The hand that fit perfectly on her waist rose to her chest and pushed. They parted, Emma staggering back and Regina trying not to follow.
She forgot how wonderful kissing felt.
How wonderful kissing her felt.
They were both panting—Emma as surprised as Regina felt. Their breathing was the breeze through the trees.
Regina’s locket was pleasantly warm—a source of satisfaction against her breastbone. She could see the matching chain of Emma’s locket. It was just below a pulse point that Regina knew from experience would throb beneath her mouth.
Emma ran her tongue across her lips and glared. “What the hell was that?”
“Magic.” The purest kind. Something Regina thought she’d never be able to do. Her heart was black, her soul cursed. She was evil.
The cut from Rumpel’s blade itched.
“That how you do all your spells Regina?”
Emma was pissed, and scared, and still breathing hard. But she had to know what that kiss was, she’d already been apart of one True Love’s Kiss. As Regina had learned herself, it wasn’t something one could forget. She’d been gray all over and barely conscious and could still remember the way Henry’s love had moved through her.
The implications of what Regina had just done sent all the blood to her head, forming a dull roar between her ears.
True Love’s Kiss.
She’s saved someone with a purity of love.
Emma was still panting and her whole body was taunt and one eyebrow was perched waiting for her response.
Regina had to answer. Had to say anything but that truth that had her heart racing and Emma poised to run. “Of course not,” she managed a smug grin, “there’s usually not so much tongue from the recipient.”
Emma turned as red as her jacket.
Regina lashed out out of habit, “I don’t know why you’re blushing. I’m the one that had my tonsils invaded.”
Emma was incredulous. “You kissed me!”
“To save your life. Not—“ She waved her hand up and down, motioning at all of Emma, “To get to some ‘base’ of yours.”
“It’s first base, and no one out of high school uses that metaphor, and—“ she wagged her finger, “you’re trying to distract me!”
Emma took a step towards her. Close enough that Regina could grab her and pull her close. “Why’d you kiss me?”
Because she was supposed to be the before and the Emma Regina loved was the after and she couldn’t have one if the other was a tree.
But really she could never have that one. That Emma was gone and this one looked like her and sometimes sounded like her and, God did she kiss like her. Enough to make something inside of Regina hurt a little less—
“Because I’ve been madly in love with you since the moment you blundered into my life—why do you think?! To break a curse.”
Emma took a deep breath, steeling herself for another tact, “Okay, how?”
“It was an experiment,” to see if True Love’s Kiss worked when they weren’t really the person one loved. “And it worked. The mechanics of it all are beyond your rudimentary understanding, I assure you.”
She stared Emma down, daring her to ask for elaboration. Emma wouldn’t. Elaboration meant talking about the other Storybrooke and the woman Regina had loved and Emma, like her parents, was very fond of sticking her head in the sand and denying truths.
It just wasn’t as irritating coming from her instead of Snow White.
Emma said Regina’s name warningly. Haphazardly asking for the truth. With a mere look Regina dared her to press the matter. Because she’d tell her everything—force her to understand—all Emma had to do was ask.
A muscle in Emma’s jaw flexed. “Right. Of course.” She rolled her head and her necked pop. “I guess,” she rubbed the back of her neck, “I guess I should say thanks?”
And just like that the kiss was dropped. Swept under the rug with the other Storybrooke, and the locket, and everything on the tip of Regina’s tongue that was begging to flow out.
“It’d be nice. What if it had failed and we’d both ended up trees?”
“Would it have been one tree or two?” She was actually curious.
“I’ve no idea.” She glanced up at the cocoon overhead. “I suppose we can always ask the jackass who cast the spell.”
Emma stepped closer, almost close enough that they could have touched if either had moved a fraction. She looked up over Regina. “The muffled yelling means he’s still alive right?”
Regina sighed, “Yes. For now.” She held her hand up like she was reaching for an apple of a tree and squeezed. The cocoon grew smaller and the man inside screamed.
She sounded exasperated, “Regina…”
“He did just try to kill at least one of us, and I am absolutely positive no one would miss him.”
“He’s going to jail—or the hospital. Whichever can hold him and keep him from treeing people.”
“Hospital then. Alive.”
“Even Snow would have had him killed,” Regina argued.
“Maybe, but having seen that world I’d like to not put its laws and customs into practice here. So he goes to magic person jail.”
“And if he won’t change after a time out? You can’t just leave him.” She couldn’t keep herself from glowering, “Locking someone up for eternity is as bad as the chopping block.”
Confusion flitted across Emma’s face—a measure of curiosity too, but she didn’t pry. “He’s not Cora,” she said instead, “we can just shove him over the city line and walk away.”
It was a ruthlessly efficient idea.
A thought struck her and her lips quirked upwards, “If we deal with too many criminals that way the surrounding towns may start to get crowded.”
“Then I’ll drive them to Boston and leave them at a shelter.”
Regina raised an eyebrow.
Emma shrugged, “My coping method lately is dreaming about shoving people over the line.” Her eyes flickered to Regina, “At least the ones it’ll work on.”
They were still standing close enough that Regina had to resist the urge to just reach up and brush a lock of hair behind Emma’s ear. “And the rest of us?”
Her gaze was even, with none of the fear that had been leaking in before David had attacked. But soft too. Tender in another life. “When I figure it out you’ll be the first to know.”
By the time they made it back to the stables, cocooned gnome in tow, David and Henry were gone. Regina poofed the cocoon into the back of Emma’s cruiser and used the horses as an excuse of getting out of helping.
“The horses need to be brushed down. I’d leave it to the stable manager, but she’s an idiot,” she’d said.
“That’s a lame excuse Regina.”
“Enjoy imprisoning him. And remind the fairies he can’t have plants in his room.”
It all left Emma with the unenviable task of dealing with the cocoon herself.
A reluctant Mulan agreed to meet her at the hospital, and when she arrived, her cargo emitting muffled shouts and rocking back and forth on the seat, she found her sitting on the back of the other cruiser, drinking a coffee and chatting with Aurora.
Aurora must have finally read the memo about attempting to look professional, because she was wearing her badge for once. It was on a chain, dangling from her neck. Everything else about her still screamed too thoughtful and fashionable. She was wearing leggings and an oversized flannel shirt cinched tight with a wide belt. And she didn’t have a gun on. Instead Aurora may have been the only deputy in the whole country that carried a bow and arrows.
Having them both there meant lots of instances where Emma was out of the loop on conversations. But at least out of all the obnoxious paired off couples in town the two of them were the least irritating. It was the way Aurora could say something that would earn a shy smile from Mulan and the way Aurora looked at Mulan when she thought the other woman wasn’t looking.
They had an easy rapport, and maybe it was because Mulan wasn’t from the Enchanted Forest, but she didn’t harp on good and evil and true love as much as everyone else. Aurora happily followed suit.
It definitely had nothing to do with their dry appraisal of the town—that was too Regina-like for comfort.
Emma slid out of her cruiser and hitched her belt. “Two deputies for the price of one? You lose a bet Aurora?”
“I wanted to see the gnome.”
Emma waved to the back seat. “Regina trussed him up with half the forest. Not much to see until we take some hedge trimmers to him.”
Aurora peeked inside and seemed impressed. “I like the weave she did. Very sturdy.”
“Your obsession with textiles is a little insane.”
She didn’t argue with Emma’s observation. She poked the cocoon and sipped her coffee. “Oh,” she asked—changing the subject, “did David tell you about the doctor?”
He hadn’t mentioned Whale since Emma had sent him after him yesterday, and after finding out none of the living fairy nuns were missing she’d kind of forgotten their suspicions of Whale vivisecting them.
“Should he have?”
“We’ve started surveillance on him.”
Mulan perked up. “How?”
In town six weeks and she was on her way to being Storybrooke’s Big Brother. “That’s not legal Aurora. You have to have a warrant.”
Aurora scoffed, “I know that. My mother was Judge Andersen’s fairy godmother before she turned in her wings.”
“Is he the one that trims his hedges naked?”
Mulan shuddered, “Unfortunately.”
Aurora continued, “He signed a warrant last night and I set up all the webcams this morning.“
Emma yanked the back door of her cruiser open, “Fantastic—and disturbing. Maybe tell me about your Orwellian plot when we’re not dealing with a suspect?”
“Where’s Regina,” Mulan asked—too observant to be legal.
“She stayed back at the stables. You want to grab the other end of him?”
“You know you two are competing for worst deputy right? Policing the town isn’t just about the jobs you want to do.”
Mulan sighed and came around, catching the end of the cocoon before it dropped to the ground. She was kind of freakishly strong and could have carried it on her own, but she let Emma take some of the weight. When they were out of Aurora’s earshot she leaned over the cocoon and said, “I was staring because you’ve got something on your face.”
Emma tried to rub at her face with her shoulder. “What? What’s on there?”
A whisper of a smile graced her deputy’s lips. “Looks like lipstick Sheriff.”
Emma dropped her half of the gnome on her foot. The pain was actually better than the mortification.
After brushing both horses down and fondly watch them eat oats Regina went to Granny’s with the vain hope that she’d run into her son out for a post-horse riding cocoa with his grandfather. The elementary school had had a teacher in-service (that Mary Margaret had notably skipped out on) and the streets were unusually saturated with children.
Granny’s was a respite. Regina supposed it was owing to the fact that it was owned by werewolves. Children were terrified that Granny and Red would eat them as soon as they came in. Too many stupid adults were too. The place likely survived only on the support of the Charmings and their friends.
He was sitting at the counter idly spinning a coffee cup by the handle and waiting for his meal. And he was alone.
“This is the first time in a month I’ve seen you without a woman on your arm,” she noted.
“I notice your missing a few members of your entourage too. Pirate sleeping off the drink? Or are the other two—”
“—The other two are probably mired in sapphic liaisons.” She waved her hand dismissively and took a seat one stool down.
He brought his cup to his lips and smiled before taking a sip, “Jealous?”
Of two people she didn’t hate being happy? Positively. Rumpel was talking about them both being women though.
“Do I smell a whiff of homophobia? I’m surprised. What would your little ultra-liberal girlfriend think?” She glanced at Red, who was hovering at the door to the kitchen waiting for an order. “What would her girlfriend think?”
Rumpel followed her gaze and Regina got to enjoy the way his lip twitched as he tried not to snarl.
She leaned in closer—he smelled of aftershave and moldy paper. “And she’s not even the only one stepping out on True Love dear. I know all about you and my mother. I hear Belle does too.”
He spun around on his seat, “You told her?”
“And come between True Love?” She feigned horror.
“A good, reformed, honest man would just ask her themselves.”
A hint of that brogue of his brushed his voice, “I’m asking you.”
Red chose the moment to return to the counter. She wordlessly set a mug before Regina and filled it with coffee. Too high for Regina to add milk or cream. She smiled frigidly in the ensuing silence before declaring, “You two want to snark take it outside.”
That she actually warned them surprised Regina and Rumpel both, and they shared that surprise with one another.
Rumpel leaned over the counter. “You telling us what to do dearie?”
“It’s not very wise,” Regina added.
Red motioned to the diner around them with her chin, “This place was rebuilt by the fairies and it comes with their protection. So as long as you’re in here? House rules.”
“They weren’t the only ones to help,” Rumpel reminded her.
“Maybe, but I’m willing to bet taking on a convent of fairy nuns would be a bit much, even for the Dark One.”
Rumpel sat up straight, taking in the challenge and calling dark power to him. “I don’t like being challenged.”
“Problem?” Snow White, the former awful little miscreant bandit of the Enchanted Forest, had entered the diner so quietly Regina jumped. She chose to assume her interruption startled Rumpel and Red as well.
The magic around Rumpel quickly dissipated. Mary Margaret’s interruption working, and effectively snapping him out of his ire. “I was just leaving,” he announced. He glared at Red before pushing his coffee mug towards the edge of the counter with his finger tips and limping out.
“He didn’t even wait for his sandwich,” Red complained. Granny was standing at the door to the kitchen waving a brown sack at her. “You two don’t kill each other either,” she told them. She grabbed the sack from Granny and chased Rumpel out.
“What was that about,” Snow asked.
“If you needed to know someone would tell you. What are you even doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be down on the beach avoiding the school, your family and virtually all other responsibilities?”
Sniping at Snow always did make her feel better. And she smiled not so sweetly for added pleasure.
Snow raised one darkened eyebrow, “Aren’t you supposed to be following your son and my daughter around with a hangdog expression?”
Red returned, saw Regina’s irritation and Snow’s smugness and steered herself back towards the kitchen. “No baiting evil queens on the premises Mary Margaret,” she warned as she breezed by.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Snow took a seat beside Regina and reached over the counter to grab a bottled water. “We’re just catching up.”
“The only thing I hope you catch is chlamydia,” Regina sniped. It wasn’t her best work, but Snow smirking and not crying while lecturing someone about goodness was unnerving.
“Funny, I’ve been too busy catching all those looks you give my daughter.” She unscrewed the lid on her water and took a long sip.
“I don’t give your daughter looks.”
“It’s ironic that you murder a man and then become enamored with his granddaughter.”
“For a 4th grade elementary school teacher your grasp of the concept of irony is woefully lacking Snow.”
“Mary Margaret, please.”
“You actually want me to call you that?”
“You picked the name out for me Regina, it would be impolite not to show it off.” Her tone was so biting. Without a heart Mary Margaret made no pathetic attempt to be polite. The awful creature she truly was was there for everyone to see. Cutting, clever, and as nasty as the cut on Regina’s hand.
“Fine, Mary Margaret,” she savored the name, “you want a better idea of irony? It’s me finally getting around to liking you only when you don’t have a heart.” She tapped her own chest, “Imagine how much time and energy we could have saved if I’d just ripped yours out forty years ago?”
That worked. Mary Margaret blanched and Regina reveled in her victory, sipping her coffee and trying not to squirm with delight on her stool.
And now for the pièce de résistance, “Tell me, does your husband like this new Snow? Or is he finding you a little,” she glanced at Snow’s water and leached all the heat out of it, “frigid?”
Snow gasped and Regina grinned. Ruby returned to take their orders. Regina ordered cold cuts on rye. Snow declared she wasn’t hungry.
Emma went more than twenty-four hours without thinking about Regina and the magic kiss that wasn’t just regular magic. Arguing with Aurora about surveillance on Whale, getting the nuns to build a magic proof cell for David the gnome, and getting kicked by a sleeping Henry in the bed they shared occupied a lot of that time.
There was also more interviews with innocent nuns and the Mother Superior, the darning of her uniform so she’d look respectable at the clam bake, and a whole hour lecturing her son, Mulan, David, and a sober looking Hook on the reasons why they couldn’t use the department’s supply of ammunitions for a homemade fireworks show. They’d rigged all ten shotguns to fire at once and were collecting all the rest of the gunpowder into a coffee jar when she found them.
That was for a cannon salute from the Jolly Roger.
“Hook and Henry I can almost expect it from, they’re ten year old boys, you two are sheriff’s deputies.”
“A good celebration needs fireworks,” Mulan said. Hook nodded.
“I was just here to make sure Henry didn’t end up with a hook for a hand too,” David claimed. Pathetically.
“I’m eleven,” Henry insisted.
By the time she’d made them dismantled their death on a stick rig and locked the gunpowder away in the evidence locker the rest of the town had gathered on the beach for the clam bake/giant ass impromptu festival. There was a band and a dance floor made out of old driftwood, christmas lights were strung from posts and tents, and huge bonfires dotted the sand. Most, but not all, of the town was there.
They gave her a wide berth and Emma caught more than a few angry glares, but Regina was there, sitting on a log, her legs crossed and her elbows perched on her knee and listening to Henry tell some elaborate story that involved a lot of hand gestures.
She looked different. At ease. She was wearing jeans, and a puffy maroon vest over a tailored white oxford to fight the chill off the water. She still had expensive looking dark stoned earrings in her ears, and though her makeup was more casual than usual it was perfect as always.
She was just sort of softer than she pictured Regina in her head. And maternal looking in that Junior League way. She could have been the same cold woman just dressed down. It was the way she was listening to Henry’s story that made her truly different. The kid kind of rambled and got a little boring, but Regina was listening with the intensity only a mom could have.
A mom that cared.
It took Emma a full thirty-seconds to realize the funny feeling she got watching Henry and Regina was her own stupid heart jackhammering in her chest.
It was definitely jealousy and definitely not longing and certainly nothing to do with memories of soft lips. She was just jealous of how easily the Evil Queen could shift into the role of soccer mom. Regina made it look effortless, while Emma was stuck in the smoke path from a bonfire, all alone and in a uniform with an awful polyester blend shirt chafing against the inside of her arms.
At least the rest of the party was all pissed that Regina was there and unconcerned with their feelings. Former Evil Queen still trumped every other villain in town. And sheriffs too.
Current, all alone, sheriffs.
Mary Margaret was at one of the larger bonfires with David’s arms wrapped awkwardly around her. They were trying to stand close but neither actually wanted it, and when she spied Emma standing around like an idiot she said something to her husband, slipped out of the loop of his arms and trudged over the sand towards her.
Emma looked for a direction to go that would have gotten her away from Mary Margaret, but she was at the outskirts of the party, and her only choices were obviously running or heading towards Mary Margaret or Regina.
So she zipped up the front of her department issued sheriff’s jacket and waited.
“You’re not going to join the festivities,” Mary Margaret asked.
“I’m on duty.”
“So are the others. And they’re having fun.” Mulan was with Hook doing a falconry show for some kids, except they were using Hook’s brightly colored parrot instead of a falcon, Aurora was in deep conversation with Belle and Ruby, and David had returned to one of the tables of food to fill his plate up again.
By Emma’s count is was his third trip. The only people making more trips were a former walrus, the giant someone had found shrunk down in Cora’s handbag, an ex-Lost Boy and Regina.
“How can she put that much food away,” she asked.
Mary Margaret followed Emma’s line of sight and frowned. Regina had left her perch on the driftwood and was at one of the buffets piling high her plate with lobster, pork, clams and enough corn on the cob to feed half the party. Henry was standing next to her and looking non-plussed by his mother’s plate.
“If I put that much food away the buttons on my jeans would take someone’s eye out.”
Mary Margaret shrugged, “Regina’s always eaten like that.”
“She uses magic doesn’t she?”
“Maybe,” she peered at Emma, “why do you care?”
She clasped Mary Margaret’s shoulder in a gesture that would have been weird even before they were daughter and mother. “You did an amazing job with this clam bake.”
“Emma,” she warned, tilting her head disapprovingly. “What’s going on with you and Regina?”
“The same thing that’s always gone on between us. She irritates me. I irritate her. We meet on Sundays to fight over Henry.”
“Is she behaving herself with this murder investigation?”
“She hasn’t poisoned anyone or turned them into rats.”
Mary Margaret crossed her arms and said sagely, “That’s her behaving herself,” she bit her lip, worrying it briefly before saying, “You know…if she says anything—“
She sighed, her dark brows furrowing as she tried to say whatever it was in the most tactful way she was capable of, “Regina is…devious.”
Emma raised an eyebrow, “I’m aware. She tried to kill me with a turnover.”
“I know, but, she has these friends now and she seems…different—but she’s done that in the past Emma. She makes you comfortable when really she’s plotting your murder. I mean, she spent years pretending to be my stepmother.”
“But didn’t you say you sort of knew back then? That she hated you I mean.”
“Only at the very beginning—and the very end. In the middle she acted…happy. Like she wanted to be there.”
“Then she tried to have you murdered.”
“After having her husband, your grandfather, killed.”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing, that was before she was a mom. She’s too busy worrying about Henry liking her now to be plotting to kill one of us.”
Emma didn’t think that through before she said it—didn’t consider how offensive it could be. Between Regina, the book, and Mary Margaret’s usual distrust of Regina she’d always kind of assumed that there was no love lost. Mary Margaret and her were only stuck together now because of Henry (and maybe Emma).
But Mary Margaret was stricken by Emma’s words, as hurt as she could be with no heart. The absence of it had had her acting like she was on powerful mood-stabilizers. There were rarely any highs or lows—just a frustrating base line lack of emotion.
Being hurt like that…
It was new.
She tried to apologize, but after saying Mary Margaret’s name nothing else came out. What the hell was she supposed to say?
Mary Margaret attempted to mask the hurt, but she was only halfway successful. Tears made her eyes bright and her nose was red. “No,” she tried to smile and it looked maudlin, “I understand. I was never…I was never enough for her. But he is.”
She was looking at Henry. He and Regina had returned to their piece of driftwood and were eating and laughing and looking happy still.
Emma couldn’t think of anything to say to make it better and slipped past Mary Margaret and back towards the bonfire. Away from her son and his other mother, and away from her own mother. She walked quickly—her boots digging into the loose sand, which meant she couldn’t be sure if she imagined it, or if, when she turned away, Mary Margaret softly said, “And you are too.”
She hoped it was in her head. She’d never been enough before, and she didn’t know how to be enough now.
Henry was so focused on his own huge second helping of food that he didn’t notice Regina’s slipping focus. She watched Emma walk away from Snow. Both women seemed upset—with Emma looking more worried and Snow more miserable. They’d been too far away for her to catch what their conversation had been about, but she’d noticed the few glances cast her and Henry’s way.
Snow’s lost heart—and her family’s knowledge of it—were bending them more than Regina would have expected.
Maybe enough to break. She snapped a piece of pork skin in half and popped one half into her mouth. The fat dissolved quickly, leaving something gristly and satisfyingly meaty tasting for her to chew on.
“I think there’s hair on my pork skin,” Henry complained. He was holding up a shard of it to the distant bonfire light and squinting at its surface.
“Just brush it off.”
“Mom,” he looked pain.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I’m not using magic to Nair your meal. Eat it.”
He mumbled something.
Still sullen he shook his head, “Nothing.”
Balancing her plate on her thighs Regina pried meat out of a lobster claw. It had been cooked too long and stuck to the insides. “How are you liking the party?”
“Okay, what about horseback riding yesterday? Did you learn much?”
“David let me sit on the horse for five minutes at the end.”
“We walked a little. Did you know horses fart?”
“They’re a great deal like humans in that respect.”
Connections were made in Henry’s head and his hairy pork skin was forgotten for a moment. “I hope Leroy’s butt doesn’t look like that when he farts.”
“Don’t be disgusting. Eat your dinner.”
Chastised Henry returned to his meal…for perhaps half a second. “Last night Grams told me about how you saved her with a horse once. Was that before you tried to kill her?”
It was the tilt of Henry’s head, showing he was legitimately curious, that kept Regina from getting upset. There was a note of bitterness too—but when discussing her once hidden past with Henry that would always be there.
Another Henry’s anger flashed in her mind. Reminding her, in the end, it wasn’t what she’d done in the Enchanted Forest that hurt Henry, but that she’d lied to him about it.
“It was. Before she met your grandmother she was just a naive princess, her horse bolted and I got her away safely.”
He accepted her version of events with a nod. “She said you used to have horse jumping competitions at the palace. And that you’d always win.”
“It was steeplechasing to be specific. And yes, I was very good so I usually won.”
“Emma thinks you cheated.”
“Emma would. She’s about as talented as her mother on a horse.”
Henry must have remembered seeing them off from the stables yesterday, because he accidentally smiled. Which made Regina smile. Which made him frown. So she frowned too.
And they went back to eating.
Time, she had to remind herself. Henry needed time. He’d had only a few months to come to terms with everything. Another Henry had had years.
“I like this,” she said.
Henry was still sour. He yanked a clam from its shell and dipped it into the cup of butter on the log between them.
“Just the two of us,” she continued. “I’ve missed it.”
He threw the empty shell out towards the bay and began working another clam from its shell. Emma would have told her to be quiet and give the kid some space.
“I know you’re upset with me. About the curse and—“
She winced and forged ahead—quickly skirting that problem, “I miss you Henry. And…” Deep breath. “Not like I would have before the Curse.”
His eyes widened in surprise and he quickly tried to put the sour frown of his back in place. But she’d seen the surprise. He didn’t know what she’d seen in another world, and he didn’t know that his plan, forged just a year ago (for him), had worked. The Curse was broken and if he wanted her, he had a whole mother.
“You know I was different before the Curse?”
He didn’t say anything but he had to know. Another Henry had told her so.
“And now I’m like them.” The people who were laughing and eating. Sinbad was chasing Pongo around a bonfire and Mulan and Aurora were standing close together and trying not to touch even as their fingers twitched. “So now…I really miss you.”
Henry had never been very good with emotion. His hugs could crush a person’s ribs and he could talk about True Love until he was blue in the face, but when it came to the two of them with no death or outrage in-between he was stiff.
Scared, she realized.
And a child thrust into the emotional minefield of adults. He sat on the log like a lump—confused and quiet and concerned enough to verge on neurotic. She gently took his plate from him and brushed her hand through his hair. It was getting long. Emma would need to take him to get it cut.
“Go enjoy the party Henry. Forget I said anything.”
Killian found her a little later, full, as sullen as her son had been and far too thoughtful for a town-wide party full of people who hated her.
“This is the single saddest thing I’ve seen in my life,” he declared, “and I’ve wandered your dreamscape.”
“My son still hates me.”
“But, he’s alive,” he said cheerfully.
She tried to glare but Killian had lifted both of his eyebrows in a hopeful expression. So she looked away to hide her own small smile.
“And the boy’s also eleven, and just learning his evil mother really cares about him and isn’t just having him around town as insurance. Give him time.”
“And suddenly you’re the expert on child rearing?”
“Just little boys.”
They stared at each other.
“That came out wrong didn’t it?”
She nodded. “Say that in front of Charming and you’ll wind up in jail.”
“If he didn’t arrest me for making remarks about a threesome with him and his wife he’s not going to arrest for that.”
The horrific image seared itself into her brain in a vibrant tableau of skin and gasps. She shuddered.
“Now stop sulking and get up and have a dance with me.”
He held his hook out in front of her, “Come on your majesty. It’s impolite to reject a man.”
“What about a woman? Snap of my fingers and—“
“You’ll probably find me more attractive. Just make sure I have big breasts.” He wagged his hook again, “Now come on. This whole town keeps staring at us like we’re zoo animals. I mean to give them a proper show.”
“If its to irritate the town you should have just said so.” She grabbed his hook and let him pull her up. The metal was cool against her fingers and the tip of it dug against her bandage.
He dragged her across the beach with his mouth set in a firm line and his eyebrows knitted together in an officious glower. When their feet hit the dance floor he snapped around, put his hand on her waist very formally and raised on eyebrow expectantly.
The band was made up of woodsman and hunters. Folksy salt of the earth people armed with fiddles and guitars and tall basses. The music was something very Appalachian, but with a vein of the formalness of the Enchanted Forest.
Good music for a lazy two step—which was one of exactly three dances Regina knew.
She heard them pause briefly before getting back to playing and Killian grinned. “Stunned them into silence.”
“I’m the one that cursed them and now I’m dancing at the party celebrating the end of the Curse.” They moved gracefully across the dance floor. “It’s a little gauche.”
“It’s completely gauche. Up for a spin.”
“Just don’t tear my arm off with that thing.”
He pulled his arm up for the spin and Regina did most of the work, and around them people stared. They were furious.
It was wonderful.
The crowd gathering at the dance floor drew Emma in. She assumed some fairytale Fred Astaire was showing off, but the floor was crowded with couples doing a Texas two step or something.
How the hell did they even know that dance?
How the hell did Regina and Hook know that dance? They were one of the couples, moving gracefully across the floor, periodically twirling one another. Regina’s face was a mask, but Hook was smugly grinning and sometimes when they’d spin she’d see the ghost of a smile on Regina’s face.
Watching it it felt like a stone dropped into her stomach.
A hand brushed Emma’s and she startled, looking down in alarm. David had come up besides her and was taking her hand, pulling her onto the dance floor. “Come on,” he grunted.
“What? Why the hell—“
They bumped into another couple and both apologized. On the other side of the dance floor Mary Margaret and Henry were watching Regina dance—Mary Margaret’s fingers pressed into Henry’s shoulder. David spoke softly, “The Evil Queen is dancing at a party celebrating the demise of the her Curse. Someone’s going to kill her if we don’t ease the tension.”
“And we do that with our bad dancing?”
He raised an eyebrow, “There are a lot of things we’re bad at Emma, but dancing—“ he spun her and pulled her close, sliding his hand into place on her back and gently lifting her other hand to just above shoulder level, “is not one of them.”
“Who knew Swan could dance?”
Regina did. Another Emma in a skinny black suit had guided her surely across a dance floor. They’d flirted and uttered truths and later that night they’d—she swallowed.
“Stop gaping,” she snapped. “It’s ruining your timing.”
“I’m allowed to be in awe,” Killian protested, “that family is the least coordinated group of heroes I’ve ever seen. Do they just save all the grace for when there’s an impromptu dance?”
“And for dodging fireballs.”
Emma and her father weren’t doing anything fancy. All they were doing was dancing, and not stepping on each other’s toes. It shouldn’t have been as impressive as it was, but everyone was watching them, and then trying to watch Regina and Killian. Their heads all flitting from side to side like they were viewing a tennis match. If Regina had cared she would have worried for their necks. All that back and forth couldn’t be good for them.
The song the band had been playing was upbeat and quick enough to require swift movements across the floor, but one of the guitars started strumming something slower, and the rest of the instruments followed suit.
The dancers all slowed down. Some drifted off the floor while others chose to sway in place. Killian kept them moving and as they danced she caught sight of Emma. Made eye contact.
It stole her breath away.
Regina kept looking. David guided them across the dance floor and they were doing a good job of being casual while still drawing attention from Regina and Hook.
But they’d turn sometimes and she’d spy Regina over David’s shoulder.
And something electric shooting through Emma.
“I feel stupid.”
“You look fanatic,” David said with a smile. He spun her and the smile got all goofy like an old dad kind of thing.
Goofy enough that Emma had to smile too.
Then he pulled her back into him, sped the dancing up and wagged his eyebrows.
“Stop,” she said with a laugh.
“Just being a dad. That’s what we do right? Embarrass our kids in public?”
Emma’s smile faltered. “David…”
He pulled her close enough that they were almost cheek to cheek. The perfect way to avoid eye contact.
“This used to be on my bucket list. You know, before.” Emma said nothing. “I was dancing with your mother at Cinderella’s wedding and I knew I wanted to be there. To dance at my daughter’s wedding. And every birthday. I was gonna teach her the stupid dances the farmers used to do in barns. Stuff her mom,” she felt his head turn, and if she’d looked she would have seen his one eye on her, “your mom, didn’t know.”
They swayed, barely moving. Other couples flowed around them to the gentle rhythm. Regina’s campy “Evil Bitch From Hell” smirk had died down to something gentle as she and Hook spoke softly.
Emma was stuck with David, who was trying not to watch her as they dance. She thought of all the things she could have said to try and make him feel better for sending her away. For losing all that time that had left her bitter and hard. And she thought of the really awful stuff she’d stored up when she was sleeping in her car or in booths at truck stops.
But what came out, instead, was the kind of truth she’d never been in the habit of giving until that curse broke. “This one family I had made me do that racist Indian Princess crap? You know the father daughter stuff?” He nodded, the curse most have stuck that in his head. “They thought it would make me and the dad bond. Only he was always late or wouldn’t show up. So I’m with these people long enough that I get to the end school year ‘sweetheart banquet.’ Its just all these girls in dresses and their dads sober and employed and happy to be there and me in some hand me down jumper waiting on the guy who couldn’t be bothered. And it’s—“
It was hard. More than twenty years later and she felt a chip of ice in her that was never gonna thaw from that stupid dance.
David squeezed her hand, urging her with that one doleful eye. “It’s dumb really.” She looked him in the eye and then had to look away or she wouldn’t have been able to say it. She shrugged. “I used to imagine a guy who would show up. And because I was six I’d imagine dancing on his feet like all the other kids with their dads. That always seemed like a really big deal then. Which is dumb. I mean who even—“
David slipped one foot under hers and they wobbled from side to side—nearly falling. They caught ahold of each other. She grabbed his arms and he grabbed her waist.
He was bashful when he spoke. Blushing and knowing how ridiculous he was gonna sound but saying it anyway. “You know I’ve got pretty big feet Emma.”
“I was a kid,” she protested.
He slipped his other foot under hers and looped both arms around her waist. With no other place to hold on and not look silly as hell she had to reach up and loop her arms around his neck.
“I know. And I wasn’t there. But I’m gonna try now—okay?” He rested his cheek against hers. Guys always had really scratchy stubble, but his was a soft peach fuzz. It didn’t feel so bad against her skin.
“David. I’m nearly thirty. I don’t need—“
“Can you let me?” They were the same height normally, and standing on his toes didn’t change much. So she was looking directly into that one eye and she could see how he had little lines around his eye sockets like someone a lot older and how the sun was creating freckles on his nose. “Even if it’s just for this song.”
In spite of being sheriff and out in public and on a dance floor shared with a woman who’d used magic kisses to keep her from turning into a tree Emma relaxed in his arms. He smelled like bonfires and the ocean and for just a second, with his arms around her, she felt safe.
Like that little girl waiting on a nonexistent dad at the sweetheart banquet.
“Keep staring at her and she’s bound to notice.”
“Would you shut up.”
“I don’t know why you don’t just tell her.”
“Because she has the emotional capacity of a teaspoon and will run away terrified. I have to be patient.”
Killian raised an eyebrow.
“I have to try at least.”
“I’m almost proud of you Regina.” He wouldn’t be if he knew about the kiss. “Be prouder if you went before the whole town and announced you’d saved them from an apocalyptic future where your mother was queen of Storybrooke and there were statues of you on every corner.”
“Trying to rehabilitate my image is a waste of time,” she sniffed, “these people like to sit on their high horses and judge those of us who make mistakes.”
“And murder hundreds and cast every land into darkness.”
“Point is we’re on one side of the line of morality and they’re on the other guarding it bitterly. They won’t let me cross just because I tell a good story.”
“Fair enough. And it’s a bit more fun over on this side of the line anyway isn’t it? We can drink all day, start fights and kill to our hearts content.”
Regina frowned, “Killed anyone in particular Killian?”
“Not yet,” he nodded to the crowd, “but there’s time.”
In between the Blue Fairy and a few of her nuns and Belle was Rumpel, standing at the edge of the dance floor, his knuckles white against the handle of his cane and his eyes stony flecks of fool’s gold.
“I didn’t know he’d come.”
“Why’d you think I asked you to dance love?”
She should have known. “Was that what it’s about? Reminding him you’re here?”
Killian’s grin was wicked. “And friendly with his former protege.” He spun her around and pulled her back to his front, his arm keeping her in place and his hook digging into her hand. “You won’t let me kill him,” he whispered into her ear, “so I might as well goad him.”
She spun out again and back into a proper stance. But further apart this time, more formal than was appropriate for the slow rhythm of the song. “I have reasons.”
“That shouldn’t matter. You swore an oath.”
She corrected him, “I made a promise.”
“Semantics Regina.” He slipped into her personal space, leering down at her. He dropped to hand to lift her chin with his hook. Anyone watching would have thought it was seductive. “You may be a mate, but I’ll have my revenge.”
She knocked the appendage away with her hand, and quickly forced him back into dancing. “Take it from me Killian, revenge isn’t worth it.” She tried to keep her gaze cool. They didn’t need the others around them seeing the growing discord.
“You mean your mother’s ire?”
Her head snapped up. Killian nodded. “I know all about his visits to her. And yours.” A hint of a frown touched his eyebrows. “Take it from me love, as much as she may love you now she doesn’t deserve your love in return. And she certainly doesn’t deserve your favors.”
“She’s not the only reason—“
“She’s the only one that matters.”
“I’m doing this for you Killian. I saw what revenge did in that other world—what my revenge ultimately created.” A son dying in her arms. “It isn’t worth it.”
“Really? You’ve got your son back, and the girl, and your mother.” The outer curve of his hook swiped across her bandaged hand, “You even managed to have your health. Where I sit revenge got you everything you dreamed.”
“I got a girl. She’s not her.”
His hook dropped to her waist and he pulled her close again. His chapped lips brushed her ear. “Way Mulan tells it she was enough of the girl for you to wake her with a kiss.”
She shoved him back so violently he crashed into another couple. The dancers around them all stopped and with a screech of bow across cat gut the band stopped too.
Killian sneered, “Hypocrisy doesn’t suit our kind. Leave it to the white hats.”
David reached Killian first and grabbed his arm, but Killian shoved him aside with his shoulder and rammed his way through the crowd.
All eyes turned to Regina.
Most of them looked so…happy at the discord. Snow was aghast and the tentative smile that kept creeping onto Henry’s face all evening was gone. Even Emma was staring.
Regina felt like she’d fallen into ice water.
Emma started towards her even as Mulan and Aurora went after Killian.
The Blue Fairy was amused, but Grumpy smirked first. Then it turned into a laugh, and others laughed too. A trickle turned into a wave of laughter. And death at Snow White’s hand, exile, her heart physically torn from her body by Bluebeard. All were better than Storybrooke looking at her stricken face
Shit. The one word turned into a chant in Emma’s head as the cold consumed her, starting in the locket and spreading like she was lying in a drift of snow.
Her feet were numb.
A few people snickered and Regina looked like they’d just crucified Henry in front of her and were feasting on his corpse. She was horrified—embarrassed beyond measure.
Emma started to call her name and go to her but Regina turned on her heel and vanished into the night in a puff of smoke. The cold in Emma was enough to make her want to curl up and pray for warmth, but she put one clumsy foot in front of the other and trudged after Regina.
She could feel her, which was unnerving enough. The locket seemed to have a direct link to the one Regina wore and she could sort of see the path to her in her head. She reached with her brain because it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do and the next thing she knew lightening lanced across her vision, the smell of ozone flooded her nose and she was standing on the beach, far from the clam bake and in front of a horrified Regina.
She’d pulled a handkerchief from somewhere to dab at non-existent tears, and she continued to clutch the handkerchief as she gaped wide eyed at Emma.
“Are you okay?”
“Am I—what the hell do you think you’re doing,” Regina shouted.
Emma thought she was going after Regina to see what the hell had happened on the dance floor. She said as much.
“I meant,” Regina waved the little white square of cloth at Emma’s general person, “that.” She shoved the hanky in her pocket and came closer. The distant glow of the party caught in her eyes, highlighting their darkness while making them warmer all at once. “You just teleported.”
“I didn’t mean to. I just…thought?” She shivered. The cold was lingering.
Regina continued to stare in horror.
“What was I supposed to do? The only reason I ever get this cold is because you’re about to do something evil. So I went after you.”
“You thought I was going to hurt someone?”
Emma hugged herself and nodded. Her teeth were chattering. “I just felt the cold Regina. Which,” she squeezed tighter, “I still feel by the way.”
Regina was surprised. Her bandaged hand, bright white even in the dark, flew to her locket. “Oh. I’m—sorry.” She exhaled evenly and the cold flowed out of Emma. “Sometimes I forget about the connection.” She wrung her hands together before putting them on Emma’s arms and rubbing vigorously. Emma froze—surprised at how easily Regina touched her. “I usually keep a barrier up between us. I must have let it slip.” She smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah,” Emma said, stunned, “Must have.” The layers between them kept any heat from transferring from one woman to the other. There was just the pressure of Regina’s hands on Emma’s arms. It felt…nice. “Only, that didn’t happen when you were dying or fighting Cora or—“ She reached up to stop Regina’s ministration, her hands on Regina’s wrists she pulled them away and put them between them. “When you kissed me.”
She really wished she could forget it. Or just let it go.
“I was upset. Killian—“
Emma pressed her fingers into Regina’s wrists. “You kissed me Regina. Why?”
The ocean pounding at the distant rocks and the faint strains of music from the party where overshadowed by breathing. Emma’s steady breath, and Regina’s ragged one.
“You,” she swallowed, “you keep asking, but we both know you don’t want the answer.”
“How do you—“
Regina slipped suddenly into Emma’s space, so that the whole length of their body’s touched. Regina’s nose almost brushed against Emma’s. She was looking at Emma’s lips and Emma could feel her racing pulse, Regina’s wrists still wrapped up in Emma’s hands.
“I know,” she licked her lips, “because I think right now you’re terrified.” She was still staring at Emma’s mouth, but her eyebrows quirked upwards, “Aren’t you?”
Emma was so scared she could barely piece thoughts together. All the insanity of Storybrooke was pounding against the walls she’d propped up in her head. Fairy nuns and distant wars and parents with no hearts. And Regina was the one bit slipping through the cracks. Demanding ingress with those awful knowing looks.
“I just want normal,” Emma whispered.
Regina still stared at her mouth, but smiled sadly. “What’s between us isn’t.” Her eyes flashed up to Emma’s—sending a streak of heat straight through her. “And it never will be.”
But a kiss—something physical—that would be familiar. Normal even. If her eyes were closed and the world disappeared behind a haze of something hot in the center of her it wouldn’t be so scary. Emma’s lips parted.
Could a kiss really bring down the walls? Undo her own sanity?
She crossed the distance.
And a blood curdling scream pierced the growing haze.