Memory is the First to Go
“Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.” - Primo Levi
1: Raising the Dead
Regina sighed as she grabbed Emma’s lunch tray. What in the world had she done to deserve such a selfless, but careless partner? Sometimes, she felt like being in love with Emma was some kind of curse, only because Emma caused her such worry. Underneath that, she knew there was not a better partner for her, for many reasons. Because of that, she went easy on Emma when she got the phone call that Emma had a minor accident diving on a skateboarder to save the girl from a runaway motor scooter. The child walked away unscathed, the scooter driver was fined, and Emma had a concussion, bruised ribs, and deeply bruised legs for her trouble.
Magic could have healed some of that, but magic was very dangerous with head injuries. So, Regina would wait for news on the concussion before attempting to heal any part of Emma. Emma was not happy about that, not looking forward to bed rest for the next few days.
“How are you feeling, dear heart?” Regina asked as she entered their bedroom. It had taken time, but eventually it went from being only her bedroom to their bedroom. Regina was reluctant to give up her space and Emma had been even more reluctant to ask for it. Both of their reluctance came from the same place. Neither of them had their own personal area growing up. Regina always had her mother there to remind her that even she was only there by her mother’s grace. While Emma never had almost anything to call her own because of her circumstances. They were learning to share with each other and through each other.
Emma groaned from her place at the head of bed, tucked under a sheet while the blankets were folded neatly at the foot of the bed. “I’m all right. I still can’t believe I didn’t stick that landing.”
Regina gave her a pitying look. “What made you think you would? What in your history made you think believe you of all people could literally leap into action and escape unscathed?" To be fair, the motor scooter had unexpectedly made a u-turn and collided with Emma’s side. And, of course with Emma’s luck, she fell onto the skateboard, slid a few feet, and then crashed head-first into the sidewalk.
Emma had the nerve to look at her with a confident smirk, even as she struggled to take a breath thanks to her bruised ribs. “I’m lucky.” She moved the bed sheet from her body, probably to avoid an accident with lunch, revealing she was in her usual tank top and some shorts.
Regina could not stop the scoff that escaped her. “Since when are you lucky?” She put the tray down over Emma’s lap.
“I landed you, didn’t I?” Emma grinned and tried to bite back a grimace as she shifted to sit up better with the tray.
Regina chuckled. “Lucky is what you’re calling it today?”
"What else could it be when you’re upset with me for getting hurt, but still made me my favorite junk food, even though I know you hate making it."
Regina rolled her eyes. She made Emma several different versions of grilled cheese when she got sad or down every now and then, but physical injuries called for more drastic measures. She made what Emma called “homemade beefaroni,” macaroni pasta noodles with ground beef and tomato sauce. That had been Emma’s simple explanation of it. Regina tweaked it each time she made it until it was something she was satisfied serving her partner and sometimes their son.
Emma liked to eat the meal with crackers and lemonade. Regina did not question why, even though it seemed like an odd mix. She merely made fresh lemonade for times like now. She also made sure to put the meal in Emma’s favorite bowl. And learned from simple observation, Emma preferred to eat it with a rounded soup spoon rather than a tablespoon.
“Do you want me to put your movie back on?” Regina asked. Emma also had a list of movies she enjoyed at times like this. Regina made sure they had them in multiple formats, just in case.
Emma nodded before shoving a spoonful of food in her mouth. A wince cut through her visage, as it always did when she moved now. “Sit with me?”
Regina should have seen that coming. Above all things, Emma wanted company when she was injured. She desired a physical reminder she was not alone. Regina had more than her fair share of such moments, so she understood.
“Let me go get your medication first,” Regina said. It would not do Emma any good to cuddle up next to her while still in so much pain. Knowing Emma, she would press into Regina as hard as she could, ignoring the damage she might be causing herself.
Emma frowned. “What medication? I’m not sick.”
“No, but you have pain pills to relieve the agony you’re clearly in.” She expected this fight, but she thought for sure it was a battle she would win.
Emma scoffed. “Do you know how many times I’ve hurt myself like this or worse? Well, of course, you do. You’ve been present for at least a quarter of my injuries. Have I ever needed pain pills?”
“Needed? Yes. Actually filled the prescription and took them, no." Regina noticed but she never said anything. She wanted Emma to come to her, to trust her rather be backed into a corner or feel badgered. As that path would lead to Emma either shutting down or her sharing information she was not ready to divulge. “Even when I reminded you, you pretend not to hear me and continue on your merry way, eating a snack and limping.”
Emma twisted her mouth up. “I’m not always eating a snack.” She said that like it was an actual defense.
Regina was not upset. Maybe a little bothered, so her expression hardly changed. “Are you ever going to tell me why you don’t use the pills?” For someone who got injured like Emma did, she would think pain pills came in handy.
Emma’s attention went back to her food and her voice turned into a grumble. “Tell you what?”
Regina scowled and folded her arms across her chest so Emma knew she was not playing around. “Don’t play stupid with me. We both know you won’t win that way."
Emma frowned right back at her, even glaring. Early on, if anyone asked Regina the quickest way to get Emma to shut down, Regina would have said to challenge her. She was certain Emma would have said the same of her. First impressions could be very wrong, though.
“Come sit with me while I eat.” Emma patted the space beside her on the bed.
Regina sighed and moved her shoulders, as if doing such a thing was a horrible burden. Still, she dropped her hands to her side and climbed on the bed. She eased in close to Emma, making sure they had body contact, but also did not press too hard to avoid paining Emma’s ribs or her bruised legs. Emma sighed from the simple contact of Regina’s shirt against her bicep and started in on her food while Regina busied herself caressing Emma’s thigh, avoiding the dark bruises there.
Regina glanced at the television, but did not pay it too much mind. She had seen this movie with Emma, but did not care for it, like most of the movies Emma enjoyed. She would bear them because of Emma, though. She knew Emma did the same with documentaries with her.
Emma ate quietly next to her, savoring each spoonful of pasta. She ate a cracker after every couple of spoonfuls, shoving the whole saltine in her mouth, possibly to avoid crumbs. The lemonade was drank in deep gulps, which was the reason Emma got a thirty-two ounce tumbler for whenever she was sick or depressed. Soon, the food and drink were gone and all that remained were them and this terrible movie.
“I used to be addicted to pills,” Emma said, like it was a regular opening for a conversation.
Regina did not react. She did not stop stroking Emma’s bare thigh. She was not surprised by the admission. Throughout their relationship, they both revealed little things about themselves and the horrors of their lives. She doubted they could shock each other anymore.
“When was this?" Regina asked as if it was no big deal. To make a big deal out of it would cause Emma to shut down, just as she would if the situation were reversed.
Emma shrugged and scraped her bowl with the spoon, trying to get every little bit of food apparently. “Back when I was a teenager.”
“What stopped this habit?” Regina liked to work backwards with Emma. It seemed less painful for Emma for some reason. So, first she would learn why Emma stopped and then she would learn why Emma started.
Emma glanced at her and snorted. “I didn’t have the money to keep it up and stealing wasn’t doing it. I refused to do sex work for them.”
“And why is this?” Regina hated to admit it, but Emma had more willpower than she did. To be addicted and to give it up just from lack of money was not something Regina could fathom. After her descent, she would have done any and everything to satisfy her addiction to power.
Emma frowned and stand at the ceiling for a long moment. “Damn habit started because of sex.”
Regina was not expecting that, but did not show it. “What do you mean?” How the hell did she get addicted to pills through sex? Regina was not sure if she was ready for the story, not with the way her stomach twisted.
Emma’s top lip curled and her brow furrowed. “When I was about thirteen or something. I had a foster dad that thought I was cute and seemed to think I could do better things with my mouth than backtalk his dumb ass.”
Regina scowled. “Do you remember his name?” She would ruin him.
A deeper wrinkle appeared through Emma’s forehead, like she was trying to remember. “I actually don’t.” She gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment, which made the statement a little less believable, but that did not matter at the moment. “I wonder if he knew,” she mused in a low mutter, like the words were not meant outside of her own head.
Regina arched an eyebrow. “Knew what?” The little slip made her heart jump and it threw off the rhythm. Something wrong was coming and she did not want to think about what it might be.
Emma blinked and shook her head. “Nothing.” She glanced at Regina and then looked ahead again, acting like it did not happen.
Regina gave her leg a squeeze. “It’s not nothing. We both know that.” From the way her throat burned, she suspected it was well beyond nothing.
Emma focused on her food, as if she planned to eat the full roll of crackers, even without the beefaroni. The crackers were a good excuse to not talk, as she possibly weighed her words in her head or measured what she wanted to share. She glanced at Regina, but did not meet her eyes, and stared into her bowl. “When I was little, like eight, I had this awesome foster mom.”
“What made her awesome?” The plan as always was to keep Emma talking. The story always came in pieces, which was the opposite of her. It was like pulling teeth to get her started, but eventually the tale would spill from her like a tipped glass of water. Emma knew not to ask her questions or the story would never be finished.
There was a spark in Emma’s eyes, but it did not translate into a smile. It was strange. It did not help that Emma’s leg tensed under her fingertips. She was not sure how Emma felt and it did not get better when she spoke.
“Oh, she gave me so much stuff. She treated me like a kid. I got things I never even dreamed of with her. Little things most kids don’t even think about, like a book bag. I got cute pencils and stickers and junk like that. I had cute clothes with her. Hell, I had my own clothes. She made food I liked, even asked me what I wanted to eat sometimes.” Emma should have been happy, but she did not sound it and there was nothing in her expression or tone to support any real emotion.
Regina nodded. “What kinds of things did she make?” Maybe she could make them the next time Emma needed a pick-me-up.
Emma shook her head, scowling into her empty bowl. She broke the cracker in her hand, but then ate the bits anyway, even licking the crumbs from her palm. “Don’t bother. I don’t like them anymore.” Her voice was tiny, young, but full of conviction.
Regina frowned. This whole thing was rotten already and made her stomach feel the same. “What do you mean you don’t like them anymore?” It was not like Emma to give up on food, as evident by her having to learn how to make beefaroni.
Emma’s eyes did not leave her bowl and her chin wobbled a bit, but her teeth were clenched together. She took a deep breath through her nose. “Yeah, I don’t like a lot of stuff from that time.” She gave a shrug that was probably supposed to be carefree, but her shoulders seemed heavier than Atlas’. “I don’t know why. I mean, my time with Selena wasn’t terrible. I mean, too terrible. She liked me and I liked her.”
What the hell did this woman do to Emma? “So, what does she have to do with your foster father?” Regina’s eyes searched Emma’s features for some sign that this was not as horrible as she anticipated, but nothing gave her hope.
Emma sighed and her shoulders dropped like the bones vanished. “He tried to get me to do stuff for him that I did for her.”
Regina could not help it, she blinked. She did not mean to react, but this was not what she expected. She was well versed in Emma’s traumas, but this was new. Approach with caution.
“What did you do for her, my love?” Regina asked, keeping her voice the same as always. If Emma thought her voice was too soft, she would mistake the concern for pity and this would turn into an argument. There was nothing worse than them throwing the past back at each other to try to win an argument. It was rare now, but could still happen.
Emma’s bottom lip trembled and she gnawed it, like that would get it to stop. She took a loud inhale through her nose and released it even louder the same way. “She told me it was a secret game, special between me and her. I couldn’t tell anyone and she meant anyone or I’d get taken away. I didn’t want to get taken away. So, I promised to not tell anyone ever.”
Emma’s thigh tensed like a stone under Regina’s hand and she could feel nerves jump under her fingertips. Regina was not she sure if she should stop touching Emma or if she should add pressure. This was too new and she was not sure Emma even understood the weight of the situation. There was something missing in her voice, replaced with a child-like quality. Her eyes were haunted, but not quite the way Regina knew they could be when dealing with Emma’s issues.
“Did she touch you, Emma?” Regina was afraid of the answer, but she needed to know. The way her heart hammered in her chest, she knew and was very aware of that, but still felt like unless there was confirmation, she could pretend Emma did not have to go through something so gruesome. Emma had sat through more than her fair share of sexual assault stories from Regina. Regina did not wish that trauma on anyone, but especially Emma.
Emma did not respond. She gnawed her lip harder, cutting into the skin. There was no blood, but the lip turned deep red from the wound. She stared off into space, crackers forgotten, even as they sat in her palm. Regina patted her thigh, reminding her they were together in the present to keep her from getting lost in the past.
“I touched her.” Emma’s voice was a whisper, distant, but still with a distinct hint of childishness. “She showed me how to do it. She taught me how to touch her and told me I was a good girl when I did. No one ever told me I was good before. I wanted to be so good for her.” The last sentence was like a low sob, but there were no tears.
Regina knew all too well what someone deprived of affection would do for it. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Emma gave a little shrug and her voice picked up a bit. “Afterwards, she’d let me watch my favorite cartoons and she’d make me Kraft mac and cheese, which I thought was the best thing ever because that was the best thing from my last foster home. If I was a really good girl, I’d get ice cream.” It was clear from her tone how special ice cream was.
Regina could only wonder how this story ended. “How long were you with her?” Had this been a home Emma had been in a while, being used and abused by some terrible creature in woman’s skin?
“Only a few months. She was a banker or something. I remember she wore a lot of smart suits and stuff. She got a new job in another city and I couldn’t go.” A pout settled on Emma’s face as if she were reliving the disappointment of almost thirty years ago.
Regina swallowed her surprise. “You wanted to go?” She could not understand that. She wanted to get away from her abuser enough to kill him. But, then again, she also wanted her mother to love her and her mother did nothing but abuse her, so maybe it was like that for Emma. This was her foster mother, someone she wanted to love her.
Emma looked at her as if she were out of her mind. “Of course I wanted to go. I felt so wanted, like she liked me. It had been a long time since I felt that way.” She poked herself in the chest with her index finger.
Regina felt her brow wrinkle and anger roiled in her stomach. She wanted to find this woman who used Emma and left Emma thinking that was what it meant to be liked as a child. She wanted to find her, flay her, and then feed her to pigs. “You felt wanted? Emma, she was abusing you, just like your foster father wanted to.” Why did this Selena woman get a pass, but the foster father got contempt?
Regina waited for the denial she knew was coming. It had taken her months to come to terms with her own sexual abuse at the hands of Leopold and that only happened because of Emma. Regina had argued “wifely duties” more times than she cared to remember before finally breaking down into a crying jag as she admitted to herself and her partner that she had been raped. It was the start of a very long, winding journey for Regina dealing with not only her sexual trauma, but the abuse she inflicted on others. Hell, she was still dealing with it.
Emma erupted, but not in anger. She was upset, but there was still that little girl quality there. She was upset like a child who had a doll taken away. “It wasn’t abuse!” She slapped her hand against her knee, rattling the lunch tray. “She was nice to me and she just wanted me to make her feel good. She was nothing like that damned dirty pervert, Mr. Aaron. He tried to watch me in the shower and would buy me bras, trying to get me to try them on in front of him. He wanted to have sex with a thirteen year old for crying out loud.” Her face drew into a grimace.
Regina frowned. “And this Selena woman had sex with an eight year old child.”
Hazel eyes glared her down, like she was insulted on Selena’s behalf. “She didn’t have sex with me, Regina. I just touched her.”
Regina had to fight down the urge to roll her eyes. “And how did you touch her, Emma?”
“Just with my mouth.” Emma flicked her wrist, as if the whole matter was trivial.
“So, are you telling me it didn’t count as sex because there was no penetration?” Regina was not surprised. She recalled scrambling for every excuse in the book as well when dealing with trauma because, in her mind, there was no way she could be a rape victim or worse a rapist.
Emma made a face. “Of course, I’m not saying that.”
“Then why would you act like it’s fine for you to put your mouth on her, but not this Mr. Aaron?” She would also have to find out Mr. Aaron’s last name eventually. Even if he had not touched Emma, he probably touched other little girls and Regina did not think that should slide. Yes, it was hypocritical of her, but since becoming a hero, breathing was almost hypocritical for her.
“Because I liked Selena and she was nice to me. Mr. Aaron wouldn’t spit on me if I was on fire, but Selena was nice to me. I remember she cried because she couldn’t take me with her.”
Regina kept in a scoff. She did not want to tell Emma the truth of the matter, did not want to hurt Emma. But, they always told each offer the truth, especially if it was to help them move forward.
“She cried because she couldn’t take her well trained sex toy with her. You have to know that,” Regina said. Emma would have told her that if this was her story. Emma would have told her that and more probably.
Emma shook her head. “No, Selena cared about me.”
Regina squeezed the thigh under her hold. “Emma, you know that’s not true. If this were me and I was telling you, ‘well, I was his wife and I was expected to do certain things,’ you’d call bullshit.”
Emma’s mouth twisted up. “Because that is bullshit. He didn’t have a right to your body, regardless of who you were or who he was.”
Regina wanted to just throw her hands out, as Emma made her point for her. “And she didn’t have a right to you regardless of how nice she was.”
Emma scowled, as if this was an insult to her, as if Regina was wrong. “She was nice to me and took care of me. I would’ve done anything for her, especially to stay with her.”
“And if your foster dad had been nice to you, would you have done the same for him?” They both knew the answer to that question.
“Of course not.”
“So, where is the difference, Emma?” Regina would bet Emma did not understand why it was different, but as she got older, she got wiser. She understood things at thirteen that she could not fathom at eight. Unfortunately, it did not seem she thought on it long enough to realize what happened at eight was just as bad, if not worse, than what happened at thirteen.
Emma went back to her food, shoving crackers in her mouth, trying to buy herself some time. Regina could wait. As Emma ate, Regina rubbed her leg, reminding her someone was there for her.
“He was a dick,” Emma opted to say, as if that covered it.
Regina swallowed a scoff. “But, if he wasn’t, you still wouldn’t have done it.”
“If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have tried.”
Regina sighed. “And yet you don’t condemn Selena, who started the whole matter, training you from childhood.” She hoped Emma saw the ridiculousness of that.
Emma took a deep breath, not like she was trying to calm herself down, but like she was about to hyperventilate. She blew out a long breath, which seemed to prevent her from panting. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. ”
I love how she thinks that’s going to end the conversation, like she doesn’t know me or how we work. “So, you’re going to take your pills then?”
There was a glower and Emma had the nerve to look annoyed with her. “Didn’t I just say I used to be addicted to them?”
Regina pursed her lips. “Yes, you also just admitted the cause of the problem, but don’t wish to discuss it anymore. I just assumed that meant you worked out the issue. After all, you are the one who has always been insistent that we discuss matters to help each other deal with our traumas to make sure we don’t sabotage our own relationship. Isn’t that what you’re always saying?”
“Yes, and we talked about it, so you can let it go. I don’t take pills. I’m not going to take the chance of becoming addicted again." Emma waved the matter away.
Regina could feel her forehead wrinkle as her mouth turned downward. Internally, she screamed in pure frustration. “Because you have so much pain in your life now, like then?”
Emma frowned right back. “You know it’s not like that.”
Regina scoffed. “No, I don’t know what it’s like because you decided the matter was closed. You tell me you were addicted to pain pills because they helped with emotional pain as well as physical pain. Are you in such emotional pain with us here that you might need to rely on pills again?”
“That’s not how addiction works and you know that, Miss-Addicted-to-Magic.”
Regina did not even let that faze her, even though it was sniping like that talking was supposed to help them avoid. “And yet I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention, I still use magic and I would never call myself an addict now that I have a better understanding of myself and that’s thanks to you and your damn insistence that we talk about things.”
Emma threw her hands up. “And we talked about it. I’m not taking any damn pills.”
Regina had to take a breath to keep her patience together. “Why? You fear you may get addicted again. But, why do you have that fear? What is happening in your life right now that might make you turn to addiction?”
Folding her arms across her chest, Emma’s mouth twisted up again. “All your damn questions certainly aren’t helping.”
Regina kept on coming, as that was the only way they would get through this. “And why is that? Why is this so upsetting to you? You’ve never had a problem opening up to me before. Yes, sometimes it takes you a while, but you get there. You never shut the conversation down.” She had always assumed that was for her benefit, Emma leading by example. Emma knew Regina would take it as a challenge if she always finished a conversation then Regina would always strive to do the same, no matter how difficult. It worked, until now when their whole system broke down.
“You’ve never made it seem like I was molested as a child,” Emma countered, as if this was all somehow Regina’s fault.
Regina held up a finger. “One, I didn’t make it seem like anything. It was what it was.” Up came another finger. “Two, I didn’t know about it before now to know it was an issue.”
Emma curled her lip. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t molested and I’m not taking your damn pain meds. Okay?”
“It sounds like you’ve settled the matter on your own.” Of course, their relationship was not built like that, but this seemed like it was an issue Emma would have to start on her own before Regina could try to help. That did not sit will with her because this did not seem like a hill Emma was interested in climbing. It definitely did not seen like a hill she should climb on her own.
“Yeah, the matter is settled. So, let’s just watch the movie.” Emma turned her attention back to the television.
Regina did not argue. She turned her attention to the television and silently watched while Emma finished off the whole pack of crackers. After that, she cleared Emma’s mess and went to the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, she took a moment to breathe and found it hard.
She grabbed the countertop to keep from shaking. How could someone do that to a child? Yes, she had done horrible things, including sentencing children to death in mass executions and sending then on suicide missions, but she had never conceived of using them for pleasure. Well, beyond her desire to be a mother.
She did not have time to dwell on that as arms came from behind her and wrapped around her waist. Emma nuzzled her shoulder blade. A silent apology that would not work. Emma was trying to avoid the issue and hoped Regina would do the same.
“I love you,” Emma said.
“I know and I love you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re supposed to be in the bed!” Regina pulled away and pointed out of kitchen. “Now, get!” She grabbed the dish towel and swatted Emma to get her moving.
Emma yelped and rushed out of kitchen. Regina shook her head. She would have to wait and see what to do with her partner, but this matter was not settled.
Next time: Emma goes through some emotional upheaval.