Emma Swan skidded to a stop in front of a doorway in an obnoxiously over-lit corridor. Her heart was pounding, sweat running down her back beneath a heavy departmentally issued parka. She swallowed nervously, blinking through a pane of safety glass and trying to attract attention with her badge.
The metallic burr of cold air still clung to her, so rapid had her flight through the corridors of Storybrooke's hospital been. She panted as she rapped the glass with an impatient knuckle, trying to ignore the trembling of her hand. She attempted to make eye contact with one of the scrub-clad medical personnel, but it seemed like part of their training involved developing invincible tunnel vision.
“May I help, sheriff?” an unimpressed nurse eventually asked after cracking the door an inch, cocking an eyebrow imbued with a staggering amount of annoyance. She managed to exude an aura of weary exasperation and Emma had rarely met someone so clearly done with a given situation. She was peering over a pair of pince-nez glasses and looked like like she could have used a nap.
“My son is here,” Emma snapped, yanking her hat off her head, wincing as she tugged at her tangled hair. It would have been more convincing as a dramatic gesture if she hadn't been wearing a bobbled monstrosity that Snow had left in her car. “Henry Mills.”
The nurse hummed dubiously. “His mother is already with him.”
“He has two of us,” Emma explained, frustration building. There wasn't a person in Storybrooke ignorant of that fact, though they seemed willing to engage in selective amnesia when it suited them, the fuckers. Emma folded her arms and tried not to pout too pathetically.
“And I have an ER overflowing with sick people,” she snapped, though she did open the door. “Make sure you don't get in the way.”
Emma huffed but bit on her tongue, ensuring that her snarky reply stayed behind her teeth where it belonged. She slouched after the nurse, glaring at the back of her neck and attempting to fix her hair. She'd been out on the pier trying to help retrieve a dinghy that hadn't been properly secured, found drifting lazily around the harbor. Though he'd deny it, she suspected Hook had gotten drunk (again) and tried to make for the high seas (again). She winced at the after effects of salty wind and drizzle, fairly certain she looked an utter wreck. Her gut executed a nervy little flip at the thought of facing Regina Mills in all her furious glory.
Regina Mills, Henry's other mother (his real mother an insecure part of her whispered) was an imposing woman. Aside from the fact that she was more than capable of setting people on fire with nothing more than a thought, she was technically Emma's boss and ruled the town with utter aplomb. She was intelligent, cunning in a way Emma had seldom encountered and didn't often trouble herself with fair play. The fact that she was stunningly gorgeous, possessing a severe beauty bordering on indecent, did not help matters. Emma, who usually thought of herself as pretty attractive and a total bad-ass, was cognizant of the fact that she generally transformed into an awkward mess in front of Henry's other mother. The mayor was always perfectly put together as well, a blaze of sharply tailored power suits and lethal heels.
Except, that was, when Henry was in trouble. Any threat to their son's health or well-being evoked a response that was equal ferocity and terror from the passionate woman. She was different around him, gentler and loving. Their relationship had taken a battering but they seemed to be working through it, Regina now honest and straight with him. It was strange, sometimes, seeing the softness behind her spite and Emma wasn't entirely sure what to do with that strangeness. She found vacillating between blatant lust and abject frustration to be her baseline, annoyingly.
She was led to a curtained bay and abandoned without further ado. She swallowed nervously as memories of Henry lying tiny and pale jumped to the forefront of her mind, displacing her trepidation at the prospect of interacting with an upset Regina.
And upset Regina would be, no doubt. The phone call summoning Emma had been brief but very shrill, beyond what Emma's ear drums could comfortably cope with. As a result, she hadn't really listened, just hastened to the hospital. Regina in anger was a force of nature, but nothing compared to her in fear and nothing frightened her like the idea of harm befalling their son.
Steeling her lady loins, which involved hitching her skinny jeans more firmly around her hips, she approached the drape. Peeking around the curtain, she found herself doing a double take at the sight before her.
Regina Mills, the unfailingly proper and coiffed mayor of Storybrooke, the former Evil Queen herself, was lying on a hospital trolley. Henry was curled into her side, his drooling face pillowed on her chest and likely ruining the expensive black blouse she was wearing.
That's my boy, she mused wryly.
A charcoal blazer was hanging from an IV stand, the matching trousers rumpled and hiked enough to expose a nylon clad ankle. Emma moved into the bay, taking in the scene with a healthy dose of incredulity. Regina's eyes were closed, though red rimmed, her face buried in the crown of Henry's head. Her gaze followed the line of his t-shirt and sweatpants, the latter of which had been cut above the knee of his left leg. An eye-watering neon cast adorned the limb, the scent of fresh plaster hanging in the air. He seemed little the worse for wear, thankfully, snoring softly into Regina's chest.
Emma shifted awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed. When the frantic phone call from Regina had ordered her to proceed to the hospital without delay, she'd assumed their son had been maimed. She was damn relieved to see that wasn't the case, and pleased he'd been looked after so quickly. Clearly Regina's wrath could be used for good, in the right circumstances.
His injury couldn't be too bad, she decided, if he hadn't needed surgery. She'd seen plenty of kids in group homes with fractures, and most of them had been fine after a few weeks. Using her best detective skills, and checking the screenshot of Henry's schedule that Regina had sent her, she deduced he'd hurt himself during gym class. Knowing her son, he'd tripped over his own feet, she mused with fondness.
He snorted in his sleep, shifting closer to his mother, who sighed quietly before blinking sleepy eyes open. Emma's breath caught at the sight, at the unexpected intimacy of it. Regina nuzzled Henry's hair before she glanced around, taking in Emma's presence. Something flashed through her eyes, a sliver of emotion Emma couldn't interpret, before she gently slid out from under Henry, rearranging him on the trolley. Emma's stomach did the flip thing again at the realization Regina in her stockinged feet was actually quite petite. Rumpled and soft, she drew a blanket over their son, kissing his forehead tenderly.
She stood, pointedly not looking at Emma, and stepped into her heels with a smoothness borne of long practice. Pulling on her blazer, Emma could see the moment when her back straightened, rigid shoulders squaring beneath the fabric as the mayor turned hard, impassive eyes to her and wordlessly shoved her out of the cubicle.
Regina couldn't blame her for Henry's accident, obviously, but Emma suspected she would have relished the opportunity to do so. Her earlier hypothesis was confirmed, as well. Henry had landed awkwardly during a game of dodge-ball and broken a bone in his ankle. It wasn't a bad fracture and they didn't seem to think he'd need anything other than immobilization for six weeks. Regina had grumbled something about Charming genes while a harried nurse talked them through caring for the cast.
Alone with one another in the corridor, Regina had pressed a hand to her stomach and turned to Emma, every inch the indomitable ruler of all she surveyed. She began talking about physical therapy and MRI scans and all sorts of important medical interventions, but Emma couldn't draw her attention away from the spot of drool drying on her blouse. It was compelling for reasons she couldn't quite explain, more so when Emma noticed the mascara smudged beneath bloodshot eyes and the tremor shaking a smokey voice.
“Regina,” she interrupted, “he's going to be fine. Kids break bones all the time. It's part of growing up.”
Regina glared at her then. “I certainly didn't,” she sniffed.
Emma shrugged. “Well I broke my wrist riding a bike when I was ten and it didn't slow me down,” she said, rolling said wrist to demonstrate. Something flickered across the other woman's face, again, and Emma lowered her hand lamely. She so rarely understood what the prickly woman was feeling or thinking. She presumed she was pissed off, though, and decided to not bait the bear this time. Regina seemed more upset by this, a simple broken bone, than by some of their magical misadventures and Emma wondered why.
“He's going to be limited in his mobility for the next six weeks, at least,” Regina sighed, frowning. “The timing is unfortunate.”
“Yeah,” Emma agreed, “the budget is due out in a fortnight.”
Regina rubbed her forehead, allowing a hint of fatigue to set her elegant fingers trembling. “It's the busiest time of year for my office.”
It might have been that glimpse of weariness, or Emma's increasing disinhibition around Regina, that led to her heart giving a little thump in her chest. She could pitch in, she reckoned, be of some assistance.
“So, what can I do to help?” she offered, slapping her thighs enthusiastically and earning an elegantly arched, if dubious, eyebrow.
Five days later found Emma rushing into the Mayor's office, breathing heavily. Regina lifted her head sharply, annoyance framed by perfectly straight hair and highlighted by crimson lips. There were numerous enormous stacks of paper littering the desk and several harried mayoral aides hurrying around.
“Miss Swan,” she snapped, frowning, “what are you doing here? You're supposed to be collecting my son from school!”
“The Bug won't start,” she panted, hands on her knees. “The damn thing won't turn over and I do not have time to mess around with it right now. Can I borrow the Benz?”
Emma Swan was no fool and would not have come anywhere near the other woman if she could have avoided it. She disliked drawing attention to her tendency towards being a shit show, in contrast to the consummate adult that was Regina Mills. Sadly, David had taken the truck to deal with a downed tree and Mulan was off in the patrol car, probably bothering the high school kids drinking beer in the woods, again. She could hardly give Henry a piggy back ride home, though if the scowl she was receiving was any indication, Regina was on the cusp of suggesting precisely that.
Dark eyes blazing, the mayor did not look like she was going to agree easily, or at all. Sensing a fight, and knowing that there wasn't enough time to indulge in a row, Emma stepped forward.
“C'mon Regina,” she whined. “Unless you want to collect him?”
Regina didn't bother dignifying that with a response. The whole reason she'd asked Emma to collect Henry in the first place was because she was incredibly busy with preparations for the upcoming budget. By some miracle, Emma had managed to submit her proposal on time and have it lack anything glaringly controversial, in contrast to several other departments.
Regina straightened, striding over to the sideboard, her stilettos clacking across the floor like gunshots. Weaponized femininity at its best, Emma mused as she idly watched the annoyed sway of Regina's hips. She managed to catch the keys tossed at her, only fumbling a bit.
“If you scratch my car, I'm going to have yours dumped off the end of the pier,” she stated with utter conviction. “Though it might smell a bit less rank after a dip in the ocean.”
She spun on her heel, her balance extraordinary, and Emma stomped out the door, unsure if the heat in her cheeks was due to humiliation or lust.
The Benz was to cars what Regina Mills was to women. Beautiful, classy, sleek and more powerful than anything lurking in a sleepy town in Maine had any right being. It was pretty boxy, very much a child of its era, but Emma was quite fond of retro cars. It also clearly predated Henry, given the fact that it was most emphatically not designed with babies in mind. Emma slid the key into the ignition, glee prickling her spine as the engine purred to life.
The leather seats were worn, polished by three decades of a certain perfect derriere, but not shabby or cracked. The upholstery was spotless, too, and there wasn't a speck of dust on the wide dash. The familiar scent of Regina's perfume hung in the air and Emma couldn't help but take a moment to indulge in the luxury of it all.
She slid the seat back and popped the car into drive, rolling out onto the street. The school wasn't far, nothing in Storybrooke was, and she found herself waiting outside in short order. She was slightly late, but Henry was apparently taking his sweet time. Reluctant to get out into the rain, she burrowed her shoulders into the seat, sighing contentedly.
Way better than the Bug.
She supposed that she technically had a leather interior as well, even if it were more duct tape than cow at this stage. Comparing the Benz and the Bug was, well, like comparing Regina and herself. One was a beautiful example of power contained in an immaculate, impeccable exterior while the other was a scruffy, barely functional mobile disaster.
Her mind drifted, as it was wont to do, to the mystery that was Regina Mills. They'd reached a truce after Neverland, falling into something like a civil relationship as they co-parented Henry. He was living with Regina full time again, though prior to his fracture he'd spent the odd evening in the loft with her.
Idly watching the kids trickle out of the doors, keeping one eye peeled for Henry, she flicked the radio on. The device was as high-end as the car, but Emma was pretty sure it had been added later, as the car was from the era of CD players in the trunk. A flick through radio stations left her uninspired and she selected CD input, briefly wondering what kind of music Regina would listen to.
Probably an audio book about serial killers or something.
Noise erupted from the speakers, loud and raw. Emma jumped in her seat, blinking with surprise. Guitars and drums blared, lazy discordance before a woman's voice growled over the speakers. It was rock; grungy, messy rock and it was the last thing that Emma would have expected.
It seemed incredibly incongruous; this yowling, demanding din in the pristine confines of Regina's car. It was the music of dark bars and darker bedrooms. Of too many drinks and loud nights bleeding into messy mornings. The song ended with the singer commanding the listener to bow down to her and Emma felt herself grow slightly warm beneath the collar, the scent of Regina's perfume and the singer's voice colliding in the very depths of her lizard brain.
She was almost relieved when the song ended so her libido could settle itself. The relief was short lived, however, as the next track could only be described as aural sin. It was actually pretty familiar and Emma was ninety percent sure she'd heard it before, possibly while doing something in a gay bar in Boston that she certainly shouldn't have been doing in public.
The song purred through her and her thoughts drifted to the idea of Regina, smokey eyed after a long day. Maybe curled in her office at home, heels still on and hair impeccably styled. Red lipstick hiding a knowing smirk as she crossed one elegant leg over the other.
Thankfully, a decade of stakeouts had left her with fairly decent situational awareness and not even the thought of Regina Mills sliding her heels off was able to distract her from the appearance of Henry. Shaking her head, she hopped out of the car and hurried to her son, helping him with his bag and crutches.
She loaded him into the car and settled back into the driver's seat, swallowing a bit guiltily and trying to ignore the fact she'd been well on the way to a fairly explicit fantasy about her son's mother.
“Mom let you borrow her car?” he asked, blinking disbelieving eyes. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Emma laughed, “she really doesn't want you walking home.”
Henry shrugged, happy for the lift. He wasn't a particularly athletic child and had to be strongly encouraged to do any exercise at all. As such, he was lapping up the chance to be chauffeured around while it lasted. Emma was pretty sure he'd inherited his lazy streak from her but thankfully he'd also inherited a forgiving metabolism. Unluckily for him, he had a good deal of physical therapy in his near future, which Emma was happy to defer mentioning for a while.
Emma started the car again, the radio bopping back to life with a familiar song.
“Oh!” she cried, excitedly as she pulled onto the road, “I know this one!”
Henry blinked at her. “Uh, everyone knows this song.”
She glared at him without much malice, narrowing her eyes.
“So this is your record,” she mused, nodding at that notion as her world returned to a steadier axis. Of course Regina wouldn't listen to music like this, she was much too refined and classy. She blinked then, not entirely sure how she felt about her preteen son listening to music like this.
“No, it isn't,” he replied. “Mom likes Garbage," Henry stated, in a matter of fact manner that left Emma blinking, her jaw hanging open.
"Henry!" she spluttered, "you can't be so dismissive of someone's taste in music!" She frowned at the car ahead, braking carefully and leaving plenty of space between it and the Benz. "Just because your mom is listening to..." she frowned at the radio, not sure what to make of the cacophony issuing from the speakers, "some pretty alternative stuff doesn't mean you can call it trash."
She chanced a glance at him, surprised to see her offspring staring at her as though she was incredibly, profoundly stupid. He looked disturbingly similar to Regina in that moment, genetics be damned.
"Ma," he said, his patronizing tone an exact match for his mother's, "Garbage is the name of this band."
“Oh,” Emma breathed, automatically taking the turn onto Mifflin Street. Jarring guitars and a threatening snarl accompanied them as they pulled into the drive way, cutting out as Emma killed the engine. As Henry fussed with his seat belt and gathered his belongings Emma cast a glance around the interior, rock music still ringing in her ears as she took in the spotless dash, the perfect lines.
It's funny, she thought, how much you can learn about someone from being in their car.
The Bug's ignition system was shot, Michael Tillman had told her. The replacement was relatively cheap, but they had to ship it from a place in Arizona. While she was able to use the cruiser, or ask David for help, she ended up manufacturing excuses to use the Benz more often than not in the days that followed.
There was something utterly intoxicating about driving around enveloped in Regina's scent, listening to Shirley Manson and company rock out. There were some utter bangers on the CD and Emma wondered if it wasn't a compilation or a greatest hits. A lot of the songs were almost indecently sexy but an equal amount were just plain fun. The kind of thing to dance around a smokey bar to.
Well, in the bad old days when bars had been smokey, anyway. She was humming when she pulled up to Regina's office, tapping out a beat against the steering wheel, almost falling into tempo with the steadily pouring rain. Henry had been safely deposited in the mansion and was hopefully doing his homework and not playing a video game. Regina had texted her demanding a lift, as the weather had taken a turn towards the miserable, heavy rain settling in that morning and bringing with it an arctic chill. Regina, unlike their son, had no problem with walking to work but she had numerous problems with being cold and wet.
The passenger door opened and Regina entered backwards, shaking her umbrella as she went. Her cheeks were rosy, nipped by the cold, and the ends of her hair were curling ever so slightly. Her eyes flicked to the radio, narrowing a bit, but Emma just smiled at her, heading for Mifflin Street.
They chatted idly about the day and Emma noticed, from the corner of her eye, that Regina was playing with her fingers. Her dark eyes were studiously trained on the road ahead, pointedly not looking at either the radio or Emma. She shifted in her seat, the motion adorably juvenile as she sat, clearly waiting for Emma to tease her or mock her.
And while Emma would gladly admit that she rather enjoyed their heated banter, she was curious. How had Regina come into possession, or even knowledge, of music like this? Her desire to learn outweighed her desire to have a bit of fun, so she kept her mouth shut, humming along to the radio. Regina seemed to relax in tiny increments, when no comment was passed on her taste in music and she slowly un-threaded her hands, smoothing them over her skirt instead.
They reached the mansion and Regina turned to her, regarding her with an inscrutable expression. “I don't suppose you want to join us for dinner? Henry would be delighted and it's really too wet to walk home.”
Emma smiled at that, sitting up straight in her seat. “Sure, that sounds great.”
“You could drive the Benz home after, then pick us up in the morning,” Regina stated, in the same officious tone of voice she usually reserved for organizing logistics in City Hall. Clearly satisfied with her plan, she nodded sharply and left the car without further comment.
Henry was, predictably, over the moon. He had a big heart and while there was plenty of room in it for both of them, he seemed to especially cherish the time they spent together, all three of them. Regina produced something delicious and warming, which Emma wolfed into her. Afterwards, she'd offered to help with the dishes.
Hands immersed in sudsy water, Emma found herself humming as she scrubbed at a saucepan. Regina was moving around behind her, putting things away and fussing with Tupperware.
“There should be enough in that for some lunch tomorrow,” she said, snapping a lid into place. Emma was pretty sure her entire body perked up at the prospect of leftovers and she grinned her appreciation.
“Thanks!” she returned her attention to the sink, idly singing a couple of lines from Regina's CD that had gotten stuck in her head.
“I came around to tear your little world apart.”
“Your voice really doesn't suit that song,” Regina mused, though without rancor.
“Yeah, well, I'm not too keen on the kind of music that does.” Emma had always been at a loss at what to do with her voice. She could sing, like really sing, but her voice was suited to the kind of flowery ballad you'd hear bursting from a Disney sing-along album. It had been a mystery until relatively recently, meeting her mother having explained a multitude.
Regina chuckled at the notion, shaking her head with the sort of fondness she usually reserved for Henry. “I can only imagine.”
Emma's heart thumped at that. She'd be the first to admit that she had a slightly more than friendly interest in her son's other mother. It was impossible to be in a room with Regina Mills and not feel drawn to her. She was magnetic; commanding attention and more than a little intimidating. Emma was willing to admit that she was attracted to her, she was a red-blooded woman just entering her thirties after all. The thrill of attraction was usually accompanied by that of terror, though, and the suspicion that any kind of intimate contact would leave her bruised in not just enjoyable ways.
This was different, though. This was Regina in her home, the stiff set to her shoulders relaxed just a smidgen. She hadn't fixed her make-up and her forehead was ever so slightly shiny. The coldness had thawed, just enough to compel Emma to talk, to try and reach the enigmatic woman she'd sometimes glimpsed those times they embraced Henry together, or during long nights in Neverland.
“I didn't figure you for a fan of rock,” she remarked, turning to lean against the sink with as casual an air as she could manage. Which was probably not very casual and very awkward.
Regina Mills actually blushed at that. Emma's eyes almost launched themselves from their sockets at the wholly unexpected sight.
“I suppose you imagined me listening to NPR and classical music.”
Emma shrugged, because she wasn't too far off the mark. “Garbage are pretty cool. I heard some of their songs before but not for years.”
Regina nodded, fiddling with her fingers for a moment before she took Emma's leftovers in her hands, firmly grasping the container.
“They're a talented band. I enjoy their honesty.”
“Honesty?” Emma echoed, her lunch placed gently in her hands. Regina turned from her, dismissal clear in the way she moved. It was softened, somewhat, when her blush spread and placed a flawless, shining apple on top of the tub, glancing up at Emma with a completely unreadable expression.
The next morning, Emma was humming to herself as Regina juggled Henry's crutches and school bag. She fit them in the back, asking Henry about an up and coming book report as she went. He chattered away as he strapped himself in. Regina popped the seat-back into position and smoothed her coat as she greeted Emma with studied politeness.
Emma grinned like a dope as she reversed out of the driveway, tickled by the domesticity of the whole situation. It was something she resented, usually. When Snow or David tried to encourage family activities, it made her skin crawl and ignited her desire to flee to a different state. It felt so forced, so artificial. Cloying and suffocating. As though all the years of hurt and loneliness had never happened or worse, that they didn't matter.
This, though, was different. She was involved in the little family dynamic in a way that seemed pretty organic. She had a role, jobs to do. She felt useful. God help her, she sometimes even felt wanted which brought her onto very unfamiliar footing. Even if Regina could be a giant bitch at times, and Henry a little shit, they all somehow fit together. Their rough edges caught against each other and creaked along like little cogs.
Given that she was being treated as a glorified taxi driver didn't lessen her enjoyment of the situation, in the slightest, and she found herself singing along to the now familiar songs on the radio.
With a sound of exasperation, Regina leaned forward and removed the CD from the player, earning a little pout from Emma.
“Hey, that was getting to the good bit!”
“Listening to music on repeat is a sure sign of mental instability, Miss Swan,” Regina chided. She carefully placed the CD back in its case (because of course she did). To Emma's surprise though, she produced another CD from her purse, cracking the case and sliding it into the player.
“This is their second album,” she explained, primly. “I thought you might enjoy it.”
Warmth, dangerous and expansive, spread though her chest and she chanced a glance at Regina. She was staring resolutely ahead, a pink tinge to her cheeks that did more to disarm Emma than she should have been comfortable with.
“Oh! This is a fun one!” Henry chirped, “it has that ba ba ba song on it!”
“It does,” Regina confirmed, a wide smile evident in her voice. There was the usual maternal warmth she seemed to exude around their son, but also a little bit of glee, the happiness of sharing interests with a receptive audience. She skipped forward several songs, clearly knowing the track listing by heart, and Henry sang along tunelessly.
The sparkling laugh that burst from Regina's lips at their son's antics did the sort of dreadful things to Emma's heart that Regina's ass did to her libido.
They pulled up at the town hall several minutes later and Regina fluffed her hair as she wished Henry, who was still dancing in his seat, goodbye. She turned to Emma, her dark eyes a bit gentler than usual, the mirth their son had roused shining happily there. Jesus, it looked good on her.
“Thank you for the lift, Emma,” she said, politely.
“Thanks for letting me borrow your car,” Emma replied. “I'll drop the kid to school and park up here after. I can use the cruiser today.”
Regina nodded, pausing for a moment. “You can borrow the CD, if you'd like, but if you scratch it I'm docking your wages.”
Emma gave her a lazy salute, Regina's wrath ameliorated by the fact that she was handing her a travel mug and a small Tupperware container that probably contained something aggressively healthy for breakfast. Emma watched her go, her steps quick and tightly controlled as she crossed to the door. Her modest skirt was paired with towering heels, showing off the definition in her toned calves and Emma wondered where she found the time to work out. And also kind of wondered what those calves would feel like wrapped around her back.
“When I grow up, I'll be stable,” Henry sang, crooning along to the track.
Emma sighed at that and muttered under her breath. “Oh, not if you take after your mothers, buddy.”
Emma was leaning back in the chair at her desk, earphones snug and music blaring. She was enjoying her trawl through Garbage's discography, the process somehow more enjoyable when accompanied by the idea of one Regina Mills doing the same. There was an unexpected intimacy there, she mused. It was like getting an insight into someone's favorite author or seeing someone's underwear.
Thoughts of Regina's underwear, likely silky and incredibly expensive, flitted through her mind and she closed her eyes. She fully acknowledged that the closest she was ever likely to come to Regina's underthings would be if she did her laundry. That might be a way to quench her crush, actually; graduated exposure in a completely non-sexual context.
That she'd engage in such chores for Regina was, in all honesty, becoming more likely by the day. Her infatuation was getting a touch out of hand, she was willing to admit, and she found herself almost craving those little domestic moments they'd been sharing. The idea of folding Henry and Regina's socks turned something in her chest disturbingly gooey, which was surely a symptom of her decline from a bad-ass into a whipped mess.
Well, we always knew you weren't cool, Swan.
A bang startled her and her eyes flew open, an undignified yelp issuing from her lips. Ruby Lucas, replenishment in a tiny pair of shorts and an over sized sweater popped into being before her, a grin stretching her lips. She was holding two takeout cups and had an eyebrow raised. Emma was left with the same kind of sheepish shame she'd felt the last time Mary Margaret had walked in on her masturbating.
“Do not sneak up on people who carry a gun like that!” Emma admonished, scrambling to right herself.
Ruby shrugged. “Pretty sure you ain't packing silver bullets, Emma.” She tipped her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Emma squeaked, coughing to clear her throat. The guileless Mary Margaret hadn't looked half so suspicious, she groused internally. “What's up?”
Ruby rolled her eyes with enough force that Emma was surprised her skull didn't lift off. “Urgh, Granny decided to change the floor cleaner and I just had to leave until the place airs out a bit. It fucking stinks in there.”
Emma winced at that, accepting the coffee happily. What was with people giving her tasty beverages today, she wondered, and how could she ensure it continued?
“It's almost a full moon and I'm two days off getting my period,” she sighed dramatically. “We are nothing but captives of these bodies.”
“At least you've got a damn fine prison,” Emma offered, helpfully. Ruby grinned at that and they lapsed into an enjoyable conversation, drifting between topics with ease. And if she found herself circling back to Regina more than once, and if she caught the knowing look in Ruby's eyes, well that was OK.
She'd been invited to dinner again, that Friday, despite the fact that she hadn't needed to collect Henry. Regina had texted her, formal and staid, but she'd had a pleased smile on her face when Emma had arrived with a bottle of wine and her CD safely tucked in its case. Henry dragged her into the dining room with his usual enthusiasm and they all shared a tasty meal.
Emma dried her hands after washing up, hanging the hand towel back on its hook carefully. She was pleasantly full after dinner and quite relaxed after the glass of wine which had accompanied it. Regina was settling Henry in bed and Emma found herself wondering what to do with her Friday night. She wasn't due to cover patrol that weekend, Mulan was on duty, and she found herself tempted to head over to the Rabbit Hole for a nightcap. Ruby wouldn't be out but you never knew who might be around.
She didn't feel restless, exactly, but was in a good mood and didn't fancy retreating to the loft to watch Netflix in bed over earphones. She was in surprisingly decent form, which wasn't a particularly common occurrence, and she felt like capitalizing on it. She wasn't a particularly dour person, but she wasn't effusively cheerful either.
Regina returned on silent feet, her heels discarded upstairs. Emma was once again struck by how short the other woman was, not that she herself was particularly tall. It tugged at the soft part of her, the gentle part, that felt the pull towards Regina Mills in all her quiet moments. She was still wearing her dress from the day, a comfortable looking black number, but had removed her jewelry. She looked younger without it, less severe and somehow even more beautiful than usual.
“He all good?”
“Settled and reading for half an hour,” Regina answered, smiling proudly at the thought of him.
“Cool,” Emma replied, shoving her hands in her pockets. The thought that Regina could be involved in her Friday night, in any capacity, buzzed through her, as effervescent as champagne fizz. She drew a breath, about to reluctantly bid the other woman farewell, before she said something dumb, when Regina stepped more fully into the kitchen.
“I was wondering, would you like a drink?” she offered, her voice polite and controlled. She was pressing a hand against her stomach and Emma almost melted at the sight. Someone capable of turning her inside out with magic had no business being so nervous. Or so endearing, for that matter.
“Sure,” she agreed, a surge of happiness trickling through her, her Friday night prospects greatly improved.
Regina nodded at that, tight satisfaction in the gesture. She turned and to Emma's surprise, headed for the basement, striding down the stairs.
“If you're luring me down here to finally be rid of me...”
“Don't be silly, dear,” she drawled, “if I wanted you gone, I wouldn't bring you somewhere with carpet.”
Emma was intrigued. She'd never been in Regina's basement, had never wondered what it might be like, which now seemed like an enormous oversight. Was it like the vault? Did she have a pool table?
Regina flicked a switch and recessed light fixtures glowed into being, illuminating a surprisingly comfortable room. It was pretty big, with a short bar along one wall and a large built-in entertainment system along the opposite. A projector hung from the ceiling, aimed towards the plain white wall at the far end. Emma peeked through a nearby door and was startled to see a dozen or so plastic vats in a small room, some with airlocks protruding from the top. A musty, yeasty smell filled the air, the sweet after-note of decay not at all unpleasant; autumn captured in a jar.
Huh. So she really does brew that cider herself.
The whole place was tastefully decorated, stained wood and warm dark colors predominating. It was more plainly adorned than most of Regina's home, understated and comfortable. Emma felt more at ease in it than she did in any room in the mansion, except maybe the kitchen. It was the kind of place she could envisage a teenage Henry chilling out with friends or Regina relaxing on the sofa. She could imagine herself there, too, cradled in the low light and scent of polished wood. Dangerous thoughts. Regina moved to stand behind the bar, raising an eyebrow at her appraisal but pointedly not inviting her opinion.
Emma wandered back to the bar, her feet sinking into the thick carpet, a smile spreading over her face at the light blush dusting Regina's cheeks. She wouldn't have imagined her basement like this, at all, no more than she would have predicted Garbage in the CD player. Regina held herself stiffly, clearly a little out of her depth, but rallying admirably.
“What can I get you?”
“What you got?” Emma asked, sliding onto one of the handful of high stools. It sported a comfortable leather seat with a padded backrest and she sighed contentedly. This was the life.
“Wine, cider, liquor, beer,” she listed, shrugging at the end. “A decent variety.”
“Beer?” Emma asked, feeling her eyebrows shoot up a little in surprise. Regina glared at her without malice, as though daring her to speak, the little blush still high on her cheeks. Emma was disinclined to put her chance for beer and good company at risk, so she nodded eagerly. Regina ducked down, bottles rattling as she rooted through the fridge. She straightened a moment later, a beer and glass in hand.
“It's from a little place out near Ellsworth,” she supplied, opening the bottle and skillfully pouring the golden liquid. Emma reached out for the empty bottle when she'd finished, reading the label. An IPA, huh? Regina was pouring herself a glass of red wine, the crimson liquid catching the low light in the room. “Their stuff is decent enough.”
“Not your style, though.”
Regina shrugged, wandering over to the entertainment center. “I don't mind it. A nice cold beer on a hot day can be refreshing. And I had plenty of it in the enchanted forest.”
Emma turned to follow her as she moved, immediately intrigued. She rarely heard anyone speak of life in the enchanted forest. She heard them talk about grand deeds and doom and war but never the little intricacies of daily life.
“Doesn't seem like a drink fit for a queen.”
“Well the water certainly wasn't,” Regina replied, arching an eyebrow as she stooped to kneel on the carpet. She opened a cupboard door, peering inside. “Unless you liked dysentery.”
Emma digested that and the beer for a moment, watching as Regina took a CD from the shelf and moved to a very fancy looking stereo, slotting it in. She fiddled with some buttons before making her way back to the bar.
Guitars twanged, lively and slightly messy. A raspy, enthusiastic voice followed, her accent and cadence quite unusual. They listened for a moment, Emma certain she'd heard the song before. She laughed when the chorus rang through, recognizing the tune.
“I remember this! That X-Files song.” She sipped the hoppy ale, licking the foam from her lips afterwards. “One hit wonders, huh?”
“Oh, don't let the people of Wales hear you say that,” Regina warned. She took a seat beside Emma, playing with the stem of her glass and letting her eyes slip somewhat shut and nodding along with the music.
“You've got a type, huh?” Emma asked, as the song rolled into the next. “Grungy rock, women with things to say.”
Regina curled her lip slightly, peering up at her enigmatically. “You could say that. Better than courtly minuets, at least.”
“You aren't wrong,” Emma agreed, taking another long gulp of beer. “So, what's the deal with this band, huh? I only know this song.”
Regina's eyes brightened and she launched into an enthusiastic account of Cerys Matthews and Catatonia.
The inhabitants of Storybrooke were quite inconsistent with when they celebrated anniversaries, be they of birth, death or marriage. Part of the problem was that there was still lingering confusion over how the calendar in the enchanted forest translated to the world they currently inhabited. Months had been counted differently and unless your day fell on a solstice or equinox, it was tricky to correlate with accuracy. It wasn't unheard of for people to just adapt and use the dates assigned by the curse.
Regina's birthday, for instance, was pretty easy to figure out. She'd been born on the spring cross quarter day, which fell on the first of February. Red, by contrast, had been born three days after the third full moon after the summer solstice, but before the autumn cross quarter. Since remembering, she'd taken to celebrating her birthday on the day assigned by the curse (which was in March) and a random Saturday in late October.
Emma suspected it was an excuse to get free beer twice a year (it was) but wasn't going to complain about a chance to blow off some steam. David was watching the station and Mary Margaret had elected to feed the birthday girl at hers before the adventures began.
Emma took a long gulp of beer and sighed happily, feeling unusually content with life. She had a job, enough money to buy her friends a few rounds and no one was trying to arrest her, hunt her down or kill her. She had a fantastic kid and good friends. As far as her personal metrics went, she couldn't expect anything better.
Her thoughts drifted to Regina, as had been their wont, recently. Over the course of the previous couple of weeks, things had really started to get out of hand. What had been a lusty attraction to a former bitch in heels she'd spent so much time fighting had changed. She was definitely more attracted to Regina recently, drawn to the wry humor and guarded kindness behind her abrasive shell. She was starting to understand her more and more, to get closer to what made her tick.
And, surprisingly, the more she discovered the more she liked. The more she knew of Regina, the more she wanted to. Sure, she was a snarky cow when she wanted to be but she was also considerate and gentler than she let on. She had a surprisingly big heart and loved Henry with absolute abandon. Spending time around them, being able to witness that, was helping to heal a raw edge to her heart she'd never thought could recover. Regina was far from a saint, and hadn't always been the best mom to Henry, but she was trying to do better with the same determination she brought to bear on every other aspect of her life. It did Emma the world of good to see what a decent mother looked like.
Emma had once demanded to know what happened to Regina to make her the way she was and having met Cora, and grown to understand more about how the enchanted forest had actually worked, she was starting to gain an insight. She was also starting to realize, with cautious optimism, that sometimes you could actually escape the constraints and shackles of a shitty upbringing. That you could avoid inflicting your own bullshit on another generation.
She was interrupted by the appearance of Ruby, who wrapped gangling arms around her neck.
“Emma! You came!”
Emma lifted an eyebrow. “I got here before you, Rubes,” she laughed, eyeing her slightly trashed friend.
“Oh, me and Belle had some drinks with dinner, you know how it is!” Ruby and Belle had eaten dinner with Snow in the loft, in order to help her feel included in the festivities. She was pregnant and refusing to go within fifty yards of alcohol and Emma was a big enough person to admit to feeling a smidgen of relief at that. Getting trashed in the vicinity your prim, proper and pregnant mom was just beyond the pale. In fact, she was most pointedly not thinking about Snow's new arrival, not unless she was good and drunk.
Belle, Ashley and a few others were gathered at the bar, ordering drinks from a severely put-upon dwarf. They greeted her enthusiastically, clearly having dosed themselves before leaving their homes. Even Mulan looked a little more relaxed than usual.
“So I asked Regina to come, too,” Ruby said, accepting a shot of something the color of day old coffee from a generous hand with an admirable air of nonchalance. “I met her in the diner this afternoon. She mentioned Henry was sleeping over with Nick.”
Emma's eyebrows shot into her hair line. She'd been aware of the sleep over and a sneaky, horny part of her had been tempted to invite herself over to Mifflin Street. She'd tamped down on the impulse, recognizing a dangerous idea, and left Regina to her own devices. Devices which were now intersecting with her own. She gulped, disguising her nerves with a sip of beer.
“That's a change. Didn't think you were friendly.”
Ruby shrugged. “Well, she's been worried about Henry. You know she's come into the diner every lunch time to bring him a hot chocolate at school?” Emma had not known about that, not at all, and she was sure her jaw would be hanging open were she not biting the edge of her glass. “Something about calcium and bones healing. She sometimes doesn't even have time to finish her lunch before she has to leave.”
Ruby was slightly drunk, her blue eyes glazed a bit, but that seemed to bring Red, the wolf, into sharper focus. She was older than Emma knew what to do with, a hard gained wisdom in sad eyes. “It sucks being left out, so I figured she should come. Besides, you've been spending time with her.”
It was said without accusation, a factual statement, but Emma still felt a little thrill run down her spine. It had been noticed? It wasn't fear that hopped down the bumps of her back, or even concern, but a frisson of excitement. The idea of being associated with Regina felt surprisingly good to her. Despite their fraught history and the madness that was their past, there was something about being seen as a team that appealed enormously.
Still, though, Ruby was peering at her with a smugness that Emma found highly irritating and she scowled at her.
“We have,” she agreed, slowly sipping her beer. “We've been spending a bit more time together since Henry broke his ankle.”
“Yeah,” Ruby said, snorting with mirth and eyeing her with fond exasperation. She downed her shot, not even flinching. “You wear her perfume well, Emma.”
Several outraged blinks followed as Red cackled away, shouting for more shots. Emma spluttered in indignation, her throat bobbing as she tried to avoid choking on her beer or snorting it out her nose.
“If I didn't know better,” a husky voice behind her chuckled, “I'd say you weren't used to drinking.”
Emma somehow, amazingly, managed to swallow. Which was lucky, because if she'd had anything in her mouth, Regina would be wearing it.
She was dressed in her black leather jacket, undoing the belt as she eyed Emma with amusement, and actual jeans. They were dark and tight, with a slight flare at the ankle, resting snugly over a gorgeous pair of leather boots. She was wearing a touch more makeup than usual, her eyes smokey and utterly captivating in the low light.
“Drink?” Emma squeaked, then cleared her throat with an embarrassed cough. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Regina smoothed her crimson roll neck sweater and peered up from beneath thick eyelashes, amusement sharpening her gaze. “A whiskey sour, please, and make sure the dwarf doesn't spit in it.”
Several hours later found Emma dancing with an enthusiastic Ruby, jumping around to a thumping beat. She was laughing freely, spinning Emma in deceptively strong arms. Ruby had discovered a few of her own favorites on the jukebox and her enthusiasm was contagious. No Scrubs was blaring, Ruby singing along with the chorus.
“Oh man,” she crowed, “I love this song!”
“Who doesn't?” Emma laughed. She was firmly of the opinion that you'd have to be out of your mind to not love TLC. She'd spent several months scrubbing dishes in prison and the only thing that had kept herself and her two companions sane was access to a half-busted stereo and four CDs. Fanmail had definitely been the pick of the bunch. Emma was pretty sure she could still sing the whole damn album from start to finish, too. Ruby hooted with mirth, spinning one last time as the song ended.
“Come on, we gotta thank the DJ!”
Emma laughed as Ruby dragged her over to the jukebox. Regina was flicking through the selection, peering with intense focus and concentration. Ruby had given her a pretty broad remit when it came to choosing music, though she'd mentioned that she preferred pop and R&B, and Regina had gamely queued the music. Emma was pretty damn sure that the music selection hadn't been updated since the turn of the millennium, but she was more than happy to continue to spin down memory lane. They approached, Emma noticing that Regina was so wrapped up in what she was doing that she didn't notice their approach until Ruby bumped her with a hip.
Emma was fairly certain Ruby was about to be either spayed or put to sleep, but clearly Regina had been mellowed by a couple of drinks and merely blinked, cautious but not annoyed.
“Great choice!” Ruby chirped, “you've got pretty awesome taste in music.”
“I have good taste in everything,” Regina sniffed, but preened slightly at the compliment. Emma felt her chest melt a little as she took in the sight of her. Oh, she was a goner, alright.
“You should dance!” Ruby enthused, waving her hand at the dance floor with a flourish. “Come on! I'll pick the next one and you guys get out there!”
Regina looked a bit startled by that idea and turned to Emma with wide eyes and a clenched jaw. Emma ducked her head, a blush hidden by dim lighting. Ruby whooped and fiddled with the machine, choosing It's Not Right (But It's OK). Emma perked up, it actually being another song she knew and loved. She had some fond, albeit fuzzy, memories of getting too drunk after her release from prison and tearing several dance floors up. She danced along with the beat, skipping out to the dance floor, beckoning after her. “Come on!” Emma said, in her best wheedling tone, “it'll be fun.”
It was, as it turned out, but mainly because Regina was actually a pretty awkward dancer. She was formal and tightly wound, not able to ease herself into the rhythm with any panache. It was surprising, Emma thought, because Regina was generally elegant and more than a bit sensuous, when it served her. She seemed a little out of her depth, though, glancing around at the other patrons of the bar with self-conscious eyes. It was far more adorable than it should have been.
“Have we finally found something her majesty can't do?” Emma teased, hoping to distract her and earning a baleful glare.
“I'll have you know I can waltz beautifully.”
Emma lifted an eyebrow at the song playing. It wasn't exactly conducive to waltzing but at that moment it trailed off, something softer replacing it. Chords picked out on guitar, chased by strings as they wrapped around a voice steeped in melancholic yearning. Regina's eyes lit with recognition and delight, which did dreadful things to the pit of the sheriff's stomach. Emma glanced around, realizing that Ruby had abandoned them in favor of body shots at the bar. Given that it was her body, no one was paying them the slightest bit of attention.
“Oh yeah?” Emma drawled, sketching a small bow. “May I have this dance, then?”
She held out her hand, a stupid smile plastered on her face, and couldn't help a little thrill as Regina reached out, sliding her fingers across her palm and taking a firm grip. She laid the other on Emma's shoulder and stepped a bit closer, enough that the scent of her perfume tickled Emma's senses deliciously.
Her waist was warm, her gaze warmer. The ice she normally fought to encase herself in melting away, a happy crinkle to her eyes. The song filled the bar and those amber eyes slid shut, a smile curling her lip and doing incredible things to the little scar above it.
Oh holy fuck, no one has any business being this gorgeous.
“I love this song,” Regina murmured, swaying in time to the music, her earlier awkwardness fading in increments as they drew together, wandering to the far end of the dance floor. The lights were dim there, fairy lights draped over a mirror proving most of the illumination. Emma stepped a little closer again, blinking in wonder as they stepped in time to the music, hips and feet moving in slow synchronicity, ignoring and ignored by the rest of the bar.
“What's it called?” she asked, for want of something to say.
“Linger, by the Cranberries,” Regina replied, opening her eyes and smiling up at Emma.
There was something there, Emma marveled, something vulnerable and genuine. Emma tightened her hand reflexively, suddenly feeling enormously lucky to be where she was. They swayed to the music, Emma ruefully smiling at the lyrics and watching how the dim light reflected in Regina's eyes seemed to melt the gold at the edges of her irises.
“I'm really glad Ruby asked you to come,” she confessed, chuckling.
Regina blinked several times, peering up, appearing completely surprised by the sentiment. She was quiet for a long moment, lost to her own internal dialogue.
“I'm glad I came, too,” she said softly, “you're actually a lovely dancer.”
Emma grinned at that and tightened her grip. “You're lovely in general,” she blurted, clearly unable to form sensible thoughts in the face of Regina's beauty and the rare glimpse of her softer side. Emma cringed as Regina laughed, ducking her head to conceal her mirth, as though she didn't want to finish the last scraps of dignity Emma was clinging to.
“Idiot,” she admonished, with so much fondness that Emma almost stopped moving altogether. They both knew that lovely wasn't exactly the first adjective anyone would use to describe Regina Mills, but maybe it had been, once upon a time.
They were quiet for a while, listening to the song which suddenly seemed entirely apt. Emma shrugged, trying to retain at least a little bit of cool.
“Fool, maybe?” she said, tipping her chin at the jukebox. Regina's laughter ceased and Emma was certain a blush darkened her cheeks.
“Really?” she asked, her hand grasping at Emma's shoulder a bit more firmly then. They listened to the chorus for a moment, wrapped in the melody and the sentiment there.
“I am. You do.”
Oh, there was something exquisitely tender in Regina's eyes then, something full of old sorrow and youthful hope. Something borne amidst frantic danger and unbelievable happenings. Something solidified by moments bonding over Henry and the minutiae of their lives slowly creaking into alignment. Emma wondered, as she often did, what Regina was thinking and found her head tipped to one side in question, singing along to the end of the chorus, her nerves needing an outlet.
“For a while yet, anyway,” Regina whispered, smile gone but expression lit with something resembling hope.
Two weeks passed by, in which very little changed except, of course, everything. Regina still sniped at her about stupid paperwork and she was still ferrying their son around like a cab driver, but the glimpses of Regina's gentler side became more frequent. She was still guarded but much less prickly, allowing Emma to borrow CDs as she pleased and providing her with lunch more often than she didn't.
Her mother and father had commented on how nice it was that Emma and Regina were getting along better, for Henry's sake. This had earned a huge blush, a lot of stammering and several confused looks. Ruby had teased her relentlessly, too, the only person not distracted during their little dance, damn her lupine senses.
“Admit it, Emma,” she laughed one afternoon as they ambled down main street, breath steaming in the chilly air, “you have a giant crush on Regina.”
“I am far too old for crushes,” she complained.
“No, you're not, and this one can be seen from space.”
Emma huffed and protested some more, and Ruby had laughed, calling her a disaster. She'd wished her well, though, encouraging her to actually do something about their situation.
“Regina can barely stand me,” Emma groused. “You don't go from just about tolerating someone to wanting into their pants in such short order.”
“You did,” Ruby pointed out in a reasonable tone, earning a glare.
Later, when Emma was sitting cross legged in Regina's basement, flicking through her CD collection, that conversation crossed her mind. Her gaze turned to Regina, who was sitting on the couch, her legs curled beneath her. She was dressed casually, lost in an over sized sweater and loose bottoms. Her eyes were closed, her lips moving as she mimed along to the song playing.
Emma's chest, already a gooey mess of lust and much stronger, scarier emotions, clenched at the sight of her.
“You know I still find it wild that you listen to music like this,” she remarked. They were currently listening to the Cardigans, Emma pleasantly surprised by their back catalog. “If I'd had to guess, I would have gone with classical stuff, you know?”
Regina opened her eyes slowly, lifting a bemused eyebrow. “I do have a soft spot for Beethoven.” Emma chuckled at that and rolled her eyes. Of course she did.
“All your stuff is from the late nineties or after,” Emma mused. “What did you listen to when you first got here?” It still took some vigorous mental gymnastics to remember that Regina was a hell of a lot older than she looked, what with spending almost thirty years not aging.
Pain flashed across her face as she withdrew herself, curling in and flicking her eyes away. Emma froze, much as she would with a skittish animal. Her gaze was focused somewhere far away, her knuckles whitening on the steaming mug of tea in her hand. Her jaw worked and she swallowed, seeming to fight some sort of war within her own head.
“I didn't listen to music when I got here,” she admitted, slowly. Her eyes cut up, a long moment passing before she spoke again, her words carefully weighed and considered. “When I got here, I think I was so shocked at being free, at finally being in control of my own life, that I didn't know what to do with myself. I don't actually remember a lot of the first decade of being here.”
Emma swallowed at that, nodding for her to continue, terrified to break the fragile moment with a careless comment. Regina set her mug down on an end table and tucked her hair behind her ear, smoothing it down.
“And that was fine, for a while. I thought it was better, not feeling anything than still burning like I had done.” She dropped her hand, then fiddled with her fingers, quiet for a moment. “But it was starting to wear me down. I remember having to drive up to Portland on some town business and stopping to get lunch. The radio was playing and this random song just erupted onto the speakers.”
She was lost in the memory, her eyes unfocused, her voice soft and Emma was captivated, utterly so. She took a sip of cocoa, licking cream from her top lip and luxuriating in the familiar treat.
“It was a woman. She was passionate and powerful and sounded so strong.” Her gaze met Emma's again and it held immense sorrow. “In the other world, women weren't meant to be heard. It was considered unseemly to be loud. Unladylike.”
Emma didn't know what Regina had been like when she was young, through from the few remarks Snow had passed, she'd been kind enough for her to be happy with her as a step-mother, initially. The Evil Queen certainly hadn't been quiet, though, she'd been a conflagration of rage, power and spite. Emma hadn't been able to get anyone to really talk about what had gone on, in anything except the vaguest of terms, but having lived in one or two places where children were to be seen and not heard, she had an inkling.
Emma snorted. “I think I dodged a bullet, there.”
Regina chuckled at that, something fond in her expression. “I don't think being raised as a princess would have suited you, dear.”
They were quiet for a moment, before Emma cleared her throat.
Regina jumped a little, as though startled, and flushed. As though no one had ever asked her to do so. She swallowed and shifted on the couch.
“Well, it was a revelation. I'd never heard anything like it and I wanted to hear more. I found a record store and well,” she waved a hand at the CDs Emma was sitting beside and shrugged. “As time went on, I began to feel constrained by the curse. I realized I was trapped, as much as I had been before, and music was a way to escape. I read all about the singers and bands, anything I could. I read a lot, in general.”
“You ever go to any concerts?”
Regina snorted at that. “Hardly. I didn't like leaving town for more than a few hours, certainly not overnight, and the idea of being alone in a crowd was not appealing.”
Emma sat digesting that, empathy filling her at the idea of Regina, alone in a static world. While she valued routine, she also enjoyed solving problems and actually using her brain. Emma couldn't imagine the dynamic woman faring well with a monotonous life of any description.
“I don't own a single CD,” she offered. “When I was in the system, there wasn't any chance of a foster kid being allowed to use a CD player and the Bug only has a radio. Not even eight track.”
“Well,” Regina said, after a long, loaded moment, “you can borrow anything you want from here, whenever you want.” A pause, before a playful smiled curled her lip. “As long as it stays in the right case.”
How they'd managed to fall into their little routine was still something of a mystery to Emma, but she was enjoying herself far too much to actually question the state of affairs. The Bug was fixed, ignition now stuttering to life without too much complaint. How long Germany's best automotive effort would continue to trundle through life was anyone's guess, but Emma was optimistic for the moment.
Despite being a two car family again once more, Regina was still allowing Emma unfettered access to the Benz. This came with the obligation to convey the Mayor and Henry about the town but Emma couldn't find a single problem with that setup. Those little moments were becoming more and more precious to her (even if they sometimes led to her being roped into doing groceries). There was something about driving, she mused, that allowed people to open up. Maybe it was the fact that no one was looking directly at one another, or the distraction provided the world passing by outside the windows.
Regina had also allowed Emma unfettered access to her CDs, which she was enjoying even more. She'd never had much of a chance to curate a music collection, or a collection of anything, come to think of it. Moving so frequently as a child and a teenager hadn't been conducive to amassing belongings. She'd had a hard enough time guarding essentials from theft, after all. She'd rarely had much money until she'd been well into her twenties, either. Food, clothes and shelter had trumped luxuries.
Survival had been paramount. She'd been on her own, entirely without backup or support. Gathering a music collection had been so far down her list of priorities that it had never occurred to her that it might be a nice thing to have.
In all honesty, she'd noticed that about a lot of things in her life. She defaulted to fast food and soft drinks because they were cheap and easy to obtain. She hadn't learned to cook because she'd so rarely had access to a kitchen. As much as she groused about Regina's stupid kale salads, they were actually pretty tasty and Regina's home cooking had been a damn revelation. She made it seem so effortless and never took shortcuts despite all the preparation needed before hand.
Emma still found herself checking herself, sometimes. She'd select the cheapest option available in a supermarket or a restaurant, despite actually being able to afford proper food. She still wasn't entirely sure what constituted decent food and had found herself watching Regina and Henry like a hawk when she shopped with them to try and figure it out.
Henry was limping along side the shopping cart she was pushing, a list written in Regina's elegant script clutched in her own sweaty paw. Henry was offering instruction as they went, his hands out of commission. When they'd gone shopping before, he'd scurried around and flung produce into the cart faster than she could follow. It had seemed a lot easier when he'd done it, honestly. She hadn't needed to figure out which brand of damn pasta Regina found acceptable (a mid range offering that was proud of its outrageously high gluten content) or what kind of tomatoes she wanted (firm cherries for salads and soft beef for cooking).
“I think we're having chili tonight,” Henry mused.
“Oh yeah?” Emma enthused, eyes lighting up. “I love chili.”
“So does mom. She always cooks a huge pot,” Henry sighed happily. “She might even make burritos with the leftovers.”
Emma doubted she'd ever heard a more enticing sentence, if the enthusiastic involvement of her salivary glands was anything to go by.
“I can't wait to learn to cook,” Henry piped. “Mom's actually started letting me use the good knives.”
“Awesome,” Emma offered, though sorrow lanced through her briefly. “It's a good skill to have.” One he'd have because he'd been raised by Regina, and not her.
Her boy was nothing if not canny, and glanced at her with an expression all his mother's. “Maybe she could teach us together?”
Emma shrugged, not especially keen to commit. “Dog new tricks...” she sang, winking at Henry. He sang along with her, hopping along on his crutches as they finished their tour of the supermarket.
“Mom was singing, too,” he said, propped up against the conveyor belt as he helped empty the cart. He tipped his head to one side. “Like, just a little, but I haven't heard her do it since I was really young.”
Emma was immediately intrigued. “She can sing?”
Henry shrugged. “Yeah, but she doesn't do it much. I think she gets embarrassed.” He paused for a moment, lost in thought. “When I was little, before I found out about the curse, she used to sing to me a lot. We'd go down to the basement and she'd let me choose the songs.”
Emma's chest clenched at the thought. Of a little Henry bopping around with his mother, all exuberance and joy. Of Regina caught in a moment of happiness with their son, singing without restraint.
It tore at something in her, the part of her that softened during those moments of unexpected intimacy with the Mills family. When Henry goofed around with her or Regina rolled her eyes with fondness instead of scorn. She couldn't help but feel incredibly lucky, in that moment. She'd gotten her cake (Henry having his best damn chance to avoid the shitty upbringing she'd suffered) and it was so far beyond what she could have imagined for him, that she was satisfied with whatever crumbs that might fall from their table.
“You seriously clean your own car?” Emma joked, several days after shopping with Henry, taking in the scene in front of her with a raised eyebrow. “And here I thought you used magic.” Regina, dark head visible on the opposite side of the vehicle, clearly hadn't heard her. A lopsided smile eased onto Emma's face at the sight before her as she picked her way over the vacuum cleaner, hose and power cord coiled on the cement floor of Regina's large garage.
She waved a hand under her nose, the scent of dash cleaner pungent in the air. Macy Grey was purring from the car radio and Emma leaned in through the open passenger door, turning the volume down to something less likely to blow her eardrums out of her skull. A goofy smile broke over her face at the music, something within her rendered soft and gooey by a husky voice and a gentle bass line.
Regina's face popped into view, blinking almost comically. She was wearing a worn baseball shirt (from Henry's short-lived career in pee-wee softball) and the first bloom of a dark blush. She swiped quickly at several strands of hair, which were curling at the ends in a way that made Emma's heart clench. God, she was gorgeous. Also angry, or so it seemed as her mouth descended into a scowl.
“Miss Swan,” she huffed, blinking rapidly and standing swiftly, clearly flummoxed. “What on earth are you doing here?”
Emma blinked, backing out of the Benz and standing, though she didn't quite manage to gather herself with the poise Regina did. Even in a scruffy top with a rag in hand (actually a chamois cloth, because of course it was) Regina was still a thousand times more elegant than she'd ever manage. Emma was dressed in her uniform, for once, having just returned from one of the rare out-of-town meetings needed to maintain the town's cover.
“Uh, sorry,” she coughed, “didn't mean to startle you. I got back from Portland,” she offered, holding aloft a brown envelope. “Everything is fine but, uh,” she cleared her throat, feeling herself slump a bit. Regina's closed posture was disconcerting and strangely unfamiliar, these days. “Yeah. This could totally have waited. Sorry.”
Regina was still frowning at her, dark brows knit together, though anger was fading to puzzlement. “Did something happen?”
Emma shook her head, suddenly at a loss and incredibly disheartened. She'd spent the whole day in the cruiser, aside from a two hour meeting, singing along to Regina's music in the privacy of Maine's dark forests. Honestly it had been nice to get a break from it all, her schedule clear and her phone mostly out of coverage. The meeting itself had been perfunctory, they always were, not requiring more than a little small talk and there was no real reason to report back to Regina.
But an afternoon of lazy driving, listening to songs she knew the other woman enjoyed, had led her to the driveway without much conscious thought. She'd sauntered in, calling a greeting to their son before wandering to find Regina.
She swallowed nervously, feeling naked without the benefit of an excuse to intrude. Tension gripped her spine as it suddenly occurred to ask herself what business she had barging uninvited into the mansion, into their lives. Her presumption suddenly seemed mortifying and she took a step backwards.
Her feet, of course, tangled in the hose of the vacuum cleaner and she floundered for a moment, arms flailing as she attempted to right herself. Heart pounding and hands tingling with adrenaline, the fleeting thought that at least she'd foregone her official hat skipped through her brain.
A strong hand grabbed one elbow, then the other, tugging her back onto both feet.
She grunted, stumbling into some semblance of upright posture. She blinked at Regina, who was peering up at her with something like confusion. She smelled like polish, the scent lent a sumptuous undertone by virtue of gracing Regina and not some lesser mortal.
“Emma,” she admonished, still blushing. “Be careful. There's really no question where Henry gets it from, is there?” she complained, with little bite.
She let out a huff of air, reflexively taking hold of Regina's arms. They were firmer than she would have expected, wiry muscle beneath deceptive softness. Her cheeks were burning and she glanced down, arranging her feet on solid ground before she gently drew back.
“Yeah, sorry,” she coughed. “Uh, sorry. Didn't think I'd find you here doing, you know,” she shrugged, gesturing at the car.
Regina frowned and glanced over her shoulder. “What? Cleaning my own car? I know you don't but some of us try every now and again.”
Emma opened her mouth to protest that, but closed it again. In fairness, she'd once found a dead mouse in her trunk. But Regina didn't have to know that. She tried to draw the last scraps of her tattered dignity around her, clearing her throat and trying not to pout.
“Well, I figured you'd get some idiot to do it,” she flicked her eyes to one side, frowning. “Actually, given that I've been the one messing it up, I'm surprised I'm not that idiot.”
Regina peered up at her, expression inscrutable for a moment, the blush fading from her cheeks. She picked at the hem of her shirt and brushed strands of hair behind her ear with urgency, taking a breath. There was something apologetic in her eyes then, some hint of embarrassment that Emma couldn't fathom.
“Emma,” she said, firmly, “you haven't messed my car. You've been very respectful of it.” She fiddled with the cloth in her hands, twisting the soft leather between her fingers. “I mean, you've been doing so much for us these last few weeks. You've helped with Henry and so many other little things. You've been," Regina inhaled then, closing her eyes briefly, "you're been so good to us. I'm not going to make you clean my damn car, Emma. You're not some maid.”
Emma shrugged. “Well, I mean, you wouldn't make me.” She nudged Regina's shoulder gently. “You'd trick me by offering food.” Regina chuckled softly at that and Emma's heart soared. “Make me think it was my own idea.”
Regina shook her head, her cheeks flushed again. “Sounds like a good plan, actually.” She stepped forward, eyes not meeting Emma's as she lifted the chamois cloth to the golden badge pinned, for once, to her shirt.
“How about this,” she said, very casually, as she rubbed the soft leather over the star pinned to Emma's damn chest. “I usually take it to Michael Tillman for an oil change. I know how to do it myself in principal but I've never done it in reality.”
Emma was pretty sure her pulse was going to explode through her chest and she suddenly wondered why anyone had ever objected to Regina taking their hearts. Hers felt like it was already beating in a delicate, slightly grubby hand.
“I've changed the oil in the bug plenty of times. We should be able to figure it out,” she watched, fascinated, as sooty eyelashes flickered in a studied effort to avoid actually meeting her gaze. “Maybe show Henry, too?”
That did it. Russet eyes jumped to hers, closer than they'd ever been except in rage. They were very different, brimming with whatever they were now. So much emotion that Emma wasn't quite sure where to start, except that she wanted to. Glowing like the last light of a fall evening catching autumnal leaves.
With a last wipe over the now gleaming star, Regina took a step back, ducking her head again and gently set the chamois on the roof of the car, visibly taking a breath.
“You've not eaten today,” she stated, playing briefly with her fingers in front of her stomach.
Emma opened her mouth to reply and Regina shot her a look.
“Pastries don't count.”
She shook her head, still light headed from Regina's proximity.
“I'll go get something ready,” she stated firmly, turning to the Benz. “You've had a long day.”
“Hey,” Emma called, lifting a hand to her shoulder. “You're busy. You don't have to feed me,” the cotton t-shirt was soft, worn with time and affection, the skin beneath warm. “You finish up here. I'll get take out.” She swallowed, running an incredibly brave thumb over the jut of bone she felt. “I could bring us all some? If it wouldn't be intruding?”
There followed an unusually casual dinner at the island in the kitchen, pizza and garlic bread from the fancy pizza place in town. Henry didn't spare his mother a second glance, clearly used to seeing her in her work gear, but teased Emma relentlessly about her uniform. That earned him a wadded up paper towel to the face and that earned Emma a slap to the shoulder.
Still a bit giddy from their antics, and likely sporting tomato sauce on her official shirt, Emma turned at the front door to bid Regina good night. They briefly chatted about plans for the weekend, Emma keeping hers (which were non-existent) deliberately vague. Her mind was still reeling from the evening and she really didn't want to push her luck and screw up. She knew it was likely only a matter of time until the other shoe dropped and she outwore her welcome.
“Emma,” Regina sighed, a furrow between her eyebrows as she lost patience with her prevarication. “Are you doing anything Saturday night, yes or no?”
“Well,” she coughed into her hand. “No. I'm not.”
“So come over for dinner,” Regina commanded, firmly.
Emma felt her giddiness fizz into something else, something dangerous and delicate and close to disaster. Regina frowned at her, not in annoyance then but rather confusion. She looked like she was trying to solve a puzzle, her mouth almost lifting into a pout. It was the latter that was ultimately Emma's undoing.
“I don't want to intrude,” she blurted, eventually. “You know?”
“You said that earlier, too,” Regina mused, contemplative. “Emma, you're welcome here. In this house. With Henry and me.” Her eyes flicked away and her hands came back up to roll over each other in front of her stomach. “It's not an intrusion. Your mother is intrusive. You're... you...”
Regina was clearly at something of a loss, which happened so rarely Emma almost didn't parse the content of her sentence. She actually almost appeared distressed, and Emma decided to nip that in the bud. With a half step forward, she darted in and pressed a quick, chaste kiss to Regina's cheek.
“I'm coming for dinner on Saturday night. Text me what wine you want me to pick up and if I'm allowed to bring something really unhealthy for desert, OK?”
She flashed what she hoped was a confident smile and somehow managed to make it all the way back to the cruiser in one piece, heart thumping behind her ribs and the image of surprise in dark eyes burned into her retinas.
Friday afternoon found Emma with her elbows propped on the counter top of Granny's diner, her hooded eyes lovingly taking in the form in front of her. She'd unexpectedly pulled a night shift (David had asked her at the last minute, crimson-faced and mumbling about meeting Snow's needs) and hadn't been able to spend all of it asleep in her office. Damn Leroy and his belligerent ass.
So after a nap and shower, she'd decided to treat herself. She was too exhausted to consider cooking and figured hauling a dwarf around like a sack of grain was a pretty good excuse to eat half a pound of beef. She sighed deeply, taking a firm grasp of the greasy bun and an enormous bite of her burger. She let out a happy moan, closing her eyes with delighted rapture.
“Would you and the burger like a room, Ems?” Ruby asked, sliding a coffee towards the sleepy sheriff.
“I would like to walk this burger down the aisle,” Emma mumbled, her mouth full.
Ruby raised an eyebrow at that and muttered something Emma couldn't quite make out as she crunched a pickle.
“Well, I'll sign the register,” Ruby drawled, “pick your first dance, all that.”
Emma snorted at the visual. “Good luck finding a song to suit me and my delicious spouse.”
Ruby hitched an eyebrow at the challenge and whipped her phone out, frowning at the screen, her thumbs a blur.
“Well, prepare your inexplicably skinny ass, Swan,” she proclaimed with a smug grin, “here.”
Emma lifted an eyebrow at the unfamiliar song, the lyrics bringing heat to her cheeks. What was it with unexpectedly sexy songs recently? Had she been completely oblivious her entire life? She shoved a handful of fries into her mouth and glared at her friend. Ruby looked far too pleased with herself for someone who'd once gotten drunk enough that she left her vibrator on the sink in the bathroom she shared with her grandmother, Emma thought. Summer Cannibals, indeed.
The door swung open and the stink of rum pervaded the air. Emma rolled her eyes as it neared her, notes of sweaty leather breaking through the bouquet.
“Swan,” Hook greeted, sitting beside her and thumping his elbow onto the counter. “Looking lovely as always,” he said, grinning in what she supposed he thought was a suave manner. Last night's eyeliner was smudged on his face and she wondered if he'd just woken up. He had the look about him but then he frequently did.
“Killian,” she replied, evenly. She turned her attention back to Ruby's phone, listening to the singer as she commanded her to eat. Finding no fault with that particular plan, she took another giant bite of her burger.
“I love a woman who can eat,” Hook commented, turning to Ruby, tipping his head towards Emma.
“I prefer the ones that photosynthesize, frankly,” she replied, flashing a lupine glare at the pirate. “Saves money on toilet paper, you know?”
Emma snorted at that, almost sending a mouthful of half chewed meat across her plate. Hook looked vaguely appalled, the joke a bit beyond his ken but the reminder that women actually defecated more than he could manage.
“Yes, well, of course,” he mumbled. “Any chance of a coffee?”
Ruby rolled her eyes but headed for the pot. Hook turned in his seat, following her as she went. “And something to help it along? A little eye opener?”
Ruby refilled Emma's mug, then her own, before serving Hook. “No. I am not in the mood for your drunk ass right now.”
“My hungover arse is crankier,” he groused.
The three of them sat for a moment, the tinny music from Ruby's phone a fun accompaniment, Emma thought. Ruby was singing along to some of the lyrics, garbling them quite magnificently, and Killian looked like he thought her phone might bite him. His lip was curled, a frown on his brow, and Emma figured he wasn't a fan. So be it. There was no redeeming a man who thought the shanty was the pinnacle of musical expression.
“Who is this?” Emma asked, enjoying the wavering growl and powerful voice.
“Patti Smith herself,” Ruby replied, grinning. “The grandmother of grunge.”
Emma nodded, making a mental note to see if Regina had any of her records. They still hadn't figured out how to make their phones speak to the HiFi, though it was apparently possible. They were on the cusp of asking Henry for help and finally cementing their place as tragically uncool in his mind.
“Not the most dulcet of tones,” Hook opined. “She sounds like a man in places.”
Ruby snorted at that and Emma rolled her eyes. “I'm sure she'd be utterly devastated to hear that, Captain.”
The arrival of two customers drew Ruby away from them, though she left her phone. Emma was finishing the last of her fries and wondering if Regina wanted her to collect Henry and if this act would see her rewarded with one of the muffins her son had mentioned appearing in the kitchen. She was a bit too tired to bother fighting the little smile that tugged her mouth upwards at the thought of the Mills family and she lifted her phone out of her pocket.
“So, don't suppose you'd like to go out on the water for a bit?” Hook asked, turning more fully to her.
“No, thanks. I was working last night and plan to crawl home and watch TV.”
Undeterred, mainly because refusal was quite a foreign concept to him, he leaned forward. “Well, drinks tomorrow?”
“I'm going to have dinner with Regina and Henry tomorrow,” she said, less guarded than she'd normally be around Killian, the lack of sleep manifesting in utter contentment at the thought of two heads of brown hair and two sets of mischievous eyes.
He snorted at that, taking a swift mouthful of coffee, though he appeared somewhat pained at the action.
“My god, is she finally giving you a little treat for ferrying her boy around and doing her groceries?” he asked, an unattractive sneer on his face.
Emma straightened at that, clenching her jaw. It wasn't like she'd been furtive in what she'd been doing, but she hadn't realized that the gossip mongers of Storybrooke had spread word as far as the docks. While Ruby mentioning the time she was spending with Regina had made her feel all sorts of warm inside, the mocking tone in Hook's voice was akin to nails on a chalkboard.
“Her majesty deigning to feed the unwashed masses,” he snorted.
“You know, I am technically a princess,” Emma ground out.
He shrugged. “I doubt she sees anyone as worthy of her time or concern, aside from your boy. People like that, love,” he bit out, old loathing in his gaze, “they don't see people like you and me as anything other than the help. Minions.”
Emma swallowed at that, sitting up in her seat and preparing to defend Regina. She clenched her teeth, a treacherous little voice in her head reminding her she wasn't worthy of Regina's time or concern. That she wasn't anything other than a driver and gopher for the elegant woman. Old insecurities flamed, Hook having a particular skill in finding chinks in her armor.
The door opened before she could think of a suitable defense, the scent of chilled air and leaf mold blowing in. Emma turned at the sound of familiar footsteps as an embarrassed flush spread up Emma's spine. Regina swept in, imperious and a vision of stoic perfection. She barely spared Killian a glance, though she smiled fondly at Ruby, peering at her phone.
“Patti Smith?” she asked, amusement in her voice. “A bold choice for the lunch crowd, Miss Lucas.”
Ruby, who was not an idiot and could see the gleam of pleasure in Regina's gaze as plainly as Emma could, shrugged. “Well, it's not for everyone, that's for sure.”
“It's probably a bit coarse for her majesty,” Hook offered, “very loud. Very unladylike.”
Something flashed behind Regina's eyes, fleeting, but wounded. Emma spun on her stool, her back firmly turned to bloody Hook as something inappropriately protective flared within her. “Very honest, though,” she said, with a little shrug and a smile. “You want a coffee?”
“I'm not staying,” Regina sighed. “I saw you through the window and was wondering if you could collect Henry from school, please? I had to reschedule some meetings and I won't be home until late.”
“Sure,” Emma nodded. “You be back in time for dinner?”
“Probably not. You two help yourselves to the leftovers,” Regina instructed, speaking quickly and firmly, in the way Emma had come to realize she did when she was in a rush and already thinking ahead to her next task. Brusque, but because of busyness and not animosity.
“Oh,” Hook, the utter asshole, chortled behind her, “getting fed twice in a week, Swan? This babysitting really is working out well for you.”
Regina's eyes cut to the pirate, fury rising to pinch her brow before she schooled her features. Emma was well aware that she hated Hook and honestly, she starting to see why. The Mayor very deliberately stepped around Emma, facing Hook completely and letting one hand hang by her thigh, as though contemplating summoning fire. The other was perched on her opposite hip, every inch the Queen she'd been.
“When caring for your own child it's called parenting, you grog-sodden twit,” she snapped.
“Careful, your majesty,” he snarled, with a curl of his lip, “you feed a stray and they may never leave.”
“If there's a dog joke in there you can shove it up your ass, Hook,” Ruby growled, coming to loom across the counter from Emma. “Probably wouldn't be the first thing rammed up there,” she continued, the wolf very much coming out to play.
“Indeed not,” Regina added, “his head, for one, has been firmly wedged up there for longer than any of us have been alive.” She paused, turning her attention to Emma, her expression inscrutable. “It's also rich of you to insinuate that Emma would be skulking around for scraps when you're the one who looks like a raccoon right now.”
Hook spluttered for a moment, his hand halfway to the corner of his eye before he dropped it lamely. “Low blow.”
“Fix your face before you leave the house, then,” she retorted, haughtily flicking her hair over her shoulder.
“Yeah, fucking basics, man,” Ruby drawled, clearly enjoying herself.
Hook, however, wasn't, and stomped off with a huff. He glared balefully over his shoulder, slinking away with a scowl on his face. Emma couldn't say she was at all sorry to see the back of him. Maybe he'd finally manage to get the dinghy out onto the high seas, she mused.
Regina rolled her eyes and turned back to Emma, jiggling her shoulders as though she'd just delivered a literal punch.
“That man is appalling,” she groused. “How pathetic do you have to be to mock someone for sharing leftovers with her family?”
Emma froze, her heart thumping in her chest at the idea, at the notion, of family in the same vicinity as Regina Mills. Sure, technically they were and had been for some while, but through Henry (or, much more creepily, through Snow). If asked, she'd have presumed that Regina didn't really think of them as family, that Emma was a unwanted competitor for their son's affections. Did Regina really mean what Emma thought, hoped, she did? Were they now starting to become something like a family, the three of them?
Something must have bled through her defenses, something that felt raw and very delicate, because Regina leaned forward with such gentle sympathy on her face Emma could barely look at her. She stepped closer, gloved hands lifting to smooth the lapel of Emma's messy flannel shirt, careful but not hesitant. She paused for a moment, dark eyes drifting over Emma's covered chest but lost in thought. Her right hand lingered, fingertips curling into the hidden prominence of her clavicle.
“I'll see you later,” she stated, firmly. “And you make yourself at home and take whatever you need, Emma Swan.”
And to her utter, unending amazement, Regina Mills leaned forward and placed a kiss to her cheek. It didn't last long, and Emma could barely concentrate on Regina's lips because she could feel her eyelashes and could smell nothing but her perfume. It was over too quickly, Regina drawing back and lifting her hand from her pounding chest.
A squeeze to her upper arm and Regina was gone. Emma's world, profoundly shifted on its axis, took a long while to begin spinning again. She swallowed, the sounds of the diner and Ruby's music returning slowly, her vision almost faded at the periphery.
Ruby chuckled and picked up her empty plate, making a fond sound. She said nothing, and nothing really needed to be said, Emma mused, her hand drifting to her cheek as a sense of wonder filled her chest.
Emma spent far more time than was reasonable washing and styling her hair, picking an outfit and selecting a nice wine the following day. While she'd usually just roll up to Mifflin Street and plonk herself at the table, things felt different. She was certain that Regina wouldn't mind her appearing in her usual get up, it wasn't like this was a date or anything. She presumed.
She fiddled with her hair, one last check in her rear view mirror. She was wearing a bit of make-up, nothing too fancy, and her nicest casual shirt. She'd even polished her boots and ironed her jeans, like a giant dork. She swallowed thickly, a frisson of nerves tickling the back of her hands. She'd woken early from a deep and restful sleep (she suspected the enormous amount of carbs she'd eaten for dinner in Regina's had helped with that). She'd gone for a long run that morning and even undertaken an ambitious workout with her weights.
She had no doubt her body was going to hate her for a few days for pushing it, but she hadn't been able to settle herself. Snow had been throwing a mixture of curious and wounded looks her way, wondering where she was heading and why Emma was all dressed up. David, bless his oblivious nature, had unintentionally distracted his wife with some inane question about their laundry. Snow had been dropping anchor-sized hints about Hook and Emma wasn't sure how much more clearly she could express both her lack of interest in him and introduce the notion of her enormous interest in Regina.
Jesus, Emma mused, she really needed to move out.
She adjusted her best leather jacket around her, and gathered the wine and flowers she'd brought. Henry had texted her earlier, telling her to not bother with desert, so she'd detoured to the town florist, spending an inordinate amount of time dithering about a bouquet. Mo French had tried to convince her to spend roughly her weekly salary on a huge bunch of roses but she had a vague memory of Henry mentioning that his mother hated them.
Eventually, she chose an almost modest bunch that looked like they'd match Regina's dining room and smelled nice. The bouquet even had a couple of over sized purple-tinged buds that she was informed were actually a variety of cabbage, which amused Emma more than it probably should have. They could just about be considered something friends might gift each other, but probably for an occasion more special than a random Saturday night at home.
Squaring her shoulders, she approached the mansion. It didn't look any different from any other night, tastefully lit but without shadows on the path or porch but something felt a bit different. She'd been scolded recently for waiting for someone to open the door so with a cursory knock and only the slightest hint of nerves, she let herself in. She called a greeting, raising her voice as something loud and cheerful was pouring from the kitchen, courtesy of Alanis Morissette. Emma found herself smiling, the memory of dancing in a dark bar surfacing and her posture slumping into something soft and relaxed.
“We're in the kitchen, ma!” Henry called. She followed the sound of music and the aroma of food, stomach growling hungrily. Henry was perched on a stool at the island, nodding his head along with the song. He had a chopping board in front of him and was arranging tomato and mozzarella on three plates. Regina was shaking a bunch of fresh basil out at the sink, an apron over a sleeveless purple dress with a round collar.
“Hey there,” she called, her heart doing a thing when Regina's eyes softened at the sight of the flowers and wine in her hand. She wrapped the basil in a paper towel and handed the bundle to Henry.
“Uh, here,” Emma mumbled, kind of lamely. In other circumstances, where she was not facing an intimidatingly beautiful woman with her adolescent son as a witness, she might have tried to say something clever. As it was, she held out the flowers and plonked the wine on the counter with a clank.
“Emma,” Regina cooed, pleasure drawing her name into two very effecting syllables. She carefully reached out to take the bouquet, her slim hands unadorned by rings or bracelets, for once. In fact, Regina wasn't wearing any jewelry aside from a pair of silver studs and less makeup than was her wont. She inhaled the scent with something like surprised delight, smiling down at the flowers with a blush that did more to enhance her beauty, in Emma's extremely biased opinion, than any amount of rouge or diamonds could.
“Thank you, dear,” she breathed. “I'll find a vase for them.”
She headed off and Emma shrugged out of her jacket, hanging it on the stool beside Henry. He peered at her with canny eyes, a frown on his little brow.
Emma shrugged, trying to keep her most nonchalant face from cracking into a blushing grin. “You told me not to bring desert soooo...”
Henry nodded at that. “No one's brought her flowers in a long time,” he shook the basil out of the paper towel, contemplatively patting the last of the water off the fragrant leaves. “I used to, on her birthday.” Unspoken was the rift, the anger and hurt that had halted normal proceedings for the last couple of years. Emma looped an arm around his shoulders, squeezing lightly against the quite remorse in his voice.
“Well, what say we go in together next year, huh?” She chuckled. “With my amazing sheriff's salary and your taste, we can't go wrong.”
Henry cocked an eyebrow at that but just smiled, bowing his head to the basil. “We made death by chocolate,” he offered. “It was raining all day and I'm kind of bored of video games.”
“Holy crap, who are you and what have you done with Henry Mills?” Emma teased, ruffling his hair and stepping back.
“Don't joke about that,” Regina muttered, though without rancor. Emma winced at that, abruptly reminded that despite a lack of supernatural shenanigans as of late, such a thing wasn't outside the realms of possibility in their world.
“Uh, sorry,” Emma muttered, shoving her hands in her pockets and tossing a contrite glance at Regina. She offered a half-hearted glare and lifted the bottle of wine from the counter.
“It's the variety you wanted,” Emma said, rocking on the balls of her feet. “The guy in the store said it was a good vintage.” She gave a little snort. “It's not exactly what I'm used to, so I hope it's OK.”
Regina stepped up to her, a bit closer than was absolutely necessary but incredibly welcome. “I've not tasted this grape either,” she confessed, a small smile aimed at Emma. “I read about it and thought it might be nice to try something new.”
Emma tipped her head to one side. “Well, hopefully you won't hate it.”
“Or you, for that matter,” Regina added, handing her the bottle. “You bought it.”
“Yeah, but you actually know stuff about the finer things in life,” Emma pointed out. “I'm more of a beer girl.”
“Well, I wouldn't call fermented grape juice inherently finer than fermented barley juice,” Regina teased, though her voice was very gentle. “Now, open that please, dear.”
Emma was very glad to have a job to do and scurried to the drawer, cheeks a bit flushed. Henry was eyeing her with puzzlement and Regina was fussing at the hob. Honestly, she wasn't entirely she what that had been all about but whatever it was, she'd enjoyed it enormously.
As it turned out, a plate full of salad, two generous helpings of mushroom risotto and a giant slice of cake were actually enough to have Emma laid out. Henry was sprawled beside her, groaning with a hand on his stomach. He'd gone for another sliver of cake, rather than more rice, but he still looked fit to burst.
“Well, if there was ever any doubt about you two being related,” Regina murmured, raising an elegant eyebrow. She handed Emma a mug of steaming liquid, which smelled very minty.
“Peppermint tea,” she offered, sitting beside their son. She leaned against the back of the couch and smiled when he groaned again. “This is what you two get for eating like the world is ending.”
“Mooooommm...” Henry groused, “the world probably is ending. Climate catastrophe, you know?”
“Henry,” Regina chided, running gentle fingers through his hair. “Just because we're witnessing the onset of a major extinction event doesn't mean you have to be so fatalistic about it.”
Emma lifted her eyebrows at that, not willing to argue with a woman who'd found a way to bend reality to her will and literally change the world for her and an entire kingdom. She figured if Henry decided to change their current world, he'd get further than most on the back of his mother's confidence alone. Reality would have to take a back seat to the Mills' bloody hardheadedness.
“Would you like to watch an episode of something?” Regina asked, smiling indulgently as Henry cracked open a curious eye.
Regina snorted at that. “That's more than two hours long, mister. Let's find something a little shorter.”
Netflix was fired up, Henry dithering about choosing one of the seventeen series he seemed to be watching in parallel, rather than binging like a normal person. Emma was pretty sure she drifted asleep for a while, but woke in time to help Henry up the stairs and into bed. He limped around the bathroom himself, able to manage unaided, to everyone's great relief.
Emma wandered to his bookshelf, idly perusing his comics and identifying several she'd have to borrow. The room was soothing and comfortable, elegantly decorated by his mother but with his own stamp plain to see.
It did her heart good to see it, to take in his neatly made bed and thick carpet. It felt like the kind of place that would grow with someone, a safe haven throughout high school. Somewhere to return to for the holidays during college. The furniture sturdy enough to feel solid beneath a grown man's hand. A permanent place in the world no matter where his adventures might take him.
The clip of his crutches sounded on the floor and she turned, steering him into bed and grinning at him. His eyes were drooping, a yawn splitting his jaw. She returned it in sympathy, stretching her arms overhead. She'd actually perked up a little, now that she'd digested some of her dinner.
“Sleep well, kid,” she said, placing his crutches close to the bed.
“Thanks, Ma,” he muttered, sleepily. “It was a fun evening, huh?”
“Yeah,” she said, wistfully. “It was.”
“I like it when the three of us are together, like a real family.”
Emma swallowed thickly, tears welling at the thought. She wasn't too sure of what to say, being utterly useless when it came to this kind of thing. She stood awkwardly by Henry's bed, shifting her weight from one foot to another.
“Well,” she said, haltingly, “I mean, we are a real family. Your mom and I love you so, so much kid. You're always going to have us, you know?”
Bright eyes met hers, shining in the light of the lamp perched beside his bed. “I know,” he said, simply and with complete conviction. “Same to you, too. You're always going to have me.” He was quiet for a long moment, blinking sleepily again. “And you and mom are friends now, right?”
Well, if that wasn't a damn loaded question... Emma chuckled softly. “I think so. I really do. I mean, we're both your moms, right?” she asked, and kind of hated how her voice pitched up at the end of the sentence, a question in her words. “So we're a team.”
“Team moms,” he mumbled. “Awesome.”
“Yeah,” she sighed, planting her hands on her hips. “It kinda is.”
Emma passed Regina on the upstairs corridor, an inscrutable expression on her face she they eased by one other. Emma made her way to the kitchen, idly washing up as she waited. Her talk with Henry had left her in a contemplative mood, happy but slightly melancholic. It wasn't a particularly sad feeling, more wistful. Her usual restless nature was calm, for once, settled by the notion that the strange paths of her life had led to this moment. A happy, healthy son. A warm house with shelves dedicated to his comic book and DVD collections. Privacy when he wanted it and the comfort of his mother's embrace when he needed it.
Lost in thought, she barely noticed Regina padding into the room. She'd changed, wearing soft yoga pants and her favorite baggy woolen sweater. Her makeup was still on and the little studs glittered in her ears, half hidden by the bounce of hair escaping the confines of that morning's flat iron.
“Hey,” she greeted, smoothing down the front of her shirt. “Thanks for dinner. It was amazing, as always.”
“You're more than welcome,” Regina said, ever the gracious hostess. “Thank you for the flowers,” her lips quirked into a little half smile, almost despite herself. “I love the brassica.”
Emma blinked, tipping her head to one side. “The cabbage?” she guessed, feeling a smile break out on her face when Regina nodded. “Well, I figured you like salads and kale and stuff.”
Regina laughed then, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She turned, heading for the basement, not pausing to see if Emma would follow. A dopey grin was undoubtedly plastered on her face as she trotted after Regina, the easy slide into their routine incredibly comforting.
“You know, we used to grow kale in the old world,” she told her, moving to pour them each a glass of wine. “We grew it to fatten the pigs and keep calves alive during the winter. The kind we had was far too tough to eat raw.” She was quiet for a long moment, lost in thought. “There were lean winters, though, when the peasants had no choice.”
Emma accepted her glass, thrilled once more by the mention of life in the enchanted forest, though the subject matter was a bit grim. It had been an absolutely medieval way of living and despite the shit show that had been Emma's upbringing, she was glad she'd not grown up in a feudal society without running water.
“I was completely amazed when people here started promoting it as a super food,” Regina continued, lifting a dubious eyebrow. “Though blitzing it in a blender is one way to make it more palatable.”
“I am so reminding you of this the next time you make me eat salad, Regina.”
Regina rolled her eyes, wandering towards the couch and eyeing the music cabinet. “The varieties you can get here are softer than the lettuce we had,” she pointed out, “and you need to at least pretend to eat a vegetable every now and again, Emma.”
She paused, tipping her head to one side, and moved to turn the TV on. Emma sank onto the couch, intrigued by the change to their little routine though slightly reluctant to just sit and watch TV when they could be talking.
“It was so different there,” she paused, waiting for the TV to boot up. “People starved if their crops failed. They died from drinking dirty water. They were crippled by accidents and injuries. I was lucky, the granddaughter of a king. I never had to face that deprivation but it was never far away.”
Emma swallowed at that, frowning. She'd never heard of anyone starving to death in the US, but she'd known people who'd been hungry. She'd been one of them. She'd known people who'd not been able to afford medicine or hospital treatment. It was strange, she mused, how certain evils were never far away, no matter what world you occupied. She knew well that enormous swathes of their world still suffered from the dangers Regina had mentioned and it occurred to Emma that it was likely no coincidence that Storybrooke had appeared in an affluent corner of the first world.
Regina curled beside her, fiddling with a remote control as YouTube appeared on screen. The distraction was welcome and Emma pushed away those morose thoughts, bouncing slightly on the couch.
“I'm intrigued. What are you thinking?”
“I was mentally lamenting Henry's short attention span earlier and it occurred to me that sometimes it's not actually always a bad thing.”
She cued up the music video for Only Happy When it Rains and tucked her feet beneath her, sharing a fond glance with Emma. The lurid, over saturated chaos that blurred across the screen was glorious and Emma found herself singing along happily.
“You can tell it's old because the aspect ratio is 4:3,” she piped, as it drew to a close.
“And because they actually look like they're having fun,” Regina added, taking a sip of her wine. “Even when they're taking themselves seriously.”
They found themselves descending down a very enjoyable rabbit hole, Emma sitting cross legged on the couch and seeing, for the first time in most cases, the videos that accompanied the songs she'd been listening to. Her wine glass was cradled in an idle hand between her legs, dangling casually. Regina didn't even bat an eyelid, which signified incredible progress, as far as Emma was concerned.
“God,” she laughed, shaking her head, “they're so of their time, aren't they? I love it.”
Regina nodded. “It took weeks to get MTV installed in Storybrooke and it was a complete nightmare keeping the secret from the cable engineers. But absolutely worth it.”
“Most of the places I lived didn't have cable, not even basic. I sometimes saw videos at parties or in bars when I got older, but those weren't really places you could just relax and watch TV, you know?”
Regina regarded her solemnly for a long moment, a strange expression on her face as she absorbed Emma's words. She shifted on the couch, turning her body towards her, feet sliding across the cushions and resting very close to Emma's thigh. She extended her hand, wordlessly passing Emma the remote and taking another sip of wine.
They traded suggestions, sometimes letting YouTube guide their evening. Loud, messy, bright, rude, slick, sexy and often outrageous videos followed. Laughter and teasing barbs were traded, guided by what was flashing over the screen. The wine flowed more freely than it usually did though neither protested this.
Emma found herself sprawled back against the couch, watching Nina Perrson speed down a desert highway with reckless abandon.
“Fuck!” Emma squawked at the climax of the video. “Jesus, this is pretty hardcore.”
A rumpled blonde sat up in the middle of a dusty road, most nonplussed, before being knocked out by a rock smacking her head. They both burst out laughing, the moment so incongruous it couldn't be anything but hilarious.
“Oh, god,” Regina laughed, wiping an eye, “she reminds me of you, Emma.”
“Because she can't drive?” Emma joked.
Regina rolled her eyes. “A confident, gorgeous woman with a lot of attitude and good bone structure, more like.”
Emma preened a bit, but couldn't help but deflect the compliment, her cheeks heating. She wasn't entirely sure how to take the casual gorgeous tucked in there, not coming from Regina, the definition of beautiful as far as she was concerned.
“You just want to see me bonked on the head with a rock.”
Regina hid her smile behind her glass. “Well, I don't not want to see it.”
Emma snatched the remote from the couch, bringing them back to Garbage. She flicked past a couple of videos they'd already watched, settling on one she hadn't seen before. “Well, you remind me of her,” she said, gesturing to the TV, where the singer portrayed a literal embodiment of a work of art. “A bad-ass who doesn't take any shit. And she is incredibly hot,” she said, in as matter-a-fact tone as she could manage, attempting to maintain at least a veneer of platonic thoughts.
Sadly, she had not chosen a video which would help with that, as the aforementioned incredibly hot woman strode out of her painting and straight into the cache of memories Emma carefully maintained for private time.
Holy shit. Red tipped hair, shaved on one side. Flashes of intimacy and flesh revealed in glimpses. Men and women and who the fuck could tell in half second flashes that managed to raise heat on Emma's cheeks.
Shirley fucking Manson in leather trousers and suspenders. Androgyny, indeed.
Regina turned, a blush on her cheeks and eyes shining from mirth and wine as she spared Emma a quick glance. “Well, that is high praise indeed. I like her lipstick.” She paused for a beat, eyes fixed on the video again, intense and interested. “And her leather dress.”
Regina shifted in her seat and Emma turned towards her, slinging a casual arm across the back of the couch, like a fucking teenager. Regina took a swallow of wine and kept her eyes resolutely ahead of her. She concentrated on the TV, while Emma made no secret of her study of the woman beside her. She seemed intrigued, interested in the blatant display of sexuality in front of her, though almost a bit shy. Emma wondered, then, what Regina actually thought about sex.
“That was a revelation, as well,” Regina confided, softly. “When I came here. Women in control of their own bodies. Or, well,” she stumbled over her words, frowning as though she'd never articulated these thoughts before. “In the videos I watched, they were brave and seemed in charge of themselves. They were sexy or like cartoon characters as they pleased. They sometimes looked like boys and moved like men, if they wanted, while still clearly being beautiful women.” She scowled, clearly frustrated at her inability to put her feelings into words. Emma held her peace, the silence delicate and fertile, the soil for nascent ideas and emotions rarely spoken aloud.
Regina was quiet for a long time, the lights from the TV reflecting in her eyes as they held each other's gaze.
“I didn't feel like I had control of my own body until after I'd learned magic dark enough to kill,” she confessed, voice wavering. “Until I'd embraced destruction and vengeance.”
Emma swallowed thickly, caught in the moment and at a loss at how to proceed.
“Until I could destroy the world, I didn't feel as though I would ever leave my mark on it, or could even walk safely through it. I was raised to expect that I'd just pass as chattel from one person to another. All I wanted was to be free, Emma,” she said, voice cracking, her eyes dropping at last. “All I had was my anger. Those were two of the biggest affronts to that society I could have committed, you know. ”
She peered into her glass, frowning for a moment. “The prevailing wisdom was that I was lucky to have married so well. I had no right to be angry or to mourn the things I'd lost. But I was angry and I lashed out at everyone and everything around me.”
Gently, without meeting Emma's gaze, she took the remote from her hand and clicked a few buttons, the grimy face of a child filling the screen, quickly followed by a soldier carrying a gun.
“Then I came here,” she murmured. Emma knew the song, she didn't think she'd ever seen the video, though. Zombie, by the Cranberries. “She was angry. Righteously so, raging against occupation and the senseless murder of children. The story goes she ripped up a cheque for a million dollars to write this song and release it.”
Regina downed the last of her wine and toyed with the stem of her glass, brow furrowed. “Her anger gave her a voice, and she used it to command the world to see what she wanted it to see. To show them the horrible things that were happening. Those were real children living in a war zone,” she sighed, “real soldiers with real guns.”
The video featured boys about Henry's age running around bombed ruins and Emma felt her heart spasm in her chest. She dropped her hand, carefully touching Regina's shoulder. A dark head ducked towards her, regarding the contact for a long moment before she reached up, gently touching her fingers. The very tips curled together, tight but tentative as they moved closer together on the couch.
“It wasn't only anger, mind you. It was mirth and sorrow and mischief. All those loud, messy feelings I'd been taught were unacceptable for proper young women. Something about hearing the full gamut of human experience captivated me.”
Emma clenched her fingers, denting the fabric covering the shoulder closest to her. She took a breath and withdrew her hand, touching a neutral point between Regina's shoulder blades before curling around her far shoulder. Gentle pressure drew them together, foreheads leaning in until the press of bone stopped them. Regina's free hand sat on her thigh, an idle thumb tracing patterns.
“I think,” Emma sighed, “that there are some of us who are better at dealing with the shit that life throws at us than others.” She dared to turn, nuzzling her face into thick, fragrant hair. “I don't even know what these guys are so riled up about,” she confessed. “I get it, though. It was something awful and they had to do something.”
Regina turned to her, audibly snapping her teeth shut, but squirming in a way that implied she had knowledge to impart.
“And you can tell me all about it again, Regina,” she chuckled, “but right now I kinda just want to listen.”
Regina curled more fully into her, though she sat up as opposed to slumping down. Her head of sable hair was glorious; soft and untangled and whispering around her head in a neat bob. The scent of her shampoo was subtle, unlike anything Emma had experienced before.
“I was never great with feelings, either,” Emma confessed. “Any time I tired to talk about them, I just ended up making a fool out of myself.” Regina pressed more firmly against her, offering silent support.
“It isn't easy to open up, to even understand what the hell you're feeling, when you've spent a lifetime hiding.”
They were still, then, quiet as they watched the video play on. Their glasses lay forgotten, neither willing to disturb the embrace. Regina's fingers were warm on Emma's leg as they traced patterns, gentle and curious. There was space then, to fill with words or to enjoy in silence. Emma felt pretty awkward after what she'd said and while she got the sense that Regina would listen if she spoke, there didn't seem to be any expectation that she should. It was actually incredibly soothing, enough room for her heart to safely thrash and flail as it settled, calmed by the presence of the woman in her arms.
“I like this,” Regina said quietly after a long while. “Is... is that alright with you?”
“In the interests of honesty, I'm going to admit that I like this more than I probably should,” Emma sighed, laughing at herself.
“How so?” Regina asked, hand on Emma's leg, fingers now still.
“Well,” Emma said, sucking in a long breath. Fucking now or never, Swan. “I like this, too, but I also think I'd really like to kiss you.”
Regina was quiet again before she shifted, coming more snugly under Emma's arm. “I suspected as much,” she said, wry satisfaction in her voice. “You're not subtle.”
“I'm really not,” Emma agreed. She bit her lip, cautiously optimistic given that Regina hadn't thrown her out of the house. “Thoughts?”
“That if you're going to kiss me, I want it to mean something.” She began tracing patterns again, her fingers light and careful though perhaps trembling a little. “I like it when you're around. I enjoy spending time with you. Henry adores having you here.”
“I want it to mean something, too,” Emma whispered. “I mean, we're Henry's moms. That's a huge something already.”
“The most important something,” Regina stated, firmly. “I overheard you two earlier. You were very good with him, Emma.”
They sat quietly for a moment, watching videos as they played automatically, curled together. Regina turned her head and pressed a gentle kiss to Emma's jaw, unhurried and quite chaste.
“Are you alright?” she asked, nestling back against Emma, no urgency in the question. Emma had no idea how Regina, who tended towards fire and motion could foster such a sense of peace and patience. Emma traced the curve of her shoulder, not sure what she wanted to say. She'd wanted to kiss the mayor of Storybrooke more or less since she'd arrived, possibly more after she found out about the whole Evil Queen thing if she were honest with herself. She suspected that if she kissed Regina, the mother of their son and her unlikely friend, that would be her done for good.
The concept was so unfamiliar to her that a large part of her wanted to run for the hills, as she always had done. A braver part, though, was willing to admit that this was what she'd wanted as long as she'd known how to want. A home, with people who wanted her there. Family dinners and grocery shopping and cuddling on the couch. Company when she came home and the quiet satisfaction of caring for those she loved.
“That was a bit of an emotional roller coaster,” Emma mused, rolling her eyes at herself as she heard the tremor in her voice.
“It was a bit,” Regina sighed. “I'm not used to talking about how I feel, either.”
“Yeah,” Emma sighed, turning her head and pressing a long kiss to Regina's hairline. “We both probably need a lot of therapy.”
Regina laughed at that, the mood lightening. She drew back a little, her eyes a little shiny as she regarded Emma carefully.
“Probably, but not right now.” her gaze darted to Emma's lips and she visibly swallowed. “Can we just..?”
And Emma leaned in, held her a bit closer, but still allowed space and left the last little step for Regina to take. The kiss was unexpectedly tentative and very gentle. Regina soft and careful, kissing her as though she was something incredibly precious. As though she was someone worth kissing carefully for the first time, as though it would be the first of many and she wanted to start right.
It was unexpected, and as Emma brought a hand to cup her cheek, she thanked her lucky stars for the chance to be surprised by Regina Mills, yet again.
“So.” Emma admitted, coughing slightly. “That's what happened,” she sighed, stuffing her hands into her pockets as she and Ruby walked along the shore.
“Wow,” Ruby breathed. “Wow.” She took a moment to process Emma's story. “Did you stay the night?”
“No, god no. I left not too long after,” Emma worried her lip. “Is this crazy?”
Ruby shrugged. “Snow is going to have a coronary but I wouldn't worry about that.” Emma winced. “And there isn't going to be a single asshole in this town who isn't going to have an opinion to offer.” Ruby sighed, drawing to a halt at the railing overlooking the leaden sea. A few overly aggressive seagulls were circling, screeching at the wolf below.
“She didn't really say if she wants anyone else to know,” Emma sighed. “So maybe don't say anything just yet?”
Ruby nodded, turning with a grin on her face. “I won't. But it won't stay secret forever. People are going to have words to say about the Evil Queen corrupting the savior.”
Emma snorted. “Or settling for the savior.” She shrugged.
Ruby shoved her shoulder. “Oh, you giant ass. Shut up. Take your insecurities and get in the sea with them.”
They laughed at that, Emma jostling back. “Urgh. This has the potential to completely blow up, you know?”
Ruby shrugged eloquently. “It also has the potential to be good for you both. Just, you know, be adults. Communicate with each other. Talk. Don't let the bullshit get to you. Be gentle with yourself, too,” Emma. “You deserve to be happy. Don't keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Ruby laid her head on Emma's shoulder, nuzzling gently. Emma's heart clenched and she leaned gratefully against her friend, letting the Atlantic drown out her thoughts as birds wheeled on choppy waves. Sea and salt whipped into their faces and and she thought back to the night, almost six weeks ago, when everything had started to change.
The rest of the weekend passed quietly for Emma. She and Regina sent each other a few text messages, mostly about Henry's hospital appointment that coming Monday. The last message on Sunday evening, however, thanked her again for the flowers and wished her a good night, which left Emma skipping around with a goofy smile on her face.
Monday found her sitting in the Benz, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel in time with Melissa Etheridge, waiting to collect Regina before they brought Henry to the clinic. The rain had settled and the townsfolk were taking an opportunity to mill about between showers. Regina emerged from the town hall, wrapped in a dark woolen coat, her purse slung over one shoulder and closed umbrella clasped like a scepter in her spare hand. Emma indulged in watching her for a while, her heart soft at the sight. She couldn't help but remember the feeling of soft lips pressing at the seam of her mouth or the metallic touch of a curious tongue.
Archie intercepted Regina, the pair exchanging pleasantries for a few moments before she excused herself with a gesture towards the car. She entered with a flourish, sitting upright in the passenger seat.
“Sorry for being late,” she apologized, leaning over the center console and pressing a brief kiss to Emma's lips. “I got talking to Archie,” she continued, tugging her seat belt into place as though nothing extraordinary had happened. Emma blinked owlishly, hands frozen on the steering wheel. Regina had just kissed her like it was the most natural thing in the world, despite being in the City Hall parking lot.
Regina frowned, clearly noticing Emma's silence. “Emma? Are you alright?”
“Uh, you kissed me,” Emma pointed out, dumbly. “I think Archie saw.” She had no idea if he had, but her brain had screeched to a grinding halt. When they'd parted on Saturday night, with a lingering embrace inside the front door, Regina had stated very plainly that she wanted to try to see if a relationship could work between them. She'd baldly stated that she wasn't interested in being friends with benefits or any kind of a casual dalliance. Emma hadn't been surprised, it was Regina after all, and felt exactly the same way and told her as much. However, a large part of her still had a hard time believing that it was all real, that she was wanted as much she wanted. She hadn't anticipated this kind of behavior from the other woman, displaying her affection and care so openly. Had never thought she'd be the beneficiary of such tenderness in public.
“I'm sure Archie has seen people kiss their lovers before, Emma. He's a grown man.” She paused, a shadow of insecurity and concern crossing her face. “Unless you're not fond of public displays of affection?”
The word lover ignited something in Emma's chest that had her leaning forward, not wanting Regina to get the impression that PDA's were something she didn't wholeheartedly support. She touched Regina's jaw and kissed her softly, a press of lips against a pouting mouth. Relief and an odd gratitude settling her her chest.
“You sound like something out an old fashioned movie," she murmured, their lips brushing with the lightest of touches. "Lover?”
They drew apart, only to reveal a light blush on Regina's cheeks. “I'm a queen, dear. I think girlfriends lacks a certain gravitas.”
Emma wasn't about to argue, feeling a very stupid smile stretch her cheeks as she reversed out of the lot.
“That said,” Regina continued. “We should probably speak to Henry about us before rumor reaches him.”
Emma nodded. She reckoned the kid had a big enough therapy bill without seeing his former enemy mothers unexpectedly necking on the couch. “We could do something nice,” she suggested. “Take a drive, you know? Go somewhere special.”
Warm fingers curled over her leg and she almost melted with happiness. "That sounds lovely, Emma."
An hour later found them in the fracture clinic, a cheerful nurse guiding them into a large, well lit room. Regina had to look away as the nurse practitioner used a noisy saw to cut the cast off Henry's leg. He appeared completely fascinated by the process, in the way small children are, and not bothered in the least.
“How come it doesn't cut my leg off?” he asked, watching proceedings with interest. Regina flinched beside her and Emma patted her shoulder. She reckoned it was pretty cool, too, in all honesty. The technician described how, running the saw over her own hand without sustaining an injury. That was pretty awesome, Emma thought.
What was much less cool was the smell when the cast was cracked open.
“Oh wow, kid,” she grimaced. “That's rank.”
“First stop will be the shower when we get home,” Regina added, peering at the line of his ankle. It was as skinny as the other, perhaps a little swollen. There was no sign of bruising and Henry wriggled his foot experimentally. He was taken behind a sheet of lead glass to have an X-ray taken, Emma and Regina herded away from him. The nurse seemed pretty happy with the result and asked him to stand up on his healed ankle.
“Try walking, Henry,” the nurse advised. Henry lifted slightly anxious hazel eyes to his mother, who swallowed nervously, before nodding. The nurse helped him to stand, and a broad smile broke out on his face as he took a couple of tentative steps, gaining confidence as he went.
“Awesome, kid!” Emma exclaimed. “That's great!” Regina was stiff beside her, though she nodded and a quick glance confirmed that her eyes were slightly teary.
“So, you might need to use your crutches for a little while, and we need to get you in touch with physiotherapy,” the nurse said, “but you seem pretty good!”
Regina stepped forward, fussing with getting a sock and a loose sandal over Henry's filthy foot. Emma wrinkled her nose, a bit relieved that she'd missed out on the gross bits of having a kid, for the most part. Regina ran a hand over his leg gently, a look of enormous relief on her face, dark eyes soft with affection.
“I tell you what,” the nurse sighed. “There's always one parent who keeps their cool,” she confided, handing Emma a stack of leaflets. “You go through this together later.”
Her heart stuttered in her chest, and by rights she should have been looking for the closest exit as the urge to flee griped her. Instead, her heart warm and full, she picked up Henry's school bag and Regina's coat, smiling at the two most important people in her life as they all walked out of the hospital together.
Emma drove them home after a celebratory dinner in Granny's, helping Henry upstairs once again. Regina brushed by her with a touch to her waist, telling her to go down to the basement. Emma was more than happy to oblige, adjusting the lights and pouring a drink for them as Regina put Henry to bed. She flicked through a couple of CDs, selecting Garbage's newest album, the thought that it seemed especially apt flitting through her mind. Regina had been stiff and anxious since the hospital, closed off in a way that had come to seem strange and while it made Emma slightly nervous, the memory of the gentle touch to her waist promised answers.
She relaxed into the couch, shoes off and feet up, unwinding from the day. She and Regina had already organised the coming week, coordinating the dance of school runs, physiotherapy and dinners ahead of them. There was also a tentative plan to drive up the coast on Saturday, weather permitting, to have a talk with Henry. The songs passed, Emma sinking more and more deeply into a relaxed state as she enjoyed the music. After a while, a slower song came on, moody guitar bouncing off a deep, droning bass line. The singer's voice was light, gentler than usual. Soft footsteps alerted Emma to the fact that she wasn't alone and she opened her eyes, watching Regina approach the couch. She was dressed in a pair of yoga pants and, to Emma's enormous surprise, an actual t-shirt. Her hair was wet from a recent shower, her natural curls rising from damp patches on narrow shoulders.
She looked much smaller than usual, soft and young as she stood barefoot in her basement, wandering uncertainly to collect her drink. Emma's chest clenched at the sight, concern filling her. Aching to reach out and soothe her.
“Hey,” she greeted, rising from the couch. Regina lifted her head, peering over her shoulder with haunted, sad eyes.
“Hey,” Emma repeated, moving across the floor without conscious volition, stopping short to avoid making Regina feel crowded. “You OK?”
Regina drew in a breath, turning her head and picking up her drink. The music wove around them, melancholic and elegiac. Emma waited quietly, watching Regina contemplate her glass for a long moment.
“I know it's silly,” she said, softly. “But I was so worried. Worried he'd be lamed or left unable to walk.”
Sympathy rose through Emma, as well as a profound affection. "Like in the old world, huh?" A nod confirmed her instinct and she felt her mouth twist into a fond smile.
Emma took a long gulp of her wine. And then another. She set her glass on the bar and took Regina's from her hands. Dark, curious eyes met her own, Regina appearing younger than Emma could ever recall seeing her.
“Dance with me?” she asked, stepping into the center of the room and extending a hand.
Regina twisted her hands together in front of her, pressing into her stomach once or twice. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, blinking at her for a long moment as she swallowed. Emma could see her struggling to gather herself and she held her breath, the signs of Regina reforming her defenses familiar. She stood waiting for the walls to go back up. Waiting for the armor to wrap around her once more. But hoping for a gap, a chink.
Regina was tense, her shoulders bunched up and her fingers trembling as she stepped forward, taking Emma's hand. She exhaled, trembling as she made an effort to steady herself and to not travel down those same old defensive routes. She made herself relax, meeting Emma's eyes with uncertainty, but also something like hope. Vulnerable but fearless.
“I doubt you'll enjoy my dancing without the benefit of shots,” she warned, skin warm and dry in Emma's slightly sweaty palm.
“I disagree,” Emma chuckled, gently pulling Regina to her and laying her other hand on her waist carefully. “I think I'll enjoy any kind of dancing we do.”
The smile that broke out on Regina's face began in the crinkling of her eyes, surrounding the anxiety there and turning it into something delicate and tender. It barely lifted her lips, but it loosened her shoulders and drew her closer. Regina reached out carefully, running her hand over Emma's shoulder and pressing close to her.
“Is this OK?” she asked, peering up from beneath sooty eyelashes free of makeup. Her fingers tightened on Emma's shoulder fleetingly, as though unsure of their welcome.
“Is this?” Emma replied, sliding her hand up and around to the small of Regina's back, high above the curve of her sacrum. Though they were standing in Regina's basement in their most casual of clothes, that familiar feeling of luxury spread through her, settling low in her belly. The topography of Regina's back was soft, but well defined and she traced the dip of her spine with her thumb.
Regina sighed at that, leaning forward until her damp head was pressed into Emma's shoulder, her breasts against her own. The realization that she wasn't wearing a bra was swiftly followed by Regina moving her other hand to wrap around her back, ducking her gaze.
Emma was slightly shocked at the move, but for once in her life managed to keep her shit together, bringing her free hand to rest on Regina's back, just below the jut of her shoulder blade. Emma drew her more firmly against her, swaying in time to the music. Regina moved with her, easily and fluidly, her body loosening and relaxing. There was none of the false courage of alcohol that had bolstered her confidence during Ruby's party, but instead a quiet certainty that this was where she was meant to be. Regina moved without any of the self-consciousness that had stiffened her that evening, too.
Emma nuzzled her hair, taking in the scent of her shampoo and began to hum along with the song. Regina chuckled against her, hugging her tightly.The song washed over them, the chords thrumming through the speakers, reverberating through her ribs. Regina took a deep breath beneath her, fingers tightening once more.
“We're like a couple of teenagers,” she groused, without any real ire.
“I never got to slow dance in a basement with the most beautiful girl in town when I was a teenager,” Emma teased, bumping Regina with her hip and earning a sharp inhalation. “Maybe we're making up lost time.”
“Isn't it a bit late for that?” Regina asked, softly.
“I think we both missed out on a lot when we were younger,” Emma murmured, “and I think we deserve to be happy.”
They were quiet for a while, idly listening as music played in the background. A couple of minutes had passed, but Emma had stopped keeping track, too lost in the warmth and comfort available in Regina's arms.
“Does this make you happy?” Regina asked, after a while, her question a whisper almost lost against the background music.
“It does,” Emma confided, shifting her head to one side, bringing her mouth close to Regina's ear. “You?”
“More than I deserve.”
“No,” Emma said, firmly. “Not more. Likely less, because we both know I'm a giant pain in the ass.”
Regina laughed at that, pulling back slightly. “You're an idiot.”
“You're the one that kissed an idiot,” Emma teased, earning a smack to the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” she corrected, primly, “an idiot kissed me.”
“And she'd like to kiss you again,” Emma said, her voice lower than normal and clearly being perceived as quite sexy, if the way Regina bit her lip was to be believed. A tiny nod, eyes flicking upwards for reassurance, and the distance vanished.
Henry rolled onto his back, jaw cracking as he yawned. He scratched at his leg idly, once again grateful to have his cast gone. He felt much lighter without it, unencumbered and free. He pulled himself from under his covers and trotted to the bathroom. He had just over three quarters of an hour before he needed to leave for school and hurried himself.
Something wasn't quite right, he mused as he peed. It was bright outside but the house was quiet. It was unusual for his mom to sleep through her alarm, and he frowned slightly, making his way downstairs. Sure enough, the ground floor was silent, no scent of coffee brewing or quiet music playing.
He was big enough to fix his own breakfast, but he was curious. Was his mom sick? Had she fallen asleep in the study or the rec room?
A quick check revealed that no, she had not. After setting the coffee to brew, he made his way back upstairs, pausing outside her door. He pressed his ear to the wood, listening for a moment. Despite her insistent protestations, his mom did kind of snore sometimes. The room was silent and he cracked the door a tiny bit, not wanting to wake her if she was asleep or sick but slightly anxious to confirm that she was in the house and not, say, abducted by a group of villains.
His eyes adjusted to the dim room quickly, no doubt thanks to the carrots he was made eat, and he took in the scene before him.
His mom was stretched on her back, dark hair tousled on her pillow, while Emma was sprawled across her. She was snoring a bit, and Emma was drooling. The t-shirt, t-shirt!, his mother was wearing was stained on one shoulder.
He blinked, not quite sure what to make of the scene. He'd never seen his mother express this kind of physical affection towards anyone except him and even then, since he'd gotten bigger only when he was hurt or scared.
Frowning, he made his way to the bed, tip-toeing carefully. Emma didn't seem upset, he noted, just goofy. Her hair was gathered back in a messy bun, hanging low at the nape of her neck. She had a hand on his mom's side, just above the hem of the t-shirt she was wearing. His mom had both hands around Emma, holding her gently against chest.
He stood, shifting nervously on his feet. He wasn't sure if he was intruding in a private moment and suddenly felt a bit nervous. Dark eyes opened, his mom blinking sleepily at him. Her eyelashes fluttered and a crooked smile broke across her face. She was blushing a little bit, but trying to act as normally as she could with Emma sprawled over her chest. It was pretty commendable, actually.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” she whispered. “Are you alright?”
“Is Emma?” he asked, frowning with worry.
His mom smiled again, glancing down at the blonde head on her chest. “She's fine, Henry. She slept over last night.” She paused, catching her lip in her teeth. “We were listening to music and it got late.”
Henry nodded at that, relaxing a little bit. “Oh. OK.” He tipped his head to one side. “You guys really are friends now, huh?”
His mom was quiet for a long moment, peering at him and thinking for a while. “We are. We care about each other, Henry. We care a lot about each other,” she confessed. His eyes widened and he took the scene in again.
“Oh. Oh! Like, like more than friends?”
His mom just chuckled, the motion causing Emma to shift on her chest, trapping her more firmly. “Would that be strange for you?”
“I dunno,” he admitted, “like, I guess not? Is it OK for me to be in here?”
“Oh Henry,” she sighed, reaching a hand out for him. He approached his parents carefully and took his mom's hand. “Of course it is. We'll have a talk about privacy later.”
“A firm one,” Emma mumbled. His ma didn't bother lifting her head, nestling her head more firmly on his mom's boobs, like the disaster she was. “Hey, kid.”
“Hey ma.” He glanced at his mom, who patted Emma's side in an effort to get her to roll offer her. She perched on the edge of the bed, swinging her legs over the edge. She was smiling at him, while also idly playing with his ma's hair, seemingly unconsciously. She had a giant smile on her face and she looked more like herself than since before everything kicked off with the curse. Hair messy and her yoga pants wrinkled, with a wide smile on her face. He stepped forward, hugging her tightly, Emma sitting up and grabbing them both as well, a sleepy, rumpled mess of warm limbs pressed together.
"We're still going on an adventure on Saturday," he stated, feeling laughter rumble through the chest beneath his ear.
"We are," his mother confirmed, "and I'm choosing the music for the drive."