Regina did her best to ignore the muffled sounds of celebration from Granny's diner. How she stood alone, open and vulnerable. How she could feel the curious eyes of the party-goers watching her, waiting for her to snap and send their precious savior scampering off with her tail between her legs.
Instead, she focused solely on Emma, hoping against all hope that her time in the Enchanted Forest with Snow White hadn't overshadowed what little compassion she'd once managed to show Regina.
"I have his room just sitting there," Regina pressed, doing her best to keep her voice light. High. As friendly as someone as unfriendly as her could manage. "Ready for him."
Just a night. At least one night. Surely working with David, saving Snow's life, absorbing a death curse into the marrow of her very bones-
Surely that was worthy of a single night.
The furrow of Emma's brow, the grimace on her lips, told Regina it very much wasn't.
"I-" she hesitated, eyes darting back to the diner door as though she wanted little more than to flee from the conversation altogether. "I don't think that's a good idea."
It would be so easy to kill her.
Regina's hands clenched into tight fists deep in the pockets of her coat. Her magic thrummed beneath her fingertips, prickling under her skin. Ready to be set loose. Ready to destroy.
What could the savior, gnawing on her bottom lip, uncomfortably shifting between her feet, do to stop her? What could any of them, half-drunk and fully defenseless, do to protect themselves? They'd be paper in the wind if she walked back into that building with fire in her hands. Shredded to bits before they even realized what was happening to them.
"Not yet, anyways."
Regina blinked up at Emma, licked her lips and let her hands relax. "What?"
"Henry is-" Emma winced. She took the last couple of steps down the stairs from Granny's stoop until they were at last on even footing. "I don't, uh," she rubbed at the back of her neck, "I don't think he's super ready yet. And I think if we try to force it there might be some push back, you know?"
Regina stared at her, scarcely daring to breathe.
"I'll bring it up," Emma assured her quickly, hands raised a bit in a half-defensive gesture. "Maybe tomorrow I can mention it casually or something. I doubt he loves sleeping in my bed, and after camping out in the forest for weeks I'll admit I'm not thrilled about the couch."
"You'd let him?" She'd be embarrassed by the softness of her question if she wasn't so distracted by Emma's ramblings. As ready as Regina had been to punish Emma for denying her, she hadn't been naive enough to genuinely anticipate her blessing either.
Emma shrugged. "I didn't help with the party planning. That was more my, uh- Well, David and Ruby and stuff handled that. I sat with Henry instead and we caught up and-" Again, she shrugged. "I learned a lot about what's been going on. The magic and potions and all that stuff. The words ‘death curse’ were thrown around a lot too. He made it sound all very heroic."
Regina's heart clenched painfully in her chest, the agony of it almost slicing through her. Maybe-
"Oh," was all she managed to force past the thickness in her throat.
Emma smiled at her like she understood. "Yeah." She sniffed, straightened. "So, I'll try and feel the kid out and we can keep in touch about it." She raised her eyebrows. "Do you still have my number or did you delete it in a rage as soon as the curse broke?"
Regina rolled her eyes. "I still have your number," she muttered.
"Cool." Emma's wry smile faded a bit at the edges. "About that death curse thing, that sounds pretty intense." She eyed Regina warily. "There any side effects that go along with sucking up one of those? You're not going to just drop dead on us at any moment right?"
Though she was rather taken aback by what almost looked to be concern in Emma's eyes, Regina retained her facade of disinterest. "Careful," she replied dryly, "one might think you're worried about the Evil Queen."
Emma snorted. "Well, you definitely seem fine, anyhow. If you're not, work on getting fine, yeah? I think we left a pretty pissed off witch behind us who's desperate to bust into our reality. If she makes her way through we're gonna need all the firepower we can get."
Regina stiffened at the mention of Mother, whole being tensing. Emma watched her carefully, and past the concern for her health, Regina knew her loyalty was being lightly tested.
Cora or Henry.
Heroes or villains.
It was nearly enough to make her laugh. Instead, she kept her expression neutral and tilted her head. "From what I heard, you and your mother exhausted the last way out of that wasteland," she lied through her teeth. "I doubt it's possible she'll ever be able to make her way over."
"Maybe," Emma allowed, clearly dubious but not certain enough to call Regina on anything.
"If I notice anything out of the ordinary," Regina plastered a wide, plastic smile on her face, "you'll be the first to know, Sheriff."
Emma startled a bit as Regina turned to leave. "You're walking home?"
Regina looked back at her, brow furrowed. "Is that a problem?" Surely she wouldn't be called evil for this now as well?
"It's, you know," Emma floundered a bit, "dark," she settled on lamely. "And late. You gonna be okay?"
That time Regina couldn't stop herself from laughing out loud. "Am I going to be okay?" she repeated, shaking her head.
Emma seemed to pout at the open ridicule, usually pale cheeks darkening. "Yeah, whatever," she grumbled. "Nevermind."
Regina watched with amusement as Emma stomped back into the diner, shoulders hunched in her embarrassment.
Well, Regina mused as she headed for home, they'd certainly had worse conversations.
Regina hadn't even finished stepping over the threshold before she knew she wouldn't be enjoying a quiet evening alone in her own home. Taking a steadying breath, she made a show of carefully setting down her bag on the small table in the foyer and hanging her coat before turning to face the intruder.
"I thought I made it quite clear last night you aren't welcome in this house." Regina moved passed the man without a backwards look, headed for the stairs.
"Don't be like that." Hook moved to follow, tromping over her pristine area rug in his ratty old boots. "We've gotten along so well together in the past, haven't we?"
Regina snorted. "Not as well as you would have liked, I'm sure."
"An unfortunate truth easily rectified."
"Now, Killian, none of that in my presence, thank you."
Regina stilled mid-step, fingers wrapped tight around the banister as she stared up at the woman on the landing. "Good evening, Mother."
"Regina," Mother greeted, a too-wide smile on her face. "Your night went well, I take it? It must have been such fun, celebrating your victory with all of your dear friends by your side."
It was a struggle not to snap at Mother's smug condescension. Regina was under no illusions that Cora hadn't watched her all night, whether by mirror or using magic to lurk outside the diner windows. The woman knew full well Regina spent the party huddled alone, looking after her son with hungry eyes, only enjoying a brief few moments of his undivided attention before the Proper Heroes reclaimed it once more.
"Or was the company not quite as friendly as you dared to dream?"
Regina swallowed. "All I care about is my son."
Mother tilted her head, smile growing impossibly wider. "Of course. Believe me, I heard you quite clearly last night. And I admire your resolve. I have no intention of dragging you into another war you want no part of."
Regina stood for a moment, trapped between the two of them. Cora above and Hook below. And then she remembered herself--an adult woman with roughly thirty years of freedom under her belt--and she gathered the courage to continue walking. Marching up the rest of the stairs and moving past Cora in the hall.
"I do think it's strange though," Cora called after her--and here came the pitch--"that you would profess to want your son so badly, yet turn your back on the only person who could help you reclaim him."
Again, Regina stilled. "You don't care about Henry."
"Of course I do." Mother had the audacity to pretend to be offended by the claim. "He's my grandson."
A blatant lie. Regina wasn't a naive little girl anymore. And she wasn't desperate for Mommy's love. All that mattered was Henry.
Henry and just the faint, fleeting chance of his smile.
She made to move towards her bedroom but a hand snapped out to stop her, fingers like claws tight around her wrist. "They'll never give him back to you."
Emma shifting on her feet, gaze averted. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"They've corrupted him. Brainwashed him. Do you really think he'd willingly come home?"
A brief conversation and then he was gone. The whole night flitting excitedly about the diner talking to everyone else. Anyone else.
"No matter how pure and wholesome you pretend to be, it will never be enough to change their minds and you know it, don't you? You can spend your whole life as their lapdog, and they'll never see you as anything more than the very worst of what you once were."
Regina stood, trapped, feeling their eyes on her back. She swallowed thickly.
"What do you want from me?"
"I'm so glad you asked."
"I didn't say I was going to help," Regina snapped. Cora's grip tightened. Regina desperately wanted to pull free of her grasp, but as much as she'd grown, there was still that frightened, obedient little girl shaking deep inside of her. Screaming that if she just behaved, everything would be okay. "I just want to know what you're planning. Why come to Storybrooke at all? There's nothing of interest to you here. No kings or queens, not in the way you're used to."
Regina stiffened, the hair on the back of her neck raising at Cora's confident tone. That had never meant anything good for her in the past.
"The only thing holding me back is the savior. As much as I hate to admit it, her affinity for light magic makes her as good as untouchable."
Regina whirled about, fully facing her mother at last. "Emma has magic?"
Her shock seemed to amuse Cora. "They didn't tell you?" The words were taunting.
Regina did her best to shoulder the hurt that not even Henry…
Well, it just went to show how little they were willing to trust her. That they wanted that last ace in the hole to whip out if she even thought to step a toe out of line.
"I see." Cora managed to reign in her smile to something vaguely sympathetic. "Her power is how they escaped me in the other realm. It would seem being anointed savior at birth has granted the Swan girl power she never earned for herself, nor has the right to."
Regina warily studied her mother's dark, flashing eyes. "What do you want me to do about it? If she's already bested you, it's not as though I could-"
"Brute force is clearly out of the question," Cora interrupted, "but I was watching her tonight." Of course. "She's very easy to read, this savior." A wicked smirk played at Cora's lips. "A bleeding heart, through and through."
Mother's laughter sent a shiver up Regina's spine, and when she raised a hand to trail her fingers delicately along Regina's cheek, Regina had to fight her every instinct not to flinch.
"I think besting this particular hero will call for a soft touch."