‘What I feel for you can't be conveyed in phrasal combinations; it either screams out loud or stays painfully silent but I promise - it beats words. It beats worlds.’
Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters
In retrospect, Regina really was demanding rather too high a price of Emma Swan when she first came to her. Disappearing spells, glamour spells - anything involving illusions, really, no matter how long they need sustaining - are barely worth ten dollars, let alone an actual human being. But she’d been somewhat desperate, by then, the adoption authorities not entirely interested in a single Latina mother, and Emma Swan had a look about her, one that said I make things happen without even meaning to. Regina doesn’t have much faith in looks and feelings and the sort, but she’s a witch, so sometimes it happens that an instinctual sense for something isn’t entirely amiss. For her part, Emma Swan was blissfully ignorant of the proper protocol for the entire transaction, and if Regina were a little nastier or a little more the witch her mother had intended her to be, then things could really have gone awry.
But instead, the woman sits in front of her at the glass table, looking vaguely uncomfortable, and Regina really doesn’t demand too much at all.
“So how much is it?” she asks, shifting and peering around the room in a manner she probably takes to be discreet. Regina resists the urge to raise a cynical eyebrow at her slight confusion. She was probably expecting a tent stuffed full of trinkets in the middle of a travelling circus, but so do all of them, mostly.
“Oh, the spell?” she says airily in reply, which is perhaps a little unnecessary, but what’s her profession without a little melodrama?
Emma isn’t impressed. “Yeah, the spell.”
“Well, let’s see…” Regina trails off in thought, even though she knows exactly what she wants, lungs and blood and foolish heart all yearning for the one thing she hasn’t quite managed to obtain for herself. “I think your firstborn child should be adequate payment.”
Her customer’s brow furrows. “My firstborn child?”
Regina inclines her head slightly. “That’s what I said.”
Emma splutters like an old car unwilling to start. “But - I mean - look, lady, I don’t even have a boyfriend -”
“I can wait,” Regina says lightly. It’s true. She’s waited a long time and a couple of years (or decades, as the case may be; Regina isn’t sure Miss Swan is quite the type to settle down with the first man she sets her eyes on) aren’t going to make a huge amount of difference.
“Don’t you think this is a little...I don’t know, extreme?”
Regina narrows her eyes. “I don’t see what’s so extreme. I get rid of what’s currently troubling you, and you pay me in return. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it, Miss Swan.”
There is a brief pause as Emma presses her lips together in thought, fiddling with the sleeve of her hideous fake leather jacket, the silence stretching taut between them. “Okay,” she says eventually. “I - fine. Okay.”
Regina suppresses her sigh of relief by saying, in as brisk tone as she can manage: “Excellent. If you could kindly leave your contact details with my secretary, I’ll be in touch as soon as I’ve drawn up a contract -”
“Wait, what? You mean I have to wait?”
She fixes Emma with her practiced withering look. “I assure you, Miss Swan, you’re not the only person in Boston in need of a fairy godmother.”
Emma looks vaguely panicked. “But - you don’t understand, I need this as soon as possible.”
At this, Regina softens slightly. “I’ll try to make sure you’re not on the waiting list for not longer than a week -”
“No,” Emma says emphatically. “Listen, if I’m giving you my goddamn firstborn child, the least you can do is help me when I need help. And I need help now.”
Ordinarily, this would be the point at which Regina would throw an impertinent customer out and inform Belle that they’re not to set foot in the building again. But there’s something about Emma - not her, but the wild look in her eyes, the rigorous agitation - that tells her that doing so would be ill-advised. And besides, the woman has a point.
She gives her a long look, before reaching for the telephone. “Belle? Would you be so kind as to cancel my other appointments for the next half an hour or so? Yes, I know, but something important just came up, I’m afraid. I can deal with them personally if they trouble you...okay, thank you.” She replaces the receiver carefully, before looking up to face Emma, who is eyeing her with a mixture of relief and triumph.
“Shall we get this over with, then?” Regina says archly.
Regina rolls her eyes, moving round the desk towards the back room. “Follow me, Miss Swan.”
She doesn’t look back, but she hears the heavy, unwieldy clomp of her customer’s boots behind her and takes the opportunity of being unseen to roll her eyes again. Really, you’d think people could make slightly more dignified fashion choices. Regina pushes back the curtain and steps inside, not waiting for Emma to follow.
“I knew that office looked way too normal,” Emma mutters behind her. Regina rolls her eyes for the third time in as many minutes.
“Miss Swan, I assure you, I could conduct this transaction anywhere in the building,” Regina says dryly. “We are here merely because it’s where I keep my writing implements.”
“Your writing - implements?” Emma repeats, the words far more ungainly in her mouth, uncertain.
“Pens. Pencils. The like.”
“For your contract.” The syllables drip with disdain as they fall from her lips.
“Quite,” Regina says, having opened out the filing cabinet and withdrawing the parchment and sharpest quill she can find. She’s never quite been a fan of the outdated contract procedure, but it’s one thing she can’t quite modernise yet, so needs must. Regina sets out the parchment, quill and its ink onto the small table in the corner of the room and begins to scrawl down the details of the agreement, only pausing to think through the wording of a clause or two. She feels Emma’s eyes trained on her intently, but wills herself not to look up, eventually finishing the final clause with a flourish.
“Hand,” she says, putting out her own but not looking at Emma.
This time Regina does look up. “I need your hand, Miss Swan,” she says testily. “Surely you’re aware that there’s only one way to make sure that this contract is fully binding?”
“What’s that?” enquires Emma with some trepidation.
“Blood,” Regina replies, smiling sweetly. “Now, if you please.” There is another long pause - it seems her interactions with this woman are set to be littered with them - until Regina sighs, frustrated.
“I’m not going to chop off your fingers,” she growls. “I simply need one drop. I would prefer to be able to do this before I turn sixty, Miss Swan, and considering it was you who was so hellbent on having this done as soon as possible, I really don’t see what the problem is.”
Emma scowls, but extends her arm hesitantly. Regina grasps her wrist firmly, then brings the quill to her forefinger and presses hard.
“Ow!” Emma exclaims, jerking backwards almost immediately in reaction. “Holy mother of f -”
“Watch your language, please,” Regina interjects, tone sharp, bringing the blood coated nib of the quill to the parchment before holding it out to her. “Now, sign.”
She obeys, muttering curses as she does so. Regina grasps her wrist again before she can pull away, and presses it to the parchment, before resting her hand on top.
“What are you doing now?” Emma asks, facade of exasperation expertly placed to obscure her caution.
“What you came here for me to do. Close your eyes, please, and try to relax.” Regina feels for the veins in the back of Emma’s hand and the blood pulsing through them, then allows her magic to flow swiftly from her fingers to Emma’s, and the parchment beneath their hands. The customary warmth flows through her, and feels an added tinge of heat from Emma’s own lifesource, tense and coiled but somehow open nonetheless. It’s almost unsettling, the familiarity of it. There’s a long moment, then once Regina is sure the spell has worked, she gives a quick cough and lifts her hand off Emma’s.
“Well,” she says, a little too throatily. “That’s that.”
Emma’s eyes flutter open. Her cheeks have flushed a pale shade of pink that Regina for some reason finds herself fixated on, briefly. “So the spell works now?”
“It should do,” Regina says.
“Cool,” Emma says.
“Quite,” Regina says.
There is a long pause. Emma stares at Regina.
“If that’s all, Miss Swan?” she says, shifting a little under the scrutiny.
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s -” Emma pauses, lets out a small laugh. “Sorry. I just - it’s a little crazy, you know? That magic and stuff actually exists.”
Regina arches a brow. “I don’t keep my profession a secret.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just - it feels a little...distant, sometimes. Like people freezing their bodies to preserve when they die, or something. It’s the kind of thing rich people do. Not...normal people.”
Regina wrinkles her nose at the comparison. “I can assure you that the day someone asks me to preserve their body after they die is the day I close my practice.”
Emma laughs again. “Right. Anyway. No, that’s all. Thank you.”
“I didn’t do it for free.”
A shadow passes across the blonde’s face, as though she’s suddenly remembering of the exact nature of her deal. “Right,” she says again, but this time the syllable is far heavier. “You didn’t.”
Emma’s exit is swift after that. Regina follows her out of the back room, reminds her to leave her details at the desk, watches as she obeys and bids Belle a brief goodbye (surprising, she thinks; most of them don’t cast her a second glance) and enters the elevator.
Regina lets out a breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. Dimly, she realises that this transaction has just afforded her everything she’s ever dreamed of, and her stomach goes shaky, blood singing for just a moment before she halts it in its tracks. Waiting is permissible; hoping is treacherous. She has never wished for anything and had it come true.
Though often Regina has found herself wishing she wasn’t, she is still human, magic or not, and it leaves her terribly susceptible to a number of flaws: quick temper; jarring coldness; the ability to sound patronising even when she least intends it. But she has never deigned to class herself as a particularly impatient person. When she wants something, truly, she can wait for it if need be.
And therein lies the paradox, because, inexplicably, not eighteen months after Emma Swan hastily clomped out of her office, Regina is tapping her fingers on the surface of her secretary’s desk whilst she fulfils a very specific request.
“Okay,” Belle says in her soft voice, the word round and full. “Emma Swan - still a bail bonds, uh, person, still located in Boston...debt unpaid.”
“Yes, I know her debt is unpaid,” Regina snaps, before pausing to re-calibrate and easing her tone a little. “Do you have any information on potential partners, perhaps? Anyone she sees regularly?”
An odd look comes over Belle’s face, and her lips twitch a little, as though she’s trying to repress a smile. Regina has no idea what is so amusing. “Not sure, Miss Mills. We don’t file that sort of thing. Only basic contact details. You know.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that, thank you,” Regina says sharply, annoyed at herself for asking in the first place but for some absurd reason feeling like smiling just at the sight of the expression on her secretary’s face. “What is so funny, Miss French?” she says in as biting a tone as possible in order to compensate for it.
“Nothing,” Belle replies. “I just...that’s quite a specific thing to be interested in. Miss Mills.”
Realisation comes over Regina at last, and she scowls immediately. “For your information, my inquiry is connected to the debt that Emma Swan still owes. I am not so unprofessional as to ask after unnecessary details of my clients’ private lives, Miss French. Now, I need her current address, please.”
Belle’s lips twitch again but she seems satisfied by Regina’s explanation. “Of course. Coming right up.”
Regina lets out an exasperated sigh, finally losing the battle to keep from smiling. “You are insufferable.”
“And yet so efficient.” Belle grins and plucks that piece of A4 paper that’s just been churned out of the printer. “Here.”
“Thank you,” she says, taking it. “Let my next client in, please?”
Regina struggles for the entire day to make it through her appointments, caught up with casting glances at the nondescript piece of paper on her desk far too often. At one point she gets so agitated that her fingertips let out small sparks, and her client is forced to ask in a high, reedy voice if everything is alright.
“Yes,” she says, offering her most professionally soothing smile. “Everything is fine. My apologies. What were you saying?”
She practically shoos her final appointment of the day out of the door herself, and as soon as they’re gone she almost trips over her own feet in the dash to grab her things, despicably eager, innards almost lurching out of her throat in anticipation.
Of what, exactly, she isn’t sure, and she becomes even less sure upon arriving at the apparent current address of the Swan abode. It is clear at first glance that this is not the kind of place one would want to raise a dog in, let alone a child.
Pursing her lips and trying not to inhale too deeply, Regina picks her way over to the apartment block door, looks for an elevator, promptly realises there isn’t one, and begins her ascension of the stairs, already in a bad mood, the paper with the address printed onto it almost burning a hole through her jacket, so acutely aware is she of it.
Emma Swan lives at Apartment 7A, and the paint, a shade of what once may have been vibrant purple, is peeling off the door. She presses the doorbell gingerly, and wonders absently if one can contract diseases from such brief contact. There’s a beat, then two, then three, then the door swings open, and there Emma Swan stands, in all her scantily-clothed glory, wine bottle in hand.
“Oh, fuck,” Emma says hazily, the words coming out unevenly and crashing into one another. “It’s you.”
Regina keeps her eyes fixed steadily on the patch of white wall just behind Emma’s head, determined not to let them graze over her panties and tank top (which, honestly? Who answers the door in their underwear?). “Hello, Miss Swan,” she says, the words coming out more tired than anything. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“He’s not here,” she replies dizzily.
At this, Regina’s eyes manage to flicker to her face. “What?”
“The baby.” Emma tries to slump against the doorway and fails, a little catastrophically. “I don’t have one for you. He’s not here yet.”
“I think he’d be a he.” She pauses to take a swig from the wine bottle. Regina feels somewhat envious, though she can’t say the wine looks to be of exactly the highest calibre. “And I’m waiting. For him.”
“You’re expecting?” Regina says, horrified as she watches Emma gulp down yet more wine. The blonde attempts to roll her eyes, though they don’t quite make it, so it just looks like a bit of a twitch instead.
“No, obviously,” she replies in a somewhat reproachful tone. “What I’m saying is, crazy witch lady -”
“Miss Mills will do just fine, thank you,” Regina mutters.
“What I’m saying is, there is no reason for you to be here. Absolutely none. Zero. Nada. So you can - go on your magical, enchanted way -”
“You’re being very rude,” Regina says. Emma hiccups. “Are you expecting someone?”
Emma eyes her, suddenly appearing more sober than she has been in all of the seven minutes Regina’s been standing in front of her. “Do I look like I’m expecting someone?”
Regina’s about to offer a retort when suddenly she stops short, sniffing at the air with distaste. “Is something - burning?”
“Shit!” Emma exclaims suddenly, diving back into the flat. “My mac 'n' cheese!” There is a resulting clunk and clatter; Regina catches a glimpse of her setting down her wine bottle and rushing to the oven, then rolls her eyes when she sees the bottle topple over and begin to drip onto the counter, striding into the apartment without a second thought to set it upright. She watches as Emma bends over to extract what was presumably once macaroni cheese from the oven, cursing loudly amid clouds of smoke and coughing before setting it down on the stove with a groan.
“Great,” she says ruefully, looking at the pitifully charred dish. “Really great. That’s my - my fucking dinner...” she trails off, glancing at Regina, then looking back to the food, then immediately back to Regina. “Wait, what the fuck? Did you - did you magic yourself in?”
Regina stares at Emma for a very long time, before realising that she’s completely serious. “No,” she says. “You left the door open whilst attempting to salvage your dinner.”
“And you just came in?”
“You dropped your wine,” she says, nodding to the now upright bottle. “I was trying to prevent more than one disaster from taking place at the same time.”
Emma eyes her suspiciously - or potentially just drunkenly, the bottle that Regina salvaged wasn’t very full - before saying: “Well. Thanks.”
There is a long beat, then Regina, for reasons completely unknown to her, says: “What do you plan on eating now?”
She is afforded a one-shouldered shrug in return. “I might drive out to get something.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“No,” Emma sighs, suddenly looking far more sober than she did before. “I’m not. I don’t know. “
And then, even more bizarrely, Regina says: “Well, we’ll have to make some.”
“I’m not a very good...wait, we? We will have to make some?”
“For real? You know you’re a complete - a complete stranger, right? And I’m a complete stranger? To you?”
“Not a complete stranger,” Regina says. She pauses, before beginning to root around for the ingredients she might have at her disposal, opening and shutting Emma’s cupboards, which she quickly realises are sparsely furnished.
“What are you doing?”
Regina sighs as she crosses over to the fridge. “Making dinner, as I said. Really, Miss Swan, intoxication doesn’t suit you at all.”
“Lady, I could kick you out right now.”
“That,” Regina pauses to say, fixing her with a look, “would be counterproductive.”
Emma seems to take a moment to consider this, before her brow only furrows deeper. “Can’t you just...magic it here? Or something?”
“No,” Regina says shortly, having finally produced enough ingredients to salvage something of a meal. “I hope you like stir fry.”
She is acutely aware of Emma’s eyes on her for the entirety of the twenty minutes it takes to make the aforementioned stir fry; it makes her so uncomfortable that as soon as she is done she’s making a beeline for the door.
“Wait,” Emma calls after her. “Aren’t you - aren’t you staying? For...uh, dinner?”
“No,” Regina says simply. “I have other things to be doing. Goodbye, Miss Swan. Please do get on with trying to source me with my payment. Some time during my natural lifetime would be wonderful.”
She steps outside and vanishes before Emma can say another word, back to her huge empty house with no one to share it with.
Almost eight months after that incident, something odd happens - Emma Swan leaves Boston.
“Storybrooke, Maine,” Belle says. “Gone to take up the county sheriff post.”
“How quaint,” Regina comments, but her mind is racing; being a sheriff is a far more reliable occupation than her previous one; she knows Storybrooke, vaguely, and it’s the kind of place where nothing much happens, a typical sleepy town where everyone knows everyone, full of senior citizens, full of families.
And Regina doesn’t know how to let things lie - how to stop holding onto things, how to loosen her grip on them just a little - she’s never been able to learn how to stop wanting quite so much, even though it’s only ever hurt her. And that’s why, though she struggles against the impulse for another two months, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around and she’s free for the weekend she’s driving the four hours to Maine, window cracked open the tiniest inch and tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the Mendelssohn playing from the stereo.
Storybrooke only has one place to stay for its visitors, a diner-cum-bed and breakfast that for some reason goes by the moniker of Granny’s. The leggy brunette at the counter gives her a warm smile of greeting and Regina forces one in return.
“What can I do for ya?” the waitress asks as she begins to wipe down the counter, looking up and smiling at Regina again as she does so. There’s a hint of appraisal to her look; Regina preens, but only a little.
“I was wondering if I could get a room?” Regina asks. “Just for the...weekend. This one. This weekend, I mean.”
“Sure,” is what she gets in reply, along with another smile, the waitress apparently unphased with Regina’s sudden inability to form coherent sentences. She glances briefly down towards the name stitched on her apron: Ruby. It suits her, she thinks. “Let me just grab Granny to get you sorted.”
The apparent namesake of the diner is far less agreeable than her employee, but Regina feels a liking for her straightforward crabbiness almost immediately, and her no-fuss attitude means she’s in a room in less than no time - simple, plain, but homely nonetheless. Regina sits on the bed and takes a moment to breathe, the full clarity of her entire situation making itself known to her. She is here, she realises, to find out if a woman has decided to become pregnant - and on Thanksgiving weekend, no less. Regina wonders briefly if she’s insane. She comes to the swift conclusion that she is, then heads back downstairs, where Ruby is waltzing back to the counter, having clearly just served a family sat in one of the booths near the back.
“Hey!” she says brightly upon seeing Regina. “How’s the room?”
“Good, thank you,” Regina says, managing a quick smile in reply. “If you wouldn’t mind, would you be able to direct me to the Sheriff’s Station?”
“Sure,” Ruby says, leaning over the counter towards Regina with a curious look in her eyes. “It’s just down the sidestreet by the hardware store. Right behind The Rabbit Hole.”
“The Rabbit Hole,” Regina echoes in dubious tones.
Ruby smirks. “It’s our bar here,” she says. “Maybe you should stop by later tonight. It’s always good at Thanksgiving.”
“Maybe,” Regina replies. “Well, thank you.”
“Pleasure’s mine,” Ruby says, voice lilting on the words. “What brings you to Storybrooke anyway? We’re not exactly the tourist attraction of the year.”
“Oh, just some unfinished business,” she says vaguely. “I really must go. Thank you for your help again.” She hops down from the stool she was sitting on and begins to shoulder on her coat.
“Something to drink, at least, before you head off?” Ruby asks. She pauses, then winks. “I’ll even make it on the house.”
Regina doesn’t manage to quite bite back the smile that worms its way into her expression; she’s nothing if not vain, and flirtation is always flattering when it comes from someone as aesthetically pleasing as Ruby. “You’ve managed to...seduce me,” she says, quirking a brow.
“Hm. Let me guess. Black coffee, no sugar?”
“Actually, with cream and one sugar. But commendable effort.”
Ruby shrugs. “Can’t blame a girl for trying. Coming right up. I never got your name, by the way?”
“Regina. Regina Mills.”
“Ruby Lucas.” She extends her hand with a cock of the head, eyeing her carefully. Regina takes it and shakes firmly.
“A pleasure to meet you,” she says smoothly.
“Let me get you that coffee.”
It turns out that Ruby is not just a pretty face, but a commendable coffee-maker too. Regina muses on this as she heads for the Sheriff’s station. It’s a shame, she thinks to herself, that she’s only here for the weekend. She’s always had a thing for brunettes.
But the woman she’s looking for is, in fact, a blonde, and when Regina finally arrives at the Sheriff's office, it’s to see Emma Swan sitting with her feet up on her desk, attempting to lob a ball of paper into the waste basket across the room.
“Making wonderful use of taxpayers’ money, I see, Miss Swan,” she says.
“Shit! Fuck!” Emma lets out as she promptly topples out of her desk chair, collapsing in a heap on the floor amid an abundance of swear words. She peers up at Regina and a look caught somewhere between awe and outrage crosses her face. “You? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Just checking up on you,” Regina says lightly. “Clearly your manners haven’t changed.”
“My manners?” Emma shoots back as she hauls herself back into her chair, glowering. “At least I know to knock on a door when entering a room.”
“Yes, I must have interrupted something very, very important.”
Emma only glares even harder. “What do you want?”
“Like I said,” Regina says, skimming her eyes down to Emma’s stomach, which sadly seems to be very, very flat. “I was checking up on you.”
“I’m not pregnant,” Emma says, having caught the scrutiny.
“Well, I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say!”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Regina didn’t think it would be possible for Emma’s expression of displeasure to become even more pronounced, but she is promptly proven wrong. “No,” she says emphatically.
“Will you soon?”
“I don’t know!” Emma exclaims, throwing her hands up in the air. “You don’t put a timescale on these things, you don’t just suddenly decide to have a boyfriend and a kid and bam, there they are. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I do.” Regina purses her lips. “I just attempted to draw some conclusions from your change in location and...occupation. Clearly those were...incorrect.”
“Clearly,” Emma mocks.
“Well,” Regina sneers, annoyed not just at Emma but at herself for being annoyed at all. “I’ll leave you to it, Sheriff Swan. Perhaps you would have better luck in finding a partner if you weren’t quite so…” she gives Emma a quick once-over and feels her upper lip curl. “Laidback.”
At this, Emma stands, anger lighting up her eyes. “Listen here, lady, I don’t care who you are, you could be the most powerful witch on the whole fucking planet for all I care, but for your information, I’m not looking for a boyfriend, and I don’t plan on having children any time soon, so you can lay off, alright?”
“Yes, well,” Regina sniffs. “Best not leave it too long. There is such a thing as menopause, you know.”
Emma lets out a sound somewhere between a groan of frustration and a scoff of derision. “What do you even want with this child, anyway? What are you going to do with it, huh? Use it for some voodoo? A Satanic ritual? Take out its heart and crush it with your bare hands to ingest its power?”
Regina feels immediately as though an entire bucket of ice water has been poured over her; her insides freeze up and she feels her hands clench into fists despite themselves.
“No,” she says shortly. “None of that, though it’s wonderful to know that that’s what you think I do in my spare time, Miss Swan.” She turns on her heel and begins to beat a path of quick retreat before she can do something ridiculous, like scream loudly enough to attract the attention of the dispatch officer sat outside Emma’s office, or cry. She’s just made it past the hardware store and is heading directly back to Granny’s when she hears a voice behind her.
“Hey! Hey, wait up! Hey - uh, you! Miss Mills! I know you can hear me! C’mon, please?”
Regina spins to find herself directly facing Emma Swan for the second time in about as many minutes. This time, however, it’s her turn to scowl.
“What?” she edges out, desperate to keep the shake from her voice. Emma shifts her weight from one foot to another before scratching the back of her neck, a sheepish look on her face.
“That was...uh, not cool of me, back there. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, well,” Regina sniffs, attempting to inject as much disdain into her voice as possible. “You’re not the first to presume that witches liaise with the devil. Although forgive me for being so foolish as to think that I now lived in the twenty-first century and no longer had to deal with such a stunning degree of ignorance.”
Emma winces. “Okay, fair play. How about I make it up to you? Coffee or something?”
“You can make it up to me by providing me with my payment, Miss Swan,” Regina replies coolly. “I understand that that may take a long time, and I apologise if I made you uncomfortable. Rest assured this is the last time we will meet regarding the subject until you really do have a child for me.” With that, she turns away and attempts to continue on her way, but she’s stopped by a hand on her elbow.
“Hey, wait a second -”
“Please remove your hand from my elbow, Sheriff…”
“Right.” Emma does so, though it looks very much as though she’s trying not to roll her eyes. “Sorry. Let’s say I’m not making it up to you, then. Just, uh, coffee between the sheriff and a visiting...friend.”
“Friend is a stretch,” Regina says, rolling her eyes. “Let’s not pretend otherwise.”
Emma’s face takes on a pained expression. “I’m begging you for a coffee here. Come on. The ones at Granny’s are the greatest.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Regina replies. Emma frowns.
She raises an eyebrow. “I’m currently staying at Granny’s. Ruby is a very competent barista.”
“Is there a problem?”
“No, I -” Emma cuts herself off with a shake of her head. “I assumed something. That was stupid to assume.”
Regina starts turning to continue her walk in the direction of Granny’s, though this time Emma is trotting beside her. “You assumed that I just teleported right outside your office, hell bent on collecting my payment?”
“Something like that,” she admits. “I did kinda think you’d just poofed yourself over here.”
Regina grimaces. “I do not poof, thank you.”
“Right,” Emma says with a grin. “I dunno, with the whole over dramatic hand gestures, cloud of smoke deal I thought poofed was the perfect word to describe it.”
“Well, it’s not,” Regina sniffs.
Emma looks as though she might continue the argument, but they’ve already reached Granny’s, the bell tinkling when Regina pushes open the door and announcing their arrival. Ruby, who is in the process of collecting plates from a couple sitting by the window, looks up and smiles.
“Emma! Hey! And Regina! Found what you were looking for at the Sheriff’s office, huh?”
“Not exactly,” Regina mutters, side-eyeing the woman standing beside her.
“Hey Ruby!” Emma says with a beam. “How’s it going?”
“Not much changed since you came in this morning for breakfast,” Ruby laughs. “I’ll be with you both in a sec.” She rushes off to the kitchen with the dirty dishes, and Emma and Regina are left standing awkwardly in her wake.
“Well,” Emma says eventually. “You like tables by the window?”
“It really makes no difference to me.”
“Okay,” Emma mumbles. “Table by the window it is.”
They’ve just slidden into one of the booths and are embarking on a journey of extremely awkward silence when Ruby returns, all flyaway hair and wide smiles, her pad and pencil poised.
“What can I do for ya both?” she chirps.
“I’ll get a coffee and a stack of choc chip pancakes, please, Rubes,” Emma says with a warm smile, before glancing expectantly towards Regina.
“Just a coffee for me, thank you,” Regina says accordingly. “Like I had it this morning would be wonderful.”
“Of course,” Ruby says, before adding with a wink: “Though I can’t promise it’ll be on the house again.”
Regina lets out a laugh before she can stop it. “Don’t worry, Miss Lucas,” she says. “I don’t intend to bankrupt your establishment.”
“Oh, you say the sweetest things,” Ruby replies with a mock swoon. “Two coffees and choc chip pancakes coming right up.”
Regina can’t keep a smile from her face as she watches Ruby saunter away. When she returns her gaze back to the table, Emma is staring at her, slack jawed.
“What?” Regina snaps.
“Nothing,” Emma says, blinking, before adding, “So you do have a sense of humour.”
Regina raises an eyebrow. “That’s a fact I’m sure you would have come to realise if yours had the same sophistication as mine.”
“Sophistication. Right.” Emma studies her, lips curving into a smile. “You are such a flirt.”
Regina grips the table edge, willing her cheeks not to flush. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“You totally do,” Emma says. “With your smirks and your -” she pauses, deepening her pitch to an exaggeratedly husky one that sounds absolutely nothing like Regina’s voice, “Don’t worry, Miss Lucas, I do indeed plan on taking you here and now in this very public space -”
“Miss Swan -”
“What?” Emma leans back. “I’m just saying.”
“Well, it would be wonderful if you didn’t just say,” Regina says with a glare. “I must have missed the part when I asked for your thoughts on the matter.”
“Sure, I don’t mind reminding you. It was right along with when you agreed to have coffee with me.”
“I never agreed to that,” Regina argues, this woman for some reason bringing out the seven year-old in her with utter ease. “You just happened to follow me here and I, feeling generous, decided not to burn your head off in the process.”
Emma looks equal parts horrified and impressed. “You can do that?”
“Fireballs are my weapon of choice.”
“Weapon of choice,” Emma repeats, leaning back. “Jesus.”
“You have a weapon of your own, do you not?”
“Yeah, but only when I’m on duty -”
“I don’t go around throwing fireballs at anyone who happens to annoy me.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Emma mutters. Regina scowls.
“For someone who’s apologising, you’re doing a remarkable job of being very rude.”
“Is there ever gonna be a time when you don’t think I’m rude?”
“That depends on when exactly you plan on adjusting your behaviour.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”
Regina lets out a noise of contempt but refrains from retorting. What ensues is another awkward silence that continues until Ruby makes her reappearance with their order.
“Here we go!” she says. “Enjoy!”
“Thanks, Rubes,” Emma says rather distractedly, caught up with eyeing the chocolate chip pancakes with enthusiasm and anticipation.
“Yes, thank you, Miss Lucas,” Regina adds, bringing her coffee to her lips and catching Emma’s look as Ruby flounces away. “What now?” she sighs.
Emma is already tearing into her pancakes at an almost alarming rate, and gulps down her huge mouthful before saying: “Just, do you ever call people by their first names?”
“And now we return to the point of manners.”
“So you’ll flirt the shit out of Ruby, but you won’t call her by her first name?”
Regina takes a sip of her coffee. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Right,” she replies with another roll of her eyes, and they’re back at square one, though now square one thankfully comes with the added distraction of coffee and, on Emma’s part, food which, if her occasional groans of pleasure are anything to go by, is rather good.
“Sho,” she says around a mouthful eventually. “‘Ow y’likin Shtorybook?”
“I’m sorry, Miss Swan, but I simply can’t bear this conversation unless you decide to conduct it without food in your mouth.”
Emma swallows again. “S’good. Want some?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“Your loss. Anyway, as I was saying,” she says, using her break to drown her pancakes in chocolate sauce. “How are you liking Storybrooke?”
“Well,” Regina replies dryly. “From the two establishments that I’ve seen…”
“Right,” Emma says. “You did kinda make a beeline for me, didn’t you?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she snaps. “There isn’t much more interesting around.”
“So that’s what you think of Storybrooke,” Emma says amusedly.
“I don’t believe in judging books by their covers,” Regina replies, though Emma’s hit the nail on the head. “I prefer to withhold judgement until I see a place in its entirety. Which I won’t,” she adds belatedly upon seeing the look in Emma’s eyes. “So you don’t need to offer to show me around.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Emma says, grumpily enough to make it obvious that it’s a lie.
“Hm,” Regina says, lips twitching in amusement. She takes a sip of her coffee to hide it.
“So what’s your story?”
“You know, like, everything about me -”
“I really don’t,” Regina says.
“You knew to find me here,” Emma points out.
Regina rolls her eyes. “That’s because the records retain your current address and occupation until I’ve been paid back. Apart from that, and your name, obviously, I know next to nothing about you.”
There’s a moment’s pause, then Regina says: “And I intend to keep it that way,” at the precise moment that Emma says, “Well, sharing is caring.” Regina eyes her.
“Miss Swan, I really have no interest in talking about either your past or mine.”
“Well, this is going to be a boring coffee date, then.”
“Coffee date?” Regina repeats abruptly, suddenly feeling extremely embarrassed and shifting in her chair.
“Yeah,” Emma says, raising her eyebrow. “I mean, we’re sitting here drinking coffee, do you call it something else?”
“No,” she replies, a cold feeling which she realises must be relief trickling down her back. “No, I don’t.”
“So,” Emma says, finishing off her pancakes with a flourish, swallowing then continuing, “how about a game of questions?”
Regina’s nose wrinkles. “What an imaginatively named activity.”
“Does what it says on the tin,” Emma replies cheerfully. “Come on. I’ll start.”
“Fine,” she mutters in response.
“First, you have to promise to answer all questions honestly. You can pass a question if you don’t want to answer, but no lying. And I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying.”
“And how could you possibly deduce that?” Regina asks. Emma just stares at her until she sighs. “Fine,” she concedes. “I didn’t realise something this simple could be so restrictive.”
“Rules are rules,” Emma says.
“Yes, I’m sure you know all about that, Sheriff.”
“Is your jarring sarcasm, like, a defence mechanism? Or do you just like making fun of people?”
“Is that one of your questions?”
“Come on,” Emma groans. “You can’t pass everything.”
“And I haven’t,” Regina points out. “I have passed one. I’m quite aware of the rules of the game.”
“Fine. It’s your turn.”
“Okay,” Regina says, taking another drag of coffee before considering her options carefully. “What talent do you wish you have?”
Emma pauses for a second, studying her plate, before saying, “Magic.”
Regina blinks in surprise. “Really?”
“Yes. Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Well, your pointed comments regarding mine, for one.”
“They’re not pointed com -”
“And the fact that you consider magic a talent. Most people just see it as some kind of...genetic deformity. Like, I don’t know…”
“Like a disability?” Emma asks quietly. Regina looks up at her for a long second.
“Not quite,” she says eventually. “More an...inconvenience. But certainly not one that requires any skill.”
“Well,” says Emma seriously, still holding her gaze. “I’ve seen you work, so I can say for sure that that’s not true.”
Regina stares, and stares, and stares. Then, embarrassed, she looks away, taking another gulp of coffee and discovering to her dismay that her mug is almost empty. “That’s...very flattering, Miss Swan, thank you.”
“I was just being honest. My turn?”
“I believe so.”
“What music do you listen to in the car?”
Regina blinks. “It depends.”
“The last thing you listened to, then.”
She shifts in her seat, a little unwilling to disclose her music preferences. Eventually, she says: “Mendelssohn’s first Violin Concerto in E minor.”
“I knew it,” Emma crows. “I knew you were a classic music nerd!”
“Romantic, actually,” Regina says with contempt. “They came about half a century after the classical composers.”
Emma gives her a look. “You can be really obnoxious.”
“That makes two of us,” Regina replies, rolling her eyes.
There’s a pregnant pause, then Emma says: “The Eagles.”
“I like the Eagles,” she clarifies, not looking at her and tearing her napkins to shreds instead. “Good driving music. I always play them when I...drive away from something, ya know?”
“Not really, I don’t,” Regina says. Emma blinks and shifts slightly.
“Sorry,” she says shortly. “I don’t know why I said that.”
Regina eyes her carefully for a moment in order to determine the way forward. “I’m sure I don’t know why you said it either,” she brushes off at last, and watches the relief bloom in her companion’s face. “What’s the most embarrassed you’ve ever been?”
Emma squints and pushes the last of her pancakes round her plate, mopping up the final remains of chocolate sauce. “Pass. Do you rehearse what you’re gonna say before you make a phone call? Did you know there’s this list of thirty-six questions which apparently can make two complete strangers fall in love if they, y’know, put them to each other? Isn’t that weird?”
“Miss Swan, you asked three questions there, not one,” Regina says testily, the mere mention of feelings such as love putting her on edge. “Which one do you want an answer to?”
To her surprise, Emma just shrugs. “Whichever you want.”
“I don’t rehearse my phone calls, no. That is foolish. Not to mention a waste of time.”
Emma’s lips quirk into a knowing smile that almost makes Regina’s blood boil. “So you decided to go for the easy option.”
“You asked a question, and I answered it,” Regina huffs. “I didn’t realise we were now ranking them on scales of easy and hard. Do I have to unlock the next level to proceed?”
“There goes the sarcasm again,” Emma mutters, bringing her mug to her mouth. “I was just teasing.”
“You seem fond of doing that,” Regina observes.
Unexpectedly, Emma offers her a wide grin. “Oh, you have no idea,” she replies with a smirk. Regina blinks in surprise and feels a sudden, strange curl of heat in her gut at the sight of the smile playing on Emma’s lips. She clears her throat abruptly, staring at the table her hands are resting on.
“Yes, I’m sure I don’t,” she manages a little weakly, deciding immediately as she does so that this signals the time for her to depart. “Well, this was nice,” she says, standing as she does so. Emma looks up in sudden confusion.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve finished my coffee.”
She frowns. “But we haven’t finished our - y’know, our conversation.”
“I think you’ll find we have,” Regina says in response, eyeing the door and calculating how undignified exactly it would be to make a beeline for it before ending the conversation properly.
“Was it something I said?”
“No,” she replies automatically upon seeing the slightly hurt expression on Emma’s face, part of her wondering why she’s affected at all by it. “No, it wasn’t. I just - finished my coffee. And should get back home.”
“As in, Boston? Didn’t you say you’re staying here at Granny’s?”
“Yes,” she says hesitantly, remembering suddenly how she has her room booked for the entire weekend. “Yes, I am.”
“So, stay.” Emma eyes her carefully. “You’re always so...jumpy.”
“I am not,” Regina snaps.
“You’re just proving my point,” she points out in response. “I thought we were cool. Like, just now. Getting to know each other or whatever.”
“We are not anything.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Well, I’m giving you my first child, so maybe we should start being something. You know most surrogate moms form a bond with the people who are gonna take their baby?”
This is an aspect which Regina had not previously considered. “You’re not - that.”
“Aren’t I? Isn’t that what you’re gonna do with the kid? Raise - it?”
“That’s hardly any of your business.”
“Yeah, it is. Fruit of my loins and shit.”
“Such articulacy,” Regina mutters, a little chagrinned but no longer feeling an overwhelming urge to escape the diner. She sits down, and Emma smiles at the effective concession of defeat.
“You must be tired,” she comments. “From the journey, I mean.”
“It’s not very far.”
“Did you drive?”
A thick cloud of awkwardness settles over the two of them quickly after that. Regina licks her lips in discomfort before making a show of checking her watch and coughing.
“Do you not have work, Sheriff?”
“Are you on your break?”
Emma’s eyes widen almost comically. “Oh, shit,” she murmurs. “Oh, shit. I gotta -” she leaps up with a speed only afforded to one by complete panic, and plunges out of the booth, grabbing her coffee cup and gulping down what’s left in it in two seconds flat. “I gotta go,” she says, breathless.
“I realised,” Regina says dryly.
“Listen,” Emma says, already heading for the door. “Come, uh, come to The Rabbit Hole tonight. We’re doing something for Thanksgiving -”
“Miss Swan, I really don’t think -”
“Just…” Emma pauses at the doorway and gives her a last pleading look. “Come? It’ll be fun. I gotta go. See you later!”
“Not if I can help it,” Regina mumbles, but Emma’s already gone. A few seconds later, Ruby makes her way over.
“All done here?” she asks.
“Yes, thank you,” Regina says, watching absently as Ruby begins to clear Emma’s plate and both of their mugs.
“You gonna come tonight, then?”
Regina eyes her. “Probably not,” she says at last, supposing there’s no use in lying about it.
Ruby purses her lips, but chooses to change the subject, unfortunately not to one Regina much prefers. “So how do you know Emma?”
“We’re…” Regina hesitates, biting her lip in thought. “Old business partners.”
The waitress smirks knowingly. “Is that code, or something?”
“Business partners. What kind of transactions were taking place between you two?”
Regina feels herself go rigid with mortification, and blinks several times. “You think - that I - that she - that we - that’s absurd.”
Ruby frowns, appearing to be slightly insulted. “Well, okay, but looking at the two of you, it didn’t seem like that much of a conclusion to jump to. The two of you had more chemistry than a pharmacy. Just sayin’.”
“That’s a weak analogy, Miss Lucas,” Regina says bitingly. “And Miss Swan and I have done nothing of what you are insinuating. We’re just...friends.” The word feels clumsy and tasteless in her mouth, and she makes a face after saying it. Ruby snorts.
“Sure. Well, either way, your friend Miss Swan would love it if you came tonight.” She pauses, then adds: “And so would I, actually.”
Regina looks up at that, arching an eyebrow. “You’ve known me for all of two hours, if that,” she points out.
“All the better reason to get to know you more,” she shoots back with a wink. “And the best way to get to know someone is with a little helper on the side.”
“I call him Jack,” she says with a smirk.
“Ah,” Regina replies, tone far stiffer. “Well.”
“Oh, come on. What else are you gonna do?”
Sleep, probably, Regina thinks. Read. She does a lot of that. Anything to keep the loneliness from sinking in. But neither of these responses are doing much to help her case, so she purses her lips and says, “I’ll think about it.”
Ruby beams. “Good,” she says. She looks for a moment like she might elaborate further, but the words are stymied by the yell of her name from the kitchen. “Coming, Granny!” she calls back, before turning to Regina and giving her another grin. “See ya later, alligator.”
Regina doesn’t deign to respond to the childish phrase, and instead leaves money on the table before heading up to her room. There isn’t much for her to do there, she realises as she plucks a book out of her bag and sits down on the bed, but as soon as she’s on the mattress she feels the tiredness heavy in her bones. She makes it three quarters of the way down the page she last stopped reading at before her eyelids begin to droop, and in the moment between sleep and wake she wishes, briefly, for some kind of human contact - a hand on her arm, perhaps, or fingers tangled with hers. She is too tired to quash the feeling, or even to be overly aware of its foolishness. Sleep is sweeping over her like water before that can happen.
It’s dark when Regina wakes up, and it takes her a few long moments to adjust to her surroundings, momentarily thrown by the unfamiliar shadows being thrown across the walls. She sits up, shivering slightly as she does so, and reaches for her phone. The screen informs her that it’s just past nine. She sighs. She isn’t good in social situations, really, and she isn’t sure that the combination of alcohol and near-strangers will result in many good things, but there’s that loneliness again, gnawing at the pit of her stomach, and Regina’s too tired to pretend that it isn’t there. So she changes dresses and touches up her make-up and near-storms downstairs all in the space of about ten minutes, almost crashing into Ruby as she does so.
“Oh, hey!” Ruby says, beaming. “So you did decide to come.” She pauses, eyeing Regina with her now-familiar appraisal. “And you even dressed up,” she observes with a wink.
Regina shifts a little, embarrassed. “I didn’t dress up,” she says, throwing in an eye-roll for good measure. “I just...I needed a change. From the, you know, the clothes I travelled in.”
“Sure,” Ruby appeases with a look that says she doesn’t buy Regina’s excuse for a minute. “Shall we go?”
“Yes,” Regina replies, somewhat relieved that she has someone vaguely familiar to latch onto (who isn’t Emma Swan). They depart, Regina tightening her coat against the biting cold almost immediately as they step out onto the street. The two of them manage a good portion of the walk in a silence that straddles the line between comfortable and awkward before Ruby decides to break it.
“So what do you do? You know, in...where are you from again?”
“Ah, the Spanish Inquisition,” Regina comments wryly. Ruby lets out a laugh.
“Sorry, but this is just the part of the get to know,” she says unapologetically. “You know where I’m from and what I do -”
“Two facts afforded to me by the fact that I happened to meet you at your workplace…”
“Right, but still. Where did you come from?”
“Boston,” Regina says, deciding that this piece of information is innocuous enough to share.
“Oh! City girl, huh?”
“I suppose,” she says thoughtfully, glancing briefly at Ruby. “I never thought of it that way before. But yes, I guess I’ve been drawn to cities in the past. I’ve lived in New York and Chicago.”
Ruby lets out a whistle. “So you travel?”
“Not any more. I’ve…” Regina pauses. “Been able to establish myself in Boston. I feel quite at home there.”
“Which leads us back to Question Number One,” Ruby points out with a smile. “So, what is it you do?”
“Oh, wait, let me try and guess,” she says before Regina can even formulate her reply. “I’m good at this.”
Regina smirks. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah, and no need to look so sceptical,” Ruby replies, bumping her shoulder into Regina’s. She’s caught off-guard by the action and its familiarity for a brief moment, blinking.
“Go on, then.”
“Okay. So...you’ve moved around different states, so probably not a lawyer.”
Regina blinks in surprise at the astuteness of the comment. “I’m not a lawyer, no,” she confirms.
“Okay, and...I feel like if you were in business, you’d be a CEO.”
“You know it. But that would also mean probably not as much moving as you’ve done.”
“So, not a CEO.”
“Not a CEO, no.”
“Not really,” Regina says vaguely.
“Not really? Lady, either your ass was in medical school for four years, or it wasn’t.”
Regina snorts. “Okay, no, I’m not a doctor. But I do have a clinic, of some kind.”
“I would still need to go to medical school for that, I believe.”
“You’re getting colder than you were before.”
Ruby’s brow furrows as they near The Rabbit Hole. “So you run a business of some kind?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And Emma was one of your customers?”
Regina blinks in surprise at the sudden introduction of what is potentially her least favourite topic. “Well, yes, she is. Was.”
Thankfully, the conversation is halted by their entrance of the bar, which upon first glance Regina can already tell is buzzing with Thanksgiving enthusiasm, horn-heavy, vintage tunes providing an underscore to the loud chatter amongst its patrons. Ruby makes a beeline for the bar and Regina makes to follow, only to pause slightly as she sees Emma Swan already sat there, laughing loudly along with a tall blonde man who has his arm slung casually around her shoulders. It makes Regina’s stomach turn a little, though for once she has absolutely no idea why. She’s just about to do something typically antisocial such as duck into the nearest bathroom and avoid emerging for a prolonged length of time when Ruby is calling her name. Regina tries to look like she hasn’t heard her, but Ruby is relentless.
“Regina!” she says for at least the fifth time as she darts away from the bar back to her and grabs her wrist. “Come on, we’re getting drinks. Don’t think you’ve gotten away from me yet!”
“How could I ever,” Regina replies dryly. Unfortunately, it seems that Ruby’s incessant shouting of her name has attracted Emma’s attention; though Regina tries to avoid eye contact, she fails miserably, and ends up being rewarded by a grin from the sheriff. Ruby seats her forcibly on the stool next to hers, and Emma, of course, takes the opportunity to make her way over.
“Hey!” she says brightly. “You came!”
“Well observed, Sheriff Swan.”
“Seriously,” she says, placing her hand on Regina’s arm a little too heavily. Regina carefully notes the slight tang of bourbon mixing in with Emma’s customary vanilla. “It’s Emma. My name’s Emma. I’m not even on duty. So call me Emma. Please. It’s my name.”
“Really? It’s your name? I don’t think you mentioned that enough times.” The line is meant to come out rather scathing, but ends up instead being of a more gently teasing tone, and Emma affords her a lopsided smile, hand still on Regina’s forearm.
“I’m glad you came,” she says a little dopily. “You’re cool.”
Regina is luckily saved from having to come up with an adequate reply by Ruby’s interjection.
“Regina? Whaddaya want?”
“Whatever you’re having,” she says lightly. “As long as your taste isn’t too unrefined, of course.”
Ruby grins, a little wolfishly. “I’ll have you know that my taste is very sophisticated.”
“Is that so?”
“It’s very so.”
“Guys,” Emma whines. “I’m right here. Can you save the flirting for when you’re alone?”
“We’re never alone,” Ruby says, at the same time as Regina points out, “We’re not flirting.” Emma squints at them in a way Regina is quickly coming to realise signifies extreme intoxication on her part.
“Whatever,” she announces. “Ruby, y’should totally buy Regina a drink.”
“Or what?” Ruby snorts. “You will?”
Emma frowns. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, exactly, I will!”
“Be my guest,” Ruby says smoothly, sliding out of her bar stool. “I’m gonna go say hi to Graham.” And with that, she’s disappeared. Regina feels strongly as though she has been deceived in some way.
“So, Mills,” Emma says, seating herself in the stool next to Regina’s with a horrific lack of grace. “What’ll it be? Will you have whatever I’m having?”
“I think that you’re not having anything else tonight,” Regina replies shortly. She waves down the bartender and says to him, “One gin and tonic, please. Make it a double?” He nods and drifts off.
“Gin and tonic?” Emma comments. “I thought you’d be, I dunno, a wine girl.”
“Wine is an everyday beverage,” Regina says.
“Wow, I’m talking to a closet alcoholic.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” she points out in response. “Who says I’m closeted?”
Emma’s eyes gleam. “No one,” she says with a disproportionate amount of joy. “No one at all.”
“At any rate,” Regina says, breaking eye contact. “Saying that wine is an everyday drink doesn’t mean I literally drink it every day.”
“Fair point,” Emma allows. “So how are you liking Storybrooke?”
“Is this how we’re going to start all our conversations, Miss Swan?”
“Is this how we’re going to start all our conversations, Emma?”
“Just because you’re calling me Emma doesn’t mean you should do it like it’s leaving a bad taste in your mouth,” Emma says with a frown. Regina rolls her eyes.
“You’re melodramatic,” she says.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Maybe that you’re -” Emma is cut off by the emergence of the blonde man Regina recognises from being sat with her earlier, who comes to stand next to Emma and slips a hand around her shoulders.
“Hey, where’d you go?” he says lightly. “One moment, you’re like, just be a second, David, the next I’m sitting surrounded by Mary Margaret’s girlfriends, and, I mean, they’re nice, but -” he stops short upon catching sight of Regina, who is wishing desperately for her drink as something to occupy herself with, and instead has resorted to studying the assortment of bottles behind the bar. “Oh, sorry, didn’t see ya there!” he says cheerfully. Regina hates him already.
“David, this is Regina,” Emma says with a wide smile. “Regina, David.”
“Good to meet you,” David says, expression earnest as he reaches to shake Regina’s hand. His charm only makes things worse. “You Emma’s friend from Boston?”
“Yes, I…” Regina trails off, pursing her lips. “Yes, I am.”
“Well, I’ve heard a lot about you!” David informs her. Regina eyes Emma, who appears to suddenly be extremely engrossed with her nearly empty beer glass.
“Is that so?” she says, trying to keep her tone as neutral as possible.
“All good things, don’t worry,” he says with another disarming grin.
“Well,” Regina says abruptly. “I should leave you two alone, I suppose. I apologise for infringing on your time with Emma, David.”
“Time with…” David trails off and glances at Emma, who frowns.
“Wait, what?” she says.
“What?” Regina says with a frown of her own.
“I - hey, I didn’t come here to make you go away,” David says. “I just wanted to join you guys.”
Regina can quickly feel this situation becoming awkwarder by the minute and has very little clue as to how to rectify it. “No, I realise,” she says, wondering just when she became quite so apologetic. “I just, you know, think I should...go talk to Ruby. Enjoy your - enjoy your date.”
“Our date?” Emma splutters.
“One gin and tonic?” the bartender says.
“Hey, wait -” David says.
Regina’s urge to escape intensifies, and she grabs at the drink with relief. “Thank you,” she says, before beating a quick path of retreat to a corner of the bar where she hopes Emma will struggle to find her. In reality, however, the bar is really quite small, and she ends up caught up in a gaggle of girls that has Ruby as its centre.
“Regina!” she squeals eagerly, gripping onto Regina’s arm. Regina immediately wants to run again, this time potentially out of the bar altogether. “Hey! Say hi to the ladies!”
“Hi to the ladies,” Regina manages, taking a gulp of her drink. Ruby lets out a laugh.
“That’s funny,” she says, draping herself over her. “You’re funny.”
“Thank you,” Regina replies dryly.
“Okay, this is Aurora,” Ruby points to a fresh-faced brunette who smiles widely at her, “Mulan,” a woman who seems far more reluctant to smile and instead offers a nod, which Regina respects, “and Mary Margaret. Dorothy’s over getting more drinks, I think.”
“Hi,” says Mary Margaret with a smile wider than Aurora’s. It makes Regina highly uncomfortable.
“Guys, this is Regina. She’s a...a what from Boston? What did you say you were again?”
“I didn’t,” Regina replies, voice already going stiff. She attempts to relax slightly and says, “You never guessed, remember?”
“Oh yeah!” Ruby almost shouts, drink sloshing in its glass as she gesticulates enthusiastically. “Guys, we were playing this game, Regina was letting me guess what she does, you gotta help! She’s not a teacher or a lecturer or a doctor or a lawyer or a fancy businesswoman, but she kind of does business, and she used to move around a lot, and I gotta tell y’all, I am stumped.”
“Ah,” says Mary Margaret, clearly the only one willing to humour Ruby, since Mulan looks halfway between amused and utterly uninterested and Aurora is yawning slightly. “Well, um...I don’t know. You look like a, a specialist, Regina.”
“Do I?” Regina replies dubiously.
“Well, yes…” Mary Margaret trails off in thought before her face lights up. “Wait, what’s your last name?”
“Uh…” Regina says articulately.
“Is it Mills?” Mary Margaret says, eager. “Are you Regina Mills?”
“Who’s Regina Mills?” Ruby says. “I mean, she is. She’s Regina Mills. Dorothy! You brought drinks!”
“Not for you, Red,” the woman who is presumably Dorothy says as she approaches, a slight Kansas lilt to her words. “I think you’ve had enough for the night, right?”
“What?” Ruby says, wide-eyed, moving from leaning on Regina to leaning on Dorothy instead, who Regina notes doesn’t look very displeased with the arrangement. “I have not!”
“You really have,” Dorothy retorts, calmly and with a hint of amusement, before offering Regina a smile. “Hi. I’m Dorothy.”
“I would shake your hand, but mine are full.”
“Not to worry,” Regina says. “I was actually…”
“Dorothy, this is Regina Mills,” Ruby says brightly. “Which, like, I didn’t think was anything special, but Mary Margaret does! Mary Margaret, what does she do?”
“I mean, I might be wrong,” Mary Margaret says nervously, glancing briefly at Regina, who is doing her best to keep her expression as even as possible. “I just...I read about you, in the news, about how you saved that baby’s life…”
“Ah,” Regina says.
“You practice magic,” Mary Margaret says in response, tentative.
There is a long pause as Regina ends up the subject of five stares that range from confused to vaguely impressed to somewhat cautious. Now, the urge to run is truly palpable, buzzing under her skin and making her tongue heavy with discomfort.
“Well,” Regina manages eventually, her tone as smooth as she can make it. “Ruby, it looks as though someone’s finally won your game. Excuse me.”
She extracts herself from the group and tries to steady her breathing, finding the nearest table to place her now empty glass on and casting around for the exit, all the while telling herself stupid stupid stupid fool, why did she ever think this was a good idea, why did she ever think she could make it through an entire evening without ruining it for herself, why did she ever listen to stupid Emma Swan, why couldn’t she just keep it business --
She’s come out the back of the bar, and it takes her a few moments to readjust. The gin and tonic was a double but still not strong enough to do anything except make her thoughts franker than usual, angry, upset, stupid stupid stupid why why why, and she walks quickly back to Granny’s in the dark, shoes beating a steady staccato on the road. This entire trip was an exercise in foolish self-indulgence that she will not be repeating, she thinks, and when she gets back, she’ll sleep for a few hours and start on the drive back to Boston.
And that is exactly what she does.