There was a loud knock at the door. Emma, who was hopping on one foot while she tried to pull her jeans on, looked up and nearly tripped over the corner of her bed. She grabbed the arm of the couch and managed to twirl clumsily, falling onto the cushions with a grunt. Henry laughed, looking up from his comic book.
"Come on, finish your breakfast or we're gonna be late!" Emma flopped onto her back and shimmied her jeans up over her hips, buttoning them on the way to answer the door. "Eat!" she called over her shoulder, seeing that Henry was still ignoring his breakfast. She dashed around the corner and down the short hall, checked the peephole. She didn't recognize the woman on the other side of the door, but that wasn't uncommon in Emma's line of work. The woman looked more like a bureaucrat than a criminal, so Emma unlocked the door, slipped off the chain, and pulled it wide open.
"Miss Swan," the woman said, sounding a little breathless. She had a look on her face that Emma had seen before and it gave her a bad feeling. Under an air of cold authority was a sort of lost puppydog kind of hope. Emma was willing to bet a month's pay that whatever story this woman had, it involved an abusive man. Emma hated those cases.
"This isn't a great time," Emma said, hoping Henry was getting ready.
"I'm sorry, but it's important."
It always is, Emma thought. She gave the woman a quick once over. Just a tad taller than Emma in some pretty impressive stilettos, Emma probably had a good inch on her without them. Dark hair meticulously styled, make-up subtle but expertly applied. Black pinstriped trousers, white blouse, and a black trench coat draped over one arm, no purse. A businesswoman. Maybe even a politician. "I'm running late for an appointment. We can arrange a time to meet later." No maybes, no options. Lay down your boundaries quickly and clearly. Those were Emma's biggest rules. That, and she never mentioned Henry. It wouldn't be that difficult for someone to learn of his existence if they really wanted to, but she wasn't about to admit that he was just a few feet away getting ready for school.
"We need to meet today. What time will your appointment end?"
Apparently this woman didn't have time for BS either. "Do you know the little shop at the end of the block?"
"I'm afraid I'm not…from the area."
Emma sighed. "Leave here, turn left, end of the block there's a little independent café. I'll meet you there in an hour."
The woman nodded and Emma quickly closed the door, locking it behind her out of habit. They'd be leaving in a few minutes, but having a stranger at her door gave Emma the creeps, no matter who it was. That was the biggest downside of their building. Security was decent, enough to keep out the shadier people who might want to track down a bondsperson. Unfortunately this was a nice neighbourhood, and even native New Yorkers could get soft in an area like this. Someone like – dammit, Emma never got her name – this politician would easily slip by with a smile and a few carefully chosen words.
"Mom? Who was that?"
Emma's eyes widened. "Henry! Go get dressed, we're late!" She shooed Henry towards his room.
"You're the one with your fly down." He laughed as he disappeared behind his bedroom door.
"Crap," Emma muttered, zipping up her jeans.
"Did you come straight here?" Emma asked, sliding into the booth across from the brunette whose name she still didn't know. She had said an hour knowing that it would take her less than half that time to get Henry to school and get back. Deciding whether to be early, late, or right on time was a real science. Emma had certainly been called crazy for thinking it made any difference, but she was convinced it made all the difference in the world. It helped her get the upper hand right from the start. With someone like this, being early was vital. It would send the message that Emma was on the ball, that she took her job seriously no matter what her casual attire might suggest. She tried to remind herself that she was early, but it still rankled that she hadn't arrived first.
"I told you, I'm not from the area. There wasn't much else for me to do while I waited."
Dammit, Emma should have realized that. "I'm Emma Swan, but I guess you already know that." Emma waited for the woman to offer her name, but she merely took another sip of her drink. "And you are…?" she prompted.
The woman reached into the pocket of her trench coat, which she had draped across the table, and pulled out a small blue vial. She set it down on the table in front of Emma. "Drink it."
Emma scoffed. "Sorry, I may not have had a mother but I still know not to take drinks from strangers."
"Drink it, and I won't be a stranger anymore."
Emma's eyebrows crept slowly up her forehead. "Is that…some sort of weird come on?"
The woman sighed. "Miss Swan, my name is Regina Mills. You know me, you just don't remember. We really don't have time for me to explain everything so just drink that and we can be on our way."
"On our way? On our way where?"
"Storybrooke. It's back, and…" she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, like the words pained her, "we need your help."
Regina nodded. "Maine," she added when Emma's expression didn't change.
"Maine. Right. You want me to drink a potion and then drive to Maine with you. Because…I know you."
"You don't remember. That's what this is for." She picked up the tiny vial and set it back down with a clink.
"Lady, I don't work for crazy people. Good luck." Emma slid out of the booth but Regina stepped in front of her with surprising agility.
"I'm not here to hire you; I'm here to take you home."
"I am home," Emma said, stepping around Regina. She was starting to get a bad feeling about this woman.
"Maybe you never thought of Storybrooke as your home, but Henry did."
Emma was nearly out of the shop, but at the mention of Henry's name she whirled and stomped back to Regina, stopping with her face less than an inch from Regina's. Her voice was a low hiss. "Do not. Ever. Threaten my son."
"I would never hurt Henry." The change in Regina's expression made Emma take a step back. Everything in the woman had softened, her eyes shining with tears. Her voice was just as quiet as Emma's, but lacked any of the same malice.
"Who…are you?" Emma asked, eyes narrowed, mouth slightly open.
Regina pulled out the blue vial once again. "You're someone who follows her instincts. Your 'gut feeling', as you say. You must know something isn't right here. I know it's impossible to miss someone you don't remember, but I know your parents miss you."
"I don't have any parents," Emma said, but her arguments were losing their force.
"You do, you just don't remember them. And Henry," she gave a shaky smile, "he has a home in Storybrooke. He has a family."
"Henry's never been out of New York. We've never been to Maine." Emma shook her head.
"You have, you just. Don't. Remember. You've only been in New York for a year. Before that you lived in Storybrooke. The life you remember before this past year…it's not real."
Emma scoffed. "Well now I know you're crazy."
"When Henry was 7 he fell out of a tree and broke his arm."
"How did you-"
"When he was 5 he snuck out of bed and watched a scary movie and he made you check under his bed for zombies every night for years."
"Now you listen here-"
"Ask me anything. Anything about him, anything about your life together. If I wasn't telling the truth about him living in Maine, about knowing him, how would I know all of this?"
Emma stared at Regina for a long time, unable to make heads or tails of what was going on in her head. Then something solidified and there was a tightening sensation in her chest. She took a deep breath. "There's a tree, in central park, that Henry loves to climb or just sit under. He says it's always been his favourite spot, for as long as he can remember, but I only remember him going there for the first time a year ago. It's a big apple tree. Does that…mean anything to you?"
She nodded. "He must have made it part of his memories when he saw it. It…it must remind him of home. He used to have one in his backyard."
Emma nodded slowly. Something about that tree, the way Henry always insisted that he had climbed that tree as a child even though Emma didn't remember ever taking him there. In fact she didn't remember ever spending much time in central park until Henry dragged her there one day after school to climb his 'favourite tree'. Could the insane things this woman was saying really be true? Did that tree really remind Henry of a home that neither of them could remember?
"If what you say is true," Emma said, "then if I drink that, I'd be giving up our life here. And it's a pretty good life."
"But it's not real."
"But this past year, that was real, wasn't it? That's what you said. Well I have a man I love and I can't just leave him behind." Regina said nothing, simply stood with her hand outstretched, offering Emma the potion.
After a very long silence between them, Emma reached out and took the vial from Regina's hands, raised it to her lips, and drained the few drops into her mouth. She gasped, stumbled back a step. Everyone turned to look at her, but Regina muttered some words of assurance as Emma recovered from the barrage of memories that has just struck her like a freight train.
"Regina," she said, breathless after the onslaught of memories.
"Shall we get going, then?"