A/N: Hi guys, I know this is me deviating from my In the Flicker priorities, but I've been flying by the seat of my pants (or whatever the phrase is) for that one. So here's something until I figure things out.
Your Name is Regina Mills
You open your eyes. It feels as if you had awoken from a very, very long sleep - but the aftershocks in your mind tell you that you had only blinked. There seems to be an endless amount of greenery around you, but there is only one road that stretches before you. It reminds you of something of the past, but as you reach into the depths of your memories only to find shallow water, you realize that you can't seem to form a complete picture of anything.
You look down at your aged hands, and at the black sleeves that cover your arms. There is a piece of white paper crumpled in your hand, but you don't remember it ever being there. You open it.
Your name is Regina Mills, and you wrote this letter.
Behind you there is a car. You'll need it to go where you planned to go: and that is, away from here. Away from Storybrooke, Maine.
Inside your bag are maps, a first aid kit, and all your financial items. There is a book of notes you composed prior to this journey. You can read it if you find yourself lost or confused.
You don't remember much, and that was the point. But if you do, try to forget them. Everything you wanted to remember is in those notes.
Don't look back. You left no one behind. They simply left you.
You had been skeptical of that note until you realize later that no one was looking for you after all. But no matter. This life, whatever it is, is simple. A pleasant surprise, you'd like to say.
You work as an assistant at your local library, and there you discover you have a strange repulsion for books on fairy tales. When you go grocery shopping, you find yourself buying more apples than intended, and when you go out on your first date with a man named Dan, you also discover that his name hurts you somehow.
Things didn't work out between you and him, for your own respective reasons, and it was only when you read page 9 of your notebook that you more or less had an idea of why. (It's a page containing the names of people you should avoid. "Daniel" was one of them. It still confuses you, because you know a lot of people have the same names.)
The list is short, but you know it's enough. You knew it would be this way in your heart of hearts, and you're all right with that. You know you are happy, even when you are alone. And that is all that matters.
But tonight you feel things that belie your knowledge. You come home to your apartment and kick your heels off, shrugging out of your blazer. You look at the calendar on the wall opposite of you, at a small happy-face sticker on the box of March the twentieth. The first day of Spring, and your birthday.
You had bought yourself a balloon and a cupcake before you arrived. You tie the balloon to the chair in your kitchen and set the red velvet sweet atop the table in front of you. You try to be happy about it. You try to think that now you are one year healthier and one year happier.
But to your left and right of the circular dining table there are two empty chairs, chairs that you don't know why you kept when you knew you were going to live alone, and you realize that you had been doing something foolish. You had been hoping. You are still hoping and you don't want to admit it.
There are no tears in your eyes; you haven't shed a tear since you woke up as you, but it always feels as if you are crying anyway. You ignore this and stick a blue and white striped candle gently into the cupcake before swiping a match against its box to light a flame.
You close your eyes, and you give in. You wish hard.
You blow the candle out, and the flame disappears just as easily as it was brought into existence.
The silence sticks and you don't feel like eating your cupcake, but you are startled when you hear a knock on the door.
You don't get those that often, but you aren't curious or thrilled either, because usually it's a delivery, or a person who was directed to the wrong apartment number.
But when you open the door, it is a child, who looks twelve at most with such a young face. He is almost your height, but his eyes still have to look upward to meet yours. He looks like he knows you, and expects you to say something.
"May I help you?" you ask him, and he frowns, like your answer was the last thing he had thought to hear.
A blonde woman runs up from the hall, and you're confused when it appears she is running to you and not just to the boy.
"Regina! Thank God, where the hell have you been?" she asks with an offending familiarity, but the boy holds his hand out to her to stop her, not once looking away from you.
A horrible realization dawns on her face, but not on yours.
You learn the boy is called Henry Mills. He is your son, hence the shared surname, and the blonde rude woman is Emma Swan, also his mother. The implications make you raise an eyebrow, but it also starts a mental fire in your head.
You let them sit in your living room as you take a moment in your bedroom to flip through your notebook, finding no mentions of a Henry Mills or an Emma Swan except in the list on page 9.
They stop talking in whispers and try to assume composure when you walk out, and you make it a point to speak before they can when you sit on the chair opposite the couch.
"There's been a horrible misunderstanding," you supply meekly. "The thing is, I don't have a son. Or a..." you stare at Emma Swan uncomfortably, and decide not to end that sentence.
"Look," the rude one starts, leaning forward. "We've been looking for you for a long time. You've been missing for three years, and whatever freak accident that happened to make things this way, we're going to figure it out and bring you home."
You furrow your brow at her, and she doesn't realize how aggressive she may have sounded to you.
"This is my home," you say, "and my life is not some 'freak accident'. Like I said, there has been a huge misunderstanding."
You look at the boy who has said nothing since he knocked on your door. You meet his eyes only for a second, and you find that you don't have it in you to both acknowledge his presence and be so defensive.
"Please, I need you to leave. It's my birthday."
You lead the hesitantly compliant pair out of the door, and you do not see it when the boy looks at you with glassy, heartbroken eyes that you almost start to remember.
When you try to go to sleep, cupcake untouched and pushed into the fridge, you realize that up until this point you had never questioned why you had no desire to know your past. It seemed to you that it was just the way things were, all until Henry Mills and Emma Swan.
And that's when you find that you are actually crying, because there are no answers, not even in that silly little walkthrough notebook that you wrote before you had essentially hit restart.
You're arranging books in the kid's section of the library when you see him again, pathetically trying to hide behind a sizable book that you don't recall has ever been in the catalog. You may have no memories but you also aren't stupid, but you don't have it in you to call the boy out.
The cover reads Once Upon a Time, and you find it strange that a boy his age, plowing his way through early teenhood, would be reading fairy tales.
You peel a book of Arthurian legends off the shelf, and he makes his eyes visible when you slide it in his direction across the table. He slowly puts his book down when you come to take a seat adjacent to him.
"How about you give that a read," you suggest in a whisper. "You might like it."
"Thanks," he mouths, and gives you a small smile that you find yourself returning in full.
Your smile falls when you try to ask him a question without sounding accusatory or rude (like his mother). "What are you doing here?"
The boy shifts uncomfortably in his seat and bites his lip before he finally makes the decision to pull up his backpack from the floor. You wait as he shuffles through the insides of his bag to pull out an envelope, which he reveals is full of pictures.
Pictures of you.
"These are from home," he says cautiously above a whisper as you hesitantly take them in your hand, "your real home."
The first one is of you holding a baby in your arms, and you look so strangely young with a smile on your face you have never had since the unquestioned crossing. You flip to the back, and it reads: "Henry - 3 weeks" written in the same penmanship as the first note that sent you off.
Neither of you speak as you go through each photograph. Christmas, New Year, his birthdays, your birthdays. They're all there in front of you but you have no ounce of recognition.
Yet, despite all the notes stressing that you were supposed to forget, you want to remember. You want to remember what it was like not being alone.
"Your mother's not in any of these?" you ask him, referring to Emma Swan.
He shakes his head. "She came later. It's complicated."
You look at the pictures for a longer time, seeming to dwell on the first one. "What happened?"
"That's complicated, too."
He looks up at the clock to note the time, and packs his things. He doesn't collect the pictures, so you hurriedly stuff them back into the envelope for him, but he stops you when he puts a hand over yours.
"They're yours," he says to you, and runs off.
You look into your mirror with the envelope to your chest. You examine yourself for the first time, noting the crows feet and lines around your mouth. Your eyes are brown, like Henry's. Your face looks nearing 40 years old but your mind can't put a number to how lost you are.
You spread out the photographs on your bed, a collage of a life you never lived. You try to see if you could put them in order, based on how tall Henry is relative to you, or how long your hair has grown until you cut it again. You wonder why you would ever put his name on page 9, why if you two looked so happy.
Then you study your supposed son's face in every photograph, realizing the older he got, the more unhappy he became. You were changing concurrently - you had gotten colder, a little sadder.
Perhaps that was when Emma Swan not only came into the picture, but stopped them from taking new ones.
You sigh and you realize you can't fit the pieces together by yourself. You flip every photograph to find more captions written in your hand, but behind a Christmas photo, the most recent-looking one, is a set of numbers. They are mildly sloppy, like those of a little boy, and you laugh. You laugh because it's Emma Swan's phone number.
And you laugh because you do another foolish thing, and you don't care. You dial it up and when she answers, you ask with a pink flush on your olive skin: "How would you like a glass of the best apple cider you've ever tasted?"
You make it clear that all you want is an explanation.
She asks if you kept anything with you from Storybrooke, and you give her your notebook. You're nervous about this, because you've never shown it to anyone before. You had blindly accepted everything it said, but you knew others would look at you strangely.
You sit next to her, biting the nail of your thumb as she reads through the notes. The first one was folded and tucked between a random segment, and she reads that one, too. You search her face for any disbelief, waiting for the moment she closes the book and calls you crazy, but she doesn't do any of those things.
When she gets to page 9, she huffs a laugh. "Henry and I are on your avoid list. And so are Mary Margaret and David."
You're surprised, to say the least, to see that someone else could possibly know the strange things referenced in your book.
"Who are they?"
"My parents," she says casually. "I'd avoid them, too, to be honest."
She flips through more pages. Page 10 has your morning routines, page 11 the foods you'd rather not have in your digestive system. The last page has an emergency number, one that Emma recognizes but not you. She closes your notebook and hangs her head with the sigh of a woman who knows you more than any piece of paper.
"Why did you do this?" she asks, and you're confused, so you don't answer. She looks up at you and puts on a sad smile, then, as if to remind herself that of course you wouldn't know. That was the point when you crossed the Storybrooke border.
"Emma," you start, her name sounding strange on your lips. You could feel your cheeks burning because there is something about the "offensive familiarity" that you don't recognize, but almost...crave. "Were we...?"
She looks down, and then at you: "Together? Yeah."
You remember her absence in the photos that Henry gave you, and you note this to her.
"Oh, yeah, well," she says awkwardly, scratching the back of her head, "it was sort of a secret."
You want her to explain why it had to be one. She says it's complicated.
"I'm not a very busy woman," you point out. "I have time."
Emma sighs, and laughs a little. "Henry is so much better at this than I am. But okay. The real story..."
She kissed you last night. You lay in bed as 7am comes ticking in, remembering this.
You said you only wanted an explanation, but that had slipped her mind.
She couldn't help it, she had started crying when she got to the part where things became a misalignment of conflict, miscommunication, and dark magic. She was crying because she knew you hit rock-bottom, she knew you were alone and so completely unhappy, and she knew why you left. You left because of her.
You try not to dwell on this, because it is overwhelming on all accounts. You try to forget that for a brief moment, when her desperate lips had pressed against yours, before you stood up enraged and sent her out, you had kissed back.
In retrospect you did it because at the moment it made sense. Now it doesn't, it just confuses you even more as her voice in broken sobs echos in your head...
I just want you home, Regina. Please come home.
Henry visits often. You wonder why he's not in school, and he tells you that he is. He's enrolled in the middle school just five miles from you, and he is unashamed and blatantly honest to admit that he and Emma moved here to be closer to you. They, after all, had been searching for three years. They're likely to stay forever before they give up.
He often looks like he wants to apologize to you, but before he can open his mouth, you catch him and say, "wait til I remember what for."
He looks more and more familiar to you each day, now that you think about it. You even begin to remember how young he was before you left, how his head only barely reached the bottom of your chin, but now you could kiss his nose without bending down. He gives you hugs a lot, and it feels so warm and pleasant and secure that you know that you didn't receive this often back home. And that's what he has to be sorry for, you suppose.
Emma, whom you often see when she picks Henry up, keeps her hands to herself for the most part, not wanting to repeat the mistake she made nights prior.
You are still cross with her, but you don't want to cast her out of your life just yet. It dawns on you, that even with the convoluted history, she and Henry are the best things that have ever happened to you since you woke up as a blank slate.
You reckon this is the hardest choice you have ever had to make since you were behind the Storybrooke border.
The notebook is in your hands, and you haven't opened it ever since Emma had read it. You don't need it anymore, not for what you are considering.
It's not an easy decision, as you are consciously made aware when you remember the apparent lengths you took to stay away from Storybrooke, Maine, and its inhabitants. You never took a photograph of Henry with you, even though you knew that he was the light of your existence. You wanted to forget him when you crossed the line, you wanted to forget Emma.
You had notes on what to do in case you were "lost", but you never jot down what would happen if they ever found you again. You didn't think they ever would. And now you wonder what kind of person you were to have such little hope. You wonder if that's the kind of person you want to sacrifice yourself to become once more.
You rip out page 9 of your notebook, and you cross names out.
It's ten o'clock at night and you wonder if it's too late to come knocking on Emma and Henry's apartment door. He's probably asleep, but somehow you know that with Emma, he doesn't have a bedtime she regularly enforces.
She opens the door, surprised to find you there. She looks ridiculous with pajama bottoms and a tank top on, but you're not here to judge her sleepwear. Emma lets you in, and you keep pulling down on the cuffs of your coat sleeves to hide your hands.
"What's wrong?" she asks, and you shake your head. You rehearsed this a million times, and now it was the execution.
"See... when it was my birthday, when I bought myself a balloon and a cupcake that I didn't end up eating anyway," you start, trying as hard as you could to keep Emma's stare. "I blew out a candle and actually made a wish. I wished... I wished I didn't have to be alone on my birthday. Or ever."
Emma's eyes are shining as she steps closer to you, and you don't know exactly why she looks so emotional but you don't care, you keep going on.
"You and Henry showed up on my doorstep and... I was wrong," you almost laugh out of nervousness. "I thought I could run away and be alone and call this happy but I was wrong. And-"
She doesn't let you finish, and instead closes the distance between you, and closes your mouth with hers. You're a little angry because this is what you were going to do anyway. You were going to kiss her first, you were going to buy into that whole "true love's kiss breaks any curse" because these 3 years were your curse and now this is your happy ending.
You were going to kiss her first but then you remember, you remember that this is what Emma Swan is like. She's stupid, impatient, overemotional, and likes to comb her hands through your now grown out hair when she cuts you off with kisses. Your arms find themselves wrapped tightly around Emma as the memories come pouring in like water into an empty, hollow glass.
You remember who you were before you wiped your entire life clean, and you remember the pain and the hopelessness you felt as you drove up to the border, with no pictures of Henry and no trace of Emma. And as you remember this, the person you were for the last 3 years begins to die. She put her faith on the very thing you ran from, to resurrect the broken parts of you and patch them with the press of Emma Swan's lips.
When you pull apart you both have tears running down your cheeks. She rests her forehead on yours and whispers, "welcome home."
Henry runs from upstairs to find you two, and he immediately knows. His smile is like the expanse of the earth when he recognizes the knowing gleam in your eyes, and he runs up to hug you and Emma as tightly as he could ever manage.
Page 9 is in your pocket, but you don't pull it out because you haven't forgotten what it says. You won't need reminding for a long, long time.
Your name is Regina Mills, and everything you need to remember is in this note.
Never let go of: