Chapter 1: In which Emma is a serious professional business woman (who happens to like Taylor Swift)
“It’s not much,” Emma says, trying to dampen her pride at the place, “but it’ll do.”
Storybrooke, Maine, had to be the only place left in America without a Starbucks. Emma’s mother, Mary Margaret, had explained it once, something to do with town charters dating back decades. Emma hadn’t been especially interested at the time – she’d been seventeen, three months pregnant and miserable because Neal had fucked off and left her – and then she hadn’t been around Storybrooke and her parents that much longer.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Mary Margaret says. Her brown eyes beam as she looks up at the sign reading ‘The Hub’ in bold, curled lettering. This is Emma’s baby, the results of several years at business school and a timely inheritance from a distant relative of David’s. “I’m so proud of you.” She reaches out to hug Emma but draws back when Emma flinches.
“Thanks,” Emma says, hoping her mother recognises the unspoken apology for the flinch.
Her father, David, returns from checking out the kitchens. “It looks wonderful, kid. It’ll be a real treat for Storybrooke to have a decent coffee shop.”
“Don’t let Granny hear you say that,” Mary Margaret warns but she laughs, linking an arm with David’s. “Do you want to come back home for dinner?”
Emma shakes her head. One of the best parts of owning The Hub is that upstairs there’s a small apartment. Being 28 and living at home for the first time since she was 17 has been claustrophobic in the months leading up to today. “I’d like a night to settle into my new space. Dinner at Granny’s tomorrow? My shout.”
“Of course,” Mary Margaret replies. “We’ll be by bright and early to get coffee on our way to work.”
“Not too early,” Emma warns. “I’m anticipating disaster.” She’s been training staff the past couple of weeks, Ruby and Belle are coming along nicely as baristas, though Belle’s coffee tends to be too weak and Ruby can get snappy if given too many instructions. She’s also hired a baker, Graham, who makes the best cinnamon buns Emma’s ever tasted and would be turning up at four the next morning. She figures she’ll hire more people when (if, her mind traitorously whispers) she needs them. Although Storybrooke has a pretty static population, University of Maine holds its Writing programme there (the lure that the name of the town poses is obviously too strong) and so there are a few students, mostly boarding at Granny’s. Belle’s one of them and she’d hinted the other day at friends who were looking for work should anything come up.
She waves her parents off and then walks into the coffee shop, breathing in the scent of pine and varnish, which by the end of tomorrow will have vanished beneath the aroma of coffee. The walls are different shades of blue and she’s hung photographs along the walls, city scenes, in black and white. Tables are dotted about haphazardly, painted a variety of vivid shades, and an eclectic assortment of chairs, stools and pouffes surround them.
She’d wanted the place to seem like a home.
Upstairs she still has things to put away. The apartment is really just one big space – a new double bed at one end, a sofa facing a television she doubts she’ll have much time to watch and the kitchen down the other end, with a small table that would double as a desk for accounts. She doesn’t have much stuff; she’s never been one for accruing possessions. Her mother has thousands of knick knacks, pieces of art, memorabilia from Emma’s childhood… Emma finds the sentimentality daunting. She calls for Chinese food, far more than she could ever possibly eat, and celebrates her own space with food, beer and ‘Parks and Recreation’, lying on her bed and balancing her food on her stomach.
Her alarm blares and she realises she fell asleep in her clothes, jeans digging into her stomach. Patchy grey light filters in through the curtain-less windows. 3.30. She has just enough time to shower and change before Graham gets there.
She struggles downstairs just after four to find Graham in the kitchen, kneading dough. “Boss,” he says, nodding in her direction.
She yawns and cradles her mug of coffee, black, no sugar, made upstairs. “Coffee?” she asks.
He shakes his head. “Strictly a green tea sort of guy.” She notices he’d helped himself to a mug of the wretched stuff.
“Fair enough,” she nods. “Anything I can do to help?”
Graham continues to knead. “I’ll be doing this before I leave ordinarily. Buns might be a little late this morning. Think you could put the muffin mix in pans and the oven? It’s at the right temperature already.” He points his elbow at several large red mixing bowls.
She grabs muffin pans and liners and starts spooning. “Three-quarters full?”
They work in silence for a while, Emma letting herself wake up. She steals a couple of looks at Graham, totally immersed in his work. He chops dried fruit for muesli slice, hands quick and steady with a blade. He’s pretty good looking, all stubble and broad shoulders, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The muffins are out of the oven, cooling on the bench, and Graham has put the muesli slice in when Ruby knocks at the front door.
“You don’t start for half an hour,” Emma says, frowning.
“Don’t expect this every day,” Ruby says, grinning and tying her red-streaked hair back into a scruffy bun. Emma’s opposed to uniforms as a general rule, but her and Ruby have ended up dressed similarly, skinny jeans, boots and a wife-beater, though Ruby’s has a screen print of a wolf on it, as opposed to Emma’s plain white, and her jeans are several shades tighter. “I just thought, first day and all.”
Emma smiles, touched. “Well, you can switch the coffee machine on, start prepping for the day. Belle’s starting at nine, so you’ll get your first break then.”
“It’ll be busy today,” Ruby says. “Town’s been buzzing about it.”
“We’d best not disappoint them,” Emma says, stocking the cabinet with the muffins – bran and blueberry, earl grey and poppy-seed, and chocolate. They’d prepped a variety of muesli and yoghurt containers and fruit salads the day before and those go out too.
Five forty-five. She looks around. Water filter full, clean glasses stacked beside, napkins and utensil containers full, the wi-fi router appears to be working and Ruby’s putting freshly baked cookies in the jars by the till, a tray of muesli slice due to go into the cabinet.
“Put some music on, boss,” Ruby says, gesturing at the speakers. Ruby and Belle had made the shop a playlist, insisted that they had to have music for ambiance and promised Emma they wouldn’t put anything with misogynistic lyrics on it – Belle looking horrified at the very thought.
She looks out the window, the streets of Storybrooke virtually empty. Her hands shake. What if this fails? Someone raps at the window, David and Mary Margaret, grinning. Emma takes a deep, calming breath and flips the sign to open.
Her parents bustle in. “Told you we’d be your first customers,” Mary Margaret says.
“Hopefully not our last,” Ruby says. “Hey Mrs Blanchard, Mr Nolan.”
“Lovely to see you, Ruby,” Mary Margaret says, smiling at Ruby who’d been in her sixth grade class at the elementary school ten years ago. “How’s your Gran?”
“Granny’s good. What can I get you guys?”
“I’ll have a hot chocolate,” Mary Margaret says. “David?”
“Cappuccino,” David says, “with chocolate.”
Emma moves behind the bar to make the coffees, working with ease. This, at least, she’s comfortable with. She’d subsidised her studies working at a variety of cafes and coffee shops in Boston and had built something of a reputation as a barista. “Whipped cream, Ma?” she asks.
“Please,” she says. “And cinnamon.”
“Coming right up. It’s on the house, guys.”
David rolls his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. How much?”
“$7.80,” Ruby says, ignoring Emma’s glare.
David hands Ruby ten dollars and places his change in the tip jar. Mary Margaret peers at the photographs. “You could have a gallery,” she says. “Storybrooke’s a bit of a haven for artists and you’d make commission money from it.”
“It’s an idea,” Emma says. “I need to focus on the basics first.”
“Of course,” her mother murmurs and Emma feels that stab of guilt again.
“Ma, here’s yours. And Dad.” Her father grabs both drinks.
“Thanks for coming! Tell your friends,” Ruby says and again Emma feels a wave of sentimentality, unexpectedly touched at Ruby’s loyalty to The Hub so early in the piece. She smiles at her parents, willing her mother to understand how happy she is they’d come.
Business is slow until about seven, when the trickle of customers increases to a rush. Emma moves back behind the counter, serving at the till for a time and letting Ruby make the coffees. Archie, the town psychiatrist, has tied his Dalmatian up outside and asks for a bowl of water for Pongo, as well as his black coffee and muffin. “Thought I’d take in the morning from the table outside,” he says. “My first appointment’s not until ten.”
“The wi-fi username is happily, password’s everafter,” Emma says, because Belle had thought it would be cute and Emma didn’t care enough to object. Besides, Belle was their resident tech genius, had been the one to set up the wi-fi as well as wiring the speakers and setting up Emma’s cable and Ti-vo upstairs so she didn’t miss an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’.
Archie grins. “Cute.”
“Oh, shut up,” Emma says, smiling and rolling her eyes.
At nine, Belle arrives, the rush dims to a steady flow and Ruby takes her break, going out back for a smoke. Emma sets Belle cleaning tables during free moments and chats to Graham as he makes sandwiches for the lunch rush and she wipes down the surfaces behind the counter. “Why Storybrooke?” she asks him.
He grins. “I was travelling for a time and I got here and it just felt right, y’know. So I stayed. I’ve been working at the elementary school as the food tech teacher but teaching’s not for me anymore.”
Emma remembers that detail from his CV. The unofficial glowing praise he’d received from Mary Margaret had made him a definite hire. “No family here?”
“Nah,” he says. “All back in Ireland. So why did you leave the big city?”
She shrugs. “Felt like a change of pace.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, though vague enough to not be a lie.
“Fair enough,” he says. “Hey, I reckon I’ll make Fridays ‘Pie Friday’. What do you think?” He grates more carrot.
“Sounds great,” Emma says. “We can do some sort of deal. Slice of pie and regular coffee for five bucks.”
Ruby returns from break and she and Belle chat behind the counter between customers, who are continuing to flow in. Emma’s pleased to see they’re taking turns on the coffee machine. They both need practice.
At eleven the rush starts again. Emma starts making the coffee again, hoping to keep the line moving, with Ruby serving and Belle alternately helping Ruby with serving food, replacing the cinnamon rolls in the cabinet which is a never ending cycle, and keeping the shop clean.
“Large mocha, no-whip,” Emma calls. “Medium earl grey tea.” She doesn’t have time to chat, beyond smiling at the patrons picking up their drinks.
At one, the shop dies down. Graham removes his apron and finishes his shift. “Tomorrow should be easier. Got the dough rising for tomorrow’s buns and everything’s prepped.”
She waves him off. Ruby and Belle take their lunch break, Belle grabbing them each a sandwich on Emma’s suggestion (“that’s not an everyday thing, mind”) and Ruby practicing her coffee skills by making two of the more complex items on the menu for them. Emma sends them out back, warning Belle that she might have to call her in if it does pick up.
The only customer is a young man in one corner with his head phones on, typing busily at a battered laptop. Emma decides she’s safe to turn up the music a notch and get the counter area tidied, putting milk away and wiping up coffee grinds. She’s singing along to Taylor Swift, dancing as she cleans.
“She wears short skirts, I wear tee-shirts,” she trills, spinning to face the counter, and drops the cleaning cloth in shock. A woman, maybe five or ten years older than Emma, stands at the counter, an amused quirk in her full, red lips and one perfectly shaped eyebrow raised.
“Jesus! How long have you been there?” Emma says.
“No, do continue, please,” the woman says, her voice crisp and deep. “I have nowhere else to be.” She’s dressed immaculately, black high heeled pumps and a grey tailored dress, which looks ridiculously expensive despite its simplicity. She’s holding a trench coat draped over one arm and a hand bag over one shoulder that is definitely not in the same vintage as Emma’s knock-off Louis Vuitton.
“Sorry,” Emma says, picking up the cloth and sticking it in the back pocket of her jeans, something she immediately regrets as the damp seeps through. “Note to self: no more dancing when the shop’s open.”
“I would lose the singing first,” the woman suggests, inspecting the French manicured nails on her left hand.
“Fair enough,” Emma replies, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “What can I get for you?”
“A non-fat latte,” the woman says. “Take-away.” She hands over a crisp ten dollar note, and places a dollar in the tip jar.
“Coming right up!”
“This is opening day,” the woman states, as Emma puts the coffee on and pours skim milk into the metal jug.
“Yeah,” Emma says, concentrating on the steaming of milk. “It’s going well so far. Fingers crossed it continues.”
“Unusual for an employee to be left on their own on their first day,” the woman observes, raising her free hand to push a lock of dark hair out of her eyes.
Emma pours the steamed milk into the double shot of espresso, and jams a take-away lid on the cup. “Fortunately, I own this place so I can do pretty much what I want,” she says, passing the coffee over.
The woman looks her over once, taking in Emma’s ponytail beginning to fall loose from its elastic, the white wife beater, with an unfortunate coffee stain near the hem, and her doc martins. “I see.” She raises an eyebrow dubiously.
“Emma Swan,” Emma says, holding out a hand.
The woman stares at Emma’s nails, encrusted with coffee grinds, and purses her lips. “Best of luck, Ms Swan.” She takes a sip of her coffee, pink tongue darting out to catch a lick of foam. She sighs, shoulders relaxing minutely and her eyes briefly darken.
“Thanks,” Emma says. “We look forward to seeing you again.”
The woman walks out, heels clacking on the wooden floor. Emma stares after her, watching the sway of her hips, the flick of her hair.
“Wouldn’t have expected the Evil Queen to make an appearance,” Ruby says, startling Emma.
“Don’t mind Ruby,” Belle says. “It’s what some people call the mayor.”
“That was the mayor?” Emma asks.
“Yeah, Regina Mills. She’s kind of a hard-ass,” Belle says. “But she runs the town well.”
“She’s a babe but she’s also a total bitch,” Ruby says, grinning.
“Can we not call powerful women ‘bitch’?” Belle asks, frowning. Belle was doing a masters in non-fiction writing at the centre, but Emma recalls that she’d majored in women’s studies at Barnard prior to that.
“Oh, lighten up.”
“I’m taking a break,” Emma says. “I’ll be upstairs. Yell out if there’re any problems.”
She brews a new pot of coffee and grabs leftover Chinese food from the fridge, settling on eating it cold because she hasn’t yet sprung for a microwave and she doesn’t want to go downstairs. The best part of her apartment is the tiny balcony, accessible only through the window, which looks out over the main street of Storybrooke. It’s almost too cold and Emma shivers as she shovels down cold chicken and broccoli, alternating with a mug of coffee to keep her hands warm. Probably she should have put on a sweater, but she can’t be bothered clambering back through the window to get one.
It’s nearing the end of September, the leaves on the trees starting to turn golden and fall off in piles on the streets. September 25th, to be precise. Baby Boy’s birthday, wherever he is. She’s not sure how conscious the decision to open the coffee shop that day was, but it seems apt.
She finishes her coffee, leaving her mug in the sink, and heads downstairs, spending the afternoon cleaning and chatting with customers, letting the girls man the counter. Ruby finishes at three, waving good bye and heading home on her scooter.
“We should have a bookshelf,” Belle suggests and Emma finds she rather likes the idea. She’s got her old university texts she could put on it, lots of classic literature, and she knows Mary Margaret would donate some children’s books.
“Let’s see how the week goes first though,” she warns. “If we do well, I’ll send you and Ruby to find me a bookshelf at Gold’s.”
Belle sweeps up, stacking chairs and shooing out a couple of reluctant grad students who’ve been getting cheap refills for the bulk of the day. “See you tomorrow, guys,” Emma says and they grin. There’s rarely space at Granny’s to linger. Emma wants The Hub to be somewhere people can sit for hours. By next summer she hopes to have the money to expand out back, fixing up the large courtyard and putting in sturdy, waterproof furniture.
She counts the till, filling out the accounts in her precise, cramped handwriting, the till with the next day’s float in the safe in her apartment upstairs.
She contemplates a shower but that seems like too much effort so she just yanks the elastic out of her hair, pulls on her red jacket and delivers the takings to the bank down the road. Then, she wanders down the road to the sheriff’s department.
Her father’s in a meeting. She can’t hear anything and the door to his office is shut so she makes a cup of tea (no coffee at the station apparently), sits in one of the uncomfortable, grey chairs and fiddles with her phone.
Ma: I hope your day was wonderful :)
Mary Margaret will be hurt she hasn’t texted back yet. Day was good. Busy though. Waiting for Dad. See you soon.
The door opens and Regina Mills exits. “I expect the paperwork on my desk tomorrow by nine, Sheriff,” she says. Her eyebrows shoot up when she sees Emma and she touches her hair, as though patting it back into place.
David follows her from the office. “Kid,” he says, grinning at her. “Madame Mayor, this is my daughter, Emma.”
“We’ve met,” Regina says.
“She came into The Hub,” Emma says.
“Best coffee ever, right?” David says, giving Emma the thumbs up behind Regina’s back.
“It was adequate,” she says and Emma rolls her eyes because, seriously?
“High praise indeed,” David says.
“Tomorrow morning,” Regina reminds him.
“Scout’s honour,” David says, holding up what appears to in fact be an approximation of the salute from ‘The Hunger Games’ movies.
“May the odds be ever in your favour,” Emma says and Regina’s lips quirk into what might be a smile before she sweeps out.
“She’s delightful,” Emma says, deadpan.
“Her bark’s worse than her bite,” David says. “That was warm for Regina. I’ve got a few things to finish up here. Your mother will meet us here at half six.”
“I’ve got my phone,” Emma says and pulls up a game of Candy Crush.
When they get to Granny’s, it’s crowded but Emma manages to grab them a booth near the back. The waitress – a girl who looks fresh out of high school – comes over and they order, burgers for Emma and David, while Mary Margaret contents herself with a salad.
“I’m so pleased it went well,” Mary Margaret says.
“Yeah,” says Emma. “Lots of customers, no complaints. I might have to re-look at shift rosters as we go on. Belle’s going to want time off for her thesis at some stage so it’d be good to have a couple of good casual staff members.”
“And your apartment is nice?”
“It’s getting there,” she says. “Why don’t you guys come over for lunch on Sunday?”
“Lovely,” Mary Margaret says, visibly thrilled.
“It won’t be fancy,” Emma warns. “I still can’t really cook.”
“I could teach you,” Mary Margaret says and Emma shrugs.
“I get on okay.”
Their meals arrive and for a moment the table is full of the comfortable silence of eating. Mary Margaret steals fries off David’s plate and he rolls his eyes at Emma. “Every time,” her says, between bites of his hamburger.
Emma looks around. She doesn’t recognise many people, which surprises her. There’s a girl she went to high school with (Ashley, she thinks?) eating lasagne and rocking a pram. Her grade one teacher is sitting at the bar with a glass of milk.
David orders pie to share with Mary Margaret and so Emma gets a hot chocolate. It comes with whipped cream and cinnamon. When she looks over at the bar, Granny grins. She remembered her favourite combination.
She’s just taken her first sip when the door to Granny’s swings open and Regina Mills enters, a little boy trailing behind. Emma chokes on her hot chocolate, hot liquid spilling down her chin. David passes her a napkin.
“That the mayor’s kid?” Emma asks. She can’t picture Regina in so domestic a setting as to have a child, husband, all the trappings of marriage and domesticity.
“It’s Henry,” Mary Margaret says.
“He’s in your mom’s grade five class,” David says.
“It’s his birthday today,” Mary Margaret adds and Emma almost upsets her hot chocolate entirely.
Regina’s at the counter, ordering for the two of them, and the kid is looking around the diner. He has wide, curious eyes, dark hair and a pointed chin that reminds Emma of her own chin. There’s not much of the mayor in him, except the hair, and while Emma had assumed Regina was Latina, she can’t see that in the kid.
The kid spots their table, tugs on his mother’s coat and gestures. Regina looks over, assesses the group and nods. He races over, narrowly missing the waitress with a plate of chilli.
“Hey, Mrs Blanchard,” he says, grinning.
“Happy Birthday again, Henry,” Mary Margaret replies. “This is my daughter, Emma.”
Henry turns his smile on Emma and she feels nauseous, the creamy hot chocolate sitting uncomfortably at the back of her throat.
“I like your jacket,” he says. “It’s awesome.”
“Thanks, kid. Happy Birthday.”
“Mom said we could get ice cream because it’s my birthday,” Henry says. “And I didn’t have to do any homework when I got home from school.”
“I don’t think you should be telling Mrs Blanchard that, darling,” Regina says, her voice warm and pleasant, very unlike her as far as Emma can tell.
“That’s quite alright,” Mary Margaret says. “Emma never had to do homework on her birthday either. Birthdays are sacred.”
Henry grins at Emma again (it’s a smile that will be heart-breaking in a few years’ time) and raises his hand for a high five. Emma slaps it, feeling his palm soft against hers.
“Let’s leave Mrs Blanchard to her family time,” Regina says and steers the boy away to a nearby booth. For something to do, Emma goes to pay at the counter, feeling Regina’s eyes follow her all the way. She leaves a generous tip and her parents gather their stuff, Mary Margaret waving again to Henry who nearly knocks his sundae over in his exuberance at waving back.
“He’s a lovely boy,” Mary Margaret says.
“So Mayor Mills is married?” Emma asks, attempting to sound casual.
“No,” Mary Margaret says. “Never has been so far as I know. Henry’s adopted.” Emma breathes heavily, in and out, in and out. Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.
“She dotes on the boy,” David says.
“I do worry about him,” Mary Margaret says. “He’s a bit of a loner. Just a delight to teach though, very bright, very focused.”
They drop her off at her apartment on the walk home. “See you soon, honey,” Mary Margaret says and hugs her. This time Emma’s expecting it and lets her, sinking into the embrace. David ruffles her hair, as though she were five not 28, and then they walk down the road, arms linked, the perfect couple with their all too imperfect child.
Emma gets in her yellow bug and drives to the Storybrooke sign. She sits in her car, head against the steering wheel, fighting against every instinct screaming “run, run”. It’s easy to run when you’ve got nothing to lose.
Eventually, she does a U-turn and returns to her apartment, to her coffee shop, to her life.
Henry has Neal’s smile.
Chapter 2: In which Emma misplaces her dignity (and Regina gets out of paying for caffeine)
Emma rolls out of bed at 3.30 again, showering quickly, washing her hair and leaving it to drip dry while she dresses. She chooses her clothes with more care that morning, though it’s mostly all tee-shirts and jeans in varying shades. She finds a black pair, buried in her wardrobe, slightly too tight, and slips her feet into her docs again. She chooses a black tee-shirt and, after a moment’s hesitation, fastens a necklace around her neck, the thin gold chain holding an acorn charm – a gift from her mother because Emma used to run around the house with a plastic sword pretending she was Peter Pan when she was six and rescuing Mary Margaret from the pernicious Hook, played by an unconvincing David.
She braids her hair, tucking loose strands back with a couple of bobby pins, grabs a mug of coffee and balances it on the till. Downstairs, Graham is hard at work and the kitchen smells deliciously of cinnamon.
“You all good?” Emma asks.
“Fine.” Graham turns away from what looks like a citrus slice he’s icing. “Hey, you know, you don’t need to be here so early. You’ll burn out if you wake up when I get here. I can always knock if I anything’s going wrong.”
Emma nods. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
She settles into a chair by the window, watching the sky lighten from grey to blue, and savours her coffee, feeling herself wake up slowly but surely.
Word seems to have got around that their coffee isn’t half bad and the coffee shop has a steady stream of customers from the moment Belle flips the sign to open. Emma is kept busy taking orders, giving Belle a chance to practice her skills. It’s actually better this way because Emma has a chance to engage people in conversation. They’re running out of cinnamon buns almost as quickly as they can refill them and the earl grey-infused muffins are selling well.
Archie returns during a lull and Emma takes his coffee out to him and sits for a few minutes, petting an enthusiastic Pongo. “How’s business?” she asks. Archie was her shrink for a brief period of time in high school, forced on her by her parents when she started coming home drunk several nights a week, but she actually has a lot of time for the guy. Mostly he gave her short stories to read, gruesome fairy tale retellings, and they’d talk about them. He’d recognised her appetite for stories and had, looking back, used it to get her to open up about her relationship with her parents, Mary Margaret’s smothering nagging and David’s desire to avoid conflict at any cost.
“Chugging along,” he says, smiling. “How are you, Emma?”
“I’m good,” she says. “Great. Yesterday was his tenth birthday, you know.” Archie knows what she’s talking about. She’d told him when she realised she was pregnant. His advice had been sound even if she’d ignored it.
“I’m sorry, Emma.”
“It’s in the past,” she says.
“Do you ever hear from Neal?”
“I used to get the occasional text but I changed my number. He’s so far in the past he might as well be extinct.”
“Well, it’s certainly good to have you back in town. I know your parents are delighted.”
Belle waves at her and Emma realises that there’s a queue starting to build. “Gotta go,” she says.
David and Mary Margaret come in at half past seven on their way to work. Mary Margaret takes her hot chocolate to go, but David sits a while, watching the world go by at the window with a mug of earl grey tea and a cinnamon roll, forced on him by Emma, before striding off to work.
As the working day starts for the people of Storybrooke, the shop starts to quieten and Belle, cleaning tables, finds a stack of files where David was sitting. “You want to pass these on to him?” Belle asks, handing them over.
Emma flicks through and realises they’re the files he was supposed to get to Regina by nine today. It’s already quarter to. “I’d better get these to him now. They’re for the mayor.”
“May as well drop them straight to her,” Belle says. “It’s a shorter walk.”
Emma starts to make a non-fat take away latte. “Can you chuck a warm cinnamon bun in a paper bag?” she asks. Belle complies although she looks puzzled, so Emma adds, “potential bribery. My father is going to owe me big time.”
Belle pulls a face. “Better you than me.”
Ruby arrives at that moment, picking up empty mugs as she comes in and stacking them in the dishwasher in the kitchen. “You don’t mind having a late break?” Emma asks and Belle shakes her head.
“Just go quickly.”
Easier said than done when you’re carrying a piping hot coffee, a stack of files and a greasy paper bag but Emma gets to the council chambers at just after nine and finds her way to Regina’s office, only turning the wrong direction about three times. Her secretary raises an eyebrow. “Emma Swan,” she says. “I’ve got something to drop off for Mayor Mills.”
Her secretary places a call and a moment later gestures at the doors. “Mayor Mills can see you now.”
Emma pushes the white wooden doors open with her shoulder and stumbles inside, the door swinging shut behind her.
“Ms Swan,” Regina drawls. “What an unexpected pleasure.” Black rimmed glasses are perched on her nose and she’s wearing a crisp, white shirt, sleeves rolled up in neat folds.
“David left this paper work at The Hub,” Emma says, brandishing the manila folders. “I didn’t want him to get into any trouble.”
“It’s after nine,” Regina says.
“I couldn’t leave until my other employee got there. I came bearing gifts though.”
“Bribes,” Regina says, though she is not unamused.
Emma hands over the coffee and cinnamon bun but when her fingers brush against Regina’s, her hand shakes and the coffee splatters before she can right it. A brown stain spreads across Regina’s shirt and Regina winces at the sudden heat.
Emma is momentarily paralysed, staring at the brown stain covering Regina’s left breast in horror. “I am so sorry,” she says.
Regina picks up the phone. “Leslie, my spare shirt,” and a moment later her secretary has entered with a pale blue blouse on a hanger. She gapes for a moment and shoots Emma a sympathetic look as she leaves.
“Turn around, Ms Swan.” Emma pauses for a moment, confused, and then realises. Regina has started to unbutton the soiled shirt. Emma catches a flash of curved, creamy flesh and white lace before she spins around, cheeks hot and heart thumping.
“I am seriously so sorry,” she says, facing the door. “I’ll get your shirt dry cleaned. You’ll have free coffee at The Hub for the next month.”
Regina coughs and Emma turns back around. “How many mugs have you broken at your coffee shop, Ms Swan?”
“I’d put some money in the budget.” Her lips quirk into a smile. She throws her shirt at Emma, who catches it. “Dry cleaned, not put through the tumble dryer with your wife beaters and dirty socks.”
“I’ll see you this afternoon.” Emma’s brow furrows. “For my coffee.”
Emma nods and hightails it from the room. She drops the shirt in at the local dry cleaners on her way back.
Ruby laughs hysterically when she hears and it’s only with Emma threatening her with bathroom duty for a month that she stops. “If Mayor Mills ever comes in again, she gets her coffee free,” Emma tells them both.
Emma’s on her lunch break at two thirty, eating fruit loops, dry from the packet, and drinking coffee, when Ruby calls her downstairs. “Sorry,” she whispers. “She insisted.”
Regina is standing at the counter, chatting to Belle. “Mayor Mills,” Emma says, standing up straight. She is a professional; she owns a business; she can behave like an adult.
“You have a fruit loop stuck in your braid,” Regina informs her. Emma blushes and Ruby snickers from the stairwell.
“How can I help?”
“You promised me a free coffee,” Regina says. “I would expect you to make it.”
“Of course,” Emma says, stepping behind the counter. “What would you like? Belle, I think your shift is nearly over. Just unload the dishwasher before you go. Ruby, tables.”
“Non-fat latte, please,” she says. “I’ll have it here this time.”
“Of course,” Emma says, putting the coffee on with a slick twist of her wrist. “Take a seat and we’ll bring it over.”
Regina reaches into her pocket and deliberately, smiling wickedly, she places a ten dollar note in the tip jar. Regina knows the rules. She knows that business owners don’t take a share in the tips. And Emma realises that Regina Mills, mayor of Storybrooke, is screwing with her. Ruby grins. Emma steams milk.
She brings the coffee over in its glass, teaspoon balanced precariously on the side. “Sit down, dear,” Regina says.
Emma looks around but apart from the students who already seem to be a fixture of the place, there are no other customers. “Keep an eye on the counter, Ruby.” She takes a seat on the straight-backed chair across from Regina, who is surveying her rather like one might look at an exhibition of modern art or an archaeological find – interest and confusion. “Like I said this morning, I am so sorry, Madame Mayor. You’ll have your shirt back on Friday.”
“Why is your surname ‘Swan’?” Regina asks.
Emma looks at her, confused. “I’m sorry?”
“Your mother’s name is Blanchard, your father’s Nolan. Are you married? Divorced? Undercover secret agent?”
“Not married, not divorced.” Emma says.
“Surely you’re too accident prone for the CIA?”
“I changed my name,” she says. “I used to be Emma Blanchard.”
“And Swan? Don’t get me wrong, it suits you.”
Emma’s just trying to figure out that non-sequitur when Belle waves good bye. “I’ll stop by for that book tomorrow, Madame Mayor,” she says and to Emma’s surprise, Regina returns Belle’s smile.
“Any time, dear.”
“Belle’s borrowing a book from you?”
“I’m not all public policy and roads. I do have other interests.”
“Really?” Emma says and then flushes.
Regina snorts. At that moment the doors bust open. “Mom!” It’s Henry and Emma’s heart pounds so loudly she’s sure Regina must be able to hear it. She stands.
“Hello, darling,” Regina says, hugging him close to her and then settling him into a chair next to her. “How was your day?”
“Good,” Henry says. “Hey, Emma. Do you work here?”
“Hey there, kid.” Emma’s throat dries up, her voice coming out hoarse and cracked. “This is my coffee shop. Want a hot chocolate? On the house.”
Henry looks at his mother, who smiles. “This once. Fruit for dessert tonight though.” Henry nods.
“Can I watch you make it?” Henry asks.
“Can’t have you behind the counter, kid,” Emma says. “Health and safety.” Grateful for the distraction, she returns to the counter and makes Henry’s hot chocolate. She watches Regina and Henry out of the corner of her eye. Regina’s whole body seems to relax around the boy, becoming warm, soft, motherly, a far cry from the Evil Queen Ruby has described and Emma has witnessed.
Here you go, kid.”
“Thanks!” Henry takes a sip. “Cinnamon!” he says. “How’d you know?”
“House specialty,” Emma lies.
On Friday, Emma’s page three of the Storybrooke Mirror.
The Hub grinds coffee up a gear in Storybrooke
Emma Swan has moved back to Storybrooke with one mission in mind: to make you the best cup of coffee she possibly can.
Ms Swan, aged 28, has opened a coffee shop in place of the old tea parlour that went under two years ago, and so far patrons are flocking in.
“I grew up here,” Swan tells this reporter. “It felt like time to get back to my roots and I’ve always had a head for business.” A former Storybrooke High School student, she graduated second in her class from Boston University’s prestigious MBA programme two years ago and has been managing a popular Boston coffee shop until this point.
“I got through six years of study making coffee and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
The Hub is a charming establishment, with delicious baked treats (try the cinnamon buns), fair trade coffee beans and a peaceful atmosphere, despite the sometimes lengthy queues.
Ms Swan admits that she fixed the place up herself. “After working in and managing cafes and coffee shops with their own distinct vibe I had a clear sense of what I wanted and didn’t want. I want The Hub to be somewhere people can sit for hours, relax and let the world go by.”
Although Ms Swan has an MBA she took as many Literature courses at college as she possibly could, adding to this reporter’s impression of Emma Swan as an intelligent, resourceful and determined young woman whose business savvy will enable her to go far.
-- Sidney Glass
The article is accompanied by a posed shot of Emma sitting in one of The Hub’s more comfortable chairs, red jacket on, arms crossed and feet encased in docs resting on a stool. Sidney Glass had come to take it the day before, had posed Emma in the ridiculous shot that made her look like some sort of fairy-tale princess role playing as a motorcycle gang leader.
“We’re going out to celebrate tomorrow,” Ruby says, as she cleans up at the end of shift. “The Rabbit Hole.”
“You’ll have money to spare,” Emma says dryly. “The mayor’s been tipping you generously for my work.” Regina had come in again on every day since the coffee incident, though always for take away. Emma always made her coffee both times and Regina left a generous tip each time.
Emma files the newspaper away but the next morning finds the article cut out and stuck in front of the coffee machine. She finds she doesn’t mind so much.
Ruby stops by for her at ten on Saturday. Emma’s had time to take a nap after a frankly far too busy shift and to put on a slightly more glamorous top to go with her usual jeans and boots; it’s shimmery, metallic fabric, mostly backless and with a fair amount of the front missing, and her hair is falling in waves over her shoulders.
Ruby scoffs when she sees her. “No make-up?”
Emma shakes her head thinking of her bathroom upstairs. Somewhere she’s got an old tube of mascara and possibly a sticky lip gloss in her handbag that dates back to high school but that’d be about the sum of it. “Not my thing.” She grabs her jacket, stuffs her cell phone and keys in the pocket and follows Ruby down the steps.
The Rabbit Hole is a dive bar down the other end of town, maybe a ten minute walk away. The music’s loud and several years out of date and Emma knows that by the end of the night the DJ will be playing ‘Living on a Prayer’ and ‘500 Miles’ on repeat. They meet Belle there; she’s found a table in a darkened corner and is cradling what appears to be a vodka cranberry.
Emma leaves her jacket under Belle’s handbag and heads to the bar. “Corona, please,” she says, after fighting her way to the front. “And a long island iced tea.”
Ruby grabs her iced tea, takes a long swig, and then drags the two of them out onto the dance floor. Emma loses herself in the music, limbs swaying, hair growing wilder and wilder as she dances. Ruby and Belle each buy a round of shots and Emma gets the third, tasting the tequila, salt and lime at the back of her throat, and she feels light-headed and happy.
“Belle, Belle, Belle,” she says, when she and Belle head for a break, clutching fresh drinks. “So much fun.”
Belle smiles. She’s a contemplative drunk, her dancing slow and off the beat of the music, feet still and head jerking. Ruby dances like she’s got something to prove and Emma dances because she can’t run away, all frenetic, choppy movements. “I haven’t done this in a while,” Belle says, and Emma realises she hasn’t either, can’t even remember the last time she tasted alcohol beyond the tasteful glass of red wine at dinner with her parents. She tilts her beer, chugging and slamming it on the table.
“Going for a smoke,” Ruby says and Emma gets up to dance again. She’s singing along to Bon Jovi, waving her arms in the air, when Ruby returns, and they dance together for a while, singing lyrics back and forth at each other. Ruby nods over to a corner. “Hot guy, checking you out.”
“Not interested,” Emma says, not even bothering to look. “You go for it.”
“How can you not be interested,” she yells into her ear. “He’s a baaaaabe.”
“So not my type.”
Ruby pulls her to the bathrooms. “Are you gay?”
Emma thinks about denying it but then realises that she doesn’t actually care. Her parents know and are accepting. Mary Margaret worries that this is why Emma ran away, thinking her parents were bigots, and constantly seeks to reassure her that Emma’s lifestyle choices are accepted, no, loved, by her and David. “Yeah.”
Ruby thinks for a moment. “I thought I was gay once,” she says. “Turned out I was just drunk.”
“I did the same with being straight,” Emma says. She’d slept with Neal in a conservative, small town, self-loathing gay panic at a party after their high school won some big deal football game. Perhaps it was the disastrous outcome that had put her off males? It’s a glib answer, and ultimately untrue.
Ruby checks her hair in the mirror, pinning a fly away hair back into her bun. “Let’s get back out there. They start playing Irish music at one.”
Later, she stumbles home with Ruby, Belle having left earlier. Getting her keys out of her jacket pocket proves alarmingly complicated so Emma sits at the bottom of the external steps leading up to her apartment and watches the sky, waiting to sober up before attempting to clamber up the rickety steps. It’s cold out and she wraps her jacket around herself. She imagines that she can see her breath in the night air.
A car drives past and stops. The window winds down. “Ms Swan.” It’s Regina Mills. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Keys are hard,” Emma says. “So’re steps.”
“Oh for…” Regina sweeps out of the car and over to Emma. “Where are your keys?”
“M’pocket,” Emma says, gesturing vaguely at her left side.
“You reek of beer,” she says, fishing a soft, manicured hand into Emma’s pocket and fishing out her keys and cell phone. “Up you get.” She wraps an arm around Emma’s waist and helps her up the stairs. Emma can smell her shampoo – apple – and the aromatic scent of her perfume.
“You smell amazing,” she tells Regina, who laughs.
“I wish I could say the same to you.”
Emma smiles beatifically. “You’ve got pretty eyes too. And lips. And hair.”
“Thanks,” Regina says, rolling her eyes and, hey, that’s Emma’s move!
Regina has the front door open and pushes Emma inside and sits her down on the bed. Emma takes off her jacket and Regina stares for a moment at Emma’s chest, purple lace of her bra just visible. Emma’s too drunk to worry about potential flashing situations, so she sits down on her bed and smiles. “Are you staring at my boobs?” Emma asks.
“I’m merely horrified that you went out wearing so little,” Regina replies, eyes moving back up to Emma’s face. “Have you got hypothermia?”
“Wanna warm me up?” Emma says, waggling her tongue. “Kidding!” she adds when Regina looks at her with absolute horror in her eyes.
“I should hope so.”
“Why’re you out so late?” Emma asks, shucking off her shoes, heeled boots, which have been pinching her feet all night.
“I had a dinner,” she says. “Council business.” Emma doesn’t take in her words, but watches Regina’s mouth, the hypnotic movement of her lips, their usual snarl absent. She has a small scar above her lip, which Emma realises she finds incredibly sexy.
“Cool,” Emma says, lying down on top of her duvet and closing her eyes. “I went to a bar and danced.” She hums a few bars of ‘Come on Eileen’ and smiles. A moment later, the door closes softly.
Thanks for the great first response. I hope you enjoy. I am totally over-fond of tropes so apologies if that's not your thing.
Emma wakes up to sun coming through the windows, head aching. Her top has basically fallen off her and the underwire in her bra is digging into her side. Next to her bed is a glass of water and two aspirin. Emma groans, downing both aspirin at once and drinking the water in one gulp. The furriness in her throat recedes minutely and she remembers who must have left it there.
Fuck. It’s all a bit hazy, but she has flashes of Regina and she can’t remember how Regina ended up in her plans last night because she’s pretty sure she wasn’t at The Rabbit Hole. Oh God, did she drunkenly stumble over to her house?
There’s a knock at the door. Lunch with Mary Margaret and David. She’d forgotten. She pulls a hoodie on and eases herself out of bed.
“Ma, Dad,” she says, opening the door and letting them in. Mary Margaret’s face twists in concern when she takes in Emma’s appearance. Is Emma slipping back into bad habits? Should we book an appointment with Dr Hopper? Chant the ‘Serenity Prayer’?
“Sorry. I overslept,” she says. “Come in and sit down. I’ll just have a quick shower.”
She grabs sweatpants and a tee-shirt, darts into the bathroom and immerses her aching body under the hot water. Even her hair hurts. She scrubs herself with this pungent body wash that she never uses because she smells like mango for the next week. She figures that’s better than booze.
She comes out, towelling her hair, and sees that Mary Margaret has made her bed, straightened up all her shoes and is washing the mugs by the sink. “Stop it, Ma,” she says. “You’re a guest. Sit down.”
“I’m almost finished,” Mary Margaret insists. Emma notices she’s also put the coffee on, which means it will be far too weak. Nonetheless, Emma pours herself a mug and just barely manages to hold in a moan when she tastes the sweet, sweet caffeine.
“So, kid,” David says. “Big night last night?”
“I went out with Ruby and Belle to celebrate a successful first week,” Emma says. “I think I’ve lost my alcohol tolerance now that I’m no longer a semi-professional alcoholic.”
“Just so long as it’s not a regular–“ Mary Margaret starts but Emma cuts her off.
“Don’t nag. I’m not 17 anymore.”
Mary Margaret looks set to retort but David silences her with a look. They end up having a pleasant lunch of French toast, one of very few meals Emma can actually make (even her scrambled eggs end up rubbery and flavourless), and conveniently has all the ingredients for.
“So I hear I owe you big time,” David says.
Emma swallows a bite of toast. “I saved your ass,” she says. “And destroyed my own in the process.”
“Be careful of Regina,” Mary Margaret warns. “She can be vicious.”
Emma wonders how Mary Margaret knows this. “I’m kidding, Ma. She’s okay,” Emma says, deciding not to ask. “How long have you both known her?”
David answers. “She’s from Storybrooke, born and bred.”
“How do I not know her then?” Emma asks.
“Your paths wouldn’t have crossed. She’s, what, 35?” David looks over at Mary Margaret who nods. “So she’d have been at college by the time you were at high school and then…” He falls silent. Emma fills in the gaps silently. And then when she returned to Storybrooke, you’d run away and we still don’t know why.
“I taught her in my first year at Storybrooke Elementary,” Mary Margaret says. “What a sweet girl. I never liked her mother though. Cora Mills was a heartless old hag.”
Emma has never heard her mother speak about anyone that way and it kind of delights her. “Was?”
“She died a few years back, just after Regina was made mayor. Cora orchestrated the whole thing, created the campaigns, pushed Regina into it, never mind what Regina might have wanted to do. Still, she’s an excellent mayor. She won re-election by a landslide last year.” Emma looks at her mother. It’s easy to imagine Mary Margaret as the young, idealistic teacher she’d been when Regina had been in her class. Aside from a few more wrinkles and the streaks of silver in her dark pixie cut, Mary Margaret looks exactly the same as she always has. Emma’s never seen her wear make-up or dye her hair. Even her clothing hasn’t changed in its essentials since Emma was a kid.
“I’d vote for her,” Emma says and David and Mary Margaret exchange the same glance they’d shared when Emma was swooning over Neal at high school, the look that says, how sweet, little Emma has a little crush. Emma’s glad she hasn’t mentioned that she thinks she saw Regina last night.
“Regina needs friends, I think,” David says. Mary Margaret collects the plates and rinses them in the sink. Emma sits back. She could be Regina’s friend.
The food takes away the worst of Emma’s hangover and she decides to use her afternoon semi-productively and clean. It’s when she’s vacuuming that she finds a piece of paper just under the bed.
If you need help remembering what happened last night, call me.
It’s followed by a phone number. Emma dials.
“Regina Mills speaking.”
“Hi,” Emma says. “It’s Emma. What the hell happened last night?”
There is a pause and then Regina says, “I’m hurt that our night of passion meant so little to you.”
Emma drops her phone. When she retrieves it, Regina is cackling down the line, the sound intoxicating. “You’re truly evil,” Emma says.
“I couldn’t resist,” Regina says, voice breathy. “I drove past and you were sitting on your steps, half asleep. I got you into your apartment and you decided to sing at me so I left.”
Emma grimaces. “Thanks. I guess I owe you double now.”
“Add a week to my free coffees,” Regina says. “I rather enjoy never having to pay for caffeine.”
The weeks go by and The Hub’s customer base continues to grow. Emma starts to train Ruby as a manager so that she can have Wednesdays away from front of house during the week and then to hires another part timer to work Saturdays and Wednesdays, a woman called Tiana who is doubly amazing because she can cook and so helps Graham in the kitchen. Emma almost melts when she tastes one of the beignets Tiana brings along to the interview.
“My husband’s got a contract tutoring at the university,” she says. “I’m supporting him for two years here and then he’ll follow me back to New Orleans so I can open my own bakery.”
Emma, licking sugar off her fingers, doesn’t doubt that she’ll do it. Saturdays become Beignet Saturday to follow on from Pie Friday.
She sends Ruby and Belle to Gold’s and they return with a giant bookshelf, carried between the two of them and made of dark, heavy wood. It needs varnish but Emma does that on her next day off, the fumes making her woozy and giggly.
Belle donates a few romance novels and her copy of ‘The Female Eunuch’. “I found out she’s really transphobic and it kind of ruined it for me,” she confides in Emma. “But I couldn’t just throw it out.”
Ruby brings in her set of Harry Potter books and the first three books in the ‘Twilight’ series. “I gave up at book three when he cut the brakes on her car.”
Mary Margaret delivers a large crate full to the brim of picture books and she and Emma spend a fond afternoon re-discovering Emma’s old favourites. Emma ends up having an impromptu story time when a group of mothers come in one Tuesday, when the place is nearly empty, for what will become a regular meeting. Ruby makes the coffees and Emma sits the kids down in one corner and reads them ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, with the outcome being that all seven two and three year olds spend the next ten minutes running around the shop chanting “bum” at the top of their lungs.
Even Regina donates a few books, passed on through Belle who smiles slyly when she tells Emma who donated them and watches her immediately rush to look at the titles. It’s an eclectic bunch – a history book about Maine, a large collection of fairy tales and several dog eared mysteries.
Her tentative friendship with Regina Mills continues. The mayor comes in most days for a coffee and seems to have organised to meet Henry there every Thursday after school. If Emma’s free she’ll sit with them for a little while, trying to ignore how Henry fidgets like Neal, tearing napkins into thin lines, and likes cinnamon like Emma, and most of all, trying to ignore the fluttering in her chest every time she sees Regina.
The Hub’s been open four weeks when Henry comes rushing through the door as usual on Thursday and Emma realises that Regina isn’t there. “Are you sure you’re meeting your mom?” she asks.
He nods but he’s frowning and his lower lip trembles. “She was in Boston last night for a conference but she called this morning and promised she’d see me here after school.”
Emma digs her cell phone out of her pocket and scrolls through the log until she finds Regina’s number, unsaved. She dials and it rings for an alarmingly long time before Regina answers. “Emma? Is Henry with you?” There’s a frantic note to her voice so Emma tries not to sound visibly pleased that Regina called her ‘Emma’ not ‘Ms Swan’.
“Hey. Yeah. Where are you?”
“My car broke down in some hideous middle-of-nowhere location and roadside assistance is being just appalling and I forgot to call Henry’s school. Is he okay?”
“He’s fine. Are you?”
“Never better,” she snaps. “Sorry. I’m just, I hate leaving him over night and now God knows when I’ll get back.”
“Something’s wrong with the motor,” she says. “I tried to look but I’m limited to changing oil and water. It all just looks like junk under the bonnet. I’ll have to call Kathryn and hope she can have him stay another night.”
“Hey, don’t worry. He can hang out here until you get back,” Emma says and then mentally kicks herself. If she spends too much time with Henry she’ll end up caring about him and that won’t be good for anyone.
“I don’t want to trouble you,” Regina says though her tone says otherwise. “I’m sure Kathryn…”
“Happy to help,” Emma replies. “He can hang out with me until you get back.”
“Thank you, Emma. Could I speak to Henry?”
Emma passes the phone over to him and Henry listens attentively, making sounds intermittently. “She says she’ll keep in text contact but she needs to keep her line free,” he says, passing the cell phone back to Emma. “I’m to do my homework.”
“Okay,” Emma says, fighting the urge to suggest that if it was her, she wouldn’t bother. So Henry sits at one of the tables, sipping on a hot chocolate and scribbling down the answers to arithmetic in his text book, looking every bit as at home as the university students writing poetry.
When the last customer leaves and Ruby has closed up shop, Emma is aware she’s stuck with Henry on his own and she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing.
“Yeah,” he says. “Mrs Blanchard doesn’t set too much homework.”
“My place is just upstairs,” she says.
“Cool,” he says and bounds up the stairs after her, settling himself in on the couch, feet dangling off the side.
“What do you want to do until your mom gets here?” she asks. “I’ve got some movies or whatever. I thought I’d order Chinese food for dinner.”
Henry browses her DVDs and picks out a couple. Emma calls for take-out. They dine in front of the television, apparently a novelty for Henry, both the greasy takeaways and eating off his knees. Henry puts on ‘Captain America’ and Emma half-watches, in between cleaning up after them and replying to a bunch of emails she hasn’t had time for.
Henry yells at television when Bucky dies and Emma sees that his eyes are beginning to water. “Cheer up, kid,” she says, touching his shoulder tentatively.
“Sometimes it’s good to be sad though,” Henry says, sniffing. “If I’m going to be sad, I’d rather it was because of a movie.”
“You get sad a lot?” Emma asks.
Henry shrugs. “Not really. And when I do, Mom’s there.”
“You’re pretty tight with your mom, huh?”
“She chose me,” he says. “My birth mother couldn’t keep me but Mom wanted me so much.” And now it’s Emma who has tears in her eyes.
He falls asleep halfway through ‘Iron Man’, curled up against Emma, and she doesn’t have the heart to disturb him so she keeps watching.
There’s a knock at the door. “It’s unlocked.”
Regina enters, her usual impeccable appearance dishevelled. There is a streak of grease down her left cheek, her high-heeled pumps are splattered with mud and her blazer is wrinkled. It is somehow reassuring to know that Regina is not perfect. “Thank you so much, Ms Swan,” she says, sitting down on Henry’s other side and stroking his hair off his forehead. He grumbles but doesn’t open his eyes.
“How’s the car?” Emma asks.
“At the garage,” Regina says. “Mike will look at it tomorrow. How was Henry?”
“Great. He’s a neat kid,” Emma says.
“I should call a cab, get out of your hair,” Regina says, standing up.
Emma grabs her arm. “I’ll give you a lift.”
“I’ve caused you enough trouble today,” Regina protests.
“What’s life without a little trouble?”
And with that Regina rouses Henry enough for him to walk down the stairs and bundles him into the back of Emma’s bug. The drive is short – Mifflin Street only a few blocks away – and silent. The house is enormous, like a stately home. Emma imagines Regina in Victorian garb, ordering servants about and hosting tea parties in the parlour.
“Come in for a drink,” Regina says. “I have this amazing apple cider. Unless you need to get back…”
“No,” Emma says, pushing the fact that she’s starting work at six tomorrow to the back of her mind. “I can come in.”
The inside of the house is opulent, richly furnished and every surface shining. Emma is directed to Regina’s study. “I’ll be down in a minute,” she says. “I’ll just get Henry settled.”
She feels uncomfortable sitting on the expensive leather sofa, all too aware that she didn’t change after work and is a bit of a mess. She pulls her hair from its scrappy ponytail, brushing it out with her fingers, taking deep breaths and attempting to calm the nerves that have sprung up, quivering in the pit of her stomach. She browses the bookshelves. Regina has a large selection of political tomes, from Marxist theories through to capitalist propaganda. However, there’s a whole section of fiction and Emma delights in the well-worn spines of Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She’s pulled a leather bound edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ from the shelf when Regina enters.
“You’re a Jane girl?” Emma asks.
“Isn’t everyone?” And Emma can’t hide her delight. “Sit down, Ms Swan. Please.”
Emma settles into the sofa, allows Regina to pour her a generous glass of sharp apple cider, the alcohol warming her. Regina has scrubbed away the grease and removed her blazer, the black dress underneath fits her like a second skin, sleek and smooth. Emma notices a run in her pantyhose.
“Thank you so much for today,” Regina says, her voice low and musical, as she settles down next to Emma, crossing her legs so that the skirt of her dress rides up slightly, and Emma can’t help but stare at her legs.
“It was seriously not a problem,” Emma replies.
“There’s just me and Henry,” she says. “I feel so guilty if I’m not around.”
“Has it always been the two of you?” Emma asks.
“Yes. Henry’s adopted. I got incredibly lucky – single women with demanding jobs are not top of the adoption list generally. But even if I had been in a relationship there would have been issues.”
“Well, I’m gay,” Regina says, as though this should have been perfectly obvious, and Emma can’t help the smile that spreads across her face.
“I didn’t realise.”
A smile dances across Regina’s face. “Seriously? I’ve been flirting with you pretty much constantly this past month. I was beginning to think I’d misread you.”
And Emma closes the distance between them, kisses Regina. Her fingers wrap into Regina’s dark bob of hair, the strands silky under her fingers, and she tastes cider on Regina’s lips.
“You are really terrible at flirting,” Emma says when they break apart and Regina lets out an indignant squawk, that Emma cuts off with another kiss. This time Regina pushes down onto the sofa, her lips demanding and her body pressing against Emma’s. She nips at Emma’s bottom lip and her hands clasp Emma’s face. Emma lets her hands stray, stroking circles on Regina’s arms and back and feeling her shiver against her.
Regina nips and sucks at Emma’s neck. “I. Am. An. Excellent. Flirt,” she states, puncturing her words with kisses. She has one hand in Emma’s curls and the other ghosting up her thigh. Emma just nods, hearing little breathy sighs and moans that she realised belatedly are coming from her.
“So is this a thing?” Emma asks, as Regina’s thumb reaches the apex of Emma’s thigh and starts moving inward. “Are we doing this?”
Regina sits up, awkwardly straddling Emma. It’s somewhat uncomfortable – the knee of her leg pushed up against the couch is now digging into her thigh. Her face is flushed, hair sticking up on one side and her lipstick is smudged. Emma would hazard a guess and say that much of the plum shade has found its way onto Emma’s neck. “Way to kill the mood, Swan.”
“That’s me,” Emma says. “Emma Swan, professional buzzkill. But seriously though?”
“Seriously though,” Regina mimics, and then she pulls off her shirt and Emma kind of loses track of everything after that in the immediacy of sensations. At some point they relocate to Regina’s bedroom and shortly after that, Regina is lying naked, legs splayed, skin glowing and body trembling on the bed as Emma licks and sucks and touches.
When Regina comes, she calls out Emma’s name. “Thought we weren’t on a first name basis,” Emma says, hand palming Regina’s breast, flicking and strumming at the nipple as Regina lies slumped beneath her.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Regina says, a soft, sated smile forming on her face. “I would never do this to a casual acquaintance.” And she rolls over, pressing her body against Emma. “I would never, for example, do this,” she says, undoing Emma’s bra and placing a kiss to her breast, “to my banker.” Her hands roam Emma’s body, making her squirm and shudder, until they hit the spot. “I would never touch my hairdresser like this.”
“Good to know,” Emma says, between gasps. Regina has moved on to the other nipple and her fingers are placing pressure on her clit. And it’s not long at all before Emma’s shaking and breathing heavily and convulsing.
They do not talk, but Regina wraps her arms around Emma, drapes one leg lazily across her body and presses soft kisses into her back as Emma drifts off to sleep.
Thanks for the awesome response. Apologies for my inability to write good smut.
Chapter 4: In which an old friend returns (and Emma doesn't like where it leads)
The first thing Emma notices when she wakes up is the rise and fall of Regina’s chest as she sleeps. She’s rolled away from Emma in the night and is lying on her back, snoring softly. The second thing is that it is light out.
Emma leaps out of the bed, finding her jacket draped in a pile in the corner. She checks her phone. 5.50. Shit!
“Nice ass,” Regina drawls and Emma almost falls over. She’s trying to pull jeans and underwear on at the same time and it is not going well.
“I’m not doing a runner,” she says, eyes skimming the room for her bra. “I have work, like, now.”
Regina reaches under the bed and pulls out her bra. “After this?” Emma smiles and gestures for Regina to throw it to her. “Get it yourself,” Regina says, burying her head under a pillow. “It’s too early to be awake.” Emma collects her bra and caresses Regina’s buttocks over the sheet. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, Ms Swan,” Regina says, voice groggy.
“Seriously? We’re back to surnames?”
“I’m saving your name for best,” Regina says, and then she rolls back over and smiles sleepily, all mussed hair and no makeup, and it is so goddamn sexy Emma wants to say ‘screw work’ and hop back into bed.
But she doesn’t. She runs into work ten minutes late and finds Graham and Ruby, who have obviously opened the shop on their own, in the middle of nervous discussion. Ruby’s anxiety turns amusement when she sees Emma. “Are those the same clothes you wore yesterday?” she asks, grinning wolfishly.
“Of course not,” Emma blusters.
“No, they are,” Ruby says. “There’s the same rip in the knee of those jeans. Is this a walk of shame?” She looks to Graham to back her up and he nods, raising his eyebrows at Emma. Emma decides that actually she’s not going to apologise for worrying them by being late.
“I think we’re calling it a stride of pride,” she says, relenting eventually, and Ruby lets out a squeal.
“Oh my God, who?”
“A lady never kisses and tells,” Emma says. “Now, I’m going to shower and you,” she says, gesturing at the counter where the pharmacist is standing, handkerchief to his nose, “have a customer.” Ruby sighs but lets Emma go.
Showering wakes her up and she has to resist the urge to linger, feeling the warm water rush over her body, caress her skin. It’s been too long since she’s hooked up with anyone – her last girlfriend broke up with her over two years ago because of her refusal to talk about her past and beyond the occasional one night stand she’d mostly been self-servicing these past years. Since returning to Storybrooke, there’d been no one.
As she pulls on her jeans, she wonders if Regina will be in today. Her tank top smells like Regina and she finds herself reluctant to throw it in the laundry basket. Ridiculous really. It’s hardly going to be the last time she smells her perfume.
On Emma’s return, The Hub is buzzing and the look of relief on Ruby’s face at seeing her is palpable. Emma immediately settles in at the coffee machine, doing her very best not to sacrifice quality for speed as she clears the backlog. She can’t lose the smile that she suspects will remain etched on her face for the rest of the day. Archie remarks on it. “You seem happier than I’ve seen you in a while, Emma.”
“I am,” she says because she had sex with Regina Mills and it was amazing and she reckons if she plays her cards right she’ll get to do it again.
“I’m glad,” Archie says. “You deserve nothing but happiness.”
Ashley from high school is in with the mothers’ group again when they’ve quietened down and Emma passes some time reading ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to the group of toddlers. When it’s done, Belle chases them around the shop, roaring a terrible roar and gnashing her pearly whites. Ruby sticks pen tops on her fingers and pretends they’re claws, catching up one of the children, her best friend’s daughter, into a big bear hug and blowing raspberries on her stomach.
Astrid, from the convent, comes in and smiles at the chaos. “You could hold story time once a week,” she suggests. “Since the library’s cut back its hours, it’s been cut. I’m sure many of us at the convent would come in and read.”
Emma smiles. “Perhaps I will.” At this stage she thinks she can probably do anything.
When the children are gone, the conversations between staff become increasingly M-rated. Ruby won’t stop pestering her about her hook-up and tries to rope Belle into it. “C’mon, boss. Let me live vicariously,” Ruby moans, following Emma around as she wipes tables. “We need details.”
“For crying out loud, Ruby,” Emma says and then stops because Regina Mills has just walked in to The Hub. She’s wearing black tailored pants and the white shirt Emma spilt coffee on and a waistcoat and it’s like all of Emma’s fantasies (women in suits, women in waistcoats, Regina) have come home to roost. Regina looks around The Hub, her smile dangerous and baring her teeth, her lips painted blood-red, her chin held high, exposing an expanse of neck that Emma desperately wants to kiss. Emma’s goofy grin grows wider and Ruby stares between the pair of them.
“No way,” she whispers.
Emma thrusts the cloth at Ruby and practically runs to the counter, telling Belle to go on her break. “Madam Mayor,” she says. “How can I help you?”
Regina smiles. “Ms Swan. A non-fat latte to go, thank you.” She hands Emma a ten dollar bill and puts a couple of dollars of the change she receives in the tip jar.
Emma sets to work on her coffee. Regina sticks close to the counter and in a low voice says, “Ruby is staring.”
“Ruby is connecting some dots in her mind,” Emma says. Regina is silent for a moment, turning this over in her mind. Then she shrugs. “So you’re paying for drinks now?”
“It would be a poor look for the mayor of Storybrooke to be receiving special treatment. What would the business community say?” Regina says loftily.
Emma places a lid on the take away cup and hands it over, her hands lingering on Regina’s. “Dinner tonight?” she asks.
Regina shakes her head. “I need to spend some time with Henry, make up for being a terrible mother this week. If you were, however, to drop by in the evening at, say, eight thirty I would have to be a good host and invite you in for a coffee.”
Emma grins. “I still want that date though.”
“You’ll get it,” Regina promises. “Just not tonight.” She looks around, as though checking for an audience, and then grabs Emma’s hand, placing a soft kiss on her knuckles, and Emma thinks that perhaps she’s going to swoon. Okay, so maybe Regina does know how to flirt a little bit.
When Regina leaves, Ruby gives Emma the thumbs up and Emma throws a spoon at her. “Nice work, boss,” she says, catching the spoon in one hand.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The mayor? You? Sex?” Ruby says.
“There’s no one here,” she says, blatantly ignoring the students and when Emma jerks her head pointedly to the corner, amends her statement. “There’s no one here who’s listening and cares.”
“That’s not the point. What I do in my own time is my business.”
“Who you do,” Ruby says, grinning. She holds up her hands when Emma aims another spoon at her. “Seriously though, it’s great. I mean, I knew you liked her but Regina’s hard to read.”
“Right?” Emma says, pleased to have confirmation that Regina is not great at flirting.
It’s the end of the day and Emma’s alone in the shop signing off the time sheets, the sign switched to ‘closed’, when she hears the door open, the bell jangling. “We’re closed, sorry,” she says, not turning around.
“Em,” the voice says and freezes, pen pressing against the paper so hard it starts to tear through. She knows that voice, older and hoarser but still, in its essentials, the same.
She spins around and there he is, same old Neal. He’s older though, a few more wrinkles, creases at the sides of his eyes, a slight belly. Emma notes that his hair is just that little bit too over-styled and he dresses like a trendy hipster teenager rather than a man in his mid-30s. Despite this, Emma’s taken back to 17, pregnant, alone, abandoned. “What are you doing here?” she says and her voice is ice.
“That’s a nice way to greet an old friend,” Neal says. He’d had his arms out as if to hug her though now he looks as though he realises this might not be the best idea. He smiles tentatively and puts his hands in the pockets of his jeans, though his brown eyes look sad.
“You are not my friend,” Emma says. “You stopped being my friend when I told you I thought I was pregnant and you took off.”
“I came back,” he says. “But you were gone. Em, I was scared.”
“And you think I wasn’t? Shit, Neal.” She sits down. “Why are you here?”
“I’m in town with my fiancée,” he says. “Dad wants to meet her. He said you’d started up this place. It’s fantastic.”
“I have work to do,” she says.
“Can we chat? Please.”
She gives him the key to her apartment, sends him upstairs and then sits for a moment longer, head in her hands and trying not to cry.
She’d met Neal at a party. Looking back now, it’s easy to spot the signs of a loser: 24 years old, still living in his hometown, working at the petrol station, at a high school party, getting wasted. But when she was 17, he was cool. He could buy her alcohol and he’d left Storybrooke before, had seen the world. He’d regaled Emma with stories of Phuket and Rio and New Zealand that made her full of longing.
He’d also never put any pressure on her. “When you’re ready, you’re ready,” he’d say when she stopped his hand from creeping further than her thigh, and repositioned his arm across her shoulders instead. When Neal smiled he almost made her forget the longing she’d felt when she stared at Mulan, the captain of the lacrosse team, from her perpetual seat on the bleachers.
So they went out, which basically meant they hung out at parties and made out in his car and smoked weed in the woods that bordered Storybrooke. Then the night of the championship game she’d decided they should take things further – she was 17, it was totally normal, she just needed to get it over with – and they’d had unsatisfying sex on the futon that was his bed at his scummy apartment he shared with a drug dealer and the DJ at The Rabbit Hole.
“I can’t,” she’d told him two months later. They had been at his apartment and he’d offered her a beer. “I think I’m pregnant.”
Neal had said all the right things. “I love you. We’ll work this out together.” And then he’d disappeared.
She puts the books away and climbs the stairs, finds Neal sitting on the sofa. He springs up when he sees her, runs a hand awkwardly through his hair. “So,” he says.
“You wanted to talk,” she says. “Start talking.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was weak and stupid and by the time I’d got my shit together you’d left. I asked everyone where you were and no one knew.” By the time he’s finished apologising she’s already forgiven him. It’s Neal. She’ll probably always have a place in her heart for him.
“I didn’t want them to know where I was,” Emma says, pulling two beers out of the fridge and passing one to him. He takes it gratefully and takes a long swig.
“Where did you go?”
“All around,” she says. “Ended up in Boston though. Had the kid there. He was adopted out.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“No,” she says, lying. “Closed adoption.”
“I bet he’s happier than he ever would have been with us,” Neal says.
“There never would have been an ‘us’,” she replies, fingers gripping the bottle tight. “Not long term anyway.”
“Perhaps not,” he says. “But I would’ve tried.”
“It’s just,” Emma says, “you’re a man. That might have posed difficulties for me.”
Neal chokes on his beer. “You’re a lesbian?” He wipes the beer out of his beard with the sleeve of his coat.
“Very much so,” Emma says.
“Hey, that’s great, good for you.”
“Thanks,” she says dryly. “You know, I was really struggling with it but your words just now, they just gave me the strength to carry on.”
Neal rolls his eyes. “Do Mary Margaret and David know?”
“They know I’m gay. They don’t know about the kid.”
“You should tell them,” Neal says. “Secrets have a habit of coming out when you least want them to.”
“So who’s the girl you’ve brought back?” Emma asks, anxious to change the subject.
As Neal goes on and on about this girl Tamara, the love of his life, the light of his loins, the future mother to his many children, Emma allows herself to drift off. She considers a life where Neal stayed, where they’d both stayed in Storybrooke and probably got married because that’s what you do in Storybrooke if you get knocked up and Emma would get a job at the diner and they’d live in a tiny apartment and raise the kid and probably call it something terrible like Braxton or Leonardo. And Emma would felt this sort of dissatisfied longing for something that she couldn’t have when the mayor held town meetings.
“We’re heading back to New York on Monday,” he says. “But I want to get married in Storybrooke.”
“Be good to her,” she says.
“You be kind to yourself, Em,” Neal tells her. “And talk to someone about ten years ago.”
Then Neal leaves, gets back to his girl and his father, and Emma lies on the bed, hands over her stomach remembering that time ten years ago when her stomach was rounded, not flat, and she felt the kicks of life in there. She can’t be sure that Henry is the same child; there’s lots of kids given up for adoption each year, lots of kids born on the 25th of September. The only thing that’s really telling her it’s true is her gut. Unfortunately, her gut is usually right.
Her phone beeps and, looking at it, Emma realises it’s after eight thirty. The message is from Regina.
Did I not make myself clear enough today or are you peculiarly dense?
Emma types a reply. Really sorry. I’m not feeling great. I’m going to have to take a rain check <3
The response is nearly instantaneous. I thought you were better than to use those vapid emojis, Swan. Tomorrow night?
Emma smiles. Definitely. Looking forward to it <3 <3 <3
Emma can practically hear Regina’s response when she gets the message. Ugh.
And then, seconds later: <3. It makes Emma’s heart burst.
Unfortunately, seeing Neal has made two things clear. First, she’s pretty sure she’s falling for Regina. And second, she’s pretty sure she’s going to have to tell her the truth.
Regina saving Emma's name "for best" is said by Sorry Carlisle from 'The Changeover' by Margaret Mahy, a seminal book of my childhood.
Chapter 5: In which Emma loses someone (and finds someone else)
“Trouble in paradise?” Ruby asks when she arrives at work the next morning.
Emma shrugs. “Long night. I’m tired.” She’s setting up for the day, putting the first batch of beignets in the cabinet. Graham doesn’t work Saturdays anymore, with Tiana manning the kitchen and Tiana’s very much of the opinion that Emma is her boss and that respect for boundaries is important so Emma has been blessedly free from questions until seven, when Ruby starts.
“Not a sexy long night though,” Ruby says. “Sucks.”
“Ruby,” Emma says. “I am your boss. You need to quit it.”
Ruby’s taken aback for a moment and then, chastened, apologises. “I didn’t mean to offend,” she says.
“It’s okay,” Emma says. “It’s just – let me give you information. Don’t push it out of me.”
The day is long and busy. Her parents drop by on their usual Saturday morning walk and suggest she comes for dinner that night. “I’m catching up with a friend,” Emma lies.
“Come over tomorrow then,” Mary Margaret says. “Lunch. We’ve barely seen you since you opened.”
Emma agrees and hands over their take away drinks. They’ll be going to sit in the park like they’ve done every Saturday since Emma can remember. They bird watch and drink coffee and snuggle. It’s sickeningly adorable. She used to go with them when she was a kid, one parent on each side of her holding her hands and swinging her between them, before she hit her teen years and started making vomiting noises when he parents held hands or kissed.
It sounds kind of idyllic now.
Neal stops by with Tamara and his father, Mr Gold. Emma’s avoided seeing Gold since she moved back. Something about the guy makes her skin crawl. “Lovely to see you, dearie,” he says. His smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “I hear your business is doing well.”
“Great, thanks,” Emma says automatically. “What can I get you?”
Gold, typically irritating, orders a large, half-strength, soy latte, not too hot. Ruby, stuck on making coffee, glares at him. “What the crap does ‘not too hot’ mean? Just wait for it to cool down,” she whispers when he leaves and Emma laughs.
All too soon the day is over, the coffee shop cleaned up after the frantic Saturday and Emma’s upstairs eating dry toast and channel surfing. She settles on ‘Seinfeld’ reruns and puts her feet up on the couch, trying to calm her nerves. She’s going to tell Regina the truth. She bites at the cuticle on her thumb and watches the time tick by.
At just before eight thirty, she gets in her car and drives slowly over to Mifflin Street. She parks outside and sits in the car for a few moments, breathing in and out, in and out. Then, steeling herself, she exits and knocks on Regina’s door.
It opens almost immediately and Emma is heartened to know that Regina’s been waiting for her. Before Emma can even speak, she is pulled inside by the wrist none too gently and Regina pushes her up against the closed door, kissing her hungrily, hands sliding under her shirt, stroking the planes of her stomach and back, and her warm body pressed up against Emma’s. “Hi,” she says, grinning, when they break apart. “I missed you.”
“Hi,” Emma replies and allows herself to be led to Regina’s study. She deliberately sits at one end of the sofa, trying to position as much distance between herself and Regina, hands fidgeting with her keys. “I have to tell you something.”
Regina frowns. “That sounds ominous.”
“I don’t know if you know this but when I was 17 I ran away from Storybrooke,” Emma says and Regina nods. Emma thinks she sees a flash of guilt cross her face but it’s gone the next moment and she reaches across to take Emma’s hand in hers, squeezing her palm and stroking her thumb along the flat of her hand.
Emma is buoyed by this comfort. “Okay, so, the reason I did was because I was pregnant. I didn’t know what to do. My boyfriend – Neal Gold, he’d have been about your age, I guess, so you might know him – had run off on me, I didn’t want to tell my parents.”
Regina just nods again. “I assume this isn’t the end of your story.”
“No,” Emma says and takes a deep breath. “I had the baby in Boston on the 25th of September, ten years ago. He was adopted out, a closed adoption.”
Regina’s face has frozen. “You think it’s Henry.”
Emma nods. “I can’t be sure obviously, but it fits. He looks a lot Neal, the same mannerisms.”
“How long have you thought this?” Regina asks.
“Henry’s birthday,” she says. “He felt familiar and it seemed like too much of a coincidence. Regina, I almost ran, I tried to pretend this wasn’t happening…”
“Oh, I’m sure you did,” Regina says, standing up and jolting away from Emma. She radiates cold, jaw tight and fists balled at her side. “Tell me, dear, at what point did you decide that seducing me would help you get Henry back?”
Emma’s brow furrows. “I don’t, I didn’t…”
“He is not your son,” Regina says. “He is mine.”
“I know that,” Emma says.
Regina has not finished though. “You have no claims to him, legal or otherwise.”
“Regina,” Emma whispers. “It wasn’t like that at all.”
“What was it like then? I’ll admit, the sex was perfectly adequate but then with such motivation! The chance for you and Gold’s son to be a happy family again.”
“I didn’t want to take him back,” Emma says, voice rising. “I just wanted you. Fuck, Regina. I’ve wanted you since you first came into The Hub. I didn’t want to have any secrets with you, didn’t want Henry to go searching for his birth mother when he’s eighteen or having kids of his own and discover it was me. I didn’t want this secret to ruin the possibility of a future with you.”
Regina’s lips are set in a snarl. “Oh, how sweet. I hate to break up this cosy little daydream, dear, but you have been useful for precisely one thing – stress relief.”
“Regina, please,” Emma says and she is standing too, clasping her hands together so tightly the skin is turning white.
“Did you imagine we had a future? Marriage, family, love?” She spits out the last word. “My poor, naïve girl.”
“You’re being an asshole,” Emma says, voice shaking. “I hope you realise that. I was trying to do the right thing.”
“We’re truth-telling, aren’t we, dear?” Regina says. “I’m just telling the truth. Isn’t that what you want, Ms Swan?”
“I don’t think it is the truth,” Emma says. “Not really.”
“Well, it is,” Regina says and there’s finality in her voice. “I don’t want to see you near my son, Ms Swan, and I think you should leave before he wakes up and hears us.”
Emma manages to make it to her car before she starts crying, deep wracking sobs being pulled from her body as though by force. She looks up, willing the tears to stop, just enough for her to get home. Regina cannot look out and see Emma still sitting there. She will not allow herself to be so humiliated.
It works and she drives home, pulls on sweatpants and removes her bra (it’s lacy and uncomfortable but it makes her breasts look amazing because she’d thought Regina would appreciate that). Then, she downs three whiskeys in quick succession, spills a large quantity on her kitchen floor, contemplates a mop but ultimately decides against it, and collapses on the bed.
She wakes at five, as though by routine, stumbles to the kitchen for a glass of water, pees and looks at her reflection in the mirror (eyes: red rimmed, hair: lank, frown: permanently etched onto her face) before crawling back under the covers. When she wakes up again, it’s to a knock at her door. She lies there, inert, but the knocking doesn’t stop. Then, she hears her mother. “Emma Ruth Blanchard, I know you’re in there. Your car’s out front. Open the door! It is two o’clock in the afternoon. You promised you’d come over for lunch.”
Emma swings out of bed, duvet around her shoulders like a cape, unlatches it and then falls back on the bed. Mary Margaret enters, her footsteps in her soft shoes loud and cross. “Emma, it stinks of whiskey in here.”
What Mary Margaret is obviously not expecting is for Emma to start crying. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she says, sitting at Emma’s feet and rubbing a hand along her calf.
Emma sits up and looks at her mother. “I was pregnant,” she says. “That’s why I ran off.”
Mary Margaret is silent for a moment and then she says, “talk to me.”
And it all comes spewing out of Emma. The pregnancy, the adoption, Henry, Regina, the sex, the fight. To her credit, Mary Margaret doesn’t interrupt, only wincing when Emma talks about sex with Regina, which, in fairness to Mary Margaret, if it was Emma listening to Mary Margaret rave on about sex with David she’d probably do more than wince. “It’s all totally fucked up, Ma,” Emma says.
“Okay,” Mary Margaret says, voice practical. “Firstly, you are going to have a shower and brush your teeth and I am going to make you a grilled cheese. Then we’re going to talk.”
Emma’s too weak to argue so she lets Mary Margaret shivvy her into the bathroom, swap her dirty clothes with clean ones when she’s under the hot water, and shut the door. Emma gets the last of her crying done under the heat and steam and this time there’s something cathartic about it. She puts on the jeans, tee-shirt and clean underwear Mary Margaret’s left for her, brushes her damp hair into a braid and finds the pair of black-rimmed spectacles she wears when her eyes absolutely can’t cope with her contact lenses any longer.
Mary Margaret has wiped the whiskey off the kitchen linoleum, put a load of clothes in the machine, made Emma’s bed, washed the dishes and there is a grilled cheese and a cup of Irish Breakfast tea with a drop of milk at the table for Emma. She sits down and eats, Mary Margaret watching her, hands encircling her own mug of tea. When Emma is finished her mother washes the plate, stacks it and sits back down beside Emma, touching her hand, tentatively as though worried Emma might jerk back. Emma grabs the hand and smiles.
“Ma, I’m sorry.”
“No, honey,” Mary Margaret says. “I am. What kind of mother am I that you couldn’t come to me?”
“A great mom,” Emma says, shaking her head. “It’s just, you and Dad had this perfect, fairy tale romance. I guess I felt like I couldn’t disappoint you.”
Mary Margaret laughs. “Emma, your dad was engaged to another woman when we started seeing each other. We had couples counselling when you were ten. He was so freaked out about my caesarean that we didn’t have sex for two years after you were born.”
Emma stares. “What?”
“We don’t talk about it. They’re not exactly our best moments as a partnership,” she says. “But the thing about relationships is that they only work if both people in them are willing to get over themselves and work through stuff. No relationship is perfect.”
“Obviously not,” Emma says; her mouth quirks into a smile. “So, you’re a scarlet woman?”
“Oh, shut up,” Mary Margaret says. “It was over thirty years ago.”
Emma laughs but quickly sobers. “I love her, Ma.”
“Are you sure?” Mary Margaret says.
Emma nods. “I’m not great at love but I know it when I feel it. It’s why I had to tell her about Henry.”
“Okay,” Mary Margaret says. “So you have to get her back.”
“I never had her in the first place,” Emma says.
“Look at this from Regina’s perspective. She thinks she’s found someone and then it turns out they’re hiding something that has the power to complicate the relationship with her son in a big way.”
“She said I was stress relief,” Emma says. “It felt like she meant it, Ma.”
“Then she’s an idiot,” Mary Margaret says. “And a liar. I know two things about Regina Mills. One, she cares about that boy more than anything else in the world. And two, she lashes out with whatever will be the most hurtful and repents later.”
Emma frowns. “How do you know?”
Mary Margaret sighs. “I was Henry’s teacher last year as well. We were doing writing about perspectives. I suggested that he write his piece from the perspective of his mother meeting him for the first time. Turns out he didn’t know he was adopted. Regina dredged up every old scandal she could – my daughter’s mysterious disappearance, the broken engagement – and had the Mirror publish an expose about me.”
“She wields a lot of power in this town,” Mary Margaret says. “She doesn’t always handle it well.”
“And you forgave her?”
“She did apologise. Mostly, I suspect, because Henry was so horrified,” Mary Margaret says. “Also, I don’t know, it’s not like she brought up anything that wasn’t true.”
Emma sits for a moment, looking out the small window looking out at the building next door, the hardware store. The sky is blue, almost cloudless. “Can I come home for dinner?”
Mary Margaret smiles. “Of course. I looked in your fridge. You know your lettuce has melted into slime?”
“And, Emma, I’d like you to think about seeing Dr Hopper when you’re ready. I’m happy to pay for sessions but I think you need to talk to someone with a removed perspective. You gave up a child; you may not think that’s a big deal but it is.”
Emma nods again. “I really will consider it.”
Mary Margaret walked over so they take Emma’s bug to home. David’s watching football and he grins when he sees Emma. “Hey, kiddo. Grab a pew.”
Emma cuddles in against her father, feeling like she’s Henry’s age, and watches football as Mary Margaret grades papers at the kitchen table. Later, David makes leek and potato soup and they eat it with crusty bread and cheese. Mary Margaret puts the leftover soup in a Tupperware container for Emma; there’s enough for at least half the week.
“Give her space,” Mary Margaret says. “Act in haste, repent at leisure is very much Regina’s style.” Emma hugs her mother, the first time she’s initiated a hug with Mary Margaret for what must be fifteen years, and pretends she doesn’t notice that Mary Margaret’s eyes glisten.
David walks her out to the car. “Your mom will tell me what I need to know,” he says. “I’m just so glad you’re talking.” And he hugs her too, pulling on her braid and kissing her cheek. “Love you kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad,” she says, getting into her car and returning to her apartment. Back home, she hangs the washed clothes over her clothes horse, puts the soup in the fridge and spends the hour before bed reading.
She falls asleep early and this time without the aid of alcohol.
Has to get worse before it can get better. SORRY.
Chapter 6: In which Emma gets mad (and doesn't get even)
“Come on,” Ruby whines. “It’ll be fun. Pretty dress, make up, dancing.”
Emma, checking the expiry dates on the milk, takes her head out of the milk fridge and shakes her head. “For the last time, Ruby, I’m not going to some fairy tale ball.” She’d forgotten, moving back to Storybrooke, how full the town social calendar is. The yearly ball is a charity function, raising money for whatever the town needs and this year it’s for the repair of the clock tower. But it’s a town function and that means the mayor will be there and Emma’s trying to do the right thing and give her space.
Besides, she doesn’t actually want to see Regina right now because Regina is a total asshole.
“As a member of the local business community, you really should be making more of an effort,” Belle says. “You missed the council meeting last week.”
“Et tu, Brute?” Emma says.
“Plus,” Belle adds. “Pretty dresses!”
Emma thinks she’s managed to get out of it but Mary Margaret comes in during her lunch hour to check on how Emma is and shows her the tickets she’s just purchased – three – with such glee that Emma can’t do anything but say yes. “We’ll go dress shopping tomorrow,” Mary Margaret says. “How are you, darling?”
“Okay,” Emma says. “I mean, not spectacular but the coffee shop is going well. I have decided I am going to devote myself to my work.”
Ruby snorts, overhearing. “Because that’s so different from last week.”
Mary Margaret gives Ruby a look that is so disappointed and teacherly that Ruby mumbles an apology, as though she were still ten and Mary Margaret still her teacher. Emma pokes her tongue out at her.
“Emma Swan,” Mary Margaret says with horror in her voice. “You need to set a better example to your employees.”
“Oh, just leave, Ma,” Emma says, handing her a hot chocolate. “Ruby and I are fine.” She comes out from behind the counter though and hugs her mother. She’s decided to try and do more of that and she’s finding that actually it’s not so bad. There’s ten years of baggage, at least, between them but Emma no longer doubts that they’ll get there.
The rush starts and it’s not until much later that she glances at the clock and feels an all too familiar jolt in her chest. It’s now Thursday. Regina hasn’t been in all week but Emma’s grown so used to seeing her daily that she still feels like a teenage girl when her body tells her Regina should be arriving. As the time passes, the feeling turns to nausea and she doesn’t know what would happen if Regina actually does come in. Vomit? Punch her in the face? That was certainly her modus operandi at high school.
“Hey, buddy,” Ruby says and Emma spins around. Henry’s run in the doors. His face is flushed pink and his hair is sticking to his forehead with sweat.
“Can I talk to you, Emma?” he asks.
Emma’s mouth tastes parched and phlegmy. Her palms start to sweat. “Sure, kid.” They sit at a table, removed from the rest of the customers. “Your mom doesn’t know you’re here, does she?”
Henry shakes his head. “I need to see you though,” he says. “Mom said that you guys aren’t friends anymore but she keeps listening to really weird, depressing music in, like, French or something and she had three glasses of red wine with dinner last night, which she never does, and I crept downstairs after she’d turned my light out and she was crying at her desk.”
Emma frowns. “I don’t think your mom would like you talking to me about this.”
“It’s just,” Henry pauses. “I think that you’re the reason she’s sad and I thought maybe if I talked to you, you might be friends with her again.”
“I’m sorry, kid,” Emma says. “I’m really sad about it too but your mom doesn’t want to see me and I have to respect that.”
Henry bites his lip. “I guess I get it,” he says. “I better go. I’m supposed to be at her work and she’ll be wondering where I am.”
“See you, kid,” Emma says and watches him walk out, shoulders slumped.
Belle takes Henry’s seat. “He okay?” she asks.
“Yeah, he will be,” Emma says. “He’s just confused about Regina being upset.” Her employees know that Regina and Emma fought, but they don’t know why.
“Hey,” Belle says. “Look on the bright side, she’s upset. That’s good, right?” And Emma supposes it is but it doesn’t make her feel any better.
On Saturday after work, Emma walks over to her parents’ house, where Mary Margaret will do her hair for the ball. She hasn’t managed to get out of it but she has been able to choose more comfortable clothing. Mary Margaret was disappointed Emma didn’t want to wear a dress (“so many pretty ones to choose from”), but she’s much more comfortable in the black suit they found, pants slim cut and tapered, jacket tailored and shirt with a generously low neckline. She’s wearing a tie untied around her neck and has conceded to wearing high heels, bright red ones she’s borrowed off Ruby that fit like a dream.
Mary Margaret curls her hair and puts a bit of product in it but otherwise lets it stay loose and curly around her shoulders. “You tie it back so often during the week and you have such lovely golden hair,” she says.
“I have to for work, Ma,” she says. “Health and safety.”
Mary Margaret smiles. “You need lipstick,” and she brandishes a bright red shade. “Keep it,” she says when Emma attempts to give it back. “I never wear it. Oh, Emma, you look beautiful.”
Emma takes a look in the mirror, attached to the inside of her parents’ wardrobe. She has to admit she’s pleased with the effect, almost feels sexy. Her legs go on forever in the pants and the high heeled shoes and her hair’s sitting right, not flat or frizzy. The lipstick is fun, makes her teeth seem brighter, her smile wider – she understands in that moment why Regina’s never without it.
David appears in the doorway, attempting his bowtie. “Look at my two girls,” he says and Mary Margaret spins. She’s in light pink, 1950s style with a full skirt and cap sleeves, and looks like she could be going to her first sock hop. She helps David with his tie and Emma sits on the bed, crossing her legs, and watching her parents, her mother’s face pursed with concentration and her father staring fondly down at her.
David proffers an arm to each and they leave, David driving them there. The ball is being held at the town hall, which, because it dates back to the civil war, has a ball room, currently decorated in fairy lights and flowers and full of people and soft classical music. Emma grabs a glass of champagne (or a cheaper equivalent) from a tray circulating and looks for someone she knows.
“Look at you,” Graham says, whistling. “Nice suit.”
“Thanks,” Emma says, grinning. “You too.” Aside from the neckline and the heels, she and Graham are dressed pretty much identically.
“Want to dance?” he asks, holding out a hand. The band is playing some slow instrumental number though Emma can see a woman with a microphone at the side of the stage. She takes his hand and he spins her onto the dance floor.
“I try,” he says. “Really glad to see you at this.”
“Thanks, Ma bought me a ticket. I couldn’t really say no.”
The music’s slow and Graham has his arm around her waist and she’s resting her chin on his shoulder (in these ridiculous heels, they’re the same height) and then she sees her. Her whole body stiffens and she steps on Graham’s foot. “Regina?” he asks, wincing.
She nods, not trusting herself to speak. Regina’s just entered the ball room, clothed in a long black dress that’s clinging to her like it’s painted on and a wide scoop neck displaying much of her neck and décolletage. Emma kind of desperately wants to kiss that great, uncovered expanse of neck. She looks amazing and cold and angry and Emma wishes she were in Regina’s arms, not Graham’s, even as she is also really fucking furious with her.
But Regina doesn’t need to know that. Emma smiles broadly and if the smile is a bit forced and doesn’t reach her eyes, Regina must be too far away to tell. Certainly, she sees Emma. They make brief eye contact before Regina looks away and it hurts so much but Emma keeps smiling. Graham must think she’s gone insane.
The song comes to an end and the vocalist takes centre stage; she has bare feet and wears light, loose clothing. “Hello, Storybrooke!” she says. “Let’s get this party started!” Emma and Graham turn towards the stage. Apparently there’s going to be an eclectic mix of music tonight because the band starts playing ‘Love Shack’. Belle and Ruby appear beside Graham, Belle in yellow and Ruby in red.
Ruby grabs Emma’s hand and they dance, head banging and doing the robot and Ruby is pulling such ridiculous facial expressions, posturing and singing along with exaggerated sincerity that Emma’s smile becomes much more relaxed and she starts to laugh. ‘Moves like Jagger’ is up next and Belle can do a disturbingly uncanny Mick Jagger impression and there’s a bit of a crowd developing around them.
Emma kicks off her heels and attempts a moon walk when the band moves into ‘Bad’, buoyed by two glasses of bubbly and an over-inflated sense of her own dancing abilities, and she just pulls it off and Graham cheers loudly. “Is this what these dances are always like?” she yells to Belle, slipping her shoes back on.
Belle nods. “The word ‘ball’ is a bit of a misnomer. They do more … formal dancing in the middle part of the evening to give the singer a break.”
Ruby drapes herself over Emma as the song ends and whispers, “Madame Mayor hasn’t taken her eyes off you for, like, ten minutes.”
Emma forces herself to stay focused on Ruby, choosing to grab Ruby’s hand and admire her manicure, red with damasked patterns that looks incredibly complex. “Good for her. I’m going to get more bubbly.”
Emma weaves her way to the bar, carefully avoiding Regina’s patch, and grabbing a drink. Mary Margaret and David are dancing together. She waves at them and sips her drink. She spots Neal and Tamara over the other side of the room – it’s their last night in Storybrooke – and pointedly does not search out the mayor.
“Emma, nice suit.” It’s Archie, looking pretty dapper himself, bowtie neatly knotted and glasses polished.
She grins. “This is fun!”
“Well, yeah. Storybrooke sucked when I was a teenager. I didn’t realise that I’d enjoy a town event so much.”
“The best part is when everyone’s had too much of the cheap bubbly and things get really loose,” Archie says.
“Oh God, really?” Emma asks.
“Conga lines last year. And the Macarena.”
Emma pulls a face. “And now a bit of Billy Idol,” the singer says and the intro to ‘White Wedding’ plays.
Emma squeals. “Best song ever! Come and dance, Archie.” She downs her drink, grabs his arm and pulls him after her. Archie’s a terrible dancer, far too self-conscious and all limbs and he keeps pushing his spectacles up his nose instead of focusing on the rhythm, but they have a good time nonetheless and she drags him into the group that Ruby, Belle and Graham have started to form.
All too soon though, the band has stopped. “I’ll be taking a break and the magnificent band you see behind me will be playing some standards so you can dance in a manner more suitable to your attire. They’ll be starting with a waltz.”
Emma feels a tap on her shoulder. “May I have this dance?” It’s David. Emma grins and accepts and Archie pairs off with Mary Margaret.
The slow, measured rhythm has a sobering effect and Emma leans into her father, smelling his familiar aftershave and feeling the calluses on his fingertips against her hands. “How you doing, kid?” he asks.
“I’m doing good,” she says. “I’m glad Ma made me come.”
David smiles. “Your mother always knows best.”
Over his shoulder, Regina and her partner, a gentleman Emma doesn’t recognise, dance into view and of course Regina waltzes beautifully, waltzes as though she’s been born to it. “She’s been in a foul mood all week,” David says.
“So people keep telling me,” Emma says, irritated. “That really is not a complimentary indicator of her tender feelings for me like people seem to think.”
“True,” David says. “Probably you need to talk to her. It’s been a week. Things are just starting to fester.”
“Ugh,” Emma says.
“Relationships are about communication, kiddo.”
“Ugh,” she repeats.
David laughs. “Different subject?”
“Please,” Emma says. “Fine weather we’ve been having lately. How’s the sheriffing?”
“I’m not sure that’s a word,” David says and, at Emma’s less-than-impressed expression, he adds, “the sheriffing is going well. It’s a quiet job in Storybrooke.”
The formal dancing continues. Emma dances with Ruby, Ashley, Tiana’s husband, Naveen, who makes her laugh so hard she loses the rhythm and almost falls over, and even with Neal, though that is stiff and uncomfortable, the closeness reminding her too much of the disasters of the past. She’s grateful when Tamara smoothly cuts in. She suspects Neal was making ‘help’ gestures behind her back.
The singer’s back and the older contingent start to retire from the dance floor. Emma grabs her mother’s hand and they dance like they did when Emma was a little girl, all floaty arms and spinning. Mary Margaret has an innate sense of rhythm and manages to make even the most ridiculous moves seem delicate and pretty. David comes up behind her, puts his arms around her waist and her parents sway together.
Emma’s aware that her hair must be sticking to her face and figures it’s probably time to eschew the suit jacket when the band starts playing Adele and people start pairing off. She heads to the cloak room, shucking her jacket as she goes.
She enters the small room. There’s someone else in there. “Hi,” she says, searching for a coat hanger and then realises it’s Regina. The glorified wardrobe seems to shrink in on itself and her chest seems too tight. “Never mind I’ll find someone like you,” drifts in from the ballroom and it’s just so ludicrously apt.
“Ms Swan,” Regina says, her voice hard and flinty. “You seem to be enjoying yourself.”
“You noticed?” Emma responds and is gratified to see the faintest hint of pink dapple Regina’s cheeks. Her eyes scan Emma’s form, taking in her cleavage, the length of her legs and down to the high heeled shoes, which are pinching like crazy but still look totally hot, which means that for vanity’s sake Emma hasn’t kicked them off long ago. Emma considers for a moment that ‘women in suits’ is as much a turn on for Regina as it is for her.
“It’s hard not to,” Regina says. “Draping yourself over everyone in town.”
“Was that you trying to call me a slut, Madame Mayor?” Emma asks and again blush stains her cheeks and Regina’s lip curls. “Weak effort.”
“I wouldn’t lower myself to call you anything, dear.” Regina finds her coat and moves towards the door.
“You could always get Sidney Glass to write an expose about it,” Emma says. “Wanton business owner goes wild at town function, drinks a few glasses of wine, dances with her father, therapist and friends. You know, like you did to my mother.”
Regina has the decency to appear embarrassed. “I do wish you hadn’t found out about that.”
“Doesn’t reflect well on you, does it?” Emma says, voice cool. “Takes away some of that moral high ground you’re posturing on. You’re pretty lucky Mary Margaret’s the forgiving sort but Jesus, Regina, she’s a school teacher, not some political rival.”
“I know,” she says. “I’m sorry for it.” Emma’s pretty good at telling when people are telling the truth and even though with Regina she can never really be sure, she thinks that she’s telling the truth in this instance.
“You know, I get that this might be too hard for you,” Emma says, “what with the whole Henry thing but please stop pretending like I didn’t mean anything to you.”
Regina sighs and turns to face Emma. “Would it change anything?” There is such a look of yearning on her face, dark eyes wet and mouth small and sad.
“It could,” she says. “I mean, I kind of loathe you at the moment but we could talk. I hear that’s what adults do.”
“Just leave it, Ms Swan,” Regina says and she leaves. Emma contemplates running after her, contemplates pushing her up against a wall and kissing her roughly until she shudders and moans breathily into Emma’s mouth, contemplates rucking that dress up past her knees and making Regina scream her name so that everyone in the ballroom can hear. It’s really confusing loving and hating someone in such equal measure.
But instead she goes back to the dance, has several more glasses of bubbly and tries not to cry when the band sing Crowded House.
“Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over.”
The positive response to this has been amazing, really fantastic, so thank you! Music choices should be pretty obvious and credited in story but ask if there's any questions.
Chapter 7: In which Emma struggles with forgiveness (and the mayor is a coward)
On Monday, Emma follows through on her promise to be devoted to her work. The Hub is fantastic, she loves it and business is doing well but she has ideas and screw having to wait around to make sure business will continue to boom. Go big or go home.
The town is still recovering from Saturday night; Graham has made greasy feta and spinach Danish pastries that taste like heaven to Emma, who spent yesterday sleeping off a champagne hangover and eating dry cereal straight from the box in an effort to cure her nausea. Ruby, who is alarmingly chipper for someone who definitely did not sleep on Saturday and spent all of Sunday waiting at Granny’s when two of the usual Sunday servers called in sick, is making coffee, whistling along to the playlist, which at this moment is playing ‘Call Me Maybe’.
“Ruby, can you be in charge today?” Emma asks. “You’ll get manager’s pay.”
“You okay, boss?” Ruby replies, steaming skim milk for a cappuccino.
“Yeah,” Emma says. “I’m going to try and get started on the courtyard.”
Ruby smiles. “It’s cold out, you know.”
Emma does know. It’s early November, the sky darkening early in the day and the temperatures dropping. It’s not quite so bad as to need winter coats and gloves, but Ruby’s started wearing sleeved tops to work and Graham has started growing his beard. “Preparing to hibernate,” he says when Emma comments on his increasingly yeti-like look.
“I’m bundled up,” she says, pointing at her hoodie and woollen hat. “Besides, it’s mostly going to be heavy lifting. I’ll stay plenty warm.”
“Is this some sort of way of relieving frustration?” Ruby asks.
“Steering awfully close to a sexual reference there, Ruby,” Emma replies. She hasn’t told anyone about the conversation she had with Regina at the ball, not Ruby, not her mother or father, not Archie…
“I notice you didn’t deny it.”
“Customers, Ruby,” Emma says, jerking her head towards the counter, where Leroy from the mines stands, face etched in surly lines.
The damage out the back is worse than she remembers. There’s piles of rubbish, wood and cardboard boxes mostly, rusting tables and a mouldy canvas roof, that’s falling down. There’s potential though; the high wooden fencing is strong, although the paint is faded and dingy. “Who do I call for a skip?” she asks Graham, as he makes muffins.
“Hardware store,” he says, concentrating on the measuring jug, pouring milk in careful drips. “They hire them out, along with trailers and stuff.”
Emma heads next door and the girl at the counter promises she’ll get one of the guys to drag a skip to the courtyard’s gated entrance, the narrow alley between the two shops, within an hour. Emma thanks her and then browses the aisles, picking up several cans of midnight blue paint, brushes and turpentine.
She spends her morning clearing the space, piling the cardboard for recycling and busting up the bits of wood. She calls her father at the station. “You guys want wood for the fire?” she asks.
“Is it untreated?” he asks.
“I think so,” she said. “Some of it definitely is.”
“I’ll pick it up on my way home.”
She has lunch on the shop floor, chatting with one of the creative writing students, a girl called Aurora. Ruby won’t let her behind the counter without a shower, but she can’t stop Emma from having lunch at one of the tables without causing a scene.
Aurora’s lovely. She’s doing a semester at the programme for her final year of undergrad. “I write poetry mostly,” she says.
Emma smiles and takes a long drink of the milky coffee Belle made her. “You’re in here a lot.”
Aurora nods. “I never feel like I’m intruding,” she says. “There’s heaps of table space and your coffee’s amazing.”
Aurora’s got a boyfriend back in Orono and they take turns visiting each other on weekends. “He’s doing his PhD,” she says, tucking thick chestnut hair behind her ear.
Emma looks at her phone. “Better get back to it,” she says. “Good luck with the assignment.”
The skip is now at the gate and Emma starts loading all the junk in the courtyard into it, including ripping the canvas roof down from the poles, piling the usable wood in the alleyway and stacking the cardboard by the recycling bins. It doesn’t take long and all too soon the space is cleared. She steps back, feeling a real sense of accomplishment.
She’ll have to water-blast the concrete and fencing (which has moss and clover growing in every crack and crevice), paint, purchase a new canvas roof and source furniture. She also remembers seeing large outdoor heaters at the hardware store, which will be perfect in this cold weather.
David’s impressed when he comes to pick up the wood. “I didn’t think you were so handy,” he says.
“I did the shop myself,” Emma says, mildly affronted.
“I guess so,” he says. “But the courtyard was a real mess. It’s going to look amazing, kid.”
“How do you not punch her in the face for what she did to Ma?” Emma asks.
David knows immediately what she’s talking about. “Because your mother might have forgiven Regina for telling stories, but she would never forgive me for defending her.” Emma smiles wryly, well aware of her mother’s staunch ‘violence is never the answer’ stance from too many groundings and lectures and volunteering sessions at the soup kitchen as punishment during her teens.
“You have to understand,” David continues, “that Regina doesn’t really get people. I mean, she’s better than she was and is improving all the time but she’s still a lonely, hurt woman who doesn’t understand how people work. Mary Margaret wasn’t wrong when she called Cora Mills a heartless hag.”
“For someone who made Ma’s life suck, you sure spend a lot of time defending her, both of you,” Emma says.
“You know what, Emma, you made Ma’s life suck a bit yourself for a while there,” David says, a rare trace of irritation in his voice, and Emma hugs him.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispers into his chest.
“I know,” he says. “I shouldn’t have said that. We love you, kiddo.”
Emma helps him load the wood into the boot of his car and then returns to the shop. Ruby’s cleaning up, having closed the shop herself. She has Joan Jett blasting loudly and she’s singing along. Emma turns it down. “Thanks, Ruby. Everything fine?”
“Perfect, boss,” Ruby says, smiling. “We had an interesting customer before.”
“A girl I went to school with,” Ruby says. “Her name’s Leslie. Ring any bells?”
The name seems vaguely familiar but she can’t picture anyone. She shakes her head.
“She’s the mayor’s secretary,” Ruby says, and Emma has a flash of the young woman who shot her a mortified look when she brought in a clean blouse for Regina.
“Well, it’s good to know that Madame Mayor hasn’t poisoned her staff members against The Hub,” Emma says.
“I guess,” Ruby says. “It’s funny though, she ordered a non-fat latte and I know for a fact that Leslie’s lactose intolerant. Tipped well though.”
“Well,” Emma says. Is it a peace-offering or was the mayor just desperate for caffeine? Ruby’s looking sideways at her and Emma schools her face into a neutral position. “It’s nice to know that we’re still bringing in new people.”
Her calves hurt as she walks upstairs and she’s aware that cleaning out the courtyard is more exercise than she’s had in a while. Tomorrow, she decides, she’ll go for a run, but tonight she’s going to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ and eat pizza. She’s earned that.
The next day she wakes up too late to go for a run but Graham brings in a water blaster, borrowed from his landlord, and Emma gets to work. It’s wonderfully satisfying, the pressure of the water, the channelling of all her aggression and anger, the gratifying end results… She’s soaking wet by the end of it but the ball of rage that’s been burning away in her stomach is now just dying embers. Ruby glares at her when she walks back into the shop, leaving damp footprints and puddles of water as she climbs the stairs for a shower.
She spends the afternoon at the counter and at three o’clock a familiar woman comes in. “Hey Ruby,” she says and Emma realises that this is Leslie, a small, narrow faced woman with beautiful blonde hair that’s curled up into a bun.
“What can I get you?” she asks.
“Non-fat latte, take away, please,” Leslie says. She’s softly spoken and nervy.
“This for the mayor?” Emma asks and Leslie’s eyes widen.
“No,” she says very unconvincingly.
Emma writes on the cup (get your own coffee, coward) and takes her time making the best damn latte she possibly can because her professional reputation will not be scarred because the mayor is a dickhead. She also bags up a cinnamon roll and hands it over to Leslie, ignoring her protests. “It’s on the house,” she says. “Apologies for the foul mood your boss has been in this past week.”
Leslie grins. “She’s been awful,” she confides. “She made Marco cry the other day. They were just meeting so she could sign off paperwork to expand his workshop.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Why do you work for her?”
“She’s an amazing boss and the best mayor we’ve had in a long time,” Leslie says. “I can handle a few glares and cutting remarks. Thanks for the bun, but I’d better get Madame Crankypants her coffee.”
Ruby cackles. “Please can I start calling her that?”
Emma grins. “I’ll write it on her coffee cup tomorrow.”
Since she didn’t make it for a run that morning, Emma decides an evening job wouldn’t go amiss and finds herself jogging past the elementary school. The light in her mother’s classroom is still on so, panting a little, she walks through the empty corridors, memories of school days long since passed flashing back to her.
“What a lovely surprise,” Mary Margaret says, looking up from books she’s grading and beaming when she sees Emma.
“Hey,” Emma says. “I’d hug but I smell.”
“I don’t care,” Mary Margaret says and so Emma pulls her close to her, breathing in the scent of Mary Margaret, the Elizabeth Arden Green Tea perfume David buys her every Christmas and lavender fabric softener. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Just,” Emma struggles for words. “How do you forgive people so easily?”
“It’s not easy,” Mary Margaret says. “I’m still furious at you for so many things. But I love you so it doesn’t matter. No matter how angry or disappointed or upset I am with you, I will always love you.”
“You don’t love the mayor though,” Emma says.
“No, but I feel sympathy for her. I did something indefensible, telling Henry he was adopted, no matter how unconscious the hurt was. She did something unpardonable in return. I could continue down the cycle of revenge…” She pauses. “It wouldn’t be productive. Besides she’s better at it than I am.”
On Wednesday, after a night of contemplation, Emma scrawls I forgive you, Madame Crankypants on Regina’s coffee. If nothing else, she reasons, it’ll really piss Regina off.
Chapter 8: In which an accident occurs (and sets resolutions in motion)
On Thursday, Emma’s muscles are aching but she goes for a run anyway. She pulls on leggings and an old university sweatshirt, finds her iPod buried at the bottom of her bag and heads downstairs, waving goodbye to Graham.
It’s cool out but the sky is blue and cloudless and Emma keeps up a steady pace towards the beach, music pounding in her head and sweat sticking the loose strands of her hair to her forehead. She runs along the shoreline, breathing in the salty air, and then back to The Hub.
“Can you pour me a coffee?” she asks Ruby, who’s making the drinks while Tiana works the counter.
Ruby screws up her nose. “No offence, Emma, but you stink.”
She shrugs. “Even ladies sweat, you know.”
Ruby passes the coffee over, letting Emma add milk from the jugs over by the knives and forks. “I’ll be out back,” Emma says. “May as well paint while I’m disgusting and sweaty.” Ruby laughs at that.
She loves the blue she’s chosen; it’s dark and rich and even with the first coat on one wall, it looks amazing, transformative even. She drags the step ladder out to get the tops of the fence, just slightly out of her reach, and keeps painting.
It’s when she stretches a bit too far and the step ladder shakes that Emma realises she should probably be more careful. And then she’s on the concrete and she hears a sickening crunch and she screams out and then everything goes black.
“Emma!” It’s Ruby and Graham and Tiana and about half the customers of the shop.
“Please tell me there’s someone on the counter,” Emma says, voice laboured. Tiana winces and runs back inside. Her right arm is incredibly sore, the sort of pain that she knows means it’s broken. She’s broken bones before, most notably her leg when she was in grade six and several bones in her hand when she punched someone in the face at high school.
“Boss, are you alright?” Ruby asks.
Emma tries to sit up and Ruby helps her. She’s got scrapes down her right leg as well and there’s paint all over the concrete. She touches her head gingerly and her hands come away sticky and blue so that’s awesome and totally what she needs right now on top of the broken arm and the scrapes. “I have a broken arm,” she says, wincing and doing her best to speak very distinctly. “I also feel a bit light headed. I probably need to go to the hospital.”
Graham scoops her up like she weighs nothing. “Hospital’s not far,” he says.
“Ruby,” Emma says urgently. “You’re in charge.” Ruby nods and Emma finds herself bundled into the back of Graham’s car and taken to the hospital.
She’s sitting on a hospital bed while Doctor Whale wraps plaster around her arm, Graham waiting outside for her, when she hears loud voices. Emma’s had a few sniffs of laughing gas and she’s feeling pretty good about everything at the moment, even though she stinks and her hair is blue at the back.
“What the?” Whale exclaims. One of the nurses opens the door to see what’s going on and Emma gets a glimpse of Regina Mills, with Ruby standing behind her, this close to an altercation with a nurse.
“Where is she? No, Miss Lucas. Do not tell me to calm down. Where is Emma?” Emma doesn’t know why the nurses aren’t just letting her in because if Emma was in their place, she’d be in a corner crying and rocking back and forth.
“Uh, she can come in,” Emma says to Doctor Whale who looks unconvinced but nods to the nurse and the next thing, Regina’s striding into the room, heels clacking against the linoleum and face drawn with worry.
“Hi, Regina!” Emma says, desperately trying to fight the urge to giggle that has come over. Stupid laughing gas. “I broke my arm.”
“Idiot,” she says, eying Emma’s arm in its plaster and her leg, which is now bandaged with gauze, blood glimpsing through in places. Her shoulders have sagged though, as though the pressure tightly coiled in her body has wound down.
Ruby has followed Regina into the room. “She came to the shop. I told her what had happened and she just kind of took off.”
Doctor Whale stands. “Right, plaster’s setting. Just wait here for a short while and then I should be able to let you go.” He leaves with the nurse and, after a moment’s hesitation, Ruby follows.
“Soooooo,” Emma says, the smile playing across her face not budging.
“I don’t know what you’re insinuating,” Regina says.
“You so like me,” Emma states and is gratified to see a blush spread across Regina’s cheeks.
“I thought you were seriously injured,” Regina says. “Ruby was alarmingly non-specific.”
“Hey!” Emma says. “I broke my arm. In three places. It really hurt.”
“Henry’s broken his arm before,” Regina says. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“I’m glad you came to The Hub,” Emma replies, voice softer. “And I’m glad you’re here.”
“You called me a coward,” Regina says.
“Was I wrong?”
“No.” Regina’s nervous, Emma can tell. She won’t look Emma in the eye and keeps touching her hair, with the result that her usual perfect coif is messy. Emma holds out her uninjured hand and Regina takes it hesitantly. “I am a coward and I’m terrible and I’m sorry. I don’t think I can express how much.”
“I forgive you,” Emma says. “That doesn’t mean that I’m not still angry at you and that we don’t need to talk because we really, really do but it can wait until I don’t feel like giggling at everything you say.”
Doctor Whale enters, notes the joined hands with a raise eyebrow and says, “She needs someone to look after her. She has a slight concussion.”
“She’ll come with me,” Regina says in a voice that brooks no opposition.
“No funny business, Madame Mayor,” Emma says. “I’m drugged.”
Regina snorts. “You smell disgusting, dear.”
Emma nods. “Showering wasn’t my first priority after breaking my arm in three places, Madame Mayor.”
Regina laughs and as it’s a sound Emma expected she’d never hear again, she feels like any amount of pain might be worth this. “My home has a bathtub,” Regina says. “Is that suitable, Doctor?”
“It’s better than a shower. She can’t get the cast wet.”
“I know,” Emma says. “It’s not the first time I’ve broken something.”
“I’m shocked,” Regina says, helping Emma off the bed and supporting her to the car. Ruby follows behind them and Emma tells her to go back to The Hub and keep the shop running smoothly.
“I’ll text you tonight,” Ruby says.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Emma asks. “I can call my mom.”
Regina shakes her head. “She’s working. They’ll have to find a sub.”
“Ah, this is all about Henry’s education,” Emma says. “I feel so used. Fuck, I hurt everywhere.” Regina bundles her into the front seat of the car, clips her in and they drive carefully to Mifflin Street. “I’m sorry too, you know, for not telling you about what I thought earlier,” Emma says and Regina nods.
Emma has flashbacks to the last time she was there, remembers sitting in her car on the side of the road, shaking and crying. Her arm aches, her head throbs and the scrapes along her leg pinch. Regina opens the door for her, supports her up to the house, upstairs. “The bath’s through my bedroom,” she says, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Henry only has a shower in his bathroom.”
Emma rolls her eyes, pushes open the door and sits on Regina’s bed, pulling off her sneakers and socks. Regina opens the en suite door and starts to the run the bath. Then she fossicks around in her wardrobe. “Here’s some clothes. The leggings might be too short,” she says. “Hold out your arm. Your cast arm,” she adds, when Emma holds out her unbroken arm. Regina places a plastic bag over the cast, securing it with an elastic band. “Yell out if you need help,” she says. “I’ll be right out here.”
The bath is full and Regina has used some kind of vanilla bubble bath. Doctor Whale had to cut her sweatshirt off and so, after pulling her leggings and underpants off, Emma only has to wriggle out of a tank top and sports bra one handed. Tentatively, she dips a toe into the water and sighs, slipping under as far as she dares, taking a moment to just bask. Then she uses her good hand to scrub herself with the soap, freshly opened, that Regina has placed by the bath. The feeling of being clean is just totally spectacular but her hair is still matted with paint.
She considers this a moment. How the hell is she going to get the paint out one handed? Experimentally, she reaches around, trying to duck under the water, and almost drowns herself.
“Regina?” she calls, voice wavering. Regina’s at the door in the next moment, averting her eyes. “I can’t wash my hair. I wouldn’t ask but there’s paint in it…”
Regina’s face is scarlet and her breathing isn’t entirely steady but she opens the cupboards under the sink and pulls out a metal bowl. “Henry preferred baths until recently,” she says. “I used to have to wash his hair.” She fills the bowl with warm water and pours it over Emma’s head before massaging shampoo, the same apple blossom stuff Emma’s smelt on Regina before, into her scalp, scraping the paint out of her hair.
Emma closes her eyes when the first bowl of rinsing water is poured over her head. Then she starts massaging conditioner into her hair. Emma lets out what can only be considered a groan of pleasure as Regina’s fingers knead her scalp, which makes Regina leap backwards and fall onto the floor of the bathroom. “Shit, Regina, sorry!” Emma says, opening her eyes with a start at the thump. She’s not sure which of them is more mortified.
“No, my fault,” Regina says. She’s softer, more hesitant with her hands now and Emma keeps her eyes open, except when water’s being poured over her head. “Can you get out on your own?” Regina asks and Emma shakes her head so Regina pulls her up to a stand. For a moment, Emma’s body, not distorted by water, is on full display and she feels awkward but then Regina is wrapping a towel around her body and helping her step out of the tub.
“I should be fine now,” she says, and so Regina takes Emma’s dirty clothes and leaves her and Emma manages to pull on her own underwear and the pants and shirt Regina has lent her. She doesn’t bother with a bra. Regina’s wouldn’t fit her and her own is soiled. The leggings are, as Regina has suggested, too short, leaving several inches of ankle on display, but the tee-shirt, loose, soft, cotton, fits like a dream. Emma can’t help be surprised that Regina owns such pedestrian items of clothing.
Slowly, carefully she makes her way down the wide staircase of the house and finds Regina in what must be the living room. “Sit down, Ms Swan,” she says and hands over Emma’s phone. “I’m making us tea.” And she leaves.
Emma sinks into the opulent couch, soft fabrics caressing her skin, and texts Mary Margaret, who was contacted by the hospital, has left her several messages, each more frantic than the last. At Regina’s. Am okay. Bad break but all fixed up.
The reply is almost immediate. I love you. Will drop Henry off after school and pick you up.
Regina returns with two mugs and places one in front of Emma. “Mary Margaret’s going to bring Henry home,” Emma says.
Regina nods. “I called the school and asked her to.”
“So,” Emma says. “I keep being told by wise people that talking is important.”
“I freaked out,” Regina says immediately. “I always do and I’m trying to get better, I really am, because Henry doesn’t need a mom who’s a basket case but it hasn’t been easy.”
“I don’t want you to think I’m laying blame, Ms Swan,” she says. “My choices are mine. My mother wasn’t a warm woman. Henry was always a symbol of my lack of ambition to her. I was supposed to marry a state senator, become first lady. I had a tutor at high school...” She stops, takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I don’t–I can’t.”
Emma nods. “Another time. Whenever you're ready."
“I was so angry at your mother,” she says. Her back is straight and tense and she’s staring at the mirror on her wall. “It was the sort of thing my mother would have done, but deliberately, maliciously. I was sorry afterwards. It’s always the way.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Emma asks.
“We’re going to tell Henry everything.” On seeing Emma raise an eyebrow, she amends this. “The G-rated version.”
“It’s still uncertain though,” Emma says. “He might not be my kid. I could be having crazy regret-giving-up-my-baby psychosis or something.”
“He might not,” Regina says, “but I think we both know that’s not true.”
Emma takes a moment and then: “You investigated, didn’t you?” she says, fighting the urge to laugh at Regina’s sudden inability to meet her eye. She wonders if she should be mad at this but, honestly, it's probably better this way. Now they know for sure.
“I had to know,” she says. “And you are.”
Emma feels sick and happy and finally, at last, peaceful. “Okay. That’s – good?”
“I think so,” Regina says.
“This is a new development,” Emma says.
“Better the devil you know,” Regina replies.
“Also, I realise now that I’m falling in love with you,” Regina says, so calmly that Emma might have missed it, “so although I realise you don’t feel the same after the way I treated you, I’m coming around to the idea of Henry knowing you.”
“Okay,” Emma says, trying to keep her face neutral because grinning like an idiot is all this needs. “That’s good. Nice. So what comes after we tell Henry?”
“Well, then if Henry is okay with it, I would like us to be friends.” Regina bites her lip, feet tucked beneath her on the chair she’s curled up on, hands clenching the mug of tea.
“Or possibly more?” Emma asks.
“More would be nice.”
The doorbell rings. As Regina leaves to get the door, Emma says, “If it helps any, I do feel the same about you.” And now it’s Regina who is grinning like an idiot.
And then Mary Margaret is there, hugging Emma and pressing a kiss into her damp hair. And Henry is admiring her cast. “Can I sign it?” he asks.
“Maybe later, kid,” Emma says.
“Henry, please take a seat. Emma and I have something to talk with you about,” Regina says and as Mary Margaret moves to leave, adds, “Please stay, Mrs Blanchard.”
And Regina tells Henry the truth, that Emma’s his biological mom, and that they want to spend some time together but not if he’s not okay with it… “Do you have any questions, Henry?”
Henry turns to Emma. His face is pale and she panics that he's going to cry. “Why did you give me up?” Henry asks.
Emma’s voice shakes. “Oh, kid, I didn't want to,” she says. “But I was 18 when you were born. I had no money, no people around me. I couldn’t give you a life. Your mom did though.”
He’s staring at her face the way she stared at his in those first days, full of wonder and confusion and questions. And then he turns to his mom and hugs her. Regina’s face softens and she rubs his back and whispers in his ear and Emma realises that she’s been afraid this whole conversation that Henry will draw away from her.
But he’s still there with her.
Wow! So there's been a lot of debate going on in the comments, which is amazing and also confusing because every time someone says something I'm like 'yeah, of course' and so now I have, like, a million conflicting opinions going through my head. Keep it coming though! This was never intended to be long (in fact I'm shocked I made it past 10,000 words) but as a way into a new fandom for me so things are not as fleshed out as they could be and there are some things that have painted me into a corner, so to speak.
A couple of points:
1) It was never my intent for it to seem like David and MM are pushing Emma to forgive Regina. She initiates those conversations and it's more about her relationship with them than with Regina, but perhaps that didn't come through clearly enough (something to think about!?).
2) In hindsight, writing from Emma AND Regina's POV might have made stuff clearer. Seeing things from Emma's perspective is limiting, but that's a challenge I needed to face as a writer and I perhaps haven't totally succeeded there.
Anyway, thank you so much. The final chapter will be totally shameless fluff and I did mention my addiction to romance tropes, so?
“You can’t throw your husband out of the car,” Emma says.
“This game is so heteronormative,” Regina replies, casually eschewing with her little blue husband peg near an image of a lake. Henry laughs.
“I married a lady,” Emma says.
“And then had four children with her,” Regina responds. “Need I remind you that that’s generally biologically impossible?”
“I’m very fertile,” Emma says and Henry makes a noise of absolute disgust and horror. “You’re just bitter that I got the Victorian manor before you.”
“You live in a studio apartment,” Regina says. “It is so not your style.”
“Guys,” Henry says. “Can we just play the game?” He’s winning, which is the reason for his eagerness. Somehow, Henry got the best job, the cheapest house and keeps winning any windfalls on the board. Emma, who only bought the Victorian manor because she knew it’d piss Regina off, is now regretting not taking the beach house. The insurance is exorbitant.
“Of course, dear,” Regina says and spins. “Aha! I’m adopting a little boy. I knew losing the husband would give me good luck.” And she sticks a blue peg in the back seat of her formerly empty car. “I shall call him Lionel.”
Emma laughs. It’s been five weeks since she broke her arm, the plaster cast swapped for fiberglass and even that’ll be coming off in a week. She and Regina have been dating. Emma brings her lunch most days and eats with her at her office, there have been several meals at Granny’s, one movie and, recently, they spend a lot of time at Regina and Henry’s house. Tonight Emma’s brought around her old copy of The Game of Life, which Henry and Regina have never encountered before.
Emma’s happy and she thinks Regina is too.
“Emma,” Henry says. “It’s your turn.” So she spins. Then, she picks up her phone and sends a quick text. Want to kiss you <3
Regina’s phone beeps and she smiles, looking over at Emma and mouthing ‘same’. Henry notices. “Seriously?” he says. “Are you guys texting each other while you’re in the same room? You are such girls.” This is said with a tone of absolute revulsion.
Regina reaches over and ruffles his hair. “Would you rather we talked mushy in front of you?” she asks and Emma laughs at the petrified look on his face.
“Can we have ice cream?” Henry asks and Regina nods.
“One scoop,” she says to Henry’s retreating back.
Emma scooches over, wraps her good arm around Regina’s waist. Regina turns to face her and says, “Back, scoundrel. You stole my house.”
Emma laughs. “Well, you took my career.” Emma’s always the celebrity when she plays The Game of Life. She’s had to be the artist this time and it sucks. But it was that or accountant or teacher and Emma has some imaginary professional pride.
“Good luck getting those four kids through college on an artist’s salary,” Regina says.
“I don’t think that’s part of the game,” she replies.
“I live in hope of you being bankrupt,” Regina says and kisses her. She tastes of coffee.
Henry returns with a bowl that definitely contains more than one scoop of strawberry ice cream. “Gross,” he observes.
“Sorry, kid,” Emma says. “Your mom just can’t contain herself around me.” Regina glares though the terrifying nature of it is punctured somewhat by the need in her lips and the fact that she still has a hand in Emma’s hair. “You looking forward to staying with Mary Margaret and David tomorrow?”
Henry grins. “Yeah. David’s going to teach me to play poker.”
“Be careful,” Emma warns. “He’ll get all your money if you let him.” She’s been burnt before, playing for pennies when she was about Henry’s age, and losing a whole dollar of her pocket money. The sting didn’t go away even when David used the coins to buy her an ice cream.
“I’m so pleased Henry’s grandparents are teaching him to gamble,” Regina says but there’s no malice in her tone. Emma knows that as long as Henry loves having grandparents so much, Regina will never say another word against them.
Henry’s seeing Archie weekly to sort out all this new information and part of what came from that was the suggestion that he might find comfort in having grandparents. He and Emma are just getting comfortable with each other and they still don’t really talk about how she’s his biological mother. Maybe one day.
Emma’s actually started seeing Archie herself – though not at his offices. He comes to The Hub and they chat in the courtyard while Emma works and Emma pays him. Regina hasn’t said anything outright but Emma can read between the lines and knows she’s talking to a therapist in a nearby town.
So basically they’re all a bit fucked up.
Later, after Henry and Regina have joined forces to kick Emma out of their millionaires’ retirement village (she’s pretty sure that’s not in the rules), Regina puts Henry to bed and then walks Emma out to her car. She’s got work the next day. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Emma says. “Come by at seven. Dress warm.”
In response, Regina pushes Emma up against the yellow bug and kisses her, biting her lower lip and humming against her skin so that Emma throbs with need. She wraps both arms around Regina’s neck, pulling her closer, needing to feel the press of her body, the curve of her breasts and hips.
It’s freezing outside and Emma’s bundled up in a woollen sweater, scarf and hat, but Regina keeps her warm.
Emma’s Saturday at work is frantic, so many people getting coffee and hot beignets and sticking around, instead of taking them to go, because it’s freezing out. They’ve people sharing tables, huddled up together and queues until after lunch. Emma’s got pretty good at working one handed, though she can’t quite manage making coffee during rush hour so she sticks to the till.
Mary Margaret comes in just before closing, when Belle and Tiana are cleaning up and Emma’s looking in horror at the space behind the counter. So much ground coffee on the floor. “Hey, Ma!” she says, grateful for the distraction from the mess. “You brought it?”
Mary Margaret passes her a large Tupperware container. “You really need to learn to cook.”
“I made dessert,” Emma says.
Ruby snorts. “Graham made dessert. You ate pastry.”
“Shut up, Ruby, I’ll dock your pay,” Emma says. “Thanks, Ma. And thanks for having Henry tonight.”
“It’s no problem,” Mary Margaret says. “We love spending time with Henry, your father especially.” Henry and Mary Margaret have found their shifting relationship slightly awkward though they’re getting better every day but Henry idolises David and Emma feels a lump in her throat when she watches them together.
“We’ll pick him up tomorrow,” Emma says.
“Emma,” her mother says. “I have something to ask you.” Emma nods, though she isn’t sure what it’s about. “I wonder – would you consider changing your name back to Blanchard?”
Emma tilts her head, considering. Her mother had kept her name when she’d married and, more than that, had passed her own name on to Emma. “It’s a feminist thing,” she’d told Emma when Emma had asked as a child, aware that it wasn’t usual amongst her classmates. “I love my name and your dad wasn’t bothered so long as your middle name was Ruth.” Emma knows that Mary Margaret’s father – who died before he could see his daughter married – is a big part of why ‘Blanchard’ is such an important name for her.
“If you don’t want to that’s fine,” Mary Margaret says.
“No, no,” Emma says. “It’s just, I’ve been a Swan for a while.”
“Just have a think,” her mother says and Emma smiles at her in an effort to reassure her.
“I definitely will,” she says. “Thank you so much for the food.”
At seven, there’s a knock at the door of her apartment and Emma opens it to find Regina, a bottle of red wine in one hand. “Hey,” Emma says, kissing her. “We’re going downstairs.”
“Please tell me dinner is not cinnamon buns and coffee,” Regina says, taking off her coat. She’s wearing a grey woollen dress, tights and heels, make-up and hair immaculate.
Emma grabs her hand. “You’d love that.”
She leads Regina into the courtyard. She’s strung lights up, the heater is blasting and Belle has helped her set up the speakers to play music. She’s had to drag one of the coffee shop’s tables out because she still doesn’t have furniture for the courtyard but she’s pretty proud of how it’s turned out.
“It’s lovely,” Regina says. “Did you do this for me?” She sounds so shocked that Emma might do something nice for her.
“Course,” Emma says. “Do you know what else I did? Not cook.”
“My hero,” Regina replies dryly and sits down.
“Back in a moment,” Emma says, though she doesn’t leave quite yet, staring at Regina, the lights playing against her skin. She wants to say ‘screw dinner, let’s go upstairs’ but she restrains herself. This is going to be perfect.
They haven’t slept together yet, not this time round. Things had got a bit hot and heavy pretty early on and Regina had pushed away from her, distancing herself from her on the couch and looking at her with horror etched on her face. “I’ll just go, shall I?” Emma had said, unable to keep the hurt from her voice.
She’d got to the car by the time Regina had run after her, grabbing her arm. “I don’t want you to think that this is just physical for me,” she said and there had been such desperation in her eyes. Emma remembered that awful night (stress relief, no future, tears) and got it.
“We got into that pretty quickly first time round. We’ve got all the time in the world,” Emma had said and the relief on Regina’s face had been palpable.
“Come back inside. Please,” Regina had said and Emma had followed her.
There have been other miscommunications over the past month, too many moments where Emma remembers what Regina said and did and she wants to hurt her like she was hurt (forgiveness, Emma has discovered, does not come as naturally to her as it does to her parents), moments where Emma asks too much of her and Regina responds in anger, moments where Emma thinks that maybe it’d be easier if she just ran. But then she remembers that she knows what Regina looks like without make up and that she still bears the scars of her childhood and that she’s terrible at saying sorry and that they love each other and that being apart would definitely be more difficult.
They’re getting there.
The lasagne is hot – she’s using the coffee shop kitchen for dinner – and she plates it with salad. Fortunately, her waitressing experience allows her to carry two plates on one arm. Regina leaps up to help her. “Can you open the wine?” Emma asks her, the one job she’ll struggle to do on her own. So Regina pours them each a generous glass of merlot.
“This is lovely,” Regina says, between bites.
“Thank Ma when you see her tomorrow,” Emma says.
“What did you guys get up to today?”
“Henry made me play wii tennis,” Regina says, shuddering, and Emma laughs.
“Did you win?” The only person allowed to beat Regina at games is Henry (and even then not too often) as Emma found out when they’d played Singstar one evening and Emma had cracked Regina’s high score on ‘Mr Brightside’ and Regina had sulked for the rest of the evening. Emma’s not allowed to play Singstar anymore.
“We called it a draw,” Regina says.
“So Henry won.”
“Ma and Dad are really excited to have him for a whole night,” Emma says.
“I’m glad he has grandparents. My father died before Henry could know him and my mother, well, you know.” Emma doesn't know the whole story, but she knows enough. Cora's threats to tell Henry he was adopted, the fights every family holiday, the tutor when Regina was 17 who was run out of town for having the audacity to like Regina and be loved in return...
When dinner is finished, Emma takes her hand. “I want a dance,” she says. “I didn’t get to dance with you at the ball because we were busy hating on each other.”
She turns the volume up and she’s holding Regina close, smelling her hair, feeling the press of their bodies, Regina’s arm around her waist, swaying to something classical, when the song changes and the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ blasts from the speakers. Regina’s face is tense in its desperate desire not to laugh, not to ruin the moment more than it’s been trampled with steel-cap boots. “I might kill Belle,” Emma says conversationally. “I said classical music.”
“Well, it is big band,” Regina says and, with perfect rhythm, starts sweeping Emma quickly around the courtyard, until they’re both laughing so hard they have to stop.
Despite the heater, though, it’s freezing and Emma’s cheeks are starting to feel numb. She grabs Regina’s hand and pulls her inside – dishes will keep until tomorrow – and upstairs. “There’s pie,” she says. “Graham made it.” And Regina, who is addicted to Graham’s cherry pie, smiles beatifically.
But when they get upstairs, Emma kisses Regina and as if by some mystical force they end up on the bed, Regina straddling her, biting and licking at her neck, sending shudders through Emma’s body. “This okay?” Regina asks and Emma nods so fervently that she hits her head against the headboard.
Regina sits up, still straddling her and laughs; it’s a deep, throaty chuckle. “Ms Swan,” she says, shaking her head.
“Might not be Ms Swan for much longer,” Emma says because apparently verbal diarrhoea’s her thing. “Ma’s asked me to change back to Blanchard.”
“You’ll always be Ms Swan to me,” Regina says and that really should not be so seductive. Regina pulling her dress off, however, is just as sexy as it should be. Emma can’t help the growl that comes out when she takes in the scraps of black silk and, holy shit, is that a garter belt and stockings? Emma’s suddenly feeling horrifically under-dressed. She strokes a finger along the bare skin of her upper thigh.
Emma kicks off her shoes, one of Ruby’s red heels flying too far and hitting the wall. “This is going to be less dignified,” she warns Regina. “I’m doing this one handed.”
“Let me then,” Regina purrs and pulls Emma’s shirt off, though the effect is somewhat ruined when she gets it stuck on her cast. Then she’s unclasping her bra and has her mouth around one of Emma’s nipples and all Emma can do is gasp and let it happen.
So Regina moves lower, unbuttoning Emma’s trousers and Emma has just enough brainpower left to lift her hips so that Regina call pull her trousers and underpants down. And then, oh God, then she licks.
When Emma’s come down from her high, she returns the favour and it is very, very satisfying to make someone so put together fall apart.
“Emma,” Regina whispers and Emma wonders if this is going to be some sort of serious declaration.
“Can we eat pie now?” So they lie in bed, mostly naked (Regina’s kept the stockings on when she saw Emma’s face) and eat cherry pie straight from the dish. And if some of the pie ends up being eaten from Emma’s body, well, Emma’s not complaining.
Henry eyes them warily when they pick him up the next morning. He’s a perceptive kid and he’s probably worked out his mom’s wearing a pair of Emma’s jeans and a woollen cardigan that she deemed “not entirely terrible”.
“Breakfast, kid?” she asks and Henry nods, even though she knows Mary Margaret will have made him a proper cooked breakfast. They go to Granny’s and Regina orders muesli but steals Emma’s hash browns. She texts Get your own greasy delicacies food hog <3 but Regina only smirks. Henry tells them that he beat David at poker and that Mary Margaret made chilli for dinner.
Then Emma’s phone beeps: Stress relief was great. Want to do it forever? And Emma can’t help but laugh, which relieves Regina who has been eyeing her anxiously as she reads.
Yeah, they’re going to be okay.
I want to thank everyone who's engaged with this. I've been blown away by the response and I really do appreciate it. I'm contemplating a oneshot from Regina's POV, but we'll see...
(Also, I did warn you this chapter would be shameless fluff, right?)