Notes: We're trying notes at the beginning instead of the end now. Change is good or so they tell me? This is the longest chapter yet, I'm still not sure how it got that way. I'm happy to say the rest of this now has a solid plan and we're not quite half way through. I don't have a beta so all mistakes are mine and constructive criticism is welcomed. Reviews of all kinds are appreciated and stored away with great care and lots of happy feelings, so if the mood strikes you feed the muses please. Unless the physical appearance of the please makes a difference in which case: pretty please. Thanks for reading!

Mood music for this chapter would be Jessica's Theme from The Man From Snowy River. Totes appropriate, trust me.


Emma slowly shifted to consciousness and registered the familiar sound of coffee percolating. The rich aroma seeped into her bedroom through the cracked door as gently as a mother's whisper and pulled her from warm dreams to the waking world.

The air outside her comforter was crisp and her alarm wasn't set to go off for another three minutes. She was tempted to snuggle down and hit snooze at least once but that smell was beckoning stronger now that she recognized it and impossible to resist.

She shimmied across the bed and out of the covers, leaving them as un-rumpled as possible because she had zero desire to actually make the bed. She paused to throw on some pants to avoid further traumatizing Henry and shuffled out of the room.

"Hi kid," she mumbled to her son who was zipping around the kitchen, assembling cold cereal for breakfast.

Henry grinned up at her, but contained his energy and didn't say anything in reply. They'd settled into a routine after two weeks at home and he knew she'd be more coherent and pleasant once she had some fuel and her brain finished its start-up cycle.

"You made coffee," Emma said after pouring a cup and taking a gulp even though it was still hovering at the boiling point. It was worth it, the heat and caffeine spread through her like a flame through gas, perking up her senses along with the buds on her tongue.

"Yep," Henry said proudly as he climbed onto a bar stool and started shoveling heaping spoonful's of cereal into his mouth.

"Where'd you learn to do that?"

"Gramps taught me," he said around a mouthful of food. "I asked after school yesterday, I thought maybe it would make waking up today easier."

"Neat trick," she quipped and ruffled his hair.

She plopped onto the stool next to him and poured her own bowl of cereal. For a few minutes the chorus of crunching was the only sound in the apartment.

"You sleep okay?" Emma asked, signaling that she was fully awake and prepared to converse in full sentences.

"Pretty good yeah," he shrugged and lifted his bowl to slurp up the last of the chocolaty milk. It had been two nights since his nightmare but both nights Emma had noticed that he'd stayed up reading later than he usually did.

"So when can we leave?" He changed the subject, eager to focus on the event of the day: riding, rather than sleeping troubles.

"Hold your horses cowboy, Elena's not expecting us until nine and I've gotta have a shower."

Henry let out his most beleaguered sigh and made a show of rolling his eyes. Emma stood and cleared both their bowls while Henry put the cereal back in the cupboard over the stove.

"I got the dishes, go shower," Henry nudged her away from the sink.

"Hey, you gotta get dressed too."

"Yeah, but it doesn't take me seven years to do it," Henry pointed out. "Get going, this offer is limited time only."

"Yeah right, "Emma said, but she started back towards her bedroom anyway. "Apparently all I have to do to motivate you for chores is put horses on the line."

"Are you saying I'm easy?"

Emma snorted, "You said it not me."

"Well, don't let it get around," Henry mock-grumbled.

"Oh, please. Elena's already figured you out. She's gonna put you to work mucking stables."


Emma groaned.

"That means shoveling sh—poop kid."

"Would you hurry up and shower?" He demanded, completely unperturbed by the prospect. Typical.

Emma was tempted to flip him the bird but reminded herself that she was supposed to be a responsible parent and that if they got Regina back and she found out Henry had picked that up from her then Emma would definitely be getting up close and personal with the Evil Queen.

"Just for that I'm taking an extra-long one," she said instead, just to rile him up. Henry wasn't the sparring partner Regina had been but it was still fun to get a rise out of him now and again.

"Don't make me leave without you!" He threatened as she disappeared into the bedroom.

"It'll take you longer to bike there than it will to wait for me," she yelled back.

"Who said anything about biking? I'll take the bug."

"Good luck with that." She was pretty sure he couldn't drive stick. Almost sure. A little bit sure.

Maybe she would skip curling her hair today. Just in case.

"Think she's in the barn already?"

"Probably," Emma sighed. They were fifteen minutes early but since she'd been ready Henry saw no reason to linger at home.

"Early is on time," he'd told her, "and on time is late."

"Doesn't that mean you're late no matter what you do?" Emma had mumbled, certain he'd picked up the saying from Regina just to irritate her. But she'd let him drag her out the door before she even finished zipping her blue leather jacket up over her grey sweater.

Henry's excitement was almost contagious but she couldn't say she was looking forward to this. She'd spent her share of time on thrill seeking recreation in between jobs but she'd always erred to the side of the mechanical kind, preferring motorcycles and jet skis to the prospect of climbing on an animal for an adrenaline rush. She figured if she had to do this savior thing then she was going to do it with a rusty bug, not a trusty steed.

They headed in the main door as they had twice before and Henry promptly ditched her to say hello to his horse. Emma smiled fondly at him and headed around the corner, passed the display case and to the open door of Elena's office. She grasped the door frame and leaned inside. She hadn't seen it before but it was nearly as big as her own. A plush sofa occupied the wall in front of the door, with a brightly patterned, woven blanket draped over the back. On the other wall was a row of filing cabinets and a desk that had seen better days. Elena was sitting at it, turned away from Emma, staring a laptop through horn rimmed glasses.

"Hey, you're here!" Elena started when she noticed Emma hanging in her doorway, pushing away from her desk and tugging the glasses off.

"We're here," Emma confirmed.

"How are you?" She asked as she closed her laptop and joined Emma in the corridor, flicking the lights in the office off on her way out.

"Great!" Henry announced as they joined him and Emma just grinned because he had enough exuberance for both of them.

"Happy to hear it, shall we?" Elena motioned vaguely between the stalls and their small group. "We have about two hours before your sister and brother-in-law show up, I think that's plenty of time to get you comfortable on the horses."

"Great," Emma echoed Henry's statement with much less enthusiasm.

"Henry, why don't you get started with Apollo –see how much you remember from Monday's lesson and I'll get your- Emma going," Elena instructed.

"Excellent!" The boy crowed and scampered off in search of a halter and tack for his favorite mount.

"Shall we?" Elena asked, turning towards Emma with an inviting smile and eyes filled with mirth.

Emma found she couldn't say no, or even produce her usual sarcastic response to that look so she shoved her hands deep into her back pockets, raised her eyebrows and gave Elena a smile that she hoped was agreeable (though it turned out to be more of a grimace that suggested she was resigned to her fate).

"Don't worry about being nervous," Elena whispered kindly, "Horses can be intimidating but by the end of the day you'll have fallen in love, I promise."

"Hmm, sounds like you're propositioning me," Emma cracked and forced herself to drop her hands and exude more confidence than she felt.

"Maybe I am," Elena sassed back with a cheeky cock to her eyebrow as they followed Henry to the riding equipment.

"Hey, I remember this much," Emma said, stopping the brunette as she went for a purple rope halter and reaching around her to pull it off its hook. She swaggered back to the line of stalls and peered inside each one until she found the horse she was looking for, the palomino named Sarabi who Elena had insisted was her nicest horse.

"Not her." Elena's voice halted Emma before she could open Sarabi's stall.

"But –"

Elena shook her head with a soft smile and understanding in her eyes.

"Saturdays are her day off," she explained. "She's one of my old girls and she gets plenty of exercise with the children at lessons. Why don't you try this one…"

She crossed the breezeway and tugged a stall door open. Emma cast a forlorn look at the docile golden horse in the stall she'd picked and wandered over to Elena.

"This is Sue," Elena said, motioning inside towards the bay that was casually munching on hay in the corner of the stable. "He's very friendly and he has enough energy to show you around today."

Emma peered over Elena's shoulder at the horse in question. "He is named Sue? Mary Margaret warned me about stallions you know."

"Then it's a good thing Sue here is a gelding like Apollo." Elena stepped inside and gave Sue a pat on his shoulder. "Trust me, he's your boy."

"Apparently that's debatable," Emma mumbled but she stepped inside the stable and up to the horse anyway.

"Hey," Elena scolded, "A little respect for his life choices if you please."

"Sorry," the blonde said as she gave Sue's neck a scratch and slipped the halter over his head.

"Nicely done," Elena congratulated her as Emma led the horse out of its stall and tied it neatly to the post outside.

Emma preened over dramatically and strode back to the tack area to retrieve grooming tools as well as a saddle and blanket. She noticed Henry was already done cleaning Apollo's feet and nearly finished combing the horse.

"Hey, this isn't a race," she teased as her son scrambled over the horse with his brush and curry comb. Henry craned his neck to shoot her a grin but didn't slow his brisk, but thorough, grooming.

Emma picked up her own pace and began matching Henry's movements as she groomed Sue and ensured that his feet were clean and ready for a workout.

"Well," Elena said as she supervised the two, "I can see I'm not needed just yet. I'll get my own horse."

Emma spared her a parting glance as she sashayed back down the corridor; looking that good in a pair of old jeans should be illegal. Emma forced her attention back to the horse, determined to prove that she didn't need any more instruction than having observed Henry's lessons in equine care.

She succeeded; by the time Henry had Apollo saddled and ready to go Emma had completed everything but putting Sue's bridle on. She held the item awkwardly and realized she'd been talking to Mary Margaret when Elena had gone over this step during her lesson.

She knew the metal bit went between the horse's teeth and the loop around its head but she wasn't quite sure how to go about convincing Sue that it needed to be done. Every time she approached the animal with the contraption he gave her the side-eye and leaned away.

Come on Swan, little kids can do this. Her inner pep talk did nothing to convince the horse, or herself for that matter, that the step was a necessary one.

"None of them like this part much." Emma felt more than heard Elena step back into her workspace.

The brunette tugged Sue's lead rope and brought the horse's head over with perfunctory skill and slipped two fingers of her left hand back into his mouth.

"If you press here he'll open his mouth just enough to slide the bit in, don't worry about his teeth he'll open up, and once you've got it in he'll let you finish with no trouble."

Emma smirked but resisted snapping off any of the innuendos that sprang to her mind.

She flipped the halter backwards over her wrist, holding the bit in her left hand she took Sue's lead rope firmly with her right.

"All right boy," she murmured in a low voice that she hoped was soothing to her would-be steed. "Take it easy, we're going to do this and you're not going to give me any trouble."

She poked her index and middle finger into the horse's cheek like Elena had showed her.

"That's the way. See it's not so bad for both of us. And Henry's happy so we're happy, right?" she continued as she brought the bit up, awkwardly but surely, to Sue's mouth and pressed it into the tiny gap between his teeth. She felt it bump and winced because it couldn't have been pleasant but the horse did as Elena said and opened his mouth wider to accept the bit. It clanked against his teeth but he didn't seem to mind as she settled it into place toward the back of his mouth.

"Perfect, you're good at this," Elena said and even though Emma was pretty sure she said that to all of her students she basked in the light praise.

Once the bit was in it was easy to slip the head stall behind Sue's ears and buckle it under his chin. With that, Emma had officially saddled her first horse and was ready to move on to more difficult tasks like riding and mounting. She realized this at precisely the same time that she turned toward Henry and Elena to show off her accomplishment and the proud smile slipped from her face as soon as it had started to show.

"To the arena?" Henry asked gleefully, all excitement and no sympathy for his blonde mother's plight.

"To the arena," Elena confirmed. In the time it had taken Emma to put on Sue's blanket and saddle she had collected her own horse, another bay called Quigley, and put on all his tack.

Emma copied her movements with Sue as Elena unhooked Quigley's lead rope and used the reins to pull him toward the barn door. Together the three of them led their mounts down the cobbled breezeway and out towards the arena. Emma noticed with a little concern that Elena hadn't closed the arena gate behind them but she tried to trust the brunette, who by blessing or natural ability seemed to have an understanding with her animals, and followed her into the sandy circle where Henry had already stopped his horse and was hauling a foot into the stirrup to climb on.

She watched her son, cursing herself for having not paid more attention during this part of his lesson as well, but the process seemed simple enough: stop horse, stirrup foot, climb up. But Emma still felt Elena's scrutinizing gaze on her back as she attempted the process and felt like she had in grade school when the teacher had called her up to do a math problem on the chalk board and everyone had watched to see if she'd fail.

She did.

Sue sidestepped as Emma tried to put weight on her left foot and she had to hop to avoid being dragged along.

"The hell?" She yanked on the leather rein and Sue promptly straightened up and stood still. "I thought we had an understanding you traitor!"

"Twist your foot just a bit," Elena said from somewhere to Emma's right. "He's not used to people trying to get on that way."

Emma didn't have a clue what that meant, as far as she was concerned she'd followed Henry's example to the letter and Sue was just being a pain in the ass. But she did what Elena said and turned her foot clockwise in the stirrup until she was nearly facing Sue's backside before she made another attempt. This time he held still as she threw all her weight onto her left foot and pushed up with her right. The world seemed to tilt on its axis and when she'd regained her bearings Emma was sitting comfortably astride Sue's back in her saddle; facing the right way even.

"Way to go Emma!" Henry crowed, joining Elena's own praise.

She grinned gathered up the reins while Sue licked his bit in boredom as if to say Emma's achievement wasn't all that impressive. But no one was paying attention to him anyway.

"Well you've made it through the hardest part," Elena informed that both. "Now all you have to do is stay on."

The grin drained off Emma's face.

"Staying on is supposed to be the easy part?"

"Well, if you weren't on such well trained horses," Elena sniffed, "I'd be worried about you, but I think you'll do alright Sheriff."

Looking at her in that moment, disdain written across the brunette's features, Emma could believe that Elena was Regina, that they were each in each other somewhere, but then Elena grinned and the mayor was gone once more.

"Come on, it's easy from here on out I promise," Elena said as she laced her fingers through her own reins to show Emma and Henry how to hold them properly.

"Now, what's the first rule of riding horses?" She asked.

"Stay in the saddle," Henry chirped dutifully.

"And the second rule?"

"Don't ever let go of the reins."

Elena looked at Emma expectantly.


Emma sketched a mock salute. She found the leather strips felt natural in her hand, her nervousness dissipated now that she was actually on her horse and it wasn't as bad as she thought it would be.

"We'll start off just walking around the arena," Elena said as if it was a spontaneous suggestion and not something she'd been planning to teach them for ages. "Relax; it's just a casual stroll among friends."

That was precisely how it felt when Emma followed her example and nudged Sue gently with her heels and he fell into step between Apollo and Quigley. The motion wasn't as jostling as Emma had thought it would be and she found herself settling into the horse's rhythm as they completed a lap around the arena.

"Henry, remember to lower your heels. And don't schlump like this." Elena demonstrated, dropping her shoulders dramatically.

Henry straightened up. He overcorrected his posture and Emma imagined him adopting the same haughty pose every time Regina had corrected his posture growing up.

"Now you're too stiff, you'll bounce right off," Elea chided.

Henry's expression fell at the admonishment and Emma was just about to come to his defense when Elena spoke up again.

"You've got to have good form if you're going to be my guinea pig again on Monday."

Elena raised her right hand high above her head like a teacher's pet aching to be called upon.

"Try this," she said. Henry immediately copied her movement, though he wasn't sure why he was doing so.

"Feel how that changes your seat?" She asked.

Emma watched as Henry thought for a moment, stretching his arm further in the air and then dropping back down as he tried to tell the difference in his position. He eventually nodded.

"Keep your center of gravity pressed into the saddle just like that and relax your hips."

Henry did as he was told as Emma silently made sure she was mirroring his posture. Henry must have complied because Elena seemed pleased with the change in his stance and left them both to get used to the rocking movement of the horses as they completed another lap around the arena.

"That's how you always need to sit. You're in sync with Apollo; you want to match his timing. That will help you stay balanced in the saddle no matter what he does. Keep your heels down and adjust your weight on your toes."

"Emma, your timing is exceptional," Elena said as she scrutinized the blonde. "But if you don't relax a little he's going to think you want him to trot."

"Uh, I'm pretty sure if I relax he's going to trot," Emma told her. She held on tighter with her legs and pulled back the reins a little. She was comfortable with the moderately slow walk they had started out with but now her horse was prancing every few steps, putting up some resistance to her hold and generally being a little shit. Or a big shit, she decided when Sue flexed his neck to tug against the reins.

"That's because you're telling him you're ready to go faster."

"That is definitely exactly the opposite of what I'm telling him to do."

"No, it's not," Elena said firmly, a hint of Regina's total indefatigability coming through in her tone. "You're tensing your legs and pitching your center of gravity forward because you're nervous. He's picking up on that and interprets it as 'faster, run.' So if you want to do that, by all means carry on, but if you'd prefer to stay here with us then you need to drop your hands and fix your posture."

Several arguments loaded on Emma's tongue, but when she shot Elena a dirty look and opened her mouth to fire them they all fell away to the breeze. Elena was watching her, eyes imploring Emma to listen, her own posture was effortlessly graceful, at once at ease and regal, and her horse was ambling on passively. On her other side Henry was also watching Emma expectantly, though his attention was divided between his blonde mother and his own mount.

Emma deflated and forced her body to follow Elena's instructions, daring herself to put some trust in the woman when she'd never been quite able to do the same for Regina. Sue responded almost immediately, settling amiably back into a slower pace to match his compatriots.

"There, you see," Elena said and Emma would have been grating had it not been devoid of any smugness. Instead it was a gentle reminder to pay attention to the effect her body language had on her horse.

"Most of what your horse does is directly related to what you're telling it, whether you're doing it verbally or physically," the trainer explained as she guided Quigley into more complicated patterns across the arena while Emma and Henry did their best to follow. "Riding is fairly simple but it's going to take you time and practice to learn how to communicate effectively with your horse. Just like with any relationship."

"That's why David said it's so important to groom them," Henry piped up, "To build a relationship."

"Exactly," Elena said with a pleased smile and Henry beamed back at her. Emma rolled her eyes at both of them.

"Can we try going faster now?" Henry asked eagerly.

"Sure, if you feel comfortable. Be ready to bounce a little. Remember to keep your weight on your toes and your heels down. Bend your knees and squeeze with your legs."

Henry complied immediately and after one false start he managed to coax Apollo into a bumpy trot.

"Put more weight on your legs," Elena instructed the boy. "Like this."

Emma and Henry both watched as Elena directed her horse to pick up its pace. As the horse began to high-step quickly she hovered in her saddle, using her legs to counter the choppy motion.

She completed a circle around them and then slowed her horse next to Emma's to see Henry try. Both women had their eyes glued to the boy as he floundered to find the correct combination of movements and Emma wondered if this was how Regina had felt when he'd first learned to walk or ride a bike. When Henry caught on without bouncing off first Emma nearly sighed with relief.

"Well done Henry, you've got it."

"This is fun!" He called as he lapped them once and then twice.

"Are you going to try?" Elena asked Emma.

"I can't just stick to easy mode?"

"Well, not if you're going to keep up with him," she laughed.

"Story of my life," Emma grumbled. "All right, Sue, you heard the lady, let's do this."

She gripped one rein in each hand and squeezed her heels into Sue's sides then pressed herself up as his gait changed. Her heart skipped a beat at the unsettling motion but she got used to it quickly, posting her weight in time to his movements. She was surprised; it was actually kind of fun.

Sue's quick trot seemed to eat up the dirt and in no time they had caught up to Henry. He glanced back at her and urged Apollo faster, his smile faltering for a brief second when he almost lost his rhythm but he recovered quickly and giggled as they sped away. Not to be outdone Emma matched his pace and rambled after, easily adjusting to the change in motion. He had a thirty foot lead on Emma but she was determined to catch up. She nudged Sue again with her knees and was startled when he broke into a canter.

"Weight on your toes Emma!" She heard Elena call after her. She corrected and crowed as she passed Henry.

Henry and Emma continued to practice, pushing for greater speeds in a continuous quest to one-up each other as if they were both experienced riders rather than total novices. Emma's enthusiasm grew steadily with the competition, her initial nervousness completely forgotten. What she lacked in grace she made up for with athleticism. Henry had evidently inherited that, because he matched her skills with little trouble.

They both laughed as they wound figure eights around Elena who had stopped her horse in the middle of the arena to watch them. Emma caught up to her son and reached out to tag him as their horses jogged, neck and neck.

"You're it!" She cried, tapping Sue with her legs to push him faster.

Henry, now the one in pursuit, giggled wildly when he caught up and tagged her back. He tugged one rein and Apollo leaned into a hard turn and shot away in the opposite direction.

"Be careful," Elena warned as she watched Henry struggle to stay balanced through the turn. He grinned at her in spite of it and reined his horse to a stop, keeping Elena between him and Emma. Quigley counted his foot nervously as the other two horses circled him.

"Horses aren't toys," she started to lecture both her students, "You aren't very experienced and I really can't condone…

She broke off as Emma breezed by, her hand grazing Elena's arm as she passed.

"Henry?" Elena said to the boy waiting to see what she would do.


"Don't try this in class." Elena whooped and launched Quigley after Emma.

At the other end of the arena Emma had stalled Sue to watch Elena and Henry and laughed as Elena's lecture fell on deaf ears but her laughter died in her throat when she saw Elena hunker over Quigley's neck and the horse raced toward her faster than such a huge animal had any right to.

"Run Emma!" Henry yelled from his spot in the middle and Emma urged Sue into motion.

They lapped the fence once but Elena cheated and cut across the middle, completing a turn that forced her and Quigley almost horizontal with ease and Emma knew there was no way in hell she could out maneuver her. So she did the next best thing and bolted out of the arena, grateful now that Elena had neglected to close the gate.

"Hey! Where are you going?" Henry demanded, following at a slightly slower pace as Elena charged after Emma, toward the barn and through the dirt parking area. He tugged Apollo to a stop once more so he could watch his mothers race around the yard.

Emma had a manic grin on her face as she haphazardly steered her horse while glancing over her shoulder to check where Elena was.

The brunette was smiling too, like a shark toying with its prey. She straightened in her saddle as her horse loped after and waited for Emma to make a fatal mistake. It didn't take long. Emma tried to make a quick switch in direction like Elena had in the arena, but just as Henry had struggled to complete the same feat so did his blonde mother.

"Whoa!" Emma cried and grabbed her saddle horn as Sue wheeled around. The horse didn't know whether to stop or not so he pranced and trotted considerably slower than he had been. Elena seized the opportunity to rocket forward and barrel by Emma, slapping her shoulder as she passed.

Emma hung her head in defeat but she laughed and let Sue stop. He was panting and sweat coated his neck.

"Good try boy," Emma praised as she patted his wet shoulder, breathless herself from the effort.

"I think you've been holding out on me," Elena announced as she returned to Emma's side, her own horse in the same worked up state as Sue. "You picked this up much faster than I thought you would."

"It's in the blood," Henry informed her, joining them.

"It's kind of a rush," Emma said grinning; her whole body buzzed with adrenaline.

"And to think you were nervous when you got here," Elena chided merrily.

"Well I wasn't nervous exactly," Emma defended. "I mean, the idea climbing five feet off the ground and riding something with a mind of its own was a little off-putting, but this isn't so bad."

"I think it's awesome," Henry said, wheeling Apollo around for another quick lap around the yard that left both horse and boy breathing hard.

"I think we'd better let them have a break," Elena said with a laugh as she dismounted. "I thought we'd spend the entire time getting you comfortable enough with walking to go for an easy ride with your family."

"Clearly you underestimated what we're capable of," Emma smirked.

"Clearly," Elena echoed dryly.

They waited for Henry to dismount and then led their horses back to the barn and the bathtub sized water trough in front of the haystack. Elena stood to the side while Quigley lowered his head to take a drink.

"Henry you can bring Apollo up on the other side," she offered and Henry took her up on it. He leaned against the fence surrounding the hay barn.

"Tired already?"

"Nope, just leaning," he replied, scratching Apollo's shoulder affectionately.

Quigley finished and Elena pulled him to the side to allow Emma and Sue forward.

"You're a really amazing," Henry told Elena, filling the comfortable silence. Emma gave him a strange look over her shoulder, something in his tone alerting her that the kid had something on his mind.

Elena accepted the praise graciously, seeming oblivious to the change in Henry's mood.

"When did you start riding?"

"When I was very small," Elena replied, Emma heard her tone change too and wondered what memories Elena was thinking of. Were they hers or Regina's? Or both? "My father started carrying me with him before I could even walk."

The small offering did little to assuage Emma's own questions and she could tell it had only piqued Henry's curiosity more but it was also clear that getting Elena to open up about her memories would be difficult.

It was Sue who prevented Henry from pursuing the topic further. Having decided he was finished with his beverage the horse decided that the best way to inform Emma so was to raise his head and snort in her direction, spraying cold drops of water across her neck and side.

"Yeeagghh!" She yelped and hopped away.

Elena and Henry both laughed and Emma scowled at Sue and then each of them in turn as she used her sleeve to wipe horse-face water off her skin.

"Sorry," Elena chuckled, not at all apologetic.

"Guess that's what he thinks of you," Henry quipped.

"Aw c'mon," Emma pulled the reins so Sue was looking at her. "I thought we had an understanding?"

Sue snorted again and shook his head as if in response to her question.

"You're like the anti-horse whisperer," Henry snickered.

"See if I bring you out here anymore," Emma grumbled.

Convinced that he seemed to have lost her attention Sue stepped forward and rubbed his nose against her shoulder, nearly shoving her off her feet.

"Hey!" Emma realized her mistake as the horse jerked backwards, tugging the reins out of her hand but she snatched them back just as quickly.

"Hey," She said again, dropping her voice to what she hoped was a more soothing tone. She reached out with her free hand, letting him sniff it before running blunt nails across his forehead, gently itching under the strap there.

"Is that all you wanted? Just a good scratch? See, I've got ya now buddy, we do have an understanding. We're learning to communicate right? Building a relationship. Henry's just jealous 'cause it's taken him weeks and Apollo still thinks he smells funny."

She spared her son a glance just in time to see him roll his eyes and heard Elena chuckling behind her back.

"If you're quite finished mocking me," Elena began dryly, "Perhaps we should go back in the barn. David and Mary Margaret will be here any minute."

"I would never mock you," Emma sounded appalled, "Oh great and knowledgeable horse lady."


Elena grasped the handle of one of the giant barn doors there and threw her weight backwards to slide it open far enough to allow them to enter. Henry, Emma and their steeds slipped inside and Emma turned to hold the door for Elena to do the same. She braced her arm, trying not to let the strain show on her face. She surprised at the effort it took thinking Elena had just made a show of opening it. Regina had always had a thing for dramatic entrances.

"Thank you," the brunette said primly as she squeezed by.

"Can I give Apollo some apples?" Henry asked, stalling Emma's next attempt at witty repartee. Maybe it was for the best.

"Absolutely, why don't you bring some back for Sue and Quigley too?"

"Okay!" Henry bounded off with Apollo rambling after him like an overgrown puppy.

Elena led Quigley back towards his stall and tied him up to remove his tack.

"You're sure you don't want to join us?" Emma asked, watching her work. "I'm sure Mary Margaret packed more than enough food for all of us."

"No, it's family time," Elena answered resolutely as she began to run brush over Quigley's back.

"You can be part of family time," Henry said, joining them once more. Emma was glad he'd returned so quickly so she wouldn't have to say it herself.

Elena smiled but didn't meet his gaze. She focused on her work while he fed Quigley and Sue treats from his pockets. Apollo nickered from the stall where Henry had left him tied up, obviously concerned that there were treats to be had and he wasn't getting some.

"Thank you, Henry. Perhaps next time."

"You're not afraid we're going to run off with your horses?" Emma asked though she knew the idea was ridiculous.

It wasn't like they could leave Storybrooke with David and Mary Margaret in tow. She couldn't forget the half-broken curse entirely, or the oddness of her situation. Not when she had spent the morning constantly reminding herself that Elena wasn't who she should be. But for just a moment it was nice to pretend at normality.

"Where would you go?" Elena scoffed.

Emma shrugged.

"I'll send you with a walkie so you can radio if you have any trouble," Elena told them. "They'll work as long as you stay within a two-mile radius."

"We have to stay close by anyway, David and I are on call on Saturdays; if there's an emergency in town we need to be able to get there quickly."

"Well, then I hope all emergencies can wait until you've had your outing."

"Storybrooke has been pretty quiet lately." Emma hoped she wasn't jinxing herself. "On the weekends people can get their own cats out of trees."

"Awfully polite of them."


"You're mocking me again."

"Was I?"

Elena twisted to give her a droll look. Henry watched the two of them like a tennis match and Emma sharply reminded herself to quit flirting. It was hard to resist.

"Hello?" Mary Margaret's voice echoed through the barn, shattering the moment.

"Hi!" Henry greeted them happily and hugged his grandparents in turn as they entered. "Guess what we've been doing?"

Mary Margaret looked questioningly from Henry to Emma as he darted back over to his mothers.

"We thought we'd get a little head start on this horse thing," Emma explained, gesturing to Sue with the hand that held his reins. "Elena was kind enough to get us going and show us the basics."

Emma thought she saw hurt flutter across both of her parents' faces but they each broke into smiles and she convinced herself she imagined it; trying to repress the feeling that she'd done something wrong.

"Excellent!" David said, and it didn't sound forced. "Maybe we can hit the trails right away then?"

"I think they're both ready," Elena confirmed. "If all of the children in my classes master skills as quickly as they do I'll be out of a job before I know it."

"You'll just have to put up with a herd of people clamoring to borrow your horses on the weekends," Mary Margaret said kindly.

"Or we could buy horses and keep them here?" Henry suggested.

"Don't let Apollo hear you say that," Emma joked.

Henry shrugged. "I still ride him too."

"I think we'd better see how you do riding out in the open first," David said, clapping Henry on the shoulder with a proud look.

"Let's get you going then," Elena interjected. "Henry can you get David and Mary Margaret some equipment?"

"I'll help," David told him, clasping his shoulder as they walked toward the tack area.

Elena put Quigley away with a final pat and led them to another stall. It didn't take them long to get two more horses, a palomino mare called Monroe and a white gelding named Lightyear, saddled up and ready to go for them and transfer the lunch Mary Margaret had packed from a basket to saddlebags that Elena helpfully added to the tack for Monroe.

"You're all set," Elena announced as she tied the leather bag shut.

"Thank you so much for letting us do this," Mary Margaret told her. "And for helping Emma and Henry earlier."

"It was my pleasure," Elena assured her, turning to Henry. "We had a lot of fun didn't we?"

He nodded vigorously and beamed when she winked at him and Emma caught herself grinning like a fool as she collected Sue and rejoined the group.

"Let's get going then," David said as if they'd all stand around staring at each other if he didn't lead them out and Emma suppressed the irritation that rippled through her at his tone.

They followed him out of the barn, horses trailing behind them. Emma twisted when she felt hard plastic pressed into her hand. It was the promised radio, she realized as she tightened her fingers around it.

"Thanks," she said bashfully, her wrist tingling where Elena's thumb brushed it because she hadn't quite let go of the walkie in Emma's hand.

"You're welcome. Just holler if you need anything," Elena said warmly. "Be safe and please try to refrain from playing tag out in the forest. It really is dangerous."

Emma gave her a rueful grin. "Mary Margaret and David aren't as fun to chase anyway."

A brilliant smile broke over Elena's face, bright as the dawn over the ocean, sending a burst of happiness that spread from the center of Emma's chest to the tips of her fingers; more thrilling than even the rush of energy she'd felt after their game of tag. Emma had long since admitted to herself that she found Regina attractive; seductive in the way dangerous things often were. But in that moment the brunette was beyond gorgeous, absolutely dazzling, and she knew she'd do anything to put that smile on her face again; even if the blessing broke and Regina's dark and tragic history returned to her.

Especially if the blessing broke.

"I'll say," Elena replied coyly as she finally released the walkie and stepped back. The tingling in Emma's wrist left and she already missed the warmth.

"Emma, are you coming?" Henry's voice broke the spell and Emma shook her head to clear it. Suddenly missing her curls; ponytails may be practical but Emma felt exposed without the tumble of hair around her shoulders.

"Thanks again," she said as she shot Elena an apologetic look and clipped the walkie to her belt and tugged Sue out of the barn, leaving Elena alone in the doorway.

Everyone else had already mounted up and Emma quickly moved to do the same, climbing aboard Sue as though she'd done it a hundred times and not just once before. She felt Mary Margaret and David watching her closely. Pride shone on both their faces as she successfully joined them and even though they irked her endlessly, as they tried to figure out how to be parents to a daughter they hadn't known for twenty-eight years, Emma was glad she'd found them, and that she could at least do this small thing to make them happy.

David clicked his tongue and turned his horse toward the road, setting a leisurely pace with Mary Margaret at his side with Emma and Henry trailing behind. Henry waved back to Elena and Emma turned to see her standing in the barn, with one arm hugged around her middle as she waved back at him with a broad smile. Emma smiled back over her shoulder and waved too but turned before she could actually meet Elena's eyes.

The moment in the barn now seemed unsettling as they rode off without her and Emma couldn't help wishing she had come even as she told herself to quit being a twit about Regina. But the more time they spent with her the better off Henry's mission would go right? Of course that was the reason Emma wanted her along.

"We'll take the trail through the woods and find a place to have lunch and then we have a surprise," David announced as they turned off the road and followed an overgrown path to the forest.

"What's the surprise?" Henry asked.

"If I tell you it's not a surprise," David laughed.

Henry made a show of sulking but Emma doubted the kid was very disappointed. He seemed like the type who loved surprises, but loved guessing at them even more. Her kid was a snoop.

A snoop who was happy to entertain them as they road through the trees; chattering about a variety of subjects from the deer they saw to what he'd been doing in school. He and David carried on a lively conversation about superheroes that Emma could only partially follow because she hadn't quite caught up on her Avengers since returning from the Enchanted Forest. Mary Margaret seemed content to listen to them so Emma didn't bother trying to make small talk with her mother.

They rode for over an hour before coming to a creek, and then followed it up until the ground began to slope. The trickling sound of the little waterfall reached them first, then the trees thinned and the thing itself appeared, surrounded by mossy boulders that David declared the perfect place to have lunch.

Henry and Emma took the horses to get a drink while David and Mary Margaret spread out their picnic: sandwiches, bags of chips –baked, because Mary Margaret liked junk food that she could pretend was healthy- and bottles of Gatorade.

"David said you released Greg Mendel?" Mary Margaret said to Emma when there was a lull in the conversation.

Emma nodded while she chewed a mouthful of turkey sandwich and tried to wash it down with a mouthful of purple Gatorade. She grimaced at the flavor combination but it was better than nothing.

"Yeah," she said when her mouth was empty enough. "I'm hoping he'll decide to cut his losses and leave but I'm not holding my breath. He's been camping out near the beach since Granny kicked him out of the B&B."

"You can't tell him that's illegal and run him out of town?"

Could she? Regina probably would have if Emma had tried it when she'd first come to town. Or she would have written up a clause in the town ordinances that forbade it so she'd have some legal standing and then done it. But the more Regina had resisted her sticking around the more determined Emma had been to stay and she had a feeling pushing Mendel would get her the same result.

"Nah, camping is legal, even if it's not really the season for it yet. And the more I push him out the more convinced he is that there's a story here that we're hiding and that's the exact opposite of what I wanna do."

"He really is a reporter then?" Mary Margaret asked, and Emma wondered why because she was pretty sure David would have filled her in on this already.

"A writer," Emma corrected though she supposed it didn't really make a difference. "As far as I can tell, he's a sneaky little bastard –sorry Henry- but he's not really a threat."

"But he wants to write a story about the town?"

"Well, his column is a little off kilter, he usually writes about hauntings or bigfoot; X-Files type stuff." Emma had read a few of them. He wasn't bad, but it was hard to believe that people took it very seriously. "Stephen King made Maine a pretty popular place for that kinda thing and some towns like it because it brings tourists."

"Well then the faster he gets out of here without a story the better."

"Right," Emma agreed. "So far everyone's been pretty good. I don't how he found out about Granny's trashed freezer but he doesn't seem to have any other leads and nobody's been doing magic or turning into dragons or anything. His magazine's monthly and we're almost to the end of this one. I figure if we can keep it up a few more days then he'll have to leave to make a deadline."

"It shouldn't be too hard," Mary Margaret said. "There really aren't that many people who can do magic and the full moon is over."


"Like you said though," David spoke up. "When have we ever gotten that lucky?"

"We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it I guess," Emma said.

"Well, we have a back-up plan in any case," David sighed.

The Blue Fairy's Handy-Dandy-Memory-Wipe-3000. Emma was familiar with it.

"You guys," Henry spoke up frankly. "Even if he does write an article it's not like very many people would believe him. Emma was here for a year and she still didn't believe until I ate the turnover."

"Yeah, but people weren't turning into werewolves back then," Emma said.

Henry rolled his eyes at her.

"I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have believed anyway. People are used to ghost stories and stuff in this world. But a town full of people from fairy tales is a stretch even then. He'll leave," he said confidently.

"I hope you're right kid."

"I am."

"Can't fault that logic," Emma grinned at him.

They finished up their lunch and repacked the saddle bags. By the time they got back on their horses Henry was buzzing about what David and Mary Margaret had to show him again. They came off the trail west of Elena's property, riding through the wide open grass fields in the back and circled the ranch to the highway and followed it north toward town. No surprise in sight.

"Come on guys, what's the surprise?" Emma asked as they dismounted at an apparently random spot David had picked on the road between town and the ranch.

"Just wait and see," he said, leading his horse toward the vacant field.

Emma opened her mouth to crack wise and choked on her words as David and his horse disappeared entirely from view.

"What just happened?" She demanded when she could use her voice.

Mary Margaret just winked in response and followed David into the nothing.

Henry grinned at Emma and started walking so she had no choice but to go with him. The air around them blurred as they stepped toward the field and when the world came back into focus the empty field was full of life. Two pickup trucks were parked at the edge and a dozen rows of plants were growing up lines of wooden fences.

Bean poles, Emma realized, the fences were bean poles and the dwarves were milling about them with rakes and hoes and implements of destruction.

"Didn't know you were stopping by," Leroy drawled as he walked up with Felix. "Happy 'n me will hold your horses if you wanna take a look around Your Maj."

"Thanks Leroy," Mary Margaret handed him her reins. David did the same and put his hand on his wife's back as they led the way toward the bean field.

"Hey Sherrif," Felix –Emma couldn't bring herself to call any of the dwarves by their fairy tale names- said with a grin as he took her and Henry's horses.

Emma forced a smile back at him.

"Emma!" A familiar voice called her name and she turned her head to see-

"Anton?" She blurted incredulously.

The not-so-giant-as-she-remembered giant scooped her up into a bear hug before she could even process who he was. She mimicked the gesture even though she could barely squeeze his shoulders between her surprise and the vice grip he had on her waist.

Thankfully it was over as quickly as it had come and Emma was back down on the ground with enough space to think clearly.

"You're here," she stated the obvious before her filter could catch up with her brain. "And you're…short."

"Shorter anyway," he replied jovially, gesturing to the still not inconsiderable height difference between them. "It's not so bad. It's a lot easier to find cool clothes."

He gestured to his black shirt bearing a 1Up Mushroom that he'd paired with jeans and one of the thick water resistant jackets that the fisherman wore out at the docks.

"Why? How?"

"Hook brought him," David jumped in to explain. "He gave him some kind of mushroom that made him shrink and brought him here as his exit strategy."

"Exit strategy?" Emma looked between Anton and the bean fields as he waved an arm to present the bright green plants that were twisted along combination wire. "You mean those are-

"Magic beans," he finished. "Yeah! I had some starts to save and now everyone can go home!"

Henry looked around the garden in awe.

"We can actually go to Fairy Tale Land?" He asked, sounding like they'd just said they were going to take him to meet the real Santa Claus.

"To the Enchanted Forest yes," David announced, glee written all over his face.

"With these beans you can go anywhere," Anton added proudly.

Emma gaped as she looked at the same plants as her son but in a completely different light. Her gaze shifted between sprouts creeping up the lines of posts and her parents who were obviously anxious, waiting for her reaction. It was clear that they expected her to be thrilled but horrified was a much better description of how she felt.

"How long have you had these?" She demanded. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Since just after you left for New York," Mary Margaret explained. "The Blue Fairy cloaked the field and it protected them from the weather. We were hoping things would settle down a bit before we told you."

Hadn't she just spent months trying to get home from there? And hadn't Mary Margaret been with her in the ruined kingdom, battling a horde of creatures that were so not as cool as Henry thought they were? And hadn't David told her, not that long ago, that Mary Margaret –Snow- had said that they intended to stay in Storybrooke?

"What happened to not wanting to go back? I mean, two weeks ago David was saying you wanted to stay here and settle down with indoor plumbing. I clearly remember having that conversation."

Emma could see Mary Margaret squirming and didn't miss the back-me-up look she shot David.

"It's not that I don't want those things," she hedged and Emma's bullshit meter revved to life.

"With all that's been happening –there's so much we can't control here. People left because of the weather! What happens if Gold gets back his memories of Rumplestiltskin?" David picked up for Mary Margaret and Emma decided she liked her parents more before they had meshed into a singular unit and started double teaming her.

"So? People move in this world all the time," Emma began attacking his argument. "That's completely normal, and it's not out of the realm of reason to ask you to get used to it."

"People don't give up memories of a whole life when they move in this world Emma," Mary Margaret said. "And it's really not so much people deciding to leave Storybrooke that's the problem. It's people coming in that we're concerned about."

"Right," David agreed, "Greg Mendel has already brought one person into town and even if you don't think most people will believe him if he write's an article about us there are bound to be people who will. How long can we pretend that we're a quaint little town full of normal people when none of us can leave? Not to mention what having magic around could do. Even if Rumplestiltskin doesn't regain his memories it's only a matter of time before someone starts causing trouble with it."

"Greg Mendel hasn't actually brought anyone to town," Emma pointed out. Mary Margaret and David's confused expressions reminded her yet again of their skewed memories; debating them was useless so she tried a different tactic. "What were you planning to do exactly? Stage a mass exodus and leave everyone who doesn't fit in your fairytale world to wake up to a ghost town? What about Tom Clarke and Belle French? Their cursed selves have no idea what they can't remember. Are you going to leave them here or are you going to haul them to a forest full of monsters and destroyed homes that they can't remember?"

"The Blue Fairy can bring their memories back, she just needs more time."

"The Blue Fairy really needs to stop fucking around with people's memories!"

"Emma!" Her parents chorused in disapproval.

"She's trying her best to help."

"And memory tampering aside," Emma continued, ignoring them both. "Fear of what may or may not happen here is a really shitty reason to tell everyone you're taking them home when what you're really taking them to is a place beyond all recognition. You saw the villages Mary Margaret, there is nothing left! Your 'palace' is in shambles. There's not a home to go to."

"But we could rebuild," David said. "Think of all the improvements we could make with people who have the knowledge of engineers, mechanics and electricians."

"That is not going to be worth a damn thing until you figure out how to get electricity in the first place!"


Everyone turned to Henry who was practically covering his ears to ward off the argument.

"You didn't answer Emma's question," he told Mary Margaret and David. His previous excitement had disappeared entirely and Emma realized what he was now focused on just before he finished his thought. "What about the people you don't think belong in the Enchanted Forest? What about my –Elena?"

Mary Margaret's face contorted in sympathy.

"She'll be okay Henry; this is her world, without us she'll move on. And maybe not everyone will want to come; we're not forcing anyone to. Besides it will be a while before the beans are even ready, Anton says it will be a month or more," she said, looking to the former giant who had been standing uncomfortably in silence as they argued.

Emma saw him nod but knew that meant nothing to Henry. Her parents couldn't remember Regina and they had no intention of bringing Elena, who they thought belonged in this world, to theirs.

"No!" Henry yelled at his grandparents. "You can't leave her, I won't let you!"

"Henry!" Mary Margaret cried after him but the boy was already in motion.

He ran back down the row of beans to where they'd left Felix and Leroy with their horses. Neither dwarf stopped him as he grabbed Apollo's reins and threw them around his neck. By the time Emma had caught up he had climbed on and had spurred the horse into a gallop away from the bean fields and towards Stablebrooke.

Emma didn't hesitate to repeat his actions with her own horse, snatching the reins from a bewildered Doug and swinging up into her saddle in one smooth motion. David and Mary Margaret stumbled to a halt at the edge of the field and she did nothing to hide her scowl as she wheeled Sue around to chase her son.

The glamour protecting the field blurred her vision as she passed through it and then she spotted Henry, already a hundred yards ahead of her and clinging to his saddle horn and reins as his horse ran full tilt towards the barn that was nearly a mile down the road. Emma charged after, hoping she hadn't finally accidently done something that he wouldn't forgive her for.

"Hey kid! Henry! Slow down!"

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