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Finding Common Ground

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Synopsis: A series of encounters bring Emma and Regina together at a bench on the Storybrooke docks.

Setting: This is set after Cora's death in "The Miller's Daughter", episode 02x16.

Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.


Emma helps Henry slip on his coat. "Come on," she whispers, not wanting to wake her parents. "We'll get breakfast at Granny's before you go off to school."

Henry bounces a little on his sneakers and smiles widely. "Cool."

A ten minute walk later, Emma and Henry are slipping into a booth at Granny's Diner and Ruby is appearing with her order pad.

"Let me guess," Ruby says with a smile. "Blueberry pancakes with extra maple syrup?" Henry nods enthusiastically.

"Also a milk for you, kid. Balance out some of that sugar." Emma looks up at Ruby then. "Just coffee and a bear claw for me, Ruby."

"Coming right up."

Ruby is just finishing placing the ticket on the clip for Granny when the entry bell jingles.

Emma turns toward the sound, surprised to see it is Regina. Storybrooke's former mayor is bundled in a pea-coat that covers her choice of attire, leaving her legs, in black stockings, visible. There's a clicking of heels, evenly spaced as Regina enters, but it isn't hurried. If Emma had to guess, she'd say Regina was determined to look put together, even if she wasn't.

Following Regina's progress to the counter, Emma watches as she leans against the pastry cabinet with one outstretched hand. Ruby is ringing out a man dressed in a lumberjack-style suspenders and flannel shirt with heavy denim jeans.

"Miss Lucas?"

"Oh, hey, Regina."

"May I have a large coffee, double-shots of espresso and cream, with sweetener, please?"

Granny's bringing out Henry's pancakes as Regina is finishing her request. Even at this distance, Emma can't miss Granny's narrowed brows and pursed lips.

"Ruby, take this and the milk. I'll handle this." Granny pushes the plate of pancakes into Ruby's hands and moves down the counter to stand directly opposite Regina. Emma is suddenly aware she is biting her lip anxiously when Henry kicks her under the table.

"What the...?" Emma cuts herself off before cursing in front of her son.

Henry looks up at her from his video game. "Here comes breakfast."

Ruby, now with a full tray of pancakes, milk, and Emma's coffee and bear claw, is approaching their table.

Henry doesn't even pause to breathe before cutting into his pancake stack. Ruby chuckles and ruffles his hair affectionately.

"Yeah..." is Emma's distracted response as she narrows her focus on the interaction between Granny and Regina, rubbing her shin absent-mindedly.

Neither woman says anything. Regina suddenly straightens her back, tucking her hair behind her ears, before ending the stand-off with a quiet request:

"Eugenia, I'd just like a coffee. Then I'll go." She pulls bills from her wallet and places them on the counter.

Money apparently changes Granny's perspective, if only a little. She's stiff but quick, going to the coffee pot and dispensing Regina's requested drink.

"Aren't you going to drink that?" Henry asks Emma.

Emma jerks her gaze away from the counter and looks at Henry. All she can think at this moment is how much he looks like Regina. The way he tilts his head reminds Emma of Regina's questioning look in the sheriff's station so many weeks ago. Earnest. Like mother, like son, Emma thinks. She starts pushing the glass toward him.

The door bell jingles. Emma's gaze shoots over to see Regina's back walking out of the diner. She'd missed the end of the woman's transaction. Quickly she looks around and finds Granny has returned to the kitchen.

"Come on, kid, we gotta go." Emma stands in a hurry. She pockets her bear claw and wraps her hand around her coffee after dropping a twenty on the table.

Henry looks up from his last bite of pancakes. Emma's hand lands on his shoulder, pulling. He grabs his backpack and wrestles it on as he follows Emma out of the diner.

On the street corner Emma looks right and then left. Henry pushes at her. "Bus stop is this way." Left. They are a few paces behind Regina, but Henry is looking at Emma, oblivious. "What's up with you?" He asks, curious.

"Just don't want you to miss the bus."

The squat yellow bus is pulling up to the opposite corner where a group of children have already gathered. The airbrakes discharge, drawing everyone's attention with the squeal. Emma pushes at Henry's back. "See you later."

"OK. Have a good day, Emma." Henry smiles.

"You, too." Emma smiles back.

She tucks a hand in her back pocket as Henry bounds up the bus steps and then waves to her from a window seat a moment later. She turns away as the bus lumbers and lurches away from the curb. As she is reorienting herself, her gaze falls on Regina who is standing and staring in silence. Looking over her shoulder, Emma realizes the woman was watching Henry on the bus as well.

Regina's free hand opens and closes, then disappears into a pocket of her coat. She turns and walks away down the street. The coffee is tossed into a waste bin at the next corner as Regina turns and disappears.

The thump of the cup in the garbage can reaches Emma and startles her into motion. Not really sure what she's thinking, she strides in the same direction as Regina. What has brought the woman out of her self-imposed exile? What is she doing? Where is she going?

Regina is heading for the docks, Emma realizes, as she spots the woman, head tucked down against the wind blowing in from the harbor. The buildings are close here, and don't open up for another couple of blocks, but there is no doubt in Emma's mind that the dock is Regina's destination. She follows. The wind blowing makes her drop her head and frequently wipe water from her eyes.

She snaps her head up after each time, afraid to lose sight of the other woman. Instinct drives her into the shadow of a closed shop doorway when Regina turns suddenly, stopping on the sidewalk. Through the display glass of the storefront, Emma just makes out Regina looking to her right and then left. Then she takes a step forward, dropping a couple inches.

Emma chuckles. Regina Mills still looks both ways before crossing the street. For some reason, Emma finds the trait utterly endearing.

Once Regina is on the opposite sidewalk and turning to head out of sight, Emma leaves her shadowed sanctuary to continue her tail, confident she won't be made. She follows at the same pace, looking down at the coffee in her hand, making sure she hasn't spilled half of it over the lid.

Rounding the corner, Emma feels a solid pull at her arm and her back slams hard against a brick wall. Her eyes still on her coffee, she barely manages not to squeeze the cup all over herself in surprise.

"What the fuck?!" she exclaims, allowing herself the curse word she had repressed earlier with Henry.

A look up reveals a smirking Regina, her satisfaction covered by a condescending smile.

"Language, Sheriff," Regina scolds, as she would a ten year-old; the most common tone she takes with Emma. "I'd ask what you're doing, but I'm rather good at deduction, so let me guess." Regina cups her own chin, looking up and down the alley where she had pulled them. "Eugenia told you I didn't pay for my coffee."

"Huh? what?" Emma doesn't quite catch up.

"Of course, I have been made into the villain as always. Did you get your witness statement from a rabbit this time?"

"Get off your high horse, Regina. I saw you pay for your coffee at the diner." Emma cuts her short.

"I must have missed the meeting where I was placed under house arrest then?" Regina charges. "I was out walking alone, Sheriff. I'll swear to it."

Emma rolls her eyes, frustration creeping up her temples, "Regina, I was following you, all right?"

"Why? What have I done now?" Regina throws a gloved hand outward in distress.

"You haven't done anything, okay?" Emma sighs, "I just wanted to talk to you." More precisely, she just wanted to check on the stubborn woman.

Emma chuckles softly, annoyance leaving her suddenly.

"I have never been made before."

"It would help if you actually managed to make sense, dear." Regina glares.

"Tailing someone. I have never been made before." She clarifies, relaxing against the wall. "Or caught." Emma adds with a mischievous smile.

Regina's lips quirk in what might be a smile. Emma recalls the woman's smile from the incident with Jefferson's hat. This definitely looks similar. "Well, Sheriff, what does one do when they catch you?"

"I wouldn't know, Madam Mayor," Emma retorts, "I usually do the catching."

Regina's brow draws tight at Emma's words. "Don't... I'm not..." Her voice trails off. Her hands go back into her pockets. "Excuse me." She is polite, but there is a strain in her voice Emma can't miss.

"And I don't have to be the Sheriff." Emma adds softly, a hand reaching for Regina's bent elbow. "Walk with me?" She asks, her gentle green gaze finding the other woman's wary eyes.

Regina sidesteps Emma's arm, looking up in surprise at Emma's request. There's suspicion there, in those brown eyes. But at least she isn't moving away.

Emma straightens and steps past Regina, turning back around to her with an extended hand holding a still steaming cup.

"There is coffee in it for you if you're a good girl..." Emma throws spontaneously, hoping right away that she had not overstepped.

"Leading me astray?" Regina's retort, to Emma's surprise, is almost as playful. "I don't need the coffee."

"But I need your company." Emma looks down.

"Why?" Regina is clearly wary again. "I think perhaps I should go home."

"I saw you watch Henry getting on the school bus," Emma throws in, looking up.

"I didn't," Regina protests.

"I used to do it all the time when he was with you." Emma hopes her confession will quiet down the defensiveness, if only a little.

Regina stiffens up at this admission; Emma can't decide if it's the comparison, that she and Regina have the same motivations, or the sheer cheek of Emma daring to suggest they do. "I just wanted to see him."

"He's thorough with his homework. He works hard. Like you." Emma gives her as she turns around and starts walking casually, willing Regina to follow her.

"It's... I'm... glad." Regina turns and her hair blows into her face from the breeze off the nearby bay. Black gloved hands rise to her face to clear her vision.

Emma smiles, her head sideways as she imitates the gesture, disciplining her own hair. "He sleeps well enough, but I think he misses his toys."

"He is welcome to come... get anything." Regina bites her lip. "Anytime." Emma knows Regina skipped over the word 'home'. The woman's throat works out several swallows of tension. Emma passes the coffee, surprised when Regina takes it and tips it to her lips.

Regina pauses mid-swallow, an eyebrow lifting in curiosity, though it is quickly swapped for a frown.

"Something wrong with the coffee?" Emma asks, quirking an eyebrow herself, waiting amusedly for Regina's sass.

Regina hesitates, then shakes her head. "No."

The younger woman smiles at that and simply keeps on ahead, glad that her gesture was accepted. She's fully aware she'll have to do much more to appease Regina.

The women fall into a silent companionship. Regina continues to sip the coffee. Emma is inhaling and exhaling the salty sea air. She looks over to see Regina doing the same. It is calming, Emma thinks. And she simply watches Regina out of the corner of her eye.

She's so distracted by the observations, she is startled when her boot hits wooden planks. The beginning of the dock. She automatically reaches for Regina when the other woman also stumbles at the change in footing.

Brown eyes dart up to hers. "Dock," Emma says.

Regina pulls herself from Emma's grip and strides to the railing overlooking the water. "Is Hook's ship still here?" She looks up and down the dock and out at the wide waters of the bay. Emma wonders if Regina is using magic to 'see' because there's definitely no ship as far as she can tell.

Emma walks up beside Regina and shrugs. "It's here somewhere still." She's watching Regina's face as the woman brushes blowing locks away from her eyes. "You need it for something?"

Regina's one hand flexes on the railing. "It's... My moth..." She shakes her head. "Never mind. It isn't important."

Emma wants to question, wants to ask for more details. Is Regina planning to take the boat and leave Storybrooke? Is she familiar with Hook's ship, wanting something magical from it? But the aborted mention of Regina's mother holds her tongue. She herself is also having trouble reconciling what her mother did, how it brought about the end of Cora's threat. Emma shakes her head. Stop with the euphemisms, Swan, she scolds herself. Cora's threat wasn't merely ended. Cora Mills was killed.

But she has no chance to say anything to Regina. When she looks up from the water splashing lazily against the dock supports, Regina is gone. A quick scan of the area shows no sign of the other woman walking away.

Emma remains leaning against the railing at the dock for several more minutes trying to decide if she is glad their walk is over or not. On the one hand, she has enjoyed it. On the other hand, traversing into the territory of Emma's mother killing Regina's mother could have ended rather badly.

Rubbing the salt spray from her face with both hands, Emma pushes away her windblown hair and walks back into town.

xxx

It is windy again, and though the sun is out, Regina is quite glad she bought coffee at Granny's before walking to the docks. Miss Lucas doesn't seem as reluctant as the Widow Lucas to take her order. The coffee helps with the cold, it helps with holding on to the simple things of this life.

She is standing by the railing, looking at the docks ending in the ocean. Hook's ship is there, she feels it now. She has found what she was looking for, the rest matters not. The pirate can keep his ship, and his revenge.

Regina looks away at the beach. She narrows her eyes slightly. There is a running form approaching rapidly. Even at this distance, the woman, blond ponytail flipping behind her, is hard to mistake. She wonders if Emma will stop. If she should just leave before getting an opportunity to find out.

The young woman had sought her out just a couple days ago. She had not only followed her, but before that, she had clearly been observing her. Emma had seen her vulnerable. She will stay, Regina decides. She's pretty certain Emma has seen her by now, and if she leaves it might be perceived as offensive. She might not be able to put up with the two idiots, but tolerating her son's birth-mother is non-negotiable.

Emma approaches rapidly, and Regina finds herself musing over what has the woman running so fast. It's fitting, she thinks, possibly infuriating, that they would meet as Emma is running to her, when all she's ever wanted was that the woman should run away from her.

Regina puts on her best mask of mundane interaction and waits for the moment when each of them will have to acknowledge the other. Emma is going to pass within a few feet of Regina. Regina can hear the other woman's harsh intakes of oxygen; she is giving herself quite the workout.

Emma strides past Regina with only a glance, the vaguest recognition. She appears focused and intent, but Regina does not mistake the frustration and irritation that exude from her. Regina breathes in calmly, appreciative of being spared another, probably painful, exchange with the Savior.

It isn't that Emma wants to hurt her, she understands. It is simply that everything the woman represents is a blow to her heart. She has Henry's love. Emma hadn't needed to earn it; her son sought her. Even when she lied about Henry's father, Emma didn't lose her status. She is Snow's child and she is loved unconditionally. She is loved. Emma had her childhood stolen. She was raised in the worst conditions and circumstances. Yet even after prison, and abandoning her child, even broken, Emma managed to find a way to remain who she is. It isn't that Regina is jealous; she understands the differences in predicament and context. It is simply that she feels she has failed it all.

Regina brings the lid of her to-go cup to her lips, taking a swallow of coffee. She looks at the imprint of her much toned down lipstick shade. The other day Emma had offered her own coffee. She had wanted to denigrate it, deny the kindness in the gesture. She had wanted to insult her with it. She had found she couldn't. She had even wondered if it was just her imagination. It was the irony of it, really, that had stopped her. Of all things she had to share with Emma Swan, the way they like to have their coffee feels just shy of intimate and it's much too much for the simplest of things.

All thoughts of coffee are forgotten as it almost flies out of Regina's hand when a leg is thrown nonchalantly over to the railing, running shoe pointed and bare calf, sports tights encasing a toned and interminable thigh. Regina swallows her gasp, but there is nothing to be done about the heat in her cheeks betraying her. Emma is already bending over her elongated limb, a wide scissor-like position, breathing in and out and reaching for her toes with her fingers.

She is sweating, and flushed. Her shirt is damp, hugging her chest and showing through are the bra and toned muscles of Emma's arms and stomach. All things Regina should perfectly dislike.

"Miss Swan!" Regina pulls the cloak of propriety around her to shield herself from the thoughts she'd just been having. But Emma doesn't move away. And Regina can't find it in herself to do so either.

She had first looked at Emma's face when she arrived, only to find the green eyes she had expected already averted and hidden by the ponytail flopped over a sweat-soaked shoulder.

Emma is clearly focused only on her stretching, and Regina can't help her gaze trailing down the muscles flexing in arms reaching toward her foot. Emma simply grunts and keeps focused on her task, obviously declining to look at Regina just yet.

"What are you doing here?" Regina asks.

"Stretching. Obviously," Emma retorts.

"Do you have to do that here?" Regina stops, appalled at the strain in her own voice. She takes a step back, but her gaze remains glued to the downturned head, bent over a muscular knee. It's absurd, but she realizes she is willing the woman to look at her.

"It's where I always do it. The height is right." Emma shrugs and interrupts Regina's staring by switching legs. She has yet to look at her.

Regina is overwhelmed by the sight of Emma's body, sweat-soaked, but more than that, now, she can smell the woman and it isn't unpleasant, just hovering above the salt in the air. She edges another step back. "Is this normal for you?" She can't help the snark; it's a defense particularly attuned to dealing with Emma Swan's barrel-like way of rolling into her life.

"What's normal? People stretch when they run," Emma deflects with another shrug.

"So the running... Breaking into old habits?" There, Regina thinks, that should create some distance. She puts her hand on the railing, preparing to push herself away.

Emma lets her leg fall to the ground. Regina releases a relieved huff.

Emma bends over to her feet, wrapping her arms around her knees. Her shirt slides from her lower back to her shoulder blades, revealing her skin. She holds the pose for a few seconds and releases a long breath.

Regina takes the long breath for annoyance. Staring at the top of Emma's head and the bare back just inches from her own knees, she asks, "Hit too close to home, dear?"

"If I could break into old habits, I'd be driving the bug, not getting into a power run." Emma sounds irritated. She straightens up smoothly and looks intently at Regina, who can't decide where to look.

"Trouble in paradise, dear? Already fed up with the family reunion? I thought that's what this..." Regina pauses and gestures at the town as a whole. "Breaking the curse was all about."

Regina can't understand why she isn't walking away. She doesn't want to know what is going on with Snow White and her prince, does she? She shakes herself, maybe not. But she definitely wants to know what is happening with Henry and, for good or ill, Emma Swan is that connection to her son. If Emma is thinking of bolting, where will that leave Henry? She sips her coffee and awaits a response, continuing to watch Emma complete her stretches.

"I didn't believe in the curse, remember? Let alone breaking it. I just wanted Henry to be all right." Emma exudes exasperation.

"Is he?" Regina asks pointedly.

Emma's look gets lost at sea for a moment. She sighs heavily, "He's fine. I just think he's better at being a kid than I am at being a parent."

"I could have told you that, dear." Regina smirks.

"Look, it's enough that David and Mar...Snow, feel like they would raise him better than me." Emma spits, "I know I suck, alright?"

"You could always let him come home," Regina says.

"I very well might," Emma retorts, clearly growing more irritated. "At least I wouldn't have to hear anything else about the fucking Enchanted Forest. That's all Henry can talk about these days!"

"I thought you and... your mother found it destroyed?"

"Fucking wasteland is what it is," Emma supplies, "Ogres and trolls, and all sorts of weird stuff. Ruins everywhere."

"My... mother," Regina exhales, "said something similar."

Emma pauses, taking a couple of swallows from her water bottle.

Regina watches the way Emma's throat moves as she swallows. An uncomfortable feeling slips into her gut and she steps away. Emma follows and she finds herself sitting on one of the benches along the dock area, staring out at the water. Emma sits beside her, bringing her knees up under her chin.

"David wants to go back," Emma says softly. "Henry has taken to swordplay and going to the stables with him. It's Enchanted Forest this, Enchanted Forest that, and I just... Storybrooke is his home." She looks at Regina, her cheek atop her folded knees, "It's my home. I just found him."

Regina ponders that a moment. "I... it's natural, I suppose, that they would want to leave." Regina shakes her head. She doesn't know how to explain her own feelings on the topic. The Enchanted Forest holds nothing for her. It was one of the reasons she felt comfort in casting the curse. "Storybrooke is... very different." She wants to say "better"; it's how she feels, but she doesn't feel Emma has a right to that part of her.

"It's your home, too." Emma says it firmly, and it is not a question.

Regina looks at Emma in surprise. "Yes," she admits quietly. "When my mother spoke of Storybrooke, I... felt affronted. She… always thought of things in terms of one's station in life. Storybrooke... is my home." The roiling in her stomach is getting more intense. She sips her coffee hoping to dispel the sensation.

She can feel Emma's gaze observing her. When a gust of wind envelops them, Regina feels the younger woman's strong shiver more than she sees it. Emma is still wet from her effort. She must be cold, Regina thinks.

To her own astonishment, and mercifully without a word, Regina extends her arm toward Emma. The gesture can't be mistaken as she holds out her coffee.

Emma's hand reaches for it without comment in return, only a raised brow as their fingers brush around the paper. Green eyes study the top of the coffee cup and, Regina realizes, the imprint of Regina's lips on the lid. Imperceptibly holding her breath, Regina watches Emma delicately bringing the cup to her lips, closing her eyes, and then taking a sip.

With a soft exhale, Emma offers a simple, "Thanks."

The women sit shoulder to shoulder, eyes resolutely forward, on the surf. The wind has picked up. Conversation seems oddly superfluous, Regina thinks. It's... comfortable. She's comfortable. Like this. She adjusts herself on the bench, crossing her feet underneath, palms resting on the wood.

The wind off the bay whistles a little in her ears, and Regina brushes locks of hair from her face. Thoughts are beginning to burble in her throat, wanting to form into sounds. She turns toward Emma, seeing her also brushing hair from her cheeks.

Rworf! Rwolf! rings closely nearby. Emma and Regina turn, inward to each other, to search out the source of the sounds. Behind them, Regina recognizes Pongo and Archie, on a sidewalk approaching the dock area from the north. She hadn't heard it until focusing, but the psychiatrist is whistling with Pongo responding. The dalmatian is bouncing in exuberance. Regina smiles, thinking of the black and white dog's head in her lap the last time she visited Archie's office.

The pleasant memory is interrupted by Emma's shoulder bumping against her own. She suddenly realizes she doesn't want to be found here with Emma Swan. The other woman, however, bounds to her feet first and is running off even before Regina can finish her own actions to stride off the docks to her car herself.

xxx

It is a strange idea, Emma thinks, that of all the noises and sounds out on Storybrooke's streets that morning, she would hear the familiar clicking of Regina's heels. Reaching for the door to Granny's, she turns to find Regina is indeed on the sidewalk walking toward the diner. But she's not all business and power suit this morning and that's surprising. Her head is hanging low. It doesn't suit her, Emma observes.

Henry and Emma are almost in the door themselves, but spontaneously, Emma says, "Hey kid, your shoelace isn't tied."

Henry stops in his tracks and kneels to his shoe, only to notice his shoelace is fine. "Yeah, it is." Emma is not looking at him. "What's-?" She feels him tense beside her. He's obviously seen his mother.

Regina's head snaps up; she must have heard Henry's voice. A moment of floating hesitancy envelops the three of them. Regina is still at the end of the walk; Henry is rigid against Emma's side. Mother and son are staring at each other. Regina swallows; Emma can see her throat move. The woman's hands are in her coat pockets but it's clear from the roll of her shoulders that she wants to put her arms around her son. A glance at Henry, whose eyes are narrowing, decides it. "Hi, Regina, would you like to join us?"

Henry's glare doesn't abate, and Regina's gaze is clear surprise when it snaps to Emma's face. Oh well, in for a pound, Emma thinks. "We're eating breakfast."

"You can't invite her." Henry's tone is distasteful, like he's just eaten black licorice. He grabs for the diner door and pushes inside.

"Regina, I -" Emma reaches out for her.

Regina says nothing and returns to the sidewalk, walking quickly away, head tilted and cast down.

"Regina!" Emma looks at the door to Granny's then back at the quickly retreating form of Henry's mother. "Damn you, kid," she mutters under her breath and takes off after Regina.

Emma breaks into a short run to catch up with her son's mother. She reaches for Regina's elbow and swings her around.

"Regina, stop!"

She's looking for the woman's eyes, making sure not to let go of her arm.

"Miss Swan, unhand me."

"No." Emma answers simply, yet firmly.

"I don't know what you want with me. Just leave me alone."

"I am afraid I can't do that either." Emma softens. "He's just a kid, Regina. He gets upset about things that only make sense to him."

"I raised him for ten years," Regina says. "Don't presume to tell me what my son is thinking. I know him. You've had all of five minutes."

"Fine." Emma gives in, feeling the prickle of Regina's defensiveness. "You know him better. You raised him. You win." She's not looking for a fight, she's looking for a way in. And breakfast, possibly. Emma starts to turn and realizes something else. "Regina, Henry is your son. He's reacting just like you do to feeling betrayed. You cursed a kingdom; he goes into a pout."

She sees she has Regina's attention. "Maybe both of you need to recognize that. But he's never going to, unless you're around him."

Emma absently steps onto the docks, following Regina. The woman reaches the railing before her and turns back. Her hands are still in her pockets, but she is looking at Emma when she asks, "Why don't you bring him round then?"

"I can't even drag you to breakfast. How am I supposed to drag him to your house when he doesn't want to go?" Emma throws her hand wide. "Come back to the diner. It's neutral territory. We can start there." Regina looks ready to speak again, deny it, resist it. Whatever. Emma adds, "Please? I at least have to pay for the pounds of pancakes he's probably already wolfed down."

Regina's eyes widen. "You left our son at the diner."

"Well yeah, he's gotta eat."

"You left him alone."

"To come get you. Geez, Regina, give me a break."

"You left him alone!" Regina's hands have come out of her pockets and she looks like she's resisting throttling Emma.

It makes her smile even as she attempts to defuse the anger. "He went all the way to Boston on his own, Regina. Sheesh, he can be in the diner in Storybrooke alone for five minutes!"

Regina subsides.

Emma moderates her tone. "Listen, just come back."

"He doesn't want to see me."

"All right. Fine." Emma pulls out her phone, pressing quickly at the screen.

"What are you doing?"

"Making sure our kid isn't alone." Emma speaks quickly into the phone. "Yeah, Ruby? Hold the kid's bill. I'll pay it later. Put Henry on the bus for school? Something important came up."

Out of the corner of her eye, Emma sees Regina's eyes widen. She decides to leave Regina to her thoughts, though she wonders what she said to surprise the woman quite so much. She likes the idea of trying to do it again. Surprising Regina brings out a vulnerably beautiful side to the woman. Emma finds she likes the idea of a vulnerable Regina in need of reassurance. In need of her, Emma realizes.

She snaps her phone shut and smiles at Regina. "Taken care of."

At this point, both women have reached their bench. Finally Emma speaks as they settle side by side on the wooden slats. She turns to Regina putting an arm on the back of the bench, grasping the wood since she doesn't yet dare grasp the woman's shoulder. "Couldn't do that in Boston. But here, Storybrooke, is safe. Close." This is something about the town she and Regina both find appealing. It reminds Emma of their previous encounter.

Regina turns her face into the wind to dry her tears, but the wind blows hair into her face and tears slip out anyway. She brushes at them at the same time she brushes her hair behind her ear.

Emma leans toward Regina, aware of the tears. "I'm working on Henry," she promises. "You're important to him."

Regina shakes her head, insisting, "Why don't you ever bring him by then?"

"I... He's... I'm working on it." Emma thinks it would be easier if she wasn't so sure that she would be shut out if she brought Henry back now. "I want to... it has to be right for him."

"I am his mother." Regina looks at Emma. "Emma..."

The women are in each other's intimate space, gazes connected. Emma is glad that "Miss Swan" is gone and she is again just "Emma" to Regina. Just Regina. She remembers her words to her parents. Yes, this is Regina, this woman whose eyes are reflecting the sunlight off the water.

A flare of protection warms inside Emma's chest. Her hand slips from the back of the bench, reaching toward Regina's shoulder blade. She feels compelled to make a connection. "Regina," she says as brown eyes are searching hers.

A blur of white intercedes and a loud bark accompanies weight landing fully in Regina's lap.

Regina startles with a scream. Emma returns her hand to the back of the bench, adrenaline pouring into her blood as she decides what to do.

Her vision clears and finally brings into focus Pongo. The dalmatian's forelegs are in Regina's lap and his muzzle is in Regina's face.

He licks her.

Emma freezes. She expects Regina to yell, or bolt, or shove the dog away. Most likely all three. However, Regina instead gasps and laughs and nuzzles the dog back, rubbing Pongo's ears and under his jaw. Emma is dumbstruck. Archie, huffing, arrives. "I'm sorry. His leash."

Regina laughs and addresses Pongo. "You were just excited to be in the sea air weren't you?" She rubs his ears again, and the dog licks her cheek.

Pongo whines in pleasure, his tail swaying back and forth. The dog is excited and hyper, pacing and coming back to Regina's lap as if she is the only human in the whole world. Regina is smiling at him radiantly. Emma can't help but be fascinated at the gentleness in the woman's eyes. Regina's hair is unruly, she's been licked by a dog, her mascara is slightly smudged yet Emma realizes she's never seen her more beautiful. Except maybe when she looks at Henry.

Suddenly Pongo's front legs are off the ground and landing on the bench between the women. His side shoves against Emma and she understands fifty pounds of dog is trying to climb on the bench. He is suddenly on the bench before she can restrain him or find proper footing to move away from him. With a surprised gasp, Emma looks up from the ground at the end of the bench. Pongo acts quite pleased with himself and gives a soft groan of satisfaction before laying down on the bench, resting his head in Regina's lap.

"Hey, Pongo, that's mine." Is this some sort of payback, for all the times I pulled you from the yard of some female dog? Emma thinks. She is pulling herself unsuccessfully to her feet, ready to throttle the dog, and Archie is helping her, when her mind replays what she is thinking. She is falling back to the ground when Regina's laughter catches her attention once again.

Regina's playful laugh rings at Emma's ears as the woman studies her sitting there with her butt in the dirt. Emma stares at Regina with reverence. She wraps one arm around an upraised knee and drinks in the attention from the dark, sparkling eyes.

Regina looks away, her smile becoming a smirk. She lifts Pongo's muzzle to meet him eye to eye. "What a good boy," Regina cooes. "That will teach her, won't it? Mean Emma."

Pongo answers with another lick of his pink tongue on her cheek and nuzzles at her throat. Regina murmurs "aww" approvingly and wraps her arms around his head and chest.

Archie offers Emma a hand again. She grabs it and allows the good doctor to help her up. She takes a couple of steps and pats her front and back to clear some dust from her clothes. Drawn like a magnet Emma's gaze returns to the bench where Regina is now sitting with Pongo who seems quite satisfied that he managed to take her place by Regina's side.

Pongo's head is again resting in the woman's lap, his eyes closing in blissful contentment while Regina brushes her fingers on his head.

Lucky dog, Emma grunts with a grimace.

Archies fusses at Emma's coat. "I'm sorry, Sheriff. Are you quite all right?"

"I'm good, no worries." Emma throws, looking only at Regina and Pongo together. "I didn't know he liked her so much."

"I should have known something was wrong when he barked at her. It turned out to be Cora."

Emma's gaze shifts on Archie at that hushed comment. "Pongo and Regina are.. er...friends?"

"Yes, well. Yes, he stays in my office, as you know. He's been there when she's... stopped by." He glances toward Regina pursing his lips. Emma wonders what that's about. "Never mind," Archie adds quickly.

"Figures." Emma shrugs. "But he doesn't even leap on Henry like that..."

Archie shakes his head. "No."

"So what's his deal? He seems like a different dog."

"No, she's a different Regina." Archie states fondly.

Emma can understand the sentiment she hears in the psychologist's voice. She is beginning to feel very fond of Regina, too. She sighs. "I suppose I should be getting back to Henry."

Regina looks up. "Coffee tomorrow?" The woman pauses for a long breath, her eyes looking from Emma to Archie before returning to Emma. "Emma?"

Emma smiles and nods.

xxx

It's a sunshiny morning for this time of year in Storybrooke, not a gust of wind and warm enough that Regina didn't feel the need to wear a coat or a blazer. She is walking briskly to Granny's, only admitting to her haste because she was spontaneously taken by the desire to invite Emma Swan for coffee the day before. She just didn't specify when. The woman is not usually as early as Regina is herself, so she shouldn't be in a hurry. Regina shakes her head imperceptibly when she catches herself almost smiling at the ridiculous thought of having coffee with Emma Swan, of all people.

Regina walks up the path to Granny's. She takes a deep calming breath and open the door, firmly but gently, hearing the bell chime. She steps in and takes a look around. There aren't many customers in yet. Actually, there is only one. Regina studies an apparently not quite awake Emma Swan. The younger woman is perched on a barstool, sitting upright almost rigidly. She is engrossed in conversation with young Miss Lucas, who has her back turned and seems to be brewing the first pot of the morning. Neither woman seems to have actually noticed Regina come in. Amusing, Regina thinks, recalling all action freezing and the stares when she entered Emma and Snow's welcome home party.

"What's with you being so dressed up anyway? And so early?" Ruby asks, tirelessly curious.

Regina looks at Emma's back intently and notices the powder blue shirt rolled to the elbows snugly conforming to the woman's muscled arms. The familiar red jacket is nowhere in sight. The woman's taste is improving, Regina thinks and feels a quick smile touch her lips. She fusses with her own powder blue shirt cuffs as she adjusts her purse on her shoulder. Her gaze trails down Emma's back, to where the shirt disappear into the woman's skin-tight jeans. Emma shifts a leg underneath her, and Regina is suddenly glad for this particular fashion choice, watching the smoothed muscles moving beneath the denim.

"Just gimme coffee, Ruby." Emma whines, sounding so terribly like Henry in that moment that Regina's chest tightens with a rush of longing for her son.

"You're gonna get back cramps sitting all stiff like that," Ruby mocks. Then she turns around to face Emma with a playful smile.

"I just don't want to wrinkle my shirt," Emma answers self-consciously.

Regina can't help the flutter of excitement taking over her this time. Emma sounds nervous. She is nervous because she wants to be well-dressed. For her.

"What do you want?" Ruby prompts.

Emma enunciates, "Large coffee, double shots of espresso with cream, and sweetener."

Regina steps much closer to Emma's back, and before Ruby's face can show any surprise, she adds above Emma's shoulder, "Mine is the same order, Ruby."

Ruby isn't what she calls Miss Lucas, she ponders. But her thought is interrupted by Emma's glance, and she can only mirror the smile Emma gives her. It's small, but it makes her breath catch and she exhales. To her amazement, she is relaxed.

"Got it. You never order anything else," Ruby says. She starts away from the counter then pauses and looks back over her shoulder. Regina catches the briefly puzzled look in the waitress's eyes, but Ruby says nothing.

"How long have you been waiting?" Regina asks, sliding a hip easily onto the neighboring stool. She used the back of Emma's stool to steady herself and notices this when her arm brushes against Emma's shoulder as the woman turns to meet her gaze directly.

"Uhm... Not long." Emma is clumsy. It usually annoys Regina, but that early on a Saturday morning, it actually looks endearing.

Ruby fusses over to-go cups for a moment, before she places a drink in front of each woman.

Emma and Regina study each other in silence. Maybe nothing needs to be said, Regina muses. She feels oddly content for an undefined moment. Maybe it doesn't need explaining. Maybe she shouldn't try to.

Regina places a bill on the counter. There's a squeak as Emma pushes out her stool and steps down. In silent agreement, Regina leads the way are off to the docks, she knows.

Emma breaks the silence by the next block. "Nice, uh, morning." There's a bit of a surprised look on Emma's face as the blonde quickly lifts her cup to her lips as if to stem the flow of "stupid talk."

Regina releases her cup from her lips and smiles. "Yes, it is."

They reach the docks before long. There is life here, and for the first time Regina feels it. There are birds overhead, softly crying to one another as they search out their morning meal, diving with splashes into the waves. There's the sound of rigging on sailboats slapping the masts - Hook's ship, she thinks. And there's life next to her. She can hear the woman's breathing softly and smell the salt in the air. She can hear the scritch-crunch of sand beneath Emma's boots. She'd learned that pattern a while ago, but now it only brings a smile to her face, which she covers with another sip from her coffee.

They step onto the wooden beams of the dock, and Regina finds herself easily following Emma to a bench. It's the bench, she realizes. Their bench. Since that first day out here when Emma chased her down. And then again, they sat here when they met on Emma's run. Then, yesterday, Regina thinks with a smile. When Pongo usurped Emma's spot, knocking the woman to the ground. She chuckles.

Emma lowers her coffee cup. "Something funny?"

"Oh yes," is Regina teasing answer.

"Care to share?"

"I'm sure it will amuse you to hear that I was thinking of something as ours."

Emma quirks an eyebrow, "Ours?"

"This bench," Regina points out. "Seems we keep coming back to this bench."

"Henry, too?" Emma sounds hopeful.

Regina sips her coffee, avoiding answering while she considers her thoughts. Is Henry theirs? Is she ready to accept that? She exhales. "Yes."

"Regina," Emma turns; the wind blows her hair into her face and she pushes it away huffily as Regina waits for her to continue. "I don't want to fight anymore. Henry's important to both of us."

"I agree." But she senses there's something more. Emma's not looking at her directly. Emma, however, shakes her head and subsides, returning to her coffee.

Regina wonders what she was thinking of saying. "No more secrets."

Emma exhales. "It's not that. It's... This is crazy." She twists her hands around her coffee cup. "Isn't it?"

"What part of this has ever been sane?" Regina replies. She's not laughing, but the thought is both truthful and amusing at the same time.

Emma inhales a long breath that she holds. "Dinner?" She blurts out, resolutely absorbed by her boots.

"For you? Or for you and Henry?" Regina replies.

Emma looks bewildered for a moment. "I meant..." Emma hesitates. "Would you accept a dinner invitation... from me?"

Regina studies Emma's earnest gaze enveloping her in a feeling of warmth. "Just you?"

"Me. Henry. Either? Both? Just... would you?" Emma closes her eyes. "Digging the hole. You can shoot me dead, I'll go lay in it."

Regina's lips twitch at the mental image of Emma digging a ditch and then laying down in it. She holds back a chuckle, though it can still be heard in her voice. "Yes, Emma. I think I would like that."

Emma smiles. It turns into a grin and Regina is dazzled by Emma's shy surprise. "You'd like that? With me?"

"Yes," Regina says, "with you."

"I... can work on Henry. Make sure he's there, too."

Regina considers that. She would definitely love it. But she acknowledges the thought that tugs at her now. It would be all right, maybe even more than all right, if it was only Emma and her. She studies Emma though, who seems a little flustered. Maybe Emma's not interested in her alone? Regina offers an out. "If you prefer."

Emma chokes on the gulp of coffee she was trying to swallow. "Shit!" she exclaims and bends forward. Coffee spray drips from her chin onto her chest. "Fuck me!" Emma pauses.

Regina chuckles; the woman really can't seem to help the small disasters that follow her wherever she goes. As Emma pats at her chest and fans out the shirt trying to cool it, Regina's chuckles turn to full throated laughter.

Emma shoots her an intrigued look. Her face pulls into an adorable pout and then laughter spills from Emma's lips as well.

Regina leans in close and lays a gentle hand on Emma's chest. The gesture causes the woman's green eyes to capture hers.

"Just this time," Regina whispers. She wills the spell through her hand, and it warms against Emma's shirt. A light sensation of hot air, like a blow dryer, fills the space between them, and Emma's shirt is both dry and stain free when Regina slowly pulls her hand away.

The younger woman looks from her shirt back up to Regina. Emma's pulse is rapid, her chest rises and falls deeply. Regina tucks hair behind her ear, suddenly aware of the intimacy of her actions. She glances from the green eyes studying her to pink lips, as Emma's tongue dips out to wet them.

A goose squawks overhead and it shakes her from the moment. She looks around. She doesn't feel quite alone enough to do what she feels the sudden desire to do, she realizes. Not yet.

But a glance at Emma's face, which hasn't stopped watching Regina, tells her they are both thinking the same thing. And that being on the same page is a good place to stop. For now.