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a million tiny little things

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well, it was a million tiny little things that when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together, and i knew it. i knew it the very first time i touched her. it was like coming home, only to no home I'd ever known. i was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and i knew. it was like magic.
- sleepless in seattle, nora ephron

 

 

 

 

She was not supposed to be a nanny, or a babysitter, or a person put in charge of children at all. That was never part of Emma Swan’s plan. Not that plans have ever been her strong suit.

 

 

 

 

Exhibit A: The crayon drawings from her childhood, the years before she was being yanked out of foster homes on the regular and threatened with juvie. That was when she wanted to join the police academy, to wear a badge and save the day and always fight the bad guys. The line between the bad guys and the good guys seemed clean cut to 8 year old Emma. Bad guys must have been the reason her mother had given her up as a baby. And good guys? Emma was the good guy, she just knew it. If she wasn’t the good guy, why would she be so good at cops and robbers? She was the first one to stand up for whoever was being picked on at the home. She was the last one to give up in a game of chase. Everyone told her she was a good girl, and she’d beam up at them, ready to prove it.

 

 

Exhibit B: The high school diploma she just barely acquired, and she doesn’t even know where it is now. Might be crumpled up in the attic of one of those foster homes she only saw for a month or two, might be in a landfill in Rhode Island. By fifteen, Emma was convinced that all cops are bastards, and she had a patch on her denim vest to prove it. She and a crust punk who called herself Tramp spent most of their time trying to acquire fake I.D.s and giving each other stick and pokes. Tramp had a tattoo on her wrist that said “Lady” in thin cursive, a reminder of what she used to be, or so Tramp claimed. Tramp liked to talk a good game about not forgetting where you came from. Seemed to believe that you needed to look your past square in the eye so you could spit in its face if you wanted. Tramp seemed to spit at a lot of rich folks, and a whole lot of cops. The two of them spraypainted “Fuck the police” on the basketball court, an act that got Emma kicked out of her final foster home and left her to spend the last year of being a minor sleeping on the streets and a few ratty couches. Every time a cop kicked her awake or made her empty her pockets, Emma told herself that she was never going to be like them. Not that they’d let her, she’d think, since everyone kept reminding her of what a bad kid she was. There was one time she wrote “fuck the good guys” across the water tower of her old building, and something about it made her feel right. Tramp had given her a high five, and so had that new kid Jim, the one with the ponytail and the earring and the busted longboard. She’d almost made out with Jim that night, but Tramp was a better kisser.

 

 

Exhibit C: Her business card, the one she carries around in her ancient Mickey Mouse wallet and still can’t entirely believe exists. It has her name on it. Her name, hers, the name of someone who’s been banned from every Chili’s in the continental United States after she and another kid set a fire in the ladies’ restroom. Granted it was one of the rare fires she’s set that was completely accidental, but going from face on file at the Chili’s Corporate Headquarters to having her own business card seems like the least likely outcome of Emma Swan’s life. It’s progress, maybe, or proof that someone is crazy enough to put her name on something official in a positive way. The business card is standard for all the employees at Fit Royale, the upscale spa and fitness complex where she teaches self-defense classes to trophy wives and spends too much time lifting weights instead of processing her problems. Sometimes she tells herself that it’s not much, at least in comparison to all the other people her age who have college degrees, aren’t paying rent in pizza half the time or sleeping in until three on their days off, but she’s proud of that little card. She’d frame it and hang it over the couch if Mary Margaret wasn’t so anal about coordinating decor.

 

 

 

 

(And while Emma is proving to the world that she’s worth a business card, a single mother of Puerto Rican descent takes over the Brooke City mayorship in a county that is 96.3% white, upper class, and stubbornly invested in a figurehead government. A hundred constituents in sweater sets and Land Rovers gaze on her reign with considerable disapproval, seeing the way that she ends ineffective careers and takes no prisoners and all of them wondering where in the hell she gets off. It’s not until she shows up to a charity dinner with a homemade apple pie, the most traditional symbol of their kind of America, that they start to warm up to her, even if they’re still all in agreement that she’s a c-u-n-t.

Emma will later learn that if Regina Mills had been allowed to do it her way, she would have made tembleque and set the place on fire after introductions.

But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

 

 

 

 

Exhibit D: Emma’s name tag, with her full name: Emma Swan. Swan, of Scottish origins, derived from the Old English name Swein, which was originally derived from Old Norse Sveinn. The family crest is in blue and white, featuring a lion, two swans, and a bloody red heart as a centerpiece. The lion for courage, the swans for grace, the heart for life and lust and magic. Or so they told her in the email from HeraldicOrigins.com, which she paid an embarrassing $39.99 just for the image download. When she handed the printed page to the tattoo artist, he laughed.

“Tattoo this size and this detailed means it’s gonna be a long-ass session. You must really love your family, huh?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

She used to keep it covered when she first got the job at Fit Royale, but then they liked that it made her appear “edgy” as a martial arts instructor. She’d tried her hardest not to laugh at that, at the fact that they needed her to project some kind of image of a person that her teenage self would have beat up behind a dumpster. In the end, she’d been more than happy to make the switch from t-shirts to her favorite white tanks.

 

 

 

 

Ruby loves to give her a hard time about the whole Fit Royale thing -- How was your spin class today, Your Highness? Is that a new yoga mat, Your Majesty? -- but she also insists on Emma having to namedrop her supposed celebrity clients whenever they’re out at The Jungle or The Grid or The Grotto or whatever new concept bar is Ruby’s favorite haunt that week. Emma will roll her eyes and the cute girls that Ruby never has any trouble befriending at work will ask who the most famous person she’s seen there is, and when Emma nurses her whiskey instead of answering, Ruby fills them in for her.

“You will totally not believe who is in Emma’s self-defense class. Regina fucking Mills.

“No way,” and this is typically when the girl of the week leans in a little closer to Emma, maybe gives her a quick tap with her elbow. “Is she, like, super bitchy? Have you ever seen her yell at somebody?”

This tends to elicit a shrug and a smile from Emma. “Haven’t noticed.”

 

 

 

 

Actually, she has noticed.

The first day Regina Mills showed up in Emma’s self-defense master class, Emma had a hard time not staring. She had to remind herself to keep her mouth from hanging open like a goddamned trap. Sure, she knew the mayor of Brooke City was a client at Fit Royale, since high level clientele had to be common knowledge among staff, and Regina Mills was the highest of the high by Brooke City standards.

Emma had been warned from the beginning that she too would eventually earn her very own Regina Mills Horror Story, something hilariously awful to be acted out in the break room for years to come. Spa attendants had tales of having to personally warm her towels until they were the exact temperature of her liking. Fitness room techs said she had a great ass when she ran, but holy shit did she get fussy about the equipment. There was a very famous account of her throwing a protein smoothie on another guest, although the exaggerated sound effects this one required made Emma want to call bullshit.

So the months had turned into a year, and the year had turned into two years, and if she’d seen Regina Mills at Fit Royale, it’d been from a safe distance and never in a position where she’d have to actually serve her. Emma could concentrate on her classes and her trainees and beating Mulan’s squat record without worrying about the woman that the papers sometimes smeared as ‘the Evil Queen’ climbing up her ass.

 

 

 

 

Emma’s master classes were small, typically only 4-6 students. While the lower skill level classes were focused on 1 or 2 step disarming moves and basic defense, the mastery class involved mixed martial arts. She knew everyone in it because she’d watched them rise up through the ranks, or she’d already encountered them as skilled competitors.

All this is to say that Regina Mills was something else entirely.

Emma wasn’t entirely sure what she’d been expecting. She watched the mayor in the mirror, moving in silence across the room, unzipping her jacket and taking a sip from her water. Emma felt extra stupid for having expected the woman to walk in and throw a protein smoothie on her, like she was some kind of cartoon villain.

When Regina had caught her eye in the mirror, Emma had almost bit her goddamned lip off.

 

 

 

 

The craziest part of all this -- the very fact of Regina Mills showing up to the class without warning, the other attendees automatically making space for her as if her place had been designated by law, Regina blatantly making eye contact with Emma for the entire warmup -- was that Regina was freaky good.

When it came time for sparring, Emma had already done the math. There were 5 people in attendance, and if Emma had any knowledge of the human condition, she knew that no one was crazy enough to pair with the mayor. Sure enough, the rest of the class had found a partner in record time. Instead of cursing out her pupils for leaving her in this position -- Everyone knows you have a tramp stamp of a monkey, Jane! Way to leave me hanging! -- Emma turned to Regina. Regina beat her to the commentary.

“It seems we’re the leftovers, Miss Swan.”

Emma attempted what she hoped was a professional version of a friendly smile. “You can call me Emma, Regina.”

Nothing about Regina’s smile was friendly, though it was plenty professional.

“And you can call me Ms. Mills.”

 

 

 

 

Regina had Emma in a deadlock within thirty seconds of their first spar.

Emma resolved in that moment that in the case of Regina Mills, she would break her rule about always letting the client win. And maybe her rule about being gentle, too.

 

 

 

 

“So, is she hot?” The girl at the bar typically brings the conversation around to this point before long. This is when Emma is a little more buzzed and Ruby has sworn she’ll pay for the next round and the girl has texted her friend about being three degrees of separation from Regina Fucking Mills.

“I guess. I mean, she’s got that MILF-y thing going for her, if you’re into that.”

Ruby snorts, slides a Manhattan toward Emma. “You guess? I’ll give you a few more drinks before you start talking about her perfect ass again.” She turns to the new girl. “It’s a matter of time, trust me. Emma wants her like cheese wants to be grilled.”

“Fuck off, man,” but okay, sure, sort of. Emma will admit that maybe there is the tiniest bit of attraction there, maybe.

 

 

 

 

Emma technically knew about Regina’s looks because she’d seen her face in the paper enough, and on campaign posters and in interviews and even that ironically hilarious photoshoot of the mayor naked in a bathtub full of apples, but she’d never seen her in person before, and apparently that was the dealbreaker.

Regina doesn’t seem to sweat. She shows up to class with her hair down, rarely tying it up unless the sparring with Emma heats up. She wears an immaculate fitness outfit that Emma knows for a fact is at least a $500 ensemble. And really, what kind of woman throws down 500 bucks for workout clothes?

Regina Mills, apparently.

 

 

 

 

Exhibit E: A cup of Swiss Miss tapioca pudding, kept in the staff refrigerator at Fit Royale, always towards the back and marked in Sharpie with DO NOT EAT I WILL KILL YOU. Back when she was a kid who liked a good scrap better than most anything, Emma had a foster mother who would give Emma a cup of tapioca pudding for every day she didn’t get into a fight at school. In the end, it was less tapioca pudding than she would have liked, but she appreciated a mother who kept her word. She wasn’t used to those kinds of moms, and she didn’t see a lot of them after this one ended up sending her back when she ran out of funds. Now she eats tapioca pudding for lunch once a week and thinks of it as a reward for not kicking (or staring at) Regina Mills’ ass during class.

 

 

 

 

Regina has this tendency to lock eyes with Emma in the mirror during warmups, like she’s sizing her up each class for the inevitable sparring, reading her for weaknesses. Emma’s hungover once and she swears Regina can smell it on her, can tell from the way Regina tilts her chin up ever so slightly, smiling when Emma sweats a little too hard. Emma keeps trying to reformat the class so it won’t just be her and Regina fighting each other to the death for the final twenty five minutes. Somehow this plan always backfires.

Once, she gets Regina on her back. Regina’s glaring up at her with the kind of look that might have melted off part of Emma’s face were the woman capable of black magic, and Emma has to stop herself from smirking at the victory. Instructors are not exactly supposed to take glee in showing up their clients. Company policy mandates the exact opposite behavior.

“Well done, Miss Swan.” Regina gets to her feet while blatantly ignoring Emma’s proffered hand.

“You too, Regina.”

“I lost.”

“We learn more from our mistakes than our--”

“Do shut up, Miss Swan.”

 

 

 

 

“Hey wondergirl,” Meg gives Emma a wave from across the locker room. While not as nice as the five star situation that the actual members get, the staff locker rooms are not exactly shabby. Emma’s pretty sure she’s never worked somewhere that gives you free nutritional supplements and insists on keeping expensive candles lit at all times. “Heard you made Regina Mills eat it today.”

Mulan immediately ducks out, claiming her kickboxing class needs an early set-up. Emma knows this is a blatant lie -- Mulan hates gossip and is avoiding the inevitable dish session that always happens with Meg catching them in the locker room.

“Whatever,” Emma says, rolls her eyes. “It’s a sparring class. There’s always a winner and a loser. Just happened that this time she was the loser.”

“You know you’re supposed to let her win, right?”

“Trust me, she wouldn’t appreciate that.”

Meg raises a far too amused eyebrow. “So she likes you all sweaty and aggressive, huh? Not surprised. Women like her always have a deep, dark closet of kink.”

Emma can’t help but grin a little, even if she’s shaking her head and trying to be preoccupied by refitting her sneakers. Meg continues as if she’s been invited to do so, which, for the record, she hasn’t been, but Emma is not going to say she minds, not really.

“She’s got the whole hot bitch thing going for her. You know, with that need to control and the uptightness and the trademark fuck me pumps. I guarantee you that she’s a complete freak in bed. Girl wants to be tied up and done hard, like, yesterday--”

“Shit,” Emma keeps looking around to make sure no one else is in there, catching the two of them talking about Regina Mills’ sex life. “This is the conversation that gets me sacked, isn’t it?”

“Or the one that gets you laid.” Meg winks. “I bet Mayor Mills would love some private lessons, Wondergirl.”

 

 

 

 

Next class, Regina’s in the studio fifteen minutes early. Emma arrives to her waiting outside the door, looking annoyed. Not that Emma can think of a reason why she would have annoyed Regina Mills, at least not before 10 am, but the world is just bursting with possibilities.

“Class doesn’t start until--”

“I can tell the time, Miss Swan.” Regina holds up her wrist, where a watch that Emma guarantees is at least 2k is strapped to perfection.

“You wanted to come early for a rematch?” Emma grins a little too widely and regrets it. Regina returns the smile with a snort.

“My record is 9-1, Miss Swan. In sporting terms, I would still be considered the reigning champion.”

Emma can’t think of a decent comeback to that, so she just smile awkwardly, unlocks the studio door and stands back to let Regina pass. It seems unnatural to lead her.

“I have a proposition for you, Miss Swan,” and at this, Emma almost chokes on air itself.

“Um, sure.”

Regina fixes her with a look of utter seriousness. It terrifies Emma, just a little bit. “I want you to teach my son self-defense. When you’re not instructing him, you’d be his bodyguard.”

Emma tries not to look like Regina just grew another head, as it’s probably rude or something. “His bodyguard? I’m a fitness instructor.”

Regina makes a dismissive gesture, her hand swatting the air as though Emma’s commentary is nothing more than a sad little mosquito. “We both know you’re capable of killing a man with your bare hands, Miss Swan. Let’s not play coy.”

“Do you anticipate me needing to kill a man with his bare hands?” Emma knows she is raising an eyebrow, even though she also knows that Regina will probably consider such facial expressions to be rude.

“No,” Regina says curtly. “But I wouldn’t be paying someone this much to not possess that skill.” She pulls out a checkbook from a hidden part of her skintight outfit. “500 upfront, and then a monthly allowance.”

“When you say bodyguard, do you mean, like, wearing a suit and an earpiece and following the kid around his playground? Is your kid the president?”

Regina rolls her eyes. “Please try to take this seriously, Miss Swan. If anything, I’d need someone to make sure he gets home from school in one piece, someone who can help him with his homework, make him a snack or dinner if I’m running late, maybe an educational game or two. Obviously, I’d leave a daily list of activities, but--”

“Wait.” It dawns on Emma like a punch to the face. “You’re asking me to be your nanny.”

“I’m asking you to be my son’s bodyguard, Miss Swan.”

“Who helps him with his homework and makes him eat applesauce while they play blackjack--”

“Blackjack is not an educational game, Miss Swan. Please don’t ever teach my son to play blackjack.”

“--and watches him when you’re not there? Unless I’m watching him because a hitman has also been ordered to watch him, nothing you’re asking me to do is outside the realm of nannying.”

Regina sighs, no longer making eye contact with Emma. Clearly her presence is exasperating or some other word Regina would pronounce with perfect exacting poison. “If you want to think of it that way, Miss Swan, then by all means.”

“I can’t just quit Fit Royale. I have six classes a week, and we’re only halfway through the session.”

“You’d have mornings off. I wouldn’t need you to be at my home until 2.”

“You said it was 500 upfront?”

“And then monthly allowances. I thought 2000 would be appropriate, but if you think that’s not enough--”

Emma nods furiously. “That’ll do.”