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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

Chapter Text

 

Stepping into the alley behind the diner, Emma sighed softly as she noted the elderly figure already well into his routine. This was not going to be fun. At least not for her. Judging by the way Ruby was giggling, she was planning on enjoying the show. At least there were no dogs around. The Storybrooke strays had learned to give this sort of thing a wide berth. That could only be good.

Her target, one Charlie DeVille, aka ‘This Old Man,’ was indeed elderly, a wizened codger who looked to be about a hundred and twelve. Unfortunately, he moved like a five year-old hyped on Sugar Bombs and Mountain Dew.

Seeing Emma, he giggled and danced well out of reach.

"Dammit, Charlie," Emma called out as she hurried after him. "You know it upsets Granny when you don’t wear pants."

God, her job could be weird some days.

He sing-songed something about his sticks which Emma tried desperately not to hear, dodged her lunging grab, then did a shoulder roll that would have done Kirk-era Shatner proud.

Emma hit the dirt and skidded, spitting dust as she slid to a halt. “So much for rolling home,” she grumbled.

Charlie disappeared behind a nearby dumpster with a happy titter. He was definitely having way too much fun

Pushing back to her feet, Emma tried to block off his escape route, but suddenly he was on top, then doing a rolling tumble through the air right over her head.

He landed a good fifteen feet away. Apparently the five year-old sugar rusher was also a Flying Wallenda.

Somewhere in the background, Ruby giggled.

"Et tu, Rube?" Emma deadpanned, then swung her attention back to her prey as he chanted his latest rhyme and dove after a new toy. Emma popped up, waving her finger at him. "Charlie, you leave that chicken alone!"

"Ten — Hen!" the codger corrected and lunged.

The chicken escaped his hold in an angry flutter of wings and wild squawks.

"Thank god for that," Emma muttered. Arresting someone on a charge of chicken-molesting would be odd even for Storybrooke. Then muttering was no longer an option as Charlie took off after something new. "Dammit, Charlie, you know how John Tailor hates it when you do that to his — STOP THAT!"

He reached twenty-four before Emma caught him.

Which actually wasn’t bad. He’d made it to ninety-six once with David in pursuit.

Mind you, she felt slightly in need of a shower after a few of his more creative rhymes. Ones that, thankfully, had never made it into the children’s version of the song.

Without losing her tight grip on his upper arm, she caught the clothes Ruby tossed her way with her free hand. "Pants!" she ordered. "Now!"

Grumbling about the lack of appreciation for fine music, Charlie nonetheless yanked on enough clothing to cease offending Granny, who’d poked her head out a couple of times and threatened to shoot any loose bits she saw dangling. Thankfully, she hadn’t actually fired. The last thing they needed was flying arrows added to the mix. That could get ugly.

Emma considered Charlie naked.

Well, uglier.

"Now go home," she said in a voice meant to be as commanding and threatening as possible, though she suspected came out more pleading and begging from the way Ruby snickered.

"Rolling home?" Charlie asked, eyes alight.

Rolling her eyes, Emma nodded. "Rolling, running, walking, I don’t care. Just. Go. Home." Charlie flashed a huge grin, then went capering off, trilling new verses all the way. "And keep your pants on!" Emma yelled after him.

He just giggled.

"You know he’s gonna be naked and bouncing around the streets in an hour or two, right?" Ruby drawled as Emma turned her way.

"Yeah," Emma admitted with a shrug and a vague gesture in the direction he’d taken off. "But he’s headed toward the Widow Spratt’s place and she never complains...actually..." She paused to consider before continuing, "I think she kinda likes it." She rubbed the back of her neck to ease some of the tension. "Y’know how she likes ‘em ... scrawny and weird."

Ruby did a doubletake that bordered on comical. "Okay, that’s just soooo ... wrong."

"Can’t argue that," Emma agreed as she took a moment to straighten her ruffled clothes.

Ruby watched with a raised brow as Emma smoothed and retucked everything that had gotten out of place during her tussles with Charlie. "Sooo..." She flashed a quick glance toward the diner. "Umm..."

Emma noted the meaningful glance and the way Ruby’s nose and ears seemed to twitch. Looking down, she redoubled the attention to getting everything back in place in hopes werewolf-girl would take the hint.

No such luck. "You and the queen..." Ruby murmured, trailing off suggestively as she peered at Emma.

Damn. Afraid of what Ruby might have heard or seen, Emma struggled to blank her expression. "Yeah?" After all, if wolf-sharp ears had picked up on the fake relationship, it could be problematic. No way, one her mother’s oldest friends would keep quiet about the con job they were trying to pull off.

Ruby pursed her lips. She’d been hoping for a quick confession, not the studied disinterest Emma turned her way. "C’mon, Emma, What do you think your mom and dad are gonna say?"

Double-damn. Feeling a flush crawling over her cheekbones, Emma shook her head. "I’m not sure what you’re asking?" she mumbled with the least believable innocent look ever.

A dark eyebrow arched high and Ruby heaved a sigh. "Emma," she chastised gently and folded her arms across her chest.

Feeling about five, Emma wilted, but tried to hold her ground. "I’m still not sure what your problem is," she stammered, fairly certain she looked as guilty as she felt from the heavy sigh Ruby released.

A second dark eyebrow rose to join the first high on Ruby’s forehead. "That little hand-sex thing."

Any denials died on Emma’s lips and she pulled up short.

"You two would’ve had to be naked for it to be any more obvious," Ruby added with a pointed look.

Fully expecting to be called out on her plot to unHook herself, Emma could only blink. Huh?

"Not to mention the pheromones floating around you would have been obvious to any of the animal-folk in town."

More blinking.

"Oh, and unless I’m mistaken, Leroy figured it out, so it’s not gonna be a secret much longer."

"You ... uh ... you think Regina and I—"

"Yeah," Ruby cut her off sarcastically, then shook her head. "I know you probably think you’re hiding it well, but lemme tell you, you’re not." She rolled her eyes. "And the whole fake relationship thing with Hook ... that’s just dumb."

"Dumb?" Emma exhaled.

"Yeah," Ruby assured her as though she was just a little slow. "Yeah, he’s pretty, but nobody in town buys that you’re actually into that idiot, especially with him so overplaying the whole True Love thing." That earned another eye roll. "Honestly, I don’t know how much you’re paying him, but he’s not helping ... especially since it’s obvious he’s way more into David."

"My dad?" Emma whimpered. She’d really hoped she was wrong about that suspicion.

"Don’t worry," Ruby snorted. "David hasn’t figured it out." She snickered softly. "He’d still be hyperventilating if he had ... and Mary Margaret..." She abruptly snapped her mouth shut and shook her head. "That doesn’t matter." She waved the topic off.

Emma considered asking only to decide she didn’t want to know. Really. Did. Not. Want. To. Know.

"Look, Emma, I’m not trying to tell you to break up or anything, but you’ve gotta tell ‘em before they find out the hard way." She flashed a quick look at the diner over her shoulder. "And you know Regina’s gonna make it as hard as she can if she gets the chance ... no matter how into you she is. That’s just who she is."

Still processing the whole conversation, Emma shook her head slowly as she muttered the first thought she could afford to share with her mother’s friend. "So you don’t think she’s trying to play me or manipulate things or anything?"

That got a wry laugh. "With the way her hormones were flowing — and trust me, despite the whole boobs on parade thing she did as the Evil Queen, that’s not normal for her — I think the only thing she was trying to manipulate was you ... outa your clothes."

The blush was back in spades as Emma felt her cheeks heat up until they were probably redder than her jacket. "I ... uh ... it’s just—"

"Just tell ‘em, Emma." Ruby insisted, then pointed at the back door. "Though you might wanna warn her highness first because ... y’know ... blood, death, doom, destruction, not to mention removal of affection ... surgically."

Emma swallowed hard, but nodded and followed Ruby inside, still not entirely certain what had just happened.

They’d only gone a few feet when a sound echoed through the diner like some hideously deformed thing died or was being tortured or possibly was enjoying some weird sexual activity way too much. One never knew in Storybrooke.

HORNK!!

"What—" Ruby began.

"The hell?" Emma finished as she darted past the waitress. Hand on her service weapon, she rushed through the kitchen and into the main dining room, fully expecting to come up against the latest dragon, witch, or other fairy tale creature out on a toot.

Instead she found Regina Mills, standing next to the booth they’d shared, shaking her right hand gently as though trying to resettle the bones. The look on her face was best described as thunderous.

HORNK!!

Weapon half drawn, Emma stormed forward several more steps, then pulled up short as she rounded the end of the lunch counter and got a look at what had made the godawful sound. Not a monster, thankfully. Not even a particularly impressive human, just Killian Jones — though he preferred Hook — on the floor on his backside, holding his nose and staring, wide-eyed, up at Regina.

"By nothe," the pirate squawked.

The words were so mutilated by whatever Regina had done that it took Emma an extra moment to parse the meaning. Oh, his nose.

"You ‘it by nothe."

Regina hit his nose. Emma tamped down some very naughty feelings of envy as she eased her weapon back into the holster.

"And I’ll do it again if you ever—" Regina started to threaten only to have her voice drowned out as Hook repeated the awful sound.

HORNK!!

Seeing a flicker of fire appear in Regina’s left palm, Emma hurried forward. "What’s going on here?"

"This, this ... pirate—" Regina snarled and pointed at Hook, so furious she could barely speak "—dared to—"

HORNK!!

Regina made an inarticulate sound of rage as she was interrupted by another of Hook’s sinus-clearing sounds, and lunged.

Emma leapt forward, interposing between the two of them, intensely aware as she did so, of the sleek curves that collided with her back. Shaking the woman off, she spun and fixed a hard gaze on the former Evil Queen. "Regina," she said simply, the single word demanding an explanation.

"You said no magic," the brunette pouted. "You never said no hitting."

"Really?" Emma questioned, her tone thick with sarcasm. "That’s your defense?" She’d thought some things were implied. Apparently not.

She got a defiant eyeroll and shrug in return. "You said I couldn’t hurt him ... much." The former queen leaned to one side to peer at the pirate over Emma’s shoulder. "His whining aside, I didn’t hurt him ... much."

Glaring, Emma pivoted to find that Killian, sensing that she wouldn’t let Regina simply immolate him — no matter how much fun it might be — bounded to his feet remarkably quickly for someone who appeared to be trying to claim a broken nose.

"All Ah did wuzsh zshay how glad I wuzsh to hear L’roy’s newzsh," he slurred, though how much of the mushiness was due to his nose injury and how much was due to the volume of rum he imbibed on a daily basis, it was hard to say.

Then he grinned and ran his gaze over Emma with enough intensity to leave her feeling in dire need of a shower, and not the cold kind either, but rather the boiling hot, scrub-till-you-bleed kind.

"I assure you, that is not all he said," Regina snarled and moved as if to step around Emma.

The blonde held both arms out to her side to block her. "You stay back there," she ordered with a quick, quelling glance.

"Dow, dow, lub," Hook drawled as he eyed Regina with the same urge-for-a-shower inducing look he’d directed at Emma earlier.

Emma just barely controlled the urge to knock him back on his ass.

"Tha’ pazhion—" Hook blithely continued "—izh a big part of duh Ebil Queen’zh appeal—" He twisted his mouth into a grin Emma was certain was meant to appear seductive.

Mostly it just looked really, really creepy.

"—‘N’ why I’m zho glad zhe’zh join’d our l’il..." He paused, appearing to consider terms, then abruptly—

HORNK!!

Something thumb sized, slimy, and colored in shades of red and green hit the floor near Ruby with an audible splat. The waitress leapt back with a yelp. "Oh god, that’s gross." She peered at it more closely, considered the problem for a moment and backed up another step. It appeared to be moving on its own. Even by Enchanted Forest standards that was odd.

Hook, meanwhile, offered a bleary grin. "Muzsh better," he mumbled, his voice not so nasal, but still very slurred. Apparently the speech issue was mostly the rum. "Azsh I wazsh zshaying—" he explained cheerfully "—Zsho glad you’ve invited th’ queen to join our li’l luv affair."

"Love affair?" Emma repeated as she shook her head in denial.

"Join?" Regina snarled.

Emma braced against the lunge that followed. They struggled briefly, finally winding up with the queen’s arms wrapped around Emma, her hands pinned solidly against the Savior to prevent her from casting or going after Killian with her fists.

Killian’s gaze grew distant as he expounded on his view of things. "Izsh perfec’," he mumbled happily. "Th’ Savior on one side, ‘n’ th’ Evil Queen on th’ other ... both worzshippin’ me—"

"Let me kill him," Regina requested, still trying to twist her hands free. "It’s justifiable homicide—"

"No killing," Emma insisted, though she understood the impulse.

Frustrated beyond belief, Regina growled — an actual, low-pitched, do-a-tiger-proud growl.

Killian heard the sound even in his drunken state. It made him smile fondly as his gaze fell on the queen. "Aww, c’mon, Regina ... ‘s’ no zshame bein’ in luv w’me ... I’m a fine spezsh’men of a man," He winked. "‘N’ I promizsh you’ll have plen’y of op-oppo-opportuniteezsh to fenzsh w’my zshword."

As he spoke he stared at Regina with a look that threatened to make Emma rethink her no-killing stance.

Growling insults under her breath, Regina made another bid for freedom, but Emma only forced her palms inward and pressed her hands tighter against her body, denying any hope of casting or escaping. "Dammit," the brunette snapped. "Let me go."

"You know I can’t," Emma pointed out. "You’ll just kill him."

"Precisely," Regina agreed cheerfully.

Hook, meanwhile, continued to babble. "Kill me withz pl—" he hiccupped "—pleazshure." He leered happily, clearly proud of himself. "‘ll be burnin’ up th’ sheets."

After another failed attempt to twist free, Regina hissed something unintelligible under her breath, then surrendered. "Fine. No killing." No longer fighting the pressure pinning her arms against Emma’s body, she leaned against the blonde, deliberately resting her chin on the other woman’s shoulder.

"Regina," Emma whispered, her tone a mix of curiosity, threat, and fear.

"Change of plans," was all the warning Emma got under the guise of a more-than-friendly ear nibble, then Regina was pulling her close and directing a sharp look at Hook. "I assure you, Captain, the sheets will burn." Regina laughed softly, the sound low and rich enough to send tiny shivers down Emma’s spine as she found herself wrapped up in a hold that went from resistant and struggling to possessive and decidedly sensual. "But what makes you think you’ll be invited?"

He blinked, brows drawing into a confused frown. "Yer both in luv w’me."

Regina’s answering laugh was a dismissive chuckle that would have done the Evil Queen proud. "Poor, foolish boy," she sneered, then ducked her head.

A hard shudder rattled Emma as warm breath ghosted over the curve of her neck, then impossibly soft lips pressed the most delicate of kisses to her skin.

"You’re neither needed nor wanted," Regina informed Hook as she kept fluttering tiny kisses up the side of Emma’s neck and slid her hands over the other woman’s body despite Emma’s increasingly loose hold. "In fact, you’d just be in the way."

Emma moaned in spite of herself and sank into the body at her back.

Hook managed a few more confused blinks. "B-b-but," he sounded like a motorboat for a moment, then managed to catch a breath and continue. "You won’ have a zshword w’out me." He peered down and pointed at his crotch. "N by zshword, I mean m’penizsh." He shook his head. "Can’t have no fun w’out a penizsh."

"You never were a very creative thinker," Regina drawled.

"B-b-but ... penizsh ... m’zshword..." He peered down with a look of love and utter worship. "M’beau’ful zshword."

"More of a dull, rusty dagger," Regina corrected, then shuddered as a thought occurred. She peered over Emma’s shoulder at the pirate’s groin, then up at Emma. "Should we get you to a doctor for an antibiotic, dear?"

Emma blinked in confusion for a moment, then abruptly realized what Regina was asking. "No," she yelped, a crimson blush highlighting her cheeks. "We ... uh ... we haven’t actually ... y’know ... and ... No."

"Good," Regina said quite seriously. Very, very good. Only because of Miss Swan’s health, of course, Regina reminded herself. It wouldn’t do for her to expose herself to the multitudinous versions of ‘shore leave,’ Hook had doubtless acquired in his travels. That would be very difficult to explain to Henry. Because, of course, this was all about protecting Henry.

Really. It was.

And with that, Regina’s hands flipped and swept upward, finally breaking free of Emma’s now lax hold as she summoned her magic in a graceful wave.

Suddenly Emma’s stomach dropped like she was riding a roller coaster and she looked down to see purple smoke boiling upward.

Then the real world — or at least as close as Storybrooke came to it — faded into a purple haze.

Stepping forward, Hook poked the dissipating smoke with his index finger and let out a sigh. "They’re both hopeleshly in love w’me," he informed Ruby with a blithe smile.

The waitress considered the statement for a moment, opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it. Getting in the middle of that dog and pony show wasn’t going to do anyone any good. Then the gob of ... whatever ... on the floor seemed to move again and she made a hasty exit in search of Granny. Granny was notoriously good at ‘dealing with’ strange things — usually, by shooting them full of crossbow bolts. This qualified.

Hook, meanwhile, peered adoringly down at his crotch. After a moment, he waved. "Don’ worry, Binky, they’re all jush embarrazhed cuz they’re zsho in love w’ush."

* * * * * *

To Be Continued

Chapter Text

Emma’s stomach was still doing a roller-coaster-swoop-and-dive as reality snapped back into existence with an ear-popping shift of air pressure and enough disorientation to leave her momentarily stumbly. It was overwhelming enough that she was grateful for the steadying hands at her chest and hip and the stable presence against her back.

"Easy," Regina whispered, her tone surprisingly gentle. "That sort of thing can be—

"Moms!" The startled yelp was at least two octaves above Henry’s current register, even with its recent tendency to make random shifts at the most unpredictable times.

In that instant, two things struck Emma at once. One, they had arrived in Regina’s foyer at the exact same time the kid came home from school, and two, it was amazing how fast two adults could move with the right inspiration — like getting caught in a compromising position by their adolescent son.

Regina squealed a decidedly un-Evil-Queen-like squeal, yanked her hands free and leapt backwards at least four feet. Her heels banged into the bottom of the stairs and her arms momentarily pinwheeled as she fought a losing battle for balance that ended up with her sitting on the stairs in a vaguely ungainly sprawl, and trying to look like that had been her plan all along.

Emma meanwhile, threw up her hands, bounded forward until she almost ran the poor kid over and shook her head in denial. "Kid, this isn’t what it looks like." Though, exactly what it looked like, she wasn’t entirely certain. Did he think Regina was trying to kill her or that they were well on their way to having sex? And if she was honest, if it was the latter choice, her hormones kinda disagreed it hadn’t been an option.

"I ... Mom ... Emma?" Henry leaned sideways a bit to peer at his adopted mother around his birth mother’s arm. "Mom?" He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and shook his head as if rebooting something inside his brain, then opened his eyes ... only to find that, yeah, everything was exactly the same. "Mom?" he repeated a little helplessly.

Regina sighed softly. It had been her idea that they needed to tell Henry, but faced with the prospect of actually doing so, she experienced a wash of trepidation. "This was Miss Sw — your mother’s idea—" she began.

"What was her idea?" Henry asked as his gaze swung back and forth between his two mothers.

"Well ... see..." Emma began, then paused to massage the back of her neck to gain a little time. Or maybe get over her need to panic. Which didn’t happen. She turned a pleading look Regina’s direction.

"Apparently Captain Hook is attracted to your mother," Regina began at last, opting to keep it simple and reasonably honest. "And has been ... ahm ... pursuing her with some vigor."

Emma’s brows rose. That was one way of putting it.

"However, she doesn’t share his feelings," Regina continued. "Since her efforts to inform him have fallen on deaf ears, she’s opted for another ... approach to ... discouraging ... him..." She sputtered to a halt as she tried to decide how to explain the rest. Really, it was a bad sitcom, she decided. Three’s Company would have discarded this plot as too ridiculous.

"What approach?" Henry asked

Deciding she was entirely too sober for this little event, Regina summoned a glass of scotch with the tiniest twist of her wrist and took a sip, heaving a sigh as the warmth hit her throat and stomach. It didn’t change anything of course, but she felt better. Then she smoothed her skirt and patted the stair next to her hip, smiling tenderly as her son took a seat next to her.

"Mom?" he said when she still hadn’t spoken a moment later, his tone asking a dozen questions at once. Ever observant, he was more than smart and sensitive enough to realize something was up.

"I just want it understood that this was your mother’s idea," Regina said carefully when she finally spoke. She peered at Emma. "Your other mother," she added to make the point that she wasn’t in on the planning stage.

Emma cringed, though that wasn’t her sole contribution. She also let out a tiny whimper, hunched her shoulders and threatened to hide her face in her shoulder.

Henry watched the response with a deepening frown, then looked back to his adoptive mother expectantly. "Ok-ay."

"She thought it would discourage Hook if she and I made it appear as though we were..." she paused to hunt for an appropriate term to use with her twelve year-old son. "Ahm ... courting," she finally answered, falling back on the semantics of her old world.

"Courting?" Henry and Emma repeated at the same time as they shared a look. Mostly Regina looked and sounded like a reasonably modern woman — then there were the times she went and used a term like courting.

Emma snorted, while Henry just looked blank, not getting the idea at all.

"Dating," Emma clarified to her confused son.

Henry froze, then his face took on the nauseous cast of an adolescent contemplating his parents and sex for the first time. Also, he’d experienced enough of Hook’s boys-will-be-boys banter to suspect dating wouldn’t cut it at all. "Don’t you mean—"

"Dating," Emma said sharply, cutting off whatever he might have said. "We mean dating." She looked over at Regina who had an oddly triumphant expression on her face as it occurred to her that the other woman had been correct about the need to at least appear like all was right and proper. "It’s not some sleazy thing," she reassured the boy. "And it’s fake anyway," she added. "Just for Hook’s benefit."

Regina made a small toasting motion with her glass, then took another sip of scotch before speaking. Possibly not her best idea. "Sadly, Hook’s definition of benefit differed from your mother’s." As she spoke, she winced and shook out her right hand again.

Henry’s expression had started to smooth out, but at that comment, it twisted back into a frown of confusion.

Emma glared at Regina. "Not helping," she complained.

Regina shrugged and made another toasting motion. "Not particularly trying."

Henry, meanwhile, sat considering it all while his mothers glared at each other. "Um?" he exhaled after a beat. "Okay, so you’re faking a thing to discourage Hook ... but what does that have to do with you two being all..." his voice faded as he made a swirling gesture with one hand to indicate how they’d been wrapped up in one another. "...in our foyer?"

"That—" Regina began carefully "—is a very good question." She paused. Actually, it wasn’t so much a pause as a verbal splat into a brick wall as it struck her that she had no sane way of describing the scene at Granny’s. Finally, she looked at Emma and shook her head. "Sorry, can’t do it. Your turn."

Emma whimpered softly, but made a game try. "We ... uh ... it’s complicated. But Hook ... he ... well ... he sort of ... well, he ... and then we ... your mom and I, I mean ... we ... and then he ... and it’s complicated," she repeated hopelessly.

"Well, that should clear it up," Regina drawled through a soft snort of laughter.

Emma’s puppy-dog look faded into an expression of annoyance. "Still not helping," she complained.

"Still not trying." The former Evil Queen offered another cheery toast, then took a sip of scotch and let out a soft, satisfied sigh. "By the way, this is an excellent Royal Lochnagar," she taunted.

"Bitch," Emma grumbled enviously — she would have killed for a drink — her voice too soft for Henry to hear, though she knew Regina’s freakish hearing had picked it up from the winning smile the other woman offered.

"Soooo..." Henry said after a moment of uncomfortable silence. "Hook ... Granny’s?" he prompted his mother when she didn’t immediately start speaking. "The Foyer?"

Shoulders sagging, Emma heaved a sigh. Damn, she wished he was a bit less tenacious for once. She threw a begging look Regina’s way.

"Oh, for..." Regina rolled her eyes. The alcohol was starting to hit, making things much easier, though it occurred to her that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. "Your mother and I were at Granny’s discussing this plan of hers when Hook showed up and ... well ... he was very inappropriate—"

"Which reminds me," Emma broke in, suddenly curious as to what had set the other woman off. "What exactly did he do?"

"He. Was. In-Appro-Priate," Regina ground out, one syllable at a time, a flush sliding over her cheeks as she suddenly found the floor between her feet absolutely fascinating.

"But—"

Tipping her head up, Regina glared the sort of glare the Evil Queen had once glared.

Emma snapped her mouth shut and it was her turn to study her feet with unusual care.

"Um ... Hook ... Granny’s?" Henry prompted yet again when his mothers still hadn’t spoken a moment later. "Foyer?"

"Here’s the thing, Hen—" Emma said at last, then the perfect explanation struck "—He’s like Pepé Le Pew."

Henry considered that answer for a moment, then quietly asked, "And you’re the cat?"

Emma bobbed her head in confirmation.

Regina nearly threw her hands up as Henry responded with a solemn nod, clearly understanding this strange animation-based code his birth mother chose to use.

"And now you’re faking being a couple to get him to leave you alone?" Henry asked, his tone serious.

Emma nodded.

Regina waved a hand at Emma. "Her idea."

Henry smirked. As if he needed to be told that.

"Nothing else worked," Emma said by way of defense.

Henry thought about that for a moment, then tipped his chin up and studied his two mothers for a long moment as he considered the situation. They both looked pensive, maybe a little nervous. And there was something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. "Okay, so I get all that," he said at last. "But it still doesn’t explain the..." he trailed off as he again made the swirling gesture to indicate the spot where the two women had been tangled up in each other. "Y’know ... that."

Emma let out a tiny sigh. She kept hoping he’d forget that topic. No such luck.

As if reading her mind, Regina chuckled grimly. "Not so much fun when you’re the one on the receiving end, is it?" she taunted under her breath.

Green eyes narrowed and Emma hissed softly through gritted teeth. "Some help would be appreciated," she complained.

Regina seriously considered several snarky responses, but noted Henry’s worried expression before the words could escape. She deflated with a soft sigh. "As I said," she murmured at last, going to back to the start of the story, "your mother and I were discussing her plan in Granny’s when Captain Hook arrived and did something very inappropriate ... and I ... perhaps ... didn’t handle it as calmly as I might have—"

"You tried to kill him," Henry translated.

"No!" Regina quickly denied the charge, then wilted in the face of Henry’s doubtful expression. Without thinking, she worked her sore hand, then flinched as she noted the way her son eyed the gesture. "I hardly hurt him," she denied the accusation implicit in that look.

"Only because I pinned your hands so you couldn’t hurl any fireballs," Emma broke in. "Which is why we were kinda tangled up," she added in what she thought was a rather inspired explanation.

Henry arched an eyebrow in an expression eerily reminiscent of his adoptive mother, but didn’t otherwise offer an opinion.

Which only intensified Emma’s tendency to babble when under stress. "Unfortunately, Hook ... he kinda ... well, he sorta misunderstood."

Green eyes narrowed faintly. "He decided you’re both in love with him, didn’t he?" Henry said at last, the proclamation emphasized by his sharp laugh and knowing grin.

Regina just smirked and took another sip of scotch. Her baby boy might have gotten Emma’s chin, but thankfully, he’d managed to buck genetics and inherit her intellect.

Emma dropped her face into her hands and whimpered. "Kinda," she admitted.

"At which point," Regina added, her tone wry enough to suggest she wasn’t necessarily entirely serious when she said, "I pointed out that homicide would be entirely justifiable."

"Regina," Emma growled in warning.

"Your mother disagreed," the former queen sighed with the faintest inclination of her head. "So, I thought it best we make a fast exit. Hence..." She mimicked Henry’s swirling hand gesture to indicate their method of leaving the diner.

"She poofed us home," Emma clarified, smirking as she heard Regina’s annoyed snort. The queen really hated it when people called it ‘poofing’.

Henry’s gaze swung back and forth between the two, something suspicious in his expression even though he wasn’t sure what he was suspicious of. "Okay," he said at last. "I guess that makes sense." Though his frown suggested it didn’t really.

Knowing her son, Regina was certain he was as placated as he was likely to get. In fact, given a few minutes to think about it, he was quite likely to go back to asking uncomfortable questions. Henry could be like a dog with a bone when he was of a mind. "And now," she began, hoping to distract him from an uncomfortable line of questioning. She fixed a sharp gaze on Emma and her smirking smile had a definite hint of victory to it. "You, my dear, have a phone call to make."

The blonde blanched. "Maybe I should wait and see—"

Regina made a show of checking her watch. "Leroy’s had close to an hour to spread the word." She paused for effect, though her attempt to play it serious was badly damaged by the glee that kept ghosting across her face. "He’s fairly low-tech, so the news isn’t likely on Facebook or Twitter ... yet," she mused, running the numbers in her head as she spoke. "He’ll be distracted by Astrid at the nunnery ... but even with that delay, he’s probably no more than an hour from knocking on your parents’ door. You wouldn’t want them to hear about the latest love of your life that way ... would you?"

Now this, Henry understood. One mother taunting, teasing, or otherwise disturbing his other mother was pretty much par for the course. He sighed softly. "Mo-om."

"What?" she asked, her tone as innocent as she knew how to make it — which wasn’t very. There was a reason everyone had thought she’d killed Archie even though she hadn’t. "Isn’t it better if they hear it from their daughter rather than careless gossip?"

Henry narrowed his eyes, this expression less like Regina and far more like Emma when she was suspicious or annoyed.

Her normally perfect posture drooped slightly, but Regina didn’t back down, though she suddenly found the contents of her glass quite fascinating. "I’m merely pointing out that this relationship will be considered much more respectable if it all appears to be on the up and up." She heard the soft sound Emma made — half snort, half mocking laughter by the sound of it — but refused to look up, comfortably certain she’d now be getting that look in stereo.

Another soft snort and then Emma murmured, "All of which would be much more believable if you hadn’t made one of your conditions for doing this that you get to be there when I tell my parents ... and I can’t let them in on the secret that it’s not real."

Despite her intention to maintain the façade of total innocence, Regina couldn’t quite hold back a faint twist of a smile. "Just trying to help you pull this off, Miss Swan," she teased as she flashed a doe-eyed look Emma’s way. "You should thank me. I’ve no idea who would win a gossip-spreading race between your mother and Leroy."

The Savior rolled her eyes — yeah, Mary Margaret wasn’t great at keeping secrets, but she wasn’t that bad — mostly — though she drew out her phone and peered at the screen for a moment, paging through her messages and was relieved not to find any. "Well, nothing from my parents, so at least they probably haven’t heard yet." She tipped her chin up to peer at Regina for a moment.

The brunette held her drink up in a toast. "You know I’m right."

Emma made a face. "Yeah," she grumbled. Even if Regina’s motives were anything but pure, she was quite correct that it would be easier if she explained things before the gossip reached her parents. Or more correctly, before Leroy reached them. Or possibly Ruby, Emma realized as she remembered the waitress’ little speech. If she thought Emma wasn’t moving fast enough, she was more than capable of just doing it herself. Which, it occurred to Emma, she really should warn Regina about. She started to, even had her mouth open to speak, and then Regina shifted her upper body.

Which exposed some rather lovely cleavage. Which promptly worked its magic, freezing the savior in place. Emma’s gaze zeroed in and her mouth hung open. She would have sworn her silence only last a second, two at the most, but...

"Ahem." Regina pointedly cleared her throat when Emma still hadn’t moved several beats later.

Emma blinked, yanking free of her paralysis. "Oh, fine," she grumped, any thoughts about Ruby utterly forgotten. Ignoring the other woman’s triumphant grin, she hit the autodial for her mother’s number and held the phone to her ear. "Hey, Mom," she said when Mary Margaret picked up.

Regina leaned back on the stairs, elbow on a tread a couple of steps up, lips still twisted in a hint of a smile as she listened to Emma greet her mother and chat briefly about her baby brother. Apparently sleep was still a distant memory for dear Snow White. Regina could live with that. Even minor irritations were better than nothing.

Henry peered at her for a moment, then shook his head. "You really made Emma promise to tell Grandma and Grandpa in front of you?" he asked, his tone somewhere between disapproving and wry.

Dropping the pretense of innocence, she shrugged, gaze dipping to her glass. "Aren’t I allowed a little fun now and then?"

A long moment and then Henry offered a shrug of his own. "I guess it’s better than blowing up half the town," he sighed, then added, "You know I’m coming along, right?"

"I’m not sure that’s—" Regina started to argue, but he cut her off.

"I wasn’t asking," he informed her.

Dark brows shot up as she considered her son. His body language and tone were surprisingly firm for his age, particularly since his mother had been the Evil Queen in another life. But then he never had been intimidated by much. She smiled in spite of any irritation and reached out to smooth dark hair out of his eyes. "All right, but you have to keep the secret."

Startled at the lack of a battle, he grinned. "And I’m having pie for dessert," he added a moment later, purposely using the same stern tone.

Dark eyes narrowed and Regina shook her head, though a smile still tugged at her lips. "I think not."

He shrugged. "It was worth a try."

Then Regina waved him silent as she heard Emma’s tone shift, no longer light and chatty.

"Uh, yeah ... about that," Emma said, her tone hesitant, her anxiety coming through loud and clear. "What? No, nothing’s wrong. Nothing like that ... at all." She massaged the back of her neck. Yet another move in what was becoming an impressive array of nervous ticks. "It’s just ... well ... ahm..."

Regina held up her drink, a grin curving full lips as she mouthed, "Remember our deal."

She got an annoyed glare and pursed lips in return, then Emma twitched and refocused on her phone. "What ... no ... it’s just..."

"Breathe, dear," Regina mouthed.

More glaring, though Emma paused and took a breath and it did seem to help. "Actually, I was wondering if you and Dad would meet me for dinner ... I’ve got some news for you and ... well ... it’s just that I think it would be better in person."

Noting that Emma was again looking rather pale, Regina made a sweeping gesture up her torso and pointedly filled her lungs as she again mouthed, "Breathe."

Despite a defiant streak a mile wide, Emma did as told. It seemed to help with the lightheadedness. "No ... really ... okay ... it’s just ... I’ll explain everything over dinner ... I think it’ll be good ... y’know ... for the future," she added in a rush. "Something like that," she answered whatever question Snow asked. "I just think it would be better if we all sat down and talked about it."

Dark brows shot up as Regina stared at the other woman. Well, well. She smirked and took another sip of scotch. She’d been starting to worry that Miss Swan might just pass out before she could get the words out.

"Yeah, I know," Emma sighed and went back to massaging the back of her neck. "Really, I think it’s for the best ... how about Granny’s in an hour?"

A pause followed, long enough that Regina was comfortably certain that Snow was cajoling, wheedling, and borderline bullying in an effort to get more information out of her daughter. That women never could handle being out of the loop. "Our deal," she mouthed to Emma in warning, afraid Mary Margaret’s pressure might soften the younger woman’s spine.

"I know, I know," Emma shot back just as silently, then she blinked and refocused on the phone. "Look, Mom, just ... y’know ... trust me."

Firming her own spine, Regina reminded herself that she was not now or at any time to feel any sympathy over that tiny questioning note in Emma’s voice. Nor would she feel any relief over the way Emma’s shoulders sagged and her tense expression relaxed in response to something her mother said — clearly something positive.

"Thanks," Emma murmured, a smile tugging at her lips, obviously pleased with whatever she was hearing.

Which is none of your business, Regina reminded herself firmly, and no reason for you to smile encouragingly at Miss Swan — even though she could feel her facial muscles pulling at the corners of her mouth. And if you are smiling, it’s merely glee that you get to break Snow White’s heart by making her think you and her darling Savior are True Loves. That. Is. All.

Really.

"Okay," Emma sighed as she hung up. She nodded to Regina. "We’re on in an hour."

"I’m coming," Henry told her, his tone every bit as determined as it had been with his other mother.

"Kid, I’m not sure—"

"I told her." He pointed at Regina. "Now I’m telling you." His finger swung Emma’s way. "I’m coming. Not up for discussion."

The look Emma turned Regina’s way seemed to suggest the defiance was her fault.

The brunette threw up her hands in surrender. "Don’t look at me. He hasn’t done what I told him in ages ... as you well know ... and let’s be honest, which you wholly encouraged."

"I..." Emma snapped her mouth shut. Regina was right. "Damn," she exhaled and sank down onto the bottom step of the staircase, shoulders slumped.

Fighting the urge to crow triumphantly, Regina pushed to a standing position. Much as she would have liked to enjoy the petard hoisting going on, she had an appearance to get ready for. She grinned. And oh, what an appearance she expected it to be.

Emma twisted around to peer up at her. "Okay, that’s a scary look."

"Really, dear?" Regina blanked her expression as best she could, though her eyes still glittered with wicked lights.

"Yeah ... really," Emma confirmed.

Henry nodded his own agreement.

"Really, you two, I just need to get ready for our little meeting with your parents."

"You’re the only woman I know who puts on the warpaint and armor for a date in expectation of real bloodshed," Emma snarked.

Henry snickered while Regina turned a frosty look on the blonde. "I thought perhaps you would appreciate it if I seemed to care about my appearance when meeting your parents." One eyebrow climbed high on her forehead. "But perhaps you would prefer a more familiar dress mode." Her right hand swept upward and the magic followed in a purple tinted wave.

The thought went briefly through Henry’s brain, Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

Then Regina Mills stood there wearing more flannel than she had probably worn during the rest of her life — combined — flannel shirt, flannel vest lined in flannel, flannel hat with little flannel ear flaps, flannel trim on the tongue of her hiking boots, flannel printed socks, and skin tight jeans with little flannel patch pockets in the back. And just for good measure, absolutely no two pieces of flannel matched. In fact, if someone had chosen them specifically to clash — and Henry suspected she had — they couldn’t have gone together less gracefully.

It was, in short, the thermonuclear armageddon of fabric battles.

Henry almost fell over backwards and it took every last bit of willpower he possessed not to collapse in a fit of giggles.

Emma, meanwhile, blinked — that was it, just blinked — as it occurred to her that she’d just assumed that Regina could wear anything and look good.

Oh, how wrong she was.

So very, very, very wrong.

No one could look good in ... that.

"Oh god, Mom," Henry gasped, his sides trembling with barely contained laughter. It was impossible to tell which mother he was referring to. Maybe both.

"So, shall we go?" Regina asked when Emma still hadn’t spoken several moments later.

More blinking. It took Emma an extra beat to get the joke — every single item Regina was wearing was a duplicate of something in Emma’s closet, something that Emma had once worn with some other article of clothing identical to what Regina was wearing. Point made. Painfully. Emma barely contained the need to wince.

Had she really looked anything like ... that? She shuddered gently, though as she angled her head and tipped her gaze up to meet Regina’s wry look, green eyes narrowed into a hard glare as she snarled, "That’s not funny."

The fact that her response shattered Henry’s control and he guffawed hard enough to leave his sides hurting, argued otherwise.

Regina peered at their son, then back to Emma. Several possible replies danced on the tip of her tongue before she remembered Emma was armed and while she was fast enough to catch arrows in mid-flight, bullets could be trickier.

Maybe some other time.

Emma, meanwhile, glared down at her son. "Traitor," she muttered under her breath.

It only made him laugh harder.

"Well, dear?" Regina questioned after a moment — hopefully allowing Emma enough time to sublimate any more murderous impulses.

"Just go get dressed ... for real this time," the Savior growled.

Regina wisely opted not to laugh as she climbed the stairs, though it took all of her self control.

Emma, meanwhile, watched the queen’s exit, annoyed to note how lush and perfect Regina’s ass looked in the clone of her jeans because she couldn’t see how hers — anybody’s, really — could possibly look that good. It was vaguely demoralizing the way it left her torn between jealousy and the profound desire to just sorta start nibbling.

Which was a very dangerous path, because Regina was already ruling her life and driving her nuts in a barely-begun fake relationship. Were that to turn real, Emma was terrified to contemplate just how whipped she’d wind up. Hell, knowing the former queen, she’d probably collar Emma, slap a brand on her ass (with a real branding iron), assign her additional duties as the sheriff, upbraid her for turning in her paperwork late, then bat her eyes, play peek-a-boo boobs and wrap Emma around her little finger without really even trying.

Emma shuddered in horror. And the worst part was she had a horrible feeling that she’d be grateful for every last moment of the abuse. Still staring after delectable curves, she sighed softly.

"Um," Henry interrupted hesitantly after his mother had disappeared and the sound of her bedroom door closing had echoed through the room.

Emma pivoted to peer at her son who looked mildly uncomfortable, his gaze everywhere but on her, a faint blush on his cheeks. "What?" she asked a little too sharply.

He raised an eyebrow and tipped his gaze up. "It’s just ... are you sure this is all ... y’know ... fake?"

"I ... uh ... wh-why would you think ... that ... I mean—"

"Because you were staring at Mom’s—" Henry pulled up short, paused and thought better of his phrasing, then started over. "You were staring at Mom." He peered over his shoulder up the stairs.

"I was just wondering ... uh ... where she ... uh ... got all the flannel," Emma lied not at all smoothly.

Henry turned back, a faintly nauseated expression on his face. "It’s just that’s the way the Brain always stares at her b- ... at her, I mean."

"The Brain?" Emma questioned, her tone one of confusion.

"Nickname," Henry explained and tried to wave it aside. "So—"

Emma, meanwhile, much preferred a discussion about Henry’s friends. "Really, and just who is this Brain? And why that nickname?" she demanded, a little horrified by the fact that she seemed to be channeling stern-disciplinarian-Regina in her desperation to avoid Henry’s questions.

"He’s the kid from The Emperor’s New Clothes—"

"So they call him Brain because he’s so smart?" Emma asked, thinking it would be a good thing if Henry found some friends a little higher on the IQ scale. Some of his buddies in New York had been more than a little obnoxious as well as entirely too inclined to stare at her chest a bit too intensely for kids.

"Not exactly," Henry said a little hesitantly.

Slim shoulders sagged. "Because he’s so dumb?" Emma asked, her tone carrying an edge of disapproval if Henry and his friends were mocking a classmate.

"No," Henry insisted. "He’s just ... a little ... odd. Look, could we get back to—"

"Henry," Emma prompted, sounding ever more like his other mother in her efforts to avoid a certain topic. "Why?"

"Because he’s the smartass who pointed out that Mom is a MILF, GILF and since Neal, a Great-GILF all in one," Henry exploded impatiently. "And you were staring at her ass the same way he does!" The instant the words were out, he slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide, expression horrified. He so hadn’t meant to say that. Not even a little bit. The only possible saving grace was the fact that he’d said it to Emma — really, her mouth was way fouler than his — because if his adopted mom had heard even of little of that, he’d still be grounded when they put him in an old age home.

Blonde brows shot up and Emma stared at her child for a long moment, then her eyes snapped away while her jaw hung open. "Henry," she said at last, her voice little more than a whimper. "If I promise to forget this conversation ever happened, will you do the same?"

"Deal," he promised. He knew a knew a good offer when he heard one.

They shook on it, then both dropped their gazes back to the floor and stood utterly silent.

"So ... uh ... how do you like the new Assassins Creed?" Emma asked after a beat.

"It’s ... uh ... good graphics."

More silence.

"Call of Duty?" Emma asked at last.

"It’s ... it’s ... cool," Henry responded, his gaze also still floorward.

Well, it was a start anyway.

 

* * * * * *

Chapter Text

"No .... too mayoral ... too Evil Queen ... not enough Evil Queen ... why did I ever think that was a good idea ... oh, hell no ..." Regina yanked things from her closet and flung one after another aside in time with the running commentary. Some options were too black, some not black enough, while another was far too clinging, and a couple didn’t cling right at all.

She pulled out something that looked suspiciously like a Little Bo Peep costume, stared for a brief second, then incinerated it as if it had never existed. "Best that never gets mentioned again," she muttered under her breath.

After all, if she was going to tell Snow White she was corrupting her perfect baby girl, she needed just the right look.

Then, near the back of her closet, she hit a hanger that didn’t want to come free. After a couple of hard tugs achieved nothing, she waved a hand and straightened, then grinned as the hanger appeared in her free hand and she saw what she’d retrieved. "Now that has possibilities," she drawled, her smile only ever so slightly evil.

Which was appropriate since ‘Only-ever-so-slightly evil,’ was her theme for the upcoming meeting. She wanted the sensuality plain as day, but respectable enough that the little twit Snow White couldn’t put up much of an argument no matter how hard she tried.

A purple plume of smoke swirled around her and trailed in the wake of her hand as she made a sweeping gesture up the length of her body. When it faded away, a ripple slid through her. A quick shake readjusted things, then she stepped over to the mirror. Crimson lips tipped upward. "Perfect," she confirmed to her own satisfaction.

Dark hair fell around her face in gentle waves, neatly styled, but still soft, with a fringe of bangs that swept across her brow, not quite falling into her eyes, but long enough to threaten. Her makeup was distinct, but less severe than usual, with colors that highlighted without overwhelming dark eyes and full lips. The Evil Queen might live in the arch of her brows and crimson of her mouth, but it was Henry’s mother with the dancing gaze and wry smile.

And the dress? Exactly what she’d been looking for. The silk moire was a deep, iridescent blue that glittered with purple highlights that moved with the fabric. Cut on the bias, it clung in all the right places without losing the natural fall of the fabric, the design showing off her upper chest and the curve of her breasts perfectly without revealing too much. It ended mid-thigh, leaving well-toned thighs and calves bare before her feet tucked into three inch spike heels covered in matching silk. A simple black silk bolero jacket over the top completed the picture, adding just the right touch of formality and class while emphasizing the curve of her waist and hips.

A snap of her fingers summoned a black clutch to finish off the look.

She gave the image in the mirror a last once over.

Definitely perfect.

Charming’s eyes would bug and he’d have a hard time keeping his eyes off her cleavage — she smirked — though Snow would have a harder time. The oaf might be her True Love, but she’d been sneaking looks at Regina’s chest since she was a child. Regina doubted she was about to stop now.

After another moment, she straightened herself and smoothed out her expression at the same time she smoothed out the dress, then did a neat turn and headed back downstairs.

After all, it wouldn’t do to be late to their appointment.

* * * * * *

The subject was still video games when Emma heard the click of heels on the landing above the stairs and spun toward the sound. Even fully braced and expecting Regina to be in full-on ‘Regina-Mode,’ Emma pulled up short and just stared until Henry nudged her with his elbow.

"Just like The Brain," she heard him mutter under his breath.

Emma flashed him a quick glare, but his comment helped her reboot her brain. She shook off the brief paralysis and stepped forward. "You look ... uh ... good," she told Regina. "Really ... really good."

"Of course." One dark eyebrow arched high as Regina peered at the blonde, eyes sliding assessingly over Emma’s lanky frame. "And you look..." Regina paused, head tipping to one side as she considered her words. Emma had good features, gorgeous hair and a beautiful body, long limbed and fit, but nicely curvaceous. Unfortunately, her clothing sense was ... unfortunate. "Very much like yourself," she said at last.

It was the best she could do without lying.

Emma couldn’t contain a tiny flinch as she looked down at herself and noted the shapeless top, a ketchup stain from lunch and several smudges of dirt and mud courtesy of her tangle with Charlie. "Ahm..."

"Oh, for..." Regina trailed off as she glanced at her watch. "No time for you to get a shower and change ... and I’ve no intention even fake dating someone who appears unable to buy clothes that fit or stay clean while eating." She looked up again and waved a hand.

Emma felt a rush of air and a tingle, then cloth rippled and moved against her skin. A beat to catch her breath, then she looked down to find her jeans and boots clean, while her comfortably stretched out sweater and ketchup stained flannel vest had been replaced by a cream silk blouse and a buttery soft suede jacket in a warm shade of chocolate. "I ... uh ... that’s definitely..."

"Better." Regina quirked an eyebrow, head tipping slightly to one side as she considered the blonde. "But not quite finished..." After a moment’s thought, she waved a single finger and suddenly pale hair and soft skin were scrubbed clean of any remaining sweat or dirt, then highlighted with bits of sunlight while dusky shadows emphasized the impact of high cheekbones and green eyes. Emma really was quite lovely when cleaned up and properly clothed. "Much better," she pronounced after a tiny beat.

Emma was faintly embarrassed by the rush of pleasure that slid through her at those words. It was just that it felt good to be clean after the day she’d had, she assured herself. It had absolutely nothing to do with the way dark eyes slid over her from head to toe, then back up again or the approving smile that curved crimson lips. She felt the solid thud of her heartbeat against her ribs as that all seeing gaze clashed with hers and held.

In the moment that followed, Emma was left with the sense that Regina was just as trapped as she was, because the brunette froze, not even seeming to breathe. Which was kind of a shame, really, Emma thought as dropped her gaze for the briefest second and took in the soft curves visible in the deep vee of Regina’s dress. She really liked it when Regina breathed. It was ... pleasant.

"Uhhh ... Moms?" Henry broke in uncertainly.

Emma’s gaze darted back up and she felt a flush slide over her skin as she caught Regina doing the same thing just before she shook herself, suddenly all business.

"We really should be going. We’ll take my car," Regina said decisively as she straightened her shoulders and smoothed out her dress.

Well, mostly business anyway, Emma decided as she caught a wicked flash of a smile and realized there was a tiny dollop of the Evil Queen hiding in there. Rolling her eyes, she snorted softly. "Hey, the bug is a classic," she defended her beloved Volkswagen. "Probably held its value a lot better than the Mercedes too."

"Only because one can’t lose what never existed."

Emma flinched and was about to draw a breath to offer a snarky reply, but Henry got there first.

"Speaking as the person who has to sit in the back, I vote for the Benz too."

"Which makes it two against one," Regina pointed out, her tone cheerful. "In other words, you lose."

Emma turned an annoyed look on Henry. "Traitor," she repeated her earlier complaint. "I’m not sure the bug will ever forgive you."

He flinched, but didn’t back down. "It’s just I don’t want to be stuck tucking my knees under my chin to fit in your back seat," Henry pleaded.

"Fine." Emma threw up her hands and surrendered. "But I still say the bug is more of a classic."

Regina patted her on the back. "You keep telling yourself that, dear," she soothed, though there was an echo of laughter in her voice. "Meanwhile..." Opening the front door, she gestured Henry and Emma through ahead of her. "We have a dinner to attend."

Chapter Text

 

 

Emma paused as she reached for the door to Granny’s, her eyes fixed on the figures inside the diner.

Snow and Charming were in a booth, their backs to the front door, while Ruby stood beside them, her hands braced on the tabletop as she leaned forward, a broad grin on her face, mouth moving rapidly. Clearly she had an opinion about something.

Meanwhile, every other booth and table in the place was filled to capacity. Apparently Leroy had gotten the word out. Or maybe Ruby. Or perhaps it was just the weird vibe that went through Storybrooke whenever something exciting was happening that assured the maximum number of people were always present to give witness.

And Emma strongly suspected that Snow White learning daughter was dating her nemesis, the Evil Queen, was likely to turn very exciting.

So, yeah, of course there was a filled-to-capacity crowd.

"Um, Mom?" Henry murmured. "Are we gonna, y’know, go inside?"

"Indeed, Miss Swan," Regina added her own prompt.

Emma glanced back, but her hand remained frozen on the doorpull. "Just ... ummm..." she stammered uncertainly.

"Scared gram and granddad are gonna lock you in your room for dating the Evil Queen?" Henry teased.

"Er ... it’s just ... I mean, not exactly, but..." Emma exhaled, then glanced over at Regina and flinched as she saw a flare of emotion — hurt, guilt, or maybe insecurity — in dark eyes before it disappeared behind a high wall. Her chest ached in unexpected sympathy as it struck that even if Regina had chosen this game, it still had the power to hurt her. "I mean, no," she corrected herself. A deep breath settled some of the trepidation and it occurred to her that in spite of Regina’s earlier glee, she was just as scared as Emma. "I just realized that if we’re going to do this..." She paused as she reached out and caught Regina’s hand in her own, just as startled by the gesture as the brunette appeared to be. "...if we’re going to do this, we need to present a united front." She grinned at the kid and slipped an arm across his shoulders. "Let’s go." She started to turn back toward the diner, only to be surprised when Regina planted her feet and tugged sharply on their bound hands, pulling Emma back around.

The fear was even more obvious this time. "Miss Swan," Regina said softly, her tone suddenly serious. Dark eyes slid away from Emma, focusing instead on a point in the distance. "I shouldn’t have pushed you to do this ... and if you would prefer..." She trailed off and was silent for a moment.

It occurred to Emma she should be jumping with joy. No need to confront her parents, except... Yeah, there was that look on Regina’s face and the sudden sinking sense in her stomach.

"You needn’t do this," the queen continued, her gaze downcast. "I’ll do whatever I can to help you deal with your Hook problem without—"

"Without feeding me?" Emma startled herself by rejecting the offer to take the easy way out. She grinned and shook her head, dismissing the idea. "Sorry, but you don’t get out of picking up the tab that easily."

Regina tipped her head to one side, peering at Emma with a look of confusion. "Emma?" she questioned, her use of Emma’s first name an indication of just how thrown she was by the Savior’s refusal to back out of her plan.

Squeezing the hand still caught in her own, Emma offered a wry smile. "I think it’s time we go in there and show my parents how proud I am of this family."

Regina resisted the pressure and stood peering at Emma. "You know I won’t be able to resist..." The words trailed to a halt as she considered how to phrase it.

"Tweaking my mother?" Emma grinned at Regina’s small nod, then shrugged. "Snow White could probably use a little tweaking," she admitted. For a woman who’d once lived with seven men, her mother could be an awful prig at times.

Regina debated arguing, only to decide that looking a gift horse in the mouth was foolish. She grinned. "Aren’t you lucky you found the woman for the job then?" she drawled, gripping Emma’s hand tightly as she strode forward, pulling the blonde along in her wake.

Suddenly panicked, Emma glanced down at her son, who only shrugged as he was pulled along.

"You had your chance," he mouthed.

When the kid was right, he was right.

Then suddenly they were inside and Ruby was stepping aside to make way and Emma’s parents were staring expectantly up at her and everyone in the place was trying to look like they were paying attention to their food when they clearly weren’t.

"Emma ... you’re here," Snow exhaled, then glanced over at Regina and let out a tiny sigh. "Regina, I-I didn’t expect you to join us for ... for Emma’s news." As she said the last words, her chin and lower lip quivered gently. Reaching blindly, she found Charming’s hand with her own and there was a solid squeeze. Bucking each other up.

"I invited her," Emma said without further explanation. That would come soon enough and she was in no hurry to get there.

David barely glanced at Regina before turning a loving gaze on Emma. "That’s fine, kiddo," he said softly even as the muscles in his arms rippled and he clung more tightly to his wife’s hold. He looked like he might just break into tears at any moment.

Emma’s stomach sank. It looked like her parents had already heard the news and were not handling it well. Damn. Then she felt a firm squeeze on her own hand and glanced over at Regina.

The look in brown eyes left her feeling calmer and encouraged, which wasn’t at all what Emma should have expected given their history and yet it was surprisingly unsurprising. Finally, she turned toward her parents and was startled to note that the look her father was giving her mother was oddly similar. Another firm squeeze brought her out of her silent musings, the warm touch surprisingly comforting.

"You two take the booth," Henry said quickly. "I’ll grab a chair." Then he hurried off in search.

"He’s such a sweet boy," Snow White said, her voice only a little warbly. "You’ve done a wonderful job with him," she directed at Emma.

"We’re very proud," Regina agreed smoothly. She slanted a quick look at Emma, not defiant or angry like it once would have been, but silently seeking support.

"Yeah." Emma nodded, her smile meant to be reassuring. This time she was the one who squeezed the hand caught in her own. "We’ve got a good kid," she confirmed, then waved Regina into the booth first, brushing her fingers along the small of the other woman’s back as she eased past her. "And thanks to Regina, he even picks up his dirty clothes—" grinning, she slid into the booth "—and folds his own laundry."

"He says you wrinkle his shirts," Regina teased, a flicker of a smile curving her lips. Aware of the avidly watching crowd, she gracefully resettled herself until her thigh nudged up against Emma’s, then casually stretched an arm along the seat behind the blonde, idly toying with her hair.

Even knowing the warmth of the thigh pressed against her own and the gentle hand in her hair were part of the act, Emma found it more than a little disturbing just how pleasant and downright normal it felt.

And maybe Regina felt the same because their gazes met and the quick look led to tiny, shared smiles that morphed into a pair of wry grins. Then suddenly Regina leaned close, her breath brushing the hair near Emma’s ear as she whispered, "You chose the outer seat. Ready to make a fast exit?"

Feeling heat crawl over her cheekbones, Emma was intensely aware of every point of contact and the easy intimacy of the pose. Despite the temptation to reply, she swung her head toward the opposite side of the table, fully expecting to meet a wall of parental glares. Instead, her parents were facing each other, totally focused on whatever they were whispering back and forth. Her mother’s expression was worried, while her father appeared borderline weepy.

Suddenly Mary Margaret tensed and looked up, seeming startled as she noted Emma’s perusal. Still toying with the hair at the nape of her husband’s neck, she turned her attention toward her daughter. "So you ... uh ... you said you had ... news ... for your father and I?" she stammered uncertainly, her eyes glittering with more terror than she’d shown for any number of witches, ogres, ice queens, or even dirty diapers.

"Uh, yeah," Emma exhaled sharply. "We just ... uh—"

"So what can I get for you?"

Yessss! Ruby with the save. Emma turned a grateful smile on the waitress and resisted the urge to do a fist pump, instead opting to grab a menu and make a show of studying it as if she didn’t already know the thing by heart.

Regina, meanwhile, snorted softly. "She’ll have a burger with extra cheese and bacon, spicy fries, and a chocolate shake, mustard and ketchup on the side and hold the pickle and lettuce ... because god forbid Emma accidently eat anything green."

Every eye at the table swung her way.

"What?" Regina demanded in response to the attention. "It’s what she always gets."

Looking to her side, Emma sharpened her gaze as she peered at her partner in crime. "And Regina will have..." She paused to consider an answer before continuing, "Caesar salad, extra cheese and croutons, but light on the dressing, iced tea to drink, lemon, no sugar ... and since it’s a special occasion, onion rings on the side." The look in her eyes silently challenged Regina to disagree.

Dark brows arched high, then finally Regina nodded. "Sounds about right."

And speaking of every eye, only this time it was every eye in the place. Well, except some at the table, because Snow was back to focusing on Charming, petting his back and whispering in his ear.

Ruby just smirked. Regina Mills had never ordered an onion ring in her life, something she was confident Emma knew perfectly well, given she’d gotten the rest of the order right. She sniffed the air, quickly sorting through the normal diner smells to find the human odors — flesh and sweat and lovely, lovely pheromones — twisting and writhing under the more boring scents of food and cleaning solution. The smirk merged into a knowing grin.

"For cryin’ out loud, can’t ya get an order in under ten minutes?" Granny’s voice rose above the background noise of the crowd sounding unusually cranky.

Sighing softly, Ruby swung her head toward her long-time friends and wiped away the grin in favor of a professional smile. Things in the kitchen had been rougher than usual tonight. Not the time for antagonizing her grandmother. "So what can I get you two?"

"The usual," Snow answered, her focus still on her moping husband.

"Okay, that’s two chicken clubs on white, one plain fry to split, and two cream sodas." Ruby rolled her eyes at the sheer blandness of it, but the sound of Granny clearing her throat in the background put a hold on any teasing. "I’ll just get these orders going," she said quickly and with a sly wink at Emma, bounced off toward the kitchen.

She had to dart around Henry who was returning from the back room dragging a heavy, chair that probably hadn’t seen the light of day in years. It looked to be made more of grime than wood. "Finally found something in the storeroom," he called out as he got it closer to the family booth.

Regina eyed the thing, noting the layers of ground in dust, and dry rot. "Ahm, maybe you should clean that up ... a bit..." she suggested at last.

Emma wasn’t Regina. Normally she didn’t worry much about a little dust, but... Yeah, the grease and dirt were a bit much even for her. "Umm ... yeah, needs cleaning." Though privately, she doubted anything short of a flame thrower was going to do much good.

"Ruby’ll have something." Grinning, he disappeared again.

"Think there’ll be anything left if he gets all the dirt off?" Regina mused aloud.

Everyone laughed, even Snow White, though her chuckle was a bit strangled sounding.

Then they all fell into uncomfortable silence.

"So ... uh ... news?" Snow exhaled at last, cautiously approaching the giant pink elephant larking about the room.

Leaning forward, elbows braced on the tabletop, Emma peered down at her linked hands for a moment. She heard the soft background murmur of the crowd, and the distant tinkle of the front bell, but the sounds barely registered. She was much too focused on figuring out what to say. "Here’s the thing— " she began carefully, warmed by the hand that slid under her hair to massage her neck lightly.

"Oh, god," David whispered before she could get any farther, the sound whimpery and scared as he let his head fall forward until it thudded gently against the table.

Emma’s face fell. She wanted to get rid of Hook, not break her parents’ hearts.

Regina meanwhile, was offended. Maybe she wasn’t the ideal, but really, her fictional relationship with Emma should hardly be cause for the prince to break down moaning and weeping like a particularly depressed banshee. She was just drawing breath to castigate him for acting like a two year-old when a new voice suddenly roared across the air.

"Shwan ... Shwa–aan!"

Hook. And by the sound of it, none too sober either. Crap. Emma pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to stave off a sudden headache.

He appeared beside the table before any of them could formulate a strategy — or at least before they could formulate a legally allowed strategy because Regina had plenty of time to debate a fireball.

Or ten.

Purely for disinfectant purposes, of course, she assured herself.

Weaving gently, Hook grabbed for the back of the chair to steady himself and grinned broadly at the table. "Your True Love izh here, Shwan," he proclaimed, then flipped the chair around and swung himself into it, legs straddling the back. A cloud of ancient dust kicked up from decaying cushions and rose up around him as he sank down. Hook showed no sign of noticing, simply rested his chin on his folded forearms and gave them his best ‘adorable’ look. "So we plannin’ the weddin’?" He grinned. "Cuzh, I know yer eager to make me yer own."

Charming lifted his head from the table, peered at Hook for the briefest moment, then let his forehead thud back into the tabletop in a slow rhythm that matched up with his repeatedly muttered, "No."

Regina’s head tipped to one side as she noted the performance. Well, that was ... different.

Then Emma yelped.

And Regina swung her head back around, Charming’s odd behavior forgotten.

Because Hook had his remaining hand on Emma’s—

And...

"Paws off!" the not-perhaps-entirely-former Evil Queen roared as she pushed upright and glared at the pirate with the sort of look that had quelled entire armies once upon a time.

Hook grinned a bleary grin. "Don’ be jealouzh, queenie. I know yer hopelezhly in luv w’me, but y’ll getcher chansh."

Emma felt Regina surge and twisted. "Regina, no," she hissed and laid a restraining hand on the other woman’s chest.

Hook just couldn’t resist. "Cuzh there’z plen’y o’ Hooky-poo to go ‘round."

A tiny, incoherent sound of purest rage bubbled up from Regina’s throat, but she didn’t move. "Oh, trust me, there will be plenty of Hooky-poo around," she snarled. "In itty-bitty pieces ... from one end of this room to the other."

Either too drunk or too overconfident to be terrified, Hook laughed at the threat. "Regzhie, Regzhie, Regzhie," he lectured. "Qui’ preten’n y’aren’ mad fer me ... speszhally when w’both know how y’love m’titty twishters." He held up his hand, rolling his thumb and forefinger and leered.

Tension rippled through Regina and her hands clenched into claws.

Emma’s jaw dropped. So that was it. It was a wonder he had any recognizable body parts left. Regina really had changed.

Meanwhile, if Emma thought Regina’s previous sound had been pure rage, it abruptly occurred to her that she hadn’t known what rage sounded like.

Not until that exact moment when a strange, inhuman snarl vibrated the air around the brunette.

"Oh ... dear." Mary Margaret finally found her voice, though not much of it.

David’s thumping stopped and he looked up.

Meanwhile, Henry returned, cleaning fluid and a couple of paper towels in hand. After one quick look, he was more than smart enough to freeze and make no sudden moves.

Shaking off her paralysis, Emma laid her other hand on the brunette’s shoulder as she half rose. "You can’t kill him," she insisted.

She got a mad smile in return. "Trust me, Emma, I can kill him," Regina assured her.

"Okay, you can," Emma allowed. "But you shouldn’t. Remember, Henry, morals, fresh starts ... that sort of thing." She nodded toward the pirate. "He’s not worth it."

Dark eyes narrowed dangerously, but Regina still didn’t move. "But ... he ... and—" she ground out through clenched teeth.

"No," Emma said firmly as she held Regina’s gaze. "Killing bad."

Another soft growl, but still no attack.

Then Hook decided to make up his own little sea chanty. "Twist’d thozhe nipsh on Regina Millszh’ chesht, yo-ho-ho, ‘n’ a bottla rum. Szhe lovesh m’hook cuzh ish da besht, yo-ho-ho ‘n’ a bottla rum..." he sang in the background.

And that was all she wrote.

"No!" Emma shouted and tried for a grab, but Regina ghosted right through her in a moving wave of purple smoke, reappearing outside the booth, one hand up. A wave of energy pulsed out from her palm, sending Hook’s chair skimming back several feet.

He grinned like a maniac on the Matterhorn ride in Disneyland.

Lips drawn back from her clenched teeth in a feral snarl, Regina opened her hand out, fingers spread wide as she began to draw energy for another blast.

"Dammit, NO!" Emma pushed free of the booth. Her first thought was to rush Regina and physically subdue her, but thankfully, sanity prevailed. She skidded into place beside and ever so slightly in front of the brunette, positioned where she could catch her eyes, but wasn’t in the line of fire.

In other news, half the population of the diner hit the floor, while the other half sat frozen in place, stunned into immobility by sheer terror.

The pirate preened in the face of the attention. One eyebrow quirked upward.

Emma felt her stomach sink. Clearly he was too drunk or stupid to have any survival instinct whatsoever, because Regina was going to spread him across the floor and walls like cheap jelly. "Regina, you’ve gained so much ground. Don’t lose it now," she said very softly, her tone coaxing as she reached out and laid a hand lightly over Regina’s forearm, well aware of the energy crackling around the other woman. "You know he’s not worth it."

"Ah, Emma," he chastised. "Y’know I’m szho worth it ... sinzhe y’r hopel’shly in luv w’me."

In general, Emma was easy going, but she had her limits, and a temper that could explode. And she was rapidly cruising toward the point of no return. Okay, so a certain sea chanty may have added fuel to the fire — especially when he started singing it again in the background. Emma found she didn’t like the notion of Hook even looking at that portion of Regina’s anatomy, much less...

She shuddered in horror and couldn’t finish the thought.

"See, Emma," Regina said as she pushed at the hands restraining her from firing. "Really, he deserves this, and we’ll all be happier once it’s done."

Meanwhile Hook winked and mugged, sang for a bit, then stopped and went back to insisting she was in love with him despite her efforts to prove otherwise while she was trying to keep an enraged witch from rightfully disemboweling him.

Then he started singing. Again. A new tune. "I’m zsho amazhin’. M’hook ish zsho divine, the Shavior luvs m’penizh, d’queenzh titties’re all mine..."

And Emma broke.

The timer on her temper went off.

Boom.

"No more," she growled. She shoved Regina’s hands down, barely noticing the queen’s startled look as she pivoted toward Hook and stormed forward to grab for his collar and haul him out of the chair. "You think I’m in love?" she snarled right in his face. "With you?" She laughed, the sound sharp and brittle. "Is that really what you think?" she demanded. "When I’m ducking and dodging and bobbing and weaving and literally climbing out of windows to escape ... and you think that’s love?"

His eyebrows shot up and he turned on the puppy-dog eyes as he showed a smile that was all teeth and nodded vigorously.

Boom and boom again.

"Well, it’s NOT!" Emma roared and shook him until his teeth rattled and his brains sloshed inside his skull. "LOVE is NOT about wearing someone down until they’re too exhausted to keep fighting!"

The smile finally fell away and Hook’s features drew into a blank look. "But—" he started to argue.

"NO!" Emma repeated both the roar AND the shaking. "Love isn’t tormenting someone until they have sex with you in hopes you’ll go away now ... it involves actually giving a damn about them and caring more about what they want than what you want—"

"No, tha’ can’t be right." Hook’s expression remained blank and he started shaking his head back and forth, clearly not getting it.

Emma didn’t plan what happened next, she really didn’t. It was just that the utter and complete lack of comprehension on his face pushed a plunger wired to a cache of emotional TNT somewhere deep inside her.

It wasn’t so much boom as BOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!

She flung Hook away, mouth twisted into a pleased snarl as he slammed into the nearby wall. Cocking back a fist, she took a step forward.

And found herself pulled up short from behind.

"Emma, no!" Regina’s left arm was wrapped around Emma’s upper chest while her right caught the blonde’s balled fist.

Emma froze momentarily, intensely aware of encasing arms and the body molded to her back.

"This isn’t you," Regina soothed, though she tightened her grip fractionally when Emma would have pushed forward.

"Weren’t you just about to kill him?" Emma ground out, her muscles tight, breathing ragged. She wasn’t quite trying to throw Regina off, but close to it.

"Well, that is me," Regina pointed out, the faintest trace of humor in her tone.

A soft snort of almost laughter escaped Emma’s lips and she relaxed fractionally.

"But not you, Emma." Very gently, Regina tugged the blonde back a step, then guided her around until they were face to face. She brushed a few stray locks of hair off her brow. "Never you."

Then Hook chuckled softly, one eyebrow quirked upward and his mouth tipped up in the faintest of knowing grins. "M’girlzh are szho pretty ... they both luv me y’know—"

Regina felt Emma tense and saw the flicker of rage in her eyes and knew what was coming if she didn’t act. She snapped her right hand out and pointed. It only took two fingers.

A bright burst of energy hit Hook’s midsection like a glowing fist, driving the air from his lungs and leaving him bent double and wheezing.

Emma would have looked over, but Regina laid light fingers alongside her cheek to stop her. All she said was, "No."

The blonde dragged in a deep breath. "It needs to stop, Regina," Emma whispered raggedly. "It’s making me crazy." She was startled by how understanding Regina’s smile was, but then, if there was anything she understood, it was how frustration could make a person insane. "I’m just not a skunk ... and I can’t be a skunk."

"I know," Regina whispered, still stroking Emma’s cheek. She slanted a quick look around them, taking in the avidly watching crowd. "But let me handle it," she whispered as her gaze came back to the blonde.

"But—"

Regina laid the same two fingers over Emma’s lips. "Trust me," she said, her tone somewhere between a plea and a command. "He’ll get the point. I’ll see to it."

A worried frown creased Emma’s forehead. "Are you sure, because I’m not sure I can—"

"I promise," Regina insisted seriously, then brushed her fingers along Emma’s cheek and her thumb along the line of her lower lip. She peered into green eyes, well aware that everyone was watching.

This was just to put Hook in his place and maybe taunt the Charming’s a bit. No other reason, she assured herself as leaned into Emma, intensely aware of how easily they dovetailed together. The slight height difference forced her to arch up just a little to press a soft kiss onto the corner of Emma’s mouth, but that only increased the volume of contact and made the whole thing appear more intimate. As she broke the kiss, she held Emma’s gaze for a long moment, her tone firm as she repeated, "I promise."

Emma nodded.

"Good girl." Regina pivoted away from Emma, her expression morphing as she moved, so that she wore a feral smile by the time she faced Hook. Striding toward the pirate, she deliberately intensified the sway of her hips, summoning something of the old Evil Queen persona.

He was still wheezing and fighting to draw a breath when she crouched down in front of him.

"Silly, silly boy," she drawled slowly, her voice cool and pitched low, but loud enough for most of the diner to hear. "It’s time to accept that she doesn’t want you, that you were just a very brief, and much regretted, flirtation, that she’s with me," she explained, her tone cool, until suddenly it dropped low, taking on the Queen’s timbre. "She’s mine," Regina added, her expression dark and intense, extra emphasis on the last syllable turning it into a serious claim of ownership. "And I will protect her." On her final words, she made the tiniest gesture with her right hand.

A miniature blast wave hit low and center on the pirate. He paled and his eyes bulged while other things noticeably shrank. He didn’t so much fall as topple.

"Understood?" Regina said very softly as she relaxed her hand.

Hook heaved a ragged sigh that ended on a pained whimper, while his hands clutched his groin protectively.

Regina smirked. As if that would even slow her down.

It took the pirate a beat to catch his breath, then his chin bobbed in a rapid nod.

"Good boy." Regina briefly considered patting him on the head like a puppy who’d finally learned not to piddle on the carpet, but opted to continue with a grease free life.

Emma’s heart throbbed in her chest as she watched Regina’s performance and saw Hook retreat for the first time. Then the queen rose, her movements languid and eerily graceful as she turned and moved back toward Emma. Dear god, the woman had a hip-swaying stripper walk that could make a rock sweat.

Not to mention a look in her eyes that grabbed a person and held on, silently offering every bit of pleasure, sin, and joy possible. As she stared at into their limitless depths, Emma could almost believe the silent promises. "Hook?" she whispered as Regina drew close.

Glancing back, Regina noted the pirate had crawled some distance from where he’d gone down, only to stop. Now he was leering at the blonde again. Clearly that limited attention span was going to be an issue. Shaking her head in a tutting motion, she pointed a single finger and sent a delicate purple spark flying.

It hit home.

Hook splayed out for a moment, hands over his abused nether regions, then a beat later, he was speed-crawling for the exit.

"Granted, I think he’s going to need frequent reminders for a bit," Regina admitted as she watched him go. "But he’s getting the idea." Then she turned back to Emma and trailed gentle fingers along the line of her cheekbone on the way to threading them into golden silk threads.

"Regina," Emma breathed, her eyes liquid. "Nobody’s ever..." She trailed off, not knowing how to express how good it felt to have someone else take care of her for once. "Thank you," she exhaled after a long moment.

Regina shrugged and maybe even blushed the tiniest bit — though if asked, she would have denied it. "If we’re going to be dating, I can hardly let that oaf upset you. Though he does have his uses." She paused for a beat, then offered a wicked grin. "Target practice ... and such a tiny target at that."

Emma chuckled in spite of herself.

"Meanwhile, I think this little scene needs an exclamation point."

It only took the slightest pressure on the back of her neck and Emma was falling into Regina, feeling the shape and press of her as she grabbed for lapels of the smaller woman’s jacket to steady herself. She drew a breath to say something, but—

Gentle fingers laid over Emma’s lips. "Shhh," Regina soothed, suddenly not wanting any reminders that this was just a bit of playacting. It felt too good to be the hero for once and for reasons she didn’t care to analyze too closely, it also felt right to be here like this with Emma Swan. Regina pushed up on her toes, a tiny shiver sliding over her as she felt the shape of firm curves molded to the length of her torso. And then she found Emma’s mouth with her own. Barely making contact, she pressed a light kiss onto soft lips. Just as the first kiss had been, it was gentle, innocent, even chaste.

But this time, she didn’t stop there. Instead, the kiss lengthened and melded into another.

She pressed deeper, mouth spreading and slanting against Emma’s, a tiny purr vibrating her throat as she felt a strong hand find purchase at the small of her back.

This kiss was firmer, more demanding, and while it was still innocent, chastity was slipping away into the night. Their lips parted for the briefest second, then came together again, the contact unplanned, but irresistible.

Emma’s stomach rolled and heat slid through her veins, leaving her wanting to touch and taste and lose herself in warm flesh that teased her with the scents of apple and cinnamon and just a touch of vanilla.

And then reality just had to intrude.

"Wait ... what ... I thought Emma was in love with Hook." David’s voice, even more confused sounding than usual, rose above what Emma suddenly realized was a low drone from the crowd. "And why’s she kissing Regina?"

"Not sure, but I don’t think it’s because she’s in love with Hook," Snow answered in one of her rare wry moments.

Remembering where they were, Emma jerked out of the kiss and spun toward her parents, though she kept a hand at the small of Regina’s back. A quick look confirmed that every eye in the place was on them. A blush crawled over her cheekbones as she swung her head back to meet her mother’s unreadable gaze.

"Care to explain?" Snow questioned.

Standing next to his wife, David nodded.

"Umm..." Emma slanted a quick look at Regina, unsure how she felt about the regal way the brunette was eyeing her mother, or the faintly suggestive smile she was wearing. She liked it better when they were kissing. Kissing was safer.

Which so wasn’t a thought she’d ever expected to have.

"Well ... see ... the Hook thing? All in his head ... and ... well..." She looked over at Regina, silently pleading for help.

One dark eyebrow quirked high on Regina’s forehead, then she decided to take pity on Emma. "What Emma is trying to avoid saying is that she and I are a couple."

Snow’s brow drew into a frown. "You’re telling me you’re involved — romantically — with my daughter?"

"It’s an option we’re pursuing."

Emma rolled her eyes. Only Regina.

"Is this true?" Snow asked Emma, her tone and expression doubtful, not hostile, but more as though she was expecting some kind of punchline to a joke.

Feeling like she was five and caught with her hand in the cookie jar, Emma nodded. "Yeah ... kinda ... yeah." Then, in a desperate bid to look like she wasn’t lying through her teeth, she smiled much too broadly and slung an arm across Regina’s shoulders, hugging her close on one side. Feeling the other woman stiffen, she turned a pleading look her way.

Dark eyes rolled, but amazingly enough, Regina slipped an arm around Emma’s waist and relaxed into the hug. Well, sorta relaxed. Anyway, it wasn’t quite the stiffest, most awkward hug in the history of hugs. Really, it didn’t come in any higher than fourteenth, ninth at the highest, and certainly no better than fifth.

The gesture set off a sudden burst of total and utter silence as the occupants of the diner stared on in shock. Regina wasn’t exactly known as a big hugger, particularly when it came to the Savior. Murder? Sure, but hugging? Not really, no. As a result, the locals were both shocked and edgy, fully expecting some sort of trick, an explosion, something with fire and brimstone and whatever else Regina Mills could cook up and hurl in a heartbeat.

In that heavy, clinging silence that was starting to make Emma sweat, came something unexpected.

"So, wait," David spoke up, sounding confused. "Emma’s with Regina ... not Hook?"

Prince Charming’s blade had ever been sharp. His wit, not so much.

Regina, meanwhile, finally remembered her original purpose for agreeing to the charade — namely the utter humiliation and embarrassment of Snow White and Prince Charming — and so offered a smile that was all things wicked, sexual, and hungry. It was meant to melt anyone and anything within range, and she’d used it enough times to know just how effective it could be.

"Kinda ... yeah..." Emma admitted, wondering at her own sanity as she glanced over and saw Regina smile that smile. She was under no illusions about what it was meant to do — namely drive the knife deep, then give it a healthy, energetic twist, possibly several of them. Actually, it was probably meant to make it spin like a top until it drilled through to China.

Regina might have changed, but not that much.

Regina’s smile got a little more wicked if such a thing was possible, and Emma could almost hear the thoughts and plans running through her head. She probably had a huge catalog of sarcastic remarks ready to go at a moment’s notice because Regina was all about planning to handle any situation.

"Oh, thank god." David heaved a relieved sigh and let his head fall forward to rest on his wife’s shoulder, while Snow absently reached up and petted his hair.

"There, there," she murmured. "It’s going to be all right now."

Now? All right? Now?

Okay, so there might be a situation or two Regina wasn’t prepared for. Uncertain she’d heard right, she banged the side of her head against her palm like she had swimmer’s ear, then shook her head and repeated the motion on the other side.

"See," Mary Margaret told her husband with a loose gesture toward her daughter and former stepmother. "I told you Emma would come to her senses."

"Wh-what?" Regina managed to stammer, still not convinced she was hearing right. No way in hell was she supposed to be the coming-to-her-senses option. She was supposed to be the she’s-evil, no-way-in-hell, we’re-locking-you-in-a-nunnery, and you’re-never-having-sex-again-if-she’s-your-choice option.

But ... indeed ... Snow and Charming both appeared ... pleased.

She glared at Emma suspiciously. "Did you put a spell on them, because your magic can get a little squirrelly." She swung her gaze back to Snow and Charming. "And your parents are definitely acting a little squirrelly." It was a testament to how rattled Regina was that she actually used the word, ‘squirrelly.’

Meanwhile, if Snow noticed Regina’s confusion, she didn’t let on. Instead she moved to stand in front of her former stepmother, laying a hand on her arm as she offered an encouraging smile. "I know things have been difficult between us, but I think you and Emma are so good for each other ... and it makes so much sense that you’re building a family together. It’s like everything has come full circle and I hope you believe me when I say how happy I am about this."

The former queen just stared.

Despite her shock, Emma snorted out a tiny laugh. Only Regina Mills could react so negatively to a lack of disapproval.

"We’re very happy," David agreed with his wife while Emma was still musing on things. "So, so very happy," he added. "Just really happy. I mean, you have no idea how very happy."

Emma noticed along about the third happy. "Ummm ... Dad?"

Her father turned a wide-eyed look her way. "Hook kept talking about how he’s your True Love and you adore and worship him ... and ... he sounded so confident..."

"Okay," Emma exhaled hesitantly. She made a small, swirling gesture with one hand. "So he was wrong, but that doesn’t explain all the ... happys."

Charming leaned forward and lowered his voice. "He looks at me funny, Emma," he confided, his voice threatening to crack as he continued. "And he-he follows me around ... and talks about how much he likes you ... and how much he likes me ... and he thinks the three of us should spend more time together ... and I just..." David grabbed Emma’s lapels and pulled her forward until they were nose to nose. "I’m a fairytale character, Emma. I don’t wanna know what he means by that ... and I’m afraid he’s gonna tell me anyway."

Through it all, Snow massaged his neck and back and whispered soothing nonsense while Regina froze, utterly gobsmacked.

This had not been her plan. At. All.

This was supposed to be an explosion of whining and tears and the idiots being idiots and Emma being on her side for once, and instead...

Instead she soon found herself soothing the two idiots and assuring them that, indeed, she, not Hook, was the news Emma had planned to announce as well as possibly her True Love, and then being gently scooted back into the booth and eating salad and onion rings and listening to the two idiots being distressingly happy that she and their daughter were a thing while Emma leaned back and rested an arm on the booth behind her and Henry took up residence in a much cleaner chair offered by someone from the crowd.

It was all so sweet and homey and utterly banal that Regina barely contained the urge to scream.

And the worst part, the very, absolutely worst damn part?

Snow was so over the moon and utterly accepting that she was already making suggestions for a politically correct, both-brides-in-white, werewolf-catered wedding, while Charming just nodded and looked relieved and encouraging and offered to walk them both down the aisle.

Even Emma looked a little shell shocked at that point.

Henry, meanwhile was watching the whole thing, his head tipped to one side, as though he was studying the bizarre behavior of the natives of some heretofore undiscovered tribe. Regina half expected him to take out a notebook and start jotting things down for his PhD dissertation.

The word nightmare barely began to describe it all.

Then finally, the whole neverending dinner was almost over, and they were on the verge of making their escape when Snow slowed them down with a nudge and a wink as she offered to take Henry for the night to give them some alone time.

"No," Regina heard herself yelp, her voice hitting a high note she hadn’t managed since age ten. "I mean, we have plans," she added in an effort to correct the gaffe, then added more in the face of Snow’s hopeful face. "Family plans, that is ... to spend time together ... the three of us."

"Yeah," Emma agreed. She slung an arm around Henry’s shoulders, pulling him into the space between them. "The three of us."

"Uh-huh," Henry confirmed, the only one of the three to sound remotely normal. "Yeah, family movie night," he explained cheerfully.

"That sounds wonderful, Henry," Snow said in a tone that suggested it wasn’t really. She worried her lower lip between her teeth. "I just..." She paused, her gaze swinging back and forth between Emma and Regina. "Well, I hope you two are careful to make time for yourselves. It’s too easy when you’re parents to forget to work on your own relationship and ... well ... you know..."

Regina suddenly related to Charming’s whimpered comments about being told things he really didn’t want to hear because... No, just... No. She silently willed her former stepdaughter to stop right there. Right. There. And not go on because... No, just... No.

Snow caught Emma’s right hand and Regina’s left, bringing them together so they overlaid one another, a beatific smile on her face as she uttered the very last words her daughter or former stepmother ever wanted to hear. Ever. "Well ... well ... intimacy is important in a relationship, and—"

Regina waved her free hand and purple smoke boiled and in an instant, the family threesome was gone.

Snow White smiled proudly. "Hopefully they’re taking my advice to heart." Then she peered at her husband. "Do you think Granny would bake the cake for the wedding?"

* * * * * *

To Be Continued

Chapter Text

 

"Whoa, that is sooo cool ... like a combination roller-coaster/parachute drop," Henry enthused, whatever Snow White might have been babbling about instantly forgotten in the wake of the new experience. He peered hopefully at his brunette mother. "Can we do it again?"

"It was kinda fun this time," Emma agreed, surprised to find that the dizziness and confusion she’d suffered the first time were nowhere in evidence, but there was a clinging exhilaration that had her breathing hard and grinning in spite of herself.

Or maybe the exhilaration was just because things had gone so well, even if Snow White’s final advice had been roughly a fourteen out of ten on the uncomfortable scale.

"Maybe sometime soon," Regina exhaled distractedly. Normally, she would have been pleased to see Henry excited by something so integral to her nature, but at that moment Snow White’s words were still pinging around in her brain. It had all seemed to be going so well. She’d cheerfully tormented Hook, while Charming and Snow were looking nauseous, and nervous and generally scared to death. And then suddenly, it all went hideously wrong.

Instead of upset, angry, and unreasonable, they’d been sweet, supportive, even ... cheerful.

Her stomach rolled and she had a sudden vision of a chapel buried in mounds of baby’s breath and lilac ribbons and Mary Margaret grinning maniacally at the center as she ordered them all into marital crash positions.

Somewhere in the back of her head a tiny voice reminded Regina that she’d been on this ride before and it didn’t travel anywhere she wanted to go. After all, She really didn’t want to kill Emma, and hadn’t for at least several weeks now. Besides which, her Agraban viper was getting a bit tetchy. The poor thing had become quite antisocial in her later years, quickly hiding if any strangers came around and showing absolutely no interest in biting anyone, no matter how much they deserved it.

It was rather sad, really.

Emma, meanwhile, was still so excited and giddy she was bouncing on the balls of her feet. She ruffled the kid’s hair and grinned. "Regina, you were great," she told the other woman, wanting her to know how grateful she was. "Hook actually left ... and stayed gone for the entire dinner. That’s a first."

"Mmhm," Regina grunted as she flopped back, one arm folded over her eyes.

"I mean it," Emma insisted. "You were amazing ... and thank you ... and..." She pulled up short, finally noticing the other woman’s exhausted sprawl. "Did poofing us all home take more out of you than when you poof alone?"

Regina raised her arm and glared. "I do not poof," she grumbled, finally giving way to her annoyance at such a childish way of referring to a very complex magical art.

"Oh, come on, Regina," Emma teased, waving her hands as she continued enthusiastically, "A swirl of purple smoke, then you’re gone. Poof!" She grinned in the face of the grumpy look directed her way. "What else would you call it?"

Dark eyes narrowed dangerously.

Lost in her own excitement and the success of the evening, Emma didn’t notice she how close to the edge of a very high cliff she was dancing.

Henry, on the other hand, seriously considered hitting the floor and throwing his arms over his head because that seemed like a logical choice in the face of his brunette mother’s obvious emotional state.

"I. Do. Not. Poof," Regina repeated with added emphasis. "Transubstantiation is an art that requires years of study and effort and—"

"Poof." Emma giggled, bouncing on her toes as she gestured with both hands to emphasize her point.

"Do you have any idea what goes into learning how to do that ... the risks one has to take early on ... the sheer power required—"

"Poof," Emma repeated.

Making a soft noise in the back of her throat, Regina sat up sharply.

Henry flinched and threw his hands up, a tiny squeak escaped his lips. "Uh ... Emma ... I’m not sure..."

And then Regina did something utterly and completely unexpected, something not even her son could believe she was capable of, something that stunned him into silence.

She flopped back down, threw her arm back over her face and grumbled, "Fine, I poof."

Emma froze, staring at the other woman in shock. Had Regina Mills just ... surrendered? It abruptly occurred to her that this was not necessarily a good thing.

Henry lowered his hands slightly, still ready to duck if was a trick and things suddenly went south.

Regina held up her free hand, idly summoning a tiny swirl of purple smoke. "Poof," she mumbled and snuffed it out again.

Emma’s brows shot up and she turned a firm look on Henry. "Don’t you have homework, kid?" she asked, her tone firm enough to make it clear that his answer was a definite, ‘Yes,’ whether he did or not.

Henry tipped his head to one side as he considered the question for a long moment before deciding there wasn’t going to be any bloodshed. "Yeah," he admitted truthfully. Besides, his teachers were pretty strict: no late homework except in the event of total armageddon. And he’d already used that excuse a couple of times this month.

Raising her arm, Regina directed a wry smile his way, then nodded her head toward the stairs. "Go on."

He started to turn only to pause and pivot back. "You sure?" he asked his adopted mother quietly, feeling oddly protective and like he kinda understood why the scene at the diner might get to her.

Her expression softened and she offered a surprisingly gentle expression meant to reassure. "I’m fine." At his doubtful look, she shrugged. Lying to Henry never did work very well. "Maybe a little rattled," she admitted. "But I’ll be fine. I promise."

"I’ll look after her," Emma quietly promised.

Turning Emma’s way, he shared a look with his blonde mother, silently warning her not to screw up and begging her to help, then slipped out.

Once he was gone, Regina dropped her forearm back over her face and sprawled more heavily into the cushions. A tired sigh escaped her lips.

"Um ... Regina?" Emma questioned. Her former nemesis’ behavior — hell, her posture alone — was so very un-Regina-like that it had her worried.

"I had a drink before we left," Regina murmured without acknowledging Emma’s implicit question. "Is there any chance I was utterly inebriated and that entire scene with your parents was nothing but an alcohol induced hallucination?"

At least she still spoke like Regina.

"I don’t think half a tumbler of scotch does that," Emma admitted.

"Damn."

A hint of a smile curving her lips, Emma sank down on the couch sideways, one leg tucked under her, arm along the back. "Y’know you should pat yourself on the back," she pointed out. "Our plan worked ... at least for the moment."

Regina dropped her arm and tipped her head up to fix a narrow-eyed gaze on Emma. "Your plan worked, dear," she disagreed acidly. "Mine? Poof." She shook her head slowly. "They were so ... happy," she moaned.

"Yeah," Emma agreed. "And when you think about it, that’s actually a good thing."

"Not from my vantage point," Regina shot back. She folded her arms across her chest, expression pursing into an angry pout. "They were supposed to be broken hearted that their darling Savior was in love with me."

"Okay, so making Snow White miserable didn’t happen," Emma allowed, then offered a bright, encouraging smile. "But look at the good side," she argued. "My parents ... your mortal enemies ... accepted you, accepted us—"

"Yes, Miss Swan, I noticed," Regina interrupted glumly. "Particularly when your mother started planning the wedding." Pinching the bridge of her nose in hopes of easing the headache building behind her eyes, she shook her head slowly, then abruptly sat bolt upright, eyes wide with panic. "My god, she’s probably digging out the baby name books she ignored when she named Neal—"

Emma smirked. "I don’t think even Mary Margaret is naive enough to think that would be an issue."

Regina speared her with a look. "What part of the concept of magic do you not comprehend?"

Emma blinked, knocked back on her heels by the serious look directed her way. "Wha’? "

"Think about it," Regina intoned seriously.

Pulled up short, Emma considered the comment, then swallowed hard. "Are you saying that ... that you and I could ... I mean ... if we..."

"Indeed."

"And that’s why my mother was encouraging us to..."

"Yes."

"Oh," Well, that explained at least some of Mary Margaret’s eagerness to see them happily intimate. Or maybe that was intimately happy. More grandchildren. She considered the news even as she reminded herself that this was all fake anyway. Fake dating, fake kissing, fake everything.

Regina shifted on the couch, offering a tantalizing glimpse of tantalizing curves.

Okay, so the cleavage was real, but everything else? Fake.

Really. The fact that it had felt nice and natural and devastatingly normal sitting next to Regina, their thighs pressed together, gentle fingers toying with the hair at the nape of the neck was meaningless. It was fake. And the fact that it had been better than normal when Regina stepped forward, protecting her?

Also unimportant. Fake. Fakity. Fake. Just a demented deal made between frenemies.

But the kissing her, holding some deep seated part of her in amazingly gentle hands?

Fake?

It had to be, but there was a part of Emma that desperately wanted to ask why. Only the answer was too terrifying to contemplate, no matter what it might be.

Then Regina let out the tiniest of sighs, a welcome distraction from deep thoughts as well as possibly the saddest, most depressed sound Emma had ever heard.

And all because Snow White and Prince Charming didn’t hate her for loving their daughter. Which was a truly demented reason to have one’s heartstrings tugged so fiercely Emma thought as she kinda melted. "So Henry could really have a little brother or sister that was ... y’know ... yours and mine?" she asked in an attempt spread the distraction around.

One eyeroll later, Regina muttered, "Were we so inclined." She didn’t add, ‘Which we aren’t,’ but it was there in her tone alongside the royal variety of ‘we’.

Faced with a pissed off, depressed former Evil Queen, Emma debated several responses in search of one that was both most likely to jar Regina out of her blue funk and least likely to get Emma immolated. It wasn’t a long list, nor one with any certain options. "Well, you’re carrying the kid this time," she deadpanned at last, going for the humor option. Hopefully, that wouldn’t lead to the dead option.

Right on cue, Regina turned toward her, expression twisted into a mask of outrage. "Excuse me?" she ground out.

Still perfectly straight faced, Emma faced that look, oddly confident that the other woman wouldn’t disembowel her. "I had the last one," she pointed out. "Logically, it should be your turn next."

Regina just stared.

"I mean, we haven’t done too badly with the kid. He can be a bit of a pain now and then, but mostly he’s pretty good," Emma continued talking as though they were in a serious conversation. "And of course, we’re both amazing mothers."

The open mouthed stare continued as Emma babbled.

"Yeah, I think this is a good plan. You’ll have the next one, then I’ll get the one after that and we’ll just trade back and forth." She grinned as she saw the tension finally break and Regina’s shoulders sag as she realized Emma wasn’t even slightly serious.

"Idiot," Regina exhaled, though there was a vaguely fond note in her tone. She sank back into the cushions, her breathing suddenly easier. She shook her head in wonderment, amazed at how Emma had managed to tease her out of the encroaching foul mood. The stress wasn’t all gone, but the building tension eased enough to let her breathe again.

Emma settled a hand on the other woman’s knee, the gesture meant to soothe, though if she was honest, that wasn’t the effect it had on her because ... yeah, the feel of Regina’s leg under her hand? Way too pleasant and way, way too inclined to make her heart do little somersaulty tricks in her chest. "We’re in charge here, not Snow White," she reminded Regina even as she tried to get her pulse under control. "We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to." Which, a tiny voice whispered in her ear, meant they were also allowed to do anything they did want. Like, for instance, enjoy the warm contact of hand to a nicely shaped knee.

"Your mother has a way of getting what she wants," Regina whispered after a long moment. "She was the only one who wanted my last marriage," she added with a tiny, resentful growl. "Well, she and my mother. But the groom and I were both quite averse."

Emma shrugged, wanting off that topic for both their sakes. "Well, at least your mom still wouldn’t approve," she drawled, though it occurred to her after the words were out of her mouth that perhaps that was no better a topic.

Feeling some of the tension slip away, Regina nodded as she envisioned her mother’s horror over her being in a relationship of that sort. Or a relationship of any sort really, particularly one where they weren’t simply using one another and there was a degree of actual caring. No, her mother wouldn’t have approved of that at all. She smirked, strangely pleased by the idea. "No, she wouldn’t." She thought about it a moment, then offered a tiny hint of a dark smile. "My being involved with you would have ruined her entire day."

She sounded decidedly pleased by the news.

Emma released a breath and felt some of the tightness in her chest ease. For a moment there, she’d been terrified of the turn in the conversation, but Regina was smiling ever so slightly. Okay, Emma could work with that. "Y’know, Snow White and Prince Charming may be thrilled, but did you see the dwarves? Completely outraged."

"Leroy in particular," Regina mused, finding something comfortably familiar in that old mutual contempt. "He still carries a grudge ... though I think it’s more about my making Astrid a nun than anything to do with my war with Snow White."

"Probably," Emma snorted, then added, "but hostility is still hostility. And Leroy, he really doesn’t like you." It didn’t make much sense, but being hated by the dwarves seemed to please Regina. Once again, Emma could work with that.

Already cheerier, Regina considered the news for a moment. "True." A hint of a smile touched her lips. "Neither does the Blue Fairy," she added. "Did you see her in the back booth? It looked like she was sucking on a lemon."

"That’s hardly a feather in your cap," Emma disdained. "That smug twit hates everyone." If she noticed the insanity of the game they were playing, she didn’t let on.

After drawing a breath to argue, Regina paused and thought better of it. "You’re right," she admitted, brows drawn into a befuddled frown. She folded her arms across her chest, tone disapproving. "I’ve never quite understood why the fairies put up with her. She’s awful to them ... always has been. And frankly, her means of choosing which children’s wishes she considers worthy of fulfilling is utterly mystifying."

"Then there’s Tinkerbell," Emma added to the list. "She tried to kill you."

"Who hasn’t?" Regina dismissed that reasoning. "Besides, we seem to be ... sort of ... friends these days," she admitted, her expression one of mild distaste. Kicking off her shoes, she turned toward Emma, folding her legs loosely in front of her as she moved. "Though after the whole Robin Hood 2.0 fiasco, I’m not sure that’s a good thing."

"She pressed you pretty hard to get with him, didn’t she?" Emma remembered seeing the two of them huddled together on several occasions and every time Tink had been intense and up in Regina’s grill, while Regina just looked like she’d rather be somewhere else.

Slim shoulders drooped and Regina refused to meet Emma’s gaze for a moment. "She said I ruined his life, you know," she exhaled, her voice smaller and softer than Emma had ever heard it. "Because I didn’t run off with him that first time."

Caught by a sudden rush of outrage, Emma barely resisted the urge to snarl several choice profanities to describe the fairy’s opinion. "You were locked in a tower ... suicidal and trapped in marriage to a man you didn’t love..." Her hand floated back to Regina’s knee and she patted lightly, the movement meant to soothe. "‘Hey, a new guy will solve all your problems,’ was not the answer."

Regina’s answering laugh was sharp and bitter. "In the Enchanted Forest, it was."

"Then the Enchanted Forest needs to get its head out of its ass."

Dark eyes snapped wide and Regina’s breath caught. "No one’s ever..." she whispered almost inaudibly without finishing.

"And as for Tinkerbell," Emma continued, "can I just say, LOSER," she snarked and lifted her free hand to her forehead in the classic L sign.

Regina couldn’t quite contain a tiny smile.

"Seriously," the blonde insisted. "She gives crap advice and we’re all better off with her outa the fairy business." She paused for a second. "Meanwhile, what are the chances someone that unreasonable doesn’t get pissed off at you again and make another try for your throat?"

"Good point. She’s on."

Emma grinned. "That’s the spirit."

More names got tossed out as they bantered back and forth, both enjoying the strange game and slowly relaxing more in each other’s company than they ever had before. Regina summoned drinks at some point and Emma had to admit, it really was an excellent scotch, the kind meant to be sipped slowly. It warmed the throat and belly and left a body feeling mellow and like all was right with the world.

As the evening wore on, Emma readjusted herself, sinking deeper into the couch and about half the time, her hand found a surprisingly comfortable purchase on Regina’s knee, mostly patting or squeezing lightly to add exclamation points to her funniest one liners, but very occasionally, stroking gently, trailing her fingers along the run of muscle in the back of Regina’s calf in effort to offer the tiniest bit of sympathy when she was sure something stung even if it was usually Regina who made the offending joke.

It was silly, stupid, and entirely too much fun and Emma found herself exposed to a side of the other woman that she hadn’t so much never seen before as never even guessed existed. She was smart, funny, self-deprecating, and sexy.

Okay, so she’d seen the sexy part before, but this was a different kind of sexy. Not so much the Evil-Queen, stripper-walk, melt-rocks sexy as Henry’s-Mom, MILF-GILF-Great-GILF, bakes-a- mean-cookie-and-great-lasagna sexy.

Which was, Emma was rapidly concluding, a whole other universe of sexy and if she was honest, way sexier than Regina’s regular brand of sexy because it made her think not just of nudity and wanton moaning, but of lazy Sunday mornings and family movie nights snuggled together on the couch, and quiet lovemaking after Henry turned in early.

And ... oh, god, those were so not the thoughts she was supposed to be having about Henry’s other mother, the former freaking Evil Queen. Because this was a setup, just to get rid of Hook’s pursuit. That was all it was.

Okay, so those kisses Regina had laid on her in the diner hadn’t felt particularly fake, but pleasant as they’d been, they were fake, fake, fakity, fake, fake, fake

Regina shifted, and ... yeah ... there was cleavage right on cue and Emma’s brain did that thing it did, only this time, right along with her brain doing that thing, her heart did its own thing. A thump and a bump and a rumble in her chest melded into a hard squeeze that made it hard to breathe.

Either that was genuine emotion or she was having a heart attack. She honestly wasn’t sure which was worse.

Regina resettled herself yet again which, like clockwork, led to another glimpse of Emma’s current favorite thing. It occurred to her that even with the attendant dangers in cleavage — like getting cleaved, and not in a good way either — a heart attack was never going to be any fun. Cleavage, on the other hand...

Yeah, it had definite possibilities.

All of which would have been scary as hell if didn’t feel so damn good. She peered at the drink in her hand. Though maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, she decided as she carefully set it aside. It made too many things seem possible, even easy.

She was yanked out of her thoughts when Regina cleared her throat pointedly. Blinking rapidly, Emma refocused on the other woman. "Sorry, I guess I fazed out for a moment," she admitted, fully expecting a mocking reply in return.

Instead, Regina just nodded. "Not surprising. It’s been a long, stressful day." She thought about it for a second, then added, "Or maybe that’s just me." After all, Emma was the one who’d gotten what she wanted — Hook, was, if not entirely gone, then headed in the right direction, plus the bonus of disgustingly happy parents.

"It’s not just you," Emma exhaled. She ran hand through her hair. "It was..." She paused for a long moment, the meeting with her parents running through her head. "Crazy," she said at last. "But pretty amazing too." Another pause. "You were pretty amazing."

Startled to feel a blush heat her cheeks, Regina ducked her head in an effort to hide the response, but Emma tucked a finger under her chin, not letting her escape. Her heart thumped solidly in her chest and the blush only deepened as green eyes studied her closely, sliding this way and that with the impact of actual caresses.

Unexpectedly, Regina didn’t mind at all. A slow smile made its way across her mouth. "Now, now, Miss Swan," she taunted gently. "No changing the subject."

Emma smirked, but didn’t argue. "What if I’ve run out of names for your list?" she drawled. "Maybe I feel like starting a new kind of list."

"Such as?" Regina challenged.

"How about a list of the people who like you."

It was Regina’s turn to smirk. "Well, that should pass a good ten or fifteen seconds," she muttered and would have turned away, but Emma’s voice drew her back, not letting her flee, physically or otherwise.

"If we’re counting, that’s the list I’d be on," the blonde whispered.

Regina froze.

"And what’s more, I think you’d be on a list of people who like me."

"I suggest you get your ego under control, Miss Swan," Regina deflected in her crispest, most mayoral tone.

Emma just laughed and leaned in closer. "You like me," she accused.

"Most people like you." Which was true. Emma might have her flaws, but she could be genuinely charming and kind, and she seemed to possess a sense of empathy that let her relate to anyone. Even an Evil Queen, Regina mused. She didn’t quite know how Emma did it, but she wormed her way inside of people’s emotions and made a little nest for herself in there, until a little part of them was hers forever.

"I’m not talking about most people," Emma dismissed, her entire focus on the brunette. "Just you."

"Tough ... there are a lot of people who like you," Regina assured her. She peered up at Emma seriously, well aware that she had her own issues with fear and rejection and the asinine title Rumple’s curse had saddled her with. "And not just because you’re the Savior ... for some, maybe even in spite of it."

"Like you?" Emma whispered, her tone making the words more of a statement than a question.

The tiniest hint of a smile curved full lips. "Perhaps," Regina allowed, her tone walking a fine line between confirming and denying the charge. She settled a hand on Emma’s chest, palm spread, neither pushing, nor pulling, just resting there.

Brows drawing into a hint of a frown, Emma studied the brunette. It was tempting to run screaming in stark terror, but there was that bit of lovely alcohol in her system — just enough to let her emotions swing from insecurity to bravery in an instant when faced with the challenging look in warm brown eyes.

"Well?" Regina demanded crisply when Emma still hadn’t spoken a moment later.

"I think..." Emma whispered very softly, trailing off momentarily and purposely leaning into Regina’s space until their faces were a scant distance apart. "...you do like me," she exhaled, her tone somewhere between confident and questioning.

A hint of a smile touched full lips, while black pupils expanded until there was only the tiniest ring of brown left. "I’m not sure there’s anything that simple between us," Regina responded.

"It’s anything but simple," Emma agreed, edging a little closer, ready to pull back if she got any discouragement.

She didn’t. In fact there was something that looked suspiciously like invitation in the subtle twist of full lips and the lingering softness in brown eyes

Emma grinned in response. "You like me." This time she was all confidence, even a little cocky as they slid deeper into this unexpected push-me-pull-you game. "I think you even liked kissing me in the diner," she tossed out, finally broaching that bit of supposed play acting that had felt an awful lot like the real thing.

"Don’t be silly, Miss Swan. That just was part of the show."

"Maybe," Emma admitted. "But I still think you kinda liked it." Intensely aware of warmth and softness, she settled her hand on Regina’s calf, smiling as taut muscle quivered in response.

Regina snorted disdainfully, but didn’t actually deny the accusation, just muttered a reproving, "Miss Swan."

"Emma," Emma insisted, her voice little more than the barest of whispers.

"Emmawhat?" Regina responded seriously, though her eyes danced.

Emma pressed more firmly into Regina’s space, close enough now to smell the lingering scents of soap and body oil. "Emma, my name." She offered a surprisingly gentle smile. "Use my name, Regina," she drawled, the softly spoken words a firm command.

"Miss Swan," Regina teased, a cheerful kind of defiance in her eyes. She shifted on the couch, restoring the distance between them.

"Not that one." It was Emma’s turn to pull back.

Regina edged forward as if pulled by an invisible tether.

Emma didn’t think the former queen was even aware she did it. That, she realized, was the secret to Regina Mills. Push too hard and she’d run like hell, but run a bit yourself and those predatory instincts would kick in and she’d be the one chasing.

Emma wondered if that sudden burst of understanding was a good thing or a bad one. A lazy smile curved her mouth as she ran an appreciative gaze over graceful curves. "Now be a good girl and say my name."

Wearing a hunter’s smile, Regina purposely leaned into Emma’s space, coming close enough that her warm breath played over Emma’s face. "I haven’t been a girl in a very long time, Miss Swan."

"Thank god for that." Emma pulled back a little more, then settled into the couch with a soft sigh, deliberately leaning back and grinning at Regina.

Speaking of defiance.

Regina’s breath caught and her stomach muscles rippled with tension as she fought the urge to swoop in and take command.

Take Emma.

No, she mentally corrected herself as she recognized the mistake in that thought, not take, give. Give pleasure, protection...

Give hearth and home...

The realization shook her to the core and left her trembling. Regina braced a hand on the back of the couch, clutching tightly to steady herself. Her heart thumped solidly in her chest and every last trace of oxygen fled the room as fantasies slid through her brain, none of them dark or forbidden. Instead, every image that played in her head was of gentleness, softness, time carefully spent, and words and tones that were all tenderness and affection.

She shook a little harder.

"Regina?" Emma’s voice was soft and a little worried.

It shattered one kind of paralysis, but intensified another.

Emma saw the moment Regina fled inside. Her eyes turned blank and scared and she sat back on her heels.

"Regina?" Emma repeated, her tone low and inviting in hopes of pulling the other woman back.

"I hardly think your crude game is appropriate, Miss Swan," the former queen responded frostily.

Dammit. Emma sighed softly. "Don’t, Regina," she warned quietly, a wealth of meaning behind the simple words. She fully expected a fight, denial or something else thoroughly Regina-like.

Brown eyes flashed dangerously and the brunette drew breath to unleash a scathing reply.

Emma just peered at her, the look in her eyes a silent rebuke.

Slim shoulders sagged and Regina held up a hand in a halting motion, but she didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything if she was honest. "I won’t," she exhaled more to herself than Emma when she finally spoke. She fell silent for a long moment before beginning again. "I won’t, but—"

I shot the sheriff...

"No, no, no," Emma hissed and jerked upright. "Sorry," she babbled. "But that’s the emergency line." Hands shaking, she fumbled for the phone in her back pocket.

...but I did not shoot the deputy...

Regina’s brows shot up, and her expression arched into a wry smirk. "Interesting ringtone," she drawled as Emma flipped the phone open and peered at the screen for a second before answering.

Emma waved sharply to silence the brunette. "Swan here," she snapped.

Regina felt her pulse kick into high gear as tension rippled across Emma’s shoulders in response to whatever she was hearing.

That was never a good sign in Storybrooke.

"Slow down and tell me what happened," Emma ordered the caller.

Brows drawing into a frown, Regina leaned closer, trying to hear something of the conversation, but even her hearing wasn’t that good.

"Are you serious?" Another pause. "No, I didn’t mean that. I just meant ... you have to admit, it’s kinda crazy sounding."

Which was par for the course in Storybrooke. Regina frowned. What the hell was going on? "What’s wrong?" she mouthed, but Emma held up a hand in a halting motion, focused on the conversation.

"No, no ... just lock things up and I’ll be there in a few minutes." She clicked the phone off and shoved it in her back pocket. "There’s an emergency. Nobody’s hurt, but it’s at the diner and there are still a lot of folks in the area," she explained before Regina could ask. "I’m sorry," she whispered raggedly. "But I’ve gotta go."

"Of course," Regina agreed. "But perhaps—"

The kiss was sudden, abrupt, and fast. It happened without planning. One moment, Regina was saying something, the next, Emma’s hand found her cheek, and the moment after that her mouth was covering the brunette’s. There was precious little finesse to it. Their lips met, mouths clashing with a kind of desperate need, then she was pulling back. "We’re going to talk about this later," she promised.

Regina didn’t argue. Couldn’t. Too many things were short-circuiting in her head. She just shook herself and tried to get her brain back into some state of functionality. Emma was on her feet and nearly to the door when she finally found her voice again. "Wait!"

Emma spun back, her tone impatient. "I have—"

"What happened?" Regina demanded in her sharpest, do-not-mess-with-me tone. That sudden kiss had been rife with a strange sense of the warrior off to battle and not expecting to come home. The hell if Emma Swan got to kiss her like that, then run and get killed without even a word of explanation.

"Something happened ... scared the hell out of everybody. I’ve gotta go."

"I’m coming with you." Regina didn’t even have to think about it. She was off the couch, halfway across the room, and redressed in knee high boots, black tights, a sweater and black leather jacket all in one move.

Emma pulled up short and her brows shot up as she noted the stylish ensemble in spite of herself. Well, at least it wasn’t the cocktail dress of doom that Regina occasionally favored. Then she froze, torn. Despite all the problems between them, she and Regina worked well together, fought well together. Having the brunette along had saved her life more than once, but suddenly all she could think about was keeping the other woman safe. "You don’t need to..."

But Regina had already stepped past her and was calling up the stairs to Henry, letting him know they were going out and to call his grandparents if he needed anything.

He called back down, assuring her he’d be fine. He’d been getting more time on his own and had handled it well so far.

"Regina, I can handle this," Emma insisted.

The brunette spun back. "Monsters at the diner, Emma?" She shook her head, much more comfortable now that she had the promise of an enemy to fight. "More my specialty than yours," she pointed out. "Besides, I’m not letting you face that sort of unknown without someone to guard your back."

"I ... uh ... I," Emma stammered, simultaneously warmed and terrified by those quietly uttered words. She started to fish her keys out of her pocket, but Regina just laughed and laid a hand on her upper arm.

"We’ve had drinks," the former queen reminded her. "No driving."

Then the purple smoke came for both of them.

 

* * * * * *

 

Chapter Text

"So no drinking and driving, but you can drink and poof?" Emma demanded as the world winked back into existence and she found herself a short distance from Granny’s, a milling crowd scattered on all sides. No sign of blood or damage, no screaming peasants, not even a broken window by the look of it. Good. That meant she could focus on the conversation for another moment or two. "Don’t you risk materializing in a wall or traffic or something?"

"I can do a lot of things and poof that I wouldn’t do while driving," Regina said, her tone calm and professional as she headed toward the front of Granny’s at a brisk pace.

"Really?" Emma exhaled, trotting after Regina even as she tried to decide if she’d imagined the faintly suggestive nature of the comment.

Regina never looked back, simply offered a cool, "Indeed." Her tone gave nothing away as she added, "Perhaps we can discuss them some day in more private surroundings." .

Pale brows shot up. "Really?" Emma croaked, not precisely fantasizing, but very aware that given a bit of privacy, she would be.

"Indeed." Regina reached the front door of the restaurant and leaned to one side to peer past the drawn blinds. Nothing appeared to be moving.

Emma was still trying to formulate some kind of response when Granny’s voice rose above the white noise of the surrounding crowd, sharp and castigating."Took you long enough," she complained as she emerged from the gathering throng swinging sharp elbows and a lethal crossbow with enough venom to chase away anyone who might have gotten in her way.

"At least a minute and a half," Regina muttered under her breath as she pivoted back to face the latest arrival.

Emma, meanwhile, focused on Granny, smiling in a way meant to placate the impatient, and occasionally violent, older woman. "We got here as fast as we could."

"What the hell are you doing about this mess?" Granny demanded as she waved at the front of diner, then at the surrounding crowd. "Do you have any idea how much I’m money losing?"

"Well, I—" Emma started to answer only to find herself interrupted.

"Has it occurred to you that Sheriff Swan might be of more assistance if you inform her of what’s transpired before demanding how she’s going to fix it?" Regina shot back over her shoulder, her tone frosty.

"Regina, I can—" Emma found herself cut off again, this time by Granny.

"What the hell business is it of yours, Your Highness?" Granny sneered, chin thrust pugnaciously forward as she stepped into Regina’s personal space.

Which was absolutely the worst possible strategy for dealing with Regina Mills if one was hoping for a reasonable response.

Which Emma suspected Granny wasn’t particularly interested in anyway. If there was anyone in Storybrooke who enjoyed a good fight more than the former queen, it was the elderly werewolf.

Right on cue, Regina closed the remaining distance and met Lavinia Lucas chin thrust for chin thrust and glare for glare. "Since I’m here to help, I’d say a reasonable amount," she snarled right back.

Ever the peacemaker, Emma just had to try. "Regina, maybe you should let me—"

This time they just shouted right over her.

"Hah." Granny swung her crossbow to bear, putting the tip right under the point of Regina’s chin. "More likely you’re here to see the results of your handiwork—"

"Granny!" Ruby snapped as she came around the corner of the building.

Regina’s hand was already coming up, a fireball roiling in her palm.

Ruby caught up with Granny and shoved the crossbow aside. "Granny, you can’t just shoot people because you’re having a bad day."

At the same instant Emma wrapped a hand around Regina’s wrist and pushed it down. "Regina," she growled. "Put it out." Very aware of just how dangerous both women could be, she was careful to be as non-threatening as possible as she stepped between them.

"She started it," Regina hissed.

"I know, but you’re going to be the bigger person and end it," Emma insisted, her tone a mix of bargaining and commanding.

A hint of a wicked smile touched Regina’s mouth. "Oh, I can end it."

Emma sighed and rolled her eyes in annoyance. "By putting the flames out," she specified.

Regina gritted her teeth and let out a disgusted sigh, but snuffed the bundle of fire in her palm anyway.

"You too, Granny," Ruby ordered, still pushing on the crossbow to redirect it.

"But she—"

"Didn’t do a damn thing," Emma snapped, not liking the notion of a crossbow aimed Regina’s direction. "She’s been with me all day."

Granny sniffed the air, then curled her lip disdainfully. "And it’s disgraceful what you were up to." She shook her head. "She’s clearly got you so whipped you don’t know which end is up." Another head shake. "It’s a sad day when the Evil Queen can lead Snow White’s daughter around by the nose." She speared Emma with a disapproving look. "Or any other body parts you care to name."

"Granny, they’re both adults and Regina’s on our side now," Ruby reminded the old woman as she unsuccessfully tried to take the crossbow away.

"Probably just trying to lull us into being careless so she can sic a few more nasties on us," Granny grumped. "Then have a booty call with her pet sheriff." She indicated Emma with a sharp chin bob. "Who oughta be ashamed of the way she’s betraying her parents, by the way."

"Actually, they approve," Emma informed Granny with a forced smile.

"Then Snow White oughta be ashamed of herself too ... and not just ‘cause she’s a crappy mayor." She muttered several profanities under her breath, then nodded toward Regina. "At least that one was competent, even if she was corrupt as hell."

"She’s in fine form tonight," Emma ground out as she fought the urge to defend ... well ... all of them really.

"It’s been a really bad day." Ruby heaved an exhausted sigh, and glared at her grandmother, silently warning her against trying to restart a fight before she refocused on Emma. "And after what happened, we’re all on edge." She flashed another hard at Granny. "Some more than others."

Granny let out a pissed off, "Hrmph," but was otherwise silent, though her expression screwed into one of mutinous resentment.

Emma raised an eyebrow at the disapproving glare, then looked over at Ruby. "So what happened?"

"Stressful day. Stuff kept going wrong," Ruby explained. "A water pipe broke, supplies went missing, fuses blew, food got knocked over ... the little scene with you, her highness and Hook—"

"Okay," Emma interrupted, none too eager to go back over that ground. "So day from hell, but what does that have to do with monsters?" She glanced over at Regina, hoping she’d have a suggestion.

Regina just shrugged.

"Things kept getting worse," Granny snapped, unwilling to remain silent just because Ruby thought she had a right to give orders. "And not in a normal bad day way ... it was like we were cursed." She glared pointedly at Regina, who tensed and started to snark back.

She also contemplated throwing a fireball. Or four.

Emma quelled that impulse with a hard look. "We’re here to help, remember?" she said pointedly. She didn’t add that fireballs wouldn’t help, but the subtext was there.

The former Evil Queen snapped her mouth shut, leaving any comments unspoken.

Ruby sighed and flashed her own silencing glare at her grandmother before continuing. "Then toward the end of the second dinner shift all hell broke loose ... screaming, running, some furniture upended and then Granny was shooting—"

"Anybody hurt?" Emma asked, implicitly including Granny and her crossbow on the list of possible dangers.

"No!" Granny snapped. "Thanks to me. I put at least a half dozen bolts in that thing. Bought folks time to escape."

"What thing?" Emma asked.

"It was sorta like outa that old horror movie ... the one with Steve McQueen." Granny grinned and her eyes glittered. "I always liked Steve McQueen..."

Regina rolled her eyes, praying to all that was holy in this land or any other, that Granny wouldn’t continue. She’d had enough sexual discussions she didn’t want tonight to last several lifetimes. Lavinia Lucas’ erotic secrets might just finish her off.

"What, The Thing?" Emma asked, confused. Steve McQueen movies weren’t exactly her forte and that was the only old horror movie she could think of.

"I think she means The Blob," Regina pointed out. "It used to show a lot on late night in the 80s."

"That’s right," Granny confirmed, a wolfish smile curving her mouth. "I used to love those nights. They were so ... relaxing..."

"Okay, since we’re rapidly entering the realm of way too much information..." Emma swung a pleading look Ruby’s way. "I don’t suppose you saw anything?" she asked hopefully.

Shuffling her feet uncomfortably, Ruby shrugged. "Not much," she admitted through a wince. "Like I said, it was chaos. I think it started when somebody shouted and knocked their table over, then I know somebody screamed that the Evil Queen was getting her revenge—"

"For what?" Regina grumbled, resentful that no matter what she did, she was still the villain. "I’m blissfully in love these days."

"That claim would work better without the sneer," Emma pointed out.

"She’s right," Ruby confirmed, then looked at Emma, one eyebrow arching high on her forehead "Somebody’s a bit grumpy." She sniffed again and got a whiff of assorted scents floating on the air around the former queen. A soft chuckle escaped. "Ooops, I guess I should apologize for interrupting."

Feeling her cheeks heat, Emma ducked her head. "I don’t know what you’re—"

"Werewolf, Emma," Ruby reminded her through a soft laugh. "Really good sense of smell." She leaned Regina’s direction and made a show of sniffing some more. "And you really had her motor going."

"Really?" Emma exhaled as though gut punched. She’d kinda thought maybe, possibly even had a few hopes that direction, but— "Ow!" She yelped and grabbed her upper arm where Regina had punched it — hard. "What the hell was that for?"

Dark brows shot up and Regina flashed a hard look at Ruby who was shaking gently with the force of her barely contained laughter. "You really have to ask?"

Yes, Emma really did, but she was nowhere near stupid enough to admit it. "Sorry," she mumbled when she finally spoke, eyes down, hangdog.

Pointedly ignoring Granny, Regina relaxed faintly."It wasn’t your fault, I suppose," she allowed, mouth pursing into a disapproving expression as she glared at Ruby. She knew exactly whose fault it was.

Ruby just snickered and patted Emma on the shoulder. "Prince Charming has taught you well, young padawan."

"Whipped," Granny muttered disgustedly in the background.

Ruby giggled and even Regina snorted softly, though she made an effort to wipe the smile from her face when Emma glared her way.

Feeling her ego do a grand slam cringe, Emma held up a hand in a halting motion in the vague hope of retaking some tiny measure of control over the situation. "All right," she snapped. "Can we just get back to the subject at hand? Y’know, diner, alien invasion, anything other than me?"

"It was like that blob thing ... from the movie," Granny broke in, hoping to cut off the discussion at hand. She was no more eager to hear those details about the Evil Queen and the Savior than Regina was to hear them about her. "Except it was more colorful ... more ... purple." She pointed at Regina. "Which is why I know it was her. You see purple in this town, you can be sure it’s got ties to her."

"Lovely," Regina quipped. "I’ve always liked the columbine and purple violets around town. Now I can take credit for them."

Waving her hand again, Emma made her voice as firm as she knew how, hoping maybe they’d listen this time. "Separate corners," she ordered the werewolf and witch alike. She turned a wry gaze toward Ruby. "So we have a purple blob that Granny shot." Given how quiet everything seemed, she was privately beginning to suspect the whole thing had been triggered by a startled customer, a paranoid Granny, and the leftover stress of the outing of Storybrooke’s latest romantic couple. But she still had to make a show of taking it seriously. "So did you happen to see anything?"

"Well..." Ruby’s gaze dropped and she rubbed the toe of one boot against the tarmac. "Not much ... I mean ... blob-wise, but ... um ... Kim Bowman’s little girl was carrying a purple backpack," she admitted, flinching as Granny started muttering curses right on cue.

"Sooo, the purple backpack that ate Steve McQueen is dead?" Emma drawled, even more convinced she was on a wild goose chase.

"Steve McQueen did not get eaten in that movie," Granny piped up, clearly offended by the mere notion. "And I know what I saw. It was not a backpack, it was a large purple blob ... an alien type blob ... like from outer space."

"Fairy tale characters and space aliens," Emma muttered. "This place just gets better every day."

"You don’t actually believe—" Regina began, but Emma held up a hand.

"In this town, I never entirely dismiss anything," Emma admitted. She heard Regina draw breath to argue and held up a hand and looked over with an arch expression.

A beat passed as they stared at one another, then Regina shrugged. "Point," she admitted and fell silent.

"So did either of you see anything else that might apply to the situation?" Emma asked as she swung back around toward Ruby and Granny.

"A purple blob from beyond the stars wasn’t enough?" Outraged by how seriously she wasn’t being taken, Granny tightened her grip on her crossbow. She’d never contemplated shooting royalty in the ass before, at least no royalty whose title didn’t start with the word ‘Evil’, but ‘Her Blondeness’ was seriously pushing her buttons.

Emma offered a perfunctory smile and shook her head.

Muttering assorted insults about whipped, idiot, blonde princesses, Granny folded her arms across her chest and nodded toward Ruby. "Ask her then. Just ignore the woman who actually saw something."

"Okay," Emma said agreeably enough. "Ruby?"

Granny grumbled a little more loudly, but didn’t argue.

"I can’t really tell you anything," Ruby admitted. "I just saw a purple backpack, a mini riot and ... oh yeah, somebody dropped a pack of gummi drops. Real exciting stuff."

Emma was about to reply when Regina suddenly squealed.

Yes, squealed.

Like a girl of maybe five. Maybe. Coulda been four. Three was a distinct possibility.

Emma spun in time to see Regina leap back several feet and raise a fistful of fire to unleash at enemies large or small.

What Emma didn’t see were any enemies large or small. "Um ... Regina?"

"Something touched me," the former queen hissed as she used her fireball to direct light at the diner. It looked more or less just like it always did.

"Er..."

"Something cold enough that I felt it through my boot. It wrapped around my ankle for a second."

Emma pulled a tiny flashlight from her back pocket and shined it around. "Or you stepped in a puddle." Her light hit a pool of water next to a small mound of melting snow. It was more or less where Regina had been standing only moments before.

"It wasn’t water," Regina swore. A shudder shook her frame. "It was unnatural."

"Or the power of suggestion did its thing after you heard Granny’s story."

"Miss Swan," Regina said crisply. "I think I know unnatural when I encounter it."

Resisting the urge to curse over the return of ‘Miss Swan’, Emma stepped up to the diner and leaned in to peer in through a window. The blinds were pulled so she couldn’t see much, but what little she could make out looked calm and quiet. "I’m not seeing anything." She looked back in time to see Regina raise a hand.

No visible fireball, so that was good, though Emma still had the profound desire to hit the dirt and throw her hands over her head. There was an odd crinkling sound and Regina’s palm glowed white. Emma spun back toward the diner as bright lights surged and wrapped around it, binding the building in a layer of pale, gently undulating glitter.

"What did you just do?" Emma asked cautiously.

Regina shrugged. "Sealed the building."

"So now our customers are magically blocked out, not just scared out?" Ruby demanded.

"It seemed like the best choice until we know what’s going on," Regina explained.

Emma drew a breath to argue, but Regina held up a finger.

"You’re the one who never entirely dismisses anything in this town," Regina pointed out.

"Fine," Emma sighed. "Can we just go in, check the place out, give the all clear and go home?" She was now comfortably certain there had been a great deal of over-reaction involved in events and that no creatures from beyond the stars were involved.

Dark brows drew into a frown. "I’m not sure that’s a good idea," Regina murmured thoughtfully as she peered at the building suspiciously.

"Oh, come on—" Emma began, suddenly wondering if Regina really was worried about something or just avoiding any risk of finishing here and having to go home and discuss the scene interrupted by Ruby’s call.

"What if there is something in there?" Regina demanded. "Shouldn’t we try and assess the situation before going in?"

Emma was just drawing breath to respond when a voice rang through the night.

"Shwan ... Shwa-ann."

"Oh, hell," Emma exhaled as she pivoted toward the call.

Hook.

He came stumbling up the street, more sober than Emma could recall ever seeing him before, though that was still over the legal limit if he’d been able to drive, which thankfully, he couldn’t. He’d also made some effort to neaten up, even shaved, though the tiny bits of toilet paper and spots of blood scattered over his face attested to the foolishness of combining a straight razor and a large measure of rum. Lastly, in his hands were a half dozen of the saddest, most frost burned flowers Emma had ever seen. She recognized them as coming from the planter in front of the town hall.

Too stunned to say a word, Regina just stared as he staggered up to Emma and stumbled to one knee.

"Shwan, I offer my humblsht apologeesh," he spoke carefully, like a man who knew he was drunk and was actually trying to hide it. Which was unusual where Hook was concerned. Normally, his drunkenness was on proud display for all to see. "I’m shad to shay, I shpent shome time doubting your love, bu’ that’sh crazy. Of courshe you worship me."

Emma could only stare.

"‘N’ then I realished you were jush tryin’ to teash me a leshon..." Hook continued blithely. "But I have not been a proper shw-shwain." He thrust the flowers in his hand forward

By then pretty much everyone was just staring. It was quite a spectacle.

"An’ sho I wish to promishe that you will be my mosht treashured doxie even if a bett’r lookin’ one fallsh for me ... which happensh cuzh ever’body wantsh m’ shword...’ave y’sheen Prinshe Sharming lately?" He arched an eyebrow, winked, and offered a toothy grin. "‘Nyway, I alsho promishe that you’ll have me all to yourshelf at leasht one night a week ... one week a month."

"I’d offer to shoot him," Granny said apologetically. "But his bar tab’s so huge I can’t afford to."

Emma made a sort of sputtering sound and her hands fisted at her sides.

When Emma didn’t immediately leap into his arms and offer herself up in total worship, Hook thought about it a moment. "Okay, two nightsh a week, two weeksh a month," he bargained. "Cuzh anymore than that ‘n’ it’sh gonna make Regzhina feel bad."

"Always thinking of others," Regina exhaled wryly as she shook off the momentary paralysis brought on by appalled shock.

Meanwhile, the rhythmic sputtering sound relocated to the back of Emma’s throat until finally, a single coherent syllable became audible. "Kill."

Regina turned to peer at the blonde for a long moment. "Okay," she said after a beat. "Timeout." She made a sharp flinging motion with one hand, then a purple spark seared the air, reflecting off the glass of the diner and leaving a sharp, ozone smell.

Hook squealed and toppled as it hit, screeching, "Binky!" all the way down.

Grinning with genuine, if not entirely benign pleasure, Regina reached for Emma’s hand. In an instant, the purple smoke flowed around them.

* * * * * *

Chapter Text

Poofing, Emma decided as they reappeared inside the diner in a swirl and a whirl, was actually rather pleasant once you got used to it. It left behind a faint buzz that sparked over suddenly sensitive nerve endings in an altogether enjoyable way that was possibly the tiniest bit addictive.

Or maybe it was just that it was Regina doing the poofing and that it seemed to require some measure of physical contact. And Emma was finding that some measure of physical contact with Regina wasn’t merely the tiniest bit addictive, it was rapidly turning into her own personal Enchanted-Forest-style crack-pipe. It was sorta like those old, ‘This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs,’ PSAs, except it was more like ‘This is your brain on discovering your attraction to Regina Mills.’

Then Hook did something ... else. Emma shook her head slowly as she tried to decide what. She watched for a moment, then sighed softly. Whatever it was, it was clearly intended to get her attention because he grinned when he realized she was looking his way. "You should probably have let me kill him," she decided out loud. "Everything else just encourages him."

"Miss Swan," Regina said very gently. It was her turn to act as though dealing with a wild, crazed animal.

Right on cue, Emma turned wild, crazed eyes Regina’s direction, though she actually sounded eerily calm when she spoke. "I threatened his life and you tormented his testicles earlier ... and after thinking about it, he decided that just meant he needs to work harder." She shook her head. "The only thing that scares me is if I kill him, he may get really determined."

"I doubt that," Regina assured her. "However, allow me to assure you, we will find a way to convince him to stop pursuing you."

Emma looked up, eyes going back to the windows where he could now be seen speaking reassuringly to his testes and patting them tenderly. "D’you think Granny would do it if I paid his bar tab?" She thought about it a moment. "I think the bank would give me a loan."

Regina shrugged. "Possibly." She shook her head, already dismissing the idea. "But you wouldn’t feel good about it."

"You’re right," Emma agreed after some consideration. "More fun if I do it myself. Cheaper too." She paused for another moment of thought. "Granny couldn’t sue me for his bill, could she?"

A soft sigh escaped Regina’s lips and she allowed herself a small smile. There were days Emma’s thought processes were really quite fascinating, and it cheered Regina to think about how horrified Snow White would be by her daughter’s side of the conversation. However... "As pleasant as revenge fantasies can be, I don’t think that’s a viable solution."

Emma heaved a huge sigh, then finally turned to peer at Regina.

"You’d feel guilty, no matter how much he deserved it," Regina pointed out. Emma’s morality was too ingrained a part of her to allow her to discard it so lightly.

"Goddammit," Emma cursed. "It’s not fair ... having ethics and morals when the other side doesn’t."

"No, it’s really not," Regina agreed. "Which, I suppose is why you need me as an ally." An overabundance of ethics and morals had seldom been a problem for her.

"No," Emma snapped before she’d even had time to think about it. "You can’t do it either," she insisted, her tone borderline desperate.

"You never let me have any fun." Regina sighed theatrically and started to turn away.

Catching the brunette’s arm, Emma tugged her back. "I mean it," she hissed, her expression serious. "You’ve come too far. No backsliding."

"I’m not going to kill him." Despite any temptation to the contrary, the thought went through Regina’s head as she peered at the blonde. "What I’m going to do is get it through his tiny little brain that you don’t want him." She thought about it for a moment. "Actually, I need to get it through both of his tiny little brains. The one between his ears and the one—"

"TMI!" Emma screeched as she slapped her hands over her ears and screwed her eyes shut. It was a thoroughly childish response, and she knew that, but it had been that kind of day, and Hook had been that kind of problem.

Emma fully expected mockery for the industrial strength panic attack, but not the gentle hands that found her wrists, nor the smooth voice that reached her ears when she risked easing her palms back just a little.

"Miss Swan ... Emma ... trust me."

Green eyes slid open as Emma gave way to that honey smooth request and found herself caught by a fathom’s deep, chocolate brown gaze. She froze for a beat and felt something ease inside her chest. Her heart slowed, and most of the tension let go almost instantly. "I had a crazy moment there, didn’t I?"

Regina shrugged. "Somewhat," she admitted, then waved it off. "But I’m hardly in a position to judge." Reaching out, she stroked a finger along the line of Emma’s brow, smoothing out the frown lines. "I may have had a few crazy moments in my life."

A tiny flinch rattled Emma and she didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, argue or offer up a defense of Regina’s past. Being friends — or whatever it was they were — with the former Evil Queen could be an odd thing some days. Still midway through a minor crisis of conscience over how to reply, Emma was startled when Regina just smiled.

"Relax, Miss Swan," Regina soothed. "I may have had my crazy moments. This isn’t one of them."

A tiny, nervous laugh escaped Emma’s lips. "Yeah, I had that part covered."

Slim shoulders dipped in another shrug. "Well, thankfully, at least one of us seems to maintain some measure of sanity at any given point in time."

A moment passed while Emma gathered herself, then she heaved a sigh and smiled. "Thank you." It was kind of amazing, really, how the other woman had a knack for settling her down. Then she glanced past Regina and saw a lanky figure outside press against the window and make a gesture she was comfortably certain was intended to be seductive.

And once again, it was mostly creepy and weird.

"Now that’s just sad," Regina murmured.

Emma glanced to her side, smiling ever so slightly as she saw the former queen, her head tipped to one side, staring at Hook’s antics with the same sort of perplexed expression she’d likely reserve for a particularly slow monkey in a very low-rent zoo.

"He really thinks that’s appealing, doesn’t he?" Regina said at last.

"Yep."

The pirate’s gyrations grew ever more intense.

"I owe you an apology," Regina drawled after another beat. "I realize now that I miscalculated badly with my earlier strategy to be rid of Hook. I was thinking about what would convince a relatively normal person that someone wasn’t interested in them."

The pirate grinned and tried another attention-getting tactic.

"Clearly, that was the wrong approach," Regina said decisively.

Emma couldn’t argue. Also, she was kind of surprised he was that limber. Maybe all the rum had something to do with it.

Regina stared for another moment, then did an abrupt about face, not even glancing back as she strode toward several upended tables and chairs, calling after herself, "Come, Miss Swan."

Despite feeling vaguely like a not very well trained mongrel taken in by the queen, Emma pivoted and did as told. "What are you—" she began.

Regina interrupted, her tone crisp. "I believe we’re supposed to be looking for a purple slime creature from parts unknown."

"But what about—" Emma started to hook a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the circus act going on at the window, but Regina grabbed her hand while it was still at waist level and tugged her along.

"Ignore him," Regina instructed, still pulling Emma along behind her. "From here forward, he doesn’t exist. Don’t look at him. If you must look his way, look through him. Acknowledge nothing he does. Do not reward his behavior with your attention."

"But—"

"Trust me, Miss Swan." Regina crouched down beside a table that lay on its side, one leg at an odd angle. Shoving it aside, she smirked as a thoroughly skewered purple backpack was revealed. "Perhaps Lavinia should update her eyeglass prescription," she switched subjects without missing a beat. "Because this is the least impressive giant purple people eater I’ve ever seen."

"I dunno," Emma drawled, her eyes dancing. "The Dora the Explorer logo could be nothing but camouflage. It could still be an unnatural backpack," she teased as she dropped to one knee beside Regina.

The former Evil Queen flinched. "I suppose it’s possible I stepped in a puddle," she admitted through gritted teeth. "Oh, stop grinning," she grumbled a beat later without so much as glancing at the blonde.

"You didn’t even look." Emma grinned even more broadly."So, how do you know I’m grinning?"

"I know you, dear," Regina said crisply, then looked up, smirking as she noted Emma’s grin.

Emma froze, the easy smile falling from her face, suddenly uncomfortable in the face of the knowing gaze directed her way. "And yet you still speak to me," she wisecracked without thinking.

Emotion flashed too quickly to be read, then Regina’s expression blanked and a dark eyebrow arched high. "Sometimes," she drawled, then tipped her chin back down, studying the diner floor and the skewered backpack with unusual intensity.

Fighting a twinge of something akin to embarrassment, Emma couldn’t decide whether she’d just been put in her place, or hurt Regina’s feelings.

Or maybe both.

Pointedly ignoring the sudden rise in tension as well as its blonde cause, Regina hefted the backpack and peered inside.

Instinct warned Emma to keep her mouth shut, but she just couldn’t do it. She needed Regina to know. "I missed you, y’know, while you weren’t speaking to me, I mean."

Already taut muscle flexed as Regina carefully set the backpack aside. "Miss Swan," she said very softly and sat back on her heels. She fell silent for a long moment, then finally cleared her throat and spoke very softly without even glancing Emma’s way. "It is not entirely impossible that I may have missed your company as well."

How demented was it that Emma experienced a surge of excitement over that admission? Because, let’s face it, it was only just barely an admission at all, and yet there was her heart, doing the rumba in her chest. "Y’know, the whole ‘Miss Swan’ thing ... you do realize it sounds a little odd when we’re supposed to be, y’know, in love."

Both of Regina’s eyebrows rose this time.

Really, it was sooo time to shut up. Sadly, Emma still couldn’t seem to manage the trick. A rush slid through her and she just couldn’t resist the urge to tease. "I just mean it’s hardly apropos for you to refer to your True Love so formally—"

The look in Regina’s eyes sharpened to a glare. She wasn’t renowned for taking pleasure in being teased. "Miss Swan—"

"Emma," the blonde corrected automatically.

"Miss. Swan," Regina repeated pointedly. If a voice could be carved from granite, hers was.

It unexpectedly made Emma laugh as the absurdity of the situation struck her. "Why do I have a funny feeling it’s not a good sign that I find it kind of adorable when you do that whole ‘Evil Queen Lite’ thing?"

Dark brows shot up. "Adorable?" Regina hissed, offended by the mere idea of such a completely insubstantial word being used to describe her.

Emma snorted. "And what’s worse is it’s even cuter when you do the whole ‘offended by compliments’ thing."

Regina’s expression fell. "Cute?" she repeated, looking like the Dark One had run over her favorite Agraban viper. "I am not cute." Really, the entire idea was almost too absurd to be borne.

"Actually, in this really, really weird way, you kinda are," Emma exhaled, well aware she was annoying the other woman and probably enjoying it way too much. The thing was, she was also comfortably certain that Regina was nearly as pleased as she was irritated, and that it was the only way to compliment her evilness. Really, the woman gave all new meaning to the word ‘complicated.’ Then Emma took the ultimate risk. "And what’s more, I think you kinda like it that I think you’re cute."

"You really should get your imagination under control, dear," Regina dismissed with a regal sniff.

Emma couldn’t contain a soft, sarcastic snort. "I’m Snow White’s daughter, the sheriff of a fairy tale town, who’s currently involved in something completely confusing with her son’s adoptive mother who also used to be the Evil Queen." A quick eye roll and head shake followed. "Honestly, I’m nowhere near that imaginative."

Regina let out a tiny whoof of air, as though she’d been struck, then froze for a beat. "We are not involved in anything," she insisted at last.

"Really? Because I could have sworn otherwise." Emma smirked, noting that Regina had ceased using contractions and her posture was suddenly straighter, almost rigid, while her eyes contained an imperious light that could probably stop an invading army with one glance. Yup, she was firmly in queen mode. Which — dammit — sent a shiver down Emma’s spine. She’d never really thought of herself as having a kinky side, but given her reaction to her highness, apparently she did, at least where Regina was concerned. Still, she hadn’t completely surrendered her spine. At least not yet. "After all, we’re raising the kid together and you’re helping me with Operation UnHooked ... not to mention we’ve been in a few life and death fights together." The look she gave Regina silently challenged her to disagree.

The queen took a sharp breath, then let it out again almost as quickly, and something like regret slipped through her gaze.

Then Regina did something Emma never expected to see or hear, and would have once sworn she wasn’t capable of.

"You’re right," the former queen admitted. A soft smile touched her mouth. "We’ve done a good job with Henry ... together." She thought about it a moment, then smirked. "And we have fought well ... sometimes even against people other than each other."

"Hey now, we haven’t tried to kill each other in ages ... gotta be months at least," Emma joked. "And I don’t think either of us has had our hearts in it in years."

The snarky comment teased a small smile out of Regina. "Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure about that," she said, though she was smiling and her eyes glittered with something not entirely evil.

Emma’s heart did little flip flops in response. And then Regina shifted and it turned out that from the right angle, her sweater had nearly as pleasant a view as her earlier dress. Suddenly the flip flops turned into a gymnastic routine worthy of a gold medal or two.

Regina reached up to run her bangs back from her face, the graceful movement highlighting sleek curves in a way that vaulted the gold medal from single event status to the whole damn team winning out.

In short, Emma could just barely breathe, and her thoughts were on anything but the likelihood — or lack thereof — of purple slime monsters. Really, the way she was staring, it was a wonder her tongue didn’t roll out and dangle.

"Well, Miss Swan," Regina murmured after a beat, dusting her hands off as she rose. "As far as I can tell, the only danger present in this diner is the risk of allergies from the dust."

"And still with the ‘Miss Swan’," Emma groused. Shaking off the momentary paralysis, she pushed to her feet.

Dark eyes flashed and Regina drew breath to respond only to freeze, the words unspoken. She swallowed hard, brows drawing into a deep frown.

It probably didn’t bode well, Emma realized, that Regina was staring in disbelief at the front window.

She started to pivot, but Regina caught her hand, stopping her. "No, don’t," she ordered through a wince. "Really ... don’t," she added, sounding faintly nauseous. "Aside from the fact that you need to continue ignoring him, there is also the fact that one cannot unsee some things."

"Hook and a brain-bleach moment?" Emma questioned hesitantly.

Regina frowned and allowed herself a moment to decipher Emma’s comment, then nodded. "Indeed." She snapped her eyes shut and shook her head as if maybe that would rid her of whatever she’d seen. A beat and then she straightened her shoulders. "However, be that as it may, I suggest we return outside, inform the Lucases that Granny bravely defended the town from a mass marketing product tie-in and firmly ignore the pirate doing ... whatever that is on the front step."

"Why do I have a feeling that’s going to be easier said than done?"

"Because the human impulse to gawk at all things strange and horrifying is very difficult to resist." Regina folded her arms across her chest, drawing Emma’s attention right where she liked keeping it lately.

Emma chuckled in spite of herself even as she experienced a tiny flutter of panic at the thought of facing everyone. "Yeah." She thought about it for a moment. "Let me just check the storeroom." And maybe take a private moment to gather herself away from the prying eyes of the entire town before dealing with the stress she expected outside. "Just to, y’know, make sure there’s nothing purple and threatening back there." She started step around Regina on her way to the back, but pulled up short as a hand landed lightly on her shoulder.

"Take as long as you need." The expression in dark eyes was unexpectedly sympathetic. "Get settled. I suspect things — and by that, I mean Hook — may be challenging when we exit."

Emma regretted the loss as the warmth of Regina’s hand broke contact and she almost turned back and asked the other woman to come with her. Lately, Regina had done more to settle her than anything else, even if she also caused a great deal of turbulence at the same time.

Which wasn’t just kinda scary when she thought about it, but full on, mind bendingly terrifying, possibly mostly because it was so damned appealing and just the thought of it warmed a little tiny piece of her deep down inside.

Which was even scarier and left her torn between the profound desire to grab on tight and never let go and the equally intense impulse to run like hell and not slow down.

So she didn’t pause, didn’t ask Regina to come with, and didn’t let herself admit that she’d really appreciated the other woman’s support during everything.

She was nearly to the storeroom when Regina broke the suddenly heavy silence, sounding stressed. "What the hell..."

Good god, what was Hook up to now? Trying to keep her eyes from the windows, Emma spun. "What’d he do this time?"

Then her eyes found the former queen and she froze.

Regina was standing right where she had been, but she wasn’t looking out. She was glaring at the floor, one hand raised, flame on, clearly ready for a battle as she faced down...

A gumdrop.

Really, that was it. A small, purple gumdrop. It sat on the floor a foot or two from where she stood.

"Ummm, Regina?" Emma exhaled uncertainly.

"Move and die, foul scum!"

One had to give the former denizens of the Enchanted Forest credit, they knew how to turn a phrase during the big moments.

Also, apparently, the infinitesimally small ones.

It took Emma an extra beat to be certain it was the gumdrop Regina was threatening and not her. After all, Regina hurling threats her way was not all that unusual, but Regina hurling threats at a small piece of candy? Not an everyday sight. "Ummm, Regina?" she repeated worriedly. "I know Granny said there was a purple blob, but I think it was supposed to be bigger than that." She carefully edged closer.

"Not one move," Regina hissed at the gumdrop.

It stayed right where it was and didn’t reply.

"Clearly it’s terrified of you," Emma deadpanned.

"I doubt it," Regina said seriously and crouched down, holding her non-flaming hand several inches above the floor, though she kept an eye on the purple gumdrop in question. "More likely it’s simply trying to fool us into letting our guard down."

"Or maybe it’s just a piece of candy. Y’know, one of those gummi drops Ruby mentioned," Emma suggested carefully.

"Miss Swan—"

"Name’s still Emma," Emma complained, well aware she was being petty, but not particularly caring.

"Can’t you feel it?" Regina whispered.

"What?" Emma asked.

Brown eyes tipped up, finding Emma and the Savior felt her pulse kick into overdrive as she saw fear or at least something akin to it. "It’s ... wrong..." Regina whispered. At the same time the ball of fire in her hand wavered, then winked out.

That couldn’t be good.

Suddenly Emma wasn’t making snarky comments or complaining. Hunting for some sign of what was wrong, she trotted toward the other woman.

Feeling the floor under her feet tremble, Regina tried to rise, tried to run, but it was like struggling for balance while standing on a Tilt-A-Whirl. Her boots slipped and she slammed to her knees. Then the cold hit, like it had outside, only this time it wasn’t just her ankle. It snaked around her and her breath ghosted.

Emma saw a spasm ripple through Regina and broke into a hard run.

Then a tremor rippled through the floor in a surge of shattering tile and shifting cement.

Emma was still several feet out when the floor started to crack and break up, then suddenly gave way.

Still scrambling for balance, Regina had no time to leap clear. She felt the floor go out from under her and dropped straight down.

"REGINA!!" Emma screamed. Taut muscle compressed to drive her forward and she leapt, elongating her body to the limit as she reached desperately for the other woman.

She almost made it too.

Their fingertips just barely brushed, but there was nothing for Emma to grab onto and she slammed into the floor, empty handed.

Ironically enough, it was the moment Emma finally got what she wanted, though she was too busy to notice.

"EMMA!!" the brunette screamed as she fell away.

Hanging over edge of the hole in the floor, Emma watched, helpless to do anything as Regina tumbled and disappeared in the shadows. She knew she needed to get back from the edge, could feel crumbling cement and tile underneath her, but she couldn’t move. She was still there like that when she saw the little purple candy fall away in Regina’s wake, and she could have sworn she heard a tiny, panicked squeal.

Then the floor beneath her gave way and she tumbled into the arms of gravity.

 

* * * * *

TBC

Chapter Text

Emma blinked.

That was it. Just blinked. Her brain didn’t quite seem to be functioning at that moment, so every other option seemed a bit overwhelming.

It took her a second to realize she’d lost consciousness for a moment.

At least she hoped it was just a moment.

It took her another moment and a few more blinks to realize she wasn’t quite sure what she’d been doing just before the blanking and the blinking.

Kissing Regina maybe. Which seemed like an odd thing to have been doing, but there was a definite memory of the taste of her highness’ lips.

And where the hell had she found apple flavored lipstick? And was that perhaps taking the whole apple theme just a bit too far?

Emma ran her tongue over her lips, tasted the flavor in question again and decided, no, it really wasn’t too far. That was definitely ... nice. And so very ... Regina.

Another blink and she realized she was staring up at dingy fluorescent lighting as seen through...

...the hole in the floor of Granny’s Diner.

Which she was staring up at from at least ten feet below.

Oh, hell. Granny’s Diner.

Regina.

Emma shoved into a sitting position, squawking as a hand skidded against rocky ground, then slipped out over open space. Unbalanced, she nearly fell, but caught herself just in time. Scrambling wildly, she rolled to a crouch and found the tiny flashlight in her back pocket.

A quick scan revealed she’d landed on a broad, rocky ledge that hung above an open shaft. Maybe a section of the mine that had cut too close to the surface and given way for some reason. Diving forward, she hung her head and shoulders over the drop, shining her light down into the darkness.

Nothing. Literally. She couldn’t see more than a few yards.

"Regina!" Emma felt her heart slam against the inside of her ribcage as she realized the other woman had to have fallen into the pit below her. And god only knew how deep that went.

No answer.

"REGINA!!!" Her shout was pure panic and desperation as she hunted the darkness below for any sign of movement. "REGINA!!" she screamed again, then fell silent, praying to hear something.

It took a beat, then a faint, echoey hail came up from somewhere far below. Too muffled for the words to be understandable, it nonetheless carried Regina Mills’ familiar timbre.

Emma leaned a little farther over the ledge, listening carefully. After a moment, a hint of a smile touched her lips.

Definitely Regina, and not scared or in pain Regina either. No, that particular tone was full-on, pissed-off-Evil-Queen Regina. Good. If she had the energy to be that angry, hopefully, that meant she was okay.

"IT’S EMMA!" she shouted down. "I’M COMING! JUST HANG ON!" She clipped the flashlight to her belt, hoping it would still provide a little light without getting in the way, then reversed herself and swung her legs over the side of the cliff, slowly lowering herself until she could find enough hand and toe holds to start the climb down.

The rock face was sheer with far too few hand or foot holds to make climbing easy or fast, while the light was no help whatsoever. It left Emma brailing the wall to find every tiny nook and cranny as she made her way downward, utterly uncertain how far she had left to travel or the distance she’d tumble if she lost her grip. Every muscle ached, but every so often she called down to let Regina know she was coming and was gratified to hear the other woman call back, still sounding ticked off, but not hurt or panicked. As Emma continued to drop, Regina’s voice got louder, but no easier to understand, too many echoes as well some odd sort of muffling making leaving the words impossible to parse.

That scared her a bit, but at the same time, she was so relieved to know the other woman was still alive that she couldn’t complain.

Besides, she needed to focus on the climb as the ache in body grew fiercer and sweat trailed down her back and shoulders. She’d gone a considerable distance when her hands started to shake and her biceps quivered. Her feet hit a tiny bit of a ledge and she paused, resting her forehead against cold stone. "Regina!" she called, hoping it would ease the other woman’s stress to know she hadn’t give up. "It’s gonna be okay! I won’t leave you!"

"Good to know, Miss Swan."

The husky drawl washed over Emma from a short distance away, startling her so badly she lost her grip on the wall. A panicked screech escaped her lips as she scrabbled unsuccessfully to save herself.

She fell.

And was caught. Well, sort of. Anyway, hands scooped under her armpits and at least slowed her journey to landing on her ass. In the momentary chaos, her flashlight came unclipped. It bounced twice and went out. So much for the indestructibility of LEDs.

Judging by how fast her feet hit the ground she’d fallen no more than a foot.

As grand entrances went, it was less than stellar.

"But wouldn’t it have been easier to just step down?"

The smooth drawl came right next to Emma’s ear and cool hair brushed her cheek. Regina was kneeling behind her, so close she didn’t have to work to hear the other woman’s soft snicker. Gritting her teeth, she decided to look at the soft laughter as a good thing. If Regina could laugh, it probably meant the world wasn’t coming to an end.

Probably.

Besides, Regina’s hands dropped to settle at her waist and she could feel warm curves pressed against her back. Not a bad tradeoff for a bit of embarrassment. And then she remembered... "Damn. My flashlight."

"Don’t worry about it," Regina soothed.

"Being trapped in the dark isn’t exactly going to help us get out of this," Emma snapped in a rare burst of impatience.

"Give your eyes a moment to adjust."

"But—"

"Shhh." Regina ran a gentle hand lightly down Emma’s back, paying careful attention to any flinches. "Were you hurt?"

"Only my dignity," Emma sighed, then flinched as Regina probed the back of her skull. "Maybe also my head."

"There’s definitely some swelling," Regina said as she carefully mapped the edges of the damage by feel. "No blood though. Were you unconscious? When I first fell, I called and you didn’t respond."

Emma nodded. "Yeah, I was out. Any idea how long?"

"Fifteen minutes at least," Regina muttered, then cursed softly. "And you made that climb. You could have ... been..." She didn’t finish and was silent for a long moment. "You should be more careful," she chastised after a beat. "Henry needs you too much for you to be so cavalier with your life."

Her worried tone warmed something in Emma’s chest. Generally it seemed as though everyone in town only gave a damn about whether she’d saved them, and rarely concerned themselves with her condition, and while her parents and Henry cared, they always seemed to have such total faith she was perfect and invincible that it left little room for worry. It was nice to have someone actually sound concerned that she might be hurt. She was still musing on that when Regina broke in on her thoughts, her voice soft, tone practical.

"Any nausea or double vision?"

"No nausea and I can’t see anything in the dark."

"Are you sure?" Regina questioned.

"I think I’d know if I could..." Emma sputtered to a halt as she realized she actually could see. Not well or much and it had a definite blue cast, but she could make out the dull rock texture of the wall she’d climbed down. She twisted inside the light restraint of Regina’s arms to peer around herself and realized the space they were in was glowing softly on all sides with enough soft blue light to give her a good look. "Whoa."

"It’s fairy dust," Regina explained, her voice a soft whisper so close that her breath teased Emma’s ear. "Not ideal illumination, but enough to function."

"Enough to poof us the hell out of here?" Emma asked.

"That could be a problem," Regina admitted.

Something about Regina’s tone made Emma’s pulse accelerate. "Are you all right?" she demanded, suddenly breathless. She twisted in the other woman’s arms to peer up at her but the slight illumination was behind her, leaving her silhouetted, her expression unreadable. "I could hear you shouting, but I couldn’t tell what you were saying."

"Ah." The Regina-shadow shifted, resettling herself. "And do you know what I was shouting?"

"Help?" Emma exhaled hopefully in a small voice, Regina’s tone enough to warn that wasn’t the most likely answer.

"Not exactly." Regina unfolded one arm, and flung it forward past Emma’s shoulder, moving in an all too familiar way.

A fireball would miss her completely, but Emma still tensed.

Only absolutely nothing happened.

Regina repeated the gesture, then again with her other hand.

And still, a whole lotta nothing happened.

Perplexed, Emma finally ventured a confused, "Umm?"

"Yes, that should have produced fireballs," Regina confirmed, her voice little more than a low rumble.

"Er..."

"Something is damping my magic." The brunette peered around herself for a second, then her gaze came back to Emma. "Which is why I was calling to you not to come down."

"Sorry," Emma apologized and peered at the softly glowing walls on all sides. "So ... yeah ... no poofing?"

"Highly unlikely," Regina allowed.

"Is it the fairy dust shutting you down?"

Regina shrugged. "It shouldn’t interfere. My magic is different, but generally not incompatible." Another shrug. "But given the situation—"

"You don’t know," Emma finished for her.

"No," Regina admitted. She felt Emma wince again and slid a hand under blonde hair, fingers spreading. "However, I think I can channel just enough to..." Her voice faded as she concentrated on tracking the damage despite the distracting physical closeness and barrier to her magic, hoping the odd magical connection they shared would help. It worked. A shudder slid through her as she felt Emma’s magic invite her in, their combined power enough to push off the barriers, at least for a moment. In an instant, she touched the energy swirling through the blonde, analyzing it with automatic skill, finding what she had missed without that little boost. A concussion. No question about it.

The sudden wave of panic and need to fix and protect caught her by surprise, especially as related to her one-time enemy. But magic was emotion and the sudden rush of conflicting desires didn’t need any logical basis, it just needed that wicked intensity of feeling. Grabbing hold, she used it to power a wave of healing magic despite whatever was fighting her attempts at spellcasting. It was like lightning dancing on her fingertips, sharp and more out of control than it had been in years, but she managed to channel it and push through the resistance with pure brute force. It was just enough to wash away the damage as though it had never existed.

Emma moaned softly in the background, the sound low and intense enough to send delicate, dangerously pleasurable shivers of awareness down Regina’s spine. Then she felt the blockade rise again, higher and harder than before. She pushed back, reaching for Emma’s abilities while to force her way through, but it roiled and resisted. She was making headway when suddenly it was like someone punched her in the gut and the magic winked out. Breathing hard, she sagged against Emma’s back, the effort enough to leave her light headed.

"You okay?" Emma asked, worry threaded through her tone along with a few other things, because Regina draped all over her back was an all new adventure and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

"That was just a ... uh ... a little ... challenging."

Emma abruptly realized the throbbing in her head was gone. "You healed me?" she whispered uncertainly. "But I thought—"

Regina nodded. "You had a concussion—"

"But—"

"I was able to summon a little power, but nowhere near enough to get us out of here ... which makes it even more important that you are functional." Regina’s tone was flat, revealing nothing of the brief panic that had slid through her as she realized Emma was hurt. It was a testament to how drained the healing had left her that she made no effort to resist or even offer a snarky comment when Emma twisted, and slipped a hand around her body to rest it on her lower back.

Feeling the faint tremor that slid through the brunette, Emma rubbed her back, using the light pressure to ease her closer. "Just breathe deeply and relax," she whispered. "Lean on me all you need." She fully expected a fight, or at least an argument.

Instead, Regina just rested her forehead against Emma’s shoulder and settled a hand on her chest, relieved to feel the steady thrum of her heart. She’d thought she’d lost her there for awhile.

And it had hurt more than she would have thought possible.

Which should have seemed all wrong given the effort she’d put into trying to kill her once upon a time, not to mention how annoyed she frequently found herself with the other woman. Though of late, the annoyance was strangely reminiscent of the fondly wry irritation she felt toward Henry on those occasions he acted like the teenage boy he was.

But with Emma’s hand gently stroking her back, the warmth of her pressed close, the soft scent of her teasing Regina’s nostrils, their supposedly fictional relationship felt entirely too real and nothing like the lie it was supposed to be.

Which left her wondering if it had ever been a lie at all.

Too many things today hadn’t gone at all the way they should have, and yet none of it had her angry. Even when denied her vengeance against Snow White, she’d found herself enjoying Emma’s company, and looking forward to the gentle, back and forth teasing and the sense of camaraderie.

That shouldn’t have happened.

And then there was that kiss on the couch, the one that should have infuriated her and had instead, driven her to follow after Emma, desperate to make certain she was all right, her mouth and emotions both still tingling from the brief contact.

Unwanted awareness washed through her and for a brief moment it was as though every bit of contact between her body and Emma’s seared her skin until it seemed like she could feel the very whorls of the blonde’s fingerprints burning into her back.

The intensity was utterly terrifying. She hadn’t felt that since...

She didn’t let herself finish the thought, but her heart slammed into overdrive. Tension trailed down her spine and she started to pull away.

Emma felt it happen — the moment Regina started to flee. Her first impulse was to tighten her hold, just hang on and not let go.

But that would be all wrong. Hold onto Regina and she’d only run faster and maybe leave a crater in her wake. She’d been pushed and controlled and forced too many times. Emma understood that all too well.

So she dropped her hand to her side, completely letting go as she whispered, "Please ... don’t ... don’t turn away."

Regina flinched as she lost that bit of contact, uncertain how to respond when robbed of something to resist. Conflict she knew how to deal with. It was easy, almost automatic. This desperate mix of emotions, on the other hand, left her flummoxed. She wanted Emma to hold on, wanted her get the hell away. She brushed the pad of her thumb against Emma’s jacket, feeling the soft suede. "I don’t know what to ... what’s happening between..." She muttered a soft curse under her breath. "I’m not good at this."

"That’s okay," Emma sighed. "I’m not exactly a roaring genius either," she admitted, then added quietly, "But when I woke up on that ledge up there, and I realized you weren’t there ... that you’d probably fallen and maybe..." She couldn’t say the words. Could. Not. Say. Them. So she went with, "I panicked." She was silent for a long moment, thoughts running wild.

Regina held off for a moment before admitting, "When you didn’t reply, I did as well ... panicked, I mean."

The tiny spark of warmth in Emma’s chest blossomed making her intensely aware of just how much she wanted this woman’s caring.

And how much she wanted a whole lot more than that too.

As that thought swept through Emma, she was startled to find the usual accompanying wave of terror was nowhere to be found. She heaved a sigh and couldn’t quite contain a wry laugh.

Which, predictably, sent a wave of tension rolling through Regina.

"I fail to see humor in this situation," the brunette ground out, temper rising with the suspicion that she was being laughed at.

"Really?" Emma drawled, utterly deadpan. "Because we’re sitting at the bottom of a very deep hole, inside a magically protected diner, while Hook is probably having his way with inanimate objects in search of more attention by now ... while my mother is probably at home designing matching wedding dresses and picking out baby names ... not necessarily in that order ... and I’ve just realized that I may be in love with a woman who was my mortal enemy until not that long ago ... "

"Your mother will be designing my wedding dress over my dead body," Regina hissed. "Or possibly hers."

Blonde brows shot up as Emma stared at the other woman, mouth gaping. "That’s what you got out of that?" she said at last. "Really?"

It took Regina’s brain an extra beat to parse the last part of Emma’s comment — it briefly got stuck on a mental image of the wedding dress Snow White would design for her — all ribbons and bows and puffy sleeves. She was still shuddering in horror as the rest of what Emma had said finally sunk in. She froze except for the sudden, exponential increase in her blink rate.

It wasn’t exactly the most ego enhancing moment Emma had ever experienced. Because, yeah, that so wasn’t a happy, over-the-top, yay-Emma-loves-me response. It was more of an oh-shit-what-have-I-done and how-do-I-get-out-of-this response. Feeling her heart plummet, she let out a sharp gust of air. Clearly she she’d massively misread everything and whatever was going on in Regina’s head, it wasn’t the heady mix of physical attraction and emotional investment Emma was experiencing. It was just friendship.

Or possibly not even that considering the other woman’s shocked expression and utter silence.

"God, I’m an idiot," Emma exhaled, feeling as though she’d been punched in the gut. Oh god, she’d screwed up, and not just not gotten what she wanted, but probably blown what they already had. "I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ... I mean ... I’m sorry. Just forget I said anything because god knows I’m going to try to. I really shouldn’t have said anything ... or presumed anything and god, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault..."

It took Regina a moment to shake off the shock and get her brain even marginally functioning again, then another moment to find her voice, and a third to decide what to say, though it didn’t actually help much because she wasn’t entirely certain what she wanted to say or what she should say or even if they were the same thing. So, not remotely knowing what to say, she started simple and prayed she’d know what to say when she was actually saying it. "Miss Swan."

Emma never noticed. Eyes firmly on the floor, she continued to apologize as fast as she was able. "...and I promise I’ll never mention this again ... and I will never bother you again and..."

"Miss Swan." Regina tried again.

Again, no notice was taken.

"...because, I swear, I’m not one of those people who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer..."

"Emma." Yet another try, this one considerably sharper voiced than the first two yielded exactly the same result.

Emma just couldn’t seem to hear it and kept babbling.

"Oh hell," Regina grumbled. Clearly, another approach was needed. One finger tucked under the point of Emma’s chin to guide her way while her other hand curled into the front of her jacket and pulled.

Emma momentarily resisted without even knowing she was doing it mostly because the apologies were still forthcoming, but also because she sorta registered the pressure, but couldn’t quite believe it was real, so opted to conclude it was just her imagination and not make things even worse by leaning any closer than she already was, no matter how much she might want to.

Right up until Regina’s lips found hers.

If someone had asked Emma to predict how Regina might kiss someone if she was both annoyed with them and trying to get their attention when they were ignoring her, she would have had plenty of ideas. Most of them would have involved words like aggressive, intimidating, and demanding. Sexy and seductive would have made the list as well, but with parenthetical comments about how they were all about the sort of raw appeal that made grown men cry, adolescents increase their shower time by an hour, and Emma Swan beg for ... well, pretty much anything she could get.

She would not — could not, really — have foreseen that it would be almost impossibly soft and gentle, the barest brush of lips that was all invitation and no demand.

Emma’s concentration shattered and she fell into the tender contact.

Fell into Regina.

A low moan vibrated deep in her chest and a hand and rose on its own to clutch at the front of Regina’s jacket with the kind of desperation that suggested it was the only thing keeping her vertical.

"Finally got your attention, did I?" Regina broke off just enough to murmur, then nipped Emma’s lower lip very lightly, dragging sharp incisors against soft skin.

Emma managed another low moan, though even that was close to short circuiting her already overtaxed brain. "God, yes," she confirmed breathlessly and dove in for more. A bomb could have gone off nearby and she wouldn’t have noticed.

Regina’s answering smile was all teeth and wickedness, but the kiss that followed was every bit as tender as the first, drawing Emma in and seducing her, even though that hadn’t exactly been Regina’s plan. If she was honest — which on rare occasion, she was — a little planning had gone into the kiss, but only the initial moment of contact. It had been an improvised way of cutting through Emma’s panic coupled with a profound loathing of being ignored.

Well, the first kiss had begun that way, though at some point it had melded into something else entirely.

The second kiss, however, had no planning whatsoever. It was pure impulse.

Or perhaps not so pure. But still definitely impulse.

Very pleasant, addictive impulse.

Emma tasted good and felt right and when her arms wrapped around Regina, the former Evil Queen couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be.

Which was no small thing given they were trapped at the bottom of a mineshaft with non-functioning magic and she had no idea how they were going to get out.

Then Emma’s hand found a purchase at Regina’s waist and she urged her closer as she explored the shape and heat of her mouth, gently nibbling and teasing.

In that moment, Regina forgot everything warmth and heat and all the things she’d spent most of her life without.

And when Emma wordlessly asked for more, Regina opened to her, losing herself in the increasingly heated kisses that followed.

It occurred to Emma that their timing could hardly be worse, that she really should pull away and worry about getting out, and check if her magic was working any better than Regina’s, not to mention see if her flashlight was actually broken or if the off switch had somehow gotten flipped when it bounced...

And then Regina moaned into her mouth and those plans pretty much went the way of the dodo.

Kisses and caresses traded back and forth until they were both overheated, breathing hard and wrapped around each other.

For two people whose lives had been as ill timed as theirs, it almost made sense.

It suddenly struck Emma that Regina was purring very softly, the delicate vibration nearly inaudible, though she could feel it against her sternum. It took an extra beat for her overstimulated brain to decide that was just a little odd, and several more for her to resist the potent pleasure singing along every nerve ending as hands explored, mouths tasted, and bodies molded together and actually think.

Thinking had never exactly been her strong suit, particularly when...

Yeah.

However...

There was still that purring.

And oddly pleasant though it was, it was still very ... odd.

Then it occurred to her that Regina had a particularly tasty looking pulse point in her neck that she was quite eager to explore.

What the hell. A little purring was hardly the weirdest thing she’d had a girlfriend do, and she had more important things to concern her. Like the way Regina moaned softly when she nipped the point of her chin, and throaty growl that erupted in response to a soft kiss pressed into the hollow of her throat.

Lost in her reverie, Emma glanced down.

And screamed.

* * * * * *

TBC

Chapter Text

Emma screamed.

Well, more of a squeal, Regina decided as the sound echoed off cavern walls. Shaking her head dazedly, she watched the other woman tumble backward, eyes wide, mouth gaping, deeply disturbed to realize she took absolutely no pleasure in the sight. In fact, it was — and she was loathe to admit this, even to herself — quite disturbing.

She hated the fact that Emma was upset.

Which was so not right. That was the sort of thing she was supposed to take great joy in. Instead, it was unpleasant and she was beset by the intense desire to make Emma un-upset.

Which felt almost painfully unnatural at the same time that it felt entirely right.

Which was vaguely similar to how she felt about the whole kissing incident, well, both kissing incidents actually, both of which should have been murder- worthy and instead had left her all tingly and happy, two states of existence with which Regina was not entirely comfortable.

Emma, meanwhile, was staring at her chest.

Which wasn’t abnormal in the least, though she usually did it a bit more subtly, her technique more akin to her father’s sidelong glances than her mother’s outright stares. Regina was just drawing breath to make a snarky remark because, while she really did hate Emma’s upset and want to un-upset her ... well ... she was still Regina Mills after all, and not making a snarky comment at a time like this. Not happening.

But before Regina could voice what she was sure would have been a witty remark of her usual quality and brilliance, something tickled right where...

Oh, hell, not again.

Then Emma’s frantic scrambles grabbed her attention again, reminding her of the immediate danger.

Emma meanwhile, was busy not panicking in a panicky sort of way. Which is to say, she was valiantly telling herself not to panic, while in actuality, panicking quite thoroughly. Heart slamming in her chest, she scrabbled on hard stone, trying desperately to unholster her service weapon, which as luck would have it, was caught under her hip. Which, in reality, was probably for the best given the panic. She froze a beat later when Regina’s voice, sharp with a note of command, echoed through the rocky space.

"Miss Swan, do not draw that weapon."

Emma looked up in time to flinch under the threatening scowl directed her way. "But ... in your sweater—" she mumbled, suddenly self conscious as it occurred to her that nothing much was actually happening.

Except, well, of course, for her panicking.

"Yes, Miss Swan," Regina drawled, "I would think that with as much time as you spend staring at that location..." Which Regina found exceptionally satisfying, and was another fact she was loathe to admit. "...there would be precious few surprises left."

"Funny," Emma grumbled, her cheeks suddenly bright pink, though how much was because Regina apparently had noticed her staring and how much was embarrassment over her startled screech and subsequent response, she really wasn’t sure. "But there was something there ... and it’s not anything that belongs," she added, her voice stronger now that she’d calmed a bit.

Full lips twisted into a smirk as Regina muttered distractedly, "Mm-hm," then abruptly shoved a hand inside the aforementioned sweater.

Shock held Emma silent, not due to any fear of what Regina might find, but simply shock because the sight of Regina — ‘Her Highness’ — Mills doing something so uncouth just didn’t quite compute. The woman could conquer nations, flatten villages, and throw her enemies to the lions, but god forbid she use the wrong fork at dinner.

Still muttering under her breath, the former queen fished around inside her clothes for a moment, then abruptly plucked something out.

It was small, a bright shade of purple and appeared to have been conceived by the unholy union between a Hershey’s Kiss and a rubber ducky, with a pointy, vaguely birdlike head, and elongated neck, rounded body with a little bump of a rump that wiggled gently as it dangled from Regina’s fingers.

A dark eyebrow arched high as Regina studied the little creature, then let out a soft sigh. "You again," she said, her tone somewhere between exasperated and amused. "We’re going to have to have a discussion about appropriate personal boundaries, aren’t we?"

"Mrp?" the creature responded with a voice apparently pulled from the Disney Library of Adorable Sound Effects. It twisted in Regina’s hold and though it had no discernible eyes, Emma had the distinct sense it was studying her. Finally, the soft voice came again, this time sounding both hopeful and pleading. "Mrrrp?"

Emma wondered if the tiny creature somehow knew they were kindred souls, because settling down inside Regina’s sweater apparently appealed to both of them. She was, however, smart enough not to comment on that fact. Also shock may have had her brain a bit on the fritz. Finally, the miniature slime beast seemed to shrug before it swung back around toward Regina.

Regina made an irritated sound in the back of her throat. "Really? Trying to do an end run?" she complained as she lifted her small stowaway. Nose to beak, she glared.

"Mr-rp." The soft chirp started low and rose hopefully at the end like a small child trying to wheedle a different decision out of a stubborn parent.

Emma considered making a comment, then decided against it because ... well ... what could she say? So, she just stared. Really. That was it. Stared. Partially it was because she was still trying to throw off the shock of instantly going from hubba-hubba to oh-god-is-that-a-really-tiny-chestburster-like- from-Alien and partially because she just didn’t know what to say about Regina — right-up-in-your-face-Mills — having a conversation about personal boundaries with a small purple gumdrop, particularly since the gumdrop appeared to be holding up its end of the discussion.

Then something creaked nearby, the sound seeming to come from inside stone walls.

"Oh hell," Regina hissed as her chin snapped up.

"mrp-oh," the gumdrop agreed, its tone worried.

"Regina, what’s—" Emma started to ask only to be cut off by the sharp sound of a very large rubber band snapping, then suddenly Regina was swept up in a sheet of something glossy and purple. "REGINA!" she screamed as the other woman was hauled backward into the shadows.

A muffled call and a solid thump, maybe of a body hitting rock walls, spurred Emma to move, possibly faster than she ever moved before in her life. She found her feet and drew her weapon in one move, then hunted desperately for something to shoot at. Then she caught sight of something hidden in the shadows. Little more registered than its height and color — three feet and purple respectively, so definitely not Regina. She was just about to pull the trigger when Regina’s roar echoed through the room.

"DON’T SHOOT!"

At the same time, the thing merged into the light in the strangest way Emma had ever seen. The shape faded, warped, stretched and a wave of shadowy purple surged forward, then the leading edge paused a foot or two short of Emma. The rubber band sound twanged again, and suddenly a larger version of Regina’s gumdrop creature was standing there. It came roughly to her mid thigh, and as it tipped its head up, she saw that, while it lacked fixed features like eyes, nose and mouth, the surface of its glossy skin was mobile and it shifted and flowed into familiar shapes and expressions. Three dimensional ‘eyebrows’ appeared to rise, then settle into a frown as it continued to ‘peer’ up at Emma. The expression left Emma with the profound sense that she’d been weighed, measured, and found wanting, an instinct that was in no way lessened by the soft, "Hrmph," sound the creature made.

"Do. Not. Shoot," Regina reiterated the command, her tone sharp.

"Are you okay?" Emma called, still tracking the giganto-gumdrop out of the corner of her eye even as she hunted for some sign of Regina in the shifting shadows.

"Fine ... just a little..." Regina paused for a beat before continuing, "...it’s complicated, but I’m fine."

Not exactly the most reassuring thing Emma had ever heard, but not a panicked cry of agony either. "You sure about that?" she demanded, still keeping an eye on the duck-like head as it tipped this way and that, seemingly still assessing her.

"Quite."

The toe of Emma’s boot bumped something and light suddenly flared at her feet. Her flashlight. She ducked enough to grab it, then straightened, bracing the light alongside her service weapon to use as an impromptu tac-light. "Regina?" she called as she flashed the beam along the walls, hunting for the other woman.

"Here." The call came back almost instantly sounding a little stressed, but not pained or afraid.

Emma tracked the sound until the beam fell on Regina.

And then she panicked.

The brunette was hidden away in a low ceilinged niche on the opposite side of the chamber, sitting on the ground, her back against the far wall, legs folded against her body. Perhaps a dozen little slime beasts painted in a myriad of bright candy colors, were tucked into the space between her chest and upthrust knees and scattered across her shoulders. One was partially hidden under her hair and pressed tightly against her neck.

It was undulating ever so slightly.

And in the thin light, Emma thought she saw a spot of red smeared on soft flesh. Suddenly cute sound effects and adorable butt wiggles seemed more like threatening growls and a creature readying itself to pounce.

Her heart slammed into overdrive and she took aim.

"Emma!" Regina shrieked, hands automatically going up in surrender. "Put that away!"

"But those things—"

"Are very small ... whereas I am rather larger ... and even if your aim is good enough to hit one of them, it’s still likely to go through it and hit me. And that’s not even considering the very real risk of ricochet in this environment." Regina paused in her rant long enough to grab a breath. "Not to mention the fact that nothing has happened to warrant opening fire, and there are undesirable side effects to breaking the skin of these creatures. So please, Miss Swan, put the damn gun away."

"B-but that one on your neck. I think it’s ... it’s chewing on you, Regina—" she said, her voice quavering gently.

"What?" the queen demanded, and reached up, lightly brushing the one hidden under the fall of her hair. "I assure you, Miss Swan, it is not chewing on me."

It tumbled into her lap with a tiny squeal, then disappeared into a knot of other colored blobs.

"Is it blood?" Emma questioned worriedly. Maybe those things could deaden nerve endings and Regina didn’t even know she was being chewed on. She’d seen some Animal Planet special on vampire bats and they could do that, chew on something without being noticed. At least she thought it was vampire bats. Or maybe leaches. Anyway, it was something horrible, creepy, and disturbingly fond of blood.

Regina rubbed at the red mark, then peered at her fingers before sniffing them. She turned a wry look Emma’s way. "Strawberry jelly. I must have bumped something while looking at the overturned tables." She sighed softly and shook her head. "I am not being devoured by miniature blob beasts."

Which was good news, of course, but still... "Then what are you doing?"

Emma thought she caught sight of a very Regina-esque eye roll.

"Regina," Emma prompted when the brunette didn’t answer, stress making her tone sharper than intended.

"Cuddling them," the former queen muttered at last.

Emma shook her head as she digested that word, then decided she couldn’t have heard right because ... well, just because. "What?"

"Cuddling," Regina repeated sharply. "Snuggling, nestling, nuzzling, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera."

Only Regina Mills would answer with a thesaurus entry and a line from The King and I.

Having gotten what was literally the last answer Emma would have expected, she froze for a moment as her brain struggled to process the new information. "I ... uh ... why?"

"Oh, I don’t know. I guess it just seemed like a good day to fall down a hole and snuggle a bunch of multi-colored gummi dots." Then, as if to punctuate the snark, she shoved her hand back down her sweater and retrieved a familiar purple blob. She lifted it until she was glaring into its tiny face. "Bad, bad Gumdrop."

It cooed and wiggled gently. If it had eyes, it would have been batting them.

Emma, meanwhile, wondered if Hook had finally done some ultimately horrific, desperate, please-wuv-me thing and her brain had given up and just broke. This couldn’t be real. No way in hell Regina Mills could be snuggling adorable, candy colored creatures, while gently chastising one that was making cute-Disney- animal-ish sound effects in reply. A pit full of ... well ... pit vipers? Okay, maybe. But brightly colored slime beasts with painfully cute sound effects? No. Just ... no. "Ummm, Regina?"

"I’m fine," the brunette responded in her firmest, don’t-you-dare-question-my-judgment voice.

Emma didn’t need her superpower to know Regina wasn’t being entirely honest. Without thinking, she took a step forward.

And ran solidly into a short, purple, brick wall.

Right. Giant gumdrop creature full speed ahead. Emma’s gaze dropped to find glossy, mobile features shifting into an expression of narrow-eyed disapproval, without the actual eyes. Annoyed, she tried to sidestep around the thing.

Zip, snap, zing. The creature stretched, did its rubber-band-snap and slid into place blocking Emma almost instantly.

Another quick sidestep ended in exactly the same way, with the creature planted in her way. "Dammit," she hissed and used her foot to nudge it out of the way. Or rather tried to use her foot to nudge it aside. It was like trying to move a boulder with her little toe. In short, very unsuccessful.

It glared up at her and uttered a high pitched, faintly squeaky but distinct, "Hrmph."

Leaning down, Emma braced a hand against the creature’s chest and gave a hard shove.

It didn’t budge.

"Look," Emma growled in frustration. "I need to go talk to Regina ... over there." She gestured to indicate the brunette, wondering at her sanity even as she did so.

The little creature glared and made more grumpy sounds. Emma wasn’t sure but she could have sworn it shook its head. Another quick attempt at a step-around resulted in another blocked path.

"Emma, maybe—" Regina began cautiously.

Emma cut her off, frustration making her tone harder than normal. "Oh, no," she ground out, then punched a finger solidly into the purple creature’s chest in time with the rest of her response. "I am not taking orders from a giant, purple gumdrop." Everyone in town seemed to think she was a total patsy. Well, no more. She was putting her foot down and the giganto gumdrop could just deal.

The creature in question narrowed her ‘eyes’ while the shape of a mouth pursed. She ducked her head pugnaciously and uttered a soft, determined snort. There was some evidence to indicate she’d had her own special day and was in no mood.

"But—"

"No," Emma cut Regina off without looking up. Leaning down until she was nose to beak with the creature, she braced her left hand on the center of its chest and snarled, "Move."

"Hrmph," the creature growled and planted its butt firmly in the dirt.

Exhaling a soft sigh, Regina shook her head slowly. "This isn’t going to turn out well," she muttered.

"Mrp," a small voice agreed.

Tipping her head down, Regina peered at the tiny purple head that popped up in the vee between her breasts. It hooked its nose/beak over the edge of her sweater and appeared to heave a sigh. "You again," she exhaled, her tone wry.

"Mrp mrrrpp," it murmured and shrugged as it studied the scene in front of them.

Emma grunted and Regina’s head snapped up to check on the blonde.

"Mrrrp mrp, mrp mrp," the baby gumdrop commented thoughtfully.

"Fair point," Regina admitted. She briefly considered trying to remove the little creature, but her efforts had been utterly unsuccessful so far and her mind was on other things. "But Emma’s clever. That has to count for something even against a low center of gravity."

"Er ... mrp."

"I know," Regina sighed, shoulders sagging as she worried her lower lip between sharp incisors.

Emma meanwhile, gave the creature blocking her path another solid shove.

This time it shoved back.

The creature ended up more or less where it started. Emma, on the other hand, stumbled backward and landed on her backside even as she lost her grip on her gun and it bounced away into the darkness.

Which was fine by Regina. Under the circumstances, better she not have access to firearms right now.

Cursing under her breath, Emma pushed to her knees and lunged. This time, she got an arm around the creature and put her shoulder to the task. It lasted a few seconds, then she went flying to land in an ungainly heap several feet away.

"Emma, I really think—" Regina tried to break in.

"I’ve got this," the blonde ground out, her tone only getting more determined as she pushed up on her hands.

"But—"

"I said I’ve got this," Emma snapped, her entire focus on her opponent.

Faced with the glaring blonde, the giant gumdrop replanted its hind end, squared its nonexistent shoulders, and pursed its beak into an expression of determination.

Then Emma hurtled at the creature, wrapping long arms around it and bracing herself in an effort to leverage it to one side. It darted out of the impromptu wrestling hold, but Emma grabbed it again.

Then the creature shook itself like a dog fresh out of water.

And Emma went flying. Her landing kicked up a puff of glowing dust and she skidded several feet before coming to a stop at the base of the wall she’d climbed down.

As it turned out, Emma didn’t have this so much as this had Emma. Again.

"Emma," Regina called out. "Perhaps—"

"No," the blonde gritted as she pushed to a crouch and glared at her opponent.

"Mrp mrp mrp ... mrrrp mrpm," a small voice commented wryly from its comfortable berth inside Regina’s sweater.

"I know," Regina sighed, wincing as Emma leapt back into the fray was sent sprawling almost immediately. The blonde tumbled, then used her momentum to bring her back to her feet. Despite the darkness and her own, undoubtedly aching body, the move was amazingly graceful, and Regina felt her heart give a solid thump. "She can be very stubborn," she allowed even as she tracked the blonde’s every move. "But her heroic side really is quite..."

Emma flung off her jacket, muscles across her arms and shoulders rippling as she moved.

"...stunning," Regina exhaled, her voice several octaves higher than normal.

"Mrrr–rrrp?" There was a doubtful note to the tiny voice.

"That’s hardly fair," she dismissed as she regained control. Trying to appear nonchalant, she shrugged. "It’s just that I ... I find Miss Swan somewhat..."

Emma’s blouse came untucked, and buttons went flying, revealing well-toned abs.

Regina swallowed hard. "...interesting."

"M-r-p?"

Emma flew by and landed on her stomach with an angry grunt, offering an excellent view of her well shaped backside inside of painted-on jeans. She was back up and moving in a heartbeat.

Regina fanned herself. "You’ll understand one day." Eyes falling on the big gumdrop creature, she tipped her head to one side as she assessed its rather rotund shape. "Or possibly not."

"Mrp, mrp, mrp," the little creature grumped disapprovingly as it pursed its beak and rolled nonexistent eyes.

"Perhaps," Regina admitted breathlessly, her attention swinging back to Emma in time to see the flex and play of taut thigh muscle as she leapt again. "Though I think you’re being a bit hard on her."

"Mrp."

Then Emma lost another round. She hit hard and slid, pretty much the same as before with one exception, this time she ran into Regina rather than the rocks on the opposite side of the chamber. She skidded to a halt, her shoulder braced against the brunette’s calves. "Dear god, what is that thing made of? Lead?" She shook her head dazedly. "No matter what I do, it won’t move." She abruptly realized it wasn’t hard rock pressing into her shoulder and tipped her back, peering up and back. "Oh, Regina, it’s you."

Tilting her head to one side, Regina found herself returning the crooked smile directed her way. "Yes, Miss Swan." Reaching out, she gently petted pale hair back from Emma’s brow.

Green eyes narrowed to a squint as Emma tried to bring the world into focus without much success. It didn’t help any that Regina was upside down from her vantage point. "And the gumdrop ... never did much like those ... they're really lousy movie candy. Movie candy should be chocolate..." she exhaled as she noted the tiny face peering over the edge of Regina’s sweater. "Never thought I’d envy a purple gumdrop," she added under her breath.

The brunette offered a knowing smirk in response.

"I said that out loud, didn’t I?" Emma mumbled, an embarrassed flush crawling over her cheekbones.

Flashing a sly grin, Regina nodded. "You did," she confirmed, then gently eased the armful of multi-colored creatures on her lap aside.

"I may be a little out of it." Emma abruptly realized the little slime beasts were making all sorts of adorably affectionate sounds as they scattered on the floor around Regina. And really, she needed a new moniker for them because she didn’t think slime beasts were supposed to bill and coo that way. They certainly weren’t supposed to be quite so cute. Then Regina stroked her cheek with a single finger and she found she didn’t care about slime beasts, large or small, as the other woman angled over her.

"You are amazing," Regina breathed.

"I don’t feel amazing," Emma admitted, unused to being on the losing side of a fight. Meanwhile, her body throbbed, and not in a good way either — or at least mostly not in a good way, because with the way Regina was smiling at her, she’d have had to be dead three days for there to be no good way at all. "Actually, I feel kinda lousy ... everything hurts."

Her touch all tenderness, Regina carefully skimmed silky back from Emma’s brow. "Perhaps I can kiss it and make it better," she drawled, something warm and impossibly deep swirling in dark eyes.

"Mrrp," an annoyed voice snarked from the vicinity of Regina’s breasts.

"Oh, shush," Regina hushed and reached into her sweater to pluck out a tiny, rotund body. "Time for you to go play with your siblings. Miss Swan and I have adult matters to discuss." Then she set the little creature aside with the same care she would have taken in handling a newborn chick.

A wave of unexpected emotion slid through Emma as she watched the other woman’s gentleness, touched by the side of her that she rarely showed in front of anyone other than Henry. She could use a little of that, and she said so out loud before she could think better of it.

Regina’s answering smile was all teeth and triumph, but her tone was remarkably gentle and lightly teasing. "So no whips and chains?"

Faintly appalled the surge of heat that image induced, Emma nonetheless shook her head. The libido might be curious as hell, but the body was screaming in unholy terror. "Not for at least a week ... or ten ... maybe twenty."

Regina leaned a little closer, her breath warm on Emma’s face, and drew a single finger along the arch of her brow. "I promise," she whispered. "I’ll be gentle."

The libido and the body both liked that idea and in fact, were more or less high-fiving the whole proposition, not to mention the whole horizontal version of the upside-down-Spiderman-kiss thing looming. "So ... I ... uh ... um..." she stammered a moment later when Regina still hadn’t moved, and continued to silently study her.

"Shhh," Regina hushed in a leisurely way. Then she was leaning closer, the heat and sweetness of her becoming more palpable with each millimeter she crossed between them.

Emma felt her heart contract, then burst into hard, hammering beats as soft lips drew closer. Her eyes slid closed, then she pressed upward, moaning low in her throat as her lips found cool velvet.

Very cool velvet.

Very, very cool...

A low growl broke in on her sensory confusion and her eyes snapped open. She found herself facing something very...

Very...

Purple.

And once again Emma screamed...

 

* * * * *

Chapter Text

It was, Regina mused as she heard Emma’s rather pathetic, mewling exclamation of shock, entirely possible that the blonde had ended up a hero rather than the more predictable blonde ingenue for the very basic reason that a good ingenue need a good scream and Emma utterly lacked any ability of that nature. Which was sort of amazing considering that her mother’s could draw soldiers from miles around and Charming’s had been known to shatter glass.

Emma’s version, meanwhile, barely got above Middle C and ended on a whiny note. Clearly, some things skipped generations.

And then her only consideration was how very irritating Mama Gumdrop was as Emma was flung one direction and she was carried off the other, to be settled back in the corner niche. For her, the whole process was gentle as a lamb, and she was almost instantly buried in squirming, multi colored creatures, all billing and cooing and nuzzling affectionately enough to make her long for the days when she would have incinerated the lot of them with little more than a thought. Oh, not really. Even in her most hard-hearted Evil Queen days, she hadn’t been quite that monstrous.

But still...

One nuzzled her ear, several had staked a claim to her lap and at least two were trying to join Gumdrop inside her sweater.

Really, this was going to have to stop.

Regina tried to push the little things off, but Big Mama was having none of it and kept up a steady running bitch session as she nosed them back into place faster than Regina could remove them. "Stop!" she snapped as she shoved at a pointed, purple beak.

"Hrmph, rhmph, rhmph," Big Mama shot back.

"Like hell I will," Regina growled, eyes hard, jaw thrust pugnaciously forward.

To put it in the simplest terms, from there, an argument ensued.

Emma, meanwhile, was vaguely grateful to have been tossed to the opposite side of the chamber and left there. Normally, she had a default level of resentment to being thrown aside and forgotten owing to longstanding issues related to ... well ... pretty much her whole life, but as she tipped her head up and watched Regina, nose to beak with mama slime beast, the vein in her temple looking like it was ready to pop at any moment, it occurred to her that she’d gotten the better end of the deal. Moving slowly, she pushed into a sitting position, twisting her neck this way and that to an accompaniment of pops and creaks as bones resettled.

Regina and her newest nemesis were still in deep discussion. At a considerable decibel level.

It was a discussion which Regina, by the way, did not appear to be winning. At least Emma was pretty sure she wasn’t winning because every time Regina tried to stand, she ended up sitting again, more or less buried in little gumdrops while being fussed at by the big gumdrop.

And the vein in her temple? At some point, it started pulsing so hard it could probably be seen from the moon. Given how well Regina handled frustration — which was not the least bit well at all — it would be a minor miracle if she didn’t just stroke out if this kept up much longer.

Leaning back on her hands, Emma tipped her head to one side as she considered her next course of action. Really, she didn’t see any good options. So far, her success against the big gumdrop had been ... well ... limited was the kindest term she could come up with.

On the other hand, standing by and watching Henry’s other mother, a woman she was slowly, but surely, and kinda terrifyingly concluding she was very possibly kinda in love with, go crazy wasn’t exactly an ideal strategy either.

Rock, hard place, you are here.

Emma was still debating the problem when a tiny giggle and squeaked, "Shweeee!" alerted her she was not entirely alone.

She froze, then slowly turned her head to the side, eyebrows climbing toward her hairline as she noted the Easter-peep yellow gumdrop sitting on her left shoulder. Uncertain quite what to make this development, she offered a cautious smile.

She got a wide, beaky grin in return. "Shwee."

"Right ... uh ... shwee," Emma agreed uncertainly. The little ones didn’t seem to be any threat, but given Regina’s current predicament, Emma was inclined toward caution.

Then the argument on the opposite side of the room abruptly gained in volume and she swung her gaze back toward Regina who was unsuccessfully trying to summon fire and getting nothing more than a few wispy tendrils of smoke.

Mama slimebeast snorted in a way that sounded suspiciously like laughter, which did nothing positive for the throbbing vein in Regina’s temple.

"Now if you could just tell me what to do about that," Emma said with a loose gesture toward the arguing pair.

Despite the apparent lack of eyes, the yellow gumdrop’s face shifted and warped into a similar shape that blinked and winked at Emma and seemed to glitter with manic lights and devil-may-care excitement. "Shweeee," it repeated merrily.

"Yeah, shwee." Emma shook her head as she peered at the creature. "Too bad that doesn’t actually solve my problem," she sighed.

The yellow head tipped to one side, the shape of brows briefly drawing into a frown, then the little creature’s grin broadened. "Shweee!" it repeated, this time the sound loud and high enough to echo like a sharp whistle.

Emma was a beat slow to realize what would happen, so by the time she looked back toward Regina, it was just in time to see Mama’s head snap her direction and nonexistent eyes narrow in an expression that could only be read as fury. "That wasn’t really what I meant," Emma whimpered.

The creature on her shoulder let out a happy giggle that confirmed its attention-getting tactic had been entirely intentional.

Emma suddenly found herself wishing she’d gotten the overly familiar, if faintly grumpy purple one instead. Then...

Zip, zing, snap.

And Mama was right there, beak up in her face, chattering angrily.

Emma flinched and threw up a protective arm, but Mama didn’t actually make contact, just bobbed her head back and forth and emitted a string of, "Hrmphs," that made her opinion clear. She was not impressed by Emma, her status as the Savior, her hair, her clothes, possibly her breath. In fact, it didn’t look like she approved of a single thing about the blonde.

Then Mama leaned in until she was beak to nose with Emma and Emma could see her own reflection in faintly glossy skin. "Hrrrrmm-mmph," Mama said very pointedly, then darted her beak forward and sideways to bump the little yellow creature poised on Emma’s shoulder.

With no hands to cling with, it went flying, giggling and shweeing all the way. Meanwhile, faster than the eye could see, Mama stretched out, thin and horizontal with only a delicate tower keeping her anchored to the ground. Next thing, the baby landed on her makeshift trampoline, bounced several times, then was bundled to the ground safe and sound.

The, "Shwee-ee," that followed had exact same cadence as the word, ‘Again.’

Then there was a cacophony of chirps, whistles, giggles and assorted other sound effects from the other side of the chamber, followed by Regina’s grumbling voice. "Tattletales." Standing outside the niche now, she stood amid a collection of candy colored creatures, poised on the balls of her feet, fingers of her right hand curled in a way that would usually involve cradling a growing fireball, a purple beak hooked over the vee of her sweater.

Mama whipped her head around, saw Regina had escaped and stretched, snapped and reappeared in front of the brunette in an instant, hrmphing all the way.

"Oh, hell no!" the brunette swore as she planted her feet and glared. "I am not getting back in that hole!"

"Shwee," a wild little voice commented as the Easter-Peep model did her own bit of stretching and snapping, then regained her position on Emma’s shoulder.

Emma turned her head to glare. The Peep colored gumdrop just offered an even broader grin. Of course it did. Rolling her eyes, Emma turned her attention back toward the former Evil Queen and her newest nemesis.

Busy with Regina, Mama didn’t notice her other gumdropling’s bit of defiance. "Hrmph," Mama snapped, her tone impatient. She bumped her forehead lightly into Regina’s shin, trying to herd her back into the niche.

"No," Regina repeated firmly, and this time she neatly ducked the attempt to push her back. Her magic might be dampened down here, but her reflexes were still firmly in place and she could catch arrows in mid flight.

Another attempt to bump her back resulted in another strange pas de deux with Mama trying to push Regina back and Regina neatly dodging in time to avoid the maneuver, but not fast enough to get by the squat, purple blockade.

In short, stalemate.

A fact with did not go over well with Mama. "Hrmph," she said, glaring up at Regina.

The brunette responded with her best Evil Queen glare and leaned down into the creature’s space. "No."

Even from across the room, Emma could feel the little creature’s frustration as it gave up shoving and started pacing. Well, sort of pacing. It was more like gliding really, with no obvious means of locomotion, but skimming neatly across the ground. She would slide one direction, pause, glare at Emma, then glare at Regina, then turn and go back to the other direction, grumping and grumbling little hrmphs with every lap.

Regina, meanwhile, was still standing just outside the niche, feet braced, her occasional, unsuccessful attempts to duck by doing nothing to slow Big Mama’s pacing and fussing.

And suddenly Emma got it.

She really, really got it. She’d seen this all before with Henry and Regina, when Henry misbehaved or got defiant and Regina tried to set her foot down and conflict ensued.

And from this angle, it was funny as hell. In fact, she would have broken into giggles if not for her certainty that Regina would disembowel her if she did. Oh, hell, who was she kidding? No way she wasn’t going to enjoy this one. "She thinks you’re one of her babies!"

Mama and Regina were very strange mirror images of each other as they turned their heads toward Emma in a perfectly syncopated pivot, both just staring for a long moment.

"You just figured that out?" Regina asked at last.

"Hrrm?" Mama echoed.

Suddenly self conscious, Emma nodded. She’d actually thought that was rather clever on her part. "Um ... yeah?" Her voice rose on a questioning note at the end as though she wasn’t quite sure that was the right answer.

Mama turned to peer up at Regina, somehow managing to convey a very doubting, ‘Really?’ despite the fact that what she actually said was still, "Hrmph?"

Slim shoulders shifted in a hint of an embarrassed shrug. "She’s a city girl," Regina sighed in explanation, gnawing on her lower lip as she waited for a response. "She never had cats adopt puppies or vice versa."

Mama’s exhaled, "Hrmph," was disturbingly familiar to Emma, echoing as it did, every glowering parent she’d ever been brought home to meet. Which meant...

"Oh, god," Emma exhaled as another realization hit her. "And I’m the date everybody disapproves of..." She looked up at Regina, silently challenging her to deny it.

The brunette flinched. "Well, I ... uh ... yes, kind of..." Regina sighed, unable to lie in the face of that look.

Emma winced and started to shrink only to be startled by the encouraging, "Shwee," whispered near her ear.

She turned her to find herself nose to beak with a bright yellow face.

"Shwee," the little creature repeated as it made a ‘go on,’ gesture with the tip of its beak.

Head tipped to one side, Emma considered the advice for a moment, then nodded. "You’re right." She was not going to be put in her place by the gumdrop from hell. She was Emma Swan, the Savior, a pretty good sheriff, reasonable magic caster and once upon a time, one helluva a bail bondswoman. And her car, while not exactly ideal, was sorta retro hipster cool.

She could do this. She could impress a two foot tall, stretchable gumdrop.

"Shwee-shwee."

"Absolutely," the blonde agreed firmly, then turned her attention back toward Regina’s new parental figure. She straightened her shoulders and put on a serious look. "I get it," she began. "You don’t think much of me."

"Hrmph," Mama confirmed.

"And I can see why," Emma admitted as she pushed to a crouch, putting herself more on the same height as she addressed the glaring definition of disapproval. She’d been here before, she reminded herself, and lived by her wits more than once. Time to remember those skills. "I’m too tall, too skinny, no cute little rounded butt—"

Mama grumpily hrmphed her agreement with every statement.

"—not a good color at all. No pretty red or purple—"

"Shwee," a little voice interrupted in an annoyed tone.

"And any yellow is very bland ... unlike some people who are brilliant, gorgeous shades," Emma continued smoothly, hopefully flattering what was possibly her only supporter in the room, though as she looked up, Regina’s expression melded into a wry smile that bordered on tender. Okay, so maybe two supporters. "However — and this is important — I care for her so much..." She shook her head slowly, then looked up, meeting Regina’s eyes again. "We used to kinda hate each other ... but we’re past it, and now I know she’ll always have my back, that I can trust her with literally any problem, no matter how big or small ... or stupid or pointless it might seem ... even if it’s just trying to chase off an idiot pirate who’s making me crazy." She paused long enough to take a breath, her strange audience nearly forgotten. "I know I can trust her with the thing I love most in this world ... our son."

Regina’s expression softened and her eyes turned glossy as she swallowed hard.

"And I promise you," Emma continued, her voice low and serious, "I will do everything in my power to always protect her and care for her." She pushed to her feet, the movement graceful, her eyes never leaving the brunette.

Regina blinked rapidly as if to clear what looked suspiciously like a few tears.

"And make sure she knows how special she is ... that she’s valued ... loved ...and—"

Emma had forgotten about Mama in the increasing honesty of the moment.

That was a mistake.

Who knows whether it was because she hated being ignored, didn’t appreciate what Emma had to say or was simply in a really lousy mood, the creature abruptly elongated itself, body thinning as she stretched tall enough to stuff her beak in Emma’s face. As she bumped Emma’s nose, she uttered a disapproving, if somewhat less hostile, "Hrmph!" Then she spread in all directions, and swept around Regina like a glossy, purple blanket.

Regina barely had a chance to utter a startled, "Hey!" before she was bundled back into her niche.

"Oh, come on!" Emma complained. "That was a brilliant speech."

"Hrmph," Mama dismissed, then pointedly turned her back on Emma as she settled Regina in and began nosing her shoulder and hair, her motions mimicking a cat grooming one of its kittens.

"Well, hell," Emma exhaled. "I really thought that would ... y’know ... maybe score a few points."

"It was..." Regina trailed off, as she kept trying to shove the maternal bundle of purple off. Swallowing hard, she tried to speak again, failed, then finally simply said, "Thank you."

Mama, meanwhile, abruptly backed up a bit, twisting this way and that and hrmphing very softly.

Which is when Emma became aware of a brightly colored spot on the tip of her boot.

It popped up into a Gummi drop and grinned at her with a friendly chirp. More assorted sound effects and pops followed and suddenly she was surrounded by a gaggle of multi-colored, happily commenting creatures.

A fact that was not missed by, nor did it go over well with Mama. Glaring at her recalcitrant droplings, she let out several pointed hrmphs.

"Pbbbbttttt," the Easter Peep responded with a raspberry from its high ground of Emma’s shoulder.

Emma took that as a no.

"HRMPH! Hrmph, hrpmph-rhmph-rmph. HRMPH-RMPH!" It didn’t require a genius to recognize an order to ‘Get down and get over here. Right. Now,’ no matter what language it was spoken in.

That earned another raspberry as Peeps darted under the fall of Emma’s hair.

Meanwhile, the other droplings zipped, snapped and reappeared behind Emma, peeping out from behind her boots as they chattered back at Mama, clearly arguing.

Apparently someone had been impressed by Emma’s speech, and they were taking up for their sibling’s cause. Unfortunately, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, since it wasn’t going over well at all. If Mama had possessed ears, smoke would have been coming out of them. In a few moments, she’d gone from one defiant child, to a whole gaggle of them.

And it was ALL Emma’s fault.

Seeing the glare directed her way and remembering how their earlier ‘fight’ had gone, Emma swallowed hard. "Ahm," she exhaled as she backed up a step, careful not to land on any of the creatures underfoot. She needed every supporter she could get.

The "Hrmph," that followed was so soft as to be nearly inaudible but carried a thousand shades of fury, proving that volume wasn’t necessarily the only way to hurl threats.

Then suddenly Regina was standing between her and Mama, tendrils of fire — albeit fewer than usual — trickling from her clenched hand. Emma was never entirely certain how it happened — possibly gumdrops weren’t the only ones who could zip, zing, snap — but there was no doubt that she was there to protect Emma.

Emma’s heart clutched in her chest and the her cautious suspicions about her own emotional involvement turned to absolute certainty.

Then Regina spoke, her voice deadly soft, but absolute. "No."

Mama pulled up short and the illusion of eyebrows shot up. "Hrmph?" She sounded startled, even hurt.

"Not your choice," Regina ground out, then softened her voice as she added, "No more fighting. I won’t allow it."

Nonexistent shoulders sagged. "Hrm?" Mama whimpered. Her butt sank into the dirt, while her chin drooped to her chest. "Hrm-hrm–hrm- hrm."

"Well, no," Regina exhaled, tone shifting as the fire drained from her palm. "I mean, you’re a ... a great mother — certainly better than my last one — but that’s my decision to make and well ... well, Emma is..." She peered at the Savior for a moment. "It’s complicated."

"Rhmph," Mama mumbled, sinking deeper into herself as she emitted what sounded suspiciously like a sob.

"Oh hell," Regina muttered and sank down next to the creature who buried her head in Regina’s shoulder, sniffling and muttering in a way familiar to frustrated parents everywhere. "No, no," the former Evil Queen tried to reassure her. "They ... we ... love you." She glared pointedly at the droplings hiding behind Emma and jerked her head, eyes narrowing dangerously when they shrank back, muttering amongst themselves in a way known to children in trouble universe-wide.

"Guys," Emma prompted as she used the side of her boot to nudge several forward. "She’s right. Move it." They really didn’t need any gumdrop-style nervous breakdowns.

There was some discussion among the droplings, then Mama’s sniffles turned to sobs and they skittered forward, beaks hangdog, scuffing the dirt as they moved, clearly still hesitant, then suddenly she let out a wail and they started zipping and snapping and snuggling up with a speed that defied any effort to track them.

As she was buried in chirping little creatures, Regina rolled her eyes and offered a wry smirk, but Emma couldn’t help but notice how gentle she was with the babies or how she worked to soothe their mama. Really, it was so freaking sweet, Emma could feel her blood sugar rising just by watching.

Then Regina looked up, her eyes finding Emma in the thin light and she nodded, silently gesturing Emma over.

"I don’t think so," Emma mouthed.

That earned a smirk and a glower that expressed Regina’s disapproval without words.

"Shwee." A velvety soft beak tickled her ear and she looked over to find Peeps nodding, and pointing at the others. "Shwee," it repeated.

"Kid," Emma sighed. "I don’t think your mom likes me much. And I just ... no more drama." Also, no more wrestling. She rubbed her shoulder absently. It hurt like a sonofabitch.

The answering, "Shwee-shwee," and, "Emma ...get over here," were said with exactly the same tones of affectionate exasperation, but she still didn’t move until Regina finally reached out with her free hand.

Unable to resist the silent beckoning, Emma edged forward, then found herself reaching back without really planning to. Her hand was caught in a strong grip and she was tugged down into the clustered warmth.

Mama tensed and glared, but Regina gently petted her head.

"She’s family," the former Evil Queen soothed. Holding tightly to Emma’s hand, she shared a long, serious look with the blonde. "In more ways than one, I think..." She shook her head a little dazedly. "More ways than I could ever have imagined."

Mama grumped, but didn’t argue, and the droplings offered varying sighs, chirps, giggles, and other happy noises as they snuggled down. The one on Emma’s shoulder settled in and began purring softly.

"I ... uh ... this is just..." Emma peered around herself, taking in the situation as she hunted for the right word.

"Surreal?" Regina offered.

"Beyond." Then Emma shared a wry look with Regina. "I keep waiting to find out we’re on some weird Storybrooke prank show—"

"No one would dare," Regina snapped.

"And you..." Emma continued, unabated by the glare. "There you were, all teenaged defiance, and now you’re doing buck up speeches." She grinned and mocked sniffled. "They grow up so fast."

Uttering a hrmph of her own, Regina rolled her eyes. "Very funny." She looked back at the creature on her other side, still idly petting head. "It’s just that ... I know how weird this sounds, while I will not tolerate being treated like a child — of any species—" her tone hardened, then softened again. "I know how she feels." She’d had her own issues with feeling unloved while dealing with a defiant child.

Tamping down an urge to snort, Emma simply nodded. "Well, thankfully, you only have one kid that loves you even when he doesn’t follow orders," she teased. "I don’t think either of us would survive a dozen."

That earned a soft laugh and a long moment of shared empathy.

"Okay, I’ve gotta ask." Emma said at last. She nodded to indicate Mama. "Story behind that adoption?"

Regina continued petting the creature while it began making grooming motions over assorted little ones. "When I fell, she was catching the others and she caught me too." She peered upward. "I couldn’t summon my magic and was in total freefall. I’d have been a grease spot on the floor if she hadn’t." She looked down again, peering at the creature with wry affection.

Emma swallowed hard as it sank in how close the other woman had come to dying. No longer laughing, she pushed to her knees, peering seriously at Regina as she whispered, "I owe her then." She turned a small smile toward the creature, who looked up, watching suspiciously. "Thank you for saving her," she said very softly.

"Hrmph," a small voice muttered, still grumpy, but also grudgingly — very grudgingly — respectful.

"See, I’m winning her over."

"Hrmph."

Or maybe not. "How ironic is that your mommy hates me more than mine hates you these days?" Emma snarked.

Regina just rolled her eyes. Emma was enjoying this entirely too much.

Chuckling softly, Emma turned her attention back to Regina, studying her carefully. "And thank you for being okay." She leaned a little closer, silently asking permission.

Nodding, Regina rested her palms on the front of Emma’s jacket, neither pushing nor pulling as they both eased closer.

Then lips met, hands found purchase and bodies molded together.

And Mama made retching sounds while assorted droplings ooed and awed and one fainted dead away. Apparently, they were romantics at heart. Their mother, not so much.

Neither Emma nor Regina noticed. They were otherwise engaged.

When the kiss finally broke, which it only just barely did, they were both breathing hard and trembling gently.

"I ... uh ... that was very..." Emma stammered.

"Yes, it was," Regina mumbled, surprised to realize she understood precisely what Emma was trying to say.

Mama made more retching sounds.

Gumdrop, meanwhile, stuck her head up, noted the situation and disappeared back into the warm comfort of Regina’s sweater. Peeps’ soft purring turned to gentle snores.

Regina curled her fingers into Emma’s lapels, tugged her close and the kissing resumed.

And yet more retching sounds.

"Incredibly pleasant as this all is," Emma panted when their mouths parted long moments later, "we really need to figure a way out of here."

Still struggling to catch her breath, Regina nodded. "I can summon a bit of magic sometimes, but not enough to escape."

"They’ve got to know something’s wrong by now up top. Maybe—"

"Not likely," Regina cut that hope off at the knees. "Hook was being so determined that I put up a very strong ward. If the fairies emptied the mine of dust, they might get through in a week. Gold could do it faster, but we’re not exactly on good terms right now." She gnawed thoughtfully on her lower lip. "I think we need to plan on getting ourselves out."

Emma tipped her head back to stare at the cliff she’d climbed down. "I barely made it down here without breaking my neck." She shook her head. "Up? No way in hell are either—"

The rest of Emma’s reply was lost in an explosion of sound, a deep, raging roar that seemed to come from all sides and made the world around them tremble with such violence that it brought a flurry of dust and small stones down on their heads.

In an instant both women were on their feet and standing back to back, braced for a fight as they hunted for the source of terrifying din.

A low growl vibrating in her chest, Mama darted into the space between them, her babies in tow, and glared at the surrounding rocks.

Noting the response, Emma risked a quick glance over her shoulder. "Whatever it is, it’s scaring the crap out of her," she warned Regina.

"She’s not alone," Regina hissed, stress making her voice raw. "That sound ... it was..." Unable to sufficiently describe the horror that sound sent vibrating through her, she trailed off.

"Pure distilled evil?" Emma offered in a failed attempt at sarcasm.

"That’ll do." For once there wasn’t a trace of snark in the queen’s voice.

Then the earth beneath their feet and the walls on all sides started to shake and roll with enough intensity that it was a struggle for both women to remain standing.

"I’ve got a very bad feeling about this!" Emma shouted over the noise.

"Be ready for anything!" Regina yelled back as she struggled to summon even a few threads of fire.

Then everything went utterly silent and perfectly still.

Which was nowhere near comforting. In fact, it was downright creepy.

"Just in case we die," Emma whispered, her eyes darting around as she hunted for any sign of what might have made the sound, "Y’know those declarations of love I’ve been sort of uttering lately?"

"Yes," Regina whispered cautiously, a new tension entering her voice.

Emma recognized that tone instantly, the fear of losing something and being on the outside once again. Regina was scared she hadn’t meant it, she realized in an instant. Suddenly awash in sympathy and the desire to protect and wipe away all those old hurts, she barely resisted the urge to pull the other woman close. "I meant every word," she said seriously. "And I meant it in a forever yours and get naked together sort of way." Not the most graceful phrasing ever, but it was going to have to do given that they were likely to have other issues to deal with very soon.

Regina glanced back and their gazes met and held, then her breath caught as she saw the silent promise in green eyes. She felt her heart give a solid throb that had nothing to do with any monsters screaming the cave down around them. A life with this woman by her side? Yes, it had appeal, more than a little. She was smart, even if she could be a bit dense on occasion, brave, see previous comment vis-a-vis density, loyal to a fault, more beautiful than she realized, and had a heart that utterly lacked the sort of cruel guile that had done so much damage in Regina’s life. As for any thoughts of mutual nudity — there was another throb a bit further south — the idea did not offend.

The silent pause went on long enough that Emma felt her cheeks heat as a rush of terror slid through her that she’d massively overstepped. "I shouldn’t have—"

"It’s mutual," Regina interrupted in a rush.

Emma froze for a second. "The love part or the naked part?" she asked the first question that popped into her head in a desperate attempt to find any trace of humor that might ease some of the stark terror making her want to run and hide. It kind of even worked, she realized as she heard a soft, grim chuckle.

"Both," Regina admitted, her voice low, heat coloring her cheeks. That simply wasn’t the sort of thing she was used to admitting, but Miss Swan — Emma — had earned the truth.

"Really?" Emma’s voice rose in a mix of disbelief and hope.

Regina’s answering tone held a hint of her smile. "Truly." She reached back enough to lay her hand on Emma’s forearm. "I’m not sure when it happened, but..." She’d never been any good at this sort of thing, not that she’d had enormous experience with emotional honesty. "You and I, we’re a team and I’m..." She froze for a moment, the final complete confession caught on the tip of her tongue. She’d all but admitted it and yet the actual words were suddenly trapped. She couldn’t quite get them out.

"Mrp," and "Shwee," two little voices encouraged, followed by another series of chirps, and even a somewhat less grumpy, "Hrmph," as the entire family weighed in.

"I..." Despite the encouragement from colorful quarters, Regina remained frozen, unable to make the final admission.

"Mrp," Gumdrop repeated as she raised her head above the edge of Regina’s sweater, bumped her beak solidly into Regina’s sternum, then swung it around to point at Emma.

"But—"

"Mrp," was the impatient reply. "M.R.P." Then she dropped back down, though muttering could still be heard from inside Regina’s sweater.

Emma clamped down on the urge to giggle inappropriately, convinced it wouldn’t help even a little bit.

"I’m in love with you," Regina whispered incredibly softly.

"Mrp," Gumdrop said approvingly, while Peeps uttered an encouraging, "Shwee."

Regina almost laughed at the cheering section. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. She took a deep breath. "Other than Henry, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me."

Smiling, Emma turned her hand under Regina’s, lacing their fingers together. She felt her mouth turn up in a smile that she didn’t think she was ever going to lose. "We’re a team." She tightened her hold on the fine-boned hand caught in her own. "We’ll be okay as long as we’re—"

Then all hell really broke loose.

 

* * * * * *

Chapter Text

It would have been nice, Emma mused as the floor beneath her boots trembled violently, to have just one moment—a few seconds would have been enough—to just enjoy Regina’s confession.

But no. Whatever lameass, needle-dicked, fairy-tale-fuckup out on a toot that had decided to drop by Storybrooke just couldn’t give her that. Noooo, they just had to start throwing shit right then. Couldn’t wait ten seconds. God, she was really starting to hate fairy tales, fairy tale creatures, and the fairy tale tendency to never give a sucker even a moment to enjoy their triumph.

Evil little fuckers, every last one of them

That as well as a few other fairly profane thoughts running through her head, the content unusually dependant on four letter words, she ducked several bits of debris and spun toward Regina. "Down," she ordered. She saw a flash of stubbornness in dark eyes, but Regina didn’t argue as another tremor shook the walls and Emma pushed her into a crouch. Flipping her jacket up over her head in hopes the leather would add some protection, Emma hunkered low, using her arms and shoulders to shield the brunette and the strange little family they found themselves protecting. "We’ve gotta get outa here!" she shouted over the din.

"Sounds good!" Regina yelled back as she hunted for someplace they could hide and came up empty. "Where!" They were in a fairly narrow shaft, she’d seen no way in or out except from above, and the niche where Mama had pushed her was crumbling even faster than main chamber.

Shaking her head, Emma searched their dimly glowing environs, hunting for anything that might offer cover. Nothing. She considered suggesting they get closer to one of the walls—wasn’t that good for earthquakes—then a sizable section collapsed, killing that thought. "No idea," she shouted, her voice barely audible above the crackle and tumble of rock. She grunted as a fist sized rock slammed hard into her upper back. "But we’ve gotta do something!" Another stone hit her side, drawing a dull cry and nearly driving her to her knees. "Can’t take much more," Emma panted near the other woman’s ear, her voice full of pain.

"Goddammit!" Regina screamed, anger and frustration stretching the word out.

Then suddenly the brunette’s head came up, and Emma felt a new tension enter her slender frame as she stretched her arms out, hands spread wide, tiny fingers of purple swirling from her palms.

In an instant, Emma knew what she planned, knew too it was their only chance.

She was going to poof them out of there.

As if sensing the defiance, something screamed, and even Emma could feel the pushback against Regina’s effort to break through. "Guys," the blonde ordered the droplings, "get aboard." Instinct told her that the more compressed they all were, the better chance Regina had of moving them all. She grabbed Peeps from her shoulder and dropped her into a pocket, saw Gumdrop hunker down, then scooped up several more.

The little creatures got the point and any loose ones started zipping up and into every available pocket. Mama pressed against Emma, stretching thin enough to wrap herself partially around Emma’s calf, holding on in her fashion.

Meanwhile, Regina gritted her teeth and muscles knotted along the line of her jaw as she reached for any magic she could find, pulling it from deep within herself, but also finding bits of it tangled in the very air. Anything to help bully through whatever wall was in the way.

Only whatever it was she was fighting was dragging more power out of itself as well, countering her efforts, slowly, but just fast enough that she couldn’t quite break through.

Suddenly arms wrapped around her from behind, and Emma’s voice was whispering something soothing in her ear. The contact brought with it an awareness of the other woman’s magic — strangled away inside her — almost accessible, but not quite.

Until a hand landed on her chest. Fingers stretched wide, the tips slipping under her sweater as bare flesh contacted bare flesh.

And suddenly nothing could keep their magic apart. It was wild, like a panicked horse that fought every pull of the reins, but it was there, raw and powerful and more than enough to do anything she wanted if she could control it. Alone, she could have harnessed it well enough to port herself free of the diner. Probably she could have done so with only Emma to carry along. But even pressed close, all the wiggling creatures added a level of complexity to the process that made anything fancy impossible. Looking up, she spotted her target — staying within visual range would make it easier — and fought to bend their combined power to her will. Smoke started to swirl, but the rush was feral and chaotic, the normally warm, almost soothing touch of her magic bitter cold and sharp edged as though laced with ice crystals.

Suddenly, it wasn’t so much like trying to tame a wild horse as it was like trying to tame a whole herd of them in the middle of a driving ice storm.

Emma, meanwhile, felt the whip of power, the almost electrical spark where flesh touched flesh and energy sparked across the connection. It had always been like that, even when they hated each other, their magic naturally blended and worked in some strange kind of concert. As it swirled together, tearing through barricades and giving Regina access to the raw power she needed, the brunette’s hair rose around her, flying on an impossible wind as purple smoke whirled up from their feet. Regina tensed inside the circle of her arms, muscles pulling impossibly taut as her breathing shifted and her heart thrummed wildly. She tipped her head up and Emma caught sight of a dim glow emanating from her eyes.

And then suddenly they were standing on the ledge where Emma first landed when she fell through the floor. Startled to find a few flakes of ice clinging to her clothes and lashes — that was a side effect of poofing she’d never seen before — Emma tightened her hold on the slender figure in her arms even as she registered damp, chilled flesh under her spread palm. Wherever the hell the ice came from, Regina seemed to have borne the brunt of it. "Regina?" she questioned worriedly.

"I’m fine," the brunette gritted and consciously straightened herself, leaning less heavily on Emma. Nonetheless, she was breathing hard and visibly staggering.

Then something screamed, the sound higher pitched this time and without the massive echo, but still loud and now close enough to make Emma jump. She twisted in time to see a surging shadow cast on nearby stone. With the bright fluorescent lights from above nearly blinding her, she couldn’t get a look at the creature, but the shadow gave the impression of a monster, the shape huge and undefined, but with a gaping maw of a mouth and jagged, sharp teeth. "Regina," she hissed even as she readied herself to release the brunette and spin toward the thing bearing down on them in hopes of protecting her.

"I know," the former queen ground out. Her hands, landed on Emma’s, pinning them where they’d settled on her chest as she grabbed for their connection.

Then the purple smoke was boiling again, the feel of it like being caught in a blizzard. Emma heard Mama whimper and felt the little ones tremble in their various hiding spots even as an arctic wind swept them all up in its grasp.

This time they landed amid the bright lights of the modern world, still inside Granny’s, but well back from the shattered section of the floor. A hard shiver rattled through Emma and it took her an extra beat to realize her clothes were coated in a thin layer of ice that shattered and flaked off as she moved.

Regina, meanwhile, still had her hands wrapped around Emma’s, holding tightly to the contact between them.

"Regina?" Emma whispered, barely fighting the urge to panic.

"‘M’okay," Regina responded, though her voice was ragged. "Jus’tired."

"What—" Emma started to ask a question only to be cut off by another angry scream that echoed up from beneath their feet. "Oh hell," she hissed, keeping one arm around Regina as she pivoted toward the open hole in the floor.

At the same moment, Mama unwrapped herself from Emma’s leg, shaking off a layer of frost as she darted in front of her family with a low growl, ready to face whatever was coming.

Then Emma heard a rubber band snapping sound as something flashed across her vision too quickly for her to get a good look.

"BLEARGHHH!" a high pitched scream — bordering on a squeak, without the echo effect of the caverns below — rose up from the throat of the creature that was apparently pursuing them as it appeared on the edge of the shattered hole in the floor.

Dark blonde brows drew into a frown. "You’ve gotta be kidding me," Emma muttered.

Mama growled.

Regina was unusually silent.

Their newly arrived enemy was no more than fourteen inches high, gelatinous, and colored in a sickly shade of green. It had a mouth of some kind, and it did indeed have ragged jags of goo where teeth would reside on other creatures, but it was also rotund, lacking in legs and possessed a cute little duck butt just like the others. Wildly threatening it wasn’t. Amazing the illusions a bit of shadow play can work.

As it stood — sat? — there, it chortled triumphantly and offered a manic grin. "Blee-argh," it laughed cheerfully, giggling as though it had pulled off some kind of grand practical joke.

"Hrmph," Mama snarled and stretched and snapped her way forward, skidding to a halt in front of the creature.

"Bleargh," the green one drawled as it appeared to eye her rotund form. The shape of an eyebrow rose high on its nonexistent forehead as it grinned. "Bleee-argh-blargh." It sidled up to Mama and whispered another, "Bleee-aaarrrgghh."

Emma frowned, head tipping to one side. She knew a seductive ‘Hey, babee,’ tone when she heard it.

So did Mama.

Alas, she was anything but amenable.

All but roaring, "HRMPH!" she thumped her beak solidly into its head in time with her comments. "Hrmph, hrmph, hrmph."

He screamed and tried to back up, but had nowhere to go without falling.

Mama thumped him some more.

Emma kinda enjoyed that part. No, scratch that, she definitely enjoyed it.

At least she did until Regina’s grip tightened on her hand hard enough to leave her expecting to hear bones crack, and she became aware that the other woman was shivering violently. Trusting Mama to have her back, she pivoted back toward Regina even as she registered that where her clothes were damp and covered in a light frost, the brunette was soaked to the skin and laboring under a crackling layer of still frozen ice.

"C-cold," the queen said through chattering teeth.

Then it struck Emma just how chilled the flesh under her palm was.

Much too cold to be safe.

"No, no, no." Emma shifted gears in an instant as she realized how bad off the other woman was. Hauling Regina’s arm across her shoulder, she dragged her toward the back of the diner where a narrow hallway acted as a pass-through to the bed and breakfast. She could only hope the wards encompassed both parts of the building and hadn’t split it in two.

Running on adrenaline and sheer terror, she slammed her booted foot into the door to the B&B. Thankfully, it blew open with little resistance because Emma had no Plan B.

At first Regina tried to stagger along, but quickly became a dead weight, a Regina-shaped ice-cube stretched out along Emma’s side.

"Just hold on." Emma kicked through another door to haul the other woman into a dusty guestroom that she crossed in three long strides on her way to the bathroom.

Thank god the inn had recirculating hot water, so she didn’t have to wait when she flipped the shower on, just pulled Regina under the spray, startled to feel her own body trembling. Unfortunately, the water sluiced down Regina’s peacoat, neatly retarded by the heavy wool.

That had to go, but as Emma reached for the buttons, her hands trembled and nerveless fingers fumbled ungracefully. She wasn’t as debilitated by the cold, but she wasn’t moving well and it was getting worse. No time for careful explanations. "Sorry," she apologized, neither asking nor waiting for permission as she started peeling off sodden clothes. "You’re gonna be okay," she promised through chattering teeth.

"Unnndderstoooddd." Regina’s chin ducked in a faint nod and she did her best to cooperate when Emma pushed the coat off her shoulders and flung it aside. "Y-you t-t-too." She tugged on Emma’s lapel, then slipped her hand under the soft leather, settling her palm over Emma’s chest. "T-too c-cold-d."

Nodding, Emma peeled her jacket off and let it fall, ignoring the protests that came from several dropling’s who darted free of assorted pockets. They seemed okay and she had other things to worry about.

Like how damn hard it was to get Regina out of her sweater when the woman could barely stay on her feet and the wet knit weighed a ton and clung like glue. Pushing and pulling, she finally skimmed her hands under the thick mass and along the faint striations of Regina’s ribcage, peeling upward until it came free. She tossed it blindly aside, then in need of an easier task for a few minutes, reached for the buttons on her own blouse. When that was gone, it was time to beard the lion. Namely Regina’s skirt and — god help her—tights. Good, skin tight, wool, tights. This wasn’t gonna be easy.

And it wasn’t. In short order, she was wondering if it was possible to be sweating and freezing at the same time. Meanwhile, if someone had suggested she’d be working this hard to get Regina Mills out of her clothes, it would never occurred to her that whole affair would be this cold and lack anything even remotely prurient.

She peered at newly revealed curves for a beat. Okay, so not entirely not prurient, but not much prurience at all considering...well...Regina. It was just that it was way too cold for anything more exciting than the profound desire to cuddle, even if only for the heat...or maybe mostly if only for the heat.

Or maybe that was just Emma. She wasn’t entirely sure, because there they were, hot water pouring down on them, wrapped in steam, and she could have sworn she was getting colder. She started to ask Regina if that was possible, but when she peered at the former queen, her gaze was focused on some distant point, brows drawn into a frown, lips moving ever so slightly.

Emma had seen that look before. Regina was trying to figure something out. She had to hope it was some kind of answer to their problems because — a hard shiver rattled her from head to toe — yeah, that wasn’t the symptom of someone getting warmer.

In the meantime, there was still the practical matter of too many clothes, so Emma dug back in, dragging sodden fabric free in spite of the tenacious way it fought her every effort until finally she and Regina were both down to nothing but their underwear. Exhausted, her task achieved, she sagged against the tile and sank to her knees, Regina cradled carefully against her chest. It suddenly struck her that she was the one shivering now, while Regina was frighteningly still.

Then something bumped her hip and she looked down to find a tiny, yellow face peering up at her with an imploring expression. "Ssshhhww-w-w-e-e-e-e," Peeps chattered through its shivers. Green eyes swept around them, taking in the assembled droplings, all trembling and shaking.

"Hr-r-rmph," a familiar voice mumbled from the doorway as Mama showed up and headed their way in jerky fits and starts, the glossy surface of her skin pale with frost and quivering gently.

Shit, they were all... "Regina," Emma hissed as she cupped a hand along the other woman’s cheek and forced her chin up. "Look at me, please...this freezing, it’s—"

"It’s magical," Regina finished for her as she blinked her eyes rapidly, visibly fighting the daze. She glanced around, taking in the way the creatures were also affected. "And it’s killing us all."

"That green creature—"

"No...don’t know what it is, but it didn’t do this." She paused, gnawing on her lower lip as she focused on the magic she could feel swirling in the air around them. "This spell was meant to protect the fairy dust," Regina explained, her voice faint enough to frighten Emma. "From me ... and anyone with me." She’d put it together while Emma was fussing with their clothes. She peered up at Emma, then settled her hand on the blonde’s chest. "You’re too cold." It struck her that her teeth weren’t chattering anymore. A vague memory suggested that wasn’t a good thing, then she reminded herself it didn’t really matter. With luck she could still save Emma and the others. "You’re hurt because of me. I’m sorry—" she whispered very softly, her voice a little slurred, but understandable "—for anything I ever did that hurt you. Tell Henry—"

"Don’t you do this," Emma growled, clinging more tightly to the woman in her arms. "Don’t you dare give up when I need—"

"Shhhh," Regina exhaled, too tired say more and painfully aware of her own failing body. She pushed the hand on Emma’s chest up and around the back of her neck, and tugged as she arched up, grabbing onto Emma’s mouth with her own. One last thing for herself. It was soft and desperate, but there was no taking in the kiss, only a heartfelt offering of everything she had left to give.

Emma felt it happen, not so much the kiss as the surrender of everything bitter that had ever stood between them and the offer of everything beautiful. Terror ripped through her because she could feel the threat of losing it all hanging over their heads like some blasted sword of Damocles. Leaning into the contact, she clung desperately even as she opened up her own soul, letting go of old hurts, praying for new chances, not just allowing Regina in, but inviting her.

And suddenly she was wrapped in a moving wave of warmth. It blew outward from every point of contact between their bodies, the movement soothing even though it was so fast as to be nearly instantaneous. Green eyes snapped open and she stared, startled to find brown eyes wide open and staring back.

Emma blinked. She’d been here before, felt this kind of explosion before—when she’d thought Henry was dead and she’d finally accepted how much she loved him. She pulled back from the kiss, staring into dark eyes in open confusion. "What? What was...we...we’re..."

Regina’s mouth worked for a moment and she exhaled a sharp breath. "The spell was aimed at me. I thought if I just surrendered, it would let you go. I didn’t..." Trailing to a halt, she stared up at Emma and shook her head slowly. "I wasn’t trying to..."

Emma cupped her cheek. "I know," she assured the other woman, hating the wariness and self doubt she saw in dark eyes. "It wouldn’t have worked otherwise." She smiled as she realized the truth. "True love doesn’t work that way." If she hadn’t trusted Regina completely, she was pretty sure they’d still be freezing.

Regina’s breath caught and she just stared. "Emma?" she exhaled when she finally spoke. "Are you saying you..." She couldn’t finish.

Surprised to find herself grinning, Emma nodded. "Yeah."

And then she was kissing Regina again and losing herself in the tender contact and renewed warmth.

In the background, the droplings let out a chirpy cheer and even Mama’s, "Hrmph," lacked any of her usual grumpiness.

They were thoroughly ignored in favor of gentle cuddling and more slow kisses that sent the rest of the world away.

Finally, Regina broke away enough to peer at Emma. "We should...uh...probably—" she stammered.

"Be responsible, get the wards down and contact everyone outside, let them know we’re okay."

"Mmhm," Regina confirmed, unable to resist the temptation to press another light kiss to soft lips.

"Yeah, we’ll—"

"Oh, my god!" The outraged voice snapped both their heads up. "I can’t believe you two!" Ruby yelled from the doorway where she stood, poised on the balls of her feet, hand still on the doorknob.

Brown and green eyes snapped up in perfect sync, and guilty expressions ghosted across both women’s faces.

"Miss Lucas." Regina tried to sound prim and proper, but the effect was badly dented by virtue of her being nearly naked and sitting in Emma’s lap.

Emma, meanwhile, just gnawed on her lower lip and turned on the puppy dog eyes.

Neither approach slowed Ruby’s outrage a bit. "We were all worried sick that you were hurt or dead...that some new monster had found its way into the diner...and you two were in here getting all hot and bothered." She rolled her eyes and made a sweeping hand gesture. "Unbelievable! Granny is so gonna kick your asses."

"But we were just—" Emma started to protest only to be overridden.

"Don’t," Ruby snapped. "It’s pretty obvious what you were ‘just...’" Her nose twitched and she folded her arms across her chest and glared.

"Actually—" Regina began.

She didn’t get any farther.

"Do you not remember my keen. Wolf’s. Sense. Of. Smell?" Ruby asked pointedly, then made a show of giving the air a good sniff before raising one eyebrow disapprovingly, silently challenging them to deny the obvious.

Emma just had to try. "Well, but that was because we’d just—"

"Yeah, I can guess what you’d just done." Ruby heaved a sigh. "Look, guys, I’m the last person who’s likely to judge anybody for having a little...er...fun...in this life, but not when all hell’s breaking loose." She turned enough to point toward the diner. "Have you seen what happened to our floor?"

"Fell through it in fact," Regina pointed out crisply.

"Ditto," Emma added, raising a hand like she was back in grade school. Which Ruby had actually managed to kind of make her feel like she was.

"So you can just imagine how much fun it’s going to be trying to figure out how to explain that on the insurance claim—"

"Actually, you should probably send the bill to Blue over at the convent...since it’s her damn spell that caused most of the trouble."

Emma turned a startled look Regina’s way. "Really?"

Regina nodded. "Remember, I said I knew that magic. Silly twit must have done it sometime after I helped Rumple put the death curse on the portal. It was set to trigger if I entered the mine...first to just stop me from using magic, but if I pushed too hard, freeze me and any fellow villains, like—say—the Savior, into place so she could come gloat." Full lips twisted into a sneer. "I really hate that little nitwit," she muttered under her breath along with a few other choice imprecations about old conflicts.

Ruby had no idea what the queen was on about, but experience had taught her it was best to stay out of the middle of the whole Evil Queen/Rheul Gorm hatefest. She shared a look with Emma and saw the blonde nod in agreement, making it clear she wasn’t going there either.

Finally, Regina fell silent, so Ruby straightened. "So look, just don’t do it again, okay? You two wanna have shower sex at the inn, just speak to me and I’ll arrange a quiet room where none of us can hear what’s going on. You really don’t need this whole, ‘Lock the place down,’ charade." She started to turn away, then pivoted back to add, "Oh, and Emma, your parents are outside, worried sick about you." The werewolf made a disgusted sound. "You are in sooo much trouble." Then she noted the droplings huddled together in one corner of the shower. "And I don’t even wanna know what all the candy is about." She spun on her heel and swept out, muttering, "Pervs," under her breath before slamming the bathroom door in her wake.

A long moment of silence was followed by simultaneous snorts of barely smothered laughter from all quarters.

"We should...uh...probably get dressed," Emma muttered, though she was in no great hurry to struggle back into wet clothes to have the fun of confronting her parents. Or maybe just find her mother grinning happily and contemplating the idea that maybe she’d get another grandchild out of it all. Emma couldn’t decide which was worse. No, scratch that. The notion of her mother contemplating her sex life? Way worse.

"Mmhm," Regina agreed absently only to shift from her position draped across Emma’s lap so that she was straddling slim hips on her knees, arms loosely draped around the blonde’s shoulders. "But first..." Grinning, she leaned down to settle a slow, appreciative kiss on the other woman.

Without thinking, Emma slid her hands up the other woman’s torso, enjoying the shape and feel of smooth curves and water-slicked flesh as she tugged her closer. She grinned up at the brunette when the kiss broke. "That was nice," Emma exhaled. "Really, really nice."

She got a wicked smile in return. "Yes, it was," Regina agreed. "Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to go on exploring, this..." She trailed a single finger along the slope of Emma’s shoulder.

Amazing how a body could go from frozen to overheated in an instant, Emma thought as her mouth twisted into a bleary smile.

"Particularly without the interference of this..." Regina hooked that same finger under the edge of Emma’s bra strap. She heaved a sigh and her shoulders sagged. "But...we really should go face the two...er...your parents." Regina was rather proud that she managed to shift gears mid insult in deference to Emma.

Hearing the slip and hitch, Emma smirked ever so slightly, but was nonetheless impressed by the show of self control, particularly after the day they’d had. "Yeah, we probably should," she allowed only to use her hold on Regina’s side to pull her closer. "In a minute." She tasted the former queen’s soft laughter as their lips met, and grinned through the kiss. They broke apart some time later and shared knowing looks. "Now that—" Emma started to utter something she hoped would come out sexy and flirtatious when the bathroom door creaked.

"Emma, Regina, do you need me to—" a familiar voice called cheerfully through the widening crack.

"Mom! No!" Emma yelped and started to scramble in an effort to simultaneously get Regina off and clothes on.

Which was never gonna happen, not with Regina plastered against her and nothing to wear but a lump of intertwined, soaked fabric, bound to cling like glue.

Snow ignored Emma’s shout—of course—and poked her head through the widening crack no more than a second later. "Oh," she exhaled, disappointed when she saw them. "Ruby said you were...well...I thought you might need Charming and I to get you some clothes...I mean, dry clothes...I mean...I mean, do you need anything?"

Emma blinked, startled to find herself warm, dry, fully dressed and standing, innocently enough, between Regina and the sink. There was only the faintest trace of purple smoke and Regina’s hair and makeup were perfect.

Damn, that was a helluva trick.

"We’re fine," Regina informed Snow, her tone cool, as though she hadn’t just been mostly naked and playing tonsil hockey with Snow’s daughter. "Emma just got a bit of something on her blouse and I was helping her wash it out."

Which was officially the lamest sounding excuse ever, but Snow seemed to buy it. At least Emma thought she did from the way her shoulders slumped dejectedly...which, really, if she thought about it too hard was kinda creepy because parents were supposed to be relieved when their children weren’t having sex with people they were supposed to disapprove of, not depressed and weirdly hopeful. Particularly when the hopes involved getting grandchildren from sex between two women.

Which, by the way, she really needed to ask Regina to explain in more detail sometime soon.

"Oh," Snow said, sounding even more disappointed.

Regina offered a toothy smile. She really did enjoy it when the idiots were...well...idiots. That thought was interrupted when something tickled an unacceptable spot. She twitched and shoved a hand inside her blouse to pluck out a tiny, purple blob. "Really? Back already?"

"Mrp," Gumdrop commented, then somehow slipped her hold and darted back inside her blouse.

"What—" Snow exhaled as she stared at Regina’s chest with even wider eyes than normal.

"Shwee," Peeps interrupted as she skidded into position on Emma’s shoulder.

"—the—" Snow’s eyes swung over to touch on Peeps.

"Hrmph," Mama inserted her opinion as she bounced out from behind Emma, darted past Snow and disappeared out the bathroom door, the rest of her babies in tow.

"—he-e-ck—" Snow stammered the last word out, making it sound like she might have used another word but for long standing training. She swung her gaze over to her daughter. "—was that...er...those?"

Emma shared a look with Regina. "Long story," she mumbled.

"We’ll explain later, dear," Regina responded, using the exact same tone she used with Henry when she didn’t want to answer his questions.

It wasn’t any more successful with Snow. "But—"

"Later, dear," Regina dismissed as she caught Emma’s hand and tugged her along.

Eager to escape, Emma didn’t resist as Regina pulled her out of the bathroom and through the B&B.

They reached the diner just as Marco entered carrying several planks and began laying them along the least damaged side of the main room to shore up a narrow section of remaining floor that allowed access from front to back. His hands quick and sure, he used a nailgun to tack things down as he went. "I’ll have this secure in just a moment," he called to the two women. "Or you can go out through the kitchen exit."

Regina was about to assure him they could wait when Hook suddenly staggered through the front door, a broad, if bleary grin on his face. "Shwan," he sang out, flinging his arms wide as if he expected her to fly across the open gap in the floor and into his arms.

Needless to say, she didn’t.

Instead, she dropped her head into her hands and yes, she whimpered.

With her magic working again, Regina swirled a single finger, grinning as purple lights left a trail of sparks. She eyeballed the pirate, calculating the shortest pathway straight to his groin and just how much power to use to make him jump without actually emasculating him and sending him careening into the pit. Not that she was against either of those options, but instinct told her Emma wouldn’t approve, and she could always do that another day. She was just about to let loose a carefully designed magical bolt when several things happened in very rapid succession.

Something rotund, knee high, and colored in a stunning shade of sky-blue appeared in the open doorway, darted around Hook, then froze, the tiny, duck-like head turning this way and that. "Shaloola!" she called out.

She was right in Regina’s line of fire. "Dammit." She held her fire, though the plan was only to do so long enough to recalculate the path her magic needed to travel to zing Hook’s nether regions.

Suddenly Sky-Blue stretched her neck high, nearly bouncing in place and squealed, "SHALOOLA!"

A distinct, faintly grumpy, but also strangely joyful, "Hrrmmm?" sounded in response.

"Shaloola!" the newcomer called again, and did the whole stretch, zip, snap routine to land at the edge of the open pit.

Suddenly, the green slime creature—which, unlike the others, actually did appear rather slimy—popped up, stretching and snapping to land on very tip of the board, neatly blocking Sky-Blue’s path. It puffed out its little chest, mouth drawing into a suggestive grin, arched an eyebrow and proclaimed in its sexiest voice, "Ble-argh."

"Shaloola," Sky growled in clear warning.

Mama appeared abruptly to Emma’s left, a low snarl bubbling up from her chest.

"Bleargh, blargh," he responded in some weird parody of the sort of wannabe lothario one might find in a low-rent bar.

"Loola," Sky growled and started to stretch.

At the same moment, Hook suddenly yelled, "POOOKY!"

Green leaned to one side to peer around Sky, then squealed, "BLEARGH!" his voice rising and carrying a note of true joy. Suddenly, he stretched...

Green and blue streaks passed like very strange ships in a very strange night, with Pooky landing in Hook’s arms to nose into his face like a happy puppy, complete with barking comments and happy butt wiggles.

"I’ve miss you, lad," Hook proclaimed as he hugged and nuzzled the creature. "Where’ve you been...oh...sorry ‘bout that. No wonder me sinushes have been plugged for ages...Good on ya for gettin’ outa that..."

Meanwhile, Sky landed on the opposite side of the pit, then stretched again. "Loola, loola, loola," she chanted, butting into Mama eagerly, while the little ones gathered around.

"Shwee," Peeps told Emma through a happy grin, while Gumdrop hooked her beak over Regina’s blouse and uttered a cheerful, "Mrp." Then both of them bounded down and over to join the family reunion.

The two big ones meanwhile, nosed and nuzzled, twining their necks together, foreheads bumping while Mama all but sang her, "Hrmphs."

"I...uh..." Emma exhaled, head tipping to one side as she considered the scene before them. "Is it just me, or—"

Regina held up a hand. "No, it’s not just you." She mimicked Emma’s tipped head as she considered the family reunion. "I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not just you."

Hook and Pooky, meanwhile, were also nosing and nuzzling and whining over their shared bad luck. Sobs were heard.

"Bleargh, blargh."

"I know. No appreciation whashoever for how wunnerful we are."

"Blargh, argh," Pooky sobbed into Hook’s shoulder.

"Cheer up, lad," the pirate urged. "There’s alwaysh more fish...er..." He peered down at the creature in his arms. "...er...whatever you are in the shea." Then he grinned and broke into a sea chanty that sounded suspiciously like an ode to his genitalia, though enough words were slurred it was hard to be certain.

Pooky quickly joined in, trilling along in off-key ‘blearghs.’

Thankfully, it ended abruptly when Granny appeared in the doorway, a rolled newspaper in hand. She started rapidly hammering at Hook’s head. "Bad, bad pirate!" Then she grabbed him by the ear and hauled him out. "What did I tell you about that sort of language?" she demanded.

"Not to ushe it," he responded, hangdog.

"That’s right," Granny bellowed and this time she swatted him on the ass.

To Emma’s eyes, it looked like maybe she enjoyed that last swat a whole lot more than the first ones, maybe a little too much in fact. "Regina, did she just—"

"No," the former queen cut her off sharply.

"But—"

"No." Regina glared.

Emma tried again. "But that really looked like—"

"No, it didn’t," the former queen said flatly.

"Regina, don’t you—"

"Listen to the queen," Marco advised quietly. He’d finished the walkway and was pushing to his feet a short distance away. "You’re broaching one of the few subjects that both good and evil agreed on in the Enchanted Forest."

"Namely, none of us want any details about Granny’s sex life," Regina clarified.

Marco’s head bobbed in an emphatic nod.

"You mean...they...she...he..."

More head bobbing from both the toymaker and the former Evil Queen.

"Which is why we never speak of it," Regina said seriously.

"Never," Marco confirmed.

"I think there’s an official written truce somewhere around town," Regina added thoughtfully.

Emma considered this news for a moment. Her every instinct was to ask why, but after some thought, she finally nodded. "Yeah, I can understand that." There were some things mere humans weren’t meant to know.

Just then there was a sharp crack, followed by a high pitched squeal that sounded decidedly Hook-like.

Regina and Marco both stood there, stonelike, their expressions unreadable, until that same squeal uttered a disturbingly comprehensible, "Yesh, Mishtresh Granny."

They shuddered.

In unison.

"And on that note," Regina said abruptly as she shook off the horror of the moment. "Perhaps—"

"Shaloola!"

Regina was nearly bowled over as Sky slammed into her lower legs. She’d almost regained her balance when Mama and the kids plowed into her as well.

Emma caught the brunette’s hand in an effort to steady her, but only slowed the inevitable as Regina started to topple.

This time it was Sky who stretched and caught Regina, gently lowering her to the floor, where she nuzzled and cooed, making over the Evil Queen like a happy mother with a newborn.

Which—Emma realized as Mama and the rest of the family gathered around, all billing and cooing and nuzzling, the two large ones nearly as affectionate with each other as they were with the babies—she possibly was. She couldn’t help it, she giggled. "It looks like the Evil Queen has two mommies," she teased through her laughter. Regina glared and Emma fully expected a pithy remark.

What she got was, "Hey, watch it with the E-word." Then Regina threw her arms around her strange little family and offered a wide grin. "Besides, my mommies are smarter than yours."

As if on cue, Snow’s voice rang out from behind them. "Emma! If you and Regina were just washing a spot out of your blouse, why are there all those wet clothes in the shower?" She sounded absolutely delighted by the discovery

"Oops," Regina exhaled through a wince. "Forgot about those."

Emma flinched and gnawed on her lower lip as she turned on a puppy-dog-eyed pleading look. "Any chance you could do a little poofing about now?"

A dark eyebrow tipped upward and Regina made a face. "If I didn’t think it would make her so happy, I’d make you face her with the news."

The puppy-dog eyes mutated into the Sad-Puppy-Dog eyes. The Big-Sad-Puppy-Dog eyes would come next, and nobody wanted that.

"Oh, fine," Regina sighed.

"Hrmph," Mama muttered disapprovingly.

"Yeah, I know," Regina sighed. "But she can be kind of a chickenshit that way."

Emma was so startled by the profanity that she didn’t manage to get a protest out before the purple smoke came for them all.

Which was possibly Regina’s plan.

 * * * * *

TBC

Chapter Text

Purple smoke swirled upward in the foyer at 108 Mifflin, then faded, leaving a sizable group of figures in its wake.

“Shaloooooo-laaa?” was the first comment as Sky peered around herself with a startled expression, then turned to stare at Regina with a wide-eyed look that was all the more impressive due to the lack of actual eyes.

“Hrmph,” Mama muttered, though there was more than a bit of pride in her tone.

“Shalooooola,” Sky repeated, drawing out the middle syllable.

Emma couldn’t help it, she giggled. It only got worse when Regina turned an annoyed glare her way.

“Just keep it up,” the brunette warned, though her eyes were sparkling in a not altogether threatening way.

Emma just grinned, thoroughly unrepentant. Reaching out, she hooked a hand around Regina’s waist and tugged her close.

“Looking to get poofed back to the diner—where your mother is doubtless, still waiting?” Regina drawled, though she made no effort to pull free.

The blonde’s smile widened a notch. “You’re not gonna do that,” Emma said, her tone entirely too confident given the history of the woman in her arms. Even the good version of Regina could be temperamental.

A dark eyebrow tipped high on Regina’s forehead. “Really?”

“Mhm,” Emma murmured by way of confirmation. “Because you’re gonna be much too busy.”

“Really?” Regina repeated, her tone wryly challenging.

“Yup...doing this.” Then Emma’s mouth found Regina’s.

Regina tensed, ready for the sort of kiss she wouldn’t allow at all, hard, rough, laying claim.

No, that wouldn’t be tolerated, True Love™ or no.

Only the lips that found hers were soft, the kiss a bare flutter of a touch, so brief that Regina instinctively leaned after Emma when she pulled back a brief moment later. Dazed, she blinked owlishly at the blonde. “You...” she exhaled accusingly and trailed off, every possible complaint neatly undone by the sheer gentleness of the gesture.

Emma’s grin took on a triumphant cast. She was figuring out the puzzle that was Regina Mills. “Yesss?”

“Oh, shut up,” Regina grumbled, fingers curling into Emma’s lapels as she dragged her back into a kiss that wasn’t hard or rough, but definitely meant to lay claim.

Emma went weak in the knees and moaned. Turned out she kinda liked the whole being laid claim to thing. And when Regina’s hands wrapped around her torso, then slid lower than was remotely proper, she liked it even more.

More kisses were traded back and forth and they leaned into each other, eagerly exploring this new element to their relationship.

“MOM?!”

The high pitched squeal echoed through the room from the landing at the top of the stairs, snapping the two women apart at near lightspeed.

Then Henry realized just who his mother was kissing, namely his other mother. “EMMA?!”

Emma winced and raised one hand in a tiny wave, a guilty smile on her lips.

Regina noted the expression with a raised brow and rolled eyes, then turned her attention back to her son. He was frowning, his mouth pursed. “You’re probably wondering about...this?” She indicated the space between herself and Emma.

One eyebrow climbed high on Henry’s forehead, his expression carrying an unexpected edge of sarcasm. Though why it was unexpected, Regina wasn’t sure. He was, after all, her son.        

“Actually, it seemed pretty self explanatory,” he muttered with an eye roll inherited equally from both his mothers.

“Right,” the brunette exhaled. She flashed a quick glance at Emma and gave up any hope of help from that direction when Emma hunched her shoulders and suddenly found the floor of the utmost interest. God, she really could be such a chickenshit some days. Henry meanwhile, was still peering at them with an annoyed, smirky sort of look that was entirely too familiar. She’d caught more than one glimpse of it in the mirror over the years. Since she was apparently on her own, Regina made no effort to deny or ignore the obvious, simply drew a breath and gently said, “And to answer the question you’re not asking,” she said, accurately reading his expression, “no, this dating thing wasn’t a setup, nor did we lie to you.”

His shoulders relaxed ever so slightly, but there was still a wreath of tension around his mouth. He was listening, but old trust issues were there in his eyes.

“This,” Regina continued, gesturing to Emma and herself, “caught us by surprise.” At his soft snort, she held up a hand and tried to explain, “A lot happened tonight, Henry...some of it very...unexpected.” She met his gaze and purposely held it, being as open as she knew how to be. “I’m not saying there wasn’t an attraction, just that we were both ignoring it...maybe more than a little afraid of...what might...happen,” she said haltingly, uncertain how to explain things to herself much less him. It was all so damned complicated. “But things changed.” Her voice dropped low with emotion and she looked over at Emma, who finally tipped her chin up and met Regina’s gaze.

“Yeah...afraid,” the blonde exhaled as turned to peer at their son a bit pleadingly. “Scared to death actually,” she admitted.

Dark brows drew into a frown as Henry considered this. “Why?” he finally asked.

Emma shrugged. “Of change...risking too much and failing...losing people...” Another shrug.

“So what changed?”

After a long pause during which the two women shared a long look, Emma turned back toward her son. “That’s kind of a long story,” she admitted. “But if you wanna hear it...”

“I do,” he said thoughtfully, then frowned. “But first, I have one more question.”

“Anything,” Regina assured him.

Henry tentatively stretched out a long finger, pointing at the space between his mothers. “What’s that?”

“Hmph,” Mama grumbled, though there was an oddly affectionate note to the comment and she was peering at Henry with a curious look.

“Shaloola,” Sky responded brightly as she surged forward into the light, followed by a dozen multicolored droplings who grinned and giggled.

“Er...those,” Henry amended uncertainly.

“They’re...complicated...” Emma drew the second word out on a long suffering sigh.

“Very complicated,” Regina confirmed, which earned a soft, annoyed comment from Mama.

Henry noted the byplay with a mystified frown. “Er...” He trailed off as he glimpsed a flash of purple, then his mother shoved her hand inside her sweater and plucked out something small and wriggly, which was so not his brunette mother’s normal behavior that his brain threatened to short circuit. “Um...”

“Yeah,” Emma agreed. “And a little weird.” At Henry’s doubtful look, she added, “Okay, maybe more than just a little.”

“Hrmmpphh,” Mama grumbled more firmly.

Emma’s shoulder tweaked, reminding her of how their last confrontation had gone. Discretion being, if not the better part of valor, certainly the smarter part, she added, “Also family, so mind your manners.”

“Ok-aay,” Henry exhaled, drawing the word out. He was still debating what to say next when something flashed by his peripheral vision and he felt a delicate impact on his left shoulder.

“Prrrggggle,” a cheerful, little voice crowed.

Henry slowly turned his head and found himself nose to beak with a tiny figure painted in a rusty shade of red a little less showy than the others, but no less aesthetic.

It grinned broadly, then repeated its signature word, only this time, it was said in a soft, conspiratorial stage whisper. “Prrggle.”

Mom?” Henry croaked, voice breaking mid-word. without specifying which parent he was hoping for, maybe both.

Emma answered. “Like I said...complicated,” she sighed. “Y’see, what happened is...”

Needless to say, any explanations took some time. Alcohol may also have been involved. Only for the adults, of course, though Henry made enough of a case to earn a small taste of his mother’s hard cider. After the coughing fit was over, he opted for hot chocolate instead.

Despite an apparent lack of mouths, the droplings somehow joined in. Oh, and chocolate, yeah, they loved it.

So more mugs were filled and little beaks coated in whipped cream and silky dark cocoa which made them grin and jostle each other in the battle for more.

Having decided the droplings were no threat, Henry watched it all with the same, almost scholarly expression he’d worn at the diner. “So you really don’t know where they come from?” he asked at last.

“No idea,” Emma admitted with a helpless shrug.

“None,” Regina agreed.

“What can we say, Storybrooke weirdness,” Emma added through a soft snort, then glanced over at Regina and paused as they shared wry smiles.

Henry noted the moment of silent communication with a raised brow. “So are you ever gonna tell me about the rest of it?” he asked quietly, then specified, “Like all the looks, not to mention...y’know...the whole...” He trailed off and repeated the swirling motion with his hand that had come to symbolize the moments of closeness he’d witnessed. At their raised eyebrows, he added, “I mean...what you two...y’know...the foyer...” Again the swirling motion, only this time it was accompanied by a decidedly queasy look. “Please don’t make me get more specific than that,” he begged. “I don’t think any of us wants that.”

“Point,” Regina allowed.

Emma nodded emphatically.

A long moment of silence followed, then finally Regina began to speak slowly, her words carefully chosen. “We were dying when we came up from that tunnel, Henry...freezing and nothing would warm us up. It was magic, a curse of sorts that Blue put on the mines to make sure I couldn’t steal the fairy dust. It hit me, but anyone I was with as well, and I thought...” She trailed off, suddenly uncomfortable admitting to her son that she’d been ready and willing to die.

It was Emma who filled in then. “Your mom was desperate to save everyone.”

Then Henry got it. “So she was ready to sacrifice herself,” he correctly interpreted as he turned a sharp look toward his dark haired mother. “Really, Mom. You’ve gotta stop thinking like that.”

She flinched. “I was trying to save Emma’s life,” she insisted, her tone defensive. “Besides, it’s not like I had a plan. I just sort of...I dunno, was going to give in to Blue’s magic...or something.”

Henry snorted something under his breath that probably wasn’t a compliment, then turned the sharp look on his blonde mother this time. “So what exactly did she do?”

At which point, Emma’s many nervous tics made a fresh appearance, though no actual answers were forthcoming. Henry repeated his under-the breath-comment. Definitely not a compliment.

“I might have kissed her,” Regina filled in so softly as to be nearly inaudible.

Henry froze for a long moment. “Interesting plan for saving the world,” he mused at last.

“It wasn’t a plan for doing anything,” Regina admitted in that same ultra-soft voice, then added, “except maybe taking one last, small moment for myself before I...surrendered.” A dark flush stained her cheeks. “Any world saving was more of a byproduct than a plan.”

The words landed with the impact of major megatonage anyway as Henry twisted his head around to peer at her, his brows slowly drawing into a confused frown as he began to put all the disparate facts together. “I...uh...you,” he mumbled, his brain racing to form a complete picture. And then suddenly it made sense. He tipped his head to one side, peering sharply at Regina, silently communicating in a way that was theirs alone. “True Love’s Kiss™?” he finally whispered, his voice every bit as soft as hers had been, but filled with a disbelieving kind of wonder. “You broke Blue’s spell with True Love’s Kiss™,” he said more firmly, his voice gaining strength with each syllable.

Both women nodded very slowly, sharing tiny looks out of the corners of their eyes, expressions rife with trepidation.

It suddenly occurred to Henry that they were, if not precisely afraid of him, then certainly scared to death of what he might say or do. After all, there were old wounds and tensions that could have been a problem and issues of societal disapproval that went beyond him, but he had real power here. If he said no, they’d walk away from each other. Which really, was a degree of power he had no desire for. Suddenly he grinned. “That’s so great.” He literally heard Emma draw in a giant, gasping breath, then suddenly he was wrapped in warm arms from all sides, and despite any teenage urge to die of embarrassment when his moms dropped kisses on the top of his head, he managed to restrain the impulse.

After that, there were more hugs and reassurances, more hot chocolate, more embarrassment on all sides when more of the story was told and Emma let slip the detail about the shower and need to be rid of frozen, sodden clothes.

“Uhhhh,” she mumbled, suddenly red-faced and wheezing.

“And on that note,” Henry abruptly said, “I think I’ll head for bed.” He pushed to his feet and started toward the door only to turn back. “I really am glad for you,” he assured his parents with an easy grin. “And just think, now the whole, ‘I have two mommies’ thing won’t be nearly as confusing when I try to explain it.”

“Bed,” Regina ordered, her tone serious, though her eyes were glinting in a way that suggested otherwise.

Grinning, he hurried off, chattering with the little creature still clinging to his shoulder who responded with a cheerful, “Prrrgle,” every few seconds.

“We’ll be up to say goodnight in a bit,” Regina called after his back.

“No need. I’m just gonna crash,” he called back, quite deliberately making plenty of noise as he clumped up the stairs and closed his bedroom door behind himself with more force than usual.

Regina’s lips twitched into a wry smile as she listened to the very deliberate noise her son was making. “I think he wants us to know we’re on our own and he’s not listening,” she drawled.

“Yeah, that wasn’t subtle,” Emma agreed, a knowing grin twisting her mouth. Still smiling, she turned toward the other woman and settled a hand on her waist. She didn’t have to apply any pressure though. Regina stepped into her, pressing close. Their torsos nicely molded together, she draped her arms around Emma’s neck.

“So...” Regina toyed with the hair at the nape of Emma’ neck, taking pleasure from the cool silk moving against her skin. A delicate shudder slid through her as she considered what it would be like to feel that texture brushing over more than just her fingers.

“Yesss?” Emma exhaled, drawing the word out and giving it a suggestive note. She settled her hands on slim hips, thumbs stroking in slow circles.

It’s probably no big surprise that kisses followed and after that, even more kisses and a fairly clumsy relocation to the livingroom couch which led to the sort of makeout session usually only enjoyed by teenagers with parents out of town for the weekend.

At some point, Emma raised her head, grinning with lips that were smeared in Regina’s lipstick color. “Should we maybe...y’know, move this somewhere more appropriate?”

Regina raised an eyebrow, but caught hold of Emma’s hand as she stumbled to her feet, tugging her along to what she was surprised to find she already considered ‘their’ room. They paused at Henry’s bedroom to ease the door open, sharing a mutual smile when they noted him curled up in his sheets, a tiny, rusty blip apparently sound asleep on his shoulder.

After that they found their bedroom and there was much moaning and groaning, though most of it actually involved Emma’s unsuccessful efforts to get undressed. Stripping her boots off appeared to be her breaking point. Whether it was because her feet had swollen or her fight with Mama had left her too stiff and her shoulder too weakened, she couldn’t get them off, and since that was the starting point... Well, needless to say, Operation: Strip was not going well.

Finally she flopped back on the bed and whined, “Any chance you could do the whole poofing thing with the clothes?” It had been a long day, and pleasant as some parts had been, others had been on the challenging side and it was catching up with her.

Regina raised her right hand and made a swirling motion.

Emma didn’t really feel anything, but suddenly she was aware of a change. She peered down at herself. “Really?” she grumbled. “A nightgown?” Full length and silk, no less. Okay, so it was the same shade as her red jacket, but still. “Do I really seem like a nightgown person to you?”

An annoyed sigh and another graceful hand swirl earned yet another version of night apparel.

Even without the bright yellow Big Birds scattered all over the print, it was hardly Emma’s style. “And now footie pajamas?”

That earned a glare.

“Are just fine,” Emma added hastily. She flashed a forced smile. “Great really,” she added, then noted the oversize, clingy-soft grey pajamas Regina had produced for herself with some envy. Then she felt itch that always seemed to come with flannel and scratched her shoulder absently. “I don’t suppose...” she began cautiously.

Brown eyes flashed dangerously and Regina uttered a single

The itch got worse, and it occurred to Emma that an adult onesie was likely to curtail any more entertaining cuddles. No. Just. No. She schooled her expression into a gentle smile. “I know you’re tired too,” she soothed as she noted the dark circles under Regina’s eyes and the increasingly grumpy demeanor. She wasn’t the only one who’d had a challenging day, she reminded herself. “You do know the footie pajamas are a bit much though, right?” Emma eased closer. “And the flannel itches.” Reaching out carefully, she fondled the sleeve of Regina’s top. “This is really nice feeling...all soft and snuggly.”

That earned a dramatic eye roll, but Regina did another of the little waves and suddenly Emma was clad in the softest, silkiest fabric she could recall ever touching and her feet were bare. No footies, just normal pajamas. The Big Birds, however, were, if anything, even larger and goofier.

Emma shrugged. She could live with it. As Regina’s magical editorial comments went, it was minor. “Thanks,” she murmured and scooted a little closer.

Regina side-eyed her, but didn’t say a word. An emery board magically appeared in her hand and she began idly smoothing a nail.

Emma couldn’t stop a smile as the other woman held out her hand to study her work. The filing was purely for show. Her nails were already trimmed back, the tips polished glassy smooth. A hint of a smirk curved her lips and she eased close enough to lightly bump Regina’s hip with her own. “Weren’t those a little longer before we went to Granny’s?” she teased lightly.

“Is that a complaint?” Regina asked, her tone wry and lacking any venom.

“Absolutely not,” Emma assured her. She offered a hint of a smile as she reached out, tucking her fingers under Regina’s palm to tug her hand over and lace their fingers together. “More of a compliment, really.” She cast a hopeful look at the other woman. “Also, possibly a bit of a question.”

A single dark brow arched high. “Ah,” Regina exhaled thoughtfully and turned her head enough to peer sharply at Emma, then down at their twined hands.

Emma followed the line of her gaze and flinched as she realized her own hands were, to put it mildly, a mess, with perpetually cracked, gnawed nails plus the addition of fingers newly bruised from the events under Granny’s.

Then Regina ran her thumb lightly over Emma’s knuckles, smoothing away bruises and broken nails in a wave of pale pink magic, leaving her hands smooth and unblemished in a way the finest spa in the land would envy.

“Is that enough of an answer?” she asked and flashed a wicked smile.

“It’ll do.” Emma grinned.

Regina reached up to hook her hand around the back of Emma’s neck and pulled her head down. Events soon relocated under Regina’s thick comforter and mutual moans were heard, though as time passed, they grew softer and fainter until they were more like slow breathing.

Then they simply were slow breathing as bodies naturally curled together in the peace of sleep.

It had been a long day after all.

Neither woman noticed the tiny audience that slipped under the crack in the door, but if one listened closely enough, it was possible to hear a soft, proud, “Hrmph,” grumbled in a familiar voice along with a happy, “Shaloola,” before they slipped out again with tired, but satisfied sighs.

The droplings? Well, they stayed downstairs and learned the wonders of making hot chocolate led by their rather bossy purple comrade. Havoc may have ensued when a certain yellow one took charge of the stove, but in the long run, all was right with the world and the house didn't burn down, though there may have been threats along that line when Regina woke in the morning.

Oh, and they did indeed live happily, though rarely uneventfully, ever after.

END