I always knew I wanted to do something important when I grew up.
You don’t grow up like I did and suddenly decide you want to go into fashion or be a florist, or a kindergarten teacher. You seek out what you know, your comfort zone. It’s human instinct. So when your childhood is a grim tale of shitty group homes and shittier foster homes and the shittiest youth shelter in Boston, your comfort zone starts way the hell outside of where most people’s definition of normal ends.
The first time I was in an emergency room, I was eight. I don’t remember much. Bright lights, drunken shouting, my stupid pink cast. I remember a spattering of blood on my pajama pants. I was wearing my Little Mermaid PJs (not really mine, cast-offs) and the blood was speckling Ariel’s face, and I was actually kind of thinking maybe I’d get some new pajamas out of it, maybe some He-Man ones when a man in a white coat came and sat down with me.
He wasn’t creepy or anything. He was nice. Even at eight, you get to know. He sat with me, and we talked about what I liked to eat and what my favorite shows were, and while we talked he just held my hand. But it wasn’t weird. It felt safe. And that wasn’t something that eight-year-old Emma could remember ever feeling. He was holding my hand and he didn’t want anything from me and he wasn’t going to hurt me. He was just being present. A comfort. And that’s when I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do this for someone else.
I wanted to be in someone’s memory forever as having done something worthwhile and meaningful. Something special. Because when you’re a lonely girl in bloody Little Mermaid pajamas, "special" isn’t something you get called often.
Though to be fair, now that I’m a doctor, I can’t say much has changed in that department.
“Go to hell, bitch!”
“Sir, we’re just trying to help you. Have you taken anything today?”
Sometimes I curse eight-year-old Emma and all the Emmas that came after her for getting me into this. On nights like this, it can be easy to forget all that meaningful bullshit when all you want to do is strangle half the people that come in off the street.
“Sir, can you tell me how you hurt yourself?”
“LET GO OF ME YOU FUCKING CLOWNS!”
I take a step back from the guy, blowing a strand of hair out of my eyes with irritation. “ Goddamnit where the hell is security?” He’s fighting three of my colleagues with a surprising amount of muster for a guy that looks like he’s about to pass out from blood loss. Nothing like methamphetamines to put a little pep in your step.
“Need a hand?” I hear a mocking voice over my shoulder and turn to see my co-worker Ruby, a fellow third-year resident, watching the scene with amusement. She may be my best friend, but she sure as hell isn’t above laughing at me if I get bitten. Again.
“Oh thank god,” I sigh. If Ruby is here it must mean my shift is blessedly over. “You want this one? Some goddamn good Samaritan called it in,” I growl, crossing my arms. “He was found down in an alley. Guy’s bleeding from the mouth but won’t let anyone near enough to help him.”
“I’ll take it from here, Swan. It’s clear you’ve used up all of your compassion for humanity for today.”
I nod. “Pretty sure the last straw was when a patient stole my coffee while I was writing him a script for pain meds.”
“Too cruel,” she agrees with a grin. “Get out of here,” she pushes me gently towards the staff room.
“With pleasure,” I answer. “Oh and by the way,” I glance at her over my shoulder, “You-know-who is working with you tonight.”
Ruby’s cheeks flush and she shoots me a glare, though I can tell she’s trying not to smile. Rubes has had a massive thing for Belle, one of the nurses, for at least a year. For all her cockiness, she has yet to do anything about it. I salute her as I step backwards with a grin, and head to the break room. The rusty hinges on my locker shriek in protest as I yank it open, hauling out my coat and shrugging it on. The flash of movement catches my eye in the small, cracked mirror on my locker door, and I do a double-take as I see myself for the first time in nearly two days. My blonde hair is mostly falling out of its low ponytail, the area under my eyes ringed with dark purple. Paired with my bloodshot eyes and bodily fluid- spattered clothing, I’m currently looking less like a physician and more like one of the patients that wander into the ER at 4 am following a cocaine bender. I touch a finger absently to the dry, peeling skin around my nose. “Christ, Emma. Get yourself to a spa.”
“No one ever said medicine was glamourous,” a teasing voice remarks, pulling me out of my horrified trance. I turn around to see Belle waltzing into the room looking irritatingly fresh-faced and attractive.
“I’d settle for looking not-dead at this point,” I sigh, slamming my locker shut and slinging my backpack over one shoulder.
“Please,” Belle rolls her eyes, “You don’t look nearly as bad as the guy in exam 3. Though to be fair, he actually is dead.”
I scowl at her, unsure if she’s serious, then decide I’m too tired to care. “Whatever. I’m getting the hell out of this hole and I’m never coming back again.”
“See you tomorrow,” she grins.
I go back, of course I go back.
What the hell else would I do with my time? I have a cramped apartment, a gym membership, and no life whatsoever outside of Mass. General. I’m pretty much stuck here at this point, and I’m okay with that I guess. It’s kind of nice, having a place to go to where everything is familiar and the people you work with are more or less consistent. The boss just left but that was no great loss, he was some old windbag that liked the sound of his own voice better than anything. I think I can count on one hand the number of times he actually touched a patient.
I’ve been telling my senior Mary Margaret to apply for the position, but she’s wavering because she’s currently trying to get pregnant with her irritatingly perfect husband who is also chief of the OR. At first, I thought I was annoyed that she would give up on the chance to elevate her career just to have a baby. Then I realized that I actually just didn’t want her to go on maternity leave because I like her, and I didn’t want her to not be around. So I decided I should probably stop being a selfish asshole and encourage her to do whatever she thinks is best, because I know that’s what she would do. You know, growth or whatever. Besides, I can’t think of someone who would make a better mother than her.
I head into the break room, looking to drop off my bag and maybe have a quick coffee before my shift when I see someone I don’t recognize standing at the lockers. Actually, standing at my locker. She’s tall and dark-haired, and really hot, and she’s pulling my shit out of my locker and dumping it on the coffee table. I can see my hoodie piled in a ball next to a pair of my old socks.
“What in the hell are you doing?” my voice cuts through the room, and it comes out a lot more intense than I had intended. The thing is, when you grow up with nothing, you tend to get pretty protective of the little you do have. Even the old socks.
The woman jumps, turns towards me holding my hairbrush (which – Jesus I really should clean that thing out one of these days) and she doesn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. In fact, she looks all haughty and superior, and even though I have like two inches on her, she’s somehow looking down her nose at me like I’m something unpleasant she’s found stuck to her shoe. “I beg your pardon?”
Her voice is husky but I’m too pissed to be interested. Much. “That’s my stuff!” I point at her accusingly.
She looks at the items on the table as though it’s the first time she’s seeing them. “Oh?” she asks innocently. “You must be Emma.”
“No, actually, I’m Dr. Swan,” I correct, my eyes narrowed. Cause yeah I’m gonna pull out the MD if you’re gonna mess around with my shit. “And that’s my stuff. And that –“ I point behind her, “is my locker. So again, I’m gonna ask. What the hell are you doing?”
Her nostrils flare and it’s actually really cute, and I can see her eyes darken as her one hand slides down to prop onto her hip, and for some reason, I just have this feeling that I’m going to be seeing a lot of this. Her, looking at me with supreme irritation. And all I can think is - this is gonna be fun.
“No, Miss Swan,” she corrects, “This was your locker. Now, it’s mine. And as for these belongings of yours…” she eyes the admittedly kind of gross hairbrush in her hand and curls a plum-colored lip with distaste. “I’d consider just putting it all in the incinerator.”
I step forward, stalking towards her, and her eyes widen just a fraction. “Where in the hell do you get off? You can’t just waltz in here and start hauling shit out of people’s lockers! Who the hell do you think you are, lady?”
“Oh, Emma, I see you met our new chief of emergency medicine!” a sweet voice cuts through the air, and I turn behind me to see Mary Margaret beaming at me from the doorway, blissfully unaware of the extreme level of tension in the room. I feel my heart stop a little at her words, because oh fuck no, Emma you did not just lose it at the new chief of medicine. I shut my eyes briefly; really, really, not wanting to turn around. I can practically feel this woman’s smug smile on the back of my head. My face transfixed in horror, I look behind me and sure enough. She’s standing there with her hip cocked and her eyebrow raised and a wide, triumphant, incredible smile on her face.
“Dr. Regina Mills,” she says, devilish grin firmly in place.
“Uh…hi,” I answer lamely, because what the hell else would I say at this point.
“Dr. Swan was gracious enough to offer her locker to me, Dr. Blanchard, isn’t that nice?” Regina practically purrs.
Mary Margaret nods with a confused smile because clearly she knows me well enough to know I don’t just offer shit to people. “Wow, Emma, that’s very welcoming of you.”
“Thanks,” I snarl through gritted teeth, scooping my clothes off the table and shoving them in the only free locker left, on the very bottom far corner. I’m about to stand when my ratty hairbrush suddenly enters my field of vision and I look up to see Regina towering over me. I take the brush and my cracked mirror from her hands and shove them in my locker, stand so I’m eye to eye with this she-devil again.
I brace myself for a dressing-down, for the words suspension or probation or disciplinary action but all she says as she continues to grin, cat-like, is “I’m really looking forward to working with you.”
She saunters from the room, leaving a stunned Mary Margaret and myself in her wake. Mary Margaret looks at me, blue eyes wide. “What the heck was that?”
That, as I learn from my coworkers, is the Evil Queen –a nickname that seems to have followed her from her native NYC. At first, I assume that her intense hostility towards me is a result of our memorable first introduction. But after a few days, I start to realize that she treats everyone with equal amounts of disdain and contempt, and I’m oddly relieved. It definitely doesn’t take long for Dr. Mills’ charming personality to make the rounds and before the end of her first few weeks, the sound of her high heels clicking on the linoleum is enough to send people scattering to the four winds. Rumors fly about her faster than I can keep track of, and none of them good.
“Did you hear she tossed a dying guy into the street because his insurance ran out?”
“I heard she fires an employee every six months so people know not to mess with her.”
“Someone told me that she once canned a nurse who spilled coffee on her shirt.”
As much of a pain in the ass as Regina can be, I have a hard time believing all the hype. I mean sure, she’s uptight and condescending. And okay, about 75% of the things she says are snarky and the other 25% is sarcasm. The thing is, I learned a long time ago to differentiate between the truly bad people in the world and the ones that just want you to think that they are. And Regina? I’m pretty sure she’s all talk.
Besides, no one said she had to win some kind of popularity contest in order to be here. What actually matters is whether or not she’s good at her job, and it doesn’t take long for us to see that she is. She’s dedicated, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. She started running traumas with us from her very first day. Her technique is flawless, not that I’d ever give Her Highness the satisfaction of telling her so. She can make difficult decisions without a moment of hesitation in those dark eyes, and her confidence makes the people working with her feel more confident too. So yeah. She’s a pain in the ass. But she’s one I can deal with.
“Focus, Dr. Swan.”
“Yeah, sorry,” I shake my head, my cheeks warming. I’ve been doing that a lot when she’s around, getting distracted. She may be a pain in the ass but she is also stupidly good looking and this isn’t even the first time today that I’ve found my attention drifting. It’s just – those lips. She’s glaring at me over the head of our patient, an 8-month-old boy who has a seriously astonishing lung capacity and hasn’t stopped screaming since his mother brought him in. I shoot her my very best, most charming apologetic grin, and she returns with a stare so withering I feel the smile on my lips dissolve immediately. “Uh, so Mrs. McCullers, can you tell me again what’s been going on?”
Regina is still staring at me as the boy’s mother speaks, I can see her in my peripheral vision. Her eyes are narrowed dangerously and she’s scrutinizing the side of my head like she’s trying to figure out what sort of game I’m playing. I have a feeling that whatever theories she comes up with, me lusting after her isn’t one of them.
“It’s been two days,” the kid’s mother pleads. “He won’t stop crying, there has to be something wrong.” She lunges forward and grabs my wrist, her eyes desperate. “ You have to do something.” Between the two of them, I have to say that Mrs. McCullers is the one that looks like she needs a little medical care. Her eyes are red-rimmed, her shirt crusted with old milk, and I don’t even have the heart to tell her there’s a Cheerio stuck to her neck.
“Well let’s just give him a quick check-up,” I reply gently, delicately extracting myself from her intense grip. I do my best to auscultate his lungs, but it’s kind of difficult to hear anything over his plaintive wails. Every time I try to position him he kicks at me or squirms away. “Hang on little buddy,” I beg. You’re making me look stupid in front of the pretty lady, kid. I try to palpate his abdomen and he twists away, howling. I can feel Regina’s irritation radiating off her, ignoring her impatient sigh as the kid squirms out of my grip for the third time.
“Oh for the love of –give him to me, Dr. Swan,” Regina orders.
“What for?” I ask, affronted. “I’m assessing him.”
“No, you’re in a wrestling match with him, now step aside.”
“Look I think I am perfectly capable of doing a simple physical assessment,” I hiss at her. God, the ego on this woman.
Regina’s voice drops dangerously, out of range of the anxious mother watching us. “I’ll be the one to decide what you’re capable of, Dr. Swan. I am an expert in pediatric care, now I’ll ask you again to step aside.” The look on her face leaves no room for argument, not even from me.
I fight the urge to roll my eyes as I step to the side, though I can’t help but mutter “unbelievable” under my breath as I do so. She ignores me, swooping in to scoop up the baby with gentleness and ease. He’s still squirming but she’s got a confident hold on him, stethoscope moving smoothly from place to place. The whole time she’s pinning me with a “ this is how it’s done” look, and even though she’s so disgustingly smug about the whole thing, I can’t even help but smile at her because she’s cute, even when she’s trying to show me up.
“Okay, sweetheart,” she soothes, her voice so soft it makes my stomach clench. “I’m just going to check your –“ she’s cut off mid-sentence as the kid erupts a truly shocking, Exorcist-amount of milky vomit all down the front of her, pooling down her throat and chest, dripping onto her shoes. Her mouth is open in shock, face transfixed in an expression of horror. I take a ragged breath, trying my very goddamned best not to laugh, but it’s just so perfect. “Don’t you dare laugh, Dr. Swan,” she warns. The baby is currently gurgling happily in her arms, his chubby hands reaching up to grab her face. I bite my lip and nod, eyes welling with tears at the extreme effort it’s taking to not completely lose it.
“I’m not.” My voice is high and breathy, I feel a tear escape my left eye and deftly swipe it away with a knuckle. I clear my throat, my voice returning to normal. “I value my life, okay? Not laughing here,” I answer. Stepping forward cautiously, I take the sopping baby from her arms.
“Is he okay now?” Mrs. McCullers asks hopefully, coming up behind me. She takes in Regina, who’s in the process of being toweled down by Archie. “Oh, no…”
“Yeah, it looks like he just had a little gas. Or, I guess, a lot of it.”
“I burped him a thousand times, I don’t understand!” she shakes her head in confusion, taking the happy baby in her arms.
I look anywhere but at Regina as I reply, “Oh we completely understand. Dr. Mills is an expert in these matters, he probably just needed a professional hand on this one,” I wink at her. She thanks us profusely as she walks away, and I turn back to see Regina shooting daggers at me with her eyes as she waves off Archie, toweling down her neck.
“You missed a spot,” I grin. “Guess you’d better go change, huh?”
“What an excellent suggestion, Dr. Swan,” she seethes, nostrils flaring. “I suppose I won’t have time to take the case of explosive diarrhea in exam 4 then. I trust I can leave that in your capable hands?”
My mouth opens in protest but she shoves the chart in my hand before I have a chance to say a word, a triumphant smirk on her face, and somehow manages to look haughty and superior as she walks away, trailing droplets of baby puke.
I find myself looking forward to work a lot more these days.
I mean, Regina has made it abundantly clear that she barely tolerates my existence, so. I have no grand illusions about that. But I console myself with the knowledge that she hates us all equally. Still, having her around has made things a lot more interesting, and I always like when things are interesting. When I see her striding towards me with her eyes glittering and nostrils flaring with irritation, a stick up her ass about me forgetting to sign off on my orders or something equally mundane, my stomach sort of fizzes with excitement. I have to remind myself whenever she’s laying into me, that hand on her hip just like I’d predicted, that I should not be grinning.
It’s just she looks so damned cute when she’s annoyed. And since being annoyed is her baseline state, I find myself charmed by her the majority of the time. When we get into bickering matches (“ Dr. Swan where did you get your medical degree, Guam?” “No, actually. But did your university offer a subspecialty in micromanaging, Dr. Mills? Because you’re amazing at it.”) I end up walking away exhilarated. It’s been a long time since I felt exhilarated about anything but working a trauma. It’s different, and I like it. Probably too much, but that’s where my excellent compartmentalization skills come into play, and with very little effort I usually manage to convince myself that my desire to get into heated arguments with Regina is just a way to pass the time, blow off a little steam when work gets overwhelming.
“I am the son of God, and I am here to bestow my light upon you!”
Like now, for instance.
“Sir, can you tell me where you are right now?”
“I am everywhere,” is the intense reply. “I am the way, the truth –“
“And the light, yeah, got it, thanks.” I look to Aurora, the nurse who is carefully picking through our patient’s personal effects. “Find an ID?”
“Nothing,” she shakes her head. “Where did they find him?”
“Wandering around downtown shouting scripture,” I reply, shining my penlight into his eyes. He bats at my hand with irritation.
“In that?” she asks, eyebrows raised. I nod grimly. The guy is wearing nothing but a threadbare bathrobe and it’s below freezing out.
“I am here to heal you!” he shouts, lunging to place a grimy palm on my forehead. I duck and Aurora and I help to settle him back down.
“Look, uh, thank you for that but can you just relax for a minute, sir? Can I get you something to eat?”
“Dr. Swan.” I turn to see Regina eyeing the situation with equal parts irritation and amusement. “Care to explain why this gentleman is currently terrifying half the waiting room?”
“Beelzebub takes many forms!” my patient interjects, pointing a knobby finger at Regina.
She stares him down, eyes narrowing until he sinks back into the stretcher mutely. “We’re waiting on a bed in psych,” I explain.
She crosses her arms. “Any way you could get him to wait a little more quietly? We have accreditation coming by today and the last thing they need to see is –“
“TRUST IN GOD, TRUST ALSO IN ME!”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “ Jesus.”
“Yes?” he looks towards me expectantly.
“What? No, not you,” I shake my head.
“ Dr. Swan,” I can hear Regina’s heel tapping on the floor in impatience.
“I’m working on it okay? Psych is packed, what do you want me to do?” Aurora is shrinking back as Regina and I take a step toward each other, her eyes flicking from my defiant face to Regina’s look of barely contained fury.
“I want you to keep him contained. This is a hospital, not a zoo.”
I level her with a look. “Do you really think there’s a big difference between the two?” She plants her hands on her hips and I know we’ve reached level 4 on the irritation scale. “What exactly do you suggest? I’ve given him a sedative, it’s done nothing. Psych told me it’s a two-hour wait until they have a bed.”
She sighs, “Must I do everything around here?”
I blow a breath out, eyes heavenward as she sweeps past me.
Regina approaches Jesus, arms crossed. “Sir, is there something we can do to make you more comfortable?” she asks gently.
His dark eyes are glittering as he scrutinizes her face. “Even Satan disguises himself as an Angel of Light,” he hisses at her.
She looks at me, affronted, as though I’m the one to blame here. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she demands.
“Well, I think he said you were hot. But also that you might be the Devil.”
She looks back at Jesus, nostrils flaring, and he has the wherewithal to look a little abashed. “Sir, I’m simply trying to assist you. Perhaps we could get you some clean clothes?” She suggests, gingerly placing a hand on the bedrail of his stretcher.
I can see everything that’s about to happen as if it’s playing out in slow motion. I see him look at her hand resting next to his on the bed. I see his eyes widen, his body tense like a coiled spring. I reach out instinctively, grabbing Regina by the back of her lab coat, and yank her backward. She makes a small sound of surprise as she flies back against my chest the same moment Jesus lunges at her, an animal cry escaping his lips. We both stumble backward but I manage to keep us standing, my arms around her waist to steady her. Aurora has security over in a heartbeat and they’re easing him back into the bed. “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!” he cries, eyes wild. Aurora murmurs to him softly and he settles again.
“That’s not even scripture,” I mutter to Regina. “It’s from Moby Dick .”
I feel her shiver in my arms and that’s when I realize Regina is still in my arms. I can feel her rib cage expanding against my hands, her breathing heavy with panic. She smells warm and amazing, with a faint hint of apples, and my stomach clenches as I feel her fingers gripping my wrists in shock. She seems to realize that I’m still holding her at the same moment because she suddenly struggles to right herself, spinning out of my grip and facing me, her hair adorably rumpled. I can tell from the look on her face that she’s waging an inner battle between trying to find a way to be pissed off at me for this, and acknowledging that I totally just saved her ass.
“Well, Dr. Swan, I suppose I should be grateful for your quick reflexes,” she huffs, rankled. I smirk at her but know better than to expect anything more forthcoming than that. “I think you’ve got everything taken care of here. See to it that he’s moved to a private room until he’s ready to be transferred. And tell psych that I will gladly sign my name to anything that can expedite that transfer,” she adds, casting a dark glance in Jesus’ direction.
“Of course,” I nod, taking out my clipboard and pen. “Remind me, how many E’s are there in Beelzebub?” I ask, eyebrows raised innocently.
“You’re hilarious, ” she seethes, storming away in a rage.
Across the room, Jesus winks at me.
As hardass as Regina is, and as soulless as some of the Mass General staff believe her to be, I know there’s more to her than that. I’ve seen her talking to patients, and she gets a warmth in her eyes that you just can’t fake. I find myself wondering what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that look, but honestly, right now I’d settle for her not looking at me like I’m the limpy gazelle in the pack. Today, even that seems like too much to ask. She’s in rare form, even for her, and by the middle of the shift I’m the only one brave enough to get within two feet of her.
“Not now,” she responds tersely, refusing to look up from her charting.
“But I -”
I see her nostrils flare. Not good.
She flips the chart shut and cuts her eyes to me. Double not good.
“I am going to my office to complete this paperwork since this entire hospital is apparently conspiring to keep me from getting anything done today. Do not follow me, understood?”
I open my mouth to reply but she turns on a stupidly high heel and crackles her way down the hall.
Ruby comes up behind me. “So? Is she coming?”
I hear a distant slam of her office door. “Uh, I’m working on it.”
Ruby casts a concerned glance over her shoulder. “Well, the director said to get her in there ASAP.”
I sigh, gesturing in the direction of the Evil Queen’s office. I’m pretty sure I can see chips in the paint on the doorframe from how hard she slammed the door. “Be my fucking guest, Ruby.”
She scoffs. “Yeah, hell no.” She claps me on the shoulder, “Sorry but you’re the only one that she won’t snap in half the second you walk in that room. Or,” she snorts, “At least you’re enough of a masochist that you might like it if she did.”
I roll my eyes. “Just go stall, I’ve got this.”
She grins. “I’m sure you do.”
Refusing to unpack that sentence, I cut her a dirty look and drag my feet towards Regina’s office, stopping outside her door. “Okay, Swan, you can do this.” I clench and unclench my fingers, trying to decide if I should knock, or if I have better chances by just barging in. I go for the latter, which turns out to be a huge mistake. Obviously.
As I burst in the door, excuses on the tip of my tongue, I see Regina seated on the edge of her desk with her head in her hands, sobbing. She looks up at me, tears streaming down her cheeks, shock and outrage on her face. After a moment of us staring at each other, frozen, she manages to regain herself. “What in the HELL do you think you are doing?!” She stands up, and I am rooted to the spot. I really am the limpy gazelle. “How dare you just barge into my office after I explicitly told you not to?!”
She takes several predatory steps towards me and I know I should be shitting my pants about now, but honestly, the tears glistening on her eyelashes, and make-up smudged at the edges of her eyes are doing all kinds of things to me. “Are you okay?” I ask, shutting the door behind me.
She pauses for a moment, a flash of surprise crossing her face before she sputters, “What are you doing?” She’s inches from my face now, and I take a step back against the door. “That door should not be closed until you are on the other side of it Emma Swan do you hear me??”
I put my hands up in protest. “Look I’m sorry for barging in but you didn’t give me a hell of a lot of choice. And if you could stop biting my head off for two seconds maybe you could see that I am trying to tell you something important!”
She practically growls, and my mouth goes dry with fear and not a small amount of arousal. “ What.”
At this distance, I’m completely mesmerized by the scar on her upper lip, and it takes a hell of a lot of willpower - and the desire not to lose my fingers - to stop myself from reaching up and sweeping my thumb over it. “The hospital director is waiting for you in the conference room.”
Her eyebrows shoot up and her voice goes up an octave. “What?”
“He says you had a budget meeting that was supposed to start ten minutes ago.”
Regina closes her eyes and takes a step back, arms crossed protectively over herself. “Shit.”
“Should I tell him that you can’t make it?”
She sighs, opening her eyes and cutting a glance at me. “Not unless you would rather not get paid.”
“Right. Okay, I’ll let him know that you’re on your way.”
I turn to open the door, but I’m stopped by her voice. “Wait.”
She’s looking at me almost uncertainly. “Do I - that is, have I got any…?”
She gestures at her face vaguely and it takes me a second to figure out what she means. “Oh. Here, let me.” I step toward her, pulling out a wet wipe packet from my pocket. After years of working in a hospital, I learned pretty quickly that you should always have one on hand. I rip it open and reach out to her face, hesitating. “Don’t take my fingers off?” She rolls her eyes and I take that as a go-ahead.
I grasp her chin lightly in my fingers and wipe away some mascara from her cheek. I can feel her breath on my face and it makes me think of what her mouth tastes like, of how easy it would be to lean in a few more inches and find out. Valuing my life, I try to focus, brushing away an errant tear from her lashes with my thumb in the most clinical way possible - that being not at all. I can feel my breath getting shallow and I know that I should just fix her fucking makeup and get the hell out of there but I have never been one to take my own advice. I keep waiting for her to swat my hands away, or rip my face off. But she just stands there quietly, her eyes on me. I know better than to make eye contact, at least.
I turn her head gently to the side, and she lets me. It makes me briefly wonder what else she would let me do. With a few last touches, I reluctantly let go of her chin. It’s the most physical contact I’ve had in recent memory, and my body feels starved the second I step away. I’ve had sex with women and felt less. That’s when I realize that no amount of compartmentalization will let me ignore how truly fucked I am.
I clear my throat, but my voice is notably huskier than usual. “You’re all good.”
She nods. “Well. Thank you.” She looks slightly flustered herself, and it’s everything.
“Of course.” I take a step towards the door and stop, turning back. “Do you...want to talk about it? Whatever it was that made you so upset?”
Her face is already schooled back into the Evil Queen mask as she replies, “Get out, Dr. Swan.” The fact that she can’t stop a trace of a smile at the corner of her mouth makes this less frightening than it might otherwise be. I nod and turn to go, but she stops me again. “Oh and Emma? If you ever barge into my office like that again? I’ll snap you in half.”
“Hey beautiful, why don’t you think about moving those skilled hands a little lower, huh?”
“Joe, that’s inappropriate, okay?” I sigh, setting up my suture kit. It’s the second time he’s been in this month and he’s the loving kind of drunk - something I have too much experience with and very little patience for. He’s harmless, really, just a lonely guy in his 70s, but it’s been a long day and I’m not in the mood.
“Inappropriate?” he slurs. “God damn, I never thought I’d be livin’ in a world where you can’t pay a woman a damn compliment without ‘em gettin’ offended.”
“Yeah, Joe, it’s a real shame you can’t sexually harass people without them getting all bent out of shape these days,” I scoff, dabbing at the blood on his forehead a tad harder than strictly necessary. He hisses in pain and I feel a small, satisfied smile tugging at the edges of my mouth. “Did you lose consciousness when you fell down?”
“I didn’t fall down sweetheart, I tripped on a damn rug, thing’s always getting in the way.”
“Well, that’s the second time this month that rug has caused you trouble. You might want to think about tossing that thing out.” I finish cleaning up the laceration on his head, tilting his chin so I can see the edges in the light.
“Yeah but then I wouldn’t get to see your beautiful face, love,” he grins lecherously, reaching out to cup my chin and pull me closer. I have sterile equipment in my hands so I’m trying my best to wrestle my chin free of his grip without contaminating them.
“Joe, cut it out, I’m serious!”
“Ah, what’s the matter, huh?” he squeezes my chin a little harder and I let my forceps clatter to the ground, wrenching on his meaty wrist with all my might.
“Joe, don’t make me call security!”
“Do you need some help, Dr. Swan?” I turn my head, chin still firmly in the grip of Joe, and see Regina watching me with amusement, arms crossed. “Or am I interrupting something?”
“Very funny,” I do my best to scowl at her as I’m still wriggling free of Joe’s grip.
She rolls her eyes and steps forward, “Alright, sir, I’ll have to ask you to stop manhandling my staff, please.” I feel Regina’s fingertips slide along my cheek as she removes Joe’s hand from my face, and my eyes close briefly at the feeling. I busy myself with changing gloves and preparing my supplies, trying to shake the off-kilter feeling that’s settled in my chest.
“Well, can you blame me, Doc? I mean look at that face,” Joe slurs. Regina clears her throat pointedly and I smirk, shaking my head. Nice try, Joe. If today is the day the Evil Queen starts complimenting my appearance, it’s also the day I need to go out and buy a lottery ticket, because the odds of that happening are slim to none.
“Okay, Joe, stay still,” I warn.
“Whatever you say sweetheart,” he replies warmly, the smell of gin heavy on his breath. I start suturing the laceration, Regina trying to distract him with small talk, but the guy has a one-track mind. “Look at that hair, isn’t it pretty, Doc?” he slurs.
“Yes, it’s very pretty,” she replies stiffly. I nearly drop my suture needle at her words, managing to correct myself in time. Did she just… I shake my head. Clearly she’s just keeping him occupied.
“Like spun gold,” he croons. “Spun damn gold.”
“I’m almost done,” I sigh with irritation. “Just focus on staying still.”
“And those eyes, ” he gushes, turning his head towards me. Oh for the love of…
“Hold still Joe, unless you want your eyelid sutured,” I growl at him.
“What color would you say those eyes are, Doc?” he asks Regina. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
I try not to laugh as I finish stitching him up, starting to smooth a dressing over the wound. Regina has barely ever looked at me except to tell me off about something, as if she’d ever have noticed the color of my – “Sea green.”
My head automatically whips towards her, and she’s staring at me with a look of shock on her face, her eyes a little wide as if she can’t believe what she’s just said. We stare at each other for a second before Joe breaks the moment, snapping his fingers. We both jump. “You’re right, you’re so damn right Doc. Sea green. Like the sea after a storm,” he laughs to himself blissfully.
Regina stands abruptly. “Well, Dr. Swan, if you’re finished. “ I nod, still too stunned to say anything else because Regina complimented my hair and she knows the color of my eyes and maybe she doesn’t actually hate me as much as I think she does or maybe she was just saying that but then why is she looking so horrified right now?! I’m also starting to realize that as cute as angry Regina is, flustered Regina might actually be even cuter. “You should really have security with you next time, I can’t be expected to be your bodyguard for every patient that can’t keep his hands to himself,” she snaps, storming from the room. Joe and I look at each other for a moment.
“She’s feisty, ain’t she honey?”
“You have no idea.”
“I think she’s trying to kill me.”
I glance up from my spot on the break room couch. “She’s not trying to kill you, Archie.” I watch him nervously pouring himself another cup of coffee. “And maybe you want to lay off the caffeine? Just thinking out loud here.”
Archie scoffs and takes a shaky sip from his mug. “She’s already yelled at me twice today, and one time it was just for breathing too loudly,” he reports frantically. “She either wants me fired or dead and at this point, I don’t even know which one I would prefer.”
“Archie,” Mary Margaret soothes, eyeing him warmly over her mug of tea. “No one wants to get you fired. I know that Dr. Mills is… spirited but I think she just takes some getting used to.”
“It’s been months Dr. Blanchard,” Archie protests, “I don’t know how much more spirit I can take.”
I laugh softly, putting my head back down. It’s been a grueling shift, and I feel a tension headache coming on. My arm is also starting to ache. The injury may be ancient news but it always seems to get sore when the weather turns cold. Something about it always puts me in a mood. I look at the clock and console myself that I only have three more hours of my shift to go. I’m planning on crawling into bed and bingeing on Netflix the second I get home. Archie pulls me out of my thoughts as he continues to fret. “Don’t let her bully you, Arch,” I counsel him, opening and closing my aching fingers thoughtfully. “Just stand up for yourself. She’ll respect you more. You’re too easy of a target for her.”
“I’m not brave like you, Emma,” he replies, shaking his head. “I wish I was but I –“ his words dissolve into a yelp as the door to the break room swings open and he crashes bodily into Regina, his coffee sloshing down the front of her white shirt. Regina gasps, her arms held out away from her body, face murderous.
Mary Margaret and I look on tensely as Archie stands frozen, his face drained of color. He stares at her, gaping for several long seconds before he blurts, “Please don’t fire me!”
Regina’s eyebrows arch in surprise. “Archie you’re not…” she sighs. “Just go, it’s fine.”
Archie flees the room, Mary Margaret following shortly after as she mumbles something about a patient. I know full well that this situation is entirely Regina’s doing. She wouldn’t be standing here, mumbling under her breath (I make out the words “imbecilic” and “ridiculous”), dripping with coffee, if she weren’t so damned waspish to everyone. If she were even halfway pleasant chances are at least one of them would have offered to help her.
Still, I can’t help but take a little pity on her as she searches fruitlessly for the paper towels, making a quiet sound of defeat as she realizes the dispenser is empty. I heave myself to my feet, walking past her, bending down to pull a new stack from under the sink. I hand her a few wordlessly before I lean over to mop up the floor at her feet. “You okay?” I ask after a moment. The coffee is hot on my hands as I soak it up with the paper towels, and I’m betting it hurt when it hit her square in the chest.
“I’m fine,” she snaps with irritation. I nod my head because I didn’t really expect anything else from her, but after a beat she adds a gentle, “Thanks.”
I nod again, wiping up the last of the coffee, and walk over to my locker, pulling out a clean top and setting it down on the table. “You can wear this if you want to,” I offer, putting the kettle on for tea. Regina glances at it wearily, and I roll my eyes. “Don’t worry, it’s clean,” I tell her, pulling down some chamomile from the cupboard. “I’ll have you know I cleaned out my hairbrush too.” I think I hear her make a small sound of amusement as I walk back to the couch, sinking down gratefully again. I cradle my aching arm against my chest, watching her for a minute as she tries to pat down her shirt. The coffee is making it cling to her skin, I can see the faintest traces of lace from her bra.
I slide my eyes shut because I realize I’m staring and because shit my head hurts. “Don’t you ever get tired of it?” I hear my own voice cut through the silence. I wasn’t planning on asking her this, but like I said, I’m in a weird mood, and I’m happy to fixate on just about anything else but my own memories today.
“Of your inane questions? Constantly,” Regina sighs.
I open my eyes. “Of people being all scared of you. Don’t you get tired of them like fleeing from your path like you’re Darth Vader or something?”
Regina’s nostrils flare. “Don’t you ever get tired of acting like a twelve-year-old?” I sigh, too tired to play Regina’s game today. Regina returns to patting down her shirt and I’m resigned to the fact that the conversation is over until she speaks again, her voice less defensive. “You’re not.”
“I’m not what? A child?”
Regina scoffs, “No, you’re definitely that.” She puts the towel down, levels her eyes at me. But for once she doesn’t look pissed off. She looks thoughtful, calculating. “You’re not afraid of me. Why?” The question sounds equally accusatory and vulnerable.
I shrug. “I’ve had a lot of opportunity in life to learn the difference between someone who is truly cruel at heart, and someone who’s putting up a tough front.” I meet her eyes. “And with you, my money is on the second one. In fact,” I smile a little, “I’d wager that you’re actually, secretly, kind of a softie.”
Regina bristles, and it’s everything. “I am not.”
“I saw you look the other way when that young mother didn’t have the money for her kid’s antibiotics today,” I smirk. Regina huffs but says nothing, fussing with the paper towel in her hand. “Don’t worry,” I assure her with a smile. “Your secret is safe with me.”
She’s looking down, and I can’t quite see her face, but I have the feeling her cheeks are a little pink. “So tell me, where did you learn this superpower of yours?” she asks, wiping her sticky neck. “Telling the difference between bad people versus – I’ll use your word –softies?”
I smile, looking down at my hands. “I taught myself I guess. It’s kind of a long story, one I’m sure you don’t want to hear.”
Regina makes a non-committal sound. “Well, I’ve taught myself a few things too, Dr. Swan. I’ve taught myself that people you trust will always hurt you if you give them the opportunity. So I don’t.”
She sits down at the table with a sigh, pulling a newspaper over to herself. I can feel my eyes getting heavy as I let her words settle in my mind. “Sounds lonely,” I say at last, my eyes sliding shut.
I drift off to the sound of Regina gently turning the pages of the paper.
When I wake up twenty minutes later, my spare shirt is gone.
There’s a cup of tea steeping on the coffee table.
“Oh dear sweet Jesus, no.”
I look up from where I’m reading some lab results, my face pulling into a frown as I see Ruby scurrying towards me, her lab coat trailing behind her like a cape. “What’s going on?” I ask, taking in her ashen face.
“I fucked up.”
I blink at her, waiting for her to elaborate. “And?”
“On one of Dr. Mills’ patients.”
I cringe. “Oh.”
“Yes, oh!” she wails.
“Well, what happened?”
“She told me to discharge the guy in Exam 2 and send him home with antibiotics, and she told me to keep the guy in Exam 1 for observation.” She looks at me, wild-eyed.
“Okay,” I rake my fingers through my hair, “You’re gonna have to give me a little more information Rubes.”
“I mixed them up! I sent the wrong one home!”
“Fuck,” I pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Yes, fuck, exactly, now we are on the same page.” She sighs, flopping down at the nursing station with her head in her arms.
“Okay, look, we can fix this alright?” I tell her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I will go and discharge the right patient, and you can call back the other one and just…just tell him that upon further investigation we decided he should come back for observation.”
Ruby lifts her head, eyes shining. “Yes, yeah that could work!” Her face falls. “But what about Dr. Mills?”
I sigh. “She should probably know.” Ruby groans so loud that half the waiting room looks in our direction, including a green-hued looking guy who has his head hovering over a bucket that’s wedged between his knees.
“Will you tell her?” she asks, her eyes hopeful, pleading.
“As fucking if Ruby,” I scoff.
“Oh come on, she likes you! She’ll take it way better coming from you.” Ruby argues, clasping her hands together pitifully.
My eyes widen in surprise. “What in the hell are you talking about? She barely tolerates my existence. Just this morning she was going off again about how I write like a 2-year-old, and I told her that two-year-olds can’t even write, they can only scribble -“
“See? That’s exactly what I mean. You flirt with her. She always has this kind of satisfied smirk after you’ve gotten into an argument with each other,” Ruby adds.
My palms have started to sweat at the very idea that Regina might actually enjoy me even a fraction as much as I do her, and I cannot even handle thinking about it right now. “Ruby you are a grown woman, I will stand next to you for moral support but you are the one that’s going to tell her, got it?”
Ruby’s face falls. “Fine.”
I lean down, looking her in the eye. “Hey. Ruby. Everyone fucks up sometimes. It’s called life. What matters is what you do about it afterward.”
“You don’t fuck up, Emma.”
I have to laugh at that because if only she had any idea of how many major fuck ups I’ve gotten myself through. “That’s not even remotely true Ruby. I’ll tell you all about it someday.”
“You always say that,” she says with a weak smile.
“Yeah well, this time maybe I mean it. I’ll go find Dr. Mills, get a hold of that guy you discharged okay?”
She nods forlornly, reaching for the phone as I head in the direction of Regina’s office. I see Belle scurrying down the hallway and wave her down. “Hey, Belle, have you seen Dr. Mills?”
She shakes her head, hooking dark tresses behind her ear. “No, sorry. I just paged her though, we have a trauma coming in, stabbing, ETA 15 minutes.”
“Okay, I’ll go track her down,” I sigh.
“Good luck, she’s in particular form today,” Belle warns.
“Perfect,” I mutter. As she heads in the direction of the trauma bay I turn back, “Oh, hey Belle?”
She stops, “Yeah?”
“Go give Ruby a hug?”
She looks at me quizzically. “What? Why?”
“Just trust me on this one,” I smile. She nods, uncertain, and continues down the hall. “You’re welcome, Ruby,” I laugh to myself. Regina’s office is empty, as is the staff room. Huh. I’m about to give up on the search when I hear...humming? It sounds like it’s coming from an exam room down the hall. I round the corner, following my ears and push open the half-open door. Regina is standing in the empty room, cradling a tiny infant closely to her chest. The baby is fast asleep, and she’s swaying as she walks slowly across the room, her face bowed as she rests it against the baby’s head. My heart nearly bursts at the sight.
“See? I knew you were a big softie,” I say quietly. She turns quickly, her eyes narrowing over the top of a tuft of hair. “Nice try, but you can’t really look that scary when you’re holding an adorable baby.”
“Try me,” she says with a wicked smile. Her nails are painted a deep red, as are her lips, and at the moment she looks like a true Evil Queen, having snatched a baby right from his bed. But like, a super beautiful one.
“Please tell me you didn’t steal that baby,” I smile, leaning against the door frame.
She rolls her eyes. “What do you want, Dr. Swan?”
“There’s a trauma coming in about fifteen minutes, among other things,” I add, thinking of Ruby. “You’re needed.”
She’s still bouncing the baby gently as she walks. “Of course,” she sighs with resignation. “I’ll bring little John back to his mother in a moment. Who, by the way, was headed for an x-ray and needed someone to hold him.”
I raise my hands in supplication. “My bad. You know, you look really cute holding a tiny baby.”
Her eyes cut daggers at me, but there’s a sparkle of amusement in them too, which makes the risk worth it. “Shut up, Dr. Swan. What were the other things I’m needed for, by the way?”
“Uh,” I rub the back of my head. “I think you should talk to Ruby about that.”
She lets out a sound of disgust and baby John squirms against her briefly, making tiny snuffling noises. She adjusts him slightly and he settles, and I’m trying not to look like a puddle on the floor. “Let me guess, she’s ready to confess her complete ineptitude regarding the discharging of the incorrect patient?”
“You knew about that, huh?” I wince.
“Yes and I corrected her egregious error before the wrong patient was sent home. Though I might have had them switch his room number so she would have to sweat it out a little.” She smirks, the edge of her red lips tugging deliciously.
“You are truly evil,” I laugh. “Or at least, I might believe that if I hadn’t caught you snuggling an infant.”
She purses her lips, clearly struggling to stop a smile, running her fingers gently down the baby’s back. “It’s been a day full of dealing with other people’s idiocy, I felt like something to lower my blood pressure before I dealt with Dr. Lucas might be a wise choice for all.”
I nod. “Agreed. Does that really work?”
“Holding a baby? Absolutely. Would you like to try?”
“Me?” my eyebrows shoot up. “I’ve only really held babies for assessment purposes, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
She rolls her eyes. “You’re a doctor. It’s not rocket science. Come here.” The order is firm, and it sends a shiver through my body.
I step forward and she leans in closely, her hair brushing against my face as she transfers the baby into my arms. He’s warm and solid, heavier than I thought. The feeling of his breath against my neck, his chest rising up and down, immediately sends a wave of calm through my body. I look up at Regina in surprise, and I can feel my eyes getting a little moist. Not enough to fill with tears. I hope. But enough. “ Oh.”
“Mmhmm,” she nods knowingly.
She hasn’t stepped away, her body right next to mine, and this strangely intimate situation starts to make my head swim. I can see she’s got lines of stress around her eyes. “Hey,” I say softly, not wanting to disturb baby John. I stroke his back like I’d seen her doing, some weird maternal instinct taking over. “I’m sorry you’re having a rough day. After we deal with this trauma, let me buy you a coffee.”
She looks at me for a few long moments. “Why are you nice to me?”
I drop my gaze from hers, taken aback. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
She props a hand on her hip, eyebrows raised, as if that’s the only answer she needs to give. “I’ve already told you, I don’t think you’re so scary.” I swallow at the challenging expression on her face. “Most of the time. You’re actually pretty funny sometimes, too. And objectively, you’re you know, a pretty good doctor. When you’re not being a pain in my ass.” She snorts, and it’s so unregal it kills me. “I guess, overall, there are a lot of worse people to spend my time with,” I say casually, but my heart is racing. I’m not sure where the hell I’ve gotten the guts to be this candid but apparently holding a baby means all bets are off in my head.
“High praise,” she scoffs. Though her cheeks are a little pink, and she looks like she’s trying to suppress a pleased smile. After a second of regarding me intensely, she says as though it pains her. “I suppose I’ll take you up on that coffee, later.”
We head towards the hall, and I’m already dreading having to give back this little person snuggled into my neck. “Good, because someone may have spilled your coffee from this morning on a patient file.”
“You can’t hurt me, I’m holding a baby!”
A sheer torrent of rain slams against the windows of the break room.
“Jesus,” I mutter, sipping my tea, listening to it hammer against the glass.
“It’s raining cats and dogs out there, isn’t it?” Mary Margaret comments mildly, her eyes tracking the raindrops.
“Yep,” I sigh. Her word choice never ceases to amuse me. “Positively pissing cats and dogs.”
“Emma,” she scolds.
“Sorry mom,” I smile.
She elbows me gently. “Come on, our multiple MVA should be arriving any second. The nursing team is prepping the med bays.”
“Ugh,” I set my tea down on the counter. “This is gonna be unpleasant.” We make our way to the ambulance bay, bracing ourselves to plunge into the rain.
“Where’s Dr. Mills?” Mary Margaret asks, throwing on her yellow gown.
I shake my head as we plunge into the weather to meet the arriving patients, squinting through the heavy rain. “On her way I hope, I paged her ten minutes ago.” I can tell what she’s thinking. She’s the only other senior on right now with a handful of residents. The other fellow is down with a cold, and the evening shift doesn’t start for 45 minutes.
“I’ll take this one,” she shouts, gesturing towards a young woman paramedics are unloading from the first bus. Rain is pouring down our faces in sheets, “You and Dr. Lucas team up with the second one until Dr. Mills gets here. Call me over if you need me.”
“Right,” I answer, raking ropes of wet hair out of my face. Mary Margaret disappears with a couple of the nurses, Ruby and I meeting the paramedics pushing a gurney with a young boy, maybe 15 years old, on the stretcher. He looks pale, way too pale, blood pouring from his mouth and nose, and his chest is heaving. The paramedics are rapidly firing off his vitals and all the meds they’ve given him as we wheel him into an empty trauma bay, our wet shoes squeaking on the linoleum.
Archie appears, hooking the kid up to various monitors while Ruby and I do a rapid assessment, Belle moving around us to start a line without me even asking her to. “Is that wide open?” I ask her.
She nods, “I’m starting a second.”
“His BP and sats are dropping,” Ruby informs me, her eyes glued to the monitor.
I look at the kid, his pallor is dusky, resps rattling and barely effectual. “Shit. Are we sure that Dr. Mills has been paged?” I ask, a slight hint of panic in my voice.
“Twice,” Archie answers.
“Well page her again!” I order, trying to auscultate the kid’s lungs. He’s completely limp, eyes rolled back in his head. God, he’s so young. I shake my head, forcing myself not to think about that right now. “His airway is compromised,” I relay to Ruby. “Let’s get a trach in him.”
Belle nods, gathering equipment as I try to get his head into position. “Shit!” I mutter, shaking my head. “It’s not gonna work, there’s too much trauma to the face.”
Ruby looks at me darkly, “I’ll go get Dr. Blanchard.”
“We’re gonna have to Crich him,” I order, alarms wailing. Belle nods and starts pulling equipment from the shelves. “Hang on, kid,” I whisper, pressing a gloved hand to his chest.
Ruby comes flying back into the room, doors swinging. “Dr. Blanchard is stuck with her patient, she’s arresting.”
“Fuck.” I look from Ruby, to the kid, to the monitor displaying his plummeting vitals.
“Emma,” Ruby breathes, rain in her eyelashes. “You can’t. You’re not a senior.”
“I know.” I take a deep breath. “But I have to.”
She nods. “Yeah.”
Belle looks between us uncertainly, and I meet her eyes. “You don’t have to participate, but I’m doing this.”
She nods. “Fuck it.”
“My thoughts exactly,” I answer, reaching for a scalpel. “And someone find me a senior, now. I don’t care if they’re from the goddamned maternity ward.” Archie nods and ducks out of the room in search of someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.
“Have you done this procedure before?” Belle asks dubiously.
“I watched it once,” I answer, “On YouTube.” I push everything else from my mind, focusing only on the sound of my own breathing. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this… There’s no hesitation as I make my incision in the kid’s throat, exactly the way I learned in my textbook. “Give me a clamp,” I order, thrusting out my hand. I don’t look up as I feel the weight of the clamp being pressed into my palm, inserting it immediately into the opening. The trach tube goes next, then the cuff, and then it’s in. The sounds of the alarms and the tense breathing of my coworkers come flooding back as I look up, see the kid’s sats rising.
“You did it,” Ruby grins with relief. “You actually fucking did it.”
“Hey, you don’t have to sound quite so surprised ok?” I smile. Behind my back, I’m curling my trembling fingers into fists.
The trauma bay doors push open and Regina walks into the room, a terrified looking Archie trailing behind her. Regina’s face is pale as she looks from the boy to the trach sticking out of his neck, to me. Her eyes are wide. She strides into the room, checks the patient’s vitals, which are currently stable. “Who did this?” she says softly.
Everyone is silent.
“I said who did this?” Regina snaps.
“I did,” I blurt quickly, my heart in my throat.
Regina’s face looks drawn, as though that was the last answer she wanted to hear. I can’t understand why she’s looking so defeated. I expected anger, I expected wrath. This is so much worse. She takes a breath, sets down the chart. “Dr. Swan, I need to talk to you. Now.” She leaves the room without another word. The trauma bay is silent for a moment, everyone’s eyes turning to me.
“Don’t worry you guys. I take full responsibility. This was my decision and no one else’s.” I look at them each in turn, their faces grim. “Ruby, can you take over please?” I ask, heading for the door. She grips my fingers with a pained look on her face as I pass by. “See?” I tell her, giving her a weak smile. “I fuck up too.”
I pull out of her grasp and push through the swinging doors, tossing my yellow gown in a nearby bin. Regina is standing outside the door, arms crossed. When she sees me exit, pushing my drenched hair behind my ears, she grabs me by the arm. “Follow me,” she orders, her expression blank.
She releases my arm but I know that I have no choice but to follow. “Dr. Mills…” I start, my voice hoarse with tension, but Regina cuts me off, holding up her hand. Years of muscle memory cause me to flinch at the abrupt movement, and Regina notices because of course she does. I stare at her, feeling even more exposed than I was a minute ago, my nerves raw. Regina stops for a moment, puts her hand down gently, almost as though she’s trying not to spook me again.
“We can talk in a moment, Dr. Swan,” she looks around. “Just not here.”
My brow furrows as we pass Regina’s office. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere away from prying ears,” Regina replies calmly, turning into the stairwell.
“Oh Jesus,” I whisper to myself. My stomach feels tight, my skin clammy, a well of panic rising in my chest. I have to put a hand on the railing of the stairs to steady myself as we make our way upwards. This is it. It’s over. We reach the top and Regina pulls open the door, waits for me to walk through. We’re on the roof, the Boston skyline spread out before us, lights winking in the distance. The rain has stopped but there are no stars, no moon. I turn to face Regina as I hear her shut the door behind us. I can’t read her face in the dim light, it’s all a blank wall to me. I see her mouth opening and I immediately cut her off.
“Please, don’t.” I can hear the tremor in my voice but I don’t even have it in me to be ashamed.
“Dr. Swan…” she starts, taking a step toward me.
A soft breeze rushes across my skin, pulling a strand of wet hair into my eyes. “Please don’t fire me,” I beg, and my voice is raw with desperation. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know what to do, okay?” I press my lips together, willing myself not to cry. “I couldn’t find you and he was going to die.” My voice cracks on the last word, and her expression softens. “I know I shouldn’t have done it and you can suspend me or write me up or whatever you want to do but, please Regina.” I take a shuddering breath, “Please don’t fire me. This is all I have.” I put a hand over my eyes for a minute because I don’t think I can handle seeing her face the moment she takes it all away.
I feel her fingers on my wrist, warm and gentle, pulling my hand from my eyes. She doesn’t have a trace of her usual haughtiness on her face. Her eyes are soft, almost warm. “Emma,” she says gently, and it does things to me, hearing her say my name like that. “I didn’t bring you up here to fire you.”
A balloon of hope expands in my chest. “You didn’t?”
“No,” she says softly, releasing my hand. “I came up here to… explain.”
My mind comes to a halt. “You what?”
She drops her head for a moment, walks past me to the ledge, leaning on her forearms. “I should have been there. You never should have had to make that decision. I put you in an impossible position and you made the right choice.” She angles her head towards me as I walk up beside her, but she doesn’t meet my eyes. “I’m… sorry. ” She spits out the last word, and I know it’s difficult for her to say.
I shake my head, trying to understand. I’m not fired, and Regina Mills is apologizing to me – sincerely. “Its – it’s okay,” I try to reassure her, but I’m feeling off balance by this new, softer version of her. I reach a hand out to put on her shoulder but think better of it, letting it fall to my side.
She stares off into the horizon, the traffic below a river of light flowing on the streets below us. “I was talking to my son,” she says quietly, after a stretch of silence. I say nothing, knowing that what’s happening between us is fragile, desperate not to break it. “He was upset,” she continues, looking at her hands. “That’s why I didn’t hear my pager.”
“You have a kid?” I ask. Remembering how she was with that little baby a while ago, I can see it. She nods.
“What was he upset about?” I venture when she doesn’t offer more. I know I’m pushing my luck but I want to know her, more than I can remember wanting to know anyone.
“Because I’m not with him,” Regina replies, and her voice is tight. “I’m away too much and he hates it,” Regina explains. “It kills me, having to leave him. But I can’t just -” She cuts herself off, gestures to the hospital.
“I know,” I say gently. Because I do. This place, this job. It’s a part of you. “Is this what you were upset about, that time in your office?”
She cuts me a look. “You mean that time you barged in and invaded my privacy?”
“To save your ass,” I counter.
She smiles gently. “Yes. It’s the one thing I just can’t really...control. I promised him I’d stay home tonight, but then we had a sick call. He’s with a nanny while I work nights. I just - I let him down tonight. And I let you down too. I hope at least one of you will forgive me,” she adds with a weak laugh.
“Hey,” I shake my head. “It’s okay. Really.” She looks at me and there’s a trace of the Regina I know, her eyebrow raised skeptically, not willing to believe I might accept her apology at face value. “Look, I think you know me well enough to believe that if I didn’t forgive you, I’d say so.”
Regina smirks, looking back at the city. “Fair enough,” she says simply. And I can see it, right then. How easy it could be between us. When we both have our walls down, our high impenetrable walls, I can see how easy it could be to know her. Really know her. And to have her know me. And for the first time in my life, that idea doesn’t terrify me.
I watch her for another moment, then turn my eyes to the skyline. “I know that someone who is as talented and perfect as you is probably not used to fucking up,” I say gently. I can see her eyebrows raise at the open compliment, but she knows better than to gloat right now. “As someone who has a little more experience in that department, I need to tell you that it’s okay. It will be okay.” I nudge her gently with my shoulder. “You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re only human.” I shrug, “Or like half-human, if the rumors are true,” I add with a grin.
She laughs. Like, really laughs, and it sounds so deep and rich, echoing through the damp night. I feel a little piece of me melt. “Thank you,” she adds. She doesn’t struggle as much with this as she does with the apology, but I can tell it costs her something to say it, and it means that much more.
“And listen,” I add. “I don’t know much about kids, but I know that your son is lucky to have you.” Regina shakes her head, lets out a soft sound. “He is,” I insist. It’s important to me that she gets this, that she knows. I wait until she’s looking at me before I speak. “You care. You care that you’re not with him. You care that he’s missing you. That he’s sad, or lonely. Not everybody gets that,” I say softly, and I’m proud that my voice doesn’t crack when I say it. “Not everyone gets to be loved like that. He’s lucky to have you,” I repeat.
Her eyes search my face. I don’t know what she’s looking for, maybe to see if I’m sincere, if I’m working some angle. I think she must find what she’s looking for though because she gives me a weak smile. “Okay.”
I nod. “Okay.”
We stand quietly, watching the city hum with life for a few long moments. “Listen, Emma,” Regina says slowly. “Can you do me a favor?”
“What?” I reply cautiously.
“When we go back downstairs, can you put on that kicked-puppy face you do so that people think I raked you over the coals for this?”
“I do not do a kicked puppy face!” I protest.
“Yes, that’s the one.” Regina smiles wide.
“Oh, whatever,” I grumble, though her smile is blinding and I’m struggling not to return it.
“Hey, I do have a reputation to uphold,” Regina adds.
“Ah, yes, the Evil Queen,” I concede.
Regina’s nostrils flare. “Where did you hear that name?” she asks forcefully. “They promised that wouldn’t follow me here!”
I smile wide with a shake of my head, heading for the door.
I am so tired.
And yeah, okay, I say that a lot but this shift I mean it more. Like, so much more. I feel like I haven’t slept in a week, and my bloodstream is so oversaturated with caffeine that I feel like this day is just happening at me, rather than my taking an active part in it. And my exhaustion is definitely not because of my increasing obsession with Regina. It’s just that, you know, thoughts of her fill my every waking moment and I have to stop myself from making up reasons to be near her, or daydream of scenarios where we’re all kinds of undressed. And that can keep a girl up at night.
I’m annoyed with myself for reaching this extreme level of pining - something I can safely say I have never done before - and I would give a lot to be free of these admittedly terrifying emotions. So every morning I resolve to let it go, to think of other things, and avoid her as much as possible.
“Dr. Swan, can I get your help please?”
“Of course, Dr. Mills.”
It’s just that I have no willpower, which makes that a little hard to pull off. Plus, how am I supposed to say no when she asks so nicely? I resolve to stop pining tomorrow instead. Or Monday would actually make more sense. Start the week off right.
“What do you need?” I ask, following her down the hall, her lab coat flaring out as she walks.
“Apparently the police are bringing in a 45-year-old male that they picked up at a bank. He was showing signs of psychosis and needs evaluation, and he may also be injured. He had what looked like dried blood on him.”
“Sounds like fun,” I sigh.
She smirks. “I have a feeling you would get bored without these cases to keep you busy. You’re too smart to be satisfied with regular old chest pain and broken bones.”
I stop in my tracks for a second, stunned at the compliment, before chasing to catch up with her. “Wait a second did you just compliment me?”
She’s looking through her phone distractedly as she replies, “I suppose I did. But don’t get used to it.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” I reply, hoping my face isn’t as flushed as it feels. “But if you think I’m so smart, how come you’re always calling me an imbecile?”
She glances up from her phone with an innocent smile. “Because you are one, dear. At least, until you learn to be a big girl physician and sign your orders correctly.”
I can’t even reply because I’m grinning like an idiot. Are we flirting? Is this actually happening?
Before I can think of something to say, the ambulance arrives with our patient, and we both break eye contact at the sound of his screams.
“I WILL KILL EVERY LAST ONE OF YOU!”
We exchange a dark look and jog the final steps to the ambulance bay. The guy is strapped down in restraints, straining so hard to get out of them that his veins are bulging. “Sir,” I say as calmly as possible. “Please relax, we’re just trying to help you.”
“LET ME GO, BITCH.”
Regina is already firing off orders for certification papers and injectable antipsychotics. “Let’s get him into Bay 3, I’d rather not put on a show for the waiting room,” she orders. The paramedics finish wheeling him into the med bay and duck out. Archie sweeps in with the meds and injects him in the arm, which naturally makes him freak out even more.
“Archie!” Regina calls over the patient's screams. “Why don’t you step out until I call you, I think the fewer people in here right now the better.” Archie nods and backs out of the room, shutting the door. I manage to get him hooked up to some monitoring and within a few minutes he’s calmed down, drowsy.
“Alright,” I sigh. “Sir, we’re just going to check you over for injuries now, okay? I’m going to unbutton your shirt.”
His shirt has dried stains that look a bit like blood, but on closer inspection are a bit too dark for that. Regina and I exchange a curious look before I unbutton the patient’s shirt and find...plastic bags? There are ziplock bags filled with air and black fluid strapped to the guy's chest. “What in the hell?” I mutter as I look closer.
“ Emma, get back.” I only have time to look up at Regina before the bags burst, covering us both in a shower of black oil. She lets out a cry of surprise and we take a step back, dripping with a macabre Jackson Pollock style spray across our bodies.
“What the fuck is this stuff?!” I shriek, holding my arms out in horror.
“Hit the button,” Regina pants, rushing to the door to lock it, ensuring the negative air pressure is working.
“What?” I ask, still in a state of shock.
“Oh for the love of -” she dives toward the red emergency button, lifts the cover, and slams it with her fist. A light starts flashing outside the door and in a few seconds we hear Mary Margaret’s voice crackle over the room’s speaker.
“Dr. Mills? What happened?”
“We have a hazmat situation in here, get the team in now and make sure this area is locked down.”
“Okay, we’re on it, they’ll be here shortly. And the patient?”
“Are you two alright?”
Regina glances at me. “That remains to be seen.”
“Okay, I’m going to coordinate things on this end. Page if anything changes.”
Regina releases the button and turns to the patient, who is now snoring loudly. “Sir?” she begins, striding toward him. “Sir, what is this substance? Hello??” she shakes him and he lets out a snort.
“Yeah, I don’t think you’re getting anything out of him for the next hour or so,” I say quietly, pulling her away.
She spins away from him and slams her back against the wall, closing her eyes. “God damn it.”
I sigh and lean against the wall next to her. “Yeah.” I swipe some of the liquid off my arm and rub it between my fingers. It’s oily and slimy.
She opens her eyes and looks at me. “Are you alright?”
I shrug. “I’m fine.”
“Why do I get the feeling you would say that in any situation? I imagine you could be bitten by a rabid animal and you’d still tell me you were fine.”
“Don’t go getting any ideas.”
“Really though, do you think we’ll be okay? I mean, I’m not feeling any different yet. Don’t you think we’d be showing symptoms already if this were something serious?”
She turns to me fully, her face splattered with a constellation of black ooze. “We’re going to be fine, Emma.”
“You sound so sure,” I half-whisper. The truth is, I am kinda freaking out, but something about her presence is keeping me from going into a full-on panic.
“Of course I’m sure. Do you think I would allow anything serious to happen in my ER?” Her pompousness is oddly comforting.
“You know, you can’t control everything that goes on in here.”
She smirks. “Says who?” I feel a grin spreading across my face, and can’t believe she’s managed to make me smile in a moment like this. I silently agree to push back my anti-pining schedule to two Mondays from now. “Besides, I can’t allow anything to happen to me. Who would look after my son?”
I watch her for a beat and then nod. “I’m sure you’re right,” I reply. “We’ll get you home to him in no time. No way he’s going to be without his mom.”
She’s looking at me with a small smile on her lips, but before she can reply there’s a noise at the door.
Men in suits have arrived and are erecting a tarped off area in front of the medical bay. “Oh thank god,” she sighs.
They enter the room, looking like astronauts. “Any symptoms?”
“You mean other than extreme impatience?” Regina retorts.
Even in a full helmet and suit, the guy still manages to look surprised. I step in front of Regina. “We’re fine.”
One of them takes a swab of the substance and exits the room, two others start constructing a cordoned off area with tubing coming in from outside. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”
“Mobile decontamination shower.”
Regina glances at me. “What, here?”
“Sorry doc, this is no time for modesty. We have to get whatever that is off of you as soon as possible, and we can’t have you walking through the building to the showers until we know what this is.” He gestures for us to start stripping.
“You can’t be serious -” Regina starts but I put a hand on her shoulder.
“He’s right, Regina,” I say to her in a low voice. “We shouldn’t wait.”
She meets my eyes, sighing. “Fine.” She rips her lab coat from her shoulders and tosses it on the ground, kicking off her heels. She starts unbuttoning her blouse and I take that as my cue to turn around and start pulling off my clothes. I hear her shirt hit the floor and while I’ve never been a religious person, I start praying to anyone that will listen to get me through this moment.
I yank my shirt off and reach back to unhook my bra, letting it fall to the ground and feeling grateful that I’ve been so disciplined about going to the gym in the last few months. Because, you know, if you’re going to be naked in a room full of strangers while covered in hazardous goo with your crush, you might as well show off those hard-earned abs while you do it. I kick off the last of my clothing and turn around, crossing my arms over my breasts and keeping my eyes low.
Not that it helps much, as the sight of Regina’s painted toenails are enough to make me weak in the knees. I know if I glance up I will definitely pass out, so I keep my eyes trained on the ground as the hazmat team instructs us to step into their mobile shower. I’m definitely not looking but peripheral vision is a thing and I can make out a lot of smooth skin and insane curves as I’m ushered into the plastic tent. It’s a hell of a good thing the water I step into is ice cold because I really need to focus on the whole possibly dying from poisonous substances thing.
I suck in a breath as I feel the freezing water rinse down my spine and I hear Regina do the same. “Arms out.” The hazmat guy gestures to stand spread eagle while he and his partner start scrubbing us down with sponges of heavy-duty antimicrobial detergents. The humiliating and vulnerable position finally manages to remove all thoughts of romance from my head and I start to feel the panic rise. My hair is hanging over my eyes in thick, heavy ropes as I blink through the freezing water, trying to see. I look up not to be a voyeur or for any other reason except that I’m scared, and I want to see if Regina is okay. When I raise my eyes I find hers are already on mine and we hold each other’s gaze as, shivering, we’re scrubbed down painfully. Her dark hair is plastered to her face, water sluicing down her nose, dripping off her chin, and even now she manages to look regal. In control. She nods at me assuringly and I feel myself nod back, the panic subsiding.
We continue to fix our focus on each other until the water shuts off and we’re handed towels and jumpsuits. I pull mine on, shivering, skin aching from being scrubbed down so harshly, and step out of the tent just as they’re opening the doors to the med bay.
Regina steps out after me. “I take it this means it wasn’t dangerous?”
The hazmat guys remove their hoods. “Results just came back. It was motor oil mixed with other household detergents. We think we rinsed you in time but you might notice some superficial chemical burns where the substance touched you.”
“Perfect,” I mutter.
“Thank you,” Regina nods. She manages to make the white jumpsuit she’s wearing look like Armani with the way she carries herself. The team leaves and after a discussion with our team and with the police (turns out the guy was looking to vandalize the bank because he’s convinced they stole his money), Regina and I head to the empty break room.
I flop on the couch, head in hands while she pours herself a coffee from the pot. “Well,” she starts. “I’m trying to think of a worse day I’ve had and very few are coming to mind.”
I snort. “This doesn’t even make my top ten.”
She looks at me from over her coffee mug, eyebrows slightly pulled together and I realize what I’ve said. I shift uncomfortably and my suit makes a swishing noise, only adding to my awkwardness. “You should call your kid,” I offer. “Let him know you’re alright.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m not about to tell my five-year-old that mommy was attacked with motor oil.”
I nod, “No, but I’m sure it would still be nice for you to hear his voice.”
She nods thoughtfully. “You’re right about that.” She goes to leave and I call her name.
“Thanks for, you know. Keeping me calm in there. I guess I wasn’t really that fine.”
She ducks her head to the side, eyes on the ceiling as she cradles her mug in her hands. “I don’t know, Dr. Swan. You looked pretty fine to me.”
She grins wickedly and leaves the room, my jaw hanging open long after she’s gone.
I go to my locker and pull out my phone, text Ruby and tell her I’m going to be late for drinks.
Why, you have to work late? she responds.
“No. I have to go to the gym.”
“Oh thank god.”
I shoulder into the break room, raking my frazzled hair into a messy ponytail as I spot the freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for me. I manage not to let out an embarrassing whine of relief as I rush towards it, pour myself a steaming mug. The day feels like it’s been about 900 hours long, and I still have three to go.
“My mom says that stuff rots your stomach.”
I jump at the unexpected voice, scalding coffee sloshing over my wrist as I turn to see a little boy watching me from the couch. He has a sweet, elfin face, currently glowing an eerie blue from the Nintendo he’s holding in his lap. He blinks at me as I hiss in pain, a little smile on his face. “Jesus kid,” I grumble, “You scared me.”
“Sorry,” he shrugs, returning to his game.
“Yeah, I can see you’re really concerned,” I mutter, though I feel an amused smile pulling at my mouth. Christ Emma, such a softie. I wipe the coffee off my wrist as I watch him jamming his fingers intensely on the buttons of his game.
“Who are you, anyway?” he asks, eyes glued to the screen.
I huff in surprise, not realizing he was still aware of my existence. “I’m Emma, who are you?”
I walk over to him, sitting on the other end of the couch. “Okay, but like who do you belong to?”
He pauses for a moment, thinking, before he answers simply. “Myself.”
I feel myself grinning. I like this kid. “Good answer,” I reply, watching his eyes flick across the screen. I take a closer look at what he’s playing and my heart skips with excitement. “Hey! Is that Ocarina of Time?”
Henry nods, "Yeah you know it?"
"Do I know it?" I snort. Please. "I've been playing this since before you were born."
Henry rolls his eyes. "Well, it's a fun game. But I'm stuck on this stupid level."
I give him a knowing nod. "Kid, everyone gets stuck on the water temple. It's a thing.” I lean back into the couch, watch him struggle his way through a treasure room. “Try figuring it out without YouTube tutorials, and when you can't afford the walkthrough magazines." I sigh dramatically. "Rough times."
Henry eyes me quizzically. "I have no idea what you're saying.”
I scoff. “Kids today.” I reach my hand out towards his game. “Give it here, I can do this with my eyes closed.”
Henry's eyes light up. ”Really?" He hands me the game and scoots up beside me, watching me expertly breeze through the room he was trapped in.
"Whoa, you are good at this," he murmurs in awe, watching me take down a mid-level boss in three strikes.
"I told you," I grin smugly, moving Link further into the dungeon. It’s not every day I get to impress someone with my video game skills, and it feels pretty damn good, even if he is like, six.
"So do you know my mom?" he asks, glancing at the side of my face.
"I don't know, who is she?" I reply distractedly, slashing Link's sword at a water demon.
"Dr. Regina Mills," Henry answers proudly.
My heart stops for a second and I nearly send poor Link to his death as a result. I pause the game, gaping at him. He looks nothing like her. "You're Dr. Mills' kid?"
"Yeah," Henry says in a knowing kind of way. "Do you like her?"
"Yeah. I do."
Henry scrutinizes my face for a moment, and all I can think is, Okay, yeah, this kid is definitely Regina’s. His expression eventually settles into one of mild surprise. "I believe you."
"Thanks?" I laugh, returning to the game.
The longer I play, the closer Henry gets. Affection ripples through my stomach as he curls an arm around my neck, the side of his face pressed against mine so he can get the best vantage point to see the screen. I’m just defeating the final boss, battle music blaring, Henry shouting instructions at me when a husky voice cuts through the moment.
I look up to see Regina watching us with an expression I can’t quite distinguish, her arms crossed.
I pause the game, panic rising in my chest. "Yeah, we were just..." I trail off, at a loss. I can’t tell if she’s pissed, if I’ve overstepped my bounds. Our friendship - if I can even call it that - is still really new, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that knows Regina even has a kid, but if she’s that private why did she bring him here? The thought occurs to me that most adults would have just said a polite hello and ignored him, and I start kicking myself for being a complete idiot.
Henry, I think sensing my panic, takes over. "Mom, me and Emma were just playing Zelda and she beat the water temple!"
"Really?" Regina replies, an impressed look on her face. "He's been working on that for 2 weeks."
I feel an immense relief wash over me, my rigid body relaxing. "Seriously? I perfectly placed that chest tube on that massive guy today and this is what impresses you?”
Regina rolls her eyes. “I’d hardly use the word impressed Dr. Swan. You beat a game that my five-year-old son would have eventually figured out on his own, but since he’s happy I won’t mention that your sterile technique was seriously questionable on that chest tube insertion.”
I try my very best not to let my face fall into the “kicked puppy” look Regina is so fond of, but I don’t think I’m all that successful. Until I see Regina’s eyes twinkling and my chest blooms with warmth. “Evil,” I mutter with a smile.
Henry looks back and forth between the two of us, his arm still hooked around my neck. “Are you guys friends, mom?” he asks innocently.
“Of a sort, dear,” she replies casually, heading to her locker as though she hasn’t just caused an explosion of emotion in my body. From anyone else that would have been an insult. From Dr. Regina Mills that’s practically an invitation to start picking out china patterns.
“Good,” he nods with approval.
I can feel myself beaming at Regina as he extricates himself from around my neck, and she’s rolling her eyes at me even though I can tell she’s suppressing a smile. “Can I play with you again Emma?” Henry asks as he hops down from the couch.
“If it’s okay with your mom, sure,” I offer.
“Of course, Henry. I’m glad you’ve found a friend as mature as you are to play with,” she adds with a smirk.
I glare at her, “He seems very mature for his age.”
“Oh, he is,” Regina agrees, helping Henry on with his coat. “He’s closer to a 12-year-old, at least.”
I hiss through my teeth. “Bye Emma!” Henry waves, “Thanks for your help.”
“Anytime, Henry,” I smile warmly. “Bye, buddy!” I wave at Regina. “See you tomorrow.”
She purses her lips in affected irritation, but her eyes are still sparkling. “Good night, Emma.”
Hospitals have these things called “quiet rooms.”
I never got why they called them that. “You’ve-suffered-a-trauma-and-we-want-to-shove-you-in-a-room-where-your-wailing-won’t-disturb-other-patients-room” would be a little more precise, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so.
Mary Margaret and I just dealt with three MVA victims -- drunk driver. The dad didn’t make it, but we successfully resuscitated a young mother and sent her for emergency surgery, and her little girl barely had a scratch on her. Normally I’d be celebrating saving a life, but not today. Today I’m watching this little kid through the quiet room window (yeah, they have windows, probably to make sure no one is about to off themselves with grief), while she sucks on a dingy cabbage patch doll from the 80s. It looks like it’s been sucked on by about 1,000 other kids over the years, and I’m seriously tempted to march in the room and knock it out of her hands.
I’m also tempted to go in there, scoop her up into my arms, and walk out the front door with her. Tell her that maybe everything won’t be okay, at least not right away and not all the time. But if she works hard and is brave, she’ll get to a point where the pain drives her rather than holds her back. Where it’s a part of her, rather than a burden. Instead, I’m standing here while she gnaws on a grimy hank of the doll’s yarn-hair, and a social worker ticks a few boxes on her checklist as she talks to the cops. I dig my fingernails into my palms to center myself, because god it is so fucking unfair.
I don’t hear Regina’s approach, but I feel it. Her presence washes over me like a cool, soothing balm, and my eyes flutter shut for a moment in relief. I’ve never had that before. And I definitely never thought I’d find it in some infuriating, haughty, holier-than-thou, prickly doctor. But I know better than to question things at this point.
She slides up beside me, arms crossed, and watches the little girl playing for a minute. When she talks, it’s soft, gentle. “Mary Margaret told me I’d find you in here. How is she?”
I take a shaky breath, my eyes not leaving the little girl. “They couldn’t locate any immediate family so she’s being placed in an emergency foster home. At least until her mother is out of surgery.” I feel her gaze on my face, can sense her concern.
“It’s always harder when there are kids involved, Emma,” Regina says reassuringly.
I sigh in frustration because I can’t think straight, can’t find the words. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to explain what I’m feeling for this little girl, and the unwanted memories that are infiltrating my brain. Regina steps closer, closes her fingers around my wrist. “Listen, if you want to…” she trails off like she doesn’t know how to ask, and I guess she probably doesn’t. But I know what she’s going to say. If you want to talk.
Part of me wants to. A big part. And that scares the shit out of me because I’ve never done that. Talked about my past. It’s too much to put on someone else. I’ve never met anyone I thought would understand. But the haunted way Regina looks sometimes, the sadness in her eyes, her endless fight to keep people at a distance. I feel like she might just get it. And I find that I actually want to tell her all of it. Or at least, some. But not now, not like this.
In the time it’s taken my brain to process her offer, I sense she’s started to panic. She’s dropped my wrist, and her spine has stiffened like she thinks I’m rejecting her. “I do,” I reply, looking her in the eyes. I take a breath, hook my hair behind my ear. “Want to talk, I mean. I just…” I close my eyes, try to quell the dread in my chest. “I can’t right now.” She nods, but she doesn’t relax. “But you know, if you were to stay with me for a bit I guess I wouldn’t hate it.” I try to joke, my voice sounding embarrassingly vulnerable. For a minute I’m sure that I’ve asked her for too much. It would be so like me to fuck up something like this. But she meets my eyes steadily with a wry smile on her face, her gaze warm, and she nods.
“I suppose I could stay.” She steps closer again, so her arm is pressed up against mine. I lean into her because I’m needy and pathetic and can’t help myself.
“Just for a minute,” I say, and it’s barely above a whisper because I can’t trust my voice right now. I know she understands that it’s as close to a thank you that I can give her in this moment.
“Yes,” she agrees, leaning further against me. “Just for a minute.”
“Emma Swan, you absolute idiot!”
“A libtle thanks wouldn’t go amibss here, you know.”
“Thank you for what, putting your life in danger?”
“My libfe was not in dabger!”
As pissed as I am, it’s hard to sound anything other than ridiculous with blood gushing out your nose. Regina is currently hauling me by the elbow down the hall as I blindly stumble behind, trying to staunch the truly epic flow from my face. My eye is also, maybe, kinda swelling shut too. A bit. Still, when I jumped in front of that patient in acute psychosis, I totally wasn’t trying to protect Regina specifically. It was just instinctual. I mean, he was lunging for her, and she’s got a kid. Still, maybe I would have thought twice if I’d known she was going to be such an ass about it.
We’re stopped momentarily by the sound of a soft gasp and I hear Mary Margaret’s breathless voice. “Oh Regina, you didn't…”
Regina has the good grace to be deeply offended. “I know you couldn’t possibly be suggesting that I physically assaulted a coworker, Dr. Blanchard. Could you.”
It’s not a question.
“Uh, no, of course not,” is the wise reply. “Emma, are you alright honey?”
“Ibe fibe,” I try to respond. I feel Regina tugging me into an exam room.
“You are most certainly not fine, Emma Swan.”
She practically pushes me onto an exam table. “Would you plebe stop full nambing me?”
“You sound like the utter imbecile that you are right now,” she snarls. I hear her ripping open gauze packages, which are placed surprisingly gently against my face. “What were you thinking?” The rage is mostly gone from her voice, replaced by exasperation.
WIth some of the blood absorbed from my nasal passages, I can mostly speak normally now. “I don’t know,” I answer honestly. My one eye that isn’t completely swollen shut manages to focus on her face, which is so very, very close to my own. “I just didn’t want you to get hurt.” I say the words before they’ve even fully formed in my brain, and it’s not until they’re already hanging in the air between us that I realize how that might sound.
She sighs, tossing out the blood-soaked gauze and replacing them with fresh ones, one hand on the front of my face, and the other cupping my head gently from behind to hold my head still. Feeling her fingers thread through my hair is enough to make me briefly forget about the facial trauma. “And did you not consider yourself in this equation?” she asks with only a mild level of irritation.
Maybe it’s the blood loss, but I can’t seem to say anything but the truth to her today. “No.” Her eyes meet mine at that confession, her eyebrows drawing together. “Though if I’d known you were gonna yell at me so much I probably would have thought twice,” I grumble childishly.
She’s quiet for a few moments and then says. “No one has ever done anything like that for me before.” She says it softly, not looking me in the eye.
“It’s not a big deal,” I say gently. Though it’s clear from her expression she doesn’t agree. I press on before she goes back to being mad. “Besides what would you have told your son if you came home with a broken face?”
The bleeding stopped, she removes the gauze and starts checking me for a broken nose, her fingers are feather-light on my throbbing face. “Well, what are you going to tell your family when they see the mess you’ve made of yourself? Don’t think you can blame this on me.”
I push her hands off with a flash of irritation and she looks shocked. “I’m not looking to blame you for anything, Jesus. Do you think everyone is trying to angle for something, all the time?” The look on her face tells me the answer to that. “Well, I’m not, okay?” I sigh, pressing a hand to my aching eye. “Look, I saw he was going for you and I moved on instinct, and anyway I knew that I could take it. End of story.”
“Okay,” she says gently. Her mild look of surprise only irritates me more.
“Good,” I snap. I’m in pain and feeling stupid for having done something she clearly didn’t want me to do. “And for the record, I don’t have any. So no harm done.” I palpate the edges of my swollen eye, trying to feel for damage to the bone.
She pushes my hand away gently, taking over the assessment. “Any what?”
I feel her hands still. “What, none?”
“Nope.” My mood is getting darker by the minute, and for once it's not me that’s the one caught on the wrong end of someone else’s bad day. “I was abandoned here in the Angel Cradle, and apparently I just couldn’t stay away.” I shut my mouth quickly, stunned. I have told exactly no one about that before in my life. The very cradle I mention, a small drawer accessible through the back alley of the hospital that allows mothers to safely surrender unwanted children, is only a few rooms over from where we’re sitting. She drops her hands from my face and glances in the general direction, swallowing heavily. I see her open her mouth and I shake my head. “And don’t. If you’re going to say, ‘I’m so sorry’ or give me any pity, just please don’t.”
She sighs, shaking her head. “I don’t pity you, Emma. I know enough about that to understand how insufferable it can be.”
I can feel the warmth of my blood slowly trickling down my face. In the background, call bells are ringing, people are talking loudly, shoes squeaking down the hall. But for all the violence and chaos of the moment, I feel like it’s just me and her.
“How do you know?”
She regards me for a few long moments before looking away, busying herself with opening a new box of gauze.“I used to be married. Perhaps I am still in a sense, I’m not sure what to call it. My husband Daniel, he died in a car accident while I was pregnant --” her breath hitches here. She turns to rip open more gauze and wet it with saline, cleaning my face to distract herself. “When he died, people started looking at me in this infuriating way. Their eyes full of pity. I couldn’t stand it, it made me want to scream.” She drags the cool gauze across my cheeks, I can see the cotton turning pink. “My mother certainly didn’t help. She was practically smug about the whole thing. She raised me to be hard, she’s not exactly what you’d call the maternal type. She told me that letting someone in only leads to regret. And I suppose she was right.”
“Is that why you’re so…?” I trail off, uncertain how to phrase things without enduring further facial trauma.
“Such a bitch?” she asks, her mouth curling in a smirk. I choose to remain silent as she starts to open a box of bandages, my eyes on her face. “I pushed everyone away after Daniel died. It was easier that way. No more risk, no more vulnerability. I finally learned to follow mother’s advice.”
She picks out a small bandage and unwraps it carefully, avoiding my eyes. “So it wasn’t worth it then?” I ask, frowning.
She’s reaching out to press the bandage to my forehead and I grasp her wrist, halting her hand in midair. She finally looks at me, her eyes full of vulnerability. “Having someone love you like he did. Having a home, and a family. Someone who cares where you are - all the time.” I let out a breath of disbelief, knowing I’d give anything just to feel like that, to feel wanted instead of just temporary. “You regret that?”
She drops her hand and looks at me like I’ve just slapped her, then lowers her gaze to the ground. She goes to step away but I reach out - maybe it’s the head injury, fuck if I know - and grasp the edge of her lab coat so she can’t leave. I want her to answer, and not just for myself. Not that I know anything about this shit, but I think she needs to hear herself say the words out loud.
“No,” she says, her voice shaking. “No, I don’t regret him. I could never regret him.”
I nod, and I feel relief for some reason. “Good.” I realize I’m still gripping her labcoat tightly and I release it before she comes to her senses and filets me. “You found it once,” I tell her as she goes to put the bandage on my face. “You can find it again.”
“I appreciate your faith in me,” she says with a hint of amusement. “You definitely have more confidence in me than I do.” She smoothes the bandage with her thumbs. “Still, if you think I can, then you can too.” She swallows. “Find all that, that is.”
I swallow, nodding. I don’t know how we got to this place, but now that we’re here I know I don’t want to go back. “Maybe,” I answer thoughtfully, my eyes on hers.
“Did we actually just agree on something?” she asks, her eyebrows raising as she pulls her lips into a pursed smile.
“I think we may have,” I grin. I realize I probably look like a horror show with my eye swollen shut and blood-spattered across my chest, but I can’t bring myself to care.
“Then I suppose there’s hope for us yet,” she answers, patting my cheek before walking away.
The statement is ambiguous to say the least, and I gape after her as the door shuts quietly behind her, warmth spreading through my chest. “I suppose there is, Dr. Mills,” I mutter softly to myself.
People might assume someone like me hates the holidays. You know, with the orphan thing. But honestly, what’s not to like? The food is amazing, there’s almost always some delicious snack lying around the nursing station, if you have to work you get paid double, and the opportunity for free booze is like triple-fold at this time of year. So yeah, Thanksgiving is only days away, and maybe I don’t have some mother figure to hassle me about my love life over the mashed potatoes, and maybe I don’t have a dad to badger me about when he can come over and put on my snow tires, but I have good people in my life, and I’m happy with that. Plus, the last few years Ruby has invited me to her granny’s for Thanksgiving dinner and the food is an otherworldly experience. So yeah, I’m doing just fine.
I look up from where I’m charting in comfortable silence next to Regina (something that has become a regular occurrence despite the fact that she has a perfectly good office), to see Mary Margaret’s beaming face slide into view. “Hey Mary Margaret,” I feel a smile pulling at my lips. Even though she’s my direct senior, I’ve mysteriously ended up getting assigned to Regina’s patients more often than not lately, and I find I’ve missed Mary Margaret’s joyful energy.
“I’ve got a favor to ask,” she says earnestly, leaning on the counter with her elbows.
“Shoot,” I reply, trying to stifle a grin. I can feel the irritation radiating off Regina in waves.
“I was wondering if you could take my shift on Thursday,” she says in a rush, biting her lip as she watches me anxiously. “I’ve already cleared it with Dr. Gold, he agreed to supervise you for the day.”
My heart sinks. I see where this is going. I see exactly where this is fucking going. “You mean on Thanksgiving,” I clarify.
She nods, twisting at a short piece of her pixie cut in anticipation. “David’s parents are coming to town so it’s really important to me that I’m there. And I already asked a few people who aren’t working, but they all had plans.” She shrugs, “I just thought of anyone, you probably wouldn’t mind switching shifts because you don’t…” she trails off, her face going a little pale. Beside me, I sense Regina stiffening, and realize her pen has not moved at all since this conversation started. She’s staring at her paperwork with wide, unblinking eyes.
I swallow, a heavy weight in my stomach as I nod, my throat tightening. “Because I don’t have any family,” I finish for her.
Mary Margaret’s eyes are wide with panic now, and honestly good because this feels like shit. “No! Emma, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to –“
“It’s fine,” I interrupt, gathering my charts and dropping them in a filing bin. “I’ll take your shift. No problem. I have to go check some lab results.” I walk away, Mary Margaret floundering. I hear Regina’s voice rise harshly above the sounds of the ER, I can’t exactly make out what she says, but I definitely hear the word “tactless.”
I feel a thrill of emotion at the thought of her standing up for me, but right now it’s far overshadowed by Mary Margaret, because ow. I duck into the bathroom and slam the door behind me, lean my head against the door.
Fuck the holidays.
I’m not the only one that’s in a funk this Thanksgiving.
Something I tend to forget is that most of the action we see in the ER over the holidays has to do with drunken family brawls. We’ve already had two different fistfights (that resulted in a combined 24 stitches) and most recently, a guy with a meat thermometer skewering through his left hand. Turns out he and his mother in law had differing opinions on how to cook a turkey. I check my phone and see a text from Ruby promising to pack me a plate of leftovers, but it only makes me feel worse. The gravy that I am missing today is so incredible it could be its own food group, and it’s not going to be the same on the reheat. It’s just not. I send Ruby a thank you text and shove my phone in my pocket, letting my head fall into my hands for a minute.
“I’m gonna tell my mom you’re asleep at work.”
I lift my head to see Henry Mills blinking at me from about two inches away. The sight of him looking at me with his mother’s exact smirk playing across his lips makes a smile bloom across my face, the first of the day. Maybe I’m actually feeling a little thankful after all.
“Henry! What are you doing here?” I have to fight the urge to pull him into a hug because even though we’ve spent a considerable number of hours playing video games in the breakroom together since our first meeting, I’m not sure where kids stand on the whole hugging thing. “You need help with the Spirit Temple?”
“Yeah!” he replies. “But I’m here for something else.”
I glance around. “Where’s your mother?”
“In the car, and she said she parked illegal so I have to hurry,” he responds, thrusting a card into my hands. It’s a little handmade job with a turkey on the front that appears to be comprised of a tracing of Henry’s fingers, and it’s probably the single cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I open the card, grinning, and see an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner for 7:00 pm this evening written in childish block letters. I feel my eyes filling with tears because this is not how I was expecting this day to go, and it feels really, really good.
“Why are you sad?” Henry asks, stepping forward with concern etched across his little face.
“I’m not, kid,” I shake my head, wiping away a tear from the corner of my eye. “I’m just…” I look up at him and decide I’m probably just freaking him out at this point. “I would love to come. Thank you.” I nod, giving him a shaky grin to show him that I’m all good.
His returning smile is so cute it’s about to make me cry again so I stand up quickly, “Hey you’d better get back to your mom, okay? I’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay, see you later!” he turns to head for the exit and I stop him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey Henry, don’t tell your mom I cried okay?”
He grins wickedly.
I manage to arrive at the Mills’ residence (a swanky brownstone not far from my place), breathless and clutching a bottle of red wine just shy of 7:00 pm. I barely managed to shower and change before racing out my front door. Something tells me getting held up at work with a trauma will not be a valid excuse for tardiness when it comes to Regina Mills.
I ring the doorbell and tug nervously at my shirt. I didn’t really know what to expect or how formal things would be so I just went with black jeans and a nice button-up. I hear thumping from inside the house that becomes increasingly louder until the front door bursts open and Henry barrels into my arms. I guess now I know where we stand on the hugging thing. “Oof!” I grunt, attempting not to drop the wine, or fly backwards down the steep stone staircase behind us. “Hey, buddy!”
“Henry, you know better than to tackle our guests,” Regina chastises him as she appears at the door. She’s got on tights and a long knit sweater, and she looks so casual and soft and it’s the first time I’ve seen her out of work clothes or scrubs and my brain has turned into a pile of mush.
“Hi,” I say breathlessly.
“Hello, Emma,” she says with an amused smile at the sight of her son wrapped around me like a koala.
“Could you…?” I ask, holding out the bottle of wine. She steps forward and takes it from my hand, her thumb skimming across my fingers, and ushers us inside.
Henry slides down from my arms and races into the kitchen, chattering to no one in particular, clearly so excited he doesn’t know what to do with himself. I shrug out of my coat, feeling nervous to suddenly be alone with Regina. “Thank you for the invitation,” I say quietly. “But listen, you really didn’t have to.”
She takes my coat and hangs it next to hers on the rack. “This has nothing to do with pity, Emma. You know neither of us is interested in that. Henry and I invited you here because we want you here.” She smiles warmly and I find I don’t even know what to do, or how to think when she’s being so open like this. “I heard Dr. Lucas mention that you usually go to her house for the holidays so we didn’t think you’d be available but then - well. Anyway, you’re here.” She seems flustered and nervous and it’s doing all kinds of things to me. I reach forward and squeeze her wrist.
She gestures for me to follow into the kitchen and my eyes nearly roll back in my head at the smell of cooking that washes over me as we enter.
Henry is bustling around showing me artwork, his homework from school (which includes counting all of the seeds inside of a pumpkin – 254), his spot at the table, and basically anything else that his eyes land on. He tows me around by the hand, showing me his class photo on the fridge, along with his individual portrait. Regina, meanwhile, has donned an apron (which is killing me for some reason), and I can see her smiling softly to herself as she listens to our conversation.
“Hey, you can have one if you want!” Henry announces.
“Have what?” I ask him, realizing I am a terrible person as I have been checking out this poor kid’s mother rather than follow our conversation.
“My school picture,” he says with an eye roll. I had no idea that five-year-olds rolled their eyes, but I figure if any 1st grader is going to have that kind of attitude, it would be the one that belongs to Regina Mills.
“Really?” I ask, and I’m actually touched.
“Yeah, right mom?” Henry asks Regina. “We have extra right?”
“Yes, dear. Go pick one out from my desk in the office,” Regina replies from where she’s stirring gravy.
Henry streaks out of the room at a breakneck speed and I find myself pulled towards Regina, as she bends over to check the small turkey that’s roasting in the oven. “So you can cook huh? I should have known you’d be good at this.” I cross my arms and lean on the counter next to her.
“Can’t you?” she asks with a raised eyebrow.
I shrug. “I don’t know, I never really tried. It’s a lot of effort for just one person. But I can make a seriously good breakfast,” I smile.
“I bet you can,” she replies, and I have no idea what she means by that, but my stomach clenches at the way she says it.
“So how can I help?” I ask her, rolling up the sleeves to my shirt.
“I thought you said you can’t cook?”
“Well I can assist, I think chopping or whatever is within my realm of capabilities.” She rolls her eyes and gives me a cutting board and some vegetables. “You know Henry has inherited your superior eye-rolling skills, right?” I ask her.
She laughs and shakes her head. “He’s a bit too much like me some days.” I want to tell her that that’s not possible, but it would sound like such a line, so I just keep chopping. “You’re good with him,” she says softly.
I smile, “Henry is easy to be with. It helps that we’re the same maturity level,” I laugh.
Regina looks over at me. “He hasn’t made too many friends since we moved. So having you has meant a lot to him. To us both,” she admits quietly.
I meet her eyes. “It’s meant a lot to me, too.”
She opens her mouth to reply but Henry comes bursting into the room with a few photos clutched in his hands, skidding to a halt next to me. “Okay, you have to pick what one you want, Emma.”
He holds up three different poses, and I choose the same one that’s on the fridge. He’s beaming at the camera and it’s like, ridiculous how cute this kid is. “That’s the one,” I nod to my choice. “That’s going straight into my wallet.”
“Can I put it in there for you?” he asks, his voice so high pitched with excitement I wince a little.
“Of course, go grab my wallet, it’s in my coat pocket.” He flies out of the room.
Regina and I look at each other and laugh, and the whole moment just feels so good. The warmth of the kitchen, and the music playing softly in the background, my elbows brushing Regina’s as we work next to each other, the sound of Henry chattering excitedly from the hallway. It all feels so cozy and right and I have this thought that maybe this is what people are talking about when they talk about home. I feel a little shaken at the realization, but luckily Henry is back before I can get too freaked out about it.
I let him open my wallet and slide his picture into the little window there. He’s crammed it right over my driver’s license but I know that I’ll never take it out of that spot now. “It looks really good, buddy. Thank you so much!”
“Sweetheart go wash your hands for dinner we’re almost ready.”
Regina and I move easily around each other to plate the food and set the table, as smoothly as when we’re at work and ducking around each other to treat a patient. Once we’re all seated, Henry announces, “We have to say what we’re thankful for!”
Regina nods, pouring me a glass of wine. “You go first, Henry.”
“I’m thankful for my room, and for my mom, and for my friends.” On the word friends, he stabs an accusatory finger in my direction and I burst out laughing. “Now you go,” he orders.
“You’re as bossy as your mother,” I tell him. Regina kicks me under the table and I wince. I scowl at her and her eyes are sparkling. “I am grateful for this awesome dinner, and for my job, and I’m grateful for my friends, too.” I point my finger at Henry who grins, delighted. Then I point at Regina, who grins in a mirror image of Henry, and it makes my insides turn to Jell-O.
“Now you, mom.”
Regina swallows her wine. “I am grateful for you, Henry.” She winks at him. “And for my job that’s given us a fresh start,” she continues. “And I’m grateful for people that are brave and stubborn enough to be my friend, even though it’s not easy.”
She looks at me and I take my glass of wine and touch it to hers, then to Henry’s glass of milk.
Things have shifted between us.
Or for her, at least, since I have most definitely been engaged in some one-sided pining for a while now. I think it was me getting my face bashed in that made her see - or at least start to see - that I was someone that she could trust. Not exactly your typical strategy for finding your way into a woman’s heart, but then I guess neither of us is typical. She’s warmer with me after that, in her way, and especially after Thanksgiving I notice a change in her. Beyond just smiling at me once in a while and threatening to do bodily harm less often, I mean. She's more relaxed, like she's shed a layer of armor or two. And it seems like it costs her a little less to show me that she cares, like when I show up to work one rainy Monday and she wordlessly hands me a coffee exactly how I take it. And no, it’s not exactly what I’ve secretly pined for, but it’s significant to me. Special. We still fight constantly - I wouldn’t have it any other way - but not in a way that makes me afraid she’s going to revert back to her icy ways. And who knows, if I’ve managed to worm my way this much into her life with my relentless blockheadedness (her words), then who’s to say that one day…? Yeah, no. I can’t quite let myself go that far. I’m just grateful for what I have.
“Dr. Swan. My office, now. ”
Until of course, I inevitably fuck it all up.
See, I have sort a hair-trigger when it comes to situations involving domestic violence. Probably doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. And when this asshole comes in with his battered wife, telling me she just tripped down the stairs while she just silently sits there, bleeding - I lost it. Normally I’m able to stay professional and keep my loathing internal. But this guy. His stupid idiot smug face just sent me over the edge, and he and I were nearly coming to blows before security and Regina intervened.
She pushes me into her office and slams the door. I feel sick at the look on her face, at the anger and shame and frustration churning in my stomach.
“We have to call the cops,” I blurt as soon as the door is shut behind us.
Regina steps into my space, her eyes piercing. “Emma, what in the hell were you thinking?
I shake my head. “We have to, Regina. We have to. We can’t let her go home with that bastard ,” I choke out, thrusting a finger in his general direction.
“Emma you cannot let your emotions get the better of you in times like this,” she hisses, ignoring my outburst. “Not to mention the fact that you’re making a lot of assumptions here.”
I bristle. “Assumptions? So what, you believe him then? That she ‘fell’? That she’s just clumsy? Seriously, Regina?!” I take a step towards her, seething, and we’re barely an inch apart now. Her spicy, warm apple smell envelops me, and I just want to reach for her because this feeling of despair and anger is so goddamn familiar and it makes me feel just like I did then. So small, so powerless, so alone. And for the first time, I actually have someone that makes me feel like the world makes a little bit of sense and it takes everything I have to jam my hands in my lab coat pockets so I don’t just crush her up against me.
Regina crosses her arms, taking my curled fists crammed in my coat as a sign of anger toward her. “You’re assuming that she will want to press charges,” she informs me. “You’re assuming that doing so is a better alternative for her. If her options are this or living in a shelter, which one do you think she will choose, Emma?”
“So what!?” I seethe. “That’s it? Too bad? Send her home with that asshole so he can break a few more bones? So she can continue to be his own personal punching bags?! So they can go to a different hospital next week, and the week after that?!”
Regina throws her hands up between us, eyes shut in exasperation. “Emma, go home.”
My stomach drops, anger quickly being replaced with shock. “What?”
“You only have an hour left in your shift,” Regina continues, crossing her arms, her eyes flashing dangerously. “I think it would be best if you went home early and cooled off. I’ll handle things from here.”
My throat constricts with indignation and shame. “You’re serious.”
She raises her eyebrows in a challenge. “When have you ever known me to not be serious, Dr. Swan?”
I stare at her in disbelief for a few seconds, and though she is using her best authoritative voice on me, I can see the tension around her eyes.
“Fine,” I snarl at her, pushing past her so she doesn’t see the tears of anger that spring to my eyes. I shove the door open and storm out, leaving her standing alone. As I turn the corner I meet eyes with the asshole husband. It takes everything I have to turn and walk the other way.
I can’t stop thinking.
I scroll through my Netflix homepage for what feels like the 17th time before slamming my laptop shut in frustration, dumping it next to me on the bed. I had tried to calm down when I got home, taken a hot shower, had some tea, but my mind is still racing, a riot of emotions churning in my chest. Anger, yes, but that had decreased from a raging wildfire to a slow, cool burn. Mostly I feel gnawing guilt. I’d practically accosted Regina, as though any of this was her fault. The truth is, everything she said was true. Most women don’t press charges. I had acted like a complete jackass.
I groan, pressing the heels of my palms against my eyes. I know I should call her, apologize, but this seems like the kind of thing that might be better done in person. I sit up, resolving to head to her place, thinking that maybe I could go get a bottle of wine on the way as a peace offering. Before I can make any further plans, I hear a sharp knock at my door. Standing slowly, I eye the door with suspicion, crossing the room as the impatient-sounding knock comes again. Pressing my eye to the peephole, a distorted version of Regina stares back at me, her arms crossed haughtily. My heart stops in my chest as I look down at myself panic. I’m in tights and a battered oversized t-shirt, my hair still in wet ropes from my shower, not exactly how I would like to receive this particular guest. My place is, after a quick scan, decently clean, but there are dishes in the sink and I –
“Emma are you going to let me in at some point, or would you prefer to continue panicking on the other side of the door for a little longer?” Regina demands point-blank.
“Sorry, sorry,” I mutter as I open the door to her unamused face. “I just wasn’t expecting anyone so I don’t look…” I gesture at my extremely informal attire.
Regina rolls her eyes as she breezes into my apartment as though it’s something she does all the time. “You look exactly how a person relaxing at home should look.”
I rub the back of my neck self-consciously as I shut the door behind her, locking it. I’m a little dumbstruck at the image of her standing in my shabby apartment, the setting sun lighting up her eyes and skin with a golden hue. She looks like some regal lioness, and my breath catches in my chest just looking at her. “Uh, can I get you something?” I ask, realizing I’ve just been staring.
“No, I’m not staying long,” she replies. Though contradictory to her statement, she pulls off her coat and places it on a chair along with her purse. “I just came to tell you that I got the chance to connect your patient with a social worker. It’s not exactly a happy ending but she has the resources she needs if she decides to make a change.” She folds her hands in front of her, eyes darting around my place in a moment of rare self-consciousness before landing on me.
“Thank you,” I can hear the awe in my voice, the relief.
She tilts her chin up in a challenge. “I didn’t do it for you. I did it because it’s my job. And I would have done it even if I didn’t have some hot-headed blonde nearly coming to brawls in my ER.”
“I know, I know,” I scrub a hand across my face. “I’m –I’m really sorry. I acted like a complete asshole.”
“Your words, not mine,” she replies wryly, crossing her arms.
“Honestly, Regina, I am. Sorry, I mean.” I shake my head, rake my fingers through my damp hair. “I shouldn’t have talked to you like that, I shouldn’t have…” I fold my arms over my stomach, close my eyes. “I shouldn’t have treated you like that. I was just so angry and I took it out on you, and that was wrong.”
I open my eyes to see her gaze has softened, but I can tell I’m not completely back in her good books. Not yet. That will have to be earned. She watches me for a long moment before speaking. “Why are you so angry, Emma?”
I blink at her in confusion. “What?” I shake my head. “How could I not be? How could anyone not be angry about that… asshole laying his hands on that poor woman.”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t ask why you were angry with him. I understand that.” I stare at her, feeling like the air has been sucked from my lungs. “I’ve seen it in you, more than once. The look on your face. There’s anger there that goes beyond empathy. I know you haven’t had an easy life. But if we’re going to be--” she huffs, a vulnerable look in her eyes. “If we’re going to trust one another then I need you to help me understand this.” She steps towards me. “So I’ll ask you again. Why are you so angry, Emma?”
I blink at her. “I’m not…” I shake my head, but the words die on my tongue. “I mean, I don’t…” I used to be better at this. Bullshitting. Pretending it was all good. I’m the actual queen of the I’m fine. So why the fuck can’t I say it now? Why can’t I just lie to this woman and tell her what she wants to hear so she’ll back off? The fact that she already knows more about me than anyone in the world is enough to make me feel so raw half the time she looks at me. She’s watching me carefully now, her dark eyes flickering across my features, and that’s how I realize I might be able to redeem myself. That’s what she’s looking for right now. The truth. And I think she knows exactly what it will cost me.
I subconsciously grab my left wrist, rubbing it as though I can feel the echo of an ache. I can do this, I can do this.
“You know that I grew up in care.” My voice is husky with emotion, and the effort of trying to keep my shit together. She nods, waiting. “Yeah, well. I’m not ready to talk about all of it. I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to. But I guess you can imagine that it wasn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. The truth is, I’ve lived with my fair share of guys like that. One of them used to lock us in the trunk of his car when we pissed him off. I was in the back of his Trans Am for nearly two fucking days when I spilled a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. Two days. ” I heave a shaky breath, pressing my hands against my stomach. “And I can honestly say he wasn’t even the worst of them.”
I chance a look at Regina and I’m inexplicably relieved that she isn’t looking at me with pity, or tears in her eyes. She looks furious, and I find it so comforting. It makes it easier to keep talking. “I am just so fucking sick of seeing people like them win, Regina. Of seeing them get away with it. Nothing ever happens to them and it is so goddamn unfair. Just once I want to see - I don’t know.” I lift a hand, then let it fall heavily at my side. “A happy ending.” My voice cracks on the last word and I knuckle away a tear. I feel like I’m about to pass out from holding in the sobs of frustration that want to escape my chest.
Regina watches me, her face now carefully neutral. She reaches out and takes hold of my wrist, squeezing gently. I’m bracing myself for what she’s going to say, but after a beat, all she tells me is, “Thank you, Emma.” I don’t know if it’s the gentleness of her touch or the fierceness in her eyes, but her words cause the dam to finally break. I feel my face crumple as I step forward to bury my face in her shoulder. She doesn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around me, one hand snaking through my hair as she pulls me tightly against her.
Tears spill down my cheeks but I do my best to hold in the heavy sobs that are threatening to escape my mouth. I curl my fingers tighter into her shirt and shudder with the effort. As vulnerable as I’m feeling, I’ve never been great at showing emotion in front of others. After I’ve managed to gain control of myself, I let go of my death grip on her, stepping back and looking at the floor.
“Thanks,” I say hoarsely. I cross my arms over my chest, self-conscious.
She waits until I make eye contact before she says, “Of course, Emma.”
I shift from one foot to the other. “So…” I ask, biting my bottom lip.
“Does this mean I’m not in trouble anymore?”
She snorts. “Hardly. You behaved like an imbecile and you will be treated as such.”
“Wh-Regina! Come on . I said that I was sorry! And I actually meant it!”
“Well, as incredibly noble of you as that was, there are still consequences for your actions.”
I sigh, walking past her to flop onto my bed. “Such as?”
“Such as, you will be attending an upcoming Boundaries and Ethics seminar and reporting back to me on the merits of professional behavior.”
“Are you serious?” I grab a pillow and cover my face with it, groaning.
She approaches the edge of my bed and yanks it away. “When are you going to stop asking me that?”
I swallow at the sight of her looming over me as I lie in bed. “Fair point. Anything else?”
“Yes. If you’re out of line like this again you’ll be getting a formal write up in your permanent record.”
I nod, as I’m currently so turned on at the words “permanent record” that I am nearly physically incapable of speech. “Understood. Is that it?”
“No.” She winds up with the pillow and smacks me in the face.
“Now I’m done.” She grins and swipes her coat off the chair, heading for the door. “Goodnight, Emma.” She waves, narrowly missing a pillow to the head as she shuts the door behind her. I flop back onto my bed. Exhausted, exhilarated.
“Exactly how long have you been a grown-up, fully-fledged doctor?”
I look up from where I’m reviewing labs at the computer to see Regina with a hand on her hip - don’t smile - nostrils flaring.
“It’s a trap, it’s a trap,” Ruby mutters as she walks by.
“Well, let’s see,” I sigh. I smile a bit at the memory. Mary Margaret had arranged a formal dinner to celebrate the end of mine and Ruby’s residency, inviting our families to join. Obviously, on my side, it was just going to be me, but I wasn’t too concerned because I’d just accepted a full-time position at Mass General and I couldn’t have been happier. Or at least that’s what I thought until I got to the restaurant and Regina was sitting at the table wearing an impossibly elegant black dress and a shy smile. She’d asked Mary Margaret if she could act as a stand-in for my family. A pool of molten, disgusting, loving feelings washes over me now just as it did then until I meet Regina’s eyes and remember she is presently waiting for an answer. Presumably to tear me a new asshole about something. “I think it’s been about three months now, Dr. Mills.”
“I see,” she huffs, brandishing a paper file. “And at what point, exactly, can I expect you to stop spilling your coffee on legal documentation?”
I walk toward her, taking the file out of her hands. “First of all, this is tea.”
“Yes, you can tell them that in court when you’re asked to testify and won’t be able to read anything other than your tea leaves,” she fumes. “And look at you, you have icing from some no doubt sugary confection on your face. Shall I assume that its remains are strewn across another patient file?”
“I’ll have you know I ate that bear claw outside.”
“Thank god for small miracles,” she snorts, reaching out to wipe the sugar off my chin. Her thumb lingers for a half-second, her eyes dropping to my mouth, before the sound of her cell phone causes her to pull her hand back like it’s on fire. “Get your house in order, Dr. Swan,” she threatens. I’m pretty sure I’m sweating from how hot that was.
I’m walking by the breakroom a while later when I hear her raised voice echoing through the door.
I hesitate outside, not wanting to eavesdrop, but also concerned at how upset she sounds.
“He is my son, mother, and I will raise him how I see fit. And if you don’t agree with that, then you don’t have to be in our lives, is that understood?” This is followed by a clattering sound that I presume is her phone slamming down on the table.
I push my way into the break room and she’s standing with both hands on her hips and eyes brimming with tears. “Don’t you have anything better to do than follow me around?” she spits, turning to sit heavily on the couch.
I step into the room and approach her, sitting on the coffee table opposite. “I’m gonna go ahead and let you try that again.”
She meets my eyes, arms crossed. “I’m sorry.” She’s been getting better at that. I nod. “My mother is just driving me insane. She wants me to send Henry to boarding school.”
“What?” I ask, panic rising. “Why would you do that?”
“Apparently it’s the best education he could receive, and I need to ‘cut the apron strings’ and send him abroad.” She scoffs.
“I take it you’re not going to?” I ask, resting my elbows on my knees.
“Absolutely not. I went to a boarding school. It was miserable. And lonely. Henry would hate it, and I think I’d die without him.” Her lips purse for a moment in an effort to control her emotions.
“I’m glad to hear it. He needs you. And I’d miss him, which means you definitely can’t send him away.”
She laughs, her smile watery but warm. “Well, that settles it.”
“Sorry your mom is kind of a jerk,” I say gently.
“Thanks,” she says wryly. “I can deal with her. Sometimes it’s all just overwhelming. Henry, work, fending off my mother.”
“Babysitting slovenly doctors,” I add.
“Yes, and that.” She sighs, letting her head fall back on the couch.
It isn’t until she spells it out like that that I realize how difficult it must be for her, doing everything alone, without help.
“When’s the last time you did anything for yourself?” I ask.
She closes her eyes. “I don’t know, how old is Henry?”
“Seriously?” I ask. She makes a sound of affirmation. “Well, there’s no time like the present.” I reach down, fully expecting to be roundhoused in the teeth, and start pulling off her shoes.
“What are you doing?” she asks, though to my surprise she sounds amused, not angry. Clearly she’s used to my shit.
I pull off her other shoe. “Taking care of you, duh.”
Her eyes open, watching me as I grasp her legs by the ankles and gently pull them up until she’s lying down on the couch. Her expression is soft, vulnerable. “Why?”
I realize there’s nothing to cover her with so I go to my locker and haul out a hoodie. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t?” I ask her, placing my hoodie across her chest.
Her eyes are still tracking my movements as I tuck the hoodie around her. “I suppose there isn’t.”
“There you go then,” I smile. “Alright, I’m going to finish your rounds and then spill some hot liquids on a few documents. I’ll come get you in half an hour, ok?”
She sighs ruefully. “You drive me crazy.”
I grin. “And you love it.”
Her answering laugh as I shut the door is all the answer I need.
“So are you fucking her or what?”
I choke on my coffee and nearly drop it on the break room floor, Ruby smirks from where she sits at the table.
“Excuse me?” I sputter.
“You’re excused,” she sighs, flipping a page in her magazine. “So are you?”
I set my coffee down and sit across from her. “You’re going to have to tell me what in the hell you’re talking about first.”
“Dr. Mills. Are you guys sleeping together?”
My eyes flick to the door, “No we are absolutely not sleeping together, now would you quit it?”
“Okay, but you want to be, right?” I hesitate a fraction too long and she grins wolfishly. “I knew it.”
“Look, hey -” I rip the magazine out of her hands. “Yeah, alright, she’s a goddess. Sue me.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“Do?” I scoff. “Absolutely nothing . She’s the chief of emergency medicine, Ruby. And I am...not.”
“Well spotted,” Ruby rolls her eyes. “Look, you’re into her, she’s so incredibly clearly into you. What’s the problem?”
“She is not. ”
“Oh please!” Ruby laughs. “Half the time I witness you two in one of your bickering matches I feel like I need a cigarette afterward. And you have to admit that in the last six months they’ve transitioned into straight-up flirting.”
“Not to mention the fact that I have personally witnessed her eyeing your admittedly jacked biceps on multiple occasions. You can just tell she’s imagining you hoisting her off her feet with those big strong arms of yours.”
That visual has my brain imploding for a full three seconds before I snap to. “Look, even if that were true, we could get into serious trouble.” I pause. “Couldn’t we?”
Ruby shrugs. “There are no official rules around staff fraternization. I checked.” She clears her throat. “For reasons.” Reasons named Belle immediately come to mind.
“Still,” I sigh, feeling slightly relieved to even be acknowledging this. “We’ve become close, Rubes. I like her. I think I maybe more than like her.”
“Oh.” Ruby lets out a breath. “Oh, shit. I just thought this was all some kind of super hot foreplay, I didn’t realize you’d fallen for the woman.”
I let my head fall to the table with a thud. “I’m so fucked, aren’t I.”
“Yeah, honey,” she sighs sympathetically, reaching over me to grab her magazine back. “And not in the way you want to be.”
Ruby’s words are still echoing in my brain several weeks later as I’m wrapping up the end of a long shift. The idea that I’m completely fucked isn’t new in any way. But the implication that Regina might share my feelings, at least to a degree, is something I can’t stop thinking about. I mean yeah, okay, maybe I’ve caught her staring at my arms a few times so it’s possible she’s at least a little attracted to me. But is she attracted enough to not eviscerate me if I work up the courage to ask her out? I sigh, ripping off my coat. “Who the fuck am I kidding,” I mutter to myself, slamming my locker shut. As if I’ll ever have the guts for that. I let my head thud heavily against the locker as I shut my eyes, trying to calm my thoughts.
Of course, it’s kind of difficult to calm your thoughts when you’re constantly forced to be with the source of them. Regina is standing behind me, arms crossed and an amused smile on her face.
I sigh. “Something like that.”
She purses her lips. “Well, I suppose this might help.” She holds out a steaming cup of hot chocolate. I stare at the offering without reaching to take it.
“What is that?”
She stares at me like I’m acting like an idiot, which I guess I am. “Hot chocolate?”
I glance at her. “You know I like hot chocolate?”
She rolls her eyes, arm still outstretched with the cup. “I am well aware of your many idiosyncrasies Emma Swan. Like how you get crumbs on your charting, for instance. Or how you hum when you’re thinking - which is utterly obnoxious by the way. And how when you’re having a bad day, you get yourself hot chocolate with cinnamon from the cart out front.” She gestures again with the cup in irritation and I finally reach out to take it, clasping it in both hands. “I saw you nearly get bitten twice today, puked on, and yelled at by an irate mother who felt she was waiting too long. I felt like you could use it.”
“Thanks,” I smile, sipping my hot chocolate. “Now what do you want?”
She scowls. “How very cynical of you. Aren’t small gestures of kindness something that friends do?”
“Did you read that in a book?” I ask, “Because it sounds like you might have read that in a book.” Her lips disappear into a thin line and it’s all I can do not to burst out laughing.
“ Fine,” she hisses. “As it happens, I need a favor.”
I nod. “Go on.”
She huffs and sits down on a bench while I start pulling on my shoes. I hand her the hot chocolate to hold and she sneaks a sip. “Henry’s nanny is sick and she can’t watch him tonight. My shift doesn’t end for another 4 hours.”
I blink in surprise. “You want me to watch Henry?”
She looks uncharacteristically uncertain. “Is that strange?”
“No,” I put my hand on her thigh without thinking. “No it’s fine, I’ve just never had anyone trust me with that before.”
“Well,” she sniffs. “I do.”
My chest is expanding with warmth. “Okay, I’m happy to watch him for you.”
She looks at me with relief in her eyes. “Really?”
“Of course. We’re friends, remember?” I nudge her with my elbow.
She smiles and hands me the hot chocolate. “Grace will let you in before she heads home. She’ll give you instructions. And you have my number in case anything goes wrong.”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” I reassure her.
She nods. “Me too.” She stands to go and turns just before she opens the door. “And for the record, I got you that hot chocolate before Grace called to tell me she was ill.”
My grin is enough of an answer as she turns to leave the room.
Henry is so incredibly ecstatic to see me that it takes a full fifteen minutes to stop him from running around the house in sheer excitement. We take another twenty minutes to get his teeth brushed because he can’t stop talking to me long enough to actually get the job done. By the time he finally chooses his Marvel pajamas as the lucky winners for the evening, it’s way past his bedtime, and my heart is very full. I am such a sucker for this kid. Between him and his mom I really didn’t stand a chance.
He begs to sleep in Regina’s bed and I hesitate long enough for him to equip his most potent puppy dog eyes. “Please, Emma??” he begs. “I miss my mom and it makes me feel better to be in her bed. Can we read books in her room? Just until she gets home?”
I sigh, my heart clenching and pull out my phone. “Standby, kid.”
ES: Hey . This little monster wants me to read him a bedtime story in your bed. Is that ok?
Her response is fast: RM: Of course.
ES: K. By the way, he’s really mastered the whole puppy dog eyes thing. How is anyone supposed to defend themselves against that?
I give Henry the signal to head to Regina’s room and he flings open the door and rockets onto her massive California King just as my phone buzzes again.
RM: Don’t even bother trying, I can barely fend it off myself. Go ahead and set him up in my bed and I can move him when I get home. I just have two more hours.
I type a quick response as I clamber onto the bed behind him, my eyes darting curiously around Regina’s room. I’ve been over to their place a number of times now for dinners, or movies with her and Henry. I feel comfortable here. But I’ve never been in Regina’s room, and it’s exactly what I had pictured. Not that I had like, thought about it that much or anything. The smell of her is everywhere and it’s making me melt.
ES: Okay, hope the rest of your shift goes well. We’ll be here, reading Harry Potter.
Before I can think better of it, I shoot her a quick selfie of me and Henry with his book, beaming.
Henry is nearly drifting off to sleep as I get a response sometime later.
RM: My two favorites.
I’m woken from a deep sleep as the book I’m holding is pulled gently from my hands. Henry is passed out hard on my chest, his heavy warmth so comforting. I open my eyes and see Regina sitting on the edge of the bed, her eyes full of affection.
“Hey,” I croak, half asleep. “How was your shift?”
“Long,” she replies. “It’s good to be home.” The statement feels so intimate somehow, and I want to pull her up against me. She reaches out and sweeps Henry’s hair out of his eyes. She pauses and then does the same to me, and my body cries out with a rush of warmth in my belly.
“How was he?”
“Loud,” I chuckle, and she smiles. I reach up and rake my fingers through his hair. “But good. Really good. You got lucky with this one.”
“I did,” she says softly.
“Should I move him into his room?”
She shakes her head. “Would you...do you mind staying? He hasn’t been sleeping well and I’d hate to wake him. You have to be up in a few hours anyway, so it might be easier if you stayed.”
Her speech is coming quickly, like she’s nervous about asking. I reach out with the arm that isn’t wrapped around Henry and squeeze her hand. “‘Course I’ll stay,” I answer sleepily.
She nods. “Thanks. I’m just going to shower. Do you mind if I stay with you two? As comfortable as Henry’s twin bed is…” she doesn’t finish her sentence and I am quickly drifting back to sleep.
“No, stay,” I slur, my eyes shutting. I hear her laugh and a few seconds later I’m lulled to sleep by the sound of the shower running.
I wake the next morning to a scene that could easily have been pulled out of my most private daydreams. Henry remains nestled on one side of my body, his little arm slung across my chest. His mother occupies the other side, in a mirror image of her son. Tucked snugly between the two I can’t decide if I’m in heaven or hell. It feels like the sort of domestic, lazy morning scenario I’d always fantasized about. One where I’d make pancakes and coffee with people that loved me, and we’d lay around in our pajamas. As good as this feels, it’s so painful knowing it isn’t real. That they aren’t really mine at all.
I know I need to get up for work anyway, so I carefully extract myself from Regina’s tight grip. She sighs in complaint, forehead wrinkling. I pick up Henry and move him to my other side, and he barely stirs. Leaving them feels wrong. I tear my eyes from them and head for the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later I’m about to pull my shoes on when I hear footsteps behind me. Regina is standing in the hall wearing a silk robe, her hair adorably mussed from sleep. “Good morning,” she says almost shyly.
I stand up, shoes abandoned. “Hey.”
She takes a step towards me and my mouth goes dry. “Did you sleep alright?”
“Sorry if Henry and I crowded you.”
She looks apprehensive, her arms crossed over herself.
“You didn’t. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time,” I say truthfully.
“Oh?” she asks, taking another step closer.
“Yeah.” I have to ball my hands into fists to stop myself from reaching out to her.
“Then why do you look so sad, Emma?”
I try to laugh, but it comes out as a sigh. Seeing her like this, first thing in the morning, I am finally faced with how deeply in love with this woman I am. “I don’t think I can say,” I half-whisper. She’s so close to me now, I can’t help myself. I reach out and cup her face in my hand, and she leans in, her eyes fluttering shut for a second.
“Why not?” she asks, looking up at me with her big, dark eyes.
I hesitate before answering truthfully again. “Because I’m terrified.”
She smiles gently. “Would it help if I told you that I am too?” I step closer, my body pressed against hers, my arm wrapped tightly around her waist, pulling her against me. “I keep asking myself what a beautiful, brilliant, fierce young doctor would want with an uptight, short-tempered single mother.”
I smile so wide I feel like my lips might split. “Everything.”
I lean down and she pulls me the rest of the way, her fingers gripping my shirt tightly as my lips meet hers. Her mouth is so warm, so soft, and she parts her lips immediately, my tongue sweeping into her mouth. She makes a soft sound in the back of her throat as one of her hands releases its grip on my shirt to slide up my chest and grasp my hair. Her other hand drops to my ass, cinching me tightly against her body. I gasp at the feeling of her hands on me, our mouths separating briefly, and she laughs wickedly against my lips. I should have known that she would do this as passionately and aggressively as she does everything else.
I capture her mouth again for a deep kiss, lips and teeth and tongue, my hand sliding down the front of her soft robe to cup her breasts through the fabric. She makes a sound of approval, her hand coming up to clamp mine in place as she releases my mouth and drops her head to my chest.
“You like that, huh?”
“Shut up, Emma Swan,” she threatens, lifting her head to devour my mouth. I pull back and she looks adorably irritated, but hey, our relationship has only ever worked because I give about as good as I get. Before she has time to tear me a new one for stopping I slide my hands down her body and lift her easily, pinning her against the wall as her legs come to wrap around my waist. The sound she makes should be illegal in the great state of Massachusetts because my knees nearly buckle at the complete abandon in her voice.
I laugh against her neck, clearly Ruby was on to something with her theory. “Something funny, Dr. Swan?” Regina pants, her lips swollen, eyes liquid. I feel like I’m in some fever dream, like this couldn’t possibly be real. “Yeah, I owe Ruby a twenty. She swore you’ve been wanting me to do that.”
“That insubordinate little --” I cut her off with a kiss, distracting her momentarily. Her arms are sliding under my shirt, fingers raking over my ribs.
“Couldn’t this be construed as insubordinate, too?” I ask innocently. She’s clinging to me now, her robe slipping off her shoulder, and I take the opportunity to explore the newly exposed skin. I pull the robe down further, closing my mouth around her nipple, and she gasps and her head falls heavily against the wall.
“Fuck,” she hisses, and it’s so incredibly hot to hear Miss Holier Than Thou swearing like -- well, me. She grips my hair tightly, grinding her hips against mine. “You’ve been a defiant pain in my ass since day one, so no great change there - oh, there!” she gasps.
I pull back to meet her eyes. “And you love it,” I kiss her and she pulls me in hungrily. She breaks the kiss, about to say something when a look of horror comes over her face and she slides off my body, shoving me as hard as she can. I stumble back a few steps, incredulous.
“What in the --”
“Mom, can I have pancakes?”
Henry walks into the room in his footie pajamas, rubbing his eyes, blissfully unaware of the tension in the room.
“Of course, baby.” She pants, yanking her robe shut as she ushers him into the kitchen ahead of her. “Say goodbye to Emma.”
“Bye Emma!” he waves.
I’m trying to calm my breathing. “Bye kid.”
I straighten my clothes, smoothing my hair down and pull on my shoes. My body is thrumming with unspent energy, my mind a chaotic whirlwind of did that actually just fucking happen. I’m so overwhelmed with thoughts I don’t ever hear as she exits the kitchen. My attention is drawn as she walks towards me, her movements smooth, eyes locked on me like a predator to her prey. I feel like I’m rooted to the spot as she takes a hand to my chest and pushes me gently against the wall, my back thudding softly. “We’re not done here,” she nearly growls in a low voice.
“Oh no?” I breathe, my body aching to be touched by her.
She leans in and kisses me thoroughly, her teeth grazing on my lower lip. “No.”
“Come over, after your shift tonight,” I whisper against her mouth, breathing heavily. “ That is, if Grace is feeling better enough to watch Henry. We can, uh, talk.”
She loses the sharp edge in her eye at the uncertainty in my voice, and her gaze becomes soft. “Yes, I suppose we should talk. Among other things.” She reaches up to stroke my face. “I’ll be there, but it will be late.” I nod and lean down to kiss her forehead, afraid to do anything less chaste as I cannot trust myself right now. She steps back, allowing me to grab my coat.
I smile at her over my shoulder as I open the door.
“I’ll be waiting.”
There’s a four-hour overlap in our shifts. Four hours. Two hundred and forty minutes in which I have to pretend that I am not spending every spare second imagining all of the things that I am going to do to Regina Mills when I have her alone tonight. In my house. In my bed. I’m such a total spaz all day, dropping things, tripping, laughing nervously that even Mary Margaret comments that I’m a little more enthusiastic than usual.
I do everything I can to avoid looking at or talking to Regina because I am terrified that as soon as I make eye contact with her everyone will immediately know that I had her legs wrapped around my waist in the wee hours of the morning. I’m doing such a terrible job of acting normal that at a certain point I see her storming towards me, lightning practically crackling over her head, as she grabs me firmly by the upper arm and hisses in my ear, “My office, now.”
Praying to every available deity that she’s not about to kick me to the curb for being such a complete basket case, I walk heavily to her office like I’m on my way to the firing squad, which - when Dr. Regina Mills is involved - I can’t entirely discount. I stand in the doorway and she’s sitting behind her desk, looking so calm it makes me want to scream. “Step inside and shut the door.”
I swallow, following her orders. As soon as the door clicks shut behind me she stands. “You have got to pull yourself together, Swan.”
I groan, pinching the bridge of my nose. “ I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’m just --”
“Losing your actual mind?”
“Kind of! How the hell are you so calm right now? Aren’t you feeling, I don’t know, anything??”
She crosses her arms. “Well, thank you for the implication that I, the Evil Queen, couldn’t possibly be having any kind of emotional reaction to the very significant change in our relationship this morning Emma.”
I swallow thickly, realizing how unfair that was. “Sorry. It’s just, if that’s the case then how are you acting so normal?”
She takes a step closer. “Because I know how to leave my personal life at home where it belongs. If you must know, I’m having trouble concentrating today too.”
“Of course I am. There is a lot at stake for me too, Emma. I haven’t let anyone...I haven’t been able to --” she sighs in frustration. “I keep feeling certain that you’re going to change your mind. That you’ll realize you want to be with someone who is easier, who’s doesn’t come with all of this baggage.”
I feel my insides melt. “I’m not going to change my mind. I know what I want.”
Her eyes are watery, and I see an expression of relief cross her face. Before she can reply her phone rings, making us both jump. She growls as she hauls it out of her pocket and swipes to ignore the call.
“Who was that?”
“My mother,” she sighs. “She’s in town on business and is insisting on coming over for dinner one night this week. I’ll deal with her later.”
We hear a stern and high pitched voice from the nursing area demanding to speak with Dr. Regina Mills and her face goes pale.
“Or perhaps I will deal with her now,” she groans.
There’s a stern knock on her office door just as Regina had reached to open it. I see her take a steadying breath before turning the handle, a very fierce red-headed woman standing on the other side. “Regina, so you are alive.”
Cora Mills pushes her way into the office, ignoring my presence completely. I’m about to excuse myself when Regina speaks. “Mother this is Dr. Emma Swan.” Cora’s eyes widen upon hearing my name.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?”
I feel my heart start to race. “What’s me?”
Regina looks uncertainly between the two of us. “I’ve heard your name before while speaking on the phone to my grandson. He seems quite smitten with you. And judging by the expression on my daughter’s face so is she.”
Regina’s nostrils flare. “Mother.”
Cora holds up a hand to silence her, and shockingly, Regina stops talking. I’m met with the icy gaze of who I realize to be the true Evil Queen. She steps towards me, somehow looking down her nose at me though I’m quite a few inches taller. “She’s the reason that I was calling you, Regina.”
Regina’s eyebrows crease. “Emma? What are you talking about?” She has a look of dread on her face.
Cora turns to her daughter. “I took the liberty of looking into her past, considering she’s been spending time with my family. I thought you might want to know that you’re allowing my grandson to spend time with a murderer.”
So often, life is nothing like what you see in the movies.
Things are always easier, simpler, more romantic when filtered through the eyes of Hollywood. But there is one thing they’ve gotten right over the years. That moment of shock, that moment where you think you might pass out. Where the screen goes blurry, and the camera sort of goes into a tunnel vision. Where a high pitched whining sound is all that you can hear. They got that exactly right.
As Cora’s words, those secret and awful words, crash over me, it’s all I can do to stay conscious. I can’t hear what they’re saying, I can only hear Regina’s voice being raised. I can only feel the blood draining from my face. And then all of a sudden, it’s all back. The sound, the feeling, like time has snapped back into place.
“Emma!” Regina is calling my name, reaching out to touch me.
I look at her in horror and back away.
And then I run.
I don’t know how long I’ve been at home. I don’t even remember getting here. My phone is lying blank next to me, I shut it off after it wouldn’t stop buzzing. I remember I stood in the shower for a long time. I’ve always liked to take a long, hot shower after bad moments. The warmth almost feels like another person. I pulled on my sweats and a tank top, and crawled into bed with the covers over my head. In the dark and the warmth, the only sound my breath going in and out, it’s almost like not existing anymore. I can nearly convince myself that’s the case until I hear the pounding on my door. I know who it is. I pull the covers more tightly around myself as though if I make sure not a sliver of light can get in, I’ll be safe from having to live this moment.
She doesn’t give up, but even if I wanted to, I can’t move. I’m paralyzed. The pounding stops for a few precious minutes and then I hear a key in the lock, and the door swinging open. I’m finally able to move as I sit bolt upright, the covers falling to pool at my waist as Regina enters the room, her face a mask of pain and fury.
She shuts the door behind herself and stands there, staring at me. “How the hell did you get in?” I ask. My voice sounds distant, not my own.
“I threatened your landlord,” she says calmly.
There’s a moment of complete stillness, and then it’s like I feel my body caving in on itself. All those sobs I’ve kept inside over the years, all the times I’ve almost confessed to someone and then couldn’t, all the pain and shame I’ve been pushing down, down, down, finally releasing. I’m crying harder than I’ve ever allowed myself to, even alone without a witness. My body curls in on itself, my arms wrapping around my waist as I sob as bitterly as anyone ever has. I can tell Regina wants to hold me, but I’m relieved when she doesn’t. She pulls a chair up to my bed, and she reaches forward and grasps one of my hands, pulling it against her chest. She presses it against her heart, and the steady beat, with the rhythm of her breath, starts to calm me down.
After a few long minutes, I look up at her through my hair. I know my eyes are swollen, my cheeks tearstained. But she’s not looking at me any differently, even though she must know by now. I can’t believe it.
“She told you?” I ask, my voice raw.
“No.” She shakes her head. “She refused to give me details. Which means that there is a hell of a lot more to this than either of you are saying. So please. Tell me.”
She takes my hand from her chest and wraps her fingers around mine, settling it in her lap.
I look at her and try to remember exactly how she looks before she knows what I’ve done. “I’m not - you know, what she said. It was an accident, I never meant to hurt anybody. I didn’t even want to be there,” I suck in a breath, trying to steady myself.
“It’s alright,” she says gently. I almost believe her.
I take a breath and start again. I close my eyes, remembering like I haven’t allowed myself to in so many years. “When I was a kid I lived with this family. Two older boys, and their parents. The dad drank. A lot. But he was alright, overall. He left me to my own devices, and that was all I ever really asked for by that time.” I can feel her fingers tightening around my own. I can feel my stomach roiling as I recall the memories buried so deep. “One night, in the winter, it was just me and him. The mom had taken the boys tobogganing. I stayed home, I didn’t like the cold.” I can remember watching them leave, dragging their wooden sled behind them as I pulled my favorite book of fairy tales from my bag. “After a while the dad, he ran out of beer. He’d been drinking all night. So he decided to go to the liquor store. But he knew he wasn’t in any shape to drive. So he told me to.”
“He what?” Regina whispers.
I remember pulling my coat on over my pajamas, shoving my icy feet into boots. “He put two telephone books on the driver's seat. I begged him to let me stay home, but he wouldn’t. He said it would be easy. He said it would be fun,” I laugh humorlessly. She nods, and it gives me the strength to keep going. “It was snowing. Hard. It was so cold in the car I could see my breath. I couldn’t reach the pedals and see over the wheel at the same time, so he was directing me. We came up to a left-hand turn and I took the corner way too fast. For a minute, it was like we were floating. Like we were flying. And then I wrapped the car around a telephone pole. And he died instantly.”
“And you?” she asks. Her voice is oddly calm, but her face expressive.
“Broken arm, which never did set quite right. And a concussion. I got off pretty easy, all things considered.”
“Did you, though?” she asks.
A few tears fall freely down my face. “I guess not. I know it wasn’t my fault, not really. I know that. But it can be hard to remember that, sometimes.” I look at her, still cradling my hand in hers. “You’re still here.” There’s a note of surprise in my voice.
“What, did you think I would storm out after I found out about the worst moment of your life? That I would blame you?”
“I don’t know,” I half-whisper. “I always thought it would be unbearable for anyone to know. I always felt like I might disappear from the shame of it, if someone found out.”
“And now, how do you feel?”
“Lighter, I think. Saying it out loud took the power out of it, maybe. A little. How do you feel?” I ask cautiously.
“A lot of things, Emma. Outrage on your behalf. Furious with my mother for phrasing something so obviously out of your control in such a callous way.”
I laugh softly. “Yeah, that was unnecessarily harsh of her.”
“That sums up her whole being,” Regina growls. “Mostly though, Emma,” she continues, reaching out to run her fingers through my hair. “Mostly my heart is even more full of you than it was before. You’re so much more than you give yourself credit for.”
I pull her onto the bed with me, resting my forehead against hers, hot tears leaping off my cheeks and splattering on my thighs. “My heart is so full of you, too. Like it’s basically bursting at this point, you should probably do something about that.”
My eyes are closed but I can feel her smile where I’m holding her face in my hand. “Later, sweetheart,” she says gently, and the pet name sends a warmth through my body. “It’s late. Right now I think you need to sleep.”
As soon as she says it I realize how exhausted I am. I move to lie back, and she pulls back the covers. “What are you doing?” I ask, watching her pull off her shoes and unbutton her pants.
“I’m getting into bed with you,” she says matter of factly. She’s stripped down to her t-shirt and underwear and my eyes are struggling to choose a place to land. She crawls into bed next to me. “Grace is staying with Henry tonight, and my mother has been banished back to New York with firm instructions to stay the hell away from us. I’m exactly where I want to be. Okay?”
I nod and she kisses me gently on the forehead and pulls me against her. “Sleep.”
And I do.
I wake up the next morning and it takes three full seconds for everything to come rushing back.
I brace myself for the emotional hangover that I’m expecting, the shame or regret or embarrassment. But it never comes. Instead, I’m distracted by the smell of coffee.
I sit up and see Regina is gone from my bed. She's standing in the kitchen in her underwear and my old battered Bruins t-shirt and I feel like I’m actively hallucinating now. I creep up behind her as she’s doing something with bread at the counter, letting my hands slide under the t-shirt and wrap around her hips. She jumps a foot in the air, gasping dramatically, and spins around in my arms.
“Goddamit, you scared me.” She swats my shoulder, shooting me a murderous look, and her irritation with me is like a healing balm on my heart. My big grin is doing very little to soothe her anger so I opt on pushing her gently against the counter and planting a line of kisses down the side of her throat. She smells like herself, but warm and sleepy, and it’s doing things to me. I sink my teeth into her gently and she hisses. After a minute I lift my head, and her eyes are glassy.
“Good morning,” I smile.
“Good morning,” she replies politely. “I was making you breakfast before I was so rudely interrupted.”
I let my thumb drag across her hip and see her eyes fluttering shut, her resolve to be annoyed clearly dissipating. “You were?”
She manages to open her eyes. “Well, coffee and toast. It was all you had, other than expired Chinese food.”
“Coffee and toast sounds perfect.”
She turns around and hands me a mug of coffee, made just how I like it. It tastes amazing.
“Why the hell doesn’t it taste like this when I make it?”
She sips her own mug, the t-shirt riding up her thighs as she does so. “Because I cleaned the filter like an adult.”
“Oh,” I grin sheepishly. I lean against the counter, my eyes raking over her body as I drink my coffee. She shifts from one foot to the other.
“Nothing,” I say, shaking my head. “You’re just - you’re wearing my shirt.”
“Oh,” she says self-consciously. “Mine was a little uncomfortable for sleeping, and I saw yours on the chair.”
I shake my head, taking a step closer to her. “No, don’t apologize. I like it. You look incredible in it.”
She sets her mug down on the counter, her eyes glittering in that mischievous way. “I’d look better out of it.”
I choke on my coffee and set it down heavily on the counter, closing the space between us in one big stride. “I can’t believe you said that,” I laugh, scooping her up, picking up where we left off at her house. She laughs against my mouth as her legs cinch around my waist.
“It worked,” she says smugly.
“It did,” I pant, pressing her up against the fridge. A Snow White magnet Mary Margaret got me in Disneyworld clatters to the ground, and I can hear bottles of condiments clanking on the shelves as she pulls me tighter against her. Her breath is coming heavily, her eyes sliding shut, and I realize there are so many things I want to do to her that require a flat surface.
I cup her ass and move a step to the side, careful not to slam her down on top of the half-finished slices of toast. The second she’s on the counter I grab the Bruins tee and yank it over her head. She retaliates by pushing my sweatpants off my legs in one smooth motion, I kick them off and they slide across the kitchen. I capture the back of her head, making sure she doesn’t smack it against the cupboards as I kiss her deeply, my other hand cupping her bare breast. She makes a low groan in her throat and grinds against me. I drop my mouth to her other breast and I’m half expecting the neighbors to start banging on my door with the level of sound coming out of her mouth.
“Emma,” she half whines. The sound of her pleading voice practically makes me come on the spot. “Emma, please. ” She grabs one of my hands and slides it down her body, my breathing getting heavier as she places it exactly where she wants it.
“So this is what I have to do to get you to say please to me, huh?” I smile. She growls low in the back of her throat.
“Just do it,” she orders, which doesn’t sound all that authoritative when she’s sitting half-naked on my kitchen counter.
“Do what?” I grin against her the side of her neck, my thumb grazing over the crotch of her underwear, which is so, so wet.
Her nails dig into my shoulders and she makes a frustrated noise, “I am going to throttle you,” she presses her hips forward, fruitlessly trying to put pressure on my hand between her legs.
“Come on,” I tease, applying a tiny bit more pressure, just enough that her eyes roll back in her head for a moment. “All you have to do is say it.”
“I want you to fuck me, Emma Swan.” Her voice is husky, breathless. I nearly pass out as the words filter through my sluggishly-aroused brain.
“Lift up,” I order, smacking her on the thigh. She immediately pushes herself up with both palms and I pull her underwear off, sliding two fingers inside of her smoothly. She swears so loudly that I’m sure if the neighbors weren’t pissed before, they are now, but I can’t bring myself to care as she rides my hand so hard I barely need to do any of the work.
She’s wrapped so tightly around my body, her face buried in my shoulder as she rocks against my hand. The feeling of her on my fingers, her bare skin against mine, her breath hot in my ear, her blunt fingernails digging into my back, all of it is so overwhelmingly her. And so incredible. It doesn’t take long before I feel her muscles starting to close around my fingers, and I sweep my thumb across her clit only a handful of times before she’s coming so hard against me I can feel her wetness running down my wrist, her nails sinking deeply into my shoulders.
She takes a few minutes to recover, hanging limply against me before she heavily lifts her head, pulling me in for a lazy kiss. “Oh,” she sighs. I laugh into her hair, picking her up again and walking over to deposit her gently on the bed.
“You like that, huh?”
She rolls her eyes. “You are so damned cocky, it’s insufferable.”
“Oh, you want me to shut up?”
“That would be nice if it were even possible,” she sniffs.
I’m straddling her now, and I can tell by the look on her face that she can feel how wet I am against her stomach. “Make me.”
She gets a gleam in her eye, and before I even realize what’s happening I’m flat on my back. “What the -?”
“Ah,” she presses a finger to my lips. “That’s not shutting up, now is it Dr. Swan?” The feeling of her naked, straddling my waist is enough to make me see stars. Having her call me Dr. Swan has me dangerously close to passing out. “After my performance, your neighbors definitely won’t make it through a second round. Do you think you can be quiet?” she asks, in this sexy, school teachery, infuriatingly condescending way.
I nod. “We’ll see,” she sighs dramatically, snaking a hand down under the waist of my underwear. I make a low groan as her fingers start to slide through the moisture there, but try to stop when she levels me with a look. She moves down my body, pulling breathy moans out of me all the while, though she stops every time my voice rises enough for her to hear. It is infuriating and I pound a fist against the sheet in protest.
“Frustrated, Dr. Swan?”
I refuse to whine, and after a moment she resumes her way down my body, running her tongue boldly through my wetness. I cry out at that, no human being could possibly keep quiet with the things she’s doing to my body. But apparently she is an evil, soulless creature because she stops in the middle of what I can tell is going to be the best orgasm of my life and starts to move back up my body.
“What in the hell are you doing?!” I whine.
“I can tell you’re not up to the challenge, and after I tore your landlord a new one last night, the last thing you need is more trouble.”
“Regina, I swear to god if you don’t --” my words are cut off at the feeling of her fingers entering my body, and she muffles the inevitable scream with her hand over my mouth.
Something about her fingers covering my lips, the sound of my own frantic pleading muffled through my nose, and the feeling of her incredibly talented fingers sliding in and out of me is causing my brain to short circuit. Everything has gone into soft focus, sensations heightened, and in just a few short minutes she’s making me so crazy my hips are nearly leaving the bed to meet her hand.
She leans down and whispers throatily in my ear, “Come for me, Emma.”
And I do.
I eventually learn to keep my cool at work.
Or at least, I manage to keep my freak outs mostly internal. Still, it doesn’t take long for people to figure things out. At first, I thought it was the looks of pure lust that I would see whenever I’d glance up from my charting and find Regina staring at me from across the ER. As it turns out, she was legally required to report our relationship to HR. I’m told a lot of money changed hands on the day it got out. Ruby made so much money she took me to an extravagant dinner, where she revealed I’d inspired her to finally work up the courage to ask out Belle - she said yes, by the way.
So yeah, I’m basically an inspiration now.
My life has changed in ways I never thought that it could. It still terrifies me, sometimes. Because now that I finally know what it feels like to be a part of something like this, half the time all I can think about is how much it will hurt if it ever gets taken away. But I try to just be grateful for what I’ve got, while I’ve got it. Still, I really hope I’ve got it for a long time. Like maybe the rest of my life, though I’m definitely not ready to admit that to Regina.
Henry is thrilled at the fact that I’m with him so often, and while I don’t think he totally gets the change in my relationship with his mom, any reason to have me on hand for all video game-related needs is pretty awesome in his books. So I’ll take it.
I ran out on my lunch break to pick him up a new book I promised him we’d read together, and I’m just bending down to place it in my locker when Regina pushes her way into the staff room. My stomach lurches at the sight of her, something that I have a hard time believing will ever change, and she breaks into a smile at the sight of me hunched on the floor, the only way to access my annoyingly tiny and low down locker.
“Need some help?” she smirks.
“Yeah, maybe you could help me reclaim my actual locker from the total thief that stole it from me.”
She crosses her arms, a look of pure innocence washing over her face. “Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that. But I’ll note your complaint in your personnel file.”
I snort, placing the book in my locker. “Whatever you say, your highness. Are you heading out?”
She nods, “My shift is over and I have to pick up Henry from school. Are you coming over tonight?”
I smile, shutting my locker. “Yeah, I’ll see you at home later.”
Her eyebrows raise a fraction and I feel a flush rise in my cheeks. I stand quickly and smack my head on an open locker door. “ Your house, I mean,” I say quicky, cradling my throbbing forehead in my hands. “I meant your house.”
Regina smiles, her eyes full of affection as she walks up to me, pulling my hands away to place a gentle kiss on my forehead. She meets my eyes and kisses me again, softly. “Yes, Emma.” She smiles.
“I’ll see you at home.”
As it turns out, Emma only told half of the story. Regina's POV - and she's just as much of a gay disaster as Emma. She just hides it better.
Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing, I definitely did not expect this fandom to be so active and awesome.
This second chapter is the same story told from Regina's perspective, though there is very little overlap and it's nearly all original content, it also takes the timeline a little further than Emma's side of things. These moments are meant to take place in a more or less alternating pattern with Emma's.
I know these chapters are behemoths and it might be better to break them up into multiple smaller sections, but if it were me I'd rather have all the content upfront than wait for an author to post every day or so.
So here's another behemoth.
Hope you enjoy.
Life isn’t fair.
I’ve known that ever since I was a little girl, something Mother deemed fit to teach me as soon as I was old enough to grasp the concept. Whether it was taking away a beloved toy or forcing me to relinquish a friendship with anyone she didn’t approve of, she drove the point home hard and often. And it worked, insofar as I learned early on to hide any emotional attachment to anything, lest it be wrenched from my grasp yet again.
The first time I was ever in a hospital was to see my father. How Henry Mills Sr. had ever fallen for a woman like Mother I will never know, but she seemed to care for him as well in her own way. Still, the hospital unnerved her, and she dropped me off to sit with him as he faded away in his bed, leaving me at nine to deal with something that she as a woman in her thirties couldn’t handle. I held his thin fingers and I watched the doctors and nurses come in and out.
I watched the physicians especially as they spoke to him, honestly but with compassion. I liked the respect they seemed to command, and the power, neither of which I had ever possessed in my short life. I voiced to my father on one of his final mornings that I was thinking of becoming a doctor like the ones that were so fruitlessly trying to save him, and he turned to me with a sparkle in his warm brown eyes that he never lost, not even at the very end.
He said to me, “Your mother would hate that.”
And then we both smiled.
Mother disapproved of course, but there was little she could do about it by the time I applied for medical school. My father had left me money that she couldn’t touch, something I have a feeling he did specifically to keep me out from under her thumb lest she threaten to cut me off. It was the best gift he ever gave me - my freedom to choose. I’ve been making choices for myself ever since: the choice to marry, the choice to have a child, the choice to throw myself into my work when I lost Daniel.
When he died, any connection I had to the world died with him, and that was the way I wanted it. Instead of leaning on friends, I worked myself to exhaustion at Mount Sinai to build a reputation, something I perhaps managed to do a little too well in ways both intentional and not. I’m known there not only for my expertise as the chief of medicine but also for being able to clear a room of staff simply by setting foot in it. At first I wasn’t bothered, it was what I’d wanted after all. I’d learned Mother’s lesson the hard way about letting people in, about life’s cruelties. I wasn’t about to let that happen again.
But now I find the fear in people’s eyes as I walk up to them exhausting. Now I find when a new resident comes up to me with shaking hands to ask a question, I’m tired rather than irritated. And that’s when I decide that a change might be in order. A fresh start for me and my son. Something close enough to New York that we can visit our small amount of extended family when needed, but perhaps far enough that my own reputation might be left behind. Even as I’m applying for the chief of emergency position at Mass General I can hear Mother’s disapproval in my head.
She hates Boston, has always called it “the pauper’s Manhattan,” and staunchly refuses to set foot anywhere north of Connecticut. I hit the “apply” button on the online application with a near-aggressive click of my mouse, and I don’t realize until I’ve completed and submitted my resume that my mouth is twisted into a rather rebellious smile.
It’s the first time I can remember genuinely smiling in so long.
I take it as a good sign.
Naturally, I get the position.
With my experience and credentials, they were practically falling over themselves trying to hire me. Henry was a little harder to sell on the idea, but five-year-olds tend to be fickle on the best of days, and eventually he came around. It isn't more than a week after we’ve moved into our new brownstone and hired Henry’s nanny that I find myself walking through the front entrance to Mass General.
I’m not nervous, I don’t get nervous. But I am perhaps a little apprehensive. I don’t exactly want to make friends here, but a small amount of co-workerly camaraderie couldn’t go amiss. I admit I’m a little out of practice when it comes to being polite to people. I tend to say exactly what’s on my mind, which typically isn’t favorable to the people I happen to be speaking with. But I’ve turned over a new leaf here, and I owe it to Henry and to myself to try for a little more. A little more than the sort of blank isolation I’ve surrounded myself with for so long.
I square my shoulders and push my way into the break room, scanning the row of dingy lockers for a vacant one. I'm not entirely sure if I'll have my own office to put my things, I shared my last space with the other department heads - much to my irritation. Of course, all the choice ones have been taken. Being the boss does tend to have its perks though, so I take out my phone, draw up the staff locker room combinations that are kept on hand for safety reasons, and find the one that corresponds to the best locker on the top row. Apologies to Emma Swan, whomever you may be, but I didn’t become the chief of medicine to squat on the ground every time I want to get my purse.
The owner of this locker is appallingly lax when it comes to cleanliness judging by the truly horrifying socks I pull out. I toss them on the coffee table with distaste and yank out a cracked mirror as well as a very musty smelling hoodie, followed by an absolutely disgusting hairbrush. I’m still holding it horror-struck in my hands when a furious voice draws my attention to the doorway.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
I turn, hairbrush in hand to see the woman I can only assume is the owner of this locker. She is admittedly not what I pictured based on the items currently strewn across the coffee table. She’s quite tall and muscular, my eyes trailing over the curve of her bicep as she plants her hands with irritation on her hips. And while she is currently fixing me with a furious stare, her long blonde tresses cascading over one shoulder, I have to admit that she’s quite breathtaking. Still, I’m hardly used to being addressed like this, and I can’t exactly allow my staff to get away with it. “I beg your pardon?” I ask indignantly.
Her nostrils flare and I find myself inexplicably thrilled. “That’s my stuff!”
I glance over my shoulder at the meager pile of belongings. I suppose I could have gone about this a little more delicately, but it’s too late now. “Oh? You must be Emma.”
“No, actually, I’m Dr. Swan,” she corrects me, large eyes narrowing. “And that is my stuff, and that, ” she thrusts a finger at the locker standing open behind me, “Is my locker. So again, I’m gonna ask. What the hell are you doing?”
I plant a hand on my hip, seething. She may be attractive, and I’ll give her points for standing her ground, but no one talks to me like that. “No Miss Swan, this was your locker. Now it’s mine. And as for these belongings of yours,” I glance behind me at the tragic hoodie and socks. “I’d consider just putting it all in the incinerator.”
She storms towards me, hands balled into fists. Perhaps I should be a little intimidated given her stature, but I find my heart is racing for an entirely different reason. No one has stood up to me like this in years, no one has ever dared. I find that I like it, and it’s that more than anything that unnerves me in the moment. “Where the hell do you get off? You can’t just waltz in here and start hauling shit out of people’s lockers! Who the hell do you think you are, lady?”
I almost feel bad for her, a smug grin pulling at my lips as her insipid instructor Dr. Blanchard swoops in to introduce us. I can see the increasing line of tension in Emma’s shoulders as she realizes to just whom exactly she is speaking with such extreme insubordination. She seems to take a moment to gather herself before turning back to me slowly, distress etching her graceful features. I almost don’t have it in me to gloat. “Dr. Regina Mills,” I introduce myself with a smug grin.
I did say almost.
“Uh...hi,” she answers pathetically.
“Dr. Swan was gracious enough to offer her locker to me, Dr. Blanchard. Isn’t that nice?” I announce to the petite brunette hovering at the doorway, whose look of hesitation and concern makes me want to sigh with supreme irritation.
“Wow, Emma, that’s very welcoming of you.” The tone of surprise in Dr. Blanchard’s voice tells me everything I need to know. Clearly Emma Swan is not typically the generous type. Probably then she’s one of those swaggering, over-confident, imbecilic physicians that tend to gravitate towards emergency medicine like flies to honey. How unfortunate.
“Thanks,” Emma growls, snatching her pathetic things from the table and stooping to shove them in her new locker. I feel a twinge of sympathy. I came here trying to start fresh and now I’ve already managed to alienate a staff member within the first five minutes of my arrival. I can tell in the tension of her body that she expects a full reprimand, and typically that is exactly what she would have warranted and received from me. However, between my desire to change a little, and my inexplicable feeling of empathy for this frazzled young woman, I decide to let bygones be bygones.
I walk over to where she’s rigidly arranging her things in her locker and hand her the final few items. She looks up at me with such a ferocious look in her eyes that I think perhaps she’s not one of those meat-headed adrenaline junkies after all. Just what exactly she might prove to be, I’m not entirely sure. But I find myself interested in finding out. “I’m really looking forward to working with you,” I tell her, though it pains me to be so gracious after the display she just put on. Her fury stutters in her eyes, replaced by mistrust, her gaze raking over my face. I can see she hasn’t taken my words at face value, and I can hardly blame her for that. I decide to leave before I manage to make things worse, turning on a heel and pushing my way out to the floor to survey my new realm.
Here’s to new beginnings.
It would seem that old habits die hard.
Or rather, the medical staff in Boston are just as completely insufferable and incompetent as their New York counterparts. Between their total inefficiency and the shocking gaps in education when it comes to most safety standards, I only wish there had been some overlap between their old chief and myself so I could have asked him just what in the holy hell he had been doing with his time. They all seem shocked that I am willing and able to run traumas, as though I would ever allow myself to be one of those managerial physicians that barely lift a finger to touch a patient.
Some of them aren’t without talent, I admit. Mary Margaret Blanchard in particular is quite gifted, though unfortunately all of that experience and knowledge is tragically attached to a personality that makes me want to grind her under my heel every time she opens her mouth. Emma Swan is also remarkably competent, particularly given that she’s still a resident. She’s confident without being cocky, with good intuition and as bright as they come. She is, however, nothing less than lackadaisical when it comes to anything involving paperwork. She’s so busy with that bleeding heart of hers, running around taking on more than is sensible, that she leaves her charting and signing off of orders to the end of the day, resulting in reckless and shockingly sparse documentation.
Aside from those two and perhaps a handful of nurses, I find my patience tried often enough that some of my less desireable personality traits shine through within my first few days of arrival. I suppose that between Henry’s struggles to adapt to his new school, and my own misgivings about our move, I’m more on edge than I first realized. Every morning I resolve to be softer and gentler with the staff, and by the end of each shift - my phone full of updates from Henry’s school teacher and nanny about his lack of school mates and low mood - more often than not I’ve made at least one person cry.
There is one person I have yet to break, though admittedly it’s not for lack of trying. Emma Swan seems curiously impervious to my thorny nature, and I find it fascinating. Whenever I approach her, livid about yet another egregious error in her paperwork, she’s ready for me with a tilt of her stubborn chin and a glint of defiance in her eyes. Something about her fearlessness, her fiery and if I’m being honest amusing retorts, awakens something in me that I haven’t felt in so long. Something that I can’t allow myself to contemplate or consider, for a multitude of reasons.
Her steady presence alone has gotten me through a few darker moments in my first month here, though of course I would die rather than admit such a thing. Not that I’ll be winning any popularity contests with her or anyone else for that matter, but something about her resilience in the face of my fury makes me feel hopeful that given enough time and not a small amount of patience on my part, I might be able to achieve that which I’d been aiming to do when I came here. To carve out space for myself that if not entirely warm is at least not hostile or unwelcoming.
Though unfortunately, that won’t be happening today. I stalk towards Emma Swan who is leaning against the nursing station talking to her friend and fellow resident Dr. Ruby Lucas. Ruby is intelligent enough but lacks the confidence and intuition that Emma seems to have in droves. Ruby’s eyes widen at my approach and she scuttles away with a chart in her hand as I close in on my target. Emma turns to me with a gleam in her eye. I can just tell what she’s thinking, and it delights rather than infuriates me: bring it on.
“Dr. Mills,” she says calmly, crossing her arms. I refuse to watch her muscles bunch as she does it, though I’m furious with myself for wanting to. “What can I do for you?”
“I think the question is ‘what can you do for yourself?’, Dr. Swan,” I counter, brandishing a chart under her nose. She glances at it mulishly before raising those big eyes of hers to mine. She doesn’t deign to respond and I drop the chart on the counter next to her with a heavy thud. “Orders unsigned - again. Inappropriate and dangerous use of abbreviations - again.” She swallows guiltily and it makes my blood sing. “If you are ever audited by someone other than myself you do realize there could be actual consequences to your actions?”
“But then I’d miss out on these lovely chats,” she replies with a down-right flirtatious smile. The absolute gall of this young woman is extraordinary.
“As delightful as it is to yell at you on a regular basis Dr. Swan, I do rather have a lot of other responsibilities to be getting on with.”
“You mean you have things you’d rather do than threaten my dismemberment?” she quips with raised eyebrows. “I’m hurt.”
“You’ll only wish I’d had you drawn and quartered if I find another one of these mistakes again this week,” I threaten, my heart thudding in my chest at the flinty look in her eyes.
“Noted,” she nods, taking the threat in stride. I thought that one might get her to look a little unsettled at least, but she smoothly leans over and scoops up the chart, the clean scent of her washing over me as she does so. “Anything else?”
“Not yet,” I reply haughtily. “But give me some time.”
“Looking forward to it,” she calls after me as I stalk away from her.
Luckily she can’t see the smile I’m attempting to suppress as I do so.
The little brat.
“Code white, emergency bay three.”
“Code white, emergency bay three.”
“Code white, emergency bay three.”
Not today, absolutely not.
We have the hospital administrator arriving in less than thirty minutes and the last thing she needs to see is some scene out of COPS playing out in the emergency bay. I growl under my breath and march towards the code white - hospital talk for a security threat - an unseemly racket getting louder with every passing step.
“I said back the fuck off!”
Emma Swan, Mary Margaret, and a team of security guards are watching, open-mouthed, as a skinny white male in nothing but his underwear brandishes a pair of scissors while standing precariously on top of a gurney. It’s clear from his appearance as well as his lack of attire that drugs are involved, likely some sort of drug-induced psychosis. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in a downtown metropolitan hospital, but it absolutely cannot be happening today.
Emma puts her hands up. “Now, listen sir,” she says calmly, stepping towards him. He lunges with the scissors and I grasp the collar of her coat and yank her backward, the scissors just missing that annoyingly pretty face of hers.
“Are you done playing heroics, Dr. Swan?” I hiss in her ear, feeling her take a sharp breath. I move her aside in irritation. “Jerry,” I bark at the lead security guard. “Why exactly is one of my residents trying to de-escalate this gentleman instead of yourself?” I turn to him, my arms crossed. “Is that not precisely what your job description entails?”
He swallows. “Uh, yes Dr. Mills, but he has a weapon.”
I glance at the small but sharp-looking scissors in the patient’s hands. He slashes at nothing in the air, talking to something we can’t see. “Yes, I see that. And?”
Jerry runs his hand through his hair. “And new security regulations mean we have to call the police to intervene any time there’s a weapon.”
Damn it, he’s right. I sigh heavily. Emma looks like she’s about to try and intervene again and I grasp her arm and yank her firmly behind myself. “Ow, hey!” she grumbles.
“Stay back, or get out, Dr. Swan,” I bark at her. She scoffs but mercifully listens to me for once. “Jerry, what is the ETA on the police?” I ask him wearily.
“About twenty minutes, ma’am.”
“ Twenty?” Jerry gulps almost comically. “Oh for the love of -” I cross my arms. The administrator will be here long before that and I refuse to make a poor first impression. I can’t exactly ask my staff to go against safety regulations, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t. Eyeing the patient carefully, I make up my mind. Having a toddler is as close to hostage-negotiation training as it gets, and there are plenty of times I’ve talked Henry into relinquishing an uncapped permanent marker or something equally destructive in our house. If I can make it through the terrible twos without the slightest damage to my white leather couch, surely this won't prove to be so difficult.
“What’s his name?” I ask Emma.
She’s watching me with interest. “Sean Berkeley.”
“Does he have a middle name?” I ask.
She frowns and checks the chart. “It’s Adam. Why? You’re not going to --”
“I am going to do what is necessary to ensure this ER isn’t an absolute madhouse by the time the hospital administrator arrives.”
“But you --”
I silence her with a look. Sometimes the best thing for a patient in psychosis is to ground them in reality. Time for the “mother” treatment. I step forward and shout in my best maternal voice, “Sean Adam Berkely!”
Sean freezes and looks at me, eyes raking over my face in confusion. “Just what in god’s name do you think you’re doing?” I say sternly. He looks from me to the scissors in his hand. “You will give those to me immediately or you will not like what happens next.”
He swallows. “But -”
“But nothing young man, give those to me right now. You’re going to hurt yourself or someone else in my ER and I can’t allow it. Hand them over.” I reach out my hand. “ Now. ” My tone brooks no argument. His eye movements are still rapid, body tense, but he darts a hand out and drops the scissors in my waiting palm. I feel relief rush through me, and without turning I pass them backward. Emma’s warm fingers slip the scissors from my hand. “That’s better. Now sit down and let Dr. Blanchard look at you. You need to be fed and dressed, you’re going to make yourself ill, is that understood?”
Sean hesitates but sits slowly, cautiously. “Yes,” he says softly.
“Good.” I turn back around and see a small audience has gathered. “Dr. Blanchard, take over please, I have a meeting to get to. Make sure to approach him slowly and tell him everything you’re going to do before you do it.” I look over at the security team. “Well?”
“Oh, yes, I’ll provide standby for Dr. Blanchard.” Jerry hurries to her side and I just barely contain an eye-roll.
“And as for the rest of you -” I announce to the group of staff gathered, my tone as menacing as possible. “I absolutely forbid any incidents, safety or otherwise, for the next two hours.” I glance at Emma. “This means you,” I warn her.
She opens her mouth in protest and I walk away, though I can hear her sneakers squeaking on the linoleum as she races to catch up with me. My heart rate increases as I hear her approach, her voice echoing down the hall. “Excuse me, when am I ever anything but a perfect, angelic princess?” she argues.
“You? A princess?” I scoff. “With that posture?” She scowls and straightens her back, and I have to hide my smile. She may stand up well to threats but she’s a terribly easy mark when it comes to other areas. “You know perfectly well that trying to disarm that patient was needlessly reckless,” I scold her. “You could have been hurt,” I add.
“You mean you’d have to explain to the administrator why I was taking time off for a work-related injury,” she says wryly.
I stop walking and she has to jump out of the way so she doesn’t bump into me, swearing under her breath. “I will have you know, Dr. Swan, that I do happen to care about the welfare of my staff, especially the ones that show perhaps a tiny shred promise.”
She gapes at me, clearly unbalanced by my backhanded compliment, though not quite as surprised as me I’d wager. “You think I show promise?”
I roll my eyes. “I think you aren’t openly negligent,” I recover, turning to walk away.
“Well that’s something,” she says hopefully, and I have to keep myself from laughing.
“We’ll see,” I reply tersely as I jam the button for the elevator and step inside. “And Dr. Swan?” I add, stopping the closing doors with my hand because she looks far too pleased with herself.
“Yeah?” she asks, a small smile playing on her lips.
“If anything goes wrong while the administrator is here, I will be holding you personally responsible." I smile wickedly and add, "Princess," as the doors shut between us.
A completely untrue and I admit unfair statement, but it’s worth the way her mouth drops open as the doors close.
“I said no fuckin’ way, lady!”
Some shifts try my patience more than others. It’s in moments such as these that I hear mother’s voice in my head repeating her favorite phrase to toss at me at during inopportune moments: I told you so. If anything, it’s almost a gift hearing her goading me in my head because it stirs up enough righteous indignation in my chest to fuel me through the challenging parts of my day.
“Sir, I understand you’re tired of all the tests, but unless we figure out --”
“Are you deaf? I said no. ” The burly construction worker starts pulling EKG leads off his chest in frustration, though in his current state even this small act of rebellion tires him to the point of being short of breath. “I’m gettin’ the hell out of here, the Bruins are playing in half an hour.”
“Surely a sporting game isn’t as important to you as --” he cuts me off with a look.
I cross my arms. Clearly we’re at an impasse here. I have two options; argue with him and risk alienating him enough that he leaves and puts his health at risk, or let him go and hope that he returns soon for follow up. Neither is ideal to me, and I have never been great at compromise. I’m still debating with myself, watching him pull off the last of his leads when a voice behind me draws my attention.
“Danny, what gives man?”
I turn to see Emma Swan standing behind me with her arms crossed and a rather amused look on her face.
Perfect, just what I need.
'You doing a runner? " she asks, stepping into the room.
He chuckles and then coughs. “This quack is pokin’ me full of holes and still hasn’t been able to figure out what the hell is goin’ on, so I’m out of here.”
“Whoa,” Emma points a finger at him. “Let’s keep it civil, Danny.” I feel a ripple of something in my stomach at her defense of me, mild though it was. I watch her closely as she pulls up a wheeled chair and sits at his level next to the bed. At this point, Mr. Garcia is wheezing from the small amount of effort it’s taken him to sit upright. “The tests are a bitch, I know, but it helps us to figure out what’s wrong with you. Otherwise, you’re just gonna end up back here in two days, right?”
“She doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doin’,” he thrusts a finger at me and I feel my teeth clench.
“I beg your pardon --” I sputter.
Emma throws a subtle shake of her head in my direction and inexplicably I find myself silenced. I don’t know if I’m more furious with her or myself for that. “Danny, what did I say? You can’t talk to her like that. Dr. Mills has been working hard trying to help you, and trust me -” she flicks a glance at me and I meet her gaze with curiosity. “She’s one of the good ones.”
And here I assumed she hated me like everyone else, though I suppose there have been moments during our verbal sparring where it seemed like she at least tolerated me a little more than the others. Still, thinking I’m a skilled physician doesn’t preclude her from disliking me personally, but it's nice to know she respects me professionally. Not that I care in the least, of course.
“Yeah, well,” Mr. Garcia grumbles but I see him hesitating. Emma smiles warmly at him and leans back to the bedside television, switching it on to some sort of pre-show for a sporting event.
“How about this?” she proposes. “Let us do that bloodwork, and if we can’t figure out what’s going on by the time the game is over, you can get out of here.”
He watches her closely for a moment and she raises her eyebrows, waiting. “Yeah, alright,” he grumbles, shifting back into bed. I’m about to open my mouth to discuss the tests I want to run when yet another look from this junior physician has me closing my mouth again. I clench my jaw and leave the room, Emma trailing behind me.
“You realize if those tests don’t result by the time that game is over he’ll leave, putting himself and his health at risk?” I say tersely, turning on my heel to face her.
She meets my eyes, her mouth pulled into a tiny smirk that makes me want to shake her a little. Or I suppose kissing her would be just as effective at wiping that look off her face - and much more fun besides. I shake my head at the unbidden and deeply inappropriate thought and refocus on her arguing with me as usual. “Looked to me like he was about to do just that already. At least now I’ve bought us some time.”
“Yes, well,” I huff, rankled. “How much time do we even have, half an hour?”
She presses her lips together like she’s trying not to laugh and I feel irritation prickling my skin. I clench my fingers around my clipboard in an effort not to smack her with it. “You uh, you’ve never seen a hockey game?”
“Do I look like I watch hockey to you, Dr. Swan?”
She looks me up and down in a way that is borderline obscene, and I have half a mind to reprimand her, but the heat that it produces in my chest stops me from doing so. Besides, with my own rather impure thoughts it would be a bit hypocritical of me. “I guess not,” she shrugs, “But I try not to make superficial judgments about people.” She hits me with a pointed stare and I know what she’s thinking, that I’ve shoehorned her into some category in my mind as nothing more than a lowly resident. If only she were that easy to pin down. “You’ve got at least 90 minutes, run the blood work STAT and you should be fine,” she adds.
“Well, I suppose thanks are in order,” I say stiffly, suddenly unsure of where to hold the chart in my hands. I clasp it to my chest and then, thinking better of it, let it hang down at my sides. I can do this - I can say thank you. I take a breath and open my mouth, then close it, shifting on my heels.
“Listen, don’t worry about it,” she grins, taking a step back. “Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.” She’s lucky she’s too far now for me to reach, because I think I really would have smacked her with my chart at that. “And don’t worry about Danny, he’s in here all the time. Rough around the edges, but he’s alright.”
“Noted,” I answer. The lights behind her are making that ridiculous hair of hers glow in an unsettling way, her princess-like curls coming loose from her braid, and I look away. “I appreciate your assistance. Let’s just hope I can pin down what’s going on with him.”
“You will,” she says confidently as she walks away. “Like I said,” she adds over her shoulder. “You’re one of the good ones.”
I clutch the clipboard to my chest like a shield as I continue to gape at her back, my eyebrows pulled together in confusion.
“Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”
It’s been a long shift. I haven’t eaten in god knows how many hours, I’m sure I have bags under my eyes visible from a 100-yard distance, and Henry will already be at school by the time I get home from work. Night shifts are as grueling on me as they are on him. I miss him - I miss his smile and his smell and the weight of him in my lap. Add all this to the fact that I just had to give a very poor prognosis to a woman in her sixties and it would be clear to anyone that I am in no mood for any nonsense - especially nonsense in the name of Emma Swan.
She’s standing in the small patient kitchen with a veritable armload of vanilla pudding, and a guilty look on her face. Something about the tension of her body and the caught-in-the-cookie-jar expression make her look like a child, and it does nothing to improve my mood. It only makes me miss Henry more. “Uh...I was hungry?” she offers as a weak explanation.
I cross my arms and level her with a stare, and she swallows visibly, one of the pudding cups escaping her armload and falling to the floor where it rolls to a stop at my feet. Neither of us reaches for it. “You mean to tell me that you’re so hungry that you’re using hospital funds to gorge yourself on snacks that are only meant for patients?” I ask her, my voice deadly soft. Her face pales, all her typical cockiness out the window for some reason, and it almost takes the fun out of it. “Or would you prefer to tell me the truth?”
She sighs. “It’s for a patient.”
“Dr. Swan, you realize that this hospital is on a very strict budget,” I warn her, hands going to my hips. Her eyes follow the movement. “If you horde snacks for patients there won’t be any more until the next fiscal period.”
“I know, but --”
“But what?” I ask, taking a step towards her. “It’s unethical to play favorites, and I want you to put all of this back immediately.”
“No,” she answers softly, shaking her head. I can see the stubbornness coming back into her expression, and I find it oddly comforting.
“I beg your pardon?” I ask her, coming nose-to-nose with her. Though she is taller, I know I have the upper hand. That is until I make the mistake of looking into those eyes of hers, the cool green-blue color standing out against her pale skin.
“Just - come with me, okay?”
“What?” I ask, surprise softening my face.
“Come on,” she says in answer, nodding her head towards the end of the hall. “Just - please?”
It’s that more than anything that gets my attention. She and I rarely use any form of pleasantries with one another. “Oh alright,” I concede. “Not that I have time for any of this of course,” I add as she scurries down the hall with her arms full of pudding. I reach down and pick up the errant can, sticking it in my lab coat pocket before following her down the hall. She stops outside of a patient room and nods her head to the window.
I look into the room, the blinds partially open, to see a little girl sitting in bed reading a book. She’s thin - beyond thin. Her bald head is reflecting the light above her, large eyes scanning the book she’s reading as she eagerly turns the pages. “That’s Jackie,” Emma whispers, bringing my attention to her. “She’s nine. Leukemia.” I swallow heavily, watching Emma as she shifts the pudding cups in her arms. “She’s lost so much weight, she has zero appetite for anything. We might start her on a feed soon, but we’re hoping it doesn’t come to that. The only thing she wants to eat right now - and I mean the only thing - is these vanilla pudding cups.” She looks back at me, her eyes shockingly vulnerable. I’m taken aback by the emotion on her face, irritated to find myself uncomfortably moved. “I figured I’d give this a shot before I shoved a tube up her nose,” she says softly. “So...is that okay?”
This beautiful, irritating, compassionate, policy-shirking, insufferable woman.
I honestly want to hug her a little bit right now, and that alone rattles me more than anything has so far today. I just nod tersely and she answers with a smile as bright and dazzling as the sun. “Thank you,” she says softly. She goes to enter the girl’s room and I stop her with a hand on her arm. She turns to me with her eyebrows raised and I take the pudding cup out of my pocket and place it on top of the pile. I glance at her, noting the surprise on her face, and then turn on my heel, walking away before she notices the foolish tears in my eyes.
I’ve reached a sort of equilibrium here.
Not exactly what I’d imagined, but then life rarely plays out the way one plans. Still, I’ve gotten into a more or less comfortable rhythm since starting at Mass General. The vast majority of the staff is clearly intimidated by my abrasive nature, but there are a small few that don’t flee in my immediate presence, and I take that as significant progress.
Mary Margaret has grown on me, as much as she ever could. I still find her saccharine personality makes me want to light something on fire most days, but I can’t deny that she is kind. She often asks after Henry - she met him once when he and Grace came to visit me at lunch. I appreciate the effort on her part and I do my best to repay in kind.
I can’t deny that Emma Swan more than anyone has helped me feel a little more at home here, and one day it dawns on me as I watch her pull a pen out of the messy bun that's gathered on top of her head, hair cascading down her back like some ridiculous shampoo commercial, that I quite like her. It's a little unsettling, but I'm doing my best not to take it out on her. She's rather charming once you get through the initial gruffness. And as much as she attempts to make a show of toughness, an armor behind her eyes at times that reminds me not a little of myself, there's a gentleness about her that I find to be quite grounding. She exudes calm and kindness without seeming to try, and I find that a quick smile from Emma Swan (brave as she is to attempt to do so with me) can improve my day more than she'll ever know. It's clear I'm not the only one that feels the same. People are drawn to her, be it for advice or comfort or laughter. Or in my case, the opportunity to throw insults around in an attempt to ease the tension that can build up in such a stressful environment.
“God fucking damn it.”
Still, even those like Emma have their off days. I find her in the break room in a battle with the coffee maker that she is clearly losing. She’s got coffee grinds on her hands, and the machine is emitting a threatening gurgle as she mashes buttons on it hard enough to make the mugs on the counter rattle. I frown and step forward, placing my hand on top of hers to stop the assault, my chest pressing gently against her shoulder. She starts and turns to me, eyes full of fury, and instead of a reprimand I find myself asking, “Are you alright?”
The words momentarily take me back to a moment between us in my office. A moment where I did everything I could to push her away and she only looked at me gently, wiped the tears from my face with her thumb and asked me if I wanted to talk. I shake my head because I can’t allow myself to think of that, not now or ever again. She was simply being kind because I had made a fool of myself, and nothing more. I can’t allow myself to indulge in childish fantasies. Emma sighs heavily and it brings me back to the present moment.
“I’m fine,” she answers stormily. I realize my hand is still on top of hers and I step back, allowing her space.
“Yes, clearly,” I answer sarcastically, then chide myself for it. That obviously isn’t what she needs right now. I clear my throat and put my hand on her shoulder, gently pushing her to the side and taking over with the coffee maker. “Is it…?” I trail off. Why am I so inept at talking to people when it really matters? I nearly punch the coffee maker myself as I shove a new filter into the basket.
“I hate this job,” she says with irritation. I look up at her in surprise to see she’s got her arms crossed moodily over her body, stubborn chin resting on her chest. Filling the coffee maker with water, I don’t respond. I just wait. “It’s so fucking frustrating,” she continues, smacking the wall she’s leaning on gently with her fist. “We don’t have enough resources, we don’t have enough staff,” she lets her head fall back against the wall and shuts her eyes, long eyelashes resting against her freckled cheeks. “Half the people that come in here ignore our advice and end up back in the hospital two weeks later. What’s the fucking point in any of it?”
I press the button on the coffee maker and the machine gurgles to life. “I completely agree.”
Her eyes fly open, finding my face as I lean against the counter. Obviously this wasn’t the response she expected. “What?” She shakes her head. “Isn’t your job to like, inspire me and shit?”
“Must you talk like a teenage boy?” I sigh. She shoots a glare at me and I ignore it. “It’s not my job to inspire you. It’s my job to make sure you’re supported and have everything you need to succeed, and that you’re safe. Except I don’t have the budget, or the staff, or the resources, or the pudding cups to pull it off.” A tiny smile pulls at her mouth as she crosses her arms again. “Our system is broken, and yet we have to work within it.”
The coffee streams softly into the carafe as we’re both silent for a moment.
“So then...what are we supposed to do?” she asks, her tired posture mirroring my own.
I sigh. I’ve been exactly where she is more times than I care to admit. “We keep trying. We get creative when we have to, we fight to change policies when we can. But most of all, we don’t stop.” I shake my head. “Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to keep showing up. In spite of the chaos, in spite of the madness, even knowing we can't help them all - we show up.”
I glance at her and her face is fixed on mine, a gentle smile on her lips. “Whoa.”
I straighten, suddenly self-conscious. “What?”
“You just totally inspired me."
"Shut up, Emma Swan," I huff.
"No, seriously, you did." She smiles and I roll my eyes, but I feel inordinately pleased. "It's just nice to know that I'm not the only one that feels this way sometimes." She shrugs. "It makes me feel a little less alone, I guess."
My throat aches at the look in her eyes and I turn around to pour a cup of coffee. "Of course you're not alone," I answer. I do my best to sound irritated at the very idea but I don't even manage to convince myself. Pouring a grotesque amount of sugar in the coffee, I stir it briskly and turn back to her. She's eyeing me with a thoughtful look on her face and I feel uncomfortable, exposed. She has a way of looking through me - into me - that makes me feel incredibly off balance.
I push the coffee cup into her hands and she takes it with surprise. We look at each other for a moment and she drops her voice to just above a whisper. "Thank you, Regina."
It's the first time she's ever called me by my first name and while it doesn't technically count as insubordination, it certainly feels intimate to the point that I panic, my chest constricting. "Yes. Well. It's time to quit loitering and get back to work," I bark. "And try to limit your existential crises to outside company time," I add, marching out of the room. I can only hope that my acid tone distracts her from the fact that I've just revealed I know exactly how she takes her coffee.
I toss a glance over my shoulder as I pull open the door to see her grinning into her mug, and it's quite clear I haven't fooled her for a second.
Perhaps I never have.
Some mornings I swear the entire world wakes up with the sudden desire to collectively drive me to the brink of madness. Today could only be the result of a deep conspiracy amongst the population of Boston, my workplace, and even my own home to drive me personally insane. Henry actually told me he hated me for the first time in his life this morning because I’m making him go to school, tyrant that I am. My car wouldn’t start for some unknown reason, so I had to take the train, at which point a commuter dumped the contents of his travel mug in my lap. And despite it being six in the morning, he was most certainly not drinking coffee, which is why I’ve smelled of cheap vodka all day.
The patient bathroom in the waiting room flooded, leaving several inches of greywater lining the floor of my ER, and my staff has gone out of their way to make errors, patient mix-ups, and generally cause my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels. My eye is twitching, my shoes are wet, and if one more person does anything out of line I can not be held accountable for my actions today. The sound of breaking glass pulls me from my dark thoughts, and I would not be surprised if lightning is crackling above my head as I storm out of my office in the direction of the noise. People are practically jumping out of my way as I stomp down the hall and push open the door to exam room six to see Emma Swan standing in a pile of broken glass.
“ What, ” I snarl. “ Now.”
Her face is pale with terror, hands covering her mouth as she says in an uncharacteristically shaky voice, “Fuck, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to.” In an instant, my horrendous bad mood disappears, immediately replaced with concern.
“What happened?” I ask, softening my tone.
“I’m such a fucking idiot,” she says by way of an answer, bending down to pick up shards of glass. It looks like she closed one of the glass cabinets too hard and shattered the door. I walk to her quickly, my concern deepening as I see that her fingers are shaking as she tries to grab the shards with her bare hands.
“Stop, Emma,” I say softly, but she’s panicking and I can see she doesn’t hear. I step closer, glass crunching under my shoes as I crouch next to her, stilling her hands with my fingers wrapped around her wrist. “Hey, look at me,” I tell her in a gentle but firm voice.
Her hand is still shaking in mine, and I think I know exactly why. I’ve seen her flinch one time too many at sudden movements, wince in anticipation of a blow, jump at loud noises. We’re trained to notice the signs. She looks up at me and suddenly my ridiculous little problems seem childish and small. “It’s alright,” I tell her. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I broke the -”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say slowly, keeping my tone gentle. “It’s only a cupboard.” I look her in the eye. “It’s not your fault.”
She presses her lips together and I look away, giving her a moment to gather herself. “Come on,” I offer, standing slowly and reaching a hand down to her. She allows me to pull her to her feet and I notice she’s gotten a small cut on her finger from the glass. “Sit on the bed and let me look at you.”
She blinks at me like she can’t quite believe that I’m not yelling at her, and to be fair I’m a bit surprised myself. “It’s nothing,” she shakes her head. “I should go get the janitor to come help me.”
“No, you should do as I say, because I am having a supremely awful day and I do not need you adding to it,” I correct her.
She grumbles childishly and pulls herself up on the bed while I go get a few supplies. “Hand,” I order, and she places her hand in my palm as I inspect the cut and rinse it gently. It’s not bad, it won’t even need any sutures, but I think she needs to take a moment right now and she likely won’t do it unless I force her to.
“Why are you having a shitty day?” she asks softly.
“Take your pick,” I snort.
“Could it have something to do with the toilet water flooding the waiting room?” she asks with a tiny smile.
“For a start,” I quirk an eyebrow. “That’s merely the tip of the iceberg today.”
“Is that why you smell like vodka?” she asks with a wince as I dry the cut gently.
“ No,” I growl. “That would be the Irish coffee a commuter dumped in my lap on the train this morning.”
“Ugh, what is wrong with people?”
“I’m afraid we don’t have that kind of time, dear,” I sigh, opening a bandage. I wrap it around her finger and without thinking - years of muscle memory from bandaging Henry’s various hurts - I lift her hand to my mouth and press my lips to her knuckles.
We both freeze as I realize what I’ve done, and I look up at her with wide eyes. Her mouth is open, cheeks flushed. “Did you just -?”
“Of course not,” I whisper in horror, though I realize I’m still holding her hand in mine, and I can see my lipstick on her skin. She glances down at her hand in disbelief and then back up at me, a smile growing on her lips. We’re still staring at each other as Archie pushes his way into the room. I spring back from her, dropping her hand like it’s on fire and march quickly towards the exit. “Archie please assist Dr. Swan in arranging janitorial services,” I tell him as I sweep out of the room and practically run to my office.
Shutting the door I let myself sag against it, eyes shut in humiliation.
So it finally happened.
I’ve lost my goddamned mind.
My god, these mandatory continuing education days are inconceivably dull.
Yes, keeping your practice up-to-date is, of course, necessary and valuable. But why must these courses always be twice as long as they need to be, in a freezing basement auditorium with a lecturer who looks like they’d rather be getting a colonoscopy? Rolling my neck, I step off the elevator and march through the damp basement tunnels, bracing myself for eight solid hours of mind-numbingly dry PowerPoint slides. As I step into the room, the smell of burnt coffee making my nose wrinkle with distaste, I hear someone calling my name.
I turn to see Emma Swan in the back row of the auditorium and much to my annoyance my stomach does an excited flip. Well. If I’m going to be stuck here I suppose it might as well be with someone whose company I find tolerable. She waves me over and I pick my way through the seats to the spot next to her. I opt not to comment on the fact that she’s taken to frequently calling me by my first name when no-one else is around. I can only assume that since I didn’t fillet her for it the first time she’s taken that as permission given, and while I’m not exactly used to it, I find it is rather nice to have someone on familiar terms with me. It’s been so long since anyone has called me by my own name - except Mother.
“Morning,” Emma grins, and I fight not to return it, still hanging on to my last shred of dignity with her.
“Good morning, Emma,” I greet her, shucking off my coat and setting my purse under the seat. I’ve noted that her eyes sparkle in a peculiarly pleasing way when I call her by her own name.
“I saved you a seat,” she tells me, her long hair tumbling over her shoulder. “And I grabbed you a coffee since the stuff they have here is always shit,” she adds, handing me a cup.
I take it with surprise. “Thank you,” I sip it gratefully. Henry was in a particular mood this morning and I didn’t have time to make coffee. “How did you know I was going to be here?”
“I saw your name on the roster last night,” she replies, pulling out a notebook. “Figured I’d come early and save us the good seats.”
I look around at the filling auditorium, we’re currently in the farthest row from the front. “Why, pray tell, do you consider being in the back row like some kind of delinquent optimal for a lecture?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh come on, these things are always brutal. At least I can nap for part of it without getting called out.”
“You had better be kidding,” I warn her, cradling my coffee. I’m trying not to notice just how close we’re sitting, our elbows brushing each time one of us shifts. That now-familiar smell of hers is driving me to distraction.
Emma raises her eyebrows in that way that I know means she’s about to make fun of me. “So you’re saying you actually like these things? Don’t tell me you’re usually one of the nerds in the front that asks a hundred annoying questions.”
I glare at her. “Asking questions is how we learn, and you’d know that if you ever stopped to ask one. Case in point - did you or did you not just break the new printer because you didn't want to be bothered to ask anyone how it worked?” I look at her pointedly.
“Whoa,” she laughs. “Nice try, but you’re not turning this back on me. And by the way, Archie broke the printer but I took the fall because he was pissing his pants about having to tell you.” I roll my eyes. Of course, I was already aware as to who the real culprit was. The printer ink on Archie's pants was a bit of a smoking gun. “But hey, if you love these things so much then go be a nerd in the front row,” she says with a smirk. “I won’t stop you.”
I pick at a piece of fluff on my sweater. “Well. I’ve already taken my coat off, I might as well stay.” She snorts but looks pleased. The little shit.
The lecturer calls for everyone’s attention and I pointedly take out my notebook and pen and begin diligently taking notes. Emma seems just as focused for about the first fifteen minutes, but then I glance over at her paper and see that she’s doodling a caricature of the lecturer - an accurate but rather unkind depiction of Dr. Michaud complete with hair coming out of his ears. I reach over without looking away from my own notes and crumple the paper slowly into my fist, ripping it out of the book. She huffs and flops back in her seat like a child.
I hope rather than believe that this will be the end of it, and sure enough within five minutes, as I’m trying to pay attention to this ancient and shriveled doctor explain the pharmacokinetics of a new cardiac medication, Emma Swan's knee starts jiggling in such an irritating fashion that I nearly snap my pen in half. I reach over and clamp my hand down on her knee, holding it there as I continue to take notes. Within seconds, her other knee starts to jiggle, and I growl softly and drop my pen, lunging over to plant my hand on her other leg.
I realize at this point that I am half in her lap and I scowl up at her to see that her lips are pressed together as though she’s trying not to laugh. “ Must you behave like a toddler, Dr. Swan?”
“Sorry, it’s just so boring,” she whispers. The people around us are starting to glance over and I straighten, fixing my hair.
“It has been twenty minutes, pull yourself together,” I order.
She sighs and pulls her notebook back into her lap, pouting as she starts to take notes. I watch her like a hawk for thirty seconds before I turn my attention back to the lecture at hand, and of course, I’ve missed this entire section. Curse Emma Swan and her dimples. She manages to behave like an adult for an entire ten minutes before I notice her attention drifting, and I glance over to see that she’s doodling again, only this time the picture is of me.
It’s rather flattering if I’m being honest. A profile view of myself, a few strands of hair trailing into my eyes as I lean over a notepad. She’s drawn my lips full, and my eyelashes longer than they likely are in reality. Still. It’s quite nice. She catches me looking and blushes, flipping the page over to a blank one. I smirk at her and shake my head.
I can’t tell if thirty minutes or thirty years has passed, it’s as though we’re all cursed and reliving the same hour over and over. Dr. Michaud's droning voice is drilling into my psyche and even I am doing a poor job of acting as though this is valuable or interesting. Of course, I have to maintain the integrity of the continuing education program, I am the lead physician after all, I have to set an example. But my god I’m this close to enucleating myself with my pen when a folded note drops itself into my lap.
I blink at it in surprise and glance at Emma who is studiously watching the lecture with a tiny smile playing on her lips. I open the page and see it’s a game of hangman. There’s a hastily scribbled line in Emma’s chicken scratch: Stop pretending you’re not bored and play with me.
I roll my eyes at her but take the bait. I’m only human after all. It’s a five word sentence. I guess a letter and slide it back to her, feeling slightly idiotic but mostly a little pleased at doing something so childish. She takes it and glances at my guess before shooting me a tragic shake of her head and drawing the hanged man’s head. We pass the paper back and forth several times, our fingers brushing often enough to make me feel pathetically flustered. Her hair is trailing over my shoulder at times, and it’s a strangely intimate thing. After a while, I correctly guess the sentence as “I am a locker thief” and throw the paper back at her with irritation. She’s silently laughing into her hands and I shoot her a withering glare as I cross my arms and ignore her.
She nudges me in the side with her elbow, and I bat away her arm, studiously ignoring how well-muscled it is. She’s practically pouting next to me and after a few minutes another sheet of paper lands in my lap. I sigh and pull it open, reading the line: Come on, don’t be mad. Exes and Ohs?
I glance up at Dr. Michaud who is launching into a subsection on the drug’s metabolism and conclude that my integrity is not worth the utter boredom. I make a grid and she completely defeats me at no less than seven rounds of this absolutely ridiculous game. By the last round I’m so irritated I growl and crumple the paper, tossing it at her in a rage. Of course, I had completely forgotten that the actual adults in the room are trying to pay attention, and I glance around to see that several people have turned trying to figure out what the commotion is.
“Is there a problem in the back?” Dr. Michaud asks sternly.
I feel as though the earth might swallow me whole, and in this moment I would welcome it. “No, Dr. Michaud, my apologies. Please continue,” I tell him in my most regal voice. As soon as he does so my head snaps to Emma, murderous. She holds her hands up in defense as she gulps down peals of laughter and I glare at her and take out my notebook. How I ever let her suck me into this childishness I do not know.
I wake sometime later, warm and comfortable.
It takes me a moment to figure out where exactly I am. The gentle monotone of a distant voice brings me back to the present as I blink my eyes open and I realize I’ve fallen asleep. We’re on the conclusion/summary section of the presentation, and it dawns on me that I must have been asleep for at least an hour. Emma and I had miraculously managed to spend a few hours of uninterrupted focus on the lecture before apparently I let my recent lack of sleep get the better of me.
I shift a little and realize that my head is on Emma’s shoulder, resting on her silky mane of hair no less. Horror dawning on me, I also notice that one of my hands is curled possessively around her bicep. She’s leaning into me, clearly helping to prop me up as she takes diligent notes. The lecture ends, everyone clapping politely and rising to stretch and gather their things. I freeze, knowing Emma will likely never let me live this down, before slowly sitting up and glancing at her.
She’s looking at me with such warmth in her eyes, none of that teasing sparkle I expected to be there. “Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” she says softly.
“I’m sorry,” I shake my head, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I haven’t been sleeping lately.”
“I told you these things were great for naps,” she smiles.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” I ask, quirking an eyebrow.
“I tried, you kicked me.”
“Oh,” I blush a little and hate myself for it.
“It’s fine,” she shakes her head, holding out her notebook. “Here, I took notes for you.”
I take them curiously, my face still warm. “What, you don’t need them?”
“Nah,” she shakes her head. “I don’t really learn lecture-style so I read the article this was based on two weeks ago. I already know all this stuff. Just had to come to put in the time.” I watch her carefully and realize that she’s telling the truth. She really is a brilliant woman.
“Well,” I stand, pulling on my coat. “This has certainly been the least productive of these lectures I’ve ever been to.” She looks a little deflated until I add, “But it was definitely the most enjoyable.” I tuck the notes in my bag as I see her beaming out of the corner of my eye, and can’t help the small smile that plays across my lips. “Would you like a ride home?” I offer, slinging my bag over my shoulder.
“Yeah, thanks,” she accepts.
We engage in easy banter as I drive through the city traffic, and I find her presence in the car next to me, her warmth and companionship to be - very acceptable. Very right, somehow. I drop her off at home, which turns out to be quite close to my own, watching her toss a sweet wave over her shoulder as she steps inside her apartment building before heading back to Henry.
Hours later, after I’ve fed Henry and put him to bed, I take Emma’s notes to my office so I can review them tomorrow. As I’m flipping through the pages of her familiar scrawl, I notice something stuck between the pages and pull out the drawing she did of myself. I pause at my desk, staring at it as a smile grows on my face. Setting it on the desk, I pull out my phone and type out a message.
RM: Thank you again for the notes.
I pin the drawing to my corkboard, and I’m still looking at it when my phone lights up again.
ES: Any time. I just hope you can read my “toddler-writing”
I laugh softly to myself.
RM: Of course dear, I’ve gotten used to deciphering your absurdly messy chicken scratch. And - thank you for the drawing. You’re quite the artist.
She doesn’t answer for several minutes, and I’m just getting into bed when my phone buzzes again.
ES: And you're quite the subject.
“If you’re on time - you’re late. ”
Mother’s words regarding punctuality echo through my head as I slam the elevator button in agitation for the tenth time. I have a meeting with the director to discuss our upcoming budgets and new projects for the hospital, and I am deeply uncomfortable being anything other than fifteen minutes early to a meeting. Currently, because of an utterly obnoxious daughter of a patient who somehow believed that Googling symptoms for thirty seconds trumps my medical degree, I am alarmingly behind schedule. And I fully intend to discuss the infuriatingly slow and ancient elevators with the director just as soon as I make it to the fifteenth floor. Tapping my foot impatiently I see the elevator has only just descended two levels in the long minutes I’ve been standing here, and I emit a growl of anger that’s loud enough to turn an orderly on his heel and send him hurrying in the other direction.
I glance at my watch and decide that I’d rather take the stairs than stand here for another infuriating second, marching to the stairwell and yanking open the door. It’s only forty-five flights. I’ve been wanting to improve my cardio, anyway. Squaring my shoulders, I launch myself onto the first few steps and make my way to the upper levels. I’ve gotten into a decent rhythm by the tenth flight or so, I’m hardly even out of breath. I have the audacity to congratulate myself on remaining in shape this winter when my heel twists painfully out from under me and I collapse onto my knees.
My ankle is throbbing and I can see some swelling immediately start to form as I take in a shuddering breath, cursing quietly to myself. I manage to shift until I’m sitting properly on the stairs, and I’m just about to start assessing the damage when a voice echoes through the stairwell. “Hey, you okay?”
Emma Swan comes jogging up the stairs towards me, her face pulled into a frown.“I’m fine,” I tell her dismissively, hoping she’ll take the hint and leave me to lick my wounds in peace.
“I can see that,” she replies sarcastically. “I definitely remember your ankle always being the size of a grapefruit. Totally normal.”
I shoot her a withering stare. “It is hardly the size of a grapefruit.”
She eyes my leg again, her gaze sparkling. “You’re right. Definitely closer to a tangelo.”
“Would you shut up?” I growl. “You’re hardly helping.”
“Well, you could let me - you know - help you?”
“I don’t need your help, thank you,” I reply curtly, shifting slightly and trying to cover my wince. I don’t want anyone’s help. I don’t need help from people.
“Sure, okay,” she shrugs. “Why don’t you go ahead and stand up then?”
“ Fine, ” I grit out. I take a breath and try to pull myself to my feet using the handrail, but the pain is so blinding I immediately fall back down to the step, hissing through my teeth.
She has the good grace not to comment on my less-than-elegant attempt to get up, which is more than I expected from her. Maybe she can see how much pain I’m in. “Alright, look,” she says frankly, sitting down on the step below me. “I know you’re not the type to ask for help, I get it. I’m not either.” I look up at her, studying the expression on her face. How does she do that? I can’t believe I could possibly be this transparent, and yet I must be since she can apparently read my very thoughts. “But listen, it’s either me or Mary Margaret,” she adds. “And you know she’s going to make a fuss.”
I groan at the thought of Dr. Blanchard fretting obnoxiously and concede immediately. “Ugh, yes. Alright.”
“Alright what?” she grins.
She thinks she’s actually going to hear me say the words I need your help.
I glare at her. “Just because I’m injured doesn’t mean I can’t push you down these stairs, Emma Swan.”
Her smile widens. “It was worth a shot. Come on, let’s get you downstairs.”
“Wrong direction,” I shake my head. “I have a meeting that I’m already going to be late for.”
“Wh - you can’t be serious. Your ankle needs to be x-rayed.”
“I’m sure it’s just a sprain,” I sniff. “Besides this meeting is important, that can wait.”
“And your knee?” she gestures to the blood that’s streaming down my leg.
“Well. I suppose it would be unseemly to show up for my meeting actively bleeding,” I muse. She rolls her eyes at me and pulls out a handful of gauze and some saline from her side pocket.
“You’re lucky I keep extra supplies on hand,” she tells me, using some hand sanitizer from the wall unit by the door.
“You’re lucky I don’t reprimand you for taking more supplies than you actually need,” I counter.
“You’re insufferable, you know that?” she asks me, sitting back down with a huff.
I find myself smiling at her frustration and she shakes her head and rips open the saline bottle, setting it next to her. She reaches over and gently lifts my leg, resting it in her lap as she starts to rinse the blood and dirt from the wound. One hand is holding my leg steady as she works efficiently and carefully, and I suck in a breath. She mutters a soft apology because she thinks my gasp was from pain, and thank god for that. I could never face her again if she knew that it was actually from the feeling of her hands on me. I haven’t been touched in so long - years - and suddenly it’s as though my body is waking up. Remembering. “All done,” she says, her voice pulling me back into the moment. I can’t help but notice her tone is strangely high.
I glance at her and there’s a slight blush on her cheeks. How interesting. I watch her for another moment and she becomes even more frazzled, fumbling with the tape as she affixes gauze to my injury. I feel a rush of affection for her that I only pray I manage to keep from my face. “So, uh, I guess we should get you to the next floor up and then you can catch the elevator. I assume you will refuse to use a wheelchair?” she adds, her eyebrows raised.
“You assume correctly,” I reply dryly.
“Right,” she nods. “I’ll page an orderly to send up some crutches.” She sends a text on her phone and then stands and braces a leg next to me on the step. “Let’s go.”
My heart rate picks up as she reaches her arms out to me, and I find myself paralyzed for a moment before I allow her to assist me to a standing position. I hiss in pain as my ankle shifts and nearly fall again, but she catches me against her chest. “Whoa, take it slow okay?” she says softly, her mouth so close to my ear I find my eyes slide shut for a moment. Pull yourself together Regina, honestly. “Put your arm around me,” she suggests, and I do, but it’s clear with the first step up that this isn’t going to work. I’m in too much pain to move myself up to the next step, even with her assistance.
She glances at me, her face so close to mine that I can see a small scar under her eyebrow I’d never noticed before. I find myself wondering how she got it, and then I find myself wondering if I sustained a head injury without realizing. “Okay, I have another idea.”
“And what might that be?” I ask warily, though I think I know.
“Just...don't punch me?” she offers by way of explanation before she wraps an arm around my back and lifts me into her arms. I feel my body riot, my heart hammering uncomfortably, my ankle throbbing loudly, my blood surging through my veins as I throw my arms around her neck to stabilize myself.
After a moment of stunned silence I sputter, “Emma, put me down immediately .”
She pauses, shifting me in her arms slightly. “You got any better ideas?”
I gape at her, eyes wide, and she rolls her eyes and starts walking. I growl softly but realize that she’s right and so I lapse into fuming silence as she carries me up the stairs like some sort of superhero from one of Henry’s comic books. The gentle bouncing of my ankle as we move is excruciating, and as hard as I fight to keep silent I find myself letting out a soft cry of pain. I grit my teeth to swallow any more sound, putting my head against her shoulder and squeezing my eyes shut in an attempt to block out the sharp pain.
“Almost there, almost there,” she says softly, and her words trickle down my spine. I can’t remember the last time anyone spoke to me so gently. I try to ignore the way it feels to be held by Emma Swan, her strong arms wrapped around me. I try not to think about what that might be like in other contexts. I try not to breathe in the smell of her skin where my face is buried in her neck. I try all of that - and fail miserably.
She can clearly tell that I am self-destructing and so she does the one thing she knows I am comfortable with - she irritates me. “You know, if you didn’t run around in stiletto heels you probably wouldn’t have rolled your ankle,” she says matter-of-factly. “I mean, they’re not exactly practical.”
“I’m sorry,” I snarl. “You seem to have mistaken me for someone who actually asked for your opinion.” Our familiar bickering calms me enough that I can breathe a little easier, opening my eyes to see we’re near the next floor now.
“Tell that to your tangelo-ankle,” she scoffs. I can feel her voice rumbling in her chest, vibrating against me.
“My ankle will be fine, and until I see you wearing something other than scrubs and converse sneakers, I’ll thank you to keep your fashion advice to yourself,” I reply. We reach the top of the last flight of steps and she sets me down. It takes everything I have to be able to meet her eyes after this shockingly intimate and unexpectedly emotional moment with her. She looks at me a little uncertainly, like she thinks perhaps I’m going to take her head off now that I’m standing on my own two feet - or on one foot at least. I can’t say I blame her for the assumption, she knows me well enough by now to be aware that when I feel exposed I tend to draw blood.
But I don’t want to do that. If anything, this experience of her swooping in like a white knight has made me soften to her even more than I already have. It makes me realize that I don’t just like her - it goes a little beyond that now, goddammit all. Still, she doesn't deserve to be punished for my inability to contain my growing school-girl crush, and that starts with me not threatening bodily injury for her helping me. When she sees I'm not about to push her down the stairs for her boldness, she loops an arm around my back to steady me. “Come on,” she says, opening the door and helping me into the hallway. There’s an orderly waiting with a set of crutches and I realize it’s the same one that I sent running not twenty minutes before. He hands them to Emma and takes off at a near-sprint.
“Friend of yours?” Emma smirks. I glare at her and take the crutches. “Come find me after your meeting, I’ll set the ankle and do a proper exam,” she says in her best doctor-voice. I glance at her and she looks a little flushed, a little unbalanced. Perhaps from the exertion but perhaps not.
“Yes - I will. I should get to my meeting,” I answer, turning on my crutches with a wince. I pause, shifting back to her as she walks away. “And Emma?” I say gently.
She turns with a grin on her face. “I know, I know. If I tell anyone I carried you you’ll snap me in half.”
I can’t help the laugh that escapes my throat, and her grin widens. “No, actually,” I say with a chuckle. “I just wanted to say…” She looks at me curiously, her green eyes glowing in the light from the window. I take a breath and find that the words come more easily than I expected them to.
“Do you think she’s ever actually murdered anyone?”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“Hey, would you really be surprised if you found out she had?”
It’s not the first time I’ve overheard my staff talking about me this way. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon at all back in New York. Still, if they only knew how much more patient I’ve been with them in comparison they might give me more credit - or at the very least stop implying I have homicidal tendencies. I freeze outside the break room door, my hand on the grimy wood, and can’t help but listen a little more.
“She nearly eviscerated me today because I put a chart back in the wrong place,” Ruby sighs. She neglects to mention it’s the third time she’s done it this week, but I was perhaps a little hard on her. I know it isn’t exactly best practice to threaten staff while holding a scalpel, but that was simply unfortunate timing rather than planning on my part.
“And she threw out my coffee again, that thing cost me seven dollars!” Belle complains. I’d love to burst in the room right now and tell her that anyone that spends seven dollars on a cup of coffee deserves to have it thrown out, followed by - no, Regina. Breathe.
“She’s not that bad, you guys.”
My heart skips a beat as I hear Emma Swan’s voice in the room.
“Are you serious?” Belle asks, her voice full of disbelief.
“What? Look, she’s an incredible physician,” Emma protests. “No one said she had to be our best friend.” I feel something deep in my chest shift at her words, my hand still hovering on the door. “She’s a hardass, sure, but it’s usually for a reason.”
“Whatever, Emma, you just have a crush on her,” Ruby goads. My lips part at that, and I feel as though every cell in my body is listening to her response.
“Fuck off, Rubes,” she snarls. “I just think she’s…” She trails off. “I don’t know,” she finishes after a moment. “I just really like her.”
The other two grumble and the conversation shifts. I find my chest feels as though there’s a balloon expanding within it, something light and unexpected. I’ve never had anyone defend me like that, not ever. I find my eyes prickling with moisture and I walk away as quietly as I can, my thoughts a rush.
It’s true that recently, as she held a baby gently in her arms she jokingly told me why she doesn’t mind working with me so much. But I thought it was just another example of her being kind because that’s who she is. This though, the realization that Emma Swan - warm and thoughtful and smart Emma Swan - doesn’t just tolerate my presence in her life, she doesn’t just engage in rapid-fire arguments to pass the time or let off steam, but she actually likes me as a person...It’s as though my brain has short-circuited.
I feel that although I can’t exactly approach her about it, I want to do something. After a few minutes, I walk out to the bakery across the street and purchase one of those ridiculously fattening and sugary confections she loves to shove in her pretty mouth, and take it back to the hospital. Once the staffroom is cleared I use my list of locker combinations to unlock hers and place the bear claw inside. There. That’s something.
Hours later, I re-enter the break room to find her with sugar on her lips and a bright look in her eye. I have to quell the rush of emotions in my stomach, forcing myself not to match her smile. “Why are you grinning like that, Dr. Swan?” I ask nonchalantly, pouring myself a cup of coffee.
“You know breaking and entering is a crime,” she says with a smug grin.
“And you’re telling me this because?”
“Because you’re the only one that has the locker combinations,” she replies, resting her elbows on the table. Oh. Right. I was a little overly-emotional earlier and failed to think of that part.
“Mm,” I reply noncommittally. She’s watching me closely with a warm look in her eyes that feels as though it’s melting my very organs, which is of course preposterous. “Would you please desist from looking at me like that?” I snap. I don’t want to but it’s a natural response to the way that I’m feeling, the exposure.
“Like what?” she asks. I find I don’t have the words to reply and mercifully she spares me from having to. “Do I get to ask why you felt the need to feed me sugary treats?”
“No,” I respond calmly, sipping my coffee. I suppose there’s no point in denying it was me, but to have her know the rest is certainly not an option. She nods like she knew that’s how I was going to respond, and I feel some semblance of relief in my chest.
“Well, thank you,” she says earnestly.
“It’s only a pastry, Dr. Swan, no need to make it into anything more,” I snap, storming toward the door. I see her face fall as I turn on my heel, and something heavy settles in my chest at the realization that I let my ridiculous inability to be honest with people hurt her when that was precisely the opposite of what I’d been aiming to do. I pause at the door, one hand on the handle as I grit my teeth and close my eyes. “Emma,” I say without turning around.
“Yeah?” she asks softly.
I let out a breath. Just do it, you utter coward . My heart is racing as I grit out the words, “I like you, too.” I push my way out of the break room without turning her around, avoiding her for the rest of the day. There’s no way in hell I can ever look her in the face again, of course, but at least I’ve proven to myself that I’m not always completely craven. I told her, now she knows.
It isn’t the end of the world.
It only feels like it is.
By the end of the day, I’m debating being extra horrible to her tomorrow to even things out and give myself back some feeling of control when I enter my office and stop dead in my tracks. I walk towards my desk slowly, at first unsure of what it is that's stacked neatly on top of next week’s schedule. But as I get closer I see that it’s an almond croissant from the bakery across the street.
I don’t even realize I’m smiling until I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the glass of my diploma on the wall, and it’s startling. I barely recognize myself.
I look so different.
I look happy.
ES: I know you miss me, but do you have to take it out on your underlings?
RM: You’re supposed to be sick in bed, get off your phone Emma.
I’m at my desk signing off on some payroll sheets as my phone buzzes again, but I force myself to finish the page I’m on before I look at it. Emma’s been off sick for two days - which is completely inconsiderate and childish on her part. We’re understaffed as it is. And if I’m being honest, I do miss her. Not that I would admit that under pain of torture.
ES: I’ve heard that you’re a little...edgy. She includes some sort of skull emoji that has me snorting in a manner that would make my mother roll in her grave. If she were dead, that is.
RM: I’m being perfectly reasonable, it’s hardly my fault if they’re acting like a bunch of incompetent idiots.
ES: I highly doubt that Archie eating a donut at the nursing station warranted a floor-wide ban on eating anything. Ever.
RM: Oh, so they’re reporting back to you, are they? Typical.
ES: Just try to be nice?
RM: Since when do I take orders from you?
ES: Since I’m possibly on my deathbed. You could be denying a woman her dying wish.
I frown, sitting up straight.
RM: Are you alright? What’s your temperature? Have you been drinking enough water?
There’s no response for several minutes and I feel myself start to become uneasy.
ES: I’m fine, thanks. I think I’ll sleep some more. Try not to kill anyone? For me?
My stomach ripples and I hesitate before replying.
RM: For you.
This is, of course, a terrible idea.
She’s a grown woman and perfectly capable of taking care of herself. And maybe she likes me as a person, and perhaps we’ve struck up an unlikely friendship, but that doesn’t warrant me showing up at her house. I hesitate for the tenth time outside of the address I dug out of the personnel records (hardly an appropriate use of the information but I couldn't remember her exact address from when I gave her a ride home) before at last squaring my shoulders and marching up the front step.
In spite of my misgivings, I have an intuition of a sort that she is not at all taking care of herself. I’m not typically one to give in to gut feelings but this one nagged at me enough that I felt the need to see for myself. A rather handsome young man holds the door open for me, and I almost chide him for it - it’s hardly safe to hold the door open for someone you don’t know, but I hold my tongue and make my way up the stairs. Of course she’d live in an ancient brownstone apartment with no elevator. Still, it’s well-maintained and has a sort of cozy feeling to it.
I find myself thinking of her running up and down these stairs on her way to and from work, blonde hair cascading down her back, scrubs rumpled. Seeing even a little of her home life makes me feel an ache in my chest, an uncharacteristic sentimentality towards this woman that wormed her way into my heart without my permission. While I don’t ever expect anything from her but friendship, that alone is more than I’ve had in so long, and it feels good. As frightening as it can be for me to admit that about anything, it’s true. Still, I have to make sure she lives to see another day if I intend to have her in mine and Henry’s life, so I make my way to her door and knock.
I can hear her slow footsteps on the old wooden floorboards as she makes her way to the door and then hesitates on the other side of it. I roll my eyes. “Emma I don’t care how you look, I’m simply here to ensure that you haven’t keeled over.”
I hear a weary laugh through the door as it opens, and the sight of her is nearly enough to make me drop the bag of groceries I’ve brought. She’s as pale as death, with dark rings under her eyes. Her hair is plastered to her brow with sweat, and she leans heavily on the door. “See?” she croaks. “Still alive.”
“That remains to be seen,” I frown, stepping forward without thinking. I cup her face in my hand, my brow furrowing at her searing skin against my cool fingers. “You should have come in for evaluation,” I tell her sternly, though my heart is clenching as I see that she’s closed her eyes, resting her face heavily in my palm.
“‘M fine,” she murmurs.
“You are forbidden from ever saying those words to me again,” I tell her, taking my hand away and guiding her inside.
“Regina, you don’t have to -”
“No, but I’m going to,” I cut her off. “Because clearly you are incapable of taking care of yourself like an actual adult.”
“Be nice to me,” she groans, leaning up against the wall as I close her door. “I’m dying.” She has a sheen of sweat on her brow.
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I counter, marching into her bathroom, which is as clean and orderly as the rest of her small apartment, something I find somewhat surprising given how slovenly she can be at work. I switch on the faucet to the bathtub and test the water with my fingers before putting in the stopper. “Get in here, Emma,” I call over my shoulder.
She shuffles into the bathroom, leaning against the doorframe. “I can’t tell if I’m hallucinating this,” she murmurs, her eyes glassy. “Is this some kind of fever dream?”
I chuckle, pulling down a clean towel for her from the shelf. “Let’s say that it is,” I answer with a gentle smile. “Now get in the bath and throw those pajamas in your laundry, I’ll find you something to wear.” I pause at the doorway. “Do you...need help?”
She shakes her head. “I’m okay, thanks.”
I nod and go to her dresser, pulling out some sweatpants and a tank top for her and setting them just inside the door before turning to her apartment. Unpacking the groceries, I search through her kitchen and find a single well-maintained knife and a worn chopping board. I hadn’t considered the fact that she might not have a pot for the soup I intend to make, but I find one in the back of a cupboard and set it on the stove, filling it with the ingredients I’ve prepared for a broth. As the soup is simmering I strip her bedsheets and replace them with fresh ones. The sound of splashing pulls my attention to the bathroom and I knock gently on the door. “Emma? I trust you haven’t drowned?”
She laughs. “No, I’m just rinsing my hair.”
I nod though she can’t see it and put the kettle on for some tea, which I’m just pouring in the teapot when she emerges from the bathroom. She still looks pale, but there’s a little more color in her cheeks. She sees me with the teapot, the soup simmering on the stove, and her face looks fragile, a hint of disbelief on her features. It occurs to me that perhaps she’s never had anyone to take care of her like this, and the expression on her face all but confirms it.
“You didn’t have to,” she says softly, stepping towards the soup.
I feel a little self-conscious for barging in here, but I have yet another gut-feeling that it was the right thing to do. “I know that,” I answer softly. “Get in bed, I’ll bring you something to eat.” She nods, crawling weakly into her bed until she’s propped up against the pillows. I hand her a bowl of soup, setting the mug of tea on the nightstand next to her. “Eat it all, even if you’re not hungry,” I tell her, perching on the edge of her bed.
“Yes ma’am,” she smiles, spooning broth into her mouth. “How are things at work? Did you manage not to murder anyone today?”
“I promised you I wouldn’t,” I reply. She smiles into her bowl. “I think I managed to tone things down, though it’s much easier to bear their idiocy when I have someone with a modicum of common sense to work with,” I grumble, taking her bowl as she finishes the last of her soup. I set it on the floor next to me and she picks up the mug of tea, cradling it in her hands as she leans back with her eyes closed.
“I missed you too,” she smiles to herself.
The confession makes me suck in a breath, shifting on the bed as I pick at a non-existent thread on my pants. She’s been careful around me since I lost all sense of discretion and blurted out that I like her as though I was some metal-mouthed middle-schooler. I might as well have thrown a plastic friendship bracelet at her while I was at it. I think she’s been aware of how much that moment cost me, and she's been gentle up until now. Clearly the fever has thrown all of that out the window, and I find that I don't mind. In fact, I feel a little feverish myself.
“Drink your tea,” I respond quietly. Her words are echoing in my head, my chest suffused with affection. I have done very little to deserve this woman’s friendship, and I can only hope that making her a simple pot of soup will help to show her that I...appreciate her. Very much. I chance a glance in her direction and she’s watching me with a gentle smile on her lips as she sips from the mug.
“Whatever are you looking so smug for?”
“I’m not smug ,” she scoffs, sipping her tea. “I just - no one has ever done anything like this for me before, okay? It’s nice.” She glances at me. “I’m happy. I mean don’t get me wrong, I still feel like shit,” she adds. “But I don’t mind as much now.”
I swallow the lump in my throat, unsure of how to respond. “Well,” I answer, reaching over to arrange her blanket higher on her body, noting the goosebumps rippling up her arms. “I suppose that’s what friends are for.”
Her eyes snap to my face and I continue to fuss with her covers because I can’t quite bring myself to look at her. “Yeah,” she answers softly. “You’re right.” She clears her throat. “You want to watch something with me for a bit?” she asks, and I find myself relieved at the offer for the change of subject. She must know I can only handle so much of this at a time.
“All right,” I reply.
“Make yourself comfortable,” she suggests, reaching for the remote and switching on the TV. I hesitate before kicking off my shoes and settling closer to her on the bed.
“Any preferences?” she asks, scrolling through the Netflix homepage.
“How about that?” I suggest, pointing to a title on the screen.
“Seriously?” she huffs. “ER? You spend your entire day in one and then want to watch a show about it?”
“Well it’s quite accurate,” I protest. “And besides, I like some of the characters.”
“Alright,” she sighs. “You’re a real masochist, though.”
You have no idea. She hits play and the familiar theme music starts to play. It doesn’t take long before I note her breathing starts to even out, her head dropping heavily on my shoulder. I stiffen at first, not because I’m uncomfortable, but only because I have to stop myself from responding too quickly, too eagerly. To stop myself from gathering her against me like I’ve been wanting to do ever since I walked into her apartment. She shifts after a few minutes and then slings an arm possessively over my waist.
I allow my arm to curl around her body to better support her, though I stop myself from raking my fingers through that silky hair of hers. She murmurs softly in her sleep and I let her settle deeper into me, her head on my chest. And it’s in this moment with her curled against me, her body shivering with fever, skin blisteringly hot, that I realize it.
How much she really means to me.
How much I have started to trust her, though I swore I would never do that again.
And to quote Emma I also realize this: I am truly, deeply fucked.
“Are you wearing my shirt?”
Well, this is not good.
This is in fact, the opposite of what one might call a good thing.
I've foolishly taken off my button-up shirt without thinking after spilling coffee on the sleeve, freezing at Emma's voice as I'm hanging it up in my locker. I had completely forgotten that I’d put on her damn shirt this morning, an extra layer against the biting cold. I’ve been meaning to give it back since she lent it to me ages ago, of course. It’s just - it’s quite comfortable and I’ve taken to wearing it to bed on occasion. Or as an extra layer, such as today. I pause and turn to Emma, who is frozen in the middle of pouring a cup of coffee, an absolutely feral grin on her face.
“Of course not, don’t be absurd,” I lie through my teeth.
“You are such a liar,” she accuses, her grin spreading.
I find the fact that I have been accurately called out to be particularly infuriating. “I sincerely hope I didn’t just hear you accusing your boss of being a liar,” I bristle, hands on my hips.
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, you’re going to play it like that, huh?” She sets the coffee down and stalks towards me, and it takes everything I have not to back myself up against the lockers. “Let’s see the tag then,” she demands, her eyes glittering with triumph.
“I beg your pardon?” I snarl.
“The tag. I put my initials in all my stuff.”
I never noticed that.
“What kind of person puts their name in their clothing, might I ask?”
Her grin flickers. “Oh I don’t know, maybe the kind that grew up in an orphanage and had to put their name in everything so people couldn’t steal their shit?”
I swallow heavily. “Oh.”
“So?” she says, stepping even closer. “Let’s see the tag.”
“Absolutely not. I have plenty of money, Emma Swan, why on earth would I need to wear your clothing?” My heart is pounding in my chest and I can only pray she doesn’t notice.
“That is an excellent question, Dr. Mills,” she practically purrs. My mouth goes dry at her proximity, her smell, the way she’s looking at me. She reaches out to lift the collar of my shirt and I grasp her wrist to stop her, looking at her defiantly. She’s successfully backed me against the lockers now. Her face is mere inches from my own and it is not at all lost on me how easy it would be to press my mouth to those full lips of hers. We’re frozen in a standoff, eyes locked, as the overhead announces MVA victims arriving in five minutes.
She looks up at the speaker and then glances back to me, a cocky smirk on her face. “Saved by the bell,” she grins, pulling her hand out of my grip. I want to kick her. I want to pull her back against me. “You know,” she says, pausing at the door. I look to her from where I’m still frozen against the lockers, breath coming quickly. “If you wanted to keep it, all you had to do was ask.”
I press my lips together and she turns on her heel and pushes her way out of the room.
I really should have known better.
No matter how many times Mother’s voice echoes through my head telling me to trust no one , no matter how many times I’m betrayed or abandoned or hurt, I still always end up letting my guard down. I still always make an absolute fool of myself, and I truly have no one else to blame. I don’t even hold it against Emma, not really. I’m furious of course, but I’m the one that allowed her into my heart, into my life. I’m the one that let her get to know my son. I’m the one that set myself up to be hurt again, and so as I walk into my office to find her digging through my drawers, as furious as I am, all I can really think in the moment is this is your own doing, Regina.
“Just what in the hell is going on here?” I ask her, shutting the door quickly behind me. I had - in an apparent moment of whimsy and complete loss of sense on my part - discreetly given her a spare key to my office so she could sleep undisturbed on the couch during her night shifts. And this is how she repays me.
“I - it’s not what it looks like,” she says with a panicked expression on her face, though her hands are still in the drawers to my desk.
I bristle, stepping towards her. “Oh is that so? And just what exactly does it look like, Dr. Swan?” I ask her, leveling her with a lethal stare.
“I - I was just,” she starts.
I hold my hands up. “Don’t. Whatever lie is about to spill out of your mouth, just save it. I can only assume you were looking for your performance reports, or perhaps hoping to alter your permanent record, and I don’t need to hear the details.” Her look of exasperation does nothing to quell the rage and the pain building in my chest. God, why did it have to be her? My fingers are curling into fists.
“Would you just listen to me for a second?” she begs, stepping forward. She reaches out a hand to me and I step back, quelling the tears that have betrayed me and sprung to my eyes. I cannot let her touch me, I won’t. Not anymore.
"Stop it." The fury is rocketing through my veins as I grit my teeth, my rage reaching a terrifying height, the pain making my knees feel weak. I want to hurt her like she’s just hurt me, and I find the words spilling out of my mouth unbidden. “This is my own fault,” I hiss. “I should have known better than to trust someone like you."
"Don't," she says softly, a pleading tone in her voice, and perhaps one of warning as well.
The words are pouring from my mouth, fueled by hurt, before I can stop them."I should have known better than to trust some vulgar, unwanted little orphan."
She stares at me like she’s been slapped, her lips parting as her face rearranges itself into a picture of fury. “Would you go look in your desk, please, your highness? ” she spits, her eyes blazing.
“Don’t tell me what to --”
“Just do it,” she growls. “For once, just fucking listen to me.”
I stare at her for a beat and then walk past her and yank open my desk drawer. Sitting on top of my office supplies is a beautifully wrapped gift. I feel my heart stutter in my chest. Oh, god. I look up at her and she’s standing there with her arms crossed and a dark look on her face that is so different from her usual look of anger. There’s no trace of lightness here, no hint of play. Just hurt and fury. “How did you…?”
“Henry,” she answers. “He told me last time I saw him.”
“Oh,” I swallow. I feel like my chest is caving in on itself. I look up at her, stricken, and she just shakes her head.
“Happy fucking birthday, Regina,” she says in a small voice. By the time I hear the door close I’ve sunk into my chair with my head in my hands, waves of self-loathing crashing over me.
I really should have known better.
I don’t try to find her.
I don’t deserve her forgiveness, and so I don’t ask for it. I avoid her in the last few hours of my shift, a leaden weight in my chest all the while, and then I immediately go home as quickly as humanly possible. I sit with Henry for a little while and pretend to listen to him talk about his day, but my mind is a million miles away. I’m a terrible person after all, I might as well round things out and be a terrible mother too. I open my sweet birthday card from my son, drawn in a childish hand that in spite of my current state makes my eyes fill with tears. I hold him for so long that he starts to wriggle, and then I put him to bed.
After that, I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t sleep, my mind too full of the image of Emma Swan’s face as those awful words came out of me. How I could have hurt the one person in my life that least deserves it, how I could have said those things to her after she’s been so patient and kind and - god, who in the hell am I kidding? I know exactly how I could have done this. It’s who I am. I’m the Evil Queen, after all. Of course, I screwed this up. I don’t see how I managed to make it last this long in the first place. I sigh and shake my head as I sit on the couch clutching a glass of wine I’m not drinking and stare into the fire, hating myself a little more with every passing moment.
Until that is, my doorbell rings. I frown and set my glass down, wrapping my sweater more tightly around myself as I go to open the front door and find Emma standing on my porch. My eyes go wide, a nearly painful surge of joy bursting through me. I try to quell it, I know she’s probably just here to tell me to my face that she hates me, and she’s entitled. “Emma,” I choke out, my eyes filling with those damned tears again. “What are you…?”
She looks freezing, her cheeks pink with cold, her hair tucked into her jacket, but she makes no move to step inside. “It’s supposed to be you, you know,” she says cryptically. I just stare at her and wait for her to go on, and she does, her hands jammed in her coat pockets. “It’s supposed to be you that comes to me and apologizes for being such an asshole.” She smiles a little and I nearly burst into tears. “But then I realized that this is Regina Mills I’m dealing with, and you don’t exactly follow the rules when it comes to shit like this. So I decided to come to you instead, this time at least.”
I’m gaping at her, my fingers clutching the door to hold me up. “I didn’t think you’d want to see me,” I say in a tight voice, my throat aching. “Nothing I could say could ever make up for the awful things I said to you, Emma.” I swipe away a ridiculous tear, and her eyes have such warmth in them but I can’t understand it. “I don’t deserve --”
“Would you just cut it out with that shit?” she says frankly. I blink at her, confusion sweeping across my face. “I will be the one to decide what is worth forgiving and what isn’t.” She sighs, letting her head fall back for a moment, her breath pluming in the frigid air. “It just so happens that I am also insanely gifted at saying the absolute most painful and shitty thing to someone to push them away. And I know the feelings of shame and regret that come after.” She looks at me again, and my heart is pounding in my chest. “I used to be a lot like you. Trusting no one and pushing everyone away, and cutting people off completely if they fucked up even once. And you know what that got me?”
“What?” I ask, my voice cracking.
“A really fucking lonely life.”
I can’t hold it in anymore, not after that. Not after she - for the hundredth time - lays me so bare, sees me so clearly, and doesn't flinch. A sob escapes my mouth and I cover my face in my hands as she steps forward, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me against her. Her coat is freezing and she smells like snow, and I bury my face in her neck and struggle not to cry pathetically. “I’m sorry,” I say shakily, curling my fingers into her coat.
“It’s okay, it’s alright,” she says into my hair, running her fingers up and down my back. “You’re a hot-headed asshole, but you’re kind of my hot-headed asshole.” I can hear the smile in her voice, and I laugh against her and pull away, trying not to let the overwhelming vulnerability of the moment sink in. I can’t let myself think about the fact that she called me hers either, because I know that she didn’t mean it the way I want her to.
“Thank you,” I nod, squeezing her arm.
“Yeah,” she nods.
“Will you stay?” I ask, shutting the door against the cold.
She’s already pulling off her coat as she replies, “Of course. I brought you your gift too,” she adds, pulling out the box she’d left in my desk. I didn’t have the heart to open it after my appalling behavior and I guess she must have gone back to retrieve it after I’d left.
“I don’t deserve that,” I say sternly, leading her into the living room and directing her onto the couch by the fire as I pour her a glass of wine.
“I thought I made it clear that I’ll be the one to decide that,” she argues, setting it on the table. I huff but lean forward and pull the small box into my lap, trying to stop my fingers from trembling as I pull the lid off and see a lovely watch sitting in a case. My eyes threaten to fill with tears again but I fight them back because I’ll be damned if she makes me cry twice in one night. “Henry told me he broke yours,” she smiles.
I laugh as I pull it out, the smooth leather strap soft under my fingers. “He accidentally dumped it in a glass of milk,” I explain. “Long story,” I add when she looks at me quizzically.
“I’m sure it is,” she responds.
I look at her, watching me from where she’s curled up on the couch, cradling her glass of wine, and I’m struck by how well she fits in this picture. In our home. “Thank you, Emma. This is beautiful,” I add, looking back at the watch. My old one belonged to my father and I was secretly a little heartbroken when it stopped working, milk encrusted in all the tiny gears. She’s clearly made an effort to find something similar, but maybe a little more of my own style.
I love it.
The feelings I have for her are becoming so overwhelming that I only pray it isn’t that obvious as I look up at her, a genuine smile on my face. “No problem,” she replies.
“Would you believe me if I told you this is actually the best birthday I’ve had in years?” I confess, tucking my legs under myself and looking into the fire.
“You know,” she laughs. “I think I would. But let’s hope next year there’s less arguing.”
My body thrills at her words. Next year. “I don’t know,” I smile. “You know I love a good argument.” She scoffs, sipping her wine. “When is your birthday?” I ask her, the thought striking me.
She doesn’t answer and I look over at her, her face troubled. “I actually don’t know,” she says after a moment. “When I...when they found me they thought I was about a month old. It was winter.” She shrugs. “They just wrote January 1st on my birth certificate but I’ve never really celebrated it.”
Anger crackles through my limbs, my fingertips clutching my wine glass. When she’d first told me about how she was surrendered to the hospital, I confess I found myself drawn to that room, to where her story began. I had closed the door behind me and stared at the tiny metal cabinet where Emma had been abandoned, and a rush of emotion came over me. That someone could have given her up, her of all people. Of course I’m sure there were circumstances, of course I’m sure they wanted her to have her best chance. But still, knowing that Emma Swan, kind and fiery and brilliant Emma, ever felt herself unwanted is nothing less than heartbreaking to me. Knowing that I reminded her of that today, threw it in her face like an insult, makes me feel crushing shame. I pull myself from the memory and look back at her, and she’s lost in thought staring into the fire.
“Well,” I say firmly. “That simply will not do.”
“What?” she asks, her brow furrowing.
“You’ll just have to share mine. It’s January after all, close to the time you were found.”
Her eyes light up, and it’s everything. “What? You want to share your birthday with me?”
“I believe that is what I said,” I reply, sipping my wine.
“So what does that mean?” she asks, a smile working its way across her face. “We have a joint birthday party? Hire someone to make us balloon animals?”
“Please,” I roll my eyes. “As if I would allow some miscreant in my home to make useless trinkets.” She’s clearly trying not to laugh and I realize I may have missed her point. “I was thinking something more along the lines of…” I trail off, an idea coming to me. “Wait here,” I instruct her, setting down my wine glass.
I head to the kitchen, pulling out the cake that Grace had graciously made for me. I cut a slice and place two candles in it, lighting them hastily with a match before I walk back into the living room. Emma is still curled on the couch staring thoughtfully into the fire, and she glances up with curiosity as I enter the room. A grin blooms on her face as I sit down next to her with cake in my hands, the candles making shadows flicker across her face.
“Happy birthday, Emma,” I tell her with a hesitant smile. “Let’s blow out the candles on three.”
“Wait aren’t you going to sing? I’m pretty sure there’s supposed to be singing involved.”
“Don’t push your luck,” I warn her.
She rolls her eyes. “On three.”
We count down and blow out our candles together, my breath blowing her blonde tresses gently against her collarbone. She’s positively beaming as I hand her a fork and she wolfs down her half in her characteristically feral way. “Don’t choke, dear, there’s plenty in the fridge.”
“Sorry,” she mumbles around her food. I sigh and swipe some frosting off her lip, sucking it off the side of my thumb, and she swallows heavily, her eyes dropping to my hand.
“This is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” she announces softly.
“It’s the only birthday you’ve ever had,” I remind her.
“Still,” she grins, shooting me a wink. I do my best to return a withering stare, but to be perfectly honest that stupid wink sends arousal rocketing through me. “I should go,” she sighs, setting down her empty glass. “I’m up early for work.”
I nod, already craving her presence again though she hasn’t even left, which is particularly pathetic. “Of course, I’ll walk you out.”
“No, stay,” she shakes her head. “You look comfortable.” She stands and stretches, my eyes magnetically drawn to where her shirt rides up as she does so. “Goodnight, Regina,” she says with a soft smile.
“Goodnight, Emma,” I reply, pushing down the overwhelming emotion. She goes to walk past me and then pauses, turning to me. She reaches a hand out, her fingers cupping the side of my jaw, and I’m frozen, my heart pounding. “Happy birthday to us both,” she says softly, leaning down to press a kiss to my forehead. It takes everything I have not to grasp her and pull her down onto me. She stands, her hand still on my face, and I’m looking up at her with I’m sure an idiotically dumbstruck expression. She brushes my cheek with her thumb and then, with a nod to herself, walks out of the room.
“Wha - I am barely - it’s a minute past one, Regina!”
My eyes narrow. “Close the door, Dr. Swan,” I remind her with a dangerous tone. While I admit I enjoy the way she says my name, she absolutely may not use it at work within earshot of others. My god, the gossip that would ensue. Hospitals are hotbeds of inane chatter. She huffs, her lips pressed together in irritation, and I find that my mood is already improved. There’s nothing like ruffling Emma’s feathers to make one’s day a little better.
“Next time we do a performance review I expect you to be on time,” I tell her seriously, and she shoots daggers at me with her eyes.
“I was assisting on a trauma, do you not see the blood on my coat?”
“I will also expect you to be dressed in a hygienic manner, rather than potentially spreading blood-borne illness throughout the hospital. I have half a mind to knock you down half a demerit for that.”
She sputters before crossing her arms in fury. “You are enjoying this way too much.” I can’t suppress my grin this time, and I see the line of her shoulders relax. “Such an ass,” she sighs with a relieved smirk.
“Well, I have to take my fun where I find it,” I reply, clicking my pen. “Now - to business.”
“Can’t you just give me the perfect score I deserve and be done with it?” she quips, crossing her legs.
“You are far from perfect, Emma Swan, as my daily critique of your sub-par charting skills should have indicated. Do you even listen to what I say to you?”
“Sometimes,” she answers, picking at her fingernails.
“Well,” I reply, rankled. I see her start to smirk. “Overall you are above satisfactory in regards to your performance. You are punctual, professional enough I suppose, and your clinical skills are unparalleled amongst the other residents. You should be very proud, Emma,” I tell her with not a small amount of warmth.
“Really?” she asks, her eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“Of course, did you think I was going to fail you?”
“Well, no - but you’re always telling me I’m an idiot.”
“Yes, but I mean that as a term of endearment,” I reply without thinking. I immediately freeze, my pen clutched in my hand. I brace myself and look up at her and she’s grinning from ear to ear. I attempt to glare at her but it does nothing to quell the pure joy radiating from her face, and I find that perhaps it wasn’t such an embarrassing thing to admit after all. Still, hardly the time. I clear my throat. “You achieved an overall ‘exceeds expectations’ on your review,” I tell her. “But I docked you points for your improved-but-still-lacking charting. You do not want to end up in court with sparse documentation, believe me.”
“How many points did you dock me?” she asks.
“ Three!? I get seven out of ten!? Come on!”
“Documentation is extremely important Emma, not to mention you still forget to sign your orders on a regular basis, and you continue to spill coffee and other caffeinated beverages on your paperwork. In fact, I’d wager that at this very moment a cup of coffee is precariously balanced either on top of or next to a stack of your unsigned charting,” I challenge.
“It’s water, I’ll have you know,” she grumbles. “Trying to cut down on caffeine.”
I sigh. “That takes you down to a seven out of ten, which is perfectly respectable.”
“Says who? Come on, I’m at least at an eight, give me an eight,” she argues.
“This is not a negotiation,” I tell her firmly. And it isn’t. Still, now that I think of it, I may have been a tad harsh due to the fact that when I was calculating her total scores I saw her dripping coffee on her EKG readouts like a complete imbecile.
“Well, what did Mary Margaret give me?” she asks, completely ignoring me.
“She gave you a ten, though I don’t need to remind you that her scoring is only a part of your overall grade. Honestly, I’m sure she would have given you an eleven if it were possible, but Emma the woman barely has a grasp on reality, I swear to god some mornings I think I’m going to find her singing to the birds outside the window. She couldn’t conceive to critique anyone with accuracy.”
Emma rolls her eyes and I find myself wavering. She really is a remarkable doctor, and capable of far and above what the other members of her cohort can do. I’m opening my mouth to say I’ll consider it when the fire alarm goes off and we both jump to our feet to investigate. Complete chaos has broken out in the waiting room, a patient that didn’t want to wait any longer having set fire to a trash can. Security is in the middle of detaining him and the rest of the staff are corralling the other patients out of harm’s way. The flames are small but growing rapidly. I growl under my breath and turn to run for the fire extinguisher, but Emma quickly grabs her large canteen of water and dumps it on the fire.
It successfully puts out the small flame instantly, however a large quantity of water ricochets off the lip of the can and douses me square in the chest. She winces as everyone in the vicinity freezes to gauge my reaction. I send a widespread glare through the room and they all immediately jump back to work as I grab Emma’s elbow and head towards the break room. “Okay, you have to admit, if I didn’t have my contraband water at my work station that fire would have spread a lot further,” she argues, stepping through the swinging door. “I get a three now, don’t I?” she sighs as I ignore her and walk to the sink. “There’s got to be a significant deduction for dumping water on your boss in the middle of a room of people during your evaluation, right?” she grimaces.
I sigh and drop my head back, pinching the bridge of my nose. She did just save a potential $30,000 in damages, that flame was dangerously close to the ambulatory bay curtains. I aggressively grab a handful of paper towels and press them fruitlessly to my chest. “ Fine, I will give you a nine.” Her mouth drops open in complete shock. “ If you lend me a clean shirt,” I add, my own currently sticking unpleasantly to my chest, where I note with some satisfaction that her eyes are lingering.
“Yeah of course,” she shakes her head as she walks to her locker and takes out a black v-neck. “Am I going to get it back this time?” she asks pointedly.
“That depends, are your initials in it?” I scoff.
“You know what?” she says, beaming, and I instantly regret giving her that nine. “You can keep it, as a thank you.” She tosses it in my face and I grumble as I catch it. “So...is that it? Is the performance review done?”
“Yes I believe that was enough excitement for one day, you can go back to work.” She nods and goes to leave. “And Emma,” I say, causing her to pause at the door and turn to me.
I smile warmly.
“Hey, Dr. Mills? Have you seen Emma?”
I glance up at Ruby Lucas, who I have somewhat warmed to. She’s quite the firecracker, and intelligent once she gets over her nerves. She is perhaps, as Emma annoyingly refers to her, “good people.”
“I’m afraid not, is there something I can help you with?”
“Hm?” she asks. “Oh - no, she was just supposed to meet me for lunch. I’ve been trying to get her to sign up for this dating app and -” my eyes snap to her face and she immediately stops talking. “And you don’t need to hear about that,” she laughs nervously. “Anyway, she’s probably just busy, so…” she backs away slowly.
I sigh internally. Of course, Emma is young and beautiful, and successful. She should date. It’s only natural. I take pity on Ruby as she’s clearly terrified of my startled reaction. “I’m sure she’s just stuck with a patient, Ruby,” I tell her. “If I see her, I’ll send her your way.”
“Oh - thanks,” Ruby replies, surprise on her face. I nod and walk away, trying to control the disappointment forming a leaden weight in my chest. Of course, it’s wildly inappropriate for me to be interested in Emma, I could never seriously ask her for more than we have. She’s still a resident. Though...she is completing her residency soon, at which point those rules don’t technically apply. Still, she could hardly be interested in me, a waspish single mother with so little to offer.
I push the thoughts aside as I stride down the hall, headed for my office. A soft squeaking sound distracts me and I pause, turning towards the noise. A loud crashing echoes down the hallway and immediately I know that something is very wrong. I rush to follow the sound, coming to a room at the end of the hall and push it open to find a scene right out of my nightmares playing out before my eyes. A patient has Emma in a chokehold where he kneels on the bed, her own stethoscope held tightly across her throat to cut off her airway. She’s thrashing against him, fingers pulling against the object stretched across her neck. The sound of her shoes squeaking on the ground as she struggled against him was what drew my attention. I slam the security alert button as I race forward to her, the sounds of the security guards' shoes echoing down the hallway.
“ Let her go, ” I growl, hooking my fingers under the stethoscope and pulling it away from her throat. She gasps hoarsely, her lips a dusky blue, eyes rolling back in her head, and my heart is about to pound right out of my chest. I focus, forcing the panic out of my mind just as I do during a trauma. “Let her go, now, ” I repeat.
I glance up and see that the patient that’s attacked her is clearly in a state of psychosis, his eyes seeing something beyond either of us. My fingers are aching and turning a dark blue to match Emma’s lips as I struggle to keep the stethoscope from completely cutting off her airway. “Hang on, Emma, hang on,” I tell her, and she’s looking into my eyes with such panic. “It’s going to be alright,” I tell her, my voice steady though I feel as though I may keel over at any second.
Security bursts into the room and immediately take out the patient, forcing him to drop his grip on the stethoscope. As he does so I rip it off Emma’s throat and throw it down, grabbing her around the waist to help her stand as she gasps in lungfuls of air. “Come on, come with me,” I urge her, letting her weight lean on me as I call for help. Ruby and I get her on to a stretcher and I grasp her hand tightly as I’m firing off orders left and right. We fix a high flow oxygen mask to her face along with an O2 monitor, and her saturation is low but increasing rapidly.
“Emma, can you hear me?” I ask her gently, her fingers clutching so tightly to mine I don’t have the heart to let her go, allowing Ruby to take over the assessments. “You’re going to be okay,” I tell her. She nods, her chest still heaving, tears of relief spilling out of the corners of her eyes and down the side of the mask. I feel as though my knees have turned to Jell-O and I want nothing more than to walk away and rip the very heart out of that patient’s chest. But even though she’d never admit it, I feel that Emma needs me right now, so I look her in the eyes and I stay.
“I’m really okay, Regina.”
“Shut up, Emma.”
“Right, there’s that bedside manner of yours I know and love,” she quips. Her voice is hoarse and gravelly, and I find I can’t even look at the angry purple line of bruising that’s wrapped around her throat. I glare at her from where she’s sitting on the stretcher in exam four. I’ve been going over the results of her scans and there’s minor edema and bruising of her trachea but no significant damage or airway compromisation. I had reached her not long after the initial attack so the risk for brain damage due to oxygen deprivation is nil. Still, I find my hands are shaking with something - rage, fear, adrenaline, old grief - and I am doing my best to control myself. I am not, however, doing a very good job of it.
“What is the first rule of safety, Emma?” I ask her softly, flipping her chart shut.
She sighs and lies back. “Never let the patient get between you and the door.”
I nod grimly. “And the second?”
She crosses her arms petulantly. “Never turn your back on the patient.”
“So then, may I ask what precisely was going through your mind when you ignored both of those things?”
She rubs her forehead. “Look, can we please not do this right now? I kind of have a headache.”
My blood is surging through my veins. She was nearly killed. I nearly lost her. My vision is practically swimming. I can hear a distant knock on my door, feel the chill of the air. I can see the officer’s eyes as he says the words “ma’am I’m so sorry to tell you…” I shake my head and bring myself back to the present. “Yes, you do have a headache, and you know why? Because you were just strangled to within a hair’s breadth of unconsciousness.” My eyes are starting to fill with tears and I quell them down. This is why I have to protect myself. This is why I can’t do this, ever again.
“I get it Regina, I was there,” she snarls, her gravelly voice making her sound even more vicious.
“Well, I hope you realize I will be signing you up for a mandatory safety training seminar,” I inform her, my fingers digging into the edges of the chart.
She refuses to look at me. “Whatever,” she mutters.
“Whatever?” I seethe. “Are you really so flippant when it comes to your own life? Do you have any idea how bad this could have been?”
“Jesus, yes okay?!” she shouts at me, her eyes full of tears. “Yes, I get it, I almost died. You think I don’t know that? You think I didn’t realize that when he -” she cuts herself off, shaking her head. I swallow, my body torn between rage and terror and the overwhelming desire to gather her into my arms. “You know what? I just want to be alone, okay?”
I blink at her, startled. As much as we argue with each other, she’s never said this to me before. “What?” I ask, my voice irritatingly fragile.
She looks at me, her eyes hollow. “Get out, Regina.”
I suck in a breath before steeling myself, my eyes narrowing. “Fine,” I answer calmly, my voice as cool as possible. Of course, that calm is betrayed by the fact that I slam her chart down so hard the spine cracks. I push my way out of the room and head for my office to gather my things. As I drive home I have to force myself not to think of her angry and hurting and alone in that hospital bed. Of course, I fail miserably.
She’s off work for a few days to recover, and I don’t hear from her. Not even a text throughout the day, which is far from usual. She loves to send me idiotic things from the internet that I mostly ignore, but that secretly make me smile. I move through my days focused and calm because I am a goddamned professional and I will not let some annoying, hot-headed resident change that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about her. That doesn’t mean that my chest doesn’t ache pathetically when I see an absence of crumbs on the nursing station, when I look up at every fair-haired person that passes by as though it might be her.
I still can’t decide if I’m the one that gets to be angry at her, or if I’m expected to apologize. Though just what exactly I might be apologizing for I can’t quite say. I saved her life, and was merely attempting to ensure she understood the gravity of the situation, and for that she kicked me out of the room and has cut off contact. Perhaps I should just take the hint that she no longer wishes to have a relationship beyond the professional.
Or perhaps, like I know she would do, I should ignore all of that and force her to talk to me. I get into my car after a long shift and let my head fall back against the seat. I can’t deny that I was hard on her after such a traumatic event. I can’t deny that my experience with Daniel made me react strongly. Part of me is almost relieved that this might be over because life is safer this way. I’ve been fighting against that instinct ever since it happened, the instinct to burrow back into my solitude and anger. But the truth is - as much as this incident terrified me - I don’t want to go back to that. Not anymore.
I turn on the car, letting the engine warm up, and I think about the look in her eyes as she kicked me out of that room. I realize that she and I really are quite alike, because even though she was asking me to leave, I can see now that she was terrified, and she reacted like anyone who’s used to being hurt and being alone reacted. She lashed out.
If it were me, I know what I would want right now. So I square my shoulders, and I throw the car in reverse and peel out of the garage.
I march up to her door and knock determinedly, forcing myself to act before I can talk myself out of it. She opens the door quickly, and I feel instant relief just at the sight of her face. She’s in worn jeans and a loose sweater, the bruising on her throat even worse than the last time I saw her. We stare at each other for a few moments, and I can see that she doesn’t look angry. She looks pale, and fragile, and still perhaps a little afraid. And it’s that expression on her face that makes me feel brave enough to step forward and pull her tightly against me.
She makes a small sound of surprise as I wrap myself around her but she instantly responds, her face buried in my shoulder. I can feel her fingers clutching at my shirt, digging into my back as she clings to me. She takes a shuddering breath but - as stubborn as ever - refuses to cry. I rub her back slowly, letting my fingers trail through her hair, relishing in the smell and the nearness of her. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she whispers hoarsely, and the quiet confession breaks something in me.
I pull back and cup her face in my hand, sweeping an errant tear away with my thumb. “I don’t care about that, Emma,” I tell her truthfully.
She blinks at me with those big eyes of hers, reaching up to press my palm harder into her cheek, her eyes sliding shut. I know that she must still be feeling vulnerable if she’s letting herself need me like this, and I’m so angry at myself for not coming sooner. “Come on,” I tell her, guiding her inside and shutting the door behind me. I kick off my shoes and drop my bag on a chair, and I go to the kitchen and put the kettle on. I’ve been to her home on enough occasions now to know where everything is in her kitchen, and I quickly make her a cup of tea as I feel her eyes watching me carefully.
She’s sitting on the bed with her elbows on her knees as I turn, and I walk to her and press the mug into her hands. “Thanks,” she whispers, cradling it as she takes a sip.
“When was the last time you ate?” I ask her, sitting next to her on the bed. I gently sweep her hair back over her shoulder.
“I don’t remember,” she shrugs.
I open my mouth to lecture her about taking better care of herself and she looks at me with amusement, like she knows what’s coming. I let out a breath and let my shoulders relax a little. “I’m sorry I was so hard on you, Emma,” I tell her honestly. I find that these apologies get a little easier the more you do it. It helps that she doesn’t tend to gloat in these moments.
“It’s okay,” she shakes her head.
“No, it isn’t,” I answer with determination. “I have to admit, I was terrified. You know I’ve lost someone important to me before,” I say as lightly as possible. Her eyes snap to my face. “It was just a stark reminder of how quickly someone can be taken away from me. But that’s no excuse for being harsh with you in a moment like that.”
She presses her lips together as though perhaps she’s stopping herself from saying something, and instead reaches out and takes my hand in hers. My eyes fill with ridiculous tears and I have to look away for a moment. “Can I make you something to eat?” I ask her, desperate to change the subject.
She shakes her head. “I’m okay right now, thanks.”
“Is there anything you need?” I ask, looking over at her.
She glances at me, uncertainty in her eyes. “Can you…” she starts. “Can we just - “ she cuts herself off again, shaking her head. She clearly doesn’t know how to ask, but luckily I believe I know exactly what she wants.
“Of course,” I answer calmly, though my heart rate increases. I push myself back on her bed, letting my back rest against the pillows, and then hold an arm out to her. She’s staring at me with a little bit of what looks like disbelief in her eyes. “Well?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.
She scrambles to put her tea down and crawl across the bed, as though I might change my mind any second, and I find myself smiling a little at the action. I pull her against me as she settles herself down, her head on my chest, and that inexplicable feeling of rightness comes over me. Wrapping my arms tightly around her, I let my fingers graze against her scalp and her body melts into me. We stay like that for a long time, half-dozing, the sun casting an orange glow as it sinks below the horizon, my fingers raking through her hair until I hear her phone vibrate against the floor with what sounds like a message.
“Do you want to get that?” I ask her.
“No,” she says softly. “It’s just Ruby. She’s been hounding me to sign up for some stupid online dating thing. Says it will take my mind off things.”
With her head against my chest there’s no avoiding her hearing the way my heart rate picks up at that statement, but I at least try to keep my voice calm as I say, “I don’t see what’s so stupid about that.” I take a breath before gathering the courage to ask, “Why don’t you want to?”
She lifts her head slowly, looking at me for several long moments before she puts her head back down, her beautiful hair spilling across my chest. At first I think she’s not going to answer, but then I hear her say so softly I almost miss it.
“I’m just not interested.”
Emma’s last day as a resident is rapidly approaching, and I feel as though a clock is ticking down in my mind. It’s positively predatory and deplorable of me to be waiting for her to become “available” so to speak, and I continuously force the thought from my head. It doesn’t help that over the past few months she’s made more than one statement that’s caused me to think that perhaps my infatuation with her isn’t entirely one-sided. I usually am able to convince myself that I’m wrong, that is until I catch her staring at my mouth or something equally incriminating.
It doesn’t help that Mary Margaret will not stop bringing it up, and I do my best not to take out my frustration on her, though of course she unfortunately makes herself such a very easy target. “I can’t believe it’s Emma’s last week of residency, can you Regina?”
I have allowed her for the sake of collegial camaraderie to start calling me by my first name, but something about the sound of my name on her lips makes my teeth clench. “Yes, time certainly flies,” I say noncommittally, reviewing a client’s chart. She props her elbows on the counter of the nursing station, annoyingly starry-eyed.
“And I hear you offered her a permanent staff position?” she gushes. “I know that’s what she was really hoping for, she must have been so thrilled.”
“She was suitably grateful, yes,” I reply calmly. I have to stop myself from smiling at the memory of her leaping into my arms as I offered her the position, a litany of thankyouthankyouthankyou pouring from her mouth. “I’ve offered a position to Dr. Lucas as well, which she’s accepted,” I add.
“We’re so blessed,” Mary Margaret beams.
“Indeed,” I reply, hoping this will be an end to our interaction, but of course I’m not that lucky.
“I was going to invite them to a celebration dinner,” she says warmly. “It’s such an accomplishment after all. But I don’t know what to do about Emma,” she adds uncertainly. “She hasn’t really got anyone for me to invite, and I’m not sure how she’d feel if she had to come alone.” She’s looking at me with an almost knowing look in her eyes, and I realize in that moment I may have underestimated this woman. I could pretend I don’t know what she’s angling for. But I find that I don’t want to do that to Emma.
So instead I flip the page in my chart and reply in as bored a voice as I can without looking up, “I suppose Emma and I have struck up a friendship of sorts. If you think it appropriate I’d be happy to come in support of her.”
I really should have anticipated her reaction, but I momentarily forgot whom I was dealing with and therefore find myself with a squealing woman launching herself into my arms for all to see. I pat her back awkwardly and she pulls back, beaming. “It’s going to be great, Regina, you won’t regret it,” she promises.
“No,” I reply. “I don’t believe I will.”
I spend far too long getting ready for dinner.
Mary Margaret had insisted it would be “fun” to surprise Emma with my presence, and I reluctantly agreed to play along. People like Emma and I don’t tend to enjoy surprises - they’re not often in our favor. But I suppose this one can’t hurt. I spend a ridiculous amount of time deciding what to wear before choosing a black evening gown out of the handful of nice dresses I own. I find it’s wise to keep some formalwear on hand for when Mother forces me to go to some gala or other. Yet another plus side of not living in New York. I refuse to spend any more time than usual doing my hair and makeup, filling my lips with my favored deep red lipstick and turning on my heel.
I find I’m a little nervous as I wait for Mary Margaret to bring Emma and Ruby into the restaurant, Ruby’s grandmother attempting to make small talk with me all the while. I’m in the middle of replying to some inane question about my work when I stop mid-sentence. Emma and Ruby are striding towards us and they both look beautiful. I find my eyes are drawn to Emma especially as she walks confidently through the room. Her blonde curls are swept up in a beautiful braid that encircles her head like a crown, making her look even more like some Disney princess than usual. She’s wearing a lovely, deep green gown that is by far the most formal thing I’ve ever seen her wear. Come to think of it - I’ve only really seen her in scrubs or pajamas - aside from the time I saw her completely naked in the decontamination shower. But now is not the time to be thinking of that.
She looks up as she makes her way to the table and finally sees me, stopping dead in her tracks. Ruby bumps into her from behind and I can hear her complaints even from this distance, but Emma doesn’t seem to notice. Her face breaks into a wide, surprised smile as she half-jogs to the table, and I find my heart feels very full. To have someone be that happy to see me - other than Henry - well. It’s been a while. She slides into the booth next to me and pulls me into a gentle hug, clearly aware of the other eyes at the table. “You’re here,” she says in my ear, and the note of wonder in her voice is enough to make my throat tight.
She releases me and I have to clutch my hands together to stop myself from reaching out to touch her face. “Of course,” I say simply. She beams at me until a clearing of the throat draws her attention to Ruby’s grandmother next to me.
“Granny! Sorry, hi,” she chuckles, leaning across me to press a kiss to the old woman’s cheek. I force myself to ignore the brush of her chest against mine as she does so.
Mary Margaret and her rather handsome husband have all settled in, along with Ruby, and she raises a glass of champagne I didn’t even notice arrive. “To Emma and Ruby,” she says.
We all raise our glasses and cheers, taking a sip. A wash of easy conversation settles amongst us, and I find that it’s rather enjoyable to be out with - well, friends. My stiff spine softens a little as I allow myself to shed a layer or two of armor and relax. Emma’s presence at my side helps with that a great deal, especially as I see her looking with confusion at the many utensils next to her plate. Mary Margaret has chosen a rather high-end restaurant, and Emma has likely never been to a place like this before. I shift a little until my knee brushes hers and tell her softly, “It’s not as bad as it looks. Start on the outside.”
She nods with a bashful smile as the first course is set down between us, and I see her relax. Though I also see her deflate at the minuscule size of the portions and have to hold back a laugh. The dinner is quite good, though the portion sizes unfortunately don’t increase as the courses go on. Still, I can’t deny that we’re in good company this evening. Ruby’s grandmother is quite the character, and it puts Miss Lucas is a bit more context, seeing who raised her. It seems as though no time has passed at all before the dessert plates are being whisked away and everyone is grabbing their coats.
In a flurry of hugs and goodbyes, I offer to share a cab with Emma since we live close to one another. It’s a perfectly reasonable offer, and not at all a cheap ploy to spend just a few more minutes with her, of course. “Thank you for coming,” she says softly, pulling her coat tightly around herself as we wait outside for our cab.
“It was my pleasure,” I reply honestly.
“And thanks for dinner, too,” she adds. “This place is about a hundred times nicer than anywhere I’ve ever been.”
I look over at her, eyeing her suspiciously. “You’re still hungry aren’t you?”
She groans. “I’m fucking starving. What were those, portion sizes for ants!?”
I can’t hold in my laughter as we get in the cab. “Come over, Dr. Swan,” I offer. “I’ll feed you.”
Henry is over the moon to discover I’ve brought Emma home with me, bouncing around in his He-Man pajamas so excitedly I can barely hear Grace as she makes her amused goodbyes for the evening. We kick off our heels in the entryway as he streaks around the house, his footie pajamas slapping on the floor. “I am suddenly regretting allowing him to stay up late tonight,” I roll my eyes.
“I’m not,” Emma beams, watching him make his way around the house like a bolt of lightning. The comment makes my stomach flip and I clear my throat and tell Henry to settle down.
“Emma, are you sleeping over?” Henry screeches with excitement, reaching his little fists up for her eagerly. I can’t explain how it feels when I see the two of them together, though unfortunately “swooning” is the word that comes to mind. Pathetic. Emma scoops him up almost greedily, squeezing him tight enough to make him laugh.
“Nah,” she says warmly, “I came cause your mom promised to feed me.”
She carries him on her hip and they both follow me into the kitchen. “You guys look really pretty,” Henry says with a yawn, his head dropping to Emma’s shoulder. She looks like she’s melting and I have to say I most certainly am.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” I smile at him, reaching into the fridge to pull out some leftover pasta. I upend the tupperware into a pot on the stove and pull out some plates, listening to Henry sleepily tell Emma about his eventful evening.
“And then we watched Paw Patrol, and then we read books, and then you came home!”
A strand of her hair has fallen out of the braid and he’s wrapping it around his fingers. “Wow, kid, that sounds like quite the evening. You must be super tired.”
“No,” he answers quickly. “I like to stay up late.” His heavy eyelids are telling another story, and Emma and I exchange amused glances over the top of his head as I stir the pasta, the cold noodles hissing against the bottom of the pot.
“Did you know that you grow in your sleep?” Emma tells him seriously. “So if you stay up too late, you won’t grow. You’ll be a shrimpy little kid forever.” I cut her a look with a raised eyebrow and she grins. Luckily my son has the critical thinking skills so many people lack.
“Momma, is that true?” he asks, his words laced with suspicion.
“Not in the least, my love,” I reply, and Emma scoffs.
“Emma,” Henry scolds, smothering a yawn.
“Sorry kid,” she smiles, resting her chin on the top of his head. “I should have known you were too smart for that.”
“Mom says you and me are the smartest people she knows,” Henry announces, and I drop the wooden spoon against the pot, fumbling to pick it up.
“Is that so?” she asks, and I can just hear the insufferable, smug grin she has on her face.
“Yep,” Henry replies cheerfully. “She said we’re the only people she likes,” he adds in a singsong voice.
I sigh, dropping my head to my chest. “Henry, I like plenty of people.”
“Like who?” Emma asks accusingly, and I ignore her.
“But we’re your favorites, right Mom?” Henry asks, hope in his voice. I close my eyes. She’s never going to let me hear the end of this.
I stir the pasta slowly and say quietly. “Yes, dear.”
“See Emma?” Henry confirms, though his words are slurred with sleep.
“Yeah, kid,” she says softly. I note none of the cockiness I expected to hear in her voice. They’re both uncharacteristically quiet for a moment and I turn around to see that Emma is watching me heat her second dinner, and Henry is passed out in her arms. She looks down at him and smiles. “He’s so cute it makes me want to punch something, is that normal?” she asks, and I feel some tension release from my belly.
“Yes,” I laugh softly.
“Should I put him to bed?” she asks uncertainly. I look over at the two of them, my son cradled so safely against her and it’s all I can do not to look away.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” I answer. She nods and shifts him in her arms, carrying him out of the room. I hear her soft footsteps on the stairs and let out a breath, my hand going to my chest. I can’t seem to control my emotions today. The fact that at this very moment I could pull her into my arms and kiss her senseless without risk of getting fired is at the forefront in my mind. But so is the absolute terror of potentially finding out she doesn’t want that at all.
The sound of Emma’s bare feet slapping softly on the hardwood brings me back into the moment, and I start plating some pasta for her. “Out like a light,” she tells me warmly, sliding onto the barstool.
“Thank you,” I reply, handing her a plate.
“No, thank you, ” she moans, forking a vast quantity of pasta into her mouth. I roll my eyes and take a bite of my own.
“So, now that you’re a fully-fledged doctor, what will you do with yourself?” I ask her, curious.
“How do you mean?” she asks, cheeks full of pasta.
“Do not talk with your mouth full,” I scold.
“Then don’t ask me questions when my mouth is full!” she protests.
“You were perfectly capable of eating like a normal adult human being at dinner tonight,” I add with my arms crossed.
“I’m fucking hungry , gimme a break!” she argues. Her scowling face does not at all match her rather regal appearance tonight, and I roll my eyes and reach over to smooth out the line between her furrowed brows with my fingers.
She stares at me, one hand gripped tightly on her fork, and I clear my throat. “As I was saying, you’ve achieved a major life goal that you’ve been working towards for a very long time. What’s next on your agenda?”
“I’m still kind of celebrating that first one, Regina,” she says wryly. “It’s been like twelve hours, I thought I’d let myself enjoy it a little longer before I start redesigning my vision board.”
“Fair enough,” I concede. “I’m afraid that’s my mother’s influence,” I sigh. “The Mills are go-getters. If you’re wasting time celebrating, you’re not working hard enough.”
Emma winces. “That sounds like the perfect way to suck the joy out of life.”
“Astute as ever, Dr. Swan,” I smile.
“Anyway,” she shrugs, pushing some pasta around on her plate. “This is kind of the only dream I’ve ever had. I guess I never really imagined I could have more than this.” She looks up at me and my heart feels as though it’s about to burst.
“Emma,” I tell her seriously, leaning on the counter with my elbows, my bracelets clicking softly on the marble. “You are an extraordinary young woman. Whatever you dream up for yourself, be it travel or furthering your career, or starting a family,” my throat catches a little on that last one, damn it. “I have no doubt you will achieve whatever you put your mind to.”
Her eyes widen a little at the word family, and it occurs to me that perhaps she’d never even considered that an option. Perhaps - never having been a part of one - it hasn’t crossed her mind that she could start her own. Or join an existing one that might just have an opening for a feisty, brilliant, warm, funny woman with horrendous table manners.
She’s looking at me with big eyes that might be a little bit damp, though it could just be the light. “Thank you,” she says, and her voice is a little hoarse. She clears her throat, shaking her head. “Since when are you such an optimist?” she asks with a little laugh, and I realize she’s feeling vulnerable. Perhaps, on top of everything, she’s not used to anyone believing in her. Anyone but herself, that is.
I shrug and pick up my plate, putting it in the sink. “Since I met you, I suppose.” I don’t look at her, I’ve said far too much already.
“Well,” she says after a moment, and I can hear the smile in her voice. “For now, I’m going to focus on celebrating two major achievements in my life.” She grins. “Becoming a real, grown-up doctor…” She trails off and I cross my arms, waiting for it. “And being one of your favorite people.”
I scoff, though warmth is sweeping through my body. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?”
She shoves a hideous amount of pasta in her mouth before replying with a very muffled, “Nebher.”
I can tell she’s having a difficult day.
Her usual smile is slipping at the edges, and I can’t say that I blame her after the horrendous treatment she’s gotten from her patients today. I had to take a walk to the supply room and snap several tongue depressors - breaking a nail in the process - after I was dangerously close to blowing up on a patient that screamed at her in the waiting room. It isn’t exactly advisable to threaten to tear apart the very people I’ve sworn to protect, so I had to excuse myself.
I know she tends to gravitate towards the coffee cart in front of the building when she’s stressed, and I also know she’s been too busy to do so. I decide to take it upon myself to buy her a hot chocolate, which is a suitably juvenile beverage for the soft-hearted Emma Swan. Her shift is nearly over and she might as well have something to warm her hands on the way home. I’m just receiving my change when my phone rings and I see that it’s Grace.
I press my phone to my ear, trying to hear her over the sounds of the traffic in the street as I make my way back inside. Once I reach the quiet of my office I can hear that she sounds positively awful, and I know that she certainly isn’t fit to be looking after anyone but herself right now. I tell her I’ll figure something out as soon as I can and hang up, my thoughts churning.
I don’t have a lot of options here, I’m not exactly overwhelmed with friends and family that could jump in to assist - and that is no one’s fault but my own. I could go home, but finding someone senior enough to cover my shift is unlikely. It would be dangerous for me to leave the hospital without proper supervision by someone with adequate experience. I could ask Emma - I know she’s capable - but her day has been difficult enough, and she technically doesn’t have the seniority. I suppose though that perhaps she wouldn’t mind sitting with Henry for a few hours. They both adore each other, and I absolutely trust her to do it.
Still, she should be going out and enjoying her life, not acting as a babysitter for an overwhelmed single mother. I sigh and let my head drop back in my chair, wishing I had managed to make more than one real friend in this city in my time here. I’ve perhaps gotten closer with a few people from work, but I wouldn’t trust any of them with Henry just yet. Besides, I know who he would prefer. I close my eyes briefly and then stand, making my way to the locker room where I find Emma bashing her head softly into the lockers and muttering to herself.
I feel not a small amount of guilt at having to add to the stress of her day, but I need her right now. I can only hope she’s okay with that. “Long day?” I ask her, sympathy in my voice.
She sighs heavily, and she looks beautiful in spite of the exhaustion lining her face. “Something like that.”
I step forward and hold out the cup of hot chocolate that had started as a kind gesture, but is now something more of a bribe. “Well, I suppose this might help.”
She looks at me like a deer in the headlights. “What is that?”
Amusement ripples through me as she stares at me in disbelief rather than taking it. “Hot chocolate?” I explain.
She blinks. “You know I like hot chocolate?”
I roll my eyes. “I am well aware of your many idiosyncrasies Emma Swan. Like how you get crumbs on your charting, for instance. Or how you hum when you’re thinking - which is utterly obnoxious by the way. And how when you’re having a bad day, you get yourself hot chocolate with cinnamon from the cart out front.” I gesture at her with the cup, because at this point she can either take it or I’ll throw it at her. “I saw you nearly get bitten twice today, puked on, and yelled at by an irate mother who felt she was waiting too long. I felt like you could use it,” I explain.
Her eyes warm as she takes it, cradling it in her hands and taking a sip. “Thanks,” she smiles, and starts to look a little bit more like herself. “Now what do you want?”
I feel a minor amount of disappointment at that, I must say. It’s not as though I’m never nice to her at work - though now that I think of it, it’s not often I go out of my way for her like this. She often brings me coffee, or picks up lunch for me, or takes a patient or two when my caseload is getting high, and as busy as my day can be I realize I rarely return the favor. I resolve to change that, but for now I scowl at her. “How very cynical of you. Aren’t small gestures of kindness something that friends do?”
“Did you read that in a book?” she asks me. “Because it sounds like you might have read that in a book.” I press my lips together in irritation. If I didn’t need her help I would certainly have left by now, but unfortunately that’s not the case. And as it happens, perhaps I have been reading a book or two on how to build successful relationships, but I hardly need to be judged for it. I have half a mind to take that hot chocolate back. Clearly her bad day is making her more snarky than usual, and I find myself wondering how she puts up with me.
“Fine,” I concede. “As it happens, I need a favor.”
“Go on,” she replies, handing me her hot chocolate.
I sit down on the bench and sip her drink as she begins to pull on her shoes. “Henry’s nanny is sick and she can’t watch him tonight. My shift doesn’t end for another 4 hours.”
She glances at me, eyebrows shooting up. “You want me to watch Henry?”
I feel a rush of self-consciousness. Of course, I shouldn’t have asked. “Is that strange?” I answer, my armor beginning to clamp in place.
“No,” she says quickly, her hand coming to rest on my thigh. “No it’s fine, I’ve just never had anyone trust me with that before.” Relief washes over me at her response, at knowing I didn’t just foolishly cross a line with her.
“Well,” I answer. And I can only hope she understands what it means for me when I tell her. “I do.”
“Okay,” she grins. “I’m happy to watch him for you.”
My shoulders relax instantly. “Really?”
“Of course,” she nudges me. “We’re friends remember?”
It’s remarkable to me how quickly my emotions can change with Emma, how I can go from wanting to throttle her to wanting to slide my hands deep into those beautiful tresses of hers. I take a breath and hand her the hot chocolate, gathering myself. “Grace will let you in before she heads home. She’ll give you instructions. And you have my number in case anything goes wrong.”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” she reassures me.
“Me too,” I reply with a nod. It hadn’t even occurred to me that things might turn out otherwise. I turn to leave and stop myself at the door, because I feel it important to explain. “And for the record, I got you that hot chocolate before Grace called to tell me she was ill.”
She shoots me a grin that tells me all I need to know.
My shift is crawling along, but a few messages from Emma have me smiling at least.
The thought of the two of them at home, Henry likely running around in his pajamas, warms my heart nearly more than I can stand. All I want to do is get home to the two of them, and I have to constantly remind myself that she isn’t mine to come home to. She’s merely helping out a friend. My phone lights up and a picture of the two of them fill my screen, Emma and Henry cuddled in my bed. The warmth in her eyes, and the absolute adoration in his, is enough to make my eyes close briefly as I regain my composure. Ignoring all good sense, I set it as my phone background immediately. If she ever sees it I’m sure I will be teased to within an inch of throttling her, but I think this may be worth it. After a while, once I have pushed aside my deeply unfortunate feelings, I reply to her.
RM: My two favorites.
When I let myself into the house later that night, it feels different. It feels fuller somehow, knowing that she’s here. I set my things down and quietly make my way upstairs, pushing open the bedroom door to see a scene so stupidly cute it makes my breath catch. Henry and Emma are passed out in my bed, Henry sprawled across her chest. She has one arm wrapped protectively around him, and the other hand is still loosely holding the book on her stomach.
As I take in the scene I have to remind myself yet again she is not yours.
She couldn’t possibly want this.
But what if she does?
I cross my arms and watch them for just another moment before determining that I have to tell her how I feel about her. Soon. I don’t think I can keep doing this to myself or to Henry if it isn’t what she wants. I will be her friend - yes, always. But I can’t allow myself to fall any deeper if she doesn’t feel the same, though something tells me I’ve already let myself go past the point of no return.
I’ve been foolish.
We’ll see what happens, but either way I need to know.
For now, I allow myself just another moment of fantasy. Walking to the bed I reach over and gently pull the book from Emma’s hand, setting it on the nightstand. She cracks her eyes open. “Hey,” she mumbles sleepily. “How was your shift?”
“Long,” I answer softly. “It’s good to be home.” With you. I reach out and sweep Henry’s hair across his forehead. Without thinking, I do the same to her. She looks up at me with warm and sleepy eyes and I have to look away for a moment. “How was he?”
“Loud,” she laughs softly, stroking Henry’s head with affection. “You got lucky with this one.”
“I did,” I agree. She asks if she should move him and I find myself asking her to stay. Of course it only makes sense, I don’t want to wake him and she needs her rest, and I’m slightly closer to work, and she’s up in just a few hours... and I very much don’t want her to go.
Somehow she agrees, falling asleep again before she can even finish her sentence. Between her and Henry, my heart feels like it’s been battered this evening with how unreasonably adorable they both are. I quickly shower and change before crawling into bed, doing my best not to jostle them as I pull the covers over myself. The desire to curl up next to her is so strong I have to chide myself for orchestrating this in the first place. Why do I insist on torturing myself?
I settle in, a reasonable distance between me and Emma, and fall asleep to the steady rhythm of their breath.
Naturally, I completely betray myself in my sleep.
It seems the moment I was out my subconscious decided to do what my conscious self is incapable of: grabbing on to Emma Swan and refusing to let go. The soft sound of her alarm pulls me from sleep as she leans over to hit snooze. My head is on her chest, one arm thrown across her possessively, my fingers resting on Henry. I am simultaneously more comfortable and more embarrassed than I have ever been. But the comfortable and content side wins out, and so I choose to ignore my last shred of common sense and wrap my arm more tightly around her as she settles back in and pulls me closer against her body.
The gesture, as small as it was, sends warmth trickling down my spine and a smile tugging at my lips. I’m just about to doze off again when her alarm goes off for the second time and she gently extricates herself first from Henry, and then from me. After a few minutes the absence of her, the emptiness and the cold and the lingering thought of what if forces me to sit upright as though possessed. I push myself out of bed, throwing a robe on, and race downstairs before I can think better of it.
I come skidding to a halt as she turns to me in the middle of pulling on her shoes, my heart hammering in my chest. It all seems a lot more terrifying now that she's looking into my eyes, and I nearly swallow my words. But the way she's looking at me, something like longing and a little bit of melancholy on her face, makes me step towards her.
"Good morning," I say softly.
Her eyes are flickering across my face, over my body. "Hey," she replies quickly, almost breathlessly. She seems flustered and it gives me a little more courage. I ask her how she slept, noting the tension in her hands, a line of something that looks like misery pulling her brows together. She assures me she slept fine, her fingers curling into fists at her side as I see her take a shuddering breath. I step closer to her, close enough to touch, and I could.
“Then why do you look so sad, Emma?” I ask her. I need to hear her say it. I can feel this thing between us now more than ever, I can see in her face that it’s not just me, I’m sure of it now. But I need to hear her say it, or I don’t know that I can be brave enough to do this. She’s the brave one, not me. Never me.
She sighs heavily, and the way she looks at me with her eyes so full of open affection makes my heart pound. “I don’t think I can say,” she says so softly I almost miss it. She reaches out to me and cups my face in her hand, my eyes sliding shut. This is happening, and I find that as long as I have lived my life in a state of fear, I’m not afraid now.
“Why not?” I ask, looking up at her. Say it, please. I need you to say it.
She grazes her thumb against the side of my head. I can feel the warmth from her against the thin fabric of my robe. “Because I’m terrified,” she answers honestly.
Oh. Yes, this makes sense. Knowing that she’s been just as afraid as I have makes me feel braver. I smile at her, tension leaving my body, and tell her that I’ve been just as scared. She pulls me against her, an arm snaking behind my back, her warm hands sending a shiver up my spine as I confess the thought I’ve been having over and over again since I met her. “I keep asking myself what a beautiful, brilliant, fierce young doctor would want with an uptight, short-tempered single mother.”
She smiles at me, her eyes lighting up in a way I’ve never seen as she says the one thing I most wanted to hear. “Everything.”
And then her mouth is on mine, and I feel as though I’m bursting. Perhaps I should be embarrassed at the level of need, of want, that I’m displaying, but I can’t even bring myself to care. And she certainly doesn’t seem to mind my hands roving over her body, clutching her shirt, threading through her hair, running down her arms. The last rational part of me notes the rather humiliating sounds I’m making, notes that I’m breaking out in a flushed sweat, that my knees are starting to weaken like some simpering fool in a romantic comedy.
But none of it stops me from devouring her, from claiming her like I’ve wanted to for so long. Her mouth tastes so good, as sweet as those goddamn pastries she’s always eating. And she’s giving as good as she gets. I should have known she would - it’s why I’ve always liked her, even from the beginning. We’re evenly matched. Her hands are just as busy, running over my body, her mouth not far behind. It’s been so long, so embarrassingly long since I’ve been touched by anyone but myself, and she’s awakening feelings in me that I had long since forgotten I was even capable of.
And then she does the one thing that I have been fantasizing about for so long, the one thing that I’ve imagined over and over as I watch those ridiculous muscles of hers bunch under her scrubs, the thing I haven't been able to get out of my mind since she scooped me up in that stairwell so long ago. She runs her strong fingers under my thighs and she lifts me up, pinning me to the wall. The sound I make as she does so is positively humiliating, even to my sex-addled brain, but she just grins and teases me about it. The fact that we’re still arguing, even now, even with her hands on my breasts - which feels so good I swear I black out for a moment or two - brings me no small amount of satisfaction.
I know this isn’t how we should do this, not the first time at least. I’m not pretending either of us are blushing virgins by any stretch of the imagination - though it’s been so long for me that perhaps it nearly counts. But for me, this is significant. For me, this isn’t just sex. This is Emma. My Emma. And as much as I'm tempted to, desperately having sex against the wall in my entryway isn’t what I want for either of us. The only problem is I just can’t find it in me to stop. My legs are wound so tightly against her, my robe ripped open over one shoulder and tank top pushed up, my hands threaded deeply in that glorious hair of hers, and I can’t possibly conceive of putting an end to this, of pulling my mouth from hers.
Fortunately, my son has impeccable timing. I’m not sure if it’s maternal instinct or if I subconsciously heard his footie pajamas on the stairs, but I jump off Emma Swan and push her away from me not one second before Henry walks into the room. I feel a twinge of guilt at the brief look of hurt and rejection and confusion on her face, but as soon as Henry walks into the room demanding pancakes I see that she understands. I quickly usher my boy into the kitchen and get him set up at the table, talking him into cereal instead of pancakes as I hear Emma pulling on her things.
My hands are shaking with emotion and arousal and adrenaline, and I nearly spill the milk for Henry’s breakfast twice in my rush to get back to Emma before she leaves. I race back into the foyer just as she’s pulling on her coat, and at the very sight of her my blood starts surging again. I had only meant to talk to her, but not touching her is suddenly not an option.
She turns to me and I see the uncertainty in her face, and I resolve to fix that immediately by walking up to her and pulling her into a deep kiss. I feel her relax into me as I cup her face, one hand on her waist. “We’re not done here,” I inform her. I’m attempting to sound authoritative but the fact that I’m panting somewhat undermines that.
Still, she seems to have no objection. “Come over after your shift tonight,” she says against my lips. The demand makes my fingers dig deeper into her waist as I think of what I will do to her once I have her alone. I explain I’ll be late and she just shakes her head, a smile of disbelief on her face as she leans down to kiss me on the forehead.
“I’ll be waiting.”
I should have anticipated she’d be a complete wreck.
She’s not exactly known for being able to keep her emotions in check, and I can tell as soon as I see her drop her pen the second I step on the floor that she’s not coping. She is an adorable and irritating disaster from the moment my shift starts. I can’t pretend I’m unaffected myself, though I don’t show it. All day I’ve been waiting to hear from her, to hear her say it was a mistake. To hear that she’s changed her mind and wants someone easier, younger, unburdened. I note that our coworkers are starting to look at her strangely, and that’s when I have to haul her into my office and talk some sense into her. She apologizes, her shoulders slumping as she asks me how I can manage to not feel anything about our situation.
It takes a significant amount of effort not to throw my stapler at her for being so obtuse. “Well, thank you for the implication that I, the Evil Queen, couldn’t possibly be having any kind of emotional reaction to the very significant change in our relationship this morning Emma.”
She has the good grace to look apologetic. “Sorry. It’s just, if that’s the case then how are you acting so normal?”
I sigh, choosing to take pity on this beautiful disaster of a woman rather than shake her. I also choose to be honest with her, something that I can only hope gets easier with time, as it definitely costs me something to admit my current feelings to her. “I keep feeling certain that you’re going to change your mind. That you’ll realize you want to be with someone who is easier, who’s doesn’t come with all of this baggage.”
Her face instantly changes from distress to fierceness, determination. “I’m not going to change my mind,” she tells me, and her expression is intense, as though she’s trying to will me to see how much she means it. “I know what I want,” she says softly. I feel my eyes fill with tears as relief washes over me, and suddenly I’m the one that can’t control my emotions. The fleeting thought of what my Mother would think enters my brain as I stand here laying myself bare to this woman, wondering what she’d say as I still continue to go against her advice after all these years.
And then - I don’t have to wonder what she’d say. Because very suddenly and without warning, which is how she does everything, my Mother is standing in my office.
And she’s ruining everything.
My mother has always been particularly gifted when it comes to destroying any shred of happiness in my life. It’s been her specialty for as long as I can remember. And I’m almost irritated with myself that it’s taken me so long to realize that her constant rules about “trusting no one” and that “life isn’t fair” are more a warning about herself and her own behavior than anything to do with the realities of life. This is never more obvious to me than in the moment where she metaphorically rips Emma Swan’s heart from her chest.
Watching the face of the woman I love turn so pale she nearly looks green, watching her features crumple from joy to confusion to utter horror and pain, watching her stagger back one step, then another, then race for the door as I reach for her, is the last and final lesson I will ever get from my mother. Because I know better now. I turn on her with rage in my heart, an anger that I have never been able to muster up for myself, one that feels as though fire might burst from my very fingertips as I think of the hurt she’s just caused Emma.
“What have you done, ” I seethe, and she turns to me with those cold eyes.
“What you clearly couldn’t, dear,” she tells me smugly. “We don’t need trash like that in this family. I mean, honestly Regina. An orphan? With a record? That’s low, even for you.”
I stalk closer to her and her eyes widen just a little, and it’s everything. She’s not used to me talking back to her, not like this. I’ve only managed to do it once before when she was insistent about Henry going to boarding school, and I’m fairly certain she thought that was just a fluke. “What in the hell are you even talking about, she wouldn’t be able to be a physician if she had a criminal record,” I growl.
She smiles, though it’s not as wide or smug as usual, not with me towering over her with my fingers clenched. “Oh no, it was expunged long ago. She wasn’t eighteen yet,” she adds.
“And I take it you’re not going to tell me what happened?” I ask, my voice dangerously low.
“All you need to know is that she’s not good enough to be anywhere near you - or my grandson.”
“That’s not for you to decide,” I snarl. I step closer to her and she takes a step back, and right then I know that she no longer has any power over me. And it feels so damn good. “Get out,” I tell her.
“I beg your pardon?” she laughs.
I stare her down, unblinking. “Get out.”
She scoffs. “Fine,” she sighs. “I’ll see you at home.”
“No, you won’t,” I reply. “When I said ‘get out’, I didn’t mean this office. I mean get out of my life.”
She stares at me in disbelief. “You can’t possibly be serious. You’re finally growing a backbone over that blonde little - “
“Stop,” I cut her off. “Not another word. Go.” I point to the door. “Go back to New York. And don’t call me unless it’s to apologize.”
She glares at me. “You realize you’re going to regret this, Regina.” She looks me up and down. “You realize she’s going to wake up one day and decide she doesn’t have to put up with you. That she doesn’t have to raise another person’s child.”
“Then I will enjoy every moment with her until that day comes,” I answer, pointing towards the door.
She swallows, her face going pale, before turning on her heel and marching out of the room. It’s only once I know she’s gone - really gone - that I collapse against my desk and burst into tears.
I’ve reached a sort of calm.
Perhaps the type of calm that one might feel while standing in the eye of a hurricane, but it’s enough to assist in making it through my shift. I’ve tried to call Emma several times, but her phone is off, and I do my best not to let myself overthink that. I do my best not to convince myself it’s because she has no interest in hearing from me - though I couldn’t blame her.
When I reach her apartment and beat my fists against the door to no answer, I refuse to think about that too. Because no matter what she’s feeling about me right now, no matter how upset she is with me for even being related to my mother, I cannot let her be alone anymore. It takes a shockingly little amount of minor threats before her landlord is handing me the key to her apartment, and I find myself sending a desperate prayer to whoever may be listening as I march back up the stairs to her door that what I’m about to do is the right thing. As I push my way into her apartment and she sits up in bed and stares at me, pale and open-mouthed, as her body collapses into itself in the most heart-wrenching sobs I’ve ever heard in my life, I know that it is.
I want to hold her, I want to pull her against me and rock her gently and take care of her in all the ways that she hasn’t been in her life. But something about the deep, wracking, body-shuddering way that she’s crying, curled in on herself, makes me stop. She’s never let herself cry in front of me, I'm not even sure she allows herself to when she's alone. And she seems too fragile, too vulnerable even to be held.
So I sink down into the chair next to her bed and I take her hand, and listen as she pours out one of the most tragically unfair stories I have ever heard. It’s hard to remain neutral, to not react with anything but outrage, as she chokes out the words from her pale lips, but I maintain my calm because I know she needs it, and I listen to her. She looks up at me when she’s done, and I know that it’s the first time she’s ever said any of this aloud. Her red-rimmed eyes are wide with surprise as she says to me, “You’re still here.”
“What, did you think I would storm out after I found out about the worst moment of your life? That I would blame you?” I ask her, my heart aching as I realize this is probably exactly what she thought. And clearly it’s what my absolutely insane mother also believed.
“I don’t know,” she sighs, shaking her head. “I always thought it would be unbearable for anyone to know. I always felt like I might disappear from the shame of it, if someone found out.”
“And now, how do you feel?” I ask her, searching her face, noting her beautiful eyes seem to be clear of the pain that filled them not so long ago.
“Lighter, I think. Saying it out loud took the power out of it, maybe. A little. How do you feel?” She asks me in a way that tells me the manner in which I answer is extremely important. Like she’s waiting to see if I crush her heart into dust, or place it gently back into her chest.
I squeeze her hand as I explain to her everything that I’m feeling, all of the rage and frustration, but then I add, “Mostly my heart is even more full of you than it was before. You’re so much more than you give yourself credit for.”
“My heart is so full of you, too,” she sniffles, pulling me onto the bed. “Like it’s basically bursting at this point, you should probably do something about that,” she says, resting her forehead against mine.
I can’t explain the feeling of warmth and relief that fills me as she says this, at knowing for certain that my mother didn’t ruin everything as she’d attempted to. I should have had more faith. I should have realized that Emma Swan is tougher than that. I smile and promise to do a lot of things about that , but as I see the exhaustion in her face I realize what she needs most is to rest.
So I pull off my outer clothes and do my best not to think of the fact that I’m half-dressed and in her bed. There will be plenty of time for that when she’s not just been railroaded by Cora Mills. She sighs and settles against me, her limbs loose and heavy as they wrap around my body, and I hold her tightly until she sleeps the deep sleep of someone who has relieved themselves of their heaviest burdens.
And thinking of my mother making her way back to New York, I close my eyes and do the same.
Life with Emma is shockingly easy.
The transition from friends to lovers was so smooth that I find myself deeply suspicious of the whole thing at times. It’s true that she’d already carved out a space for herself in my life without me even realizing, but the seamless way she fits in, the way our co-workers accepted our relationship without so much as a raised eyebrow seems almost too good to be true.
If it weren’t for the fact that I still want to throttle her half the time, I might be convinced this is all some sort of dream I’m likely to wake up from at any moment. Luckily she keeps me on my toes enough to remind me that this couldn’t possibly be anything but reality. I would never be rankled so often in a fantasy world, though I can’t deny that it is fun in its own way.
“Dr. Swan,” I snarl, stalking towards her in the hallway. She turns to me from where she’s charting at a med cart and throws me a lazy grin.
“Well hello to you too, beautiful,” she winks.
I sputter. “Do not pull that with me right now,” I argue, hands planted firmly on my hips.
“Why, whatever do you mean, Dr. Mills?” she asks me innocently, throwing me a lecherous grin that admittedly has my pulse jumping.
I push that aside and stalk closer to her. “Did you or did you not discharge my patient from exam three?” I ask her.
“I did,” she replies calmly. “You were busy working a trauma and he was driving me crazy, hounding me every three minutes to let him leave.”
My eyes nearly bug out of my head, and she has the audacity to smirk at me. “So you just let him go?!”
She turns fully to me, arms crossed. She tilts her chin up in that obnoxiously attractive and defiant way and replies, “Yes.”
At this point I am simply out of words, my fury short-circuiting my brain. I stare at her in disbelief for a moment before I manage to ask in a dangerously calm tone, “And did it not occur to you, Dr. Swan, that there might have been a reason I was keeping him here?”
She shoots me a smirk that sends warmth spreading through my body, much to my supreme irritation. It does not help that she tends to use that very same smile when she is doing incredible things to my body. With enormous effort, I manage to remain fixated on the fact that I am quite furious with her. “Yes, Dr. Mills,” she replies in a rather deep tone. “Which is why I ensured that all of his tests came back negative and scheduled him for follow up with his GP in one week’s time before I sent him home.”
I suppose at this point an apology is in order.
“I see,” I huff.
I am in the midst of working up to telling her I’m sorry when she steps forward, all trace of joking gone from her face and replaced with a stark intensity that has my knees feeling unsteady. She’s barely inches from my face but I know she would never dare to kiss me at work, not out in the open, and I find myself swallowing heavily as she leans in just a hair closer and says so gently, “Apology accepted.”
She walks away with what I can only assume is a smug grin on her face, leaving me to lean against the med cart in an attempt to recover from that.
The little shit.
It’s three in the morning, and I’m asking myself for what is far from the first time in my life why in the hell I chose a profession with these ridiculous hours. I should be home, in bed, with my son asleep in the other room and ideally, Emma Swan wrapped naked around me. She tends to sleep holding me so tightly it’s like she thinks I’m going to get up and disappear in the night, and I have to say I really do love it.
She doesn’t live with us, exactly, but over the months we’ve been together I’ve slowly made more and more space for her in the house. A drawer in the bedroom, a toothbrush at the sink. Each time she notices another spot I’ve allowed for her to claim as her own, she looks at me like I’ve handed her the world. It’s really quite endearing. Which is why I should be with her, at home, and not listening to the distant laughter from the nursing station as my entire staff loiters aimlessly. I have half a mind to tell them to go clean something, but they work hard enough as it is, and on a rare slow night like this I don’t see the harm in denying them a little rest. So I let them all chatter amongst themselves and I go back to signing this week’s pay stubs.
That is until my office door opens softly and Emma steps in, closing it behind her. The lock clicks in place as I glance up at her, and we stare at one another from across the room for a few moments. “Is everything alright?” I ask her, searching her face. The soft light from my lamp doesn’t quite reach my door, so her features are cast into shadow.
“Yeah,” she answers quietly, and I stand and walk around my desk as she steps forward and pulls me gently into her arms. I fold into her automatically, my face buried in her neck as I feel the strength of her arms wrapping tightly around my body. Honestly, if Emma Swan’s hugs could be bottled and sold, I don’t doubt that a pharmaceutical company could stand to make a staggering amount of money. They have a way of making me feel far better than any drug ever could, the stress leaching from my body instantly.
“Are you sure?” I ask, looking up at her.
She leans down and kisses me softly, something she’s never done at work before. “Yes,” she answers, kissing me a second time. She backs me up one step and then another as she sweeps her tongue into my mouth and pulls a soft sound from the back of my throat. “I just really wanted to see you,” she says against my mouth, cinching me tighter against her as she presses a kiss to the side of my neck. Our schedules haven’t aligned much in the past two weeks and we’ve barely gotten a few moments alone. Clearly she’s feeling this just as much as I am.
“Emma,” I sigh, which I intended as a chastisement but sounds much more like encouragement when it comes out of my mouth. She backs me up another step until I feel my desk behind me, and then quite suddenly she’s spinning me in her arms. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?” I ask breathlessly as she gently pushes me forward until my hands are planted on the desk.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” she asks me, her breath hot against my ear.
“It looks like you’re angling to get yourself fired,” I reply, though my soft gasp as she reaches up to grasp my breast most certainly undermines my authority. She takes a no-doubt filthy sneaker and gently nudges my legs wider apart, and my eyes close for a brief second as I drum up whatever will-power I have left in my body.
“Good thing I have an in with one of the higher-ups,” she laughs, her chest pressing tightly against my back as she gently tugs my skirt a little higher.
“You had better be talking about me,” I huff, my voice annoyingly breathy as she drags her fingertips slowly up my thigh.
“Only you, baby,” she answers, tugging at my ear with her teeth. I want to hate that she calls me that, I really do. Mostly I hate myself for what it does to me.
“Emma,” I protest, a hint of whine in my voice before I clear my throat and try again. Though I’m sure she hasn’t missed the fact that I haven’t exactly made any moves to extract myself from the position she’s put me in. “This is not an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.”
“Of course it isn’t,” she answers with a smile in her voice, her fingers grazing the edges of my underwear. I take pride in the fact that I don’t make a sound as she does so. “If this were an episode of Grey’s Anatomy we’d be in a linen closet,” she adds.
I let out a growl of frustration that quickly turns into a gasp as she dips her fingertips under the waistband of my underwear and drags her fingers against my slick skin. I suppose I should muster up some embarrassment at the fact that I am so clearly aroused in spite of my protests, but the truth is my last shred of will-power snapped the second she kicked my legs apart.
My head drops down to hang between my shoulders as she repositions her hand and slides herself into me from behind. My fingers clutch at the desk the second she’s inside me, bracing myself at the incredible feeling of her, the pressure of her. “Your hands had better be clean, Dr. Swan,” I grit out as she pulls out and enters me again, agonizingly slowly.
“Fuck I’ve missed you so much,” she laughs against the side of my head.
I smile, my eyes still closed as she continues to push into me. “I’ve missed you too,” I tell her. “You should have come over after your - oh, fuck - your shift like I asked you to,” I add with a hint of reproach. She sucks in a breath. I’ve learned that she absolutely loves it when I curse, which I really only do when we’re doing this.
“You know I wanted to see you,” she answers mulishly, reaching around to touch my clit with her other hand. I hold my breath so I don’t accidentally curse loud enough that our co-workers hear, gritting my teeth as she brings me closer to the edge with those skilled hands of hers. My hand slips and I accidentally push the pile of paystubs into a disorganized heap on the ground. It had taken me twenty minutes to get those things organized.
“Then why didn’t you - fuck yes, Emma, there - come?” I demand.
My palms are starting to slip on the desk where they’ve become slick with sweat and I have to readjust myself. I widen my stance as she continues to fuck me, her movements slow but thorough. My heart is slamming in my chest, eyes scrunched shut with the effort of not making a sound beyond our bickering. “Because I know how exhausted you’ve been,” she answers in a surprisingly tender voice given the current situation, though her breathing is coming quickly. “And I knew we wouldn’t exactly get a lot of sleep if I came over,” she adds wickedly.
I can feel the edges of an orgasm building, a prickling in my toes, my thighs. “How presumptuous of you,” I pant, biting my lip to keep quiet.
She suddenly removes her hands from my body and my eyes snap open, ready to tear a strip off her for her absolute insolence, whens she spins me around for the second time, pushing me back on the desk. “Sorry,” she explains, kissing me deeply as she enters me again. “I just really want to see your face.”
I wrap my legs around her, returning her kiss as she continues to fuck me against the desk, the pressure building. Her confession breaks something in my chest, as these sweet and honest little things she says to me so often do. Every time she makes herself vulnerable to me, it’s like one last link in my armor is falling away. My eyes are filled with idiotic tears as I come hard against her, her mouth swallowing my cries as my hips leave the desk.
For a moment the only sound is our heavy breathing as I collapse against her. She’s holding me so tightly, one hand cupping the back of my head to her chest as she presses kisses down the side of my face. I pull back to look at her, my eyes probably still damp but I don’t care. She looks down at me with such adoration in her eyes and the words “I love you,” fall unbidden from my lips before I can stop them. Before I can swallow them back like I have a hundred times before.
Her eyes widen and I swear her face goes pale, and that’s when I know that I’ve done something so incredibly stupid. “What did you just say?” she asks me, and I think I detect a hint of accusation in her tone.
I open my mouth to say something but nothing comes out except for some reason an apology, because it seems as though that’s what I owe her. For pushing this too fast, for coming on too strong. “I’m sorry, I…” I’m shaking my head at her like an imbecile and she’s staring at me like I’ve just grown a second head when the overhead PA system announces a trauma arriving shortly. I push her aside and straighten my clothes, smoothing out my hair as I reach for the door and yank it open.
“Regina…” Emma calls after me, but I ignore her and half-run to the incoming trauma, throwing myself into my work.
Just like I’ve always done.
I manage to get Henry off to school with some semblance of normalcy. When I work night shifts I do my best to get home in time to take him myself. it’s important to me that I at least get to have that time with him, feeling his little hand in mine as we walk the few short blocks to his school. But today he can tell something is off, I know, my clever little boy, because he squeezes me for so long as I drop him off that I nearly burst into tears. “Things will be alright Momma,” he says with such assured tones. “You just need to sleep.”
I laugh wetly at his advice, parroted back to me from all the times I’ve told him the same thing. I kiss his face a hundred times and send him racing to his classroom door, wishing that this could be solved with something as simple as a nap. I can’t believe I was so foolish, and I don’t stop chiding myself for it as I walk home, as I undress and shower, as I pull on some tights and a loose sweater. We’ve been dating for months, and while perhaps it wouldn’t have been premature for some couples, Emma and I are made of different stuff than the average person. I should have tread more carefully.
I know I should take my son’s advice and sleep, but my mind is too full of her. So I’m wrapped in a blanket on the couch when the knock comes, and I know exactly who it is. I can only assume she’s here to break things off now that I’ve spooked her, and it takes quite a lot of effort to force myself to walk to the door and pull it open. She’s standing there with wet hair and a bleak expression on her face. It looks like she raced home to shower and change and then came straight over. Perhaps she wanted to get things over with. I lean on the door and I’m reminded of another time she appeared at my doorstep when things felt hopeless. But I highly doubt I’m about to get that lucky twice.
“At school,” I answer.
“Can I come in?” she asks. She looks as though she’s about to be ill. I nod, forcing tears from my eyes and step back to let her in. I turn around from closing the door and she’s pacing in the entryway, her arms crossed.
“Emma…” I begin.
She turns to me. “I’m sorry,” she says intensely, her voice barely a whisper as she tries not to cry. “I’m so sorry, Regina.” Her eyes are brimming with tears and I find I have no response, as this is already going in a different way than I expected. “No one has ever… ” she trails off. “I mean you’re the first person that - “ she cuts herself off, scrubbing her face with her hands in frustration. “Jesus fucking Christ why can’t I just say what I mean for once?!” she curses.
I step forward, one hand on her wrist as I wait until she’s looking at me. “Breathe, Emma,” I tell her softly.
She cups my face in her cold hands. “I love you,” she says in a whispered rush, tears pouring out of her eyes.
My heart lurches. “You what?”
“I love you so fucking much,” she lets out a sob, dropping her hands from my face to hold her chest like her heart is about to break. “And I just - no one has ever said that to me, okay? And hearing it for the first time in my life ,” she uses the heel of her hand to brush aside the tears that are still falling. “Hearing it from you - from the one person I’ve always -” she shakes her head and takes a shuddering breath before trying again. All I can do is gape at her as my brain tries to keep up with the words rushing from her mouth.
“I have been in love with you since like the first fucking second I saw you, Regina,” she says firmly, taking a step towards me. “Since that first second that you stole my locker like the uptight, egotistical, brilliant, warm, incredible jerk that you are,” she goes on. I laugh in disbelief at what she’s saying. “And I get it if you can’t forgive me for being so awful to you today,” she adds. “I get it. I know that you’ve been hurt before and the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt you, Regina.” I’m still not quite able to process what’s happening, I find I’m still having difficulty catching up with the matter at hand, at the incredible things she’s saying. I just stare at her for a moment until she shifts awkwardly. “Please say something for Christ’s sake,” she begs.
I shake my head, coming back to my senses. “Come here,” I say breathlessly, trying my very best not to cry like a sentimental fool. She rushes over to me and sweeps me into her arms, lifting me off my feet. “I love you,” I tell her again, because now I know how badly she needed to hear it. “I’ve loved you since you first yelled at me like the hot-headed, infuriating, kind-hearted, intelligent idiot that you are,” I whisper against the side of her head.
She kisses me hard, lifting me until my toes are trailing on the ground, and I feel like some royal in a goddamned fairytale movie, like a camera should be panning slowly away from us as she spins me, like a flock of sparrows are going to arc above our heads before streaking into an endless blue sky. Before I met her I would have found the thought not only ridiculous but dangerous. An invitation for life to come and take it all away.
Now though, I let myself enjoy the moment as she showers my face with kisses, her freezing hands ghosting under my shirt and across my ribs. I release the underlying terror of what if , because although Mother was right in a way - life really isn’t fair - I’ve also learned from Emma that life is what you make of it. Perhaps that’s a rather saccharine statement for someone like me, but I believe it now. She’s taught me that we are not defined by what is handed to us, by the tragedy or the grief, but rather by the choices we make afterward.
And so I find myself quite intent on choosing to make the very most of things from now on.
With my family.