“This is awful,” Regina announces in the dark. Her voice is quiet, but clearly irritated.
Emma rolls over to face her in bed and mumbles, “Hey, no one’s forcing you to stay here,” but she sounds too sleepy and content to really be offended. Regina supposes that Emma knows her well enough by now to realize that’s not what she meant. They’ve settled into something, over the last month since Regina got her heart back. They still make a show of trading Henry between them at the end of each week, but it’s rare that the three of them don’t spend the night in the same house. Emma is as hesitant to put a name to it as Regina, and Henry, though he must have some idea of what’s changed between his parents, has made no comment other than he wishes they’d pick a house and stick with it so his stuff wouldn’t be all over the place.
“No,” Regina says. “This. Me. Feeling things, unfiltered, all the time. I don’t know how you live like this.”
Emma rolls her eyes, but she smiles, too. “It’s called being a human. You’ll get used to it.”
“I’ve always been a human,” Regina snaps, and her tone is a bit too harsh, but Emma still doesn’t look mad. Instead she just looks sympathetic, and though it’s a comfort to Regina, knowing there’s finally someone in this world who is learning to understand her, it scares her too. It was safer, being closed off. It was safer, feeling less.
“I know,” Emma says patiently. “You remember this from before, right? You remember what it's like.”
“Yes. I hate it.” Regina lies on her back, staring at the ceiling, as Emma inches closer to her side.
“It's not all bad, is it?” Emma asks.
And it's not. But it's too much and all the time, and every day there comes a point where Regina thinks she won't survive it. She had tried once, the first week, to undo it, had locked her office door and braced herself for the dizzying pain, but her chest had not yielded to the press of her fingers. Her heart was trapped inside her body. She had shown up at the Sheriff's Department afterward, had sniped at Emma as rudely as she could manage, but instead of fighting back, Emma had only looked at her curiously and asked if she was all right.
“No,” she answers Emma now. “It's not all bad.”
“It'll get easier.” She says it like it's a promise, and Regina realizes that Emma's newfound optimism is probably her own fault. Bringing a ghost back to life will do wonders for a skeptic, it seems.
“It was never easy before.”
“You were different before.”
“My life was different. I'm not,” Regina says, because if Emma's going to stay, then she should know. Sometimes, Regina thinks she might still be as wicked as ever.
Two days in a row, crying women show up at Emma’s house in the middle of the night, and she wonders if this is a completely new curse designed to prey on her awkwardness at handling other people’s emotions.
The first is Kathryn, and Emma wonders just how much Regina has told her, if she knows to look for Regina at Emma’s house.
“I’m sorry,” Kathryn says, red eyed and blinking tears away furiously. “I’m sorry, I know this is wildly inappropriate. Is Regina here?”
“Kathryn?” Regina says, appearing at Emma’s side, and really, it’s a little gross how good she looks in pajamas with no makeup on. Not even her hair looks rumpled. Magic, Emma decides.
Kathryn throws her arms around Regina’s neck in an instant and begins to sob into her shoulder, and Emma watches, intrigued, at the way Regina looks alarmed and uncomfortable for just a moment before she hugs Kathryn back. “David left me,” Kathryn chokes out.
“I’ll, uh. I’ll just leave you two alone,” Emma says, backing away slowly.
The comical way Regina's eyes widen in panic, clearly communicating to Emma that she must not leave, is almost enough to make sticking around worth it. She retreats to her bedroom only momentarily to find her cell phone, quickly tapping out a message to David: For the record, I think you're doing the right thing, but your crying wife is in my house right now so YOU OWE ME.
She doesn't receive a reply, and she wonders if David is at Mary Margaret's. She stops herself then, because she doesn't want to think about what they might be doing there. They are her parents, after all.
Regina obviously feels out of her element, but she knows all the right things to do for Kathryn, anyway. She brings her tea and tissues and lets her cry, sits on the couch with her and murmurs soothing words as Kathryn gets herself under control. Regina catches Emma's eye as she sits in the chair nearest the couch, and Emma nods at her in what she hopes is an encouraging manner.
“I'm sorry,” Kathryn tells Emma again, sniffling. “I'm so sorry to invade your home like this, especially so late.”
And yes, Emma is tired, and this is a situation she'd rather not be dealing with right at this moment (or any moment,) but Kathryn looks so sad and small, and Emma is not a monster. “It's really okay,” she assures her. “Don't worry about that right now.”
Things are changing, Henry had told her. Things are changing just because she's there. Snow White and Prince Charming are meant to be together, she knows, and Kathryn had loved someone else once, but it's hard to see the good in her heartbreak now. If only things could be a bit neater about falling into place, Emma might feel a bit less like a homewrecker.
Kathryn falls asleep on the couch, but she's gone in the morning when Regina gets up. She is always the first to rise, but it's Henry, rather surprisingly, who stumbles into the kitchen as Regina's making coffee.
“You're up early, for a Saturday,” she says with a raised eyebrow.
He only shrugs as he heads for the pantry, rooting around for a box of the sugary cereal that Emma keeps buying for him. They sit across from each other at the table, and he seems to regain the ability to form words after a few bites of his ridiculous excuse for a breakfast. “What was Mrs. Nolan doing here last night?”
Regina takes a sip of her coffee. “I didn't think you were awake.”
“She was crying kinda loud. Did she and Mr. Nolan break up?”
For a moment she considers asking him why he'd jump right to that conclusion, but she already knows the answer. “Yes,” she says. “She was very upset.”
Henry stirs his cereal around thoughtfully. “It's the right thing, though. They're not supposed to be married.”
“Henry,” she warns him, her expression becoming stern.
“They're not,” he says, stubbornly. “You never let me talk about that stuff, even though it's true. You still try to act like everything's normal.”
“Everything is normal, Henry,” she says, and this isn't how she wanted to start her day, fighting with her son. She'd grown too accustomed to his forgiveness, but perhaps the grace period for a mother back from the dead has finally come to an end.
“Why won't you ever talk about it, Mom? I'd listen.”
He looks her right in the eye, and it makes her blink and look away, down into her coffee mug. Her son's is the only scrutiny she can't quite stomach. “I left that life behind a long time ago. It's... not something I care to dwell on, and I think you're old enough now to respect that.”
“Fine,” he says, still frustrated. He doesn't say anything else until he's finished his cereal and slurped up the sugary milk. “Why did she come here?”
“Because she's my friend,” Regina answers, grateful he'd changed the subject. “She needed a friend, last night.”
“No, I mean... why did she come here? This isn't your house. She's not really friends with Emma. Emma's David's friend. How did she know you'd be here?” He asks it with the tiniest of smiles on his lips, like he's fishing for confirmation of something he's already confirmed for himself.
“I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, Henry,” she says, but it's a weak deflection, and he rolls his eyes spectacularly in response.
“Mom, I'm not stupid. I know you and Emma are...”
“You know Emma and I are what?” she challenges him, and his face flushes red.
“Staying in the same bedroom,” he mumbles.
Regina isn't sure whether to be embarrassed or amused, but she's distracted from the choice between them as Emma comes into the kitchen with her cell phone pressed to her ear. “No, David, I don't think you're a bad person,” she says. “You have to do what's going to make you happy.”
Something awful and angry burns inside Regina for a moment. It's that Kathryn is her friend, yes, that she's one of the very few people who care for Regina at all. But mostly, overwhelmingly, it's that what makes David happy will no doubt make Mary Margaret happy, and she cannot, cannot bear the thought of Snow White stealing back her happy ending. Even now that she's come to care for Emma more than she ever thought possible. Even now she can't allow it.
But Emma's looking at her as she listens to David's reply, and something strange comes over her face that Regina can't quite decipher. “You don't stay with someone out of obligation, David” she says. “You stay when you love someone.”
Emma works late that night, late enough that by the time she's ready to head home, she knows that both Henry and Regina, back at the mayor's house tonight, will be asleep. She doesn't want to disturb them, and she doesn't feel comfortable enough in this relationship she and Regina aren't talking about to use her key to Regina's house and slip into bed next to her sleeping sort-of girlfriend. So it's to her own empty house she goes, collapsing into a bed that suddenly seems too big, only to be woken up an hour later by the sound of her doorbell followed by frantic, insistent knocking.
It's Mary Margaret—it's her mother—crying so hard that she shakes and gulps for air as Emma pulls her inside. “Oh my God, what's wrong? What happened?” Emma asks, suddenly terrified.
Mary Margaret grabs at her desperately, holding her more tightly than she's ever done. “You were so small,” she manages. “You were so small and perfect and you were mine and you were so defenseless, and we had to send you away on your own. And I thought—I thought I would die, as soon as you were out of my sight. I thought I could never survive losing you.”
Emma leads her over to the couch, and even when Mary Margaret releases Emma from her hug, she doesn't let go of her. She wraps her hand around Emma's wrist as if she's afraid not to be holding onto some part of her daughter. “You remember,” Emma says. The words feel heavy as they leave her, and this is proof even beyond the DNA test that forced her to believe. It's one thing for Mary Margaret to know Emma is her child, and another for her to feel it.
“Not everything,” Mary Margaret explains, and her words come out more steadily now, though fresh tears still fall down her cheeks. “Not most things. I can't remember my childhood, or running away, or falling in love. But I remember you. And I remember being pregnant.” She closes her eyes for a moment, and it's like she's somewhere else. “I remember waiting, and worrying. And how much I loved you, even before you were born. Emma, I loved you. I wanted you. You were everything, and you had to grow up thinking we abandoned you.”
Emma remembers being seven, and being at the group home after yet another family had sent her back. It was winter, almost Christmas, and she had laid in her bed and cried and tried to understand what was so wrong with her that she kept being sent away. One of the older girls, whose name Emma could no longer remember, had told her to suck it up and stop being such a baby. “No one wants you. They never did and they never will. So you better just get used to it.”
It's a lot to take in, now, her closest friend in front of her, telling her she had been loved all along. That she had been precious, that she hadn't been thrown away. “When I was little,” she says, “all I wanted was for you to show up and tell me it had all been a mistake, and you were taking me home, and everything would be okay.” She doesn't want to cry, but she can't quite help it, and when Mary Margaret reaches up to brush Emma's tears away from her cheeks, she opens her mouth and lets out a sob.
“Oh, Emma.” Mary Margaret pulls her into her arms once more, and rubs soothing circles on her back. “You should have known every day, how much you were loved. I'm so sorry you didn't.”
“It's not your fault,” Emma says. When she was younger, angrier, she thought she would never forgive her parents. If she ever found them, she thought, she would tell them how they ruined her life, how miserable they made her. But for the mother who wanted her, forgiveness comes easily.
“No.” Mary Margaret's eyes darken, and she looks as if she's in pain as she says, “No, it's Regina's fault. And you're sleeping with her.”
It's almost funny, how quickly Emma freezes, how her tears dry up immediately as she splutters, “How did you know that?”
“Emma,” she says almost patiently, as if she's speaking to one of her students. “She's the mayor of a small town full of nosey gossips. Your cars have spent the night outside of each other's houses often enough that literally everyone is talking about it.”
Emma blushes, painfully aware of a parent's disapproval for the first time in her life. “Right. Probably should have seen that coming.”
“I knew anyway. Even before Ruby started texting me in all caps about it. I know you, Emma.”
“I know.” Emma feels like she's being scolded, but in the gentlest, saddest way possible. If she had gotten this reaction every time she made a bad decision in her teens, she might have made a great deal less of them. She might have done a lot of things differently, with Mary Margaret as a mom.
“I missed everything. My daughter's entire childhood, almost three decades of your life, and we will never get that time back. She did that. I don't understand how you could be with her, knowing that. I know what you told me, I know that dying changed her. I know that you say she was in pain. But that doesn't change the fact that she dealt with that pain by tearing our family apart.”
Emma doesn't know what she'll do if she's asked to choose. “I'm sorry,” is all she can say.
Mary Margaret looks at her, eyes softening. “Don't be,” she answers firmly. “You can't choose who you love, I know that well enough.”
Emma gapes at her. “I don't—I never said I loved her.”
“I know you,” she says again, and she's smiling, just a little. “You didn't have to.”
There's a quiet moment between them, something like understanding, but eventually Emma ruins it. “Everyone knows?”
Mary Margaret surprises them both by laughing. “It's all anyone wants to talk about.”
“Emma, I know I can't tell you what to do. You're an adult, and I... I know I don't have that right. But as much as I want to tell you to stay away from her, I want you to know that nothing will make me stay away from you. Not even Regina Mills.” She takes Emma's hand, and she is unwavering as she says, “We're family. Given the choice, you never abandon your family.”
Mary Margaret stays at Emma's that night, in the room Regina doesn't use, and as Emma drifts off to sleep she wonders if for the first time in her life, everything might turn out all right.
Emma brings Regina lunch at her office the next day, and though Regina would never admit it, she's relieved to see her. She's connected to Emma in so many ways now that it's pointless to deny them, but it's still too hard for her to say out loud, that these new, relentless emotions make it trying to be around almost anyone, but that Emma's presence is never too much. Perhaps it's that Emma had held Regina's heart in her own hands with pure intentions- not as Regina had held them, not as Cora had. Perhaps it meant that Emma would always be her tether.
But Emma's thoughts seem to be elsewhere today, and it's half an hour of faraway stares and Regina having to repeat herself before she loses patience and snaps, “Spit it out, Sheriff.”
Emma had been gazing out the window, but she jerks her head back to look at Regina. “What?”
“You're clearly distracted by something. So you can either tell me what it is, or leave me to my paperwork.”
Emma takes a sip of her drink, stalling for a few seconds. “Mary Margaret knows about us,” she says finally.
Regina tries not to bristle at the mention of her name, but it's an involuntary response. It had been 28 years of hating Snow White from a distance, of having the woman mostly out of her hair. But of course, Snow White's child, the prodigal daughter meant to be everyone's savior, just had to turn out to be Regina's savior, too.
Emma must see the change in her face, because she sighs and looks suddenly weary. “Regina, she's my mother. And even if she weren't, she's my friend. I know that's not your favorite thing about me, but it's not going away.”
“Fine,” Regina says tersely. “She knows about us. I suppose I should tell you that so does Henry.”
Emma looks surprised for a moment, and then, “Well, he does live with us.” She bites her lip and then asks, worriedly, “Is he all right with it? He hasn't said anything to me about it.”
“I think he's a little embarrassed. We haven't had a chance to discuss it.” She hasn't tried to discuss it, not since they were interrupted the first time, but Emma has probably guessed as much. “We'll talk to him together,” she says, and it's strange to offer such an olive branch. Foreign, still, to be sharing the role of parent, especially having never had an example to follow of the job being done by two. Her mother had ruled their home, her father standing by in silent submission, and Snow was Leopold's daughter, never hers.
The idea seems to soothe Emma for just a moment, but then she's frowning again. “Mary Margaret says that everyone knows.” And then as if she can't keep the words from tumbling out, as if she's on too much of a roll admitting things that Regina doesn't want to hear, she confesses, “And she says that... she remembers me.”
“She remembers you?” Regina asks, but it's not really a question, only that she can't quite understand how such a thing could be.
“As a baby,” Emma elaborates. “She remembers... being my mom.”
“I see,” is all that Regina can manage to say, because it seems like such an effort to speak when her insides feel like they're turning to ice. She's barely listening as Emma speaks again, explaining that Mary Margaret doesn't remember everything. Just Emma. Just a baby and a loss. She supposes it's past time for her to have shown a reaction, when Emma reaches across the desk to take her hand.
“Regina?” she says, and the warmth of her skin alongside the concern in her voice are enough to make Regina refocus on the woman in front of her. “Is this, like, the beginning of the end? Is this how the curse breaks?”
“I don't know.” Her tone is short and clipped. “I knew how to cast it, not break it. It wasn't supposed to be broken.”
“Any curse can be broken,” Emma says like it's a reflex. Like that awful book is somehow a part of her. She doesn't seem to catch herself until the words are out, hanging between them. She squeezes Regina's hand. “What happens? If it breaks?”
“I suppose we all go home.” Regina is good at keeping her voice steady, even when she feels like collapsing.
“It's not my home,” Emma says immediately.
“You were born there.”
“Henry wasn't. What happens to Henry?”
There is an odd peace now in what she had once lamented, that the son she cherished shared the blood of her enemies. “He's your biological son. He won't be left behind.”
“What happens to you?” Emma asks, her voice as gentle and quiet as it ever gets.
“Imprisonment, I would assume. If I'm allowed to live at all. If your parents are so gracious, I may be given a trial, which I would lose. How they would choose to end my life after that, I can't say. I should hope it would be quick.” More than quick, she hopes Henry would not be present. She hopes he would remember her as she was here.
“Then I'm not doing it. I'm not breaking the curse,” Emma declares stubbornly.
“I'm not sure you have a choice. Prophecies have a way of coming true.”
“Yeah? Well I have a way of not doing what I'm supposed to. And I'm not breaking this curse.” Emma's getting that obstinate look on her face, the one that used to make Regina crazy.
“Not even for your family?” It's a troublesome concept for Regina, family. Intellectually, she knows that families should do anything for each other—and she had, she had done everything her mother asked for a very long time, but only because the cost of her disobedience was invariably worse.
“Regina... I'm not going to let anything happen to you. And who wants to go back where we came from, anyway? We have electricity here. And cars. And television.”
Regina tries to imagine Emma living in a palace, wearing elaborate gowns and riding horses, but she can't picture it. Emma doesn't belong there. And Regina's spent so long in this world full of luxuries that she wouldn't want to go back. Even if a dismal fate weren't awaiting her, even if she could have her magic back. But mostly, what has her attention now is Emma's insistence on keeping her from harm.
“Emma,” she says, finally pulling her hand away. “I took your family away from you. I cursed them. Why aren't you running as far away from me as you could possibly go?”
“I don't know!” Emma shouts, and Regina's eyes dart to her office door—closed, but not soundproof. “Because even if I haven't forgiven you, that's not who you are anymore. Because something terrible happened to you that you won't talk about. Because the woman who did those things couldn't possibly be the same one who raised Henry for ten years and gave him the best life she could.”
“You're so insistent that I've changed. But it's always been me. I ruined your family and I've loved Henry, and you can't separate the two. Why would you stay with me?” It's an answer she doesn't want, Regina realizes, an answer that will push Emma away. But it's better to know now. She's already grown too accustomed to Emma's body pressed against hers at night, her hair clogging the shower drain, her ridiculous jacket thrown carelessly over any number of chairs throughout her home. She can't imagine how it would rip her apart, to lose Emma a year or two down the line.
But Emma looks fierce and immovable as she answers, “Because you can't separate me either. I can't draw a line between the pissed off kid who didn't have a family and the idiot who's fallen in love with you.”
She looks frightened, once the words are out of her mouth, and it occurs to Regina that it's probably been a very long time since Emma has admitted to loving anybody other than Henry. They stare at each other for a moment, both shell shocked, until finally, Regina says, “Well. I suppose that changes things, doesn't it?”
“Yeah,” Emma says, and then puts her head in her hands. “Listen, forget I said anything. I shouldn't have—I just—”
“Emma,” Regina interrupts. “Would it help you to know that you're not exactly alone, in the way you feel?”
Emma blinks at her, startled, and then smiles, relieved and hopeful. “Yeah. Yeah, actually, it would.”
Emma asks to borrow Henry's book, and he hands it over eagerly. She probably should have read it long ago, and she gets the sense that Henry thinks so as well, but things had been hectic, and Henry had summarized most of the important points for her already. She skims through the beginning until she finds Regina, and it's startling how young she looks, how different. She shuts herself in Regina's study to read, not sure she'll be up to it if Henry starts hovering.
It's a lot to take in. Particularly difficult, for Emma, is Snow White's declaration that no one else should ever have to lose her mother. When she finishes the story, she shuts the book—the rest can wait for later—and just sits for a few minutes. Regina will be home in an hour. It's been two days since the lunch in her office, and they haven't had their agreed upon conversation with Henry, but it's one day at a time, Emma reasons. First, they figure out what it means to love each other—then everything else comes vaguely second.
Eventually, Emma leaves the study to find Henry. He's in the kitchen, peeling an orange, and for a moment she wants to make a joke about how he's a Mills, shouldn't he be eating an apple? Instead, she leans against the counter next to him, sets the book down, and asks, “You've read this whole book, right? Every story?”
“Of course,” he says, in that tone children use when their parents have asked a very stupid question.
“Why didn't you tell me about your mom?” She reaches for a piece of his orange, and he lets her.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“The story where she's young, and she meets Snow White. That didn't... I don't know, make you feel sympathetic?”
He shrugs. “It wasn't really a good enough reason. For her to hate your mom. It wasn't Snow White's fault that Daniel died, she was trying to help.”
“So when you said you thought something bad happened to your mom, you didn't mean that?” She opens the book again, flips through until she finds a picture of Regina cradling the stable boy's limp body in her arms, in as much pain as Emma's ever seen her.
“No,” Henry says. “Something else.”
“Henry, she lost someone she loved. That can change a person,” Emma tries to explain, but Henry's shaking his head as if she just doesn't get it.
“Snow White lost both her parents, and she stayed good. Cinderella lost Prince Thomas. Red killed her own boyfriend when she was a wolf, and she didn't become evil,” he rattles off, and it seems for a few seconds like he's forgotten about forgiving his mother.
Emma turns pages backwards until she finds Regina again, held high in the air by magic, arms strapped tight to her sides. It's only an illustration in a children's book, but the fear is obvious on her face. Of course, Henry wouldn't understand abuse. Regina had made sure of that. She ran a strict household, but she had never, would never hurt Henry. Knowing this makes Emma want to tell Regina she loves her all over again, even though it's hard, near impossible, for her to say these things too often or too plainly. She leans over and kisses the top of Henry's head. “You're so lucky, Kid.”
“I know,” he says. He doesn't really, but someday, when he's older...
“You've gotta stay on your mom's side, okay?” Emma tells him. “That doesn't mean not being on Mary Margaret's side, or David's, or anyone else's. We can have both.”
Henry shifts uncomfortably. “You haven't forgiven her, though. I know you haven't.”
“That doesn't mean I don't care about her. You can care about someone and be mad at her at the same time.”
Henry gathers up the pieces of orange peel and throws them in the trash. “Will you ever forgive her?”
“I'm trying,” Emma says as she looks down at the book again, at the picture of Regina, not quite broken. “I'm trying every day.”
Regina doesn't sleep well—she never has, and she's too stubborn for sleeping pills, too sick at the thought of something controlling her body that way, like magic.
Emma has been still for a long time, and Regina thinks she's asleep, until she says quietly, “When I was three, the only family I'd ever known sent me back to the group home. I thought they loved me, but they didn't love me enough to keep me once they got pregnant with their own child. No one ever loved me enough to keep me. You should know that. If I'm going to learn to forgive you. You should know that you did that. Even though my parents sent me away to escape the curse, I didn't.”
Regina stares at the back of Emma's head, expecting her to roll over and face her, but she doesn't. “When I was three,” she begins, her voice suspiciously shaky, “I tripped over the root of a tree and tore my dress. I scraped my hands when I fell, and I ran into the house crying. My mother pinned me against the wall with a flick of her wrist. I was up high, near the ceiling, and I begged her to let me go, but she told me I could stay there until I learned not to ruin the nice things she gave me. She told me I was a disappointment. That's the earliest memory I have of her.”
It's not that she's trying to one-up Emma, to win a game of Who Had the Worst Childhood? It's that part of forgiveness is understanding, and this is a memory she's never shared with anyone. Emma is the first person in such a long time who Regina thinks she might trust enough to understand her. “I'm sorry,” she says to Emma's back. “I wasn't before, but I am now. I know that doesn't change the past. But I've been trying for ten years to deserve Henry, and I'm trying to deserve you. I'm trying, Emma.”
Emma turns over to look at her, finally. “I'm not going anywhere,” she says. “Maybe I should, but I won't.”
She falls asleep a little while later, and Regina tries her best to do the same, knowing that at least Emma will be beside her when she wakes.
Kathryn comes over a lot, when they're at Regina's house. Emma has read her story by now, how Prince Charming reunited Abigail with the man she loved. She's sure that Regina knows where Frederick is now, and she's even sure that Regina cares a great deal for Kathryn, but lovers reuniting surely means another crack in the curse's facade, and Regina is scared into silence.
David steers clear of Emma's house, now. Whichever four walls stand around Regina at any given moment are clearly marked Team Kathryn, and David, though a brave, dragon-slaying prince in another life, is not bold enough to defy the mayor. Mary Margaret gives Regina a wide berth at all times, and Emma counts it as a small miracle that neither woman has made any public or private threats to the other—they're behaving for her, she thinks. She can have both, Emma repeats to herself. She can love both.
But the matter of having a mother who knows everything and a father who knows nothing starts to nag at her a bit, and Mary Margaret admits over the phone that it troubles her as well.
“He deserves to know,” she tells Emma, and Emma sighs.
“Of course he does, but how do you propose we tell him?” We, because they're family now and can handle these things together, though that's a notion to which Emma is still struggling to adjust.
“You could get another DNA test. I could probably steal some of his hair without him noticing.”
“Maybe,” Emma says. She knows Mary Margaret has been seeing David, probably since before he and Kathryn separated, though she tries not to pry, because they're her parents and it's just a shade too awkward to start asking questions about their affair. Mary Margaret doesn't reveal much, but Ruby has told her, with a pleased grin on her face, that the room David is renting at Granny's is almost never slept in.
“It's just that...” Mary Margaret goes quiet for a moment, and Emma waits patiently. “It feels like lying. I care about him so much, and it feels like lying, that I know all these things he doesn't know. He should know that we loved each other before, he should know that we have a child together.”
“Have you remembered anything else?” Emma asks. “Do you remember him from before?”
“Sometimes,” Mary Margaret admits, sounding wistful. “Just flashes, mostly. Feelings. Usually when we're... you know.”
“No,” Emma answers vehemently. “No, I don't know, and I don't care to know. We are not going to be the kind of mother and daughter who talk about each other's sex lives.”
“Sorry,” Mary Margaret says. “It's not that I forget, it's just... I knew you as my best friend, before I knew you as my daughter.”
Sometimes Emma thinks it was worth it, every awful moment in her dismal childhood, to make it here, where she has a best friend and a mom, the son she gave up and his impossible mother by her side. “I know,” says Emma quietly, hoping that Mary Margaret can tell how she feels without her having to say it. “Maybe he'll remember on his own. You did.”
“Yes, but I didn't start remembering until I knew what I'd forgotten.”
“So, what, we just invite him over and spit it out? David Nolan, in the case of Emma Swan, you are the father?”
Mary Margaret laughs. “Not quite.”
“You were kind of prepared, though. You already know about the book, and that Henry thought you were Snow White. David doesn't know anything. He may not take it as well as you did.”
“We'll deal with it.” Mary Margaret sounds sure of herself, brave in a way that's new for her.
“What if he doesn't...” Emma pauses, feeling childish. “What if he doesn't want it?” What if he doesn't want me? is what she means. She has so many things now that she never believed she could have, and adding a father to the mix seems too greedy, somehow. Like it might all blow up in her face if she tries to have too much.
But Mary Margaret, as always, understands what Emma doesn't say. “He'll want it. I don't remember everything, but I know in my heart that your father loved you as much as I do. If we can help him remember, you'll see. Everything's going to be all right.”
Emma wants to believe it. “Promise me something,” she says.
“Of course. Anything,” is Mary Margaret's immediate answer.
“If the curse breaks. If we have to go back...” she starts, and she shouldn't say have to, not to her mother, but she can't help it. “Promise me that you won't have Regina killed. Or thrown in a dungeon. Or exiled, or-”
“Emma,” Mary Margaret interrupts, but Emma keeps talking.
“She hasn't gone without punishment. Believe me, she's suffered. Please. Not just for me, for Henry too. Don't take his mom away.”
“Emma,” Mary Margaret says again, and Emma swears her name sounds different when her mother says it. “Why would I take away someone you love?”
“I... don't know, I just thought...” Emma says, but finds herself unable to continue.
“We're never going to be friends. And I'm never going to forgive her. But I want you to be happy, so... Regina stays.”
“Simple as that?”
“Well, I don't know that I'd call it simple,” Mary Margaret says carefully. “She's about the last person I'd ever choose for you, but I just got you back. I don't want to waste time being angry.”
“Mary Margaret,” Emma says, incredulous.
“Sometimes I find it hard to believe we're related.”
Mary Margaret invites Emma and David over on the same night, and she swears it's only a trial run at a family dinner, not that she plans to confess to David that his new girlfriend and her ex-roommate are actually his wife and daughter. Henry is invited as well, but Emma doesn't bring him. The thought of Regina prowling around at home alone while Emma and Henry spend quality time with the royal family makes Emma feel far too uncomfortable.
She goes over early, because Mary Margaret has it in her head that Emma needs to learn to cook. Emma's done fine up to this point, not knowing, but it's a battle she doesn't want to fight, especially when Mary Margaret looks at her so sadly and tells her she's sorry she wasn't there, to teach Emma the things that parents should teach their children. This, she can do. This, Emma will suffer through without complaint.
David arrives while Mary Margaret is supervising Emma's vegetable-chopping technique. “Come in!” she calls when he knocks on the door, still watching Emma like a hawk, as if she might cut off a finger if left alone for even a second. (It's not an altogether outrageous assumption.) Emma puts the knife down and they turn around to greet him as he comes toward the kitchen.
“Hi,” Mary Margaret says, and Emma wants to roll her eyes at how silly and lovestruck she looks. When David stands in front of them, though, he looks suddenly confused, as if they're not at all who he expected to see.
It seems too easy, almost, when Emma tries to make sense of it later. But maybe it's seeing them together for the first time since he and Mary Margaret started making those “connections” that Emma doesn't want to hear about. Maybe he had been having his own flashes of memory, but he hadn't understood what they meant yet.
Mary Margaret grabs blindly at Emma's arm in the same moment that David reaches for Mary Margaret's stomach, placing his palm against it as if he expects it to be full with child. Emma doesn't breathe for a moment, doesn't even blink.
“I was so sure we were going to have a boy,” he says, and Mary Margaret is gripping Emma's forearm so hard that she thinks it might bruise, but she doesn't say a word and she doesn't try to pull away.
“But I knew she was a girl,” Mary Margaret answers him.
“This isn't... we're not supposed to be here, are we? We're not from here.” He shakes his head, tries to clear the fog. He's looking only at Mary Margaret, as if he's forgotten that Emma's right in front of him as well.
Mary Margaret brings her free hand up to touch his face, runs her thumb across his cheek. “No. No, we're not.”
“Where's the baby?” he asks, and that's when Mary Margaret starts to cry, and Emma promises herself that she won't, this time.
“I grew up,” she says, and he looks at her, finally.
“Emma,” he says, understanding. Mary Margaret releases her then, and in a moment they're both in his arms. “Emma, you're all right.”
Don't cry, Emma tells herself. Don't cry, don't cry. But all she can do is think that nothing was ever like this, not even the nicest of the families she was placed with were ever this happy to see her.
They sort of forget about dinner, after that.
Regina breaks a glass when Emma tells her about David, throws it across the room and loses herself for just a moment. Emma tells her to stop, that they'll wake Henry, and she realizes her hands are shaking when Emma grabs them and they're forced to still.
“Regina. Look at me,” she says, and Regina blinks twice before she can focus on Emma's face. “It doesn't mean the curse is breaking.”
“That's exactly what it means,” Regina snaps, pulling her hands away. Everything she's worked for, everything she built is crumbling right before her eyes.
“No,” Emma insists. “You said yourself that you don't know how the curse breaks. And we're still here, aren't we? We're still in Storybrooke.”
“Yes, for now. Look, maybe we have a choice. Maybe I have a choice. I'm a princess, right? Don't princesses usually get what they want?”
Regina rolls her eyes. “Usually there's a tantrum involved.”
Emma smiles for a moment and then looks serious again, reaching once more for Regina's hands. “Then I'll throw one. Because I'm staying here, with you.”
Regina shakes her head, feeling sick, feeling helpless. “I can't... I can't let her...”
She means Snow White, and Emma must understand. “Let her what? Be happy? Regina, didn't you cast this curse because you were in pain, because the only way you could stand to keep going was to make everyone as unhappy and alone as you were?”
It should scare her, how well Emma has come to know her in such a short time. But it all comes back to her heart, she thinks, it all comes back to Emma being brave enough and stupid enough to bring her back to life.
“Aren't you happy now?” Emma continues. “Don't Henry and I make you happy?”
“Yes,” she admits after a moment of consideration, realizing for the first time that it's true. It's been so long that it's hard to recognize the feeling, or make sense of what it means not to be alone. Emma leans forward to kiss her, and her lips are soft and her hair smells like Regina's shampoo, and yes, this woman makes her happy, somehow.
“Maybe that's all it is,” Emma says. “What if breaking the curse is about you learning to be happy again, and both of us learning to forgive? Maybe everything after that is up to us.”
“What if you're wrong?”
Emma shrugs. “Then we'll deal with it. Together.”
This time, when Regina kisses her, it feels like the air crackles around them, like the sky is threatening to open up, but when they part, they are still in Regina's house, still in Storybrooke, still in Maine. She closes her eyes and lets herself believe, for just a moment, in an idea that she'd rejected for as long as she can remember—that love might be the most powerful magic of all.