The whole thing begins with an idea that is entirely Regina's.
Except, that isn't exactly true.
The whole thing actually begins with Mary Margaret Blanchard - Henry's fifth grade teacher.
Regina has known Mary Margaret since she was a child who Regina babysat. A child who had informed Regina's mother about Regina's boyfriend, a boyfriend Cora Mills did not approve of, a boyfriend who had disappeared shortly after that, vanished as if into thin air, leaving Regina devastated. Regina hadn't ever really forgiven Mary Margaret or her mother, even if she had eventually moved on once she learned that Daniel had taken a full ride scholarship to a college on the other side of the country, a scholarship offered to him by Cora with the only condition being that he never speak to Regina again.
So, Regina really should have known not to trust her child in a class with a woman who couldn't keep her mouth shut. But she had. And she regrets it every day.
See, the problem with adopting Henry in a small town where everyone knows exactly who she is, is that everyone also just knows that he is adopted - everyone but Henry that is - or was until Mary Margaret intervened.
It's not that Regina didn't plan on telling him, it's that it never seemed like the right time. Maybe if she hadn't nearly brought him back in those first weeks of the adoption when he wouldn't stop crying and she was sure she'd been wrong, sure she couldn't actually do this, wasn't actually cut out to be a mother at all. Maybe if she wasn't so ashamed of that moment, she would have told him when he was younger, and there wouldn't have been any opportunity at all for Mary Margaret to be the one to break the news to him. But she hadn't. And Mary Margaret had.
Mary Margaret had begged Regina to understand that she hadn't meant to announce to Henry's entire class that he was adopted during a unit on families and their various structures. I didn't know he didn't know - Regina can still picture the look in those pathetic doe eyes as Mary Margaret pleaded with her to understand.
That look isn't the only thing Regina can still perfectly picture. She can still perfectly picture the way Henry had refused to look at her in the car when she'd picked him up that day. The way he'd sat with rigid shoulders staring straight out the front windshield. The way he'd stomped his way up the stairs to his room once they were home. The way he'd curled up on the bed facing away from the door, his shoulders shaking as he cried, refusing to accept her comfort, demanding to be left alone. The hurt and confused accusations that had followed - you didn't tell me because you don't love me , you're not even my real mother .
That was months ago and the pain is still fresh, the memory like a punch straight to Regina's gut. Things are better now but they still feel tentative, uncertain, and Regina worries that nothing will ever be quite like it was before. That there might always be some strain between them.
It was that strain that led Regina to the idea for the Storybrooke Pro-Am Rally Race. She might have chosen an entirely different event to drum up interest and tourism in Storybrooke if she weren't trying so hard to reconnect with her son. Instead she'd chosen racing - a passion they've shared since he was a little boy, a passion Regina had passed on to Henry the way her father had passed it on to her.
She still remembers Sunday afternoons curled up with her father in his study watching races - Cora hadn't approved, of course, but she'd never stopped them either. Regina had kept up that tradition with Henry. When he was really little he'd press his hands to the TV, tapping against the glass and screeching delighted at the cars zipping by, until Regina would scoop him up and carry him to the couch. "Mama! Car! Zoom! Zoom!" He'd grin at her, pointing excitedly back at the TV. "Yes, my little prince," she'd say, kissing his cheek and settling him on her lap on the couch, "Those are very fast cars."
So, yes, the whole thing begins with Mary Margaret Blanchard and her big mouth, but everything still might have turned out differently if it weren't for Marian.
Two months after Regina had gotten the initial idea for the Pro-Am Rally Race, Marian had been over on a Saturday night, sipping wine in Regina's kitchen. The event was almost completely planned at that point and Marian had found the list of participants - one column for professionals and one column for amateurs. She'd laughed at most of the amateurs listed - mostly well known locals, including the sheriff, the fire chief, the local news anchor, and the editor of the Daily Mirror. But when she was done mocking how poorly she expected most of those amateurs to do, she'd frowned. "I don't understand why Emma Swan isn't on the list of professionals. She literally lives one town over."
Regina's lips had pursed. "She doesn't race anymore."
"Maybe not professionally ," Marian had shrugged. "But I'm sure she would be interested."
"We can't add anyone to the list," Regina had shaken her head. "We need equal numbers of professionals and amateurs."
Marian had laughed, actually laughed, then. "Just add yourself to the list. You're the mayor. I actually don't know why you aren't already on the list."
Regina blames the wine for agreeing - that and Marian saying think of how cool Henry is going to think you are for racing .
So, here Regina is now, on the Sunday exactly one week before the Rally Race, one town over from Storybrooke, standing in front of By Accident We Meet, which Regina thinks is an absolutely ridiculous name for a business. It's the mechanic shop where Emma Swan works and she is here to meet her prior to the newspaper interview they are expected to give on Tuesday.
And maybe this is where it really begins.
When Regina steps into the mechanic shop, she is greeted by a blast of cold air and the sound of music, some rock tune, thumping loudly from beyond the lobby. The lobby itself is nice enough, there is a reception desk where a vase with sunflowers sits, a small seating area, and a counter against the wall with a coffee pot and cups. The problem is, there is no one behind the reception desk, which she supposes makes sense since it is Sunday.
"Hello?" Regina calls uncertainly, and then a little louder when there is no answer, "Is anyone here?"
She feels her annoyance growing when she still gets no response. She knows someone is here because the door had been unlocked, and there was an ancient looking, hideous, yellow Bug in the parking lot. She's debating what she should do - try the back room herself or just sit and wait - when the music abruptly stops and someone finally appears.
It's Emma Swan. Regina recognizes her immediately. She's wearing blue coveralls over her clothes, her blonde hair is tied up in a ponytail but a stray piece has come loose and she blows at it trying to get it out of her eyes, she's got grease smudged on one cheek and all over her hands. "Hi," she says, giving Regina an awkward sort of half wave. "I'd, uhh, shake your hand, but…" she holds up her greasy hands as way of explanation, grinning sheepishly. "Actually, could you give me a minute?"
She doesn't wait for an answer, just vanishes back to where she's come from. She's gone for five whole minutes but when she comes back the grease is gone from her cheek, her hands are clean, she's shed the coveralls and is now standing in skinny jeans and a white tank top, and she's let her hair down, which somehow falls in perfect waves, brushing against her shoulders.
She's beautiful - the thought pops suddenly into Regina's head and she purses her lips in annoyance at it. She doesn't want to think Emma Swan is beautiful, she doesn't want to like Emma Swan even a little bit, she just wants to get through this unfortunate pairing and move on.
The pairings had been a random draw. When she'd seen the results, Regina had actually looked up the odds of her and Emma being paired because she'd wanted to know just how bad her bad luck was - or she'd tried to look up how to calculate the odds and then given up in frustration (she's the mayor, not a mathematician) and called Marian for the answer (less than 2%, apparently). So, yes, their pairing was unlikely, and most definitely unfortunate.
The thing is, she's disliked Emma Swan for nearly eleven years. Some might call that dislike unfounded - but Regina had been truly disappointed when Emma had disappeared from racing and that disappointment has remained all these years. Emma had been an up and coming star. Regina had gone with her father to see her race at some local tracks, and then in Boston. Everyone was sure she'd be the next big thing when she'd finally started driving in NASCAR, but she'd only raced a handful of times before she'd just disappeared, another person Regina cared about (even if, in this case, they'd never actually met) vanished into thin air without so much as a statement. Emma's manager had spoken for her but all he had said was that she needed some personal time - personal time that had never ended. It was more than a year before anyone had even figured out where she'd gone - and still she refused to answer any questions about her racing career. Regina doesn't want to like a person who would just give up on their dreams like that.
Emma clears her throat now and Regina realizes she's just been staring awkwardly. Emma grins, that same sheepish grin from before. "Sorry about that. I'm always awful at first impressions. Have been since I was a kid." She chuckles like that's a joke - although, if it is, it's a joke that only she understands. "But, umm, I'm Emma, which I guess you probably sorted out."
"Yes, Miss Swan, I know who you are," Regina nods. "As I assume you know who I am."
"Yeah, you're the Mayor of Storybrooke, kinda hard not to recognize you," Emma shrugs with a lopsided smile.
Regina just lifts her eyebrows in response. All of this smiling is putting her a little on edge.
Emma looks a little uncertain by Regina's lack of response but she runs a hand through her hair and suggests, "Did you, uhh… want to see the rally car we'll be driving?"
Regina agrees, letting herself be led back into the area Emma had come from originally. She follows a step behind Emma, her eyes drawn to how fantastic Emma's ass looks in those skinny jeans, and she scowls at herself when she realizes what she's doing, forcing herself to look around the building instead. This is the garage portion of Granny's where all the work gets done. It's larger than it had appeared from the front, much deeper, and there are a number of cars lined up in bays.
Emma leads the way all the way to the back. "Here she is," she pats the hood and grins proudly.
" She ?" Regina quirks an eyebrow as she takes in the car with mounting horror.
"I like to refer to all the best cars as women." Emma winks - actually winks.
Regina is still staring in disbelief at the car - it's some kind of modified Mini Cooper and it looks ancient . " This is what we will be racing in?"
"Yep." Emma laughs, seeming amused instead of insulted by Regina's disbelief, which only makes Regina's blood boil.
"Is it even safe?" Regina scoffs.
The amusement in Emma's eyes flickers a little, as she seems to realize that Regina isn't kidding. "Of course it is. Plus you'll be wearing a helmet when we race, just in case."
That last bit is clearly a joke but Regina doesn't find it funny at all. She doesn't say anything, just rolls her eyes.
Emma tries again, this time without the joke. "It really is safe, I swear. You can trust me, I'm a professional."
"But you aren't. You haven't been for a long time." It's snappish and harsh enough that Emma visibly winces, the brightness in her eyes diminishing a little, her shoulders setting just a little more firmly.
"Just because I don't drive in NASCAR doesn't mean I don't still know how, that I'm not still great at it."
Regina can see that she's hurt Emma's feelings but she definitely is not about to apologize. "I'll be putting my life in your hands, so let's hope so," she says cooly.
Emma studies Regina carefully like she's a puzzle she's trying to sort out but after a minute she just shakes her head. "We should, umm, discuss the charity thing."
Regina had been bracing for a snappy reply, for a fight, and she blinks in surprise at the response she gets instead. She hates being thrown off like that. It takes her a minute to recover. "I've prepared a list of charities that I thought we should consider." She pulls the list from her purse.
Emma takes the list but she doesn't even attempt to read it, just clutches the paper in her fist. "I, umm, kind of already picked out a charity?" She bites her lip, for the first time today seeming nervous.
Regina's eyes narrow. "We were supposed to do that together." That was the whole point of meeting in advance of their newspaper interview.
Regina has set up the Storybrooke Pro-Am Rally Race as a charity event, securing donations for a first place prize of $20,000, a second place prize of $5,000, a third place prize of $1,000, and $500 each for the remaining five teams. Each team is supposed to select the charity that their prize will go to together .
"I know, I know." Emma rocks on the balls of her feet. "It's just. This charity is really important to me. We could always pick two, maybe? And split our prize between them? If you really want a different charity?"
"And what exactly is this charity you want? Some kind of fund to replace that death trap on wheels outside?" Regina scoffs.
Emma frowns, confused. "What?"
"I assume that yellow monstrosity in the parking lot is yours since there is no one else here?"
Emma still looks confused. "What's wrong with my Bug?"
"Aren't you a mechanic?" Regina smirks. "I shouldn't have to tell you that."
Emma's expression remains confused for a long beat before she shakes her head, like she's shaking her confusion away. " Obviously the charity has nothing to do with my car. It's… it's a charity that provides services for foster kids in Maine. A safe place to go after school where there are people to help with school work, food, that sort of thing. They also help kids figure out what they want to do after high school, secure scholarships to college if that's what they want. They do really good work, life changing work. It's… it's a newer thing, and they could use all the funding they can get."
Regina is quiet. She knows Emma grew up in foster care. There'd been a feature on her in a racing magazine when she'd started driving in NASCAR, Regina had read it over and over again. Emma had said that she wanted kids like her to see that they could become something, that they just had to fight for what they wanted, fight to achieve their dreams. And Regina hadn't been a kid like Emma (hadn't been a kid at all anymore) but she had grown up with her own dreams stifled by her mother's expectations. Emma's words had resonated deeply with her, had made her feel like her own dreams were still possible too. That's why she'd been so disappointed, so upset, when Emma had given up racing. It felt like her words, that mantra of dreams were possible if you fought for them had been a lie. Sometimes Regina thinks she'd made so many of her choices just to prove it could still be true - she'd told her mother she wasn't going to go back to school to become a lawyer because she was happy working in municipal government, she'd adopted Henry, she'd run for mayor and won.
Emma is clearly uncomfortable with the silence and she runs her hand through her hair again. "Well? What do you think?"
Regina can't say no. She can't turn down supporting kids who need help. And she absolutely hates that she can't say no - it's annoying , aggravating, infuriating . "There's no need to split the prize. If this is the charity you insist on supporting, then this is the one we will support," she says cooly, her annoyance spilling out in her tone.
Emma's eyes brighten despite that cool tone. "You're sure?"
"Yes, Miss Swan, I'm sure," Regina answers, a little less harshly.
"You know, just Emma is fine. But thank you." Emma grins, the smile lighting up her whole face.
Regina refuses to allow herself to smile back, clinging obstinately to her annoyance instead.
"So?" Emma says after a beat, somehow seeming undeterred by Regina's irritability. "Did you want to maybe go get dinner? Get to know each other a bit?"
"I can't stay," Regina shakes her head. "I have to get back to Storybrooke to pick up my son."
"Oh. Okay." Emma shrugs indifferently but Regina thinks she maybe looks a little disappointed.
"It's homemade pizza night," Regina feels the need to explain, even though she's not sure why. "It's his favourite night. I can't miss it."
"That sounds nice." Emma smiles then. "So, I'll see you on Tuesday?"
"Yes, Miss Swan, you will."
Henry is at Marian's.
"So?" Marian asks when Regina gets there. "What was she like?"
"Infuriating," Regina practically hisses.
For some reason that just makes Marian laugh. "Oh really? How so?"
Regina crosses her arms over her chest. "For starters, she forced me to pick the charity she wanted."
Marian's eyebrows lift at that. "Which charity?"
"It's a charity that runs an after school support program for children in foster care," Regina explains.
"So she held you at gunpoint to get you to support orphans, I see," Marian says in a way that is far too amused and not at all understanding.
"And she was wearing the most ludicrously tight jeans!" Regina blurts out, as if this makes her claim that Emma Swan is infuriating more believable.
Marian laughs again. "So, let me get this straight. You don't like her because she is infuriatingly hot and cares about orphans?"
"Oh shut up, you just don't understand," Regina grumbles, knowing there's nothing she can actually say to make Marian see her point. How is she supposed to explain that she's spent eleven years hating Emma Swan and the choice she made and she doesn't want to stop now?
Marian shakes her head, her amusement still all too apparent. "Okay, okay, I'll stop teasing. And go get Henry for you."
"Thank you," Regina says, her tone very much still a grumble.
"Was she cool?" Henry asks in the car.
He'd actually looked pleased to see Regina when Marian had retrieved him from the living room where he was watching a movie with Roland and Regina doesn't want to do anything to ruin that now, so she answers,"Yes, I suppose," as she flips on her left turn signal and turns onto their street - they only live a few blocks from Marian.
"I was reading all about her," Henry says eagerly. "About how she was in NASCAR. That's so cool."
"It is," Regina says easily because she can agree with at least that much.
"It's so cool that you're gonna race with her, Mom," Henry grins over at her as they pull into the driveway.
The Mom makes her heart flutter. In the first weeks after he'd discovered he was adopted, Henry hadn't addressed her as anything at all and she'd started to worry she wouldn't ever get to hear that one syllable again. When he finally did say it again, she'd had to slip away to the bathroom to cry. "Is that so?" she asks now, putting the car in park and turning the engine off.
"Yep," Henry beams even wider at her. "The coolest."
She smiles back at him. She loves him so much.
Tuesday comes quickly and Regina finds herself back at By Accident We Meet.
Unlike Sunday, today the place is bustling. There's a tall brunette at the reception desk, wearing what seems to be far too little clothing for a mechanic. "Ah," she says when Regina walks in, grinning slyly like she knows something Regina doesn't. "The infamous Mayor Mills."
Regina quirks an eyebrow. "What is that supposed to mean?"
The woman, who's name tag says Ruby, doesn't answer that but her eyes twinkle in a way that sort of reminds Regina of Marian. Ruby motions with her thumb to the back room where the garage bays are. "Emma's back there. Feel free to go find her."
Regina frowns at the slightly unnerving exchange, but she does as Ruby suggests, heading into the garage. She finds Emma in the back of the shop. She's working on a rally car that is not the ridiculous car they will apparently be driving - this rally car actually looks half decent.
Emma wipes her hands on a rag when she sees Regina approaching, waving at her with an easy grin, "Hey."
"Hello," Regina returns the greeting more formally. "I see you're not ready for our interview yet."
Emma shrugs. "You're early. Still got time to wash my hands and shimmy out of these coveralls."
Regina smirks. "You might also want to wipe the grease off your cheek."
Emma laughs, using a clean corner of her rag to wipe at her face, which mostly just smears the grease around. "Hazard of the job."
Regina doesn't really have anything to say to that and her eyes drift back to the rally car Emma had just been working on. "This is a beast of a rally car. So why do you insist on driving this death trap in the rally race?" She motions behind her to the Mini they will be driving.
Emma makes a tsking sound with her tongue, shaking her head. "You insult my Beetle, and now my poor Mini. What do you have against the classics?"
This woman is ridiculous. "The Enzo Farriri is a classic. Some Like it Hot is a classic. Your cars are rust bucket death traps that had their time and now should consider being put to other uses." Regina's rant comes sharply and quickly and she smirks, adding, "Perhaps it could be melted down and turned into a nice bench?"
Emma just laughs at that, once again seeming amused instead of enraged by Regina, which only infuriates Regina more. "You know," she says, "I didn't have you pegged as a car girl."
Regina's lips purse and she crosses her arms over her chest. "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Emma holds up a hand. "I didn't mean it as an insult. It's just a surprise. A good surprise."
Regina's mouth twists. "I'll have you know, I have been a fan of racing my entire life. I am insulted that you would think otherwise. As a former female race car driver, you should know better than to assume just by looking at someone what they are not interested in."
Emma blinks slowly and when she speaks it's careful, sincere. "You're right, I'm sorry."
Regina thought she'd feel some sort of satisfaction at being told she's right, but she finds herself oddly disappointed instead. She'd been gearing up for a fight, for witty banter back and forth and adrenaline coursing through her veins - the quiet apology she's gotten instead just leaves her deflated. "Of course I'm right," she says.
Emma gets herself cleaned up and is, in fact, ready in time for the interview.
She's wearing jeans again today, although these ones are darker, almost black, and she's got on a green v-neck t-shirt that really makes her eyes stand out. She looks, to steal Marian's wording, infuriatingly hot .
The interview goes… well Regina isn't really sure how it goes. Not exactly bad but there had certainly been some awkward moments, like when the reporter had suggested Emma might be able to use this as an opportunity to transition back into racing and Emma had gotten eerily quiet before mumbling something unintelligible that might have been maybe . Or when the reporter had gotten them to pose in front of the rally car they will be racing in and Regina hadn't quite been able to withhold her disdain when the reporter had called the car interesting .
When it's over, they walk the interviewer out to the parking lot. Once he's climbed into his car and driven away, Emma tilts her head in Regina's direction. "On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad was that? Did I mess it up completely?"
Regina lifts a shoulder, indifferently. "I'm sure it's not the first thing you've completely messed up in your life."
Emma sighs, looking like Regina might have genuinely hurt her with that comment. "Can we sit and talk a minute?"
Regina wants to say no but something in Emma's expression, which is so serious, gives her pause. "Alright," she finds herself agreeing instead.
Emma leads the way to a nearby bench and they sit beside each other in silence, Emma seeming to need a moment to gather her thoughts. Finally, she says, "Are you familiar with rally car driving Regina?"
Regina eyes her curiously, not sure where she's going with this line of questioning. For that reason (and not at all because Emma's eyes are still so serious) her reply isn't nearly as biting as it might have otherwise been. "I must admit it's not a topic that often comes up. Although I did plan this event. And we did just discuss my long standing love of racing. So, I should be rather offended that you're asking me that."
"Sorry, sorry, I know. I just want to make sure you really understand," Emma says, running her hand through her hair. "I drive and you navigate. Both things happen fast. Do you see the problem?"
"I assure you I know my right from my left, Miss Swan," Regina scoffs but it's not particularly scathing.
The corners of Emma's lips tug into the tiniest of smiles and then she sobers again. "We have to trust each other completely. Not only if we want to win but if we want to survive."
That gives Regina pause and when she speaks it's a quiet, "I see."
"This charity is very close to my heart, Madame Mayor." Emma bites her lip, rubbing her hands against her knees. When her hands still, she leaves them there resting against her knees - it leaves her sitting oddly stiffly. "I know what that reporter was trying to get me to say but he was wrong ."
Emma has that same look on her face she had when that reporter had asked that question earlier and Regina wishes she could sort out what it means.
"I don't care about resurrecting my racing career," Emma says her hands lifting from her knees and motioning as if to punctuate her point. "But the better we do, the more money we have to help those kids." She looks Regina directly in the eye as she finishes with, "So, I'm not sure what your problem is with me, but I need you to work through it. And soon."
Regina feels a little like a floundering fish at being called out so clearly. She opens her mouth once, twice, a third time, before she can even find words. "I don't-" she starts, her first instinct to deny it.
"You do ," Emma cuts her off. "I don't know why, but you do."
Regina sighs. She's not sure what to say. She could apologize but she's not feeling especially apologetic. She could explain why but she doesn't want to do that. Explaining the root of her dislike of Emma requires a level of vulnerability she is not willing to entertain. She wonders if it's too late to find someone to replace her in this Rally Race? Except, she thinks of the enthusiasm on Henry's face and knows that dropping out isn't something she wants to do at all. That really only leaves one option. "Did you want to come over for dinner tonight?"
Emma looks genuinely startled at that suggestion and most definitely confused. "What?" she asks like she's not sure she's heard properly.
Regina considers for a split second whether or not she should rescind the offer, but she sets her shoulders, determined now that this is the right thing to do - she's never not accomplished something she's set her mind to and she won't fail at this either, even if it means she has to put eleven years of dislike aside and learn to tolerate Emma Swan, at least for the next five days. "Come have dinner tonight," she repeats her offer. "I want us to win this race. I want those kids to get the full first place prize. And if we need to trust each other to do that, then we need to get to know each other a little."
Emma still looks surprised but the smile that tugs at the corners of her mouth is unmistakably pleased. "Okay. I'll come to dinner."
Henry is thrilled when Regina tells him that Emma will be coming to dinner. He hops around the kitchen, eager to help with dinner preparation. He even tells her about his day without needing to be prodded. Apparently everyone at school is just as eager as him about the upcoming race and the fact that Regina is participating has made him suddenly quite popular.
When the doorbell rings, Henry races out of the kitchen. He's already got the door open by the time that Regina follows him.
Emma is standing in the doorway wearing a hideous red leather jacket. She's introducing herself to Henry, a bottle of red wine in one hand and a bottle of white wine in the other - leaving Regina to wonder if she rang the doorbell with her chin.
Emma looks up over Henry's head and grins at Regina, a sheepish sort of smile. "I wasn't sure what you like so I brought both." She holds the wine bottles a little higher, as if she needs to clarify.
Regina reminds herself that she's supposed to be trying to not actively dislike Emma and let's herself smile back. "Thank you."
"This is a really nice bottle," Regina says, pouring two glasses of the red wine, while Henry finishes setting the table in the dining room.
"Oh thank goodness," Emma says, leaning against the kitchen island, looking genuinely relieved. "I always feel like they're just bamboozling me in the wine store when I ask for help picking something out. Like I've got sucker written all over my forehead."
"You don't drink wine regularly?" Regina quirks an eyebrow, wondering if she maybe should have asked before pouring.
"I mean, I do, just, like, mostly from a box," Emma shrugs.
Regina wrinkles her nose in disgust.
"See, I knew that would be your reaction," Emma laughs.
"Oh really? And why is that?"
"Because you're, like, really classy , or refined, or whatever the right word is. You're fancy. Way fancier than me. I mean that as a compliment. Not, like, as something bad. You know what I mean, yeah?" Emma's cheeks flush as she rambles and Regina finds now that she is not actively working on disliking Emma, this display is oddly amusing, instead of annoying.
"Here," Regina says, holding out one of the wine glasses when Emma finally bites the inside of her cheek to stop herself from rambling. "Try it."
Emma takes the glass gratefully, taking a large gulp.
"Well?" Regina quirks an eyebrow.
"It's good. Really good. Definitely better than the box stuff."
"Perhaps you are, what was it, fancier , than you think?" Regina smirks.
Emma's only response is a groan.
Henry bounces into the kitchen then. "All set. Can we eat now ?"
Regina smiles fondly at him. "Yes, dear, we may."
Dinner is chicken cacciatore and Regina must admit that she's quite pleased by the way Emma's eyes light up when she takes the first bite and then shovels second and third bites into her mouth in quick succession.
"What's it like driving a race car?" Henry asks.
"Exhilarating," Emma says and the way she smiles, and the way her eyes get a little cloudy, makes it clear she's imagining it. "The whole world just disappears."
"Is it scary?" Henry wonders.
Emma shakes her head. "Not for me, not really, I love the adrenaline of it. But it could be, I guess."
"Are you gonna be scared, Mom?" Henry turns to look at her curiously.
Regina hadn't really considered that - what it would be like to actually be in a race car. "Certainly not," she says but she's not sure it comes out as confident as she was going for.
Henry grins at her, not seeming to have caught her tone, but based on the expression on Emma's face it's clear she has.
"You know," Emma says. "We could do a test drive. So that you can see what it feels like before the race."
"That actually might not be a terrible idea." Regina concedes. She really does like the idea of being prepared before the race.
Emma laughs. "Don't look so surprised, I do have the occasional good idea."
Regina rolls her eyes but it's not in annoyance.
"Mom knows the whole route because she's the mayor and has to approve everything. All the permits for the street closures and stuff," Henry says. "You could practice drive the whole thing."
"Well I'm pretty lucky to have her as a partner then." Emma says and it sounds completely sincere. "But I was more thinking of a test run on a track. We wouldn't want to go racing down streets that aren't closed yet," she says it so carefully, so gently, like she actually cares about not hurting Henry's feelings while shooting down his idea. "I know the guy that runs the track over in Forestville though, he'll let us use it. What do you say? Friday night?" Her gaze moves from Henry back to Regina.
"Yes, I think that will work." Regina agrees with a smile - surprised to find that she's already looking forward to it.
"Is it true you were a foster kid?" Henry asks when they've moved on to dessert - a homemade chocolate cake that Emma gushes about.
Regina's eyes widen in alarm. " Henry ," she chastises.
"It's alright," Emma holds up her hand to stop Regina from saying anything else. "Yes, I was."
Henry nods sagely. "I read about it in one of my mom's racing magazines."
Regina had pulled out the copy with Emma's interview last week to re-read it and she'd left it on her desk in the study - Henry must have found it.
That seems to amuse Emma, her eyes twinkling as she glances over at Regina. "You have a copy of that?"
"I have a subscription to the magazine," Regina defends, even though she can feel her cheeks turning red. She hopes Emma doesn't ask her how many other issues of the magazine she's kept over the years because the answer is not very many.
Henry comes to the rescue though, announcing, "I'm adopted," and completely changing the direction of the conversation.
Emma looks genuinely surprised and she glances curiously between Henry and Regina. "Really?"
Regina nods and then she holds her breath, unsure where exactly Henry is going with this. Things have improved between them recently but she's concerned he is about to rehash his disappointment in her, his anger at not being told he was adopted earlier or directly from her.
"Is being a foster kid like being adopted?" is all Henry asks though.
Regina wants to cut in but Emma stops her with another raised hand.
"Not exactly," Emma says and Regina can see just how carefully she's choosing her words. "I was in foster care because I didn't get adopted."
Henry frowns. "Why not?"
" Henry ," Regina does manage to cut in this time.
Emma still answers the question though, her eyes unreadable. "I just wasn't lucky enough, I guess. Not like you. You won the jackpot with such an awesome Mom. I always hoped someone that great would adopt me."
"But didn't you hope that your real parents would come get you?" Henry, ever the curious child, won't just let the subject drop.
Emma shrugs, the unreadable expression on her face slipping a little, some pain flickering into her green eyes. "Honestly, I just wanted someone to love me. It didn't matter who."
"Oh," Henry says, his brow furrowed, finally stumped for a new question.
"You really are lucky, kid," Emma tells him, her words holding an oddly wistful quality, but after a beat she grins, all of that wistfulness vanishing. "Not very many people have a mom who can bake chocolate cake that tastes this good." She winks at him.
Henry laughs, "You should try her apple tarts, they're even better."
"If that mayor gig falls through, you could always open a bakery," Emma jokes, her gaze turning to Regina.
"True!" Henry jumps on the idea with excessive enthusiasm. "And then I could be the official bake goods tester."
"Sounds like a job you need two people for. Would you put in a good word for me, kid? I'm an excellent taste tester, I swear." Emma crosses her heart in an exaggerated fashion to punctuate the promise.
Henry giggles and Regina shakes her head at the two of them. There is a feeling building in her chest - it's pure fondness and, strangely, it's not just for Henry.
"I'm sorry," Regina says when they're doing the dishes - Emma washing and her drying after Emma had insisted on helping. "I didn't know Henry was going to ask you all those questions about foster care."
"It's okay. Kids are curious sometimes. I didn't mind, honestly." Emma shrugs. "Foster care was a long time ago anyway, I'm over it."
Something in Emma's eyes tells Regina that that might not be completely true but she doesn't push or call her out on the lie, just takes the plate Emma has rinsed and dries it slowly. "I really appreciate what you said to him. Henry and I… we've had a bit of a difficult time lately. He didn't take it especially well when he found out he was adopted. Things have been complicated. I think that's why he had so many questions."
Emma watches Regina while she speaks, eyes tinged with sympathy and understanding. "I meant what I said about Henry being lucky to have you. I can always tell with those things. I would have killed to have a mom who cared about me as much as you clearly care about Henry."
Regina can feel herself flushing. "Thanks. That means a lot to me. More than you know."
Emma seems to understand that this admission is difficult for Regina because she accepts it with only a nod, doesn't push for anything further, just turns back to the sink and washes the next plate.
They do the rest of the dishes in silence but there's nothing uncomfortable about it.
They play Mario Kart after the dishes are done, any lingering awkwardness vanishing as soon as the competition kicks in. Emma is actually quite awful at the game and Henry teases her with, "Aren't you supposed to be a race car driver?"
Emma responds in a grumble, "There aren't banana peels or turtle shells on a real race track."
Emma doesn't win a single game but she does come in second once, beating Regina, and she celebrates like she's just won the Indy 500. It's absolutely ridiculous. But for some reason Regina does not find it aggravating even a little.
"This was fun," Emma says when Regina has sent Henry upstairs to get ready for bed and they're standing in the entrance. She seems to genuinely mean that, despite the somewhat awkward dessert conversation. "You didn't even look at me like you hated me once tonight," she adds with a grin.
Regina is surprised to find that that is true. It seems that not actively disliking Emma is a lot easier than she thought it would be. It's a little unsettling, really.
Emma laughs, shrugging on the hideous red leather jacket she'd arrived in. "Don't look so surprised."
"Careful, the night isn't quite over yet, it's not too late to change that," Regina smirks.
"Best I leave while I'm ahead then." Emma grins. "Thanks for having me. I know I already said this like sixteen times but dinner was delicious. If the mayor gig ever gets old, you really could open up a restaurant."
Regina shakes her head but she can feel herself smiling. "Goodnight, Emma ."
Emma's eyes widen at the use of her first name and her grin turns softer, just a pleased little smile. "Night, Regina."
When Regina heads upstairs to check on Henry she finds him sitting upright on his bed.
She's expecting him to be happy, he'd seemed happy all night. But when he looks up at her now it's with woeful eyes. "What's wrong?" she asks, worry forming a knot in the pit of her stomach.
He drops his gaze, looking down at his lap. "I did something that's gonna make you mad."
Regina frowns, moving over and perching herself on the edge of his bed beside him. She uses her finger to lift his chin so that she can look him in the eye. "Whatever it is, you can tell me, we can sort it out together."
He stares at her with serious eyes for a long moment before he sighs like the weight of the world is on his shoulder. "I borrowed your credit card."
Regina quirks an eyebrow, it's not reproachful just prodding. "What for?"
Henry swallows thickly. "I found this thing on the Internet. You could pay to find out who your birth mother is. So I did. Back when I was mad. And it came in the mail this week. And then tonight Emma said all that stuff, about how I'm lucky, and you're a great mom, and she's right, I love you and I'm sorry and I shouldn't have-" He's rambling without taking a breath, tears welling in his eyes.
"Henry," Regina cuts him off, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a hug. "It's okay, everything is okay."
Henry clings tightly to her, sniffling into her shoulder. When he finally pulls back he wipes at his eyes with the back of his arm and pulls an envelope out from under his pillow.
"You didn't open it?" Regina takes the envelope from him, turning it over in her hand. Henry had always been a curious child, his favourite word had been why as a toddler, so the fact that he hasn't opened this envelope is surprising.
Henry shrugs. "I was going to. But it felt all wrong without telling you first."
"Do you want to open it now?" Regina asks carefully - even though she's not completely sure that's what she wants. A part of her is curious and a part of her is terrified.
Henry shrugs again but then he shakes his head, no, and Regina feels relieved.
"Tell you what," Regina says. "I'll hang on to it, and if you change your mind, we'll look at it together."
"You're really not mad?" Henry sniffles.
"You promise you won't use my credit card without my permission ever again?" Regina asks with a quirked eyebrow.
"Promise," Henry nods solemnly.
"Then, I'm not mad." Regina helps him climb under the covers, tucking them around him gently, and kissing his forehead. "I love you, my little prince."
"I love you too, Mom."
Regina pours the last bit of red wine from the bottle Emma brought into a glass and carries it into her study.
She sits at her desk, setting down the white envelope that holds the answer to a question she'd never actually wanted the answer to. She stares at that white envelope as she sips her wine. She picks it up and sets it down, once, twice, a third time. She shouldn't open it. But she's not sure she can stop herself. If Henry could get this information, then surely so could his birth mother. She needs to know. Needs to be prepared to protect him.
When her glass of wine is drained completely, she picks up the envelope for a final time, carefully tearing it open, pulling out the single sheet of paper, and unfolding it slowly.
A weight, heavy like a stone, settles in the pit of her stomach, fury like fire running through her veins, as she reads what is printed on that piece of paper.
Henry's birth mother is Emma Swan.
So much for starting to like her.
Regina has no way of knowing if Emma will actually be at By Accident We Meet when she drives there the next night. She's left Henry with Marian (who had pulled Regina aside and asked semi-seriously if she should be prepared for a call to come help bury a body) and headed there after work. She hasn't told Henry about the contents of that envelope yet. She needs answers first. Needs to know if Emma knew . Needs to know what her intentions might be. She's oscillated from fury to dread and back again more times than she can count since the night before.
It's after hours by the time she gets to the mechanic shop and she comes across Ruby in the parking lot, heading for her car.
"Is Emma still here?" Regina asks, even though the yellow Bug parked beside Ruby's car seems to provide the answer.
"Yep," Ruby confirms and then when Regina starts walking away towards the entrance, she calls after her, "Regina, wait."
Regina stops and turns back around, where she is met with an expression that is hard to read.
"I'm not sure what's going on with you and Emma. But I just wanted to say that she might seem tough, but she's actually pretty sensitive. Please be careful." It's protective, the kind of warning an older sibling might give, even if there is no spoken threat in it.
For a second Regina thinks that Ruby actually knows why she's here. It takes that second for her to realize that that's not the case at all, that Ruby is talking about something else entirely. Does Emma like her - in a romantic way? Regina thinks she might not have minded hearing that yesterday before she opened that envelope. Now though, now she needs to know if Emma knows , if Emma knew when she set foot in her house, before she can consider anything else. Ruby is clearly waiting for an answer though. "I understand," she says because she's not sure what else she can say.
Ruby stares at her a long minute, like she's trying to sort something out, but eventually she just says, "Alright. Have a good night," and gets in her car and drives away, leaving Regina to head inside.
"Sorry, we're closed," Emma says when Regina comes in. She doesn't look up from where she's staring at the computer behind the reception desk. Her tongue is stuck out in concentration as she types something.
Regina clears her throat.
Emma startles looking up with wide surprised eyes that turn pleased when she realizes that it's Regina standing in the doorway. "Is it Friday already?" she grins.
Regina can't bring herself to return the smile. "Not exactly."
Emma's brow knits together, her smile fading from her face. She stands and walks around the desk. "What's up?"
Regina pulls the piece of paper from her purse and holds it out for Emma to take. "Did you know about this?" She asks, that fury right there under the surface, ready to spill out.
Emma's eyes are filled with confusion but she takes the offered piece of paper.
Regina sees the exact moment Emma realizes what that paper says, what that paper means .
Emma's entire body stiffens, her face paling, and when she looks up it's with an expression that seems almost afraid. "Is this for real?"
"You didn't know," Regina breathes out, the fire in her veins dwindling. She feels relieved . She'd had angry words and threats prepared, words that would have come easily and quickly if Emma had known, if Emma had deceived her to get close to Henry, but she hadn't wanted to need them, she'd hoped she wouldn't. She just hadn't realized quite how much she'd been hoping that.
Emma's eyes widen. "Of course I didn't, Regina. I wouldn't have. I wouldn't have. I never would have overstepped if I knew. Regina. God ."
"You're shaking," Regina says, watching Emma with worry. "Do you want to sit?"
"I-" Emma starts like she's going to protest but then she stops and just nods, moving over to the seating area and dropping into one of the chairs.
Regina follows her, taking a seat in the chair beside her. "Are you going to be alright?"
"Yeah, yeah, of course. It's just… crazy, right?" Emma sounds truly in disbelief. She wrings her hands together. "I didn't think these kind of coincidences happened in real life."
Regina can't help but agree with that. "It is quite unbelievable."
"Like we're in a movie," Emma shakes her head, that same disbelief still written all over her face.
They sit in silence for quite some time, both processing this new reality, where they are tied together not as partners in a Rally Race, but by Henry, Regina's son.
Eventually, Emma is the one to break the silence, tilting her head to look curiously at Regina. "Wait. Is this why you don't like me?"
"I don't dislike you," Regina denies on reflex - even though, at this point, her feelings about Emma are just complicated more than anything.
" Regina ," Emma says and her tone may as well be saying who do you think you're kidding? "Up until last night, you seemed pretty hell bent on using all your energy to scowl at me, even though we'd definitely never met before Sunday. I'd remember meeting you."
Regina can't exactly deny it again when Emma puts it that way. "That wasn't because of Henry. I didn't know about that either. Henry did something, online. That paper came in the mail. I opened it last night after you left."
"Oh." That look of disbelief returns but only for a moment before Emma asks curiously, "But why all the scowling then?"
Regina lifts a shoulder not sure how to explain, not sure she wants to - not when explaining, truly explaining, requires her to be vulnerable. She looks around the room instead, changing the subject. "I never asked. Is this where you went when you gave up racing?"
Emma looks unfooled by the subject change, but she goes along with it. "Yeah. Granny used to run this place. She was so kind to take me on. Now Ruby, that's her granddaughter, and I run it together."
"I still don't understand why you would give up racing just to work at some local garage?" Regina can't help but ask the question when it fits so naturally into their conversation. It's a question she's wanted the answer to for years . "You were a hero to so many young women, including me, if I'm being honest."
Emma looks over at her with eyes that seem suddenly so understanding, like she's just sorted something about Regina out. "I was a hero to those women because there weren't that many female drivers, right?"
"I suppose that was part of it, yes." Regina's lips purse, not quite sure where this is going.
"Then it follows that they wouldn't have a great maternity leave program." Emma runs her hand through her hair and takes a breath, her next words are quieter, less matter of fact. "I wasn't driving Formula 1. That's where I was going, but I wasn't there yet. I didn't have much in savings and I found out about Henry too late to do anything about it. The team booted me out as soon as they knew, and Granny was willing to take me in and let me keep working with cars."
Understanding washes over Regina. "You gave up racing for Henry." It's a statement not a question - this, maybe even more than the discovery that Emma is Henry's birth mother, tilts Regina world on its axis. All these years she's held on to lingering disappointment, has disliked Emma for giving up on her dream, but it turns out that that very action is what brought Regina Henry. It's surreal.
"And then I gave up Henry and I regret nothing." Emma sounds so certain, so confident in that decision.
It takes Regina a while, a lot longer than it should, to find words, to move past her disbelief. "But racing was your dream. Why didn't you go back afterwards? Why don't you want to go back now?"
Emma shrugs. "Dreams change. I still love the way I feel when I'm racing a car. But the thought of going back to NASCAR just makes me queasy. I'd rather stay here with people that actually care about me."
Regina hears what Emma isn't saying and she waits patiently for the rest of the story, lifting an eyebrow to encourage her to continue.
"My manager. He's the… the sperm donor. He didn't want anything to do with me when he found out. I thought he loved me and he just… he's the one who convinced the team to kick me to the curb. Swore he'd have me black balled from racing entirely if I told anyone."
The anger, the outrage, Regina feels is so sudden, it's like fire in her veins. She knows exactly who the manager is - Neal Cassidy - and she has the sudden desire to track him down and destroy him. "You were a child ."
"I was nineteen," Emma clarifies but it's a halfhearted correction.
"And he was what? Thirty?" Regina scoffs.
"Twenty eight," Emma sighs, even though they both know his age makes no difference. What had happened hadn't been right.
"I'm sorry that happened. I'm sorry you had to give up the thing you love," Regina says and she genuinely means it.
"I love what I do now too," Emma shrugs, and she really does look at peace with what transpired. "And living here has been good for me. Granny and Ruby are like family and I never had one of those before."
Regina smiles at her, a soft, understanding smile.
Emma smiles back. "Besides, I meant what I said. I regret nothing. I wanted Henry to have his best chance in life. And now I know that he did get it. He's a great kid and you're a great mom. I'm glad he got you."
"I'm really glad I got him too. I feel like the lucky one." Regina means that with her whole heart.
They fall back into silence. It's not awkward, they both just need some more time to process.
Just like the last time, Emma is the one who breaks the silence. "Does Henry know? About me, I mean."
"No. Not yet. I haven't told him." Regina shakes her head.
Emma nods. "I can withdraw from the race if you think that's best. You don't have to worry about me. I'm not going to be a problem. It was a closed adoption for a reason. I'll respect that."
Regina doesn't answer right away, she takes a minute to genuinely consider it, to weigh the options, but there's only one answer that feels right. "No, don't withdraw. Those kids need this money. We can't let them down."
"Are you sure?" Emma asks, something cautious but hopeful in her eyes.
"Yes, I'm sure."
Thursday night, Regina prepares the toppings for homemade pizza and then calls Henry to the kitchen.
At seeing the ingredients laid out, Henry frowns. "It's not Sunday."
"I thought we could use a treat," is all Regina says.
Not one to turn down pizza, Henry just shrugs, washing his hands at the sink and then coming to the island.
Regina waits until the sauce is spread and the cheese is sprinkled and they are just placing their individual toppings (peperoni for Henry, mushrooms and black olives for Regina) to say, "There's something I need to talk to you about, Henry."
Henry looks up at her curiously. "What?"
Regina takes a breath, bracing herself. "I know I said we would open it together when you were ready, but I couldn't wait. I opened the letter, the one that tells us who your birth mother is."
There are competing emotions on Henry's face - anger and curiosity mostly. Curiosity seems to win out. "Really?"
"Yes," Regina nods, continuing carefully, "And, as it turns out, we have already met her."
Henry's brow furrows. "We have? Who is it?"
This is it. There is no going back now. "It's Emma Swan."
Henry's eyes widen, he looks nearly as surprised as Emma had looked, as Regina had felt. "For real?"
"Yes," Regina confirms. "She didn't know. She was just as surprised as us."
Henry bites his lip, looking up at Regina with contemplative eyes. "But she knows now?"
Regina nods. "Yes, I told her yesterday."
"Did she say why she didn't want to keep me?" There's so much hurt there in that single question.
"Oh Henry," Regina murmurs, wiping her hands so that she can set one on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "She was young and she didn't have anyone to help her. She just wanted you to have your best chance."
"Oh," is all Henry says, his eyes dropping to the floor. After a beat he looks back up. "Mom?"
His eyes are wide, filled with emotion. "I'm glad my best chance was with you."
Overwhelming relief sweeps over Regina. A small part of her had been afraid that he'd have preferred Emma, would have preferred to have a mother who was a former race car driver, a mother who was cool . A small part of her had been afraid that he'd tell her as much, might tell her much worse.
"I love you," Regina says, pulling him into a hug.
His arms circle her waist, hugging her back. "I love you too."
When they part, he grins up at her impishly. "Now can we finish these pizzas, I'm starving ."
Regina laughs, smoothing his hair. "You're always starving. Must be a growth spurt."
Regina calls Emma Friday morning to explain that she's told Henry that she's his birth mother and, also, if it's okay with Emma, she'd like to bring Henry to the race track that evening.
"Is he… is he alright ?" Emma asks and Regina can hear the hesitation in her voice, the uncertainty.
"Yes. He was surprised at first, of course. But he's an adaptable child. He's… you don't need to worry. He really is alright."
"Oh," Emma says through the phone, just that one little sound. There's a pause before she adds. "What am I supposed to say to him?"
"You want me to tell you?" Regina frowns.
"No, no. I just. I never thought I'd get to meet him. And I know I technically already have but this is different, yeah? It feels different."
Regina can hear the anxiety in Emma's voice and she has the overwhelming urge to soothe it. "You're going to be fine. You're good with words."
Emma actually laughs into the phone. "Me? The rambling mess. Are we talking about the same person?"
"You've found inspiring words before," Regina reminds her.
"What are you talking about?" Her confusion is audible.
"That racing magazine article. When you said dreams are possible if you fight for them. I don't think you realize how inspiring that article was." Regina pauses, considers stopping there, but vulnerability is easier to stomach over the phone. "You inspired me. It's because of you that I applied to adopt. And because of that I ran for mayor."
"Oh. That's… wow." Emma seems truly awed by that information, speechless.
Neither of them say anything for a beat. There's nothing but the sound of breathing over the line, until Emma asks, uncertainly, "So, I need to inspire, Henry?"
"No, that wasn't the point. I was just trying to show you that you are better with words than you think. Henry doesn't need inspiration, he just needs you to tell him the truth, that's all. You can do that. Can't you?"
"Yeah, yeah I can."
Emma is already at the racetrack Friday evening when Henry and Regina get there. She's standing near the entrance to the track and, even from a distance, Regina can see that she's nervous.
"Hey," Emma says when they're a foot apart, her eyes flickering from Regina to Henry.
"Hi," Henry says, looking up at her with an expression that is mostly awe mixed with some uncertainty. He'd talked non-stop in the car about how excited he was but it's clear now that some of that excitement was nervousness.
Regina places her hands on Henry's shoulders to encourage him, squeezing gently.
"So, umm, this is kind of weird, huh?" Emma's eyes flicker from Henry to Regina again.
Henry shrugs. "I think it's kinda cool, actually. Like finding out I'm related to a movie star."
Emma looks baffled. "I'm not exactly a movie star."
"Yeah, but you were in NASCAR. That's cooler." He smiles up at her.
Emma is clearly relieved. "Yeah?" That one word is so hopeful, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"Yeah," Henry nods but then Regina feels his shoulders stiffen under her hands and his next words are quieter, "Mom said you gave me away because you wanted me to have my best chance? Is that true?"
Emma's smile falls but there is no hesitation in her reply. "Yes. I was really young and I didn't have much money and I just knew there was someone out there that could give you all the things you deserve much better than I could. I wanted that for you." Emma's eyes are so sincere, so filled with emotion.
"Okay." Henry relaxes again, a smile returning to his face.
Emma own smile is tentative and she bites her lip like she's waiting for a shoe to drop, for another, maybe angrier, question.
Henry isn't angry though, and he's out of questions for now. He rocks on the balls of his feet and glances back at Regina. "Time to race now?"
Regina smooths his hair and smiles at him. "I think so. If you're ready, Emma?"
"Yeah, sure. Me. You. Racing. That's what we are here for," Emma rambles nervously, still clearly a little shaken by this interaction. Slowly she seems to recover though. "Oh," she says, like she's suddenly remembered something. She digs in the pocket of her red leather jacket and pulls out a bag of M&Ms. "I brought you a snack. Popcorn's better. But the concession isn't open, obviously, since the place is closed."
Henry grins, his eyes lighting up as he takes the bag of candy. "Thanks," he says, opening the bag and popping a handful of M&Ms into his mouth. Regina quirks an eyebrow at that. "What?" he grins impishly with a mouth full of chocolate.
Regina shakes her head affectionately.
"Are you gonna stand here all day or are you gonna race?" Henry smirks, his expression all Regina.
They all laugh.
They send Henry up to the bleachers and they head down to the racetrack where Emma's ridiculous Mini is parked.
"I still think this rally car is ridiculous," Regina says out loud.
"I know," Emma laughs. She opens the door and pulls out two helmets, holding one out one for Regina to take.
The helmet is heavy duty and it strikes Regina suddenly just how serious this is, just how dangerous it is.
"You okay?" Emma asks, sensing her sudden unease.
Regina swallows thickly but she nods, "Yes." She really isn't the type to back down from a challenge. "Besides, I should be asking you that." She knows Emma was nervous about meeting Henry now that they know she is his birth mother.
"I'm okay. That went way better than I could have hoped for," Emma says and it doesn't sound like a lie. Her head tilts and the expression on her face is softer, vulnerable almost. "Thank you."
Regina gets the sense that she isn't being thanked for asking how Emma is doing, or even for bringing Henry here today. She gets the sense that she's being thanked for much more. They stare at each for a long moment, something passing between them.
"Are you ready?" Emma asks finally, breaking the spell.
When Regina climbs into the passenger seat and sees all the fire extinguishers inside the car, the seriousness of this all strikes her once more. But nothing could stop her from doing this now.
"Alright," Emma grins, starting the car. "I'm gonna do three laps. If you want to stop just say so - loudly."
Regina nods, bracing herself, and then they are off.
Nothing could have prepared her for the feeling of zipping around that race track. Her head wobbles around like a pinball, hitting everything. It feels like being on a particularly unsafe rollercoaster. But it also feels exhilarating - that's the word Emma had used and Regina understands why.
"Well?" Emma asks when it's over. "What did you think?"
"That was…" Regina is genuinely speechless, completely at a loss with how to describe it.
"Kinda the greatest, right?" Emma grins.
Regina smiles back because Emma is right. "It was so much different than I was expecting," she says, pulling off her helmet and smoothing out her hair, fearful of what the helmet might have done to it.
Emma pulls off her helmet too, shaking out her hair, and running her fingers through it. "You never forget your first time," she says and then blushes furiously, her eyes widening - presumably hearing how that sounds. "In a race car. Obviously. That's what I meant. Your first time driving that fast. You don't forget that."
The rambling is adorable and Regina has the strangest sudden urge to lean over and kiss Emma. It's a completely inappropriate thought - she can't kiss Emma, shouldn't even be thinking about it, not when everything is so complicated, it wouldn't be right. It must just be the adrenaline still thumping through her veins making her think a little unclearly.
Henry comes racing up to them then, and any thoughts Regina has of kissing Emma vanishes instantly, her attention turning to her son.
"That was so cool," he says. "You were going so fast. Can I try?"
Regina doesn't have to be the one to reject that idea, Emma is quick to say, "Sorry, you aren't old enough or tall enough yet, kid."
Henry looks disappointed but he takes it in stride. "But you'll take me when I'm older?"
"Maybe," is all Emma agrees to after a quick glance over at Regina.
Regina wonders if Emma will still be around then. She's surprised (or maybe not that surprised at all) to find she really wouldn't mind if that were the case.
"Henry would like you to come for good luck breakfast tomorrow," Regina says through the phone the next afternoon.
"Good luck breakfast? What's that?"
Regina can perfectly picture the way Emma must be frowning. "Apple cinnamon waffles. It's a tradition we have for days that need an extra dose of luck. First days of school, that sort of thing."
There's silence on the other end of the phone and Regina isn't sure what to make of it. "Do you want me to come?" Emma finally asks - it's a quiet, hesitant question.
Regina isn't sure why that makes her heart rate increase but it does. "Yes, I do. If you want to, that is." Six days ago she couldn't have imagined that being true, couldn't imagine actually wanting to spend extra time with Emma Swan, but there is no doubt that it is true now. Six days have changed a lot.
Emma breathes out, an audible puff of air, like she's been holding her breath. "I do want to. I'll be there. For sure."
Henry is still in his pajamas when Emma arrives for the good luck breakfast. The two of them lean against the island, standing side by side, snagging pieces of the bacon Regina has pre-cooked, while Regina works on getting the waffles ready.
"You're going to ruin your breakfast," Regina tsks affectionately.
"I highly doubt that," Emma laughs, snagging another piece of bacon and making Regina roll her eyes.
Emma is right, her breakfast isn't ruined at all - she eats three helpings of apple cinnamon waffles, shoveling bite after bite into her mouth and grinning when Regina catches her eye. "These are amazing ."
"We aren't going to have to pull over in the middle of the race for you to vomit, are we?" Regina quirks an amused eyebrow when Emma finishes her second helping.
"Nah," Emma laughs and reaches for another waffle, pouring syrup all over out.
Henry laughs too, reaching for the last piece of bacon, and Regina shakes her head, fondness filling her chest. There's something about having Emma here with them that feels oddly right , like she just fits . It's a strange revelation.
Later, they drop Henry off at the finish line so that he can watch the race with Marian and Roland and Ruby.
"Good luck," Henry says, hugging Regina first and then Emma.
When his arms slip around Emma's waist, Regina catches the surprise on Emma's face. A shocked sort of wonder that makes Regina realize that this is the first time Henry has hugged her.
"Thanks, kid," Emma says, her voice just a little too thick, when he pulls back.
Regina's hand goes to the small of Emma's back without thought, a brief gesture of comfort that she quickly withdraws when Marian waggles her eyebrows with a smirk on her face.
"We should go," Regina says.
Emma just nods, waving goodbye to Henry and the others as they walk away.
Standing at the starting line, sizing up their competition, Regina leans close to Emma. "We are going to win this, right?"
Emma grins at her. "Well, duh."
When they climb into the car, helmets on, ready to race, Emma reaches over and squeezes Regina's arm. "Ready?" she asks.
Regina stares into green eyes that are so bright, so eager, feels Emma's fingers still resting on her arm, and her heart rate increases. Just like at the racetrack on Friday, she finds herself considering what it would be like to just lean over and kiss Emma. She swallows that thought down - it's still really not a thought she should be having. "Ready," she smiles.
Emma smiles back, her fingers lingering just a moment longer before she withdraws them, turning in her seat so that she can start the car.
Driving through the streets turns out to be even more insane than driving around the racetrack. But Regina shouts out directions and Emma navigates each turn with precision, and by the time they're crossing the finish line, no one else is even that close. They've won easily.
"We really won. We really got all that money for those kids," Emma says once she's parked the car. She pulls off her helmet and tosses it into the back seat, the smile on her face bright, happy.
"We really did," Regina smiles back at her, following her lead and taking her own helmet off.
Emma reaches out then and smooths Regina's hair. "Sorry," she says, blushing for some reason, "You just. Had a piece out of place."
Something about the intensity of Emma's gaze makes Regina's heart thump rapidly in her chest. And she finds herself frozen, unable to stop staring.
Emma's tongue darts out to moisten her lips and, again, the thought of just leaning over and kissing her appears involuntarily in the forefront of Regina's brain.
Emma runs a hand through her hair. "We should, ummm, probably get out of this car now." She doesn't sound certain at all.
"Right," Regina agrees slowly, swallowing thickly - she's sort of forgotten that there is an entire town of spectators waiting for them.
It takes them a whole minute more to stop staring at each other and finally climb out of the car
Emma smirks over at Regina then, whatever tension there'd been in the car dissipating. "Is now the time where you admit that this rally car wasn't actually as terrible as you thought?"
Regina rolls her eyes but it is filled with affection. "I'm sure we could have lapped everyone if we'd been in a less ridiculous car."
Emma just laughs, shaking her head.
Emma lets Regina be the one to take the Champions Trophy when it's brought out. She holds it up and the crowd that has gathered to watch cheers. Henry, Marian, Roland, and Ruby, are standing together nearby, perhaps cheering the loudest, and when Regina catches Henry's eye he shoots her a thumbs up.
Regina gaze drifts back to Emma eventually and she finds green eyes already staring at her. Emma is smiling, wide and bright, and Regina can do nothing but grin back.
The crowd starts to break up after that and Ruby, Marian with Roland on her shoulders, and Henry make their way over towards them.
Henry hugs them both enthusiastically. "You really won!"
Emma looks just as affected by this hug as she had by the first. "We really did, kid. Guess that good luck breakfast did the trick." She winks at him.
" Duh ," Henry says with an impish grin. "So what do we do now?" He looks from Regina to Emma.
For some reason that makes Regina's heart quicken, as if it's a bigger question than it really is. What do they do now that the race is over? What if Emma doesn't want to see her, see them , anymore? Seven days ago that would have been fine, that would have been Regina's preferred outcome. Now, now the possibility of never seeing Emma again bothers Regina more than she would ever admit.
Emma just slides her hands in her pockets. "How about we start with a celebratory dinner and take it from there?" It's delivered so calmly but Regina can see the hum of nervous energy running underneath it, can hear the unspoken question.
Take it from there implies more, implies some future together and Regina can feel herself relaxing. "Do you only ever think about food?" She smirks.
"Yeah, pretty much." Emma shrugs unapologetically.
"Then I suppose we must get you dinner."
It's the right thing to say because that nervous energy of Emma's dissipates, her unspoken question sufficiently answered, and a grin lights up her face.
And so they go to dinner. And that definitely isn't where this whole thing beginnings, but it certainly isn't where it ends either.
2 months and 29 days later
It's a Saturday afternoon in early August and Marian and Roland, Emma, and Ruby are over.
Regina is in the kitchen, slicing watermelon and watching through the window as Emma kicks a soccer ball with Henry, Roland running circles around them. A fond smile tugs at the corners of her mouth.
"You're going to slice your hand off if you keep staring at your girlfriend like that."
Regina turns her head to find Marian smirking at her. Her eyes narrow in Marian's direction but that doesn't stop the blush from creeping up her neck into her cheeks. "She's not my girlfriend, you know that."
Marian is holding two empty cups and she sets them on the counter, opening the fridge and pulling out the pitcher of sangria, as she answers. "Right. What I don't get is why ?"
"It's too complicated with Henry." The truth is Regina still thinks about kissing Emma far more than she should. But she always stops herself because she can't risk ruining anything - not when what they have now has turned out to be so damn great.
Emma comes over every Friday for dinner, sometimes she insists on bringing takeout but, more often than not, Regina cooks. They play Mario Kart (Emma wins pretty regularly now), or monopoly, or some other game after dinner and dishes, and then, when Henry is off to bed, Regina and Emma sit up with wine, or beer, or that one time a bottle of whiskey Emma brought, and just talk. Emma tells her bits and pieces of her childhood, reveals how she was living on the streets when she first got into racing. Her first race car was something she put together herself with odd parts (many that she admits, biting her lip, were stolen). Regina tells her about growing up with a mother whose ambitions for her were suffocating, about Sundays watching racing with her father being her escape.
Once, three weeks ago, Emma fell asleep on the couch while they were talking and the next morning they made french toast and coffee (orange juice for Henry) and sat around the table sharing bits of the paper (Henry and Emma bent their heads together laughing over the comics, while Regina started with the business section), and Regina found herself secretly wishing they could do that every morning.
"It's really not that complicated," Marian says, interrupting Regina's thoughts. "Henry loves Emma. He'd be thrilled."
"And if it doesn't work out?" Regina sighs. "What then?" What if there were no more Friday night dinners? What if there was no Emma in her life, in their life?
Marian just lifts her eyebrows. "And what if it does?" She puts the pitcher of sangria back in the fridge and picks the two re-filled glasses back up off the counter - one must be Ruby's. "I'm just saying, I've never known you to give up on something you wanted just because it wasn't exactly easy." She doesn't wait for an answer, just let's that hang in the air as she vanishes from the kitchen, headed back outside.
Dreams are possible if you fight for them . That's what Marian was saying, wasn't it? Hadn't those been words Regina lived by for more than ten years?
Regina is still thinking about that when Emma comes into the kitchen ten minutes later.
"Everything okay in here?" Emma asks curiously, moving closer to her. "You've been gone forever."
Something about Emma not only noticing her absence, but caring enough to come find her, makes Regina's heart quicken. "I was just finishing up with the watermelon." She motions with her knife to the pile of cubed watermelon on the plate to her right, next to the cutting board in front of her.
Emma snags a piece off the cutting board that hasn't made it to the plate yet, popping the cube into her mouth with a grin. Watermelon juice dribbles down her chin and she catches it with her hand, licking it off her fingers, her grin turning sheepish. "Oops."
"Here," Regina hands her a paper towel.
Emma wipes her hand and then her face but she doesn't quite get it all, there's some watermelon juice still clinging stubbornly to her cheek. It reminds Regina of the grease on Emma's cheek the first time they met.
"You've got-" Regina starts but doesn't finish, she just reaches out and wipes the last bit of watermelon juice off Emma's cheek with the pad of her thumb, lingering on Emma's cheek just a little longer than necessary before she withdraws. She wipes her hand on the paper towel Emma hands back to her, her eyes locked with green ones, unspoken tension crackling in the air between them. She sets the scrunched up paper towel on the counter without looking away from those green eyes, and somehow finds the courage to ask, "Would it upset you terribly if I said I wanted to kiss you right now?"
Emma's eyes widen, her breathing seeming to quicken. If takes her a minute to find words, a minute where that tension in the air thickens. "No, no it wouldn't," she says and her voice is thick, low. "But it's probably going to upset me terribly now if you don't."
Regina's heart goes haywire, thumping erratically in her chest.
Emma's tongue darts out to lick her lips, almost nervously, and then she's the one who leans over, closing the gap and pressing her lips to Regina's, hesitant at first but then with increased pressure, her hand tangling in Regina's hair.
Regina deepens the kiss, her own hand cupping Emma's cheek.
When they part, they're both flushed and smiling sort of dopily.
"That was." Emma swallows. " Wow ."
Wow just about sums it up for Regina too and she can't help but close the gap between them once more, pressing her lips back to Emma's with more urgency this time, her hands sliding to Emma's hips, pressing her up against the counter.
The surprised gasp has them springing apart, both blushing furiously as they turn to face Henry.
"Henry, I-" Regina starts, searching for words to explain but the way a grin spreads its way across his face gives her pause.
" Finally ," He says, like he's been waiting for this forever.
They bring the watermelon outside, Henry announcing gleefully, his eyes absolutely twinkling with mischievous delight, "Guess who I found kissing in the kitchen."
Both Marian and Ruby laugh and then Regina watches in confusion as Ruby pulls a twenty dollar bill out of her pocket and hands it to Marian.
Emma seems to understand what that was about though, because she shoves Ruby's shoulder playfully. "You were betting about this?"
"Sorry?" Ruby smirks, not looking even a little apologetic.
"I can't believe you were betting against us," Emma tsks.
Ruby laughs. "I wasn't betting against you, you dork. I was just betting on you taking a year to sort your shi- stuff out before you got around to kissing Regina. Marian here was feeling a little more optimistic about it. She said someone would make a move within three months."
At that, Regina shoots Marian a look but Marian just shrugs as if to say so what and Henry giggles.
"You couldn't have just held out one more day?" Ruby adds, "I almost won."
"Almost doesn't count," Marian smirks at her.
"I'm still not sure I like these two being friends," Regina says. She's never quite gotten a straight answer about whether Marian and Ruby met that day at the race, or they knew each other before hand, but, either way, they're certainly thick as thieves now.
"Yeah, me either," Emma agrees with a laugh.
"So," Henry says, his eyes still twinkling and his grin still impish, "Does this mean you're gonna start dating my mom now?"
Regina's heart rate quickens at that question.
Emma is clearly startled by it, her cheeks flushing, her gaze darting over to Regina, but she recovers after a minute, ruffling Henry's hair with a grin, "Not gonna lie, kid, I'd like that a lot. But how about we worry about that later? Right now, I do believe you owe me a soccer re-match."
Later when Emma has commandeered the role of barbecue-er and is flipping burgers at the grill, Regina approaches her, leaning in to whisper in her ear, "You know, I wouldn't exactly be opposed to dating."
Emma turns her head and grins over at her, the smile lighting up her entire face. "Yeah?" It's so hopeful.
"Yes," Regina smiles back.
"Okay then," Emma says and somehow that grin of hers gets even brighter, her eyes absolutely shining with happiness.
Regina kisses her then, a quick press of their lips together, just because she can't help herself - because she doesn't have to stop herself from doing that anymore. "Okay," she echoes and it feels like there is nothing but possibilities in front of them, like this is a beginning even if it's not the beginning. It feels rather wonderful.