The kid’s good, Emma will give him that.
Henry doesn’t tip his hand too early, taking his time so that by the time she finally realizes what he’s doing, it’s pretty much already too late.
It starts out subtle, little things that she barely even notices -- chance meetings with Regina in front of the diner, bumping into each other in the grocery store, just. Random, inconsequential stuff like that. Stuff no one would pay much attention to.
By the time she realizes what Henry’s up to, she’s already half in love with Regina and it’s pretty much too late to do anything about it.
After Neverland, Emma and Regina reach a kind of truce.
It’s not that they’re friends, exactly, but they’re not not-friends either, so. Emma figures that’s about as good as it’s going to get.
They even manage to work out a joint custody arrangement, agreeing to an every-other-week thing with Henry.
Regina even helps Emma find an apartment, which Emma suspects is mostly just so that Regina knows Henry’s not living in, like, a crack den or something when he’s with Emma, but still.
Between the two of them they manage to get Gold to make Emma a pretty good deal on a two-bedroom about halfway between the mayoral mansion and Mary Margaret’s loft. It’s not much, but it feels pretty permanent and, for the first time in a very long time, that doesn’t make her nervous.
It’s the Thursday morning of her first full week of Henry living with Emma when she first starts to suspect something’s up.
Henry’s sitting in the window seat of her new, Regina-approved apartment, dawdling as they get ready to go grab some breakfast at Granny’s before school starts, apparently more interested in what’s going on outside than he is finishing tying his shoelaces. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like until he’s suddenly sitting up a little straighter, jumping to his feet before he’s even finished tying his left shoe.
“We need to leave now,” he says to Emma, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and heading for the door.
“Huh?” Emma asks. She hasn’t even had her first cup of coffee and she’s feeling particularly out of it. Getting a kid up and dressed and ready for school all on her own has been...well. It’s a lot harder than it looked when Mary Margaret was getting up with them, cooking Henry breakfast and walking him to school.
“We need to go,” he says again, more insistently this time, grabbing Emma’s hand and pulling her towards the door. “Right now. Come on.”
“Why?” Emma asks suspiciously, tugging back on his hand so that he has to stop.
“I’m...” he trails off, glancing up at the ceiling like he’s trying to think of something. “I’m really, really hungry. And, um,” he glances towards the window and pulls on Emma’s hand again, hard enough to get her moving. “Granny’s sometimes runs out of pancakes if you get there too late, and I really want pancakes for breakfast.”
Emma’s so caught up in his babbling that she just grabs her jacket and lets him drag her down the stairs, the two of them almost running smack into Regina on the sidewalk in front of the building.
Annoyance flickers across her face before she realizes it’s them, but then when she sees Henry, her expression changes, breaking into that warm, unguarded look she only gets when she’s talking to him.
“Henry,” she says with a smile. “What a lovely surprise.”
“Hi, Mom!” Henry’s says, sounding breathless and happy. One of his shoes is still untied, his sneaker slipping off his heel as reaches up and gives Regina a quick hug.
She presses her cheek against the crown of his head, still smiling. When she glances back up at Emma, her face is carefully neutral. “Good morning, Miss Swan,” she says politely.
“Hey, Regina,” Emma says distractedly, patting her pockets to make sure she didn’t forget anything in her haste to follow Henry out the door. She’s got her wallet and her holster and her keys, so she’s probably good for the day.
“We’re going to Granny’s for breakfast,” Henry says.
“Oh,” Regina says, sounding surprised. “That’s just where I was headed.”
“Great! We can all go together!” And then he’s grabbing Regina’s hand in his and taking Emma’s hand in the other, pulling them both down the block towards the diner, grinning up at them both the entire time.
They manage to snag the last open booth at the diner, and only a few people give them openly curious looks, so Emma takes that as a good sign. Ruby comes over and pours their coffee and takes their orders, and then Henry spots August and Marco across the room and runs over to talk to them, leaving Emma and Regina alone, just sitting there in awkward silence.
To makes things worse, Henry keeps glancing over at them, smiling in this weirdly knowing way, and Emma gets the unshakeable feeling that he’s set this whole situation up for some strange Henry-reason that she'll probably never figure out. Man, Emma is going to kill that kid.
Regina’s not saying anything, and she looks about as uncomfortable as Emma feels. Emma just tries to focus on her coffee, pouring creamer slowly into the cup and then collecting a couple of sugar packets, tapping them slowly on the table, really focusing on the whole process. Across the table, Regina is watching her with a hard-to-read expression.
“So, Miss Swan,” Regina finally says, taking a long sip of her coffee like she’s trying to think of something to say. “How are you liking your new apartment?”
Emma smiles a little, almost sighing in relief. Polite small talk is good; she can handle that. “It’s great,” she says sincerely. “I’m still in the decorating stage, so it’s a little bare, but I think it’s coming along nicely.”
“Good.” Regina takes another sip of coffee and then looks around the diner.
Emma clears her throat. “So, uh, how is...mayoring going?” Ugh, god, what is wrong with her?
Regina’s lips twitch. “‘Mayoring’ is going quite well, Miss Swan.”
“Good,” Emma says. “That’s...good.”
“And everything’s going well with Henry?” Regina asks. Her voice is light, but she’s fidgeting a little with one of the remains of Emma’s sugar packets, ripping the paper up into tiny shreds.
“Yeah,” Emma says. “Things are good. He’s getting his room all set up and he’s, well. We’re adjusting.”
“Adjusting?” Regina repeats, just the barest hint of worry in her voice.
For a second, Emma thinks about not saying anything, but she actually does need some parenting advice. And who better to ask than Henry’s actual parent, right? The worst that can happen is that Regina mocks her for her maternal incompetence, which Emma’s pretty used to by now.
“Okay, so here’s the thing,” she says, leaning across the table to talk in a low voice. “I don’t know how to get Henry to clean his room.” Regina doesn’t say anything, but the corner of her mouth twitches in an almost-smile. And, okay, this is kind of embarrassing, but whatever. Emma will take whatever mocking Regina wants to dole out if she can help her to get the kid not to be such a slob. “I mean, it’s a complete disaster. When we lived with David and Mary Margaret, it wasn’t an issue, but now there’s just stuff everywhere, all the time. And getting him to pick after himself -- Christ, getting him to clean his room -- it’s just. it’s a nightmare, Regina.”
When she finally finishes her rant, Regina blinks. “I see,” she says, but she’s looking kind of amused, not like she’s about to tell Emma how she’s the worst parent on the planet.
Emma’s about to ask her if she has any advice about this whole situation, but then Ruby’s coming up to the table with an armful of food, sliding their plates easily in front of them. As soon as he sees the food arrive, Henry races back over and throws himself into the booth next to Regina.
He’s smothering his pancakes with an obscene amount syrup when Regina clears her throat, folding her hands primly in front of her. “Henry?”
“Yeah?” he says, cutting off a huge bite of pancake and stuffing it into his mouth.
“You need to clean your room,” she tells him simply.
Henry shrugs. “My room is always clean,” he says through a mouthful of pancakes, like this should be obvious.
“I meant your room at Emma’s apartment.”
“Oh,” he says, stopping mid-chew, and putting his fork down on his plate. He swallows hard, gulping the pancakes down. “That.”
“Yes,” Regina says seriously. “That. You know the rules, Henry. Your room is to be cleaned every night.”
“But those are your rules, not Emma’s,” he replies matter-of-factly. “Right, Emma?” He shoots Emma a hopeful glance, one that’s practically begging her to take his side. And Emma actually feels herself caving before Regina interrupts, saving her from a complete descent into full-on parental incompetence.
“No,” Regina says. “Those are your rules. Rules you need to follow no matter which house you’re in. Isn’t that right, Miss Swan?”
Emma blinks. “Yeah,” she says. “Right.”
Henry sighs heavily. “Fine. I’ll start cleaning up my room,” he says in this voice like this is the most difficult thing anyone’s ever asked him to do.
“Good,” Regina says. “Now eat your breakfast.” She waits until Henry picks up his fork before she looks over a Emma, giving her a quick, conspiratorial wink.
The rest of breakfast goes surprisingly well, Henry filling any potentially awkward silences with easy chatter about school and August’s birthday party next month and his plans for his room at Emma’s place. To be honest, Emma’s only kind of half-paying attention, strangely grateful that Regina’s there to pick up the slack and keeping up with the non-stop talking.
Henry’s in the process of telling them about some big history project on the Boston Tea Party he has due next week, when he reaches up to wipe syrup off his face with his sleeve.
“Napkin!” she and Regina say at exactly the same time, both of them reaching for the dispenser, their hands bumping up against each other as they grab a napkin.
“Geez.” Henry rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling a little as he takes the napkins, wiping his mouth.
“Okay, kid,” Emma says, dropping a twenty on the table to pay for the food. “Ready to go?”
“Yep,” he nods, grabbing his backpack and sliding out of the booth. “You wanna walk to school with us?” he asks Regina, a hopeful look on his face.
“Is that alright with you, Miss Swan?” she asks, looking up at Emma like she’s legitimately asking permission.
Emma blinks. “Yeah, of course.”
Henry grins, bouncing a little on his toes as Regina follows them out of the diner, the three of the walking together down Main Street, Henry looking happier than he has in months.
On Sunday evening, Emma drives Henry over to Regina’s place. He’s got his duffel bag in the back, all his clothes washed and folded, his school uniform ready to go the next day. This whole full-time single parent thing has been a little more stressful than Emma anticipated, and she hates to admit it, but she’s kind of relieved to have the week off.
When she pulls up to the mayor’s house, Henry looks over her at her expectantly. “Do you want to come in?” he asks, sounding incredibly hopeful.
“No thanks, kid.” She’s just really tired. and she’s got a bunch of stuff she wants to get done around the apartment before she heads back to work tomorrow.
“Oh.” Henry’s face falls, and Emma feels a quick surge of guilt.
“But, hey,” she says, handing him his duffel bag. “Why don’t you stop by the station after school tomorrow? We can hang out then for a few hours.”
Henry nods like he’s thinking it over. “Okay,” he agrees.
Up at the house, Regina’s opened the door and she’s standing there in a sleek grey dress, waiting expectantly for Henry, and when he sees her, he smiles a little and reaches over to give Emma a quick hug. “Bye Mom,” he says, and Emma feels something in her chest get tight.
“Bye, kid,” she says, watching a little sadly as he runs up the walk to Regina’s house.
Without Henry there, Emma’s new apartment is strangely quiet and empty. After his talk with Regina at the diner, he started picking up after himself, which is great, but it also means that there’s not even a bunch of kid stuff strewn around to remind Emma that he’s living there half the time.
Plus, her apartment is just generally still pretty empty, just a couch and a cheap plywood coffee table in the middle of the living rom. A couple of weeks ago, she bought a bunch of bookcases and stuff, but she's been so busy helping Henry get his room set up that she hasn’t had a chance to put them together yet. Well, she decides, no time like the present.
Two hours later, Emma’s sitting in the middle of her living room floor, a glass of wine in one hand and a screwdriver in the other, a pile of still not-put-together pieces of a bookcase scattered around her.
She takes another long drink and then squints at the completely unhelpful instructions for what must be the thousandth time. She’s about to give up on the whole thing for good -- it’s not like she even has that many books, definitely not enough to need their own furniture -- when there’s a knock at her door. She tosses the screwdriver she’s using to not get a shelf to screw in straight and glances up at the clock with a sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. It’s almost ten on a Sunday night, so she can’t imagine anyone’s showing up with good news. When she opens the door, Regina and Henry are standing there.
“Hey,” Emma says, surprised. She crosses her arms over her chest, feeling a little self conscious in her tank top and pajama shorts.
“Hi, Emma,” Henry says with that same grin he had the other morning, the one he had when they ran into Regina before their breakfast at Granny’s. He’s dressed for bed, plaid flannel pajama pants peeking out from beneath his coat.
“Hello, Miss Swan,” Regina says. And then to Henry: “Get your project and let’s go.”
“Project?” Emma repeats, confused.
“I forgot my diorama,” Henry tells her. “For history.”
Oh, right. That damn diorama. She can’t believe he forgot it after they spent the better part of the weekend working on it before they finally managed to throw together a more-or-less identifiable scene from the Boston Tea Party. “It’s in your room.”
“Awesome,” he says, ducking under Emma’s arm and dashing down the hallway to his room, hopping over the pile of tools and bookcase pieces as he goes.
Regina’s still standing out in the hall, looking bored. She looks different than she normally does and it takes Emma a second to realize it’s because she’s dressed for bed, too, her face scrubbed clean of make-up and her normal suit and heels replaced by silky black pajamas under her coat.
“Come on in,” Emma says, stepping aside and holding the door open. Regina only hesitates for a second before she steps inside, looking around with undisguised curiosity, raising her eyebrows slightly at the disaster area that is currently Emma’s living room.
“Want some wine?” she asks, already going into the kitchen to grab an empty glass.
“We’re not staying,” Regina tells her. She’s standing just inside the door, still wearing her coat, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Suit yourself.” Emma sets the empty glass next to the bottle of Chardonnay on the coffee table and picks up her own glass, taking a long swallow before settling back on the floor with the bookcase from hell.
“Henry!” Regina calls.
He pokes his head out of the room. “Some of the protesters fell over,” he tells her seriously. “I’ve gotta fix it.”
“Can’t you do that at home?”
“It’s really delicate,” he says. “If I move it, it’ll probably break even more. Just a couple of more minutes, okay?”
“Fine,” Regina sighs, looking at her watch as Henry disappears again.
“Come on, your majesty,” Emma says, refilling her glass and pouring some wine into the other glass. “Have a seat.”
Regina glances down the hallway towards Henry’s room and shakes her head, looking annoyed. But after just a second, she shrugs off her coat and sits on the couch, snagging the wine off the coffee table and taking a tentative sip. Emma rolls her eyes.
Regina sits on the edge of the couch, like she’s ready to spring up at any moment, sipping her wine and watching as Emma struggles trying to align one of the shelves. She finally gets it right, but when she takes one of hands off the shelf to find the screw, the whole thing tilts and falls apart.
“Fuck,” Emma mutters and runs a hand through her hair in frustration.
“You’re doing that wrong,” Regina says, and Emma turns around to scowl at her. She’s sitting back on the couch, the wine glass in her hand a superior look on her face. “You should put the screw in before you try to line up the shelves.”
“Gee, thanks,” Emma mutters, ignoring the advice and picking the shelf up again. This time she manages to actually start putting the screw in before the whole thing falls apart. “Aughhhh.”
Behind her, Regina sighs heavily, but before Emma can say something to her, she’s coming to sit on the floor next to her, sitting cross-legged as she reaches for the shelf Emma keeps dropping. Regina’s pajama-clad knee bumps up against Emma’s, the silk smooth and cool as it brushes against Emma’s bare skin.
“What the hell are you doing?” Emma asks, resisting the urge to snatch the piece of wood out of her hand.
“I’m helping you, Miss Swan,” Regina says slowly, in this tone that implies Emma’s a complete idiot. “Now hand me that screwdriver.”
With Regina’s help, she actually manages to get one of the shelves attached, Regina holding the shelf while Emma screws it carefully in place. The amount of joy she feels just seeing that one shelf in place is probably completely absurd, but she was honestly starting to think she’d never get this damn thing put together.
The next shelf goes in a little easier, and in practically no time the thing starts to look more like a bookcase and less like a pile of wood. She and Regina don’t really say much as they work, but it’s fine, not awkward or tense or anything. Regina keeps kind of ordering her around, but Emma’s had enough wine that it hardly even bothers her. It's actually kind of nice, the two of them working together. Regina's surprisingly handy, her long, thin fingers threading the screws and positioning shelves, and Emma's almost absurdly grateful that Henry forgot his history project tonight.
Before too long, they’re putting the last shelf in, trying to slide it in carefully so that it’s straight. It’s looking good, but the Regina lets go of her side a second before Emma lets go of hers, and it lands right on Emma’s palm, pinching a huge chunk of flesh between the shelf and the peg it rests on.
“Ow!” She pulls her hand away instinctively, but that’s apparently a bad idea, because that just means the pinch turns into a gash and, shit. That really hurts. She looks down at it and winces, the blood already starting to well up. Ugh. This night sucks.
Beside her, Regina’s watching her with a slightly horrified look. “Are you okay, Miss Swan?”
“Yeah,” Emma says, holding her hand up slightly to stop it from bleeding so much. “I’m great.”
Regina sighs, sounding put-upon. “Where do you keep your band-aids?”
“Um,” Emma says. “At the store?”
“Excuse me?” Regina's staring at her like this is the most insane thing Emma could have said, like not having band-aids on hand is some kind of horrible mom-crime.
“I don’t have band-aids, Regina,” Emma says, ignoring the look Regina’s giving her. They can argue about her lack of maternal abilities after she's stopped dripping blood all over the floor. “Just...can you grab me a paper towel or something?” Man, her hand is really bleeding, the blood starting to run down her wrist.
Regina rolls her eyes and grabs her purse off the coffee table. “Come with me, Miss Swan,” she says, as she marches into the kitchen and over to the sink.
Emma follows her, trying to keep herself from bleeding all over her clean wood floors. Regina’s standing by the sink, rummaging around in her purse. After just a couple of seconds, she pulls out a couple of band-aids, and then reaches over and turns on the tap.
“Regina -- ” Emma starts, but then Regina’s grabbing her injured hand none too gently and holding it under the water.
The water’s warm, and it stings when it hits the cut, but Emma keeps her face neutral, biting hard on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from flinching. Regina’s still holding her hand under the water, and she’s actually being gentle as she cleans up the blood. Her hand is strangely cool -- almost soothing against Emma’s skin -- as she pulls her hand away from the water and starts pressing a paper towel against the wound.
“Hold this here,” she orders, and Emma presses her hand over the paper towel. When she does, her fingers brush up against Regina’s, and her stomach flips strangely. She’s definitely had too much wine.
She’s suddenly very aware of how close they’re standing, how she’s just wearing a tank top and skimpy shorts, how the collar of Regina’s pajama top is sliding off her shoulder, exposing a smooth expanse of skin, the straight line of her collarbone sharp and delicate.
For her part, Regina’s busy unwrapping the band-aids, lining two of them up on the counter before taking Emma’s hand again. The cut already looks a lot better, not nearly as bad as it seemed when it was all bloody, but Regina leans over to study it closely, her breath cool against Emma’s palm.
“How does it look?” Emma asks, just to say something.
Regina glances up at her, one corner of her mouth turned up in a half-smile. “I think you’ll live, Miss Swan,” she says, and then she puts on the bandages, pressing them against the cut, smoothing the ends down so they stick to Emma’s palm.
Emma’s stomach is still doing that weird flipping thing, and it’s very quiet in the kitchen, just the muffled sound of Henry moving around in his room down the hall.
“Thank you,” Emma says, but her voice comes out strange, low and sort of breathy, and Regina glances up at her again. Her eyelashes are very dark against her cheeks and her face looks a little flush.
They just stand there for a few seconds, Regina brushing her thumb absently over the heel of Emma’s palm, her fingers cool and soft against Emma’s skin. Regina’s eyes are dark, and Emma takes a small step closer to her, not really sure what she’s doing, her breathing sounding strangely harsh in the silence.
They’re still standing like that a moment later when Henry appears in the doorway, a cardboard box held carefully in one hand. “I’m ready to --” he starts, then stops when he sees the blood and the band-aids, his eyes going wide. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Emma tells him. She’s suddenly very conscious of the fact that she and Regina are still kind of holding hands, and she pulls her hand away gently.
Regina doesn’t even look at her when she does, just blinks and clears her throat. “Did you finish your project?” she asks Henry.
Henry nods. “Yep,” he says, and then holds up the diorama for them to see, all the protesters fixed and upright. “All done.”
“Good,” Regina says brusquely. She grabs her purse and walks over to Henry, taking his hand in hers. “Well. Say goodnight to Emma.”
“Goodnight, Emma,” Henry says dutifully, giving her a sideways smile.
“Goodnight, Henry,” Emma says.
After they leave, she heads back into the living room, starting to stack the books on her new shelves. The apartment feels weirdly quiet now, and it takes her a couple of seconds to realize she kind of liked having Regina there. It’s a strange, unsettling thought, but, well. There it is.
Her hand is still throbbing, and she takes another long drink of wine, trying not to think about the way Regina’s skin felt against hers or the way her stomach is still kind of flipping.
It’s just...it’s been a really strange night.