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There are stars in the sky.

 

That is what Emma comprehends first - before she feels the ache in her head, or the hard concrete beneath her, before she hears the frantic calling of her name, or the sound of feet pounding towards her.

 

There are stars in the sky, shimmering above her, and they are beautiful. She doesn't remember the last time she's seen stars like this - vivid and bright and not masked by city lights.

 

"Emma!" That frantic voice belongs to a head that swims into her vision, blocking her view of the stars. Concerned blue eyes stare down at her.

 

She groans, feeling the ache in her head and the concrete below her all at once. She moves her arms, intent on pushing herself up off this hard ground.

 

"No!" the man with the concerned blue eyes says much too loudly, crouching down beside her, a hand reaching out to prevent her from moving. "Don't move. I'm calling for help," he says, pulling his phone from his pocket.

 

"I'm fine," Emma says on reflex, even though she's not quite sure she is. She's not even sure what's happened, why she's lying here on what she now realizes is a sidewalk on the side of a road.

 

" Emma ," he sighs in such an oddly familiar way, like he just knows not to believe her when she says she's fine .

 

Who is he? She blinks slowly and stares at his face while he speaks rapidly to what must be an emergency operator. She can't place him at all.

 

There are other questions, too. Like where she is? And how she ended up wherever here is? She must have been chasing a bail jumper, she decides. She's hit her head and she's a little disoriented but she'll remember all the details any minute now. 

 

Except she doesn't.

 

"Don't worry," the man says once he's done with the phone call, seeming to sense her unease. His eyes are filled with kindness and worry in equal measure now. "I'll call Regina. She'll meet us at the hospital."

 

Regina? She's sure she doesn't know a Regina and now she's wondering if maybe he's mistaken her from someone else? Someone else also named Emma. She frowns at that. It's unlikely. But not impossible. 

 

She wants to ask him. Wants to tell him not to call some woman named Regina and worry her for nothing when Emma might not even be the Emma he's thinking of. That's a lot of words though, a lot of explanation, especially with an aching head filled with jumbled thoughts. So, what she says instead is, "Best not to call her, yet," which should at least buy her some time to remember something .

 

The man with the kind blue eyes looks uncertain but not exactly surprised at that suggestion. He glances from Emma to his phone and back again, like he truly can't decide. The sound of the approaching ambulance, a loud siren that hurts Emma's already aching head, seems to make the decision for him. He slips his phone back into his pocket and stands to greet the paramedics.

 

It doesn't take long for Emma to be loaded up into the ambulance and brought to a hospital called Storybooke General. She frowns at the sign as she's unloaded and wheeled past it into the emergency room, wills her brain to bring forward details of today, of how she's ended up here, and especially of where here is - because she still doesn't have a single clue.

 

xxxxxx

 

Panic.

 

All consuming panic is the only thing Regina feels when David calls her.

 

She's at the hospital in a flash. A cloud of purple smoke taking her from her home office to the emergency room.

 

"Where is she?" she snaps loudly at David, who is leaning against the wall near the triage desk.

 

David pushes off the wall and steps towards her, meeting her half way. "They're stitching her up." He motions with his head to the curtained off area back behind triage.

 

Regina doesn't need any more information. She heads in the direction David's motioned without even a second of hesitation. Anyone who might stop her, doesn't - she's their mayor, and their queen, they wouldn't

 

She pulls the curtain back unceremoniously and finds Emma sitting up in a hospital bed, while a young doctor, a woman Regina doesn't really recognize, puts a final stitch in her head wound. 

 

"Emma," Regina breathes out, relief flooding her at the sight of her wife alive and alert. She's going to yell at her so much tonight when she gets her home. How dare she survive curses and villains just to be nearly done in by a raised sidewalk slab? Emma needs to be more careful - Regina is always saying that, Emma just doesn't listen.

 

Emma frowns at her, her brow furrowing, which leads to a wince, surely caused by the pain of her head wound. "Ummm… hi?"

 

It's such an Emma reply - Regina can perfectly picture the sheepish grin that would usually accompany it - but there is no such grin here. Emma's eyes are filled with uncertainty and Regina's lips purse in response, her heart sinking as the confusion in the green eyes staring up at her only seems to grow. Emma is looking at Regina like she's a stranger. 

 

"Do you know who I am?" Regina asks and it's with such trepidation - she's certain she already knows the answer but is still afraid to hear it.

 

"Err…" Emma bites her lip nervously. "I think Regina, right?" she doesn't sound certain about that at all, she sounds like she's just repeating a name she's heard. "Was I tracking down a bail jumper for you?"

 

A weight, heavy like a stone, drops into Regina's stomach - Emma really doesn't know who she is. She has to swallow thickly past the lump that forms in her throat. 

 

"What's the last thing you remember, Emma?" It's the doctor, who has been silently watching the exchange, who speaks. The doctor who looks far too serious, far too concerned, to put Regina at ease. 

 

Emma frowns again, looking from Regina to the doctor and back, like this is some kind of test she needs to pass. "Umm…"

 

The doctor holds her hand up to stop her when it's clear she's struggling. She smiles gently, "It's okay, let's try something easier. How old are you?"

 

Emma relaxes, seeming relieved by a question she knows the answer to. "Twenty seven."

 

Regina can't stop the gasp that slips past her lips. Can't stop the nausea that rises in her stomach - a fresh wave of worry and fear. Emma hasn't just forgotten Regina, she actually thinks she's twenty seven - this is some kind of nightmare.

 

" What ?" Emma asks uncertainly, clearly sensing that something is wrong, her bottom lip catching between her teeth again.

 

"I'm sorry Emma," Regina says, quietly, so quietly, like, if she says it softly enough, it won't be as shocking. Like somehow she can cushion this enough that it won't hurt Emma. "You're not twenty seven. You're forty two."

 

"No," Emma shakes her head and then stops immediately, wincing. "That can't be right."

 

"I'm afraid it is," the doctor confirms.

 

Emma's eyes linger on Regina for seconds that feel like forever, before she asks, her voice a mixture of curiosity and wariness, "Who are you?"

 

"Regina."

 

"No, not your name, I know that," Emma says. "Who are you? Like why did that man say he'd call you? Why are you here now?"

 

Regina takes one breath, and then another, and then one more, and she still ends up having to swallow thickly before she can answer, "I'm your wife."

 

Emma's eyes widen instantly, in what would be a comical expression if everything about this situation wasn't making Regina feel sick to her stomach.

 

Emma's initial shock is replaced with uncertainty and Regina can see the struggle that flashes through her eyes as she tries to process what she's just been told. "That's, umm… I just… it's just…"

 

"Surprising?" Regina fills in, smiling at her, soft and fond, even if the worry that has formed a knot in the pit of her stomach prevents that smile from truly reaching her eyes.

 

"Yeah," Emma shrugs, sheepish as she smiles back an odd shy sort of smile - shy and earnest, and a little hesitant.

 

Regina just stares at her, stares at the woman she loves, the woman she's loved for years - many of those years painful for both of them. What is she supposed to do, what is she supposed to say , when the love of her life doesn't remember her at all?

 

xxxxxx

 

They do a CT scan. There is no damage. None that is visible, anyway. No bleeding or swelling or any reason whatsoever why this has happened, why Regina's wife can't even remember meeting her, let alone how they got here to where they are now - together, happy .

 

They move Emma to a private room because they want to keep her for overnight observation. It's there that the young doctor assures Emma, assures Regina, that her memory should come back, that it shouldn't take long, that these things happen sometimes. 

 

Should is all Regina hears, her heart thumping loudly in her chest, reverberating in her ears. Should isn't good enough - she wants to scream that, wants to take her anger out on this doctor who has done nothing wrong except have no real answers. Instead she thanks her, let's her leave the room. 

 

Snow bursts in then, David just behind her. She is a blubbering mess as she clutches Emma's hand and tells her everything will be okay. Emma is frozen looking up at her with wide, slightly terrified eyes, clearly overwhelmed by this display. 

 

"Who are they?" Emma asks, when David finally manages to usher Snow back out of the room with a mouthed apology at them.

 

It's a loaded question even if Emma couldn't possibly know that. "They are… our annoying friends. David and Mary Margaret. Although everyone calls her Snow - it's a dreadful nickname," Regina says casually, taking a seat in a chair beside the bed, crossing one leg over the other and settling her hands on her knees - mostly to stop herself from reaching out to take Emma's hand the same way Snow had.

 

Emma blinks slowly. “Is she always… like that?” 

 

Regina can't help but laugh. “Unfortunately," she smirks. "But you insist we tolerate them because she was your roommate when you first moved to Storybrooke."

 

"Hmm." Emma makes a sound like she's truly surprised, and maybe a little curious about this new information. There's close to an entire minute of silence before she asks, "When did I move here?"

 

"When you were twenty eight," Regina says.

 

"Why?" 

 

Regina hesitates, unsure how to explain without explaining magic - and magic is something she's positive Emma isn't prepared to hear. This isn't the Emma who'd stood by her side and saved this town time and time again, not really, this is a younger Emma, an Emma who has only ever been alone, an Emma whose first instinct is to run. 

 

Regina supposes she can go with the truth, or close enough to it, and hope that by morning Emma will have her own memories back and Regina will not have to try and explain why Henry is nearly the same age as her. She treads carefully with her words, knowing they will likely shock Emma, and that they might hurt her too - and Regina desperately wants to avoid that. "I adopted your son. His name is Henry and when he was ten he wanted to meet you. I was foolish and didn't want him to. And, so, he did it himself. Ran away to Boston and found you. You brought him home. Here. To Storybooke. And then you just never left."

 

Emma sits frozen, blinking slowly. 

 

Regina gives her a minute and when she still hasn't said anything, she questions tentatively, "Emma?"

 

Emma startles, grimacing. "Sorry… it's just… wow. That's. Wow. I never thought… wow."

 

Regina can't stop herself then, can't keep her hand from reaching out and settling gently on Emma's forearm, can't stop her thumb from rubbing gently against Emma's skin in the way she knows Emma finds soothing, can't stop the, "I know, darling," from slipping past her lips.

 

Emma looks at Regina with startled eyes, frozen again, like she's not sure what to make of that endearment or of Regina's hand on her arm. She doesn't pull away but she doesn't say anything either.

 

Regina reluctantly withdraws her hand, afraid the contact is too much, berating herself for reaching out like that at all.

 

Emma's eyes linger on the place Regina's fingers were. When she finally looks up, her eyes are tinged with exhaustion. "What else do I need to know?"

 

Regina considers that, considers which details of their life might be essential. So many of them she can't share at all. She can't even really say that they have three children, not if Emma might still be missing her memories in the morning. "We have a daughter, Hope," she says, choosing the one detail that can be easily shared - even if the truth of her conception, the true love magic that created her, can't be. "She's five."

 

"Really?" Emma asks and there is a different kind of surprise on her face, less shock and more wonder. Regina imagines it's simply easier for her to process a child she has no memory of giving away than it is to process what Regina told her about Henry.

 

"Yes," Regina smiles fondly. 

 

Emma smiles too, just a little, even though the exhaustion is still there in her eyes. "This is all crazy."

 

"I know," Regina says sympathetically. Her hand twitches, that desire to reach out overwhelming again but she resists. "We don't need to go over everything tonight. There's no sense inundating you with information. We can talk more tomorrow." Tomorrow when hopefully Emma will wake with her memories.

 

"Tomorrow," Emma says, like she's terrified of the prospect. 

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina leaves the hospital, even though every fiber of her being wants to stay. But Emma is overwhelmed, so clearly overwhelmed, and Regina knows her wife well enough to know when she needs to be alone.

 

If the amnesia was because of magic, Regina would head to her vault, would work all night and find a solution , but it is not - magic would likely do more harm than good at this point. So, she goes home to the manor where twenty one year old Ry is sitting on the couch, reading a book, waiting for her.

 

"Hope's asleep," he says, setting his book down on the coffee table and sitting up straighter. "How's Mom?"

 

Sometimes, even five years later, Regina is struck by the ways that Ry and Henry are exactly the same and the ways that they are so very different.

 

The book he's set on the coffee table is not one of his college textbooks, it's a fantasy novel she recognizes as something Henry must have once read. That book brings forth the memory of Ry's delight at discovering all of the books in her study, back when everything between them had been tentative and new. She'd offered suggestions and watched with fondness and love as he'd read his way through Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games, and dozens of other books, with such enthusiasm - that love of reading, of fantasy, and possibilities, was so much like Henry's.

 

The way Ry sits stiffly on the couch, looking up at her with nervous eyes, is so unlike Henry though - Henry would have bounced up off the couch and bounded towards her, would have hugged her first, and asked questions second. But Ry remains a product of a childhood in the Enchanted Forest - where even with a grandmother who talked to birds, and a mother who loved him dearly, he learned to be reserved, learned to behave the way that was expected of a knight and future king.

 

Regina goes to him. Sitting beside him on the couch and patting his knee - knowing that he'll appreciate the comfort of that gesture even if he rarely is the one to reach out first. "She hit her head pretty hard."

 

"And she doesn't remember us," Ry fills in, and, before Regina's confusion can fully form, adds, "I take it you haven't checked your phone recently?" 

 

"I left it here," Regina admits. She'd left in such a panic, pausing only long enough to make sure Ry wasn't going anywhere and could watch Hope. 

 

Ry nods. "Grandma started a group chat. She filled us in."

 

Regina waves her hand, her phone appearing in a cloud of purple smoke, and she can see immediately that he's right, that she's missed hundreds of messages. She quirks an eyebrow at Ry as she reads the group name, " Emnesia ?"

 

Ry shrugs, "Henry renamed it. Grandma tried to call it We Will Find Her Memories."

 

Regina rolls her eyes, which makes Ry chuckle.

 

" So ," he says after a beat, "How is she?"

 

Regina understands the question now, understands that Ry wasn't asking about Emma's medical diagnosis but about her mental state. Ry sees Emma the way that Regina sees him - the same and so very different than the Emma he'd grown up with. Because of that, he worries about her in a different way than Henry does, than Regina does. 

 

"She's a little overwhelmed," Regina tells him, patting his knee again, offering the comfort she can. "She'll be okay. We'll make sure of that."

 

Ry nods seriously. "And what about you ?" He asks, quirking an eyebrow at her - a look he's somehow picked up from her. 

 

"I'm fine," Regina insists. "You don't need to be worrying about me."

 

Ry eyes her skeptically, but he doesn't push, it's not his style, not with her at least. "Alright," he says, reaching for his book on the coffee table. "I'm going to head up to my room. I can take Hope to school tomorrow and pick her up, so you don't need to worry about that, just focus on Mom."

 

Fondness and a swell of love fills Regina's chest. She smiles softly at him, "Thanks. That would really help."

 

Ry smiles back, that shy pleased smile of his, and then he stands, heading for the stairs with one last glance back at Regina. 

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina checks on Hope, who is sound asleep, one leg kicked out from under the blankets. Regina doesn't bother adjusting the blankets, she knows that that leg will just end up back where it is now - it's a sleeping habit that she's gotten from Emma. She just kisses Hope's forehead gently and then heads for the master bedroom.

 

She can't sleep. She sits up in bed and reads every last message in the Emnesia group chat - Snow and David, Henry and Jacinda and Sabine, Ry, and even Zelena have all contributed. In the time Regina spent sitting at Emma's bedside, wanting to hold her hand and resisting, their family has managed to come up with a plan - a plan for what to do if Emma does not wake tomorrow with her memories.

 

Regina is relieved when she reads one of Henry's first messages, the one that says that under no circumstances is Emma to be told about magic. She is relieved that he's recognized the underlying problem. Relieved that he knows, like she does, that if they aren't careful Emma will run before she's had enough time to sort out just how much she is loved - just how much she belongs here with them.

 

The plan they've come up with is in recognition of what they can't tell Emma, and it is simple enough. Ry will be Henry - the Henry from Storybrooke, the one Regina adopted and who brought Emma home. Henry will use his Hyperion Heights backstory, he will be a former foster child who they just happen to have befriended - a member of their found family. The thought of having to claim him as anything other than her son hurts a little but it only makes sense. The rest of the details are minor but well fitting and easy to keep track of - Henry's author mind has really done an outstanding job with what he had to work with.

 

It's late by the time she's done reading through the entire chat but still Regina dials Henry's number, wanting to hear his voice.

 

He picks up on the first ring. "Ry said you were home. I was hoping you'd call."

 

They talk for a while and when their conversation finally reaches its end, Henry tells her, "Everything is going to be okay, Mom."

 

"How do you know?" Regina says and it's barely more than a murmur. It's the thing she wants to believe more than anything.

 

"I just do." Henry says - still the Truest Believer even after all these years.

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma has a wife. 

 

That is the first thing she thinks when she wakes the next morning.

 

Emma has a wife. Her name is Regina. She has dark hair and dark eyes and a scar above her lip. She is gorgeous.

 

Emma has a wife. She knows this because she remembers meeting her yesterday. 

 

Yesterday. The day she hit her head and forgot 15 years of her life. Forgot her wife and their children - her family . She doesn't really believe any of it. It feels like a trick, impossible, unfathomable. 

 

She slips out of the hospital bed and heads to the room's small washroom where she stares at herself in the mirror. 

 

It's her face but not . Her hair is shorter, barely brushing her shoulders, but at least it's the same colour she remembers. There are the beginnings of wrinkles on her face, especially near the corners of her eyes. There's no mistaking that this is an older version of herself - that she is an older version of herself.

 

It still feels absolutely impossible.

 

She lies to the doctor who comes to check on her, pretends her memories are intact, and checks herself out of the hospital.

 

She is sitting on a bench outside by the time Regina - her wife - arrives. 

 

She might have fooled the doctor but Regina takes one look at her and seems to just know , insisting that they go back in to see the doctor who she is going to have some choice words for.

 

"There's nothing wrong with me," Emma protests and when Regina quirks an eyebrow that makes Emma feel oddly sheepish, she adds hastily, "Besides that I can't remember the last fifteen years, obviously . My head doesn't even hurt much anymore. You heard the doctor yesterday, the memories will come back at some point." Probably she adds in her head.

 

Regina's lips purse and her expression is truly unreadable to Emma until she sighs, "Alright, I'll take you home. But don't think I won't march you right back here if I think it's necessary."

 

Emma gulps, flustered in a way she's not used to. "Yeah, yeah, okay, that's fine."

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma stares out the window, watching buildings she doesn't recognize pass by, as they drive through town, heading towards the place Regina had called home .

 

She feels a bit like she's a child again, being taken to yet another new home by a social worker. Feels that same flicker of hope that she hadn't ever really been able to squash no matter how many times she'd gotten burned - that flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe , this time she really will find a place to stay forever, people who will love her, a family . It's a feeling she'd never wanted to feel again. A feeling she wasn't ever supposed to have to feel again. And that flicker in her chest now makes her want to open the car door and jump out. She's afraid to hope, even if she apparently shouldn't be - not when the person sitting beside her is her wife , is already her family, already loves her.

 

It's a little aggravating to apparently have gotten everything she's ever wanted and not even remember it. Even more aggravating to not know if she can trust that she really has. It's easy to imagine that she's being lied to. It's easy to imagine that whatever life her future self has built here isn't what it seems. It's easy to assume she will be hurt - because when has she ever not been?

 

"Almost there," Regina says, interrupting Emma's thoughts as they turn onto a street whose sign reads Mifflin Street .

 

"Wow," Emma can't help the surprised word that escapes past her lips as they pull up in front of a large white house with the address 108 . "Do we really live here?" That we feels oddly natural coming out of her mouth, even if it sounds foreign.

 

"We do." Regina smiles over at Emma, looking almost nervous.

 

"Cool," Emma says. She smiles back at her, mostly because she has a very sudden desire to put Regina at ease, like there's a voice in her head telling her that she should .

 

Still, the whole thing feels impossibly awkward and Emma bites her lip as Regina leads the way inside. 

 

There are pictures on the wall in the hallway and Emma stops to stare in wonder. It's one thing to be told they are family, that they have children, that they love each other, and it's another entirely to see it in pictures. She smiles at the little girl with the dark curly hair standing in between herself and Regina in a large group picture. "This is Hope?" she asks, her finger tapping against the glass. 

 

"Yes," Regina nods.

 

"She looks just like you."

 

"You were the one who carried her," Regina offers. 

 

"Really?" Emma looks over at her curiously, her question answered with a smile and a nod. She turns back to look at the picture, where standing beside her, a whole head taller than her, is a lanky young man with short brown hair and brown eyes. She moves her finger from Hope over to him.

 

"Ry," Regina supplies the answer to the question without Emma having to ask it. "That's what we call Henry," she clarifies, Emma's uncertainty obviously apparent.

 

Emma can't seem to stop staring at the picture - it's hard to imagine the wriggling baby she hadn't wanted to look at all grown up and taller than her and she feels a sudden sharp pang of loss. Somewhere in her brain are memories of him, memories she'd never before even let herself hope to have, and now they've been stolen from her. She swallows past the lump in her throat and forces herself to draw her eyes away from the image of him, asking, "Who are the rest of these people?"

 

Regina points first to the man standing beside her, who looks like he is maybe in his thirties. Like Ry, he has brown hair and brown eyes - the two actually have really similar features all around. "This is…" there's a flicker of hesitation, "Henry."

 

"Wait. What?" Emma frowns.

 

"The name is a coincidence," Regina says. "He's our... friend. Family, really. He…" there's another flicker of hesitation, "he was a foster child like you." She points to the woman beside him and the child in front of him, "This is his wife Jacinda, and their daughter Lucy." Her fingers moves quickly down the rest of the line - Sabine, Zelena, Robyn, Mary Margaret, David, Neal.

 

Emma blinks rapidly, wondering if she's expected to remember all of these names. She flinches at that last one - another name that must be a coincidence, even if it leaves her a little unsettled, makes her feel like she's forgetting something - which is ridiculous because of course she's forgetting something, she's forgetting a lot of things. 

 

xxxxxx

 

"When did we get married?" Emma asks Regina after they've finished with the house tour and they're sitting down in the kitchen for lunch. 

 

Regina's stomach has been twisted in knots all morning - afraid to somehow mess this up, to somehow say the wrong thing and send Emma running. She isn't exactly surprised by this question - it's not as if there are any photos up anywhere that would give Emma any obvious indication of the when or how

 

They hadn't originally planned on getting married at all, not given their histories with marriage - Regina whose marriage had been forced by a mother and a king who hadn't cared about her at all, and Emma's whose marriage had been in some ways forced too, out of her sense of obligation to provide happy endings for everyone but herself, out of her sense of what was expected of her. No, they hadn't planned on getting married, but there was something about choosing each other, something about marrying each other simply because they loved each other and had absolutely no doubt that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, that felt like power , felt oddly like healing, just felt right . And so, on a random Wednesday, they'd taken one year old Hope to town hall and signed all the papers. Of course, Storybrooke being what it is, news had spread like wild fire, and by the time they'd made it home, their family was there waiting, ready to throw them an impromptu party. It had been a wonderful day.

 

Regina sets down her chicken sandwich, brushing crumbs from her fingertips before she answers, "Four years."

 

"That's it?" Emma looks surprised at that small number of years and her brow knits into a frown as she thinks. "But isn't Hope five? And didn't I move here like fifteen years ago?" 

 

For some reason Regina wants to laugh. Wants to shake her head at the absurdity of it all - at how obvious it seems to even Emma, without her memories, that it should not have taken them so long to end up together. That all of those years of heartache, of desperate longing, might not have been necessary at all. It's funny and not all at once. 

 

She wonders how long it would take now, how long Emma would need to love her, if she would - will - love her at all without all of those circumstances that led them together in the first place. She can't dwell there, not now, can't let herself think about what might happen if Emma doesn't ever remember. She can't say any of what she's thinking either, can't really explain what kept them apart - too much of it involves magic. Instead, she keeps her answer simple, "It took us a lot longer than it should have to get to the point where we could admit what we'd both felt for a long time."

 

"Hmm," Emma says, chewing slowly on her sandwich, like she's not quite sure what to make of that.

 

"We were both idiots," Regina supplies, even though she's not sure why, it's not as if Emma has asked for an explanation.

 

Emma laughs, a real laugh that lights up her eyes and Regina's heart thumps loudly in her chest in response.

 

"You know what?" Emma says, "I'm not surprised." There's a beat and then her eyes widen, a blush colouring her cheeks as she rambles, "Not that… not that I think you look like an idiot. I didn't mean it like that. I just know myself. And how I act around gorgeous women. And-"

 

" Emma ," Regina interrupts her. "It's okay. I know what you meant." 

 

"Okay," Emma nods, picking her sandwich back up, smiling sheepishly at Regina, her cheeks still tinged just a little red.

 

Regina can't resist teasing her, and she lifts her eyebrows in amusement. "So you think I'm gorgeous?"

 

Emma's eyes widen but instead of getting completely flustered again, she shrugs. "I mean duh ."

 

Regina laughs. It's such an Emma response and the I love you that pops into her head is inevitable, is right there on the tip of her tongue. She swallows it down and wonders if she'll ever be able to say it out loud again.

 

xxxxxx

 

Ry comes home with Hope shortly after three.

 

Emma is on the couch, watching TV - Regina having decided some time ago to give her space , something that Emma is immensely grateful for. The whole morning had been a tad… overwhelming. 

 

"Mommy!" the little girl with the dark bouncy curls - Hope - shrieks when she spots her. "You're home!" she dives onto the couch beside Emma with a giggle.

 

" Hope ," the boy - Ry - groans, exasperation on his face, but the soft kind, the kind filled with fondness.

 

"Oh right ," Hope nods seriously, righting her limbs on the couch, ending up sitting crossed leg facing Emma. "Poor Mommy," she says, patting her arm, "Does your head hurt? Do you need me to kiss it better? Were you jumping on the bed without me?"

 

"Who was jumping on the bed?" Regina asks from the entrance to the living room, saving Emma from having to sort out a response.

 

Hope grins at her. "Not me. Nope. No way. Not Mommy either. Not ever." She crosses her heart with her finger like she's making a promise.

 

Regina shakes her head and it's with that same, soft, fond, exasperation Ry had expressed moments ago. "Come here sweetheart," she holds out her hand in Hope's direction. "Come help me make a snack for everyone."

 

"Peanut butter and apple?" Hope asks eagerly.

 

Regina nods. "If that's what you want."

 

Hope grins, bouncing off the couch with the same energy she'd bounced onto it, practically skipping over to Regina.

 

Emma just watches, feeling sort of bewildered as Regina leads Hope out of the living room, leaving her alone with Ry.

 

"Is this Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1?" Ry asks, moving from where he's standing to sit in a chair adjacent to the couch. 

 

"Yeah," Emma nods. "I haven't seen it… or, well, I guess maybe I have, but I don't remember. It wasn't even out yet in my memory."

 

"It's good," Ry says, smiling over at her, before he turns his eyes to the television. 

 

He remains quiet, content to just sit here with her, seeming unbothered that Emma’s eyes watch him just as much as they watch the TV screen. She still can’t quite believe that this is the baby she gave away to give his best chance. She still can't quite get over her relief that he apparently had gotten it. 

 

xxxxxx

 

They switch off the movie in favour of something a little more appropriate for a five year old when Hope and Regina come back to the living room with the promised snack prepared. Hope wastes no time snuggling up beside Emma on the couch, seeming unbothered by the way she sits stiffly, uncertainly, beside her. 

 

Somehow they make it through the rest of the afternoon and the rest of the evening. When it’s time for Regina to take Hope up for bath and bedtime, the little girl throws her arms around Emma’s neck, kissing her cheek, and declaring, “Goodnight, Mommy. I love you,” and Emma freezes. 

 

I love you . Three words Emma has craved hearing her entire life. Three words not a single person, not even Neal or Ingrid, had ever told her - though she’d let herself believe that they did at the time. But here is this tiny child, this child who is unbelievably hers , offering up those three words without so much as a second thought, as if they are just normal, commonplace for her.    

 

Emma meets Regina’s eyes over the top of  Hope’s head. Regina's expression is so knowing, it makes Emma feel transparent, and it leaves her absolutely bewildered.

 

“That’s enough delaying, missy,” Regina says after beat, her expression changing as her attention turns to Hope. “It’s bath time.”

 

Hope makes a noise that sounds like a whine but she releases her grip on Emma’s neck and slips off the couch. “ Fine, ” she says with what is definitely far too much sass for a five year old and heads for the stairs.  

 

“No running,” Regina calls after her in a way that makes it clear that this is a common warning.

 

Emma watches them both disappear up the stairs, that same bewildered feeling taking up all the space in her chest, making it a little hard to breath.

 

“Want to watch the rest of the Harry Potter movie?” Ry asks and Emma startles, turning to look at him, so grateful for the distraction.

 

By the time he’s started up the movie and found the place they’d left off, she can breathe a little easier again.

 

xxxxxx

 

"Mama?" Hope asks after Regina has finished reading her the second book she'd negotiated her way into hearing.

 

"Yes, sweetheart?" Regina smooths back Hope's hair.

 

"How come Mommy didn't say I love you when we said g'night?" Hope curls a little closer into Regina's side, looking up at her with uncertain eyes.

 

Regina's heart skips a beat, a knot coiling itself tightly in her stomach. "Remember we talked about this?" she says carefully. "Mommy hit her head and now there are some things that she forgets."

 

"She forgets that she loves us?"

 

Regina rubs a gentle pattern on Hope's shoulder. "Yes, sweetheart, I think she forgot that. But that doesn't mean she doesn't love you. Mommy loves you very much and she is going to remember that." Regina is certain that even if Emma never gets her memories back, she'll sort out that she loves Hope - how could she not? She just needs to stick around long enough.

 

"How many sleeps?" Hope yawns, her eyelids starting to droop even as she fights sleep valiantly.  

 

Regina frowns. "Until what?"

 

"Till Mommy loves us?" It's so earnest and hopeful.

 

That knot in Regina's stomach twists tighter and she has to swallow past the lump that forms in her throat. "I don't know yet." 

 

"Oh," Hope mumbles, disappointed, "okay." 

 

Regina kisses the side of Hope's head. "Go to sleep, sweetheart. It's going to be alright."

 

It's another five minutes before Hope's breathing evens out and Regina slides out from beside her, straightening the covers and kissing the little girl's forehead, and then slipping quietly out of the room.

 

Regina pauses in the hallway, stands with her back against the wall, and has to cover her mouth to keep a sob from escaping. She is powerless to stop the tears that form in her eyes as she replays the conversation she'd just had with Hope in her head, powerless to stop them from sliding down her cheeks as she considers the possibility that Emma might truly never remember them. She moves a little unsteadily to the master bedroom, needing a moment to collect herself.

 

xxxxxx

 

After Emma and Ry watch the end of the Harry Potter movie, Emma decides she could really use a shower.

 

Ry eyes her a little sceptically when she insists that she remembers where the master bedroom, and hence the master bathroom, is, but he let's her head upstairs unassisted with nothing more than a shoulder shrug.

 

And, okay, so she doesn't find the room she's looking for on the first try but she does find it on the second try, and she feels a little triumphant about that. Or she does until she steps into the room and realizes that it's already occupied.

 

Regina is sitting on the edge of the bed, shoulders hunched and shaking, arms wrapped around her torso.

 

Crying , Regina is crying, Emma realizes. Fuck her brain produces the curse word as she stands frozen, uncertain what she should do - is making a hasty exit from the room a good option?

 

Regina looks up then though and any thought Emma had of running vanishes. Regina's eyes are red and there are tear tracks on her cheeks. She wipes them away with the palm of her hand.

 

"I'm sorry-" they both start and both stop.

 

Emma runs her hand through her hair nervously and is the one to speak first. "I just wanted to shower. I should have knocked. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Are you… okay? I mean obviously not. Sorry." She nearly winces at her own rambling.

 

"This is your room Emma, you don't have to apologize for not knocking," Regina says carefully, her eyes still filled with pain, even though the tears seem to have slowed, she wipes at her face with her hand again.

 

Hug her you idiot! The voice in Emma's head is sudden and loud and demanding and it actually startles her. She's not sure where that thought came from at all. She ignores it, wrapping her arms around her own torso instead. "I'll go," she says, even though her feet are firmly planted, a desire she can't shake keeping her rooted here - a desire to stay here and comfort Regina somehow even though she doesn't have a single clue how . Hug her!!!! That voice in her head is even more insistent now but Emma still ignores it.

 

"No," Regina shakes her head, wiping at her face a final time and standing. She looks embarrassed now. "I'll show you where the towels are. And your clothes."

 

Emma wants to stop her, wants to say something , but she can tell by the way Regina is moving just a little too quickly that she wants the distraction, doesn't want to dwell on why exactly it is that she was crying.

 

Still, when Regina hands her the towel, Emma's fingers brush against her hand, lingering longer than necessary - the contact making her arm tingle, almost like an electric shock. She wonders if Regina feels it too. "Are you going to be okay?" She can't help but ask softly, not really able to just forget Regina's tears or the sadness in her eyes.

 

Regina nods, swallowing thickly. "Yes. I'm sorry you saw that."

 

"Don't be. I know this is hard for you too." There is a twinge of guilt in Emma's chest because, even though that seems obvious, she hadn't really considered it until now. 

 

Regina lifts a shoulder in response, apparently not willing to admit so out loud, but also not denying it.

 

"At least it's got to get better, right?" Emma shrugs back at her. "Like, today I know your name and that we're married, which, you've got to admit, is sort of a big step up from yesterday."

 

Regina smiles then and it's so soft, so fond. "Yes, I do think so."

 

Emma smiles too, her heart thumping rapidly in her chest in a way that baffles her. 

 

"Well," Regina says after a beat. "I'll leave you to your shower."

 

Emma nods but she feels, oddly, almost disappointed when Regina leaves. 

 

xxxxxx

 

Later, Regina insists that Emma sleep in the master bedroom. Emma tries to protest - it really makes no difference to her where she sleeps, it’s not as if she remembers that this is her - their - bedroom. Shouldn’t Regina get to sleep in her own bed since she actually remembers that it’s hers? But Regina wins the debate with a quirked eyebrow and no nonsense words that seem wrong to keep fighting. And so Emma is left alone in a bedroom twice as big as a bedroom needs to be, in a bed that is definitely too big for one .

 

She is surprised at how quickly she falls asleep, and even more surprised at how well she sleeps. She actually feels refreshed when the light streaming in through the slats in the blinds wakes her. She changes and pads her way downstairs, where she discovers that she is apparently the first one up. She hums to herself as she makes coffee.

 

She's pouring two cups of coffee, stirring cream into one and leaving the other one black, as Regina walks into the kitchen. 

 

"Here," she says, holding out the mug of coffee with cream for Regina to take. It's only when she sees the shocked expression on Regina's face that she realizes that she's made this coffee without having to be told where anything was - she's found the filters, and the coffee grounds, and the mugs, all on her own, without having to search for them.

 

"Do you…" Regina doesn't finish the question, just lets it hang in the air between them as she clutches her mug of coffee tightly.

 

Emma shakes her, not needing to hear the end of the question to know what Regina is asking - no, she does not remember.

 

"I didn't think so," Regina says, a flicker of sadness in her eyes.

 

Emma wonders how Regina knew that but she's not sure she should ask. Instead, she shakes her head, looking back at the coffee pot. "I don't know how I knew where all the stuff I needed was? Or how you take yours. It was like I was on autopilot?"

 

Regina takes a sip of her coffee and smiles. "I think it's a good sign."

 

"Yeah?" Emma asks, an odd flicker of hope filling her chest as she looks back at Regina.

 

"It must mean your memories are in there somewhere," Regina explains her reasoning. 

 

"Right." Emma sips her own coffee. "Now if only we could knock them back out."

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow at that.

 

"What?" Emma laughs.

 

"Don't get any ideas about knocking your head against things, I won't be happy."

 

"Why would you think I'd do that?" Emma scrunches up her nose.

 

Regina rolls her eyes and it feels so familiar and yet so foreign. "I've known you for a long time. There's been a lot of bad attempts at humour."

 

Emma can't help but laugh again. "Pft. I'm sure all attempts were brilliant and successful. I might not remember but I'm confident."

 

Regina laughs then too. "Of course you are."

 

They're still grinning at each other when Hope comes bounding into the kitchen, looking for breakfast.

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma sits back and watches what is clearly a morning routine unfold. She's sure she has a place in it somewhere and she's sure her lack of participation is throwing things out of sync - but she thinks attempting to participate when she can't remember the choreography would do more harm than good.

 

Regina makes Hope oatmeal and then moves on to packing her a lunch. Ry comes into the kitchen around that time and pours coffee into a travel mug, stirring in enough cream and sugar that Emma's not sure it should be called coffee anymore.

 

Regina goes upstairs with Hope to help her get changed and then it's time for her to leave for school - Ry is taking her, Emma learns, even though apparently that is usually her job, something Hope feels the need to tell her as she kisses her goodbye.

 

When Ry and Hope are gone, the house feels oddly quiet, empty.

 

"Are mornings always like that?" Emma asks, feeling sort bewildered by the whole thing - bewilderment seems to be her go to emotion now.

 

"Like what?"

 

"That... hectic."

 

Regina laughs. "Yes."

 

"Wow," Emma mouths.

 

Regina's phone rings then and she answers with a frown. Emma tries to guess what the call is about based on Regina's replies but all she's really gathered by the time she hangs up is that she's unhappy.

 

"I have to go to work," Regina sighs. "I'm sorry."

 

"Regina," Emma says, sensing how hesitant she is to actually leave, "I've been taking care of myself my entire life. I'll be fine by myself for a few hours or however long you're going to be."

 

Regina still looks unconvinced but her phone rings again and she sighs once more. "Okay. But if you need anything , please call. My number is in your cell phone."

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma gets herself another cup of coffee and wanders aimlessly through the house. It feels different exploring it herself without someone looking over her shoulder. It's strange to see things she recognizes as her own (her baby blanket on one of the shelves in the master bedroom closet, her red leather jacket on a hook in the entrance) interspersed with all the things she doesn't recognize at all. 

 

Just like yesterday, it's the pictures, especially, that give her pause. Pictures where she is surrounded by people, smiling and happy and bright. There's an unmistakable longing in her chest as she looks at those pictures. She wants to remember those moments. Wants desperately to know exactly what she was feeling in each of these pictures. Wants confirmation that this happiness is not an illusion. That the way that Regina smiles at her, that Hope's joy, that Ry's perfect mixture of serious and soft, is real and hers and not just something else that will slip from her fingers before she can completely grasp it. She's afraid, too, of what will happen if she never remembers. Afraid of what will happen if she can't be their Emma, the one they really love, not the imposter she currently feels like.

 

It's been maybe half an hour when she hears the door open and close.

 

"Regina?" she calls, moving from her current location - the study - towards the entrance.

 

It's not Regina though. It's the man who Regina said was once a foster child just like her. The man with the same name as Ry - Henry

 

"I don't need a babysitter," is the first thing out of her mouth.

 

Henry laughs, high and bright. "That's good because I'm not a babysitter."

 

"You're Henry," Emma supplies what she knows.

 

His eyes twinkle and he smirks. "Glad to see my reputation precedes me."

 

Emma is suddenly awash with fondness - fondness that must belong to the her with her memories. "If you're not here to babysit me, then what exactly are you doing here?"

 

Henry grins. "I'm here to take you out for donuts."

 

xxxxxx

 

They take Emma's Bug. Emma is shocked and delighted to discover that not only is it still running, but it drives better than she remembers - Regina's doing, apparently, at least according to Henry.

 

The donut shop he directs her to is actually a diner-inn combo named Granny's - run by a woman who Henry actually calls Granny.

 

Everyone in the diner seems especially interested in Emma, staring as they wait in line. She runs her hand through her hair and avoids eye contact.

 

"Why don't we get the donuts to go?" Henry suggests, seeming to sense her unease.

 

"On the house," Granny says, handing over the paper bag with the donuts, with a sympathetic sort of smile.

 

"So everyone knows then?" Emma asks, following Henry back outside. 

 

Henry shrugs. "Sort of unavoidable. You and M- Regina are royalty in this town…. basically."

 

Emma bites her lip, contemplating that as she pulls out her keys. The number of people who apparently care about her here in this strange little town just seems to keep growing - it's baffling, really. She's never been good at making friends - in Boston she barely has (had?) acquaintances. She can't wrap her head around how that could have changed. In fifteen years she seems to have become a whole different person.

 

"Hey?" Henry says, interrupting her internal monologue. "Want to go see where you work?"

 

It takes Emma a moment to find her voice, but she nods. "Yeah, sure." It's not as if she has anything better to do.

 

"I could drive?" He suggests, when she doesn't immediately make a move to open the car door.

 

"Not a chance, kid," Emma says on reflex and then frowns. "Sorry, I'm not sure why I called you that."

 

Henry just laughs. "It's actually what you call me pretty much all of the time."

 

Emma is still frowning, although now it's in confusion. "Aren't you like… five years younger than me?"

 

"Something like that." Henry shrugs. "You also never let me drive this car. But I figured it was worth a try." He grins impishly and it makes him look younger.

 

Emma shakes her head, that same fondness from before filling her chest.

 

xxxxxx

 

They eat the donuts on the way to the sheriff's station. Henry tells terrible jokes and points out a clock tower that holds some kind of town significance. He's easy to like, easy to feel comfortable with, and she's laughing when they park and head for the station. 

 

She's expecting the place to be bustling - more like the cop shops she brings the bail jumpers she finds to in Boston. Instead, it's a sleepy little place with hardly any staff at all. 

 

"So?" Henry asks as he leads her into what he tells her is her office. "Anything seem familiar here?" It's not pushy, or even hopeful, just a casual question. 

 

"Not even the slightest," Emma shakes her head and moves over to the desk, sitting behind it. She does a spin on the chair, a full three sixty, and then she raps her hands against the desk. "So I really am the sheriff, huh?"

 

"Yup," Henry confirms, balling up a piece of paper off her desk and chucking it at the garbage can in the corner - it just misses and he groans. Based on the number of similarly crumpled papers scattered on the ground around the garbage can, it seems as if this is a common game.

 

Emma searches the desk for a piece of paper that looks like it can be discarded, wanting to try her hand at waste basket basketball. She freezes at the piece of paper her eyes land on. It's some kind of police incident form. It's not filled out at all but there are hearts and stars doodled along the edges, hearts and stars that fully circle a name - Regina. 

 

"What?" Henry asks, seeming to sense that something is up.

 

Emma traces a finger over those hearts and stars, over each letter of Regina's name. "Apparently I turned into a sap in the last fifteen years." She means it to come out as a scoff, means it to be a joke, but she doesn't really succeed - the words stick a little too long in the back of her throat.

 

Henry cranes his neck to get a glimpse of the paper before he makes a noise of understanding. "You really love her, you know," he tells her, and it's soft, careful.

 

Emma sighs. "That's kind of the problem." She doesn't really mean to say it out loud, it just sort of slips out. 

 

Henry lifts a curious eyebrow, taking a seat in one of the chairs across from Emma, like he knows this might be a serious conversation. "How so?"

 

Emma hesitates, unsure she really wants to elaborate. But Henry is a former foster child too and the last two days have been so overwhelming - holding in all of her feelings is exhausting . And it's not like he's really a stranger. Talking to him at least feels safer, less tenuous, than talking to Regina. 

 

She runs her hand through her hair. "It's just. I don't know how to love. I never learned, you know? And now there are all these people just expecting me to love them... because apparently I did, or do, or whatever . And I just… can't."

 

Henry is watching her with such attentiveness, with such compassion. "No one is expecting you to snap your fingers and love them right this second. Everyone understands that it's going to take some time, unless you get your memories back."

 

That makes Emma feel more , not less, uneasy. Sure they're willing to give her time now on day two, but what about on day thirty, or ninety? What if her memories never come back at all? When will they stop loving her? Because surely that's what is going to happen. Eventually they'll grow tired of waiting. Eventually they'll realize she's not their Emma. "I don't know," she says, and it's quiet, so quiet, a confession she's not sure she wants to make out loud, "I don't think I'm capable of love."

 

Henry leans forward in his chair, like he just wants to be closer to her. "Emma, you are more than capable of love, trust me. I learnt how to love from you and Regina."

 

"Oh," Emma can't help the surprised sound that leaves her mouth. 

 

Henry smiles at her, a gentle smile that makes him look so much like Ry.

 

They sit like that for a beat and then Emma can't stand the silence, or the heaviness of this moment. She doesn't want to talk about this anymore, not like this. "Okay," she scoffs, her tone lacking any seriousness, "but if I'm so good at love, why did it take Regina and I a decade to get together?"

 

Henry laughs, leaning back in his chair, apparently willing to just accept that the serious conversation is over. "That wasn't because you didn't love each other. That's because you were both too noble and too dumb to realize how the other felt."

 

It's basically what Regina said and Emma shakes her head. "It's extremely disappointing to discover that I am apparently not smooth at all."

 

Henry laughs louder.

 

" Hey ," Emma narrows her eyes playfully at him.

 

"Sorry, sorry." He holds up his hands in fake surrender but his eyes are still twinkling, and his next words are completely sarcastic, "You're very smooth. And not a dork at all."

 

Emma balls up a piece of paper ( not the one with the stars and hearts) and lobs it without any real force at his head.

 

"Ouch," Henry groans dramatically when the paper bounces off the side of his head and lands on the floor. He scoops it up and lobs it back at her, hitting her shoulder. "This means war!" 

 

"And you think I'm the dork?" Emma scoffs, balling up another piece of paper to throw at him.

 

xxxxxx

 

It takes Regina all day to deal with the problem - a magical one in another realm. She can't help but think that if she'd had Emma by her side, it would have been fixed in at least half the time. 

 

It's after five when she gets home and she's exhausted. She's surprised when she walks through the front door at how quiet it is and she frowns as she heads down the hallway, worry her default reaction. The worry is unnecessary though - she finds Emma in the kitchen standing at the island, humming to herself as she peels a carrot, a small mountain of potatoes and carrots, some peeled, some not, in front of her. Regina stands in the entrance to the kitchen a moment, watching her with fondness. Finally she clears her throat, stepping further into the room. "Hi."

 

Emma startles, looking up, but relaxing when she sees who it is. "Oh, hey. I'm making dinner. I wasn't sure what you all like but I found chicken in the fridge and figured it was a safe bet. I just put it in. I was going to make mashed potatoes and carrots to go with it. Is that okay?"

 

Regina smiles, walking the rest of the way to the island and leaning against it, standing across from Emma. "That's perfect. Thank you. You didn't have to do that."

 

Emma shrugs. "I may as well be useful."

 

Regina's lips purse at that. She considers whether or not to address it but decides to leave it for now. It's not as if Emma cooking dinner is that unusual - even if she doesn't want her to think that she has to do anything. "Are Ry and Hope home?"

 

"No," Emma shakes her head, finishing up peeling the carrot in her hand and adding it to the pile of other already peeled carrots. "Ry took Hope to the park. But don't worry, they just left fifteen minutes ago, and your babysitter didn't leave me till they got here, so I've barely been by myself."

 

Regina feels a bit guilty at the babysitter dig. "Henry isn't a babysitter," she insists.

 

Emma smirks, looking more amused than annoyed. "Funny how you knew exactly who I meant though."

 

"I'm sorry," Regina sighs. Even though Emma doesn't seem all that upset, she does still feel some guilt about it. "I just didn't want you to spend the entire day alone."

 

"It's okay," Emma shrugs, picking up another carrot and starting to peel it. "I had fun with Henry. He's a good guy."

 

Regina smiles fondly. "He is."

 

"So," Emma asks after a beat, "Was your work crisis averted?"

 

Regina hesitates. "It was." She knows it's an evasive answer but she's not sure what else to say. She doesn't really want to flat out lie. Doesn't want to pretend that the crisis was something other than what it was. But she obviously can't explain anything about it. 

 

Emma looks up at her, she seems curious and maybe a little suspicious, and Regina waits for her to push, but she doesn't, she just stares. 

 

“I’ll know you've got your memories back when you stop looking at me like that ," Regina murmurs, a knot in the pit of her stomach.

 

“Like what?” Emma frowns.

 

“Like I'm a stranger you're trying to be polite to." It's how Regina had known this morning that Emma didn't have her memories even though she'd managed to make coffee as if she did.

 

Emma's frown eases, her eyes filling with curiosity. “How do I usually look at you? When my memories are intact, I mean.” 

 

Regina swallows thickly, wishes she hadn't said anything at all. She chooses an answer carefully, “Like you're happy. Like I make you happy.”

 

There's a flicker of understanding in Emma's eyes and she sets down the peeler and the carrot in her hand. “Like I love you?” she asks and it's so serious.

 

All Regina can do is nod. “Yes, that too.”

 

“What if you don't get her back?”

 

“Get who back?” Regina frowns, suspecting what Emma means, but not entirely certain.

 

Your Emma," she clarifies, biting her lip, looking almost afraid of the answer, even though she's clearly trying to look indifferent - Regina knows her too well for that.

 

The confirmation that her guess was right is like a punch directly to Regina's gut - Emma, always afraid that she isn't enough, even now when the person she's comparing herself to is actually herself. “Emma, you're standing right here.”

 

Emma doesn't seem relieved by that answer, and her next words are quiet. “But I'm not her, not really." Her hand runs it's way through her hair and the rest of her words are more of a mumble than anything, "What if I never remember?”

 

There isn't even a second of hesitation before Regina answers, "We’ll make new memories." 

 

Still, Emma's eyes are filled with uncertainty and she wraps her arms around herself. If her last question was quiet, this one is nothing more than a whisper, “And if I don't ever love you again?”

 

The possibility of that hurts. Hurts more than Regina wants to admit to herself. It's like another punch to her gut. But she loves Emma so much that the answer is easy, even if the pain she feels at the possibility is not. “Then I'll figure out how to survive," she says and it is firm, certain, and she hopes Emma can see that, will believe her sincerity. "I just want you to be happy, Emma. If you don't get your memories back and being with me is not going to make you happy anymore, then we won't be together."

 

Emma frowns, confusion flickering in her eyes. “At the expense of your own happiness?”

 

Regina understands Emma's confusion, her uncertainty and disbelief - in the only memories that Emma still has, no one has ever put her first, no one has ever cared about her needs or her wants or her happiness unless those things directly correlated to their own. Twenty seven year old Emma had never been loved at all, let alone as deeply as Regina loves her. It's not fair that Emma has to feel this way again, that Emma has been thrust back to a time where she was this vulnerable, this insecure - that hurts Regina almost as much as the possibility that Emma won't love her again. She is not going to be another person who hurts Emma, but Emma can't know that yet. "Emma," she says, softly, so softly, "I won't be happy if you're not."

 

That seems to startle Emma and she blinks slowly, a surprised sound escaping past her lips, like Regina's words truly are a wonder to her, "Oh."

 

That sound, and the look in the green eyes staring at her, twists at Regina's heart, makes her desperately want to comfort Emma. She's held back nearly every time she's wanted to reach out over the last two days. Now though, she moves around the island, stopping beside Emma. She hesitates before she asks carefully, "Can I hug you?"

 

She's not sure what reaction she's going to get and she feels a little relieved when Emma, despite not looking quite sure, nods her head, yes.

 

It's awkward at first. They stand a foot apart and just sort of stare for a minute and then Regina takes a deep breath and closes the gap, wraps her arms carefully around Emma's back like she's done countless times before. Emma is stiff at first, unmoving, but slowly she lifts her arms and loops them around Regina's waist. It's not long after that that her chin finds it's usual place on Regina's shoulder, and Regina rubs her back, traces a slow looping pattern with the tips of her fingers. She feels the breath that Emma releases, feels the way she sags just a little, presses herself just a little closer to Regina. 

 

" I love you ," Regina mouths the words, presses them into the side of Emma's head, and hopes someday soon she'll be able to say them out loud, hopes someday soon Emma will be ready to hear them even if she can't say them back.

 

When they finally part, Emma's eyes are moist. She'd clearly needed that comfort, even if she hadn't had a single clue how to ask for it. If Regina is being honest with herself, she'd needed it too.

 

What Emma needs now though is a distraction, a way not to linger in these emotions that are surely overwhelming her - Regina knows that, Regina understands her . "How about I help you peel the rest of these vegetables?" She asks.

 

The relief in Emma's eyes is palpable. "Thanks," she says and Regina knows she's being thanked for much more than the offer to help peel the vegetables.

 

xxxxxx

 

Sunday comes two days later. It's the second Sunday of the month, which means it's Family Dinner Night.

 

Regina plans to cancel this particular dinner, but Hope brings it up at breakfast, and Emma gets that stubborn determined look of hers on her face. She insists that they have the dinner, and, against her better judgement, Regina concedes.

 

Everyone is actually much better behaved than Regina expects. Snow even manages to mostly not look at Emma like she's going to burst into tears any second.

 

It's a bit of a disaster anyway.

 

Emma is clearly uncomfortable. She sits quietly throughout dinner, watching with wide eyes as banter flies around the table, only speaking when directly spoken to. She vanishes during dessert - which is definitely concerning because Regina has never known her to turn down offered dessert.

 

Regina excuses herself from the table to go in search of Emma and finds her in the kitchen. She's filled the sink with soapy water and she is washing the pile of dishes stacked by the sink.

 

"Emma," Regina says softly. "What are you doing in here?"

 

"The dishes," Emma answers as if that weren't obvious, her hands gripped on the edge of the sink, her shoulders tense.

 

"Emma," Regina says again and this time it's a sigh. She takes a few steps closer to her. It's not hard to guess what the real problem is. "Do you want me to send everyone home?"

 

Emma spins around then, her eyes filled with frustration, and her voice sharp, "So you can tell me I told you so?"

 

Regina flinches, not at the anger, but at the accusation.

 

Emma presses the palm of her hand to her forehead, squeezing her eyes shut tightly, and taking a shaky breath. "I'm sorry." She pulls her hand back and there's soap suds clinging to her forehead.

 

"It's okay," Regina says, scooping up the dish towel. "You've got some-" she doesn't quite finish the sentence, just lifts the dish towel and wipes the soap away, her eyes fixed with Emma's, a little relieved when Emma doesn't duck away. 

 

"Thanks," Emma mumbles, looking a little sheepish. 

 

"You know," Regina says, handing Emma the dish towel so that she can dry her hands. "You don't actually have to apologize for being frustrated. I understand. Our family can be a lot. I'm sure you noticed that half of them think they are comedians. And most of the others are far too dramatic. I have all my memories and I think that sometimes too."

 

Emma bites her lip, not saying anything.

 

Regina reaches out and tucks loose hair behind Emma's ear. "All those people out there love you and no one is going to be upset if you need some time before you're ready to deal with them. And I am not saying I told you so. I wouldn't."

 

"For now," Emma mumbles. 

 

Regina's brow knits into a frown, not sure she understands. "What do you mean?"

 

"They love me for now ," Emma clarifies, it's a whisper, her eyes finding the floor.

 

Regina understands so suddenly that she nearly misses her next breath. They'd talked about this right here in this very kitchen two days ago but not in the right way. She realizes now that she hadn't said what Emma really needed to hear, not all of it anyway, not clearly enough. Emma at twenty seven had only ever been given back, no one had ever kept her, no one had ever wanted her forever . Emma at twenty seven didn't understand that she was worth keeping, that she was worth everything . Emma at any age, but at twenty seven especially, needed to be reassured of that. And Regina's own reservation about saying I love you, her fear of pushing too hard and losing Emma in the process, had kept her from providing that reassurance. 

 

"Their love isn't conditional, Emma," Regina tells her softly. "They'll keep loving you whether you get your memories back or not. And so will I."

 

Emma looks up from the floor, eyes wide, unmistakable longing there. "Really?" It's hopeful even if she looks like she wishes it weren't. 

 

Regina can't speak for anyone else, can't really explain why their love is unconditional anyway, so she speaks only for herself, voice filled with certainty, "I would love any version of you Emma. I have loved every version of you I've known. I've loved you when I was certain that you wouldn't ever love me back. I'm not going to stop now."

 

Emma blinks slowly. "I-" she stops, swallows thickly, a hand running through her hair. She is clearly overwhelmed.

 

Regina can't stand to watch her struggle. "You don't need to say anything. I just wanted you to know. I wanted to be clear. No one is giving up on you. Not here."

 

"Thank you," Emma says and it's a whisper, her eyes filled with that longing again, relieved and hopeful and maybe still a little afraid too.

 

Regina smiles at her, a soft, fond smile, filled with love. "So?" She says after a beat. "Do you want me to tell our guests to go? Because, trust me, there's nothing I enjoy more than kicking my sister and The Charmings out of my house." That's not really true anymore but it's the kind of thing she's never quite given up saying, it makes for a good joke.

 

Emma smiles at that last bit but then she sobers, tilting her head and seeming to genuinely consider the offer before she decides, "No, I don't think so."

 

"Then why don't you leave these dishes and come have a piece of chocolate cake? I know you like chocolate cake."

 

"Yeah, okay."

 

xxxxxx

 

The days that follow are easier, mostly. Emma folds herself into the Swan-Mills family morning routine. She makes coffee and takes over lunch packing duty and she even convinces Regina (and Ry) to let her drive Hope to school. 

 

Emma wakes every morning wondering if today will be the day that her memories will just be there , returned while she slept. But they never are.

 

Sometimes she still feels like she's missing something - not her memories but something . She feels like something is going on that she can't quite put her finger on. Or maybe she's just paranoid. Maybe she just doesn't know how to trust happiness. Or maybe this happiness really is an illusion, an act. She doesn't know which one it is but she knows which one she wants it to be. It feels real, so very much so, she's just not sure she can trust her own judgement - she's been wrong more than once before. 

 

One night, nearly two weeks after her memory loss, she stands in the upstairs hallway, listening in as Regina reads Hope a story, thinking about just that - about just how badly she wants this all to be real, to be hers to keep forever.

 

Hope and Regina are both on the bed, curled up side by side. Regina is reading softly, but the inflection of her voice changes as she reads different characters and Hope giggles at bits she finds funny. 

 

Watching the two of them fills Emma with overwhelming fondness that is impossible to shake. 

 

“You don't have to skulk around in the hallway, you know. You can go in there."

 

The quiet voice interrupts Emma's thoughts. She startles, turning around to find Ry standing behind her.

 

"I'm not skulking," she protests, even though that is clearly a lie.

 

Ry just quirks a disbelieving eyebrow at her and slides past her, moving down the hall to his own bedroom. He doesn't seem to mind when she follows him.

 

"Regina is a really mom good, yeah?" Emma asks, her mind still on Regina and Hope. She doesn't know the first thing about being a mother but she is certain that Regina is a good one, it's so clear in her every interaction with Hope, and with Ry too.

 

"Yes," Ry nods with a smile, "she is." He leaves his bedroom door open, inviting Emma in without words.

 

Emma hasn't actually been in this room yet and she pauses just inside the doorway takes it in with a quick sweep of her eyes. There's a single bed with a plaid comforter, a bookshelf taking up most of one wall, and a desk with a laptop in the far corner. 

 

"You don't have to skulk in this doorway either," Ry, who's moved over to the bed and sat down on the edge, smirks, "You can come in."

 

Emma takes a couple more steps into the room, looking around a little more careful. It doesn't take her long to notice the stars on the ceiling above Ry's bed - the glow in the dark kind. "Aren't you a little old for glow in the dark stars?" she teases, pointing up at them.

 

Ry just smiles knowingly. " You put them up."

 

Emma blinks surprised. "When I first moved here?"

 

Ry shakes his head, a look passing over his face that Emma can't quite read, like he's remembering something. "It was when I was sixteen."

 

Emma tilts her head, eyeing him curiously. She moves over to sit beside him on the bed, sensing he wants to tell her something that is maybe important.

 

"I was having a hard time. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life, where I really belonged. So you bought these stars and you put them up and you told me about how when you were a kid you'd always wanted some of these."

 

Emma remembers that, remembers childishly wishing on birthdays and Christmas' where she was lucky to get any gift at all that she might get this one small thing she actually wanted - she never did of course.

 

"You told me how you bought some when you got your first apartment. That you stuck them on the ceiling above your bed. And that looking up at them reminded you that you might not have anyone, nowhere to belong, but that was okay because you could count on yourself ."

 

Emma remembers that too, remembers being a young adult ready to punch back at a world that had delivered far too many blows, remembers telling herself that she didn't need anyone but herself over and over and over again until she believed it. And she really did believe it - even if she's not completely sure she was right anymore, not after these past two weeks.

 

Ry reaches over then and takes her hand, squeezing. "But it turns out you did belong somewhere, you belonged here in Storybrooke. And you said that no matter what I decided I wanted to do, I would always have a place where I belonged too. You said that's what I should think of when I looked up at those stars - that I'll always belong with you."

 

Emma isn't sure what to say, her heart beating just a little too rapidly in her chest. "And that… helped?"

 

"Yeah, it did," Ry smiles at her with that sort of fond, sort of amused, smile of his before his expression gets serious again. "You let me work with you at the sheriff's station for a few years before I decided to go to college. That helped too." He squeezes her hand once more. "What I'm saying is, Regina is a great mom, but so are you, a really great one."

 

Emma looks over at him, blinking slowly, her heart still beating a little too rapidly in her chest. She doesn't have a single clue what to say.

 

Ry seems to know though, and he says, "I know it's hard for you without your memories. But you learned how to be a mom the first time, you'll learn again if you don't get your memories back. You'll be fine. We'll all be fine." 

 

Emma doesn't know how he knew she needed this reassurance but she smiles at him gratefully. "Thanks."

 

"Any time," he grins that same smile of his, dropping her hand. "Want to see this computer game I've been playing?"

 

Emma relaxes. "Yeah, sure."

 

xxxxxx

 

Later that same night, Emma wakes with a start, groaning as she eyes the glowing numbers on the clock beside the bed that read 2:03.

 

When the bed shifts a second later, Emma understands why. She rolls over to find Hope climbing up. "I had a bad dream," she mumbles.

 

On instinct, Emma pulls back the covers, patting the spot beside her. "Come here."

 

Hope doesn't need to be told twice, she scrambles across the bed, and wiggles her way under the covers, pressing her warm little body completely against Emma's side, one arm draped over Emma's abdomen.

 

Emma wraps her arm around Hope's back and rubs gently. "Do you want to tell me about you dream?"

 

"Nuh-uh," Hope mumbles sleepily.

 

Emma keeps rubbing her back, suddenly uncertain of what she's supposed to do in this situation. "Your Mama is in the other room, do you want me to bring you to her?"

 

"Nuh-uh." Hope just cuddles up closer to her. "Love you."

 

"l-" Emma hesitates, her heart rate quickening, a feeling close to panic filling her chest. "I love you too," she manages to get out after a beat. And the truth is, she really does. She's not sure if these feelings are hers or if they belong to the her with her memories, but she knows that what she feels for this child curled up in her arms, isn't something she's ever felt before.

 

"How much?" Hope mumbles in that same sleepy way. 

 

That near panic feeling overcomes Emma again and the hand that's been rubbing Hope's back stills. She is uncertain about what Hope is expecting here. Is there something people usually say after I love you? Emma has no clue. "...Umm? A lot?"

 

Hope shuffles closer to her, her feet kicking at Emma's leg and then settling there. "You're supposed to say times all the stars in the sky." 

 

Hope doesn't sound upset about Emma messing it up, she sounds more like she's seconds away from sleep and doesn't have a care in the world. "Okay," Emma whispers, pressing a kiss to the top of Hope's head, adding, "Times all the stars in the sky," in case Hope is still waiting to hear it.

 

There is no response - Hope's breathing has evened out and Emma is certain she's fallen asleep. 

 

Emma follows her not too long after.

 

xxxxxx

 

It's the very next night when Regina has to leave to deal with another work emergency. The call comes just after dinner and Emma has a hard time keeping suspicion from overcoming her. She's not sure what kind of town emergencies happen at this hour, and Regina doesn't clarify. 

 

Ry is out, it's the one night a week he has a night class, and that leaves Emma with Hope. They play fight with these cool foam swords Hope has until Emma nearly knocks a vase over and decides they'd better call it quits. They build a fort in the living room instead, using couch cushions and spare sheets and clothes pins. 

 

"Leave it up, please . I want to show Mama," Hope pleads when it's time to get ready for bed, and Emma finds herself absolutely incapable of saying no to those puppy dog eyes.

 

She fumbles her way through bath time with only minor water damage to the bathroom, and somehow manages to get a clean Hope into fresh pajamas and tucked under the covers. She reads a book and Hope giggles for her the same way she giggles for Regina and Emma's heart is absolutely full.

 

"Love you," Emma says when the book has been put away and she's readjusting the blankets, kissing the top of Hope's head. Yesterday these words had come with anxiety and uncertainty but today her heart rate doesn't even quicken. 

 

"How much?" Hope mumbles sleepily.

 

"Times all the stars in the sky," Emma murmurs and those words feel so right leaving her mouth, she wonders how she forgot them at all. 

 

"You 'membered," Hope slurs the word, grinning as her eyes slide shut.

 

"Yeah," Emma agrees, turning off the light, even if it's maybe not in the way that Hope means.

 

xxxxxx

 

Ry comes home not too long after that, trudging upstairs to work on a paper after stopping to say a quick hello to Emma.

 

Regina is still not home and Emma finds herself slipping out into the backyard. It's a clear night and she takes a seat in one of the deck chairs, gazing up at the stars.

 

She's not sure how long she's been out there when the sliding glass door opens.

 

It's Regina, home at last. She has a blanket with her, a blanket that she wraps around Emma's shoulders. “It's cold, what are you doing out here?” She rubs Emma's arms, helping the warmth from the blanket seep into her skin.

 

Emma shrugs. She truly hadn't noticed the cold but she's glad for the blanket anyway, happy to lean into the contact of Regina's hands on her arms. Regina is so good at this, at taking care of people - of their kids, and of Emma too. Emma isn't used to affection, to tenderness, to such care, but she's soaked it up like a sponge, incapable of not, even if there is the lingering fear that she shouldn't, that this is all an illusion that might shatter at any moment and leave her devastated.

 

“You can't see the stars like this in Boston," she says, when Regina moves from behind her to settle into the deck chair beside her. 

 

Since she was old enough to choose, Emma has always tended towards big cities - big cities where disappearing, where fading into a crowd, where letting herself appear less alone than she is, than she feels regardless of the number of people who surround her, was possible. But in big cities star gazing like this isn't the same. And Emma has always loved the stars.

 

Regina just nods at that, glancing up at the sky, like she understands, and maybe she does, maybe she already knows everything there is to know about Emma - it certainly sometimes feels like she does. 

 

"Emergency solved?" Emma asks, that same niggling uncertainty from before clawing its way back to the forefront of her thoughts.

 

"Yes," Regina says and that one word answer does nothing to assuage Emma's worry.

 

Emma bites her lip and studies Regina whose eyes are still on the stars. 

 

Regina must sense that she's being watched though because she turns her head to look over at Emma. She maybe looks guilty, Emma thinks. "You can ask me whatever you want, you know."

 

Emma's not sure why that makes her heart rate quicken but it does. She runs her hand through her hair. "Were you really dealing with a work thing?"

 

"Yes," Regina says without a second of hesitation and it doesn't seem like a lie. "Now ask me what you really want to know, I'll tell you the truth, I promise."

 

That makes Emma freeze. It's not the first time since her head injury that it's happened, that Regina has known what she's thinking, that Regina has understood the things that Emma isn't saying, and it leaves her bewildered every single time. The question, her real question , nearly sticks in the back of her throat. "Are we happy? For real? When I have my memories, I mean."

 

Regina smiles then and it's so soft, so filled with what Emma is starting to recognize as love. "Yes, Emma, we are."

 

It's the reassurance that Emma wants to hear and still she feels her shoulders slumping, the relief not coming.

 

Regina reaches out, tucking stray hair behind Emma's ear with more tenderness than Emma can stand. "Tell me what's wrong, darling."

 

It's the darling that does it. "I'm afraid," Emma admits, the words barely more than a whisper.

 

"Of what?" Regina asks carefully, the fingers she'd used to tuck Emma's hair behind her ear, brushing lightly against Emma's cheek as she withdraws them.

 

Emma pulls her legs up onto her chair, wrapping her arms loosely around her knees. "That nothing is what it seems here. That I'll get my memories back and… and find out that I don't get to keep this… this happiness."

 

"I know happiness has been fleeting in your life," Regina says and it's careful, so knowing and gentle. "But there is nothing fleeting here. This happiness is real and it's ours."

 

Emma swallows, running her hand through her hair. The sincerity in Regina's eyes seems real but Emma still hesitates.. "I want to believe that. I think part of me does. Maybe most of me. But it's just…" she trails off not sure how to explain.

 

"Difficult because every person you thought loved you, Neal, Ingrid, even Lily in some ways, ended up hurting you," Regina fills in the answer for her.

 

Emma blinks slowly, once again startled by just how much Regina knows her. She untucks her legs, setting her feet back on the ground, sighing in the process. "You know, I pretend I have this super power, pretend I can detect lies, but the truth is, I can't, not when it really counts. I have this giant blind spot when it comes to love."

 

"I do know that," Regina murmurs and her hand reaches out, her fingers resting against Emma's forearm, rubbing gently. "You once told me your super power might not be fool proof but that you could always tell with me."

 

"Really?" Emma tilts her head curiously.

 

Regina smiles then and it does something to Emma's heart, makes it thump just a little too loudly in her chest. Regina's fingers are still on Emma's arm and she's tracing loops now. "Even if it might be hard to believe right now, your heart is safe with me, I promise."

 

Something inside her, maybe it's the her with her memories, believes Regina's sincerity, and she finds herself nodding. "Okay."

 

They sit in silence, Regina's fingers tracing loops on Emma's arm, staring at each other instead of the stars for a long time.

 

Eventually, Emma finds her eyes dipping from Regina's eyes to her lips. She wants to kiss her. The thought comes to her so suddenly and then it's all she can think about. Her tongue darts out to lick her lips and when she realizes what she's doing and nearly gulps, her eyes flickering back up to Regina's.

 

Regina is watching her curiously but her eyes seem darker than before and she quirks an eyebrow at Emma.

 

Emma swallows again, running a hand through her hair. "Would it, ummm, be weird if I said I wanted to kiss you?"

 

Regina smiles, so fond and so amused and something else too - longing, Emma thinks. "No, it wouldn't be."

 

"Okay," Emma nods, smiling too. "That's good because I want to kiss you."

 

Regina laughs then, shaking her head, and Emma would be offended if it weren't for how impossibly fond Regina looks. "Please do," Regina says and the laughter is gone, her voice low.

 

It's another minute before Emma leans over, closing the space between their chairs, the blanket slipping from her shoulders. She traces her thumb along Regina's bottom lip and Regina shivers in a way that definitely has nothing to do with the cool evening air. Emma slides her hand to cup Regina's cheek, and then she closes the rest of the distance between them, pressing her lips to Regina's.

 

Regina's own hands circle Emma's neck, tugging her closer. Her lips part ever so slightly and Emma uses the opportunity to push her tongue into Regina's mouth, deepening the kiss - this time they both shiver.

 

They part for air a few seconds later and then Emma is dipping forward once more, pressing her lips to Regina's with more urgency this time.

 

When they part the next time, Regina rests her forehead against Emma's, brown eyes staring directly into green ones. She moves one of her hands to cup Emma's cheek, her thumb stroking gently along Emma's jaw. "I love you," she murmurs.

 

Emma blinks slowly. "I-"

 

Regina stops her with a finger her on her lips. "Don't say it until you're ready to. When you mean it."

 

They kiss again, this time soft and slow, and Emma thinks she could get used to this. Emma thinks she will love Regina. Emma wonders if she - and not just the her with her memories - maybe already does.

 

xxxxxx

 

The next days are filled with the tentative beginnings of something. It's maybe weird to think of it that way when they are technically already married but it's exactly how Emma feels. She's really starting to understand why the her with her memories had doodled those hearts around Regina's name - because kissing Regina is amazing , the best kissing Emma has ever partaken in.

 

And there is quite a bit of kissing that happens over those days - stolen kisses in the kitchen and the living room and Regina's study and the hallway when they say goodnight (they are still sleeping in separate rooms but Emma is working up the courage to suggest that they not). There are butterflies in her stomach almost constantly, which is completely ridiculous . So, yes, it feels like the beginning of something good, maybe something great. 

 

And then, five days after that kiss under the stars, everything falls apart.

 

It's nearly Hope's bedtime and she races up the stairs, Emma and Regina trailing behind her.

 

She isn't supposed to be running, Emma is already calling, "No running on the stairs," when the unthinkable happens - Hope trips, slipping backwards, and Emma is instantly overcome with terror, her hand reaching out like that will prevent the child from tumbling all the way down the stairs.

 

Something white, wispy like smoke, leaves Emma's fingertips, it merges with purple smoke coming from her right, from Regina. The strange smoke twists together and envelopes Hope, who somehow moves safely from where she is on the stairs down to the bottom, the smoke fizzling out.

 

Hope's lower lip trembles. "I'm sorry ."

 

Regina reaches out and smooths her hair comfortingly but her eyes are on Emma. 

 

Emma is frozen, her mind whirling as she tries to process what has just happened and fails miserably. "What the fuck was that?" 

 

" Emma ," Regina says and it sounds so pleading, so desperate.

 

"What. Was. That." Emma repeats each word slowly, she needs answers now .

 

Ry appears from the living room then, clearly having heard the commotion and Regina looks relieved for a second. 

 

"Can you take Hope upstairs, please?" Regina asks.

 

Ry looks from Regina to Emma to Hope and then he nods seriously. 

 

Hope's lower lip trembles again. " Mama ."

 

"It's okay sweetheart," Regina soothes, her hand smoothing Hope's hair once more. "Mommy and I just need to talk."

 

"Mommy?" Hope looks up at Emma with wide, woeful eyes, and all Emma can do is nod her agreement with Regina's. 

 

Ry's hand brushes against Emma's arm as he walks by her, squeezing her forearm gently, but he doesn't say anything to her. He scoops Hope up into his arms and carries her up the stairs.

 

When they are on the top step and vanishing down the hallway, Emma turns back to Regina. "What is going on?"

 

"Do you want to go sit down?" Regina asks and her face looks pained. 

 

"No," Emma says a little too loudly, crossing her arms over her chest. "Tell me now."

 

Regina's lips purse for a second but she nods. "That was magic."

 

Magic? How the hell was that possible? Magic isn't real. Except something had very much happened when Hope tripped, something very much beyond Emma's comprehension. "Magic? Seriously?"

 

"Yes," Regina confirms carefully. She tries to reach out to Emma with her hand but Emma pulls back out of her reach and she drops her hand back to her side looking pained again.

 

"And what? You've known about this all along and you've just been lying to me?" Emma's heart is racing in her chest. 

 

"Emma, we weren't lying. We were just - trying not to overwhelm you."

 

We . So it wasn't just Regina then, it was everyone. "So what? That made it okay? What else are you lying to me about? What else haven't you told me?" She lets herself get hung up on the lying part because the rest of it is too unbelievable to really process.

 

Regina's face is still pained and she closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose as she takes a deep breath. "It's complicated," she says when she blinks her eyes back open. "We - I - weren't trying to hurt you by keeping things from you, Emma. We really were just trying to protect you. I swear. But I'll tell you anything you want to know now. Anything."

 

Emma's thoughts are spiraling. She'd been so afraid that this life was an illusion, that she was being lied to, but Regina had somehow managed to make her feel safe and secure anyway - once again she'd let herself believe like an idiot and look what was happening. She's mad at Regina and she's mad at herself. " Everything ," she spits out. "I want to know everything."

 

Regina nods, looking like she's expected that. "Are you sure you don't want to sit down?" 

 

" No ," Emma wraps her arms tighter around herself. "Just tell me."

 

"Okay," Regina nods again and this time it just seems like a stall tactic, like she's trying to figure out what to say. "It's difficult to know where to start and how to explain." She takes a breath. "You weren't born in this world, in the world you grew up in. You were born in the Enchanted Forest. Your parents are Snow White and Charming."

 

"Like from the Disney movie?" Emma thinks her eyes must be bulging out of her head. This whole thing is ridiculous. Is she really expected to believe any of this?

 

"Not exactly," Regina shakes her head. "David and Mary Margaret are your parents."

 

"This is a bad joke, right?" Emma shakes her head. "They're the same age as me."

 

"I'm sorry, it's not." Regina looks genuinely woeful. "There was a curse. Time was frozen."

 

"Right. That makes sense," Emma scoffs sarcastically. "And who exactly are you in this fairy tale world?"

 

Regina sets her shoulders, like she's steadying herself, like she's preparing for a backlash. "The person who cast the curse that brought everyone here. The curse Henry brought you here to break."

 

A curse ? Seriously? Was Emma seriously expected to believe this. "So what? You're the big bad in this story then?"

 

Regina's shoulders sink a fraction. "If you had your memories you would say no and you wouldn't let me entertain any other option. But I would say it's complicated. I certainly am not now but when Henry first brought you to town things were different. We were adversaries at first and then reluctant partners and then friends and then more ."

 

Emma is barely following this story but she latches onto a detail. "So Ry really did come to find me in Boston? That at least wasn't a lie?"

 

Regina's eyes are filled with guilt. "Yes and no. That was actually Henry ."

 

Emma blinks confused a second before she gets it. "Henry? Henry the man who is like five years younger than me is the boy I gave birth to when I was seventeen? What the fuck."

 

"He spent some time in a realm where time moves differently, he aged quicker."

 

This is the last straw in a series of answers that all could have been last straws of their own. Emma can't listen to any more of this, she really just can't. She spins on her heels and heads for the front door, snatching her keys from the bowl near the entrance.

 

"Emma!" Regina calls after and it's frantic, so frantic, and so pained. "Emma wait, please."

 

Emma doesn't even turn around, she just opens the front door and slams it shut behind her, racing down the front steps and climbing into the Bug, backing out of the driveway before Regina can chase after her.

 

xxxxxx

 

Emma drives and drives and drives, her heart thumping much too quickly in her chest, angry tears clinging to the corners of her eyes. Why does this always happen? Why does she let herself trust anyone at all when time and time again it's proven that she shouldn't. 

 

She isn't sure where she's driving to but somehow she makes it to the town line, where she pulls over. She gets out of the car and stalks her way over to a tree and kicks at the trunk. "Stupid, stupid, you're so fucking stupid," she screams. 

 

That's how she feels - like an idiot. She should have just run the second she was released from the hospital. Shouldn't have let herself be fooled by the promise of love and family , by the promise of everything she's ever wanted. Those tears clinging to the corners of her eyes spill over and she wipes at them futilely, her shoulders sagging as she gives up her assault on the tree, instead slumping to the ground, her back resting against it.

 

Through still damp eyes, she stares up at the stars shimmering brightly above her. 

 

I love you times all the stars in the sky - that's what pops into her head and a sob catches in her throat.

 

Hope . She's run away from Hope, her daughter. And from Ry, who is her son somehow even if he is not Henry, who is apparently also her son. She loves them, all three of them, she knows that in her heart, and here she is just leaving them. Leaving them like so many people have left her.

 

And Regina. She's leaving Regina too. Regina who is tender and gentle and always so very careful with her, Regina who seems to just understand her, Regina who loves her. No one has ever looked at her the way Regina looks at her.

 

But, still, Regina lied to her, they all lied to her. They conspired to withhold the truth. A truth that is still so mind boggling that Emma isn't completely sure she believes it's real. 

 

Emma keeps staring up at the stars, the same stars she'd kissed Regina under just days ago, like they hold the answers, like they'll tell her what exactly she is supposed to do. 

 

xxxxxx

 

Regina watches Emma go, unable to stop her, and wonders if this is the last time she will ever see her. 

 

It isn't. 

 

It can't be. 

 

Regina won't let it be. 

 

She would search to the ends of the earth, to the ends of any realm, to find Emma, to bring her home. But that requires Emma actually wanting to come home. And what if she doesn't? What if she can't get past this, past lies of omission meant to protect her but that had hurt her instead. What if she truly believes that they don't love her, truly believes that everything they've told her since she tripped on that sidewalk and hit her head is a lie? The possibility that Emma could believe she is unloved, could ever feel that way again, hurts Regina nearly as much as the possibility of never seeing her again.

 

Henry shows up before Regina has even moved from the entrance way. 

 

"Ry called me," he says, hugging her tightly and asking, "Do you want to go after Ma now?"

 

Regina truly considers it but eventually she just shakes her head. Not yet. It's best they give Emma some time to wrap her head around what she's just learned. 

 

Henry hugs her again, tells her it will be alright, and leads her into the living room.

 

Ry appears not too long after that. 

 

"How's Hope?" Regina asks immediately, a sudden sharp pang of guilt in her stomach at not having gone up to check on her. 

 

"She was a bit upset but she's fine now. Asleep," Ry reassures her. His head tilts, "And how's Mom?"

 

"Gone. For now." Henry is the one who answers.

 

That word - gone - causes a sob to bubble up in Regina's chest, a pained sound escaping past her lips, and Henry squeezes her arm.

 

Ry doesn't look surprised, although his shoulders slump a little. "I'll make tea," he says, it's not a suggestion but a statement and he turns and heads for the kitchen before either Henry or Regina can protest.

 

He returns with three cups of steaming tea, handing them out and taking a seat on Regina's other side on the couch. 

 

Pressed between her two sons, the warmth of the mug of tea seeping into her hands, Regina feels a little better. Not completely better, of course, not with Emma still out there somewhere maybe getting further and further away from them by the minute, but better enough that she feels like she can at least breathe, which is a start.

 

She's still sitting there between the two of them when headlights illuminate the window - a car pulling into the driveway. Her heart rate increases instantly - anticipation and hope and maybe a little fear too. 

 

Henry is the one who gets up to check. "It's Ma," he says, turning around to smile at Regina. "Told you it would be okay."

 

Regina can't really return the grin, her heart is still racing much too quickly. She sets her tea mug down on the coffee table and stands, her hands curling uncertainly at her sides, unsure what to do next.

 

" Go ," Henry says like he knows what she's supposed to do and it's obvious. "Go greet her outside. We'll wait here."

 

Ry gives her an encouraging nod. 

 

Regina doesn't consider whether or not that's a bad decision - whether it might look a little desperate, or might overwhelm Emma all over again - her feet are moving much too quickly towards the front entrance to allow time to think. She's on the porch before Emma has even made it to the steps.

 

Emma looks up when the door swings open, a little startled, and definitely surprised. She stops walking, standing at the base of the steps, looking up at Regina. "Hi," she says with a half wave and a sheepish sort of smile. 

 

"Hi," Regina breathes out, flooded with relief at the sight of Emma not only here but smiling. She descends the stairs stopping a foot away from Emma.

 

They just stare at each other for a long minute before Emma slides her hands into the pockets of her jeans and says, "Tell me why you lied.” It's not angry, more curious, really.

 

Regina takes a breath and then she tells the truth, “I was afraid you'd think I was crazy. I was afraid you'd be overwhelmed and that you would run. That you would lose your family before you had the chance to really get to know them, us . But, mostly, I was afraid I would lose you . I'm sorry.”

 

Emma blinks slowly and Regina can see the thoughts racing behind green eyes. “Well," she says eventually, her shoulders relaxing, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, "You weren't wrong. I did run.”

 

Regina smiles too, hopeful. "But you came back.”

 

Emma shrugs, offering simply, “I didn't want to give up the stars”

 

Regina's lips purse, unable to really mask the flicker of disappointment she feels at that answer. "The stars. I see."

 

"Or our kids," Emma adds in the same simple tone.

 

"They are quite easy to love, and quite impossible to walk away from," Regina agrees even if that flicker of disappointment is still frustratingly there in her chest.

 

"I didn't want to give you up either," Emma admits after a beat, the confession made with much quieter words and shining green eyes. 

 

The disappointment vanishes instantly, replaced with a new wave of hope. " Emma ," Regina breathes out, not quite trusting herself with any other words yet, not quite sure what to say. Her heart rate is increasing again, she can feel the thump-thump hard against her ribcage. 

 

"Here's the thing," Emma says, one hand leaving the pocket of her jeans to run through her hair, eyes wide and earnest. "I'm not sure I really understand what's going on in this weird little town. I don't understand how magic can be real. Or how I can have a son and parents who are basically all the same age as me. I'm not sure I really even believe any of this magic shit yet. But I do believe you. I believe you really weren't trying to hurt me, that you aren't ." She pauses, bites her lip like she's trying to sort out what to say next, seeming almost nervous.

 

Regina can't help but think she looks exactly the way she'd looked five years ago when she'd stood right here in front of this house and asked Regina if she maybe wanted to give things a proper go. She didn't think it was possible but her heart races even faster as she waits for Emma to continue.

 

Finally, Emma starts again with, "These last few weeks have been... crazy." She grins, the smile lighting up her eyes. "But, like, the best kind of crazy, you know? What I mean is… I just… I have never felt so safe or cared for or… or loved before, not ever." She smiles again and this time it's softer. "And I've never felt the way I feel about you about anyone else either. I think… I think I love you? And so, yeah," she shrugs her shoulders, an awkward sort of chuckle escaping her lips, like she's trying to play it cool, even though she still just looks nervous, "I came back."

 

Regina springs forward then, incapable of holding herself back from wrapping her arms around Emma. 

 

Emma stiffens for only a second before she melts into the hug, her arms circling Regina's waist. She presses her lips to Regina's in a quick but tender kiss before she burrows her face into the crook of Regina's neck.

 

Regina smooths back blonde hair, and murmurs into Emma's ear, "Thank you for coming home. I love you."

 

"I love you too," Emma says, her face still pressed into the crook of Regina's neck. 

 

It feels like hearing it for the first time all over again.

 

xxxxxx

 

They are at the park a week later when it happens. They've packed a picnic and met Henry, Jacinda, and Lucy there.

 

It's after they've eaten lunch. Regina is sitting on the picnic blanket, there's a book open in her lap but she's not really reading it, instead she's watching her family, her chest filled with fondness.

 

Ry, Henry, Jacinda, and Lucy are kicking a soccer ball around, laughing and teasing each other as they play keep away. 

 

Emma is pushing Hope on the swings. Hope is giggling, demanding, "Higher! Higher!"

 

Regina's eyes meet Emma's and Emma grins at her. And then Emma stops pushing the swing. She takes stumbling steps backwards, one hand, and then the other, going to her head.

 

"Mommy! Higher!" Hope protests, clearly not understanding why Emma has stopped pushing.

 

"Emma!" Regina calls worriedly, already putting down her book and leaping to her feet.

 

It's Regina's cry that alerts the others that something is wrong and they are only steps behind Regina making it to Emma, their soccer ball discarded. 

 

Hope has hopped off the swing. "Mommy?" she asks, her eyes wide as she stares at Emma. 

 

Emma has doubled over, her hands still on her head. 

 

"Talk to me, Emma. Tell me what's wrong," Regina urges, her heart hammering against her ribcage, worry flooding every inch of her. 

 

Emma makes a sound like a groan in response and that doesn't do anything to ease Regina's worry. Regina's fingers twitch, like they want something to do, want to reach out and provide comfort - the problem is she's not sure what Emma needs 

 

Seconds that feel like hours pass and then Emma's hands drop from her head. Slowly she rights herself, green eyes meeting brown. 

 

" Oh ," the sound escapes Regina's lips as worry is replaced with surprise. "You remember?" It's a question even though she can see the answer right there in Emma's eyes - a subtle but unmistakable shift.

 

"Every single thing," Emma says and she's closing the gap between them, looping her arm around Regina's waist and spinning her in a circle before crushing her into a hug. "I love you," she says, pulling back to kiss her, once, "I love you," twice, "I love you," a third time.

 

" Mommy ," Hope whines on the third kiss, her hands on her hips. "Enough."

 

Emma lets out a whoop of laughter, pulling away from Regina to scoop Hope into her arms, settling her on her hip and spinning around in circles a few times before she presses a multitude of kisses to her cheek while Hope giggles. "Don't worry, I love you too monkey."

 

"How much?" Hope grins, showing all her teeth.

 

"Times all the stars in the sky," Emma murmurs, all the teasing gone from her voice, her eyes shimmering a little with moisture. She swallows thickly, swallowing down that emotion, her expression shifting as she waggles her eyebrows at the boys. "You want kisses too?"

 

"I'll pass," Ry says with a wrinkled nose.

 

But Henry grins. "I mean, if you're offering."

 

Emma laughs and kisses them both on the cheek, Hope still on her hip. She gets Jacinda and Lucy next, ruffling Lucy's hair even though she's too old for that and is immediately trying to fix the mess Emma has made.

 

And then she's back to Regina, a classic Emma grin on her face, her eyes absolutely shining with love. "Hey," she says.

 

"Hey," Regina repeats back, her own eyes shimmering now, a smile tugging the corners of her mouth upwards.

 

She knows they would have been okay either way. Knows in her heart that every version of her belongs with every version of Emma. But she's glad to have this one back. The one she fought with and then beside, the one she loved for years before she could ever say so out loud, the one she created this family with.

 

"I love you," Regina says and she's not sure she's ever meant it more