When they meet her on the narrow corridor of sidewalk clear of snow, Roland bounces up to Maleficent the way he always does, arms up, ready to be scooped up and thrown into the air. He's five already and too heavy for this mother to do that, but the dragon is not human. Nor is she the guardian spirit Mulan was taught to expect, but she adores the boy and he her.
She tosses him into the air and catches him, laughing before setting him back down.
"Are you ready for new year?" he asks, staring up in wonder. "Are you going to wear a hat?"
Maleficent tilts her head, then looks over at Mulan. "A winter hat?"
The snow's been thick and heavy and no one's been outside wearing less than full winter gear, even the dragon. Even here in Storybrooke, this much snow has come with illness, and a nasty cough has rolled through the town, touching every house.
"Henry showed him this video of a New Year's celebration in New York City. Everyone had celebratory hats." Mulan shrugs and puts her hand out for Roland to take. "He wanted to make some for New Year's."
"I don't have an appropriate hat, little one." Maleficent pats his head. "But I shall endeavor to find one before the holiday."
He turns to Mulan. "Can I bring Maleficent a hat to the party?"
"The New Year's Eve gathering at the Widow Lucas' diner, I presume?" Mulan looks to the dragon for approval and she nods, smiling.
"Would you also bring one for Regina, little one? She's always too busy to make herself fun things."
Roland nods excitedly, his boots crunching in the snow when he fidgets. "And Henry?"
Maleficent crouches down to meet his eyes and fixes his scarf. "And Henry, if you have enough hats."
Mulan raises her eyebrows, and yes, there are more than enough paper hats covered in glitter and ribbons in their house for many people. "I am certain we can bring many hats to the party."
"Thank you." Maleficent touches Roland's nose and grins. "And you, little one."
He beams and holds up his hand for Mulan. "Okay."
"Of course." Maleficent nods her head and leaves them, heading for the Mayor's office.
"I think she needs the purple hat," Roland says, tugging her hand so they'll walk faster home. "She likes purple, and Regina gets black. Henry gets--" he rambles to himself if Henry needs blue or red and decides red, because Henry has a red scarf. Mulan does not tell him it is a grey and red scarf because that is too many options for one so small.
Regina has two coughing fits before she even gets her coat on. It's nothing. A cold. Nothing to worry about. It'll be over soon, dear. Maleficent recognizes that the health of the people in this funny little kingdom is far better here. No one trades their souls to Rumplesiltskin or the fairies to heal a fever, but there are some diseases that remain, and are inconvenient. She reaches out and Regina pulls back. Mal shakes her head and pulls her close and she finishes coughing with her forehead balanced against Mal's chest.
"I see, this is nothing." Mal traces her hands through Regina's hair. "We should stay home."
"It's--" Regina breaks off, struggling to get enough breath to finish. Her cough rattles her chest and Mal slowly runs her hands over her head. Nothing, clearly.
"Can we only stay for a short time and return home?" She kisses her head, hoping Regina will see some kind of reason. "Henry's certainly responsible enough to stay on his own and walk home. Nothing's menacing us this week."
"It's just a cold." Her voice rasps wearily, rough in her throat.
"Of course, dear." Mal tucks Regina's scarf tight around her neck. "We're not driving. We'll use magic, it's warmer."
"And we're coming home right after the desserts. Even if I have to steal you away."
Regina leans into her and sighs, her head heavy on Mal's chest. "All right."
"It's very traditional, dear. Dragons taking royalty. Usually princesses, but I've always had slightly different taste."
She can't laugh, the cough is too debilitating, but she allows herself to be held. Maleficent stares at the wall clock and wonders how they'll make it through the next five hours. She doesn't think Regina will even stay awake much past nine. Shes' been so tired.
Henry thumps down the stairs in that lanky teenager way with his legs too long and his feet too heavy. "Hey, are we going?"
Now Regina stiffens, stands erect, and wipes the tears from her eyes. Henry raises his eyebrows and the unspoken discussion happens over her head. We're going for a little while, and as soon as she'll let me steal her away, we're gone.
"Great, let me get my coat."
They'll stand outside for all of a minute. Maleficent prefers not to appear inside other people's structures if she doesn't need to. It's rude. Though the cold air on the patio outside Granny's stings Regina's abused lungs and this particular coughing fit has her sitting in Mal's lap while they wait for it to ease outside. Regina doesn't want to display this vulnerability.
It doesn't matter. No cold will dispose the citizens of their fondness for their Mayor. It's not fear she rules through now. Still, she fears displaying her weakness, and Mal hums to her, tuneless and gentle, sitting on one of the snow covered chairs, with Regina pulled tight.
And they wait.
"I want to give Regina a hat," Roland repeats, waiting by the door. "And Mal." The tables have all been moved and Granny's is full of people, laughing and drinking champagne.
Henry crouches down by the boy and accepts his hand with a big grin. "They're going to be outside of a little while. We could play a game while we wait."
"What game?" He smiles up with huge eyes and Mulan pats her shoulders, hiding a smile.
"Let's go see what they have." Henry takes Roland to the big pile of board games in the corner. Staying up until midnight is not for all of the children, and they need something to do that's not just drinking and talking in little groups.
"How long did they live together?"
Marian's still fuzzy on the timeline before she returned from the dead, but the boys weathered that mess better than any of them.
"A few weeks."
Mulan nods, rubbing her hand across her shoulders. Together they look through the glass and out under the hanging white lights, Regina and Maleficent are a ball of black and grey.
"Are they all right?"
"Regina is ill."
Marian raises an eyebrow. "So they're here?"
Mulan looks down at her beer, then back up with that warmth Marian's so fond of. "I believe this is a compromise of some kind. Maleficent is very protective."
Marian takes Mulan's beer and steals a sip. The Evil Queen still appears sometimes in her nightmares, but Regina isn't that person. Henry, Marian loves easily, for he is kind and so important to Roland. Mulan takes her duties as a deputy very seriously, but she answers to Emma, not Regina.
"You think that because she's a dragon."
Her dark eyes shine, playfully, and it's another discussion the differences between Mulan's Jade Empire and the tiny kingdoms Marian knows. She never made it that far east.
"Aren't they protective in your land?"
"Of their treasure, sure."
Mulan kisses her cheek and heads to the counter for more beer. "There are some who see their lovers that way."
Marian turns around to say something back, but she's already lost in the crowd of people. Is it a joke? Does Mulan feel somehow undervalued? Marian's last relationship suffered a soft ending after years apart and she wants to get this right, even in this strange new land.
Roland returns, eyes wide with enthusiasm. "Come play with us?"
She lets her son drag her away. Mulan will find them, she's very good at that.
Admitting that Maleficent was right will make her unbearably smug, but her head hurts. Her chest hurts, and even a hot toddy can't stop her throat from aching. It's just a cold, but the coughing comes on hard enough that she shuts her eyes tight and they still water.
She turns down the game. Henry, Roland, Marian and Mulan play, setting up letting houses and hexagons. It's a little advanced for Roland, so he's on a team with Mulan. Henry and Marian trade resources back and forth and even with her head flat on Maleficent's chest, she knows her strategy.
Mal rubs her fingers lazily through Regina's hair. Gentle, warm and kind of soothing. She's not going to fall asleep. She promised herself she'd t least make it until nine or ten.
She wakes up in the dark, in her pyjamas, stretched out in bed, wrapped up warm. Tea sits on the bedside table with a note. Mal's penmanship is far too fancy to be on a post-it note, but there it is.
Went to get Henry, will return shortly.
Regina forces herself to sit up and reaches for her tea. Magic tingles her fingers, so she has no idea when Mal left and she's terrible with her phone. Always forgets she has one.
She grabs her own and texts her, burying her latest coughing fit in her elbow. She'd give a kingdom for being able to breathe again.
Instead of a reply, she gets Mal, cookies in hand.
"I apologize for leaving you alone." She sits on the side of the bed and kisses Regina's forehead. "You have a fever."
"You couldn't wake me at the diner?"
Mal shakes her head. "I didn't want to." She sets the little plate with two brightly iced star cookies. "Someone did not get enough star cookies over the Solstice and wanted to make some for New Years."
"Roland's still awake?" Regina sips her tea again, but has to swallow quicly before she starts coughing again. Mal takes her tea, sets it down and holds her up, a hand on her shoulder.
"It's not that late."
"Really?" She sits back and Mal fusses with the pillows and Regina can't remember the last time anyone tucked her in. She lifts her phone. "Eleven forty-three. That's late."
"He doesn't have school."
"It's a special day." Mal picks up a cookie and takes a bite. "Henry's sleeping over there. They're counting down and opening sparkling juice."
Regina reaches up and touches the glittering paper hat balanced on top of Mal's hair. "It sounds nice."
"They're sweet. Marian and Mulan are supportive of each other."
"We say 'make a good couple'."
Mal takes another bite of her cookie and mulls that over. "Yes, I see that."
"They're having fun." Mal leans in and kisses her cheek. "Making cookies is messy and delicious."
"How many times have you been over there while I've been asleep."
Regina laughs and takes a bite of the sweet cookie Mal offers her. "Oh?"
"You were asleep. Henry had questions, Roland wanted to know if I wanted cookies."
"And you just--" Regina waves her hand. Why text if you can just appear over there in a poof of smoke?
That look is one of her favorites. Mal appears so confused why that wouldn't be the best idea.
"Come here." Regina tugs her tie and they kiss, warm and familiar, even if she can't summon the energy for anything more than that. "Thank you."
"They are good cookies."
Regina rolls her eyes and tugs Mal into the bed with her, wanting the warmth of her. They curl up, facing each other and ignoring the clock. Magic changes Mal's clothes so she's soft against Regina's skin. "Happy New Year."
"And to you, dear."
"There's more icing than cookie there." Henry shakes his head and takes one of the more sensibly iced cookies. "Seriously."
Roland laughs, giddy with being awake and sugar. "Is it time yet?"
Marian checks the clock. "Almost. Three minutes."
Mulan takes the sparkling juice out of the fridge and sets it next to the glasses. Maleficent brought them champagne flutes the last time she popped in and they're all set. She kept appearing on the porch until Marian said it was all right for her to come in, and the last time she appeared in the kitchen, with the glasses, and Roland gave her cookies and the boys hugged her.
Two minutes, and Roland runs into the living room and back. "Is it time?"
"No, not yet."
Mulan leans in close and Marian wraps a head around her back because this year has been wonderful, with her, and Roland, even in this new odd world. They've made it home.
Henry leans close to Roland and they look at the clock together. "One minute!"
Roland turns in his place, bursting with excitement. Henry rolls his eyes and eats a cookie and the clock clicks down. Henry holds up a timer on his phone as the seconds tick away. They didn't mark the turning of the calendar in the old world. Mulan says new year is in a few months, with the moons. This is a funny thing of this world: a creation of calendars, with funny traditions.
Like kissing when the clocks change. Marian heard of it, it was mentioned in the diner, but she doesn't expect. Doesn't need that tradition.
Henry and Roland countdown. "Seven, six, five, four, three, two--"
Mulan surprises her, kissing her sweetly, in the kitchen, in front of the boys, chaste and warm. "Happy New Year."
Henry opens the sparkling juice and Roland laughs and runs over to hug them both, smashing into their legs.
"Happy New Year." Marian answers, a little late.
Henry's phone rings and Maleficent and Regina wish him "Happy New Year" from their bed. Regina still can't stop coughing and Maleficent kisses her forehead and then Marian sees her. Just Regina, not the Evil Queen.
"Come over for breakfast," Maleficent offers. "Late breakfast. I'll come get you."
Roland's eyes get big and he nods overs his fancy glass of sparkling juice. "We get to go with magic?"
He spins away from the phone and when he crashes, it'll be hard, but for now, Marian understands that sensation. It's a new year, and life is blissful.
Emma calls a moment later, so Maleficent and Regina have to go. The glimpse Marian gets is of them, in bed, funny paper hats covered in glitter on their heads. Sweet.
Mulan kisses her cheek while Henry talks to his other mother. "It'll be nice."
"Of course it will." Marian turns her and kisses her properly, so grateful she could burst. Even with dragons and reformed evil queens as friends, she has a home.
And it's wonderful.