The Thunderbird sped down the road, much faster than Emma's Bug. She shoved her foot down on the pedal as far as it would go, but it seemed to make no difference; her car could only go about 65, and on a cold day like this one? Forget it, 60 was tops.
"Fuck. Fuckity fuck fucking fuck it all," she mumbled, wondering if King George had really thought this plan out. So what if Snow and David forgot who they were? Did he really think that everyone would suddenly start following him if their leaders forgot their identities? Especially with Emma following behind--even if she crossed the line, she wouldn't forget who she was. Probably. She hadn't been out of Storybrooke in over a year, not since she first came to town, but she'd never really been under the curse. A curse that was now mostly broken, with the exception of that damned line.
She grabbed the walkie. "There's no way I'm going to reach it, Ruby," she barked. "They're going over the line. Including whoever's driving the car--"
Ahead of her, the door to the Thunderbird flew open. Like a shot, a blur leapt from the speeding vehicle, slamming to the pavement and rolling into the grass. Whoever it was was definitely hurt, if not dead. But that was incidental, because the car didn't slow down at all. The gas pedal must be clamped down, and if there was no driver, then Snow and David wouldn't just lose their memories--they'd be killed slamming into a tree or whatever the car hit first.
"Ruby, this is bad," she said, and for the first time, she believed that her parents, whom she'd known were her parents for all of seven months, would die, and she'd be an orphan again. Her eyes grew wet, blurring her vision as they got closer and closer to the line. "l don't think we're--"
"Help's on the way, Em," Ruby said firmly. "Stay cool."
"What do you mean, help? There's only one road--"
"Who knows this town better than anyone who lives here? Who made this place from scratch?" Ruby asked. "She's headed in your direction."
Regina. Emma didn't know whether to be relieved or irritated. "What's she going to do, shoot out a tire?" Actually, Emma hadn't really thought of that until right then, and it didn't seem like a bad idea. Or if only there was someone who could get ahead of them and throw down a spike strip--
"Don't know. Michael was here at the diner when you first put the call in--she grabbed his keys and took off in his truck. She should be there by now--"
Emma didn't know where the hell she was, but the line was ever closer--it couldn't be half a mile away by now, less than 30 seconds till her mom and dad crossed it, and then they'd forget her, forget their lives, forget getting married and falling in love again and loving her too--
Nearly standing on the gas pedal, Emma's stomach rolled over. She tried to control her emotions, because she had to keep a clear head. This was something she'd survive. She'd lived through so much worse, years and years of worse, so finding then losing something again wasn't really that bad--
Out of the woods, a truck blasted through the overgrowth onto the road. With a skill Emma could never have pulled off, it caught the back bumper of the Thunderbird, shoving it off course and into a spin, but otherwise hardly damaging it. Pit maneuver, Emma's sheriff brain thought, all the while staring at the way Regina's truck flipped in a magnificent arc and rolled toward the line.
Her parents were probably safe--dizzy as hell, banged up and terrified in the trunk, but (hopefully) okay. Regina, on the other hand... The truck landed on its four wheels again, remarkably still in one piece, but it was at least 50 yards over the line in a shallow ditch. The "Welcome to Storybrooke" sign loomed near Emma's Bug.
"Fuckity fucking fuck," Emma said, watching smoke stream from beneath the truck's hood. That was not good. She got out of the car and looked at the line, orange and ridiculous in the middle of the street. Emma hesitated for a split second, but when she heard the "whoompf" and saw the tongue of flame licking the underside of the truck, she took off. When she crossed the line, nothing at all happened. She felt perfectly fine, no headache, no memory loss, not even a twinge of nausea. Good luck had finally come her way.
Her run was fueled by adrenaline, so she made it in less than ten seconds. She ripped the front door open and found Regina slumped over, blood splashed against the driver's side window. "Regina!" she shouted, reaching for the seat belt that would not come loose. "Regina, wake up," Emma said, glancing at the hood of the truck, smoke rising higher now. The flames were small, but that would change, and she didn't have a fire extinguisher handy. "Okay, come on luck, come back to me baby," she mumbled. "I need a little more of you, okay?"
She took a deep breath, pressed down firmly on the seat belt button, and was almost lightheaded with relief when it clicked open. In a move she'd practiced about four hundred times since she'd become sheriff but never used once in an official capacity, she pulled Regina Mills, former Mayor of Storybrooke and Evil Queen of Fairytale lore, into a fireman's carry and hauled her from the burning vehicle.
The ambulance siren sounded more like a scream by the time Emma had crossed the line back into Storybrooke. Ruby had arrived and already gotten the Thunderbird's trunk open to free Snow and David. They were watching her as she carefully (or as carefully as one could with a hundred ten pounds of dead weight on her shoulders) laid Regina down on the waiting gurney. Whale and an EMT she knew only by the name of Russ hovered over her unconscious form, and as much as she knew she had to go to her parents to see if they were all right, she didn't want to move. She couldn't really, not knowing if Regina was alive or dead or just unconscious, or what the hell would happen to a magical being who had crossed the town border. Regina had cast the curse. Surely she wouldn't be affected by the line, would she? If she had deliberately put herself in harm's way to save her parents, she must have known she'd be fine.
"Emma," David said at her shoulder, and she turned to him. He pulled her into his arms. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice filled with emotion.
"It wasn't me," she croaked, fingers digging into the muscles bunched at his shoulders. "It was Regina. I couldn't catch up," she explained. "Think it might be time to get a new car," she laughed, feeling hysteria creeping in but trying to swallow it back.
"Regina?" Snow said, arms around the both of them. "Are you joking?"
Physically Snow seemed okay, Emma was relieved to find, except for a nasty looking bruise on her cheek. But she looked as spooked as Emma felt. "No. She stole--"
"She's coming around," Whale said, and Emma pulled away from her parents. She was at Regina's side, heart in her throat, as the woman blinked blearily. She was bleeding profusely from a cut on her scalp, and the side of her face and jaw were starting to swell, but she was alive.
"What happened?" Regina said, sounding shaky. "Where am I?"
"You've been in a car accident."
"Pardon me?" Regina asked, wincing when the EMT touched her wound with gauze. "Get away from me, especially you, Victor. Where are my guards?"
Emma blinked and looked up at Whale. He had stilled, hands frozen in mid-air. No one spoke.
"I said, where are my guards? My head is splitting. Did I fall from my horse?" She exhaled, as though trying to fight the impulse to throw up. Emma was having the same feeling. "The King is due back this evening and he'll be very angry if I'm not on time. You must--" Regina sat up and looked around for the first time, and Emma saw such pure confusion on her face that she knew, right away, what had happened.
"What in the world?" she breathed when her eyes found the truck she'd been driving. "What is that--" she managed to get out before the vehicle exploded in flames, the hood flying across the street like a shield of fire.
Regina screamed in abject terror, actually throwing herself off the gurney. The EMT caught her, and she groaned in pain. "Where -- where am I?" she cried. "What is this place?"
"Regina," Snow said, stepping closer. "Regina, stay calm."
"Who are you? You--" Her dark eyes narrowed. "You seem familiar, but you--your clothes, I don't--" And when she met Snow's eyes, whatever color she still had after the accident drained from her face. "What magic is this? Are you--King Leopold's first wife?"
"This is not happening," Snow said, shaking her head. The bruise on her cheek was darkening by the minute. "She's lying. It's ridiculous."
David hadn't looked away from Regina; Emma had watched both him and Whale as they stared. "Snow, don't--"
Regina's gasp was like a gunshot. Her eyes were so wide Emma thought they were going to start rolling in their sockets. "Snow White is just a child. I only left her a few hours ago when I took Rocinante out."
What the hell is a Rocinante? Emma thought.
But no one seemed to be listening to Regina anymore, because there was so much electricity between the two women staring at each other. "Regina, stop pretending. I know you remember," Snow said.
Regina swallowed. "I remember Snow White perfectly. You are not she. You must be a sorceress--you all must be a figment of my imagination, or you have been conjured up by a spell. This is not my home. This is not the Enchanted Forest."
"Sure as hell isn't," Emma said under her breath.
For the first time, Regina seemed to notice Emma. The lines across her bloody brow faded, and she tilted her head. Emma felt the spark light her up, as strongly as it ever had between them. "And who might you be?" Regina asked, in that low voice that sounded like sex in public, like garter belts and lace and chocolate covered cherries served on bare skin.
When Emma opened her mouth to reply, Regina's eyes slid shut, and she slumped onto the gurney in a dead faint.
The ride to the hospital was peppered with questions from both Snow and David. No, she didn't know where King George was. No, she didn't know why Regina had rescued them. No, she didn't have a plan to deal with the lackey Ruby had captured in the woods, other than throwing him into jail after they'd treated his broken bones. Yes, she believed that Regina did not remember the last few decades of her life. Regina had no reason to lie at this point; the town had simply let her be after they'd vanquished both Hook and Cora. The former Evil Queen wasn't liked, but she wasn't being chased by angry mobs every other day either. Henry hadn't quite come around yet, but Emma could see he was on his way. Emma had made sure they had a weekly dinner together, and Henry was always cheerful after it.
And Emma in turn enjoyed listening to Henry talk about his mom. She usually enjoyed thinking about his mom in general. They hadn't kissed, and she didn't really have plans to make a move, but if Regina did? She wouldn't say no. She probably wouldn't say anything other than, "Your place or mine?" Nobody in town would have to know, at least for a while, and if they just happened to start spending more time together than they already did, it wouldn't seem totally out of the ordinary. They did share a son after all.
But chances of that happening now were slim to none, although she did like the way Regina looked at her, like she was a tasty ice cream sundae just waiting to be eaten. But there had been no weight behind it, the kind that comes from shared experiences and saving each other's lives (and punching each other once in a while too). All that was gone, and Emma wondered how she'd survive it.
She also wondered if it was because she'd crossed the line. If so, it was a weird kind of amnesia, not like what Sneezy had been stricken with. This Regina seemed to be experiencing the opposite of that, forgetting only her Storybrooke memories, and not her fairytale ones. Maybe Whale would know more at the hospital.
Emma wanted to go straight for Regina, but instead she sat with her mother while she had the bruise on her face checked out. Ice and ibuprofen were going to be Emma's suggestion (she'd had worse herself in her bounty hunting days), and that matched what the nurse doled out too. David wasn't really injured aside from his pride, so he just hovered at Snow's side the way he always did. Emma liked that her parents were still in love after all these years, but it was kind of cloying to watch. Regina's edge always relieved some of that spun sugar rush she was left with after spending a lot of time with them.
"I want to check on Regina," Emma finally said, after watching her dad kiss Snow's cheek the twentieth time.
"I'll come with you," Snow said in return, hopping down from the gurney.
"I'd rather you didn't," Emma said quickly, wanting to nip this in the bud. If Regina thought Snow was a kid, what would she do if she found out how much time had passed?
Snow just shook her head. "Sorry, honey. I need to know what's really going on here. I'm coming."
So Emma ended up following both her parents to the second floor, where a nurse sent them. When they reached Regina's room, she heard yelling coming from inside. She didn't even knock before turning the handle and stepping inside.
"Get that away from me," Regina was shouting, although Dr. Whale only seemed to be holding a penlight. "Step away or I'll make you sorry you ever met me, Victor."
Emma had never even realized his name was Victor, but apparently Regina knew.
"Your majesty, I need you to lie still and allow me to examine you properly. You've had a terrible injury and you must relax."
"Relax. I've no clue where I am and you have told me exactly nothing other than the fact that I've been transported to another world as part of some dark curse. I need information. I demand it. I may not know what's happening but I am still a Royal, and you'd do well to acknowledge--" Regina finally noticed that Emma, David and Snow were standing in the doorway.
"You," Regina said, beckoning to Emma. "Who are you?"
Emma took a step, but Snow snuck around her and went to Regina's bedside. "Stop this, Regina. No one believes you."
Regina stared up into Snow's face, unblinking. "You are so like her," she breathed. "Like the painting in the King's chambers. It was as though the eyes followed me, glaring at me every time I set foot inside Leopold's rooms." She turned to David, then Dr. Whale. "Where is he, then? The King. He'll want to know where I am, as always."
Snow opened her mouth before David could interrupt her. "My father is dead, Regina."
Regina's face transformed; Emma could see the whites of her eyes in a perfect circle around the irises. "Dead," she managed, her voice high and small.
"You killed him," Snow spat. "You would know."
Regina's mouth twisted. "Killed him? I did nothing of the sort. He's negotiating protection from the Ogres who've united at the west. They'll come in spring if we're not ready, destroying all in their path. The king is certainly not dead. And why would I kill my own husband? The man who made me a Queen?"
"We both know that's not what really happened. Your mother forced you to marry him, and you've never forgiven me for it. But Regina, this charade won't change the past, and it won't bring back Daniel--"
A light bulb under a lampshade on the side table exploded. A second in the ceiling followed it; there was a fragrance of smoke and ozone in the air. David laid a hand on Snow's shoulder. "Snow, you'd better--"
"What do you know of Daniel? Victor, what have you told them? And why do you insist on being called Snow--" Regina insisted, before Snow cut her off again.
"Because I am Snow White. My father's been dead more than thirty years, and you cursed us all to a land without magic until my daughter Emma broke your spell. Is that what you want? For me to pretend that you have no memory of any of your terrible misdeeds? You want to forget the lives you've destroyed, including that of my father and your own? What on earth do you plan to gain from this?"
"My father is alive," Regina said, her voice cracking. "He is just... missing."
"He's dead because you killed him to cast the curse--"
A slap rang out in the room, and Snow's face showed a dark red mark on an otherwise pristine cheek. She'd have bruises on both sides of her face if she wasn't careful. "I would never harm my father. Never."
But Emma knew that wasn't true.
"I won't listen to this," Snow said, grabbing David's hand and pulling him toward the door. "We'll have to deal with her later. Emma, come along."
"Sorry, Mom." Emma shook her head and moved closer to the bed. "I think I'll stick around a while. Just to see how things go."
"She's lying, Emma. Don't believe a word she says." Snow glared at her nemesis. "She's a very good liar. Obviously."
Emma turned to Regina, who could not stop watching Snow. It seemed that she was finally starting to believe that this woman was the child of her memories.
"Snow?" Regina asked almost plaintively.
But Snow White was already gone. Emma looked to Whale and motioned with her head toward the door. "Regina, we're just going to take a minute, okay? Be back in a sec."
Regina didn't respond. Emma figured her brain was occupied with bigger things to worry about than where Emma would be.
She yanked Whale toward the hall and shut the door so they'd have a modicum of privacy. "What the hell?" she asked. "Could she be faking it?"
Whale snorted. "Of course. I wouldn't put anything past Regina. But do I think she'd choose retrograde amnesia? Certainly not. If Regina were to fake memory loss, I'd guess she'd pretend to forget her Evil Queen counterpart, not the Mayor." He nodded to himself, lost in thought. "It's safer, for one thing, since she'd write off all responsibility for casting the curse. That said, she seems to be doing that now, since she's lost decades of her life."
"She knows you though, " Emma said. "How much time do you think is gone?"
"It has to be after I tried to bring back Daniel, but also after her father was kidnapped to Wonderland, which was later. Not including our 28 years in Storybrooke, I'd estimate twelve years or so. Perhaps more, perhaps less. The one who could say best is likely Snow White, and I don't think she'll believe a word Regina says after this."
Emma had heard from Regina about Daniel's recent "return" from the dead, after she'd come home from the Enchanted Forest. She knew few details, except that Daniel would never again return to claim the heart of the Queen. Regina had cried a little, and it was the first time Emma had held her hand for more than a few seconds. Regina had clung to it, and looked grateful.
But if Regina had forgotten it all, Daniel's first loss would still be fresh. So would her rage, however hidden. Right now she just seemed sullen and spoiled, but Emma knew the anger that lurked beneath the surface. As much as she hadn't intended to fill the woman in on her own history, now that Snow had dropped some major details, she might have to.
"What kind of amnesia did you say?" Emma asked.
"Retrograde. I've never seen a case of it, but of course I've only practiced medicine here. My previous studies involved... other medical pursuits. In any event, the subject loses a period of time, occasionally remembering certain skills but not others. For example, if she played an instrument, she could remember that, but not how she learned. She might remember how to drive, or how to cook, or not. We'll have to wait and see."
"Should I tell her about the past?"
Whale gazed down the hall and out the window. "Honestly? I have no idea, I’ll need to look into it. Let me run some tests before you start revealing her deep dark secrets, all right?"
"A CT scan, and an MRI. I need to be sure there aren't further internal injuries."
"If she's afraid of a penlight, you might have a hard time convincing her to get in an MRI machine."
"I'm sure you'll be a big help in that respect," Whale said.
"Me? Uh, I don't think that's going to help. She doesn't even know me."
"Well you're the only one here. The job is yours."
Without another word, Whale returned to Regina's bedside, and Emma had no choice but to follow. "Your majesty, I'm going to run a few tests on you to make sure you're physically all right. Do I have your permission?"
Regina seemed to sink back into the mattress. "I--I don't know. I don't understand what's happening to me."
Emma went to her. Whale was right. She had no one, so Emma would have to do this. She didn't have much else going on anyway--in an hour or two she could check in on Ruby and their prisoner, and they already had a BOLO out for George, not that he'd show his face in town since his plan had failed so spectacularly. "Listen. You were hurt, but you're going to be all right. I'll stay with you, and we'll figure it out together. Okay?"
Regina blinked at her, and Emma again marveled at how lost she seemed. How young and afraid. "Are we... friends?" Regina asked.
Emma glanced briefly at Whale, who busied himself looking at a chart. "Yeah. I guess you could say we're friends."
Regina looked down at her hands. "That's nice. I don't remember having a friend. Not for a very long time."
Heart breaking, Emma hoped like hell Regina wasn't faking it.
Emma had to answer what felt like a thousand questions between the CT scan, the MRI, and the minutes in between. "How is the light captured in those tubes in the ceiling?" "What is the material your trousers are made of?" "What was the machine that exploded earlier today in the forest?" "Do I really have to be inside this metal tube for so long?" The last was asked as she was being given a gown before her MRI, which Emma sat through, holding onto Regina's smooth, smooth shin. She was too afraid to be alone in the room, especially with the clanging of the scanner. The earlier CT wasn't so difficult, since the time period was far shorter, and there wasn't nearly as much noise.
When the MRI was completed, and Regina had swayed on her feet, Emma had demanded that she be allowed back to her room. She'd already been diagnosed with a concussion, and the cut at her head had bled through the gauze sometime that evening. By the time all the tests were done, the sun had set, and Emma's phone had a total of seven messages stored up in the voicemail. Scrolling through her missed calls, she identified Henry, Snow, Ruby, Archie, Henry again, then David, and Snow a second time. She'd get back to Henry as soon as she had a free moment. That might not be for a while.
Her most awkward exchange with Regina came when she had a strangely desperate look just a few minutes after her first exam. "What's wrong?" Emma had asked.
Regina had just blushed and shaken her head.
And then Emma had noticed she was sort of crushing her legs together, and she had immediate sympathy and understanding. "Do you need to use the bathroom?"
Regina had looked at the ceiling and replied, "If that's what you call a water closet."
"Yep," Emma had said, and taken her by the elbow. Whale had nearly had a fit when they'd taken a detour on their way to the MRI room, but one look from Emma had shut him up.
Emma had pointed at the toilet and kept it simple. "Do your business in there, and when you're finished, push that silver thing down."
At Regina's blank look, Emma wished that of all the things that she could have remembered, this was one of them. "Like this," she said, and demonstrated flushing the toilet. Regina actually stepped back in surprise, watching the disappearance of the water with great interest. Emma showed her how to use the faucet as well, making sure to insist that she wash her hands when she was done. "Clean is sort of a big thing in this world," Emma added, although Regina hadn't looked disturbed when told to wash up.
When Regina emerged from the bathroom after more than five minutes, she looked almost excited. "The mechanism is absolutely fascinating," she said. "Have you ever looked inside the large tank behind the bowl? There's a floating ball, and a chain attached--"
"Yeah, actually," Emma said, realizing that Regina hadn't been doing anything suspect or embarrassing--she was just busy investigating. "I've fixed more than my fair share of busted toilets."
"Toilet. That's what it's called?"
Emma had nodded, wondering what other modern conveniences she'd have to explain to this woman, who seemed so young and so terribly sad at the same time. She really was different from Regina Mills, Mayor of Storybrooke. Of course when Emma thought about it, Emma would be just as different compared to herself in her early 20s, and she'd only aged a handful of years compared to Regina's forty.
She decided not to think too much about that.
Once Regina was back in her room, Emma didn't know what to do with herself. She had a bunch of calls to make, but she was also afraid to leave Regina alone. Sensing her urgency, Regina simply said, "You make take your leave, Miss Swan. You must have many responsibilities, especially as the sheriff of this town. I suppose I might... see you soon?"
"I just need to call a few people, and I can't use my cell in the hospital--" Emma explained, holding up her phone. At Regina's newly familiar blank look, she tried to think of the easiest way to make the complicated world of modern communication clear. "This little thing makes it easy for me to contact people. If I call someone, I can talk to them by voice. Or I can send a written message that they get instantly."
Regina was more taken with this device than any other she'd seen so far, including the toilet. "Amazing." The joy faded after a moment. "I would like to have one of those, if I had someone to communicate with."
Emma just smirked. "You have me, and more. Besides, you have a phone, so I'll remind you how to use it. You'll be able to reach me any time." Emma decided not to think too much about that either. The fact that she was acting like Regina's best friend, or hell, her lover, was too much to consider. "Besides, I won't be long. You aren't alone, okay?"
With a nod, Regina smiled gently, and Emma felt her heart do a little flip.
Once outside the hospital, she parked herself on a bench with a cup of blazing hot cocoa from the commissary. Henry had to come first. She didn't even know what he knew about what had happened yet. He picked up before the first ring was complete. "Is Mom okay?" he asked.
Depends on what you consider okay, she thought. "She's physically all right, but she... lost some of her memories."
"Which ones? Was it because she crossed the town line? I thought that wouldn't affect her since she cast the curse. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe we should try taking her back across the line, and seeing what might happen. Or maybe Rumpel--"
"Henry," Emma interrupted. "I don't know that the line is what did it. Dr. Whale thinks it's not magical. He thinks it's a brain injury. And I agree with him."
"But did she forget she's the Evil Queen?" he asked.
Emma took a deep breath. "Not exactly. She's forgotten the last forty years or so. She still thinks she's married to King Leopold. And that Snow White is only a child."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line, so long that Emma thought the call might have dropped. "Henry?"
"I'm here," he said in a small voice. He sounded younger, somehow. "Did she forget me?"
Emma watched the stars for a second, not sure how to answer. "I think she may have, kid. It's not her fault though. She did it to save Snow and David." She did it to help me, said a little voice inside Emma. That was the only explanation that made sense.
"She did it because it was the right thing to do," Henry added, and Emma agreed. Regina had come a long way in the last few months. She really had changed. Unless she was lying, which would make her the worst person on the planet, as far as Emma was concerned. Emma would not forgive her if that was the case.
But she wasn't lying. Emma was sure of it.
"I want to see her, even if she doesn't remember. I want her to know I'm on her side," Henry said. "Will you let me visit?"
"Tomorrow," Emma said. "She's had a long day, and so have I. So have you. I want you to stay with your grandparents tonight. I'm going to stay here at the hospital, okay?" She hadn't realized she'd already made the decision till she said the words aloud.
"That's good, Emma. She shouldn't be by herself. She must be really scared. Weren't you when you got transported to the Enchanted Forest?"
"I sure was."
"And you had Snow White with you. She's your family. My mom doesn't have anybody except us."
Emma smiled. "You're a smart kid, Henry. Your mom raised you right."
"Yeah," he said. "I guess she did."
"Okay. So I'll come get you in the morning. You can miss a day of school this once, but make sure you get your homework from Grace at the end of the day."
"I will," he said in that exasperated kid voice Henry always used when the word "homework" came up. "I'll see you tomorrow. Tell Mom--well, I guess, nothing. I'll see you."
"Bye, Henry. Love you," Emma said, as was her habit now.
"Love you too." The line clicked off, and Emma took a deep breath.
She proceeded to call her parents, neither of whom were particularly interested in hearing the details of Emma's day. Mostly, they just continued to assure her that Regina was manipulating her, and deserved a fate worse than death. Emma kept the chat short, hanging up after a quick goodbye and thank you for keeping Henry overnight. Her next call was to Ruby, who assured her that King George had not resurfaced, and his minion didn't know how to do much of anything other than drive. Ruby seemed convinced he'd been a soldier without special skills in the old world, so he was an unlikely threat here. Of course, he'd been able to bind her parents, dump them in a trunk and drive away, so he wasn't totally harmless. He'd get his day in court eventually. For now, Ruby would let him gather dust in one of their new cells, forged with fairy dust mixed with silver. Nobody would be breaking him out anytime soon.
Her last call was, for the moment, the most important. Like Henry, Archie picked up on the first ring. "Emma, I was hoping I'd hear from you. I heard about what happened. Is Regina all right?"
"Depends on what you mean by all right. She's got amnesia. And the real kind, not the magical kind. She's lost somewhere around forty years, give or take."
"Goodness," Archie sighed. "That's not what I was expecting."
"Did you hear something else?" Emma asked, wondering if Regina's memory loss was being passed around as gossip or fact.
"People had heard she lost her memory, but they didn't know the details. They thought it was because of the curse."
"Yeah, I wondered that too. Whale can't be a hundred percent sure but he thinks it's a traumatic brain injury from the accident. Something about mild edema, which I guess is swelling?" Emma tried, not remembering much of the terminology.
"Of course, from the accident," he said, sounding distracted. "So forty years. That puts her... a couple of years into her marriage. Before she truly started to wreak havoc."
"She's talked about Leopold. When Snow declared that he was dead, and that she'd killed him, Regina had no idea what she was talking about."
Archie laughed sadly. "Can't imagine that conversation was very pleasant."
"It wasn't. Snow doesn't believe she's really forgotten."
"Well, she's been burned. We all have. But I've worked with Regina for long enough that I'll trust her as long as she gives me reason to. Sounds like she put herself in harm's way to save two people she hates, which means I still trust her." He paused. "How about you, Emma? Do you trust her?"
Emma thought long and hard, weighing everything she'd seen, combined with everything she knew, and everything she felt about Regina. "Yeah. I trust her."
"Okay then. How about I meet with her tomorrow? It won't be a real session, since obviously this Regina's not going to be familiar with the concept of therapy, but I'd like to talk to her. Offer my help as a neutral sounding board. She won't recall our relationship, past or present, fortunately."
"Sure, Archie. And thanks. This is... pretty weird. You'll be a big help for both of us."
"That's what I want, Emma. See you tomorrow afternoon--I'll call first, since I'm not sure where either of you might be. Will Whale want to keep her in the hospital long?"
"No idea," Emma said, wondering where Regina would stay once she got out. Emma couldn't let her go home to Mifflin Street alone, not when she didn't even know how to work a shower. She'd probably blow the house to smithereens with the gas oven. "I'll let you know."
"Until tomorrow, then. Good night, Emma. Thank you for calling."
"Sure, Archie. G'night."
She went back inside, taking a few deep breaths before knocking on Regina's door. "Come in," she heard faintly.
In the room, Regina was on the bed, sitting in near darkness. "Why is it so dark in here?" Emma asked, going to the bedside and flicking on the remaining lamp that Regina hadn't blown out earlier in the day.
"I couldn't find a candle," Regina replied, staring at the lamp with suspicion. "Although it appears I don't need it."
"Yeah. You'll get used to this. And everything else." Peeking at her watch, she realized that she'd been gone well over an hour--plenty of time for the room to lose all its light. And Regina hadn't made an effort to deal with that. Emma wasn't sure what that meant, if anything. Maybe she didn't mind sitting in the darkness. Or maybe she was just scared to ask for help.
"Emma," Regina said, her voice tentative, "I need to know what's happened to me. Have I really forgotten so many years? If the woman from earlier is truly Snow White, and I've done all the things she said I've done, then why am I here, and not locked away in a prison, or even dead and buried in the ground?" A tear slid down Regina's cheek, and Emma thought she'd figured out what Regina had been thinking about during her absence. "Have I done so many terrible things?"
Emma sat at the bedside. She didn't reach out for Regina's hand, not yet. "Everything is pretty complicated, but essentially, yes, you did."
"I killed Leopold. And my own father. And many others, and I cast a curse on the old world and brought it here." She shook her head. "I can't imagine how something like this could have happened, unless--" Regina blinked in surprise, as if she'd had a memory. "Is Rumpelstiltskin here as well?"
"He was. He's the only person in town who has been able to leave without losing his memory, but no one's sure how he did it. He left some time ago, with Belle."
"Belle," Regina replied, "I don't know her. But I know Rumpel well. He had to have been involved."
Emma nodded. "You told me once you got the curse from him."
"Ah," Regina said. "I used to wonder why he'd taken me under his wing. He said I had so much power, and he simply wanted to help me harness it." Regina smirked. "I never really believed him, but then again I didn't care what he wanted. I never did. He helped me be rid of my mother, once and for all."
Emma's mouth opened, and her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Well, actually, he didn't. She uh, turned up here a while ago, but she's gone now. For good." Emma didn't think it mattered if Regina knew that Emma herself had swung the sword that had killed Cora. Just in time too, since at the time Cora had her hand inside Regina's chest, about to steal her heart and crush it to dust. Maybe she'd tell her someday, but not today.
"My mother was here? In this world?"
"It's a long story," Emma said. "Super long. Like, decades long."
As Regina turned her face toward the light, Emma's eyes traveled along the line of her neck and across her shoulder. The shadows only seemed to enhance her beauty, making Emma long to experience the softness of her skin, the warmth of it. "Will you tell me my story, then? All of it?"
"I don't know if that's such a good idea tonight, Regina. You've had a terrible trauma--"
"Please," Regina begged, her voice broken. "I need to understand. Nothing makes sense. Everyone knows me, but I don't know myself. Can you imagine how terrifying that is? My life is a mystery, and I need you to help me unravel it." She looked down at her own hands, twisting in the scratchy bedsheet. "Please, Emma. If you're truly a friend, you'll tell me."
Emma thought that explaining it all was the worst idea ever. But the fathomless dark eyes shining up at her held a power as strong as any magic Emma had experienced, and she would not resist. Could not.
"All right. I'll tell you."
So she did.
It took nearly four hours. They were interrupted more than once; by Whale, who checked her eyes and vitals in relation to her concussion, by a nurse who took blood, by a volunteer who looked terrified as she brought in two trays of rather bland, inedible food, and finally, by Ruby, who brought them a burger (for Emma) and a grilled chicken salad (for Regina). Ruby was their only welcome visitor. She was pretty surprised that Emma was dumping a whole boatload of facts on Regina, but she'd shrugged and said it wasn't her place to judge.
She hadn't stayed long, only long enough to hear Emma explain what she knew about Snow and David's wedding, and the Evil Queen's big entrance. Then Ruby's cell had rung, and even from across the bed Emma could hear Granny railing about Ruby coming back to work, and what was taking her so damned long anyway? Regina's smile had been bright as she'd said goodbye to Ruby (she'd actually said "farewell," which Emma had never heard before in real life), and Ruby had been struck dumb at the sight.
Emma could relate.
Ruby also seemed amused by Regina's exceptional interest in Emma's french fries; Emma had never before seen Regina eat a fry, but she could not get enough of them. Her mayoral self must have had unbelievable discipline, since the only thing Emma had ever seen her eat at the diner was a salad. Ruby promised to bring more tomorrow, along with a few other options, since it was pretty clear she only ate the chicken salad out of politeness.
Emma did her best to explain what she could of Regina's history, even though there were holes in the story--great big gaping ones that other people would have to fill in. Snow could do the job, if she would agree to, though she probably wouldn't. David too, but he'd side with Snow. Archie was Emma's best bet; he'd been on the council in the Enchanted Forest and had known Regina at her worst.
Tomorrow, he could help. For the moment, Emma did what she could.
Until she had to tell the part in which Snow gave birth, and David put Emma in the magical tree, sending her to Maine and a life of foster care and loneliness.
Regina didn't much like hearing that part. Emma made it sound a little nicer than it was, but even without the experience and darkness of the old Regina, the Queen could read between the lines. Emma moved on quickly, talking instead of Storybrooke, its residents, and their alter egos. Regina was shocked to hear that Ruby was a werewolf, but she'd smiled slyly about Mary Margaret and David's curse-induced 28-year separation.
"That does sound... like something I could be capable of," Regina had said. Emma tried not to roll her eyes.
Emma didn't quite know how to explain one thing, though: Henry. She just decided to spell it out as clearly and simply as she could.
"So when I was almost 18, I got pregnant," (Regina looked slightly scandalized at that), "and I was, uh, in jail," (even more scandalized,) "and I gave the baby up for adoption. Do you know what that means?"
"I know what the word means--you...gave your child to someone else to raise?"
"Yes. Here it's a very formalized process, legally binding. I couldn't care for a baby, so I gave him to an agency who placed him in a home, where if I was lucky, he'd be cared for. I hoped that he would have better luck than I did in the system. I wanted him to have his best chance, you see?" she asked.
Regina nodded, and her eyes were filled with compassion. "That must have been horrible."
"Yeah," Emma said, not wanting to dwell on the memory, or the look on Regina's face. "Anyway, I gave him up--"
"A boy?" Regina asked, her voice small and sad.
Emma just nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. "What I didn't know is that Rumpelstiltskin--Mr. Gold in this world--somehow got his hands on him. And he gave him to you to raise."
Regina's eyes were enormous. If she was acting, she was better than anyone she'd ever seen on screen. "Me?"
"Yep. You raised my son."
"That's not possible," Regina replied. "I couldn't forget something like that. A child--a son--why did I--and how could I even--"
"His name's Henry," Emma interrupted softly, before she could get too wrapped up in the thousand questions swirling through her mind.
"Henry," she breathed. "After my father."
"He's eleven and a half now, and a great kid. He's the one who realized there was a curse. Of course he had help from Mr. Gold, but he's really smart. We used to argue over who he got that from--you or me," Emma told her with a rueful grin. "I'd say it was me, and you'd just roll your eyes." Gazing at this version of Regina, Emma realized how much she missed that superior, scoffing expression. The woman in front of her didn't seem capable of that look.
"How could I have forgotten a son?" Regina asked. It was a terrible plea.
"You'll remember," Emma assured her, and herself too. If she kept saying it, maybe it would happen. "I know you will. It will just take a little patience. People come back from stuff like this all the time."
"Really?" Regina asked, the hope plain on her face.
"Sure. I read about it. You're going to be okay." Emma figured a white lie like this one wouldn't hurt anybody. She'd never read about amnesia in her life, much less heard of someone recovering from it. "No matter what, we'll figure something out."
That seemed to ease Regina's mind, and she settled back more fully against the pillow. Her eyes were starting to droop. "So I adopted a son. Your son. What happened after that?"
Emma smiled, and started with the night Henry showed up on her doorstep.
Emma slept fitfully on the cot a nurse brought in to set next to Regina's bed. She was awakened multiple times during the night by staff checking in on Regina. Each time Emma hoped that she'd recovered her memories, or hell, any memories, but each time she was disappointed. They'd stayed up too late as Emma recounted everything she could about her time in Storybrooke, stalling only when she reached the months of her absence in the Enchanted Forest. That was because she had to talk about Cora, and she had to talk about Daniel. Explaining Hook and Cora's appearance in town and eventual banishment (for Hook) and death (for Cora) seemed to stun Regina into silence. She didn't cry exactly, but she certainly didn't seem happy. Far worse was telling what little she knew about Daniel's zombiesque return, and the fact that Regina herself had been the one to release him from this world, to let him finally rest in peace.
She cried then. She cried and didn't stop for a long time. Emma imagined that after four decades of mourning, the old Regina would have been devastated to experience the loss. But to witness this agony up close, far fresher after only a few years, still hoping for a reunion... it was awful. All Emma could do was hand her tissues as she wept. Some things couldn't be fixed, and this was one of them.
The last thing Emma told her was of her heroic rescue of Snow and David, and the car accident that stole her memories. Regina herself seemed surprised at her own actions, shaking her head until she realized that it still hurt quite a lot. Her bruises had settled into two black eyes, one darker than the other, and a mottled purple mark that stretched from her jaw to her temple. The ice they'd applied had brought down the swelling, thankfully, but she still looked like she'd been through the wringer.
Emma didn't ask if she could do magic. She knew it was present, since the exploding light bulbs, but beyond that it was a mystery. She'd made it clear that her magic didn't work the same way here as it did in the other world, but Regina had given no hints as to how she felt about that.
In the morning, she discovered that Regina was really, really upset about being in this world, despite her fascination with the toilet, light bulbs and french fries. She also discovered that yes, Regina could do magic, but she still had issues with it. That was because she accidentally teleported both herself and Emma into the mayoral mansion. More specifically, she teleported them both into the enormous bed of the master suite.
"What the fuck?" Emma said, sitting up and inadvertently catapulting herself off the bed. "What just happened?" She'd had barely any rest, and the vertigo caused by the unexpected trip made her head spin.
Regina just looked at her with that same wide-eyed expression she'd worn since yesterday. It was starting to get a little irritating, mainly because she was so damned pretty. "I tried to send myself home."
Emma put her hands on the duvet, trying to steady the seasickness that had come over her. "This is your home. This house is where you live in Storybrooke."
Frowning, Regina glanced around. "That’s not possible. It's so... plain."
"That's all you've got to say?" Emma asked, swallowing against rising nausea. At least the room was starting to even out now.
Regina blinked and looked down. "I’m glad to see that the bed is more comfortable than that slab at the hospital. I've been better off sleeping in a stable."
Emma thought that was probably true. "Yeah, well, we've still gotta go back there. I'm sure Dr. Whale--er, Dr. Frankenstein or whatever--will be wondering where we've gone off to. And you might need more tests." Emma had a thought, one she really should have considered earlier. "Hey, can you heal yourself? You must know some spells. I've seen Gold do all kinds of healing magic."
Regina pursed her lips. "Rumpelstiltskin never taught me much healing magic. In fact I know almost none. Although I can heal a lame horse. That came naturally to me, when I needed it."
"What do you mean, naturally?"
"Only that some spells I never needed to learn. I knew that I had magical abilities from a young age, because of my mother, but I never practiced. She wouldn't have stood for it, and besides, I hated magic. It had only been used to hurt me as a child, never to help. But after I sent my mother ... away, and I'd started learning from Rumpel, I was out riding Rocinante--"
"Oh," Emma said, understanding at last. "Your horse. Got it."
"--Yes," Regina said, looking a little annoyed at the interruption, "and he stumbled down a steep ravine. I never should have taken the chance, but I was foolish and angry at the king in the moment, for something which escapes me now. In any case, Rocinante is--was--my dearest, my only friend. I held his leg in my hands, wishing I had thought to bring a weapon so I could put him out of his misery. But something just... happened. A few moments later he stood, his leg as straight and strong as it had ever been. I'd healed him without even trying."
Emma was impressed. "Ever tried it on yourself?"
"No," Regina replied.
"What's the worst that could happen?"
Regina smirked, and the archness of it sent a pleasant little frisson down Emma's spine. "Oh, I might melt my face off."
"Oh." Emma's hope deflated. "Guess that's not the best idea, then."
"In truth," Regina admitted, "it's quite a good idea. I'd need a mirror though. Are you certain these are my chambers? I can't imagine having a room without a single mirror."
Emma didn't have a reply to that. She'd never spent much time in this room although admittedly, she'd thought about it. Once in a while. Or more. She led Regina into the bathroom, where she seemed thrilled to discover yet another toilet, and more fascinated still by the showerhead and enormous bathtub.
"Will you show me how to use this later?"
Emma hoped that it wasn't too obvious that all the blood in her body rushed directly to her face inside three seconds. "Um, yeah, sure." She restricted herself from considering the broad expanse of skin visible at the back of the hospital gown that she still wore. The skin that would be very much on display if Regina were to step into the shower or tub. It almost felt like cheating, even though for one thing, this was still Regina, and for another, they weren't together. They were barely friends.
But if Emma really thought about it, they were friends. Regina knew more about her than anyone; over the last months, every insecurity, every fear, every hope had been laid bare in front of her, and she never ran. She laughed, sometimes, like when Emma revealed how much she hated (aka was terrified of) possums, or that she'd grovel on hands and knees for fresh whipped cream, or that she'd turn down the most expensive chocolate in the world for a simple Hershey bar (no almonds, ever). But even when Emma let herself be vulnerable, Regina didn't once reject her. It had taken time for them to get to a place where Emma could, without fear of retribution, tell Regina that she adored Henry and wanted him to be in her life forever. A year ago that would have put Regina into a frenzy that might have ended in a second curse being cast. Now it just caused Regina to nod her head in understanding and echo the same sentiment herself.
She didn't have to worry about retribution now. This woman had never even met Henry, although she would soon enough. Maybe today.
Regina was staring rather seriously at herself in the mirror, and when she saw the little puff of smoke fly up out of her hand, Emma stepped forward. "You, uh, the other you, that is, warned me many times that magic doesn't work the same way here as it did in the Enchanted Forest. You should start small. Test it on something."
Regina inhaled impatiently before rolling her eyes. "Fine. I'll need something sharp, then."
Sharp? Emma reached forward and swung the mirror open to reveal the medicine cabinet. Regina made a little sound of satisfaction, and her hand reached for a straight razor sitting right there on the second shelf. "What the hell are you doing with a straight raz--oh, shit, hey!" Emma exclaimed as she watched Regina slice her own arm open with the razor. The cut was shallow, but it bled nonetheless.
"You said to start small," Regina countered, and tossed the razor into the sink, where a few drops of blood slipped down the porcelain. After that, Regina held one hand above her arm and stared at it. Her mouth moved wordlessly. It seemed to take intense concentration and a lot of effort, but slowly the wound began to heal, the tiny line of blood vanishing. There was a faint pink mark left behind, but otherwise, it worked.
"Wow," Emma said, peering at the skin. She let her fingers reach out before she could think not to, and was shocked at the coolness of it. "You did it."
Regina's chin came up proudly; Emma almost laughed. "I'm very talented," she reminded Emma.
"Of course. Hopefully you won't melt your face off, then."
Emma saw the corners of her lips tip in what might have been a grin if she'd let it happen.
Ten minutes later, the worst of the bruising had faded, but Regina's energy had been sapped. At least now she didn't look like she'd gone a couple of rounds in a boxing ring and lost. "That's enough," Emma assured her, tilting her head at Regina's sallow skin in the mirror. "You've still got a concussion; you shouldn't tire yourself out."
"I don't know this word, concussion," Regina replied, touching her temple. "What is it?"
"It just means you hit your head really hard, and there are lingering side effects from that. You might get tired, or dizzy or sleep badly. And you know, the amnesia. That's part of it too."
Regina sighed and stared at herself in the mirror. "I don't know if I can heal that as well." She frowned, leaning close to the glass. "I see how I've aged, but it's just... gone. Everything. I wouldn't even know where to start."
Emma put a hand on her shoulder, swallowing hard. "It's okay. It will come back in time. I told you, it happens often. People do remember."
"Perhaps." Dark eyes closed in resignation. "Then again, I'm not sure I really want to remember. All you've told me sounds... horrible. And Daniel, too..." Emma watched tears slip from beneath her eyelids to splash on the sink. "I can't believe I was the one to finally end it. After so many years of hoping..." she trailed off.
Emma squeezed the muscles of her shoulder in sympathy, and exhaled slowly when Regina's fingers covered her own.
Dr. Whale--or Frankenstein, Emma corrected mentally, though that sounded even sillier than thinking of her mother as Snow White--gave Regina a passingly clean bill of health. He also gave a list of warning signs for Emma to watch out for: a headache that wouldn’t go away, slurred speech, vomiting, or clumsiness in Regina’s gait. Why he was so sure she would be watching over Regina was irrelevant, since she’d pretty much taken responsibility for her care. Snow would probably be pissed, but that didn’t much matter.
As Emma waited for the paperwork to be completed, she got a text from Henry.
When can I see you and Mom? Is she okay?
Emma typed quickly.
She’s feeling better, but she doesn’t remember you, kid. I don’t want to upset you.
I won’t be upset. I just want to see her.
Glancing at Regina in a riding outfit she'd conjured up out of nowhere back at the house, Emma took a deep breath.
Where are you?
At the loft, but I can meet you at Granny’s.
Okay. Give us about fifteen minutes.
Emma glanced over and watched Regina nod at Dr. Whale, letting her eyes travel lazily down her legs. Those pants were... flattering, to say the least. The curve of her calf was elegant and alluring as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She wasn’t even trying to be sexy; she just was. Regina seemed less physically conscious of the way she looked than she usually did; she held herself differently, although Emma couldn’t put her finger on the change.
Whale put a hand out and patted Regina on the arm, and a nurse snuck by the two of them, looking wildly suspicious. Emma swallowed and stood, slipping her phone into her pocket. Regina turned toward her and smiled, so openly that it made Emma catch her breath. That expression of acceptance and belief that Emma was only interested in helping her wasn't making Emma feel any better. Mainly it was making Emma wonder exactly what had happened to Regina over the years to create the impenetrable wall that separated her from the rest of the world. She knew of the death of her loved one, and the marriage to a man she didn't love, and the raising of a child who had betrayed her trust, but the rest of it was hazy. Henry's book had never told the story of the Evil Queen beyond how it affected that of Snow and Charming. Emma wondered who'd written that blasted thing in the first place, and why the other side of the story had never been told.
It occurred to her, not for the first time, that the book was only a means to an end, written to deliberately leave out some parts of the story, creating sympathy for some and none for others.
“Dr. Frankenstein has released me,” Regina said. “I just need to stop in the water closet before we go, I--” she made an awkward motion with her head-- “Can you wait?”
“Sure thing,” Emma replied, leaning against the nurse's station. The nurse with that odd 40s hairdo was there, raising an eyebrow at her insouciance. She always looked like she wanted to take Emma's head off, and today was no exception.
“She's as fine as she can be, considering the circumstances,” Whale said. “Just remember what I told you about the warning signs.” He sighed, looking around her shoulder toward the bathroom Regina had just stepped into. “Apparently at this point in her life she knew very little about healing. I was very sorry to discover that; I'd hoped that by today something would have come back to her.”
Emma was surprised. “You mean later in her life, she did know how to heal?”
“Of course!” Whale replied, looking affronted by the question. “She's as strong a healer as Rumpelstiltskin, and he reattached my arm without breaking a sweat a few months ago. Regina could have done the same. She just can't recall how.”
“That sucks,” Emma lamented. “Sure would have made this easier.”
“You'll have to just... remind her that she can do it. I did some reading this afternoon, and in some cases reminding someone with amnesia can help them remember. Of course it doesn't always work, but it's worth a shot. And I know that you and Snow have already revealed far more of her past than I would have preferred this early on, but I can't control the universe, sadly,” he said.
“I'm sure that came as a shock,” Emma said under her breath, keeping an eye on the bathroom door. She was ready to get the hell out of here. She heard Whale make a noise of dissatisfaction and assumed he was preparing to display the “blowhard idiot” part of his persona when the bathroom door swung open to reveal Regina... Only, she had long hair, styled in a French braid that rested on one shoulder.
She looked pleased with herself. “Do you like it?” she asked, stroking the length of the braid. “I didn't look like myself in the mirror. I still don't, not really, but at least it's closer.”
Emma smiled in spite of herself. It was strange to see Regina look so shy, as if searching for approval. “Yeah, it's pretty,” she replied. And it was. Emma wanted to reach out and touch; instead she held her hands very still at her sides. “Are you all set?”
“If you mean am I set to leave this horrible place, I am very much so. Good day, Dr. Frankenstein. I suppose I'll have to see you again soon, but I will be in no hurry to do so.”
“Of course, your majesty. Until then,” he said, skulking off before either of them had a chance to insult him again.
“What shall we do now?” Regina asked. “Must we go back to that--my house again?”
“No, I thought we could stop by the diner, where Ruby works. You remember her from yesterday?”
“I do. She’s very kind. Maybe she can make me more of those potatoes,” she said, and Emma pressed her lips together.
It was a little early in the day for fries, but she wasn’t about to argue. “I’m sure she can. And there’s someone who wants to see you. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, but he’s been asking.”
Regina didn’t look over at her as they stood in the elevator, more concerned with the oddness of riding in a box that moved from place to place than anything else. She placed both hands against the railing until the door opened to let them out. Only when they stepped into the hallway did she ask, “What were you saying?”
“Henry, your son, wants to see you,” Emma said. “Are you okay with that?”
The little frown line appeared between her brows, but she nodded. “He knows that I don’t remember?”
“He does. He just wants to say hello and visit with you. You don’t have to feel any pressure. Just... show up. That should be enough for now.”
Emma recalled another conversation she had yesterday. “I also want you to meet with one other person. His name is Archie, and he’s a friend of yours, sort of. Someone you’ve been... working with. On becoming a--” the words “better person” seemed pretty insulting, so Emma went with, “a more relaxed person. You’ve been pretty stressed out lately.”
Regina smiled and shook her head. “It’s odd, Miss Swan, to hear you speak. Your turns of phrase--I understand them, but they are so unusual. I suppose that I will get used to them in time.”
“Turns of phrase?” Emma asked.
“Stressed out,” Regina repeated. “There were a few yesterday as well that took me time to decipher, but I rather enjoyed hearing them.”
“Oh,” Emma said, feeling stupid. “If I ever say something that you can’t figure out, just tell me. I’ll explain.”
Regina slipped a hand under Emma’s elbow as they walked along in the sunshine. “I know you will.” She glanced over, and Emma felt her heart stumble at the little sideways grin Regina gave her. “You don’t seem the type to make fun of someone.”
Emma laughed. “Oh, I am, but not of you,” she said, and fumbled for a way to make that sound less flirtatious. “I mean, not right now, anyway. I used to tease you all the time. It was kind of our thing. But you teased me right back, so it was okay.”
“Oh?” Regina bobbed her head softly. “‘Our thing.’ That sounds nice.”
Swallowing, Emma took a breath. “Yeah. It was.”
They walked in silence to Granny’s; Emma left the Bug in the hospital parking lot mostly because it was so nice to be out in the sunshine. She’d also noticed Regina’s discomfort at being in the car and other small places, like the elevator. Maybe her nervousness would ease in time.
When they arrived, the place was mostly empty except for Ruby behind the counter, and Henry in their regular booth. He didn’t jump up out of his seat, instead standing up slowly and approaching them with wide eyes. “Hi,” he said to Regina, never once glancing at Emma. “My name’s Henry. I’m your son.”
Regina held out a hand, almost like she was offering it to one of her subjects. He took it with some uncertainty, not kissing it, but grinning. “I like your hair.”
She exhaled with a small laugh. “Thank you, dear. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“From Emma, right?” Henry asked.
“Yes, from Emma. She’s your mother too,” Regina said, as if reminding herself.
“Yeah, but you raised me. I know lots about you. Do you think I might be able to help you remember?”
It was bittersweet to watch them; Regina seemed to want desperately to recall Henry, and Henry looked so hopeful as he stared up into her face. She wished that of all of those who Regina might remember, Henry would be the one.
They sat down at the table, and Ruby greeted them with a cheerful smile and a menu for Regina to read. “Henry, can you tell me about these? What is french toast? I like french fries, so perhaps I would enjoy that too.”
“Oh, you don’t usually eat that. It’s toast dipped in egg, then I guess fried in something?” Emma nodded that he was right. “Then you put syrup on it.” Regina made a face that said she definitely wouldn’t want to try it. “Sometimes you don’t eat breakfast at all. You just have coffee. But most of the time you have some grapefruit or a banana and oatmeal.” Regina looked deflated at these options.
“That doesn’t mean you have to eat that,” Emma said, wondering why she ate things she didn’t like, unless she was really that health-conscious. “There are like, a hundred choices on the menu. And I bet if there’s something else you want, Ruby would make it for you. Unless it’s some weird animal we don’t have here, like um,” she thought about it for a second, “chimera.”
For the first time, Regina burst out laughing, and the sound of it startled all of them; Henry sat up straighter in his seat, Ruby gawped, and Emma tried not to drool. She really was remarkably beautiful when she laughed. Again, Emma marveled at the change in her. She knew that by this time I her history Regina was well on the path toward Evil Queendom, training with Rumpel, plotting against a young Snow, probably having already killed or maimed or something just as bad. Why then did she seem so completely... loveable?
Her reply interrupted Emma’s train of thought. “I don’t want chimera, but thank you for the offer. Pancakes, though, we had those back home. I rarely got a chance to indulge. Leopold didn’t like me eating them.”
“Why?” Henry asked.
Regina blinked at him. A few moments passed, and Emma watched Regina close right up. “No reason.” She looked down at the menu.
Henry met Emma’s eyes. Emma could tell he was chewing the inside of his cheek, debating whether or not to say something. She gave him the tiniest nod. Go ahead.
“You don’t have to pretend, Mom. I mean Regina. You never talked about him, before.”
Regina didn’t look up, but Emma could see her wrestling with the choice to speak, or stay silent. “He didn’t want me to eat sweets or anything rich. He liked me to be slim, for the court.”
Emma lifted an eyebrow. “Sounds like a real jerk.”
Regina looked up, and the electricity between them was immediate. “I don’t know that word, but I think I can understand its meaning.”
“Yeah, he does sound like a jerk.” Henry frowned, probably realizing that he’d just called his great-grandfather a jerk. “I don’t usually think about you being married. That seems weird.”
“I understand it’s been a long time since I was married, although for me, it doesn’t seem to have ended. I still feel married.”
That spurred on a question from Emma. “How long have you been with the king?”
“A little over two years. Two... interminable years.”
“Oh,” Emma said, and thought about it. That meant that she’d been married a hell of a longer longer before she’d actually killed her husband. Snow had told her that her father had died when she was 21. “And how old was Snow, for you?”
“She had her 13th birthday not long ago. There was quite the celebration.”
That meant there would have been eight more years of being married to a guy she didn’t love, with whom she had been forced into a union. She wondered what else Leopold had done to her; restricting diets was one thing, but what else was there? Emma was torn. She wanted to know, but Snow still adored Leopold. She talked about him like he was a saint.
“I think we should start with pancakes and bacon and eggs,” Henry said, and Emma was sure he was trying to lighten the mood. “Do you like whipped cream?”
Regina shook her head, coming back to the present. “I--I think I do. My father gave it to me when I was a child, with a hot cinnamon drink I’d have before bedtime. My mother didn’t like me to have it, but sometimes we would sneak down to the kitchen and share one. Mother thought it would keep me from sleeping through the night.”
“Sounds like you went from one winner to another,” Emma mumbled, drawing Regina’s gaze. “I mean, I think we should get chocolate chip and banana, with whipped cream.”
“And hot cocoa, with cinnamon. Do you want that, Mom?”
“I think I’d prefer coffee, with milk. And sugar?” she asked, as though she needed permission.
Emma slid the little collection of sugar packets over to her side of the table. “You can have all you want right here.”
Regina smiled, her eyes alight.
Emma thought that for a Queen, she must have had one miserable life if she could get excited about a packet of sugar.
Ruby took their order and flounced back to the counter, while Regina watched her. “Her skirt is... very short.” She turned to Henry. “Is that normal?”
Henry giggled. “It is for Ruby. And it’s not as short as usual.”
Regina’s mouth dropped open as she glanced back toward Ruby, who was singing to herself and swaying to the music playing over the speakers. “Oh. Well. The styles here are quite different.”
“Come on, I’ve heard about your um, Queen outfits. They didn’t sound exactly conservative,” Emma quipped.
“Well, at least I covered my legs,” she replied primly.
“In skintight leather,” Emma retorted, eyebrow raised.
Regina tilted her head in Henry’s direction. “Do you always speak so freely in front of your son?”
With a roll of her eyes, she looked at Henry. “What do you say, kid? Do we always talk like this in front of you?”
Henry nodded. “Oh yeah. This is nothing. You don’t usually curse though. Once Emma did and you got really mad and wouldn’t let her come over for three days.” He turned to Emma. “Remember that, Em?”
“Oh yeah, I remember,” she replied. “In your defense, it was kind of a bad curse word, which Henry has agreed to never, ever say,” she added, nodding toward him solemnly. “At least not in our presence until he’s 25 or older, and maybe not even then.”
“Yeah, I got it,” he said.
“I see,” Regina said, and lifted her shoulders. “Or I should say I will see. I will learn this world’s customs and adopt them for myself. But I don’t know that I will wear my skirts quite so short.”
Too bad, Emma thought.
When the pancakes came, Regina took one look at them and didn’t breathe until she’d finished her whole plate. She drowned them in half a container of syrup, and mopped up as much of the sugar as she could with her final bite. Emma pictured her licking the plate, which she didn’t do, but there was a moment when Emma thought she’d go for it.
Henry stared at her the whole time. He was as gobsmacked as Emma was. Ruby came to the table hesitantly to refill her coffee, and her eyebrows flew up at the clean plate. “Um, can I fix you some more, Regina?”
Regina blinked as if waking from a dream. She swallowed in a fashion Emma couldn’t consider anything other than orgasmic. “Oh, no, thank you Ruby. It was marvelous. I really shouldn’t.” She patted her stomach delicately.
“‘Shouldn’t’ is no reason not to,” Emma offered. Regina looked surprised at the suggestion. “We’ll have some fries, too. Anything else?” she asked.
“Perhaps,” Regina began, not meeting the eyes of anyone around the table. “Perhaps just one more.”
“How about strawberry, then? Goes great with the whipped cream.”
“Yes, that would be nice.” Regina wiped her mouth primly with the corner of her napkin, looking for all the world as though she hadn’t just inhaled, at the very least, 2000 calories.
“We’re having fries for breakfast?” Henry questioned. “Cool.”
The second batch of strawberry pancakes arrived as Henry was finishing his four silver dollars, and Emma couldn’t quite make it through her serving. But Regina was as eager about those pancakes as she had been the first go round, except apparently she enjoyed the strawberry version even more. She was breathing heavily by the time she’d polished them off, but she didn’t look a bit like she regretted it. “Delicious. Is all food in this world so incredible?”
“I guess you’ll find out. It’s only day one. So far, we like fries and pancakes. But not chicken salad.” Emma sipped her cocoa and winced; despite her usual sugar habit, she’d about reached her limit for the morning.
“No chicken salad?” Henry asked. “You used to eat that all the time.”
“I found it rather bland,”Regina said, almost apologetic. “I could certainly try again--”
“It’s just food, Regina. You get to have anything you want. You’re an adult. You decide.”
Regina gazed openly at Emma, stunned. “Yes. I decide. That’s right.” She picked up a fry and ate it with a defiant little huff.
Emma hid her grin and saw Henry doing the same; he was heroically gnawing on his lower lip. They were distracted by the jangle of the bell, and Kathryn and Frederick came in the diner. They spotted Regina immediately, and their faces reflected the same surprise Emma had felt when she saw her new attire and hairstyle.
“Do I know those people?” Regina asked. “I suppose I would.”
“Yes, that’s Kathryn and Frederick. She’s the daughter of King Midas, once engaged to David, who married Snow. Frederick is--” the gym teacher, Emma almost said. “A knight, I guess.”
“That’s right,” Henry said. “He got turned to gold, but David brought him water from Lake Nostos and he was freed.”
“Lake Nostos?” Regina echoed. “The lake guarded by the siren?”
“Yeah. David defeated her.”
“Ah,” Regina said. “He must be very brave,” she added with a cringe, as though it pained her to say it.
“He is,” Henry said, then seemed to realize why Regina was frowning. “But the important part is that once the curse broke, Kathryn and Frederick were reunited. Her real name is Abigail, but she got used to Kathryn, which is the name she got when she came to Storybrooke. Same with Ruby. She used to go by Red.”
Tilting her head, Regina fastened her gaze on Henry. “You seem to know a great deal about everyone’s stories here, dear. How did you learn it all?”
“From the book.” At Regina’s blank look, Henry turned to Emma. “You didn’t tell her about the book?” he asked.
“Not really,” Emma admitted. “We talked about lots of things last night, but I didn’t explain how you knew that there was a curse, or how you found me.”
“What sort of book is this?” Regina questioned.
“It’s fairytales. All about Snow and Charming, I mean David, and Red Riding Hood and Granny, and the Blue Fairy and Pinocchio and Gepetto and everyone. You’re in it too, Mom, but I found out later that it only told part of your story. Not about how you grew up or anything. It was more after you became Evil.”
Leaning back, Regina nodded, although Emma could see the pleasure visibly slip from her expression. She did not mask her emotion very well. That skill must have developed over time. “I see.”
“Maybe you’d want to look at it with me later. Maybe it could help you remember stuff?”
With a swallow, Regina replied, “Of course, dear. You’re very considerate.” She glanced down at her empty plate again. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”
Henry brought out the boyish grin that Emma had grown so fond of. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault. You were rescuing Snow and David, and since you don’t use magic anymore you had to do it on your own.”
Regina inhaled sharply. “Why wouldn’t I use magic anymore? I still have power. I can feel it.”
“It made you bad,” Henry said. “You said it was like you were addicted to it. The more you used it, the more evil you got.”
Turning to Emma for confirmation, Regina looked helpless. Emma could only shrug. “That’s how you talked about it. When magic came to town once the curse broke, you said it was hard to resist.”
Sighing, Regina watched her clasped hands on the table. “I understand.” She got lost in thought, and although Henry was eager to say something, Emma caught his eye and shook her head. They waited, and Regina continued, “I imagine that could be possible. I imagine that could very easily be possible.” Carefully, Regina looked at Henry. “I won’t promise not to use magic, Henry. I think... I may need it here. For a time, in any case.”
Emma wasn’t surprised to hear that. She also didn’t fault Regina for it; for now it was the only familiar thing she had in her corner in a totally foreign world. “Kid, so far the only thing she’s done is heal some bruises and accidentally teleport us somewhere. Nothing else.” She decided to give Regina the benefit of the doubt, for once. Even though she was probably making a huge mistake. “Let it go, for now. Okay? Things are pretty different than they were.”
“I don’t know,” Henry said, looking genuinely distressed. “It could make you go evil again.”
“Yes, it could,” Regina said. “But I need it, Henry. Would you rather I lie, and tell you I won’t, than break my promise?”
Emma raised an eyebrow and watched Henry wrestle with the idea. “No, I guess not.” After a few moments, he nodded once. “Okay. But no killing people, and no hurting people. Especially my grandma and grandpa.”
When Regina frowned, Emma added, “Snow and David.”
“Oh,” Regina said, exhaling. “I wasn’t thinking. It’s all... rather complicated.”
“Yeah, I’ve had that same thought,” Emma said with a chuckle.
“All right then, Henry. No hurting, and no killing. Only for good. After all, even though Snow is here--” her lip curled with the name-- “my circumstances have improved immeasurably since yesterday. I seem to have a home of my own, and friends,” she glanced at Emma with a smile, “and family, and a place. Even if I am not beloved in the eyes of the town, I don't mind. There is something to be said for disappearing into the woodwork, in my opinion.”
“Doesn’t sound much like the Evil Queen I knew,” Emma said.
Eyes flashing, Regina directed a fierce glare at Emma. “Consider that you might not know me at all,” she said firmly. “I only want to be myself. This is my chance at freedom, and I will take it.”
Despite herself, Emma liked seeing that fire again. She smiled. “I can live with that.”
When they were finished, Emma paid using a credit card, which Regina eyed with great interest when Ruby took it away to swipe. “What is that?”
“It’s called a credit card. I buy things with that card, and then I get a bill later and I pay it. It has a number on it that’s just mine.”
“Where do you get a card like that?”
“Um,” Emma said, wondering how on earth she was going to explain the state of banking in the US to someone who had just been introduced to light bulbs. “See, there’s a big bank that has lots of little branches. I use one of the branches here.”
“A bank?” she asked.
“Oh boy,” Henry said.
“It’s a place where people keep their money, so it’s safe.”
“Your money is protected in this bank?”
“Yes, I mean, as much as it can be.”
“Oh,” Regina said. Ruby returned with the card and slip for Emma to sign. “Thank you, Ruby, for the delicious meal. I enjoyed it very much.”
Ruby’s smile was enormous, and she started playing with her hair. “Thanks, Regina. You know, I love your new style. It’s really pretty.”
Regina bowed her head almost shyly and touched her braid. “Thank you. I found it strange to have it so short.”
“This suits you. I’ve never seen it like this.” And Ruby batted her eyes.
Emma wanted to throttle her. “Thanks, Ruby,” she said, her voice a little sharper than usual. Ruby seemed startled at the sound of her voice. “We’ll see you later.”
“Sure, Em. Bye Henry. Regina, you make sure you come back, and we’ll make everything on the menu to find out what you like,” Ruby offered with the lift of an eyebrow.
Regina’s expression said it all; Emma had a feeling they’d probably be back for dinner. Emma just had to figure out a way to keep Ruby from trying to get into Regina’s pants. She’d always had a crush on the mayor, and had confessed this more than once to Emma back before the curse broke. Apparently the crush had not gone away. When they’d stood up, as Regina brushed invisible crumbs from her trousers, Emma bit the bullet and mouthed silently to Ruby, “Cut it out.”
“What?” Ruby replied in the same fashion. “I didn’t do anything.”
Emma rolled her eyes. She decided to walk them past Kathryn and Frederick, who had not taken their eyes from Regina for much of their stay. “Hey. So I don’t know if you heard--”
“Yes, we have,” Kathryn said, standing. She appeared to want to reach out and pull Regina into her arms; Emma had always found it curious that of everyone in town, Kathryn remained certain Regina had changed for the better. All the while knowing the Mayor had tried to have her killed, and kept her from her true love for 28 years. It never ceased to amaze. “Regina, you won’t remember me, but we were friends here in Storybrooke. I think we were friends, at least.”
“It’s nice to... see you, Princess,” Regina said, holding out a hand in that unusual way.
Kathryn appeared a little shocked by the term, until turning to Emma, who said quickly, “I told her who you are.”
“Ah,” Kathryn said, taking Regina’s hand and bowing her head in a gesture that Emma wasn’t familiar with. It wasn’t a curtsey, but beyond that, Emma had no clue. “You must call me Kathryn. Meet my husband, Frederick,” she said.
Frederick stood and kissed Regina’s hand smoothly. “Your majesty.”
“I’m sorry,” Regina admitted, glancing between them. “It pains me to know I separated you for so many years. How you must detest me.”
Fred was clearly startled, and he simply placed a hand on Kathryn’s back. “We have come to terms with our losses, Majesty. We seek only to go forward. As I expect you do too.”
“Regina, come for dinner, won’t you? I do wish to know how you are,” Kathryn added. “You must be so tired, from your injury. Perhaps next week?”
Regina looked to Emma for confirmation, or permission, so Emma just smiled. “That’s nice, Kathryn. She’d love to, I mean, right?”
With a nod, Regina asked, “May Miss Swan attend as well? And Henry, if he likes?” she asked, as a question to her son.
Henry grinned eagerly. “Sure! I never get to see Kathryn, and I know Frederick. He’s awesome at basketball.”
“I’ll give you some pointers while the ladies catch up,” Frederick offered.
Kathryn extended a hand to Emma. “You must come as well.” She gripped her fingers tightly. “We haven’t spent nearly enough time together lately.”
“Sure,” Emma said, feeling the color come to her cheeks for some reason.
“Should we bring anything?” Emma asked. She was never sure what to do when asked to a more formal dinner than she was used to.
“Just yourselves. We’ll take care of everything.” To Regina, she said, “And you let Emma take care of you. She knows you best, she’ll be able to answer any questions you have.”
Regina’s eyes brightened. “I’ve noticed that. I--it’s nice. I feel... safe. For once.”
Emma bit her lip and tried not to read anything into that. She also tried not to let herself fall any harder than she already had.
They waved goodbye and left the diner. The sun shone more strongly and Emma shielded her eyes. “What now?” Henry asked.
Emma gazed down the street, toward Archie’s. “There’s someone else today who wanted to talk to you today, Regina. You--you’ve been visiting him a lot lately, and I think it might be good if you at least stopped by to say hello.”
“Who?” Henry inquired. Emma didn’t know if he knew how long Regina had been in therapy, but he was about to find out.
“Still?” Henry squawked. Turns out he didn’t know.
Regina paused in her step. “Who is this Archie, and what does he want with me?”
“He doesn’t want anything. He’s kind of like a doctor. I mean, he is a doctor, but he’s more like an, ah... He deals with emotions. Like when someone hurts you, or something bad happens, you talk to Archie. He does what we call therapy.” That was a terrible explanation, but it was the best she could do.
Regina stared at her, looking uncertain. “And what does one do in this therapy?”
“Talk,” Henry offered. “I’ve done it. It’s pretty okay. Archie’s great, and his dog is really nice. His name is Pongo.”
“So this Archie wants to see me, to do this talk therapy. What will I talk about?”
Emma shrugged. “Anything you want, I guess.” She’d been in a lot of therapy between foster homes, group homes and the occasional stint in juvie. She’d had a couple of good social workers, but she never got to have a permanent one since she was always moving around. And Archie, well, he was a friend now. She couldn’t see him even if she wanted to. Which she didn’t, but sometimes she thought it might be nice to talk to somebody about all the crazy shit in her life that would only make sense to someone who lived here. Too bad Archie didn’t have any competition in town.
“But I don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t even know him.”
“Let’s just go see him. He called me specifically yesterday to make sure you’re okay, so I promised I’d at least stop by.”
“Come on, Mom, I mean Regina. Archie’s great, and I haven’t seen Pongo in a while.” Henry looked up at her so sweetly that Emma thought he was laying it on a little thick. “Please?”
“All right,” Regina said, placing a hand on Henry’s head, sliding it down beneath his chin in a heartbreakingly familiar manner. Just seeing it made Emma lose her breath a little.
They got quite a few funny looks from passersby as they strolled. Regina seemed not to notice, or maybe she was just used to being stared at. It was probably a little of both. Once they climbed the stairs to Archie’s office, Emma knocked on the door and hoped he didn’t have a client. He didn’t; the door swung open right away, and he grinned as he motioned for them all to come in. Pongo got up from his doggie bed in the corner with a wagging tail, but he didn’t approach until Henry said, “Come here, boy!”
“Hi, Regina. Or Your Majesty, if you prefer,” Archie began. “I know your memories have been affected by your accident, and I’ll call you whatever you like. I’m glad you came.” They shook hands, and Regina nodded.
“I appreciate that. Regina is acceptable. I am a queen no longer. It’s rather a relief.” Pongo approached Regina and pushed his nose into her hand. He didn’t bark exactly, but whined for her attention. “This must be the Pongo I’ve heard about.” She knelt down and Pongo nearly jumped in his excitement, licking her face. “My, I think of everyone in Storybrooke, you’ve been the happiest to see me,” she told the dog.
Emma’s smile faded, and when Henry looked up at her, she could tell he was feeling the sadness too.
“You want to stay a while, Regina? We can just get to know each other, but only if you’re comfortable. I won’t force you stay.”
“I... suppose I wouldn’t mind. But you won’t go far, will you, Emma?” Regina asked.
“Nah, we’ll just hang out around the neighborhood,”she replied. “Archie, give me a call when you’re through. You want us to take Pongo for a walk?”
Glancing down at his dog, who was plastered to Regina’s side, Archie said, “No, I think Pongo can stay.”
“Good,” Regina said, leaning down to pet Pongo’s snout, and the dog’s behind wiggled ecstatically.
“Got it. So Regina, we’ll see you in a bit.” Emma waved her phone toward Archie. “We won’t be far.”
“Thank you, Emma,” Regina said sincerely. “Goodbye.”
Henry waved too, and in moments they were out on the sidewalk, gazing up at the bright sun. “How about a walk to the beach?” Emma suggested.
Henry nodded. “Cool.”