Being in Snow’s apartment always made Regina uncomfortable. It was such a foreign feeling place with its aged white brick walls and homey distressed decor. Nothing like Snow White—who loved her opulence even when she was making a living robbing people in the woods.
But it was the perfect apartment for the woman the curse had made Snow and being in it after the curse broke felt like…like being in the home of a dead woman. All that was missing were her things in boxes.
There was an eery stillness to the place. The sense of a life suddenly abandoned.
Mary Margaret Blanchard and her mousey nerve and annoying empathy was gone—no matter what name that other creature clung to. Her home remained, a queer snapshot of a life lived the same for twenty-eight years.
Mostly. The TV was from the current decade, and Regina had been one of the only people in town with a microwave in 1983, meaning the stainless steel one on the counter was new.
“Where does Snow keep the chocolate,” she asked her son.
He’d flung his shoes off and was shoving them onto a new shelf by the door filled with a whole wealth of other peoples’ shoes. It was run over with them, just as the coat rack sagged under the weight of too many coats. She spied Emma’s wretched blue one.
Henry turned back around, “You mean Grams?”
“Is that what she’s going by now?” If she sounded amused it was because she was. It must have killed Snow to be called a grandmother.
“I suggested it,” Henry said and there was a hint of mischievousness in his eyes that made Regina smile. It was a nice reminder for those times where it felt like she was the only one in the world her son made life difficult for.
“And David is Gramps? What’s Emma?”
He shrugged, “Sometimes. And the chocolate’s in her closet in a hat box. She doesn’t want Emma or David eating it.”
Regina laid her coat over one of the stools at the counter and indicated Henry should take the free one. She went to the bedroom and quickly found the chocolate, lying under the hatbox filled with more ugly hats than any woman had a right to own.
When she came back Henry had one elbow on the counter and was leaning into it and staring at his other hand. It was still red.
She dropped the chocolate on the counter and turned to the freezer.
“What are you doing?”
“Making hot chocolate, and,” she pulled a towel off its place near the stove and filled it with ice, “making you an ice pack.”
He flexed his hand, “It’s fine.”
“Now. It will swell.” She dropped the home made ice pack on the counter next to him. “So ice it.”
“Couldn’t you fix it, you know, with magic?”
She was setting the chocolate on the counter and preparing to finely chop it, and Henry’s question gave her pause. “I…could.”
But Henry didn’t like magic.
Or the one from before she’d left hadn’t.
He’d hated her magic.
The boy at the counter was curious, head tilted innocently. An image of the man he’d never become settled over him like a ghost and her eyes watered.
She got to chopping. The rhythm of the knife through candy soothing. “I thought you didn’t like magic,” she asked officiously.
He didn’t say whether he liked it or not. Just took the ice pack off and held his hand out and waited for her to set the knife down and take it.
It was cold, and he winced when she manipulated the fingers. Holding his hand gently in her own she waved her other over it. The bruised knuckles glowed with a warm gold light and when it had faded his hand was fine and he was staring rapturously at it.
He poked the space between his knuckles. “It doesn’t even hurt.”
“I’d hope not.”
“Could you heal other people? Like everyone at the hospital?”
He seemed so excited and it ached to tell him the truth. “No. I couldn’t,” she said simply.
Henry tried to back away—horror freezing his features, but Regina grabbed his just healed hand and held on tight. He had to understand—for some reason that was vital. “My magic isn’t meant to heal Henry. It’s not that kind.”
“You mean it’s bad magic.” That was the children at school in his voice. And the book usually kept in his bag. That was knowing but only a fraction of truths.
“No.” Hers was a cold magic. Like standing on a mountain and sucking in a bitter wind. It was wrath honed and wielded with all the passion and empathy bound up tight and sharpened to a point. “It’s…” She struggled to find the one series of words that could make him look at her not with the revulsion already distorting his features, but with wonder again. “It’s—“
The door slammed open and Snow stumbled into the apartment. “Henry,” she cried, “I heard what happened and I—Regina?” She stopped short, “What…what are you doing here?”
She dropped Henry’s hand like it burned and threw the chocolate into a copper plated pan that should have been too expensive for Mary Margaret to afford. “Talking to my son.” She could have gone and gotten the milk out of the refrigerator, but instead she called it to her and poured a generous amount into the pan with the chocolate. “Shouldn’t you be at the school yammering about bird houses?”
Snow paused for a fraction of a second, and cold familiar anger lanced across her features. Then it vanished. “I took the rest of the day off when I heard what happened.” She frowned and looked around the room, “Where’s Emma?”
“Work.” She conjured a whisk and began stirring. “You just took off? Is there any child you won’t abandon?”
“Regina…” Her voice was low and vaguely threatening.
“Whatever you do don’t have any more. I don’t think the state can afford to care for them all.”
“Why are you attacking me? I just came home to check on my grandson.”
She snorted, “Really? If you were so concerned why didn’t you tell Emma or I about the other incidents?”
That struck her. “It was handled.”
The chocolate was melting quickly. Clouding up the milk before blending together. “Henry being in a fight today says otherwise.”
“He wouldn’t have been in the fight, and those children wouldn’t be saying those things if you weren’t in his life.”
“Me? I’m the problem? I told you a secret once. One that meant lives lost and you loosened those lips like you’re a girl on fleet week. My son has a secret that could be very easily solved by either of his mothers and you—“
“Kept his secret! I learn from my mistakes Regina. The same can’t be said for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Snow jutted her chin out and her lip wobbled with emotion.
Regina could smell the chocolate. Melted and blended with the milk and scorched too hot. Too rich and thick for her stomach too. At least at the moment. She waved carelessly over her shoulder and it poured itself into the two big mug. Whipped cream was conjured from the air and she sprinkled cinnamon on top, sliding it towards Henry.
“Well,” she asked. “What mistakes have I failed to learn from?” She smiled nastily, a flare of something old and comfortable lighting up inside of her. “Besides not killing you when I had the chance?”
A mug clattered loudly on a countertop.
“You need to leave,” Snow said, her eyes hard.
“Not without Henry.” It was reflex.
“Mom. Please.” Was that the first time he’d spoken? He was sitting at the counter looking very much like the boy that had rejected her every overture. All the revulsions she’d tried to smooth away was back as he lifted his chin assuredly—just like his awful “grandmother.”
“Henry,” she tried to smile. To soften her voice. To fix whatever had just bubbled up and out between her and Snow.
“Grams didn’t say anything because I begged her not to.”
“Because they hate you Mom.” His eyes were hard too.
“They talk about how you should be killed. Or in jail. That I can’t be good if you’re my mom.”
“All the more reason I should help. I am good now.” Another Emma’s bright green eyes looked at her with such defeat. Reminding her of the cost of goodness.
Snow barked in amusement. “Stopping Cora and helping Emma doesn’t make you good Regina.”
“Nor does being a holier than thou princess,” she lashed out, “but you cling to the concept like religion.”
“I am good.”
“You were. Your heart’s all gone now Snow. And I suspect that feels colder than anything inside of me.”
The pain on her face was, as always, a hot balm warming the coolness inside of Regina.
And Henry’s voice was small. Tiny above the blood roaring in her ears. “A good person wouldn’t have said that.”
Wouldn’t they have? Good people told the truth, always. And Regina knew the truth. She’d had her own heart plucked from her chest once too. It was something that went beyond being good or evil or any kind of magic.
It was just the cold.
There wasn’t much murder to investigate. But Emma holed up in her office until well after six, staring at crime scene photos and googling every Peter Tamlin she could find a second, third, and fourth time.
She hated just waiting. It wasn’t in her system to sit still and hope the bird network worked or the nuns talked or Whale tried to vivisect the living or the killer showed up on her doorstep with a neat little confession.
It made her twitchy, and the cool touch of the locket around her neck, radiating Regina’s displeasure, made it worse.
David ducked in fifteen after six, knocking lightly on the door frame. “You holing up for the night?”
She pouted, “Think I could get away with it?”
“Do you want the dad answer or the deputy answer?”
“Which one gives me what I want?”
He looked very seriously at her until she sighed. “Fine.”
“Talk to your mother?”
“Should I have?”
“She found Regina making hot cocoa with Henry. No punches were thrown, but there were words.”
Emma groaned, “God. Can they just—why even!”
“They’re trying,” he said—with way too much sympathy for either woman.
“How bad was it?”
“Some shouting. A lot of crying. Not many people can savage Mary Margaret quite like Regina.”
The woman did have a knack.
“He punched another kid, got suspended and now everyone’s fighting.”
Shit. How the hell was she supposed to deal with that? Henry was probably blaming himself. Mary Margaret was definitely blaming herself. Emma was even blaming herself. She did, after all, have a temper, and she had been known, on occasion, to punch people.
But Henry was a kid and he’d punched another kid. A kid for thirty years, but a kid still.
She sighed and grabbed her coat.
“We headed home?”
“No, you are. I got to go talk with Regina.”
“Right now the kid probably thinks we all hate each other because of him.” David frowned. “Which isn’t true, but if I show up and say otherwise, without his mom there, it’s gonna be an issue.”
“You don’t have to consult her on everything Emma. You’re his mom too. He’ll listen to you.”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing, what good is me telling him he screwed up when he’s got the evil queen flinging lawn gnomes across town and making him hot chocolate? We can’t go undermining each other. It’s bad for the kid.”
David then did something very paternal, and because it was paternal it surprised Emma, who’d grown accustomed to him being the cool one while Mary Margaret sent her mom eyes.
He tilted her chin up. Gently. And usually it bothered her when someone touched her without permission. Especially when it was a guy.
But it didn’t bother her when he did it.
And he looked her in the eye with that one good eye and his lips sort of spread into a smile, and there was a lot there. A lot of stuff. Stuff she didn’t want to understand and stuff he was never gonna say. Stuff related to regrets and other lives and everything lost. And while Mary Margaret would say it, he was always optimistic and supportive. He didn’t speak out like a dad.
So when it all hit, all the fatherly affection and longing and sorrow, it slammed into her. Taking her breath away.
“You’re a great mom, Emma.”
And what was sort of a smile became a definite smile.
She’d never had someone be so selflessly proud of her before.
It really made it hard to breathe.
He’d never told Mary Margaret she was a great mom. At least in earshot.
She’d never heard him say that to anyone.
“Great.” How was she great when her kid was punching people and she’d had him when she was a teenager. In prison.
She was the opposite of great, and Regina, with her fancy house and lack of a criminal record, at least in this land, was what a mom was supposed to be.
Emma could smell cheese and tomato baking as she came up the steps to Regina’s house. Warm light shone out of the windows and smoke streamed up out of the chimney. Someone had even brushed the fallen leaves off the sidewalk and trimmed the hedges.
This was great.
No. Emma mentally slapped herself.
Regina Mills was not a great mom. She got the job done. But she screwed up. Its why they could handle each other. They both kind of had moments of being not so hot in the maternity department.
Difference being outside of Storybrooke Regina was great, and inside the city lines, dead beat mom Emma was the great one.
She jammed one hand into her back pocket and knocked with the other.
Light flooded the stoop when Regina opened the door. She’d upgraded from current Regina wear, which was tasteful suits and the odd pair of designer jeans paired with tailored blazers, to a Mayor Regina gray dress that clung to her body so tightly Emma had to wonder how she breathed.
She was barefoot though.
And wearing a black apron that had distinct signs of ironing on it.
And there was a brush of flour on one cheek.
Woman was wearing a costume but the real her was peeking out anyways.
“Come to scold me,” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Dinner actually. Mary Margaret is trying to expand everyone’s horizons with Japanese food and her nori's soggy.”
Regina narrowed her eyes.
Emma smiled. It felt apologetic.
“Do I look like Granny?”
“Do you want to?”
“I don’t run a restaurant. If you want dinner go somewhere else.”
“Only make enough for one?”
Regina never blushed.
"Lecture me Emma. Go ahead. I haven't got all night."
"Fine. I will."
She pushed her way past a startled Regina.
"I didn't say come in."
"And I don't want to freeze outside and embarrass you in front of the neighbors." The house smelled really good and Emma's stomach noisily agreed.
"Where would you like to start? How I made Snow cry?"
"How about where you reward our son for punching someone?”
"He was defending my honor."
"He's twelve! The only thing he should be defending is his bathroom time in that one bedroom apartment we call a home!"
Regina scoffed. Honest to God scoffed and headed towards the kitchen. "I really don't see what the problem is. By all accounts you yourself were a rough and tumble child. Why should Henry punching someone bother you?"
"What if he were a girl and punched someone?"
"Yeah. Hey double standard! My name's Regina."
"This is…you're upset because he's a boy?"
"And you're not upset for the same damn reason."
"That's not true." She snatched a large hand towel off the counter and bent to check whatever was in the oven. "If he was Henrietta I still wouldn't have a problem with him punching that girl."
"For saying the truth."
"For antagonizing a child."
"Kids will be—"
"Don't you dare." She slammed the oven shut and rounded on Emma. "Don't you dare say this is just a little fun between children. That girl made a calculated move to harm our son and he fought back."
"With his fists. He keeps that up and I won't be the only jailbird in the family."
She threw her hands up, "He's not gonna wind up in jail. His mothers are the sheriff and the mayor."
"Yeah. Bailing him out of every problem in life. That's the ticket to good parenting." She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall.
"You're telling me how to parent? What do you know?"
It was a low blow and Emma could see Regina's eyes widen a fraction just after she said it. It lessened the sting, but not enough to ignore the comment.
"A lot," Emma said evenly. "Like how the biggest bully in any school was the one getting bailed out by their parents. You think I got this scar in a prison fight?" She pointed at the scar above her eye.
Technically it was from a skateboarding accident when she was fourteen. But the asshole she crashed into had been a Richie Rich son of a bitch and her foster parents had had to pay for a new skateboard for the guy. That was the last set of "parents" she had.
The retort was enough to knock Regina off her high and mighty war horse. She deflated quickly, digging her fingers into the granite countertop and hunching her shoulders. "Sorry," she said, not making eye contract. "That was—"
"Mean? Rude? Condescending?"
She frowned, "I'm not the only condescending one in this kitchen."
Emma smirked, “Yeah but I back it up with moral righteousness."
Regina rolled her eyes.
"You know I'm right," Emma said with a playful smile.
"No, I don't." She stood up straight. "But try and convince me."
She eyed her suspiciously, "How?"
Regina motioned to the oven with her towel. "Over dinner."
Regina smiled and raised one eyebrow.
"Thought you weren't a restaurant?"
"Offer expires in three. Two."
Regina leaned back against the counter. Emma jammed her hands in her back pockets.
"You made an executive decision today," Regina said. Again not making eye contact.
"I was trying to get us out of there."
"And now Henry has a week's suspension on his record. If it had been any other child at the school they would have had a day. Maybe two. They gave him a week because he's my son."
"Maybe. Or maybe because he punched that kid so hard he bruised his hand and her face."
"That's what happens when you punch someone."
"You ever punch someone?”
"Besides you," Regina asked. She remembered the exact moment she'd decided punching Emma Swan in the face would be a good idea. It, like the rest of that night, would stew inside of her always.
But Emma had her mouth set. "I'm serious. Punching someone is…violent. And to do that. To physically hurt someone like that takes a helluva lot of anger."
"That you and I both have in spades. I’m well aware."
"Right. You and I. Not Henry. I want Henry to be a lot of things, but I don't want him to be us Regina. He can't be."
She felt her hackles rise again and tried to keep her temper from flaring too badly. “And we’re—I’m so bad?”
“No,” Emma sighed. “I mean, yes. See the Curse. But you and I are the way we are because our lives have been hell and we survived them. I don’t want my son to be a survivor.”
She lifted her chin—ready to tell Emma that was exactly what she wanted Henry to be. She wanted him to survive every obstacle and grow stronger.
But Emma continued. “I don’t want him wrestling with the stuff we had to wrestle with. The way I see it his biggest issue needs to be wondering if we hug hard enough. You know?”
She was so damned earnest.
Regina came around the counter and leaned her back against it, facing off with Emma and giving her the softest damn look she'd ever seen.
"You want to protect him."
Soft and full of emotions that made Emma want to look away even as she couldn't escape them. Not with the liquid heat unspooling from the center of the locket.
"I do too."
"Then why encourage him?"
"The world isn't nice—"
"It isn't nice Emma, and I—we have to deal with that. Henry already is. This is his way of dealing. And I won't tell him no just because that toad of a principal dislikes me."
"I guess I get wanting him to deal, but he's not always gonna be the shortest kid in his grade. One day he's gonna be an adult, and he's gonna be a guy, I want him to be a good guy. A good guy doesn't deal with the world through violence."
"David used to kill orcs or whatever. But in this world, Henry's the son of a mayor. He’s well off, educated, white and a guy. This world is gonna spend all its time telling him he can do whatever he wants. It's up to us to make sure he knows he can't."
Regina had to understand that. Emma could handle a lot. She could get behind spoiling the kid and she'd die before she let another punk at that school bully him, but she wasn't gonna raise a son who hurt people.
Henry had to be better then them. He had to use his words and guile and prove that the world wasn't always better because of violence. And he had to be the guy she'd never known in all those years. The exception to the rule of awful men.
He had to be.
Regina was studying her. Her lips pursed and her eyes drinking Emma in.
"Okay," she said. Only Emma wasn't sure if she was agreeing or just saying what she needed to hear. She switched gears quickly—before Emma could ask. "Dinner's almost ready. Mind opening the wine?"
Two bottles of a Napa Valley Cabernet were sitting beneath a cupboard Emma hoped had wine glasses in it—because Regina was too busy at the oven to actually tell Emma where stuff was.
Thankfully she found the glasses and found the corkscrew in the drawer beneath the countertop. She yanked the cork out and set it neatly by the bottle before pouring two liberal glasses.
"What's with all the wine. Expecting me?"
Regina's ears turned as red as the wine in Emma's hand.
She drew a platter of lasagna out of the oven. It was enough food for six people. At least. Same with the bread she took out of the top oven. Thick slabs of sourdough bubbling with roasted garlic and butter.
"Or expecting an army?"
"I was just making dinner," Regina said, and for once she seemed…uneasy.
"This is enough for half the town."
"It is not."
"I mean, was some of it planned for leftovers?"
The pause just before she answered meant that the "yes" was a total lie. While Emma very much wanted to tease Regina about her apparent plan to binge eat her feelings she was also aware of how she'd been dealing with her own feelings that day by staring at pictures of dead bodies and refusing to talk to anyone.
If Regina wanted to put away half an Olive Garden all on her own Emma wasn't gonna judge.
"Well it smells great," she said enthusiastically.
"And it is great. Everyone who's ever had this lasagna agrees it's tremendously better than that dreck Granny serves."
"Woah hey. Defensive much?"
"People think she's the best cook in town."
"That's just because she charges three dollars for a hamburger, fries and a shake. You could serve styrofoam at that price and get good reviews."
"I'll keep that in mind if I want to poison everyone.”
"Bright side is I'll know who the murderer is.”
Regina smiled. "Would you get the plates out from over the bread box."
It was so domestic Emma's teeth hurt. She had to take a healthy swig of her wine just to diffuse the gooey feelings on her insides.
Regina served up huge slices of lasagna that dripped with a thick béchamel sauce and chunks of roasted meat and tomatoes. She did a quick shaving of parmesan over both without even asking and motioned for Emma to take them to the dining room.
Channeling six months of waitressing she'd done straight out of prison Emma put both plates on one arm and used her other to grab the wine bottle and her own wine glass.
Places hadn't been set at the dining room table—which gave Emma the image of Regina consuming the whole platter of lasagna alone on the couch—so she arbitrarily chose two spots and set the plates down.
Regina joined her with the bread, bundled up in a towel and paused—taking in the seating arrangements.
She must not have been offended because she dropped the bread onto the table and took a seat in front of one plate.
"Shouldn’t we have fo—"
Regina snapped and forks, knives and napkins shot out of the buffet behind Emma. One butter knife nearly whinging her elbow.
"I keep telling you that's not my name."
"Clearly not. Jesus does not nearly impale people with butter knives."
"You dodged," she demurred and took a sip of her wine. "Oo. This is delicious."
"Is there no limit to your arrogance?"
Regina shrugged, "I've no idea. We can always find out." She took a huge bite of lasagna and sighed. "Perfection."
Emma took her seat reluctantly, chancing a glance back at the buffet to look for more flying cutlery.
"You're safe," Regina said, not looking up for her dinner.
The assurance, to Emma's surprise, was enough. She took a bite of lasagna and, if pressed, at gun point, she'd agree it was heads and tails better than what Granny served.
"See," Regina said.
"I do," Emma's mouth responded. Sans gun point.
Her mouth was a dirty dirty traitor—
Enjoying delicious, delicious lasagna.
"What do you do?"
"Red pepper is my 'secret' ingredient. But the real secret is fat. Makes everything taste better."
Regina took another bite and clearly stopped herself from moaning in ecstasy at her own cooking.
"Okay, I gotta ask,” Emma sipped her wine, “how can you put all this away? If I ate like this most nights I'd be so bloated and chunky they'd mistake me for Humpty Dumpty."
"You have more hair."
A lot more hair. Humpty looked like Sloth from Goonies with his little patch of red on an otherwise bare scalp. "Seriously," she insisted, "What's the deal?"
Regina set her fork down and fiddled with the base of her wine glass. "The 'deal' is magic burns a lot of calories."
"So you eat because you can or because you have to?"
"Both I suppose. But it started because I could. My mother was," she winced, "demanding about what I put in my body. When she moved away—"
When Regina shoved her through a mirror to escape her Mommie Dearest act.
"I suppose I just started eating to prove to myself I could. Then when I realized how food and magic were related it seemed a bit like fate."
"And during the curse?"
"Time was frozen. Why waste immortality and a perpetually perfect figure on salad?"
Regina Mills was a woman after Emma's own heart, and knowing that magic burned calories, Emma took another hearty bite of lasagna and washed it down with more wine.
Laughter was an uncommon sound in the Mills home. Particularly before and after Henry. Usually there was only silence. Regina eschewing television, films, and even the radio. Instead she worked with only the tick tock of the clock for company.
But that night laughter bounced off the walls and was caught up in the crackling fire as she and Emma drank large glasses of wine that unfurled in her center. Soothing her frustrations and erasing her worries.
"I'm serious," Emma laughed. "The guy thought he could talk to squirrels."
"Outside the town?"
"I was in Florida! He kept running out on his bail and I kept finding him buck naked talking to squirrels in the park."
"Maybe he was from our land," Regina said. "Like the emperor who used to walk around naked."
"Yeah, that guy still does that you know. I keep getting calls complaining about him gardening in the buff." She shuddered. "Way too much bending over at the waist."
"I am truly sorry."
"You're not the one accidentally giving him a colon exam."
"He wasn't always that crazy."
"He's actually—well he's technically my uncle."
Emma stopped sipping her wine. The glass pausing at her lips. "Wait. Seriously?"
"I never really knew him. We just saw him for state dinners once a year. One year I’m pretty sure my mother cursed him."
"You think—you don't know?"
"It was almost fifty years ago now. Before—the nudity I mean—he was much like his father. Stern." She sipped her own wine, letting the taste push back the bile that rose with memories of her father's family. "Unkind. He and my mother argued more than usual and—"
"He got a little loopy and stopped wearing pants."
"Could you fix him?"
"The question isn't could I, but should I. He was as bad as my mother when it came to appearances. This way he's," she frowned, “this way is probably better for everyone."
"He was the one that gave my father the idea to marry me off to Bluebeard, and I assure you, he knew full well what the man was."
Emma refilled Regina's glass without asking and then topped off her own. "Well, I guess then here's to Cora doing something not awful for a change."
Regina raised her glass, "To my mother. The accidental hero."
The fourth bottle of wine snuck up on Emma. She seemed a little looser than normal and then suddenly she was sprawled out on the couch, her bare feet on the coffee table and her head resting on Regina Mill's shoulder.
And she didn't care. She lifted her glass and Regina filled it. Regina expanding on the expansive branches of her family tree took them both on a journey through the third bottle of wine, and by the fourth it had led them back to a stable boy.
Emma couldn't see all of Regina's face from her position on her shoulder. Just the firelight reflected in thoughtful eyes.
"What was he like," she asked.
And Regina eyebrows knit together in a frown. "Too kind," she said. "Too trusting."
"I mean the guy. Was he funny? Dumb? Did he have hobbies?"
That earned her a small smile, and warmth from the locket as fond memories washed over Regina and lapped at the edges of Emma's mind.
"He was silly, in the best of ways. And far too serious. And besides horseback riding he liked working with his hands."
"Leather-working," Regina said. Only she wasn't being defensive. It was a playful scolding.
"Neal used to make bracelets."
She hadn't thought of him in years. And now she could see him sitting cross legged on a bed in a moldy hotel room, in shorts and a sleeveless shirt carefully braiding millimeter thick strips of leather together. They weren't the pieces made by kids at camp, but true works of art.
Regina stiffened. "Oh."
"He'd sell them to tourists. Say he was Native American or something." He liked to slap a turquoise stone on them and a piece of tin polished like silver. Didn't matter how good the leather-working was. The silver and the polished stones were what sold them.
"He was a con artist Regina. A really, really good con artist."
"And he died?"
Emma glanced up again and Regina looked down at her bashfully. "Sorry. Henry mentioned it when you first came here."
"Henry thinks his birth dad is a fireman who knocked up a 17 year old girl and died heroically saving…kittens or something. I'd rather he think that then know he was a con artist that knocked up a 17 year old girl and then left her holding the bag when the cops showed up."
She slumped in her seat, laying her head on top of Emma's. If either of them had been more sober they would have been appalled by the contact. Or at least extremely flustered.
Instead it was pleasant.
"Did you love him?"
"I did." And she'd been paying for that love ever since. Besides Henry the lesson Neal had taught her had been the only worthwhile thing she'd ever gotten from him.
Never, ever, fall in love. It made you stupid.
"Sometimes I think I still do."
"How do you love your mom? Some people just get under your skin you know? Whether you want them there or not."
"Like a cancer."
Emma laughed bitterly, "Sure. They're irritating, potentially fatal, and sometimes you have to cut yourself open just to get rid of them."
"I wish I could get rid of him. I try to forget him, but he was a lot of firsts for me." First love. First family. First betrayal.
Regina looked down again, "Do you see him? In Henry?"
She saw his mischievous smile and the way his nose was just a little too big for his face. But, "No. I see his mom."
"Political answer," she noted dryly.
"I'm drinking her wine. Should at least be polite."
"I'm serious Emma."
At some point Regina's hand had fallen onto Emma's knee and she drew warm patterns with her forefinger and thumb.
It drew the words out of her. As if by magic.
"I mean, I see bits of him in Henry maybe. But you probably see bits of Mary Margaret in me. We're always gonna look for what we know. But really," she looked up at Regina. They really had had too much wine. It made her head swim and made bad ideas seem good. "Really he's your son. Through and through."
Regina's searched Emma's face. As though she was trying to to figure out if Emma was telling the truth or taking advantage of all the wine they’d shared.
She rested her cheek against the top of Emma’s head. “Thank you.”
“We’ve had too much to drink haven’t we?”
“Mm hmm.” They watched the fire in silence. Sipping their wine and enjoying the warmth they each provided.
Regina finished hers first and slapped Emma’s leg. “Come on. We need to get up.”
“What,” she whined.
Regina snatched her glass and set it on the coffee table then offered her hands. “This will be neat.”
Regina pulled, and because she was a sorceress magically imbued with more strength then her slight figure would bely Emma went catapulting up and let herself be dragged up the stairs.
“Uh. Regina. I’m flattered but—“
Emma’s mouth snapped shut.
Regina guided her down the hall past her bedroom and pulled down the stairs to the attic.
“Where are we going,” Emma stage whispered.
“You think climbing on the roof while drunk is a good idea?”
Regina had just started to climb the stairs and snapped around, looking down into Emma’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”
And to her own surprise, Emma quietly said, “Yes.”
In the attic Regina climbed out a window and offered her hand. Emma took it carefully, and followed her out onto the roof. Regina’s steps were sure—liked she’d made this exact trek hundreds of times before.
They carefully climbed up until they were on the apex, and Regina straddled it assuredly.
“Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before,” Emma asked.
She was stuck at about knee level and a little wobbly, but she refused to reach for Regina’s leg. She knew she’d end up feeling like a pinup on a fantasy novel cover.
“It’s a good view of the town,” Regina opined.
“No, come here,” she offered her hand and tugged Emma up so they were standing together. She stomped her feet, “brace yourself with your magic. Like there are anchors in your shoes.”
Emma tried to picture anchors and suddenly standing on a roof a little drunk didn’t feel as unsafe as it had.
“I normally wouldn’t do this—this,” Regina hiccuped, or burped, or just swallowed. God they were drunk. “Inebriated, but we have magic now.” She smiled. It lit up her whole face.
The butterflies Emma had had for being drunk on a roof remained for wholly different reasons. She gulped. “Yeah.”
“Look though. You can see everything.”
Regina pointed and Emma followed her finger. She was right. The whole town was splayed out before them. The glow of street lamps holding back the darkness.
“But what’s really interesting is right here.” She scooted them forward. “The magic is weak in this spot. I noticed it about two years in.”
They were at the edge of the roof and Emma had no desire to ask her how she’d found the specific point.
“You can see outside the barrier. Technically this is the middle of nowhere so the stars. They’re different.”
She turned her head up to look at the sky. The stars were different. It was like looking at a hologram. Two images, one on top of the other. A dark cloudless sky where only the brightest stars could shine above the town’s light. And another. Thousands of points of white light floating in the darkness. The whole of a heaven she wasn’t even sure she believed in.
Regina spun around, drunk and happy and smiling. “It’s amazing isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Emma croaked, her voice—her whole body failing her.
The corners of Regina’s mouth fell. Just a fraction.
Not because she was upset. But because something began to pass between them. A moment of absolute seriousness that cut through the haze.
She was looking at Emma’s lips, she realized. And then her nose. Her cheeks. Her eyes. Then her palm was pressed into Emma’s jaw and her fingers were at her hairline and they were sharing a kiss. There wasn’t stilted flirting or unsaid attraction.
Just that kiss.
Sure lips pressed against her own. The cool touch of her mouth. Then the cool touch of a tongue and the gasp that meant it wasn’t a drunk grapple to be forgotten in the morning. But something real.
She pushed back enough to end it and pressed her forehead to Regina’s before she could protest.
“I can’t,” she panted.
Regina was breathing just as fast, her breath sour from the wine.
“I’m not…I’m not ready for a relationship,” Emma said.
“It doesn’t have—“
“It would.” She dared look into Regina’s eyes, the contact never broken. “With you. Now. It would.”
Regina’s fingers clung to Emma’s hair. She was trying—trying not to let it show. “Is it,” she swallowed, “because of him?”
Neal. The guy she’d love.
The guy who ruined her.
“No. Right now I need to be a mom. And a daughter. And a sheriff. I don’t have—I can’t.”
Regina was trying not to cry and she smiled and nodded, before pressing a gentle kiss on the corner of Emma’s mouth. “I understand. But…”
“What,” Emma whispered.
“I can’t wait. It’s not…” Regina closed her eyes.
They separated with an awkward smile.
The kiss had been sobering and shattered the pleasant if foggy evening they’d shared. They both climbed back into the house with none of the stumbling clumsiness they’d climbed out with.
They’d arrived at an understanding, and as Emma helped Regina into the house she felt…okay.
Neither were ignoring what had happened, but they weren’t letting it weigh on them. They went down the stairs and Regina dealt with the wine glasses while Emma fluffed the couch, and then they did the dishes together.
Regina walked Emma to the door and leaned against it after opening it.
“I had fun,” Emma said, rocking back on her heels and keeping her hands busy in her pockets.
And the small smile that graced her lips said Regina had too. Emma started to turn but Regina reached out to stop her. Cupping her cheek in her hand.
“Yeah. And look if you need—“
“I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl Emma.”
Right. “Right. Okay. So. Tomorrow? I guess you and I and Henry should have a sit down.”
“I’ll be there first thing.”
Emma nodded, then caught herself when she went in for a hug. Regina recognized the catch and kept smiling that bittersweet smile of hers before stepping away and shutting the door and leaving Emma all alone out in the cold.
Up above the stars were just the ones from Storybrooke. Half lost in the light. But she knew, just beyond, was the real sky.
And it was breathtaking.
Morning came too soon. Grey light filtered in through the windows and cast the whole loft in a sullen shade. Henry was asleep on his stomach, his mouth half opened and below Emma could hear David cooking breakfast and Mary Margaret and him speaking in low voices.
She rolled out of bed and prepared for the sudden rush of nausea that usually came from too much wine. But instead it was just the normal head rush from sitting up too fast. She squinted and carefully stood and tried to figure out if maybe, possibly, she was still a little drunk.
She felt loose limbed enough. Stretching, all kinds of parts of her popped and when she stood up she had to stifle a groan.
Henry fidgeted in his sleep and opened his eyes, “Mom?”
“Time for breakfast,” she whispered.
He nodded and rolled over, curling up in a ball and throwing the sheets over his head.
Emma made her way downstairs under the wary eyes of both parental figures, who watched from the kitchen with matching mugs of coffee in their hands.
“You were out late,” David said.
Mary Margaret followed up with a “Very late.”
“Regina and I talked.”
About Henry and family and long lost loves and two sets of stars twinkling in the sky. “How we’re gonna deal with the kid.”
“For eight hours?”
“It was very involved,” she grumbled, and pressed her palms into her eyes. “She’s probably on her way over now so we can tag team this mess.”
“Here,” Mary Margaret said, “I really wish—“
“Don’t worry. She knows that she could have been better yesterday. Who knows, she might even apologize.”
David snorted into his coffee then turned his back on them to fiddle with the eggs on the stovetop.
“My mom’s coming,” Henry asked from the top of the stairs.
“Yeah kid. The three of us are going to have a little tete a tete about punching people.”
“It’s one of the few things Regina and I agree on. So get excited.”
Realizing he was well and truly screwed Henry’s shoulders sagged and he stomped down the stairs to his seat at the counter.
The three adults shared a cautious look and Mary Margaret leaned away from him, taking her coffee with her.
When Emma heard the knock at the door she hopped off her stool and dashed to it.
It was funny.
She didn’t get excited about seeing people.
And she really didn’t get excited about the hard parenting stuff like she knew was ahead.
But she was excited about seeing her.
It gave her pause as her hand reached the doorknob.
When did Regina stop being the enemy and start being the friend?
She yanked the door opened just as the visitor raised their hand to knock again.
But it wasn’t Regina, with a familiar smile and resolute gaze.
It was Gold. He grinned savagely.
“Sheriff Swan. You owe me a favor. I’ve come to collect.”