sound thing to reason out, but she hated every moment of the mental justifications she was giving herself for what she was going to tell Henry as to why they had to ruin Regina's happiness yet again.

As she pulled into the driveway and grabbed the apple pie she'd picked up at lunch from her passenger's seat, she warred with herself as to what to do. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to be the harbinger of very bad news.

She jogged up the walk and knocked on the door, quickly running a hand through her hair and jumping a little when the door opened, literally, a second later.

"You're late, Sheriff," Regina said, a frown pulling her face down into a small scowl.

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that. I had to take care of something, and it took longer than I thought." She gave an apologetic shrug. "But I brought pie for dessert." She held it up. "See?"

The brunette looked at the offered dessert as if trying to decide if it was clean enough to touch. "What is it?" Her voice held no curiosity at all, only more annoyance.

Emma winced. "Apple?"

"Is that a question or a statement? You don't expect me to know what pie you bought, now, do you, Sheriff Swan?" This time, the retort ended with Regina's voice giving just a hint of a tease.

Raising an eyebrow, the blonde smirked as she lowered the pie. "What? You can't magically wave your hand and figure it out?" She gave a little wink.

"Yes," the older woman deadpanned, her own lips twitching up into a small smirk, "through my powerful, magical abilities as a witch, I can look through the top crust and easily tell what type of pie it is. After that, we can hop on my broomstick and take a ride around the town. How does that sound?"

"Wicked," Emma replied with a chuckle. "Of course, you're going to need to put on your pointed hat."

"When have I never not been dress appropriately for whatever I was about to do?" Regina's smirk turned into a smile. "However, I may have to forgo the long, bulky black dress. It's at the cleaners."

"Well, isn't that disappointing?" The blonde chuckled.

"Are you two done yet?" Henry's voice cut into whatever else either of his mothers was about to say. "I'm hungry."

"Kid!" Emma blinked a few times. "I didn't even know you were standing there."

He snorted. "Obviously."

"Henry," Regina's voice held a warning for him to be polite.

"What?" He gave his blonde mother a sly smile. "You two can flirt when we're eating." Before they could chastise or correct him, he grabbed the pie from Emma's hands and bolted for the kitchen.

Emma blushed. Regina blanched. They both looked anywhere but at each other.

"Maybe," Emma drew the word out, running a hand across the back of her neck, "I should talk to the kid about saying stuff like that since, you know," she cleared her throat, "he's staying with me this week, and," she looked back at the brunette, giving her an uncertain and somewhat apologetic look, "it's not okay to make cracks like that, especially when you still don't like me very much." That wasn't at all what she'd meant to say. What she'd meant to say was, 'since we're not really into each other like that,' but apparently her subconscious had other plans.

She mentally kicked herself. What was she doing? Regina wasn't herself right now. It was in no way okay for her to be flirting with her, and, even more importantly, when did she start flirting with Regina? She was walking a thin line. When Regina remembered who she was, she was going to fry Emma to a crisp for getting this friendly with her. She really needed to stop this game she was playing before both of them got hurt.

The problem was, she wasn't even aware she was doing it. She sighed. She didn't need this right now. Something bad was about to go down, again, and the last thing she needed was another personal life issue to complicated matters even more than they already were.

Regina took in a deep breath. "I don't hate you, Sheriff."

Despite herself, Emma's eyes lit up with a tiny ember of hope. "You don't?"

"No," the brunette answered with a slight warmth to her tone. "However, our son might hate us both if we continue to stand out here. Shall we go inside and eat?"

"Oh!" Food. Right. The younger woman had completely forgotten why she was there in the first place. "Lead the way," she said, motioning for Regina to go ahead of her, which had been the wrong thing to do.

After closing the front door and turning around to follow the older woman to the dining room, Emma realized the default position for her gaze whenever Regina was ahead of her was on the mayor's backside. She closed her eyes and mentally kicked herself. What had she just told herself? Now was not the time, and it wasn't even close to okay to be having these feelings. Where in the hell were they coming from, anyway?

"Sheriff?" Regina's voice cut into her thoughts. "Did you hear a thing I just said?"

"I… uh… no." Emma shook her head and glanced over to Henry, who rolled his eyes at her. "I'm sorry. I've got a lot on my mind. There was an incident at the mines today, and…" She winced. She hadn't meant to bring that up, either. "Um… well, I'm still thinking about it. Actually, that's why I was late."

"Oh?" Motioning for them all to take a seat, Regina began to serve dinner. "What happened? Is there something I should be concerned about?"

"I don't know." The blonde tried for nonchalant. "Probably not. I'm thinking it's just the Lost Boys messing around."

Henry kicked her under the table, and she glared at him only to realize what she'd just said. She mentally facepalmed.

"The Lost Boys?" Taking her seat, Regina tilted her head in confusion. "Is that some kind of new gang?"

"Um, no, not exactly." Emma groaned. She really needed to think before she spoke. Really.

"It's what the town calls the kids at the orphanage, Mom," Henry helpfully offered. "I don't think they do it around you because you always say it's not okay to give people nicknames that might be seen as mean or whatever."

"Well, that is a little harsh." His older mother nodded. "Calling an orphan a 'Lost Child' implies they need finding, which, I suppose, could arguably be true. However, the allusion is what makes it such a horrible nickname. The Lost Boys from Peter Pan were unwanted children who found their way to the island, and that's a horrible thing to imply about a child, that they were unwanted. No child should ever feel unwanted or unloved."

Emma watched as Regina became impassioned the longer she spoke, and it made the blonde feel a surge of emotion wash over her. She blinked to try to keep the tears at bay. "It's not right, Henry. Children should be cherished and taken care of with kindness, love, and discipline that matches the infraction. They shouldn't be thrown away simply because. They're not objects to be used as an accessory, an excuse, or a tool. They're people who someday grow up to become adults who could do amazing things in life, but they may never get that chance if no one ever shows them they are loved." Regina reached over, placing a hand on her son's cheek and giving him a tender look. "Every child should have their best chance." She gave him a warm smile.

Emma coughed, trying to cover up the odd mixture of feelings the other woman's speech had stirred up. She closed her eyes and tried to take in a few breaths. "Sorry," she said between coughs. "Something got caught, I think."

When she opened her eyes again, the other two were watching her with concern. Her son's eyes held sympathy. The mayor's eyes held curiosity and honest worry.

"Sheriff?" Regina sounded unsure, and it was that sound which reminded Emma this Regina didn't know. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," the blonde took in another breath and let it out slowly. "I'm good. I just…" She cleared her throat. "I'm an orphan. I grew up in the system." She held a hand up to stop whatever apology the older woman might give. "It's cool. You didn't know."

"I'm still sorry," Regina said, her voice as tender for Emma as it had been for Henry a moment before. She reached over and gave the blonde's arm a gentle pat. "That must have been incredibly difficult."

"It wasn't ideal, no," Emma replied with a shake of her head. "It's one of the reasons I decided Henry should be adopted. I was too young, and there were things I couldn't control, and I wanted him to have his best chance with someone who wanted him and would love him. I," she looked over to her son and gave him a watery smile, "I wanted him to have a better life than I did, and he has." She turned back to Regina, her green eyes still watery. "I thank the universe every day that you found him because I know, without a single doubt, that you love him and would do anything to protect him. He's a lucky kid, even when he thinks he's not." She gave him a little smirk, cracking the joke to break the tension.

"Hey!" Henry took the bait, and she was thankful for it. "It's not my fault that sometimes I accidentally wind up places I'm not supposed to be."

"Just as it's not your fault that you then find yourself in trouble for your insubordination?" Regina quirked an eyebrow at him.

"Exactly." He nodded. "It's not my fault I get grounded. That's totally not my fault." He nodded for extra effect.

Regina simply smiled and shook her head.

Emma chuckled, grateful for the moment to have passed by. "Sometimes, kid, you're a lot more like me than I want to admit."

"But, most of the time," he added with a smirk, "I'm like Mom."

"Yeah?" His blonde mom tilted her head as if to ask how.

"Yeah," he agreed, resetting his posture to be more aligned to the perfect posture always exhibited by his older mother. He schooled his features into the perfect, aloof mask Regina often wore so well, and replied in his best even, serious tone, "I want to be a Mayor when I grow up."

The blonde looked over to find Regina blushing slightly. "Well I think," Emma said, giving him a look of approval, "you'll make a great one someday. Don't you, Regina?"

"Yes," the brunette replied, voice cracking just slightly. She cleared her throat and answered again. "Yes, I think so. Of course," she looked over to give Henry a bright smile, "you can be whatever you'd like to be, Henry. You don't have to turn into your mother, but, if you'd really like to be in politics when you get older, you know I would always be happy to answer any questions you might have about it."

"Or," Emma stepped in with a smirk, "if you suddenly decide to become a delinquent turned bounty hunter turned small town sheriff, you could hit me up!"

"Always the positive role model, Sheriff?" Despite the reprimand in her tone, Regina was smiling brightly.

In spite of Emma's earlier warnings to herself, she smiled back. She couldn't help it. Interacting with Regina as she was now was fascinating and so pleasant. There was something practically enchanting about being able to get to know the Regina that would have been had Gold and Cora not gotten their grubby paws on the woman when she was a young girl.

"I'm awesome like that," the blonde said with a smirk, which caused the mayor to snort in amusement.

"Indeed," Regina replied with a chuckle. "So, Henry, what are your plans this week?"

Emma leaned back, watching the scene unfold before her as the dinner progressed and mentally smacking herself for even entertaining the notion that this could be normal. Regina wasn't her friend. Regina didn't even like her. In fact, Regina hated the ground she walked on. This woman wasn't her Regina, the Regina who came from an Evil Queen and a destroyed young girl's future. It wasn't fair to either Regina, Henry, or Emma for Emma to allow this to feel so comfortable, but she couldn't help herself.

If she could allow it, this would be how things were all the time because everyone was happy. Well, everyone but her. Once again, she found herself having to play savior, and the pressure of it made her sad beyond reason. She didn't ask for that. If she was going to ask for something, it would be this. It would be familiarity and comfort and ease and… love. It would be a life full of warmth and love and happiness, not a life filled with her jumping from one life crisis to another.

She sighed gravely when Regina left to go fetch dessert, and Henry took the chance to give her a look that told her he expected her to spill whatever was eating at her. "I'll tell you everything when we get in the car," she said quickly. "But, for now, let's just enjoy being a family while we can, okay?"

He narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow. "It wasn't the Lost Boys, was it?"

"No," she said in a defeated tone. "It was something magical and very powerful."

His frown deepened. "She's so happy, Mom, and she likes you. She likes this," he motioned around to indicate the evening they were having. "If we just let her alone, she could be happy." He was pleading, though Emma wasn't sure if it was with her or with the universe. "She could, and she could be happy with both of us."

"Henry, don't play matchmaker." She'd meant to sound stern, but it'd come out sounding tired. "We can't. That's just not how that works."

"But, Mom…"

"No." She shook her head. "Tink spilled the beans after I brought Marian back. Robin is Regina's soul mate. Even if she doesn't remember who she is, that doesn't change who she's fated to be with."

"You always say that the whole fated thing is bull…"

"It is, but you saw how they were with each other." Emma shook her head, not really wanting to think about it too hard. "She was so happy, Henry. He made her so…"

"She was happy," he snapped back, "because someone loved her for her and not because they wanted something from her." He let out a frustrated huff. "Why couldn't you…"

He snapped his jaw shut as Regina walked in with the pie Emma had brought. She looked between them, sensing the tension. "Why couldn't she what, Henry?" She narrowed her eyes in confusion. "What's happened? Is everything alright?"

"Yeah," he gave his other mother another pointed look before turning back to the brunette. "Everything's fine. I was just asking Mom why she couldn't go to my game this Wednesday."

"I feel really bad about it, but I don't think I'll be able to because of this investigation. It's probably going to take most of the week." She gave him a look that bordered on approval. Who knew the kid was this smooth at lying? Actually, now that she considered it, that fact worried her. The implications of what it meant as he grew older were terrible. "Actually, Regina, would you mind going? Maybe you could cheer for both of us?"

"Of course," the older woman said, relaxing as she bought into the lie. She set the pie slices down on the table and rejoined the group. "What time would you like for me to be there, Henry? Who are you playing?"

He gave Emma another look and then turned his full attention to Regina. "Well, the game starts at 6…"

Chapter Text

“What are we going to do?” Henry slammed the bug’s door and immediately pinned his mom with a hard look.

“I don’t know,” she turned the car on and gave a quick wave with a forced smile to Regina, who gave a friendly waved back from the porch. “But we have to do something. Even if we break the news to Regina that she’s the queen from the Enchanted Forest and, assuming she believed that and didn’t think we’d both gone nuts, that doesn’t mean she’s immediately going to get her memories back. Either way we swing it, kid, our first stop is Gold’s, I think. He’s the only one who is going to have a clue about what to do here.”

“What if he doesn’t want to help?” Henry slouched down in his seat, crossing his arms as he ran through his thoughts. “What if he wants Mom to get hurt? What if he’s the one who did whatever at the mines, and he’s setting Mom up again?”

“It’s a chance we’re going to have to take,” Emma said with a sigh. “I hate this.”

“So do I.” Henry looked out the window at the passing town, eyes jumping from one old, faded building to another. “Gold said villains don’t get happy endings.” His voice sounded small and melancholy.

“She’s not a villain, Henry,” Emma said, though even she sounded somewhat downhearted. “At least, she’s not for us.” She sighed, turning into Gold’s driveway and parking. “We’ll find a way, kid. There’s got to be something we can do that will deal with whatever this is and keep Regina from having to go back.”

“Emma,” he turned to look at her, eyes pleading with her to be honest with him. “Do you like her?”

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. That wasn’t where she thought this conversation was going to go. “Well, I mean, sure I do. Of course I do, otherwise why would I be doing all of this?”

He shook his head. “No, I mean do you like her like her? You know,” he shrugged, neither sorry to be prying nor apologetic for wanting to know, “like that? I see how you are around her, and, I mean, I’m 12, not blind.”

“Henry, didn’t I tell you to stop playing matchmaker?” She turned the car off and leaned back in her seat, reluctant to have this talk but accepting it was going to happen anyway. “I mean, it’s great you’re so open-minded, but you seem to be forgetting a few of really important things here.”

He tilted his head to the side, obviously curious. “Like what?”

“First of all, both your mom and I just lost people we love, and that’s a kind of hurt that just doesn’t go away in a couple of minutes. I may not have wanted to get back with your dad, but losing him hurt, Henry, and Regina literally just lost her soul mate.” She held her hand up to keep him from protesting. “Also, how do you even know either one of us is open to dating women?”

“Uh, I was with you for an entire year, almost, in New York. You dated Walsh, but, before him, you dated Benson.” He rolled his eyes at her obviously fake look of confusion. “That woman who lived in 4D on 89th Street,” he clarified.

She stared unbelievingly at him. “You’re more observant than I give you credit for, kid.” She shook her head, still in disbelief. “How did you know? You never met her. We only dated for, maybe, a month. How did you even know she was a she? I only called her by her last name.”

“It was the lack of pronouns.” He shrugged. “It was a dead giveaway.”  

She wiped at her face, taking in that tidbit of information. “Okay, fine. So you know I date both guys and girls, but that doesn’t mean Regina…”

“She had a thing with Ruby when I was about eight, but it didn’t last very long because Ruby’s reputation was really bad and Mom didn’t want her reputation messed up because of Ruby’s.” He shrugged again. “I sometimes heard them arguing in Mom’s bedroom when she thought I was asleep. I think Ruby must’ve climbed in the window or something because I never heard the front door open or close.”

“Yup,” Emma grimaced, remembering someone else who used to climb in and out of Regina’s bedroom window, “that must be it.” She groaned. That was a portion of information about Ruby she’d never be able to forget. “Okay, fine, so both of your moms date women, but, Henry, you’re forgetting the biggest, most important part of this.” She crossed her arms and stared him down. “With her memories intact, your mom hates my guts.”

“She’s just hurt, Emma. She doesn’t hate you. I don’t think she ever really hated you. She was just jealous of you because I wanted to be with you and not stay with her, and,” he looked away from her, his mouth twitching down, “I know you think she’s going to hate you forever for bringing Marian back, bit I think that, if you just… I don’t know …gave her some time to cool down, she’d forgive you.”

“Henry, you have met your mother before, right?” She chuckled at his naiveté. “We’re talking about a woman who spent, literally, years trying to kill Snow White for…”

“Grandma couldn’t keep a secret, and that’s why Mom’s first true love is dead.” He rolled his eyes. “I know the story, but that’s different than this. You didn’t break Mom’s trust. She didn’t ask you to keep a secret, and then you broke it. There was no way you could know this would hurt her at all.” His face held absolute certainty as he declared again for emphasis, “This is different. She’ll eventually forgive you.”

She sighed, letting her head fall back against the headrest. “Henry, when she gets her memories back, she’s not going to be the person she is right now. This version of Regina is softer, more caring, and less… She trusts easier, so it makes it easier for her to forgive because she doesn’t have all that baggage that taught her not to trust anyone. But, when she remembers, this version of Regina will be gone.”

“Deep down, who she is right now is who she’s always been, and I’m telling you, Mom, she likes you, and she’ll forgive you.” He reached out and opened his door. “Believe me or not, but I’m telling you the truth.”

“How do you even know?” She followed his lead, opening her own door and sliding out of the car.

“Because, after we got back from Neverland, she used to talk about you and then get all weird whenever she remembered that my dad and Hook were trying to get with you.” He shrugged, closing his door and jogging after her. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I just got the feeling that she didn’t like them going after you, like she was jealous or something.”

They stopped at Gold’s front door, and Emma took in a deep breath. “Let’s drop this, okay? It’s not going to happen, and, right now, we need to focus on whatever is going on at the mines and what we need to do to help your mom stay how she is. Okay?”

He gave a look that Emma thought only Regina could produce. It said he thought she was being an idiot, he was annoyed with her, but he wasn’t going to bother to argue anymore. “Fine,” he grumbled and then turned to ring the doorbell.

The door opened a short moment later to reveal Gold, who immediately looked annoyed. “Has something happened to my shop, Sheriff?”

She winced. Of course this was going to be unpleasant. “No.”

“Then why are you here? I took care of what I agreed to for Regina, but, if you’re here to ask for more favors…”

“I’m not. At least, not about Regina.” She huffed. “Can we come in?”

“I’d rather you didn’t. Belle and I were just about to go to bed for the night, but, if you want to come see me tomorrow at my shop, I might consider speaking with you then.”

“Rumple?” Belle’s voice echoed from somewhere behind him. “Who’s at the door?”

“It’s no one, dearie,” he called back. “I’ll be up in a moment.” He turned, narrowing his eyes. “Have a good night, Miss Swan.”

“No!” She held her hand out, catching the door before it could slam. “Please, Gold, just give me five minutes.”

“We think some big bag magical thing is in Storybrooke,” Henry cut in, tired of the back-and-forth.

That caught his attention. He turned to give the blonde a considerate look. “Go on.”

“We got a call about a disturbance at the mines. We thought it was some of the Lost Boys messing around with firecrackers or something, but, when we went out there, we found the entrance to the mind had been blown up.” She made a ‘blowing up’ motion with her hands. “If it’d been dynamite that did it, the entire town would have felt the shockwave, but no one felt anything. The only thing to come from that explosion was a little noise that was only audible to the people living closest to the mine to even hear.” She dropped her hands, letting them smack her sides with a light thud. “No way that explosion wasn’t magically done.”

“So you’re here to see if I know how it happened?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, and because,” she wiped at her face, deciding to hedge her bets and just go for it, “David wanted me to tell Regina and see if she wanted to look into it or ask you to, and, since Regina doesn’t exactly remember that she can investigate this type of disturbance…”

“You decided to simply come to me and spare trying to find a way to jog the mayor’s memory and destroy the little bit of happiness Regina has finally managed to secure for herself? Is that it?” He smirked.

She nodded. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

He considered her for a very long, tense second. “You know, there may come a time in which she’ll have to remember who she is, don’t you? Surely you don’t think she can happily live out the rest of her life here thinking she’s just some kind of small town politician? You can’t protect her forever, Miss Swan, and, frankly, I don’t understand why you want to.”

“Because I owe her that much, at least,” she answered in a beaten down tone. “Besides, would it be so bad for her to stay like she is? She’s a good mayor, a nice person, and a good mom. How is that bad?”

“Because it’s not who she is, now is it?” He quirked his head to the side “Who she is now is a lie.”

“Even if it is,” Emma countered, starting to get irritated, “it’s not like we can undo whatever she did.”

“Of course you can.” He chuckled at her. “You can go to the blue fairy and get a potion of remembering like the one she made for Belle and that dwarf, or you can have her fall in love with her true love and have her true love kiss her. Either one will work.”

The blonde’s eyes widened. “I completely forgot about that.” She seemed to think it over for a moment before shaking her head in the negative. “If we can figure this out without destroying this Regina, I’d like to try. Tell me you don’t enjoy interacting with her without her hating you for you being you. Isn’t it nice to see her happy?” She sounded desperate, but, at this point, she didn’t care. “And you know Belle would want you to help.”

He snorted at her. “If I help you with this, then we’re even, and you can no longer use Regina’s past as a reason for me to help her in the future.”

“Why can’t you help because it’s the right thing to do?” Henry startled them both from their game of wills. “The town needs help, whether Mom remembers who she is or not, it doesn’t matter, does it? If it is something that is super magical like Emma thinks, then we’re going to need your help anyway, and,” he crossed his arms and glared at Gold, “I thought we were all family now. Family helps family.”

Gold rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll meet you at the mines tomorrow at 8. Don’t be late. My shop opens at 9, and I’ll not be late opening up.”

Emma nodded. “I’ll be there.” She clasped Henry on the shoulder and tried to turn him. “Come on, kid. It’s past your bedtime.”

Henry pulled away to address Gold. “Is it because we’re family or because you want something?” He glared at the man standing in the door.

“Because I feel like it,” Gold retorted. “Have a good night.” With a final, insincere smile, he closed the door with a forceful click.

“Come on, Henry,” Emma laid her hand on his shoulder, “Let’s go. It’s probably the best we’ll ever get from him.”

Nodding, he turned and headed back to the car, eyes on the ground and shoulders slumped. Emma watched him walk both concerned for how he was handling this situation and somewhat proud of how he was taking control, though no less annoyed he was doing it at her expense.

Chapter Text

“Where’s the entrance to the mine supposed to be, Sheriff?” Gold stood a few feet from the rubble and glanced around.

Emma tried not to look annoyed as she pointed to the largest amount of rubble, which was directly in front of him. “Well, up until the day before yesterday, it was right there.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “There?”

She decided to stop looking annoyed. “Yes, right there, and, as you can see, there’s nothing there but a bunch of rocks now. David and I tried to figure out how deep the cave in was yesterday, but,” she shrugged. “We figure it’s pretty deep.”

Walking carefully through the rocks strewn about the ground, Gold made his way to what should have been the mine’s entrance. He leaned over, examining various spots before pulling back and holding his hand out. A glowing ball of light appeared in his outstretched palm. He casually flicked his wrist forward, propelling the ball at the rubble. It disappeared, going through the rocks and into the mine.

Emma watched, trying to figure out what he was doing and coming up short. “What was that?”

“Just something to help determine how deep the collapse is.” He stared at the rocks. They waited for a solid five minutes before the glowing light popped out of the rock face and returned to his outstretched hand. A second later, it disappeared, and he narrowed his eyes in thought as he leaned in to again visually inspect the rocks. “It’s at least 25 feet deep.”

“You’re kidding me,” she said, astounded. “There’s no way we wouldn’t have felt something from a cave-in that massive. Something magical had to have caused it.”

He hummed in thought. “Perhaps, though cave-ins are known to happen randomly without any help from someone or something magical. Maybe the timbers finally gave way? They are, after all, thirty years old.”

She crossed her arms and huffed. “But there was no explosion. No one heard anything, and no one is owning up to blowing up the entrance to the mine,” she held her hands up, “not that they would, but still.”

“I suppose we would have heard a very loud bang, at the very least,” he conceded. “That still doesn’t mean this was magical. However, I’m going to do a few tests just to make certain. After we find it was, in fact, a simple cave-in no one noticed, I’ll be on my way.” He picked his way back through the rocks scattered across the ground until he was in the center of the cleared area for the mine. “You may want to come stand by me, Miss Swan. I doubt you’ll want to get caught up in what I’m about to do.”

She grunted, coming over to stand beside him.

Casually, he raised a hand and turned in a circle, Emma turning with him. Emitting from his hand was a pulse of magic which covered the open area. The ground glowed an electric blue followed by a deep red which seemed to center on where the mine’s opening had once been.

Gold dropped his hand and tilted his head in thought. “Interesting,” he mumbled to himself before walking back the mine. This time, Emma followed without prompting, and they stopped about a foot from the opening. Again, he waved his hand, and, this time, a very dark purple cloud surrounded the mine’s former entrance. A rancid smell was suddenly so overpowering both of them gagged and had to step back.

“Oh God,” Emma chocked some more, coughing trying not to wretch. “What the hell is that smell?”

Gold held his composure better, though he did pull out his handkerchief and put it over his mouth and nose. “Sulfur, Miss Swan. That is the distinctive smell of sulfur.”

“What did you do to make that smell happen?” She covered her mouth and nose with her hand. She gagged again, and her eyes started to water. “What was that spell? A stink bomb?”

“No,” came his muffled and somewhat annoyed tone. “Step beside me again, Sheriff. I believe I need your assistance for this last test.”

She scowled at him but complied. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder facing the mine’s entrance. Emma shifted uncomfortably, trying to not breathe while Gold seemed to be considering something. Finally, he spoke, his demeanor giving away nothing of what conclusion he might be reaching. “This test requires light magic, which is much more your specialty than mine. I want you to focus on the rocks I just tested and try to encompass them in light.”

She stared at the rocks. “What will that do?”

“We’ll find out, won’t we?” He pointed ahead of them, lowering his handkerchief as he did so. “Now focus.”

“Is this going to make another nasty smell hit us, or should I be worried about getting blown up or something? Because, if any of that might happen, I don’t…”

“It’s perfectly safe, I assure you.” He closed his eyes and took a moment. “I’ll be here the entire time, and I’m prepared to produce a protective shield if we need it. Now, if you please,” again, he motioned toward the rocks in front of them, “focus?”

Sighing, she closed her eyes and focused her magic on the rocks. She felt, rather than saw, light encompass the area, and, a moment later, she heard a sound like a snake hissing. Snapping her eyes open, she found her magic spotlighting a small creature she’d never seen before. It had been a rock. She was sure it had been a medium sized-ish rock, but now it was something with sharp, pointed teeth and claws. Covered in dingy fur, it had a pointed tail, and, she squinted to make sure she was seeing what she thought she was seeing, horns.

It had horns.

She took in a sharp breath. “What the hell is that?”

“I believe that is what you in this world would call a demon,” Gold calmly replied. “Though, I would call it more of a minion than anything remotely demonic.”

“Is my magic holding it there?” She was trying not to panic, but it wasn’t working well for her. She could feel the fear rising up her spine. “Will it attack us?”

“Yes, your magic is holding it there, so do try to maintain your focus, and, no,” he slowly shook his head, “I suspect it won’t attack, but it’s hard to tell.” He turned his head to address the creature, yelling out to it, “Well? Are you?”

Emma jumped when the creature replied in a voice that actually sounded like a typical human male’s voice, “No!” It snarled and groaned. “Call off your dog, Dark One. This stuff hurts.”

It can talk?!” She couldn’t be bothered to care about the squawk in her voice. “Gold, what the hell is going on here?”

“That’s a very good question, Sheriff, and it’s one I’d like to know myself.” He stepped closer to the creature. “Which one are you?”

The creature huffed. “Pain.”

Gold smiled. “Well now, that seems appropriate, doesn’t it?” He looked down his nose at Pain. “And where is your master?”

“You know I’m not going to tell you that.” The creature tried to move and howled in discomfort as Emma’s magic held it in place. “He’ll show up when he feels like it.”

Gold tilted his head in question, calmly asking, “How did he get here?”

The creature rolled it’s large, black eyes. “He’s a god. He does whatever he wants.”

“Well, go tell your god,” Gold said, leaning over and lowering his voice to a threatening level, “that he doesn’t get to do whatever he wants here. These people and this town are under my protection, and he’ll very much regret it if he chooses to cross paths with me again.”

Pain snorted. “What makes you think he’s after you,” it spit out.

Gold stood again, towering over the creature. “Go give him the message. I’m sure he can find me if he wants to discuss anything further. Otherwise, he can leave the same way he arrived.” He turned back to Emma and nodded to indicate she should release the creature.

Her eyes bolted from the demon creature to Gold and back again. For the briefest of moments, it registered with her how ridiculous it was that she was more afraid of something Gold had dubbed a minion than she was of The Dark One.

Steadying her nerves, she relaxed her focus and the white light spotlighting the creature disappeared. As soon as the light completely dissipated, the creature vanished in a flash of black smoke.

“What the hell is going on here,” she asked yet again. “What was that thing? Who is its master? Did it say his master was a god? And what do you mean ‘these people and this town are under your protection’? What people? The town? Since when do you care?”

He let out a long, heavy sigh. “You’re not going to like this answer, Sheriff.”

She crossed her arms and waited.

He shrugged. “That thing was a minion for Hades.”

“Hades?” She furrowed her brows and cocked her head to the side. “Hades? As in Hades, God of the Underworld, Hades?”

“Do you know of another?” He shrugged again. “I don’t know why he’s here. The last time I saw him, he was whining about losing out on gaining Hercules’s soul or some such something as that. It’s been a few years. Details get a little blurry over time, you understand?”

She could feel her jaw had dropped, and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop it. “Seriously?”

“Yes, Miss Swan, seriously. I don’t see why this comes as a shock to you. You’ve encountered everyone from the Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest to the Wicked Witch of the West from Oz to Dr. Frankenstein. Why would it shock you to learn that Hades is real as well?”

Her eyebrows rose of their own accord, and she fumbled through her words for a moment. “Well… because… those people are… well, yeah, they’re fairytale characters… mostly, but they’re people, you know? Like people people. They’re not…” She motioned toward the sky, “Gods! They’re not Gods. You mean to tell me Gods exist?”

“No,” he shook his head, exasperated already by this conversation. “I mean to tell you that magical beings who possess uniquely specialized magical abilities and prefer to think of themselves as better than the rest of us exist. The fact they like to call themselves gods because they’ve somehow managed to fool the peasantry into worshiping them doesn’t make them any better than the rest of us, however.”

“So,” she drew the word out as she tried to grasp this new bit of information, “Zeus and Athena and Artemis are…”

“Just as real as you or I,” he confirmed with a shrug.

She nodded dumbly. Then a thought struck her. “What about Wonder Woman?”

He gave her a strange look. “What about her?”

“Is she real, too?” She made a vague motion with her hand. “I mean, she’s supposed to be a child of Zeus, so, if he’s real, then is she real?”

“No, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no such thing as superheroes. Those are just tales made up to tell children and entertain adults.” He scoffed at her.

“Says Rumpelstiltskin to the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming,” she grumbled under her breath. “Okay, so let’s go with the idea that the Gods of Olympus are real.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “They are real.”

“Right… that.” She took in a deeply calming breath. “Why would the God of the Dead be in Storybrooke, and what did you do to tick him off?”

“We may have had a deal go sour,” he nonchalantly commented, “but that was rectified years ago. At the time we came to affable terms regarding our deal, we both agreed not to enter the other’s domain. That arrangement was part of agreement of our new deal.”

“Which is why you sent the message that this town is under your protection? Because, as far as you’re concerned, we’re… what? We’re your kingdom or something?” She clearly didn’t like where this was going.

“Honestly, Miss Swan, I could care less what happens to any of you, but my son gave his life to protect this town, and I’ll be damned before I allow that imbecilic Hades to stroll in here and destroy it now.” Gold straightened his posture, swallowing down the rant he wanted to give. “The price for the protection of this town was too great. I won’t allow it to be in vain.”

She frowned, giving him a nod. She couldn’t argue that logic. “Okay, fine.” She looked around as if she could find answers hidden away somewhere amongst the rubble. “What do we do now?”

“Nothing.” He held his hand up to stop her protests. “There’s nothing we can do. He’ll show himself when he’s ready. In the meantime, there are some preparations I must attend to, and I suggest you put up your own protective spell about Regina because, the last time I encountered Hades, I may have accidentally killed his favorite apprentice.”

“I’m not going to ask.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t want to know.” Wiping at her face, she groaned. “He might be here to take out Regina because he thinks she’s your favorite apprentice?”

He gave a shrug, which served mostly as a nonanswer. “We both have work to do, Sheriff. I suggest we go. Time isn’t on our side at the moment.”

Giving one more glance around her, she took off toward her squad car as she mentally cursed her life. There were places, she fumed to herself, where the most complicated thing a small town sheriff had to worry with was keeping the pickle making contest from getting out of hand.

Chapter Text

Her assistant had left her with a pile of paperwork, two notes regarding issues requiring her attention within the next two days, and a comment about how pleasant it had been to work with the mayor since Regina’s return from her weeklong vacation, stating the break must have done her a world of mental good.

Regina wasn’t completely certain, but she felt as though her assistant was waiting for her to reply in some way to the comment, so she’d thanked her for the compliment, which had only served to further confuse the younger woman, who had left the mayor’s office in a somewhat dazed and confused state.

Of all the things she could have learned in what she’d come to call her ‘manuals,’ one of the biggest components that should have been in there was not, and Regina constantly cursed her former self for leaving it out because it would have answered why her assistant had responded how she just had.

The biggest answer to the biggest question was nowhere to be found.

Why?

Why did everyone seem to hate her and/or fear her? Why was everyone so surprised when she offered them a kind word or a note of honest praise? Why did everyone seem to expect her to be violent with them or manipulative in some way? Why had her former self decided that wiping her memories like this was a good idea?

Why?

It was frustrating, stressful, and taxing. Regina felt drained all the time. The energy it took to maintain the façade of knowing what was happening when, in fact, she had no clue most of the time was strenuous. The challenges of navigating through a sea of people who clearly expected her to be one type of person when she wasn’t even remotely close to that type of person took a significant toll on her. Trying to persuade them she wasn’t a dirty politician was a monstrous task.

She had considered telling someone about her plight, perhaps the Sheriff. However, her former self’s warnings about Emma Swan still stuck with her despite the fact Regina had ignored a large portion of them. She needed a friend, and Sheriff Swan fit that bill nicely. However, she still wasn’t sure sharing with Emma the facts surrounding her loss of memory was a good idea.

There was a reason why she had done this to herself, and Regina needed to know what it was before she shared her situation with anyone else. After interacting with the town for nearly a month, it was clear to her that signs of uncertainty would be read as displays of weakness, which was something she couldn’t afford to show to the mass populace. She needed to be a strong leader.

Uncertainty was weakness, and she couldn’t have that.

So, it was with a confidence she didn’t feel that she walked into the diner to order lunch. Her briefcase held the stack of papers she’d yet to finish, and her mind raced with a thousand questions all related to The Big Question. Why?

She slid into the back corner booth and pulled out a report on the infrastructure needs for the farm-to-market roads lying just inside the jurisdiction of the town. The report was at least 30 pages long, highlighting essential requirements, budget restrictions, and timeframes. It was going to be a long read, and she had already accepted she’d probably be sitting in the dinner for a couple of hours as she slowly ate while trying to digest the contents of the report.

The waitress, whose full name Regina had finally remembered without trouble was Ruby Lucas though she’d noticed some people called her Red, stepped up to her booth with a friendly smile on her face. “Good afternoon, Madam Mayor. What can I get you today? Your usual?”

“Yes, Miss Lucas, thank you,” Regina returned the smile with a warm one of her own. “And a cup of coffee, please.” She held up the report. “I feel I’m going to need it.”

Ruby cocked her head to the side, asking playfully, “Big day at the office?”

“While the sheriff may come in here and complain about saving cats from trees,” the mayor deadpanned, “I’m afraid my complaints are far less exciting. No one wants to hear about my trials regarding how often to lay down a fresh layer of dirt on FM 42.”

“The Yellow Brick Road?” The waitress snorted. “Does anyone even use that thing anyone?”

Regina blinked. This town had the strangest names for things. “The what?”

“FM 42. We call it The Yellow Brick Road because Zelena used to live down the…” Ruby stopped talking, her face dropping into a frown, and Regina scanned her brain to try and recall why the name Zelena was important. “Oh, Regina, I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to be reminded of all of that.”

Reminded of all of what? “It’s quite alright, Ruby. Things become easier with time.” She gave a tight smile and hoped that answer fit whatever situation they were discussing.

The young woman scrunched her face up in confusion which, oddly, turned into concern. “Still, I know she was your sister, and that had to be hard despite,” she made a vague hand motion, “you know, everything.”

She frowned, trying to recall what she’d read about the woman. There was something about Zelena being wicked or a bitch or… something. Letting out a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes for a brief moment, and the light bulb went on. Zelena had committed suicide recently. “However,” she opened her eyes and looked up at the waitress, giving the other woman a reassuring look, “I really do appreciate your concern. That entire situation was very difficult, and, as you might imagine, it’s something I’d rather not discuss.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ruby gave a little nod, “I understand that. So,” she looked up as the door jingled, and she winced. “Oh, um, do you want a to-go order instead of staying here?”

Regina followed her line of sight and saw a man, his wife, and their son walk into the diner. He looked handsome in a rugged sort of way, his wife had lovely curls, and their son was tiny and adorable. She smiled at the young boy’s antics as he dragged his father along to a table. “No,” she tilted her head to the side as she pulled her eyes back to the waitress, “why would I want to? I just settled in, and I really do need to read this report. If you think you’ve made me uncomfortable because you accidentally mentioned my sister, you didn’t. It really is fine, Ruby. I understand you meant nothing by your comments.”

Ruby looked from the family to Regina back to the family and turned back to Regina. “Well, I realize this is none of my business, but Robin and his family just walked in. I just kind of assumed you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near them right now.”

“Who?” The question was out of her mouth before Regina could stop it, and it was clearly the wrong thing to say because the waitress looked dumbstruck.

“Robin.” The younger brunette sighed. “I know you’re trying to move on, and that’s great, but, come on, Regina. You don’t have to act like you’re not still hurting. It’s been less than two months since Emma brought Marian back. It’s okay if you don’t want to be around that. No one’s going to blame you for wanting to be somewhere else.”

“Robin?” There wasn’t a single mention of a Robin in her manuals. This wasn’t going to end well. Her mental rant about her former self intensified. “I’m sorry, I don’t…” She reigned it in. Obviously, she knew this Robin person. She needed to get information without tipping her hand. “To which situation are you referring?”

“Seriously?” Concern etched all over the waitress’s face, she slid into the seat across from the mayor. She lowered her voice, bending over a little so the older woman could hear her above the diner’s usual light background noise. “You can’t just act like you don’t know who he is, Regina. Robin and his wife aren’t just going to go away, and ignoring something just makes it worse. Look, I know I’m the last person you probably want to talk to considering who my best friend is, but you should talk to someone about all of this because I know it has to be eating at you. Don’t be mad at me for saying this, but, just because Robin is your soul mate doesn’t mean you can’t find love somewhere else. I don’t think soul mates are always romantic pairings anyway, and you can have more than one true love, Regina.”

Soul mates? True love? Had Ruby Lucas lost her mind? “Ruby,” Regina’s voice was calm and patient, though laced with some irritation. All the mayor had wanted to do was eat lunch and read her reports, not deal with whatever drama this was. “I don’t care what Robin does. He’s obviously involved. So long as he pays his taxes, doesn’t get arrested, and votes for me in the next election, he can do as he pleases.” She reached out and laid a hand on the younger woman’s arm. “You’re mistaken in whatever you think happened between me and that man across the way. I give you my word,” she offered a smile, “I’m fine.” She gave a little pat and then pulled her hand back. “Now, about my lunch? I was thinking that, instead of…”

She was interrupted by a little voice calling her name and pair of bright eyes peeking out at her from just above the side of her table. “Regina!” The little boy with a mop of messy brown hair gave her a dimpled smile. “Hi!”

She smiled in return and chuckled. “Hello there, young man,” she raised her eyebrows and her voice took on a playful tone. “Where did you come from?” She knew. He was the man, Robin’s, son.

“Over there,” the little boy said, turning to point toward his parents, who had yet to notice he wasn’t at the table. They were both engrossed in looking over their menus.

The mayor turned to the waitress and sighed. “Miss Lucas?” Ruby shuddered back from wherever her thoughts had taken her. “My lunch, please?”

“Um… yeah, sure. I’ll just…” Ruby glanced from the little boy to his parents and then back to Regina. “I’ll get right on that.” With one last tentative look between the three, she slid from the booth to go place the order.

“Regina?” The little boy climbed into the booth right next to her. “Where did you go?”

She scooted over to accommodate him, still smiling at his brashness. Most little children would be scared of strangers, but perhaps he wasn’t because he knew her as the mayor of the town? “When,” she asked as she gave a nod of thanks for the coffee Ruby placed on her table.

“A long time ago? When Mama came back.” He tilted his head in question. “Where did you go? You stopped playing with me and Papa.”

Realization struck. She had been dating Robin. Did this mean she’d been part of some kind of infidelity? She certainly hoped not. Thinking quickly, she came up with the best reason why a single woman dating a married man might not come back around once the wife was back in the picture. “Well, I thought your parents might like some time together.”

It sounded like a poor reason even to her own ears, but the young boy seemed to think it over and approve of the reason. “Are we still friends?”

He was too precious to hurt. Her natural instinct was to protect his feelings, and, really, was there a reason not to? “Of course!”

“I’m glad.” He reached out and picked up her highlighter, pulling off the cap and staring down at the tip as if he’d never seen anything like it before. “Are you and Papa still friends?” He put the lid back on and stared very hard at the office supply as he turned the highlighter over in his hands to look at it from all directions.

“Well,” she internally winced. She should have seen that question coming. Were they still friends? She really didn’t know.

She was saved when a baritone voice cut in. “Roland, perhaps you should leave Regina alone? She looks like she’s very busy.”

Looking up, she found Robin standing next to her table with his wife by his side. “It’s alright,” she reassured gently, “I don’t mind. He’s a very well behaved child.”

“He’s my child,” the woman, Marian Regina assumed, hissed.

“Marian,” Robin’s voice was laced with warnings to not cause a scene. Regina, however, smiled to herself. Assumption correct! That was, in fact, Marian. Wait a moment, she mentally frowned. His name was Robin and her name was Marian? As in Maid Marian and Robin Hood?

She didn’t have time to contemplate the thought more. Roland was forcefully pulled from the booth beside her by his mother. He protested, but she ignored him, placing him on her hip in a way that could only be described as protective and possessive.

Regina was confused. What had she done? Had she destroyed this marriage? What kind of woman was she?

“Mama! Regina wouldn’t hurt me.” Roland’s small voice called out in distress, “Right, Regina?”

“No,” the mayor agreed, confused and very worried about what she may have done. “I wouldn’t. I have a son of my own. I would never hurt a child, or…”

“Don’t give me that,” Marian snapped. “I know what you’re capable of. I’ve seen the destruction and devastation you’ve caused, the thousands of lives you’ve destroyed.”

“Marian,” Robin cut in again, this time a bit stronger. “Let’s not do this here. We’ve been over this. She’s not that person anymore.”

“You say that,” his wife shot back, “but you weren’t being held in one of her cells, Robin. You weren’t being prepared for execution simply because you refused to tell her where Snow White was hiding.” Regina raised her eyebrows in surprise. Snow White? What..? “No, instead, you go off and start seeing her once you think I’m dead. How could you! And now I learn that my son seeks comfort with her. How dare you put our child in that kind of danger!”

Regina listened intently to the rant. Robin’s wife had just mentioned Snow White and executions and… Was Marian mentally off? This woman had just accused her of trying to put her to death. What was going on here? Regina was a mayor, not some kind of… oh. The moniker the miner had called her earlier came back to her. Evil Queen. She visibly winced. What kind of monster had she been before Boston?

“No,” Robin shot back, this time raising his voice over her and quieting her down. “I thought you died of disease while I was in the forest trying to care for our family. It was years, Marian, years that I mourned your loss while I raised our son alone. I had no idea she had taken you prisoner. No,” he shook his head, his voice lowering again to a normal level, “not her, not this woman.” He pointed at Regina. “The Evil Queen.” He shook his head. “That’s not her. This woman,” he gestured again at the mayor, “she saved Roland from the Wicked Witch’s monkeys. For a year, she took care of him when she thought I wasn’t looking. She saved this town from destruction, and she’s not evil, Marian. She would never hurt Roland.” He ran a hand over his face, sighing. “I know this is difficult for you to understand, but Regina Mills is not the Queen, and this anger you’re holding will do no one any good. We’re all stuck here.” He was starting to plead. “We must find peace with each other. She’s a good caregiver. I would entrust Roland’s safety to her without question, as I would entrust my own life into her care. She’s not going to hurt us, nor is she going to try to destroy our family.” He turned to look at Regina. “Are you?”

“No,” Regina slowly shook her head in the negative as she added ‘Wicked Witch’ and ‘flying monkey’s to her mental list of insanity that had popped up during this confrontation. Glancing around, she noted silently that the entire diner had stopped and had turned to watch the scene. She sighed. As a politician, this was the last thing she wanted the town to talk about. It hurt her public image. “Of course not,” she offered reassuringly. “I won’t be responsible for breaking apart a marriage, and,” she turned to look at Marian, “if you’d like for me to have nothing to do with your husband or your son, I’ll try very hard to do so. However, I didn’t seek them out. Little Roland came by to tell me hello, which is fine. As I’ve said before, he’s a well behaved child. I would love to be able to interact with him, but, if it’s going to cause this much derision, I’ll be sure to send him back to you as quickly as possible should he come to see me again.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Robin answered before his wife could respond. “I trust you, Regina.” He gave a small, sad smile. “That much, at least, hasn’t changed. If Roland wants to see you, then he shall.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. Why was he being so difficult toward his wife, who clearly hated her? “Perhaps you should discuss this more with Marian?”

The woman in question glowered, growling something underneath her breath before storming out of the diner. He husband sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said, his eyes turned toward the slamming door. “I really am trying to get her to recognize you’re not evil anymore. It’s just going to take time, you understand?”

“Go after your wife, Robin,” she said in a tired voice. Where was her food? She just wanted to read her reports. “Don’t worry with me. I’ll be fine.”

He nodded, leaving to go after his family.

Regina closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger of her left hand as she took a long drink of her lukewarm coffee. What kind of life was she living before her trip to Boston?

“That was quite the scene.” She opened her eyes to find the owner of the diner standing beside her table with her order in her hand.

“I’m sorry,” Regina offered weakly. “I had no idea that would happen. I didn’t mean to cause a disturbance inside your place of business.”

“I’d say that, for once,” the older woman sat the plate down, careful of the paperwork on the table, “it wasn’t you causing the scene.” She looked down her nose, at the mayor. “You handled that better than I expected.”

“What was I going to do?” The younger woman sighed, pushing her papers around and pulling her plate forward, “Have her arrested for berating the woman who was dating her husband?” She shook her head. “That wouldn’t really accomplish much, would it?”

“You didn’t know,” Eugenia offered, an odd look on her face. “I don’t think you’d have dated him if you’d know, but he didn’t know either. We all thought she was dead.” She cocked an eyebrow, looking at the mayor over the rim of her glasses. “Are you okay, Regina?”

“Fine,” the other woman replied with a shrug. “A bit hunger, somewhat embarrassed by the scene, and anxious to read this report, but, otherwise, I’m perfectly fine.”

“Okay,” Eugenia’s voice sounded less than convinced. “Well, let us know if you need anything else.”

Regina nodded, giving a little smile of thanks. “I will, thank you.” With that, she turned to pick up her report in one hand as she began to slowly eat her lunch.


 

“What’s wrong with Regina?” Granny didn’t even say hello. Those were the first words out of mouth as soon as she burst into the sheriff’s station. Emma, who had only just returned herself after spending her morning and lunch reinforcing the protection spells Gold had put around the mayor’s various haunts, could only stare dumbly at the older woman from her place behind her desk.

“Huh?”

“Don’t ‘huh’ me, Emma. Something is wrong with Regina, and I know you know what’s going on.” Granny crossed her arms and stared the blonde down. “She leaves for Boston, comes back, and she’s suddenly a different person. You two are getting along like two peas in a pod, and Regina just had a run-in with Robin and Marian at my diner that ended peacefully. Something is going on, and I want to know what it is.”

Emma groaned, closing her eyes against the exhaustion using her magic all morning had caused and the now added bonus of dealing with Eugenia Lucas on a rampage. “Nothing,” she said as she opened her eyes again. “Regina’s fine.”

“Like hell she is.” Granny pointed a finger at her. “Don’t try to pull a fast one on me. That woman sitting in my diner right now is not Regina Mills. Who is it?”

“Regina.” Emma ran a hand over her face and sighed. This was bound to happen eventually. Maybe it was better to let the cat out now before all hell broke loose with Hades. She grimaced. Really? Hades and Hell? Whatever.

Shrugging, she added, “At least, that is Regina Mills if Regina Mills had never been raised by Cora or been screwed up by Gold.”

Eugenia lowered her head, glaring at the sheriff. “What?”

“Henry and I think that, when Regina went over the town line this time, it wiped her memories of being the Queen from the Enchanted Forrest. It’s weird. She knows a lot of things she probably shouldn’t if that were the case, like stuff about Henry’s childhood. But there’s enough she doesn’t seem to remember that makes us think she doesn’t really remember who she is. This is Regina if Regina had grown up here and become mayor of the small town of Storybrooke, Maine… if that makes sense?”

“Are you kidding me?” Granny cocked an eyebrow.

“Nope,” Emma replied with another shrug.

“Did she do it on purpose?”

The blonde ran a hand through her hair. “No clue.”

“Can we get her memories back?” Granny waved a hand in the air, making a motion to indicate their surroundings. “What if something happens and we need the Queen? Does she even know she knows magic?”

“We probably can, we could probably make due, and no.” Emma leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Henry and I want to keep her this way as long as we can. She’s happy. She’s not trying to get revenge on anyone. She’s honestly trying to be a good mayor and a good mom. She’s not carrying around all that emotional baggage, so she’s not hurting all the time.” Her face fell as the memory of Regina’s look when Marian saw Robin again flashed through her mind. “What could it hurt to protect her for once?”

“Is that what you and Henry have been doing? Protecting her?” Granny rolled her eyes. “Or are you just trying to keep her from remembering she’s mad at you?”

“No.” Emma’s voice went cold. “This isn’t about me. This is about her. For once in her life, I’m going to make sure someone is watching out for her.”

“You can’t keep the town from treating her differently, Sheriff. You can’t keep people from talking to her as if she knows everything. She’s eventually going to figure out that something is wrong with this town, and it’s only a matter of time until she realizes who she is.” Crossing her own arms, Granny shook her head. “It’s not a matter of if but when. You can’t save her from herself.”

“Gold knows, and now you know.” The younger woman stood, pulling her jacket back on and shifting the badge on her hip. “He’s not telling anyone, and I expect you to keep it to yourself, too. If someone had been looking out for her when she was younger, she’d never have become what she was before she cast the curse. It can’t hurt for us to at least try to protect her this time, can it? It’s our second chance to do right by someone who has a good heart, or do you think she doesn’t deserve it?”

“Honestly? I don’t know.” Granny took the cue and followed Emma to the front door. “I’ll keep it to myself for now, but people are starting to talk. They’ll figure it out.”

“Let them,” Emma said as she held the door open. “And I’ll be right beside Regina to help her deal with it when they do.”

Granny stopped just outside the doors and turned to really consider the blonde. “Emma, even if she doesn’t remember, she’s still the woman who tried to kill your family several times.”

“I know,” the blonde said, sighing heavily. “I knew before she left for Boston, and I know now. It doesn’t change anything; it never did.” She locked the station door, giving the doors a pull to double check it.

“You’re playing a dangerous game,” Granny warned.

“Story of my life,” Emma grunted before turning away from the older woman and heading toward her squad car.

Eugenia watched her go, making a mental note to talk to Mary Margaret and David about that last part of the conversation she’d just had. If Emma insisted on saving the unsavable, then someone needed to watch over her to pick her up after she’d gotten hurt from the attempts.

Chapter Text

Snow White? Robin Hood and Maid Marian? …The Evil Queen?

Regina sighed as she shifted her bag higher onto her shoulder and began the walk back from the diner to her office. Her mind ran over the past couple of days, taking inventory of the strange things in the town.

The local bar was called ‘The Rabbit Hole,’ that road to her half-sister’s house was referred to as ‘the yellow brick road,’ the local diner was ‘Granny’s Diner,’ and the Miner’s Union often called themselves ‘the dwarves.’

She frowned. She supposed it made sense to go with a fairytale theme since the town was dubbed Storybrooke. Storybrooke… story book. She could see it being some kind of cute little something to get a few tourists in from time to time.

But, then again, the town seemed to have taken it to an extreme. The other day, she ran into the couple she’s supposed to avoid, the one Henry refers to as his grandparents. In the course of trying to get away from them, she heard the woman refer to her husband as ‘Charming,’ and she meant it as a noun. She was actually calling him Charming, as in Prince Charming. The miners from the local union all have nicknames for each other that seem to more-or-less match up to the names given to the seven dwarves from Disney’s Snow White movie. The man Sheriff Swan apparently recently broke up with looks, acts, and sounds just like a stereotypical pirate one would find in a book, and he actually has a hook for a hand. Unsurprisingly, most of the town calls him ‘Hook,’ as in Captain Hook, a la Peter Pan. The librarian’s name is Belle French, which is also a weird fairytale reference if she thought about it. After all, Belle was the name of the protagonist from the Beauty & the Beast tale, and that particular tale is French in origin.

Speaking of Belle, her husband, the local pawnbroker, has never been called anything but ‘Mr. Gold’ or ‘Gold’ by most people in the town, but she calls him ‘Rumple,’ which, now that Regina thought it over, was a shortened version of Rumpelstiltskin, if the fairytale theme was to be followed.

The lead waitress’s name in Granny’s Diner is Ruby, which is just another name for Red, and some people call her Red instead of Ruby, which would make her what? Little Red Riding Hood?

Regina rolled her eyes. She was being ridiculous. It wasn’t as though the town actually thought they were a bunch of fairytale characters, though the people running with a theme would explain why they kept referring to her as the ‘Evil Queen.’ If they didn’t care for her as their mayor, then she supposed it made sense to equated her with one of the antagonists from the fairytales, though she wasn’t sure which one. Given the fact that most fairytales she was familiar with named their villains, she assumed they probably thought of her in terms of the queen from Snow White, since that queen tended to remain unnamed in most of the narratives, and that character is most associated with apples, which happen to be Regina’s favorite fruit.

However, she wasn’t sure she was thrilled to be likened to a character that was so incredibly vain. Honestly, she really didn’t think she’d care one way or another if someone else was the fairest in the town.

She chuckled to herself. Now she really was being ridiculous.

“Something funny, your majesty?” A voice she didn’t recognize caught her attention, and she raised her eyes from the sidewalk to find a tall, thin man standing directly in her path.

“I’m sorry?” Did he just call her what she thought she just heard? Surely not.

“Well, you were chuckling, so I assume something must be funny to you,” he replied, and she held a shudder at bay. His very presence felt slimy to her.

“Ah,” straightening her posture, she forced herself to keep eye contact. “I was just thinking of something humorous that happened today.” She gave her best politician’s smile. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Maybe,” he answered, his voice making her shift to high alert. She might not remember who this man was, but her body remembered and seemed to be telling her she should be trying to quickly escape. “I’m here to take something of yours, your highness.”

She rolled her eyes. Really, this whole ‘queen’ thing was getting a touch old. “If you’re unhappy with the state of affairs of the city, there’s a town hall meeting in two weeks. You can air your grievances there, or you can make an appointment with my personal assistant to meet with me and discuss them in person, but I really don’t have the time to talk to you about them right now. If I stay much longer, I’m going to be late for a meeting. I’m sorry to be rude, but I’m afraid I need to keep going.” She shot him a look that said she wasn’t sorry and stepped around him to continue on.

He stood still for a moment, confused, before turning and quickly walking to stroll along beside her. “Do you know who I am?”

“No,” she flatly replied. “Should I?” She was a little concerned she probably should know, but she was starting to get annoyed with not knowing and being expected to know, which was quickly pushing her to the point where she simply had no more fucks left to give regarding the entire situation.

“I can’t believe your mentor wouldn’t have told you who I am,” he said with a dangerous rumble to his voice. “He should have at least warned you.”

As far as Regina knew, she had no mentor to speak of. She rolled her eyes again and kept walking, refusing to acknowledge the man any further.

“I see you’re as foolish as he is,” the man said in irritation. “Let me show you why you should fear me.” He stopped walking. She continued. He raised a hand and a ring of blue fire blazed up around her. She stopped walking, fear racing up her spine. “Do you know who I am now, your majesty?”

No, she really didn’t, but, whoever he was, he was an impressive illusionist. She reached out to see how the illusion was done only to find the fire surrounding her was hotter up close than where she stood in the center of it. The scalding heat whipped around her, blowing her hair about her head and rushing over her body in a hot, sickening trail of unwelcome sensation. She felt nauseated. “No,” she replied in the same flat voice she’d used earlier, though, on the inside, she was highly alarmed.

He laughed. “I can feel your fear. The great and terrifying Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest is scared. How quaint.” He was clearly mocking her. She would have been annoyed if she hadn’t been so frightened. She tried to look through the flames to see if there was anyone around who could help her. The streets close to City Hall were always empty, and it didn’t surprise her they were alone, though it made her feel all the more sick to her stomach as she came to accept she was in dire straights at the moment.

She took in a deep breath, immediately wishing she hadn’t. The air was starting to thicken from the heat. It was hard to breathe. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

He stepped through the flames, and the circle grew to accommodate his presence. His smile slithered across his face as he cocked his head to the side and responded with a chuckle, “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Clearly.” She raised an eyebrow at him.

Waving his hand, a small creature appeared at their feet. Regina jumped as the creature looked around in confusion. When it spoke, she yelped. “Yes, sir?”

“Pain,” the man addressed the furry, sharp-toothed being, “tell the nice lady who I am.”

“Uh,” the creature looked between them and then shrugged, “Okay.” He motioned from Regina to the man. “Evil Queen, Hades.” He motioned from the man to Regina. “Hades, the Evil Queen.”

Regina laughed. This was a joke. It had to be a joke. “You can’t be serious.”

The creature humphed at her. “Of course I’m serious. I don’t want Hades to stick me in the Styx again. The last time he did that, it took me forever to get all those lost souls out of my ears.”

Closing her eyes, she took a personal second to gather her wits. When she opened her eyes again, the man in front of her seems to glow the same color as the flames surrounding them. Either she was going completely mad or something was very wrong with this town. “Hades? As in the God of the Underworld?”

“Yes, one in the same,” he said with a nod of his head.

“Okay, fine.” She sighed in resignation. “Let’s say I believe you.” Because, at the present, she couldn’t find a reason not to, and, frankly, she needed some talking time to figure out how to get out of this situation so she could go somewhere and panic for a good couple of days. “Why are you here? Don’t you have a whole kingdom to attend to?”

“That, my dear, is a lovely question,” he said with an approving nod. “I’m here because your mentor owes me. A few hundred years ago, or so,” Hades shrugged. “It’s been a while. Time is relative to an immortal, so forgive me if that’s not particularly accurate.” Rolling his eyes at himself, he continued, “A long time ago by your standards, your mentor and I had a deal. He would supply me with the soul of Hercules, and I, in return, would supply him with Poseidon’s Triton. I held up my end of the deal, but, through some loophole,” he pushed the word through gritted teeth, and, for a second, the heat intensified around them, “in our contract, he managed to weasel his way out of his end of the bargain, which left me high and dry. My brother’s never forgiven me for taking his little toy, I don’t have Hercules, and the triton was never returned to me.”

He took in a deep breath, and the air became a little less heated. “Well, now I need a very specific type of magic in order to finish out a plan I have in order to get what’s mine, and you are going to help me.”

“Because of something my supposed mentor did to you?” She scoffed at him. “Why should I be held accountable for the sins of mentor? That’s ridiculous.”

“Ah, well, you see, once our first deal went south, we made a second deal so I wouldn’t completely destroy him. Part of that deal said he would supply me with my brother’s triton, which he did not.” The flames leapt about them for a few seconds. “The other part stated I had stay out of his realm, the Enchanted Forest, and I couldn’t harm him directly. As he’s no longer in the Enchanted Forest, I’m here to deal with him directly, and, since I can’t harm him, I’m going to harm the next best thing until he gives me what I want.”

She tried to discreetly swallow down the lump in her throat. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to harm whomever he loves the most?” She was certain that wasn’t her because she had no clue who her mentor was.

“Ordinarily, yes,” Hades agreed with a shrug, “but he’s attached to you in a unique way.” His slimly smile reappeared on his face. “As your teacher, he used his magic to teach you to use yours. There’s a metaphysical connection there, and I plan to exploit it in order to cause him literal pain until he gives me what I want.” He stepped a bit closer to Regina. “You may die during the process. Don’t worry,” he leered at her, looking over her body with a sleazy eye, “I find you wholly acceptable. Once you’re in my realm, I’ll see to it that you’re placed in my personal treasures room. You’ll be very well taken care of.”

She wanted to vomit.

From somewhere outside the ring of blue flames, a voice sounded out. Hades glanced toward the noise with a scowl. “It looks like your savior has arrived, your highness. No matter,” he said with a grin, “she can’t…”

A white beam shot through the wall of fire, taking Hades by surprise. Regina took the opportunity, running through the hole left by the beam before the wall could close back up. As soon as she was outside the ring, she gasped, pulling cool air into her lungs. It hurt and felt good all at the same time.

From somewhere behind her, she heard Hades begin to yell. She tried to stand upright again, but her body refused to follow directions. She panicked even more.

“Come on,” a familiar voice urged as an arm wrapped around her waist. “We need to get into City Hall. We’ll be safe there. He can’t get us in there.”

She glanced up to see Emma Swan looking intently at her. She could only nod, allowing herself to be half pulled along the rest of the way toward the building less than three blocks away.

“You can’t get away that easily, your highness,” Hades’ voice rang out behind him. “Running will get you nowhere.”

Emma cursed under her breath. “I’m going to poof us inside, okay?” Regina turned wide eyes to her, and the blonde winced in apology. “Just trust me. Do you trust me?”

Without hesitation, the mayor nodded yes, and, in the next second, she was surrounded by a cloud of light blue smoke. In the next instant, she found herself standing just outside her office door, her assistant looking on in both worry and fear.

Regina glanced around, blinking as she tried to adjust to the strange sensation that ran through her body at being ‘poofed.’ Her brain refused to process it. “Sheriff,” she asked in a small, confused, and frightened voice.

Emma placed a hand on her shoulder, meeting her eyes and trying to be as comforting as possible. “You’re safe in here.”

“But how…?” Regina continued to look around in a daze. “Who was that man? How did he control that fire? How did you get us in here? What…?” She could feel herself starting to loose what little control she had left. “Why did he call me the Evil Queen? What was that… that thing that appeared in that circle with us? Who does he think my mentor is?” She took in a shaky breath, demanding loudly, “Just what the hell is going on around here?”

“What can I do?” The mayor’s assistant, Ann Hawthorne, asked in a tentative voice.

Emma jumped. She’d forgotten the other woman was in the room. “Call Gold and tell him that his friend is here to see us.”

“You know,” Hawthorne said with a sigh as she picked up the phone, “I suspected, but I wasn’t sure.”

“And now?” Emma took Regina by the elbow and began to walk them toward the mayor’s office.

The assistant shrugged. “I’ll do what I can. It’s nice to see her happy for a change, and I don’t want to mess that up.”

The sheriff nodded her thanks before opening the office door and walking inside. She led Regina to the couch, helping her sit down, before taking a seat on a chair opposite the brunette. “How are you feeling?”

“Sweaty, angry, and confused,” Regina replied with a bite to her voice. “Are you going to tell me what is going on or not?”

“Honestly? I’d rather not,” Emma replied with a sigh. “And I’m not sure you’d believe me even if I did.” She wiped at her face. “Would you believe me if I said I was trying to protect you and leave it at that?”

The older woman leaned forward to pull off her now ruined blazer. She tossed it on the end of the couch as she considered what had just happened. There was too much for her to simply let it go. “No,” she finally answered in a drained voice. “No, I’m tired of not knowing what’s going on around here.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” The blonde rubbed at her forehead. “Be honest with me, Regina. Do you really want to know, or are you happy with who and how you are now?”

The brunette leaned back, surprised to realize the other woman knew. “I don’t know,” she answered quietly. “Do I want to know?”

Emma’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You trust me to answer that?”

“I trust you more than any adult in this town, Sheriff,” Regina replied quietly. “I just wish I knew why I trust you so implicitly.”

The sheriff rubbed at her forehead again. There was a message in that question that she wasn’t ready to deal with yet. One crisis at a time. Instead, she focused on the first question. “I don’t know if you want to know, Regina. I don’t know if you did this to yourself on purpose, or if it was an accident. If you didn’t do this on purpose, then you might want to know, but, if you did, then you don’t.” She waved a hand in the air to show her frustration with the whole situation.

“I…” The warnings from the manuals came back to the brunette. She shouldn’t trust this woman, but she does. She shouldn’t like this woman, yet she does. This woman would cause her nothing but harm, yet she hadn’t. It was time to come clean. “I believe I did it on purpose. I left myself manuals so I would know important things regarding my life. I was very prepared.”

Emma snorted. “You normally are.” She took in a deep breath, releasing it in a heavy sigh. “Where are they? These manuals?”

“At home,” Regina said with a sigh of her own. “I would show them to you, but I don’t know how we’ll get there if this Hades is trying to get to us.” She hesitate for a moment before adding, “Although I don’t understand how it is that he can’t get to us in here.”

Emma answered with a shrug. “It’s complicated, and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but he can’t, and he can’t get into your house, either. I can get us there, if you still trust me.” She stood, offering her hand.

Regina stared at it. “You mean by ‘poofing’ us there?”

The blonde chuckled. “Yeah, by poofing us there.”

It was a strange sensation, the poofing, but it wasn’t unpleasant, and Regina wanted to do it again. She needed to experience it again so her brain could further process it. “Alright,” she agreed, taking Emma’s offered hand and allowing herself to be pulled up. “Will it be as disorientating this time?”

“Probably. I’m just learning how to do this, and I think my inexperience with it is causing the dizziness.” Emma winced. “Sorry.”

Regina scowled. “Can you tell me how, exactly, you’re doing this?”

“It’s complicated,” Emma began to answer, “and you wouldn’t…”

“Believe you if you told me. Yes, I’m catching the theme for today, Sheriff, thank you.” Despite the snark in her words, she kept hold of the other woman’s hand. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay,” Emma gave Regina’s hand a little squeeze for reassurance. “Here we go,” and, with that, the light blue smoke encircled them once again, and Regina felt herself begin to faint.

Chapter Text

Emma felt, rather than saw, Regina begin to collapse as soon as they appeared in the entryway of the mayor’s house. She barely managed to catch the brunette before she limply collapsed to the ground.

For a moment, Emma was extremely afraid she’d managed to somehow accidentally kill or otherwise harm Regina during transport. She’d just recently, as in within the last few days, finally figured out how to transport using her magic. She’d been teaching herself on the sly using what books she could understand in Regina’s vault because she wanted to be prepared. Apparently, her Boy Scout mentality had paid off. However, it was entirely possible that she somehow screwed up the spell and managed to leave something important of Regina’s behind during transport, like her skeletal system or something.

She wasn’t sure exactly how the transporting thing worked, but she was sure she probably shouldn’t be using it on herself yet, let alone on herself and someone else, but she didn’t really have a choice. Hades would try to take Regina if he had the chance, and Regina’s house was better protected than her work space because Emma had spent more time reinforcing and adding protection spells to the house than to the mayor’s office.

When she noticed the brunette was still breathing, she let out a relieved chuckle, thanking the universe for her dumb luck. At least the older was still alive. It looked like she’d fainted. Fainting Emma could handle. With a little effort, she managed to pick the other woman up and carry her the few steps into the formal living room, where she awkwardly placed the brunette on a sofa.

Firefighters make carrying people look too easy, Emma mused to herself as tried to catch her breath from the exertion. It wasn’t that Regina was heavy. She wasn’t. In fact, she was surprisingly small. In the blonde’s mind’s eye, she considered the older woman to be some kind of huge, over powering… something. Something the very opposite of the petite and delicate woman passed out on the sofa. It made Emma want to protect Regina all the more. Fragile was the word that crept into the blonde’s mind. Regina looked and felt fragile.

She frowned. The old Regina would have hated having such a word prescribed to her. She wasn’t fragile. She was anything but, and she could take care of herself. In fact, the old Regina could probably take care of this situation with Hades without any help from the sheriff, but, of course, this person wasn’t the old Regina. This person was someone who didn’t believe in magic or fairytales or true love. She was a woman who thought of the Enchanted Forest as something in a book of stories told to children.

This person was happy in a way the old Regina could never be, and Emma hated there was absolutely nothing she could do to save this person because, in truth, Granny was right. You can’t save the unsavable, and this Regina wasn’t savable because this Regina wasn’t really Regina at all. She was a small piece of a very complicated puzzle which made up the Regina Emma knew all too well.

She let out a heavy sigh. It was going to be hard to explain to Henry why they had to make Regina get her memories back. If she was focused on protecting Regina, he was obsessed with it, but they needed the old Regina back to deal with this new threat. From just the brief encounter she’d had with what she assumed was Hades, she knew she couldn’t fight him alone, and she didn’t trust Gold to really help. In fact, she assumed he was going to make it worse because that’s what he did. He made things worse, and, somehow, managed to make things better for himself at the same time.

Kneeling beside the sofa, Emma reached out the give Regina a gentle shake. “Hey, open your eyes.”

The brunette grunted, squeezing her eyes even more tightly shut. “Please tell me this was all a bad dream,” she grumbled.

“If it is, then we’re both having the same dream, and we’re sleeping together,” Emma lightly joked.

“Better than the alternative,” Regina deadpanned as she slowly opened her eyes and carefully sat up, rubbing at her forehead. “What happened?”

“You fainted.” The younger woman stood to take a seat next to the other woman. “I don’t know why, though. It could have been the poofing or the stress or something else.” Her frown turned into a look of concern. “How do you feel?”

“Exhausted.” Leaning forward, Regina closed her eyes and took in a few deep breaths. “I don’t suppose there’s time for a nap before you shatter what’s left of my disbelief in the impossible, is there?”

“I think we can squeeze it in.” Emma leaned forward to give an exaggerated sniff in the older woman’s direction. “You are starting to smell a little ripe.” She winked.

The mayor glared and gave the sheriff a little push. “Cute.” On shaky legs, she stood and then swayed, giving a grateful look to Emma when she stood to help her move. “I’m apparently still light headed.”

“Do you think taking a shower is a good idea?” They were already heading toward the stairs, and Emma was mindful to help Regina without babying her, which she knew the woman would hate regardless of what state of mind she was in. “Maybe a bath instead?”

“What’s the matter, Sheriff?” Regina teased as they slowly made their way up the stairs. “Afraid you’ll have to burst into my shower time and save me from the floor?”

“What can I say?” Emma opened the master bedroom door for them both and guided them inside. “I’m a gentleman. I’m just trying to keep your modesty intact.”

Regina huffed in amusement. “I don’t have anything you haven’t seen before, Miss Swan.”

“True,” the blonde agreed with a tip of her head, helping Regina settle on the chair at the vanity in the large master bath, “but what you have probably looks a lot better than what I’ve got going on. I’d hate to be jealous. People tell me that’s a bad thing.”

Regina chuckled and then winced, raising a hand to her head and rubbing at it. “Did I hit my head?”

“No, being the gallant and chivalrous knight that I am,” Emma said, giving an exaggerated bow, “I managed to catch you before you fell completely down.”

“My hero,” the other woman deadpanned. Regina took in a few slow, deep breaths and released them just as slowly as she waited for her body to stop acting so strangely. “I feel… buzzy.”

“Buzzy?” Emma quirked an eyebrow. “Buzzy how buzzy?”

The brunette shook her head. “I don’t know. Buzzy, as if my entire body is touching a livewire. I can’t explain it very well. I felt it slightly the first time you ‘poofed’ us, and now I feel rather intensely.” She frowned when Emma started to walk toward her, holding up a hand to have the younger woman stop moving. “It gets worse the closer you get to me.”

The sheriff nodded to herself. “You’re sensing… well… you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but let’s just say you’ve felt that way around me for about a year now, and,” she glanced away, hating to admit this but figuring it couldn’t hurt anything in the present, “I feel it, too, when I’m around you. It’s sort of like that feeling when your phone is on vibrate and you’re holding it tightly in your hand when someone calls, except if feels that way all over, right?”

“Yes,” Regina nodded slowly, “that’s an oddly accurate description. What is it?”

“Well, like I said, you probably wouldn’t…”

“Believe you if you told me. Yes, so you say.” Regina let out a heavy sigh. “A bath would probably help me. Let me run it, and then you can come back in, and we can discuss what has happened over the past few hours.”

Emma nodded, stepping out of the bathroom and closing the door behind her. When the water began to run, she decided to kill time by calling Gold. The phone rang once before he answered.

“Where are you, Miss Swan?”

“Regina’s.” She plopped down on the chair in the bedroom, wincing as it occurred to her she probably had all kinds of trash on her that was likely staining the perfect white of the upholstery.

“How did you get there? Regina’s assistant swore you were in the mayor’s office when I arrived, and she claims she never saw the two of you leave.”

“I poofed us here.”

“You what?”

“I poofed us here. You know, apperated or transported or whatever you want to call it.”

“Who taught you how to do that?”

“It doesn’t matter.” She rolled her eyes. Of course that’s what he’d be concerned with right now. Of course, Regina was taking a bath in the middle of this crisis, so maybe everyone’s priorities were screwy. “Did you run into Hades yet?”

“No. As you so eloquently put it, I apperated here myself. Do you know what he wanted with Regina? Her assistant tells me he tried to abduct her.”

“No clue. We haven’t gotten that far in our talks yet, but, as soon as she tells me, I’ll pass it along.” The water shut off, and Emma rushed to finish her phone conversation. “Look, I’m just calling to let you know where we are. As soon as I actually have something, I’ll let you know.”

“Fine.”

The phone line when dead. She wanted to be irritated, but that was probably to best conversation she’d ever had with him. Regina’s voice beckoning her to come back into the bathroom which pulled her from her mental rant about Gold. She entered the room, leaving the door open, and settled on the chair Regina had vacated.

“That’s a lot of bubbles,” Emma said with a note of amusement in her voice.

“I didn’t want you to get jealous,” Regina said with a smirk. “Who were you talking to?”

“Gold,” Emma answered without thinking.

“Gold?” Regina frowned in confusion. “The pawnshop broker?”

The blonde sighed. “Yes, and, before you ask, you wouldn’t believe me if I told, so, instead, how about you tell me if Hades told you what he wanted with you?”

The brunette allowed the brushoff, deciding that figuring out how to protect herself from the fire-controlling man out to kill her was more important than why her sheriff was talking to the local pawnbroker. “He told me that,” she rolled her eyes, “I had magic and my mentor, when he taught me how to us it, had created some sort of metaphysical bond, which Hades planned to exploit in order to force my mentor to provide some sort of specific magic to him.”

Emma frowned. That didn’t sound good. “Did he say how he was going to do that?”

“He said he was going to physically torture me, and, somehow, my torture would be felt by my mentor.” Regina’s face twitched as she continued. “He also indicated that the experience might kill me, but I shouldn’t worry because, once dead and in his realm, he planned to add me to his treasures room.”

“Pig,” the sheriff growled. “He’s not getting his hands on you. He’ll have to go through me first.”

“Obviously, he’s insane,” Regina said, smiling discreetly despite herself at the protectiveness coming from the other woman. “If we can figure out how he’s controlling that fire, we can counteract it, arrest him, and put him some place where he can’t harm anyone.”

Emma straightened suddenly in her chair. “Shit.” Before Regina could ask, the blonde was on her cell and cursing because whomever she was calling wasn’t answering. “God, there you are.” Regina quietly watched and listened. “No, everything is not okay. Hades is here. He’s after Gold, but he’s trying to go through Regina to do it. What? Yeah, I know. I don’t know why he’s not going after Belle, but… Yes, that Hades. I don’t know! You tell me, Snow White. What? No… no. No, we’re fine. We’re at her place, but… What? HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT? She what? Really? Wow, that was really nice of… oh. I see your point. Well, why didn’t you say anything about it? Hmmm, yeah, she really is. Henry and I think so, too, which is why we didn’t say anything about it. Speaking of, I need you and David to go get him from school and take him someplace safe because I’m not doing Neverland all over again. Thank you. As soon as this is all over, I’ll call you, and we can… what? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s really what she wants, and, honestly, if she does, she’s going to hate me again, and I kind of like her not thinking of me as public enemy number one. Yeah, I know she’s not. Also true, but then she cursed everyone to Maine because… Yes. WHAT?! No. No way. I broke up with Hook because he’s an ass, not because of that. Whatever Granny told you she thinks she sees, she’s wrong. I mean, I’m notwe’re not… I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Of course I know you’d love me regardless. That’s not my point, Mary Margaret. My point is that I’m not… fine. Whatever. Think what you want. Go get Henry, please. Thank you, and I love you, too.”

Emma groaned as she pushed her cell back into her pocket.

“Mary Margaret Blanchard?” Regina cocked an eyebrow. That had been a rather interesting conversation.

“Yeah,” the blonde nodded. “She’s going to go get Henry, and he’s going to stay with her and David until this whole thing blows over.”

Regina nodded. “What did she know?”

“That you don’t remember.” Emma shrugged. “She figured it out when you ran into her and David at the store the other day and you didn’t know who Leopold was.” Emma held a hand up. “You don’t want to know.”

“He was my husband. I knew that much. I didn’t know why Ms. Blanchard started to become agitated when I agreed with a comment about how she’d have liked to name their child Neal Leopold.” At Emma’s questioning look, she shrugged. “I honestly don’t recall how we got into the conversation, and I only know I was married to Leopold because of the manuals I left for myself, but there’s only a brief mention of him. Apparently, he was old enough to be my father when I married him, and he’s now dead, but I don’t know any specifics beyond that.”

“Yeah, that’s probably for the best.” The younger woman groaned again. “You probably have a lot of questions about that phone call, huh?”

“I have many questions about many things as of late.” The brunette shifted in the tub, careful to keep bubbles in appropriate places. “Care to clue me in?”

“I can do better than that,” Emma replied reluctantly. “I know how to get your memories back.”

Regina frowned. She wanted to be excited by that news, but all she felt was dread. “How’s that?”

“Well, there are two ways,” the blonde answered in a defeated tone. “There’s a potion you can drink, or True Love’s Kiss can bring them back, but…”

“My true love is married to another woman?” Regina smirked at Emma’s surprised look. “I’ve been piecing things together over the past few weeks. Robin, correct? He’s a handsome enough man, but he smells a bit of forest, which isn’t really a turn on for me.”

Emma looked away, guilt crawling across her face. “He’s your soul mate, Regina. You know, your chance at happiness.”

“Soul mates, as someone reminded me today, are not always true loves,” the brunette countered. “However, I have to point out that everything you’re telling me right now makes it sound like you’re the one who has completely lost her mind. You’re talking as though magic is a real thing.”

“It is a real thing. How do you think we got here? I used magic to transport us.” Emma pulled her eyes back to meet Regina’s. “I know you don’t believe. I didn’t when I first got here, but the truth is this place? It’s not a normal town. It’s…” She shook her head, trying to find the right words that would sound believable, but nothing came to mind. “Look, there’s nothing I can say right now that’s not going to sound crazy.”

“I believe that.” Regina held a hand up from the water and watched the droplets run down her palm and along her wrist as she considered what to do. “Who am I, Emma?”

“An incredibly resilient, strong-willed, determined woman who loves very deeply and was hurt so badly that you lost sight of what was in important, but you found your way back, and, just as you did,” Emma’s voice cracked, “you left me… us. You left us and came back like this.”

Regina allowed her hand to fall back into the water with a dull splash. “The manuals are sitting on my desk in my study. You can take a look at them while I finish up here. My head is better. I’ll be fine.”

The sheriff hesitated for a moment before nodding and quietly leaving Regina alone with her thoughts.

The brunette sat in her tub for a time and considered her options. If Emma was telling her the truth, she could regain her memories, which would solve many issues, but, if she remembered, would she be miserable? Everyone who seemed to have figured it out also seemed to think she was happier how she was now. Was it worth the tradeoff? Was being that level of unhappy worth regaining her memories? What would that accomplish? How could she be helpful by being who she was?

Sighing, she stood and drained the tub while she ran a shower. The soak had helped her settle, but the shower would actually help her get clean. As she stepped into the spray of hot water, she allowed herself the moment of panic she’d been suppressing all day. It came crashing down upon her, and her body crumpled in on itself. As she cried and groaned and shuddered, the water washed the tears away and blocked the sound of fear and anxiety.

By the time she was dressed and headed down to her study, she felt better, but her thoughts still raced. Now The Big Question wasn’t ‘why.’ It was the one she’d been trying to figure out all along, though she hadn’t realized it.

Who was she?

Chapter Text

You have a family, but it is exceptionally complicated. All you need to know is that you have a son. You didn’t leave him alone, so do stop panicking. Emma chuckled. Of course Regina would be sassy to herself.

Emma leaned back in the overly comfortable desk chair. Feet propped up on the desk, she had the first manual laid open across her legs. She had been surprised there were so few manuals left for this ‘new’ Regina to read through. Only six? The blonde was certain the mayor’s life could fill a whole library.

She sighed, pulling herself from her thoughts to continue on. He’s safely with his other mother, Emma Swan. No, you two were never lovers. Emma blinked. That’s the first thing Regina tells herself about their relationship? Interesting. You adopted your son, Henry, when he was a baby. He found his birth mother on his own and brought her to town. She now lives in Storybrooke. You share custody.

Well, at least Regina had decided not to start up the whole ‘he’s mine’ thing again. Emma’s mind ran through the first couple of years she’d been in town. Those had been some of the most tension filled years of her adult life, and, if she were honest, some of the most fun. She got a sadistic pleasure in antagonizing Regina back then.

She sighed. She missed that. You don’t have a lover. Well, the blonde mused, not since Graham left her… and then died. She winced and carried on, not wanting to relive that again. You have no prospects. It’s better if you keep it that way. Yes, you’ll find you’re attracted to both men and women. Whoa. Wait a minute.

Emma dropped her feet to the floor and reread that sentence. Regina was bisexual? How had she never known that about the brunette? Talk about unexpected surprise, not that it matter. Emma had a girlfriend or two in her lifetime, it was just interesting to note that Regina, of all people, wasn’t as straight-laced as she appeared to be. No, it is an exceptionally bad idea to even entertain the idea that you and Emma Swan would be anything more than acquaintances. Emma’s jaw dropped. What did that mean? Did that mean what she thought it meant? Did that mean Regina was attracted to her? No? Surely not. Well… maybe? No. No, no, no… definitely not. The woman hated her… again …for God’s sake.

Emma scowled and reread the sentence. No, it is an exceptionally bad idea to even entertain the idea that you and Emma Swan would be anything more than acquaintances. Most of what you’ve known about Miss Swan is something you want to forget, so leave it alone.

The little wiggle of hope floating, and ignored, in the back of Emma’s mind dissipated in a rush of guilt and sadness. She shouldn’t have been surprised to read that next sentence, really. Regina had been beyond furious at her for bringing Marian back. Even if the brunette had some kind of warm and friendly feelings for the sheriff, that would all have been completely obliterated by Emma’s act of compassion for Robin’s wife. What’s more, even had Emma not brought Marian back, she wouldn’t have had anything more than a neutral/somewhat friendly relationship with Regina because Regina would have been with her soul mate, with Robin Hood.

Emma sighed and leaned back in the chair. She didn’t like where her thoughts were going, and they weren’t helping anything. She needed to focus. These manuals held the answers as to why Regina had done this thing, and she was going to flip through them and learn. It could mean the difference between Regina being forced to regain her memories or, maybe, giving Regina the chance to help save the town and still remain as she is.

Maybe, if Emma did this quick study before Regina came down from her bath, the blonde could answer Regina’s questions from what she’d read in these manuals left to herself, and, maybe, Emma could continue to help Regina remain happy.

That was what mattered, helping Regina remain happy for as long as possible. She owed the older woman that much.

Emma’s eye skimmed over the information about Mary Margaret and David. She mentally gave Regina points for explaining away the grandparent scenario by simply calling it an ‘arrangement’ to accept, and she was further proud of Regina for acknowledging that Henry’s grandparents were ‘safe.’ That was actually a rather large step of in faith the brunette had taken toward the Charmings.

She stopped, however, when she read the next paragraph. No one likes you. You’re hated in the town, but the town needs you. The assumption is that you’ve retained the memories needed to be mayor. Steps were taken to ensure that. You owe it to the town to remain mayor for as long as they’ll allow it. It’s best not to ask why. It’s one of the things you wish to forget. You can’t remember your son because of his interconnections to the myriad of things you wish to forget. There was no way to separate him out. Accept that you have a good job that pays well and is, possibly, the most secure job anyone anywhere would ever find. Accept you have a son that does love you, and you do love him. Be grateful you have these things. Be the perfect politician and mother. It’s what you’re best at doing. Smile, shake hands, kiss babies, make Henry lunches, and be a cordial and respectful hostess whenever he wants to bring people over, except the three already mentioned. If Henry insists they visit, allow it, but say very little. Trust it is better this way.

Taking in a deep breath, Emma set the folder on the desk and stared at it as if it had literally spoken those words aloud to her. Regina had lived such a lonely life, and the blonde had never considered that. She’d assumed Regina was invincible. The woman was so good at putting up a façade of calloused indifference that it was easy to ignore how alone she really was, and, even in this new state, she was expecting to remain alone and to sacrifice for the town.

That was the interesting part. Above the fact that Regina obviously had some kind of feelings for Emma, which Emma still wasn’t ready to deal with yet, and pass the part in which Regina told herself to trust the Charmings with Henry, there was the fact Regina had told herself that she owed the town her service.

Regina may not have regretted anything she did to arrive where she was, but seeing this last paragraph told Emma Regina had changed enough to recognize she had been in the wrong. It was a profound fact to grasp.

Regina Mills, Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest, accepted she had not only been in the wrong, but that she owed the people she’d wrong penance through public service.

Emma shook her head in disbelief. Just how much had Regina changed? Maybe she needed to rethink how she saw the mayor just before she left for Boston. Clearly, she hadn’t been seeing the woman at all.

She flipped the page and saw photos with captions. Smiling, she skimmed them and read a few of the notations making a mental note that these pictures were why Regina seemed to at least recognize people.

With an amused smirk creeping across her face, Emma closed the notebook and picked up another. This one was marked ‘Number 3.’ She rolled her eyes. Leave it to Regina to lack creativity in naming these things. She couldn’t at least give them a title? No, of course not.

You like apples. That was an understatement. Your favorite color is black, though red comes in a close second. And you now hate the color green, Emma mused. Your birthday is February first. Emma pulled out her phone and marked that little bit of information on her calendar for future reference. Your parents have passed away, and your half-sister, Zelena, recently committed suicide. Emma winced; Regina didn’t sugarcoat anything. People may mention this. You didn’t know your half-sister very well, though you were known to refer to her as ‘wicked’ from time to time. Despite herself, the blonde snorted at that little inside joke. It’s best to try to stop any conversation about her and change topics should she come up.

Emma shrugged. That was good advice, actually. She didn’t like talking about Zelena, either, so she couldn’t blame Regina for wanting to avoid the topic. It had to be especially sad for the older woman when she could still remember. She had, in some way, killed every member of her family she’d ever known, except for Snow and Henry. Now that Emma thought about it, it was kind of tragic. The whole thing had to be remarkably painful to a woman who had only wanted to be loved. What was it she’d once told the blonde? The worst curse of all was being alone?

Shaking her head, Emma continued to read on. You love riding horses. You’re very proficient. You’ve been riding since you were a young girl. Mental note, Regina likes to ride. You’ve been married. Your husband is dead. It was a forced marriage of convenience, not one of love. His death was not something you mourn. No one is likely to bring him up. However, if they do, they might refer to him as ‘the king’ or ‘King Leopold.’ He was eccentric and old enough to be your father at the time of your marriage to him. It’s best to leave it at that.

The chuckle that started in Emma’s thought at the crack about her grandfather being ‘eccentric’ to cover why people might call him ‘king’ quickly died as she finished reading the paragraph. Of course, she knew Regina hadn’t wanted to marry Leopold, and, if she’d thought about it at all, logic would tell her Leopold was much too old to marry Regina at the time it happened. What her brain and logic had failed to piece together in all the time Emma had known about this arranged marriage was what the implications behind these two facts meant.

It wasn’t until she read that last sentence that it clicked, and, when it did, she was furious and disgusted. How could anyone have been okay with such an arrangement? It was wrong on so many levels that Emma didn’t know where to start her rant on the injustice of the situation and the righteous indignation she felt about it. She’d lived through six months with a man who thought she was going to be his next notch on the bedframe, and she’d never wish the experience on anyone. She’d been lucky. She’d managed to keep out of his grip, and, eventually, she’d gotten her social worker to believe her and get her out of there, but Regina had no one to turn to. Who would ever stand up against their king?

She swallowed down the bile in her throat and blinked away the angry tears threatening to form. Now wasn’t the time to fume over the past. She needed to focus on the present.

Brushing the thought to the back of her mind for later, Emma skimmed more of the book. She smiled gently at all the things about Regina she never know. Somehow, it made the other woman more human. You can speak Spanish and a little Italian. You’re an excellent cook. You make the apple cider you had last night from scratch. You’ll find you’re a proficient piano player, you sing well, and you love to dance, though you rarely do any of those things. When people learn you have these talents, they will be surprised to know it. Emma certainly was, and she wanted to see and hear it all for herself. Perhaps, after this was all over?

Maybe not. By the time this newest end-of-world situation was done, Regina may be back to hating her again.

No, they don’t think you’re fun to bring to parties. Prove them wrong. Reinvent your image. You’re the mayor, and you will want to be reelected. Make your hidden talents work for you. Show you’re not the evil mayor from the past, and they will like you. Be a good leader, and they will reelect you. You owe them your service. Give it willingly.

Emma sighed. There was such determination to be a different person written into those lines. Regina was, literally, trying to start over again and prove she was a good person and a good leader. The blonde hated that she may never have the chance to really do it.

She flipped through the rest of the book. It held Regina’s likes, dislikes, and preferences for things such as clothing and food. She smirked as she read that the other woman was allergic to honey. That was an odd allergy, and Emma filed it away among the many mental notes she was making about the brunette.

Once she was done flipping through the notebook, she took a moment to let the information sink in. It was a lot to retain, and it was incredibly impressive Regina had managed to remember any of it. The woman must have an amazing capacity to memorize.

With a nod at the idea of how impressive Regina was as a person, Emma picked up the fourth notebook and flipped through it. Try to remember to keep fresh apples stocked in the bowl on the coffee table. No one will eat them. It’s for show, but you have plenty, and the effect it has on the townspeople will be helpful to you. It doesn’t matter why it has an effect on them. Only know that you with an apple is a scare tactic. Use it sparingly.

Emma literally laughed out loud. For most of the townsfolk, seeing Regina with an apple was akin to seeing Jason with a chainsaw. ‘A scare tactic’ was an understatement. She let out an amused snort and flipped through the notebook. It mostly dealt with floor plans and how-tos. Nothing interesting.

She tossed it on the desk and grabbed the fifth notebook. This one had reports in it, which explained how Regina knew about that mining issue. The first one was a report Emma had turned in about that damned cat that was always getting stuck in a tree. She reread it for kicks. One of the highlights of doing paperwork, if there could be such a thing associated with paperwork, was being snarky during the reporting of crap like this. She wrote it to make herself laugh.

She was just about to put that notebook away when the notation from Regina to herself caught her eye.

Yes, she’s quite charming, and, no, she doesn’t mean to be. In fact, she’s unaware of just how gorgeous and how charismatic she actually is. It would be very easy for you to fall for her. She possesses many very admirable traits.

However, she’s involved with a man who wears the same leather outfit every day of the week, and she’s betrayed your trust on a number of occasions. Though always with the best of intentions at heart, she never thinks of the consequences of her actions. She’s a good mother for our son. She’s a good sheriff. She’s not to be entrusted with your personal trust. It will only lead to you getting hurt.

As it’s been made clear by now, don’t even entertain the notion. Emma Swan is poison for you.

Slowly setting the notebook down on the desk, Emma stared at the words. There was no getting around or avoiding what she’d just read. If she’d had any questions before, she had none now. Whether she wanted to acknowledge it or not, whether she wanted to accept it or not, Regina Mills had feelings for her.

She leaned back in the chair and ran a hand over her face. Why was her life so complicated? Why couldn’t she have found herself being the sheriff of Dodge City or something? She could totally be a kick ass Marshal Dillon. The only complicated relationship he ever had was with Miss Kitty. Of course, they never hooked up, but…

Emma rolled her eyes at herself. She was letting herself get distracted to avoid what she’d just read. What she should be doing is wondering why.

Why would Regina let her read these notebooks knowing what was in them and what they said about her from before her trip to Boston? That was a lot of trust and a lot of personal information to entrust to the sheriff, which was exactly what her former self had told her not to do time and again in these various instruction manuals.

Why would Regina risk it?

“Thinking that hard will give you wrinkles, Miss Swan.”

Regina’s voice made Emma practically jump out of the office chair she’d been slouched in. For just a brief second, she had the feeling the old Regina was back, but it ended the moment she looked to find the brunette in a lose fitting top and comfortable looking black pants. Old Regina would never dress so casually if there was a chance someone might see her.

Emma didn’t mind, though. The look suited the other woman. “I was just thinking about the time I saved that cat from that tree.” She straightened, standing and giving a little smirk.

“Which time,” the brunette asked as she crossed the space to the dry bar to pour two tumblers of apple cider.

“All of them,” the sheriff replied with a chuckle. She strolled over to the sofa, accepting the offered tumbler before plopping down and watching Regina take the chair opposite. “There’s a lot of info in those books.”

“Yes,” Regina sipped her drink. “I had much to learn in a very short amount of time. However,” she set the tumbler down on a coaster and leaned back in her chair, “nothing in any of those mentioned a word about magic.”

“Yeah, I saw that.” Emma took another sip as she thought over where she wanted this conversation to go, but she couldn’t come up with a good way of starting out. “So… how do you want to do this? Do you want us to try to get that potion I mentioned that will probably get your memories back, or do you want to try to learn some stuff that might help this situation, or what? What do you want to do?”

Regina frowned deeply. She’d been asking herself that question since this whole thing started, and she still wasn’t sure. “Be honest with me, Sheriff,” she said in a soft voice. “You keep avoiding the question, but I need to know.” She caught and held Emma’s gaze, giving her a pleading look. “Who am I, really?” She motioned toward the books scattered across her desk. “Those manuals lead me to believe I’ve been a terrible person, and the reactions by the people in this town whenever I offer a kind word or help range from shocked to suspicious to contemptuous. Why, Miss Swan? Am I truly so horrible of a person?”

Taking in a deep breath, Emma could feel her shoulders sag down with the weight of being forced into this moment. She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, yet again, especially to Regina. Letting her breath out slowly, she nodded, accepting her fate. “Not always.” Her voice was small and quiet. It didn’t quite fill the space, but she couldn’t seem to force herself to do any better. “I don’t know all the details, but I know there was a time when you were like you are now, a good person who tried to do the right thing, but,” she shook her head.

How do you tell someone that they were once the things nightmares were made of? How do you explain to a person as kind as this Regina is that she was once so feared that people wept at the very idea they might come into contact with her? How do you tell someone they were once a monster when they don’t remember turning into one?

She didn’t know, but it looked like she was going to have to find out. “I was honest when I said you lost your way. You did because you watched… something very bad happen, and it traumatized you. It really hurt you, Regina. It messed you up, and, then, after all of that, you didn’t have anyone to turn to who would help you find your way back. Instead, I think you were surrounded by a lot of people who just wanted to use you, and that messed you up even more.”

“What are you saying,” Regina asked, tilting her head to the side. “Are you saying I’ve been a bad person because I was traumatized?”

Emma slowly nodded yes but then switched to the negative. “No, I’m saying you,” she sighed. She really didn’t want to do this. “…you were more than a bad person. Regina, you were a monster. For a little while,” she pushed on, breaking eye contact to stare at the floor between them, “you did really horrible things, despicable things. You destroyed families, you’ve killed the innocent, you’ve terrorized whole lands of people, you’ve been…”

“Evil.” Regina’s voice was rough, and the blonde could only wince and nod weakly in agreement. “The miner called me the Evil Queen and so did Marian. Is that who I am, Emma? Am I the Evil Queen?”

Slowly, the younger woman shifted her gaze to meet the person sitting across from her. She shook her head again, “You never were to me. To me, you’ve always been Regina.” She gave a fragile smile. “Just Regina.”

Letting out a sigh of her own, Regina closed her eyes against this new information. “Am I,” her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat so she could continue. “Am I the Evil Queen from Snow White? Is this place full of fairy tale characters?”

“Yes,” Emma answered quietly. “But you weren’t going after Snow because she was prettier than you. You went after her because you placed blame on her for the very bad thing that happened to you.”

Regina opened her eyes, narrowing them. “Was it her fault?”

“Indirectly, I think. She didn’t do the thing, but you needed to place blame, and she was the mostly likely, and safest, target.” The blonde shrugged. “I don’t know all the details, but that’s what I get from what I do know. There was a lot of blame to go around, really.”

The older woman nodded, seeming to accept that answer. “Is she here? Snow White?”

“Yeah,” Emma gave an almost apologetic smile. “She goes by Mary Margaret here.”

Regina’s eyes grew a touch wide. “And that man? David Nolan? He’s Prince Charming?”

The sheriff nodded. “The one and only.”

Regina rolled her eyes. “How did we get here? If we’re all fairy tale characters, why are we here?”

“You cursed us.” Emma tipped the tumbler back and drained the rest of the cider. “It was your final revenge on Snow. You cursed them all to a land without magic where they would never get their happy endings and you could win, but some stuff happened, and the curse was broken, and here we are.”

“Here we are…” Regina repeated to herself. She looked down at her hands where they rested in her lap. “Who are you?”

Emma groaned. This was something else she didn’t want to talk about. “I’m not a fairy tale character, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m me. I grew up in this world, and I really was a ward of the state. I didn’t find Storybrooke until Henry showed up on my doorstep on my 28th birthday.”

“But you are a part of this other, magical world?”

“Yeah, I was born there, but I was only there for about five minutes. My dad dropped me in this magical wardrobe, and it sent me here ahead of the cursed people and this town.” Even to herself, Emma had to admit this all sounded insane.

Regina brought her eyes back up to meet Emma’s. “Why?”

“So I could break the curse. I couldn’t break the curse if I was cursed along with everyone else, so my parents sent me ahead of it so I could come back. The curse struck at literally the same time I was born. There wasn’t enough time to do anything but send me away, even though I was only an infant.” She grimaced. This wasn’t a story she wanted to tell. “The wardrobe could only fit one person. It was finished the day I was born, and I decided to pop out at the exact wrong moment. If my mother had gone into labor a day later or the wardrobe had been done a day sooner, I wouldn’t have been sent ahead alone, but, as it was, they did what they thought was right.”

“But you didn’t know about Storybrooke or any of it, did you? You didn’t know you weren’t from this world?” Regina’s face was a swirling mixture of consideration and confusion.

“No, I didn’t know. I figured it out, though, after I got here to this town.” Emma shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it was fate that I eventually got to Storybrooke.”

“But who are you, Emma?” The brunette leaned forward slightly in her seat. “You, who grew up here and can use magic, are someone very special, aren’t you? Who are you?”

“I’m the savior,” the blonde answered reluctantly, “and I’m the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.”

“What?” Regina leaned back, clearly startled and very confused. “But they’re your age. How…”

“The curse stopped time for 28 years.” Emma held a hand up. “It’s complicated and not worth explaining, really, because nothing happened during those 28 years except you adopted Henry.”

The older woman waved a hand, willing to let it go for now. “Why are you helping me if I’m your mother’s enemy?”

“Because you’re not, and you’re not mine, either. You and me? We’re a team. We have been for a long time now, and I care about you, Regina. I care about your happiness and your safety.” Emma glanced away, adding quickly, “I want you to be happy.”

“There’s no way I’d believe any of this three weeks ago,” Regina said with a sigh. “But, after everything that’s been happening to me since my return, I can’t help but feel all of this is true, and, if it is,” she picked her glass up and took another sip, “maybe I don’t want to remember. That version of myself sounds as though she was in pain and very lonely.”

“She was,” Emma softly agreed. “But we need her skills to take down Hades, so, if you don’t want to remember, would you be willing to relearn some of what you knew before?”

“Like what,” Regina asked over the rim of her glass.

“Magic,” the blonde answered with a wince. “You have both light and dark magic. Hades looks like he’s hurt by light magic. If you learned how to use that, instead of the dark magic you used before, I think we could defeat him.”

The older woman quirked an eyebrow. “As a team?”

“Yeah, if that’s okay with you,” the blonde answered uncomfortably. “I don’t want to assume that you…”

“I still trust you, Emma, more than any adult in this town, and, if learning light magic will protect Henry and keep me from getting killed or worse, then I’m open to learning it.” Regina stood, setting her glass down again and looking intently at the other woman. “Where do we begin?”

“Uhhh…” This wasn’t what Emma had expected. She wasn’t sure what she’d expect, but becoming Regina’s magic teacher wasn’t it. “I think maybe the basement. I think I remember that you have some books down there that might help.”

“Alright,” the brunette nodded, motioning towards the door. “Lead the way.”

Standing unsteadily, Emma took the lead, uncertain any of this was a good idea but remarkably relieved Regina had chosen not to remember. If anything, it meant she had a few more days of interacting with a Regina who didn’t despise her, which, although it was selfish to think, was a happy thought nonetheless. 

Chapter Text

"I thought you said there would be something for us to use down here?" Regina crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. She scanned the basement, noting her washer and dryer where they sat on one wall and the roughly finished out rec room which comprised the rest of the area.

"Honestly?" Emma ran a hand across the back of her neck and shot the other woman a sheepish look. "I don't really know. I mean," she quickly added before the brunette could cut in, "I figured you had something down here because, when you started teaching me how to use my magic, you came down here and got a couple of books, but I didn't follow you down or anything, so I didn't know this was all there was down here." She shrugged. "I kind of figured you had a library or something in the basement."

"The only thing down here is a questionable looking sofa, my washer and dryer, and Henry's video games." The older woman huffed. "Perhaps I just so happened to have those particular books down here for some reason?"

"Oh, yeah," the blonde winced, "good point. I didn't think of that." She held her hands up in a show of innocence. "In my defense, I've never tried to teach anyone how to use magic before and I never snooped around your house, so cut me a little slack, okay? It's not exactly like I have a game plan going for all of this."

"Alright," the other woman nodded. "So, if I taught you, then someone had to have taught me, correct?"

"Yeah, and I know where you're going with this. You can't learn from that person. That person taught you how to use dark magic, and that's all they know. Dark magic won't help us here. We need to use light magic." Emma walked over to the sofa and plopped haphazardly down on one end. When Regina didn't follow, she motioned for the mayor to take a seat at the other end, which she did, though reluctantly so. "You taught me magic the same way some people teach a kid to swim."

Settling into her end of the sofa so her back was against the armrest and she faced the blonde, Regina quirked an eyebrow at the comment. "Which would be?"

"Sink or swim," Emma deadpanned. "Our first lessons didn't go very well because I wasn't really ready to learn. You tried, if, you know," she grinned, "yelling at me to concentrate and calling me inept could really be considered teaching." She chuckled, waving a hand to dismiss the apology that looked to be about to come from the woman across from her. "It's fine. Looking back, I deserved it, really. I wasn't concentrating, and I shouldhave been. I just wasn't taking it seriously enough, but, the second time around, I took it extremely seriously. Unfortunately for me, you realized the best way to teach me was to make me freak out because that's when I actually paid attention."

Regina furrowed her brow in concern. "I'm afraid to ask."

Again, Emma chuckled. "You probably should be." She leaned back, obviously amused by the memory. "You poofed us to this gorge, which, by the way, I still don't know the location of, but it has to be somewhere within the borders of Storbrooke, and you stood at the edge of the cliff and had me poofed onto the middle of this rope bridge." She talked with her hands, trying to lay out the picture for the brunette to better understand. "There was this river rapid that was at least a hundred feet below me, and the bridge was two strings with a few boards up for looks, and then," her eyes got wide as she the described the lesson, "you waved your hand and cut one of the ropes loose."

The older woman looked horrified. "I did what ?"

"You cut one of the ropes loose that held up one side of the bridge, and you told me to make it work." Emma ran a hand over her face, though she was still smiling despite the stricken look she was getting from the mayor. "I freak out. I thought I was going to die. I fell, and, for a second, I was a hundred percent sure I had eaten my last bear claw, but, then, I stopped falling." She waved her hand vaguely in the air and shrugged. "I juststopped, and, when I looked down, I realized my magic had kicked in all on its own. I'd somehow gotten some of the falling boards to clump together, and I just standing on them while they hovered in the air."

"You're joking? You levitated boards to stop your fall?" The disbelief in Regina's voice was unmistakable.

It just made Emma chuckle yet again. "Yeah. Pretty wild, isn't it? I had no idea how I did it, but there I was, not dying. So, I hovered myself over to where you were standing on the cliff and just sort of stared at you."

"I must have been pleased to see you'd figured something out," the other woman asked with a touch of a smile on her face.

"No," the sheriff said with a smirk. "Nope, you were beyond irritated at me. You were so mad at me that I thought I'd done something wrong. When I asked why you were mad at me for not falling to my death, you told me you had only wanted me to fix the bridge, but you weren't mad because I hadn't fixed it."

Regina shook her head in confusion. "Then why?"

"You were mad at me because of all the wasted potential I had as a magic user." Emma held her hands out, palms up and shrugged. "Apparently, I'm really powerful, but it's not exactly effective because I don't know how to use it very well."

"I could see where that might irritate me." Giving a thoughtful nod, Regina glanced around the room as if it were the first time she'd really seen it. Emma considered it might actually be, as far as the older woman was concerned. When the brunette spoke again, there was caution in her voice. "Am I powerful, too?"

"Yeah," the younger woman answered sincerely. "You're one of the most powerful magic practitioners anywhere."

"That's quite a compliment," Regina said, a little blush running across her cheeks.

"It's not a compliment," Emma countered. "It's the truth. The thing about magic is that it's emotion. Magic is a concentration of your emotions, focused and centered to do a certain thing, so, the stronger your emotions, the stronger your magic, unless you have some kind of outside force that bumps up your magical power. You don't. As far as I know, you never did, but you're almost as powerful as some who have magical items that make them stupid amounts of powerful."

"And why do you think that is?" Regina scowled as she tried to understand. "How can I be as powerful as that if I have nothing boosting my power?"

"Because, Regina, when you feel things, you feel them with everything you've got." The younger woman put her hand over her own heart. "You don't just feel them here. It's like... I don't know. It's like you feel them with your whole being." She searched for the words but couldn't find anything to adequately describe what she was thinking. Finally, she settled on the closest thing she could think of. "You feel them with your soul, and I'm pretty sure someone with emotions that run that strong and that deep pretty much has to be a super powerful magic user. How could you not?"

"I wish I felt something deeply right now," the brunette said as she turned to look back up the stairs to see the sunlight fading in the open doorway. "The only thing I feel right now is the passage of time." She shook her head, turning back to look at the other woman. "Do you really think I can learn anything useful? We can't have much time."

"We don't need it because I know you can do this. You're a determined person, sort of like a pit bull." Emma smirked at the older woman's partially offended look. "Once you set your mind to something, you do it, and nothing's going stop you. Believe me, I've experienced your stubbornness first hand more than once. It's impressive and a little scary." She winked, causing the brunette to give a shy little smile. "Besides, I'm not teaching you anything. It's already inside you, Regina. You just have to learn where it is so you can tap into it, and I think I can help you figure that out." She made an apologetic face. "It just may not be on the first try."

"Well then, that begs the question I've already asked, doesn't it?" At the confused look she was getting, Regina rolled her eyes. "Where do I start?"

"You had me start by trying to light a fire, so I think, maybe, we should start there." Emma looked around the space for a moment. "Do you happen to have a candle somewhere?"

"Yes," Regina answered with some irritation. "I know I have some upstairs in my bathroom." She motioned for the other woman to follow her as she climbed the stairs.

"Of course you do," the younger woman said as she trailed behind. "Do you want me to wait in the study?"

"No," the brunette continued on, past the study and toward the stairs. "Follow me up. I don't want to move them out of my bedroom and forget to put them back. It's just easier if we do it there."

Emma abruptly stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up to the second floor in something akin to horror. "Uh... no. It wouldn't. It'd be easier if you brought them down so we could put them on your dining table. Trust me, okay?" She began to slowly back up. "I promise I'll remind you to put them away when we're done."

"Fine." The answer floated down the staircase, and Emma let out a relieved sigh. For some reason, the idea of being in Regina's personal bathroom filled her with panic. It wasn't that she was scared. She just... didn't want to think about it right now.

Instead, she turned on her heels and made a beeline for the table in question. She quickly settled and decided now was as good of a time as any to give Henry a call. He picked up on the first ring.

What is going on? Grandma said something about Hades being in town and you and Mom having to fight him or something?

"Yeah, something like that," Emma said with a groan. She really should have called him earlier. "Basically, that thing David and I found at the mines turned out to be something caused by Hades."

"Hades? The God of the Underworld, Hades?"

She rolled her eyes. Of course he was going to make this difficult. In some ways, he really was Regina's child. "Yes, that Hades, and, before you start, let me just point out that your grandparents are Snow White, Prince Charmin, Rumpelstiltskin, and Belle from Beauty & the Beast, so don't sound like you can't believe Hades is in town."

"Fine." Yes, he was his mother's child. "So why is he after Mom?"

"He thinks he can get to Gold through her. The gist of it is that Gold screwed him over in a deal, and he's here to get even. I'm not sure on the details, though."

"Is she okay? I mean, has she freaked out or anything?"

"Not really. Actually, she's handled this whole thing really well."

"Yeah, but she's good at covering up her emotions. You know how she is."

"I know how she was before Boston. Now? I don't know."

"I guess that's fair." There was a long pause, and she waited. She knew what he was thinking, so she wasn't surprised at his next question. "Are we going to have to make her remember?"

"I don't know. Right now, she has a choice, and I'm doing everything I can to let her keep having that choice. I've answered all the questions she's had, and we're trying to work out a plan with what information we've got. In the meantime, we need you to stay safe because..."

"I'm an easy target. Yeah, I get that. At least, I get that now." He sighed, and she wished she could be there to comfort him. It was clear he was upset. "Emma, I know this is selfish, but I miss her. I mean, I miss her really remembering me, you know?"

She winced. It hadn't occurred to her yet that he might miss the old Regina in some way. "Yeah, I could see why, but, kid, she does still love you, you know?"

"I know. I can tell, but it's not the same. She's Mom but she's not, and I want her to be happy, but I also want her to remember all the stupid stuff I've done so she can tease me about it. I guess... I don't know. I think I just want us to be a normal family for once."

She nodded and then mentally mocked herself for it. It wasn't as though he could see her nodding. "I totally know that feeling, and, if it were up to me, it'd be me, you, and Regina in New York doing normally family stuff."

"Maybe not forever, though, because I'd miss Grandma and Gramps and everyone, but, maybe, for a vacation or something."

"Yeah, I'd like that," she said with a sad smile, knowing that was likely never going to happen. "Maybe, when this is all over, we can get out of here for a little while?"

"And maybe I'll grow two feet in the next month."

"There are days when it's hard to forget you're Regina's son, do you know that?"

"Funny, she says the same thing about you when she catches me eating chocolate before dinner."

She laughed. "Okay, kid, I need to go, but I'll call you tomorrow night."

"Okay, Mom, I love you, and tell Mom that I love her, too."

"I will. Listen to your grandparents and try to stay out of trouble."

"Yeah, I'll work on that. Night!"

She was still smiling when she put her phone down. As she looked up, she noticed she had an audience. "How long have you been standing there?"

Regina gave a shy smile as she walked to the table and sat down across from the blonde. "Since about the moment you talked about us all visiting New York someday."

Emma blushed. "You know, I was just saying that to make the kid feel better. It seems like we never get a break to just be a family. We get, maybe, a couple of months, and then some life-or-death something comes to town, and you and me and Mary Margaret and Gold and the rest of the gang wind up going off and fighting some kind of big bad, and, nine times out of ten, the big bad has decided that Henry is a good weapon or target or whatever."

The older woman blanched. "Is he safe?"

"Yeah, he's fine." Emma reached over to give the brunette a gentle pat on the arm. "This time, he gets it. He's not trying to go off and be the hero. He's staying put, and, so long as we don't let Hades know about Henry, I think he'll be fine, but protecting Henry is all the more reason for you to figure out how to use your magic." She straightened in her chair. "So put the candle in the middle of table."

Regina complied, pushing the cream scented candle forward until it was perfectly between the two of them. Emma nodded, looking down at the barely used wick. "Okay, so, like I said, magic is emotion. For me, I focus on the strongest emotion I feel the most often. I think of a thing that happened to make me feel that way, and then I hang onto it and focus it. For me, magic sort of feels like what I think a laser beam would feel like if it was shooting out from me. It's, um, pointed. I don't know. There aren't a lot of technical terms for magic." She groaned at herself and her lack of knowledge. "I'm going to light this candle by thinking of my thing and then willing that thing to catch the wick on fire." She glanced up to see Regina giving her a skeptical look. "Just watch, okay?"

Closing her eyes, she focused on feelings of love and family she felt whenever she was with Henry and focused that feeling. She willed it to spark and light the wick on fire, which she pictured in her mind's eye. When she heard a little gasp from the woman across from her, she opened her eyes and smiled. The candle glowed softly, the flame dancing in the air current from the vents above them.

"I would not have believed that had I not provided you the candle myself and watched you do it." The brunette reached forward to pick the candle up. She carefully inspected it but found there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. Carefully, she set it back down and blew the flame out. Just as quickly as it appeared, it left.

"You can do that, Regina," Emma urged. "You just have to concentrate. What's the emotion you feel the most?"

"Recently?" The brunette smirked. "Confusion."

The younger woman narrowed her eyes. "Come on, work with me here."

"Alright," Regina agreed, closing her eyes to really think about it. "I mostly feel... safe."

"Okay, that's good." Emma wanted to cry. There was no way the old Regina would ever mostly felt safe. She really didn't want this Regina to lose that. "And do you know when that happens? You don't have to tell me when that is, but do you know?"

"Yes," the older woman nodded, "I believe I do."

The blonde let out a breath. "Good, that's... good. So, what you should do is think of the thing, whatever it is, focus on the feeling of being safe, and then picture using that emotion to make it light the candle."

"That sounds like an impossible task, Emma," Regina replied in a disgruntled tone.

"Humor me," the other woman countered.

A few long moments passed by in which nothing happened as Regina kept her eyes closed and seemed to be concentrating very hard on something. After a time, she grunted. "This is ridiculous. I can't 'picture the candle in my mind'. I need to see it." She opened her eyes, her annoyance flaring up as she stared at the cooled wick. "And I must look absurd. If Henry were here, he'd likely ask me why I was angry with the candle." She smirked. "He'd likely ask me what it had done to anger me."

With her eyes on the candle and her mind turned to the warm thoughts of her son, the wick began to smoke and then a tiny fire flared up, catching the wick on fire and causing Regina to gasp. "Did... did I do that?"

"Yeah, you did." Emma smiled broadly as she reached out to take the candle and blow it out. Gently placing it back on the table, she nudged it just a touch closer to the other woman. "How'd it feel?"

"Pleasant. It felt really nice, actually. Is that how it always feels?" Regina tilted her head in question.

"I think so, but I need to tell you something about magic." Emma shifted uncomfortably in her seat, very much aware that this was something she probably should have mentioned earlier. "It can be addictive."

The older woman nodded again. "I can see why."

"It's also dangerous, and not for the reasons you may think. Magic always comes with a price. Sometimes, it's just really draining, but sometimes it's destructive." The sheriff shrugged. "I'm honestly not exactly sure how that give and take works, but I get the feeling it's pretty much the idea of tit-for-tat."

"Am I to assume dark magic creates many more negative 'tats', then?" Regina sighed, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms.

"That's how I understand it," Emma admitted with a frown. "Light magic doesn't seem to take as much out of a person or do as much damage."

"And you're telling me this now, after I've used magic?"

The younger woman turned away from the cocked eyebrow. "There's no way to describe how magic feels, and I wanted you to know so you could decide on your own based on what you know if this is something you really want to keep learning how to do." She looked back, catching the other woman's eyes. "I want to give you as many choices as I can."

Letting her hands drop into her lap, Regina stared at the candle again. For a time, she sat ramrod straight and completely still with a look of deep thought etched into her face. Finally, she seemed to shake herself out of it and looked back to the other woman. "Shall we try again?"

"Only if you really want to," Emma said, a little hope coloring her words despite herself.

"I want to help, and I want to protect Henry. I also don't want you to fight Hades alone if you don't have to. It's too dangerous," Regina said, a determined look on her face. She raised an eyebrow, and the wick flickered but didn't catch. She narrowed her eyes, and the wick flickered again, this time catching on fire. "Once I master this, what's next?"

"You work on getting this down, and I," Emma said as she stood up, "am going to think on that and get back to you. I just need to walk around for a little bit. I've been sitting for too long."

Regina nodded, keeping her eye on the candle. "I'll be here when you're ready to return."

"I know," Emma muttered as she headed into the kitchen. "You always are."

Chapter Text

A flash of love and safety from a memory of her, Henry, and Emma eating breakfast and the candle sparked to life again. Regina smirk, proud of her accomplishment. With each relighting of the flame, it became a touch easier. Once again, it would seem her body remembered what to do even if she couldn’t consciously recall.

The entire experience was surreal. She honestly had no idea how she was creating fire from nothing, yet she was, and, when she didn’t get it correct, her body seemed to shift in a certain way, correcting itself, so that her magic worked more effectively, and the next attempt would go perfectly.

Absently, she wondered if the fire was something which had to be created by directly setting something ablaze or of it was something she was creating over the wick, and, because the fire was there, the wick would catch. As she’d watch the fire come into existence time and again, it seemed much less as though the wick was catching, thus causing the fire, and much more as though the fire appeared around the wick.

Narrowing her eyes, she blew the candle out and held it near to her face. She let the feelings of love and safety fill her again and sharpened it until she could will the flame to sprout up. As she closely watched, she saw her suspicions were correct. The flame appeared around the wick, and, because the fire was there, the wick caught.

Humming in thought, she blew the flame out yet again and set the candle on the table. She held her hand out and looked down thoughtfully at her palm. Tilting her head, she imagined what it would look like for a small sphere of fire to hover within her grasp. She allowed herself to feel those same positive emotions again, and, this time, she concentrated on taking her magic and forming it into something controllable.

Her eyes grew wide with surprise as a thing began to materialize in her hand. At first, it glowed the same blue color as the flames Hades had earlier surrounded her, but, then, it shifted to the more familiar color of fire and then to something else entirely. As she felt and willed and concentrated, the sphere of fire turned into a bright white sphere of energy.

It floated in her hand, crackling and buzzing. She swallowed down the lump in her throat as fear crept up her body. She had no idea what she was holding, no clue as to what to do with it, and no experience in how to prevent whatever it was floating in her hand from hurting her or causing destruction. In hindsight, trying to produce a sphere of fire in her hand had likely been a poor life choice.

For a split second, she considered calling out for Emma. Emma, she reasoned, might know what to do about this because Emma would keep her safe and not let her accidentally hurt anyone or burn the house down. Regina grunted in surprise when the sphere of light seemed to grow more intense in her hand.

Apparently, thinking about Emma right now was also a poor life choice.

Regina felt herself floundering, unsure of what to do and unwilling to admit defeat. Instead, she settled on taking mental inventory of what she knew. She knew this sphere, whatever it was, wasn’t hurting her, though she could feel a buzz of power and heat radiating off of it. She knew she had created this thing now floating in her extended hand. She knew it crackled a lot like electricity. She knew it moved with her hand as she moved her hand slowly around.

She huffed. In truth, she knew very little at all, which was the going theme of her life these days, and everything she thought she knew about how the world work was obviously incorrect. She thought there was no such things as fairy tales and magic.

Clearly, she was mistaken.

Narrowing her eyes once again, she pulled the crackling sphere of energy closer to her face. Given the intensity of the light, it should have hurt her eyes for it to be so close, but it didn’t. In fact, it felt rather comforting, which made her feel afraid. Why would something like this feel comforting?

Emma’s words came back to her. Magic is emotion, and emotion creates magic. Regina frowned in thought. If that were true, then the sphere of whatever in her hand was a product of the emotions made to conjure it, which meant it was literally the physical manifestation of her feelings of love and safety, the emotions she had used to create the sphere. Following that line of logic, it stood to reason she felt safe near it because it was her feelings of safety in energy form.

Sighing, she pulled her hand back again and took in a deep breath. She needed to do something with the thing. She couldn’t hold it forever, and she couldn’t toss it because she was about 90% certain it would destroy something if she let it go. That meant she needed to put it out, but how do you put out safety? With fear? That didn’t feel right, though, locally, it seemed correct. She didn’t want to feel afraid, however, which meant she needed to find a different way.

She smiled, a moment of clarity hitting her. What she needed to do was cut off the emotion fueling the sphere of energy. Mentally, she focused on constructing a metaphysical wall, which would curb her emotions. Slowly and painfully, she pictured it moving up to block the easy flow which was keeping the sphere going. Like a dam sealing up a river, the emotional barrier slowly stopped the stream of emotions, and, gradually, the sphere of energy vanished, leaving Regina feeling oddly cold and detached.

She scowled. This was not an emotional state she liked. She felt practically robotic. Closing her eyes, she mentally pulled the metaphysical wall down and let out a sigh of relief as she was once again filled with warmth and life. She physically shuddered. Being so greatly cut off from herself in such a way wasn’t appealing at all, and, if using magic meant cutting the warmth out of her life, she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it.

On the other hand, she wanted to help Emma and protect Henry. She’d already taken a huge leap of faith by allowing Emma to read the manuals and see what her old self had to say about the sheriff, the town, and her old self. Regina had hoped, by shedding light on her mental state prior to visiting Boston, Emma might better understand everything, and, maybe, the blonde could help Regina reclaim a portion of what the older woman was missing because she couldn’t remember. It was a lot of trust to put in one person, and Regina recognized how dangerous it was, but she needed to believe she could trust someone. Emma had given her every reason to believe she was the person in which Regina could place her trust regardless of what her former self had said in the notebooks. So, if Emma thought Regina could learn to use light magic effectively and it not hurt her, then Regina was going to take a chance and believe.

She was going to believe in Emma, believe in her own abilities, and believe they could defeat Hades and keep both the town and their son safe. She was going to believe in them as a team, and she was going to stop putting so much faith in a person that didn’t exist any longer. Whoever she was before Boston, she wasn’t that person now, and, right now, she was making the conscious decision to take a more active role in how she was going to live her life moving forward. She was making the choice to trust Emma Swan without allowing vague warnings and threats from someone she didn’t know keep her from following her natural instincts.

Too much in her life was a huge question mark, but Regina wasn’t going to allow that be her defining characteristic. She couldn’t. Her encounter with Hades had terrified her. She refused to be left without a means to protect herself in the future, and, even more importantly, she refused to be without a means to protect her family.

She was going to learn how to effectively use her magic, and she was going to do it quickly because there was no doubt in her mind time was not on her side. Hades would eventually find a way to flush her out of her home, and she wanted to be ready when he did.

Taking in a steadying breath, she turned her focus to the candle and willed the flame to flare up. It did so without any effort on her part. She nodded to herself, pleased with the ease in which she had created the flame. She then gently held open her hand, palm up, and concentrated her emotions. The sphere of energy reformed again. This time, instead of walling off her emotions to stop the flow and kill the sphere, she closed her hand as if to snuff out a flame, hoping it wouldn’t do any damage to her hand. Much to her relief, nothing happened aside from the sphere of light energy dissipating harmlessly.

She smiled. She could do this. She could learn.

“Going to let me in on the joke?” Emma’s voice floated over her shoulder, and Regina turned around to find the blonde walking back into the dining room.

“No joke, just an accomplishment, I think.” Smile still growing, the brunette nodded her head toward the candle. “Watch.” A second later, the candle flared to life. “I can do it without putting much thought into it.”

“Making fire has always been a specialty of yours,” the younger woman said with a smirk. She sat down, giving the woman across from her a warm and approving look. “How do you feel?”

“Still confused,” Regina admitted with sigh, “but less angry about it, and,” she lowered her head, glancing up through her eyelashes at the other woman, “still safe.” Clearing her throat, she straightened up again and held her palm out. “I also figured out I can do this.” The sphere of energy formed in her hand yet again. “What do you think?”

“What is that?” The blonde’s voice was somewhere between impressed and scared. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Normally, you make fireballs.”

“I started to, but it turned into this.” The brunette shook her head, eyes staying on the younger woman. “I really don’t know what it is.”

“It looks like a lightening sphere.” Emma stood up and walked over to lean down and get a better look, careful not to touch it. “You know, it sort of looks like how my magic looks whenever I try to surround something in white light.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. “You mean it’s a sphere of white magic?”

“Probably? Maybe?” Reaching out, Emma hovered her hand over it and smiled. “If feels nice, kind of warm, and, I don’t know… safe?”

The sphere grow slightly larger and more intense. The change in size happened too quickly for Emma to pull away, and her hand was caught up in the energy sphere. Instead of hurting her, it felt inviting. She watched in fascination, smiling gently. “I think I can pick it up.” Following her instincts and ignoring the voice of reason that said this was likely a bad idea, she turned the hand now in the sphere up and cupped it into her palm. Cautiously, she raised her hand, and the sphere of energy moved with her.

Regina took in a sudden, sharp breath. “That felt like you pulled something out of me,” she said in a tense voice.

Emma’s eyes grew wide. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” the brunette took in a few deep breaths. “I have no basis for comparison, but it felt like you removed something when you took that sphere.”

Turning back to her occupied hand, Emma thought it over, finally commenting in wonder, “That’s because I think I did.” She gave Regina a rueful look. “If you use something to create something and then get rid of the thing you created, you don’t get to keep the stuff you used to create it, right?”

Regina’s eyebrows shot up in understanding. “I see your point. So, can you tell what it is now?”

“I think we’re onto something. I mean, the magic feels very much like you, but it’s definitely light magic. I think you’re right. I think it’s a sphere of light magic, like a fireball but different. I bet, if you threw it at something you were trying to hurt, it would do some serious damage.” She moved her hand over Regina’s still outstretched palm and turned it so that the magic was between them. It hover there as the two stared at it. “How do you get rid of it?”

“You close your hand,” Regina said with a shrug.

“Makes sense,” Emma said with a shrug of her own and then proceeded to push her hand down until it came into contact with Regina’s. The energy dissipated, and the two were left holding hands. “That was… interesting.”

“To say the least,” the brunette agree as her eyes remained on their hands. “Are you going to hold my hand for the rest of the evening, or are you going to tell me what’s next in our lessons?”

Emma pulled her hand back with a jerk, a blush rushing up her face. She cleared her throat and looked away. “I was thinking you could take a break and we could, maybe, eat? I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since this morning.”

Regina glanced at the clock and noted the time. It was getting close to 8. “Why didn’t you have lunch?”

“I was busy saving a certain mayor from a sociopathic god,” the blonde quipped.

“And the mayor is grateful for your assistance, I assure you. However,” Regina stood and turned to walk toward the kitchen, “your really should take better care of yourself, Emma. It was a little past one when I left the diner. Why didn’t you have lunch before then?”

Emma happily followed along and quickly took a seat at the island, mindful to stay out of Regina’s way. “Well, this morning I was investigating the mines.” She nodded when Regina held up a piece of chicken as if to ask if that would be fine for food. “That led me to finding out about Hades. After that, I went around to a few places and did some protection spells, which took me the rest of the morning. I had just sat down in my chair at the station and was considering lunch when Granny came in to ask me what was wrong with you.”

Regina stopped her preparations. “What do you mean?”

“Yeah,” the blonde flinched. “I probably should tell you about that.” She sighed. “Granny came into the station to ask me what was up with you because you acted weird when Robin and his family came into the diner for lunch. At first, she thought you had been replaced or possessed or something.”

The older woman snorted and went back to her work. “And then?”

“I explained, and she said some stuff that I don’t want to get into, but what matters is she said she wouldn’t tell anyone.” The blonde grumbled. Just thinking about the encounter made her mad and frustrated all over again. “I got up and left the station so she’d leave me alone. It just so happened that I decided to do a patrol of the town about the same time Hades decided to go after you. Honestly, I was thinking about trying to find food about the time I saw the giant wall of blue flames.”

“So you sacrificed your lunch in order to save me?” Regina shot the other woman a mischievous smile. “I’m flattered, Sheriff.”

“As you should be, Madam Mayor,” Emma countered with a smirk. “It takes a lot to come between me and burger and fries.”

The brunette laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind, and now,” she said with amusement dancing in her eyes, “I know where Henry gets his horrible eating habits from.”

“There is nothing wrong with a burger and fries. It covers all the major food categories.” At Regina’s disbelieving look, the sheriff explained. “It does! Look, it’s got grain – the bread, and meat – the patty, and veggies – the toppings AND the fries, and…”

“Tons of salt, a high fat content, and probably some sugar in the bun and the fries.” Regina shook her head in amusement. “

Emma held her hands up in mock surrender. “I can’t help it if you can’t appreciated an efficient and well-balanced meal.”

“Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying,” the mayor countered, rolling her eyes. She popped the chicken into the oven, washed her hands, and started on a salad. “I think we should continue trying to have me learn, or remember, how to use magic for at least another couple of hours after we eat. I have a feeling Hades won’t stand for not having access to me for long.”

“I’m sure,” the sheriff agreed with a nod. “Listen, I’m going to poof to the bed and breakfast to grab some clothes and stuff and then come back. Will you be okay while I’m gone?”

“I’ll be fine, Emma.” Regina gave her a reassuring smile. “Be careful.”

The younger woman returned the smile with one of her own. “I’m always careful.”

“I may not remember, but I suspect that’s less than truthful,” Regina said with a chuckle. “Dinner will be ready in about half an hour.”

“I’ll be back before then, I promise.” In a flash of light blue smoke, Emma was gone, and Regina was left with dinner partially made.

She glanced around the kitchen, her eyes falling to the now empty spot where the sheriff had been a moment before. She suddenly felt extremely alone. Forcing herself to look away, she went about finishing dinner as she tried to keep her mind from racing through all the possible things that could go wrong over the next half an hour. Emma would be back soon, they would eat, and then they would work on her magic some more.

She believed these things would happen, and she refused to let fears tell her otherwise.

Chapter Text

Emma groaned as she took in her surroundings. The room at the bed and breakfast looked as though a tornado had blown through it while she'd been away, but the little signs strewn about the space told her it'd only been Henry digging around in everything, looking for who knows what.

She wanted to be angry at the mess he'd made, but she found herself smirking. Before Regina had given them a new life, she'd been as messy as Henry is now, which just goes to show that it was genetic. She blamed the memories Regina gave her as the only reason she was half as organized as she was now. How could she be entirely angry with her son when he got being that messy from her?

Smirk still on her face, she went around the room and attempted to pick it up a bit. Most of the mess came from Henry digging through his suitcases. She assumed he was searching for his favorite shirts and pants because, from the looks of it, he hadn't bothered to get enough underwear for the amount of time he was likely going to be staying with his grandparents. She made a mental note to text Mary Margaret and tell her to buy him some more. Frankly, he probably needed them anyway, and it was best if no one visited her room at the bed and breakfast but her until the whole Hades situation could be blew over. In fact, she was making a point of avoiding people as much as she could so Hades wouldn't gather additional targets.

History had taught her villains go after weak points, which normally meant going after loved ones who couldn't protect themselves. There was no way Emma was going to give Hades any additional fodder. It was bad enough he was going after Regina. She wasn't about to allow him the privilege of knowing who the rest of her family was.

She paused in her quick cleaning of the room and scowled. Since when did she consider Regina to be family? Shrugging, she starting folding clothes again. Truth be told, it had been that way for a while, though what type of family Regina was to her was still up in the air.

Regina sure as hell wasn't her grandmother, she didn't care what Mary Margaret wanted her to think, and Regina wasn't a weird aunt or a cousin or sister. Emma winced. No, definitely not a sister. Of course, how Regina was family didn't really matter at this point. What mattered was that she was family, and Emma wasn't going to let anything happen to her if she could prevent it, and she wasn't going to let someone she considered family be left behind or alone simply because it was easier than trying to save them.

The blonde chuckled at herself. What was it that Disney movie said? "Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten." She snorted at herself. Of course she'd come up with something from Disney. Her whole life was one, big, twisted, messed up Disney movie. She should be excited. She was the next Disney princess, and what little girl doesn't dream of that honor! She rolled her eyes and snorted again, which turned into a fit of giggles that sort of rolled into a long bout of all-out belly laughter that was only interrupted when a voice from her door caught her attention.

"What's so funny, Swan?" Hook leaned against the doorframe, eyebrow raised. "Care to share?"

She jumped, turning around with a fireball already forming in her hand, which surprised them both. "Shit, Hook, you scared the hell out of me." Glancing down at her hand, her eyes widened a bit more before she tried to get her expressions under control. For whatever reason, she didn't want Hook to know she didn't know she could produce fireballs.

"So I can see." He nodded toward her hand, where the fireball still flickered. "Are you planning to use that, or is it just there for looks?"

Emma rolled her eyes and closed her hand, putting out the flame. "Why are you even here?"

"I was walking from my room down to the dinner, and I heard you laughing. I thought I'd stop by and see what had you so worked up." He gave a nonchalant shrug.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "And you decided to pick my lock just so you could figure it out?"

"Well, I knocked, but you didn't seem to hear me, so I figured I should check to make sure you weren't under some kind of spell or something." He motioned with his hand to the space around him. "Around here you never know what could be happening. I was just trying to keep you save, love."

"I can keep myself safe, thanks," she replied dryly. With a roll of her eyes, she went back to picking up the room. "Now that you see I'm fine, you can go."

"Oh come on, Swan, are we really back to this?" He pushed off the doorway and walked into the room. "I know I made you angry, but can't we work through this? I miss you, and I feel like, if we just talked for a bit, we could…"

"Killian, I'm a little busy right now. I don't really have time to talk to you about your feelings." She closed Henry's suitcase with a little more force than it probably needed and then moved on to her set of suitcases. She began picking up what little she had left out. "Bottom line is I'm not interested. I gave you a chance because you wore me down, but wearing someone down isn't really a great start to a long standing relationship, is it?" She pushed a few pieces of red lingerie back into her bag and flicked it closed before moving on to the smaller one that held her toiletries. "What kind of relationship is founded on the basis of one person being so hell-bent on getting the other person that they disregard personal space, boundary lines, and trust?"

"Look, I know I've made a few mistakes, but it's only been because I wanted to help you. I wanted to keep you safe," he protested.

"And, see, that's the thing." She closed the second suitcase and put it with the first. "What you don't get is that I don't need someone to protect me. I don't need or want a person to come riding into my life on a big, white horse to sweep me off my feet and saves the day. Think about it, Hook," she said as she pointedly stared him down, "my mother, Snow White herself, never wanted that. She started calling my father Charming as a derogatory nickname to mock him for acting that way. In case you haven't noticed," she gestured around them, "this place is full of women who can take care of themselves. We don't need a Prince Charming. What we need is a partner, an equal." She took in a deep breath and stepped into his personal space, glaring at him with all she was worth. "And, from where I'm standing, you don't seem to understand that, and I'm not here to teach it to you, so do us both a favor and stop chasing after me like I'm an object for you to claim. I'm not." She stepped back and grabbed her suitcases. "I need to go."

"Wait… Swan." He held his hand out in a gesture of sincerity. "I'm sorry. If you feel like I've treated you as anything less than my equal, then I am truly sorry. That was never my intention. I do see you as my equal in all things. Really, I do, but I care so much about you." His voice softened as he tried to come near her again. "And it's because I care so much about you that I want to protect you. It's not because I don't think you can take care of yourself. I know you can. I've seen it. It's because I don't like seeing you in danger." He frowned, eyes large and sad. "It scares me, Emma. I don't want to lose you, too."

The anger Emma had been holding for Hook seemed to leak out of her, and, with it, so did her bubbling disgust with the man. She probably should have seen this situation for what it was instead of thinking he was trying to control her. He wasn't. He was holding on too tightly because he was afraid of losing her like he had Milah, and that she could understand. She'd seen other people in this town do that, hold on too tightly. Mary Margaret, Regina, and even she had done it at some point. There's nothing worse than the fear of losing someone you thought you couldn't live without, and it makes a person clingy.

Despite everything that had happened between them and her current conflicting emotions regarding many things, she did care about him. The problem was she wasn't sure in what way she cared for him. Had she confused romantic love and sexual attraction for being grateful and relieved after sharing an extremely trying experience with him? She honestly didn't know, and she really didn't have the time to figure it out. Regina needed her to get back as soon as possible.

With a sigh, she slowly set her bags down again but she remained standing apart from him. "Killian," this time, her voice was much softer as she addressed him, "I'm sorry. I really am. I don't want to hurt you, and I know I have. I think… maybe I've been lashing out and you were an easy target, and I'm really sorry about that." She frowned, suddenly feeling guilty for her behavior over the past few weeks. "But I just don't know about us as a couple." Holding her hand up, she stopped the protest she saw in his eyes. "I've got a lot to think about, but know I do care about you. I'm just not really sure how I care about you." She winced at his wince. "Did I finally give in because we survived a couple of incredibly dangerous situations together in a short period of time and I was confusing feelings of relief and gratitude for something else, or did those experiences make me realize how I felt about you?" She shrugged. "I honestly don't know. What I do know is that how you acted when Regina went to Boston really changed how I feel about you now because, as I've said to you more than once, I don't need saving. I do my own, and it's a sticking point for me that you keep insisting. It's not chivalrous to me. It's demeaning."

He lowered his eyes, nodding slowly. "Could you we try again?" He looked up at her through his lashes. "Give it another go?"

"Not right now." She slowly shook her head in the negative. "Right now, there are other things that are priority for me, and, honestly, I think there might even be someone else that I care about in the same confusing way I care about you." She let out a heavy sigh. "Nothing in my life is ever simple."

He chuckled, but it lacked any mirth. "I know the feeling." Lifting his head again, he looked her in the eyes. This time, he seemed resigned. "I hope they're worth the trouble." He gave her a sad little smile. "And I hope they know what you're sacrificing by deciding to be with them because, Swan, it would be a sacrifice."

She looked away, pulling her lower lip between her teeth. "Yeah," she nodded, eyes looking anywhere but at him, "I know." Shaking her head to settle her thoughts, she turned back to him. "But I still don't know what I'm going to do about any of this, and I'm sorry because I know how much that sucks for you."

He nodded in understanding. "Well, whatever you decide, I'm still your friend and your ally." His small smile turned into an arrogant smirk, which was all the indication she had that he'd decided to move on for now. "And there aren't many who call the infamous Captain Hook either one. You should pride yourself as lucky for the honor."

She laughed. "Thanks, Hook. I'll keep that in mind."

He winked. "See to it that you do." Looking around the now straightened room, he tilted his head in question. "Are you leaving town?"

"No, just cleaning up. Henry tends to leave a trail behind him these days." She shrugged. "Messy teenager, but I do have to go back now, so, do you think you could lock the door behind you when you leave?"

"Of course," he turned to head to the door, calling out over his shoulder, "that red bra and underwear set was nice, Swan. Hope I get to see it in person someday." Before she could respond, he was gone and the door was closed.

Pulling an annoyed face, she chuckled. She wanted to be mad, but a part of her recognized the façade he put up to protect himself was that of a conceited, egotistical ass. Instead, she let it roll this time, acknowledging that she did, in fact, look pretty hot in that red bra and panties set, and, yeah, he probably would like to see her in it. She smirked to herself as she picked her luggage up again. Too bad for him that was probably never going to happen. Oh well, she mused, guess someone else is going to have to be the lucky one. She'd bought them for Monkey Man, aka Walsh. He never saw the set, either, thank goodness.

Grimacing at the implications of what could have happened with that situation, she focused and poofed back to mayoral mansion.


Dinner was ready, the table set, and Regina was starting to become concerned. She expected Emma to be back by now. It was only a little after the half hour mark, and she knew she was being ridiculous, but she couldn't stop herself from worrying.

Had the sheriff gotten caught up in something? Was she in trouble? Was she in danger? Had Hades gotten to her? Was Regina alone in this fight and had yet to find out?

She rubbed at her face and paced a trail around the first floor of her home, moving from the kitchen to the front door and back again. The thought occurred to her she should probably continue to practice using her magic, but she was too distracted to focus. Each time her mind drifted from lighting the candle to what Emma might think about her lighting the candle, Regina began to worry, which, in turn, caused her to lose all focus.

She'd eventually given up trying to do much of anything, which was why she was pacing the house.

"Hello?" Hades voice echoed through the house, causing to jump. "Is anyone there?" He grumbled, saying something she couldn't make out as she turned this way and that trying as she walked her first floor to try to locate him. "I know you're in there, your Majesty."

She rolled her eyes at the title. Whoever she was, 'your Majesty' wasn't it. "There you are." His voice was practically purred. "Turn around." She did so slowly, eyes searching everywhere for the source of the voice. "A little more. Now stop." She did, still confused until her eyes landed on her gilded mirror, which hung just to the side of the entryway. "Do you see me now?" He smirked at her, the blue flames surrounding him dancing along as he chuckled at her.

"How…" she allowed herself to trail off as she stared dumbly at the mirror. Logically, she rationalized this was some sort of magic at work, but, despite everything she'd experience and had learned over the past few hours, she was still having great difficulty accepting magic as fact.

"Let's just call this a Skype call, but without the Skype, shall we?" He cocked an eyebrow. "Don't be shy, your Highness. I can't get to you through the mirror, so you can step a little bit closer."

She shook her head slowly in the negative. "What do you want?"

"You already know what I want. I want you, but I seem to be having a hard time getting to you." A snarl crept into his voice. "It would seem that pet savior of yours has put some kind of protection spell on your house." He rolled his eyes in aggravation. "It's a small annoyance, of course. It's only a matter of time before I break through the barrier and get to you."

She tried to hold her fears down, hoping her face was the neutral mask she often had for political meetings. Her voice, however, gave her away as it cracked during her reply. "You can't get to me, and you won't win."

He chuckled. "Yes, very convincing." Hades shrugged indifferently. "In answer to your question, I'm giving you this little ring as a courtesy." He gave her a smile that made her feel as though she needed a second shower. "Right now, as we speak, my minions are working away at the barrier surrounding you. I'd give them 10, maybe 15, minutes before they break through, and, when they do I'm coming for you." He leaned forward, his face getting a touch larger in the display. "I enjoy a good fight," he growled, "it makes the win all the better, so I thought I'd give you time to do your best to protect yourself before I could get to you." He leered at her, his eyes slowly running over her. "I think you're going to make an excellent conquest, and, after I'm done with you, I think I'll play with your little blonde savior, too."

"I'm going to kill you," she replied in a cool, even tone, and, in that moment, she fully meant every word.

He laughed at her. "How? Throw a few fireballs at me?" Snorting, he leaned back to motion at himself. "I'm a god. You can't kill me. No matter how powerful you think you are, you're a mortal, and mortals don't win against gods, your Highness."

Her posture straightened, eyes narrowing as her voice lowered to a threatening level. "You have no idea what I'm capable of."

He dismissed her threat with a wave of his hand. "I know your story. I know what you're capable of, and," he grinned, "the only threat you pose is how to keep your screams from scaring the rest of my harem when I get my hands on you." His grin grew. "It's going to be a lot of fun knowing Rumpelstiltskin will be able to feel every single thing I do to you." He shivered, grin going into a wide smile, as the flames around him seemed to get a touch brighter. "I'm getting all hot and bothered just thinking about it."

Regina calmly stood her ground, chin held up and eyes stone cold. "You're not touching her." Even to her own ears, her voice growled in threat. "I'll destroy you first."

Again, he snorted at her. "You can try, but I wouldn't hold my breath." Giving a little wave and a wink, he brightly commented, "See you in a few minutes, pet," and then disappeared from her mirror.

She physically gagged, her body and mind rejecting even the thought of what Hades was threatening. She shook with fear and frustration, thrusting her hand out and yelping in surprise as a bolt of white light shot forward, shattering the mirror into a thousand different pieces.

The action startled her even more, and, for a moment, all she could do was panic about everything. Emma wasn't back, Hades' minions were about to come for her, and she had no way of protecting herself or stopping Hades from getting to Emma. She was helpless, alone, and terrified.

She collapsed in on herself for the second time that evening, crumpling onto the floor and sobbing as she curled into a ball.


Emma popped into Regina's house on the upstairs landing. She figured she'd probably be staying in a guestroom upstairs, as opposed to sleeping on the couch downstairs, so she thought she'd cut out a few steps and poof onto the second floor.

Just as she fully materialized, she heard a giant crash followed by a sob. Quickly dropping her luggage, she bolted down the stairs and toward the sound, which was clearly coming from the entryway.

She stopped short when she saw Regina curled into a sobbing ball in the middle of the floor and the mirror on the wall smashed into bits. Slowly, she walked over, kneeling next to the other woman. "Regina, what happened?" Her voice was as soothing as she could make it as she reached out to touch the other woman on the shoulder. "Did you have an accident with your magic?"

The smaller woman looked up, tears running down her cheeks and eyes red rimmed. She sniffed a few times as she blinked at the blonde. "Emma?"

"Yeah," the other woman nodded. "Sorry I'm late. I ran into Killian, and we chatted for a little bit."

"Oh God," Regina gasped out as she uncurled from her spot on the floor and launched herself at Emma, throwing the blonde off balance and causing them to land awkwardly on the floor with the brunette in the younger woman's lap.

Regina hugged the blonde, whispering between sniffs and shaky breaths. "I thought he might have gotten to you."

"Who? Hades?" Emma glanced around, trying to understand what had happened while she'd been gone.

"Yes." The older woman took in a few shuddering breaths. "He appeared in the mirror and told me his minions are about 10, perhaps 15, minutes away from breaking through the protection spells you've put into place." She shook her head. "He's threatening to do terrible things to both of us."

The blonde flinched. "What did you tell him?"

"Well," Regina pulled back, somehow managing to regain her calm, "I told him he," she began to blush, "didn't know what I was capable of and that I'd kill him for even suggesting he'd come after either of us." She wiped at her eyes, adding sheepishly, "I may have also told him I would destroy him."

Emma stared at the other woman, who was still sort of sitting in her lap.

Regina stared back, uncertain about the entire situation and suddenly feeling even more so. She started to shift, slowly pushing herself up and away from the blonde, who, much to her surprise, began to laugh.

Regina balked, pushing completely away and standing up. "What?"

From her place on the floor, the blonde looked up, still chuckling. "I… it's just. Okay, okay," she took in a few relaxing breaths. "When we first started interacting with each other, I'm pretty sure you said almost all of those things to me, and," she smiled, a hint of pride in the expression, "I have to admit it was pretty damned intimidating."

"And you find this funny?" The brunette crossed her arms, all thoughts of fear rushing away as her irritation took hold. "I was scared, Emma! I didn't know what to say, and I…"

"Made a threat," the blonde finished for her as she stood up, brushing glass shards from her pants. "It's what you do, Regina. Whenever you feel like someone is backing you into a corner, you push back. You're a fighter. You always have been." She made an upward motion with her hand. "Never give up! Never surrender!" She grinned. "That should have been your catchphrase."

"But what would I do with Grabthar's Hammer? It doesn't go with a thing I have to wear," Regina deadpanned. Sighing, she shook her head. "You really don't think I just did something incredibly stupid and dangerous?"

"Oh, no, I do," Emma assured with a shrug, "but I'm actually super proud of you for bluffing him like that. It's impressive, Regina. Most people wouldn't threaten to kill a god. That takes some balls."

"I don't have balls," the older woman replied dryly.

"Okay, fine," the sheriff said as she pushed her hands into her back pockets. "That takes a serious vagina."

Regina rolled her eyes. "If we weren't minutes away from a very serious and extremely life-threatening situation, I'd take time to explain to you all the ways in which that comment is inappropriate."

"Speaking of," Emma quickly sobered, "we need to get ready for that." She glanced around the room as if looking for something. "I have no idea how, though."

"Is there no one you can call to ask for help?" Regina followed the blonde's eyes, her eyes falling to the mirror she'd shattered. "I wish I could fix that."

"You probably can. Have you tried?" Walking over to the bulk of the broken pieces, Emma motioned down. "Go on, try."

Regina frowned. "Now is not…" At the scowl she received, she sighed and nodded. She focused her emotions and willed the mirror to repair itself. Much to her wonder, it did so with little effort. "Amazing."

Emma looked at her, admiration in her eyes and smirk on her face. "Yeah, it really is." She turned to look into the mirror, catching Regina's eyes in the reflection. "There's someone." She frowned, reluctantly accepting their situation. "Your mentor."

The brunette's eyebrows went up. "Who?"

"Gold," the younger woman replied in a deflated voice. "He's supposedly been preparing for a fight with Hades, and he knows the situation. I'm going to give him a call."

"Gold?" Regina narrowed her eyes. "Gold is my mentor? He is a magic user?"

Emma nodded, turning around to lean against the wall as she pulled her phone out. "He's more than that," she answered while scrolling through her list of contacts. "He's Rumpelstiltskin, aka The Dark One. He's probably the most powerful dark magic user ever."

"And he's my mentor…" Regina let the comment trail off as it sank in. She watched Emma place the call and explain what was happening while mentally adding yet another piece of the puzzle to who she had been, and, yet again, she noted how much she didn't like what she saw.

If she ever were to remember who she'd been, she sincerely wished she remained who she was. As soon as the thought entered her mind, she recognized the flawed hope for what it was. Who you are is composed of who you've been, and, if she had, in fact, been as dark as she was beginning to believe, then who she truly was wasn't a person someone like who she was now would ever be.

She frowned deeply. Perhaps she should consider making a deal with Hades? If she was truly that bad of a person, it might not be such a terrible thing to sacrifice herself in order to protect Emma and Henry. What's the life of an evil queen if it means protecting the lives of two exceptionally good people?

When Emma put her phone away, Regina tried to listen to the plan, though she quickly realized it wasn't much of a plan at all. They were going to wait for Gold to get there and then follow his lead.

"That's a terrible plan," Regina commented.

"I know." Emma groaned. "I don't trust Gold at all. He's probably planning to sacrifice one of us, but we might be able to use whatever he's got up his sleeve to our advantage if we can figure out what he's up to."

The brunette nodded. "When will he…"

A poof of smoke answered her question. "Madam Mayor, always a pleasure."

"I suggest we cut the pleasantries. We don't have much time." Regina nodded toward the mirror. "And we may be under surveillance right now."

"It's likely," Rumple replied with small smile. He turned to face the mirror, giving it a haughty smirk. "Hello, Hades. It's been a while. I do hope you're ready for our little encounter." He leaned forward, adding in a hushed tone. "I know I am."

As if it had been waiting for that queue, the front door flew open.

Chapter Text

Hades casually strolled through the front door, gracefully coming to a stop just inside the entryway. "I love your taste in décor, your Highness." He smirked, blue flames licking up from the floor and dancing around his body. "It's very fitting."

Regina glared at him, but, before she could reply, Gold step in, effectively taking over the confrontation. "Hades, what unwelcome surprise."

"I could say the same to you," Hades replied with a sneer as he turned to look at Regina. "I was hoping you wouldn't be here so I could play with your little pet student." He shrugged. "No matter," turning back to Gold, he smirked. "I think I'll play with her anyway."

"And what makes you think I care if you decide to do something to her? She's served her purpose. The curse has been cast." Gold nonchalantly shrugged. "I'm through with her." From behind him, he could hear Emma grunt in anger and Regina take in a small, gasping breath. He ignored them both, focusing on the adversary in front of him. "In fact," he continued, "she's completely worthless to both of us."

Hades narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Worthless? I could think of several ways the Evil Queen could be of use to me."

Gold gave another shrug. "If she were, in fact, still the Evil Queen, I'm certain you could. Unfortunately for you, she's not."

Hades rolled his eyes, clearly irritated with the direction of the conversation. "Just because she's in a new land doesn't mean…"

"She has no memory of ever having been my pupil at all. This woman," Gold nodded his head backward toward the woman in question, "is simply Regina Mills, the mayor of Storybrooke, and, without her memories as my apprentice, there's no way for her to recall how to tap into her magic, which means that little loophole you were planning to extort will do you no good." He smirked, accenting his winning moment.

"I don't believe you." Stepping forward, Hades flung a hand out and grabbed Regina using his magic. She yelped in surprised fear as she was pulled unwillingly toward him. "Fight back," he growled at her.

Emma immediately reacted, jumping in to save the other woman. "Let her go!" She moved quickly, trying to reach Regina before Hades could pull the mayor completely to him.

"Fight back!" Hades used his magic to squeeze Regina a bit tighter, pushing the air from her lungs. She managed a squeak, and he growled in frustration. "You're one of the strongest magic practitioners in any realm." He squeezed her a bit more, grinning when he heard the a cracking sound come from the brunette's ribcage and the blonde scream at him to stop. "Fight back," he demanded yet again.

"Can't," Regina finally managed to reply in a breathless tone.

"What?" Hades released his grip slightly as she finally came close enough for the flames emerging from the ground beneath his feet to flicker and wrap around her where she floated in the air. "What do you mean you can't? Of course you can, and, once you do, I'll have my opening."

"Can't use magic," she weakly replied. "Don't…"

"She doesn't know how," Emma cut in. Blocked by some invisible wall, she pounded on it with her fist in an ineffectual attempt to get to the other woman. "Gold's right. She doesn't remember." She hit the wall again out of frustration. "Let her go, Hades. She can't help you." Stepping back, she held a hand up, palm facing whatever it was keeping her from Regina.

"Well, this is disappointing," Hades murmured more to himself than the enemies trying to fight him. The blast from Emma shook the house but did little to break down the defenses he had placed around him. "Really, Savior? Do you honestly think I'd let you surprise me twice?" He rolled his eyes, turning back to Gold. "You're wrong, Rumple," his smirk turned into a slimy smile. "She can still be useful to me."

"I don't see how," Gold smoothly replied. "Without knowledge of how to use her magic, there's no way for you to use her to get to me. Why don't you release her so she can scurry back to her little blonde girlfriend here, and you and I can talk about what it is you actually want?" With a wave of his hand, he produced a trident. "I believe this is what you're after, isn't it?"

"Partially." Looking at the brunette, who was growing paler by the moment, Hades shook his head. "It's not everything. Having the trident back would appease my brother, of course, but what I want," he turned to glare at the other man, "is a way to get back a little of what you leveled at me before we parted ways last."

"And here I thought you enjoyed that little gift I left you," Gold said with a smirk.

"It took me nearly a 250 years to counteract the curse you placed on me," Hades replied, his anger causing the flames to leap higher and Regina to squeal in pain. "And that many years of being stuck without my powers while in Wonderland…" his voice trailed off, his anger overwhelming him for a moment. "You cannot imagine how frustrating, how infuriating that was, especially when your first little pet apprentice decided to take it over."

Gold quirked an eyebrow. "I'm sure Cora kept you on your toes."

"You deserve to suffer as I did, and," the flames grew redder as Hades spoke, "I've finally found a way to do it. I'm not going to let that chance pass me by simply because she doesn't remember." He reached out, physically grabbing Regina by the collar of her shirt and pulling her to him. "You can't remember because you're cursed," he growled. "So, I'm going to uncurse you, and then I'm going to put you through Hell, literally." He turned back to Gold, who had finally taken a step forward. "And you're going to suffer until she dies."

"No!" Emma threw her hands forward again, pushing her magic out with all the force she had.

Hades chuckled at her attempts. "Say goodbye to your queen, Savior. This is the last time you're going to see her alive." He turned a now limp Regina toward the blonde, who continued to thrust her magic forward in the hopes of breaking through the barrier.

"I won't let you take her," she screamed, fighting harder.

"As if you could stop me," Hades let out an irritated sigh. "Enjoy your peace while you have it, Rumple," he said as he raised his free hand up. "It won't last much longer." With a flick of his wrist, he was gone, taking Regina with him.

The house was suddenly eerily quiet but for the sounds of Emma's labored breathing. She slumped to the ground, looking around with wide eyes at the damage done to the house, but not really registering any of it. Her eyes glazed over for a moment until she found Gold still standing in the same spot he'd been in for most of the encounter.

In a fluid motion, she stood and rushed him, grabbing him by the lapels and pushing him against the wall. "You're going to help me save her."

Gold grunted, reaching up to pry her hands off of his jacket before stepping around her. "I assumed he was after the trident."

"What?" She stared at him in disbelief. "That's what you have to say?"

"I should have known it wouldn't be as simple as that." He straightened his jacket. "It never is."

She grunted. "What the hell did you do to him?"

"The reason Hercules escaped Hades' clutches," he explained as he looked over the damage to the house with a calm eye, "is because I gave him a curse that would temporarily take away Hades' powers." He shook his head in confusion. "I have no idea how he ended up in Wonderland for most of that time, though I do have admit that was a bit cruel even by my standards."

"Unbelievable." She wiped a hand over her face as she tried to calm down. "What did you get out of saving Hercules?"

"The Trident, and, before you ask me what I needed it for, let me answer by saying that my reasons are my own, Sheriff."

She waved him off, truly uninterested in what he'd used Poseidon's Trident for. "We have to find her. We can't let him torture her to death." She glanced around again, this time realizing the damage and wincing. "How do you think he plans to 'uncurse' her?"

"I don't know. He may be aware of the potion the blue fairy has created, but I doubt it. He may have some creation of his own he thinks might counter it." Gold shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, Miss Swan."

"Okay fine." She closed her eyes and mentally counted to ten. "Since this is all your fault, you're going to help me find her and save her."

"Yes, I assumed you'd tell me that." He gave an annoyed sigh. "Lucky for you, I also have a vested interest in ensuring the mayor's safety."

She quirked an eyebrow. "Which would be…"

"She's my grandson's mother," he replied as if the answer should have been glaringly obvious.

"Right, and she's my son's mother." The blonde opened her mouth to add more and then closed it, clearly confused. She shook her head. "How are we going to find them?"

"Finding them is the easy part. A simple tracking spell will do." Gold reached into the nearby coat closet and pulled out a scarf from the pocket of one of Regina's coats. "The difficult part will be getting past Hades. He seems to have already found a way to counteract your magic."

"So how do we do that?" She reached out and plucked the scarf from his hand, carefully rolling it to place in her jacket's pocket.

"That's what I've been trying to figure out. I assumed it wouldn't take him long to find a way to deflect your magic. He's always been good at counteractive spells. I think I might have found something, but it's going to require a little more work." He walked to where the front door used to be and carefully stepped through the rubble. "We need to return to my shop so I can finish."

Sighing, Emma glanced around one more time, taking in the damage and briefly considering how angry Regina was going to be when she saw the mess. She shook her head and started to follow Gold, keeping her eyes down to keep from tripping over the wreckage that had once been the front of the mayoral mansion. She stopped short when her eyes landed on something glittering among the debris. Bending over, she reached down to pick it up, and, once upright again, she frowned. It was the ring Regina always seemed to wear.

"A memento?" Gold pulled her from her thoughts.

She slowly shook her head, eyes glued to the small piece of jewelry. "No. It's Regina's ring. It must have fallen off." She held it up to the light, eyeing the green stone and taking note of the scratches on the band from years of wear. With a sigh, she slipped it on the middle finger of her right hand and continued on. "Let's go. The sooner we get to your place, the sooner we can find Regina."

"I'm not the one stopping to pine, Miss Swan," Gold said with a raise of an eyebrow.

She rolled her eyes in response and trudged toward her cruiser.


Regina woke in agony. Her ribs throbbed with each breath and beat of her heart. Her head hurt, her lungs burned from the heat of the air surrounding her, and she was thirstier than she could ever recall being.

Slowly, she opened her eyes to take in her surroundings. The walls she could see appeared to be made of rock, the floor was nothing but dirt. Though she couldn't tell what she was leaning against she could tell it was hard and warm.

She pulled at the restraints binding her arms above her head, which, as she assumed, was ineffectual. Her feet were not bound, which she considered to be a small blessing, though the fact she was being forced to stand was less than appealing, especially given how much her ribs ached.

Taking in a shallow breath, she gagged. The air reeked of something rotting and burnt. It made her stomach churn, and she coughed, causing pain to shoot through her body. She groaned, letting her head fall back against whatever she was behind her.

"Comfortable?" Hades stepped around her and into view.

"Well, it's not the Four Seasons…" She replied with a tightlipped smile.

"You know, for someone who doesn't recall who she is, you seem to act quite a bit like your old self." He leaned into her space, narrowing his eyes at her. "Why is that?"

"Perhaps there are intrinsic parts of my personality that are me regardless of what I recall?" She attempted a shrug, which ended in a wince and grunt. "How would you know?"

"Know what?" He stood up again, cocking an eyebrow.

"What I was like before I lost my memory." She took in a long, shallow breath, trying to ignore her gag reflex as the smell became palatable again. "I'm much less than 250 years old, and, if you've been stuck in Wonderland for all that time, as you claim, how would you know what I was like as the Queen?" She was taking a gamble he was a talker. Hopefully, if he was talking, then he would be less inclined to hurt her further. It was a weak plan at best, but it was better than doing nothing.

He smiled. "I see you pay attention to details. That's good." He nodded his approval. "I like a woman who pays attention to what I like."

"I'm not your woman," she snapped back, instantly regretting it when her ribs protested her sudden movement.

"Not yet," he countered with a smile. "You might be wondering where you are. The answer is you're in what I've created as my home away from home. It's not as cozy as the Underworld, but I'm making due for now. Eventually, you'll see the real thing, and I assure you it's a grand place." He gestured around. "For now, we're stuck here."

"Hell on Earth," she dryly commented.

"It will be soon enough for you, my sweet," he purred, reaching out to run a finger across her cheek.

She turned her head away, yanking away as much as she could from his touch. "You never answered my question."

"How do I know?" He pulled his hand back with a shrug. "Your mother spent a while as the queen of Wonderland. You may have heard of her? The Queen of Hearts?" He chuckled at her look of shock. "It was a well-deserved name." With a wave of his hand, he brushed off the thought and moved on. "She had it in for you. She wanted to get back to the Enchanted Forest so she could finish what she'd started, but she was stuck in Wonderland thanks to Rumple. Since was also stuck there thanks to Rumple, we had enough in common to become friends. Eventually, she helped me break the curse placed on me, which gave me my powers back." He smiled fondly at the memory. "During that period, she liked to watch you work, so I spent a lot time watching you, which is how I know what you used to be like."

She frowned, trying to understand. "Watching me how?"

"The same way I did today, by using a mirror." He tilted his head to consider her. "You really don't remember, do you?" At her glare, he huffed. "I honestly thought you were bluffing, but maybe not. I suppose this means I will have to break the curse because we can't have you running around thinking you're some kind of well-meaning public servant. Your mother would have hated that."

"I thought you wanted me to remember so you could use my magic against Gold?"

He dismissively waved his hand. "That, too, but I always liked Cora, and, since she did help me get my powers back, the least I can do is restore her work."

Regina ground her teeth in frustration. "What work?"

Hades gave her a disbelieving look. "She wanted you to be Queen."

"I don't want to be a queen," she fired back, fervor in her eyes. "I have no desire to wield power over anyone. I just…"

"Want to be happy. Yes, yes," he groaned in annoyance. "I know, but that's simply not you, my sweet. You are Queen, and you're deliciously evil. In fact, some of the things you've done I really admire. I can't thank you enough for all the souls you've sent to me over the years. Really," he placed his hand on her cheek, forcing her to keep looking at him, "it was a sad day for me when I realized you had stopped massacring people by the hundreds." He huffed. "It was such a loss in my yearly numbers."

She swallowed down the lump in her throat and blinked back her tears. She couldn't know what he was saying was true. Perhaps he was making all of this up to make her even more miserable? Maybe he wasn't. Either way, she couldn't let it affect her now. She scowled at him, voice rough from thirst and pain, "If I'm cursed, how are you going to undo it?"

"That's a very good question," he pulled his hand away from her face again, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm not sure yet, but, in the meantime, I have a theory." She cocked an eyebrow and waited. He smiled in approval. "I think you still have access to your magic, you just don't know it, and, if I'm right, all we need to do is coax it out of you."

"And how are you going to do that?" She dreaded the answer.

"Magic is emotion," he explained as he held his hand up and made a turning motion. In turn, Regina found herself pivoted so she was hung by the restraints holding her arms up. She took a second to note she'd been leaning against a rock pillar for support, but the moment of clarity vanished as the agony brought on by the pressure placed on her broken ribs rushed through her body. "If you push someone to an emotional extreme and they have magic residing within them," he continued to explain in an eerily gleeful voice, "that magic will surface, so," she felt the back of her shirt rip open, and a moment later she watched it fall to the ground at her feet, followed by her bra, leaving her back fully exposed, "if I have a little fun now, your magic may very well surface even without your memories."

She swallowed again, jaw locking down as she tried to prepare. "Now remember, your Majesty," Hades mocked her as the first blow fell across her back, "Cora always said a lady never vocalizes, but I like to hear my women scream." She grunted but managed to keep from crying out. The second blow had her feeling lightheaded, but she remained silent.

He hummed in disapproval as a third blow cracked against her back. "Well, your mother would be proud," he dryly comment. "Let's just see how long you last."

As the blows fell across her back, she closed her eyes and tried to focus on somewhere else, anywhere else. Her mind brought her to a dinner she and Emma had shared at the diner one night when Henry was with David Nolan. She held onto that moment, focusing on that and trying to prevent her powers from showing all the while resisting the urge to scream.

She might perish at his hands, but Regina refused to give Hades any real satisfaction from her death.

Chapter Text

"So what's the plan?" Emma moved around the small backroom of Gold's shop in agitated strides. "We're wasting time."

"The plan is to go to the Blue Fairy, get the potion that will give Regina back her memories, get her to drink from this," he held up a small golden chalice, "and then, with her help, use this," he placed the gem encrusted cup down and picked up a dark crystalline shard, "on Hades."

The blonde took a step forward, moving to touch the crystal but stopped just before reaching it. Wincing in pain, she pulled her hand back and stared down at where it rested in Gold's hand. "What is it?"

"Concentrated Dark Magic, Miss Swan." He tucked the small object into his breast pocket and gave it a pat. "I've been spending the majority of the time since discovering our new friend is in town creating it from the basis of my own magic."

She cocked an eyebrow. "And what's it supposed to do?"

"By adding in Regina's magic with my own, the crystal will hyper focus our combined talents, which will make our magic strong enough to defeat and contain Hades within the crystal itself."

"You mean, you're going to trap him in that thing?" Emma narrowed her eyes. "For how long?"

Gold shrugged. "Indefinitely."

"Like the Phantom Zone?" As soon as the reference slipped out, she knew he wouldn't get it. She waved her hand in the air to brush the question away. "Regina doesn't want to remember. Isn't there something you and I can do? I have magic. Why can't we combine our powers instead?"

"Because it must be Dark Magic. Light magic doesn't have the same… well, let's just say the same 'umph' as Dark Magic does when it comes to entrapping others." He picked up the chalice and stepped away from his work bench. "The first thing we need to do is get the potion. We'll need to go to…"

"Wait a minute." Emma crossed her arms and leaned her weight onto her heels. "What's this going to do to Regina if she uses this crystal thing with you?"

He sighed heavily. "What do you mean?"

"She's been working on redeeming herself by trying to be a good person, so what will trapping someone inside a Dark Magic Shard do to her heart?" She moved a hand to tap her chest. "What will happen to her?"

"Ah." He nodded. "Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good. Even you know that, Miss Swan."

"Regina isn't a sacrifice," she snapped back. "She's a person, which, apparently, is something you conveniently forget on a regular basis." She shook her head, jaw setting determinedly. "There's got to be another way."

"There's not enough time for there to be another way, Sheriff." Gold's ire was rising. "By the time we could think of an alternative, she'll be dead and Hades will have overrun the town. Now, which would you rather happen, hm? Would you rather save Regina and have her have a minor setback in this redemption she's so set on happening, or would you rather she simply be dead?"

Frowning, Emma closed her eyes against the choices laid out for her. "They both suck."

"One less than the other," Gold replied with a huff. "Now, are you going to come with me, or shall I leave you behind so you can contemplate what Storybrooke will be like once the God of the Underworld takes it over?"

Emma's shoulders dropped as her resolve broke. Turning, she started toward the front door of the shop. "Blue hates you, you know."

"That's why you are going to ask her for the potion," he replied with a smirk. "She never says no to a member of the Charming family."


"Are you saying Regina doesn't remember who she is?" Blue's eyebrows rose in shock.

Emma nodded. "Yeah. She lost her memory when she crossed the town line about a month ago."

The nun scowled, trying to follow the other woman's logic. "And you want her to get her memories back?"

"Yes, I want her to get her memory back." Emma rolled her eyes in frustration. "So can you give me the potion?"

"Well, I mean, I don't know." Blue glanced around the room as if looking for help from some unseen advisor. "Regina's been amazing since she returned from Boston. Her leadership as mayor has improved, people are starting to not fear or hate her because she's actually personable, and she seems happier. Maybe we should leave her as she is?"

This wasn't a conversation the younger woman wanted to have. She'd already had this argument with herself and with Gold. She didn't need to have it with Blue. She was tired of kicking this dead horse. "But that's not really her, is it?"

"No," the nun frowned, shaking her head, "I suppose not. But," she shrugged, "it could be argued it's a better version of her, couldn't it?"

"I…" Emma faltered. It was hard to argue the point, but, then again, she'd never really considered pre-Boston Regina to be a bad version of Regina. "No." She surprised both the nun and herself with the answer. "There was nothing wrong with her before she left the town, and this version of her isn't right. It's not really her." Now that she'd started arguing for the other side, the words rolled easily out. "This Regina is softer, kinder, and more civic minded, yeah, but she doesn't have the bite my Regina does." Blue raised her eyebrows again in surprise, but Emma ignored it. "Part of what makes Regina who she is, the thing that's essentially Regina, is her hard edge, you know? I don't know how to explain it better than that, but it's what makes her her, and, right now, that edge is gone, and we need it."

"Why?" Blue narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Why do you need it?"

"Because Henry and I miss her," Emma replied without missing a beat. "I miss the bickering and fighting and how she keeps me on my toes, and Henry misses the tenacity she's always had as his mother." She sighed, her voice dropping into a whisper. "It's not the same."

For a long beat, Blue considered the other woman. She watched her, taking in the sagging shoulders and deep frown before she finally started to move toward a cabinet at the back of the room. "Have you considered who this version of Regina is," she asked over her shoulder as she dug around in cabinet.

"What do you mean?" Emma tilted her head, confused. "She's Regina, just without the baggage."

"True," came Blue's muffled answer, "but her personality is a result of the current curse, which was enacted by Snow, not by Regina."

"So," the sheriff pulled the word out as she thought about what Blue was saying, "Current Regina is a fake personality like everyone else had in the town the first time the curse was cast?"

The older woman finally pulled her head out of the cabinet and turned to give the blonde a small, encouraging smile. "Yes, I would say that is a safe guess."

"But wouldn't that make Regina act the exact opposite of who she actually is? Isn't that how it works? I mean, she's different, yeah, but she's still Regina. It's not like you or Belle." Emma waved a hand in the nun's direction. "You two were completely different when the curse's personalities took you over."

"That's because, when the first curse was cast, we were subjected to the wants and desires of the person who cast the curse, and, in that case," Blue held out a small vial of liquid, "it was Regina, who was determined to ruin all of our happy endings and make us as miserable as possible."

Emma took the vial, laying it in her open palm as her mind tried to connect the dots of what she was being told. "But Snow cast this curse." She glanced up, looking to the nun for confirmation of what she was thinking. "So that means the person Regina is right now is… what? A product of who Mary Margaret would want her to be?"

"That should do the trick," Blue answered as she tapped the vialwith a forefinger and ignored Emma's question. "Remember, Regina has to drink the potion out of something that has sentimental value to her, otherwise it may not work."

"Uh," the younger woman blinked, trying to catch up. "Like what?"

"A favorite mug or glass? Perhaps something from Henry?" The nun shrugged. "Or maybe from you?"

Emma dumbly stared at the nun. "Okay." She looked back to the vial. "Okay," she repeated as she wrapped her fingers around the glass. "Thank you."

"Good luck," Blue replied with a warm smile.


"So that gold cup thing is what you think Regina should drink out of so she can get her memory back?" Emma slid into the passenger's seat of Gold's car, slamming the door.

He winced. "Yes, it was a favorite of hers when she was Queen."

"It won't work, then." The blonde pointed in the direction of the mansion. "We have to go back and grab her coffee mug."

He balked. "What?"

"Her coffee mug, the one Henry gave her that says, 'Give me coffee before I destroy you.' She should drink this stuff out of that mug because it has emotional sentiment for her. Henry gave it to her after we all came back from Neverland, and it's practically all she ever drinks out of. Well," she frowned, "it was all she ever drank out of before Boston."

"I see." Gold started the car and headed for the house. "Did Blue say anything else interesting before she handed over the potion?"

"She pointed out that who Regina is now is who Mary Margaret would like for her to be." Emma sighed.

He grunted. "That's an interesting conversation to have had."

Shrugging, Emma looked down at her finger with Regina's ring. "I think she was making a point that Regina is happy right now."

"Snow always did want everyone to be happy." He pulled the car to a stop in front of the still badly damaged house. "Though I will admit this version of Regina is quite a bit like she was before she was queen."

"You mean before you started warping her mind so she would cast your curse for you," Emma muttered angrily.

Gold snorted. "Yes." Stepping from the car, he made a grand gesture toward the house. "Shall we?"

Nodding, Emma rolled out of the car and headed for the kitchen.


She regained consciousness slowly. The constant, throbbing pain made her nauseous, and, for a long moment in time, she thought she'd be violently ill. It took what little resolve she had left to keep the bile down as she slowly opened her eyes.

She found herself in a cell carved into the cave wall. Three sides of stone and one made of metal bars, she had the oddest feeling of déjà vu as her eyes moved over her dank prison. The thought briefly crossed her mind that it was a good thing she was on her stomach on the dirt floor because the open wounds on her back would probably be even more infected if she'd been laying on them. She rolled her eyes at herself. Infection was the least of her concerns.

She was cold, thirsty, hungry, and in so much pain she wished for unconsciousness again. Hades hadn't bothered to give her a shirt, so she remained topless, and her pants had been badly ripped during the beating she'd endured. She was a mess of sweat, blood, and other bodily fluids that probably shouldn't mix.

Pushing those thoughts aside, she looked around her cell as best she could without moving and spotted a bowl of water in one corner. Groaning, she started to try to push herself up only to find she was too hurt to move. It took some time before she found enough reserve strength to crawl across the floor to the bowl. She stared down into the shallow water and contemplated how difficult it would be to drown herself in that much water.

"It's not enough, your Majesty. You'd need at least another couple of inches. Mostly, you'd only end up wasting the water and coughing quite a bit, which," Hades voice flowed down over her, making her shudder. She turned her head to see him watching her through the bars, "I would think would hurt considering the number of broken ribs you probably have." He grinned at her, waving at the water. "But go ahead and try. The faster you die, the faster you're completely mine."

Regina scowled at him, turning to take a few sips from the bowl.

"That was disappointing. I was hoping you'd at least say something fun in reply." He clicked his tongue. "Ready for round two?"

She slowly pushed the bowl away and allowed her head to drop down so she fully rested on the ground again. "If you're going to kill me, just do it."

"Where's the fun in that?" He waved a hand, and Pain appeared. "Be a good little minion and patch the Queen up."

The creature groaned. "Can't we just take her home and throw her in the lake of fire?"

"Are you suggesting I get rid of my new toy already? I haven't even gotten to Rumple yet." The flames around Hades flickered brightly at the mention of the imp. "If I throw her in the lake, are you going to take her place until I get bored with my new playthings?" He nodded his head backwards toward something out of Regina's line of sight.

Whatever it was, it caused the creature to violently shake his head no. "That's okay," it said with a gulp. "I'll just go clean her up."

"Well, if you insist," Hades said with a smirk as he waved his hand to open the cell door. "Come get me when you're done." With a flick of his wrist, he was gone, leaving Regina with the creature.

"You know, the other guys and I thought you'd be dead by now," Pain said as he waved his hands and a stockpile of herbs and bandages appeared next to him. "You're a tough woman, you know that?"

She gasped in pain as he began to clean the wounds on her back. "What are you doing to me?"

"The Boss said to patch you up, so I'm patching you up." He gave an overly dramatic sigh of irritation. "I don't normally do healing. I mean, my name is Pain. I do, well, pain, so I'm sorry if this hurts a lot." He reached a clawed hand out and grabbed some kind of vial full of a dark amber liquid, which he poured on her open wounds, causing her to cry out in agony. "I can't heal your broken ribs. There's not really a potion for that," he continued, ignoring her whimpers. "But the lash marks I can fix. It's just going to hurt a lot." He gave her head a gentle pat in a mock caring way. "You might pass out again."

"You're enjoying this," she hissed as he poured another vial across yet another lash mark.

"Maybe," he replied in a jovial voice. "Looks like you know how this works already. You've got a few scars from the last time this happened to you." She could feel one of his claws run across her back in a long line from her shoulder blade to her hip. "No wonder you didn't pass out until ten minutes in. You're an old pro."

She could feel her eyes rolling into the back of her head, but she fought it. She was afraid of being unconscious around this creature. She tried to keep the conversation going as a way to stay focused and awake. "It's cold in here. I thought Hell was supposed to be hot."

"Typical misperception," Pain replied with a shrug as he worked along. "This world thinks Hell is either really hot or really cold, but the truth is it's a lot like Earth. Some places are hot, some are cold, and some are just fine. What you're calling Hell is the Underworld, and the Underworld is for everyone, not just bad guys." He poked her side, causing her to hiss in pain. "Of course, you're a bad guy, so I guess the Underworld will be your Hell, unless you do some serious redemption or take the Boss up on his offer for you to be his next concubine."

"I'd rather eat glass for all eternity," she snarled.

Pain shrugged again. "I'm sure he would like that." He finished with her back and moved to her legs. "But we're not in the Underworld right now, so none of that matters anyway."

She grunted as the wounds on her leg healed. "Where are we, then?"

"The mines of your town." He ripped the legs of her pants open the rest of the way to get to the wounds. "When I'm done patching you up, I can give you a shirt and a new pair of pants if you want," he offered congenially. "They'll probably just get shredded again, but at least you won't be cold until the Boss comes back for you."

She took in deep breaths as she tried not to be sick. "Can you," she began, speaking slowly to keep some control over the gagging she couldn't really stop, "give me something for the nausea?"

He stopped working and leaned back to look her in the eye. "You'd rather be naked and vomit free than clothed and a little sick to your stomach?"

"No," she answered as her eyes started to roll again. She forced herself to focus on his face. "I'd rather have both."

Pain raised his eyebrows, his beady little eyes dancing with amusement. "And what do I get for it?"

She gritted her teeth as her mind raced for an answer. "Well," she began to reason aloud, "me being both clothed and in pain but not nauseous would annoy Hades, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah," he answered, his tailing flicking as he thought about what she was saying.

"So, if you did those things, you would be annoying him without getting yourself in trouble, and how often do you get that chance?" She did her best to give a smile, but it turned into more of a grimace.

It seemed to be enough for the creature, who smiled broadly. She shuddered at the display of sharp, pointed teeth. "I like how you think, your Majesty." With a snap of his fingers, he was gone, leaving her face down on the ground, nude, shuddering, alone with her thoughts, and with a feeling of dread as to what was to come next.

Chapter Text

"I think I'm going to be sick." Emma leaned against the island in the mayor's house, closing her eyes and swaying slightly.

From his spot digging through the cabinet for Regina's favorite mug, Gold grumbled out, "Nervous about our next encounter, Miss Swan?"

"No," she snapped back, groaning as she grabbed at her stomach. "I haven't eaten in over 12 hours, and I can smell the food in the warmer." She grunted, making a pained face. "Regina and I were supposed to eat dinner when I got back tonight."

"How domestic," he commented as he turned with the mug in his hand. "You and the mayor have certainly started to get along rather well since her trip to Boston."

"I'm sure that'll all change once she remembers why she hates me," Emma replied dryly. "Look, I have to eat something or I really am going to be sick."

"I suppose we can't have you becoming violently ill in the middle of our fight or, worse, passing out." He sighed as he settled on a stool. "You might as well eat whatever it is Regina cooked for you."

She rolled her eyes at his annoyance but pulled the chicken out. It smelled amazing and looked even better. "Of course she would cook like Martha Stewart," the blonde mumbled as she carefully placed the plate of chicken and veggies on the island across from Gold.

"She's always been one for perfection, so it stands to reason she'd have a flair for Better Homes," he said with a smirk. "Clearly, she missed her calling as a Stepford Wife."

"As if she ever had the chance to be anything but," Emma snapped back. She settled on her stool with a glass of tea she'd found sitting in the icebox and began to eat, trying not to swallow the pieces whole.

"How would you know?" Gold quirked an eyebrow. "In fact, Miss Swan, how do you know any of my and Regina's history? I highly doubt she ever told you when she could recall, and I know I haven't."

"Mary Margaret told me everything she knew about everything when we were stuck in the Enchanted Forest," the blonde answered between bites of food. "When we finally made it back, Henry told me a few things he'd learned while we were gone. Then, David told me about Whale and…" she winced, "Daniel." She shook her head. "From our trip to Neverland, I learned the rest of the details from Regina about how the curse was first cast." At his curious look, she shrugged. "We had a lot of downtime, neither one of us wanted to spend a lot of time with Mary Margaret and David because watching them being lovely all the time gets tiring, wanted Hook to leave me the hell alone, she wanted Mary Margaret to leave her the hell alone, so Regina and I spent a lot of time sitting with each other and talking as a way to keep everyone else from talking to us." She sighed at the memory.

"Common enemies made you two strange bedfellows." He quirked an eyebrow.

She shrugged. "Yeah, something like that."

"And that's when she told you our history," he prodded.

"No." She snorted at him. "Not even. Getting Regina to talk about what life was life before she was the Queen was never on my list of things to do. She told me what she wanted me to know, and that was good enough for me." She took a thoughtful sip of her tea. "But I'm not stupid, despite what a lot of you think. I was a bounty hunter for years. I've made a living out of putting the pieces together, and, after all of that, I got the picture. You used her to get what you wanted, and it fucked her up."

"She used me, too, Sheriff. She wanted to learn how to use magic, so I taught her, and, when she wanted to learn how to destroy her enemies and crush usurpers to the throne, I taught her how to do that, as well." He picked the coffee mug up and looked at the words. "There was a give and take."

"She wanted to bring her True Love back to life, which I'm told you can't do using magic." She gave him a very pointed look. "So I'm pretty sure you led her on about that, and, for the life of me, I never have been able to figure out why her. Why Regina? Especially since you obviously had other apprentices who started out pretty fucked up that would have been powerful enough to cast the curse. Why mess up someone and turn them into a monster when you already had plenty to choose from? You had Cora, you had Zelena…" She trailed off, cutting another piece of chicken and popping it into her mouth.

"Not that it's any of your business," Gold snapped, "but they wouldn't have worked."

She narrowed her eyes. "Why not?"

"As you know, the curse requires you to sacrifice the thing you love the most. Cora's has always been power, which she would never sacrifice. Having met her, I'm sure you can see what I mean. Zelena…" he huffed, clearly irritated. "At the point in which it was time to cast the curse, the thing Zelena loved the most wasn't something that could be sacrificed."

"Didn't want to die for your own curse," she asked with a hint of sarcasm lacing her words.

"It would have defeated the purpose," he deadpanned in response. "Regina had something easy to sacrifice and she was powerful enough to enact the curse."

"I can tell you're lying," Emma said in disgust. "You know I have a sixth sense about that kind of thing. There's more to it than that."

"Perhaps, but that's all you're getting from me, which is more than I would ordinarily tell." He glanced at his watch. "Are you done yet? I assume time is of the essence."

She stuffed the last of the chicken in her mouth and washed it down with her tea. "No. I'm going to run upstairs, and then I'll be ready."

He rolled his eyes and resettled as she took off at a sprint for the staircase.


"I hope you're not shy, your Majesty," Pain's voice cut into Regina's foggy brain.

She slowly opened her eyes and turned her head toward the sound. "You didn't bring me any clothes?"

He shrugged. "I found some jeans. I think they'll fit you. Might be a little big, though."

"Fantastic," she mumbled. "What about something for the nausea?"

"Oh yeah," he held out a small herb. "This'll work."

She slowly reached out, careful not to jostle herself too much, took the leaves, and brought them to her mouth. "Do I eat this or suck on them?"

"Whatever." He shrugged, dropping the pants down beside her. "Better do something with it soon, though. The Boss'll be here in about twenty minutes."

She shoved the herbs in her mouth and chewed. The taste was awful, and she had difficulty swallowing, but, as soon as she washed it down with what was left of her water, she felt better. Cautiously, she moved into a sitting position and picked up the jeans. "You missed it by a size," she said with some surprise.

"Well, it's not like clothing is my thing," the creature replied as he made a motion down his fur covered body. "But I'm good at guessing things."

She swallowed thickly as she slowly pulled the jeans on, grateful that she was at least not sitting directly on the dirt with nothing between her and the floor. For some reason, she felt a touch more human by just being partially covered.

"Oh, say, the Boss might like you looking like that." Pain waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "For a human woman, you look pretty hot."

"Are you always this eloquent?" She sighed, running her hands through her hair in an attempt to push it out of her face. The intake of air aggravated her ribs, and she grunted through the pain.

"Hey, where I come from, I'm a charming guy," the creature said with a wink.

"I'm sure," she replied with an eye roll. "Thank you."

"Yeah, sure, don't mention it. Really, don't. I don't want the Boss to put me through what you're about to go through." He shuddered.

She closed her eyes, pulling up what little courage she still felt in order to ask the question. "What would that be?"

"He likes stretching you out," Pain said with a little too much glee in his voice. "He got the rack out just for you, your Majesty. We haven't seen him pull that out in years." His tail swept happily from side to side. "I've got a 100 bugs down that you'll last at least ten minutes before you agree to either be his next sweet thing or your magic surfaces, so, you know, as a personal favor, if you could make it to ten minutes, I'd really appreciate it."

She tensed, her face blanching despite herself. "And how long do the rest assume I'll last?"

"They give you somewhere between one and three minutes, tops." He dismissively waved a claw. "But they don't know you like I know you. I figure you'll last at least that long just to spite the Boss."

She rolled her eyes again. "Why does my back still hurt so much if you've healed me?"

"Well, the wounds were pretty deep. The potions only work so well, so you've still got open wounds back there. It's just not as bad." Pain flicked his tale thoughtfully. "Actually, it might be better that you are shirtless." He shrugged. "A shirt might make the wounds bleed again or something."

"How touching that you care," she replied sarcastically as she wrapped her arms around herself to try to ward off the cold. She was about to be put through even more pain, and, this time, it would be worse. Between her broken ribs and destroyed back, the amount of agony she was going to be subjected to was enough to make her want to give in so she didn't have to endure. But, then again, as long as she was alive, Hades wouldn't get everything he wanted, and, in some part of her mind, she recognized what he wanted was to move to Emma next and do the same thing. It wasn't about Gold, not really.

As he'd talked while he'd beaten her, she'd come to realize Hades was in it for the enjoyment of inflicting physical pain on others. Regina might actually deserve the pain, even if she didn't remember all the unspeakable things she'd done. Emma, on the other hand, did not.

If Regina could hold out long enough, the brunette reasoned, maybe Emma could find a way to contain Hades and keep the town safe. She just needed to last long enough for the blonde to protect the town, and then Regina could give in.

"Do you mind if I watch?"

Pain's question threw her out of her thoughts. "What?"

"When the Boss starts back on you, do you mind if I watch? I didn't get to stick around the last time, but I heard you had some epic insults you threw at him." He actually seemed enamored by that fact. "I was wondering if I could watch this time."

She licked her dry lips and slowly closed her eyes. "I'm fairly certain I'm not the one you need to ask permission from," she replied in wary tone. "But, if it means anything to you," she opened her eyes and focused on the creature again, "you're more than welcome to stand around and watch as Hades slowly pulls me apart. I really don't care."

He practically jumped in excitement. "Thanks, your Majesty!" He pointed a sharpened claw at her. "You're the best!" In a puff of smoke, he was gone.

"My minion seems to have taken a liking to you." Hades stepped up to the bars, a smirk flashing across his face. "Nice jeans, your Majesty."

"I thought I had another twenty minutes," she replied in the most annoyed tone she could conjure.

He shrugged. "I got bored of what I was doing. There's only so long you can watch a bird eat out someone's eyes before it gets old." Waving a hand, his magic wrapped around Regina, and she found herself laying face up on a cold hard surface. "This will be so much more fun."

She took a sharp intake of air as he shook her shackled hands. The movement shook her whole body, agitating her wounds. "If beating me half to death didn't get you the results you wanted," she began in a smooth, even tone, sounding much more confident than she was, "do you think pulling me apart is going to work?"

"No. If your magic was going to surface, it would have already." He stepped into her line of sight and smiled, the flames around him licking upwards to outline his entire body for a moment. "However, why waste a perfectly good opportunity to have some more fun?"

She watched him snap his finger and couldn't curtail the scream that rolled up through her neck as the rack clicked back a few notches, pulling her in both directions.


"The mines?" Emma wiped a hand over her face. "I hope that scarf knows what it's talking about."

"My spell is not defective, if that's what you're suggesting, Miss Swan," Gold snapped back as they walked a short way behind the floating item. "The question is not if it is leading us to the correct location. The question is if we'll be able to follow wherever it goes next."

As he spoke the scarf hovered near the destroyed entrance to the mines and then slowly drifted around the enclosure. It came to a stop at the two and dropped to the ground. "What the hell does that mean," Emma asked as she carefully picked the piece of clothing up and stuffed it in her pocket.

"It means there's no direct line to Regina from here." He motioned toward the rubble. "We'll have to find a way get through that if we're to get to her."

The blonde gave the rocks a hard glare. "You said the cave in was deep. I don't think we can dig our way in, and I know we can't transport in there. I don't know about you, but I don't want to materialize inside a rock or something, so what do we do?"

"We find his entrance," Gold dismissively replied as he began to slowly turn in a circle to scan the area. "He's probably got some sort of temporary transport portal he's using to save time and energy. The trick is to find it." He waved his hand, sending out a pulse of magic, and then smiled. "Ah."

Emma perked up a bit. "You found it?"

"Yes, I believe so." He started toward the woods nearby.

She quickly followed, and they soon stopped at a large tree. "You're kidding. This seems a little cliché."

"Well, there's only so many ways to create a portal," Gold replied with a shrug. "I suggest you hold onto my jacket as we enter. It's entirely possible we might get separated if you don't, and who knows where you might end up."

"Right…" she drawled as she grabbed the back of his jacket and followed him through the tree.

They emerged inside the caves. It was dank and cold, but not as dark as Emma would have assumed. Glowing stones illuminated their path, giving the place an eerie, otherworldly feel. She shuddered. "Is this what Hell is like?"

"I wouldn't know," Gold replied in a somewhat amused voice. "I haven't been there yet."

She snorted. "I'm sure you'll eventually…" She stopped talking as a piercing scream echoed through the tunnel they stood in. "No," she whispered.

"We should probably hurry. It sounds as though Regina might not last much longer," Gold urged as they started toward the noise.

Regina's voice sounded harsh and shrill. It filled the cave and sent Emma practically running. The sheriff was held back by Gold, who grabbed her wrist and pulled her backwards. "It won't do anyone any good if we go barreling in there, Sheriff. We need to see what he's doing and develop at least something of a plan."

"He's going to kill her," she hissed. "We can't let her die. We can't…"

"And we'll try not to," he interrupted with a sneer. "We need her. I have no intentions of letting her perish, but, if we rush in there unprepared, we may all die. Now, calm down your White Knight urges and use those bounty hunter skills you mentioned earlier."

She took in a steadying breath, wincing as Regina's screams echoed around them again. "Okay," she said more to herself than Gold. "First thing we need to do is see what we're up against. You stay here, and I'll sneak around and take a look."

At his nod, she quietly moved about the bend and slowly peaked around the corner. She found herself looking into a brightly lit room with a barred area on one end and, in the center, a table from the Middle Ages with Regina, semi-clothed and restrained to it. Hades stood with his back to her. From his posture, it looked as though he was leaned over gleefully whispering something to his victim. She could hear Regina's hoarse, breathless reply of, "In the words of Sheriff Swan, Hades, you can go fuck yourself."

Despite the situation, Emma smirked. She felt oddly proud of Regina in that moment, but the pride quickly vanished when Hades snapped his fingers, and the giant rollers on either end of the table moved a click. Regina's screams of agony made Emma feel physically ill. It took all the sheriff's resolve not to run in and save Regina right then.

From the corner of the room, Emma saw movement. It was the creature she and Gold had encountered earlier. It happily sat in there, popcorn and drink in hand, and watched Regina's torture as if it was watching a happy movie. Each time Hades stopped to verbally taunt the older woman, the creature would watch with wide-eyed expectation until Regina answered. Once he heard her reply, he'd smile broadly, clearly approving of her retort, and lean back to watch again.

As Emma observed, the creature seemed to check something on its wrist. It cupped its claws over its mouth and yelled out in an excited voice, "Fifteen minutes, your Majesty!" It bounced excitedly. "You're killing it!"

From the spot on the table, Emma could hear Regina moan in pain. It was enough for the blonde to shake out of whatever weird moment she was in and head back to Gold. Regina wasn't got to make it much longer. They had to make a move now.

Chapter Text

"He has her on a rack," Emma blurted out as soon as she was beside Gold. "That imp thing we saw earlier said she's been on it for at least fifteen minutes, and she looks like hell. I'm not positive, but I think I saw blood dripping off the table she's strapped to." She glanced backward toward the room as if she could see the scene through the wall. "She's going to die, Gold."

"Well, we'll see what we can do to belay that for a just a bit," he replied with a huff. "Did you see any other way into the room?"

"No, but Hades has his back toward the door." She winced as another ragged scream came crawling through the corridor. "What we need is a distraction so one of us can get in, get her free, and give her the potion."

"I believe I can provide the distraction. However, it won't last long. You'll only have a moment to slip in." He handed her the mug and the vial of potion. "Remember, she has to drink the potion or none of this will work, and we'll all be sharing Regina's current predicament." As if to accent the point, the mayor let out another shriek.

Straightening his posture, Gold turned toward the room. "I'm going to entertain Hades for a bit. Count to ten and then come in. After you free Regina and give her the potion, tell her that I need help using a Dark Crystalline Portal Spell. She'll understand, and do try to be stealthy, Miss Swan."

"Really? You're going to mock me right now?" She glared at him.

"It's the little things in life," he replied as he disappeared around the bend.


Gold stopped at the entrance to the room and waited for the right moment to make his presence known. He found Hades and Regina exactly as he'd been told. She was breathless and, he noted, bleeding rather badly from her back.

Hades loomed over her, his voice thick with enjoyment. "And how about now, your Majesty? Hmm?" He reached out and ran a finger across her exposed chest, leaving a line of burned skin in its wake. "Care to agree to my terms now?"

Regina let out a hiss as she felt the burn form. "You're a sadistic bastard."

"As is your mentor, and," he said in a light, upbeat tone, "as are you." He chuckled at her appalled look. "I realize you don't remember," his voice changed from upbeat to mocking pity, "but I assure you you're just as sadistic as I am. In fact, I have proof. In my realm, there's a young nobleman who came in missing both hands and his most prized private parts thanks directly to you. Apparently, not only did you think it was a fitting punishment for his crime," Hades smirked, looking almost affectionate towards his captive, "but you did it yourself because you wanted to hear him scream."

She felt sick. If she'd actually done something so monstrous, it was little wonder people wanted her dead.

"As I recall," Gold called out from where he leaned against the wall, "the reason that young nobleman was tortured before he was killed was because he raped one of the Queen's handmaidens and was in the process of doing it again when he was caught by the Queen's guards." He tilted his head and shrugged. "Some would argue what Regina did was justified."

Hades swung around, the fire always at his feet burning bright red for a moment. "You made it here quickly."

"I was motivated." Gold nodded toward the woman in the room. "You have one of my favorite toys. I want her back."

"And you think you can come in here and simply take her?" Hades scoffed at the very thought.

Waving his hand in the air, Gold transported Pain from the creature's watching corner to his hand. "How about I trade you?"

"I have plenty more where he came from," Hades replied with a roll of his eyes. "However, there's only one Evil Queen, and now she's mine."

From her hiding spot, Emma watched and listened. The conversation had her on edge. She was torn between who to hate more, Hades for what he was currently doing to Regina or Gold for everything he'd ever done to lead them all to this point.

Gold gave the creature in his hand a violent shake, causing it to belch fire, which, as far as Emma could tell, was the best distraction she was going to get. As the flames erupted from Pain and blasted into Hades' face, she quickly crawled under the blast and around the bottom of the table, careful to stay out of sight.

It seemed to have worked. With the fire blinding Hades, she felt confident she'd snuck by undetected. Slowly, she scooted toward Regina's head and pushed up just enough for the other woman to actually see her.

At the small gasp of surprise and widened eyes she was given, she quickly put a finger to her lips. The last thing they needed was for her position to be given away. Gold was doing a good job of being a distraction. She only needed a few moments more.

"I'm going to get your hands loose," she whispered as she reached up to look at the locks. They were old, much like the ones she'd picked the last time she'd been in the Enchanted Forest. She ground her teeth in frustration. Why hadn't she thought to grab something to pick the damn lock? Suddenly, a key appeared next to Regina's head.

Emma grunted in surprise and glanced up expecting to see Gold giving her a quick wink. Instead, the creature was grinning widely, tail flicking as if it were proud of something it'd done. She shook her head and decided now was not the time to question. Grabbing the key, she unlocked the shackles holding the brunette's hands.

"I need you to drink something," she whispered as Regina whimpered in relief. "It'll give you your memories back so you can help Gold with a Dark Crystalline Portal Spell," she sighed, "whatever that means."

Regina nodded, too tired and in too much pain to do much more. Emma quickly poured the potion into the mug and handed it to the brunette, who took it with unsteady hands. Carefully, Regina brought the mug to her lips, concentrating on not dropping or spilling the liquid inside.

"Well, well," Hades voice sounded even more annoyed. "I never would have expected you to be a decoy, Dark One." He swung around, flinging a hand out to knock the mug out of the brunette's hands. It went flying across the room, smashing loudly against the bars of the holding cell, the undrunk potion splashing in an arc into the cell. "I thought I sensed someone else in here."

Emma panicked. She looked to Gold, who only stiffened, and then back to Hades, who was eyeing her oddly.

"Speechless, Savior?" Hades rolled his eyes. "I'm sure I'll get you talking soon enough." With a flick of his wrist and an eruption of flames around him, he pinned Emma against the bars. "So," he turned back to Gold, "I believe our deal is off now, isn't it? You entered my domain without my permission."

Gold gave him an incredulous look. "This isn't your domain. It's the mines beneath my town."

"Any place I set up shop is my domain, and, as I've clearly set up shop here, then here is my domain." Hades smile slithered across his face. "And, since you're here without my permission, and part of our agreement was that you couldn't do that, it means all deals are off."

In a smooth, quick motion, Hades threw a hand up, sending a blast of fire at Gold, who just managed to block the fire but not the force of the blast. It pushed him off his feet and smashed him against the rock wall behind him.

Emma watched with dread as Gold slumped, unconscious, to the ground. She could feel any hope she had of this situation ending well leave her in a rush or fear and anxiety.

Hades turned to her, calmly walking around the table where Regina still lay. "And now I have two new toys." He barred his teeth, less a smile and more a growl. "How great for me."

"As soon as you let me down from here," she threatened, "I'll fight you."

He laughed at her gumption. "What makes you think I'm going to give you the chance to fight back? Don't be ridiculous. You're never going to be unrestrained again, and, after I'm done having my fun with you, I'm going to make you one of my favorite pets, along with your queen."

"Fun?" Emma was stalling for time, trying to find a way out. "What kind of fun?"

"The best kind," he replied with aplomb. "I think I'll give you the same royal treatment I gave Queen Regina."

"No," Regina rasped out, voice too strained to put any real emotion behind the declaration.

"What?" Hades turned around, cocking an eyebrow at her. "No?" He snorted. "And who's to stop me? The imp?" He shook his head. "Now that he's broken the agreement, I don't need you to hurt him."

"No," she repeated, slightly more force behind her words. "I won't let you."

"Won't let me what?" He was mocking her. "Won't let me play with your girlfriend? How are you going to keep me from it? Write a law against it and have it passed by the town council?"

She shook her head, eyes focusing in on her predator. "Maybe."

He laughed, strolling causally over to where she lay. "Did you get feeling back in your arms, your Majesty? Do you think you could sit up long enough to write it all out?"

"Some," she said, eyes narrowing.

Emma watched from her pinned position. She tried to fight the hold on her, but she didn't have the strength nor the experience to break the magic holding her down. Everything was happening too fast. She helplessly watched as Hades leaned over Regina to grab her hands and restrain her again. She gasped as the brunette moved with a swiftness that had to use what little energy she had left, pulling her right hand free of his grasp and pushing her hand against his chest.

There was a flash of bright light, and then Emma found herself on the ground.

It took her a moment to get her bearings, and, when she did, she was still disoriented. Regina sat on the edge of the table staring at her right hand in disbelief. In her grasp was a dark black heart surrounded by a dark blue flame. Hades lay sprawled on the ground at her feet, grasping his chest and looking up at the brunette in confusion.

"That's not possible," he gasped out as Regina gave the heart a little squeeze. "I have protection spells in place. You shouldn't be able to do that." His voice was getting louder with each sentence. "You don't have magic." He pushed up to stand. "HOW CAN YOU HAVE DONE THAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE MAGIC?"

Regina looked troubled and in a great deal of pain. She panted for air as she stared at him. "I have light magic," she replied between breaths.

"Light magic?" He took a step toward her but stopped when she squeezed his heart again. "Light magic doesn't allow you to take a heart."

"I… I don't know," she whispered more to herself than in reply to him. "You were threatening to torture Emma, and I couldn't let you do that."

"Regina," Emma scrambled to her feet, stepping around Hades and coming up beside the older woman. "What are you going to do?"

The brunette turned her wide eyes to her. "I don't know. What can I do with this? With…" She glanced back to her hand. "His heart?"

"You could kill him," Gold's voice floated over them and both women startled. "That would be the best thing to do."

Regina shook her head. "I don't want to kill anyone."

Gold came to a stand on her other side, rubbing at the back of his head. "You could control him."

"That's… that's too much power to hold over another person," she said with another shake of her head. Turning to Emma, she asked in a shaky voice, "What do you think I should do?"

Looking over the burned, bruised, wounded woman beside her, Emma could feel herself getting more and more irate. "I think," she said as she glared at Hades, who watched quietly to see what his fate was about to be, "that he doesn't deserve to live, but I don't think you should do anything you don't want to do." She leaned over and glared at Gold. "You do it. It's your fault we're in this."

"It'd be more lucrative to control him," Gold replied matter-of-factly. "Think of the power we could…"

"No, we're done with that," Emma cut him off. "Take his heart and do what you do best." At his questioning look, she clarified. "Destroy a life."

"You know, I doubt your parents would appreciate you advocating to take a life," he countered.

"My parents are idiots," she snapped back.

Gold chuckled. Reaching out, he took the heart from Regina's hand and held it up in his own. "You know, Hades, if you'd just left good enough alone, everything would have been fine."

"I wanted my pound of flesh," the other man hissed.

With a sigh and a shrug, Gold shook his head. "I hope the next in line for your place in the Underworld is smarter than you are." Before Hades could reply, Gold crushed the heart, leaving Hades and his heart's ashes mixed with the dirt on the floor.

"Well," Gold dryly commented as he brushed his hands off, "that was rather anticlimactic, wasn't it?"

Emma took in a deep breath, ready to lay into him, when the sound of Regina whimpering caught her attention. She turned just in time to catch the brunette as she passed out. "We need to get her to the hospital."

Gold nodded, raising a hand to envelop them in a cloud of magic. A moment later, they were in the ER, and, for the first time, Emma had the presence of mind to cover Regina with her jacket as they yelled for help.

The staff stood, confused and uncertain, for a moment before they jumped into action at the Sheriff's yell that they get a move on. A few minutes later, Emma was left alone in the waiting room with Gold.

"This has been one hell of a day," she commented as she glanced up to see the clock read 11:30PM.

He hummed in agreement. "It did run a little long, didn't it?"

"What happens now that Hades is gone?" She wiped at her face, exhaustion starting to kick in.

"There will be someone to take his place. His minions will find their way back to the Underworld, and life will go on," he replied with a shrug.

She turned to stare at him. "Just like that?"

"Just like that, Miss Swan." He seemed to take a moment's pity on her, explaining quietly, "When you've lived as long as I, you come to understand a few things. One of those is that the biggest moments in life are often the least monumental at the time they happen or have the least climatic moment of realization."

"I wonder why that is," she asked absentmindedly as she turned to watch the people milling around the nurses' station.

"Because life is a series of events that unfold based on choice, and, once the choice is made, the excitement of making it is gone. It's the excitement of choice, Sheriff," he explained as he stood, "that makes a situation feel exhilarating." Straightening his jacket, he looked down at her. "It's late, and I don't think you need me, so, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to return to the mines to seal off that portal and do a little extra checking before I go home to my wife."

She nodded, letting him go without another word.

Bleary eyed, she turned to the ER door and stared at it wondering if Regina was going to be okay and how she was going to explain all of this to Henry.

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. Her ribs ached. Her arms and legs felt rubbery and useless. Her throat was dry and scratchy. Her ankles and wrists throbbed, and her head felt muddled.

She took in a shallow breath. The last thing she could remember was Gold crushing Hades' heart, a heart she had taken. Her jaw flexed as she recalled the rush she felt pulling the God of the Underworld's heart from his chest, how intense the feeling was of holding something with such power, but then she remembered why she had done it.

It wasn't for the power. It wasn't for the rush. It was because he was going to do to Emma what he had been doing to her.

Emma. Where was Emma? Was she okay?

Regina slowly opened her eyes to find herself in a private hospital room. The lights were dimmed, but the brightness shining around the closed curtains told her it was early in the morning. She turned her head to find her son curled up on a cot laid just below the window and Emma was sleeping in the most uncomfortable looking position in a chair beside him. The blonde had her legs draped over one arm and her head resting on the windowsill. One arm was thrown across her eyes and the other hung down, her hand resting in Henry's hair.

Despite the pain and the fuzzy headedness from what she assumed were painkillers, Regina smiled brightly at the picture. Seeing the two of them there made her feel warm and safe because they were both safe.

She glanced down at herself, noting the bruising circling her wrists and the cuts and the burn marks scattered over her arms. The sheet covering her kept her from seeing the full extent of her wounds, but she could only assume it was extensive. She felt incredibly fortunate to be alive, all things considered.

She was torn between waking one of them to ask for water and allowing them to continue sleeping. Despite how uncomfortable they probably were, they looked peaceful, but her need for water won out over her need to leave them alone, and she finally cleared her throat a few times she so could speak.

At the sound, Emma's body shook and she immediately sat up, eyes wide and searching. When she saw Regina awake and looking at her, she smiled. "Hey," she whispered.

"Hey," came the hoarse reply. Regina looked down at Henry, who was still sleeping soundly. "How long?"

"A few days," the younger woman replied as she carefully got up and walked over to the hospital bed. "Henry refuses to leave." She scrunched her face up. "Actually, he's starting to get a little ripe, so I'm glad you're awake. Maybe he'll go home and take a shower now."

The brunette chuckled quietly and then winced. Before the other woman could make a move to help in some way, she reached up and took the blonde's hand in her own. "You okay?"

Emma gently held the hand in hers, letting her thumb run lightly over the bruised skin. "A few bruises on my ass, but, rather than that, I'm fine."

"Always so elegant, Sheriff Swan," Regina replied with as much of a smirk as she could manage.

"It's one of the reasons you keep me around, Mayor Mills," Emma playfully replied, a smirk of her own tilting up her lips on one side. "How do you feel?"

"Thirsty." Turning her head, the older woman eyed the water pitcher. The sheriff took the hint, poured a bit of water, and helped Regina take a few sips. "Better, thank you."

For a long moment, they stared at each other, neither really knowing what to say or do next. It was Emma who finally broke. Taking in a trembling breath, she admitted quietly, "I didn't think you were going to wake up this time, Regina."

"Do I nearly die that often?" The question was out of the brunette's mouth before she could process she was asking it. The meds, they were clearly affecting her mental filters.

"Yeah, you do." Emma reached down and took the other woman's hand again, carefully lacing their fingers. "You seem to have a knack for putting yourself in danger, and then I wind up saving you."

"The White Knight to my Evil Queen, right?" Regina tugged the other woman's arm, guiding her to take a seat on the edge of the bed.

"Something like that," the younger woman said as she complied, settling carefully on the bedside, hands still linked. "You know, before Boston…" She trailed off, not sure why she'd even started to mention what had been weighing heavily on her mind since Regina came out of surgery. It probably wasn't the time nor the place, but it was all she could think about.

Before Boston, they had been enemies yet again. If not enemies, certainly not friends, and Emma couldn't blame Regina for hating her given the circumstances, though the sheriff would never feel bad for saving a life. However, that didn't change the fact she'd hurt Regina on a deep level, and, now that Regina couldn't remember, it seemed wrong to Emma to pretend she'd done nothing to Regina and allow whatever was happening between them to blossom.

She needed to be honest for both of their sakes. It only seemed right.

Regina quietly watched her as she processed what, exactly, she wanted to say. It took a few minutes, and, when she began to speak again, Emma's voice was scratchy with emotion. "Before Boston, you didn't like me very much, and I can't say I blame you. I took away your happy ending, and you'd been looking for it for three decades." She frowned, staring down at their hands. "Even before I brought Marian back, we weren't exactly friends. I think we were working on it, but we weren't there, and that was a recent thing. When I first got here, you tried everything you could to get rid of me." She glanced back up, face pained at the memories she was going through. "You even tried to put a sleeping curse on me like you did Snow White, but it backfired, and Henry was cursed instead of me."

She slowly shook her head as Regina's body went rigid at that bit of information. "You didn't know. Henry, he's good at throwing us curveballs. You'd never do anything to intentionally hurt our son, not even in your darkest moments. The kid," she glanced over to the sleeping boy beneath the window, "he's your bright spot." She turned back. "And I get that because he's mine, too."

Sighing, she wiped at her face with her free hand. "Regina, I don't… I know you don't want to…" She groaned frustrated at herself for her inability to articulate her feelings and thoughts. "What if you remember again someday and then you hate me all over again?"

The brunette slowly blinked, her mind racing to catch up to wherever the other woman's thought process was. Clearly, the sheriff had come to some sort of realization while they'd been in the hospital, and Regina was trying to catch her line of thought.

It took a moment, but, when it final struck her what Emma was beating around the bush about, she found herself stunned into even more silence. The manuals had said Emma Swan would only cause her pain, and, though that hadn't been entirely true, it was because of Emma Regina had been determined to resist Hades for as long as she had.

The manuals said to keep Emma at a distance and not even consider the possibility of anything other than a working relationship with her, yet they were something more than in a working relationship. Regina had to admit that to herself. What they were was up for debate, but she couldn't lie to herself and say people who risk everything they had for each other were simply in a working relationship.

She took in another shallow breath, not sure she was ready to tackle this revelation but not ready for Emma to leave her side quite yet. Instead of answering the question, she asked one of her own. "Have you ever hated me?"

The blonde's eyebrows rose in surprise. It clearly wasn't the response she was expecting. "Yes." Her frown deepened. "When I thought you were lying to me about someone who had been killed, I was furious with you. I wasso sure I knew you, knew who and what you were here, and then evidence came up that proved you'd killed a man here in town. I was so mad I couldn't see straight." She shook her head in dismay. "I should have gone with my gut. I should have stayed by your side instead of listening to Gold and Mary Margaret and David. I knew you were innocent, and then I let them talk me out of something I knew." She gave the hand in hers a gentle squeeze. "I was right. You didn't do it. You were set up, and I…" She glanced away, embarrassed. "I never apologized for not believing in you." She glanced back, cheeks softly colored. "I'm sorry for that, and I'm sorry I doubted your innocence. I know you can't remember, but I just… I want you to know I am sorry."

Regina nodded, giving a small, reassuring smile. "But you did stop hating me? Eventually?"

"Yeah, well, it's hard to hate someone who ends up saving your ass from Peter Pan and then gives you her happy ending so you can take care of her son, and…"

"Our,"Regina emphatically corrected.

Emma looked puzzled. "What?"

"He's our son, Emma," the brunette explained softly. "He's ours, not just mine or just yours." She gave a shrug, wincing at the movement. "I don't know why, but I know I feel very adamant that he's ours."

"Thank you," the blonde replied quietly, quickly ducking her head.

"If my memories do ever return," Regina asked thoughtfully, "won't I also retain the memories I've made since my return from Boston?"

"The others who've lost their memories and gotten them back remember, so I don't see why you wouldn't." Cocking her head, Emma furrowed her brow in question. "Why?"

"Because I don't hate you," Regina answered, tugging on the blonde's arm again to get her to lean closer as her voice's volume lowered. "I'm not sure I could go back to hating you," she almost whispered as Emma came to a stop a few inches away from her.

"I'm going to hurt you," the younger woman said, her voice breathy. She held herself steady with a hand pushed into the bed on one side of Regina's head. The other hand was still in the older woman's grasp. She was carefully holding both of their hands off of Regina's ribs, careful not to agitate her injuries. The position made her arms and shoulders burn with the effort to prevent further damage to the woman in the bed beneath her. "You should let me sit up."

"I wasn't worried about the town or myself or even Henry as I tried to endure to prevent Hades from moving on to another," the brunette whispered, eyes watery as images flashed through her mind of what she had gone through. "I was worried about you."

Emma took in a shuddering breath. "Why," she whispered.

"Because," the older woman swallowed down the lump in her throat, "I couldn't let him hurt you, Emma, and, when he came close, the only thought I had was my need to stop him from touching you, regardless of the cost."

The blonde shook her head. "You could have been killed."

"You matter more to me than my life." Regina locked onto the other woman's eyes with her own, desperate to fully communicate what she was trying to say. "I can't explain it. I realize it makes no logical sense, but you do, and I would do anything to keep you safe, just as I would our son."

It was a breadth of a second before Regina felt Emma's lips upon her own. Soft and slightly chapped, they were nonetheless warm and inviting. Her body tingled as she responded, happily and willingly kissing back. She could taste the coffee still lingering on the other woman's breath and feel the tender care Emma took not to hurt her. She reveled in the safety and security being near this woman gave her, and, in that moment, she admitted to herself that she loved Emma. Really, truly… she loved the blonde, faults and all, and, even though she couldn't remember everything, she felt she would be fine if Emma remained with her.

Of course, she would prefer it if Emma would keep her shoes off the furniture and not eat so many bear claws. Her addiction to coffee was a little annoying. The constant whining for it while they were knee deep in danger in Neverland had nearly made Regina want to wring the younger woman's neck, but, in hindsight, watching the blonde pout over no coffee was a little cute.

It was also cute the way Emma's eyes always seemed to look terrified at the mere mention of returning to the Enchanted Forrest again. Regina couldn't blame her. The last place she wanted to be was back in a land without running water and electricity. Thirty some-odd years was enough, thank you.

Regina pulled back from their kiss, eyes wide. "Oh God," she whispered in a shocked tone.

"Regina, I… I'm so sorry. I didn't… I shouldn't have…"

At the babbling falling from the other woman's lips, Regina rolled her eyes. "Miss Swan, why do you always babble like an idiot whenever you think you've made a mistake?" She smirked. "Must be a family trait, being an idiot."

Emma sat back on the bed, dropping her hands into her lap as she dumbly stared at the other woman. "You… you remember?"

"Yes," Regina replied, smirk growing into a small smile. "I remember."

"You… you remember." Less a question and more a statement this time, Emma's eyes widened as what that meant began to sink in. "I kissed you," she said, eyes growing comically large. "We kissed each other," she was starting to look slightly alarmed, "and you remember."

"Yes, I do believe that is the play-by-play of the events that just unfolded." Regina cocked an eyebrow.

"Oh. My. God." The brunette took a moment to note how okay she was taking this news versus the younger woman, who seemed to be stuck in a loop. "Our kiss broke your curse."

Regina nodded, eyebrow still raised. "Yes."

"But… but the kind of curse you had can only be broken by that potion Blue has or by… by…" She looked up, eyes reminiscent of a lost puppy dog. "True Love's Kiss?"

This was a question, and, despite herself, Regina had to laugh at how pathetically, adorably confused the blonde looked. "Yes," she replied, the chuckle still in her voice. "Are you going to be alright?"

"I… I…" Emma closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Slowly letting it out, she opened her eyes again and finally settled her nerves as her gaze caught the amused eyes of the older woman. "You're not really pissed off about this?"

Regina shrugged and winced yet again. "The way I see this, Emma, you took my happy ending away, so it's only fitting that you provide me with a new one."

The sheriff laughed. "Can't argue with that logic." She reached out to take the brunette's hand again. "What do we tell people?"

"The truth. What else?" Regina's smile faded a touch. "It won't be easy."

"Such is my life," Emma replied with a shrug of her own. "We should probably tell the kid first."

"Tell me what?" The groggy voice of their son broke them out of their moment. Turning, they saw him push himself unsteadily up to a sitting position. "What's going on?" He blinked a few times. "Mom?" His eyes widened. "You're awake!"

Bounding from the cot, he just barely caught himself before throwing all of his weight down to hug her. Instead, he caught himself on the bedrail and grinned down at her. "You're awake!"

"Yes, my little prince, I'm awake." She gave him a warm smile. "You need a shower, Henry," she said as she made a face, turning to glace at Emma. "You're right. He is a little ripe."

"Hey, you try sleeping in the hospital for three days straight and see how good you smell," he replied with an eye roll much like is older mother's. "How do you feel?"

"Not well," she answered honestly. "I'm not sure of the extent of the damage, but I presume it's severe." She reached up with her free hand to run her fingers over his worried expression. "I'll be fine, Henry. I'll just have to rest for a little while."

"I thought you were going to die." He leaned into her touch, clearly trying to hold himself together.

She flinched, hating how much she had hurt him even when trying not to. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?" He sounded so young, much more like the little boy who once asked to sleep in the big bed because of the loud thunderstorms than the young man who had faced off with the likes of Peter Pan.

"Of course, Henry. I promised you I'd never leave you again, and I meant it." She cupped his face with her hand. "I'm not leaving you."

He was quiet for a moment before something sparked in his eyes. "When?" He tilted his head, eyes narrowing. "When did you tell me that?"

"Just before I kissed you and broke the second curse," she replied, smile turning a touch mischievous.

His eyes widened and his smile returned. "You remember!" Suddenly, his features darkened, and he turned to his other mother. "Right? You didn't just tell her about that, did you?"

Emma smiled at him, shaking her head no. His face lit up again as he turned back to Regina. "So you remember everything?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"And… and you don't hate us for not helping you break the curse on you?"

"No, dear."

"And you remember everything, even… even Robin?"

"Yes, Henry. I remember."

"Does that mean you hate Emma again?"

She chuckled. "No, I don't hate Emma again." She sighed. "I'm not sure if I ever really did, truthfully."

He nodded, pleased with that answer. "I'm glad. I hate it when you two fight." He glanced between them, a question clearly forming. Finally, it hit him, and his eyes widened again. "Wait a minute. How did you break your curse?"

"I didn't." Regina turned to look at Emma. "She did."

Henry followed her eyes, turning to his younger mother. "You did, Mom? You broke the curse?" He cocked an eyebrow. "How?"

"Well," Emma squirmed, "I… um… I might have kissed her…" She glanced away, cheeks reddening.

"You kissed her?" He stepped back from the bed so he could look at both of them. "You two kissed, and then Mom got her memories back?" At Regina's affirmative nod, his smile only grew. "So… what you're telling me here is the curse was broken with True Love's Kiss?"

Emma glanced awkwardly around the room, mumbling a yes to his answer.

Henry's voice was starting to grow louder with each passing moment. "So that means you two love each other," his eyes sparkled, "a lot, and that means Emma didn't take your happiness away, Mom, and that means," he was clearly working up to something, "we can be a family, and we can live together and do family stuff together and Mom can yell at you, Ma, when you come home and forget to take your boots off at the front door, and Ma can act all irritated when Mom asks someone to take the trash out, and we can go to the park together and go do…"

"Henry," Regina was getting tired just watching him as he practically danced around the small space beside her bed. "One thing at a time, dear."

"Wait… what?" He stopped mid dance move. "What do you mean?"

"Emma and I are still trying to… adjust. I just recovered my memories. I still need to recuperate from my encounter with Hades, and there's the little matter of dealing with the rest of the town when they find out how my curse was broken."

"Yeah, kid, it's not really an insta-family situation." At his crestfallen expression, Emma quickly added, "But I'd like to eventually get there if your mom does." She turned to look at the brunette, who looked relieved yet disappointed. "Would you?"

"Yes," Regina replied around a yawn.

"Okay, kid, your mom's tired, and you need a bath. How about we go home and shower? We can come back after lunch." Emma began to move from the bed but was stopped by a hand on her arm. She turned in question to find an expectant look greeting her. It took a moment but then she leaned in, giving Regina a gentle kiss. "We'll be back soon."

The brunette yawned again. "I know."

"Ewww," Henry said in mock disgust. "It's so gross when your parents kiss in front of you."

"Come give me a kiss goodbye, Henry," Regina demanded with a chuckle, "and don't act as though you aren't happy to see us kissing instead of trying to kill each other."

He leaned in, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "When you put it that way, yeah." He stood up again, eyes twinkling. "Still gross, though."

"Go shower," she commanded, her own eyes sparkling. "I love you, Henry."

"Love you, too, Mom, and Emma loves you, too." He looked between them and shrugged at their matching horrified expressions. "What? It's not like you two are going to say it to each other anytime soon." With a wave goodbye, he was out the door.

Emma paused before she stepped out, calling out in a low voice. "Hey, what the kid said."

Regina nodded, smiling gently. "Yes, what our son said."

With a final look, the blonde was out the door, leaving Regina to rest and think over the past few months in the context of her memories' return. She sighed. It was going to be a very long recovery time, she could already tell.

Chapter Text

The strangest thing to Regina were the visitors.

Unsurprisingly, Mary Margaret had been the first. When Emma and Henry had shown up at the apartment, she'd made a beeline straight to see Regina before anyone else could get to her.

Regina couldn't decide what was worse, the broken bones and burns or the fact she was trapped in a room with Mary Margaret with no plausible way of escaping without hurting herself more. She immediately knew being aloof would do her no good in getting rid of her unwanted visitor.

Mary Margaret had come bearing two gifts, a cup of coffee and pastry, which indicated she planned to stay for a while.

"Henry tells me you remember," the younger woman said with a small smile on her face.

"Yes," Regina said with an eye roll. "Why are you here?"

"I thought you might like something other than the food they serve here. I know it's probably not up to your standards," her visitor replied as she pulled over the side table to cover Regina's lap and placed the drink and pastry on it for her, "but I picked up a turnover and a cup of coffee from Granny's for you."

Eyeing it suspiciously, Regina tried to dig up the irritation and annoyance she'd held for the other woman before Boston, but she simply couldn't find exactly what she was looking for. Yes, she still held hurt from their years of history, and, yes, she still thought the other woman and her husband were both idiots, but the time since Boston had shown Regina a different side of Mary Margaret.

Their brief interactions as Mayor and Resident and Henry's Mother and Henry's sudo-Grandmother had led to friendly terms between them. That coupled with their experiences between Neverland and Marian showing up forced Regina to recognize Mary Margaret as a person and not just a target for her rage.

She wanted to be angry. Her mind flashed through all the reasons she justifiably should be angry, but it wasn't there. The previous weeks had soften her opinion considerably toward Mary Margaret, and she had to admit she rather preferred the relationship between them without the baggage. It had been light, genial, and, well, friendly.

Nothing would make up for all the history between them, of course, but Regina found that, having experienced what it was like to not constantly fight all the time, she had a desire to at least recapture some of the serenity now that the baggage had returned.

Perhaps it was time for some peace.

"Thank you," she said with a small nod of approval, which caused the pixie haired woman's face to light up. "That was very thoughtful of you." She picked the pastry up, took a small bite, and smirked. "Apple?"

"It's your favorite," the other woman confirmed with a smirk of her own. "I asked what the special for lunch was today thinking they'd have your favorite, but its meatloaf."

"My favorite?" Regina set the partially eaten sweet down and took a sip of coffee. "And what do you suppose that would be?"

Mary Margaret scrunched her face up, smiling brightly. "Is it too soon to say blackened sole?"

At that, Regina honestly laughed. "So Emma and Henry told you my memories have returned?"

"Yeah, Henry was very excited." Pulling up the chair Emma had been sleeping in, Mary Margaret took a seat beside the bed. "He said he couldn't tell me how, exactly, you'd gotten them back, and Emma darted into the shower before I could ask her, but I assume you'll eventually tell us."

The older woman cocked an eyebrow. "What makes you so sure?"

"Well, Hook's out of the picture, and…" Mary Margret said, her voice trailing as she quietly considered some kind of list she'd clearly been putting together in her mind for quite some time. She shook her head. "You and Emma have spent almost every waking moment together you possible could since you came back from Boston. You can't tell me it was all for Henry, and then she goes off with Gold, without telling us why, and tries to save you from the God of the Underworld, so," she shrugged, "I'm sure you'll eventually get around to telling me something I probably don't want to hear, and," she raised her eyebrows, mouth forming a tight line, "I'm sure you'll enjoy every second of it."

Regina took another slow sip of her coffee as she reflected on how she was going to reply to that. Before she probably would have confirmed the suspicion of enjoying it with a smirk and a gleam in her eye. Now? Now, she still wanted to, but she also had another personality in her head telling her Mary Margaret is a nice person who has been extremely helpful with Henry and very supportive of her campaign to be mayor again.

She sighed, both irritated at her duel personality issue and tired of the back and forth she always has with Snow. "Would it make you feel any better to know," she started in a wary voice, "that I won't enjoy it as much as I probably would have before Boston?"

"Maybe a little," Mary Margaret said with a thoughtful look on her face. "At least I know it's possible for you not to hate me."

"Maybe because that's how you programmed me?" At the confused look shot at her, the older woman rolled her eyes again. "The person who cast the curse is the person the curse shapes the results for. You cast the second curse, and, apparently, you were hoping everything would be like it was after the first curse was broken. However, when someone crosses the town line, our memories are still wiped." She pulled a face at her Captain Obvious statement. "Clearly." She motioned at herself. "The resulting personality is whatever the cursed personality of that individual would have been."

"So," the younger woman drew the word out. "The helpful mayor, caring mother, and person who didn't hate everyone wasn't you at all? It was just some kind of interpretation of who I wanted you to be?" She shook her head vigorously in the negative. "I don't believe that, Regina. I've seen that version of you before, back before… everything. The person you were after Boston was still you."

"It's just the me that would have been if I'd never married your father and had grown up in Storybrooke instead of the Enchanted Forest," Regina added with another sigh. "It was a less conflicted, less angry me," she said more to herself. She looked around the room to give them both a mental break before turning back to her visitor. "You really see me as some kind of soft hearted, caring person? Even after all of this time and everything that's happened between us?"

"Because you are. I meant it when I said you feel things deeply, and, when you love, you love with everything you have." Mary Margaret frowned, glancing down to where her hands were clasped together in her lap. "But that also means when you're hurt, it cuts you very deeply, and," she looked up, catching the other woman's eyes, "I accepted a long time ago I hurt you deeply, even though I didn't mean to."

"You killed my mother," the words were out before Regina knew they were coming. The thought was always present in her mind whenever she was around Mary Margaret, and, once again, the pain medication was working against her. She forced her lips together drawing them into a line as she narrowed her eyes. "But, we've already addressed that."

"Yes, we have." The younger woman sighed. "Do you think we'll ever get past any of this, or are we going to just continue to go in this circle?"

"I don't know." Regina turned to look out the window, noting how bright blue the sky was and how the cheery scene outside was the complete opposite of the scene inside. She took in a careful deep breath. "I'm trying to be a better person. It's not always… easy for me."

"I know, and I want to help you in any way I can. I can never make up for what I've done to you, but, Regina," reaching out, Mary Margaret placed a hand over the other woman's, "we've both done terrible things to each other. Our families don't deserve to have to keep living in the middle of our war, do they?"

"No." The older woman met Mary Margaret's eyes again. "No, they don't, but I can't promise to be your friend, and I can't promise that I won't always harbor resentment toward you."

"Believe me, Regina," the younger woman's voice was dry and a touch calloused, "the feeling is mutual." She withdrew her hand and stood up, placing the chair back in its place. "I left David alone with the baby, and I still need to go to the store while I'm out. He's normally fine for a couple of hours, but, after that, he gets fussy."

"The baby," Regina asked, easily allowing their conversation to shift.

"No, David," Mary Margret replied with a smirk. "If you need anything, let us know. I assume Emma is probably not going to leave your side any time soon, so I'll bring by some dinner tonight. What would you like? A salad?"

"You don't… Yes," Regina said in resignation, realizing denying the offer wouldn't get her anywhere. "That would be fine, thank you."

"Okay, I'll do that. Henry has to go back to school tomorrow. He was out Friday, so I guess he'll stay with us, which is fine. We'll made sure he does his homework before he comes by to see you."

"Thank you. I would prefer that." Giving a nod of thanks, she watched the return nod as Mary Margaret walked through door.

Part of her was glad the encounter was over. Another part of her was leery of what was going to come of the exchange. Of course, there was nothing to be done with it now, and she was tired, so Regina let it go and allowed herself to fall asleep.


"Man, it took me a long time to find you."

Regina's eyes flew open and she looked around, unable to find the source of the voice, but she recognized it. "Pain?"

"Yup," the creature confirmed as he awkwardly climbed up onto the foot of her bed. "Some creep sealed up the portal out of the mines. It took me two days to get out of there, and then it took me another day to find you without people seeing me, but, uh," he gave a half-hearted apologetic face, "someone might have seen me. It's cool though. I think he was drunk, so he probably thought I was a hallucination or something." He frowned in thought. "He kind of looked like a pirate. You got pirates here?"

"Only one," she replied dryly. "Not to change the subject, but why are you here?"

"Oh, right!" His tail flicked back and forth in an agitated manner. "I wanted to make sure you were okay before I went back."

"Is that so?" She actually believed him. Despite his tendency towards violence, she had started to develop a grudging like for the creature. "Well, as you can see, I'm alive."

"Yeah, it's more than I can say for the Boss," he replied with a sad sigh. "I'm going to miss him. He was awesome at being a bad guy, but it was pretty cool watching you rip his heart out. How did you do that anyway? Oh! AND," he was grinning now, all pointed teeth and shimmering eyes, "thanks for lasting over fifteen minutes. I've got more bugs than I know what to do with now."

She rolled her eyes. "Happy to be of assistance." She shook her head in amusement. "As to your question, I've had the ability to remove hearts for years."

"But you didn't have any magic, and the Boss put a lot of protection enchantments on his heart. It was like the Fort Knox of hearts." Pain looked at her appraisingly. "I once saw the Dark One himself try to yank out the Boss's heart, and he couldn't do it, so how did you do it? I've got to ask. It's been bugging me."

"Well," she took in a deep breath, ignoring the pain, "the truth is I did have some magic when Hades captured me, but I refused to let him know thus endanger everyone else in the town."

Pain looked even more impressed. "Dark Magic, right?"

"Light Magic, actually," she corrected with a smirk. "I have access to both."

"Seriously?" His tail flicked thoughtfully again. "That's pretty rare. You know that, right, your Majesty?"

"Regina is just fine, thank you," she corrected him. "And, yes, I'm aware it's very unusual."

"So, what? You used Light Magic to take the Boss's heart? No way!" He shook his head, holding a claw up in protest. "Light Magic wouldn't let you do that, and Hades used Dark Magic protection spells on himself, so Dark Magic wouldn't be able to get through to his heart."

She opened her mouth to answer and then paused in thought. The little creature had a good point. How had she managed to pull Hades heart from his chest if all that were true? She furrowed her brow in thought. "Perhaps the two merged somehow?"

"That'd be a first," Pain replied, eyes narrowing. "Isn't that like antimatter and regular matter touching? Wouldn't stuff blow up if they got all mixed together like that?"

Her eyes widened a touch. "How do you even know about quantum mechanics?"

He grinned cheekily at her. "Hey, I'm educated. I know stuff. I've been around for a while. I know how things work. Just because I'm small, hairy, and have a cool looking tail doesn't mean I don't have a brain, too." He pointed at his head for emphasis.

"My apologies, Pain," Regina said with a chuckle. "I didn't mean to offend your intelligence."

Nodding, he dropped his hand and scooted a little further up the bed, settling just at the fingertips of her left hand. Reaching out, he ran a claw gently over the bruising of her wrist. "He really did a number on you, didn't he?"

She watched his claw, holding back the shudder it gave her to feel it lightly scratching over her skin. "Would you believe I've had worse?"

"From you? Yup." He looked up at her again. "So, uh, I'm the one that gave your blonde girl the key."

She nodded. "And I thank you for that. You saved all our lives."

"Yeah, well, here's the deal," he replied in a cautious, uncertain voice, "the guys in the Underworld don't really like it when one of their own does something that gets their Boss killed."

"I could see where that might be something they wouldn't appreciate," she said, sensing where this was going.

"Right, so, if I go back, they, um, well…" His face fell, eyes growing wide with worry. "They're probably going to do really bad things to me for eternity."

Tentatively, she reached out and placed her hand on top of his furry little head. Much to her surprise, he was soft to the touch, though a bit greasy. "You need a bath, Pain. You're filthy."

"Way to kick a man when he's down, your Maj… Regina." His tail flicked unhappily, but he didn't pull away from her touch.

"If you're going to stay around me, then you're going to have to maintain some level of cleanliness, and, while we're at it," she pulled her hand back and resettled on the bed, "I'm the mayor of this town, not the queen. I'm also not a villain. At least, I'm not anymore, so, if you think that, by being around me, you'll be able to indulge in your violent tendencies, you're very wrong. I'm reformed."

"Yeah, I know. I did my research when the Boss was trying to figure out a way to get to Rumple. I'm totally familiar with your history, and I got this. I can be a not bad guy, too." He gave her a hopeful smile.

"A 'not bad guy'? Well, that's one way to put it." She narrowed her eyes. "And, if you side with Gold at any point, I'll make you wish you'd never remained here."

"I kind of figured you'd tell me that." He scratched at the back of his head. "Does this mean I can stay? Because, if I can't, I have to go back, and the new Boss is a little scary."

She cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. "Scarier than Hades?"

"It's Chaos," he answered with a wince. "She was crazy before the promotion. Now?" He shuddered. "It's a good thing she doesn't have anything against you, that's all I'm saying."

She considered that for a moment. Chaos as the God of the Underworld? Well, better than her having to take it on. She shrugged. "Fair enough. You'll have to eventually fend for yourself. I can't always take care of you."

"Uh, you can't take care of me now, your Majesty." He gave her a toothy grin at the scowl he received. "But I promise I can be useful, and I can do stuff."

She gave him a curious glare. "Like?"

"Well, um, I'm good at finding things, and I can dig holes really well." He held up his claws and wiggled them. "And I'm good at, uh, destroying things. I'm really good at destroying things. Also! I can build stuff. I built that entire dungeon you were in." He smiled proudly.

She winced at the memory. "Perhaps you can join the city's construction crew."

"Oh! Yeah, I can do that." He whipped his head around to stare at the door. "Someone's coming! What do I do?" He began to panic, frantically looking around for a good hiding spot.

She stopped him with her hand, placing it back upon his head and turned in time to see Emma and Henry step into the room. "Meet Pain," she said as she nodded toward the little creature. "He gave Emma the key that freed me, took care of me when I was imprisoned, and he needs sanctuary."

"Does this mean we're going to have a creepy looking dog-creature-thing living with us now?" Emma eyed him tiredly as she walked over to her chair, a bag from Granny's in her hand.

"I'm a demon, thank you," Pain snipped back and immediately looked at Regina in apology, who only smirked at Emma's eye roll.

"A demon? An actual demon?" Henry stepped closer, reaching out to touch Pain near his mother's hand. "You kind of feel like a cat."

"I am not a cat," the creature huffed. "I am a terrifying demon. My name is Pain, and it is Pain for a reason. I am the thing that goes bump in the night," he declared dramatically, trying to puff himself up to seem more intimidating.

Henry shrugged. "So is my mom, but she's still my mom, and you still kind of look like a cat." He pulled his hand back and wiped it on his jeans. "And you need a bath."

Regina chuckled, watching Henry take a seat on the cot. "Are you certain you want to stay with me," she asked Pain, amusement dancing in her eyes.

"Still better than going back to Chaos," he answered, stepping out of her hold and settling at the foot of her bed. "You know, your Majesty, it isn't as if there are a lot of places to take a bath in the Underworld or wherever Hades decided to set up shop."

"Oh, don't be so touchy, dear. I'm sure that, when Henry goes to his grandparents' tonight to get ready for school tomorrow, you can follow along and take a bath there." She grinned at Emma, who had started to protest. "Mary Margaret assured me when she came to visit earlier that she'd do whatever she could to help, and allowing Pain to bathe would certainly be helpful."

"I'm sure she's going to love having a demon living in her house," Emma muttered under her breath.

"Probably about as much as having an Evil Queen for daughter-in-law," Regina shot back with a smug grin. "She'll get over it."

Emma chuckled. "You're never not going to terrorize her, are you?"

"No, and the day I do, take me to be checked out because something is wrong," the brunette answered happily. "Pain," she turned to the creature, only to find he was asleep. "Well, I suppose it's better than having a dog."

"This is way better than having a dog," Henry confirmed with a grin. "How many guys can say they have a demon for a pet?"

"He's not a pet, Henry," his mother corrected sharply. "He did save my life. He's our guest, and, like me, he's going to try to be better. We would all do well to keep that in mind."

"Sorry," he muttered, ducking his head. "So, I guess this is it?" He glanced around at everyone in the room.

From around her mouthful of burger, Emma asked, "What is it?"

Henry shrugged. "Our family. Right? This is it?" He motioned around the room to emphasize his point. "This is going to be our family now, unless," he gave his mothers a sideways look, "you two decide to give me a little brother or little sister."

Emma choked on her food and Regina's face paled. "Henry," the blonde held a hand up and tried to force air into her lungs, "Kid, you can't say stuff like that without warning."

"I'm just saying I'd be good with that, and I would help do stuff like change diapers." He looked confused.

"Henry," Regina began, saving Emma from trying to talk through her gasps for air, "what did we tell you about not jumping too far into the future regarding our lives?"

"Oh, come on, Mom! You and Ma broke your curse with True Love's Kiss. Why wouldn't you two eventually get married? And, I mean, I know how much you like babies, and I've always wanted to be a big brother." He grinned. "I'd make an awesome big brother, so why not talk about stuff like that? What's wrong with wanting us to settle down now that the town isn't in trouble… again?"

She sighed. He had a point. "We just don't want to be rushed, dear. Alright?"

"Okay, I guess." He shrugged again. "But, when you get out of here, Emma's coming home with us, right?"

Regina frowned. "Why would she?"

"Because you're still going to need help with some stuff, and who else is going to do it, or do you want me to see you naked if you fall in the shower and can't get up?" He raised an eyebrow in dare.

Emma laughed at Regina's balk at the very notion. "The kid's got a point. I can stay in the guest room until you're well enough to be left alone."

"Fine," Regina agreed, giving in quickly because, in truth, she wanted Emma there.

Henry fist pumped in triumph and then pulled his burger from the sack on Emma's lap. "So, what's Grandma bringing for dinner?"

"Salad," his older mother replied, smirking at the whine from the blonde.

Henry chuckled, watching his mothers interact as he happily ate.

Chapter Text

"Okay," Emma knocked as she entered Regina's bedroom, "the doctor said we have to make sure to change the bandages on your back at least three times a day." She stopped at the side of the queen sized bed and looked down at the brunette, who was staring up at the ceiling, refusing to make eye contact. "Are you ready?"

"I don't understand why we can't hire a part-time nurse to do this," Regina grumbled, still staring straight at the ceiling.

"Because I can do it, Regina, and it's not like I have a lot going on at work. As you well know, unless there's some new storybook villain around, the town has less than a 1% crime rate. The last time I took someone to jail, it was Ruby for chewing up Archie's flowerbed during the last full moon." The blonde sighed. They'd been having this same argument since before Regina was released from the hospital earlier that day.

The nurse had shown Emma what to do that morning with the first bandage changing of the day, but Emma had a difficult time actually seeing anything because Regina kept squirming. Now that they were back at the mansion, it was time to actually put her knowledge to the test, and it looked as if the older woman wasn't going to make it easy.

"Come on, Regina, I promise I won't hurt you, and they have to be changed." She crossed her arms and stared down, waiting.

"I've already told you I can take care of my back myself. I don't need your help, Miss Swan," the brunette snapped in reply, turning her head away. "You may go."

"Okay, first of all," Emma took in a deep, calming breath, "I am not your servant. You can't just dismiss me like that, your Highness. Second of all," she could feel the knot forming in her back from the stress of this situation, "I'm sure you probably could take care of your back by yourself, but it would be super hard to do and super painful because of your ribs. Why not let me help you?"

Regina was quiet for a long time, eyes unfocused. Slowly, she breathed in, seeming to come back from wherever she had been. "I'm unaccustomed to receiving help for such things," she replied quietly.

Emma winced, dropping her hands to her side. No one should be accustomed to being that alone. "Well, get used to it because I'm not going anywhere, and, when someone I care for is hurt, I help them, so get your ass out of bed so we can go take care of your back."

It took a few slow movements and a lot of grunting and huffing, but Regina finally pushed herself out of bed, refusing the blonde's offered hand. She moved with purposeful footsteps to the master bathroom and took a seat on her vanity's stool, paying careful attention to be far enough into the middle of the room to give the other woman sufficient space to work. "I warn you that it may appear rather… gruesome," she said in a cold voice as her eyes tracked Emma's movements around the bathroom.

"Yeah, I sort of saw it this morning," Emma commented as she pulled out supplies. "I thought Pain healed you?"

"He did, but healing potions, like most healing spells, can only do so much. After that, the damage simply has to heal on its own." Licking at her dry lips, Regina allowed Emma to help her remove the button down sleep shirt she was wearing to reveal her bandaged torso. "You're not going to wear gloves?"

"Why? You afraid I have something contagious?" Rolling her eyes, Emma began to gently remove the bandages. "I assure you I'm virus free." She stopped and leaned back from her kneeling position on the floor to give the older woman a cheeky grin. "I even checked myself for rabies after that little run in with Walsh."

"How reassuring," Regina replied dryly, "but I was actually concerned for your health. Most people would wear gloves when dealing with my wounds."

Realizing the underlying issue, the younger woman let out an 'Oh' in a hushed tone. Giving a small shake of her head, she went back to work. "No, Regina, I'm not afraid to touch you." She scooted around to fully face the other woman's back both to see what she was doing and to give Regina at least a modicum of privacy. "I think this last part might sting a little. It looks like the bandages are stuck. I'm sorry ahead of time."

Regina didn't so much as flinch as the final bits of covering were removed, though it had been far more painful than a sting. Instead, she sat up straighter and squared her shoulders, keeping her eyes facing forward. "How is it?"

Emma's eyes scanned over the wounds. She knew it had been bad. She hadn't realized the real extent. Despite herself, she could feel the tears stinging her eyes. Regina's back was covered in partially healed lash marks. They crisscrossed her skin, leaving a cruel looking checkerboard pattern. She hurt forRegina.

Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she answered hoarsely, "Pretty bad."

"Yes, well, I knew that already." Regina sounded unemotional, as if she were completely mentally detached from her current state. "Be sure to clean the wounds with the antiseptic first, then apply the salve. It's best to go with the grain of each lash mark as best you can. I realize that may be a tad difficult considering how many there are. Also, be sure to…"

Emma's eyes continued to go over the lash marks. They fell to faint lines hidden under the fresh red marks. She took in a sharp breath as she stared at them. "Regina," she called out, one thought suddenly on her mind.

The brunette ignored her. "Also, be sure to spread the salve on as evenly as possible. Later, once the wounds are no longer raw, we'll need to use…"

"Regina." This time Emma raised her voice, cutting the other woman off. From her position on the floor, she could just see the other woman from the shoulders up in the mirror, and she turned to look the reflection in the eyes. "How many times have you had to do this?"

"Direct someone who is incompetent as to how to properly do something?" The brunette scoffed. Even in her bruised and beaten state and even though she was almost completely bare in front of the younger woman, Regina still somehow managed to come off as above reproach. "Far too often, Miss Swan."

Emma's frown deepened. "Your mother…"

"Is dead, so there's no reason to rehash anything regarding her now, is there?" The brunette let out an intentionally overly dramatic sigh. "Are you going to tend to my wounds, or shall I do it?"

Shaking her head in disbelief, Emma slowly reached forward to gently touch an old wound, now nothing but a faint scar behind the harsh red streaks running over the darker woman's skin. "Why?"

It was clear to what the younger woman was referring. Regina could hear all the whys in that one word, and she didn't want to answer a single one. She didn't want to think on why her mother had beaten her, why she had been forced to remain in such an abusive situation rather than running, why no one had come to her aide when it was clear she was being so horribly abused, nor why she grew up believing she deserved such severe punishments. She didn't want to think on why. She wanted to forget the whys, and she had for a time, but that time had passed. She realized now she would always have to remember why. There was no real escape for who and what she was. She recognized that now.

Despite herself, her body shuddered, and her skin burned where Emma was touching her. She knew what was there. She remembered when she'd received that particular beating. She had no desire to relive a single moment of it.

It no longer mattered. That was in the past in a different time and a very different place. However, she accepted she'd have to say something or risk the subject being brought up again in the future.

"Children are meant to behave," Regina replied coolly, jaw flexing with the effort not to yell. "And there are consequences to actions." She raised her chin defiantly, eyes dead of emotion as she stared at their reflection.

Emma slowly shook her head. "No, Regina." She furrowed her brow, anger starting to slide slowly into her eyes. "No child deserves to be beaten like that." She took in a breath, body going rigid with her outrage. "That's not how it works. You don't treat people like that, especially children."

It was the anger on her behalf that caused Regina's cold resolve to break. She had been expecting pity or sympathy. That's what normally happened when people found out. At least, before she was Queen, that was the reaction. After she was Queen, very few knew, and those who did kept it to themselves, lest they risk being killed or worse by the Queen. Regina would not stand for pity to be thrown her way. She didn't need pity. That was a weakness, and she was not weak.

However, anger was never in the mix, especially not anger on her behalf. Those who found out later assumed she fully deserved whatever painful thing happened to her. Those who knew while it was happening simply stood by and allowed it, not wanting to help because they feared for their own safety and only offering comfort after the fact.

It was Emma's anger that made Regina's own anger dissolve, and she looked away as the heat rose up her face. She wasn't embarrassed; she was flustered. Anger on her behalf was a foreign concept to her. It made her feel unsure.

"It was a long time ago," she replied quietly, voice soft.

"That doesn't matter, Regina. It still happened." Emma could feel herself getting angrier by the moment. Her concern for the other woman intensifying with the swirl of other emotions rising up in her. She was angry no one helped the brunette when she was a young girl so she wasn't hurt like this. She was angry it kept happening. She was angry Regina was once again having to suffer because she was a pawn in someone else's game. She was angry at everyone and everything that had ever hurt Regina because Regina hadn't deserved in the beginning. In the beginning, all she'd wanted was to be loved. That much Emma knew based on her conversations with Mary Margaret over the years.

It was wrong on so many levels, and it was not okay how easily Regina tolerated the abuse she'd been put through. No one should be so accustomed to being used, hurt, and left alone that they feel more uncomfortable being taken care of than being left hurt and broken on the floor.

Regina's voice brought her back from her mental rant. "Emma," the other woman said in a pant. "What have you done?"

The blonde snapped her eyes to older woman's back and gasped. It was perfect. There wasn't a mark. "I… I don't," she ran her hand lightly over the perfectly even skin. "I don't know how…"

"You healed me?" Regina slowly moved, taking in a deep breath and exhaling with ease. "My ribs feel better, too." Standing in nothing but her silken pajama bottoms, Regina stared at herself in the mirror. "You have to put it back, Emma."

"What? Put what back?" Panic and confusion were warring with each other in Emma's mind. What had just happened?

"My scar." The brunette pointed to her face, her lip and nose on the right side as perfect as the left. "I've had it for too long. I don't recognize myself without it. You have to put it back."

"I got rid of your scar?" The blonde stood in a fluid motion, physically turning Regina to face her so she could examine the other woman's face for herself. The bruises, the cuts, and the scrapes were all gone, and so was the distinctive scar on the older woman's lip. "No," she blinked wide eyes as she stared. "How?"

"Light magic is extremely effective at healing. Whatever you were thinking about when you focused your magic to heal me must have prompted your magic to go further and heal older physical wounds as well." Regina closed her eyes, taking a moment to think over all the scars on her body. She glanced down, searching for them but found nothing. "I don't have a single scar," she turned around to show her back again, "Do I?"

Emma stared hard, searching. "No," her voice cracked. "You don't, but, Regina, I wasn't consciously trying to heal you. I didn't even know I could, so how am I supposed to put a scar back on you, and why would you want it back?"

"Not all scars are from negative situations," the brunette answered as she reached down to pick her shirt up. She slowly slid it in place, grimacing at the feel of the cold material on her heated skin. "The scar on my lip and nose are from something I prefer to remember." She turned around, eyes flickering with a touch of suppressed pleading. "Will you at least try?"

"If that's what you really want, I guess. What should I do?" Emma was clueless. She watched as Regina reached down and took her left hand placing on her face where the scar had been.

"Remember what I looked like before, focus, and let your magic do the rest. It should come naturally." The brunette's eyes were piercing as she held Emma's gaze. "Try."

Still not really understanding why Regina wanted this but nonetheless willing to try for the other woman, Emma closed her eyes and pictured Regina in her mind's eye as she had looked before Hades. When she opened her eyes and dropped her hand, she couldn't believe what she saw. The scars were back, and, oddly, she felt better for seeing Regina with the imperfection than a second before with perfectly unmarred skin. Somehow, thisversion of Regina felt right; it felt more real. She felt…

"Perfect," Emma breathed, a smile pulling at her lips. She nodded, eyes twinkling. "I've always liked that scar."

Cocking an eyebrow, Regina smirked. "Is that so?" She leaned in just a hair. "Any particular reason?"

"It makes you look like a badass, which," the blonde replied, her smile pulling just a touch wider, "I find very attractive."

"I'll keep that in mind," the brunette purred. Her eyes danced with mischief. "Henry is staying at his grandparents' tonight. When do you have to go back to work?"

"I don't. I took a half day," Emma stepped back, "And I think I know where you're going with this, but how about we just cuddle?"

Regina rolled her eyes. "You can't be serious?"

"Like a heart attack," the blonde replied. "I don't want us to rush into anything, I don't want to not be around you right now, and I definitely do want an excuse to hold you just so know you're okay, and not because youneed to be held. So, you know," she shrugged nonchalantly, "do me a solid and let me hold you. Maybe even let me to kiss you?"

"Do you a solid?" Narrowing her eyes, Regina chuckled. "I have two preteen boys living in my house." She did her best to sound off put by the entire thing, but her eyes said she very much wanted the same thing as Emma. "Well, if you absolutely insist on being clingy, I won't stop you. It's the least I can do for you healing me, after all."

The younger woman grinned. "Right, the least you could do," she agreed with an adorably dorky nod of her head.

"And," the brunette added, a chuckle seeping into her voice, "you don't have to ask to kiss me, Emma. You may kiss me whenever you'd like so long as it's not wildly inappropriate."

The blonde's grin beamed. "Noted." With a swift movement, she reach out and pulled Regina in, kissing her deeply. "I'm going to go change. I'll be back in a few, okay?"

It took a moment for the other woman to recover, her voice still a bit breathy. "Okay."

Emma was out the bathroom door a second later, leaving a very worked up and amused brunette behind.

Regina took a moment to strip and really examine her body. It looked completely untouched. Except for the scar she'd demanded Emma return, her body was absolutely perfect. It was mind boggling. She'd heard of healers who could repair old damage, but she'd never seen anything quite like what had just happened to her. Once again, Emma Swan had amazed her.

This time, she was thankful for the surprise. None of the other scars were ones she would have ever kept if given the chance. Having them whisked away was its own form of a new start, and she was happy to take it.

Deciding it was an excellent time to shower and get the stench of the hospital off of her, she turned the water on to warm and waved a hand to put fresh bed sheets on her bed as she walked across her bedroom to her closet to gather fresh night clothes.

It wasn't until she stepped into the shower and closed the glass door behind her that it struck her at how powerful the feelings of protection must have been for Emma to manage that level of healing, and, in that moment, she felt both terrified and thrilled. Finally, someone was really, truly on her side without strings attached.

Regina hadn't felt this way since Daniel.

It felt good. It felt right. If felt… fragile.

She cried as the shower beat down on her because anything so fragile could easily break, and she wasn't sure she could handle losing another person or having her heart broken again. She wasn't sure she could continue to be that resilient.

Chapter Text

Emma felt exuberant. Between the rush she always felt when she used her magic and the kiss she'd laid on Regina before skipping out of the room, she felt high. It was a unique feeling, which quickly dissipated as she skipped down the stairs and came face-to-face with the reminder of Regina's kidnapping.

The destruction left behind by Hades was in the first stages of repair. Thanks to a simple spell, Emma had managed to construct a barrier to prevent wind, water, and unwanted critters from entering the house, and a tarp covered the front to allow for privacy. Marco had promised to begin repairs as soon as all the needed supplies were gathered, but that didn't make Emma feel better at seeing how shattered and utterly destroyed the usually picture perfect face of the mansion was.

In all the time she'd been in Storybrooke, she'd never once seen the mansion's façade anything but pristine. Now it was in tatters, a visible reminder of everything that had happened to the owner of the house.

She frowned deeply. She should be happy Regina was alive, safe, and still wanted to be around her now that her memories had returned. Instead, Emma was suddenly struck with fear. Good things never lasted very long in her life, and, when they seemed to, there were always strings attached.

It would only be a matter of time before something else happened to test both of them, and then what? Would Regina revert to pushing everyone away? Would Emma decide to run again? Would one of them die? They'd both come close many times before.

Slowly, the sheriff turned to walk down the stairs and away from her change of clothes. Her eyes ran over the damage once again, taking in all in and feeling both angry and frustrated. It bubbled up within her. This house, despite the fact it had never been very welcoming to her up until recently, was her son's home, and it was Regina's home.

It was supposed to be a place in which both of them felt safe and secure, not another reminder of all the bad things that have happened to them. This should be sanctuary. It should be their place to rest and know they're safe. It should be their home.

As the emotions bubbled and churned within her, Emma pictured the perfectly kept house as it had been. The austere lines, the perfectly kept front… all of it. She pictured it all as it had been, and, in a sweep of wind and a swoosh of magic, the house seemed to mend itself.

Walls reconstructed, the floors healed, and the front came back together in the picture perfectness Emma had come to expect of the Mayoral Mansion, leaving Marco's tarp neatly folded just outside the front door and the sheriff standing stunned just inside.

She stared, doe eyed, at what had just happened. Twice now she'd unintentionally created magic and fixed something, and both times it had been when thinking about protecting or creating protection for Regina. She swallowed down the lump in her throat and took a few steps back to take in the full extent of her repairs. Everything was exactly as she remember it always being.

It was perfect and all because of her magic, which she hadn't intended to use nor even knew she could use in that way.

It was unsettling. Her emotions ran so high regarding Regina that it was almost a reflex action to fix whatever was hurting her in any way Emma could. The young blonde had never experienced anything like it, and it terrified her.

What else might her magic do of its own accord in order to protect Regina? Would she destroy something? Hurt someone? Could she possibly hurt Mary Margaret or David?

Whatever was happening was dangerous. It needed to be controlled as quickly as possible. No doubt there was a connection between the kiss she'd shared with Regina that had broken the older woman's curse and what was happening now, but the whys and hows of such a thing she couldn't even begin to guess.

She needed to talk to someone about this before something bad happened, but the question was who. If she spoke with Regina, it might upset her, which Emma didn't want to do right now. If she talked to Gold, he could use it as leverage for who knows what later on, and Blue might know something, but it was hard to tell.

Wiping at her face, Emma closed her eyes and tried to calm herself down. Getting worked up wasn't going to help her. What she needed to do was think about this in a calm, rational way. She needed to take inventory and really consider what she knew.

She rolled her eyes at herself. What she needed was some chocolate and a break from reality.

Turning on her heels, she headed for the kitchen and dug around in the cabinets until she found a bag of dark chocolate stashed behind a few cans of vegetables. She smirked. It was a clever hiding spot. Henry wouldn't touch canned beets if his life depended on it. She made a stop to grab the decanter of apple cider and two glasses and then headed up stairs again, studiously ignoring her repair work.

She changed into a pair of running shorts and debated what top to wear. She normally slept in a tank top but that felt too revealing for some reason. She finally settled on an old band t-shirt she kept with her on the off chance she had to do something manual, like painting or fixing her bug. It was clean, but it was tattered, torn, and stained. The Guns 'n' Roses logo printed across the front was cracked almost to the point of being unrecognizable, but she didn't care. It was oversized and comfortable, which was all that mattered at the moment.

With her hands full, she carefully knocked on the bedroom door and waited until the muffled voice behind it told her to come in.

She smiled sheepishly when she stepped inside, noting Regina was dressed in matching satin short sleeved pajama set. This time, it was black with a bit of white touches here and there, including what looked like some kind of crest on the front pocket. She looked pristine, and Emma felt under dressed.

"Hey," she held up the chocolate and cider, "I thought we could use these."

"I don't normally eat and drink in bed, Miss Swan," the older woman chastised, though she gave a very small smile. "However, I think I'll make an exception."

"Yeah, as if you were going to turn down chocolates and booze," Emma replied with a smirk. She handed over the items and then stood awkwardly to the side of the bed. "Sooooo…"

"The side closest to the bathroom," Regina answered the unspoken question, scooting over closer to that side. "I always prefer the side closest to the bathroom."

"That works for me." The younger woman climbed into bed and awkwardly settled against the headboard. "I prefer to be closer to the door anyway." She frowned, looking down at her lap. "Speaking of doors, I checked on the front door when I was down there."

Regina sighed heavily. "You mean the gigantic gaping hole in my house?"

"Yeah, no. I mean the door." Emma grunted and shifted uncomfortably. "I… I fixed it."

"What do you mean you fixed it? It was a two story tall hole." The brunette physically turned to look at the other woman. "What did you do? Nail up a couple of boards in the hopes it'd help Marco's repair work?"

The blonde turned to give Regina a hard look. "No." She wrapped her arms around herself and took in a deep breath. "I fixed it using my magic, but," her body shrunk in on itself as she cut into whatever the older woman was going to say, "I didn't mean to. One moment I was thinking about how much it sucks that your house was damaged and the next moment my magic just… fixed it."

"Just as you unintentionally healed my wounds?" At the affirmative head nod she received, Regina's face went from slightly agitated to thoughtful. "Do you think this has something to do with tr… our kiss earlier?"

Emma let it slide. She wasn't ready to say the words, either. "Maybe? I don't know. If… that is the 'most powerful magic of all' and I'm the product of that, then maybe, because I finally found that, then it's messing with my magic?"

"Amplifying it." Regina wasn't questioning. She was stating. "That could be dangerous if you don't control it."

"I know. Believe me, the thought has already crossed my mind, but I how do I control it when I don't know what's setting it off?" Reaching for the chocolate, she pulled out a piece, unwrapped it, and handed it to the other woman before unwrapping one for herself. "What if I hurt someone?"

"I don't think that's likely. Light magic doesn't work that way." Sighing, the brunette popped the chocolate into her mouth and let it slowly melt as she thought over the situation. "You know," she let her voice settle into a light tone, "I'd rather you not use that phrase when referring to us."

Emma tilted her head in confusion. "What phrase?"

"Anything remotely close to, 'I will always find you," Regina replied with a smirk. "Unless you want me to start calling you Charming Jr.?"

"What?" Fully turning around, the younger woman shot her best glare. "You wouldn't."

"Wouldn't I?" Lifting her chin a bit, Regina presented her best regal gaze. "I see that as a personal challenge."

"Oh come on, Regina." Emma winced at the whine in her voice. "You owe me. I saved your ass. The least you can do is not call me that. Why can't you just call me by my name?"

The brunette raised her eyebrows and her smirk turned into a greasy smile. "Savior?"

Emma glared harder. "No."

"Oh?" Tilting her head, Regina cocked an eyebrow. "How about White Knight?"

"Really?" The blonde shook her head in the negative.

Regina leveled her gaze, a tease in her voice. "Hmmm… alright. What about Idiot Number 3?"

"I hate you sometime," Emma grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest. "Do you know that?"

"I've suspected from time-to-time, yes." Chuckling, the older woman reached forward and pulled the other woman's right hand into her own. "How about you promise never to use that God awful phrase or anything close to it, and promise to never call you Charming Jr.?"

"Fine." Rolling her eyes, Emma resettled so she could both look at Regina and be comfortable with her hand still in the brunette's grasp. "Seriously, don't call me that," she added with a growl. "And I hate that phrase, too. It gets annoying after a while. You can't know how often they tell each other that. I mean, I get it. It's their thing, and, in the story, it's really romantic and attractive, but, in real life, it gets old. Besides, if I were talking to my True Love and trying to assure them of whatever, that's not at all what I would say."

"Oh?" Regina relaxed, allowing her face to fall into a calm but open and slightly curious expression. "And what would it be, exactly?"

"Given all the crap that goes on around here, especially to me?" The blonde huffed. "I think it's be more fitting to tell my True Love that I would always come back to their side. Like, you know, no matter what happens, there's nothing and no one that would keep me from returning back to them because, let's be real here, I get sucked into portals and forced into other realms a lot. It's not a question of finding me or me finding them. It's a question of me getting back to them, and…" She stopped rattling off her thoughts, eyes widening just a touch. "I just realized how weird this hypothetical conversation is considering who I'm having it with."

"If it's any consolation, if we had to have a phrase, I would much prefer that to the other." Giving the hand in hers a squeeze, Regina withdrew, clasping her hands together and letting them fall in her lap. "I think we should talk to the Blue Fairy about your magical issue."

"Why her?" Emma pursed her lips in thought, narrowing her eyes.

"Because she understands light magic far better than any other magic users in this town and because we do need to get this under control before something happens." Giving her best reassuring smile, Regina leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on the younger woman's cheek. "Thank you for healing me and for repairing my home."

The blonde blinked a few times, trying to shift gears and catch up with Regina. "You're… welcome?" She raised an eyebrow in question. "So what now?"

"There was a conversation of you needing to cuddle." Leaning back with a shrug, Regina pushed down into the bed and rolled over to face away from the other woman. "And I'm still very tired."

Taking the queue, Emma moved the candy and scooted down, wrapping one arm around the older woman's waist to pull her closer and laying her other arm over the brunette's head. She smiled as she felt Regina's hands link with her own to form a bubble all of their own making.

They lay in the peace and comfort of the queen sized bed, in among the fluffy comforter and high thread count sheets, and settled against each other. Emma was almost asleep when Regina's voice broke the silence. In a lightly amused, hushed tone, she said, "Princess."

Emma snorted. "I hate you."

"I hate you, too, dear," came the tickled response, and then they were quiet again, both gently falling asleep.