Regina hates Mondays. Of course, most people do; beginning of the work week, still so many days ahead of you and so much potential for all kinds of crap to pile up. That never bothered her though; she was always happy to work hard. She has always been disciplined; partly that’s her mother’s training, partly it’s her own drive. She would never have called herself ambitious, but she has never lacked passion, and she channels it into everything she does. As a teenager, that had been riding. As an adult, it had been vengeance. These days, it means running the town, and god knows it takes some dedication to corral these idiots into some kind of order.
So it’s not the idea of working a new week of nine to fives that phases her. What she struggles with is being alone. Going back to that big empty house too easily recalls the endless days in King Leopold’s castle; a place that wasn’t her home, where she didn’t belong, where she had nothing to do and no one cared for her. There were no horses for her to ride. Even the King was away most of the time. And the worst part of it was that, despite how desperately relieved she was when he was gone and she knew she was safe from him for a while, she was still miserable because she was so lonely. Not enough to wish for him to come back; never enough for that. But it was such a stark reminder of how unimportant she was, of how she mattered to no one. The whole castle shut down when he was away. It didn’t matter that the Queen was still in residence. No one cared about the Queen.
So she throws herself into her work, and she keeps everything in order, and she deals with complaints, and arbitrates disagreements, and allocates funding, and signs work orders, and contracts developers, and maintains and repairs and preserves and improves and does everything that any of her constituents could possibly ask for (though they always demand more). And then at five she packs up her desk, leaves her office, and goes… where? Where would she go? Not to school to meet Henry. Not out on a dinner date. Just an evening of reheated leftovers; a depressing meal for one. There’s no one in this house who’s waiting for her after work.
The weekends are different; she can fill the time with riding, or gardening, or cleaning. She can go into the town and know that she’ll bump into ten different people on the street, and most of them don’t even hate her any more. But on a weekday evening, people aren’t out and about. They’re heading home to their families, to talk about their days with wives and husbands and children, to ask how school was, to marvel at the As on a report card or the finger painting that will be pinned to the refrigerator. While she faces a whole new week of coming home to that big old empty house.
Until Zelena was finally vanquished, her evenings had been busy; Emma came over most every night, and as frustrating as it often was--with her impulsiveness and brashness and pig-headedness--it was nice to know that someone cared that she existed in the world. Even if it was only as one half of a magic duo that was supposed to save the town. Still, Emma had stopped by a few times since then; they’d gone to visit Henry’s grave, and she came over with paperwork and updates from the sheriff's office, and Regina wonders whether those visits are entirely necessary, or whether Emma might just be checking up on her, or perhaps just wants to see her. The motivation doesn’t really matter; Emma’s presence is… comforting.
So she finds herself on Monday night, driving into town towards Snow and Charming’s apartment, not really sure why she’s going, not sure what reason she is going to give until she’s standing in front of the door knocking, and then freezing in panic because this is ridiculous- she doesn’t belong here. The last few weeks have been like living in a dream world, but at some point, reality is going to hit home. She and Emma had put their differences aside for the greater good, to defeat Zelena, and because in their loneliness and grief they had grabbed on to what was familiar and comforting. But always in the background, being carefully ignored, were the years of unresolved tension and hurt and guilt and betrayal. So many things they didn’t talk about because they needed each other. But with the immediate danger now passed, and some sort of normality settling in, it’s only a matter of time before their histories begin to reassert themselves. Before they actually have to address all the things they have done to each other over the years. And that’s just Emma; her parents are a whole different matter. Her parents whose door Regina is now knocking on, having driven over uninvited because of some sort of bizarre and unchecked compulsion to be near their daughter. What is she even doing here? What is she going to say?
But when Emma opens the door and sees Regina waiting uncomfortably outside, her face breaks into a huge grin like Regina is exactly the person she was hoping for, and she’s ushered inside, and Mary Margaret and David look over from the living room where they’re curled up with Neal on the sofa, and they sing their hellos like they don’t think it’s weird she’s here either. And Regina wants to believe that’s true, but she’s known them both too long, and Snow’s unnervingly forceful smile speaks volumes about how aware she is that she has never asked for-- or given-- forgiveness. And David’s the same, just a little calmer about it; quietly accepting Regina’s new place in their lives without addressing why she wasn’t there before and why she is now. And Regina can’t live like that; after all the years of yelling and blame and self-righteous indignation, it can’t all just be swept under the carpet now and never mentioned again because it’s inconvenient and awkward to have to admit to your own mistakes. Regina has done terrible things, but she’s always owned that. And she’s apologized for her actions, over and over and over. But now the room feels so full of all the things that aren’t being said that she can hardly breathe from it; it was a mistake to have come here.
Emma sees the conflict on Regina’s face and gives her arm a squeeze, mouthing, You ok? out of range of her parents. And as Regina looks at her hopeful face, she can’t help but start to relax, the anxiety that’s gripped her since she started counting down to end-of-day slowly slipping out of her, and her hands tremble and she realizes how tightly wound she’d held herself until this moment. And she smiles back and nods because no, she isn’t ok, but Emma doesn’t need to know that right now. Because as long as Emma doesn’t feel the doubts that currently fill Regina’s mind, maybe they don’t have to give up this temporary fantasy.
The Charmings are planning on heading to Granny’s for dinner, and they invite Regina to join them, and when she protests about interrupting a family night, David just gives her a teasing grin and tells her she is family, whether she likes it or not. And she wishes that were true, but she knows how fickle the Charmings’ offerings of olive branches can be, and how easily broken are the truces they’ve made, so she doesn’t say anything, just lets Emma slip an arm around her own as they stroll through the twilight towards the diner. David and Mary Margaret walk ahead of them, also arm in arm, pushing the stroller and sighing over the size of the moon, and Emma nudges Regina conspiratorially, rolling her eyes at the saccharine display.
She doesn’t remember when Emma got to be so physically expressive; she wasn’t always this way. Emma used to be prickly and wary, preferring to keep everyone at arms length so she could size up the situation. Regina had been that way too. They had parallel default positions that were defensive and guarded; Regina’s hands clasped firmly in front of her, fiddling nervously with her ring, while Emma’s hands were buried in her back pockets or shoved deep into her jacket. The only person they had even been free and open with was Henry. But now Emma never hesitates to reach out to Regina, and when they walk together they are more likely to be linked than not. Maybe it’s just that Emma is more settled now and has accepted her relationship with her parents. Maybe she’s just starting to finally open up, and because of their magic and their loss and their fight with Zelena, Regina is part of that more general embracing of the people in her life. But that doesn’t explain why Regina’s heart races the way it does when Emma pulls her close. And why this feeling of dread follows so closely behind it, because this cannot last; it never does.
And just as she’s starting to feel like making up an excuse and bolting, Emma whispers to her, “Guess how many times I’ve walked in on Mary Margaret pumping in the last week?”
Regina stares at her with a mixture of confusion and horror as a powerful visual comes to mind. But Emma only sees the confusion so she clarifies, “You know, like a breast pump? One of those machines that like, sucks the milk out? You can freeze it so if you go out for the evening and the kid needs a feed, or if you go back to work the kid can still get fed the natural stuff. Not that Mary Margaret is going back to work any time soon. But I swear she’s pumping all the time! I’ve walked in on her three times already. I’m scarred for life. I mean, it’s all totally natural and wonderful and part of motherhood and everything, but she’s my mom! And my best friend. And I do not need to see her breasts hooked up to… that contraption--”
“Emma you really need your own place,” Regina cuts her off, trying to expel from her mind the excessive insight she just received into the life and times of Mary Margaret Blanchard.
“I do,” Emma nods vigorously. “I really do. I mean, I did the whole pregnancy and birth thing, and even if I didn’t do the infant-raising part myself, I’m very familiar with all the bodily ins and outs of the whole process. And honestly, if I were in my mother’s position, I’d probably appreciate a little privacy.”
“Well there’s no such thing as personal space in that apartment. It barely even has walls.”
“I know! And I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, especially not in her own home. But I just keep walking in on her!”
“So move out,” Regina cocks an eyebrow challengingly. Emma has been talking about moving out for weeks, and yet seems unwilling to leave the nest.
“I know, I really want to,” Emma whines. “But the rental market in this town is so bad!”
“It’s a small town; not a lot of newcomers. It’s an owner’s market.”
“Yeah, I figured. Henry was looking at places before…” they avoid each others’ gaze. “Well, anyway he found a couple places, but he was looking for two bedrooms, and I don’t need a two bedroom now…”
Regina nods. Yet another thing that doesn’t work without Henry. “There aren’t a lot of one-bedroom places. Mary Margaret’s building is one of the only places in town, and vacancies don’t come up often; people don’t really… leave.”
“You couldn’t have created a town that was a bit more… metropolitan?”
“We come from the Enchanted Forest; land of nuclear families and no birth control. There weren’t too many single individuals to start off with.”
“Well Mary Margaret wasn’t single before she came here,” Emma digs at her, earning her an eye-roll.
“And a bachelor apartment hasn’t stopped her from offering a bed to any old waif or stray who comes through the town.”
“Hey!” Emma cries, feigning affront.
Regina smiles at her teasing, and Emma realizes she hasn’t seen the other woman smile like that in a very long time; the kind that goes right to her eyes; the kind that was only ever given to Henry. And it takes her breath away for a moment, so she blushes and stammers, grateful that they’re at the diner already so she can hold open the door for Regina and take a second to get herself together and hide the fact that she just got so completely tongue-tied over a smile from this woman.
Inside, Granny’s is already bustling from the dinner rush as they slip into their usual booth.
“You ok, Emma?” her father inquires, noting how his daughter looks flushed and a little discombobulated. He earns a overly enthusiastic grin for his troubles.
“Fine! I’m great!” She tries not to think about how closely the booth packs them together, how Regina’s thigh brushes against her own as they get settled, why this seems to be having such an effect on her. She jumps back up. “I’ll get Ruby!”
Mary Margaret looks up in confusion. “We’re not in any hurry, Emma. We haven’t even thought about what to eat yet.”
“It’s not like the menu’s going to be radically different from any of the other times you’ve been here,” Regina comments wryly. Mary Margaret pulls a face at her.
“Exactly!” Emma says brightly. “Besides, it’s rammed in here. There’s probably gonna be a wait so we’d better order quickly.”
She scoots off to find Red, who she spots behind the counter, seemingly caught up in her thoughts and paying little attention to the demands of the customers around her, or to her grandmother’s frequently barked orders.
“Hey Ruby,” she smiles, settling on a stool in front of the other woman.
“Oh, hey Emma.” She looks so forlorn Emma is immediately concerned.
“What’s going on, are you ok? You look like you just lost your puppy.”
Ruby smiles ruefully. “No, I’m fine. Just a little… bummed out. I was supposed to be moving out to my own place finally, but it sort of… fell through.”
“I found a great place- two bedrooms, a den, lots of light, close to the water- you know, the kind of place that never comes up in Storybrooke. And I signed the lease, and Belle was gonna move in with me- you know she left Gold?”
“I didn’t, but I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“Well they got back together again.”
“How did he manage to swing that?” Regina’s voice is so close to Emma’s ear she nearly jumps out of her skin, spinning around to be met with a reprimanding look. “You can’t just abandon me with the two idiots.”
“You ok, Em?” Ruby asks, looking between Regina and Emma with an amused and unnervingly knowing expression. Emma struggles to compose herself, shifting to allow Regina to join the conversation.
“So Gold worked his magic on Belle?” Regina asks, seemingly unaware of the effect she’s having on Emma, and with more than a hint of bitterness in her voice. People will forgive that man anything.
“I guess so...” Ruby dodges, thinking that this isn’t the time to bring up the literal source of the magic involved: Tinkerbelle and her soulmate spell. Ruby’s already screwed up enough lately, revealing information she apparently wasn’t supposed to. She cringes when she thinks of how Marian’s eyes had gone wide, and how her face had crumpled, and how she’d fled the diner as Ruby called after her. Marian had come back a few hours later, eyes red, expression drawn, and carrying a small bundle containing all her worldly possessions, asking if Granny could possibly spare a room at her bed and breakfast. Not that she had any money, but she promised to work in the kitchen at the diner to earn her keep. She was completely alone, having left Roland with his father; the boy loved her, but he barely knew her. Ruby’s heart broke at the fallout from her careless words. No, things were not going awesomely at the moment.
“They’re giving it another shot,” she continues, “and that means I can’t afford my new place, which means I have to break the lease, and I’ll be staying with my grandmother after all. And I am just too goddamn old to be living at home.”
“Yes, living with parents can feel somewhat limiting after a certain age,” Regina agrees, looking pointedly at Emma. “Weren’t you just saying you wanted to find your own place, Emma?”
Emma takes the prompting; opportunities like this don’t come up often in Storybrooke.
“Yeah, I was looking for a place with Henry, you know before… And since then I guess I’ve just not been very focused on the whole apartment-hunting thing. What’s the rent like at this place?”
“$1,200 a month.”
“Cheap for a sheriff, maybe. It’s kindof up there for a server’s salary. But I could’ve made it work with Belle paying half.”
“How about with a sheriff paying half?”
Ruby brightens immediately. Emma’s not Belle; this isn’t the dream she’d envisioned. But it’s still the possibility of getting out on her own finally, and Emma’s a good friend.
“Maybe you could show me the place tomorrow,” Emma continues. “We could see if it’s a good fit?”
“Oh I’m so proud. You girls are finally growing up!” Regina quips acerbically.
Ruby gives her a look. “Why don’t I take your order, Mayor Mills?”
Emma was right about the food taking a while with the diner being so busy. By the time it arrives, Neal has woken up and he’s fussing and cranky, even after Mary Margaret gives him a feed. She and David take turns passing him back and forth so each can eat their meal before it gets cold, but he won’t settle. And then with Storybrooke being the small town that it is, various residents take the opportunity to interrupt the family meal with questions for the sheriffs and the mayor about cleanup and redevelopment and town safety. After Mary Margaret’s fork is interrupted on the way to her mouth for the fifth time by Neal’s cries, and with David having been called away to an adjoining table for a discussion about perimeter patrol, Regina steps in and scoops up the infant, who immediately quiets as she walks back and forth across the diner. David makes it back to his rapidly-cooling dinner, and he and Snow ravenously shovel it down like wolves.
Emma smiles at their singular focus and excuses herself to join Regina, who is being gazed at with a baby’s huge blue eyes.
“Think he kinda looks like me?” Emma asks, peering at the gurgling child.
“A little.” Regina considers them side by side, before whispering conspiratorially to Neal, “You’re much better looking than your sister though.”
“Hey!” Emma gives her arm a playful wack, and Regina gives her that smile again that makes her a little weak at the knees.
She’s so focused on this strange feeling and how beautiful Regina is looking right now that she doesn’t initially hear what the other woman is saying. But she snaps to attention when Regina makes to pass her little brother, backing up slightly, and instantly regretting having made her discomfort so obvious.
Regina doesn’t look surprised though, she just smiles gently and says encouragingly, “He won’t bite.”
“I know,” Emma studies her boots. “I just find it weird, being around him. I have all these conflicting memories of Henry as a baby, and it’s just worse around Neal- more confusing I mean. I guess just seeing my parents with him makes me think of my own experience, and then I just feel overwhelmed with different sets of memories.”
Regina nods understandingly, appreciating the way that Emma seems happy to just tell her things now; that she’s lost some of her guardedness. But no, she reminds herself; they’re only talking about some things. Safe things. Shared memories, shared difficulties, shared pain. Not the fact that she and Emma were nemesis until not long ago. Not the fact that all their differences were swept aside in the wake of Henry, and now loom ominously just outside of every trusting moment and honest confidence. She feels the weight of Emma’s lonely and confused childhood every day. And she recognizes the shadow of guilt that crosses Emma’s face whenever they see Robin. And those are just the issues they’ve actually attempted to address; they each have so much baggage that they’ve never even acknowledged. Regina pushes the doubts and fears aside, trying to focus on the present. On the little boy who isn’t Henry. On the woman desperately seeking reassurance that she isn’t already too broken for this.
“The confusion will fade. And it will get easier as you make new memories with Neal; as you establish a relationship with him so that you see him as a separate person and not just a baby, or a reminder of Henry. And besides, he’s going to need his big sister. With those two raising him,” she nods towards Charming and Snow who seem to be having a Lady and the Tramp moment over their meatballs, “he’s going to need all the help he can get.”
Emma laughs, but she takes Regina’s words to heart. She does need to get over this. She steps gingerly forward again, putting out her arms to take the child. Holding a baby is familiar to her; she knows how to do this. The closeness of Regina fills her head as she steps forward to slide Neal over into her arms and she allows herself to get lost in the different scents; coconut moisturizer; lavender laundry detergent; rosemary shampoo. Emma smiles down at the little boy in her arms, and looks up to beam at Regina, full of pride at her small accomplishment.
Back at their table Mary Margaret has David’s arm in a vice-like grip. He yelps in surprise and looks up reproachfully, expecting to be chastised for taking the last meatball. But his wife is staring across the room in amazement to where their daughter rocks their son in her arms.
“Wow,” he murmurs. “See? I told you she’d come around. She just needed some time to get used to him.”
“It was Regina,” Snow responds with certainty, suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude to this woman, and then abruptly with sorrow over how much pain they had caused each other over the years. She tries to make up for it by being the most vocal Regina-supporter, but even she can hear how flat her words sound; how hollow and false, as if she can just wipe away the things she has done to Regina by being her biggest cheerleader now. As if she can just accept how much Regina stole from her by simply willing it to be so. Her stomach tightens uncomfortably. Everything with Regina has always been so complicated. One of these days, she is going to have to sit down with her former stepmother and really deal with everything that had happened between them. Perhaps in therapy with Archie. She almost laughs aloud at the preposterousness of her own idea- Regina would never agree to that. She doesn’t feel angry and hurt about this woman any more, but she doesn’t know how to move on to the next phase. She has no idea what that would even look like. And she feels the pressure building to figure it out; with the way Regina’s relationship to Emma is changing so rapidly, Snow knows she’s going to have to deal with her own feelings soon.
“You know, I’m really glad that they have each other.” David’s voice cuts through her thoughts, and she looks at him, surprised.
“Now there’s something I never thought I’d hear you say,” she smiles, but she can see her conflicted emotions reflected in his own expression.
“I know,” he smiles back uncertainly. “We should… talk, about all this,” he makes an expansive gesture, indicating Regina, and Emma, and their baby son, and the town at large. “Now that things have settled down a bit. Now that it’s been almost two weeks since something last tried to kill us or teleported us to another dimension. Might be a good time to take stock. Reassess some priorities. Figure out… where we go from here.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea.”
Later that night, when everyone has returned home, bursting with meatballs and full of questions about how to navigate new and redefined relationships, two people meet in secret in the darkness, making their way through the night to begin their work. They made a deal, you see; a metaphorical contract was signed, and the lost love is back at home with her new husband. And so the husband slips through the darkness of the forest, to repay the engineer of his good fortune with the storm she requested.
Clouds gather, slipping across the bright full moon and shrouding them in darkness. The rain starts to fall, becoming quickly heavier and more aggressive as thunder rolls and lightning forks through the crackling night air.
Unaware of the gathering storm, Emma lies in bed trying to drift off to sleep. In the quiet anonymity of night, she allows her mind to wander to things she doesn't let herself to consider in the cold light of day. The shape of Regina’s lips when she smirks, the little scar whose origin she often wonders about, the scent of her hair, the curve of her legs in her impractical but killer shoes, the tightness of her blouse, the way her body moves as she walks, the dip at her throat where the colour rises up when she’s embarrassed or angry or flattered and self-conscious… Emma would never allow herself to actually dwell on these things, these secret almost unconscious thoughts that creep in during her days with Regina, and are quickly pushed away. But it’s late and she’s falling asleep and she permits herself this little indulgence, which doesn't really mean anything after all, because in the quiet of night without all the distractions of daily life, thoughts of Henry, longing for Henry, grief over Henry, can so easily overtake her. So who really cares if her thinking of Regina’s form-hugging dresses is somewhat inappropriate? It’s nice to think of something good. And so what if she might have a slight crush on Regina; it’s not like she’s going to act on it. And it doesn't really mean anything anyway.