Maybe it was one too many group homes where the little kids never got looked after enough because so much else was going on, and they should have been happy to have a bed. Maybe she got her overly reactive sense from one of the bad foster homes where being sick meant being alone until you got over it, and if you didn't get over it on your own, it might be a couple days before someone else, someone who should have noticed, finally did. Maybe she pays too much attention to what Regina feels, because it seems like no one has in a very long time, maybe never, and when she tries to hide how hard it is to stop coughing during one of those never-ending meetings, Emma notices.
She lags behind as they put on their jackets, winding her scarf around her neck while the others are long gone. Regina collects her things, makes her notes neat before she puts them away, and then there's another coughing fit that actually hurts to listen to and Emma debates for half a second before she's next to her, hand on her shoulder.
"Let me drive you home."
"That's not necessary," Regina says. At least, that's what Emma imagines she says, because it's more gasping than actual words.
Emma takes her bag, slipping it over her shoulder and waits for Regina to get her breath back. "I'll take you home, make you some tea, and go. You sound awful."
"Thank you," Regina replies and that, Emma hears because its mostly sarcastic.
There's some more arguing, but Regina's car keys are in the bag Emma's just taken and when they walk out into the cold air, they have to stop in the doorway of Regina's office because winter in Maine is sometimes brutal the way Minnesota was and maybe, somehow in the thirty years Regina's lived here, she just hasn't gotten that, because her coat's beautiful but not really that warm and she rarely pulls her scarf up enough and Emma doesn't usually worry about her because she's Regina but this time, she sounds so small.
Emma walks her to the Mercedes and takes out the keys. David or Snow can pick her up tomorrow, because Regina's coughed so hard their are tears in her eyes. Emma's not sure how much food is in the house, and Henry's not going to get stuck looking after his mom if this is as bad as it sounds. Kid's a hero, but getting your mom through bronchitis or pneumonia or whatever this is really isn't his responsibility.
Emma's got this.
Regina curls up in the passenger seat and doesn't complain about Emma having the keys.
"Don't you have one of those remote starter things?" Emma asks. The police cruiser has one and it's pretty fucking fantastic when it's cold like this.
Regina nods, her wrist in front of her face. "You weren't planning on taking my car until we got out here."
"Well, next time you sound like a dying horse, I'll remember you have one."
She gets a tiny smile while they wait for the car to heat up. Regina's gloves are too thin, too fashionable and Emma reaches across, wrapping her fingers in her own wooly mittens. "Guess it wasn't this cold in the Enchanted Forest."
"When it was, I didn't have to go out," Regina mutters. "But no, I don't remember it being this bad."
"Probably the damp from the sea," Emma says, rubbing Regina's fingers one last time before she turns her attention to pulling the car out of the lot and starting home. "When did the cough start?"
"Emma, I'm fine." Regina's voice is far too husky to be fine, and Emma's throat burns in sympathy.
"I'll ask Henry--"
"Three days, but it-" Regina stops, leaving her head back against the headrest. "It wasn't this bad."
"Do you have a fever?" Emma asks, making the corner on Main, towards Mifflin street and the big fancy houses.
Regina doesn't answer. Emma steals a glance when she pulls up to a stop sign, but Regina's not asleep. Did she hear the question?"
"I didn't think so, I didn't--"
"Want to call off the meeting," Emma finishes for her. "You know, there are some very basic parts of running the town we can handle without you."
Regina's smile flits across her face, just for a moment. "You and the rest of the council hate budgetary meetings."
"And we'd wade through," Emma promises. "Mal's surprisingly detailed."
"She's not-" Regina starts coughing again but this time it's mercifully brief. "-an elected official. It wouldn't be fair to ask her--"
"She likes counting money," Emma says, pulling into the garage. "She's a dragon, right? Play to your strengths, that's what I say."
Regina nods, a little, and she's not really listen or maybe they shouldn't talk about her ex that way. Maybe her ex isn't someone Emma and Regina talk about. Not yet. She almost wonders if she should call her, because there's no way Regina's getting up and going to work tomorrow, and the end of year budgets don't write themselves. She wonders for half a moment if maybe Regina would rather Mal was here, looking after her, because maybe that would be easier, but Regina doesn't shake off Emma's hand on her shoulder.
Henry must be in his room, because the living room's quiet. Emma steps easily out of her boots and hangs up her own coat while Regina stands there, half leaning against the wall.
"Hey," Emma says, reaching for her coat. "Almost there."
Regina looks down at the zipper of her coat almost as if she's forgotten how it works. "Sorry."
"You're home, you don't have to keep it together. It's just me." Emma's not really sure what that means because they're barely friends, and maybe it's a joke that she's said it, but Regina half-smiles and allows Emma to reach around and strip off her coat. Her boots are going to be more complicated.
"Kitchen?" Emma suggests, tilting her head.
"Come on," Emma offers her hand and walks Regina into her own kitchen. Even with her thin gloves, Regina's hands are too warm, not too cold, and that's a fever for sure. Emma pulls out a bar stool and grabs the tea kettle to fill it. Regina leans forward, head in her hands. She hasn't even noticed that she tracked snow in on her boots.
"Did you take anything?"
"I needed to focus," Regina says, and if there was icy bureaucrat in there before, she just sounds weary now.
"Do you have anything? Cough suppressants? Acetaminophen?" She opens two cupboards before she finds Regina's tea, and there's less than she thought. Several different kids of hot chocolate and enough coffee for months but only three boxes of tea. Which is weird, because she was expecting a whole set of loose leaf fancy sort of things. Green will keep her up, so she grabs peppermint. She'll have to ask Snow to bring some over, because she has a collection that's starting to overrun the pantry and can definitely spare a box of lemon and ginger.
Emma sets the bag in a mug and returns to Regina where she sits at the island. "Regina?"
"Where do you keep your drugs?"
Regina blinks when she looks up and now Emma has her attention. "Pardon?"
"Do you have any cold medicine?" She repeats, trying not to smile. "Maybe upstairs?"
"In the hall bathroom, near Henry's room."
Emma pulls the box of tissues within reach when Regina starts coughing again. It's the deep, rattling kind of cough and she might need something a lot stronger than Tylenol. That'll be the next challenge, trying to convince Regina that she needs antibiotics, and the terrible ten minutes or so it'll take to get Whale to sign off on the prescription. Unless it's viral, which is possible because she's ferried home two sick kids last week, when their parents had car trouble. Not every car starts as reliably as Regina's Mercedes when it's this cold.
Emma touches her shoulder, and Regina doesn't flinch. Not that she usually does from her, and Emma's not sure why she expects it. Instead Regina's head bobs, tilting towards Emma's fingers. She squeezes just a little before she lets go. "Okay, be right back."
She walks past Henry's room but it's quiet, so he must have his headphones in. Emma knocks once., not wanting to startle him in the morning. "Henry?"
"Yeah, Mom?" his response is quick, almost automatic. He must have heard the voice and not realized it was Emma. "How was the meeting?"
"Made longer by your mom's coughing fits," Emma jokes. "I'm going to sleep over, keep an eye on her." She says through the door, but then it opens.
He's in his pajamas and the laptop's on his bed. "It's not going away, is it?"
"It's just a cough,' Emma promises and he gives her a look that suggests that Regina has been saying that for days.
"Mr. Harris had the same thing at school, and he's been out for a week," Henry said, giving Emma a look which suggested that he too had seen through his mother's attemps to be fine. "Did you find the cabinet with the drugs?"
He walks her over, opening the cupboard next to the mirror. "She got rid of most of the kid stuff once she remembered that I wasn't twelve anymore. We never really had a lot of adult stuff, because she didn't get sick during the curse."
"She wouldn't, I guess," Emma said. "Has to suck now. Never get sick for twenty-eight years then you're mortal again." She grabs the bottle of cough syrup and two acetaminophen. "Thanks."
"Is she okay?" His concern reminds her so much of his dad that it tightens her chest.
"Yeah, she'll be fine. I think it's just whatever as going around the elementary school. She sees everyone so she could have picked it up anywhere." Smiling at him comes easily. "If you haven't been sick in a long time, it always kind of blindsides you. It's my day off tomorrow, so I'll just hang out until I'm sure she's okay."
He nods, and even though he's half an adult sometimes, he's relieved. "There's towels and stuff in the linen closet, and a spare toothbrush under the sink."
"Thanks, kid." The tea kettle starts to whine from downstairs and he pats her arm.
"Thank you, for her. She's not, well, you know how bad she is at asking for help."
"That's why I didn't make her ask," Emma replies. Hurrying downstairs she makes it back to the kitchen before it whistles properly and Regina still hasn't moved.
Grabbing the kettle off the stove, Emma turns off the gas and sets it aside. Setting the pills in front of Regina, she pours a glass of water from the tap. "Take these, then I'll grab your tea and we'll get you in bed."
Regina digs her fingers into her skull for another full minute before she lifts her head. "You don't have to."
"What are you going to do? Drag yourself upstairs so you can drag yourself out of bed tomorrow and insist that you're fine until you pass out in your office?" Emma drowns the teabag and winces while she's not facing Regina because the latest round of coughing hurts just to be in the room with.
Crouching down, Emma slips off Regina's boots before she even realizes what Emma's doing down there. She's taken the painkillers though, and that's a start. Emma takes her tea in one hand the tissues in the other. "Come on."
"Emma, you don't--" And Emma's not sure who's resisting her, because the mayor's buried behind what has to be a killer headache and Regina, well, she's not as bad at accepting help as she is at asking for it.
"It's okay," Emma promises and Regina's eyes are so confused by why she's here that Emma puts down the tissues to touch her shoulder. "You'd look after me."
Regina stares at her, as if that idea had never come to her. She would, of course, because she's a mom and she can barely shut that off long enough to have a conversation with Snow. If Emma had this cough, Regina would be right there, giving her stern lectures about not coming to work when she was ill and taking better care of herself. She'd probably have Snow for backup too, but Emma's mother hasn't had as much time to perfect her glare because little Neal isn't really old enough to talk back yet.
"I know," Emma reminds her, smiling because Regina seems genuinely surprised by the prospect. "See?"
"But you wouldn't--"
"Oh, I know a good thing when it's offered," Emma teases. "Trust me, I wouldn't have resisted half this much."
Regina studies her face for such a long time that Emma wonders if she has something on it. Then she turns, slowly heading upstairs. Her hand on the railing is out of necessity, and Emma's wonders if she should have left the tea so she could support Regina, because it seems the stairs are a lot harder than they should be. They stop at the top, and Emma offers her hand.
"It's okay," she promises. "I'm here."
Regina stares at her hand before extending her own, and it clicks in the back of Emma's head that Cora probably never spent an hour sitting by her bed when she was small, and she's never heard much about Regina's dad, and servants can look after you, sure, but it's not the same. They're probably just as exhausted as the group home people here, because it's never the one kid you have to worry about, and your boss's rich kid who has a comfortable bed all her own to be sick in probably matters much less to you than the kids sharing a bed at home.
Regina's fingers slip into hers and she lifts her eyes. She doesn't say anything and they stand there, awkwardly holding hands in Regina's hallway for long enough that maybe it's more than friendship that has Emma here and maybe Regina hasn't had anyone to bring her tea in bed, and it's not just the last twenty-eight years she has to get over.
Emma walks her to bed and sets down her tea. "Where are your pajamas?"
"Right hand side, bottom drawer," Regina answers and Emma finds them neatly folded, matched in sets, and they're even not all silk, because it's too fancy to be laid up in silk, isn't it? Emma digs out the softest flannel ones and hands them over.
Regina accepts them without complaint, even though the little flower pattern is so sweet Emma almost wants to comment, but doesn't. "You'll need-" she starts, and then she's coughing again and damn, whatever she has is definitely the same thing those kids had because it's such a wet, sticky sort of cough, and maybe they did need the tissues because she's going to have to spit that out.
Emma ducks into the master bathroom and returns with a handful of toiler paper. "Here."
Regina nods and holds onto the used paper, like she's going to throw it away herself, but Emma's already up. She puts out her hand and Regina hesitates, meets her eyes and continues to stare at her.
"I'm fine," Emma promises, taking the little ball without giving Regina more time to worry. "There are a lot of sick kids in group homes, and it can be kind of scary when you don't even have your own room."
Regina's eyes stay on her and Emma assumes that means she wants more of the story.
"It can be scary, and I remember how that felt and I, well, I just never wanted anyone else to feel like that if they didn't have to, and yeah, it's really not so bad looking after people. Kinda messy, but you're a mom, you know what that's like." She's babbling, but Regina doesn't look away. "You're probably not going to throw up on me, so I can handle a couple used tissues." Emma kneels down, resting her hands on Regina's knees. "I can go, if you want, but it'll be less of a hassle if you just let me stay. Henry's worried--"
"I know," Regina whispers, then tries to clear her throat. "And he--"
"Is a smart kid who knows when you're lying," Emma reminds her, rubbing her knee. "So, let me help, okay?" Emma's not sure if the tears in Regina's eyes are from the last coughing spell, or if they're fresh, but she has some tissue left so she dabs them away. "Can I borrow some pajamas?" she asks. She could never sleep in the silk ones, but there was an old pair of sweatpants beneath the flannel and those must be left over from running around with little Henry because they're so not Regina, but she kept them so they must be special.
The bed creaks a little and Emma turns, sweatpants in hand. Regina's on her feet again, to change clothes, but there's something wobbly in her balance and Emma's there, because she can't help herself and they're standing, face to face in Regina's bedroom, next to Regina's bed, and yeah, Regina's so sick that she lowers her head to Emma's chest and they just stand there, letting her find herself, but it's intimate and calming instead of being awkward, because Regina's safe. Emma can promise that. If she can't say it out loud, she'll say it with tea and oatmeal and all the things on Netflix Regina hasn't taken time to watch.
Stroking Regina's hair, Emma realizes that she often wondered how soft it would be, and it's different, more smooth, because it's so thick and she can feel the waves, especially at the ends, which is so unlike her own straight, fine, hair.
"Almost there," Emma promises. "Change and brush your teeth and you won't have to move again until morning."
"Small motivation," Regina answers, her head still buried.
Emma rubs her shoulders, and nods. "It sounds great though, doesn't it?"
Regina only murmurs in response, and Emma takes a step towards the bathroom, bringing Regina slowly with her. "You've got this."
She doesn't ask about magic, and while Regina changes clothes, Emma strips off her own and puts on Regina's sweatpants and an old t-shirt from when Henry must have been on the elementary school soccer team. It's her shade of purple, so perhaps Regina was involved.
The bathroom door opens after a long time and Regina did manage to change, but she stands at the sink, toothbrush in hand like it's a weapon. Emma picks up Regina's clothes from the floor and carries them to the hamper. She heads into the other bathroom for the spare toothbrush and almost brushes her teeth there, but Regina's probably still standing at the sink, so Emma returns, and she's there. She's set the toothbrush down, unused and her eyes are shut. Her hands sit heavily on the counter, as if they're the only thing keeping her on her feet.
"I won't tell anyone if you want to go to bed without brushing, just this once."
Regina turns her head just enough to see Emma in the mirror. "Thanks, but--"
"You got it," Emma answers, moving to stand beside her. Taking Regina's toothpaste, she starts to brush her own, and after a moment Regina joins her and they stand there, brushing their teeth together like they've done it a hundred times, but those tears are in Regina's eyes again. She doesn't ask, because she's not here to wonder about that. She's not even really sure why she's here, other than Regina was in pain and she has to help, because this kind of pain she can help with. She can make sure Regina drinks her tea and has enough tissues and that the blankets are warm enough.
There are so many little things she can't fix, like Robin in New York with his family, and the awful things that no one talks about that must have happened between Regina and Snow's father, and Cora, because fuck...
Maybe that's why she ends up in bed with Regina, curled up next to her because Regina shivers in her sleep, or why she stays, and stays. Even though Regina would probably be fine and it's just a really terrible viral infection that makes her breathing sound like velcro through a stethoscope, but she doesn't have to be fine. She can be looked after, and brought soup in bed and read to.
Snow brings them eight different kinds of tea, and David and Henry shovel the sidewalks, and Maleficent finishes the budget in two days instead of the three Regina thought it would take, because yes, she is a dragon, and counting money, even on spreadsheets really does make her happy. Emma's going to ask her to do her taxes early, before anyone else figures it out.
Little things change, spiraling until it's a flood and Emma's not just a friend. Maybe she never was, but they don't talk about it, because they're them and Regina's voice just isn't up to conversations taking more than a few words, but something shifts between them, breaking silently in the night because they both have nightmares and there's no hiding them in Regina's bed, no matter how big it is.
When Regina's starting to get a little better, her head's still in Emma's lap on the sofa because they've gotten comfortable that way when they watch TV, and Regina can actually follow the plot a little (which was a lost cause the first few days).
Henry sees them and says nothing. Snow sits with them and gives Emma a look before she nods, and watches Xena with them because yes, it's ridiculous, but Regina fell asleep so much that anything complicated where the plot actually mattered was pointless. This at least makes her laugh because the magic is ridiculous and its historically all wrong and that weapon would never work that way and--
Somewhere it stopped being awkward and became normal that they brush their teeth together. Some night, in the darkness, Regina knew who held her and why and she didn't pull away. Emma woke up in a bed with someone next to her and knew she was safe instead of tensing and preparing to get the hell out of there before morning.
Somewhere, they changed and it was as slow and invisible as the healing of Regina's lungs. They haven't talked about it, not yet, and maybe not any time soon, but it's warmth in Emma's chest in a new way, or an old way remembered, and Regina, sweet, exhausted Regina, makes her smile so easily that it'll be safe to talk about it when they're ready.