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It’s Ruby’s fault. It’s definitely Ruby’s fault, because Emma had been very much drunk at the time and hadn’t known what she’d be getting herself into. Ruby, who holds her liquor better than Emma, hadn’t been nearly as inebriated, so it had been on her to be the responsible one.

 

And it wasn’t like Emma had meant to start any of this. She’s been drinking with Ruby because Ruby has been smuggling her into one of the rooms at the bed and breakfast every night in exchange for Emma paying for drinks, and Emma is sure that she’ll lose her mind if forced to spend any more time in that claustrophobic apartment where Mary Margaret– no, Snow Fucking White – and David are now trying to play happy family. And she’d only brought up Regina because she’s still furious about the meeting this morning.

 

“There should be laws against it,” she’d said, banging her fist on the table to make a point. “That’s what Regina should be doing, making laws against… abuse of power .” She raises a finger to point dramatically at Ruby.

 

“Yes, I’m sure that the Evil Queen who cast a curse and trapped us all here in the first place– and then reclaimed her magic the second that the curse broke– is definitely going to set up some bylaws in the town charter about abuse of power,” Ruby had said with a straight face. 

 

Emma had knocked back another drink. “So I said a few obnoxious things. I’m valid . She tried to poison me, remember! And there’s the whole…robbed childhood thing…” 

 

Ruby had perked up. “Oh, are you blaming Regina for that now? That’s a relief–” 

 

“Stop.” Emma had sunk back into her seat, her mood dropping. “My point is…I have a point. Regina has no right to mute me like I’m a fucking TV in the middle of a meeting. Do you know how long it took before she gave me my voice back? Like she’s the fucking queen of the world– shut up ,” she’d said to Ruby, who hadn’t even opened her mouth. “My point is that Regina just…swaggers into these meetings in those tight little dresses– and since when does Regina wear dresses, anyway? What happened to those pantsuits with the straining buttons–”

 

Ruby had leaned back in her seat, grinning. “I love this part of the night.” 

 

“–There’s so much red . And the black ones are…” Emma had waved her hands around furiously. “Would it kill her to drop the sexy Evil Queen look for work ? How is anyone supposed to focus when her legs are, like…” She’d stopped, out of words to describe them, and that had been her big mistake. 

 

Ruby had pounced. “Hey,” she’d said, her smile distinctly wolfish. “I have an idea.”

 

And Emma had been just drunk enough to agree, which had been her second.

 


 

It had been a simple dare, one that had made sense when Emma had been two drinks away from passing out. She doesn’t know what exactly Ruby had done to bind it– is still very new to magic as a real thing , flowing through Storybrooke– but it’s now a dare she can’t back off on. 

 

Ruby had laid out the rules, more and more smug as she had gone on. “So if Regina wears a red dress, you have to pick a fight with her.” Emma hadn’t questioned that one. “But if she wears blue, you have to give her a compliment. And if she wears grey, you gotta call her Your Majesty .” She’d been a little drunk, too, enough that she’d gotten bold. “Light colors mean you have to tell her whatever’s on your mind. Whatever .” Her eyes had narrowed in ominous delight. “And for black…for black, you have to flirt with her.” 

 

Now, lying in bed at the B&B with the hangover from hell, Emma has no idea how she could have been so stupid .

 


 

Henry has given up on Operation Cobra. “We broke the curse,” he says, shrugging. “And I don’t think my mom is really as evil as I thought she was. All she did after it broke was raise taxes and change the door.” He nods to the frosted door to Regina’s office, which now reads Her Royal Majesty Queen Regina where it had once just read Mayor . “Look, we’re supposed to go out to get ice cream tonight. She has a lot more time now that she has magic, and I don’t…” 

 

He squirms, looking guilty, and Emma feels something very close to shame. “She’s your mom,” she says, forcing a smile. “You don’t have to apologize for wanting to hang out with her.” She has to push aside the weeks before the curse had broken, about discussion of legal battles and putting Henry in her car and driving off and the way she’d been certain that it had been best for him.

 

He’d disagreed then, and she’d been so spooked at her own recklessness that she’d tried to leave town. Now, her role as savior over and done, his interest in her has waned. Which is fine. Healthy. Regina might be an unbearable tyrant reigning supreme over Storybrooke, but she’s solicitous of Henry and it’s also keeping her from mass murder, so… 

 

“It’s cool,” Henry says, warming to the subject. “I thought she’d be so mad about us breaking the curse, but she says that me almost dying made her realize what’s really important. She hasn’t even killed anyone!” He glows at that, and Emma appreciates for a moment how nice it must be for Regina to have a son with standards this low.

 

“Always nice to take a breather from homicide for a little while,” Emma offers as the door to Regina’s office creaks open. “It’s been a relief for me, too.” There had been that moment once the curse had broken, after Regina had waved her hand and magicked everyone else out of Henry’s hospital room, when Emma had been sure that she’d be killed on the spot. But Regina had only stared at her, eyes narrowed and still wet, and she’d said thank you, now get out .

 

Today, she pokes her head out of her office, eyes settling on Emma first with that same distrust, and then she sees Henry. Her face transforms, delighted, and she says, “Henry! Are you ready for ice cream?” 

 

Emma notices, as if it’s a compulsion, that Regina is wearing a light grey dress that wraps around her hips and ass as though she’s modeling it. Grey, you have to call her Your Majesty , she remembers. “Ice cream for dinner?” she says instead, keeping her voice light.

 

Regina gives her a cool look. “Shouldn’t you be down at my station, policing my town?” My station. My town . Regina will never let anyone forget that they live in Storybrooke by her grace alone. She places a hand on Henry’s shoulder– my son – and walks past Emma to the elevator. “And for the record,” she says, turning to glower at Emma. “Henry has a balanced dinner waiting for him at home. He’s a responsible eater.” 

 

“Good for him,” Emma says, bemused, and doesn’t comment on the number of times she’s seen him wheedling Ruby into giving him free milkshakes after school. “I guess it helps when it’s either ‘eat your vegetables’ or ‘go to the dungeons,’ huh?” 

 

Regina’s eyes burn into her, and Emma is reminded of some of the worst stories about the Evil Queen that she’s heard, about villages ravaged and fire everywhere. It’s probably a bad idea to provoke her, except that there’s something very warm and familiar about being able to needle Regina. A tiny bit of normalcy in this post-curse town. “Watch yourself, peon,” Regina says in a low voice. 

 

Emma blinks. “Did you just call me a peon ?” 

 

Henry’s nose wrinkles. “What…does that mean…?” 

 

Regina turns back to him, smiling that impossibly soft smile down to him. “Never mind that,” she says briskly. “Let’s leave Miss Swan with her impotent rage.” She lifts a hand in careless farewell and steps into the elevator.

 

Emma feels the compulsion again, the magical dare tangling around her stomach, and she drawls, “Bye, Your Majesty.” Regina looks up at her as the elevator doors close, an eyebrow cocked, and Emma smiles mirthlessly at her and gives her the finger.

 

She won’t be killed for it, she knows. Of all the people in this town, Emma is probably the safest right now. There is only one thing in the universe that can keep Regina under control, and that’s her son’s love, tenuous as it’s been.

 

“It’s why you’re our strongest asset,” Mary Margaret– no, Snow – says the next night. The resistance is gathered in Granny’s diner, which is partially because these people are about as organized as holding a secret meeting in front of a large transparent storefront indicates, and partially, Emma suspects, because Snow knows that Emma will be dragged into it. “Regina won’t touch you. Henry might forgive her many things, but he’d never forgive her for hurting you.” 

 

She has a large, thick book propped up on her lap, and Emma squints at it instead of committing to another ill-conceived plan. “What is that? Your battle plan?” 

 

Snow grimaces. “ The Complete Guide to Effectively Teaching Fifth Grade ,” she says, setting it down on the table. “It’s exactly as pedantic as you’d expect. Regina has increased funding to the schools again , and this time it’s for nightly workshops for all of the teachers.”

 

“That bitch,” Emma says dryly. “Tackling education. Who does she think she is.” 

 

One of the other members of their resistance– currently twelve members and counting, if you count Emma and all seven dwarves– gives Emma a dark look. “She only cares about the school because Henry goes there,” Granny says. “Now, small businesses–” 

 

“Didn’t she approve the permits for you to expand your seating area?” 

 

Granny snorts. “Because Henry goes here, sure. What about the businesses I’m displacing when I expand?” 

 

“Emma, you know that she’s only doing that because David works at the pet shelter that’s being kicked off the property,” Snow says, reaching to take Emma’s hands beseechingly. “This is all part of her master plan.” 

 

“Her master plan to move the shelter to a larger space?” It’s a bad idea to reason with Snow, Emma knows that. It always ends with Snow looking at her, stricken, and murmuring some heart-wrenching comments about how Regina had stolen Emma away from her, as though Regina had opened that wardrobe and stuck Emma inside. “Look, I think she’s really just…interested in making this town a better place for Henry. I’m not saying she isn’t an irrational sociopath,” Emma hurries to add. “But, well…is it really so bad?”

 

“She had me fined for selling smokes to a few teenagers,” Sneezy says irritably. “And now she has the sheriff lurking in front of my store on patrols.” He gives Emma, who is still the sheriff, a dirty look.

 

Grumpy says, “She cursed me. I can’t go near the Rabbit Hole without reappearing in the middle of the woods. It’s an abuse of power.” 

 

Ruby puts up a hand, ignoring Emma’s betrayed glare, and says, “She charmed my clothes so my favorite shorts are practically at my knees. I think it’s my right to decide what I want to wear.” 

 

“Not when it’s indecent,” Granny grumbles, abruptly taking Regina’s side. 

 

Emma’s brow furrows. “I don’t think Henry is old enough to be staring at your ass,” she concedes. The last time she’d been at Granny’s with Henry, only one of them had been staring at Ruby’s ass when Regina had entered the diner, and it hadn’t been Henry. “So maybe that’s not fair. But–” 

 

There’s a commotion at the door, and Bashful races in, breathing hard. “She’s here! She’s coming!” 

 

The resistance scatters, Snow and David hurrying out the back door and the dwarves out the front. Granny doesn’t budge from her spot behind the counter, and Ruby yawns and wanders over to the closest table to clear it. 

 

Emma sits back against the counter and notes, absentmindedly, the red dress that Regina is wearing as she pushes the diner door open. Regina’s eyes narrow as she takes in the abandoned drinks on the tables and the copy of The Complete Guide to Effectively Teaching Fifth Grade . “What’s going on here?” 

 

Emma raises her glass. “Resistance hour,” she says, blank-faced. “We’re planning a coup d'état.” 

 

Regina eyes her like she isn’t quite sure if she’s joking or not. “You’re no match for me, Miss Swan. I could–” She waves a hand, and Emma is abruptly suspended in midair in the middle of the diner, a raging ball of fire beneath her. 

 

See, Regina has been good for Storybrooke and Emma isn’t ashamed to admit it. What she also is, though, is a dick . “Hey! Can you not?”

 

Regina very calmly produces a stick from thin air, a marshmallow at the end of it, and begins to roast it in said fireball. “Prophecies aside, the final battle has already played out,” she says casually to Granny, who is cleaning glasses. “And your side lost. The curse is broken, but I still rule this town.” She offers the marshmallow to Ruby. Ruby has the decency to give Emma an apologetic look before she eats the marshmallow. “There is nothing that Snow White or her spawn can do to stop that.” 

 

Emma is beginning to feel very warm, and not in that nice Regina’s-shirt-just-a-little-too-unbuttoned kind of warm. “Yep,” she says, eyeing the flames that are licking at the edges of her boots. Regina has placidly produced another marshmallow. “Got it. Resistance is off, guys. Spread the word.” 

 

Regina tosses her an amused look. “Do keep trying,” she says. “The consequences are very entertaining.” She waves a hand and the fire disappears, leaving behind one perfectly roasted marshmallow. Emma snatches it from Regina’s stick before she can tumble to the ground. She’s pretty sure that Regina has been spooked from poisoning any more food. 

 

The marshmallow is perfectly roasted. Emma briefly forgets exactly how terrible Regina is. “You know,” she says. “You’d probably be pretty popular if you’d stop setting things on fire. The resistance might even be a little smaller.” 

 

“How big is it?” Regina demands. Ruby hadn’t cleaned up before the resistance meeting, so there are plates and cups on nearly every table in the diner. It gives off a much more formidable impression than Snow and David and Grumpy huddled around a table. 

 

Emma lies, “Enormous. Half the town is involved.” 

 

Ruby bobs her head. “We have to meet up in shifts because not everyone fits,” she agrees. “Actually, every time you come to Granny’s, it’s during a resistance meeting. That’s why everyone always looks so alarmed.” 

 

Regina eyes Ruby as though she isn’t quite sure if Ruby’s telling the truth. Granny cleans glasses, humming to herself. “ Sheriff Swan,” Regina says, turning on Emma. “These meetings are illegal. You will put a stop to them.”

 

Emma gives her finger guns. “You got it, boss.” Regina veers between terrifying and hilarious when she asserts her dominance over the town. Emma has found that taking it in stride leaves Regina most often at a loss. 

 

Regina nods sharply. “See to it,” she says, spinning around to the door.

 

There is a niggling in the back of Emma’s mind, a reminder of what she has yet to do, and she hurries after Regina as Regina walks out the door. Red means she has to pick a fight, and apparently being nearly set on fire isn’t enough to qualify. “Hey!” she calls after Regina. 

 

Regina turns, eyebrow raised. “What now, Miss Swan? Did you want another marshmallow?” Her eyes gleam a little threateningly. 

 

Emma jabs a finger at her, struggling for something nice and easy to fight over. “Your dress,” she blurts out. 

 

Regina blinks. “What?” 

 

“It’s…it’s ugly,” Emma manages. Like she’s a twelve-year-old mean girl. “It doesn’t fit you well at all. And it’s a terrible color, too.”

 

Regina’s brow wrinkles, and she strides forward toward Emma. “It’s the exact same shade of red as your hideous jacket,” she points out, seizing the edge of Emma’s jacket. She pulls it to her, tugging Emma with it, and Emma promptly forgets how to breathe for a few seconds. “Look.” 

 

The compulsion to pick a fight has faded. Apparently, all Emma has to do is pick the fight, not succeed at it. “Uh,” she says. Regina is standing very close, and her dress fits obscenely well, tight and low-cut and–

 

Emma pulls away. “I’ve got to go,” she says, whirling around. “Put a stop to the next resistance meeting. Those never end.”

 

“I want a report in the morning,” Regina calls after her, and Emma flees into the diner, her heart beating a little too quickly for comfort.

 


 

The grey days, Emma discovers, are the easiest. Emma can throw out one mocking Your Majesty and Regina just smirks and moves on from it, and there is little damage done. The compulsion rises in her every time she sees Regina each day, as long as it’s an hour or two apart, and it makes black days the hardest.

 

Regina hasn’t worn red since Emma had insulted her outfit, which is a relief. Emma doesn’t think she could handle picking that many fights with Regina daily. The black is the hardest, though, and leaves Emma at a loss more often than not.

 

Regina will be in the station, critiquing Emma’s latest report or something she’d said to Henry that day, and the words will spring from Emma, unfiltered. “I like it like this,” she says after one too many comments on the state of her desk. “Makes it more dramatic to just…sweep everything off when necessary.” She smirks, internally mortified.

 

Regina’s mouth falls open, her lips forming a little O as she stares at Emma. “I’m sorry?” 

 

The compulsion has faded, but Emma doesn’t waver. “I wouldn’t be,” she says, sliding her hand along the surface of her desk. There is something very satisfying about silencing Regina, about the image of Regina on her desk, stunned into silence as Emma draws closer– 

 

Regina regains her composure, of course, her eyes narrowing as a smile curls onto her face. “I assure you,” she says. “I would hardly be the one on the desk, in that case.” She stalks out, leaving Emma dry-mouthed and staring, her hips swaying under that damned black dress.

 

It’s reassuring and alarming to discover, several days later, that picking a fight with Regina assuages the compulsion to fulfill the dare even when Regina is wearing black.

 

It’s a blue day when Emma comes back to the station one afternoon and finds Regina sitting back in Emma’s chair, her heels up on a tidied desk. Her legs are endlessly long beneath her blue dress, and Emma gapes at them for a moment before she remembers to look Regina in the eye. “Nice dress,” she manages, compliment given at once.

 

Regina tilts her head, watching Emma. “Henry has been asking for you,” she says. “He says you haven’t gotten any time together alone since the curse was broken.”

 

“He’s not wrong,” Emma says, tense again. Henry hasn’t been a sore point for them in a long time, now that he’s firmly back in Regina’s arms, but Emma craves more time with him, yearns for him and is entirely at Regina’s mercy for it.

 

Regina’s hands are folded over her abdomen, the picture of cool confidence. “I reminded him that the last time you two were alone, you tried to kidnap him.”

 

“You know about that?” Emma says weakly. 

 

Regina eyes her again. “I am willing to arrange a playdate,” she says. “Three hours tonight, in my house. You may stay for dinner, but you will bring the wine.” 

 

It’s a generous offer, considering, but too many days of black dresses means that Emma can’t help herself. “You drink wine with dinner with Henry?”

 

Regina smiles coolly. “Only when you’re around. Any allergies that I should know about?” She says that in the same tone, and Emma is suddenly very certain that it would be a bad idea to share that information with Regina.

 

“Nope. I’m basically invulnerable,” she says, flippant. It occurs to her only later that Regina has access to all of her medical records and would certainly know that plums can give her some unpleasant hives on her face.

 

Specifically, it occurs to her that evening when Regina says, “Another plum muffin, Miss Swan?” in the exact tone that she sometimes says Any more comments, Miss Swan? during town meetings after she’s magically welded Emma’s mouth shut. 

 

Emma is going to resist the compulsion to compliment her for as long as possible. “That would be fantastic ,” she says, holding Regina’s gaze as she bites into another muffin. At least they’re delicious. 

 

Henry is oblivious to any of this. “We’re learning about democracy and free elections now,” he tells them, winding his spaghetti squash around his fork as he gesticulates. “Did you know that the French cut off their queen’s head? Ms. Blanchard…I’m supposed to call her that in class,” he says in an aside to Emma. “Anyway, Ms. Blanchard said that we could build our own little guillotines in class tomorrow!” 

 

“Did she, now?” Regina purses her lips.

 

Emma smiles widely. “That seems very educational,” she says. “Sounds like your overhaul of the school system is doing wonders.” 

 

Apparently, that doesn’t sate the compulsion to compliment Regina. Emma fights it for a little longer, making it all the way through the meal. Henry eyes her as they settle down on the couch for a movie. “You don’t look great,” he says.

 

“There’s this dare that Ruby– it’s a long story,” Emma says, realizing just in time that Henry, who has not been exposed to the assholery of Regina Mills, Her Royal Majesty of Storybrooke, might not appreciate the dare. “I’ve just got to take care of something soon.” 

 

“No, I mean you’re all red,” Henry says, gesturing at Emma’s very itchy face.

 

“Oh.” Emma brushes it off. “It’s just hot in here. No biggie.” She glances back behind them to where Regina is hovering in the doorway, a tiny smirk on her face.

 

Midway through the movie, she’s able to finally slip away to go to the bathroom, where she finds a neatly labeled medicine cabinet with Emma written on a sticker on what winds up being Benadryl. Typical . Regina is waiting when Emma exits the bathroom, leaning against the wall in the hallway. “You took your time in there, didn’t you?” 

 

Emma shrugs. “Your food is kind of heavy,” she offers. It also does not register as a compliment to the compulsion.

 

Regina raises her chin. “Don’t lie to me again,” she says, arrogant and smug. “It might serve you well.” She saunters after Emma to the couch, settling in beside her as the movie plays. She sits straight even on the couch, legs folded and her hands perched on her knees right after the space where her dress ends.

 

They’re watching a superhero movie, all fast-paced explosions and too many men, and Henry is glued to the screen. Emma watches half-heartedly, her eyes flickering to Regina more than once. It’s hard to imagine, as much of a pain in the neck as Regina is, that this woman beside her really ruled with an iron fist back in the Enchanted Forest. Regina is slight and small, and she exudes very little power when she’s staring at the movie, a little smile on her face as she follows it. Emma can’t imagine her ordering around legions of men and terrorizing villages, no matter how much the facts might back that up.

 

There’s a grand reveal onscreen and Regina actually gasps– gasps , her eyes wide and delighted, and Emma watches her instead of the screen. Regina and Henry have the same expressions too often, and there is a touch of childlike wonder on Regina’s face during the movie. It’s–

 

“What?” Regina says in a whisper, noticing Emma’s eyes on her at last. 

 

Emma shrugs. “Nothing. You’re just really into this.” And she’s had too many days already of saying too much to Regina, enough that the words slip out of her mouth. “It’s cute.” 

 

Regina’s mouth falls open in outrage. “I am not cute ,” she hisses. “I could strangle you to death for that comment. I could tear out your entrails and then shove them down your trachea until you were left gasping for mercy as I laughed–” 

 

“Mom, please,” Henry says, holding up a hand. His gaze doesn’t leave the screen. “Hold off on the threats. I’m watching the movie.” 

 

“Adorable,” Emma mutters, catching Regina’s eye, and she has the sudden, uneasy feeling that, had Regina been wearing black, she might’ve fulfilled the compulsion right then. Regina’s cheeks are flushed, her scowl firmly in place, and then one of the characters lets out a scream and Regina is distracted.

 

Emma sits back, stretching her arms out across the back of the couch, and she tries to focus on the movie instead of Regina. She only partially succeeds, but Henry is oblivious to her distraction. “That was great!” he says when it’s over, glowing. “I thought you’d both like it. Did you see the way that plane blew up?” 

 

Regina scoffs. “I could do that, too. Superheroes are nothing special.” 

 

Henry just beams at her, undeterred, and he leans against Emma. “Could we do this again?” he asks hopefully. “We could make it a weekly thing. You said that if no one died–”

 

“I said maybe ,” Regina corrects him, but she gives him a soft, affectionate smile and smoothes down his hair. “I’m sure the sheriff has more important things to do…resistance meetings to attend…” Henry pouts at that, and Emma holds up a hand, alarmed.

 

“Whoa, hey, I’m not even a part of that. They just hold the meetings where I can’t escape–” 

 

“You can always escape here,” Henry says brightly. “They’re scared of Mom. Doc actually jumped into a dumpster to hide from her the last time we were on Main Street.” He lights up. “Gran isn’t afraid. She keeps telling me that we can bring Mom back from the dark . Like I’m Luke Skywalker or something.” 

 

To Emma’s surprise, Regina drops an arm around Henry’s shoulders and looks down at him with fondness. “You certainly are,” she says. When she looks up, it’s challenging, daring Emma to say anything. 

 

Emma says, because the past week has made it clear that she’s incapable of turning down a dare, “Well, I’m definitely Han Solo, then.” 

 

Henry looks very disappointed in her. “That’s not how it works, Emma.” He considers. “Maybe if Mom had poisoned you with the apple turnover.” 

 

This is going to ten-year-old places that Emma can’t follow, so she bobs her head obediently and catches sight of Regina holding back laughter. “Thanks,” she says wryly. “I guess your mom just isn’t committed enough to the role.” 

 

“Not for lack of trying,” Regina says easily, turning back to her son. “Henry, it’s getting late. Why don’t you head upstairs and get into pajamas?” 

 

Henry doesn’t complain, just gives Emma a quick hug and dashes for the stairs, and Emma is left alone with Regina, longing for another hug. “I…thanks for arranging this,” she says, and the compulsion is stronger now than it’s been all night. “And we really did manage it without anyone dying.”

 

Regina quirks her lips. “At least you had the presence of mind to get the Benadryl,” she says. “I make a delicious plum cobbler–” 

 

Emma holds up a hand in a mock-plea for mercy. “Please, no.” But she’s smiling despite herself, as strange as it feels to be so content in Regina’s house. “Listen, I really wouldn’t mind doing this again. You were, like, thirty percent less bitchy than usual. It suits you.” The compulsion remains, unimpressed with the barbed compliment. 

 

Regina snorts. “You should see me when I’m eighty percent down,” she says.

 

“Sounds boring,” Emma says lightly, and Regina’s return smile makes her brain a little fuzzy. “I think the sweet spot would be closer to fifty percent. No more poisoning the food, but you’d still be…well, you .” And somehow, that is compliment enough for the compulsion to fade.

 

Regina takes a step forward, her eyes dancing with amusement. “Why, Miss Swan,” she says, and Emma swallows and tries not to react. “I didn’t know you cared.” She turns around, dismissing Emma without another word, and retreats into the kitchen. 

 

Emma hurries from the house, pausing only to wave up to Henry in his window, and she counts tonight as an unexpected success.

Chapter Text

“If you’re going to the mansion once a week, we have an in,” Snow says, hurrying to keep up with Emma. Emma already regrets telling her about the night before. It had been an ill-advised attempt to persuade Snow that she’d missed the resistance meeting for a reason other than dread at spending any more time with that group, and Emma’s paying for it now. “You could infiltrate–” 

 

“Infiltrate her house? Because she trusts me so much?” Emma says skeptically. 

 

Snow nods vigorously. “You have a very trustworthy face,” she says, beaming at Emma. “You look just like your father.” She considers. “Of course, he looked just like his identical twin brother, who was a ruffian of epic proportions, so it’s a coin toss, I guess.” 

 

Emma can’t wait to get out of this conversation and to the town meeting, which just goes to show exactly how much she hates this conversation. “I’ve really got to go,” she says, speeding up.

 

Snow catches her elbow. “Emma,” she says, and she switches from enthusiastic to mournful in an instant. “We haven’t seen you at the apartment in days. I know you patrol at odd hours, but we don’t mind you coming and going. We put up a curtain around the bedroom so we won’t have…more incidents,” she finishes delicately, and Emma is forced to relive a very traumatic memory from two weeks ago.

 

She tries to arrange her face into something apologetic. “I’ll try to make it back tonight,” she lies. “It’s been kind of busy since the curse broke.”

 

“Really?” Snow frowns. “I thought crime went down after Regina took control. She has all the town criminals terrified. Except the criminal in Town Hall,” she says as an afterthought. “Who would be brought to justice if only–” 

 

“I went to resistance meetings,” Emma finishes tiredly. “I’ve heard.” 

 

Snow squeezes Emma’s arm where she’s still holding onto her. “It’s been twenty-eight years of waiting for you,” she murmurs. “I don’t want to wait any longer.” 

 

“No, it hasn’t,” Emma says, very worn out from this conversation. “It’s been twenty-eight years for me. You didn’t know what you were missing.” She pulls her arm away, lifting her head and forcing a smile onto her face. 

 

Town meetings have become a regular occurrence in this age of Her Majesty the Very Temperamental Queen of This Tiny Town. Regina likes to get up and announce the new laws she’s passing and then creatively rid the meeting of any protests. Today, that means that one of the neighborhood vendors is trapped in a little metal cage around his seat, scowling at everyone around him.

 

“As I said before,” Regina announces from the front of the room, “This yearly fund for holiday decorations is obscenely over-funded.” She’s wearing a black dress today with a grey jacket over it, and Emma can feel both compulsions with equal urgency. “We pay our vendor tens of thousands of dollars for a few wreaths in the trees and streetlight decorations valued at under five thousand dollars, total. While I’m happy to pay double that, I have chosen to allocate the rest of the money to update the Storybrooke General Hospital.”

 

Said vendor shouts something that doesn’t leave his little impromptu cage. Regina smiles a dangerous smile at him and goes on. “I will also be raising taxes again. This will apply only to the top three percent of earners in this town.” Several former royals near the back of the room mutter discontentedly. “The money will go toward an expansion of local parks and campgrounds, as well as reopening the library.” 

 

“You’re bankrupting me so your son can go camping?” Albert Spencer bursts out, his beady eyes furious. 

 

Regina lifts an eyebrow. “You bankrupted yourself three decades ago,” she says, her smile precise and cutting. “I gave you twenty-eight years of leeway, but it’s time that you give back to society.” 

 

Emma, who really can’t help herself, points out from the front of the room, “Hey, Regina. Who is it who lives in the biggest house in town?” 

 

Regina scowls at her. “I pay my taxes. Are you even a registered resident of Storybrooke, or are you freeloading off my town?” 

 

“Freeloading–” Emma sputters. “I’m registered! I live here–” 

 

“Barely,” Snow chimes in, and Emma shoots her a betrayed glance.

 

“Listen, Your Majesty,” Emma says, turning back to Regina, and she feels the relief of one compulsion gone. “You can make lots of grand statements about how you’re making this town a better place, but I checked , and you’re in the top four percent of earners in this town. Which kind of makes this whole thing seem kind of motivated by self-interest, doesn’t it?” 

 

Regina laughs. It’s cold and surprised, the laughter of a woman who knows that she will win at all cost. “Have you been researching me?” 

 

Emma feels very, very smug. “I’ve been keeping an eye on every single move you make,” she informs Regina, and discovers with consternation that the second compulsion is fading away. “No matter what you try, I’ll be there. You might be the queen of this town, but I’m the sheriff, and I will keep you in line.” 

 

Regina watches her, amused. “And how do you plan to do that, Sheriff? Will you arrest me?” 

 

Emma meets her gaze head-on. “I’ve got a jail cell at the station just waiting for you,” she says, chin up.

 

Regina waves a hand, and Emma is abruptly transported to the front of the room, one of the station’s cells around her. There’s an uneasy murmur through the crowd. Emma leans against the bars of the cell, irritated. Regina is so much easier to handle when Henry’s around. “You can’t just lock up everyone you don’t like,” she says, annoyed. “This isn’t the Enchanted Forest. There’s accountability here–”

 

“Not for me,” Regina purrs, her eyes gleaming in triumph. “Have you forgotten that I rule this town?” She walks in front of the cell, her fingers trailing along the metal. “You serve by my pleasure, Sheriff Swan, and it would do you well to remember that.”

 

There is something about Regina, her voice low and her eyes flashing with that toxic mixture of threat and delight, that makes Emma unafraid. Regina is an unfathomable mystery when she’s gentle or fearful, when they play nice for Henry and dare to speak like equals. Regina as Evil Queen, backed by magic and unafraid to use it? Emma rears up to meet her, to push her as far as she’ll go. “I was elected to this position,” she reminds Regina, taking a step closer to the bars of the cell. “I don’t serve by anyone’s pleasure but the town’s.”

 

“Hm.” Regina moves closer, too, a feline approaching its prey. “I am the town now. This is my land.” Her fingers trace the edge of the cell bars, close enough that Emma can nearly feel them, too. “I created this world, and I will be treated with respect .” She flicks a finger, jabbing it into Emma’s chest.

 

“Uh,” someone says from the front row. It’s Sean Herman, and he looks very uncomfortable. “Do you two want us all to clear out and give you some privacy?” 

 

“I do not want to be here for this,” Kathryn Midas says darkly.

 

Dr. Whale says, “I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind sticking around.” He’s zapped by a bolt of lightning that appears out of nowhere above his seat. “Hey!” 

 

“Every single town meeting,” Grumpy grumbles. “Every one ends like this. I’m going to the Rabb– dammit .” The rest of the townspeople are rising, shuffling out of Town Hall, and Emma is left to watch them filing from the room from her cell. 

 

Even the holiday decorations vendor is leaving, his cage bumping down the aisle with him. Only Snow and David remain seated together, glaring at Regina, and Regina waves her hand and they both disappear in a cloud of smoke. “Hey,” Emma says half-heartedly.

 

“I sent them into the middle of the woods,” Regina says airily. “It’s nothing new for them. They’ll manage.” She eyes Emma again. “Now, where were we?” 

 

“You were trying to start a new religion, I think,” Emma supplies. She lounges back against the side of the cell, refusing to react to Regina’s histrionics. “Something about you creating the world. Think you could create some gas lines here, too? Granny is paying a fortune on oil shipments this winter.” 

 

Regina doesn’t deign that with a response. “I am shaping this town into a place where my son can grow up with everything that his heart desires. I don’t need you undermining me.” 

 

“What you need,” Emma shoots back, “Is a sheriff people trust to represent their issues. I’m not your lieutenant, Madam Mayor. I’m here to make sure that no one breaks the law. And that includes you. Even if it kills me.”

 

She doesn’t bring up Henry. She doesn’t have to. Regina knows it as well as Emma does, the danger of going too far etched into their skin. They no longer fight for their son’s love; he gives it freely, and asks only of them that they don’t betray that love. Regina stiffens, and the cell vanishes from around Emma. “If you don’t answer to me, you sure as hell don’t answer to Snow White,” she says, her voice low. “I want you to remember that.” 

 

“Trust me,” Emma says dryly, “If I were answering to her, I’d be playing happy family with her and David right now, out…camping in the woods or something. I’m a free agent.” 

 

Regina eyes her, and then, grudgingly, backs down. “See to it that it stays that way,” she says. “Your resistance–” 

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Emma straightens, peering around the empty Town Hall. “We emptied that one pretty quickly. I thought this would go on all day. It’s still early enough to get some lunch.” 

 

When she turns, Regina is staring at her. “Sheriff Swan,” she says, her eyebrows raised. “Are you asking me to lunch?” 

 

“Wh-what?” Emma is stammering, caught by surprise. Had she said it like that– oh, god. She had, hadn’t she? It’s like a switch is flicked inside of her every time Regina wears black and she’s in flirt mode, even unintentionally. Lunch with Regina. Lunch with Regina . Like some kind of date–

 

“I’m afraid I already have plans,” Regina says before Emma can unjumble her thoughts. “But it’s so… adorable of you to ask.” That adorable has just the right inflection of disdain and condescension, and Regina turns around to leave the room, a hand flicking up in a royal wave. “Another time, Miss Swan.”

 

“Wait– I didn’t–” Emma sputters. “Plans with who ?” she finally manages to demand. But Regina is already nearly at the door, and Emma can practically see her smirk in the way that she strides from the building.

 

“Another time?” Emma echoes to the empty room.

 


 

Granny’s diner is being boarded up for construction, even though the B&B remains untouched. “No need for more rooms when no one comes to town,” Granny says ruefully. “Our rooms are solely for the occasional wayfarer and afternoon trysts.” All three of them wrinkle their noses at that reminder. 

 

Ruby says, “I promise we don’t rent out your room to anyone else. It’s been strictly yours since this town came into existence.” 

 

“Thanks.” Emma brightens. “Hey, if the diner’s closed up, we won’t be able to hold resistance meetings anymore–” 

 

“Snow says we’ll just do them at the station from now on,” Ruby says cheerfully. “You won’t even have to leave your seat!” Red might have been some kind of dangerous werewolf, but Ruby has picked up a little too much chaotic energy over the years of the curse. Emma shoots her a wary look. Ruby winks at her. “Regina’s really coming down hard on you about it, isn’t she?” 

 

Emma shrugs unhappily. “I can’t keep saying I’m a free agent if I’m holding meetings at the station. I think Regina might actually trust me.” It’s a realization brought on by Snow’s glib comments. Regina had allowed Emma into her house– into Henry’s life– even when Henry’s affection hadn’t been on the line. They might not like each other, but there’s been a tenuous thread tying them together– for Henry’s good and for the good of the town. Emma won’t be the one to sever it. 

 

When she turns, Ruby is eyeing her thoughtfully. “What?” Emma demands.

 

“Oh, nothing.” Ruby runs a pensive hand through her hair. “I was just thinking about how much Snow is going to cry when she figures out that you have the hots for Regina.” 

 

“What? I do not.” This does nothing to persuade Ruby. “Only when I’m wasted,” Emma protests. “And speaking of, what did you to bind that dare, because I don’t think I have a choice some of the time…”

 

Her voice trails off as she catches sight of a figure down the street, dressed in a truly stunning red-and-black top with black slacks. “Crap,” Emma mutters. 

 

Regina nears them, her attention caught by the construction crew. Granny says, “I’d better go get the permits.” 

 

“Permits?” Emma echoes. “Regina okayed this during a town meeting. I thought her word was law these days?” 

 

“Please, Sheriff,” Regina says, still distracted by the work being done beside them. “Bureaucracy is vital even to a democratic monarchy.” 

 

“Is that what we’re calling it these days?” Snow’s little jabs have apparently landed. “Which part of this is democracy?” 

 

Regina smiles, smoothing down her pants as she eyes Emma. “The part where you’re still the sheriff?” So much for trust. “I see that the construction is moving quickly. I had a conversation with the contractor.” She sniffs. “The amount of time he’s wasted over the past twenty-eight years on minutiae while Main Street would be stopped up for weeks…and then the permits would expire and nothing was ever accomplished.” 

 

“It’s almost like you cursed the town so nothing would change.” Emma glances at Regina out of the corner of her eye. Her top is more like a corset than a shirt, just barely on this side of decent. The compulsion to flirt is much stronger than the compulsion to fight, which has never happened before. Strange. 

 

Regina waves a hand impatiently. “Well, yes, but a little curse is no excuse for incompetence.” She smiles, satisfied. “Nothing like a little… persuasion …to encourage efficiency.” She fidgets with the bottom of her shirt, and Emma’s eyes follow her fingers obediently. 

 

Regina sees her looking and lifts a challenging eyebrow. “Oh, is this outfit offending your eyes, too?” 

 

“Uh,” Emma says, distracted by the way Regina’s cleavage rests in the top of the shirt.

 

Ruby says, keeping a straight face (or it sounds that way, anyway. Emma hasn’t looked up yet), “She’s clearly outraged.” 

 

Regina gives her a scornful look. “Begone, pup. Go chase some squirrels at the park.” Ruby slinks off, smirking at Emma as she goes, and Emma tears her eyes away from Regina’s shirt to stare at her raised eyebrows. 

 

“It’s, um…” she says, and the compulsion comes on strong. “I’ve seen worse,” she says finally. “You do know how to wear ‘em. Very Evil Queen chic.” 

 

Regina snorts. “You can only imagine,” she says, and Emma obligingly does imagine, with a few helpful illustrations from Henry’s book. “A young queen is meant to be delicate and sweet, a flower in her king’s court. I wanted to be a dagger.” 

 

“Beautiful and dangerous,” Emma says, and she notices that the compulsion to flirt is gone just as she notices the startled gratification on Regina’s face. “So I guess there wasn’t a lot of feminism in the Enchanted Forest, huh? I figured there was at least some kind of rah-rah girl power from the way that David follows Snow around.” 

 

Regina shakes her head. “I’m surprised that your mother hasn’t told you all about it.” There’s a slight curl of her lip at your mother , which is fine. Emma kind of feels the same when she talks about Snow being her mother. “Women in the court were rarely accorded with the same power as men. A woman ruling alone was rare. And my father’s father’s court had been a very different one than Snow’s father’s court, so I was met with contempt from the start.” 

 

Snow has only talked about being royalty in terms of reclaiming the kingdom and oh, Emma, you would have looked so beautiful in a ballgown , and Emma leans forward, interested despite herself. “Is that why you killed him? Because he kept all that power for himself?” Snow has described her father as gentle and loving, Regina’s polar opposite, and Emma imagines that Regina had had little patience for him.

 

The compulsion to fight brought on by the red on Regina’s shirt vanishes, and Emma should have taken that as the first warning sign. The second warning sign is Regina’s eyes narrowing, her posture snapping straight and her lips pressing together in dissatisfaction. “You’ve spent too long listening to fairytales,” she snaps. “Your idiot mother was a spoiled brat who knew nothing of the palace.” 

 

And she might have some weirdness she can’t get over when it comes to Snow, but Emma balks at that, overlooking the danger in Regina’s eyes. “Oh, come on. You tried to kill her. Repeatedly! And you killed her father.” Despite Regina’s disdain for the nastier royals in town and her less-than-terrible reign over Storybrooke, she must know that she’s the villain of the story, right? “You can’t possibly look at the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and think that anyone’s coming out of that, like, ‘Snow White was the spoiled one.’”

 

Regina’s eyes flash. “And you should stay far away from matters you know little of,” she snarls. “You and your bloodline are always so convinced that you know best. That you’re the victims, every damned time.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, uncertain of what she’s gotten into but irritated because of it. There’s only so much abuse she can take from Regina without fighting back. “Weird how we see ourselves as the victims when– in the months since I got here– you framed Mary Margaret for murder, tried to sabotage her marriage, and– oh, yeah, tried to feed me a poisoned apple turnover! Right before I was about to leave town anyway!” When she goes through the litany of things Regina has done in Storybrooke alone, they’re damning. “I could have passed out on the road and died –” 

 

“And a terrible shame you didn’t.” The mood has changed, the playful tone gone without a trace. Regina watches her, eyes dark, and Emma tenses for an attack. “Your family is the picture of arrogance, and you most of all. I must be evil, because how else can you justify the way you charged into this town and tried to take the one person I–” 

 

“Permits!” Granny says briskly, striding up and cutting Regina off, and Regina twists around in a fury, her hands smoking slightly beneath her fists, and vanishes in a cloud of purple magic.

 

Granny blinks. “Was it something I said?” 

 


 

Regina had deserved everything that Emma had said. Emma knows it, Emma believes it, but still– she keeps examining and reexamining their fight in her mind, turning over the words to try to understand where she’d gone wrong. Regina is absolutely the villain of this story– hadn’t she cursed Storybrooke? Aren’t they all under her thumb now? And Emma will readily concede that Regina is still a pretty good leader, but… 

 

But . “So what’s the deal with you and Regina?” she asks Snow. It’s a mark of exactly how uncomfortable she is with the fight she’d had with her that she’d decided to come to the loft for dinner. Snow had nearly cried when she’d appeared at the door and promptly baked a batch of cookies. Dinner itself seems a while to come, unless the cookies are dinner, which is always possible in Snow’s house. 

 

Snow sits back on the couch opposite her, brow wrinkled. “Haven’t you seen the movie?” 

 

“Movie Regina tried to kill you for being prettier than her,” Emma points out. “I don’t think that’s very realistic.” Snow looks at her askance. Emma grimaces. She is not going to get involved in another conversation about how attractive Regina might or might not be. That way lies madness and also drunken dares. “Because you’re real people, not cartoons?” she says instead.

 

“Right.” Snow winces. “I mean, it’s a long story. Regina really hated me for…being a silly child when we met,” she says, and a little pall is cast over her, a curious hollowness in her gaze. Guilt . Emma might not know Snow very well, but she knows guilt in Mary Margaret’s eyes. “And once she saw an opportunity to seize power, she took it. You know Regina. She was born to be a tyrant.” She scoffs, not without a touch of affection. “Just like you were born to be a savior. And look at you now.” 

 

It’s a skill, being able to turn the conversation so deftly to the last thing Emma wants to talk about. “Yep,” Emma says dully. “Twenty-eight and I can order pizza and drive. I’m a veritable hero.” 

 

Snow misses her tone entirely. “All I’m saying is that you don’t need to spend too much time dwelling on Regina. I know I wasted years of my life worrying about how she felt about me. Some people are irredeemable.” 

 

“I guess,” Emma mutters. “I just…I think I hurt her feelings.” It feels silly to put into words, that pervasive sense of shame at how she’d somehow driven a wedge between them. But there had been something about the way that Regina had lashed out– the way she’d gone from zero to sixty without a beat– that has Emma uncomfortably sure that she’d overstepped somewhere.

 

David snorts. He’s the parent that Emma definitely has an easier time dealing with, mostly because he regards her with a vague sense of wry embarrassment. The curse hadn’t brought out the best in him, and he knows it, and he gives her the space she needs because of it. “I think you get a pass when you hurt the Evil Queen’s feelings,” he says. “Something in the name that makes it okay.” 

 

But it’s not okay, and Emma bites her lip, turning back to her cookie rather than to respond. 

 

Snow, surprisingly, is the one to look disapprovingly at David. “We’re better than that,” she says sternly. 

 

God, Regina would hate Snow defending her like that. “Maybe you are,” Emma offers, and halfway means it. “The rest of us aren’t so pure.”

 

If she’s being acerbic– and she isn’t quite sure if she is– Snow ignores it. “You’re the savior , Emma,” she says, as if that explains it all. Maybe it does to Snow. Her face is shining, and Emma can sense another hope speech coming on. “You saved us all, Emma. You brought back our memories. And I know that someday, we’ll take back our town, too. Regina might have magic, but we were able to stop her before, and we’ll stop her again. Rumplestiltskin says–” 

 

Emma jerks to stare at her, alarmed. “You got Gold involved in this?” He’s been holed up in the pawn shop for weeks, and Emma’s seen him only once or twice, driving back to his house with a woman she doesn’t recognize. He’s kept to himself and remained a niggling worry in the back of Emma’s mind. “There’s only one person in this town worse than Regina, and you want to give him an army?” 

 

“It’s not much of an army, Emma,” Snow says patiently. “There are twelve of us, remember? And we need magic on our side, too. Rumplestiltskin seemed pretty certain that Regina wouldn’t be in control for much longer– Emma?” 

 

Emma is standing, adrenaline beginning to pulse through her. “When…when was this? How long ago did you speak to him?”

 

“I saw him this morning on my way to school.” Snow sighs. “Emma, we’ve always had to rely on Rumplestiltskin, even when we didn’t want to. He’s a necessary evil.” 

 

“He once set Town Hall on fire to win an election.” Emma’s heartbeat is thrumming in her ears, and she thinks of Henry and Regina, sitting down for dinner right now in their serene mansion, unaware of the serpent that has been sent their way. “I’m pretty sure he’s the one who kidnapped Kathryn in the first place. He isn’t a necessary anything . My son is with Regina right now.” 

 

Snow brightens. “No, he isn’t,” she says. “He’s at Nick Tillman’s house. I heard Regina outside the school today grilling Michael to make sure he wasn’t going to leave Henry lost in the middle of the woods. But he doesn’t get invited out much, so I guess Regina decided to take the chance.” 

 

Henry isn’t home, conveniently invited out by someone with every reason to hate Regina. And Gold had been contacted this morning. This is bad. This is very bad.

 

Emma’s running before she has time to think about it, tearing down the staircase and to the street. Regina’s only a few blocks away, and Emma is suddenly grateful that this town is improbably small to have been an entire realm. She takes off in the direction of Regina’s house, weaving past cars that don’t see her in the dark and down well-lit streets toward Mifflin–

 

–where every house on the block is pitch black. The streetlights are out, and it seems almost as though the stars have been muffled, too, a curtain drawn across them and blocking out every bit of light from the block. The closer Emma gets to Regina’s house, the worse it gets, and Emma feels a little thrill of terror, something primal urging her to flee.

 

She charges forward, ignoring that voice under her skin, and runs blindly toward the faint imprint of Regina’s house against the dark. The door opens, unlocked, and the darkness is even more pronounced within it. There’s a roaring noise, like a vacuum but louder, and Emma can hear a scream mingled with it.

 

“Regina!” she shouts. No answer, but the roar is so loud that it’s close to bursting her eardrums, a rumble and a scream. Emma twists around, and she finally sees her– Regina at the top of a staircase, and a black creature wreathed in a shroud hovering over her. There’s a dangerous-looking energy flowing from Regina to the creature, pulling at her face and what Emma is instinctively sure is her soul, and Emma races up the staircase and throws herself at Regina.

 

Regina flies back against the wall. A strange, shining light seems to envelop them. Emma doesn’t know where it’s coming from, but it shatters whatever energy the creature had been pulling from Regina, and it lets out a piercing, hollow cry and hurtles from the house.

 

The lights flicker back on. Regina is on the ground, hair wild and eyes shaken, and Emma crouches beside her and helps her up. “A wraith,” Regina grits out. “Gold came here earlier and marked me.” She flips her palm over, and Emma sees the strange mark etched onto it.

 

“Fuck,” Emma breathes. “Is it gone?” 

 

Regina shakes her head, and she stares at the wall in front of them, avoiding Emma’s eyes. “Not for long. It will pursue me until it’s taken my soul.” She tilts her head back against the other wall. “You’ve only prolonged the inevitable.” 

 

No . Absolutely not . Emma might be new to all of this– to magic and fairytales and wraiths who suck out souls like this is Hogwarts for Disney characters– but there’s no way that Regina is going to go this ignominiously. “I don’t buy that. You don’t have…there’s no magic that can get rid of it?” 

 

Regina turns for the first time to meet Emma’s eyes, and she looks…drawn. Tired. Like the wraith might have taken some of her energy, after all. “What do you care?” she says. “Isn’t this what I deserve?” 

 

She has changed from the sharp black-and red that she’d worn earlier, Emma notices. Instead, she’s wearing light-colored pants with a soft, off-white cardigan, her makeup already scrubbed from her face. It’s the first time that Regina’s worn anything so pale in ages, and it makes her seem gentler, more fragile and warm. 

 

“No one deserves this,” Emma says. “And not…” She swallows. There’s a new compulsion now, that drive to speak her mind that pairs with what Regina’s wearing, but she isn’t even sure what’s on her mind in the first place. “Not Henry,” she says finally. “He can’t lose you.” 

 

Regina laughs, wearily bitter. “That’s a first from you.” She shakes her head. “But it’s useless. You can’t stop a magical creature like that. You’re not my savior.” 

 

That burns, even though it shouldn’t. “Yeah? So what was that light that got between you and the wraith?” Emma challenges. “I don’t think it was coming from you.” It had felt a little like a warmth through her, from the tips of her toes all the way to her face, and she wonders if it had been her, after all.

 

Regina scoffs. “Savior magic. Protecting you, not me. The wraith only wants me, and it’ll tear this town apart to get at me.” 

 

“So we don’t let it,” Emma says, making a beeline for the stairs as an idea occurs to her. “It’s a magical creature, right? How do you think it would do in a land without any magic?” 

 

Regina blinks at her, understanding dawning in her eyes. “We won’t make it,” she says, but she takes a step forward, following Emma.

 

“Come on,” Emma says, heading down the stairs. “I’ll drive.” 

 


 

It’s the quietest Regina’s ever been around Emma. There is a stiffness to her posture that doesn’t suit her, that strips her of all the power that usually surrounds her. She cranes her head as they drive silently through the streets of Storybrooke, watching the windows for any sign of the wraith. 

 

After a few minutes of absolute silence, she mutters, “That cretin .” 

 

“Me?” Emma is mildly offended. 

 

“Gold.” Regina gestures out the window. “He’s following us.” Sure enough, if Emma watches the rearview mirror for long enough, she can spot the glimmer of a car behind them, fading in and out of invisibility. “He wants to watch me die.” 

 

Emma grips the steering wheel, swerving around a street. Gold’s invisible car flashes into visibility again for an instant as he follows them. “You’re not dying.” 

 

“Depends on how many times you do that,” Regina mutters, and it’s much more them than anything else that she’s said tonight. It makes Emma smile to herself, finding a strange comfort in Regina’s insults, and then remember her shame again.

 

The compulsion rises within her again, and Emma has no idea how to quiet it. “Look,” she starts. “About earlier–”

 

Regina cuts her off. “There.” Behind them, the lights in a dozen street lamps have winked out. 

 

Emma takes a breath. “Here we go.” She presses her foot down on the pedal, jerking them forward, and the darkness seems to envelop them. The stars above them wink out, and their headlights disappear. “Crap. I can’t see–” She smashes into something loud and metal.

 

“Mailbox,” Regina says faintly. “That’s our tax dollars you just crashed into–” 

 

Emma swerves blindly, crashing into what feels a whole lot like an electric pole. A few more lights fade out, these not under the influence of the wraith, and Regina snaps, “ Emma! ” 

 

“Do you want to survive or do you want your letters postmarked? Does anyone in this town even mail letters?” Emma speeds up. She’s pretty sure that the next turn will take them into the woods. Mostly.

 

“I ruled an entire realm,” Regina grits out. “I conquered the land and brought it to another world. I’m a sorceress so renowned that I rank tenth on the official list of movie villains in this land. I am not going to die in a car named after a cockroach .” 

 

“It’s not a– look, can you try to be a little nicer about me saving your life?” Emma careens around a corner, squinting at the hulking masses of trees around her to follow the curve of the road. “Or give me one of those fireballs so I can see ?” 

 

“Fireballs!” Regina lights up. “I knew there was a reason I haven’t killed you yet.” 

 

Yet? ” But Regina has disappeared from the seat beside her. “Regina? Regina!” Something thumps on the roof of the car, and then a fireball blazes in front of her from just over her windshield, lighting up the road. A second one fires behind her, up at the wraith, and Emma’s headlights blink on again just in time for her to see the wraith rear back.

 

Regina reappears in the passenger seat, looking very pleased with herself. Emma says, “Have you forgotten that we’re in a forest ?” 

 

“It was your idea!” 

 

“I was joking!” But they’ve gotten a reprieve, another few seconds of light before the wraith bears down on them again. Emma speeds up, winding down the road toward the town line at top speed. Gold is behind them, flickering in and out of sight, relentless beneath the wraith. “Please tell me that you can put out the fire.” 

 

“I can’t put out anything if we crash into a– tree! Tree! Do you want to die, too ?” Regina demands, her voice shrill. “Sidney would be a terrible sheriff!”

 

Emma jerks to the side sharply, past the Welcome to Storybrooke sign, just as the headlights go dark again. “Do you want me to die or not?” 

 

“I haven’t decided!” Regina snaps, and then– again, the chilling darkness surrounds them, and Regina is screaming, her face blurring and the roar of the wraith blasting again. Emma glows– actually glows, that strange light around her, but she can’t step between Regina and the wraith again, not when she’s driving, and Regina is screaming helplessly beside her with her body caught in a funnel to the wraith and–

 

Emma crashes across the town line and the wraith is torn to ash in an instant, the roar stopping abruptly and the wraith falling like burned paper on the other side of the line. An instant later, Gold’s car appears out of nowhere, over the town line and slamming to a stop.

 

Emma strides furiously to him as Regina gasps for breath in the passenger seat, reeling from the attack. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” 

 

Gold blinks up at her. There is something different about him, a perplexed expression on his face. Gold has never looked confused before. “I’m sorry…Sheriff? I was driving out here and I seem to have lost my way.” He looks around, squinting at the road behind him. “Would you direct me to the nearest town?” 

 

Emma glances behind her, baffled. The Welcome to Storybrooke sign is still up– she hasn’t knocked it down this time– but Gold doesn’t seem to see it. “Uh,” she says. “Mr. Gold?” 

 

Gold stares at her, his brow furrowed. “How do you know my name?” It sounds genuine, and Emma is pretty good at detecting a con. Somehow, crossing the town line has taken Gold’s memories from him.

 

Emma presses her lips together and then blows out a little breath. One less thing to worry about, then. “Follow this road down to the next fork and then make a right,” she offers instead. “There’s a gas station that way.” 

 

She turns around as Gold drives off, a frightening thought crossing her mind. If Gold has lost his memories, then Regina might have, too. Regina might not know who she is, might not remember her past or Henry

 

Emma takes off at a run, jogging back to her car, where Regina is still sitting, shell-shocked, in the passenger seat. “Regina,” she says urgently. “Regina, are you…?” 

 

Regina exhales, looking up at her with those familiar, flashing eyes. “You are never driving Henry around, ever again,” she says darkly, and Emma is flooded with warm, sweet relief. 

 

“Come on,” she says, sliding back into the driver’s seat and executing a perfect three-point turn. “I’m a defensive driver. Didn’t you see how I handled that wraith?” 

 

“Like you were playing a video game,” Regina grumbles. 

 

Emma knows that she won’t say thank you , that there will be no overt gratitude from Regina. That isn’t how Regina operates, and Emma wouldn’t know how to respond to it, anyway. But the ride back to Mifflin is more comfortable, even in silence, and the tension between them feels closer to fading. 

 

The compulsion has returned with a vengeance now that the urgency of the wraith is gone, and Emma manages to hold it back until they park in front of the house. Regina puts her hand on the passenger side door, and Emma blurts out, “I’m sorry about earlier. I know I said something wrong, which sucks because– I don’t know. I thought we were getting somewhere.” 

 

Regina looks at her, eyes startled and unguarded, and she’s so pretty in a way that Emma’s never really considered before. Because, yes, Regina is hot and sexy in truly terrifying and intimidating ways, but she is none of those right now. Her face is free of makeup and her clothes are casual, without the sharp dominance that she carries with her every day, and still, she’s beautiful. Emma’s heart skips a beat, and she has to take a breath before she can go on. “I don’t know– I don’t know what went on in the other land. And you’ve been downright sociopathic in this one sometimes, but you got back all of that power and you seem to just want to use it for Henry, which is…” She runs out of words that make sense, the compulsion gone, and Regina’s hand slips off the door handle.

 

She says, her gaze on Emma, “You aren’t wrong. I certainly…I caused more than my share of pain and suffering. To you and your family in particular. I don’t expect you to apologize for it.” Her words are empty of malice or defensiveness, flat and plain, and it someone makes Emma feel even worse.

 

She studies Regina for a moment– those dark eyes and the press of her lips and how young she looks, really, even after twenty-eight years of the curse. Her Madam Mayor getup ages her effectively, but she can’t be much older than Emma herself, or Snow.

 

And something finally clicks together, a missing piece that Emma hasn’t had until now. Regina is just a little older than Snow. Regina had been Snow’s stepmother and Snow had been a silly child then and…Emma remembers Snow’s father from pictures in Henry’s book, grey-haired and elderly. “Regina,” Emma says, a pit growing in her stomach. “How old were you when you married the king?” 

 

Regina stares at her, and now her eyes aren’t stunned at all. Instead, there is something heavy there, and something soft, too, that feels like it might just be directed at Emma for asking that question. “I was nineteen,” she murmurs, and Emma’s heart wrenches in painful realization. 

 

“Regina–” she starts, and Regina tilts her head and smiles, the heaviness still lurking in her eyes.

 

“Goodnight, Sheriff Swan,” she says. “Try not to hit any more mailboxes on your way home.” 


And again, Emma hears an unspoken thank you .

Chapter Text

Emma is sitting at her desk at the station, doodling on an incident report for Gold’s disappearance, when she gets a panicked text from David.

 

Well, technically, she isn’t doodling as much as she’s writing out the incident report in the way that she thinks will most likely make Regina laugh. Old Man Sets Pet on Mayor; Develops Amnesia Instead. Reports of mailbox killing spree by friendly yellow car unfounded and unproven.

 

She’d begun this report an hour ago, briefly waylaid by reports of dragon fire still burning in some of the corners of the revitalized library. (Ruby has found a girl named, of course , Belle to run the library. Belle had been concerned with the fire burning books and not at all with the dragon who may lie dormant beneath the library, whom she’d said added character to it.) And somewhere between writing in the date and time of the incident and the header for it, Emma had become determined to entertain Regina with this.

 

Why? She has no idea. There is something hypnotic about the way that Regina laughs, those dark eyes lighting up and becoming clear with weightlessness. And the night of the wraith had been more than a little traumatic for Regina, who still walks through town on edge, jumping a little too quickly when she’s approached from behind.

 

It had nearly sucked out her soul , and while some of Storybrooke might insist that Regina doesn’t have one of those, Emma is less convinced. Regina’s quiet admission after the wraith still lingers around her, painting a horrific picture that she can’t shake. It answers some questions, and raises so many more. 

 

And it’s perfectly reasonable to have questions about Regina, who is possibly her nemesis and possibly her ally, she decides, because Regina is also the mother of her child and Emma therefore has a vested interest in keeping the Millses safe and happy. Plus, there’s that whole aforementioned bit about the way that Regina’s eyes glow when she smiles.

 

She’s stuck in a reverie about said eyes when the text pops up on her phone. EVIL QUEEN COMING TO EXACT HER VENGEANCE!!! David, in a coma for the bulk of twenty-eight years, hasn’t mastered texting in lowercase, so Emma takes his alarm with a grain of salt. Still, she knows that nothing good can come of a confrontation between David and Regina, and so she climbs into her car and heads off to the shelter.

 

The shelter has been moved to a side street near the school, a large building with a pen in the back for animals to run around free. For all of Snow’s objections to Regina’s interference, Emma knows that she’s been taking her students to the shelter twice a week to play with the friendlier animals, and a number of other teachers have followed suit. But it’s late in the day, just after dismissal, so if Regina is, in fact, wreaking a little havoc at the shelter, it’ll be with only David as witness.

 

Emma parks in front and heads into the shelter, casting an eye around first for anything on fire. But there’s no fire, only David standing, arms folded and hackles raised, as Regina crouches beside a… puppy ?

 

“You’re getting a dog?” Emma says, startled and a little uncomfortable. 

 

Henry says, “Yeah!” Emma hadn’t noticed him before. He’s sitting on Regina’s other side, bent down to the puppy. “Isn’t he great?”

 

The puppy yips, nuzzling up against Regina’s hand, and Regina says, “I haven’t agreed yet.” But she scratches the puppy right behind his ears, and he lets out a little moan and presses harder against her. Emma watches, bemused. “Who knows how that incompetent has been treating him?” Regina says, scowling up at David. “Is he up-to-date with his vaccinations?” 

 

David looks offended. “Of course he is. But I wouldn’t put a puppy in the care of someone evil –” 

 

Henry says, “ Gramps ,” with a long-suffering sigh. “That was Old Mom. And she was always good with animals. She even had a horse she loved before she tore out its heart for the curse.” 

 

David blinks at him. “She what –” 

 

“Better a horse than a human, right?” Emma says brightly, masking her own alarm as well as she can. Regina ignores them all, absorbed in the puppy, who has made his way up onto her leg and is pawing her face. 

 

Henry says, “Well, it didn’t work , so then she had to use her father–” 

 

Regina does look up at that, her expression strained, and Emma says hastily, “But that’s all in the past, right? No hearts being torn out anymore. That I know of. I mean, for all I know, maybe there are still hearts in your mom’s secret vault, but I’m sure they’re not recent and–”

 

Regina cuts her off, thankfully, because Emma is pretty sure that she was about to suggest that they go visit said vault and find the hearts’ owners, which had not been on her agenda for this evening at all . “I will have you all remember that I am still your queen,” Regina says, drawing herself up. Emma notices with a rush of relief that Regina is wearing brown today, a deep brown suit that can’t be mistaken for red or black or any color with a compulsion attached. “And if I wanted every dog in this shelter, I would take them and you could do nothing to stop me, Charmings.” She is less intimidating than usual when she’s cradling a little grey puppy who has caught onto her lapel with his teeth and is tugging at it. Emma has to actively stop herself from aww ing.

 

Henry’s eyes light up. “You should definitely do that,” he says seriously. “I think Gramps was really disrespecting you.” 

 

“Yeah,” Emma agrees, only partially motivated by the fact that she’s supposed to be coming over for dinner tomorrow. The mental image of Regina walking down Main Street with a dozen leashes in hand is just too good to surrender. “Show him who the real boss is.” The earlier discomfort returns, and she swallows it back and tries to ignore it.

 

Regina eyes them both with deep weariness. “Just the one,” she decides grudgingly. “What’s his name?” The puppy yips and licks her face. 

 

David looks happy for the first time since Emma had entered the shelter. “Tramp.”

 

Regina stares at him. “No.” 

 

But the puppy barks, pleased at hearing his own name, and Henry says, “Like Lady and the Tramp! Hey, Trampy!” and lifts the dog up from his mother’s arms. “That’s awesome!” 

 

“No,” Regina says again, this time as David hands her an inoculation list. “I will not…”

 

“But you liked it so much that you spray-painted it on Mary Margaret’s car a few months ago,” Emma says, mock-serious. She had only suspected that before now, but Regina’s darkening expression confirms it. “Anyway,” she says hastily. “If all is okay here, I’m going to head back to the station. Lots to do there. Cats in trees, Grumpy in the liquor store…you know how it is.” 

 

She makes for the door, and she’s only a little surprised when it’s Regina who comes out after her. “David called you to the shelter, didn’t he? Did he think I was going to kill you with Henry around?” She sounds almost offended.

 

Emma shrugs. “I thought you wanted to strike terror in the hearts of the townspeople.” She pauses, that same discomfort bubbling up again, and she finally blurts out, “You know you don’t have to spoil Henry, right?” 

 

Regina’s head snaps around to Emma, her eyes hard. “Excuse me? Are you trying to mother my son, because I assure you–”

 

“No,” Emma says hastily. “Not what I meant. I mean…” She bites her lip. “Is a dog really what you want? Or are you just trying to buy Henry’s affection, because–” 

 

Excuse me– ” 

 

“You have it!” Emma finishes quickly. “That’s all I meant. You don’t need to fight for Henry to love you anymore, or to spoil him into it. He really, really loves you, and he doesn’t need a dog to prove that. That’s what I was saying.” She flushes and doesn’t know why, and Regina’s anger fades from her eyes.

 

“Oh,” Regina says, and then she blinks a few times and takes a breath. “That’s…I don’t…” She takes another breath. “It is a good learning experience for him,” she says, straightening. “And if he is to rule this town someday, I want him to have learned responsibility. Too many princes grow up pampered and useless, and I won’t have my son do the same.” She raises her shoulders and then drops them, some of the tension leaving her frame as she does. “And I was very strict with him after we began to drift apart. It’ll do him good to have a little more freedom.” She dips her eyes, avoiding Emma’s, and she turns to return to the shelter.

 

There had been vulnerability in Regina’s admission, and Emma says, “You’re right,” and is rewarded by a smile on Regina’s face as she shifts back to her. “Plus, a puppy will definitely improve your image. Much less Evil Queen and more–” 

 

“Don’t you dare call me cute again,” Regina says threateningly, further intensifying said cuteness. Emma presses her lips together, wiggling her eyebrows, and Regina glowers at her.

 

“Hey,” Emma ventures after a moment. “I…that color looks really good on you.” Her face might still be a little pink from before, which is the only reason why the color hasn’t left her face. “Regal, I mean. Imposing. You should wear it more often.” A reprieve from the dare is enough of a prize to open herself up to Regina’s ridicule, and she forces a quick smile and watches Regina’s eyebrows rise. 

 

“Thank you for your input,” Regina says, and now she sounds amused. “Maybe a little less time staring at my wardrobe and a little more doing your job, though. Don’t you have a patrol right now?”

 

“Probably.” Emma rolls her eyes. “Not that anyone commits crimes anymore, after you–” 

 

Regina brightens. “Do you need me to hang someone else by their thumbs from the clock tower? That was very effective.” 

 

“No! Definitely not. We are crime free.” Emma shakes her head rapidly. “No more thumbs, please.” 

 

Regina laughs, her eyes dancing. “So back to being a useless enforcer. Do you know how much I got away with before the curse broke?” It would be biting if not for the light way that she says it, as though they are conspirators instead of enemies.

 

Emma cocks her head. “Not as much as you’ve gotten away with since,” she says wryly.

 

Regina scoffs. “Hardly. I haven’t killed anyone. That’s all you.” She considers. “And me, I suppose. Maybe I’m growing as a person.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, and she doesn’t mean for it to sound so sincere. But it is, and Regina scoffs again and looks quietly pleased when Emma says, “Maybe you are.” 

 


 

Tramp ( Trampy , Henry insists, which Emma can’t figure out if it’s better or worse) is the talk of the town by the next afternoon, after Henry walks him down Main Street in the morning and then passes him off to Regina before he leaves to school. “He’s a baby ,” Regina says at Emma’s double-take when she walks him into Town Hall. “He can’t be alone at home all day. Last night, we went out for a half hour to buy him some supplies and he shredded my bedspread.” 

 

“Not Henry’s?” Emma asks curiously, and Regina gives her a quelling look and marches into the building, Trampy straining at his leash to explore the room. 

 

There is a conspiracy theory spreading like wildfire through the town, some townspeople convinced that Regina is raising a vicious guard dog and others positive that Trampy used to be a person. “Has anyone seen Archie this week, is all I’m saying,” Grumpy says to anyone who will listen. “And I know she’s been seeing him. I saw her slip into his office twice last week–” 

 

“Don’t get in the way of the Evil Queen’s therapy,” Granny says warningly. They’ve moved their resistance meetings to the pharmacy, where Sneezy has locked the door and snaps at anyone who tries to get in. Emma had entered the pharmacy before the meeting, unaware that it was going on, because Snow had texted her and asked her to pick up some Sudafed for her. 

 

She has regrets. “It’s the only thing stopping her from wiping us all out,” Granny adds. “Well, that and Henry. And maybe Emma,” she says musingly.

 

Emma stands up, alarmed at the idea that she’s done anything for the resistance. “I am the sheriff,” she points out. “Just doing my job.”

 

Granny looks her up and down. “Right.” Emma sits, feeling strangely defeated.

 

She’s up again a minute later, glancing at her watch. “I’ve got to run, actually,” she says. “I have…an appointment.” 

 

“At five PM?” Doc says dubiously. 

 

“She’s going to Regina’s house,” Snow says in a stage whisper. “Our man on the inside.” 

 

“I am not –” Emma stops. Breathes. “I am going to have dinner with my son and his mother,” she says, glaring around the store as though to dare the resistance to challenge that. David looks pained. Snow looks worryingly meditative. “And maybe you people can hold off on the soul-sucking wraiths and…and flaying demons or whatever for a night?” 

 

“Flaying demons,” Grumpy says thoughtfully. “Sleepy, don’t you have that buddy who has a direct line to the Underworld–” 

 

Emma leaves before she can hear anything else too distressing. She’d gone back to Snow after the wraith and had been gratified at her mother’s remorse (“I thought he’d just scare her a little, not take her soul ,” she’d said, looking horrified. “Can you imagine Regina without a soul?”) but the resistance seems bolstered by their last attempt. 

 

It isn’t that Emma thinks Regina can’t handle some…flaying demons. It’s just that it’ll exacerbate already-present tensions in the town and put the resistance members at risk if Regina loses patience with them. And Regina can definitely handle flaying demons. And if she can’t, well, Emma seems to have some protective mojo of her own. 

 

Whatever that had been. She’s taken to lying awake at night for a while, eyes screwed shut, and trying to call the magic that had surrounded her when she’d been protecting Regina from the wraith. But the magic has never appeared, and she’s beginning to wonder if she’d imagined it.

 

She tries again as she stops at the bakery and then walks to the mansion, imagining that wraith again and the way she’d emanated a glow to push it back. Like a human lightbulb . But nothing happens, and she’s just oddly tired by the time she knocks on Regina’s door.

 

Regina is wearing a grey sweater, and Emma is relieved. Best to get the dare over with before dinner. She does a mock bow, proferring her prize from the bakery. “Evening, Your Majesty. I brought the pie.” 

 

Regina stares at her like she might have lost her mind, then frowns, distracted by the pie. “I made a pie.” 

 

Emma is nonplussed. “You told me to bring a pie. I got the note on my desk.” It had been somewhat mauled by puppy teeth, but it had still been readable.

 

“No, I told you to bring anything but a pie,” Regina corrects her, then heaves a sigh. “At least this one is blueberry. Mine is–” 

 

“Plum?” Emma suggests warily.

 

Regina gives her a look. “Apple.” She takes Emma’s coat and hangs it up, then removes her sweater. Damn it . Beneath the sweater, Regina is wearing a tight blue dress.

 

At least it isn’t red. The compulsion is back with a vengeance, and Emma opens her mouth to say something when she’s hit in the side by an eleven-year-old. “Emma! Come look at Ampy. I’m making my own obedience school!” He pulls her to the living room, once white-carpeted, now covered in little black smudges the size of pawprints. “Check this out. Ampy, sit .” 

 

Ampy– because Regina has apparently found a compromise on the name– barks. Henry says, “No, sit.” Ampy trots to them, sniffing Emma and circling her with panting enthusiasm. Henry makes a face. “I swear, he was doing it earlier. Mom saw it– she’ll tell you.” 

 

The Mom in question, who has a frightening amount of magic and no fear of abusing it to make her son happy, steps into the room. “Not again,” she says, shaking her head, and waves a hand. The living room returns to pristine white. “Ampy,” she says, stern as she crouches in front of the puppy. “I have told you that I enchanted the pad in front of the front door. If you step on it, you won’t track any dirt through the house.” 

 

Ampy licks her face. Regina sighs. “All right. How about dinner?” 

 

Henry chatters through dinner about his plans for Ampy, and Emma listens, only interjecting occasionally to get a word in edgewise. Blue is an easy enough color for Regina, at least. “This spaghetti is the best I’ve ever tasted,” Emma says fervently, and the compulsion to compliment Regina fades a little. “Your pie is much better than the bakery’s. You missed your calling when you went into the Evil Queen business.” 

 

Regina looks mildly offended by that. “I am an excellent Evil Queen. I’d like to see you do better.”

 

Emma contemplates that. “I think I would start by ending executions without trial,” she decides. “Then I’d work on indoor plumbing in the castle.” 

 

“Wow,” Henry says, eyeing her with Regina-esque disdain. “You really would be a bad Evil Queen.” 

 

“Thanks.” Emma’s pretty sure that that’s high praise, but she doesn’t say that aloud. She suspects that Regina wouldn’t take it well, and there’s still a faint desire to compliment her. 

 

It isn’t hard. The food is amazing, of course, and then Henry is the one to clear the table without being asked. He rinses plates and puts them in the dishwasher, and Regina pours Emma a glass of wine and sits back, letting out a breath. “So, what new mischief is the resistance up to today?” she says, eyes closed.

 

Emma eyes her. “Is that why I’m here? To snitch on Mar– on Snow?” 

 

Regina opens one eye. “It was worth a try. No, Miss Swan,” she clarifies. “You’re here because Henry wants you here. And I see no need to get between the two of you anymore.” 

 

“You don’t need to,” Emma promises, feeling a wave of…of something as she watches Henry placing each fork and knife carefully into the right rack of the dishwasher, Ampy nipping at his heels as he does. “You two are golden these days. I’m not going to try to take him away from you.” 

 

Both of Regina’s eyes are open now, and she watches Emma with a dark, uncertain gaze. Emma leans forward, her wine glass in hand, and it isn’t quite the same kind of compulsion that she feels now as usual, but there is an urgent need within her regardless. “You’ve done a really great job with him. You know that, right? I don’t…when I gave him up, I was hoping he’d have his best chance. I spent years wondering if he had.” She stumbles over the words, uncertain of how much she wants to expose to Regina, who is her nemesis and not. “I don’t think I really factored in queen of a realm in my calculations, but I’m glad he got you.”

 

Regina’s lips part into a little circle of surprise, and she is silent. Her gaze is warm, and Emma’s smile seems to spring onto her face without warning, blossoming until she feels like an idiot and still can’t stop it.

 

Abruptly, Emma’s glass shatters, jerking them both out of their shared reverie. Regina jumps, and Emma notes with alarm that there’s a splatter of wine on her chest, sinking swiftly into the material. “It’s fine,” Regina says, waving a hand. The glass returns to its initial shape, whole again but for hairline cracks that run through it, and the tablecloth is dried instantly. Regina’s dress remains stained, and she says, “I’ll go change. Why don’t you put on a movie with Henry?” 

 

Emma, who is forced to think more about Regina’s wardrobe now than ever before, can only nod in renewed dread.

 


 

The movie is…not great. It starts off strong, Emma guesses, because Henry and Regina are both enthralled from the start. Emma is very busy during that time trying to figure out what color Regina’s new dress is. When the light hits it in the dark room, it looks almost purple, and Emma allows herself to hope right up until Regina gets up for some water and is framed in the light of the foyer, unmistakably in black.

 

Black . Emma misses the middle of the movie, distracted by Regina’s black dress. She is sitting on Henry’s other side today, an arm draped around his shoulder, and her hair is wisping against the back of the couch. It’s gotten longer recently, and it suits her, softens her without diminishing the potency of a Regina glare. Emma wonders if Regina’s hair had been longer in the Enchanted Forest, and entertains herself by comparing the fairytale paintings in Henry’s book to Regina now. There are some drawings she wouldn’t have minded seeing in real life… 

 

Anyway. The movie is close to its climax by the time Emma stops thinking about that, and Henry is fast asleep, curled up between them with his head mashed against Emma’s arm and his feet on Regina’s lap. Regina is watching him fondly instead of the movie, a hand stroking his arm, and Ampy is curled up on her feet on the ground

 

It’s disconcerting to realize that this couch is beginning to feel like one of the safest places in Storybrooke in ways that Emma’s room at the B&B never will. It feels a little like the loft used to, before Mary Margaret was burned to ash and replaced with Snow White, back when it was a haven in the storm that was cursed Storybrooke. This isn’t home , but it’s a reprieve from the outside, Henry beside her and Regina watching her with those eyes that give nothing away. 

 

She wants to do this more than once a week. She wants to sit down for dinner at a place where no one expects her to be anything other than the person she is, and she wants to tease Regina and be ridiculed in turn and to live in these quiet moments with their son. And she knows that it’s absurd to want like this– a dream that isn’t her – but she wants it nonetheless.

 

The movie is over, Emma notices suddenly. The credits are rolling, and Regina shifts, blinking as she stretches. “I can carry Henry upstairs,” Emma offers in a whisper, unwilling to leave just yet. Henry is snug against her, and she looks at him sometimes and can’t believe that this little person was once just a collection of tiny, kicking limbs in her stomach. 

 

Regina nods her approval, and Emma pulls Henry up, her heart wrenching at the way that Henry curls in closer to her. Regina leans in to brush a kiss against Henry’s forehead, and Emma freezes up for a moment before she breathes again. She carries Henry up to his room, careful on the stairs. There is something about having a child around you that makes you increasingly aware of every wrong step, of every possibility of hurt. Henry is fragile, and Emma sets him down carefully on his bed.

 

Ampy lets out a little growl behind her, and Emma bends down and sets him onto the bed beside Henry. She’s pretty sure that Regina will be annoyed about that, but Regina’s also a softie around that puppy and would have done the same. 

 

The hapless villagers she’d once terrorized wouldn’t believe any of this.

 

Emma shakes her head in disbelief at what the fuck is her life right now and slips out of the room and back down the stairs, pulling on her jacket from where she’d draped it on the bottom of the railing. Regina is in the foyer, fixing her hair in the mirror.

 

The compulsion rises, and Emma doesn’t even try to fight it. “I liked it better when it was all messy from the couch,” she says, coming up behind Regina. “That bedhead look worked for you.” 

 

Regina raises her eyebrows at Emma in the mirror. “You just like to see me when I’m not perfect,” she scoffs.

 

“You’re not wrong about that,” Emma concedes. Regina imperfect is Regina as Emma is beginning to know her, and is more compelling than Emma could possibly have imagined before the curse had broken. “It’s reassuring to know that even the infamous Evil Queen has the occasional bad hair day.” Regina looks even more unimpressed by that, and Emma clarifies, “And that she still pulls it off.”

 

Regina scoffs. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Miss Swan.” She contemplates Emma in the mirror, and Emma is sure that she’s going to be wished a good night and sent off to the B&B. But Regina surprises her. “Would you like another glass of wine? I know the last one ended rather badly.” 

 

And that’s how they wind up in Regina’s study, sipping wine as Emma babbles much too much about her living situation. “It’s not that I need my privacy. I mean, I do , but I spend all day at the station with no company and I wouldn’t mind coming back to the loft at the end of the day, if–” 

 

“If Snow weren’t there?” Regina says, and her eyes narrow with that glee that she gets whenever there’s opportunity to resent Snow some more.

 

“Snow killed my best friend.” It’s the best way to explain it, even if it doesn’t quite get at what she wants to say.

 

Regina says, a sigh of camaraderie, “She killed my fiance.” 

 

“I mean, Mary Margaret wasn’t real , but she also wasn’t– what ?” 

 

“Oh.” Regina blinks at Emma. “No, you go on with your thing. You liked Mary Margaret?” She frowns. “She was…meek. Boring.” 

 

“She was gentle! She had convictions! And she wasn’t so…” Emma twists her hands. “Snow expects me to just forgive her for abandoning me and to settle into this happy family. And if I bring that up, she points out that everything worked out just fine.” She shakes her head, drains her glass. “It’s not fine . I’m not fine. Do I look fine to you?” 

 

Regina says, sipping her wine, “Honestly, I’m a little in awe that you haven’t had a breakdown yet.”

 

Emma refuses to think about the way that that makes her heart warm in her chest. “I spent my entire childhood getting sent from house to house like I was damaged goods. I gave up the only family I made for myself because I had no choice . I was a convict without any money or home or future, and I spent my entire life searching for the people who left me on the side of the road as a newborn, only to discover that they’d abandoned me for some crappy destiny? What the hell is that?” she demands. “What the hell is any of this? Curses and…and fairytales and wraiths and…and magic–” She takes a breath, notes Regina watching her unblinkingly. “And do I have magic? What was that glow –?” 

 

“Savior magic,” Regina supplies. “Light magic.” Her lip curls. “It’s something only the noble and pure of heart can use.”

 

Emma snorts. “Right. That’s me. Pure of heart and noble.” It’s laughable, really. “Sounds like garbage.” 

 

“It probably is,” Regina says agreeably. “I never found a conduit to my magic until I was desperate and afraid.”

 

Emma thinks back to the moment when she’d thrown herself between Regina and the wraith. Desperate and afraid sums it up nicely. “I keep trying to call it up again, but it doesn’t work.” 

 

“Magic is about emotion,” Regina says, and she stands up. Emma follows suit. Regina leads her to the fireplace, standing on one side of it and positioning Emma at the center. “Light the fire, Miss Swan.” 

 

“With magic?” Emma eyes the fireplace dubiously. She tries , thinks about fire and imagines the wood in it bursting into flames, but there’s nothing. 

 

“I want you to imagine that your life depends on that fire being lit,” Regina coaxes her. “That Henry’s life depends on it. Think of the moment…think of a moment when you were in danger and terrified.” She moves to stand behind Emma, her hands gripping onto Emma’s arms. “Remember the adrenaline that pulsed through you,” she murmurs, her breath warm on Emma’s neck and shoulder. “Channel it.” 

 

Emma quivers, strains to remember the panic she’d felt when she’d realized that Mifflin had been dark. She thinks of Henry and the poisoned turnover, of being chained to a hospital bed and pushing, pushing

 

Nothing. “It won’t work,” Emma says through gritted teeth. “I’m trying, but–” 

 

“Try harder ,” Regina orders, her voice a hiss against the shell of Emma’s ear. “You can do this. You’ve done it before.” 

 

“I did it because you were dying!” Emma points out, her head spinning from the force of her thoughts. “I can’t just…bottle up that terror and use it!” 

 

Please ,” Regina says scornfully. “If you could pull that much magic out for me, you should be able to draw out even more for anyone else. You’re not giving it your all.” Her hands tighten on Emma, and Emma can feel fingers digging painfully into her skin and takes a shaky breath. “Any strong emotion will do. Channel your fury, your despair, your lust–”

 

Emma yanks herself free of Regina, breathing hard, and twists around to face her. Regina’s pupils are dilated, her breath coming nearly as quick as Emma’s, her chest heaving in that low-cut black dress. “Take it all and make it magic ,” Regina whispers, and Emma stares at her with wild eyes, flushed with her effort and her pulse too fast, and then surges forward and kisses her.

 

The fireplace bursts to flames. Regina kisses her back, fingers curling around her shoulders and holding her still. Emma’s hands move uselessly, up Regina’s back and down, along her sides and her abdomen and to cup Regina’s breasts through her dress, and she kisses Regina fiercely, pressing against her as Regina lets out a little gasp. 

 

Emma doesn’t know what she’s doing– she isn’t drunk, she’s almost positive of it, but there is something intoxicating about Regina with her eyes wide and hungry, with her nails scratching into Emma’s skin over her clothes. Emma stumbles against her, kisses her again and again, bites Regina’s lip to hear her hiss in return. They’re unsteady, staggering forward together, and Emma needs…

 

She slides her hands under Regina’s dress to her thighs, lifting them up a moment before Regina’s back slams against the wall. “Miss Swan,” Regina gasps, and that sets off something frenzied in Emma. She dots Regina’s neck with kisses, sucks hard enough to leave a mark, her fingers digging into Regina’s thighs. Regina shoves Emma’s jacket off, trapped between Emma and the wall, and she grinds against Emma until Emma is aching and desperate.

 

The lights go out abruptly, and the room is lit only by the burning wood in the fireplace. “Was that… fuck ,” Emma says as Regina yanks her shirt’s top buttons open and bites her shoulder where it meets her neck. “Was that magic–” 

 

“Light switch, you idiot,” Regina grinds out, her head lolling back against said light switch again as Emma attacks her neck again. The lights flicker on and off and on and off again each time Emma presses into her, and Regina traps her legs around Emma’s and snaps, “Miss Swan, if you don’t do something about this soon, I am going to execute you–” 

 

Emma twists her around and they drop to the floor together, landing on the rug beneath the fireplace. Regina moves like a blur and Emma is flat on the ground, Regina’s hand in her jeans and then in her , slipping in to find the exact right spot– “ Fuck– ” and Emma slides Regina’s dress up, up, and then off to reveal dark red, perfectly matching underwear that would be so hot if it doesn’t suddenly fill Emma with dread.

 

She tears at it before the compulsion to fight can come, yanks off the underwear in an urgent motion and then fumbles with the bra until Regina’s breasts are free, hovering above her while she kicks off her pants. Her own clothes have somehow– magically , she thinks in a daze– been removed, and Regina is still inside of her. 

 

Emma cups Regina’s breasts, massages them, hears a satisfying groan in response as she thumbs a nipple roughly. Regina drives into her and swoops down to kiss her again, pressing their breasts together, her finger sliding out of Emma as she does.

 

Emma seizes her chance, one hand pinning Regina down, the other delving into Regina– shit , she’s wet – and Regina quakes, bears down into Emma’s fingers, bites hard on Emma’s lip and then rises up as she comes with a cry. 

 

Framed against the flickering light of the fireplace, she is like a goddess, a sheen of sweat against her golden skin, and Emma pumps her fingers within her to prolong the moment, gapes up at her and admires as she feels her own need like a frantic ache. Regina stops shaking at last, collapses back down to Emma, and then slides down her body. Their skin sticks together with the friction of it, as though they’re magnets that protest each time they break free, and Emma lifts her legs and hooks them over Regina’s shoulders, straining with new need. 

 

A warm tongue touches her clit, and Emma can feel the need quickening, the desperation for more, faster, harder , and Regina plunges her tongue into Emma’s center and moves against Emma, fingernails scratching a line down Emma’s thighs and– 

 

Regina sucks on Emma’s clit again and Emma comes in a rush, twitching wildly against Regina’s face as she crests each wave of it. Regina replaces her tongue with her fingers and pistons them, draws out the orgasm, and Emma lets out a strangled noise in a voice she barely recognizes before she collapses against the rug. 

 

Regina is still moving, crawling up her body to kiss her through the rest of her convulsions, and Emma whispers, “ Damn , we’re good together,” and flips Regina onto her back to kiss her back. 

 

It’s late by the time they’re spent, worn out and the fire that Emma had lit all but spent. It’s dark in the room, just flickers of embers remaining, and Regina curls up against Emma’s body and whispers in a husky voice, “We could have skipped so much drama if we’d done this the first time that you came here.” 

 

Emma traces the curves of her side, fingers moving aimlessly along Regina’s back. “Last week?”

 

Regina laughs, a breath against Emma’s neck. “Last year,” she murmurs, kissing said neck. “I might’ve distracted the mighty savior enough to keep her from breaking the curse at all.” 

 

She stretches, catlike, and licks a trail up Emma’s neck. Her hair is plastered to her face in some places and a wild mess in others, and Emma had been so right about how good it looks. She tousles it, ignoring the dirty look she gets from Regina in return, and kisses the tips of Regina’s fingers. “Well,” she says, glancing up at Regina’s face. “According to half this town, I am still the savior.”

 

“Mmm,” Regina agrees. “You’ll need some more distraction, then, Sheriff.” She digs around them to find her clothes, plucking up the red bra, and Emma’s hand is on hers before Emma can think it through. 

 

She doesn’t know what she’d been planning with that dare– why it had ever made sense– but tonight, there is more than just her perpetual humiliation hinging on it. “Don’t put those on,” she says in a low voice, and Regina freezes. “Please.” 

 

Regina’s eyes flicker over her, sharp and calculating, and Emma holds her gaze and does her best not to react. If Regina ever figures out what’s going on– if she finds out about the dare in the first place– she’ll be furious . And what has seemed until now a bit of harmless pranking on Ruby’s end now feels like a knife that might sever this thing between them. 

 

Regina lays the bra down. “You’re insatiable,” she says, rolling her eyes, and she pulls on the black dress without underwear instead. She slides Emma’s jacket around her– the blue one, thankfully– and Emma dresses in tense silence, retrieving her clothes from where they’re neatly folded on the couch.

 

By the time they’re dressed again, walking out to the foyer together, Emma is unwound again, loose-limbed and content. “I want to learn how to do that ,” she says, pointing at the couch. “Just…magicking off clothes.”  

 

Regina lifts an eyebrow suggestively. “Well,” she says, and she slides a hand under Emma’s shirt, splaying it against her abdomen, “We could arrange that, perhaps.” 

 

“Perhaps,” Emma says breathlessly, one compulsion fading away and leaving a second. It doesn’t take any restraint to say what she wants to next. “And you look…really fucking hot in my jacket, by the way.”

 

Regina doesn’t respond, only flicks her eyes over Emma’s clothes with quiet heat. “Goodnight, Miss Swan,” she says at last, pulling the front door open.

 

She doesn’t offer Emma her jacket back.

Chapter Text

Emma knocks sharply, then again, the urgency and volume of her knocks rising. When there’s no response from inside, she kicks the door once and then knocks again. “I know you’re in there,” she says threateningly. “Open up or I’ll open it for you.”

 

No answer. Emma pulls out a hairpin and gets to work on the lock, fiddling with it until the door is finally yanked open by a very wet and unamused Ruby, dressed in a towel with another wrapped around her hair. “You know, when my best friend got pregnant, I really did assume that her baby would do things like follow me around and bang on my door. I just thought it might be, like, to change your diaper.” 

 

“Funny.” Emma pushes into the room, shutting the door behind them, and turns on Ruby. “What did you do to me?” 

 

Ruby’s brow creases, and she shakes her head. “Okay, I know I didn’t tell you that the resistance was meeting at the Rabbit Hole the day before yesterday, but I really did not want to get slammed without you and I thought that–” 

 

“The dare, Ruby. The dare .” She’d come straight from Regina’s house to Ruby’s room, flushed with determination and a whole lot of other energy. This dare has to end, and the compulsions have to stop. It’s the only way to get out of this without sacrificing… whatever just happened with Regina.

 

Ruby looks at her blankly before it registers. “Oh, that dare. I’d forgotten all about it. Are you still doing it?” She looks delighted. “Is that why you stink like you and Regina just–” 

 

Emma holds up a finger. “Focus. I don’t have a choice.” She spins around, paces up and down Ruby’s room. “Every time I see what Regina’s wearing, I feel these… compulsions . To…to compliment her or flirt with her or fight with her…” 

 

Ruby blinks. “Compulsions. Emma, are you sure you’re not just very gay?”  

 

Emma casts her a long, irritated look. “Aside from that! This isn’t in my head. You did something to bind it, didn’t you? I felt something magic in the air. I know it.” 

 

Ruby shakes her head. “I didn’t…wait.” She presses her lips together, pops them open thoughtfully. “I was wearing that amulet, wasn’t I?” 

 

“Amulet?” 

 

“Hang on.” Ruby presses a hand to her towel to keep it in place and heads to her dresser, procuring a little necklace from the jewelry box on top. “This, right?” She holds it up, and Emma can feel the magic emanating from it. “It’s just an amulet. I don’t think it has any magical properties,” she says, eyeing it doubtfully. “It’s just…”

 

Emma frowns at her. “Just what?” 

 

“I picked it up at the annual Storybrooke Sidewalk Sale a few years before the curse broke,” Ruby says, and she looks sheepish. “It was just a cute little necklace. I didn’t think about where it came from–” 

 

“Ruby,” Emma says, with much apprehension. “Where did you get that necklace?” 

 

Ruby bites her lip. “Gold’s table at the sale. The pawn shop. I don’t know that he did anything with it,” she adds hastily as Emma stares at her in horror. “We could always ask him–” She pauses. “Or not, I guess. You think it cursed you?” 

 

A curse . There’s an easy way to break a curse, and Emma exhales. “I hope so,” she says, and she grabs the amulet and heads for the door. The only magic-user in town might be the last person Emma wants to ask for help with this, but if it’s a curse, then she has one more option.

 

But Henry is less than forthcoming the next afternoon. Not that Emma’s being forthcoming about why , either. “Kiss you?” he says, brow creasing. “Why?” 

 

“I thought my…thing…might work either way, like it did for the curse over Storybrooke. But I’ve kissed you since I was enchanted, and nothing happened. You’ve gotta kiss me.” She crouches a little so it’ll be easier for him, tapping her cheek. “Come on, Henry.” 

 

Henry frowns disapprovingly. “Emma, you can’t get yourself into a curse and then expect me to bail you out of it. It’s just not responsible.”

 

Emma stands again and throws up her hands. “Why is it that when Regina wipes out whole villages, you’ll comment on her style while she does it, but when I get dragged into a curse I didn’t sign up for, you won’t even give me one true-love kiss? How is that fair?” 

 

Henry folds his arms and looks at her with grave disappointment. “Mom needs some extra positive reinforcement sometimes,” he says. “It’s not that I don’t love you equally. It’s just that I expect different things from each of you.”

 

“It helps to ask him for an outline with guidelines,” Regina says dryly, entering the station without warning. Ampy lets out a bark behind her. Emma jumps guiltily. “He likes clearly defined rules.” Her eyes sweep Emma up and down, and she purses her lips in a subtle sort of maybe-smile. “What’s this about a curse?”

 

“No curse,” Emma says hastily. “No cursing going on here. It’s all good. Hi,” she says, a little too late. Regina is wearing a black pantsuit today, which is a relief and a pleasure, and Emma is immediately distracted thinking about what lies underneath it. 

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow, eyes glittering with amusement and a hint of promise. “Sheriff,” she says, and now she’s definitely sizing Emma up, raking her eyes along the length of Emma’s body. It’s indecent , and Emma swallows and leans back against her desk in a semblance of casualness. “You look…well.”

 

Emma can feel the compulsion to flirt, and she has absolutely no problem surrendering to it. She leans back, thumbs in her waistband, and smirks at Regina. “I had a good night,” she says, her eyes lingering on the other woman.

 

Henry looks back and forth between them, eyes narrowed. “You’re not doing that thing where you’re fighting in code, are you?” Ampy sniffs at his legs, then Emma’s, and makes a valiant attempt to climb up her jeans. Henry scoops him up before he can and turns to Regina expectantly. “Are you?” 

 

Regina looks alarmed. “Absolutely not.” Her eyes flicker over to Emma. “We’ve found…better ways to work out our issues.” 

 

Emma nods, straight-faced. “We’re taking up scrapbooking,” she says. Henry perks up, interested, and Emma grimaces internally at how much of a carbon copy Regina has created of herself. “That was a joke. We’re…” 

 

“I think Sheriff Swan might have some potential for magic,” Regina fills in, which is not at all what Emma wanted to admit to Henry. Magic in this town seems synonymous with bad guy , and she has enough baggage without that.

 

She shouldn’t have underestimated him. Henry brightens. “Is it genetic ?” 

 

“Certainly not. Have you seen the dullards she calls parents?” 

 

“She doesn’t call them parents,” Henry says, heaving the long-suffering sigh of a child who’s never not had a mother. “Oh, well. Maybe if Emma has magic, the dwarves will stop searching for flaying demons.” Ampy yelps in his arms, and Henry shrugs, the conversation over for him. “We’re going to go find Pongo and go to the park, okay?” 

 

He barely waits for Regina’s okay before he’s out the door, leaving Emma and Regina alone in the station. Emma saunters forward, backing Regina against the wall, and she murmurs, “Better ways to work out our issues, huh?” 

 

Regina slides a hand under Emma’s shirt, casual and proprietary. “I thought some healthy fisticuffs might do the trick,” she purrs, her gaze hungry. “But if that doesn’t work for you, I have another idea…” 

 

The kiss is less ferocious than last night, comfortable and a little more familiar. It’s nice , the kind of kiss that Emma might have imagined with Regina a lot earlier, back when she’d first come to town and had entertained occasional thoughts of thawing Regina out and building a tiny found family with her. 

 

She’s gotten smarter, but she still feels a little flicker of yearning when she leans in to kiss Regina again, Regina’s hand still splayed against her abdomen. “Last time we had a difference of opinion, you stuck me in a jail cell,” Emma reminds her, jerking a finger at said cell. “I feel like it’s probably a bad idea to go to fisticuffs with you.” 

 

“Damn right it is.” Regina tilts her head back against the wall, eyebrows raised. “I could destroy you in an instant.” 

 

“Sure.” It’s wry, because they both know that she can’t. Regina has plenty of power over the town, yes, and she isn’t afraid to abuse it. But she has nothing on Emma. The most powerful person in this town– the one person with the authority to control everything that might happen– is Henry Mills, who would never forgive Regina for crossing certain lines.

 

“There are more interesting ways to destroy me,” Emma says, pulling back. Her hand remains on Regina’s hip, and she doesn’t remove it even as Regina turns to the door. 

 

“I have to go to the park,” Regina says, but her hand shifts to rest very lightly on Emma’s ass, a light squeeze accompanying it. “Henry is waiting for me.” She hesitates. “But it isn’t a bad idea for us to continue to work on your magic.” 

 

“Is that what we were doing last night?” Emma pulls the door open for Regina, pulling off a little mock-curtsey as she does. “Good to know.” 

 

Regina jabs a finger at her. “ Magic ,” she says warningly. “Just magic. Well. Maybe there could be some special dispensation,” she says, thoughtful. “Whatever might help you bring out that magic.” And she grins, light and charming, her eyes as bright as her smile for a single precious moment. Emma smiles back, awestruck, falling a little deeper into a self-made hole that she should have known better than to dig.

 

Or at least dig it publicly , she notes, as two dwarves cross the street and charge in her direction. Regina is already off on her way to the park, and Grumpy and Happy stalk to her with identical scowls on their faces. “You and the queen seem friendly today,” Grumpy says, belligerent. “Are you up to a new scheme you haven’t shared with us?” 

 

Emma is watching Regina, distracted. “What?” 

 

“I told you,” Happy says, his characteristic smile strained on his face. “Look at her. She’s switched sides. Betrayed her kingdom. All for a little taste of the queen’s–” 

 

“Hey!” Emma jerks around, cutting Happy off before she has to kill him on the spot. “Watch yourself. She’s the mother of my son.” 

 

“That never stopped you from tussling with her before,” Grumpy says with a scowl. “You used to be good . Someone this town could count on to do the right thing. Not…fraternizing with the enemy.” 

 

“Good,” Emma repeats, and she remembers how she’d felt near the end of the curse, where she’d been forced to strip away the layers of self-righteousness and understand exactly how far she’d gone over Henry. It had taken Henry’s horror and Mary Margaret’s fury and Archie’s pained concessions for her to take a step back and realize how Storybrooke had destroyed her. 

 

She doesn’t feel that way anymore. Storybrooke now is a strange and unpredictable place, and Emma doesn’t have a home in it. Her parents are a terrifying and insurmountable hurdle to deal with someday, and Regina does occasionally abuse her power, but… 

 

But here she is, watching Henry and Regina run with Ampy to the park, and all she feels is a strange contentedness. Sparring with Regina in public is comfortable, like there are lines they won’t cross, and Emma feels like she’s finally doing all the right things. Storybrooke isn’t tearing her apart anymore. It’s nourishing her, and she finds that she cares very little what the dwarves might think of her because of that.

 

“Fuck off,” she says, very politely, and walks to her car to patrol.

 


 

She gets the call from Snow only a few minutes later, after Grumpy and Happy have stormed off. For a few seconds, Emma stares at the phone and wonders what might happen if she ignores the call. But she already knows– Snow will come storming into the station, eyes wide and worried, and she won’t leave until she’s sure that Emma understands that Regina is evil

 

As if she’s ever been able to ignore Snow’s calls, anyway. There is a part of her that answers every one, and pushes past her exasperation for no reason at all. Snow doesn’t deserve that from her, Emma knows that consciously, but she hasn’t been able to convince the rest of her of that when Snow summons her.

 

And for someone who’d tossed her off into an enchanted wardrobe and given little thought to her after that, Snow is certainly persistent in chasing her now . With a sigh, Emma picks up the phone. “Please tell your dwarves to stop harassing me whenever I try to have any kind of positive interaction with my son and his mother.” 

 

A pause, and then Snow says, “They’re worried. I’m worried, too. The fate of this town rests in your hands–” 

 

Emma interrupts, already frustrated. “Why does it have to rest in my hands? Why can’t you just go do your resistance thing without me?” 

 

Snow says, and her voice is free of the pleading tone that she picks up so often around Emma, “Would you stop us if we did?” 

 

“If you tried to kill Henry’s mother?” Emma echoes. “What do you think ? You’re supposed to be the good guys,” she reminds her mother, very tired. “So why is it that Regina’s been downright tame since the curse broke and you’re the one coming up with new and creative ways to hurt her? What has she done to you since the curse broke?”

 

Snow sighs. “Emma,” she says, and there’s that tone again. “I know how you feel. I really, really do. I was just like you when I was younger. I thought Regina could be redeemed. I was sure that she just needed another chance. And she tried to stab me over it. And when I finally banished her, made her toothless, she cast this curse.” 

 

“She has a son now. She’s different for him,” Emma points out. “And I think those twenty-eight years of the curse have kind of…showed her another way.” 

 

Snow scoffs. “Do you know how long she pretended to be my friend? My…my stepmother who loved me? She’s playing you, just like she played me.” 

 

There is something niggling at the back of Emma’s mind, something she’d overlooked the night before when Regina had mentioned it, and she says, “Hey, Snow? What happened to Regina’s fiance?” 

 

She’d thought that Regina had been exaggerating, that this had been another flat comment with a much more reasonable explanation. She doesn’t expect the silence from Snow, and then the subdued, “At least tell me that you’ll come for dinner tonight, Emma. I don’t want to lose you, too.” 

 

Emma bites her lip, her stomach roiling, and she lies, “I…I’m working tonight.” But there is something within her that can’t leave it, that forces her to subject herself to the pain that comes with being around Snow and David, and she says, “Maybe later this week. Thursday night?” 

 

“Thursday night,” Snow agrees, and she sounds solemn. 

 

She doesn’t push Emma to come to the next few resistance meetings, either, which is a welcome change. Instead, Emma is able to answer Regina’s summons immediately on Tuesday night when she’s called to the mansion after dinner. “I think it’s time for us to try a little basic magic,” Regina says, immaculate in a grey dress. “Have you been able to call up any fire since our last…attempt?” 

 

Henry is perched on a chair on the patio, watching them over the book he’s supposed to be reading for class. Emma has no idea how she’s going to make the fire surge again with an audience. “Nope.” 

 

“You have to,” Henry informs her. “Mom said we get s’mores if you make the fire.” 

 

Emma straightens. “For s’mores, I’ll do it.” Regina gives her a look. “And for Her Majesty, of course,” Emma adds, letting the compulsion fade away. 

 

Regina comes up behind her, close enough to mutter in her ear, “Are you flirting with me in front of our son?” 

 

Our son . It’s the first time that Regina has ever referred to Henry as ours , and it feels monumental. But it’s just a playful aside, and Emma’s stomach churns with renewed guilt as she thinks about the dare that she can’t shake. She forces a smile. “Maybe,” she says, letting her hand trail along Regina’s knuckles for a moment. 

 

Henry calls to them, “Do you have to hold hands for it to work?” They jump apart guiltily. Henry holds up a hand. “I mean, you can keep on going. Whatever gets me dessert before bedtime.” 

 

Regina has set up a fire pit in her backyard, a secure little space packed with wood, and Emma stares down at it and tries to recover the surge of desire that had lit the fire in the first place. “Anger always worked for me,” Regina says helpfully. “Try thinking about Snow. That’s the key. Mental decapitation is always a winner.” 

 

That only makes Emma feel sick, and she shakes her head. Regina considers. “What about love?” she says, and Emma jerks up and stares at her. Regina shrugs, suddenly as uncomfortable as Emma had been a moment before. “Think about the people you love, and being able to protect them. Let that give you strength.”

 

But Emma’s feelings of love are all muddled these days, are complicated by Snow is Mary Margaret is the person who left me in the woods and do I love David? Do I even know him? and the increasingly baffling how did standing next to Regina get so confusing ? She focuses on Henry, her one clear tie, and the wood smokes a little.

 

It’s not enough to justify s’mores, Regina decides, but they aren’t done for the day. “Lighting fires is basic magic, but it does favor anger over other emotions. Let’s try something simpler.” She takes one piece of wood from the fire pit, turns it on its side, and sets a can of soda on top of it. “You’re going to use the wind to blow it off. Follow my motions.” 

 

She moves behind Emma, slipping her fingers around Emma’s wrists. “Try to sweep your hands forward, like this,” she murmurs into Emma’s ear. Emma shivers, feeling Regina’s press against her and taking a breath. “Now, imagine the wind that emanates from them.”

 

This time, Emma can feel the magic thrumming through her, can sense it as it roars from her to strike the can. And then she sees it, a crackle of white lightning that strikes the wood from her palm, incinerating the piece into ashes in an instant. “Whoa,” she says, her heart pounding. She can feel the magic still surging through her, awakening every nerve ending and leaving her energized, craving something more–

 

Regina takes one look at her and says, “Henry, we’re past bedtime. Let’s go.” Emma’s arms are still quivering, and the magic pulses through her like a shot of adrenaline. She fires it at a discarded branch and vaporizes it, too, but it only serves to make the sensations firing through her even worse.

 

“I want to watch Emma do more magic,” Henry protests. 

 

“She’ll come back tomorrow,” Regina promises him, shooting another glance at Emma. “You head upstairs. I’ll be there in a minute.” 

 

Henry grumbles, but he goes inside. Emma shakes in place, the magic like a fire she can’t quench, and then fingers wrap around her wrist and she’s gone , kissing Regina in a surge of desire and letting the magic erupt around them. 

 

It burns everything and nothing and Emma gasps, “You didn’t tell me that magic does this –” and kisses Regina harder, heart pounding.

 

Regina laughs hoarsely, her fingers digging into Emma’s skin. “Doesn’t always– but you have to go into it wanting–” Her tongue moves with Emma’s, her body molding to hers for a precious moment before she pulls away. “I’ve got to get Henry to bed,” she says breathlessly. “I’ll meet you in my study.” 

 

There’s a panicked voicemail on Emma’s phone later that night, a message from Snow about the magical explosions Regina is setting off on her property . Emma listens to it on the way back to the B&B, considers calling Snow back to explain, and then dismisses the option.

 

She goes back the next day to try again. This time, the magic comes more easily. “You have tremendous potential,” Regina says, circling her. “But you need to push yourself harder. You want this to be committed to muscle memory, not something that emerges only when you’re feeling those strong emotions. Magic used responsibly is…” 

 

“You’re lecturing me on magic used responsibly?” Emma says skeptically. “ You ?” Regina has changed into another cardigan before their meeting, this one a light green. It’s the shade that unnerves Emma most, after red. Light colors mean you have to tell Regina what’s on your mind . The compulsion is dangerously potent when the dare is suddenly most on her mind. 

 

Regina glances at Henry, then at Emma. “Yes,” she says, and her words are careful. “I know better than anyone how important it is, from both sides.” 

 

“From both sides?” Emma echoes. Henry watches them in silence, his brow furrowed. There are questions Emma wants to ask– about Regina’s fiance, about her marriage, about whoever it is who had used magic irresponsibly around her– but she doesn’t push.

 

What they’re building is a slow burn, tensions unwinding as they find their way around each other. They might have intersected now, but their lives have been entwined since long before they’d met– long before Emma was born – and there will yet be time to reveal all the ways that has shaped them both. 

 

Emma’s what’s on your mind to Regina emerges later that night, after the compulsion is almost too much to bear and she can’t focus on anything else. They are in Regina’s bedroom, and it is getting dangerously close to too late to leave . Regina lies on her bed, watching Emma with lidded, content eyes, and Emma whispers, “I don’t want to go.” 

 

Regina’s expression shifts. Emma doesn’t know what to make of it– the uncertainty on Regina’s face and the brief flash of pain that crosses it, and then the silence that follows. Regina doesn’t answer Emma, but she presses a kiss to Emma’s hand and tugs her closer, and Emma wakes up in the morning in Regina’s bed.

 


 

It’s a good morning, and it sets the stage for an excellent day. She steals Regina’s shirt and finds a waffle iron and makes waffles on what is, according to Henry, Yogurt-Day-But-Mom-Won’t-Know-You-Know-That while Regina is in the shower, and Henry eats them and says, “So you slept in the guest room, huh?” as though it’s the most natural thing in the world. 

 

Regina– dressed in a sharp black dress– kisses her in the kitchen, her lips tasting like cinnamon and whipped cream cheese, after Henry has gone to find his shoes, and Emma slips out after mother and son have gone to the bus stop and drives back to the station with a big stupid smile still on her face. 

 

By lunch, she’s remembered the dread that suffuses her with every passing day, and she goes to see Ruby again. Ruby is at the library with Belle, who lets Ruby eat lunch behind the desk but looks disapprovingly at Emma when her phone rings until Emma silences it. “I think that I might be able to destroy it,” Emma explains, lifting her palm and staring at it. “So far, I’m really good at incineration and not much else. Maybe if it shatters, the curse will break, too.” 

 

Belle frowns. “An amulet? From the pawn shop? Does it look like this?” She takes out a paper and sketches a perfect replica of Ruby’s necklace. 

 

“Belle used to work for Rumplestiltskin,” Ruby explains, looking fondly at her. “It was a whole Stockholm Syndrome thing. Archie’s working through it with her.” 

 

Belle looks sheepish. “I know he was evil, but I swear that I saw some good in him. I thought I could change him. No one is incapable of redemption.” 

 

Ruby rolls her eyes. “Do not say stuff like that to Emma. You’ll just enable her.” 

 

“Hey,” Emma says weakly. 

 

Ruby taps her nose– werewolf nose , a reminder that has Emma flushing– and turns back to Belle. “That’s the necklace,” she says. “If Emma breaks it, will it break the curse?” 

 

“I don’t think so,” Belle says, pensive. “Rumple used to say that that amulet was one of the most potent pieces of magic he possessed. But it’s a very standard curse that comes with it. There’s only one easy way to break it.” She purses her lips together and raises her eyebrows suggestively. 

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, slumping. “Henry won’t play ball. He thinks I should have been more responsible.” She eyes Ruby. “Of course, I’m not the one who decided to wear an enchanted necklace to the Rabbit Hole when we were bound to make bad decisions–”

 

“She’s just mad because Regina can’t wear red around her anymore,” Ruby says in a stage whisper to Belle. “I think we’re all suffering from that one.” 

 

Belle looks between them with some trepidation. “You know that the Evil Queen had me locked up for the duration of the curse, yes? And I was her prisoner for even longer–” 

 

“Oh, no,” Ruby says, and she looks disappointed. “You’re not in love with her, too, are you?”

 

They’re interrupted by an abrupt noise outside. The ground shakes, and a rumble that sounds almost like a roar fills the room. “Oh, fuckballs,” Ruby says, peering out the window. “Not an ogre.” 

 

“An ogre?” Belle asks, alarmed. “You have ogres here?” 

 

No ,” Emma says, clambering to her feet. “No, we do not.” She rounds on Ruby, who is chewing on her lip and avoiding Emma’s eyes. “What did you do?” 

 

“I didn’t do anything. The dwarves were the one to loot Gold’s shop.” Ruby shrugs helplessly. “I didn’t think they’d actually be competent .”

 

The ground shakes again. The ogre is stomping around, dangerously close to the library. Emma heads for the door.

 

Outside, there is chaos. The ogre is enormous, bigger than Emma had imagined from Henry’s stories, and Emma comes up to its knees. People are running into shops and down the street, fleeing the ogre, and the ogre yanks a lamp post out of the sidewalk and smashes it down into the street. The lamp post shatters; then, the ogre’s fist lands on the street and the concrete breaks, too.

 

With some concern, Emma remembers that there’s a dragon lying dormant just beneath this street. “Hey!” she shouts, and the ogre turns and roars. It’s like a rush of foul-smelling wind against Emma’s face, and Emma whips out her gun and fires.

 

The bullet misses, and the ogre yanks the gun from her hand and crumples it into nothing. “Okay, fine,” Emma grits out, starting after it. The ogre has turned from her, lumbering back in the direction where it had been going– to Town Hall, fuck , and it stomps through the grass on the side of the building as though it had been called specifically there.

 

The dwarves must have put some kind of homing beacon in Regina’s office. The ogre howls, kicking past Regina’s apple tree and putting a fist through Regina’s office. “ Regina! ” Terror thrums through Emma’s body, sharp and painful. Regina is in there, she must be, and the ogre is unstoppable–

 

There are fireballs striking the ogre now, but they only seem to aggravate it. To Emma’s relief, Regina is flattened against the opposite wall to the one that the ogre has broken through, her eyes narrowed and purple fire crackling from her hands. 

 

She strikes the ogre at the same instant as Emma does, their waves of magic striking it on either side, and the ogre howls in agony. “Again!” Regina shouts, and Emma draws back and sends out another wave of magic. Regina’s magic is intensifying, the ogre is trapped between them, and one more blow should be enough… 

 

The ogre bursts into dust and ash, broken into a billion tiny pieces, and Emma sags in relief. “Regina–” she calls up to her, and Regina vanishes in a cloud of smoke and reappears beside Emma, staring up at her apple tree. The tree is half gone, the apples fallen with a few of the larger branches, and it looks as though it had been hit by a tornado.

 

With the ogre’s disappearance, the people of Storybrooke venture from their shops, gaping at the wreckage around them. Regina’s eyes take in it all, and she strides forward, her eyes dark, and says, “I will find who was responsible for this and I will–” 

 

“Kill them?” It’s Grumpy, his eyes defiant as he pops out from under a bench. “Torture them? Is there anything you could possibly do that would be worse than everything you did in the old world?” 

 

Regina sneers at him, mask fully in place. “Insolent fool. Did your pathetic little resistance think that they would gain any friends by destroying our town’s economy?” 

 

Grumpy stands his ground, which kind of backs up Regina’s insolent fool comment but also might end in murder. Emma takes a few hasty steps forward. “Grumpy…” 

 

Grumpy ignores her. “Do you think these people love you? They love Snow. They’re terrified of you.” He’s all bravado, but his words are cutting. “No one in this town will ever forget all the terrible things you’ve done. You can’t change the past by pretending to be a better person. You can’t even change yourself. We all see right through you. And someday, your son and…” He points to Emma, a scowl in place. “And she will see it, too.”

 

Regina flinches. It’s minute, barely visible to anyone who isn’t standing right behind her, but even the fact that Grumpy isn’t dead on the ground is a sign of how he’s gotten to her. Emma barks out, “ Leroy . Shut up .”

 

Grumpy slinks back. Emma grabs him and cuffs him before he can run, and she twists around to find Ruby in the doorway of the library. “I’m deputizing you again,” she snaps. “Get me the other dwarves who summoned the ogre and lock them up. We do follow some laws in this town.” 

 

“Only the ones that won’t put her on the execution block,” Grumpy snaps, and Emma drags him into the station before he can do any more damage. 

 

The other dwarves are easy to round up. The ogre has done some damage to the hospital and to the pharmacy, and Doc and Sneezy in particular are remorseful. Emma collects all seven, takes in their guilty and defiant and uncertain faces, and she says, “Look. You’ve got a lot of…energy. How about you start putting it to making everyone’s lives better instead of worse?” 

 

They don’t respond, and Emma sighs and heads out to Town Hall.

 

Regina is crouched beside the apple tree, a hand grazing one fallen branch, and she doesn’t look up until Emma crouches beside her. Neither of them speak for a while, and Emma hurts for Regina like she’d never expected to before. Regina has changed, even if it would hurt her pride to admit it. She might put on the sheen of the Evil Queen as though she’d been made for it, but beneath that is just a mother who wants to build a town where her son can flourish, a mother terrified of losing her son again.

 

Emma doesn’t know when she’d stopped thinking about Regina as the enemy. Maybe around when the kissing had started. Maybe long before that. “Hey,” she finally murmurs. “The referendum on you isn’t going to be spearheaded by a guy named after his only personality trait.” She considers. “Well, almost only personality trait. Thirsting After Nuns just doesn’t have the same ring to it.” 

 

Regina exhales a quiet little laugh, a hand still caressing the branch of her tree. Emma says, eyeing the way she strokes the wood, “You know, I thought you tried to poison me over Henry, but I’m beginning to think it was because I took a chainsaw to your tree.” 

 

Another breath of laughter, and then, Regina’s returning murmur. “I used to meet my fiance under this tree,” she says. “In another life.” 

 

Emma falls silent, and Regina turns to sit on the branch as she speaks. Emma joins her and listens, a tale unfolding that explains too much. A mother– a horrible , vengeful mother who has nothing on Snow, who would tear out a heart to force her daughter into a cage. A king– too old, with little interest in Regina beyond her body, who would lock her in her room when she would speak out. A little girl who had told a secret, who had been Regina’s only companion in the palace when she’d been traumatized and alone, who had expected Regina to be her mother despite it all. 

 

Nineteen had seemed so old to Emma ten years ago, when she’d been struggling to work out her future after prison and to forget the boy she’d left behind. Now, Emma looks back and sees only a child. “I would have burned the whole place down,” she says honestly when Regina stops speaking.

 

Regina shakes her head, and Emma thinks she’s about to launch into some self-hating bullshit about who she’d been and who Emma is, but she only says, “It was a castle, Emma. Stone doesn’t burn.” She says it deadpan, and it takes a minute for Emma to realize that she’s kidding. There is something calmer about her now that she’s told her story, something a little more serene in the way her hand sits on the branch. It suits her.

 

“I’ve seen that castle in Henry’s book,” Emma says, keeping her face straight in return. “Maybe if they hadn’t wanted you to take over and build a reign of terror, they shouldn’t have built it to look like an Evil Queen’s castle.” She slips her hand over to Regina’s, their little fingers resting against each other, and Regina cracks a smile. 

 

“You’re a bit too tolerant of the Evil Queen to be a very good Savior, aren’t you?” 

 

Emma chooses to take that as the compliment it had been intended as. “I am a constant source of frustration for my mother, trust me.” 

 

Regina nudges her. “You flirt.” 

 

A compulsion that Emma hadn’t even noticed fades away with that. “Hey,” she says, struck by an idea. “How about we get out of town tonight? Take a break, bring Henry out to a restaurant in Portland. The three of us are pretty much the only people in town who can leave, and it might do us some good to get out.”

 

And it does. There is something freeing about being out from beneath the scrutiny of the town, to be able to eat dinner in a restaurant where no one knows them and no one cares. “I’ve missed strangers,” Emma says mournfully, mouth full. “The way their eyes just move past you like you aren’t there…” 

 

“It’s weird,” Henry decides. “When I went to find you, I talked to everyone . What?” he says at Emma’s expression. “They talked back!” 

 

“I can’t express how miraculous it is that Henry didn’t wind up in pieces in someone’s freezer that night,” Emma says, blowing a stray bit of hair out of her face. “ Talked to everyone . This is your mother’s confidence, you know. You carry yourself like a kid whose mom can definitely set people on fire.” 

 

Regina looks wistful. “I’ve so rarely been anonymous before,” she says. “I used to enchant myself sometimes to look like a stranger and walk amongst the people to see what they truly thought of me.” She scowls. “But they truly hated me, so I never enjoyed those visits very much.” 

 

“They just had to look past all the terror and destruction and see the real you,” Henry says helpfully.

 

“The real Regina is terror and destruction,” Emma says lightly, winking at him. Regina looks gratified at this assessment. “She’s just also a pretty great ruler. Who likes to incinerate things. Vote Mills!” 

 

By the time they finish dinner and go for a brief browse through the shopping district, it’s late and Henry is exhausted. He falls asleep in the back of the car, and Emma leans back against the passenger seat and feels as though she’s done something good today. “You know, you really aren’t all terror and destruction,” she says, relaxation making her words come easily. “You could have tried to kill me much earlier in the year if you were.” 

 

Regina snorts. “I thought there might be a better way, at first,” she says. “When I didn’t want to pull out your heart and feed it to Pongo, I thought you were…” She pauses.

 

“A hot piece of ass?” Emma suggests, possibly projecting. “Aw.” 

 

The lightest tension stiffens Regina’s face. “You’re ridiculous.” 

 

“I’m right ,” Emma says, gratified. “You wanted to seduce me, didn’t you?” Regina is beginning to look fireball-prone, and Emma adds hastily, “I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gone for it.”

 

Regina shakes her head, rolls her eyes. “I hated you. But I respected you, too. I don’t respect easily.” They’re nearly in town, driving back to their everyday lives, and the tension doesn’t leave Regina’s face. “That meant something to me.”

 

Emma says, “So what I’m getting from this is that I could have seduced you.” Regina finally laughs, her eyes sparkling and a little tension draining from them. “Imagine how much easier this could have been if I had.” 

 

“I’m perfectly happy with where it is now,” Regina says, and Emma looks at her in surprise.

 

They pull into Regina’s driveway, and Emma steers a bleary-eyed Henry upstairs to bed. “Goodnight, kid,” she whispers, pressing a kiss to his hair. 

 

“Night, ‘ma,” he says drowsily, and Emma knows what he’d meant but it still sends a little chill up her spine. 

 

She walks downstairs, a little drunk on the evening, and she wanders into the study to search for Regina. “Regina?” Regina isn’t there, and Emma heads to the kitchen, then the darkened living room. “Regina–” 

 

Abruptly, she’s slammed against the wall, Regina’s eyes dark and smug as she presses Emma against it. Regina reaches out and– oh god – tears Emma’s borrowed shirt open, popping buttons off as she does. “As if you could ever be the one to seduce me,” she growls.

 

Emma sucks in a breath, yanking Regina closer to play the same game. “ Please . I know what gets you–” Regina slides her hand into Emma’s jeans pocket, dangerously close to where she’s aching , and then–

 

“For fuck’s sake,” Regina mutters, yanking Emma’s phone out of her pocket and throwing it to the floor. 

 

And an unmistakable, tinny voice sounds from it, “Emma? Emma, are you there?” It’s Snow. Regina must have answered it without realizing, and they freeze, staring at the phone with equal levels of despair. 

 

Emma darts forward and hangs up the phone. “Oh, crap,” she says. “It’s Thursday, isn’t it?” She’d had it on silent since the library, and she’d missed a dozen texts from Snow and another dozen calls. Abruptly, she remembers her promise from days before. “I was supposed to do dinner with her tonight.” 

 

“How sad,” Regina says, slipping a hand on Emma’s chest. 

 

Emma jerks away. “I’m serious . She must be…” Panicked. Furious. It isn’t fair that Snow can still make her so stressed, not when she’d surrendered that right almost twenty-nine years ago, but Emma’s heart is racing nonetheless. “I should…I should go apologize. I’m sorry,” she says, twisting to look at Regina’s unreadable face. “I hate this. I really do.” 

 

Regina nods stiffly. “Your car isn’t here,” she points out. Emma looks down at her open shirt, the popped buttons, and she winces. Regina sighs. “I’ll teleport you back to your room at Granny’s,” she says. “You can change there.”

 

“Thank you.” And Regina might have shut down with the reminder of Snow, but Emma isn’t willing to give this up, either. She presses a kiss to Regina’s lips, and Regina yields under it with a sigh. “I’ll be back. I promise.” 

 

Regina raises her eyebrows, her confidence returning. “I’ll be waiting,” she purrs, and she flicks her wrist. A cloud of purple surrounds Emma, dimming her vision, and when she can see again, she is no longer in Regina’s living room.

 

She is in her room at Granny’s, Regina’s unmistakable magic fading away around her, her shirt open like it had been torn apart by an enthusiastic lover, and Snow is sitting on the bed with a phone in her hand and her eyes wide with horror. 

 

“Oh, shit ,” Emma says.

 

Snow echoes, “Oh, shit, indeed.” She shakes her head. “Tell me I’m not…tell me I’m seeing things.” 

 

Emma tries humor. “They’re boobs, Snow. I’m pretty sure that you have them, too.” She twists around, avoiding Snow’s eyes, and digs through the box where she’s been keeping her clothes. Carefully, she peels off Regina’s dry-clean-only satin blouse and pulls on one of her own shirts. “I’m sorry about dinner. Between the ogre and…the ogre, it slipped my mind.” 

 

“Dinner,” Snow repeats. “ Dinner? ” Her voice is rising, shrill and close to hysteria. “You’re– you and Regina– and you want to talk about dinner ?” 

 

This is going to end very, very badly. “That is my preference right now, yeah.”

 

“She’s your…she’s your ex-step-grandmother!” Snow bursts out. 

 

Emma holds up a hand, making a face. “First of all, ew.” She’d much prefer to think of Regina as mother of my child than as victim of long-dead grandfather . “Second of all, if it takes that many syllables to say it, then we aren’t closely related enough for it to matter.” Snow keeps staring at her, and Emma doesn’t know where the desire to please her comes from. Mary Margaret’s face, maybe, which is all she can see right now. “It’s not…it just kind of happened,” she says finally. “She was teaching me magic and we got a little heated and…” 

 

“Teaching you magic.” Snow squeezes her eyes closed, and Emma is horrified to see tears leaking from them. “Emma, I know we’ve…I know we’ve been having a hard time. I know it’s an adjustment. But Regina is dangerous . She isn’t…whatever she’s doing with you, it’s to hurt me. Everything she’s done in the past thirty years has been to hurt me.” She blinks back more tears. “God. If I’d realized what she was up to…I never wanted you to get caught in the crossfire.” 

 

Emma stares at her, unable to find the words to speak. Snow looks up at her, her eyes agonized. “Don’t you understand what she’s doing to me?” 

 

“Definitely not what she’s doing to me,” Emma finally manages. 

 

Snow shakes her head violently. “She’s manipulating you. She’s using…your ties to Henry, your compassionate nature…” She stands at last, reaches for Emma, clutches her shoulder. “She breaks things. It’s what she does. And she’ll break you. You’re the only one who can stop her, Emma. Of course she’ll do what she can to keep you under her spell.” She’s crying freely, and Emma wrenches away from her.

 

“I don’t want to stop her,” she says, out of jokes to respond with. “She’s not the queen you remember, and your little resistance isn’t anything but the only people in this town who haven’t come to terms with that. Has it ever occurred to you that Regina’s the good guy in this story?” Regina is the one who is rebuilding now, who has taken her punishment for the Enchanted Forest and turned it into a gift. “That you’re the villains here?” 

 

Snow scoffs, her eyes still wide and wounded. “She’s already gotten to you,” she whispers. “And I’ve lost you, haven’t I?” 

 

Emma stiffens, that setting her off enough that she’s frustrated again. “You never had me,” she bites out. “You didn’t lose me. You gave me up–” 

 

“I gave you a future ,” Snow says, shaking her head in disbelief. “I gave you a life! What would you have had in a cursed town?” 

 

“A mother!” Emma snaps, and regrets it immediately. She takes a step back. “I’m done, okay? I’m not a child you can order around. You lost that privilege.” She’s angry, and she doesn’t know why it still feels like heartbreak, like fighting with Snow should matter when Snow doesn’t matter, when Snow is just a cruel parody of a woman she’d actually cared about. And yet, this still hurts like a bleeding, raw wound that she’s aggravated again and again. “I’m out,” she says, reaching for her phone.

 

“Do not call Regina,” Snow says, her voice low, and maybe they aren’t so different after all, the growl of anger in her mother’s voice as potent as the one in Emma’s. “Do not pick up that phone right now. As long as you stay here, you’re a victim, not a traitor. I am giving you another chance–” 

 

Regina picks up on the first ring. “Take me back,” Emma says without preamble. Snow’s eyes are locked on hers, red and dry now and fierce with warning as the purple smoke takes Emma again.

 

And when the smoke clears, she is standing in front of Regina’s bed. Regina has changed into satin blue pajamas, and Emma is so worn out that even the idea of coping with a compulsion fills her with exhaustion, with the hopelessness of the dare that consumes her as much as Snow’s disapproval seems to. 

 

Regina must see the devastation in her eyes, because there is no more seduction, no sly comments. “Lie down, Emma,” she murmurs, patting the space beside her, and Emma obliges. She stretches out on the bed next where Regina is propped up, looking down at Emma with another unreadable expression, and Emma closes her eyes and sinks into the bed, the compulsion to compliment Regina leaving her head pounding alongside her bruised heart.

 

Regina leans over to kiss her temple, so unexpectedly soft that it feels like a tender kind of magic of its own, and Emma drifts off to sleep before she can speak again.

Chapter Text

Someone has keyed Emma’s car. It’s just a jagged line across it, sharp and sloppy, but the meaning is clear. Traitor . Emma twitches, stricken, turns around to take in the parking lot outside the station, and sees a dwarf glaring at her from across the street.

 

News has spread that Emma has chosen a side , and she’s been getting a lot of sidelong glances. There are plenty of townspeople who are content with what they’ve gotten from Regina and don’t have the courage to confront her, anyway, and they watch Emma but don’t let on whether it’s with approval or disappointment.

 

Maybe they expect her to be the savior, still. Maybe they’re relieved that she isn’t going on a rampage against Regina. Emma doesn’t know. 

 

“Wow,” Henry says, staring at the mark along the Bug. “You’re making real enemies now. That’s so cool.” He flashes her an admiring grin that leaves her at a loss.

 

“Henry, have you ever considered that you might have overshot a little when you decided to go supportive on your mom?” 

 

Henry takes a sip of his milkshake. “Nope.” 

 

Emma eyes him, then the milkshake. “Where’d you get that? I thought Granny’s was still under construction.” 

 

“The kitchen works. Ruby sent this to you,” Henry says, sucking up a good third of the milkshake through the straw. “I confiscated it. Until Granny and Ruby decide whose side they’re on, I’m your official taste-tester.” 

 

He looks very smug, and Emma considers reminding him that, A, a taste-tester isn’t supposed to finish the food; and, B, the last time he’d tried her food before her, he’d wound up in the hospital. Instead, she says, “I don’t think they’re going to take sides. It’s bad for business.” 

 

“Yeah, well, taking sides is bad for my GPA, but you don’t see me showing up to class today,” Henry says smugly. 

 

“You’re in fifth grade, you don’t have a GPA– and wait. Why aren’t you at school?” Emma demands, checking the time. It’s nearly eight-thirty, and she could have sworn that she’d seen Regina walk with Henry and Ampy to the bus stop a half hour ago. She’d stayed back in the house for a little longer, washing breakfast dishes and avoiding going outside to face the town. “Does your mother know you’re here?” 

 

Henry gets a shifty look in his eye that Emma’s ninety-nine percent sure is genetic, not learned. “I’m sure she doesn’t want me to spend the day with Snow White, either,” he says. “You know she’ll try to win me over–” 

 

“We are going to school.” Emma points a finger at the passenger seat of the Bug.

 

“Try to get at you with me,” Henry continues. “Use me against you.” He folds his arms stubbornly.

 

Emma gets out her phone, hits a number and holds it to her ear. “Hey, Regina,” she says when Regina picks up. She glances at the spot where Henry had been. 

 

He’s gone, sitting in the passenger seat with a scowl in place. “Just checking in,” Emma says lightly. “I wanted to make sure that no one gave you a hard time this morning.” Henry stays wisely silent. 

 

Regina sounds gratified on the phone. “You seem to have forgotten that I rule this town with an iron fist,” she says, and then her voice hardens. “Why? Has anyone given you any trouble?” 

 

“Nope,” Emma says hastily. “No issues. Well, a dwarf keyed my car, but it’s no big deal. Ruby sent over a milkshake, so I might even still have a friend–” She pauses. Regina is muttering something that sounds suspiciously like I’ll key him , and she stops when Emma falls silent. “Please do not stab anyone with a key or other small, sharp object,” Emma says, wincing.

 

A pregnant pause, and then Regina says, “If you insist.” 

 

“Or any large, sharp objects,” Emma amends, wary of how easily Regina had conceded.

 

Regina lets out a little irritated noise. “You ask too much of me, Miss Swan.” 

 

“Are we back to Miss Swan already?” Emma asks, and she keeps it playful, a tiny bit flirtatious. “I thought we’d moved past that.” Regina had been wearing black this morning, and Emma hadn’t managed to get in a proper flirt between peering through her clothes for something appropriate and being assigned to omelet duty in the kitchen. She exhales, relieved at the urge to flirt fulfilled. The compulsions are learning patience, at least. “I just want you to stop murdering people, Madam Mayor.” 

 

Regina heaves a sigh. “ So demanding.” She is quiet for a moment, and Emma drums her fingers against the steering wheel as she drives, her shoulder up to hold the phone to her ear. “I’m going to stop by later,” she says. “I’ll see what I can do about that rolling safety hazard that you call a car.”

 

Emma grins to herself. “Is that you saying that you’re coming by for lunch? I hope you’re bringing leftovers–”

 

The phone is snatched from where it’s wedged between her shoulder and her ear. Henry hangs it up, frowning at her. “Don’t you have a hands-free device? There are young lives at stake here.” He points at himself. 

 

Emma gives him a long look. “I notice that you waited until we parked to take my phone away,” she points out. The last few kids are trailing into the building in front of them, a few glancing back at Emma’s distinctive car. “Come on, kid. Let’s get you inside.” 

 

In a bigger town, or a bigger school, there might have been security to stop Emma from entering the building, thereby saving her the decision of whether or not to join Henry on his way to class. But no one stops Emma, and Snow glimpses her through the window of the door before she can duck away.

 

Snow hurries to the door, offering a forced smile to Henry. “There you are,” she says. “I was worried when the others said that you hadn’t been on the bus.” 

 

Henry stares up at her balefully and Snow takes a step back, hurt. Emma, who has become very adept at reading Henry’s mood when he’s being blase, sees the flicker of guilt and uncertainty on his face and clears her throat. “Henry,” she says quietly, “Your mother didn’t overhaul the educational system in this town for you to skip class and disrespect your teachers.” 

 

Henry shrugs. “She would get it,” he says, moody, and he glowers up at Snow and looks back to Emma as though she still might change tack. “I’ll go, but I’m not going to enjoy it.”

 

Snow looks just a little shattered, which makes Emma simultaneously spitefully glad and mournful. “Henry–” she begins.

 

Henry ignores her. “I left the box in the station, by the way,” he informs Emma. “Say hi to my mom when you two have lunch together.” He looks smug when he makes that pronouncement, and Snow just looks devastated. 

 

But she doesn’t look up at Emma, doesn’t acknowledge her at all, and Emma grits her teeth and tells herself that it doesn’t matter. “Thanks, kid,” she says. “What box?” 

 

Henry doesn’t answer, only slips into the room and glares at the board as though it’s personally offended him. Emma makes an escape before she has to stand opposite Snow for any longer, the two of them ignoring each other.

 

She finds the box that Henry had mentioned in the station. It’s filled with everything that Emma had brought with her to the B&B, and there’s a note in Ruby’s handwriting. I swear I’m not kicking you out, it starts, and Emma sinks into her chair and stares at the note in quiet dismay. It’s just not a good for us to get involved in this fight, you know? Snow’s my best friend. Something has been scrawled out that looks like it might have been a number of innuendos about Regina’s house that Ruby had correctly assumed would piss Emma off, then, I had to go drinking with Grumpy last night, and it sucks. We had to sit thirty feet away from the Rabbit Hole and I got so wasted that I think I might’ve made a marriage pact with him if we’re both not married in ten years. At least I wasn’t wearing that fucking amulet. 

 

Emma almost cracks a smile, but the ground feels as though it is rocking beneath her, close to breaking open and letting her fall in. Ruby’s last line– Enjoy the milkshake! I’ll stop by later if you don’t slam the door on my face – doesn’t help.

 

Ruby isn’t Mary Margaret, no, but she’d been some kind of shelter in the shitstorm of Emma’s life right now. And she’s gone now, trapped between two friends and excusing herself from this conflict. Emma is without a place to go, again

 

“That’s absurd,” Regina says evenly at lunch, after she spots the letter on Emma’s desk and snatches it before Emma can retrieve it. “Of course you’ll stay with Henry and me. I have a perfectly spacious guest room where you can keep your things.” She brightens. “We can break into Snow’s apartment and get the rest of them, too. And with Gold gone, the apartment building defaults to town property, which means I can raise Snow’s rent significantly– I’d like to see her try to pay it without a third income–”

 

“Regina,” Emma says, and she means to…to tell her to tone it down, to remind her that they’re better off without another fight with Snow, to talk her out of it…but then she sees the gleam in Regina’s eyes and realizes that Regina is only trying to cheer her up. “I think the best revenge is probably for me to stay in your guest room,” Emma offers.

 

Regina scoffs. “The best revenge is for you to stay in my room,” she corrects Emma. “I said that you could keep your things in my guest room. I expect you to be elsewhere.” 

 

“Hm,” Emma says thoughtfully. “I have some ideas where.” 

 

A stubborn smile threatens to curl up Regina’s lips. “Do you?” 

 

“Well, there’s the rug in the study. It’s grown on me.” Emma considers. “And maybe the master bathroom.” She’d almost caught Regina in the shower this morning, but she’d sadly awakened as Regina had emerged. “The kitchen counter–” 

 

“Unsanitary,” Regina sniffs, standing up to take a few steps around Emma’s desk. If Emma hadn’t instantly taken care of the compulsion when Regina had walked into the room, Emma’s pretty confident that she’s got it in the bag now. 

 

“That big chair in the living room,” she breathes, and Regina straddles her on her chair, cupping her breasts over her shirt. “I think I’d be very comfortable there–” Regina leans down to kiss her, and it’s gentle as it had so rarely been before, teasing but still uncompromising. The kiss builds in intensity, Emma gripping Regina’s ass and pulling her close, lost in her scent and the way Regina caresses her. Beneath the desire is a warmth, a connection that they both silently crave, and Emma revels in it.

 

This , she knows immediately, without any doubt… this is what makes it worth it.  

 


 

She doubts that a little more in the morning, when she stumbles out of Regina’s bed a half hour after her alarm and sees a flash of red in front of her. 

 

“No,” she mumbles, still half asleep. A jolt of alarm chills her, but she doesn’t process what she’s seeing until she’s showered and made her way downstairs.

 

Henry is eating oatmeal with chocolate chips, reading a book at the kitchen table, and Regina moves gracefully from counter to counter, stepping around Ampy and with a mug of coffee in hand as she finds ingredients in the fridge to deposit into the crockpot for dinner. She’s particularly stunning today, her hair falling past her shoulders and her lipstick the same shade of red as her dress.

 

It’s like muscle memory, the way that the red sets off dread within Emma, the certainty that she’s going to have to pick a fight with Regina. It’s been a while since Regina has last worn red, since Emma had had to reckon with the curse in any way that might have been counterproductive, and Emma stares at Regina with building despair.

 

Regina spots her standing at the base of the staircase and flashes her a brief, stolen smile. “About time you woke up. I could have sworn that you were a morning person last year.” 

 

Emma makes a face, feels a little wave of grief when she thinks about last year. “Mary Margaret was a morning person,” she says. “She used to open every single window shade in the apartment every morning at six o’clock to start the day with sunshine . I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I slept until noon on my day off once and she looked at me as though I’d killed her puppy.” 

 

“Emma!” Henry says, clapping his hands over Ampy’s ears. Ampy, who has been sniffing curiously at Henry’s oatmeal, lets out a little yowl. 

 

Regina shakes her head. “I have no idea what you saw in that woman.” She smoothes down the wrinkles in her dress and raises her eyebrows at Emma. “Are you just going to stare at me all morning, or do you want some oatmeal?” 

 

Emma sits obediently, her eyes flickering to Regina’s red dress again. “You’re wearing red,” she finally manages, fighting back the urge that comes with that acknowledgement. It’s all she can think about, enough to give her a migraine, and she rubs her temples and tries to eat the oatmeal that is set out in front of her. 

 

Regina cocks her head, eyebrows rising. “Is that a problem?” 

 

Here . The flashpoint is ready, waiting for Emma’s instigation, and Emma is helpless but to respond to it. All she needs to do is manufacture some grievance or snide comment or…

 

She can feel the strain like a pounding in her head, pushing her to respond with a fight, and she battles it off. No. Not today, not now, when they’re actually doing okay. If Emma goes down, she’s going to go down kicking and screaming. “Only because there’s a town meeting today,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. Her head aches and she ignores it. “The Small Business Association does not deserve to see you in that.” 

 

Regina wets her lips and winks at Emma, then frowns. “Are you all right?” 

 

“I’m fine,” Emma says, a little breathless. “Hey, why don’t I take Henry to the bus so you can finish up in here?” She’d meant to offer it anyway today after Henry’s escape attempt yesterday, and now it’s an opportunity to get away before Regina’s dress drives her to hurt them. “I’m kind of full.” 

 

“Do you hate oatmeal?” Regina says, staring at Emma’s untouched bowl. “If you need the chocolate chips, too, I’ll only judge a little–” 

 

Emma leaps to her feet, grabbing Henry by the arm. “We’re going to be late. Let’s go ,” she says, and she doesn’t breathe until they’re outside, clear of Regina and her red dress. 

 

Henry looks carefully at her. “You’re being weird today,” he decides, swinging his backpack over his shoulder. 

 

Emma grimaces. “Just woke up funny,” she says. A flash of color catches her eye, and she looks again at Henry’s backpack. “Uh. Henry? Why is your backpack covered in little rainbow buttons?” There are at least a dozen of them in varying sizes and styles, pinned carefully to the back of Henry’s knapsack.

 

Henry perks up. “Do you like them? I got them at one of the kiosks in the Portland shopping center. There were also a few Spider-man sets but they were double the price.” 

 

“Uh,” Emma repeats, eyeing Henry like he might be a ticking time bomb. “You a big rainbow fan?” 

 

Henry gives Emma a look so dripping in disdain that Emma isn’t quite sure how to respond to it. “I can’t believe I used to think you were cool.” He scampers ahead of her, the rainbow buttons glinting in the sun like they must mean something

 

Emma calls after him, “Wait! When did you stop thinking that?” and jogs behind him, baffled but relieved to be anywhere but around Regina. 

 

There’s a coffee on her desk this morning, another peace offering from Ruby, and Emma drinks it and stews over how she’s going to get around seeing Regina for the rest of the day. Regina had been pretty explicit in inviting Emma to stay with her, right? She wouldn’t look kindly on Emma ducking out and disappearing for a day after that invitation. Maybe she can guilt-trip Ruby to spill something on Regina and force her to change. Maybe they can have a nice, easy fake-fight during the town meeting that will somehow satisfy the dare. 

 

Emma gulps down her coffee and decides to avoid the meeting altogether. But by midday, she’s changed her mind. The dwarves have filed past the station toward Town Hall, followed by Snow, who likes to go to the meetings on her lunch break. Emma can’t leave Regina alone to confront the resistance. 

 

She steps out of the station and nearly slams into David. “Sorry,” he says, holding up his hands. “Sorry. I was just coming to look for you.” 

 

“Okay.” Emma eyes him warily. She doesn’t know David, not really. He’d been the asshole who had strung Mary Margaret and Kathryn along and who’d seemed directionless and uncertain and not nearly good enough for either. But David post-curse carries himself differently, walks with more confidence and has an easy smile. When they’d spent time together, Emma had liked him despite her better judgment. “I don’t want to talk about Regina. Or Snow.” 

 

“Yeah, I figured.” David rubs the back of his neck, awkward. “Look…I just thought that you’ve got a lot on your plate right now,” he says. “And this town meeting is going to be another uncomfortable situation for you. So I wanted to…I mean, this is usually when I feed the animals, and I thought you might enjoy it.” 

 

It’s unexpectedly sweet. Emma blinks at him, touched, and then shakes her head. “I can’t leave Regina to face them without me.” 

 

“Regina is very capable of fighting her own battles,” David says, not without a light undercurrent of distaste. Emma chooses to ignore it. “She’s been doing it for a lifetime without you.”

 

And that sucks , it really does, and it reminds her of Regina at nineteen, fighting battles she never should have had to and enduring pain like Emma can’t imagine. “Thanks,” Emma says, and she really does mean it. “I appreciate the offer. But…” She bites her lip. 

 

David watches her and then shakes his head wonderingly. “You really are just like your mother,” he says, and Emma flinches. 

 

It stings like he’d never meant for it to, and she twists away from him. “I’m nothing like her.” Snow is condescending, is pushy, is self-centered. She’d give Emma an ultimatum and then victimize herself over it, and Emma doesn’t want to hear about all the ways that Snow resembles her.

 

“I just mean…you have her compassion,” David says, his eyes warm, and he lays a fleeting hand on Emma’s shoulder and then walks away. Emma watches him go, already drained, and then heads to Town Hall.

 

The meeting is already underway, but Emma knows the instant that Regina sees her. A little bit of tension drains out of Regina’s shoulders, and her sneer softens into something almost like a smile. The man she’s talking to– Marco, or Geppetto, Emma supposes– relaxes a hair. “As I said,” Regina says, her voice strong. “I’ve put together three separate committees to ensure that every shopkeeper on Main Street is fully reimbursed for ogre-related damages. You can collect the requisition forms you need at Town Hall.” 

 

“Why rebuild if there are just going to be more attacks?” demands Sneezy, which is pretty damned hypocritical of him. Emma had only let the dwarves out of jail after the ogre because the idea of having to sit in the station with the seven of them had made her want to tear out her hair. They’d each been slapped with a fine large enough to cover some of the repairs, but not all. “Storybrooke is a sitting duck and we have no way to defend ourselves.” 

 

Is this their newest move? If it is, it’s a baffling one. Regina flicks a wrist like she might be about to curse Sneezy, and Happy cries out, “We want weapons!” He stands up. “At least in the old world, we weren’t dependent on the Evil Queen’s favor to keep us safe–” 

 

“Actually,” a woman Emma recognizes from the bank says, standing up. “I was.” She shrugs. “I lived near the castle, and let me tell you. There was never so much as a forest fire when the Evil Queen was in charge.” 

 

“Pretty great economy, too,” one of the high school teachers notes. “Good setup for drought years. And she compensated well when King Midas’s kingdom lowered the price of gold to pennies by the end.” 

 

An older woman who Emma vaguely recognizes pipes up, “Not one invasion, either. No one screwed with the Evil Queen. As long as you weren’t harboring Snow White in your village, you were pretty well off.” There’s a murmur of assent from the audience, and Emma watches them in astonishment. The woman shrugs. “In the scheme of things, do we want our politicians to be good people or good leaders? I’d rather a ruthless mass murderer who keeps the storehouses full.” 

 

Regina, at the front of the room, looks taken aback, somewhere between gratified and offended. Grumpy rockets to his feet. “She isn’t the rightful queen!” he protests. “She killed the king!” 

 

“Yeah, well, he sucked,” Emma says loudly. She can feel the urge to pick a fight with Regina as soon as she speaks, and she battles it down, straining to resist it by picking a fight with Grumpy instead. “And this isn’t the Enchanted Forest.” 

 

“It’s a democracy,” the bank teller says, and there’s another loud murmur of agreement from the crowd. “Granted, it was a cursed democracy where we never had any choice but to vote for Mayor Mills, but I’d do it again.” 

 

“It’s actually a democratic monarchy,” the high school teacher points out, and Emma takes a moment to marvel at how far that bullshit has already spread. “Albeit one where the monarch has absolute power. But I Googled it and we have the best-funded public schools in Maine, so I think that’s a right I’m willing to surrender.” 

 

“I like the Evil Queen,” someone else says boldly. “She’s got great hair. And that fireball schtick is pretty hot.” Emma jerks around to glare at the speaker, and is caught midway there by Regina’s smoldering eyes. 

 

Regina barks out, perhaps sensing that she’s beginning to lose the room, “All of this is irrelevant! I’m your queen, like it or not, and I am also your mayor.” There are a number of indulgent smiles at that, and Regina sputters, “I will be treated with the fear and respect that my position demands!” 

 

Regina has, once again, fallen into that inescapable hole of cute , and Emma isn’t the only one to see it this time. She shoots a glance toward the side of the room, where Snow is sitting upright beside an empty chair and watching Regina with an unreadable expression. She hasn’t said a word this meeting, Emma notes, which is surprising from her.

 

“Enough!” Regina snaps from the front of the room, and she does what she always does when she’s trapped, these days: she sets Town Hall on fire.

 

Flames burst up around the sides of the room, roaring threateningly but not burning anything around them. Townspeople get up, scattering, and Emma overhears someone saying, “Classic Evil Queen,” with unmistakable fondness. A dwarf mutters darkly, and someone else says in a hushed tone, “She didn’t even get to flirting with the sheriff this time.” 

 

Soon, the room is empty, and only Emma and Regina are left. Regina scowls and lets the fire fall. “I can’t believe the sheer audacity of this town–” 

 

Emma wonders, suddenly, if she might be able to get away with fighting Regina over exactly how adorable she is. “They appreciate you,” she says simply, walking down the aisle to meet Regina halfway. “You’ve done a lot of good here, and plenty of people can look past the worst of it when they’re thriving now, thanks to you.” She’s focusing too hard on two opposing things at once, on fighting and not-fighting, and she tries to take a deep breath.

 

She gets a headache for her efforts, and Regina looks at her with sudden concern. “Are you all right?” 

 

“Just a migraine.” Emma massages her temples. “It’ll go away eventually.” She is not going to let this dare get the better of her.

 

Regina frowns. “Come,” she says, and she takes Emma by the wrist and leads her to the elevator, up to her office, and sits her down on the couch. She rubs Emma’s head, massages some of the tension from her shoulders, and murmurs at last, “I can’t believe the town–” 

 

Emma is boneless and at peace beneath Regina’s ministrations. “You said you used to walk amongst the people and they hated you. Maybe you just weren’t walking in the right areas.”

 

“Maybe I killed everyone who preferred Snow,” Regina says darkly, and she doesn’t sound all that pleased about it anymore. Her hands still on Emma’s temples, and she says, her voice more careful, “I am not a good person.”

 

Emma opens her eyes, looks up at Regina’s stony face, and she doesn’t know what to respond to that. Regina isn’t a good person, if you factor in the past and her occasional flights of fury even now. She isn’t stupid, nor has she decided to cope by going full-fledged Team Regina like Henry has. But Emma is equally certain that Regina is no Evil Queen. Not anymore. Her past has shaped who she’s become, and Emma thinks that she’s on a collision course with some kind of goodness, all the same.

 

And she only wants to reach up and comfort Regina right now, a desire stronger than dares or curses can ever be. “I don’t care,” is all she can think to say, and it rings true enough that Regina sighs, her stiff hands relaxing, and Emma lifts herself up to kiss Regina.

 

It’s delicate, careful, and it feels like balancing a glass on one finger, like playing with danger and refusing to submit to it. And it is the only thing that can quiet the urge to fight , to put aside the dare for a moment and enjoy the sight of Regina in red, wrapped in Emma’s arms.

 


 

Granny’s has reopened in record time, with a new state-of-the-art kitchen and an extended indoor and outdoor area. There’s a grand opening where Emma slinks to a corner booth with Regina to avoid the raucous group of dwarves that surround Snow and David on the opposite side of the room (and David smiles at her from there and Emma thinks that there might be some hope, after all) and then clandestine resistance meetings that Emma sees from the window and doesn’t break up.

 

Regina is less than pleased about that . “I thought I made an official decree about resistance meetings.” 

 

“You did. It was tyranny,” Emma points out. “That’s their First Amendment rights. If you wanted to stop it, you should have cursed us back to the seventeenth century.” 

 

Regina gives her a scornful look. “So we could all die of plague? I think not.” She’s in a sleek grey dress today, and Emma has called her Your Majesty far more times than the dress had warranted. “I wish I knew what those dwarves were up to. They’ve been suspiciously quiet since that Town Hall meeting.” 

 

“Maybe they’ve given up,” Henry says hopefully. He’s wearing one of his little rainbow buttons on his shirt, and he’d just stared at Emma when she’d commented on it and said, So ? as though it hadn’t begged any questions.

 

“They don’t know how to,” Regina says grimly. “They’re up to something.” She runs her fingers through her hair, scowling at her reflection.

 

Emma says seriously, “You look very scary.” 

 

Regina gives her a look . “If I have to spend forty-five minutes in a room with Snow White, I’d better look scary .” It’s Parents Night at Henry’s school, and they’re probably going to have to…sit in a room and build birdhouses, according to Regina. She’s been caught between dread at seeing her mother again and warmth at being invited in the first place all evening. “You did find a deputy to patrol tonight, right? I don’t want those dwarves anywhere near the school when we’re there with Henry–” 

 

“Ruby’s on it,” Emma says, laying a hand on Regina’s arm. “Don’t worry . I’ve got it under control.” 

 

It takes about three minutes into Parents Night before it’s clear that Emma does not, in fact, have it under control. Snow has conspicuously avoided their crowded little desk, and there’s an icy chill that permeates the room, Henry’s classmates’ parents glancing at them and then Snow, over and over again. 

 

Emma clenches her fists, angry and frustrated and maybe a little bit hurt, and she tries to absorb herself in their project. “If we’re going to build birdhouses,” Regina decides, waving her hands over their popsicle sticks to transform them, “I want ours to be a castle.” 

 

Henry grins. “ Yes .” As of yet, he seems oblivious to the tension in the air. His desk is decorated with little rainbow stickers, and he sees Emma looking at them and says, “Jack gave them to me. Aren’t they great?” 

 

“So why the sudden interest in rainbows?” Emma asks, narrowing her eyes at him.

 

Regina, somehow utterly oblivious, says, “What’s wrong with rainbows? I hope you’re not feeding our son outdated ideas of toxic masculinity.” She pats Henry on the shoulder and he beams up at her. “I think they’re lovely. We can put one on the birdhouse.” 

 

“This one,” Henry says, digging through his desk, and he pulls out a sticker that says PRIDE emblazoned across the center in rainbow colors. “Because I’m proud to be your kid.” Emma purses her lips together. Regina smiles affectionately at Henry.

 

When Emma looks up, Snow is watching them. She turns away swiftly when Emma sees her, but it’s too slow. Emma swallows and returns to the birdhouse. 

 

She makes it another five minutes on righteous anger before the moroseness sets in, and she fumbles three popsicle sticks (each sharpened at the edges to be properly imposing , according to Regina) before Regina leans over and murmurs in her ear, “You don’t have to stay.” 

 

Emma shakes her head rapidly. “I want to. I’ve never gotten to do this with Henry before–” 

 

“Oh, trust me, you’re going to get lots of chances,” Henry assures her. “We have four Parents Nights a year and we’ve made birdhouses at the last two, also. You’re not missing anything.” He smiles at her, clear and compassionate beyond his age, and then he reaches over and presses a little PRIDE sticker onto her jacket, because he’s also a little shit. “See? The stickers are the best part, and you’re done now.” 

 

Compassionate but also a little shit. Definitely Regina’s kid.

 

Emma is about to refuse, and then Snow walks past, hesitates, and then bends over Henry’s shoulder. “What a…lovely birdhouse, Henry. Very creative.” The sharp spires of the birdhouse jut out forebodingly. Snow’s hand brushes Emma’s arm and Snow yanks it away as though she’s been burned.

 

Emma gets up. “Okay, I’m out,” she announces. “I’m going back to the house, okay?” She looks at Regina, determinedly avoiding Snow’s eyes, and Regina reaches out and squeezes Emma’s hand. “I’ll see you later.” Emma presses a kiss to Henry’s cheek and then a quick, defiant kiss to Regina’s. Regina blinks at her, her eyes wide. 

 

Henry says, “One for you,” and presses a rainbow sticker to his other mother’s dress.

 

And Emma is gone , striding through the halls of the school until she makes it outside and breathes again. She takes off at a run in the direction of Mifflin Street, enjoying the satisfying sensation of her feet pounding the pavement and the nighttime air in her face. It’s cleansing, freeing, a welcome break after the claustrophobia of Henry’s classroom.

 

Fucking Snow. She has no right to make Emma uncomfortable. She has no right to Emma’s emotions at all, and Emma is going to train herself until she doesn’t care anymore. Snow is nobody to her. Snow doesn’t get to be her mother–

 

She’s home before she knows it, and she slips inside, lets Ampy out to run in the backyard a bit and then stretches out on the living room couch, breathing hard. “It doesn’t matter,” she says aloud. “It doesn’t .” She shuts her eyes, refusing to think any more about this, and she lets herself drift off for a nap.

 

And then, a little while later, the house explodes.

 


 

BOOM . It’s a strange sort of explosion, louder and quieter than anything Emma’s ever heard before. The sound emanates outward, and Emma thinks at first that she’s been deafened by it.

 

But no– this is magical in nature. Emma stumbles to her feet, still drowsy, and takes in the glowing room around her. Glowing? There is something floating through the air, thickening it as the room burns around her, like shiny ash…

 

Dust , she finally realizes. Fairy dust . The topic had come up at one of the town meetings, and Regina had forbidden anyone to mine for it because of labor laws and public safety reasons. The dwarves must have gotten it anyway and built some kind of bomb out of it.

 

The air is charged, and when Emma moves, something bursts against her in a series of tiny explosions. “Ah!” She pulls a hand back, sees an inflamed red mark on her wrist.

 

And that movement is enough.

 

The little burst sets off another, then another, until the room is exploding again, that sinister quiet kind of explosion that seems to boom and hiss at the same time. Emma is hit again, this time hard enough on her leg that it won’t move right, and now the room is actually on fire– the house is burning– god , she has to get out–

 

She drops to the floor and crawls, dragging one foot behind her and sparking more fairy dust, and she can distantly feel her heart pounding furiously and her breath coming more faintly. Everything feels disjointed, like she’s close to passing out, like nothing is registering right…

 

And then she hears the scream, desperate and shrill. “ EMMA! ” 

 

A moment later, there’s a burst of magic behind her, Regina’s distinctive purple smoke. “No,” she says, panicked. The fairy dust reacts to the magic, and there’s a massive explosion, one that leaves Regina unconscious and crumpled on the floor. “No,” Emma says again, crawling over to her. 

 

The shrill scream continues. “ EMMA! ” It’s getting closer, and Emma looks down at Regina, baffled through her panic. Who’s…?

 

It sounds almost like Mary Margaret. 

 

A figure barrels through the door, setting off a dozen little explosions that scorch her, and she hurtles through the foyer, looking around wildly– and then, finally, she catches sight of Emma on the floor in the living room. “The firefighters are calling the nuns,” Snow chokes through the smoke, stumbling to her. “I heard the blast and I–” 

 

She seizes Emma, tugs her forward, and Emma shakes her head. “No. No, I have to…” She looks helplessly back at the ground, and Snow doesn’t hesitate. 

 

She gestures to Regina’s right side, and Emma tucks herself under Regina’s arm, holding it steady with her own hand. She can’t stand unaided, and Snow crawls beside her, supporting Regina’s left side as they move through sizzling bits of fairy dust.

 

Finally, after what feels like long minutes of incremental movements, they emerge on the porch and Emma drops to the ground, coughing hard. Fairy dust is worse than smoke, like having glitter in her throat, and she collapses beside Regina and coughs and coughs until she can’t breathe. Snow is bent over her, rubbing circles into her back, pulling off a patch of fairy dust that had embedded itself into her leg.

 

Then, a reprieve. A group of women in habits approach, and they do… something , a little flash of light and then the mansion is clear of fairy dust and Emma can breathe again. There is no more smoke, no fire, just a flash of light and the dust gone. 

 

Emma’s leg still hurts, but she manages to pull herself to a stand now and take in the view in front of her. There is a crowd on the lawn, a few helpless firefighters and a doctor standing by, Ruby holding Henry back and David dashing down the block toward the house. The dwarves are huddled together, some stubborn and some chagrined, and their eyes turn cold when Regina stirs. 

 

“What the hell did you do?” someone spits out, but it isn’t Regina. It’s Snow, stalking down the stairs to Grumpy, and she shoves him hard and throws him into a carefully cultivated bush. 

 

He sprawls in it, gaping up at Snow. “It was just her house! She wasn’t there!” 

 

“My daughter was there!” Snow snarls. “My grandson could have been there! I never said to try to kill her! I said a coup, not a bomb !” Her eyes are wet and furious, and she shoves Happy next, then Sneezy.

 

“You wanted a revolution,” Happy says, his voice reaching a low whine. “This is what happens in revolutions. There’s always a cost–” Snow pulls back her fist and slams it into his face. Emma watches, eyes wide, until she snaps back to herself.

 

“Hey,” she chokes out, hobbling down the stairs. “Wait. Snow, we can’t–” As much as she’d like to beat up the dwarves, they’re dangerously close to a dictatorship already. “You’re under arrest,” she says, and she stumbles a little. Snow puts an arm out, steadying her, and Emma sways a little but stays upright. “And this time, you’re not getting out with a fine.” 

 

The dwarves are silent, muted at Snow’s horror, and Emma exhales with relief when another arm slips around her back, holding her up. Regina stands beside her now, her eyes dark and furious, and she says, “I will execute every last one of you.” 

 

“No,” Emma wheezes. “Trials, remember?”

 

“They deserve to die,” Regina says darkly. “Every last one of them. I’ll–” Her hand lights up in flames and the remaining dwarves who are still standing let out squeaks and scatter. Regina lets out a volley of flames before Emma can stop her, setting the bushes on fire around Grumpy, Happy, and Sneezy. “I’ll kill you!” she roars.

 

Emma darts forward, ignoring the pain in her leg, and yanks first Grumpy, then Sneezy, then Happy from the flames. “Regina–” 

 

Regina throws out a hand and Grumpy is abruptly floating in midair, choking, the flames still burning behind him. “I will make you pay. You think you can try to hurt my family, you insignificant termite?” she demands. “You think you can touch what’s mine ?” 

 

Emma cries out her name, but Regina doesn’t react, and Snow is still standing with one fist clenched and another hand on Emma’s arm. Regina lifts a hand, Grumpy writhing in the air in front of her with his hands on his neck, and her eyes narrow–

 

A small voice says, “Mom?” and Regina freezes. 

 

Henry has gotten past Ruby at last, and he stands behind them, fidgeting with his little rainbow pin. “Please don’t kill anyone on our front lawn,” he says, his eyes wide and imploring.

 

Regina slumps, and Grumpy drops to the ground. The bushes stop burning, and Henry offers his mother a quivering smile and then runs to wrap his arms around her. 

 

Grumpy gets up, his lip curled and his eyes furious. “You should have let her die,” he snarls at Snow, who looks startled at his animosity. 

 

“No,” Snow says, and she looks regretful, a little tentative as she turns to gaze at Emma. Emma flushes, head still spinning as she struggles to make sense of this new Snow, the woman who would run into a burning building to save her even when they’re not speaking. “She means too much to Emma for that.” 

 

Grumpy scoffs. “Please,” he sneers, and he glowers at Regina with malice. “Ruby told me everything.” Emma remembers gradually, as though in slow motion, Ruby’s letter– she’d gone drinking with Grumpy and she always talks too much when she’s drunk– oh, fuck , Grumpy knows–

 

He raises his chin, smug at the devastation he’s about to wreak. “Emma’s just cursed . She has to flirt with the queen. It’s something about her dress color.” He waves his hand dismissively. “I wasn’t really listening. But it’s not real. It’s a curse.” 

 

Of all the ways that Regina could have found out– of all the people who could have told her– Grumpy is the very last choice on Emma’s list. She can feel the sour taste of loss already, of hurting Regina, and she opens her mouth to hotly deny it for however long she can, to at least save face in front of the dwarf–

 

There is a flicker of uncertainty on Regina’s face, and then she says, cool like she’s shut down a thousand blustering idiots before, “You fool. We broke that curse ages ago.” It’s such a convincing bluff that Snow barely has a chance to tense before she relaxes again. Regina keeps her head high, and Emma aches for her, for this humiliation that she had never meant for Regina to suffer. 

 

“Regina…” she whispers, and she clears her throat and tries to lie like Regina does as eyes swing to her. “Yeah,” she says, straightening. “Ages ago.” Regina casts her one look, unreadable, and Emma swallows and can’t meet her eyes to see the betrayal and shock within them.

 

“I am done with you,” Regina says, taking a step forward, and Emma flinches until she sees that Regina is looking at Grumpy. Her eyes are flashing, and she looks…fearsome again, like the Evil Queen that the dwarves keep insisting she is. “I am this close to banishing you from this town and wiping your memories, too.” 

 

“We don’t really have a prison facility in town,” Snow says in a worried whisper, but she doesn’t contradict Regina.

 

“No,” Regina agrees, her voice steely. “The prison-industrial complex is deeply flawed. And I’ve been denied an execution. So I suppose we’ll have to find another way, won’t we?” Henry hugs her tighter, and Regina says, “I think I’ve had enough of this,” and takes his hand and strides into the house.

 

She doesn’t turn back to Emma, and Emma’s afraid to follow them in.

 


 

Snow is still chastising the dwarves as Ruby and Emma lead them to the station, one after the other. Her voice is hard, and she’s nothing like Emma’s seen her before, the overbearing mother gone and replaced with someone fierce and uncompromising. “We have to be better than this,” she says to Grumpy as he stands in one cell, his head hung. “We can’t be…” And she casts a look at Emma, her eyes soft and ashamed, and clears her throat. “We can’t be the villains here.” 

 

The dwarves might be tiny, unstoppable forces when it comes to hating Regina, but Snow White halts them in their tracks with carefully chosen words. All seven of them are weeping by the end, loud and obnoxious sobs that have Ruby making an excuse to leave and David shifting from foot to foot before he does the same.

 

He hesitates in front of Emma, and he finally says, “Can I…?” Emma isn’t entirely sure what he means, but she nods. Abruptly, there are arms around her, strong and warm and tight, and Emma puts her hands on his back and lays her head against his shoulder and savors the strange, impossible feeling of having a father for an instant. 

 

When he leaves, Emma sees Snow behind him, still standing at the cell, her face flush with anguish. She turns away from Emma swiftly, continuing her lambasting of the dwarves for the attack. “That was my daughter ,” she says, and her voice is wet. “That was my daughter.” 

 

Emma can’t hear it anymore. She slips outside, leans against the wall of the station and does her best not to think about the wrenching pain in Snow’s voice.

 

“I’m sorry,” Snow says, because of course she’d followed Emma outside. “I swear I had nothing to do with this. I wouldn’t . I still think about– how terrified I was for you after that explosion at Town Hall last year,” she murmurs. “I woke up the next morning and couldn’t move until I heard your footsteps upstairs–”

 

It’s strange, hearing Snow speak about Mary Margaret as though she’d lived her life. “That wasn’t you,” Emma says, and she closes her eyes, unwilling to see Snow’s expression. 

 

There is silence, and then, “Of course it was me. Emma, I’m not a different person now–” Snow exhales. “I haven’t been fair to you, have I?” she says instead, and Emma opens her eyes and turns to see her expression. Snow is lost in thought, her fingers twisting and untwisting around each other in muted distress. “I was so caught up in the idea of my daughter–” And a ripple of discomfort runs up Emma’s spine– “And I didn’t think about how, well…” Snow raises her eyebrows, a glint of wry amusement in her gaze. It’s the first hint of Mary Margaret that Emma has seen since her roommate had transformed into a fierce warrior-insurgent-slash-overbearing-patronizing-mother. “...emotionally constipated you are.” 

 

Emma thinks about protesting, but the words that emerge from her lips are raw and vulnerable instead. “You abandoned me,” she says, and the words are as tremulous as Henry’s Mom? earlier in the evening. “I don’t care if no time had passed for you. You show up after twenty-eight years and I didn’t…” 

 

She can feel the threat of tears, the way the words stick in her throat, and she rushes them out before she bursts into embarrassing tears. “I didn’t even have my best friend to help me through it,” she gasps out, and Snow takes a step forward, reaches for her and then thinks better of it as Emma squeezes her fists and struggles to regain her composure. “Don’t tell me it was for the good of the kingdom. I don’t– I don’t need to know that my life was a sacrifice you made–” 

 

“It wasn’t supposed to be,” Snow says quietly, and beneath the affected pleading and nagging that she’s been around Emma before is someone else, someone with pain so deep that Emma can feel it permeating them both. “I was supposed to go into that wardrobe. We were going to be in this strange world together from the start.” Emma stares at her, uncomprehending, and Snow murmurs, “But you came early, as the curse was coming, and those twenty-eight years were stolen from me.” She chews on her lip. “I guess we both just…deal with trauma differently.” 

 

“Yeah.” Trauma . Emma wants to point out that Snow still had a choice , that she could have stayed here with her for those twenty-eight years, but she is deflated. Trauma , Snow says, and Emma thinks about giving up Henry, about that whirlwind of emotion about what might have been best for him and the moment when she’d been given the opportunity to hold Henry and had refused it. Henry had gotten his best chance. Emma had gotten a burden of destiny. 

 

“I’m still not going to… defeat Regina,” she says, a touch of defiance in her voice, and Snow pinches the bridge of her nose and laughs a strained little laugh. 

 

“Were you cursed?” she asks, straight to the point.

 

Emma winces. “Not to…not to care about her. Just this dumb thing Ruby did…it’s a long story,” she says, and she thinks with trepidation of Regina, waiting in her house, reeling from Grumpy’s reveal. “It doesn’t change anything.” 

 

Snow considers. “Okay,” she says finally, and this time, she dares to reach over and slip her hand into Emma’s. Emma squeezes it, and oh, breathing is hard right now, and she doesn’t understand how Snow can accept this so easily after so much resentment and conflict.

 

Snow sees the look on her face and smiles sadly. “What?” she says. “Is it so surprising that I can understand it?” She leans back against the wall of the station, her hand still firmly in Emma’s, and she says, “Do you think that you’re the first one in our family to love Regina?”

 

Love Regina , and Snow might mean it very differently, but Emma swallows and thinks of Regina’s uncertainty before she’d shrugged off the curse with a lie. Her heart clenches and– to love Regina? – and Emma takes a shuddering breath and grips her mother’s hand in her own.

 


 

It’s tempting to go back to the loft, to avoid Regina for another night before she has to face the consequences of what she’s done. Snow offers it, tentative and with a hasty only if you want to! , but Emma can’t bear to imagine Regina going so long without Emma explaining , to imagine Regina believing that none of this is real.

 

But when she enters the mansion, her leg still aching just a little, it’s as though nothing has happened at all. Henry is sprawled on the living room couch in his pajamas with a book in hand and Ampy curled up on his legs, and Regina is in the kitchen, tidying up the counter where they’d made a messy attempt at cauliflower pizzas before Parents Night. It feels like another lifetime, before, when Emma had been more afraid of Snow than Regina and they’d been ensconced in the safe embrace of this house.  

 

Emma takes the Windex and sprays the far counter, and Regina just offers her a glancing smile and passes her a rag to rub it down. “Dwarves are all contained?” 

 

“They were pleading community service before I left.” Emma stares down at the counter. “I don’t know. It might be a good idea to give them something more productive to do with their time than attack you.” She clears her throat. “I don’t think Snow will let them try anything else.” 

 

“No, I didn’t think she would.” Regina is subdued at the thought of Snow, and she takes a moment before she says, her tone resigned, “I’m not going to get to decapitate her, am I?”

 

It’s as close to a question about Emma and Snow as she’s gotten, and Emma says ruefully, “I don’t think so.” 

 

“I had a plan ,” Regina says, scowling. “I was going to lace a lasagna with fairy dust and then offer her a drink that would set off a combustion in her intestines–” 

 

“Regina,” Emma says, and she’s faced with such a surge of fondness that she can’t stop the smile from curling onto her face even with the dread of the thing they aren’t talking about, “Why do all your grand plans involve poisoning someone? You know you don’t have the patience for that.” 

 

“I could,” Regina says, narrowing her eyes at Emma. “I played the long con before the curse broke, didn’t I? Years spent–” 

 

“Making bad puns about fairytales and magic to entertain yourself?” It’s a guess, but Emma hears the confirmation in Regina’s outraged gasp. “You’d poison that lasagna and then show up at Snow’s door with a polished speech about making amends, and then you’d stuff it down her throat anyway–” She pauses, realizing that it is probably not the best move to give Regina ideas. “Please do not do that,” she says. 

 

Regina sighs. “Henry wouldn’t let me, anyway.” The counter is clean, but she sprays it again, scrubbing away at nothing on the granite. “You know, it’s very limiting to be an Evil Queen whose son has a moral compass.” 

 

The words are light, and Emma sets aside the tension she feels because Regina hasn’t even mentioned the dare– does she think Grumpy made up the whole thing or– and says gently, “Might be enough for you to reconsider your job title, right?”

 

Regina scrubs a little harder, her shoulders stiff with indecision, and Emma leaves her counter and slides her arms around Regina’s waist, resting her head against Regina’s shoulder and brushing a kiss to her neck. Regina exhales, her hands falling, and she murmurs, “It might be.”

 

They stand entwined for a moment, wrapped together as one, and Regina slips her hands over Emma’s. It feels good, feels like something worth keeping forever, and Emma can almost put aside her fears about the dare for a moment. She can’t lie about it, can’t avoid it forever, but she’s going to enjoy this stolen moment before everything is turned upside down again.

 

Regina says suddenly, “Did you put that there?” 

 

Emma blinks, startled, and follows Regina’s gaze to a rainbow magnet on the fridge. “I think that was your son,” she says.

 

“Oh, now he’s my son.” Regina makes a face and pecks a kiss to Emma’s face before she moves away to examine the magnet. “What is this new fixation on rainbows? I tried telling him earlier that leprechauns aren’t real, and he looked at me as though I was the one acting off. Your son is a strange, strange child.” 

 

And there’s something about the mention of Henry and his rainbows, about acting off and their very unusual child, that finally sets Emma off. She blurts it out, all at once in a surge of word vomit– “It’s true. What Grumpy said, I mean. Not about the– not about everything being fake – this whole fucking dare started because I was drunk and ranting about how unfairly gorgeous you were– but it’s true. Or…fake. It’s just that the curse is there.” She can’t keep track anymore, lost in the winding path of her own words.

 

Regina blinks at her. “No, it isn’t,” she says, and she crouches down to put the Windex away in the cabinet beneath the sink.

 

Emma feels a wave of despair at this absurd, impossible situation. “I’m telling you, it is. Ruby got some amulet from Gold back before the curse broke and it made her stupid little dare into a curse, and it’s been weeks –” 

 

“No,” Regina says slowly, as though she is speaking to a very young child. “I’m not saying that there wasn’t a curse, obviously.” She makes her way to the fridge and opens it, pulling out a pitcher of cider. “You never had to work so hard to flirt with me before then. Or pick a fight, for that matter.”

 

Emma blinks at her, the words beginning to settle into the fuzzy despair that has taken up residence in her brain. “You knew ?” 

 

Regina removes two glasses from a cabinet, pours cider into each. “It would have been nice of you to tell me,” she says, a severe cast to her voice, and she turns to face Emma again. “But I have always paid a bit more attention to you than strictly necessary. I caught on quickly.” She passes Emma one glass, her eyes grave, and Emma is caught within them, breathless.

 

She swallows back some of the cider. It burns, but it’s a good feeling, like cleansing the last bits of fairy dust from her throat. “I’m sorry,” Emma says, holding Regina’s gaze. “I thought that if I beat it without telling you…I didn’t want to hurt you. I still don’t. That red dress the other day nearly killed me.” 

 

Regina is still staring at her, her brow furrowed and– yes, there’s the look of disbelief, of outrage that Emma had expected. It occurs abruptly to Emma that she hasn’t felt the urge to call Regina Your Majesty all evening, when she hadn’t been thinking about it. “Emma,” Regina says, her head shaking very slowly. “Did you sleep through my true love’s kiss?” 

 

What . “What?” 

 

Regina sets her glass down and spins around, pacing the kitchen. “I don’t believe this.” 

 

“True lo– what ?” Emma repeats.

 

“Finally. I finally get to break a curse– and of course, the Charmings are all breaking them willy-nilly, typical – and no one notices.” Regina throws up her hands. “Even the person I kiss doesn’t notice.” She spins around. “Have you just been…didn’t you notice that the compulsions to act on the dare were gone?” 

 

Emma drinks a little more cider. It does not make any of this make any more sense. “No. Maybe,” she says, because hadn’t she fought off the compulsion to fight Regina? Has she even been feeling compulsions like before, or has it just been easy to flirt and compliment and tell Regina the truth now? “Maybe it was just habit by then?” 

 

“I wondered why you kept calling me Your Majesty earlier, but I just thought you were bad at flirting– and what was it? Was that grey?” Emma nods dumbly. “I could never figure out blue,” Regina says, shaking her head. “I thought it might be that you’d have to lie to me, because you were always so nice –”

 

“Lie?” Emma sputters. “I gave you compliments !” 

 

Regina scoffs. “Don’t tell me you meant them. You once told me that I was the best parent any kid in this town would be lucky to have, and we weren’t even together then–” 

 

Emma surges forward, struck by impossible adoration and the certainty that if she doesn’t kiss Regina right now, they’re going to have their most ridiculous fight ever. Regina lets out a muffled noise, but she kisses Emma anyway, pulling her close and twisting them to back Emma against the counter.

 

Somewhere in that kiss, Emma finds herself again, and a little bit more of what Regina has said finally registers. She pulls away, her eyes wide, and says, “ True love’s kiss ?” 

 

“It was the night after we went to Portland,” Regina says, and she’s calmed down, too. “I brought you back to me, remember?” She raises a hand to stroke Emma’s cheek, her eyes shining, and Emma is on the verge of– of either a panic attack or a blurted admission or something that would make Snow’s accusation of emotional constipation look like the understatement of the century.

 

But Regina looks at her with those gentle eyes that have seen too much, and there are no more compulsions anymore that force Emma to speak.

 

So she stands with Regina, at peace together in the place that they’ve carved out for themselves, and she doesn’t say another word.