Regina. The name sticks with her, which is just another reminder that Emma’s sticking with her, and it’s all she can think about between tending to Jacinda once she's home and keeping Lucy as far from Emma as possible. “Was there a Regina in your book?” she finally asks, and Jacinda groans at the reminder of the book but doesn’t protest it. Whatever nonsense the book might be, it had been enough to somehow indirectly save her life.
Lucy shakes her head. “Not that I can remember. Why? Is that someone you know?” she says hopefully. “Do you believe me now?”
“I think…she may have been someone Ms. Swan loved,” she says slowly, and the admission burns in her throat.
“Her True Love,” Lucy says, eyes brightening. “You know that you can’t cast this curse without the heart of the thing you love most. I bet she used Regina’s heart.” She flips through the pages to find the picture of the Dark One with the knife.
“That's pretty cold,” Jacinda says, giving up on opposing Lucy’s fantasies. “So much for true love, huh?”
Lucy gives her a look. “Of course it's cold. She's the Dark One. She might be nice to us, but she's still gonna do what she has to for…” She waves vaguely. “Darkness.” Darkness to Lucy seems a mysterious term, as fantastical as magic and never encompassing anything ordinary.
Jacinda leans back in the bed of the pull-out couch, Lucy curled up beside her, and peers at the book. “She does look like Swan. Maybe someone in this town had a custom book written.”
“The Author ,” Lucy reminds her, pointing dramatically at Henry.
Henry shrugs good-naturedly. “Whatever you say, kid.” Lucy sticks out her tongue at him. He sticks out his tongue right back.
The intercom beeps, and Roni pushes it. “Yes?”
“It's me.” Emma . Roni peers out the window and sees her down in front of the bar door, fidgeting impatiently.
Her first reaction is distrust, which is wholly unfair when Emma had saved Jacinda’s life just a week ago. She’s letting her personal frustration with the other woman dictate their interactions, and she's supposed to be better than this. Cool as a cucumber. What does she care if a woman she's barely interested in is hung up on some ex?
“We’re upstairs,” she says curtly, and buzzes her in.
The footsteps on the way up to the bar are tentative, unlike Emma’s typical stride. Jacinda looks wary, Lucy excited, and Henry sits silently and watches the open doorway with the same intensity as Roni.
Emma comes into view, her eyes trained just as intensely on Henry’s, and avoids Roni’s eyes altogether. “I heard you'd been discharged,” she says, jerking her head to Jacinda. Jacinda looks startled at the attention on her. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Much better,” Jacinda says, and she smiles at Emma with a sort of wary gratitude. “Thanks to you. I really appreciate what you...what you did for us.”
Emma shifts from side to side, clearly uncomfortable before she settles on an uncertain smile. “What's the point of running this town if I can't do anything with it?” she says finally.
“Money?” Henry suggests, grinning, and Emma’s eyes snap back to him as though she's only been waiting for an excuse.
“Power,” Lucy pipes up. “I bet you get free milkshakes at Granny’s.” She sighs wistfully.
Emma laughs, then looks startled that she had. “I definitely do it for the free milkshakes,” she says in a conspiratorial tone. There's something odd about Emma like this, relaxing in a way that seems almost painful to her, and she always looks as though she’s holding back a grimace. Roni keeps quiet, swallowing back her fascination and busying herself with lunch at the kitchen island. She feels eyes on her and knows whose they are.
“So,” Emma says abruptly, twisting to stare at Jacinda again. “What was the issue with the doctor on call?”
Lucy says, “She would have killed Mama.”
Jacinda laughs, a little strained. “You know, the usual. You don't cross your evil stepmother.”
There's an awkward silence for a moment. When Roni peers out at the living room, she sees Emma’s fingers, digging into her sides as though she's holding back a fist. “So what does that make you?” she says lightly. “Snow White?”
Jacinda shrugs. “Lucy says I’m Cinderella, actually.”
“Of course.” Emma stares at her, brow furrowed, and she turns to Lucy. “And what does that make your dad? Some noble prince?”
“The Author,” Lucy corrects her, impatient. “You know all this. You're the Dark One who hunted them.”
“Lucy,” Roni says reprovingly. Emma’s fingers are still digging into her side, white from the force of it, and her face is blank. “Ms. Swan just saved your mother’s life. Is this really the time for fairytales?”
“Maybe I’d better go,” Emma says, glancing away from them all. Her gaze stutters on Henry for a moment, and he opens his mouth as though to say something. “I’m glad you're healing well,” Emma says stiffly, back to the untouchable Ms. Swan, and she hurries back down the stairs before Henry can speak.
Roni sighs. “One second.” The hatred is mutual between them, and she doesn't know what part of her it is that seems to crave that laugh again. That kiss, meant as it had been for someone else. Emma’s overtures matter , somehow, and she hates it but hurries after her instead.
Emma is standing at the bar when Roni comes down, pouring herself a tumbler of whiskey and staring blankly into space. She jumps when she sees Roni, her face twisting into a grotesque mockery of her standard sneer. It doesn't work when her eyes are this sad. “I own this place, don't I?” she says bitterly.
“These are the perks,” Roni says wryly, taking the bottle from her. “Milkshakes at Granny's and whiskey at Roni’s.” Their fingers brush and it lights something up within Roni like the summer sky. “That's my name,” she adds, a little snide. “In case you'd forgotten again.”
Emma tips her glass into her mouth, swirling the liquid around in it before she swallows. Her eyes are heartbreakingly earnest when she turns back to face Roni, and Roni can sense an apology building up that she doesn't want to deal with. Apologies mean this means something, and she isn't idiot enough to believe that. “I wanted to say I’m–”
“Don't talk to me,” Roni says sharply and kisses her, twisting Emma back against the bar and keeping a tight hand in her hair. Emma exhales, sliding a finger into Roni’s waistband to pull her closer.
They've kissed twice, and Emma already knows the roadmap of her body, lips and teeth and all the spots that make Roni groan. They fit together in ways that are ridiculous and still feel right, feel familiar like coming home. Roni digs a hand into Emma’s hair, yanks it out of the bun with determination until the tie falls to the floor and Emma is standing in front of her, eyes wide and hungry as she pants, hair tangled and messy as it falls past her shoulders.
“Come here,” she says, pulling Roni back to her.
“I told you not to talk,” Roni hisses, biting her ear warningly. Emma chokes, mouth closing around Roni’s lower lip, a hand creeping up her front.
There’s a thumping on the steps, and then Henry’s voice. “Roni? You okay down there?” and Roni’s shoving Emma behind the bar, Emma sliding to the floor as Roni slides one glass out of sight.
Henry emerges from the staircase, his brow quirked. “Day drinking?”
“Ms. Swan drives me to it,” Roni says serenely, ignoring the gasp of outrage from behind the bar. “I’ll be up in a few.”
Emma doesn’t call for some possibly-dead lover again, though she doesn’t call for Roni, either. Still, Roni finds every excuse to see her again, and every interaction seems to end in one place. She’s sitting at Granny’s with Henry when Emma arrives, making a wry comment about the double order of fries she’s eating– and okay , maybe she doesn’t have a six-pack like Emma’s (she runs her fingers over it too often, licks salty skin and listens to Emma moan at her touch), but a little bit of grease isn’t the reason why.
“I’m not criticizing your body,” Emma says, hands up. “I have zero criticism of your body–” Henry coughs loudly and Roni definitely sees a hint of pink on Emma’s cheeks at that. “I just think it’s…endearing.”
Endearing means Roni scoffs and then, after Emma steals her fries and makes surprisingly easy conversation with Henry and Henry wanders to the front to chat with Archie Hopper, endearing means making out in the back hallway of Granny’s like a couple of teenagers.
Emma makes her daily rounds to the bar again, but the sneer is a little more like a leer and Roni shoots back responses without the venom of the past. Jacinda thinks that Emma’s softening on them. Roni’s privately concerned that she’s the one who’s softening.
They’re in the pawn shop one night when Henry’s tending the bar, Emma’s shirt up and Roni’s mouth buried deep in her cleavage, when Emma says abruptly, “Come home with me.”
Roni shrugs, because why not? Emma’s place probably doesn’t have a big window in the front where they have to avoid prying eyes.
Or, well, Emma’s place has big everything . It’s the house that was once the mayoral mansion, back when Storybrooke had had a mayor instead of an incompetent board that might as well install a revolving door for the number of board members who are constantly replaced. It’s huge and imposing and suits Emma but not Roni at all.
She’s never been inside. There’s something about that big house that makes Roni shiver, and she’s always been vaguely unnerved while walking down Mifflin Street. She’d always assumed it had been her proximity to Emma that had felt so unnerving, but she seems to be doing just fine with that now, and the house remains…unsettling.
Emma doesn’t seem surprised at the tension that suffuses her when she walks inside. There’s a strange deja vu to it, to the point that Roni says uncertainly, “I haven’t been here before, have I?” She knows, somehow, that if she turns to the right, there will be a study. Up ahead is a dining room, to the diagonal right is the kitchen, and she shivers again.
“Upstairs,” Emma murmurs, and Roni leads the way to Emma’s bedroom without a second thought. The bed feels like home, and Roni lets out a dry sob that she can’t contain, her hands falling from Emma’s hips as she lies limp on a mattress that feels as though it’s drowning in sadness. Emma slides in beside her, rests a protective arm over her and kisses her hair, and Roni stares at the ceiling as ridiculous, unreasonable tears slide down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she manages after a long time.
Emma kisses her cheek. “No,” she says firmly, and Roni falls silent again.
She falls asleep in Emma’s bed, and when she wakes up, she can’t remember her name for a moment. She yawns, stumbling to the next bedroom to wake up her son for school, and then she finally remembers who she is and stops, standing limply in the hall.
Emma’s arms slide around hers from behind. “What’s wrong?”
“I thought…I dreamed I had a son,” Roni says, still dazed. She can’t remember his face, can’t remember anything but ephemeral love and safety and family.
Emma’s arms tighten around her. “Come back to bed,” she whispers, and she sounds bereft. Roni climbs back into bed, and this time, she hooks Emma’s legs over her shoulders and makes her scream.
The house still feels familiar the next time she goes there; but now it must be only because of the morning she’d spent there before. She goes out more nights now, after she closes bar and sometimes before. Henry and Jacinda must know what she’s up to, because they never ask a single question and watch her with sly grins and knowing looks, and she flushes and keeps her head high and continues the verbal sparring with Emma regardless.
Only Lucy remains oblivious, which is probably for the best as the memories of Jacinda’s rescue begin to fade and Lucy focuses back on the Dark One part of Emma. “She seems happier lately,” she says, frowning at her book. “Does that mean she’s plotting something else? Do you think it’s because my parents are together again?”
“Together again?” Roni repeats, and Jacinda avoids her eyes while Henry beams, winking at Roni while Lucy looks on with approval. Lucy slides into place next to Henry, snuggling into his side, and then she says, her voice far more perturbed, “I thought that the curse would break if they kissed. Have you kissed yet?”
Henry coughs. Jacinda says, “ Lucy .”
Roni says, eyes sparkling with amusement, “Well, have you?”
Jacinda suddenly seems very interested in her breakfast. Lucy grins at Roni, though there’s still that disappointment in her eyes. She isn’t going to let up on her curse anytime soon, no matter how impossible it is to prove it exists.
It’s an unusual Sunday morning when Jac and Lucy are out on their own, having some sorely needed mother-daughter bonding time away from the bar. On days like this in the past, Roni had entertained herself by heading to the gym or swimming in the community pool, losing herself in sweat-soaked skin and adrenaline thumping through her ears.
Today, Henry’s laptop battery has lost its charge unexpectedly, and they’re at an electronics store instead. “I don’t think I’ve ever been here,” Roni muses.
Henry frowns. “Never? What about the big screen for the bar? Or your phone?” Roni shrugs. She must have gone somewhere to get them, but if she thinks too much about it, her head goes fuzzy and she forgets what she’d been thinking in the first place.
A moment later, Henry’s eyes go vague and unfocused, and he changed the subject. “I’m almost finished with the first draft of the novel,” he says as they browse. “I haven’t gotten nearly as much writing done since I got here.”
“You mean having a child isn’t conducive to long hours spent writing?” Roni says, laughing. “Who would have suspected that .” He rolls his eyes at her, and she squeezes his hand. “I’m glad you’re here, even if it has slowed you down.”
“So am I.” He looks at her for a moment, his eyes solemn. “I must have…I mean, I know I had a family, a long time ago. A family that mattered. But it’s been so long, and I guess I’ve gotten used to being alone. My only family was my books. And now– having Jac and Lucy and– and you, and this town, and even Lucy’s favorite Dark One–” He exhales. “It feels like home. Like I’ve been looking for you all for a long time.”
“Henry,” Roni breathes, and she wraps an arm around him and squeezes in a half-embrace. Maybe it’s because he’s the one who writes, who weaves words into narratives so well– maybe that’s why he can put it into words in ways that she never could.
He shrugs, looking embarrassed. “I’m just going to…pick up that battery and get back to work. Turner isn’t going to escape the serial killer by herself.”
“I don’t know,” Emma says, rounding the aisle and leaning against the display opposite them. How long had she been there? Sort-of relationship or not, Roni can’t match her adeptness at lurking. “Turner seems pretty badass. The way she took on the bad guy last book? She’s got this.”
Henry looks at her in astonishment. “You read my book?” Roni had, of course, leafed through it despite a vague discomfort. She hadn’t thought of herself as squeamish before now, but maybe Henry’s just that good.
Emma shrugs. “I was curious. Stayed up with it all night last week. You’re going to be the next great American author, aren’t you?” She smiles at him. It’s strange, how often Emma’s smiles are layers on layers, and the root layer always seems to be a deep, drowning pit of desolation. The affection still shines through: shines when she’s breathless on top of Roni, eyes bright; shines when she’s talking with Lucy and Jacinda about anything but Lucy’s curse; shines now, as proud as Roni is of Henry’s talent.
Henry basks under it. “That’s the plan,” he says, winking at them both. “Everyone likes a good story about carving out hearts, right?”
“It’s my favorite topic,” Roni says, straight-faced. Emma watches her, a curious expression on her face.
“I can’t say it’s mine,” Emma murmurs. “But you make it worth reading.” She reaches out to lay a hand on Henry’s shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
Henry laughs. “You’re both too good for my ego.” When he beams at them, he looks as young as Lucy, full of youthful exuberance and delight. “Maybe I will write in a bartender. And a pawn shop owner. Who have a secret, torrid–”
“ No ,” Roni says darkly. Emma’s smile doesn’t meet her eyes. “We’re not .”
Henry holds up a hand. “Of course not,” he says, stepping back. “But if you were , you know, be careful. I hear that Emma’s the actual embodiment of darkness or something.” He laughs. Emma’s smile has vanished altogether, and Roni can feel her sadness like her own heart is raw and damaged. “I gotta go. I have a sheriff to save.” He puts a hand on each of their backs, leaning forward between them for a moment. “Go have lunch or something like the mortal enemies you are.”
And so they do.