Regina was just about to head home when the phone in her office rang. "Mayor Mills," she answered.
"Regina, it's Emma. Swan." The surname was tacked on, an unnecessary afterthought. Regina hardly needed a name at all; just the sound of that woman's voice made her skin crawl.
"What do you want?" Regina said, hoping Emma could hear the sneer in her voice.
"I think we got off on the wrong foot."
Regina scoffed. "Well my apple tree would certainly agree."
"Look, can we just talk? Without all the huffing and puffing and 'I'll blow you out of this town'?" Her voice dropped an octave at those last words. Regina rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Come by my office and we can talk here while Henry's at his session with Dr. Hopper."
"Uh-uh. Somewhere neutral. How soon can you be at Granny's Diner?"
Regina mulled it over. Considered hanging up, or at least refusing to bend to the blonde's demands. But ignoring her wasn't going to make her leave. "Meet me there in an hour."
Emma was already sitting at a booth when Regina walked in. She looked up, smiled when she saw Regina. What did she think they were doing, having a tea party? Regina wanted nothing more than to slap the smile right off Emma's face, but she maintained her composure. She did not, however, smile back.
"I see it's you who gave Henry his love of cinnamon. Wonderful."
"Henry likes cinnamon on his hot chocolate?" Emma perked up at the information. Like some happy mutt hearing the word 'treat'.
"Yes. He also likes the colour green and Spiderman comics and my four cheese lasagna. Trivial things, but every parent really ought to know them."
Emma rolled her eyes. "Gimme a break. I get it, alright? You're his mother, you raised him, you know what he likes and doesn't like."
"Good. So you can see that he's doing just fine without you."
"I wouldn't exactly call what I've seen over the past few days 'fine'. He ran away twice, he thinks everyone in this town is a fairytale character, he's in therapy." Emma leaned forward. "He thinks you don't love him. So all this posturing you're doing? I think you're trying to prove your point to the wrong person."
Regina drew in a deep breath, jaw clenching. How dare this woman swoop into town after ten years of who the hell knows what and try to give Regina parenting advice! "You-"
"Wait." Emma held up her hand and Regina glared at her. "Don't you want to know why?"
"Why what?" Regina asked.
"Why he thinks you don't love him. Why he thinks everyone's a cartoon. Why," she sighed, "Why he thinks you're an evil queen."
"Of course I want to know why," she snapped.
"Well? Maybe I can find out."
"You think I'm that desperate? We don't need your help."
Emma leaned forward, crossing her arms on the table and resting her head on them. It made her next words come out muffled. "For crying out loud, woman." She lifted her head. "I'm not interested in taking Henry away. I told you that. So what are you so god damn worried about? He knows who I am, where I live; he came and found me, not the other way around. Do you really think running me out of town and filing a restraining order is going to make him forget about me? Do you think that's going to solve anything in your relationship?"
At last Regina felt her anger deflate. She was right. Henry would never forgive Regina for getting rid of Emma. He expected her to be the magical answer to all his problems. "What exactly are you suggesting, then?"
"I dunno. It's not like I have a step-by-step plan here. But he thinks I can fix things here, so maybe he'll open up to me. Maybe I can figure out why he feels this way."
"You think you're more qualified than Dr. Hopper to analyze Henry's feelings?"
"No," Emma replied, ignoring Regina's sarcasm. "But Henry thinks I'm the saviour and I'm here to break some curse, and I'm not leaving until he accepts that life isn't a fairytale and I'm sure as hell no one's saviour."
Regina blinked. "He wants you to what?"
Emma blushed. "Break a curse. He thinks…"
"Well he thinks you cursed all the fairytale characters. That you brought them here so they wouldn't have any more happy endings, because you hate Snow White."
"I read some of his storybook," she said, tone flat. It was killing her, knowing that Henry thought of her as that awful witch from his book.
Emma smiled, pity all over her face. Regina was disgusted. Even more disgusting was the idea that this complete stranger was supposed to be the hero of the story. Supposed to defeat the evil queen. Defeat Regina. "He's created this fantasy for himself and he's not just going to give it up. Just…give me some time with him."
"You have no legal right to him," Regina said, but her words had lost their edge. She just needed to hear them. She needed Emma to hear them.
"I know. Believe me, I know what I chose and why I chose it, and I stand by that. But I can't help it. He got into my head and I want to make sure he's ok. I can't leave until I'm sure."
Regina bowed her head, lacing her fingers together on the table. "Fine. You can walk him to and from school, then. And you can have an hour with him on Saturdays and Sundays. But no more." She looked up, sucking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, silently.
Emma nodded. "Deal. I'll be by tomorrow morning."
"Wonderful," Regina drawled, rolling her eyes. Emma smiled her happy mutt smile and bounded off with a spring in her step. Regina pushed herself up from her seat and left the diner feeling stiff and exhausted.
"She's really going to let you spend time with Henry? I'm impressed." Mary Margaret had given Emma an open invitation to her loft if she wanted to talk about anything, so Emma headed there after her meeting with Regina. She needed to hear more about Regina from someone who didn't think she was an evil queen bent on destroying Snow White's happy ending. Who better to talk to than Snow White herself?
"It's not like she had much choice. The kid's not just going to give up on the idea of proving his fairytales are real."
I guess I'm just amazed you stood up to her." She smiled.
"Is she really that bad? Why does everyone in this town seem so terrified of her? I know she's mayor now, but at some point everyone chose to elect her. What made her so scary before she had all that power?"
Mary Margaret tilted her head, brow furrowed. "I'm not sure." She gave her head a sharp shake. "It's like I said before, Regina's been mayor of this town as long as I can remember. And it's not all bad, really. She's good at her job, she keeps everything in order, keeps everything quiet and peaceful and safe."
"Well yeah, because everyone's too scared to cross her." Emma leaned forward in her chair. "Do you think Regina's a good mother?"
Mary Margaret's eyes widened. "Deciding if someone's a good parent or not isn't an easy thing."
"But you're Henry's teacher. You'd know better than anyone."
"I know Henry's been unhappy for a long time. But I also know he has trouble making friends at school, and every kid needs more than just their parents to support and guide them but all Henry's ever had is Regina because she scares everyone else away. She's…possessive of Henry. You being here, as much as I believe it could be really good for him, it must be Regina's worst nightmare."
"She's squeezing the life out of the kid."
"Something like that. She's hardly the first parent to be guilty of that. And he's hardly the first kid to rebel, to resent being smothered and controlled. Things aren't perfect, and I am glad you're here…"
"But Regina's not a bad parent."
Mary Margaret shook her head. "I don't think so. Henry's a great kid, you know. Well behaved, kind, honest, incredibly bright. You don't have to worry so much about him."
"Do you think I'm making things worse here? With him and Regina?"
"No," Mary Margaret said, shaking her head, placing her hand on top of Emma's. "No. You were right, leaving now would only make Henry resent Regina even more. He needs you."
Emma wasn't so sure anymore. She certainly put on a good show for Regina – she had to with that woman – but Emma was in way over her head and she knew it. She didn't know anything about Regina, about her life with Henry, hell she barely knew anything about Henry.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything," Mary Margaret said, seeing the expression on Emma's face.
"No, it's fine. I'm the one who asked."
"You're early," Regina said, opening the door with a scowl on her face.
"And good morning to you, Madam Mayor." Emma slipped past Regina and into the front foyer.
"Henry's not ready yet. Feel free to wait out in the fresh air." Regina motioned towards the still open door.
"Subtle. I think you'll survive my presence for ten minutes." She stuck her hands into her back pockets.
Regina swung the door closed. "Last time I thought you were only here for a few minutes I wound up with you sticking your nose into my life for over a week. And still no end in sight!"
"I'm doing my best, alright?" Emma took a step closer, lowering her voice. "He's pretty convinced those stories are true. He's not just going to snap out of it."
"I can't believe I let you worm your way into his life. This isn't helping him, all it's doing is driving him further away from me and into your arms instead!"
Regina spun on her heel, her back to Emma, but not before Emma saw the tears spring to her eyes. "Regina, maybe we should talk to him together."
"Emma!" Henry thundered down the stairs and plowed into Emma, arms wrapped around her waist. "You're early! Hold on, I gotta go get my backpack." And he raced back up the stairs.
"Have a nice day, Miss Swan." Regina disappeared into the sitting room before Henry returned. Emma felt the familiar knot of guilt in her stomach.