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To Hear Her Voice In The Silence

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Emma Swan was about to head out on the journey of a lifetime. At least that was how it felt like. The excitement was bubbling in her stomach as she held on more tightly to her bag. For three days, she was gonna kick back, relax and enjoy the stunning view from a train window. She still couldn’t quite believe it that she had actually won this trip simply by participating in a competition in the paper. It was almost too good to be true.

And yet here she was. About to get on this train. Three days of journey. 2,775 miles Three days with no Wi-fi, no work, no worries. The trip started right here in Toronto and ended in Vancouver. Emma had no idea what was gonna happen when she made it to Vancouver, but that wasn’t so surprising. Emma rarely had any idea what was gonna happen. There had been a point where she thought she would have her shit together by now, but here she was, twenty seven years old and without a clue what she was doing. Maybe she should be concerned about it, but she was so used to it by now. She had learned herself to be breezy about it. Take things in strides.

And now she was ready to hop aboard and let herself be transported. Boy, she was looking forward to it. Having recently been fired from her job, this trip couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Maybe she would settle down in Vancouver. Maybe she would try and get a job and make a life for herself there. It could only be better than the one she’d had here. Her apartment had been crappy, and so had her job. Yeah, she was more than ready for this. And the more distance there was between herself and Lily, her ex-girlfriend, the happier Emma would be. What she needed right now was new horizons. A new perspective. A fresh start somewhere else. If that was even a thing. Right now, Emma chose to believe that it was.

She patiently waited in line behind the other passengers and adjusted her backpack just a little. She prided herself in travelling light. She didn’t need anything else than what was in her backpack. A bit of clothing, a couple of pictures and her laptop and phone. That was it. Maybe it wasn’t a lot of possessions for a twenty seven year old, but to Emma, it was exactly enough.

The blonde shoved her hands into the pockets of her red leather jacket as she waited to board the train. It was cold today. Emma couldn’t wait to get indoors. She had sort of dreaded the three days without any Wi-Fi, but she had decided to just suck it up. If there weren’t any Wi-Fi, there wouldn’t be any excuses not to write. And write was exactly what Emma planned on doing during this trip.

Finally, it was her turn to step onto the train, and the uniform clad assistant who helped people “aboard” smiled at her and said: “have a nice trip, miss.”

“Thanks,” Emma smiled. She was sure that this was gonna be a good trip. She could feel it. Three days where she would watch Canada’s beautiful nature drift by her window. Hopefully, the change of scenery would inspire her to write. For once, Emma felt sort of excited about the future. For some reason, she firmly believed that everything she wanted and dreamed of was in Vancouver. And if it wasn’t, well... Then maybe it was time to take off on a trip that was longer than three days. The world was her oyster. Maybe she would go to Florida. Tallahassee. She had always wanted to go there. Or Malibu. Spend the rest of her life soaking up the sun on some beach. Or maybe she would do something entirely different and head off to Paris and blend in with the many struggling artists there. She could imagine herself sitting with her laptop on one of those pavement cafés. She could do that, couldn’t she? Who knew what the future would bring? Maybe imagining herself on a pavement café in Paris wasn’t as crazy as it sounded.

As Emma pushed past the many people to find her seat, she could feel her cellphone vibrate in her pocket, and she was willing to bet all her money it was Mary Margaret calling her. Emma had no plans of calling her back. She and her foster mother weren’t seeing eye to eye, and they haven’t for a while. Mary Margaret Blanchard-Nolan had been extremely controlling to live with. She had adopted Emma when Emma was six years old, and at first Emma had adored her “new mummy”, but her warm feelings had quickly soured. Mary Margaret had turned out to be an incredibly strict mother. And the situation had only worsened when Emma became a teenager. Mary Margaret had gone from “caring and over protecting” to downright controlling. She kept tabs on Emma all the time. Called her constantly and sometimes even “dropped by” during their lunch breaks in school just to “see if everything was okay”. It had driven Emma mad, and Mary Margaret’s husband David had simply shrugged and brushed it off when Emma tried to voice her dissatisfaction with the situation. The last straw had been when Emma finally had plucked up the courage and come out when she was seventeen years old. Mary Margaret had gone completely crazy. She had screeched like a mad banshee and refused to hear about it. No way her daughter was gay. That was not how she had raised Emma! David had once again backed up his wife and even asked Emma what they “had done wrong”.

That statement had been so ridiculous, Emma had actually ended up laughing in pure disbelief. And Mary Margaret? Well, she had slapped Emma. And then she had profusely apologized afterwards, but the damage had already been done. Emma had left her adoptive parents’ house that same night, and she had refused to come home. Obviously, Mary Margaret had started a search for her, but Emma had hid well, and when she turned eighteen three days later, there wasn’t much the police could do, really.

Emma had gotten a job, a place to live and for the first time in a long time she had felt her shoulders uncurled. Obviously, Mary Margaret hadn’t given up that easily. Every day, for an entire year, she had come to Emma’s apartment, trying to coax her into moving back home. Sometimes she had cried, and at other times she had yelled through the closed the door. And Emma had ignored her. She knew that both the tears and the yelling was an attempt to manipulate her, and if there was something Emma was done with, it was being manipulated.

After a year, Mary Margaret had given up, but the letters had kept coming for two more years. Then she had ceased that activity too. Or that was at least what Emma thought. Until she had received another letter three days ago, send to her new address in Toronto. Emma had no idea how Mary Margaret had found her address, but either way in the letter, Mary Margaret had told Emma that she and David had adopted a little boy called Neal, and did Emma really want her little brother to grow up without knowing his “big sister”?

That letter had made Emma feel sick. Another attempt at manipulation. God, Mary Margaret knew exactly how to play her and push her buttons! Her mental state had been bombed straight back to when she was seventeen and had just fled her home. She had almost called her old therapist, Archie, but then she had found out that she had won this train trip. Emma hadn’t hesitated to pack her bags and get the hell away.

Emma sighed as the phone continued to vibrate in her pocket. Like hell she was gonna call Mary Margaret back. She hadn’t told her adoptive mother about this trip either, the more distance between herself and Mary Margaret, the happier Emma would be.

“Excuse me,” she said as she weaseled past a couple who were blocking the hallway as they stood and gawped at their tickets. They clearly couldn’t find their seats.

Emma took mercy on them and pointed them to another uniformed train worker. He could probably help them. The couple smiled gratefully at her, and the woman said thank you with a very thick accent.

Emma returned their smile and then slipped past them so she could find her own seat.

It took a while, but finally Emma found her seat. She more or less tumbled over to the window seat and stuffed her backpack away under the seat before plopping down in the plushy seat. Man, people were pushing! Everyone were so impatient to getting seated. And she had almost stumbled over some kid on the way. Or, more specifically, over the suitcase the kid had dragged out directly in front of her. Obviously, the kids’ mother had immediately apologized, but it didn’t really change the fact that Emma had almost fallen face first. That would have been a real laugh for everyone watching.

Emma pushed her blonde hair away from her face and leaned back in her seat. She closed her eyes. She was willing to give it ten minutes, and if there still was as much noise, she would find her soundproof headphones. People were so goddamn loud. Emma just wanted some quiet. Oh well, at least there would be quiet later tonight when she moved to the sleeping area on the train. At least Emma hoped so. Oh god, what if she ended up sleeping next to some kid who screamed all night? That would be a freaking disaster. Emma imagined how she would lie sleepless three nights in a row.

Maybe she should have thought it through before embarking on this trip. Emma scoffed a little. This was so typical for her. She never thought about things before doing them. Maybe she would finally start to grow up when she reached Vancouver and Mary Margaret’s ensnaring bonds. Maybe she could finally get her shit together once and for all. She would find somewhere remote to settle down. A small town where she could finally get the quiet, she so desired.

Quiet was clearly something she wouldn’t get today.

Were all the kids present on this train ride dosed up with sugar or something? God, the noise was getting unbearable! Emma lost patience with her surroundings and ducked to find her bag. She thrusted one hand inside the bag and found her headphones. A groan of sheer relief escaped her as she slipped the headphones over her ears. Ahh. Much better. She could still faintly hear the children screaming and the adults talking, but the sounds were so muffled that it wasn’t a bother to her anymore. Finally peace and quiet.

Emma leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Now she could allow herself to relax. In a moment the train would start moving, and she would be on her way away from Lily and Mary Margaret and whoever else was running away from. She had absolutely zero plans for the future, but that suited Emma fine. She would make it up as she went. This was gonna be good. A fresh start and all that.

Emma felt her phone vibrate in her pocket once more, and her gut instinct told her that it was Mary Margaret again. Emma didn’t bother to check her phone. She already knew that there would be a half-screechy message left on her voicemail. Yep, I think it’s time to change my number. Again, Emma thought to herself and made a mental note. She had done that regularly throughout the years when Mary Margaret’s insistence was pissing her off. This would be the thirteenth time she was gonna change her number. How Mary Margaret managed to sniff up her numbers was still an absolute mystery to Emma. Sometimes she suspected Mary Margaret for having hired a private detective to follow her around everywhere and report back to Mary Margaret. Emma certainly wouldn’t put it past her. The thing with Mary Margaret was strange. Everything about her radiated “sweet”. From her cutesy double name to her adorable cardigan-and-dress outfits. She looked like Snow White with her black hair that was cropped short, her dimpled cheeks and her soft, green eyes. Emma was certain that was what made Mary Margaret so creepy. Her cutesy appearance paired with the knowledge of her controlling, neurotic nature. To a stranger, Mary Margaret looked plain adorable, but Emma knew that there was nothing sweet about her adoptive mother. Mary Margaret was a fine example on how looks indeed could be deceiving. There really was no telling what lurked beneath the surface.

Emma stretched her legs and sighed contentedly. No more Mary Margaret, no more controlling, and pretty sure no more phone calls either. She felt... Well, she felt free. However ridiculous it sounded.

Emma could hear passing by her seat, but she didn’t bother to open her eyes. She was far too comfortable like this. She didn’t react when her phone buzzed in her pocket. This time it was clearly a text. It could be a text telling her that there was a new message on her voicemail, but it could also be her friend Ella texting her and wishing her a good trip like she had said she would. Emma didn’t bother checking that message either. She was too comfortable and too tired. She had been up early this morning to take a shift at the diner where she was working. She knew that Ingrid was expecting her to come back in three days, but Emma wasn’t so sure she would do that. It was very possible that she would stay in Vancouver. The blonde chuckled out loud as she imagined the look on Ingrid’s face when she found out that Emma had in fact skipped town. Oh, that would serve Ingrid well! She wasn’t a very nice boss.

Emma faintly heard the sound of children cheering, and then she felt the floor shake slightly. She smiled. The train was moving. Now she was actually on her way. This was gonna be awesome. Maybe she should find her laptop and begin to write already. For a moment, she foolishly considered to maybe send a few emails, but then she remembered that there wasn’t any Wi-Fi on this trip. No online interacting for three days. Emma both feared it and looked forward to it. She feared it because she, like so many others had a very active online life, and not being able to check her Tinder profile for three days was absolute madness. And she was looking forward to it because it had been a while since she last had had the opportunity to relax completely. Without Wi-Fi. It would just be her and her thoughts.

Scary, but also liberating in a way. Maybe she would even have a clear mind by the time this train ride was over. Emma hoped so.

Her mind had been a rather chaotic place ever since Lily had walked out on her. Emma was still reeling from the shock. She hadn’t seen it coming. At all. She thought that she and Lily were happy. Maybe even heading towards marriage, but Lily had quickly busted that idea when she ruthlessly announced to Emma that she had met someone else. Some chick named Elsa. Emma had damn nearly laughed. Elsa. What kind of name was that?
Apparently, it was the name of someone who found it appropriate to steal Emma’s girlfriend and then brainwash her completely. Lily had blabbered on about how she and Emma “hadn’t been happy for a while”. It was bullshit. Emma had been happy. She had been ecstatic. She had told Lily that, and Lily had cringed and then mumbled something about Emma being too “clingy”. Emma had categorically rejected that, but now she could sort of see what Lily meant. Yes, it was possible that Emma had been leaning a little too heavily on Lily in the past. Emma yearned for stability. And she had thought that Lily was that stability. But was it really so bad to yearn for stability? Wasn’t that what everybody searched after? Stability. Reassurance. Emma clenched her fist. It wasn’t fair of Lily to call her “clingy”. Not when she knew what Emma had been through.

Emma shook her head. She didn’t want to think of Lily anymore. From now on, she would only think of herself. Lily wasn’t worth her thoughts or her tears.

Sleepiness rushed over her like a wave. Emma yawned and considered whether it was appropriate or not to slip her boots off and curl up in the set. She knew that sleeping now probably was silly. After all, this trip was all about looking out of the window and see the breathtaking landscape. Emma chuckled. And here I am with my eyes closed. Oh well. She had three days of journey ahead of her. There would be plenty of time to admire the view tomorrow. The blonde yawned again. Man, she was really tired. Maybe she had overworked herself lately. She had definitely carried too many stacks of plates back and forward. She could feel it in her back every time she moved. If anything, she needed to see a masseuse. Emma chuckled. Maybe she could find one in Vancouver. Or wherever she ended up.

The muffled noises from the other passengers were becoming fainter and fainter, and Emma’s thoughts less and less coherent. She was falling asleep. Maybe she was already drifting in and out of sleep.

Her head lolled back, and she probably would have been completely out cold if it hadn’t been for that light tap on her shoulder.

Emma groaned in annoyance and didn’t even bother to open her eyes as she removed her headphones. I swear to god, if that’s some kid who has decided that it’s fun to irritate me, I’m gonna...

She didn’t allow herself to finish that train of thoughts. Instead she opened her eyes.

It wasn’t some kid. Definitely not. Emma’s mouth went a little dry.

It was a woman, and a rather beautiful one too. A brunette, olive skinned woman with plump lips painted a dark shade of red. Her hair was smooth and silky and brushing the top of her shoulders, and she had the darkest eyes Emma had ever seen. She was wearing a beige trench coat and had a red silk scarf tied loosely around her neck. Emma’s mind blue screened, and it took her a moment before she was able to ask: “Yeah?”

The beautiful brunette woman turned her phone screen towards Emma, and for a confused second, Emma thought that her phone had accidentally slipped out of her pocket, and that the brunette was giving it back to her. But coming out of her daze, Emma quickly realized that that wasn’t the case. The brunette was in fact showing her a message on her phone screen. Emma blinked, her contacts felt a bit wonky after she had had her eyes closed for so long, but after a moment, she was finally able to focus on the written words on the brunette’s phone screen. “Excuse me, but I think you’re in my seat,” the message said.

“I don’t think I am,” Emma said. She didn’t feel like moving an inch.

The brunette slipped her phone back into the pocket of her trench coat and then presented Emma with a ticket. Emma squinted once more as she looked at the ticket. ‘A1, window seat.’ Right. That was in fact the seat Emma had plopped down on a little earlier. Emma had to move.

“Right,” the blonde muttered as she forced herself to stand up. Her seat was across the brunette’s. They both had window seats, Emma had simply chosen the wrong one.

“Sorry,” Emma muttered as she grabbed her bag from underneath the seat and then moved both herself and the bag to the seat across A1.

The brunette offered a gracious smile as she sat down in the seat where Emma had been seconds ago.

Emma wasted no time in curling up in her seat. The right seat. A good thing I didn’t decide to take off my shoes. She watched as the elegant brunette woman stuffed her big suitcase away in the overhead bin and then sat down. She opened her purse and found a book which she immediately dived into.

It was impossible for Emma not to stare at the woman. She was...well, a knockout. And clearly travelling alone. Emma’s gaze dropped to the book nestled between the woman’s hands, and the blonde couldn’t help but chuckle. Murder on the Orient Express. Beautiful and clearly with a sense of humor.

The brunette looked up when Emma laughed, and she offered the blonde a little smile. A smile, Emma immediately returned. This was gonna be an interesting trip.

 

 

To Be Continued...???

Chapter Text

Emma woke with a start. She had clearly been under more pressure than what she had thought, because she’d just had a very crazy nightmare in which Lily, under the pretense of wanting to get back together, lured Emma straight into a trap. A trap, Mary Margaret had orchestrated. She had forced Emma back into her old nursery, and then she had slammed and locked the door behind Emma, claiming that she only wanted to do what was best for Emma.

In the dream, Emma had pounded frantically on the door to get out. The walls had closed in around her, and that was what had woken her. The result was a pounding heart and panting gasps.

Emma blinked a couple of times and tried to tell herself that she was safe. She was on her way away from Toronto and Mary Margaret. Her adoptive mother didn’t even know where she was. Everything was fine.

She blinked once more; her contacts felt a bit wonky after having slept. She could go to the bathroom and take them out. She could replace them with her glasses. Sometimes it was more practical to wear glasses than contacts. As things slowly became less blurry, Emma noticed that the brunette sitting across her was looking at her. She was frowning in concern, and Emma was willing to bet her few money that she had made some sort of noise of distress in her sleep.

“Hi,” Emma said awkwardly and slightly embarrassed.

The brunette raised an eyebrow, and then she whipped out her phone from her purse. After a few seconds of tapping away, she turned the screen, so it was facing Emma. Emma leaned in slightly to see the message written on the screen. ‘Is everything okay?’

Emma nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit of a bad dream that’s all.”

The brunette nodded in an “oh” manner as she slipped the phone back into her purse.

Emma leaned back in her seat again. She should probably look at the stunning view drifting past the window, but instead she found herself looking at the brunette. She had taken her trench coat off. She was wearing a pencil skirt, a neat, cream colored blouse. Emma could see the top of a camisole peak out underneath it. The brunette was still wearing the silk scarf around her neck, and yes, maybe Emma had recently been dumped and was mending a broken heart, but she wasn’t blind either. Jesus Christ, she’s gorgeous. Really, it would be stranger if Emma didn’t notice it. Then Emma realized that the brunette was glancing back at her, and Emma was quick to flash her a smile and then avert her eyes. She didn’t want to be caught staring. She turned her attention to the stunning view outside her window, but out of the corner of her eye she saw the brunette woman reach within her large purse once more and to Emma’s surprise, she whipped out a thermos and a cup. Emma almost chuckled. Talk about packing everything.

The brunette popped the lid off the thermos and poured herself a cup of coffee. The smell immediately attacked Emma’s nostrils. Mmm, coffee. She hadn’t had any coffee this morning. She had been much too busy running around and throwing clothing into her backpack and then getting the hell out of the door before Mary Margaret found out that she was skipping town.

Emma realized that she was staring the brunette’s cup of coffee down, and she quickly turned her attention back to the window. But she wasn’t fast enough. Soon she picked up on the sound it made as slim fingers lightly tapped the table between them. Emma looked up again. The brunette had leaned forward once more, and once certain she had Emma’s attention, she lightly pointed to her thermos and then back to Emma.

Emma wanted to be sure that she understood the brunette’s intention correctly, so she said: “are you asking me if I want to have a cup of coffee?”

The brunette nodded and then she found her phone in her purse once more. Tapped on the screen for a few seconds and then turned the screen towards Emma. The blonde quickly leaned forward and read the message: ‘yes, exactly. I’m sorry for pointing at you.’

Emma chuckled lightly. “That’s alright, and yeah, I’d kill for a cup of coffee right now.”

The brunette offered a little smile, and then she thrusted one hand inside her purse. She whipped out a second cup and poured Emma a solid cup of coffee. After having slid the cup of coffee towards Emma, she tapped a new message on her phone and then turned the screen towards Emma.

Emma chuckled a bit as she read the message. ‘Sorry I don’t have milk or sugar.’

“That’s fine,” Emma assured. “I prefer my coffee black anyway. Thank you.”

The brunette offered another smile. And a rather beautiful one too. The sight went straight to Emma’s belly, and she took a too large sip of her hot coffee and coughed slightly.

The brunette raised an eyebrow but didn’t react in any other way as she leaned back in her seat with her coffee and book. She had already read a good chunk of it, Emma noted.

Emma too leaned back in her seat and took a smaller sip of her coffee. She tried not to stare at the brunette. She didn’t want to come across as creepy, but truthfully, Emma was intrigued about the beautiful brunette sitting across her. And especially about the brunette’s way of communicating. Could she be deaf? Emma considered it. Yes, maybe. But didn’t I make some sort of noise in my sleep? Yeah. I’m pretty sure I did. And she heard that. That’s why she was looking at me when I opened my eyes. Emma reconsidered. She knew that deafness didn’t necessarily have anything to do with your speech. But she also knew that there were deaf people who preferred not to speak. At least not with their voices. That could be the case here.

Emma once again reminded herself that she was staring at a complete stranger. That’s a creepy thing to do, Swan. Stop it.

But it was pretty fucking hard not to. Not when her “travelling companion” happened to be a pretty fucking gorgeous woman. Emma shook her head. Damnit, Swan. You and your thing for brunettes. Why couldn’t it be redheads? Or blondes? Or anything that doesn’t make you the creepy person who stares at the woman across you.

The brunette didn’t seem to notice, though. After a while of reading, she slipped a bookmark in between the pages, closed the book and then roamed through her purse. A moment later, she had found a lipstick and a little mirror in her purse. Emma tried not to watch as the brunette carefully reapplied her red lipstick and frowned at her own reflection. In Emma’s humble opinion, the brunette had absolutely nothing to frown about. Jesus Christ, she’s stunning.

The brunette slipped the lipstick back in her purse. Emma took a sip of her coffee and finally turned her head to look out of the window. That was what she was here to. Admire the stunning view outside. Not stare the poor woman in the other seat down like this. You’re being weird, Swan.

But Emma didn’t get the chance to admire the mountains outside for long. Soon she felt her phone going off in her pocket. Reminding herself that it could be Ella calling her, Emma wrestled the phone out of her pocket and checked who was calling her.

It wasn’t Ella.

Emma suffocated a sigh. She should have known. Of course it was Mary Margaret calling her. Again. After a while she gave up, but the phone quickly vibrated again, telling Emma that her adoptive mother had just left a message on her voicemail. Emma grinded her teeth as she brought the phone up to her ear to check the message. She knew that it probably was stupid, exposing herself to Mary Margaret’s garbage, but there was a small part of her that kept hoping that it would be different this time. That this would be the time where Mary Margaret called and apologized.

No such luck.

This message was basically just Mary Margaret screeching into her ear. She had somehow manipulated the caretaker in the block of apartments where Emma lived to use his key to get into Emma’s apartment. She was good, Emma would have to give her that. She had probably come up with a long sob story to the caretaker about how she was concerned about Emma’s wellbeing, and being the good guy the caretaker was, he couldn’t resist helping.

And now Mary Margaret was throwing a fit because Emma wasn’t in her apartment. “I came in and found the place completely abandoned, and I can see that your backpack and some of your clothes are missing, Emma Blanchard-Nolan! Where are you?! You can’t just run away like this, Emma!”

Emma scoffed a little. Actually, I can. I’m twenty seven. I’ve been an adult for a while now.

Mary Margaret’s rambling continued in the message: “If you don’t contact me or come home within three days, I have no choice but to call the police, Emma!”

Emma actually laughed out loud as she switched her phone off and slipped it back into her pocket. And tell them what, exactly? That your grown ass twenty seven year old daughter skipped town? Good luck convincing the police to go and look for me. But despite laughing out loud, Emma felt annoyed. And it wasn’t really because Mary Margaret had called and dumped her shit on the blonde’s voicemail, Emma was used to that. No, it was three specific words Mary Margaret had said that annoyed her.

Emma Blanchard-Nolan. The blonde’s jaw clenched. Another sign of how controlling Mary Margaret was. Emma had changed her last name to Swan when she was twenty one. And obviously, Mary Margaret had thrown a fit when she found out. She had even tried to go behind Emma’s back and change her name back to Blanchard-Nolan, but she hadn’t succeeded. But she still called Emma “Blanchard-Nolan”.

Of course she did. Emma probably shouldn’t feel provoked by this, but oh, how she did! She was sick and tired of being harassed by Mary Margaret. It sounded horrible, but sometimes Emma genuinely wished that she never had been adopted. At least not by Mary Margaret and David.

Emma took a sip of her coffee. It wasn’t as scorching hot anymore, and it tasted good. Actually it was very good. Is this some kind of expensive brand? Emma deemed that it very well could be. The brunette had that classy, expensive look going on. It was only natural that her coffee was expensive too.

As Emma leaned back in her seat, she wondered what business the brunette had in Vancouver. It didn’t take long for Emma to imagine that the brunette was on her way to something important. A business meeting or something like that. She definitely looked like the business type. Maybe she owned a company or something like that. She could be a CEO or something like that. In charge of some major company. Emma had no problem with imagining that. The brunette definitely looked like she had a plan with this trip. A purpose. She wasn’t just running away like Emma was.

The blonde grinned a little. She still couldn’t quite believe that she was on her way.

 

Whether you wanted to remain in your seat and eat the lunch you had brought with you, or head into the dining room and eat with the other train passengers, was optional, so Emma chose to stay seated and eat the sandwich she had packed earlier this morning. The sandwich was a bit dry, but Emma preferred this instead of heading down to the dining area.

The brunette didn’t leave her seat either. But she didn’t have any lunch. Maybe she wasn’t the type who ate lunch. Emma had no problem with imagining that either. Sometimes you could just tell whether someone was the type who had lunch or not, and the brunette definitely struck Emma as someone who ate lunch.

But there were different rules when it came to dinner. It wasn’t optional whether you wanted to head into the dining area. You had to. That was the only way you could get something to eat. Emma groaned quietly as she rose from her seat and went into the hallway. The brunette had left a few minutes earlier, so Emma had to battle the horde of people alone. She quickly lost count of how many times she said “excuse me” as she pushed her way through the crowd. And even quicker, she lost count over how many times a child ran straight into her legs or pushed to squeeze past her. Emma was fully on board with the fact that the kids were hungry and tired of sitting down, but no way she was gonna abandon her place in the queue just because of that. She didn’t care how many shoves she received.

“Watch it,” she said a bit tightly when a child tried to push past her again. Her patience was wearing thin, and she only just managed to smile when the mother flashed her an apologetic look.

Seriously, people have to stop pushing! Emma suddenly developed elbows of steel as she pushed past the crowd, and she was merciless when the kids tried to weasel their way in front of her. Maybe it was petty, but Emma was hungry, and nothing and nobody could come between her and food! That sandwich she’d had for lunch had been so dry. It had almost been impossible to chew properly.

“Be careful!” Emma said as another child pushed at the back of her legs.

“Jordan, don’t push the lady!” the child’s mother said, and Emma suffocated a dry chuckle. Lady. That had to be the first time someone had referred to her as a “lady”.

“Sorry,” Jordan said without sounding very sorry. “She’s standing in the way, mommy!”

“No, she’s not honey,” the mother said tiredly. “She came before us. We have to wait, alright?”

“But I’m hungry!”

Yeah, me too, kid. Me too, Emma thought to herself, and her stomach growled in agreement. Wait... Did I forget to eat breakfast this morning?

Yep. She did. She was much too busy to get out of the door.

Emma finally reached the dining area, and the second she stepped inside, she dearly wished that she hadn’t.

The place was utter chaos. Children running around everywhere, and waiters and waitresses trying their best to navigate around while they took people’s orders. Every last table in here was taken. No, that was an exaggeration. There were tables available, but all of them were placed far too close to a family of six. Mother, father and four screaming children. The youngest was a baby, and the other three were yelling and throwing French fries at each other while the father tried to get them to sit still. Emma couldn’t imagine a worse fate than having to sit next to them.

But it sure looked like she had no choice. All the other tables were occupied. Except for....

It didn’t take her long to spot the brunette woman. She was sitting at a table all by herself. A table for two. Normally, Emma wasn’t one for approaching people directly, but she felt as though she already had some sort of established connection with this woman, and honestly, Emma was desperate. She really, really didn’t want to sit close to the noisy family. So she made a quick decision and strode over to the brunette’s table.

The brunette looked up when Emma approached, and Emma flashed her a little smile as she asked: “can I sit here?”

The brunette nodded once.

“Thanks,” Emma said gratefully as she plopped down on the chair. “I don’t mean to sound bitchy, but that family over there...”

The brunette cracked a brief smile at that remark.

Emma had barely found a comfortable sitting position when a waiter came over to their table and sat a plate full of food and a glass of water down in front of the brunette.

“There we go, one roast and potatoes. Are you sure you don’t want a glass of wine to go with it?”

The brunette shook her head once.

“Alright then.” the waiter turned his attention to Emma. “And what can I get for you?”

“Oh, uhm...” Emma quickly glanced at the menu, but knowing that the waiter was standing there and waiting for her to make up her mind made her nervous, so she ended up blurting out: “I’ll have what she’s having. Roast and potatoes.”

“Alrighty,” the waiter said. “And can I interest you in a glass of wine?”

Emma had actually planned on ordering water, but since this was an “all inclusive” ticket, why not live a little for once?

“Yeah. A glass of wine sounds good,” she said. “Red, please.”

“Coming right up,” the waiter said and then he left their table.

Emma leaned back in her chair. She looked around in the dining area and rolled her eyes a little. The children were still throwing French fries at each other, and the mother was gesturing angrily. She was clearly trying (and failing) to calm them down. Emma frowned. Wow, I really hope they’re not gonna sleep close to me. I’m actually counting on getting some sleep tonight. For once.

Looking at those kids made her mood turn sour, and Emma was grateful when a slight clatter made her turn her attention elsewhere. The brunette had just picked up her knife and fork and was now in the process of cutting her meat into smaller bits. Then she elegantly speared one of the pieces and brought it up to her mouth. Emma was sort of fascinated. She had always envied people who were able to look graceful when they were eating. And this brunette certainly was. Emma almost chuckled as she looked down at her hands. To her, it had never been about eating gracefully. It had more been about getting some food as fast as possible. Emma was chronically hungry. A bottomless pit, as Ella once teasingly had told her.

Ella. Emma reminded herself to call or text said blonde later today. She had promised her that. Emma instantly felt a little guilty. She wasn’t very good at remembering to do important stuff. Like calling her friends regularly. Maybe that’s why you’ve got so few friends, Swan. You forget to keep in touch with them. Seriously, she would have to get better at that. And soon.

That was when another clatter reached her ears. Emma looked up once more. This clatter had been somewhat louder. Not loud enough to disturb anyone, but loud enough for Emma to notice.

The brunette had put her knife and fork down. And abruptly it seemed. There was still a piece of meat speared on the fork. But Emma didn’t pay much attention to the fork. She was paying more attention to the brunette and the obvious pained expression on her beautiful face. Emma watched surprised and slightly concerned as the brunette grimaced, and she didn’t even think twice before she asked: “are you okay?”

The brunette tapped her throat lightly in response.

“You got something stuck in your throat?” Emma guessed.

The brunette shook her head and tapped her silk covered throat again. She still looked as though she was in pain.

“Your throat hurts?” Emma asked.

The brunette nodded once, and then she roamed through her purse. When her hand appeared again, she was holding onto a glass of pills. She was still cringing when she popped the lid off and tilted the pill bottle slightly, making a little white pill slide into her palm.

Emma tried not to stare as the brunette popped the pill into her mouth and then downed it with lots of water. But her concern got the best of her, and once she was certain that the brunette had swallowed, she asked: “I’m not trying to be nosey or irritating, but are you alright?”

The brunette nodded and flashed Emma a teeny tiny smile. Then she resumed her dinner like nothing had happened.

Emma was puzzled, but before she could say or do anything, the waiter appeared at their table with her portion of roast and potatoes, and her glass of wine.

As soon as he had left the table again, Emma grabbed onto her glass of wine. She raised it and said: “cheers.”

The brunette immediately looked up, returned the smile and then raised her own glass, clinking it with Emma’s.

Her smile made Emma feel comfortable, but at the same time, she felt a little bad. When she boarded this train, all she had wished for was some peace and quiet. And now she was travelling with a woman who seemingly couldn’t speak. Maybe it was ridiculous, but Emma felt sort of guilty about her wish now. God damnit, universe! This was not what I meant....

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma felt tired as she moved along with the other passengers to find the sleep area. Today had been a pretty long day. Emma couldn’t wait to settle down for the night. Who knew, maybe she would even be able to get some sleep tonight. She hoped so. She hadn’t been sleeping very good since Mary Margaret had send her that letter.

And maybe she wouldn’t tonight either. With that message Mary Margaret had left on her voicemail... Emma cringed. She was still so relieved that she was on her way away from Toronto. Coming to think about it, she had actually needed this change for a whole now. She was not running away from Mary Margaret and Lily. She was simply.... Starting over somewhere new.

Okay, she was totally running away. But she would never admit to anyone.

Emma narrowly avoided colliding with a small child, and she silently added this to her “evidence pile”. She was still convinced that all the children on this train ride had actually been dosed up on sugar before taking off. Maybe all the passengers on the train was participating in an experiment without really knowing it. Emma chuckled and grabbed a bit firmer onto her backpack. She was looking forward to reaching the sleep area and get settled in her “night cabin”. She was relieved that she didn’t have to share her cabin with anyone. That was the luxury about having won this “all inclusive” trip in that competition. The only little “minus” was the fact that the bathroom was down the hall. True, there were bathrooms spread all over the sleeping area, so she wouldn’t end up standing in line or anything, and the sleeping areas were in three train wagons, so it wasn’t like the place was gonna be crowded or anything, but still, Emma wouldn’t have minded the luxury of having her own bathroom. But she would just have to suck it up and live with it. Which she could. Of course she could. She was only gonna be here for three days. She could survive three days without having her own bathroom.

But what about after the three days? Emma considered it as she moved along in the queue. What was gonna happen when she arrived in Vancouver? Obviously, she hadn’t thought about that, but maybe now was the time to do that. She couldn’t sleep rough and spend the night on bus benches and in cold parks. She had actually slept on a bus bench once. Right after she had fled Mary Margaret and David’s house. Emma was sure that her back was still permanently stiff after it. Sleeping on that bus bench had probably been one of the worst experiences in her life. She would probably still have been on that bus bench if Ella hadn’t found her and been brave enough to invite a complete stranger into her home in the middle of the night.

Emma reminded herself to call Ella as soon as she was settled in for the night in her cabin. Not telling Ella that she was on the train and on her way was a shitty thing to do.
It was a bit of a pity that there wasn’t any Wi-Fi on this trip. Not because Emma was dying to update her Instagram or check her Tinder, no she would actually do something sensible if she’d had any Wi-Fi. She would check out all the motels and B&B’s in Vancouver and in the area close to. Sure, Emma was a spontaneous person, but now that she was on her way, she was actually beginning to panic a little. She had literally just a backpack and the clothes on her back. She had been so focused on getting away from Mary Margaret and Lily that she had forgotten to actually think. She had quit her job in a frenzy and run off. No looking back. Emma’s chest tightened in panic. Okay, so maybe she had chosen to not look back, but the issue wasn’t looking back. It was looking ahead. She should have done that before running off. Obviously, she should have looked up motels and B&B’s in advantage and called ahead to make sure there was a room waiting for her when she arrived in Vancouver. But she hadn’t. Because I’m the most disorganized person in the world.

Emma took a deep breath and reminded herself not to panic. Vancouver was a big place. Of course she could find a place today. Vancouver had plenty of diners and bars. Of course she could get a job. Everything would be fine. She would just have to stay optimistic and positive. She was on her way. Everything would work out just fine when she got to Vancouver. She would find a job and a place to stay.

And she would start writing again. Maybe she would even be ballsy enough to submit a few of her things. She could totally do that. Emma felt that it would be a very symbolic thing to do when she got to Vancouver. The ultimate sign that she was finally free of Mary Margaret. She had never encouraged Emma to keep writing. Quite the reverse, in fact. Mary Margaret had always scoffed when Emma spoke of her hopes to become a writer. No, she hadn’t always scoffed. Sometimes she had laughed, and that had been even worse. As had the way she had patted Emma’s cheek and told her to “stop talking nonsense, sweetie”. Mary Margaret had had different plans for Emma. And they had involved Blanchard’s Boarding School. Mary Margaret was the headmistress of the boarding school lying in New Toronto.
She had taken over the post after her mother, Eva Blanchard, and it had been Mary Margaret’s plan to see Emma behind the headmistress’ desk once. But Emma had had little desire to do that. She couldn’t see herself behind a desk, and she certainly couldn’t see herself boss the children around like Mary Margaret had done. But obviously, Mary Margaret wouldn’t hear of it. And David had just gone along with it and said that it was the best kind of future Emma could possibly get.

Emma hadn’t agreed with that.

Finally, she reached her own sleeping cabin, and Emma didn’t even think twice before pushing past a couple of people. She quickly found the key the “train guy” had given her earlier and inserted it into the lock. The lock immediately clicked, and Emma pushed the door open. The blonde whistled quietly upon setting foot in the sleep cabin. This place was pretty awesome. Huge bed just for her. No creaking mattresses like the one she’d had back in her apartment in Toronto. No, this was class. Emma chuckled a little. Look who’s travelling in style. And just because I won a ticket in a competition. I literally didn’t do anything to achieve this. She had done this the typical Emma Swan-way.

The blonde shut the door behind her and closed the blinds before opening her backpack and roaming through it. She might as well change into sleepwear now. She wasn’t planning on going anywhere besides to bed. And to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She quickly found what she was looking for in her bag and then stripped out of her jeans and tanktop. She paused after having slipped her bra off.

Should I have changed into sleepwear AFTER having gone to the bathroom? Emma considered it for a second. Nah. Her “pajamas” consisted of a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Those were everyday clothes. Of course she could walk down the hallway wearing that. It wasn’t a problem at all. Emma briskly resumed her undress process. She shoved her clothes into the bag and then slipped the t-shirt over her head. She stumbled slightly and cursed a bit as she stepped into the sweatpants and pulled them up. As she tied the strings, she noted that they were a bit loose fitting. Almost too loose fitting.

Hmm. Emma would have to eat more when she got to Vancouver. She had worked hard lately, and she had earned a decent amount of money. She could allow herself a nice meal on a fancy restaurant. Or maybe she would just chose Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or Just Eat. Emma chuckled slightly and then reminded herself that she didn’t have to feel bad about indulging once in a while. It was Mary Margaret who had put that thought in Emma’s head in the first place. She hadn’t exactly starved Emma, but she had kept her on a very strict diet. Lots of greens and healthy food, and that shouldn’t have been a problem as such. Eating healthy was important, Emma knew that. But the thing was that Mary Margaret had taken things one step too far. As she did with most things. She had carefully written down what Emma had eaten during the day, and by the end of the week, she had calculated carbs and proteins and asked Emma throughout questions about how much she had walked during the week. Mary Margaret didn’t allow Emma to sit still for too long. And she didn’t allow Emma to have any sweets, either. Had she been invited to a birthday; Emma was given strict orders not to eat any of the candy that was served but sticking to her own little bag of “healthy” snacks Mary Margaret had given her beforehand.

One time Emma had been left on her own for a little while, and she had broken the rules. She had opened the fridge and had come across a piece of cake. Emma had done the only natural thing and had taken a large bite of the cake. And she had relished in the taste until Mary Margaret suddenly came home and caught her in the act. Mary Margaret had forced Emma to spit the piece of cake out. Quite literally. She had forced Emma’s mouth open and then threatened to stick two fingers down Emma’s throat if she didn’t spit it out.

Emma who had been only seven at the time had been mortified, and the feeling of being choked was still sticking to her. As did the feeling of doing something wrong when she ate something that wasn’t healthy. But she was working on it. She knew she wasn’t the one who was wrong. Mary Margaret was.

Emma shook her head in an attempt to make the dark thoughts go away. She didn’t want to think about it anymore. Mary Margaret wasn’t worth wasting any thoughts on. That was what Archie had said, and that was what Emma chose to believe.

In an attempt to snap out of it, Emma found her toothbrush in her bag. Now she wanted to brush her teeth, call Ella and tell her about the trip and then go straight to bed. Tomorrow was a new day, and Emma couldn’t wait to wake up to Canada’s beautiful landscape outside her window. This is not the time to be upset about the past, Swan. This is the time to be excited about the future. Remember that.

She grabbed her toothbrush, toothpaste and the key to her sleep cabin, and then she went back into the hallway to find the bathroom. She made sure to lock the door to her sleep cabin first, though. She didn’t wanna risk something stupid happening just because she had forgotten to lock the door when she left.

The hallway was considerably accessible now. Most of the children were gone, and Emma felt relieved about that. She was starting to get a headache, and it was easier to blame the screaming children and not assuming that it was because she’d had a too long day. She was only twenty seven. She wasn’t allowed to complain over how long her days were yet.

Emma chuckled a little to herself as she slipped past a couple who were standing and chatting by the door to their sleep cabin. Emma was relieved that she didn’t sleep near them. She didn’t like the look
in the woman’s eyes one bit. She had a nasty feeling what that couple was gonna do the moment the door to their sleeping cabin closed behind them.
I wonder who IS sleeping in the cabin next to mine? Oh god, what if it’s a kid. Or another love-dovey couple? Ugh, that would really SUCK! Good thing I’m not above banging on the wall if they’re being too loud. Banging on the wall was something Emma had practiced back in her apartment in Toronto. She was living right next to a very active couple, and constantly having her sleep interrupted because of the woman’s screaming was well.... Not pleasant.

Emma finally reached the bathroom, and there was only one person waiting in line. The blonde grinned a little as she recognized her “travelling companion”. The brunette was still fully dressed, but she was holding a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. Shit. Emma suddenly wished that she hadn’t changed into her sleepwear before going to the bathroom. She looked terrible in her sweatpants and t-shirt, and the brunette looked well... Gorgeous. Damnit. Okay. Focus, Swan.

“Hey,” Emma said to the brunette’s back. She blurted it out before really thinking about whether the brunette could hear her or not.

But the brunette immediately turned around and flashed Emma a little smile. Emma immediately nixed her theory about the brunette potentially being deaf. It was obvious that the woman could hear. She simply couldn’t speak. Emma felt bad for her. She doubted that the brunette needed her pity, but Emma couldn’t help it. She still felt ridiculously guilty for what she had been thinking when she hopped aboard the train. That everyone would be quiet. Emma was perfectly aware that this was merely a coincidence, but, nevertheless. She remembered the pained expression on the brunette’s face during dinner, and the way she had taken a pill. Whatever it was that prevented her from speaking clearly had a physical reason.

“Not many people in the hallway tonight,” Emma said and did her best to small talk.

The brunette shook her head slightly.

“We’re reaching Winnipeg tomorrow,” Emma continued. “Do you think many people are getting off there?”

The brunette shrugged lightly and then patted her pockets in an almost defeated manner.

It took Emma a moment before she understood what the brunette was trying to say, but then it dawned upon her: “you didn’t bring your phone did you?”

The brunette shook her head again, looking ever so defeated.

Emma grimaced when she realized her blunder. She was literally flapping her gums to a woman who had no chance to answer her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that.”

The brunette flashed her a little smile, and once again Emma had to trust her instincts when she said: “you don’t mind?”

The brunette shook her head again. She clearly didn’t.

Emma had to think creative. Settle for “yes” and “no” answers, Swan. Make it a little easy.

“Are you getting off the train in Winnipeg?” Emma asked.

The brunette shook her head.

“Edmonton?”

She shook her head again.

Emma chuckled slightly. “You’re going all the way to Vancouver?”

This time, the brunette nodded eagerly and smiled in affirmative.

“Great,” Emma said with real enthusiasm. “Me, too. I’m kinda hoping to get a fresh start over there.” wait, why am I telling her that? I barely know her.

The brunette nodded almost solemnly at that.

“You too?” Emma guessed. “You’re hoping to start over too?”

The brunette nodded again. More eagerly than before.

“Well, who know, maybe we’ll end up the same place,” Emma jokingly chuckled.

The brunette flashed her a beautiful smile, and Emma got that ridiculous feeling in her stomach. Had she been a teen, she would call the feelings “butterflies”, but she wasn’t a teen. She was an adult. And right now she was annoyed at herself. Why was it that she couldn’t share a conversation with a beautiful woman without instantly feeling attracted to her? Ugh.

The door to the bathroom opened, and a younger redhead stepped out in the hallway. She brushed a hand over her short nightgown, and she clearly didn’t notice Emma as the blonde was partially leaning back against the wall. The redhead was only looking at the brunette as she said: “ugh, I swear to god, I should never have booked this trip. It’ll be the death of me. Anyway, do you know where I can find a food trolley? I could kill for a midnight snack.”

The brunette shrugged once, and that seemed to tick the redhead off. “Hello? I’m talking to you. Do you know where I can find a food trolley or not?”

The brunette shook her head three times quickly, and then slinked past the redhead and into the bathroom. Emma heard the lock click behind her.

The redhead rolled her eyes. “Rude. Why the hell can’t people just answer?”

“Hey! She can’t actually-“ Emma immediately back pedaled. This was definitely not her business to meddle in.

“What?” the redhead demanded and raised an eyebrow.

Emma abandoned ship. “I think I saw a food trolley in the back wagon. You have a bit of a long walk ahead of you.” Which serves you well for being a...

“Oh. Thanks,” the redhead said and walked off without another word.

“And you’re welcome!” Emma hollered after her. “Look who’s being rude now!”

The redhead didn’t respond. Either she didn’t hear Emma, or she simply didn’t care. Emma’s bet was on the second option. The blonde shifted slightly on her feet. She was probably more agitated by this than she had a right to be. She didn’t even know the brunette. They were just sitting together, that was all. Then why the hell am I so intrigued by her? Seriously, aren’t I supposed to mope around and be sad about having been dumped by Lily? Emma rolled her eyes. What, now she actually wanted to think of Lily? God, I’m sadistic.

After a moment or so, the door to the bathroom opened, and the brunette stepped out in the hallway. Emma carefully stepped aside to make room so the brunette could pass her.

“Goodnight,” Emma said spontaneously.

The brunette offered a small smile, and then disappeared down the hallway.

Emma went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth thoroughly. Then she tied her hair back in a braid and did a quick inspection of her face. She undeniably looked tired. There were dark circles underneath her green eyes, and Emma cringed. She really hoped that she could catch up on some sleep during this train trip. She needed that more than anything.

Once done in the bathroom, Emma unlocked the door and went back down the hallway. Now the hallway was deserted, and the only thing Emma could hear where the muffled voices coming from the sleeping cabins. And the sound of the train moving, of course.

Emma felt relieved. At last there was silence.

The blonde quietly padded down the hallway and slipped inside her own sleep cabin. Everything was quiet there too. No moaning and other “questionable” noises from the sleep cabin next to her. So there was no lovey-dovey couple in the sleep cabin right next to hers. Thank god.

As Emma flopped down on the bed, she wondered who was sleeping in the cabin next to hers. Someone who was being extremely quiet, that’s for sure. To her left, she could hear the quiet voices from what she was assuming was a couple having a late night chat, but the cabin to her right was absolutely quiet. Emma couldn’t hear anything at all. Maybe the person in there was already fast asleep, or maybe it was in fact the brunette who slept on the other side of the wall. Emma sort of liked the idea about that. Traveling companions during both day and nighttime. And the brunette was going all the way to Vancouver. Emma sort of liked that too. Maybe they could get to know each other a little better during the trip. Emma hoped so. In a friendly way of course. Don’t drool over a woman you barely know, Swan. Emma would at least try to find out the name of her brunette traveling buddy. She had been wondering about the brunette’s name for a while now. For some reason she was certain that the brunette had a glamorous name. Like.... Audrey. Or.... Grace. Or maybe... Vivien. Or perhaps even Rita. Emma chuckled to herself. She felt a little ridiculous, trying to guess the brunette’s name like this.

Time to do something else, Swan.

Emma quickly took her own advice and found her phone in her bag. She texted Ella to let her know that she was on the train and everything was fine.

Ella immediately texted her back, mercilessly scolding Emma for not “texting like she promised”, and Emma willingly took the scolding. She knew that she should have texted Ella right away. But she did put her foot down when Ella called her a “Dummy”. Emma was not a dummy!

But apart from scolding, Ella had other news too. The most important one being that Mary Margaret had stopped by the diner where Ella was working, and the pixie haired woman had more or less threatened Ella to tell where Emma was. Ella had refused, and then she had fetched the manager. It had been very amusing to see him escort Mary Margaret out of the diner. Emma chuckled in the darkness. She would have liked to see that. But at the same time she was so relieved that she wasn’t anywhere near Mary Margaret right now.

Ella then asked Emma when she was coming back to Toronto. Emma cringed a bit when she truthfully told her friend that she wasn’t sure. Coming back was less than tempting. Ella was obviously upset, but she told Emma that she understood, and then “threatened” to come and visit Emma at her new place. Wherever that would be. Emma texted back and told Ella that both she and Sean were welcome anytime.

After lots of texting back and forward, Emma was starting to get sleepy. Exhaustion was finally catching up with her, and Emma couldn’t have been more satisfied with that. She texted Ella goodnight and then curled up in the bed. She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

 

*********************************

 

The next morning started with lots of commotion. And breakfast. Emma was roused from her sleep early because of all the noise outside her sleep cabin. But this time Emma didn’t mind it as much. Right now the main thought on her mind was food. Being chronically hungry sometimes really had its perks. Emma barely paid attention to how many people there were outside her sleep cabin as she emerged from it fully dressed and ready for the day. And she didn’t pay attention to the long line in front of the bathroom either. She was only thinking about breakfast, and how excited she was to try the buffet.

She didn’t pay attention to the overactive children and the parents running around in attempt to catch their offspring’s before said offspring’s did something stupid. Like trying to open the windows in the train.

But what she did notice however, was something she saw on her way into the dining area. The redheaded woman she had encountered by the bathroom last night was telling another woman off. The redhead seemingly thought that the other woman was standing in the way, and now she was almost yelling at her to “move, damn it!”

Emma scoffed and felt very tempted to walk over there and ask the redhead to shut her mouth, but quickly decided to abandon ship. She wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just here to get breakfast. But she did wobble slightly in her decision when she saw the redhead throttle past the other woman.

After having loaded her plate with waffles covered in maple syrup and a small mountain of bacon and eggs, Emma found an empty table. She did the brave thing and left her breakfast unattended for two seconds as she fetched herself a cup of coffee, but luckily, her breakfast was still untouched when she returned back to her table.

As she dug into her breakfast, Emma looked around in the dining room. It didn’t take her long to realize that she was looking for the brunette, and it took her even shorter to realize that the brunette wasn’t here. Emma felt a pang of disappointment. Why wasn’t the brunette here? Did she perhaps prefer to eat while she was seated? Emma knew that was possible. She had read on the website that it was possible to order a standard breakfast that would be delivered by one of the train stewards or stewardesses. But a standard breakfast only consisted of toast and scrambled eggs. Why choose that when you could have waffles covered in maple syrup? Emma wasn’t a hundredth percent on board with the brunette’s priorities.

Oh, well. Emma continued her breakfast and took deep gulps of her coffee. She felt pretty good this morning. She had slept well, and there were no new messages on her voicemail. Emma doubted that Mary Margaret had finally gotten the message, but still, it was nice to experience a Mary Margaret-free morning. Emma had had far too few of those lately. It was a luxury. She felt so light. Almost carefree. Like she was just a normal twenty seven year old on a train journey.

Yep, I could definitely get used to this, Emma thought to herself as she took another sip of her coffee. She had her morning coffee, a plate full of waffles. What else could she possibly need?
Hmmm, more bacon perhaps. Emma chuckled. Yes, she supposed she could use a bit more bacon. And maybe she would even treat herself to cup of hot chocolate. With cinnamon. Mmm. Now that wouldn’t be too bad.

Emma leaned back on her chair. She felt full of surplus energy, and she even found herself laughing slightly at a kid who threw a piece of bacon at his brother. Right now, Emma could easily see why that was amusing and not irritating. Talk about free entertainment on the trip.

After having a rather solid breakfast and feeling utterly stuffed, Emma walked down the hallway to return to her seat. She wasn’t counting on moving more during this day. Only to go to the bathroom. She knew that part of this experience was to get off the train and see the beautiful landscape up close, but Emma simply felt too lazy. Maybe she would tomorrow, though.

As she returned to her seat, she found the brunette sitting in her own seat. There was an empty plate in front of her, and the brunette was drinking what appeared to be a cup of tea.

“Good morning,” Emma and felt more excited than she probably should, but she couldn’t help herself. She was glad to see the brunette.

The brunette looked up and offered a slight smile. Emma noted that she was wearing slacks today. Neat, cream colored slacks paired with a bottle green silk blouse. She had a cream colored scarf tied around her neck, and her dark hair looked perfectly glossy and shiny like it had done yesterday. And obviously, her makeup was impeccable. How the heck does she manage to look so good in the morning?

“I slept like a baby last night,” Emma said and leaned back in her seat. “Did you sleep alright?”

The brunette nodded as she roamed through her purse, but there was a hint of something in her eyes. A slight sadness. Emma didn’t like that one bit, but since she didn’t know exactly why the brunette looked sad, she decided to offer the only type of comfort she could.

“Hey,” Emma said lightly.

The brunette looked up with one hand still thrusted inside her purse.

“Maybe I’m being stupid, but I can’t stop thinking about that woman we met by the bathroom last night,” Emma said.

The brunette raised an eyebrow as she pulled a book out of her purse.

“I just saw her nearly throttle a poor woman she was walking past, and it sure seems like she’s rude to everybody, but she wasn’t... Well, she wasn’t very nice to you last night, and I just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” Emma rambled, feeling more ridiculous by the second. “That’s all. And I’m sorry if I’m prying or...” she took a breath. “Well, I’m not trying to stick my nose in your business or anything.”

The brunette flashed her a more genuine smile, and then she found her phone in her purse and started to tap away on it. After a moment, she turned the screen towards Emma. The blonde leaned forward to read the message:
‘It’s very kind of you to worry about me, but I’m fine. I’m used to get a few comments here and there. It’s unavoidable when you can’t answer people’s questions. Sometimes people take offense instead of thinking about that there could be a reason why someone doesn’t answer them.’

“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Emma nodded. “But that still doesn’t give her the right to be so rude.”

The brunette tapped away on her phone again, and a few seconds later she turned the screen towards Emma again: ‘I suppose it’s partially my own fault. I can whisper a little, but it tends to be very painful to do. So I try to avoid using my voice.’

“I can understand that,” Emma said. Now she actually felt really sorry for the brunette. To know that talking was physically painful for her wasn’t very nice. And it probably hurts to eat as well, Emma thought to herself. I mean, from what I saw yesterday...

“Tell you what,” Emma said and interrupted her own train of thoughts. It was time to lighten the mood. “Since we’re gonna be travelling buddies all the way to Vancouver, wouldn’t it be nice to know each other’s names?”

The brunette raised an eyebrow.

“I’m Emma,” Emma continued. “Emma Swan.”

The brunette smiled in something Emma could only describe as approval, and then she tapped something on her phone again. By the time she turned the screen, Emma was already leaning forward in her seat, eager to find out the name of her beautiful traveling companion.

“‘Regina Mills’,” Emma read aloud and looked up.

The brunette- Regina- smiled and nodded.

“Nice to meet you, Regina,” Emma said and returned her smile.

And soon the phone screen was turned towards her again. ‘Nice to meet you too, Emma Swan’.

 

 


To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Lots of passengers seemed to get off the train in Winnipeg. And especially the families with children. Emma could easily imagine that the kids would be tired of sitting down for so long. There wasn’t much opportunity to run around in the train. The hallway wasn’t exactly appropriate for running around.

But Emma felt entirely too lazy to even consider to get off the train. She was too stuffed with delicious food, and she was far too comfortable in her plushy seat.

And there was another reason too. The brunette sitting across her, Regina, remained seated. She didn’t look like she had any intention of getting out of the train and explore Winnipeg. And Emma had lost all interest in exploring the beautiful landscape. She was far more interested in talking- no communicating with Regina. Emma felt ridiculously drawn to the brunette, and she couldn’t quite explain why.

But it was more than just the color of Regina’s hair that made her interesting to Emma. There was just... something about her.

Emma leaned back in her seat, secretly thrilled that she wasn’t getting off the train yet. The journey was far from over, and Emma couldn’t have been more pleased about it. She had food in her belly, a good amount of money in her bag, and she was sitting across a beautiful and intriguing woman. What could possibly be better than this? Emma flashed Regina a little smile, and she felt every bit delighted when her smile was returned. Emma’s heart started thumping faster in her chest, and she caught herself wishing that Regina would smile all the time. Surely the world would be a much better place if she did.

As their train wagon emptied rapidly, Emma reached within her bag and found her laptop. She quickly hooked it up with the charger and then switched it on. This was the perfect opportunity to write a bit.
Once the laptop was ready, she roamed within her bag once more and found her little memory stick. She always brought that memory stick no matter where she went. That memory stick was her heart. Okay, maybe that was exaggerating, but her story was on this memory stick, and the idea of leaving the memory stick at home always send surges of panic through Emma.

But panic wasn’t necessary right now. She had her memory stick, and she had her laptop. Everything was fine. She plugged the memory stick into the laptop, and her story immediately appeared on the laptop screen. All two hundredth and fifteen pages. That’s how much she had written so far. Emma felt ridiculously proud of herself. This was more than just words or a silly hobby. This was her passion. What she wanted to do with her life, and Emma had decided long ago that she would never let anyone badmouth her writing again. Not even Mary Margaret.

Emma stretched her fingers slightly and then began to tap away on they keyboard. She was already halfway through the twisted story about Hansel and Gretel, and she was looking forward to finishing the story and start with the next one. Because that was exactly what Emma did. She wrote “modern” fairy tales. Twisted editions of all the classic fairy tales. She had started with her favorite. “The Ugly Duckling”. In her story, the ugly duckling was a little girl struggling to fit in the world. The words had come easy to Emma. Of course the story had been inspired by herself, and it had almost been a therapeutic experience for her. Once she was finished with Hansel and Gretel, she would continue onwards with “Snow White”, but Emma wasn’t so sure she would be writing it from Snow White’s point of view. Why not try and write it from the “villains”? Why not try and come up with some sort of backstory for the Evil Queen. Emma didn’t fully buy into the whole thing with the queen simply being a terribly, wicked character full of jealousy and anger. There had to be more to the story, and Emma couldn’t wait to get started. She already had a few ideas. And some of them were quite good.

But today she struggled with writing on her fairy tale project. Her fingers were itching to write something new. Something about... train rides.

Emma glanced discreetly at the brunette sitting across her. Maybe I could write something about two strangers meeting on a train. Not very original, but maybe I could give it a shot anyway. Emma licked her lips slightly. Should she feel bad about wanting to write about the beautiful, intriguing brunette sitting across her?

Maybe. But at the same time Emma couldn’t quite quell the itching feeling in her fingers. Wait a second, maybe I could somehow incorporate her into my fairytales. Yes. That’s an awesome idea! She can be the beauty, and I can be the beast.

Emma chuckled. That was silly.

Regina’s head snapped up and she raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Sorry,” Emma said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Regina shrugged but smiled at the same time.

“I’m not disturbing you?” Emma guessed.

Regina shook her head, still smiling.

“Good,” Emma said and returned the smile. Then she glanced at the book in the brunette’s lap. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. Emma smiled a little. Good choice. Very posh.

“You’re into classics?” Emma asked and nodded towards the book in Regina’s lap.

Regina nodded eagerly and found her phone in her pocket. She tapped for a moment and then turned the phone screen towards Emma.

Emma was quick to lean forward and read the message: ‘yes, I’ve always enjoyed classics.’

“Me, too,” Emma smiled. “Do you have a favorite?”

More tapping on the phone, and then Regina turned the screen towards Emma again.

Emma smiled as she read the answer. ‘I think my favorite has to be “Jane Eyre.’

“That’s a good one,” the blonde said and nodded. “It’s a very powerful story.”

Regina nodded, and then she tapped something on her phone again. After a moment or so, she turned the screen towards Emma. The blonde was quick to read this message too. ‘But I think I’m bothering
your writing.’

“You’re not,” Emma said quickly. “In fact...” she quickly reached within her bag and found a solid stack of sticky notes and two pencils.

Regina tilted her head slightly.

“I thought that maybe this could make it a bit easier,” Emma said and felt how she flushed ridiculously. “Y’ know... Instead of you having to type on your phone all the time.”

Regina flashed her a beaming smile and nodded.

Emma returned the smile and pushed some of the sticky notes and pencil towards Regina, and Regina quickly grabbed the pencil and began to scribble something down. After a moment she pushed the
sticky note towards Emma. ‘That was very kind of you, and you’re right, it does makes things a bit easier. But I don’t want to bother you.’

“You’re not,” Emma said firmly. “Seriously, you’re not. I enjoy talk-“ stop right there, Swan! Don’t put your foot in your mouth!

But Regina simply smiled and scribbled something down on the sticky note. Emma almost chuckled when she saw the message: ‘....communicating with me?’

“Yeah,” Emma nodded somewhat red faced. “Exactly.”

The brunette’s shoulder shook slightly in a way that would indicate a chuckle.

Emma resumed tapping away on the keyboard, but she honestly couldn’t concentrate. For the first time in a long while, she didn’t want to write. She wanted to keep communicating with Regina. That was
far more interesting than her fictional world, and that really said a lot.

Emma glanced discreetly at her. Regina was reading her book once more, and for a moment Emma wished that she had been good at sketching, because damn, Regina would make for a beautiful motive!

She made Emma’s mouth go shockingly dry, and it felt as though her stomach was full of butterflies or tingles or whatever, and Emma silently cursed herself for getting too affected. It was silly to feel that way about a stranger, and it was definitely ridiculous to wish that this train journey lasted several weeks and not just two more days. Emma definitely wanted more time with the beautiful brunette, and she felt slightly annoyed at herself. Why was she sitting here and writing when she could be communicating more with Regina? Why was she wasting the time?

But writing was a lost cause today. “Are you from Toronto?” she blurted out.

Regina looked up from her book, and Emma instantly felt a bit embarrassed for having interrupted her reading time.

But Regina didn’t look one bit bothered as she scribbled something down on the sticky note, and then showed it to Emma.

“Oh okay,” Emma said as she read the message. ‘No, actually, I’m from Montreal.’

The blonde carefully saved her documents and then turned her attention towards Regina again. “Have you ever been to Vancouver before then?”

Regina nodded and scribbled on the sticky note.

Emma willingly read the message. ‘Yes, many times.’

“Nice,” Emma said. “Any chance you can recommend me a cheap hotel or inn then?”

Regina raised an eyebrow, and Emma blushed a bit as she admitted: “yeah, I was sort of... in a hurry to get out of the door, and I didn’t really research before I left.”

Regina nodded slightly and grabbed a new sticky note. Emma heard the pencil scratch against the paper, and then a new message was slid across the table. ‘Do you have any preferences?’

“Hmm,” Emma considered it for a moment. “I’ve sort been through a pretty tough time, and I’m not in the mood for lots of people, so somewhere quie-“ damnit. Emma blushed again as she halfheartedly
finished the sentence. “Somewhere quiet and peaceful.”

Regina didn’t appear to be one bit bothered by Emma’s choice of words as she scribbled down another message. Emma was impressed at how neat the brunette’s handwriting was even though she was
writing fast.

‘Well, if you’re looking for a peaceful place to stay, I can recommend Eugenia’s Diner in Steveston.’

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Steveston? Where’s that exactly?”

Scribble-scribble, scratch-scratch against the paper, and then Emma was presented with another sticky note: ‘It’s a small town just 12, 2 miles away from Vancouver. It only takes a little over a half an
hour to get there. It’s this little fisher village. I rather think you’d like it there.’

“Steveston,” Emma said and smiled. “I’ll remember that.” The blonde had barely gotten the chance to look up before she was presented with another message: ‘If you’d like, I could give you Eugenia’s
number and you could call her in advantage? I don’t think there’ll any problems regarding showing up and booking a room, but she likes it better when people call in advantage.’

“That would be awesome!” Emma said earnestly. “Seriously, you would literally save my life!”

Regina smiled a little as she slid another note towards Emma. A note with a phone number, and the text: ‘she answers the phone between 09:00 and 13:00.’

“Thank you,” Emma said and flashed the brunette a beaming smile. “Thank you so much! I’ll call her first thing tomorrow and book a room.”

Regina returned the smile.

“So, are you going on vacation in Vancouver?” Emma asked before she could stop herself, not even considering the possibility that Regina might want to read her book.

Regina shook her head in response.

“You’re gonna live there?” Emma guessed.

Regina nodded, and now her expression had changed. She looked a bit... guarded. There was clearly more to it than just that, but Emma quickly decided not to push the subject.

“Well, I’m just running away from all the people in Toronto,” Emma said. “Place’s too crowded for me.”

Regina raised an eyebrow.

“I’m looking forward to seeing that little fisher community,” Emma continued and patted her pocket in which she had the sticky note with the number to Eugenia’s Inn.”

Regina smiled again and nodded slightly.

“Do you come to Steveston often?” Emma asked, and yeah, now she was definitely sounding too hopeful.

Regina looked as though she would have chuckled if she could. She grabbed the stack of sticky notes and the pencil and then scribbled for a second. Then she handed Emma the message.

Emma smiled as she read the message: ‘yes, I do sometimes. I’ve known Eugenia for a while, and she would probably be disappointed if I didn’t stop by sometimes.’

“Great,” Emma said and chuckled. “Then maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee sometimes? To say thank you for giving me Eugenia’s number.”

Regina nodded and quickly scribbled another message. Emma felt positively giddy when she read the message. ‘Coffee sounds nice.’

Emma flashed the brunette another smile and then said: “I’m sorry. You must think I’m talking way too much.”

But Regina shook her head firmly and another sticky note was slid across the table. ‘No, I don’t. I find it very nice. It’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to communicate with, and I can’t exactly talk to myself.’

Emma’s jaw fell open and she quickly looked up. Is she joking or what?

Regina clearly was. She grinned at Emma. The sight made Emma laugh and shake her head slightly.

“Right then,” the blonde said. “I’m glad I’m not bothering you.”

Another sticky note. ‘You’re not bothering me, Emma. Not at all.’

Emma felt a big, dopey grin appear on her face at that, and she knew she probably looked ridiculous, sitting there and grinning like an idiot, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Not when Regina was returning her smile and sending surges of warmth through Emma’s body.

 

*******************

 

When it became lunch time, Emma felt tempted to stay in her seat. Because Regina did the same thing. But Emma ignored her silly needs and left her seat to brave the dining area. She hadn’t gotten off the train in Winnipeg, and she had a feeling that stretching her legs would be good for her. And she also had a hunch that Regina wanted to eat in peace. Emma thought back to their first evening on the train.

She could easily remember how Regina’s face had contorted in pain and how she had taken a pill. The blonde had a hunch that eating wasn’t very nice for the brunette, and Emma didn’t want to sit and stare Regina down while she ate.

But Emma definitely felt a little lost as she sat in the dining area and ate her lunch alone. Sitting all alone made her think about what was gonna happen when she got to Steveston. She wouldn’t know anyone there. She would be all alone there too. Emma knew she was a strange creature. She liked being on her own, but she feared being alone. She decided right then and there that she would text Ella and convince/force her to come and visit. And hopefully for a long time.

Emma took a breath and took another bite of her sandwich. It’ll be fine. I’ll meet new people soon enough, and Steveston sounds like the perfect place. And if Regina really wants to come and have coffee with me.... Emma allowed herself to dream for a moment. She dared to imagine how the friendship between her and Regina would grow and eventually evolve into something more. Emma couldn’t bear the thought of Regina just disappearing out of her life once the train arrived in Vancouver. That would be a disaster. Impossible. Unthinkable. She’s so interesting. I have to know more about her. Maybe I can even get her phone number. Sticky notes are great, but not for long term contact. And long term contact was exactly what Emma wanted.

When Emma came back to her seat, she arrived just in time to see Regina slip a bottle of pills back into her purse. Emma frowned slightly. Had Regina been having those strange throat pains again?

Emma’s heart sank a bit. She didn’t like the brunette being in pain.

But Regina looked quite unbothered by it, and she smiled at Emma when she sat down.

“Well, the dining area was full of screaming kids. Again,” Emma said as she crossed her legs.

Regina looked rather amused, and it didn’t take long before another sticky note was slid across the table: ‘no kidding?’

Emma laughed. “Yeah, you know what I think?”

Regina shook her head and raised an eyebrow.

“I think we’re part of an experiment,” Emma said and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I think every kid on board on this train has been dosed up on sugar, and the producers are watching and waiting
for someone to finally snap.”

Regina’s smile widened at that and she gave Emma another note. ‘That’s an interesting theory, miss Swan. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true.’

Emma smiled. And for several reasons. Miss Swan. Nobody ever calls me that. But it was absolutely refreshing from Mary Margaret’s “Emma Blanchard-Nolan”-crap.

Speaking of Mary Margaret... Emma hadn’t heard from her at all for a few hours now. That was actually pretty fucking impressive. When she was at her worst, Mary Margaret called Emma consistently throughout the day. There had been this one time where she had called Emma a total of forty times. Forty. Emma had switched her phone off that night, and she had been completely exhausted. And paranoid. That had been the first time Emma had considered taking the whole thing to court and get a restraining order. But she had only thought about it for a moment before shaking her head and abandoning the idea. She was pessimistic enough to believe that Mary Margaret’s defense would be so much better than her own. Emma knew Mary Margaret, and she knew that her adoptive mother probably would fabricate a string of lies about Emma’s mental health. She had done that before, and Emma couldn’t see why she wouldn’t do it again. David would side with his wife, the court would side with David and Mary Margaret, and Emma would be screwed. Maybe Mary Margaret would even manage to convince the that the best thing would be to declare Emma incapable of managing her affairs. Mary Margaret had threatened with that once before, when Emma turned eighteen. Emma had been horrified, and that was the first time she had thought to herself that in order to be free of Mary Margaret, she would have to leave Toronto at some point.

Emma looked out at the mountains. That was exactly what she was doing right now.

 

The landscape truly was stunning. Emma had dreaded that she would be bored without her precious Wi-Fi, but that wasn’t the case at all. The view more than made up for the lack of Wi-Fi, and Emma had other things to entertain her too. She had her writing, and once she tired of that, she asked Regina if she could maybe borrow a book. Regina had smiled and nodded, and to Emma’s utmost surprise, the brunette had opened her big purse and revealed that she had a smaller library in there. There were a few romantic novels, but most of them were classics.

Emma had ended up choosing “A Study in Scarlet”. It had been a good while since she had read anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it was no secret that Emma loved a good detective story. That was the only good thing about having lived with the Blanchard-Nolan’s. David had been the one who had introduced Emma to the classics. Those had been some pretty good moments. Unfortunately there had been too few of them. David had immediately changed character when Mary Margaret was near. As a child, Emma hadn’t understood why, but now she knew that David had in fact been scared of Mary Margaret. That had to be the only explanation. Either that, or he had been so thoroughly manipulated by his wife.

Emma stretched her legs lazily as she turned another page in the book. She was already pretty deep in the story. Maybe she would have to bring the book with her into the dining area. If Regina let her, obviously. Emma had every intention of asking her first of course. She wasn’t planning on kidnapping Regina’s book or anything. Her stomach growled, and Emma chuckled slightly. It was lucky that it soon was dinner time. Mmm, I hope there’s chicken for dinner tonight. Or maybe even roast beef. And mashed potatoes. Emma licked her lips. Steak would be good too. Or maybe just good old fashioned macaroni and cheese. The blonde licked her lips again. As per usual, Emma was hungry. She wondered if Regina was too. The blonde looked up from the book to ask Regina, but the question died on her lips when she saw Regina. The brunette had fallen asleep. Emma couldn’t blame her. The lights were getting kind of dimmed, and the sky was darkening rapidly. And when you didn’t have much else to do besides looking out the window, falling asleep seemed like a very reasonable thing to do.

Emma couldn’t help but smiling at what she saw. Regina was a very beautiful sleeper. Her head was resting on her shoulder, and her lips were parted slightly. Stunning. She’s absolutely stunning. Emma knew that there was extra blankets stuffed under the seats, and now she felt tempted to grab one of them and drape it over Regina. She didn’t want the brunette to be cold. Emma was just debating whether putting a blanket over the sleeping brunette would be a creepy thing to do or not, when she saw something that made her pause for a moment.

Regina was still peacefully asleep, but because of the way her head was positioned, her silk scarf had slipped some, and now the very top of her neck was ever so slightly exposed. Emma frowned slightly. She could see something peak out underneath the scarf. Something white. Regina’s hair was partially in the way, so it was impossible to determine what that white something was, but Emma was sure that the silk scarf around Regina’s neck wasn’t just a fashion statement. Emma felt how her stomach tightened slightly in concern, and once again she had to remind herself that Regina essentially was a stranger. Emma had no right to ask her questions about this and that.

The blonde forced herself to tear her gaze away from Regina’s partially exposed neck, and then she roamed underneath the seat once more to find that blanket.

But before she could get the chance to find the blanket, a couple of kids noisily ran past their seats, and the commotion was enough to rouse Regina from her sleep.

Emma hastily lowered her gaze to the book in her lap once more. She didn’t want to be caught staring at Regina, and she made sure to feign annoyance as she shook her head and said: “damn kids.”

Regina nodded, and out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw the brunette straighten her posture. She sat up in her seat, ran a couple of fingers through her hair, and then she adjusted the scarf around her neck. Emma could see how the brunette’s fingers trembled slightly, and a million questions were burning on the blonde’s tongue.

And she couldn’t ask a single one of them. Because it wasn’t her business. It wasn’t her business asking questions about Regina’s throat and what was hiding underneath her scarves. But more than anything, Emma wished that it was her business.

She glanced up from the book and flashed Regina a teeny tiny smile.

Regina immediately returned the smile, but Emma could see that the brunette’s smile wasn’t completely genuine. There was something in Regina’s eyes. Something Emma couldn’t quite read.

“I’m starving, aren’t you?” Emma asked in an attempt to diffuse the tension.

Regina nodded, three fervent nods. She clearly was. Very hungry.

“Do you want to sit together in the dining room?” Emma asked hopeful. “Sitting alone is just so... Lonely.”

Regina appeared to hesitate. She pursed her lips slightly for a second and frowned. But then she nodded. Slowly, this time.

“Great,” Emma said and flashed Regina another smile. A slightly sadder one. Is this about the pills you’re taking when you’re eating? Are you uncomfortable doing it in front of me? God, I wish you
wouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be. I really, really don’t mind.

Obviously, Emma didn’t say any of this. Instead she said: “I hope there’s chicken for dinner. Do you like chicken too?”

Regina nodded again. This time with genuine vigor. She even smiled a little.

Emma felt how her own smile grew less tight. It was a good thing that she was an expert in using funny remarks as a way to diffuse the tension. And if it meant that Regina would keep smiling, Emma
would happily crack jokes all the way to Vancouver. In fact she would have absolutely no problems with doing that. Anything to see her smiling again. Anything to make sure that she’s having a nice
trip......

 

 

To Be Continued.......

Chapter Text

‘Can I ask what you’re writing about?’
Emma looked up in both surprise and delight when she saw the note being slid across the table. She and Regina hadn’t communicated for a while. Regina had been reading her book, and Emma had been a bit busy. First, she had called Eugenia Wolf, the owner of Eugenia’s Inn, and the elderly woman answering the phone had definitely sounded eccentric, but very nice and forthcoming. Emma had booked a room at the inn, and it hadn’t been a problem for Eugenia when Emma had half-embarrassed admitted that she didn’t know how long she was gonna need the room for.

And after having made the call, Emma had been caught up in her writing. But now she was saving her documents. Answering Regina was far more important.

“Sure,” the blonde said and grinned. “I’m writing fairy tales. Or, twisted fairy tales. I call them “Twisted Endings”. Not very original, I know, but it was the only thing I could think of.”

Regina seemed intrigued, and it didn’t take long before another post-it note was slid towards Emma.

Emma immediately looked up from her laptop. Reading the post-it note was much more interesting. ‘Twisted fairy tales? That sounds interesting. Can I know more about it, or should I stop bothering you?’

“You’re not bothering me at all,” Emma assured and flashed Regina a smile. “I’ve loved reading fairy tales ever since I was a kid, and I’ve always loved writing too, so one day I just thought: why not combine that? As soon as the thought had entered my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so one night I just sat down and began outlining my ideas. What if Sleeping Beauty actually had Kleine Levin syndrome and entered a dream world when she fell asleep? What if Cinderella was a runaway in the modern world? What if Hansel and Gretel never was left in the woods by their father? What if they were actually running away from an abusive home, and the so-called witch who found them actually was good?” Emma chuckled. “Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but I can’t stop writing, and either way it’s nice to have something to keep me occupied.”

It didn’t take long before another note joined the two others. ‘Why would it be a pipe dream? It sounds very interesting.’

Emma chuckled. “Thanks. If I ever get anything published, you’ll get a free copy.” She saw how Regina’s body made a movement that could indicate a chuckle. The pencil scratched against the paper for a moment, and Emma received another post-it note. ‘Oh no, no free copies. I’ll buy your book, just like everyone else.’

Emma snorted. “Thanks, but I don’t think it’ll ever become a book.”

Regina raised an eyebrow, and Emma could hear the silent question. Why?

“Well,” Emma said and considered her answer for a second. “I guess I’m just a pessimist, and no one has ever really... encouraged me to keep writing. More the opposite, actually.”

Regina grabbed her pencil and scribbled something down again. She wrote fast, Emma noted, and the blonde was almost impressed when she soon was presented with yet another post-it note. The written words made Emma feel all sorts of warm. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, creativity should be applauded and encouraged. Not the opposite. Keep writing your stories and ignore the people who tries to bring you down. I’m sure you’ll succeed.’

“Thanks,” Emma smiled. “That’s really nice of you.”

Regina scribbled again, this time for a longer period of time, and then Emma got another post-it note: ‘my friend Malena owns Dragon Publishing based in Vancouver. She specializes in books that falls a bit outside the usual categories. Perhaps you could reach out to her once you’ve finished your book? Mal is a bit of an “ice queen” on the outside, but don’t let that scare you off. She’s actually really great.’

Emma felt a bit dizzy. Had Regina just pointed her in direction of publishing house who possibly wanted to publish her book? Emma could barely believe it.

“Are you some sort of fairy godmother?” Emma asked awestruck.

Regina’s shoulder shook slightly, and her brown eyes gleamed as she shook her head no.

“I’m starting to think that you are,” Emma said and sniggered. “First you recommend me a place I can live, and then you casually mention that your friend just so happens to own a publishing house who
could be interested in my book. My money is still on the fairy godmother thing.”

Regina smiled and shook her head.

“What about you?” Emma asked curiously. “What do you do? I mean, apart from making people’s wishes come true?”

Shit. Wrong thing to ask. Regina’s face fell a little, but she nevertheless grabbed a post-it note and scribbled something down. Emma fidgeted slightly as Regina wrote, and after a moment, the blonde could lean forward and read another message from the brunette: ‘I was an English literature professor at Montreal University.’

Emma’s gaze snapped up to the brunette’s face. A literature professor? Holy shit. That’s impressive. But then Emma snapped out of her amazement long enough to pick up on that one little word on the post-it note. Was. ‘I was an English literature professor.’. Was. Past tense.

Emma blinked when another post-it note was slid across the table. ‘I quit my job a while back, but maybe I’ll find something else to do in Vancouver.’

“Sounds like a good plan,” Emma said, but she silently wondered what had happened. What had made Regina quit her job? Emma quelled a sigh. It was like, the more things she learned about the brunette, the more questions she had.

But right now wasn’t the time for questions. It was time for.... Dinner. Emma’s stomach growled in approve, and she saved her documents once more just to make sure, and then she closed her laptop.

She carefully stuffed the laptop away in her bag, and then turned her attention to Regina once more. “I’m thinking about heading out and getting some dinner. Do you wanna come along?”

Regina nodded and rose from her seat.

They walked down the hallway and headed towards the dining area. Before leaving, Regina had grabbed the post-its notes and the pencil, and that had made Emma smile. If she was very lucky, this could mean that Regina wanted to communicate more while they had dinner.

 

*************

 

Today Emma felt less befuddled as she ordered her food. And plus, she actually took her time to look at the menu before ordering. She ended up making her wish come true and ordered chicken. Crispy fried chicken drumsticks and French fries. Emma could barely wait. Obviously, she was hungry. Like always.

The waiter then turned his attention to Regina and asked: “and what can I get for you, ma’am?”

Regina pointed to something on the menu, and Emma saw how the waiter frowned as he came a bit closer and then asked: “French onion soup?”

Regina nodded.

“The portions are very small,” the waiter said. “How about you chose the soup as a starter and then order something else as your main course? We’ve got a special offer on sushi tonight...”

Regina shook her head firmly and pointed to the French onion soup again.

“Just French onion soup?” the waiter asked.

Regina nodded.

“Alright, ma’am,” the waiter surrendered. “And what can I get you get you to drink?”

Another point to the menu.

“Water?” the waiter asked.

Regina nodded once more.

“Very well. Coming right up,” he said and turned to Emma. “And your fried chicken as well, miss.”

“Sounds good,” Emma said and offered him a little smile. But she felt ridiculously irritated at him at the same time. Why did he have to question Regina’s choice of meal? I get that he’s just trying to do his job and make sure that nobody goes to bed hungry, but if she wants onion soup, give her the fucking onion soup instead of asking her questions she can’t answer!

After a moment or so, Regina’s water and Emma’s beer arrived. Emma had allowed herself to have a drink tonight. Just because she could. She smiled a little as she raised her glass and made eye contact with Regina. “Cheers.”

Regina returned the smile and raised her own glass to clink it with Emma’s.

Emma’s smile widened, and she found that she was entirely capable of ignoring the buzzing coming from her phone in her pocket. I know that’s Mary Margaret, and I also know that I don’t give a damn.
I’m so done with her.

But Emma clearly wasn’t the only one who had picked up on the buzzing phone. Regina frowned slightly and tilted her head. Her gaze flickered towards the post-its notes like she was trying to determine whether she should make Emma aware that her phone was ringing.

“Just ignore it,” Emma said and chuckled a little. “It’s not anyone I want to talk to anyway.”

Regina nodded, but Emma could see the confusion etched on her face.

Emma leaned forward slightly as she admitted: “I’m sort of running away from the person who keeps calling me.”

Regina raised an eyebrow again, and now she looked quite concerned.

It felt as though Emma’s insides were melting. Regina looked so worried.

“Don’t worry,” Emma said quickly. “I’m not in any danger. I’m just trying to get away from an irritating person. That’s all.”

Regina nodded, but she still looked quite concerned.

“I’m fine,” Emma assured. “I really am. Please don’t worry about me.”

Regina shook her head, grabbed the pencil and sticky notes. She scribbled a bit and then pushed a note towards Emma. ‘You’ve just told me that you’re running away from a person who keeps calling you, and you don’t me to worry about you?’

Emma chuckled slightly. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying.”

Regina didn’t look convinced.

“Seriously, don’t worry,” Emma said. “I’m totally fine. I just needed to get away from Toronto. That’s all.”

Regina nodded slowly and took a sip of her water, and the next second it was Emma’s turn to be worried when she saw Regina’s face contort. The brunette grimaced slightly as she sat her glass of water down and brought a fist up to her mouth as though she was trying to clear her throat without drawing any attention to herself.

Bearing that in mind, Emma quickly looked away and pretended to be fiddling with her fork. No staring, Swan. Don’t be nosey. The fork slipped between her fingers and landed on the floor with a loud clatter. Regina jumped a little in her chair.

“Shit. Sorry,” Emma muttered and felt her face grow hot as she quickly ducked down to retrieve the fork. When she popped her head up once more, she could have sworn that Regina looked a bit amused.

“I’m perpetually clumsy,” Emma said and immediately cringed. Perpetually? Really, Swan? Where the hell did that come from? Are you trying to impress the literature professor or something like that?
But maybe it was worth it. Regina still looked rather amused.

After they had been sitting a while and exchanged opinions about the sugar-drugged children, the waiter arrived with their food. Emma had never felt happier in her life. Or so it felt. The fried chicken smelled amazing. And so did Regina’s onion soup. “Bon Appetit,” the waiter said in a rather horrible accent.

Both Emma and Regina smiled at that.

Emma immediately “went to work” and attacked the first drumstick. God, that tastes a-freaking-mazing! I hope I can find drumsticks like these in Steveston.

Regina too began to eat. She dunked her spoon into her soup, and out of the corner of her eye Emma saw the brunette slip the spoon in between her lips and then raise an eyebrow. She was clearly impressed, and Emma rather happy about that. She wanted Regina to enjoy her food as much as she did.

Emma quickly reduced the five drumsticks to four. She was just about to stuff four French fries into her mouth when she heard a slight clattering sound. Not a loud one. Just a sound that indicated that Regina had just put her spoon down on her plate. Then Emma heard the sound of a zipper. A bit of shuffling. The sound of a bottle full of pills being rattled slightly. She knew exactly what was going on.

She knew that Regina was taking a pill right now, but Emma refused to look up. She refused to act nosey or turn this into a big deal. She told herself to keep eating like nothing was going on. It was so obvious that Regina didn’t want any commotion over this, and Emma was more than willing to follow the brunette’s silent plead.

Just keep eating, Swan. Don’t look up. Not even if you’re concerned.

 

***********************

 

Emma almost felt disappointed when the lights in the train dimmed down and it became time to go to bed. She and Regina had been so busy exchanging book recommendations and talking about their favorites, and Emma was sad to see their conversation being cut short.

But that was exactly what happened. The sky was dark, and the lights were dimmed when Regina slipped Emma a note, telling the blonde that she was gonna call it a night.

“Alright,” Emma said and smiled in spite of her disappointment. “Good night then. Sleep well.”

Regina offered a smile and then she disappeared down the hallway. Maybe it was a cheesy thing to do, but Emma couldn’t help to poke her head around the corner and watch the brunette walk away.

Once Regina had disappeared, Emma couldn’t really see a reason to remain in her seat either. The most interesting thing about this trip just left. Might as well go to bed. As Emma walked down the hallway, she tried no to think too much of the fact that the trip would be ending soon. She and Regina would go their separate ways, and the thought of that genuinely upset Emma. She didn’t want the beautiful brunette to walk out of her life just like that.

I’ll have to pluck up the courage to ask for her phone number before the trip ends. I mean, worst case scenario she’ll say no, but at least I’ll know then, right? Emma had experienced plenty of “what if’s” in her life. She was not about to make Regina another. Not when she had every opportunity to ask for her phone number.

Emma felt a twinge of anxiety as she neared her sleep cabin. She was ridiculously scared that Regina was in fact gonna say no to exchanging phone numbers. Aw man, that would really suck if she said no.
I mean, when am I gonna meet another woman like her again?

Emma answered the question herself. Never. She was never gonna come across a woman like Regina again. And then she felt ridiculous. She had known Regina for two days. Two days, Swan. You’re getting far too attached way too quickly. This isn’t normal. Or was it? Emma had never experienced anything like this before. Normally she wasn’t one for falling head over heels for someone. It had taken months and months before she and Lily had even shared their first kiss. Emma wasn’t one for striking up conversations with strangers. Until Regina.

Kissing Regina... Oh my god.

Emma tried not to think too much of Regina’s plump, perfect lips as she went into her sleep cabin, changed into her sleepwear and then grabbed her toothbrush and toiletries to go to the bathroom. There was no one standing in line tonight, so Emma could quickly brush her teeth and do her night routine. She noted that she didn’t look as tired today. The dark circles underneath her eyes were gone. Good.

Suddenly, it was very important for Emma to look her best. I wonder what Regina thinks of the way I look, Emma thought to herself as she quickly braided her hair. Then she scoffed a little. Who said Regina had even paid attention to that? Oh well. At least she isn’t married. She’s not wearing a ring. Emma had noticed that fairly early on, and she had been thrilled for a moment until she forced herself to come back to earth. She had firmly reminded herself that even though the brunette wasn’t wearing a ring, she could still be attached one way or another.

Now Emma’s head was swimming with thoughts, and she sighed deeply as she locked the door to her sleep cabin. How the hell was she supposed to go to sleep now? She flopped back on the bed. Her mind was flooded with Regina. Both how she wanted the brunette to remain in her life, but also the mystery surrounding her. Why couldn’t Regina speak? That was Emma’s biggest question.

But she knew she couldn’t just blurt out such a question. That would be so rude.

It was definitely time to think about something else. Emma quickly found her phone, and for the first time since this morning, she checked to see who had called her.

Mary Margaret had. Several times in fact. She had also left quite a few messages on Emma’s voice mail. Nothing new there. Emma just scoffed. She had no intention of listening to those messages. Why ruin her relatively good mood? Mary Margaret wasn’t worth it. Emma briefly considered to block her adoptive mothers’ number, but she knew that if she did that, Mary Margaret would find new ways to contact her. In fact Mary Margaret had a whole arsenal of different cellphones she could use for the purpose. Emma wasn’t a hundredth percent sure how many cellphone the pixie haired woman had. It would be better to just change her number. Emma would do that once she arrived at Eugenia’s Inn in Steveston.

Emma hummed tunelessly as she dialed Ella’s number. If she couldn’t sleep, she could talk to her best friend. That would be a great way to pass the time.

It didn’t take long before Ella picked up, and she was full of complaints. She hadn’t heard from Emma since last night, and that simply wasn’t good enough.

Emma completely agreed with Ella and promised that she would brush up on her “check in”-skills.

“You better,” Ella said firmly. “Anyway, how is the train ride going? Feeling bored yet? I knew I would be if I didn’t have any Wi-Fi.”

Emma chuckled. She knew full well how addicted Ella was to her previous Wi-Fi. “It’s actually not that bad,” Emma said truthfully.

“Seriously?” Ella said disbelievingly in the other end. “Three days with no Wi-Fi, and you’re not going insane?”

Emma laughed. “I’ve been in some pretty good company.”

“Oh yes? Do tell,” Ella said immediately.

“Well...” Emma lowered her voice some. “There’s this woman...”

“Uh-oh. No offense Em, but I really don’t want to hear about train sex-“

“No!” Emma said and laughed quietly. “Nothing like that, Ella.”

“Thank god,” Ella said relieved. “Then spill it.”

“Well, I’m sitting right across this woman named Regina,” Emma said and could feel how she smiled at the mention of Regina’s name. “And I’m telling you, she’s really something else.”

“A knockout?” Ella guessed.

“Yeah, definitely, but it’s more than that,” Emma said and fiddled slightly with her braid. “She’s so interesting, she’s into books and she’s a professor in English literature.”

“Damn,” Ella said. “Looks like you’ve over scored, Em.”

“Hardy har har,” Emma said. ”I haven’t scored her at all, Ella.”

”But you want to?” Ella guessed.

“Well...” Emma said and tapped a finger against her forehead. “I definitely wouldn’t have minded this train ride to be a bit longer so I could get to know her even better.”

“Oh,” Ella said in the other end. “I see the problem.”

“But she’s gonna stay in Vancouver,” Emma said hopefully, “and I’ve sort of asked her to have coffee with me sometimes, so...”

“A half appointment to get coffee “sometimes” isn’t enough,” Ella said firmly.

“I know,” Emma sighed.

Ella chuckled. “Ask for her phone number.”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about doing that-“

“Thinking isn’t enough, Em,” Ella interrupted. “You gotta do it. It sounds like you already like this Regina.”

“I do,” Emma admitted. “Which is probably ridiculous because I barely know her-“

“So you need her phone number,” Ella said, interrupting once more. “That’s essential. I mean, how else are you gonna talk to her and get to know her better if you don’t have her phone number?”

“Yeah,” Emma said absentmindedly. Talk to her. I can’t actually do that whether I get her number or not. But she decided not to tell Ella that just yet. Instead she steered the conversation towards other
subjects. Subjects that didn’t have anything to do with Regina and Emma’s “way too soon”-feelings for her.

 

***************

 

Emma wasn’t completely sure whether it was the beer she’d had at dinner that had gone straight to her bladder, but either way she found herself waking up in the middle of the night, desperately needing a bathroom.

Emma groaned as she dragged her unwilling body out of bed. She fumbled to find the light switch and then moaned in complain when the light was much, much too bright. But it did help her find the door. And finding the door was essential right now.

Emma stumbled out in the hallway. She so hoped she wouldn’t meet anyone. She was well aware that her hair was a right mess at the moment.

Reaching the door to the bathroom, Emma thanked her rare lucky star. There wasn’t anyone standing in line.

But her luck only lasted so long. When Emma pressed the doorknob, the door didn’t open. Emma cringed a bit when she realized that she had just interrupted whoever was in the bathroom, and she almost said “sorry” before realizing that that would probably make it even more awkward than it already was.

I’ll just wait right here then. Emma shifted a bit on her feet. She really needed to pee. There was no other way of saying it. Damn, I never should have drunk that beer at dinner. I should have known that it would come back to bite me in the a-

All thoughts about complaining completely left Emma’s mind when she started to pay attention to what she was hearing.

Water running. That wasn’t very unusual for a bathroom, but it was the other sounds that made Emma pause. She could hear rapid breathing coming from the bathroom, and normally that would have annoyed her, because she really wasn’t interested in hearing two people doing the dirty in a train bathroom.

But this sort of rapid breathing only alarmed her. Emma could easily hear that there was only one person in the bathroom. And whoever it was, was clearly crying quietly. Emma could recognize that sound everywhere. She had done it a number of times herself during her years with Mary Margaret.

Emma heard more sniffling from the bathroom, and she considered for a moment whether she should interfere or not. Maybe she was being obnoxious, and maybe it wasn’t her business, but it could be someone who needed help. Maybe one of the other passengers had become sick during the night or something like that. If that was the case, Emma would have to help them. She couldn’t just ignore this.

More sniffles followed, and growing more concerned by the minute, she curled her hand into a fist and then quietly knocked on the door.

“Hello?” the blonde called. “Is everything okay?”

There was no answer.

Emma considered it for a second. Then she knocked quietly once more. “Look, I’m not trying to butt in or anything, but are you alright? If you’re sick, I can fetch a doctor for you.”

There was still no answer, but the water was switched off. Emma waited. She heard some muffled sniffles and then the person behind the door took a deep breath. Silence. Emma wasn’t completely sure what to do. Should I try knocking again or should I wait? Should I try and say something? I want to help, I’m just not completely sure how I’m-

The door was ripped open, and Emma yelped as she stumbled backwards in sheer surprise. But what she saw surprised her even more. It was Regina who came out of the bathroom. Regina with tear stained cheeks and sleep ruffled hair. Regina wearing a silk pajamas with a collar that went all the way up to her chin.

“Regina?” Emma asked. “Is everything alri-“

She didn’t get the chance to finish her question before Regina pushed past her and almost throttled her in her eagerness to get away. She disappeared down the hallway in a flurry of silk and dark locks.

Emma was left stunned by the bathroom. Stunned and concerned. Maybe more concerned than she had any business being, but she couldn’t help it. The concern sat in the pit of her stomach like a lump as she locked herself in the bathroom to do what she came for. She was so distracted she ended up standing in front of the bathroom mirror with the water running for ten minutes before she snapped out of it and reminded herself that she needed to get back to her sleep cabin.

Emma frowned deeply as she locked herself in the sleep cabin once more. What was that about? What happened? God, I wish I could just ask her! Now more than ever it upset Emma that she and Regina were still only friendly with one another. Emma had no right to ask Regina serious questions.

Emma sighed as she flopped back on the bed. God, this was difficult! I care too fucking much about her already. And I can’t ask her what’s going on. It’s not fair. It really, really isn’t.

Seriously, how was she supposed to sleep when she knew that Regina was alone and upset somewhere? Suddenly Emma imagined how she, in a moment of madness leapt from her bed and started to knock on every door until she found Regina. A pity she couldn’t do that either.

Emma stared at the ceiling. This was gonna be a very, very long night.

 

 

*********************************

 

Emma was completely exhausted the next morning. So exhausted she actually almost overslept. She cursed under her breath as she more or less tumbled out of bed and got dressed. She felt a bit like a zombie as she opened the door to her sleep cabin and sleepwalked into the hallway. There was hectic activity, and the children had never been louder. Or so it felt. Emma could feel a nagging headache right under her left eyebrow. Great. Perfect. Exactly what I need.

Her headache only worsened when she reached her own seat and found the seat across her empty. Where was Regina? Emma immediately felt a surge of panic rush through her. Suppose she really was ill last night. God, I should not just have let her walk off like that. I should have fought harder to find out what was going on!

That was when Emma spotted something. Not one, but two yellow post-it notes lying on her seat. Emma immediately picked the notes up and read it:

‘Emma, I’m really sorry about what happened. What you witnessed last night was a panic attack. I’ve had a few of them ever since my accident, I honestly thought they were getting better. But obviously, not entirely. I’m so sorry for throttling past you like that. You were just acting like any concerned person would. I do hope you can forgive me for being so brusque with you.’

Emma was still looking at the note when she heard footsteps approach. The blonde quickly looked up and saw Regina standing in front of her. The brunette was wearing a black pencil skirt, a red silk blouse and she had a black silk scarf tied around her neck. She flashed Emma a hesitant little smile, and then she handed the blonde a cup of coffee. And a plate with two waffles covered in maple syrup.

“Thanks,” Emma said and shook her head slightly. “But you didn’t have to do that.”

Regina glanced between the note and Emma. Her mouth twisted slightly.

Emma immediately understood. “There’s no harm done, Regina,” she assured. “It’s okay. Really.”

Regina raised an eyebrow.

Emma immediately flashed her a beaming smile and to stress out her point of everything being forgiven and forgotten she turned her attention to the waffles. She took a large bite and then “mm’ed!” loudly.

Regina’s smile became more genuine at that.

Emma returned the smile, but she could still feel that lump of concern in her stomach. As she ate her waffles, she continued to discreetly look at Regina. ‘What you witnessed last night was a panic attack.
I’ve had a few of those since my accident, I honestly thought they were getting better. But obviously, not entirely.’

My accident. My accident. What did that mean? Maybe she was wrong, but Emma’s mind quickly started to connect certain things. Could that accident have anything to do with the fact that Regina couldn’t speak?

Emma glanced discreetly at Regina over her coffee cup. Was that how it happened? Was that how she lost her voice? An accident? Emma almost shivered at that thought. She had initially thought that it had always been like this for Regina. That she simply had been born like this, but if the blonde really was right and an accident had robbed Regina of her voice....

Emma took a sip of her coffee. It’s none of your business, it’s none of your business. Don’t get too involved. That had been Emma’s mantra ever since ending things with Lily. No way she was gonna get involved and have her poor heart broken all over again.

So why was it that she wished she was more involved with Regina than she was right now? Where did that fit in? What’s the point in making a brilliant plan for the future if I can’t follow it? What’s the point of swearing to be done with women, when the next woman I bump into just so happen to be this beautiful, intelligent and mysterious creature I want to know more about? Why can’t I just follow my own rules? Why can’t I just listen to my brain instead of my heart for once? Hasn’t my heart gotten me in trouble enough already?

 

 

To Be Continued?

Chapter Text

Parting ways.

The thought alone seemed impossible. They couldn’t already be in Vancouver tonight. They just couldn’t.

But nevertheless that was exactly what they were. After three days of seeing Canada’s magnificent landscape flash by the train windows, the journey was almost coming to an end. Emma couldn’t quite believe it. She had just gotten in the train, for gods sake! She was so comfortable in her seat. She had come to love her sleep cabin. But not the comfortability of her seat nor her sleep cabin could quite measure up to how much Emma appreciated the company she had been in for these past three days. Winning the ticket to this journey had definitely been lucky but ending up sitting across Regina had been more than just luck. Emma didn’t exactly believe in fate, but this experience had definitely tampered a little bit with her beliefs.

Emma adjusted a bit in her seat and glanced out of the window. She knew that she should probably look forward to arriving in Vancouver and continue onwards to Steveston. She had a place to stay, and maybe, just maybe, her collection of twisted fairy tales had a future. Dragon Publishing. Emma had every intention of googling it when she got settled in Steveston. And had Wi-Fi again. Emma shook her head slightly. She still couldn’t quite believe that Regina had just casually mentioned her publisher friend and suggested that Emma reached out to her. Just like that. All nonchalant. Seriously, there are so many things that are too good to be true about this woman, and I wanna see her again. We can’t just go our separate ways. I can’t just go about my business and expect myself to forget her. That’s not how this work.

Emma sort of already dreaded saying goodbye to the brunette, and she flashed Regina a little smile when she looked up from her book.

Regina returned the smile and closed the book. Emma saw herself as an avid reader, but she couldn’t quite beat Regina’s reading habits. The brunette had plowed through three books during this train ride. Today’s choice was Great Expectations. Emma was just about to say something to Regina when the brunette’s phone made a slight vibrating sound against the table between them. Emma watched as the brunette picked up the phone and then smiled. She did that a lot when she checked her phone, Emma had noticed, and that had made the blonde feel all kinds of discouraged. Was Regina smiling because she was on her way to see her boyfriend? That could very well be the reason why Regina was smiling. Emma felt dumb for fooling herself into believing that Regina was single. She’s an intelligent, funny, beautiful woman. Why would she be single?

Emma snapped out of it when she saw a yellow post-it note being slid across the table. Emma quickly bowed her head to read the note: ‘almost at journey’s end now.’

Unfortunately. “Yeah,” Emma said and flashed the brunette a little smile. “Been a long ride. Are you looking forward to getting off the train?”

Regina’s pencil scratched against the paper for a moment, and then Emma was presented with another message: ‘I must admit that I am, but this journey turned out to be less boring that I had feared.
Thank you for that.’

“I say the same,” Emma smiled. “I hadn’t really expected to get in contact with anyone during this trip, but... I suppose I had a change of heart.”

Regina offered a smile at that, and then her phone vibrated again. Emma watched as the brunette checked the message and then smiled again. Emma’s mouth twisted slightly at that. It’s her boyfriend texting her, isn’t it? He’s waiting for her in Vancouver. Emma’s heart sank. That had to be the reason why Regina was on her way to Vancouver. She was on her way to a new life with her boyfriend in Vancouver.

Regina looked up from her phone and Emma wasn’t quite fast enough to look away. But Regina just offered a smile at the accidental eye contact, and Emma didn’t feel as awkward as she would if she had made accidental eye contact with someone else. Regina grabbed the pencil again, and Emma felt how her stomach began to bubble with excitement when she saw the brunette scribble down another message.

‘Are you looking forward to arriving?’ Emma looked up at the brunette. I was, but now I’m not so sure... “Yeah, I suppose I am.”

Regina raised an eyebrow and scribbled down a single word underneath her first question. ‘Suppose?’

“Maybe I’m a little nervous,” Emma admitted. “I’ve lived in Toronto all my life. Moving away is a pretty big step for me.”

Regina nodded, and another note was slid towards Emma. ‘For me too. You have no idea how daunting this trip has been.’

“Did you live in Toronto for a long time?” Emma asked curiously.

Regina nodded and scribbled underneath the first sentence. ‘For a few years.’

“But you’re originally from Montreal?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded in affirmative.

“I’ve never been to Montreal,” Emma mused. “Is it a nice place?”

Regina nodded again.

“Maybe I should go there sometimes,” Emma said and then laughed a little. “But I think I would be screwed when I got there. I don’t know any French.”

Regina looked amused as she scribbled and then gave Emma another note. ‘It’s actually not that hard to learn.’

Emma chuckled. “You’re probably right about that, but I’m such a dummy when it comes to that. I’m afraid I would end up saying something rude when I actually try to find out where the bathroom is.”

Regina looked amused once more and shook her head slightly.

“Can I ask you something?” Emma said.

Regina raised an eyebrow in curiosity and nodded.

“That place I’m going to live at... Eugenia’s Inn,” Emma said. “Do you think they any waitresses? I’m sort of panicking because I don’t have a job.”

Regina was quick to rip another post-it off the stack and then she began scribbling. It didn’t take long before Emma could look down at another message: ‘Eugenia often looks for new waitresses, but if she doesn’t happen to be looking at the moment, she’ll be more than happy to point you in the direction of another diner that does. Otherwise try and talk to Mal. Maybe she can find you a job at Dragon Publishing.’

Emma’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?”

Regina nodded and scribbled underneath. Emma eagerly waited until the brunette had finished scribbling and then she looked down at the message: ‘Of course. Malena is always looking for people who are passionate about books. And from what I’ve gathered, you are. I think you and her will hit it off quite well. You should try and call her when you get to Steveston. Maybe you and her could schedule a meeting.’

“Are you sure you’re not a fairy good mother?” Emma blurted out.

Regina smiled and shook her head.

But Emma was still less than convinced. Seriously, Regina had to be some kind of fairy godmother. Emma felt dizzy. Imagine if she could actually get a job at Dragon Publishing. Working with books while she wrote on her fairy tales. No more waitressing, but a chance to actually use the college education. Oh my god, that would be so amazing! Now Emma was seriously torn. She was very, very excited about starting her new life, but at the same time she felt pretty bummed about having to part ways with Regina. That was not something she was looking forward to at all.

“Do you come to Steveston often?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded a bit as she grabbed a new sticky note and then scribbled. The answer to that question couldn’t have made Emma happier: ‘yes, Eugenia makes the best burgers you can imagine. I’ve never found a burger better than hers, and that has made me unable to enjoy a burger elsewhere.’

Emma chuckled and didn’t even get a chance to answer before another post-it note was given to her. ‘And her lasagna is very good too. Although not as good as mine.’

Emma chuckled again. “I love lasagna.” That was a hint.

But unfortunately, Regina didn’t pick up on the hint. She just smiled, and then her phone vibrated again. She was quick to grab it, and smiled as she checked the message.

Emma reminded herself to stop trying to flirt with Regina. You have no idea whether she’s single or not, Swan. For all you know she could be straight. As straight as a ruler. Emma still had nightmares about the last time she had flirted with a straight woman. It had been a good while before she had met Lily. It had been in a bar. The woman had been nice, approachable and beautiful. And she had been a brunette. Of course she had. Anyway, Emma and the woman had hit it off, and the woman had ended up asking Emma to come back to her apartment. Emma had had some alcohol that night, so the decision hadn’t been very difficult. She had gone home with the woman, they had ended up in the bedroom, and Emma’s brain had completely switched off.

Until the next morning where she was roughly shook awake by the woman. She was yapping in Emma’s ear about how Emma needed to leave right away. It turned out that the woman’s boyfriend was on his way home, and Emma realized that she had been tricked. She had very specifically asked the woman if she was attached in any way, and the woman had said that she wasn’t. Emma had been furious when she left, and many, many times she had been tempted to go back to the apartment and tell the woman’s boyfriend about what had happened. But every time she had nixed the idea just as fast. That would be a petty thing to do, and Emma tried her best to not be a petty person.

Emma blinked when a new post-it note was pushed towards her. ‘Is everything okay?’ the note said.

“Yeah,” Emma said quickly and flushed when she realized that she had been staring at Regina this whole time. “Sorry, I was just... zoning out for a moment.”

Regina flashed a reassuring smile and then nodded as though she was saying okay.

Ugh, why must she be so beautiful when she smiles? This is like, really annoying.

Regina went back to her book, and Emma wished she could do the same. Or at least busy herself with looking out of the window. But the problem was that it was so much more interesting to look at
Regina. Not even the beautiful snowcapped Rocky Mountains could get Emma’s attention. The brunette was definitely the most fascinating thing about this trip. The trip that was almost coming to and end. Emma sighed quietly. Why couldn’t we have met each other on the Trans-Siberian Express? That trip takes more than six days. We could have had so much more time together. So much more time to get to know her.

Regina’s phone vibrated against the table once more, and the brunette immediately picked up the device. Then she smiled again.

Emma’s mouth twisted slightly. If she was in doubt before, she wasn’t anymore. No, now she was a hundredth percent certain that someone was waiting for Regina in Vancouver. Emma knew it was stupid of her to feel jealous, but she couldn’t help it. She felt she really had a connection with a Regina. Emma hadn’t had a connection with anyone for a while. At least not like this.

The blonde leaned back in her seat and gazed out of the window. Or at least she pretended to. She was actually looking discreetly at Regina. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the brunette put her phone down and once again resume her reading. Or at least she did until a disturbance arrived in the shape of a small child that peeked in through Emma and Regina’s half open cabin door.

“Hello,” the tiny tyke said as he pushed the door open and slipped inside the cabin.

“Hey kid,” Emma said and raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here all alone? Where are your parents?”

“I dunno,” the tyke said as he unbothered climbed up on the seat to sit next to Regina. “What are you reading?”

Regina looked a little lost as she pointed to the cover of the book.

And the little boy seemed equally confused. “What does that mean? I can’t read.”

“Great Expectations,” Emma said quickly. “It’s a grownup book.”

“What’s it about?” the tyke asked. He was clearly the curious type.

“Bit difficult to explain, kiddo,” Emma said and frowned. “Where are your parents? Do they know you left?”

Now the kid looked a bit guilty. “My mom went to the bathroom and I was bored.”

Okay, so we’re dealing with a runaway. “I think it would be better if we found your mom, kid.”

The little boy firmly shook his head. “Wanna stay.” He turned his attention to Regina. “Can you read to me? I wanna hear a story!” he flashed her the sweetest of convincing smiles before adding a: “pweaaase?”

Emma saw how Regina’s mouth twisted at that, and the brunette’s lips moved as though she was actually trying to say something. The little boy looked expectantly up at Regina, his little legs kicked in excitement, and then he once again said: “can you read to me? Pretty please?”

Emma quickly remembered what Regina had written in one of her notes. ‘I can whisper a little, but it tends to be very painful, so I’m trying to use my voice as little as possible.’ Emma rose from her seat, fully prepared to help the little boy back to his mother. God forbid that Regina should attempt to do what the boy is asking her to!

But before Emma even got the chance to say anything, the door to their cabin was opened again, and a tired looking woman with long curly hair stepped inside. “Roland!” she exclaimed. “There you are! You can’t just run away from mommy like that. You scared me! Now come here, you little rascal.”

The boy- Roland- obediently hopped off the seat and trotted over to his mother. “The lady doesn’t wanna read to me,” he said, and his lower lip quivered as he raised a pudgy finger to point at Regina.

“That’s enough young man,” his mother scolded him. “It’s rude to point. And you should be thanking these nice ladies for looking after you.”

“Thank you for looking after me,” Roland said obediently, and his eyes were only on Regina.

“You’re welcome kid,” Emma said.

“I am so sorry about that,” the mother said as she lifted Roland up. “He’s been complaining about being bored since yesterday morning. It’s a good thing we’ll be in Vancouver soon. Thank you for looking after him.”

“It was no problem,” Emma assured.

The woman turned her attention to Regina. “Thank you.”

Regina offered a small smile.

The woman turned around and then left their cabin. The door closed behind her, and Emma could hear her scold her child for running off, but right now Emma was far more interested in Regina. The blonde quickly turned her head and looked at said brunette. Regina looked like she was miles away.

“Are you okay?” Emma asked quietly.

Regina simply shook her head in response. Now she looked upset. Her dark eyes were overflowing with deep, genuine sadness, and the sight hit Emma like a sucker punch right to the gut. “Regina...”

But Regina just turned her head and looked out of the window. The implication was clear; the conversation was over, and Emma had no choice but to hold her tongue.

Emma swallowed something. This was almost more than she could bear. Regina looked so vulnerable as she sat there and stared out of the window.

After a moment or so, Regina suddenly rose from her seat and open the door to their cabin. Emma discreetly watched as she walk away, and she saw Regina head towards the bathroom. Emma’s heart sank slightly once more. She knew that Regina wasn’t going to the bathroom to do bathroom stuff. She was most likely searching for a place to be alone for a moment. Alone to be upset.

Emma’s stomach clenched at the thought of that. She wanted to help. The problem was just that she had no idea exactly how to do that. Emma had always been pretty bad at offering comfort to people in distress, but right now she genuinely wished that there was something she could say or do that could make things easier for Regina. The blonde sighed. It was hard to offer comfort when she still knew so little about Regina.

After a moment or so, Regina came back from the bathroom. She looked a bit pale and her eyes were a bit glassy, but she offered Emma a little smile as she sat down once more.

Emma wanted to ask if everything was okay, but once again she held her tongue. She didn’t want to ask a dumb question.

Regina looked out of the window for a moment, but soon Emma saw her reach for the post-it notes and heard the pencil scratch against the paper. She handed Emma another note. ‘Are you ready to go out and find some dinner?’

Emma couldn’t help but grin. “Yeah, absolutely. I’m starving.”

Regina smiled and shook her head and then wrote underneath: ‘Your appetite is very impressive. I admire that. I’ve never been very big on dinner.’

Now it was Emma’s turn to shake her head. “Seriously? How can anyone not be big on dinner?”

Regina just shrugged lightly.

“Oh, well,” Emma said and grinned again. “Just stick with me kid, and you will be.”

Regina seemed genuinely amused by that, and Emma felt relived when she saw the brunette smile.

They headed into the dining area and Emma ordered a huge steak and along with baked potatoes and gravy. Regina pointed to the tomato soup on the menu. The waiter didn’t comment on her choice.
And neither did Emma. Nor did she comment on the pill Regina discreetly took before starting her dinner.

 

***********************

 

After the dinner, and once the lights in the trains started to dim, the passengers gradually began to hover in the hallway. The children aboard the train were laughing and yelling, and the adults muttered impatiently. Everyone seemed fed up with travelling. Everyone wanted to get off the train.

Well, everyone except Emma. She was really very sad to see this journey come to an end. She was starting to feel oddly nervous now. Starting over a completely new place. Could she even do that? Would
she feel at home in Steveston? Would she get new friends? Would she get a job? A permanent place to live? There were so many things to think about, and right now Emma felt as though she wasn’t even capable of thinking of one thing.

 

But it didn’t matter that she didn’t want to get off the train. That was exactly what she had to. Once it had been announced over the speakers that they would reach Vancouver station shortly, Emma rose from her seat and grabbed her backpack from underneath the seat. She had already grabbed her stuff from the sleep cabin a bit earlier.

Emma weaseled her way into the hallway to join the other waiting passengers. She developed elbows of steels and managed to carve out a nice little place for herself to stand. Then the blonde turned her head and saw Regina rose from her own seat. The brunette reached above the seat and maneuvered her suitcase down from the overhead bin. Then she came into the hallway to join Emma.

“Didn’t most of the people get off in Winnipeg?” Emma asked.

Regina offered a slight smile at that and then shrugged lightly.

“Seriously, I swear there are more people than there was when I got on this train,” Emma half muttered.

Regina offered another smile, but it struck Emma that the smile didn’t look completely genuine. The brunette looked a little concerned. Emma wondered what she was concerned about. She looked
discreetly at Regina. Why is she moving from Toronto to Vancouver? What is she gonna do in Vancouver, and more importantly, who is waiting for her in Vancouver? Who is it she has been texting for most of the day? Emma had a plan about sticking around long enough to see if Regina was getting picked up by someone, and who that someone was. Was it silly? Yep. Was it possibly creepy and stalkerish?

Emma refused to answer that question. Was she curious enough to postpone her own plan about hitching a ride to Steveston? Yep, definitely.

Emma was pulled out of her thoughts when Regina’s phone chimed. She saw the brunette check her phone and then smile widely. Gone was the previous concern.

Regina tapped on her phone for a moment and then looked up once more. She reached within the pocket of her trench coat and then handed something to Emma. Emma quickly discovered it was her post-it notes. “Oh,” the blonde said and tried to smile. “Thanks.”

Regina tapped something on her phone and then turned the screen towards Emma: ‘I wouldn’t want you to forget your post-its.’

Emma chuckled slightly as she took the little stack of post-its from Regina. “I’m pretty sure I could have survived without them, but thanks.”

Regina offered another smile, and Emma considered just how the heck she was supposed to carry on knowing that she wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing that smile as frequently as she had for the past three days. God, this is gonna be absolute torture!

That was when the train stopped, and at least three children started wailing when they fell over because they hadn’t held their parents’ hands as instructed. But they actually weren’t the only ones. Emma who had been miles away in her thoughts was definitely not paying attention to her surroundings, let alone the fact that the train was stopping, and thus she wasn’t holding on to anything when the train came to a halt. The blonde yelped, stumbled, and she would most definitely have fallen face first if it hadn’t been for the soft yet solid grip on her upper arm.

Emma regained balance and she could feel the blush spread across her chest as she looked up at her rescuer. Regina had raised an eyebrow, and Emma was sure the color in her cheeks rapidly went from pink to beet red. God, she looks so attractive when she does that. It’s not fair.

“Thanks,” Emma muttered half-heartedly.

Regina released her grip on Emma’s upper arm, and the blonde could see how she moved her lips and formed a single word. 'Careful'.

“Yeah,” Emma said awkwardly and rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m chronically clumsy. Did I almost throttle you?”

Regina shook her head in negative.

“Oh. Good,” Emma said. Now she was rubbing her upper arm. I swear she just made my skin heat up.

Another message was announced over the speaker: “You have now arrived at Vancouver station. We thank you for having travelled with us, and we hope you’ve had a pleasant journey.”

Emma glanced at Regina again. Yeah, my journey has been more than pleasant. A pity it’ll be over in a second.

After a moment or so, the doors to the train opened, and everyone, eager to get there first, started to push and elbow their way over to the closest door. Emma too did some pushing of her own. Now and then she looked back, but she couldn’t see Regina anywhere. Maybe the brunette had headed towards a different door than Emma had.

“Watch it,” the blonde said tightly to a child who pushed at the back of her knees. She could have sworn it was the same kid as the one she had met when she first stepped aboard this train. She heard the mother scold the child, but Emma didn’t bother to look back. Instead she focused on the task at hand. Getting out of the door. The people pushing around her suddenly made Emma feel a bit claustrophobic. She wanted to get out of the train right now, and more than once, she used her large backpack to shove people out of the way.

Stepping out on the platform helped. It eased some of the claustrophobia she was feeling. The air was chilly. Emma shivered and wished she had worn her parka coat instead of her leather jacket. But of course her parka coat was packed away in the very bottom of her backpack, and the idea of going through all her junk to find it was less than appealing.

Emma stretched her neck in an attempt to spot Regina, but she couldn’t spot the brunette in the crowd of people saying their hellos and hugging.

Where the hell did she go? Did she just vanish? Or did I seriously just manage to loose her in the crowd. Incredible. Well done, Swan. Emma groaned quietly and felt tempted to clap a hand over her forehead. I swear to god, if I seriously managed to loose her.... Emma could barely believe her own stupidity. Well, now I’ll never get her phone number. Great. Just great.

Emma knew that she couldn’t keep hovering on the platform. It would be pitch black soon. She would like to be on her way before that happened. The blonde fumbled to find her phone for a moment and then she wrestled it out of her pocket. Her Wi-Fi was back. And both her Instagram and Tinder was exploding. Emma ignored all the notifications and stepped aside so she wasn’t standing in the way, but there wasn’t many places to go, and so people kept colliding with her as she tried to google the number of the nearest taxi company. Emma glared at most them, and then she hissed a bit under her breath. She couldn’t concentrate when people kept running into her.

Finally, Emma got enough peace and quiet to actually dial the number to the taxi company, but when she brought the phone up to her ear and waited, there was no response in the other end. Emma gnashed her teeth in pure frustration. Great. Wonderful. Fucking fantastic. What was she supposed to do now? She couldn’t just walk. Steveston was too far away. The blonde adjusted her backpack slightly, and then she started to weasel her way through the crowd. Her plan was to either find a bus or a taxi to Steveston.

But she hadn’t gotten very far before something caught her attention. A redheaded woman wearing a thick, green fur coat so distinguishable it was impossible not to spot it. She was in the company of a young boy. He was nine, maybe ten years old, and he was clearly struggling to keep still. In fact he was bouncing slightly on his feet clearly ready to run, and the redhead put a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from doing so.

When Emma got closer, she clearly heard the boy ask: “where is she, aunt Z?”

“I’m sure she’ll be right here, sweet pea,” the redhead said patiently.

“The place is really crowded,” the boy pointed out, sounding concerned. “Maybe she can’t see us?”

“Then she’ll text us,” the aunt soothed.

Emma reminded herself that she actually had better things to do than listening in on a conversation between a young boy and his aunt. She should be on her way to find either a bus or a taxi. But she completely forgot what she was focusing on when the young boy suddenly yelled: “Mom!”

Emma turned her head just in time to see the boy force his way through the crowd. His aunt yelled something, but the boy didn’t pay attention. Instead he sprinted the rest of the way. It was a little difficult to keep track of his sprint due to how crowded the station was, but eventually Emma found him again, and to her enormous surprise, she saw the young boy barrel straight towards Regina and then throw himself into her waiting arms. Emma’s jaw dropped slightly. Regina has a kid? Wow. Okay. Did not see that coming. As in at all. Emma tried to wrap her head around this newest development as she discreetly watched the reunion between mother and son. It was clearly a reunion that had been a long time in the making. Emma saw how Regina squeezed the boy tightly and then crouched down as she covered his cheeks and forehead and kisses. The boy laughed, but the sound was a bit choked up. Was he crying? Emma tilted her head slightly as she inched closer so she could see the boys face more clearly. Yes, he was most definitely crying. And so was Regina. Her cheeks were wet, but she was smiling all the same. She kissed the boy’s cheeks again.

Emma saw the redhead in the green furry coat coming towards mother and son. She patted the boy on the back and then said: “alright, little man. My turn.”

The boy only reluctantly released his grip around Regina’s waist, and he kept clutching on to her hand as the redhead hugged his mother. Tightly, Emma noted. And the redhead looked quite choked up too as she released Regina and then kissed her on the cheek. “Oh, baby sis. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

“How was the train ride?” the young boy asked at the same time.

Emma saw how intensely he looked at his mother, and then he laughed a bit and said: “really? Cool. At least you weren’t bored then.”

Emma felt confused for a moment, but then she saw how Regina moved her hands, and the blonde connected the dots. Regina was using sign language to communicate with her son, and the son clearly
had no problem with understanding what his mother was saying.

Suddenly Regina turned around, and Emma didn’t even have the time to avert her eyes and pretend she wasn’t listening in before Regina walked towards her along with her son and the redhead.

Once close enough, Regina flashed Emma a smile.

Emma smiled back. “Hi. I was just... looking for a cab. Or a bus.”

Regina frowned and then turned to her sister. Emma saw how Regina’s hands moved once more. The redhead frowned a bit, nodded slowly, and Regina moved her hands again. Then the redhead smiled,
and her nod seemed more final this time. She turned to Emma and said: “my sister would like to know if you’d be interested in getting a ride to Steveston?”

Emma looked at Regina. “Seriously?”

Regina nodded in affirmative and smiled.

“That would be great,” Emma said in earnestly. “But you guys really don’t have to, I don’t wanna intrude or any-“

Regina held a hand up to silence her and then she motioned for Emma to come along.

Emma immediately did as requested. Regina, the redhead and the little boy were walking in front of her. The redhead was carrying Regina’s suitcase, and the little boy was holding on to Regina’s hand tightly. To Emma, it seemed as though he was scared to let go of his mother again......

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

The redhead, whose name Emma didn’t know lead them towards a large black Mercedes, and once they reached the car, the redhead turned to Regina and asked: “Do you want to drive, sis?”

Regina shook her head in negative, and the redhead nodded. “Alright. I’ll do it then. You’re probably tired after the long journey and all, am I right?”

Regina nodded this time.

The redhead unlocked the doors, and the boy climbed into the backseat. Regina followed suit, and the redhead stuffed Regina’s suitcase into the trunk of the car. Then she turned towards Emma and motioned towards her backpack. “Here, let me grab that for you.”

“Thanks,” Emma said and felt how her shoulders uncurled when relieved of the extra weight.

“You don’t mind the passengers’ seat, do you?” the redhead asked. “Normally, Henry wants to sit up front, but today is a bit of a special case.”

“The passengers’ seat is fine,” Emma said and saw how the redhead smiled as she watched Regina and the little boy in the backseat. Henry. The boys name was Henry. Regina had a son called Henry.
Emma still was a bit surprised at that discovery, but she also wondered why she hadn’t considered the possibility that Regina could potentially have kids.

Emma climbed into the passenger’s seat. The redhead got behind the wheel and then started the car. She maneuvered the Mercedes out of the parking lot, and Emma glanced in the mirror and saw the station disappear.

“I can understand that you and Regina met in the train?” the redhead asked as she adjusted the mirror.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Emma nodded. “We met right after the journey started. I was in Regina’s seat.”

The redhead chuckled at that. “And your name is Emma.”

“That’s right,” Emma confirmed. “Emma Swan.”

“Emma Swan,” the redhead repeated and smiled. “My name is Zelena. I’m Regina’s sister. Or half-sister, but details, details. It’s nice to meet you. I’m glad my sister found someone to share the train ride with.”

“Yeah. It’s been nice to have someone to hang out with,” Emma said truthfully.

Zelena smiled and nodded and then said: “so next stop Steveston and Eugenia’s Inn.”

“It’s really nice of you to give me a ride,” Emma said quickly. “But I could just have taken a bus or something.”

“Oh pish posh,” Zelena said dismissively. “Steveston isn’t so far away and can’t very well say no to Regina when she’s being that insistent.” The redhead chuckled, and Emma saw in the mirror how Regina narrowed her eyes slightly and then moved her hands again.

Zelena laughed again. “I’m not being ridiculous, sis. You were being insistent.”

Regina signed something again, but this time Zelena didn’t translate. Instead she simply laughed once more.

Zelena was driving rather fast, and Emma abandoned trying to see the road drift past them. Instead she glanced in the mirror again. As discreetly as she could, she looked at Regina and her son. Regina looked very comfortable as she sat in the backseat with her head tipped back slightly. The boy, Henry was resting his head on her shoulder, and he was still clinging onto Regina’s glove clad hand. Now and then he shifted to look up at his mother, and every time he did that, Regina willingly met his eyes and smiled reassuringly. Emma felt as though she was witnessing something deeply private, and she quickly looked out of the window again.

“So, Emma,” Zelena said briskly. “What brings you to Vancouver?”

“Oh, uhmm... different circumstances, I guess,” Emma said halfheartedly.

“You’re from Toronto?” Zelena asked

“I am,” Emma confirmed.

“But you felt like going somewhere else?”

“Yeah.” Emma said simply. Zelena was clearly the curious type.

“What do you do?” Zelena asked.

Emma almost chuckled. Yup, definitely curious. “I’m a writer. Well, at least I’m trying to be one. I haven’t actually had anything published yet, but I’m hoping to get the chance once the book is finished.”

“What do you write then?” Zelena asked, and her eyes flickered to the mirror.

Emma quickly understood why. Regina was currently signing something.

“I am not interrogating her,” Zelena huffed, “I’m just trying to be friendly.”

Emma laughed. “It’s fine. I write fairy tales. Or, twisted fairy tales. I like to play around with the characters and modernize and re-event things.”

“You write fairy tales?” Henry exclaimed. “That’s so cool!”

Emma chuckled slightly. “Thanks. I hope other people will think that too.”

“Henry loves fairytales,” Zelena said, and now she sounded a bit overbearing. “Isn’t that right, Hen?”

“Yes,” Henry said and sounded very much like a boy who was defending his choices. “And I don’t care what you think, aunt Z, I’m not too old to read fairy tales!”

Zelena looked like she disagreed.

Regina scowled a bit at her sister, and then her fingers moved quickly in the air. It was almost like her fingers were dancing, and Emma quickly became a bit dizzy as she tried to keep up, but Henry clearly didn’t have the same problem. He watched his mother intensely and then said: “fairy tales are important for both children and adults. They teach about different cultures, different ways of doing things.
They teach children about cultural differences in the world and encourages them to explore their curiosity and urges them to learn new things and experience new places. They also teaches that a person who comes from nothing can turn their life around. Fairy tales teaches right from wrong and teaches that good will always win. Maybe that’s not always true, but it still teaches a very important lesson: be the hero, and not the villain. Fairy tales can help children deal with their emotions, and finally, they allow everyone, children and adults to run away from whatever reality they’re facing, fairy tales gives the reader hope, and I don’t see how anyone can ever be too old to have hope and feel uplifted. As you never become too old to dream. So really, Zelena, what you’re saying doesn’t make a wink of sense.”

The boy took a deep breath and then looked at his mother. “Did I get all that right, mom?”

Regina nodded proudly and ruffled his hair. Emma saw the brunette’s lips move, and then Henry laughed and said: “thanks, mom.”

Zelena rolled her eyes. “Alright, jeez. I don’t remember asking for a lecture, Regina.”

Regina’s fingers moved in the air once more, and then Henry chuckled as he said: “But you got one anyway.”

Zelena rolled her eyes again and shook her head, muttering under her breath.

Emma glanced at mother and son in the backseat once more. Henry had put his head on Regina’s shoulder once more. “I’ve missed you, mom.”

In response, Regina put an arm around Henry’s shoulder and squeezed a bit.

“So have I, but I haven’t missed your lectures.” Zelena muttered.

Regina looked up and moved her fingers in the air.

“Yes you have,” Henry translated with a snigger. “She says you’re a liar.”

“Well, I’ve never...” Zelena said, but Emma saw how she flashed Regina a big smile in the mirror. Zelena’s green eyes were overflowing with tenderness for her little sister. She was clearly beyond thrilled to have Regina back.

Emma leaned back in the car seat. She couldn’t help but wonder what had caused their separation. It had to be a longer separation. Otherwise Henry wouldn’t act like this, right? He wouldn’t be clutching his mother’s hand as though he was fearing another separation.

Emma glanced discreetly at the brunette. She knew Regina had been in Toronto. But for what purpose? And for how long? No matter how much Emma considered it, she couldn’t come up with an answer.

Regina was a mystery. A beautiful mystery. A mystery, Emma wanted to uncover more than anything. She wanted to stay in contact with Regina, but exactly how was she supposed to ask for Regina’s number when both Regina’s son and sister were present? The thought alone made Emma feel uncomfortable. She didn’t know how to do this She glanced discreetly at Henry. Was he and Regina on their way to reunite with a father? Emma swallowed something. Henry didn’t just pop out of nowhere. Of course there had to be a father somewhere. Damn. You really know how to pick ‘em, Swan. Either they were just “experimenting” like that woman Emma had ended in bed with, or secretly looking for a way out like Lily, or they already had a family like Regina. Emma sighed quietly.

The drive continued. Zelena asked Emma several questions, and Emma mentioned how Regina had recommended her to contact Malena from Dragon Publishing to maybe get a job there. Zelena nodded eagerly and confirmed what Regina already had. That Mal was always looking for new people who loved books as she did.

When Zelena didn’t talk, Henry did. He eagerly told Regina about all the things he had done in school, and to Emma it seemed like the little boy was giving his mother a full report. He was filling her in on all the things she had missed. But he never said anything about where Regina had been, and what had kept her away for what Emma guessed was a longer period of time. Emma was itching to ask questions she had no business asking. Questions that were far too personal considering how she and Regina had only known each other for three days. Emma felt annoyed. And she probably had no business being that either. But she couldn’t help it. She was annoyed that she sooner rather than later would have to get out of this car. She was annoyed that she had to see the Mercedes drive away, she was annoyed that she didn’t know when she was gonna see Regina again. And most of all she was annoyed that she couldn’t ask for Regina’s phone number right here and now.

Emma clenched her jaw slightly, fiddled with the strings on her backpack. She heard her phone go off in her pocket, but Emma didn’t bother checking the message. It was probably just Mary Margaret, but that problem would soon be taken care of. Emma had every intention of changing her number as soon as she had settled at the inn. Change her number, contact Mal from Dragon Publishing, not think about Regina. That was Emma’s general plan for the day, and she had every intention of sticking to it. Come hell or highwater.

Emma looked in the rearview mirror. She made eye contact with Regina and flashed the brunette a little smile. Regina returned the smile, and Emma felt a million butterflies flutter around somewhere behind her navel.

 

******************

 

The car journey ended. Of course it did. Zelena almost startled Emma when she announced “Steveston!”

Emma looked out of the window as they crossed the town line to one of the cutest little towns she had ever seen in her life. Steveston was the picture tranquility. So idyllic, so picture perfect. For a moment
Emma felt like the luckiest bastard on earth, and not particularly annoyed.

It was a little fisher village. Exactly like Regina had described it. There was a beautiful harbor, and once they drove down Main Street, Emma saw a pawnbroker, a library, a grocery store, an ice cream store, a flower shop, a pharmacy and a few hardware stores. Emma was impressed by the bell tower, but generally, she was impressed at the entire town. It was the sweetest little place Emma ever had seen.

“It’s a very small town,” Zelena said. “But very sweet and peaceful. I’m sure you can find some inspiration for your stories here.”

“I’m absolutely sure I can,” Emma said and smiled. “This place is perfect.”

“There’s also a few places for sale,” Zelena said. “So if you’re thinking about settling down permanently here, it won’t be a problem at all.”

Emma chuckled. “Well, right now, I’m definitely tempted.”

“And there’s an animal shelter too,” Zelena continued. “So if you should feel the urge to get a furry companion, that wouldn’t be a problem either.”

Emma chuckled again. “Okay, now I’m really tempted.” She had wanted a dog ever since her early childhood, but Mary Margaret hadn’t allowed it. Too many germs, she had said. And too much mess. She
didn’t have the time or urge to run around after a dog, and thus she had rejected Emma’s wishes.

“There is a medical clinic just off Main Street,” Zelena said. “But it’s very small, so if there should be an emergency, you’d have to phone for an ambulance to get taken to the nearest hospital.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“And there’s a garage too,” Zelena continued. “You won’t have any problems finding a car.”

“Great,” Emma said. She had saved up enough money to buy a car. Obviously, not a big one or anything, but nevertheless she could afford a car. That felt good to know.

“And what else is there...” Zelena continued and frowned slightly. “It’s been over five years since I was last here, so things are a little hazy...” she considered it for a second and then continued: “right, of course. There’s a sheriff’s department and a park and a beautiful forest area. Ideal for picnics.”

Emma chuckled. The redhead was starting to sound ever so slightly like a tourist guide.

“And last but not least, there’s Eugenia’s Inn,” Zelena announced as they pulled up in front of a beautiful, grey building.

Emma looked at the place. It looked very nice. Kinda old fashioned. Really charming like the rest of the town. “Great,” Emma said and suddenly felt a bit uneasy. This was it. Journey’s end. Now she was supposed to thank Regina and Zelena for the ride, grab her stuff, say goodbye and then go into the B&B. Emma felt nervous. This was a completely new place, and no matter how nice and charming the little town looked, there was no way of telling how things would go. But she couldn’t very well sit frozen in this car. The blonde firmly told herself to pull herself together and then she flashed Zelena another smile as she opened the door and stepped outside. She went round to the back of the car, opened the trunk and then hauled her backpack out. This is it. Now I’m supposed to say goodbye and watch them drive away.

Emma slung her backpack over her shoulder and went round the Mercedes once more, but before she could get the chance to say anything, she saw that the door to the backseat was open, and Regina was stepping outside. She typed something on her phone, and then turned the screen towards Emma.

Emma squinted a bit when she saw Regina’s bright screen in the darkness. Then she read the message: ‘would you mind if I went in there with you? It’s been a while since I last saw Eugenia, and I’d like to say hello to her before we leave again.’

Emma’s anxiety melted away, and she smiled broadly as she nodded and said: “yeah, sure. Of course you can go in with me.”

“Can I come with you?” Henry asked and leaned out of the open door. “Please?”

Regina frowned a bit, and then her fingers danced in the air once more.

Henry didn’t look satisfied at the answer. “But mom...”

“Hen, your mom will be right back,” Zelena promised. “She’s just going in there to say hello to Eugenia. It won’t take very long.”

Henry looked up at Regina with his big brown eyes. “You promise.”

Regina nodded in affirmative and moved her fingers once more.

“Ooookay,” Henry said and leaned back in his seat.

Regina turned her attention back to Emma and made a little “shall we?”-gesture with her head.

Emma nodded and followed the brunette as she began walking towards the inn.

The place was equally as cozy on the inside. Especially the wallpaper caught Emma’s attention. Grey forest wallpaper. It gave a certain fairytale vibe. Emma already felt inspired to write on her collection of twisted tales.

After having admired the wallpaper for a second, Emma turned her attention towards the desk in the middle of the diner. An elderly quite boxy woman was standing behind the desk, clearly in the middle of some sort of argument with someone who was in the backroom. Emma could hear the other person yell something back, and from what she could hear, it was a young woman. The grey-haired woman behind the counter barked back in response. She was clearly unhappy with the length of the younger woman’s skirt. From what Emma could hear, she wanted the young woman to change to something “that doesn’t make it look like you’re on the menu!”, and to that the young woman shouted back that “at least she didn’t dress like Norman Bates when he was dressed as his mother!” the elderly woman behind the counter puffed out her cheeks in response, and Emma saw how her face got an alarming shade of red.

Emma found their little exchange to be incredibly amusing and she had almost forgotten why she was there, but then Regina crossed the room and pressed the little bell on the counter once.

The elderly woman behind the counter immediately abandoned the argument and turned her attention to the newcomers instead. When she saw Regina, she reacted by slamming her palm flatly against the counter, clearly stunned at what she saw.

Regina flashed her a little smile.

“As I live and breathe...” the grey-haired woman said as she quickly came round the counter. “Regina Mills!” once close enough, she put her hands on Regina’s shoulder for a moment before engulfing her in what could only be described as a big ol’ hug.

Emma saw how Regina returned the embrace and smiled as she patted the elderly woman on the back. Next Emma heard a voice call from the back room: “gran? Granny, what happened? What was that sound?”

“Come see for yourself,” “granny” called back.

There were some shuffling, and then a young brunette emerged from the back room. She was wearing a white top, a very short red shirt with a little apron over it, and she had red streaks in her hair. She was probably slightly younger than Emma. She squealed loudly when she saw Regina, exclaimed “no way!” and then rushed over to Regina to hug her. If Emma didn’t know better, she would say that this was another family reunion. Or at least something that looked like one.

“I just can’t believe it!” the young brunette exclaimed as she released her grip on Regina. “After all this time! How are you doing? Are you okay?”

Regina smiled and nodded in affirmative. The young brunette hugged her once more for good measurement, and finally, the elderly woman standing next to them turned her head and spotted Emma.

“Oh,” she said as she quickly took her glasses off, wiped them and then put them back on her nose. “You must be Emma...?”

“Swan,” Emma said. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“You’re the one who called about a room,” the young brunette said as she finally released Regina.

“Yeah,” Emma confirmed with a slight nod.

The young brunette shook her head a little. “Incredible. You’re the first one to rent a room in months.”

“Ruby!” the elderly woman barked. “Kindly stop making our inn sound unattractive to our new guest.”

Ruby glared.

The elderly woman ignored her and flashed Emma a warm smile. “Welcome, miss Swan. My name is Eugenia Wolf, and that rude creature is my sweet granddaughter Ruby.”

Ruby glared again, but then she sobered up and flashed Emma a smile. “Hi, and welcome. We Wolf’s tends to make a horrible first impression, but I promise you, Granny isn’t as bad as she sound.”

“Ruby!” Eugenia hissed. “One more word out of your mouth and I’ll fire you, young lady!”

“And what, run the place all alone?” Ruby nonchalantly shot back.

Eugenia muttered something about finding better waitresses another place, but when Ruby flashed her a smile, she softened considerably and flashed her granddaughter a smile in return.

“See, not as bad as she appears,” Ruby sniggered.

Emma tried very hard not to snigger too.

Eugenia ignored her granddaughter and focused on Emma as she said: “I’m afraid our rooms aren’t very big...”

“That’s totally fine,” Emma assured. “I don’t require lot of space.”

The grey-haired woman smiled as she reached underneath the desk and found a key. A very pretty and antique looking key. As she handed it to Emma she said: “I’ve chosen room number seven for you. It has a lovely view over the square. I hope you don’t mind that. But if you prefer forest view-“

“Square view is fine,” Emma quickly assured as she weighed the key in her hand. It felt good to have a place to stay.

“Good,” Eugenia said, smiling once more. “I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here.”

“I’m absolutely sure I will,” Emma said. “Regina was adamant that this is the best place.”

Eugenia clicked her tongue as she looked at Regina. “You shouldn’t go around and spread lies, young lady!”

Regina just smiled and shrugged lightly.

Emma smiled too. It was a little funny to hear the posh and refined Regina be referred to as “young lady”. Emma already liked Eugenia and her boisterous way of being, and if Ruby was just one bit like her grandmother, Emma would have no problem with liking her either.

“Is that all your luggage?” Ruby asked and nodded towards Emma’s backpack.

“Yep,” Emma said.

“Hmm. You travel lightly,” Ruby said and flicked a lock of brown-red hair behind her ear. “But that’s fine by me. Less stuff for me to carry when I help you to your room. Want me to take you there now?”

Emma knew that time was up. Now she was really supposed to say goodbye to Regina and let Ruby show her to the room. Emma shifted on her feet and glanced at Regina. She had never been very good at saying goodbye. Actually, she had tried to avoid it for most of her life, but now... Saying goodbye had never felt quite as meaningful and important and right now.

“Do you want me to show you the room?” Ruby asked again.

Eugenia’s steel grey gaze landed on her granddaughter. “Didn’t you have some things to attend to in the backroom?”

“But I always show our guests to their room,” Ruby pointed out.

Eugenia shrugged. “I’ll do that. I’m pretty sure I can hear some boxes screaming your name in the backroom. If I were you, I’d go back in there and check what all the screaming is about.”

Ruby rolled her eyes, muttered a “fine!” and then disappeared into the backroom once more.

Once she was gone, Eugenia emerged from behind the counter once more. She nodded towards Emma’s backpack. “Why don’t I bring that into your room? It looks heavy.”

“Oh, umm, thanks,” Emma said as Eugenia without much further ado grabbed the backpack and relieved Emma of the extra weight.

Eugenia disappeared up a wooden staircase with Emma’s backpack, and once Emma couldn’t hear the elderly woman’s footsteps anymore, she turned to Regina.

“They seem like really nice people,” she said.

Regina nodded and smiled in affirmative. She found her phone in her pocket and then tapped a bit on it for a moment. Then she turned the screen towards Emma: ‘Eugenia can be a tad eccentric from time to time, but she’s the sweetest, most helpful person you’ll come across. And Ruby is the same. They fight like cat and dog, but don’t let that fool you.’

Emma chuckled a bit and then said: “thanks for the ride. It was really nice of you.”

Regina just shrugged a bit, tapped on her phone and then turned the screen towards Emma. ‘It was the least I could do after what you’ve done.’

“I didn’t really do anything,” Emma pointed out.

Regina tapped on her phone again, smiled a bit and then turned the screen once more: ‘You gave me someone to communicate with during the trip. That meant a lot.’

Now Emma was the one to shrug. “I was more than happy to do that. You made this trip a lot less boring. I don’t think anyone has ever managed to keep me so entertained.”

The corners of Regina’s mouth twitched in amusement. She turned the screen, tapped, and then turned the screen towards Emma again. ‘That’s very impressive given how little I’ve said during the trip.’

Emma immediately looked up and scanned the brunette’s face. Regina shook her head and her dark eyes gleamed with humor and self-irony. Emma immediately relaxed once she realized that Regina was in fact making a joke.

“Well...” the blonde said and shifted slightly once more.

Regina just nodded a bit.

Emma fidgeted slightly. She was beginning to feel a bit ridiculous. Their conversation seemed to have come to a natural ending. Emma couldn’t think of anything else to say. Well, she could, but most of them were silly, and besides, Regina’s family was waiting for her in the car. Emma was keeping the brunette here for no apparent reason.

“Well then,” Emma said again. Now she felt pathetic. Pink cheeked like a schoolgirl with a silly crush. And the fact that she was trying to pluck up the courage to ask Regina for her phone number, only added to that feeling. Suddenly, Emma was taken right back to her high school years where she asked out Maya Hendricks. And was rejected. Emma had been sixteen at the time, hormones had been racing around in her body, and she had been crushing on Maya Hendricks for months.

Maya had rejected her. She had even laughed while doing so.

Emma forced herself to snap out of it. She wasn’t in high school anymore. She was a grown ass woman, and it was about time she started acting like one.

But unfortunately, her epiphany came a bit too late. Emma snapped out of it just in time to see Regina offer her a smile. The brunette lightly touched the top of Emma’s shoulder, and then she turned around and started to walk towards the door.

Emma felt a completely unexpected surge of panic as she saw Regina walk away. She knew that if she wanted to act, she had to do it right now. “CanIhaveyourphonenumber?!”

Regina turned around and frowned in confusion. Emma couldn’t blame her. That was smooth, Swan. Real smooth. Emma knew that she sometimes was awkward, but this definitely took the cake.
CanIhaveyourphonenumber. Nice. Real nice.

Emma’s cheeks heated up in a way that made her think it would be possible to fry eggs on them. But she couldn’t exactly take her words back.

Regina came towards her once more. She was still frowning a bit as she found her phone in her pocket and began tapping away. She didn’t exactly tap for a long time, but longer than it would take to simply write “no”. Emma felt optimistic for a second. And then she thought of the fact that Regina could be in the middle of fabricating a long explanation why Emma couldn’t have her phone number. But when the screen was turned towards her, Emma wasn’t confronted with a long explanation. ‘I’m sorry, could you repeat that for me?’

“Uhmm...” Emma felt like an awkward teenager again. She shifted slightly, uncomfortably. “I was just wondering whether I could have your phone number?” Please don’t say no!

Regina’s lips parted in an “oh”-manner, and she looked a bit amused as she began tapping away on her phone once more. Soon the screen was turned towards Emma. ‘Funny you should say that. I was just about to ask for yours. I know we don’t know each other that well, but I would like to be updated on how you settle in here and how everything goes with your book and your meeting with Mal, if that’s okay?’

Emma grinned like an idiot. Yes, that would be more than okay! “I’d like that.”

Regina smiled and then she turned the screen, tapped, turned the screen again and showed Emma that she was making a new contact. She indicated that she was ready to add Emma’s number to her contacts, and Emma quickly gave the brunette her number. She felt all kinds of warm and excited when she saw Regina carefully add the number to her contacts.

“So... Can I have yours?” Emma asked.

Regina didn’t answer. Instead she tapped some more on her phone, and soon Emma felt her own phone vibrate in her pocket.

Regina chuckled a bit, and Emma did the same when she quickly connected the dots. “Thanks.”

Regina offered a slight nod, and Emma saw her dark eyes flicker towards the door. Emma immediately understood that Regina wanted to get back to her son, and the blonde quickly said: “well, I should probably go upstairs and check out that room.”

Regina nodded once more.

“Thanks for keeping me company during the train ride,” Emma said earnestly. “I was afraid of ending up next to someone.... not nice.”

Regina smiled and bowed her head slightly. Then she shrugged in a “it was my pleasure”-way. It was fascinating, really. Emma had never been one for paying much attention to body language. At least not until now.

Sensing that time was more than up, Emma said: “well.... Goodbye then. I guess I’ll... See you around? For coffee like we talked about?”

Regina nodded and pointed lightly to Emma’s phone and then back to her own.

Emma immediately understood. “Yeah. I’ll text you.”

Regina smiled again, offered Emma another nod, and then she turned around and walked towards the door. This time Emma let her leave without calling out to her, but the blonde definitely felt sad when she watched Regina walk away. Maybe that was the whole problem. Maybe she shouldn’t indulge in the self-torture it was to watch Regina walk away. Emma spun around on her heels and walked up the wooden staircase.

She easily found room number seven. The door was left ajar, and Emma found Eugenia inside the room. The elderly woman was currently grumbling under her breath as she angrily wiped at a spot on the wooden desk in the far left corner.

Emma looked around in the room. It was modest, yes, but also incredibly cozy. In the right corner stood a bed with a cutesy flower printed bedspread. The wallpaper was the same grey forest motive as the one in the restaurant downstairs. There was a wooden desk, a nightstand and a dresser. Emma found it to be absolutely perfect.

Eugenia turned around and smiled as she met Emma’s eyes. “Well, there isn’t much room in here, but...”

“It’s perfect,” Emma interrupted and smiled at the woman. “Absolutely perfect.”

Eugenia returned the smile. “There’s a bathroom just down the hall. Both shower and bath, and there isn’t anyone living here at the moment, so you’ll have it all to yourself.”

“Sounds good.”

Eugenia nodded towards the window. “I’ve opened the window. The room was a bit cluttered. And I’ve left you some fresh towels in the dresser. I’ll leave you to unpack, but if you need anything, I’ll be right downstairs.”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Eugenia smiled and then left.

Emma quickly grabbed her backpack and began to unpack. It didn’t take very long. All she needed to do was to put her clothes away in the dresser and then find a place to plug in her laptop.

Once that was done, Emma lied down on the bed. Her intention had been to get a five minute long powernap, but when she woke up, a half an hour had passed. Emma felt completely groggy. Going right back to sleep had been tempting, but instead of doing that, Emma forced herself out of bed. She opened the drawer and found her sweatpants, tanktop and clean underwear. Then she found a large, fluffy, white towel and headed into the bathroom.

The hot water helped some. Emma felt a bit less sleepy when she switched the water off and wrenched water out of her hair. She had forgotten her hairbrush in the room, but she had brought a hair tie.

She wrapped the towel around herself as she pulled her hair back into a messy bun on top of her head. Then she toweled herself off and put on the fresh set of clothes.

Emma inspected her face in the mirror. She looked a bit tired. But hopefully nothing a night of sleep wouldn’t help with. Emma wanted to be perky tomorrow. She had many things to attend to. She had to call Malena from Dragon Publishing. That was important. And she wanted to go for a walk in Steveston. Get a little familiar with her surroundings. Zelena’s “guided tour” had been fine, but it had been pitch black when they arrived. Emma was looking forward to seeing the place in brought daylight.

After having tucked a few strand locks of hair behind her ears, Emma grabbed the towel and returned to her own room.

She left the towel on the radiator so it could dry, and then Emma closed the window. Maybe it was a bit cluttered in here, but it was a pretty chilly night. Emma didn’t want to freeze. She looked at the bed.
That was a very comfortable bed. Emma couldn’t wait to climb into it later and get some proper shuteye.

That was when her stomach growled. Languidly and insistently. Emma could suddenly feel how hungry she was. She had actually intended on settling down for the evening. Maybe write a bit, call Ella and then call it a night. But it seemed like her stomach had other plans. Plans that involved eating. Emma sighed quietly. She really was a bottomless pit. A bottomless pit that needed to be filled. She couldn’t just move along with her plans. She had to eat.

Emma left her room and padded down the hallway. She wasn’t particularly excited about the fact that she had to leave her room in sweatpants and with wet hair, but she was too tired to change her clothes. And to hungry. She had seen some pretty delicious cakes on display at the front desk. She knew she should be opting for something healthy, but those cakes were simply too delicious looking.
Emma had to try one.

The restaurant was empty when she came downstairs. Emma was just about to call out when she heard voices from the backroom. Two voices. Emma was able identify one of them. Ruby. She didn’t know who the other voice belonged to, but it was definitely a woman’s voice, and as far as Emma could determine, the woman had to be roughly at the same age as Ruby. So maybe it was a fellow waitress or one of Ruby’s friends. Emma could also hear the faint scraping sound of boxes being shuffled around in the backroom. Emma moved towards the desk and was just about to ring the little bell when she heard a snippet of the conversation that made her stop and listen instead:

“-And was that really Regina’s Mercedes I saw drive away when I came round the corner?”

“Yep,” Ruby confirmed. “She had recommended this place to a woman and was just here to drop her off.”

“So she’s going back to Vancouver?” the other female voice asked.

“Seems like it,” Ruby said and panted slightly. Emma heard more scuffling. Boxes being moved around.

“And how is she doing?” the unknown female inquired.

The shuffling stopped. “She’s the same,” Ruby said after a moment of hesitation.

A low thud as though someone was sitting down heavily on a box. Then the other female spoke again: “really? So she’s still- I mean, she still can’t-“

“Nope,” Ruby said shortly.

Emma heard a sigh. “I feel so sorry for her,” the other female said. “It must be awful to just-“

BANG! The rest of the sentence drowned when a door on the left was slammed open. Eugenia Wolf emerged and walked straight into the backroom without announcing herself. She didn’t even see Emma, and a moment later Emma heard the elderly woman bark: “that’s enough! I’m paying you two to work not gossip!”

“Sorry,” the unknown female mumbled.

“Yeah sorry, Granny,” Ruby said.

Emma’s head was swimming with thoughts, and even though she didn’t like gossip, she would have done almost everything to hear the rest of that conversation. ‘She’s the same.’ She still can’t’.... Can’t what? Talk? Was that what their conversation was about What does it mean? Had Regina been away to have something done about her missing voice? Was that what was going on? Or had Emma misunderstood the conversation completely?

Emma heard Eugenia mutter something under her breath, and the blonde finally remembered what she came here to do. She pushed the bell once, and Eugenia immediately emerged from the backroom. She was all smiles as she asked Emma if there was something she could help with.

Emma got her cake, thanked Eugenia and then went back upstairs to her room.

As she munched on her cake, Emma checked her phone and smiled when she saw the text Regina had send her a while ago. It was her number. Emma considered to send a thank you in return, but it was pretty late now. Maybe Regina was asleep.

Emma put her phone down and sat down on the bed. She took another bite of the cake and wondered about the conversation she had just overheard. It seemed as though the mystery was deepening with each day that went by. Emma frowned as she quickly thought about what she knew about Regina. She knew that Regina couldn’t speak. She knew that the brunette wasn’t born like that. She knew that there had been some sort of accident. Emma thought of the way not only Henry but also Eugenia and Ruby had hugged Regina. They hadn’t seen her in a while. Had Regina been away? Did her absence have anything to do with her missing voice? Had she been away to have her voice restored? Did other people know what had happened to Regina? Emma considered it. There had been something in the way Eugenia had looked at Regina. Something in her eyes. Emma had a hunch that Eugenia Wolf knew what had happened to Regina.

Emma swallowed the last piece of cake and flopped back on the bed. She pushed a lock of wet hair away from her face. Then she filled her lungs with air and puffed the air out. Would she even be able to fall asleep now? Or was there a chance that Regina Mills would roam around in her head all night?

Yeah, probably...........

 

To Be Continued...........

Chapter Text

Lack of noise.

That was the first thing Emma picked up on the next morning. How quiet everything was. She could hear no faint rattling from the train moving, and she couldn’t hear any children shout as they ran past her sleep cabin.

Emma stretched and yawned. She had slept like a baby last night. She smiled a little as she heard a bird or two chirp outside. How idyllic and cozy. She felt very little desire to leave this comfortable bed, but she knew that sooner or later, hunger would force her to do just that.

The blonde outstretched a hand and fumbled for a second. Then she found her phone on the nightstand. Blinking slightly she checked to see if she had received any messages. She had. Two from Ella, and fifteen from Mary Margaret. Emma groaned quietly. The messages were roughly the same. Where are you? Why won’t you answer my calls? Spoke to Ella again. She claims she doesn’t know where you are, but I know she’s lying! Why are you trying to hurt me, Emma? Don’t you know how worried your father and I are? And what about your new brother? Do you really want him to grow up without knowing his sister? I can’t believe how selfish you are! You’ve given me no choice but to contact the police now, Emma! I don’t know whether you’re interested in knowing or not, but I’ve been unable to sleep for four days! Not knowing where you are drives me crazy!

Emma sat the phone down on the nightstand again. Yeah, I can imagine it does. She could easily imagine how awful it must be for Mary Margaret to lose control over the situation. And Emma.

Emma decided to pack the Mary Margaret problem far, far away. This was her first morning in a new town. She wanted to go out and explore. Not worry about things in Toronto. The blonde hopped out of bed and opened the little wooden dresser to find some clothes. She dug out a pair of light wash jeans and a cream colored sweater. As she took off her sweatpants and traded them for the jeans, her gaze fell on the phone again, and she frowned a bit. In order to be rid of Mary Margaret, she would have to change her number. But last night she had given Regina her number. Emma shook her head a bit.

That was a dumb thing to do. She should have given Regina some sort of heads up about changing number.

Regina. Emma froze momentarily with one arm into the sleeve of the sweater. She wondered what the beautiful brunette was doing right now. Emma’s fingers were itching to text her, but at the same time

Emma didn’t want to come across as desperate. Was it desperate to text her this early in the morning? Emma wasn’t completely sure. She had never been very good at these things, and subtility had never been one of her strong suits.

Emma grabbed her toothbrush, hairbrush and makeup bag and padded down the hallway. She reached the bathroom and began brushing her teeth. And as she did that, she once again thought back to the conversation between Ruby and the other woman she had overheard last night. Maybe it was just her overactive imagination trying to fill in the blanks, but Emma was certain that Regina’s mysterious train journey from Toronto had something to do with the brunette’s voice. ‘She’s the same’, Ruby had said when the other woman had asked how Regina was doing. ‘really? so she’s still- I mean, she still can’t-‘ the other woman had responded to that. That had to be about Regina’s voice, right? Emma spat out toothpaste in the sink and tilted her head back as she gurgled some water. Had Regina been receiving some sort of treatment in a hospital? Or had she even been undergoing some sort of operation? Emma spat out the water and wiped the corners of her mouth. An operation that had failed. That would explain why the unknown woman had responded with ‘really? So she’s still- I mean, she still can’t-?’. Emma grabbed the hairbrush and went to work on the massive bird’s nest her hair had turned into overnight. She was torn. On the one hand she was almost dying to know where the conversation would have gone if Eugenia Wolf hadn’t shown up and interrupted, but on the other hand, she didn’t like the fact people were gossiping about Regina. She didn’t like that Regina and whatever had happened to her was the center of attention.

Emma missed the brunette. She missed emerging from her sleep cabin, finding her seat and then exchanging a smile and a good morning with Regina. She missed walking down to the dining area together, she missed conversing about books with the brunette, and she missed exchanging humorous post-its messages throughout the day.

Emma tied her frizzy hair back in a ponytail, and then she began applying a dash of mascara to her eyelashes. Regina’s missing voice wasn’t the only mystery Emma was itching to uncover. There was one more mystery, and even though it wasn’t as “serious” as Regina’s missing voice, it was still every bit important.

Regina’s sexuality.

Emma actually had no clue about what the answer was to that question. Regina was pretty undefinable. She hadn’t really given Emma a particular “vibe”. If there even was such a thing. Emma reached within her toilet bag and found a dry mascara brush. She needed to be rid of the clumps of mascara currently making her eyelashes sticking together. As she brushed the wry mascara brush through her lashes, she thought of the things she knew. Regina hadn’t mentioned a man during her trip. Not a boyfriend or a husband. Nor had Emma seen her look at any of the men on the train. But then again, she hadn’t seen her look at any of the women on the train either. Emma frowned a little and did her utmost not to get mascara in her eyes. Maybe she shouldn’t put too much into the fact that Regina hadn’t been looking at anyone at the train. Maybe Regina simply wasn’t the staring type. Emma couldn’t imagine her to be that type. The brunette was far too refined to be staring. That was more Emma’s style.

Emma screwed the lid on the mascara brush and sat it down. Then she reached within her toilet bag once more to find her eyeliner. She probably should have put on the eyeliner before the mascara, but what the hell. Too late to change anything.

Okay, so maybe Regina wasn’t the staring type, Emma decided not to put too much meaning into that. Instead she once again stuck to the ice cold facts. And they were that Henry hadn’t mentioned anything about a father waiting at home for them. That would have been a normal thing for a nine-ten year old boy to mention, right? ‘Dad has missed you so much!’, ‘dad can’t wait to see you!’ or ‘dad’s texting me, he’s making your favorite food for dinner!’. Henry hadn’t said either of those things. Instead his focus had been solely on Regina. He had looked as though he was scared of parting with her again. Somehow that added to Emma’s evidence pile that Regina was a single parent. Dared she hope that Regina was single in any other way too? And possibly even into women? Emma scoffed a little.

Maybe she was being ridiculous, obsessing like this, but she could still remember the way Regina had touched her shoulder lightly before leaving. It had made Emma feel completely warm all over. Emma scoffed. She just did that to be friendly, Swan. Emma succeeded in applying eyeliner to her left eyelid. Now came the tricky right eyelid. The blonde poked the tip of her tongue out in pure concentration.

Okay, so maybe that was just a friendly pat on the shoulder, but she definitely gave me her phone number. That gotta count for something, right? She wants to stay in touch. And whether that was for friendship reasons or whatever, Emma was grateful. But she still frowned when she realized something. Here she was, obsessing whether Regina was straight or gay or anything in between, but Emma herself hadn’t actually given anything away about herself either. Emma silently cursed. Great. She should have slipped in a casual remark about Lily somewhere. Just a nonchalant comment. Just so Regina knew.

Emma’s stomach growled insistently. It was possible that she had spend too much time in the bathroom. She quickly applied eyeliner to her right eyelid, and surprisingly, the result didn’t come out half-bad. This would have to do for today. Right now, breakfast was far more important than how she looked. She was quick to apply just a little bit of pale pink lipstick to her lips. That was better.

Emma thoroughly washed her hands for any remains of mascara or eyeliner, and then she left the bathroom. Now it was time to find some breakfast.

 

And breakfast was exactly what she found in the restaurant downstairs. A plate full of pancakes and a cup of cinnamon sprinkled cocoa with extra whipped cream on the top. Emma had never been happier. This even beat the breakfast she’d had in the train.

“Everything okay here?” Ruby asked as she appeared behind the counter. “Is the breakfast okay?”

“Mmph, it’s delicious,” Emma said between bites of pancake. “Best pancakes ever.”

“Then you just wait until you taste our grilled cheese sandwiches,” the brunette waitress said and smiled. “Did you sleep alright? I know how it sometimes is sleeping in a new place.”

“No, I actually slept like a baby,” Emma grinned. “Conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow.”

“That’s great,” Ruby said. “I’ll make sure to tell Granny that. She keeps going on and on about how our mattresses are too thin to be comfortable.”

Emma laughed as she took a sip of her cocoa. She carefully swallowed before saying: “Well, now you can tell her that’s not the case at all.”

Ruby smiled in return. “Do you have any plans today then?”

“I was thinking about maybe going for a walk,” Emma said. “Get a little familiar with the area.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ruby said briskly. “Let me know if you need a guide.”

“Thanks,” Emma said slightly surprised. “I’ll think of that if I need any help. But hopefully, I’m able to make my way around without getting lost.”

Ruby laughed, and the smile she flashed Emma was just a little bit too warm. A tad too sweet. Emma had no problems with reading Ruby. The waitress was pretty much an open book, and it was obvious
that she, well.... was interested. Emma tentatively returned the smile. She hoped that this wouldn’t become a problem. She was going to live at this inn at least for a while. She wasn’t interested in any crossed connections so to speak, and most importantly, she didn’t want to ignite false hope within Ruby.

Their little moment of awkward silence was broken when Eugenia Wolf emerged from what Emma assumed was the kitchen. The elderly woman flashed Emma a smile. “Good morning, miss Swan!”

“Emma,” the blonde corrected with a smile.

“Emma then,” Eugenia amended and returned the smile. “How did your first night here go? Was the bed comfortable, because I know our mattresses-“

“Everything was fine,” Emma said quickly and reassuringly. “Couldn’t have been better actually.”

“I’m very happy to hear that,” Eugenia smiled. “And you’ve had breakfast too. Good.”

“I know how to look after our customers,” Ruby interjected, and then she was flashing Emma that smile again.

Emma returned the smile, but silently thought to herself that it might be a good idea to look around after another place to stay. A more permanent one. She couldn’t stay in this inn forever. Eventually, it would cost her a lot of money. It was better to find a place to settle down.

Emma resumed her breakfast and made casual small talk with both Eugenia and Ruby. The conversation went a lot more smoothly when Eugenia was present, and Emma was grateful for that.

 

******************************************

 

After having breakfast, Emma decided to take that walk in Steveston. It was time to get to know her new surroundings.

The blonde walked down Main Street and shivered slightly. Even though it was only September, it was definitely getting colder.

But the town was beautiful. Picturesque. Like something right out of a modern fairytale. Emma already felt at home here, and she noted how everyone she met smiled at her.

She passed the medical clinic, the pawnbroker and the grocery store. Small stores, but Emma had no problem with that. A large mall would have looked pretty weird here. She passed the flower shop and chuckled a bit at the name. “Game of Thornes”. Nice. Very inventive.

After that she walked down to the harbor, which definitely had to be Steveston’s main attraction. The harbor was beautiful, and not even the distinct smell of fish could dampen Emma’s excitement. She already loved this quaint little town.

After having strolled around at the harbor for a while, Emma walked back into town and found some side alleys. She easily located the bar Zelena had spoken off last night. Emma would do her utmost to remember where the bar was. Anymore calls from Mary Margaret, and the blonde was gonna need a few drinks in the very near future.

Emma whipped out her phone and took picture after picture of the town so she could show Ella. Emma chuckled. Ella was gonna be so jealous. She would have to go back to the harbor and take some more pictures.

Down at the harbor she spotted a dark-haired man walking with his arm around a redheaded woman. Emma chuckled slightly. Those two definitely looked like something right out of a fairytale. Hell, they could be Eric and Ariel.

Emma snapped a few pictures of the beautiful harbor, and then she walked back into town once more. She reached the library, and the place looked so nice, Emma had to take a peek inside. She opened the door and went inside.

A young brunette with some of her hair twisted into a little bun on top of her head and wearing a long sleeved yellow dress looked up when Emma came inside. “Hi,” she said with an unmistakable Australian accent. “How can I help you?”

“Just browsing,” Emma said as she curiously looked around. This was a very beautiful library.

“Okay, well, just let me know if you need any help.”

“I will. Thank you.”

It soon turned out that Emma did in fact need some help. She had come across more than five books she wanted to read, but she couldn’t do that without being registered, so she walked back to the counter and cleared her throat quietly.

The blue eyed brunette looked up. She had very blue eyes.

“I’d like to get registered,” Emma said.

“Excellent,” the brunette said and flashed Emma smile. “The library could do with more people taking interest in it.” she turned her attention to the computer screen in front of her. “Which name can I register you under?”

“Emma. Emma Swan.”

“Oh, so you’re the new guest Regina brought into town.” The brunette looked up and chuckled slightly. “Sorry. Small town. Rumor travels fast.”

“You know Regina?” Emma asked as the brunette tapped in her name.

“Yes,” the brunette said. “She used to come here on holidays regularly with her son. But it’s been a while since she’s last been here.”

“Okay,” Emma said. Used to. Regina used to come here regularly on holidays. And then she stopped doing it. Because of what? Her accident? Once again, Emma felt that prickle of curiosity.

“Do you have anything with a photo of you?” the brunette asked. “It’s for identification.”

“Sure,” Emma said and reached within her pocket and found her driver’s license.

“Great,” the brunette said as she tapped on the keyboard once more. “And I’ll just use your address at Eugenia’s Inn for now, but if you decide to move into something a bit more permanent, you’ll have to come back and change the address.”

“That’s fine,” Emma said.

“So, you’re planning on staying here, right?” the brunette asked briskly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t go through the trouble of getting a library card.”

Emma laughed. “I really like this place. I’m very happy Regina recommended it to me.”

The brunette smiled. “It was nice of her to think about this place. I hope she’ll stop by soon. It’s been a while since we got the chance to catch up.” she tapped a bit more on the keyboard and then said: “there we go. All set. You should receive your new library card in the mail tomorrow or the next day, miss Swan.”

“Emma’s fine,” Emma corrected with a smile.

“Emma then,” the brunette smiled. “My name is Isabelle. Isabelle Gold.”

“Gold?” Emma echoed. “I passed a place called Mr. Gold Pawnbroker and Antiquities Dealer. Is that family?”

“My husband,” Isabelle said with a smile. “And if you happen to run into him, do me a favor and return his stare. Robert likes to intimidate. It’s better to let him know that you don’t fall for it.”

Emma chuckled. Isabelle had said it with so much affection, and she had sounded so overbearingly. Only a wife could adopt that particular tone.

“I’ll remember that,” Emma nodded. “Thanks for the help. I’m looking forward to getting my library card.”

“I hope you’ll borrow lots of books,” Isabelle said. “I feel like I’m fighting the inevitable in trying to keep this place alive.”

“I’ll become your most faithful loaner of books,” Emma promised. “I’m a huge book worm.”

“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that,” Isabelle said earnestly.

Emma smiled as she bid the brunette goodbye. Isabelle Gold seemed very sweet. Very down to earth. Emma had a feeling that she and the librarian would become great friends eventually.

The blonde walked out on the street once more. On her way back she passed Mr. Gold’s store, and sure enough she spotted a man standing outside the store. His hair was longer than what could be expected of a man of his age, easily brushing the collar on his shirt, and he was wearing a three piece suit. And he was looking at her. Emma returned his stare, exactly like Isabelle had advised her to, and it didn’t take long before Robert Gold averted his eyes, turned his back on her and went back inside his store. Emma chuckled lightly. So that was Isabelle’s husband. And odd couple, really. She seemed so chirpy and outgoing, and he seemed almost hostile. They were a right modern beauty and the beast. Emma chuckled again. Maybe she could somehow incorporate that in her collection of fairy tales.

The blonde whistled quietly as she walked back down the main street.

 

Emma saw no one in the diner when she came back, and she was sort of relieved that Ruby wasn’t there. The blonde tiptoed up the stairs, down the hallway and then into her own room. Now she had explored the town for a few hours. First part of her plan was done. Now came the next part. Calling Malena from Dragon Publishing. Emma felt oddly nervous about that. Regina had mentioned that Malena was a bit of an ice queen on the outside. Emma wasn’t completely sure how to handle ice queens, but she would do her best.

But before calling her, Emma decided to check out Dragon Publishing’s website. She toed off her boots and then sat down crossed legged on the bed with the laptop on her lap. It didn’t take long before the laptop came to life, and Emma immediately tapped in the address in the search bar. Soon she found what she was looking for, and she was immediately impressed. The website looked very professional with twisted wines along the sides and of course a large dragon at the top of the website. Emma quickly scrolled through the list of books published. Regina was right, these books did fall a bit outside the normal categories, but Emma had a feeling that her own book would fit in just fine. Furthermore, Dragon Publishing offered to evaluate manuscripts that weren’t finished yet, and if the manuscript appeared to be promising, the author could come back once the manuscript was finished and maybe Dragon Publishing would be interested in publishing the finished book. Everything about that seemed very promising to Emma, and she was starting to feel more and more optimistic about the whole thing.

Now she only had to call Malena and tell her about the manuscript and Regina’s recommendation. Emma closed the laptop and wetted her lips slightly as she grabbed her phone from the nightstand. You can do this, Swan. It’s just a phone call. It’s no big deal.

Emma took a deep breath and then dialed Malena’s number. There was a dialing tone, and then a bit of professional “please hold”-music. Emma waited and felt how the muscles in her stomach contracted and turned into a bundle of nerves. She pathetically hoped that no one would answer the phone. That way Emma could leave a message and mentally prepare herself a little better to talk to Malena.

More “please hold”-music. The silly little tone almost made Emma feel sleepy. She leaned her head back against the headboard and closed her eyes. This was actually very nice. Very relaxing. Maybe Dragon Publishing uses this trick to separate all the unserious writers from the serious ones. The unserious ones falls asleep while the serious ones manages to stay awake until someone takes the call.

Emma didn’t feel very much like a serious writer right now. She felt like the unserious ones who fell asleep. Maybe it was the music, but it very well have been her walk around town as well.

“Dragon Publishing, this is Malena Fiammetta.”

Emma damn nearly dropped the phone. “Uhm, hi, this is Emma Swan,” she squeaked.

“Hello miss Swan,” Malena said. “How can I help you?”

“I, uhh...” Emma desperately tried to get a grip. Malena’s smooth, professional voice made her nervous, and Emma could already sense that this woman was everything the blonde wasn’t.

“Yes?” Malena said in the other end, and now she sounded a bit impatient.

“I have this manuscript I’m writing on, and I was wondering if there was any chance I could have it evaluated by you guys?” Emma quickly yapped off.

“Oh,” Malena said. Now she sounded ever so slightly tired, but nevertheless answered the question with ice cold professionalism. “But of course. We’re always interested in receiving manuscripts. Even the ones not finished. Just email it to us and we’ll take a look at it, okay? Have a good day.”

“Wait a second!” Emma interrupted before Malena could get a chance to hang up. “I was also wondering if...”

“Yes?” Malena encouraged. “I’m not trying to rush you, miss Swan, but I happen to have a meeting shortly.”

“Is there any chance you guys could use me for anything?” Emma blurted out.

“Excuse me?” Malena said.

Emma cringed. Nice. “I mean for a job. I haven’t exactly tried it before, but I have the right education for it, and I’m a pretty fast learner-“

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we’re not looking for employees at the moment, miss Swan,” Malena interrupted. “And even if we were, we would have preferred to hire someone with the required experience.
We’re very busy, and training a newcomer requires a lot of time. I’m sure you understand that.”

Emma felt the disappointment settle in her stomach like a rock. Damn it. Back to waitressing it is. She felt a bit like a child who had just lost her candy. A defiant child. “But Regina said...” Emma didn’t finish the sentence and shook her head. “Never mind. I understand. Yeah, totally. I’m sorry for the disturbance, I’ll just email the manuscript to you and-“

“Just a moment,” Malena interrupted. “Did you say Regina?”

Emma blinked in surprise. “Yeah?”

“As in Regina Mills?” Malena continued, sounding a bit on edge.

“Yes,” Emma confirmed. “She was the one who recommended me to contact Dragon Publishing.”

“She did, did she?” Malena said, and now she sounded more interested and her voice had lost some of the cold, professional edge. “Tell you what, miss Swan. Why don’t you stop by tomorrow? I’m sure we can figure something out.”

“Seriously?” Emma blurted out.

“Yes, quite,” Malena confirmed. “Stop by the publishing house tomorrow. Shall we say at 11? We’ll have a cup of coffee and talk about it. Do you know where we’re based?”

“No, but I’ll figure out,” Emma said quickly.

“Excellent,” Malena said in the other end. “See you tomorrow then, miss Swan. Try not to be late. I valuate punctuality.”

“Right. Yes. Of course. Goodbye and... thank you.”

“You’re welcome, miss Swan.” There was a slight click in the other end, and then silence.

Emma dropped the phone on the bed and fist pumped the air triumphantly. She had something similar to a job interview tomorrow. She had no idea whether Regina’s name worked like some sort of magic word, and right now Emma didn’t care much either. This could be her first step towards a new and better future. A future that didn’t involve waitressing.

Feeling completely giddy, Emma grabbed the phone once more and texted Regina. She simply couldn’t wait any longer. ‘I contacted Malena from Dragon Publishing. I have a meeting with her tomorrow! Thank you so much for pointing me in her direction.’

Emma felt more motivated to write now than ever, and she grabbed her laptop to start working immediately. But before she had gotten the chance to write five words, her phone chimed. The blonde abandoned writing and grabbed her phone to check the new message instead. What she read instantly made her smile. ‘You’re most welcome, I’m glad Malena agreed to meet you. How is your first morning in Steveston going?’

Emma was quick to text back. ‘It’s going well. I’ve met the librarian, Isabelle Gold. She seems very nice.’

The answer came quickly. ‘She is. Have you met her husband Robert as well? He’s a bit of an arrogant bastard.’

Emma chuckled as she tapped in and then send her response: ‘I haven’t spoken to him, but I’ve seen him. Seems like a real charmer.’

Once again, the response came immediately: ‘If I were you, I’d try to avoid talking to him. He’s a very unpleasant person. I think he only cares about Isabelle.’

Emma chuckled again and then wondered about Regina’s fast replies. Wasn’t the brunette doing anything else? Emma was curious and mostly wanted to bombard Regina with question after question, but she settled for the more neutral:

‘I hope you and your family got home alright.’

Her phone beeped immediately, and Emma read the text: ‘we did, thank you. I’ll have you know that Henry found your fairytales very fascinating. He’s been using it as an argument against Zelena whenever she implies that fairytales are just for kids. He says that if a grown-up like you can write fairytales, a kid like him can read them.’

Emma snickered slightly as she typed and sent: ‘smart kid you’ve got there.’

Three blue dots indicating that Regina was typing appeared on the phone screen, and then there was a new message for Emma to read: ‘Oh, he is. He’ll grow up to be a brilliant mind like his mother, I’m sure.’

Emma carefully dissected that message. Somehow this too added to the pile of evidences proving that Regina was a single parent. Ugh, it would be so much easier if I could just ask her.

But instead of asking painfully personal questions, Emma settled for asking something else: ‘any chance you’re free to have coffee this week? I don’t really know anyone here yet, and it would be nice to see a familiar face.’

The blonde was nearly sitting on her hands while she waited for Regina to answer. It seemed as though this message was taking longer to arrive than the others had, but finally her phone chimed again, and Emma immediately grabbed the device and checked the message: ‘I’m afraid I can’t.’

Emma cringed. Damn it. Shit. Double shit. She managed to despair for ten solid seconds until another text arrived. The blonde quickly let her eyes roam over the screen: ‘I’m not free this week, but how about next week?’

A smile spread across Emma’s face as her fingers almost danced over the screen in her eagerness to reply. ‘That sounds awesome! Is there a particular day you prefer?’. Maybe she was coming across as too eager, but she couldn’t help it. Emma waited, fidgeted a bit with her hands in her lap, and then her phone chimed again. This time, Emma nearly dropped the device in her eagerness. ‘Shall we say next Tuesday at eleven o’clock at Eugenia’s Inn? Or do you think you’ll be tired of their coffee by then?’

Emma openly laughed as she typed her answer. ‘Next Tuesday at eleven o’clock is fine by me. And so is Eugenia’s coffee. She actually makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.’

Her phone chimed again, and Emma tilted her head slightly when she read Regina’s response. ‘Eugenia’s coffee is excellent, I’ll give you that, but she still doesn’t have an espresso machine.’

Emma typed in the only answer she could think of. ‘And you do?’

The response came straight after. ‘Yes, I do. And I’m telling you, that thing makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.’

Emma chuckled quietly. She would like to try Regina’s coffee sometimes, but she wasn’t quite ballsy enough to tell Regina that. It seemed a bit pushy, asking to be invited into Regina’s home. They had a
coffee appointment next Tuesday. Obviously, Emma was disappointed that it wasn’t this Tuesday, but it was definitely better than not having an appointment at all.

The blonde flopped back on the bed with her phone in hand. ‘I’ll have to find a place that makes espresso then.’ Emma hadn’t even intended the text to be a hint. She only realized that it could be interpreted that way after having sent it.

But Regina didn’t take the accidental bait. Instead her text simply said: ‘yes, you have to.’, and then she proceeded to ask if Emma had any further plans for her first day in Steveston.

Emma eagerly typed back that she didn’t really have any plans. Maybe she would take a stroll down to the garage later and check out the cars there. If she really was lucky enough to get herself a job at Dragon Publishing, she would need a car to drive back and forward.

To that Regina typed back a warning about not letting Billy who worked at the garage “Hook her up with some old junk”. Emma laughed as she typed back a thank you for the heads up. Then she asked Regina what her plans for the day was.

Regina typed back that she didn’t have any plans apart from a nap. She was still tired from the long journey, she wrote.

Emma wondered if that was a subtle hint to let Regina off the hook, but a second later she got another text in which Regina wrote that she actually was a bit bored at the moment. Henry was at school, and
Zelena was at work. There wasn’t much for Regina to do.

Emma immediately texted back and pointed out that this was almost like the “post its”-conversations they’ve had during the train ride. And soon Regina texted back and admitted that she actually missed that way of communicating. It had been a very creative way, she wrote.

Emma was all smiles that this was a bit better, and when Regina texted and asked why, Emma pointed out that this spared Regina of witnessing Emma’s terrible handwriting. Regina texted that it was a terrible joke on Emma’s part, but Emma had a feeling that the brunette was both amused and enjoying herself.

So did Emma. She was going to see Malena Fiammetta tomorrow and hopefully the conversation would end in a job offer. She was texting Regina, and they had scheduled a meeting next Tuesday. Another text from Regina arrived. This time she was asking whether Emma had been doing any writing today. The blonde texted back that she had in fact written a little bit. Regina expressed her delight at that.

Emma had always been ridiculously afraid at jinxing things, but it didn’t feel like life could get much better than it was right now.

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

To say that Emma was nervous the next day would be grossly understated. She was more than nervous. In fact she felt a teeny tiny bit nauseous.

Suddenly, meeting Malena Fiammetta was the scariest thing in the world. Emma was well aware that Malena only had agreed to meet her because she knew Regina, and now Emma was very adamant to show Malena that she actually could do stuff. She didn’t want to be considered for a job just because she knew Regina. She wanted to be chosen based on the things she could do, and not anything else.

Obviously, Emma had already emailed her manuscript to Dragon Publishing. At least that was out of her hands. All she could do was sit back, wait and keep writing to finish the thing while Malena and the other employees at Dragon Publishing evaluated her manuscript.

But the upcoming meeting with Malena.... Damn, Emma was nervous about that. She had fallen asleep really, really late last night, and then she had been wide awake at four, convinced that she had overslept and was now late for the meeting.

And the anxiety hadn’t lessened one bit this morning either. Emma had wrestled with her hair until it was falling in soft curls around her face. Then she had roamed through her dresser (and made a mess!) and found the only skirt she owned. A neat, suede black skirt that looked pretty nice paired with her wine red sweater. She almost looked professional when she wore that outfit. She looked like someone who could potentially work at a publishing house, and not as a waitress.

Emma ran two fingers through her hair and glanced nervously at her phone again. She still had some time at her hand before she had to leave. The problem was that she had no idea what to do with that time. She had carefully studied the route to Dragon Publishing, and she had found a bus that could take her from Steveston and all the way to her destination. Emma only had embark on a two minute walk, and then she would be there.

Emma stared at the phone in her hand. She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to text Regina again. But she wasn’t sure whether she could do that or not. She and Regina had texted for so long last night. Emma didn’t want the brunette to find her obnoxious or stalkerish. Emma was not Mary Margaret.

Speaking of Mary Margaret, Emma hadn’t heard anything from her, and that certainly made for a nice change. Waking up and finding that her adoptive mother hadn’t called a million times had given her a boost of energy. Emma hoped that the change had come to stay. She felt free. She hoped that changing her number wouldn’t be necessary like she had feared. And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t. Maybe
Mary Margaret would finally give up on her crazy ways. Maybe she had finally learned that she couldn’t make Emma love her by clinging on too tightly to her.

Emma nervously gnawed at a fingernail. A newly manicured fingernail. Damn it. Now she would have to re-do her nail polish. The blonde grumbled under her breath as she stomped into the bathroom to somehow repair the damage.

Ten minutes later, Emma was sitting on the bathroom floor, cursing under her breath as she tried to scrub the red nail polish off the floor. Emma wasn’t completely sure whether her hands had been trembling, or it had just been her usual clumsiness, but either way she had ended up spilling some of the nail polish on the bathroom floor, and now here she was, armed with cotton buds and nail polish remover. She scrubbed so hard at the floor it squeaked slightly under her ministrations. Emma was still muttering complains under her breath when she heard something that made her pause for a second.

A faint scratching sound against the wooden dresser. It only took Emma a few seconds to realize it was her phone making noise. She had gotten a text. Emma’s jaw clenched as she imagined it being Mary Margaret trying to reach out to her again. The blonde had actually had a bit of a nightmare about Mary Margaret last night. It had been a crazy dream in which Mary Margaret had showed up in Steveston and banged on Emma’s door, screaming to be let in. That was what had caused Emma to wake up at four in the morning, first in a frenzy because she for a moment thought that Mary Margaret was actually here, and then panicking all over again when she thought that she had overslept. It had taken her a while to calm down. She had taken lots of deep breaths as she had reminded herself that Mary Margaret had no idea where she was, and her appointment with Malena Fiammetta wasn’t until eleven. She had plenty of time.

Emma wiped the floor once last time and then rose from her kneeling position to “admire” her work. The bathroom tiles looked a bit reddish, but Emma was certain no one would be able to tell the difference. A good thing I didn’t go with pink nail polish. She turned her back on the reddish tiles and went back into her little bedroom. Now it was time to see what Mary Margaret wanted this time.

But it didn’t take her long to figure out that it wasn’t Mary Margaret who had texted her. A smile spread on Emma’s face, and warmth coursed through her veins as she read the text: ‘I just wanted to wish you good luck with your meeting today. I do hope I’m not bothering you. Don’t let Mal intimidate you.’

Emma almost snorted. Did Regina seriously think she was bothering her? The blonde shook her head in pure disbelief. The thought alone was totally absurd. She quickly texted back: ‘you are not bothering me at all! Thank you for wishing me good luck, I really appreciate that since I’m pretty nervous.’

A text immediately arrived, and Emma read is just as quick: ‘I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling a bit nervous. I hope you don’t feel that way because of what I said about Mal. Really, she’s not that bad. She’ll warm up to you soon enough. Just talk Stephen King to her, and you should be fine.’

Emma chuckled at that. ‘Thanks for the heads up! I’ll try that. Does she have a favorite book in particular?’

Again, the response came immediately. ‘Well, if you really want to impress her, talk about Bag of Bones. That’s her favorite Stephen King novel.’

Emma fingers danced over the screen as she texted back: ‘I’ll do that. You know her pretty well, don’t you? Malena, I mean.’ That wasn’t a prying question was it?

Before Emma could get the chance to decide whether it was a prying question or not, Regina texted back, and Emma checked the message: ‘Yes, we’ve known each other since high school. But unfortunately it’s been a while since I last saw her.’

Emma nodded to herself. That made sense. That explained Malena’s sudden enthusiasm when Emma had mentioned Regina’s name. Emma ran a couple of fingers through her hair once more. So Regina hadn’t seen Malena for a while either. That seemed to be an ongoing theme. Something had kept her away from her friends in Steveston, and from her old friend Malena. Emma wondered what that ‘something’ was. The accident, perhaps? Emma considered it. Yes, that could very well be the reason. She felt her curiosity bubble just below the surface once more, and for the millionth time Emma felt as though she was going crazy. The mystery surrounding Regina was driving her nuts.

Then she remembered that Regina was waiting for her to text back. Emma quickly pulled herself together and texted: ‘well, maybe you’ll be able to see her soon?’

The response came immediately and was ultrashort. ‘Maybe’.

Emma frowned a bit. Had she just made Regina upset by asking such a question? God, she hoped that wasn’t the case! She wasn’t completely sure what to text in response, so she put the phone down on the dresser, hoping that she hadn’t upset Regina. She wondered what the brunette was doing right now. Was she sitting with a book in her lap, or was she perhaps with her son? Henry. Emma smiled a little. He had seemed like a very sweet kid. Very smart, and clearly very, very fond of his mother. Seeing how tightly he had clutched Regina’s hand and how he had never stopped looking away from her, had actually been quite touching to witness. Normally, Emma wasn’t one for tears, but there had been something about seeing mother and son reunite after what Emma assumed was a longer period of time.

The blonde turned her phone screen upwards so she could keep an eye on the time. She still had some time left before she had to leave. Unfortunately. Her stomach was tying in knots.

How she managed to pass the time until it was time to go out and find a bus, involved a good amount of crappy television and running to the bathroom because her bladder tricked her into believing that she had to pee. It was driving her insane, and she was relieved when she finally could grab the little purse, she had bought this morning and head out of her room.

Once downstairs, she found Ruby in the middle of wiping one of the tables clean. The brunette waitress was chewing gum and loudly smacking her lips while doing so. Emma glanced at her for just a millisecond and wondered how one got enough guts to bend over while wearing such a short skirt. Seriously, what Ruby was doing was pretty damn ballsy. Emma took a second to brush a hand over her red sweater. She shifted slightly on her feet, and the little movement easily caught Ruby’s attention. The brunette waitress straightened her posture and turned around. She smiled when she spotted Emma: “hey. You all ready to head out?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Emma nodded.

“You look nice,” Ruby smiled. “Good luck today.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Emma said and returned the smile. But she secretly thought that she had to do something about Ruby’s growing crush on her. Nothing drastically. Just a subtle way of telling the waitress that she wasn’t interested.

Emma’s stomach tied in knots but for very different reasons when she thought about the person, she was interested in. The person who could come to Steveston in two weeks. Emma knew that she shouldn’t be thinking about her and Regina’s coffee appointment as a date, but Emma couldn’t help it. A bit of wistful thinking, and it could just as easily have been a date.

“Emma?”

The blonde quickly blinked and looked up. She had been zoning out. As so often before when she thought about Regina.

“You’re going to miss your bus,” Ruby kindly pointed out and smiled a little.

Emma quickly snapped out of it. Right. Her bus. Pull yourself together, Swan. You have to be there on time and give the impression that you’re this insanely, professional, driven person. If you do that, you
can think as much as you want about Regina when you get home. But right now, first things first.

Emma said goodbye to Ruby and returned the smile. The waitress looked so happy, Emma instantly felt guilty. Smiling too warmly definitely categorized under “giving false hope”. But right now Emma couldn’t do anything about that. She had places to be. The blonde left the inn and quickly walked down Main Street towards the bus stop. She passed the library on the way and saw Isabelle. The brunette waved to Emma, and Emma waved back. Smiled when Isabelle yelled “good luck!” Emma had no idea how everyone in town knew that she had a job interview today, but the thought of returning home to Steveston without actually having gotten the job made her feel even more nauseous than before. It felt as thought everyone’s eyes were upon her.

Emma had far too much energy to actually sit down on the bus bench. She ended up pacing back and forward and scraping her shoes slightly until the bus arrived. Emma felt that even the smile the bus driver flashed her seemed way too optimistic and loaded with “you can do this”. Emma anxiously bit the inside of her cheek as she plopped down on one of the seats in the bus. Could she though? The only job interviews she had been do was for waitressing, and Emma had a horrible feeling that this was gonna be so much more difficult.......

 

*******************************

 

Reaching her destination didn’t exactly make her feel more at ease. Emma gawked as she tilted her head back and looked up at the enormous, red building. The building was surrounded by a large, iron fence with a medieval looking gate in the middle. It wasn’t exactly and “push-pull”-gate. It looked ridiculously complicated. Emma felt intimidated, and even more so by the two large dragon statues that guarded the door. I can’t believe I’m actually going in there. Emma shook her head. It seemed unrealistic.

But nevertheless true. Emma swallowed, straightened her posture and then marched over to the large gate. It creaked when forced open, and Emma almost jumped at the sound. Right now, anything was enough to scare her. Especially the way the two dragon statues glared at her. It seemed as though they were judging her. And deeming her unworthy. Emma glared back at the dragons and went inside the building.

The inside of the building didn’t do anything to soothe Emma’s anxiety either. Everything was white, clinical and oozing of professionalism. Emma thought to herself that she was gonna need a map not to get lost here. There were a million of elevators, a million different hallways that all seemed to lead different places. Emma snorted quietly as she exited elevator number three and stalked down a hallway to the left. There had been a moment where she had thought that this was just a little publishing company. Think again, Swan. Think again.

Finally, Emma reached what appeared to be some sort of front desk. A beautiful dark skinned woman with her hair in a bun was sitting behind the desk, tapping away on a keyboard. Emma quietly cleared her throat.

The woman looked up, and now Emma saw the little golden and shiny nametag attached to her blouse. “Ursula Clearwater”, the nametag said. “Yes?” the woman- Ursula- said. “How can I help you, miss...?”

“Swan. Emma Swan. I’m here to see Mrs. Fiammetta,” Emma said.

“Ah yes,” Ursula said and seemed a bit amused as she tapped something on the keyboard. “You have an appointment at eleven, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right,” Emma confirmed with a nod.

“Well, if you could just take a seat over there-“ Ursula pointed to a leather sofa that was standing leaned against the white wall. “Mrs. Fiammetta will be right there.”

“Great. Thanks,” Emma said and stalked over to the leather sofa in the corner.

The blonde instantly regretted that she had chosen to wear nylon stockings and a skirt. The leather was sticking uncomfortably to the back of her thighs, even through her skirt Emma could feel it. For a moment she wasn’t even worried about meeting Malena Fiammetta. Right now, her main concern was leaving ass marks on this couch that probably had costed more than Emma’s college education.

The blonde saw how Ursula leaned forward and pressed a little button and quietly said: “your eleven o’clock appointment is here.” Emma immediately heard Malena Fiammetta voice say: “excellent. I won’t be a moment.”

Emma swallowed something, and to quell her anxiety, she looked around in the highly modern and posh room. The desk Ursula Clearwater was sitting behind was of mahogany. The little dragon figures standing on the desk was most likely made of gold. Oh my god, what am I even doing here? Emma nervously crossed her legs, rested one ankle on top of the other. For once reminding herself to sit like a lady. To be a little refined. Emma suddenly got a flashback of Mary Margaret shouting at her because she refused to sit with her legs crossed. Not that Emma had anything against sitting with her legs crossed, but it had seemed to annoy Mary Margaret endlessly, and so Emma had grown even more determined to sit however she pleased.

Emma fidgeted with her hands in her lap. Ursula was still tapping away on the laptop, and right now the sound seemed alarmingly. It made Emma all the more nervous. The sound almost echoed in her ears.

After another painful five minutes, Ursula Clearwater looked up from the laptop. “Miss Swan? Malena is ready now.”

Emma immediately jumped to her feet.

“Her office is just up the stairs and to your left,” Ursula said. “It’s the first door.”

Emma offered a small smile and a squeaky “thank you”.

Her knees felt like jelly as she walked up the stairs, and her hands trembled slightly as she held on to the handrail. Soon she was walking down the hallway, and the heels she had forced her feet into for once clacked too loudly against the floor.

She reached the first door on her left and took an unnecessary second to look at the golden sign on the door “Malena Fiammetta.” No doubt she had come to the right place. Emma swallowed something, wetted her lips and then raised her hand. She gave three quick raps on the door and immediately cringed. The sound was too loud. It echoed in the quiet hallway.

“Come in,” the voice Emma had heard over the phone said, and Emma swallowed something again as she opened the door.

This was a real boss office. All dark colors, heavy mahogany desk in the middle of the room. Gold framed newspaper clips about the company on the wall, pictures of authors proudly showing off their freshly published books. Pictures of Malena Fiammetta shaking hands with important looking people. Emma glanced out of the window. A stunning, almost panoramic view. And bookshelf after bookshelf filled with books. The bookshelves were held in dark colors. Emma looked down and noticed the blood red carpet on the floor. She looked up again and noticed all the little dragon statues everywhere in the office. On the bookshelves, on the desk, hell there was even a few larger ones on the floor. Malena Fiammetta clearly had a thing for dragons.

“Be a dear and close the door.”

Emma immediately snapped out of it and closed the door. Then she turned around and finally looked at the woman sitting behind the desk. The woman she had barely noticed when she first stepped in here because of how impressive this office was.

But now Emma looked at Malena Fiammetta. Really looked. And what she saw didn’t exactly help her anxiety. Yep. Definitely intimidating. Oh my god. Of course Malena Fiammetta had a look to go with the smooth, professional voice Emma had heard on the phone yesterday. Emma gulped as she looked at the woman sitting behind the desk. Malena Fiammetta’s blonde hair were styled and pinned in perfect 1940’s curls. She was wearing a neat, grey suit. Grey pants and a grey blazer to match. Underneath the blazer she was wearing a black blouse with strings she had tied into an almost unnatural perfect bow. She had little diamond studs in her ears, her lips were painted a dark shade of red, and her blazer was adorned with an expensive looking dragon brooch. Her eyebrows were neatly plucked and styled, and she looked just a bit calculating as she looked at Emma with crystal blue eyes. She rose from the chair behind the desk, and Emma felt all sorts of nervous when she approached her.

“Emma Swan, I suppose?” Malena said.

“Yeah,” Emma said, but then sobered up and corrected: “yes. I’m Emma Swan.”

“Pleasure to meet you. I’m Malena Fiammetta. Mal among friends,” Malena said as she extended a hand out towards Emma.

Emma shook Malena’s hand and noted that the other woman had a surprisingly strong grip.

“Do sit down, miss Swan,” Malena said and pointed to a chair on the other side of the desk. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Coffee sounds good,” Emma said as she sat down and tried to be as elegant as possible as she crossed her legs.

Malena went round her desk and pressed a button. A moment later Emma heard Ursula Clearwater ask if she could do anything. Malena asked Ursula to bring coffee for herself and Emma.

“So miss Swan,” Malena said as she sat down in her “boss chair” once more. “Firstly, we’ve received your manuscript. I’m sure you’re happy to hear that I already have people reading and evaluating it.”

“Alright. That’s good to hear,” Emma said.

“But I can understand you’d also be interested in a job here?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“During the phone call yesterday, you said that you’ve never worked for a publishing house before, but you mentioned having the proper education for the job,” Malena said. “Would you care to elaborate that?”

Okay. Clearly a straight-to-the-point kind of woman. Emma actually didn’t mind that. Small talk had always made her feel oddly nervous. Malena’s “no nonsense”-attitude helped with her anxiety. “I have a bachelor’s in literature,” the blonde said, now feeling more happy than ever that she had resisted Mary Margaret’s attempts at pressuring her into pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education.

“Not a master’s degree?”

“No,” Emma said.

“I see,” Malena answered. “Would you ever consider pursuing a master’s degree in literature?”

“The thought have crossed my mind,” Emma admitted. “But up until now, I haven’t really had the opportunity. Things have been a bit... chaotic.”

Malena nodded a bit. “I see. May I ask what your parents are doing?”

“Adoptive parents,” Emma corrected and blushed a bit. The correction was a force of habit.

“Adoptive parents,” Malena amended.

“My adoptive mother is the headmistress of Blanchard’s Boarding School,” Emma said. “And my father is in the police force.”

“Blanchard’s Boarding School?” Malena repeated and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I believe I’ve heard of that place.”

Emma felt cautiously optimistic. Was Malena by any chance impressed?

“Well, the fact that you have a bachelor’s in literature certainly speaks to your advantage, miss Swan,” Malena said. “But I am however concerned by the fact that you’ve never worked for a publishing house
before. I would have liked to see some references.”

Emma’s hope faltered. “I can understand that.”

The door opened and Ursula came inside with a filled trey. Two cups of coffee, milk, sugar and two small cakes.

“Thank you dear,” Malena said.

Ursula flashed her a smile and then left the office again.

“Have a cup of coffee, miss Swan,” Malena said.

Emma immediately did as encouraged, and as she took a sip, she glanced around at the many different dragons’ figures that were everywhere in the office.

“Gifts,” Malena said as she followed Emma’s gaze. “From the people I’ve helped publishing a book.”

“Must have been a big book,” Emma said before she could stop herself as she looked at the largest dragon statue in the room. It was an impressive piece of art. Green, shiny “scales” and enormous wings spread out. The dragon was so large it was almost the same height as the desk. And clearly Malena’s favorite, given how central in the room it was placed.

Malena chuckled slightly. “That one was actually given to me as a present when I opened the publishing house. It’s from our mutual friend.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Regina?” she guessed.

“Quite so,” Malena nodded and took a sip of her coffee. “She’s a very dear friend of mine, and I’m assuming she’s one of yours too now?”

Not as dear as I want her to be. “Well, yeah,” Emma said and nodded.

Malena’s crystal blue eyes gleamed with something that could only be described as curiosity. “May I ask how you and Regina met?”

“We met during a three day long train ride from Toronto to Vancouver,” Emma said truthfully.

“I see,” Malena said. “So she’s in Vancouver now?”

“Yes,” Emma nodded.

“And do you happen to know if she’s planning on staying there permanently?” Malena asked.

“I... I think so?” Emma said and wondered why she was filling Malena in on Regina’s whereabouts. “I mean, I saw her with her son and her sister, so it looked pretty permanent to me.”

“This is wonderful news,” Malena said, and her red lips curved up in a smile. For a moment she seemed like she had lost track of her thoughts, but then she sobered up and said: “do apologize these irrelevant questions, miss Swan, but Regina and I are old friends, and I do so worry about her wellbeing. You see, we haven’t seen each other for a while.”

“It’s completely fine,” Emma quickly assured.

“It’s nice to know that she’s doing well,” Malena said. “But any way.... back to business. Tell me, miss Swan, do you enjoy reading?”

“Yes,” Emma said slightly surprised. “Of course I do.”

“Would you say that you are good at judging whether a storyline is good or not?” Malena asked.

“Yes,” Emma nodded. “I think so.”

“The reason I’m asking is because we currently need someone to read through the manuscripts submitted to us,” Malena said. “We received so many manuscripts, and we’re starting to feel the pressure.
One of the things we take pride in, is reading all the manuscripts submitted to us.” She glanced at Emma. “Are you a fast reader, miss Swan?”

“Yes,” Emma said immediately. Reading fast was one of the things she often had gotten in trouble for at school. Often the teachers had refused to believe that she had finished a book that fast. Many, many times she had been accused at cheating.

“Hmm,” Malena said and squinted slightly as she looked at Emma with her crystal blue eyes. It seemed as though she was considering what to do.

Emma almost held her breath in anticipation. Please, please, give me a chance!

“You do of course understand that I can’t hire you as this company’s official publisher’s reader,” Malena said. “Your lack of experience prevents me from doing so.”

Emma felt her heart plummet.

“But,” Malena continued. “I’m a very firm believer that everyone should be given the opportunity to prove their worth, so...”

This time, Emma did hold her breath.

“You will be given tasks to do,” Malena said. “And manuscripts to read now and then, but your official job description will be to help out wherever you can.”

“That’s fine,” Emma said immediately. I’m willing to do anything. Fetch coffee. Scrub the floor. Hell, I’ll even scrub the toilets.

“In that case, you can start next Wednesday,” Malena said.

Emma stared at the sophisticated blonde woman. “You’re... You’re giving me the job?”

“Yes, miss Swan. I’m giving you the job,” Malena confirmed. “You may be inexperienced, but we all started somewhere, am I right?” she rose from her seat and extended her hand out towards Emma.

Emma rose from her own chair and shook Malena’s hand once. Malena wished her a good day, and that was a pretty clear indicator that the conversation was over, but Emma still had one more thing to say.

“Can I ask you something?” the blonde asked.

“Certainly,” Malena said. “Ask away.”

“Am I... Are you giving me this chance because I know Regina?” Emma asked.

Malena’s crystal blue gaze snapped up to Emma’s face, and Emma blushed ever so slightly.

“No,” Malena said. “I’m giving you this chance because I have a good feeling about you, miss Swan.”

“Okay,” Emma murmured and turned to walk towards the door. It was better to leave before she ended up saying something stupid. But before she could get the chance to open the door and leave, Malena spoke again.

“If Regina advised you to contact me, it means she has faith in you,” the older blonde said. “And whoever Regina has faith in... I have faith in too. I valuate and respect her opinion very, very much.”

“Okay,” Emma said again. It was impossible to not pick up on the warmth Malena’s voice gained when she spoke of Regina.

“Regina is a gem,” Malena said as she rose from her chair. “And I’m suspecting you’ll turn out to be too, miss Swan. A diamond in the rough. Now I think you better be on your way. There’s a bus to Steveston in ten minutes. I wouldn’t want you to miss that.”

Emma nodded and once again headed towards the door. She pulled it open and had literally one foot out of the door when Malena said: “oh, and miss Swan?”

“Yes?” Emma said.

“You can call me Malena or Mal. Or even the Dragon if you find me irritating,” Malena said and flashed Emma a teasing smile. “But for the love of god, never refer to me as Mrs. Fiammetta. Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” Emma said and chuckled a bit.

“Excellent. Now run along.”

That was exactly what Emma did. And she grinned all the way down the hallway. She couldn’t quite believe this. She had gotten a job. She had actually gotten a job. She wasn’t a waitress anymore! She couldn’t wait to tell Ella about it. And Regina.

‘I’ve got a job!’

Emma had sent that text to two different people. Ella and Regina. She knew that it would be a few hours before Ella was gonna answer. Ella was currently at work at that diner where Emma used to work too. Emma was satisfied with knowing that Ella would reply later, but she had found herself unable to stop patting her pocket and check if her phone was vibrating all throughout the bus ride back to Steveston. She so wanted to hear from Regina. She had tried to tell herself that Regina could be busy right now, but it had been in vain. Emma wouldn’t stop obsessing until Regina answered her.

The blonde leaned back in the bus seat. This ride was much more rattling that the train ride from Toronto to Vancouver had been. That had probably spoiled her. From now on she would compare every train and bus ride to the luxury trip she had been on. Emma glanced at the man in the seat across her. He had just coughed in a most unflattering way, and now he was shamelessly staring at her stocking clad legs. Seriously, he wasn’t even trying to hide it or anything. Emma pursed her lips. She would compare this ride to her luxury train ride, and she would definitely compare all the passengers to Regina.

Emma almost chuckled when she realized that she most likely wouldn’t have minded if Regina had been staring at her legs during the train ride. But Regina hadn’t stared at her legs. Unfortunately. Her focus had solely been on Emma’s face, and under normal circumstances, Emma would have applauded that, but now it just frustrated her. Had there just been the slightest sign that Regina was a teeny tiny bit interested in her. As more than a friend. Emma gnawed at a nail. She and Regina had shared a lot of jokes during their trip, and they had had many conversations about all kinds of subjects, and there had been a hell of a lot eye contact, but did that categorize as flirting, or was it just simple conversation? Argh. Emma hated this. She had to be the worst lesbian ever. Or at least the worst at deducing whether another women liked this or that.

She would have to make an effort when she saw Regina again. She would dissect every sentence the brunette wrote. She would pay attention to any mention of a father. There has to be a father, right?

Kids don’t just pop out on their own. But then again, maybe there wasn’t a father. Maybe Henry was a donor child. Or adopted. Maybe Regina had decided to have a child all on her own. Emma’s brow furrowed as she once again considered it. Or maybe there had been a father. Maybe he had died during a tragic accident. The same accident that robbed Regina of her voice.

Emma shook her head. And now she was back to the mystery surrounding Regina’s missing voice. Why did she always come back to that? Her imagination went into overdrive as she considered a million different ways how it could have happened. One reason more unrealistic than the other.

It was raining a bit when Emma arrived back in Steveston. She was grateful that Eugenia’s Inn wasn’t that far away from the busstop. The blonde half-ran as she made it back to the Inn. She wasn’t interested in getting her rather nice outfit wet.

Inside the inn, she saw Ruby. This time the brunette was in the middle of serving coffee for two guests who had taken shelter from the rain.

“Hi,” the brunette grinned when she spotted Emma. “How did the job thingy go?”

“I got the job,” Emma said, offering a small smile.

“Really? That’s awesome news!” Ruby said. “Do you want to go out and celebrate it sometimes?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Emma said a bit cautiously. A casual drink. That’s all. No false hope. Make sure she knows that it’s only as friends. It’s not a date.

“Cool,” Ruby said and grinned again. “I’m glad things are working out for ya, Swan.”

“Thanks,” Emma said.

“Coffee?” Ruby offered. “Or a cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon? On the house.”

“Maybe later,” Emma replied. “I think I wanna go upstairs and change out of this clothes first.” It was only a partial apology.

“Oh, okay,” Ruby said. She sounded pretty disappointed.

Emma cringed slightly as she turned around and walked up the stairs and down the hall towards her own room. If this continued, she would have to do something about the Ruby situation. She couldn’t let
the waitress go around and hope for something more than friendship. It really wasn’t fair of her.

Emma reached her own room. She unlocked the door and went inside. She carefully attached her phone to the charger, and then she reached within her dresser to find a pair of jeans and a tanktop. Then she went inside the bathroom to change out of the skirt and sweater. And wipe some of the makeup off.

Emma tied her hair back into a ponytail, and then she brushed a hand over her tanktop. She hoped that Malena wouldn’t mind if she went to work in this clothes. Even though she had tried to make an effort today, Emma wasn’t a skirt or dress type of person. Wearing a dress or a skirt always made her feel awkward and gangly. However odd it sounded, she always felt way more feminine and confident in her jeans and tanktops. Obviously, Mary Margaret had condemned her choice of wardrobe, and more than once she had thrown the tomboy label at Emma. But Emma didn’t see herself as a tomboy. She simply saw herself as a woman who wasn’t particularly comfortable in dresses or skirts. That was all. Simple as that.

As Emma was carefully wiping some of her lipstick off, she heard a faint scratching sound. It only took her three seconds to realize that it was her phone. She had just received a message.

Emma immediately abandoned removing her lipstick and went straight back into her bedroom. She picked up her phone and then grinned from ear to ear as she read the newly arrived message: ‘that’s wonderful news, Emma! I’m so happy for you.’

Regina was happy for her. Emma momentarily forgot how to breathe as she texted back: ‘thank you! Ugh, I was so nervous when I left, but now... I feel like I could climb a mountain or something.’

The reply came immediately, and Emma read it: ‘I must say, I had been fearing that Mal would be hard on you. I’m glad she chose not to live up to the nickname I once gave her.’

Emma’s eyebrow rose in curiosity, and her next message reflected that: ‘and what nickname is that?’

The phone made a “vrr!” sound against her palm as the answer arrived. ‘Maleficent.’

Emma spluttered quietly. Maleficent. Not bad. ‘Creative nickname, but she was definitely no Maleficent today. Nor was she a dragon.’

The answer came quickly. ‘I’m happy to hear that.’

Eager to keep the conversation going, Emma texted back: ‘I think I might have stepped in it a little. I accidentally called her “Mrs. Fiammetta”. I don’t think she liked that.’

Not even ten seconds passed before the answer arrived, and Emma chuckled at reading the reply: ‘No, I can imagine she wasn’t particularly fond of that. Mal prides herself in never having been married.’

Are you married, Emma felt tempted to ask. Or in any other way attached to someone for that matter? But of course she didn’t ask Regina that. Instead she told the brunette that she would be starting her new job next Wednesday, thanked her for the heads up and then boldly added: ‘I’m looking forward to having coffee with you on Tuesday.’

The answer came fast and couldn’t have made Emma happier even though it was just two simple words: ‘Me too.’

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

That anxiety Emma had been feeling when she was about to head out for the job interview? Pff, what was that even?

Her anxiety when she first met the intimidating Malena Fiammetta? Child’s play. Nothing could be compared to the level of anxiety Emma was feeling on this Tuesday morning. Even though she was starting her new job tomorrow, that wasn’t what was occupying her thoughts. No, it was the fact that Regina would be coming to Steveston today. She was going to see Regina again. The thought of that made Emma feel all kinds of anxious, and today her choice of wardrobe was even more important. Hell, Emma had even considered to go out and buy herself a new dress for the occasion, but then she had nixed the idea. Regina had seen her in sweatpants and no makeup. It seemed silly to put on a dress. After all, it was casual meetup for coffee. Nothing more. This was not a date or anything. Even though Emma desperately wanted it to be. If this had been a date, she would definitely have put on a dress and a ton of makeup.

Emma could feel a slight tremor in her right hand as she stepped into her nicest pair of jeans. The ones that fitted every part of her so nicely. Those jeans looked particularly good when worn with her top with the thin spaghetti straps. Maybe she wasn’t going all in today, but she could wear the top with spaghetti straps. That top did wonders for her chest area. To put it plainly, Emma hoped to draw attention to herself. She hoped that she would catch Regina look. Just once. One time would be all the indicator and hope Emma needed. She had been lying awake for hours last night, obsessing over Regina’s sexuality. And once she had reminded herself that that wasn’t something she should be thinking about at night, her obsessive thoughts had changed course, and she had begun thinking about Regina’s missing voice instead. She had actually ended up googling “reasons why someone can’t speak”. And then she had immediately felt like a fool. She felt as though she was snooping. Intruding. Prying in Regina’s personal business. More than anything, Emma wanted to simply ask her, but that wasn’t so easy either. She couldn’t just write ‘hey, I was wondering why you can’t talk?’ That would be wrong on so many levels. Especially before she knew that there had been some sort of accident. But what sort of accident? Exactly what had happened?

After that she had lied awake and scolded herself for being a nosey fool. Ever the curious Emma Swan. She was hopeless. Every time she sensed just the faintest hint of a mystery, she wanted to know more and, in the end, solve the mystery. Maybe she should have decided to write thrillers instead of fairy tales. That would probably have been more appropriate.

But she couldn’t help it. No amount of scolding could stop her from being curious and obsessing about the mystery surrounding the beautiful brunette that was Regina Mills.

Emma had spent a while considering what to do with her hair, and in the end, she had decided to style it a bit but let it hang loose in soft curls framing her face. She happened to know that her hair looked the nicest like that, and Emma really wanted to look nice. Look nice for Regina. Emma almost snorted. There had been a time where she had sworn that dressing up for someone was actually a terrible thing to do. You should be dressing up for yourself, not for anyone else. But right now, dressing up for Regina was exactly what Emma was doing. She wanted to somehow impress the brunette.

Once her hair was taken care of, Emma glanced at her phone. She was a bit paranoid this morning. She kept thinking that Regina was gonna text her and cancel any given moment.

But her phone remained silent. Emma hadn’t heard anything from anyone since Ella had texted her back late last night. Emma paused with the hairbrush still in her hand. This troubled her. She had been in Steveston for two weeks now, and she hadn’t heard anything from Mary Margaret for an entire week. That should have delighted her, but instead Emma found it to be alarming. Her adoptive mother wasn’t usually this quiet. Unless it was because she was searching for Emma. The blonde recognized all the signs. She had moved around a lot in Toronto, and whenever Mary Margaret was hunting for her, she went quiet and stopped texting Emma.

Emma’s heart began thudding in her chest, and this time it was for other reasons than just the prospect of seeing Regina again. The blonde put the hairbrush down as she thought back and tried to retrace her own steps. Her old apartment in Toronto had been locked when she left, but Emma knew that Mary Margaret already had forced her way into it. Emma frowned as she thought back to her hasty departure. Had she by accident left something behind that could tell Mary Margaret where she was?

No. Emma was sure that she had destroyed every last shred of evidence that could potentially lead to her new location. And- the blonde breathed a little easier- even if Mary Margaret decided to go through her trash and stumbling over some sort of clue, that clue would lead her straight Vancouver. Not Steveston. No one, except for Ella, knew that Emma was in Steveston. Emma puffed out air through her mouth. She was still safe. Her location was still a secret. Mary Margaret still had no idea where she was.

But even so, Emma would be extra alert and on the lookout for anything unusual. She knew exactly what silence from Mary Margaret meant.

The blonde clenched her jaw. Well, good luck finding me then. During her two weeks here, she had made a friend in Sheriff Graham. Emma had a feeling that she could easily come to him if she felt icky about something.

But for right now, Emma was done thinking about Mary Margaret. That insane lady didn’t deserve her thoughts or worry. Now was the time to think about Regina Mills and her upcoming visit to Steveston.

Emma glanced at herself in the mirror one more time. She looked rather sharp today. Put together in a way she so rarely was. Emma hoped that this sort of wardrobe would be acceptable at Dragon Publishing. She couldn’t imagine herself parade around in a skirt or a dress every day. Emma smiled a little. She still couldn’t quite believe that she actually had a job she was starting on tomorrow. Malena had actually given her a chance. Emma didn’t care if her new job involved being an assistant who fetched coffee or something. She finally had a foot inside the publishing business. And as Malena had said, everyone had to start somewhere. This was Emma’s opportunity to work her way up in the publishing business. She was so grateful to Malena, but she was also very curious. The way she had spoken about Regina. The warmth her smooth, professional voice had gained when she mentioned the brunette. She had mentioned that Regina was a dear friend of hers, and now Emma was wondering exactly how dear? She had already figured out that Malena was a bit different, a bit eccentric, but seriously, was it customary to speak that warmly of one’s friends? Emma wasn’t completely sure. Well, sure enough she loved Ella and thought she was a great friend and all, but that was different. Malena had damn nearly been fawning over Regina. Or so it had seemed.

Well, I suppose that’s one more thing to add to the pile of mysteries. Find out more about Regina and Malena’s close, close friendship.

Emma decided that she had spent enough time wondering. And she had spent enough time in her room. Now was the time to head downstairs in the restaurant and wait for Regina. Emma kind of hoped that Ruby wouldn’t be there. Normally, Emma wasn’t one for burying her head in the sand, and one of these days she would take the bull by the horn and talk to Ruby before the situation could get any worse.

But not today, Emma decided as she walked downstairs. She didn’t want to create an awkward mood in the restaurant when that was where she and Regina were gonna spend time together. She would have to endure Ruby’s not to subtle stares. And who knew, maybe Ruby would see Emma with Regina and put two and two together. Emma hoped so. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of addressing things that needed addressing, but she also didn’t want to cause any trouble in the town she had just moved to. She didn’t want any trouble with the inn’s owner’s granddaughter. Emma lived here. This could be tricky.

But there was no Ruby when Emma came downstairs in the restaurant. Only Eugenia who smiled at Emma and asked if she had slept well.

“Yes, thank you. I slept perfectly,” Emma said and smiled.

“Mattress still comfortable?” Eugenia asked and raised an eyebrow as though she didn’t quite dare to believe it.

“It’s very comfortable,” Emma assured.

“Oh. Good. That’s a relief. Maybe I won’t have to change the mattresses right now then. Now, what can I get for you, miss Swan? A cup of hot chocolate? An early lunch perhaps?”

“No thank you,” Emma said. “I’m actually waiting for someone.”

“Oh, I see,” Eugenia said. “Well, why don’t you try some of these mozzarella sticks while you wait? I’ve just made them. They’re still warm.”

“Thanks, Eugenia,” Emma smiled. She liked Eugenia. She wasn’t nosy. Nor did she ask a million different questions.

Eugenia returned the smile as she placed a plate full of mozzarella sticks in front of Emma. Emma took a bite. They were really delicious. Nice and crispy.

“What’s the verdict?” Eugenia asked. “Can I sell these to customers or not?”

“Mmph, definitely,” Emma said and swallowed a mouthful of mozzarella sticks.

“Excellent,” Eugenia said. “If you ever get tired of working in the publishing business, you can become my new test eater.”

Emma laughed. “I’ll definitely consider that if I ever want something else to do.”

Eugenia snickered lightly at that, and then she disappeared into the kitchen. Emma heard her pant lightly and mumble something about the dough being too heavy to move around.

Emma glanced at the big clock hanging on the wall. 10:45. Maybe she had come down here a little too early, but then again rather that than having Regina waiting for her. Emma took another bite of the
freshly made mozzarella sticks. These were really good. Easily as good as Eugenia’s grilled cheese sandwiches and her burgers. Eugenia was an amazing cook. Emma once again reminded herself to get
signed up in the local gym center. Eating this kind of food had to have consequences.

Emma drummed her fingers lightly against the table. She could feel her heart thud in her chest once more. But this time it had nothing to do with Mary Margaret. No, now Emma was just good old fashioned nervous. She was going to see Regina again. Finally. After two weeks. And right now that seemed like the scariest shit in the world. 10:49. Emma briefly considered whether she should text
Regina and ask if she was on her way, but she quickly decided not to. Regina couldn’t text when she was driving, and Emma didn’t want to come across as pathetically eager. She would just have to be patient. Damn it. Patience was not one of Emma’s strongest suits. Maybe she had inherited that from Mary Margaret. Emma chuckled darkly at that. 10:50. Only ten more minutes. Maybe I should just grab these mozzarella sticks and then come back downstairs when it’s 10:55 or something like that. I don’t want to seem pathetic sitting here waiting all on my own. That had been one of Emma’s go-to methods for years. Showing up right before she was supposed to be there. That had been one of Emma’s go-to methods for years. It always worked particularly well if Emma had a hunch that she had been stood up by her date.

Woah wait a second, Swan! This is NOT a date. It’s two friends meeting up for coffee. You better remember that. Emma liked clean lines. No half-assed agreements or anything getting lost in translation. If this had been a date, Emma would have made sure Regina knew. She would have asked straight out “would you like to go out on a date with me?”. No nonsense. No misunderstandings. Emma had had far too many of those in her live. Often her life could be quite chaotic, and Emma had always gone out of her way to ensure that her love life wasn’t. Well, at least until Lily had walked out on her. Emma clenched her fist slightly. It still angered her to think about Lily, but not as much as it used to. It was more of an “oh well. That bitch”-kind of anger now. Not an “I can’t believe she left me”-kind of anger.

Emma was starting to feel more indifference than anger towards Lily. That probably had something to do with her developing feelings for Regina. Emma shook her head a little in pure disbelief. It was crazy, really. Developing feelings for someone she had only known for two weeks and been with in person for three days. Emma had always made a point of really getting to know the woman she liked. Really finding out everything there was to know about her, and here she was, developing feelings for a woman she literally knew next to nothing about. She knew Regina was a former professor in English literature. She knew that Regina was original from Montreal but had moved to Toronto at some point. She knew that Regina now lived in Vancouver, and she knew that Regina had a son. That was all. Not a lot to go on really.

And then of course there was that mystery. That mysterious accident that had cost Regina her voice. Really, that was what Emma wanted to know the most. Last night, her imagination had ran amok and she had kept imagining that Regina had been involved in all sorts of dramatic things. A plane crash. An accident at sea. A hunting accident. It was by then Emma had snorted and told herself to go sleep. A hunting accident. Really, Swan? Maybe some of her teachers had actually been right. Maybe Emma did have an overactive imagination like they had claimed. Last night, Emma certainly had been willing to believe them. She had actually felt pretty dumb. A hunting accident. That was ridiculous. Emma doubted Regina was the hunting type.

A slight sound caught Emma’s attention. The blonde looked up and nearly yelped in surprise. Regina was standing right next to her.

“Huh,” Emma said and swallowed as she tried to re-start her heart which was pounding in shock, but also for a completely different reason. Regina looked beautiful. Her dark hair was smooth and shiny,
just brushing the top of her shoulders. She was wearing this black leather pencil skirt and a black turtleneck sweater. Even though her outfit was simple, it was elegant at the same time, and Emma silently wondered whether anyone had ever worn a pencil skirt and a turtleneck sweater that well before. And obviously, the brunette’s makeup was on point as well. Emma was first drawn to the way thick, black lashes framed Regina’s dark eyes perfectly, the way a soft, coffee brown eyeshadow with black eyeliner brought out Regina’s eyes. Perfect smoky eyes. And then she was drawn to the burgundy lipstick she had chosen today. Those perfect, slightly plump lips. Emma felt like an incredible weak person.

Regina raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, and Emma quickly forced herself to snap out of it.

“Hi,” the blonde said and tried not to sound too breathless. She flashed Regina a little smile.

Regina returned the smile and her gaze landed on the empty chair across the table.

“Sit down,” Emma said quickly.

Regina sat down and then she thrusted one hand inside her purse. Roamed around for a moment before she found what she was looking for.

Emma couldn’t help but smile when she saw what it was Regina had found in her purse. It was a small stack of post-it notes. Regina returned Emma’s smile, and then she slid an already written message
across the table for Emma to see. What was written on the post-it note made Emma smile again. ‘As you can see, I came prepared.’

“Yeah, I can see that,” Emma smiled. “Which was very clever. I think I lost my stack of post-its.”

Regina tilted her head slightly at that.

“It’s so typical me,” Emma continued and shook her head a little. “I constantly misplace things and throw them out by mistake.” Except for your messages. I’ve kept every single one of them. Not that she was ever planning on admitting that to Regina or anything.

Regina’s smile grew a bit more teasing at that, and Emma thought to herself that it was amazing, really. The things you could express with a smile.

“So, are you ready for some coffee?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded, scribbled on a post-it note and then slid the note across the table. ‘Yes, that sounds great. I didn’t have any coffee this morning.’

“We should order then,” Emma said briskly as she looked around in the restaurant. Eugenia wasn’t there. She was probably still in the kitchen. As opposed to walking up to the counter and pressing the little bell, Emma settled for calling: “hey, Eugenia?”

“Yes?” came the response from the kitchen. “I’ll be right there, miss Swan.”

“Just Emma,” called back and suppressed the urge to both laugh and roll her eyes. Why was it that everyone insisted on calling her miss Swan? It made her feel as though she was someone fancy. But she supposed it was nice too in a way. Here in Steveston she was miss Swan. Not miss Blanchard-Nolan. She was simply Emma Swan. The freshest start ever.

There was a bit of scuffling, the sound of water running, hands being washed most likely, and then Eugenia emerged from the kitchen. Emma could see that she was ready to ask the familiar “what can I do for you”-question, but then the grey-haired woman spotted Regina, and her face lit up in a smile. “Regina,” she said. “I didn’t know you were coming today.” She sounded every bit like a scolding grandmother when she said it.

Regina just smiled and shrugged.

“Now, what can I do for you two?” Eugenia asked, still smiling warmly at Regina.

“We’d like some coffee,” Emma said and then glanced at Regina. “Right?”

Regina nodded in affirmative.

“Two coffees please,” Emma said and glanced at Regina again. “I’ve forgotten if you use milk or sugar?”

Regina just looked at Eugenia.

“No milk, two sugars,” Eugenia said and put her hand lightly on Regina’s shoulder. “I’ve known how she likes her coffee for years. Isn’t that right, Regina?”

Regina nodded and flashed the elderly woman a little smile. A slightly more different one from the one she had flashed Emma a moment ago. Even though the difference was barely there, Emma quickly picked up on it, and she raised an eyebrow. But now Eugenia was looking at her

“Both milk and sugar for me,” Emma said. “Three sugars and lots of milk.”

“So cappuccino?” Eugenia quipped.

“Almost,” Emma said with a snicker.

Eugenia chuckled and her gaze lingered on the stack of post-it notes for a moment. “I’ll find that for you. Won’t be a moment.”

Emma thanked her and Regina smiled. Eugenia had been right in her statement. It didn’t take much more than a moment before the elderly woman returned with two cups of coffee. “One for you, and one
for you,” she said as she placed the cup of coffee in front of Regina. “You just let me know if you need anything else.” It was said with so much warmth, and she patted Regina’s shoulder lightly before she turned around and disappeared back into the kitchen. The door slammed behind her, and the next second Emma heard music coming from the kitchen. Eugenia clearly liked music when she worked.

Regina looked at the closed door Eugenia had just disappeared through and frowned a bit.

“What?” Emma asked and took a sip of her coffee. She wanted to know what had caused the brunette to frown like that.

Regina shrugged, but when Emma asked “what” a second time, the brunette grabbed a new post-it note, scribbled and then slid it across the table for Emma to read. Which Emma immediately did: ‘it’s probably nothing. I’m just being paranoid.’

“Try me,” Emma said. “I’m the mistress of paranoia.”

That elicited a smile and a headshake from Regina, and then she scribbled underneath the first message. Emma took a sip of her coffee and then read the new message: ‘Did it seem to you like she felt sorry for me?’

Now Emma was the one to frown as she considered the question. The warmth in Eugenia’s voice. The way she had looked at Regina. Her smile that oozed with tenderness. The hand on Regina’s shoulder. The way the grey-haired woman had looked at the stack of post-its for just a moment too long.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Emma said truthfully, because she wasn’t interested in lying to Regina.

Regina nodded and then found a new post-it note. She scribbled for a moment and then gave Emma the note. ‘Sometimes it can be hard to figure out whether people are just being nice or if they feel sorry for me.’

“I can understand that,” Emma nodded. She really, really could.

Regina shrugged and then scribbled quickly underneath the message. Emma was quick to bow her head over the message: ‘I think that’s one of the reasons why I find it so easy to be around you. You didn’t know me before. You only know this version of me.’

Emma felt warm. Regina found it easy to be around her. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what it. She looked up again just in time to see Regina find another post-it in the stack, scribble and then slide it over to Emma. ‘But enough about me... How are you? Do you like Steveston so far? Have you made any new friends? You’re starting at Dragon Publishing tomorrow, right? How do you feel about that?’

Emma chuckled. Normally she wasn’t one to like to be bombarded with questions, but this was different. “I really like it here,” the blonde said. “It’s a beautiful little town. I’ve taken so many pictures of the harbor already, and I’m planning on trying The Rabbit Hole’s drinks this weekend. Or the next.”

Regina smiled, scribbled underneath: ‘just be careful with the Poison Apple drink. That’s a nasty one. Gives quite the headache.’

Emma chuckled. “I’ll bear that in mind when I order. As for friends... I’ve talked some with Isabelle Gold, and she seems really sweet. And Sheriff Graham too.”

Regina nodded eagerly, and Emma took that as confirmation. “So yeah, my first two weeks here has been really great,” the blonde continued and then lowered her voice ever so slightly: “but I think someone might be slightly.... interested in me.”

Regina raised an eyebrow and scribbled underneath: ‘care to elaborate on that?’

“Sure,” Emma said and took another sip of her coffee. She continued to speak quietly as she said: “Ruby. I think she might be getting a thing about me.”

Regina’s lips formed a silent “oh”.

“Yeah,” Emma said and carefully studied Regina’s face. There. I’ve made the first towards telling her that I date women. Move made.

But Regina’s face didn’t reveal anything as she grabbed a new post-it and scribbled. Soon Emma was presented with a new response: ‘well, Ruby is a very nice girl.’

“Yeah she is,” Emma immediately agreed. “But I don’t think she’s... my type.” That was actually ridiculous, because under normal circumstances Ruby was exactly Emma’s type. Long-legged. Brunette. Perky and outgoing. Everything Emma appreciated.

“I suppose I ought to have a little chat with her before it gets out of hand,” Emma continued and once again studied Regina’s face. “I don’t wanna give her false hope or anything.”

Regina nodded slowly and then scribbled and underneath the other message. Emma tilted her head slightly so she could read: ‘that’s probably a good idea. But knowing Ruby, everything will be fine. She takes everything quite lightly.’

“Good,” Emma said. “I’m glad this won’t break her heart or anything.”

Regina offered a smile and a headshake as though she was assuring Emma that Ruby’s heart would be just fine. Then she found a new post-it and began scribbling a new message. A longer message.

Emma managed to take five sips of her coffee before the message was slid across the table. ‘Are you looking forward to start working at Dragon Publishing tomorrow?’

“Yeah, definitely,” Emma said and tried to quell her disappointment over that they seemingly were done talking about dating now. “Malena seems very nice if a bit...”

Regina quickly scribbled underneath and Emma chuckled when she read. ‘eccentric? Intimidating?’

“Fond of dragons,” Emma landed on. “I’ve never seen so many dragon statues and figures before.”

Regina smiled and her dark eyes gleamed with amusement as she scribbled, and the next second Emma chuckled as she read: ‘if she could transform into a dragon herself, she would.’

“Yeah, I’m sure she would,” Emma nodded. “Seriously, I’ve never seen so many dragons in one room.”

Regina shook her head in amusement as she lifted her cup of coffee and took a sip.

“I also saw the one you gave her,” Emma continued. “It was very nice.”

Regina shrugged lightly at that and took another sip of her coffee.

“She talked about you,” Emma said, silently wondering if she was moving towards private territory.

Regina raised an eyebrow, tore off a new post-it note, scribbled quickly and then gave Emma the note. ‘What did she say?’

“She just asked how we met, and I told her that we met during the train ride from Toronto to Vancouver, and then she asked if you were staying permanently in Vancouver, and I said yes,” Emma quickly
summarized, nearly stumbling over the words. “I hope I didn’t say something wrong to her.”

But Regina shook her head and smiled reassuringly. Then she grabbed the pencil again, and Emma felt utterly relieved when she read: ‘You didn’t. Not at all. Don’t worry.’

“She was happy to hear about you,” Emma dared saying. “She said it had been a while since she last saw you.”

Regina nodded and then wrote underneath the reassuring words. After a moment the post it note was filled with words for Emma to read: ‘it has. Quite a while, actually. I know I should reach out to her,
but it’s so difficult. I haven’t seen her since before it happened. Everything is so different now.’

Emma’s gaze snapped up to Regina’s dark eyes. It. Since it happened. “Your accident?” the blonde dared asking and made sure her voice was gentle yet not showing any pity.

Regina nodded and her fingers moved up to touch her throat. It didn’t even seem like she was thinking about it. It was an unconscious gesture.

“I understand,” Emma said and nodded slightly. She couldn’t imagine how difficult it had to be, reconnecting with someone you had known before everything changed. Before you had changed. How did you even do that? How did you pick up where you had left of? Before your entire life changed drastically.

Emma blinked. She had been so busy following her own train of thoughts she hadn’t noticed the post-it on the table. But now she snapped out of it and bowed her head slightly to read the new message: ‘Vocal cord paralysis. That’s what it’s called.’

“Vocal cord paralysis,” Emma repeated quietly.

Regina nodded a little.

Vocal cord paralysis. Emma hadn’t stumbled upon that during her google search, but now she reminded herself to google it later. She wanted to learn more about it. She wanted to learn more about Regina.

But she sensed that more talk about Regina’s missing voice wasn’t on the table right now. She didn’t want to upset the brunette, so she moved on to other topics and asked: “how is your fairytale loving son doing?”

Regina visibly perked up at that and found a blank post-it note to scribble on. And boy, did she scribble fast! Emma only managed one mouthful of coffee before Regina pushed a new message towards her: ‘He’s doing well, thank you. He’s very happy that I’m home, but he keeps talking about wanting to live a different place where it’s just the two of us. I have a feeling he wants me all to himself.’

“You guys don’t live alone?” Emma asked curiously.

Regina shook her head and then scribbled on a new post-it. The pile was thinning rapidly, and Emma leaned forward to read the new message: ‘no, we’re currently living at my sisters place.’

Her sisters place? Emma found that to be very interesting. Regina lived with her sister. Not a spouse or a boyfriend. Emma blinked when she realized that a new message had been written underneath the first one: ‘To be honest, I think he wants a bigger room, too.’

Emma chuckled. “Let me guess... he wants his room to look like a pirate’s ship?”

Regina tore another post-it note off the stack and then scribbled. Emma sipped more of her coffee now. It was lukewarm now. She had been more focused on talking than drinking her coffee. But that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered when Regina slipped her another note. Emma was quick to read it: ‘to be honest, I think he’d be happy as long as he gets a bunk bed. That’s the only thing he ever talks about when he speaks about his future room. Always a bunk bed.’

Emma snickered softly at that. “Bunk bed, huh? I think I would have loved that when I was his age.”

Regina tilted her head in curiosity, clearly encouraging Emma to tell her more.

And so Emma did. “I had this horrible, princess-y pink bedroom with flower decorations, canopy bed and ruffles and shit everywhere. It was awful. The walls were bubblegum colored, the carpet on the
floor was pink, and the curtains were these long flowy things with flower prints all over. And my bed was obviously shaped as Cinderella’s carriage.”

Regina raised an eyebrow questioningly, and Emma couldn’t actually blame her. Because to someone who didn’t know, this sounded completely idyllic. The perfect room for a little girl.

“I was forced to have that room until I was fourteen,” Emma revealed and sighed. “My adoptive mother refused to change anything about it, and she kept asking me why I never had any friends coming over. She didn’t understand that I was embarrassed over my room. Or maybe she did, but she definitely didn’t want to hear about it.”

Now Regina was frowning.

“Well, let’s just say, the princess room met its demise when I went crazy and spray painted the walls black,” Emma said with a hoarse chuckle. “My adoptive mother was furious and screamed at me. She thought that I’d had a psychotic episode or something like that. I remember that I yelled back at her that I hadn’t, I just couldn’t stand being stuck with a princess room anymore.”

By now Regina actually looked deeply concerned.

Emma shrugged, tried to amend a bit: “my adoptive mother is... very difficult to be around. She doesn’t really understand what boundaries means. She sort of... holds on too tightly on the people she loves. Does that make any sense to you?”

Regina nodded and scribbled quickly, showing the message to Emma. ‘Yes, it does.’

Emma nodded but then realized something: “I’ve just been rambling on about myself, haven’t I? We were talking about your son. How old is he?”

Regina’s lips curled up in a smile when her son was mentioned, and soon she was scribbling eagerly. While she did that, Emma downed the rest of her coffee, and by the time she had swallowed the last mouthful, Regina slid a new message across the table for the blonde to read: ‘he just turned ten last month. He’s growing up way too fast.’

Emma chuckled and carefully saved this new information. Henry was ten years old. She glanced discreetly at Regina. What was she, thirty four? Thirty five. If Emma’s calculations were just a bit correct,
Regina had had Henry when she was in her mid-twenties. Mid-twenties. Emma considered that. Didn’t most people meet their spouse when they were in their mid-twenties? Emma had a vague memory of having read that somewhere.

“And where’s he hanging out while you’re here?” she asked casually. At his dad’s maybe?

Regina was quick to scribble underneath, and she had barely removed the pencil before Emma bowed her head to read: ‘my sister isn’t working today. She’ll pick him up from school.’

“Oh, okay,” Emma said as she carefully stored that information. Maybe she didn’t have a direct confirmation yet, but it seemed very much like Regina was a single mother.

Regina flashed another little smile and took a sip of her coffee. Emma noted that she grimaced ever so slightly as she swallowed the beverage.

But Emma was not about to stare or fuss. She had a very clear feeling that Regina wouldn’t want that. So instead the blonde looked at the table. The post-its notes were piling up rapidly. In fact the table was barely visible anymore.

“Does this bother you?” Emma bursted out.

Regina raised an eyebrow in confusion.

Emma blushed slightly as she clarified: “I saw you used sign language with your sister and your son, and I thought that it might bother you. You know, not being able to communicate like that with me?”

All trace of confusion disappeared from Regina’s face as she shook her head, grabbed a new post-it note and then began scribbling.

Emma waited and felt a little dumb for having asked Regina such a question, but before she could get the chance to blame herself further, she was presented with another note. Emma pushed a stray curl behind her ear as she leaned in slightly and read the note: ‘no, not at all. I quite enjoy this way of communicating with you. Writing my answers down is nice, and to be perfectly honest, my son is actually so much better at understanding sign language than I am at using it.’

Emma nodded and stored this information away as well. This could very well mean that Regina’s accident had happened very recently.

“Well, I definitely think that these post-its makes for a nice tablecloth,” Emma quipped.

Regina smiled, and the sight went straight to Emma’s belly. God she was beautiful when she smiled. And not smiled. Really, who was she kidding. Regina was beautiful all the time.

Emma was pulled out of her thoughts when another note was given to her. ‘Have you stopped by the garage yet?’

“I’ve swung by a few times,” Emma replied. “And I’ve actually seen a car I might buy. It’s this little yellow bug. It’s adorable. And cheap.”

Regina seemed amused again.

“What?” Emma asked, challenging the brunette a bit. “You don’t like yellow bugs?”

Regina smiled, shook her head and then wrote underneath: ‘quite the contrary. I can’t imagine a car more suitable for you.’

Emma chuckled. “I’m really glad you think so. When I lived in Toronto, I was driving this amazing bright green Volkswagen. It was amazing. A rusty old thing from the sixties, and Lily kept going on and on about how it wasn’t a proper car. Whatever the hell that means. She was sometimes very opinionated.”

Regina frowned a bit and then wrote a underneath her previous reply to Emma. ‘Well, I don’t see why she should decide which vehicle you drove.’

Emma almost chuckled. Vehicle. “Well, I suppose she kinda had a right to,” the blonde said. “She often borrowed the car when she was driving to work.”

Regina nodded in an “oh I see”-manner and then tore another post-it note off the stack to write down her next comment.

Emma was beginning to feel a bit peckerish, but she decided to wait until she had seen what Regina was writing for her. And it didn’t take long before another post-it note was pushed across the table
towards her. ‘Lily was your roommate? Couldn’t she just use her own car?’

“Actually, Lily was my girlfriend,” Emma corrected. “We lived together.”

Regina nodded again.

“We were together for two years, and then she broke it off. Just like that,” Emma said before she could get the chance to stop herself. This was bordering on oversharing, but Emma couldn’t help it. There was just something about Regina that made Emma blurt out random stuff. The blonde felt her cheeks heat up. She honestly hadn’t meant to say that.

But it was too late to take it back, and then another note was pushed towards her. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Emma.’

“Yeah, well,” Emma said and shrugged lightly. “It is what it is, right? Life. One moment you’re dating someone, and then you’re not.” Oh, Jesus Christ! You sound like a grandmother. Stop talking for fucks sake!

But Regina didn’t seem to think Emma sounded like a grandmother. The brunette nodded seriously, and then another note was slid towards Emma.

The blonde bowed her head, allowing her golden curls to hide her pink cheeks for a moment as she read the note. ‘You’re quite right about that. The world of dating can be a bit of a battlefield.’

Did that mean that Regina wasn’t dating anyone at the moment? It certainly seemed like it. Very much in fact. God, how she wanted to ask Regina! She was practically itching to ask the brunette if she was seeing anyone. The question was almost burning on Emma’s tongue, and she was just about to open her mouth and say something real stupid when she saw Regina’s dark eyes flicker towards the door, and only now Emma realized how long they had talked. Oh, shoot. I didn’t even realize. Maybe Regina had plans for the rest of the day. Emma felt a twinge of disappointment but choked it back and flashed Regina a smile instead. “This has been really nice.”

Regina nodded as she wrote another note and then gave it to Emma: ‘it has, but I’m afraid I have to be off now.’

“Of course,” Emma said and tried to act as though she wasn’t terribly disappointed that Regina had to leave. “It was nice of you to drive here to have coffee with me.”

Regina offered another slight nod and a smile as she rose from her seat.

Emma got on her feet as well and watched as Regina gathered the remaining post-its, stuffed them into her purse, and then slung the purse elegantly over her shoulder. She flashed Emma a little smile and then she headed towards the door.

“Are you coming to Steveston again? It would be really nice to have coffee with you again sometimes.” Emma exclaimed, saying things that should have been said with a bit more subtility than that.

Regina turned around, roamed in her purse, and Emma immediately felt a bit bad when she realized tha the brunette was searching for the post-its and pencil. I should obviously have asked her that when she still had the notes and pencil nearby. Duh.

But Regina seemed unbothered by Emma’s inconvenient question. She found her phone instead of the notes and pencil, and soon she was tapping away on the screen.

Emma shifted a bit. She still felt a bit bad about her timing, but then Regina turned the phone screen towards her, and Emma read the message: ‘I wouldn’t mind stopping by for coffee again, but I’m afraid I’ll be quite busy for the next few weeks.’

“Oh. Okay,” Emma said, quelling that ridiculous disappointment that was currently seeping through her body.

Then Regina was tapping away on her phone, and she was smiling a little when she turned the screen towards Emma.

And Emma was most definitely grinning when she read the message written on the phone screen: ‘but you have my number, so feel free to text me whenever you want to. I’d love to hear more about how you settle in with your new job. And whether you decide to buy the yellow bug or not.’

“Sure,” Emma said, and her cheeks were beginning to hurt slightly from smiling. “I’ll keep you updated.”

Regina returned the smile and then her gaze flickered towards the door again.

“Say hi to your smart son for me?” Emma asked almost shyly. Talking about Henry made her feel a bit awkward.

But she earned herself another beautiful smile at that, and another nod.

“Cool. I’ll just... see you around?” Emma said.

A confirmation smile. Another nod. Plump lips silently formed the word “goodbye”. Regina gave her shoulder the faintest of touches and then she turned around and headed towards the door.

This time, Emma let her go. She didn’t like seeing Regina walk away, but then again, she didn’t really have a choice. She sighed a little as she watched Regina open the door and then disappear out on the street. Regina was gonna be busy for the next few weeks. That was really a bummer.

But.... she wanted Emma to keep texting her. She wanted updates on Emma’s life.

The blonde grinned as she threw some money on the counter for Eugenia and then turned around to return to her room. Regina wanted regular updates on her life. That was something. Something that made Emma feel utterly hopeful.

 

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Working for Malena Fiammetta wasn’t actually very hard. Yes, the woman was definitely eccentric and a bit ice queen-ish in her behavior from time to time, but she was by no means an unreasonable boss.

On her first day there, Emma mostly trailed after Ursula Clearwater in an attempt to get familiar with Dragon Publishing. On her second day there, Emma was asked to take care of some of the many emails the company received, and on her third day, she took over Ursula’s front desk job while the other woman was doing something else. So it was safe to say that her work at Dragon Publishing variated a lot, but Emma didn’t actually mind that. Nor did she mind the fact that she had been asked to make coffee a few times. This was not like being a waitress and having rude guys ask if she was on the menu too.

This was a proper, grownup job for a proper, grownup woman. Emma felt good. Everyone at Dragon Publishing had welcomed her. She didn’t feel like an outsider here.

Emma’s first week went great. She plowed through without making any mistakes such as spilling coffee or whatever. Malena mostly stayed in her office or went away on meetings.

But on the first day of Emma’s second week of working for Dragon Publishing, the older blonde suddenly poked her head out of her office, waved Emma inside and presented her with a thick manuscript.

“I have a good feeling about this manuscript,” she said as she put on her hat and scarf. “Be a dear and read this and then tell me if I’m right when I come back from my meeting.”

“Seriously?” Emma asked, dumbfounded over her new responsibility.

“Yes dear,” Malena said and flashed her a little smile as she handed Emma said manuscript. “You can stay in Ursula’s office while you read. She won’t be there for the rest of the day.”

“Great,” Emma said, still slightly overwhelmed. “I mean- thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, miss Swan. Read the manuscript,” Malena said, and then she disappeared out of the door.

Emma stared dumbfounded after her, but then she awakened from her trance and left the office with the manuscript in hand. This was her job for the day. Better get started right away. She didn’t want to disappoint Malena. She wanted to proof what a fast reader she was.

She headed into Ursula’s office and settled down in her chair. Then the blonde began reading. It didn’t take long before she was well into the story. The plot turned out to be both interesting and unique.

In the manuscript, Emma could read about a woman who wakes with a headache and then goes to work, only to find out she had been reported missing. A month ago. Emma was sucked into the story almost immediately, and if it had been solely up to her, this manuscript would definitely get the stamp of approval. She hoped that Malena would chose to publish this one. It really seemed like it had a lot of potential.

Emma quickly realized that there was no way she would be done reading this manuscript today, though. Maybe she could ask Malena permission to take the manuscript home with her and then finish it there.

As Emma sat there and read, she felt that tingle of optimism in her body. It really felt as though many things in her life was falling into place. She had a job she loved. She had gained good friends in both Isabelle Gold, Sheriff Graham Humbert, Mulan, Tindra Bell and Aurora. She lived in a nice neighborhood now. Hell, she even had her own car. After a week of taking the rattling bus from Steveston to Dragon Publishing, Emma had decided that enough was enough. And then she had walked over to Billy’s garage and bought the yellow bug. Emma Swan, queen of public transport had bought herself a car. She was slowly becoming a proper adult with a job and a car. Now all she needed was her own place to live. She couldn’t keep living in a hotel room for the rest of her life. Sooner or later, her economy would start to suffer under it. She needed to put down some roots. A proper place to live had to be one of the last things in her life falling into place. A real house.

And perhaps a date with Regina. Emma briefly looked up from the manuscript as she thought about the beautiful brunette. She had thought so much about Regina since their last meeting, and more than once she had thought about what it was that kept Regina so busy. But Emma was relieved that Regina had agreed to having coffee with her another time. Emma turned her attention back to the manuscript and tried to concentrate at the task at hand. But her thoughts quickly wandered back to Regina. Emma had a secret plan. No. It wasn’t as much as a plan as it was a dream. In a month, there would be a harvest festival in Steveston. A proper funfair with stalls where you could buy things, plenty of delicious food to eat, and carnival rides for the children. It would take place during a weekend, and the whole thing would end with a bonfire at the beach. Even though the event was still a month away, every last residence in Steveston was already talking about it. Apparently, the yearly harvest festival was a pretty big deal. Emma had a dream about inviting Regina to the harvest festival. And Henry too if he wanted. A harvest festival with carnival rides was great for a kid his age, right?

The only thing Emma struggled with was actually asking Regina. Inviting her to a harvest festival was not exactly the same as asking her to have coffee. No, inviting her to come to the harvest festival was definitely leaning towards “date”. And to be brutally honest, Emma wasn’t completely sure whether that was something Regina would be interested in or not. The brunette confused her. Emma felt slightly as though Regina was giving her “mixed signals”. The many warm smiles Regina had flashed her could mean that the brunette was interested, but it could also very well just have been nothing more than friendly smiles. Emma had no idea whether Regina was just seeing her as a friend and nothing more. A friend she could meet up with for coffee from time to time. A friend she could text when she had nothing better to do.

Emma turned another page in the manuscript. During their last meetup for coffee, Emma had really tried to pay attention to whether or not Regina had been looking at her. Well, she had. There had been plenty of eye contact between them, but Emma had pathetically hoped she would catch Regina look at her body for just a split second.

But Regina hadn’t. And Emma couldn’t for the life of her figure out whether it was because Regina was too much of a lady to engage in such behavior, or simply wasn’t interested in looking at her body. It was frustrating really. To Emma, other people had always been open books. She’d never had any problems with reading people. Until now. She couldn’t figure Regina out. She couldn’t read her. She never had any idea what the brunette was actually thinking. More than once, Emma had been tempted to just straight up ask Regina. But that idea had been nixed just as fast. She wasn’t a fumbling teenager.

Asking Regina how she felt about her over text was such a seventh grade thing to do. If Emma wanted to ask Regina that kind of question, she would damn well do it when they were face to face!

But Emma was scared of that too. She was scared of being rejected. That fear had been a part of her ever since her early childhood, and the thought of being rejected by Regina... Emma shivered involuntarily. That would be horrible. The thought of being rejected by the woman she felt so strongly about was downright nauseating. Almost dizzying. It made her heart thud painfully in her chest. This was a dilemma. Not knowing how Regina felt was awful. But asking and potentially being rejected was even worse. She could risk loosing the brunette’s friendship, and that thought was so terrible, Emma immediately banished it from her mind. Nope. Not gonna happen. Nu-uh. She refused to face a reality Regina wasn’t a part of.

And now I’ve riled myself up, Emma noted. All this thinking about Regina had made her palms sweaty. Her heart was still thrumming in her chest. Emma reminded herself that she was at work right now.

She was getting paid for reading this manuscript. Not thinking about Regina. If that had been the case, Emma would have been a millionaire by now. The blonde snorted quietly as she finally bowed her head over the manuscript and carried on with her work.

 

****************************************

 

When Malena returned later, Emma was more than half-way into the manuscript, and she felt a bit terrible about having to stop reading when Ursula stepped inside and implied that she wanted her office back.

With the manuscript safely tugged under her arm, Emma patted down the hallway to find another reading spot. But before she could get the chance to find a place to settle down, the door to the meeting rom opened, and Malena poked her head out. “Oh, miss Swan?”

Emma stopped in her tracks. “Yes?”

“Come in here a moment,” Malena said. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

“Alright.” Emma spun around on her heels and walked over to the conference room. She slipped through the open door, and almost dropped the manuscript at what she saw.

“Miss Swan, this is Victoria De Villier,” Malena said, introducing Emma to a woman she already knew who was.

“Cruella,” the blonde woman corrected with a slight drawl and a very posh accent. She was wearing a flawless white suit, and her blonde hair was styled to perfection.

“Victoria who prefers to use her pen name at all times,” Malena indulged, now sounding slightly annoyed.

Emma was starstruck. Victoria De Villier. Victoria freaking De Villier! Writer of “Clockwise” one of Emma’s absolute favorite thrillers. She had read the book in two days, and it had taken her a week to
recover from that ending. Emma loved everything about that book. The characters were so defined, so relatable, the storyline was genius, and you were left with a rather ominous feeling throughout the book. But in Emma’s opinion, it had been the paranormal element that had been the real stroke of genius.

“Cruella, this is Emma Swan. Our newest employee,” Malena introduced.

“Hello,” Emma said, trying her best to recover and not come across as a crazy fan. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, miss Swan,” Cruella said as she shook Emma’s hand.

“Miss Swan has only been with us for two weeks, but she’s doing an excellent job,” Malena said.

Emma smiled politely and shyly at that.

“You’re a test reader?” Cruella guessed, nodding towards the manuscript stuffed under Emma’s arm.

“Uhh...” Emma said halfheartedly, because Malena had specifically said that Emma’s job didn’t really have an official title.

 

“Yes,” Malena said. “That’s correct. Miss Swan is our newest test reader. She has spent this past week settling in, but today she’s really getting started.”

“Oh, I see,” Cruella said, offering Emma a smile. “Tell me, miss Swan. Have you read Clockwise?”

“Yes!” Emma said eagerly, abandoning every attempt at not sounding like an obsessed fan. “It was incredible!”

Cruella smiled brightly at that. “You think so?”

“Yes! My god, yes! Absolutely! It was fantastic!”

“Which part did you like the best?” Cruella inquired, still smiling.

“Well, the part where-“

“I think that’s enough ego stroking for one day, dear Cruella,” Malena sharply interjected and glared at Cruella.

Cruella just laughed dismissively and focused on Emma. “Can you keep a secret, miss Swan?”

“Yeah?” Emma said curiously.

Cruella lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper as she said: “I’m working on a sequel.”

“Seriously?” Emma exclaimed and felt how her heart started thudding in her chest. “That’s amazing. I can’t wait to read it!”

Cruella smiled and then turned to Malena. “I like her.”

Malena rolled her eyes. “As far as I recall, my dear Victoria, we’re here to discuss your first draft. Not dawdle.”

“Mmm, quite so,” Cruella drawled. “And I suspect we’re here to discuss why you’re so stiff as well.”

In that moment, Emma quietly admired Victoria De Villier. Emma would never have dared talking to Malena like that.

Malena glared at Cruella and her blue eyes gleamed dangerously. Emma would for sure have run for the hills by now, but Cruella just smiled unaffected and then laughed heartedly. Then she flashed Emma a smile and then turned her back on her to walk into the conference room. Malena shook her head and rolled her eyes once more. Then she turned her attention back to Emma. “Miss Swan, could you be a dear and fetch the red folder in my office? I have all my documents concerning Victoria in there. It’s on the top shelf by the window.”

“Sure,” Emma said.

“Thank you,” Malena replied, offering a smile. “How is the manuscript by the way?”

“It’s really good,” Emma said truthfully.

“Good,” Malena said. “Perhaps we’ll bring it into consideration then.”

“That sounds great,” Emma said, slightly trailing off as she glanced at the door to the conference room. She still couldn’t quite believe that she had just met Victoria De Villier.

“Miss Swan?”

Emma quickly looked at Malena.

“Folder,” Malena said and sounded a bit overbearing.

“Oh. Right. Yeah, of course. I’ll find it,” Emma said quickly as she spun around on her heels and jogged down the long corridor towards the elevator.

Reaching Malena’s office was a bit of a quest, to be honest. First, she had to take an elevator all the way to the 24th floor, and then she had to jog down another long corridor. Twice she bursted through the wrong door, but luckily, the rooms were empty, so Emma didn’t manage to make a complete fool out of herself. But she was a bit out of breath when she finally reached her destination. She pulled the door to Malena’s office open and went inside. She easily spotted the red folder on the top shelf near the window. It was squeezed in between two other leather folders. Emma took a second to massage her ribs. It was very possible that she would start running again. She felt a bit out of shape. The blonde slowly walked towards the shelf, still panting slightly under her breath. Malena’s office was still intimidating as hell, and it felt a bit like all the dragon statues were watching and waiting for her to somehow screw up. Emma glared back at the dragons as she reached the shelf near the window. That was one tall shelf. Emma reminded herself to wear heels to work tomorrow. Seriously, she had to stand on her tippy toes to reach the top shelf.

Emma groaned from sheer effort as she scrambled to grab the red folder, and she silently wondered whether this was some sort of test. A way for Malena to judge whether she was a good employee or not. Emma almost chuckled. Maybe that was a tad farfetched, but still, it felt a bit like something Malena would actually be capable of doing. The top shelf test.

“God... Damnit,” the blonde cursed under her breath as she used all her effort. She could feel the texture of the folder. She strained once more and made a little noise of triumph when she managed to lock her fingers around the briefcase. Then she pulled. And pulled. The folder wasn’t budging. Emma cursed again as she gave it a firmer yank. The folder was undoubtedly trapped between the two leather bound folders, and in a way that probably made perfect sense. It had been a long time since Victoria De Villier had published anything. Of course the folder concerning her had ended up trapped between two other more important folders.

“Oh, come.... on!” Emma said and grinded her teeth. Malena was waiting for her folder, and Emma kept imagining her coming into the office and inquiring why Emma hadn’t fulfilled her task yet. The blonde refused to be caught in such an embarrassing situation as this one. She refused to tell her boss that she couldn’t give her the folder because it was stuck. That would be awful. No. Emma had to solve this problem on her own. And so she did the only thing she could do in this situation. She yanked. Harshly.

It happened immediately after. The red folder came loose. Oh yes, it came loose. But the problem was that so did the leather bound folder next to it. It actually hit Emma in the head on its downfall, and the next second the leather bound folder was lying pretty much upside down on the floor, and there were papers spread across all over the floor.

“Oops,” Emma muttered. Nice one, Swan! She rubbed the spot on her head where the folder had hit her. Once again, she had almost been taken down by her clumsiness.

Emma released her grip on the red folder and quickly crouched down to clean up the mess she had just made. God damn it. She could hear muffled voices from afar, and she frantically picked up the many papers and stuffed them back into the folder. Now she would prefer to admit that the red folder had been stuck. Anything but having someone walk into the office and see the mess she had made.

The blonde cursed softly under her breath as she gathered as many as the papers as she possibly could in one go and then stuffed them back into the folder. She really hoped that it would be a long time before Malena needed this particular folder. She was painfully aware that things didn’t look quite as neat as they probably had before.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” it was so typical for her to do something like this. To make a mess out of things. God damnit, Malena is waiting for me.

Like a whirlwind, Emma gathered the rest of the papers and stuffed them back into the folder. She was just about to feel a little bit triumphant because she thought she was done. She thought she had managed to clean up everything.

But clearly, she hadn’t. Just as Emma was rising from the floor to do her job and bring the red folder back to Malena, she noticed something small and white lying on the floor. It looked like a little piece of paper that had clearly been stuffed away between the many other papers, and now had fallen out thanks to Emma.

Emma quickly crouched down once more and picked the little white piece of paper up. But upon turning the paper over, Emma realized two things. It wasn’t white. And it wasn’t just a piece of paper.

No, it was a picture. Emma tilted her head slightly as she looked at the motive. It was a picture of two women. It didn’t take long before Emma recognize both of them. There was Malena with her golden hair in soft curls and her blue eyes sparkling. She appeared to be around sixteen. And there next to her was Regina. Her dark hair was much longer and curlier than it was now, spilling down her front, and rom what Emma could judge, it probably reached Regina’s lower back. Neither of the two women were looking at the camera. Instead they were looking at each other, and their pose was a bit sideways.
Malena’s hands were resting on Regina’s lower back, and Regina had her arms loosely wrapped around Malena’s neck.

“Huh,” Emma said as she gawked at the picture. This didn’t look like the normal, silly pictures high school friends took together. No, this looked like a.... couple picture. Maybe Emma’s “gaydar” was completely wonky at times, but this she was sure of. There was no doubt in her mind. Regina and Malena definitely had a thing going in high school And judging by this picture, a very good thing. Both of them looked so happy. The moment captured in the picture looked so private.

Emma weighed the picture in her hand. This was interesting. Extremely interesting.

And also extremely non of her business. This was a personal picture Malena had tucked away. This wasn’t something Emma should be looking at.

The blonde quickly stuffed the photograph away in the folder she had found it in, and then she grabbed the red folder and quickly left Malena’s office. As she quickly walked down the labyrinth of corridors that would take her back to the elevator, she tried not to think too much of the picture she just accidentally found. God, Regina had looked beautiful! Well, obviously she still did, but seeing her as a teenager had been something quite special. Emma felt half-dazed as she stepped inside the elevator with the red folder in hand. Regina and Malena had had a relationship when they were in high school. That was why Malena had been fawning over Regina. She clearly still had a soft spot for Regina. Emma wondered if that could become a problem. And she wondered whether Malena knew what had happened to Regina. Did she knew exactly what sort of accident Regina had been involved in? Maybe. But then again maybe not. Regina had mentioned that she hadn’t seen Malena for a while. Not since before the accident.

Emma tried to force herself to think about work when she stepped out of the elevator and jogged down the hallway, but damn it was difficult to do so when she had just gained confirmation on something that had been messing with her head for a while.

Regina liked women.

For the rest of that day, Emma tried to think of something else. She kept reading the manuscript and then helped out wherever she could. And luckily, the jobs she was asked to do was enough to keep her occupied.

 

But as soon as her workday was over and she could climb inside her newly acquired yellow bug, Emma immediately stopped thinking about work and started to think about the picture she had stumbled on. A teenage Regina with her arms wrapped around Malena’s neck. Regina and Malena had dated when they were in high school, Emma was certain about that. And while she still wasn’t completely sure whether Malena would end up being a problem or not, she couldn’t help but to feel ever so slightly excited. This was very, very good news.

Emma whistled slightly along with the old, crackling radio. The quality wasn’t very good, and sooner rather than later Emma would probably have to change the radio, but for right now, it could do, and
Emma happily went from whistling to singing along. Madonna on the radio was doing a far better job, but Emma didn’t care.

Emma adjusted the mirror a bit and then glanced at the manuscript lying on the passenger’s seat. Malena had allowed her to bring it back home so she could finish reading it. Emma knew exactly what her plans for tonight were. A cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon, a couple a pop tarts, and then early to bed with the manuscript. Emma was looking forward to reading the rest of the story. She chuckled a little.

She had actually met Victoria De Villiers today. Emma couldn’t wait to tell Ella that. And Isabelle. Boy, Isabelle would go crazy! She and Emma had actually talked about Clockwise yesterday. In fact they had spend most of an hour discussing the cryptic ending. And now there was a sequel on the way! Emma almost couldn’t wait.

On the radio, Madonna was still singing about being “crazy for you”, and Emma thought to herself that she couldn’t have landed on a more appropriate song. She was most definitely crazy for someone.

She missed Regina. Their coffee appointment had been a major success, and Emma almost couldn’t wait to see the brunette again. She couldn’t wait to make her smile or raise an eyebrow in that seductive way that made Emma’s insides turn to mush. The blonde hummed tunelessly to herself. She would definitely text Regina when she got home. There hadn’t been much time to message the brunette today, and Emma was more than ready to change that. She wondered what Regina was doing today. And had been doing for the past week. She had been busy; Emma knew as much. But busy doing what exactly?

That was the major question. Emma hoped that there wasn’t any trouble or anything. She didn’t want Regina to be in trouble.

Emma started to hum along to the new Madonna song blaring from the radio, and she smiled as her head started to fill with thoughts about Regina. It was so easy to just abandon everything else and start thinking about Regina. Emma liked feeling like that. All happy and optimistic. It had been a while since she last had felt like this. Content and excited about what was to come.

As she reached a turnabout, she reached up and adjusted the rearview mirror just a tad. She was a bit absentmindedly and barely picked up on the grey station car driving behind her. Emma switched up the volume on Madonna and wondered whether she should find another radio station to listen to. Normally she wasn’t a Madonna kind of girl. She jammed her finger down on the button until she found a song that fitted her.

 

“Huh, because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do...”

 

Emma chuckled and tried her best to keep up with Pharrell. Yep, this song was entirely appropriate for her mood. She definitely felt like a room without a roof. Who cared that her singing voice was pretty rusty and definitely not the best? There was no one around to witness her car-karaoke-session. And maybe that was a good thing.

Still singing along and trying to outdo Pharrell, she reached another turnabout. She took the first left.

So did the grey station car behind her. Emma didn’t pay enormous attention to it. It was just a car going in the same direction as her. She turned the volume up on Pharrell Williams.

 

“Here come bad news, talking this and that
(Yeah) Well, give me all you got, and don't hold it back
(Yeah) Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine
(Yeah) No offense to you, don't waste your time
Here's why...”

She reached a traffic light and waited for it to switch to green, and as she did that, she kept up the silly singing: “Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof! Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof!”

The traffic light switched to green, and Emma fumbled a bit with the gears as she crossed the road. She still wasn’t a hundredth percent familiar with this car. But she would get the hang of it. Right now, nothing could bring her down, and she kept singing as she drove: “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you! Because I'm happy, clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do!”

Emma reached another traffic light, but this time the light was already green, so there was nothing stopping her from crossing the road. This time she turned right, though. The way home to Steveston was a bit complicated like that. There were many twists and turns. Emma was grateful she didn’t have to take the bus anymore to get to her destination. The bus driver had been a bit of a sadist who enjoyed making sharp turns. More than a few times, Emma had almost fallen off her seat.

The only teeny tiny complain Emma had about her new-old car was the rearview mirror. It kept tilting slightly, and every so often she had to reach up and adjust it. Like right now for instance. She rolled her eyes slightly as she adjusted the damn mirror once again, and as she glanced in the mirror, she saw the same grey station car driving behind her. Emma raised an eyebrow. Okay, that was a bit strange. Hadn’t that car been driving behind her for a good while now? Emma quickly glanced at the time being displayed on the radio in the car. Ten minutes. The grey station car had been driving steadily behind her for a solid ten minutes. Emma frowned slightly. It could be a coincidence. She wasn’t driving particularly fast, but not exactly slow either. She shifted in the driver’s seat and then slowed down even more. Now the grey station car had every opportunity to drive past her.

But it didn’t. Instead it slowed down as well.

Emma wetted her lips as she switched the music off. Maybe this wasn’t a coincidence after all. Maybe it was a completely deliberate act. She adjusted the mirror again, but it was impossible for her to see who was driving behind her. And it was also impossible to see whether there were more persons than one in the car.

Emma decided to test her theory one last time. She sped up.

The grey station car behind her did the same.

Then she slowed down until the car was almost driving in snail pace.

The car behind her did the exact same thing.

Emma’s heart began thudding painfully in her chest. If she had in doubt before, she wasn’t anymore. She was definitely being tailed. Someone was following her home from work. Emma squeezed the wheel as she tried to think back. Had she seen any grey station cars outside Dragon Publishing? No. She was pretty sure she hadn’t. So whoever it was in that car didn’t know where she worked. That was a relief.

Emma glanced in the mirror once more. Who was in that car? Mary Margaret? Someone she had hired to follow Emma? The blonde felt nauseated, but she knew that she had to keep her cool. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t just step on it and speed all the way back to Steveston.

So by the next traffic light, Emma patiently waited until the light switched from yellow to green and then she turned left instead of right.

The grey station car behind her did the exact same thing, but this time Emma didn’t mind it. This was exactly what she was hoping would happen.

She made a series of twists and turns on her way and paid closely attention to the car behind her. Once she reached another turn, she sped up, overtook another car and soon enough she reached a rest area that was sort of concealed behind trees.

Emma was quick to park the yellow bug, and then she peered out from behind the trees. It didn’t take long before the grey station car drive past the rest area and continue down the road.

Emma’s heart was damn nearly in her throat, and she remained parked behind the tree for a few minutes. She was sure she had managed to shake her follower off. That had been nerve wracking. But fortunately enough, she had been aware enough to pick up on it. Whoever was in that car was on their way to a completely wrong destination. Not Steveston. That was a relief. No one knew where she lived. Yet.

Emma swallowed something. Had that been Mary Margaret or someone she had hired to find her? The blonde wasn’t completely sure. But she knew for sure that someone had been following her, and now her biggest question was how? How the hell had they found her? Emma had literally only told Ella about her departure, and Ella would never betray her.

Emma’s heart was still thrumming uncomfortably against her ribs as she started the car and maneuvered it away from the resting area. Not a single car was in sight, and Emma was free to drive away in the opposite direction. Her sweaty palms slipped slightly on the wheel. Mary Margaret’s insanity had reached new heights. Emma still had some trouble with believing that her adoptive mother should have followed her all the way to Vancouver. Was it impossible to be free of her?

Emma’s jaw clenched as she acknowledged how Mary Margaret once again had managed to ruin her day. But still, she had managed that car off. Her exact location was still unknown. That was at least a relief. Something to be grateful for.

Emma pretty much stepped on it as she continued her journey back to Steveston, and every so often she glanced in the mirror, anxiously looking out for grey station cars. But she didn’t see the car in the rearview mirror again. It was gone.

 


*****************************************

 

Once back at Eugenia’s Inn, Emma pretty much grabbed the manuscript and then jumped out of the car. She rushed inside the inn and barely registered that Ruby was greeting her. She was much too busy getting back to her room, and as soon as she did that, she slammed the door behind her and then locked it. She pressed the doorknob down several times to make sure the door was actually locked.

She ran over to the window and peered out at the square. No grey station cars in sight. Of course not. You shook it off. Remember? You’re fine. Nobody followed you here. Emma took a deep, calming breath. She was safe here. Everything was fine. But still, she took no chances and immediately texted Ella, asking her if she had witnessed Mary Margaret acting strange for this past week. Once the text message was send, Emma put her phone down on the nightstand. She knew that Ella happened to finish her shift late today. She wasn’t gonna hear anything from her for at least a couple of hours. That’s why the blonde yelped when her phone suddenly chimed. There was a new text message. Emma quickly snatched the phone. It wasn’t Ella. It was Regina. And she was asking Emma about her day.

Emma immediately felt a bit calmer, and she was quick to text Regina back: ‘my workday was fine, Malena gave me a manuscript to proofread, so that’s really great.’ Emma sent the text and considered whether or not she should tell Regina about the car that had followed her.

Her phone chimed again, and Emma was quick to check the message: ‘that’s wonderful news. I’m very happy to hear that you’re getting the chance to do something you really want.’

Emma was quick to text back: ‘yeah, I’ve just got home. What about you? What are you doing tonight?’

The response came fast. ‘Henry and I are about to have dinner, but apart from that, I don’t think we have many plans.’

Really? You should drive to Steveston then. Obviously, Emma didn’t write that to Regina. As the blonde considered, she saw the picture of Regina and Malena together for her inner eye, and she ended up texting: ‘do you have any plans for next Saturday? I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee with me again.’

For a moment, the blonde was slightly awestruck over her own sudden boost of confidence. That was smooth, Swan. Maybe even a little too smooth.

But what was done was done, Emma couldn’t change anything, and soon the answer arrived. Now Emma’s palms were sweaty for other reasons as she checked the message: ‘coffee sounds good.’

Just like that. Pure and simple. A huge, shit-eating grin erupted on Emma’s face. Things weren’t so bad. The grey car that had followed her on her way home from work wasn’t gonna stop Emma from living her life. If Mary Margaret really had found her, then so be it. Emma was more than prepared to take a confrontation with her adoptive mother. Another confrontation.

In the meantime she would take different ways when she drove home. Add a few shortcuts here and there, and she would obviously watch her back. That was all she could do for now.

Emma looked at the phone in her hand and texted back: ‘awesome! I’ll look forward to that.’

Nothing was gonna stop her from looking forward to seeing Regina again. And maybe, just maybe, she would pluck up enough courage to ask Regina to come to the harvest festival.

 

To Be Continued.................

Chapter Text

She wasn’t obsessed or anything, but Emma was most definitely on the look out for grey station cars the following days. No, she didn’t spend her time hovering by her window or anything, but she checked now and then. Just to make sure. And she took a lot of different routes when she drove to and from work. It wasn’t exactly easier, but it felt a hell of a lot safer. She made sure to check her rearview mirror and stay alert, but she didn’t see the grey station car again. Or any other car that seemed to be following her for that matter.

Still, Emma didn’t just let her guard down that easily. She refused to be lured into some false sense of security and one day open her door and bam, Mary Margaret would be on the other side of that door.

She had heard back from Ella, and Ella could report that she hadn’t observed any weird behavior from Mary Margaret. The woman was her normal... Well, not normal self. But Ella hadn’t heard anything that could indicate that Mary Margaret had found Emma.

Emma wasn’t on edge, but she wasn’t overly relaxed either. She was alert without being obsessive. And she had already decided that if she saw the grey station car outside Dragon Publishing, she would go straight to Malena and inform her of the problem. Malena had so much security spread around the building. It would be the easiest thing in the world for her to inform the security to be alert.

So yes, Emma had figured out how to handle the situation. She would stay alert, but she wouldn’t stop living her life. Mary Margaret had already ruined the first seventeen years of her life. Emma refused to let her adoptive mother ruin more.

She wouldn’t let this get to her. She would continue to look on the bright side. Everything was going so well at her new job. She had finished the manuscript, and Malena appeared to agree with her. The manuscript had potential. Her new boss actually valued her opinion. That was a nice change. It was nice to be acknowledged and heard, and Emma knew that yes, maybe Malena had only given her a job because she knew Regina, but she also knew that Malena’s opinion of her had changed. She knew that Malena now recognized that Emma was actually good at doing her job. It wasn’t an act of mercy anymore, and Emma was grateful for that. She didn’t want to be hired just because she happened to know Regina.

Speaking of Regina, she and Regina had been texting so much during the past couple of days, and the mystery surrounding Regina only deepened. She often mentioned that she didn’t do much, and that she often felt tired at night. Emma often felt temped to ask more about that. And what’s more, she also wanted to ask about Regina’s past relationship with Malena. Because Emma was certain they’ve had a relationship in high school. That picture she had accidentally found, was a rock hard proof of that.

And Emma was so damn curious. About everything. And when she wasn’t curious, she was nervous, because she was still afraid of asking Regina to come to the harvest festival. She was afraid that Regina would say no.

But.... if she didn’t ask, she would never know, right? Emma knew she had to fess up and ask the brunette. But not through text. God no. She would ask Regina in person. Face to face. So many things could be misread or get lost in translation through text.

Emma shifted a bit, adjusted on the bed. Then she stretched her neck a bit. There was a kink there, she noted. She had been laying in the same position for too long. But now she could roll onto her back.

She had finished the manuscript Malena had allowed her to bring home with her. Now she was free to enjoy her weekend. Tomorrow was Saturday. Tomorrow she was gonna see Regina again. They had agreed to meet up for coffee at eleven. Exactly like the last time. Emma stretched her legs and folded her arms underneath her head. She was looking forward to seeing Regina again. Very much. But she was nervous too. Nervous because of the two things she was planning on asking Regina. One: she was going to invite Regina and possibly Henry to the harvest festival. And two: she was planning to ask

Regina if she was currently seeing anyone. Not in a painfully obvious way of course. No, Emma was planning to casually slip the question into their conversation somewhere along the way. She had decided that she didn’t want to beat around the bush anymore. She had never been one for dancing around things, and she had decided to go back to her old “straight to the point”-ways. She had to know whether
Regina was seeing someone or not. Maybe it was seeing the picture of Regina and Malena together, and getting confirmation that Regina liked women, that had given Emma’s confidence a boost. She and Regina hit it off. They had good chemistry, and Emma wanted to take things a step further. And finding out whether Regina was seeing someone or not was the first step towards just that.

Emma felt good about her plan, and she tried to focus on only that, but unfortunately, she kept thinking about that picture of the teenage version of Regina and Malena. Emma couldn’t help but wonder how long the two women were together. Had it just been a brief high school fling, or had they been together after high school had ended as well? And what had gone wrong between them? Emma was curious about that too.

Emma checked her phone. Nine o’clock. Was it too late to text Regina? Maybe. But Emma took the chance anyway. There hadn’t been much time to text the brunette today, and Emma had missed it. If Regina found that it was too late, she simply wouldn’t answer. Emma grabbed the phone from her nightstand and simply texted: ‘Hi’.

She had barely put the phone down before it vibrated, indicating that she had just received a text message. Emma was quick to grab the phone, and she rolled onto her front as she checked the message: ‘hello.’

Emma smiled a little as she texted: ‘I hope I’m not texting you too late.’

Another message arrived immediately, and Emma checked it just as fast: ‘no, not at all. I’ve never been one for going to bed early.’

Emma smiled again as she sent the next message: ‘me neither. Have you been busy today?’

Again, the answer came immediately. Regina was a quick texter: ‘a bit, yes. Henry and I are currently house hunting, and that sort of thing tends to take a while.’

Emma quickly pushed her blonde hair away from her face as she texted back: ‘yeah, I’m kinda dreading to start my own house hunt, but I know I have to eventually. Eugenia’s Inn is great, but I can’t keep living at a hotel for the rest of my life.’

The answer to that came fast too: ‘do you have any idea what kind of place you’re looking for then?’

Emma snorted quietly as she replied to that text: ‘honestly, anything cheap would do. I don’t care whether it’s just a room or an apartment, as long as it’s a place I can call my own.’

No, Regina clearly didn’t have anything else to do with her time. That had to be the reason why she was typing back so fucking fast: ‘I know what you mean. My sister is a wonderful person, and I’m so grateful that she let Henry and I live in her apartment, but... I’m going stir crazy here. To put it plainly, the place is simply too small for three people. We have to find our own place.’

Emma chuckled quietly as she typed and then sent: ‘sure sounds like it. Any idea what you and the kid might be looking for?’ she eagerly awaited Regina’s reply and hoped that it would be something uplifting. She hoped that the brunette wasn’t looking for something that was too far away from Steveston. That would really suck.

Soon enough, the answer to her question came, and Emma was quick to read it: ‘I’m not quite sure yet. I can’t decide whether it should be an apartment or a house. And Henry isn’t very helpful either. He wants to either live on a farm with lots of animals, or in a castle. I’ve told him that there aren’t that many castles here, but he doesn’t seem to listen to me.’

Emma laughed loudly and the sound filled the otherwise quiet hotel room. Henry was definitely a funny kid. Her shoulders shook with laughter as she texted back: ‘a castle, huh? Wow. That’s a pretty tough demand to meet.’

Her phone vibrated quickly once more, and Emma was still chuckling as she checked that message: ‘yes, tell me about it. I have no idea where he gets his refined taste from. Certainly not from me.’

Emma chuckled again because she was certain Regina was joking. The brunette definitely seemed the type to have a refined taste. Emma could tell from the clothes she wore and the purses she carried with her.

The blonde texted back: ‘well, if you’re not gonna stay in a castle, where are you gonna live then?’

Another reply: ‘I’m not quite sure yet, but not too far away from my sister. She would kill me if I left Vancouver again.’

Emma felt relief spread through her body as she texted: ‘yeah, you did mention that you’re originally from Montreal, but you don’t have any plans of going back there?’

This time, Regina took a bit longer to answer, but Emma was every bit satisfied when she could read the new message: ‘god no. Montreal is a finished chapter.’

Emma smiled a little, flipped onto her back. She couldn’t resist to be a little bold in her answer and texted: ‘cool! It would be a bit difficult to have coffee with you if you lived in Montreal. Possible, but difficult.’ She felt every bit like a sly dog as she send the text.

But Regina’s answer was every bit sarcastic: ‘well, it’s just a four hour long drive, miss Swan. Not a big deal at all.’

Emma snorted quietly as she let her fingers tap on the screen: ‘maybe not for your Mercedes, but what about my bug? I’m sort of afraid it would break down halfway there.’ she sent the message and was already looking forward to reading Regina’s answer, but then something outside her window caught her attention. The sound of a car driving by. Emma told herself not to be paranoid, but still it couldn’t harm to quickly peek outside and see whether it was someone “interesting”. Emma quickly rose from the bed and patted over to the window. She lifted the blinds and peered out of the window, overlooking the square. Well, there was a car out there, and Emma squinted slightly as the vehicle passed a streetlight. Then she felt her shoulders uncurl. It was a red car. Not a grey one. And definitely not a station car either. Good. Not the car that had been tailing her then. Just a random car. Emma told herself to stop being so paranoid, but god it was hard. She knew she wasn’t crazy. She knew that she had definitely been followed by a car, and she so wished she had been able to see whether it had been Mary Margaret behind the wheel, or someone she could have hired to follow Emma. A private detective, for instance. And clearly not a very good one.

Emma let the blinds fall back down. She wondered what was next. What else could Mary Margaret think of? Emma wasn’t sure. But she knew she was prepared for anything. She would be alert but not paranoid.

She went back to the bed and flopped down on it. Then grabbing her phone and check the newest message from Regina: ‘Ah. You may have a point there. Do excuse me, I think my son is out of bed, and I better go and find out why.’

Emma quickly texted back a ‘no problem’, and then she patiently waited for the brunette to come back to her phone. Emma couldn’t think of anything better to do than texting Regina, so she was more than willing to wait.

In the meantime, Emma made a reminder in her phone about stopping by the ice cream store. Their rocky road was seriously to die for, and Elsa, the woman who owned the ice cream store was also very nice. Emma had a feeling they would be great friends. She had no idea what had brought a swede all the way to Canada to sell ice cream in a tiny town like Steveston, but what the heck. Stranger things had happened, and Emma was happy she had ran into Elsa on one of her daily walks in Steveston. Elsa seemed like a very genuine and down to earth person. They would be good friends. Emma was sure of it. To be honest, she was actually surprised at how many friends she had already gained here in Steveston. She hadn’t been living here for that long, and she didn’t normally made friends this easily. But it was nice. A very welcome change. Therefore she would be very sad if she had to leave Steveston again. She was tired of having to change her locks, change her numbers, switch apartment because of Mary Margaret. She had escaped all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. Why couldn’t that be enough?

Emma reminded herself to calm down. Yes, a car had followed her home from work, but she had managed to shake it off. Mary Margaret still didn’t know where she lived.

That was when her phone chimed again, and Emma happily welcomed the interruption. She was quick to grab her phone and check the message: ‘sorry about that.’

Emma immediately replied. ‘No problem. Everything alright with the kid?’ she was allowed to ask that, right? It was Regina herself who had mentioned that Henry was out of bed.

The reply soon came, and Emma purposefully ignored the cramping sensation in her leg as she checked the message: ‘not completely. He had a nightmare. Actually, he’s been having a few of those lately. Night terrors, the experts calls it. This is the third night in a row he’s been waking up crying, poor thing, and my sister is out tonight, so I’m on my own to handle it. One of the many joys about being a single mother.’

Emma was quick to text back a sympathetic: ‘oh no, poor kid! Nightmares are the worst!’ but there was a teeny tiny part of her that thought about something else than just sympathy. Single mother.

Regina had just written she was a single parent. Emma’s heart skipped a beat or two. Obviously, Emma was sad to hear that Regina had to deal with tougher situations all on her own, but still... a single mother! There was no father in the picture. Emma was sort of relieved. She had never been interested in a woman who had a kid before, and she didn’t need a lot of imagination to picture how complicated and confusing things could get if there was a father in the picture as well.

A response arrived and pulled her out of her thoughts. The blonde quickly checked the message: ‘he’s back in bed now, reading a comic book until he gets tired. I hope that’ll do the trick, but at the same time I have a hunch that I’ll be spending the night in his room.’

Emma quickly texted back: ‘I’m sorry the little guy is going through a rough patch.’

Only a minute passed before the answer arrived, and Emma frowned a bit when she read it: ‘he really is, and more often than not I end up feeling as frustrated as him because I do much to actually soothe him. I can’t read him a story or sing to him. Not that he would appreciate if I did that, but nevertheless.’

Before Emma could get the chance to answer that text, another arrived, and Emma immediately read that one as well: ‘and I shouldn’t be complaining to you. I’m sorry. Normally I’m not one for complaining, but tonight is pretty tough. But anyway, enough about that. Did you finish reading that manuscript you told me about?’

Emma felt very tempted to write that she didn’t mind Regina complaining, but she could sense that the subject was closed. Instead she wrote: ‘yeah, I did. And that ending damn nearly killed me! I’m supposed to give feedback to Malena on Monday. I really hope she’ll at least consider to publish this book. It almost makes me cry to think that the author won’t get a chance.’

Only now Emma remembered the cup of coffee she had left on her nightstand a bit earlier. She quickly reached for it and took a sip only to grimace immediately afterwards. The coffee was cold. She had been too enthralled with first reading and then texting Regina. Shoot. Maybe she would have to go downstairs and sweettalk Eugenia into making her another cup of coffee.

Her phone chimed again, and Emma quickly checked the message: ‘Mal is usually very good at listening to her test readers, so I’m sure she’ll bring the manuscript into her considerations.’

Emma felt every bit ballsy as she replied to that text with: ‘yeah, otherwise I’ll have to ask you to ask her to publish the book.’

The response came before Emma got the chance to adjust and stretch her aching muscles a bit. And her aching muscles were soon forgotten as she concentrated on reading the newly arrived text: ‘and what makes you think that she’ll listen to me instead of her employees?’

Emma considered. Bit her lip slightly and then daringly texted: ‘I dunno, she just speaks very highly about you.’

The blonde’s palms were a bit sweaty as she heard her phone scratch slightly against the mattress, indicating that Regina had just answered her message. Emma was well aware that she was getting closer to one of the questions she wanted to ask Regina the most. Because stumbling upon an old photo of Regina and Malena was one thing. Emma would very much like to have Regina confirm things once and for all.

‘She does, does she? Oh well, I’m sure she’ll listen to you, Emma. You’re working for her. I am not.’

No, but you used to date her, and she’s has already mentioned how much she valuates your opinion, and she’s clearly sentimental enough to hang on to the picture. Emma gnashed her teeth slightly. This was getting frustrating.

And then Regina was texting again: ‘And now I just heard Henry get out of bed again. I’m sorry, but I have to go and convince him to go back to bed.’

Emma quickly replied: ‘hey, don’t apologize, I get it. I hope the poor champ will fall asleep soon. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ As soon as she had pressed “send” she felt worried. If Henry was scared and upset and didn’t want to sleep for the next long while, it was very possible that Regina would be too tired to drive to Steveston tomorrow.

But a moment later, the blonde received another text that simply said ‘indeed.’

Emma felt less worried then. So far, they were still on for tomorrow. For now, they had an appointment.

The blonde hooked her phone up with the charger and then put her phone down on the nightstand. She would have to let it rest there for a while. The remaining battery time were down to twenty percent.

Emma chuckled. She couldn’t remember the last time she had drained her phone like this.

Now she missed Regina even more than before. She hoped that their appointment would still stand tomorrow. After all, she had something pretty important to ask Regina about. The harvest festival.

Emma felt a flutter of excitement in her belly. She probably ought to practice some sort of speech. It was silly, but Emma was prone to stick her foot in her mouth and say things the completely wrong way. And she didn’t want Regina to misunderstand anything.

Emma frowned. What should she wear for their coffee appointment tomorrow? Something nice but not over the top. Something that would catch Regina’s eye without being too much. Maybe the green sweater she had bought yesterday. It suited her so well and really brought out her eyes. Emma knew that her eyes were one of her biggest assets. And her hair. She would let her hair hang loose and curly tomorrow. Maybe even add a little extra of that stuff that made her curls extra voluminous. Emma chuckled slightly and shook her head. Who was she, and what the hell had she done to the Emma Swan who normally didn’t give two shits about her hair?

 

The next morning started with a bang. Literally. Emma was awakened by a loud crash right outside her room, and then the sound of Ruby cursing loudly. It would appear that the waitress had dropped a trey with something on it. The next second Emma heard Eugenia coming barreling up the stairs and then telling Ruby off. Ruby snapped something in return, and that only seemed to tick off Eugenia further. Emma quelled her amusement as she got out of bed and went into the bathroom to freshen up.

She brushed her hair, added that particular thick, gooey cream that would make it stay curly for the rest of the day. Then she put on her tight, black jeans. The ones that hugged her ass and made it look so good. Next she carefully put on the green sweater she had thought about yesterday. Emma liked this sweater. It was soft and comfortable, but still had a neckline that revealed just a tiny bit of cleavage. It was seductive without being tacky. And it brought out her eyes so beautifully. She should wear this sweater more often.

As soon as she was finished in the bathroom, she went back inside the bedroom and checked her phone. There were no new messages. That was a good thing. She and Regina’s appointment were still standing. There were no calls either. That worried Emma just a bit more. Silence from Mary Margaret never meant anything good.

But right now Emma didn’t want to think about Mary Margaret. She had decided that she would only start worrying if she saw the grey station car again. But then she would actually start to worry. As in contacting sheriff Graham worrying. And possibly start taking the bus to and from work again. A yellow bug stuck out like a sore thumb. Emma loved her new car, but it was too noticeable. Too easy to spot if someone really was following her.

Emma went downstairs to get some breakfast, and it didn’t take long before Ruby spotted her. The brunette waitress smiled and came round the counter. It was impossible not to notice how short her skirt was. And how tall her heels were. Maybe that was the reason she had dropped the tray. Maybe she had tripped.

“Morning Ems,” she greeted.

“Good morning,” Emma said and smiled even though that pet name rattled a bit in her ears. The few people in her life to ever nickname her, always called her Em or Swan. Never Ems. And the new nickname sort of rubbed Emma the wrong way. Maybe it was her own fault, though. She still hadn’t talked properly to Ruby. There had never been a right time to do so.

“Cocoa with cinnamon and bear claw?” Ruby asked, flashing Emma another smile.

“Yeah. That’d be great,” Emma said and returned the smile.

“Coming right up,” Ruby said briskly and clack-clack’ed round the counter once more.

Emma discreetly hid a yawn behind her hand, and then she found the little notepad she always brought with her in case she experienced a flash of inspiration and needed to write something down. Which was exactly the case today. A possible storyline for her re-telling of The Goose Girl. Emma quickly scribbled down the new storyline and reminded herself to somehow incorporate these new things into the finished work. She had just scribbled down the last sentence when Ruby came over to her table with a bear claw and a cup of cocoa sprinkled with cinnamon.

“Thanks,” Emma said as she looked up from the notepad.

“You’re welcome,” Ruby said, flashing another smile. “I saw the new car you’ve bought. Cute little thing.”

“Oh. Thank you,” Emma said and leaned back on her chair. “Yeah, I thought it looked lonely, so I decided to follow an impulse and just buy it. But it’s actually better than what I expected. Even the radio is working.”

Ruby laughed at that. “Great to see you’re settling in in the town. I know Granny loves having you as a tenant. She says it makes for a nice change.”

“To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t more people visiting this place,” Emma said. “It’s a little gem.”

“It is,” Ruby agreed. “But not much is happening here. I think the mayor is trying to lure more people here by pulling out the big guns whenever there’s an event here.”

“Mm,” Emma said, taking a sip of her cocoa.

“Speaking of events....” Ruby said, pushing a lock of dyed red hair behind her ear.

Emma looked up. This was gonna be awkward.

“There’s gonna be this harvest festival in a month,” Ruby said, and Emma saw how she wetted her lips slightly. “It sounds cliché, but it’s actually pretty great with lanterns and a funfair and plenty of nice food. I was wondering if you’d want to.... Go with me?”

Emma swallowed and felt a bit like a villain despite not being in the wrong. “I can’t. I’m sorry,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” Ruby said. “That’s cool. Yeah. I should have figured that you’re already seeing someone.”

“I’m not seeing someone,” Emma said. “It’s just...”

“You fancy someone else then,” Ruby quickly figured out.

“Yeah,” Emma admitted. “I do.”

“Oh,” Ruby said, and now she was chuckling a bit. “That’s cool. I just figured I had to ask you. Otherwise I’d never know, right?”

“Right,” Emma said, now smiling too. Regina had been right. Ruby didn’t look like her world would fall to pieces because of this. The waitress grinned and then asked: “Anyone I know?”

Emma raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“The one you fancy,” Ruby clarified with a chuckle. “Is it someone I know?”

“Well, uh-“

“Ruby, are you preventing our guest from enjoying her breakfast?” Eugenia interrupted and clicked her tongue.

“No, of course not. I know you’d skin me alive if I did, Granny,” Ruby said dead seriously. She winked at Emma and then disappeared back behind the counter.

Emma felt relieved. At least this had been taken care of. She had a feeling that she and Ruby would be great friends now.

 

*****************************************

 

She spent the rest of the morning writing. And counting the butterflies flickering around in her belly. She was painfully aware that Regina was on her way to Steveston.

Yeah, it was pretty hard to concentrate on writing, and Emma had to scold herself several times. Remind herself that she would never become a writer if she kept this up. So she had pulled herself together and had actually ended up finishing her twisted version of The Little Mermaid. It turned out pretty great, and Emma was satisfied. One more step towards actually finishing the book.

The blonde slowly rolled her head from side to side. She was starting to feel the dire absence of a desk and a chair in her room. For the past two weeks, she had been sitting in her bed with her legs crossed whenever she was writing, and with her head bowed over the screen. Not exactly the best idea. Did Steveston have a spa place? She would have to remember to search for one tomorrow. And if it turned out there was a spa place, Emma would definitely treat herself to a spa day. She had deserved that with all the hard, hard work she had been doing lately. Maybe being a test reader wasn’t physically exhausting, but it was mentally exhausting. She pretty much stuffed her mind with new information every single day. And reading wasn’t the only thing she did at Dragon Publishing. Sometimes she was called over to one of the laptops to help out with the editing process. Malena was slowly beginning to give her more responsibility, and Emma couldn’t be happier about it.

At 10:45 exactly, Emma headed downstairs to the restaurant once more. Screw being early.

But as opposed to the last time, the were actually people in the restaurant. The blonde quickly spotted Leroy and a couple of other people she only knew by appearance and not by name. Oh well. She hoped Regina wouldn’t mind that there would be a couple of other guests here.

Emma settled down at one of the tables in the corner. She noticed that Ruby was looking at her, but Emma decided not to order until Regina was here. That seemed like the politest thing to do.

The blonde leaned back slightly in her chair, tipping it back so it was balancing on two legs. A childhood habit she hadn’t been able to give up even though she was an adult now. A memory of Mary Margaret scolding her for it flickered before Emma’s inner eye. She pursed her lips slightly as she thought of her adoptive mother and the grey station car. She had promised herself not to think about it, but it was impossible. It kept coming back to her. Emma wondered if she should try and phone David. She was willing to bet all her money that he as usually had no clue what his wife was up to. Maybe she could tell him about the grey station car that had been following her. But then again, was it really worth the risk? Nope. Not really. She knew David. He wouldn’t come to her aid. He never had. And besides, she could risk that they somehow traced the phone call. Or worse yet, she could risk that Mary Margaret herself answered the phone. Emma really, really didn’t want to expose herself to that.

Instead she would wait. See if she saw the grey car again. And if Mary Margaret really was to show up in Steveston.... Well, Emma wouldn’t hesitate to contact the police and get a permanent restraining order. She should probably have done that years ago, but there had still been this tiny, naïve part of her that had hoped that things would get better.

But now she knew that they wouldn’t. Mary Margaret would never get better.

Emma sighed as she tipped the chair back onto all four legs. She had literally fled 2.613,6 miles. From Toronto to Vancouver. And yet Mary Margaret was still very much here. At least in her thoughts if not in the flesh.

Someone outside the window caught Emma’s attention, and she immediately stretched her neck to get a better look. All thoughts about her crazy adoptive mother quickly vanished when she spotted Regina. The brunette was crossing the road and walking towards Eugenia’s Inn. Emma fought the urge to go outside and greet the brunette. Instead she listened to the way her heart thudded in her chest as Regina opened the door to the restaurant and walked inside. God, she looked amazing! Woolen, figure fitting black slacks, and a tweed coat. Emma caught herself wondering what the brunette was wearing underneath the tweed coat.

The blonde eagerly stuck a hand in the air to let Regina know where she was, and it didn’t take long before Regina spotted her. The brunette smiled as she walked towards Emma’s table, and when she reached it, she offered a little nod.

Emma returned the nod and said: “hi”. God, Regina had literally just smiled. That was all. It really shouldn’t be enough for Emma to feel all gooey.

Regina offered another nod and a smile, reached within the pocket of her tweed coat and slipped Emma a post-it note.

Emma chuckled. The note said, ‘hello again.’. “It’s nice to see you again,” the blonde said.

Regina was in the process of unbuttoning her tweed coat, so she had to settle for smiling back at Emma. And honestly, Emma didn’t need further confirmation. Regina looked so beautiful when she smiled. It was a bit like being sucker punched right in the abdomen. Emma watched as the brunette slipped her coat of and carefully hung it over the back of the chair. Regina was wearing a blue blazer, black
camisole underneath, and a black silk scarf was tied around her neck.

“You ready for some coffee?” Emma asked as Regina sat down across her.

Regina nodded.

Emma waved a hand in the air again. But this time it was to catch Ruby’s attention. And soon the brunette waitress came over to the table and asked what she could do for them. Emma ordered coffee, and
Regina quickly reached within the pocket of her tweet coat and gave Ruby a note.

“Alright,” Ruby said and smiled. “I’ll find that for you.” With that she clack-clack’ed away from the table again.

“That was clever,” Emma said when she realized that Regina had written down her order beforehand.

Regina shrugged lightly and reached within the pocket of her tweet coat again. This time she found a stack of post-its and a pencil.

“How are you doing? How is Henry doing?” Emma asked, blurting out the first thing coming to mind. “Did he get some sleep last night?”

Regina was quick to bring the pencil to the first post-it note and began scribbling. She clearly didn’t think it was an odd question. After a moment of scribbling, she pushed the note across the table, and
Emma could read it: ‘Henry is doing alright now. But it took him a while to go back to sleep last night. I ended up spending the night on a makeshift bed in his room.’

“Oh,” Emma grimaced a bit. “I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m glad he’s doing better now.”

Regina nodded a little and then wrote a new message underneath the first one: ‘he is. He’s staying at a friend’s house right now, but I think he wanted to come along. He’s been talking a lot about your fairytales since the last time.’

Emma chuckled. “I’m glad to have found a fellow fairytale lover. Has he always loved fairytales?”

Regina nodded eagerly, tore the post-it off the stack and then wrote on the blank note. She was still writing when Ruby came over with their coffee, and so it was up to Emma to smile and thank Ruby. The waitress returned the smile, but Emma could see that she was also glancing curiously at the post-its on the table.

Once Ruby was gone, Emma turned her attention back to Regina and the post-it being pushed towards her: ‘yes, ever since he was a little boy. His baby books were fairytales. He has a whole bookshelf filled with fairytales. Sometimes it almost saddens me that he’ll grow out of it when he becomes a teenager.’

Emma chuckled. “You don’t know that for sure. He could still be into fairytales when he grows older.”

Regina raised an eyebrow and then scribbled underneath the first message. While she did that, Emma took a sip of her coffee. It was nice and warm. A moment later, Regina sat the pencil down and did the same. And then she pushed the post-it back to Emma. The blonde sat her cup of coffee down so she could concentrate on reading this new message: ‘it’s a nice thought, but I doubt it. Once he grows older, he’ll stop loving fairytales and begin loving his phone instead. But admittedly, sometimes I wish he could be ten years old forever. It’s such a funny age. Sometimes he acts like a little adult, but at the same time he’s still child enough to want to be hugged and kissed.’

Emma chuckled again, teased lightly: “And you don’t think he’ll want to be hugged and kissed when he becomes a teenager?”

Regina shook her head firmly.

“Maybe he’ll surprise you,” Emma snickered. “Maybe he’ll be different from all the other teenagers.”

Regina shook her head, tore a new post-it note off the stack and wrote. Her elbow brushed against the cup of coffee, and Emma quickly reached and moved the coffee cup. It would be a shame if Regina knocked the cup of coffee over in her eagerness.

And then another note was slid towards her. Emma was quick to bow her head: ‘I doubt it. Henry is special I’ll give you, but I don’t think that he’ll deviate much from the teenage cliché.’

Emma grinned at the brunette. “And what is the teenage cliché then?”

Words were quickly scribbled underneath the first message. ‘Sullen. Moody. Uninterested. Barricading himself in his room. Saying whatever constantly.’

Now Emma spluttered. “That was very on point.”

Regina nodded, shrugged, tore off a new post-it, scribbled and then slipped Emma the note. ‘I was just using all the things I can remember from my own teenage years.’

Emma laughed a little. “So you were a moody teenager then?”

Regina nodded firmly and took a sip of her coffee before she scribbled again. Emma found the sound of the pencil scraping against the paper very soothing, and now she realized that was the sound she had missed since Regina was here the last time.

And then another note was pushed towards her. Emma quickly swallowed a mouthful of coffee and ignored her sore muscles as she bowed her head over the note: ‘yes, terribly moody. And also incredibly gangly and awkward. I hoped Henry will be spared of that.’

“No way, you were beautiful as a teenager!” Emma blurted out before she could stop herself. Then she realized what she had just said and cringed. Idiot, idiot, idiot! Now she really had stepped in it. She couldn’t exactly explain this away. There were no explanations to give as to why she knew how Regina looked as a teenager.

And Regina looked rightfully confused. She raised an eyebrow and looked at pending at Emma in an “explain”-manner.

Emma blushed profusely as she rushed and tried to explain as best as she could: “Malena asked me to find a folder when I was at work the other day, and when I tried to grab it, it was stuck between two other folders. One of them fell on the floor and all the papers in it landed everywhere on the floor, and between some of the papers there was a picture stuffed away. A picture of you and her. As teenagers.” As she finished the little story, she dared looking at Regina.

Regina still looked a bit confused, but Emma was sure she could see a twinge of red rise in olive cheeks. Was Regina blushing? Yep, it definitely seemed like it. And obviously, she looked incredibly attractive when doing so. Emma kinda wished she had ordered cold water instead of hot coffee. She could have used something to cool her down right now.

Regina ripped another post-it note off the stack and began scribbling away on it. Her cheeks were still a bit pink, Emma noted. The blonde tried to look at the note being pushed across the table, and not the color in Regina’s cheeks. The note was more important, she told herself as she looked down to read: ‘Oh, I see. Well, Malena has always been a bit of a collector. And especially a collector of memories.
But still, it surprises me that she still has pictures lying around in strange places.’

“Maybe that’s why it’s called Dragon Publishing?” Emma suggested.

Regina raised an eyebrow again.

“Aren’t dragon’s hoarders or something like that?” Emma said halfheartedly.

Regina looked amused at that and nodded. Her dark brown eyes twinkled slightly. Then she scribbled on a new post-it, and soon there was a new note for Emma to read: ‘still, it was a long time ago. I’m assuming we looked happy in the picture?’

“You did,” Emma confirmed. “You sort of.... had your arms around each other.”

Regina shook her head, made a silent chuckle sound and then scribbled underneath for a moment before removing the pencil so Emma could read what she had written. ‘Those were the days. It’s such a long time ago now, so much has happened since. It feels like it was a different life.’

“Yeah,” Emma said simply. She didn’t need more confirmation than this. She knew that Regina knew that she knew. However complicated it sounded.

The blonde could sense that it was time to change the subject. But maybe she was still busy processing what Regina had just “as good as” confirmed, because she ended up blurting out: “the weather is getting colder, huh?” she immediately cringed. Was she seriously talking about the weather? Nice one, Swan. Terrific.

But Regina just glanced out of the window, nodded and then rubbed her arms in a way that suggested that it was cold walking here from the car.

“Speaking of cold weather,” Emma said, now suddenly seeing an opportunity and grabbing it.

Regina raised an eyebrow and waited.

“When I was at the library, I saw a brochure for this... harvest festival happening by the end of the month,” Emma started and noted that she sounded croakier than normal.

Regina nodded in a way that strongly indicated that she knew all about the harvest festival taking place in Steveston.

“It sounds like a really cool arrangement,” Emma continued. Her palms were growing sweaty. She discreetly wiped them on her jeans. “And I’ve never actually been to a harvest festival before.”

Regina raised an eyebrow as though she didn’t quite believe that.

“Yeah, I know,” Emma said. “Anyway, it seems like everyone is going with someone, so I was wondering if...” incredible. She ran out of words. Just like that.

Regina looked politely confused now.

Emma panicked slightly. Damn it. Pull yourself together, Swan! Keep. Talking. “I was wondering if you’d be interested in coming to the harvest festival?” she said quickly. “I know you’ve probably already been to a million harvest festivals already, and I know it’s a pretty long drive for you, but... I don’t know, I just figured it could be nice to go with someone I actually know better than I know the people living here,” Emma concluded her frantic ramble and felt less than satisfied. She hadn’t been half as smooth as she had hoped for.

And for a moment she thought she saw something in Regina’s dark eyes. A slight flicker of something that could have been panic. Then her eyes flickered slightly, and Emma felt as though she had to say something more.

“You could bring Henry?” she suggested. “If he’s into harvest festivals that is. I don’t know if he wants to come or not, but if he does, I’d totally be down to talk more fairytale stuff with him.”

Now Regina just looked surprised. Plain and simple. Like she couldn’t quite believe her own ears. Her lips were moving, saying words that Emma had no chance of hearing.

The blonde leaned back in her chair. Now she was the one who was blushing, and her voice was hushed when she mumbled: “I just figured I’d... ask.”
It seemed as though Regina was lost in thoughts for a while. Her dark eyes didn’t focus on anything in particular. She looked like she was miles away.

Emma was getting nervous. And it hadn’t even been a proper date suggestion. At least not yet. But now she was getting anxious and afraid that Regina wouldn’t even say yes to this. The brunette was frowning slightly, and her dark eyes were still flickering slightly. Emma wetted her lips and felt tempted to tip back on her chair or bite her nails. She often indulged in that when she was nervous. It wouldn’t look very good to sit and bite her nails in a restaurant though, so she settled for wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans and then anxiously chewing on the inside of her cheek.

But then Regina nodded once, a hesitant smile blossoming on her lips.

“Yeah?” Emma asked hopefully and felt every bit like an idiot.

Regina found another post-it from the stack and scribbled for a moment. Then she handed Emma the note, and the blonde immediately bowed her head so she could read: ‘both Henry and I would like that. The harvest festival is quite special, and especially the first time you see it. It would be a shame if you didn’t have anyone to share that experience with.’

Emma smiled as she looked up. She couldn’t think of anyone better to share it with. But of course she didn’t say that. Instead she looked down again to read what Regina had scribbled underneath: ‘but I must warn you, Henry is a bit of a chatterbox.’

Emma chuckled lightly. “That’s fine by me.”

Regina scribbled something on a new post-it, and this time Emma’s neck gave a faint crick as she bowed her head to read: ‘he’ll undoubtedly talk for the both of us.’

Emma’s neck gave another crick as she quickly looked up at Regina, scanning the brunette’s face. Was that another joke?

Regina quirked an eyebrow, clearly amused. She was obviously joking again.

Emma couldn’t help but laugh. She had always been a sucker for dark humor. “That’s okay too,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the kid again. He was very smart and funny the last time.”

Regina gave a gentle nod at that, and her smile went from teasing to warm at the mention of her son.

Emma wanted to fist pump the air. She didn’t give two shits whether it was a childish thing to do or not. She had just succeed in inviting Regina to the harvest festival! And Henry too. Yes, Emma was nervous at the prospect of spending time with Regina’s son, but right now she felt as though she could do anything.

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Yeah, it was possible that Emma had been all kinds of cocky when she nonchalantly had invited Henry to come to the harvest festival along with Regina, but now she was feeling nervous. She felt awkward around kids. She had always felt awkward around kids. What was she supposed to say to him? She knew that this wasn’t exactly a date with Regina, but still, Emma wanted to do well with the kid. She wanted to show Regina that she knew how to be around a ten year old. But she was terrified of somehow putting her foot in it and screwing up. After all, that was one of her special powers. She could tell when someone was lying, and she said the wrong things. What if Henry wouldn’t like her? What if he could somehow sense that she wanted to be more than friends with his mom and was against it? Emma could come up with plenty of horrifying things that could turn the night into a disaster. God damn it, she had never dated anyone who had a kid before. She had no idea how to do this, and she was afraid it would be painfully obvious. It didn’t help much that there still was some time left before the harvest festival. Emma knew herself. And she knew that she could easily manage to drive herself crazy before the time was up. She tried to stay positive. She and Regina were on for the harvest festival. They were going together. That was something. Emma tried to focus on that, but every time she thought about the prospect of spending time with Regina’s son, her heart started thudding uncomfortably in her chest. It was so, so important that Henry liked her. He was the ultimate judge.

Emma could barely recognize herself. Normally, she wasn’t this nervous. But then again normally she didn’t date women who had kids. And normally, she didn’t get this worked up about things. And this wasn’t even a date. At least not yet. It was an agreement between two friends. She never got this worked up about something that wasn’t even a date. But of course it was different with Regina. Everything was different with Regina. Emma had never felt like this with anyone before. Not even Lily. It seemed ridiculous, really. She and Lily had been together for two years. Emma had thought that their relationship had been heading towards an engagement. But now, in hindsight when she really thought about it, she couldn’t imagine being engaged to Lily. The thought didn’t fill her with happiness. It didn’t fill her with anything. Hell, she didn’t even think about Lily anymore. Incredible. The woman she had spend two years of her life with had just vanished from her thoughts. And all because of Regina.

All because what Emma was feeling for Regina was stronger than what she had been feeling for Lily, and honestly, that scared Emma a little bit.

She wasn’t one for falling head over heels in love. That wasn’t her thing. For a long while, one nightstands had been as far as she has gone. Until Lily. But even with Lily, Emma had been hesitant. Cautious.

Emma hadn’t been the one to pursue. Lily had. And it had taken quite a while before Emma had agreed to go on a date with her.

And now here Emma was. In the exact same situation. Eager to get a date with Regina.

Emma had decided to let the harvest festival decide it. Meaning that she would wait and see how everything went at the festival. Having coffee together was one thing. Going to a harvest festival was something else, and even though it wasn’t a terribly formal occasion or anything, but nevertheless, Emma would let everything depend on how that went. And what Henry thought of her. If everything went well, and if the kid seemed to like her, she was gonna pluck up the courage and ask Regina out. On an actual date. Not a half-appointment. A proper date. At a restaurant. With white tablecloth on the table and lit candles. Now that she was actually making money, she could afford that. Emma hoped that the harvest festival would go well. She really wanted to ask Regina out. In fact she couldn’t remember the last time she had wanted something so badly. But it wasn’t just because she was enjoying the thrill of the chase. No, this was something bigger. Something that Emma had thought would never happen to her. The feeling of being in love. Actually being in love.

Emma had spent a long time thinking about that. Had she been with Lily for the wrong reasons? Because she had been afraid of being alone at the time?

Yes, maybe. The fear of being alone was something Mary Margaret had instilled within her when she kicked Emma out of her house. And for a long time after Emma had looked for confirmation, the feeling of being wanted. But she hadn’t found it. Until she had met Lily. Lily had wanted her. Lily had made her feel loved. It had been far too easy for Emma to just cling on too tightly to Lily. Exactly like Mary Margaret was clinging on too tightly to her. History was repeating itself.

Emma was hellbent on breaking that pattern. She refused to be like Mary Margaret. And she kept telling herself that she had never been as extreme as Mary Margaret ever had been. She was not like her adoptive mother. But the fear of becoming like her would always be there.

Emma had tried to stop thinking too much about Mary Margaret. It wasn’t good for her. More than once, Emma had woken up, bathed in sweat and gasping for air after having endured another nightmare about her crazy adoptive mother. And then she had chuckled darkly. It would appear that young Henry wasn’t the only one suffering from night terrors. Now Emma did too. But fortunately enough, she had the perfect cure. Thinking about Regina. Thinking about her smile and her messages. That always seemed to do the trick. And Emma was grateful for that.
And nightmares and overthinking aside, everything else was going smoothly. Emma was still very much satisfied with her work. She loved living in Steveston, and she had quietly started to look around for a more permanent place to live. She liked Eugenia’s Inn, and honestly, waking up to a cup of hot chocolate and a bear claw every morning was pretty incredible, but Emma knew that she sooner or later needed to find another place to live. A proper one. One where she cooked her own breakfast and made her own coffee. One where she had actual responsibility. That was a very important part of her delayed “growing up”-process. Mary Margaret had infantilized her for such a long time. Emma had barely learned to cook her own breakfast when she was kicked out at seventeen. At that point Emma had already seen her adoptive mother loose control a few times, but her freak out when she kicked Emma out had definitely been the worst. She had looked like something straight out of a horror movie as she had stood there screaming at Emma in her girlish, flower patterned skirt and neat white blouse and with her eyes bloodshot. That sight had been haunting Emma for quite a while after that. That was when the blonde first had started seeing Archie. And the psychiatrist had helped enormously. He had taught Emma that none of this had been her fault. But still, when he had asked Emma if she wished to report Mary Margaret to the police, Emma had backpedaled and mumbled something about not wanting to stir up more trouble.

Now she was having serious seconds thoughts about that. Maybe now was the exactly right time to stir up some trouble. Maybe it was time to take that confrontation Emma had been avoiding for years.

Maybe it was time to set the record straight and be rid of Mary Margaret once and for all.

Emma thought a lot about that too at night when her thoughts about Regina were bordering on inappropriate. Being completely rid of Mary Margaret would be incredible, but Emma had read enough about stalking online to know that the authorities couldn’t do much unless Mary Margaret had actually done something to her. The grey station car she had spotted in the rearview mirror wasn’t enough proof. She needed more solid evidence, she knew that. And if she thought about it from a policeman’s point of view, she couldn’t actually know for sure whether she had been followed or not. That grey car tailing her could have been a crazy coincidence.

Emma knew it wasn’t, but she could imagine the police would tell her something like that. And that was why she hadn’t contacted the police. A grey car in the rearview mirror was not solid evidence.

But what was solid evidence then? An open palmed slap when she was seventeen? Mary Margaret was so manipulative. She could easily write that off as an accident. She probably could convince the authorities that she hadn’t meant to do it.

Bullshit. Utter bullshit.

 

**************************

 

Emma leaned back in her office chair and stretched her legs a bit. She had been sitting in the same position since this morning, and now she was starting to feel it in her neck and shoulders. Today Malena had asked her to look at a manuscript that needed one last editing, and Emma was more than happy to do that. She liked how much her new job variated. Her days were never completely similar. Emma liked the fact that she was given different tasks and more responsibility. That meant Malena trusted her, and Emma appreciated that very much.

The blonde rose from her chair and went over to the window. Even though it was a pretty nippy day, the little office she was sitting in quickly got cluttered and warm. Emma wrestled the window open and poked her head out. The cold breeze felt nice. It cleared her mind. Emma had been editing all morning, and her mind was beginning to go over so slightly blind. This was exactly the boost of energy she needed in order to solider on. Emma had a secret mission about finishing editing the manuscript today. She aimed for being an effective employee. And she aimed for impressing Malena as well. Maybe because Emma could still perfectly remember that she had gotten this job because she knew Regina. Not because of her skills. Emma wanted to proof her worth. To really show that she knew what she was doing and hadn’t been hired because of her connection with someone Malena happened to be friends with.

Emma absentmindedly looked out of the window, and as so many times before, her thoughts quickly wandered to Regina. She hadn’t seen the beautiful brunette since their coffee appointment a few weeks ago, and she probably wouldn’t either. Regina was in full swing with the house hunting process, and that had proved to be very difficult. Emma and she had obviously texted a lot since, and from what Emma could understand, Regina and Henry hadn’t found a castle yet. That still amused Emma. To think that the ten year old actually demanded to live in a castle. Regina didn’t quite share his enthusiasm though. She was more leaning towards a penthouse apartment. At least that was what she had texted Emma. And she had also texted that she was beginning to panic a little because she and Henry still didn’t have their own place to live. She had mentioned something about a last possibility if they really couldn’t find a place to live. But the last possibility was too far away, she had written. Too remote and isolated. Both she and Henry would probably go crazy if they had to live there.

Obviously, Emma had offered lots of encouragement and texted that she was certain that Regina and Henry soon would find a place to live. Regina had expressed how much she hoped that was true. If she had to live with her sister for the rest of her life, she would probably go insane. At least that was what she had written to Emma.

That had amused Emma quite a bit. She had actually ended up laughing herself to sleep that night, and she hadn’t had any nightmares either. Texting Regina before bedtime really was the perfect cure, and she had refused to listen to Ella when she a few days later claimed that texting Regina that late was practically the same thing as a booty call.

Emma had categorically rejected that. It was NOT a booty call at all. She and Regina were simply texting each other late because Regina didn’t have the time to text earlier because of Henry. That was all.

But obviously, thinking about booty calls and Regina and then mixing up the two things so late at night had been a bad idea. Emma hadn’t laughed herself to sleep that night. She hadn’t had any nightmares either. Instead she had ended up dreaming things she definitely not had any business dreaming about. At least not yet. And she had woken up with pink cheeks and a racing heart to match. Safe to say that a cold shower had been strongly in favor that particular morning.

Emma breathed in the fresh air one more time, and then smiled a little. Shaking her head, she realized that she was dawdling. She was thinking about Regina instead of doing her job. She was wasting time.

But then again how could thinking about Regina ever be categorized as “wasting time”? Emma refused to believe that was the case. Thinking about Regina had to be one of the best things ever. But maybe not right now though. She was at work right now. She was being paid for editing the manuscript waiting on her laptop. Not thinking about Regina.

Emma filled her nostrils with the fresh air one last time and then put her hands on the windowsill as she stretched her neck just a bit. Seriously, one of these days she had to book an appointment at the spa center. Because she had learned that Steveston did in fact have a spa center. And apparently a very good one too. That was at least what everyone claimed.

Emma sighed as she reminded herself to get back to work. She could practically hear the manuscript screaming to be finished. Reluctantly, she pulled her head back.

That was when she spotted it. Out of the corner of her eye. Just the slightest of movements. So brief, Emma barely believed it was there. And when she stuck her head out of the window again there was no sign of it. But Emma was sure it had been there a second ago. The grey station car. She squints, strain her eyes and her neck as she carefully scans the parking lot. Nothing. It’s gone now. But again, she was sure it was there a moment ago. Just a brief sighting. Something she could see out of the corner of her eye.

The blonde’s heart started thudding uncomfortably in her chest.

“And how are things going in here?”

Emma heard the door open, and she was well aware that the question was aimed at her, but right now she couldn’t concentrate on answering. She was much too focused on looking out of the window, desperately checking if she could see that damned grey station car.

“Miss Swan?”

Emma stopped looking out of the window, and she turned around to face Malena instead.

“Is everything alright?” Malena asked and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Yeah,” Emma said quickly, cracking a smile at her boss. “I was just getting a bit of fresh air.”

“I see,” Malena nodded. “This office is a bit cluttered. Maybe we’ll have to find you another office. A better one.”

“Really?”

“Yes, indeed,” Malena and smiled. “How is the editing going?”

“It’s going well,” Emma assured. “I’m always half-way done.”

“Excellent. I must say you’re very effective, miss Swan,” Malena said, offering another smile before she turned around and went back towards the door.

“Malena?” Emma said.

The older blonde turned around and faced Emma. “Yes?”

“Have you...” Emma swallowed something. “Have you or anyone else noticed a grey station car today? Or any other day for that matter?”

“A grey station car?” Malena echoed and raised an eyebrow in confusion. “No, I don’t believe so. Why do you ask?”

Emma offered a nonchalant shrug. “No reason. Just... asking.”

Malena frowned slightly now. “Is there a problem, miss Swan?”

“No,” Emma said quickly. “Not at all.”

“Very well then,” Malena said, offering Emma another smile, and then she left the office again.

Emma returned to her seat and turned her attention back to the laptop screen in front of her. Her heart was still thudding in her chest. But again, a brief sighting of a grey car driving away from the building wasn’t enough proof. She couldn’t know for sure that it was the same grey station car. It could have been a coincidence. Another coincidence. It was possible that that grey car didn’t have anything to do with her.

But it was entirely possible that Emma would take the bus tomorrow. And she would be extra weary of grey station cars. She flexed her fingers a bit as she continued the editing. She refused to be afraid.

 

*************

 

The weeks flew by in a busy blur of editing, proofreading and numerous text messages exchanged. Emma had plenty of things to do. Her life had become a well-oiled machine, and she actually didn’t mind that. She was very satisfied with this level of stability. She loved her work and she loved retiring to her room after a long day and then texting Regina to tell her about her day. Regina happily asked questions, and told Emma about the books she were reading, how Henry were doing, and how frustrating their house hunting was. But apart from that, she didn’t tell much. Not really. She gave no reason why she was busy. She never actually revealed exactly what she was doing.

But even so, Emma was very happy with the rhythm they had fallen into. She loved the fact that she and Regina were in constant contact.

And the grey station car remained absent. Emma was still watchful and checked the parking lot at Dragon Publishing thoroughly, but she didn’t see the grey car again. It would have been easy to simply chalk the incident up to having been a coincidence. A twist of fate or something like that, but Emma refused to let her guard down that easily. If Mary Margaret really had been the one behind the wheel in that car, that could very well be her endgame. To lull Emma into some false sense of security and the strike when the blonde was vulnerable.

She was watchful, but she wasn’t obsessed. She didn’t frantically check her windows or jump up whenever she heard a sound. She was aware that there was a problem, but she refused to turn it into an even bigger problem than it already was. She wouldn’t stop living her life. If this would end in confrontation, then fine. So be it. Emma was prepared for whatever battle about to happen. And she kept telling herself that she wasn’t scared. And she wasn’t. Until she started thinking about the insane look in Mary Margaret’s eyes that day, she had kicked Emma out. That was something that could make
Emma feel afraid and truly wonder what Mary Margaret was capable of doing.

But again, the texts from Regina did wonders. Texting Regina made Emma forget about grey cars following her and crazy adoptive mothers. When she texted Regina, she only thought about good things.
The rapidly approaching harvest festival, for instance. Hell, she even forgot about how nervous she was about meeting Regina’s son again.

Regina could make everything bad disappear, and Emma still stood by her “fairy godmother”-assumption.

And suddenly, the day was there. The day of the harvest festival. As by magic, Steveston was turned into Pumpkin Town. Or so it felt. Little stalls popped up everywhere. A huge carrousel was maneuvered to the square along with a little Ferris wheel that actually wasn’t that little. There was the distinct smell of popcorn and hotdogs hanging in the air. Fairy lights were wrapped around every tree, and at night, when the lights were dimmed, Steveston looked like a fairytale town, with all the trees lighting up in different colors. One afternoon everyone in town, including Emma, headed out to the forest and gathered wood to create the massive bonfire that was to be lit down at the harbor. Everyone were smiling and looked excited as they talked about the upcoming festival. Everything was so wonderful. Everything was so idyllic. So perfect.

And Emma was nervous as hell. Where had the time gone? How could it already be tonight? She wasn’t ready, damn it!

Well actually, she was. At least physically. She had gone out and bought a new dress. Not anything extravagant obviously. Just an olive colored mini leather dress she could wear with black leggings. She was NOT dressing up for Regina. Because this WASN’T a date. So yes, physically, she was ready. She had even been silly enough to google “what do I talk to a ten year old boy about”. Yep, she had actually googled that. Neither website had been very helpful, so Emma had just decided to go with her first choice and talk fairytales with him.

Yes, physically she was well prepared. Mentally? Not so much.

She was actually a wreck. And she kept obsessing over her hair. Should she let it hang loose or put it up in a ponytail? If she let it hang loose would it then look like she was trying too hard? Or if she put it up in a ponytail, would it then look like she wasn’t trying at all? Everything about this not-date was suddenly scary as hell, and Emma felt so nervous she could die as she inspected her reflection in the mirror. Her green eyes were too big, too bright. Her cheeks were too rosy, anxiety coloring them. And her hair looked like a disaster. Instead of soft curls, the shower had left Emma with a frizzy golden mess that refused to be tamed. Once or twice she had been tempted to throw the hairbrush into the wall. She had tried pulling her hair back in a bun, a ponytail, even a braid, but none of it had worked out the way she wanted it to. So she had settled for this. Messy curls spilling down her back. As always. Oh well. At least the dress she had bought for tonight was nice. It was pretty without being too over the top. It was casual without being boring. And the color suited her eyes nicely. She would definitely start to wear more green.

She and Regina had decided to meet at the square at seven, and Emma quickly checked her watch. She had to get a move on. Otherwise she would end up being late. And being late for this not-date would be awful.

Emma had aimed for being at the square at in good time, but that quickly proved to be an impossible task. Steveston was crawling with people on this crisp autumn evening. It seemed as though every last tourist in the world had seemed to come here, and Emma’s normally well-developed elbows of steel proved to be ineffective. She was stopped multiple times. First by Isabelle who formally introduced Emma to her husband, Robert Gold. He had greeted Emma with ice cold politeness and Emma had felt tempted to ask why he had a stick up his rear.

Next she was stopped by Billy from the garage who wanted to know if she was still satisfied with the bug and if the radio was still working. Emma had said that she was very happy with her little car, but Billy had found it necessary to give her a long speech about the engine. It had taken almost ten minutes for her to get away, but not even then she could get to the square. The next person to stop her had been Ruby. The young waitress playfully asked if Emma was on her way to meet someone, and when Emma had made the stupid mistake of saying “yes”, the waitress had been relentless. She had tried to coax out of Emma who it was, but Emma hadn’t been particularly interested in telling Ruby who it was. At least not until she had an official date with Regina.

Just as Emma thought she had finally escaped; she had been stopped by Graham. The sheriff had smiled at her and then asked if she wanted a cup of coffee. Emma had returned the smile and then politely declined. She was actually on her way to meet someone, so....

That’s when she finally had escaped for good and made her way to the square. Horribly late. And she had cursed involuntarily because of it. She had so wanted to be on time.

But it quickly turned out that Regina and Henry weren’t there either. At first Emma had been relieved about it, but as five minutes crept by, she gradually started to look around. She shifted a bit in the cold. It was actually a bit too chilly to wear a dress, and she was only wearing her leather jacket over it.

Ten minutes later, Emma reached inside her pocket and found her phone. There were no messages from Regina, so the blonde had to assume that everything was fine, but now she was actually beginning to wonder. Weren’t they supposed to be here now? Or am I an hour too early or something? But Emma knew that she wasn’t. She and Regina had agreed to meet now. So where was Regina? Emma pursed her lips as she shifted to stay warm. Regina would have texted if something had gotten in the way, right? Yes. Emma was sure of that. Regina was not the type who would stand her up. Emma refused to believe that.

She checked her phone again. Just to be sure. But there was still no messages. Emma was starting to freeze more and more. Maybe she should have accepted Graham’s offer about coffee anyway. But it had seemed so impolite to indulge before Regina and Henry arrived.

But what if they’re not coming?

Emma clenched her jaw. Shut up, she ordered that irritating little voice in the back of her head. Of course Regina and Henry would show. Emma refused to believe anything else. Regina would never stand her up. She would message Emma if something had gotten in the way.

She shoved her hands inside her pockets. She had forgotten her gloves. And scarf. She had totally underestimated how cold it actually was. For a moment she considered whether she had time to double back home and fetch her scarf and gloves and possibly a hat too.

It definitely seemed like she had all the time in the world. There was still no sign of Regina nor Henry. They’re not coming, they’re not coming, they’re not coming.

No. Emma stubbornly refused to believe that. She refused to believe that Regina had stood her up. Regina would never do that... Would she? As she stood here shivering in the cold, Emma was sort of starting to doubt it. A bitter taste filled her mouth. Twenty minutes had passed now. Maybe she should just abandon ship and creep back to her room at Eugenia’s and pretend that this had never happened.

Emma frowned. Maybe she shouldn’t be so judgmental. Maybe there was another reason why Regina and Henry hadn’t arrived. Maybe something had happened. Maybe there had been an emergency of sorts. There could be. Maybe Henry had fallen ill or something like that. Or maybe Regina had. Emma snorted quietly and rolled her eyes as her imagination went into overdrive and she came up with Thirty Horrible Things That Could Have Happened. Calm down, Swan. Settle for using your imagination when you write. Not in everyday situations. This was an everyday situation. And unfortunately a very cliché one too. She had been stood up. Of course she had. Regina had officially flaked on her. Emma gave a nearby rock a firm kick. Damn it. Emma wondered if this was her own fault. Had she been too eager? Too pushy? Was it possible that she had said something wrong? She was good at that? Or had Regina backpedaled because Emma had invited Henry as well? Had Regina thought that it was too soon? But this wasn’t a date. Nor was it a “partner meets son”-situation. Not at all. It was just a casual get-together. Nothing more.

Emma sighed quietly as she slowly turned around. What was the point in waiting five more minutes? It was pretty obvious that Regina and Henry wasn’t gonna show up. Why drag out the torture further?

The blonde slowly began to push her way away from the square, and she might have been a bit aggressive and ruthless as she forced her way through the crowd, but she didn’t care. Her good mood was officially ruined. She had been so excited about tonight, and now... What a fucking disaster.

Emma’s jaw remained firmly clenched as she tried her best to make her way back to Eugenia’s Inn. There were too many fucking people everywhere. She just wanted to go home, damn it! She wanted to go home and drink a bottle of something strong. Something that would send her right off to dreamland. Something that would make her forget tonight’s failure. It would have been nice if she could just have taken a potion and forgotten about tonight entirely. For good. Emma knew that this would haunt her for the next long, long while.

“Hi.”

Emma immediately turned around on the spot and found herself face to face with a young boy wearing a black coat and a checkered scard. A young boy with brown hair and brown eyes. A boy she had met before.

“Hey, Henry,” she greeted with a smile and felt relief seep through her body. Thank god! “where’s your mom?”

“Right there,” Henry said, and just as he said it, Emma saw Regina cross the square. The brunette was wearing a black coat with a fur collar that went all the way up to her chin. Her hair was smooth and
shiny as always, but as she came closer, Emma could see that she was scowling slightly. She made eye contact with Henry, and then her fingers danced in the air for a moment.

Henry frowned and then proclaimed: “I didn’t run away. I just... walked fast.”

Emma almost chuckled at that.

Regina sighed quietly, and then her fingers moved in the air once more.

“Sorry we’re late,” Henry translated. “The traffic was... awful?”

Regina nodded and flashed him a smile.

“That’s totally fine,” Emma said.

Regina’s fingers moved in the air again, and Henry asked for her: “have you waited a long time?”

“No-no, I’ve just got there,” Emma lied. There was really no reason to let Regina know that she had been on the verge of freaking out.

Regina smiled again and then did this little gesture with her head, indicating that they should walk.

Emma willingly followed Regina as they walked back towards the festival and all the lights. It really looked pretty with all the lights. Emma glanced at Regina and then smiled a little. The lights were
definitely pretty, but she could easily think of something prettier.

“Can I have a corndog?” Henry asked as they walked. His eyes were gleaming as he looked at the carrousel.

Regina nodded and then signed something.

“Fiiiine,” Henry said. “I’ll wait until after I’ve tried the carousel.”

Regina ruffled his hair slightly and then she looked up and flashed Emma a little smile.

Emma smiled back, but she was beginning to realize how difficult this had to be for Regina. She couldn’t very well write on post-it notes while she was walking, and having to find her phone every single time she wanted to say something to Emma...

Emma remembered that she had planned on stopping by the library tomorrow. Maybe she should check if there were any books about sign language. It would be really neat to be able to communicate with
Regina like that. They could communicate while they walked. If Emma knew sign language, Regina wouldn’t be forced to find her phone and write a message every time she had something to say. And they wouldn’t need the post-its either. Emma knew that Regina had expressed that she wasn’t bothered by that way of communicating, but still, Emma was positive it would be easier if she could learn sign language. That was really something worth considering.

Regina had stopped walking, and Emma quickly realized that they had stopped right by the public bathrooms.

Regina glanced at Henry and then signed something.

“I won’t wander off. I’ll stay right here with miss Swan,” Henry said in response.

Regina smiled and then found her phone in her pocket. Tapped for a moment and then turned the screen towards Emma who quickly read: ‘I won’t be a moment.’

“We’ll stay right here,” Emma promised. Now suddenly nervous at the prospect of being left alone with Henry.

Regina flashed her a reassuring smile and then she turned around and disappeared into the bathroom. Now Emma was suddenly very much alone with Henry. The ten year old gave a nearby rock a little kick, and then he stuffed his glove clads hands into the pockets of his coat. He looked up at Emma, and Emma returned the look, flashed him a little smile. She hoped she didn’t look half as nervous as she felt right now.

“Do you like corndogs?” Henry asked.

Emma was slightly taken aback by the random question, but she managed to grin and say: “yeah, I love corndogs.”

“Cool. What about Ferris wheels?” Henry inquired. “Mom hates going on Ferris wheels. She’s afraid of heights.”

“I like Ferris wheels,” Emma assured with a grin.

Henry looked doubtfully up at her. “Will you go with me then? It’s no fun riding the Ferris wheel alone.”

“I- sure,” Emma said surprised, but delighted. “Yeah. I’d love to.”

“Cool,” Henry said and gave another rock a light kick. “Do you know if there’s gonna be a bonfire tonight?”

“I think there’s gonna be a bonfire down at the harbor,” Emma replied, pretty impressed at how well she was making small talk with Henry.

Henry smiled. “And fireworks too?”

“Yep, pretty sure there’s gonna be fireworks too,” Emma confirmed.

He grinned at that, then asked: “do you work for auntie Mal?”

Auntie Mal. “Yeah, I do,” Emma nodded.

He frowned a bit. “Does that mean you don’t write fairytales anymore?”

“No, god no!” Emma said quickly. “No, I’m still writing on them. Definitely.”

“Oh. Good,” Henry said, smiling again. “How many fairytales have you written so far?”

Emma quickly explained a bit about her twisted tales and how she had changed some of them. Like how the ugly duckling for instance was a little orphan girl in her version story.

“How come the ugly duckling is a girl in your story?” Henry asked curiously.

“Well...” Emma said, shrugging lightly. “I suppose I tried to make the story a little bit about myself.”

“Are you an orphan?” Henry asked.

Emma raised an eyebrow, surprised but not angry at the boy’s bluntness.

The tips of the boy’s ears turned pink rapidly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s fine,” Emma said. “I’m actually adopted.”

“Adopted,” Henry echoed. “Do you know who your real mom and dad are then?”

“No,” Emma said, shrugging again. She had thought about it many times, but she had always been too afraid to start searching after her real parents. She was afraid that they somehow would be way worse than Mary Margaret and David.

“I don’t know my dad either,” Henry said and fiddled with the bottom of his scarf.

“Oh,” Emma said simply. She wasn’t completely sure what else she could say.

“But I don’t think my mom does either,” Henry said thoughtfully and scratched his cheek. “At least that’s what I heard auntie Z say once. Mom got pretty angry about it, though.”

“Oh,” Emma said again and felt herself flush slightly. Exactly what was she supposed to deduce from that? That Henry was the result of a one night-

“Do you like working for auntie Mal?” Henry asked, interrupting Emma’s train of curious thoughts.

“Yeah,” Emma said and nodded. “She’s really nice. Everyone is.”

“It’s been a long time since I saw auntie Mal,” Henry mused.

“It has?” Emma said, trying her best to make conversation.

“Mhmm,” the boy said. “Mom keeps saying that she’ll invite her soon, but she never does.”

“Do you know why?” Emma asked. She was honest to god just trying to make conversation. She wasn’t trying to snoop or anything.

“She doesn’t like seeing people,” Henry said and now he sounded quite serious. “Only me and auntie Z. Zelena keeps telling her that she should go out more and see other people, but mom doesn’t want too. She hasn’t wanted to since the acci- oh, hey mom! Can we go try the Ferris wheel, please?”

Emma looked up and saw that Regina had come back from the bathroom. She had a hand on her son’s shoulder, and she was frowning slightly. She had clearly heard what Henry had just said.

“Mom? Can we try the Ferris wheel?” Henry repeated and then glanced at Emma. “Miss Swan said that she wants to go with me!”

“Emma,” the blonde corrected. Henry didn’t have to address her as “miss Swan”.

Regina nodded and Henry lead the way as they walked towards the Ferris wheel. Regina was still frowning a bit though, and Emma noted that the brunette also looked a bit sad. That send surges of panic through Emma. She didn’t want Regina to look sad. She didn’t want the brunette to feel bad.

“He’s a sweet kid,” Emma said.

Regina’s head snapped up at that, and she was quick to find her phone in her pocket. She tapped on the screen and then turned it towards Emma.

And Emma was quick to read what the brunette had written: ‘and a little chatterbox too, I’m afraid.’

Emma offered a small chuckle at that. “It’s cool. I don’t mind.”

Regina shook her head and Emma wondered how much of the conversation she had heard.

But before she could think further about it, Henry claimed their attention by pointing to one of the food stalls. One that happened to sell popcorn. And he looked pretty disappointed when Regina signed that he would have to wait until having tried the carousel.

“Then lets go!” he insisted.

Regina raised an eyebrow.

“Please,” he quickly amended.

Regina smiled and nodded at that, and then she and Emma walked towards the carousel. He was as proud as could be when he mounted the wooden black horse. The carousel started going round and round, and Regina acted every bit as a proud mom as she found her phone and snapped pictures of her son on the carousel.

Emma wasn’t nearly as nervous anymore. Henry was a pretty great kid. He was sweet, and Emma could immediately feel the close bond there was between him and his mother. Maybe that should make her
nervous again. She wondered what he would think if she and Regina started seeing each other? Like REALLY seeing each other.

“He’s having a great time,” Emma said, quickly interrupting her own train of thoughts before she got ahead of herself.

Regina nodded and smiled at that.

“I think he was looking forward to the bonfire later,” Emma said. “And he asked if I could ride the Ferris wheel with him. Is that alright with you?”

Regina nodded and smiled again. Then she found her phone in her pocket and began tapping again. It didn’t take long before the screen was turned towards Emma: ‘yes, that’s completely fine with me. As long as you don’t mind doing it.’

“Not at all,” Emma assured and grinned. “It’s been years since I’ve tried a Ferris wheel. I’m kinda looking forward to trying it again.”

Regina chuckled mutely at that and then tapped on her phone again. Soon Emma was presented with a question: ‘do you want a pumpkin spice once he’s done riding the carousel? My treat.’

“Yeah, that sounds good, but you don’t have to buy me-“ Emma didn’t finish the sentence when she saw Regina shake her head firmly. The subject clearly wasn’t up for debate.

“Alright, alright. Your treat,” Emma surrendered and grinned.

Regina smiled in a rather triumphant manner at that.

Emma rubbed her hands as they stood and watched Henry on the carousel. Regina had stopped taking pictures, and now she was settling for just watching. Emma saw her smile as the black horse Henry was sitting on passed them, and she saw Henry wave at his mother. Regina waved back and smiled.

Emma rubbed her hands again. Jeez, it was really cold tonight! More autumn than winter, really. This should be called the winter festival instead of harvest festival. Emma almost chuckled, and she felt tempted to bring her hands up to her mouth to blow hot air on them. It would look silly, but it would probably help a bit with the cold.

That was when she felt the lightest of taps on the top of her shoulder. Emma looked up and blinked slightly in surprise. Regina was holding a pair of spare gloves out towards her. The brunette’s eyebrow was raised, and Emma figured that saying no wasn’t an option.

“Thanks,” Emma said as she took the gloves from Regina. “I forgot my own at the hotel room.”

Regina tapped a few sentences on her phone, and then turned the screen towards Emma: ‘good thing I had an extra pair then.’

“Yeah,” Emma nodded and slipped the gloves on. That was better. “You’re still adding to my fairy godmother theory.”

Regina smiled and shook her head in a manner that more than suggested that Emma was being silly.

Emma didn’t care whether she was being silly or not. She felt completely warm. And it had very little to do with the gloves. Even though it felt nice to have warm hands again.

Henry was very excited when he got off the carousel. And he was grinning broadly when he asked his mother: “can I have a corndog now?”

Regina gestured towards the Ferris wheel.

“I think I’d like a corndog first. Please?” Henry replied.

Regina nodded in a very surrendering manner, and then her fingers moved in the air for a moment.

Henry immediately looked at Emma. “She’s asking if you’d like a corndog too?”

Emma’s attention switched from Henry to Regina as she said: “you really don’t have to buy me one.”

Regina’s fingers danced in the air again, and then Henry said: “she says she insists.”

“Oh,” Emma grinned, feeling how her cheeks pinked slightly. “Well, in that case... Yeah, I’d like a corndog.”

Regina seemed delighted with that answer, and off they went towards one of the food stalls. Henry got his corndog, and he couldn’t have been happier about. Neither could Emma when she took her first
bite. It was actually very good. But she felt a bit guilty. Regina hadn’t bought a corndog for herself.

“You don’t like corndogs?” Emma asked.

Regina offered a light shrug in response.

“She’s waiting for us to pass the pie stall,” Henry piped up. “She loves pies. Right, mom?”

Regina put a hand on her heart in mock offense, and then she playfully whacked Henry’s shoulder.

“Ow!” Henry said, feigning sadness. “Emma, she punched me!”

Emma chuckled. “Yeah. I saw it.”

Regina flashed a playful little smile, and Henry muttered something about his mom being mean, and then he took another bite of his corndog, informing his mom that she was “missing out”.

Regina didn’t seem convinced and even had the audacity to wrinkle her nose in response.

 

**********************

 

The rest of the evening was wonderful. Pure and simple.

Emma and Henry tried the Ferris wheel, and Henry was delighted. And truthfully, so was Emma. She could feel the child within her jump with excitement. It was only on school trips to funfairs she had
been allowed to try things such as Ferris wheels. Mary Margaret had never allowed it. She had been so deathly afraid that Emma somehow would end up hurting herself.

But obviously, no such thing had ever happened. Nor did it happen tonight, and Emma and Henry had a great deal of fun as they swung back and forward in the air. Every time they neared the ground, Henry waved at his mom, and every time Regina made a point out of either clutching her heart in mock fear or cover her eyes. Henry laughed loudly every time she did that.

Emma felt as though she was bursting with happiness. Had she ever been so happy before? She was starting to doubt it. She even felt relaxed talking to Henry as he asked her more about her twisted fairytales.

“Can I read them sometimes?” he asked eagerly.

“If they get published, you can read all of them,” Emma grinned.

“Can I read them before they get published?” he asked and looked at her with big brown eyes. “Please?”

“Yeah,” Emma surrendered without grace. “You can be my beta reader.”

“What’s a beta reader?” Henry asked and wrinkled his nose in confusion.

“It’s someone who reads a story before it’s published to make sure there aren’t any spelling errors,” Emma explained. “Are you good at spelling?”

“I’m the best in my class,” Henry said proudly.

“Great,” Emma grinned. “Then you can definitely be my beta reader.”

“Cool!” Henry exclaimed and then grinned as they neared the ground once more. “Look, there’s mom!”

“Yep, she sure is,” Emma nodded.

“Help me wave to her?” Henry asked.

“Of course,” Emma said, unable to keep her smile at bay.

They both waved at Regina once they got close enough to the ground, and it felt as though Emma’s heart was either melting or popping out of her chest when she saw Regina wave back. She was so
beautiful as she stood there, smiling up at them. Emma couldn’t quite believe it. All of this because she had accidentally hawked someone else’s seat in a train. It seemed so impossible. So too good to be true. She had accidentally stumbled upon the most amazing woman ever. Emma had a hard time believing it. She wasn’t normally this lucky. And especially not when it came to love and relationships.
Henry waved at his mother again, and Emma grinned.

Henry had his popcorn, a large bowl of them and he munched on them as they watched the bonfire and later the fireworks. He even had a few left at the bottom when it became late and it was time for him and his mother to head home.

Emma felt completely flat at the prospect of saying goodbye to Regina and Henry. She already wanted to see them again, damn it! Henry as well as Regina. She had fallen completely for both mother and son.

“Bye, Emma,” Henry said sweetly as they made to Regina’s Mercedes.

“Bye, kid,” Emma smiled.

“Thank you for trying the Ferris wheel with me,” Henry said politely.

Emma grinned. “It was my pleasure, kid. I hope you had fun tonight.”

“I did!” Henry cried. “We both did. Right, mom?” he looked at Regina.

Regina nodded in confirmation and then gestured towards the car.

“Bye, Emma,” Henry said once again and extended his little hand out towards Emma.

Emma laughed as she shook his little hand once. He was a very polite ten year old. Emma had always thought that ten year olds were little rascals.

Henry offered one last smile and then he climbed into the backseat. He door slammed behind him, and Emma saw how he immediately reached underneath the seat and found some sort of game.

Regina looked back at him and smiled and then turned her attention back to Emma.

“I’ve had a really good time tonight,” Emma said almost shyly.

Regina nodded, and her lips mutely formed two words.

“Me, too?” Emma guessed.

Regina nodded and smiled in confirmation.

“He’s an awesome kid,” Emma said as she glanced at Henry in the car. The ten year old had put on a pair of headphones.

Regina nodded, this time a bit more eagerly.

“I’d love to hang out with him again sometimes,” Emma said and pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. “Do you think he’d want that?”

Regina nodded and then found her phone again. She frowned in sheer concentration as she typed, and then she turned the screen around.

Emma was quick to read: ‘yes, I believe he’d enjoy that very much.’

“Cool,” the blonde grinned as she tugged off her borrowed gloves and handed them to Regina. “Thanks for borrowing me your gloves.”

Regina smiled a little as she stuffed the gloves back in her pockets, and Emma saw her dark eyes flicker towards the car. She could almost hear what Regina was thinking. That she should probably be going. Then the brunette was smiling at her again. Regina offered a little nod and a light touch to the top of Emma’s shoulder, and then she turned around and went towards the car.

Emma knew she had to act now. Otherwise Regina would leave. “Wait!” she blurted out.

Regina turned around again and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“I was just wondering...” Emma silently cursed. She knew she was blushing profusely.

Regina tilted her head slightly.

Emma pulled herself together and tried again: “I was just wondering if you’d like to.... go out with me sometimes. You know... maybe have dinner?”

Regina first looked surprised. Emma had sort of been expecting that, but she definitely hadn’t expected the brunette to look panicked. And panic was the exact look that crossed Regina’s face. Her dark eyes flickered anxiously, and Emma saw how her hands balled into fists.

Now Emma felt a bit panicked herself. “Nothing fancy,” she amended. “I was just thinking maybe that Italian place on Main Street? Tony’s?”

Regina looked anxious. White teeth sunk into a plump bottom lip.

Emma felt worse and worse by the second. This was definitely not going as planned. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled and scuffed the nose of her boots against the pavement. “I was just thinking...” a slight movement interrupted her, and she looked up and saw that Regina was tapping something on her phone. Emma almost held her breath until the brunette finished writing and the screen was turned towards her. A single question was written on the screen: ‘when?’

Emma felt her optimism gradually return at that. “Next Saturday? Seven o’clock?” she hopefully suggested.

Regina still looked rather nervous as she slipped the phone back in her pocket. She looked at Emma for a second and then she nodded once.

“Yeah?” Emma asked, just to be sure.

Regina nodded again and flashed Emma a nervous little smile.

“Awesome!” Emma grinned. “I’ll really look forward to that!” She could have said so much more, but she was afraid it was gonna sound silly. And like a huge cliché. Emma didn’t want to sound stupid right
now. Even though she felt like she was on the brink of exploding of pure happiness. There were no other words that could describe what she was feeling right now.

Regina nodded again, formed two words with her lips (me, too) and then she smiled and tugged her hair behind her ear. She glanced at the car again.

“I’ll... text you tomorrow?” Emma said. For somehow it came out as a question.

Regina nodded once again. She offered Emma another smile, a little wave, and then she turned around and went towards her car and waiting son again.

Emma felt a grin spread on her face as she watched the brunette walked away. Something warm and pleasant took hold in her stomach. She had a date with Regina. She really had a date with Regina! If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was standing in the middle of town, Emma would have fist pumped the air. Several times.

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

A date. An actual date with Regina.

Emma was still marveling at how those three words could make her heart thud like that. Date. With. Regina. Magic words. Magic, wonderful words!

The blonde was more soaring than walking as she crossed the street and returned to Eugenia’s Inn. The restaurant was empty. People were still out and celebrating the harvest festival. There was still a bit of fireworks left, and Emma could hear the faint popping sounds coming from it as she walked up the stairs towards her room. She pushed the door open and went inside. She knew that she had work tomorrow and the most sensible thing to do would be to get some sleep right now, but she honestly wasn’t sure she could go to sleep right now. Not when she was buzzing with excitement like this. God everything had gone so well! Emma could barely believe that it was true. She hadn’t said anything stupid or put her foot in her mouth. She hadn’t messed up. Neither with Regina nor with Henry. It seemed as though the kid genuinely liked her, and Emma marveled at that too. He had accepted her. Just like that. Seeing him and Regina together had definitely been one of the sweetest moments in Emma’s life.

The connection between mother and son and how they communicated had been such a pure thing to watch. To be perfectly honest, the fact that Regina was a mother just made her even more attractive to Emma. Regina was a “real” adult. A sophisticated woman who had her shit together. And an absolutely beautiful woman too. The coat she had been wearing tonight had made her look like something straight out of a noir movie from the forties. Emma sighed a little, and the sound was definitely yearning. She wasn’t even embarrassed over it. She was allowed to yearn a little bit after Regina. At least when she was alone in her room. The blonde went over to the dresser and found a long t-shirt and her usual pair of sweatpants. She doubted she would be able to sleep, but she would at least try and give it a shot. She quickly stripped out of her leatherjacket, dress and leggings. She shivered slightly as she traded her nudity for the sweatpants and t-shirt. It was cold tonight. Colder than it had been on her other nights here. Maybe it would even start snowing soon. That wouldn’t be so surprising. This was Canada after all.

Emma went into the bathroom to do her usual night routine, but she wasn’t all that there as she cleansed her face. It took her a second to realize that she was actually applying nail polish remover to her face and not her usual night cream. She cursed when she realized her mistake and then laughed a little to herself. Talk about being absentmindedly. Thinking about Regina was clearly dangerous. She wiped the nail polish remover away from her face, rinsed, dabbed and then carefully applied the right cream to her skin. There. That was better.

Once done in the bathroom, she padded back to the bedroom and slipped into bed. She flicked the little lamp standing on the bedside table off and then found her phone, using that as her only source of light. She felt really, really tempted to text Regina. Just to say goodnight. But Emma ignored the pressing urge. Maybe Regina wasn’t home yet. She couldn’t and shouldn’t text when she was driving. Or maybe she had made it home and was in the process of tucking Henry in. Emma didn’t want to interrupt their bedtime routine. So instead she texted Ella, and excitement was pouring from the words she sent to her friend: ‘harvest festival was a major success! I met her kid again, and I’m telling you, he’s awesome! And so is she, obviously. I finally asked her to go out with me, and she said yes! This is not a drill. She. Said. Yes!’

It seemed as though only seconds passed before a text arrived, and Emma immediately checked it: ‘oh my god, Swan! That’s awesome! When are you guys going out then?’

Emma grinned like the Cheshire cat as she texted back: ‘We’re going out next Saturday. I’m gonna take her to that Italian place I’ve told you about.’

Once again, the answer came fast. Ella was clearly not tired at all. ‘Italian, huh? And this comes from the queen of burgers. I’m impressed, Swan. You’ve really got it bad for this girl, haven’t you?’

Emma huffed slightly as she replied: ‘excuse me, she’s not a girl! She’s a woman. An actual, grown up, sophisticated woman. With a child. I’m going on a date with a woman who has a child. I feel so mature!’

She didn’t even get the chance to flip onto her back before the reply came: ‘does it intimidate you? That she has a child, I mean?’

Emma chewed on her bottom lip as she typed and texted send the text: ‘yeah, I mean. This is so new for me. I’ve never dated a woman who has a child before. But it’s more than that, Ells. She’s so... Well,
she’s everything I’m not, and I suppose I’m just surprised that she said yes to going out with me.’

She felt a little bit ridiculous now. She had just poured out all her insecurities to Ella. Emma hated flaunting her insecurities. Especially because she knew she had about a million of them. Hidden pockets of insecurities. Ever since she had been kicked out by Mary Margaret, Emma had worked very hard on “curing” those insecurities. Archie had been a great help, but to this day, Emma still had some insecurities, and even though it wasn’t often they came out to play, the blonde really hated when she was reminded of them.

Another text arrived, and Emma snapped out of her thoughts as she checked the message: ‘well, why wouldn’t she? Give yourself more credit, Swan. You’re smart. You’re funny. You look good. Maybe you guys are very different, but isn’t that sort of the point? Opposites attracts and all that.’

Emma chuckled as she replied: ‘yeah, well. Never mind me. I’m just freaking out because she said yes, and a part of me still can’t believe that tonight went so well!’

The blonde flipped onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She could feel her heart thud pleasantly in her chest. She had a date with Regina. She actually had a date with Regina. Her phone vibrated against the mattress, and Emma quickly grabbed it and checked the message: ‘Emma’s in love, Emma’s in love, Emma’s in luuuuuurve!’

The blonde laughed dryly at that as she began typing. Ella wasn’t entirely wrong about that. ‘Not gonna lie about that. She’s definitely the most incredible woman I’ve ever met. I have no idea how I’m gonna survive until next Saturday, though. It’s gonna be absolute torture.’

When Ella texted back, Emma could sense the amusement. ‘oh-uh, she better watch out! You’re completely smitten with her!’

Again, Emma didn’t deny that. ‘If being smitten was a crime, I’d be so much in jail right now. I’m telling you; her smile could end world wars!’

Ella responded with a series of laughing emojis, and Emma wasn’t even bothered by it. She was not about to downplay her feelings for Regina. She yawned a bit and stretched lazily as she absentmindedly scrolled through Instagram to see if anything new had happened. Nothing had. Or maybe it had. Emma couldn’t really focus on the picture. She was still much too focused on thinking about Regina. The blonde chuckled quietly to herself. Maybe she wouldn’t get any sleep whatsoever tonight. And maybe she didn’t even care about that. She switched from Instagram to Facebook. Emma had actually thought that her conversation with Ella had come to a natural end for the night, so she was pretty surprised when her phone suddenly vibrated in her hands. Actually so surprised she ended up dropping the phone. It landed on her face.

“Ow,” Emma muttered as she rubbed her forehead. That hurt. Her own fault, obviously. She should have known better than to lie with her phone like that. It was dangerous. Once she was done rubbing her forehead and her eyes had stopped watering because of the pain, Emma blinked and then checked the newest message from Ella: ‘is it difficult? I mean, communicating with her?’

Emma made sure to keep the phone within a safe distance of her face as she texted back: ‘not really, I mean it was a bit trickier tonight because she couldn’t write on post-its while we walked and having to find her phone every time she wanted to say something to me seemed so difficult, but everything worked out alright. She used sign language with her son, and he was really good at translating for me. But I’ve started to think about how nice it could be if she didn’t have to find her phone or write on post-its notes every time. Maybe I could learn to understand sign language. I think that would make things so much easier for her.’

Emma quickly made a reminder in her phone about swinging by the library on her way home from work tomorrow. She really wanted to look into the possibilities of learning sign language. Then her phone vibrated again, and this time Emma didn’t drop it onto her face. Instead she settled for reading the message: ‘has she told you more about why she can’t speak?’

Obviously, Emma began pondering about that very same mystery as she texted back: ‘No, she hasn’t. I know there was some sort of accident, and I know her condition is called “Vocal cord paralysis”, but that’s about it. I want to know more, but I’m not sure how much I can ask her. It’s weird, really. I feel like I really know her, but at the same time it’s like there’s still so many things I don’t know about her. And while I really want to ask her, I’m afraid to do at the same time. An accident that cost her her voice has to be pretty traumatic, right? I don’t wanna remind her of what happened and make her upset.’

Emma chewed on her bottom lip. The ever-present mystery. What happened to Regina? Which accident robbed her of her voice? What really happened?

Her phone beeped again, and Emma was actually starting to feel a bit sleepy as she checked the message: ‘maybe you won’t have to. Maybe she’ll you herself eventually.’

Emma nodded as she typed back: ‘yeah, that’s what I’m hoping for.’ she yawned loudly as she added: ‘but it’s getting late and I have to be up early tomorrow, so I think I better get some shuteye.’

Another message immediately appeared on the screen: ‘sounds like a good idea. I’m about to head to bed myself. I’m opening the diner early tomorrow. Ingrid’s order. That bitch. Sleep well, Swan.’

Emma chuckled as she typed: ‘goodnight’ and then plugged the charger into her phone. She wanted it to be fully charged for tomorrow. Then she flipped onto her side and pulled the covers over herself.

She was finally starting to feel sleepy. And that was a good thing. She had a new manuscript to edit tomorrow, and she wanted to be well rested for it. She chuckled a little. It was still a little strange, feeling so excited at the prospect of going to work. It still felt surreal to actually love her job. As did it feel surreal to know that she had a date with Regina next Saturday. A date with a beautiful woman, and a job she loved. Emma was definitely on the road to happiness. At least that was how it felt, and Emma was more than willing to believe it. After everything
she had been through in her life, this had to be the fresh start she had yearned after for so long.

Emma fell asleep with a smile on her lips.

 

*****************************

 

She woke up bleary eyed but happy. Today was a new day. Emma hopped out of bed and opened the dresser to find some clothes. She opted for a pair of jeans and a tanktop and a button down over it.

She had been relieved to find out that Malena Fiammetta didn’t give a damn about dress code when it came to her employees. The only one who had to look relatively “sharp” was Ursula because she worked at the front desk.

Emma went into the bathroom to take a quick shower. Once that was over, she gave her hair a quick brushing and then tied it back in a ponytail. That was the only hairstyle she could come up with this morning. She quickly toweled herself off and then put on her clothes. She had just buttoned the last button in the flannel shirt she had decided to wear over the tanktop, when she heard a faint scratching sound against the wooden dresser. Someone had just send her text. Emma forced herself to put on mascara and eyeliner before storming into the bedroom and checking the message. She actually had places to be today, and she hadn’t even had breakfast yet. She couldn’t allow herself to “get stuck” by her phone before any other important task had been taken care of. She also forced herself to concentrate as she carefully applied mascara to her lashes. Poking herself in the eye and going blind wasn’t on the schedule for today.

But as soon as she finished putting on eyeliner (and succeeding in making a cat eye) she didn’t want to put it off any longer. She rushed inside the bedroom and grabbed her phone. And it soon turned out that rushing had been entirely worth it. Emma grinned broadly as she read the message: ‘thank you for last night. Henry and I had a wonderful time. He hasn’t stopped talking about the Ferris wheel since. In fact he had trouble going to sleep because he was so happy and excited. And dozed up on greasy, sugary food.’

Emma’s grin widened as she texted back: ‘I had an awesome time too last night! And let’s be honest, having trouble sleeping because of excitement and an overdose of greasy food is better than having trouble sleeping because of night terrors, am I right?’

The response came quickly: ‘indeed so. Last night was delightfully free of night terrors. I believe that’s your doing, so thank you for having made his night a bit more peaceful.’

Emma flushed a bit at that as she typed: ‘no need to thank me. I’m just happy he had such a good time last night. He’s a very sweet kid.’

Regina’s response to that was a short one: ‘that we can only agree on.’

Emma chuckled a bit at that. She wanted to text more. She wanted to ask Regina what she was doing this morning, but she still hadn’t had breakfast. Meaning that she had to get a move on. Otherwise she would end up being late for work. And Malena probably wouldn’t be too happy about that. Ergo she would have to wait to text Regina. Unfortunately. Emma silently complained that as she slipped the phone into the pocket of her jeans and then left her room.

Downstairs she was greeted by a smiling Ruby who said: “The usual?”

“Yep,” Emma confirmed. “The usual” was a cup of hot chocolate and a bear claw. Emma always needed a bit of a sugar boost to wake up properly in the morning.

“Morning,” Ruby said briskly as she handed Emma her usual bear claw. “Your cocoa will be here in a sec.”

“Sounds perfect.” Emma took a bite of the bear claw. It was perfect.

“So, did my eyes deceive me, or did I spot you with Regina and Henry last night?” Ruby asked nonchalantly.

Emma rolled her eyes a bit. She hadn’t exactly expected Ruby to be watching her. “You did.”

Ruby grinned a little. “She looked happy. Regina, I mean.”

“I think she was,” Emma replied. “I mean, I hope she was.”

Ruby snickered, and her eyes gleamed as she said: “so there’s the reason you didn’t want to go to the harvest festival with me.”

Emma choked slightly on the bite of bear claw. “Uhh...”

Ruby laughed heartedly. “Relax, Ems. I’m just joking. I’m glad you made her smile. She deserves that.”

Emma glanced at the waitress. “So you’re...”

“Positively crushed,” Ruby deadpanned, but quirked an eyebrow at the same time. “Seriously, I’m pretty sure you’ve broken my heart, Ems.”

Emma chuckled a bit. “Sorry?”

Ruby laughed. “I’m sure I’ll get over it. Especially because I’ve heard that Dorothy from the hardware store is single.”

Emma chuckled again. She was relieved that there were no hard feelings between her and Ruby. Emma didn’t want to cause trouble anywhere. She just wanted a calm, peaceful life in Steveston. And it definitely looked like she was on the road to get just that.

Emma got her cup of cocoa and she smiled at Ruby and thanked her. The waitress wasted no time in asking Emma whether she was going to see Regina. Emma gave a vague answer, but Ruby rolled her eyes. She wasn’t satisfied with that.

“Oh come on,” she said coaxingly. “We’re friends.”

“Are we?” Emma teased lightly and took a sip of her cocoa.

“Sure we are,” Ruby said firmly. “Now tell me about you and Regina. Is she coming to Steveston again anytime soon? I’ve missed hanging out with her.”

“Have you known her for a long time?” Emma asked. She felt a little ridiculous. It seemed as though she asked everyone about Regina. Except for Regina herself.

“Yeah,” Ruby said. “As I mentioned, she used to come here on holiday with Henry. He was just a teeny tiny thing the first time she brought him here.”

Emma took another sip of her cocoa, tried to be nonchalant when she asked: “when did she stop coming here on holiday, then?”

“Hmm, her visits started to become infrequent around two years ago,” Ruby said as she grabbed a cloth and started wiping the table next to Emma’s. “And then she stopped visiting all together after...”
the waitress tapped her throat knowingly.

“The accident,” Emma mumbled.

“Uh-huh,” Ruby said. “My gran cried when she heard what had happened to her.”

“What DID happen to her?” Emma blurted out before she could stop herself.

Ruby stopped with the cloth still in her hand. “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I don’t think anyone does, to be honest. But I’ve always assumed it was some freak car accident or something like that.”

Emma took another sip of cocoa and considered it. A freak car accident? Yes, she supposed that was possible. She sat the cup down and took another bite of her bear claw. It was like the more things she heard about Regina, the more the mystery deepened. Every new information just added another piece to the puzzle. No clarity.

Emma briefly looked at the big clock on the wall. She needed to get a move on now. She didn’t want to be late. And that meant no more small talk. Not even about Regina.

Emma flashed Ruby another smile and then she drank her cocoa as fast as possible. Without burning her throat in the process. She did manage to choke slightly on the bear claw though. She coughed and cleared her throat.

Ruby chuckled. “Careful, Ems.”

“I don’t have time to be careful,” Emma joked as she ate the last of the bear claw.

 

Emma made it to Dragon Publishing and stepped into the circular room where everyone just sort of hung out and had their morning coffee before starting todays work.

“Good morning,” Ursula greeted as she spotted Emma.

“Good morning,” Emma said and flashed Ursula a smile. Sometimes Ursula could be even more intimidating than Malena herself, but today Ursula returned Emma’s smile. She was clearly in a relatively
good mood.

Emma settled down in one of the chairs and did what everyone else did. Waited for Malena to come into the room and lay out today’s tasks.

It didn’t take long before August came into the room with Tamara. Emma liked August. She wasn’t as sure about Tamara. She couldn’t quite figure out whether the dark haired woman was extremely shy or simply had a general dislike towards everyone.

“Morning, Swanny,” August greeted.

“Good morning, August,” Emma said and almost rolled her eyes. August had almost immediately started to call her “Swanny”. Always that.

“I’ve just heard that Victoria De Villiers is coming by in a few weeks to work on the cover for her new book!” August said.

“Seriously?” Emma said excitedly. She would definitely make sure to hang out near Malena’s office then.

“We’ve only waited forever for her next book,” August deadpanned. “You know what? We should go out and celebrate it.”

“You think so?” Emma said, quelling a chuckle. To August, life was a party, and everything should and would be celebrated. Preferably with a drink or two.

“Hell yes,” August said. “All of us. Drinks on me. Next Saturday. You in?”

“Actually, I’m not,” Emma said.

August raised an eyebrow. “Why the hell not?”

“I have a date,” Emma said truthfully.

August grinned. “With who?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Emma teased.

“Anyone I know?” August continued and glanced around in the circular room. His eyes quickly landed on Merida, one of the production editors.

Emma scoffed. “No, August. I’m not going out with Merida. We’re not even allowed to date our co-workers, remember?”

“Who then? Ruby?” he asked, never losing the grin.

“Nope,” Emma said and shook her head. “We’re just friends.”

“Alright. Who is it then?”

“You’ll never find out,” Emma teased.

“Come on, Swanny! Just give me a hint!”

“No way,” Emma said. “I’m not gonna tell you, so you might as well stop-“

“Ahem!”

Everyone looked up. Malena had quietly entered the room, and she looked mildly irritated as she stood there with her arms crossed.

“If everyone is done discussing private matters, perhaps we can get started?” she drawled. She just looked at though the fact that her employees were discussing their private life after their workday had started was just mildly inconvenient to her.

Emma almost chuckled. This was one of the many reasons why she liked Malena. She never got overly angry or annoyed at her employees. It seemed as though it would take a minor disaster to agitate
her.

“Excellent,” the older blonde drawled once the room was silent. “Nice to know that I have everyone’s attention. Now Mr. Booth, are you planning on pestering miss Swan with questions throughout the day?”

“Ugh...” August flushed a little but was cheeky enough to say: “no ma’am.”

Malena narrowed her eyes at him. “Excuse me, what did you say?”

“Nothing,” August quickly proclaimed and grinned.

“I hope not. Because that would have been enough reason for me to fire you,” Malena said silkily.

August mock gulped at that.

But Malena looked ever so satisfied. “Now... I believe we have a busy day ahead of us. Miss Bow, how are things coming along for you?”

“Just fine, Malena,” Merida said in her sweet, Scottish accent.

“Excellent,” Malena said and then turned to Tamara. “And you are still working on that cover, aren’t you, Tamara?”

“Yes, Malena,” Tamara confirmed.

Malena continued to ask everyone about their progress, and she still looked mock threateningly as she looked at August. “And Mr. Booth, you have a meeting at nine, isn’t that correct?”

August quickly confirmed that.

“And are you prepared for that?” Malena asked.

“Yes, Malena.”

“Very good,” Malena said satisfied and then finally turned to Emma: “and miss Swan, you’re still in the process of editing, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Emma nodded. “But I’m counting on finishing it today.”

“Good. I have another manuscript that needs proofreading,” Malena said lightly. “Alright everyone. Let’s get started. Miss Clearwater, if you could follow me.” with that the morning “briefing” was over with, and Malena left with Ursula trailing behind her.

 

Emma was hauled up in her little “not quite permanent”-office for most of the morning. Her neck and back was suffering under it, but she was more than capable of ignoring it. She had finished editing and was now in the process of proofreading another manuscript. This time it was a dark fairytale about an “evil” forest who made people vanish. It was a very interesting story, and Emma was completely consumed by it.

At least she was until August stopped by her office and asked if she wanted another cup of coffee.

“Yeah, thanks. That would be great,” Emma said and flashed him a smile.

“Late night?” he asked nonchalantly.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but not for the reasons you think, you creeper.”

August chuckled. “What did you do then?”

“I was at the town’s harvest festival,” Emma said truthfully. “And it was really nice.”

“That sounds nice. So, who are you going out with?” August asked nonchalantly.

Emma threw a napkin at him. “Would you stop it?”

He easily evaded her attack. “Is it the same girl you text every time you’re taking a break?”

“Yes. And she’s not a girl. She’s a woman,” Emma corrected.

August laughed at that. “A woman, huh?”

“Yep,” Emma said plainly.

“And why is it that you can’t tell your near and dear friend about her?” August asked. “I want to participate in your joy!”

Emma snorted. “That’s bull. You just want to scoop up some dirt. But you won’t get that from me.”

“Okay, okay, if I promise I won’t ask for anything else, can’t I at least get her name?” August coaxed.

Emma dramatically turned her eyes towards the ceiling. “Tell me, what did I do to deserve such an annoying co-worker?”

“Come on, Em,” August said and chuckled. “Please?”

“God, you’re annoying,” Emma said flatly.

“Just her name,” August coaxed. “If you tell me her name, I won’t ask anything else.”

Emma narrowed her eyes. “Is that a promise?”

“Absolutely,” August assured.

“And I shouldn’t be worried about your obsessive interest in my dating life?”

The dark-haired man chuckled. “No, you shouldn’t. I promise”

“Better be true,” Emma warned before saying. “Her name is Regina. Okay?”

“Regina,” August echoed. “That is a very pretty name. And for a pretty woman, I’m sure?”

“You’ve just broken your promise,” Emma said flatly.

“Right. I’m sorry. I’m done,” August said. But he wasn’t completely done, though. Not before he had said “Regina” one more time and sounded very much like he was tasting the name or something.

Emma rolled her eyes. She should never have told him anything.

“Regina,” August teased and grinned at her.

“Would you stop it, you moro-“

“Nice to see we’re all hard at work here.”

Both Emma and August looked up only to find Malena standing nonchalantly in the doorway. She gave August a stare that looked positively regal.

“Are you done questioning miss Swan now?” she asked dryly.

“Yeah,” August said awkwardly.

“And aren’t you supposed to be helping out Tamara?” Malena continued.

“Yes,” August admitted.

“Then. Go. And. Do. It,” Malena slowly enunciated.

“Yes,” August said quickly. “I’ll be on my way.” and with that he dashed out of the little office.

“Hmm,” Malena mused and looked at the door the man had just disappeared out of. “Perhaps I should fire him anyway.”

Emma chuckled before she could stop herself.

“I’d recommend you don’t engage in personal conversations with him, miss Swan. He’s like a dog with a bone,” Malena drawled and reached within the cupboard above the desk and found a stack of papers. The actual reason she came in here.

“Right. Got it,” Emma said.

Malena weighed the stack of papers in her hand and then looked at Emma. “Is she doing well?”

“Is who doing well?” Emma asked slightly confused.

“Regina,” Malena said lightly. “Is she doing well?”

“Oh, uhmm.... Yeah. She’s doing fine,” Emma said.

“Good,” Malena said, still completely nonchalantly. “I would ask you to give her my regards when you see her, but I suppose that would be kind of strange, wouldn’t it?”

“Uhh....” Emma said halfheartedly, unsure on how to finish that sentence.

Malena offered a slight chuckle. “I suppose that loosing contact with one of my dearest friends has affected me more than I thought it would. Anyway, don’t tell her that I said that. I wouldn’t want her to think that I’ve gone soft. That would be a disaster.”

Emma tilted her head curiously. Malena had spoken with her usual drawl. Nothing about it indicated that Malena was still thinking about her old high school romance with Regina, but still, Emma kinda hoped that Malena would say more. Just something that would shed more light over her past relationship with Regina.

But Malena didn’t say anything. She simply flashed Emma a smile and then told her to “get back to work, please, miss Swan. Time is money”. Then she left, and Emma was alone in the office once more.

Alone to wonder about the teeny tiny hint of sadness she had detected in Malena’s voice. Alone to wonder why Regina seemingly had broken contact with everyone she once was close to. To Emma, it seemed as though the brunette had tried to wall herself off completely. Like she had been trying to hide from the world.

Emma went back to her desk and leaned back on her chair. That mystery. That goddamn mystery. Why was it that she kept stumbling over subtle hints all the time? It was like Regina was on everyone’s lips. It was like everyone asked themselves “What happened to Regina?”, and now Emma had become one of them. Perhaps the most passionate one of them. Emma wanted to uncover everything. She wanted to know everything there was to know about Regina Mills and the secrets she held.

People walking by outside her office brought Emma back to reality. She was at work right now. She couldn’t get lost in thoughts about Regina. That would have to wait.

She turned her attention back to the manuscript on the screen, but Regina Mills kept running around in her mind. How could the woman who had seemingly broken contact with everybody be the same woman who had smiled and enjoyed the harvest festival last night? It didn’t make any sense. Regina had seemed perfectly at ease last night. Emma chewed at her bottom lip. Then she shook her head slightly. This did not categorize as “working”. She had to pull herself together. After all, time was money. Malena wouldn’t appreciate if she spend her working day daydreaming about Regina instead of actually working.

Emma once again turned her attention back to the manuscript. And while she was actually reading this time, the sight of Regina smiling at her kept popping up every so often in her head. Emma sighed quietly. Regina had bewitched her. Plain and simple. There was no other explanation for it. Thoughts about what she should wear for her date with Regina entered Emma’s mind, and she ended up thinking about new dresses until she once again realized that she definitely wasn’t working. Then she cursed, scolded herself and finally continued to proofread the manuscript once and for all. And this time she didn’t allow herself to think about anything else besides work. She would probably pay for that later, though. This was a rather creepy story.

 

 

Time went fast.

Emma continued her work at Dragon Publishing. On a good day she could be in the middle of reading one manuscript while she was simultaneously editing another. And she thrived. Because she loved her job, but also because she and Regina texted each other almost every day. Emma absolutely loved that. She loved hearing about Regina’s day, even though Regina had more than once claimed that “this wasn’t interesting to hear about”. Emma didn’t care. She found everything Regina did interesting. She would happily have texted Regina all night longs, but there were nights where Regina went to bed early. Those were the nights were Emma put her work aside and studied the books about sign language she had borrowed at the library. Isabelle had been very helpful, and she had even pointed Emma in the direction of a woman who actually taught sign language. Emma wasn’t completely sure whether she would go there, though. She didn’t need to learn sign language, she just needed to understand it. It was definitely not easy, but Emma soldiered on and kept rifling through the books. Some nights she fell asleep with the book still splayed open.

And suddenly it was the night before her date with Regina.

Emma had no idea where the time had gone, but there was little she could do about it. She went to bed early that Friday night. She didn’t continue reading through the newest manuscript Malena had provided her with. She didn’t study sign language. Nor did she spend hours on her phone after she had switched the lights off. No, she simply did her bedtime routine, switched the lights off and then curled up under the covers. No excuses, no nothings. She was determined to fall asleep and be well rested for tomorrow. God forbid she should feel tired tomorrow night. Emma’s worst nightmare was to accidentally end up yawning while she and Regina were at the restaurant. That would be fucking awful.

And for once, Emma had absolutely no problem with going to sleep early. She was actually pretty tired. It had been a bit of a long week. She had been working hard, and it seemed as though the dark fairy tale about the forest she had read, was being published. Emma was rather excited about that, and she couldn’t wait to see what kind of cover and design they came up with. Something gothic, Emma hoped. That would really fit the style. Oh well, she wasn’t in charge of that.

Emma yawned. She was almost dozing off, but then she remembered that she had to set her alarm for tomorrow morning. She grumbled a bit as she scrambled for her phone, sat the alarm and then unmuted it. It didn’t help much to set the alarm if the phone was on mute. Then she curled up underneath the covers again. God, she was so comfortable. So. Freaking. Comfortable. Her room was nice and warm, and tomorrow she was gonna see Regina again. Emma smiled sleepily. She couldn’t wait. She had been looking forward to this for two weeks now. Hell, she had almost been counting down.

A small, content sigh escaped the blonde as she focused on how different parts of her body gradually started to relax. Her toes. Her feet. Her calfs. Her knees. Her thighs. Her abdomen. She could hear the soft thump-thump of her heart. Her breathing was completely relaxed. In and out, in and out. Her chest rose and fell softly, and her thoughts were starting to become more and more incoherent.

Pleasantly muddled. Her arms felt heavy.

And then the sound of her phone ringing shattered all thoughts about falling asleep. Emma cracked one eye open and cringed slightly at the loud sound. This was inconvenient. But not completely unheard of, unfortunately. It wasn’t that late.

Emma sighed as she reached out and scrabbled to get a hold of the phone. She let out a massive yawn as she glided a finger across the screen and then positioned the phone over her ear. “Emma Swan,” she said sleepily and without thinking much about it.

Silence.

“Hello?” Emma said and yawned into the phone before she could stop herself.

No answer. More silence.

Emma sighed. Great. Wonderful. She didn’t even bother saying hello again. She simply ended the call and put the phone back on the nightstand. If someone had accidentally called the wrong number, they could at least have had the curtsey to say so, damn it.

Oh, well. Emma curled up under the covers once more. It didn’t take her long to find back to that relaxed feeling. She was warm. Contend. In the softest bed possible. She had a date with a beautiful woman tomorrow night. Nothing could be better. She rolled on to her other side, pulling the covers with her. Her thoughts became incoherent again. Muddled. She couldn’t quite figure out whether she was still awake or dreaming when she saw Regina’s smile for her inner eye. Saw the way the brunette had waved at her and Henry on the Ferris wheel. That had been such a good evening. It felt as though
Emma was back on the Ferris wheel. But this time both Henry AND Regina were there. Henry was sitting between them and laughing as the Ferris wheel went round and round, and Regina kept holding on to Emma’s hand because she still was a little scared of heights. But the way Emma held her hand made everything better.

Henry laughed again, and it occurred to Emma that his laughter was turning a bit strange. A bit high pitched. Was he afraid? Was he scared? If he was scared, they should probably get off the Ferris wheel soon. Maybe they could have a corndog afterwards. And Regina could have some pie. Emma knew how much she loved pie.

Henry laughed again, and his laughter kept getting higher and higher until it was more of a screech than a laugh. The sound was unbearable....

Emma’s eyes snapped open. The sound continued. After a moment’s confusion, she finally realized that it was her phone ringing. Again. Emma cursed loudly as she sat up in bed and grabbed the phone.

The screen simply said, “unknown number”. Emma quickly swiped a finger over the screen and then brought the phone up to her ear again. “Yeah?!”

No answer. Just silence in the other end. Emma wasn’t even sure she could hear anyone breathing in the other end.

“Hello?!” she snapped as she briefly glanced at the clock radio. According to that she had only been asleep for a half an hour or so.

Still no answer. Just silence. But now Emma was half-certain that she could actually hear something in the other end. Some sort of rustling and bustling.

And finally the wheels started turning in her sleepy mind. “Mary Margaret?” Emma said plainly.

No answer.

Emma was loosing patience. “Mary Margaret, I know it’s you, okay? You need to stop calling me! I’m not interested in ever hearing from you again, got it?! If you try to contact me again, I’m calling the poli-”

Click. The call was ended before she could finish the sentence, and Emma actually didn’t mind that. “Fucking bitch!” she hissed as she put the phone down on the nightstand once more. Maybe not the most mature thing to call her adoptive mother, but Emma’s patience was wearing thin. She wanted to sleep. Tomorrow was gonna be a big day. She really didn’t have time for these petty interruptions.

Emma curled up underneath the covers again. She was asleep within minutes.

 

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Had Emma been freaking out at the prospect of having an actual date with Regina tonight?

Yes. Definitely.

Had she pulled herself together and put on the tight, pink (and only) dress she had selected last night?

Yes, she had.

Had she then been standing in front of the mirror and tried to figure out whether this dress was too much or not?

Absolutely.

Had she changed out of it, put on a pair of jeans and a nice top in a silky material only to decide that it didn’t match the occasion?

Yes, she had.

Had she changed back into the dress and immediately felt uncomfortable?

Yep.

And had she then changed back into her nice pair of jeans the silky top?

Yes, she had. And she was still standing by the decision now. Dresses made her feel awkward. She had too long legs. It felt as though she was completely exposed when she wore a dress. It affected her confidence. And confident was exactly what Emma wanted to be tonight. And so she had found that the jeans and silky top worked just as well as the dress. She looked nice without looking like she was trying too hard. She looked casual without looking slobby. It was perfect. She looked good. Emma had chosen to intensify her makeup just a little. Her eyelashes were thicker and fuller than normally. The shade on her eyelids a bit darker than her everyday look, and her lipstick was just a teeny tiny bit more red. Not bright red, obviously. That wouldn’t have suited her. But this worked. This definitely worked. Emma felt good. She had butterflies in her stomach, but she was determined not to connect it with anything negative. It was totally normal to have butterflies in her stomach right before a date.

And especially a date she had wanted so long as she had wanted this one. Once again, Emma and Regina had agreed to meet on the square. Just like they had done at the harvest festival. But this time they wouldn’t be going out and mingling with everybody else. They were going to a restaurant. Just the two of them. Emma felt those metaphorical butterflies flutter somewhere behind her navel. It had been a while since she last had been on a date. And it had definitely been an even longer while since she had been on a date that was as important as this one.

Emma’s breath quickened as she sat on her bed and waited until it was time to leave. This was not like grabbing a bite to eat in the dining area on a train. This was a d-a-t-e. An actual, proper date. Shit. What if she messed up?

Emma reminded herself to breathe. She was a grown woman for fucks sake. She wasn’t an awkward seventeen year old with a crush. She could handle this. Of course she could. Everything would be fine.

She was sure of that. She and Regina had had such a good time at the harvest festival. Emma saw no reason as to why they shouldn’t be having a good time tonight as well. As long as Emma made sure to take things as they came and not think disaster-thoughts. She straightened her posture just a little and checked her phone again. No messages. No cancellations. Regina was on her way. Just like they had decided. Everything was fine. Emma fiddled with a lock of blonde hair. Maybe it had been dumb to get ready this early. Now all she could do was sit here and overthink.
It would have been pretty fucking sweet if all Emma could think about was Regina. But unfortunately, there were other things on her mind as well. Like the two phone calls she has received last night. She had been too tired to actually be bothered by it last night, but now that she was wide awake, she was actually pretty fucking freaked out. And confused too because this wasn’t Mary Margaret’s normal modus operandi. When Mary Margaret called, she always talked like a goddamn waterfall. Complains would always be spilling from her like an unstoppable force until Emma hung up on her. This was completely different. Mary Margaret had never practiced silent calls before. And honest to god, it freaked Emma out. Her adoptive mother calling and spewing out venom was one thing. She had sort of gotten used to that. But Mary Margaret calling her and not saying a word was something entirely different. It was something Emma wasn’t quite sure what to do with, to be honest. In many ways it was way more creepy than her usual calls. Especially because this had taken place at night. Emma considered it. This was so unlike Mary Margaret. The blonde frowned. Was it possible that this wasn’t Mary Margaret? Emma fidgeted with a lock of her hair. Could this be David? Emma’s first thought was no. David had always supported Mary Margaret’s ideas, however crazy they were. Hell, when Mary Margaret had kicked Emma out for being gay, David had come to Emma a few days later, but not to apologize on behalf of his wife. But to ask Emma to “stop being gay”. Literally. He had begged Emma to never mention her sexuality and then come home. As long as she never mentioned anything about being gay, Mary Margaret would forgive her, and everything would be fine.

Emma had laughed hysterically at that, and then she had asked David to get the fuck out of here. David had left, but not until later he had informed Emma that this was killing Mary Margaret. Emma had laughed even harder at that.

She hadn’t seen David since, but she knew that he knew everything Mary Margaret was doing. The phone calls, the letters, and most likely also how she had made the janitor open the door to Emma’s old apartment in Toronto. David knew everything, and yet he didn’t do anything about it. Sometimes Emma had sort of wished that she had studied psychology instead of literature, because it would have been really interesting to know exactly what the fucking hell was going on her adoptive parents’ brains. If something even WAS going on, that was. Over the years, Emma had seriously started to doubt it.

As she sat here on the edge of her bed, Emma started to think about the little boy Mary Margaret and David had adopted. Neal. That poor kid. He had to be a month old now. He would literally be bottled fed with insanity. Emma felt so sorry for the little tyke, but there was nothing she could do about it. She didn’t have the power to take Neal away from them. She couldn’t proof that Mary Margaret and David were unfit to be parents. She knew that Mary Margaret would bat her big green eyes and manipulate any judge there was. Knowing her adoptive mother, she would put on her cutest flowery dress and apron and show up in the court telling a long sob story about what a difficult child Emma was. How many tantrums she knew, and how her heart had been broken when Emma chose to run away at seventeen. Emma knew it would be her word against Mary Margaret’s. David would support his wife, and that would be the end of it. Everyone would believe Mary Margaret and not Emma. That was how things were. That was how things always were. Nothing to be done about it. Emma sighed a little as she shifted on the edge of the bed. Then she shook her head firmly. She didn’t want to think about Mary Margaret and David right now. There was nothing she could do anyway. Thinking about it would be completely fruitless. The only purpose it would serve, was to make her in a bad mood. And Emma didn’t want to be in a bad mood tonight. Not when she was having a date with Regina. Emma perked up a bit as she started to think about the beautiful brunette instead. That definitely lifted her spirit.

She couldn’t wait to spend the evening with Regina. She hoped that she could coax Regina out on a little walk afterwards. Maybe they could take a stroll in the park. That would be a very normal date thing to do, right? Emma was eighty nine percent sure it would. It was a bit strange really, but Emma had never been on a traditional date. Not one with candles and white tablecloths. Her meet-ups had mostly consisted of “hi, can I buy you a drink” and drunken stumble back to some random woman’s apartment for a fumbling one night stand. Not even she and Lily had been going out to fancy restaurants. They had settled for takeout and visits to the nearest McDonald’s.

Emma’s head snapped up when she heard voices coming from downstairs. It sounded like Ruby and Eugenia were arguing again. It brought Emma out of her thoughts, and she remembered that she had places to be tonight. She rose from the bed, fetched her jacket, grabbed her phone and room key and then walked out of the door. She carefully locked the door, slipped the key into the pocket of her jeans, and the phone into the pocket of her leather jacket. Then she walked down the wooden staircase.

Eugenia was standing near the counter. She too was dressed up and ready to go. She was wearing a green coat and looked quite fancy. The grey-haired woman was looking anxiously at her watch, and after having muttered a bit under her breath, she turned around and yelled into the backroom: “didn’t you say seven o’clock?!”

“I did,” Ruby confirmed as she emerged from the backroom. She too was dressed up. In a minidress and tall boots. “And it’s not seven o’clock yet, gran. So relax.”

Eugenia huffed a bit under her breath. “If she’s late, I swear to god I’ll murder her!”

Emma chuckled at the elderly woman’s obvious annoyance. “Fancy plans?” she asked and brushed something away from the sleeve of her jacket.

“Family visit,” Ruby said. “And granny is currently freaking out because the waitress who’s supposed to be watching the place hasn’t shown up yet.”

“Oh,” Emma nodded understandingly.

“She said she would be here early!” Eugenia hissed. “I never should have asked her! You can’t trust anyone these days! If you want something done, you have to do it yourse-“

“Bla, bla, bla,” Ruby interrupted and rolled her eyes at her impatient grandmother. “She’ll be here in a second, gran.”

“We barely know her!” Eugenia stated and wringed her hands. “She’s only been working here for a month!”

“Well, it was pretty short notice,” Ruby said patiently. “None of the other waitresses had time, so really you should thank Suzie when she gets here. Not be irritated at her.”

“Do not lecture me, young lady!” Eugenia warned.

Ruby turned to Emma. “Do you think she’s noticed that I’m twenty three and not thirteen?”

Emma chuckled lightly.

Ruby eyed her curiously. “Got fancy plans yourself, Ems?”

“Maybe,” Emma teased.

“Tell me more,” Ruby said plainly.

“You’re nosy,” Emma deadpanned.

“Yes, I am. Now tell me more.”

“Suzie!” Eugenia interrupted, sounding utterly relieved as she looked at a young blonde coming through the door.

“Sorry for the delay,” the young blonde said. “My cat was-“

“Yes, yes, never mind that now,” Eugenia said impatiently. “You know where everything are?”

“Yeah,” Suzie nodded.

“You know what to say if someone calls and asks for a room?”

“Yes,” Suzie confirmed.

“And you know how-“

“Granny. She gets it,” Ruby interrupted. “We were in a hurry, remember?”

That reminded Emma that so was she. She sort of wanted to stick around and watch this humorous exchange, but there was no way she wanted to be late for her date with Regina. No humorous exchange was worth that. The blonde said goodbye to Eugenia and Ruby, wished them a good time and then she left the diner. Eugenia’s lecture about the master key to all the rooms followed all the way out on the street.

It was another nippy night in Steveston. Emma pulled the leather jacket tighter around herself. One of these days she would have to buy a more appropriate coat. It was too cold to prance around in just her leather jacket. She was looking forward to going into the warm restaurant and enjoy a nice meal.

Emma walked down the street, and it didn’t take long before she reached Tony’s. The restaurant was very cozy with candle lights on the table and soft, Italian music playing on the radio. Emma had carefully studied the menu online before finally having called and booked a table. A table in the corner. Emma hated sitting in the middle of the room. She saw no reason to let everyone know that she was on a date. It wasn’t anybody’s business but her and Regina’s. Emma wanted privacy, and especially because this was the first date. And she had a feeling that Regina felt the same. Emma already knew how private the brunette was.

Ignoring the lights and soft laughter coming from the restaurant, Emma settled down on a bench outside. She preferred waiting for Regina there instead of inside the restaurant. That way she could easily spot when Regina was coming walking down the pavement.

Emma crossed her legs and rubbed her hands together like she had done when she was waiting for Regina and Henry at the harvest festival. And much like last time, she had indeed forgotten her gloves. And she had forgotten to buy a spare pair she could leave in her jacket pockets. It was cold tonight. Emma would have worn a hat, but she had been afraid it would ruin her hair, so she had chosen vanity over sensibility. She was regretting that just a little bit now though. She hoped that she wasn’t gonna sit here and wait for too long. Maybe that would make her turn into a popsicle. Emma chuckled slightly to herself. She was so looking forward till tonight. She hoped Regina felt the same and wasn’t nervous. Emma had thought a lot about how the brunette’s dark eyes had flickered anxiously when
Emma had suggested a date. She wondered why that was. Maybe it had been a while since Regina was on a date. Emma shook her head. That seemed absurd. And unfair. Emma hoped that tonight would be a success. She would love to take Regina out on more dates in the very near future.

Emma reached within her pocket and checked her phone just to kill some time. She sighed. There was a text from August wishing her good luck on tonight’s date with “The beautiful lady”. Emma rolled her eyes. She never should have told him about the date. He was so curious. And obviously living his life through her because he hadn’t had a date for a while. Emma chuckled a bit now. She would throw that in this face the next time he dared asking her about the date. He would probably be asking about how the date went when she came to work on Monday. Emma decided right then and there that she wouldn’t tell him a single thing. She liked August, but this wasn’t any of his business.

Emma whistled quietly to herself as she looked out at the square. There weren’t many people on the street today. It was probably because of the cold weather. She wondered when they could expect the first snow. It was definitely cold enough for that already. She rubbed her hands together. She really should have brought her gloves with her. Then her phone beeped, and for a second Emma was afraid that it was August again, but it wasn’t. It was Ella, wishing her good luck with tonight’s date. Emma wittily asked her friend if she really thought that Emma needed a “good luck”, and Ella texted her back, informing her that she was a moron. Emma chuckled loudly at that. She missed Ella. She hoped that her friend would make come and visit her in Steveston soon. Emma grinned as she thought about how Ella undoubtedly would fall in love with Steveston and the town’s charm. Who knew, maybe Ella would love the town so much she would decide to move here.
Emma knew it was unlikely, but she was allowed to dream, right?

She leaned back on the bench and rubbed a palm over her jean clad thigh. She should have worn stockings underneath her jeans. That was how bloody cold it was tonight. Isabelle Gold crossed the street, and Emma smiled when the brunette librarian lifted a hand in greeting. Emma was quick to wave back. Out of all the people she had met in Steveston, Isabelle had to be the one she connected best with. The librarian had been so sweet and helpful when Emma had come to the library and asked for books about sign language. Emma already had a standing coffee invitation, and she was counting on going sometimes next week. If she could find the time between all her work, obviously. Things were always pretty busy at Dragon Publishing, but Emma had absolutely nothing against that. She loved it. She loved the atmosphere, and she loved how books were the main subject of all conversation. There she didn’t have to be afraid to geek out about books. It was completely acceptable.

Emma raised her head when she spotted the familiar, black Mercedes pulling up. The blonde straightened her posture just a little and noted how her heart started to thud pleasantly in her chest. It definitely looked like her date was here. Emma grinned broadly.

A moment later she saw the car door being opened. The first thing Emma saw was a pair of high heels hitting the ground, and then the rest of Regina Mills came into view. Emma felt tempted to leap from the bench and jog over there to greet Regina immediately, but she forced herself to remain sitting as she watched Regina come towards her. The brunette was once again wearing her black coat with the big fur collar. Her hair looked as shiny and silky as ever, and her lips had been painted red. God, she looked good! Emma’s heart skipped a beat. Her palms went a little sweaty, and her cheeks flushed slightly. To think that she could get so affected by Regina already. It was a little silly.

Finally, Regina was standing right by the bench, and Emma immediately jumped to her feet and flashed the brunette a huge smile. She was certain she looked positively ridiculous like that, but she couldn’t help it.

“Hi,” she grinned and tugged a strand of hair behind her ear.

Regina returned the smile and then reached inside the pocket of her coat. She gave Emma a note, and Emma chuckled as she read: ‘hello’.

“I’m really starving,” Emma said. “I hope you’re hungry too.”

Regina nodded in a way that clearly showed that she was starving as well.

“Are you ready to head inside?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded again.

“Cool,” Emma said.

They walked towards the restaurant, and once inside, Regina turned her attention to the coat hanger. She loosened the belt in her black coat and then unbuttoned it.

Emma could have swallowed her tongue when she saw the black dress Regina had chosen for the occasion. It was the classic little black dress Emma always had admired on other women, but never had been able to pull off herself. But oh boy, how Regina could pull it off! She looked stunning. The dress ended just a little bit above her knees. A belt with gold buckle accentuated her waistline. Emma looked down and eyed the brunette’s footwear. High heels. At least six inches. So maybe a walk in the park afterwards was out of the question. Emma reminded herself that she was staring and snapped out of it as she unzipped her own jacket. She felt underdressed. Everything about Regina radiated perfection. From her high heels to the cream colored silk scarf she had tied in a bow around her neck.

They walked towards the front desk and were immediately greeted by a perky young waitress who flashed them a toothpaste smile.

“Reservation for Emma Swan?” Emma asked after having gone over the mandatory good evening.

The waitress nodded and smiled again. “Sure, just follow me, ladies.”

They followed her through the restaurant, and Emma felt every bit satisfied when they were guided towards a table in the corner. Exactly like she had requested.

“Your table is right here,” the waitress said. She was still smiling idiotically. “Nice and private. Plenty of opportunity to talk in peace.”

Regina made a very slight sound, and Emma quickly turned her head to see what that was about. The brunette looked amused and shook her head slightly. It didn’t take long for Emma to realize what the waitress had just said. Talk in peace. Now Emma shook her head a little bit too.

“Thank you,” Emma said to the waitress.

“I’ll be right here to take your orders,” the waitress assured as she walked away from the table.

Emma and Regina sat down at the table. Emma had felt pretty tempted to pull out Regina’s chair for her, but she was sort of afraid it would have been more silly than a gallant gesture. So Emma settled for smiling at the brunette as she glanced at her over the menu. This was a very nice restaurant. Dimmed lights. White tablecloths. Lit candles. Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” playing on the radio. Okay, maybe the last part was a bit tacky, but still Emma liked it. It only added to the mood.

“Do you want a starter or anything?” Emma asked Regina and looked up.

The brunette shook her head and smiled.

“Straight to the main course then?” Emma asked.

Now Regina nodded in confirmation.

“Great,” Emma said, secretly pleased. She had always preferred going straight to the main course. She looked at the menu again. Everything looked so delicious. It was gonna be hard to chose something.

“Okay, but we’re definitely having dessert!” the blonde exclaimed. “They have tiramisu!” she looked up at Regina again. “Do you like tiramisu?”

Regina nodded again and smiled.

“Awesome,” Emma said, glancing at the menu again. “I think I’ll have Fettucine Alfredo. That sounds really delicious. Have you decided on anything?” she looked up at Regina once more.

The brunette reached within her purse and found a post-it note and a pencil. The pencil scratched against the paper for a moment, and then Regina pushed a note towards Emma.

Emma was quick to pick the note up and squinted a bit as she read it in the dimmed light: ‘I’d like to have the tomato soup. But would you mind ordering for me? I do so dislike pointing and writing it down is a bit awkward especially when it’s a restaurant I haven’t visited before.’

“Sure,” Emma said quickly. “No problem.”

Regina smiled a little.

It didn’t take long before the perky waitress came back to their table, and she first asked what they wanted to drink.

“Water for both of us?” Emma asked and glanced at Regina.

Regina nodded in confirmation.

“Water for both of us,” Emma said to the waitress. “And I’d like the Fettuccini Alfredo, and-“

“Okay,” the waitress interrupted, scribbled down and then turned to Regina. “And what can I get for you?”

“She’d like the tomato soup,” Emma said quickly.

“Okay,” the waitress said, looking a bit confused, but quickly sobering up: “I’ll be right there with your drinks.”

“Thanks,” Emma said.

The waitress walked off, and Emma turned her attention back to Regina. “So. This is a bit different from the dining area in the train.”

Regina looked amused as she nodded in agreement.

“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Emma continued softly and smiled herself.

Regina nodded again, but now she looked a bit worried.

Emma raised an eyebrow and gently asked: “what?”

Regina just shrugged slightly.

“No, what is it?” Emma insisted. “Tell me.”

Regina reached within her purse again and found a new post-it note. She scribbled for a moment, and then Emma was presented with another note. She quickly grasped the note and read it: ‘this is hardly the kind of date you’re used to. The foundation for a successful date is conversation, and that’s pretty difficult in my case. Are you sure you don’t mind this? The one sided conversation. Post-it notes all over the table.’

Emma shook her head firmly. “You have nothing to worry about, Regina. I’m not used to anything when it comes to dates. This is actually already shaping up to being one of the best dates I’ve ever been on.”

Regina raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“I’m serious,” Emma said firmly.

Regina shook her head slightly, but she didn’t seem to have anything further to add, and Emma considered herself to be victorious. She grinned a little.

Regina returned the smile, and Emma became mesmerized with the way her brown eyes gleamed in the candle lights.

“You’re beautiful,” Emma blurted out. She didn’t have any control over what was coming out of her mouth right now, and she immediately flushed and tugged a strand of hair behind her ear.

Regina flashed her another beautiful smile and shook her head ever so slightly once more.

Emma was just about to protest, but then the waitress returned with their drinks. She smiled a little as she placed the drinks in front of them and then walked away once more.

Emma lifted her glass. “Cheers.”

Regina raised her glass as well and smiled.

Emma took a sip of the cold water and watched over the rim as Regina did the same. The brunette took a small sip of water, then frowned a bit. She sat the glass down and reached within her purse. It didn’t take long before Emma saw the familiar white bottle of pills. She tried not to watch as Regina popped the lid off, tilted the bottle slightly and then let a pill slide into her hand. But it was impossible not to notice it when Regina swallowed the pill with lots of water and then immediately cringed as soon as she had done it. A hand came up to rub at her throat above the scarf.

“Are you okay?” Emma asked. She still couldn’t stop herself from blurting out things.

Regina nodded a bit and then she found a new post-it note and began to scribble. Emma took the time to take another gulp of water, and just as she had swallowed, she was presented with a new note. ‘Sometimes swallowing hurts. The muscles cramps and makes it difficult. The pills I take relaxes the muscles and makes it easier to swallow.’

“Oh, I see,” Emma said. “Are you... Is it okay for you to eat?”

Regina nodded and smiled reassuringly.

And Emma suddenly thought to herself that soup probably hadn’t been a completely random choice on Regina’s behalf. There had probably been a damn good reason why she had opted for soup.

“Is it... Is it always like that?” Emma asked shyly, unsure how much she could ask about this.

Regina seemed calm as ever as she found another post-it note and began scribbling. Emma took another sip of her water and noted that her stomach was growling slightly. She was getting pretty hungry.
She hoped that their dinner soon would be here. She took another sip of her water just to keep the hunger at bay. Her stomach growled again. Emma cringed. She hoped Regina didn’t pick up on it.

And then another note was pushed across the table. This time Emma leaned in to read it: ‘no, not all the time. It variates a lot. Depends on how tired I am, etc.’

Emma quickly looked up at the brunette. “Does that mean tonight is a bad night?”

Regina smiled and shook her head. Scribbled underneath: ‘no, not at all.’

“Oh. Good,” Emma said, reminding herself that this was a date. Regina was probably not interested in conversing about her health problems all night. It was time to change the subject.

“How is the house hunting going?” she asked and took another sip of her water.

Regina was quick to find another post-it note and scribbled eagerly for a moment. Then she gave Emma the note: ‘it’s going rather well. I think we might have found something suitable. An apartment not too far away from my sister’s, but we can’t move in until in six months.’

“Six months? Ugh, that sucks,” Emma said.

Regina nodded gravely and then wrote underneath for a moment. When she removed the pencil, Emma could read: ‘how about you? Have you found something you’d want to live in?’

“Well, there is this one place,” Emma replied and folded her hands lightly. “It’s really amazing. It’s a house, not an apartment, but its like, crazy expensive. I’d have to work nonstop for about a hundredth years to be able to afford a place like that. I’ll probably try and find an apartment instead. I think that’s more sensible. Don’t you?”

Regina nodded thoughtfully and then scribbled a new question for Emma to read: ‘And how is the job going?’

“Oh, it’s going super well,” Emma beamed. “I love it more and more each day. I’ve started to edit manuscripts as well as reading them now! Isn’t that awesome? And I might even get my own office soon. I mean, a better office. I technically have an office already, but it’s not very big, and it gets cluttered super easily, so I’m really looking forward to hopefully get a bigger workspace.” The blonde took a gulp of her water and reminded herself to slow down. She was rambling. She knew she was.

But Regina didn’t look like she found Emma’s “rambling” to be annoying. Quite the reverse actually, and she smiled a little as she scribbled on a new post-it.

Emma cleared her throat slightly, took another sip of water. Her stomach rumbled again. God, she was hungry! Where was the food?

But all thoughts of food was oh so quickly forgotten when Regina presented her with a new note: ‘that is excellent news. I am happy to hear that you are thriving. You deserve to work with something you love.’

Emma flushed a bit; that was very sweet. She sternly told herself to stop blushing as she watched Regina scribble another message. Soon another message was ready to be read by the blonde: ‘I’ve been given the opportunity to get a job as well. Online classes in literature at the University of British Columbia. I’d both be deciding the subjects, set up modules and help the students via email.’

“Really?” Emma said as she looked up at Regina. “That’s awesome news! You’re going to say yes, aren’t you?”

Regina offered a light “we’ll see”-shrug.

“What? You have to!” Emma said. “It sounds like an amazing opportunity.”

Regina smiled a little as she scribbled anew. Emma waited eagerly, and out of the corner of her eye she saw the waitress coming towards their table with the food. Regina beat the waitress, though, and before she had made it to their table, Emma could read a new message: ‘there’s a good chance I’ll say yes. I would be able to work from home and be there for Henry at all times. I think he’d love that. Though he’d probably see it as an opportunity to have me respond to his every summon.’

Emma chuckled. “I doubt that.”

Regina didn’t seem to completely agree with that, but before they could discuss the topic further, the waitress served them their food. One Fettuccine Alfredo, and one creamy tomato soup. Both meals looked absolutely delicious. Emma’s mouth was almost watering.

The waitress said “bon Appetit!” and left, and both Emma and Regina looked amused at the callback to their train ride.

“Oh my god, that looks awesome,” Emma said earnestly, and completely without hiding how much she loved food.

Regina nodded her head in agreement and traded her pencil for the spoon.

“Bon Appetit,” Emma quipped. And unable to wait any longer, she speared a pasta on her fork and stuffed it into her mouth. It tasted goddamn amazing!

She looked up just in time to see that her little quip had earned her a headshake and a slight roll of dark eyes.

That was about the only thing that could take Emma’s attention away from the deliciously smelling food in front of her. Regina looked so fucking attractive when she rolled her eyes. Sexy. Alluring. Emma reminded herself to swallow her food and not sit with her mouth hanging open. That was NOT very attractive. But nevertheless a very tempting thing to do. Watching Regina was by far the most interesting thing to do. She made everything look attractive. Hell, she could even eat soup without slurping. Emma almost rolled her eyes at herself. Of course she could. Regina was a lady.

“Does it taste as good as it looks?” Emma asked to distract herself.

Regina looked up and nodded. Her lips moved as she silently formed a word.

“Awe... Awesome?” Emma asked with a chuckle. Was the brunette mocking her?

Yes, clearly a little bit, because Regina nodded once, and her dark eyes sparkled with amusement as she did so.

That didn’t lessen Emma’s problems with concentrating on eating her food.

The rest of the date was awesome. Pure and simple.

The food was incredible. The conversation flowed. They discussed books (Regina had just finished Madame Bovary for the third time), and then they conversed about the harvest festival. Regina revealed that Henry was still talking about how awesome everything had been, and how he wanted to come back to Steveston again. Emma laughed and said that that could be nice.

Once they had finished their meals and sat for a while, Emma suggested desert. Regina first raised an eyebrow and looked like she was about to decline, but Emma insisted and said firmly that she refused to sit an eat tiramisu all on her own. Regina simply HAD to say yes.

Regina had looked quite amused at that and then nodded.

Emma had ordered tiramisu for both of them, and it quickly turned out that Regina clearly loved tiramisu. The brunette happily ate. She was almost as fast as Emma was, and the blonde was rather impressed at that. It looked like she had found a match. Emma was quick to add this to the list over things she knew about Regina. She liked tiramisu. And pie. Check. The blonde found that to be absolutely adorable for some reason. Maybe because Regina did not look like the type who ate tiramisu and pie. Ever. And after a bit of prodding, Regina did indeed reveal that it wasn’t very often she indulged in sweets. Obviously, Emma found that to be a minor disaster, and she made a vow to buy the brunette lots of pies and tiramisu in the very near future.

Regina had looked rather amused at that, and then she had rolled her eyes again. That had bluescreened Emma’s mind sufficiently for a moment. Apparently, she had a weakness for seeing Regina roll her eyes. Right then.

 

It was getting darker outside. Emma knew what that meant. That this date was coming to an end. She didn’t want it to end. She didn’t want Regina to drive home. It was a damn shame the brunette didn’t live right here in Steveston. That would have made things so much easier. That way she could have seen Regina every day. Emma scoffed quietly. She was getting ahead of herself. Again. This was only the first date. She had to remember that all the time. There would be other occasions. More dates with Regina. That was at least what Emma hoped.

The blonde drank the last of her water. She didn’t want this night to end, but she had to remember that Regina had to get back to Henry. The brunette had commitments. She couldn’t stay out all night long, even though Emma would have applauded it. She flashed the brunette a little smile. Regina returned the smile and looked at the table and pursed her lips slightly. Their table was full of post-its, and
Emma wouldn’t have it any other way. Lots of post-its meant a flowing conversation. A table filled with post-its was a very good thing.

“Do you think we should...?” Emma gestured towards the door.

Regina nodded.

Both women rose from their chairs. Regina scowled a bit as she grabbed the many post-its and stuffed them into her purse. While she did that, Emma went up to the counter and paid for their dinner and dessert. It had been a bit of an expensive dinner, but Emma didn’t care. It had been entirely worth it. She would happily do it again. And again. And again.

The two women found their coats and then left the restaurant. The weather was even colder now, and Emma shivered slightly in her leather jacket. She really needed a better coat. And preferably before it would be actual winter.

“So, is Zelena watching the little guy tonight?” Emma asked to distract herself from the cold.

Regina nodded.

“Do you think he’d fancy another trip to Steveston?” Emma asked. “It was really fun to hang out with him. With both of you.”

Regina smiled and then nodded again. She found her phone in her pocket, typed for a moment and then turned the screen towards Emma.

Emma smiled as she read: ‘yes, I believe he’d absolutely love that. He’s been begging to have a cup of Eugenia’s cocoa just like in the good old days.’

“Ruby mentioned that you used to come here on holiday?” Emma said and tried to sound as nonchalant as possible.

Regina nodded, typed and then turned the screen: ‘yes, that’s right.’

“But then you stopped?” Emma asked, still completely nonchalant.

Regina simply nodded.

“Found other holiday destinations?” Emma asked casually. “Something a bit more interesting?”

The shift in Regina was immediate. Subtle, but still very much noticeable to Emma. The brunette’s gaze started flickering slightly, and she drew a lock of dark hair behind her ear. Her eyes were still flickering as she typed on her phone again.

Emma could instantly that she somehow had hit a nerve, and now she felt bad about having asked. This was tricky. She wanted to know more. God, she wanted to know more, but she wasn’t sure what the right way was to find out more about Regina. She wasn’t sure which questions were loaded questions.

The phone screen was turned towards her again, and Emma read: ‘no, not quite. I’m afraid I lost interest in going places. I wasn’t in a very good place.’

“Oh,” Emma said. Now she felt really bad about asking. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Regina offered a light shrug at that.

“Are you... Are you feeling better now?” Emma asked carefully.

Regina turned her head, made eye contact with Emma as she smiled and nodded. Then she typed and turned the screen towards the blonde once more: ‘it gets better every day.’

“That’s good to hear,” Emma said and returned the smile.

Regina nodded once and then her gaze flickered down to Emma’s slightly blue hands. The brunette frowned slightly.

“I forgot my gloves. Again.” Emma admitted almost sheepishly.

That made Regina sigh and shake her head.

“And now I feel like I’m being scolded by my teacher,” Emma muttered, saying the first thing that came to mind. Now she could really see Professor Mills.

Regina looked highly amused at that, and her shoulders rose and fell as though she was silently laughing at Emma. She probably was.

 

While they didn’t go to the park, they actually ended up walking around in Steveston for a little while. Regina was very interested in seeing the town again, and she pointed out at least three stores that hadn’t been there all the time. Emma lapped it up. She lapped up everything Regina informed her about. Even the tiniest little detail. Suddenly, Regina’s cellphone beeped, and upon checking the message, the brunette sighed slightly.

“Bad news?” Emma asked slightly concerned.

Regina shrugged in an “yes and no”-manner and then she turned the screen towards Emma.

“Oh,” Emma spluttered when she saw what it was. It was a picture of Henry sitting on a couch with a massive bowl of popcorn in his lap. He was smiling brightly and giving thumbs up. Underneath the picture was written: ‘look what auntie Zelena made for me! She’s the best aunt ever!’

“Is she bribing him to write that or something?” Emma chuckled.

Regina nodded eagerly, flipped the screen, tapped a few buttons and then tapped a new message. Emma laughed when she read: ‘yes, definitely! No doubt about it.’

“So, I’m guessing you’d want to go home and make sure he doesn’t eat all the popcorns at once?” Emma said, tugging a lock of hair behind her ear.

Regina nodded, typed and then turned the screen: ‘yes, I think that might be best.’

“Okay. Let’s head back to the restaurant then,” Emma suggested.

Regina nodded once.

They walked back towards the restaurant were Regina had parked her car. Emma couldn’t help but feel a little sad that their date was coming to an end. She didn’t want it to end yet, damnit! She was having a way too good time.

But there was nothing she could do about it. Soon they reached the restaurant and Regina’s car, and Regina found her car keys in her purse.

“Well...” Emma said, shifting slightly on her feet.

Regina flashed her a smile.

“I’ve.... I’ve had a really awesome time tonight,” Emma said earnestly.

Regina nodded, her lips moved, forming the words ‘me, too’.

Emma grinned broadly. This was usually the moment where she would have leaned in and “sealed the deal” with a kiss. But something was holding her back. She couldn’t quite pinpoint what, but something in her gut told her that Regina wasn’t ready to be kissed just yet. So instead she gently reached out and lightly put her hand on Regina’s forearm.

Once again, something seemed a bit off. Emma could feel it. She could feel how Regina flinched and then froze for a millisecond. A look that could have been one of panic flickered in Regina’s eyes, but it was all so brief she didn’t get the chance to fully wonder about it. The warmth returned to Regina’s eyes as she lightly put her hand over Emma’s for a moment and then moved it away again.

“Would you like to do this again sometimes?” Emma asked as she moved her hand away from Regina’s arm.

Regina smiled and nodded and then tapped her phone once.

Emma immediately understood, and she grinned. “Yeah. Sure, I’ll text you.”

Regina nodded slightly.

“Well....” Emma moved a few steps backwards. “I’ll see you soon?”

Regina nodded again and smiled a little as she tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. Emma felt herself staring at the brunette’s hand. Regina had beautiful hands. This wasn’t a surprise, really. Every part of Regina was beautiful.

“Drive safely,” Emma half-quipped. “Don’t speed. Even though you’re eager to come home and rescue Henry from the popcorns.”

Regina shook her head and her dark eyes sparkled with amusement. Then she offered Emma one last nod, her lips moved as she wordlessly formed the word “goodbye”.

“Bye,” Emma said and returned the smile.

Regina turned around and walked towards her car.

Emma watched as the brunette walked away. She simply couldn’t help it. She had to linger. She watched as Regina climbed into the Mercedes, adjusted the rearview mirror, and then switched the engine on. Emma almost wished that Regina would look out of the side window. Emma had a silly urge to wave her off.

But Regina didn’t look out of the side window. Instead she kept her eyes on the road as she maneuvered the car out of the parking lot. Emma kept hovering until she couldn’t see the black Mercedes anymore. Then she sighed a little. Shook her head. What a woman. If there had been a sliver of doubt left in Emma’s mind before, that sliver was definitely gone now. She was most definitely head over heels for Regina. No question about it. Enchanted. Enamored. Charmed. Smitten. Besotted.

Emma chuckled slightly as she finally turned around and walked back towards the square. She couldn’t wait to tell Ella all about the date. And she couldn’t wait to go out on another date with Regina.

Emma hoped that could happen relatively soon. She wanted to go out for dinner with Regina again. And she couldn’t wait to spend more time with Henry either. Normally, Emma wasn’t all that big on kids, but Henry was different. He was a great kid. Very funny. Emma felt as though they really had it off at the harvest festival. She hoped that it would be possible for her to see Henry again. The blonde chuckled a little. She had gone from sort of disliking children to voluntarily wanting to spend time with a kid. What had happened to her?

It was Regina’s fault. Of course it was. Emma stuffed her hands into her pockets in an attempt to keep them warm as she walked back. She was regretting that she hadn’t kissed Regina tonight, but there had just been something that had stopped her. Emma couldn’t quite explain what it was. A gut instinct. A feeling. Something.

Emma felt relived when she spotted the lights from Eugenia’s Inn. For a moment she foolishly wondered why Ruby’s car wasn’t there, but then she remembered that Ruby and Eugenia was away on a family visit tonight. The timing couldn’t be better. Emma was the only one currently renting a room, and there weren’t that many visitors in the diner. Emma could imagine how the place would be bustling with life come summer. She was looking forward to experiencing that. And she was looking forward to seeing Elsa’s little ice cream store flourish and become a big deal. Emma was certain that people would come in flocks to Elsa’s ice cream store in the summer. And Emma would be the first customer. First in line for rocky road. Emma chuckled a little. She briefly wondered if Regina liked rocky road?

Did the brunette like ice cream? Possibly. If she liked pie, then why not ice cream too? Emma would have to ask her about that the next time they saw each other. The next time. Emma could hardly wait until that was, and she felt incredibly tempted to text Regina right now and ask when they could have their second date, but Emma quickly reminded herself to not be silly. Regina was driving right now.

They could text later. There would be plenty of time later. Tomorrow was Sunday. The only plan Emma had was to write on her fairytales. She could easily find the time to text Regina. The brunette probably didn’t have big plans for tomorrow. Emma knew that Regina preferred to kick back and do nothing on Sundays. Some days she and Henry spend the time playing video games, and Emma found that to be positively adorable. And a little funny. She couldn’t really imagine Regina Mills playing video games. But according to Regina she was quite good at it. Even though Henry was better. Obviously.

Emma had laughed when Regina had pointed that out.

The blonde opened the door to Eugenia’s Inn and stepped inside, grateful to finally have found shelter from the cold.

The diner was pretty quiet though, but Emma could hear rustling and bustling from the backroom. Suzie was probably in there. Had Eugenia asked her to finish tidying up in there? Poor girl. Emma chuckled to herself as she ascended the stairs. She almost felt tempted to take a peek inside that infamous backroom. The way Eugenia described it made it sound as though World War II had taken place in there. Emma seriously doubted it could be THAT bad, though. Eugenia was probably just exaggerating. According to Ruby, she was good at that. VERY good. Emma chuckled to herself as she reached the top of the stairs and walked down the long hallway. She felt pretty lucky that she was living here all on her own. There was no one around to bother her by making noise at night. Emma was extremely grateful for that. She had a feeling that the walls separating the rooms were very thin, and she still had nightmares about her thin-walled apartment in Toronto. And the sex crazy couple living right next door. Seriously, they had been at it every night. Emma had felt every bit like some grumpy grandma when she had been forced to bang on the wall and ask them to keep quiet, damnit! I wonder what happened to that couple? Are they still living there? Yeah, they probably are. Oh my god, I feel so sorry for whoever moved into my old apartment! I should have left a note explaining the situation to them. I should have given them some sort of warning! That would have been the only right thing to d-.......

Emma stopped abruptly and her train of thoughts dissolved into nothing when she reached the door to her room. All the pleasant thoughts about her date with Regina had suddenly disappeared.

Vanished in thin air.

Emma reached within the pocket of her leather jacket. The key to her room door was still lying safely nestled between her spare chains and the bill from the restaurant. And Emma was absolutely certain that she had locked the door before leaving. In fact she saw a flashback of herself stepping out of the door and carefully locking it behind her before she had gone downstairs and been amused over Eugenia and Ruby’s little slanging match.

She hadn’t asked for housekeeping or anything before leaving. And she had abso-freaking-lutely locked the door behind her. She could remember that. She could remember the creak and squeak the door made whenever it had been locked.

Emma hands curled into fists in her pockets.

Now the door to her room was ever so slightly pushed ajar...

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma considered things for exactly two seconds. Should she go downstairs and ask Suzie if she had been in her room?

Nope. Because Emma was already pretty fucking sure that Suzie hadn’t been in her room.

Should she go downstairs and tell Suzie that the door to her room was open?

Nope. Emma had an inkling that Suzie had no idea the door to her room was open.

Should she simply slam the door to her room open right now?

It was certainly tempting. But Emma forced herself to not act irrational. Suppose whoever it was still was in there?

She crept closer and listened carefully, trying to figure out whether she could hear any footsteps or movements coming from the room.

Nothing. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Interesting.

Emma moved closer to the door and looked in through the peephole.

Her worst horror fear didn’t come true. No eye were looking back at her.

Emma squinted as she looked through the peephole. There was no one in there. And everything appeared to be untouched. She could see her laptop standing on the table, exactly like she had left it. She could see the messy bed and the clothes she had left on the chair. Everything looked, well... Normal.

Except it wasn’t. Emma had a very strong feeling that someone had been in her room. She could feel it because of the way the little hair in the back of her neck was standing up. She rubbed her arms slightly. She had goosebumps, but not because of the cold.

Emma moved away from the slightly open door and tiptoed over to one of the niches where she couldn’t be seen by anyone. She carefully considered it for a moment. Was she supposed to believe that there had been a burglar? And that said burglar hadn’t actually stolen anything? Bullshit. If that was the case, it would have been a pretty fucking bad burglar. And besides, why her room? Why not aim for the money behind the counter downstairs in the restaurant?

No, there were other forces behind this. Emma knew it. She shifted slightly in her hiding spot. The floorboards creaked slightly. So did Emma’s head. Obviously, it wasn’t very hard to come up with someone who could have done this. Mary Margaret. But still, there were things about this that didn’t made sense. For starters, it appeared that the room was empty. Mary Margaret wouldn’t have left. She would have stayed here and waited for Emma. The blonde frowned. It was a stretch, but she supposed that Mary Margaret COULD have left again. She could have heard Suzie walk past and then make a run for it or something like that.

But that didn’t make sense either. The room looked too...untouched. Her clothes was still lying on the chair. Mary Margaret would have made some sort of creepy gesture like folding the clothes. Just to let Emma know she had been there. She had often done that when Emma lived in Toronto, and Mary Margaret so favored to force her way into Emma’s apartment. And Mary Margaret had always had the unfortunate habit of rifling through Emma’s belongings. She had never allowed Emma to get a lock on her door, and during her teenage years, Emma had been forced to take her diary with her wherever she went. Otherwise Mary Margaret would have snooped through it.

Mary Margaret would have left some sort of clue behind. An indicator that she had been in Emma’s room. And that was not the case here. Something was off about it. This “break in” didn’t have Mary Margaret’s usual signature. And speaking of break in... Emma frowned again. How the hell did Mary Margaret or whoever it was come in here? The door hadn’t been forced open. It had simply been unlocked. But Emma had taken her key with her. So how had this come to pass?

Emma answered that question herself. The master key. The master key that could unlock all the doors. That had to be the answer, right? But the master key was downstairs. And so was Suzie. And Emma doubted that Suzie would have just handed over the key to anyone. Would she?

Emma turned around. She had to get to the bottom of this. Right away.

She emerged from her hiding spot in the hallway and then crept as quietly down the stairs as she could.

Emma’s paranoia bade her to look around when she came into the restaurant again, but there was no one. But she could hear sounds coming from the back room, and so Emma went round the counter, knocked once on the door to the backroom and said: “Suzie? You in there?”

There was some rustling and bustling, and then the door to the backroom was opened, revealing Suzie on the other side. She had dust in her hair, but she was nevertheless smiling. “Hey. Miss Swan, right? Is there something I can do for you?”

“Has there been someone in the restaurant tonight?” Emma asked.

Suzie frowned a bit. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve been in here for most of the night, but I haven’t heard anyone.”

“Have you listened to music or anything while you worked?” Emma continued.

Now Suzie looked a tad offended. “No, I have not. Mrs. Wolf asked me not to. She wanted me to keep an eye on things.”

“Right.” Emma looked around in the restaurant again.

“Is there a problem?” Suzie asked and raised an eyebrow.

“Do you know where the master key is?”

The young woman rolled her eyes now. “Yes, of course I know where the master key is, what is your pro-“

“Do you mind finding it?” Emma interrupted.

Suzie folded her arms across her chest.

“Please?” Emma added.

“Alright. Fine,” Suzie said and rolled her eyes as she crouched down behind the counter and rummaged there for a moment. “Where is that fucking key?!”

Emma got a rather sinking feeling in her chest.

“One sec,” Suzie said as she rose to her full height and went over to a cupboard. “I think it’s in here.” she opened the cupboard and rummaged through it. A stack of papers landed on the floor, but no key.

Emma’s heart plummeted and landed somewhere in her stomach.

“Shit,” Suzie cursed. “Mrs. Wolf is going to KILL me!”

“No she won’t,” Emma said. Because this was not Suzie’s fault. Someone had snuck in here and taken the master key while Suzie was engaged in the backroom. And then that same someone had quietly
gone upstairs and used the master key to unlock the door to Emma’s room.

“Is there.... Is there a particular reason you’re asking for the master key?” Suzie asked, now sounding very timid.

“Someone’s been in my room,” Emma said.

Suzie visibly paled at that. “Is something missing?”

“Nope, but I locked the door before I left, and when I came upstairs it had been pushed ajar,” Emma said. “Someone has been in my room, and they wanted me to know that. Otherwise they would have
used the master key to lock the door.”

Suzie responded by rushing over to the door. She was reaching out to touch the doorknob when Emma said: “wait, I don’t think we should touch anything!”

Suzie stilled with her hand in the hair. Then she looked at Emma. “What should we-“

“I think we better call Eugenia,” Emma said plainly.

“Yeah. Of course,” Suzie said. She rushed into the backroom and came out seconds later with her cellphone in hand. Her fingers were trembling as she dialed Eugenia Wolf’s number. Before bringing the phone up to her ear, she said: “miss Swan, I’m so sorry! This is my fault.”

“No, it’s not,” Emma said quickly. “You were busy in the backroom. You didn’t hear whoever it was.”

“No, but I was supposed to be watching this place,” Suzie said crestfallen. “And now someone has broken in because I didn’t pay attention-“

“Suzie.” Emma gently but firmly interrupted. “Just call Eugenia, okay? I’m sure everything will be fine.”

Suzie nodded and then brought the phone up to her ear and waited. Her brow wad furrowed, and her mouth was a thin, worried line.

Emma was pretty worried too. This was creepy. Actually creepy. The thought that someone had been in her room while she wasn’t there, was... Less than pleasant.

“She’s not picking up,” Suzie half-whispered.

“Try Ruby,” Emma advised. “She always picks up.” god bless Ruby and her phone addiction.

But it quickly turned out that Ruby wasn’t picking up either. For what reason Emma wasn’t sure, but she was guessing it was because they were on a family visit.

“Now what?” Suzie asked and looked at Emma. “She’s not picking up!”

“I’m calling sheriff Graham,” Emma said plainly and found her own phone in her pocket. She quickly dialed Graham’s number and waited. Calling the police was not overdoing it. Someone had been in her room, and even though everything appeared to be untouched, Emma had a rather bad feeling about this.

“Graham Humbert,” came the rather sleepy voice of the town sheriff.

“Hey, Graham,” Emma said. “This is Emma Swan. Sorry for bothering you this late, but we have a bit of a situation here.”

“Emma? What’s going on?” Graham asked, now sounding more awake and alert.

“Someone has come into the diner and stolen the master key, and then gone upstairs and used said master key to unlock the door to my room,” Emma quickly summed up.

“Has anything been stolen?” Graham asked professionally.

“I don’t think so,” Emma said. “Well, except for the master key.”

“Stay where you are. I’ll be right there,” Graham said. There was a faint click in the other end, and then silence.

Suzie looked at Emma with wide eyes. “Is he coming over here?”

“Yeah,” Emma said. “We have to get to the bottom of this. I’ll try Ruby again.” she quickly dialed the waitress’ number, but Ruby didn’t pick up this time either. Neither did Eugenia when Emma tried.

“Damnit!” the blonde cursed.

Suzie anxiously looked out of the window. “Do you think whoever it was could still be out there?”

Emma almost snorted. Wow. Thanks for the nightmare material, Suzie. You’re a real gem. She forced herself to answer calmly: “no, I don’t think so.”

Now Suzie looked slightly panicked. “Do you think he could still be HERE?!”

Honestly, Emma had considered the exact same thing. All the other rooms were unoccupied. It was entirely possible that whoever it was had used the master key to unlock the door to one of the other rooms and then hide away in there.

“I don’t know,” Emma said truthfully.

Suzie’s breathing quickened, and her eyes flicked towards the backroom. For a moment Emma thought the young waitress was about to run in there and slam the door behind her, but Suzie didn’t move. Instead she looked full of self-blame as she said: “he’s been walking around all over the place while I’ve been here! And I didn’t hear a thing!”

“You were moving boxes,” Emma reminded her. “This is not your fault, Suzie.”

“Yes, it is!” Suzie said firmly and shook her head. “I should have paid more attention! I should have-“

“There’s Graham,” Emma interrupted when she saw the lights from the police car approach.

“Thank god!” Suzie said, rushing over to the door to greet Graham.

It didn’t take long before the Steveston sheriff was standing in the middle of Eugenia’s Inn. He briefly greeted Suzie and then motioned for Emma to come upstairs with him. Emma willingly followed. She wasn’t that afraid. Even though one of her theories had been that whoever it was could be hiding in one of the other rooms, Emma had a feeling that the intruder was long gone.

Graham quietly pushed the door to Emma’s room open, and the exaggerated, squeaky sound the door made definitely fulfilled every last of Emma’s horror fantasies. And the fact that he had one hand on his gun didn’t help the matter much either.

As expected, the room was empty. And everything was untouched. Exactly like Emma had seen through the peephole. Her laptop was still standing on the table. The memory stick was still inserted, and Emma was willing to bet all her money that no one had tampered with the memory stick either.

Graham swiftly crouched down and checked under Emma’s bed. At this rate, Emma was grateful she had a dresser and not a closet. More nightmare stuff.

“Is anything missing?” Graham asked and frowned.

“Nope,” Emma said and felt a chill run down her spine. An intruder was one thing. An intruder who didn’t steal anything was something else.

“Do you have any idea who could possibly have done this?” Graham asked, still frowning. “I mean, you’ve just moved to town. You can’t possibly have made any enemies already.”

Emma chuckled dryly at that. “I don’t think it’s anyone from here,” she said. “If I had to guess, I would say it’s my adoptive mother, but...” she ran a finger through her blonde curls.

“What?” Graham asked.

“This isn’t like her,” Emma said and shook her head. “I mean, it definitely wouldn’t be the first time she forced her way in to wherever I live, but she would have stayed here and waited for me. She wouldn’t haven taken off. And even if she would have, she would have left some sort of clue behind. Folded my clothes or something. Given me a creepy indicator that wherever I’ll go, she’ll always find me.”

“This has happened before?” Graham asked. Now his forehead was almost one big wrinkle.

“Yeah,” Emma said and then proceeded to tell the sheriff all about the controlling, dominating Mary Margaret Blanchard-Nolan who had sunken her metaphorical claws into Emma when she was a baby and now refused to let go no matter what Emma said or did. The blonde told Graham about all the times where she had come home and found Mary Margaret waiting for her in her at the time apartment. About all the letters and phone calls. Obviously, she mentioned the hang up calls she had received the other night as well.

“Where does your adoptive parents live, Emma?” Graham asked as he looked up from the note, he had been using to scribble everything down.

“Forest Hill in Toronto.”

“I see. I’ll contact the local police in Forest Hill and ask them to stop by your adoptive parent’s house. If your adoptive mother isn’t home, it should be pretty obvious who’s behind thi-“

“No!” Emma interrupted.

Graham looked at her.

“Sorry,” Emma amended. “But if it really isn’t her who’s behind this, I don’t want to risk her finding out where I am!”

Graham nodded. “I understand. I’ll ask the local police to be discreet.”

“Thank you,” Emma said and could feel how her shoulders uncurled.

“Since everything appears to be untouched, I doubt that our intruder left any fingerprints behind, but I’ll have it checked out anyway,” Graham said as he reached within his pocket and found his phone. “Is
there a place where you can stay tonight, miss Swan?”

“I’ll call Elsa Frost,” Emma said. “I can probably stay there.”

“Good,” Graham said and flashed Emma a little smile. “Try not to worry. We’ll figure it out.”

“Yeah,” Emma said vaguely and nodded.

Graham went into the hallway to contact his colleagues. Emma shifted slightly as she looked around in the room. She didn’t feel calm in anyway. If anything, she felt like this was only the beginning of something....

 

**********************************

 

“Okay, but that’s like the scariest thing ever,” Elsa proclaimed as she sat a cup of coffee down in front of Emma.

Emma snorted and rolled her eyes. “Thanks. Now I feel lots better.”

“Sorry,” Elsa amended and flicked a lock of her platinum blonde hair behind her ear. “It’s just so unusual. Nothing like this has ever happened in Steveston before.”

“I bring nothing but trouble,” Emma joked as she took a sip of her coffee.

“That’s not true,” Elsa immediately protested and sat down opposite Emma.

“It kinda is though,” Emma said and took another sip of her coffee before continuing: “I’m pretty sure my adoptive mother is behind this.”

“Your adoptive mother?” Elsa echoed and pushed her long braid over one shoulder.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “To put it simply, she’s not in her right mind. Never has been. That’s why I ran away from Toronto.”

“Oh my god,” Elsa said, taking a sip of her own coffee. “Well, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you want.”

“Thanks, but doesn’t your sister and her fiancée come to town tomorrow?” Emma reminded her friend.

Elsa frowned a little at that.

“I’ll be fine,” Emma assured with a slight chuckle. “Graham said that they’ll be done searching the diner tomorrow. I don’t think they’ll find anything, I doubt Mary Margaret will be hiding in one of the closets, but still, it’s nice to know that they’re taking this seriously.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Elsa said and took another sip of her coffee.

That was when Emma realized that she had in fact forgotten to tell Graham about the grey station car she had seen in her rearview mirror and maybe-maybe not seen on the parking lot outside Dragon Publishing. Maybe she should have told him about it, but then again, she couldn’t be a hundredth percent certain that the car had been following her. As she couldn’t be sure that it had been the same car, she had seen leaving Dragon Publishing. It could be one big, freaky coincidence.

Emma sighed a little and shook her head. “And I was having such a nice evening! One minute you’re on a date and having an awesome time, and the next...”

“You were on a date?” Elsa asked casually and took another sip of her coffee. “Anyone I know?”

“Maybe,” Emma answered just as nonchalantly. “It was actually Regina.”

“Oh. Yeah, I know Regina,” Elsa said simply and flashed Emma a little smile. “Did you have a good time?”

“Yeah. Definitely,” Emma smiled.

“Good,” Elsa said and took another sip of her coffee.

And that was exactly why Emma didn’t have a problem with telling Elsa about her date with Regina. Elsa was so down to earth. She didn’t poke or prod or ask a million questions. She wasn’t as nosy as other people living in Steveston was.

Elsa emptied her cup of coffee and then lightly put a hand over Emma’s. “I’m going to bed now. Are you sure you’re alright with the guestroom tonight?”

“Absolutely,” Emma smiled. “Thanks for letting me spend the night here.”

“Anytime,” Elsa said and returned the smile. “Goodnight.”

“’Night, Elsa.”

Emma watched as the other blonde disappeared upstairs. She heard the floorboards creak a few times, the sound of water running, an electric toothbrush being switched on, a bit more creaking, and then completely silence. Emma supposed that was her cue. She emptied her own cup of coffee and then grabbed the pajamas Elsa had borrowed her and went upstairs to get ready for the night in Elsa’s bathroom.

It didn’t take her long before she was done and ready to head to bed. She tiptoed down the hallway and then into the guest bedroom where she closed the door as quietly as possible. She lied down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. She already knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. She couldn’t stop thinking about what had just occurred. It had to be Mary Margaret. Or David. And if it wasn’t one of them, it had to be someone they had hired to find her. There were no other explanation. It had to be one of the three possibilities. Who else could it be? As Graham had said, Emma had just moved here. She didn’t have any enemies whatsoever. At least no one that she knew of.

Emma scoffed in the silence. No, that was ridiculous. She did NOT have any enemies. It had to be someone Mary Margaret had hired. That would explain the deviation from Mary Margaret’s normal modus operandi. Emma scoffed again. That bitch had actually HIRED someone to find her. But how the hell had that someone even done that? Emma had left absolutely no clues behind when she left Toronto. Not even in her trashcan. She had made sure that there wasn’t a shred of evidence left anywhere. So how?

Emma frowned. No matter how little she liked it, there were things about this that didn’t make sense. Things that suggested that Mary Margaret maybe wasn’t the one behind this.

Nope. Emma quickly banished that thought from her mind before it could take root and grow. It had to be Mary Margaret. Or someone she hired. Only acceptable explanation. Emma hoped that Graham would have some answers for her tomorrow. Some sort of magical explanation that would make everything make sense.

The blonde rolled onto her side and pulled the covers with her. She could watch the door from this position. Good. She felt the most comfortable with that. She puffed out a breath of air. It was incredible how quick a situation could shift a hundredth and eighty degrees. Earlier tonight she’d been having the time of her life with Regina, and now she was asleep in her friends’ guestroom because someone had been in her hotel room. It was insane. Everything about this was insane. Emma couldn’t sleep. Most of all she wanted to just get out of bed, walk back into town and shout from the top of her lungs: ‘Mary Margaret! Come out, come out, wherever you are!’

Emma doubted it would work, but still... it could at least have been worth a shot, right?

She looked at the door again. She was being paranoid. Elsa’s house was sort of old, and thus it made all the classic “old house”-creaking noises. And right now those noises were Emma’s worst nightmares. She kept imagining that someone was in the house. That someone was looking for her. Obviously, that lead her to wonder what would happen if Mary Margaret found her? She wondered if Mary Margaret would actually be capable of harming her. Like physically harming her.

Emma shivered involuntarily under Elsa’s blankets. No, this was ridiculous. She had to stop thinking like that. She was fine. She was safe. Nothing had happened. Except for the fact that someone had been in her room. But apart from that, everything was fine. Yes, Mary Margaret might have been here, but surely, all the commotion would have made her take off. And even if she still should be here, Graham and his colleagues would easily find her. Because while Mary Margaret was many things, subtle was not one of them. And it never had been.

Emma shifted on the guest bed. She really had to get some sleep now. Tomorrow was Sunday, and she still had a bit of work to take care of before going to work on Monday. She would like to be in shipshape for that. Ergo, she had to go to sleep right now. And fortunately enough, Emma knew exactly what would send her of to dreamland. Regina. Emma closed her eyes and thought about the beautiful brunette. They’ve had such a great night together. Everything had been wonderful. And there would be a second date. Emma could hardly wait for that. And she would lie if she said that she wasn’t hoping that their second date would end with a kiss. Emma felt a pleasant tingle in her belly at that. Kissing Regina. Finally kissing those beautiful, plump lips. Warmth spread through Emma’s body as she thought about how it would feel to kiss Regina for the first time. She already knew that it would feel amazing, but there were other things she wondered about. How it would feel to run her fingers through Regina’s smooth, silky hair. To cup her cheeks. Would her skin be soft? Yes. Yes, of course it would. Emma already knew that. Her body was starting to feel heavier and heavier, and somewhere along the way, Emma finally drifted off....

 

She was up bright and early the next day, and after having thanked Elsa for shelter and breakfast, Emma took off and walked back to Eugenia’s Inn.

Ruby and Eugenia had returned home, and both of them were talking to Graham when Emma arrived. Eugenia looked like an angry bulldog as she mumbled something about having a crossbow and knowing exactly what to do with intruders.

Graham ignored that as he turned to Emma. “We searched the entire building, but we didn’t find anyone. Whoever was in your room didn’t leave many clues behind. There were some fingerprints here and here, but I doubt they’ll lead to anything.”

“Great,” Emma said a bit sardonically.

“And we didn’t manage to find the master key either,” Graham added. “The intruder most likely took the key with them.”

“I’ve already arranged to have the locks changed,” Eugenia stated. “All of them.”

“And furthermore, I had the local police stop by your adoptive parents’ property last night,” Graham continued and rubbed a hand over a stubbly cheek. “They weren’t home, but their neighbor told that they had been away since the previous day. According to her, they were going on a family visit.”

“Family visit?” Emma echoed. Considering what had happened last night, that was a very creepy way to put it. “So, it could have been Mary Margaret who was in my room last night?”

“Technically, yes,” Graham nodded. “And judging by what you told me last night, I’d say there’s a very good chance that it was in fact your adoptive mother who was here.”

Emma felt something cold shiver down her spine. “Do you think she could still be here? In Steveston, I mean?”

“No, I don’t believe so,” Graham said.

“That’s not good enough!” Eugenia barked. “You have to be certain! I’d say we arrange neighbor watch and keep an eye on strangers in Steveston.”

“Hear, hear!” Ruby said

“Arranging a neighbor watch is a good idea,” Graham said before Emma could open her mouth. “But I’d like to stress out that it’s not the same as taking matters into your own hands. Should you encounter someone who are not supposed to be here, you will call the police and let the authorities handle it.” he looked at Eugenia. “Keep your crossbow under lock and key. And I’d to see your weapon permission before I leave.”

Granny glared at him, but that didn’t affect Graham in the slightest.

“I think a neighbor watch might be a bit much,” Emma interjected. “Sure, it was not pleasant to find my door unlocked, but we have to be sensible. Nothing really happened.”

“Enough things happened,” Eugenia said firmly. “I will not have someone waltzing in here and scaring my guests. The locksmith will be here later today to change the locks. I am not taking any chances!”

Graham turned to Emma again. “I’ve arranged that the police will stop by your adoptive parents’ house a few times during the next week, and when they arrive home, the police will have a little chat with them, alright?”

“Yeah,” Emma said. But she didn’t have a very good feeling about this. What kind of punishment could Mary Margaret even get for this? Yeah, so maybe she had dipped behind the counter and stolen a key and then used said key to open a door that had been locked. It was barely breaking and entering, really. She hadn’t threatened Emma in any way. And the phone calls Emma had received from that hidden number? She couldn’t prove that it had been Mary Margaret. Nor could she prove that Mary Margaret had been behind the wheel in that grey station car that had followed her. She couldn’t prove ANYTHING.

“Call me if anything else happens,” Graham said firmly.

“I will. Thank you,” Emma said.

He nodded to both her and Ruby and Eugenia, and then the sheriff of Steveston left the diner.

Emma sighed and shook her head.

“Ems, are you okay?” Ruby asked and put a hand on her arm.

“Yeah,” Emma said quickly and nodded. “I guess.... I guess I had just hoped that it would take Mary Margaret longer to find me here.”

“As far as I’m concerned, she didn’t find you last night, and she certainly won’t get any other opportunities!” Eugenia barked. “We’ll keep an eye out. All of us.”

“Yeah, we got you covered, Ems,” Ruby said and touched her arm lightly once more.

Emma laughed slightly. “It’s very sweet of you, but Mary Margaret is my mess. I don’t want to bring anyone else into it.”

“Too freaking bad,” Ruby deadpanned.

“I mean it,” Emma protested despite laughing. “Mary Margaret is my problem, and if she really is here, I’m not afraid to confront her.”

“That may be, but she has nothing to do here!” Eugenia said firmly.

“Mary Margaret is an expert in being places she has no business of being,” Emma pointed out.

“Yes, well, as far as I’m concerned, she can take that expertise and just shove it-“

“Granny!” Ruby interrupted, looking positively scandalized.

But Emma just laughed. “Promise me you’ll tell her that if you see her.”

“You have my word,” Eugenia said, and then their conversation was interrupted by a grey van pulling up in front of the diner.

“Excuse me, girls. That’s the locksmith,” Eugenia said hurriedly as she speed-walked out of the diner to greet the men jumping out of the van.

“Wow. She doesn’t waste any time, does she?” Emma asked ever so slightly surprised.

“Haven’t you noticed that you’re becoming her second granddaughter?” Ruby deadpanned.

Emma laughed, surprised and delighted. “Uhh.... No, I actually haven’t.”

“She adores you,” Ruby said plainly and mocked: “I suppose I should be jealous of you.”

Emma snickered and gave Ruby’s arm a playful little punch. “It’s hardly my fault I’m so loveable, is it?”

“Maybe she’ll testament the diner to you if you’re really lucky,” Ruby deadpanned.

Emma laughed again. “Swans’ Diner? Nah. Can’t really picture it.” she yawned. “Anyway, I think I’ll be going upstairs and try get some work done.”

“Okay,” Ruby said. “I’ll be right downstairs if you need something.”

“Cool,” Emma said. She flashed the waitress a smile, and then she moved towards the wooden staircase. As she began ascending it, she silently marveled at everything she had heard Eugenia and Ruby say.
They were going to arrange a neighborhood watch. Because of HER. Eugenia had threatened to wave her supposed crossbow around. Because of HER. Emma had never experienced anyone having her back like that before. Steveston truly was a magical place. Full of great people. Emma would be very upset if she had to leave again.

But maybe that wasn’t gonna happen. Maybe Mary Margaret would finally be scared off once the cops had talked to her. Maybe that was what it would take to finally make her stop what she was hoping.

Emma certainly hoped so.

She walked down the hallway and found her own room. She didn’t have any problems with stepping inside the room and closing the door behind her. She wasn’t afraid of being here. And why should she be? Eugenia was gonna get all the locks changed. After today, no one would be able to get in here. It didn’t even matter that the master key had been stolen.

Emma sat down on the edge of the bed. She was tired. She hadn’t gotten very much sleep last night, but there was nothing she could do about that now. She had some work she had to take care of before tomorrow.

But first there was something even more important she had to do. Text Regina. Emma found he phone in her pocket. She hadn’t even texted the brunette and thanked her for yesterday. It was time to rectify that. It was definitely time to rectify that. Right now. She smiled a little as she began typing. It didn’t take long before she had constructed a text message and send it to the brunette. ‘Thank you so much for last night! I had a really good time.’

Emma smiled. Now she could only wait.

But she didn’t have to wait for long. She had only just settled down in front of the laptop before her phone chimed. Emma let work be work and grabbed the phone to check the message. What she read made her grin broadly: ‘so did I. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so relaxed.’

Emma was quick to text back: ‘I’m very happy to hear that. What are you and the kid doing on this fine Sunday morning?’

It only took a moment before her phone chimed again, and Emma quickly read and chuckled at what she was reading: ‘Henry decided that today is pajamas and movie day. I decided to just indulge him, so now we’re watching The Lion King. For the millionth time.’

Emma was incredibly jealous at how Regina and Henry were spending their Sunday, and she quickly texted: ‘that honestly sounds like the perfect Sunday morning to me. I’m kinda jealous now.’

Immediately, her phone chimed, and Emma had forgotten all about her work. This was a bit more important. She quickly read the message: ‘I know I should be happy that he still wants to watch movies with me, but honest to god, he has watched that movie about a million times. He knows all the lines.’

Emma chuckled as she texted: ‘yeah, I bet he does. But he’s not alone. The Lion King was my favorite movie when I was a kid. I could watch it all the time. I even had a CD so I could listen to all the songs all the time.’

The blonde had only managed to edit exactly half a page before her phone chimed again. Emma found it to be the easiest thing in the world to pause her work and check the message: ‘speaking of watching and listening to things... Can I ask a favor of you?’

Emma immediately texted back: ‘Yeah, of course. Anything.’ Then she excitedly waited for the answer. And luckily, she didn’t have to wait a long time. Just as she had edited the other half of the page, her cellphone chimed again. Emma eagerly picked up the phone and checked the message: ‘my sister and I were supposed to go to a classical concert at The Orpheum next Saturday, but she has just told me that she has to work that night. Over time. There’s nothing she can do about it; her boss won’t let her take the night off. She can’t go with me anyway. Is there any chance you’d want to go with me instead? I’m not sure classical music is your thing, but Henry just stared at me when I asked him, and I don’t want to go alone.’

Emma’s heart began thudding. Had Regina just asked her on a date? Yep, it definitely seemed so, and the blonde immediately knew what to answer. There was only one kind of answer she could give, really. Her fingers nearly slipped as she eagerly texted: ‘of course! I’d love to.’

The response came immediately and was short and poignant: ‘really?’

Emma snorted. Uhm, yeah. Duh. ‘Absolutely. Should I wear something special? Is there like a dress code or something?’

The response came exactly a minute after Emma had send the text. ‘Wear whatever you want. I’m just relived that I’m not going alone.’

Emma’s insides completely melted at that, and her text reflected her goofy state of mind: ‘Emma Swan to the rescue! Just call me the Savior. Should I pick you up somewhere? That would be most practical, right? There’s no reason why you should drive all the way to Steveston to pick me up.’

She put the phone down and turned her attention back to the editing process. But she wasn’t paying the least bit attention to what she was doing. She was much more focused on keeping tabs on her phone. She was much too busy to listen after that familiar chime indicating she had received a message. After all, that was the most wonderful sound in the world. And after a moment or so, Emma’s ears were once again blessed with the sound. The blonde smiled as she grabbed the phone and checked the message. Regina declared that she agreed with Emma, and then she had written an address somewhere in Vancouver West. A neighborhood that was called Granville. Emma had no idea where that was, but she wasn’t worried. She had GPS in her phone. She could easily find it. And she was quick to text Regina back: ‘no problem. I’ll find that. What time should I pick you up then?’

Regina texted back immediately: ‘well, the concert starts at seven thirty, so I think it could be good if you could pick me up at seven. That way we have time to find a parking lot, etc.’

Emma nodded even though the brunette wasn’t exactly with her to see it. Then she texted back: ‘perfect. I’ll be there at seven PM sharp.’ She didn’t even bother to go back to editing. Instead she simply sat tight and watched her phone intensely until she heard the familiar chiming of her phone. Emma was so eager she almost dropped the phone on the floor. She cursed slightly, shook her head and then checked the message: ‘excellent. I’m very happy you want to go with me. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.’

And just how the hell was Emma supposed to go back to work after such a message? Her heart sped up, and she had no idea how to even respond to the message. Her mind was completely bluescreened.

There was quite literally no thoughts to be found in her mind at the moment. Emma shook her head in utter defeat. Maybe she would just stop working for a moment. She definitely needed time to gather her thoughts. The blonde chuckled slightly as she looked at the message on her phone, still unsure on how to answer it.

She might as well lie down on the bed and melt on the spot.........

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

The next week was a rather busy one for Emma. She worked and minded her own business. She obsessed about the classical concert she was going to with Regina on Saturday and strongly considered to go out and buy a new dress for the occasion. This wasn’t a dinner on an Italian restaurant or a harvest festival. She was going to the theater and judging by the pictures she had seen on Google, this was a fancy place. Red velvet seats, an incredible scene and an amazing chandelier. Regina had stated that there wasn’t a dress code, but Emma couldn’t imagine to show up to the concert wearing her usual “jeans and t-shirt”-attire. Not even her pretty silk top was fancy enough. No, she was going to need something new. And so she was planning on visiting Steveston’s only mall one of these days. She had every intention of walking in there, buy a dress that would be good for the occasion, and then walk out again. Emma wasn’t particular fond of shopping. And especially not shopping for clothes. But this was a special occasion. This called for something a little extra.

The blonde felt good. It was possible that she had been wrong when she assumed that the intruder in her room was the beginning of something, because absolutely nothing had happened since. There had been no hang up calls, no mysterious cars following her on her way home from work.

All the locks had been changed. Everything was calm. Exactly what Emma liked. A calm normality. Hell, it almost felt like the break-in in her room had never happened. Emma knew from Graham that the local police had talked to Mary Margaret and David and warned them about contacting Emma. And it certainly seemed like it had helped. It seemed as though Mary Margaret finally had given up. Graham had recommended Emma to change her number just a precaution, but Emma wasn’t so sure she was gonna do that. There was no reason to do it now. She had received no strange phone calls. And besides, she didn’t want to have to remember a whole new number. That was so confusing. Emma was satisfied with how things were now.

And especially if things continued to be so quiet as they were now. She had already put the incident past her. Yes, Mary Margaret had come to “visit” her. She had come to snoop around in Emma’s business as usual. And so what? Emma literally care less. Giving Mary Margaret was just about the worse thing she could do, so Emma had decided to do the exact opposite. Not give her adoptive mother an ounce of attention. Emma was actually pretty sure that giving Mary Margaret attention had been her mistake when her adoptive mother had called from that unknown number. Emma had said her name and literally called her out. She had given her attention. And that had most likely been what had spurred Mary Margaret to “show up unannounced”.

But even though things had calmed down, Emma still had a feeling. It was probably just her paranoia talking, but she had a distinct feeling that something was missing from her room. She just couldn’t for the life of her figure out what it was. And it annoyed her that she was feeling this way, because she knew she was being paranoid. Nothing had been removed from her room. Everything was exactly as it always was. She would just have to stop being so paranoid. But that was a little difficult given the situation. Even though things had calmed down, Emma was still vigilant. And that was despite the fact that Eugenia’s neighborhood watch had actually become a reality. Every night, the streets of Steveston were patrolled by two different people. Emma had seen it herself. And she had been slightly amused when she had seen Leroy parade around with his axe, and Eugenia with her crossbow. Maybe they were overdoing it, but Emma actually liked it. She liked the fact that they cared so much about her even though they didn’t really know her yet. This had to be the very definition of being welcome with open arms. Emma wasn’t exactly used to that. She wasn’t used to feel like she belonged anywhere. This was all so completely new. And Emma was baffled at how seriously everyone took the neighborhood watch. She couldn’t quite get used to seeing people patrol the streets near Eugenia’s Inn, making sure that there were no strangers lurking there.

Emma was not worried about that, though. Mary Margaret was gone. She was nowhere near Steveston. The polices’ warning had helped. Obviously, both Mary Margaret and David had both denied having ever bothered Emma, but conveniently enough, there had been no suspicious actions since the police had had their little chat with Mary Margaret. If that wasn’t an indication, Emma didn’t know what was.

And boy, was she ever grateful for that! She was finally getting the peace and quiet she so desired. Maybe it was time to dissolve the neighborhood watch, but every time Emma had suggested it, Eugenia had just scoffed and said something about keeping the neighborhood watch one more week. Just as a precaution. Just to make sure.

Emma had quickly sensed that arguing with Eugenia Wolf was useless. When she had put her mind to something, nothing and no one could change it.

And another giving factor was that Ruby fully agreed with her. She was a hundredth percent on board with the neighborhood watch, and ever since Emma had revealed the truth about her adoptive mother, Ruby had been furious at Mary Margaret. Emma found it to be both sweet and a little funny. The blonde often used humor to cover her surprise. She hadn’t lived in Steveston for very long, and yet she was already treated like she had lived here for years. Not a single person had been upset by the fact that Emma had brought “trouble” to their quiet little town.

Emma was grateful that everything had gone back to normal. She felt as though she could breathe easier. She had stopped looking over her shoulder when she went out, and she didn’t check the rearview mirror when she drove to and from work. Unless she had to, obviously. Graham had firmly told her to call if something else happened, but nothing did happen. Everything was calm and peaceful.

This gave Emma the time to think about what really was important. Her upcoming date with Regina. Emma was pretty nervous about that. She had only been to a classical concert once in her life. Emma could remember it like had it been yesterday. She had been eight years old, sitting between Mary Margaret and David, and just as the violin piece had reached its climax, Emma had managed to drop the plastic cup of water she had been given during the intermission. The water had ended up everywhere, Emma had been terribly embarrassed. But no amount of embarrassment could measure up to how scared she had been when she had seen the look in Mary Margaret’s eyes. It had been scary, and especially because Mary Margaret had kept on smiling during the concert. Emma had almost thought that her adoptive mother maybe wouldn’t be angry at her. But things had shifted one hundredth and eighty degrees when they had arrived back home. Mary Margaret had spent most of an hour shaming Emma for what she had done, and how humiliated the pixie haired woman had felt when everyone had looked at her. She claimed that everyone at the concert now thought that Emma was a bad girl.

Emma had cried herself to sleep that night. Because she thought that she was a bad girl too.

So no, Emma definitely did not have the best memories about going to classical concerts, but she knew that the concert she was going to with Regina was going to be a far better experience than the one she’d had when she was eight years old. And she was looking forward to it. She was looking forward to spending another evening with Regina. In fact she couldn’t wait. And she was delighted that Regina had made the next move. Emma had been a little nervous about that the last time they departed. That brief flicker of anxiety in Regina’s eyes had made the blonde wonder, but now when Regina had asked her out, Emma wasn’t worried anymore. And especially not given how much they had been texting each other since their date. They were good. Everything was fine.

Except for the fact that she still didn’t have a dress for the occasion. That was definitely NOT good. In fact that was the only thing that could make Emma panic just a little bit. She had been putting the trip to Steveston’s mall off for as long as she could, but when Thursday rolled around, Emma couldn’t very well put it off anymore. She had to buy a dress. Something that was elegant without being overstated. It sounded very easy, but Emma damn well knew that it wasn’t.

She hated shopping for clothes, but this time she couldn’t just wing it. She wanted to look good for the concert.

 

So that Thursday Emma took advantage of the fact that she was getting off work early and swung buy the mall on her way back from Dragon Publishing.

The mall was a bit of a jungle, really. And terribly big. Emma had thought that this was just a cute little mall with maybe three or four stores, but boy, had she been wrong! This mall was enormous. Three floors full of stores. Even though she had barely stepped inside, Emma was already intimidated. She had not thought this through.

But there was nothing she could do about that now. She needed to find a dress for the concert, so she might as well get started right away.

The blonde reluctantly went over to the clothing department. Not wanting to waste any time, she immediately went over to the dresses and started to rifle her way through the racks. Emma pursed her lips slightly as she touched and compared the different dresses. There were many pretty ones, but not quite up Emma’s street. Some of them were a bit too much, many of them were a bit too expensive.

Emma was not exactly a millionaire. She sighed a little as she rifled her way through the next rack. Maybe she should have brought “back up”. In form of either Ruby or Elsa. Or Isabelle. Emma could definitely have needed a bit of guidance. She felt pathetically tempted to text Regina and ask exactly what she should wear for the concert. But then again, that would just have been TOO pathetic. Even for her. Emma was determined to do this herself. Without help from Regina or Isabelle or Ruby or Elsa. Of course she was capable of choosing a dress on her own. She was an adult, after all. And choosing a dress for a formal occasion was a part of adulthood.

“Nope,” Emma muttered to herself as she loosened her grip on a pale pink dress with details on the bodice and a matching belt. It wasn’t exactly her style. She would look like a schoolgirl from the 1950’s if she put that on. Not that there was anything wrong with the 1950 style, but it wasn’t for her. She was going to a fancy concert. She wasn’t planning on dancing jive. No, she would have to find another dress.

Emma grumbled a little under her breath. The next dress she stumbled on was a midnight blue thing made of silk. It was floor length and very pretty. And very expensive too. She couldn’t possibly afford that one, so she decided to spare herself the heartache it would be to try it on. Imagine if she loved it and it happened to fit her perfectly. Raiding her bank account was not on the schedule today. She had actually almost done that once. Raided her bank account. But not on clothes. On books. She had been stuck in her apartment with a stubborn influenza, and so she had ended up spending a little too much money on books that could keep her entertained while she was sick. She had been living of spaghetti with ketchup for a month afterwards, but it had been so worth it.

Emma wasn’t interested in making the same mistake twice, though, so she quickly moved away from the expensive dress. She would have to find something else.

And after a while she did. Emma immediately knew that she had hit the jackpot when she saw the grey sequin dress. It was sparkly without being over the top. It was pretty, but in a discreet, subtle manner. She quickly plucked it off the rack and took it into the dressing room with her. Emma hurried as she stripped out of her jeans and tanktop. She should have worn something that was easier to strip out of. She should have thought about the fact that she potentially could end up trying something on. Why couldn’t she be more practical when it came to such things?

Oh well. Now she was ready to try the dress on. Emma almost held her breath as she slipped the dress over her head. She dearly hoped it was gonna fit. She had already spent too long in this mall. She just wanted to go home and have a cup of cocoa.

And maybe she could do just that in a moment. Emma grinned a little when she looked at her reflection. The dress was pretty damn perfect. It had thin, delicate spaghetti straps. The neckline was low.
Definitely showed of a good amount of cleavage, but never in an indecent manner. Emma did a little spin in front of the mirror. No risk of tripping in the dress either. It was calf length and therefore perfectly safe. Emma grinned. Yep, this dress was definitely suitable. She looked good. Like a modern day and slightly more badass version of Cinderella. Emma suddenly realized that this dress was something that the Cinderella in her story would wear, and the blonde grinned at that. Funny coincidence.

Emma elegantly pulled the dress over her head, making sure that it didn’t end up on the floor like her jeans and tanktop had. She wouldn’t want her new dress to get dirty. That would be shame.

Once dressed and done up, Emma walked up to the counter and paid for her brand-new dress. This had been easier than what she had expected, and the smile she flashed the girl at the counter was full of relief and maybe just a tad silly. But Emma didn’t care. She had found her dress. Without cursing anyone out over it. That was a victory in Emma’s book, and she was one big smile as she left the mall.

Mission accomplished.

But her smile had faltered slightly by the time she had made it back to Eugenia’s Inn. Yeah, she might have bought a dress, but what about her har? Shit. Emma had literally no idea what to do with her hair. Should she put it up or leave it hanging down? She always had it hanging down. Wasn’t it a bit boring? A ponytail then? Nope. That was boring too. Shit. She would have to study hair tutorials. Great.

Emma grimaced and groaned under her breath. She absolutely sucked at hair tutorials.

 

But somehow, things managed to come nicely together. Kinda, anyway. When Saturday afternoon came, Emma was wearing her brand-new, sparkly dress. Somewhere between bobby pins all over the floor and too tight ponytails, Emma had given up on the hair tutorials and opted for letting her hair hang loose in soft curls around her face. Yes, maybe she always had her hair like that, but she had done something a little extra tonight. She had spruced things up a bit with some extra volume, and the result was actually pretty good. She had also sucked up to Elsa until the other blonde had given in and borrowed her a pair of silvery stilettos that matched the dress perfectly. It was miles away from her usual “jeans and t-shirt”-uniform, but Emma liked it. For once she had found a dress, she felt comfortable in. She looked put together.

Well, at least she did until she came to the ugly realization that she still hadn’t a proper coat. Which meant that she had no choice but to wear her red leather jacket over the pretty dress. Emma cursed a bit. That would definitely be an odd combination. But what other choices did she have? None.

Emma rolled her green eyes as she shrugged on the leather jacket. Then she blinked as she looked at the result. She supposed it could have been worse. She blinked again. The contact lens in her right eye was irritating her. Maybe she should bring her glasses. Just as a precaution. She hoped that she wouldn’t need them, but still, it was better to be safe than sorry. Emma reached within the top drawer in her dresser and found her glasses. As she stuffed them into her (borrowed) purse, she shivered slightly. There was that feeling again. That feeling of something being off about the room. The feeling of something missing from the room, even though Emma still couldn’t pinpoint what it was. It was most likely just her paranoia raging, but still, Emma couldn’t quite shake the feeling. She would have to work on that. Everything was fine. There was nothing to worry about.

Emma took another glance at herself in the mirror. She was undoubtedly ready to go now, and she took a few deep breaths. She was a little nervous about tonight. Exactly like she had been the previous time. And the time before that. It was a little ridiculous, really. Emma chuckled slightly and shook her head. She should know by now that everything would go wonderfully tonight. Exactly like the last time. And the time before that.

Emma spun around on her heels and left her room, inserting her brand-new key into the equally brand-new lock. Then she walked down the hallway. Her borrowed high heels clacked on the hardwood floor.

She found Ruby downstairs behind the counter. She was looking at her phone, grinning goofily, and Emma was willing to bet all her money that the waitress was texting Dorothy, the woman working at the hardware store. Ruby was undoubtedly smitten with her.

The clack-clack-clacking of her heels easily gave Emma away, and Ruby looked up from her phone. Her eyes darted over Emma, and then she mock-swooned as she grabbed onto the counter. “Be still my beating heart!”

“Very funny,” Emma said sardonically and rolled her eyes.

“You look amazing, Ems,” Ruby said without an ounce of sarcasm. “Regina will go nuts!”

Emma snorted quietly. Somehow, Ruby had managed to quench out of her that she was seeing Regina, and the brunette waitress found that to be incredibly interesting. More than once, Emma had asked her to mind her own business. In a funny, joking manner obviously, but Ruby had claimed that she didn’t know what that meant. And she was probably right. But her curiosity didn’t help much. Emma plain refused to answer any questions. The only thing she had told Ruby was that everything was very new. And Ruby had been forced to accept that.

“Excited?” Ruby asked and smiled.

“Yeah,” Emma said truthfully and brushed a stray curl behind her ear.

“A classical concert, was it?” Ruby inquired.

“That’s right,” Emma confirmed.

“Hmm. I’m more of a Rammstein girl myself,” Ruby grinned.

Emma laughed too. “I like Rammstein too, but I have a feeling that it might not be Regina’s thing.”

Ruby guffawed at that, and Emma couldn’t blame her. She really, really couldn’t imagine Regina at a Rammstein concert.

“You and Dorothy have plans tonight?” Emma asked.

“Yep. We’ve got a romantic neighborhood watch date,” Ruby replied and chuckled.

Emma opened her mouth, but Ruby was quick to silence her:

“Don’t even try and argue, Ems. The neighborhood watch will remain until Granny decides otherwise.”

Emma shook her head. “Don’t you think she’s exaggerating just a little?”

“Nah,” Ruby said and shrugged. “I actually don’t. Just accept that we care about you, okay?”

Emma laughed. “Okay then. I surrender.”

“Good,” Ruby said and grinned. “Now run along. You don’t want to be late for your date, do you?”

Emma quickly glanced at the clock behind Ruby and realized that she had to get a move on. “See you later.”

“See ya,” Ruby said, and her chuckle followed Emma as she more or less ran out of the restaurant and almost managed to trip. High heels were fucking dangerous!

 

**************************

 

It actually wasn’t that difficult to find the address Regina had given her. Emma had feared that she would get lost and end up driving around for hours and hours, but the drive there went so smoothly, and soon Emma found herself parked in front of a rather nice looking, two stored white house. The blonde whistled quietly. This was definitely an expensive neighborhood. Exactly as she had expected it to be. She had had some sort of inkling that Regina lived in a nicer area, and now her suspicion was confirmed.

Emma briefly considered if she should honk to let Regina know that she was there, but she quickly decided not to. It seemed like such a tacky thing to do. Emma settled for leaning back in her seat and switching on the radio while she waited. She wiggled her toes and then cringed slightly. It had been too long since she last had worn high heels, and she could already feel it in her feet. It was a good thing they were going to sit down for most of the evening. Emma wasn’t sure she could even handle a quick walk in these shoes. Not that the weather exactly invited to do so. It was pretty cold this evening, and
Emma had a feeling it would be even colder before the night was over.

The blonde glanced up at the house. She could see some light come from a room upstairs and she caught herself wondering if that was Regina’s bedroom before she firmly cold herself that that was a pretty creepy thing to think about.

Emma tapped the wheel lightly and tunelessly hummed along to the song playing in the radio. It wasn’t a particularly good song, but Emma was in an excellent mood. She couldn’t wait for tonight’s date. She was looking forward to listening to some classical music, and she was looking forward to spending the evening in the best possible company.

After a moment or so, Emma noted that the light had been switched off in the upstairs room. Maybe it was Regina’s bedroom. Maybe the light being switched off meant that Regina would be coming out of the house at any moment. Emma stretched her neck slightly. She wouldn’t even pretend that she was looking after Regina. Her heart thumped pleasantly in her chest as she thought about Regina’s beautiful smiles. Then a light was being switched off downstairs. Emma guessed that it was the hallway. She switched the radio off. Regina would probably come out of the door any moment now.

Emma’s hunch proved to be correct. After two more minutes, the front door to the white house opened, and Regina emerged from the house. She was wearing a white belted, trench coat that looked very posh. Emma wondered for a second about what Regina was wearing underneath before she looked at Regina’s face instead. As always, her dark hair was smooth and silky soft. Emma was itching to let her fingers glide through the dark tresses. Just once.

Regina was smiling, and her dark eyes were sparkling. The sight almost took Emma’s breath away. God, she was beautiful! It was like she became more and more beautiful each time Emma saw her.

Emma returned the smile and almost lifted her hand in greeting. But then she remembered that they could greet each other in the car. She didn’t want to look like an idiot, waving like that.

She watched as Regina walked towards the car. The brunette was wearing high heels as well, but she looked ten times more elegant wearing them than Emma did. She carried herself much more gracefully. Emma chuckled quietly to herself. Of course she did. That wasn’t so surprising given how much class Regina had.

Emma patiently waited for Regina to make it to the car, and as she waited, she looked down. More specifically at Regina’s legs. Regina’s gloriously exposed, long, tanned legs. Whatever the brunette was wearing underneath that trench coat had to be something that was relatively short. Emma couldn’t have been more grateful for it. Now Regina was close enough to reach out and open the door to the passenger’s seat, and Emma quickly looked up again. She didn’t want to be caught staring at Regina’s legs. That wasn’t a very classy thing to do. And honestly, looking at Regina’s face was satisfying enough. Emma would never tire of the way her dark eyes sparkled. She looked at Regina’s lips. They had been painted a deep shade of red. The darkest shade Emma had seen so far, and it looked absolutely incredible.

Regina opened the door and climbed onto the passenger’s seat, and for a moment the situation felt slightly bizarre to Emma. Because it made no sense that this graceful, classy woman had just climbed inside a yellow bug of a car.

But the situation only felt bizarre for a moment. Regina “broke the spell” by reaching within her purse and handing Emma a post-it note.

Emma smiled as she read the note: ‘hello. It’s nice to see you again.’

“You, too,” Emma smiled. “Are you ready to go?”

Regina nodded once and then inspected her reflection in the mirror. Emma saw her frowning a bit, and the blonde had to stop herself to not blurt out how beautiful Regina looked.

She didn’t though. Instead she discreetly slipped the note from Regina into her borrowed purse. The last time at the restaurant, Regina had thrown all the little notes out before Emma could snatch them up, but this time Emma was determined to not let that happen. Maybe it was a tad silly, but she had a little space in one of the drawers in her dresser in which she “hoarded” the notes Regina had written her. Well, the space in her drawer also housed her new library card and a very pretty notebook Ella once had given her, but Emma hadn’t written a word in yet. It amused Emma to open the drawer and look at all the post-its. She had a pretty solid collection of written post-its already, but she couldn’t wait to store tonight’s note away in the leather satchel.

Emma switched the engine on and maneuvered the car away from the house. Regina leaned back in her seat, and as she did that, Emma saw her look at the blonde’s dress. Emma very briefly took her eyes off the road and looked at Regina, and during their brief moment of eye contact, she saw Regina’s lips move and form a single word: ‘Pretty.’

“Thank you,” Emma smiled and might have blushed a little. “I’ve just bought it.”

Regina nodded a little, looked at Emma’s sequin dress once more and then flashed her a smile. It was obvious that she liked what she saw, and Emma felt positively giddy because of it. She liked that

Regina looked at her, however brief it might have been.

The blonde reminded herself that she was driving right now, and she quickly turned her attention back to the road. This was the sort of thing that caused car crashes. And crashing was not on tonight’s schedule. Emma had every intention of making sure that they arrived safely at their destination.

“Do you wanna listen to music or anything?” Emma asked in an attempt to distract herself. “You’re welcome to abuse the radio.”

She shot a quick look at Regina, and the brunette looked rather amused as she shook her head once. She was clearly comfortable in the silence.

Emma didn’t mind the silence either, but to be brutally honest, she wouldn’t have minded a bit of music right now. A beat she could listen to, something that could distract her so she wouldn’t be looking at Regina instead of the road would have been great. Emma squeezed the wheel a little tighter. This was trickier than she had expected. She shot Regina a quick look again. The brunette was comfortably leaning back in her seat. Emma suddenly found herself worrying if the passenger’s seat was clean. Regina was wearing a white trench coat. Emma would hate if she ended up with a stain on it because the seat were dirty or something like that. Maybe she should have cleaned the car before picking up Regina or something like that.

Emma almost rolled her eyes at herself. Now she was definitely obsessing.

 

Finding the theater wasn’t difficult at all, Emma’s GPS was very reliable, and soon the blonde could park the yellow bug in front of the theater. And she felt very accomplished.

Emma switched the engine off and looked at the beautiful woman sitting next to her. “Are you ready to head out?”

Regina nodded, fumbled with her purse and then found the two tickets for tonight’s concert. She opened the door to the passenger’s seat and stepped out of the car.

Emma was quick to do the same. She quickly locked the car and then followed Regina towards the theater.

Emma’s first thought when entering the theater was “holy shit!”. The place was definitely posh. Red carpets on the floor. Golden archways and enormous staircases. Emma was slightly blown away by what
she was seeing, and she felt slightly dazed as she followed Regina. The brunette was walking towards a wardrobe, and before Emma could protest, she had paid for a locker where they could leave their coats.

Emma didn’t say anything, but quickly decided that she would be buying Regina a drink during the intermission. That was the least she could do.

Regina loosened the belt in her trench coat, and then unbuttoned it. Simultaneously, Emma unzipped her own leather jacket, but she completely lost focus when Regina slipped the trench coat off her body and revealed what she was wearing underneath it. A red dress. A red dress that ended just above her knees. A red, fitted, sleeveless dress with a scoop neckline. Emma stared unabashedly for a moment.

Regina was wearing a cream colored silk scarf around her neck, and when she had taken her coat off, the scarf had slipped some. Once again, Emma noticed something white peeking out from underneath the scarf. Exactly like she had noticed during their train journey, but now that Emma was standing right next to Regina and therefore could get a closer look, it didn’t take her long to figure out that the white something most likely was some sort of bandage. That was what was hiding underneath Regina’s scarves. But as soon as Emma had made that deduction, Regina’s slim fingers came up and adjusted the scarf, covering the bandage once more.

Emma quickly looked away. She didn’t want Regina to know that she had been looking. It’s none of your business, Swan. At least it isn’t yet. Later perhaps. When we’re closer. Yes. Emma hoped that Regina someday would reveal all her secrets to her. Emma blinked slightly. Why were they still standing in the wardrobe? That was odd.

But when she glanced up again, ready to ask why they were still standing in the wardrobe, she was slightly surprised to see Regina looking at her. The brunette was looking at Emma’s newly bought dress, and she was looking in that particular way Emma had been searching for during their first coffee appointment.

Emma felt very warm. Regina was looking at her, but definitely not in a seedy way. There was nothing “elevator eyes” about it. She wasn’t looking at Emma’s body. She was admiring all of Emma, like she could somehow look right through her, and Emma had never experienced anything like it. She could feel herself flush a shade of bright pink, and she copied Regina’s gesture as she tugged her hair behind her ear and tried her best to return the look Regina was giving her.

Emma wasn’t completely sure how long it lasted, but then Regina “broke the spell” by smiling almost lightly and then nodding towards the door.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “We better get going.”

Regina nodded as well, and then lead the way as they left the wardrobe and then walked back into the impressive foyer. Emma’s legs were like jelly as she followed. She doubted that she would ever forget the way Regina had looked at her. It didn’t make an ounce of sense that Regina was looking at her that way. It should be the other way around. It OUGHT to be the other way around, because Emma couldn’t fully believe that she was actually here with the stunningly beautiful woman that was Regina. That didn’t make an ounce of sense either.

“I’m glad you asked me to come with you tonight,” Emma blurted out as they stood in line and waited to be let into the concert hall.

Regina’s head whipped up and she flashed Emma a little smile.

“Thank you,” Emma said plainly.

Regina shook her head and laughed silently at that. The implication was clear; she thought Emma was silly for thanking her.

Not wanting to enter a battle she couldn’t win, Emma instead asked: “so, where’s Henry tonight? Is he staying over somewhere?”

Regina nodded in confirmation.

“Classical music not his groove?” Emma asked and chuckled.

Regina bared her teeth in a grin at that and shook her head in a “definitely not”-manner.

“Well...” Emma chuckled again. “Good thing you could find someone else to ask then.”

Regina nodded, and for a second it looked like she was about to put a hand on Emma’s arm or even take her hand. The blonde definitely wouldn’t have minded, but Regina clearly changed her mind and
turned slightly so she could watch the queue.

Admittedly, Emma felt a little disappointed at the brunette’s change of heart, but she was quick to remind herself that there would be plenty of other opportunities to hold Regina’s hand.

The queue moved quickly, and soon Emma and Regina were next in line to be let inside the concert room. Emma was certain it was gonna be awesome.

 

And it was. It was actually fantastic. Awesome didn’t really cover it.

Emma hadn’t exactly walked in blindly to this. She knew that there most likely would be some violins and flutes and other classical instruments, but she hadn’t been prepared for how the violin was almost singing. How the flutes were sounding like a lullaby from an enchanted forest. And she hadn’t been prepared for how much she enjoyed it. She had always claimed that classical music wasn’t exactly up her street, but now she knew why. She had never been given the chance to fully enjoy it. The only classical concert she had been attending was the one she had been to when she was eight and had sat tugged in between Mary Margaret and David. She had sat completely stiff and had been afraid to move a muscle after she accidentally had dropped that glass of water. She had been overly tense and therefore unable to enjoy the concert.

That was definitely not the case tonight. Tonight Emma was sitting relaxed in her seat. She completely soaked up the music, and every time the tunes from the violin soared up and exploded in a raging crescendo, the blonde’s palm went sweaty, and her breathing quickened. Emma didn’t really have a rational explanation for that. At least none other than how much she enjoyed the music. There were moments where she actually had to close her eyes, and as she did, she imagined a swan unfolding her wings and leaping towards the sky. She couldn’t quite figure out why that was what the tunes from the violin made her think about, but she didn’t bother to analyze her thoughts either. Now was definitely not the time for analyzing and thinking about things.

Emma felt some shifting next to her, and she opened her eyes. Regina had leaned back in her seat. Her eyes were closed as well, and her lips ever so slightly parted. Emma’s palms went sweaty again. She couldn’t find words to describe how beautiful Regina looked right now. No words would cover.

Emma felt so tempted to reach out and take Regina’s hand. To hold the brunette’s hand between her owns, but at the same time she didn’t want to bring Regina out of peaceful state she was in right now.

That would almost be a criminal act. And so Emma reminded herself that there would be other opportunities to hold Regina’s hand. Plenty of other opportunities.

The tunes from the violins rose in strength, and it felt as though music was coming from all over the room. Emma could feel how goosebumps erupted on her skin, and she rubbed her arms slightly.

Maybe she should have gone to a few more classical concerts in her life. She had clearly been missing out. The blonde turned her head and looked at Regina. She was so grateful the brunette had asked her to come tonight and share this special experience with her.

Regina opened her eyes for a moment, and Emma smiled at her.

Emma hadn’t exactly been fearing that she would be bored at the concert. She was with Regina. Obviously, she wouldn’t and couldn’t be bored in Regina’s company. But she had been slightly worried that the concert would be very long.

 

That, however, was not the case. At all. It felt as though they had just started when there was intermission. Emma fulfilled the promise she had made to herself and bought Regina something to drink. A very small glass of white wine for her, and a glass of water for Emma herself. She raised her glass slightly, clinked it with Regina’s.

“Cheers,” Emma smiled.

Regina returned the smile tenfold and lifted her own glass slightly. Then she took a small sip of the wine.

“Good?” Emma asked, nodding towards the glass in Regina’s hand.

Regina nodded eagerly, and then she was reaching within her purse. Emma smiled when she saw the familiar stack of yellow post-its and the pencil Regina frowned a bit in sheer concentration as she scribbled, and then gave Emma the note. The blonde quickly read it: ‘yes, it’s very good. Thank you for buying me wine. You didn’t have to do that.’

“And you didn’t have to invite me to this concert,” Emma teased. “But I’m glad you did, though. It’s amazing.”

Regina nodded and then ripped a new post-it off the stack. She scribbled for a moment and then gave the new post-it to Emma. The blonde read that just as quickly: ‘Yes, it really is. I’m glad you’re having a good time. Do you think you’ll be going to more classical concerts in the future, then?’

“Oh yes, absolutely!” Emma said firmly and nodded. “If I can find people who plays the violin half as good as those guys on stage does, that is.”

Regina was openly amused at that, and she grinned as she took another sip of her wine.

Emma took a sip of her water. She felt so completely relaxed. So contend that she knew that if she should accidentally spill the water, it wouldn’t be a disaster at all. Then she noticed that Regina was looking at her again. This time, the brunette was clearly looking at her hair, and instead of smiling and letting Regina know that she knew, Emma pretended she hadn’t noticed and sipped her water again.

She really, really liked when Regina was looking at her, and she didn’t want to break the spell, so to speak.

But what did break the spell, however, was the faint sound from a bell somewhere, indicating that the last part of the concert was just about to start. Emma almost cursed out loud and definitely grinded her teeth in pure frustration when Regina turned her attention back to the stage in front of them.

The last part of the concert was equally as fantastic as the first one had been. Violins, flutes and pianos played in perfect harmonies, and Emma almost felt breathless as she sat there in her seat and listened as the music unfurled around her and soared towards the ceiling. Sometimes the music was as delicate as a soap bubble. That made goosebumps appear on Emma’s skin. And sometimes the music was intense and almost explosive. That made all the little hairs on Emma’s arms stand up. It felt as though the music was inside her. Every tune, every melody was better than the last one, and it was impossible for Emma to decide what she liked the best.

That was, until a woman walked on stage. A woman wearing a long white dress. Her hair had been carefully arranged in an intrigant updo. Everyone applauded, and the woman smiled graciously at her audience.

Then everything went quiet for a moment. Emma could hear her own heartbeat. The conductor gestured to the orchestra, and the orchestra began to play anew. After the preliminary tunes, the woman on stage joined in and began singing:

“Try to remember the kind of September

When life was slow and oh

so mellow...”

Emma didn’t recognize the song. She had never heard it before, and she was willing to laugh at her version of herself who wasn’t one for opera. The woman on stage had a rich, warm voice that somehow still managed to sound delicate and fragile.

“Try to remember the kind of September

When grass was green, and grain was yellow.

Try to remember the kind of September

When you were a tender and callow fellow...”

 

Emma could feel how the goosebumps erupted on her skin once more, and she felt like she was in some sort of trance as she looked at the woman singing on stage.

“Try to remember and if you remember
then follow
follow....”

The blonde almost had to force herself from looking away from the stage. It was damn near impossible to look away from the singing woman, but Emma wanted to look at Regina. She wanted to see the brunette’s reaction. She finally turned her head and looked at Regina.

She had expected to see Regina sitting with her eyes closed and listening intensely, so what she actually saw when she looked at Regina, took her by surprise.

Regina was looking at the singing woman on stage. She was blinking rapidly, and Emma easily spotted the tears streaming down Regina’s cheeks. The brunette could clearly sense that Emma was looking at her, because she quickly wiped her cheeks and then shot Emma a sideway glance, smiling a little and shaking her head as though she was silently apologizing for being silly.

Emma didn’t think it was silly. She thought it was beautiful. In fact she doubted that she ever had seen something more beautiful than Regina being so deeply moved by the music.

“Deep in December it's nice to remember

Although you know the snow will follow.

Deep in December it's nice to remember

Without a hurt the heart will hollow....”

 

Regina sniffled quietly and wiped her cheeks again, and Emma almost felt overwhelmed by tenderness. God, Regina was such a beautiful, wonderful soul. She had absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.

 

“Deep in December

it's nice to remember

The fire of September that made you mellow.

Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow
follow.”

 

As the song ended and everyone started to applaud once more, Emma saw Regina wipe her cheeks and then shake her head once more. When she looked up, Emma flashed her a big smile. She was silently trying to tell Regina that she had nothing to be embarrassed about, and she hoped that Regina would understand.

 

 

Emma never wanted this concert to come to an end, but sadly it did eventually. After a long applaud, it was time to leave, and Emma and Regina left the grand concert hall. They were standing in line for quite a while, but eventually, the line dissolved, and they made it back outside. They walked towards the yellow bug, and Emma couldn’t help but smile. This had been another successful date.

Regina looked very contend too, even though she kept wiping underneath her eyes. Emma grinned a little at that. Regina was clearly wearing waterproof mascara tonight and was just being paranoid.

They climbed into the yellow bug, and Emma switched the engine on. Soon she maneuvered the car out of the parking lot, and she saw how Regina leaned back in her seat. She didn’t seem to mind that this was a yellow bug and not a Mercedes.

“That was an amazing concert,” Emma said as they made it back on the main road.

Regina nodded and smiled a little.

“That opera singer really...” Emma ran out of fancy words and settled for using a more “modern” one: “wow”.

Regina’s eyes sparkled at that, and she nodded again.

Yes, the concert had been wonderful, and if Emma had to come up with something she had been dissatisfied with, it would have to be the fact that there hadn’t been a lot of opportunity to communicate
with Regina. The concert had been an amazing experience, but Emma so cherished all the written post-its. There had been a bit too few of them tonight. But that was rectifiable as well. Emma had every intention about asking Regina out again. She would take her to another restaurant. And she would bring plenty of post-its with her.

Emma briefly glanced at Regina. The brunette had leaned back in her seat and had closed her eyes. It could have looked like she had fallen asleep if it hadn’t been for the little smile on her lips. Emma guessed that she was sitting and soaking up the concert.

“Feels pretty strange just to be going home after this, huh?” Emma asked.

Regina opened her eyes and laughed soundlessly as she nodded in agreement.

“But its like it sort of just took all your energy, isn’t it?” Emma continued. She felt incredibly tired, but in a very good way.

Regina nodded again and then adjusted her collar on her trench coat a bit.

Emma stole another glance before turning her attention back to the road. Regina looked absolutely wonderful tonight. She was so, so beautiful. Emma had never felt so weak before in her life. Everything about Regina made her heart beat faster in her chest, and Emma noted that her palms had gone sweaty again. They were slipping slightly on the wheel. One could debate what had been the most beautiful thing tonight. The concert. Or Regina. Emma knew what she would choose.

 

Much too soon she could park the little yellow bug in front of Regina’s sisters house, and Emma silently complained about this. She didn’t want to say goodbye to Regina just yet. But she didn’t have much of a choice, really. So she would have to settle for being a “gentlewoman” and walking Regina to the front door.

Regina looked slightly surprised when Emma exited the car as well and then walked up the pathway with her. Maybe she had expected Emma to remain sitting in the car.

“Well...” Emma said as they made it to the front door.

Regina smiled.

“I had a really great time tonight,” Emma said, and oh god, how she meant it!

Regina found her phone in her purse and quickly began typing on it. Then she turned the screen towards Emma: ‘so did I. Thank you for coming with me.’

“Thank YOU for inviting me,” Emma said gently.

Regina offered a light shrug and then frowned slightly as she typed on her phone once more. After a moment she turned the screen towards Emma again: ‘but I’m not completely happy with the fact that I managed to make a bit of a fool of myself at the concert.’

“What do you mean?” Emma asked, now frowning too.

Regina brushed her fingers over her cheek as though she was wiping tears away. Then she shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“Seriously?” Emma said disbelievingly. “You’re embarrassed about that?”

Regina nodded.

“Don’t be,” Emma said quickly. “Seriously, don’t. You have nothing to be embarrassed about, Regina. Tears are nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Regina didn’t look like she completely agreed, but then she seemed to shake it off. She smiled at Emma and then turned slightly to put a hand on the doorknob.

“Wait,” Emma said. She wasn’t completely sure why. Maybe it was her unwillingness to say goodbye to Regina, or making the impulse came because she kept thinking about how touchingly beautiful it had been to witness Regina cry over the music.

Or maybe she asked the brunette to wait simply because the moment was just right.

And Regina waited. She raised an eyebrow in slight surprise, and then she looked expectantly at Emma.

Emma saw an opportunity and grasped it. Simple as that. She leaned forward and then kissed Regina very, very gently. They were standing closely together, but Emma didn’t even put her hands on
Regina’s shoulders. Tonight this was enough. Tonight the soft brush of their lips connecting was all Emma needed. Regina’s lips were soft and warm and wonderful against her own, and her perfume completely filled Emma’s nostrils and made her feel ever so slightly drunk. She could feel how Regina shifted slightly, could feel the rapid beating of her heart.

The kiss didn’t last long as was as fine and delicate as a soap bubble. Everything about it was absolutely perfect, and Emma could feel a smile blossom on her lips as she pulled back and looked at Regina.

But what she saw wasn’t what she had expected or hoped to see. She had hoped to see Regina return the smile, but instead she was confronted with dark eyes that flickered as though the brunette was anxious, and hands that came up to tug dark strands of hair behind her ear.

Emma was confused. If she didn’t know any better, she would say that Regina was AFRAID, but surely, that couldn’t be the case. Emma refused to believe that. No. Regina had returned the kiss, she was sure of that, and yet it felt like something was off. There was that little shift. The teeny tiny barely-there change in Regina’s mood.

“What?” Emma asked quietly. Had she done something wrong? Has she somehow misread things completely?

Her question seemed to bring Regina back from whatever journey she had been on. The light and life returned to the brunette’s dark eyes, and she shook her head and smiled at Emma. Then she lifted her hand and gave Emma the slightest, soft little pat on the cheek before she thrusted one hand inside her purse and found the key to her house.

“Goodnight,” Emma said. She wasn’t completely sure what else to say.

Just as she had said it, Regina succeeded in unlocking the door. She opened the door but turned around before going inside. She flashed Emma a smile. A slightly different smile. A smile that was... Emma couldn’t quite explain it. And before she could get the chance to think more about it, she saw Regina’s lips move, and the brunette wordlessly formed the word ‘goodnight’. Then she went inside the house and closed the door softly behind her.

There wasn’t much more Emma could do here, really, and her high heels echoed slightly against the pavement as she walked back towards her car. She was slightly confused, but the confusion was so easily overshadowed by the happiness she was feeling. She had kissed Regina. She had finally kissed Regina. It felt as though she was completely light and could fly. Their third date couldn’t come soon enough for Emma. Everything about tonight had been absolutely perfect, and Emma couldn’t wait to tell Ella all about it when she got back home.

The blonde whistled, actually whistled as she climbed back inside the car and switched the engine on. She maneuvered the car away from the house and flicked around between the stations until she found a radio station she wanted to listen to. One that played classical music.

 

 

Emma still felt completely light when she parked the car in front of Eugenia’s Inn. And she didn’t feel so sleepy anymore. She felt full of energy. As though kissing Regina had given her some sort of boost.

Maybe she wouldn’t be going to bed right away. Maybe she would sit up and write for a while.

The restaurant was quiet when Emma stepped inside. Ruby was probably out with Dorothy, and Eugenia was most likely out on another round of neighborhood watch. With her crossbow. Emma chuckled as she went up the wooden staircase and then padded down the hallway towards her own room. She inserted the key into the lock and pushed the door open.

The first thing she did when she had closed (and locked) the door behind her, was slipping her shoes off. The blonde moaned a little in sheer relief. God, that felt good. Her feet had been sort of dying after having been trapped in Elsa’s shoes for an entire night.

Next Emma unzipped her silvery sequin gown and wiggled out of it. Instead of carefully folding the dress, she simply left it hanging over the back of a chair. Maybe she had gotten a boost of energy, but right now she couldn’t be bothered to put the dress away. She unhooked her bra and left that on the chair as well. Then she opened one of the drawers in her dresser and found the long t-shirt she slept in. Relief flooded her system as she slipped the t-shirt over her head. That felt amazing too. She ran her fingers through her hair and then wandered into the bathroom to brush her teeth and find a rubber band so she could tie her hair back in a ponytail. She yawned a little as she brushed her teeth. The taste of her toothpaste made her realize that she hadn’t been thinking about the smell of her breath when she kissed Regina tonight. Emma cringed a little. It was a good thing she hadn’t eaten garlic or anything. Next time she would bring some peppermint pastels or something like that. Emma snorted quietly as she resumed brushing her teeth.

Once that was done, there was only one thing she wanted to do. To switch on her laptop, climb under the covers and then write for a little while before turning in. But there was one thing she needed to do before that could happen. The blonde grinned as she reached within her purse and found the few post-it notes Regina had managed to write to her during the night. More to add to a growing collection.

Maybe it was silly, but Emma didn’t care. She had officially become a collector of Regina’s messages. And honestly, she didn’t see anything wrong with that. There were worse things to be a collector off.

She crouched down in front of the dresser as she cracked the third drawer open. The one where she kept all the messages from Regina. Emma laughed a little to herself and her thoughts wandered to Regina as she stuffed the post-it notes into the drawer. ‘More notes to add to the collection,’ she thought to herself.

But then something made her pause. Something made her frown and open the drawer completely. At first, she wasn’t completely sure what it was that had made her pause and open the drawer once more, but then she realized that it was that same, paranoid feeling she’d had throughout the week. The feeling that something had been removed from her room. Emma hadn’t been able to pinpoint exactly what it was. Until now.

Her library card was missing. That was the first thing Emma noticed, and her instinctive, first thought was to curse her intruder far, far away. God damn it, she had just gotten that library card, for fucks sake!

But then it dawned upon her that something else was missing from the drawer as well.

All the post-it notes from Regina were gone.

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma’s jaw clenched. Was this another of Mary Margaret’s attempts of control, stealing the messages from Regina? Had she found the messages and become enraged that Emma seemingly had gotten closer to someone?

Yeah, that could very well be it. Emma could still vividly remember what had happened when she had started dating Lily. Mary Margaret had been calling the blonde nonstop, spewing out lies about Lily and how “homosexuality was a sin”.

She could very well still be working from the same pattern. Emma’s hands balled into fists. Nicking her library card was one thing but stealing the messages from Regina was another thing. Those messages were important to Emma.

The question was, what was she supposed to do now? Did she call Graham? No, that seemed ridiculous. She couldn’t call him to report that she had her library card and a stack of post-it messages stolen.

That was ridiculous.

Emma rose from her kneeling position on the floor. The floorboards creaked a bit as she walked over to the window and lifted the blinds to look out. The only one she could see was Leroy, walking up and down the street. With his axe. That almost amused Emma for a second, but then more pressing matters overtook her thoughts. Emma was beginning to wonder what the hell Mary Margaret’s endgame was. What was she trying to accomplish? Emma couldn’t for the life of her figure that out. The break in, stealing her library card and the messages from Regina, what was the point with all that? To taunt Emma? To let her know that she never would escape Mary Margaret’s clutches no matter where she went?

Emma frowned. She supposed that could be it. But if that was the case, Mary Margaret had completely escalated. This made her completely unpredictable, and Emma realized that from now she wouldn’t be able to tell what Mary Margaret’s next move, and the blonde felt seriously creeped out by it. Maybe that was Mary Margaret’s endgame. To make her afraid. To taunt. “Look what I can do, I broke into your room, and there’s not a single thing you can do about it”

Emma released the blinds, and they fluttered back against the window with a slight “critch-critch”-sound. If that really was the case, Emma determined to not let her adoptive mother win. She refused to be afraid of Mary Margaret.

Emma walked back to her bed and sat down. She felt very, very tempted to A: call Mary Margaret and order her to leave her the hell alone, or B: call David and screech at him and ask him if he knew what his dear sweet wife was up to. If he didn’t, Emma was MORE than willing to fill him in.

Emma pursed her lips as she considered this new development. And then she marveled a little bit at herself. Throughout the week, she’d had the hunch that something had been removed from her room, and now it turned out that she was right. Damn, her hunches were pretty good.

The blonde sighed a little. First, she came home from her dinner date with Regina to find the door to her room open, and now this. Mary Margaret was definitely aiming for destroying Emma’s happiness.

The blonde sighed again as she flopped back on the bed. Seriously, she’d just had the most amazing night ever. The concert had been wonderful, and that kiss...

Emma frowned ever so slightly. Yes, the kiss had been amazing, and yet... she tugged a loose strand of hair behind her ear as she considered it. In the heat of the moment, Emma had been a bit too distracted to fully notice it, but now when her head was a bit clearer, she found herself thinking about that look in Regina’s eyes. Regina had returned the kiss, Emma was sure about that, but afterwards... that look in her eyes. That slightly panicked look that had been barely there, and yet still very much present. The way Emma’s question seemingly had made her snap out of it and “come back” so to speak.

Emma pursed her lips slightly. If she had misread the signs, Regina would have returned the kiss, would she? They had ended the night on good terms, hadn’t they?

Yes, they had. Emma was certain of that.

But still, it couldn’t hurt to check in, could it? Emma reached out and grabbed her phone from the nightstand. Then she quickly typed and sent: ‘hey, I just wanted to say thank you again. I had a really good time tonight.’

She waited for a few minutes. Regina was always quick to text back, but tonight Emma’s phone remained silent. The blonde didn’t take that as a bad sign, though. She simply took as a sign that Regina probably was tired after the concert and had gone to bed.

Perhaps Emma should do the same. Discovering that her library card and the notes from Regina had been stolen, had put a damper on her urge to write, and it was actually getting a bit late. Going to bed would probably be the wisest thing to do. And plus, tomorrow was Sunday. Emma would have all the time in the world to write tomorrow. Yes. Going to bed now was a sensible thing to do. But before she could do that, there was just a few things she needed to do. The blonde rose from the bed and went over to the door. She pressed the doorknob down and then tugged. The door didn’t budge and inch.

Good. Then she went over to the window and lifted the blinds once more to peek outside. She couldn’t see anyone. No mysterious cars driving around, and no hidden figures peering up at her room.

Good. That made Emma feel a bit calmer. She loosened her grip on the blinds and then went back to bed.

 

Sunday was a calm day.

Emma was up an hour earlier than what was required. But it was self-chosen. She wanted to be up early so she could spend the morning on writing. And that was exactly what she did. She was on a roll this particular morning, and she had blasted out 3,000 words before ten o’clock. Emma felt very accomplished when she went downstairs to the restaurant to get a bite to eat. Obviously, she ran into Ruby who wanted to know “all about” the date last night. Emma truthfully told her that the concert had been amazing, but she didn’t give away any details.

After having had breakfast, Emma returned to her room. More writing was on the schedule, but first she checked her phone. There was a message from Ella. And nothing else. No messages from Regina.

Emma pursed her lips slightly. Was that strange? Emma couldn’t determine whether it was strange. On the one hand, she had gotten the impression that Regina was an early riser, but on the other hand, it was Sunday today. Regina could be sleeping in. But then again it was nearly ten thirty now. Emma was all for sleeping in, but for some reason she couldn’t imagine Regina to be one for sleeping that long.

The blonde scratched her chin as she contemplated whether or not she should be alarmed by this. She decided to keep it cool for now. Maybe Regina and Henry were out or something like that. That could be the reason. Mother and son were spending the Sunday together. Yes, that was probably it.

Emma returned to her laptop, eager to “slay” a few more words. But ever so often, her eyes would wander towards the phone. The silent phone. Emma scoffed, shook her head. It was ridiculous to be worried. Why should she be? She and Regina had had the most amazing time out last night, and today Regina was spending the Sunday with her kid. It made perfect sense. Emma was just being paranoid.

And given the weird things that had been going on lately, maybe that wasn’t so strange. She should cut herself some more slack.

Emma continued her writing, and since there was no one in the other rooms that could be bothered by it, she switched on some music. Some classical music. Normally, she wasn’t one for listening to music while she wrote, but she found the classical tunes to be rather inspiring. And plus, they reminded her of last night, which was definitely an added bonus. God, Regina had looked so beautiful as she had sat there and cried over the music. It had been such a beautiful thing to witness. Possible even more beautiful than the music they had listened to. Emma shook her head as she reminded herself that she was actually writing right now, and while it was nice to think about Regina, she shouldn’t let herself be so distracted. She actually had a book to finish.

The blonde soldiered on and kept writing steadily. Her plan was to continue until lunch time and then go for a walk to get some fresh air and gain new inspiration.

 

Yes, Sunday was a calm, slow day.

Emma carefully followed the plan she had made for herself. She kept writing until it was lunch time. Then she went downstairs and bought her usual grilled cheese sandwich. And once she’d had lunch, she headed out on her daily walk. First, she walked to the harbor, and then she swung by that house she had been looking at for some time now. The house she hoped would be hers someday. It was still very much for sale, and Emma lingered for quite a while and wished that it would be possible for her to take a look inside the house. Just to see. Just to know whether the house was as great on the inside as it was on the outside.

She managed to walk around in Steveston for about an hour, and she was lucky enough to run into Isabelle Gold. She stopped and chatted to the brunette for a while, and then asked if she could have a new library card. Obviously, Isabelle asked what had happened to the first one, but Emma didn’t tell her the truth. Instead she settled for telling the librarian that she accidentally had lost her old library card. The disappointment was obvious on Isabelle’s face for a second, but then the brunette chuckled, shook her head and then playfully scolded Emma. And then said that yes, of course she could have a new library card. Emma profusely thanked her for that.

After having talked to Isabelle, Emma quickly doubled back to Eugenia’s Inn and fetched the stilettos she had borrowed from Elsa. It was better to return them now when she could remember it. Otherwise she would just end up forgetting it again and again.

Elsa was very much home when Emma arrived with the shoes, and she quickly ushered Emma inside for a cup of coffee. One that Emma couldn’t refuse. She ended up meeting Elsa’s sister, Anna, and her husband Kristoff. Both of them were very sweet people, and Emma had a grand old time drinking coffee with the two frost sisters and Kristoff.

Once Anna and Kristoff had headed out on their own walk in Steveston, Elsa immediately began asking about the date. Emma gave a few more details this time, and she also told Elsa about the kiss. But she didn’t tell Elsa about the odd look she had detected in Regina’s eyes afterwards, though.

Elsa was very happy for her and claimed that she could sense that Emma was “completely head over heels in love”. Emma laughed and didn’t ever bother denying it. Because Elsa was absolutely correct.

Emma was indeed very much completely head over heels for Regina.

Elsa asked about whether there was going to be a third date, and Emma answered that she was very optimistic that there would be. Elsa then laughed, patted her hand and told her how happy she was for her.

Emma was happy too. Despite what other weird things happening in her life, she was happy.

After having spent entirely too long at Elsa’s place, Emma returned to her room at Eugenia’s Inn. Now she really HAD to write. Her fingers were positively itching to write. But first she checked her phone and frowned a little at what she discovered. Which was absolutely nothing. There were still no messages from Regina. Oh well. Emma tried not to take that too hard as she grabbed the laptop, shuffled into bed and then placed the computer in her lap. She was certain that Regina would text her at some point during the day.

 

But that didn’t happen.

Emma kept writing steadily that Sunday, and throughout the day, she made a point of regularly checking her phone. And still there was nothing. No messages from Regina. Not even a peep.

As afternoon became early evening, Emma was starting to feel ever so slightly alarmed by it. What was going on? Why hadn’t Regina texted back? She always texted back? Was it possible that the brunette hadn’t even received her message? Could there be something wrong with Regina’s phone? Or could there be something wrong with Regina? Or with Henry? It could be Henry. Maybe he had gotten sick during the night or something. Maybe that was the reason why Regina hadn’t texted her back. She was busy taking care of her sick son. That was okay. That was more than a valid excuse to not text her back. Emma really wanted to settle for believing that that was what was going on, but still, it kept niggling in the back of her head throughout the evening as she kept writing and writing and writing. Regina kept popping up ever so often.

Emma went downstairs to have dinner. She checked her phone when she came back to her room, and still nothing. No messages. She settled down in front of her laptop and resumed her writing. Checked her phone again after about twenty minutes. No messages from Regina.

That pattern continued throughout the evening, and Emma was almost relieved when it became time to go to bed. When she was asleep, she couldn’t think about Regina and obsess about why she hadn’t texted her all day. Emma knew that there was all sorts of sensible reasons as to why Regina hadn’t texted her today, but all the alarm clocks in the blonde’s head were ringing steadily.

After having written down a few more words and started the next chapter in her fairytale collection, Emma gave up and went into the bathroom to prepare for bed. When she came back, she hoped that some sort of miracle had occurred, but when she checked her phone, it was exactly the same. No new text messages.

Emma went to bed with her mind swimming with concerned thoughts.

 

*****************

Next day was a Monday, and for that Emma was grateful. She was glad she was going to work. Maybe that would distract her. Maybe she would stop thinking and imagining worst case scenarios.

She was quick to shower and get dressed. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and then she grabbed her laptop and stuffed it into the waiting bag along with her phone. Her silent phone. Her phone that hadn’t shown any new messages from Regina for far too long now.

Emma slipped her leather jacket on and then slung the bag over her shoulder as she left the room. She carefully locked the door and then padded down the hallway towards the staircase.

Downstairs she found Ruby and Eugenia. Ruby were standing behind the counter, and Eugenia was engaged in a chat with a little, grey-haired man only known as “Doc”. Emma had actually no idea what his real name was.

“’Morning, Ems,” Ruby smiled.

“Good morning,” Emma said and returned the smile even though she felt a bit disheartened.

Ruby frowned. “What’s with the look, Ems? Not eager to go to work?”

“Oh no, ‘course I am,” Emma said quickly and then lied: “I’m just a bit sleepy, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Ruby chuckled. “Been dreaming about your lady all night, have you?”

“You’re hilarious,” Emma deadpanned.

The playfulness disappeared from Ruby’s face, and the waitress sounded more sincere when she said: “seriously, you’d say if something was wrong, right?”

“Of course,” Emma said, flashing her a reassuring smile.

Ruby was quick to return Emma’s smile, and then she wished the blonde a good day at work.

Emma thanked her and then left the restaurant. She couldn’t quite explain why she hadn’t told Ruby about the missing library card and the missing notes from Regina. Maybe because it was such a random thing for Mary Margaret to take, or maybe because Emma didn’t want to cause further concern for anyone. Eugenia had already arranged a neighborhood watch because of the break in. And besides, nothing had happened since the break in. Everything had been so calm. Emma simply couldn’t bear to tell that something had in fact been taken from her room. It wasn’t her laptop, or her money. It was a library card and a stack of post-it notes. It wasn’t a theft worth mentioning to anyone.

Emma climbed into her yellow bug and as she checked her appearance in the mirror, she felt incredibly tempted to check her cellphone, but she decided not to.

Why torture herself?

 

Today was a busy day at Dragon Publishing. The place was bustling with activity. Everyone were either passing each other in the hallway while fetching coffee or hauled up in their offices. Emma knew for a fact that she wouldn’t see August today. He was plenty busy in his own office. She didn’t see Malena either, but she ran into Merida, and the young redhead told Emma that Malena and Ursula were having a meeting. They were in the middle of planning the cover for Victoria De Villiers newest book. Emma was still very much excited about that, and she couldn’t wait to see the finished result.

Emma too had quite a busy day ahead of her. She had a manuscript she needed to finish proofreading, and once she was done with that, she had promised Tindra Bell to help out with editing another manuscript.

The blonde quickly went into her own-not-quite-office. She hoped that Malena would eventually clear the room a bit so it would be less cluttered. And maybe buy a newer desk so it would look a bit more like a proper office.

Emma found her laptop in her bag and switched it on. After a few moments she tapped in her password and then waited some more. She shivered slightly and rubbed her arms. Today was nippy, and her office seemed chillier than usually. Emma settled down in front of her laptop. She should have worn a sweater over her top. Oh well. She would just keep her leather jacket on and hope that would be enough to shield her from the cold.

She found the manuscript on her laptop and then rubbed her eyes slightly. It wasn’t that she was tired as such, but her contact lenses had bothered her so much this morning, she had ended up taking them out again. Emma reached within her bag and found her glasses. Normally she didn’t wear those, but today was a bit of an emergency. While she still had her hand in her bag, she grabbed her phone.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to be on her phone while she was at work, but there was no one around to see it. She could cheat a little. The blonde sneaked the phone out of her bag and then tapped once to make the screen light up.

No text messages. Emma instantly felt disappointed. And concerned. She wanted to reach out to Regina and ask what was going on, but at the same time it like a slightly obsessive thing to do. Intrusive, in a way. She decided that she would wait until tonight, and if she still hadn’t heard anything from Regina, she would text her again and ask if everything was okay. Emma still hoped there was a completely reasonable explanation for Regina’s absence.

The blonde frowned a bit as she turned her attention to the manuscript on her laptop. She chewed a bit on her bottom lip as well, but she refused to spend her workday worrying about Regina. She could damn well do that when she got home. And knowing herself, she probably would end up doing just that.

It actually ended up being a pretty productive morning for Emma.

She finished reading the manuscript, and for once she had found something she wasn’t overly thrilled about. Yes, the manuscript was good, but the plot needed some tightening, some brushing up. It was too overly detailed. It needed more editing; it could easily be a hundredth pages shorter. In fact Emma believed that that would make the story much, much better. There were too many unnecessary side plots and side characters that seemed to be more fillers than important for the manuscript and the story the writer was trying to tell. That was Emma’s opinion, and she was sure that Malena was gonna feel the same way about the manuscript. It needed more work. And maybe it wasn’t Dragon Publishing’s style. Emma had an inkling that it wasn’t.

Emma rose from her seat. Now she was supposed to go out and find Tindra Bell so they could work on editing that manuscript together, but before she could head out on her “quest”, she became distracted at how chilly it was in here. Emma rubbed her leather clad arms again. The jacket didn’t give her much shelter from the cold. Maybe she should go ask Malena if she could find a warmer place to sit.

Emma quickly scanned the office, and then she rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. Or maybe she should try and close the window that was cracked open. Maybe that would do wonders for the temperature in here. Emma chuckled dryly. Nice one, Swan. Talk about being distracted and not paying attention to anything. Obviously, it was good that she had been focusing so thoroughly on her work, but maybe it wouldn’t harm to pay attention to open windows. Emma really wasn’t interested in catching a cold or maybe even a pneumonia.

Emma changed direction; turned away from the door and walked back towards her desk. She elegantly slipped in between the desk and the wall and then stood on her tippy toes to close the window. She groaned a little under her breath as the window hook latch slipped slightly between her fingers. Why had anyone even opened the window? It was bloody cold. Emma guessed it was Malena. She was always warm no matter how cold it were. Constantly complaining that the building was like “a bloody oven!” And her complaints about being too warm could easily be compared to a dragons’ dissatisfied snarl.

Emma’s strained groan was replaced by a slight chuckle as she wrestled with the window. Stupid old window. Stupid old window that had absolutely no business being open. Not even if Malena felt warm. This was not Malena’s office. It was Emma’s. And if she wanted to close her window, she would damn well do it!

But maybe she would crack the window open before leaving the office. She didn’t want to make “the dragon” angry. The blonde chuckled slightly once more.

Finally, Emma managed to get a good hold of the hook latch, and she almost grinned triumphantly as she was pulled at the hook latch to shut the window. And as she stood on her tippy toes to close the window, she briefly looked out at the parking lot.

It was in that moment she spotted it. At first, she only saw it out of the corner of her eye, but once she picked up on what it actually was, Emma more or less hoisted herself up in the windowsill and then poked her head as far out of the window as she possibly could without accidentally falling out of the window.

There it was again. The grey station car. The same one that had been following her. Emma was certain of that, and she could feel how her heart started to hammer in her chest. Her palms slipped slightly on the windowsill. That car. That fucking same car! Emma could barely believe her eyes, even refused to believe her eyes for a moment. This couldn’t be fucking happening again.

But she couldn’t very well ignore the cold facts staring her in the face. And the fact was that the grey station car was back. Again.

And what’s more, there was also a man walking around in the parking lot. Emma was sure it was a man because the person seemed to be quite tall. But unfortunately enough, it was impossible to get a good, thorough look at the guy because he was wearing a hoodie. Emma almost laughed at the cliché. A hoodie. A fucking HOODIE! God, what was this? A bad thriller movie or something? It was certainly beginning to feel like one. This was ridiculous.

What she COULD see however, was that this stranger appeared to be walking around her car as though he was some mechanic working on the yellow bug and currently trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with the car.

One hell of a creepy mechanic, that was.

Emma had seen enough. She had most definitely seen enough. And she reached instinctively. The blonde quietly pulled her head back into the office. She was certain that he hadn’t seen her, but to make sure he didn’t hear her either, she left the window wide open as she left her office.

She speed walked down the hall and ran up the stairs instead of taking the elevators. Emma doubted that she had ever ran that fast before in her life. Her lungs were burning slightly, but she didn’t care about that. Right now, the only thing she cared about was reaching Malena’s office and inform her of what was going on. God, she hoped she would be fast enough! If she was, there was a slight chance they could actually catch the guy. Emma very much wanted to ask him what the hell he was playing at.

And soon she did reach the door to Malena’s office. She didn’t even bother to knock or announce herself in any other way. She simply pressed the doorknob down and bursted inside the office.

Had the situation been any different, Emma would have been both shocked and slightly amused at what she was seeing. Ursula Clearwater was perched on Malena’s desk, while Malena was standing in front of her. Ursula’s long, tanned legs were wrapped around Malena’s slim waist, and the dark haired woman’s skirt had ridden up. Malena’s hands had one hand behind Ursula's neck, and one hand on her upper thigh as they were making out heatedly.

Ursula was the first one to notice Emma, and the Afro-American woman yelped in pure surprise as she broke the kiss.

That caused Malena to turn around, and her crystal blue eyes gleamed dangerously as she looked at Emma and then opened her mouth.

“There’s a strange man on the parking lot, he’s walking around my car!” Emma said before Malena could get the chance to say anything.

“I beg your pardon?” Malena said, she sounded ever so slightly out of breath.

“A man. In the parking lot,” Emma said quickly. “He’s driving a grey station car, and I’ve seen the car here before, and I’ve seen it on my way home from work as well. I think I’m being followed.”

“I’ll send for security,” Malena said with ice cold professionalism. “Stay here.” she walked out of the office and Emma and Ursula were left on their own.

Ursula elegantly hopped off the counter and adjusted her skirt slightly. There was a smear of lipstick on her chin, Emma noted.

“You’re being followed?” Ursula asked, impressively unbothered by the fact that Emma had just walked in on her and Malena.

“Yeah,” Emma said with a nod.

“How long has that been going on?” Ursula asked and lifted an eyebrow.

“I’m not really sure,” Emma said. “Possibly for a few weeks.” Or possibly since she was kicked out at seventeen.

“Shit,” Ursula said plainly. “Let’s hope security will get the guy.”

“Yeah.” Emma was really hoping the same thing. She was positively DYING to ask the guy a number of different questions. Specifically what the hell his problem was. Emma shifted on her feet and fidgeted with her fingers. Was it possible that the guy in the hoodie could be David? Could he be acting on his wife’s behalf? Was he doing it out of vengeance because the police had been and talked to him and Mary Margaret? Was this his way of getting back at Emma for having made his precious wife upset?

Valid reasons, but for some reason the thought of it potentially being David stalking her, made Emma feel even more uncomfortable than if it had been Mary Margaret. Because she knew what she could expect from Mary Margaret. Odd phone calls. But David.... He had never been a strong factor in Emma’s childhood and youth. He had mostly just been there as a shadowy figure heeding Mary Margaret’s every order.

Could he really be the shadowy figure following her now?

It wasn’t unlikely. Emma began walking up and down the floor in Malena’s office. She was worried. She both wanted it to be David and NOT be David. She wasn’t ready to be confronted with her adoptive father. She kinda hoped that it was someone Mary Margaret and David had hired to follow her. It would be easier to be confronted with a complete stranger.

“Are you okay?” Ursula asked and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Emma nodded and then rubbed her chin awkwardly. “I’m sorry for uhm... interrupting you.”

“Oh,” Ursula said and shrugged lightly. “I guess it was only a matter of time before someone found out about it.”

That remark was enough to distract Emma for a millisecond. Clearly, this was something that had been going on for quite a while. Now it suddenly made sense that Ursula often were accompanying Malena on her book scouting’s and “meetings”. Emma briefly wondered how much work Malena and Ursula actually had done during those “meetings”.

“I suppose it’s rather ironic given how Malena is the one who has forbidden colleagues to get involved,” Ursula said dryly.

Emma chuckled involuntarily, and for a moment she was afraid that she had insulted Ursula, but the other woman just chuckled slightly and then shook her head.

Emma’s distraction didn’t last long, though, and soon she found herself walking up and down the floor once more. She was driving herself nuts, but she couldn’t help it. She couldn’t just stand still like a statue.

“Do you think she meant both of us?” Ursula asked nonchalantly.

Emma’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Do you think that she meant we both should stay here?” the other woman clarified.

“I have no idea,” Emma said truthfully.

“Hmm,” Ursula said.

Emma felt distracted for another millisecond. It actually felt kinda good, knowing that Malena and Ursula had a thing, because Emma had been worried about Malena’s obvious interest in Regina. She had been fearing that there were old flames that were still flickering, or something like that. But now it would appear that she didn’t have to worry about anything. Malena was interested in Ursula. Not Regina.

That was a bit of a relief for Emma. A huge relief anything. Emma wasn’t interested in fighting with anyone over Regina. Least of all her boss. That would have been pretty awful. No. It would have been REALLY awful.

Emma snapped out of her musings when she heard footsteps approaching the office. She looked up, and Ursula did the same.

The next second, Malena stepped into the office. The older blonde looked very disgruntled, and her voice was sharp when she said: “damn it!”

Emma’s heart plummeted. She had a vague inkling about what that ‘damn it’ had meant.

And she was right.

“Unfortunately, my staff weren’t able to catch the guy,” Malena said, and her blue eyes gleamed dangerously. “I don’t know what kind of drugs he were on, but by the time we made it out on the parking
lot, he sprinted into his car and took off. He nearly ran one of my men over, might I add.”

“Oh my god,” Emma said.

“But we did get his license plate, so I have every intention about calling the police and informing them of the incident,” Malena said seriously. “From now on, the parking lot will be patrolled by my security
staff.”

“That’s good,” Emma said.

“And furthermore, we’ve checked your car,” Malena continued. “No harm has come to it. None of the tires has been slashed.”

Emma nodded. That was good news too.

“You mentioned that you’ve been followed,” Malena said as she sat down behind her desk. “How long has this been going on?”

Emma took a deep breath and then she told Malena everything. Seeing the grey station car in her rearview mirror. Realizing it was following her, and then shaking it off. The two hang up calls, and finally the break-in in her room, and the odd theft of her library card and the post-it. And furthermore, she told Malena all about Mary Margaret and her obsessive behavior.

“I see,” Malena nodded. “Well, I’m glad you informed me of this, miss Swan. My security staff has been alerted, and they’ll keep an eye on things. I trust you’ve already contacted the police in Steveston?”

“I have,” Emma confirmed with a nod. “And they contacted the local police in Forest Hill. They had a little chat with Mary Margaret and David, but it clearly hasn’t helped.”

Malena nodded seriously.

“The guy who ran away...” Emma said. “Did you get any chance to see if he had blonde hair? Maybe his hoodie fell off or something.”

“No. I’m sorry,” Malena said. “We didn’t get the chance to get a good look at the bastard.”

“Oh,” Emma said. “Well, thank you for your help anyway. I should probably... I’m sorry for barging in like that.”

“You had a valid excuse,” Malena said and shot Ursula a quick look. “And I trust you’ll be discreet.”

“Yeah. Of course,” Emma promised.

“Good. I don’t think he’ll dare coming back here,” Malena said grimly. “We definitely made him run for it.”

“Yeah,” Emma chuckled. “Thank you, Malena.”

“You’re very welcome, miss Swan. Would you like to take the rest of the day off?”

“No, of course not,” Emma said quickly. “I’m good with resuming my work.”

“Excellent,” Malena said and flashed her a smile.

Emma returned the smile, nodded to Ursula and then left the office. As soon as the door had closed behind her, she heard Ursula say: “oops.”

Malena scoffed. “No kidding, but I’d rather have her walk in on us than coming out on the parking lot and finding her tires slashed or something like that.”

“You’re right,” Ursula said.

Emma heard Malena’s heels click slightly against the floor. “If I ever see that guy again, I’ll rip him apart.”

“Malena...” Ursula admonished.

But Malena wasn’t that easily calmed down. “I assure you, I’m quite serious, dear,” she said. “No one threatens my employees and gets away with it.”

“You need to calm down,” Ursula said, and her voice dropped an octave or two. “Come on, let me help you relax...”

“Ursula.” Malena protested.

“It’s alright,” Ursula husked. “Relax.”

That was when Emma hastily moved away from the door and jogged down the hallway. She definitely did not need to hear this.

This time she took the elevator to get back to her office, and as she waited for the elevator to arrive, she wondered. Wondered what the endgame was in all this. Would there be a confrontation? Would
David or whoever the fuck it was show up?

Emma’s imagination went into overdrive as she imagined herself being ambushed, drugged and then forced all the way back to Toronto. Was that the endgame in all of this? Making her come back to Toronto? Or was David and Mary Margaret actually planning on harming her? Use the grey station car to run her off the road?

Emma snorted quietly to herself as she stepped inside the elevator. Now her brain was definitely coming up with all sorts of crazy scenarios. And she had to stop doing that. It wouldn’t help the matter.

However horrible it sounded, she would just have to wait and see what was gonna happen.

And possibly arm herself with a bottle of hairspray every time she went out. That was the least she could do for now.

 

*******************************

Obviously, Emma was every bit paranoid when she drove home from work, and she kept checking and checking the rearview mirror.

But no grey station car appeared in the mirror. The guy had clearly been scared off by Malena’s security staff. For now. Emma didn’t dare believing that this was the last she had seen of her mysterious stalker.

She adjusted the rearview mirror again. David? Or someone he and Mary Margaret had hired? Emma wasn’t sure. There was only one person she could think about who would be willing to do this for Mary Margaret. Her uncle. Leopold White. He and Mary Margaret had always been incredibly close, and he had once told Emma that he was willing to do “anything” for Mary Margaret.

The question was, would he be willing to do this as well?

Emma felt tempted to answer with a loud and clear “yes!”. Leopold White was creepy. He had always been creepy. The way he cared for Mary Margaret had always been completely over the top.

So, had it really been him Emma had seen walking around her car?

Possibly. The hoodie-wearing person was roughly the same height as Leopold White was. It was definitely possible that it really was him.

Emma paranoidly checked the rearview mirror again, but there was nothing. No grey station car in sight.

She didn’t feel soothed though. She instinctively knew that this wasn’t the end of it. Emma scoffed quietly. She would actually have preferred to know for sure that it was David or Mary Margaret in her room than having a hunch that it could be Leopold White. That guy gave her the creeps. He had always been giving her the creeps.

Emma rounded a corner. She would soon be home, and despite what had happened there, Emma still felt safe in her hotel room. She knew that no one would get past Eugenia and her crossbow. The blonde chuckled a little as she remembered the sight of Eugenia Wolf, patrolling the street while waving her crossbow around. Perhaps Malena should ask her to patrol the parking lot in front of Dragon Publishing. That would surely scare everyone away.

Emma glanced in the rearview mirror again. Still nothing. She was still safe. Her car was a safe place. Malena had insisted that it had been checked thoroughly before Emma climbed inside and drove home. She refused to take any chances.

In an attempt to keep things normal, Emma switched the radio on and tried her best to listen to the rock music playing. It didn’t help enormously, but still, it helped a little. Emma stepped slightly on the speeder. Today had been quite a day. She just wanted to go home and relax. Read a book. Eat some nice food. Maybe stop by Elsa’s place for a chat. Talk to her friend. Try not to think too much about what had happened today.

 

The first thing Emma saw when she walked down the hallway towards her own room, was a white envelope left right by her door. The blonde immediately felt alarmed, but nevertheless picked up the white envelope and ripped it open. Relief immediately flooded her. It wasn’t a threatening letter. It was a library card. A brand-new library card. Curtsey of Isabelle Gold. Emma had no idea how she had managed to get her a new library card so quickly, but the blonde was ever so grateful. That was really nice of Isabelle.

Emma unlocked the door to her room and stepped inside. She shrugged off her leather jacket and then methodically checked everywhere. Underneath the bed, her drawers. But this time, everything was completely normal. Nothing had been moved or re-moved. Everything was fine.

Emma unzipped her bag and found her laptop and cellphone in it. She placed both things on the table and then fumbled for a second to hook up the phone with the charger. She was absolutely terrible at remembering to charge her phone, and more than once, her phone had ran out of battery because of it. And her charger was pretty unreliable as well. The phone had to kept in a certain angle to make sure it charged like it was supposed to. Emma wrestled with that for a few moments, and she made a little “ha!”-sound when the screen lit up and indicated that the phone was charging. But when the screen lit up, Emma noticed something. She had gotten a new messages. From Regina. incredibly. The whole drama about the grey station car and the man in the parking lot had completely made her forget about Regina and the fact that she hadn’t heard anything from her since Saturday night. But now Emma had no problem with remembering how anxious she had been because of Regina’s lack of communication. Without thinking twice about it, she freed the phone from the charger again and then eagerly checked the message: ‘I had a good time as well. I’m really sorry I didn’t text you yesterday. I wasn’t feeling well.’

Emma was quick to text back: ‘that’s completely fine! I’m just glad to hear from you. I was a bit worried about you when I didn’t hear anything.’ She was allowed to text that, right?

Before she could decide whether it was too bold or not, Regina texted back, and Emma quickly checked that message as well: ‘again, I’m sorry about not texting you, and I’m sorry you were worried. You
don’t have to be, though. Everything is fine.’

Emma texted back: ‘I’m glad you’re doing okay :)’

Regina texted back. A very reassuring ‘I am’, and now that the conversation was flowing, Emma saw no reason to wait with asking: ‘would you like to meet up for coffee sometime next week?’

Regina clearly had some time on her hand, because her response came quickly, and Emma eagerly checked it: ‘coffee sounds nice. Shall we meet at Eugenia’s Inn like the last time?’

Emma quickly texted back: ‘That suits me just fine. I’m looking forward to seeing you.’ She really did. She really, really did!

It felt as though she had barely send the message before the answer came: ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you too. What are your plans for the rest of the day? How was work?’

Emma grinned broadly as she eagerly filled Regina in on her plans for the remaining day, and then told her all about what she had been doing at work. She left out a few significant details, though. There was no reason to tell Regina about the grey station car and the man in the parking lot. She didn’t want Regina to worry about her.

 

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma and Regina had agreed to meet up for coffee the following Thursday when Emma was done with her work at Dragon Publishing. The agreement was that Emma would text Regina once she was done working, and then Regina would leave and time it so they could meet at Eugenia’s Inn when Emma arrived home.

Emma was looking forward to it. Especially because nothing had happened since she had spotted the grey station car and the man in the parking lots. There had been no sightings, no mysterious cars and no more unwanted visitors in her room. Once again, everything was calm. And honest god, Emma wasn’t completely sure whether she should feel relieved or be alarmed. It was exhausting really, having to stay alert like this all the time.

She was allowing herself a break on Thursday. A few hours where she refused to think about strange men and grey station cars appearing in her rearview mirror. On Thursday, it would just be about her and Regina. A third date. Emma couldn’t wait. She was so looking forward to seeing Regina again. And see for herself that Regina really was okay. At night, when Emma wasn’t thinking about the man in the parking lot, she was thinking about the look in Regina’s eyes after she had kissed her. That brief moment of panic before Regina had “sobered up” and smiled and patted Emma’s cheek.

Emma had been thinking a lot about that. So far, she hadn’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation, but it sure as hell kept her awake at night. The only “kind of”-explanation she had come up with was that maybe Regina hadn’t been in a relationship in a while, and that’s why the kiss had come as a surprise to her. Perhaps she hadn’t expected Emma to go for it that quickly. But Emma had just followed her instincts and done the only thing she could have done in that moment. Kissing Regina.

But obviously, Emma now wondered if it had been the right thing to do. Maybe it had been too soon. Because while it felt like she and Regina had known each other for a long, long time, this was only their third date. Emma had to bear that in mind all the time. She would let Regina initiate things on the next date. She would let Regina set the pace. Emma reminded herself that they weren’t in a hurry. They had all the time in the world to get to know each other. Emma felt very good about that. She felt good about thinking of all the dates with Regina there was to come.

But Emma’s brain didn’t always get the memo about not getting ahead of herself. There had been nights where she had been thinking.... Well, other things about Regina. She couldn’t help it. Sometimes these thoughts about Regina just entered her mind without permission.

On those occasions, Emma always took a cold shower the morning after. That usually helped with cooling her down and making her think about something else.

But fortunately enough, Emma also had other things to think about. Her writing and her work at Dragon Publishing. She was still working on her fairytales, but she was in the ending phase now, in the middle of clearing up all lose ends and revealing how everything was actually connected in the end. She was really looking forward to hearing Malena’s reaction to that stroke of genius, and surprise ending. And because the fairytales were so close to being finished, Emma had actually dared to start writing on something new. Something that wasn’t a fairytale. A story in which the main character embarked on a long train ride towards another life, fell asleep in her seat and then was awakened by a tap to her shoulder....

Emma couldn’t help that either. She simply had to write about meeting Regina on the train. The chance encounter was a little too amazing to not write about. Regina had become her muse. Unofficially, of course. Obviously, Emma weren’t using their real names. Instead she named herself “Willa”, and Regina had become “Helena”. She had no idea whether she would ever show this new story to anyone, or simply keep it to herself. Maybe this story was just for her to read. A way to “cope” with how much she missed Regina when they weren’t together.

Maybe she would show the story to Regina. One day. If she had the courage. If she dared. Emma still hadn’t decided whether that would be a good idea or not. She wasn’t sure how Regina would feel about being her muse. Maybe she wouldn’t like it. Maybe she would think that it was strange.

And maybe Emma wouldn’t show her the story at all. Maybe she wouldn’t show it to anyone. Maybe she would simply keep it all to herself and then one day enjoy the finished result.

As for the fairytales, everything was coming together nicely. Emma still couldn’t quite believe that she was actually in the finishing phase. After having been writing on them on and off for so long, it almost seemed impossible, and she couldn’t wait to send the updated version to Malena. To see what she thought about it. Emma didn’t dare hoping for a publication. She was still afraid to have big dreams. Undoubtedly because Mary Margaret always had berated Emma for her “hobby”. She had constantly told Emma that writing wasn’t something you could actually do for a living. It wasn’t a “proper” job. Emma had tried to disagree with her a few times, but Mary Margaret had completely overheard her, and continued with her lecture. A lecture she had given Emma many, many times over the years.

There had been an occasion where she actually had forbidden Emma to write anything besides schoolwork. She claimed that it was an “unhealthy” hobby, and she furthermore claimed that writing would only feed Emma’s “wild” imagination and maybe even cause her to make stuff up and start to lie.

Emma had tried to protest. She had even went to David and tried to make him talk to Mary Margaret about it, but he had just shrugged, patted the top of Emma’s head and then said something about that it was for Emma’s own good.

To this day, Emma was still flabbergasted about that. She still struggled to believe that there had been a time where Mary Margaret actually had forbidden her to write. Had forbidden her to do something she loved. Instead Mary Margaret had signed Emma up for ballet lessons. Ballet lessons. Emma had been begging to be allowed to take horseback riding lessons, but Mary Margaret had forbidden that as well. And then she had listed about a million reasons why Emma absolutely not was allowed to take riding lessons. The horse could throw Emma off. Emma could be walking behind it, and then the horse would kick back and hit her in the head. Mary Margaret had proceed to in gory details describe how wrong things could go. Emma had been scared to even approach a horse for years.

So ballet lessons it had been. And it had not been a success. Emma wasn’t very good at ballet. She wasn’t nearly as graceful as some of the other girls. The proportions didn’t match. While the other girls on the team were petite, Emma was taller and more gangly. She didn’t like going to the ballet lessons. The other girls had laughed at her, and none of them wanted to talk to her. There had been a time where one of the girls had been having a birthday party, and she had invited everyone on the team. Except for Emma. Emma had been devastated about it, but she had never told anyone. Instead she had just forced herself go keep going to the lessons, had forced herself to endure it. She’d had a naïve dream about suddenly becoming really good at it, and then Mary Margaret would be really proud of her.

That had never happened, though. Instead Emma had managed to trip during a particular hard lesson. She had landed right on her ankle, and she had screamed out in pain.

She had ended up in the hospital. Her ankle had been x-rayed, and it had quickly been revealed that it was broken. The doctor had put a cast on her ankle, and Mary Margaret had been summoned. In the hospital, she acted like every concerned mother would, but that wasn’t quite what happened a few days after when the ballet teacher stopped by their house to see how Emma was doing. Once she had delivered the mandatory “feel better soon”, she had gone into the kitchen and talked to Mary Margaret. Emma had heard how the ballet teacher said that perhaps it was better if Emma quit the lessons all together instead of re-joining the team when her ankle was healed. The ballet teacher had gently suggested that maybe ballet wasn’t exactly up Emma’s street, and maybe there were better hobbies for her. More suitable ones. Emma had been relieved. Until the ballet teacher had left and Mary Margaret had come back into the living room. Mary Margaret hadn’t hesitated to tell Emma just how disappointed she was. And then she had more than implied that perhaps breaking her ankle was Emma’s punishment for not trying hard enough.

Emma had just turned seven. And the whole ballet fiasco had been her first indicator that maybe Mary Margaret wasn’t as nice as she had appeared to be at first.

And oh, how right she had been in her assumption. The ballet lessons had only been the first taste of Mary Margaret’s manipulative, controlling nature. Snow White’s true nature.

Emma shook her head, blinked and tried to focus on her laptop. Why was she thinking about all of this right now? She wasn’t supposed to be thinking about Mary Margaret and her terror regime right now.

She was trying to put all of that behind her. And she couldn’t do that if she kept thinking about it. She turned her attention back to the word document on the screen in front of her. As much as she was itching to write about “Willa” and “Helena”, she knew she had to finish her fairytales first. They had been so long in the making now, and Emma couldn’t wait to see the finished result. And she had plenty of time to write this afternoon. For once she didn’t have plans with Elsa or Isabelle. She had taken this afternoon off to write. To get a chance to finally finish her fairytales, but also to distract herself from the fact that tomorrow was Thursday. And the day she and Regina would be having their third date. Another coffee appointment. It was funny, really. Emma hadn’t actually meant to ask Regina out for coffee. Her intention had been to suggest meeting up for dinner at some nice restaurant, but she had been so relieved to finally hear from Regina that she had just suggested the first thing that came to mind.

Next time. Next time she would definitely ask Regina out for a meal. Coffee seemed so shoddy after Regina had brought her along to the most amazing concert. Next time, Emma would definitely suggest something a bit more fancy than just coffee at Eugenia’s Inn. Obviously, there was nothing wrong with Eugenia’s Inn, but Emma would have preferred the more intimate feeling of a nice restaurant.

Oh well. You couldn’t win every time, and there would be plenty of opportunities to invite Regina out to dinner. And seeing Henry. Emma hoped she could get a chance to hang out with Regina’s kid again.
Emma liked him, and it seemed like a very important thing to do now that she and Regina were “officially” dating. Henry was the most important person in Regina’s life, and Emma wanted him to like her. She so wanted him to like her. Sometimes it still made her feel a bit insecure, thinking about the fact that Regina had a child. Emma wasn’t used to dating women who had children, but the urge to succeed at it had never been stronger than it was right now....

 

Emma felt excited when she woke up the next morning, and she was perfectly capable of ignoring the slight dizzy spell she felt when she hopped out of bed far too quickly. She was going to meet Regina for coffee. It was going to be an amazing day. How could she possibly be feeling anything but happy?

The blonde even went as far as singing as she went into the bathroom to take a shower. The running water drowned most of the sound, and maybe that was a good thing. For some reason, she doubted that anyone else would find it delightful to hear her perform “Whistle While You Work” in her rusty morning-voice.

And who knew, maybe it was karma who had decided to punish Emma for singing so lousy. The blonde spluttered and coughed when she ended up getting shampoo in her mouth, and then she laughed heartedly. Not even this could lessen her good mood.

She resumed her shower but refrained from more singing. Choking on shampoo was not quite on her schedule today. Instead she thoroughly washed her hair and then practically smothered it in coconut condition. Not that she was expecting Regina to sniff her hair or anything, but Emma had noted that Regina’s hair (and skin) always smelled wonderful. Emma wanted to smell wonderful too. You never knew, maybe Regina would come so close to her that she could smell the coconut conditioner in Emma’s hair. Emma hoped so. As she was hoping for a second kiss. A kiss that wouldn’t come as a complete surprise to Regina. Because Emma felt confident that that was what had caused Regina’s anticlimactic reaction after they had shared their first kiss. Regina had been taken by surprise by the gesture, and Emma couldn’t blame her. She hadn’t given many signs that she was going to kiss the brunette. She had pretty much just seen and opportunity and grasped it. But she would do better the next time. She would handle it a bit more elegantly. Regina deserved that. Regina DEFINITELY deserved that.

Emma finally rinsed the conditioner out of her hair. The result was silky soft and very, very satisfying. After having rinsed a couple of times to make sure that there wasn’t any conditioner left in her hair, she switched the water off, grabbed a towel and then quickly dried herself. Then she padded back into her bedroom and changed into her usual jeans and tanktop attire. It was very comfortable to sit and work in, but not very festive for dating. Emma had every intention of changing into something a bit nicer when she came back from work. She had time to do that before she was going to meet Regina for coffee. Well, actually she hadn’t, but if she hurried, she could make it.

Emma spent quite a while on brushing her hair and then sniffing it intensely to make sure that it really did smell of coconut. It did. Quite intensely, actually. There was a slight chance she might have overdone it just a tad. Oh well. Maybe she should have spent less time on singing and more time on concentrating on minding how much conditioner she used.

Oh well. Too late to do anything about that now. What’s done is done, Emma thought to herself as she decided to just let her hair hang loose and curly down her back. Now it was time to leave, otherwise she would end up being late for work.

Emma went downstairs and found Ruby behind the counter. She looked exactly like someone who’d had a very long night. Emma grinned and almost had to bite her tongue not to comment on it. Instead she settled for a casual yet perky: “good morning!”

Ruby looked up and cringed a bit. “Good morning, Ems.”

Emma once again bit back a grin. There were dark circles underneath Ruby’s eyes, and the way she was cringing told Emma that she clearly was suffering from some pretty serious hangovers. Despite trying her utmost not to laugh, Emma ended up chuckling a bit.

“You’re in a good mood,” Ruby commented.

“Yep,” Emma said plainly and grinned again.

“Any particular reason?” Ruby asked and raised an eyebrow.

“Does there have to be a reason?” Emma retorted, still grinning.

Ruby grimaced again. “No, I suppose not, but could you at least whisper? I’m so hungover!”

“Really?” Emma said innocently. “Woops! I had no idea.”

Ruby lifted a wet dishtowel and threatened Emma with it.

Emma grinned as she ducked. “See you later, Rubes.”

“I hope Malena will give you lots and lots of work,” Ruby grumbled.

Emma laughed heartedly as she walked out of the diner and crossed the parking lot.

She was still chuckling by the time she reached the yellow bug. Ruby clearly had a fun night out last night. And was paying for it this morning. Emma shook her head in amusement as she unlocked the door and climbed inside the car. She inserted the key and then switched the engine on. Then she frowned slightly. Didn’t that sound a little funny? She switched the engine off and then on again. Hmm.

Now the car sounded just fine. Weird. Oh well. She had probably just been being pushing the engine too hard. Billy had warned her about that. Now Emma was the one who cringed. She had to take better care of her faithful little car. Otherwise it wouldn’t last long. At least that was what Billy had said, and Emma believed him. After all, he was a mechanic. He knew his stuff.

Emma gently stepped on the speeder as she maneuvered the car around and away from the parking lot. The engine still sounded completely normal, and that was a relief.

 

The car continued to sound completely normal, and Emma felt ever so relieved when she parked on the parking lot in front of Dragon Publishing. The blonde swiftly exited the car and walked towards the familiar building. Ruby had actually been right. Emma had a pretty busy day ahead of her. She had more editing to do, and possibly another manuscript to proofread. If she could squeeze it in. The manuscript she was working on, needed lots of editing.

Once inside, she found Ursula at the front desk as always. The woman looked up and smiled as Emma approached, and Emma offered a smile and a “good morning”, and then she amusedly wondered whether Ursula and Malena had any “meetings” today, and then she marveled at how the heck nobody else had found out about it. Because now that Emma knew the truth, she found that it was almost painfully obvious what was going on between Malena and Ursula, but no one in the building had ever questioned it. Maybe Emma was just imagining that it was obvious because she knew the truth, or maybe everyone actually did know what was going on but chose to ignore it because they were scared Malena would be going all “dragon” on them.

Emma chuckled a little to herself as she went inside the elevator. She could easily imagine Malena go all dragon on anyone who dared questioning her. Malena wasn’t an unreasonable boss, but she definitely didn’t tolerate any “nonsense” as she called it.

The elevator came to a stop, and Emma slipped out of it. She was still smiling as she walked down the hallway and towards her own little office. Which by the way wouldn’t be “her” office for much longer. Malena had promised her another office. A different one. A better one with more space. A more official one, as Malena had put it. Emma was a part of the team now. And she couldn’t be more pleased or proud about that. She felt like a part of the team, and she loved working at Dragon Publishing. Getting this job had been an impossible dream come true. Something Emma had hoped, but never fully dared believing ever would happen. But it had, and Emma was starting to think that maybe she should allow herself to dream big when it came to her writing as well. Maybe she should allow herself to believe that she one day would have something published. Maybe it was okay to dream big.

Emma pushed the door to her office open and fumbled with her bag at the same time. After a few seconds of wrestling, she managed to unzip it. She found her laptop and settled down by the desk. Now it was time to work. Emma stretched her neck, rolled her head from side to side. Maybe Eugenia had in fact been right about the mattresses not being the best. Emma had gotten this slight ache right between her shoulder blades. Very annoying. And another reminder that she was still living in a hotel. She would have to find somewhere else to live soon. It was fine right now when it was autumn, but what would happen when summer arrived, and the place would be crawling with tourists? Eugenia was going to need all the rooms then.

Emma would have to find some sort of permanent solution soon. She couldn’t keep living in a hotel for the rest of her days. She had to put down some roots. But the problem was that she couldn’t afford the house of her dreams. It was simply too expensive. Unfortunately.

Maybe she could move into an apartment or something like that. A one bedroom apartment. Just temporarily. Just until she had enough money to rent the other house. Emma leaned back in the creaky office chair. Was she dreaming big again?

No. No, she wasn’t. Wanting to either rent or buy a house wasn’t that crazy. In fact it was something that would have made Mary Margaret proud. She had always kept going on and on and on about how Emma lived in “small and horrible” apartments, and how could she possibly want to settle for that? But at the same time, Mary Margaret had plain refused to help Emma financially. Unless Emma did two teeny tiny things for her. A: stopped being gay, and B: started to be interested in Blanchard’s Boarding School. That had been the “conditions”, and the way she had said it had clearly implicated that she couldn’t imagine that Emma was going to say no.

But oh, how Emma had said no! And then she had laughed hysterically because the suggestion had been so utterly absurd. Mary Margaret had yelled that Emma was an ungrateful little brat, and then she had hung up.

Emma had still being laughing five minutes later. A disbelieving “I can’t believe she actually said that” kind of laughter.

The blonde blinked. She was getting distracted at work. Again. Damn it. She would seriously have to work on that. She was quick to turn her attention back to manuscript in front of her and silently groaned a bit over how much editing it needed. Oh well, at least working alone came with some perks. Emma fished her phone and earbuds out of her bag and then connected the two’s. She always worked better and a little faster when there was a solid beat in her ear. Something that could make her perk up a bit. It always worked, and it did today as well. Emma immediately went to work and began editing as though her life depended on it. The harder and faster she worked, the quicker the day would go, and a workday that was done meant coffee with Regina. A real treat to look forward to. Emma grinned and then hummed along to the song playing in her ears. She thought about Ruby and her hangovers. Poor thing. Coming to work with hangovers was never fun. Emma had been there a few times. Especially after one of her fights with Mary Margaret. She was glad that she wasn’t hungover today. Actually she hadn’t been drinking for a while now, and she was quite proud of that. When she lived in Toronto, she had definitely been a little too fond of the bottle.

 

*********

 

Yes, Emma loved her job, but admittedly, she loved getting off work even more today, and she was one big grin as she left her office. She felt as light as a feather as she headed inside the elevator, and even lighter when the elevator came to a stop and she could exit it. She flashed Ursula a big smile as she walked past the front desk.

“Have a nice day,” Ursula said, and raised an eyebrow. She clearly found Emma’s behavior to be slightly strange.

“You too,” Emma said, not caring one bit whether her behavior could be considered odd or not. She was in a good mood, and she was damn well going to show it. To everyone. Even the ever annoying

August earned himself a friendly slap on the shoulder as Emma passed him.

He looked up in surprise. “What’s up with you, Swanny?”

“Nothing,” Emma said innocently. “Just on my way home from work.”

“Oh yeah? And what are you doing after work?” he asked and raised an eyebrow.

Emma just smiled and shrugged lightly.

“You have a date, haven’t you?” August asked.

“Maybe.”

“You totally do!” he exclaimed. “Tell me more.”

“Nope,” Emma teased. “None of your business.” She always had way too much fun with teasing August. And mainly because it was so easy.

“Do you know how annoying I find you?” August asked.

“Yep,” Emma said simply and sniggered at the look on August’s face.

“You’re very annoying when you’re in a good mood,” August commented.

“Have a nice day,” Emma teased as she continued walking towards the front door.

“Do you have a date?!” August called after her.

“Bye-bye,” Emma called over her shoulder and gave him a teasing wave.

He grumbled something after her, but Emma was far too busy laughing at him to actually paying attention.

And she was still chuckling when she made it out on the parking lot. Today was another nippy day, but today she actually didn’t care. Because tomorrow she was finally going out and buying that parka coat. Finally. She wanted to be prepared for the winter that would undoubtedly be coming soon.

Emma whistled quietly as she crossed the parking lot. She found her car keys in bottom of her bag and rolled her eyes for a moment. Why did they always end up in the bottom of her bag?

Emma unlocked the car and hopped in. She dumped the bag on the passenger seat and then slipped the key into the engine and twisted it slightly.

Nothing happened.

Emma’s brow furrowed slightly as she tried again.

The engine spluttered, almost as though it was coughing. But that was about it. Nothing happened.

Now Emma was frowning deeply as she removed the key and then re-inserted it. Come on, car. Come on. Please.

Her silent plead didn’t help one bit. The engine spluttered, coughed, sounded a bit like someone who was having an asthma attack, but still absolutely nothing was happening.

“Damn it!” Emma cursed loudly. Just what she needed. Okay. Focus, Swan. Stay calm. She exited the car, went round and then opened the hood to take a peek at what was going on. Which seemingly wasn’t much. Emma had hoped that white smoke would ooze out in a very filmish manner when she opened the hood, but absolutely nothing of the sort happened. Emma couldn’t see shit. She was a fucking mechanic. She had no idea what could be wrong with the car.

But she did know that she was in a hurry to get home. She had important plans, damnit! Emma cursed a bit more for good measurement as she found her phone and googled when the next bus would leave for Steveston.

In twenty minutes. Twenty FUCKING minutes. Emma cursed loudly once more. Taking the bus would definitely delay her. And not just a little, but a huge freaking lot. God damn it. Emma sighed deeply as she tapped a bit on her phone and did the only thing she could do right now. Text Regina and inform her that she was going to be very delayed due to car troubles and that she would try and catch a bus.
Emma made sure to apologize profusely to the brunette. There was a fair chance that Regina would suggest they rescheduled, and thus, Emma’s good mood completely went down the drain as she spun around and began walking towards the busstop. She was already cold, damn it!

But she had barely left the parking lot before she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. The blonde stopped momentarily and fished her phone out of her pocket to check the message: ‘oh, I’m sorry to hear about your car. The bus ride is going to take a while, though. Wouldn’t it be better if I picked you up?’

Emma’s jaw dropped slightly as she quickly texted back: ‘seriously?’

The reply came immediately: ‘yes, of course. It’s practically on the way to Steveston. It’s not gonna be a problem at all.’

Emma’s good mood returned as she texted: ‘oh my god, thank you so much! You’re a lifesaver. I’ll be in the parking lot.’

The response to that came quickly too: ‘Excellent. I’ll be there shortly.’

Emma grinned as she turned around and went back towards the parking lot. Regina hadn’t even considered to reschedule. She had just more or less taken it for granted that of course she would be picking Emma up for their date. God, Emma was falling more and more in love with her every day.

Huh. Emma paused her walk back and forward in the parking lot. She still wasn’t completely used to so casually admitting to herself that she was in love with Regina. After Lily, she had sworn that she would never open her heart to anyone ever again, and now that was exactly what she had done. But the stunning thing about it was the fact that it didn’t scare her. At all. Falling in love with Regina seemed to be the easiest, most natural thing in the world. Emma sighed as she thought about the beautiful brunette who was coming to pick her up. The beautiful brunette she couldn’t wait to see again.

Thinking about Regina was just about the only thing that could distract her from how bone-chillingly cold it was today. It was definitely more winter than autumn. Emma rubbed her arms and resumed walking back and forward in the parking lot. She looked down at her jeans and scowled slightly. Because of this delay, she definitely wouldn’t get the chance to change into something a bit fancier. Damn it. This was her work clothes. Emma felt underdressed. Even though this was only coffee and not a fancy concert, she had still wanted to do a little extra, and now she couldn’t get the chance to do that.

The blonde scowled again. Damn unlucky she was.

She rubbed her arms again. It was really cold. Emma was grateful she didn’t have to sit and wait in a bus shed for twenty minutes. This was bearable. Knowing that her ride was on the way made this bearable. And knowing that the ride happened to be Regina almost made Emma forget entirely about the cold.

Emma glanced at her yellow bug again. Stupid car. She wondered what was the matter with it. She found her phone in her bag once more and quickly dialed Billy’s number. She brought the phone up to her ear and waited for a moment. Then Billy picked up, and Emma explained what had happened. Billy gave her a little bit of a lecture about old cars and delicate engines, and after Emma had agreed and admitted that she might have pushed the engine a bit, he told her not to worry. He would swing by the parking lot in a few hours with his truck and then bring the bug back to Steveston and fix it for her. Emma thanked him profusely, and Billy chuckled and warned her that she “owed him one”. Emma more than agreed to that and promised to think of some way to repay him. Billy cheekily suggested that she could pay for his coffee for the next month, and Emma laughed heartedly at that suggestion, but a small part of her hoped that he wasn’t actually serious. She couldn’t afford to buy him coffee for the next month. She had a feeling that Billy was bleeding caffeine.

The timing couldn’t be better. Just as Emma had ended the call with Billy, she saw the familiar black Mercedes pull up in front of the building. The blonde quickly slipped her phone back inside her bag and then ran her fingers through her hair. The wind had made it a bit messy.

The door to the Mercedes opened, and then Regina stepped out on the pavement. Looking every bit as perfect as the last time. She was wearing a pin striped pencil skirt, a matching blazer and a white blouse underneath. And of course a silk scarf was tied elegantly around her neck. It definitely added to the look, but Emma knew that the scarf wasn’t just a fashion statement, and she felt a slight pinch in her belly as she thought about what was hiding underneath that scarf.

But Regina was smiling as she walked towards Emma, and Emma quickly forgot all about her pinching belly as she returned the smile tenfold. She began walking towards Regina, having every intention to greet the brunette and thank her for the ride first thing.

But someone beat her to it. “Regina?”

Emma turned around. She hadn’t even seen that Malena had come outside, but there she was, shielded away from the wind and smoking a cigarette like she often did during her breaks.

Regina turned her head slightly as to identify where the sound came from, and then she flashed Malena a slight smile.

Emma watched as the older blonde walked towards Regina.

“It’s nice to see you again,” Malena said as she reached Regina. “It’s been far too long.”

Regina offered an apologetic little gesture at that.

“Are you feeling alright?” Malena asked.

Regina nodded at that and flashed Malena another little smile.

“Good.” Malena said. “I’m glad to see you. And I don’t want to loose contact with you again. Text me, alright? Don’t be a stranger.”

Regina offered another little apologetic smile and nodded once more.

“Good,” Malena said, flashed Regina a smile and then she leaned forward and gave Regina very, very light peck on the cheek. “You take care of yourself, alright?”

Regina nodded again and smiled.

“Excellent,” Malena said. She touched the top of Regina’s shoulder lightly, and then she turned around and walked towards her car. Before heading inside she turned her head and said to Emma: “I’ll see
you tomorrow, miss Swan.”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “See you.”

Malena disappeared inside her car and drove off, and Emma turned her attention back to Regina. Maybe she could get a chance to greet her now.

She quickly walked over to the brunette and then smiled and said: “hey.”

Regina smiled back, reached within the pocket of her blazer and handed Emma a post-it note.

Emma smiled when she read: ‘hello, Emma. It’s nice to see you again.’ in fact she felt so utterly tempted to kiss Regina right then and there, but she didn’t do it.

Regina didn’t initiate a kiss either. Instead she simply reached out and touched Emma’s forearm lightly. Emma drew her hair behind her ear and smiled almost shyly at the soft touch. Then she looked at
Regina’s face. What she saw made her frown slightly, though. Regina looked a bit tired. She had dark circles underneath her eyes that not even her flawless makeup could hide entirely. Emma felt tempted to ask if everything was okay, but again, something held her back.

After a moment or so, Regina moved her hand away again, she nodded towards her car and then rubbed her arms in a very telltale manner.

“Yeah,” Emma said and nodded. “Let’s get going. It’s pretty cold out here.”

Together they walked towards Regina’s car, and Emma climbed into onto the passenger’s seat. And like the last time, she marveled at how nice this car was. Seriously, the damn thing smelled of leather.

Regina was a very good driver. She didn’t drive half as aggressively as Emma did, and the blonde chuckled slightly. She could probably learn a lot from Regina.

“She was happy to see you,” Emma said rather suddenly, and she saw how Regina side eyed her.

“Malena, I mean,” Emma clarified.

Regina shrugged lightly as best as she could behind the wheel.

“Can I ask you something?” Emma asked lightly.

Regina nodded.

“Were you and Malena more than friends at some point?” Emma inquired, now daring to ask the question which answer she already had stumbled on by accident, but still wanted confirmed by Regina
herself.

Regina side eyed her again, and Emma was certain she saw a faint blush rise in tanned cheeks. Then Regina nodded once.

“Okay,” Emma said plainly. She hadn’t been heading in a particular direction with her question. She just wanted Regina to confirm what she already knew.

Regina tapped the button on the radio once, and Emma nodded. “Yeah, sure. I don’t mind a bit of music.”

Regina switched the radio on and soon Billie Holliday’s voice filled the car. Emma leaned back in the ridiculously comfortable seats and enjoyed the music. Of course she understood that she couldn’t talk
to Regina right now. The brunette was driving and therefore had no opportunity to communicate back.

Emma settled for looking at her now and then. She tried not to look too intensely at Regina. That only made her worry about the dark circle’s underneath Regina’s eyes, and most likely it would make her blurt out questions.

Questions that Regina probably wouldn’t answer. Emma didn’t know why she knew that Regina wouldn’t answer. She just did. She couldn’t explain it.

 

**************

 

But the date was wonderful.

They arrived at Eugenia’s Inn and ordered coffee. Well, Emma ordered coffee for both of them and then a slice of pie for Regina.

Regina looked quite surprised at that, but Emma just shrugged lightly. “Henry mentioned how much you loved pie when we were at the harvest festival.”

Regina looked even more surprised at that and reached within her purse, found the stack of post-its and then scribbled for a brief moment before handing the note to Emma.

“Yep. I do,” Emma confirmed after having read the message ‘and you remember that?’ she neglected to tell Regina that she remembered every last detail Regina had ever shared with her.

Regina shook her head and then reached within her purse again and placed her cellphone next to the stack of post-its on the table to have it nearby. Then she dug into her pie.

“Any good?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded eagerly and smiled.

“Great,” Emma smiled and tried not to get too affected when a bit of whipped cream ended up on Regina’s pinky finger and the brunette hastily licked it away. Good god.

The blonde took a sip of her coffee and tried not to look at Regina while she ate her slice of pie. Who knew that eating pie could be so seductive? Emma swallowed a too big mouthful of coffee and coughed slightly.

Regina looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m fine,” Emma said and cleared her throat slightly. “Excuse me.”

Regina turned her attention back to her pie, and Emma was relieved when she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She took the opportunity while Regina ate to check the message. It was Ella, scolding her for “not texting often enough”. Emma reminded herself to call her friend tonight. And potentially tell her about this date.

After a moment, it was Regina’s cellphone that lit up, and the brunette turned her attention away from the pie for a moment to check the message. She tapped for a few seconds and then put the phone down.

“Anything important?” Emma asked.

Regina shook her head and scribbled quickly on a post-it note. Then she gave Emma the note, and Emma could read: ‘just Henry.’

“Oh,” Emma said. “Everything alright with the kid?”

Regina nodded and smiled in affirmative.

Emma took another sip of her coffee and as she did, her gaze wandered, and she ended up looking at Regina’s phone. The screen was still lit up, and Emma smiled when she saw the background. A photo of Regina and Henry together. Henry couldn’t be very old in the picture.

“Aww,” Emma cooed and nodded towards the phone screen. “How old is he there?”

Regina smiled broadly as she tore another post-it note off the stack and then scribbled for a moment. While she wrote, Emma took another sip of her coffee, and just after she had swallowed the mouthful of coffee, she was presented with a new note: ‘he’s two years old in the picture.’

“Can I see it?” Emma asked. “More properly, I mean?”

Regina nodded eagerly and grabbed her phone. She tapped and then gave the phone to Emma.

The blonde smiled when she saw the picture. Henry was an adorable toddler. All chubby cheeks and eyes gleaming with mischief. In the picture, Regina was holding him, and it was impossible for Emma not to look at her as well. She looked absolutely beautiful. Her dark hair was significantly longer, and she was younger, Emma guessed that she was either twenty six or twenty seven. But it was her eyes that struck Emma the most. They were wide. Unconcerned. The Regina in the picture were clearly happier, unmarred. Everything about the Regina in the picture radiated a lightness Emma hadn’t felt in the version of Regina she was with right now.

“You guys look very sweet together,” Emma smiled as she pushed the phone back towards Regina.

Regina smiled and nodded as she slipped the phone back in her purse.

Emma took another sip of her coffee. She was just about to say something to Regina when her phone chimed again. This time it was someone calling her, and Emma quickly turned the screen up to see who it was. It was Billy. Emma raised an eyebrow. Why was he calling her? He said he couldn’t be by her car until in a few hours. Oh well. Maybe he had found the opportunity to come earlier. Emma hoped so. Maybe he had even fixed her car. Emma hoped that too. But she didn’t hope that it was a tiny, insignificant thing there had been wrong with her car. One that Billy was now calling to tease her about.

The phone still chimed. Emma sighed and then said: “I’m sorry, I have to answer this call. It’s my mechanic.”

Regina nodded and smiled and took a sip of her coffee.

Reluctantly, Emma picked the phone up and swiped to take the call: “hey, Billy. What’s up? Have you already fixed the Bug? That’s pretty impress-“

“What the HELL has happened to that car?!” Billy more or less screeched in the other end.

Emma cringed and removed the phone from her ear slightly. “What the hell are you talking about?” she demanded. Maybe NOW there was white smoke welling up from the engine.

“Well, for starters, all four tires has been slashed,” Billy said tightly in the other end. “And then there’s this...”

“What?” Emma asked, heart hammering in her chest now.

“Well, this.... No. I don’t even want to describe it,” Billy said in the other end. “I’ll send you a picture of it instead. Hold on.”

“Okay,” Emma said, now feeling more than just a little sick. What could possibly be worse than four slashed tires?

She soon found out. It didn’t take long before Billy had sent her the promised picture, and Emma felt even sicker when she opened it. Someone had keyed her car. No, not just keyed. Someone had actually taken their sweet time and scratched a message into the yellow paint. The message was definitely cliché, but all the little hairs in the back of Emma’s neck were still standing up and her heart were thumping in her chest when she read the message her stalker had scratched into the yellow paint.

‘WATCH YOUR BACK’.

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma swallowed something. That car hadn’t been left unattended for very long.

She could still feel her heart thump in her chest. Yes, the message was tacky, but definitely creepy nevertheless. And was it supposed to be taken literally? A chill ran down her spine as she considered it.

Could her stalker had been hiding somewhere in the parking lot? Could he had been watching her the whole time while she was waiting for Regina? The thought of that made her downright nauseous. That was horrible to think about. The blonde rubbed her arms as she felt goosebumps appear on her skin. This was escalating. This wasn’t just someone snooping around in her room and nicking a few random items. This was vandalism.

Emma felt very uncomfortable. The other stuff, someone having been in her room, the car following her and the hang up calls were all things she could chalk up to be annoying. Mildly creepy. But now it wasn’t just mildly creepy anymore. It was frightening. She was beginning to feel like some sort of hunted animal. Like someone was actually out to get her.

Emma tapped her screen and made the frightening picture disappear. She supposed she had to go back to Dragon Publishing and take a look at the car. She quickly texted Billy to not touch the car nor attempt to tow it back to Steveston. This wasn’t a case for the mechanic. This was a case for the police. She would have to call Graham. And Malena. Since this had happened on Dragon Publishing’s parking lot, Malena had to be informed of this as well. They would have to look at the security footage from today. Emma so hoped that whoever it was had been careless. She needed to know who this faceless person was. Could it really be Leopold White? Or someone else? Emma was paranoid enough to briefly wonder whether she had upset anyone in Steveston. But she just as quickly nixed that idea. Impossible. Everyone was so sweet. And she chose to believe that if anyone DID hold a grudge against her, they would have been mature enough to come forward and inform her of this.

No, this had to be connected to Mary Margaret and David somehow. It couldn’t possibly be anything or anyone else. Those were the only two people in the world Emma could suspect for being behind this.

The question was why? What was the point in all this? Didn’t they think that she would figure out it was them? Was this some sort of psychological attempt to scare her and come crying back to mommy and daddy? Had Mary Margaret finally gone completely “mother Gothel”-crazy on her?

Yes, maybe that was it. Maybe Mary Margaret really WAS hoping that this would make Emma come back to Forest Hill?

Emma shook her head. That was ridiculous. And scary as hell.

A soft touch to her hand brought Emma back to reality. The blonde’s head snapped up, and she saw Regina looking at her. The brunette looked concerned as she pushed a post-it note towards Emma.

Emma quickly picked the note up and read it: ‘is everything okay?’. The blonde ran a finger through her hair. “No, not really. That was my mechanic calling. My car’s been vandalized.”

Regina frowned deeply at that.

“I can’t believe it,” Emma said and shook her head. “I didn’t leave it unattended for that long. And it wasn’t even standing abandoned somewhere. It was left on Dragon Publishing’s parking lot, for crying
out loud! I have to call Sheriff Graham. And Malena.” Emma sighed again and shook her head. “Is there any chance I coax you into giving me a ride back to Dragon Publishing? I have to get to the bottom of this.”

Regina nodded immediately and emptied her cup of coffee. Then she reached within her purse and found her car keys.

“Thank you,” Emma said and quickly emptying her own coffee cup. “I really appreciate that.”

Regina nodded, smiled a little and then rose from her seat.

Emma did the same, and together they walked out of Eugenia’s Inn and towards Regina’s black Mercedes. Regina climbed onto the driver’s seat, and Emma wiggled into the passenger’s seat. She wanted to curse a little bit. Her stalker was ruining everything. Including her dating life. She was supposed to sit in the restaurant, enjoying a cup of coffee and basking in Regina’s glorious company right now. Not ask her to drive back to Dragon Publishing because some stupid fucking idiot couldn’t keep his hands to himself! God. Emma couldn’t quite believe that someone had actually keyed her car and slashed all four tires. That was something she read about in those thrillers she loved so much or watched in one of those scary movies she was actually too much of a chicken to watch. This was not something that was supposed to happen in real life.

Emma noted that her heart was still thumping in her chest, and that really irritated her too. She wasn’t supposed to be afraid. Being afraid meant that the stalker had the upper hand, and Emma really didn’t want him to have the upper hand! Whatever his endgame was, she wasn’t planning on letting him win! Emma had never been one for giving in, and certainly not to this psychological terror.

She felt Regina side eye her, and Emma quickly flashed the beautiful brunette a smile. “I’m really sorry I’ve ruined our date.”

Regina shook her head firmly.

“I have,” Emma insisted. “We were supposed to eat pie and drink coffee and have a good time. Not drive back and forward. I’m sorry.”

Regina shook her head once more.

Emma cringed. “And I’m also really sorry for blabbering like this when you have absolutely no chance of communicating back to me. I’m panicking a little. I always ramble when I’m panicking. Sorry about that.”

Regina shook her head for the third time, and Emma didn’t attempt to say anything else to her. Instead the blonde fished her phone out of her pocket and called Sheriff Graham. He promised he would be there ASAP. Next she called Malena and informed her of what had happened. She was livid and cursed loudly and threatened to fire her entire security staff, and once she was done spitting fire, she too promised that she would be there right away. Emma thanked her and then ended the call.

The blonde leaned back in her seat again, but this time she was so far from relaxed. Because of this she was forced to think about things she really, really didn’t want to think about. She had to consider whether she could potentially be in any real danger. ‘Watch your back’. That was a pretty obvious threat, but what Emma wasn’t sure of, was whether she should take it serious or not. And there was this silly, dumb part of her that actually hoping that this was completely random. Some lunatic passing the parking lot, seeing an opportunity and grasping it.

Emma scoffed quietly. That was dumb. Of course this wasn’t a random incident. Of course this was all connected. But for what reason? What the hell was she supposed to think of all this? That Mary Margaret had finally snapped and wanted to kill her? That she and David had hired someone to kill her? Or harm her because she had refused to be an “obedient” daughter? Could they actually do that?

Emma wasn’t sure anymore. She wasn’t sure of anything.

The blonde blinked in surprise and looked down. Regina had just put her hand lightly over Emma’s in a silent, comforting manner. Admittedly, Emma saw an opportunity and took it. Quite literally. She put her hand over Regina’s for a moment, and then turned her head and smiled at the brunette.

Regina returned the smile without ever taking her eyes off the road.

“This was not how I had imagined to spend our date,” Emma said plainly as she reluctantly removed her hand from Regina’s warm, warm hand.

Regina offered a light shrug in return.

“I’ll do better next time,” Emma said, trying her best to add a touch of humor to the situation. “Next time we won’t be interrupted by a crazy vandal.”

Regina shook her head in a sort of amused way.

Emma silently cursed this entire damned situation. All she had wanted was to find a fresh start in Steveston, and for a while it had certainly seemed like she was on the road to just that. New friends, a new and wonderful woman in her life, but now...

Her stalker was trying to ruin everything.

 

By the time they arrived at Dragon Publishing, Graham and a couple of his officers were already there. They were inspecting and taking pictures of the yellow bug, and it looked like one of the officers were dusting for fingerprints.

Emma damn nearly cried when she exited the car and saw the condition of her beloved Bug. All four tires were indeed flat, and the yellow painting had obviously been severely damaged. The threatening message was almost attacking Emma’s eyes. ‘WATCH YOUR BACK’. So cliché, yet so effective.

“Oh my god,” Emma muttered and shook her head.

“Yes, whoever it is, is certainly escalating,” Graham nodded. “And obviously wore gloves for this.”

“Right. Of course he did,” Emma muttered.

“We’re just waiting for Malena Fiammetta to show up so we can go through the security footage. And find out where the hell the security staff were,” Graham said tightly and then glanced over Emma’s
shoulder. “Hello, Regina.”

Emma looked back and saw Regina give a quick nod and a brief smile. The brunette mainly stayed in the background while Graham and Emma continued to talk. Emma too was wondering where the hell security had been when her car was vandalized. Malena had a whole staff of security. Emma was puzzled that this could even have happened. It shouldn’t have happened.

After a few moments where Emma and the Sheriff had talked back and forward, a red, rather expensive looking car driving in a rather hazardous tempo swung in on the parking lot. The tires screeched dangerously, and the door was more or less slammed open. A stiletto heel appeared on the ground. Malena had arrived. And she did NOT look one bit pleased. Her heels clacked against the ground as she more or less stomped towards them. For the first time, Emma understood why someone would refer to Malena as “the Dragon”.

“What the hell is going on?!” the older blonde hissed.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Graham said patiently.

“Well, I’m certainly as curious as you are,” Malena said sardonically and folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve just spoken to the head of security, and he swore he wasn’t aware that there was an
unwelcome guest here.” the older blonde scoffed. “He is so fired! As are the rest of them.”

Despite the serious situation, Emma almost chuckled at that.

“Would it be possible to take a look at your security footage from this afternoon?” Graham said.

“Certainly,” Malena said tightly. “Follow me.”

And so they did. They left the officers by the car where they were still searching for clues. Emma doubted they would find any, though.

 

They ended up in Malena’s office where Malena switched the screen on so they could see the security footage, and then Malena reached inside one of her cabinets and found a bottle of scotch. She offered Graham a glass, but he quickly pointed out that he didn’t drink when he was on duty, so Malena settled for pouring a glass of scotch for Emma, one for herself and one for Regina.

Regina raised an eyebrow slightly at that, but Malena just scoffed and thrusted the glass into her hand. “It’s five o’clock somewhere. Have a drink with us, kitt-“

Regina raised an eyebrow again.

“Regina,” Malena amended. “Have a drink with us, Regina.”

Once again, Emma was distracted from the severity of the situation, and she caught herself wondering what the end of that sentence would have been. Kitten?

But she was quick to turn her attention back to the screen in front of her. The black and white security footage from today filled the screen. Emma took a sip of her scotch as she watched the security staff walk back and forward in the parking lot. Regular patrols, exactly like Malena had said.

She watched as time passed, and people started to walk out on the parking lot, heading towards their cars. Emma saw herself walk out of the building and climb into the car. She saw her obvious annoyance when the car refused to start, and then she saw herself exit the car and look under the hood where she would find no obvious answers to the problem. Then she saw how she found her phone in her bag and texted. Emma knew that she was texting Regina at the time to apologize for the delay. The blonde took another sip of her scotch as she saw herself beginning to walk away from the car.

Her past self didn’t get very far before she stopped and fished her phone out of her bag once more. Emma knew that it was because Regina had texted her then, and the blonde cringed a little as she was confronted with the ridiculous, stupid grin on her face as she read the text message. Her obvious excitement when answering the text was absolutely cringeworthy. She took another sip of her scotch.

She saw herself walk back and forward on the parking lot, rubbing her arms and obviously freezing her ass off, calling Billy and asking him to take a look at the Bug. Then she saw Regina’s black Mercedes pull in and Regina got out of the car. Emma saw how Regina had been fixing her scarf slightly, and immediately wondered why she hadn’t noticed that when it happened. Then they saw Malena come into the camera’s view, approach them, greet Regina, plant two kisses on her cheeks and then disappearing inside her own car and driving home from work.

After a moment or so, Emma saw herself and Regina greet. Regina fished the post-it out of her pocket, she touched Emma’s arm lightly, and then they walked over to Regina’s Mercedes, climbed inside and drove away from Dragon Publishing.

“Here we go,” Graham said, breaking the silence for the first time. “It can’t be long before our guy arrives.”

And he was right. After a couple of minutes waiting in silence, they saw a man coming out on the parking lot. He had his back to the camera, but was dressed in Dragon Publishing’s official security clothes, and he was walking around on the parking lot exactly like he was patrolling the area.

“But that’s just a member of the security staff,” Emma pointed out and took another sip of her scotch. The alcohol burned her throat, but she didn’t care. Right now, she really needed a bit of alcohol to take the edge of things.

“Wait,” Graham said plainly.

Emma waited. Saw another member of the security staff come out of the building. He chatted with the other guy for a few minutes, and then he disappeared into a car and drove away.

The guy in the parking lot waited for a few minutes, walked around as though he was patrolling the area, and then once the last member of security emerged from the building and drove off in his car, everything about the guy in the parking lot changed. His body language went from relaxed and friendly to threatening and intimidating. Still with his back to the camera on the building, he reached back under his security jacket and pulled a hoodie over his head.

Malena cursed loudly as they saw the man walk over to Emma’s car and then reaching inside his pocket. He pulled out a small knife and more or less began to stab the tire until it flattened completely. He did the same to the three other tires, and Emma shivered. It was frightening to watch him do that to her car. There was nothing calm and calculated about the act. It was pure anger and hatred on his part.

After having “finished” the tires, he went round the car and then used the tip of his knife to scratch the threatening message into the yellow paint. Emma shivered again as she watched the man walk away from the parking lot and out of sight.

Graham rubbed a hand over his face. “He was posing as a member of the security staff.”

Malena cursed again. “I don’t understand how it’s possible! How could I not have noticed-“

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Emma said quickly.

“I agree,” Graham said. “But the bottom line is that we still don’t know who this bastard is. Because I doubt he’s been around for the whole day. My guess is that he snuck in, stole an extra uniform and then blended in.”

“That sounds very likely,” Malena said. “I’ve recently hired new security people.”

“Why did he have to wear that damn hoodie?!” Graham said and his jaw clenched.

Emma felt her own jaw clench. Why indeed?

“I’ve already contacted local police in Forest Hill,” Graham said. “Your adoptive parents have a very solid alibi. None of them were nowhere near Vancouver when this happened.”

Emma’s heart sank. So it wasn’t David. “Could they have hired someone to do this?” the blonde asked.

“In theory, yes,” Graham said, looking very serious. “Can you think of anyone who would be willing to perform such an act for them? Someone they’re close to, like a family member or a close friend?”

Well...” Emma took a quick sip of her scotch, trying to soothe her nerves. “There is Leopold White. My adoptive mother’s uncle.”

“Leopold White,” Graham echoed as he quickly scribbled the name down in his little black book.

“Yeah, but he doesn’t...” Emma’s hope plummeted when she suddenly remembered something important.

“He doesn’t what, miss Swan?” Graham asked patiently.

“He doesn’t drive the right car,” Emma said defeatedly and took another large swig of her drink.

“The right car?” Graham echoed and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I’ve been followed home from work once,” Emma admitted. “And I’ve seen the same car twice in the parking lot here.”

“Why on earth didn’t you tell me?!” Graham said.

“I thought it was a coincidence at first,” Emma replied, now regretting that she hadn’t given Graham the proper information. “The first time it happened, I thought it could just have been someone who was lost and trying to find his way back by following me or something. I managed to shake him off, so I didn’t think too much about it. And the first time I saw the car here, it was so brief. Literally. I saw the car out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t even completely sure whether I had seen it or not, you know? And the second time I saw the car here, I also saw the guy walking around my car. I suppose he was trying to do what he did to my car today but got scared of by security. And I... I guess I didn’t tell you because nothing happened and I knew that security would be patrolling the parking lot regularly, so I guess I felt safe. I was certain he had been scared away when he saw the security come running out on the parking lot.”

“I see,” Graham nodded.

“I wish I had told you after I had seen the car in my rearview mirror the first time,” Emma said bitterly. She shouldn’t have been so determined to take care of things herself. It was okay to ask for help. And especially when you were stuck in a frightening situation like this one.

Graham didn’t comment on that. Instead he asked: “is there any chance you got a proper look of this car? Can you remember the license plate? Color, type, anything?”

“I didn’t get a chance to see the license plate,” Emma admitted and started to frantically ramble like she did when she was nervous: “and I don’t know anything about the car except that it’s a grey station car, but that’s not a lot to go on, and also I don’t understand the endgame in all this, I mean stealing my library card? What the hell is that about?”

“Your library card?” Graham asked and frowned deeply. “You haven’t mentioned anything about a stolen library card before, Emma.”

“I know,” Emma admitted and rubbed a hand over her cheek. “I didn’t notice it until almost a week after the break-in in my room, and it was such a random thing to steal, so I didn’t think much of it, to be honest. I just found it annoying.”

“I see,” Graham said sternly. “Was anything else taken from your room?”

“Yeah,” Emma said and almost laughed at the absurdity as her frustration took over and she started rambling once more: “and can you please explain to me why the hell the intruder would chose that of all things when my laptop was literally right there?! Because I sure as hell don’t understand why anyone would be interested in nicking a stack of written post-it messa-“

CRASH!

Emma yelped at the loud, unexpected sound and turned around on the spot.

Regina had dropped her glass of scotch on the floor, and the result was broken glass scattered all over, and a smaller lake of the golden liquid pooling on the floor.

Both Regina and Malena quickly bent down to clean the mess, but when Malena attempted to help Regina, the brunette just held up a hand; clearly indicating that she didn’t need any help. She quickly picked up the shards of glass, dumped them in the trashcan and then glanced at the sea of scotch on the floor.

“Never mind that,” Malena said quickly. “I’ll get that later. Did you cut yourself?”

Regina shook her head and then found her phone in her pocket. She frantically typed for a moment and then turned the screen towards Emma.

“Oh. Okay,” Emma said, feeling a bit disappointed when she read the message: ‘I’m afraid I have to go now. I had forgotten that I have plans later.’ She supposed that made sense. Regina had already been here for a while, and Emma had invited her for coffee. Driving around and talking to the police had not been a part of the plan.

Regina nodded once, then typed on her phone once more and turned the screen towards Emma: ‘can you get home on your own?’

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. “I can probably get a ride from Graham.”

Regina nodded and slipped her phone back into her purse. Then she spun around on her heels and headed towards the door.

“Text me later?” Emma asked.

But Regina didn’t appear to have heard her. She simply disappeared out of the door. Emma heard her high heels clack against the floor as she headed down the hallway and towards the elevator. Emma found this departure to be a little strange, a little abrupt, but maybe those plans Regina had been referring to had been very important or something like that.

“Emma?”

The blonde quickly turned her attention back to Graham.

“You mentioned that the intruder had stolen some post-its messages?” Graham said, clearly trying to get her back on track.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Emma said and tried not to be distracted by the way Regina’s tires were screeching as the brunette clearly aimed for a hasty departure.

“Was there any type of personal information written in these messages?” Graham asked. “Credit card information or something like that?”

“No, not at all,” Emma said and shook her head. “It was just random messages. Nothing personal at all. I don’t see why anyone could possibly benefit from taking those. There was nothing of importance written. At least not to the intruder. But the messages were pretty important to ME.”

Graham nodded. “And your laptop was standing on the table?”

“Yeah,” Emma said.

The sheriff shook his head. “I’m baffled,” he admitted plainly. “This doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, it does not,” Emma was quick to agree.

“But I’ll make it make sense!” Graham said firmly. “Trust me, Emma. We will get to the bottom of this no matter what. And I’ll start by arranging that there will be an officer patrolling the parking lot there along with Malena’s security staff. And furthermore, there will be police spread around Steveston. Regular patrolling. Along with the neighborhood watch. I want this guy in custody.”

“Yeah. That would be nice,” Emma muttered vaguely. For her part, she just wanted to ask the guy what the hell he was playing at.

“You mentioned that Leopold White doesn’t drive a grey station car, but he’s had ever possibility to either rent or steal that type of car,” Graham said. “When we get back to Steveston, I’ll check and see if
any grey station cars has been reported stolen recently, and I’ll check and find out if anyone has rented a grey station car in the area.”

“So you think it could be Leopold White?” Emma asked.

“I think it’s a possibility, yes,” Graham nodded. “Based on what you told me after the break in, I’d still say that your adoptive parents are involved in this. One way or the other.”

“Yeah,” Emma mumbled.

“We’ll figure it out, Emma,” Graham promised. “I’m not gonna rest until I get to the bottom of this.” He turned to Malena. “I’d like a copy of the security footage, please.”

“Of course,” Malena said, quickly walking out of the room to take care of that.

Graham turned his attention back to Emma. “I’m not trying to frighten you further, Emma, but I would be really happy if you could stay over at a friend’s house tonight.”

“I’ll text Elsa and ask her,” Emma promised. “I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

“Good,” Graham said and looked back at the frozen picture of the man on the screen. Rewinding the tape, the sheriff of Steveston carefully observed the moment when the false security guard pulled his hoodie up and started to vandalize Emma’s car.

Emma watched the scene unfold as well. Her heart was thumping in her chest as she frantically tried to terminate whether it could be Leopold White hiding underneath that hood. Did Leopold walk like that? Was Leopold smart enough to steal a uniform and pose as one of the members of the security staff?

It was years since Emma last had talked to the man, and she couldn’t for the life of her remember how Leopold White walked, let alone anything about whether he was intelligent or not. But she was sort of hoping that it really would turn out to be Leopold under that hood. Simply because nothing else would make sense. Why would a complete stranger suddenly decide to slash her tires and scratch a threatening message into the yellow paint? Unless the person was an escaped lunatic, it wouldn’t make sense, and honest to god, Emma would rather live with the knowledge that it was Leopold White, than knowing that a completely deranged stranger had picked her as a random victim.

That was when Malena returned to the office with a memory stick. She handed it to Graham with the words: “here you go. It’s all on here.”

“Thank you,” Graham said and flashed her a brief smile. “Well, I don’t think there’s anymore we can do here for now. Once the officers has finished up outside, they’ll call a mechanic and have him fix the slashed tires and then bringing your car back to Steveston.”

“And you’re taking the day off tomorrow,” Malena added.

“Malena-“

“The subject is not up for debate, miss Swan,” Malena said. “I do not want to see you here tomorrow; do you hear me? I want you to get a good night’s sleep and not think about anything tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Emma agreed, surrendering without much grace. She had a feeling that she actually would benefit from a couple of extra hours in bed tomorrow.

“I’ll drive you home,” Graham said as he rose from his seat.

“Thanks,” Emma said, jumping to her feet as well.

“I’m terribly sorry about this, miss Swan,” Malena said sincerely. “Rest assure that every last member of my security staff will be scrutinized. I wish I had-“

“It’s not your fault,” Emma quickly interrupted. “It’s nobody’s fault.” And she really meant that. She wasn’t blaming Malena for anything. The only person she was blaming was that asshat guy who had done this.

Emma and Graham left Malena’s office, and the last thing Emma saw was Malena reaching for the bottle of scotch and pouring herself a second glass of the alcohol. Emma couldn’t blame her. She hoped
that she would have the possibility to drink tonight as well. She could do with some beer. Or some shots. Or maybe even some vodka. Whatever Eugenia’s Inn had to offer.

 

***********

 

None of them said much as they headed inside the car and began the journey back to Steveston. Graham’s forehead seemed to be permanently wrinkled as he sat behind the wheel, clearly lost in thoughts.

Emma didn’t feel the urge to say anything either. She was far too busy wondering. And worrying. She was scared now. Actually scared. And she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to just stop her life and sit on her hands until something happened. If she did that, if she was afraid to go outside, the stalker had won. Emma didn’t want him to win. No, what she really wanted, was to be the one who stalked, not the one BEING stalked. She wanted to turn the table on this guy, back him into a corner and then ask him what the hell he was playing at. She wanted an explanation, and a damn good one too. And if this really was Mary Margaret and David’s doing, Emma would take them to court. She didn’t give a shit whether it was a drastic thing to do or not. She wanted them to pay for what they had done to her. She wanted them to pay for making her this afraid.

The blonde clenched her fist slightly.

Graham looked at her. “Are you alright, Emma?”

“Nope,” Emma said plainly. “I’m angry.”

“That’s very understandable, but I meant what I said,” Graham said. “I’m not resting until we catch this guy.”

Emma tried to find some reassurance in that, but she couldn’t. Not really. So to distract herself she found her phone in her pocket and texted Elsa, asking her if she could crash at her place tonight. She also texted Ella to fill her in on this new development, and just as she had sent the text to her friend, Elsa texted back and assured Emma that yes, of course she could stay the night. That wasn’t a problem at all. Emma immediately thanked her.

“Can you think of anyone else from Toronto who could have done this?” Graham asked.

Emma looked up from her phone. “No, not at all. To be honest, I didn’t have many friends back in Toronto. I mostly kept to myself.”

“What about an ex-partner then?” Graham asked. “Have you been in a relationship that ended badly?”

“No,” Emma said and slid her phone back in her pocket. “I mean yes, but not like that. She was the one who dumped me. Not the other way around.”

“And what was her name?”

“Lily. Lilith Page,” Emma said. “But it’s not her, Graham. It can’t be. She wouldn’t do something like this. She was the one who dumped ME.”

“I think it would be unwise to rule out anyone,” Graham said plainly.

Emma’s imagination immediately went into overdrive. Could Lily be the person behind this? No. No, way. Nu-uh. Not in a million years. It wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever. Lily had never been
possessive or anything. Not ever.

No. Emma refused to believe it. Lily couldn’t be the “mastermind” behind this. It had to be Leopold White, and she didn’t hesitate to tell Graham that.

“I assure you, we’ll be checking Leopold White’s alibi first thing,” Graham said sternly. “But as I said, we don’t want to rule anything out.”

Emma considered it again. Could something have gone wrong in Lily’s new relationship? Could Lily suddenly have realized that she wanted Emma back and somehow followed her to Vancouver? No. That didn’t make sense either. Lily wouldn’t never STALK her. Unless she had suddenly become psychotic overnight, and Emma found that to be more than unlikely.

The blonde leaned back in the police car. This was all so fucked up. So ridiculous. She sighed a bit, and Graham shot her a concerned look.

Emma tried to smile and reassure him that she was fine. She was not going to breaking down. At least not until after her stalker had been caught.

 

The rest of the day was damn hectic. Graham left her at Eugenia’s Inn and headed back to the station to call various people in Toronto, and Emma went inside the restaurant and told both Ruby and Eugenia what had happened and informed her that she wouldn’t be sleeping in her room tonight. Both of them were appalled, and Eugenia offered that Emma could borrow her crossbow. Emma laughed a bit at that and settled for a thanks, but no thanks.

“This is so creepy!” Ruby said.

Eugenia scowled at her. “Not helping.”

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Emma said. “This is hella creepy!”

“Is it your adoptive mother?” Ruby asked.

“I... I don’t know,” Emma said truthfully. Because she didn’t. Not anymore. She was so confused, it could be just about anyone.

“I’ll be doing neighborhood watch tonight!” Eugenia said firmly.

“Me, too,” Ruby said.

“And me,” Leroy added from the bar.

“Count me in,” Isabelle said, and after some nudging from his wife, Mr. Gold declared that he was “in” too.

Emma smiled. It was very touching, witnessing how they all rallied around her like this.

“Mess with one of us, and you’re messing with all of us!” Leroy barked. “Maybe his tires needs some slashing too. My axe would be good for the job!”

Isabelle glared at him. “We’re not aiming to harm him, Leroy. We’re aiming to catch him and bring him over to the police.”

Emma chuckled. “You’re all very sweet, but I honestly don’t think he would come here. Not tonight at least.”

“Well, forgive us for not taking any chances, miss Swan,” Eugenia said firmly.

“Hear, hear,” Leroy said and raised his drink.

Emma chuckled again and then she excused herself and went upstairs to pack a few belongings she would be bringing with her over to Elsa.

Her room was exactly like it always was. Not that Emma believed that the guy had been in her room again, he couldn’t be two places at once, but nevertheless, it was hella nice to find her room empty. She was quick to stuff her sweatpants and a tanktop into the duffel bag she had used on the train. Then she found her charger and stuffed it into her bag along with her phone and a book. Emma doubted she would be interested in reading tonight, but you never knew. Maybe she would need the distraction or something like that.

The blonde sighed for the millionth time that day. This was a freaking nightmare. When was it gonna end? She doubted it could get any worse now.

 

Later that night, Emma found herself in Elsa’s guest bedroom. Again. And much like the last time, the blonde had trouble with falling asleep. Her thoughts were spiraling out of control, and she was afraid of what was gonna happen tomorrow. She was afraid of staying home, but she was also afraid of heading out and potentially spotting that car in her rearview mirror. And most of all, she was afraid that the stalker was going to get the upper hand on her by effectively making her afraid of going anywhere without glancing nervously over her shoulder or checking her rearview mirror frantically.

The purpose of stalking was control. Emma knew that. And she would be giving him that control if she stopped going out. That was ridiculous. She couldn’t just put her life on pause. She refused to do that. He wasn’t gonna control her. He wasn’t gonna win!

Emma rolled onto her back and muttered earnestly to the silent bedroom: “I am not afraid of you, you bastard! I don’t care who you are or what you want, you can’t control me! And you sure as hell can’t stop me from living my life. I am not gonna play your little game!”. Maybe her voice was a bit too loud. She'd had a couple of drinks with Elsa earlier.

As to prove that, Emma rolled onto her side, fumbled for a few seconds and then found her phone on the bedside table. She tapped the round button in the middle of the screen and then squinted slightly at the bright light. She knew that it was rather late, but she couldn’t resist to text Regina. She hadn’t texted the brunette all day, she had been too busy with talking to Graham, giving another statement at the station, talking to Elsa and then drink a bit. There simply hadn’t been time to text Regina. But now Emma was making up for that as she sent the text: ‘hey, I’m really sorry about today. That was not how I had planned our date at all. Would you like to try again and stop by for coffee sometimes next week? I promise there will be less police involved.’

Emma rolled on to her back again. Regina had probably gone to bed. She would answer tomorrow. Probably early. She always did that. Regina was an early riser. Emma was looking forward to waking up and finding a message from the beautiful brunette waiting for her on her phone. The blonde smiled a little as she curled up under the covers. She had no idea whether she would be able to sleep or not, but she would definitely give it a shot. And she would think about Regina before she went to sleep. Not about anything else. That was the simple rule she had just set up for herself. Regina was the only thing she was allowed to think about before bedtime. Emma chuckled quietly in the darkened bedroom. She was definitely a bit tipsy

But to her enormous surprise and delight, she suddenly heard her phone chime once. Emma was already somewhere between dream and reality, in the middle of some weird half-dream about giant, talking marshmallows, and she had to force herself back to the world of consciousness. She wanted to check the message now. There was no way she would be able to wait until tomorrow. She was willing to grasp every opportunity when it came to texting Regina. It didn’t matter how late or how early it was. Any opportunity was a welcome one. One that Emma was always looking forward to.

She was every bit excited when she grabbed her phone, and she couldn’t hold back a smile as she swiped to check the message from Regina. But the next second it felt as though the walls in Elsa’s guest bedroom was closing in around her. Emma’s heard started to thump uncomfortably in her chest as she read the message from Regina. Clearly it COULD get worse. Emma felt sick as she looked at the message one more time just to make sure she had read correctly the first time. She hoped that her sleepy state was making her mind playing tricks on her.

But it didn’t. The message Regina had just sent her couldn’t be mis-read in any way.

‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore.’

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma stared dumbly at the message. A part of her simply refused to acknowledge what this message meant, and her fingers trembled slightly as she texted: ‘what? Why not?’ she was allowed to ask that.

She was allowed to ask for an explanation.

This couldn’t be happening. Emma didn’t want this to be happening. Her heart was thumping in her chest all over again. First the vandalism happening to her car, and now this. It was almost too much.

She felt that pinching sensation in her belly again, as she wondered how much a person could take.

After a moment or so, her phone chimed again, and Emma felt straight up nauseous and her fingers trembled as she checked that message. It was exactly as devastating as the first message.
‘I just think it’s better that way.’

Emma’s throat felt slightly raw, and it felt like her eyes were burning slightly as she texted back: ‘oh. Okay. I’m sorry if I’ve done something wrong.’ Now her stomach was really pinching. HAD she done something wrong? Had she been too eager? Too intense? Had she somehow made Regina feel pressured? Lily had said that Emma was too “clingy” and “bad at relationship”. Was that really true? All Emma’s insecurities once again came out to play.

Her phone chimed again, and Emma’s hands trembled worse than ever as she grasped the phone from the nightstand and then swiped to check the message.

‘You haven’t done anything wrong, Emma. The problem isn’t you. It’s me. I thought there was room for dating in my life. I was wrong. There isn’t.’

Trying her best to ignore the pinching sensation in her belly, Emma frowned. ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. Good old apology. Good old cliché. Emma had never thought that Regina would be one for serving such an over-used apology, and the blonde felt completely puzzled as she looked at the message. Then she began tapping on the screen. After a moment or so, she sent the new message to Regina: ‘okay. Do you think we could still hang out once in a while? Just as friends, I mean.’

Maybe it was bordering on desperation to suggest that, but Emma was willing to settle for anything when it came to Regina. She didn’t want to loose contact with the brunette. Friendship was an acceptable thing to ask for, right? That was how this whole thing had started. They could go back to that, right? RIGHT?

Emma’s heart was still thumping too fast in her chest. It was almost painful. Everything about this fucking day was too painful. First the vandalism and now this. Why did everything always happen at once to her? The blonde squeezed the bedding between her fingers.

And then her phone chimed again. Emma released her grip on the bedding and grasped her phone once more. If she thought the first two messages had been devastating, this one was fucking heartbreaking.

‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

Emma’s hand went limp and she ended up dropping the phone on the floor. It landed with a slight thudding sound. Emma’s ears felt stuffy and her chest was burning. What more was left to say? She couldn’t just force Regina to be her friend if the brunette didn’t want to. Rejection was not a strange feeling for Emma. She had been rejected by her birth parents when she was just a baby. All her attempts at being a good girl had been rejected by Mary Margaret. Her pleads for help had been rejected by David who had refused to listen when Emma tried to tell the truth about Mary Margaret. As an adult, Emma had been rejected by first that woman who had used her, and then by Lily, who claimed that Emma “sucked at relationship” and was “too clingy”.

No, Emma was no stranger to rejection. But none of the rejections had felt quite as painful as this one. Simply because she was so head over heels for Regina. Because Regina was everything Emma had been searching for without fully knowing it. Emma had felt the chemistry instantly, and she thought that Regina had been feeling the same way. Man, she had been stupid. It was ridiculous. Why would a woman like Regina be interested in someone like Emma? The blonde had all the time thought that it was too good to be true, that she was living some sort of dream, and now she realized that she WAS. It had been too good to be true. She shouldn’t have allowed herself to get so optimistic. She should have remembered that life always found a way to kick her in the teeth no matter what she did.

Emma curled up under the covers and stared at the dark. Her throat felt constricted, like there was a massive lump in it, and her eyes were burning slightly. She felt ridiculous for being on the verge of tears because of this. Over a woman she had only been on a few dates with. In theory, it wasn’t a big deal.

But in reality, this wasn’t just “a woman she had been on a few dates with”. This was someone she was completely gone for. The damage was done. She was already completely in love with Regina, and the idea of never seeing her again was too much to bear.

Emma squeezed the bedding between her fingers once more. Yes, it was possible that Regina had texted that it wasn’t the blonde’s fault, but Emma didn’t believe her. Regina was just trying to spare Emma’s feelings. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ was about the oldest apology in the world. Of course this was Emma’s fault, and it didn’t take the blonde long to come up with good reasons why Regina had dumped her.

There had been too much drama. Things had been too intense. Emma could remember what Regina had mentioned during the train ride. That she was coming to Vancouver to get a fresh start. She had more than implied that she was on her way to start a quiet, peaceful life. And then Emma had brought her into the whole stalking thing. She had involved Regina too quickly. Emma felt terrible about it. Who did that? She had known Regina for what, three months, and she had immediately involved the brunette in her mess of a personal life. That was ridiculous. Why hadn’t she been thinking clearly last night? Emma blinked. Something stung in her eyes. Regina had just wanted someone to drink coffee with. Someone to go to concerts with. And then Emma had dragged her along to a police investigation. Opened up a whole can of worms and expected Regina to just go along with it. Emma couldn’t blame Regina for running for the hills. Anyone would do that.

Emma flipped onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Something wet and treacherous was sliding down her cheek, and the blonde angrily used a fist to scrub at her cheek. What, now she was crying like a child? Emma immediately felt embarrassed. Crying had been frowned upon in Mary Margaret’s household, and the feeling of shame had been so effectively drilled into Emma that it was still affecting her adult life. She hated crying. Crying was a sign of weakness. That was what Mary Margaret always had said.

Emma sniffled quietly. She couldn’t help it. Not now as she thought about what other reasons there could be as to why this was her fault. Emma thought about the way Regina’s eyes had flickered after she had kissed her. It had been too sudden. Emma had gone for it too quickly. Regina hadn’t been ready to be kissed yet, and Emma should have noticed that instead of being too impulsive as she always was.

Emma felt all sorts of guilty now. Why hadn’t she asked further? She had seen the slightly panicked look in Regina’s eyes after the kiss, so why the hell was it that Emma hadn’t asked more about it? She should have done that. Or maybe she should even have apologized for having kissed the brunette so suddenly. Emma had an instinctive feeling that she had overstepped a boundary. It didn’t matter that Regina had told her otherwise. Emma knew that this was her fault. She was to blame for this. Everything, the too-fast kiss, dragging Regina to the police station and involving her in Emma’s personal drama had spooked Regina. Of course it had. Emma fully understood that. It was a completely natural reaction. Anyone would be spooked. Emma included.

Emma sniffled a bit and immediately felt ridiculous for doing so, but she couldn’t help it. She had been so hopeful when she came here. And meeting Regina in that train had almost felt like fate. A sign of the fresh start she was heading towards. And now everything was ruined. Now Emma had once again ruined it for herself. Once again, she had fucked up.

Emma wasn’t completely sure what possessed her to do so, but she reached down on the floor and grabbed her phone. Her vision was blurry, and she struggled to see clearly as she typed and then sent Regina another text. ‘I’m sorry’. Just that. Nothing more. She wasn’t even thinking that Regina would answer her, she just wanted the brunette to know how sorry she was about mucking this up. How sorry she was that she had managed to destroy something before it had gotten the chance to fully blossom and grow.

Emma unceremoniously dumped the phone on the floor once more. Then she curled up under the covers once more. How the hell was she supposed to go to sleep tonight? It wasn’t possible. This was undoubtedly one of the worst days in her life, and Emma just kept reliving it over and over and over again. The vandalism. The threatening message that had been scratched into her car. The slashed tires. Regina’s sudden departure. The talk about Lily and whether she could potentially be involved in all this. The talk about Leopold White and his potential involvement in this.

Emma shivered under the covers. Could he be out there, watching her right now? Emma’s exhausted brain wasn’t working properly. It made up crazy stuff. Suddenly, she imagined that it actually could be Lily out there. Lily watching her. Lily stalking her. Lily who had slashed her tires and scratched a threatening message into her car.

The blonde scoffed. No, of course it wasn’t Lily. It couldn’t be. She was the one who had dumped Emma. Not the other way around. It wouldn’t make any sense if it was Lily who was stalking her. It had to be Leopold White. He was doing Mary Margaret’s bidding. Emma shivered again. He had slashed her tires and scratched a threatening message into the paint of her car. What else was he willing to do? What else had Mary Margaret asked him to do? Harm her? Physically endanger her? Emma pulled the cover a little tighter around her body. Felt tempted to stand from the bed and lift the blinds to look out of the window. But she fought the urge. If she got out of bed, she gave the stalker control. If she paranoidly lifted the blinds to look out of the window, she was giving in to the psychological terror her stalker was inflicting. She couldn’t do that. If her stalker somehow found out she was afraid, he would only feel encouraged by it. And the last thing Emma wanted to do, was to encourage him.
Him. Yes, Emma was certain it was a man who was doing this. Yes, perhaps orchestrated by a woman, but her instinct told her that it was a man. One of the reasons being that Lily simply would never do this and based on what she had seen on the security footage, the person posing as a security guard was tall. Very tall. Lily wasn’t that tall. Nor did she walk or carry herself like the person on the footage had.

Emma hoped that Graham would be able to tell her more tomorrow. And now she really need to sleep. At least try. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to think about something that wasn’t her stalker. Or Regina........

 

 

The next morning wasn’t much better.

Emma woke completely groggy. Her mind was muddled due to lack of sleep, and for a moment, one blissful moment she happily thought about what Regina was doing today. But then the events of last night caught up with her, and her belly started pinching all over again.

It had been as late as four in the morning before Emma finally had fallen asleep, and when she HAD fallen asleep, she’d had horrible dreams about grey station cars following her, hooded strangers whose
face kept taking different shapes. First it was Mary Margaret’s face, then it was Leopold White’s. Next it was David’s, and then finally Lily’s. The dream had been confusing, but there had been one similarity. Emma had been chasing the hooded figure. Eventually, she had caught up with them, had grabbed their shoulder and forced them to turn around. Every time, she had been greeted by a different face, but no matter who it was, they had always been holding up a cellphone with the written message: ‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore’. And regardless of whether it had been Mary Margaret, Lily or even Leopold holding up the phone, they had cackled triumphantly at her, mocked her and said that she wasn’t capable of holding on to anything good. That she was alone and always would be alone no matter what.

Emma had woken up bathed in sweat and close to tears.

And she wasn’t feeling much better now as she gathered her things and mechanically thanked Elsa for her hospitability and politely declined the offer about breakfast. Elsa looked rather concerned but didn’t comment on it. And Emma tried to act more naturally as she gave the other blonde a quick hug.

“If you need to stay over again, just say the word. You’re always welcome,” Elsa said and flashed her a smile.

“Thank you,” Emma said, forcing herself to not sound mechanically. “That’s very sweet of you.”

Elsa gave her another hug for good measurement. “Graham will get this bastard, Em. You just wait and see.”

“I hope you’re right,” Emma said.

“Graham doesn’t stop until he gets the guy,” Elsa said firmly, and flashed Emma another smile.

Emma returned the smile, thanked Elsa once again and then hoisted up her duffel bag and left her friends house.

It was a cold day. Too cold. Emma shivered in her thin pleather jacket. But maybe it had nothing to do with the cold. Maybe the shivering was a permanent thing she would have to get used to now. As she walked down the street towards Eugenia’s Inn, she automatically checked the street for grey station cars. But she saw none.

And soon she reached her destination and walked inside Eugenia’s Inn. As usually, Ruby was standing behind the counter, in the middle of serving Victor French.

Emma settled down by a table in the corner. Usually, she chose one of the tables near the counter, but she definitely didn’t feel social. She felt like utter crap. She was sleep deprived, scared shitless because of the stalker, and now also pretty fucking heartbroken because of what had happened with Regina.

Everything sucked.

Emma had never felt more tempted to order alcohol for breakfast than she was right now, but when Ruby came over to her table, the blonde settled for: “one coffee and scrambled eggs and bacon, please.”

“Coffee?” Ruby echoed and raised an eyebrow in surprise. “You don’t want your usual cocoa with cinnamon?”

“No thanks, I think I’ll stick with coffee this morning. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” the blonde said truthfully.

“That’s understandable,” Ruby said sympathetically. “Have you heard anything from Graham?”

“No, not yet. But I’m hoping he’ll get back to me today.”

“He probably will,” Ruby said reassuringly. “Graham doesn’t rest until he gets the guy.”

“You know, you’re the second person who has said that to me today,” Emma said and offered a humorless, dry chuckle.

“And.... I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but I was on neighborhood watch charge last night,” the waitress continued. “And everything was calm. There were no strangers. And no grey station cars.”

“I wish I could take that as a good sign,” Emma said bitterly. “But for some reason it feels like the vandalizing of my car was only the beginning.”

“Hey, don’t say that,” Ruby said as she lightly put a hand on Emma’s arm. “We’ve got you. All of us. You have the entire town behind you, Em. And we’re not gonna let some lunatic get to you.”

Emma laughed, this time with a bit more humor in her voice. “Thanks, Rubes.”

“Anytime,” Ruby said and gave Emma’s arm a light squeeze. “You just let me know if you need anything besides breakfast.”

“Does that include a night out drinking?” Emma asked.

“It could,” Ruby chuckled.

“Good. Then I might actually take you up on that,” Emma said a bit darkly. She could definitely need a night out drinking.

“Just say the word,” Ruby said and chuckled again. And then she left Emma’s table and disappeared into the kitchen. Probably to inform Eugenia of what Emma wanted for breakfast.

Emma sighed deeply and felt tempted to bury her face in her hands. She felt so fucking miserable. And tempted to check her phone. Like she always did every morning. Often Regina had sent her a quick good morning text, but obviously, she wouldn’t have done that today. Emma sighed again. She still couldn’t fully believe it. That this was the end of her relationship with Regina. A relationship that had barely started, really. Emma quelled another sigh and rubbed a hand over her face. She probably looked terrible. She already knew that she had bags under her eyes. And probably dark circles as well.

She was supposed to write today, but she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to find the inspiration for that. Her collection of fairytales were almost finished, but what did that matter? Right now, finishing them was about the last thing Emma wanted to do. And the story about Willa and Helena who met each other on a train. What about that story? Emma knew it was a good story. The words had been pouring out of her, and the language had been flowing. And she had been so motivated to write more chapters, but now...

Now she wasn’t sure what to do about it. A part of her was still motivated. And she still had lots and lots of chapters planned out. She knew exactly which direction she wanted to take the story in, but could she even continue? Helena was Regina, and Emma wasn’t seeing Regina anymore. Could she even write more about those two not-so-fictional women and their journey?

Emma wasn’t sure. She had lost her muse.

That was when Ruby came down to her table with a cup of coffee and scrambled eggs with extra bacon. Emma hadn’t ordered extra bacon, that was something Ruby had just decided to do, but nevertheless, Emma was grateful, and she flashed the young waitress a smile.

“You looked like you could need some extra bacon,” Ruby said, joking slightly, but still sweetly concerned.

“Thanks,” Emma said, snorting slightly. “That was nice of you.”

“Anytime,” Ruby smiled.

Emma dug into her breakfast. She was still miserable, but the food tasted good. Maybe she could somehow get through today. Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow she was going to work. Maybe that could distract her from the hellish situation that currently was her life.

The blonde sighed for the umpteenth time. Or maybe not. Maybe nothing could distract her from her current situation.

 

 

A couple of hours later found Emma back in her room. She had her computer in her lap, and she was trying her best to write like she was supposed to.

But she couldn’t find the inspiration. She tried, but her mind was just... blank. There was nothing. Well, except for a text message saying, ‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore’, and grey station cars following her. Emma wasn’t capable of abstracting from everything that was going on. She couldn’t find the space she went into whenever she was writing. That space had become cluttered and full of ugly stuff. She kept seeing Regina’s face for her inner eye. She kept seeing the brunette’s beautiful smile, and then she remembered that she was never going to see one of those smiles again.

Emma stared blankly at the document in front of her. She had been “at it” for two hours now, and she had written five words. Five. The inspiration simply wasn’t coming to her. At least not when it came to writing on her fairytales. But the story about Willa and Helena... Boy, Emma had plenty of inspiration for that one!

But she couldn’t bring herself to keep writing on that one. Not now. It wasn’t right. Not when she and Regina weren’t....

Emma blinked and tiredly rubbed a hand over her face. Maybe she should simply give up writing. At least for today. It was obvious that she wasn’t gonna experience that stroke of genius today. God, what if her writer’s block had returned? Emma sure as fuck hoped not. That would been a disaster. She had been on a roll lately. So consumed with her writing. The idea of her inspiration source drying out was heartbreaking. Almost as heartbreaking as the text from Regina had been.

Regina. Emma hadn’t heard anything from her since she had sent the half-drunken “I’m sorry” text late last night. She didn’t even know why she had sent that text. It was stupid. It was desperate. It was clingy. Maybe she WAS clingy. Exactly like Lily had said. Maybe Regina had felt pressured.

Emma pushed her hair behind her ear and rubbed a hand over her eyes again. She was tired. Maybe she should just lie down and try and get some shuteye instead. Maybe it would be easier to sleep during the day than it was during the night. Perhaps she was becoming a creature of the night again. Exactly like she had been after Lily had broken up with her. Emma felt so utterly pathetic. She tried to tell herself that this wasn’t a big deal. She and Regina had only been on a few dates. It hadn’t been anything serious.

Except it had. Emma had fallen in love with her. She had lowered all defenses and had allowed herself to fall in love again. And then this happened. Was that really what she got for falling in love? A rejection.

Emma wanted to be angry with Regina. She wished she could be angry with Regina, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t. She wasn’t completely sure why, because normally anger came very easily to Emma. But not when it came to Regina. Everything was different when it came to Regina.

Regina who didn’t want to see her anymore. Not even as friends. Emma felt that pinching sensation low in her belly once more, and she could feel how her eyes started to burn a bit too. The blonde cursed. She didn’t want to cry again. She had already done that last night, and she had felt every bit pathetic afterwards. Somehow, she would just have to accept that it was over. And move on. As she had done it so many times before. Moving on was one of Emma’s special talents. And it was one she had used many, many times during the years. Whether it was physically moving around in Toronto to get away from Mary Margaret’s prying eyes or moving on from a failed relationship. Emma was an expert in moving on.

Knock-knock-knock!

Emma yelped. Her knees jerked, and her laptop almost ended up on the floor. Her heart started thumping in her chest. She was not expecting any visitors right now, and she had no problem with imagining that it was the hooded stranger standing outside her door. But a stalker wouldn’t knock, right? He would just burst in and attack her before she could realize what was going on. Emma had never heard of a stalker who knocked. Or could it be....

For a moment, Emma allowed herself to believe that it was Regina who was standing outside her door. She allowed herself to dream big and believe that the brunette had changed her mind. That there had been some sort of mistake.

Knock-knock-knock!

Emma moved the laptop from her lap and then rose from the bed. She went over to the door and stood there for a second. She didn’t dare looking through the peephole. A part of her was afraid to see the hooded stranger standing outside her door with some sort of weapon in his hand.

“Who is it?” The blonde called through the closed door.

“It’s Sheriff Graham,” the familiar voice with the slight Irish accent called back.

Emma breathed a sigh of relief and ignored the part of her that wanted to weep because it wasn’t Regina who had come to see her. She quickly removed the chain from the door and then unlocked the door.

The sheriff of Steveston appeared on the other side of the door. His hair was wet. It had to be raining outside. Emma hadn’t noticed it. She had been far too busy thinking.

“Hello,” Graham said and offered her a slight smile. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course,” Emma said and stepped away from the door.

Graham stepped inside the room, and he frowned a bit when he saw Emma’s hands tremble as she locked the door behind him.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“It’s fine,” Emma said and tried to joke a little. “I’m just easily scared these days.”

“That’s perfectly understandable, Emma. I should have called before coming here.”

“It’s alright,” Emma dismissed. “So? Is there any news?”

“There is some news, yes,” Graham said and nodded as he sat down on the wooden chair in front of the desk.

“And it’s not good news,” Emma was quick to assume. It had to be bad news. Otherwise Graham wouldn’t look so serious.

The sheriff rubbed his stubbly cheek, and Emma suddenly noticed that he had dark circles underneath his eyes. Maybe he hadn’t slept either last night. Maybe he really had been up all night to work on
the case like everyone had told her he would. If that was the case, Emma was impressed.

“The police had another chat with your adoptive parents,” Graham began and frowned slightly. “Which was a bit difficult first because they weren’t in Forest Hill. But we located them in Ottawa. They’re on
vacation. They left for Ottawa two days ago, so you see, they couldn’t possibly have been in Steveston when the crime occurred.”

Emma got a sinking feeling in her stomach, and her voice was meek when she asked: “And Leopold White? What about him?”

“Mr. White is in Alberta,” Graham said. “Eleven hours away. He couldn’t have done this either.”

Emma sat down heavily on her bed. “Then who the hell is it?!”

“We’re currently still trying to locate miss Page,” Graham said and rubbed a hand over his cheek again.

Emma shook her head. “No. It’s not her. I can’t be her.”

“We can’t be sure of that until we’ve spoken to her,” Graham said firmly. “We have to make sure we’re covering every possibility.”

“But what would be the motive?!” Emma exclaimed as she jumped up from the bed again. “She was the one who wanted out of the relationship! Not me! She has no reason to do this, Graham! No. If it’s not my adoptive parents, then I don’t...” the blonde shook her head. “Then I don’t know who else it can be.”

“I know that this is annoying,” Graham said. “But I have to ask you to think about it one more time. Have you been somewhere lately and noticed anything strange? Someone who looked at you a little too
long? Have you been in a bar where a stranger approached you and showed a little too much interest in you? Have you chatted to anyone recently? It doesn’t have to be for long. Sometimes a few minutes, or even a few seconds is all it takes for a stalker to establish some kind of connection.”

“No,” Emma said quietly and shook her head. “Nothing like that has happened to me.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” Graham asked.

“Yes,” Emma said firmly and truthfully. She had experienced nothing that could be compared to what Graham had just described.

“Okay,” Graham nodded. “Right now, we’re still trying to locate miss Page, but judging by what you’ve told me, we have to assume that this is the work of a stranger and not someone who has a connection with you.”

“I suppose that could explain why he decided to take such random items from my room,” Emma said. “But it still doesn’t explain that message he had scratched into my car. I don’t know, I just... It seems personal in a way, you know?”

“It does,” Graham said and nodded. “But more often than not stalkers are unpredictable, and while the things they do doesn’t make sense to us, it does for them.”

“Is there anything I can do to protect myself?” Emma asked.

“Stay alert,” Graham said. “Change your routines. Borrow different vehicles to and from work. Use public transport. Try to avoid going out alone, but don’t shield yourself off, Emma.”

“Easier said than done,” Emma said bitterly.

“I know this is a damned situation,” Graham said, and Emma almost cracked a smile. “But we’ll figure this out. Trust me. We’ll get this guy.”

“Yeah,” Emma said without much hope in her voice. Everything seemed so bleak. And the situation seemed more and more serious. There was somebody out there who was targeting her. Emma felt that pinching sensation in her stomach again.

Graham told her to not loose hope. He would fix this, and Emma so wished that she could believe him. She so wished that his reassurance would somehow be enough.

She forced herself to smile as the sheriff of Steveston rose from the chair and then flashed her one more reassuring smile before he left her room.

Emma’s smile immediately fell once she had locked the door behind him. It wasn’t Mary Margaret. It wasn’t David. It wasn’t even Leopold White. All of them had solid alibies. True, the police still hadn’t found Lily, but Emma blankly refused to believe that she could have anything to do with this.

But if it wasn’t Lily, who the hell WAS it then?! A complete stranger like Graham had said. Emma’s heart started to hammer against her ribcage again. Why her? Why had some random lunatic chosen her of all people?

The blonde went back to the bed and sat down heavily once more. She wringed her brain and desperately tried to think of someone who had been looking at her for too long like Graham had said. Someone who had been too interested in her.

But she came up empty. Emma couldn’t think of a single person who would do this. Apart from her adoptive parents, she had no enemies. No one she had had an argument with or anything.

Emma rose from the bed and paranoidly went over to the window. She lifted the blinds and peeked outside. She couldn’t see anything. The street were empty. There was no one around.

But that wasn’t very reassuring. Because Emma knew that even though she couldn’t see him, her stalker could very well be here anyway. Hiding in plain sight.

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

The next while utterly hellish. A complete nightmare. There was no other description for what Emma was going through.

She did her usual thing. She woke up, got dressed, had breakfast, exchanged a few words with Ruby and then drove off to work. But she felt like some sort of robot. Like she had been programmed. She wasn’t living. She was functioning. And it felt like her battery was running out.

Running. Running away. Emma would lie if she claimed that she hadn’t thought about that at least once in the past two days. Especially at night it was tempting to pack up and follow her usual modus operandi. Run away. Relocate. She had moved around a lot when she lived in Toronto. She could do it again.

But the thought didn’t get a chance to live long before Emma got angry at herself. She couldn’t just run. She had established herself here. She had friends. She had a job. Steveston was her home now, and come hell or high water, Emma refused to leave it. She loved this place. She felt at home here. For the first time in her life she felt like she belonged, and no freak in a hoodie was allowed to take that away
from her. She wouldn’t have it.

And nothing else had happened. Emma hadn’t seen the grey station car nor the mysterious, hoodie wearing man. No more sightings. No more phone calls. No more vandalism. No nothing.

Emma didn’t quite understand it. She had expected the stalking to escalate. Not stop entirely. And she wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Graham was baffled too. A stalker who vandalized a car only to vanish in thin air for three weeks wasn’t exactly common.

Emma was confused to say the least. But maybe that was just a part of the stalkers plan. To make her confused and then lull her into a false sense of security by disappearing. And then striking when she felt safe. This didn’t make her feel safe in any way. If anything, this only made her feel all the more scared.

She didn’t sleep very good at night. She kept waking up with the urge to look out of the window. And more than once, that urge won. Actually, it was more than once. Several times she woke up, jumped out of bed and lifted the blinds to look out of the window. Her dreams had convinced her that either the grey station car was parked outside, or the mysterious stranger was standing outside and looking up at her, only faintly illuminated by the streetlights.

But he never was. No matter how many times Emma checked, there never was a stranger standing outside.

Emma’s phone was completely silent during that hellish time.

Well, not completely silent. That was an exaggeration. She heard plenty from Ella, but when it came to hearing from the one person Emma wanted to hear from the most, her phone remained silent. She didn’t hear anything from Regina at all. The brunette had clearly meant it when she had texted that she didn’t want any contact with Emma.

Emma kept fighting that urge as well. The urge to grasp her phone and text Regina just one more time. She still couldn’t quite believe that things had ended like this. So abruptly. So unceremoniously.

And without any real explanation. Because Emma sure as hell didn’t feel like Regina had given her a real reason as to why Regina had ended things with her. All she had been given was a lousy “it’s not you, it’s me”-apology. What did that even mean? And if there wasn’t room for dating in Regina’s life, then why had she agreed to go out with Emma in the first place? What had happened since then?

Something had to had happened recently. Something that meant that Regina suddenly didn’t want to date her anymore. But what? Was Regina okay? Was Henry? Could it be something with Henry? Emma often laid awake for hours and speculated, but she kept coming up empty. She couldn’t figure it out. And it was driving her crazy, thinking about it all the time. But she couldn’t stop. Thinking about Regina was both torture and an escape. Thinking about the happy times she’d shared with Regina made her forget about the lurking threat and the constant pressure she was under. If only she could force herself to only think about the happy times she and Regina had shared. But obviously, that damned text message kept popping up in her mind. That last little text message that had ruined everything.

‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore.’ Not ever. Not even as friends. Emma kept thinking about that. Why not? Sure, there wasn’t room in Regina’s life for dating, Emma was willing to accept that, but there wasn’t room for friends in Regina’s life? What was that about? Emma couldn’t figure that out either. Why did Regina suddenly refuse to communicate with her? Emma missed it more than she ever had had fantasy to imagine. The daily morning texts from Regina. The late night texts where the brunette asked Emma about her workday and her writing process. She had been so genuinely interested in Emma’s life, had wanted to know everything, and Emma had loved to fill Regina in on everything. And then hear about Regina and Henry’s day in return. She had loved hearing what mother and son had been up to, she had chuckled at every quirky thing Regina had texted her that Henry had said. Even though she had only met him twice, Emma already felt as though she knew the kid. And
Regina constantly asked about her writing behalf of him. He had still been so interested in her fairytales, and Emma had been looking forward to showing him the finished result the next time they saw each other. She had promised him that he would be her beta reader, and she’d had every intention of keeping that promise.

But now she couldn’t. Because Regina didn’t want to see her again. Not even as friends. And even though Regina had claimed that Emma hadn’t done anything wrong, how was Emma supposed to believe that? She had to have done something wrong. Why else would Regina chose to cut ties with her in such a drastic manner?

Emma’s sleep pattern was fucked up. She didn’t sleep at night. She lied awake and thought. Either of Regina or of the stalker. And when she was on the brink of sleep, she forced herself out of bed and over to the window to check because what if? What if the stalker was back?

In the morning, Emma forced herself out of bed and off to work. Where she felt like a zombie. But she did her job. God forbid she should get fired on top of everything. Sometime during those three weeks, her car was returned to her. New tires and fresh paint. The parking lot outside Dragon Publishing was being patrolled by armed guards. Malena had made sure of that. As she had made sure that one of the staff members followed Emma home in his own car. And thus Emma had an armed staff member driving behind her. For a week. That’s when she’d had enough and asked Malena to make the security guard stop. Malena hadn’t been overly thrilled, but Emma had insisted that it was her decision, and after a bit of talk back and forward, Malena had agreed that Emma could drive home on her own but had in the same breath insisted that Emma wasn’t allowed to hesitate if she felt like there was someone driving behind her. Emma had promised to call if she spotted the grey station car in her rearview mirror.

Which she didn’t do. The first time she drove home alone, she had almost been blinded by paranoia and checked the rearview mirror in a manner that almost landed her in a ditch a couple of times, but there never was anyone driving behind her. The grey station car was simply gone. Like it had never even been there in the first place.

Emma wasn’t completely sure why, but she somehow found that to be even creepier than if the stalking had been constant. This was somehow worse. It was like waiting for an enormous storm to hit.

Because Emma had an instinctive feeling that this wasn’t the end of it. She refused to believe that her stalker simply had had enough and had disappeared. She didn’t find the silence from the stalker relieving. She found it omnivorous. Like he was somehow preparing. Like he was somehow planning something that was even worse than keying her car.

Emma wasn’t completely sure what he was planning, and she didn’t want to think about it either. It scared the shit out of her. And there was nothing she could do about it. Yes, she had visited Graham and told him about her “hunch”, but there wasn’t a lot he could do about it. He couldn’t do anything until the stalker actually struck again.

The stalker had robbed Emma of her sleep. But however strange it sounded, he hadn’t robbed her of her inspiration. Her muse had returned sometime during her first “Regina-free”-week. Chapter after chapter about Willa and Helena formed in Emma’s mind, and however hard she tried, she couldn’t keep them in there. She had to get them out on paper. The story about Willa and Helena wanted to be written. And so, by the end of her first “Regina-free”-week, Emma had taken advantage of the fact that she couldn’t sleep anyway. She closed the blinds, sat up in bed, draped the duvets around herself and then she had placed the laptop in her lap and begun writing. She had popped her headphones on and had allowed Greg Gonzalez and Cigarettes After Sex to take over. She stopped thinking about anything when she wrote. Everything became distant. Willa and Helena’s journey filled her mind, and Emma even sometimes managed to forget who Helena actually was. She sometimes blissfully forgot that this story wasn’t pure fiction. Everything just sort of faded away as she wrote. A moment of bliss.

That became her strategy. Dozing herself up on coffee and working her ass off at Dragon Publishing during the day. Pass out on her bed and sleep for two or three hours when she came home from work and then spend her night on writing. And it worked. Not even her stalker existed when she wrote, and she completely forgot to look out of the window. She forgot to freak out every time a car drove past her window. Writing was a haven, but also an obsession. She clung to Helena. She clung to the fictionalized version of Regina.

Emma knew that the way she was currently living her life wasn’t healthy, but she couldn’t do anything to stop it. Writing was the only thing that took the edge off things. And her writing had never been better. The plot was tight yet detailed, the chemistry between the characters was incredible even in writing. Now and then Emma had to take a quick break because re-creating Regina’s post-its was too painful. But then she had clenched her jaw and forced herself to continue. The story didn’t work without the written post-its messages Helena gave to Willa. Whenever Emma wrote a new post-it message in the story, she thought about her own post-it notes that had been stolen by the stalker, and a few times she had been on the verge of tears because it wasn’t fair that the stalker had taken the only physical memory she had about Regina. Emma would have been less upset if he had trashed her room or taken her money. And she still couldn’t figure out why the stalker had taken the post-it notes. Her library car with picture identification was one thing. Emma could partially “understand” the perverted reason why the stalker would take something with a picture of her, but why he had taken the post-it messages was still a mystery to her. Had he accidentally stumbled upon them and become jealous when he realized that she was getting close to someone else? Emma couldn’t figure it out.

 

Despite how unhealthy her new writing habits were, it still turned out to be entirely worth it. On the third week of “no Regina”, Emma had finished the first ten chapters of her story about Willa and Helena.

And it was good. Yes, perhaps she was biased and not the right person to judge this, but it was good. Her writing has never been shaper. She had struggled to come up with a proper title, so she had chosen to simply call it “A Tap on the Shoulder”. Because that was how it had all started. With a simple tap on the shoulder. Emma had stared herself sick at the words written on the documents, and without fully knowing why, she had transferred it to a memory stick, wandered over to the library and then she had asked Isabelle to borrow the printer so she could print out the first ten chapters. Isabelle had immediately said yes to that, and Emma had printed the documents? Why? Who knows? Maybe because she wanted to read through it again and again, but her laptop needed a break and a chance to actually charge. Or maybe because she wanted to see what it looked like if it was a book. Emma didn’t care whether it was pathetic or not. She had reached a certain stage where she no longer questioned what she did and didn’t do.

And speaking of doing things, she had plans for tonight. She was going out. She was treating herself to a well deserved night out and a drink. But not in Steveston. Somewhere else. Right now, Steveston simply felt too small for her. Emma needed to get out of town. Just for a night. That couldn’t be dangerous, right? She hadn’t seen the stalker for three whole weeks. Surely, a night out couldn’t do anything to endanger her. It would be fine. She would be fine. She would be with lots of other people in the bar. There was no way her stalker could get to her when she was out in public. Emma refused to believe that. Plain and simple.

The blonde left the library and walked back towards Eugenia’s Inn. It was just around lunch time, so there was quite a few people in the diner. Ruby was busy serving people, but she still managed to shoot
Emma a concerned look.

Emma ducked as she hurried up the stairs. She knew why Ruby was looking at her. She knew that the younger brunette was worried about her because Emma had pretty much been avoiding everyone for three weeks. She hadn’t told Ruby much. Just that she and Regina weren’t seeing each other anymore. The waitress had expressed how sorry she was about that, and then asked Emma if there was anything she could do to help her. Emma had just smiled and thanked her and said that she would be fine.

Which she wouldn’t.

As she made it back to her room, Emma stuffed the newly printed documents into her shoulder bag and then even went as far as considering to lock her laptop inside a drawer and stuff the key into her pocket. She was paranoid enough to believe that the stalker could return and force his way inside her room.

Emma rubbed a hand over her face as she looked at herself in the mirror. She looked awful. Plain and simple. There were bags underneath her eyes, and her cheeks eve seemed a bit hollow. But maybe that made perfect sense. She hadn’t really been eating much for the past couple of weeks.

She would have to do something about her appearance before heading out tonight. Maybe going out and mingling with the crowd when there was a lunatic following her wasn’t the best idea, but Emma was willing to “risk” it. She had been cooped up in her room for too long. She couldn’t just put her life on pause. She refused to do that. She just... She needed a break from it all. A night out where she didn’t think about anything except for her next drink. And she was going to take the bus like a good girl. She was going to change her routines. Exactly like Graham had asked her to.

Emma sat down on the bed once more and stared at her laptop. She supposed she had time to write a bit more. She was so close to being done with the fairytales, but lately, she hadn’t had the required inspiration to write her twisted fairytales. The only story she was interested in writing was “A Tap on the Shoulder”. She wanted to write about Willa and Helena. Writing about the “fictional” version of Regina was a whole new level of torture, but Emma couldn’t help it. Nor did she want to. It provided her with an escape, and right now Emma was grateful for whatever escape she could find. Especially since she refused to escape physically. And who said running away would even change anything? Who said that the stalker wouldn’t just follow her? Wasn’t that how stalking worked?

Yes it was.

Emma grabbed her laptop. Switched it on and then clenched her jaw firmly as she open the folder called “fairytales”. She had been putting this off for far too long. She couldn’t just stop writing on her first project because she had come up with some sick way to keep a teeny tiny piece of Regina. It was crazy.

The blonde sighed quietly as she stared at the written words on the documents. She flexed her fingers and then cracked her knuckles slightly. Maybe she didn’t feel like writing on this story right now, but she had to at least try. If she didn’t finish it, all her hopes about ever getting something published would go right down the drain. She couldn’t very well call herself a writer if she didn’t actually write.

And so she did. She picked up right where she left off with her last fairytale, and she was surprised to discover that the words came easier to her than she had expected. She felt a faint whisper of that old inspiration, and for a split second she felt a tiny bit optimistic. Maybe she would end up finishing her fairytale project after all.

That’s when she heard a car drive by outside, but Emma plain refused to look out of the window. She was just being paranoid. It wasn’t her stalker.

 

 

That same night, Emma was standing in front of her mirror again. She had swapped her “comfy” sweatpants and baggy t-shirt for a pair of black skinny jeans and a tight, black tanktop. She had put on just a dash of mascara, a touch of lipstick and she had even tried to contour her face a little. She wasn’t sure how well she had succeeded, but it was the best she could muster. It was just a night out in a random bar she had even chosen yet. It wasn’t anything important. Not a date or anything.

Emma got distracted for a second as she opened one of the drawers to find her leather jacket. She had just spotted the grey, sparkly dress she had worn that night at the concert. God, she had been so excited that night. So happy. Emma touched the dress lightly. She remembered how underdressed she had felt when she had seen Regina and the red dress she had been wearing that night. Emma’s belly pinched again as she thought back to when they had been discarding of their coats in the wardrobe, and she had seen the way Regina had looked at her. With so much tenderness in her eyes. Emma knew it had been tenderness. There wasn’t another word to use for it. Emma suspected that she had had the same look in her eyes when she had looked at Regina.

And now Regina didn’t want anything to do with her anymore. Emma’s broken, battered heart throbbed slightly, and the blonde swallowed thickly and then shook her head once. No, she didn’t have the energy to get upset all over again, and besides, what could would it do? What would it help?

Nothing. Absolutely, fucking nothing.

Emma squared her shoulders as she grabbed her leather jacket and slammed the drawer shut. No more sparkly dress. No more thinking about Regina. She was done being a sadist for today.

The blonde grabbed her phone, key and her bag. And then she left her room. Obviously, she locked the door firmly behind her and even pressed the doorknob a few times to ensure that the door really was locked. Her paranoia was still raging. Emma hoped that she would get a well-deserved break from feeling paranoid tonight. She wasn’t planning on getting pissed drunk, just comfortably tipsy. Just enough to make her head feel pleasantly floaty. Just enough to make all the negative thoughts go away.

She marched down the hallway and down the stairs. Made it to the restaurant where Eugenia were standing behind the counter instead of Ruby for a change. Emma guessed that the waitress was out with Dorothy again. Lucky her.

Eugenia smiled at her and wished her a good night, and Emma thanked the grey-haired woman and asked her to keep an eye on her room. Eugenia assured that she would keep an eye on everything. She nonchalantly mentioned the crossbow, and Emma ended up laughing a bit. Her laughter was a bit stiff, but nevertheless it was a laughter. It felt a little foreign to Emma. She had definitely not been laughing a lot for the past three weeks.

 

Soon Emma found herself seated in the old, rattling bus. She still wasn’t completely sure where she was going, really, but she would figure it out.

It was possible that Graham had told her that changing her routines and started to take the bus instead of driving in her car was a good idea, but honest to god, this creeped the hell out of Emma. She kept staring at the other people in the bus. Because she couldn’t possibly know whether it was one of them. Her stalker could be the guy sitting only two seats away from her. Or it could be the guy sitting near the door and waiting to get out at the next stop. Literally, it could be anyone of the people in the bus, because the police had managed to locate Lily. She was in Québec with her girlfriend and had been for the past fourteen days. It wasn’t her either. Exactly like Emma had predicted. Which meant that this was the work of a stranger. Anyone. And someone who could potentially be on the bus right now.

Emma took a deep breath and tried to calm down. She was paranoid. She would just have to trust that her stalker wasn’t on this bus. She took another deep breath and found her phone in her bag. To distract herself she began texting Ella, and Ella was quick to respond. She had more than once offered to come to Vancouver and “hang out for a while”, but Emma had insisted that it wasn’t necessary. She would be fine. And Ella couldn’t just take time away from her job. Ingrid would fire her.

The bus rounded a corner, and Emma groaned when the movement caused her to nearly slide off her seat completely. Imagine if she had ended up on the floor. That would have been a less than pretty sight.

“Are you alright?” the guy sitting near the door asked and looked as though he was trying to quell his amusement.

But Emma felt less than amused as she offered a curt “yep” and narrowed her eyes at the guy. Could it be him? Was this some sort of hidden way for him to get her to talk to him? Was he laughing because she had no idea that it was him? Was he messing with her deliberately?

The guy raised an eyebrow, and Emma quickly looked away. It was definitely tempting to keep looking at him, but she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

The bus came to a stop, and the guy left. Emma watched as he walked down the street, and she was definitely paying attention to whether he turned around to look back at her.

He didn’t. But that didn’t soothe Emma much. Of course he wouldn’t be so obvious if it really was him.

She sighed a little and leaned back in her seat.

 

Emma had found a bar.

Not a fancy bar or anything. Just a bar. A smoke filled, crowded bar with too loud music playing. It was perfect.

Emma quickly found a table near the counter, and it didn’t take long before the bartender noticed her and came over to her table.

“Margarita,” Emma said plainly.

“Can I see some ID, please?”

Emma raised an eyebrow and glared at him. “I’m twenty seven!”

The bartender offered a chuckle. “I was just messing around.”

“Right. Hilarious.” Emma said flatly. Seriously, what kind of bar was this?! She was paying to have something to drink. Not to have the bartender crack ridiculous jokes.

Emma gnashed her teeth as she waited for her drink. She was already starting to regret this. Maybe she should just have stayed home instead. She could have gone to the Rabbit Hole and had a drink. At least there weren’t idiotic bartenders there. She glanced around in the bar and scanned every inch of the room as she waited for her drink. Full of people. But no one that was looking at her. At least not in an obvious way. Was she really safe here? Emma frowned as she considered how she could be sure. How she ever could be sure. This was the first time she went somewhere that wasn’t work, and she honestly wasn’t sure how she was feeling about it. She felt much more alert and on edge here. Unsafe. She sighed. The stalker was definitely succeeding in his plan about making her feel unsafe everywhere she went. He was succeeding in making her think that staying home was the best thing she could do. The blonde clenched her fist. Fuck him! Just... Fuck him!

Her train of hateful thoughts were interrupted when the bartender came back to her table and placed her drink in front of her with the words: “one Margarita.”

“Thank you,” Emma said and tried not to sound too sardonically. It wasn’t his fault that she was in a crappy mood.

But at least the drink was good. Very good, actually. Emma quickly took a larger sip and fully enjoyed the taste prickling slightly on her tongue. She emptied the drink far quicker than intended and ordered another even quicker. She once again reminded herself that she wasn’t here to get completely shitfaced. Just to have a couple of drinks and then take the creaking bus back to Steveston and go to bed. Like a good little girl.

She took smaller sips of the next drink, but the glass seemed to empty rather fast anyway. Emma forced herself to wait a little before ordering the next drink. She spend her time with looking around in the bar and listening to the music playing in the background:

‘My eyes adored you

Though I never laid a hand on you

My eyes adored you

Like a million miles away

From me you couldn't see

How I adored you

So close, so close

And yet so far...’

 

Emma quickly waved the bartender over and promptly ordered another drink. What the hell was this shit? Was this some kind of shitty joke or what? Was the universe conspiring against her? She scoffed.

There had to be some sort of higher power laughing his/her ass off somewhere right now. Emma refused to believe that this was just a coincidence.

The bartender arrived with her drink. This time Emma had made the unwise decision of ordering shots. Two, to be precise. She would probably regret the hell out of that decision later, but right now she didn’t give a shit about that. Right now, she just wanted to drink until that stupid fucking song playing on the radio disappeared. Maybe she could ask the bartender to find something else on the radio.

She downed the first shot, and it didn’t take long before she felt brave enough to wave the bartender over and ask him to find another song. But the song switched before she got the chance to follow through with her plans. Good. Emma hoped that the next song would be something with an aggressive beat. Something better.

It wasn’t.

‘Return to sender, return to sender

I gave a letter to the postman, he put it his sack

Bright in early next morning, he brought my letter back...’

 

“Are you fucking KIDDING me?!” Emma bellowed and felt tempted to slam her fist onto the table. “Is this some kind of sick joke?!”

It wasn’t.

 

‘She wrote upon it

Return to sender, address unknown

No such number, no such zone...’

 

Emma groaned; now she felt tempted to drop her head onto the table and rest it there for a while. She downed her last shot and dearly wished that she’d had one more. Or two more. Or three. Or four...

Nope. Nu-uh. You’re not here to get drunk, Emma reminded herself. At least not THAT drunk. But it was definitely tempting to get a little drunk when this fucking song kept playing:

 

‘We had a quarrel, a lover's spat

I write I'm sorry, but my letter keeps coming back....’

 

Emma nodded a bit to herself. Good old Elvis Presley. He clearly knew what it was about. Poor guy. If there was an ounce of truth in the song, that was. Had Elvis ever been dumped like that? Somehow
Emma doubted it. She stared thoughtfully at her empty shot glass as she considered it.

After “Return To Sender”, The Police’s “Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic” rapidly followed, and Emma was beginning to consider whether it was “heartbreak night” on this bar or something like that. Either way, Emma felt tempted to leave. These songs didn’t exactly help her situation.

“Hey.”

Emma looked up and nearly rolled her eyes at what she was seeing. Brunette, twenty something, blue eyes and a smile that was just a bit too cocky. Plaid shirt partly unbuttoned to give an eyeful of her cleavage. Deep blue skinny jeans.

“Hi.” Emma greeted and offered a slight nod.

“Is that seat taken?” she asked and nodded towards the empty seat next to Emma’s.

“Nope,” Emma said truthfully.

“Cool,” the brunette said as she sat down and flashed Emma a smile. “I’m Natalie. Nat.”

“Nice to meet you,” Emma said politely.

The brunette- Natalie- smiled again and tugged her hair behind her ear as she asked: “And what’s your name?”

“Emma.”

“That’s very pretty,” Natalie said, tugging her hair behind her ear again. “Can I buy you a drink, Emma?”

“No, thank you. I don’t think I’ll be drinking anymore tonight.”

“Oh. Okay. How about a dance then?” Natalie asked briskly and offered the blonde a slight grin. There were no doubts of her intentions. Her body language had already told the blonde everything she needed to know.

Emma looked at her. She was undoubtedly good looking. Gleam in her eyes, dark hair. Exactly Emma’s type. And had this been like in the “good old days”, Emma would have let Natalie buy her a drink. She would have danced with her. And then she would have said yes when Natalie delivered the famous “back to my place?” question. Or maybe she would even have followed Natalie inside the bathroom for a half-drunken hookup.

But this was not like in the good old days. And the only thing Emma could see as she stared blankly at Natalie, was Regina’s face. Regina smiling at her. Regina shaking her head in that way she always did when she was secretly amused over something Emma had said. Regina’s dark eyes gleaming slightly whenever she reached for another post-it note to write another message for Emma.

“No,” Emma said plainly.

Natalie raised an eyebrow in confusion. “What?”

“No, I don’t think I want to dance,” Emma clarified.

“You sure? And you sure I can’t buy you a drink either?” Natalie asked, voice dropping suggestively as she made a movement that sent her dark, curly hair tumbling around her face. Emma could only see smooth, silky soft dark hair. This was awful. The more Natalie flirted with her, the sharper the imagine of Regina became in Emma’s mind. Damn it. There was no moving on from Regina, was there? Not even now when the perfect opportunity to completely think of something else had just presented itself. Natalie was good looking. Natalie wanted to buy her a drink. Natalie wanted to dance with her, and later on, Natalie would undoubtedly ask the blonde to come back to her place.

And all Emma could think about was Regina. Shit. This is not fair!

“No,” Emma said and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I gotta... I gotta go.”

“Seriously?” Natalie asked and raised an eyebrow again.

Emma just settled for a nod as she waved to get the bartenders attention. After a moment he spotted her, and Emma was quick to pay the bill.

She grabbed her bag and rose from her seat. And without as much as looking twice at Natalie, the blonde pushed her way out of the crowded bar. Coming here hadn’t been the well-deserved break she had hoped for. Instead her little night out had just made everything worse.

 

Emma’s plan had been to either catch a bus or hail a taxi, but that was before her half-drunken mind had realized how close she was to Regina’s house. And somehow, without fully knowing how, Emma suddenly found herself standing in front of that white house she had been waiting in front when she had picked Regina up so they could drive to that concert together. In a flashback, she saw Regina step out on the porch in her white trench coat.

But tonight Regina was not stepping out on her porch. Tonight the house was completely dark and quiet.

Emma staggered up the pathway and stared dumbly at the white door for a few seconds. Golden door handle. Huh. She didn’t notice that the last time she was here. The blonde tapped her fist against the door. The sound was so much louder than what she had intended.

No answer.

“Can’t we at least talk about this?” Emma begged, and then realized what she just had asked Regina to do. Talk. “God damn it! I didn’t mean it like that!” she yelped. “I meant; can’t we at least c-c-communicate? Like we used to? Please?” she knocked again.

Still no answer.

“At least tell me what I’ve done wrong,” Emma said and her voice broke. “Please. I don’t understand what I’ve done to upset you!”

No reaction to that either.

“I’m s-sorry,” Emma whispered and tried not to sniffle too loudly. “For whatever I said or done, I’m really, really sorry! I wish... I wish we could have at least stayed friends or something, but I guess I must have really messed up with you. Yeah. I do that a lot. I suppose I should have seen this coming because I can never hold on to anything good, and I always destroy everything I touch. At least that’s what my adoptive mother always said, and I guess she was right about that.” The blonde sniffled again.

There was still no reaction. No, of course not. Regina had very specifically said that she didn’t want anything to do with Emma, so why should she react to this?

“I’m sorry,” Emma said to the closed door. “I’m really, really sorry! I know I’m an idiot for being here, okay? But I can’t... I can’t get you out of my head, and I KNOW that’s fucking stupid because we only went on three dates, and... I don’t know, I suppose I just... really fell for-“ the blonde interrupted herself and put a hand against the house. Her head was spinning slightly.

Quiet. Just that. Nothing but silence. Emma shook her head. Regina had probably already forgotten her. But Emma hadn’t forgotten Regina. And she wanted the brunette to know that. She wanted Regina to have something to remember her by.

Emma followed yet another crazy, half-drunken instinct and reached within her shoulder bag. She found the pages, the first ten chapter of “A Tap on the Shoulder” she had printed out earlier, and then, ignoring how the ground moved slightly, she left the manuscript on Regina’s porch.

“You once said that you wanted to read my stuff,” Emma mumbled to the closed door. Then she turned around and staggered away from the white house. The silent, white house.

She ended up hailing a taxi instead of waiting for the bus. She couldn’t be bothered. The creaky, wobbling bus ride back to Steveston wouldn’t help with her dizziness, and right now Emma was simply too exhausted and lightheaded to look around at the other passengers and remembering to stay vigilant like Graham had told her.

She climbed into the taxi and mumbled her address followed by a “hurry, please!”

The taxi driver promised to do so, and Emma leaned back and closed her eyes, hoping that it would help with the dizziness.

 

****************

 

She didn’t feel much better when she finally could unlock her door and step inside her room. Tonight hadn’t been the blissful break Emma had so needed. Instead it had just been a grim reminder of how miserable she felt.

Nothing was working out for her. Plain and simple. Emma fumbled to lock the door behind her, and when she finally succeeded, she dumped her bag on the floor, put her phone down harshly on the nightstand, and then went into the bathroom where she sloppily removed her makeup and then tugged her jeans, tanktop and bra off and then traded the clothes for her sweatpants and long t-shirt. She cursed under her breath as she managed to knock her mascara onto the floor, but she made no attempt at picking it up. It could wait until tomorrow. Everything could wait until tomorrow.

The blonde stumbled back inside her bedroom and cursed a bit more as she stubbed her toe. Without much further ado, she collapsed on the bed. The room was spinning, and Emma silently scolded herself for once again having proved that she couldn’t even follow her own rules. Of course she had ended up drinking too much. Like the idiot she was. At least she hadn’t said yes to Natalie’s offer about another drink and a dance. Emma groaned and covered her face with her hands. Natalie. Why did she have to bump into a brunette tonight? And why did said brunette have to somehow remind her of
Regina? It wasn’t fair.

Emma outstretched a hand and fumbled to find her phone on her nightstand. She wanted to either call or text Ella. She needed to talk to someone. Otherwise she would probably just start to weep in a second. Drinking always made her weepy. It didn’t matter whether she was happy or sad. Tears always came too easily to her when she was drunk.

She finally managed to grab onto the phone, but she didn’t get the chance to even turn it over and look at the screen before it chimed once in her hand.

Emma moaned and cursed her floaty head as she with some trouble propped herself up on one elbow. Her fingers trembled and she managed to write the wrong password twice as she tried to unlock her phone. Why did she even have a password anyway? It didn’t make any sense. She succeeded on her third attempt and then swiped to see the message. Emma’s heart started to thump in her chest. It was a text from Regina. The blonde blinked as she tried to focus on the text on her screen. After a few attempts she succeeded, but only to immediately wish that she hadn’t.

‘Emma, I meant what I texted you a few weeks ago. We shouldn’t see each other anymore. Don’t contact me again. Just stay away from me.’

Emma sniffled again. Regina really didn’t want anything to do with her. ‘Just stay away from me’. Even if she tried, she couldn’t have rejected Emma in a more brutal, cold way, and the blonde cried quietly as she once again felt like the little girl who had been rejected all her life. The little girl nobody wanted. The little girl who so desperately had been searching for a place to fit in. The little girl who deep down was still searching for a place to fit in.

Now Emma was openly crying into her pillow. She had felt so good when she came here. All she had wanted was the chance to start over, and now everything was going to hell. Maybe coming here had been a mistake. Maybe all of this had been a huge fucking mistake. Maybe she should just go back to Toronto. Or somewhere else. California. Or Florida. She could go to Tallahassee. Yeah. Sit and write on the beach and write every day. She could totally do that, couldn’t she? The blonde reached behind her and pulled the covers up over her head. Maybe she would call in sick tomorrow. She FELT sick. Like actually sick. Nauseous. And with that particular ache in her chest. Was it a valid excuse to say you were suffering from a serious case of heartbreak? Could you die from having your heart broken?

Right now, it definitely felt like it. Emma’s soft cries turned into hiccups. She felt stupid and pathetic. She was a full grown woman, crying like a child. Regina didn’t want anything to do with her. She wanted Emma to stay away from her. Emma would just have to suck it up and move on instead of acting like the world had come to an end. Maybe she WAS too dramatic. At least that was what Mary Margaret always had said. And that was pretty rich coming from a woman who was the queen of dramatic gestures.

Emma chuckled exhaustedly at that. Mary Margaret and her many, many phone calls. Each and every one of them so very dramatic. Emma snorted quietly into her pillow. If Mary Margaret could see her right now... God, she was so tired. She needed to sleep. Maybe everything would be better tomorrow. Maybe she would have forgotten this night, and maybe her head wouldn’t feel so floaty tomorrow.

Yeah. Everything would be better tomorrow. Wasn’t that what everyone always said? ‘You just need some sleep. Everything will be better tomorrow’. ‘Have you tried switching it on and off’ for humans. It actually made perfect sense, really. Yup. Perfect sense. Everything would probably be fucking fantastic tomorrow. Rainbows and butterflies and pink dancing clouds. Like the ones she’d had in her room back in Mary Margaret’s house. God, she used to hate those dancing, fluffy clouds above her bed! They looked fucking ridiculous. And even more so when she had turned thirteen and fourteen and fifteen.

She hadn’t been allowed to remove them. Emma giggled ridiculously into her pillow when she remembered that time, she had ripped them down and Mary Margaret had cried because of it. Yep. The woman who called Emma dramatic had cried when her fifteen year old adoptive daughter had ridded herself of a décor that should have left her room when she was twelve and not fifteen.

God, her childhood had been ridiculous. And her teenage years. No wait, her whole life had been ridiculous. Maybe she should call Mary Margaret and apologize for not having been the picture perfect little princess of a daughter her adoptive mother had so wanted.

Or maybe not. Maybe she should tell her overactive, overheated, sleep deprived and not to mention incredibly drunk brain to shut up and go to sleep. God, she needed to go to sleep. She had to be up early tomorrow. Right now she had no idea why, but she was sure there was something she needed to do tomorrow. Something important. Something she used her laptop to do. What could it be?
Seriously, what? Emma had no idea right now. But there was something. Oh god, she needed to sleep. Everything was spinning, even when she had her eyes closed. Emma groaned as she mashed her face more firmly into the pillow. Just go to sleep, Swan. Go to sleep. Stop thinking. Everything would be better tomorrow. Wait. Did she lock the door? Oh, right. She did. Yeah. Definitely. Of course she did. She wasn’t an idiot.

Or maybe she was. There was actually a pretty good chance she was an idiot. But right now Emma couldn’t remember why that was either. Maybe it had something to do with that thing she had taken out of her bag and left somewhere earlier. But she couldn’t remember what that was either. She just knew that there had been something in her bag. Something she had removed. Something she had left somewhere it didn’t belong. Maybe she could remember what it was tomorrow. She hoped so. She had a feeling that it had been something important. But for right now.....

She just needed to sleep. She.... Just.... needed....To.... Sleep.... Emma’s hand went limp, and her head dropped to the pillow.

 

****************

 

Emma’s eyes snapped open. What time was it? Her room was dark. Too dark. It couldn’t be morning yet. And that high pitched sound wasn’t her alarm waking her. It was ringing. Yes. Her phone was ringing. She had forgotten to mute the sound.

The high pitched screeching was echoing in Emma’s poor, aching head, and she moaned in pain as she scrabbled to find her phone. It was still lying somewhere in the bed. She could feel it.

After a bit of fumbling and an even bigger amount of cursing, Emma finally found the phone, tapped in her password and used one hand to swipe over the screen to take the call as she used the other to rub her eyes. She brought the phone up to her ear.

“Hello?” she said croakily.

There was no answer.

“Hello?” Emma said again and cleared her throat in an attempt to sound more awake. “Hello?”

Still no answer.

God, her head was throbbing. But suddenly, some of the fogginess disappeared and Emma’s brain started to work again. A shiver ran down her spine when she suddenly realized who it was that was calling her this late.

“H-hello?” she whispered.

Silence.

Angry at herself for sounding afraid, Emma forced herself to sound more firm. “Hello?! Who the hell is this?!”

This time she could hear heavy breathing in the other end. Another utter cliché, but damn it was effective! And especially this late.

“Who is this?!” Emma hissed. “You think this is scary? Let me tell you something, you asshat! It’s not scary. You are just being a stupid fucking coward!”

More heavy breathing.

“Who are you?!” Emma yelled. “What the hell do you want?!”

The heavy breathing continued, and it seemed as though whoever it was came closer to the phone.

Emma felt more and more sober. And angry. So fucking angry. How DARED he?! “You fucking cowardly piece of shit! You can’t even tell me your fucking na-“

“You’ll find out,” a male voice suddenly said in the other end, and Emma nearly dropped the phone. Her heart started to thump in her chest again. She felt sick all over again.

“If you don’t do as I say,” the voice continued hoarsely in the other end.

“What the hell do you want?!” Emma demanded.

“I want you...”

Emma swallowed something. Another cliché. But damn effective.

“To stay away....”

Emma blinked. “To stay away from what?!” she demanded. “What the hell are you talking abou-“

 

“From HER!” he yelled, and Emma yelped, nearly dropping the phone, and almost falling out of bed. Bile rose in her throat.

“Stay. Away. From. Her.” the male voice quietly hissed in the other end, he had seemingly regained control over his voice. “I’m warning you...”

There was a slight crash, a click, and then nothing but silence.

Emma’s heart was hammering worse than ever against her ribs. It felt as though her bladder could fail her at any moment. She scrambled to free herself from the covers and then she nearly stumbled as she went into the bathroom.

Once she was done doing her business, Emma washed her trembling hands and then grabbed a glass from the cabinet above the sink. She held the glass under the stream of cold water for a second and then drank greedily. Her head was throbbing, but she didn’t feel one bit drunk anymore. Instead she felt alert, awake and so very afraid. That voice had been... Emma shivered. Pure hatred and anger. She rubbed her arms. All the little hairs on her arms were standing upright. She doubted that she ever would be capable of forgetting that voice. She would have to talk to Graham tomorrow and tell him what had happened. Obviously, there wasn’t much he could do about it, but he still had to know. She had promised to tell him if something else happened.

Maybe she would have to change her number. No, scratch that, after tonight she would DEFINITELY change her number. Right now she was a pretty easy target, and there was no reason why she should continue to be that. New number it was. First thing tomorrow.

After having taken a couple of deep breaths, Emma went back to bed. Her phone was still lying in the bed. Emma almost felt afraid to touch the device. Right now, it felt as though the stalker could just reach out and grab her. Emma tugged her knees up to her chest. She doubted she would be able to go back to sleep now. That voice was still echoing in her ears.

After having convinced herself that everything else was silly, Emma reached out and grabbed her phone. She would have to mute it. Whether she was able to sleep or not, she wasn’t interested in receiving any more horrifying phone calls.

She tapped in her password and squinted at the too bright screen. She had clearly forgotten to swipe the text from Regina away before she went to sleep, and now she was confronted with the hurtful words once again. ‘Just stay away from me’.

Emma swiped away from the text and put her phone down on the nightstand, but something kept tickling at the back of her mind. And she could feel that thing low in her belly again. Not the pinching sensation she had endured for the past three weeks. No, this was something else. That gut feeling. That murmur she often experienced when something was staring her in the face. Emma scratched her chin and pushed her hair away from her eyes. The stalker’s voice echoed in her head. ‘Stay away from her!’

Wait a second....

The bed creaked as Emma shifted to grab the phone from her nightstand once more. She hastily tapped in her password and found the text from Regina again. Stared herself blind at it. ‘Just stay away from me’.

‘Stay away from her!’

‘Just stay away from me.’

The wheels in Emma’s sleep deprived head started turning. ‘Stay away from me’. ‘Stay away from her!’.

Emma’s heart started thumping again. A coincidental choice of words? Was she just being paranoid again?

Emma stared at the text one more time. If that really was the case... If she really just was being paranoid, then why did it feel like something had just clicked? Why did it feel like she had just connected the dots?

Emma felt nauseous all over again. Was it possible that all of this wasn’t about her at all?

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma didn’t get any more sleep that night. Instead she earned herself a massive headache as she thought and thought. The headache she had gained was worth it, though. Things were slowly beginning to make sense.

The sightings of the grey station car. That had started after she and Regina had started to hang out. And the hang up calls too. The break-in in her room where “nothing of value had been taken”, only a few random items. Maybe those items hadn’t been so random when it came to it. Maybe the intruder had deliberately chosen to take the post-it notes from Regina. Because that was what he had been looking for all along. A sign. Something that connected Regina to Emma.

The vandalism on Emma’s car. The four slashed tires and the threatening message. ‘WATCH YOUR BACK’. Emma had struggled to figure out what that was about. Until now. It had a to be a clear warning. ‘Don’t get too close to her, or else...’.

Regina dropping the glass on Malena’s floor. Regina fleeing the scene after making up an excuse. Regina unceremoniously informing Emma that she didn’t want to see her again. No. That wasn’t how she had formulated the text. It had been ‘I don’t think we should see each other anymore’. And then: ‘I just think it’s better that way’. The wheels in Emma’s head were still turning like crazy. Was that supposed to be taken literally? Was that why Regina had refused to see her again even as friends? Because the brunette knew what was going on. Yes. That had to be it. Emma was certain she had connected the dots. Someone was targeting her, yes, but she wasn’t the MAIN target. Regina was. Someone was targeting Emma to get to Regina.

Emma sat flabbergasted on her bed. The answer had literally been staring her in the face. It had been as plain as day. Let alone that text Regina had sent her before she had turned Emma’s offer about friendship down.

‘You haven’t done anything wrong, Emma. The problem isn’t you. It’s me. I thought there was room for dating in my life. I was wrong. There isn’t.’
Emma had thought that it had been a typical “it’s not you, it’s me” kinda text, but it hadn’t. It had been a rock solid clue. And it had been staring Emma in the face all this time.

“Oh my god,” Emma whispered to the darkened bedroom. “I’ve been an idiot!”

There was no other excuse for it. She had been so wrapped up, so consumed in self blame that she hadn’t considered there could be other possibilities. She had always thought that when it came to Regina, there was more than what was meeting the eye, so why the hell hadn’t she looked a bit closer?

Emma shook her head. Why hadn’t she seen this?!”

And of course her next question was whether Regina knew the identity of this person? Did she know who it was? Was she in any danger?!

Emma was freaking out. And she couldn’t believe how blind she’d been. She had been so busy feeling unworthy and thinking that this was just another rejection that she hadn’t considered or looked for any possible other explanations.

Emma’s feelings were all over the place. On the one hand she was deeply concerned about what was going on with Regina, but on the other hand she was almost inappropriately relived that she had found a reason for Regina’s behavior. This really wasn’t because Emma had said or done something wrong.

Emma rubbed a hand over her face. Her head was throbbing as she thought back to earlier tonight when she had been at Regina’s place. The stalker had to have been watching her. Otherwise he wouldn’t have called and warned Emma. The blonde’s heart thudded a bit too loudly. Where had he been lurking? And why hadn’t she noticed? Why hadn’t she been paying attention to her surroundings? Getting drunk had been a bad idea. And showing up at Regina’s house had been an even worse idea. Suppose she had just endangered Regina?

Emma’s head throbbed again as she thought about who it could be. Who was doing this to Regina? It didn’t take her long to realize that apart from confirming the Malena thing, Regina hadn’t ever talked about her past relationships. Not once. Not even who Henry’s father was. Emma absentmindedly played with a lock of her hair. Could he be the one who was doing this? The blonde frowned a bit. What was it that Henry had said when they were at the harvest festival? That Regina hadn’t known him that well. But if that was the case, why would he be stalking Regina? Had they spend a night of passion together, gone their separate ways and then the guy had become obsessed with Regina afterwards? Or was Henry the key to all this? Was the guy afraid that Emma was getting closer with his son? Was that it?

All sorts of theories were rummaging around in Emma’s head, and it didn’t take long before everything became a bit muddled, a bit hard to decipher. She couldn’t decide which theory was right and which one wasn’t.

But she did know one thing. She and Regina weren’t done. No way in hell Emma was just gonna walk away after this. Nope. She was too involved now. Far too involved. And if Regina really was in danger,

Emma wanted to help her. In any possible way. No way she was gonna go away just because Regina had told her to.

Lily had claimed that Emma was clingy, and right now Emma had never been more grateful for her “clinginess”. Because right now, being clingy was exactly what Emma needed to be. Whether Regina liked it or not. Emma wasn’t just gonna walk away from the one of the best things that had ever happened to her. She didn’t give a damn about some jerk’s warning.

 

‘We need to talk.’ 06:15 AM

‘I know what this is about.’ 06:17: AM

‘At least I think I do.’ 06:19 AM

‘It’s about you, isn’t it? Someone is following me to get to you.’ 06:21 AM

‘I know I’m right. I got a call from the stalker late last night. He warned me and told me to “stay away from her”. The only “her” I’ve been around lately is you.’ 06:25 AM

‘Are you in danger?’ 06:30 AM

‘Do you know who’s doing this?’ 06:33 AM

‘Regina, please. We have to discuss this. I know you’re afraid, but you can’t just pretend I don’t exist. I’m not gonna walk away from this!’ 06:36 AM

‘Damn it, Regina! Just answer me already! I’m involved in this too! I think I have a right to know what’s going on!’ 07:00 AM

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t have a right. Not really. But can’t you at least let me know if you’re okay?!’ 07:05 AM

‘Regina, I can see that you’ve read all my messages. Can’t you please just answer me? Please?’ 07:10 AM

‘I’m going to have to tell Sheriff Graham about how the stalker called me last night. I really hope that isn’t gonna complicate things for you.’ 07:20 AM

‘Talked to Graham. He’s gonna try and have the call traced, but I have a nasty feeling that the stalker went with the cliché solution and used a pre-paid phone or some shit.’ 07:40 AM

‘I’m bombarding you with text messages. I know. I’m starting to become a stalker myself, but we can’t just leave things like this! Please tell me that you’re okay! Is Henry okay? Is it his dad doing this?!’ 07:50 AM

‘I’m sorry. I had no right to ask you that. But please, if you know something can’t you just tell me?’ 08:02 AM

‘I have to go to work now. I really, really hope that you by some miracle will have answered me when I’m done working, but if you haven’t, I have to stop by your house. Again. And if you don’t answer the door, I have no choice but to call Sheriff Graham and ask him to break down your door. I’m sorry for putting you on the spot like this, but I’m really fucking worried about you, Regina!’ 08:10 AM

‘Please have answered when I’m done working. Please.’ 08:12 AM

 

Emma went to work and edited the crap out of a manuscript. Next she proofread a shorter story, and once that was done, Malena was running out of jobs to give her. It was a quiet day at Dragon Publishing, so Malena ended up giving Emma her blessing to work her collection of twisted tales. Emma worked with newfound energy. She wasn’t completely sure where that energy came from, because she was definitely hung over after last night. It had to be adrenaline that rushed around in her body after the discovery she’d made last night. The connection between Regina and the stalker. Technically, she couldn’t for sure know that she was right, she had no actual proof to back up her theory, but Emma didn’t need any actual proof. She still had that gut feeling. That gut feeling she had learned to trust along time ago. That was proof enough. Emma knew that she was right. Exactly like she had told Regina over text, she had indeed been by the sheriff station to tell Graham about the call from the stalker, and Graham had promised that he would do his utmost to trace the call. But Emma hadn’t told him about the possible link to Regina. She hadn’t wanted to share her suspicion until she had heard from Regina. Emma knew that she had pretty much been bombarding the brunette with text messages all morning, but she HAD to discuss this with Regina. Regina knew what was going on, Emma was certain of that. That had to be why she had dropped all contact with Emma. And Emma wasn’t gonna back down until she got some answers from Regina.

Emma was so fucking worried. Could she have lead the stalker straight to Regina last night? What if the stalker had attacked Regina? Was Emma really a gigantic fool for not having called the police right away? Emma wasn’t sure what to think or do. And she wasn’t completely sure how she managed to keep writing and writing when her thoughts were all over the place. Maybe it would have been better if she had stayed home today. Malena had already raised her eyebrows once and asked if Emma was feeling quite alright today. Emma had been blushing like a fool when she admitted that she was a bit hungover.

Malena had just shrugged, said “oh” and then admitted to be hungover herself.

That had made Emma feel all sorts of impressed because Malena looked as perfect, polish and put together as always. No dark circles underneath her eyes or anything. Emma had felt tempted to ask her how the hell she was doing that. It wasn’t fair. Emma herself looked exactly as hungover as she felt, with dark circles underneath her eyes and a beanie to cover the hair she hadn’t really bothered to brush this morning. And she had chosen to skip breakfast. She had felt far too nauseous to actually eat anything. It seemed as though the hangovers were getting worse, the older she got. Maybe she would stop drinking entirely now. She was getting too old for this shit. She wasn’t a teenager anymore. It was about time she started to act her age. Mary Margaret would have been very proud. Emma almost snorted at that.

 

Emma had so hoped. She had really been desperately clinging to the hope that Regina would have messaged her back by the time she was done with her work and could check her phone again.

But Regina hadn’t. Nothing. Not a peep.

Emma felt her belly pinching with both anxiety and disappointment. And she knew that the pinching wouldn’t go away until she followed through with her plan and stop by Regina’s place. Again.

And so Emma marched over to her car. Borrowed car. She was following Graham’s orders and had changed vehicle. Today Ruby had been kind enough to borrow Emma her car, and Emma had also sort of tugged her blonde hair away under the beanie. She was disguised. Kinda. Well, at least her car wouldn’t be noticed immediately. That was a good thing.

Emma climbed inside the red jeep and wrestled the seatbelt on. Then she turned the key in the engine. The car roared like t-rex on the hunt, and Emma yelped a little. She was not used to this car. She was definitely not used to this car. It was too fast compared to her Bug. And it was too big. Emma had been a bundle of nerves on the way here. She had constantly been afraid to accidentally get too close to the other cars.

Emma squinted in sheer concentration as she maneuvered the car out of the parking lot, and then she yelped again. That was Malena’s car right behind her. Shit. Emma had almost managed to hit it on her way out. And it didn’t exactly make the situation better that Malena was sitting behind the wheel and frowning at Emma.

“Sorry,” Emma yelled even though Malena had no chance of hearing her. “I’m really sorry about that!”

Malena glared at her, so maybe she had heard her after all.

Emma made sure to be a lot more careful as she steered the car away from the building. This had to be her anxiety coming out to play. She was nervous about going to Regina’s place. She was afraid that Regina wouldn’t open the door. And she was afraid that she would find the place deserted. And most of all, she was afraid that she actually would have to call Sheriff Graham and ask him to break down the door. What if Regina had been harmed? Or kidnapped? Or something that was even worse...

Emma took a deep breath and reminded herself to stay calm. Her imagination was running wild. She had to try to focus on driving. She wasn’t interested in leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. All she wanted was to get to Regina safely. And get reassurance that Regina was safe too. She had to be. Emma’s heart sped up. Please, whatever higher powers out there... Let Regina be safe! Let her be alright!

A car honked behind her, and Emma realized that the traffic light was green....

 

Emma soon reached the familiar white house, and in a flashback, she saw herself stumble up the pathway and then knock on Regina’s door, crying and begging for an explanation. Emma cringed a bit.

She hadn’t acted very maturely yesterday. But if it hadn’t been for her drunken decision about coming here, she still wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on.

Emma parked Ruby’s red jeep and then carefully climbed out of it. Like yesterday, she walked up the pathway, onto Regina’s porch and then knocked once.

Exactly like yesterday, there was no answer, but Emma quickly spotted Regina’s Mercedes in the driveway. She was clearly home. And clearly avoiding Emma too.

Emma knocked softly on the door once more, and this time she could definitely hear movements from inside. The blonde perked up at that. Maybe Regina wasn’t avoiding her after all. Maybe the brunette had decided that talking to Emma was the best solution. Emma hoped so. Regina couldn’t keep pretending that Emma didn’t exist, and especially not when Emma could see that she had read every single message the blonde had sent to her this morning. They had to talk about this, Emma had to know what was going on, they couldn’t just-

The door was opened, but instead of Regina, Emma came face to face with the mini version of her. Henry.

“Hi,” the boy said and flashed her a smile.

“H-hi,” Emma stuttered. She’d had a whole speech prepared for when Regina opened the door. She hadn’t expected Henry to be the one to greet her.

“Are you here to see mom?” the young boy asked and cocked his head.

“Oh, uhm.... Yeah.” Emma said. Because she was. But not like this. Not with Henry present. She didn’t know how much he knew about what was going on.

“Cool,” Henry said and stepped away. “Come in.”

Emma stepped inside the hallway. The rather nice hallway.

“Mom hasn’t mentioned that you were stopping by today,” Henry said as he let Emma into a large kitchen with white surfaces and expensive looking appliances.

“Oh,” Emma said. Simply because she didn’t know what else to say right now.

Henry asked her to sit down by the enormous kitchen table and then opened the fridge. “Do you want something to drink? We’ve got regular milk and soymilk and almond milk. There’s also a bit of coconut milk left. Or you can have some Coca-Cola. Or Pepsi. No wait, that’s empty. I don’t know why auntie Z keeps stuffing empty bottles into the fridge. It always makes mom angry when she does that. We’ve got juice too! Do you want some juice? There’s apple juice, pineapple, juice, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice. Oh, and there’s also orange juice, but that’s mom’s favorite, she always drinks that in the morning when her throat hurts, so I don’t think we should take that. But do you want juice?”

“Uhh...” Emma said flabbergasted and stared at Henry. The kid was clearly much more talkative when he was at home.

“Juice?” he asked sweetly.

“Just... Just apple juice,” Emma said halfheartedly.

“That’s my favorite,” Henry grinned as he stood on his tippy toes to be tall enough to reach the cupboard above the oven. He fumbled for a few seconds and then found two glasses. The boy smiled at
Emma as he poured first her a solid glass of apple juice, and then poured himself one. He elegantly balanced both glasses in his hands as he walked over to the table and handed the glass to Emma. “Here you go.”

“Thanks, kid.” Emma said and offered a slight smile. Then she took a sip of the apple juice. It was really good. Not to bitter and not too sweet.

“Do you like it?” Henry asked after having taken a solid gulp himself.

“Yeah, it’s really good.”

“Cool. Are you still writing your fairytales?”

“I’m almost done,” Emma said truthfully.

“Really? That’s awesome! Can I read them then? Like you promised me when we were at the harvest festival?”

“Yeah, sure. You can read them,” Emma said distractedly and then asked the question she really wanted an answer to: “Henry where’s your mom? Isn’t she here right now?” sure enough, the Mercedes was
in the driveway, but that didn’t mean that Regina hadn’t gone somewhere on foot.

“She’s upstairs taking a nap. She likes to do that when her throat hurts,” Henry said and frowned a bit as he took a sip of his apple juice. Then he looked at Emma. “Do you want me to go and wake her up so you can talk to her?”

“No!” Emma yelped. “God no. I was just...” was Regina alone with a ten year old while she was in pain? She was just about to ask Henry whether he and Regina were here alone when the question was answered for her. She heard movements coming from somewhere that had to be pretty close to the kitchen.

“That’s auntie Z,” Henry said and answered Emma’s silent question. “She came home early from work so she could be with me while mom’s resting.”

“Oh, I see,” Emma said and downed the rest of her apple juice. “Thanks for the apple juice, kid. Maybe it would be better if I just-“

“No!” Henry interrupted and looked at Emma with his big brown eyes. “Don’t leave. At least not until mom’s awake! She’ll be upset if you leave without saying hi to her.”

“You think so?” Emma said doubtfully.

“Yeah!” the boy cried with much confidence.

Emma seriously doubted that. Regina had made it quite clear that she didn’t wish to see her, but surely it was different now, right?

“When can we hang out again?” Henry asked eagerly.

Emma blinked as she pulled out of her musings. “Sorry?”

Henry chuckled.

Now Emma raised an eyebrow. “What’s funny?”

“Mom always says it’s called I beg your pardon,” Henry said and giggled a bit.

“Oh,” Emma nodded. “I beg your pardon then. What did you mean?”

“When can we hang out again all three of us?” Henry clarified. “Like we did at the harvest festival. Mom couldn’t stop smiling all night long. Auntie Z said she looked stupid, but she was smiling too.”

“Oh, uhmm... I don’t know,” Emma wheedled.

Henry puffed out air. “Mom keeps saying that I can come along the next time and the next time, but she never-“

“Henry? What’s going on here? Who are you talking to?” Zelena stepped inside the kitchen. The redhead quickly glanced at Emma, the two glasses of apple juice, and her blue eyes narrowed when she deciphered the situation.

“Henry, did you answer the door again?” she asked.

“No,” Henry said innocently.

Zelena folded her arms across her chest. “So Emma just appeared in the kitchen out of nowhere?”

“Poof?” Henry said meekly.

“Very cute,” Zelena said. There was a slight twinkle in her eyes even though she still had her arms folded across her chest. “Do you remember what your mom said about opening the door for people?”

“That I’m not supposed to,” Henry muttered, the tips of his ears turning pink.

“Exactly,” Zelena said, and now she was definitely amused. “So give me one good reason why I shouldn’t whip your little butt for disobeying?”

“Because I’m your favorite nephew?”

“You’re my only nephew. Try again.”

“Because I’m really cute?” Henry said and batted his big brown eyes at his aunt.

“And...?” Zelena said mock sternly.

Henry looked confused for a second but then hastily added: “and because I’m really sorry and I promise to never do it again.”

“I’m convinced. You just saved yourself from having your butt smacked. Good job,” Zelena said. “Now be a good boy and go upstairs to check on your mom. Quietly.”

“Okayyyyyy,” Henry said dramatically as he hopped off his chair and scurried up the stairs.

As soon as they couldn’t hear his footsteps anymore, Zelena turned to Emma. “So. You’re here to see my little sister.”

“Yeah,” Emma said. “But I can understand that isn’t feeling well?”

“That’s right,” Zelena confirmed and grabbed Henry’s glass of apple juice. She took a sip.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Emma mumbled. “And I’m sorry I let the kid let me in. I didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to-“

“And how were you supposed to?” Zelena interrupted. “It’s absolutely fine.”

“I’m sorry Regina isn’t feeling well today,” Emma said sincerely and felt like a totally asshole as she continued: “I had something pretty important to talk to her about.”

“Yes, I can imagine so,” Zelena said as she put the apple juice back into the fridge.

Emma looked at her. The way the redhead had said it made Emma pause. And she didn’t seem at all surprised by Emma’s presence here.

Emma opened her mouth to ask Zelena about it, but Zelena beat her to it: “Regina showed me the messages from you. Before she had to go and lie down.”

Now Emma felt a bit guilty. Was her text messages a part of why Regina was bedridden now? Emma couldn’t bear to find out the answer to that question, so instead she asked: “do you know what’s going on?”

“Yes,” Zelena said plainly and for the first time her eyes seemed to flicker a bit.

“And can you tell-“

“No,” Zelena interrupted. “I’m sorry, Emma, but I cannot. It’s up to Regina to decide when she’s ready to tell you everything.”

“Of course,” Emma said and fidgeted a bit with her hands. “But I’m... I’m being followed.”

“I know,” Zelena sighed. “She’s trying to keep you safe.”

“I want to help her!” Emma exclaimed.

Zelena sighed again. “I would love to tell you that the only way you can help is by staying away, but...”

“But what?” Emma asked.

“You’ve made my sister so happy...” Zelena said as she turned around and looked thoughtfully at Emma. “I’ve seen the way she smiles at her phone every time you’ve texted her. I haven’t seen her smile
like that since...”

“The accident?” Emma asked quietly.

“Yes,” Zelena said and her gaze flickered a bit again. “The accident.”

“So, what exactly are you saying?” Emma asked and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m saying that I know why my sister is doing what she does, but at the same time I would be sad to see her let go of something that has made her this happy.”

Before Emma could get the chance to answer to that, Henry came into the kitchen again. His mouth was curving downwards, and his forehead was wrinkled.

“She’s sleeping really heavily,” he said to Zelena.

“That’s alright,” Zelena assured, and now she didn’t sound one bit teasing or mock stern. “The pills she takes when her throat hurts sometimes makes her very sleepy. You know that.”

“Yeah, but...” Henry looked down at his feet. “It looks like she’s sleeping the way she did when she was at the hospital with all the tubes and machines and-“

“Hen.” Zelena gently interrupted and put her hands on the boy’s shoulder. “Honey, she’s just sleeping. She’s okay.”

“Can’t you check on her, aunt Z?” Henry asked and looked at the redheaded woman. “Please?”

“Okay,” Zelena said and ruffled his hair. “I’ll go upstairs and check on her, poppet.”

“Thanks,” Henry said. He was still frowning.

Perhaps it would be better if Emma scuttled, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave. At least not until she was sure that Regina was okay.

Henry said down next to Emma and looked at his empty glass on the table. “Did aunt Z drink my apple juice?”

“Yeah. She did,” Emma confirmed with a slight nod.

“Oh, man,” Henry said and shook his head a little.

“Your mom sleeps a lot?” Emma asked carefully.

“Sometimes,” Henry said seriously. “Sometimes she can’t really sleep at night, so she naps during the day when I’m in school. But she’s been too busy with going to the hospital lately, so she haven’t had
the time to take naps during the day. Maybe that’s why she got sick today.”

“The hospital?” Emma echoed.

But before Henry could get the chance to elaborate, Zelena stepped into the kitchen again, and Henry immediately turned his attention to her: “is she awake?”

“No, not quite yet, poppet,” Zelena said. “I think she’ll need an hour or two more. But that’s okay. We didn’t finish our video game from earlier, did we?”

Henry shook his head and then asked: “but she’s okay though, right?”

“She’s fine,” Zelena said firmly. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

Henry looked very relieved at his aunt’s words, and Emma thought to herself that this was her cue to leave. She rose from her seat. “I better...”

“You’re leaving?” Henry asked and looked a bit disappointed now.

“Yeah,” Emma said. “I think that’s better.” She turned to Zelena. “Can you tell Regina I stopped by?”

“Absolutely,” Zelena said.

“Are you gonna write on your fairytales when you get home?” Henry asked eagerly.

Emma flashed him a smile. “Yeah, maybe I am.”

“Are you gonna come back?” He continued.

Emma wanted to say yes. Because she wanted to come back and hang out with Regina’s son again. She wanted to sit in Regina’s kitchen and have apple juice with Regina and Henry, and she wanted to make Regina as happy as Zelena had said she was, but Emma wasn’t sure that would ever be possible.

“We’ll see, kid,” Emma said and felt tempted to reach out and ruffle the boy’s hair. She offered both him and Zelena a little smile and then the blonde left the house. Without having talked to Regina.

 

**********************

 

She made it home alright. No grey station car followed her home, and nobody called and threatened her, and Emma felt relived. Apparently, changing vehicle worked. At least it had today. There was no way of making sure that the grey station car wouldn’t appear in her rearview mirror tomorrow.

Emma was sitting with her legs crossed on the bed. she had the computer in her lap, and she was actually doing exactly what she had told Henry. She was writing on her fairytales. She was so close to being finished now. She could almost smell the finish line. And that made her eager. She wanted to finish it. Finish and send the updated version to Malena. And then she could write on “A Tap on the
Shoulder” without feeling guilty. She could still hear Willa and Helena call out to her.

Emma was working steadily. Her curtains were drawn, and the rain falling outside served as the perfect background sound. She tried not to listen too much to the cars passing by her window, and she kept telling herself to not jump up from the bed and run over to the window and check who it was. Right now, her stalker wasn’t existing.

Emma hummed tunelessly to herself as she tapped away on the laptop. Pretending that her stalker didn’t exist wasn’t the only thing that was difficult to do. It was also difficult to not think about Regina.
She had been in pain. And Henry had been concerned about her. Very concerned. He had talked about “all the tubes and machines”. Emma bit her lip. Regina was clearly taking some sort of strong medication to soothe the pain in her throat. Emma’s heart was positively aching for her. And for Henry too. And a little bit for herself too. She had so wanted to talk to Regina today. To clear things up. To find out what the heck was going on, and instead she had ended up feeling more concerned than anything else.

The blonde sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. This wasn’t easy. She really hoped that the messages she had sent to Regina this morning had been one of the reasons why Regina had ended up in bed. Her intention hadn’t been to cause Regina pain. Emma felt guilty as hell.

She sighed again as she tried to push that guilt away. She tried to keep her thoughts focused on the computer screen in front of her, and it actually worked. Sort of. Her concentration was broken for a millisecond as her phone chimed. Emma picked up the phone and quickly answered the text from Ella. She was asking how “everything” was going, and Emma truthfully answered that things were a bit chaotic right now. She didn’t feel very sure about anything. Ella expressed her sympathy and once again offered to come and crash for a while. Emma thanked her but reminded her friend about “evil boss lady”. Better known as Ingrid. Emma laughed out loud as Ella used some very colorful language to describe exactly how she felt about Ingrid and her terror regime, as she called it. Emma agreed with it, though. Ingrid was every bit an ice queen in every way, and for a while, Emma and Ella had quite a bit of fun with texting back and forward about Ingrid and all the horrible things she had done to them over the years. Emma had absolutely no problem with remembering how it had been to work for Ingrid. A living nightmare. Hell on earth.

After having spent far too long time on texting, Emma finally turned her attention back to the laptop screen in front of her. She had been getting distracted. Again. Focus, Swan. You’re finishing a book, remember?

And oh, how she wrote! Emma lost all track of time as the words poured out of her. She stopped thinking about anything besides the stories she was writing. She barely noticed that the sky was darkening rapidly, nor did she notice that her room was getting darker as well. Was her fingers cramping? Possibly. Was she hungry? Yeah, maybe. Did she have to pee? Definitely. But did she actually do it? Nope.

Not a chance. She kept writing. And writing. And writing.

She was so consumed with writing she completely forgot time and place, and she yelped and damn nearly dropped the laptop on the floor when her cellphone chimed again. Emma growled a bit as she picked up the phone again. If that was Ella, Emma was going to murder her. Plain and simple. She had told Ella that she was writing, and her friend had promised to “leave her alone”.

It wasn’t Ella.

Emma swallowed something and her heart beat a little faster. It was Regina. Was she awake? How much time had passed? Emma glanced at the time. Two hours. Almost two and a half hour, actually. Wow.

Emma palms went completely sweaty as she stared at Regina’s name on the screen. Regina had texted her. God, what did she have to say? Was she gonna give Emma some answers, or was she angry with her?

The blonde tried to breathe normally as she checked the message: ‘Zelena told me you stopped by. You shouldn’t have done that. The stalking will only stop if we stop seeing each other.’

Emma took a deep breath. So she had been right. This was in fact about Regina. Someone was trying to hurt Regina through Emma. The blonde frowned as she replied with a question that had been burning in her mind all day: ‘Are you in danger?’

The response came quickly, and the writing was quickly forgotten as Emma checked the message: ‘no, I’m not. The only one who’s in danger is you is you keep contacting me.’

Emma’s heart started thudding once more at that, but perhaps not for the completely right reasons. Somehow, not being able to see Regina seemed worse than being stalked. She didn’t want to stop seeing Regina, damn it! Out of pure desperation, Emma changed the subject and texted: ‘Are you feeling better?’

The response came quickly: ‘Yes, a bit.’

Eagerly grasping any kind of conversation with the brunette, Emma texted back: ‘I’m sorry you weren’t feeling well earlier.’

Once again, the response came quickly: ‘it’s alright. I’m sorry if Henry made you worried. I just needed an extra nap, that was all. Sometimes Henry worries a bit too much.’

‘He’s a very sweet kid. Of course he worries about you. That’s only natural.’

Emma moved the laptop and sat it down on her nightstand, and just as she had freed herself of it, the reply from Regina came: ‘maybe it isn’t. He’s the child, and I’m the adult. It’s not his job to be that worried about me, Emma. I want him to go back to be a happy, carefree kid.’

‘It’s been like that since it happened?’ Emma texted quickly. Regina was communicating with her. Regina was finally communicating with her.

The response to that came quickly as well, and Emma immediately checked the new message: ‘by “it” you mean the accident?’

The blonde cringed and felt every bit uncomfortable as she texted back a single word: ‘Yes.’

Emma waited. She had become so used to Regina’s fast replies, so now it felt a bit strange that the brunette didn’t answer right away. The blonde immediately started to worry. Had she managed to say the completely wrong thing again? Or had Regina simply decided to cut off all communication again? Emma stared at the silent phone in her hand. Her palm felt sweaty once more. This was just texting.
The stalker couldn’t possibly know that she was texting Regina. This was safe. Texting was safe. Emma was just about to text Regina that, but then the phone chimed in her hand.

Emma immediately checked the message: ‘I haven’t been honest with you.’

Okay, now Emma felt pretty fucking confused. What did that even mean? Had Regina accidentally sent her a text that was meant for someone else? Emma frowned as she texted back: ‘What do you mean??’

Then she waited. And felt uncomfortable without fully knowing why. It didn’t actually have anything to do with the fact that Regina had just admitted that she had been dishonest. It was something else.
She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. There was that feeling again. That pinching sensation in her belly. That tight feeling in her chest. That feeling Emma long ago had learned to connect with bad news.

The blonde shivered a bit, felt cold even though the room was nicely warmed up for the night.

Her phone was still silent, and Emma threw all caution to the wind as she texted the brunette one more time: ‘Regina? What do you mean you haven’t been honest with me?’

And then her phone chimed again. Emma stared at the text message she had just received. ‘There never was an accident.’

 

 

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma stared at the text. ‘There never was an accident’. What did that even mean?!

She quickly texted Regina, asking: ‘what do you mean??’

After a moment or so, her phone chimed, and Emma checked the message: ‘honestly, I’m not even sure where to begin. I know you want answers, and the only way I can give you answers is by telling you everything, because you’re right. You are too involved now. But I don’t think this is something I can explain to you over text. I’ve tried to put it behind me for a while now, and I fear that sharing this with you will reopen old wounds, but at the same time, I feel like things have reached a point where I can’t pretend anymore, and not just because of the stalker. I like you very much, Emma. But things are so complicated.’

Unsure of how to respond to that, Emma simply texted: ‘Regina, you can tell me anything.’

The response came very fast. ‘And I will. Very soon. I just have to find the right words first. In the meantime, will you do something for me?’

Emma immediately replied with the only acceptable answer: ‘yeah, anything.’ She just hoped that Regina wouldn’t ask her to not reach out to her again.

But that wasn’t what Regina asked her to do. Instead the text read: ‘switch to another room.’

Emma frowned deeply as she texted back: ‘why?’

The response came as quickly as the others had: ‘I really don’t want to frighten you, but it is possible that there is a camera in your room. Change your room, and please change your number as well.’

Emma swallowed thickly and looked around in the room. Could there really be a camera? God, it was like something straight out of a cliché thriller movie! But Emma trusted Regina completely. The blonde quickly texted: ‘alright. I’ll change room, and I’ll change my number.’

The next text from Regina simply said: ‘good.’

It felt as though something was squeezing Emma’s heart as she texted: ‘are you sure you’re not in any danger?’

The response came promptly: ‘yes, I’m absolutely sure. And neither are you as long we don’t see each other. You mustn’t show up at my house anymore.’

Emma’s heart sank. This wasn’t fair. This definitely wasn’t fair. Why did there have to be someone out there so determined to keep her and Regina from not seeing each other? And what was that cryptic message from Regina about? ‘there never was an accident.’ What did that even mean? Why would Regina lie about her accident? It didn’t make sense to Emma. At least not right now. She was completely exhausted. She was still pretty affected from having been drinking last night and exhausted from her epiphany as well. And ever so slightly frustrated. It seemed as though the more things she found out, the more questions she had. She wasn’t finding matching pieces for a puzzle. She was finding random pieces that didn’t seem to fit anywhere, and it was frustrating the hell out of her!

Then her phone chimed again. Emma immediately grabbed the phone again and checked the message: ‘goodnight, Emma.’

Emma wasn’t completely sure why that made her emotional, but nevertheless it did, and the blonde’s fingers trembled a bit as she texted back: ‘goodnight, Regina.’

Emma waited ten minutes, clinging to the hope that Regina would text her again, but her phone remained silent. Emma disappointedly switched on the alarm and then put the phone down on the nightstand. She cringed a bit as she unfolded herself from her crossed legged position and rose from the bed. She had completely forgotten to eat dinner tonight, and she hoped that Ruby still would be downstairs so she could get a bite to eat.

Ruby was indeed downstairs. So was Dorothy. The two women were doing something that could only de described as “messing around” when Emma came downstairs, and both of them looked a little embarrassed. Emma asked if she could have a quick sandwich or something like that, and then she asked if it would be alright if she changed room. Naturally, Ruby was confused as to why, and Emma told her the truth and said that there was a chance that there had been a camera installed in her room. Ruby was obviously disturbed at that and offered to call Graham right now, but Emma declined the offer and said that she would be calling the sheriff tomorrow and have him come take a look at things.

Emma didn’t just get a quick sandwich. Instead she got a large potion of roast and potatoes, a very small glass of wine and the “order” to sit down and talk.

And so Emma did. She talked to Ruby and Dorothy about everything that wasn’t related to the stalker situation, and it was actually very refreshing to talk and think about something else for a change.

Emma enjoyed it. She enjoyed hanging out with Ruby and Dorothy, and she couldn’t quite believe that she had actually been thinking about running away from Steveston. There was no way she would ever be able to do that. This little tugged away corner of Canada had become her home. More than Toronto ever had been. Emma marveled at that, because she had been living in Toronto since she was little, and she had lived in Steveston for well... Not that long. It was amazing how fast this little town had started to feel like home to her.

Emma scarfed down the rest of her food, drank her wine and then thanked Ruby profusely. Ruby dismissed her gratitude and handed Emma a key to a new room.

Emma went upstairs and tried to act completely natural and relaxed as she gathered her things, but really this gave her the creeps. The idea that there potentially could be a camera here was eerie. The idea that the stalker had been watching her sleep and undress... Emma shook her head slightly. She didn’t want to think about it. She just wanted to get out of the room as quickly as possible, but without drawing attention to herself. It was possible that the stalker wasn’t watching her RIGHT now, and instead of snooping around and searching for the potential camera in the room, Emma found it best to just get out of there. If the stalker DID watch her right now and figured out that she was looking for the camera, there was a good chance he would be enraged and intensify his terror. Emma wasn’t interested in pushing her luck.

The blonde quietly but quickly packed up her things and then considered it for a second. Maybe she could trick the stalker. At least for a little while. Maybe she should hope that he was watching her right now and seeing her pack up her things. Maybe she could fool him into believing that she was actually leaving town for good. She was pretty sure that it wouldn’t take the stalker long to work out that she still was in town, but maybe this could be a temporary break from his terror.

Or maybe not. Maybe Emma was just silly for thinking that she could actually outsmart the stalker like that. She continued to pack her things, and then she slung her bag over her shoulder and left the room.

She used the key Ruby had given her and unlocked the door to the room across the hall. It was almost identical to the room she had just left. Except that it didn’t have a square view. Instead Emma could see the forest when she lifted the blinds. Emma wasn’t sure whether she should feel good about that, or paranoid. In some ways this was nice. She wouldn’t have to jump up every time she heard a car, because there wasn’t any cars here, but at the same time, Emma had no problem with imagining how she lifted the blinds, peeked out of the window and then saw the stalker watch her from he forest. In some ways that would be even more terrifying than seeing his car driving past her window or seeing him stand outside underneath a streetlight. Emma squared her shoulders and closed the curtains. Then she turned her back on the window and proceeded to unpack her things. That didn’t take too long. Especially because she didn’t bother to actually stuff her clothes into the dresser right now. That would have to wait until tomorrow. Right now, Emma simply was too tired.

She hauled her long t-shirt and sweatpants out of her bag, grabbed her hairbrush and toothbrush and then went into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

Emma hurried as she changed into her sleepwear and then brushed her teeth and twisted her hair into a loose braid. She needed to lie down. It felt as though her head was about to explode or something.

Once done and ready for bed, Emma left the bathroom and went back inside the bedroom.

Emma more or less fell into bed. Her mind was spinning, and she had a feeling that she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight either. She kept thinking about one thing.

‘There never was an accident.’

Emma’s stomach twisted slightly. What did that even mean? Well, obviously she could work out that Regina hadn’t been involved in some freak accident that had robbed her of her voice, but what then?

What had happened if there hadn’t been an accident?

Emma’s stomach twisted again. The opposite of an accident was a deliberate act. Her heart began thumping too intensely in her chest once more. Whatever it was that had happened was clearly very, very difficult for Regina to open up about. And it had involved her spending a lot of time in the hospital. With tubes and machines and being heavily sedated. At least that was what Henry had said when he had been worried about his mother. It had been something traumatizing. Emma rubbed a hand over her forehead. She was getting a headache all over again. Wondering about this made her feel ever so slightly ill.

‘There never was an accident.’

‘She’s sleeping really heavily.’

Emma was beginning to feel a bit insane. She would definitely not get any sleep tonight, and suddenly the urge to just leap from her bed, storm outside and then jump into her car and drive straight back to Regina’s house was overwhelming. She wanted to stay there and make sure that Regina and Henry were okay. Emma really hoped that Regina had been truthful when she had texted that she wasn’t in any danger. The idea of Regina being in danger somehow frightened Emma even more than the idea of herself being in danger did. Emma could yell and scream for help. Regina couldn’t.

Emma started to sweat underneath the thick covers, and she promptly kicked them away. She felt so uncomfortable. Like she could barf at any given moment.

‘There never was an accident’.

God, what had happened?! And if there hadn’t actually been accident, why had Regina claimed that in the first place? Normally, Emma immediately backed out when someone was lying to her, but this was different. She instinctively knew that Regina must have had a good reason to lie. Emma shifted on the mattress again. This was hellish. She heard the wind rustling in the trees outside, and Emma felt that urge to stand from the bed and walk over to the window to check. Suppose he was standing out there right now? Suppose he was always really close by, but always hiding in plain sight. Emma grabbed the covers and curled into a ball.

The next morning wasn’t much better.

Emma felt as though she was going through some kind of déjà vu. When was the last time she hadn’t been sleep deprived? Out of habit, she checked her phone, but there wasn’t a message from Regina waiting for her. Of course there wasn’t. Emma should have known that.

 

She felt like she was in some sort of trance as she showered, got dressed and then went downstairs to have breakfast. She’d been having these weird, distorted dreams all night. Most of them involved the hoodie clad stalker showing up everywhere. He never did anything to her, he just lured Emma closer by showing her a phone, taunting ‘she wants to talk to you’. In the dream, Emma had willingly come closer to him, and then once she was close enough, the stalker had tossed the phone over to her. Emma had looked at the phone only to find the cryptic ‘there never was an accident’-message. When
Emma had looked up, the stalker had laughed at her, had taunted: ‘what do you think happened, Emma? Hmm? Do you think something really bad has happened? Something you’re forcing her to relive just because you can’t stay away from her!’
Enraged, Emma had lunged at him, had tried to grab him, but suddenly he had been gone. Only to appear behind her instead. And once again he had taunted: ‘watch your back, Emma! If you come near her again, I’ll have to teach you another lesson. And next time it won’t just be your tires...’
Emma had once again woken up bathed in sweat and with a heart that hammered in her chest. She had felt sick all over again, and a trip to the bathroom to wash her face had been necessary.
She had drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night. Constantly believing that she heard something in her room. Three times, paranoia had forced her to check under the bed, and four times it had urged her to lift the blinds and look out of the window. She had seen nothing but the forest, but at the time, Emma had been so riled up that she kept envisioning that he was standing behind the trees, just waiting for her to go back to sleep so he could strike.

Emma didn’t have much of an appetite this morning either. This fucking situation was sucking everything out of her. She could barely muster smiling back at Ruby when the waitress passed her table.

The blonde lightly drummed her fingers against the table. Her jaw clenched a bit when she realized that this was the same table, she had shared coffee with Regina at. God, it felt both like yesterday and like several months since. So much had happened since then. Emma tiredly rubbed a hand over her face. The urge to call in sick was overwhelming, but she had already decided not to do that. It wouldn’t help anything. She would just end up staying in her room and overthink if she called in sick.

 

So Emma went to work. This time she borrowed Elsa’s car. She arrived at Dragon Publishing in fine time, and she saw no suspicious people on the parking lot. Only Malena’s “army” of security.

 

Emma parked the car as elegantly as she could, and then walked across the parking lot. She reminded herself not to stare in suspicion at any of the security people. She knew that these people were more than professional.

Emma walked inside the building and took the elevator up to her own office. Her new office. She had finally been moved out of the cluttered little room she had been occupying so far. This office was bigger, more professional. Emma loved it. It made her feel even more as an official member of “the Dragon family”. That was what Malena jokingly called her employees. Emma and August, who were the newest members of the family were called “hatchlings”. Had it been anyone but Malena who had said it, Emma probably would have found it offensive, but it was impossible to find it offensive when it was Malena. Calling Emma and August “hatchlings” were just a part of her eccentric behavior. Emma doubted that Malena even considered that it could be taken as an offense.

Emma found her laptop in her bag, placed it on the table and then hooked it up with the charger. Today was gonna be a bit of a slow day as well. Meaning that she only had one manuscript she needed to concentrate on. Three hundredth pages long. She definitely wouldn’t be able to finish it today, but that was okay. She could continue at home like she often did. That suited her perfect. That way she would have something to do when she came home. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep her occupied. And keep her from thinking too much.

This manuscript was considerably “lighter” from what Dragon Publishing normally brought into consideration. It was a love story. With a supernatural element, obviously. Malena would never accept anything that didn’t had a hint of something supernatural, but nevertheless, it was a lighter story. And it didn’t make Emma feel one bit better. She had little interest in reading about love right now. Not when things were so...

Emma shook her head. Maybe she didn’t want to read a love story right now, but nevertheless, that was exactly what she had to do. She would just have to put on her big girl pants and suck it up. Get invested in the story and stop comparing it to her own life. The blonde sighed a little as she forced herself to look at the screen and concentrate on the words in front of her.

But she hadn’t been working for very long before there was a knock on her door. Emma tried not to feel paranoid as she said: “come in.”

The door opened and Malena stepped inside.

“Good morning,” Emma said and smiled a little. She hadn’t seen her boss until now.

“Good morning. I finished reading your manuscript,” Malena said in her usual no-nonsense way.

“Oh. Okay?” Emma said nervously.

“When do you think you’ll be done with it?” Malena asked plainly.

“I’m in the middle of wrapping things up,” Emma said truthfully and tried to gauge Malena’s reaction.

Malena’s heels clicked against the floor as she walked over to the window. She tilted her head as she scanned the parking lot, clearly trying to give the impression that she was keeping an eye on her
security staff.

Emma watched her in silence and waited. Malena was prone to act all nonchalant when she had something important to say. Another of her quirks. Emma forced herself to be patient and wait until her boss decided to actually say something.

Emma turned her attention back to the laptop, tried to continue the proofreading process despite the fact that Malena was still there.

“It’s brilliant.”

Emma’s head snapped up and her neck gave a slight crick sound as she turned her head to look at Malena.

“You have a gift,” Malena said plainly and without looking away from the security staff walking around on the parking lot.

“You really think so?” Emma asked, completely awestruck.

“Oh, I know so,” Malena said. “The plot in each fairytale is masterfully constructed and the dialogue is flowing. I’m infuriated that you haven’t had anything published yet.”

Emma just gawped. She was far too awestruck to actually say anything.

“Finish it,” Malena said and shifted slightly. “But take your time. For the love of god, don’t rush it. I believe rushing the ending would take away some of it’s magic.”

“Okay,” Emma said.

“I know that you’re still writing on the ending, but it’s the same person that’s responsible for all of it, isn’t it?” Malena said nonchalantly.

“Yeah. It is,” Emma confirmed.

Malena finally turned around and looked at her. “Very creative.” Then she walked back towards the door, but before leaving the office, she paused with one hand on the doorknob and said: “A diamond in
the rough. Exactly like I said. Keep up the good work, miss Swan.”

With that she left the office without another word.

Emma was left surprised and happier than she had been for a while. This was very, very good news. A tiny ray of sunshine. Something good she could cling on to. Not everything was completely shitty, she reminded herself. Good things could still happen. At least when it came to her writing. If only good things could happen in other situations as well. Once again, Emma thought about Regina. Was the brunette still in bed with those throat pains Henry had mentioned? Emma felt that pinching concern deep in her belly. How was she supposed to not drive by Regina´s place when she was done working?

Wasn’t she allowed to text the brunette either? Regina hadn’t texted her this morning like she had done before all of this happened, and that was probably an indicator. A way of telling Emma that she shouldn’t be texting her.

Emma sighed. She missed Regina terribly. She missed meeting up for coffee, and she missed watching Regina scribbling notes. She missed seeing Regina smile.

Emma leaned back in her chair. Thinking about Regina obviously made her think about “the elephant in the room” as well. The thing Regina was hiding. No, hiding wasn’t the right word to use. That word indicated that Regina was a liar, and Emma definitely did not see Regina as a liar. Emma gnawed at a fingernail, once again fought the urge to pick up her phone and text Regina. Just to hear if she was okay. Just to make sure.

She didn’t though. Instead she reached inside her bag and found her headphones. She connected them to her phone and then slipped them inside her ears. Normally, Cigarettes After Sex was her “go to” background music, but today she ended up choosing classical music instead.

And in hindsight, maybe that was a pretty bad idea, because it didn’t take long before Emma ended up thinking back to the concert she had been attending with Regina. That had been a very special experience. The way Regina had become emotional over the music had made Emma emotional as well, and she could remember how she had considered to reach out and take Regina’s hand. Maybe she should have done that. Instead of kissing her. Emma had many times thought about that look Regina had had in her eyes after Emma had kissed her. Something had been off about it. Emma had thought that it had been because it had come to a surprise to Regina, but when Emma laid awake at night, she couldn’t help but think that it was something else that had made Regina react like she did. And it confused Emma, because Regina had returned the kiss. Emma was a hundredth percent certain of that. So what was it?

Emma couldn’t figure it out. Like so many things about Regina, that was a mystery. A mystery, Emma hoped would be uncovered soon. Regina had said so. She had said that she would explain everything soon. And Emma hoped that she meant it and hadn’t changed her mind. Emma needed to know what was going on. With the stalker, with Regina, with everything.

The blonde blinked. She wasn’t working. She was just sitting and staring at her laptop like some fool. Back to work Swan! Emma quickly snapped out of it.

 

Saying that the weather was terrible when Emma drove back home would be an understatement. It was pouring down, and it was literally storming like a bitch. Emma couldn’t wait to return to her warm, dry room. She had rushed across the parking lot to get to Elsa’s car, and she had ended up getting completely soaked. After having spent only two seconds outside. Her hair was dripping, and her boots were full of water. VERY uncomfortable. Emma was gonna take a nice, long, hot bath when she got home. And she couldn’t wait. A nice, long soak was exactly what she deserved today. And then maybe a piece of that gooey chocolate cake she had seen on display earlier.

The windshield wipers on Elsa’s car wasn’t working very good. Emma was struggling to see the road, and she slowed down some. She didn’t wanna risk hitting someone. Not even her stalker. Thinking about the possibility that he could be lurking out here in the darkness made Emma shiver a bit. She reminded herself that she was safe in the car. Nothing could get to her when she was in the car. But suppose he would actually show up? Suppose he was suddenly standing in the middle of the road? Maybe Emma would accidentally stepping on the speeder and not the brakes... She shook her head. No. Of course she wouldn’t. What was she even thinking? Yes, the stalker was making her life very, very difficult, but murder was hardly the answer. Of course it wasn’t.

To distract herself, Emma switched on the radio. She ended up catching the latest forecast. They were warning about going outside tomorrow. The storm would get worse. The wind would be extreme. The “experts” were warning about rooftiles flying through the air, and trees falling onto the road. If that really was the case, Emma wouldn’t be able to go to work tomorrow. Oh well. That only meant that she would have plenty of time to write instead. Maybe she would even finish the fairytales tomorrow. Emma had an inkling she would. At least if everything went according to plan. But she wasn’t gonna force herself to keep writing when she felt uninspired. She would follow Malena’s advice and take extra good care of the ending.

Emma yelped when a wolf suddenly ran across the road. Damn. She could’ve hit it. A wolf. Recovering from the shock, the blonde chuckled. Almost hitting a wolf in a storm. Wow. She would have to find a way to incorporate that into her story. Tonight’s weather was the perfect setting for a scary scene. She was definitely gonna take advantage of that.

Emma felt relieved when she saw the familiar “Steveston”-sign. Now she was almost home. That was good. The weather was definitely getting worse. She couldn’t wait to have dinner and then have that soak in the tub. It was possible that she was looking more forward to that than she was looking forward to dinner. Shocking, really.

 

**************

 

The weather had gotten worse when Emma came home, and instead of returning Elsa’s car to her, the blonde took mercy upon herself and parked the borrowed vehicle right in front of Eugenia’s Inn. Elsa could pick up the car tomorrow. Or the next day. Emma doubted her friend was gonna need the car tomorrow. Surely no one was gonna buy ice cream when there was a storm, right?

Emma rushed inside the diner. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Just as she had slammed the door behind her, she saw a lightening zigzag across the sky, and soon she heard a clap of thunder.

“Damn,” she muttered. The weather was getting really intense. Emma was very glad she was home.

Ruby and Eugenia were nowhere to be seen, so Emma did what she had grown accustomed to do lately (and what she had gotten Eugenia’s blessing to do). She went behind the counter, opened the door to the kitchen and slipped inside. In the kitchen she found a tin-foiled wrapped plate and a little post-it note on top of it saying, “for Emma” followed by lots of smileys. Emma tried to block out any sort of flashbacks a she removed the post-it and the tin foil and then popped the plate inside the microwave. It didn’t take long before the smell of grilled cheese sandwich filled the kitchen. After a moment or so, Emma removed the plate from the microwave and sniffed appreciatingly. Yep, the sandwich was definitely warm. And it smelled amazing. God bless Eugenia and her disbelief when Emma said that she could just buy some food on her way back from work. Eugenia had refused to listen to “that kind of nonsense”, and “making a grilled cheese sandwich is not a problem.” She had then insisted that Emma was too thin. That had made Emma smile a little, and she had felt every bit like Eugenia was her grandmother. She was certainly acting that way, and Emma didn’t mind it one bit. She’d never had a grandmother before.

Emma elegantly balanced the plate in one hand as she went up the stairs. She fumbled with her key for a moment and then unlocked the door to her room. Her new room. She had completely forgotten to call Graham and tell him that it was possible that there was a camera in the room she had previously stayed in. Shit. She would have to call him tomorrow. She hoped he could make it over here despite the storm. Finding out whether there was a camera in her other room was pretty important.

For right now, Emma settled for stepping inside her room, locking the door behind her and then digging into her grilled cheese sandwich while she tried to wrestle her jacket off at the same time. Bit of a struggle, but her jacket was soaked. Emma wasn’t aiming for leaving a mess. She made sure to stay right by the door so she wouldn’t drip all over the carpet. Eugenia probably wouldn’t appreciate that very much.

She ate her grilled cheese sandwich in top speed, and as soon as she had swallowed the last mouthful, Emma quickly wrestled off her boots. She left them in the corner near the door. They were soaked. And so was she. She tried to be as careful as possible as she went into the bathroom and took off her wet clothes. She left the lot on the radiator so it could dry off, and then she went back into the bedroom and grabbed the book she had been trying to read for the past fourteen days. There hadn’t been a lot of time to read, but maybe she could find the time now. She was counting on spending a long time soaking in the bathtub.

She went back inside the bathroom and switched the water on, and while the tub slowly filled, the blonde prepared everything. Not one, but two fluffy white towels. One to wrap around her hair, and one to wrap around her body. An equally fluffy bathrobe to slip into once she had dried off. Tonight, Emma was gonna pamper herself. Thoroughly. She had deserved that.

Soon the tub was filled, and Emma immediately lowered herself into the water. Oh, this was heaven. It had to be. The blonde tipped her head back and closed her eyes. She had actually been planning on reading her book while she soaked in the tub, but now that she was in the hot water, she couldn’t find the energy or urge to read. She was far too comfortable with her head tipped back and her eyes closed.

“Mmm,” Emma mumbled in the silence. “This is amazing!” it felt like it had been forever since she had last taken a soak in the tub. She grabbed the loofah and lazily scrubbed her arm. Then she chuckled. It was half-assed. It was most definitely half-assed. Maybe scrubbing down could wait a little. Maybe it was perfectly acceptable to stay put and not move an inch until the water turned cold.

That sounded like the perfect plan, really. A nice, long soak in the tub. Emma hoped that there would still be some chocolate left when she eventually went downstairs.

The wind howled once more, and Emma heard a branch knock against the window. But for once, it didn’t scare her. Right now, she found it very hard to believe that there were things like stalkers and secrets and whatever. Right now, Emma felt completely relaxed. She should have brought her phone in here so she could listen to some music while she relaxed. That wouldn’t be half-bad. And the music would help her stay awake. Accidentally drowning in the bathtub wasn’t on Emma’s schedule today.

The blonde chuckled a little and stretched as much as she could in the bathtub. It was actually a bit too small. She had to sort of curl up in order to fit in the bathtub. She chuckled again. Everything about this inn was a bit fairytale like, so maybe the bathtubs had been intended for the seven dwarves and not Snow White. Not that she was Snow White or anything. God, no.

Emma sighed pleasantly once more. This was really, really nice. A haven of peace and quiet. A temporary break from everything that had been going on. Emma felt as though she had earned this break.

More than earned it. Seriously, she had been-

Knock, knock, knock!

The blonde’s head snapped up, and her imagination immediately went into overdrive. It was the stalker. He had somehow found out that she had switched room. And now he was knocking on the door to scare her before he forced the door open and came in here to grab her...

Knock, knock, knock! “Ems? You in here?”

Emma breathed a sigh of relief and scolded herself for immediately overreacting. It wasn’t the stalker. It was just Ruby. Everything was fine.

“Ems? You home?”

“Be right there!” Emma called back and muttered complainingly under her breath. She had hoped for a longer soak. Oh well. Maybe she could climb back into the tub when she had talked to Ruby.

The blonde quickly stood from the tub and grabbed the fluffy white bathrobe. She easily slipped it on and tied it around her body. She was dripping, but she couldn’t do anything about that right now. Nor could she do anything about the wet footsteps she left all over the carpet as she marched out to open the door. She quickly unlocked it and then opened it.

Ruby was indeed standing outside the door. “Oh,” she said and cringed a bit. “I’m interrupting you.”

“Totally,” Emma teased. “But I’ll live. What’s up?”

“I’ve got this for you,” Ruby said and handed Emma a cream colored envelope. “Just delivered at the front desk.”

“Oh. Thanks. Two ticks,” Emma said as she wiped her wet hands on the bathrobe. Then she accepted the envelope being held out towards her.

“Sorry I interrupted your bath,” the waitress said sheepishly.

Emma rolled her eyes and then “warned” Ruby that she would come downstairs for a piece of chocolate cake later. Ruby cackled and said that she would save Emma a large piece. Then the waitress turned around and disappeared down the hallway.

Emma closed and locked the door again. She briefly considered whether this envelope could contain yet another threatening message from the stalker. Maybe opening the envelope was a bad idea. But then she spotted something in the middle of the envelope. ‘To Emma’. Plain and simple. And Emma would recognize that handwriting anywhere.

Regina.

Emma’s heart thumped a bit faster in her chest. Was this it? Was she holding the answer to everything in her hand? Would be mystery finally be unveiled? She forgot all thoughts about going back to her bath. This was far more important. Emma climbed onto the bed, completely ignoring the fact that she was soaking wet, and then she ripped the envelope open. A letter fell out. A very long letter. The blonde immediately unfolded it and tried to ignore the way her heart was thumping too fast in her chest as she began reading:

 

‘Emma,

This is not easy for me. I believe this is the third time I’m trying to write this letter to you. I failed both times. The first time I barely manage to write a line before I had to stop. The second time I made it past the difficult part before nausea forced me to the bathroom.
But you want answers, and what’s more, you deserve answers. God, you deserve answers! Apart from my sister, you’re the first person to know the truth. You’re the first person I’ve wanted to share the truth with.

You’ve asked me if this has anything to do with Henry’s father. It hasn’t. I met Henry’s father in a bar when I was twenty four. I had been drinking, and so had he. Perhaps that was why we hit it off so well. Either way, we ended up going back to his room and, well... I suppose I don’t have to explain what happens when two people who have been drinking decides to move things to a more private setting. It was over in a flash. Just a one time thing. The only thing I know about Henry’s father is that his name is Daniel and that he was a riding instructor at the time. He was gone when I woke up next morning, he left me with the bill for the room. Charming fellow. Anyway, six weeks later I found out that I was pregnant. Not very surprising considering the fact that we were too drunk to think about protection. It was a bit of a shock at first. I hadn’t exactly planned to become a mother right then and there, but I was never in any doubt when I found out I was pregnant. Perhaps it didn’t fit into my plans, but is there ever a “right” time when it comes to having children?’...

 

Emma shook her head a little. No, there probably wasn’t. Then she kept reading:

‘....Henry is undoubtedly the best thing that has ever happened to me. And there was a point where he was just about the only thing that kept me going.
There never was an accident, Emma. I didn’t loose my voice because of an accident. It was taken from me. I’m about to reach the part where I had to stop the second time. I really hope that I’ll manage to write it this time, because having to start over would simply be too difficult.

I want to tell you a story. A story that begins two years ago when I was living a rather pleasant life if I do say so myself. I had a good and stable job, and I had an adorable eight year old who’s biggest question was why the sky sometimes changed from grey to blue. Life was good. I was contend. But maybe not as happy as I claimed to be. There was something missing. I wanted to get back in the “dating” game. Between having Henry and maintaining my career, there hadn’t been a lot of time for that, and I was starting to feel like I was ready. I was thirty three and admittedly a little frustrated. I felt like I had missed some opportunities. I didn’t want to be alone for the rest of my days. One night I moaned to Zelena about it, and I think you know enough about my sister to know that she’s a “less talk more action” kind of woman...’

 

Emma chuckled slightly. Yes, that was exactly how she had experienced Zelena. The blonde gnawed on a fingernail as she resumed reading:

‘.....So the week after our talk, she informed me that she would be taking Henry in the weekend. And then she more or less ordered me to “go out there and have fun”. So I did. Henry and I lived in Montreal at the time, and I knew the town like the back of my hand, so I ended up driving all the way to Québec and checking into a hotel for the weekend. I had been a long time since I had done something like that, so I felt quite excited.
After having walked around in the city and been on “sightseeing”, I decided to do what Zelena had ordered me to do. Go out and have fun. I ended up in some bar. I don’t remember the name anymore, but I do remember that I wasn’t having a lot of fun. I just sat there with my drink. I was easily discouraged, and it didn’t take me long to decide that this had been a bad idea. I decided to empty my drink and then head back to the hotel. I was quick to convince myself that I was acting silly. I wasn’t twenty years old anymore.

That was when he showed up. We literally ran into each other at the door, I told him that I was just about to leave, and he told me what a shame he thought that was, he would have loved to buy me a drink. It was definitely a cliché opening line, but there was something about the way he said it. He was confident. Cocky. And I liked that. So I agreed to let him buy me a drink.
We went back to my table, and he bought me that drink. And one for himself. I think I mocked him because he ordered rum. We toasted, we talked, we introduced ourselves to one another. We hit it off. He was interesting. He told me that he was a police officer, and I remember that I laughed because I thought it was a pickup line he used on every woman he met. He answered, “only on the women I find interesting’, It was so cliché, but I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had used cheesy pick-up lines on me. And he was an attractive man. Rugged, but not in a bad way.
Anyway, to make a long story just a bit shorter, we ended up exchanging phone numbers by the end of the night, and I remember that I thought that was a wonderfully old-fashioned thing to do, especially since I had mentioned to him that I was staying on a hotel not too far from the bar.

We ended up seeing each other the next day. We went for a walk in the city, and he asked me how long I was staying in town. I told him that I was only gonna be there for the weekend, I had to get home to my son. I had expected that that would make him run for the hills, but it didn’t. Instead he seemed genuinely interested and wanted to know more about Henry and my job at Montreal University. He seemed impressed when I told him that I was a professor.
Once again, I’ll try to make a long story shorter. We spend most of the weekend together and did what people do when there’s a fair amount of chemistry between them. By the end of the weekend I was smitten. It was ridiculous because I had only just met him, but I couldn’t help it. Everything about him was attractive to me.
But eventually, things had to come to an end. I went back to Montreal. He had my phone number, but that didn’t mean a lot to me. I didn’t expect him to call me ever again.

So naturally, I was quite surprised when he did. He called me that Monday after Henry had gone to bed. We ended up talking for two hours.

For two weeks, that was how we maintained a “relationship”. Over the phone. Then he asked me if he could come and visit me. He had booked a room at a nearby hotel. Henry was having a sleepover with a friend that weekend, so I said yes.

Once again, the chemistry between us was just right. We spent most of the weekend in his hotel bed. He was exactly as charming and wonderful as I remembered and seeing him that weekend only made me more smitten with him.

Fast forward a couple of months... We continued to see each other during the weekends, and when that was impossible, we talked over the phone, most of the time for hours. I introduced him to Henry. I had been very nervous about that, because I had never introduced a partner to Henry before. To me, that was the ultimate test. Everything depended on that meeting.
It went better than I could ever have imagined. Henry was instantly taken with his boyish way, and he seemed quite taken with Henry as well. They hit it off, and I was relieved. Next I introduced him to Zelena, and Zelena liked him too, but there was something about her reaction I didn’t quite understand. She wasn’t as excited for me as I had hoped, and obviously, I felt very disappointed and I didn’t hesitate to tell her that...’

 

Emma wetted her lips and took a short break to rub her eyes. Then she continued reading:

 

‘...But I refused to let that discourage me. I was smitten with this man. I really felt as though I had found a partner. THE partner. The one I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with.
He moved in with us. Unofficially, at first. But after a while it seemed ridiculous that he had to go back and forward all the time. The house Henry and I were living in were big enough for one more, and he had gotten an offer about being transferred to Montreal Police Department. I really felt as though everything was coming together, and I was delighted when he said yes to the job and moved in with Henry and me. Officially. Henry adored him, and I really felt as though we were becoming a family. I couldn’t have been happier.

But that was when things started to change. It happened so gradually, I barely noticed it at first. Sometimes he could be moody when he came home from work, but I chalked that up to him being tired and stressed. Moving to a new city couldn’t be easy. And plus, he had gone from living on his own to suddenly living with a mother and her child. That had to be quite the change. I think I would be as tired if I were him.
But then I started to see another side of him. He could sometimes snap. Not at Henry, though. Always at me. But he always apologized and said that he was just tired, and that he would feel better in the morning. And he always did, so I didn’t think that much of it.
We hadn’t lived together for very long before he surprised me with a romantic night out. Delicious food, good wine. And by the end of the night I got the surprise of a lifetime when he suddenly kneeled and asked me to marry him...’

 

A surprised little gasp escaped Emma. Had Regina been married? Her head was spinning as she turned the page and kept reading:

‘....I cried as I gave him my yes. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a dream come true. A fairytale. A whirlwind romance. By some miracle, I had found everything I could possibly ask for.
I’m sure you’ve already figured out where I’m going with this story. This is not a fairytale. Quite the reverse.
At first everything was as rose red as could be. We were happy. I suddenly had a wedding to plan, and at first, he participated in everything and acted like an excited husband to be. But then he started to get busier at work, and therefore more stressed and tired. A couple of months after he had proposed to me, we had an argument. I don’t even remember what about anymore, but we were both yelling a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised in my life as I was when he suddenly slapped me. It had literally come out of nowhere. I was so surprised, I was barely shocked. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened.
He immediately got very upset and started crying as he apologized to me again and again. He assured me it was an accident and that he would never ever do it again.
I can’t remember what I said to all that. I was still completely shocked. I think I just went upstairs and locked myself in the bedroom. I very distinctly remember that Henry wasn’t home that night, and that I was relieved about that.
The next morning, he was still there, and he once again assured me that he would never ever do that again. He cried again and said that he didn’t know why he had done it. He loved me and he didn’t want to lose me...’

 

Emma felt sick to her stomach. She wasn’t sure whether she had to throw up or not. She breathed in and out through her nose as she kept reading:

‘.... I was an idiot. I forgave him. I wish I could tell you why, but I can’t. Maybe I naively believed that he meant it. That he would never do it again.
He did. A couple of months after the first incident, he slapped me again. I don’t remember why. Honestly, I don’t think there was much of a reason. Exactly like the first time, he cried and was full of apologies. He would never do it again. This time, I told him to leave. And he did. For a few hours. Then he begged me not to leave him. He said he loved me. He promised he would get help for it. I believed him. I actually gave him the benefit of the doubt. I hoped he would change.

He didn’t. Instead the situation got worse. He expressed how annoying he found it that I worked so much. He thought it was ridiculous. He could provide for us, he said. I dismissed it and told him how important my job was. He got angry and suggested that I cared more about my work than about him. I told him that wasn’t true, but he didn’t believe me. We had another argument that night.
I wish I could give you an explanation as to why I kept staying with him. I suppose I hoped that it would get better. That I could somehow change him. And I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. He always behaved when Henry was present. He acted like the perfect stepdad. He was happy and joked with Henry. I told myself that I stayed one more day things would be like that every day.

But nothing changed. Instead the situation escalated. During our... intimate moments, he suddenly developed the habit of grabbing my throat. I asked him why he had started doing that, and he acted surprised and asked me if I didn’t like it. I told him that I didn’t, and then I asked him to stop it. But he didn’t. He kept doing it, and I stopped protesting. He wasn’t hurting me, and if it turned him on, I didn’t see the point in starting an argument over it. I sucked it up and endured it. I hoped that would make him happier, but it didn’t. Everything got worse and worse. He started to believe that I was having affairs with the other teachers at Montreal University. There wasn’t an ounce of truth in it, but obviously, he wouldn’t listen to that. I “earned myself” a few solid slaps for having lied to him. And then he told me that I shouldn’t be working. That it wasn’t my place to work. That I should be at home with Henry and take care of him instead. Suppose something happened to him.
It was an obvious threat, and it finally made me wake up. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take anymore.

The next day I sent Henry to Zelena’s for the weekend, and then I waited until he came home from work. Ironically enough, he was in a good mood when he came home, but that changed all too quickly when I asked him to leave. I told him that I’d had enough. That I was done. He went completely ballistic. He screamed at me and threatened me with all kinds of things. Then he hit me again. This time he used his fist, and I ended up hitting my head on the wall. I nearly passed out and he took advantage of that and grabbed my throat. He squeezed. I couldn’t breathe properly, but I somehow manage to hit him in the face. I was wearing the ring he gave me, and it cut his cheek. He let go of me and grabbed his cheek instead. I ran. I don’t know why I ran upstairs instead of outside. I didn’t think clearly. I locked myself in the bedroom where my phone was. I called the police and screamed that he was going to kill me. That was about all I managed to say before he busted the door open and came inside the bedroom. He hit me again. I was on the brink of passing out, and he easily overpowered me. He forced me down on the floor. I’ll spare you the details of what he did to me...’

 

Emma was openly crying now. Sobbing. Her fingers trembled and her vision was blurry. She blinked as she forced herself to keep reading:

 

‘.... I kept screaming at him to leave me alone, and somehow, I managed to find the strength to push him away. But only for a moment. Before I could get the chance to even stand up, he kicked me. Grabbed me by my hair and forced me to stand up. He said he was tired of listening to my “bullshit” all the time, and now he was gonna make sure that I would stay silent forever. He grabbed his belt and wrapped it around my throat. Then he squeezed. I tried to get him to stop, but he was so much stronger than I was. He kept squeezing and squeezing. I was convinced that I was going to die. The bedroom started to blur, and the last thing I heard before passing out was the police kicking down the front door...’

 

“Oh my god...” Emma brought a fist up to her mouth in order to muffle her cries. She felt sick. Her stomach coiled, and something that wasn’t just nausea swirled inside her. It was anger. Red, hot anger. Emma had never been so angry in her life. She was literally shaking as she kept reading:

 

‘.... I woke up in the hospital. I had four broken ribs, two black eyes, and my left cheekbone was broken. I was very confused and didn’t quite understand what was happening. One of the nurses told me what had happened a week earlier. They had kept me in a medically induced coma to lessen the pressure on my brain. I was sore and tired, but I remembered everything that had happened to me. Things were very difficult. After I became conscious, I panicked every time one of the doctors had to examine me. I wouldn’t let them touch me. They had to sedate me.

At some point, when I was aware enough to listen, they told me that they had arrested my fiancée. He hadn’t been very difficult to find. A nurse asked me if I could tell them what he had done to me. A policeman would come and take my statement. I opened my mouth to tell them everything, and I couldn’t talk. Not a word came out of my mouth and I panicked all over again. I had to be sedated again.

I don’t know exactly when, perhaps it was a couple of days later when they told me that the strangulation had damaged my vocal cords severely. But they were convinced that it was temporarily. That my voice would come back.
It didn’t. I couldn’t talk no matter how hard I tried, and it was impossible for me not to think about what he had said right before he started choking me. That he would ensure that I stayed silent forever. I assume he meant that he was going to kill me, but in a twisted way, he got it the way he wanted. He took my voice from me.

I was too ill to testify against him, but it wasn’t necessary. My injuries were more than enough. He was charged with assault, rape and attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
I wish I could tell you that that eased things for me, but it didn’t. I was very depressed and more than once I thought about ending things myself. I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone touching me. Not even my own son. My recovery was slow, and I had to spent some time at a psychiatric ward. Eventually, I started to feel better. I couldn’t just give up. If I did that, he was gonna win, and I refused to let him win. I clawed my way back to life. Literally. I learned to hold my son again, and eventually, I was transferred to a hospital in Toronto to have an operation. An operation that was supposed to give me back the ability to speak. That operation failed. I’m currently waiting for a second operation. One the doctors are convinced is gonna be a success. I had just been discharged from the hospital and was on my way to Vancouver to live with Zelena when you met me on the train.

Now you know the truth. That there never was an accident, and I know you must be wondering why I told you that in the first place. The reason is simple, really. Henry doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what really happened to me. The first time he was allowed to visit me and asked Zelena what had happened, she panicked and said that me and my fiancée had been involved in a car accident. She told Henry that my fiancée had been drunk driving and that’s why he had been sent to prison.
I didn’t correct it. I can’t tell him the truth. He’s only ten. He’s too young to know this. The truth would devastate him. Maybe it’s wrong of me to lie to him, but right now, it’s the best thing to do.

As for the man who’s stalking you... His name is Liam. And he’s the brother of my ex-fiancé. I only met him for a few times, but it turns out, he’s every bit as bad as his brother. When my ex-fiancé was sentenced, his brother caused quite a scene in the courtroom. He yelled and shouted that I was an evil, lying bitch who was ruining his brother’s life. He said that he would come after me and finish the job. That made the judge give him a restraining order right then and there. He’s not allowed to come nowhere near me or Henry or Zelena. I thought that would be the end of it, but clearly, I was wrong. I think Liam must have seen us together and decided to take out his anger on you because he can’t get to me. I saw sheriff Graham this morning, and he and the rest of his officers are looking for Liam.

Now you know everything. I’m damaged, Emma. I flinch when people touch me. Some mornings I almost can’t find the energy to get out of bed, and some nights I wake up in panic because I can feel his hands around my neck.
I’m not gonna pretend that I’m not feeling anything for you, because I do. But you deserve better than this. You deserve someone that isn’t broken, and with everything that’s going on with Liam, I think it would be better if you stay away from me.

 

Regina.’

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

Emma put the letter down and wept. Ugly and messily and without hesitation. She cried and cried as her heart shattered into a million pieces for Regina. Emma didn’t want to believe that this had happened to her. She felt sick and she couldn’t stop shaking. She was freezing and her heart was hammering away in her chest.

She was going to be sick.

Emma rushed into the bathroom where she emptied the content of her stomach repeatedly. Her fingers trembled as she grabbed the sink. She didn’t want to believe this. She wanted to wake up and discover that it had been a bad dream. She didn’t want this to be real. Emma shook her head as though she could physically shake the memories out of her head. No. This couldn’t have happened to
Regina. It was too horrible. It was too gruesome!

After having taken keep gulps of water straight from the tap, Emma left the bathroom and went back into the bedroom. The letter was still laying unfolded on her bed, and Emma had no choice but to accept reality. And reality was that this really had happened. To Regina. She had gone through this nightmare. Emma’s heart started to beat rapidly in her chest. God, that miserable son of a bitch could have killed her! He almost had! Regina had been in a medically induced coma for a week because of what he had done to her!

Emma sat down heavily on the bed. She was panting slightly as though she was exhausted, and she buried her face in her hands as snippets from Regina’s letter attacked her.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised in my life as I was when he suddenly slapped me. It had literally come out of nowhere. I was so surprised, I was barely shocked. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. He immediately got very upset and started crying as he apologized to me again and again. He assured me that it was an accident, and that he would never ever do it again. I can’t remember what I said to all that. I was still completely shocked. I think I just went upstairs and locked myself in the bedroom. I very distinctly remember that Henry wasn’t home that night, and that I was relieved about that. The next morning, he was still there, and he once again assured me that he would never ever do that again. He cried again and said that he didn’t know why he had done it. He loved me and he didn’t want to lose me. I was an idiot. I forgave him. I wish I could tell you why, but I can’t. Maybe I naively believed that he meant it. That he would never do it again.’

Emma’s stomach clenched. Regina hadn’t been an idiot. She had been in love, and the bastard had used that to manipulate her. The blonde’s fist clenched. It had been a while since she had last wanted to hit someone like she did right now.

‘He did. A couple of months after the first incident, he slapped me again. I don’t remember why. Honestly, I don’t think there was much of a reason...’

Emma’s jaw clenched. Of course there hadn’t been a reason. Regina shouldn’t even have tried to find a reason. The blonde’s breathing sped up.

‘....... During our... intimate moments he suddenly developed the habit of grabbing my throat. I asked him why he had started doing that, and he acted surprised and asked me if I didn’t like it. I told him that I didn’t, and then I asked him to stop it, But he didn’t. He kept doing it, and I stopped protesting. He wasn’t hurting me, and if it turned him on, I didn’t see the point in starting an argument over it. I sucked it up and endured it. I hoped that it would make him happier...’

Nausea radiated through Emma. He had enjoyed it. He had enjoyed grabbing Regina’s throat. It seemed like such a dark indicator of what was to come. A sick foreplay to what he would be doing to Regina’s throat later on.

Maybe Emma was gonna be sick again. It certainly felt like it right now. She breathed in and out through her nose as more passages from the letter mercilessly flooded her mind completely.

‘....And then he told me that I shouldn’t be working. That it wasn’t my place to work. That I should be at home with Henry and take care of him instead. Suppose something happened to him. It was an obvious threat, and it finally made me wake up. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take anymore.’

Emma felt sick all over again. He had hurt Regina. That alone was reason enough to wanting to rip him apart limb by limb, but to think that he also had threatened Henry! He had threatened a child! God, he had to be a complete psychopath!

‘....He went completely ballistic. He screamed at me and threatened me with all kinds of things. Then he hit me again. This time he used his fist, and I ended up hitting my head on the wall. I nearly passed out and he took advantage of that and grabbed my throat. He squeezed. I couldn’t breathe properly, but I somehow managed to hit him in the face. I was wearing the ring he gave me, and it cut his cheek. He let go of me and grabbed his cheek instead. I ran. I don’t know why I ran upstairs instead of outside. I didn’t think clearly. I locked myself in the bedroom where my phone was. I called the police and screamed that he was going to kill me. That was about all I managed to say before he busted the door open and came inside the bedroom. He hit me again. I was on the brink of passing out, and he easily overpowered me. He forced me down on the floor-‘

Emma’s stomach churned and she shook her head violently. No! No! she didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t want this to be real! She didn’t want this to have happened to Regina! The blonde sobbed again and scrubbed at her eyes. She felt so selfish for wanting to forget what she had read. Regina had to live with this every single day for the rest of her life. Emma sniffled noisily, and her stomach churned again as she thought about what could have happened if the police hadn’t shown up when they did. No, not what could have happened, what would have happened. He would have killed her. He would have murdered her and left Henry without a mother and Zelena without a sister... Emma reached inside her bedside drawer and grabbed a tissue. She was suffocating. She needed to blow her nose.

‘......I woke up in the hospital. I had four broken ribs, two black eyes, and my left cheekbone was broken. I was very confused and didn’t quite understand what was happening. One of the nurses told me what had happened a week earlier. They had kept me in a medically induced coma to lessen the pressure on my brain. I was sore and tired, but I remembered everything that had happened to me. Things were very difficult. After I became conscious, I panicked every time one of the doctors had to examine me. I wouldn’t let them touch me. They had to sedate me.’

Emma’s chest clenched. The way Regina had flinched ever so slightly when Emma had put her hand on her arm. The look of panic in her eyes after Emma had kissed her... Emma felt terrible. She had trampled all over Regina’s boundaries, and Regina had most likely been too petrified to tell her. Emma’s kiss had probably felt like another assault. Another violation of her boundaries. Emma used the tissue to wipe her eyes. It felt as though she would never stop crying again.

‘....A policeman would come and take my statement. I opened my mouth to tell them everything, and I couldn’t talk. Not a word came out of my mouth and I panicked all over again. I had to be sedated again.’

Emma could easily understand that. To imagine what Regina must have felt when she opened her mouth and tried to speak her mind and then no words came out. Emma wasn’t sure whether her heart could shatter any further.

‘...I don’t know exactly when, perhaps it was a couple of days later when they told me that the strangulation had damaged my vocal cords severely. But they were convinced that it was temporarily. That my voice would come back.’

And it hadn’t. Emma sniffled again.

‘.....And it was impossible for me not to think about what he had said right before he started choking me. That he would ensure that I stayed silent forever. I assume that he meant that he was going to kill me, but in a twisted way, he got what he wanted. He took my voice from me.’

Emma took another deep breath. Regina had been too sick to testify against him, but Emma was glad that Regina’s injuries had been more than enough proof against him. Life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was never gonna see the light of day again. He could never ever get anywhere near Regina again. Emma rubbed her temples. It wasn’t enough. Regina was as much in prison as he was. She had been depressed. So depressed she had considered to end things herself. Emma felt nauseated once more. Regina had considered suicide. She had been in a psychiatric ward. She had panicked every time someone had touched her. Even her own son. She had had to learn that it was okay to hug her son. Emma’s vision turned red. Suddenly, the idea of sprinting outside, jumping into her car and driving straight to the prison where that bastard was and hitting him until his miserable little head squished like a pumpkin, didn’t seem that far out...

She shook her head, tried to collect her thoughts and focus on what Regina had written in her letter. She had been transferred to a hospital in Toronto to undergo an operation. An operation that hadn’t worked. And now she was waiting for a second surgery. One that could potentially give her back the ability to speak.

She had been on her way home from the hospital in Toronto when Emma had met her on the train. She had been on her way to her new life in Vancouver with Zelena and Henry.
Henry. He didn’t know. That was why Regina had said that there had been an accident. That was why everyone thought she had been involved in an accident. To protect Henry. To make sure he didn’t find out the truth. Emma could easily understand why Regina had gone along with Zelena’s panic lie. Henry was far, far too young to be told the truth. Regina was right, it would devastate him. He was just a little boy. A little boy who loved his mother and just wanted to protect her...

Emma’s bottom lip trembled. There had been no one to protect Regina that night. She had been alone. In many ways, she was still alone. She had called herself “damaged”, but Emma wasn’t sure she agreed with that description. It made it sound like Regina was some piece of machinery that didn’t work anymore, and that wasn’t how Emma saw it. Regina was traumatized. Battered, and rightfully so.

But she was not broken. She wasn’t some toy that bastard had broken.

Emma took another deep breath. Maybe she shouldn’t be thinking so much about Regina’s choice of words right now. Maybe she should be thinking about the fact that
Regina had revealed the identity of the man who was following Emma.

Liam. The brother of Regina’s ex-fiancé. The brother who was clearly as insane as Regina’s ex-fiancé had been. Emma felt enraged all over again. To imagine that he had actually claimed that Regina had been lying. That he had dared standing up in court and shouting profanity. Fucking bastard!

At least he wasn’t allowed to come anywhere near Regina or Henry or Zelena. They were safe.

But he could get to Emma. Or could he? Regina had been to see Graham. And Graham and his officers were looking for Liam. Emma prayed that they would be able to find him.

Emma looked at the letter. The last three lines assaulted her eyes:

‘I’m not gonna pretend that I’m not feeling anything for you, because I do. But you deserve better than this. You deserve someone that isn’t broken, and with everything that’s going on with Liam, I think it would be better if you stay away from me.

Stay away from her. Regina wanted Emma to stay away from her. The blonde shook her head. There was no way in hell she would be able to do that. Not even when Regina’s ex-fiancé’s brother was lurking about. Emma couldn’t just walk away from this. She understood that Regina was trying to keep her safe, but it wasn’t just that. Regina seemed to think that Emma could “do better”. That she deserved “someone that isn’t broken”. That word again. Broken. Emma stared at the letter once more. She wasn’t gonna walk away from this. Regina wanted the blonde to give up on her, but there was no way Emma was gonna do that. Not in a million years. She wanted to be in Regina’s life. She wanted Regina to know that she was there. She wasn’t alone. Emma wanted to help her. In any way she could.

She cared so deeply for Regina. More than she had ever cared for anyone before, and the idea that Regina felt like Emma deserved someone better was heartbreaking. The blonde wiped her eyes again.

Fresh tears had spilled onto her cheeks. She wanted to text Regina. No, better still she wanted to run outside, jump into her car and then drive straight to Regina’s place. She wanted to see Regina, to tell her how much it broke her heart to know that Regina had been through this nightmare. She wanted to tell Regina that she wouldn’t be able to stay away from her even though Regina had asked her to.

And last but not least, she wanted to apologize again and again for having touched Regina. For having kissed her without even bothering to ask about the look of panic in Regina’s eyes.

Emma suddenly blamed herself. She should have considered; she should have asked... But she hadn’t Because she hadn’t wanted to pry. Emma swallowed something. All this time she had thought of Regina as a mystery, but she hadn’t in her wildest imagination expected the mystery to be this dark. She felt sick again. Was she gonna throw up again?

The blonde pulled the robe tighter around herself. She wasn’t completely aware why she was wearing a bathrobe. She could barely remember what she had been doing before Ruby had knocked on the door and given her the letter.

Emma wondered who had given Ruby the letter. Had Regina been here? Or had she asked someone else to deliver it for her? Perhaps her sister.

A lightening zigzagged across the sky, and then there was a loud thunderclap. The sound made Emma jump. The letter ended up on the floor. Emma didn’t want to move it. She didn’t want to touch it anymore. It felt like every word written there could cut her if she touched the letter.

But on the other hand, she couldn’t just leave it on the floor. Her fingers trembled slightly as she reached down and grabbed the letter. And they kept trembling as she stuffed the letter back into the envelope. Next she locked the letter away in the top drawer of her dresser. It felt childish. As though not being able to see the letter could change anything. It couldn’t. The letter was still there. And everything written in it had happened. To Regina. It wasn’t just one of the thrillers Emma had enjoyed reading. This was real life. And it was gruesome. Emma could think of no other word to describe it.

Regina’s voice had been stolen from her in the most horrible way imaginable.

Utterly exhausted, Emma laid down on the bed. She doubted that she would be able to sleep tonight, but she needed to lie down. She felt terribly dizzy and nauseous. Maybe she would end up puking again. Or maybe weep some more. Emma felt like she would never stop crying. Her eyes had started to prickle again in that telltale manner, and before Emma knew of it, she was crying again. Not loudly this time. Just quietly weeping into her pillow, and in many ways, this was so much worse than the first round of tears. Every part of her body hurt, and her heart was breaking for Regina. Shattering into a million little pieces that couldn’t possibly be put back together. She kept imagining what Regina had gone through. How scared she must have been.......

Now Emma was full on bawling into her pillow, and her body shook. She curled into herself into a tight ball on the bed, rocking back and forward. She hadn’t done that since she was a frightened little girl living under Mary Margaret’s roof and rules.

Regina had been hurt.

Regina had almost died.

Regina was afraid to be touched.

Emma felt like she was choking.

That miserable excuse for a human being had tried to kill Regina. Sadness and rage mixed and left Emma dizzy and gasping on the bed. It felt like she was about to have a panic attack. She hadn’t had a panic attack in years, and somehow, she felt angry at herself for being on the brink of having one now. She wasn’t the one who had been in danger. She wasn’t the one who had endured all that.

Regina had just been looking for love. She had just been searching for her happy ending like so many else. And instead she had met a monster.

Emma ended up crying herself to sleep that night........

 

 

The next morning wasn’t any better. Emma’s throat felt completely raw when she drifted back into the world of consciousness. Her eyes were puffy, and she had a distinct feeling that her nose was bright red.

She sat up in bed and scrubbed at her eyes. Sniffled. At first, she thought that she hadn’t slept for very long, because the sky was completely dark, but then she remembered what she had heard in the radio last night. The weather was supposed to be terrible. And it was. The wind was still howling, and the rain was hammering against the window. Emma couldn’t go to work today. Going outside would be dangerous.

The blonde fumbled to find her phone and quickly discovered that Malena had sent her a text twenty minutes ago. A text in which she “warned” Emma not to come to work today. She wouldn’t be going either. The weather was simply too dangerous. Emma quickly texted back and informed her boss that she had every intention of staying home today.

She forced herself out of bed and more or less stumbled into the bathroom where she unceremoniously unplugged the tub. All the water fizzled down the drain. That was exactly how Emma felt today. Like water swirling down the drain. She was exhausted to the bone.

She washed her face. Bathed her poor, red eyes and then dabbed her red nose. She didn’t look too good. She had dark circles underneath her eyes. Her blonde hair seemed limp. Her green eyes were lifeless. She felt so utterly drained.

Emma couldn’t function today. Plain and simple. So she ended up doing something she hadn’t done while she was here. She ordered room service. Or, she sent Ruby a text and told her that she would like to have the breakfast brought up to her room as opposed to eat downstairs in the restaurant like she always did. Emma didn’t want to see anyone today. She didn’t have the physical nor mental strength to go downstairs and act normal. She couldn’t. Not when her heart was laying shattered and throbbing somewhere in her chest.

Emma didn’t even bother to get dressed that morning. Instead she took a quick shower and then redressed in the sweatpants and long t-shirt she had been sleeping in. She hastily pulled her hair back in a messy bun and then left the bathroom. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Ruby knocked on the door just as Emma emerged from the bathroom.

Emma went over and unlocked the door. Forced herself to smile at the waitress standing outside, balancing a breakfast tray in her hands.

“Morning,” Ruby said. “Great weather, huh?”

“Mmm, very,” Emma said and relieved Ruby of the tray. “Thanks.”

“It’s scrambled eggs and bacon. And a bear claw. And cocoa with cinnamon.”

“You’re the best,” Emma said, mustering a smile.

“I know I am,” Ruby said, joking for a second, but then she became quite serious again. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Emma lied. “Everything is fine.”

“Okay,” Ruby said. She didn’t look entirely convinced but settled for a: “bon Appetit!”. Then she turned around and took a few steps down the hallway.

“Rubes?” Emma said as she put the breakfast tray down on the bedside table.

“Yeah?”

“That envelope you gave me last night.... Do you by any chance know who delivered it?” Emma asked.

“Yeah, it was Zelena,” Ruby said.

“Okay,” Emma said. So her suspicion had been correct. It hadn’t been Regina herself who had been here to deliver it. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Are you sure everything is fine?” Ruby asked and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Emma lied. “Absolutely.”

“Alright then. See ya later.”

“Yep,” Emma said.

Ruby turned around once more and went down the hallway. Emma could hear her footsteps getting fainter and fainter. The blonde closed the door and then locked it. Not that she was expecting any unwanted visitors today. Not in this fucking weather. Being out in this weather would be a suicide mission.

So maybe she should hope that Liam was out there. Maybe she should hope that he was actually stupid enough to “brave the weather”. Who knew, maybe a tree would land on his car, or maybe he would get hit in the head by a roof tile. Very tragic, but kinda his own fault. Being out in this weather and all....

Emma interrupted her own dark thoughts by shaking her head firmly and then turning her attention to the breakfast trey. She wasn’t enormously hungry, but she knew that she couldn’t go without having breakfast. That would just lead to dizzy spells and possibly even fainting. Emma had tried that before. Not very comfortable.

And so, she settled down on the edge of the bed and dug into her breakfast. Breakfast in bed. Had the situation been any different, Emma would have felt like the luckiest bastard in the world.

But she didn’t feel lucky today. She felt completely raw. Her dreams had been terrible. She had kept seeing a faceless man lunge at Regina while Emma herself had been caught in that particular dream state where you can’t move. It had been awful.

Emma took a shuddering breath. The food became tasteless in her mouth. She felt nauseated all over again....

 

After having had breakfast, Emma ended up sitting and staring at her laptop screen for almost an hour until she admitted to herself that she wouldn’t get any writing done today. She couldn’t concentrate.

The only thing she was thinking about was Regina. She was the only thing on Emma’s mind, and the blonde needed to reach out. She was in desperate need of just the slightest sign of life from Regina.

Emma debated it with herself for quite a while. Sending a text didn’t seem like it was enough. Not after that letter. What Emma really wanted to do, was to speed to Regina’s place and tell Regina how sorry she was. But she couldn’t go out in this weather. And Regina had forbidden her to come by her house. Emma knew that she would have to go against that sooner or later, but for right now she would have to settle for texting. She found her phone on the bedside table and then quickly send a text to Regina.

‘I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to write to you after having read your letter. I don’t think there are any words to describe what I’m feeling. But this isn’t about me. God, Regina, are you alright? No. Of course you’re not. I already knew that, but I don’t really know what else I can write. I suppose I just want to hear from you.’

Emma wasn’t even sure whether Regina would answer her or not, so she was pretty surprised when her phone chimed a moment later. Emma was quick to check the message:

‘Hello, Emma. This is Zelena. I’m afraid Regina isn’t doing a hundredth percent well today. She’s currently taking a nap. Don’t worry, she gave me permission to answer her texts.’

Emma’s heart sank, and she felt that pinching sensation in her belly as she texted back.

‘This is gonna sound like a right cliché, but I’m really, really sorry to hear that she isn’t doing well. And I’m really sorry that she had to relive this because of me. Will you tell her that?’

After a moment or so, the answer came, and Emma’s phone chimed in an almost inappropriate manner. Emma swallowed something as she checked that message:

‘No, I will not. Because you didn’t force her to relive anything, Emma. She chose to share her story with you.’

And just like that, Emma felt close to weeping again. And her moment of sensitivity made her type ridiculous stuff: ‘I really miss her.’ she immediately regretted it when she had sent it. This wasn’t about her. And the answer chiming on her phone was probably Zelena informing her of just that. Emma checked the message.

‘I know Liam is after you, but I’m sure that Graham and his officers will get him. They’ll make the threat disappear.’

Not being completely sure of where Zelena was going with this, Emma simply texted: ‘I hope you’re right.’

The answer came quick. Zelena was a fast “texter” too, and Emma’s heart thumped a little when she read the newest message from Zelena: ‘ever since she met you, I’ve seen glimpses of the old Regina. The happy Regina. And it has given me hope for the future. Don’t give up on her, Emma.’

Now Emma was actually weeping, and she could barely see to hit the “send” button. After a moment or so she succeeded in sending her quick, but reassuring answer: ‘Never.’

There was no other answer she could give, and she hoped it would suffice. Zelena didn’t want her to give up on Regina. Emma felt a sliver of hope. Her phone chimed again, and Emma checked the message.

‘I’ll tell her you texted, but she might not be ready to reply to you today. Or tomorrow.’

Emma was quick to text back, and she only noticed the spelling error after she had sent the message.

‘I understand thaat. Will you tell her that I’m thinking about her?’

The reply from Zelena came immediately:

‘I most certainly will. Take care of yourself, Emma. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. I know you want to see her, but please think about your safety. Regina would be devastated if something happened to you.’

Emma swallowed something again, and her eyes were stinging as she typed: ‘I promise I’ll be careful.’ She sent the message and scrubbed at her eyes.

Zelena’s answer was simply ‘good’, and Emma could sense that their conversation via text had come to an end. She put her phone down on the nightstand once more.

Concern was gnawing in her belly, and it felt more like that pinching sensation. Regina was unwell. Regina. Whether her pain was physical or emotional didn’t matter. The bottom line was that Regina was unwell. Because of the letter she had written to Emma.

The blonde felt enormously guilty. Yes, Regina had chosen to write that letter, but hadn’t Emma been the one pushing for answers? Hadn’t Emma been the one bombarding her with text messages?

Emma tried to remind herself that she had done that out of concern and not to cause Regina any pain. But right now it was hard to try and remember that. All she could focus on was the fact that Regina was unwell.

Emma felt fresh tears pooling in her eyes, and she immediately felt annoyed at herself. She had no business crying when Regina was the one who was reliving a trauma.

 

********************************************

Emma didn’t do much that day. Well, she proofread a bit more of that manuscript she hadn’t quite finished, but for the rest of it she ended up watching HBO in an attempt to distract herself. It wasn’t really working though. She kept thinking about Regina. She kept thinking about her lying alone in a darkened bedroom and crying silently. God, Emma hoped that Regina wasn’t alone. She hoped that Henry was with her. She hoped that Henry would somehow manage to make his mother smile. Emma had an inkling that Henry had a knack for that. Hopefully, he had already unleashed his skills by now.

Emma stared blankly at her laptop screen. What episode was she on? Five? Six? She had no idea. She hadn’t been paying attention. Not even re-watching season one of “Game of Thrones” was enough to keep her from thinking. Nothing would be able to distract her today.

The wind was still howling in the trees, and Emma was starting to regret having chosen a room with forest view. The noise was overwhelming. It was still raining too. It had been raining all day, and Emma was sure she’d heard something heavy falling onto the road a bit earlier. Maybe the roof tiles really were coming loose. Maybe Steveston would be nothing more than a pile of bricks when they woke up tomorrow.

If that was the case, Emma would be the first one to volunteer for the rebuilding process. But hopefully, the storm would blow over soon. It was actually quite scary. It was very intense.

Emma shifted on the bed. It was possible that she had forgotten to eat lunch today. She hadn’t had any appetite. But of course she would have dinner. She would order room service again. Maybe treat herself to a slice of that chocolate cake she hadn’t had the chance to have some of last night.

Last night. Emma sighed. It seemed impossible to imagine that Last Night had started with a nice, soothing bath and then ended with a letter that completely shattered everything. Emma felt nauseous again. Maybe she wouldn’t have that piece of chocolate after all.

She paused “Game of Thrones”. She couldn’t concentrate, so what was the point in keeping watching it? Plus, she had a banger headache. Most likely from crying herself to sleep last night. Emma recognized this particular headache. She had cried herself to sleep many, many times when she lived in Mary Margaret’s house.

And it seemed like she would be crying herself to sleep tonight as well. She couldn’t stop thinking about Regina and how her dark eyes had flickered anxiously after Emma had kissed her. Emma’s belly curled, and she suddenly felt cold all over even though the room was warm. She might as well have been standing outside in the rain.

The blonde pulled the covers tighter around her body, hoping that it would make her feel warmer, but at the same time she knew that no amount of blankets would make her feel warmer tonight. It wasn’t gonna work on the cold feeling that seemed to come from within her. Emma rubbed her arms. God, Regina, please be alright, please be alright! Please, I can’t bear the thought of you being-

A rather piercing sound from her phone interrupted Emma’s train of frantic thoughts, and the blonde yelped in pure shock. It didn’t take her long to imagine that it was her stalker- Liam- calling her. The weather was creepy, it was nearly dark outside, this should be right up his street.

But it wasn’t Liam. It was Sheriff Graham. Emma breathed a sigh of relief as she picked up the phone and then swiped to take the call. “Hello?”

“Hello, Emma. Am I disturbing you?”

Emma looked around in the messy hotel room. “No, not at all. What’s up?”

“Well, firstly I want to apologize for not having been able to stop by the inn and check your old room,” the sheriff said. “If the weather allows it, I’ll stop by tomorrow with a couple of officers to check your room for cameras.”

Emma’s eyebrow rose. “You know about that?”

“Yes, Regina stopped by yesterday afternoon and informed me,” Graham said in the other end.

“Oh. I see. Yeah. She thinks that there might be a camera in my old room,” Emma continued and ignored the pinching feeling she got in her belly when Graham started to talk about Regina.

“And she also identified the stalker,” Graham continued seriously. “Liam Jones.”

“Yeah,” Emma said simply and tried to push back her nausea as she thought about how much Graham knew about Regina’s past by now.

“As soon as the weather gets a little better, we’ll try and locate Mr. Jones,” Graham said.

Emma’s heart sank. “But we don’t have any actual proof that it’s him.”

“Which is why I’ll ask you to record his voice if he calls you again,” Graham said. “Now that he’s called you once, I doubt he’ll be able to resist doing it again. He got a kick out of it the first time, and in his mind, the kick will be even bigger the next time.”

“Right,” Emma said. “I’ll record it if he calls me again.”

“Good. In the meantime, I’ll have to ask you to not put yourself in any danger, Emma,” Graham said very seriously. “I know that Mr. Jones only strikes when you’ve been with Regina, and-“

“I’ll stay away from her,” Emma said bitterly. “I don’t really have much of a choice.” She couldn’t keep that promise. She already knew that. She couldn’t just stay away from Regina. It was impossible.

“We’ll find him,” Graham said firmly. “And we’ll put an end to all this, Emma.”

“Yeah,” Emma said vaguely, and zoned out of the conversation. No matter how much she wanted to believe it, she knew that catching Liam wouldn’t put an end to all of this. Not really. Yes, her stalker would be gone, but it wouldn’t change anything for Regina. She still had no choice but to live with what had happened to her every single day....

“Emma?”

“Yeah. I’m here. Sorry,” Emma said quickly.

“Don’t apologize,” Graham said. “I know that this situation is discouraging, but it won’t continue. Not as long as I’m the sheriff.”

Emma chuckled and wished that his reassurance could have been enough to change everything. That his words could magically erase what had happened to Regina. At some point, Liam would be caught, and Emma would be free. But Regina wouldn’t.

Emma’s heart thudded uncomfortably in her chest as she once again thought about what Regina had written in her letter. ‘You deserve someone that isn’t broken.’

“Emma?”

“I gotta go,” Emma whispered. “Bye.” With that she ended the call and went into the bathroom to splash cold water onto her cheeks. She clutched at the sink as she tried to breathe properly. It wasn’t fair that she could be free of Liam when Regina couldn’t be free of her ex and what he had done to her.......

 

 

To Be Continued............

Chapter Text

The wind had stopped howling the next morning. It wasn’t exactly sunshine and bird chirps, but at least it had stopped raining.

Still, Emma was relieved that she didn’t have work today. She had laid awake for hours and speculated last night. She hadn’t been able to banish Regina from her thoughts, and neither had she been able to stop thinking about all the things Regina had written in her letter. Emma have had such terrible dreams all night, and she had been awake several times. And every time, she’d had to fight the urge to run outside, jump into her car and drive over to Regina’s place.

She wouldn’t be able to keep the promise she’d made to Sheriff Graham. To hell with her safety, she had to see Regina again. There were so many things Emma wanted to say to her. Things that couldn’t be said via text.

And she missed Regina. Terribly so. Not being with her was like having a very physical ache in her chest. A constant, physical ache that seemed to gnaw away at her.

Liam could take his threats and shove them! All of them.

At least that was what Emma boldly had thought when she woke up this morning and remembered everything that had happened during the past two days. She had to see Regina. She needed to see Regina!

But would Regina even be in any state to see Emma? Suppose this had left her unable to see anyone? What if she had suffered a breakdown? What if she had ended up at that psychiatric ward again? Was she getting the proper help? Was she seeing someone? A professional? A therapist. Yes. She had to be. Of course she was seeing a therapist, right? Right?

Emma once again felt as though she was going crazy. Not knowing what was going on with Regina was maddening. It was the kind of thing that drove people to do crazy stuff.

Like driving to her place despite the fact that there was a crazy stalker out there.

A shift had happened. Emma wasn’t nearly as afraid as she was angry. Now that she knew who the stalker was, and why he was doing this, there wasn’t much fear left within her. Instead she just felt enraged. Pure and simple. She wasn’t sure what she hoped for the most. That Graham would catch him, or that she herself would end up backing him up in some corner and giving him a piece of her mind.

She would enjoy doing that. Oh, how she would enjoy it!

Emma wasn’t normally a violent person, but for Liam she could make an exception.

She definitely could. And she would do it happily.

The blonde clenched her jaw slightly.

To hell with him. To hell with him and his crazy belief that Regina had ruined his brother’s life. It was insane. He had to be fucked up. He should be locked up. Exactly like his miserable bastard of a brother.

And so, while brushing her teeth, Emma made a plan. She was gonna get dressed, go downstairs and have breakfast, then she would return to her room and find a beanie to “disguise” herself. She would either borrow Ruby or Elsa’s car (or possibly Leroy’s like he had promised) and then she would be driving to Regina’s house. Hopefully the road wasn’t gonna be too bad. And hopefully, Regina wouldn’t be angry with her. Emma couldn’t help it. She had to see Regina, and she had to see her today. She couldn’t just stay away from her. It was impossible. Liam could go and fuck himself for all Emma cared. He was probably not even here. The storm had to have driven him away, right? He was probably huddling away somewhere. Like the coward he was.

Emma spit out toothpaste and gave her hair a quick but throughout brushing. Then she went back inside the bedroom and got dressed, but on this particular morning, she avoided wearing her trademark leather jacket. If Liam really was driving around like a goddamn mania, why draw attention to herself?

And besides, it was too cold to wear her leather jacket today anyway. It seemed like a good idea to “christen” her new parka coat.

Emma was quick to get dressed, and then she went downstairs to have some breakfast. Ruby smiled at her and almost seemed relieved when Emma ordered a bear claw for breakfast.

“A clear sign that you’re feeling better,” the waitress quipped.

Emma smiled, but she wasn’t completely sure that she was feeling better. Maybe she was simply feeling more determined, and maybe it was the thought of seeing Regina today that somehow kept her sane.

Emma got her bear claw and cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon, and for whatever reason, food seemed to agree better with her today. She wouldn’t go as far and say that she had an enormous appetite, but she definitely felt more “up” for eating.

Emma chewed on the bear claw and flushed the bite down with another mouthful of cocoa. She refused to accept that some crazy ass stalker should rule her life and decide who she could and couldn’t see. Emma had always taken pride in being in charge over her own life. And she’d had to endure Mary Margaret’s controlling regime of terror for seventeen years. There was no way in hell she was gonna let someone else control her. She had come to Steveston to get a fresh start, to finally take control of things far, far away from Mary Margaret’s clutches, and that was exactly what Emma was planning on doing. If she didn’t fight back, she was giving the stalker all the power. It was time to turn the tables. It was time to reclaim some of that power.

So Emma followed the plan. She texted Elsa and asked if she could borrow her car sometimes after breakfast. Elsa quickly texted back and said yes, of course Emma could borrow her car.

Then Emma finished her breakfast and went upstairs to grab her things. She had every intention of taking off right then and there, but before she could get the chance to even leave her room, there was a knock on her door. It turned out to be Graham and a couple of officers. They had come to check her old room for cameras. Emma was more than happy to assist them in the search, and after a while, they did indeed discover a very small and very professional camera. Small and discreet and hiding in plain sight in the unopened tissue box on the nightstand. And what’s more, they actually found a microphone. That one had been carefully placed underneath the windowsill.

Graham looked less than pleased when he said that both the microphone and camera had been placed very professionally, and it lead Emma to wonder exactly what Liam’s occupation was. Apart from fulltime stalker. Maybe he was in the computer business or something like that.

Either way, Emma thanked Graham for the help, and Graham reminded her to record the conversation if Liam called again, and then he asked if Emma had any plans for today. Emma’s conscience was black as night when she told him that she wasn’t planning on doing much today. Just staying in and taking care of some work. Maybe read for a bit and watch some Netflix.

Graham looked pleased and most likely because he thought that Emma was sticking to the plan.

Emma was not sticking to the plan. She wasn’t even considering to stick to the plan. Because this wasn’t just Graham’s plan. It was also Liam’s plan. By staying away from Regina, Emma was doing exactly what Liam wanted her to do. She was giving him the upper hand.

Emma kept the smile plastered to her face as she thanked Graham and his officers and then said goodbye to them. She heard them walk down the hallway, and she watched and waited by the window as they climbed into their cars and drove away from the diner.

“Sorry, Graham,” Emma mumbled and released the blinds, so they flittered back against the window. “I can’t stick to the plan.” Right now, making sure that Regina was okay was far more important than anything else.

Emma waited another twenty minutes just to make sure the coast was clear, and then she more or less “snuck out” of her room. Tiptoed down the hall, down the stairs and then back into the restaurant itself. She didn’t cross paths with anyone and was able to escape outside where Elsa’s car was waiting for her.

She elegantly climbed inside the car, started the engine and then maneuvered the car out of the parking lot. Soon she was driving down the road. The road was in better condition than what Emma had expected. There were no trees blocking the road or anything. Maybe the storm had miraculously skipped Steveston. Maybe the damages were worse other places. Emma didn’t hope so. She didn’t hope that anyone had gotten hurt during the storm. Except for maybe Liam. Emma wouldn’t be the first one to weep if a tree had fallen onto his stupid fucking grey station car.

Speaking of grey station cars.... As Emma made it out of Steveston, she nervously checked the rearview mirror, but she couldn’t see no grey station car. There was no one following her. At least not that she knew of.

Emma chose to believe that there wasn’t anyone following her. She chose to believe that the storm had forced Liam to take a break.

In an attempt to trick herself into believing that this was just a casual drive, Emma switched on the radio. More classical music. Emma was immediately reminded of a red dress and tears glistening on Regina’s cheeks as she cried because of the song. Emma swallowed something. Maybe she shouldn’t think about that. That would probably be enough to make her cry. Tears came far, far too easily to her these days. In fact, Emma couldn’t remember the last time she had cried so much. She hadn’t even cried this much when Lily had dumped her. She had mostly just been angry over having wasted two years of her life by someone like Lily.

Emma looked in the rearview mirror again. Still no grey station car behind her. She was still safe. She took a deep breath. Good. She felt pretty guilty for breaking the promise she had made to Graham, but she’d had no other choice. She hadn’t seen Regina in three weeks. Plus a few days. It was hellish. And especially after the texts Zelena had sent her yesterday. Knowing that Regina was suffering was hellish. Emma had to see her.

She rounded a corner. It wouldn’t be long before she would be at Regina’s place. Her belly clenched. She was afraid that Regina would ask her to leave. She was afraid that Regina wouldn’t see her, didn’t even want to let her inside the house. Emma was afraid that she would end up knocking on a locked door like she had done that night when she had been drunk. She was afraid that she would end up crying in front of Regina’s house again, begging for the brunette to communicate with her again.

Emma cringed and gripped the wheel a little tighter. She really hoped that it wouldn’t be like that today. She hoped that Regina would let her in. Emma wasn’t sure she could bear not seeing Regina for another day. She would go insane if she didn’t see Regina today.

 

Soon the blonde reached her destination. She saw the familiar white house on the quiet street come into view. And she quickly spotted the Mercedes as well. It was parked in front of the house. So Regina was home. Emma’s heart thudded a little faster in her chest. Home. Yes. But that didn’t automatically mean that she’d want to see Emma. Maybe Regina wasn’t even fit to see Emma today. Maybe she was so unwell she had to stay in bed.

Emma really hoped that she hadn’t made a mistake in coming here. Her belly clenched again as she parked the car. She took a deep, calming breath as she unbuckled her seatbelt and then exited the car.

Her footsteps seemed too loud as she crossed the street, opened the garden gate and then went up the pathway. She easily ascended the tree little steps that lead up to the porch, and then she gently knocked on the door once.

There was no answer.

Emma’s stomach dropped. She forced herself to wait patiently. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

She knocked again.

No answer.

Her belly pinched. She waited once more. One.... Two.... Three... Four.... Five... Six... Seven... Eight.... Nine.... Ten.

She knocked again. Maybe she was knocking a little harsher this time.

No answer. Maybe this was gonna be exactly like when Emma had come here in her drunkenness. Maybe she would end up crying whilst knocking on a door that wouldn’t be opened.

Loosing hope was so easy. In fact Emma was an expert in loosing hope these days. Nobody was gonna open this door. Coming here had definitely been a mistake. Emma’s eyes stung as she turned around and went down the three steps that would lead her back on the pathway. I should just go home and-

The door was ripped open behind her, and Emma nearly stumbled in her eagerness to turn around.

Zelena had poked her head out of the door. Her brow was furrowed, and her mouth was drawn into a scowl. “You’re a very brave woman, Emma Swan.”

“I had to see her,” Emma mumbled.

“Yes,” Zelena said plainly and sighed.

“Does she- can I-“

“Come in,” Zelena said and waved Emma towards her. “I believe it’s gonna rain soon.”

“Thanks,” Emma said and went back up the three steps to get up on the porch. Then she stepped inside the house.

Zelena closed the door behind and encouraged Emma to take of her parka coat. Emma did that.

“You do of course realize that you’re exposing yourself to danger by coming here?” Zelena said plainly as she carefully hang Emma’s coat on the coat rack.

“I wasn’t followed,” Emma said.

Zelena sighed. “I’m sorry, Emma, but you can’t possibly know that. Liam might be switching vehicle too.”

Emma hadn’t thought of that, but she refused to admit it. “I didn’t see any cars in the rearview mirror. I don’t think he’s around today. Maybe he got hurt during the storm yesterday.”

“Yes, lets hope so,” Zelena said tightly as she lead Emma into the kitchen.

“Is Regina...?” Emma wasn’t even sure what the end of that sentence was gonna be. Was she gonna ask if Regina was okay or some shit? That would be ridiculous. Of course Regina wasn’t okay. Emma
already knew that. The brunette was so far from okay.

“She’s just woken up from her nap,” Zelena said. “But she might not be happy to see you. Do you want something to drink? Coffee? Tea? Juice? Something stronger?”

“Coffee sounds fine,” Emma said.

“Very well. I’m about to make myself a cup anyway.” Zelena started to push different buttons on the very complicated looking coffee machine. “I know I asked you to not give up on her, Emma, but I don’t condone this. You are taking an unnecessary risk. Regina would never forgive herself if something happened to you.”

“Regina didn’t ask me to come here. I made that decision on my own.”

“You are still putting yourself in danger and Regina feels responsible for that,” Zelena said shortly as she pressed another button on the coffee machine. It didn’t take long before Emma heard the sound of coffee being made.

The blonde shifted on her feet. She knew that coming here was a risk, and she also wasn’t in doubt that Zelena really thought that she was a fool for coming here, but at the same time, Emma was sure that she had heard relief seep through Zelena’s words. Regina’s sister was relieved that Emma had come back. She probably just didn’t want to show it because of how dangerous the situation was.

“Shall we head inside the living room?” Zelena suggested.

“Sure,” Emma said and glanced around. “No Henry today?” maybe the kid was upstairs with his mom.

“He’s at a friends house,” Zelena replied. “He’s been staying there since yesterday. Regina prefers that he doesn’t see her when she’s unwell.”

Emma cringed a bit at that.

They went inside the living room, and Zelena had just motioned for Emma to sit down while she fetched the coffee when they heard movements from upstairs.

Zelena turned her eyes towards the ceiling, and Emma’s heart started thudding too loudly in her chest. Now she could creaks as though someone was coming down the stairs. Regina was coming downstairs. God, what was she gonna do when she came in here and found Emma?

Emma felt sick. She couldn’t bear if Regina would be angry with her.

The footsteps got louder.

“I should have made more coffee,” Zelena mused. “She’ll probably want a cup as well.”

Emma had forgotten how to answer. The only thing she could focus on was the footsteps and the slight creaking sound coming from the staircase. The blonde shifted uncomfortably on the couch. What if
Regina wanted her to leave? What if she wouldn’t actually get the chance to even talk to Regina before Regina turned her away? Something coiled in Emma’s stomach, and she prayed that she wasn’t gonna throw up. That was not how she wanted to make her presence known to Regina. She fiddled with her hands in her lap and tried to order herself to stay calm. It wouldn’t exactly help the situation if she started to freak out. This wasn’t about her. It was about Regina.

There was one final creak, and then Emma could hear Regina’s footsteps downstairs. She was in the kitchen. Emma heard the fridge being opened, and then a cupboard was being opened. Maybe Regina was pouring herself a glass of orange juice. Hadn’t Henry mentioned that orange juice was her favorite?

There was a soft thud as the cupboard was closed again, and after a few seconds of rummaging around, Emma heard the fridge being closed as well. Footsteps approaching.

Emma tried to breathe normally.

Regina came into the living room, glass of orange juice in her hand. Her hair was a bit less-smoother than it normally was. It was curling slightly around the edges in that fashion hair tended to do when you had been sleeping, but she was dressed and done up in one of her many “pencil skirt and blouse“- outfits. To Emma, she looked absolutely perfect. She couldn’t stop looking at Regina’s face.

Regina stopped abruptly in her tracks. Her dark eyes went wide, her hands trembled slightly, and she spilled a few drops of the orange juice on the floor as one of her hands flew up to cover her throat.

At first, the gesture confused Emma, but then she noticed that Regina wasn’t wearing a scarf. Emma’s heart sank a little when she realized that Regina was trying desperately to hide the bandage the blonde already had seen faint glimpses of in the past.

Zelena immediately leapt from the couch and disappeared out in the hall. Emma heard her loud footsteps as the redhead more or less ran upstairs.

Before Emma could get the chance to wonder about it, Zelena appeared in the living room once more. Without further ado, she took the glass of orange juice from Regina and then handed her a scarf in return.

Regina promptly turned around and disappeared into the kitchen.

Emma’s stomach dropped further.

Zelena’s mouth was a thin line, and her forehead was wrinkled in concern, but she didn’t say anything as she carefully placed Regina’s glass of orange juice on the table and then sat down next to Emma on the couch.

Emma felt like she might start to weep all over again. Regina didn’t want to put on the scarf in front of her. Regina was terrified that Emma should see her without the scarf. The blonde swallowed something.

Next to her, Zelena took a deep breath.

After a moment or so, Regina came back inside the living room. With the scarf in place around her neck. Emma wasn’t sure what to say or do. Should she smile at Regina? Would she even be capable of smiling when she felt this close to tears?

As Regina approached, Zelena jumped up from the couch once more. “I think I’ll go and fetch the coffee. Do you want a cup as well, Regina?”

Regina nodded and then looked at the stains of orange juice she had left on the carpet.

“Don’t mind those, hun,” Zelena said swiftly as she passed Regina on her way into the kitchen. “I’ll get them later.” She touched the top of Regina’s shoulder lightly and then she disappeared into the kitchen.

Regina went over to the couch and sat down next to Emma. She turned her head and looked at Emma. She was frowning. Exactly like Zelena had done. Then she lifted her hands but quickly lowered them again.

Emma immediately understood. Regina had been just about to use sign language, but then remembered that Emma couldn’t understand it. And now the brunette looked a little defeated as she looked around in the living room, it was obvious that she didn’t have her phone with her right now.

Emma immediately came to her aid. The blonde had actually come prepared. She had scolded herself for it during the drive here, what chances were there that Regina wanted to see her?

But now Emma was grateful that she had come prepared. She was grateful that she was able to reach inside the little bag she had brought with her and pull out a little stack of post-its notes and a pencil.

She handed both items to Regina, and the brunette immediately tore a post-it note off the stack and began scribbling. A whoosh of breath escaped Emma. She wasn’t aware that it was possible to miss the sound of a pencil scratching against paper this much.

After a moment or so, Regina pushed a note towards Emma, and the blonde immediately bowed her head and read: ‘you shouldn’t be here.’

Emma’s belly clenched. “I know. Bu-but I had to see you.”

Regina shook her head and scribbled underneath. After another moment she removed the pencil so Emma could see the message: ‘you’re putting yourself in danger.’

“I don’t ca-“

Regina immediately held up a hand to silence her. The brunette shook her head again. Then she tore off a new post-it note, scribbled and then gave Emma the note.

Emma swallowed when she read: ‘don’t ever say that again!’

“I’m sorry,” the blonde quickly amended. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Regina nodded in agreement.

Emma couldn’t stop herself as she spoke again: “Regina, I am so, so sorry! And not just about coming here even though I’m not supposed to, I’m sorry for everything, god, I’m sorr-“

Regina interrupted her frantic babbling by holding up her hand again. She shook her head again. Then she tore off another post-it note, and the pencil scratched against it as she scribbled for a moment.

Emma forced herself to wait patiently while Regina wrote. After a moment, another message was slid towards her, and Emma quickly read it: ‘my doctors are sorry for me. My sister is sorry for me. My friends are sorry for me. And what does that help? Nothing. I do not need your pity, Emma.’

“I’m s-“ Emma stopped herself and shook her head. “You’re right. Of course you don’t.”

Regina shifted a bit on the couch, fiddled with the edges of her scarf. Her dark eyes became a bit unfocused, as though she was miles away.

Emma carefully scanned her face and then whispered: “are you angry with me for coming here?”

Regina turned her head and her eyes became focused once more as she looked at Emma. After a moment or so, she grabbed another post-it note and began scribbling on it. It didn’t take long before
Emma was presented with yet another note: ‘you are putting yourself in danger because of me.’

Emma nodded to acknowledge that, but right now there were things she was more afraid of than Liam and his terror. “I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered and felt completely raw and vulnerable. “Which is probably really selfish of me, but....” the words died on her tongue when she saw Regina shake her head again.

Emma looked down at her hands. Her stomach was clenching more than ever, and to her horror she felt how her eyes started to burn in that telltale manner. She tried to force herself to stop, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t prevent the tears from falling. Nor could she prevent herself from saying the things that needed to be said: “that night at the... at the concert,” she whispered. “I...I k-kissed you. I shouldn’t have d-done that.”

Regina promptly tore off another post-it note and scribbled for a moment. Then she gently pushed the note towards Emma.

Emma’s vision was completely blurred, and she had to blink away the tears before she grabbed the note and read it: ‘you haven’t done anything wrong, Emma.’

Obviously, that only made things worse, and Emma couldn’t prevent a teeny tiny sob from forcing its way out of her mouth. She immediately felt terrible for crying, though. She wasn’t supposed to sit here and weep when Regina was... When Regina was the one who had....

Another sob forced its way out of her mouth. Emma hated herself for it.

A soft, warm and was put lightly over hers, and Emma looked up to meet Regina’s concerned gaze.

“This is all wrong,” Emma said and shook her head slightly. “You shouldn’t be the one consoling me. That’s fucked up.”

Regina just offered a light shrug. She hadn’t moved her hand away from Emma’s yet, and Emma sat and wished that she never would. She didn’t dare turning her palm upwards so she could intertwine her fingers with Regina’s. She was terrified to accidentally overstep Regina’s boundaries.

After a moment or so, Regina moved her hand away from Emma’s and reached for her glass of orange juice. She brought the glass up to her lips and Emma saw how she winced slightly as she swallowed a mouthful of the orange juice. Emma immediately wanted to ask if she was okay, or if there was something she could do, but she didn’t quite dare to ask either.

Regina sat the glass of orange juice down once more, and her dark eyes became unfocused again. It was obvious that she was thinking about something, and Emma was terrified that she would ask her to leave at any moment.

But then the brunette turned her head and looked at Emma again. She even smiled a little. A teeny, tiny smile, and Emma’s insides completely melted because she was seeing a glimpse of that woman, she had enjoyed coffee with. The woman she’d had dinner with. The less concerned and troubled version of Regina.

Emma hesitantly returned the smile. Was she allowed to feel hopeful? Just a little bit? She knew that seeing Regina smile didn’t magically fix everything, but damn, seeing that smile felt like a healing balm being poured onto Emma’s battered heart.

There was a slight creak and then Zelena came into the living room once more. With three cups of coffee on a little tray. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw how the redhead observed Regina for just a moment, and then her shoulders seemed to uncurl as she saw Regina smile. She walked over to the couch and put the tray down on the coffee table. “There we go. Coffee machine took a bit longer today.”

Regina looked up and shook her head. Then she lifted her hands and signed something.

“It did,” Zelena claimed.

Regina shook her head but didn’t sign anything else.

Zelena sat down next to them, and Emma quickly grabbed one of the coffee cups. She took a sip and was immediately impressed. She didn’t know what kind of brand this was, but it was definitely better than the coffee she had at Eugenia’s Inn. Not that she would ever dream of telling Eugenia that.

Regina too took a sip of her coffee, but this time she didn’t wince. Instead she immediately started coughing. Emma immediately looked panicked at Zelena. Shouldn’t they be doing something?

But Zelena just discreetly shook her head once, and Emma understood that this wasn’t something they should do something about.

And after a few moments Regina stopped coughing again. Now she winced and rubbed her silk covered throat slightly. Then she took another sip of her coffee. This time she didn’t cough. Or wince.

“Anyway, what time do you want Henry home?” Zelena asked as though nothing had happened.

Regina sat her cup of coffee down and wiggled her fingers in the air.

“Okay,” Zelena said. “Do you want me to call Nick’s parents and tell them that you’ll be there in an hour?”

Regina nodded once.

“Alright. I’ll do that then,” Zelena said briskly and rose from the couch once more. Emma doubted that she had managed to get more than two or three mouthfuls of coffee.

Regina took another sip of her coffee and then reached for the stack of post-its. She tore off another note and grabbed the pencil. She began scribbling, and Emma took the opportunity to take another gulp of her coffee. It felt like it had been a very long time since she had enjoyed a cup of coffee this much. But she doubted it had anything to do with the coffee. It was because of the company.

A new message was pushed towards her, and Emma quickly read the message: ‘Henry’s been staying at a friends house since yesterday. I always feel so guilty when I have to send him away. He prefers to be around me.’

“You shouldn’t be feeling guilty,” Emma said immediately.

Regina found a new note and began scribbling. For a longer period of time. Emma took another mouthful of coffee while the brunette scribbled. After exactly five mouthfuls of coffee, another note was pushed towards her, and Emma read that message too: ‘I’m afraid that’s easier said than done. I can’t help it. I gave him the fright of a lifetime when I was unconscious for a week, and once I woke up, he cried every time it was time for him to go home. He keeps thinking that I’ll disappear again. My therapist keeps saying that it is alright for me to send him away once in a while, that he has to see his friends and get the chance to be a normal little boy, and I understand what he means, but it’s still hard.’

“You’re seeing a therapist,” Emma said, relief seeping through her voice.

Regina nodded, quickly scribbled underneath the first long message and then removed her pencil so Emma could read the message: ‘yes, twice a week.’

“Good,” Emma said plainly. Regina was seeing a therapist. She was getting professional help to cope with what she had been through.

Regina nodded again and reached for her coffee cup. She took a small sip of the hot beverage. Without wincing.

Emma looked at the brunette. She still had so many things she wanted to say to Regina. She wanted to tell her that she wasn’t broken. She wanted the brunette to know that she was planning on sticking around for a very, very long time. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to say any of it. Regina looked so tired. There were dark circles underneath her beautiful, dark eyes. The last few days had undoubtedly been hard on her. Or the past few weeks. Or months. Or the past year. Emma’s stomach clenched again. She desperately wanted to reach out and take Regina’s hand. She wanted her to know that she was there. That she wasn’t planning on going anywhere.

But she didn’t reach out and take Regina’s hand. She didn’t want Regina to flinch and feel afraid.

And then Regina reached for the stack of post-its. The pencil scratched against the paper as she wrote another message. It didn’t take long before she tore the message off the stack of post-its and then handed it to Emma.

The blonde’s stomach dropped a little as she read the message: ‘I think it’s best if you leave now.’

“Okay,” Emma whispered, and it felt as though an invisible fist was squeezing her heart.

Regina nodded a little.

Emma wanted to ask if she could come back, if she was allowed to text Regina, but she had a feelin