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One thing Emma Swan had always wanted to do was go on a cross-country road trip. Sure, she’d been to lots of places, (hell, she’d even been to Neverland ) but never once had she been able to just go straight down the open road with no reason but to reach the other side.

 

Of course, that’s not exactly what’s happening here.

 

The reality is that she’d taken a portal from the Enchanted Forest back into Storybrooke, only to find out that time wasn’t what she thought it was. Henry was now the same age as both her and his grandmother; and Regina was missing.

 

She rolls her eyes as she crosses into South Dakota, having started the second day of driving thirty miles east in Minnesota. She’s pretty irritated at herself for not just flying (a forty-seven hour drive alone is taking just as much toil on her as it is on her little yellow bug), but she’s even more irritated at her ex-boyfriend for being the world’s biggest asshole.

 

She’d been perfectly content, and yes she missed Henry and Regina, a lot . And sure, maybe she talked about the two of them more than anything else combined, but regardless, it didn’t warrant Killian to interfere, trying to cast some curse on the two people she loved most. She told him as much, too, just before she walked out the door.

 

It took a trip to the Enchanted Forest and back to get an idea of what she would be walking into. There wasn’t anyone that knew, especially because Killian’s track record for magic is abysmal, and Emma wasn’t even sure he succeeded, so Emma planned to trust her gut and do what she does best. Find people.

 

It wasn’t until she reached Seattle that she discovered Henry had become a bestselling author. He had six books out, all fairy tale inspired stories about adventure, love, magic—the whole nine yards. She bought a copy of all of his books at the first bookstore she could find, and frowned at them as she sat in her car.

 

They all looked alarmingly familiar, and one book in particular caught her attention above all the others. It was a book about a small town mayor and sheriff, woven together by destiny and brought together by shared custody of a son. It looked like a beautiful story, and she didn’t have to read any of it to know how well written it was, but the thing that struck her the most was that the two women on the cover, presumably the mayor and the sheriff, carried an eerie resemblance to her and Regina.

 

Other than that, her only hang up is the idea that Henry would publish so many things that were so close to their real lives, the versions of themselves the rest of the world wasn’t supposed to know about. She thinks about Isaac Heller and his Heroes and Villains deal, and how poorly that went. Surely Henry’s motives are innocent?

 

With a shrug, she decides to worry about it later, and she tosses the book bearing what looks like her face into the passenger seat, and sets off in search of Regina. She doesn’t know how she’s going to find her, considering there isn’t a single Regina Mills residing in Seattle, according to what she could find, and Henry’s apartment was empty when she arrived, but somehow the impossible happened.

 

There was an odd tug in her chest, and no matter how much she rubbed at it, it wouldn’t go away. At least not until she pulled up outside of a dodgy looking establishment called Roni’s. Emma’s hand drops from that spot on her chest faster than the sensation dissolved, but she doesn’t dwell on it.

 

Even if she can’t find Regina here, it’s as good a place as any to start her search, or at least buy a drink. Putting all reservation aside, she exits her car and walks toward the door to the bar, feeling relieved that there isn’t an obnoxious bell jingling above her head as she steps in.

 

The atmosphere of the place is welcoming, solely based on its appearance. The brick walls adorned with what looks like years of collected memorabilia, and some plant life near the window, where the softest of sunlight is gleaming through.

 

There’s a noise to her left, and she turns toward the bar, where there’s a woman with her back to Emma. Something about her strikes a chord in Emma’s chest, like she knows her, but there’s just no way. The only people she knows in Seattle are Regina and Henry, and even though this woman has a similar build to Regina, and the same hair color, and is the same height… She shakes her head and walks toward the bar, appraising the woman as she does.

 

The bartender has on a pair of dark blue jeans, so tight they may as well have come from Emma’s wardrobe, and a dark gray tank top that exposes the woman’s muscular arms. It’s lightweight and see-through enough that she can make out the outline of a strappy black sports bra underneath. The woman’s hair is short, well above her shoulders, and curly in a way that looks effortless and natural.

 

Emma’s about to sit down at the closest bar stool when the bartender finally turns around, and she’s glad she didn’t actually sit, or else she might have just fallen out of the chair. As it happens, she almost falls over anyway as she bursts into laughter, struggling to breathe and to wrap her mind around the fact that Regina — the refined formerly-evil-queen, Madam Mayor Regina—is standing right in front of her wearing a Def Leppard tank top and holding a bottle of Patron.

 

She laughs until she can’t breathe, and it isn’t awkward until she realizes the other woman isn’t laughing with her. “Hey, sorry. It’s just—” the blonde manages to gasp out between laughs, “you’re a bartender . And your hair is so wild . Not to mention that shirt. I would pay good money to see you shopping in Hot Topic, or—oh my god,” Emma says before bursting into another fit of laughter. “Spencer’s,” she chokes out, losing all control at the idea of Regina standing in the middle of the gift store trying to choose between a Pink Floyd shot glass or one shaped in the form of a naked woman.

 

A few moments pass, Emma is so caught up in her own laughter that she doesn’t notice the deep frown on the brunette’s face or the flash of anger in her eyes. She certainly doesn’t miss it in her voice when the laughter dies down enough for the woman to say, “Look, if you’re just going to laugh at me, you can get the hell out. I don’t serve assholes.”

 

Emma’s laughter really weens out after that, but the smile doesn’t drop from her face. She can make this right. She and Regina always had banter like this, the brunette acting more pissed than she really was, and so long as Emma didn’t get defensive, an almost imperceptible smile would appear on Regina’s face, and her dark eyes would change enough to have Emma smiling at the woman for another reason altogether. “Ha ha, very funny, Regina. So do you serve your apple cider here, or what?”

 

Ignoring Emma’s question, the woman’s frown deepens, and her eyes seem to become more irritated as she glares into green. “My name is Roni.”

 

The blonde chuckles nervously, trying to stall because she isn’t sure what to say next. Despite the recurrent theme of memory loss across the years, she hadn’t considered that Regina would be in another of those situations, especially not one that left her with an entirely new identity. She’d been almost positive that Hook had been bluffing about casting a curse, and even more positive that he wouldn’t succeed. But Belle had told her not to underestimate his capabilities, warning Emma that that the situation could be dire. Maybe she should have listened.

 

She awkwardly clears her throat, looking at the ground as she works through some kind of a plan. She’s really too shocked to think of an immediate solution, especially not with Reg— Roni’s intense gaze fixed on her.

 

In the end, she decides that she needs more time to work through this, but being on Roni’s bad side would be one of the most unhelpful things, so she puts on an apologetic smile and meets her dark eyes once again. “I’m sorry,” she starts. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I thought you were someone else. I actually really like your shirt. And your hair is really cool. I’m pretty sure my curls would puff out if I cut them that short, so you’re definitely doing something right.”

 

Roni’s expression remains hard as stone long enough to send a jolt of panic through Emma, but eventually, a small smile appears on the bartender’s face, almost a smirk, but Emma will take anything at this point. “You’re fine,” she says. “And thanks. You should see it first thing in the morning though, you might just take that compliment back. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.”

 

“What sort of thing?” Emma finds herself asking.

 

Roni’s smirk grows. “Bed head and sex hair are pretty similar, at least in my experience.”

 

At that, the blonde almost chokes on air. She sputters wordlessly for a moment, trying to find a way to reroute the conversation until she eventually lands on evading Roni’s comment and asking, “What do you say we get a fresh start? I’m Emma.”

 

“Roni,” the woman repeats, going along with the blonde’s iteration. “So,” she drawls. “What can I get you to drink? If you really have your heart set on apple cider, I’m afraid all we have is Angry Orchard, and everyone in here will judge you if that’s what you choose.”

 

The blonde frowns, taking another sweep of the room before meeting Roni’s eyes again. “But you’re the only one in here?”

 

“Exactly. So what do you want?”

 

Now that it’s become clear that her relationship with this woman potentially rests in the fate of what she orders, she just shrugs and says, “Surprise me,” hoping that’s enough.

 

“Good answer,” Roni notes as she reaches for a glass and fills it with a dark beer they have on draft. “You didn’t look like the cider type anyway,” she says as she slides the beer to Emma. “Milk Stout. Local brew. 10.8 ABV. You’ll like it.”

 

She does like it.

 

“So. You from around here?” Emma shakes her head as she takes another sip. “What brings you to Seattle?”

 

It’s a simple question, but given the circumstances, Emma isn’t sure what she should say. She doesn’t feel like it would be good to let on that she’s looking for anyone, because that would just lead to even more questions she’s not sure how to answer. “Bad breakup,” she says. “We both needed to get away.”

 

Roni laughs once, “I hear that. Across the country, right? You think you’ve gotten far enough?”

 

The blonde pauses, thinking about herself, three thousand miles from Maine; and Killian, sailing his ship through a portal back to Neverland. “Nope, but I’ll take what I can get.”

 

Their conversation is light, with little revealed about each of them. It’s fine for Emma, considering the line she’s walking with Regina’s memory loss, but it’s also unhelpful. She wonders if there are questions she should be asking Roni, looking for anything that might provide any hints to a solution, but even if there were, she’s too distracted to come up with any.

 

The beer hit her system early on, buzzing through her veins and warming her from the inside out. She hadn’t drank in weeks, and she hadn’t relaxed in months, but right now, she was doing both. Unfortunately, she was also starting to wallow.

 

By the end of the drink, she’s tipsy enough that she won’t be driving anywhere anytime soon, which would be fine if she didn’t have a growing pang in her chest every time she looks at the woman across the bar. Roni is exceptionally down to earth, friendly and fun, but she’s not Regina . Emma misses the woman so much, she isn’t sure how much more she can take.

 

“If you need somewhere to stay, there’s a motel right down the street, about a quarter-mile from here,” Roni says as she points the blonde in the right direction before her eyes land on the yellow bug. “Your car should be fine where it is now. I’ll make sure it doesn’t get towed.”

 

“Thanks,” Emma smiles.

 

“Feel free to come back anytime, alright?”

 

The blonde nods, watching as Roni retreats back into the building, but before the door closes all the way, Emma suddenly remembers. “Wait.” She walks back in and pulls out her wallet.

 

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Roni says. “It’s on the house.”

 

“I insist,” Emma says, handing the woman twenty-five dollars. “Keep the change, okay?” Roni looks stunned, but accepts anyway with a curt nod and a smile. “I’ll see you later.”

 

It only takes about five minutes for Emma to walk down to the motel, but each minute drags by. The weight in her chest only seems to grow heavier the further away she gets from Roni’s bar, and by the time she’s checked in and closes the door to her room behind her, she’s on the verge of a meltdown.

 

She tries to keep her head instead of throwing herself down onto the mattress and moping over the whole ordeal. It strikes her as odd that would even be her reaction when she stops to think about it. Sure, she’s upset about the fact that Hook’s stupid curse actually worked, and even more upset that Regina doesn’t remember her, but it’s a whole other emotional battle to face, acknowledging that all those memories the two of them shared, may as well have never happened.

 

It had taken the two of them so long to make peace and become friends, and it definitely stung that all their progress means nothing just because Hook got a little jealous. If Emma hadn’t vowed to never speak to him again, she’d be chewing his head off, but as it happens, she has more important things to take care of.

 

Regina.

 

The blonde allows herself time to wallow before brainstorming a plan. If anything will get her through the inexplicable ache in her chest, it’ll be her determination, which she plans to hold on to for as long as she can, as severely as she can, so that it doesn’t run out before she can break this curse.

 

Grabbing a small pad of paper supplied by the motel along with their cheap pen, she sits in the stiff armchair and starts to think through every way she’s ever seen a curse broken. Unfortunately, by the end, she only has one thing written down on the paper in front of her. TLK .

 

There’s a moment where she feels so strongly that this is the way that the weight on her chest feels lifted. TLK has defeated curse after curse, time and time again. Even that first time, it didn’t require magic, which Emma finds perfect considering the distinct lack of magic in Seattle. It’s not until she’s overcome with utter joy at how easily she could break this curse that she realizes what TLK between she and Regina would mean.

 

She stares at the three letters for the longest time, not daring to even think the words they stand for, before eventually finding a way to awkwardly laugh about it, telling herself how ridiculous she’s being to think that she and Regina … No. She laughs again, and ignores how fake it sounds to her ears. The only way TLK could be an option is if she found Henry, but even then, if his memories are gone, too… She shudders to think of all the ways that plan could go wrong.

 

As her only solid idea fades, the ache returns to her chest; it’s a tugging that makes her wish she had the answers already. There has to be some way to come up with something, or maybe even some way to research an idea, but all she has now is Henry’s small stack of books and the prospect of seeing Regina— Roni , she has to keep reminding herself—tomorrow, so she tries to settle in for the night, knowing that the sooner she does, the sooner she can try again.

 

She wakes up the next morning at a more than reasonable time, rubbing at her chest as she sets off toward the only place she knows in the area, hoping it’s open during lunchtime. Just in case, she’s brought along one of Henry’s books to pass the time. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wonders if the stories could hold any answers on how to break this curse, but given that Henry’s memories might also be gone, and Hook of all people cast the curse, it’s hard to believe that’s likely.

 

The door to the bar opens, and even though there isn’t anyone milling around yet, she figures it’s open and takes a seat at the bar, pulling out Henry’s book. It’s the first one he published, but not the one that struck gold at publication. It’s shorter than his others, and relies heavily on the princess and the knight trope, from the content all the way to the title, The Princess and the Knight. It’s set in the Enchanted Forest, told from the perspective of a princess named Reina.

 

Princess Reina is determined to remain independent, and she fights her controlling mother, Corinne, who wants nothing more than for her daughter to become queen. Reina chases off suitor after suitor, which only makes her mother more frustrated and all other suitors uninterested. Eventually, Corinne goes behind her daughter’s back to set up a trial to win her Reina’s heart, by proving themselves worthy in a series of trials.

 

Several knights line up to compete, all of their faces hidden, and Reina watches bored as they partake in jousting, sword fighting, and archery competitions. Sir Robin is the first to fail, much to Reina’s relief, as he falls off his horse in a joust. Sir Graham fails next, nearly getting stabbed through the heart in the sword fighting portion. The archery competition took up the grand finale, and it easily was won by the smaller knight. Sir Leo was kicked off the grounds, and Reina muttered a good riddance to the old man as he shuffled away.

 

When the final knight’s helmet was removed, Reina’s heart stopped as she met the bright green eyes of a beautiful woman, smiling up at her before making her way up the platform to take a knee and kiss the Princess’s hand. She’s introduced as Emmeline, and asks for Reina’s hand in marriage, which the Princess gladly accepts, much to Corinne’s dismay.

 

The book’s ending is unexpected and powerful, and Emma is surprised when Emmeline and Reina run off together rather than becoming rulers of the kingdom. Corinne had threatened to keep them apart, but Reina wouldn’t let that happen, wanting happiness more than she wanted to be queen, and of course, she follows her heart and the two of them live happily ever after.

 

Emma had gotten so into the book that she hadn’t heard the bartender come in. She’d been oblivious to her surroundings for the couple of hours it took her to devour Henry’s book, and she jumps in surprise when a glass is set on the counter in front of her.

 

“Sorry,” Roni apologizes with a shrug. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

 

“It’s okay,” Emma chuckles, reaching for the water and taking a few sips. The bartender trades her a menu for the book, turning it over to read the back cover. She snorts.

 

“I didn’t take you for the fairy tale type,” she comments as she looks up, her dark eyes meeting green. Emma shifts in her seat, unsure of how she ought to respond. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read. You just look like you’d be more into…I dunno. Stephen King.”

 

“You’ve read it?” Emma blurts, ignoring the woman’s other commentary.

 

“I know. I must not look like the fairy tale type either. Honestly, I’m not,” she confesses, and Emma has to fight back a laugh. “But I know the author.”

 

That has Emma slightly choking on her water. She has to cough a few times and regain her composure in full before asking, “You do?” She sounds way too invested, but she hopes she can pass it off as just being an avid fan. However, any connection Roni could have to Henry, Emma needs to know about.

 

“Yeah, he comes in here sometimes. Pretty sweet kid. Talented.” Roni cocks her head, “Something about you reminds me of him actually. You would get along well I think.” Emma nods as Roni talks about getting them together sometime, thinking it would make things so much easier if she didn’t have to go find Henry on her own, but the conversation takes a turn that has the blonde shuddering, shutting the conversation down faster than it had begun.

 

“No way,” she says over a gag. “Maybe we could be friends, but I am so not going there.”

 

The bartender quirks a brow. “Not your type, huh?” she asks, and Emma can’t help but gape at her. “Yeah, I get it.” She leans in, close enough to Emma that she can feel her breath against her ear. “I prefer the fairer sex myself,” and the blonde almost falls off the stool.

 

Her heart races as she watches Roni retreat, and it seems like forever before Emma can take her eyes off the woman. She shakes her head as she reaches for the glass of water, finishing it in a few large gulps. She doesn’t know what’s gotten into her, but she needs to get her head in the game if she wants to break this curse.

 

So far, no solutions seem to be in sight, but she isn’t going to give up so easy. She’s still convinced that Henry’s books are going to be helpful to her, and she decides to read the next one later, but in the meantime, she is content to hang out at the bar and enjoy Roni’s company.

 

Emma doesn’t bother correcting the woman when she assumes the blonde is a lesbian, and overall, she doesn’t give it much thought. Having something so intimate in common with the woman feels good, even if said commonality isn’t completely real. She hasn’t ever come out as anything, but she’d be lying to herself if she said she’d never thought about it, at least in general. Roni is so free with who she is, and the more time they spend together, the more it rubs off on Emma.

 

She finds herself relaxing a bit more, even without ordering drinks, and volunteering information she might not have shared with anyone else. She knows this woman isn’t her Regina, but she treats her like she is, hoping that someday soon that’ll all change.

 

Roni is amazing, of course, but Emma misses Regina.

 

She watches the bartenders hips swish back and forth as she walks behind the bar, or to the kitchen or storage closet (or anywhere, really), and finds herself wanting pant suits over skinny jeans. She listens to the woman laugh, relaxed and uncontrolled, at Emma’s worst jokes, and as captivating as it is, she realizes she misses the scoffs and eye rolls.

 

The two personas are almost opposite, but despite it all, Emma discovers more and more commonalities the longer she spends in Roni’s company, desperate to latch on to a part of the woman she knows and likes . As a friend. But despite these similarities, it never ceases to catch Emma off guard when Roni says or does something Regina wouldn’t say or do if her life depended on it.

 

Like today for instance.

 

Emma gets to the bar a little later than she had the previous day, having slept in after spending all night talking to the bartender long after she had closed up. It has been two days since she read Henry’s first book, and since they’re her only resource, she needs to stop procrastinating.

 

She ordered her reading based on the publication date, so she grabs the next copy and decides to read it when she gets to Roni’s. She doesn’t think anything of it until she sets herself up in her regular spot at the bar and pulls the book out. She nearly chokes when she reads the title. I Will Always Find You .

 

“Really, kid?” she mutters under her breath, shaking her head as she opens the book, preparing to take in the overtold story of how her parents met and fell in love. She’s not exactly thrilled about it, and if she’d read the title back in her motel room, she would have just left it there and moved to the next one. But as it happens, it’s the only one she brought, and he is her son after all. Cliche subject matter or not, she has to show her support.

 

Roni walks in only moments after Emma’s cracked the book open, and she breaks out into a wide smile when her eyes meet the blonde’s. “Hey,” she says with an almost seductive quality. “Fancy meeting you here. Watchya reading today?”

 

On instinct, Emma starts to hide the novel from her. Not because of the last conversation they had about their son, but because she knows what Regina’s reaction to the book would be.

 

But this isn’t Regina , she reminds herself, holding up the book with trace amounts of chagrin.

 

She nearly drops the book when Roni chuckles to herself and says, “Yeah, that’s a good one. You’ll love it even more than his first book. In fact, you might even be able to relate to it.”

 

Relate to it? ” Emma blurts out, trying to figure out how the bartender could possibly reach that conclusion. She knows this story. She has had it pushed onto her before and she has made it very clear that neither she (nor her love life) is anything like her parents. She knows Regina would have agreed with her had she been awake, but Roni clearly has other thoughts.

 

“Sure,” she shrugs with a frown. Emma’s expression remains unchanging. “You’ll see what I mean,” Roni eventually adds, laughing softly as she turns around. The blonde isn’t sure what to say, and she’s about to turn back to the book when the bartender turns back to her, and a shot of tequila is set in front of her. “I know it’s only noon, but you look like you could use this.”

 

As it turns out, Emma really did need it.

 

The book starts out just as she expected it to, building up the story of her parents as she’d always heard it, if only more ambiguously. She’s made it halfway through when she realizes their names hadn’t even been used yet. Other than calling each other Charming and Princess, both beginning as derogatory nicknames, neither of them had mentioned any names.

 

Honestly, Emma is in awe at how well Henry had managed to portray the classic tale of Snow White without so much as the associated names or even gender specific pronouns, and she’s starting to actually get swept up in the story, reimagined in a way that is visual and so creative , especially considering the number of times she’s had the tale recounted to her.

 

She gets to the part where the bandit takes the potion to forget her true love, and something in it triggers a sadness in Emma, and she has to take a break just to watch Roni as she tends to her other bar guests, wondering what it would be like if she never regained her memory.

 

Eventually, she turns back to the book, considering that she can find a solution in these circumstances within Henry’s story. Even if the amnesia was caused by a different method than Hook’s curse was, Emma feels confident that it could help.

 

“Have you gotten to the part yet?” Roni suddenly asks her, and Emma blinks a few times, looking away from the woman after having been caught staring.

 

“I think I’m almost there. She doesn’t remember him.”

 

Roni chuckles. “Yeah, you’re almost there.” She gives her more tequila, unprompted, but the blonde doesn’t take the shot until Charming not only breaks the curse, but reveals that her name is Emma , and she’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, come to save her one true love—the bandit, Regina .

 

Emma drops the book and knocks back the tequila.

 

“Great twist, right?” Roni calls out from the other side of the bar.

 

“It certainly was a twist,” is all Emma can manage to say.

 

“And the two of you share a name! See, there are two reasons you can relate. Between the shared name and well… You know.”

 

Emma doesn’t know.

 

She isn’t so sure she was ready to know.

 

But she powers through the rest of the book, almost too stunned to pay attention to any of it. It’s the first time she’s read a book about a character that shares her name, but even so, it doesn’t seem to phase her. What really gets to her was Regina’s name, hitting her in the chest with a feeling akin to longing every time she reads it.

 

The ending is happy, with Emma and Regina getting married and becoming queens of the kingdom. It’s a beautiful close to an incredible and surprising story, but Emma is too distracted by the images in her mind to appreciate it as any other reader might.

 

It had been confusing. She had imagined her own parents for most of the story until the name drops blindsided her, and try as she might, she couldn’t visualize anyone other than herself and Regina for the remainder of the novel. The switch had been jarring all on it’s own, but visualizing the rest of the scenes as they played out was even more so; particularly the instances  when the hero and the princess kissed or professed their love to each other.

 

She swallows hard as she sets the book to the side, the image of Regina’s lips on hers still racing through her mind, and when she meets Roni’s gaze across the bar and dark eyes burn into hers, she finds herself wondering if the bartender knows exactly what she’s thinking, even if she doesn’t really know herself.

 

Tonight is the first time she leaves the bar before midnight, and the first time she leaves without a proper goodbye. She scribbles a note for the bartender on a bev nap and folding it up with cash to pay for her drinks and food, she catches Roni’s eye before slipping from the stool and out the door. She knows the brunette isn’t going to follow her, since there are still a handful of guests to take care of, and Emma takes advantage of that as she walks slowly down the street back to the hotel, feeling more lost than she has the entire time she’s spent here. It’ll be better in the morning.

 

A few days pass, and Emma doesn’t pick up another of Henry’s books. Instead, she gets some space and starts checking out local libraries, and even a magic show she found through a brochure at her motel. However, none of these locations yield any results, and night after night, she finds herself returning to Roni’s bar, feeling guilty for wishing she could be Regina, if only for a moment.

 

She doesn’t ask herself what any of it means.

 

There’s no rational explanation for the way that spending so much time with Roni turns her legs to jello or the way her heart rate picks up in the hours she spends at the bar, Emma decides. Though she can’t help but wonder if that had been the case when Regina was in her life as Madam Mayor . She can’t be sure, but once she’d noticed the trends with Roni, she suddenly couldn’t remember it being any other way.

 

“You want another one?” the woman asks, breaking Emma from her thoughts. Her heart skips a beat, but she doesn’t think the surprise shows on her face as she nods. The bartender fills her glass again before sliding it across the bartop. “You okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, her voice melancholy. “I just… I’m missing an old friend.”

 

“This isn’t about that bad breakup of yours, is it?” the bartender asks, her voice as disapproving as Regina’s always was when she talked about the pirate.

 

Emma snorts. “Hell no. That guy was an asshole,” she says, feeling relief at the sound of the words leaving her mouth. It’s like she’s been thinking them for years and only just realized now that she’s hearing them out loud.

 

“And your friend?” Roni prompts, her voice softer than Emma’s heard it since you thought we were friends? and but maybe I need you .

 

She meets the brunette’s eyes with a sad smile. “ My friend ,” she says, her smile widening as she looks into Roni’s eyes and thinks only of Regina, “is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. She’s so beautiful, so smart. She was mayor of a whole town, and in a way built it from the ground up while raising her son alone. I’ve never met anyone as strong as she is.” Emma sighs, “She always hated my ex and told me I was too good for him. I should have listened to her. She was right all along.”

 

Roni nods at her slowly as if considering something. She figures the brunette has a follow up question, and she does , but it’s the last thing Emma’s expecting. “Do you love her?”

 

“What?” Emma breathes, her face growing pink at the question.

 

“Do you love her?” Roni repeats, and this time there’s a pause where Emma can only stare at the bartender with wide eyes, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water until she manages to let out a strangled laugh that carries for just a little too long.

 

“No. No, no, we’re just friends. She’s great, but I—that would be—I don’t know. I love her, but I don’t love love her.”

 

Roni nods, processing the information behind a smile that Emma thinks is entirely too suspicious, but she doesn’t push the issue, so the blonde doesn’t either. “So what’s the story? With the ex?” she clarifies at Emma’s blank look. “If you want to talk about it that is.”

 

“Not much to tell, really. Nothing worthwhile at least. He was always so set on getting what he wanted that he always put me, and by extension our relationship, on the backburner. There was a time when I would have done anything for him—a time I did do everything for him, but it never seemed good enough. One day I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

 

“Huh.” The lack of response makes Emma shift in her seat, more so because she and Roni’s conversations have taken to levels of unpredictability she’d never thought possible than thinking she’d said the wrong thing. It’s only a moment later when she comments, “You know, that kind of reminds me of another one of Henry’s books.”

 

“Really?” Emma nearly squeaks. Really, she doesn’t know why she’s surprised anymore.

 

“Actually, if you’re reading them in the order they came out, it’s the next one you’ll read. The main character is a pirate, but the whole book is about trust, equality, happiness… You know, better things than what pirates are supposed to stand for.”

 

Emma listens on, growing a little skeptical of this pirate’s tale . But Roni tells her she’ll like it in the end, and the blonde hopes she’s telling the truth. “Maybe I’ll head back early and start it tonight,” she muses, checking the time before making her decision.

 

“You know I’ll miss hanging out with you, but I can’t say I blame your decision. It really is a good read.”

 

“He’s always been very talented,” Emma comments, not realizing her mistake until the bartender raises her brows. “I mean, he’s been publishing these for years now, right? It’s not hard to figure out he’s got natural writing talent.”

 

To the blonde’s relief, Roni laughs, “Can’t argue with you there either. I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

 

“Of course,” Emma smiles. She stands there staring at the other woman, just smiling, left to wonder why she isn’t actually going anywhere. After a lingering moment, Roni makes a curious expression that is so Regina that Emma’s heart throbs in her chest. “I, um—” she starts to stammer before cutting herself off. “Thank you. For listening.”

 

“Anytime, Emma.” The woman’s dark eyes are warm as they hold Emma’s gaze, soft in the same way that her voice and her smile are, and with one final nod, the blonde turns to leave for the night. She stops when she hears her name called out after her, spinning around fast enough to make her feel dizzier than she had under Roni’s stare. “Your friend was right, you know. You’re definitely too good for that guy.”

 

Despite having heard the woman say the same words before, Emma finds herself flustered at the admission, and she can only manage a small smile in response before she leaves. The night air is cool, but it does nothing to ease the burning of Emma’s cheeks as she thinks about the evening’s conversations.

 

Loving Regina? Who wouldn’t ? Emma thinks to herself as she walks. Anyone would be lucky to hold such a position in Regina’s life, but Emma? She can only imagine it in the way one imagines a daydream. The kind that are so far fetched that you hope no one ever finds out you’d been thinking about it. But logically? Emma laughs to herself. It’s ridiculous. Clearly.

 

Nevertheless, the thought makes her heart race.

 

When she reaches her motel room, she wastes no time in making herself comfortable and settles in to read Henry’s book. The title of this one is What Goes Around, Comes Around , and just looking at the cover, she never would have guessed it was about a pirate.

 

Admittedly, she’s still apprehensive about this book. She can't fathom Henry writing a version of Killian out of character enough to be a good man; however, Regina had told her the story featured the pirate, and told a story that represented so many positive things. It doesn’t add up, but Emma starts reading anyway, ready to be proven wrong. After all, the kid had already had her believing a book was about her parents for most of it before revealing it was about her and Regina—or, Emma and Regina the characters .

 

She shakes the coincidence from her mind as she finally gives in to the book, rolling her eyes when she sees that the pirate protagonist’s name is Rogers. She always hated that stupid boat.

 

The story starts off in the middle of a battle, in which Rogers, a pirate captain, loses the love of his life to a menacing villain. He mourns over her lifeless body vowing that he will spend the rest of his life in the pursuit of justice. The woman is already gone, but he tells her she can never be replaced and that he will love her to the ends of the earth and back.

 

For the first third, he does exactly as he said he would, venturing across the seas to find the monster that killed his love. Many years pass, and although he has yet to succeed, he believes he’ll still find a way. Most of his crew has abandoned him, claiming that he drinks too much or has been consumed by his anger, but he truly believes himself to be a good man.

 

To most readers, his self-confidence seems justified, unlike his flaky companions. But Emma isn’t just any reader.

 

She holds her breath when Rogers meets a rogue princess in a tavern one night. She agrees to join his crew, but refuses to tell him her real name, instead going by the alias Swan. Rogers remains in the spotlight for the next part of the book, but Swan is always nearby, having the pirate’s back when no one else does. They seem like a good team, at least until Rogers makes a move, and when Swan wakes up in the morning to the smell of rum and the pirate’s morning breath, the story is suddenly in her perspective.

 

Light is shed on everything that’s been happening for the entirety of their travels as Swan reminisces on meeting the drunk pirate in a tavern months before she had joined his crew. He’d been completely sloshed, going on about revenge on the man who murdered his wench before punching one of his crew in the jaw when he’d tried to intervene. Swan had scoffed, figuring that anyone who joined his crew would have to be completely desperate for some kind of escape.

 

She never wanted to know what that kind of despair felt like.

 

But as it happened, she found out anyways.

 

She was a slave to her forbidden love for one of the stable hands at her parent’s estate. Her name was Rhiannon, and she was only a few years older than Swan. When they were younger, they spent copious amounts of time together, either in the stables or when Swan would sneak the older girl into her room when no one was paying attention. Their friendship was innocent and genuine, and Rhiannon made Swan happier than any other kid from the surrounding kingdoms—the ones her parents always told her would be candidates for a suitor.

 

Swan had always known that day would come, when she would have to choose a suitor, but when it finally arrived, it felt like her entire world was crashing down. Rhiannon agreed to stay with Swan for the whole night, even if it meant her job was at stake. There was something about the offer, something about that night, that had Swan curling against Rhiannon unabashedly as the other girl held her just as tightly.

 

Just as Swan started to drift off to sleep, she felt Rhiannon’s breath against her ear, heard her soft whisper, “No matter what happens, please know that I love you.”

 

The next morning, just as Rhiannon had anticipated, she was pulled from the bed, wrenched from Swan’s arms, and fired for reasons Swan knew to be false. It wasn’t until Swan realized she could no longer hear the other girl calling her name down the hallway that she never got to tell her that she was in love with her, too.

 

It was on a day only a week later when her parents chose her suitor for her that she decided to run away from home, vowing to find the love of her life, no matter the cost.

 

Unfortunately, the cost was higher than she would have hoped, and it eventually meant joining Roger’s crew.

 

He was no good to her, and no good to anyone really, but he clearly believed he was. It wasn’t good by any means, but Swan was determined enough to tolerate anything he put her through, with one exception. Waking up next to him made her sick to her stomach, and the first thing she did was throw up over the side of his ship, and the second thing she did was run away the next time they docked.

 

After that, the pirate chased her while she chased Rhiannon, and just when Swan had found her, before she could approach the love of her life, the pirate managed to cast a curse that caused the other woman to forget herself, and by extension, to forget Swan. The pirate made it clear to the younger woman that he was the cause of this misfortune, and that if he can’t have Swan then no one can.

 

Swan waited until the pirate’s ship had disappeared into the horizon before deciding to approach the woman she loved, sure there was a way to break the curse, if it was even a curse at all, she mused, doubting a worthless pirate could have any capacity for magic, but it turned out to be worse than she thought. Rhiannon didn’t recognize Swan at all, and she didn’t even know herself, introducing herself as Rani and telling Swan that she’d always lived in this city and always worked in this tavern.

 

It hurt, seeing the lack of recognition in her love’s eyes, but Swan pushed through, getting to know this cursed version of Rhiannon and realizing that she loves every version of this woman. Even if she can’t break this curse, she wants to spend the rest of her life with her, Rhiannon or Rani.

 

She stays later than usual at the tavern one night, keeping Rani company as she cleans up and prepares everything for the next day. When it was time to say goodnight, the blonde found the courage to lean forward and bring her lips to Rani’s, hoping this wouldn’t be the biggest mistake of her life. She pulled back when she felt a burst of magic, watching in awe as Rani’s expression shifted. You did it, she whispered. You saved me.

 

I found you , Swan told her. I love you .

 

The book ended with the two of them together, the pirate nowhere to be found or heard from again.

 

Emma closes the book, having read it all in one sitting, and just stares at it for several long moments. She’d certainly had her reservations, but now that she’s finished it, she realizes how misplaced they had been.

 

She remembers Roni’s words from earlier when talking about the book: the main character is a pirate, but the whole book is about trust, equality, happiness… You know, better things than what pirates are supposed to stand for, and holds them up against what she’s taken away from the book. She’d trusted (more or less) that the pirate’s character was good in the beginning, until it was revealed that he never was. She thought about how equality has a lot to do with love wins , both in a fairness to the LGBTQ community, but especially to those willing to fight for who they love despite the roadblocks that fight comes with. As for happiness, Swan had everything she wanted, but never realized until it was lost to her. She let it slip through her fingers, and learned that she couldn’t make that same mistake again.

 

Something about the book’s entire message stays with Emma long enough to keep her awake for at least another hour. She can’t pinpoint exactly why , but it feels like something bigger than just the book. It’s when she finally drifts off to sleep that she realizes Roger’s curse on Rhiannon is almost exactly like Hook’s curse on Regina, her final thought being that TLK might be her best bet after all.

 

Upon waking up the next morning (or, well, afternoon , considering it had been nearly morning when Emma had finally fallen asleep), the blonde doesn’t feel the least bit rested. She groans as she rolls over in bed, feeling almost hungover, despite having not drank very much the previous day. It takes her longer than it should for her late night to catch up to her, especially those last few thoughts she’d had, but when they do, she sits straight up in bed and grabs Henry’s book about Swan and the pirate, flipping through it to see if she’d dreamed the whole thing.

 

With a clear mind mostly refreshed from sleep, the book’s message shakes her a little more deeply as she considers her situation and the character Swan’s. It’s eerily similar in almost every way, with the exception of loving the woman in question, a thought which makes Emma stop breathing if she dwells on it too much, so she tries not to.

 

She considers going to talk to Roni, but then she considers that the other woman would want to hear her thoughts on the book, and Emma would be happy to oblige, if she knew how to talk about this without it getting personal. The pirate aspect of the plot would be one thing, but the discussion about lost love being put under a curse would be another. What if Roni offhandedly commented about the situation, looking into someone’s eyes only to find out they don’t remember you? Emma isn’t sure she can take it. Without any more thought on the matter, she pulls out her phone and texts Roni instead, explaining that she has to do a couple of things, but will be by the bar later that night.

 

Roni responds with a simple can’t wait accompanied by a winking face, and Emma fumbles with the phone, hoping she doesn’t send some kind of accidental reply when her fingers brush the keyboard as she does. Fortunately, she’s safe, but decides in the end not to respond. The bartender is likely about to battle the lunch rush anyways.

 

She puts her phone down on the table next to the stack of Henry’s books, adding What Goes Around, Comes Around to the pile of the books she’s read. The title of the next one is Truth Can Tell, and Emma pauses as she picks it up, considering the title before looking at the other two. His most recent publication’s title catches her eye, and she ignores the previous two in favor of this one. She’d intended to read them all in order, but that was before she’d read any of the titles. Our Names Hold the Answers . Why had she never noticed that before?

 

She doesn’t actually know if this book could be the solution to everything, but it’s a risk she’s willing to take. If the first books seem to tie into the reality of her situation, she sees no reason why the others wouldn’t as well. It’s all about making the connections.

 

She picks up Henry’s book, Our Names Hold the Answers , and skims the back cover, frowning at the names of the protagonists, Anna and Raine. They’re not as similar to Emma and Regina’s as the other ones have been, and the blonde can’t help but feel a little disappointed. However, her disappointment is squashed when she opens the book to discover that it takes place in Seattle. She grins as she starts to read, instantly captivated by the story.

 

One of the women, Raine, lives in Seattle, and Anna lives in Chicago. The two of them meet online and instantly hit it off, talking every day and getting to know one another better. As their bond grows, they both start to realize they have feelings for the other, but they dance around the subject for what Emma thinks is entirely too long. They each confide in their closest friend, seeking advice on how they should handle their feelings.

 

Separately, they both have their doubts, and even more questions, ranging from what if she doesn’t feel the same way? to how do I even tell her ? to what if it doesn’t work out ? Their friends encourage them both to just tell her and when you know you know . It’s Anna’s friend Mary Margaret (Emma stared at that name for so long when she first read it, that she had to start the paragraph over again), who convinces Anna to go and visit Raine. These steps might come more naturally in person. It’s worth a shot , she suggests, and Anna eventually agrees.

 

When she gets to Seattle, she takes an Uber to a coffee shop near the place where Raine works, and texts her just to start a conversation. Raine has no idea that Anna is in Seattle, and she doesn’t plan to tell her just yet. She asks a few questions, starting with what would you say if I told you I was in your city? and ending with what would you say if I told you I was in love with you?

 

The suspense in this scene really gets to Emma, and everytime Anna sends a new message, Emma feels compelled to put the book down in case she can’t handle Raine’s response. Fortunately, they’re all good and encouraging, reciprocative even, and it’s all amazing timing when Raine goes into the coffee shop to place her coffee order at the same time the barista calls out that Anna’s is ready.

 

Their eyes lock, and they both forget about their coffee as they meet each other halfway in a tight hug and a tentative kiss before Anna picks up her coffee (and Raine’s, strategically ordered) and leads them to the couch she’d been sitting on before.

 

They both take turns confessing their worries about taking the next step, asking what if after what if and question after question, until something shifts when Anna mutters Raine’s name. The same shift happens again when Raine responds with Anna’s name, only this time the change is bigger, more solid, and everything just clicks as their world bursts into color, literally.

 

We’re soulmates , Raine says as she takes Anna’s hands with a smile. It’s a confirmation that answers all of their questions, the solution they needed but could have never found without meeting each other in person, saying their names in front of the other, and when Emma finishes the book, she feels more hopeful for the first time since coming to Seattle and seeing the lack of recognition in Regina’s eyes.

 

Maybe , Emma thinks, Regina will remember me if I call her Regina . She thinks back, stumped when she remembers that she did call her Regina. On that first day when they got of to such a bad start. So then she considers every possible name scenario, from her saying Roni’s name and it not working because her name is really Regina, to Roni saying Emma’s name and it not working because she doesn’t remember who Emma is. Either way, she feels certain that there’s more to this soulmate magic than meets the eye. Not to mention all these connections Henry keeps writing about.

 

She decides she needs to talk to Henry.

 

All the information she needs, she gets from Roni, and it’s not much later that she’s standing outside Henry’s apartment, preparing to knock on the door. If she knew that he had his memories, she would consider repeating their first meeting with a casual, “Are you Henry Mills? My name’s Emma. I’m your mom.” But she doesn’t think that would get her very far if he doesn’t recognize her, which she’s sure he doesn’t.

 

Instead, when he opens the door, she smiles and says, “Hey, Henry, right? I’m Roni’s friend.”

 

“Oh, yeah. She told me you were coming by. That you wanted to talk?”

 

She hesitates, trying to adapt to talking to this version of Henry, the adult who isn’t the author with a magic pen and a storybook, but an author with a laptop and a book deal. It’s a lot to take in, but she finds it in her to nod. “Yeah, is now a good time?”

 

“Sure. You want to go grab a coffee? I know this great place down the street,” he suggests, and it’s a lot better than sitting in his apartment and drinking juice, Emma thinks as she laughs to herself, her mind still clearly on their first meeting, so she accepts the offer, waiting for Henry to grab his coat and wallet and lead the way.

 

The coffee shop they arrive at is somehow exactly like the shop Emma had imagined Anna and Raine meeting in, and she takes a minute to try and recall the descriptions Henry used to figure out if this place is the actual inspiration or if it’s just another crazy coincidence. She can’t remember as they order their coffee, and by the time they’re settling at a table, she doesn’t think the question would make for a great conversation starter.

 

“So,” she starts instead, “how do you like Seattle?”

 

Henry gives her an odd look before nodding. “I’ve been here a while now. I guess it’s fine. It feels nice to be in one place for a change. Jumping locations never really appealed to me,” he offers through gritted teeth, with an expression Emma knows all too well.

 

“You were in the system?”

 

“Yeah,” he shrugs, and it’s like Emma’s heart just bottoms out, imagining her baby boy going through the fate she’d never wanted for him. She knows it’s just a curse, and once she can break it, those memories won’t be as prevalent, but she also knows that a part of Henry will never forget them, just as she’ll never forget holding him in the hospital and taking him home for the first time. “I don’t talk about it a lot. How’d you know?”

 

Emma swallows hard, meeting his eyes only briefly before admitting, “I was in the system, too. Long time ago.”

 

“Can’t be too long ago. You don’t look like you could be much older than me.”

 

At that, Emma laughs, “People can surprise you.” The two of them ease into the lighter side of the conversation, talking about their favorite cities they’d lived in rather than focusing on the system itself. The blonde nearly spits out a mouthful of coffee when Henry says that he didn’t mind Phoenix too much and has to explain why her reaction was so strong with a casual, “It was just…prison.”

 

Other than that, they got along perfectly, and with the exception of Henry having no memory of who she is, it was like nothing had changed. Eventually she decides to bring up his books, hoping he doesn’t take it poorly, like she’s just some other crazy fan trying to get insider information.

 

“Yeah, Roni told me you’ve been reading them. I take it you must really like them at the rate you’ve been going.”

 

“They’re great!” Emma responds, and it’s genuine. She’s still hung up on some of the details, particularly those implying that she and Regina are actually true loves, but she figures it has a lot to do with Henry’s subconscious telling him he has two moms. “I actually just read your most recent one. The one with the…”

 

“Soulmates, yeah,” Henry says as he finishes her sentence. “That concept is all over the place online, but I hadn’t seen it in a published book. I thought I’d give it a shot.”

 

“Clearly it went well,” Emma responds. “You’ve been growing in popularity pretty recently, right?”

 

Henry nods. “ To Break Denial blew up the charts. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s kind of nice though, because once people read that one, they flocked to the others. Have you read that one yet?”

 

“No,” Emma admits, blushing as she remembers seeing the cover of the book in her car. The cover image reminding her so much of herself and Regina. “That’s the one with the sheriff and mayor, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Henry smiles. “You’ll have to let me know what you think when you read it. Which is your favorite so far?”

 

Emma hesitates. She hasn’t thought about it since reading any of them, having been a little too shocked by all the connections she’d been unable to ignore to pick a favorite. “I think I liked the soulmate one,” she says. “That concept is pretty incredible.” He breathes a laugh, and before the blonde can think about how bad of a question this is, she asks, “Do you think that could actually happen?”

 

“Um,” Henry laughs, clearly unsure if she’s just kidding or not. “It’s not real, so no. I mean, we all want to believe we have a soulmate out there, but the reality is that we’ll probably never know who we’re meant to be with, if anyone.”

 

“Right,” Emma says, kicking herself for even asking, but she can’t shake the feeling that there’s something in Henry’s books that she’s missing. If she has any other theories, she doesn’t voice them, choosing to just roll with the conversation as she should have from the beginning, and learn more about who this version of Henry is while also letting him get to know her.

 

It doesn’t mean she doesn’t listen for other clues to breaking the curse though, or trying to discern whether or not her son has any particles of belief. He is the truest believer after all, but she realizes too soon that he doesn’t know or believe any of it, claiming that fairy tales can be a great source of hope, but otherwise don’t hold as much value true to life.

 

If only he knew .

 

“You know,” he starts as their conversation comes to a close, “you look just like how I imagined this character of mine looked.”

 

“Which one?” Emma says, holding back a snort as she remembers imagining herself in each of his books, in Emaline’s position, in Emma the character’s, in Swan’s, and in Anna’s. She wouldn’t be surprised if the same trend continued in the two remaining books, as well.

 

“A lot of them?” Henry answers with an easy laugh. “I don’t know, but you have a similar quality to one half to the pairs I write about. Emmaline, Anna, Emily…and Emma, of course. Odd considering you have the same name.” He pauses for another moment in thought before asking, “What’d you say your last name was again?”

 

“Swan,” Emma answers, almost breathless.

 

“Huh,” Henry mutters. “That’s so weird, isn’t it.”

 

“What about Roni?” Emma hears herself asking, before she can stop herself. “Does she remind you of any of your characters?”

 

Henry’s brow furrows in thought as he looks down, considering Emma’s question before meeting her eyes again. “Actually…yeah, she does.” Emma swears she stops breathing in the next moments of silence that follow. She breathes out a ragged breath before Henry asks, “How do you two know each other again?”

 

It’s almost more than Emma can take, and she just shrugs it off, glancing at her phone, looking for an escape. “We just met recently, actually. I’m sorry, but I should go. I forgot about this, uh, thing .”

 

If Henry knows he’s being lied to, he doesn’t let on, and their conversation ends as smoothly as it started, given the circumstances, and Emma gets an Uber back to the hotel as soon as she can, crashing onto the bed the second she steps through the door, too overwhelmed to consider doing anything else with her time. But, of course, she needs to head over to the bar before it gets too late. The last thing she wants to do is upset a Regina who doesn’t remember, or let their growing connection take a hit, especially not when she’s sure she can still break this curse.

 

As if the woman knew , Emma’s phone lights up with a message from Roni. Hey, how’s it going? Miss you xx

 

Emma catches herself smiling at the message, but even after she realizes, she can’t seem to wipe the expression clean. Eventually it’s what drives her to walk over to the bar, grinning as she meets the bartender’s eyes only seconds after stepping through the door.

 

“Hey,” Roni says as she drops all priorities in favor of greeting Emma at the blonde’s usual spot. “How was your day?”

 

“It was good,” Emma answered. “I finished the pirate book last night, which meant I slept in late,” she confesses with a laugh. “And I actually talked to Henry earlier.” She had debated on not telling the other woman, but she eventually decided that it would be better to mention it now in case she heard it from Henry later.

 

The bartender gives her a pleasant smile. “How was that?”

 

“It was good. I think we’ll be great friends,” Emma says. “I didn’t know he was in the system like I was.”

 

“You were?” Roni asks, and Emma nods once.

 

“It’s no big deal. Anyway, he was telling me about his book that was a big hit, kind of his claim to fame? Have you read that one?”

 

To Break Denial ? Yeah, it’s really good. You should definitely check it out next. I know you’re reading them in order by publication, but maybe you can reconsider.”

 

“Actually, I’m not. Not anymore,” Emma corrects. “I read the soulmate one this morning.”

 

“Ah, so that was the important thing you had to do this morning,” the brunette teases with a quirk of her eyebrow. Emma blushes, wanting to defend herself, but before she can, the bartender’s beautiful laugh makes all her defenses drop. “It’s okay. I’ll definitely excuse it this time, because that book is amazing. What’d you think?”

 

As if the blonde hadn’t learned anything she responds, “I wish that kind of thing would happen in real life. The magic behind soulmates sounds stronger than anything this world already has to offer. We could really use something like that.”

 

For a moment, Roni is speechless, but she breaks into a wide smile soon after. “Oh, we could , could we?”

 

“I mean,” Emma stutters, “I don’t necessarily mean we as in you and me, maybe just we as in humanity?” Her voice is unsure and squeaky, and she fears that it’ll still sound like that long after she’s cleared her throat. The other woman doesn’t seem to mind.

 

“I know what you mean. Sometimes I wish I had a soulmate out there who could come and save me from this fate of pouring drinks and scrubbing countertops all day.”

 

The confession knocks the breath from Emma’s lungs, and it’s all she can do to hold herself together for the rest of the evening. The second blow to her emotional state comes later that night, her brain unable to stop the thoughts of being the one to save Regina—the thought of what if we are soulmates?

 

It seems unlikely, for one, that soulmates could even exist, but in all the past times she’d doubted the existence of magic, she had been proven wrong time and time again. Being the sole believer on the west coast, she can’t afford to be a skeptic again, and it’s this that drives her to do research later that night, opening her laptop and heading to google to research soulmates.

 

It takes her a few tries as she searches soulmates , are soulmates real , soulmate connections , and other similar things, but eventually she finds a link to a Tumblr post titled, Master List of Soulmate AUs. Her attention is immediately caught as she skims through the list, marvelling at how creative some of these possibilities are and how many exist.

 

Once she gets past her initial interest, Emma starts to read more closely, looking for any possible soulmate connection she could unknowingly be sharing with Regina.

 

She decides it can’t be something written, drawn, or tattooed because that’s something she would have noticed. (Though she won’t deny that she did a thorough search of her own body just to ensure she hasn’t missed anything.)

 

“Changed Vision” is another option she rules out, as her vision has remained the same since arriving in town and talking to Regina, and she notes the same goes for “changed physical features.” It had taken some thought, but she figured that any soulmate bond they share, shouldn’t be affected by Regina’s curse amnesia, especially not if it’s the key to breaking the curse, which, Emma still hopes it is.

 

Without magic, she discredits all the ideas listed under “Different Abilities,” since there hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary, but when she gets to “Sharing,” she holds her breath. It could easily be any of these options, and Emma would have no idea without texting Roni and asking her. So she does.

 

How are you feeling right now? | Fine, except that I wish you were here xx

 

Me, too. What song is stuck in your head right now, or are you singing one? | Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac, and no I wasn’t singing it. Would you like me to?

 

Or pick a different one and let’s see if I can guess it. | Alright, I’ve got it. Guess.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody? | Nope, You Shook Me All Night Long. ACDC

 

Damn. Okay. Are you feeling fidgety right now? | Not really. Emma, you ask some weird questions lol.

 

Yeah, sorry. Did you have a good day today? | No. Work kicked my ass. And I didn’t get to see my favorite person very much ;)

 

I can come by tomorrow? You wouldn’t happen to have a crack in your phone screen, would you? | No, not all of us are as clumsy as you are

 

Fair. What’s your current heart rate? | Are you worried about my health? It’s 67 right now, but I’m sure you could make it go higher ;) What’s yours?

 

Emma checks her Fitbit. 108.

 

It’s only like, 72. Have you lost anything recently? | Other than socks in the dryer? No.

 

What are you drinking right now? | Come on, Emma. You know the answer to this.

 

Tequila? | Whisky.

 

Damn, I knew that. Are there any weird smells? | I don’t think so.

 

When Emma looks at the next item on the list, everything you record is sent to your soulmate , she gets a media file from Roni, a video of her singing Rhiannon, and her heart rate raises by at least five BPM.

 

Did you just send me a video? On purpose? | Yeah, you didn’t like it?

 

No, of course I liked it. I was just wondering. | There’s more where that came from. No more weird questions?

 

I’ll let you know if I think of any more. Until then, I’ll see you tomorrow? | Definitely! It’s my day off, so we can do whatever you want. I can show you the city or we can get dinner. I know this really great place, and I’d love to take you out.

 

Her heart rate continues to rise. Is she asking me out? She panics, unsure what to say until she just responds in the affirmative , too afraid to pick up her phone for the rest of the night.

 

It’s a date .

 

Filled with even more gay panic, she does all she can to focus on her research, moving along down the list to the next category, “Communication,” which doesn’t take her long to rule out since she doesn’t have a telepathic connection to Roni, nor has she seen her in her dreams.

 

Moving on to “Restrictions,” Emma freezes up. The first one, it is impossible to lie to your destined soulmate, is easy enough to take out of the running considering Emma is essentially lying to the woman every day, calling her Roni instead of Regina . The second one under this category however, leaves Emma’s blood running cold. Under a curse until you meet your soulmate . Considering she’s met the woman already, she doubts this one could apply, but given that they are under a curse… She keeps the possibility in mind as she continues through the list. Some of them are incredibly specific, such as everyone wears a mask. You get to finally take it off when you meet the one with your identical mask, your soulmate ; impossible to not notice, such as your soulmate is invisible to you until you figure out a certain trigger ; or incredibly depressing, such as only your soulmate can kill you. In the end, Emma moves on, all too aware of how many don’t or can’t apply.

 

“Experiences/Action” is disqualified after a quick skim, all of those things being something Emma would have noticed. Emma groans as she approaches the final category on the list, “Your Soulmate.” With the hopes that it won’t involve asking Roni any more weird questions, she glances through the list, feeling defeated when the item closest to possible is whenever you have a question, your soulmate has the answer , which is only possible because she’s only been asking personal questions. Even then, she’s sure that if she were to ask a question like do you know how to break this curse? it wouldn’t go over well, and Roni wouldn’t have the answer.

 

The last category is “Hints,” which Emma has low to nonexistent hopes when she reads things about red strings and animal guides. She reads if you send off a paper airplane, it shall reach (or move in the direction of) your soulmate , and actually folds one shortly after, throwing it only to have it take a nosedive after only sailing for two seconds in the air.

 

She’s about to lose hope as she nears the end of the list, but on the second to last bullet point, everything changes. You can feel a tug from wherever your soulmate is. These may either be automatic, or have stronger tugs whenever your soulmate is in distress. She nearly squeals with excitement, remembering the feeling she’d had in her chest—a feeling she has right now —a handful of times since deciding to find Regina.

 

Emma is so ecstatic about having found what she believes to be the answer to their predicament that the major factor of the plan doesn’t immediately sink in, but the minute it does, her thoughts begin to spiral. Breaking a curse with your soulmate would likely mean TLK, and the first thought Emma has is wait if I break the curse this way that means we’re soulmates??

 

Obviously , she thinks, kicking herself for having made it this far into her research without actually considering what she was doing, and more importantly, what it meant for her and Regina. She starts to panic when she feels that aching tug in her chest again, wondering if it would lead her to the other woman, or go away when she arrived in her presence, and it all leads her to the next bombshell her mind drops on her. Am I in love with Regina??

 

As she attempts to rationalize everything, from her reactions thus far to Henry’s books and the way she hasn’t been able to get the image of kissing Regina out of her head since she read I Will Always Find You , to Roni’s blatant flirting and the way her body heats up in response. Again, she tries to decide if she’s always had that reaction to the brunette, or if it’s only happened since the woman has been Roni . In the end, she believes it’s always been this way, and she doesn’t know why she’s never noticed it until right now.

 

In a panic, she goes to the last two of Henry’s books, opting to read Truth Can Tell next, because god only knows she could use some truth right about now since she still isn’t totally convinced this is really happening. How could it? Regina being her soulmate is crazy. Right?

 

She opens the book tentatively, nervous for the information this one will provide. Her fears are lessened slightly when she sees that instead of the two protagonists being women, they’re both men; however, it’s all cancelled out when she sees that their names are Emmett and Reggie. Because of course they are.

 

In a way, the book being about two men is easier, because it isn’t like she can just picture herself and Regina like she had in all the other ones, but the situation they find themselves in, under a curse that is suspiciously like Regina’s first dark curse, leaves Emma wondering.

 

In this universe, there isn’t a child that brings the two men together, but she has a feeling that the TLK that will free them from the curse is going to be shared between the two of them. The person who cast the curse, isn’t Reggie, but Reggie’s evil mother Cora. ( There it is, Emma thinks with a sardonic laugh.) The scheme was her attempt to control Reggie’s life; she didn’t want her son being with the man he chose for himself, Emerson.

 

Their cursed selves share the same names as their previous selves, and Emma finds herself getting more attached to the two protagonists than she had anticipated.  She found herself rooting for them to break the curse almost as much as she’s rooting for she and Regina to do the same. She fights back a blush at the thought, wondering what method Emerson and Reggie are going to use.

 

She’s surprised to say the least when one of the men regains his memories after the two of them share an unexpected moment; their hands brush as Emerson passes a mug of coffee to Reggie. It’s fortunate that Reg is the one to gain his memories back, as he’s the one who has experience in magic, though unfortunate as he was the one the curse was intended for in the first place.

 

It takes a lot of sneaking around and evading his mother while also digging through her supplies, but eventually he manages to collect the ingredients he needs and an ample source of magic to create a truth serum, which he intends to use on Emerson in the hopes that it’ll lead to TLK.

 

It’s a solution Emma never would have thought of, and she vigorously reads on, hanging onto every word as Emerson sips his drink containing the serum, and the two fall into a completely honest conversation. Emerson tells Reggie that he had felt as though something was off, like he didn’t belong where he was now. He talks about having dreams from a place where magic was real, where he was in love with someone whose face he couldn’t remember, and eventually, the two men come together, their lips meeting in an ultimate confession, breaking Cora’s curse once and for all.

 

As with all of Henry’s books, love wins, and they end up together, the town dealing with Cora as they see fit, which mostly means banishment by magic through a portal she can never return from. It warms Emma’s heart, not just because they did it, but because she’s sure she can do it as well. She feels more hope in this moment than she has in a long time.

 

But there’s only one problem.

 

She doesn’t know how to make a truth serum.

 

As she had with the soulmate theory, she does research. Anything that involves magic , she thinks she won’t be able to pull off, as she hasn’t been able to make it work here nor does she know how. However, when she finds something that is considered a real scientific truth serum, she actually starts to get giddy. At least until she looks into it more. Sodium thiopental is a chemical that has believed to function as a truth serum, affecting parts of the brain that give people their reserves and making them more pliable when injected.

 

Emma shuts this plan down for multiple reasons. One being that she doesn’t know how she would ever convince Roni to inject it. Two because it’s used in lethal injections. And three because it honestly just sounds more risky than anything.

 

She groans to herself, wishing she could just ask Regina. The brunette would definitely know how to help her if she had her memories, but asking her now that she doesn’t remember? Once again, Emma doubts that would go over well. But then again, they could be soulmates. Emma leans back as she considers it. She remembers the item on the soulmate list— whenever you have a question, your soulmate has the answer —and thinks what if I did ask Roni? What’s the worst that could happen?

 

She decides that she’s going to find out tomorrow. If anything, she can just pass it off as some sort of game. With that plan in mind, she gets ready for bed, her stomach fluttering with anticipation for tomorrow.

 

Before she drifts off, she checks her phone one last time. She has a message from Roni awaiting her.

 

Can’t wait <3 .

 

Emma falls asleep with a smile on her face.

 

The next morning, Emma is still smiling when she wakes up. She has a good feeling about today, hoping that everything will fall into place, just like it did in Henry’s books. As she gets ready to meet up with Roni, she realizes she has one book left to read, but it can wait until the curse is broken. Maybe Regina and I can read it together , she muses, hoping that the books wouldn’t disappear altogether once Henry’s memories came back and reality was restored. She didn’t think they would, but she put the last book in her bag anyways.

 

The plan for today is to meet Roni after lunch outside the bar. From there she’s going to walk Emma around parts of the city, showing her all her favorite places until their dinner reservation at seven-thirty. Part of Emma is most excited about dinner, but also the most nervous. She’d spent plenty of one on one time with the bartender, but often during those times, Roni had been working. This time, she would have her undivided attention, and Emma isn’t entirely sure what to do with that.

 

The other thing she isn’t sure about, that might even matter more than the dinner reservation itself, is what is to come after dinner. She’s almost positive that it isn’t going to be an early night, that they will likely end up at Roni’s for a nightcap, but what that means for the two of them, Emma can’t say. Nevertheless, like Roni, she can’t wait.

 

The air outside is brisk as Emma steps outside of the motel, and all she can think as she walks is that this is perfect first date weather. Not that this is a first date of course, Emma thinks as she laughs to herself. It’s not like she can control the weather, anyway, even if it seems to be rooting for her.

 

She hadn’t known what to wear, so she went with her signature look, tight jeans and her red leather jacket, which she hadn’t worn since being in the city. She thinks Roni might like it, even if she knows Regina doesn’t, and even then, if she’s going to break this curse tonight, she would love nothing more than to hear Regina complaining about her choice of dress.

 

When she gets to the bar, Roni is waiting for her, as promised, wearing her own leather jacket. It’s black, and Emma feels her cheeks warm at the sight. She can’t deny that the woman looks good in leather, and she tells her so when she approaches.

 

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Roni says as she steps forward to greet Emma, pressing a light kiss to her cheek that sends Emma’s heart racing. “Ready to go?”

 

The start of their evening was tense with unspoken words between them, but enjoyable nonetheless. Most of the places Roni wants to show her are within walking distance of the bar, so they stroll along together, arms linked, while Emma listens to the woman tell stories of a life she never really lived. Even though she’s hearing fake memories from a cursed personna, Emma still feels like she’s getting to know the woman at her side, whether she’s talking to Regina or Roni.

 

By the time they get to dinner, Emma feels buzzed just from the brunette’s presence, and her thoughts continue to flicker back from the previous night when it dawned on her that Regina could be it for her. Her soulmate . Her chest seems to glow with warmth as she listens to the woman across from her talk, just telling ridiculous work stories and the woes of food service, and she thinks back to the ache in her chest when she’d realized Regina hadn’t remembered her. She’s sure she’s getting close.

 

Emma has to fight Roni for the bill when their meal comes to a close, arguing that the woman had given her so many free drinks that this was the least she could do. She manages to pay the bill without any further interference from Roni, and she quirks a brow at the other woman’s pout. “What are you gonna do about it?” Emma asks.

 

“Make you pay for it.”

 

“Looks like I already did,” Emma says with a grin as their server brings the book back over. Emma leaves an excellent tip and signs, before standing and taking Roni’s hand in hers, pulling her up.

 

“Such chivalry,” Roni murmurs, standing close enough that Emma can’t tell if she feels hot due to the wine they’d had at dinner or because of the brunette’s proximity. In the end, she decides she doesn’t care as she leads Roni from the restaurant.

 

“If you knew my parents, you’d understand,” Emma replies, the joke being lost on Roni, but hilarious to Emma. “They’re a lot like the characters in I Will Always Find You ,” Emma offers as an explanation at Roni’s curious look.

 

“Emma and Regina?” she clarifies, and Emma’s heart jumps at the sound of those two names together in that voice. She isn’t sure what to answer though, since she doesn’t think she and Regina have much in common with her parents, so she shrugs. “Those two are relationship goals. Don’t you think?”

 

The blonde laughs. “Uh, yeah. They’re a good archetype, I guess.”

 

Likely sensing her hesitation, Roni switches gears by asking, “Well, which of Henry’s characters do you relate to the most?”

 

The question isn’t what Emma is expecting, and since she related to all of them in her own way, she doesn’t have an immediate reply. She thinks about Emmaline and her fight to win over the princess in a heteronormative world, Emma who woke her true love when all hope should have been lost, Swan who got caught up with the wrong man but found happiness despite his efforts against her, Emerson who couldn’t remember but wanted to believe he deserved better than what life offered him, and Anna who took so many risks just to meet the woman she had fallen for.

 

She hasn’t answered yet when Roni asks, “Have you read To Break Denial yet?”

 

Emma’s laugh is nervous as she responds, “That’s the only one I haven’t read.”

 

“I think it’s my favorite,” Roni softly admits. Emma gets the feeling this isn’t information she’s disclosed to too many people. “I know it’s his most popular book, and I don’t have much in common with the story or either protagonist, but something about it just overwhelms me. Maybe with hope, maybe with desire… I don’t know.”

 

The brunette laughs, almost as a dismissal, and Emma stops walking to turn and face the other woman. They’re almost outside the bar, but Emma doesn’t mind standing in the chilly air for just a moment longer to talk to the woman in front of her. “You’re just making me want to read it more,” she confesses with a laugh. “Sometimes I think it’s the most unexpected things that have the most impact, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes we aren’t sure what we feel or what we want, and that’s okay, too. The most we can ask for is to be happy, and as long as you are, who cares what got you there, or who cares what people think. I-”

 

Emma falters, suddenly aware of how close they’re standing, and how close she is to just collapsing emotionally into the other woman, but somehow even more aware of how she doesn’t want the night to end right here.

 

“You what?” Roni breathes, and Emma blushes.

 

“Do you want to go inside? It’s a little cold out here,” she says, feeling a little embarrassed by the request, but all of that soon fades when Roni all but tugs her to the bar entrance, unlocking the door before shuffling Emma inside.

 

The air around them suddenly feels different, as though everything has changed, and the buzzing warmth coursing through Emma’s body seems to come full force as she takes in the stillness of the dark, empty bar around them. It’s the first time the two have been really and truly alone together since Emma’s arrival in Seattle, and now that it’s happening, Emma doesn’t know whether to be more terrified or excited.

 

Her heart feels like it’s throbbing in her chest, and she finds herself thinking about soulmates again, which reminds her: “Do you know how to make a truth serum?” she asks while she still has the courage to do so.

 

Roni laughs like Emma’s just told a joke, but she doesn’t say anything to shoot it down. Instead she responds like she’s playing along. “A truth serum, huh? Lucky for you, I have everything you need right here.” And really, Emma is too stunned that Roni actually has the answer, qualifying them for another possibility on the list of soulmate AUs, to realize that she’s just referring to alcohol, mixing them each a drink behind the bar before leading them to the couch across the room.

 

“There’s your truth serum,” Roni says with a wink, passing the drink as Emma leans into the couch. Roni sits next to her, and there’s enough room on the rest of the couch that lets the blonde know she sat as close as she did on purpose. A leg hooks over Emma’s, and it’s warm through Emma’s jeans. She rests a hand atop Roni’s thigh, itching for closeness but not knowing how to achieve it. “What do you need to be honest about?” Roni asks, biting the straw in her drink as she does,

 

Emma shrugs. “Tonight’s been a lot of fun,” she says as she sips from her own drink. It’s strong, and she can’t hide the expression on her face as she notices. “Are you trying to get me drunk?” she laughs, unconsciously leaning closer to Roni.

 

“Maybe,” the bartender shrugs. “You never told me who you most related to. Don’t think I forgot.”

 

The blonde takes a few sips of her drink as she thinks about it. Is there really one that stands out more than the others? How much should she share about why and how she can relate? In the end, she starts answering before she’s even made up her mind, which only makes her wonder if there’s more to this truth serum than alcohol? She has a moment of panic when she wonders if Regina actually does remember, and she’s just been playing along this whole time. Is that possible? Could we have already broken the curse?

 

“I think I relate to Anna the most,” Emma answers, wondering as she does if that isn’t the most correct answer. She’d thought for sure it would be Swan, but she surprises herself.

 

“Does that have anything to do with your impromptu trip to Seattle?” Roni asks her, the woman’s breath hitting Emma’s ear close enough to make her shiver.

 

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I think a part of me just wants to believe the world is as simple as having a soulmate, and just knowing who they are, without too many feelings or thoughts getting in the way. I’d like to think we all have someone out there that will choose us, and nothing we could do or say would disrupt that.”

 

Roni hums as she scoots closer to Emma, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear, and Emma leans into her, feeling as though she might explode if she doesn’t kiss her soon. The thought is almost sobering, but even more than that, it’s intoxicating, more so than the drink in her hand. She sets it down, and Roni’s shortly follows, more empty than Emma’s was.

 

“Roni, I…” Emma starts, unsure what to say. Her heart feels like it’s going a thousand miles a minute as they move closer, their lips so close that Emma can almost taste Roni as she looks into her dark eyes, growing darker by the minute.

 

Suddenly something clicks, and Emma knows that words don’t hold the answer she’s been looking for but actions, and when she brings her hand up to graze Roni’s cheek, brushing the skin until her fingers are tangled in the woman’s soft curls, she’s never felt more sure of anything.

 

At first, it’s soft when their lips meet. It’s hesitant and unsure, but it doesn’t take long before Roni is pulling herself closer to Emma, a hand tangled in her hair, and another on the lapel of her red leather jacket, trying to pull her as close as possible. Emma releases a soft moan into the womans mouth, never knowing how bad she wanted this until the very second it was happening, and she relishes the feel of the brunette against her until the woman leans back, whimpering Emma’s name before leaning in to kiss her again.

 

“Emma,” she says again, and her voice sounds so full of desire that Emma wonders nothing else but what she can do to evoke that sound again. She leans in to kiss the woman again, softly biting her lower lip as one of her hands meets the bare skin of Roni’s waist. Her breath hitches. “Emma,” the brunette says once more, halting Emma in her tracks. It’s the same voice , the same body, but something about this time is different.

 

It’s Regina.

 

It’s not Roni, but Regina , and Emma pulls back in surprise. Her body is still buzzing from the exhilaration of kissing Regina, but the other woman’s body language has shifted. Her legs are still draped over Emma’s and she still has a hand tangle in blonde locks, but the rest of her is suddenly guarded as she leans away, an almost fearful look in her eyes.

 

“Regina?” Emma whispers, moving closer as she does, but Regina flinches further back. Her eyes are dilated and she’s staring at Emma as if the woman is a hallucination, so the blonde just remains still, waiting to see how the woman will react. Only moments pass before she finally shifts, moving her legs from Emma’s lap and pulling away, going so far as to stand and pace, a hand running through her own hair before Emma gently prompts again. “Regina?”

 

“Don’t.” the brunette says, flinching again as if she’s afraid Emma is going to pull her back in. “I just—I need to cool off. I don’t fully understand what is going on.”

 

“I do,” Emma starts before Regina silences her with a simple hand motion.

 

“Not now, Miss Swan.”

 

Where Emma thought she’d be relieved to hear to hear those words, she just feels hollow, like she’d messed up as she had countless times before, for far less stupid things than kissing Regina Mills. She shrinks back into the couch, not sure if she should wait or just leave, but when the brunette doesn’t so much as sit back down or even look at her, Emma decides she should just go.

 

“I’ll be at my motel, assuming you remember where that is,” Emma says, and it sounds harsher than she ever meant for it to be, but her heart aches so much right now that she doesn’t bother with apologies. Instead she just slips out the door, bursting into tears sooner than she would like on her way back to her room.

 

Before she falls asleep, her phone goes off, and she reaches for it, hoping that it’s Regina telling her to come back, but instead, it’s Henry, who has also remembered everything. Ma? it reads, I love you, and I miss you, and I’m sorry.

 

It only makes her cry harder.

 

The next morning is tougher than the last few.

 

For one, when she finally peels her eyelids open and stretches her muscles before relaxing against the motel’s stiff mattress, the first thing she thinks about is the good moments of the night before. All the times before she’d escorted herself out, and she smiles at the feeling of Regina’s lips, warm and soft against hers before she remembers—

 

Regina.

 

The curse .

 

She jumps out of bed, scrambling to get herself together before coming up with a game plan. Her phone tells her that the woman still hasn’t messaged her, but their son has, multiple times, ranging from Ma, can I please come talk to you to Have you heard from mom?

 

It tells her everything she needs to know, which is that the brunette is likely still holed up, ignoring everything around her. She texts Henry before she even knows what to say to Regina: Let me talk to her first, okay kid?

 

He responds immediately, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night due to worrying about the two of them. You two broke the curse together, didn’t you?

 

It doesn’t take much to know that Henry knows what happened, and she responds to him in the affirmative before providing the follow up, That’s why I think I should talk to her. I’ll text you when I have it all worked out.

 

She’s already decided to ignore her phone and go find Regina when she hears it go off again. Out of habit, she glances at it as she switches it onto vibrate, only hesitating when she sees Henry’s last message. Have you read To Break Denial yet? I think you should. I already told Mom to read it again. Emma hesitates, thinking about Henry’s books for the first time since breaking the curse.

 

She pulls the final one from her bag, where she’d left it since the previous night, and her breath catches in her throat when her eyes land on the cover she’d first seen when she’d bought all of Henry’s books—the picture of the mayor and the sheriff, similar enough to her and Regina to give her pause.

 

She carries the book with her as she sits back down on the bed and remembers the previous night when Roni had talked to her about how she found some connection to this book above the others for a reason inexplicable to her, and Emma wonders if it has something to do with the mayor’s underlying feelings, just as it might have something to do with her own.

 

Before she can think to text the other woman, she’s lost in the story of the book, falling in love with the son, Harry, who went out of his way to bring his birth mother back to the small town he hailed from, believing that the two of them belonged together and could break the curse his mom, the mayor, had placed upon the town.

 

Emma reads along as Emily Goose , her clear counterpart in the novel, worries about her birth son and tries to play along. She’s skeptical enough about the mayor to stick around, going so far as to become a deputy until the Sheriff passes away due to a suspicious heart attack, at which point, she runs for Sheriff and wins, much to the dismay of Mayor Gina Miller.

 

In the novel, there’s a clear turning point between the two women when their son gets lost in the mines, and Emily has to risk her life in order to save him. They aren’t immediately on the same page, but there’s just enough tension for it to be a game changer.

 

Despite that, their fights don’t cease, and they only seem to get worse the more their son brings them together, until one day, Madam Mayor, who has actually been the former Evil Queen all this time, has had enough, and she uses whatever magic she has left to poison an apple and bake it into an apple turnover, meant to be consumed by Emily. Unfortunately, their son eats it instead, which leaves the boy in a coma in the hospital, dying by no cause the doctor can identify.

 

Both of the mothers cry by his bed, cherishing what they believe will be their final moments with Harry, until one of them, Emily, catches sight of their son’s storybook in his book bag, dropped unceremoniously in the corner of the room. Without thinking, she tugs the mayor up from her chair next to the bed, grabs the storybook, and leads them to an empty hospital room nearby.

 

It’s not until she drops the book onto the bed that she realizes that she remembers everything. She feels a flash of anger at the woman next to her for a moment before she shakes her head, her brows furrowed as she asks, he was right, wasn’t he? It’s all real?

 

The mayor crumbles as she admits that the Sheriff has it all figured out, nodding in resignation as she watches Emily work through the solution that the mayor hasn’t recognized yet.

 

If we break the curse, we can save him , she says, and the mayor falters, unsure of how to break her own curse other than true love , but before she can admit that, Emily pulls the other woman close to her and presses their lips together, triggering a burst of rainbow magic to spread across the town.

 

They stay locked together like that until they hear shouts of surprise from the other room, where they dash in to see their son sitting up in bed, perfectly healthy. They both run over to him, pulling him into their arms together , and promising him that they will never let anything happen to him. That they’ll be a family . Knowing what has happened without either of them having to say it, he beams up at them, happy about everything that has led them to this moment.

 

By the end, Emma can’t decide if her heart aches because the book made her feel so much or because she misses Regina. For once, her feelings are clearer than ever, but unlike Emily or any of her other character counterparts, Emma doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. In a moment of panic, Emma leaves her motel room, heading straight for the coffee shop she and Henry had gone to only days ago, hoping he would somehow be there.

 

“Emma,” he calls out the second she walks in. He motions over to her before passing her a drink that smells suspiciously like hot cocoa with cinnamon, and she takes it willingly. “I asked them to add a shot of espresso because I thought you could use it. And sorry for calling you Emma. We just look the same age now, so…”

 

She shrugs as she takes a sip of her drink. “Yeah don’t forget that I completely understand what that’s like,” she murmurs as she meets Henry’s eyes. “I kissed your mom. And I just finished your book.”

 

Henry laughs once, “It’s weird, right? I mean, it’s not weird ,” he corrects, quickly backtracking. “I just can’t believe I wrote all those under the curse. And they’re all about you and mom.”

 

“Have you always known?” she asks him.

 

Her son surprises her by saying, “I think I did. I just didn’t know how to make it happen. With the first curse, I always thought it would happen like it did in To Break Denial . After that, everything kept having an alternate way to work itself out. Then Hook happened, and I just forgot that wasn’t the way things were meant to be.”

 

Emma nods along with him, completely understanding what he means. She senses that he’s hesitating even before he opens his mouth, closing it again before saying, “I want to show you something.” The crease in her eyebrows deepens as she watches Henry rummage through his messenger bag before producing what looks like another book. He hesitates once more before passing it to her. “This is the manuscript for my next book. It’s set to be published tomorrow . I finished it about a week before you got here, and it’s… Maybe you should just see for yourself.”

 

She’s nervous as she takes the manuscript in her hands. From One Place to Another , it’s called, and on the cover are two figures that remind her of two of Henry’s other characters.

 

“It’s a sequel to To Break Denial. It was so popular, and so many people asked if I could continue their story, so I did. The funny thing is that this is the story.”

 

Emma glances up to see that Henry isn’t gesturing to the book in her hands, but to the space around them, the space between them, and the space between where they and Regina are. “When you came to talk to me the other day, something about it felt so familiar, but I couldn’t figure it out, but last night, when I remembered, when you and Mom…” he trails off, unsure if it would be a good idea to bring that up or not before taking a deep breath. “That’s when I got it. I knew. I stayed up last night reading it over again, and I knew I had to show you.”

 

“Should I read it?” Emma asks.

 

Henry shakes his head, “Honestly, you don’t need to. You’ve already lived most of it. But ,” he chuckles. “You might want to check out the last chapter. That is, if you don’t mind spoilers.”

 

“I…” Emma starts, opening the book toward the end. Her eyes land on the moment where Emily kisses Gina, realizing that this is all she’s ever wanted, only to be pushed away by a woman too shocked and too in love and too embarrassed to deal with the situation, and she closes the book, handing it back to Henry as she hurries to stand. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later, kid.”

 

Emma doesn’t hesitate as she leaves the coffee shop, heading toward Regina the same way Anna had gone toward Raine and the same way Emily probably ran to Gina down the streets of Seattle, but this time she doesn’t need Henry’s books to validate her actions.

 

She’s out of breath by the time she reaches the bar, and given the circumstances, she isn’t surprised to see the closed sign against the window, but she ignores it and opens the door anyway, grateful that it’s unlocked. The one thing that does surprise her, is that Regina is curled on the couch in the bar where Emma had lat seen her, her fingers mindlessly twirling around a loose piece of fabric.

 

“Regina!” Emma says as she all but runs over. The brunette doesn’t respond or look up at her so Emma gets on her knees to be at the woman’s eye level, silently pleading with her to just look up.

 

“What do you want, Miss Swan?” Regina deadpans, and it takes all Emma has not to deflate at the moniker.

 

She doesn’t know how to fix this, how to make this better, but she’s damn well going to try, giving them both the chance they should have had years ago. “You,” she responds. “I want you , Regina. I… I think I always have,” she softly admits. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath before she continues. “The whole reason this curse even happened is because Killian knew what I wasn’t brave enough to admit. That I love you. And this is all I’ve wanted since getting here is to break this curse. I know I was being stupid like, the whole time, but Regina, you’re it for me. Soulmate or not, I love you, I want you, and I need you.”

 

The silence that follows her confession is long enough to make Emma keep her eyes sealed shut and wish she hadn’t said anything, but when she feels warm hand in hers, pulling her up to sit on the couch, the same place where they’d shared their first kiss, she slowly opens her eyes, smiling when they meet the dark, red-rimmed eyes next to her.

 

“I never said I loved you, you know.”

 

“You didn’t have to,” Emma responds as she places a palm against Regina’s face and leans in, bringing their lips together once again. The fire she’d felt the night before returns full force, building even more when Regina reciprocates the kiss, responding hungrily as she moans into Emma’s mouth.

 

“I can’t believe I’m in love with the biggest idiot in all the realms,” Regina murmurs against Emma’s lips, not willing to part entirely.

 

For her part, Emma doesn’t want to either, but she’s too excited by the words leaving the other woman’s mouth not to question, “You’re in love with me?”

 

“Was that not obvious?” Regina responds, a little derogatory, but mostly out of breath.

 

“I just… wanted to make sure?”

 

“Like I said,” Regina drawls in that Madam Mayor tone of voice Emma had missed so much. “I’m in love with an idiot. Now shut up and kiss me, Miss Swan, or so help me I will—”

 

Emma’s lips crash into Regina’s, and her heart soars.