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Miss Swan Goes to Storybrooke

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FEBRUARY 11

122 Days Until The Primary

 

Clipped heels across linoleum. A straight-backed stride that never falters for a moment as it winds into a little office space on the corner of Main Street. A starched pantsuit amidst a crowd of jeans and t-shirts. A sharp, authoritative voice, unimpressed by excuses or chatter.

 

Regina Mills– twenty-five, no-nonsense, and thoroughly pissed– strides into campaign headquarters with her eyes blazing as she barks out orders. “Ruby! Where’s our new directive? The candidate is on his way. Where is Neal? Sabine, the website update?”

 

“On it, boss,” Sabine pops her head out of her little nook. They’ve put up office panel partitions through the room in the deep green that they’re trying to use as their official campaign color. They wind around the desks, creating miniature cubicles for each division of the campaign, and Sabine’s corner is opposite Ruby’s at the front of the office. “Just trying to pick a pose.”

 

Regina quickens her step, joining Sabine to look critically at their two options onscreen. In one, the candidate is smiling directly at the camera, his eyes slightly glazed over. In the other, he leans forward with his hands clasped in front of him, the smile more natural but the pose awkward. “I can have J Photoshop the expression from the second onto the first, but–“

 

“Have it in my inbox in an hour,” Regina snaps, whirling back around. “Ruby! I need that directive!”

 

“Working on it!” A voice floats back through the room. Not Ruby’s voice. “We ran into a bit of a…snag earlier–“

 

Regina stalks forward to Ruby’s nook. “A what?” It isn’t Ruby in there. It’s one of the grunts, a volunteer she remembers as…Adam, maybe? Some generic name she hadn’t needed to file away for the campaign, so she’d promptly forgotten. “Where the hell is Ruby? The candidate is on his way! I told him we’d have a GOTV plan ready for him today!”  

 

The boy looks up at her sheepishly. “I’m getting it to Ruby. I didn’t think you needed it for this morning.”

 

“I need everything for this morning!” Regina barks out. She has little tolerance for incompetence, particularly from smug little boys who don’t care . She raises her voice. “Where the hell is Neal?” No response. Of course no response, because why should she ever expect the actual campaign manager to show up when he can relegate all the work to his deputy campaign manager? “Would someone give me some good news to give the candidate?”

 

A face pops up above the plastic walls that crisscross through headquarters, just under the massive hanging poster that reads IT’S THE HONOURABLE THING TO DO . Regina had fought the candidate for hours on the damn spelling of their slogan, insisting that small-town Maine is going to see it as a pretentious reminder that he isn’t one of them. Neal had shrugged and given them both a floppy-haired lazy smile and said, he’s the boss , and now they’re fielding media reports– not that those are all that common to begin with– that the candidate is disconnected from the people . “We got you,” Tamara says from Mulan’s corner of the room, proffering a stack of papers as though they’re the Holy Grail. “New policy plans, reviewed and approved by Marian, guaranteed to have the unions eating out of the palm of your hand in one–“ She stabs out a single finger. “–meeting.”

 

Regina almost weeps in relief. “I could kiss you.”

 

“Please don’t,” Tamara says, passing the stack over the wall. “I think our relationship may never recover.” Regina clutches the stack to her chest, feeling the comforting weight of efficiency in her arms, and spins around again.

 

“Let’s go!” she snaps, casting a critical eye around the room, at loose coffee cups and empty takeout and balled up papers around the trash can at the entrance. “Clean up. Look busy . If we want the unions to take us seriously, we have to look like a real operation.” She pauses, her voice rising with frustration, and demands again, “Has anyone even heard from Neal?” Nothing. Of course. “Ruby, I need that plan, now .”

 

The boy who isn’t Ruby– Eddy, was it?– rubs the back of his neck and says in a low whine, “I’m working on it.”

 

“Not quickly enough,” Regina snarls, catching sight of Twitter open on his desktop screen. “Do you think this is a game? What are you trying to pull?” She shakes her head, a clipped, irritated movement. She has no time for this, not now, not when the candidate is on his way and their credibility is riding on her having something with substance to give him. “You’re out of here.”

 

The boy blinks at her. “What?” The others are watching now, heads craning out of their cubicles to see. Regina sweeps a dark glare around the room, and the rest of the campaign team snaps into action, clearing away garbage and organizing their desks.

 

“You’re out,” Regina repeats. “Fired.”

 

“You can’t fire me! You don’t even pay me!” the boy sputters. “I’m a volunteer!”

 

“Not anymore you aren’t,” Regina bites out. Her voice has gone very low, dangerous, and she knows it’s her mother’s voice and doesn’t care. Her mother, for all her many faults, is very good at terrifying underlings, and Regina needs that skill right now. “If you aren’t taking this seriously, we’ll replace you. So much for this extracurricular on your liberal arts college application,” she sneers, and the boy scoffs in outrage.

 

He turns around, shoving his binder into his bag, and he mutters loud enough for everyone to hear, “It isn’t like you have a chance, anyway. Even I’m voting for the other guy.”

 

“Get out ,” Regina hisses. The room has fallen very quiet, the tension overwhelming, and the boy grabs his bag and storms out, his footfalls echoing in the silence. There are eyes on her from all around the room, some exhausted, some judgmental, and Regina keeps her chin up and stares them all down.

 

Maybe they don’t have a chance. But she’ll be damned if anyone working in this room believes that, and she glares at her colleagues, daring them to agree with the boy. Furtive eyes flicker away from hers, and Regina can feel herself growing more and more irritated.

 

The tension is cracked, suddenly, by a drawl from the front door. “So I guess new rule for Ruby, huh? She’s gotta make sure her volys are getting out the vote for our guy.” Neal laughs, low and easy, and the room ripples with a sigh of relief. People are focusing again, following Regina’s instructions and prepping for the candidate, and Regina hurries over to Neal in a fury.

 

“Where have you been ? Ruby is hiring incompetents, Sabine hasn’t finished the website, and we have a meeting with the UAW in twenty minutes! Do you think you can, for a second, pretend that you’re the manager of this campaign?”

 

Neal tilts his head, that boyish grin on his face that he thinks works on her. “But you’re so much better at it than I am,” he points out, and she glares at him as he moves to the side. “But I do have something for you.” He’s been away all weekend, gone on some trip to Florida that he hadn’t seen fit to explain to her.

 

He’d fucking better have found a hundred absentee voters in Florida with a thing for Brits.

 

But instead, he reveals, behind him, a girl a year or two younger than Regina. Very attractive, with the kind of unconscious swagger to her that shows that she knows it. White, blonde, with waves of hair cascading over her shoulders and down her back. She has an awkward little smile on her face along with some measure of trepidation, and she sticks her thumbs into the waistband of her jeans and says, “Hi.”

 

“Emma Swan,” Neal says proudly. “She’s going to be the best Deputy Field Director we’ve had. And since you just sent the last one out the door, I say that this is fate.” He turns to beam at the girl.

 

Regina stares at her, then him, then back at her. She’s fidgeting now, glancing around the room as though she’s never seen a campaign before. “What’s her work experience?”

 

“I was under the impression that this is a volunteer position,” the girl says boldly, and Regina’s lip curls. Oh , of course. Another kid who thinks that this is a joke, that she can waltz in and do nothing productive.

 

Neal shakes his head vigorously. “No way. You’re good at this stuff, Emma. We’re going to pay you.”

 

What. Regina stares at him in disbelief. “Absolutely not,” she bites out. “I am not paying some pretty girl who you picked up off the street–“

 

“We had an interview,” Neal objects, but he’s grinning like this is still a joke, no big deal at all. The girl looks bewildered, and Neal clarifies, “A breakfast meeting. I was very impressed.” Suspicion creeps up in the back of Regina’s mind, slowly and dangerously, and Neal adds in a lower voice, “And I know that you’re gonna say she’s bad for optics, but the juvie records are all sealed, and–“

 

Neal ,” the girl says, her voice strained.

 

Regina gapes at Neal– truly gapes , absolutely taken aback for the first time since they’d begun this campaign. “I’m sorry, did you just say that you brought in someone with a criminal record ?” The girl’s face is stiffer now, less awkward and more set, and Regina turns on Neal. “Neal, what the fuck –“ And then, at last, with a sudden comprehension, it begins to make sense. “Neal, are you dating this girl?”

 

Neal rubs the back of his head sheepishly, his hand reaching for the girl’s hand. The girl doesn’t take it. Her hands are balled into fists, which is about how Regina feels right now. “Kind of?” he says.

 

This is it. Months of planning, of formulating a vision to take down Mother’s candidate for mayor. Finding someone they can believe in, a husband-wife team who actually care about the people. Putting together a team of the very best, being underestimated at every turn, and Neal Cassidy Gold, professional paparazzi-adored screw-up, is going to compromise their whole dream with another piece of blonde fluff .

 

Neal follows her line of thought, her building rage, with alarm. “Emma’s different , Regina,” he says urgently. “She’d be good at this. She’s nothing like Morraine or Wendy–“

 

“Or Tina?” Regina shoots back in a low hiss. “That fucking pixie dust scandal was nearly enough to bury you.” She’d eradicated the drug from Storybrooke entirely after that . “You always think they’re different. Face it, Neal, you pick up these bimbos , they screw you over, and then, next thing you know, you’re on the front cover of every gossip magazine in a hundred-mile radius. We can’t have another one of your scandals during this campaign. Not for some incompetent–“

 

“I can do the job,” the girl says. She’s watching Regina, eyes narrowed, and Regina despises her already. From the look of it, it’s mutual. “But I’m not going to grovel for it.” She spins around, and Neal seizes her wrist.

 

“Come on, Em, she doesn’t mean it.”

 

“I certainly do,” Regina says, the bubble of frustration rising and ready to pop. They’ve worked for this. They’ve thrown all they have into it. And Neal is going to sabotage both himself and the campaign over some hot girl whose jeans hug her ass just so–

 

She tears her eyes away from the girl’s ass and says again, deliberately, “She can’t work here.”

 

“We need someone like her,” Neal argues back, and now he sounds serious at last, lowering his voice and pulling Regina out the door, past the girl, where they can’t be heard. “Emma’s got this…this amazing presence, you know? People want to follow her. People want to listen to her.” He has this dopey look on his face like he’s maybe in love , because of course he is. Neal never makes it more than a few days before he’s hopelessly in love with a blonde who’s going to wreck him. It’s a reliable formula that Regina, Neal, and a dozen gossip journalists have all learned to recognize.

 

“Just fuck her and get her out of your system, Neal,” Regina says tiredly. “We have a campaign to run.”

 

“She sounds like just the one to help you with it,” says a voice behind them, and Regina’s shoulders slump as a hand lands on one of them. Fuck . “When do I meet this lovely lady?”

 

The candidate is here.

 

Robin Locksley had struck Regina as a bit of an insufferable douche when she’d first met him, years ago, just after he’d married his Storybrooke-bred wife and moved to town. He’s grown on her since, to some degree, but he hadn’t been on the radar for this campaign until Neal had brought him in and insisted that they hear him out. But then she’d heard more of what he’d had to say– but then she’d talked to Marian, who’d been brimming with energy and thoughts on how to change their town– and she’d been sold onto his vision.

 

Before that, Regina had flirted with the idea of running herself. But she’s too young, and she isn’t nice , not in that easy way that Neal and Robin both seem to have mastered. She’d never win an election if she’d been the candidate– would never find anyone to believe in her like her team does their candidate– and so she’s settled on making sure that the best man wins.

 

At times, though, she’d really rather wring off his head. “Robin, are you sure that’s wise?” she begins, trailing behind him as he pushes open the door to the office. “You know Neal’s reputation as a–“

 

“I trust his judgment,” Robin says, exchanging a wink with Neal. He steps into the room, pausing to shake the bimbo’s hand. “Welcome to the team, young lady,” he says graciously, and the girl looks very startled. She looks questioningly at Neal’s grin and Regina’s glare, and her eyes catch Regina’s and hold.

 

They’re challenging, a little smug, and Regina despises this girl with all she has. Bitch .

 


 

“Bitch,” Emma mutters when the campaign manager– sorry, deputy campaign manager, though she certainly seems not to have gotten the memo– stalks past her at the end of the day. She’d done a pretty good rewrite of Ruby’s Get Out The Vote! directive, and even the campaign consultant had been impressed with her work before Regina Mills had taken a red pen to it and skewered it.

 

There’s nothing wrong with Regina’s corrections, exactly. They’re all reasonable and some of them might actually improve their work. There’s just something about the way that Regina does the corrections that makes it clear that every single one of them is out of spite and absolutely unnecessary. She’d sauntered off with a smirk on her face and a sway to her hips, and Emma’s been quietly seething since.

 

This is a campaign office, right? Inspire the town and all that shit. They take volunteers all the time without having to vet them. But somehow, Regina Fucking Stick Up Her Ass Mills had decided to single her out and try to get rid of her, just moments after she’d kicked out another volunteer. It’s a wonder that anyone sticks around.

 

“I’m grabbing dinner,” Regina calls out to Neal, who is going over some of the policy changes that Locksley had wanted. “Anything for you?”

 

Neal shrugs. “I think Emma and I are going to head out soon. I’ll look over the docs at home. Don’t stay here too late, okay?”

 

Regina tosses him a scornful look. “Just don’t leave the newbie here alone in the office,” she says, loud enough for the entire office to hear. Emma’s cheeks burn and she slinks down in her chair. Ruby, who is her boss and so far seems a whole lot more laid back than Regina, pats her back consolingly.

 

“She can be a little prickly at first,” she offers as Regina pushes the door open. There’s a scramble of activity from the rest of the office, campaigners taking Regina’s departure as their cue to leave for the day. “You’ll win her over soon. I’m sure of it.” She beams at Emma, and Emma smiles back wanly.

 

Winning over Regina Mills is the very last thought in her mind right now. Lifting one of these desktop monitors and smashing it over Regina’s head? Well…

 

Well , she isn’t going to prison in Bumfuck, Maine, she reminds herself, rolling her eyes as Neal hops up onto Ruby’s desk. Ruby tosses her another grin as she packs up and departs with the policy director. The office is empty in minutes, everyone hurrying out as quickly as they can, and Neal laughs. “They do this every day. Sometimes I think Regina goes out for dinner early some days just to get rid of the masses.”

 

He tosses her an easy smile. Everything about Neal is easy , simple in a way that life had never felt before or after she’d first dated him. She’d been head-over-heels for him back then, sure that he’d been the only good thing about her life. Now, she’s…cautious, really. She knows he’d been hiding a lot of complicated secrets from her when they’d first dated, and now they’re all out there, but he seems just as uncomplicated. “You think Regina willingly does anything to let people stop working early?” Emma says skeptically. “I’ve known her a few hours and I can’t believe that.”

 

Neal laughs again. “She doesn’t give the best first impression, does she?”

 

“She’s a nasty piece of work,” Emma says, feeling very justified in this. “I don’t know why anyone here listens to her. I get that you need some Type A kinds to get shit done, but you don’t put them in charge. We can’t win this election with someone like her– what?” she demands, because Neal is looking at her oddly, his smile soft.

 

“You said we ,” he says, and Emma flushes.

 

She hadn’t thought she’d fit in here, with all these overachieving women and men who’d thrown themselves into something as inaccessible as politics. She’d accused Neal of offering her the job out of guilt for something that had happened long ago, he’d denied it, and then she’d walked into the campaign headquarters and discovered that there hadn’t been a job to offer. But maybe– maybe – she might be okay at this. “Well, I guess I’m on the team now, right? Even if Regina wants me gone, which is a terrible way to run a campaign, by the way.” She twists to look up at him, a thought occurring to her. “I get that you don’t like to step on her toes, but didn’t you say you had a sister instrumental to the campaign team? Maybe she could talk to–” Neal’s eyes turn shifty, and Emma realizes. “No,” she says, squeezing her eyes shut. “No, no .”

 

“Stepsister,” Neal clarifies sheepishly. “Regina’s mom married my dad a few years back. We grew up together, though, and we’ve always been close.” He grins. “I was the surrogate big brother, though you wouldn’t have believed it from seeing us together. I remember these kids who used to pick on me in junior high. Regina marched over to them– you’ve gotta imagine this tiny shrimp of a seven-year-old, looking like she could take on the world– and absolutely verbally destroyed them. That’s just Regina, you know? No one screwed with me again.”

 

“No,” Emma says, though the verbally destroying part sounds about right. She struggles to imagine Regina and Neal as kids and does a fair approximation of a younger Neal. Regina just looks like a miniature version of herself, still in sensible pantsuits and with a withering glare. “Is that why you made her your deputy campaign manager?”

 

Neal barks out a laugh, leaning back against one of the plastic walls that surround the field manager’s cubicles. “I didn’t make her anything. She made me the campaign manager. She thought I would be more…approachable, I guess. That people would take me more seriously.”

 

“Oh, I take her seriously. As serious as a heart attack,” Emma grumbles, staring down at the marked-up paper in front of her. It had felt good, doing something that she’d been good at. Neal had been right about it being a perfect fit. And then Regina had showed up to criticize it for no other reason than that Emma had been successful, and now Emma is stuck doubting herself here again.

 

Which had been Regina’s goal in the first place, so why is she letting her win? Emma straightens, squinting down at the corrections. “I’m going to stay here a little longer, okay? I kind of want to do these edits now.”

 

Neal pouts. “ Emma ,” he says in a low whine. “I thought we’d go out, celebrate your first day on the job, get a little wasted on my couch–”

 

“So Regina can critique my hangover in the morning?” Emma says, making a face. She can already imagine it; Regina, that absurdly attractive face twisted into a sneer, casting into doubt her work ethic and her reliability and calling her a blonde bimbo again. “I want to get this done, okay? I’ll meet you back at your place later.”

 

“Okay,” Neal says grudgingly, pressing a kiss to her lips. It’s casual, comfortable in the way that everything about Neal is, and Emma is glad again, somehow, that she’d found Neal again. She’d thought before that this would be closure, that she would get out all her frustrations with him and he’d apologize and then they’d never see each other again. But instead, it had been just as easy to fall back in with him. There isn’t passion , exactly, but there’s a familiarity and a comfort that makes Emma smile. “I’m going to go clean up the candidate’s office,” Neal says, sliding off Ruby’s desk. “Regina will throw a fit if I leave you alone here.”

 

Emma snorts. “As if I’d be working for the opposition.” The favorite candidate to win the mayoral race is Killian Jones, Professional Sleazebag. He’s some kind of hometown hero in Storybrooke– had grown up near the docks, taken up sailing, and gotten a role in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan as Captain Hook. He’d had a brief, mildly successful movie career, and the people of Storybrooke are wildly in love with him. Emma had been here three days and had already known he was a given.

 

“Not Jones,” Neal says. “Our primary opponent. We’re running on the Maine All Families party platform, so we go up against Mary Margaret Blanchard first. And she’s got this whole ‘Storybrooke darling’ thing going for her. Born and raised, best friends with every shopkeeper on Main Street, schoolteacher-turned-politician. She can’t beat Jones, but she’s been positioning herself as his polar opposite: the wholesome sweetheart up against the big city movie star.”

 

Emma nods, kind of overwhelmed at all of this. She isn’t from Storybrooke. She’d met Neal in Portland, Oregon, and she’d been wandering Tallahassee when he’d found her again this weekend. She isn’t from anywhere, really, and she has no idea which of them she’d pick, Blanchard or Jones. “So where does Locksley come in?”

 

Neal lights up. It’s the most passionate he’s seemed about anything , really, the way he talks about the campaign. “The Locksleys– they care , you know? They genuinely want to help make Storybrooke a better place to live. The town doesn’t control its spending well, and Main Street is well taken care of, but when you go closer to the beach and the edge of town, you can see how little money goes into the rest of the town. Marian and Regina have a whole bunch of plans for how to better allocate money and fight the disparity between the wealthier and poorer areas. We don’t really have much of a middle class in town, and that’s because Storybrooke is rigged against the working class. And Locksley wants to fix that.”

 

It’s a noble kind of idea, one Emma wouldn’t have expected from Regina of the immaculate manicure and tailored pantsuit and heels that cost more than Emma had made in a month in her last job. “Do you really think you have a chance?” she asks, and Neal grins, poking her on her arm and turning to the back office.

 

“Regina never loses,” he calls over his shoulder, and there’s a strange kind of comfort in that confidence, too.

 

Emma shakes it off. Regina could use a few losses, she thinks, then shrugs off the pettiness and focuses on Regina’s corrections. They’re subtle, little changes to the script that they’re giving to volunteers, but they aren’t bad. They aren’t necessary, either, but Emma can see what Regina’s purpose was, what she’s building to with her minor shifts. The approach becomes less of a canned reminder to vote! and more urgent, more encompassing. It’s your responsibility to vote becomes be proud to vote with just a few changes in syntax.

 

Regina has also added in an Oxford comma at every. single. opportunity . Emma grimaces at the little red strokes, miffed again, and stubbornly refuses to add the commas. There has to be a limit to her dominion.

 


 

Neal is still cleaning up in the back when the door opens. Emma jumps, startled at the interruption. She’s been editing for an extra ten minutes without interruption, rewriting Regina’s edits with her own flair. She isn’t much of a writer, but she’s had her time as a con artist on the streets, and this is…essentially more of that. Hear us out, join our campaign, give us money . The campaign has been up and running for weeks now, from the way Neal tells it. But the only publicity it seems to be getting is sparse mentions from local personalities who regard it as a bit of a joke.

 

She doesn’t know this town. She’d come with Neal because he’d been very persuasive that she might have some kind of future here, and she hadn’t had much of anything in Tallahassee. A small town in Maine had sounded like the perfect, quiet alternative to years in big cities, and it’s been a little overwhelmingly friendly so far.

 

Mostly. The least friendly person in Storybrooke has re-entered the office, glaring at Emma with a sharp look. “I haven’t stolen your campaign secrets,” Emma says dryly. “Don’t worry, Neal’s been babysitting me.” She jerks a thumb to the candidate’s office.

 

Regina scoffs. “You know, you have two legs that work just fine without you being surgically attached to Neal,” she says, curling her lip. “You don’t have to lurk around here waiting for him.”

 

“I’m doing work ,” Emma says, irritated again as she shoves the paper in Regina’s face. “For your campaign. Are you going to fire me for that?” A hint of smugness creeps into her voice, unbidden.

 

Regina’s eyes darken. They both know that Regina can’t , that Emma had somehow gotten this job despite Regina’s protests. It had felt good, earlier, having to endure a prissy rich bitch’s dressing down of her only to win anyway. Emma has spent far too many years of her life being dressed down by assholes who have found her lacking, and she basks in this tiny victory as Regina looks angrier and angrier.

 

“Listen to me.” Regina shifts forward, her voice low and furious. “I have watched my stepbrother date girls like you for years. Blonde, cute as a button–” Her eyes sweep over Emma, an eyebrow arching as though she’s dubious of even that. “Too young for him. Vapid. Trouble . I know exactly who you are.”

 

“I don’t think you do,” Emma says archly, rising. “Especially if you think that I’m trouble for him .” She laughs, a hint of bitterness creeping into it before she can stop, and Regina smirks as though she thinks she’s landed a blow. She’s too close, in Emma’s space, and Emma refuses to back down. “You know nothing about my relationship with Neal. You don’t even know who I am.”

 

Regina laughs. It isn’t kind. “I can guess,” she says, pronouncing each word with a sort of fatal devastation.

 

“Oh, mutual,” Emma says, taking a step forward. They’re eye-to-eye now, close enough that Emma can almost feel the charged electricity buzzing between them, threatening to catch fire. “Tell me,” she says, bold and irritated. “What is it that pisses you off about me working here? Is it that I’m not qualified for a job you gave to a teenager before me?” she says challengingly. “Or is it that Neal managed to do something without you micromanaging it every. Step. Of the way?”

 

Regina’s eyes are stormy, captivating brown with a cyclone lurking beneath them. Emma can’t tear her gaze from them. “I’ve been here five hours and I can already tell that your campaign doesn’t have a chance,” Emma says, and it feels good , finding all the right buttons to press, Regina’s breath coming short and furious. “Because no one in this town is ever going to listen to someone like you .”

 

Regina flinches. It’s small, subtle, and a direct hit. Emma gets an instant of victory before Regina smiles coldly, straightening again. “And you’re an authority on politics?” she says, derisive.

 

Her eyes sweep up Emma’s body, then down, lingering on her cheap jeans and fake leather jacket. Emma flushes, hot with anger and humiliation at only Regina’s once-over, and Regina smiles again, her voice low, her words breathed with ruinous precision. “You’re a little piece of blonde fluff that Neal will be besotted with for a month before he’s distracted by something shiny and new. You’re no one . And if you do anything to sabotage Neal or the campaign– if you give me any reason–” Her eyes glint with angry warning. “I will destroy you if it is the last thing I do.”

 

Emma laughs, a short, sharp exhale. “You’re full of it,” she says. “You’re a joke .” It’s easier to dismiss Regina like this, even as Emma burns under Regina’s glittering, scalding smirk. “All of this is a joke,” she says, gesturing at the office. “Some nasty ego trip.”

 

“Go to hell,” Regina sneers.

 

Emma barks out another laugh. “And spend more time with you? Pass.” She’s gearing up for more. There’s something about Regina that makes her want to attack, to land a blow and make it count . Regina is everything Emma hates, perfectly coiffed and perfectly insufferable and so perfectly convinced of her own superiority, and she can dish it and take it, and it’s exhilarating to push and push and push. “I don’t–”

 

“Hey!” Neal says brightly, pushing open the back door of the office. “You’re back! I was looking at the logo, and I had this idea,” he says to Regina, tossing Emma a lopsided smile. “Take a look, okay?”

 

Emma shifts away from Regina as subtly as she can, forcing a smile. Regina’s expression doesn’t change, but it softens a bit at Neal’s enthusiasm. “I’ll check it out. I wanted to review our finances tonight, too. We have to file next Thursday and they’re still…” Her voice fades off.

 

Neal sighs. “Yeah, I know. We have that meeting with Midas on Tuesday, though. He seemed interested.” He shrugs, unworried even in the face of Regina’s tension, and wanders toward them. “Get home at a regular hour, okay?” He presses a casual kiss to Regina’s temple, big-brotherly. “We can’t have you burning out this early in the game.”

 

Regina rolls her eyes at him, but she looks gratified at his concern. “I don’t burn out,” she says.

 

Neal grins. “No, you set things on fire.” Regina snorts. Neal slides an arm around Emma’s waist. “Did you check out Emma’s last rewrite? I told you she was good.” He beams at Emma, and Regina snatches the paper from Ruby’s desk.

 

Her lip is curled when she begins to read it, and Emma waits, eyes boring holes into Regina. When Regina’s done, she looks up, her face expressionless. “This will do,” she says, and Emma doesn’t need anything more than the flash of irritation on Regina’s face as she says it to know that that had been approval , kind of.

 

Neal beams again. Emma smirks.


Regina turns on her heel and stalks into the back office without another word, and that…oh yeah, that is a victory, too.