She chalked it up to her imagination at first. Something that sounded so different compared to the soothing murmurs of a crowd chattering amongst themselves in the diner. A cloud of noise in which she could just disappear. Let her thoughts drift as she poured some milk into her coffee and stirred the liquid around with a spoon.
She looked at the spoon absentmindedly, staring but not seeing as it tapped against the insides of the cup. Until the rhythmic taps were the only sounds remaining that reached her ears. She tilted her head up slightly, eyes widening in surprise even as she stopped her stirring. The diner had become eerily quiet, and Regina’s entire body tensed as she felt the prickling across her spine, of dozens of eyes boring into her. She straightened herself up from her previously hunched over position and prepared herself for whatever would follow. Because if the past had taught her anything, it usually amounted to nothing good. Especially not in this town full of people who at best only tolerated her.
It’s only then that she heard it again.
It was soft. Hesitating. And it made Regina’s eyes drift shut for a moment. A surge of anger bubbled to the surface, and her muscles tensed up even more as she turned around to face Emma; an angry sneer playing around her lips.
“So the stories are true then?” Regina started, cocking her head Emma’s way. “I’m not sure why I’m surprised at your return. You do seem to have a knack for breaking my spells after all.”
Regina found herself strangely fascinated with the way Emma’s lips formed around words that never seemed to roll across her lips. Instead, Emma took a few steps forward and her hand shot out for a moment, a gesture that completely took Regina by surprise. But it was only a second, and then it fell back limply at Emma’s side. Emma’s entire posture seemed to change as she hung her head and Regina had no idea what to make of it. In fact she had no idea why she was even standing around here in the first place. With carefully measured movements, Regina pushed herself quietly away from the counter, she had had enough of the thick cloying tension which was hanging in the air and seemed to slowly suffocate her. She used to enjoy this, being in the spotlights. But nowadays it was just a painful reminder of all the things she no longer felt comfortable with.
She registered David standing up from his seat and walking up to an unmoving Emma from the corners of her eyes as she turned to face the bar again.
“Ruby,” she called out, smirking at the waitress jumping up a little in surprise. “I’ll have another coffee. To go. There’s something to be said for having some peace and quiet, wouldn’t you agree,” she added and placed some dollar bills on the counter.
She grinned wickedly when Ruby just stared at her without replying back. Not that Regina had expected her to say anything in return.
It was only when she turned away from the bar again that she heard her name being called out once more. It sounded almost...desperate, and it aggravated her. It aggravated her more than being the focus of everyone’s attention in the crowded diner. Because she might’ve done something nice for this damnable woman and her son a year ago, but she still owed her nothing. Certainly not any of her precious time.
When she pulled the diner’s door shut behind her, it was with enough force to make the windows rattle. And it was loud enough to momentarily overcome the tumble of thoughts in her head as she made her way to the car without a glance back.
“You do realize it’s a common courtesy to knock before you barge into someone’s office uninvited, don’t you dear?”
When the only answer that greeted Regina was the sound of footsteps getting closer until a shadow fell across her desk, she sighed and capped her pen. Placing it neatly on top of the paperwork she’d been filling in, Regina steepled her fingers and stared up at the woman standing in front of her desk.
“We need to talk,” Emma said after visibly swallowing a few times and placing her hands in the pockets of her jeans.
“Oh do we now?” Regina lifted one of her eyebrows as she gave Emma a quick once-over. “And to think that a year ago I imagined I would forever be free of your presence. That was a one-time offer by the way, I have no idea how you had your memories restored bu..”
“Hook had a potion.”
“Ah I see. Ever the loyal boyfriend isn’t he?” Regina chuckled softly at the narrowed eye glare she received in response.
“Boyfriend?” Emma shook her head. “He’s not..He’s..”
“Just a lover then? Tell me does he bring his hook to your..”
“Enough! Okay?” Emma hissed out. “Enough, would you stop bringing him up. I’m not here to talk about him.”
“No I suppose you are not.”
Regina’s thoughts briefly strayed towards the nauseating pirate and she wondered how the hell he of all people had managed to get his hands on an memory restoration potion. The complexities of making one certainly went even beyond her own abilities.
Lifting her head, Regina’s gaze snapped to the silver star clipped to Emma’s belt and she pursed her lips at the implications behind it. “Daddy dearest really didn’t waste any time in making you the Sheriff again didn’t he?”
She loathed the thought of having even more possible future interactions with this woman, who was a constant and painful reminder of her failures.
“Mary Margaret will be due any day now Regina, David just wants to..”
Emma’s voice faltered, then faded away completely and Regina found herself intrigued by the strange expression on the other woman’s face.
“Did you..change anything?” Emma asked.
“Change what?” But instead of getting an answer Emma walked around the desk behind of which Regina was sitting and stared at it as if she was trying to find something. “What the hell are you doing?”
“You didn’t, did you?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about dear.”
Emma’s strange behavior completely mystified Regina and she had no idea why Emma’s eyes continued to flick all around the office as if she was only just now seeing it for the first time.
“Your office, you didn’t…” Emma shook her head and then closed her eyes. “Of course you didn’t,” she continued, her voice soft and laced with a sadness that shouldn’t have affected her. But for some reason it did. And she wanted to blame it on this new curse; the missing year, but there was this thought that came to her that it might just be something else entirely.
“Are you going to speak in tongues all day or are you actually going to tell me the reason behind your unannounced visit?”
“Everything still looks the same to you, doesn’t it?”
“It would help if you told me just what it is I’m supposed to see.”
She glanced around the room for a moment, wondering if she had somehow missed something, and wasn’t at all surprised to find nothing out of the ordinary. She remembered the first time she had set foot in her office some weeks ago and found it in the same state it had been when the town had ceased to exist a year ago. At least everyone was assuming it had been approximately a year, mostly because of the changes to the people themselves. Like Snow’s pregnancy. It hadn’t taken all that long to confirm that no one remembered anything from the year they were gone otherwise. Every single person seemed to only remember Pan’s curse, and the sensation of being transported somewhere. And then they were back here. A year later. Almost as if nothing had happened at all.
Almost as if she had never sent Emma and her son away at all.
She waited a few seconds more, and was just about to repeat her question when Emma walked back to the desk. “Never mind. It’s not...important I guess. My parents filled me in a little on what happened, but I was hoping you had more information,” Emma said as she looked pensively at Regina for a long moment, before a painful expression passed across her face and she averted her gaze again.
“On what? Our return here? Because I can assure you…”
“I know you had nothing to do with it,” Emma interrupted her and Regina was surprised to hear the vehemence with which Emma spoke. “Mary Margaret and David told me right away that they didn’t think you were behind this. That, and they mentioned there being flying monkeys near the town line? You know I didn’t see any when I drove into Storybrooke but I did run into one in New York interestingly enough.”
“New York?” Regina couldn’t help the way her mouth fell open in surprise. Because it was one thing for those flying furballs to prevent anyone from going across the town-line, it was another thing entirely for one of them to appear outside of the town. Especially since as far as she was aware at least, they were magical in nature.
“I have your attention now, don’t I?” Emma stated glibly as she sat down on the edge of the desk, while seemingly completely ignoring the disapproving glare Regina shot her way.
“You do realize there are almost a dozen perfectly viable chairs in this room you can sit on, don’t you dear?”
When there was no reply forthcoming, Regina flicked her eyes up from the stack of files she’d been sorting to find Emma staring at her; a wistful little smile playing around her lips that made Regina feel decidedly uncomfortable. And she didn’t understand where that feeling was coming from. But it was enough to make her want to get this conversation over with so Emma could be on her way again. That and she still had a meeting to attend to as well.
“Since teaching you manners still seems to be a hopeless endeavour, how about you tell me about your encounter with the flying monkey in New York. It could be of help with figuring out what this Wicked Witch might be after. And please, do be brief, I have other matters to attend to, some of us actually do try to keep this town running instead of merely loitering around.”
“Right, yeah..” Emma muttered and stared down at her jeans seemingly deep in thought. “I uhm, I met this guy in New York, his name was Walsh.”
Rolling her eyes, Regina was about to comment on how she didn’t need to know about Emma’s dating habits when Emma continued.
“He..proposed me, I kind of said no, and then Hook came along with that potion. And I...had this fight with Walsh and he fell off the rooftop. I really thought he was dead there for a moment. But instead he turned into a freaking flying monkey and eventually flew off. I haven’t seen him since.”
“And he didn’t say anything to you that might be a clue as to why he was interested in you?”
It was the first thing that sprung to mind for Regina at least, something about Emma being the savior and all that, which the Wicked Witch could maybe have perceived as a threat.
“We didn’t exactly have a heart-to-heart talk in between him lunging for me and changing into a flying monkey, so no,” Emma said as she hopped off the desk and paced around a little. “I met him around 8 months ago though, if that’s of any help.”
“It could be,” Regina replied thoughtfully as she tried to wrap her mind around the things Emma had just told her. Then her eyes flicked towards her watch and she cursed under her breath. She was going to be late if she stayed around here any longer.
Standing up from her chair, she grabbed her document case from next to her desk and placed the files she’d been sorting through into it. She was pretty sure half of them wouldn’t be of any use during the meeting, but Emma Swan’s untimely appearance had thrown her off her schedule enough so she hadn’t been able to complete her task.
“As I stated before,” Regina started without looking up from the files she was collecting.
“I know, the meeting, but there are some more things I need to ask you.”
“Well then I suppose you will just have to wait until later to ask them, now won’t you?” Regina responded cheerily as she tilted her head up for a moment to smirk at Emma.
“Regina..” Emma called out as Regina walked past the other woman to remove her coat from the coat stand in the corner of her office. “This is really important. There have been people disappearing from the town without a trace, not to mention the missing...year.”
“And what is it you suggest we do then Emma?” Regina responded a little annoyed. “You think that just because you are the savior you are able to succeed where others have failed?”
“What is that supposed to..no, I’m just trying to…”
Juggling the document-case and her handbag around a little, Regina opened the door of her office and stepped out. She sighed inwardly upon noticing Emma trailing after her as they walked across the small hallway and down the stairs.
“But..I uhm...does that mean you tried to undo whatever spell caused everyone to forget a year of their lives?”
That at least made Regina freeze halfway down the stairs, her hand tightening the grip she had on the strap of the handbag hanging across her shoulder. She couldn’t believe the nerve of this woman, especially after only being back in town for little over a day. Pressing her lips into a thin line of displeasure she spun around to face Emma.
“Are you trying to insinuate I haven’t?”
“N-no,” Emma stuttered as she placed her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “Look, all I know is what Mary Margaret and David told me, okay? I’m trying to understand what’s going with this memory-loss..thing.”
The last word was uttered so softly it was barely discernible and Regina frowned as she tried to figure out what the hell Emma’s angle was with this discussion. As far as she was concerned it was none of Emma’s business how the town was dealing with this latest threat. Her eyes briefly lingered on the watch around her wrist and she squared her jaw as she realized that she would indeed arrive too late at this particular council-meeting. And she had Emma Swan to thank for it.
“While I appreciate the information you gave me, I do believe we are done here Sheriff Swan.”
“Wait..no, Regina.” Emma’s voice took on an almost pleading tone as she descended a few steps until she stood right in front of Regina. “Can’t we just...work together on this?”
“Work together?!” Regina questioned on a mocking tone, followed by an amused chuckle. “Are you delusional?.”
There was a flickering in Emma’s eyes then, and Regina wondered what it was, anger, disbelief? It reminded her of their interactions in the past, filled with animosity. Which made Emma’s behavior; as if they were suddenly the best of friends, even stranger. Or at least…
Something clicked into place as a thought came to her.
“Do you truly think an act of generosity, not for your benefit might I add, suddenly changes who we are to each other?” Regina said as she rose her eyebrows. “Is that why you’ve been acting so strange since your arrival back in town? You believe we are what...friends now?” Regina asked a tinge bemused.
“Act of generosity?” Emma repeated as the expression on her face changed to one of utter confusion. “I don’t understand. You mean...what happened at the..” She halted then, staring past Regina as if she remembering something. “At the town line?”
“I d-don’t…” Emma stuttered, pulling her hands from her pockets and wrapping her arms around herself instead. “What do you remember?”
“I do not exactly have the time for reminiscing.”
Narrowing her eyes to slits, Regina took a step forward right into Emma’s personal space. “Just so we are clear, Emma Swan,” she bit out harshly as the corners of her mouth curled up in disdain. “I was trying to do something nice for your son, because I did not believe he should suffer the consequences of what was going to happen. Since you two are a package-deal, I gave you a set of cheery memories too. But this in no way means we are suddenly on good terms. I will never forgive the fact that you broke the curse, and ruined something I had worked on for decades.”
“Regina..” Emma tried once more as she reached out with a hand.
“Do not touch me,” Regina hissed as she flinched away from the outstretched hand. “And do not for one moment believe that just because that silly little prince of a father of yours made you Sheriff you are suddenly welcome to stay in this town. If I find out you are doing anything to conspire against me in any form or way I will make sure you get evicted from your apartment, and I will have you fired from your position of Sheriff. In fact I will make your life as miserable as possible until you take your leave again, are we clear?”
Instead of a reply there was only silence for a long tense moment, and when Emma eventually looked away Regina descended the remaining steps without another word.
But while it should’ve felt satisfying that she got the upper hand, somehow it wasn’t. Somehow it gnawed at her the rest of the day and Regina was never able to figure out why this was.