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Sleepless in Storybrooke

Chapter Text

 

 

Daddy got sick. It just happened, just like that. There was nothing anybody could do. It isn’t fair. There’s no reason. But if we start asking why, we’ll go crazy.

Regina stares out of the window. The funeral’s over. She watches how Henry sits on the large swing his father’s made for him and she sees how he slowly sways from left to right. Alone.

“...Regina?” 

She realizes Marian has been saying something to her, and she looks up. “It’s fine. We’ll be fine,” she murmurs. She’s the mother of a small boy. The mayor of a small town. She doesn’t have the time or luxury to go to the “Loss of Spouse Support Group”, as her secretary offered. To visit a shrink, referred to her by her gardener. Or any of the other god awful suggestions random people have given her.

“Are you sure you’re alright by yourself?” Marian’s eyes are moist. Regina looks away. She’s not going to collapse in front of her friend. “I mean, I can stay for a couple of days., if you want.” 

If Regina allows it, she can never be alone anymore. She’ll curl up and cry and won’t ever stop. She can’t.

“I’m going back to work tomorrow,” she says instead. 

Marian’s eyes soften. “Are you sure you’re up for it?” 

Regina meets her eyes and holds her gaze. “Work is the only thing that will see me through this.” She needs to bury the pain until it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. 

She can’t have it hurt this much for too long, otherwise she’ll suffocate under it’s pressure.

She’s thought about moving. Picking up her son and go. But she can’t. She doesn’t want to leave all the memories behind. She doesn’t want to displace Henry and unsettle him even more. She doesn’t want to leave Storybrooke, with all its good and bad memories.

Regina turns away from Marian and resumes to stare outside again. Henry’s joined by his friend, Violet, who wraps her arms around his frame. He rests his head on her shoulder, seeking comfort. She sees how his tiny shoulders shake. 

There’s a lump in her throat and she feels how her eyes start to burn. But she breathes in through her nose and holds her breath for a few seconds, before she exhales. 

They’ll be all right. She’ll get over it.

Even if it’s the last thing she does.

~*~

Seattle, 1,5 years later

“So, when are you two getting married?”

Emma’s heard this question so often already. “Ew mom. We’re never. He’s like my brother.” She rolls with her eyes at Neal, who’s eyeing the scene, good humored. It’s not the first time in her 28 years that she’s heard these words. Nor the first time she’s ever given this reply.

“Mary Margaret, Emma was 17 when she informed us she was gay,” David, her father says, shaking his head. “Neal has a boyfriend. They’re never marrying.” 

“I know, I know! It’s a joke. Mary Margaret says. She rolls her eyes herself. “But I so wish for you to find someone to be happy with.“

Emma looks at her parents. They’ve been over the moon in love for over 30 years. Sometimes it’s almost sickening to watch the pair. “I know, mom,” she smiles, good natured, “And maybe I will. Besides, Neal’s here because he is my friend and because you invited him. But marry him, even if we both were straight? I mean, look at him.” 

“Hey!” Neal starts to protest.

“He’s a guy. With a beard. You could say he is my beard.”

Mary Margaret looks puzzled. “ Your beard?”

Meaning, he’s always my friend who makes me look straight when I need it. It comes in handy, you know, at parties sometimes. When guys start to hit on me and I don’t want to tell them they’re as interesting to me as the piece of furniture they’re sitting on. Besides, he’s allergic to everything. Do you know how annoying that is? Can’t cook him anything.” She blows him a kiss to soften her words, and now it’s Neal’s turn to roll his eyes.

“You can’t cook anyway.” Neal jabs back, and Emma grins. It’s true. If she hadn’t had a roommate who worked in a restaurant, she’d probably lived off of grilled cheese sandwiches for the rest of her life. 

Mary Margaret sighs. “I know,” she says, “I just really want you to have a nice relationship. Marriage. A grandchild or two.” 

“Mom,” Emma pleads, “I might. Someday. But stop pushing. There's more to a happy ending than marriage and kids.”

“Mary Margaret,” David interferes, whispering loudly, “I think your chicken is burning.” 

Mary Margaret yelps and hastens to the kitchen. David, Neal and Emma stay behind, laughing. Not being able to cook runs in the family.

Emma gets up, and moves to the kitchen, while she muses how familiar it is. It goes like this every year. It’s Christmas Eve, and they’re having dinner at Emma’s parents place. Neal’s been a set guest for the last ten years. Ever since Emma ran away from home as a teenager, and he found her, stealing a candybar from a store. He paid it for her, helped her figuring out who she was, and brought her home. Her parents have welcomed him into their family ever since. She didn't lie. He's practically a brother to her.

Emma shrugs.

You make a million decisions that mean nothing, and then one day, you decide you trust a stranger to help you, and he ends up at your parents’ dinner table ten years later.

Her mother has always called it destiny, that the two of them met when Emma needed it the most. Emma always retorts that destiny is something they’ve invented because nobody can stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental. People don’t like coincidences. They need to hang it up on things like fate. 

Her mom is really good at that.

“Mom, can I help? We can ruin dinner together.” 

Mary Margaret smiles, resigned. “Well, it’s still edible. I can’t believe this happens every year.”

“Maybe we should stop having the marriage conversation then,” Emma gently says. She knows her mom means well. “Maybe, break the patterns a bit.” 

Her mom sighs. “I know I’m pushing, sweetie. But I just… want for you what your father and I have.”

Emma hugs her mom. “I know. And I love you for that. But what you have is super rare, you know that, right?”

Mary Margaret eyes her dreamily. “I was in Atlantic City, with my family. Your father, he was a waiter there. He wasn’t even supposed to work that night and… suppose he hadn’t? He asked me to take a midnight walk on the pier. I’ve probably told you this story a million times already, but I just don’t care.” Emma’s mouth curves into a smile. Yes she has, but Emma never gets tired of it. “Then, he held my hand. And at one point, I looked down and I couldn’t tell which fingers were his and which were mine… and I knew.” Emma sees how her mom is miles away, lost in her memories. 

“What, mom,” she quietly says, touching her arm.

“Oh, you know, sweetheart,” Mary Margaret says, but answers anyway. “Magic. It was magic.” 

“Magic.” Emma’s tone is a little skeptical. The story keeps its magic, maybe, but Emma doesn’t really believe in it. Her mother basically revels in it. 

“I knew we’d be together forever, and that everything would be wonderful. And Emma… I wish that for you. Magic.”

“Hm hm,” Emma answers vaguely. Her mother means well. “Let’s see if we can still save a little of the chicken, shall we?” Fortunately, there’s enough left for four people this year.

~*~

After dinner, they say their goodbyes - the drive back to Seattle is still an hour or two. Emma first hugs her father, burying her face in his shoulder. “Merry Christmas, dad,” she murmurs in his shoulder and he kisses her on her head. “You too, sweetheart,” he gently replies, before releasing her.

“I really don’t want you to go already,” Mary Margaret sniffs, embracing her daughter, “we see so little of you.” 

“I promise I’ll try and come by more often,” Emma says, stepping into her embrace. Like she does every year. She intends to, really, but life just gets in the way every time. 

Resigned, Mary Margaret sighs, before letting go. “I love you, sweetheart. And remember… look for magic.” 

“Me too, mom,” she says, gently squeezing her arm. “I’m really going to try, all right? To visit.” She doesn’t address the magic part.

And with that, Neal and Emma say their goodbyes, before the door closes behind them.

“Well, that went as expected,” Neal says, good natured. He wraps his arms around her shoulders and plants a kiss on her forehead.

“Thanks, Neal. They love you. And they love having you around.” Emma smiles at him, while walking to their separate cars. 

“Anytime, kid. Drive safely, yeah?"

“Always. Say hi to August from me,” she waves, before getting into her yellow bug. And then, she’s on her way home, back to Seattle.

Chapter Text

Emma likes driving. She loves how the empty road stretches in front of her. She hums along with the radio, while the foot that’s not on the gas pedal taps along. The best part of it, is that she gets to listen to all the cheesy Christmas songs and that she gets to sing along to them, without anybody complaining that she can’t hold a tone if her life depended on it.

She smirks, as she turns up the volume when “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is next. It’s her favorite, and she laughs when she tries to squeal out the high notes. Then, she tries to do the second voice in Jingle Bells. It’s a good thing nobody’s recording, she snickers, humming along while changing the stations.

Welcome back to You and Your Emotions. I’m Dr. Archie Hopper, broadcasting live across America from the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago.” 

Still humming Jingle Bells, she only half listens to what Dr. Hopper has to offer. It’s no Christmas song, so it’s a disappointment already, the thinks.

“Tonight, we’re talking about wishes and dreams. What’s your wish this Christmas Eve?”

Emma snorts. “My wish? To turn the radio station.” She switches to another program that has something to do with spleens and she pulls a face. Spleens on the radio on Christmas Eve. Nope. Another station promises Jingle Bells backwards, and it has Emma shaking her head in disbelief. Some people are idiots.

When she switches again, Dr. Hopper is back. She groans, but there’s not much else to choose from. 

“Storybrooke, go ahead.” 

Storybrooke? What kind of name is that ? Emma frowns. Sounds fake.

“Hi, my name is Henry -beep-”

“No last names, Henry,” the radio doctor tells the kid. Emma wonders about his age. He sounds pretty young. Dr. Hopper notices it, as well. “You sound younger than our usual callers. How old are you?” 

“I’m eight.” The kid definitely sounds wiser than eight, Emma thinks. But what does she know? She’s not a mom. Maybe he’s just been very well instructed. She snorts. 

“All right, Henry. What’s your Christmas wish?”

“It’s not for me, it’s for my mom. She needs a new husband. Or wife. She says it doesn’t matter. I’d like a second mom, too.” Emma laughs. Depends on the mom, kid, she silently tells him.

“Henry, you don’t like the partner she has now?” the doctor asks, a little amused.

“Well, she doesn’t have one now,” Henry says, in a tone that says it’s common knowledge. Emma smirks.“That’s the problem.” 

“Where’s your dad? Or… second mom?”

“My dad. He died.” Henry sounds sad, and Emma feels for him.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Henry.” 

Emma snorts. “Riiiight,” she murmurs. She feels for the kid, but part of her doesn’t believe this entire conversation is real. Because really, a tear jerking story on Christmas Eve? The timing is perfectly right. And Emma does not believe in coincidence. 

“I’ve been pretty sad, but I think my mom’s worse.” Well, if the kid’s a hired actor, he plays his part well, she thinks.

“Have you talked to your mom about this?” 

“No.” 

“Why not?” 

“It’s like it just makes her sadder.” 

“I can understand that. Henry, is your mom home right now?”

“Yeah,” the boy answers. He sounds a little reluctant, Emma thinks.

“What’s she doing?” 

“She’s in the garden. She goes there to think, she says. But I think she just doesn’t want me to see her sad. Sometimes she cries.”

“That is what mothers do, Henry,” the doctor tells him empathically, “She wants to be strong, for you, that's why she doesn't want you to see her cry. I' m pretty sure I can help her, but I’m going to need you to help me help her.”

Emma’s eyes widen and she scoffs. “Ooh, you asshole!” she exclaims in the empty car, shaking her head in disbelief. If the woman’s sad, she probably does not want to talk. Especially not to a radio doctor. She’s not going to the garden for nothing! 

Dr. Hopper continues. “Bring your mom to the phone, Henry.” 

“No! Hang up, Henry!” Emma calls out in the small surroundings of her yellow bug, “Don’t listen to him!” She winces when she hears how loud her voice is. 

“No way! She’ll kill me,” Henry says, sounding horrified. 

“Trust me, Henry. She won’t be angry, when she realizes how concerned you are about her.”

There’s a small pause and Emma shakes her head. That bastard! Using a child like that!

“If I get yelled at, I’ll never listen to you show ever again,” Henry threatens him and Emma has to laugh at that, while she hears how Dr. Hopper makes the deal.

A little muffled, she hears: “There’s someone on the phone for you, mom!”  

And then he whispers: “Her name’s Regina.”

“Regina,” Emma murmurs. That’s a pretty name. 

“Regina. If you’ve just turned in, this is Dr. Archie Hopper, and tonight’s topic is “Your wishes and dreams. We’re on the line with someone from Storybrooke.”

“Hello?” 

A low, slightly hoarse voice speaks and it instantly gives Emma goosebumps over her entire body. She gasps in surprise. This is not what she had expected. Her skin feels warm and tingling.

“Hello, Regina. This is Dr. Archie Hopper on Network America.”

There’s an aggravated sigh which makes Emma’s mouth curve into a smile. “ Right ,” the woman huffs, “What are you selling tonight? Is it the micro-hibachis or a new set of kitchen knives?” 

Emma snickers, still a little shaken up by her own physical reaction.

No ,” Dr. Hopper firmly says. “I’m not selling anything. I just want to help. What you need to know is that your son called, and he asked me for some advice on how you might find a new husband. Or wife, he mentioned.” 

There’s a pause, in which Emma holds her breath in anticipation.

“Who is this?” It sounds guarded. Tentative.

“I’m Dr. Archie Hopper of Network America, and you are on the air.” 

“You called a radio station?” Regina raises her voice in disbelief while calling out her son. Henry is in trouble, Emma thinks. Poor kid.

“Regina… Regina, are you with me?” Dr. Hopper reels her right back in.

“Yes. Yes I am.” She’s aggravated, Emma can tell.

“Your son feels that since your husband’s death you’ve been very unhappy and he’s genuinely worried about you.”  

Another brief pause. “All right. Get out here. I’m not going to go through this alone,” Regina sharply tells her son. There’s some shuffling of feet, while the doctor continues.

“I think it’s very hard for him to talk to you about all this and I thought maybe I could talk to you. And Henry would feel a little better.”

“Talk to him, mom. He’s a doctor,” she hears the boy saying softly.

Emma hears how Regina scoffs. “Of what? His first name could be doctor.” 

“Please?”

“Regina… it’s his Christmas wish,” the doctor tells her.

There’s a long pause. Emma holds her breath. What will Regina do? “I’d not blame you if you were just hanging up,” she mumbles to the woman on the phone. Then, she scoffs. She’s not trying to talk to someone she doesn’t even know bij herself.

Then, she hears a resigned sigh. And a quiet, “Okay.”

Emma feels the relief running through her body. And it surprises how she reacts. Apparently, she really wants to know how this story ends. 

“Okay, good. Now, I know this is difficult, but how long ago did your husband die?”

“About a year and a half ago,” Regina softly says.

“Oh. Have you had any relationships since?”

Rude, Emma thinks. The woman is clearly in pain. Even Emma can hear it in her voice.

“No.” 

“No? Why not?”

Another silence. “Well, Archie, or… should I call you Dr. Hopper?”

“Dr. Archie.”

Emma scoffs and rolls her eyes as she mimics the words. “Seriously?” she snorts.

“Fine. Listen, I don’t mean to be rude,” Regina says.

Dr. Hopper interjects. “Oh, and I don’t want to invade your privacy.” 

With raised eyebrows, Emma scoffs. Privacy? On a fucking radio station? “Sure you do.” At the same time Regina says, “ Sure you do .” Emma’s momentarily surprised and furrows her brow. It’s a coincidence.

“Go on, Regina, I’m listening,” the radio doctor encourages the woman.

“We had a pretty though time there at first, but we’re dealing with it,” Regina says, more firmly now. “And Henry and I will get along just fine again, as soon as I break his radio and his phone.”

Dr. Hopper laughs and Emma smirks. “I have no doubt that you’re a wonderful mother,” the doctor compliments. “You can tell a lot from a person’s voice.”

“You certainly can.” Now, there’s a hint of amusement in Regina’s voice and it does things to Emma’s stomach. Butterflies. Which is stupid. She’s listening to a radio show, for God’s sake.

“But something must be missing if Henry still feels that you’re under a cloud.” There’s a brief pause again. “Now, just a few questions. Are you sleeping at night?”

“She doesn’t sleep at all,” Henry answers for her.

“How do you know that?” Regina asks him, surprised.

“I live here, mom.” 

There’s a sad silence. It breaks Emma’s heart. If she could, she would have driven all the way to Storybrooke and scoop both Henry and Regina up in a tight hug. But she doesn’t even know where it is but for some reason, she’s determined to look it up when she gets home.

Look ,” Regina says with a half sigh, sounding a little exasperated, “ It’s Christmas. Uh, Daniel, my… my husband, she really did it up. I mean, he loved…. He made everything beautiful. And it’s just though, this time of year. Every kid needs a whole family.”

“Could it be that you need someone just as much as Henry does?”

Emma feels goosebumps over her entire body as she softly answers the question herself: “Yes.” She tightens her grip on the steering wheel. This whole story’s left her depressed. Sure, she has a roommate to go back home to but she's probably out anyway. She’s reminded of the conversation she had, only an hour before, with her mother. Surely she wants someone to come home to. But love, the love her parents share, the feelings Regina clearly has for her deceased Daniel.. those are so rare. 

“Don’t answer that,” Dr. Hopper says instead. “Let’s get into that after these messages. Regina, Henry? Don't go away. We’re talking to Sleepless in Storybrooke, and we’ll be right back after this break, with your listeners’ response..” 

Emma blinks a couple of times, trying to figure out why this story touches her so much.

Now there’s a break in the program anyway, she stops at a diner next to the road. She’s intrigued by Henry and Regina, and wants to get back in the car before the program continues. Inside, the waitresses are having a discussion.It’s immediately clear that they’ve been listening to the same program as she has. “I bet she hasn’t bathed in weeks and she stinks,” one of them laughs.

“Shut up, Aurora. Hi, can I help you?” the second one says. Emma places the order - hot cocoa with whipped cream and cinnamon - and listens to the guy in the kitchen proclaiming, “Maybe I’ll go to Storybrooke myself. Give her a little gift for New Year’s Eve.” He laughs. The first waitress snorts. “Or wife. Maybe I’ll beat you to it.” 

Emma smiles, shaking her head, listening to the bantering between colleagues while she waits for her order.

“Let’s take a call before we get back to Sleepless in Storybrooke.”

Both the waiters and Emma turn to the radio. “Ooh ooh, turn up the volume,” the guy in the kitchen says.

“Knoxville, Tennessee, you’re on the air.” 

“Yeah. I would just like to know where could get this woman’s address?” a southern female voice says, and the waitress huffs. 

“Honey, get in line.” 

Emma receives the order and smiles a goodbye, before hurrying back to her car. When she steps in and starts the car, the callers have made way for the actual call again. Good. 

“If there’s one thing I may ask?” Dr. Archie asks, and Regina sighs.

“All right, go ahead.” 

“People who truly loved once, are far more likely to love again. Regina… do you think that there’s someone out there you could love as much as your husband?”

Emma pulls out of the parking lot and makes her way to the interstate again, and realizes she’s been holding her breath for Regina’s answer until the woman starts to talk and she can exhale.

Well, Dr. Hopper, it is hard to imagine. ” Regina’s voice is soft. A little hoarse, lined with sadness. There’s so much pain. Emma’s heart squeezes. It hurts like hell.

“Mm-hm,” Dr. Hopper answers vaguely. “ What are you going to do?”

If possible, Regina’s voice is even softer. Emma hears the faintest tremble in her voice and can almost see the woman tearing up - if she knew what she looked like, of course. 

“Well. I am going to get out of bed every morning, breathe in and out all day long, and then after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning .To breathe in and out. And then, after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.” Regina’s voice is almost a whisper. 

Emma feels how a tear rolls over her cheek. 

“Regina, tell me what was so special about your husband,” the doctor says gently. Maybe this doc is better than Emma’s first anticipated. Even she wants to start spilling her guts now, she snorts, while wiping away another tear from her eyes.

“Well. How long is your program, again?” Regina’s voice regains some of her strength. “Oh, it was… Well, it was a million tiny little things. When you add them all up, it just meant that we were supposed to be together. And I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched him. It was like… coming home, only to no home I had ever known. He was just taking my hand to help me out of a car, and… I knew it. It was like… magic.”

“Magic,” Emma whispers. Her cheeks are wet. When Regina stops talking, she feels empty. The story made her feel whole. She feels how the goosebumps are back, and how they’re spreading over her entire body.

“Well, folks, it’s time to wrap it up. I’m Dr. Archie Hopper in Chicago, and to all my listeners, a magical and merry Christmas. And to you, Sleepless in Storybrooke, we hope you’ll call again soon and let us know how it’s going.” 

Emma snorts because who would ever want that, at the same time she hears Regina’s rich voice with a sarcastic edge: “Oh, you can count on it.” Immediately, Emma hopes she does.

When the music fades in, Emma drives into her street in Hyperion Heights. She wipes the tears from her face when she realizes she’s home. But she stays in the car for a little bit, thinking about a little boy and his mom, and how alone they must be this Christmas. She thinks about what the story does to her. It’s only been almost half an hour of a radio show, but it has hurt and confused Emma immensely. What does that mean? She’s restless. Her heart hurts for them, and also a little for herself, but she doesn’t know exactly why.

Chapter Text

It’s two days after Christmas, and Emma’s almost surprised when she sees that the door to her office is already open. Inside, she hears voices from her partner and her roommate Jacinda, who also happens to work in the diner across the street. Well, they’re up here early, she thinks. She hadn’t expected them to be here so soon.

Emma and friend Belle took over this private investigation office a couple of years back. It was going bankrupt and the both of them needed a fresh start at that point, and they decided to take a chance. Emma’s always been good at finding things, so she figured, why not try and make money out of it? And Belle, who’s very well with books and numbers, gladly offered to run the office. 

Ever since they’ve started, they have been quite busy. Apparently, there’s a lot of people who like to pay for some surveillance footage of what their spouses are up to. Occasionally, they’re hired by a bail bondsman to track someone who hasn’t showed up in court. So Emma takes off and does the dirty work, while Belle makes sure the phone’s manned and their files and books are in perfect shape. 

Belle, a fair skinned brunette, is a hopeless romantic who lives for happy endings and books. She’s emotionally very perceptive, a gentle soul, and if Emma would let her, would drown herself in books for a month. But she’s also detailed, a perfectionist when it comes to work and has the ability to calm people down, which is a quality that has landed them a lot of jobs in the past.

Jacinda, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. She’s a beautiful latina, has a fiery temper, tact does not appear in her dictionary, and is loyal as a dog. She’s taken in Emma ever since she arrived in this neighborhood. They met at the local bar, Kelly’s, which is run by a temperamental redhead and where Emma worked briefly, before she and Belle started their own business. When Emma needed a place to stay, Jacinda graciously offered to share her apartment. They’ve been friends ever since. Jacinda once told Emma she couldn’t handle living with her stepmother anymore, which is why she ended up on her own on a fairly young age. She’s worked in Sabine’s Diner across the street for as long as Emma can remember.

Jacinda’s kept them fed and hydrated with her never ending supply of grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee, for which both women are forever grateful. 

Sabine’s also become a good friend. Emma’s always wondered why Sabine and Jacinda have never ended up as girlfriends, because the two of them fit so well together. Sabine is a level headed, dark-skinned, stunning woman. And she’s cunning and smart and a wonderful cook. She’s built up her own diner from the ground up, wanting to prove her wealthy father that she could stand on her own feet, instead of working in his chain of restaurants. Her beignets are to die for. Sabine’s less loud than Jacinda, but her sharp eyes see everything. 

She loves her friends dearly.

Emma pushes the door open and hears Jacinda say, “I heard the phone network in Chicago was temporarily down because over two thousand men and women called the radio station for the woman’s phone number!” 

“Oh, hi, Emma,” Belle greets her with a smile, “We were just talking about Christmas Eve and the radio show I listened to. There was this boy calling in to a radio psychiatrist in search for a new husband or wife for his mom.” 

“I know,” Emma says, immediately enthused. She’s mulled over Regina over Christmas, cocooning with her own thoughts, and is suddenly happy there’s someone to share it with. “I heard the entire thing. This kid calls, and says, ‘my mom needs a new partner! Then, this Hopper dude basically forces her on the phone, she doesn’t want to talk about it but then, she starts to talk anyway about her late husband and how they fell in love and the kid said she wasn’t sleeping at all.” She sighs. “And I was listening to her, on how she loved him and how she was doing and suddenly I was crying in my car.” 

The silence that follows makes Emma raise her eyebrows and she eyes her friends warily. “What?”

“You were crying over a sob story you heard on the radio? You, Emma Swan, private investigator and occasionally badass bounty hunter, cried over a woman talking about her dead husband?” Jacinda snorts in mocking disbelief when she hands her her signature coffee. 

Emma shrugs, a little taken aback. “Yeah, I don’t know what that was all about, either,” she says, her tone defensive. “Maybe it was the talk I had with my mom - you know, the annual ‘when can I expect you to marry and give me grandkids’ speech, or just Christmas or whatever. I only know it just happened.”

“Well,” Belle says, “I sometimes cry over commercials. She expertly draws the attention away from Emma, and Emma’s forever grateful. Jacinda can be a bulldozer sometimes. 

Or a bulldog with a bone, because she won’t let it drop so easily. Emma groans internally when Jacinda continues. “Hey, if you feel sorry for her, Swan, then maybe as a private detective you can find her someone else to love? Sounded like she’s got plenty to give, and that kid of hers, as well.” 

Emma’s snorts and her brow furrows. “Why would I do that?”

“‘t Is the season, is it not? A lot of lonely men and women out there. I mean, look how many called the radio station. They don’t do that for nothing. You could make good money off of it.  Besides, your widow would probably be forever grateful.” 

“I don’t need to help her find someone,” Emma says, a bit prickly now. “I just told you that I heard it on a radio show. Besides, Storybrooke is in freaking Maine. There’s like, a thousand states in between. If she wants to hire a matchmaker, I’m sure there’s plenty of those in her corner of the country. She sure as hell doesn’t need a private investigator for that. She’ll find someone when she’s ready. The doctor even said that if you’ve loved once, you’ve statistically got a higher chance of finding a new one And uh, she’s not my widow.” Not even close, Emma growls. She doesn’t even know the woman!

Now, both Belle and Jacinda are staring at her as if she’s grown a second head. “What?!” she snaps, and Jacinda jumps up. 

“Gotta go, diner isn’t running itself. I’ll be back later with your lunch, ladies!” Jacinda winks and being the whirlwind that she is, she’s gone from the office in a blink of an eye.

Belle turns and walks around her desk, and sits down behind her computer. She pushed the power button and waits a few seconds. “What was that all about?” she asks Emma, who’s still a bit cranky. “What’s with you?” .

“Nothing’s with me,” Emma replies with a scowl.

Something ’s with you,” Belle presses. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.” 

Emma gives her a pointed look. “Drop it, Belle.” 

Now, Belle glowers, and Emma sighs. “I don’t know what it is. This Sleepless in Storybrooke just got to me. I don’t know why.” 

“Sleepless in Storybrooke?”

“That’s what they called her. On the radio station.”

“You know that sounds a little strange, right?” Belle frowns. “But over two thousand people calling in is also really weird. I mean, what do we know about her? She could be a junkie, a sociopath, maybe she even killed her own husband. Or maybe even someone far worse. Like Mr. Gold.”

They both shudder at the thought of their mutual landlord. The man is relentless in collecting the rent. The one time Emma forgot she was almost immediately slapped with an eviction notice. She’s never been late again. Besides, the beady eyes of the older man are amongst the very few that induce a level of fear inside her. Belle has it even worse, since they suspect he likes likes her.

“Hm,” Emma then continues, mulling over Belle’s statement. “Could be. But she sounded really nice. Not like a sociopath or a murderer.” She sits down behind her desk, leans on her elbows and places her chin on her hands. For a moment, she stares in the distance, remembering the soft voice of a woman she will never know.

“Because you know what they sound like,” Belle frowns with a bit of sarcasm, but then her face changes as realization strikes. “Oh. Oh, really? You like her?” Belle’s eyes start to shimmer and Emma hates herself for awaking the romantic part of her friend. Now she’ll never hear the end of it.

Emma groans. She should learn when to keep her mouth shut. “Oh please, do you really have to sound like my mom?” she whines. 

Belle laughs. “I’d rather not,” she smiles. “But if I see it, and Jacinda sees it, are you sure there’s nothing?” 

Emma snorts, disbelieving. “I’ve only heard her on a radio show for not even thirty minutes. I’d like to switch the subject now. To you know, something that does bring money in.” 

Belle narrows her eyes, but turns to her computer anyway. “Fine.” And Emma vows that she will try to keep her mind at work today. She’s got enough talks about her love life to last her until far into the new year.

Storybrooke, New Year’s Eve

Midnight comes too late for her son. They were supposed to watch the ball drop in New York on tv together, but around half an hour ago Henry fell asleep. She watched the countdown moments ago, fingers softly caressing his hair, and sighs. Another year over. Another year without him. It doesn’t matter. There’s no wishes. No New Year’s resolutions. She stopped making those ages ago, because they’re pointless anyway. She realizes she’s becoming a bitter old hag, and shudders. That’s not something the likes to think about, and turns to her sleeping son.

Regina gently lifts Henry from the couch, before carefully carrying him up to his room. He’s getting heavy, she notices, while burying her nose in his hair. She won’t be able to do this for too much longer. And she really doesn’t want to think about that right now. 

She ascends the stairs with the sleeping bundle in her arms. He stirs a little when she’s carrying him into his room, laying him gently on the bed. He blinks. “I missed it,” he murmurs, and she smiles. 

“You did, my little prince,” she whispers, “Happy New Year, though.”

“Happy New Year, mom,” he smiles. He comes up a little, wrapping his arms around her neck. “I love you. And I’ve made a wish that next year will be better.” 

Regina’s heart squeezes hard and it makes her gasp for air. “It will, Henry. I’m sure,” she promises. She dearly hopes she can keep her promise

She sits with him until he's sound asleep again, then goes down. Pausing a little in the hallway, she decides to go outside and takes her thick winter coat from the coat rack. SHe pulls it on, before stepping outside. Maine’s winters can be mean. But at least it’s dry, she notices, when she gazes the show of fireworks displayed before her.

Her phone buzzes. When she looks down, Regina sees the faces of Marian and Kathryn. Despite herself, she smiles. Happy New Year! they write, and she replies to the message swiftly. They had asked her if she wanted to come along to the party. She declined. She’s not really in a party mood, anyway. Hasn’t been for a long time, now.

They mean well. They want her to move on, but she can’t. And the conversation with the insipid radio doctor has explained her exactly why that is. People are idiots. He said she’d love again. She doubts it. What she felt for Daniel was all consuming. Even if it is possible, she’s not sure if she wants this again. Because, hypothetically speaking, if she loves again, and if she would lose again, she doesn’t think she will survive.

She barely has the last time. She shivers, and pulls her coat closer when another round of fireworks explodes. Fireworks are more fun to watch with Henry. She doesn’t care much for it. 

It doesn’t take long for her to go back inside. Regina hangs her coat, goes back into the living room and pours herself a glass of cider. Then, she sits on the couch, grabs the remote, and turns off the tv, on which partying people in the streets of New York are still going strong. To be that young again, she muses. To be without worry. Without anything to think about than your own happiness. Your own new beginning. Full of joy, full of hope, full of good intentions.

She can’t remember the last time she felt that way.

She leans back on the couch, and with a sigh, closes her eyes.

“Can I have a sip of your cider?” she hears, and the oh so familiar voice cause goosebumps to erupt over her entire body. Immediately, the corners of her mouth go up. They always did when she heard his voice.

“Sure,” she says with a smirk. “Please, go ahead. Help yourself.” Her eyes are still closed.  

“Here’s to us,” she hears his voice. 

She opens her eyes and looks at him through her lashes. Knows it’s not real. She’s probably fallen asleep on the couch. But to see him, feel him so close, it means the world. Even if it’s for such a short moment. “Daniel, I miss you so much it hurts,” she whispers. “Henry misses you too.” 

Her husband looks at her, gentle but stern. “Do you remember what I told you?” 

Regina’s eyes fill up with tears. She tries to blink them away quickly but sniffs as one leaks to her cheek. “Yes.”

“I told you to love again,” Daniel says anyway. His voice is soft. 

She closes her eyes firmly, squeezing out the tears. 

When she opens them, Daniel’s gone. She sighs, quivering, and raises a head to pinch her nose. Just another figment of her imagination, she sighs, resigned. She’s left alone once more, feels more lonely than she has in over 2 years. 

She gets the cider and throws it all into her throat at once. Maybe the alcohol will help her sleep for at least a couple of hours.

~*~

Being a mayor in a small town isn’t as easy as anyone thinks. Maybe it’s even harder because almost everyone knows you personally or at least, they believe they do. Personal boundaries do not exist when you’re local celebrity. Nor the common sense that sometimes, you should just shut the hell up and keep your opinion to yourself. Apart from that, gossip spreads like wildfire.

Before Regina’s reached her office, she’s already had three offers of family members looking for a new spouse, at least two new business cards for shrinks, Leroy, the town’s drunk, offered to keep her company when she feels lonely (she shudders thinking back to it) and over a dozen pitiful stares. 

She already hates today. Completely frustrated, she enters town hall.

“Mayor Mills, how are you holding up?” Johanna, her secretary, is probably the worst of them all and she groans internally. “We’ve all heard it on the radio. I always listen to that show, you know? And I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard little Henry asking for a new partner for you. It was so sweet! I called my mother, she’s down in Florida now, and I told her to tune in. ‘That’s our mayor,’ I said! Listen, if you want to get out there again, I have a cousin I can set you up with? You know, just for drinks and all.” 

“Thank you, Johanna,” Regina answers stiffly. “I will remember that.”

She quickly moves towards her office, before her secretary can say even more. Regina knows she means well, but she feels a migraine coming up.

Inside her office, she finds Kathryn waiting for her. Internally, Regina groans as the cat-like eyes of her friend sparkle of amusement. “Not a word,” she growls, as Kathryn hands her a double espresso. 

“She means well,” Kathryn says.

“Everyone does. I don’t need it,” Regina answers, rolling her eyes while sipping her searing hot coffee and sending her a thankful gaze. At least someone in this godforsaken town knows what she needs. 

“It wouldn’t be entirely wrong for you to, you know, go out there again.” Kathryn says. “You know, just for… fun. You haven’t done anything fun for yourself in a very long time, either.” 

Regina sends her friend a stare over her cup of coffee. “Not in the mood,” she mutters. 

Kathryn smiles. She knows, but it doesn’t stop her from trying, and somewhere, Regina’s happy to have at least two people who’ve never walked on eggshells around her. Kathryn and Marian have been here for her, all the way.

Kathryn opens her  mouth again to continue, but Regina’s phone rings. No rest for the wicked. Or mayors, she thinks, as she pulls it out of her jacket. It’s Henry.

“Mom! You’ve got to come see this!” 

“Henry? What’s the matter?” Henry sounds excited. She raises her eyes to meet Kathryn’s, but her friend looks as puzzled as she is. 

“The mailman’s brought a lot of mail, mom! He says he’s got even more and it’s all for you!” 

Regina frowns. “Who is it from?” 

“Uhm, it says,” she hears some rustling of papers, “Sleepless in Storybrooke, care of Dr. Archie Hopper.” 

For a moment, she’s stunned. “Wait, what? How did they get my address?” Her eyes widen and she looks at Kathryn, whose face has pulled into a frown.

“Oh, they called back and asked for it.” She can almost see how he shrugs as he casually drops the information on her.

“What on earth posessed you to give them our address?! Wait - How were they able to call you?”

“They-”

“Asked for it,” Regina sighs, a little impatient now. She looks at Kathryn and rolls her eyes, quietly hissing what’s going on near her house. Kathryn’s eyes sparkle with something entirely new right now. 

“Well, yeah, because I had to give them our phone number, otherwise you can't get on the air." He says it like it's the most obvious thing ever. "Mom, can I read them?”

“You will do no such thing until I am back home,” she warns him. Regina’s faith in humanity has left her long ago. She doesn’t even want to think about what some of these letter writers have put in there. But of course, her son doesn’t listen.

“‘Dear Sleepless in Storybrooke,’” he reads to her, “‘You’re the prettiest woman I’ve ever layed ears on. Ew,” he says, and Regina reaches for her coat instantly. 

“I’ve got to go,” she tells both Kathryn and Johanna, who’s just opened the door to pass on the calls that she’s missed. “Hopefully, I’m back with in the hour.”

"Maybe this is faith," Kathryn says, pensively, while smiling at Johanna. "Maybe this was meant to be and one of these letter writers is your shot on a new, happy beginning. What's it called again, when everything intersects?"

Regina moves through the doorway and looks over her shoulder.

"The Bermuda Triangle."

~*~ 

She’s not back within the hour. Henry insists on reading the letters. Every freaking single one of them. And there's at least 2 sacks of mail from all over the country. Regina suspects this is just the first wave and she dreads what's coming. “They’ve put so much work in them,” he says, scolding her slightly - truly a child of hers, she thinks -, “the least we can do is read them.” He studies the next one. “Dear Sleepless in Storybrooke. I live in San Diego. Where’s San Diego?” 

Regina suppresses the need to roll with her eyes. “Where’s… what do they teach you in school?” she huffs. “San Diego is in California. It’s the other side of the country.” She gives up, and while he sorts the letters, she takes a pan to make them some lunch. “Maybe you should throw out the ones that are from people living more than two states away.”

"But she can fly anywhere, she says.”

“Ah, ‘she’.”

“That’s all right, isn’t it? I heard you talking to Marian once. You were talking about dating girls.” His eyes are too wise for his age, she thinks as she stares into them. “So I thought, you probably liked to do that as well. Was I wrong?” Suddenly, he looks unsure, and she sighs deeply. She moves around the kitchen island and embraces him in a tight hug. 

“You were not wrong, dear,” she caves with a sigh, “But I am not sure this is going to be the way to find someone. A man or a woman.”

“Why not?” 

“Well,” she says, pensive, thinking about the little experience she’s had with meeting someone in another lifetime, “I would much rather just see somebody I like and… get a feeling about them. Maybe ask them out for a drink.” 

“Or pizza?”

Regina shudders. She hates pizza. “No. Besides, having dinner on the first date is very unwise. When you just have drinks, you can just end it after. It will only take you half an hour if you don’t like it. If you like them, you can always ask them for dinner. However, if you invite them to dinner immediately, and you don’t like them, you’ll waste hours of your evening.” 

“Oh.” Henry thinks it over. “That makes sense.” And Regina is asking herself why she is giving dating advice to her eight years old son. Maybe because she needs to validate that it still works that way. Her brow furrows. “I wonder if it still works that way.” She hasn’t dated in over fifteen years. 

“No. They write letters.” He holds up the next one.

She suppresses a snort. “Yes, I see that.”

“Or go on dating apps. Do you have a dating app?”

“Heavens, no.” Regina almost chokes on her on breath. How the hell does her son know about those?

“If you get a new husband, or a wife, are you going to have sex then?” He looks up, curious.

Henry !” Regina stares at her son as if he’s just grown another head. He’s eight . How the hell did he find out about sex ?! She feels how her face flushes. She's not ready to have this conversation with him!

“Are you going to make weird sounds and scratch each other’s back?”

Now, Regina’s starting to feel really uncomfortable. “I - what - Henry, where did you see this?!” 

“I didn’t. Nicholas told me. He saw his father watch a movie about it once. He’s also trying to find a wife on Tinder. Nicholas showed me once. It’s super easy, you just swipe the ones you like to the right. We did it a couple of times for Nick’s dad. Maybe you should try after we've finished these letters?” He eyes her with hope in his eyes, but Regina shakes her head.  

Great. The town’s only mechanic watches porn and is on Tinder. Not that Regina’s surprised, but she’d rather not have that particular visual in her head. “No. No Tinder. That's not going to happen,” she says. "What's in the next letter?" She’s insanely happy that she threatened Henry that hell would come to the mansion if he’d ever touch her phone. Because right  now, she would not even be surprised if he would just install Tinder on her phone to help her a little.

Letters are probably far more innocent than Tinder ever will be, she shudders. She'll amuse his letter obsession. After a while he will probably find something else, more interesting. Or so she desperately hopes.

Henry turns back to the letters and opens another one, and Regina can only hope she’ll survive his questions. And the freaking letters.

Chapter Text

Emma feels restless. She has been antsy for the last couple of days. There’s this nagging feeling in the back of her head that keeps her from sleeping. And in the case she does fall asleep for a couple of hours, she wakes up cranky every time. The last morning, Jacinda left her some coffee with a note, but had disappeared already. Emma feels a little guilty about that. Jacinda mockingly called her Sleepless in Seattle for her sleep deprived temper, and Emma shot daggers with her eyes as a response.

Again, she is laying in bed, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling. She forces her thoughts to something else than the reason of her awake state, and her mind briefly wander to New Year’s Eve which she celebrated with Jacinda, Belle, and Sabine. They’ve more or less drunkenly agreed on going to New York. At Valentine’s Day weekend, no less. She shrugs. They’re all single, they told each other Valentine’s Day is utter bullshit and they should celebrate being single, instead. Then why not cross the entire fucking country to do just that?

They booked the tickets while being very drunk, including a hotel somewhere in Manhattan, so there’s nothing to keep them from going. Emma smirks. She loves her friends and she loves how the four of them can make these impulsive decisions and see them through.

The four of them are so different, and yet, they’ve always clicked, every since they found each other in this less than thriving neighborhood. 

Last year, they ended up in Tallahassee, of all places. It was loads of fun, so this year won’t be any different.

She should look forward to it more. But for some reason, she can’t.

Her mind drifts back to the very reason of her sleepless nights, who’s probably not sleeping as well at the other side of the country and she groans into her pillow. This is insane. 

She kicks her duvet away and sighs impatiently, while hoisting herself up. If she can’t sleep anyway, she can just as well get up and get something to drink. Quietly, she makes her way past Jacinda’s door - it’s after midnight, so she’s probably vast asleep - and descends the stairs, making her way to the kitchen. 

She eyes the radio, but turns away from it, opening the refrigerator instead. But she doesn’t see anything she likes. Maybe she should just get some water, she thinks, and closes the fridge again. The radio is conveniently placed on a shelf above the sink, and she groans at herself. Really? If she wants to turn on the freaking radio, she will turn on the freaking radio. Who is she kidding, anyway?

It’s not the first time she’s done this, going downstairs in the middle of the night. The radio is still playing the Chicago station. It kind of embarrasses her to admit it, but she’s listened to Dr Archie Hopper’s program several times on Friday night, quietly hoping that Regina and Henry would return on the air.

They never did. And Emma can’t really blame them, either. Good for them, right? Who needs a radio doctor, anyway?

There’s commercials on. There’s a voice over recommending to tune in to  Dr. Archie Hopper’s show, later this week.  Then, suddenly, she freezes. She hears the voice that’s been haunting her in her sleeping and waking hours.

“Well. I am going to get out of bed every morning, breathe in and out all day long, and then after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning .To breathe in and out. And then, after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.”

Emma shudders, grabs a kitchen chair and drops down on it. She stares in the distance, and doesn’t see anything, as a voice over asks the audience, “Wondering how it’s going with our most popular callers ?” Blindly, she grabs an apple and starts to peel it because her hands need to do something right now. Her insides twist and turn, emotions start to rise within her chest, pushing up until her throat feels tight. 

Then, Dr. Archie Hopper continues: “Regina, tell me what was so special about your husband.” 

“Well. How long is your program, again?” 

Emma’s eyes tear up, but she can’t help but smile a little. “Oh, it was… “ Regina sighs. Emma now hears it’s a melancholic, even somewhat happy sigh as she relives the moment. 

“Well, it was a million tiny little things. When you add them all up, it just meant that we were supposed to be together. And I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched him. It was like… coming home, only to no home I had ever known. He was just taking my hand to help me out of a car, and… I knew it. It was like… magic.”

“Tune in on ‘You and Your Emotions’, with Dr. Archie Hopper - live on air every Saturday at 11PM CST.” 

There’s another example, ‘Wondering in Wisconsin,’ but Emma’s zoned out already. Horrified, she feels how her cheeks are wet again. She scoffs, impatiently rubbing her cheeks to dry, scolding at herself. She’s pining over a woman she’s never met. Maybe she is the one who should go around and find a shrink, because this isn’t normal. It’s never happened before either, and it’s freaking her out immensely.

She stands up and turns the radio off, before heading back to bed. 

But she already know she won’t sleep at all.

~*~

“Jacinda, I think I’m really going crazy,” Emma scowles the next evening, while she watches how her roommate prepares their dinner. Jacinda’s offered to make her signature cheeseburgers and Emma’s mouth watered at the suggestion. Besides, burgers are great comfort food. She’s hanging on their kitchen’s bar, and eyes her roommate miserably. “There’s something seriously wrong with me.” 

Jacinda raises her eyebrows as she turns towards her, placing a perfect hot coffee in front of her as Emma takes place at their kitchen’s bar. Emma knows she probably shouldn’t since she’s not sleeping anyway, but her brain flares up in excitement as a whiff of freshly brewed coffee seduces her nose. She sighs in defeat and pulls the mug towards her. 

“What happened?” Jacinda’s face is full of concern for her roommate and friend.

“Almost botched a job today because I couldn’t focus. I’m exhausted, my mind is racing, and I almost missed the chance to take pictures of the lame ass cheating on his wife with a boy that’s barely out of his diapers.” 

Jacinda snorts at the vision Emma’s words generates in her mind.

“I mean, why do people like that even marry? Was it all trumpets and fireworks in the beginning? What the hell even happened to them that he wanted to cheat on her with a guy so young it could be his son? Or his grandson, even?” Emma shudders. “When they first met, did they believe that they were the only one for each other? That in some mystical, cosmical way, it was… I don’t know, fated?”

“Emma, you don’t believe it fate. That’s your mother,” Jacinda bluntly says. 

Emma groans and only realizes that she’d stood up when she sinks back on her bar stool again. 

“What happened to ‘when you’re attracted to someone it means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious’?” Jacinda goes on, meanwhile preparing a mouth watering dinner for the both of them, “Weren’t you the one I recall distinctively saying that ‘fate is just two neuroses knowing they’re a perfect match’?”

“I know, I know, ” Emma groans. She’s always been the one that doesn’t believe in true love, love at first sight, people belonging together for an eternity, happy endings. She’s seen too much spite and hate in her work and has become a pessimist, at best. Love is science, she’s always said so. The happy ending stuff? That’s more her mother’s cup of tea. Or Belle’s, for that matter.

“I am just going to address the elephant in the room and say it’s got something to do with a sleepless woman in Storybrooke, Maine, which has got you all riled up ever since Christmas.” 

Emma is silent for a full ten seconds, then makes a whimpering sound. “I don’t even know her. I’m having all kinds of thoughts about some woman, who I have never even met, who lives in fucking Storybrooke.” 

Jacinda eyes her, warily, as she flips the burgers professionally. The brunette knows Emma isn’t finished yet.

“I don’t know what to do. But what I do know is I really don’t want to end up like, always wondering what might have happened and knowing I could’ve done something. You know?” 

“Uhm,” Jacinda hums confused and Emma sighs. “Never mind. Please disregard this sudden flash of insanity. I’ll get better as soon as I get a couple of good night’s sleep. You have any melatonins for tonight?”

Silently, Jacinda snatches the mug of coffee away and throws it in the sink, before quickly rinsing it and filling it with water before Emma can even make a protesting sound. Emma sees the frown of worry on her friend’s face and decides not to comment on the waste of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, and sips her water. 

She needs to get over this shit.

~*~

“How do people date, nowadays?” 

Marian eyes her warily, before her eyes drift to the people in the diner. “You want to discuss that here?” she asks her friend, eyebrows raised. 

Regina mimics the gesture. “It’s not like everyone already knows that my son is trying to get me a new spouse. I don’t see why not here.” 

“And maybe I can give you a piece of advice, too?” The lanky brunette who works at the diner, Ruby, winks at her before refilling her coffee. “On the house, Madam Mayor.” 

“Thank you, Ruby.” Regina gives her a curt nod before turning back to Marian. She looks pensive.

“You know, Regina, I might know someone who you might like. He’s a tall fellow, and has this flair around him that I think-” 

No, please, Marian. I am not asking you to set me up,” Regina quickly says. “I just want to know how it is… like, out there.” 

“Hm.” Marian sips her coffee, pensive. She’s recently divorced but did have a few dates already.

“It’s a bit more animalistic than it used to be,” Ruby offers, passing them by with a set of plates for the people two booths down. “Us ladies, we’d like to see if they have nice butts.” 

Regina snorts. “Right,” she says, disbelieving.

“It’s true!” Ruby says with a toothy grin. She quickly eyes Regina up and down, and winks. “You’ve got a nice one, Madam Mayor. Shouldn’t be too hard for you to find a date, at all.” 

Regina flushes. She’s not going to talk about her behind in public. Marian grins widely at her, and Regina glowers back. Then, her face falls again and she buries her face in her hands.

“The last time I dated computers and cellphones didn’t even exist yet. I mean, yesterday I came home and I found Henry and Violet in his room. They were listening music together and they kindly requested me to close the door on my way out. Even my son knows more about dating than I do.” 

“Listen, sweetheart,” Marian says, reaching over to softly squeeze Regina’s wrist, “Dating really isn’t that hard. You find someone, then you see if you have common grounds, see if you like each other. And it can take a while. You don’t have to rush into things.”

“Not if you don’t want to,” Ruby offers, a more gentle look in her eyes than moments before. She brings them both a salad. “Bad part about dating nowadays is that you have to split the check. Men won’t pay for your drinks and dinner anymore. Chivalry’s dead.” 

“That’s the least of my worries,” Regina mutters, face still buried. “This is going to be so hard. Much harder than I thought it was going to be. I wish there was a handbook. Someone who could teach me.” She sits still for a little while, Marian’s hand still comforting on her hand. 

Then, suddenly, her head snaps up.

“Ruby?”

“Yes, Madam Mayor?”

“Would you want to go on a date with me?” she quickly spits out and despite her anxious question, she finds it somewhat amusing to see Ruby's bulging eyes. 

“Uhh, M-me? Why…? S-sure!” Ruby stammers, startled.

Regina smirks, very content that she surprised the over-confident girl, and her eyes flick back to Marian, who gives her a wide-eyed stare, gawking openly. 

“Close your mouth, dear,” she tells her friend, suddenly in a better mood already. It’s been a while since she felt a little cocky. Since she’s hold the reigns. “Ruby, you seem to know a lot about it. But mind you, dear, I’m asking you on a date to… practice. Nothing else, all right? I really don’t think I’m ready for that.” 

Ruby shrugs, recovering quickly and she eyes her with newfound confidence. “Got it, Madam Mayor. Or can I call you Regina now? Listen, dinner next Friday at the restaurant just over the town’s border?” She winks. 

“Uh-” Now it’s Regina who’s a little confused. The conversation with Henry she’s had on going for drinks first comes to mind, but before she knows it, Ruby’s already confirmed. 

“Great! I’ll pick you up at 7.30.”

“I - sure, but -”

“Can’t wait!” 

She darts off, humming a song, off key. It’s dangerously close to ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ and she flashes Regina a toothy grin over her shoulder. Regina rolls her eyes and wonders if she has just made a terrible mistake. She sighs and leans backwards, before meeting Marian’s eyes again. They’re sparkling with amusement.

“What?” 

“I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that Regina Mills would go out with Ruby Lucas.” 

“Save it, please,” Regina groans. “I’m already starting to regret it.”

Chapter Text

Emma throws her hand up in the air and whines, “I can’t do this!” 

“Sure you can. What do you have so far?”

A pair of brown and a pair of blue eyes gaze at her, questioning, waiting for Emma to reply to E Emma looks at them, cranky already. After another sleepless night, the two traitors she used to call friends have teamed up against her, and they’re forcing her to write a letter. To Sleepless in Storybrooke. And she sucks at it. She eyes the few lines on her screen warily.

Jacinda lifts an eyebrow. “Well?” 

With an impatient sigh, Emma starts: “Dear Sleepless and Son, I’ve never written a letter like this in my entire life-” 

“That’s how everybody starts the beginning of their letters to strangers,” Jacinda interferes, shaking her head.  

“I know! You think I don’t know that?” Emma spits back and looks so lost that Belle takes pity on her. 

“Write something about magic,” she offers. Emma glares at her. Despite her outburst to Jacinda recently, they all know Emma’s original standpoint on magic and fate. That it’s nonexistent. 

But Belle’s an hopeless romantic and her eyes have drifted to the window, not really seeing what’s happening outside but embracing visions only she can see. “What if you never meet her, Emma?" she muses with an unhappy sigh, "What if this woman is your destiny and you never even lay eyes on her?” She snaps out of it and turns to Emma, quickly making her way over to her colleague’s desk. "Can't let that happen now, can we?" 

“Hey!” Emma protests as Belle rolls her chair away and starts typing. “I want to meet you on the top of the Empire State Building. Sunset, Valentine’s Day.”

Jacinda frowns. “Isn’t that from that Cary Grant movie?” Belle’s forcing them to watch all kinds of old romantic movies all the time and they kindly indulge her.

“What?” Emma wheezes, ignoring Jacinda. “Valentine’s Day? That’s our weekend! I’m not going to meet someone I have never spoken to on our weekend, and especially not on Valentine’s Day!” 

She pushes Belle away, hits control-A to select the text and deletes it with one press on the the delete button. She gets up, and paces to the door.

But she turns around when Belle quietly says: “It’s now or never, Emma. You can either take your chance, or walk away.” Both her friends watch her closely, and Jacinda adds: “You’ve been pining over this woman for weeks. You know, if she can bring you happiness, you’d be an idiot to let it just pass you by. You owe it to yourself to at least try.” 

Emma opens the door. “Well,” she says, “Maybe I just am that idiot. Because a part of me still thinks none of it is real and I’m just being a lonely fool with an overactive imagination that’s just running away with me.” She scowls and steps out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her and leaving her friends, who look at each other in understanding, behind.

And even though she doesn't believe in magic, doesn't believe in fate and any of that other crap, she can't shake the feeling that she is, in fact, walking away from her happiness with every step she removes herself further away from the office. 

~*~

“Henry? Henry, where are you?” Regina searches the house and when it comes up empty, she gets a little worried. Normally, her son answers immediately. He knows how worried she gets. Now, she is met with silence, and it instantly gets on her nerves. Her heartbeat picks up the pace, and her eyes flick through the kitchen

But suddenly, her eyes catches a movement in the backyard and she’s relieved to see her son sitting on the family swing. The one his father built for him. He looks lost and lonely, back turned towards her, so she takes her coat and because the wind is chilly, she also grabs her son’s red and grey scarf. Once she stands next to him, she drapes it around his neck, before she sits down on the swing next to him.

“What are you doing?” she softly says, nudging him. His eyes are turned down, to the ground.

“Nothing. I’m just sad,” he mutters. “I miss him.” 

Her heart squeezes and instantly, she feels the familiar burn of unshed tears behind her eyes. She breathes in deeply, and slowly lets the air escape again.

“Mom? What do you think happens to someone after they die?” 

“I don’t know.” Regina answers truthfully, while wrapping an arm around his young shoulders. 

“Do you even believe in heaven? Or hell?” Apart from the fact that she’s lived her personal hell for the past two years, she’s never believed in an afterlife. And since she’s vowed always to speak the truth, she can’t do anything but deny that she does. And yet, a nagging part of her has doubts.

“I’ve never really believed in any kind of afterlife,” she says, “but now… I don’t know. I have had these dreams about him, your dad, in which we are talking very long… a lot about you. Mostly about you and how you’re doing.” She offers him a smile. “I don’t know if it’s a dream, or if it is something else. That is sort of an afterlife as well, is it not?” 

Henry leans into her shoulder and when she pulls him close, she feels his tear splash on her hand. “I’m starting to forget him,” he says with quivering mouth. “I don’t want to forget him, but I am.” 

“Oh, honey,” Regina whispers, stroking his hair. Her breath hitches, and she feels completely ill equipped with his grief, especially since she still has so much of it, herself. “It’s not your fault.” She whispers comforting words, trying to not collapse herself, trying to be strong for her little boy. “If you want, I can tell you a few things about him to remember him by,” she offers.

He looks up, cheeks wet with tears, and he nods stiffly. Regina smiles.

“Your dad,” she softly said, “could talk to horses. They always felt comfortable with him. When he was at the stables, even the most unruly horses would eventually allow him to come near and work with him. They called him the horse whisperer of Storybrooke.” 

Henry smiles, eyes lit a little brighter while inhaling these bits and pieces of his father’s life. 

“He could also take one of the apples from my tree,” she continues, waving towards the honeycrisp tree a little further away in the garden, “and peel it in one, long curly strip. The whole apple.” She runs her fingers through his hair, and he relaxes somewhat at hearing these parts of his father he didn’t know. She presses a kiss on his head. “I love you, Henry.” 

He breathes in deeply. “I love you, mom.” 

They sit in the swing, lost in thought, for a long while after their conversation end, lost in their own memories of their family. And long after Henry’s gone to bed, she finds herself sitting there again, cold and miserable in the gushing, icy Maine wind, chest tight and heaving desperate breaths, knowing that she, too, is starting to forget bits and pieces of the man she so deeply loved.

~*~

Her date comes far too soon and of course, it was rather busy at the office that day so she hurries to change. She pulls on a dress she hasn’t worn for years but it’s still a pretty decent, boring one. Applies some light makeup, and rushes down the stairs.

Honestly, if this is how she feels when going on a fake date, then how on earth must it be when she has a real one in a while? She’s a nervous mess for this one, already.

There’s another letter on the kitchen counter, and she rolls her eyes. She’s seen enough letters to last her a lifetime, she begrudgingly thinks. “I’ll be home around ten,” she tells Granny, while dropping the letter in Henry’s lap. She kisses his head. “You read it. I’m done with letters.” 

He smiles, and starts to open the letter.

“Are you sure you’re okay to watch him?” she asks Granny. “Henry, eight thirty is still bedtime. Same rules count, even if I’m not here.”

“I raised my daughter and my granddaughter,” Granny pointedly says, indignantly. 

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Regina mutters under her breath. Granny’s granddaughter is Ruby.

“I heard that. Maybe I should give you the speech of not hurting my granddaughter, otherwise I’ll unleash all hell on you.” She glares at Regina. “No sex on the first date, young lady.”

“Did you tell Ruby the same?” Regina snorts. Granny only shrugs.

“So,” Regina sighs. “How do I look? Is this all right?” Henry simply waves it away and Granny gives her a thumbs up. Suddenly, Regina feels small and vulnerable. And it’s just a date with Ruby, without any expectations. 

“Hey mom, this is actually a really nice letter,” Henry says, reading the letter his mom just gave him. Regina just eyes him warily.

“Her name is Emma. Emma Swan.” He greedily absorbs the words on the white sheet of paper.  

A car honks outside and Regina groans. “All right, Ruby is here.” She strides to the door on her impressive heels.

“No, wait, mom! You’ve got to read this one!” He jumps up and runs towards her, and all but forces the letter into her hands.

She whirls around on the heels of her shoes, a little annoyed, but her face softens when she sees his enthusiasm. With a sigh, she strikes his hair while taking over the letter. “Dear Sleepless and Son, I’ve never written a letter like this in my entire life.” She rolls her eyes, throws a resigned look towards her son before she reads on. “‘I probably won’t ever again either, because I feel like an idiot already.’ Well, at least one of these letter writers has some sense in their heads. Apart from that she’s still writing a letter to a complete stranger, of course.”

“Mom!” Henry throws her a glowering look. 

“All right, all right.” She turns back to the letter. “‘You should know that even though fate might not exist, Star Wars is very real to me. It’s important that we agree that The Empire Strikes Back is the best trilogy and Reylo is the worst ship ever.’” She looks to her son, who’s practically bouncing up and down. 

“She thinks The Empire Strikes Back is the best! So do you!” 

 “Everyone knows that,” she tells him, returning the letter to him.

“It’s a sign,” he says, entirely enthused. 

“A sign? Where’s she from?” 

“Seattle!” 

Seattle?” She throws him a disbelieving glance. “Do you even know where that is?" Henry nods, and Regina snaps: "It’s on the other side of the country! There’s at least 26 states between us and her.” The car outside honks again, and she turns on her heels. “There’s a sign for you.” She presses a kiss on his head while he frowns at her.

“But mom-”

No, Henry, we will discuss this later. Or actually, I would rather not. I will see you in the morning, sweetheart. Listen to Granny.” 

She steps outside, blows her son another kiss and shuts the door. For a second, she leans against the door, exhausted. Her child is a force of nature.

She spots Ruby’s red Mustang and makes her way to the car. At least the company is pleasant. She has never really considered Ruby to be a close friend, but at least she’ll be distracted from dark thoughts for a night. Ruby doesn’t talk to her like she’s a pariah and she appreciates her for it. A lot of people still walk on eggshells around her. Poor little wife, left alone with a child. Drowning in sorrow.

She scoffs.

“Hi, Regina! Let’s get going,” Ruby brightly says when she opens the door, “I’ve made reservations at eight. They have pretty good ties to our diner, so we can sit there as long as we want. Or actually, as long as you want.” She frowns when she sees the resigned look on Regina’s face, as she expertly steers her fast car out of town. “You are really okay with this, aren’t you? If not, we can just stop and turn around.” 

Regina sighs and leans back in her passenger seat. 

“No, it is fine. I just had a discussion with my son.” She pinches her nose and inhales and exhales deeply. 

“Want to talk about it?” Ruby gives her a sympathetic smile. And Regina finds she actually does want to. Ruby's easy to talk to, she realizes, and she's pleasantly surprised.

“He thinks he’s found the perfect letter writer for me,” she sighs. "Based on a Star Wars correspondence in her letter." 

“Oh? Who is it?” Ruby seems intrigued.

“A woman from Seattle,” Regina curtly answers.  

Ruby laughs. “Seattle?! Talking about long distance relationships. She could as well live at the other side of the world!”

“Yes, Ruby, that’s basically what I told him.” She eyes her newfound friend with a wry smile. Then, her cell phone rings. She opens her bag and takes it out. Frowns when she sees who’s calling her before accepting the call.

“Henry? What’s wrong?” Worry lines her voice.

“Mom! Can we go to New York for Valentine’s Day?”

“What?”

“Emma Swan wants to meet us at the top of the Empire State building in New York on Valentine’s Day.”

Regina is stunned. She opens her mouth and snaps it shut again. She can’t believe her son.

“Henry?”

“Yes?” He sounds eager, and is still waiting for her reply.

“Have you fallen down the stairs? Are you bleeding? Is Granny there? Did she have a heart attack or something similar?”

She hears Ruby gasp in horror, and shakes her head reassuringly to calm down the woman next to her.

“No,” Henry answers, suddenly more careful. 

“So this... Emma, is the only reason for this phone call,” she scoffs. She is irritated. 

“Yes but, if we book now, we can get an excursion fare. Violet’s parents have a travel agency and Violet says-”

"Henry,” Regina interferes, prickly now, “I am not going to have this conversation with you right now. We will talk about it at a later time. You go to bed.”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” Henry says darkly, and Regina snorts. 

“Do not throw your Star Wars quotes on me,” she tells him. “Go to sleep. Only call when the house burns down. Love you, bye.” She breaks the connection with a definitive push on the screen, before flicking her eyes to Ruby. 

"Granny’s fine," she reassures her. "My son just wanted to ask me if we can go meet this latest Seattle crush of his. In New York, on Valentine’s Day at the top of the Empire State Building.” 

Ruby snorts. “Huh. Isn’t that like one of those Cary Grant classic movies?”

Regina closes her eyes. “I believe it is,” she says, with a dismissive sigh. “Let’s try to enjoy our evening out, shall we? No more talks about New York.”

Chapter Text

Seattle, one week later

At this point, she just doesn’t care anymore. She needs more information. Emma’s spent the greater part of her evening staring over the water, and watching the moon, when she springs into action. Before she knows it and before she can tell herself that this is a very wrong thing to do and stop herself, she’s taken her phone out of her pocket and chooses the number of an old friend. 

She needs to know more about the lady with the voice that touched… something inside her. And she isn’t a private investigator for nothing, damnit. Even though she knows this is wrong on so many levels.

It only takes a few phone calls and a short wait to discover Regina’s phone number, and she eyes the message, the numbers, warily. Then, she shrugs and resolutely selects the number. The hair in her neck rise when she presses the call button. 

The dial tone sounds two, three, four times, and then-

“You have reached the Mills residence. Please leave a message-” She hangs up.

Mills. Regina Mills. 

Now it’s easy. Storybrooke is a tiny town in the middle of fucking nowhere, and she’ll eat her shoe if there are more than two Regina Millses hidden in there. She googles the name and instantly a few photos pup op. She gasps when she sees the overview.

Something twists and turns inside her belly as she clicks the first. It’s an official photo. The woman looking back at her is beautiful, and Emma gasps. Her eyes trail over the photo, taking in the shape of Regina’s face, the cheekbones, the full, plump lips, painted in a shade of dark red and with this little scar just above her lip, up to her dark chocolate brown eyes. Goosebumps erupt over her entire body. She had expected a lot, but not this. The woman takes her breath away - and these are simply pictures. Emma realizes that the voice matches her well. The dark gaze fits the throaty voice perfectly.

And it’s one thing less to worry about. Jacinda’s told her earlier that Emma doesn’t even know what Regina looks like. Could be an old hag with a wart on her chin, she said, and it got Emma slightly worried, but now, she sighs, thoroughly impressed and also a little relieved.

But then, she frowns. Scoffs at herself. So much for human decency. She’s just lowered herself to stalker level by gathering information about this woman for her personal use. 

And yet, she can’t stop herself from googling more. It’s like an addiction she can’t quell. 

There’s an article in which Regina’s featured, which is from last Saturday. “Regina Mills spotted with Ruby Lucas.” In the article there’s a photo of Regina, talking to someone in a restaurant whose face she can’t see. But the woman is tall and has this curly brown hair falling all the way to her lower back. 

Emma feels a pang of jealousy. She’s happy for Regina to be dating again.

Maybe she’s just less happy it’s not with her.

She growls at herself for thinking that. She really, really needs to get over this insane infatuation. It’s time to go home. Or maybe she shouldn’t go home. It’s Friday night. Maybe she should call Belle and go to a cafe, to get completely wasted. That might stop her from doing anything else remotely stupid or at least, it might take her mind off a certain brunette for a while. 

Her phone rings and she sees it’s Jacinda. Emma frowns. Jacinda’s working late in the diner, but when she answers the call, her roommate is practically bouncing with excitement on the other side of the line. “Emma! Where are you?! Turn on your radio!” 

“What?” 

“The kid is on! You’ve got me listening to this garbage in the diner. Go, turn it on!” 

Emma finds herself almost sprinting to her car, heart pounding in her throat, and starts the bug before turning on the radio. 

They’re so close, they’re almost kissing!” Henry’s voice fills the car and she finds herself surprised, not just by his words - and oh, her heart squeezes painfully at his words - but also that her treacherous mind also missed his voice.

Dr. Archie Hopper says: “Oh, really? Henry, tell the truth. Are you spying on your mother?”  

“Who’s she kissing?” Emma squeals at Jacinda.

“I have to make them stop! She came over and cooked for us and she brought two bags of groceries like she was staying here for a year!” Henry sounds panicked, and the agony is easily transferred to Emma.

“I don’t know!” Jacinda yells back at Emma.

Henry, Henry, listen to me. It’s a good thing your mom is dating again. It’s just hard on you. Maybe it was something that you thought you wanted, but then when it actually happens, it scares you.” Dr. Hopper tries to talk some sense into the boy, but Henry isn’t having it.

“That’s not true,” Henry defends himself. 

“Okay, now, think. Shouldn’t your mother be the judge of whether someone is right or wrong for her?”

“She’s not sane enough to judge anything.” He squeaks. “They’re almost kissing again, they’re so close! I need to stop them!”

“Calm down, Henry,” Dr. Hopper tries, voice soothing. “ Tomorrow morning, when you’re sitting down to breakfast with your mom, tell her how you feel. It’s not good to keep your feelings inside you.” 

The connection breaks.

“Henry? Henry, are you still there? It seems we’ve lost our connection.” 

“Holy shit, what just happened?” Jacinda cries, “This is like a soap with a fucking cliffhanger! I want to know what happens next!” 

Emma grips her steering wheel until her knuckles are white. “I know exactly how you feel,” she breathes, leaning her forehead on it as well. Her mind plays tricks on her, imagining Regina kissing the brunette with the curly hair. It must be her, she figures, and she groans in agony. “Jacinda, I’m coming over. I need some distraction.”

There’s a short silence at the other side of the line. “Get over here. I’ll bring you the biggest grilled cheese sandwich. On the house. Ice cream for dessert, for comfort.”

Despite her sore heart, adrenaline running through her veins and shaking body, Emma grins. She loves her friends.

~*~

Storybrooke, same time

A piercing scream fills the house, and Regina and Ruby run inside instantly, both horrified that something might be wrong with the boy inside.

“HENRY! Henry, what’s wrong?” Regina rushes over to him, panic lining her voice, but she suddenly stops when she sees him. Her eyes turn suspicious.

Her son is sitting on the couch, legs crossed, phone in his hand. He doesn’t even look remotely scared or guilty. 

“Nothing’s wrong, is there?” she sharply asks, her tone demanding an explanation.

“I thought I saw a black widow spider,” he says. His chin is up, and stares at her in defiance. They both know it’s a lame excuse

“You- Henry! You scared us to death!” Regina cries out. Anger flares inside of her, and that’s a rarity.

“It was right over there,” he waves to a spot in the corner, seemingly not impressed with his mother.

Regina sighs impatiently, and snaps at him: “The next time you think you see a black widow spider, I want you to say ‘Mom, excuse me, but I believe a poisonous insect is in the house’, and I will calmly come and take care of it. You scream like that again, and you are grounded, young man, until you are well into your twenties.” She pulls him up and escorts him to the stairs. “Go to bed. Now.” 

“But mom-” he tries, but she cuts him off.

“Not another word.” Her tone is definitive and Henry knows better than to try again. She sees how he stomps off and turns back to Ruby.

“I’m sorry for that,” she says, running a hand through her hair in agony. “He usually isn’t like this.” 

“Oh, I understand. He doesn’t like me.” Ruby says matter-of-factly. She shrugs.

“He just doesn’t know you.” Regina touches Ruby’s arm while she lowers herself on the couch. She sighs, before covering her eyes with her hands. She and Ruby, they were talking in the garden. Actually, Regina was talking, while Ruby was encouraging her to. About Daniel, in fact. It is a relief to talk about him without pitying stares, even being able to laugh about how he was and did. It appears that Ruby actually knew Daniel from her childhood so she also had some stories to share. It has been… liberating, Regina thinks. 

Ever since their fake date, Regina has warmed up to Ruby. Not in a romantic way, but Ruby, once she drops the act of seductress, is sharp, witty and offers perspectives Regina hasn’t seen before. It’s refreshing. So, she invited her to dinner, a week after their original date, and Ruby said she was only going to come if she were the one to cook. After all, she said, she works in a diner. 

Regina was a bit wary because diner food doesn’t really go well with what she considers to be a healthy balanced meal for herself and her son, but Ruby really surprised her. She knows Henry liked it as well because he emptied his plate, but his eyes were shooting daggers at Ruby the entire evening. It's behavior she does not tolerate from her son, and she knows they are going to have a talk about it in the morning. She doesn't understand why it is. Ruby is easygoing, and occasionally, it seemed as if he wanted to pitch in the conversation as well, but then his face clouded over and he pulled himself back into a sullen silence. 

She shakes her head to clear it, and looks up to the young woman, still standing opposite from her. “He'll get over it." She's not sure of it, but has to believe it, and she changes the subject. "Ruby, why do you work in the diner? With your cooking skills you could open your own restaurant.” She pats her stomach, still delightfully filled with the meal they enjoyed a little while ago.

Ruby smiles, shrugs and sits down next to her. “The diner is home. I like cooking, but I don’t think I’d like it as much when I would have to do it like this every day. I’m satisfied with working at the diner.” She winks, patting Regina’s knee. “And occasionally dating our hot mayor in the process. Wouldn't have happened if I hadn't worked there, would it?” 

Regina rolls her eyes, and Ruby laughs. “Fine, fine . But honestly," she says, more serious again, "it’s a nice hobby. I wouldn’t want it to be my full time job.” 

Regina nods in understanding. There’s a short, comfortable silence between them, until Regina breaks it with a quiet voice. “I’m happy you’re here, Ruby. It has really helped me, having someone who does not pity me. Someone who doesn't want to fix things or tell me I just have to get over it.” She looks up, feeling a little vulnerable, and meets Ruby’s eyes. 

Ruby gently smiles back, reaches for Regina’s hand and squeezes softly. 

“I'd never. And you’re very welcome.”

~*~ 

Seattle, a few days later

“You have GOT to be kidding me.” 

Emma eyes them in disbelief. Her friends look back at her. They’ve teamed up against her and there’s hardly anything she can do.

“You booked me a fucking plane ticket?!” 

“And a rental car. And one night at the local bed and breakfast,” Sabine offers with a wide smile. “Fate needs a little push since you’re too hard-headed to do anything else but pine.” She eyes her accusingly and Emma groans.

“Emma, just look her up. Talk to her. You’ve been pining over this woman for weeks , so at least go and see if there’s a real connection. If so, you’ll hit it off, if not, then… well, then at least you know, and you come home,” Jacinda agrees. 

“It’s time to you to take your life into your own hands,” Belle quietly says. “If not, you’ll always wonder. Like you said before.”

“But- I- This is basically stalking,” Emma protests.

“Not if it’s destiny,” Belle says, eyes pointed to somewhere in the distance, and she sighs happily. “Besides,” she says, tilting her head and now looking more sternly to her friend, “If you’re not going, Jacinda is, and she’ll be way less subtle.” 

She’s lost this battle before it’s even started, Emma groans. She leans back into her chair and fidgets with her fingers. “This is so unfair, you teaming up against me. There should be a law against it.” 

“Your flight leaves tomorrow,” Sabine says with a smile, disregarding Emma’s words while Belle and Jacinda high five each other, “I suggest you go home and pack.”

Chapter Text

Regina feels the need to bond with her son. Ever since the nonexistent spider incident, he’s been cranky and distant, and she really dislikes it. They’ve never been so far apart. So, she’s taking him to the nearest airport. Henry’s always liked planes, and being away from Storybrooke will give them the time to talk about what’s happened without getting interrupted by her work or his friend Violet, who’s basically living in Henry’s room nowadays.

So, they’re now sitting on the panoramic deck right outside the arrival gates, and she watches him standing against the railing. He’s growing up so fast, she realizes. He’s almost nine. Not long now before he becomes a teenager. Sometimes, she can still see the tiny boy he once was. Sometimes, like now, she can see what’s in their future, when puberty hits to the fullest. She dreads it and looks forward to it at the same time.

“Henry, can you come over, please?” she calls out to him.

He sighs, frowns, and reluctantly leaves his place at the railing, before closing the distance between them and dropping down on the seat next to her.

“Henry, I know we’ve had our difficulties as of late… but please tell me, Is this all about Ruby?” 

He remains silent, but scowls at her. She sighs deeply.

“Listen to me. There’s nothing going on between Ruby and myself," she urgently tells him. He needs to understand. "Ruby's become a very good friend. Friends sometimes go out for dinner, or they come over, like Marian and Kathryn do. Ruby’s helped me with a lot of things. But if this is what you’re worrying about - she is never going to be your stepmom.” 

He frowns, not really want to believe his mom just yet. He fidgets with his fingers, and she takes his hand into both of hers. 

“I like Ruby. If you don’t like her, that is fine. Because sometimes, you just don’t. But, Henry, and this is what I want you to listen to very closely…” She pauses, and he lifts his head to meet his mother’s eyes. “What I don’t want to happen is that you deny her the respect she deserves. There is no need to be rude to her. She does not deserve that. I have raised you with manners, and I expect you to treat people politely and with respect.” 

There’s still a hint on defiance on his face, but also a little embarrassment. It is true, she’s raised him well and respect for other people has always been very important. Henry  has always given people a chance. The fact that he thought Ruby might mean something else to his mom has set him off

“Ruby’s talked to me about- about your dad. Maybe she can tell you things about him as well. Apart from that, I don’t have any dating experience at all. Ruby’s helping me with that. You were the one who wanted me to get out there again, right? I might as well know what I am doing when I do meet someone that I want to get to know.” 

“Hm,” Henry says, a little reluctant. Now, his head hangs low now. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. Regina smiles. Despite everything, he’s a good boy. She vaguely sees how the doors of one of the gates open, but she doesn’t really pay attention, and slides an arm around his shoulders to pull him closer.

“Listen to me, Henry… dating… People date because you don’t know each other and want to see if you connect on certain levels. It is basically just see if you like each other. Find out things about one another and see if you fit together. Even if I date anyone in the future, it is unlikely that we’ll move in together or marry within a couple of days.”

Now, Henry’s mouth turn up a little. He knows his mother well and she’s a master in overthinking. The chance of his mom doing something like that without thinking is both funny and ridiculous. He leans into her shoulder.

“There is a world of difference between simply dating to get to know one another and committing to something for the long term. Can you appreciate the difference?” 

Henry nods, and sighs. 

“No matter who I am going to meet - IF I am going to meet someone at all, everyone’s going to be an adjustment, Henry,” she gently says. “Not just for you, for me, as well. I will always compare any date to your father.  You’ll always see how my dates are going to be different from your father. That’s normal. We’ve had it perfect for a while. After that, nobody’s going to be-”

Breath catches in her throat when her eyes flick over the arrival gate, magnetically pulled to the people leaving the plane that’s just arrived. The first thing she notices is an unruly bunch of golden curls. The sun lights them up like a halo. The woman to which the curls belong seems to search for something. The exit, probably. Her green eyes shift to left and right while she adjusts her duffel bag on her shoulder. The prominent cheekbones, stubborn chin and straight nose show a determination Regina can only appreciate. Her fashion sense is a little questionable, Regina thinks, with the red pleather jacket, but she can appreciate the shape of the woman’s body it accentuates. 

Time seems to come to an abrupt still as the world falls away around Regina and the mysterious woman. Her heart pounds loudly in her chest and there’s something coiling inside her stomach. She swallows thickly.

Perfect. 

The blonde has found where she wants to go to and stalks off. The moment is gone and Regina feels disappointment as she stares to the disappearing back of the stunning woman. Henry, who’s heard her gasp, watches his mom with a worried frown.

“Mom? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.” Suddenly, Regina feels the need to follow the golden haired stranger and springs into action. “Come on. We have to go.”

Flabbergasted, Henry complies and skips up to her, grabbing her hand as Regina tries to spot the blonde curls in the crowd.

“Mom? Violet and me have talked about reincarnation. She says that you probably new Emma in another life.” His mood is gone, so his mind immediately moves on to more pressing matters. Things he wanted to share with his mom for a while now, but because his annoyance with her, he hasn't told her yet.

“Violet and I. And who’s Emma?” Regina says from a distance. She spots the woman, she’s already covered a great distance, and Regina picks up the pace, dragging her son with her. 

“The one who wrote us. Star Wars?” Henry rolls his eyes. “But Violet says that you and Emma never got together in that life. So, your hearts are like puzzles with missing pieces and when you get together, that puzzle is complete again.” 

Regina’s lost sight of the woman. “Damn it,” she mutters under her breath, while desperately trying to find a hint of golden hair in the sea of the crowd. 

There’s nothing. The blonde is gone. She groans internally when the world comes back to her again.

“The reason I know this and you don’t is because I’m younger and I’m pure so I’m more in touch with cosmic forces.  And I’m a true believer.”

“Who told you all of this?!” She finally comes to a full stop, lamenting the loss of the woman she was chasing, and realizes what his son has been telling her. She eyes him warily. 

Violet .”

Regina scoffs. “I sincerely hope you will never marry Violet,” she tells him, and he smiles widely at her.

“Don’t worry mom, we won’t marry tomorrow. We’re too young. Besides, you just told me it takes a lot of time, right?” 

Her son is way too smart, she sighs, rolling her eyes. But when his arm slides around his waist, she realizes that at least she’s accomplished what she’s set out to do. They’ve mended things, at least a little. She knows this will probably not be the end of it, but at least they took a few steps into the right direction. 

~*~

Emma sits in her room at the B&B, which happens to be above a diner. Which is good, because she is starving. It took her almost two hours to reach Storybrooke after she picked up her rental. It’s late afternoon and she has uncharacteristically skipped lunch. Meaning that she needs something in her stomach before… 

Her heart skips a beat. Before she gathers up all of her courage and rings the doorbell at the gigantic mansion in Mifflin Street. Her contacts in the area provided her with all the details she needs. She drove past it and felt her heart sink. Regina Mills is an important figure around here. And not just because she’s the mayor of this sleepy little town.

She leaves her room and finds herself sitting at the bar, ordering a grilled cheese. The tall legged brunette behind the counter takes her order and fixes her up with coffee and some nuts to start with. Ruby, her name plate says. It fits the red streaks in her hair, Emma notices.

Ruby catches her eyes, and pats her hair. “You like them? Got them last week. I had to go to a town up north because there’s no one capable here.” She snorts, and appreciatively lets her eyes wander up and down Emma’s figure. Emma frowns. “We don’t get a lot of visitors this time of year,” the waitress tells her. “Are you here for business or pleasure?”

“Both,” Emma curtly says. She doesn’t want to reveal much. If she’s right, this is one of those towns in which nothing ever happens, so everything she says will probably be spread to all the locals within seconds.

“Ah, do tell!” The sparkling eyes of the brunette in front of her reveal a cunningness that tells Emma to be careful, so she leans back a little.

“I could, but then I’d have to kill you,” Emma says evenly.

There’s a stunned silence for a few seconds, then Ruby throws her head in her neck and barks with laughter. Emma finds herself smiling back at the almost howling woman, and sees the mischief on Ruby’s face when she calms down.

“I like you. What’s your name again?”

“Emma. Emma Swan.” 

Ruby throws her a genuine smile. “Well, welcome to Storybrooke, Emma Swan.”

~*~ 

The grilled cheese is amongst the best she’s ever tasted - she’s never going to tell Jacinda. But with a belly full, she finds herself across the street from the gigantic mansion that is Regina’s and Henry’s home, and she’s trying to muster up some courage and walk up to the door.

But right as she wants to open the car door, the front door opens and both Regina and Henry step outside. Her brain functions automatically and she ducks her head. She snorts at her own reaction. Professional habit, she thinks. But before she can regain her confidence, the both of them step into a black Mercedes and Regina pulls out of the driveway. 

Emma’s momentarily unsure what to do. Her heart beats in her throat as she makes a decision to slowly follow the black car. It’s a good thing she does this stuff for a living, she thinks with a wry smirk. 

She follows them until Regina parks the car and steps out. Emma can only admire the way she moves. With confidence, she thinks. She’s a mayor, she has to be confident. She blinks and notices where they’ve parked. It’s at the beach.

Emma parks her car across the street and watches the two of them. Regina spreads a blanket and they both take place. For a couple of minutes, they’re huddled together, talking. Emma wonders what they’re speaking about, until Regina gently ruffles Henry’s hair. The boy jumps up and grabs his kite. Regina also rises, holding the kite before him until the wind catches it. When Emma rolls down the window, she can hear their voices and laughter enter her car.

She can’t get out of the car.

This moment, it’s feels special for mother and son. She cannot ruin it for them by introducing herself as some lunatic from Seattle who incidentally heard them on the radio. She sighs, leans backwards, and watches the two of them for another few minutes. Regina throws a frisbee at Henry, who’s still trying to keep the kite up in the air and the boy squawks indignantly, which makes both Regina and Emma laugh. She watches how Regina tackles him which makes him fall into her arms, and she carries him over to the water side. His horrified shrieks as she tries to turn him upside down to dip his head in the water make Emma laugh again, and she wistfully looks at the pair. She wishes she could join in on the fun. She longs to, but she can’t allow herself to.

Then, Emma sighs, starts the car, and drives away. It feels wrong to even watch this, this tender, loving moment between mother and son. She can’t get herself to intrude on something special like this. And so, she leaves for the bed and breakfast.

It’s around dinner time when she returns there, but she’s not hungry. It has nothing to do with the grilled cheese she’s had a couple of hours before - she just really doesn’t feel like eating right now. Instead, she nods at the elderly woman who’s behind the diner’s counter now - the one who insisted to call her Granny - and moves upstairs.

Throwing her jacket on the chair, she calls Belle and drops on the bed.

“Tell me,” Belle immediately says when she answers the phone. She sounds so hopeful that Emma nearly flinches.

“I watched her play with her so on the beach today,” Emma mutters. 

“Did you talk to her?” The eagerness in Belle’s voice is nearly too much.

With her eyes closed, Emma answers: “No. I just couldn’t do it.” She heaves a sigh. “Belle, how did I get here?” There’s a hint of desperation in her voice. She needs to be grounded, because it feels like since this all started, she’s been steadily losing control over her life.

“You’ve got friends who bought you a plane ticket and went,” Belle offers unhelpfully. 

“That’s not what I mean.” She pauses, emotions raging through her body. Images of this afternoon, voices on the radio - it all swirls through her mind until she cuts them all off resolutely. A determination remains. And then, she makes a decision. “I’m going back tomorrow and I’m going to talk to her.”

Belle makes a disbelieving sound and Emma is surprised how that irritates her. Belle doesn’t believe she will do it. Belle, who’s the truest believer in love of them all, and suddenly, Emma wants to prove her wrong.

“I am,” Emma says, a little firmer now. She needs to believe it, as well. 

“Okay.” A smile lines Belle’s voice. “I know you can do it.” 

“Belle…  is this crazy?” Emma’s eyes flick through the simple room. “Am I completely out of my mind?”

Her friend is silent for a few seconds. Then, she breathes in deeply. “No. That’s the weirdest part about it.” Belle sounds gentle, and Emma smiles.

“Thanks, Belle. And I’m not telling you often enough, but I love you.”

“Love you too, Em. Good night. And go get her.” 

“Good night,” Emma smiles. She falls back into her pillow after she ends the call and breathes in. Exhaling slowly, she closes her eyes, still a little jet lagged from only three hours of time difference. She’s got this, she thinks with more confidence than she actually feels. Tomorrow, her flight home is late afternoon. There’s plenty of time to go back to the mansion, say what she wants to say, and leave. 

She nods to herself, then slowly drifts off dreaming about a stunning mayor and her little boy on the beach.

~*~

She had planned to go earlier in the morning, but she’s slept longer than she has in weeks. It’s like being here, being in the vicinity of Regina Mills and confirming what she knows from google with her own eyes, has given her brains some peace of mind they’ve needed since that phone call from a little boy to a radio station at Christmas Eve. Emma appreciates the sleep she’s gotten, but it forces her to hurry up. There’s not much time after her late breakfast to do what she must, but maybe it’s for the best, Emma thinks. It doesn’t give her much time to worry or overthink, which is a good thing. Ruby’s sad to see her go.

“Did you find what you were looking for? Both business and pleasure-wise?” Ruby winks at her. Emma thinks that Jacinda would probably really like the brunette. Emma does, too. 

She offers the waitress a lopsided smile, answering vaguely that she has. And it's true. She's seen Regina face to face. There's just still a little something she needs to do. Talk to her, for instance. 

"Where are you flying back to?” Ruby’s curiosity has no end to it. 

“Seattle,” Emma answers, taking the hot cup of coffee. Within two days, Ruby already knows how she likes it best and she nods at her in appreciation. 

“Seattle, huh? That’s a coincidence.” Ruby's sharp eyes take her in with renewed interest.

“How so?” Emma frowns. 

“It’s just that someone I know- No, never mind,” Ruby shakes her head, dismissing a thought. “You have a great flight. And if you can, come back during summer. The weather’s lovely then.”

“Maybe I will,” Emma says, knowing that it all depends on what’s going to happen in the next couple of hours, and nods a goodbye while slinging the duffle bag over her shoulder.

It doesn’t take long before she’s on her way, but when she makes her way over to Mifflin street again, she sees a familiar pair trotting the pavement towards the park. Regina and Henry are walking together, Regina carrying a picnic basket, Henry a cloth. Emma slowly turns her car, while keenly watching where they’re going. They settle on a bench near the park’s entrance and Emma parks her rental on the other side of the street. 

Okay. This is it. She breathes in and out, slowly. Gives her fidgeting fingers something to do and combs through her hair - a nervous streak, she knows that. She looks up and down the street to check for traffic before she slowly crosses it, while Regina and Henry are laying out a checkered cloth before unloading a basket of food. 

“R’Gina! Henry!” someone calls out, and Emma freezes in the middle of the road. From inside the park comes a pretty brunette, curls falling to her back, and a small boy who races up to them. The boy, not older than five, throws himself in Regina’s arms and she extends one to her friend, as well. As they fall into each other’s arms, Emma feels her heart squeeze painfully and she gasps for air. It feels like the ground is moving away from under her.

Regina and the woman end their hug, but Regina has wrapped a tight arm around the woman’s shoulders, while talking to her. Henry and the boy are chasing each other and laugh. It’s like she is watching them through a tunnel. As if she’s not there, at all.

Then, suddenly, a car honks, pulling Emma out of her funk and she jumps backwards as a car passes her closely, the driver pulling up a fist to her and she feels how the adrenaline from the near hit is rushing through her body. 

The group in the park turns around to see what’s happening, and when Emma meets Regina’s eyes, they’re both momentarily frozen. Holy crap. She is drawing shaky breaths and it’s one of these rare moments in her life that she absolutely doesn’t have a clue about what to do.

Then, Regina deliberately starts moving forward until she’s reached the pavement, while Emma’s still standing in the middle on the road, unable to look away from the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. Regina stops, not crossing the street, with somewhat of a frown on her face as if she’s thinking about something. “Hello,” she offers, corners of her mouth pulling a little. 

Emma shuffles, heart pounding in her throat. “Hello,” she quietly replies. She’s so nervous she can’t even smile. How the hell did she ever get this way? She opens her mouth to say something, but then another car honks and she hears a car brakes, squeaking tires. She turns, jumps back to her rental again, and casts another glance in Regina’s direction. Regina’s looks startled, her mouth moves, so she’s saying something, but Emma’s heart is pounding in her ears now and Emma can’t hear a thing. These feelings, these overwhelming emotions almost got her a one way ticket to the area’s hospital. And Emma freaks out. 

“I… I have to go,” she quickly says, before jumping in the car and driving off. She sees how the rest of the party joins Regina on the sidewalk, before they disappear from her rearview mirror. She’s so shaken up, so embarrassed, that she vows she’ll never set a foot in Storybrooke, ever again.

Chapter Text

Seattle, early evening

“You were standing in the middle of the road?” Jacinda’s stayed up until Emma returned home, and hasn’t given her the chance to unpack her duffel bag before bombarding her with questions. Emma’s begrudgingly told her what happened up until she sped away. 

Emma groans, falling down on the couch. The trip has been a complete disaster. “You know that dream that you’re in the middle of the street and you find yourself completely naked? And everyone’s looking at you?”

Jacinda shrugs. "Yeah, and?"

“That was nothing compared to the humiliation I felt this morning. Nothing.” She grabs a pillow and hides her face into it.

“But hey, she saw you, didn’t she?” Jacinda urges.

“Yes, she did.” For a moment, Emma relives the memory of their eyes locking. Her breath stutters again. The photos she found really didn’t do her any justice.

“You were face to face!” Jacinda claps excitedly, pulling Emma out of her thoughts.

“She even said hello,” Emma murmurs.

Jacinda eyes her, impatiently waiting for her friend to continue. “And what did you say?” she demands to know when Emma doesn't say anything.

Emma leans back on the couch, squeezing her eyes shut and pinching her nose. “I just… closed up," she whines, "All I could say was hello.” 

For a few seconds, there’s an eerie silence. Emma’s eyes flick to her friend, who’s staring back at her, disappointment visible on her face. “That’s it? That’s your grand moment?” Jacinda snorts in disbelief. “You know you ruined it, right?” 

Emma covers her face with her hands, groans loudly, and then jumps up. “So stupid. I’m so stupid. From the minute I listened to that stupid radio show I’ve been a complete idiot . What the hell was I thinking, that maybe, just maybe…” She storms off to the kitchen, grabs some water and throws it in her throat. Jacinda follows her, now a little more sympathetic.

“You don’t know who the other woman was, Emma,” Jacinda tells her. 

“I do!” Emma exclaims, “I saw her. I even saw a picture of her. I saw them together. ” She impatiently unlocks her phone and shows Jacinda the article of Regina dating a brunette. It’s got to be the same woman. “See? That’s exactly what she looks like.” 

Jacinda takes one look at the photo and gives it back. “This is a picture of someone’s back!” she snorts. “That doesn’t tell you anything. Don’t be so dense, Emma.” 

“It’s her, I’m sure, and Regina was crazy about her,” Emma stubbornly retorts.

Her eyes fall on a small pile of mail that Jacinda’s kept for her while she was away. She goes through her mail quickly because her hands need to be kept busy, and finds a small, white envelope.

“What’s this?” She looks at the postal stamp and her eyes grow wide in disbelief. “This… this is from Storybrooke.” 

She frowns at Jacinda as she opens the envelope. Jacinda, who’s suddenly takes a few steps backwards. Emma’s eyes dart over the letter and frowns. “Jacinda,” she growls, glowering.

“Okay! So, uh, we may have mailed your letter,” Jacinda sheepishly confesses. ”Control-Z is such a powerful thing, you know.” 

Emma grunts in disbelief, and turns her attention back to the letter, and then starts to read it out loud

“Dear Emma. Thanks for your letter. You sound neat.” She rolls her eyes at Jacinda. “We’re very excited about meeting you in New York on Valentine’s Day. and seeing if we are… M.F.E.O. See ya soon, Sleepless in Seattle.” What kind of letter is that? Certainly one she would never associate with an eloquent mayor!

“M.F.E.O?” Jacinda asks, curious.

There’s a pause in which Emma’s eyes flick through the room, before desperately meeting Jacinda’s. “Made for each other,” Emma mutters. Her cheeks flush and she feels flustered.

“Well, that’s cute,” Jacinda offers with a small smile. “Like a little clue.” 

Emma stares at her, wide eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she cries out, turning it into a ball of paper and throwing it at Jacinda’s head. She catches it easily.

“So, the woman can’t write a letter. Big deal. Most people can’t.” Jacinda unfolds the piece of paper and her eyes flick over it.

“She’s a fucking politician! If anyone knows a way with words, it’s fucking politicians.” She throws her hands in the air in agony.

“Maybe she’s just having a hard time opening up to you! Maybe your expectations of her have risen so high now that everything that’s a little off putting is something you turn into a major issue.” Jacinda eyes her accusingly, before returning to the letter.

"No,” Emma bites. “Enough. I’ve had enough. I am going to return to my life, focus on my work, and I will forget about Regina Mills entirely. Jacinda, I’m done with all of this.”

“But what about the letter?” Jacinda sputters.

“The letter means nothing!” Emma cries out, frustrated. “It was written before I went out there, before she ended up in the arm of that, that--” Suddenly, she deflates, and sinks on a chair. Exhaling, she says, “You know, the woman didn’t look so bad. She looked like someone you and I could be friends with.” She covers her eyes, and groans. 

“This has to end. And it’s going to end right now. I don’t want to hear anything anymore about Regina Mills, her son, or that stupid radio show. You hear me?” She glares at Jacinda, not averting her eyes until she’s getting the answer she wants.

Jacinda eyes her warily, but then shrugs. “As you wish.” 

And that’s that, Emma thinks, throwing the letter in the bin. No more Sleepless in Storybrooke. No more googling Regina’s images. No more hurt feelings. Time to return to sanity. This has gone on long enough. She is not going to torture herself anymore with thoughts of what could have been - the life she momentarily envisioned is never going to happen annd she doesn't want to spend the upcoming months wallowing in self pity over it. 

She needs to go back to her normal life. 

And she’s going to start right now.

~*~

Seattle, later in the evening

“So you saw her at the airport, and then here?” Kathryn sips her cider, and raises her eyebrows as both Marian and Regina fill her in on what’s happened earlier today. Marian has kept a sharp eye on her friend, ever since a blond woman almost got hit by a car this morning - twice - and Regina nearly freaked out after she sped away with her car. 

It’s evening in Storybrooke, and Marian, Kathryn and Regina are spending some much overdue time together. Roland is playing with Henry, who semi-listens to the conversation. He’s not even hiding it.

“Yes,” Regina sighs. “And I tried to talk to her. It was like I knew her, or something. It was.. odd. And yet, it felt… perfectly normal.” She raises her head to meet Kathryn’s eyes, and shrugs a little helpless.

“Like a deja vu?” Kathryn offers, eyes kind.

“Exactly like a deja vu,” Regina answers, a little relieved that neither of her friends make fun of it. 

"Maybe it's a sign," Marian says with a soft smile. "I saw the way she looked at you, too, Regina. She was... stunned. She didn't know what else to say, just as much as you did."

Regina shakes her head. "I asked her if she was okay, and then... it almost seemed like she fled. Something spooked her, and it wasn't the car. I don't... I will probably never seen her again." For some reason, that confession hurts a little. Because it did feel as if there was... at least some connection. 

“Well, at least you’re out there seeing people again,” Kathryn says, “That’s terrific.” 

“Please,” Regina scoffs. “I only had one date. And this morning’s encounter… it doesn’t really count as ‘seeing someone.’ I hardly had a look at her.” Time-wise, she’s correct, but the woman’s appearance seems to be burned into her memory. 

She’s not going to tell Kathryn.

“She’s been on a date with Ruby,” Marian adds helpfully, and they hear Henry snort.

“You don’t like her, kid?” Kathryn says, eyebrow raised at him.

“They’re not marrying anyway, mom said, so what’s to hate?” Henry mutters. Regina glowers at him and he slumps back into his chair. He hasn’t forgotten the talk they had on the airport. Regina turns back to her friends.

“I asked Ruby on a date because I’m out of practice. She’s helped me immensely. Not just with dating… and not with that either,” Regina snaps, when Kathryn starts to wiggle her eyebrows, rolling her own eyes. “But she’s a good listener. And apparently, I needed someone to talk about-” She cuts herself off. Her friends offer her sympathetic glances.

“Anyway. Henry doesn’t like her, even after my explanation that Ruby’s just a friend , because he’s obsessed with this letter we’ve received from the radio show. A woman wrote me.” She rolls her eyes. She’s told them about the letters that have been pouring in, but the notion of Henry liking one specific letter peaks both Marian’s and Kathryn’s interest. “Seriously?” Kathryn asks.

“Yes,” Regina sighs, fingers curling around her own glass of cider. She brings it to her mouth, and before she sips, she says: “She wants to meet me at the top of the Empire State building. At Valentine’s Day.” 

There’s a few seconds of silence as her friends mull over that bit of information.

“Isn’t that from that movie?” Marian asks then.

“What movie?” Kathryn turns to Marian.

“The Cary Grant movie?” Marian answers. “The one... Well, nevermind.” She waves it off, it’s not important.

“Ruby’s mentioned it before,” Regina tells her. “Seriously, though. What kind of a person would write to someone who they just heard on a radio show?”

“A lot,” Henry chips in. “There were hundreds.” Regina sighs, and nods. “Henry insisted on reading them all.” Kathryn and Marian nod. They both have heard bits and pieces of the letters she’s received. Some of them were all right, but the fact that people would write to someone they’ve never even met has made Regina dismiss them all.

“And there’s only one you like? Must be some letter,” Kathryn winks at him.

“She likes Star Wars. We do, too,” Henry tells her, as if it explains it all. 

The women exchange a look.

“Henry, go put on your pyjamas. Time for bed,” Regina then says dismissively.

The boy groans, but does as he’s told. As soon as he’s out of hearing range, Kathryn asks: “Well, are you?” 

“Am I what?” Regina says warily.

“Well, are you going to the Empire State Building?”

“Why on earth would I ever do that?” Regina says, rather shocked that her friend would even ask. “Heavens, no. She could be a psychopath.”

Kathryn shrugs, while Marian stands to get them all a refill. “Don’t worry, Regina. Maybe you should install Tinder if you really want to date someone. It’s not really about finding the love of your life, but if it’s experience you want, it’s a good app.” Kathryn wiggles her eyebrows and Regina scoffs.

“And show up in the mechanic’s search results? I kindly decline.” 

~*~

Henry is at a loss. He’s written back a letter to Emma, but she hasn’t replied yet. Maybe he should have added his phone number. He’s heard his mom after he was supposed to go to bed, the evening before, that she has no intention of going to New York and Valentine’s Day isn’t that far away anymore. He has to do something

But what? He leans his head against Violet’s bed. They’ve been discussing Emma and the situation at the park. The woman almost got hit - twice. Weird.

Fortunately, his best friend comes to the rescue. Violet always has the best ideas.

“If she’s not going, then you should go,” she says as if it’s weird that he hasn’t thought about that yet. “Emma’s written the letter to you as well, right? You’ve got every right to meet her. Besides, you answered the letter anyway.” 

Henry nods. “But isn’t it like, super expensive to go to New York?” 

Violet shrugs. “Prices vary every time. Nobody really knows how expensive it is. How much money do you have?” 

“Eighty dollars, I think?”

“I have around forty. That should cover your taxi costs,” Violet muses. Suddenly, the girl springs into action. 

“Come with me.” 

Violet goes to the living room and takes place behind a computer. She expertly boots the computer and runs a program. She types in a few keywords and some results come up. Travels from Storybrooke, Maine, to New York, he reads. Henry frowns. “Are you allowed to do that?” 

Violet shrugs. “There’s passwords on the things they don’t want me to see,” she says matter-of-factly.”This doesn’t have one, so yes, I guess I’m allowed to.” Henry nods. That makes sense to him.

She opens a booking site after watching the results. “I’m getting you a bus ticket to New York. It will take you about seven hours, I think. There’s one that leaves around six in the morning, so you’ll have to sneak out of the house. And,” she adds, typing with a ferocious speed that Henry’s never seen her do before, “I’ll put on the ticket that you’re 12, so you can travel without companion.”

He frowns. “Nobody’s going to believe I’m twelve,” Henry says. “I’m way too small for people to believe that.

Violet smiles cunningly, her eyes flick to her friend for the briefest moment. “If it’s in the computer, they believe anything,” she says reassuringly.

“Are you sure?” Henry isn’t, but Violet has a solution for everything, as usual. 

“Do you want me to say that you’re really, really short for your age and that they shouldn’t say anything because it’s a really sensitive subject and it would hurt your feelings?” She eyes him with glittering eyes, and Henry thinks it’s the best idea ever.

He grins. “Yeah, that’s awesome. Great thinking!” 

Maybe this is even better, Henry thinks. If he meets Emma first, he can at least see if her intentions are pure. And if she likes kids, because if she doesn’t, she shouldn’t be anywhere near their family. And that way, his mom doesn’t have to hurt if Emma doesn’t turn out to be his mom’s new wife.

Confidently, he leans backwards. Valentine’s Day is only four days away. This is definitely going to work.

Chapter Text

“Mom, why can’t we go to New York on Valentine’s Day tomorrow?” Henry looks at her with pleading eyes. The one he knows will usually make her cave, but this time, it doesn’t work. 

“Henry, we’re not going. We’ve talked about this.” Regina is tired. Henry has been going on about this non stop for the past two days, and she’s sick and tired of it. “You need to stop this.” 

“No, you’ve talked about this,” he stubbornly retorts. “I haven’t had a say in anything.”

“That’s because your eight, and I’m the adult in this house.” She turns around, only to turn back when she hears him mutter something. “What’s that, now?” She glowers at him, and he visibly flinches.

“Nothing,” he spits at her, anger flaring in his eyes. He waves with the letter. “This is the one I like , mom! Why can’t you give her a chance? ” 

Regina sighs and impatiently, runs a hand through her hair. “Henry, the fact is that you’re not going to like any one, because it isn’t your father. You’ve based your entire opinion at one letter that doesn’t tell you anything about her.“

“I know enough, why don’t you?” he stubbornly asks.

Suddenly, Regina’s had enough. Of everything. 

She just snaps. 

“Henry, please- just shut up,” she bites out.

“Shut up? Shut up?!” Henry is angrier than he’s ever been. “Dad never told me to shut up! Dad never yelled at me!”

“I am not going to have this conversation with you!” she yells back, frustrated with both him and herself. But she’s so done with everything that has to do with the insipid radio show and this particular obsession of her son.

Why can’t we go to New York?!”

“There is absolutely no way we are going on a plane to meet some woman who could be a crazy, sick lunatic!” Regina snaps at him. 

His response is standing right outside of her bedroom, hands on his hip, chin raised in a determined defiance. “I am not leaving until you say yes!” 

Regina’s never been so angry with him and it shocks her. “Fine. Then stand there.” She closes the door of her bedroom in front of him, desperately needing the distance to calm down again. She does not understand what has gotten into her normally smart, even tempered, sweet child. 

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” he screams from the other side of the door, and she hears how he stomps off to his room.

“That’s good, maybe you should call Dr. Hopper again and tell him how your mom destroyed your life because he wouldn’t take you on a last minute trip to meet a woman you’ve never even met,” she shouts back to him.

His door slams, and she leans her forehead against hers, trying to regain her breath. She’s never been this mad before, she sighs, as she covers her eyes with her hands. She doesn’t know what’s come over her. Maybe it’s the tension she’s felt ever since Christmas Eve, when she was moronic enough to pour her heart out with a complete stranger. It’s been building up for almost two months and it’s seeking a way out.

it doesn’t help that her stubborn son is like a dog with a bone he doesn’t want to let go, either.

Maybe they both need a night to cool off. Tomorrow, they’ll talk. 

They’ll make it up. They always do.

~*~ 

The next morning, she lets him sleep in. Regina is already sorry for falling out at him. Even though she still is never going to let her son near a creep that sends letter to someone they don’t even know, she doesn’t even want to start dating. 

Except maybe the one that took her breath away.

Regina scoffs at her treacherous thoughts. It was a mere coincidence that she saw the blonde. Twice. Regina doesn’t believe in fate. She doesn't believe in signs. And she sure as hell doesn’t believe in sappy romantic movie-like thoughts of happily ever after.

Because some people just never get their happy endings. She’s the living proof of that,she bitterly thinks.

Around ten, she goes up to his room. He’s a son of his mother, she thinks. She’s always been very capable of holding a grudge. So is he, apparently. “Henry?” she calls out to him softly. Because if he is still asleep, she’ll let him. It’s Saturday anyway.

There’s not a sound. Slowly, she pushes open the door. The bed is messy, but her son is not in it. “Henry?” she asks again, stepping into the room and switching on the light. 

Her son is nowhere to be found. She walks around his bed, opens the curtains and looks around. 

“Henry? Where are you?” she calls out, opening the bathroom door to see if he’s there.

A cold fear nests itself in her stomach as she rushes to her own bedroom, the second bathroom, downstairs to the kitchen, the living room, the garden.

She heaves, feeling a panic attack coming up when realization slams into her like a wrecking ball hits a brick building.

Henry’s gone.

~*~

She calls Ruby, who lives closest by - and her friend arrives within ten minutes. In those ten minutes, Regina’s opened all the cabinets, all the doors, and has searched in all the places she can think of. 

And she’s on the verge of calling in the army to start searching for her little boy.

Ruby grabs her at her arms when she starts to hyperventilate. “Look at me. Breathe, Regina. Think. Where does he go when he’s not at home or school?” 

Regina’s thoughts whirl like a tornado, until they center on a single person. 

“Violet,” she murmurs, looking up to her with haunted eyes. “We need to go to Violet’s.” 

~*~ 

They're now at Violet’s, and Regina’s heaving deep breaths to try and stop herself from hyperventilating again. After Ruby has explained why they are here - because Regina’s too much of a mess to hold a calm conversation -  her parents go up to Violet’s room to see if Henry’s there, but nothing. But the girl folds her arms in front of her chest purses her lips at a certain way, and Regina narrows her eyes.

“She knows something,” she bites out, glaring at the child.

Violet defiantly raises her chin as her parents turn to face her. “Violet, honey, you have to tell us where he is,” her mother pleads with her, but she just eyes her stoically. “Henry’s mom is very upset.” 

Her father is less easy on her. “Tell us where he is, right this minute,” he snaps at her.

Violet rolls her eyes, stares at him for a moment -to Regina, she looks severely unimpressed, the snotty little brat-, then turns her gaze to Regina, finally caving under the pressure. “N.Y.”

“What is that?” Ruby asks.

“No way,” Violet’s father answers with an annoyed sigh, and Regina scoffs immediately.

“That would be N.W.” Insipid moron, she thinks. Violet clearly doesn’t get his cunningness from him.

“New York,” Violet sighs, amazed by the stupidity of her father. She rolls her eyes at him, before turning to Regina and Ruby. “Henry’s on his way to New York.”

 “What?!” Regina barks, “How?” 

“Greyhound 453.” 

“When does it arrive in New York?” her mother asks her, and Violet sighs before turning her eyes away.

“1 PM,” she murmurs. 

As if it’s waited for it, the clock tings. 12.30. The bus is about to arrive while they’re standing there, Regina thinks unsettled. Her son is all alone in New York. And while Violet’s parents hastily call Greyhound to stop Henry for exiting the bus, Regina knows what he’s up to.

“Get me in New York, as quick as you can,” she barks at Violet’s parents. Her mom scurries away instantly, making arrangements for the last minute trip. 

Ruby squeezes Regina’s arm, while her mind is trying to tame all the horrifying images of possible things that might happen to her son, all alone in New York.

~*~

Traveling by bus is utterly boring, Henry finds. Seven hours is almost unbearable. He has his phone to keep him company, but after four hours the battery runs low so he decides to turn it off. Better to keep that last fifteen per cent for emergencies, he figures. And he’s a little proud of himself for thinking about that.

He brought a book, as well, but the bus is shaking a lot and he gets a little nauseous while reading, so the only thing left to do is stare out the window. 

Fortunately, New York City is gigantic, so as soon as they enter the city there’s a lot to see. And when they reach the immense bus station half an hour early, he happily gets off and embarks on his journey.

There’s a line where people wait for taxis, so he joins it and soon, gets one. “Where to, kid?” the taxi driver asks him, and he happily replies: “Empire State Building, sir!” 

The taxi driver is friendly enough and chats with him, proves to be an excellent tour guide along the way. Soon, the massive building comes into view. Henry gapes in awe. It’s much bigger than in the movies, he thinks, severely impressed. They have to stop for a traffic light. “There it is, kid! What are you going to do up there? Spit down?” He grins at his own joke, but Henry smiles widely.

“No, sir,” he happily replies, beaming to the driver, “I’m going to meet my new mother!” 

The taxi driver laughs and congratulates him with his new mom when he gets off, right near the entrance of the Empire State Building. There’s a waiting line of 40 minutes and Henry groans. He hates waiting and he just wants to go upstairs, but he has to wait in line with all the tourists from in- and outside of the country. Some people eye him wearily, some of them think he’s with another party, but everyone leaves him alone and he’s pretty relieved about that. Part of him had expected that his mom had already found out and that she’d move heaven and earth to get to him.

He suspects he’s grounded for the rest of the year, but this is all worth it, right? He is doing this for her , too. She might not know that he knows, but sometimes when she thinks he isn’t looking, he sees how she still gets tears in her eyes because of dad. He wants his mom to be happy again. It hasn’t been easy, these past few weeks, but he knows she can be if she just gives Emma a chance. His heart is filled with anticipation and he has to stop himself fro bouncing through the line, because that would be totally immature. 

Finally, finally he reaches the elevator to the observation deck and he sighs in relief. With a huge group of Chinese tourists, he ends up in the elevator and that’s fine, because nobody will ask him questions about being alone then, anyway. The elevator pings, and his heart leaps up. Now, his mission can start.

He’s understood that he can stay up here as long as he wants, and he intends to take his time. The letter said sunset, so he still has a couple of hours, but who knows, maybe Emma’s early too? “Excuse me, are you Emma?” he asks a woman who’s standing alone and gazes out over New York.

She smiles at him, but shakes her head. “No, honey, my name’s Cynthia.” He apologizes, and moves to the next one. This might take a while, he realizes. But, he tells himself, he’s got the entire day, a bag full of food and drinks, and the determination to finally meet Emma.

~*~ 

New York is great. It’s been a long time since the four of them have spent time together like this, and they haven’t laughed until their bellies hurt in so long. It feels good. And it’s good to be here, far from their daily grind and businesses.

They’ve visited the Statue of Liberty. walked over Time Square, admired the ceiling of Grand Central Station and went shopping until their credit cards started protesting. And now they’ve settled down in a small bistro just outside of their hotel.

While Jacinda and Belle are getting their drinks, Sabine drops down next to her. Emma offers her a lopsided grin.

“Now we’re alone, tell me how you’re really doing?” Sabine’s dark eyes gaze at her, questioning. 

“I’m fine,” Emma smiles. “I really am.” The smile isn’t as fake as it was a few days ago.

There has been a little relief over the last couple of days. She hasn’t obsessed - or at least not that much - and has focused on work which has given her peace of mind. 

“Really?” The dark-skinned woman next to her eyes her sceptically.

"Maybe there comes a time in everyone’s life that you realize that you have to grow up. You can’t keep having all  those adolescent fantasies about how exciting your life is going to be, right?” Emma searches Sabine's face for a confirmation of her own words.

“Hmm,” Sabine only says. “So you’re telling me you’ve really banned Regina Mills from your mind?”

“I think I’m getting there,” Emma admits. “I just… I’m not going to stand in the way of someone’s happiness. And Sabine, on that beach, and after, in that park, Regina seemed happy. I want her to be happy, no matter what. So,” she says, squaring her shoulders, “I’m doing what I have to do. And I’m still young, right? There’ll be other Regina’s. And maybe even a little closer to home.”

Sabine tuts. “If you say so, Emma. You’re one of the noblest people I know and I’d love for you to be entirely happy with your life again. Because ever since Christmas… you haven’t looked well. These last couple of days you’re gaining some of your former spirits. And I’m happy about that.” She gives Emma’s arm a soft squeeze. “You deserve to be happy.”

And not for the first time, Emma thinks she’s lucky to have such a great set of friends.

Dusk is settling in. Lights are turned on, and when she looks outside, she is staring right at the Empire State Building.

“What can I get you ladies?” a cheerful voice asks them, but Emma doesn’t hear it. She’s suddenly reminded of what day today is, and time and place and can’t shake it off. 

So far for getting over it, she scowls and groans internally. She hates herself a little.

“Something wrong?” Jacinda asks, when seeing Emma’s brow furrowed. Emma blinks, and looks at her friends. Belle’s the first to connect the dots as she looks outside the window and softly gasps. “Oh, Emma,” she gently says, covering Emma’s hand with hers. Emma sighs as the other two catch on immediately. 

Sabine eyes her, knowingly. Couldn’t fool her, Emma thinks, and she rolls with her eyes. “We should get burgers,” Emma says, faking a smile. 

The three won’t have it.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Jacinda bursts out. “You totally want to go there and see if she's there!”

“No, I-” 

“Don’t kid yourself, Emma. You didn’t fool me either,” Sabine says, evenly. “Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t snap earlier.” 

“Weren’t you the one who said you’d hate to end up like wondering what might have happened and knowing you could’ve done something?” Belle quietly says.

Two pair of brown and one pair of blue eyes are gazing at her, expectantly. 

Emma closes her eyes and pinches her nose. “This is insane, you know that, right?” she says, but her breath is a little shaky when she sighs.

“Emma…” Jacinda says softly, while Belle gasps loudly, and the blonde opens her eyes.

“What?”

“Look.” 

They all turn to watch the Empire State Building, which is now lighting up a big, red heart, and Emma’s breath catches in her throat.

“If this isn’t a sign of your lifetime…” Belle whispers with shining eyes, amazed by the beautiful display on the impressive building.

"Emma..." A dark hand covers hers, and she turns to meet Sabine’s intense gaze. Emma gulps, and Sabine smiles.

“Go get your girl.”

Chapter Text

It’s late afternoon when Regina runs out of the airport and hails a cab. She’s tried to call Henry several times, but either his phone is turned off, or his battery’s empty. Either way, her son is going to be in a world full of trouble when she finds him, she growls. The next moment, she’s terrified that something’s happened to him.

She taps her feet nervously inside of the cab. Fortunately, Violet has appallingly wealthy parents with a private jet, which she could take from the nearest airport to make up for the trouble their daughter’s caused. It took her only thirty minutes to get there, another 30 minutes to get the plane ready, an antagonizing hour before everything was settled with the radio tower, then another hour of flying and then landing at JFK. 

She chews her lip. Ruby stayed behind, saying she’s not so fond of flying and mentioning that someone should stay at her house anyway, in case Henry or someone else calls. Regina agreed. And maybe this is something Regina has to do alone, anyway. This… situation has been building up ever since her son called that sorry excuse of a radio doctor and she has the feeling that today, it’s finally coming to a gigantic close - she just doesn’t know the ending. Yet.

She can only hope that it’s a happy one - but she's dreading the fact that it might not be. 

~*~ 

Henry is tired. He’s spent over five hours asking all the single women if they were Emma. One of them was, but she was an old lady, madly in love with her husband, who had just stepped inside to use the bathroom.

After hours on his feet, they hurt like hell. He’s stubbornly believed in his cause up until a few minutes ago, when he looked up and noticed that the evening had fallen and suddenly, he thinks Emma might not show up at all.

He slumps to the floor, arms wrapped around his knees, next to one of the telescopes and sighs in utter disappointment. This is not how he pictured today would go. Not at all. He’d wished to make his mom happy - that’s all he’s set out to do, and he feels he’s failed. Tears spring in his eyes. Maybe he should turn on his phone and call her. She must be worried, he figures, and it makes him drop his bag next to him, so he can take his phone out.

“Henry? Henry!”

His eyes flash up and he tilts his head towards the elevator, where the sound is coming from. “Mom?” He jumps up.

“Henry!” his mom cries out.

“Mom, mom!” Now, he sees her, coming from the elevator area and he sprints towards her, launching himself in her arms. She wraps her arms tightly around him, lifting him from the ground while burying her face in his neck. “Oh god, oh god,” she cries and he feels how her tears wet his shirt but it doesn’t matter, because she’s here. He feels how his own cheeks get wet as well and is almost surprised that he’s crying, too.

Regina breathes in his scent and thanks all the gods in the universe that she’s found him, unharmed. And she can’t hide the distress, the worry and the hurt when she tells him, “What if something happened to you? What if I couldn’t get to you?” she asks him, voice hoarse from agony.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he sniffs into her ears, tears rolling over his cheeks. He clings to her and she lets him, only tightening her own grip around him.

“What would I have done, Henry?” she asks him, voice trembling. Her eyes are puffy and red rimmed. “What if I’d lost you? You are my family. You are all I have !” She sets him down, kneels before him and grabs his arms, partly because when the panic settles, the parental anger sets in, partly because she still can’t believe she’s really found him.

“I thought she’d be here, mom. I thought she’d come.” He sounds devastated and turns his eyes away from her. “I just wanted you to be happy again.” 

She softly shakes him. “Aren’t we okay? Have I done something really moronic? Am I not enough?” she asks, studying his face. “Am I this awful that we need someone to balance me out?”

“No, no mom.” He is horrified that she thinks that and grabs her wrists, as to support his words. 

“Have I screwed it up for the both of us?” Her voice seems shrill as she cups his face and looks him in the eyes. Was all of this an impulse because she got mad the day before? 

“No... but… Have I?” he asks quietly, wide eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, dear boy, of course not,” she says, pulling him back into her arms, enveloping him in a tight hug. She’s found him. He’s okay. They will figure out the rest later. She breathes in his unique scent and finally feels how her body is losing some of the agony she’s been feeling all day..

~*~

Emma groans. Of course, there’s no taxi to be found at first and when she finds one, she ends up in a traffic jam. So instead, she gets out and decides to make a run for it. Thankfully, her profession requires her to be in a good physical shape, but her ears are ringing and her heart is pounding in her chest from anticipation, which makes everything a little more intense. She runs and runs until her lungs burn while keeping her eyes fixed on the Empire State Building, hoping that she’s not too late. Fearing that she might be.

She’s moving on pure adrenaline when she finally, finally pushes open the doors to the lobby of the majestic building and panting, she runs to the counter. “Observation Deck?” she wheezes, completely out of breath. But the feeling of anticipation is strong, and her insides twist and turn as she thinks about who might be waiting for her.

“Sorry, miss, but it’s too late,” the security guard behind the counter tells her.

Emma turns around in defeat, but can’t, cannot give up yet.” No , please. I really, really need to get up there,” she pleads, begging him with wide eyes, running a desperate hand through her unruly curls.

The man eyes her sympathetically, but still says definitively: “We’re closing up. No more runs tonight.” 

Emma places her hands on the edge of the counter, looking down momentarily, trying to regain her breath. Did she just really miss her chance? Was it because of her stubbornness that she might never know what her life could turn out to be? 

“Listen,” she says, looking at his name tag and back up to his face, “Marco, can I just, please, please take a look? There’s someone I was supposed to meet. She’s probably not there, but if I don’t at least look , I’ll always wonder about it.”

He stares at her for a couple of seconds and she has to keep herself from bouncing on her feet. “Cary Grant, right?” he says.

She offers him a smile. “Apparently. You know that movie?” 

Marco smirks. “My late wife and my mother loved that movie.” He observes her, and she holds her breath. Then, he sighs, and nods towards the elevator. 

“Oh god, thank you so much,” Emma breathes, before she takes a sprint to the elevator waiting.

~*~

Regina doesn’t let go of her son’s hand as they slowly make their way back to the elevators. Relief keeps hitting her like waves - she can’t believe her son is safely walking besides her. “Maybe, when we get home, we can get a dog,” she offers, a hand placed firmly on his shoulder. She knows it’s a sorry excuse to compensate for what he really wanted, but it’s the best I can do.

“Hm. Okay,” he mutters, still upset that Emma never showed up. She softly squeezes his shoulder.

“You’ve been harassing me and dad for a dog for ages. And now you don’t want one?” she asks him, and he shrugs.  

“Sure I do,” he says, smiling upwards. She gently ruffles his hair and sees there’s an elevator waiting.

“Hold it, please!” They pick up their pace and enter the elevator. When the elevator doors close, Regina faintly registers another elevator ping as she pulls her son close, breathing in his scent. They’re going home.

~*~

Emma’s nerves can barely take it anymore when the elevator goes up to the Observation Deck. Her hands are clammy and she rubs them against her jeans, before running a hand through her hair. She winces when her fingers get stuck in the long curls. Well, it just has to do. Filled with anticipation she shifts her weight from her left foot to her right. This is madness, she thinks, while watching how the elevator goes up. Complete and utter madness. 

But then, the elevator pings and she gasps, heart pounding in her ears as the doors slowly slide open. Emma can hardly wait until she fits through and wished the doors would open faster, and she narrows her eyes to scan the area as she finally can step outside.

The attendant who’s escorted her up, looks around. “Sorry miss,” he says, “It’s empty.” 

It can’t be, she has to believe that someone’s still there. Waiting. Even if it’s waiting for the biggest asshole of the planet, Emma scolds herself. “Can I… Can I please take a minute? Look around the corner?” 

The attendant shrugs. “Sure,” he says, and Emma bolts forward towards the telescopes and skids around the corner. Her stomach drops as she completes the circle on the observation deck.

There’s no one there.

She feels how the adrenaline leaves her body and she leans against one of the telescopes in defeat. She doesn’t know if Regina was ever up here but if she were, this is entirely on her. She pushes her fists into her jacket, and breathes in and out, while disappointment washes over her. 

She’s too late.

Her eyes are stinging with tears of self-loathing as she gazes over the dark city, with its million lights shining so bright that the stars are dimmed. She rests her head on the railing, closes her eyes, and looks down, to the cars that move like ants. She can’t even see the people, she thinks, before she pulls back. The attendant is still waiting. She has to leave.

Her eye falls on an abandoned backpack, just aside the telescope and she bends over to pick it up. It’s bright yellow and red, and it looks like it belongs to a boy. Someone must have forgotten it, she thinks, and she opens it to see if she can find a name or address. The only thing she finds is a battered old teddy bear and a fairytale storybook.

“Here, I left it at the… telescopes…?” There’s a boy behind her, and his voice becomes questioning when he spots her holding his backpack. She turns around to face him, to hand him his bag, when her breath gets stuck in her throat. Her eyes widen and she sees how the same happens to the woman, standing next to the boy. Their eyes lock and it momentarily feels like the whole world comes to a stand still.

Emma slowly blinks, swallows thickly, and forces her feet towards the pair, the backpack and teddy bear clutched to her chest. Her heartbeat picks up and it’s pounding in her chest. The boy and the woman take a few steps towards her, as well. 

“It’s you,” the brunette whispers, wide eyed. There’s surprise and a hint of wariness in her eyes.

“It’s me,” Emma murmurs, not really knowing what to do. 

“I.. I saw you. In the street.” It almost sounds like an accusation which nearly makes Emma wince.

“Y-yes. I know,” she murmurs.

“Are you Emma?” the boy asks curiously.

Emma averts her eyes from the brunette to the serious looking boy next to her, and can’t help but smile at his hopeful face. “Yes. Yes I am.” The boy’s face splits into the brightest smile she’s ever seen and it warms her soul. 

“Are you Emma?” Now, the woman’s voice is filled with disbelief. Emma sends her an apologetic smile, accompanied by a single nod.

“This must be yours,” she says, pointing the bear at him, and he nods.

“I’m Henry,” the boy says, still grinning. “This is my mom. Her name’s Regina.” 

“Hi, Henry.” Her eyes move back to the stunned woman in front of her and a soft sigh escapes her as she says: “Regina.” 

Regina blinks, and stares back at her. It makes her a little uncomfortable, so she turns back to Henry, holding up the teddy bear. “And who’s this?” 

“Howard.” 

“Howard.” She turns the bear to meet his face. “Well. Nice to meet you too, Howard,” she tells the bear, feeling a little silly for doing so, but she’s rewarded with a grin from Henry and a soft look from Regina. Emma hands the boy the bear and the backpack. She grins back.

The attendant clears his throat, and they’re both a bit startled by the sound. Regina places her hand on Henry’s arm. “We’d better go,” she tells him, momentarily breaking the eye contact with Emma. Emma swallows her disappointment away. She feels how her stomach drops. Her grin dims a little and she want to say goodbye, but then Regina’s mouth curves into the tiniest of smile as she looks up again, slowly offering Emma a hand.

“Shall we?” 

Emma’s breath catches in her throat as she feels how her heart swells inside her chest, so much that it barely has any room anymore. She accepts the gesture, placing her own hand into Regina’s, and fingers curl around each other. The touch sends little shocks of electricity through her entire body, and goosebumps erupt everywhere as Regina’s thumb softly caresses the top of Emma’s hand. 

Regina tugs softly, and it puts Emma in motion. She can’t believe she’s walking here, with Regina Mills and her son Henry, who has the biggest smile she’s ever seen. Her eyes flick back to Regina, who is looking back in wonder as well, and she can’t get over how lucky she is to be here. 

Regina is on the same level entirely. While she keeps an eye on her son, who’s bouncing towards the elevator a little in front of them - she’s not going leave him out of her sight -, she can’t help but shoot glances at the breathtakingly blonde woman with her big green eyes, walking next to her. Who has accepted her hand - Regina was terrified for two seconds that she might not. 

They step into the waiting elevator, and while Henry chats with the attendant, she tentatively reaches for Emma’s other hand. “I don’t know what’s happening here,” she softly says, “but I’m willing to find out. It’s just… Seattle?” Her forehead crinkles, worried. 

Emma smiles, tentatively, and it’s the most beautiful thing Regina’s ever seen. “I’m sure we can work around that,” she says, voice lined with confidence. 

Regina returns the smile. 

A beeping sound fills the elevator. Emma’s phone announces a text message, and she sends an apologizing gaze, letting go one of her hands. It feels like an instant loss and Regina is baffled by that feeling. She’s only experienced that one other time in her life. 

Daniel.

She expects sorrow and guilt to wash over her, but is surprised it doesn’t. And when she turns to check on her son, she sees a vague outline of her late husband standing next to him. Smiling. He’s told her to move on. Love again. She doesn’t know that this is love or if it’s going to be, but there’s an enormous chance it will be. He nods, blows her a kiss. She smiles back, eyes shining, knowing that she probably won’t see him anymore. 

Emma looks flustered as she looks up from her phone. “My friends… the ones I came here with from Seattle, they’re waiting outside. They’re the ones who told me to come here, I…” She fiddles with her phone. “I can tell them to leave.” 

Regina reaches for her hand again, covering both phone and fingers. “Don’t,” she quietly tells her. “We will see them. And then we will… figure out what to do.” 

Emma nods, there’s something grateful in her eyes. Her gaze flicks to Henry. “This is so surreal,” she whispers, momentarily tightening her grip, and Regina feels the same way. Her heart flutters in her chest, her stomach squeezes. 

“I know. But it feels… right. Right?” Gone is the well-versed, eloquent mayor. She feels vulnerable asking, but needs to hear Emma’s answer.

They hold each other’s gaze and Regina holds her breath for a second, but then Emma’s face lights up. “It does ,” she murmurs.

She doesn’t know what the future holds, but Regina instinctively knows, Emma’s going to be a part of hers. Her heart leaps as Emma catches her eyes again. That gigantic close she was dreading when she arrived in New York earlier that day? 

She doesn't have to dread it anymore. Because this might be her happily ever after, after all.

Chapter Text

Present - Christmas Eve, Storybrooke

Shit, shit, shit. Emma is late. Not that she normally isn’t because she’s got a subscription to always coming in at least five minutes after something's started - no clue why that is - but this time, it really isn’t her fault. 

Her flight from Seattle was severely delayed. Then, when she wanted to pick up her rental car, they’d made a mistake with her booking, so there weren’t any free cars. It cost her another hour to call other rental companies and get a last minute car. She should’ve taken Regina up on her offer to pick her up from the airport, but she hadn't wanted Regina to leave home at Christmas eve and well, what’s done is done. At least she’d remembered to call ahead, so Regina and Henry knew she would be late.

She snorts. She's been late since their relationship started. If Henry hadn't forgotten his bag a the Empire State Building, almost a year ago... she shivers. 

Previously, February 14th

“What would you have done when we hadn’t returned?”

Emma shot Regina a sheepish smile. “Well. I would probably have returned to my friends, shouted at them for pushing me to go and getting my hopes up, and then I would’ve gotten pretty angry with myself for having only the tiniest flickers of hope because fate doesn’t exist and I was stupid for ever believing it might be real, anyway.”

There’s a silence that lingered on, up to the moment when Emma couldn’t stand it anymore. She got up from the comfy chair in the Manhattan hotel she’d booked with her friends. It was all still surreal, like she’d told Regina before in the elevator. After they’d stepped out of the Empire State Building, her friends looked at her with wide eyes before Jacinda and Belle started squealing and Sabine only looked at Regina with narrowed eyes. Henry had get along with all of them instantly, and Belle had offered to take him for a bit so Regina and Emma could figure things out.

Regina had flat out refused, the disappearance of her son still fresh in mind. Henry had reluctantly told them that he’d run away and Regina was not going to leave him out of her sight again.

Sabine suggested that since it was late already, Regina and Henry could book a room in the same hotel they were staying in, so that Henry could stay in Regina’s room while the two of them could take one of the girls’. Reluctantly, Regina had complied but only because Henry was two doors down and Belle had to promise to call her as soon as Henry started to act up. 

Now, they were sitting across from each other. Emma was a bit hesitant to share her side of the story, fearing it would be too stalker-y. But Regina had reached for her hand, laced their fingers and with an amused shimmer in her eyes, said she wasn’t going anywhere tonight, anyway.

Emma had started with her drive home at Christmas Eve, how she’d heard an enticing voice on the radio that had swept her off her feet. She talked about the  letter she had started to write, had deleted and that her friend had sent it anyway - she’d learned that Henry had answered it on their way to the hotel, because he was very proud of it. She felt stupid for ever thinking that Regina had had a hand in writing it, now. She told Regina that her friends had forced her to go to Storybrooke and how she had seen her with someone else, and had just wanted her to be happy and not interfere at all and so, she’d fled the scene. 

She talked about the way she had tried to forget all about it. But how everything came rushing back when she’d seen the Empire State Building and then, quietly she told Regina how stupid she felt for being too late.

Regina’s fingers had tightened around hers, and she’d softly said that Emma hadn’t been late. She’d been just in time.

Regina got up when Emma did. It was instinctive, she mused. Her body didn’t want to be away from Emma, not even one second, and she complied.

“I have never believed in fate, either,” she said, “nor do I believe in higher powers. But this…” she made a waving gesture with her hand, “this is all too…. coincidental.” 

Emma smiled. “It is, isn’t it?” She still wasn’t a big fan of fate, but maybe, just maybe, one could say something about fate helping a tiny little bit. And she was never ever going to admit it to Mary Margaret because she wouldn’t hear the end of it.

They stood across from each other now. “You… you didn’t think it was weird… that it was me?” Emma said. “Because I kind of feared that you might see me as a stalker.” She warily looked at the brunette, smiling sheepishly.

Regina grinned and reached for Emma’s hand. “I admit, it is an... odd tale. But if there’s something I learned very recently is that you shouldn’t waste time on futilities because god knows what can happen.” 

Then, she raised her hands and cupped Emma’s face, intention evident in her eyes when she closed the distance between them. Emma leaned into the touch and closed her eyes briefly, wondering what she’d done to deserve this. Something good, at least. Regina leaned forward, catching Emma’s soft lips with her own. Tentative, as if it was a question, but when Emma softly whimpered and opened her mouth just a little, Regina smiled against Emma’s lips and deepened the kiss, running her tongue softly over Emma’s lips before investigating further. It was not until much later when they were able to continue their talk.

Present

There were a few things Emma had to take care of in Seattle before she could travel back to Storybrooke for Christmas, and then there was the yearly Christmas Eve dinner with her parents and Neal - one day early this year, because Emma wanted to spend Christmas in Storybrooke.  They’d all met Regina before, and of course, Regina and Henry had been invited, but as the mayor’s office was about to close for a week, there were all sorts of pressing matters to be resolved. Regina had promised to make it up to Mary Margaret, David and Neal, and they’d already set a date. 

At least this year, her mom hadn’t asked her if she was going to marry Neal. This year, her mom had tried to convince her to wear her own, over the top princess-y wedding dress, “just to try if it fits.”

Emma had respectfully declined. 

She smiles to the empty road. She loves her parents, and at first, she felt a little guilty for breaking tradition on Christmas Eve, but she’s found a new home. And she wants to get there as soon as she can, she thinks, tapping along with Jingle Bells on the radio, humming along with it. Sometimes even sings, while she steps on the gas. 

Home.

No matter how big Regina’s mansion is, it does feel like home. It’s not the place, it’s the people who live there.

And it’s not just Regina and Henry, who’ve welcomed her with open arms into their lives, but the entire town has been really friendly. To Emma’s relief, Regina’s best friends weren’t that bad. She’d expected them to be… snobby, maybe, but she’d instantly liked them.

Previously, February 26th

“Are you ready?” 

Emma nervously grasped Regina’s hand. They were standing in front of Granny’s Diner. Inside, they were going to meet Regina’s friends for the first time. “Uh, never, probably, but I guess we can’t leave.” 

Regina smiled. “No, we can’t. Don’t worry, they’ll like you.” And with that, she stepped forward and pushed the door open.

I knew it!” Ruby yelled as soon as they stepped into Granny’s Diner. “I thought it was just a very weird coincidence but somewhere inside i knew it was not! Emma from Seattle,” she snorted, while looking at the blonde pointedly. 

“Hi, Ruby,” Emma smiled sheepishly as Ruby dashed forward and enveloped them both in a hug. “And Regina! I’m so happy for you.” she said, squeezing her shoulder. “And where’s the little monster that set this all up?” 

Regina quirked an eyebrow. “He won’t be here tonight, but he will come over tomorrow to sincerely apologize to you.” She had told Emma the story of the imaginary spider and the several talks Henry and she had had, and how Henry had treated Ruby during the process.

Ruby waved it away. “Kids are stubborn,” she said, “Don’t mention it.”

“Oh, but I do,” Regina insisted. “You have become my friend, so it is important to me. Besides, I have not raised him to be disrespectful to others. He will come in tomorrow. Even if I have to carry him in here myself.” 

Emma, who’d watched the discussion with some amusement, was somewhat relieved that the focus had shifted away from her. Not for long, though, because behind Ruby, two woman had risen and one of them eyed her curiously. The one she’d seen in the park, Emma realized, and she swallowed thickly when the woman approached her with watchful eyes. 

“Emma,” Regina said extending an arm to the brunette and blonde in front of them, “These are Marian and Kathryn, two of my oldest friends.” Emma forced a smile on her face, and wiped her suddenly clammy hand on her pants. 

“Hi,” she said, eyeing them a little wary.

“So! Emma,” Kathryn grinned, ignoring the uneasiness, “Do we have to give you the speech that if you hurt her, we’ll hunt you down till the end of the world?” 

“Kathryn,” Regina rolled her eyes in an exasperated way.

“Well,” Emma quipped, instantly more at ease because of the direct question, “You can try, but as a detective I know all the tricks to hide until the end of times. You’ll never find me.” 

Kathryn’s eyes grew wide. “Oh! I like this one,” she laughed. “Keep her, Regina!” 

“Don’t worry, though,” Emma smirked back, “I don’t plan on ever hurting her.” It earned her a soft squeeze from Regina’s hand, and when she looked up to meet Regina’s eyes, there was a quiet appreciation that took her breath away. She felt so lucky and sometimes, she still had to pinch herself to see if it really wasn’t a dream.

“Well, you can if she’ll allow it,” Kathryn winked, and Regina scoffed.

“We’re happy to meet you,” Marian interfered, and Emma directed her smile to the brunette. 

“Likewise,” she nodded.

“Also,” Ruby told her with a wink, “I know our mayor is a hottie, but try not to get hit by a car when you’re staring at her, okay?” 

Present

The back seat has a suitcase filled with presents for her family. Her family. Sometimes it still feels strange to think about it that way, despite the fact that she felt at home with them right away. Emma smiles when she thinks about about how right it felt from the start to be with Regina. It was as if they’d known each other for years, even though they had just met. 

And still, they had been cautious. Neither of them believed in love at first sight, so they hadn't wanted to make any more life altering changes. When they really started their dating adventure, last year, Emma had told Regina she didn't just want to pack her things and leave Seattle because her family and friends lived there and what's more, her company was situated in Seattle. They didn't know what would come from their... infatuation, so they agreed on travelling up and down but it was mostly Emma who had to take the trips. Regina's work as Storybrooke's mayor hadn't left her much space to return the favor. Travelling up and down to Seattle for the past ten months has been harder than Emma thought it would be. Having to leave her family every time was something she had started to dread.

Hopefully, all of that will soon come to an end, Emma thinks with a lopsided smile. She has a present for Regina and Henry, something she's been keeping from them for quite some time - and boy, had she been tempted many times to spill it -  and hopes they’ll like it.

Previously, August 26th

“Earth to Emma, hello?”

Emma blinked. “Sorry, what?” 

Belle was watching her, eyebrow raised, arms folded. “I’ve asked you twice what job you wanted to tackle first, as we’ve got two of them waiting.” 

The blonde shrugged. “I don’t care. Pick one, call them, and I’ll do it.” Her heart hadn’t really been into it lately. She picked up a pen and started tapping with it, to keep her fingers from fidgeting. All it did was turn Belle’s raised eyebrows into a frown.

“Emma…” She looked at her friend and rolled her own chair to the other side of Emma's desk. “Do you still want to do this?” 

“Do what?”

“This. All of this.” Belle waved at the office. “You’re tired from travelling to Maine and back and honestly, sometimes I wonder if this still is what you want to do. If this is where you want to be. Because I believe you’d rather be in Storybrooke than here.” Her eyes softened and she raised her hand when Emma wanted to protest. “Listen. We have a nice company, and we’re doing great - there’s nothing to complain about, financially, but we’ve always said that if we wanted to do something else, we’d go for it.”

Emma sighed. It was true. For the last few months, she’d hated leaving Maine behind. She had just returned from a vacation with Regina and Henry, and she missed them already, so much that it hurt. She’d left her heart in Storybrooke and felt like an empty shell, every time she had to go back to Seattle.

“I know what we agreed on,” Emma murmured. “But what about you? I don’t want to leave you hanging. We boarded this ship together.” 

Belle shrugged. “I’ll find something else, you really don’t have to worry about me. And who knows, maybe I’ll join you in Storybrooke. I’ve been there once, and I liked it. Plus, no more creepy Mr. Gold to deal with.” The both of them shuddered simultaneously and laughed about their own antics.

When they’d recovered, Belle sighed happily. “It’s so romantic, your story.” 

Emma snorted. “I still think it’s weird and stalker-y on my part, and it’s hard work, maintaining a long distance relationship and traveling back and forth like we do, but I’m really happy Regina didn’t walk out on me when I confessed to it all. I’d totally have understood if she would have.” 

Belle leaned forward, elbows on the desk and chin resting on her hands. “You have something rare. You both know it.” She smiled at her friend, before she sat up. “Now, let’s talk about selling this business. I have a few contacts who might be interested in taking over. Until then, let’s try not to ruin our company and put our backs into it, all right?”

Emma frowned a little. "Are you really sure though? You seem... overly happy to get rid of me, all of a sudden."

Belle laughed. "Well, to be honest, I also think it's time for a change. We've been doing this for a couple of years now. There's so much we can do, or can't do. I think I'll take a vacation first. Visit Europe. I've always wanted to see Paris."

Emma smiled and leaned back in her chair. Traveling to Maine and back did take its toll on her, and she always returned with a heavy heart. She’d played with the thought of selling the business earlier, but never moved forward with it. Happy that Belle was on the same page, she said: “Let’s not tell Regina yet. I’ll make it a surprise.”

Present

Last week, the both of them worked hard to complete the sale of their business. It means that now, both Emma and Belle are officially unemployed, but the reputation and address book of the company made it sell really well. Emma doesn’t have to work for a while if she doesn’t want to, but Ruby informed her of a vacant sheriff position in Storybrooke since their previous one quit and they hadn’t found a new one yet. Of course, she hasn't been able to apply yet, since the major would totally be informed. The job won't be as thrilling as her previous one, but it'll be enough. She's okay with saving cats from trees and saving people from the town's drunk.

This is what she wants. She wants a life with Regina and Henry, wants Storybrooke to be her base, being able to visit her friends and family at the other side of the country every once in a while. Everything else, they’ll figure out along the way. 

She sighs in relief when she finally passes the “Welcome in Storybrooke” sign and she is happy when it coincides with her favorite Christmas song. Gleefully, she starts singing along with Mariah while she closes the distance between herself and the place she calls home.

~*~

“When’s she here?” Henry asks for the thousandth time, and Regina sighs, rolling with her eyes. He hasn’t stopped bouncing from the Christmas tree to the window and back, to count his presents again and to contemplate which one he’s opening tonight, before moving back to the window, willing Emma to arrive. 

“When she’s here,” she dismissively says. “She called from the airport almost two hours ago. Any moment now.” 

“Can’t we call her?” Henry's brown eyes are pleading her.

“She’s not allowed to have a phone in the car, Henry.” 

Henry sighs dramatically. “People do have car kits, mom,” he says exasperated. Sometimes, grown ups are so dumb. 

“Yes, yes they do. But this is a rental and Emma probably forgot to take her headset out of her bag.” She’s known Emma for almost a year now and she’s fairly sure she’s right. Also, because Regina’s tried to call Emma fifteen minutes or so ago, and she didn’t pick up. It still makes her nervous, when Emma doesn’t pick up. 

Previously, September 21st

Regina had called her several times now, but Emma hadn’t answered her phone. The anxious feeling in her stomach had nested there and hour or so ago, which was why she called her the first time. It wasn’t uncommon for Emma to not answer her phone when she was working, but she would always text her something reassuringly. She would always tell her that she’d call her back. This time, she didn’t. It worried her. What’s more, it ate at her. She bit her nails and when she became aware of it, sat on her hands.   

After another hour, she started to pace up and down her office, glancing at her phone every few seconds. She knew it was pointless. But she was restless. She was annoyed and insanely worried at the same time. Panic built up inside her and she recognized it as a panic attack, and she knew she should sit down and -

Her phone rang.

Emma, the caller ID said.

Relief washed over her in waves as she accepted the call. “Emma, finally, thank god,” she breathed, but there was an eerie silence at the other side.

“Regina?”

Regina’s heart skipped a beat. 

“It’s Belle,” the woman softly said, voice thick. “Emma… There’s been an accident. She’s in the hospital.” 

Regina didn’t hear anything else as she sank to the floor, phone slipping from her hand onto a small glass table. The panic attack came back in full force, her peripheral view blackened and her chest tightened, while she tried to heave oxygen into her system.

It was how Kathryn, alerted by the phone falling on the table, found her seconds later. She immediately sat behind Regina, raised Regina’s arms, and told her to breathe with her. In and out. Concentrate. Regina complied automatically, focussing on Kathryn’s voice and breathing until she calmed somewhat. She was still concentrating on her breathing when Kathryn picked up the dropped phone, wrote down some details - Belle had apparently been waiting on the phone all this time - and told Belle they would call her back. When she hung up, she turned to Regina.

“All right, Regina, listen. Emma’s alive, but apparently, she’s had a bad run in with someone she was chasing. He threw her off the stairs, which left her with three broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a broken upper arm. She’ll be fine, though.” She squatted in front of Regina, cupping her friend's face with her hands, forcing Regina to look at her. “Emma will be all right. She’s alive and will be for a very long time.” 

Regina was still dazed, eyes glassy, and she wasn't really registering what Kathryn was saying. “The last time they’d called to inform me…” she muttered shakily, and she didn’t even have to finish the sentence. Daniel had been sick for a while, but when the call came that he’d taken a turn for the worse and had passed without her being present, Kathryn had found her the same way. 

“I wasn't there,” Regina whispered. "I'm not there. I should've been."

“Then go to her now,” Kathryn gently said, “We’ll manage a few days without you.” 

And Regina'd gone to Seattle. 

She had booked the first flight she could, had taken the information Kathryn had written down and made her way to UW Medical Center within half a day. And during those hours of travelling in anxiety, her emotions had swayed from fear of losing Emma to being outraged with her for being careless. She was angry, no, furious, when she arrived at the hospital. And she barged into the hallway, barely noticing how Emma’s friends jumped up from their chairs upon seeing her.

“Where is she?” Regina demanded to know when she finally recognized them.

“She was awake, but almost fell asleep when we just left the room,” Sabine informed her, pointing at the room across from them, but Regina hardly took notice before she stomped off to Emma’s room. When she opened the door and saw Emma, pale under her bruises, small in her hospital bed, attached to several wires accompanied by steady beeps on monitors, only fueled her fury. Especially when Emma's eyes widened in surprise and then smiled sheepishly when she recognized her girlfriend.

“MISS SWAN,” Regina barked, marching on until she reached the bed, and if she could have, Emma would probably have jumped.

“What the HELL were you thinking?! You nearly scared me to death!”

“I’m sorry?” Emma winced as Regina came closer. Regina had balled her hands into fists and if she could have, she’d hit Emma in the chest. But with her punctured lung and broken ribs, that might not be the best option so instead, she helplessly punched the mattress next to her with every following word. 

“Do you know how worried I was? How scared? Good god, I sensed something was off and you didn’t call me back and I hated -”

A tear rolled over her cheek and outraged, she wiped it away. She was angry, not sad, she scowled at both herself and Emma. She wanted to hold on to her anger because it was easier, she wanted to shake Emma vigorously to make her understand what Regina had went through, wanted to knock some sense into her girlfriend for taking on dangerous jobs, but she couldn’t, because Emma’s hand sought out Regina’s. The gesture took her by surprise and she watched how Emma's fingers curled around her fist.

A sob escaped Regina's throat. Then, another one, when she registered the warmth of Emma's hand. And then, the floodgates opened. She’d needed the touch to believe that Emma indeed was going to be fine and now it was there, she couldn’t do anything but cry. From shock, anger, fear, relief. Sinking into the chair next to Emma’s bed, she sobbed while grabbing Emma’s hand with both her own as if it was a lifeline. She rested her head against her own hands, clinging to Emma's hands and felt how her tears wet the bed, wet her own hands, made them all slippery. Emma's thumb rubbed Regina's, hummed comforting words until Regina regained her voice.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Regina whispered, shuddering. 

“I’m not going anywhere. Got places to be, ‘specially at the other side of this country,” Emma murmured, and Regina looked up with red rimmed, wet eyes, smiling through her tears. But her face crunched quickly again.

“I know I shouldn’t say it, but I really, really hate your job,” she blurted out. Emma’s work had been the topic of heated discussions for the past two months already, because it was always risky business and every time the blonde had to step out to chase a perp who had skipped his bail, Regina had been worried that something like this might happen. And now it had.

“Not so fond of it myself, either, right now.” Emma pulled a face and wanted to try and keep it light, but Regina was not in the mood for jokes.

“Emma…” she all but whispered, “When Belle called… I thought I’d never see you again. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d lost you. I’m not sure if I could have survived another-”  Her voice broke, and she felt how Emma's fingers tightened around her own.

“Hey,” Emma softly said, breaking Regina’s line of thought. “You didn’t. I’m still here. And I’m not going anywhere. Both figuratively and literally, for a little while.” She winced.

“Yes, but for how long?” Regina felt a familiar feeling of dread and loss, one she hadn't felt since that evening on the Empire State building. She could vividly imagine its full return, even if it hadn’t happened yet. But it almost had. It made her angry again. Angry, because that was always easier than showing fear. “When you’re back on your feet, and chasing the next lowlife who fails to show up in court? What if you’re not so lucky next time?” She bit out the words, hearing how despair lined her tone of voice.

Emma’s hand moved from Regina’s hands, which had loosened their grip somewhat, to her chin. She nudged Regina head up to look at her face. “I can’t lose you, Emma,” Regina murmured, leaning into the touch of Emma’s hand, shining brown eyes, filled with more unshed tears, gazing into bright green’s. “I love you.” It’s barely a whisper.

Emma tightened her grip around Regina’s chin and for a moment, there was a silence between them as Regina’s words sunk in. “Regina?” she murmured.

The brunette blinked her tears away. “Yes?” Her voice was rough, crooked from worry and crying.

“Marry me?”

“W-what?” Regina was baffled by the sudden change of subject - and the subject itself, as well. She looked at Emma with wide, teary eyes - Emma, whose cheeks had turned pink just a little bit, and when she realized that she was gaping at Emma with her mouth open, she snapped her jaws shut.

“I just… life’s too short to not do what you want, right?” Emma said, and she winced when her chest hurt. “I love you, and I want to be with you and if I learned anything today is that I don’t want to spend my dead days regretting that I didn’t ask it.” She closed her eyes for a few seconds, making Regina realize how tired Emma really was. Still, Emma raised her hand and touched Regina’s face, as if she wanted to make sure she was really there. “This wasn’t how I had imagined ever asking you to marry me, but I promise I’ll make it up to you later, all right?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Yes, you idiot. I’ll marry you.” There were new tears springing from her eyes and she rapidly blinked. Emma lifted her head just a little to look at her, eyes a bit reserved.

“Really? You’re not saying yes because I’m in a hospital bed?” Despite the fact that the bruises and scratches on her face must hurt like hell, her face broke into a wide smile.

“Well... I have one condition.”

“Once a politician… what is it?” Emma rolled her eyes. Winced again when she breathed in too deeply from anxiety.

“You lose the bounty hunting job. Do your PI work for all I care, but no more chasing thugs skipping bail.” Regina lifted her chin, challenging Emma to disagree. Her heart beat loudly in her chest. It might be selfish, but Regina knew she would never sleep again any time she knew Emma would be out there, trying to catch one of those scumbags.

“I think I can manage that.” Emma smiled, and Regina exhaled in utter relief. Then, she felt how Emma’s hand slipped from her face and saw how her eyes started to droop. “Sleep now, darling,” Regina whispered, leaning over to press a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Her heart fluttered in her chest when she sat back down in the chair, and watched how her fiance fell asleep with a smile on her bruised face and wondered how on earth this woman was able to convert her fear and anger to the warm, fuzzy feelings mixed with a heartfelt relief in only a few heartbeats.

Apparently, love did that to you.

Present

Regina places her hands on the edge of the kitchen counter and stares out of the window. The family swing sways lonely in the wind and she follows its movements with her eyes. It’s near dark. Dinner has been ready a while now. She hates that Emma has to travel up and down. She hates the times that they are apart. Especially after the accident and the recovery, it’s been harder to let Emma go back to Seattle.

Regina softly sighs, feels suddenly a bit gloomy. She’s always worried, nowadays. Feels almost… possessive. Sometimes even clingy. She can’t remember feeling that way with Daniel.

Daniel didn’t have a job which nearly got him killed, she snorts. 

Suddenly, slender hands cover her eyes and she nearly jumps. “Guess who,” she hears a soft voice, but even before she registers the words, her lips have already curve into a smile because her her skin tingles where the hands touch. Feelings of relief and anticipation wash over her as she turns, and she cups Emma’s face before pressing her lips on the blonde’s. “That’s no fun,” Emma pouts, a little breathless after Regina pulls back a little, “You should play along.” Her hands travel over Regina's back, up to her shoulders and Emma buries her face in her neck, pulling Regina in a tight hug. “I’ve missed you, and I’m sorry I’m late,” she murmurs

Regina’s fingers trail the lines of Emma’s shoulders. “You’re here now,” she whispers, “That’s all that matters.” Sometimes, she thinks when she breathes in Emma’s scent, she wonders when exactly she's become this sappy. “We should eat, you must be starving. I have a nine year old who I can’t control much longer anymore... and who's asked for you a million times in the past twenty minutes.”

Emma laughs, and pulls back. “You put the food on the table, I’ll quickly unpack my car.” She gives Regina a quick kiss on her cheek before calling out to Henry. “Hey kid, come help me unload the presents before dinner real quick?” A gleeful squeak erupts from the living room, and reluctantly, Emma lets go of the brunette when Henry storms in and launches himself into her arms. 

“You’re here!” he yells, sound muffled because he pushes his face into her stomach and she laughs about his antics. It only takes a second before he grabs her hand. “Let’s get the presents! I can open one tonight, I’m allowed to every year.” As he pulls her away, Emma looks back at Regina and they exchange a glance of understanding. 

Regina is happy, so happy that both Emma and herself are finally home.

~*~ 

Later that night, after dinner and after Henry’s opened his first gift, Emma and Regina are sitting on the couch, huddled closely together. Henry has just gone up to bed, when Emma takes out an envelope and quietly hands it to Regina. “I want you to look at this,” she says, and she’s suddenly a bit tense. “And let me know what you think.”

Regina eyes her warily. Something's wrong, she thinks, otherwise Emma wouldn't tense up like she just has. Carefully, she takes the envelope and opens it. It only contains two pieces of paper. She searches for Emma’s eyes, the question plain and clear in her eyes as her slender fingers remove the sheets from the envelope, but Emma only smiles meekly. “Read,” she murmurs, while clasping her hands in front of her. Regina registers the gesture and realizes how nervous Emma is and she arches an eyebrow, before she turns her gaze to the papers in front of her and starts to read.

It takes her a little while to figure out what she’s reading, because it isn’t something she ever thought she would see. Her forehead wrinkles as she skims through it again and she looks up, searching for Emma’s green eyes. For a moment, there’s only silence as Regina’s mind is processing the information she just read.

“You sold your company?” she asks Emma in disbelief.

“Yes. Well, we did. Belle and I.” Emma smiles lopsidedly. 

Regina is stunned. “But… why?” she stammers, not being able to fully grasp what this means yet.

“Can’t you guess?” Emma shifts a little, so that she’s now directly looking at Regina. “I always hate when I have to leave you, so in the summer Belle and I talked and we agreed to sell. We always said that if one of us had enough of it, we would look at other possibilities. Turned out we were both on the same page. And right after my… accident,” she grimaces, “we found a buyer. Yesterday, all the papers were  signed. So I’m officially unemployed, for a little while anyway.” She smiles sheepishly.

“Oh.” Regina, the ever so eloquent mayor of Storybrooke, is speechless.

The lingering silence makes Emma nervous. “And I also know how much you hated my job, especially after…” She shrugs helplessly. Sometimes, she can still feel it when she moves her arm at a certain way. Or when it’s going to rain. “I wanted it to be a surprise,” she adds, but it sounds more like a question. There’s an uncertainty in her posture now. “But maybe I’m wrong and you don’t-”

“No! No, Emma, you’re not,” Regina hurries to explain, “I was just…” Surprised. Relieved. Ecstatic. She didn’t know where to begin. Suddenly, she hits Emma with the papers.

"Ow! What'd you do that for?" 

"You've been sitting on this news for months? Months and months in which I worried every time you went back to Seattle?" Regina snaps.

"Well... kinda. Yeah." Emma smiles sheepishly. "Surprise?"

There's a silence of a few seconds and it weighs heavily in the air. Then, Regina quietly asks: “So... what does this mean? Does it mean you’re going to stay in Storybrooke?” A warm feeling is spreading from her belly through her entire body as she grasps Emma’s arm. “You don’t have to leave anymore?”

“That depends.” Emma grins now, relieved by the change in Regina's tone. She shifts a little and rummages through her pockets.

“Depends on what?” Regina frowns lightly.

“On if you’re going to say yes again. Because I want you to have a different memory of being asked to marry me than of me lying all bruised and broken in a hospital bed.” 

Regina gasps as she sees the shimmering ring Emma’s dug out her pocket.

~*~

“Holy crap, guys, listen!” Jacinda turns up the volume of the radio in the diner. Both Sabine and Belle, who’s helping them to close up for Christmas, turn around when they hear a more than familiar voice on the radio. “We’ve got to call Ruby!”

Henry, are you spying on your mother… again? ” Doctor Archie Hopper sternly asks the boy, but there’s a smile in his voice. 

“Totally. They think I’m in bed but I’m watching them from the stairs.” He doesn’t even hide it and his enthusiasm is infectious. “I called you because I wanted to tell you that you were wrong.” 

“Ruby!” Jacinda yells into the phone as soon as the brunette picks up. “Turn on your radio! Henry’s calling that garbage psych show again! Yes… yes, call Kathryn and Marian!” Jacinda tightens her grip around her phone as Henry and Dr. Hopper continue their conversation. “Wait, I’m putting you on the speaker.” 

“Wrong how?”  Dr. Hopper questions.

“You told me the last time that you thought I didn’t want my mom to be dating again. You said it scared me. You were wrong. I just didn’t want her to date the wrong woman.” The boy sounds smug. Then, he gasps. “She’s going to ask her!” 

“Henry, what is going on?” Dr. Hopper suddenly seems immensely interested.

“When Emma and me went to pick up the presents from the car, she said she wanted to ask mom to marry her. And I thought it was weird because she already asked mom when Emma was in the hospital but she said she wanted to do it right and ask here again. But she said she first wanted to know if I really was okay with it.” He sounds a little impatient in having to clarify everything. "Of course I am."

“Oh my god, that’s so cute!” Ruby squeaks in the phone after Jacinda’s quickly filled her in. She has added Kathryn and Marian to the call. Kathryn can’t stop laughing. “Leave it to Henry to make it a public announcement.” 

“Well, isn’t that how they found each other in the beginning, anyway?” Belle swoons. 

“That is great, Henry-” 

“Emma is sitting on her knees now. But mom is crying. Is that a good thing?” Henry sounds a little insecure now, but Dr. Hopper is quick to assure him. As do both parties in Seattle and Storybrooke.

“Yes, a very good thing, Henry!” Kathryn shouts in the air, and Belle quickly rubs her own eyes. She loves happy endings. And if she’s not mistaken, she can hear Marian sniff as well.

“From what you’ve described, it’s very good , Henry.” The doctor sounds touched. “I’m glad you called. It’s always great to know that stories that once started on our show have a happy ending.”

“Oh, gross!” .

“What is it, Henry?”

“They’re kissing. Yuck.”

Sabine snorts with laughter, as Ruby says with a grin: “Just wait a few more years, Henry.” 

"Henry, that is a very good thing.” Then, a soft voice on the background calls out to him. “ You can come out now, Henry,”  they all hear Emma's voice, loud and clear.

Instantly, both Seattle and Storybrooke's listeners are quiet. “Oh my god, he’s so busted,” Ruby hisses. 

“Did she say yes?” the boy wants to know.

There’s a small pause, a murmur and a laugh in the background. Then, Henry is squealing in the phone. 

“She said yes!” 

“YES!” six women cry out in unison.

The connection breaks soon after, but neither Seattle’s or Storybrooke’s delegation hears how Dr. Hopper amusedly tells his audience that the connection was lost once again, as they continue to laugh and cry about the grand finale of Regina’s and Emma’s story, with the best happy ending they could’ve imagined. Or rather, the happy new beginning both woman so absolutely deserved in the first place.