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The Favor

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Title Graphic: The Favor or What's a Girl Like You Doing on a (White) Knight Like This?

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The Favor
Or
What’s a Girl Like You Doing On a (White) Knight Like This?

------------------------------

Chapter One

“You owe me,” Emma Swan insisted while her request still hung in the air. She tried to appear nonchalant, but her voice came out a little higher pitched than normal and she felt the muscle under her right eye twitch gently. Stress was definitely getting to her. Meanwhile, despite her best intentions, her gaze slid over the well-defined cleavage playing peakaboo behind a barely buttoned silk blouse and black lace bra. On anyone else, the look would have been either tacky or slutty. On Regina Mills, it somehow became downright regal.

It also failed to do anything positive for Emma’s blood pressure and stress issues. Different cause, true, but stress was stress and the appeal of Regina’s cleavage was decidedly stressful.

On so very many levels.

Then Regina waved a hand and spoke, forcing Emma’s attention back to the subject at hand, which — for good or ill — was not the cleavage on display.

“In what universe—” the other woman demanded “—do I owe you anything, much less...” She trailed off, shaking her head in disbelief, too shocked by what Emma had asked of her to manage her usual level of snarkiness. She stared at the other woman as though she’d lost her mind — which, in Regina’s opinion, was a distinct possibility — as she took a moment to gather herself. Finally, she leaned over the Formica-topped table that sat between them, her voice dropping low as she noted that the few diners at Granny’s were surreptitiously paying attention to the discussion in the back booth. “Much less, my participation in some bizarre plot to pretend that you and I are...” She paused momentarily and dropped her voice  another notch, forcing Emma to lean closer. This really wasn’t something either of them wanted overheard. True, the lunch rush was over, but the diner was far from empty. “...are somehow ... romantically ... involved...”

“First off, you owe me in this universe ... or realm ... or whatever—” Emma shot back quickly if somewhat vaguely and waved a hand in a gesture meant to dismiss any complaints as insignificant “—because of ... y’know, lost childhood, no parents, occasional murder attempt, blah-blah-blah.” Amazing the things one could become blasé about over time. Pressing forward, she lowered her own voice another notch in hopes of keeping the conversation at least somewhat private. Though, as she thought about it, choosing Granny’s for this little request might not have been her best choice if keeping the wrong kind of speculation  under control had been a prime consideration. A tiny shudder worked its way down her spine as she considered the results if her plan got out. Oh, that would be bad. Very bad. Then she remembered that her other thought had been that being seen together would work in her favor. They just had to be careful not to let the actual reason get out. She glanced around herself, noting the place was nearly empty and thank god, nobody too close. The biggest question mark was Leroy who was sitting in a booth at the other end of the diner, trying desperately to look like he wasn’t watching them as closely as he was.

That could work if played right. The dwarf was the biggest gossip in town. Of course, that also meant that if played wrong, she was doomed.

“Miss Swan,” Regina began, her tone sharp, diction perfect even at near-inaudible levels, “if it’s a matter of dueling sins, there are the small matters of a lost soulmate, a dead fiancé, dead mother, several thrown punches, not to mention a wrongful murder charge, breaking and entering my office, and—“

”I didn’t actually do most of that,” Emma broke in to point out, though she left out that most of the punches had been self defense anyway, and the lost soulmate — okay, so she’d done that, but she’d been trying to do the right thing at the time, and the breaking and entering, well, it wasn’t like she actually stole anything, just nosed around a bit.  As for Cora, the less said about that the better. “And anyway, aren’t we all just trying to get along now?” she asked in an effort to change tack before all the thoughts running through her head started bubbling out despite her best efforts.

“And you think this would help?” Regina rolled her eyes and muttered several insults under her breath. Emma thought she made out something about, “Certain apples not falling far from the tree of absolutely no knowledge, logic, or common sense either.” Well, at least Regina was getting back to proper form in the wake of the whole Robin Hood fiasco.

Emma sighed heavily and trailed a fingertip through the condensation on her glass. A quick glance up through thick lashes confirmed what she’d already instinctively known— judging by her expression, Regina thought she should be committed. “Look—” she said as she squared her shoulders and forged ahead “—the honest truth is Hook’s driving me nuts—”

”Yes—” Regina interrupted in hopes of cutting the whining short “—I gathered. What I don’t understand is why you think this asinine plan is the right response.” She shook her head. “Why not just tell him no? As in, ‘No, I don’t want you, no, I don’t love you, and no, I am certainly not going to sleep with you.’” Particularly that last one. The second one too. And... Oh hell, all of them, really. Regina hated the idea of Emma and that ... that ... pirate. He was so utterly undeserving. Not to mention rude, crude, excessively lewd, excessively over-confident and excessively fond of his rum. She loathed rum.

It was Emma’s turn to roll her eyes as she let out a very unladylike snort. “You think I haven’t tried that?” she demanded. “I did ... loudly and repeatedly ... and it was like...” she trailed off and shook her head helplessly. “It was like yelling at a wall,” she explained after a beat. “I mean, go ahead and knock yourself out, but don’t expect much of a response.” Another head shake, then she kicked back a swallow of her Coke even as she wished it had something a bit stronger in it. Or even better, something a lot stronger. Or even better still, simply was something a lot stronger, no Coke need apply. “He’s making me crazy,” she whined when she finally set the glass back down.

“Yes, I comprehend that,” Regina muttered. “But I still don’t understand why it’s my problem.”

“Y’ever see a Warner Brothers’ cartoon?” Emma asked after a beat. “Y’know, Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner?”

After a brief headshake indicating a painful degree of whiplash over the abrupt subject change, Regina stared at her with an expression that suggested she was contemplating what size Emma would need in jackets with extra longs sleeves that buckled in back. Finally, she took a breath and started to ask, “What possible—”

“Just answer the question,” Emma cut her off. She had a plan for explaining things in a way that would make Regina see her plan in an all new light and while it probably stunk, she was going with it and in no way, manner, or form was she going to let a little thing like Regina’s preference for logic derail it.

Logic, she had come to understand, had no place in dealing with Killian Jones, and probably, if she was honest, precious little to do with anything else in Storybrooke either. Actually, if she was honest, the most rational person in the place was probably the former Evil Queen. Which, now that she thought about it, was kinda scary.

“With Henry sometimes ... yes,” Regina answered uncertainly, still confused over what cartoons had to do with anything other than possibly the fact that Hook appeared to be a walking, talking character out of one. She had a sudden mental image of the pirate as a badly rendered animated character, wavy stink rays coming off his unlaundered leather, and tiny flies, attracted by the stench, buzzing around his head. In her imagination, he seemed fond of them, like they were pets or better yet, little, flying crewmates. That would work. A cartoon built around Hook and his tiny band of seafaring houseflies — no, fleas, she decided, fleas were much more apropos — off having cheerful, if rather smelly adventures. Adventures that took them far — very far — from Storybrooke. Maybe if she called a network executive she could—

“You ever watch Pepé Le Pew?” Emma questioned, yanking Regina out of her musings.

“What? I ... uh...”

“He’s a Warner’s character ... cartoon skunk,” Emma explained. “French accent, romantically inclined.”

Regina blinked, a vague memory asserting itself. “Maybe,” she muttered. “I think that’s the one Henry hated. He thought it was boring.”

Despite everything, Emma chuckled. That sounded about right given that he was only just barely deciding that girls were kinda, maybe, not the worst scourge in the universe. “So they all start pretty much the same. There’s this black cat and somehow she accidently winds up with a white stripe down her back and Pepé thinks she’s a skunk ... the sexiest, most desirable skunk ever ... and so he goes in hot pursuit ... proclaiming his ... y’know ... true love or something...” As the words left Emma’s mouth and she saw the expression on Regina’s face, the ridiculousness of this effort struck her and she almost surrendered, but something drove her to keep trying. “He drives her crazy ... I mean, he won’t stop and that poor damn cat gets this look ... panicked ... terrorized even ... like she’s about to jump out of her skin, but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care that he’s making her insane. He just keeps cheerfully bouncing after her and at some point ... it’s just sick and painful to watch...”

Regina just stared.

Emma paused to take a deep breath and marshal herself. “Lately...” she whispered after a long moment, the words coming in halting bursts that stopped and started with little rhyme or reason. “Lately ... when I look in the mirror ... I see that cat looking back.” She dropped her face into her hands. “And I’m just ... I’m not...”  

Utter silence.

Finally, she looked up. “I’m not a skunk, Regina ... I’m just not.”  More time passed while Emma sat expecting to hear the most cutting remark that could possibly be delivered in the face of such a proclamation.

Strangely, none was forthcoming.

“I just...” Emma repeated when the silence became too suffocating, “...I’m so not a skunk ... I thought I could be a skunk ... but I’m just ... just ... not...”

“I...” Regina started to answer only to realize she had absolutely no idea how to respond. Obviously, Emma’s example was a metaphor, but precisely what for, she wasn’t entirely certain, definitely more than just being pursued by someone she wasn’t interested in, but what exactly escaped her. Sadly, it didn’t seem to involve Hook’s body odor issues, no matter how appropriate that might be.

However, be that as it may, she firmly reminded herself as she resisted the urge to get further swept into Emma Swan’s life, it was not her problem, no matter how much she detested the one-handed wonder and considered him entirely unworthy of the Savior. No more. She had already had more than enough stress and heartache thanks to the blonde. She was not signing up for any more. She was just drawing breath to repeat that mantra out loud when the blonde let out a tiny, itty-bitty, little, long-suffering whimper.

Regina’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click of her teeth.

This situation would have been so much simpler in her Evil Queen days. Just shout, Off with his head, and the whole thing would have been dealt with in no more time than it took to summon her headsman. “You know, dear, I could...” She let the sentence trail off suggestively and summoned a small fireball in the palm of her hand.

Emma lost all color and shook her head. “I don’t want him hurt,” she insisted. “At least not much...”

A dark eyebrow arched high as Regina considered that information.

“And no magic ... no burning, shocking, poofing or otherwise using the dark arts. I don’t want him dead ... just gone ... or at least bothering someone else.”

The eyebrow climbed another notch and Regina leaned a bit closer as she snuffed the fireball with a lazy wave of her hand. “Then why come to me?” she questioned, because the one thing, perhaps the only thing, she could see that she brought to the table in this situation was magic. She could force Captain Smelly Pants to go away, stay away, and be grateful he hadn’t been immolated before he could leave. “Surely there’s some man in this town who would happily—”

“Tried that,” Emma broke in before she could get any further. “Hook wouldn’t believe me.” She snorted something about, “Egotistical jackass,” under her breath before adding, “Apparently he doesn’t consider any of them hot enough to be adequate competition. His words,” she added, “not mine.” Hook had recently discovered the word ‘hot’ as applied to sex appeal — Emma was certain several dwarves were involved and she was going to get them for that — and much like any adolescent boy insisted on using it incessantly.

“Okay, soooo...”

“In fact—” Emma continued as though Regina hadn’t started to speak.

And now that Regina looked close, she noted there was something vaguely panicky-feral-cat-like about Emma’s expression.

“—Hook specifically mentioned that you are the only person in town even remotely close to as hot as he is—”

“Close to?” Regina growled, offended by the notion he considered himself in her class. She had that smarmy, guyliner-wearing, leather-boy beat six ways to Sunday on smell alone. If one included looks, style, or fashion sense, he wasn’t even close enough to see her dust.

“Well, other than my father,” Emma continued. “That’s what he said ... my father...” Lost in her own personal unwanted-relationship hell, she never noticed the way the other woman grumbled several choice invectives under her breath. Emma held her hands out in a halting motion as a shudder worked its way through her. “And that’s ... disturbing ... because I think he’s having fantasies about being the filling in some weird father-daughter ... sandwich ... that I just ... I...” Another shudder ran through her.

Even Regina freaked out on that one. “Okay, that’s ... just ... wrong.” God knew, Regina had some kinks, fairly kinky kinks even — her extensive collection of black leather and history of discovering form-fitting lacquered spandex in a world where the spinning wheel was the height of textile technology proved that much — but ... no. Just... No.

Then again...

She had a brief vision of Charming’s face if he knew about Hook’s apparent proclivities where he was concerned. Okay, so that was actually pretty funny, because horrified didn’t begin to describe David’s likely reaction. She was fairly comfortable that Charming — much like Snow White — did not have kinks, not even tiny, only faintly bendy ones, and certainly not any that involved black leather and other men. Vanilla ice cream was probably kinky by that pair’s standards. Unfortunately, the humorous consideration of Charming’s mortification led to the far, far less humorous consideration of the Charmings’ marital coital “bliss”. Probably, pleases, and thank yous, and may Is, and why don’t you be on top tonight, no, oh-love-of-my-life, you be on top. Or maybe they just always opted for equitably lying on their sides with as little friction as possible and lots of talk, all of it clean and utterly respectable.

Her stomach did a barrel roll as her gag reflex threatened to kick in.

She realized she’d lost the thread of the conversation a beat later as she noted Emma staring expectantly at her. “Ahm...”

“Please,” Emma begged with the sort of look kittens probably used when trying to avoid being tossed in a burlap bag and thrown in the river.

Sighing softly, Regina decided she rather missed her old self. The Evil Queen wouldn’t have given it a second thought, just a quick lob and a splash and never look back — not that she’d actually thrown any kittens in any rivers. They’d never threatened her rule and besides she liked cats. They were smart, manipulative, self-centered and prone to leave claw marks on anyone who annoyed them. In short, kindred spirits.

Annoying, overly perfect, entirely too-heroic blondes on the other hand? Tossing them in rivers was the least of what she’d enjoyed. She sighed softly. Those were the days. No awkward refusals of assistance to pathetic-eyed waifs.  She really hated awkward. It was so very ... awkward. “Miss Swan,” she said at last. Yes, she felt sorry for the other woman, but really, the two of them? Even if they were faking? No. She opened her mouth to refuse—

“It would mean Henry didn’t see him anymore,” Emma inserted quickly, hoping that might do the trick.

Regina’s teeth clacked together. Again. Okay, so that was a benefit she hadn’t considered. Granted, Henry was rapidly outgrowing the pirate — she figured he’d be much too mature for Hook well before his thirteenth birthday — but she wouldn’t mind ending that “friendship” sooner rather than later, if only to make certain the boy didn’t pick up any bad personal hygiene habits. “If I were to agree to this...” she said after a beat, holding up a hand in a halting motion when Emma opened her mouth, clearly intent on pressing forward. “I said, if,” Regina pointed out, her tone sharp enough to make the blonde pull up short. “There would be several conditions.”

“Like?” Emma asked cautiously.

“One ... we tell Henry the truth,” Regina said sharply. “I promised him I wouldn’t lie to him again, so that’s a dealbreaker. And by the way, we also tell him this idiocy was your idea, so he doesn’t blame me if it blows up.”

Emma took a breath, thought about it a moment, then nodded. “Agreed.” She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, but since she wasn’t comfortable lying to the kid either, truth was probably the best option.

“Two ... we don’t tell your parents—”

“Now, wait a minute,” Emma broke in. “I don’t want to lie to them either.”

Rolling her eyes, Regina snorted in annoyance, her tone sharp when she spoke. “Need I remind you of your mother’s capacity for keeping a secret ... or rather, the lack thereof?”

Emma drew in a breath to respond only to pull up short and let it out in a huff. “Point,” she allowed. Her shoulders sagged. “Agreed.” Besides, they actually seemed supportive of her being with Hook, so there was some question in her mind about how much help they’d be.

“And as an addenda to that—” Regina continued, blood red lips curving into a feral, but disturbingly charismatic smile “—I get to be there when you tell them.” Her grin broadened another notch. “In fact, I think the first thing we should do is schedule a lovely family dinner—”

“Regina...” Emma said on a warning note. “I’m not asking you to do this so you can get your kicks by torturing my parents.”

Regina’s smile shifted, not so wide now, but lazily sensual. “No, that’s the benefits part of this fake friends-with-benefits plan you’ve proposed.”

“Dammit, Regina,” Emma hissed, suddenly wondering if she’d lost her mind by even considering this idea.

A quick wave brushed the topic aside. “Oh, relax,” the dark-haired woman dismissed Emma’s worries. “I’m only thinking of what’s best for your little plan—”

“Yeah, right,” Emma snorted. “Look, I wasn’t asking for a major relationship ... just that we hang out a little, maybe get drinks a couple of times at the Rabbit Hole, a few hourly rentals at Granny’s—”

Regina snapped forward, leaning into Emma’s space, voice hard, expression serious. “I will not play the part of your little bit on the side,” she spat, eyes blazing. “If we do this, we do it in a manner that does not leave our son embarrassed by our behavior.”

Emma lurched back. She hadn’t really thought of it that way.

Catching herself, Regina pulled back and took a deep breath. “Storybrooke isn’t like the outside world,” she pointed out more calmly. “There’s still a lot of the old country here. Enough  people will have a hard time with the fact we’re both women — not many, but enough — act like that and there will be ugly whispers and Henry will hear them — trust me, there are individuals who will make certain of it. I have no intention of exposing him to that.”

Emma deflated, feeling faintly overwhelmed as it occurred to her this was more complicated than she’d initially imagined. She reached up to massage her temple and was about to suggest they just discard the whole idea when Regina spoke again, her voice softer, almost soothing.

But if your parents are involved... If you’re seen seeking their approval... ” The lazy, sensual smile returned. “That changes things ... sends the message we’re doing it the right way. No one’s likely to question it then ... including your little pirate.”

“He’s not my pirate.”

Regina smirked. “Perhaps not,” she allowed. “But he is your problem.” She peered down at the Formica, idly drawing random patterns with the tip of a finger. “And because of Henry, mine as well.” She looked up. “Which leads us to my next demand.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Emma admitted.

“Our breakup.”

Blonde brows shot up and full lips formed an O of surprise. “Thinking ahead, I see.” Emma was startled to realize it stung a little that Regina was already planning her exit from their fake relationship. Which was faintly insane any way she looked at it.

“I’m assuming you don’t wish to make it permanent?” Regina said, her tone a razor’s edge of sarcasm.

“Of course not—”

“Then we need a plan, because I have enough problems in this town. I have no desire to be the woman who broke the Savior’s heart. However—” she added when Emma drew breath to speak “—neither do I desire to be the butt of the sort of jokes the likes of Leroy have been telling since the ‘incident’ with Marian and Robin.”

Emma flinched. That had gotten pretty cruel. “All right, what do you propose?”

“We tell everyone that it just didn’t work. We weren’t compatible, but we’ve agreed to remain...” She paused as she considered her terms. “Friends,” Regina said at last, her smile taking on the perfunctory, Madame-Mayor quality that signaled her emotional walls were firmly in place.

For reasons she wasn’t ready to consider, Emma hated that distant, professional, faux-friendly façade. It always made her want to grab the other woman and shake her until she started acting like herself again, even if acting like herself meant hurling fireballs at all and sundry. Overly-polite, bland, political-animal Regina was safer in some respects, but she was also all kinds of wrong.

“For Henry’s sake,” Regina added, still using that same neutral tone. “Though...” she added thoughtfully.

“What?” Emma demanded.

“As I think about it, perhaps you should shoulder a bit more of the responsibility for things going south.”

Rolling her eyes in annoyance, Emma heaved a sigh. “What happened to incompatible and staying friends?”

“It occurred to me that this town will assign me the lion’s share of blame, no matter what story we tell,” Regina pointed out, her tone practical, though it seemed to Emma that there was something tired and a little worn in her gaze. “I merely thought that if you were willing to allow as to how your own behavior might have contributed to the breakup, perhaps I would not be held one hundred percent responsible.” She shook her head, waving the idea off with a disgusted snort. “Forget it. It’s—”

“I’ll do it,” Emma broke in. Regina was right. No matter how things were couched, she’d bear the brunt of any disapproval. As that realization swept over her, she was ashamed to admit she hadn’t really considered the personal cost of her request.

Brown eyes tipped up and Regina’s expression registered a mix of suspicion and gratitude.

“It’s only fair,” Emma added. “After all, I’m the one asking you to do me a favor.”

“Indeed,” Regina agreed, her tone reserved. She was silent for a long moment, her gaze distant and unfocused. Finally, she blinked, straightening her shoulders as she seemingly shook off the momentary daze. A beat, then brown eyes tipped up, focusing on Emma with laser intensity. “There is one more thing we need to ... establish,” she said so softly Emma had to lean forward to hear her.

“What now?” Emma groused. “I have to wash your car every weekend for a year?”

Regina snorted. “As if I’d let you touch the Benz, dear,” she drawled through a wry smirk. “No, what I’m thinking is rather more practical.”

Emma suddenly became aware that somewhere during their conversation Regina’s hand had come to rest over hers and her thumb was stroking lightly. Her gaze dropped and she took in the image as though it was someone else's hand the former Evil Queen was gently fondling. Odd how a woman known for razing the land could have such a light touch when she wanted. As Emma watched, slim fingers began tracing lazy figure-eights across her knuckles, the motion slow and random. “Regina?” she croaked, her tone a mix of questioning and panicked.

The ambling caresses continued unabated, each brush enough to leave Emma intensely aware of warmth and softness and the beat of her own heart. She swallowed hard.

“Yes, dear?” Regina said at last.

“I ... uh ... what are you...” The question faded into a soft gasp as Regina broke contact with her hand and reached out, drawing her fingers along the line of Emma’s jaw to bring her chin up before briefly stroking her lower lip, then the rise of her cheekbone on the way to tucking a few strands of pale hair behind her ear.

A suggestive smile made its way across crimson lips and the brunette leaned closer. “You don’t really think anyone will believe this little ruse if we don’t appear to have a certain level of...” she paused as she considered terms before finally deciding on, “interest in one another.” The finger tucked behind Emma’s ear slipped free, then skimmed along her jawline and down her throat on the return journey.  The contact broke just before reaching her collar, then Regina lowered her hand back down to rest over Emma’s.

Heat trails burning streaks on her skin everywhere Regina had touched, her brain caught in a fog of confusion, Emma bumbled then aborted an effort at a response. “You ... ahm ... that was ... uh...” She exhaled hard, then swallowed harder as she began tapping a restless, random pattern on the table top with her fingers. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the clatter of a bell as the door to Granny’s swung open, then closed again.

“Well, that should make things easier,” Regina drawled as her smile took on a subtle twist that shifted it from sensual to mocking.

It took several blinks to parse the words, but finally Emma threw off the clinging haze of ... whatever the hell it was. “What?” she demanded, barely resisting the urge to look over her shoulder where brown eyes were still focused. It probably wasn’t a good thing that resisting temptation was made easier when Regina shifted and her cleavage started doing the whole come hither, peakaboo thing again. Actually, when she thought about it, it wasn’t so much resisting temptation as giving way to a much greater temptation, but sometimes you take what you can get. Despite knowing there were a thousand reasons she shouldn’t stare, Emma couldn’t take her eyes off the sight.

“Leroy just took off at a dead run,” Regina deadpanned. “I give it a day before the story’s around town.”

Talk about zero to sixty. Regina had just returned the favor for any earlier whiplash moments she’d suffered in their conversation. Emma blinked as she struggled to keep up. “You ... uh ... you mean he thinks—”

“Think?” Regina repeated doubtfully, one eyebrow climbing high on her forehead. “While I personally would question Leroy’s ability to engage in that activity, his skills as a town crier are not the least in doubt.” She leaned back, folding her arms across her chest as full lips twisted into a knowing smirk. “And yes, unless I’m vastly mistaken, his current cry is likely to run along the lines of, ‘Twelve o’clock and the Evil Queen is seducing the Savior at Granny’s.’” She rolled her eyes. “Which, by the way, is the very last place I would opt to seduce someone were I so inclined.” She ran a finger along the edge of the table, noted the gathered dust and shuddered delicately. She flicked it off with a look of disdain. “Very, very last place.”

“Uh ... yeah ... I ... uh ... yeah...” Emma stammered uncertainly. Realizing she was sounding like the idiot Regina frequently called her, she took a deep breath and consciously settled herself. “So I guess this means you’re on board for Operation UnHooked?”

Regina smirked and slim shoulders rose and dipped in a small shrug. “If that’s what it takes to get Hook away from Henry—” and keep him out of your bed, she mentally amended even as she reassured herself it was just because he was utterly unworthy of the Savior, and really, what she actually meant was he was unworthy of playing any kind of parental role to Henry “—then I suppose it’s worth the sacrifice.” She deliberately kept her tone blasé almost to the point of disinterest.

Emma froze for a moment, then shook off the haze. “I ... uh...” Well, mostly shook off the haze anyway. She was still considering her options and trying to come up with a vaguely intelligent response, when Ruby abruptly appeared beside their table.

“Hey, Em,” the waitress said, her tone cautious, though her eyes were bright and curious as she studied the two women, her nose twitching ever so slightly.

Saved by the bell, Emma thought when Ruby paused for longer than necessary.  “Yeah, Rubes, something I can do  for you?”

“Yeah, sorry to disturb your lunch.” As she spoke, Ruby’s gaze kept flicking back and forth between Emma and Regina. “But ... um...” She looked uncomfortable, then explained in a rush. “Charlie’s out back again ... and he’s ... y’know ... and it’s freaking Granny out.”

Knick-Knack?” Emma asked.

Mouth pursed into a moue of distaste, Ruby nodded.

Emma pushed up from the booth. “This’ll just take a few minutes,” she told Regina by way of apology, then shook her head and peered at Ruby. “Please tell me he’s only on his shoe,” she begged.

The waitress’ cheeks pinked even more. “Ah, no. It’s definitely headed more northward.”

Emma winced. “I liked that song a lot more before I knew what paddywhack meant.

“Not to mention, ‘Give the dog a bone,’” Regina quipped.

Emma glared. “I hate you.”

Regina didn’t reply, but her chuckle followed Emma as she trailed after Ruby through the kitchen and out the back.

* * * * * * *

To Be Continued