It starts when she strolls into the Sheriff's Station one evening; battle ready, as she always has to be around Emma Swan. They may have called a truce for Henry's sake - and, although they would never admit it, their own - yet somehow their encounters when away from Henry always descend into some kind of conflict; both trying to have the upper hand, both wrestling to get in the last cutting word every time. It's as if the two are destined to clash.
But tonight, she finds Emma in no fit state for battle, and her fighting desire is quelled. After all, it's the challenge of a worthy opponent that draws her to the girl. Sheriff Swan is crumpled forward in her chair, arms and head slumped awkwardly on to the desk. She's asleep, but not comfortably - there's a frown on her face and her lips are dry and cracked. Regina doesn't know the right way to wake her, so she settles for dropping the stack of paperwork she needs signed on to the desk. The resounding thump startles Emma back to life.
"Sleeping on the job, Miss Swan?"
Emma glances wildly around before her eyes find the Mayor. "Shit," she croaks, and coughs into her shoulder. "What time is it?"
"Time for you to sign these documents and go home," Regina drawls, raising her eyebrows as Emma rubs childishly at her eyes. She pulls one of her countless expensive ballpoints out of her blazer pocket and hands it over, then shuffles through the pile until she finds the necessary pages. "I'd ask you to read it all, but I'm not sure you're capable."
Emma grumbles incomprehensibly, scowling as she scrawls her name on the indicated lines. Regina finds herself having to suppress a smile, and she doesn't even want to think about where that sudden impulse came from. Emma's immaturity and stubbornness is something to be sneered at, not smiled at, she reminds herself curtly, but the funny tightening she feels in her stomach doesn't go anywhere. Regina leans in and takes the pen from between Emma's fingers, pocketing it, and quickly gathers the papers. When she straightens, she's sure that she's composed herself but of course Emma chooses that moment to stretch out her shoulders and back, pulling the flimsy white tank top flush against her chest. It hugs every line and curve, and Regina loses focus for a moment.
Emma pauses and smirks, noticing Regina's temporary cerebral lapse. "Like what you see, Madam Mayor?"
Regina coughs and sneers, but the faint blush that colours her cheeks betrays her. She'll have to work through this impossible attraction to Emma another time, because there is a more pressing issue she's noticed that conveniently doubles as a cover up - since she's been caught staring anyway. "I couldn't help but notice how far your ribs protruded as you stretched. Are you unwell, Miss Swan? Should you be at work?"
"Oh, so that's what you were, uh, noticing."
"I don't like what you're insinuating," she snaps, "but I'll let it pass. You're thin and pale, and you're sleeping at your desk..."
"Yeah, so I'm tired, okay?" Emma jumps to the defensive, and Regina has to drag her eyes away as she arches her back to shrug on that awful leather jacket.
"Just remember that the safety of my town rests on your shoulders. Do try to take care of your health."
They fall into step together as they leave the building, the scuff of Emma's boots familiar against the clicking of Regina's heels. There's a slight wheeze to Emma's breathing, but Regina decides not to comment. She doesn't want to appear too concerned, because Emma's seen through her act one too many times tonight. They part once outside the building, nodding their goodbyes, and Regina walks back to her Mercedes. She opens the passenger door to place her bag and the papers on the seat, but can't help glancing back towards the awful yellow Bug as she crosses back to the driver's side - and the image of Emma hunched over, clutching at her head, elbows on the steering wheel haunts her all the way home.
Emma groans loudly as the shrill tone of her phone forces her to extract herself from the tangle of sheets. Not that she'd been asleep - she'd been exhausted, stuffy and aching all over, but sleep had evaded her all night, she laments, as she fumbles around on the nightstand for the stupid phone.
"Yeah? Uh, I mean, hi?"
Ah, shit. Emma immediately regrets her impolite answer, and winces as sits herself up straighter in the bed. "Regina, sorry about that, I -"
"You just woke up, I presume. After all, it is a weekend."
Emma pinches the bridge of her nose and tries to ignore the painful tension building in her temples as she asks, "So, what's the matter?"
"It's rather urgent, actually. Henry has disappeared again." Regina's voice sounds strained even through the phone. "I take it he's not with you?"
"Shit, Regina. Haven't seen him."
"I've checked Granny's, the playground, Dr Hopper's, David and Kathryn's..."
By this time, Emma is already pulling herself out of bed, but she tucks her head down by her knees in order to steady her dizzy head. "I'm on it, Regina. I'll be out in ten, searching the forest. Call around, I'm sure people will help out."
"Of course. I'll let you get ready."
"Thanks. Good luck."
There's a crackling sound, as if Regina had moved to hang up, but then her voice returns to the line, quieter this time. "Miss Swan? Do be careful. And... thank you."
"No problem," Emma sighs. She hangs up the phone and all but launches herself out the door towards the bathroom.
Mary Margaret calls out from the kitchen, "Emma, you're up...? Who was that on the phone?"
"Re-" Her voice cracks and she has to grab onto the bathroom counter for support when the coughing fit nearly knocks her over. "Re- Regina," she squeaks out afterwards.
"Regina's got you up and out of bed, in this state? It's strange how eager you seem to please her these days..."
Emma can basically hear the smug smile in her roommate's voice, and she's getting really sick of these not-so-subtle insinuations, so she storms out into the kitchen. "Excuse me? Henry has gone missing."
Mary Margaret's jaw slackens. "Oh. God, Emma, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything. Will he be okay? How can I help?" she offers frantically.
"It's alright. Just... I'll call you, okay? If I need anything."
The other woman nods. "Sure. Take it easy out there, Emma. You're really not well."
"I don't care." She leaves Mary Margaret alone, wringing her hands together and concerned.
"Henry? Kid, are you there? Hey!"
Emma's been stumbling around the forest for half an hour now, and she feels pretty bruised and light-headed - those tree roots and thick branches just keep coming up out of nowhere. There's no sign of the kid anywhere. Emma knows he isn't here, she just knows, but for some reason she can't stop wandering around and shouting his name. Maybe, she thinks weakly, it's because she's all too aware she won't be able to find her way back safely.
The moment the thought strikes her, a twisted root hooks her ankle and she's sent sprawling into the dirt, landing with a thump at the foot of the tree. The air is knocked out of her lungs and she curls up, wheezing and coughing. Shit, shit, shit. Emma thinks of everyone in town running around searching for Henry, and realises that nobody will think to go looking for their trusted Sheriff. She winces as she rolls over on to her back and stuffs her hand into the pocket of her jeans, resenting the fact that she chose to wear her favourite, tightest pair today. By the time she's extracted the damn thing she's struggling to keep her eyes open; her brain starts acting on auto-pilot, dialling in a number she didn't even know she had memorised.
Emma sighs in relief. "R-Regina? Regina... hi," she mumbles.
"Is everything okay out there, Sheriff? Have you found him?"
"Regina," she repeats, as everything goes fuzzy and dark around the edges. "I don't... I don't feel so good..."
The phone slips from her sweaty grasp and she slumps back against the tree as the blackness consumes her.
Regina sighs in frustration as she shuffles about awkwardly on the ground, readjusting her skirt over her knees. If Emma doesn't wake up soon, she'll settle for dragging her stupid unconscious body out of the forest herself. Emma shouldn't have even come here today, especially not alone. It seems her pride had once again gotten in the way of her common sense. Why couldn't she just have said she was too unwell, and driven around town or done something else actually useful?
"Miss Swan," she coos, reaching over to shake Emma's shoulders again, "wake up."
"Miss Swan." Another shake.
Regina groans and takes a deep breath. "Emma. Emma!" She rattles the unconscious woman's shoulders roughly. "Emma, damnit, wake up!"
Finally, there's some movement behind Emma's eyelids and she lets out a small whisper of noise. "Re..." She tenses up and her eyelids fly open. "Regina!"
"Yes, it's me." Regina can't help but smile a little at the look of pure gratitude on Emma's face. "How are you feeling?"
"Shitty," Emma groans. "Where's Henry? Have you got him?"
Regina nods. "He was hanging around by the well. Apparently, the idea was put into his head by that stranger," she almost growls. "He gave everyone quite a scare, but he's fine. We found him right after you called."
"Right," Emma croaks. She pulls herself against the tree into a sitting position. "I'm real sorry about this. Honestly. I just wanted to help find -" The name sticks in her throat and she expels a violent cough, causing Regina to recoil back from her in thinly veiled disgust. "Sorry," she mutters. "No chance you have any water?"
Regina gives her a tight lipped smile. "I suppose we'd better get you back to my car," she says. "Do you think you can walk?"
"Might need a little help there." Emma winces as she tries to stand, and Regina sighs, bending to help her up. They lean for a moment against the tree before Regina wraps an arm around Emma's shoulder and lets her lean into her side. It's like the fire all over again, but with their roles reversed. Regina remembers Emma's words after they'd escaped the blaze - next time I'll do the same thing, and the time after that, because that is what decent human beings do, that's what good people do - and wonders if she's being a good person right now. Perhaps the warmth in her chest is some sort of indication - or perhaps that's only the resulting heat of human contact, she muses, as they begin to slowly trudge uphill through the forest, bodies pressed tightly together.
"Thanks," Emma mumbles, and Regina turns to see that she's blushing. "I know you must hate having to do this."
Regina sniffs, tightening her grasp on Emma as she helps her climb over a fallen log. "It's not so bad," she responds, surprised to find that she's telling the truth.
Emma hums contentedly as she flops down on the couch at Mary Margaret's place. Regina had insisted on not only driving her over but settling her in as well, and Emma's pretty glad she agreed to that, because Regina's reappeared with a pile of blankets and pillows.
"Is there anything else I can do?" Regina asks as she arranges the bedding over Emma, ensuring that she's tucked in nicely.
Emma grins weakly and replies, "Well, there's some leftover chicken soup in the fridge..."
To her immense surprise, Regina actually nods and disappears into the kitchen.
Emma closes her eyes and snuggles into the blankets, still bemused by Regina's strange change in demeanour. She's probably just acting this way out of some sort of guilty conscience, Emma thinks, but then again, there's always the possibility she's been misinterpreting Regina's behaviour for a while. The tension between them is ever present and all too tangible, sure, but sometimes it does feel like a wholly different sort of tension altogether.
Regardless, she's never been comforted like this in sickness before. She'd spent many lonely days and nights shut up in bedrooms alone, because various foster parents had deemed she was too contagious or told her to simply sleep it off. No matter who this care is coming from, she is damn well going to appreciate it.
Regina returns shortly, carrying a steaming bowl of soup and a spoon. She sets it down carefully in Emma's shivering hands. It's far too hot to consume, so Emma takes the opportunity to question Regina in an effort to figure out exactly what is going on between them.
"Thanks for the soup," she says, "but uh... why exactly are you doing this?"
Regina perches on the other end of the couch, only inches from Emma's feet. "Must I always have an ulterior motive?"
"No, 'course not," Emma huffs. "It's just that, you know, previous experience... and we're not exactly on the best of terms."
"You were only out there, risking your own health, to help me find my son. It would be wrong of me to deny you that same help."
Emma chuckles. "It's always about right and wrong, with us, isn't it?"
"Yes, and I'm always right." Regina grins as Emma nudges her side with her foot, pouting. "Look, I'd better be going. I left Henry with -"
The sound of footsteps draws both of their eyes towards the door, from which Henry comes bursting through, followed by his teacher.
"- with Miss Blanchard," Regina finishes.
"Emma! You're okay!" Henry shouts and rushes over, coming to a halt by the couch. "Aren't you?"
"Yeah, kid, I'll be fine," she says. "Your mom's been looking after me."
Henry turns to Regina, confused. "Why would you help Emma?"
"Henry, dear, you already know that I went to find her -"
"Yeah," he snaps, "but you could have just dumped here, or with anyone else once you found her."
"Hey," Emma cuts in, "Regina's spent the whole day searching for you, and then me, and then taking care of me here. Least you could do is be polite."
Regina looks at Emma with her eyebrows raised, clearly surprised to have been defended. Emma understands, because it's not often that she's anything other than the 'fun mom'.
"Sorry," Henry mumbles to both of them. "And Emma, I'm sorry you got hurt. It was my fault."
"No one's fault but mine," Emma says and ruffles his hair. "Just tell your mom where you're going next time, alright?"
He sighs and nods, and Regina takes her keys out of her purse and passes them to him. "Henry, we should get going. Emma needs rest. Go and get in the car."
As Henry leaves the room, Emma notices Mary Margaret peek around, but once she sees that Regina hasn't yet left she disappears again. It's almost amusing how scared she is of the Mayor.
"I suppose I'll have to find a temporary replacement for your position while you recover," Regina says, suddenly business like once more.
"Bet it's killing you that you can't get rid of me for good," Emma shoots back.
"Not particularly. You know my only concern is the safety of my citizens."
"Yeah, yeah," Emma sighs, but grins. "I'll be back before you know it, anyway."
Regina returns her smile. "Good to know," she says in a near whisper, and reaches down to pat Emma's ankle through the blankets. As she stalks out of the apartment, Emma feels pretty breathless, and this time it's nothing to do with her sickness at all.