The first day that Emma Swan remembers, she is barefoot, in nothing but a cotton nightgown that looks straight out of another world, and she is freezing. Her hair is icing over, the wet tendrils hardening in the frigid weather, and she's vaguely aware that she should be worried about her toes, her fingers, any of the exposed flesh that keeps getting colder by the minute. Instead, she focuses on putting one foot in front of the other, trying to push away the pain that shoots through each foot as she breaks twigs and finds sharp stones with her nearly-numb soles.
She stumbles over a root, crying out as she falls to the mud, her hands sinking into the nearly-frozen earth as a sob wracks through her body. Icy water seeps into the cotton under her knees, and it is tempting, so very tempting, to fall the rest of the way, to curl up in the fallen leaves she spies to her left below a sprawling tree, and let the elements take her away from the pain and confusion she's drowning in.
Emma Swan does not, in fact, know that she is Emma Swan. She knows that she is a woman, she is lost in a forest, she is in danger of frostbite, and she is losing hope fast as the daylight sinks closer and closer towards the horizon.
There are voices getting nearer, calling something out, and she's incredibly worried for a moment that they're speaking another language. Her ears are ringing, stopping her from grasping anything besides the sensations she's focused on. Her limbs ache, her head throbs, and a drop of blood lands in the dirt under her; the rest of her mind is utterly blank. It's just weariness and exhaustion blocking the path between her ears and her brain someone is close enough for her to see when she finally looks up.
"Miss, are you okay? Are you hurt?" He's dressed in thick attire, his hands wrapped in warm gloves as he reaches for her. Emma's shaking hand reaches out for him and she keens as her skin meets fabric. It almost burns, this contact between her frigid fingers and this man's protective clothing. A green peridot ring on her middle finger glints in the low light that filters through the leaves, but her attention is quickly pulled away from this discovery when the second person speaks to her.
"Is someone chasing you?" Another man kneels next to her, muttering to himself, "Where the hell did she come from?" as he looks around the woods that surround them.
"P-please," Emma stutters out. "Please, help me." Her eyes meet those of the man kneeling next to her, his expression one of worry for this strange woman he's just found out in the middle of nowhere.
"Come on," the other man says. "We have to get her to the hospital."
It takes nearly no effort at all for them to haul her up, and as soon as her body is aware that something like 'safety' is on its way, she loses consciousness.
The next time Emma Swan is aware of her surroundings, the light of the room she's in is dim but harsh. There's a steady noise to her right that starts speeding up the moment her eyes open to unfamiliar sights, and she blanches at the antiseptic smell in the air. Her extremities all seem to be intact, but her body hurts when she tries to move, which causes the noise to speed up again.
It all starts piling up, more and more, as there's a needle stuck into her arm and tubes stuck in her nose and foliage in her hair and small sticky pads stuck to her chest that she tries to tug at, causing a shrill noise to sound from the machine that was almost soothing before. Emma shrieks without realizing that she's making the noise, and the curtain to her left suddenly swishes away to reveal a gruff looking man with a sour expression, grousing at her to keep it down because some people are trying to sleep.
"Help," Emma manages to say, her hands shaking too much to get a firm grasp on the wires connected to her body and tears starting to flow from her eyes again. The man's brows draw together as he watches her helpless movements, watches the panic rising to her eyes, and he fruitlessly reaches a calming hand out to her.
"Calm down, lady. The nurses will be here in a second. But you gotta breathe, okay?"
She understands nurse, she understands the nature of infirmaries, and it helps calm some of the panic that seems to be clawing at her insides, but everything else is so foreign that the abated anxiety doesn't last long.
"Why don't you tell me your name and where you're from until they get here, okay?"
It's that which finally breaks the dam, and Emma's absent tears turn to full-fledged sobbing as she admits in halting tones that she has no idea. None at all. As far as she knows, she is absolutely no one.
She's sedated through the rest of the night, and when she wakes in the morning, she's groggy and sluggish. Her eyes labor to remain open at any point that someone comes to check on her, and nearly her entire second day of memory is spent sleeping except for when she's fed and someone comes to hum at the papers attached to the board at the foot of her bed.
When she awakens the next day, her head is clearer. She remembers immediately that she's in the hospital, that the monitors she's attached to are keeping track of her heartbeat, and the IV in her arm is keeping her hydrated. She's told repeatedly that she's lucky she didn't get frostbite, and no matter how many times someone inquires as to how she found herself out in the woods, she has no answer for them. She is still, as far as she knows, no one at all. The name on her wristband currently says "Jane Doe," although she knows now that's just what they call someone they have no identification for.
It's somewhere during the course of this day that Emma ventures to use her legs on her own. Any time before when she used the washroom, she was accompanied by someone holding her steady, but her need to use the facilities outweighs the amount of time it would take to call a nurse to her room during this busy time of day. Despite how unused her legs feel, she slowly shuffles from the bed to the bathroom in the corner of the room, smiling in triumph when she's safely ensconced beneath her sheets again.
There, on the table beside her bed, is a small pot of flowers that wasn't there before. Emma turns to the other bed, but remembers that the man that was staying in the room with her was released earlier that morning, so she has no one to ask where they might have come from, or from whom. With a small shrug of her shoulders, Emma leans over and snatches the card that sticks out above the flowers.
Get well soon, dearie.
There's no name to indicate who may have sent them, but the envelope that the small slip of paper was enclosed in has the first real clue she's found in days: her name is Emma Swan.
As soon as she whispers the name out loud, she gasps, her head filling with the knowledge that her name is, in fact, Emma and that she's twenty-five years old. Her birthday is in October, a matter of days prior to the current one, and while the information she remembers stops there, she's relieved to know that she is someone. She has a name and an age and a date of birth, and that's more than she had moments before.
Another day passes, and when Emma wakes up, there's a small plastic bag with an assortment of items inside it. She looks at it curiously, until a nurse appears at her bedside, happily clicking her tongue at whatever she finds there and smiling down at Emma.
"Good afternoon, Miss Swan. Your vitals are all steady, and it looks like you're going to be released today. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any of your belongings from your place, so we have some scrubs for you to change into when you leave, and I've given you a pair of my old sneakers so your poor feet aren't out in that snow! We don't usually see this weather until a little closer to winter, so you're really lucky you didn't freeze to death out there." The nurse putters around her bed, checking various machines and instruments for their readings and writing the numbers down on her charts. She hums quietly and tells her to sit tight for a little longer as she exits the room.
The nurse is gone for less than ten minutes before she returns again, greeting Emma cheerfully once more. "This bag was left at the nurse's station at some point this morning. It looks like some of the items from your wallet, and your keys! Still no wallet found, but hopefully that's something you left at home."
Emma nods, not really sure how else to react. She has a home here, a place where there are things that might spark more of a memory than what she's gained in the last day (which isn't far beyond what she discovered after opening her card). She reaches out for the bag when the woman hands it over, though, and treats each item as a treasure.
There is an identification card, her face smiling in the picture with all of her personal details. There's her birthday and her address, but it also mentions her weight and hair color and eye color, which doesn't produce any new knowledge so she moves along to the next objects. There's another plastic card, this one with her name and a series of numbers printed on it. She's informed that it's a credit card, that if that's how she chooses to pay for her stay that she's welcome to do so. The nurse starts talking about health insurance, which she is clueless about, so she waves the woman away to let her explore in peace.
Not much else comes forth from the contents of the bag, however. Other than the ID and credit card, there's a smattering of cash. The bills and coins all look like they were found out in the woods where she was found, as they're dirty and wrinkled, some of the coins caked in mud. She grimaces, dusting off her fingers the best she can on a corner of the sheet and reaching for the keys. These, too, are a little dirty, but Emma takes the time to wipe them off. There are two keys on the ring, neither with any kind of identification, and she figures she'll just use trial and error when it comes time to use them.
The next nurse who passes by, she asks for a piece of paper and a writing utensil. She still has a few hours until they're going to release her, so she takes her time writing down everything she knows about herself, copying the name and address found on the ID in hopes of committing them to memory.
At some point, she's given a change of clothes, and she helps herself to the tiny shower in the room's bathroom. Emma is positive it's the best thing she's ever felt in her life when the hot water sluices down her body, washing away the remnants of dirt that they didn't get off her from when she was admitted. She works gingerly to wash her hair, avoiding the wound on her forehead that's to blame for her loss in memory.
After a thorough examination and another round of questions she can't answer, she's told she can go home.
When she's officially released, Emma's tattered nightgown is unceremoniously shoved into a plastic shopping bag. She places her belongings in there as well, holding the flower arrangement in the crook of her elbow as she signs her name with an unfamiliar flourish. She's handed a payment booklet, instructions for what to do if she notices any further symptoms that the cold did any damage, and a list of emergency phone numbers to call if she needs help. She's scheduled for a follow-up appointment, as well, to discuss her recovery with the doctor.
"Do you have any friends you can call to stay with you for a while?" a nurse asks. It's not her fault. She's not been there the last couple days that Emma has been staying, so she blushes furiously when Emma answers that she doesn't even know if she has any friends.
A taxi drops her right off at the door to her apartment building, and Emma apologizes profusely as she hands over the grubby money from her bag to pay for it. Thankfully, it's just enough, with a couple extra cents thrown in for a tip. Emma stammers another apology as she clambers from the back of the vehicle, and the man behind the wheel gives her one long-suffering sigh before he drives off once the door is shut.
With a sigh of her own, Emma turns around to look up at the building she apparently lives in. It's five stories, by her count, and the number on her ID starts with a three, so she walks in and heads toward the elevator, pushing the button with a corresponding number and hoping against all other hopes that she's correct in her assumptions.
The door marked '311' is just as much a mystery to her as everything else, but she pulls out the second key. She sends up one more prayer as she tries to turn it, expelling her breath in a half-laugh as the key turns and she twists the knob. She makes sure to latch it again when she's inside, and she leans back against the door before trying to figure out what comes next.
What comes next, it turns out, is a strange adjustment period, where Emma must figure out how to keep herself alive before she can figure out anything else about her life. Food is easy enough. There's a smattering of groceries in the cupboards. The refrigerator is entirely barren, but she's thankful for that. There's no telling how long she was gone and the last thing she wanted to come home to was spoiled food.
Thoughts like those are surprising, whenever they appear. She has no idea how she knows what she does, but it's almost a comfort that some form of muscle memory is at play and that she has instinct to rely on. She spends hours reacquainting herself with various items and their uses in her apartment. She's not brave enough to try cooking food, so she decides to venture out.
She dresses in clothes from her own closet and dressers, finding a bare minimum selection of undergarments to choose from before sliding on a pair of jeans and a cream sweater. She slips on a pair of boots and goes to find a coat and gloves, still not wanting to expose herself much to the weather outside.
When Emma reaches for the keys and credit card she left on the table by the front door, she finds a purse sitting there as well. She swears it wasn't there before, but it has a wallet inside, empty slots for her ID and credit card, plenty of cash, and a medical insurance card. She looks around, trying to figure out where the purse came from, but there's no logical explanation. The bag she brought back with her is still on the kitchen counter where she left it. The flowers are displayed in the middle of the kitchen table, and suddenly she has a purse.
With how disoriented she was when she got in, maybe she just missed it. But she swears she went over every inch and every item. She shakes her head again, clearing it of the confusion trying to build up as she grabs the cards and puts them back in. The strap gets hefted onto her shoulder in a gesture so familiar she'd think she was doing it her whole life, and at least she figures she'll have something new to explore as she eats by herself.
Out in the hall, she almost slams into another person coming or going to their own dwelling, and she's met with an eyeroll as she focuses on the other woman.
"I see you've still not learned to watch where you're going, Miss Swan."
"Sorry," she mutters, moving to edge past this stranger and down the hall to the elevator.
"That's it? No witty comeback? Emma, are you okay?" The other woman raises an eyebrow as she gets a look at Emma's forehead, the bruising around the gash now dark purples, stark against the still pallid color of her skin.
"I uh, I don't know? I don't know anything, though. Do you – well, obviously, you know me. But do I know you? Are we friends?"
The woman stares at her as if she's suddenly grown a second head, her brows furrowing down as her mouth drops open.
"Um, sorry again, I'll just go."
"Emma, wait. It's Regina," the other woman says, raising an eyebrow in question. "My name is Regina. You really don't remember me?"
Instead of verbally confirming this fact again, Emma just shakes her head.
"We've lived next to each other for as long as I can remember. And while I wouldn't call us besties, by any stretch of the imagination, I like to think of us as acquaintances who would call each other if we got injured or something." Even behind the irritation in Regina's voice, there's some level of camaraderie under the surface.
Emma has no idea what 'besties' are, but they must not be very enjoyable by the way Regina's mouth twists around the word. She has no idea what to say in response again, so she just makes an 'o' shape in what she hopes is a non-committal move.
"Why don't I treat for lunch and you can tell me what happened," Regina suggests, changing her course to walk by Emma's side instead of heading for her own apartment.
"And that's it," Emma says as she finishes her, admittedly, extraordinary sounding tale. Regina purses her lips in thought, taking in all the information that's been handed to her and responding in exactly the way Emma has learned Regina responds to things in the very short span of time she's been with her.
"Well, that was stupid of them to let you go from the hospital with little more information than your name and shoe size. Do you need me to talk to Graham about time off?"
"Right. Amnesia." She taps her fingers on the laminate a couple times. "You'll probably need some time off."
"I don't even know what I do for a living," Emma mutters, letting out an exasperated sigh and picking at the food on her plate. She's told it's her favorite, if the proprietress is to be trusted. The grilled cheese sandwich is nothing but crumbs, but she's taking her time with the onion rings on the plate. Beside her elbow is a steaming mug of hot chocolate, a perfect swirl of whipped cream sitting on top and a light dusting of cinnamon covering it.
She watches the whipped cream melt into the warm beverage as Regina chatters on about texting Graham and 'paid time off.' She nods whenever it feels appropriate, and answers the questions that are asked of her, but otherwise Emma remains silent for the rest of the meal. She dips a finger into the last remaining peak of cream and brings it to her mouth, but almost bites her own finger off when Regina yanks her hand towards her.
"I don't remember seeing this before," she says, a sly smile on her lips as she eyeballs the ring that Emma has yet to take off.
"It was my mother's," Emma says quickly, knowing nothing about lying but the words at least sound plausible coming out of her mouth. Emma withdraws her hand immediately, dropping it to her lap and turning a little pink. She shrugs, her head tilting to the side before she looks down at the glinting jewel. A sense of warmth spreads through her, a smile just beginning to form on her lips, even if she doesn't know why. All she knows is that she's calmer than she's been in hours. "So about getting time off from work?" Emma says soon after, wanting to draw attention away from things she can't explain.
There's a big to-do when Regina mentions something about Graham texting her, and she looks like a lost soul again, but the other woman quickly brushes it off, saying that they'll just have to get her a new phone when they leave the diner.
The next half hour is spent picking out a phone and programming the key numbers into it. Regina tells her as she's cautiously typing that the number for the police department is also her number for work. If Emma had an idea of what 'too much money' was, she would guess it's how much she pays for the small device in her hands, her eyes popping wide at the amount. Again, it all must be knowledge from her past that leads the reactions because the piece of plastic in her hand is arbitrary, as far as she's concerned, and so she hands it over and signs when told.
They walk back to the apartment complex, thankfully right down the street, and on the way they pass the clock tower above the library, and it chimes loudly.
"So strange," Regina comments as they keep walking, with Emma doing her best to keep up with the other woman's brisk pace. "That thing hasn't worked in ages, but it started working a couple days ago out of the blue. No one knows why, or what was wrong with it."
"Yeah, strange," Emma comments back, even though she has no idea what's up or down in this world.
Emma goes to bed that night straddling the line between aware and confused. She knows more than she did when she woke up, but she's left with so many more questions. Regina assured her before she closed her door that Emma could call her or Graham if she needed anything, but how is Emma even supposed to know what she needs?
A noise of exasperation leaves her as she runs her fingers through her hair. Tomorrow is another day, and she's hoping she has more answers than questions at the end of it.
A week after she's released from the hospital, Emma returns to have her follow-up appointment with one Dr. Victor Whale. From what she can tell, and her instincts seem to be pretty accurate, the guy is a creep, but a harmless one at that.
First comes her physical health, which mostly consists of him poking and prodding at the healing cut on her forehead. The bruises are all fading, she's eating and sleeping so her complexion looks better, and thanks to her scare in the woods, Emma has taken to carefully layering and paying fanatical attention to the weather channel.
Her mental health is a whole different story.
"Have you remembered anything new?" Dr. Whale asks as he checks the rest of her vitals.
Emma tries hard to not blink as he shines a light in her eyes. "Not much. I stopped by the police department to meet with Graham about some time off after I was released, and things like what I do for a living came back to me."
"How about anything to do with how you ended up in the woods the morning of October 25?"
"No, but there are some days I dream that I'm wandering the woods again, and I wake up feeling like everything is tilted on its side. Does that sound weird?"
"Not really, no. Especially after what must have been a doozy of a birthday party if you've lost all your memories in the aftermath," Whale says. He's joking, his grin stretching wide across his lips, and Emma tries to fake one back at him even though she's still stuck with that churning feeling in her gut that says something isn't quite right. Not with Whale – at least, not directly with him – but with this whole situation. "Well, Emma. You're in top shape, physically. I'm going to recommend you start seeing Dr. Hopper to see if you can't unlock those memories. Whatever you went through, your mind has decided to lock them up tight. I'll see you back here in six months for your check-up."
It takes time for Emma to feel comfortable in her own skin. The bi-monthly trips to Dr. Hopper help on some level. Mostly, he's good at uncovering her memories from childhood. They spent the entire first session going over her current mood and mindset, and even though the good psychiatrist knows that she can't remember anything prior to the hospital, he's still taking the time to poke around what he claims is her past.
"So, your file tells me that you were in and out of the foster system as a child," Dr. Hopper starts during their second session. "What can you remember about that?"
"I don't really…" Suddenly, her brain feels as if it was submerged in ice water, and a shiver works all the way down her spine. She blinks a couple times, partly to gain her wits and to also clear the tears that have gathered in the corners of her eyes. "I remember… Feeling lonely, a lot."
"You're remembering something?" The excitement in his tone is subtle, but Emma can still pick up on it. "Don't push yourself, but tell me anything you can."
"Um, okay," Emma says, her voice shaky. She takes advantage of the glass of water that Dr. Hopper poured for her at the start of their session, and when she speaks again, her voice is stronger. "I remember some older kids taunting me about being an orphan. I can't see their faces or remember how old I was, but they told me that I was found on the side of the road out by the woods."
"This is progress, Emma. Good job. Take it slow and tell me as much as you can remember."
Icy chill after chill races down her spine that day as Emma digs through her memories, with the help of Dr. Hopper's limited notes on her past, and she remembers more of her early life than she thought she ever could. There's the sparse bedroom with the hand-me-down toys and second-hand clothes. There's the slow gait she would use when wandering the halls of the school, wondering if the number of steps she takes are greater or lesser than the amount of days until she's shuffled to another foster home.
There's the feeling of packing up her meager belongings time and time again, the expressions of pity on the faces of adults as she's put into the backseat of a car and taken back to the group home. Again, and again, and again.
"How about we save the rest for our next appointment?"
With relief, Emma nods, gathering her stuff and making an appointment for two weeks to the day.
She's continually asked if she remembers how she got in the woods, and with each appointment that the memories don't return, Emma's tone gets sharper and sharper. They stop asking after she goes in for her six month checkup with Dr. Whale, and he makes the mistake of inquiring if she recalls that moment.
"That day in the woods then, anything new that you remember?"
"Listen, can we assume unless I specifically mention it that I currently don't remember that day in the woods? Is that something we can agree on for the time being? If I remember anything, I'll tell you."
Across the room, Dr. Whale taps the folder containing his notes on Emma against the counter and pastes on a grin. "Noted. Looks like you're all good to go. Call us if you notice anything and continue your sessions with Dr. Hopper as long as you feel you need them."
Looking just slightly put off, he exits the room, and Emma heaves a sigh of relief. It's been six months, but she's finally starting to feel like a normal, functioning member of society here in Storybrooke. These appointments are the only things still dragging her through the wringer of the past, because work has been going well, she's figuring out a system in her home life, and she got behind the wheel of the car that Regina claims is hers. To say that the first time trying to drive was rough would be an understatement, and she's sure Regina has other words for how that little adventure went that would include "hazard" and "whiplash," she's sure.
But just as the wind is likely to shift without notice, so does Emma's life, although she doesn't realize it at the time and still won't for a while.
It all starts when she falls into bed hours after she meant to, reaching sleep just as the streetlights outside are considering winking off and the sun is cresting over the horizon. She's working herself to the brink of exhaustion, but at least it's less time to brood about her missing past. Emma is asleep before her head even hits the pillow.
It starts with a dream.
She's standing in a field surrounded by flowers. The dress she wears flows around her legs, the bodice fitted over her torso and bell sleeves hanging elegantly over her wrists. It could be white, or ivory, or a perfect iridescence to match the clouds. She can't really tell, as she's too focused on the flowers spreading in every direction. They're all different – wildflowers of every shade and variety – all in various stages of blooming and barely shifting in the almost nonexistent breeze.
Sucking in a deep breath, Emma flicks her wrist on the exhale and all the delicate buds sway gently, shimmering colors as they wave back and forth like hundreds of metronomes. Carefully, she weaves between the blossoms, lifting the color from one and replacing it with another at whim, until the flowers surrounding her path are nothing but multicolor swirls.
In the distance, she hears someone call her name, equal amounts of fascination and exasperation in the smooth, male voice that comes across the field clear as day. In the midst of the flowers, he stands, but she can only make out bright blue eyes that sparkle with mirth. She feels happy, the warmth of the sun soaking through her dress and glittering along her skin. Feeling free, she easily snaps her fingers and returns all the flowers back to normal as she heads towards the figure in the distance. Affection leaks through the way he says her name, noticeable as she steps into the circle of his arms and feels his pulse against her cheek where it rests against his neck. He is as warm as his voice, the sun, and the feeling spreading through her stomach. Yet, all she can make out are those eyes.
When Emma wakes up, she remembers nothing of the dream, but her fingertips are tingling with pins and needles. It's afternoon, but outside the warm cocoon of her blankets, there's a chill to the room.
She wakes with the same feeling gnawing away at her stomach: the feeling that something isn't quite right. It's the same feeling she explained six months ago when Dr. Whale was asking her if she remembered how she ended up in the woods outside of Storybrooke.
No, of course she didn't. She didn't even remember her name at that point. How could she be expected to remember how she ended up in a place that she'd be hard pressed to point out on a map if given the opportunity?
Now, she knows more about herself, but that feeling remains.
A gurgle from her stomach alerts her that it's past time to roll out of bed and eat, and Emma's scrambling for clothes to head down to Granny's Diner for her usual and favorite lunch. All her other thoughts can wait until she has time to dissect them, for the time being.