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The Hard Way Home

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“I want to go back,” Emma says, as if deciding it will make it happen. She slumps down in the chair across from Regina’s desk, and Regina has grown too accustomed to Emma’s midday visits to bother asking if there isn’t something else the Sheriff should be doing with her time. Even now, Storybrooke is a quiet town.

“Go back?” Regina asks, vaguely annoyed, as she looks up from her phone.

“To before the curse was broken. I don’t want a mom anymore. I don’t know what to do with a mom. I miss my friend, Mary Margaret.”

“You still have her,” Regina answers, irritated, because while many things have changed, and while she and Snow have kept a fragile peace out of fondness for Emma, it doesn’t mean they have to like each other. And Emma’s being needlessly contrary--of course she wants a mother. Regina knows her well enough now to be sure of that. A family is all Emma has ever wanted, even if she won’t admit it.

“You have your magic back, Emma says. “Can’t you reverse time?”

“You can’t reverse time,” Regina tells her, though it’s not exactly true. She could, if she had the right spell, but the cost would be too great. “You can travel, though. You can change things. If you have the right equipment.”

“Like a time machine?”

Regina smirks. “Like a hat.” Off Emma’s confused look, she adds, “We come from fairy tales, dear. Not science fiction.”

“But it’s possible?”

“It’s possible. Still, though. There are things that must happen. There are things you can’t change,” Regina says, reaching in her pocket for a ring that’s no longer there.

After a moment, Emma concedes, “I don’t really want to reverse time. Not if you and I... I wouldn’t want us not to...” she trails off, flustered, and Regina raises an eyebrow.

“No need to get sentimental, Emma,” she says, and it’s not her kindest tone, but Emma seems soothed, anyway.

“Yeah. Okay.” Emma stands and leans over the desk to kiss Regina before she goes. “We’ll just leave things like they are, all right?”

Regina nods. “If you say so.”

She thinks about this later, when Emma’s gone.

She’s not surprised, when it happens. People always leave her, people are always taken from her. And she knew that if she were to lose Emma it would be to something noble and hot-headed and quick. So when Emma leaps in front of Henry at the last moment, when she disappears with a crack and a pop and shift in the air that means she’s as good as dead, the anguished sobs that bring Regina to her knees are borne only of pain, not shock.

She loses. She always loses.

*

Regina had kept Belle from Rumpelstiltskin, had kept her locked up, and so he meant to punish Regina—he meant to take Henry. When the angry red light hits Emma instead, the roar that leaves him silences them all for a moment, silences even Belle's terrified pleas for him to stop, to come home with her, to forget all this and just be happy that they're together again.

But when Regina falls to the floor and cries Emma's name, Rumpelstiltskin smiles. Regina raises a hand to throw a ball of fire in his direction, but she is too frantic to aim and she misses. When she blinks, he is gone, Belle with him.

“She exploded,” Henry says, and he shivers even as Regina wraps her arms tightly around him. “She exploded,” he repeats, and Regina's tears fall into his hair as she holds him. She loathes for anyone to see her cry, her son especially, but Emma, Emma, Emma.

She tries to explain to Henry, as they're huddled on the floor of the kitchen together, that it wasn't an explosion, it was a separation—that her molecules have been spread, that she isn't truly dead, that she likely did not feel any pain. But all this means very little to an eleven-year-old boy who wants his mother, and Regina can't manage to let it comfort her, either. Emma isn't dead, but she doesn't quite live. She is no less lost to them than if she had been run through with a sword.

“Fix it,” he begs her, red-faced and sobbing. “Can't you fix it? Please, Mom, bring her back!”

She strokes his hair and holds him close to her, still. “I'm sorry, Henry. I'm sorry, but I can't. Rumpelstiltskin's magic is different from mine. She's gone.” Her voice breaks on her last words and she shuts her eyes, trying to think of Emma's face, trying to memorize it.

Henry twists out of her embrace, then. “No!” he shouts, and shoves at her shoulders. “Find a way!” He freezes for a moment, his boldness catching up to him, but Regina doesn't yell, or grab him by his elbow and march him straight to his room.

“Henry,” is all she says, like she's begging him for something. She holds her hand out, but he doesn't return to her.

“Find a way,” he says again, shoulders shaking as he cries. “What good are you if you can't get her back! What's the point of having your magic if you can't use it to save her?”

It's a very long time before she rises from the floor, and even then she hasn't found an answer.

There is no body to bury, no ashes to spread, but they have a memorial service, to say goodbye. Regina watches stoically as Snow and James cry and cling to each other, and she thinks it might be the first time since Daniel's death that she has been able to look at Snow White without wanting to cause her pain. Henry stays close by his grandparents, but goes home with her when it's over. He holds her hand as they walk out to the car together, and she tries not to but she squeezes too tightly. If she loses him, too, she'll be alone.

Rumpelstiltskin hides himself well, and in his absence, Henry blames Regina instead. It's a situation she's familiar with, at least. The strange thing is that it seems as if he tries not to—when she tells him she loves him, he says it back, but she can always hear it in his voice. He would love her more if she had saved Emma. He would love her more, maybe, if he had gotten to keep Emma instead.

*

“I’m pregnant,” Snow says, just inside Regina’s front door, where she’s been reluctantly invited. Regina’s eyes dart to the staircase for just a moment, but Henry rarely comes out of his room, these days.

(“It’s summer,” she tells him. “You should be outside, playing.” But he just shakes his head each time she tries, and she still feels their loss too sharply to push him.)

“I don’t see how that concerns me,” Regina says, feeling something inside her turn cold. A baby. Emma’s sibling.

“I’d like not to be,” Snow answers, and she sounds... not young, Regina thinks, but small.

“So you came to me? We do still live in the world of modern medicine,” Regina says, but she’s too tired these days to put much sharpness into her voice. Especially with Snow, who doesn’t quite count as her enemy, anymore.

“I can’t. I don’t want anyone else to know. I... people will talk.” And it’s true, Regina supposes. With everyone’s memories returned, Snow is a bit like a celebrity in their little town.

“And what does James want?”

Snow shakes her head. “He doesn’t know. He would want to keep it, and I... don’t want another baby. I can’t have another baby, after Emma. I can’t be anyone else’s mother.” Tears begin to spill out of Snow’s eyes, and Regina can’t bring herself to be unkind. Henry had only been dead for a few minutes when he’d eaten her apple turnover, but it was long enough for Regina to learn the feeling of losing a child. The awful certainty that nothing will ever truly matter again.

“You can’t take it back,” Regina tells her. “If you do this, you can’t reverse it. You must be absolutely certain that this is what you want.”

Snow wipes her tears away roughly and nods once. “This is what I want.”

Regina turns, and says to Snow over her shoulder, “Very well. Come with me.”

She mixes a potion that will end Snow’s pregnancy, and brings it to her in the sitting room where she’d left her to wait. Snow holds out her hand, and Regina hesitates. "You should take it here."

"Why?"

"There may be some pain. You shouldn't be alone, and if James doesn't know… well. That leaves me."

Snow stares at her for a moment, considering this, and then grabs the bottle from Regina's hand. "Fine."

She brings it to her lips immediately, and as she starts to tip it back, Regina asks, "How do you know it isn't poison?"

Snow pauses only long enough to say, "I don't," in a tone that suggests she wouldn't care if it were, and then drinks. That, at least, makes sense to Regina.

There's no blood. Aborting a pregnancy with magic is clean, but it does hurt. Snow tries not to cry out as she sways and stumbles, but when Regina catches her (against all her usual impulses) Snow lets out a strangled gasp. Regina lowers them both onto the couch and finds herself saying, "You're all right. You're all right."

Snow's eyes are shut tight and she clutches at Regina's sleeve. "I'm sorry," she cries. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Regina isn't sure if the apology is for her or the baby. Perhaps for James. Perhaps for Emma.

"Shh," Regina tells her. "It's almost over." She remembers Snow as a young girl in that moment--how for just a little while, she had thought Snow would be hers to look after. Snow's body tenses and then wilts, and Regina knows that it's done.

Snow tries to sit up straight, but she shakes and cries and Regina keeps one hand at her back. Years ago, she thought no amount of suffering Snow could experience would ever be able to satisfy her, but now she knows it's been more than enough.

“Thank you,” Snow says. “For being here.”

“Don't,” is all Regina can say, because she can't do this, she can't be a friend to Snow White, she can't be someone that Snow counts on. Those days passed long ago, and there is no way back.

Snow understands. She nods, at least, and finds that she's strong enough to stand. “I wanted so badly for you to love me, once. I was... I was too used to getting what I wanted. But I think we're finally done hurting each other, aren't we? That's something.”

And yes, Regina is done. She is tired, and there is no malice left in her heart for Emma's mother. “I think it's the most we can hope for.”

Snow nods again, and sees herself out, and Regina sits on the couch with her head in her hands, trying not to think of Snow the girl, Snow the innocent, Snow who set this awful life in motion.

*

It's two days before James shows up at her house, pounding on her door in the late morning, because even now, Snow White can't manage to keep a secret. She opens the door to stop him yelling, because people will hear, people will talk, and she doesn't much care but she'd rather not have to deal with it. He pushes his way into her house, and before she can react, his hand is around her throat.

“You killed my baby!” he shouts. “You took both of my children!”

And oh, she could stop him so easily. Steal the breath from his lungs, turn his bones to powder. Rip out his heart, if she wanted to be predictable. But he's Emma's father, and she does none of these things. She thinks she might let him strangle her until his fingers bruise her neck, until she's unconscious. Maybe he would stop then, or maybe he would kill her.

But the scuffle has woken Henry, and he barrels down the stairs and into his grandfather, throwing wild, unpracticed punches at his stomach. “Stop! Stop, don't hurt her!”

James lets go immediately and backs away a few steps. Regina's own hands are at her neck, and she gasps for air, doubled over, as Henry gently pats her arm. “Are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” she says, straightening and reaching out to smooth his messy morning hair. “I'm all right. You should go to your room while I talk to your grandfather.”

“But Mom,” he says, casting a suspicious glare at James, who looks mortified and guilty. It's so rare, Henry taking her side in anything, that she almost wants to tell him he can stay.

“Do as I ask, Henry,” she says instead. “Go to your room while I speak to James, and then when we're done I'll make you some breakfast. Anything you want.”

“Is he staying?” Henry asks, eyes still on James, as he backs away toward the stairs.

“No,” Regina answers. “No, I don't imagine he will.”

“Mom,” he tries one last time, hand on the banister, one foot on the first step. “I can stay.”

“I won't hurt your mom, Henry,” James says, looking like he might cry at any moment, and good Lord, Regina's had enough of Prince Charming's tender emotions to last three lifetimes. “I'm sorry you saw that. I was-”

“You're sad,” Henry finishes, scowling at him. “I know.” He looks at Regina one more time before he turns to go up the stairs, and she is sorry, she will always be sorry that Henry had to learn so young, the ways that sadness can change people.

“I'm sorry,” James says when they hear Henry's door shut. “I didn't come here with the intention of hurting you.”

“Of course you did,” she says, leading him into her study and closing the door. “Why wouldn't you have? I hurt you.”

“I could have had another child. You took that from me, you took our baby. I could have been a father again.”

“Snow didn't want to be a mother again. That was her choice.”

“And I don't deserve to be part of that decision? It was my baby, too!” he shouts, and Regina spares half a second to hope that Henry's stayed in his room.

“It's not your body! You would ask her to carry a child in the same body that remembers carrying Emma? You would ask her to go through childbirth, to hold a new baby in her arms while she remembers holding Emma? To nurse a child when she never did the same for Emma?” What kind of world has the savior left her in, Regina wonders, where she would find herself taking Snow's side?

“And whose fault is that?” James asks. “Who was it that took our daughter from us?”

Regina closes her eyes for a moment and remembers Snow White cradling her dying husband in her lap, the empty wardrobe, the black clouds rolling in. “I had no part in sending Emma away. That choice was yours and Snow's alone.”

“What other choice did we have?” he shouts, taking one step towards her. If James still carried a sword, she thinks she might have a hole in her stomach about now. For a moment it looks as if he'd like to lay his hands on her again, but she would stop him, this time. “I don't want to feel this way anymore. I was a father, and now I'm not. I don't know how to move on from that.”

“To start with, you don't expect an infant to solve all of your problems. You don't... you don't try to replace the people who are gone.”

“I would never replace her! Another baby wouldn't be a replacement.”

“Perhaps it didn't feel that way to Snow.”

“I don't know how to live like this,” he says, shaking his head. “I don't know how to wake up every day knowing that my daughter is never coming back.”

“You do it until it's normal,” Regina says, willing herself not to think of Daniel, or her father, or how Emma is every bit as gone as they are. “You do it until you don't have to think about it anymore. You learn to live a new way. You learn to be different.”

“I don't want to be like you,” he says, and she doesn't bother to take offense.

“Sometimes, we don't have a choice.”

*

Henry comes downstairs when he hears the front door shut. “Are you okay?” he asks Regina again, as he follows her into the kitchen.

“Waffles or pancakes?” is her only response, assuming he'll want something sweet.

“Mom,” he says impatiently.

“Everything's fine, Henry,” she insists, and she has to press her lips together because things are so laughably not.

“Emma kept them from hurting you. Now she's gone.”

The soreness in Regina's neck is fading, but James's wild-eyed rage is still fresh in her mind. “It's the worst pain in the world, to lose a child. I don't think they can help how they react.”

Henry stares at the floor. “What would you have done? If I... if she hadn't saved me.”

“Losing you is not an option.”

“What if it was, though?” he presses, stubborn as ever.

“Henry, please,” she says quietly, opening a cabinet to retrieve the waffle iron.

“I'm glad I didn't die,” he tells her in a small voice. “And I wouldn't... I wouldn't want you to be gone instead. But I don't want Emma to be gone either.” His face falls, at that, and he lets her pull him into her arms. “I hate it,” he says, sniffling. “I want her back.”

“I know,” she says, as the foolish, dangerous idea she had tried not to give into takes root firmly in her mind. “So do I.”

*

Grace hides behind her father in the entrance to their home, looking nervous as she peeks at Regina around his elbow, but Jefferson's expression when he greets her is almost kind.

“It's all right. She's not the Queen you remember, anymore,” he tells Grace, as he motions for Regina to come inside. “Hello, Regina. I'm assuming this isn't a social call?”

“I need the hat,” she confirms, as Grace slowly comes to stand beside Jefferson, watching Regina carefully.

Jefferson knows what she means to do, without her saying it. “You can't,” he says. “You can't change events you were a part of, you can't cross your own timeline.” He looks terrified by the notion.

Grace presses herself against his side. “Dad?” she says quietly. He's remembering something that causes him pain—he trembles, almost, at the memory—but his daughter's voice draws him back to the present.

“I was sorry to hear about Emma,” he says, putting an arm around Grace's shoulder. “I'm sure it's been hard for you, and for Henry. But you can't change what happened to her. You have to let go.”

“You didn't,” she says, and she'll be treading on very thin ice in a moment, but she'll do what she has to, to get what she wants.

“That was different,” he says, tightening his hold on Grace.

“Emma deserves a second chance. I'm doing this for her. And for our son.”

“And for yourself,” he says, raising his voice, as Grace still watches her with wide eyes. “You're selfish, Regina! You can't keep changing the world so that it suits you! It only ends in destruction. In devastation. And you never learn.”

“Fine,” Regina says sharply. “I tried to be polite, but I don't truly need your permission, do I?” She smiles, feeling wicked, feeling like her old self, and snaps her fingers. “Hat,” she says, and feels a prickle in her fingertips, a magnetic pull. In a moment, it's in her hands.

She doesn't pause to take in Jefferson's expression before she vanishes in a cloud of black smoke.

*

Regina materializes in her office and gets to work right away, sure that Jefferson will be on his way to stop her. Using the hat to travel in time is a bit different than using it to hop between realities, and so instead of a spinning vortex, she's aiming for a stable portal. It takes longer than she'd like, as she concentrates and spins the hat on the floor time and time again and is rewarded with nothing. She could have used Jefferson's help, it's true, but she clenches her jaw and tells herself she doesn't need it, as she calls the images to her mind: Emma laughing, Emma rolling her eyes, Emma bringing their son back to life. And then the one she needs most: Emma on the night she lost her, determined and brave and far too quick.

She spins the hat just as her door bursts open—in her haste she'd been careless enough not to lock it. She raises her hand to send the intruder flying, but she looks up just in time to see not Jefferson, but Snow and James. The surprise is enough to make her falter, to lower her hand and stand to greet them. “I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that he'd send you to reason with me. It makes sense, that he's too cowardly to try to stop me on his own.”

“No,” Snow says, breathless, as if she'd run the whole way there—did they forget how to drive a car? “We came to help you. We came to help you get her back.”

*

It works easily, with the three of them.

They're spit out of the portal into a dark, quiet room, and Regina knows immediately that it's wrong. She has the presence of mind to quickly cast a sound barrier around the walls, and to place an impenetrable lock on the door, which is lucky as Snow is already rushing for the crib at the other end of the room, James right behind her.

“You fools!” Regina hisses as she follows them. “What have you done?”

Snow is breathing in sharply and lifting a baby out of the crib, who wakes and whimpers but then settles immediately once she's in Snow's arms. “My God,” James says, reaching in awe to sweep his fingers gently over the baby's soft cheeks and her wisps of curly hair. The portal, still open, shimmers and shifts behind them.

Regina leans in to look, knowing what she will see, and still the baby looks so much like Henry did as an infant that it sucks the breath from her lungs and she has to grip the crib's railing to stay upright. They've come too far. They've found Emma, but not Regina's Emma.

“Oh, Emma,” Snow says. “Oh, my sweet girl. We found you.”

“How did we come to be here?” James asks, never taking his eyes off of his infant daughter in his wife's arms.

“Our course was set by our thoughts,” Regina answers, knuckles white and feeling like she might crack and splinter the wood of Emma's crib in her fist. “I thought of Emma. You thought of your daughter.”

Snow doesn't even pretend to listen. “Emma, my darling,” she coos at the baby. “It's all right now. Everything's going to be all right. We'll be together.”

“No!” Regina shouts, making the baby whine and causing Snow to glare at her as if she had done Emma some bodily harm. “We have to go back. We have to try again.”

Snow turns away, tucks herself into James's embrace, sheltering their daughter between them. “I found my child, Regina,” she says, and Regina wonders if this is what Snow had intended all along.

“You can't keep her,” Regina says firmly, and Snow doesn't look up, doesn't acknowledge her.

It's James who answers. “I don't think you're in a position to tell us what we can or can't do with our child.”

“We can take her back with us,” Snow says, turning around again, and Regina can see that Emma has grabbed onto her mother's finger, holding tightly. “She'll be raised by parents who cherish her. If you love her, Regina, don't you want to give her this second chance?”

“Three came through the portal, only three may return.” Regina stands rigidly, refusing to let her eyes rest for too long on the baby in Snow's arms. “You would leave me here?”

Snow's eyes harden and she opens her mouth to answer, but James interrupts. “You have your magic. You would find your way back.”

“My way back to what? Don't you understand? If you take this child, if you change her future, you will change everything! You don't know what version of Storybrooke you would return to. The curse would not have been broken, Henry would not have been born! You would erase your grandson in order to have her back? You would take my son?”

Snow seems to understand, finally, as her face crumples and she presses her lips to Emma's forehead. “She's my baby, Regina. I don't think I can survive saying goodbye to her again.”

Regina sighs. “You've made it clear you're capable of surviving far more than I ever thought you could.”

“But she's mine,” Snow insists, like a child, like the spoiled princess Regina grew to despise. “She's mine,” she says again, brokenly, and Regina hates her and loves her in one breath, this woman who could have been her family.

“She's gone. Too much has changed, and this baby doesn't exist anymore. But the Emma we know, the Emma we've grown to love now, we can still save. We can get her back, but not if you won't let this baby go.”

Snow weeps and leans against James, who kisses her hair and tells her, “We have to leave her.”

“Not yet,” Snow pleads weakly. “Let me be with her. Just for a little while. Just so she can... so she can know us, just for tonight.”

There's a rocking chair near the crib, and Snow sits with her daughter, James by their side with a hand on her shoulder. Regina stands by the window and tries to block out the sound as they tell Emma they're sorry, that they love her and they wish there was some way she could know that. That even when she didn't feel loved, she would be. “You'll come back to us,” Snow promises. “You'll be beautiful and strong and brave and everything we ever hoped you would be. And we'll love you. I'll love you even before I know who you are. I'll love you when you break my toaster and I'll love you when you tell me not to run. It's going to be hard to be apart, but we'll be together in the end.”

“We'll be a family,” James says.

Regina looks out at the quiet street, the bare trees whose branches sway in the wind. The baby is a few months old and so it is winter, early 1984, and somewhere across the country Regina is still learning to live without magic. She is growing accustomed to telephones and televisions and electric lights. Shorter hair, strange clothing, and how she is still so lonely.

She places her fingers against the window pane. If not for the sound barrier she could listen to the wind, instead of listening to James tell Emma how proud he is to be her father.

“Regina,” Snow says eventually. “Would you like to say goodbye?”

She wouldn't. She can't quite wrap her mind around the idea of holding a baby who she knows only as an adult she's fallen foolishly in love with. But if she fails, if she can't get Emma back, this will be her last chance. So she nods, and Snow rises to place Emma in her arms.

The weight of her feels just like Henry did, and that alone is strange enough. She doesn't know what to say, and there's no escaping her audience, and so for a few moments she holds the baby in silence. Emma blinks, and stares at her, and Regina decides to tell her the truth.

“I'm sorry. For what will happen to you, for what I'll do to you. I'm sorry for hurting our son.” Tears gather in her eyes and she tilts her head up, careful not to blink and let them fall. “I'm sorry you were quicker than me. I should have stepped in front of Henry first, I should be the one who's gone. You saved me in a thousand ways and I'm trying to do the same for you now, I'm trying to bring you back. But if I can't, I... I hope that you knew, when we were together. I hope you knew that I was happy. I hope you knew how I felt.”

She hands Emma back to her mother and turns immediately, walking back through the open portal without waiting for them to follow her. When they do come, a few minutes later, arms around each other and faces shining with tears, Regina's composed herself, turned her face back into a mask.

“Next time, I go alone,” she says, as the portal shrinks and disappears into the hat. She won't be put through that torture again.

*

It's almost full day before she tries again, and Jefferson doesn't come for the hat. She's ready for him, if he does, but he stays away. She wonders if Snow and James have lied for her, or if Jefferson believes she'll deserve the mess he expects her to make.

She stands in Henry's doorway and watches him sleep even as the risen sun shines through his window. His chest rises and falls steadily, and he shows no sign of waking. She takes the hat downstairs to the kitchen, and she should have tried this first—in the room where Emma was taken from her, the hat spins easily, and the portal grows in seconds.

She doesn't have a plan, she realizes. But she can see, through the rippling doorway in front of her, that it's already happening, that she has only seconds to act.

She steps through.

She's standing behind Belle, only inches away. Rumpelstiltskin's back is to them as he raises his hand, and Emma sees her in the last split second before the red light hits her. “Regina!” she shouts, and then she's gone.

For a moment, Regina feels an awful pain inside of her, not unlike the crushing agony of a hand closing around her heart. She was too slow, she was too late. But then she sees herself across the room, where she's fallen to her knees, and as their eyes lock she knows what to do.

She grabs Belle by the back of her neck, and Belle gasps. Rumpelstiltskin turns around. “No!” he shouts, but Regina is quick, and raises her other hand to blast him back a few feet.

“Bring her back!” She sees Henry, watching wide-eyed from the spot just inches away from where Emma disappeared, his eyes flicking between her and the other Regina, who grabs desperately at his hand. “Bring her back, or Belle dies!” She concentrates, lets the fire bloom just under her palm where it touches Belle's skin.

Belle shrieks. “Please! Rumpelstiltskin, please bring her back!”

He lunges toward them, but Regina sends him backwards again.

“Please,” Belle pleads again, and Regina tightens her grip.

Rumpelstiltskin snarls and turns and sends another red light from his hands with a flourish. There's a blast of wind that shakes even the walls around them, and then Emma is there, upright for only a moment before she collapses to the ground.

Regina lets go of Belle in the same breath that Rumpelstiltskin grabs for her and the two of them disappear, just as they had the first time.

“Emma! Emma!” Henry cries as he grabs her hand. Emma's head is resting in Regina's lap—but not her lap—and she is breathing, and blinking, and living.

Regina wants more than anything to kneel on the floor with them, to hold Emma and stroke her hair and know that she's all right, but she looks at herself and they understand, she understands, that this moment no longer belongs to her. That through the hat, Emma's waiting for her in the future that she's changed.

“Mom,” Henry says, turning around to look up at her. “Mom, what did you do?”

“I'll explain it to you,” she says, backing away towards the open portal. “I'll explain everything,” she promises as she steps through, and the past fades into the present.

*

When she returns, it's to two sets of memories. This is why, she knows now, Jefferson had warned her frantically and with shaking fingers not to cross her own timeline. This is her price, and it could drive a person mad, these conflicting realities. She remembers, still, losing Emma, that sharp ache inside of her. The memorial service, Henry's silences, the bleak days that followed. Snow, and James, and Emma's dark nursery. But she also remembers this:

“Emma!” Henry shouts again, because she's too still and it scares him. “Emma, please be okay.”

“She's all right,” Regina tells him. She keeps her voice calm as she stares at the spot where her own body disappeared from sight, beginning to understand what must have happened.

Emma speaks, finally. “I'm okay, kid. I feel like I got hit by a truck, but I'm okay.” She raises a hand slowly. “See, I can move and everything. You might wanna talk to your mom, though. I seem to remember there being more of her than there should have been.”

“And we certainly don't want that, do we?” Regina says, and her tone is light but she takes Emma's hand and squeezes it, as Emma gives her a weak little smile.

“How'd you do it, Mom?” Henry asks, grinning at her.

She shakes her head. “I didn't... I think I must have come from the future.”

“With a hat?” Emma asks.

“With a hat,” Regina confirms.

Time travel?” Henry asks, equal parts impressed and disbelieving.

“It would appear to be so.”

Emma hasn't tried to sit up yet, and her body is a bit too limp, but she manages to hold tightly to Regina's hand. “You said there were things that had to happen.”

“Not that. Not today.” They hold each other's gaze steadily, and Regina tries to understand it. This time, she wins. No one leaves.

Henry watches them until he can't help but fidget nervously—it's a lot to deal with, still, this thing between his moms, especially when one of them just saved his life. “What did it feel like?” he asks. “Did it hurt?”

Emma closes her eyes. “It felt like... nothing. I was here and then I wasn't.”

“But it hurts now,” he says, reaching timidly for her, his fingers grazing the sleeve of her leather jacket.

“Only a little,” she answers bravely, though she's not as good at lying as she is at detecting lies.

“Thanks for saving me,” Henry says, and Regina feels a quick, stabbing pang in her chest that Emma's been the one to save him twice now, instead of her. But then he looks at her and adds, “Thanks for saving Emma, Mom.”

She hadn't, yet, but she would. And they had saved her, both of them, by loving her. It's what families do, she supposes. She finally gets to know what it's like.

“Your mom and I have it under control,” Emma says. “It's our job.”

“Yes,” Regina says, supporting Emma as she strains to sit up. “We'll always keep you safe.”

Emma slumps against her, exhausted, and Henry leans against Emma, and Regina tries not to dwell on what could have gone differently, what could have sent her from the future to change it.

She feels like she missed it- but she didn't, because it happened, and it's too much. Jefferson was right. But then Emma's walking through the doorway and Regina's breath catches in her throat and it was worth it, everything was worth this. She's been here the whole time, and Regina remembers it, but she also remembers how it felt to be without her.

"Emma," she says, and her voice sounds far more desperate than she'd like.

"Hi," Emma says, tilting her head and looking at Regina curiously, until she sees the hat on the floor. "Oh. It was today. You saved me today, didn't you?"

Regina is frozen, wanting nothing more than to hold her, but half-convinced that it's too good to be true, and that Emma will disappear if she tries to touch her. But Emma quickly wraps her arms around Regina instead, and Regina leans into her, letting Emma hold her up. “Yes. It was today.”

“Thanks for that,” Emma says, kissing her first on the cheek and then the lips, soft and sweet. “I've kind of enjoyed being able to stick around.”

Regina nods, and doesn't trust her voice not to break, so she just takes Emma's hand in her own, amazed at how it is and is not the first time in weeks.

“Are you all right? You said you might... have a lot going on, up there.”

Regina remembers that, too. She had told Emma that her memories would change. That on that day, whenever it came, she would remember a life where things had gone differently. She will bear it alone, because she traveled alone—not even Snow and James will remember the first trip, because here, it never happened. Here, a baby grows in Snow's womb, and she is cautiously hopeful.

Here, they have Emma, lost and found again.

“You were gone,” Regina admits quietly as she brings her hand up to touch Emma's face, running her thumb over Emma's cheekbone.

Emma places her hand over Regina's and smiles, almost shy. “Not anymore.”

“I love you,” Regina says, and Emma stands very still, as if even breathing would ruin this moment. They aren't the kind of people who say these things easily, who can hear that they are loved and believe it readily. She thinks Emma might not say it back, and that's all right. It's enough, to touch her, to know that she is real and present against Regina's hand.

“I think you proved that, didn't you?” Emma leans forward, and just before their lips meet again, she breathes out, “I love you, too.”

Rumpelstiltskin will come back, she knows. There's a war coming, and they'll be at the center. But it's hard not to believe, as she slides her arm around Emma's waist, that she's finally on the right side.