Emma stares into her cup of coffee. It’s been four weeks since her return to Storybrooke with Hook. Four weeks since she reunited Robin with his formerly dead wife. Four weeks since Regina’s heart broke. She’s apologised, over and over and over again.
“I didn’t know,” she’d said, shuffling, fidgeting with the sleeves of her jacket. “I’m sorry.”
“Save it, Ms Swan,” Regina had replied, emotional devastation written across her face in the harsh morning light. She’d been blinking in the sunlight and Emma had suspected she’d had more than a few nightcaps to get to sleep. “I need you to just leave me alone.”
Emma had agreed reluctantly and now, four weeks on, Regina’s still totally absent from her life. Henry’s seen her. He’s organised his own custody arrangement, spending alternate weeks with each parents. “Just for now,” he’d said. “You two will have to sort out all your shit one day soon.” Emma had contemplated lecturing him about the language but honestly couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps if Henry started swearing like a sailor, Regina might have to talk to her.
Snow’s seen her. “She’s unhappy,” she’d said when Emma had pressed her. “And it translates as anger. Give her time.” Even Ruby’s seen her. Apparently, she still comes into the diner for coffee. It appears to just be Emma she’s avoiding.
There’s paperwork laid out on her desk but she can’t concentrate. There’s this little voice in the back of her head that keeps telling her that if it gets too much more overdue, Regina will have to come and get it – even if only to yell at her. Emma could handle yelling; she’s used to anger and abuse, relishes it even. It’s the silence she can’t handle.
“Take a break,” David says, walking in, and Emma jumps.
“I’m fine,” she says, fingers tapping a rhythm against the desk.
“You’re not,” David says. “Is this about Hook?”
She and Killian lasted a week after their return from the Enchanted Forest. She thought it’d be nice to be with someone who cared more about her than she did for him, but it was exhausting. He wanted too much from her. He wanted to be loved, to be needed, and she just didn’t have it in her. Not for him. “No,” she says. “It’s about Regina. I just…”
“Feel guilty?” David asks. He runs a hand through his cropped hair. There are deep circles under his eyes. Probably he’s more exhausted than she is.
“Yeah.” She sighs. There’s something else, besides guilt, something she’s finding it hard to quantify, but she thinks it might be loss. She misses Regina.
“Go and get a bear claw, kiddo,” he says. “Talk to Ruby. Go for a walk. The paperwork will be here when you get back.”
She grabs her jacket and walks across to Granny’s. Walking inside, she freezes. Regina’s there, sitting at a table across from Robin Hood, legs crossed, back rigid and arms clenched at her sides. Robin leans forward, hands on the table. He’s talking and Emma sees rage flash across Regina’s face as she moves to the counter and, purely coincidentally, closer to the table.
“There’s no need to be concerned, Robin,” Regina says, speaking loudly and enunciating every word and Emma’s totally, definitely not eavesdropping, holding a menu like she doesn’t know exactly what she wants and watching Regina out of the corner of her eye. “I’ve found happiness somewhere else. Somewhere surprising.” Emma’s stomach heaves at these words and probably she should question why Regina finding happiness with someone else horrifies her so much but there’s no time because Robin responds.
“Who with?” he demands. “We’re soul mates, Regina. That doesn’t just go away.” Emma kind of wants to punch him in his smarmy face. Apparently it’s okay that his happiness is elsewhere, but not Regina’s. Asshole.
“I will not be the other woman while you work out your life,” Regina says. “And I will not break up a family.” Her lips curve into a smirk, menacing and sharp, her lipstick too bright and slashed across her mouth like blood. “And in answer to your question, with her.” She jerks her head towards Emma who has never been more grateful for the menu obscuring part of her face.
“The Swan girl?” Robin’s dubious.
“That’s Sheriff Swan to you,” Emma says coolly, giving up the pretence that she’s not listening in.
“Ah, Emma,” Regina purrs and Emma feels that hot, red flush spread across her cheeks and as though hypnotised, she moves forward. Regina holds out her hand and Emma takes it, feeling her skin soft and cold beneath her palm. “I know we said we would keep this a secret, dear, but I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, the roof of her mouth dry. “Secret. No one knows.”
“Aren’t you with Hook?” Robin asks, lip curled. She doesn’t understand this animosity towards her; she brought his damn wife back.
“No,” Emma says, curt, and Regina grins, teeth bared, predatory and possessive.
“The pirate was a stopgap,” Regina says. “A temporary distraction while Emma waited for me to realise my true feelings.”
Robin stands abruptly, lips downturned. “Come over for dinner, both of you,” he says and Emma sees it as a challenge. “As I said before, Marian would like to get to know you as you are now.”
“That sounds lovely,” Regina says. “Right, Emma?”
Pressure is placed on Emma’s hand so hard that it bruises, and Emma chokes out, “yes, lovely.”
Robin stands and, with one last, suspicious glance at Regina and Emma (Regina smiles more widely and Emma becomes concerned that her face might snap in half), he leaves. Immediately, Regina drops her hand and Emma feels the loss.
“What the hell, Regina?”
“He was just being so … patronising,” she says. “Oh, Regina. You will find happiness. I so wish it could be with me. Marian is the mother of my child, my life, my light, blah blah blah. I just couldn’t help myself.”
“But me?” Emma asks, taking Robin’s vacated seat, still warm. “You could have picked anyone more believable.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Regina says. “It makes a certain amount of sense on paper. Henry’s two mothers, all that fighting, making magic together, tentative trust built. Destroyed of course, but Robin needn’t know that. Plus, I knew it would really irritate him.”
Emma wants to ask why but also doesn’t want to push her luck. “And you expect me to go along with this?”
“I don’t know how else to put this, Ms Swan,” Regina says, leaning forward. “You owe me and I’m calling to collect.”
So Emma nods. “Just tell me when you need me.” She wonders how long it will take before this blows up in her face, before Hook or her mother or, worst of all, Henry finds out about their ‘relationship’. She gives it two days.
Regina smirks. “Oh, Ms Swan, I will.”
The next day there is a note left on her desk, along with a box. I will pick you up at seven tonight. It’s unsigned, though she recognises the handwriting. She opens the box and pulls out a dress. It’s short and black and mostly backless and David just about has a heart attack when he sees it.
“You’re not wearing that,” he says.
“To prom? With that boy?” Emma asks, though she almost wishes she was young enough that her dad could forbid it. There’s something comforting in the clichés that she never experienced. The thing is, she actually owns a pretty similar dress already, remnants of her year in New York where Regina’s memories influenced her personal style. It’s just like Regina to assume she’d show up to dinner in jeans and a tank top, unless given a suitable alternative.
“Bit late for the over-protective father bit?” David asks.
“Little bit,” Emma says but she smiles. “How’s Snow? And the baby?” She still can’t quite get her head around the baby’s name. She wishes they’d actually talked with her about it first. She’s been to visit but she’s keeping her distance, the whole thing still a bit raw.
“They’re good,” David says. “Not a lot of sleep happening for any of us but we’re happy and healthy and together.” Emma tries not to let that last word stab her. She knows she’s not being replaced, that after thirty years her parents have every right to want another child, but she can’t help the envy that wells up inside of her when she contemplates her baby brother. “Why the dress?” David asks after a moment.
“Dinner,” Emma says and doesn’t elaborate further.
She makes it back to her new apartment in time to shower and change. Henry found it for them and it’s apparently easy to get an apartment when you’re the saviour so they moved in pretty much immediately. Emma still hasn’t unpacked properly and Ikea kit sets are stacked around the place for anything non-essential, like bookshelves and coffee tables. Henry called earlier; he’s spending the night at Nick’s. They’ll play video games and eat junk food and he’ll come home tomorrow cranky and over-stimulated.
She slips her feet into high heels when Regina texts her. Hurry up.
She contemplates replying that it’s barely seven but just grabs her handbag, shrugging on her coat. Outside, Regina’s car is idling by the curb. Emma slides into the passenger seat and looks over at her. “Hey.”
Regina does not respond. She’s dressed in grey and Emma realises she hasn’t seen Regina in pant suits in a while. She misses the shorter hair, too, the air of power, authority, dominance, that her short haircut and tailored suits demonstrated. This new look is gentler, as though Regina’s trying to make herself smaller and softer.
“So,” Emma says into the silence, filled only by the purr of the motor. “What’s the story?”
Regina looks over at her, briefly. Her face is shuttered. “Story?”
“Yeah,” Emma says. “We’re playing a fake relationship, so how did we get together?” She’s well-versed in this kind of role play – with Neal to scam people, as a bounty hunter. You always need a story. Blind date on the internet to catch a mark. Young, pregnant and so happy to rob a convenience. Flirting across a bar to gather intel. Kissing a stranger to avoid being spotted by the cops.
Regina drives. It’s dark and the streets, as they always are in Storybrooke, are empty. “Two weeks ago,” she says. “You showed up at my house to apologise. We talked. You confessed some feelings for me.”
“I’m the one who admitted my feelings?” Emma asks. “Really?” Regina’s the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, not Emma, who represses and pushes down and holds back. It’s one of the reasons it didn’t work with Hook.
“Well, it can’t possibly be me, can it?” Regina says. “How flaky would that make me?”
“Fine.” Emma sighs. “I assume Robin knows you’re less-than-straight.”
“It came up,” Regina says. “I didn’t discriminate in the enchanted forest.” Emma remembers those eyes raking over her body, the attention paid to ample cleavage. The flutter in her chest at seeing not-Regina look at her with undisguised lust.
“I’m bi,” Emma says and Regina nods, like she knows. And of course she does because pre-curse breaking, Emma and Ruby had a thing and the mayor definitely had Sidney sneaking around during that brief period. Emma’s actually surprised it hasn’t come up before now. “So this relationship, not all sunshine and roses?”
“No,” Regina says. She stops talking, glancing in the rear-view mirror, indicating to turn left. “But we’re in a good place now. We care for one another.”
Emma nods. “I do, you know,” she says. “Care about you.”
“How sweet,” Regina drawls. “We’re here. Do try not to embarrass yourself, Ms Swan.” She gets out of the car, grabbing a bottle of wine from the backseat and a Tupperware container. Emma thinks it contains an apple turnover and she grins guiltily.
“Emma,” she says. They’re standing in the driveway of a small wooden house, somewhere on the outskirts of town. Emma wonders when Robin left the campsite.
“If you’re going to sell a relationship, you probably want to call me Emma. Unless you think the whole ‘Ms Swan’ thing is a turn-on but then you should probably work on not sneering while you say it.”
Regina’s face flushes. “Fine. Emma. Get out of the damn car.”