It begins with a crashing plane.
Most of these…matters...do, and Regina Mills hasn’t been mayor of Storybrooke City for four years to panic when her private plane tilts and speeds up in midair. The pilot’s voice rises and grows more strident, Sidney looks as though he’s about to have a heart attack, and Regina says, her voice low, “We do not need one of those in my city.”
But, of course, 95% of plane crashes are directly correlated with them; and she sits back and glares out the window as something hits the plane and slows it, guiding it to a safe landing. They’re still at least a mile up when Regina sets her laptop down and stalks to the emergency exit.
“Ma’am–“ She gives the pilot a quelling look and he stops.
She tears open the hatch, and shouts against air, “Your presence is not necessary in Storybrooke! We’re doing just fine–“ And she pitches forward unexpectedly, because of fucking course there’s about to be a crisis every day in her city.
She windmills through the air, tumbling downward at an alarming pace, and she fumes and screams for her life and fumes again until she’s swept up in strong arms. “You sure about that?” an amused voice asks.
A feminine voice. Regina had expected another broad-shouldered white male fantasy; but instead it’s a woman with tightly-wound blonde hair and a disgustingly charming smile.
And she is not going to swoon. She’s the mayor of Storybrooke City and she’ll be damned if Superman Lite gets anything from her. But it’s a challenge not to swoon at least a little when she’s being flown bridal-style across her city, the woman’s arms– strong arms, has she mentioned that yet? Because wow– loose but firm around her. Regina is breathless and frustrated and breathless and the woman knows it.
She quirks a grin at Regina’s glare and says, “Madam Mayor, it’s been a long-standing fantasy of mine to sweep you off your feet.”
She can feel the hot flush– made of equal parts fury and…more fury, and the woman’s grin grows wider. And Regina hones in on the only thing she can reply to that, which is, “Your costume is hideous. Even Superman coordinates his primary colors.”
The woman looks affronted. “Well, I’m sorry. I’m an orphan. I didn’t come with a family to hand-sew my outfit. I got the mysterious-dude-talking-about-destiny-in-the-middle-of-the-night treatment before I became a superhero.”
“Vigilante,” Regina corrects her. “That’s what you are. We don’t need one of those in our city.”
The woman scoffs. “The only difference between me and that idiot in the sheriff’s department is a lot fewer bearclaws. Not that I like bearclaws,” she says hastily. “I like…saving people.”
“You’re going to cause us nothing but trouble!” Regina barks out. “I’m well aware of what goes on in other cities. Metropolis has a natural disaster once a week! Supervillains! Accidents! Where you people go, trouble follows.”
“But then we stop the trouble,” the woman counters, but she’s looking a little less sure of herself. There’s a set to her jaw like Henry gets when he’s expecting rejection, and Regina nearly softens. “You have the Evil Queen lurking somewhere in your city and you think I’m the problem?”
“The Evil Queen is hardly a threat,” Regina says irritably. “She’s stimulated the economy and taken care of some of the worst menaces we’ve had in the city. All those superheroes looking for a scenic retirement city…” She scoffs. “And if you’ve come here looking for a nemesis, you’re hardly equipped for her when you look like this.”
The woman sets her down gingerly on the ground in front of City Hall, turning to smile triumphantly on the reporters Sidney had somehow managed to contact from a crashing plane. (Which is slowly descending now, she sees, because of course it had somehow righted itself after the superhero hadn’t been handy anymore.) When the woman turns back to Regina, though, she’s uncertain again. “I can’t leave. I’m supposed to be here.”
Regina sighs heavily. She’d known this would happen eventually. The whole country is overrun by heroes staking out their turf. And this one is a sink-or-swim situation. Maybe it’s just those arms (they’re very, very nice, and at least the woman has had the foresight to wear latex so she can watch them flex with every movement) or the lost look in her eyes, but she wavers. “Come back tonight,” she says. “Outside my window, eight PM.”
“Do you want to go for another ride?” the woman says hopefully, and Regina should not tingle in response to that.
“No,” she says, resigning herself at last. “I’m going to take you to my seamstress.”
She paces in her office for a good portion of the day before she gives in and calls Graham. “I want a deputy on duty here at all times,” she commands. “The city is about to experience an astronomical rise in crime and I refuse to be dependent on an untrained superbaby to fight my battles.”
“Right.” She hears his grimace in his voice. “I heard about the Swan.”
“That’s what they’re calling her. You know, like the ugly duckling? That costume is…” He snickers. “Well, we’re no Gotham City, I guess.”
“Enough,” Regina snaps, irritated again. “Not every superhero has the facilities to have a proper costume made. I won’t have my sheriff being snide about our superhero’s socioeconomic status.” Graham sputters and she says, “A deputy. You have five minutes.”
Emma Swan makes it in four, which is the only thing about her that endears her to Regina. She’s out of uniform, her gun is tucked into the waistband of her pants, and her hair is down, curled and luxurious like she thinks she’s at a Naughty Cops photoshoot instead of an actual officer of the law. “I’m undercover,” she offers.
“You’re a disgrace.” They’d attended Storybrooke University together over a decade ago. Regina had been in the prestigious honors program and Emma had been there on scholarship and they’d been roommates for one interminable year. They’d fought like cats and dogs for the good part of it, had reached a stalemate by March, and then Regina had gotten drunk and kissed Emma at the end of the semester. Regina had woken up curled around Emma’s body the next morning, nuzzled into her side and more content than she’d ever been before. She'd panicked and called Mother and been moved to a new room within the day.
Emma had disappeared from school shortly after. She’d known vaguely that she had gotten involved with law enforcement, but they’ve barely seen each other since that night. Regina’s stomach still bottoms out when Emma swaggers into the room like she owns it. “Come on, Regina. I’m your perfect bodyguard.”
“And why is that?” Regina snaps. “If you’re making some crude reference to–“
“My last name,” Emma says, white-faced. “Like…the superhero? Swan?”
Regina’s cheeks flame. Emma stares determinedly at the floor.
“You’ll begin tomorrow,” Regina orders her. “If you’re not in my office before I am in the morning, I’ll have you dismissed.” And manners are manners, so she strides forward and reaches for Emma’s hand.
Emma has a good grip and a calloused palm but her thumb against Regina’s skin is soft. Regina’s heart twists traitorously. “I’ll see you bright and early,” Emma says, eyes glittering beneath those terrible fashion glasses she still wears.
“Bright and early,” Regina agrees, and closes the door behind Emma before she pinches her nose and wonders what she’s gotten herself into.
Eight PM. Meeting with the Swan. That’s her focus right now.
The Swan is late.
Sidney has brought Regina’s laptop back to her office and she’s instructed him to hold off on any official expose on the Swan yet. “Exclusive first rights to her new look,” she promises him. “I want it clear that she works for me, not ‘the good of the people’ or some other Justice League nonsense. I didn’t date Diana Prince for six months to be cuckolded by another superhero.”
She passes the time by calling up Emma’s personnel file on the county sheriff’s page and studying her credentials. She’s the chief deputy, Graham’s second-in-command, and Regina’s surprised that she hasn’t met with her since she’d been elected mayor.
Which means Emma’s been avoiding her. Her eyes narrow. Why has that ceased now? She scrolls down further.
“That how mayors pass the time?” She twists around. The Swan is hovering in front of her window, cocky grin in place. “Spying on your underlings? I’ve always suspected.”
“I’m doing my job,” Regina says, shutting the laptop. “And now it’s time for you to get a move on yours.”
Aurora is a skilled seamstress, and she takes one look at the Swan’s costume and says, “That won’t do.”
The Swan sulks as Aurora takes her measurements and prattles on about the costume. “You need a qualifier. The Yellow Swan is…” She wrinkles her nose. “How about the Dark Swan? We give you a feathery cape and put you in black and you’re in business.”
The Swan shrugs. “Whatever the mayor says. Not that I work for her,” she says hastily. “I’m an independent. I did vote for you both times, though.”
“So you’ve been here a while.” Regina examines the Swan– no, Dark Swan’s face. She wears a yellow mask over her eyes, pointed at the tips and green-blue shining through them, and her white-blonde hair is pulled back in a severe bun. She looks distantly familiar but alien at once, and Regina narrows her eyes. “I don’t know you, do I?”
Dark Swan looks offended. “You’re not supposed to ask that.”
“I will do whatever I please, thank you very much.”
“It’s rude! No one asks Maleficent about her day job! No one asks Superman who he is without the costume!” Dark Swan jerks a hand out and accidentally sends Aurora flying. “Sorry!”
“You’re not the first Super I’ve worked with,” Aurora says airily, waving her hand as she rises. “I do the Evil Queen’s needlework, too. Accidents happen. You learn to deal with the occasional sleeping curse. Or electrical disaster. Or escaped monster from a nuclear waste facility.” Regina stands stiffly, deigning to roll her eyes at both of them.
Dark Swan says, “The Evil Queen?” and sounds a bit dazed about it.
“Your future nemesis, if you really want to be this city’s hero.” Aurora works patiently, smoothing out fabrics and measuring them against Dark Swan’s waist. “Think you can handle her? No one else has managed.”
“Right.” Dark Swan bobs her head. “She’s just a witch, right? I can take a witch.” Her hands ball into fists. “I’m virtually indestructible. I can fly. Can she fly? Does she have a broomstick?”
Aurora puts up a hand, effectively stopping both Dark Swan and Regina just as they open their mouths. “She’ll introduce herself to you when the time comes, I suppose. You’ve got to be a real player to make it onto her radar.” She grins, eyes flickering to Regina for a moment. “And try to make that big showdown happen before Christmas, okay? I’m always strapped for funds around then.”
She waves Regina off a few minutes later. “Confidentiality,” she says, nodding to Dark Swan’s mask. “I’ll let you know when we’re ready.”
Regina grumbles but steps out. She has to call Henry, anyway. Zelena is supervising and that generally means that Henry is supervising, and that generally means that they’ve eschewed homework in favor of making crank calls to Mary Margaret Blanchard.
Today, they’re on online message boards spreading rumors about her opponent in the last election. “Not that he has cooties, Mom,” Henry says when she asks, sounding very condescending. “I’m ten years old. Cooties aren’t real.” Zelena’s voice is heard on the other end, and she can almost hear him screw up his nose as he sounds out the word. “We said he has cla–mi–di–ya.”
“Lovely. Pass the phone to Z–“ She freezes.
“Mom?” Henry says curiously.
“I’ll call you back,” she says, clicking off the phone.
Dark Swan has emerged from Aurora’s attic, dressed in her new costume. It’s all black, tight and leather. Her mask is black as well, but there are white markings around the eyes as though she’s an inverted swan. She’s taller now, heels longer than anything even the Evil Queen has worn and the cape sleek and feathery as it settles around her.
Regina stands. She finds that she’s suddenly without words. Has it been this warm in this room all along? Her heart is skipping beats and she’s gaping and it takes a long, long moment before she can collect herself–
–Before she can collect herself, Dark Swan is striding forward, circling around her so the cape whips dramatically. It’s shockingly smooth from her. “See something you like?” she says, waggling her eyebrows. And…no, not smooth at all.
Still, Regina’s hands are trembling and her lips are still faintly parted. Her breathing is uneven, which means her chest is heaving and that is just enough for Dark Swan to break eye contact and free Regina. “You’ll do,” she says, affecting disinterest. “I expect to be notified on all your actions. And the Daily Mirror will have an interview tomorrow afternoon. Understood?”
“I thought we should talk a little tonight,” Dark Swan says, a bit of the confidence still there. “Get some drinks, work out my role here together.” She tilts her chin up challengingly, gazing down at Regina as though she isn’t intimidated.
Which is absurd. Regina excels at intimidation. But there’s an ache in her belly that suggests she might be faltering tonight; and between Dark Swan tonight and Emma Swan tomorrow, she’s in over her head.
She draws herself together, exuding the power that has even the tallest men on her staff feel as though she’s looming over them. “I have more important things to do with my time than schmooze a novice Super,” she says. “I’m the mayor of this city. Come back to me when you’ve proven yourself worthy.”
“I wouldn’t miss it!” Dark Swan calls after her, and Regina’s lips curl into an unbidden smile as she heads home to Henry.