She had an assured touch. Her hands trailed up her sides with a confidence as sexy as that cocky grin on her lips. The pads of her fingers were hot against the small of her back. Bare skin on bare skin.
Her lips were wet. Searing. Pressed into the curve of her neck.
A hand in her hair.
Teeth dragging across her skin.
And then sunlight was streaming in through the window and Regina was contemplating setting fire to the earth itself.
She was all alone in bed, the sheets damp and twisted around her legs. She'd gone to bed alone too. She and Emma had parted on the beach with shy smiles on their lips.
And then she'd had some very enticing dreams that she was being woken up from at--
She glanced at the clock.
Five in the morning.
Who on earth was waking her up at five in the morning?
Were people even allowed out of bed that early?
They pounded on the door again and Regina flopped back onto her mattress. Her legs felt too loose and she was all keyed up. Panting and wishing she wasn't.
She blew a lock of hair out of her eyes and stared at the ceiling.
Maybe they'd go away.
Another series of knocks. Distinctly sounding like metal on wood.
Down the hall Maleficent bellowed for silence.
Now Maleficent was threatening to turn someone into some kind of animal. Possibly a pig? The walls muffled her voice just enough to make it hard to tell.
The knocking continued, now a constant and obnoxious drone. She heard Maleficent loudly climb out of bed and lumber down the hall--not unlike her other form.
Snatching her robe off the end of the bed Regina flashed downstairs ahead of her, "I've got it," she called up.
Maleficent eyed her from the top of the stairs. "It's five a.m."
"At least take out their tongues."
She pointedly turned her back on Maleficent and yanked the door open just as Killian raised his hook to knock again.
"Ah, you answered," he said with a charming smile.
She felt bluntness was in order. “You look awful." He had two black eyes, and a swollen nose, and a messy cowlick. And-- "What happened to your tooth?"
It was chipped.
There were gods who couldn't hit as hard as Aurora when she was angry.
"You deserved it."
"I'm too tired to argue that point. Mulan said she'd put me in jail if I went back to the Jolly Roger so I have to stay with you." He pushed past her into the foyer and looked up the stairs. "Which one's my room?"
"Come on love, you've got to have an extra bed."
"I do, its reserved for people who don't try and kill me."
He rubbed at his cowlick and winced when he hit--what she assumed--was a rather nasty bump. "You know that list is about as long as a short and curly don't you?"
She poofed him out of the house and slammed the door in his face.
"Regina," he wined from the other side.
He knocked again.
Upstairs Maleficent got out of bed about as quietly as a six-hundred pound gorilla.
Regina missed sleep.
After magically muffling Maleficent's bedroom and getting Killian bathed, bandaged and fed Regina crawled back under the covers and slept like the dead until past eleven. When she stumbled downstairs wiping sleep out of her eyes she found her two houseguests gathered around the kitchen island inspecting one of Henry's TV dinners they'd found in the freezer.
Maleficent had magicked her way into a hip hugging skirt and classy silk blouse and was sucking down another Coke. Killian had found the wine and was drinking it straight out of the bottle.
And wearing nothing but a towel.
The man had more chest hair than sense.
"Where are you clothes?"
He nodded towards the window. His favorite outfit was flapping in the breeze. "She threatened to burn them if I didn't wash them."
"You couldn't make him new clothes?"
Maleficent eyed Killian's bare torso coyly, "I was enjoying the view."
"Enjoy the syphilis too."
"You said I was clean," he protested.
Killian looked down. "I am clean aren't I?"
Maleficent recoiled, "Oh. Never mind." She sounded as grossed out as Regina felt.
"She assured me I was clean." He started to undo his towel in an effort to force Regina to relive the darkest and most uncomfortable minute of her life.
"You're going to be more than clean if you whip that thing out. And I just came down for lunch. Which requires pants. Go put some on."
She snapped and Killian’s towel instantly morphed into skinny jeans and a worn grey t-shirt. "Sorry the pants are so tight. I ran out of fabric with just the towel."
"No problem," Maleficent purred.
Killian bit his lip and tugged at the crotch. “I think I might be losing blood flow.”
“I know how to get it going again,” Maleficent claimed, her eyes fixed on his lip.
Hoping she could distract them both like cats she waved at the frozen dinner on the counter. “Why is that out?”
“The pirate claimed he could cook it with magic.”
She glanced at Killian, who grinned.
“You know magic?”
He nodded. “I can make fire too. And trap people in tiny boxes.” He motioned to the TV.
Regina stepped closer to him and dropped her voice, “You do know she’s the Mistress of Evil and can turn into a dragon don’t you?”
He whispered, “Why do you think I’m doing it? I’d rather her terrified and impressed than merely attracted to me.”
“Looks fade love, but the ability to use a microwave never does.”
He had a point. She rounded on Maleficent and smiled brightly, “He’s also enchanted that box over there to freeze things.”
Beside her Killian nodded.
“And he can claim people souls with this device called a ‘camera.’ It’s quite impressive.”
He leaned across the counter and employed some of his most heavy handed flirting, “I’m something of a big deal.”
Mulan stopped by the loft at five fifteen in the morning to tell Emma she and Aurora were taking the day. “We drove all through the night,” she said wearily, “Aurora lectured him,” she’d looked deadly serious, “the entire time.”
Emma had winced. “She’s that mad about the him trying to kill Gold?”
“She’s that mad about him shoving her and Regina into a pit with a fire-breathing fairy ghost dragon.”
“He’s a pirate.”
Mulan shrugged, and for a split second a melancholic haze drifted over her, “She trusted him.”
Apparently Aurora hadn’t been the only one.
Emma had had trouble sleeping after Mulan left. She paced around the apartment until a sleepy Mary Margaret told her to go back to sleep or get out. So after a glass of orange juice and a huge bowl of cereal Emma headed to the station.
She took the longest and most roundabout route there, accidentally driving past Regina’s house three times. The lights were off each time and the locket inert. Either Regina wasn’t wearing it or she was dead to the world.
She had been exhausted. Besides the fight with their murderer she’d apparently resurrected Aurora’s archenemy and bound their souls together.
Maybe that was why she’d let Emma kiss her. And kiss her. And kiss her.
Just thinking about the kiss had Emma sighing and slumping down in the Bug. She’d heard about kisses that felt like the end of the world but she’d never experienced it until Regina.
Regina held on tight and gasped into Emma’s mouth and sighed whenever their lips parted. One hand stayed in Emma’s hair the entire time, her nails pressed into her scalp. She’d kept herself pressed close to, from knees to chest, so that every inhalation had pulsed through them both.
It had been—
Emma had had to drive away before someone she knew had noticed her having erotic day dreams outside of the mayor’s house.
The station was a cold shower in comparison. Gold had gone home the night before, healed but defeated, but he’d insisted Cora stay in the jail and Emma, not really knowing what to do with the woman, had obliged.
No one had come looking for her. Even Regina had avoided asking about her mother.
But that morning Cora was sitting primly on her cot. No dark circles, no wrinkles in her suit. She’d saved a man’s life and sacrificed her own magic to do it and she looked—satisfied.
“You look terrible sheriff.”
“And you look shockingly refreshed. Suck up some poor person’s soul in the night?”
Cora rewarded her crack with a brittle smile.
“Have you seen Regina?”
Emma was in the middle of making coffee and froze. She tried not to sound nervous—like she was saying too much, “Why?”
“I was hoping she’d visit last night. Or today. Is she all right?”
Cora was very still, “You’re not telling me something.”
“I’m not telling you a lot of things. All you need to know is Regina’s fine. As is your grandson, you know, if you’re wondering.”
“Henry,” she studied Emma, “I’d like to meet him.”
“That’s not up to me. And if it was, you wouldn’t.”
“Afraid I’ll be a bad influence?” She feigned surprise. “Compared to my daughter?”
Emma poured her coffee and took a seat on top of the desk opposite Cora’s cell. “Cards on the table?”
“I think bad moms like you are a dime a dozen, and I think my son and his mom are smart enough, and resilient enough, to handle you if they had to. But right now I have it in my power to make sure you never even set eyes on them, and if I can do that? And keep them from having to go down the rabbit hole an asshole like you creates? Than I’m going to do that.”
Cora leaned back, “That certainly is a full deck of cards you laid on the table.”
Emma nursed her coffee. It needed creamer. And sugar. But she wasn’t about to load up on that in front of Cora.
“So my heart,” Cora asked, head tilted in curiosity, “you’ve given no thought to that?”
“My guess is ripping your heart out wasn’t what made you a monster Cora. My guess is if you had magic and a chance you’d be destroying this whole town just for a taste of power.”
“You should know it isn’t power I crave now, Sheriff.”
“Oh? Then what is it?”
At ten, official beginning of operating hours in the station, Gold and Belle clacked in, his cane and her heels snapping on the tile.
“We’d like to bail her out,” Belle declared, her head held high and her chin jutting out.
“To what? Murder her?”
Extreme distaste flickered on Gold’s face.
“To help her,” Belle said. “Rumple—we—owe her a debt.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.”
Belle subtly elbowed Gold and he stepped forward, his face tight and his self-control visible, “I’m not going to kill her Ms. Swan, you have my word.”
“He could only try,” Cora said from her cell.
“No one’s killing anyone,” Belle interjected.
“You already got one sociopath Belle, you sure you want to put another on your plate?”
Belle didn’t even hesitate. “I want to help, Sheriff.”
Emma would have suggested volunteering at the school.
Belle didn’t budge.
So Emma turned to Cora, “I want a promise. One of those written in blood on pain of death promises from you. You can still do that can’t you?”
“I’ll make sure of it,” Gold growled.
“What’s your imperious demand, sheriff?”
“Stay away from Regina and Henry.” She liked to think of the voice she was using as her “bail jumpers shit their pants” voice. It was the kind of tone that actively discouraged disagreement.
“That’s a steep demand.”
“You can watch them from afar all you want. They come up to you and you’re free to talk to them, but,” she stepped close, hooking her thumbs on her belt, “you come near them? After them? You hurt them? We’ve got a problem.”
“I don’t like threats.”
“I don’t like you.”
“She’ll keep her promise,” Belle called out, “I’ll make sure of it.”
Officially Emma declared she was trusting in Belle’s ability to handle crazies when she let Cora out. David disagreed when he strolled in sleepy-eyed and unshaven an hour later.
“She’s a murderer. And crazy. And a murderer, Emma.”
She was cleaning her gun and trying not to look at him. “Belle has her.”
Even out of the corner of her eye she could catch how dumbfounded he was. “That’s…that’s your excuse?”
“That’s a terrible reason Emma.”
She rolled her eyes, “Look, I don’t trust her okay? But I’m…I’m trying to be an optimist.”
“Cora’s your test case?”
If she was being honest—which she didn’t plan to be with David—Regina had been her test case.
“Cora gave up her magic to save Gold. This woman repeatedly tried to kill her own daughter for power and yesterday she threw it away to save her ex. That’s—I don’t know if it’s change, but it’s gotta be something good.”
“And if she isn’t better motivated?”
“I hired insurance.”
“What kind of insurance?”
“The fluffy kind.”
Regina bent over at the waist and peered into the bush. “Red, we’re not friends—”
“I hate you.”
“But I feel compelled to ask,” she stage whispered, “why are you lurking in a bush?”
The werewolf’s bright eyes flashed on Regina with the kind of hunger and rage that usually meant a human was about to be dinner. “Go away,” she growled.
“Are you stalking Gold?”
“Then—“ she glanced over at Gold’s mansion. “Oh. Belle?”
Her eyes had been glowing gold in an effort to intimidate Regina, but the returned to their normally startling blue. “What—why would—I—Belle,” she finally croaked.
“She’s adorable in that Stockholm sort of way. And remarkably guile-less considering the company she keeps.”
“I don’t—Belle and I—“
Regina tilted her head and waited for the response, her mouth quirking up in amusement.
“I’m stalking your mother.”
“She’s in jail.”
“Emma let her out a couple of hours ago. She’s got me and Granny on round the clock stalking.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Red pointed at the house. And sure enough Cora—her mother—was standing in the window, watching her with an unreadable glare.
Then the woman—she smiled—like a human being. It was a shy little smile made worse by the accompanying finger wave.
Regina forgot all about Red in the bush and fled down the street. She wasn’t sure where she was going until she found herself flying into the diner.
Emma was in a booth with a hamburger halfway to her mouth and not a single care about the sociopath on the loose. She actually grinned when she saw Regina—lighting up the whole room.
Regina stalked towards her and the grin fell.
“You let her out?”
“I couldn’t just keep her.”
“You absolutely could!”
“On what charges? We had her locked up because she was scary with magic. Now she’s just a person and we don’t actually have a law for attempted world domination.”
“I’m the mayor. I’ll write one in half an hour.”
Emma nodded to the seat opposite her and Regina, a little reluctantly, took a seat.
“Someone gave me a pretty great example of how people can change and I figure I owe it to Cora to let her prove she can too.”
“Mary Margaret used to say the same about you.”
“Because she’s an idiot.”
“Regina.” She was developing an uncanny gift for using Regina’s name as an admonition. Then her hand reached under the table to lightly brush against Regina’s knee.
She hadn’t realized she’d been bouncing it until the cool pads of Emma’s fingers touched bare skin.
“I’ve got Ruby watching her, and with our murderer caught Aurora can move her whole crazy surveillance set up onto Gold’s lawn. That woman isn’t going to even be able to pee without us knowing.”
“You don’t think you’re underestimating her?”
It was an honest question, said plaintively and with enough worry to create tiny wrinkles in Regina’s brow.
But Emma liked to think she wasn’t underestimating Cora. With Ruby and Aurora and others helping Cora was going to be watched like a hawk.
And Emma had made her swear to stay away from Regina and Henry—redirecting any of Cora’s anger towards Emma. It put a giant target on her back.
“I think I know your mom,” Emma replied. “I told her I’ve known people like her all my life, and that’s true. Let me worry about her.”
Regina scowled, “One kiss and your tackling the in-laws?”
It was an old fashioned Regina remark, but tempered with just enough affection to keep from stinging. Warmth spread over Emma’s cheeks. “That’s not—this…this is cop stuff.”
Regina’s concern disappeared—quickly replaced with veiled amusement. “Moving awfully fast don’t you think?”
“Hey, you cursed your in-laws. What’s a little government sanctioned stalking by comparison?”
Regina shrugged—not arguing the point. Wordlessly she reached across the table and took a fry off Emma’s plate. Somehow the scene that had been building into something nasty was deflated. Around them, and unobserved by Regina, their audience in the diner sighed and returned to their lives.
“Mulan and Aurora came back last night.”
“I know. Mulan woke me up at five.”
“She dropped Killian off at my place.”
“He’s staying with you?”
“For the time being. I do agree with Aurora and Mulan—at least I will when I speak with them. He shouldn’t be left alone on that boat of his right now.”
“You sound like you’re actually worried about him.”
Regina looked surprised, “I am. He’s my friend. Why wouldn’t I be worried?”
“Because you don’t have friends.”
“I also don’t kiss people on the beach.”
“No, that’s my thing. I’m very proud of it.”
Regina leaned forward, chin on fist, “You’re very good at it too.”
“We could go do it some more if you want.”
One eyebrow quirked upward, “You’re moving fast.”
“I’m tired of waiting.”
“Pining for me all this time,” Regina joked.
Or she tried. There was something careful and guarded behind the joke. Regina was wary of Emma and her answer.
Emma swallowed the fry she’d been chewing on too long and reached out with her foot, brushing it along Regina’s calf. “You know what I was thinking about this morning.”
Regina shook her head, “I don’t.”
“I was thinking how annoying it was that I was up too early to come by and say hi.”
“You were not.”
She leaned across the table, her weight all on her elbows. “Whatever I was confused about lately? It’s over. And I’m not gonna dwell on it.”
“Everyone dwells,” Regina said softly. Passionately.
“Not me. The past is the past, Regina. I’m over it.”
“Yes.” It didn’t sound like a lie. It spat out of Emma’s mouth like the truth. It was the truth. She couldn’t be hung up on a guy that betrayed her as badly as Neal. And why would she? Why would she when she had Regina?
“Most people can’t just turn it off that easily,” she grumbled.
Most people being Regina and her family. They probably had vendettas against kids the tugged on pigtails in kindergarten.
“I’m the Savior.”
That earned an eye roll. “You just say that when you want to sound important.”
“Also an ass.” It was said with a smile.
“Are you gonna trust me on this thing with your mom,” Emma asked—quickly returning the conversation to the point where it began.
Regina sat back in the booth and studied Emma. “What’s got me worried so much isn’t necessarily my mother, but your sudden optimism regarding her. You’re usually irritatingly pragmatic.”
“I told fate to fuck off last night.”
“I know,” she said softly, “you’re doing a lot of things out of character.”
Emma couldn’t argue with that, so she returned to her lunch, pushing the plate to the middle of the table so they could share.
Regina, politely, didn’t try to dig in and ask more. Instead she ordered herself a sandwich and a coffee and they ate in careful silence punctuated only, first, by feet grazing calves and then, later, encouraging smiles when they both thought no one was looking.
When they left the diner it was together and in step.
“Hospital,” Regina asked.
And Emma nodded.
They took a sun dappled side street shaded by big oak trees. Hands fell out of pockets and brushed against other hands. Then fingers intertwined with other fingers and they were holding hands and neither could say who started it.
The hospital was a fruitless endeavor from a work standpoint.
The mystery murderer was still unconscious after being flung across creation by Emma. They peered through the window in the door to watch him sleep and Regina fought the butterflies that welled up in her stomach at the sight of him.
He was Henry but she kept having to remind herself he wasn’t. She had to remind herself of all the disguises her mother and Rumpel had used over the years. Remind herself that anyone with enough talent could transform themselves.
But with Henry’s face plastered onto his body he was a disturbing entity—almost as terrifying as if Henry were still alive and lying in the cell instead.
“You okay,” Emma whispered—quiet enough that the nurse at the end of the hall couldn’t hear.
She wasn’t. Not as long as this man and his mysteries were in her town. But she nodded. “He just looks like someone I used to know.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Emma squeezed her hand and they stepped away from the door. “I kind of think it does matter,” she said softly as they climbed the stairs. “That face keeps getting into your head.”
“That matters. But who he’s trying to be? Doesn’t.”
They stopped at the to of the stairs, Emma’s hand on the door knob. “So you want me to leave it alone?”
Regina had chosen a pair of heels she knew, for a fact, put her at eye level with Emma. Just in case they found themselves in a dark corner and back alley or lonely beach. She looked her in the eye. “I’m not pressing you on some pretty important questions, so yes, quid pro quo would be nice.”
The light at the top of the stairwell was out. Technically it counted as a dark corner.
Emma exhaled loudly, blowing the air up into her hair. “Emotional blackmail and this is still a better relationship than my last one.”
It was said with just the right amount of contrition and humor. Regina was powerless. She had to duck in and press her lips quickly to Emma’s. “I like this low bar you’re setting for us.”
“Don’t thank me,” Emma said, and snatched a kiss of her own, “this is all Neal.” She quickly kissed Regina again; before her displeasure at the mention of him could appear on her face.
When it came to the two of them the line was difficult to see, let alone grasp, and before either of them could stop it Emma had her hand on Regina’s waist tucking her in closer and Regina had her good hand in Emma’s hair and inappropriate and delicious heat was blossoming.
“We should probably leave,” Regina gasped between more breathless kisses. It felt right to be kissed this way.
“I’ve been waiting to do this all day,” Emma panted. She pushed Regina’s hair away from her neck and planted wet kisses against her pulse point. “All night too.” The words rumbled through Regina.
Her head dropped back to thump against the door. The noise was just loud enough to pull her out of her happy haze.
She sighed. Her mind flitting to the way another woman had kissed. She found herself then, even wrapped up in Emma, comparing the two.
And hating herself for it.
Hating herself for the way she knew that the other woman kissed like it was the end of the world while the one in her arms kissed like the world was just beginning. Hating herself for how they smelled the same, but that the salt in one Emma’s hair had the mineral tang of caves while the other smelled like the ocean.
Hated herself so much it would have been hard to breathe. To stand.
But Emma was there. Different, and the same, and maybe not hers, but there.
“We really should leave,” Regina murmured. Her heart was beating so fast she was positive only Emma’s hand on her chest kept it from flying out.
Emma nodded against her cheek. Sighed. She took her hand from Regina’s waist but didn’t move. She was leaning against Regina—pressing her into the door. “Are you going to tell me what’s happening?”
She felt a finger tap the locket on her chest. Emma wasn’t looking at her still. Just pressing against her and breathing quickly, her lips a whisper on Regina’s skin. “I can feel it Regina. Everything.”
She’d been able to feel it to. In a dark bar in a dystopian future. She’d looked at Regina and known every part of her.
“It’s complicated,” she finally sighed. “So…” She pressed her forehead to Emma’s. “Complicated.”
Emma swallowed, the sound reverberating through them both. “Will talking help?”
“Does it ever?”
Silence wrapped around them again. It was fast becoming the third wheel in their new relationship. Only as third wheels it was better than ex-boyfriends or dead sons.
They stepped out of the stairwell, red cheeked and clothes askew and ran headlong into a stranger in a hospital gown.
He was tall, with wide, familiar eyes. He pretended to focus on Emma as they chatted, but those bright eyes kept falling on Regina.
“This is Regina Mills,” she heard Emma say. “The mayor.” There was a touch of pride there Emma had never had for Regina.
“Of Storybrooke,” the stranger asked. His voice was high and raspy and like his eyes niggled something at the back of Regina’s memory.
“Regina, this is Greg, he’s the guy who thought the town sign needed replacing.”
The car crash victim that had nearly taken her out days earlier. It felt like decades ago. “Glad to meet you when you aren’t behind the wheel.”
He didn’t blush despite the gentle teasing. “Glad to meet you too.” She’d been evil enough of her days to recognize a sinister tone, but it flew straight past Emma—a much better people reader than Regina.
“Have we met before?”
He shook his head and grinned, “I’d remember.”