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Send Up a Signal (that everything's fine)

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in which she’s hauled into stardom (or probably not).

 

“She’s perfect,” Mr. Gold says, not for the first time today. “This is your Rose Turner.” He gestures at Emma again and Emma shifts uncomfortably under the scrutiny of the man and woman sitting at the table across the room. “Isn’t she Disney Princess material?” 

 

The man and woman keep staring. Emma manages a nervous smile. “Should I…Do you want me to read the lines again?” Her scene partner is a woman named Mary Margaret, one she vaguely recognizes from that soap opera that her old roommate was into. Mary Margaret Blanchard has played kid sisters and the star’s best friend in dozens of minor roles, and now she’s hit her slightly bigger break, Emma guesses. 

 

Emma’s big break is happening right now, in this room. Maybe. If Gold knows what he’s talking about and the woman eyeing at her like a piece of meat is actually impressed. "No experience?" she demands, disapproving. 

 

Emma straightens. "I...um...I do entertainment at kids' birthday parties a lot. That's how Mr. Gold found me, actually." One minute she'd been doing her best Rapunzel imitation, and the next, some uncle of the birthday kid had been snapping photos of her and asking for head shots. She'd never really expected to have any legitimate acting roles, let alone being catapulted to maybe-lead of some new Disney tie-in. 

 

"Everyone has to start somewhere," the man beside the woman booms. "Our girls did diaper commercials, but that doesn't mean we aren't open to new talent." There's something shrewd in his eyes when he suggests that. "Not at all."

 

The woman nods, grasping whatever Emma had missed. "Very well," she says suddenly. "You'll be hearing back from us soon."

 

Mary Margaret's brow furrows. "You don't want her to read with Regina?" Emma had already read with some kid and with Mary Margaret, and she squeezes the script and prepares for what must be Rose's scenes with Victoria Stone, the Evil Queen. 

 

But the woman shakes her head. "I don't have all day," she says, sounding irritated. "If Regina can't be on time when she's called in, she won't get special treatment."

 

"Henry—" Mary Margaret starts. 

 

"Henry isn't her job," the woman says firmly, but she raises her chin with what seems like pride and says, "Regina should be perfectly competent. If we choose this girl and there are issues, then perhaps it's time we...revisited Regina." 

 

Mary Margaret looks appalled and frightened at once. Emma knows only vaguely of Regina Mills, another child actress all grown up. There had been some scandal about a decade ago, an almost-marriage to a much older man, and she’d gone off the map around then for a while. Beyond that, Emma's only heard of her being critically praised in a few films where she plays scheming maids or gold-digger love interests. She'd been typecast long ago, and the Evil Queen is a perfect fit, if a lot larger a role than anything she's done in the past ten years since her fall from grace. 

 

Victoria Stone, less so, but Emma suspects that with someone like Regina Mills as the face behind her, the audience will be only too happy to root for Rose. 

 

Gold escorts her out and she still hasn't caught the producers' names, so she checks up the whole production on IMDB later that day. Cora Mills and Leo Blanchard, read the names of the writers/producers, and Emma groans, sliding her hand down into her hands. 

 

Of course. This is some family production, and she's the token "See! It's not nepotism!" recruit. This is all a little too good to be true, and loners with no family or support who are swiftly eating through their savings just to manage in this city shouldn’t expect–

 

Well. There’s no way that she’s going to get that callback, anyway. Gold is just one co-producer and doesn’t call the shots, and Cora Mills hadn’t even deigned for her to film with her own daughter. This is just a standard Hollywood story that she’s seen plenty of coworkers experience.

 

She stares at the pilot script and wonders why she cares. But it’s obvious, isn’t it? She’d been eighteen when she’d had to give up her own baby because she’d been incapable of raising him. And playing Rose Turner– playing this woman who, fairytales aside, gets a knock at her door and finds a son grinning behind it– it wakes up all the longing that she's supposed to be over by now.

 

She almost shoves the script in the garbage, but rethinks it and sticks it into a drawer instead. Who knows, right?

 


 

in which regina mills is hella talented and so… (you’ll see).

 

She gets the callback. She gets the role, and suddenly she’s packing up her tiny apartment and flying to some filming studios in Maine to shoot the pilot. Mary Margaret is calling her daily, thrilled to have a friend on set, and Emma grins and her stomach twists and she doesn’t know if she’s excited or terrified. 

 

On the flight to Maine, she picks a movie that she knows Regina Mills had earned some buzz for and she’s entranced from the start. She still hasn’t met the woman, but she remembers a vague crush on her back when she’d been a Disney Channel brat. And she’s grown up, well…

 

Emma licks her lips and tries her best to watch Regina’s method instead. She has a way of stealing every scene, capturing your eye and refusing to surrender it. Emma has no idea how she manages to transform a stock character into the only one in the whole shitty movie worth watching, but she’s breathless by the end of the film with the awareness that this is someone she’s actually going to be working with.

 

She’s going to be filming scenes with Regina Mills

 

She frantically watches her whole recent filmography over the rest of the day as she settles in. “She’s very good,” Mary Margaret says when they do dinner later that evening in a restaurant Emma absolutely cannot afford. “She hates me, but she’s very good.” She stabs mournfully at her steak. “We’re lucky she got the role.” 

 

“Got the role,” Emma repeats, arching an eyebrow. “I’m not trying to be rude, but…well…” 

 

“Our parents,” Mary Margaret agrees. “I know what it looks like, but my dad actually wrote the role of Snow White around me.” She beams for a moment. “He still calls me his little princess, you know? And…I mean, I have the acting background,” she says hastily. “I’m not taking a role from anyone.” 

 

“Right, of course,” Emma says, keeping her mouth shut on any other opinions she might have on that. Mary Margaret is sweet and considers her a friend already, and Emma’s happy for her if things like this just…fall into her lap. “And Cora Mills wrote the villain for Regina?” 

 

Mary Margaret shakes her head. “Oh, no, Cora didn’t even want her to audition. But Gold got Regina a script and an audition without her realizing, and by then, it was too late. Regina was…” She shivers. “Regina was perfect for the role, and even her mom knew that she had no choice. I can’t believe Regina even agreed to do TV, really,” Mary Margaret says thoughtfully. “I’d have thought it was beneath her. She’s so…” Her voice trails off.

 

“So?” Emma repeats.

 

Mary Margaret bites her lip. “You’ll see.” 

 


 

in which emma gains an enemy (and maybe an ally).

 

The first time Emma Swan meets Regina Mills, she’s getting out of a van that had transported her to the mansion where she’s supposed to film her very first pilot scene. Regina is dressed in a grey dress that hugs her hips and her makeup is soft and dark and approachable, and Emma is so flustered that she blurts out, “Hi,” and does this terrible awkward wave. 

 

Regina drags her eyes to Emma’s hand, then up and down her body for so long that Emma’s about to say something– jokingly, of course, because she’s uncomfortable but not quite ready to pick a fight– when Regina curls her upper lip and says, “She won’t do,” and storms off to the director with fire in her eyes. 

 

“I think she likes you,” Mary Margaret says brightly.

 

Emma watches the director gesture to her, and Regina shakes her head and goes on, ticking off something with her hand. She’s probably still pissed about missing the chemistry reads and Emma doesn’t really have any background to prove herself on, and maybe this has all been a horrible mistake. 

 

She’s already beginning to get the sense that– whatever conflict Regina might have with her mother– this is her turf now, and if she deems Emma unfit, Emma’s going to go. And sure enough, the director is nodding now, glancing Emma’s way with the kind of familiar trepidation that Emma knows intimately as a rejected foster kid, and Emma can feel her stomach bottom out in response.

 

There are times when Emma is all confrontation, would gladly shout it out with Regina– and Regina, she’s pretty sure, would shout back until they’re both furious and steaming with loathing. Today, though, she’s already ready to give up. She mumbles something to Mary Margaret and ducks back into the van, shoving her food and change of clothes into her bag and starts searching for flights back to LA. And tries really, really hard not to cry with frustration about this whole screwed up situation.

 

“Oh, dear, there’s no reason to be so childish,” comes a sharp voice from the window. Emma jerks up. Cora Mills is smiling at her from outside the van, thin-lipped with dangerous eyes. “If you’re going to go off in a snit every time Regina acts out, you’re going to have to work weekends, too.”

 

“I–“ Emma manages. “I just thought that…” 

 

“You’re new,” Cora acknowledges. “So you don’t know how little patience I have for actor shenanigans. Regina isn’t in control here. I am. And if she gives you any more trouble, you come to me, understood?” She smiles again, this time a little less terrifying, and Emma smiles back hesitantly. 

 

She might not have won over the daughter, but the mother seems to grasp her daughter and is more than happy to help. “Get out there, Miss Swan,” Cora says encouragingly. “Show them why you earned this role.” 

 

Emma bobs her head and tries. She’s an actress, right? She can walk out onto that set and flash a smile and pretend that she doesn’t want to jump into the ocean instead. Or push Regina into the ocean, whatever.

 

Instead, she steps into the mansion and glares at Regina like a stubborn child and Regina gives her an equally mature stink-eye. And then the cameras roll and Regina just…

 

Changes. 

 

Her scowl fades and is replaced with soft, inquisitive eyes as she passes Emma a cup of cider, and Emma’s so taken aback that she stumbles over her first line as Regina smiles warmly and leads her to Victoria’s study. 

 

I’m sorry he dragged you out of your life. I really don’t know what’s gotten into him,” she says, and there are layers upon layers, vulnerability and curiosity mingling as she goes through Victoria’s lines. 

 

And with Regina opposite her, so genuine in her acting, Emma can feel Rose rising to her surface and responding. Rose is nervous and eager to appease her birth son’s mother, and when she does leave, it’s with the reluctance to get attached even more. Emma knows Rose. Emma feels like her in this moment, cameras trained on both of them and Regina leaving her unsteady on her feet as Victoria.

 

When Emma walks past Regina and Regina closes the door behind them as the director shouts, “Cut!” she turns, grinning with victory, to face Regina. 

 

“That was–“ Emma stops. Regina is glaring at her again, as hostile as she’d been before the cameras had rolled. “Oh, you know what?” she says, annoyed. “Fuck you.” 

 

“That was quite the zinger, Miss Swan,” Regina deadpans. “Shame they don’t have you writing our snappy dialogue.”

 

“They don’t need me to feed them our lines. They already have the perfect model for the Evil Queen,” Emma says sweetly, and Regina’s eyebrows arch, amused.

 

“No wonder Gold wanted you for Rose.” It sounds like an insult that Emma can’t parse, and her brow furrows. Regina mentions Rose with real contempt, and Emma starts, “Look, if you have some kind of–“ 

 

Regina walks away mid-sentence, getting back in position for the next take. For fuck’s sake.

 

Before they can start again, Cora is breezing over to them. She mutters something along the way that has Regina quickening her pace, her gaze baleful as she turns back to watch Emma, and Emma grinds her teeth together and puts on a smile for Cora. “Very evocative,” Cora says approvingly, and Emma meets Regina’s eyes again with renewed defiance.

 


 

in which there is a rat in the bathroom.

 

Ruby’s the one to suggest drinks, and Emma suspects that Regina only agrees because she’s so taken aback at the idea that anyone would invite her out at all. She’s a nightmare on set, still as standoffish and obnoxious as she’d been that first day. 

 

On Emma’s second day of filming, she hadn’t even had scenes with her– Regina had been over on Stage Seven with Mary Margaret and David and Emma had been doing a scene inside a restaurant with a guest star. And yet somehow, her PA had gone to get her coffee and come back with something that had smelled foul and had been– worst of all– decaffeinated

 

She hadn’t said anything at first– she’s fouled up her fair share of coffee orders over the years– but she’d sent him out for another coffee the next day and he’d said, “Ms. Mills told me that you preferred a combination of herbal blends. She gave me a very specific recipe.” 

 

Of course she did. “And caffeine…?” she prods gently.

 

“It doesn’t give you migraines?” He looks confused. 

 

Regina wants a war? Well, Emma’s never been very good at backing down. And is very good at escalating things. So she breaks into Regina’s trailer that night and smashes all her mirrors. 

 

“Getting in character?” she’d asked sweetly when Regina had stormed out of there the next morning, glass still crunching against her shoes.

 

Regina had rounded on her with all the fire of Victoria Stone. “You don’t want to play this little Mean Girls game with me, you absolute imbecile. Because it’s childish and petty.” Her eyes flash dangerously. “And because I’ll win.” She leans in, close enough to kiss, and Emma is breathless and challenge accepted and kind of secretly might love this a little bit. Sharing scenes with Regina Mills is only half as exhilarating as sharing space with her in her natural state, and Emma’s caught between absolute frustration and the urge to shove her a little more and then lurch forward and–

 

She stops herself, Regina's pupils still dilated with fury as she breathes raggedly, and Ruby walks past and says, “Hey, you two good for drinks later?” 

 

So that’s how they wind up doing shots with Mary Margaret and Ruby in some dive a mile away from the studio. Regina has her legs crossed and keeps looking around like she thinks someone might kill them, and Ruby laughs. “Lighten up, Evil Queen.” 

 

Mary Margaret chortles loudly at the nickname. She must already be half-gone, because she’s usually more cautious around Regina, tiptoeing as though anything might set her off. (Anything might.)

 

Regina sighs at them both. “So juvenile. I suppose it’s better than ‘Gina,’ though.”

 

“Gina!” Emma repeats, cackling. “You could be a Gina. Reggie?” She’s a little buzzed already, but maybe it’s just that it’s loud and warm in here and her head is aching.

 

“I can get you blacklisted from every network in this country,” Regina snarls. She’s extra snarly when she’s had too much to drink. Emma had thought she might mellow out. Alas, no. “You’ll be playing someone’s mom on Degrassi for the rest of your career if you don’t control yourself, Swan.” 

 

“No, I won’t. Your mom likes me.” For some incomprehensible reason, Cora does. She’s made it clear that Emma will have work even if this pilot isn’t picked up, and if she didn’t spend so much time provoking Regina by favoring Emma, Emma might even rub that in Regina’s face right now. 

 

As it is, Regina is staring at her like she’s been slapped, and Emma squirms in place and says, “Where’s the bathroom! I’m going to find the bathroom.” She doesn’t ask anyone to come, but Regina stands up and says, “I’m not staying at the table with them,” and jerks her hand toward Mary Margaret.

 

“I thought you hated me most,” Emma huffs, a little offended. Like, it’d be one thing to come in second place to Mr. Gold or Cora, but to be second-tier enemy after one of the sweetest people in the universe? She needs to up her game.

 

Regina scowls at her. “I hate everyone. And you, with your…” She waves her hand. “With the princess hair and the big break and rags-to-riches bullshit narrative.”

 

“You like my hair?” Emma says, distracted.

 

“I hate it,” Regina snarls. “I hate everything about you. But at least you fight back. Mary Margaret just crumples like a…like a bad banana."

 

“Bad apple,” Emma corrects her, and Regina snickers. “…Reggie.” 

 

“Fuck off.” Regina shoves her and Emma laughs too loudly as she pushes the bathroom door open. Her head is pounding and she might be a little buzzed, and Regina’s makeup is smudged around her eyes and she’s infuriatingly beautiful. “I am not going into that cockroach pit,” Regina informs her.

 

“Snob,” Emma mutters. Regina scoffs and stalks in behind her.

 

Away from dim lights and loud crowds, the sounds of the bathroom are deafening. Emma groans and holds onto her head. “Too bright. Much too bright.” 

 

Regina is wincing, too, and Emma hurries to the bathroom stalls to make her escape.

 

When she emerges, it’s to Regina standing in the middle of the room, engaged in a fierce staring contest with a rat. “Oh, my god. Get that–“ She reaches for a broom haphazard in the corner and swings it at the rodent. Regina trips, lacking her usual grace in this state, and a series of Spanish curses roll off her tongue.

 

The rat makes a mad dash for the radiator and Emma’s laughing helplessly as Regina takes off her heel and hurls it at the rat in a fury. It skitters into the radiator and vanishes and Regina snaps, “If my foot touches this filthy floor, Miss Swan–“

 

Emma retrieves the shoe, still laughing, and there’s a moment when she forgets that they loathe each other, that this is Regina Mills who is so far beyond her and knows it, that she’s so buzzed that she can barely even manage to ease the shoe onto Regina’s foot. (Why is she easing it onto her foot?)

 

Regina chokes a little when she does it. It might be because Emma’s tracing a path up Regina’s foot to her leg. Emma retracts her finger. 

 

“You know,” she says, and it’s all kind of fuzzy now, even Regina’s dark eyes like brown-gold pinpoints in the fluorescent light of the bathroom. “I gave up a kid for a adoption when I was around Rose’s age on the show. And I was…poor, and I didn’t have any family or support…and I was so scared. And…I don’t know. She’s important.” 

 

“She’s pushy and entitled to something she surrendered a long time ago,” Regina says, the words still coming out harsh and stark. “She’s a menace. And so are you.”

 

And she stalks out of the bathroom, their feud reinvigorated in full, and Emma blinks after her and fishes in her bag for some ibuprofen.

 


 

in which she might have picked the wrong ally (or enemy, for that matter).

 

The thing is, the pilot is really, really good. The script is amazing and Emma watches awestruck as some of the dailies come out and it’s her onscreen but not quite. She swaggers a little more as Rose, plays up the confident bail bondswoman and the uncertain orphan, but really, the most unrealistic bit is from the early scenes with Regina where there’s no sign that Victoria and Rose loathe each other. Acting.

 

The later scenes are stronger for it, the two of them too close, spitting mad and too aggressive, and Cora sits back with a satisfied smile and says, “These are our showstoppers.” She gestures to four clips on the screen. “The Evil Queen’s arrival, Rose’s first scene, Rose and Jamie at the castle, and Rose and Victoria at the mansion. These are why people will keep watching.” She winks at them. “Don’t tell Leo that, though. His darling little girl is the star of the show until the tracking comes in.” 

 

It’s just the four of them in Cora’s bungalow today– Regina and Emma, Jamaal and his mother, Marian. Jamaal is playing the role of Jamie Stone, the boy who’s supposed to be Rose's birth son, and Emma had squinted at him and said, Really? 

 

Emma. Cora had patted her on the shoulder, nails digging into her skin. Colorblind casting is all the rage these days. Marian had rolled her eyes and Emma had liked her immediately.

 

“You see, this is a feminist show. We’re writing about women, for women.” Cora looks animated as she scrolls through the clips. “This is our Avengers, women who can be heroes and evil and something more complex. And if we can’t write diversity into our fantasy, what’s the purpose of fantasy at all?”

 

Regina is sitting very stiffly, looking sour at being in her mother’s vicinity at all, and her frown only seems to grow as Cora orates about feminism. “Mother, why are we here?” she demands. 

 

Cora looks startled. “Well, you’re here because I’m proud of you. All three of you,” she says, smiling warmly at Jamaal. “And James, you most of all. At your age, too. I see a bright future ahead for you.” 

 

“Jamaal,” Marian corrects her, and her own proud smile seems to have frozen on her face.

 

Cora’s lips purse together and part loudly. “Ah, yes, that.” She sits down in her computer chair, turning to face them. “Dear, you’re going to be making strides in the industry. And I worry.” 

 

“You worry,” Regina repeats. 

 

Cora smiles again. “James,” she repeats. “With a name like Jamaal, your options will be limited to more…ah, urban choices in casting.” She says it delicately, and Emma sees Marian’s hands squeeze onto the bottom of her chair. “I’m looking out for you, darling. You know that even this role wouldn’t have been yours if we hadn’t already known Marian and seen that you could play a realistic son to someone like Emma.” 

 

Mother–” 

 

Jamaal is squirming in place, glancing up at Regina for guidance. Cora says, “I think you should consider a stage name. James Lee has a nice ring to it.” She’s unflappable, smiling at Marian and then Emma as though she thinks she has an ally in the room.

 

But Emma is watching Jamaal and Cora with narrowed eyes, spotting how uncomfortable Jamaal looks at the suggestion. And he’d been cast first, hadn’t he? It hadn’t been about someone who could play Emma’s son, and Emma understands now why everyone else in this room is glaring at Cora.

 

“I like Jamaal Lee,” she volunteers, eyes narrowing. She earns a startled glance from Regina and another eyebrow arch like she had after their first scene. She ignores her and puts an arm on the back of Jamaal’s chair.

 

“Miss Swan,” Cora sighs, shaking her head. “You’re–“ 

 

Regina cuts her off with cool precision. “Much as I’m loath to agree with Miss Swan on anything, a decision like that should be between Jamaal and his mother. This pilot will be picked up. He’ll be one of a small pool of child actors with a network TV show. If he has trouble later on, he can change his name then.” She wraps a tight arm around Jamaal’s shoulders.

 

Jamaal looks up at them both with trusting eyes and Emma flushes in the face of a ten-year-old’s gratitude. Emma does not think about how they look right now, arms pressed to each other behind Jamaal, a united front. 

 

And maybe Regina Mills is an asshole diva actress, but she’s just as determined to protect the kid as Emma is. One point in her favor.

 


 

in which the pilot is picked up.

 

There’s a party in LA for anyone who’s around, and Mary Margaret drags Emma to it and is so excited that she even starts chatting up Regina, who says, “I can’t believe I wasted a night on you.” 

 

“How is Henry?” Mary Margaret asks, bobbing on her heels. “Are you bringing him up to Maine with us?” 

 

“Well, I’m not keeping him here alone,” Regina says dryly. Emma squints at them, wondering if Regina Mills really has a dog. Maybe a dignified cat. Of course she named him a real-person name. 

 

Maybe Henry is a ten-foot python. You never know with Regina Mills. 

 

Emma dodges them to talk to Jamaal and Marian about filming. “He’ll be in school in Storybrooke,” Marian tells her. “Mostly tutors, but at least he’ll have one friend on set, right?” She grins and Emma nods, confused but cheerful enough to not care.

 

Cora clasps her hand and says, “I knew you had it in you, Emma.” She’s beaming and presiding over the room as though she’d been born for it, kissing cheeks and patting shoulders, and Leopold smiles genially at Cora’s courtiers and follows her lead. Emma ducks his attempt to kiss her cheek and escapes into a side room.

 

No, it’s a bathroom, the formal kind that Emma’s only seen at weddings with a couch across from the sinks and proper rooms for each toilet. She sinks down onto the couch, squinting across the room to reapply her lipstick in the mirror.

 

The door opens and Regina blinks at her. “We have to stop meeting like this,” she sighs, taking a seat beside her and easing off her heels to rub at her feet. “I can’t believe I’m going to have to work with you.” 

 

“Channel all that loathing into your work,” Emma says. She’s flippant mostly because it really pisses Regina off; and in fact, Regina is already steaming when she hurries on. “Rose and Victoria have a war to fight, huh?” 

 

Regina laughs, low and rumbling and seductive– menacing. And menacing. “You won’t stand a chance,” she says, slipping her heels back on, and she walks to the door with her hips swaying and a dangerous smile on her lips.

 

“We’ll see,” Emma calls after her, and she rests her head against the wall and grins to herself for absolutely no reason at all.