By morning the town has received a thorough dousing and the rain has cleared, giving way to a crisp morning of blue skies. But the storm seems to have dropped its heaviest rainfall on the forest; the ground is practically a bog throughout, and it won’t dry under the shady protection of the trees. Meanwhile the Merry Men’s camp looks more like a lake; their tents flooded and their tree houses blown apart by the gale-force winds that tore through the trees the night before.
Emma stares at the mess in amazement when she arrives with David after receiving a call at the station alerting them to the hurricane that seems to have ripped through the forest. The town doesn’t seem to have got anywhere near this level of rain, and there is certainly no evidence on the streets of the kinds of winds that could do this kind of damage. Weather is so strangely specific sometimes…
She watches the men trying to salvage their soaked belongings; wringing out clothes and pulling bits of tent out of trees. Little John crouches over saturated wood, trying to start a fire. With the rapidly dropping fall temperatures and the remaining wind, it’s going to be freezing out here even without factoring in the lack of shelter and dry ground. The Merry Men will have to move into town, at least for now. Especially the Lost Boys- they can’t have kids sleeping outside in this kind of weather. It was probably inevitable; the Merry Men are perhaps used to spending winters outside, but the boys, having lived on their tropical island with Pan, have no such experience. Better get their living situation sorted out as quickly as possible, and ideally in a more permanent setting. Emma can read the misgiving on the boys’ faces, and she recognises it. They’ve made a home here, and they are very attached to each other. She knows what it’s like to be uprooted and torn away from your friends and the family you’d got used to. She didn’t bring these boys back from Neverland to give them Storybrooke’s version of the foster system. She’s going to do everything in her power to make sure they are placed with good families, and in longterm homes, and-- preferably-- with at least one other Lost Boy.
It’s going to take some time to figure all that out. In the meantime, she wonders about enlisting Blue and the rest of the nuns to supervise the setting up of some cots in the town tall as an emergency shelter. If there’s one thing they can handle, it’s feeding and clothing a bunch of children. Probably best to loop the mayor in on the situation first though; the flooding of half of Storybrooke is something that she should probably be made aware of, Emma reasons, punching the number for Regina on speed-dial and ignoring the way her stomach tightened with the nervous anticipation of hearing Regina’s voice.
“Good morning, Miss Swan.” Emma can hear the smile in her voice and she grins giddily in response.
“Hey. So we have a bit of a situation.”
“Oh?” Regina’s tone sharpens and Emma hurries to reassure her.
“It’s nothing bad! Well, nothing that can’t be fixed. The storm last night flooded the forest. Like, specifically the forest. It’s like wading through quicksand out here. The Merry Men’s camp is completely destroyed. They’re all fine, but they can’t stay out here; they’ll have to move into town.” As she speaks she realizes the first place Regina’s mind will go at the mention of the Merry Men: to Robin Hood. She continues quickly, “So top priority is housing for the Lost Boys. We need to get them out of the forest and somewhere warm and dry as quickly as possible; this is no place for kids.”
“Certainly not!” Regina sounds horrified at the thought of damp hungry children, and Emma smiles smugly at having successfully diverted her from the topic of Robin.
“So I thought we could set up the town hall as an emergency shelter, and enlist the nuns to feed and supervise them, just for a couple nights while I organize more longterm placements with some of the families in town.”
“An excellent suggestion,” Regina agrees, and Emma’s heart definitely does not jump in elation at such warm praise. “I will speak to Blue and ensure she gives us her fullest assistance. And I’ll make sure the town hall is prepared for the boys. Perhaps you could commandeer the school bus to transport them? I have a list of potential placements for the boys in progress- something I began working on when we returned from Neverland, but then with the second curse it was never put into action. We have a fairly basic family services program in place, but there’s never been a need for longterm placement of large numbers of children.”
Emma listens attentively, trying not to be distracted by how undeniably hot Regina sounds when she takes control. But she’s simultaneously amazed at the fact that Regina’s curse involved the transportation of hundreds of people she intended to punish, to a town with electricity, transit, paved roads, the internet, social assistance programs, and modern medicine. She might have run this town like a dictator, but Emma finds it tough to see that as such an awful thing when she considers how much the residents get out of it.
“Granny is in charge of the weekly soup kitchen,” Regina continues. “She should be able to organize emergency meals for the children. We have a food bank of course but I’m sure those supplies will be quickly exhausted. I believe the Merry Men have been drawing on it for some time now.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Emma volunteers. “I have to go by the diner anyway to meet Ruby in a bit.”
“Oh yes your new roommate!”
“Hopefully, depending on what this place is like.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Emma.”
“I don’t think I’m in begging territory just yet.”
“Oh really? Tell me, when was the last time you walked in on your parents at an inappropriate moment?” she responds teasingly.
Emma had walked in on her parents making out that very morning, which was marginally less disturbing than the breast pump, but still not something she needed to see before she’s even had her first coffee.
“Point taken. I’ll call you later about the shelter plans.”
She leaves David in charge of rallying the troops and heads back into town to meet Ruby. The apartment, as it turns out, is perfect. It’s bright with huge windows and a view of the bay; a large open-plan living and kitchen area (kindof like Mary Margaret’s but with actual walls cordoning off some private space like bedrooms and a bathroom); there’s even a small den they can use as an office, or a very small guest room, or a craft room, or a weapons closet… Ruby gives a little yelp of excitement when Emma tells her she’s in, and is ready to rush home to repack everything she’d just taken back out of boxes. Emma drops her off at the bed and breakfast so she can speak to Granny about preparing a meal for the kids, arriving just in time to see the Merry Men trooping in. Granny looks thrilled at the sudden boom in business, but Ruby less so.
“Shit. Robin’s staying here?”
“Got a problem with that, dear?” comes her grandmother’s curt reply.
“Well I’m sure Marian won’t appreciate it. She came here to get away from him.”
“Well I can’t turn away paying customers. I’m happy to give Marian a bed, even though she can’t afford it; I’m no tirant. But I have to pay the bills somehow!”
“Wait,” Emma cuts in. “Why is Marian staying here? Did something happen between her and Robin?”
“They had a fight…” Ruby replies unhappily.
“Let me guess; about Regina?”
Ruby looks at Emma curiously, wondering how much she knows, before deciding it’s not worth risking the fallout if she doesn’t know that Regina and Robin are soulmates. He and Marian could have fought about his relationship with Regina even without that knowledge. And Ruby suspects that Emma wouldn’t be acting so cool if she knew about Tink’s spell; it doesn’t take a werewolf’s keen senses to pick up on the tension between Emma and Regina, and she’s not in a hurry to crush another heart.
“Yeah, something like that,” she replies vaguely. “I don’t know where she’ll go if she can’t stay here though. If the forest is flooded and she’s got no money-”
“Well maybe this would be an ideal opportunity to make up with her husband?” Granny suggests.
“Why do you assume she’s the one who has to do any making up?” Ruby snaps back.
Just then Robin appears, lugging a bag of salvaged possessions, and Marian appears at the door. She looks at him in horror, realizing what’s going on, and then bolts before anyone can say anything.
“I didn’t know she was staying here,” he looks at them helplessly. “I never would have come if I’d known. She has a right to be here- she was here first. I’ll… stay somewhere else…”
It takes Emma all of five seconds to make the mental calculations of his options. There’s only one hotel in town, and that’s Granny’s. She’s about to take every family’s spare room for the Lost Boys. Robin doesn’t really have any other friends in town except… Except Regina, with her big empty house and all its spare rooms… Emma is suddenly gripped with nausea at the idea of Robin staying at Regina’s place. Surely she’d never let him? Surely he wouldn’t ask? Oh my god what if he did?
“Maybe Marian could stay with us?” Ruby’s voice cuts through the swirl of panic in Emma’s brain.
“Us?” Granny inquires, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, us. Me and Emma,” Red proclaims defiantly. “We’re moving in together.”
“And when is this happening?” Granny sounds incredulous that her granddaughter could actually have finally got herself together to move out on her own.
“Well the place is empty, and I’ve already paid for the first month, so right away, if we want.”
“That sounds like a great idea!” Emma is suddenly seized with enthusiasm. “We have that spare room- it’s probably only big enough for a single bed and not much else, but if it’s just temporary…” Marian and Robin couldn’t have split up for good. This must just be a small glitch; an adjustment period, while they get their heads around having been apart for so long. They’d work things out. And Emma would be damned before she let Robin hurt Regina by being indecisive about which woman he wanted to be with. “Robin, you stay here. Marian can stay with us.”
This would be good. Give Robin and Marian some space while they worked out their issues; assuage some of her guilt about having brought Marian back here and then just sortof dumping her in this strange new world; and keep Robin away from Regina. Regina has dealt with enough pain lately, Emma reasons; she doesn’t need any more.
With preparations for the emergency housing well underway, and the Ruby already moving into their new apartment, Emma drives very slowly back to the station to start working on placements for the Lost Boys, but her mind is elsewhere. She’s really doing it- she’s really moving out of her parents’ place. On the one hand, she knows she needs her independence and they need their space. But at the same time, since losing Henry, it’s been a huge comfort to know they are always at home waiting, and her stomach clenches with nervousness at the thought of leaving them, even if she is only moving ten minutes away. She spent so much of her life without them, why is she in such a hurry to leave now? It’s ridiculous; not so long ago she was ready to take Henry and head back to New York; pretend magic didn’t exist and retreat to the normalcy of everyday life. And for a minute she had really believed she could do it; that she was an island, a rock; that she didn’t really need anyone because she had always taken care of herself. She didn’t want to need them. She didn’t want the risk of loving people who could disappoint her. And now she’s so dependant on them that the thought of moving down the street is enough to send her into a cold sweat. She shakes her head, smiling as she suddenly imagines what Regina would say at her indecision.
As it turns out she doesn’t have to wonder for long; walking into the sheriff’s office she finds Regina waiting at her desk. Emma’s heart jumps into her mouth at the unexpected visit; when did that start happening anyway? She clearly remembers the jolt of adrenaline she would get in those early days, when running into Regina unexpectedly meant gearing up for a fight. And she was far too familiar with the weight of guilt crashing down on her like a tonne of bricks when seeing Regina was a reminder of her latest screwup. But this is different; this is more like butterflies and sweaty palms and a dry mouth with a voice that comes out in a weird squeak and a desperate urge to flee in the opposite direction.
It’s too late for that though; she knows she’s been spotted as Regina turns and rises from her seat to greet her, and her legs feel like jelly as she forces herself to move forward and speak casually.
“Hey,” she squeaks, wincing at the bizarre pitch of her voice and swallowing hard before she tries again. “Hey. I didn’t expect to see you here; everything go ok with the nuns and the townhall?”
“Beds are set up and Blue is ready to supervise the boys’ installation in their temporary accommodations,” Regina confirms. “And I called the school; they’ve agreed to let David take the bus to facilitate speedy transportation of the boys and all their belongings.”
“I thought I was going to do that?” Emma replies, frowning. Didn’t Regina trust her to do this one simple thing?
Regina notes Emma’s ruffled feathers and quickly moves to soothe her. “I had the time, and I knew you were busy coordinating with Granny and you had your apartment viewing with Ruby. I was just trying to simplify things. And now we have more time to strategize about longterm placements for the boys. We want to make sure they’re housed with the right families, and in places they’ll be happy.”
Regina can guess how important this is to Emma. Foster placement is not something to be undertaken lightly, and Emma has intimate knowledge of how badly things could go wrong if children were placed without proper forethought, and without the foster families having access to the right resources.
“We’re going to do this right,” Regina says firmly, and some of the tension in Emma’s shoulders dissipates, relieved that Regina gets it.
“Thank you,” she replies softly, not sure if she means for dealing with the school bus, or for trying to take things off Emma’s plate, or for being there to help with placements, or for understanding why it mattered. Probably all of the above.
Regina reaches out to give Emma’s arm a reassuring squeeze and then stops, confused by her impulse to physically show affection, and then suddenly worried that it’s weird, and wondering if Emma thinks it’s weird, and wishing that she hadn’t done anything and had just kept her damn hands to herself. Why does everything feel so laden with meaning these days?
She smiles, embarrassed, and sits back down at Emma’s desk, hurrying to smooth over her awkwardness. “But first, tell me: do you have a new place to live?”
“I do!” Emma grins, pulling up a second chair and settling opposite Regina. “Ruby’s moving in right now, basically.”
“You know, I wasn’t sure you had it in you,” Regina teases.
“Well I still might not; I haven’t moved in yet. Haven’t even told my parents…” she avoids the other woman’s gaze but her nervousness is written all over her face.
“Second thoughts?” Regina prods gently.
“It’s stupid. Ruby’s so excited to get out on her own, have her own place. But I’ve always had that. Since I left the foster system I’ve been by myself. Even before that; I ran away enough times that independence has pretty much been my MO since I was a kid. What I never had was family. And now I do, why am I in such a hurry to get away from it?”
“You’re not; you’re moving down the street. Having your own place doesn’t mean leaving your family. It’s not an either/or situation. I guarantee you will still see your parents every day. Storybrooke is not that big a town; it’s basically impossible not to see people unless you hide inside all day.”
Emma nods, knowing Regina’s right. But she can’t help saying in a small voice, “I’ll be a guest in their house though. It won’t be my home. But it will be Neal’s home. He’ll grow up there, every day, with his mom and dad.”
Regina’s heart sinks. That’s what this is about. It’s what it’s always going to be about; Emma growing up without a family. Emma’s fears of abandonment, of being replaced. Her fear of not being enough. All because of a stupid spell Regina cast when she was so out of her mind from years of pain and grief and trauma that she didn’t know how to do anything but destroy. And there is no taking it back. There could be forgiveness; Emma might not blame her. But that won’t ever undo the fact that Emma grew up alone because of her. That is something Regina will just have to deal with.
“Your parents love you,” she says softly, covering Emma’s hand with her own and not even feeling awkward about it this time.
“I know,” Emma whispers, looking at Regina’s hand on her own instead of in her eyes, and turning her palm up so that it meets Regina’s, running her fingers slowly back and forth over Regina smooth skin.
“And they’re not going to resent you for wanting your own space.”
“But that doesn’t mean they want you to leave. They’re going to miss you. And Snow will probably come over to your apartment every day to make sure you’re eating properly and to nag you about cleaning your room.”
Emma snorts, feeling cheered in spite of herself. She keeps her head bowed self-consciously but risks a glance up at Regina, who is watching her intently, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth as she pokes fun at Snow. And Emma smiles back shyly, enjoying the feeling of Regina’s hand in hers, taking comfort from Regina’s words, reveling in the attention being lavished on her, and trying very hard not to read into the fact that they are just staring into each other’s eyes and holding hands right now. Because Regina is just being a good friend. And this display of affection is amazing in and of itself; it shows Regina cares about her-- as a friend-- and she never would have imagined this a year ago, or hell, even a few months ago. Never could have known that this gentle, sweet Regina even existed. Never could have hoped that she could be on the receiving end of such affection. And it makes her feel special and wanted in a very dangerous way, so she steels herself and lets go of Regina’s hand, breaking the moment and bringing them back to the safety of reality.
“And when you do finally move, let me know and I’ll give you a hand with your things,” Regina tells her magnanimously, trying to hide her disappointment over Emma’s sudden shift in demeanor.
“Well most of my things are in New York, but when they get here I could use a hand carrying them up the stairs- we’re on the top floor and there’s no elevator. What’s up with that, by the way? All buildings are built with elevators now- how’d your curse miss that one?”
“It was thirty years ago.”
“Yeah, thirty, not a hundred!” Emma needles her, grinning.
“Well I can assure you I won’t be risking my back lugging boxes full of Ikea furniture. I have an enchantment I can show you that will facilitate… easy transportation.”
“It’s not all Ikea,” Emma grumbles. She has no idea what ‘easy transportation’ means, but she’s hoping for some kind of Fantasia-eque mobilization of inanimate objects.
Just as she’s about to quiz Regina further, a sobering realization stops her in her tracks. Regina won’t be helping her move in. In fact, Regina might never come to her apartment at all. Not with Marian staying there.
“Shit,” she breathes.
“What?” Regina asks curiously, still smiling, and Emma doesn’t want to speak and see that smile disappear. Doesn’t want to ruin this moment.
“Um… I have to tell you something…”
The smile fades, becomes wary and guarded. “What is it?”
“We um… We’re going to have Marian staying with us for a while.”
That’s it. Regina’s face hardens. “Marian?”
“Yeah. She and Robin are… having some problems. She was staying at the bed and breakfast, but now with the flooding all the Merry Men have moved in. And she doesn’t want to be where he is.”
“So you asked her to stay with you,” Regina finishes bitterly.
“Well actually Ruby did, but I think it’s a good idea. I mean I did bring her here; I’m sortof responsible for her.”
“Yes, you did bring her here.”
Regina’s voice is hard with barely contained frustration, and it triggers all of Emma’s defensiveness. How long are they going to have this argument? She’s not going to apologize for saving a woman’s life. She never meant for that act of altruism to negatively impact Regina, but she wouldn’t take it back.
“Yeah, I did,” Emma growls. “And I’d do it again.”
“Of course you would,” Regina snaps.
“You’re not going to make me feel bad about this. I saved her life! And I’m sorry that you got hurt--”
“Oh, you’re sorry! Yes you are always sorry aren’t you, Emma? There always seems to be something you have to apologize for, doesn’t there? And it always seems to be me you’re apologizing to. Why is that?”
“Maybe because you did a load of fucked-up shit that it’s my job to put right!” Emma snaps before she can stop herself. How are they fighting? A minute ago they had been gazing into each others’ eyes and holding hands. How are they suddenly screaming at each other now? She had agreed to have Marian stay with her and Ruby so that Regina wouldn’t be forced to deal with Robin. She had been trying to protect Regina. But now she thinks about it, the internal logic of her actions is starting to break down. She alienated Regina by siding with her rival... to protect her?
“Right, because you’re the Saviour” Regina spits out the word with a tone full of disdain. “And I’m the Evil Queen. How hard it must be for you, always having to clean up my messes. Because I just love to cause pain for absolutely no reason. I was just born this way, you know, with a penchant for wanton destruction. And it’s your responsibility to put right all my wrongs. What a terrible burden that must be for you.”
“I didn’t say that--” Emma starts, trying too late to defuse the situation.
“You didn’t need to. It’s clearly what you think. Well allow me to assist you by getting out of your way.”
She’s not sure why she’s so angry right now. She doesn’t want Marian to suffer. And she’s not even sure that she’s upset about Robin- after all, isn’t it a good thing that his relationship with his wife is on the rocks? But all she can really think about right now is the fact that Emma didn’t even think about how this might affect her. Because Emma never thinks of Regina. Because Emma has no idea how much she can hurt Regina. And why should she even care? She’s just the Evil Queen; not someone worth caring about.
Regina turns on her heel before her tears belie how deeply Emma’s actions have cut her, and stalks out of the sheriff’s office, leaving Emma with a rapidly deflating sense of self-righteous indignation, and a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.