“Are you sure this is okay?”
Emma glanced at her parents, who loitered at the kitchen counter talking quietly to each other. Henry stood near them, a rubber band gun in his hands and a sly smile on his lips. Before Emma could call out, he’d released the trigger, and David flinched as a small rubber band slapped his neck.
“Go,” Regina urged. “You’re needed. There’s evil afoot.”
“Henry’s birthday party will still exist after you’ve made your arrests, Sheriff.”
“Will they?” Emma gestured to her parents.
Regina’s haughty expression nearly drew a laugh from Emma. “I promise not to murder them.”
“Or steal their hearts?” Of all the changes in their relationship over the years, the teasing pleased Emma the most. Although they would never fully be able to interact without sly jibes, there was no longer a need to make each other bleed. Regina leaned in and kissed her.
“Yes, ma’am, Madam Mayor.” Emma took one last look at her family and crossed her fingers as she left. Hopefully there would be four living, breathing, unharmed individuals waiting for her when she returned in a few hours.
“You just left them?” Ruby’s face was exaggeratedly shocked. Emma shoved her shoulder.
“What was I supposed to do? You said you needed my help.”
“Yeah, well, this emergency is going to look like nothing when you get home and find bits of Snow’s arms on the ceiling.”
“Oh come on. Regina hasn’t ripped anyone’s anything off in a long time.” But for a moment, Emma could picture it. She swallowed awkwardly. “It’ll be fine. What did you need from me?”
“We got a call about half an hour ago about someone breaking into a house down on Sixteenth.”
“Yeah? Which one?”
“The red brick one.”
Emma caught Ruby’s gaze. “So the first little piggy’s yellow house was hit last week. The second little piggy’s brown house was vandalized two days ago, and you expect me to believe you had nothing to do with breaking into the third little piggy’s brick house?”
“Emma, have you ever seen me huff and puff?”
“Just had to make sure. So there’s another wolf around these parts?”
“It’s possible.” Ruby shrugged. “Or it could just be coincidence.”
“Coincidence and this town don’t even exist on the same plane.”
As Emma dragged her body back down the sidewalk; toward home, she reminded herself, just a little bit farther. Before she could reach her destination, she ran into Leroy, who tilted his hat back along his forehead, scratched his beard, and guffawed.
“You look like somethin’ chewed you up and spat you back out.”
“Yeah?” She worked so very hard on keeping her temperament even. “You look like someone just punched you in the face.”
His brow furrowed. “What?”
“Or you will, if you don’t let me get home to lick my wounds. Or do damage control. Or both.”
This town and its nosy inhabitants, Emma thought with an exasperated sigh. “Regina and Snow, and David, and Henry, all together, without me. Gotta go.”
“You let that happen?”
“Duty calls, Leroy. Duty calls.”
“Need any help?”
“Thanks, but naw, I’ll be okay. I look a lot worse than I am.” Emma sent him a grateful nod and continued on her way.
“If you need any help cleaning up the bloodbath, just ring me and the boys. We’ll take care of it. Even the tough stains. Blood can be pretty hard to deal with if it sets in.”
“Thanks, Leroy,” she called over her shoulder.
The house was too quiet. She closed the front door behind her, removed her shoes, and stood silently, listening for anything–a laugh, a scream, a creaking floorboard. But there was nothing but the low chatter of the television. Weird, she thought. A moment later, though, there was a thud and a screech, and Emma bolted towards the living room.
“How was that even fair?!” David leaned over and picked up an empty plastic bowl. Its previous contents were strewn about; Emma was amazed that Regina wasn’t having a fit about popcorn scattered everywhere. But the brunette looked just as pleased as David was peeved.
“You are merely jealous that my men defeated yours.”
“What’s going on in here?”
Regina hurried to her side. “Oh, you’re bleeding.”
“And you two aren’t?” Emma’s eyes darted from Charming’s grin to the television. A game of football had just ended.
“She should be!” David declared, but his lazy smile didn’t falter and no aggression entered his stance. “My green guys were going to win, but then her white ones kicked a touchdown.”
Emma’s lips quirked. “Kicked a touchdown?”
“A field goal,” Regina corrected. “We looked it up on the internet.”
“So nobody’s dead.”
“Well, we haven’t seen Snow and Henry in a while. She took him to his room to start building his present.”
“You let him open presents already?” Emma’s face fell. “But…”
“Just one, to keep him from whining too loudly.” Regina exchanged a knowing look with Charming and Emma felt somehow like an outsider. Just what had happened, she wondered, since she’d left? “Go fetch them, dear, and we’ll have cake.”
“Regina…” Emma whispered. The other woman shifted slightly, letting Emma know she was still awake to some extent. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there wasn’t any sort of murder or mutilation while I was gone, but… what happened?”
“Mff… You need to talk about this now? I have work in the morning.”
Emma nuzzled her shoulder. “I’m just dying of curiosity.”
“When you left, Snow and I determined we had better part ways.”
“Finally, something normal.”
“David had already taken to the living room and had found the game on. We discussed the rules and so on.” Regina’s eyes closed again. “Good night.”
“No, wait. That’s it? Some bonding over football?”
“The man is not as daft as his wife. Now let it go. It’s not like we’re bosom buddies.”
“Ew. Please don’t say that in reference to my father every again.”
Before Regina fell back asleep, she smirked and whispered. “Bosom buddies.”
Emma tucked her arm around Regina’s waist and gave in to her exhaustion as well.
“What about when–“ David broke off into peals of laughter.
“I know.” Regina wasn’t prone to grand displays of humor but smiled nonetheless. Emma frowned and poked her mashed potatoes. “It was almost perfect.”
“Almost,” he conceded.
Emma’s scowl darkened. She had no idea what they were talking about, and that irritated her. David was her father, and Regina was her girlfriend. They shouldn’t interact unless it was through her. She accepted that it sounded a bit ridiculous, but that’s just the way things were. She pushed back from the table and excused herself.
“I can’t recall. When was it that the Queen of the West instituted the regulation against long haired dogs?”
“I think that was about two years before the curse,” he supplied.
Emma groused internally as she walked away; they didn’t even care if she was around or not. She knew Snow was watching her, but nobody commented on her absence. Sulking openly, she retired to her bedroom.
Emma fumbled with the clasp of Regina’s bra. Regina straddled her hips and made her task twice as difficult because of the determined efficiency of her tongue swathing along Emma’s lips. One of Regina’s hands had merely pushed Emma’s bra up over her breasts and was content kneading the warm mound and pinching an already pert nipple.
“Gentle.” Emma gasped into Regina’s mouth. “For fuck’s sake, Regina – be nice!”
“What was that earlier?” Regina eased her touch and kissed around Emma’s mouth apologetically.
“No, stop.” Emma ceased struggling with the brunette’s bra and pushed her back. “Enough with the Evil Queening me right now.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Using sex like this–-Whenever you want something, you just take it.” Emma grumbled. She jerked her bra back into place and flopped onto her side. “And you manipulate me. I’m tired of it.”
Regina huffed. “Excuse me for wanting to have a conversation with you.”
“Yeah, right.” Emma grabbed her pillow and stomped away, before Regina could even ask what was the matter.
“Does something seem a bit off to you?”
Regina dropped the newspaper to the table and arched an eyebrow at him. “In what way?”
“I mean with Emma.” David slid into the booth across from her. “Distant?”
“Okay. But in general? Because she’s been giving me all her night shifts lately –-trading me for all the mornings.” He examined her perfectly blank face. “I thought maybe she was spending time with you, but then you stopped by last night on your way home.”
She resumed browsing the paper and kept her voice steady. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”
“I’m not implying anything. I’m just concerned.”
“Our business is our business.” When he left, Regina clenched her fingers around the paper. Emma hadn’t mentioned anything about her trading shifts around. She focused her eyes on the headlines and tried not to worry.
“What do you think?”
Snow hemmed and hawed. “I don’t think it’s our business.”
“They’re both family.” He stood squarely and watched his wife try her hardest to look uninterested. “And Henry deserves some stability, doesn’t he? If we can help out…”
“Fine. Okay, yes, it looks a little funny. Emma’s not telling us something.” Snow gasped. “Do you think she’s cheating?”
“The thought had occurred. But that just doesn’t seem like Emma, does it?” He scratched his chin.
She nodded and kissed his cheek. “Whatever it is, I’m sure they’ll work it out. Love isn’t easy.”
He rested his head against her shoulder. “I just want her to be happy.”
“Emma.” Regina barged into the Sheriff’s station bright and early, her eyes narrowed and her hands rigidly on her hips.
Emma slammed her laptop shut, rolled back an inch in her chair, and stared up at Regina with wide eyes. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“Where have you been going at night?”
The direct, pointed question caught Emma off guard. “I’ve been keeping myself busy.”
Regina frowned. “Is this still about that fight?”
“Then why won’t you tell me where you’ve been going. I know it’s not work.”
“Because I’m allowed to do things on my own.” Emma softened her tone. “It’s nothing bad.”
“So you’re not seeing someone else?” Regina was suddenly too close. Emma scooted the chair back again.
“Why would you even think that?”
“You’re not the same.”
“I’m better,” Emma offered. “Or, I will be sooner or later.”
“What does that mean?”
“So, look, I know I acted like a child the other night. The couch was pretty good punishment for that. We need a new couch.” Emma sighed. “I wanted this to be a surprise. But apparently I suck at sneaking around even more than I thought.”
“Spit it out.”
“I’ve been taking a prep course for the SATs. My test is next Saturday. If my score is good enough, I’m going to try taking some courses.”
“Courses?” The dull rage in Regina’s stomach eased.
“College courses,” Emma elaborated. “I see you talking to David and it’s like you two are in a different world. I was… It’s kinda embarrassing.”
Regina leaned against Emma’s desk. “That’s what this is about? You’re jealous. Of your father and I?”
“And how much you have in common.”
“When we’re at a family dinner, I can’t even put a word in edgewise.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“I know. It’s just this serious broship you’ve got going on. And I want you to have that with me. Not my dad.” Emma rolled forward and placed her palm on the laptop. “So I thought I’d take a couple of political science classes, so we could talk about you being mayor and stuff.”
“That’s not necessary-“
“I know.” Emma filled her smile with every ounce of apology she could muster. “I didn’t mean to make you worry. I just wanted us to have something to talk about.”
“Thank you.” Regina eased off the desk. “I will admit that I feel a little foolish now.”
“At least you didn’t slap me.” Emma laughed.
“Will you be home for dinner? You can study in my office afterwards, if you like.”
“Yeah. That sounds good.”