1: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—“I got you, babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma bolted upright in bed, heart pounding wildly in her chest as her phone blared its alarm ringtone, buzzing its way across her nightstand. She was shaking, arms trembling, the dream- memory? -dissipating even as she tried to remember. She could see Regina, wreathed in a golden light, her mouth open in a wordless scream, Emma helpless to—
Her phone buzzed right off the edge of her nightstand and clattered to the floor, sliding under her bed.
“Shit!” Emma scrambled for it, throwing her comforter off her legs and diving off the edge of the bed. “Shit, come on,” she whispered to it, shoving her shoulder up against the bedframe and stretching her arm until her fingertips ached to reach it, and snorting a dustbunny up her nose in the process.
“Fuck!” she grunted, just as she managed to hook a fingernail on the edge of the case and scoot it towards herself, silencing the alarm. She relaxed, resting her head on the edge of the carpet next to her bed for a moment to swipe through her notifications before extricating herself. A banner proclaiming that her sprinkles container had refilled in Kwazy Cupcakes, her daily horoscope from an app Snow had installed that told her some bullshit about going around and around in circles, and a text from David that just read, ‘Can’t do the early patrol - kid has a cold. Cover for me?,’ followed by a praying hands emoji, a winking face, and then a shrimp, for some reason.
Emma groaned. “Good fucking morning to me,” she muttered as she pulled herself out from under the bed, then climbed to her feet to get dressed.
And promptly tripped over the boots she’d left at the foot of her bed the night before.
The bell above the door at Granny’s jingled as Emma pushed through it, stomping her boots dry as she stripped off her gloves. She always hated this season, when winter hadn’t given up and left the town yet, but it was close enough to spring for the snow to all turn to grey, horrible slush the moment it touched the ground, but this year it felt like it might never end and she’d just have to stay soggy forever.
“Morning, Emma!” Marian called across the diner, an impressive stack of plates balanced on one arm as she swept past her and towards the dishroom. “It’s miserable out there today, isn’t it?”
Emma huffed and pulled off her beanie, fluffing out her hat hair and slumping over to collapse against the counter. Her forehead met the surface with a dull thunk as she dropped onto a stool, the countertop cool against her wind-chapped face. “Wow,” Marian said, reappearing to delicately shift the condiment basket away from her head, “you look like shit.”
“Thanks,” Emma said, muffled by the formica. She rolled her head to one side so she could glare up at her. “Can you at least get me some coffee while you’re making fun of me?”
Marian propped both elbows on the counter and rested her head on her fists, squished-up cheeks exaggerating her mocking pout. “Awww, whassa matter?” she cooed in a faux-baby voice, “Is somebody having hawd time?”
“I regret ever introducing you to modern methods of sarcasm,” Emma sighed, then picked her head up so she could look at Marian directly. “You ever have one of those days that just starts out bad, and you know it’s gonna keep going badly, because it feels like all the bad days you’ve ever had before?”
“Yeah,” Marian said, then twisted around to grab the coffee pot. “It’s called being an adult. Now drink your coffee and stop whining.” She slid a to-go cup across the counter, then waved behind Emma as the bell jingled again. “Good mo- Oh, no, watch—!”
The subsequent crash made Emma jump on her stool, and she whipped around to see Kenai on one side of the now-open door, rubbing his head, his entire load of fish spilled out across the floor in an avalanche of ice and scales, and Archie on the other, holding a busted nose with a look of surprise.
“—out,” Marian finished, arm drooping in defeat. She looked over at Emma and sighed, “I’ll have to commiserate with your cranky ass later; somebody’s gotta clean this up before the whole diner smells like fish,” she glared at Kenai, who had the good grace to look sheepish, “Again.”
Emma laughed, “Yeah, I swear he just did the same thing yesterday, didn’t he?”
Marian cocked her head and frowned. “You weren’t even in the diner yesterday, Emma. Are you feeling all right?” She reached out a hand to feel her forehead and Emma jerked back, flapping her hand to shoo her away.
“I’m fine,” she insisted, swooping under Marian’s arm to grab her coffee as she hopped off her stool. “Gotta go anyway - it’s my turn to patrol this morning. Good luck with… that,” she waved vaguely behind her at the slowly-melting pile of fishy ice on the floor, and grinned as she saw Marian give her the finger as the door closed behind her.
Half an hour later, she was already regretting not volunteering to stay behind to help clean up, fishy smell or no.
“All right, sir,” she sighed, tucking her thumbs into her jean pockets, “one more time - you called in a robbery because an elephant stole your honey in a dream you had? Is that right?”
“No, of course not! Who ever heard of an elephant stealing honey?” the man said, indignant. Emma, stupidly, relaxed for a moment. “It was a heffalump.”
Emma was really really never going to get used to living in the stupidest Disney movie ever made. “A heffalump? You mean, the evil nightmare elephants from Winnie the Pooh?”
“I honestly prefer to go by Winnipeg. That nickname is so demeaning,” the man - Winnipeg, fucking Winnie the Pooh - said haughtily, hmmphing and tugging his red shirt down over his stomach. “And no, actually, the heffalumps are just greedy. It’s the woozles that are evil.”
By the end of the interview, Emma had agreed to bring any heffalumps she saw in for questioning, a throbbing has started in her temples, and she could feel the onset of a distinct combination of dizziness and existential dread that she was considering calling ‘Storybrooke Fever.’ Sometimes it felt like nothing in this town changed - it was all either fairytale grudges, magic gone wrong, or life-altering curses.
Still, though, “Winnie the fucking Pooh,” she whispered to the inside of the patrol car, thumping her head back against the headrest briefly before reaching for the keys. She was strongly considering just driving home and going back to bed and chalking it all up as a bad dream.
Unfortunately, because her life was a parody of itself, before she could make her escape, a portal opened up just in front of the car, and what looked like a furry river of black-and-white polka dots poured out. Emma squinted at it, keys forgotten in her hand, and realized it was puppies, a stampede of tiny little black-and-white spotted puppies, yipping and snapping at each other as they tumbled out in a pile and careened down the street.
Her radio crackled to life. “Station to Sheriff Swan,” Mulan’s crisp words cut through Emma’s stunned fog.
She grabbed the radio, pressing the button on the side hard enough to hear the plastic crackle under her thumb. “Please tell me it’s something easy. Something normal.” The silence when she released the button was palpable, and Emma rested her head on the steering wheel. She brought the radio back up to her mouth, pressed the button, and sighed, “Yes, Deputy Hua, what is it?”
“Archie has reported that Pongo escaped again, and this time he found him with a genie’s lamp in his mouth. Thinks he might have made a wish.”
Emma cranked the car into gear and whipped the steering wheel around. “Not to worry,” she said into the radio. “I think I know exactly what he wished for.”
By lunchtime, the pounding in her temples had escalated to a full-on headache, and she was dripping mud all the way down her left side and onto the perfectly polished floors of the mayor’s office.
Regina quickly stifled an indelicate snort. “You’re lucky my meeting with the Maldonian royalty was this morning and not this afternoon,” she said, grinning, "or else I'd make you clean all that."
Emma glared. “Laugh it up,” she said, hefting a paper bag in one hand and pivoting back towards the door, “I can always eat these by myself instead.”
“Let’s not be too hasty,” Regina said, regal tone somewhat ruined by the laughter she still couldn’t quite stifle. She waved a hand and the mud disappeared, along with half of Emma’s bad mood. Emma could have done it herself, but she always managed to overshoot and iron her jeans while she was wearing them, and she was not about to walk around town wearing pleat-front denim.
Emma sighed happily as her clothes dried and straightened themselves, and she dropped the bags she’d been holding down on the desk, immediately rummaging in the one closer to her to pull out a wax paper package.
Unfolding it, she grimaced. “Ugh, beetroot salsa. I know Granny is convinced that she has to find new things for the menu, but I hate being her guinea pig.” She began scraping the salsa off into the wrapper with the top bun, leaning over to get a better look at Regina’s burger. “What’d you get this time?”
Regina cautiously peeled back the bun and checked. “Shallots and bleu cheese, it looks like.” She closed it back up and took a bite, considering as she chewed. Swallowing, she sniffed, “Good, but not terribly adventurous. A safe bet. I expected something more daring.”
“You’re welcome to mine,” Emma grumbled, unearthing a whole pineapple slice from under the layer of beets and sloughing it off into the wrapper. “I swear she just piles fruits and veggies on mine to see how long it takes me to crack and eat one.” Satisfied that she’d cleared off any unsavory elements, Emma replaced the bun and bit down, only to immediately spit the mouthful back into the wrapper with a groan of despair. “Horseradish,” she groaned, scraping at her tongue with a napkin.
Regina snorted and squeezed her burger a bit too hard, fumbling for a napkin as a dribble of chili aioli oozed out the side and splashed onto her blouse. She cursed and dabbed at the orange blotch fruitlessly as it began to spread.
Emma laughed. “Don’t you know by now that you should never eat one of Granny’s burgers over anything you care about? I swear you do this every time.”
Regina growled and flicked her fingers, the stain disappearing in an instant. “I’ll have you know that’s the first time it’s happened in weeks.” Emma frowned, almost certain - but Regina continued, “Besides, I wasn’t the one who showed up here soaked head to foot in mud, so you really don’t have any room to talk. What on earth were you doing, anyway?”
Emma sighed, pushing the tainted burger away and fishing her packet of fries out of the bag instead, offering them to Regina first before settling in to enjoy them when she was waved off.
“Pongo managed to get ahold of a genie’s lamp and wish his whole extended family into Storybrooke,” she said, shrugging and stuffing a whole handful of fries into her mouth, chewing valiantly in order to mumble, “I wish I could be surprised at this point, really, but eh. I’m pretty sure I even had a nightmare about it last night, so it wasn’t even a surprise.” She swallowed, sticking her tongue out at Regina’s disgusted grimace, “It’s just life in Storybrooke at this point. I do hate fetch quests, though.”
“Fetch quests?” Regina asked, pointing at a napkin and floating it over to Emma, who ignored it.
“Yeah, you know. ‘Find me the seven Enchanted Acorns of Durmstrang or whatever and I’ll give you a magic sword.’ Basic video game shit.” Emma swatted at the napkin hovering next to her cheek and scowled at Regina. “Annoying as hell in real life, as it turns out.”
“Oh, yes, I think I’ve heard Henry yell at one of his video games about those. Are you the reason he knows such, hm, colorful phrases to shout at the TV?” She twirled her finger, and the napkin ducked under Emma’s arm and darted up to dab at a streak of ketchup on the corner of her mouth.
Emma grabbed the napkin before it could go any further and wiped her face herself. “You’re going with blaming that on Henry, then? Interesting.” Emma said, pleased when Regina’s cheeks darkened with a blush. “So it wasn’t your Skyrim save file I found under the name SirRocinante?”
“I was just trying it out,” Regina said primly, “I had to make sure it was appropriate for Henry.”
“Right. Which is why it had a hundred and fourteen play hours clocked on it last I checked.”
Regina sniffed and stuck her nose in the air. “It’s called being thorough,” she said.
They both managed to hold it in for all of thirty seconds before bursting into laughter, burgers forgotten on the table between them.
Three hours later, and her feet were soaked. Not just wet, but soaked, the wool of her socks doing nothing to warm her feet as they squished miserably inside of her boots. And, to top it all off, the dreary gray of the melting sidewalk slush in the watery mid-afternoon light was mocking her after the sun-drenched warmth of Regina’s office, Emma was sure of it.
Her phone chirped mournfully in her hand and Emma pulled a face, yanking her sleeve over her free hand to wipe at its screen in an attempt to remove the black spots spreading across its display. It chirped again and she shook it, water droplets spraying outward from its warped case. It gave out one final warble and the screen shut off, leaving Emma to stare at her darkened reflection.
“Stupid piece of junk,” she grumbled, repeatedly mashing the power button to no response. “Can’t even survive one lousy water-witch, cheapo phone.” She wedged a fingernail under the edge of the case and popped it open, grimacing at the dampness. At least Regina had insisted on encasing all their walkie-talkies in protective spells after the last budget review had revealed they spent too much on replacements, so she could still call for a ride. Maybe she could head to Town Hall and try to get Regina to fix her phone - she was sure to know some kind of spell that could—
Eyes on her phone, Emma didn’t even see the wall she ran into until she hit it. She shook her head and looked up… and up… and still up, at the being whose scaled leg she had run headfirst into. It was standing at the corner of Main Street, eyes - no, eye - darting from left to right as if it were being chased, breath curling out of its mouth in great, steaming clouds that smelled of rotten meat. In its hands, each the size of an armchair, it was holding wriggling bundles that Emma couldn’t quite make out from below. She squinted at them, then startled when a yell came from behind it.
Emma leaned around the trunk-like leg in her way to see who would be foolish enough to yell at a Cyclops, and her eyes widened incredulously when she saw an old woman, her white hair a startling silver cloud against the deeply-lined brown skin of her face, striding purposefully down the road towards it, brandishing a battered-looking umbrella in one hand. “Hey!” the woman yelled again, shaking the umbrella at the Cyclops, “You come back here with my kids! It’s bathtime!”
Emma squinted up at the wriggling bundles in the Cyclops’ hands and realized, yes, they were, in fact, children the giant had in his enormous grip. “Oh, shit,” she said, and fumbled at her side for her gun before realizing it, too, was completely soaked and less than useless. Sparing a single moment to lament that she hadn’t paid better attention in her lessons with Regina, she flung up both hands and pushed at it with her magic.
The Cyclops reared back, startled, and one of the children leaned over the edge of the fist she was clutched in to shout down in a reedy voice, “Stop! Don’t hurt Princess Monster Truck!”
Emma’s next shot went wide in shock, buffeting the Cyclops to the side as she shouted back, “Princess what now?” The Cyclops roared and stumbled, the children clinging to its fingers screaming in delight as it swayed precariously above Emma. One scaly knee buckled to the side, and Emma just barely managed to mutter, “Aww, fu-” before it slammed into her chest, knocking her, breathless, to the sidewalk.
Wheezing, looked over to see the Cyclops right itself and stride off down the street, the same child who had yelled down to her now propped over its shoulder, smiling a gap-toothed smile at her and waving as they thundered off toward the edge of town. Emma turned her head to stare sightlessly at the gray clouds overhead and tried to wish without wishing - who knows what that would do in this town - that this day would end already.
Something poked her cheek.
She squeezed her eyes shut and sighed, coughing as her ribs protested, and turned to see the old woman standing above her, still wielding her umbrella. The tip of it dripped slush onto Emma’s jacket as she rested it on her cheekbone. “’S’what you get for messing with Gertie, you know,” the woman said calmly, pulling her umbrella back but pointedly not offering a hand to Emma as she struggled to her feet.
“Gertie?” Emma said, pulling slush-soaked pants away from her thigh and grimacing.
The woman fixed her with a beady glare and said, firmly, “Yes, Gertrude. Gertie for short. He picked it out himself - wanted one with a good nickname.” She laughed, tucking her umbrella under her arm. “Not that it matters, anyway, since the kids all call him Princess Monster Truck.”
“…Right,” Emma said. “I did hear that. About, um, Gertie-“
“He wasn’t kidnapping them, if that’s what you thought,” the woman said pointedly. “He’s their babysitter. Takes ‘em out and about when they get to be too much for me.” She suddenly cupped both hands around her mouth, shouting down the road, “Fat lot of good it does me when he runs off with them at bathtime!” even though both Cyclops and children were already far out of sight.
“Your… babysitter,” Emma repeated, her head pounding again as she fought the urge to rub her temples. A glob of melting slush slid down her neck and into the collar of her shirt.
“Yeah, and a lifesaver he is, too,” the woman said. “You know the old rhyme, right? ‘So many kids, she didn’t know what to do?’ It might have been exaggerating some things, but that was the damn truth.” She shook her head ruefully.
“‘So many kids, she didn’t know what to do,” Emma repeated, then jolted. “You’re the old woman who lived in a shoe?”
“The one and only,” the woman said, “Name’s Mrs. Shoemaker - I run the orphanage on the other side of town. Came in with the last curse, along with that one.” She jerked her head in the direction Gertie had stomped off in, then looked back to squint one eye at Emma, her finger raised to point at Emma’s nose, so close she had to cross her eyes to see it. “And don’t you dare threaten Gertie again,” she said, “or I’ll skin you and turn you into a shoe, too, Sheriff or no.”
And with that, she flashed a bright, sunny grin at Emma and swept past her, following the enormous slushy footprints down the road.
Emma sighed, then fished her magically-protected walkie talkie out of her jacket pocket. “Hey, Mulan? I’m gonna need a ride at the corner of Grimm and Anderson.” She released the button, then glanced down at herself and pressed it again. “Bring towels. Lots of towels.
During her first weeks in Storybrooke, Emma had been grateful for and annoyed by Regina’s heels in equal measure. The first because they gave Emma ample time to stop goofing off in the Sheriff’s office when she heard them coming, and the second because it was really, really hard to stay angry at then-Madame-Mayor Regina when all Emma could think about were her legs in said heels.
Now, though, Emma didn’t even pull the towel off her head when she heard them clicking down the hallway, just groaned and tilted her head towards the door. She heard an amused huff above her and then the towel was removed, and Emma squinted into the light at Regina’s face hovering above her own.
“Bad day, I assume?” Regina said, folding the towel and draping it over the back of the chair Emma’s feet were resting on.
“Actually, it felt about par for the course, really.” Emma sighed. “Nothing new, just… exhausting, y’know?”
Regina hummed. “I thought it had been pretty quietly recently, but I suppose even the mundane can get tiring after a while.” She trailed her fingers along the edge of the desk and stopped at the Tupperware container in front of Emma, tapping its lid above the pieces of her phone suspended in rice inside it. “I see why you never answered my texts, now.”
“Yeah,” Emma said, “Turns out ‘water-resistant’ is no match against Madame Mim’s firehose spell.”
“Perhaps you’ll pay more attention the next time I try to teach you about elemental spells, then,” Regina said.
Emma grunted, shrugging her shoulders. “I mean, going on instinct’s worked out pretty well for me so far - why mess with success?”
“Ah, yes,” Regina said, teleporting Emma’s soaked phone out of the rice with a twist of her wrist. “I forgot that head wounds and broken phones are your definition of ‘success.’ Forgive me.”
“Yeah, yeah, Your Snarkiness, I get the point.” Emma waved at the phone, thumping her boots onto the floor as she stretched out the kinks in her back. “By the way, can you fix that thing? I never know what you can or can’t do with magic. Feels like it changes at least once a week.”
Regina sighed and tossed the pieces of the phone up into the air, snapping her fingers and catching a fully-repaired phone on the descent. “Showoff,” Emma mumbled, but smiled when Regina passed the phone over.
“You’ll have to take it in to get the software reset,” Regina cautioned, “since I don’t have a degree in computer science, but I repaired the corrosion from the water damage and fixed your screen.”
Emma kissed the phone and clutched it to her chest. “You’re a lifesaver,” she said, looking up at Regina. “I thought I was gonna have to take out another payment plan just to fix this one up.”
A pile of papers at the edge of Emma’s desk seemed to suddenly catch Regina’s interest, and she shuffled them into order, eyes fixed on her hands. “Yes, well,” she said, clearing her throat, “Since you never received my texts earlier, I’ll ask now: would you- I mean, that is, Henry would like you to come over for dinner. Um.” Regina blushed. “If- if you’re free, that is.”
Emma knew she was staring, but she couldn’t stop. She felt her cheeks heat up, and her stomach swooped alarmingly. Dinner with Regina? And Regina was nervous about it? This could only be bad. The last time Regina had been nervous was the night she had to tell them all that Rumpelstiltskin’s half-sister’s uncle’s great-granddaughter was the goanna from that movie with the Australian mice, therefore making them all at least partially related to an evil lizard named Joanna.
Emma still listed that memory on her “Why I Am Allowed To Drink Today” board.
Suddenly realizing the silence had gone on too long, Emma scrambled for a reply. “I don’t think- I mean, I’m not—“
Regina looked away quickly. “No, no - I understand. Another night, maybe.”
“I just don’t think I’d be good company,” Emma managed, weakly. She gestured at her limp hair, huffing out a laugh. “I still smell like Cyclops and have a head full of road grit, for one thing.”
“Of course. Don’t worry about us; I have a lamb chop recipe that Henry’s been dying to try out.” Regina reached out and twisted a lock of Emma’s hair between her fingers as Emma gazed up at her, heart in her throat. “Just make sure you eat something healthier than a Pop Tart, okay? You know Henry worries.”
Not trusting herself to speak, Emma nodded, and Regina smiled softly at her in return before turning and clicking out of her office in her heels. Smiling stupidly after her, it suddenly occurred to Emma that she hadn’t gone grocery shopping in weeks, and, unless she wanted to eat honey-roasted peanut butter wrapped in a slice of turkey again, she was going to have to go buy some food.
As she slogged her way through the grocery store, she berated herself for turning down Regina’s invitation, throwing random items into her cart as they appealed to her. She analyzed the conversation - a familiar request but in a new context - as she dragged the bags up to her apartment. And she thought, obsessively, about Regina’s blush as she put away far too many boxes of oatmeal and bags of chips she didn’t remember buying.
Sitting in front of her TV with a bowl of Froot Loops (It was healthy! Fruit was practically part of its name, she told her inner Regina. Her inner Regina rolled her eyes), she resolved that she would track Regina down the next day, apologize, and invite her out for dinner instead. She nodded resolutely to herself, milk dribbling down her chin as she fumbled her grip on her bowl.
She was wiping her face with the bottom edge of her tank top when a muffled boom rumbled through the apartment, rattling her dishes and almost knocking her off the sofa. She ran to the front door, dumping her bowl in the sink and stomping her feet into her boots along the way, and yanked it open to see a horribly familiar purple cloud billowing its way towards her.
“Oh, absolutely fuck this town,” Emma said, and then she was swallowed up by darkness.
2: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma wrenched her eyes open and sat up, swiftly patting down her whole body. Nothing was missing, and she was wearing the same pajamas she was wearing the night before. She reached up to her head, then breathed a sigh of relief - her hair was still normal, too. Whatever this curse was, at least it didn’t come with a Hot Topic dye job like the last one.
Her phone buzzed again, then clattered off her bedside table, and she jumped. Her phone!
She dove under the bed again, cursing whatever mad Frenchman had invented the concept of déjà vu, and managed to snag the phone before it buzzed too far under the bed. The screen was lit up, and she could see her notifications - it was working again! She swiped through them quickly: Kwazy Cupcakes, her horoscope, and… a text from David?
She thumbed it open and read, with a sinking sensation in her stomach, ‘Can’t do the early patrol - kid has a cold. Cover for me?,’ and then, yup, praying hands, winking face, shrimp.
Emma groaned. Her phone was obviously still broken if it was notifying her of texts she received yesterday. She tossed it onto the bed and hoisted herself to her feet, stretching and moving towards the kitchen. At least she’d bought oatmeal last night so she wouldn’t have to make it through the morning on coffee alone this time, she thought, and then tripped over the boots at the edge of her bed.
By the time she made it to Granny’s, Emma was both confused and grumpy. She shoved through the door, ignoring the cheerful jingling of the bell above her head as she stripped off her sodden gloves and hat and moved towards the counter. Why couldn’t this new curse have taken the slush with it?
“Morning, Emma!” Marian called across the diner, balancing yet another improbably tall stack of plates on her arms as she brushed past on her way to the dish room. “It’s miserable out there today, isn’t it?”
“You said that yesterday,” Emma grumped, clinging to her foul mood, “And yes, of course it is.” She tossed her hat on the counter and propped her head in her hands.
Marian paused and considered her, a frown on her face. “You weren’t even in the diner yesterday, Emma. Are you feeling all right?” She juggled the plates briefly, shifting them over to free an arm to reach out and feel Emma’s forehead.
Emma jerked back. “You said that yesterday, too!” Marian cocked a skeptical eyebrow at her and hauled her load into the dish room as Emma groaned and dropped her head into her hands. “It’s another memory curse, isn’t it?”
“It’s a what?” Marian said, drying her hands on a towel as she returned. “Wait, don’t you want your coffee?”
“No time!” Emma called over her shoulder as she rushed out the door, almost bowling Kenai over in her haste as he struggled to see around his fish cooler, “I gotta go talk to Regina - I’ll be back later!” She did even glance back at the crash and twin groans of pain she heard behind her as she hurried down the street towards Town Hall.
“It’s a memory curse!”
On second thought, perhaps she should have checked in with Eilonwy before bursting into Regina’s office at 9:15 am on a Tuesday, because throwing the door open and yelling about curses was not the kind of first impression she wanted to make on the King and Queen of Maldonia. “Ahem, Your Majesties,” she said, grimacing at her own awkwardness, “would you excuse us? I need to talk to Re- to the Mayor, just for a minute.”
Regina grabbed Emma by the arm, fingernails digging painfully into Emma’s skin even as she waved graciously to her guests, towing Emma to the hallway behind her. The moment the door between them and the royal couple clicked shut, she trained a furious look on Emma. “What on Earth are you talking about, Emma? You know how important this meeting is for the well-being of Storybrooke as a democracy - what could possibly be so important as to threaten that?” By the end of her rant, she was nearly nose-to-nose with Emma, who broke out in a grin.
“You know I love it when you go all political-nerd on me,” Emma said, but sobered quickly. “Last night, there was- or, well,” she hedged, “I guess you might not remember it…”
Regina growled, and Emma hurriedly added, “Doesn’t matter - one of those huge purple curse clouds came through last night and I think it wiped everyone’s memory again. Do you remember it?”
Regina froze for a moment before sighing and pulling a notebook out of the pocket of her slacks. “I don’t,” she said, “But that would be the point, wouldn’t it? That’s why I made this.” She tapped the cover of the notebook, which seemed to ripple oddly to Emma’s eye. Regina opened it and began rifling through the pages. “It records each major use of magic in town by date, and can’t be erased by magical means. I don’t know about you,” she smirked at Emma, “But I was getting a little sick of trying to guess who had erased what each time we got even a little cursed.”
Emma laughed, and Regina folded the notebook open to the page marked March. “Let’s see,” she said, trailing a finger down the pages. “There’s when we repaired the docks after the last freeze… there’s the fireworks spell Merlin used at the Twilight Parade last weekend… ooh, someone tried a spell to turn a human into a skunk, that’s gotta be Lilo trying to curse Myrtle again, we’ll have to talk to her about that…” She looked up and shook her head. “There’s no record of a curse here, Emma. And no one could have stolen this from me to change it, or erased it by magic. Are you sure it wasn’t a dream?”
Emma sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t think it was. It was so real - I saw that stupid purple cloud come through town last night, and then this morning Marian didn’t even remember that I was just in Granny’s yesterday. We even had the exact same conversation we did yesterday.”
Soft thumbs came up to rub at the frown lines between her eyes, and Emma glanced up to see Regina looking back with a soft smile on her face. “Emma,” she said gently, “It sounds like you might just be a little stressed. Why don’t you take the day off?” She brushed the hair off Emma’s forehead and laughed softly. “I think the routine is starting to get to you, if you’re equating boring conversations about the weather with curses.”
Emma ducked her head and grinned, her panic melting away. “Yeah,” she said, “Maybe you’re right. Things have been feeling a little same-y, you know?” She shrugged, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’ll be fine, though. It’s just me and Mulan today, since David’s off on sick baby duty, and you know how much she hates dealing with “the citizens.””
“As long as you’re sure,” Regina said, then waved her hand imperiously. “Now begone with you! I have royal business to take care of.”
Emma sketched a wobbly curtsy and retreated, Regina’s delighted laughter echoing down the hallway after her.
The rest of the day passed in a weirdly pseudo-familiar haze. Deciding to treat the whole thing like a weirdly prescient dream, Emma went out on patrol, just like she remembered doing the day before.
Winnipeg didn’t seem all that enthused by her knowledge of the difference between heffalumps and woozles, but he was grateful to be addressed by his full name, and managed to give a full police report without hmmphing once.
Archie was impressed by how quickly she found each huddling collection of Dalmatian puppies, even managing to grab the last group before they ran into the lake and took her with them.
At lunch, a spare napkin saved Regina’s blouse before it could be stained in the first place, and she looked at Emma quizzically when she blamed her forethought on her dream, explaining the rest of the morning’s successes.
“It all beats me,” Emma said, shrugging. “Only thing I can think of is that there are too many memory curses overlapping each other in my brain. Think they could have given me dreams that can see the future, or something?” She flashed a hopeful grin at Regina, who frowned.
“It’s extremely unlikely, if not impossible,” she said, pulling a fry from the bag in front of her and chewing it thoughtfully. “If anything, I would think they’d be much more likely to give you short-term memory loss.”
“Ah,” Emma said, grabbing a handful of fries herself and stuffing them into her mouth. “Well, I guess that’s something to look forward to, then,” she mumbled around them, snorting a laugh at Regina’s grimace.
By late afternoon, though, the familiarity was starting to grate on her. Remembering its sad state in her dream, she left her phone at the station, but that didn’t save her from being soaked head to foot by Madame Mim, who once again started a fight with a squirrel in the park who she insisted was a transformed version of her ex-girlfriend.
Bedraggled and exhausted, she felt the thuds of Gertie’s footsteps before she saw him, and turned to shout after him, “You better get those kids back before bath time!” as he stomped down the street. She flashed a tired thumbs up at a startled Mrs. Shoemaker as she rounded the opposite corner, and slogged off towards the station, where she knew towels would be awaiting her.
Regina found her there, again, pulling the towel from her face and tapping her now-intact phone where it rested on the table. “Didn’t feel like answering your texts?” she said, and Emma could hear the hurt in her voice.
Emma groaned, dragging one hand down her face. “No, sorry, I left it here earlier and just now got back. What’s up?”
“I told Henry about what happened earlier - he wants to have you over for dinner to talk about theories,” Regina huffed.
“Your kid’s a nerd, you know that?” Emma said, grinning.
“Oh, so he’s my kid when he’s a nerd?” Regina said, placing a hand on her chest in mock offense.
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Where do you think he gets it from?” Regina dropped the towel back over her face with a thwap as she laughed heartily.
“Seriously, though,” Regina said, and Emma peeled the edge of the towel back. “You looked like you were having a rough day earlier. Come on over and I’ll make sure Henry doesn’t bother you - at least long enough to make sure you eat something healthier than a Pop Tart.”
Emma’s smile faded at the familiar comment, suddenly reminded of the weird coincidences that had plagued her all day. “Thanks, Regina,” she said, “But I don’t think I’d be very good company today. I think I’m just gonna go home and sleep it off, you know?” She ruffled her hair with the towel one last time and grinned. “Tomorrow, though,” she said, “Once I’ve slept this off - let’s go do something: you, me, and the kid.”
Regina smiled. “He’d like that,” she said. “All right, it’s a plan. But don’t go home empty-handed, at least. I made you this earlier, just in case.” She waved her hand and a container of something delicious-smelling appeared on the desk beside them. Regina held it out to her and said, “Since I know full well there’s no food in your house right now-“ Emma tried to take the container, but Regina held it fast, looking her in the eyes as she said, “And don’t try to skip the vegetables. I’ll know.”
Emma laughed nervously, but Regina kept her poker face just a moment longer before snorting out a laugh herself. “You looked so scared,” she said. “ Go, go. Go home, eat some dinner, go to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow when you feel better.”
Hefting the container in farewell, Emma braced herself as Regina twisted her wrist and flicked her fingers, sending Emma home in a plume of lavender smoke.
The smile didn’t leave Emma’s face for the whole evening: not while she heated up her gifted dinner, not while she savored every bite of it, not even while she brushed her teeth or changed into her pajamas.
In fact, the smile stayed firmly in place right up until she heard a horribly familiar boom rattle its way through her apartment, and it barely had time to turn into a frown before the purple cloud billowed through to take her away again.
3: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma just stared at her phone as it clattered off the nightstand the exact same way it had for the last two mornings in a row, then flopped back onto the bed.
She wasn’t an idiot - she’d seen Groundhog Day. She knew exactly what was going on. And, to be honest, she was a little surprised it hadn’t happened to her yet. Four separate curses, fuck knows how many portals between worlds, and even a time travel spell, but not a single time loop to show for it?
Honestly, whoever was writing the Disney Channel Original Movie of her life sucked.
Sighing, she hoisted herself out of bed and fished her phone out from under it, flicking through the notifications. Yup: Krazy Cupcakes, her horoscope, and David. Out of curiosity, she clicked on the horoscope notification to expand it, and read:
Emma grunted in disgust - even broken clocks were right twice a day, she supposed - and chucked the phone onto her bed. Heading towards the kitchen, shed nearly face-planted as she tripped over her boots again. She kicked them out of the way with a grunt and reminded herself to find a better place to keep them, once she was out of this.
March 21st: This may be one of those days when you don’t know which way to turn. For some reason, you just can’t make a decision, so you keep going around and around. Get out and walk for a while until your head stops spinning. Talk to someone you trust. Wait until your mind clears before you make your next major move.
“Morning, Emma!” Marian called across the diner, still balancing those stacks of dishes.
Emma interrupted, “It’s miserable out there today, isn’t it?” before Marian could continue, not bothering to stomp the slush off her boots before squeaking her way across the floor to the counter.
Marian reappeared, frowning, and said, “You know, I was just about to say that to you! How odd.”
“Not odd,” Emma said. “I knew you were going to say that - we had this conversation yesterday.” Marian opened her mouth and Emma held up a hand. “‘You weren’t even in the diner yesterday, Emma.’ That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? And then you were going to ask me if I was feeling all right.” Emma said smugly, folding her arms.
Marian rolled her eyes. “Of course that’s what I was going to say, because you weren’t, and you know I get worried when you say things that don’t make sense. Remember the first time you tried to explain memes to me and I thought you were having a stroke? That doesn’t prove anything.”
Emma shifted on her stool, squeaking it rhythmically as she pushed back and forth against the counter. “Right…” she said. “Bad example.”
“Seriously, though, are you feeling all right?” Marian said, holding a hand out to feel Emma’s forehead.
Emma jerked away. “Stop doing that!” Marian pulled her hand back, a hurt look on her face, and Emma sighed. “Nothing’s wrong with me, I promise - we’re stuck in a time loop. Or, at least, I’m stuck in a time loop. I don’t think you guys remember it.”
She took one look at the Marian’s still-skeptical face and knew it would take more to convince her. Emma snapped her fingers. “Wait! I know - Kenai is about to come in with his load of fish for the day, and he’s gonna run into Archie and spill it all over the floor!” She swiveled around on her stool, “Just watch, it’ll happen any second now.”
Marian leaned over the counter next to her and propped her chin on one hand. After a minute, she tipped her head over towards Emma and whispered, “How many seconds are we supposed to wait?”
Emma scoffed and hopped off her stool. “I swear, he’s headed in here any minute now!” She stalked over and wrenched the door open, peering out. “See!” she said over her shoulder to Marian, “Here he comes now!”
Someone tapped at her shoulder and Emma jerked aside, pulling the door further open. “Excuse me,” Archie said when she turned to see who it was, “But could I squeeze past you?”
At the same moment, Kenai said, “Ah, thank you, Sheriff!” as he breezed through the door she was holding open. He nodded at Archie as he passed, “Doctor Hopper,” and continued on to drop his cooler of fish on the counter. “Delivery for Granny!” he said to Marian, who looked like she was about to laugh.
“You sure you don’t want to spill them all over the floor instead?” she said, and Emma stuck her tongue out at her as Kenai protested that he hadn’t done that in weeks, at least! Emma dropped the door, almost knocking Archie to the ground as it swung shut behind him, and stalked over to the counter, finger outstretched. “No, see, wait. That’s because he—“ she waved at Kenai, “And the door, I was—“ she swung her arms open as if she were holding the door again, “And then Archie—!” She groaned. “This didn’t happen like this yesterday.”
Marian slapped the counter. “All right, that tears it. Granny!” she shouted towards the back kitchen, pulling her apron over her head.
A series of ominous clangs and a billow of smoke erupted from the serving window before Granny’s head popped out. “What is it this time?” she barked.
“Emma’s acting weird. I’m gonna go get her checked out, okay?” Marian was already tugging Emma towards the door, ignoring her protestations.
“Eh, so what else is new,” Granny said, and waved her spatula. “Just be back in an hour, and don’t forget to tell Regina. You know she hates to be left out where that one is concerned.”
“Already on it!” Marian said, and, true to her word, she was already pulling out her phone and putting it to her ear. Emma sighed, and resigned herself to her fate.
Doctor Sweet was, in general, infinitely preferable to Doctor Whale, in that he didn’t look like a weasel on PCP and he didn’t try to grope her during her physicals, but if he didn’t stop shining that stupid light in her eye, Emma was going to kick him into next week.
Sweet grinned at her sour expression and tucked the light into his jacket pocket. Looping his old-fashioned stethoscope around his neck, he cracked his knuckles and shrugged. “She seems to be in perfect health,” he said, “So whatever the heck’s going on probably isn’t because of something I can fix.” He rolled his eyes. “Not that it ever is in this crazy town. Can’t somebody just have simple bronchitis at some point, instead of a cursed lung?”
“Thank you!” Emma said, throwing up her hands. “That’s what I keep saying. It’s never a robbery, it’s always gang wars between bands of gnomes, or something!”
“Gnomes aren’t real,” said Regina, clasping her hands together as if holding herself back from examining Emma with magic herself, “Obviously.”
Emma snorted. “Right. Obviously.”
Marian put a placating hand on her shoulder. “Emma, I think we’re getting off track. Why don’t you tell Regina what you told me on the way here?”
Emma sighed. “Fine, but I reserve the right to come back to the gnome point later.”
And so she told them about the loops - about soaking her phone in the first fight with Madame Mim, and breaking it when Gertie knocked her down, about waking up the next day to a fixed phone and being able to anticipate what was going to happen the second time around, about waking up this morning to the same events, the same conversations.
By the end of her rambling explanation, Sweet’ eyes had glazed over, but Regina’s had sharpened, and she pulled a familiar notebook out of the pocket of her slacks. “Don’t bother,” Emma said, and Regina frowned at her. “You showed me that thing yesterday, too, and it didn’t have anything in it that would explain what’s happening.”
Regina rifled through a few pages anyway, then sighed and put it away. “All right, so if nobody cast a curse yesterday, how else do you propose to explain this loop you say you’re experiencing?”
“I’unno,” Emma said, hitching a shoulder. “I just kind of figured magic could explain it. Seems to work for pretty much every other disaster in this town.”
Marian snorted from where she was sprawled out on the child-sized chair in the corner. “I mean, she’s got a point.” Emma leaned over to offer her a high five, and Marian slapped it quickly before adding, “For once.”
Emma gasped. “Traitor!”
Pointedly ignoring them, Regina replied, “Usually, you’d be right. But not when that “disaster" involves time. I mean, you saw how complicated Zelena’s spell was, and that was just to go back in time once.” She frowned, peering into the distance as if consulting the magical library in her head. “If what you’re saying is true,” she continued slowly, “You’re going back in time once a day, and none of the rest of us are. That would be a distortion of the temporo-thaumaturgic boundary, which should be nearly impossible to do.”
Emma frowned. “Ignoring those last few words, which I’m pretty sure you made up, isn’t that what your original curse did? To Storybrooke, I mean - you lived the same day over and over again, and you were the only one who knew. Couldn’t it be something like that?”
“Yes, but Emma - you also know how much I sacrificed to cast that curse.” Regina held her gaze and Emma nodded, chastened. “I doubt someone is out there in the woods sacrificing their loved ones in order to cast a secret curse on you to ruin your day.”
Emma fidgeted on the exam table, the paper covering crinkling underneath her. “Well, what else could it be?”
A hand shot up, fingers wiggling in the air just above the level of the exam table. “I have an idea,” Marian said from her tiny chair. “Emma, didn’t you say you hit your head on that first day, when you we trying to fight that Cyclops—“
“Right, when you were trying to fight Gertie?” She turned to Sweet. “I don’t know much about medicine here, but back in the Enchanted Forest I know you had to be careful listening to anyone who had hit their head, because they would see things that weren’t there, or hear people who weren’t talking. Could that be happening here?”
Sweet stroked his chin and nodded, saying slowly, “It’s possible… Concussions can really confuse a person. I wouldn’t be surprised if one could give somebody déjà vu bad enough to convince them they were living the same day over and over again.”
“So, what,” Emma said, folding her arms and thumping her heels against the side of the exam table, “We’re all going to assume it’s a brain injury and not, I don’t know, some sort of fairytale curse? In Storybrooke?”
Regina shook her head. “You said it yourself - the curse resets every evening at the same time, right? At about 10:15ish?” She snorted. “If it doesn’t end at midnight, or at the tolling of the 11th hour at a stretch, it’s not a real fairytale curse.”
Marian nodded. “She’s right. Every kid in the Enchanted Forest knows that. Goes hand-in-hand with True Love’s Kisses and sleeping curses in terms of magic clichés - no offense meant,” she said, nodding at Regina.
“None taken,” Regina said. “They’re clichés for a reason, after all.”
Emma stared around at them, flabbergasted. She leaned forward on the exam table, crumpling the paper covering in her hands as she clenched them into fists. “Come on,” she said. “This isn’t even the strangest thing you’ve seen this week! Why is this so weird for you guy— spplt, ack!” She sputtered as Sweet took the opportunity to stick a thermometer under her tongue. “What’re yu doin’?” she slurred around it.
“Taking your temperature so I can admit you for observation,” he said calmly, noting a number down on her chart. “Sounds like you might be sticking around for a while so we can keep an eye on that head injury.”
“I ha’ yu all,” Emma muttered, crossing her arms.
“I know you do, dear,” Regina said, patting her shoulder. “But we’re doing this for your own good.”
Sweet pulled the thermometer out from her mouth and Emma insisted, “You’ll see - tonight when the curse resets! You’ll see I’m right!” even as she was ushered down the hallway to an observation room.
“I totally believe you,” Marian said, giving her a double thumbs up. Emma flipped her the bird.
4: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bz—SLAM
Emma’s arm shot out from under her blanket to immobilize her phone, then fumbled along the side of it to find the snooze button. When it finally went silent, and she rolled over onto her back to stare up at the ceiling, only one word came to mind.
She rubbed a hand over her face and considered. Yesterday had gone… not so well. She really had to find a different way to approach this, because spending another full day plugged up to various monitors in a hospital bed was not exactly her idea of a party, though the shock on Regina’s face when they had heard the muffled boom at 10:17 and she saw the purple cloud roll through the town with her own eyes was almost worth the price of admission.
It didn’t get her any closer to a solution, though, as satisfying as it was. Emma sighed. Maybe Marian wasn’t the person to start with - she should probably go straight to the top of the chain first.
She picked up her phone and dialed. “Hello, Regina? Yeah, can you meet me at Granny’s in,” she pulled the phone away from her ear for a moment, “Seventeen minutes? I have something I need to talk to you about.”
Twenty-four minutes later, Emma was sitting at the back booth in Granny’s with Regina, her own back to the door so Regina had a clear view.
“Why am I here?” Regina asked. “I have a meeting with the Maldonian royal family in fifteen minutes. Besides, how is this supposed to prove—?”
Emma hushed her. “Shhh, just watch the door. Archie’s going to pick up his hat and walk over to it right about… now,” and Emma saw him gather his things and stand up, moving towards the door. She cheered internally. “And then Kenai is going to come blowing through the door without looking in 3…2…1—“
A crash and the sound of ice cascading to the floor brought a smile to Emma’s face. “Disaster,” she said, delighted.
Regina frowned. “Kenai does that at least once a week, I don’t see how that proves anything.”
Emma sighed. “Fine - call the office and cancel your meeting,” she said, and grabbed Regina’s hand, tugging her to her feet and pulling her towards the door, ignoring Marian as she caught sight of their joined hands and wiggled her eyebrows at Emma. “You want more proof? I’ll get you more proof.”
“Winnipeg here,” Emma said, gesturing at the portly man in his red crop-top, “Thinks that heffalumps are stealing his honey. Is that about right?” she asked him, and he nodded, bewildered”
Emma pointed behind Regina. “And in just a minute,” she said, “A portal is going to open over there and 99 Dalmatian puppies and one full-grown Dalmatian are going to come through it because Pongo made a wish on a magic lamp.”
When the portal opened a moment later, the wind it generated blew Regina’s hair back as she turned to stare at Emma, who held up a finger. “And now, to catch them.” She smiled at the horrified look on Regina’s face. “It’s a good thing I already know where they’re all hiding, isn’t it?”
By the time they made it back to Regina’s office for lunch, she looked stricken, and sat down heavily in the chair behind her desk. “This shouldn’t be possible,” she said, numbly accepting the burger when Emma passed it over to her.
Emma had already begun disassembling her own burger, scraping off the beetroot salsa and unearthing the hidden pineapple and horseradish. She shrugged, “Yeah, you said that last time, and the time before that, too.” Satisfied that she’d gotten all the unsavory elements off, she reassembled her burger and took a bite. Swallowing, she said, “I guess this kind of stuff really was rare back there, then, huh?”
Regina unwrapped her burger robotically and took a bite, pausing to look down at it. “Shallots and bleu cheese, it looks like,” she said.
“‘Good, but not terribly adventurous,’” Emma replied, and Regina glanced up at her in shock.
“How did— oh. Never mind.” She tapped her fingers a few times on the burger wrapper and sighed, placing it back down on the table. “And to answer your question, yes, any kind of time travel was exceedingly rare in the Enchanted Forest. It’s one of the three barriers magic cannot cross,” Regina held up her fingers and counted them off, “Death. Love. And time.”
“Bullshit,” Emma said. Regina raised her eyebrows, and Emma rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen people in this town break the laws of magic at least three times by now - not least of which was your sister sending me back in time to a world I never even lived in in the first place!”
“Zelena can’t even be bound by the rules of basic human decency,” Regina said, “So why should we assume magic would be any different?” She sighed and put her burger down, brushing her fingers together to dust off the crumbs. “I suppose you have a point.”
“Thank you!” Emma said, running her fingers through her hair and tugging on the roots. “I honestly never thought it would be this hard to convince a town of fairytale characters that I’m in a Groundhog Day scenario!”
Regina cocked her head and said, “What does a holiday in February have to do with this?”
Emma sputtered and slumped over in her chair, defeated. “I am literally so horrified by that question, you have no idea,” she said.
“Of course, dear,” Regina said, eyes sparkling, and Emma flipped her off with a laugh.
Really, she should have known that bringing Regina on board would turn the whole endeavor into a nerd fest.
They were camped out on Regina’s spacious dining room table, books spread across every inch of the gleaming cherrywood surface, scrolls piled high on one end and spilling onto the floor. Regina was studying a page in a particularly large volume intensely, humming to herself as she discovered interesting tidbits.
Emma, meanwhile, had had the book in front of her open to the same page for the last twenty minutes and hadn’t absorbed a single word. Not because she didn’t understand it, although she admitted that might be a factor, but because Regina, aside from humming, was also wearing the most distracting pair of reading glasses, which really wasn’t fair. How on earth was she supposed to concentrate on - Emma glances down: elemental determinism? - when Regina was sitting across from her wearing reading glasses?
The front door suddenly slammed shut and Emma jumped, startled to realize that she’d been staring at Regina for the better part of twenty minutes. She was still blushing when Henry stomped his way into the dining room, but she managed a calm, “How was school, kid?” without her voice cracking like a teenage boy’s, so she decided to call it a win.
Henry looked at her oddly, but said, “Eh. Same old, same old, really. What’s going on here?” He nodded at the table full of books.
“Your mother has managed to get tangled in some sort of magical time-repeating spell, despite all rules of logic and magic saying it’s not possible,” Regina said, rolling her eyes. Henry frowned, glancing at Emma.
“I’ve been Groundhog Dayed,” Emma clarified.
“Ah,” Henry said, face clearing. “That sucks.” He turned and stomped into the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, “I’m gonna get a snack, okay?”
“See?” Emma said, spreading her arms triumphantly and beaming at Regina. “Our son knows what I mean!” She shouted into the kitchen, “Did you know your mom is an uncultured barbarian?”
Henry popped his head around the doorframe and grinned wickedly. “Yeah - kind of explains why the two of you get along so well, doesn’t it?” He ducked back into the kitchen swiftly, and the pen Emma threw bounced harmlessly off the wall where his head had been.
Regina sighed and took off her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “We may as well take a break,” she said to Emma. “I’m not getting anywhere, and I know this all might as well be Elfish to you.” Henry set a cup of tea in front of her and she smiled up at him. “Thank you, dear.”
“Why don’t you bring Zelena over to help?” Henry said. “Her magic’s a lot different than yours, Mom - she might know more about this kind of stuff, you know?”
Regina put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Thank you, dear, that’s a wonderful idea.” She paused, then glanced over at Emma. “Actually, we may as well invite your parents over, too.”
Emma frowned. “Why? Snow knows about as much about magic as I do about rock climbing, and David is pretty much as magical as a brick.”
Flipping the tome in front of her closed and taking a sip of her tea, Regina said, “You’re not wrong, but think of it this way - if we break this curse and your mother finds out that we didn’t tell her about it, but we told Zelena, she will be insufferable.”
“Ah, shit,” Emma said. “All right. I’ll call my crazy relatives and you call yours. Guess we’re having a good old-fashioned family dinner.”
“Saint Ignatius’ Restorer of Time potion is for reversing the effects of writer’s cramp,” Regina insisted, gesturing at the scroll, “Not for ending a time curse!”
Zelena sneered. “And just which one of us has cast a successful time travel spell, exactly?”
Across the table, baby Roheline suddenly made a gurgling noise where she was being bounced on David’s knee, and burped puréed carrots in a horrifically orange streak down his shirt. David lifted her up and away from him with a grimace on his face.
Zelena cackled and reached over to tickle Ro’s nose. “Joining the family business so soon, darling? I’m so proud!”
Argument already forgotten, Regina nudged Zelena and smirked. “She knows a Charming when she sees one, that much is obvious.”
Emma stifled a laugh at her father’s indignant look, but the warm smile on Snow’s face gave away the game - the unspoken rule of the Mills household, Emma knew, was that you never brought up the fact that the Mills’ sisters’ sarcasm was a cover for their affection.
She caught Snow’s eye and rolled her eyes fondly as Henry called from the kitchen, “Food’s ready!”
They worked through dinner - a lasagna Henry made himself, which Regina praised endlessly, and Emma diplomatically picked distressingly crunchy pieces out of to hide in her napkin - and Emma spent the whole meal trying to imprint every moment in her memory as the clock ticked closer to the time when the curse would roll through town again.
By ten o’clock, it was obvious that they weren’t going to find a solution in time, and Snow began to get teary-eyed.
“But what if it never breaks?” she said, chin trembling. She clasped Emma’s hands in her own. “Don’t worry, Emma,” she said earnestly. “We may not remember, but we will always-”
“If you end that sentence with ‘find you’ I might puke on you, too,” Regina said, giving a scornful look to David’s stained shirt.
Emma awkwardly reclaimed her hands and shrugged. “We’ll figure out a way,” she said, catching Regina’s eye. “We always do, right?”
Regina nodded. “Just be sure to come tell me again tomorrow,” she said, “and I’m sure we’ll get through this in no time.”
“Yeah,” Emma said, even as the rumbling boom sounded in the distance. “I know we will.”
And then the darkness came to take her away again.
5: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma stuck her hand out and grabbed the phone just as it buzzed off the edge of the table, hitting the snooze button and tossing it back in one smooth motion as she sat up.
The previous loop had gone well, she thought as she threw back the covers, but she wasn’t any closer to breaking out of this cycle. She grimaced - not that she was likely to have any luck figuring it out on her own. She’d just have to figure out some way to convince Regina faster.
Swinging her legs out of bed and wiggling her toes on the carpet, Emma pondered. Maybe if she got the timing with Kenai right this time, Regina would believe her right away. She shrugged, hoisting herself off the bed and into the bathroom. “Worth a shot, anyway,” she said to herself in the mirror as she washed her hands.
Plan set, she headed for the kitchen, and tripped over her boots on the way. Groaning, she kicked them under the bed and stubbed her toe on the frame, cursing up a blue streak.
The sooner she made it to tomorrow, the better.
6: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma pulled the covers over her head and groaned, letting the phone buzz its way off the table and under the bed unhindered.
Regina hadn’t been convinced when Emma had predicted Kenai’s mishap, since he had done something similar at least once a week since he arrived, and it had ended up taking Emma almost an entire half a day to convince her, again. She sighed, pulling at her cheeks. There had to be a faster way.
Watching her breath puff up the comforter above her face, Emma thought - if only she could remember what everyone was going to say. Regina would have to believe her if she was predicting conversations word-for-word, right?
7: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma rolled over and snatched up her phone, keying in her passcode and pulling up her notes app. She frowned, scrolling through its entries slowly, then faster and faster.
They weren’t there. All of her perfectly detailed notes about everyone’s conversations - they weren’t there!
“Fuck, shit, fuck,” Emma said, dropping the phone on her face. “By memory it is, then,” she mumbled against the screen.
She wasn’t dumb, Emma reasoned. She paid attention. Surely she could get this all memorized in a single loop, right?
Okay. Maybe two loops.
Three. Three loops should do it.
10: March 21st, 7:51am
Emma snatched up her phone and silenced it quickly, jumping out of bed and rolling her shoulders. The start of her tenth loop, by her count, and she was feeling pretty confident about it.
She rehearsed the conversations in her head as she got ready: “Did you see the size of that pothole outside?” she whined in Zazu’s nasal tone as she pulled on her jeans. “I know,” she intoned, trying to reach the despondent bass of Eeyore’s response as she yanked her sweater over her head, “I could have fallen into it and died.”
She was ready. Pulling open the door to the weak winter sunlight reflecting on the slush, she knew today would be the day she convinced Regina right off the bat.
Doctor Sweet shined the light in her eye again and Emma growled, kicking out at his shin. “Seriously,” she said, “What are you expecting to find in my eye?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Sweet chuckled, jerking a thumb at Regina, who was standing next to Emma’s bed and twisting her hands together, “but I sure as heck ain’t gonna be the one to tell her that I won’t check everything I can.”
“Well, excuse me for wanting to make sure your brain is okay when you suddenly start being able to read minds,” Regina snapped. She glared at Emma as she said to Sweet, “She told me what everyone in Granny’s was going to say this morning before they could say it. It was… alarming.”
“I told you, I’m stuck in a time loop! I memorized their conversations!” Emma said, attempting to bat Sweet’s hand away as he brought the thermometer up to her mouth.
“And I told you, that’s impossible without a major, magic-breaking curse!” Regina huffed, “Look, Emma, I know you don’t want to do this, but please. I’m— I’m worried about you.”
Emma looked over at her and was startled to see Regina hold one trembling hand up to her mouth. “Hey, hey no,” Emma said. “It’s okay! I’m gonna be fine!” Emma whacked Sweet in the chest. “Quick, Doc, tell her I’ll be fine!”
Sweet shrugged. “I can’t see anything wrong with her,” he said.
Emma reached out and smoothed a hand up and down Regina’s arm. “See? Everything’s okay. Why the worry?”
“Psychic spells are a serious concern, Emma.” Regina drew in a shuddering breath. “They can burn out your brain, break your mind. And they are absolutely nothing to mess with.”
Emma sighed. “Look, I promise you I’m not under the influence of a psychic spell. But—” she held up a finger when it looked like Regina might interrupt, “if it makes you feel better, I’ll stay here for today and you and Doctor Sweet can keep an eye on me, okay?”
Regina nodded, and, well. If it would make Regina smile at her like that, like she was the only thing holding her world together, Emma would sacrifice as many loops as it took.
Besides, she could always try again tomorrow.
11: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got you, babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Scooping up her phone and briefly wishing she could travel back in time, if only so she could kill Sonny and Cher before that song was ever recorded, Emma silenced the alarm, sent a quick text to Regina (Granny’s?), and hauled herself out of bed once more.
“All right,” Emma said, splaying her hands out on the table between her and Regina as a steaming pile of pancakes was set in front of each of them. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but hear me out, okay?”
Regina frowned, but cut off a bite of pancakes with her fork anyway. “You have fifteen minutes before I have to go meet the Maldonian royal family. But you know as well as I do that good things rarely come after an opener like that,” she said.
Bracing the tips of her fingertips together on the tabletop, Emma groaned. “I know, but I’ve already tried every other way to tell you and it hasn’t worked so far.” She huffed, blowing a wisp of hair out of her face. “So here goes: I am trapped in a time loop.” Regina drew a breath, and Emma hurried on, “No, I did not cast a curse, nor did anyone else, as far as I can tell. Yes, I am pretty sure it’s a curse. No, I am not concussed or under the influence of a spell - believe me, you’ve checked. I am just,” Emma bounced her hands in front of her for emphasis, “just experiencing a time loop.”
Regina’s brow furrowed, and Emma’s heart sank. She cast around desperately for something else to say to convince her, and a memory surfaced from the first conversation Emma had had with Regina about it. “You think it’s impossible because that would be ‘distorting the temporal, um,” Emma fumbled, waving her hand in the air frantically, “thau- uh, thautamergic boundary?’ Or something.”
A bite of pancakes slid off Regina’s fork and back onto her plate as she stared at Emma, poleaxed. “Temporo-thaumaturgic?” she said faintly.
Emma snapped her fingers. “Yeah, that’s the one!” She shrugged. “To be honest, I thought you were making that word up, but you seemed pretty convinced.”
Regina set down her fork. “Well, it is supposed to be nearly impossible,” she said, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. “But it would explain where you had picked up a phrase like that. I can see why I wouldn’t believe you, thoughit’s far from the weirdest thing to have happened to us, isn’t it?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to sa—!” Emma cleared her throat awkwardly as everyone in the diner turned to look at her. “I mean, that’s what I’ve been trying to say, Regina.”
“Well, I’m glad you’ve finally found a way that makes sense, then,” Regina said, pushing her pancakes around on her plate and ignoring Emma’s snort. “So what kind of a time loop are you in? Is it like Groundhog Day?”
Emma stared at her. “You’ve seen Groundhog Day,” she said flatly.
“Of course I have. Honestly, Emma, I did have twenty-eight cursed years to fill. Did you think I never went to a Blockbuster during that time?”
Emma threw up her hands in defeat. “I really hate you.”
Regina hmmed in response, smiling. “Come on, then,” she said, pushing aside her plate and waving Marian down for the check. “There’s research to be done.”
Despite Emma’s hope that Regina might find a swift solution, the loops kept coming, and started to blur together a bit after a while as she fell into a strange routine.
Much like he had before, Henry again suggested they bring Zelena in, and she ended up joining them most loops for research (and sarcasm). Some loops, they headed to the station to talk to Mulan about visitors to town who might have cast a curse for some reason. In others, the Charmings joined in with their knowledge of the Enchanted Forest.
And eventually, at one point or another, every single person in town learned about the time loop and forgot again just as quickly. Emma and Regina worked their way through anyone who might know what was going on: Gold, Blue, Mama Odie - even Winifred Sanderson was questioned in turn. None of them had anything useful to share.
True Love’s Kiss was suggested so many times, and by so many different people, that Emma began laying a hearty kiss on Henry’s forehead at the start of every loop, much to his chagrin.
When that didn’t work, other combinations were suggested, and some loops progressed with a sillier and sillier chain of kisses. Regina smoothed Henry’s hair back to give him a kiss of her own as the Charmings planted a kiss on either one of baby Neal’s cheeks. Snow would beckon Emma over and gave her a kiss on the temple with suspiciously damp eyes. Even Zelena dragged Regina down once to plant a sloppy kiss on her cheek before she was chased from the room with a fireball.
And when that tried and true method fell through, they began working down all the others that had worked before.
Henry, although he had broken the Author’s pen, gamely tried to write a way out with every pen, pencil, and marker in his collection, and had to be consoled by Regina when it didn’t work.
David mentioned that they might investigate the mines for fairy dust that could be active, and Emma felt a sharp stab of relief when Regina said it would be too dangerous to navigate after all of its myriad mishaps. The mines made her uneasy, and she wasn’t sure if it was because of the cave-in, or the fail-safe trigger, but either way she was glad to stay out of them.
Snow, meanwhile, suggested they use the Dark One’s magic, and was simultaneously shouted down by every other person in the room.
But through it all, good days and bad days, the only constant was Emma and Regina - reading through books at the mansion, spending long hours in Regina’s personal laboratory as Emma watched her brew potion after potion, and discussing ideas over lunch at Granny’s.
There were some parts that stood out, even as the rest ran together - like the loop early on, when Emma realized the need for a quick way to get Regina to believe her each morning. After some trial and error, Regina spent an afternoon drilling her until she could repeat the phrase ‘a limited, self-repeating temporo-thaumaturgic bubble encompassing the town’ in her sleep. She never had a problem convincing her again.
If she also flushed to the tips of her ears when she thought about Regina’s mouth carefully shaping the phrase ‘temporo-thaumaturgic’ so she could repeat it over and over and over again, well. Nobody had to know.
Or the time, about thirty loops in or so, when they were gathered around the table - she and Regina, and Zelena and Marian and Mulan, all with a different book of magic in front of them.
Mulan cleared her throat. “This might be something,” she said, dragging her finger down the page as she read. “‘Chronos’ Conjuration’: this spell can be used to grant multiple days in the space of one.” She glanced up at Regina, but Emma spoke up before Regina could.
“I don’t think that would be it,” she said, propping her chin on her hand. “That spell’s mostly used by gardening mages, and I think it just makes plants grow faster, it doesn’t actually loop the same day for them over and over.”
A stunned silence fell over the table, and Emma realized everyone was staring at her. “What?” she said, hunching her shoulders. “I’ve had a lot of time to learn about magic recently!”
Regina licked her lips. “It was simply very… impressive, Emma,” she said, “that’s all.”
Emma caught her eye and felt herself blush all the way down her throat.
“Gross,” Zelena said, and Regina turned to glare at her, breaking the spell.
Emma looked down and stuck her nose back in her book, where it was safer, for the rest of the evening.
It was nearing fifty loops in, by Emma’s estimation, when she draped herself dramatically face-first across the dining room table just after lunch and said, “No,” protest muffled as the tabletop squished her mouth to the side.
“Emma, get up,” Regina said, attempting to pull a particularly large grimoire out from under her shoulder. “I know you said you’d tried doing an elemental invocation, but I think if we just—”
“No,” Emma muttered again. “Not gonna.”
“Regina,” Emma said, picking her head up. “I know this is the first day for you, but I’ve been doing this for over a month. I need a break.”
Regina took a breath and Emma interrupted, “I promise you we have already tried what you’re about to suggest.” She began ticking them off on her fingers, “True Love’s Kiss, alchemic exchange, temporal invocation, Rishad’s Ephemeral Hex, Zelena’s time travel spell, aaaand leaving town.” Regina’s eyebrow quirked at the last, and Emma said, “Oh, yeah, the bubble traps us in town. Which, you know, shouldn’t surprise me at this point. But still.”
Regina sighed and shoved the grimoire aside. “Well then, what do you suppose we do instead?”
Zelena piped up from the other side of the table, a certain twinkle in her eye, “You know, if the day’s just going to start over and there won’t be any consequences, you could do,” her eyes slid between Emma and Regina and she wiggled her eyebrows, “anything.”
“I was thinking a movie night!” Emma said desperately, and Zelena scoffed. Emma turned her attention to Regina. “Come on,” she wheedled. “I know it’s a school night, but it’s not like he’ll be able to turn in homework tomorrow or anything. We could make an afternoon of it!”
“Well,” Regina said, “I normally wouldn’t consider it, but if there were ever a time that called for special circumstances…”
“Yesss,” Emma said. “Come on, the kid’s gonna be home from school in an hour - we gotta go get supplies!”
“I think that’s my cue to bow out,” Zelena said, leaning towards the door. “You two crazy kids have fun!”
Checking to make sure Regina’s back was safely turned, Emma stuck her tongue out at Zelena.
“Ah ah ah,” Zelena said. “I bet you can think of a better use for your tongue than that.”
Emma doesn’t know when it became everyone’s favorite game to try to make her blush around Regina, but she knows she really, really hates it.
By the time Henry made it home from school, there were the makings of a pretty epic cookie factory piled up on the counter, and both Emma and Regina were coated in flour from head to foot. Henry cleared his throat in the doorway to the kitchen and Regina paused mid-lick, beater halfway cleaned of its dough already, and Emma danced over to the speakers to pause the music.
“Welcome home!” Emma said, holding her arms open for a hug and wiggling her doughy fingers at him.
“Hey ma,” he said, sidling away from her floury embrace, “mom. What— are you doing?”
Regina shrugged and licked another arm of the beater. “We decided to have a movie night.”
“Yeah!” Emma said. “And you can’t have a movie night without an absolute mountain of snacks.” She gestured around herself. “We’re making six different kinds of cookies!”
“You’re welcome to help us bake them if you like, Henry,” Regina said, “or you can go get the living room set up, if you’d rather. We’ll need to move the big couch back over again for tonight.”
Emma chucked a handful of flour at Henry’s head. “Oh no,” she said, deadpan, “Henry can’t go move furniture - he got himself all dirty already!” She ruffled the flour into his hair thoroughly, leaving a light dusting on his nose. “Oh, well,” she said with an exaggerated sigh. “I guess he’ll just have to stay here and help me decorate these Cookiebrooke citizen cookie people.”
Henry grimaced as the flour trickled down the back of his neck, then grinned. “Oh, it is on,” he said, and Emma laughed, running to hide behind Regina as he charged into the kitchen.
After dinner, Henry insisted they have a family Mario Kart tournament, even as Regina tried to beg off.
“Ah, come on!” Emma said. “It’ll be fun! And you don’t even really need to know how to play. It’s easy, I promise.”
“All right,” Regina said, “But if I manage to win one, you have to do the dishes.”
“Deal,” Emma said. “But there’s no way that’s gonna happen.”
“I can’t believe you fell for that,” Henry said as he dried a plate. “It’s the oldest trick in the book, honestly.”
“I can’t believe my own kid betrayed me and didn’t warn me his mom was a cheating video game shark!” Emma said, elbow-deep in sudsy water. She splashed some bubbles at Regina, who warded them off with a flick of her hand.
“I meant to ask,” Emma said as Regina idly twirled a small cyclone in the dishwater with her finger, “How have things been going with you? I feel like every loop I end up talking about me a lot, but we don’t ever talk about you. I don’t even know why you were supposed to be meeting with the Maldonian royal family this morning.”
Regina sighed. “Town budget problems, basically.” She picked at a bit of lint of her shirt and brushed it off. “Without my original curse to funnel money into the accounts, Storybrooke has basically been running on borrowed time. We haven’t even had the money to fix potholes in over a year.”
Emma dunked a pot into the water, scrubbing the inside vigorously. “Ah,” she said. “You know, I didn’t even notice.”
Regina pulled a face. “Everyone else has, evidently. I’ve got Storybrooke citizens coming up to me every hour of the day and night, asking me what I’m going to do about it.”
“Almost makes you wish they were scared of you again, huh?” Emma said.
Regina laughed. “Well, it was easier, I will say that.”
“I’m confused,” Henry said, putting another plate into the drying rack. “What does Maldonia have to do with potholes?”
“Tiana and Naveen came over in the most recent curse migration,” Regina said, “so they still have a lot of their royal wealth. I’m trying to convince them that investing it in Storybrooke is a good idea.”
“That sounds… boring,” Henry said.
“Good thing your mom’s a big nerd for municipal projects then, isn’t it?” Emma said. Regina crooked a finger and a jet of water shot out of the sink and straight up her nose. “Augh!” Emma spluttered, and Henry laughed so hard he almost dropped a glass on his foot.
Even later, stomach full of good food and far too many cookies, Emma dozed on the sofa in front of Big Hero 6, Henry’s choice of movie after Emma’s pick of Matilda had ended.
(“I always wanted to be Matilda when I was a kid,” Emma had whispered to Regina, whose soft smile was paired with a knowing look.
“You can do all of those things now, you know,” Regina said.
Emma shrugged. “Yeah.” She snuggled further down into the cushions and smiled. “I know.”)
As the kids on-screen fought the big bad with their improbably-powered super suits, and Henry watched them from his spot splayed out on the floor, Emma felt her eyes drifting shut. As her head tipped back to rest on the sofa, she was tugged to the side so that it rested on Regina’s shoulder instead. “Wha-?” she said, groggy.
“Shh,” Regina said. “You were gonna get a crick in your neck, sleeping like that. Watch the movie.”
Emma yawned and squinted one eye open, watching as the big poofy robot did something ridiculous on screen. “‘Dya ever think we’d get here?” she asked, the glow from the television washing over her as her eyes drooped shut again.
“What do you mean?” Regina whispered back.
“I mean, like, back when you hated me. Did you ever imagine we’d end up…”
“As a family?” Regina said, and Emma felt warmth seep into her bones like a hot bath after a long day. “Can’t say I saw you as anything more than a wrench in my plans at the time, so no. I’d have to say this would have been a little unexpected for that Regina Mills.”
“Ah, come on,” Emma said, nudging her head into Regina’s shoulder. “I saw the look on your face the day I chainsawed your tree.” She was edging close to dangerous territory here and she knew it, closer to a forbidden topic than she’d ever gone before. But she was warm and safe and sleepy on this couch, in this house, with her family, and there would be no tomorrow, after all, so she said, “I was more to you than an annoyance, wasn’t I?” She can’t help the plaintive lilt to her voice.
“Of course you were, Emma,”” Regina said, and Emma felt a soft pressure on her head. After a moment, she realized that Regina had just pressed a kiss to the part in her hair, and she melted further into the warmth that filled her entire body.
Regina must have felt her relax, because she dragged a corner of the sofa blanket over her. Emma protested, pushing at it, but Regina shushed her. “Shh. Just sleep.”
“Can’t,” Emma said, blinking her eyes furiously, yawning until her jaw cracked.
Emma felt her eyelids droop again, but just before sleep overtook her entirely, she managed to say, “Because I want today to be the one I get to keep.”
An hour later, the boom echoed through a house at peace, and the purple cloud followed.
It covered Henry, sprawled out on the floor in a nest of blankets, the light of the TV flickering across his face.
It covered the half-eaten tray of cookies on the coffee table, and other detritus of a night-well spent.
And it covered Emma’s sleeping form where it lay entangled with Regina’s on the couch, neither of them stirring as the darkness came and swept them both away again.
48: March 21st, 7:51am
“Babe!” —bzzt bzzt bzzt— “I got—”
Emma snatched up the phone from where it was blaring the same alarm it had the last forty-seven days in a row, hurled it at the wall, rolled back under the comforter, and stayed there, alone, until the darkness came again.
The next morning, Emma threw herself into researching like she never had before. She spent long hours at the library, poring over book after book of magical lore, hardly stopping to eat when Regina brought her food, but still she found nothing they hadn’t already tried before. Her grim determination was worrying Regina, Emma knew, but she couldn’t stop.
Mostly because, now that she was looking for it, she could see signs of all the lives people weren’t living.
The first hints were the missed jokes. She would be talking to someone - Marian, over her morning coffee, or Mulan at the station - and mention something funny that had happened in a previous loop; expecting laughter and being greeted with puzzled silence instead.
The next were the puppies, which during her first few weeks in the loop, she had taken to visiting at the shelter when she needed a break from research. Now it grated that they never aged. Day after day after day, and Emma felt more and more worn out each time, while they stayed eternally young
And Henry, who had grown four full inches that past summer alone, hadn’t budged even a millimeter in over two months. She felt queasy when she looked at him, sometimes, like looking at still ground after staring at a waterfall for too long - expecting something to move that never would.
She looked at herself in the mirror one morning, before she went out to convince Regina about the loops, before she had to confront her reality again, and wondered: was she aging? She poked at her face, pulled on the skin under her eyes. Would she grow old as everyone around her stagnated?
Was this just another way she’d have to feel alone?
She found herself trying to memorize every little moment that stood out from the repetition around it -
- Henry, groaning when she ruffled his hair and peering into the hall mirror to push it back into place, tilting his head back and forth as he inspected the damage, his thumb brushing over faint hairs on his lip and chin that Emma was staunchly pretending weren’t there.
- Regina, holding her hands in the air just so as she taught Emma a shield spell, working to increase her control over her own magic. The chill March air curled in breaths above their heads, but Regina’s, “Well done, Emma,” warmed her better than any spell ever could.
- Marian, a coffee carafe in one hand and a magic text in the other, pacing the linoleum behind the counter as she read passages aloud, pouring coffee into Emma’s mug as she struggled her way through a text of her own.
But, as she collected these memories, she noticed another pattern. People mentioned strange, flickering lights in the hills, and a slow-building rumble under the floorboards on the far side of town. The final straw came when Grumpy mentioned in passing that a golden streamer of magic had shot upwards from the general area of the mines that morning.
Emma shuddered. It was obvious, when she looked for it, how carefully she had avoided even thinking of the mines through all the loops. The thought of going back down there made her palms sweat, and her heart race, but if there was one thing she knew about magic, it was that it always fought the hardest right when you found its weakest point.
And now it was time for Emma to finally fight back.
Ninety-four trips through the same day. Ninety-four identical conversations, ninety-four attempts to explain.
Ninety-four days of research, and hunting, and despair had led them here, to the entrance of the Storybrooke Mines.
It was obvious right away that this was the source of the magic they had been searching for. Dark purple clouds roiled deep inside the mine, as if part of a thunderstorm were trapped underground, and ribbons of golden light arced out all around them.
“There’s all sorts of magic in that cloud,” Regina said, frowning. “I can sense major curses, transformational magic, dark magic, light magic - it’s as if a little bit of all the magic used in Storybrooke seeped into the soil here and got trapped in the fairy dust.” She shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Emma frowned, because for her, the storm felt familiar, somehow, as if she had encountered that combination of magics before, and sweat broke out on Emma’s forehead. Her hands shook as she wiped them on the fabric of her jeans. Regina glanced at her and nodded. “It’s going to be okay, Emma,” she said, and Emma smiled grimly.
“I’m not worried about me,” she said, smirking, “but how about you - bringing back any fond memories here, Madame Mayor?”
And then, Emma remembered.
Suddenly, horribly, she remembered.
She remembered that she wasn’t afraid of the mines because of the magic, she was afraid because she’d done this before. She remembered standing in that very same spot, and cracking that same joke.
She remembered not wanting to take a single step closer to the boiling mass of fairy-dust-laden magic, the air itself thick with it, but also knowing that she couldn’t let Regina fight it alone.
She remembered feeling that magic send out tendrils to test her defenses, even as Regina said, “It’s become… angry, for lack of a better word. Magic, once awoken, can become dangerous if not used.”
She remembered cracking wise, “So you’re saying the danger here is untapped potential? How appropriate.” But she also remembered being shit-scared, surrounded by magic as strong as any she had fought before, but wielded, it seemed, by magic itself instead of someone she could punch.
She remembered Regina’s instructions - “Don’t let it touch you - a powerful magic user such as yourself could only feed the fire, since you could never hope to absorb this much magic on your own.”
And then she remembered that her concentration, had slipped - just slightly, but enough for her defenses to waver, and a tendril of that magic to sneak through and pull her into its thrall.
And she remembered the enormous, burning power that suddenly scorched her veins, filling her with golden light - not a sickly ooze like the darkness, but a cleansing burn that stripped all of her nerves to rawness, that filled her with power and kept filling, a mass of energy that needed a conduit and found one in her, and she was melting from the inside out-
And she remembered Regina stepping in instead, siphoning the power away from Emma, pulling it into herself, but it was too much, too much.
Emma remembered being powerless to help her, her own body feeling as though it was splitting at the seams even as she watched Regina’s skin begin to glow and crack, sunlight-bright light pouring from her, shining from her eyes.
And, worst of all, Emma remembered Regina suddenly going dark and dropping to the floor, like a conduit burned through and callously discarded, her body still and small on the floor of the mine.
And Emma, burning, heated by her rage, and sorrow, and the magic that still boiled under her skin, Emma Swan remembered grabbing hold of the universe and yelling NO, shaking it by the scruff of the neck like a naughty puppy, because Regina was not going to die here.
Emma remembered this, and she remembered pushing the power out through her skin, purple smoke pouring from her and curling with tendrils of magic whisping out from every wall of the cave, rumbling as it fought against the way the universe was versus how she said it should be, and billowing into a familiar cloud just before it engulfed Emma, and Regina, and the whole town in its wake.
Thrown from the memory, Emma gasped, stumbling on her feet.
At the sound, Regina turned from where she had almost entered the mine, hand trailing behind her as she did. Emma yelled, “Regi—!”
But she was too late. Regina’s fingertips brushed the wall, that time, and golden light arced up and around her, jolting into her body in a horrible, newly familiar way, forcing her to her knees.
Emma let out a hoarse cry of despair, an attempt to pull her back, to make it stop, but she couldn’t. She fell to her knees beside Regina, the magic burning in her veins as she tried to take it into herself instead, but it was too much, again, the connection raw and too powerful.
It burned through them both, and Emma screamed as the purple cloud emerged and took her away again.
For thirteen loops straight after that, Emma avoided Regina entirely.
It was childish, she knew, but the grief still felt too real, and the danger still too present, for Emma to want to risk it. She couldn’t lose Regina, not if there was anything she could do to prevent it.
Some loops, she would spend the whole day researching fairy dust, or talking to the nuns or the dwarves about it. She would read books about magical residue and curse buildup and try not to think about the image of Regina, wreathed in golden light, burning from the inside out with power.
Other times, when Emma awoke filled with rage and guilt, she would go straight down to the mines to confront the magic again, dying and awakening over and over and over again until she felt drained and defeated.
By the one hundred and twenty-first loop, Emma knew she couldn’t sustain it much longer. She couldn’t lose sleep when she didn’t have to sleep in the first place, but she was beginning to feel each and every one of those one hundred and twenty-one days as weight on her, pulling her down as she tried to stay afloat.
Maybe that exhaustion was what made her a little late leaving Granny’s that morning after her coffee, or maybe she had just gotten careless. Either way, when she left to go get in the patrol car, she saw Regina coming down the street towards the diner. Emma tried to make a quick escape, avoiding eye contact as she unlocked the car door, but Regina stopped her.
“Emma,” she said, “is something wrong? You’re acting kind of jumpy.”
Emma shook her head, not trusting her voice. She had no idea how she was supposed to hide something this big from Regina, but she had to.
She had to keep her safe.
Injecting false cheer into her voice, Emma said, “Oh, nothing big. Just the usual!” Internally, she grimaced at how fake she sounded, but she crossed her fingers that Regina would believe her.
“Bullshit,” Regina said, and the swear was enough to make Emma jerk her head over to look at her. Regina held her gaze steadily. “For someone who claims she always knows when everyone else is lying, you really never figured out how to lie to me, did you?” she asked.
Emma shook her head, not trusting her voice, and braced her arms against the patrol car. “I can’t tell you,” she said, trying not to look at Regina because she can’t, she can’t.
Regina put her hand on Emma’s shoulder and Emma shuddered - it was too much, too kind - and Regina poofed them both over to the mansion without another word.
“Sit,” she said, pointing at one of the stools at the counter. “Drink.” She pressed a freshly-made mug of hot chocolate into her hands. Emma complied, sipping as it warmed her from the inside out. “Now,” Regina said, “tell me what’s wrong.”
Emma shook her head. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I have to be the one to fix it, anyway.”
“You could still let me help,” Regina said.
“No.” Emma was firm. “I have to do this on my own.”
“Why?” Regina’s response was sharp, hurt, and Emma flinched. “Is it because you’re the Savior? Do you have something to prove?”
“No!” Emma said, “It’s not anything like that. I- I just.” Emma sighed and relented. “I’m not strong enough to lose you.”
Regina was struck silent for a moment, then reached out and grabbed Emma’s hand from where it rested on the cold countertop. “You know, if we work together, maybe you won’t have to,” she said, squeezing her hand tightly.
Emma let out a laugh that was more despair than humor and looked over at her. Emma was shaking, her face damp, as she told Regina everything: about the loops, what she remembered, what caused it, and then, in a whisper, she said, “You died, Regina. And it was my fault.”
“It was,” Emma insisted, “just like everything else that’s happened to you recently has been my fault. You went to Hell because of me!”
“And Emma, listen to me,” Regina said, clasping Emma’s hand tighter in her own, “I’d do it again. This isn’t a one-way street, you know,” she scolded gently. “Besides, it sounds to me like your magic is what saved me, or at least tried to.”
Emma took a deep, shuddering breath as she tried to calm down. “What do you mean, tried to save you?”
“What I mean is that your magic tried to follow your directions - to keep me alive - the only way it could see how to. I think it absorbed the remnants of my curse, which never fully dissipated after it was broken, to give you exactly what you needed to save me.”
Comprehension dawned over Emma’s face. “More time,” she breathed, and Regina nodded.
“Exactly. Now,” she said, “I’m still not entirely sure how or why your magic reacted strongly enough to seize control over someone else’s curse, as that shouldn’t really be possible, but it does seem like the most likely explanation.”
Emma froze, terror washing over her. Regina may not have have known how it was possible, but Emma did. She knew exactly why her magic would have broken every rule to keep Regina alive, how it could have accessed a power stronger than a curse.
She cleared her throat. “Don’t worry about that,” Emma said. “At least that means we know how to fix it, now.”
Regina looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” she asked, then startled when Emma got to her feet. “Emma, no, what are you doing?”
Emma shrugged. “The loops - they’re all my fault, right? So I should be the one to put them right.”
“Your fault?” Regina says. “Emma, that was the result of years upon years of built-up magical residue, and a piece of my old curse. This is not something you need to blame yourself for.”
Emma braced her hands on the countertop and took a deep breath. “I know I didn’t put the magic there, but it is my fault we’re stuck in these endless loops. You said it yourself - it would take a power stronger than a curse to do it, and it was mine: my magic, my desires, my,” she swallowed, unable to look at Regina for a moment. “My love,” she said, and raised her eyes to Regina’s own.
They widened in shock briefly before narrowing in anger as Regina advanced on Emma. “How dare you,” she growled. “How dare you tell me you’re doing this out of love and then try to go off and nobly sacrifice yourself, you idiot.” Regina’s fists were clenched at her side as she continued, “Do you know how many people have told me they loved me and then abandoned me? Don’t you dare do that to me, Emma Swan.”
She sighed, relaxing a fist so she could reach out and tuck a golden curl behind Emma’s ear, lifting her chin even as Emma looked away, blinking furiously. “Let me help you,” Regina said, softly, then added, “‘Maybe I need you,’ right?”
Emma nodded, throat tight. “Yeah,” she said roughly, and placed her hand over Regina’s on her cheek. “Maybe I need you, too.”
Emma was pretty sure she would see the mine entrance, with its beautiful, deadly magic storm inside, in her nightmares for months. She shuddered, and turned away from the view of it in the distance to where Henry was giving Regina one last hug.
“It’s going to be okay, Henry,” Regina said, as he clung to her. “We’re going to fix this, you’ll see.”
“I know you will, Mom,” Henry said, giving her one last squeeze. “Ma,” he said, moving over to Emma, “Be careful, okay?”
“I will, kiddo,” she said, hugging him tightly. “I promise.”
Henry nodded against her and stepped back. “I’ll see you guys soon,” he said.
“We’ll be home before you know it,” Emma said, and Regina waved her hand, teleporting Henry back to the mansion.
She turns to Emma. “Are you ready?” she asked, and Emma nodded. “Remember, if we can direct the magic somewhere else, give it a purpose and channel it instead of just trying to absorb it, maybe we can keep it from being so destructive.”
Emma swallowed and nodded, not trusting her voice. Regina placed a hand on her shoulder. “We can do this, Emma,” she said. “Together.”
She suddenly smirked, and added, “And when we get back, we’re discussing that conversation we had in my kitchen, so don’t think you get out of making that declaration so easily.” She gave Emma a pointed look, brushing a kiss across her cheekbone before turning to head towards the mine entrance. “You coming?”
Emma, trying valiantly to fight the blush she could feel spreading across her cheeks, nodded and hurried to catch up.
As they approached the mine entrance, Emma could feel her body start to shake uncontrollably, hands trembling at the thought of having to watch Regina die again, but Regina was steady, steadfast as she neared the closest section of the magical storm.
“Get ready,” she said, and Emma put up her shield just in time to catch the first tendril of magic as it tried to approach her. She blocked it easily as Regina did the same behind her, and they walked deeper into the mines.
As they continued, the sensation of power became oppressive, the air thick and heavy with magic as more and more ribbons of magical energy slammed against their shields. Emma’s knee buckled underneath her as a particularly strong surge hit hers, and Regina said, “Almost there, almost…”
“Now!” she said, during a brief gap in attacks, and Emma dropped her shield and grabbed Regina’s hand the instant before they were surrounded by a hurricane of magical energy.
“Don’t look at the magic,” Regina said, tugging Emma closer and resting her forehead on Emma’s own. Her skin had begun to glow - Emma looked down, and so had hers, with their clasped hands glowing brightest of all.
“Don’t look at it,” Regina repeated. “Look at me - do you remember?” The vortex swirled around them, and Emma could feel the hair on her arms and the nape of her neck stand on end. “You may not be strong enough,” Regina whispered.
“-But maybe we are,” Emma said, and opened herself up to the magic.
Immediately, fire scorched along her veins as the golden energy scoured through her body, filling her up and then some, and Emma struggled to channel it out through their clasped hands before it could overwhelm her.
She could feel Regina doing the same thing from the other side of their connection, their magic working in concert to shape the power together even as it burned through them from the inside out.
Emma felt Regina nudge the shape of the power just slightly, and Emma laughed through their link as, all over town, things began fixing themselves. Potholes were filled, bridges repaired, new roads paved. As Emma pushed through a larger wave of magic, she felt the docks be repaired, a new jetty appearing alongside.
The magic flowed through her until Emma lost all sense of time. Her nerves scoured raw and her muscles shaking with effort, it was all she could do to keep up, even as Regina focused on shaping the magic for the town.
Finally, the current of magic eased, and as the last burn of it trickled through her veins and into the mine itself, where it shored up rotten wood and cleared a few small rockslides, Emma croaked out a rough giggle, throat hot and parched from the burning heat of the magic. “Of course you used an enormous stockpile of magical energy to complete some town improvement projects, Mayor Nerd,” she said, voice rough.
“Shut up,” Regina said in good humor, voice equally smoky, “It was the logical solution. Besides, it worked, didn’t it?” she asked, looking around at the now-inert mine entrance.
“Whatever you say. Nerd.”
Too magically raw to teleport, they limped back to the mansion, both of them propping the other up. Henry yanked the door open before they even made it to the porch and asked, “So, did you fix it?”
Emma nodded. “We think so, kid. But I guess we’ll see for sure in the morning, won’t we?”
Henry cheered and ran down the steps to give them each another hug. “I knew you could do it,” he said. “My moms can do anything together.” And, with an audacious wink, he ran back inside before they could say a word.
“Did our son really just—?” Emma said.
“I’m not thinking about it,” said Regina.
Emma laughed, then sighed and began to untangle herself from Regina. “I guess I should head back to my place, then,” she said, “And we’ll see in the morning if it’s actually fixed or not?”
Regina grabbed her jacket sleeve. “No,” she said. “Stay?” Emma hesitated, and Regina added, “Please. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and think this has all been a dream.”
Emma smiled. “Okay. I can do that.”
“Plus,” Regina said, “Don’t think you’re getting out of that conversation so easily.”
Emma laughed, and together they climbed the stairs into the mansion, both headed to Regina’s bedroom by unspoken agreement. Regina pulled back the covers as Emma put her phone on the bedside table, and they both climbed into bed facing one another and were asleep within moments.
March 22nd, 7:51am
“Babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—“I got you, babe!”—bzzt bzzt bzzt—
Emma’s eyes popped open in horror and then squeezed shut, a quick tear escaping and soaking into her hairline. She’d been so sure—
An arm snaked its way around her waist and squeezed as Regina’s sleep-roughened voice said through a yawn, “Why the fuck would you set your alarm for such a horrible hour after the night we had?”
Emma gasped and rolled over, propping herself up on an elbow so she could look down at Regina’s face. “You’re here,” she said in wonder. “You’re here, and it’s tomorrow.”
Regina smiled and reached up to tuck a loose tendril of hair back behind Emma’s ear as she stared down at her. “I’m here,” she said, hair curling in a halo against her pillow.
Emma kissed her.
Her phone was still blaring Sonny & Cher from under the bed, and she was exhausted and raw from the magic the night before, but there, in that bed, finally, finally on March 22nd, Emma Swan could look down at the sleep-creased face and tousled curls of Regina Mills, and kiss her good morning.
And everything felt possible again.