A/N: I’ve been a SwanQueen fan from the very beginning of this maddening show, but this is my first attempt at a story.
David held his beer stein in the air. “To Emma and Mary Margaret!”
All those gathered around the diner’s bar raised their respective beverages, ranging from beer mugs to soda bottles. Drinks clinked together and carbonated liquids sloshed over the glass wear rims.
Emma ducked her head at the toast and the gesture. She typically hated being the center of attention, but she was trying to let herself enjoy it. She hadn’t experienced this feeling of belonging or that anyone appreciated her existence in…well, forever.
“God, I missed you two.” Ruby slipped her arm around Mary Margaret’s waist and pulled her tight against her hip. “Without you, I was swimming in testosterone around here.”
"Methinks the lady dost protest too much," David teased with a boyish grin. "Don't let her fool you. Red was reveling in being the Fairest of the Land with you both gone.”
Leroy snorted and swallowed down a mouthful of beer. "Well, I’m sure the Evil Queen didn’t mind it.”
At the reference, Emma’s gaze slid over to where the former Evil Queen sat. She had invited Regina to the Welcome Back party at Granny’s out of an obligation to Henry, but now that she was here, Emma was second guessing the invite. After a chilly reception by the other partygoers, Regina had not moved from her booth.
The jovial conversation continued around Emma, but she couldn’t stop looking to Regina’s table. Tonight her raven-dark hair framed her face, and the ends flipped out just below the edge of a strong jaw line. Dark eyes, accentuated by smoky makeup, seemed to smolder under the unflattering lights of the diner. Her lips were impossibly perfect, painted a deep shade of red and quirked up at one corner in a perpetual smirk that only faltered when Henry was around. It might have been the alcohol starting to talk, but it occurred to Emma that Regina, not Snow White or any of the other Fairytale characters, was truly the Fairest in the Land.
"Could you be anymore obvious?" Ruby nudged a well-placed elbow into Emma’s ribs.
Emma snapped her eyes back to her group of friends. "What?"
"Don't play innocent,” Ruby said, her painted lips widening into a knowing smile. “You’ve been glaring holes into Regina’s head all night.”
“I haven’t been glaring,” Emma protested. She had been looking, sure, and maybe even admiring, but not without any kind of malice. At least she hadn’t thought so.
“Why is she even here?” Leroy hissed.
“I invited her,” Emma said, her voice more sure than she felt.
In truth, extending an invitation to Regina after all they’d been through had been a difficult decision. But Henry had wanted her there, and after a brief discussion with Dr. Hopper, Emma was convinced that Regina was trying to change. Now, she just needed everyone else in town to give her the opportunity to prove herself. Emma knew it wouldn’t be easy, however, when there was still so much ill will and resentment towards the former mayor, most of it justified.
“If you’re not glaring, then why don’t you go talk to her?” Ruby proposed. “Especially since you’re the one who invited her.”
“Regina?” Emma wondered aloud. She chanced a look back to the table. When dark, caramel-colored eyes met Emma’s, she immediately tore her glance away and pretended to be interested in the label on her beer bottle instead.
Ruby rolled her eyes. “Did you get hit on the head in the Enchanted Forest or something?”
Mary Margaret cleared her throat. “As much as it pains me to say it, someone should go talk to her. She’s been sitting there by herself all night.”
“And she’s looked like a damn wounded puppy ever since she got here.” Ruby’s smile flipped upside down. “It’s almost enough to make me feel guilty for hating her.”
Emma chanced another glance in the direction of Regina’s table. The distance between their group and the table at which Regina sat wasn’t that much, and she was sure the other woman could overhear the topic of their conversation if she had wanted to.
“After all she’s done, Regina should feel fortunate that Emma was kind enough to invite her, and that we’ve spared her life,” David interjected. “We owe her no further kindness.”
Emma glanced one more time in Regina’s direction. While everyone else at the party, Henry excluded, had raided Granny’s alcohol, Regina drank coffee from a ceramic cup. When the mayor brought the mug to her lips, Emma’s eyes were drawn to her red, painted mouth.
“Mary Margaret’s right,” Emma announced with some finality. “Someone should go talk to her.”
The pixie-haired brunette grinned broadly. “It’s so satisfying to hear my daughter say that her mother is right about something.” She hugged herself. “Parenting can be so rewarding.”
Emma’s lips twitched. Her time with Mary Margaret in the Enchanted Forest had made the realization that her friend and roommate was actually her mother settle a little easier in her mind, but she had a long way to go before she reflexively thought of Mary Margaret and David as her parents.
“Well it’s not going to be me, sister,” Leroy protested. “She might say she’s changed and that she’s not going to use magic again, but I’d feel a lot better with my pickaxe in hand, just in case.”
Emma regarded her friends and family. They had been heroes in their own land – the Good Guys – but none of them had shown that goodness in this world when it came to Regina. She’d only convinced the angry mobs not to lynch the former mayor from her own apple tree when she’d reminded them of that.
"I really hate being the Savior," Emma grounded out between grit teeth. She took one more pull from her beer bottle and gathered her courage. She’d faced a dragon with far less trepidation. She raked her fingers through long, wavy blonde hair. "What the hell do I even say to her?" she grumbled to no one in particular.
Emma could feel the eyes of her friends and family on her back as she strode across the diner on uneasy legs. Regina seemed distracted by the coffee cup in front of her, or at least she pretended not to notice Emma’s approach.
“Good evening, Madame Mayor.” The title was no longer applicable, but it had become habit to refer to Regina in that way. Emma didn’t think she’d ever be able to call her Your Majesty, and she didn’t want to think of her as the Evil Queen from Henry’s book.
“Sheriff,” Regina returned without really acknowledging the blonde’s presence.
“Mind if I join you?”
“If I said no, would it do any good?” There were barbs to Regina’s words, but the venom was palpably absent.
Regina must be running on muscle memory too, Emma considered. She turned her ankles inward and rocked back on her heels, unwontedly uncomfortable. She hadn’t thought ahead beyond asking to join Regina at the table, and the mayor’s noncommittal response had her frozen with indecision.
Regina sighed and her rigid shoulders sagged beneath her suit jacket. “Please sit down, Miss Swan.”
Emma continued to hesitate despite the invitation until she felt Ruby’s hands on the tops of her shoulders, planting her in the space across from Regina.
“She said sit, Emma,” Ruby instructed.
Emma awkwardly stumbled into the booth, the denim of her jeans getting caught on the vinyl upholstery.
A peculiar smile crossed Regina’s lips, but her eyes remained focused on her half-filled coffee cup. “It’s nice to know Miss Lucas is so well trained.”
Ruby muttered something under her breath, unintelligible to Emma’s ears.
Regina offered no response. She turned the ceramic cup around in her hands. Even though she had invited Emma to sit down, she still appeared displeased by the intrusion.
Uncomfortable with Regina’s silent vigil, Emma plied herself with more alcohol. She swallowed down another mouthful of whatever beer Granny had provided that night. It tasted like a lager, not her favorite, but she didn’t care. It was wet, and it kept her tongue loosened.
“You should slow down.” Regina’s voice was an impossible low burn.
Dark eyes finally looked up from the coffee cup. "If you keep inhaling your beer like that, dear, your body isn't going to thank you in the morning."
“Can I get you a drink?” Emma offered. “Something besides the coffee?”
“So my body can hate me in the morning as well?” Regina countered.
Emma still didn’t know what to do with the conversation. She knew how to banter and exchange heated threats with the former queen, but Regina looked small and vulnerable, and it didn’t sit well with her.
Another sigh escaped Regina’s lungs. “White wine, if you don’t mind.”
Happy to have a chore, Emma scrambled to her feet. “I’ll be right back.”
Ruby was wiping down the countertop when Emma approached. “How’s it going over there?” Having overheard Regina’s drink request, she pulled out a clean glass and filled it halfway from a bottle she’d found under the bar.
Emma leaned against the bar top and waited for Ruby to pour Regina’s drink. “Well the name calling has been minimal, and we’re not pulling each other’s hair. I’d call that progress.”
Ruby’s eyes danced with mirth. She slid the filled drink order across the top of the bar. “Don’t worry; the night’s still young,” she winked.
Emma returned to the table where Regina continued to sit by herself. She had hoped that someone else might drop by the mayor’s table in her absence, but the rest of the party had maintained their distance, even Henry. The latter observation brought a frown to Emma’s face.
Motherhood. It was strange to her how quickly Henry had been able to call her “Mom” when Regina had held that position for a decade. Emma herself wasn’t able to do the same for Mary Margaret, but she had had twenty-eight years without her mother. Perhaps it would just take a little more time before she became comfortable with the title.
“Thank you.” Regina said cordially when Emma set the wine glass in front of her. She took an experimental sip. “Pinot grigio.”
“Is that okay?” Emma openly worried as she slid back across the booth seating. She had little experience with wine beyond knowing they came in different colors.
“It’s alcohol, Miss Swan.” Regina smiled mildly. She twisted the wine glass by its stem. “It’ll do the job.”
Emma retrieved her beer bottle and anxiously began shredding the paper label. “I should thank you,” she choked out.
Regina arched a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “Whatever for?”
“Saving me,” Emma said. “And Mary Margaret. Henry told me what happened at the well.”
Regina flicked the tip of her tongue against the faintly visible scar tissue at her lip. The action reminded Emma of a snake, coiling back before striking. “It’s not quite saving if my intent was to kill you in the first place.”
“But you changed your mind. You didn’t have to do that.” She had meant to have this conversation earlier, but since returning from the Enchanted Forest, she’d been gobbled up in the whirlwind of celebration and reuniting with her friends and family.
“I would have lost Henry,” Regina said quietly into her wine glass.
Emma glanced in the direction of their son who was happily chatting with Dr. Hopper while he munched on some sugary concoction she was sure Regina would never have approved of.
“Besides, I’m sure it’s me who owes you my thanks.” Regina straightened in the booth seating, back becoming erect and rigid. “You saved me from that mob after the curse was broken. And my mother remains in the Enchanted Forest thanks to you.”
“I guess we’re even then.”
“I doubt we’ll ever be even, Miss Swan,” the mayor said cryptically.
“Have you decided what you’ll do now?”
“Do?” Regina echoed.
“Well, like, how you’ll spend your days?” Emma struggled.
Another eyebrow raised. “You mean now that I’m no longer the mayor of the town I created?”
Regina raked a shaky hand through her dark hair. "I haven't the slightest idea. How does one go about seeking redemption in a town she cannot escape?"
"One lasagna at a time?"
A small smile crept onto Regina's painted lips. "It did seem to go rather quickly, didn't it?" Emma could tell that Regina was privately pleased.
A sudden realization hit Emma with the force of a semi-truck. She was pulling this off. She was actually having a prolonged, civil conversation with Regina Mills. She couldn’t recall another moment in their brief, but turbulent history where a conversation had gone so well.
She reached for her beer bottle, feeling emboldened and hopeful for the future. Her fingers brushed against the smooth glass, but she’d let her guard down. The heavy bottle tipped on its edge and knocked into Regina’s wine glass. And, like two dominos, the beer bottle and the wine glass toppled over. The contents of both drinks flooded the diner table to waterfall over its edge and onto Regina’s lap.
Emma froze and the scattered conversations around her seemed to come to a halting stop. She would have found the look of horror on Regina’s face mildly comical if she hadn’t been the one responsible for it.
“Oh my God.” She grabbed fistfuls of napkins from their silver container, but Regina stood up before Emma could ply her flesh and clothes with tiny squares of paper.
“It’s fine,” Regina said stiffly.
The diner’s occupants seemed to hold their collective breath as they waited for the Evil Queen’s reaction.
Emma sopped up as much of the spilt beverages as she could that now covered the table and the space where Regina had been sitting. She ably cleaned up the spilled alcohol, but an ugly mess of saturated napkins remained heaped on the table as evidence of her clumsiness.
"I'm so sorry, Regina," Emma apologized.
Regina dismissed the blonde with a wave of her hand. "Don't worry about it, dear.“
"Can I get you another drink?" Emma offered sheepishly.
“No. I should probably take this as a sign to leave.” A forced smile came to Regina’s lips. “I think my outfit would thank me for the early exit.” She retrieved her overcoat and pulled it on.
“Regina, I am sorry,” Emma apologized again. “It was an accident, I swear.”
“Thank you for thinking to include me tonight,” Regina said with all the polished refinery of practiced royalty. Emma wondered just how badly Regina wanted to turn her into a bug for the offense.
Emma scrambled to her feet to see the woman out. “I’m glad you decided to come. I…I know it couldn’t have been easy showing up here.”
Regina hummed in thought.
Emma didn’t know what else to say, so she shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. “Have a nice night.”
“Thank you. I’ll certainly try.” Regina paused at the diner door. “Oh, and Miss Swan?”
“Don't believe everything you read.”
Emma’s eyebrows knit together. “Huh?”
"Not all wicked witches can be vanquished with liquid."
Emma watched the fallen queen exit out the diner’s front doors and into the placid night.