It begins with an evening break-in at Town Hall, where Regina’s working late. Emma gets the call and flies upstairs, shoves three town officials and nearly crashes into Regina’s closed door, her heart pounding with Regina– no, Henry’s sociopathic mom– no, the last time she’d seen Regina in her office had been when she’d dragged her out of a burning building, and she is perfectly justified in her panic now.
She throws open the door and finds Regina standing at her desk, completely poised, eyes narrowed at a half-dozen men who alternate between shrinking back guiltily and glancing down at their phones. “Regina.” Emma has a hand on her arm a moment later, inspecting her for any injuries or signs of hurt.
“Unhand me, Miss Swan,” Regina says darkly, still glaring at the gaggle of men. “I’m fine. I just want them gone.”
“Just one more minute,” one of them says pleadingly. “I swear, we weren’t doing anything. There’s just this Vulpix in the building and…” His eyes go wide and he takes a step past her toward the back of the office, holding out his phone in front of him, and then he– god, is she imagining this or does he do a little jig? “Got it!”
Mayhem is unleashed in the office, the other men nearly stampeding Emma and Regina, who snaps out an order no one heeds and takes shelter behind Emma.
Emma blinks at her, bemused. “If this is another curse thing…”
“It’s Pokemon,” Henry says, toggling something on her phone. “Everyone’s been playing it lately. See, I made you one.” He passes her phone back to her.
Emma stares at her avatar. “I don’t have purple hair.”
Henry gives her a look. “It’s not real, Emma.” Emma considers making a snide comment about what Henry thinks is real and what isn’t, but he beats her to his favorite topic. “See, PokeStops and gyms are supposed to be landmarks, but the map is all messed up here because of the curse. So there’s a gym in my house instead.” He shrugs, losing interest again. “Listen, do you think my mom is going to poison the stuff for my class bake sale? Because she makes really good muffins and I don’t know how good you are at baking.” He eyes her suspiciously.
“Look, you don’t want me baking if the objective is not to poison your class,” Emma says distractedly, blinking down at the blue diamond she can see ahead of them on the screen. “Wait, how does anyone in this town have a smartphone? I tried buying a MacBook and got a Macintosh SE. You still have Blockbusters.”
“The curse is breaking, Emma,” Henry says, heaving a long-suffering sigh. “I thought we’d been through this.”
Emma hits the closest blue diamond. Apparently, this is the PokeStop that Henry had mentioned. It’s labeled Maine State Campground and located right where Granny’s is on the map. When she spins it, it gives her three red and white balls. “What did you say was in your house?”
Mary Margaret is already playing the game. “You can’t be a teacher in an elementary school without being a Pokemon Go pro,” she says, and her phone buzzes. “Ooh, look, Emma! Isn’t it precious?”
It is a terrifyingly angry-looking bird with a terrifyingly long neck and the apt name Fearow. It has a point count higher than anything Emma’s seen yet, and it still stays right in the first ball that Mary Margaret lobs at it. “They spawn near me all the time,” Mary Margaret says, shrugging modestly. “I like to catch the cute ones.”
“I thought the only game you had on your phone was Snake,” Emma says blankly, staring at the Android phone that is definitely not a Nokia 3210. Mary Margaret stares back, just as blankly. “Never mind.”
But there’s a certain appeal to Pokemon, she discovers fast. She remembers the show from when she’d been a kid in group homes, a little too old to be invested but still picking up bits and pieces. She hadn’t thought she’d ever play it, but this is more like a town-wide scavenger hunt that makes late-night patrolling a little more interesting.
She pauses outside of the Pokemon gym that appears on the map on Mifflin Street. It’s labeled simply Rock, Gym Level 3. This is, thus far, the most compelling argument for there being a secret curse encompassing Storybrooke.
When Emma hits Level 5 of the game, she’ll be able to compete in gyms. She has plans.
The upside of the game is that a spot in Town Hall spawns– “New Pokemon every twenty minutes,” Archie mutters to her before the town meeting, looking very sheepish about this knowledge. “Sometimes even more, when you’ve got a big group playing.”
A big group playing means five phones on her side of the table buzz at once, mid-debriefing from the Small Business Owners Association, and five people surreptitiously reach for their phones and groan at the Weedle that has appeared on their screens.
The downside of the game is– as most downsides of this town are– Mayor Regina Mills, who seizes all five phones and confiscates them in her desk. Emma, who knows better than to leave her phone in grabbing distance on the table during meetings, safely catches her Weedle on her lap and grins to herself when she’s upgraded to Level 5.
She stabs randomly when given an option for a team, and chooses Team Mystic, the blue team. Excellent. She’s seen plenty of blue-run gyms around town, though the one at the Mills house is nearly always red. There’s one at Town Hall as well, and she immediately begins pitting the big puppy Growlithe she’d stumbled across at the Toll Bridge against the Vaporeon who runs it.
She knows the rules from what she’s researched. She’s allowed to use six of her Pokemon to battle the ones in the gym, slowly lowering what’s called the prestige of the gym until lower-level Pokemon are kicked out of it. The Pokemon with the highest combat power is the last to go, and after that, she can choose one of her own Pokemon to put in the gym and turn it blue for her team.
“Miss Swan,” comes the dry voice, midway through her third failed battle. Emma jerks up, shutting her phone and tucking it into her pocket. Regina glares down at her from the head of the table– the very empty table. “This town expects to have a competent sheriff with at least some semblance of conscientiousness. Pretend to care, dear.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Emma says, stretching as inconspicuously as she can. “I’m gonna go…care extra hard at the station.” She fishes her phone back out– if she walks to the station with the app open, she might be able to hatch one of the two-kilometer-distance eggs she’s got– and makes a break for the door.
Before she can leave, Regina says, “Who is she?”
Emma turns, her forehead creasing. Regina is watching from her desk, her arms folded and her eyebrows knit together. “She?”
“Your…girlfriend. Whoever it is you’ve been talking to all meeting.” Regina’s back is straight and her sneer is in place, condescending as always and doubly that infuriating. “Don’t tell me it’s that vapid waitress from the diner.”
“Who says I have a girlfriend?” Of course, it’s a lot more socially acceptable than her actual reason, so she reconsiders. “Maybe I have…a boyfriend.”
Regina sweeps her eyes over Emma, assessing her with a cool, calculating gaze, and Emma shivers a tiny bit as her gaze finally locks with Emma’s eyes again. “Girlfriend,” she repeats.
Which– fine, Emma thinks, off-balance. Two can play at this game. “Are you sexually harassing me?” she demands, eyes glinting with challenge. Regina sneers back, unmoved. Emma quirks an eyebrow. “Are you hitting on me?” she amends, and is gratified to see Regina’s cheeks pink as she scoffs.
“Get out of here,” Regina barks out. “I don’t care who you’re sleeping with so long as it’s far away from my son.” But Emma makes sure to swagger as she saunters out, clicking on a Rattata that appears on her phone screen and feeling eyes on the movement of her hips before she turns the corner.
So at least one win today.
“Isn’t it a little too twee for you?” Mary Margaret says, glancing over Emma's shoulder at the Jigglypuff on her screen. In the same breath she says, “I mean, there’s Raticate-cute and then there’s just…big pink ball of fluff. Have you seen my new Raticates?” She reaches for her own phone eagerly.
“Three times since I got home,” Emma says hastily, unwilling to look at Mary Margaret’s multitude of demon rats again. “Anyway, if I get enough of them, I can make a pretty powerful…Wigglytuff.” She grimaces at the name. “I have to head out to patrol. Thanks for dinner!”
She makes a mad dash for the car, glancing at her phone before she heads out and catching an Eevee in the process. She’s been trying hard not to let her evening patrols be completely about a game, but Storybrooke is a very quiet town with a mayor who insists on extra patrols just to piss Emma off, and it’s easier than ever to be distracted by Pokemon instead.
She cruises through the shopping area and then the more dilapidated area of town (which is, she admits grudgingly, half an empty block near the docks. As frustrating as Regina is, she’s good at her job), and once she’s done the bare minimum, she drives back through town and pulls over down the block from the mayoral mansion. Rock, Gym Level 4. The Pokemon trainer who runs the gym has the username Rocinante and has placed an impressive-looking Ninetales there.
It takes all six of the allowed Pokemon for Emma to lower the gym to Level 3, and then the same six again for her to get it to Level 2. But she’s getting the hang of this, and by the time she knocks out the rest of the Pokemon at the gym, the Ninetales itself doesn’t pose nearly as much of a threat.
She empties the gym at last and claims it for Team Mystic, setting her trusty Growlithe in place. He has about a quarter the combat power that the Ninetales had had; but by the time Emma crawls into bed an hour later, there’s a hideous-looking giant tree Pokemon defending her gym as well.
She stares at the image of the gym, towering over a house several blocks away and with ES83 proudly within it. It’s the closest she’s gotten to feeling like she has a place in Henry’s life, silly as it may seem, and she closes her eyes and dreams a bit too wistfully that night.
By morning, the Ninetales is back in its place and Regina is ten minutes late to their weekly meeting. Emma waits outside her office, pacing in circles and tense. Regina is always on time– always early, prepared with a sneer and absolute dominance– and nothing about her being late bodes well.
When she does sweep in, it’s twice as irritated as usual, which means Emma’s immediately harangued over her lack of paperwork this week.
“I’m not going to encourage people to commit more crimes just so you can have a nice stack every week!” Emma protests.
Regina waves her single sheet of paper– an incident report about Pongo injuring one of Mother Goose’s hens. “This is not the sign of fewer crimes. This is the sign of sheriff incompetence. You’re telling me that your tenure here has improved the town?” She raises an eyebrow, a picture of scorn.
“Apparently?” Emma says, opting for a helpless smile instead of a smug one. “Listen, Regina. I know it doesn’t suit your narrative if I’m actually good at my job, but–“
“You–“ Regina leans forward, and Emma’s eyes flicker down her shirt for an unguarded moment before she forces her gaze back up to Regina’s face. “Are nothing more than an intruder in my town. In my family.” Her words are measured and dark, and Emma bites back her own protests at that final addition. “And while you’re busy…idling outside my house at obscene hours of the night, the rest of the town is left without a sheriff.”
Emma winces. She has to start patrolling with a more nondescript car. “I got a phone call,” she says weakly. “I had to pull over.”
“You’re stalking my son,” Regina shoots back. “Do you know how easy it would be to get a restraining order, considering your behavior? To keep you away from him until the day he turns eighteen? To force you out of my town?”
If you haven’t already, you won’t now, Emma thinks. The more she’s bullied, the more she tends to fight back, even while a low sort of guilt burns like acid in her stomach at Regina's wild, empty threats. Which is ridiculous. She’s staying in this town because she doesn’t trust Regina with Henry– because it’s the right thing to do, and because Henry desperately wants her here. And when Regina pushes, Emma pushes back.
It’s that simple.
This time, she retakes the gym on her lunch break, when she knows that Regina’s still at work and won’t see her lurking around her house. It’s a furious kind of battle to unseat Rocinante this time, stabbing furiously at the Ninetales and watching her Growlithe attack with a satisfied kind of glee. Retaking the gym feels a bit like fighting back against Regina, who has ordered her on double shifts this week after slacking on her duties the night before.
She won’t get to see Henry all week with this schedule, and examining why that makes her want to cry makes her want to cry even more. She wasn’t supposed to get this attached. Regina had accused her once of lacking roots and she’d been right, right up until Emma had made a wish on her birthday and a boy had knocked at her door.
And maybe Regina’s right– maybe she could get a restraining order and haul Emma out of town. But Emma can’t leave now, not without being dragged off by the authorities. Emma is lost to this town and the people within it– to her roommate and her friends and even to the nightmare mayor who runs it– and to a little boy most of all.
The Ninetales is back in its place by the time she drives by for her nighttime patrol. This time, Emma parks out of sight and fights hard, unseating it and leaving the gym empty for a minute while she heals her Growlithe with a potion. When she exits the potion screen, it’s to discover that Rocinante is somewhere nearby and has already beaten her to it, retaking the gym before Emma can place her own Pokemon there.
“No,” Emma hisses, throwing her Pokemon back into the fray. She finishes off the Ninetales again, only to see her Growlithe defeated before she can pull away from the curb. Again, then. And again. And again. The Ninetales is indefatigable, and without anyone to bolster their claims to the gym, they’re both left fighting and fighting until Emma runs out of potions to heal her Growlithe.
She fumes in silence, feeling more impotent than ever, and pulls away to return to patrol.
She manages to catch Henry before his bus the next morning, sees him at Granny’s and nearly joins him in his booth before Ruby moves away from the table and Emma spots Regina sitting opposite him instead. Henry is picking at his pancakes, sullen at whatever it is that Regina is saying to him, and then he says something abrupt and storms across the diner to talk to a wincing Archie instead.
Emma hesitates for a moment, her eyes drifting back to Regina, and she sucks in a breath. Regina’s face is visible now, her eyes stricken and the heartbreak written across it raw and devastating, and Regina’s never looked more human. Henry stubbornly continues his conversation with Archie and doesn’t look back, and Regina blinks rapidly and then– as though like magic– a new hardness ripples across her face. Her chin is up, her lips pursed, her eyes dark; and when she says Henry’s name, it’s with the sharpness of someone accustomed to being obeyed.
Henry drags his feet when he returns to the table, and he brightens only when he sees Emma. Regina turns to follow his gaze, her eyes fierce.
Emma shakes her head and offers him a small smile, her defiance forgotten and the guilt back in full force. She isn’t the one to have broken whatever it is between Henry and Regina, but she finds that even the thought of widening that gap right now does unpleasant things to her chest.
She turns away and walks unsteadily down the street, toward the station and away from the ever-present temptation to interfere. She pulls out her phone, studying the Pokemon app and glancing surreptitiously at the door to Granny’s.
Regina emerges with a hand around Henry’s shoulder, the motion so comfortable that she must have done it hundreds of times in the past, and Henry isn’t shrugging it off as they walk. He still looks sullen, Regina still hard, but they’re walking in sync almost unconsciously and they don’t move apart until the bus. Regina moves as though she might press a kiss into Henry’s hair, but he jerks away at the last minute and stalks to the bus instead; and Regina watches him go with marked defeat on her face.
Emma looks down again before Regina can see her watching them; and to her delighted surprise, she sees a familiar silhouette on the screen. A Pikachu is somewhere nearby. She’s never caught one before, and she deserves a late morning after double shifts yesterday–
She turns, walking down a side street and watching the Pikachu silhouette move from fifth on the screen to fourth. She’s getting closer.
She turns another corner, eyes on her phone, and walks down another block. And then another. The Pikachu is now first on her tracking screen. Just another block–
Slam. She crashes into someone else walking at top speed and spits out a curse. “Are you okay? I’m so–“ It’s Regina, because of course it is.
“Ah,” Regina says, dusting herself off as Emma pulls her back up. She seizes her phone, flipping it over so Emma can’t see the screen. “Sheriff. I can’t say this is a surprise. Late for work again, I see.”
“I’m not the one who was late last time,” Emma points out, and Regina huffs and turns away…
…Walking down the street toward the Pikachu. Damn. Emma hurries after her. “Sheriff, are you following me?” Regina demands, glancing back down at her phone for a moment.
“No! I just…got a call. Down this street.” Emma licks her lips. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Supervising you, apparently,” Regina shoots back. “I’d like to see exactly how you handle this call.” She glances at her phone again, and Emma eyes it, suspicion blooming slowly.
“Fine,” she says, walking onward. She hits the end of the block and the Pikachu moves back down to second on the list. Dammit. Regina lets out a low groan and turns on her heel, stalking back up the street to a dead end that runs perpendicular to it. Emma follows and gets a suspicious glare for it. “I thought…you were shadowing me,” she says.
Regina sighs heavily. “I thought I could have some time without you stalking me, but I’ve never been so fortunate. Wasn’t your call supposed to be on this block?”
“I got…confused.” The Pikachu has moved back to the top of the list. Regina breaks into a near-run at the dead end, and Emma jogs forward, too, on her heels as they make it down the block to the wide circle at the end of the road and–
Their phones buzz at the exact same moment with the new Pokemon. “I knew it!” they say in unison, gaping at each other.
“So you’re the one with the Ninetales,” Emma says as they walk back to Main Street after. Regina is still flushed with embarrassment and victory at once, refusing to meet her eyes. “I should have known. Do you ever stop fighting?”
“Do you?” Regina shoots back. “And every time with that mangy mutt. Don’t you have anything stronger than that?”
Emma shrugs. “I don’t know. I hatched a…Snorlax the other day? I have’t really used it, though. I like the Growlithe.” She can’t believe that this is the closest they’ve had to a friendly conversation in weeks, and it’s about virtual anime creatures.
“Of course you do. Idiot,” Regina grumbles, and it’s positively fond– for her, anyway. “My house, my gym.”
“Not this time,” Emma promises, heading to the station. “I’m sure I’ll see you tonight.”
“I look forward to it,” Regina retorts, and her voice is nearly a purr, low and inviting and dangerous. Emma swallows hard, heat curling at the pit of her stomach, and she pulls herself together for long enough to smirk back and stalk into the station.
Regina is ready for her when she comes that night, and she seems to have an unending supply of Pokemon and potions. Emma should have guessed it was her to begin with; there’s the same sensation of fighting a losing war against an enemy who holds all the cards. Emma wins battles and is immediately defeated again before she can level up the gym; Regina’s Ninetales is positively smug as Emma goes after it again; a dark text pops up on Emma’s phone reading, You’ll have to get home eventually.
I can go all night, Emma texts back furiously– only to reopen the app and see that the gym is glowing red again. She looks up at Regina’s window and sees her framed in it, wearing a tight little satin nightgown that barely reaches her legs. That’s more than I ever needed to know, comes Regina’s responding text, but she’s smirking down at Emma, eyes glittering with heat, and Emma stumbles, banging her toe on her tire and dashing into her car in surrender.
It’s a feint Regina doesn’t anticipate, and Emma returns a half hour later and seizes the gym for herself. She beams when she wakes up in the morning and it’s still blue, even if it’s red again by breakfast.
They fall into a routine. If they’d been at war in their personal and professional lives before, their Pokemon lives are no different. Emma takes the gym in the evenings and Regina has it again by morning. Once, Emma had boldly dropped in before breakfast at the Mills house, intent on distracting Regina from the gym, and Regina had faux-sweetly invited her inside. A disbelieving Henry had made fumbling conversation with Emma and Regina had smiled with her left hand on her fork and her right hand under the table, and by the time Emma had gotten up to help an obedient Henry clear the breakfast table, the gym had been red again.
They throw themselves into this battle with as much vigor as they have any other. On more than one occasion, Emma follows a tip from the Storybrooke Reddit (another overnight blossoming of technology in this town-out-of-time that she won’t question) to a rare Pokemon’s lair and finds Regina already there, scowling at her.
Emma evolves her Growlithe into an Arcanine, which is pretty much an even bigger, furry, flaming dog. Regina obtains a Rapidash, which is apparently a flaming horse. They may take fight fire with fire a bit too literally.
It snows in late December and Emma is shivering on the roof of her car, protected from the biting cold only by a knit cap with a little bobble on top. Her fingers are tapping against the phone screen in such rapid succession that she can’t tell if she’s fighting at the gym or shivering, but Regina won’t give up and she’ll be damned if she’s going to leave this spot with a red gym mocking her.
“Would you fucking just go home?” Regina demands from her doorway. Tonight, her pajamas are long and flannel, probably a designer brand but still so casual that she looks less Evil Queen and more Someone’s Mom. Emma’s heart does a little leap that she has in no way consented to. “I am not finding you a replacement because you’ve developed hypothermia playing an asinine game!”
“So this is all my fault?” Emma demands, her teeth chattering. “You’re unbelievable.”
Regina scowls, hands on her hips. “At least get into your car!”
“My phone service is too spotty when I’m in it.” Emma scowls right back at her. “Can't you just…let me have the gym already? We both know you’ll take it again tomorrow morning. Give me tonight.”
“Over your dead body,” Regina sniffs, and storms back into her warm, warm house.
There are mornings now when Emma doesn’t bother checking in on the gym at all. She knows that Regina has taken it by then, and sometimes she’ll make a stop at Granny’s just to catch that smug look on Regina's face. “Ass,” she mutters, nudging Regina hard when she walks past her.
Henry gives her a disapproving look, then slouches lower when Regina puts a hand on his shoulder. Regina does an awkward little slide with her hand to his back, like she hadn’t been rejected and had just meant to pat Henry’s back instead. Emma purses her lips and blows out a breath. “Anyway, I have to get to the station.”
“Can you walk me to the bus stop?” Henry says suddenly, and a muscle moves visibly in Regina’s jaw.
Emma looks at her. Regina puts her hand back on Henry’s shoulder, this time squeezing it firmly, and Henry shrugs her off again. Regina pulls her hand back as though she’s been burned and says blankly, “Who am I to stop you?”
Henry’s shoulders are tighter when he slides out past her, hunched against his neck like he’s sulking about getting his way. Emma says, in a rush of nausea, “Regina, I–“
“Save it,” Regina says curtly, turning away; but when Emma turns back at the door, Regina’s staring at them again with that same resignation as before.
“Kid,” she ventures when they’re outside. “Maybe…cut your mom a little slack sometimes?”
“She’s evil,” he says darkly. “You might’ve forgotten our operation, but I haven’t.”
“What– I haven’t forgotten!” she protests, and feels stomach-twisting guilty about it all. Operation Cobra is the only tie she has to Henry, ridiculous as it is, and she can’t lose him. “I’ll have you know that I basically do battle with your mom every night now!”
“You care more about Pokemon than the curse,” Henry accuses, even sulkier. She thinks she might see some guilt flashing through his eyes, too, though she can’t say if it’s about Regina or not. With Henry, a scheme is always more likely than some earthshaking awareness like Moms have feelings too. “You’re too busy hanging out with Mom to remember what’s really important.”
“That’s not true.” Emma swallows, and remembers what’s really important. Henry. Henry is more important than anything else going on in this town, real or virtual, and she says reluctantly, “So what’s next for Operation Cobra?”
Henry beams and goes off on a wild tangent about Pinocchio that Emma can’t quite follow. She listens to it anyway, drinks in the presence of this child who’s swiftly become the center of her universe.
She glances away only once, to catch Regina hurrying down the street to Town Hall on the opposite side of the road. Her eyes are on them, her lips unsmiling, as caught in Henry’s orbit as Emma is, from a distance.
She’s climbing onto the hood of her car one night as the rain pounds against it, determined not to miss a single night of their game, when she spots the black cylinder resting against one of the columns on Regina’s porch.
It’s an umbrella. Emma quirks an eyebrow, kind of amused and kind of touched. It’s the most concern for Emma’s well-being that Regina’s ever displayed, and she pulls the umbrella out of the sleeve and finds a note inside. I expect you to return this when you’re done with your idiocy. I’ll be sitting in front of my fireplace with warm cocoa while you stab at monsters on your phone and consider the grim choices that have brought you to this pitiful moment of your life.
Emma texts her nice try, didn't save face and grins to herself, popping the umbrella open and climbing back onto the car.
She curls her toes in her boots, tugging out her phone and glancing up at Henry’s window on automatic. It’s long past his bedtime, and it’s more of a reflex than anything; and she’s startled when she sees Regina standing by his window instead with his storybook in her arms, her eyes lonely and her face drawn with wrenching dismay.
She sees Emma a moment after Emma sees her, and it’s with a fierce glare that can’t mask the agony that had been on her face moments before. Emma watches her in silence, and Regina huffs and storms away.
Neither of them are very good at flight when there’s fight to be had, though, and Emma is less than surprised when Regina opens the front door and calls tiredly over the rain, “Must you insinuate yourself into every single nuance of my personal life, Sheriff?”
“Are you okay?” Emma can’t stop staring at her. Her face is still not quite stony, lines drawn through it like she’s aged a decade in an evening, and her defenses are all but gone.
Regina glares at her, though it’s more lackluster than ever. “Do you care?”
Emma says, “No,” because that’s the answer she’s supposed to give. But she doesn’t take the gym that night, either, and wakes up to a sharply worded text. Spare me the pity party and get your feeble Arcanine back to my house immediately.
She drives by before work, pleased to discover that Regina’s already left home, and takes the gym for the rest of the day.
The summons to Regina’s office a few days later is worrying, but Henry shrugs when she asks him and brings up a plot to lock David and Mary Margaret in an elevator together. Which is equally worrying, but she’s pretty sure that they can handle it, seeing as Town Hall has one of the only elevators in town and it happens to be a Pokestop. Mary Margaret has been enthusiastically evolving Exeggcutes lately (“There’s something so peaceful about a walking tree, you know?”) and it’s been helping with the whole pining-for-a-married man thing.
She musses Henry’s hair and says, “Do whatever you need to,” and saunters from the station to Regina’s office, pushing open the door and poking her head in. “What have I done now?”
“Sit,” Regina orders. She looks agitated, more so than usual, and she’s glaring at her phone. Emma sits. Regina leans forward, eyes dark. “Check your app.”
“There’s an app?” Emma says, lost. “How did this town go from the eighteenth century to a town app in, like, two–“
“Don’t make me say it,” Regina hisses, and Emma stares at her blankly until she grinds out, “Pokémon.” Her pronunciation is perfect, with even the proper é that no one uses, and Emma grins and opens the app.
Her grin fades five minutes later, once she manages opening it successfully. The gym– their gym– is…
“Yellow?” Emma says, gaping at the phone. “I didn’t even know we had anyone from Team Instinct in Storybrooke? What the hell?”
“It’s been like that all morning,” Regina says grimly. “I got rid of their Lapras when I woke up, but it was back at breakfast– and then back again by the time I left the house. Someone must have hacked the system.” Her eyes narrow, a new, confident intensity taking hold of her expression. “Whatever they do, we can do better. I’ll call Sidney, have him trace the username–“
She looks a bit like she might be capable of murdering a dozen men over this, and Emma is alarmed at how endearing (and yes, okay, attractive as fuck) it is. “Okay, calm down. No one is hacking the system. This is Storybrooke. You had dial-up on Henry’s computer when I first came here. No one here can handle that.” She shakes her head. “There must have been someone catching Pokemon outside, that’s all. We’ll take them out tonight.”
Regina nods curtly. “You’ll be over after Henry’s bedtime?”
“It’s a date,” Emma says, and Regina’s eyebrows shoot up. “Uh,” Emma says. “It’s a…plan. We’ll turn that gym blue in no time.”
“Red,” Regina corrects her archly, but she’s smiling again, the kind of smile that Emma imagines she usually gets when she’s plotting Emma’s demise. “No one touches our Pokémon gym.”
Our Pokémon gym. It’s not quite our son, but it still makes Emma’s heart flutter a tiny bit.
Henry gives her a dubious look when he pulls the door open for her. He’s already in pajamas and had already been in bed, but she’d spotted him at his bedroom window and he’d bolted to get the door for her. “Is this a part of Operation Cobra?”
“Kind of?” Emma suggests, glancing toward Regina’s study. She suspects that Regina may actually murder her if she ever spills about this particular hobby. Curses and spells and the Evil Queen probably sound perfectly socially acceptable compared to Pokemon Go. “Your mom and I are talking town business.”
Henry tilts his head, brow furrowing. “Make sure you don’t eat anything she offers you. Especially apples.” He lowers his voice. “The curse gave her an iPhone. I bet she thinks it’s funny.”
Emma laughs. Henry says disapprovingly, “Emma…”
“Henry…” comes a voice behind them in the exact same cadence. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Regina and Henry aren’t biologically related, and Emma swallows back loss and regret and that irritating fondness she can’t quash and watches Henry turn around to face his mother, slouching and pouting with practiced ease.
Regina melts, because of course she does. “I thought I already tucked you in, honey.”
Henry shrugs. “I was thirsty. Can Emma bring me back to bed?” He looks at her hopefully, and Emma winces as the soft lines of Regina’s face harden.
“Bed. Now,” she orders Henry in a distinctive Mom Voice, and he scrambles upstairs and lurks near the railing, watching them surreptitiously.
Regina turns to Emma, her smile thin-lipped and false. “Cider?” she says, and doesn’t wait for a response. She closes the study door behind them firmly.
“He’s still giving you a hard time, huh.” Emma hooks a thumb into the waistband of her jeans, attempting to sound casual. Regina inclines her head, turned away from Emma as she pours cider from a decanter into two glasses.
She swallows a good portion of her glass before she responds. “I initially downloaded the Pokemon app because he told me that a few of his classmates were fans. I thought it was…something we could do together. But I suppose he found a better partner.” Her eyes are hard on Emma, still unforgiving when it comes to Henry.
But Emma has a response this time. “He won’t play with me, either. He’s decided it’s a waste of time when there’s a curse to break.” She laughs. “The other day, he suggested that this was some master plan for you to set the Savior off-course.”
A shadow flits across Regina’s face, and Emma regrets bringing up Henry’s curse at once. But Regina links her fingers and leans back against the couch, sighing. “That would have been a brilliant master plan, indeed. It’s a shame the great and terrible Evil Queen has become another casualty of the game instead.”
Emma shifts, uncomfortable at her own compassion for the other woman. “He’ll come around, you know. Archie says he’s just…coping in his own way with all the changes he’s been through.”
Regina finishes her cider and pours another glass, watching Emma with eyes that bore into her. “I’m not a good person, Sheriff. I’ve long made peace with that. But I never wanted Henry to have to. Even if it’s through the nonsense that you’ve been playing along with,” she adds swiftly.
Emma watches her, chagrined and defensive. On a whim, she reaches over and kind of grips her arm, awkward and too tight. She lets it go a moment later, horribly embarrassed, and Regina clears her throat and reaches for her phone. “I took the gym again when I got home, but it was gone after dinner. This yellow player isn’t someone who happened to walk by this morning. This is a concerted attack on our gym.”
“Could be GPS spoofing to make them seem like they’re here,” Emma offers. “Or someone could be lurking in your yard. Who knows?”
Regina jerks around as though she can see them, and then shakes her head. “Helpful, Sheriff. Why don’t you make yourself useful and lower this gym’s prestige?”
Lowering the gym’s prestige means both of them on their phones, stabbing at the Lapras and the other Pokemon who’ve been placed in the gym since it had last been taken. For such a small team, the yellow players seem to have flocked toward a rare gym with their colors, and Emma has to battle down seven Pokemon just to empty the gym.
She peeks across the coffee table to Regina, who’s sitting with her legs crossed and one thumb moving feverishly over her phone screen. Her brows are knit together, a look of pure glee on her face, and Emma peers over her screen to watch her shooting fire at her opponent again and again with a Magmar. “Do you only use fire type Pokemon?”
Regina looks huffy at the question. “I like fire.”
“I’m shocked,” Emma says dryly, watching Regina scroll through her Pokemon to reassemble her team for another round. “You named your Mankey after me?” Her Diglett is listed as David Nolan and she has a Clefairy named for Mary Margaret, because of course she does. There’s an impressive-looking Pidgeot with Henry’s name beneath it, and a Growlithe Emma’s pleased to see has been listed as Emma’s Menace. “Could be worse, I guess.”
“The Mankey has your eyes,” Regina says smugly. She stabs fiercely at the screen again, emptying the gym at last, and Emma places her Arcanine in it an instant later. “Swan,” Regina growls. On Emma’s screen, the gym is surrounded with the dust and ring of fire that accompany a gym battle.
Emma waits. A moment later, the gym is empty again, and Emma immediately places a new Pokemon in it before Regina can move. Regina fumes. Emma has drunk enough cider that she finds it really, really cute. “Here,” she offers, filling Regina’s tumbler. “Have a drink.”
“Go to hell,” Regina says, and Emma watches a new ring of fire appear around the gym.
“You just don’t give up, do you?” she sighs, kind of impressed and kind of alarmed.
Regina looks up at her, her stabbing finger wrapped around her glass. “What do you–“
The gym turns yellow. They both freeze. Then they’re bolting for the door, cider forgotten and their phones in their hands.
“We have no choice,” Regina decides. “We’re going to have to make extra accounts. We’ll have to put together a team so formidable that the yellow player won’t be able to put their filthy little hands on our gym.”
“Uh-huh,” Emma says agreeably.
Regina eyes her suspiciously, as though she can’t tell if Emma’s serious or mocking her. “You’ll join red on your secondary accounts, of course. No more of this blue nonsense. We’ll take every gym in town, and anyone who dares challenge our dominion will be crushed on the spot.” Her eyes are glittering with that same fire that she gets when she talks about zone restructuring, and she rounds on Emma. “Are you with me or are you against me, Sheriff?”
“With you. A little concerned about the town at large, but with you.” Emma swallows the last of her drink. “Though…not that I’m questioning your tactics, but why are we having a meeting at Granny’s on a Saturday morning about this?”
Regina smiles. It’s cold and a little terrifying. “Because, Miss Swan,” she says, cutting her pancake into long strips. “Today, we hunt.”
And boy, do they hunt.
Regina has Sidney driving around town at a glacial pace with four phones open on the passenger seat, each racking up mileage to hatch their eggs. They set up lures at their work Pokestops that bring more Pokemon to them for a half hour a lure. The rest of the time is spent traipsing through the woods and along the beach, collecting as many Pokemon as they can with their spare accounts.
Regina is terrifying on a mission, stalking through sand in heels and a pantsuit and pushing Emma further and further. “There are reports of a Polliwhirl near the cannery,” she orders, and takes off at a run. “Only six Meowths?” she demands a few minutes later, glaring at Emma’s haul in disapproval. “Do you think this is a game?”
No. No, she most certainly does not.
And somehow, this madcap weekend leads to Sunday night: Emma climbing over a fence with both their phones, crouching in Gold’s backyard as she hunts for the Tauros they’ve spotted there. Gold has a pool, that bastard. She circles the yard twice, watching as the Tauros moves out of first place in the Nearby tab and then back into it, and there’s still no sign of the Pokemon.
Wait. Gold has a pool. And it’s a big one, big enough that it might be hiding a Pokemon at its center. And he’s the kind of asshole who has it half full even in a freezing Maine winter.
“You have to get it,” Regina hisses from between two fence slats. “Do you want yellow to win?”
“Over my dead body,” Emma grits out. “Apparently.”
She kicks off her boots, jeans and jacket and passes them over the fence to Regina. There’s an intake of breath from Regina’s general area as she walks away, and at least if she’s going to die, she might as well die smug.
She ducks under the pool cover and slides into the pool gingerly, sucking in a loud breath as the nearly ice-cold water hits her bare legs. And the phones on the edge of the pool buzz a moment later– just as she hits actual ice on one side of the pool and skids.
She falls, smacking her head against the side of the pool and her vision blurring and blacking. She thinks for a second of dying here– cold and alone and missing forever, without even a goodbye for Henry or Mary Margaret– and then there’s a frantic whisper of her name and someone is in the pool with her; is pulling her up against them; is hissing her name in a louder, more irritated tone–
“Regina,” Emma manages, sagging against her.
Regina exhales in a flood of air that warms Emma’s cheek. “Emma,” she breathes. She’s still fully clothed– standing in stockings with cold water up past her knees, and Emma rests against her in her freezing, wet turtleneck and underwear. Regina pushes her away, holds her by the arms to glare at her. “I thought you’d died.”
“Give me time,” Emma offers, shivering uncontrollably. “Can we please leave this pool now?”
Regina nods fervently. “We just–“
A door opens somewhere above them and they freeze. “Who’s there?” Gold says. There’s the sound of a cane on the patio. “Who’s out there?” he repeats. “Do I have to call the sheriff?”
Emma’s eyes widen. Regina yanks the phones from the side of the pool just in time, pulling the tarp that covers it back over them. “Oh, god,” she whispers. “Not him.”
The cane bangs against the patio near the pool. Emma shivers harder, flattening herself against the wall of the pool, and struggles to breathe. “Are you dying?” Regina hisses.
“M-Maybe,” Emma manages, and then she’s being pulled into warm arms, against a warm body, Regina pointedly avoiding her gaze as she saves her life. Emma lifts her own hands to rest them against Regina’s back, leaning in closer; and fuck their battles and the fact that they hate each other, it’s so cold and she needs this.
“Hello?” Gold is sounding uncertain as he steps into the grass. Regina has a vice grip around Emma, her fingers pressed to Emma’s skin, and Emma breathes as evenly as she can manage, the warmth of Regina’s body the only thing that she can focus on.
Regina moves her hands up and down Emma’s back, shivering too, and Emma can feel their breasts pressed together, Regina’s warm breath against her cheek, Regina’s ankle hooked around Emma’s bare leg. She pulls back for a moment, still groggy from the cold, and Regina’s hands move to her face, rubbing her cheeks in a circular motion. “Don’t you dare die,” she orders in a furious whisper. “I am not dragging your corpse out of Gold’s backyard.”
The cane returns to the patio, and after what feels like hours, Gold’s back door closes. “Wait,” Regina commands when Emma moves. “He’s still out there.”
And sure enough, after a few more minutes, the cane sounds against the patio again and Gold grunts out a curse, pulls open the door, and slams it shut. Emma marvels at how well Storybrooke’s two resident sociopaths understand each other–
–And okay, yes, Regina had just jumped into a freezing pool to save her life, so maybe she isn’t a complete sociopath. “Thank you,” Emma coughs out, climbing up the ladder with freezing feet. Regina gives her the final boost and then follows, tugging her heels out from under the tarp and staggering with Emma back to the car.
It’s warm. Emma is stripping off her shirt without thinking, starting the car and turning the heat all the way up. Warm, warm, warm. Who the fuck decided to introduce this game to Storybrooke in late autumn? Probably not someone who expected the sheriff and mayor of the town to trespass through it, hunting for Pokemon, she acknowledges to herself, and then freezes, remembering Regina.
She turns, and if she hadn’t been warm before, she’s suddenly hotter than she’d been able to imagine a few minutes before. Regina is seated in the passenger seat, her eyes raking over Emma’s torso unashamedly, and Emma straightens automatically, pulls her shoulders back and quivers with a little more than residual cold. Slowly, deliberately, her eyes still on Emma, Regina slides her hands up her skirt and begins to ease off her wet stockings.
Emma gapes, watching every inch of toned leg exposed by Regina’s skillful hands. Regina smiles that dangerous smile again– the one that knows and exults in it, the one that turns Emma’s mind to blissful emptiness– and stretches her leg out in the cramped Bug, pushing the seat back and resting her foot against the glove compartment.
Emma doesn’t move a muscle. Regina is still staring at her, her eyes fixed somewhere around Emma’s cleavage, and Emma clears her throat and says faintly, “It’s…kind of warm in here, isn’t it?”
“You turned up the heat,” Regina points out, the smile playing at the edges of her lips. “What did you expect?”
And then– and then!– she reaches over and turns the dial back down, her hand grazing the side of Emma’s bare arm as she does. Emma chokes, catches Regina’s wrist, watches her eyes turn almost glittering black as she looks up.
They pause, Emma’s fingers wrapped around Regina’s wrist and the air between them bristling with anticipation. Emma craves it, wants to surge forward and yank Regina against her and…god, bury her face in those impossible thighs. Regina is watching her like she might not be averse to any of that, and Emma jerks Regina forward– Regina falls to her obediently– and then her elbow hits the horn and there’s a loud beep that startles them both.
Regina jerks back. “Drive. Drive!” she says, glancing around frantically. Emma drives, wheels around the corner and down the block and finally pulls into Regina’s driveway. Her heart is pounding and she’s run through so many sensations in the past half hour that she imagines that her body might just refuse to go on, soon, just collapse under the weight of all of it and leave her in this seat for the rest of the night.
Emma jams the car into park, exhaling at last. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, the mood broken.
“Wait!” Regina says suddenly, and Emma hesitates, dares for a moment to think that they might–
“The Tauros,” Regina says, passing Emma her phone. Somehow, Regina had managed to press the Pokemon on street view as they’d run from the pool, and the window is still open with the Tauros on it, ready to be caught. Somehow, Regina had managed to remember that after they’d almost…
Emma doesn’t know when all of Regina’s most execrable traits had become the things she likes most about her, but it’s…unsettling.
And kind of nice.
Despite every Pokemon they’d planted in the gym that night, there’s still a yellow gym when Emma checks in the morning. “Afternoon walks,” Regina decides. “We’ll leave straight from work and pick up Henry on the way.”
“We?” Emma prompts, not ready to dare to hope–
Regina fixes her with a steely look. “Are you backing out now?”
“No! No, I just–“ Emma stops herself. She isn’t going to question it. She’s going to go for a long walk with Regina and her son, and she can do it without a single word, if that’s what it’ll take.
It doesn’t. Henry stares at both of them when they make their way to his school, his face tense with fear. “What happened?” he says, glancing wildly from Emma to Regina. “Why are you both here?”
“No one is dying,” Regina assures him. “Not even Sheriff Swan.” Emma rolls her eyes. “We were just finishing up some work on the way here.”
“Okay,” Henry says slowly. “Is Emma coming back home with us?” His hopeful face is bright, brighter than it’s been around Regina in a long time, and Regina freezes, her eyes wide and unguarded.
Emma says quickly, “I actually have a shift tonight–“
“You can foist it on your alternate,” Regina says, her face unreadable. Emma is oddly guilty at the invite, her stomach twisting uncomfortably. “You’re going to come for dinner. For Henry’s sake,” she adds, and Emma can hear the twinge of a lie in her voice and wonders what she’s hiding.
Pokemon, probably. She flashes a grin at Henry and then another at Regina, who purses her lips and tries hard not to smile back before she fails. Emma can feel her heart pulsing in her ears and her chest, warm and soft as Regina’s smile. Henry eyes her dubiously and pulls her over when they make it to the house. (The gym is still red, somehow.)
“What’s up with you and my mom?” he demands in a whisper.
Emma flushes, a plethora of images flashing through her mind that somehow stop at Regina holding her against her in that pool, Emma’s head against her cheek. “We’re getting along somehow.”
“Did she enchant you?” Henry holds up a finger and moves it from side to side. “Follow my finger with your eyes. Tell me about any times with her you can’t remember.”
“Henry…” Emma says, exasperated.
“Fine. Not an enchantment. How did she win you over to her side?” he asks, his little fists clenched. “What did she say to you to make you work with her? Did she tell you about the curse? Did she–“
“Henry, enough.” Emma puts up a hand. “She didn’t do anything. We’ve just been…working together on a project and…I don’t know, she’s grown on me.” She wrinkles her nose. “Or I’ve developed a resistance.” She thinks for a moment of long fingers sliding stockings down bare skin– of Regina’s eyes narrowed and gleeful as she fights Pokemon– of an umbrella on a porch and that little gasp of delight that had escaped Regina when she’d caught a Golduck the other day. No, there’s no resistance to Regina. “Isn’t it good that we’re kind of friends now? Even for…your curse? The Evil Queen can’t do anything evil if she’s busy with the savior all the time, right?”
“Right,” Henry says grudgingly, but his eyes are searching. “Just…don’t let her corrupt you, okay?”
Too late, kid, she doesn’t say, and she moves from the living room to see if Regina needs any help with dinner.
She comes face-to-derriere with Regina’s body, bent over the fridge as she pulls something out, and loses her train of thought. “Uh,” she says.
Regina rises, smirking knowingly, and Emma says instead, “Have you been standing like that this whole time?”
Regina rolls her head. “You’re impossible. Peel the potatoes.” She thrusts them at Emma. Emma fishes through kitchen drawers until she finds a peeler. “Has Henry ascertained to his satisfaction that you haven’t been cursed?”
“He did an alcohol check,” Emma says, bemused. “For…enchantment.”
Regina gives her a scornful look. “Please. My enchantments are far better than the sort you can detect with an alcohol check.”
Emma laughs. Regina does not. Emma clears her throat. “Look, I don’t think it’s fair for me to…force my way in here just because you don’t want Henry to be angry with you,” she says haltingly. “I can make an excuse and leave. I won’t make you the bad guy.” She finds herself more and more concerned with both of them– Henry and Regina’s wellbeing, Henry and Regina’s happiness, Henry and Regina working through this thing– as the days pass.
Regina stares at her, eyebrows raised in an expression Emma can’t quite read. “Well, what do you know?” she says. “You do learn.”
But there’s no censure in her tone, and she’s suddenly right next to Emma, her hand resting on Emma’s before Emma can peel the next potato. “Strip them the long way,” she says, twisting the potato under Emma’s hand. “It’s a lot faster.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, blinking rapidly. “Sorry. I used to do this a lot at one of my foster homes,” she admits. “One of the better ones. But there was a dickhole of a friend of the family underfoot most nights, and if I took my time in the kitchen helping for dinner, I wouldn’t have to be around him as much. It became a habit, I guess.”
Regina’s eyes are still unreadable, but she slides her hand off of Emma’s and rests it briefly on Emma’s shoulder, an awkward little pat that has Emma flushing.
“Do what you want,” Regina says, her voice rough. And then, “I didn’t invite you for dinner out of some obligation toward Henry.”
“Okay,” Emma says, and bites her lip and peels another potato, the silence in the room thick with unspoken words. There are footsteps in the hallway that halt outside the kitchen, Henry eavesdropping shamelessly, and Emma quirks her lips and says, “If you wanted my secret potato casserole recipe, you just had to ask.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Regina says without missing a beat. If Emma’s in tune to Henry’s comings and goings, she suspects that Regina’s several steps ahead of her. “I’ll know never to ask, then.”
“How dare you,” Emma says, mock-outraged. “There were four different kinds of cheeses in it. It would have been the best thing you’ve ever…” She realizes where the sentence is going and fishes desperately for a better way to finish it. “Uh. Ever…put in your–“ She cringes. Regina’s eyes are smug, her arms folded as she leans against the counter and waits. Emma hasn’t wanted to hit her this hard since that time she’d thrown her up against a crypt wall. “Tast– no, eate– god, Regina, help me.”
Regina throws back her head and laughs. It’s a full-bodied laugh, sparkling in the tension of the kitchen like rain in the desert that turns beige to green in moments. Emma gapes, thunderstruck as only Regina can do to her, but this is the most– this is–
She’s holding the potatoes sideways again, leaving spirals of peels on the cutting board in front of her and just as reluctant to leave this kitchen as she’d been as a thirteen-year-old girl.
The gym is yellow again by the time they eat dinner, and Emma lingers in the hall after dinner, reluctant to leave just yet. But they both seem to know not to push it, and Emma goes home and drives back much later in the night to recover the gym.
She’s all but abandoned her original account by now; instead, she has three red accounts to back Regina up when they take the gym, and wakes up in consternation when the gym is yellow in the morning anyway. Better. Stronger, Regina pushes her, and Emma can feel herself getting caught up in Regina’s determination, becoming just as determined to win as she’d once been against Regina.
Being on the same side is…different. Emma misses battling her sometimes, misses the rush of their conflict and seeing murder in Regina’s eyes. But fighting with Regina is somehow even better, that same rush still present but with this formidable woman at her side.
Tonight, they’re searching a grassy shore near the edge of town where Leroy insists he’s seen multiple Dratinis. Henry had watched them suspiciously as Ruby had waved goodbye, and Emma’s beginning to wonder how much longer his storybook is going to explain away their nighttime outings. But this one is worth it.
“Baby dragon Pokemon,” Emma says, spreading out the beach towel they’d brought along. “Why is it a water Pokemon?”
Regina shrugs. “Dratini becomes Dragonair becomes Dragonite. I don’t make the rules.”
“Reddit said that Dragonites tend to stay near historic buildings,” Emma recalls from her research. “And Leroy is drunk and hallucinating half the time. We might be better off at Town Hall or the clock tower.”
Regina laughs, tiny and a little hoarse. “Yes, Emma, there’s a dragon under the library.”
Emma stretches out across the beach towel, tucking her arms under her head. “And I accuse Henry of buying into fairytales,” she says, poking at Regina’s ankle with her toe. “Meanwhile, we’re chasing anime monsters around town.”
“Trust me, this is the most exciting thing that’s happened in this town in decades,” Regina deadpans. She bends down, eyes on something in the grass. “And if you’d recall that being out here doesn’t just mean you’re surrounded by imaginary creatures–“ She moves her foot and then her gloved hand flashes out at the ground and emerges with a water snake.
“Whoa!” Emma scrambles back, her eyes wide. Regina flicks her wrist and tosses the snake a dozen feet into the water. “What did you– How did you–“ She isn’t sure what she’s more unnerved by– the snake so close to her towel or Regina exhibiting absolute fearlessness around it.
Regina smirks, settling down beside Emma on the towel. “I wasn’t always Madam Mayor, Emma. I used to run wild through my parents’ estate, collecting bugs and snakes and sneaking them into my least favorite tutor’s bags.”
Emma gapes at her. “No way.”
“Don’t worry, I outgrew it in adolescence,” Regina drawls. “After that, it was all horses, all the time.” A shadow crosses her face. “I picked up more appropriate interests later.”
Emma groans. “Please tell me you didn’t own your own pony.” She shouldn’t be this surprised about Regina’s upbringing, but somehow it still doesn’t quite sit right, even though Regina is telling her the truth. There are gaps– somewhere. She doesn’t know.
“Horse,” Regina says absently, starting up her Pokemon app again. “Rocinante, actually.” She sounds sad again.
Emma whistles. “You really had it all, didn’t you?”
“I suppose it must seem that way,” Regina says, and she turns to look at Emma, dark eyes on Emma’s puzzled gaze. She smiles a small, tight smile, and makes as though she’s going to turn away but can’t quite do it. “I…” She swallows.
Emma reaches out and her hand lands on Regina’s knee, her thumb tracing patterns in her skin. Regina doesn’t pull away. “It’s good,” Emma says hesitantly. “That you…that Henry got to grow up like this, with that kind of money and background. I didn’t know where he’d go, but I used to dream of someone like you for him.”
“A mother he despises?” Regina says, and she’s even more despondent now, her hands wringing together on her lap. “A mother whom he’s been trying to replace?”
“A mother who loves him,” Emma murmurs, and Regina shudders against her palm, her hands trembling as they thump on the screen of her phone. “Who provides for him like I wasn’t able to. He’s very lucky.” She’d come to town and wanted to hate Regina– to see a relationship that wouldn’t be enough, that would justify Emma staying. She’d seen Regina as a villain and been vindicated each time she’d been proven right.
But once she’s started watching them, Henry and Regina and searching for that elusive thing between them that seems so close to ruin, all she can see is what is missing now instead of what’s there. What had been there, in automatic touches that are rejected and words that sit on their tongues like they’ve gone sour. And she can’t deny what it means, when she takes a step back– when being around Henry isn’t a fight every time and she has the space to see– and how much she’d wanted it before she’d met him. “He’ll understand that someday. I don’t think he…I don’t think he despises you.”
“Emma…” Regina says, and her name is warmth in the cold Maine winter. “I…”
Their phones buzz in unison, and Emma lets go of Regina’s knee to stare at the screen. “That isn’t a Dratini.”
“It’s a Dragonair,” Regina says, gazing at the winged snake-creature on her screen with a little bit of amazement. “I can’t believe it.”
There is something magical about it– about this night, out with Regina in the quiet with whispered confessions and gentle gazes– and Emma raises her phone a bit, until the game’s screen displays the Dragonair hovering on Regina’s lap, and she takes a screencap and smiles.
It’s easy for all of it to become regular– the early-morning glance at her phone that confirms that the gym is yellow again, followed by an early-morning stroll to the mayoral mansion to take it back with her spare red accounts. A walk to work with Regina and a Henry who looks less and less suspicious and just a bit happier each day, and then lunch with Regina in her office or the station.
Dinner is generally still with Mary Margaret, who makes gently prying remarks about her evenings. “You didn’t get in until after midnight last night,” she says. “You can’t tell me you were ‘doing work’ with Regina until then,” She hooks her fingers into air quotes at doing work, and Emma’s mouth falls open in outrage.
“I don’t know what you think Regina and I are doing, but–“
Mary Margaret purses her lips. “You’re not sitting around making eyes at each other from across the room?” Emma’s mouth drops a little bit more. Mary Margaret raises an eyebrow. “I saw you at PTA last week. I think I’d be a little less shocked if I thought you were just sleeping together.”
“Mary Margaret!” Emma says, outraged again. “I’m not– She’s not–“ She thinks of her hand on Regina’s knee, of Regina pressed against her in the freezing pool. She thinks of seeing Regina tonight and can feel her lips threatening to curve into a smile. “It’s just a special project,” she says lamely, and then, “Wait. She doesn’t make eyes at me!”
“Uh-huh,” Mary Margaret says, steepling her fingers under her chin. She gives Emma a light kick on the leg. “Go. Have fun. Make good choices.”
“You’re such a mom,” Emma teases, and definitely does not check her makeup as she dashes out the door.
Tonight, they’re doing a stakeout in Regina’s car, which is parked in her driveway and should be unobtrusive when the yellow player emerges. “Don’t you think you’d have seen someone skulking in your yard?” Emma had pointed out, which had led to another harrowing adventure breaking into Regina’s neighbors’ houses to see if they have access to the gym.
But they don’t, which means their culprit has to be lurking around here somewhere. Emma glances around warily as she pulls open the car door, but she doesn’t see anyone.
“Gym’s still red,” Regina says as Emma hands her a coffee. She’s in the driver’s seat, bundled up and squinting into the dark. “Did you have dinner yet?”
“Mary Margaret made ziti. Why, is there–?” She cranes her neck to the backseat and finds the warm Tupperware in a bag behind her. “Yes.”
Regina shakes her head indulgently. “You’re just as bad as Henry.”
“You adore Henry.”
“In spite of his worst genetic qualities,” Regina shoots back, but it’s light enough that Emma preens a little, leaning back against the seat as she digs through the dinner. “I didn’t see you this afternoon.”
“I had a bad run-in with…a wild animal,” Emma says, hoping desperately that Regina doesn’t know– “I had to get my arm checked out after.”
And Regina doesn’t, if her look of consternation is anything to go by. “A wild animal?” Regina repeats, inspecting her with sudden concern. She seizes Emma’s arm, rolling up her sleeve and gaping at the yellowish bruise. “Are you all right? What happened?”
“Nothing! It wasn’t a big deal,” Emma mutters, cringing. “Let's just…be happy I’m okay, okay?”
“Emma,” Regina says sternly, and there’s a hand on her chin, forcing her to meet Regina's eyes. “I am the mayor of this town. I am giving you, as my primary law enforcement agent in Storybrooke, a direct order. If you’re covering for someone–“
“It was a bunny rabbit,” Emma says glumly. Regina stares at her, uncomprehending. Emma pinches the bridge of her nose. “I was chasing some kids in the woods and I tripped over a rabbit and nearly broke my arm. Can we please go fight Pokemon now?”
Regina’s lips are pressed together as though she’s trying not to laugh but also wants something, something she can’t name, her heart shining through her eyes and a finger trailing across Emma’s cheek, and it’s so radiant that Emma is afraid to move and fall into the shade. “Yes,” Regina says finally. “Let’s fight Pokemon.”
They’ve planned for this moment for so long, loaded up extra accounts with enough Pokemon to dominate the gym, and now they remove the yellow players that have sprung up with ease. Only a Flareon remains after a few battles, and then Regina hisses, “Yes!” and the gym turns white, empty, waiting for someone to place their Pokemon inside.
Emma stabs at the gym a moment later and it’s–
–already yellow again, and there’s a movement in the mirror of the car–
–Regina is pushing the door open and Emma is running from the car, chasing the figure lurking in the bushes that border the property, hurtling forward and throwing her down in a single leap. The figure gasps, “What–?” and Emma looks up to see her face–
“I should have known!” Regina says furiously from behind her.
Mary Margaret stares up at them, eyes wide. “Known what? What are you– What’s going on here?” She glances from Emma to Regina, brow furrowed. “This is so much weirder than I thought–“
“Did you take our gym?” Regina demands, her eyes glinting with fire.
“It’s labeled Rock!” Mary Margaret protests. “I was just passing by!”
Emma glances down at her phone and the Pokemon in the yellow gym, and says, “Wait,” suddenly, letting Mary Margaret climb back to her feet. “This isn’t our guy’s avatar. You have a Gyarados?” The impressive-looking sea monster floats above the gym, twisting and hissing at the screen. “How the hell do you have a Gyarados? You raise Rattatas!”
Mary Margaret shrugs sheepishly. “I thought no one else would catch any Magikarps so I felt bad and collected as many as I could. And before I knew it, I had the hundred I needed to evolve one to a Gyarados. Isn’t it precious?”
Regina is staring at Mary Margaret as though she’s grown several heads. Mary Margaret says, “Regina, I didn’t know you were the one who got Henry into Pokemon.”
Emma says, “Oh, Henry isn’t into Pokemon Go. He thinks it’s a frivolous distraction from the curse, or something.” Regina nods, her wary eyes still on Mary Margaret.
“Yes, he does,” Mary Margaret insists. “He was the one who called me over here. He said that a Tentacruel had spawned right in front of his house, and that I…” She frowns, glancing down at her phone as Regina and Emma gape at each other in startled realization. “I don’t see any Tentacruels. Oh, a Pidgey! Even better,” she coos, stabbing her finger down on the one on her screen.
Emma backs away from her and makes a break for the house. The Gyarados has been quietly joined by a Lapras with a familiar avatar, and Regina unlocks the door and barges upstairs a step ahead of Emma, both of them tearing into Henry’s bedroom at once.
Henry is a lump under the covers, unmoving, but there’s a little glow through his blanket and Emma tears it off in a moment.
Henry blinks owlishly up at them, sheepish, his phone still open to the Pokemon app. “Hi, guys,” he says.
“It’s not what you think,” he says first, sitting back against his pillow.
From her spot seated at the foot of the bed, Regina extends a hand. Henry hands over the phone reluctantly. “You were meant to use your cell phone only for emergency calls,” she says sternly.
“Yeah, and that worked when it was an old flip phone. But…” Henry shrugs. “Suddenly it wasn’t.” His eyes search out something in Regina’s and then she shrugs right back, her head dipping down in defeat. “I just wanted to…” Henry bites his lip. “I wanted to win for a change.” His eyes blaze with the kind of fire that his mother’s eyes have over the past few weeks, and Emma watches from her vantage point, leaning against the wall and feeling like an observer instead of a participant.
Regina stares at him, her face unreadable and her eyes glittering with unshed tears. “You wanted to defeat me.”
Henry bites his lip. “That’s what it was about at first, I guess. Then…” He turns and catches Emma’s eye, and then turns back to his mother pleadingly. “Then you started working with Emma and stopped being so mean and I thought that maybe– that it didn’t have to go the way that the book said. That maybe the Savior and the Evil Queen could be friends instead.” He hugs his little arms around him, looking very young, and Emma’s heart aches. “I don’t want you to be defeated anymore. I don’t want the curse to break if it means that we…that you… I just…I want you to be my mom,” he whispers, as though he’s ashamed of the admission, and Regina surges forward as he cries, pulls him into her arms and shuts her eyes as tears leak from behind her eyelids.
Henry is buried in Regina’s arms and happy there at last, content returning to the life he’d so soundly rejected before. Emma smiles for them, a lump in her throat as she backs out of the room and heads downstairs to give them some privacy.
She is a redundancy, a replacement that is no longer required, and she finds Regina’s cider and pours herself a glass before she leaves. She needs to…not think about any of it, about losing Henry or Regina or both– god, she’s happy they’re finding each other again and they’re going to get through this but–
She’s really on her way out, halfway through a third cup of cider and leaning against the wall of the foyer when Regina says from the stairs, “Henry’s asking for you.”
“Henry’s supposed to be asleep,” Emma says tiredly. “I know you hate when he’s up late.”
“Well, apparently he’s been up late every night for weeks,” Regina says, quirking an eyebrow. “He was worried that you’d left. Go say goodnight to him.” It’s an order, and Emma drags her feet upstairs and feels small arms around her, a small body clinging to her with just enough force that she might believe for a moment that she’s wanted.
“You really are the Savior,” Henry whispers against her side. “You saved Mom.” He beams up at her, and she tries her best to hide the way she quails at the title. But then he curls into bed sleepily and mumbles, “G’night. I love you,” and she doesn’t have any defense for the hot tears that spring to her eyes at that.
Regina takes her hand and leads her from the room in silence, down the stairs and to her study, where she takes a shuddering breath and says, “So.”
“So,” Emma agrees, deflating. There are no more excuses, no more reasons to beef up their Pokemon or play together. No more walks, no more late nights, no more quiet moments between them. “I guess we finally found our nemesis.”
“Right,” Regina says. Her voice is dull, and Emma dares hope for a moment that Regina might be as disappointed as she is to have lost their game. But then Regina laughs and murmurs, “A scheme to make us friends. Henry does like to reach for the stars.”
“He did okay this time,” Emma says tentatively.
Regina’s lips curve downward. “Let’s not go overboard, Sheriff.” The Sheriff burns through Emma, scorches something small and hopeful that had begun to unwind within her and turns it into ash.
Emma stares at Regina, sees fear and defensiveness flaring in her eyes, and takes a step back. “I just thought we were–“
“We were allies,” Regina says stiffly. “Temporary allies. We know our places.” She’s suddenly looking away from Emma, her arms tight around herself like Henry’s had been during his confession. She looks young as well, small and fragile in a way that Regina never has before, and Emma’s head is spinning and her stomach twisting unpleasantly.
“You saved my life,” Emma says disbelievingly. “You can’t tell me that you jumped into that pool because we know our places, Regina, for fuck’s sake–“
“You pulled me out of a burning building a few months ago,” Regina says coolly, and Emma still sees desperation in her gaze as Regina struggles to keep her face even. “Now we’re even.”
“That’s not how it works!” Emma says, exasperated at this…game, whatever the hell it is that they’re playing now.
Regina stares at her, the same exasperation building in her gaze. “Then how does it work?”
“It works like…” Emma starts helplessly. “Like…”
She doesn’t know which of them initiates the kiss, only that they both surge forward at the same moment and then there’s a kiss– there’s Regina’s lips on hers and hands cupping her face and Emma is gasping into Regina’s mouth, is biting her lip and her hands are running lines over her back and she’s never had a kiss like this before. This is Regina as uncompromising and full of fire as ever, familiar like stakeouts and afternoon walks and smirks across town meetings.
She’s on the couch somehow and she doesn’t know how she’d gotten there, but Regina is straddling her, her fingers sliding up Emma’s shirt as she breathes hard and kisses her again. Emma leans back, taking a breath in the frenzy of movement and briefly dumbstruck with awe. “Regina,” she murmurs, stroking her hair and a knuckle along her jawline. “Are we really…?”
Regina jolts. Emma can almost feel her dawning horror as a palpable thing, settling over the room like poison in the atmosphere that rips through her, and Regina scrambles off of her and across the room, her hands turned around and pressed against the wall as though to steady her.
“Regina,” Emma says, her head too clear and her hands shaking. “Regina, we–“
“Get out,” Regina says, her voice like steel.
Emma turns on her heel and runs from the room.
She trips twice on the way back to the loft, tears a hole in the knee of her jeans and is determinedly Not Affected by Regina until Mary Margaret opens the door and says, “You look awful.”
“I’m fine,” Emma mumbles, but she’s being determinedly led to a chair and seated as Mary Margaret fishes through the first aid kit. “Ow!” Whatever she’s put on Emma’s skinned knee stings, and Emma grits her teeth and focuses on it instead of the sharp pain in her stomach–
–Which folds over a moment later and Emma is rushing to the bathroom, emptying her stomach of two dinners and three glasses of cider as her roommate holds her hair back and says dryly, “So I guess you didn’t get that Tentacruel either, huh?”
Emma sprawls out against the wall of the bathroom, her laugh more like a strained cough, and Mary Margaret wipes down the toilet seat cover and perches on it. “I kissed her,” Emma says, and she’s so tired. “She kicked me out.”
“I see.” Mary Margaret’s brow creases, but there’s no judgment. Just calm eyes fixed on Emma. “Are you in love with her?”
The floodgates open and Emma can’t, Emma doesn’t cry like this, god. Emma tilts her head back and sobs, overwhelmed at every way she’s been tugged through this and the emotional upheaval of the night. Mary Margaret slides off the toilet seat and onto the floor beside her, wraps an arm around Emma’s shoulders and kisses her hair as Emma cries against her side.
“It’s so stupid,” she manages. “Why do I care if– she doesn't even think we were friends and now we’ve ruined whatever progress we’ve managed to–“
“She doesn’t think you’re friends?” Mary Margaret repeats, a picture of skepticism. “Emma, she’s different now. The two of you have been running around, thick as thieves, and she’s started smiling at people like she means it. She stopped me at the grocery yesterday and asked how my day was going.”
Emma can’t help the choked laugh that escapes her. “I mean, yeah, she’s been getting better, but it’s not–“
“She asked me about your favorite dinners,” Mary Margaret says flatly. “She pulled over the woman she hates most in this town to ask her about making you happy, so yes, I would say you aren’t friends.” Emma gapes at her. Her tears are starting to dry, and she doesn’t know what to make of any of this. Mary Margaret rubs her back soothingly. “And I’ve seen how happy you’ve been lately. I think that…if you have these feelings for Regina, you should talk to her. Because you’re good for each other.” She makes a face. “I can’t believe I’m saying this about Regina, but…”
“She’s never going to talk to me again,” Emma sighs, shutting her eyes. “We…there are lines you don’t cross.” They’ve flirted with that line for so long, stood too close and looked in all the wrong places and were almost, but never quite there. And Emma had thought that they’d get there eventually and deal with it then, but instead she’d miscalculated and Regina had turned away.
Mary Margaret shrugs her shoulders delicately. There are moments when Emma can forget that she’s in love with a married man; that she’s ended things with him for good but they’re still tossing sidelong glances at each other at Granny’s and Mary Margaret has botched every date she’s had since. Then there are moments like this, when Mary Margaret shifts into someone lonely and wistful and Emma can only think of how acutely she deserves better. “It’s up to you to decide if she's worth fighting for,” Mary Margaret says, and Emma lays her head against Mary Margaret’s shoulder and rests an arm at her waist in a half-hug.
If she’s worth fighting for. It’s the mildest encouragement Mary Margaret’s ever given her, when it comes to potential love interests. But then again, this is Regina and Mary Margaret is only human.
So Emma thinks about it, through an impersonal nod at a town meeting and an encounter at Granny’s after work that earns her a tight hug from Henry and the silent treatment from Regina. Henry looks between them, alarmed, and Regina gives Emma a thin smile instead that has Henry even more anxious.
Emma seethes just a tiny bit and drives over to Regina’s house, where the Pokemon gym is…occupied by a couple of red players who aren’t either of theirs. She fights them all until they’re removed from the gym and sets her Arcanine in place there, in prime passive-aggressiveness, and then goes to work for another day without lunches with Regina.
Is it possible to ache for someone’s kisses after they’ve only kissed once? To dream in technicolor of hands that have barely touched her skin; to dwell on a child’s bedroom with two mothers in front of him? She doesn’t know; and yet, she aches anyway. And it only takes a day before she knows that she can’t go on like they’d been before.
But Regina has ignored her all day, sent out a clear message that she isn’t going to engage with Emma, and Emma’s at a loss. How is she supposed to coax Regina out if Regina won’t come to her?
“You’ve been running around town racking up the strongest Pokemon in Storybrooke, and now you can’t catch one woman?” Mary Margaret shakes her head in mock disappointment.
“Need a bigger Pokeball,” Emma grumbles, washing her dinner plate. Then she freezes, an idea coming to her. “Wait.”
She dashes out the door and down the road, straight to the area of Main Street where three Pokestops overlap each other outside Granny’s. It’s a few dollars to buy lures from the Pokemon Go store and set them up at each of the three Pokestops, inviting a veritable stream of Pokemon and…
The street begins to fill up almost immediately, players with their eyes on their phones as they drift to the Pokemon hotspot. Emma settles just inside Granny’s outdoor eating area, her eyes on the road as people pass by. The half hour runs out and she sets up another three lures, waiting, waiting…
Nothing. The second half-hour batch of lures fade out, and Emma stubbornly stabs her finger on the shop button, ready to purchase some more, when there’s a sigh from behind her. “You can stop now,” Regina says, still avoiding her eyes. “I’m here.”
“Oh,” Emma says, deflated mid-mission. “I…good.”
“Come with me. Or we could stay here and catch more Weedles,” Regina says lightly. “Up to you.” Her fingers betray her tone, fiddling nervously with her jacket like she’s just as uncertain as Emma is.
Emma says, “Well, maybe for an Eevee,” and Regina laughs. It’s muted and a little wet, and Emma’s pretty sure she’d follow her anywhere in the universe at that moment. She settles for following Regina to her car, ducking into the now-familiar passenger seat and waiting in silence for Regina to choose where they’re going to go.
They pass the mansion and slow, but then Regina shakes her head and mutters, “Not again,” to herself.
Emma bites her lip, glances down at the still-blue gym on her phone screen. “You didn’t take back the gym,” she says, and it sounds timid and needy even to her own ears.
Regina pauses at a stop sign and looks over at her for the first time, her eyes tired but something important glittering within them. “I missed that big hairy puppy of yours,” she murmurs, and Emma wonders for a moment if they really might be okay after this.
They park at the grassy area at the edge of town where they’d found the Dragonair, and Emma sinks down into the grass first. Regina follows suit a minute later, her knees up and her arms dangling over them. “I’m not a…I’m not a good person,” she confesses in a low voice. Emma looks at her, startled. “I don’t think you really understand that.”
“I did meet you before we became Pokemon buddies,” Emma reminds her. “I know you can be a little…prickly at times.” She dares to put her hand on Regina’s knee and Regina doesn’t pull away. “And we’ve both been pretty reactionary. I don’t think that makes you the Evil Queen.” She snickers, but Regina doesn’t laugh with her.
Instead, she says, “And if I am?”
“If I am the Evil Queen,” Regina says. Emma laughs again. Regina winces. “Just…humor me, all right?”
“Fine,” Emma says, somewhere between bewildered and bemused. “If you are the Evil Queen…I don’t think that changes the fact that you’re a good mom– a great mom– and a pretty decent mayor, when you aren’t terrorizing Mary Margaret or confiscating phones during a town meeting right when a Polliwhirl spawns.” Regina finally laughs, but it’s even closer to the verge of tears, and Emma winces and forges on. “And it doesn’t change the way that I feel about you.”
“Yes, it does,” Regina says, pulling away. Her shoulders shift forward, closing her off from Emma, and Emma squeezes her knee and listens. “It’s…My past isn’t one that you’d be able to move past. I’ve hurt…a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of dark things.” She inhales through her nose, more of a sniffle than a breath. “Things you wouldn’t be able to forgive me for.”
“Okay,” Emma says slowly. “I’m not…saying I’m okay with whatever it is you haven’t told me.” She’s beginning to wonder, doubt creeping in and souring her faith in Regina, and she thinks again of if she’s worth fighting for and the doubt settles to peace. “I just…I think that I’d rather work through it with you than alone,” she admits, shutting her eyes. “I don’t want to lose you because of someone you were when I…feel this way about the person you are now.”
“Emma,” Regina says, her voice heavy and thick, and she turns to Emma, catches her face in her palms and touches her skin as though she’s memorizing it. She runs her fingers along Emma’s jawline, twists them into her hair, lets them graze Emma’s arm as goosebumps break out under Emma’s sweater at Regina’s touch. “I’m sorry about last night,” Regina murmurs, and Emma hooks Regina’s fingers to hers and holds them steady in her palm. “I choked.”
“It happens,” Emma says, her heart jittery and her head buzzing. “If you hadn’t kicked me out, I probably would have wound up running,” she concedes wryly. She doesn’t think she’d be trying now if Regina hadn’t given up; but there’s something about the two of them that ensures that they’re stubborn enough not to both quit at once.
“I’m afraid of what comes next,” Regina whispers, eyes rising to catch Emma’s and holding. They’re darker than Emma’s ever seen them before, and there’s fear and dread suffusing her gaze.
“Why,” Emma says, raising their joined hands to run her knuckles across Regina’s cheek.
Regina says, “Because I’m fairly certain that I love you,” and leans in to kiss Emma. It’s nothing like the frenetic kisses of the night before. It’s slow, tender, and Emma is overcome with only the lightest touch of her lips against Regina’s. There’s an odd sensation rising through her, curling her toes and warmth rushing through her veins until it explodes from her lips where they’re pressed to Regina’s and reverberates around them in a rush of rainbow light.
Emma blinks at Regina, who’s smiling at her through unshed tears. “Was that…are we especially gay, or was that magic?”
“Magic, Emma,” Regina says, her expression resigned but not quite defeated anymore; and Emma says, “Uh. We should…talk about that. Soon,” she adds fervently, and dives in for another kiss.
So Henry had been right all along, and Emma is in a mild state of shock that some stunning kisses haven’t helped. “So you really are– were– the Evil Queen. Mary Margaret’s my mom? Pokemon Go isn’t out in the rest of the country?” The details are piling up, each more baffling than the next.
Regina chooses only to answer the last question as they duck into their car. “I’ve looked into the app. It’s apparently in the early planning stages.”
“What the hell,” Emma says, over and over again. “What the hell.”
Regina tosses her sidelong glances until she finally chooses impatience over tact. “What you said earlier– about wanting to work through it with me–“
“This is so fucked up, Regina. How did we break the curse?” The obvious answer comes to her at last, and it’s just as earth-shattering as everything else they’ve been enduring. “True…true love’s kiss?”
Regina nods, her eyes fixed on the road and her lower teeth biting hard enough into her lip that she draws blood. “So it seems.”
“Okay,” Emma says, shaken, and she seizes Regina’s hand almost automatically, squeezes it in her own and feels her heartbeat return to its regular rate around Regina. Only slightly faster than usual. “We…god, this is all so much.”
Regina trails her thumb along Emma’s hand. “If I survive the next forty-eight hours, I’m taking you out of town for a quiet weekend,” she promises. “Somewhere you can have a spa day and process without losing your mind.”
Emma stares at her in consternation. “If you survive?” They’re pulling in at the mansion and Emma bolts from the car, running to the door. “Henry?” she calls, yanking the door open.
No answer. There’s a note taped to the bannister, and Regina reads it aloud. “‘Regina, I took Henry before an angry mob could. Don’t you dare hurt anyone, it’ll break my daughter’s heart. We’ll have a conversation when you get back. Snow.’” She grimaces. “At least she didn’t welcome me to the family yet.”
Emma pushes aside the my daughter’s heart, compartmentalizes expertly as she focuses on the most important piece of information on the note. “Angry mob?”
And oh, are they ever angry. Emma can hear them from a block away, their voices a dull roar, and Regina flicks her wrist and scowls at her outstretched palm. “No magic. Too late to run. We’re fucked.”
“Not yet,” Emma says, pushing the door open. The mob is getting closer, too close to make a run for it, and when Emma squints, she can see that quite a few of them are red-faced. Actually red-faced, what looks like Team Valor’s mascot bird tattooed across their faces, and Emma says warily, “Regina. Why are their faces red?”
Regina purses her lips and says, “I suppose now isn’t the best time to tell you that I used my last bit of magic earlier today–“
“–To curse anyone outside of my family who takes our gym,” she says, and she nearly looks apologetic. Nearly.
Emma opens her mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. “What?”
“I just wanted to teach them a lesson!” Regina protests. “It’ll wear off in a day or two!”
Regina glances at her through her eyelashes. “Do you still find that endearing, or…?”
Emma rubs her eyes and wonders how, exactly, her life had turned out like this. And then a thought occurs to her. “Wait. Did you say…your family?” Her Arcanine had taken its spot without any pigmentation issues, which means…
Regina flushes lightly and Emma leans over and kisses her again, soft and quick as she pushes open the front door. “Okay, break it up. I am the sheriff, and if I say–“ She’s swept against a wall immediately by a horde of townspeople, and then Dr. Whale is grabbing Regina and slamming her against the wall of her house. “Hey! Let her go! Let her go!” She jerks forward, shoving Whale aside and standing protectively in front of Regina. “Back off, or you’re all going to spend the night at the station.”
“We all know where you’re spending your nights,” Whale says, his lip curling, and the mob is a dull roar now, angry townspeople bearing in on Regina even as they rear back when she catches eyes and smiles coldly.
Emma whirls around, uncaring of the people crowded around them with murder still in their eyes. “I’m warning you–“
“What? That the so-called Savior is going to hurt us?” Whale sneers. “Do you think there’s anything you can threaten that’s worse than what she’s already done to us?” He nods at a man Emma recognizes as one of the dock workers, who circles Regina warily for only a moment and then pushes her back almost gleefully. The mob is in an exultant tumult.
Emma kicks him, slams her fist against his side and stands between him and Regina when he doubles over. “Look, I know Regina’s committed…horrors in the past,” she says, unwilling to dwell on any of that yet. She wonders for a moment how much Archie charges, and why insurance premiums in a town that apparently doesn’t exist are so high. What is she paying for, anyway? Do they pay federal taxes? If no one could enter or leave, where is their food coming from? What kind of–
Later. “But that isn’t how we do things in this world. We have a law, and I’m here to enforce it,” she says, and the crowd bears in closer, less afraid as every moment passes.
Regina murmurs, “It’s not going to work. You have no idea how much they hate me.” She reaches for Emma’s hand, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, her fingers brush against the skin– every contact slow and treasured– and Emma shivers and savors it, her fingers toying with her holster, stymied on what to do next.
The mob breaks, the frenzy finally wild enough that they’re climbing onto the porch, reaching for Regina without any fear. Emma rears forward, finally pulling out her gun, and–
There’s a roaring bark from somewhere behind them, and then a high sort of yip. At once, people are thrown aside, people are running, people are screaming and fleeing. Emma gapes, watching flashes of orange and gold with disbelief. “Regina, were they…is this from your land?”
“No,” Regina says. She sounds awed. “We still had the app open when the curse broke. I wonder…”
Emma's enormous Arcanine bats at Dr. Whale and sends him flying. He flees, down the steps and away from the house, and Regina’s Ninetales flicks a tail against his back, hurrying him along as it yips again. “I can’t believe it,” Regina says, reaching out for the Ninetales.
It returns to her without protest, laying its head down so she can rub under its neck. Emma’s Arcanine barrels to her, nearly bowling her over, and she scratches behind its ears as it lets out a joyful bark. “Regina?”
Regina looks at her warily. Now that the mob is dispersed, Regina always looks at her as though Emma’s about to throw her aside. “Yes?”
“I can’t believe our Disney story is the Fox and the Hound.”
Regina rolls her eyes, pokes her hard on her arm, and then kisses her soundly. The Ninetales nuzzles Emma’s hair. “Come,” Regina says, and the affection has been replaced with anxiety again. “Let’s go deal with Snow.”
They walk up the street, past confused townspeople and more than one person who looks at Regina with loathing. They have two enormous Pokemon dogging their steps now, though, and they aren’t the only one. Pongo is yipping at a Slowbro's heels and Ruby watches Regina with the same hard eyes as the Eevee perched on the wall of the diner, their heads turning in tandem. There’s a kid about Henry’s age with his arms wrapped around a Butterfree, just barely lifting off the ground, and Emma shakes her head and thinks dismally of prying Persians out of flower beds and chasing Haunters through the night.
Behind them, Ninetales is flicking tails at Arcanine just to make it yelp, smug when it bounds away and alarmed again when Arcanine returns and nuzzles up to it. Without turning around, Regina says, “Settle down, both of you,” and they stop fighting. Arcanine’s head droops and Ninetales prances forward, beating them all to Emma’s front door.
Regina rubs her knuckles along its neck affectionately. “Think you can fit on the stairs?” Emma still isn’t prepared for any of this– god, Mary Margaret is her…– but Regina looks just as tense now, her face drawn and the tension almost tangible.
Not about Snow White, Emma knows. Not just her, whoever the hell she is. But Henry who’d forgiven her and who loves her might be changed irrevocably by the breaking of the curse. “Hey,” she says, and Regina starts, uncertain again.
She’s sure they’re going to have a lot to work through– god, she’s been with people with dark pasts before but never quite this dark– and there will have to be consequences for the curse, but…today, right now, she wants to hold onto Regina regardless. And she knows that Henry will feel the same.
She kisses Regina one last time– it’s too brief, too chaste, but heartfelt nonetheless– and Regina tangles hands in her hair, kisses the tip of her nose, and whispers, “Emma,” and nothing else. They part, still staring at each other, and Regina knocks on the door to the apartment.
Henry tears out of the apartment and into his mother’s arms the moment David opens the door. A moment later, there are arms around Emma, a tearful We found you! and Emma stands stock-still as Mary Margaret kisses her forehead and David holds her close, Arcanine walking in restless circles in the cramped hallway.
But it’s still Mary Margaret, and Emma surrenders to the embrace after a long moment of hesitation and feels something within her shift irrevocably. “And you and Regina,” Mary Margaret says, sounding despairing. “You broke the curse with…her?”
“Yeah,” Emma says, and the fear of abandonment shouldn’t flood her but somehow still does. “I kind of did.” She looks away, unwilling to see the disappointment in Mary Margaret’s eyes, and instead she sees Henry still shaking in Regina’s arms. He’s pale and looks just as terrified as they are, and Emma says, “Henry?”
Henry ducks his head. “It’s bad,” he says. “It’s real bad, Emma.” David grumbles something that might be agreement.
“What is?” Emma asks, and Henry shudders and motions to the door.
They all walk into the apartment, Henry reaching for Emma’s hand and Regina’s and Mary Margaret still behind her. The door clicks closed behind them, and Emma’s Arcanine yowls in horror at what’s in front of them.
Raticates. Giant, overgrown, hideous rats are lurking in the shadows, skittering around in the loft, and perched on the couch. Three of them scramble forward to Mary Margaret when she enters, and the rest of their party rears back as she rubs their backs and beams at them.
Henry ducks his head into Emma’s side again. Regina’s jaw works under her skin, and David looks trapped, as though his only options are to move closer to the so-called Evil Queen or toward the wife (wife, what the hell) holding court over the Raticates. He chooses the Evil Queen.
Mary Margaret smiles at Regina, and there’s a glint in her eyes that hadn’t been there before the curse had broken– a glint that makes it clear that Snow White knows exactly what she’s doing. “Now that we’re all here,” she says, more Raticates happily scurrying to her. Emma notices that several of them are a full head taller than Mary Margaret. “Regina.”
Regina is tense, horrified, eyes moving from side to side and even Henry’s hand in hers and Emma’s hand resting on her back aren’t enough to assuage these fears. Emma kind of gets it.
Mary Margaret slings a fond arm around the closest Raticate. “What are your intentions with my daughter?” she says, faux-casual as Regina’s face twists and Ninetales lets out a strangled noise, and Emma fiddles with her phone and clicks on Archie’s number contemplatively as her Arcanine looks from Regina to Mary Margaret to her, bewildered at who to defend.
Funny question, Archie, but do your group rates include Pokemon?