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Of Choice and Commitment

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Chapter 33
September 19: Thursday Morning
Sheriff's Station

Emma's foot tapped as she read the same line again in David's report on a drunk and disorderly from the night before. She reached for her coffee cup and frowned when cold liquid touched her lips. It would take ages for the old coffee pot to brew her a new cup so she grimaced and sucked down the cold swill and tried not to think about it as she set the pot up again.

The hiss and gurgle of the piece of junk started immediately and Emma went back to reading the report. Maybe she should have David read them to her from now on, so he could hear how dull and unnecessarily long they were. She wondered if he had to write reports as a prince. Perhaps being stuffy was a trademark of being royal. After all, Regina loved reports like this. She made a note to test the theory.

Emma caught herself sleeping sometime later with a full pot of coffee brewed and a strange dream fading from memory. She poured a cup of coffee and settled down again, filing the report as if she'd read it and moving on to tossing paper balls at the trash can in an attempt to beat her high score. David came in and she realized it was earlier than she thought. Just what time had she arrived that morning? Regina must have pushed her out the door earlier than she'd realized.

"Hey," David muttered, and Emma turned around.

"Hey," she responded softly. "I read your report."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "All of it?"

She scrutinized him briefly and then shook her head. "No. Did you write that report for me, or for the Mayor?"

Without hesitation he responded, "For the Mayor."

She rubbed the back of her neck with a sigh. "Well, remember that I have to read them too next time. It was very...thorough."

"Everything alright?"

The concern in his voice startled her into dropping her hand from her neck. "A little stiff, I guess," she threw out, "Nothing to worry about."


Emma turned back around and settled into her desk again without another word, grateful that the conversation was over for the moment. They were still avoiding talking about her panic attack last week, and if she had her way would continue on that course forever. She shuffled papers for as long as she could stand it and then refilled her coffee. Maybe she'd go out and patrol early today. She looked around for anything vital to do before heading out. Her eyes landed on her phone.

She couldn't go without making her morning call to Regina. She leaned on the edge of her desk and dialed.

Later That Same Day: Thursday Afternoon
Sheriff's Station: Phone Call

Her patrol had been uneventful in the way that there was nobody to arrest, no pets to rescue, and no rowdy dwarves to shoo away. But the flood of townspeople who had an opinion on Regina Mills' appointment as mayor again was unceasing. It was her shortest patrol before she stopped for lunch to go at Granny's and practically scurried back to her office to hide behind the locked door and drawn shades. And then the phone began ringing halfway through her burger.

She glared at it as if it were personally offending her and let it ring several times before picking it up. Before she could give even a borderline hostile greeting to the townsperson she was sure was on the line, Regina's voice flooded her senses and filled her with a longing that was so unexpected that she had to lean back from her food and clear her throat. "Hello, Sheriff. Care to tell me why Mr. Nolan came into my office a moment ago to inform me that he would not stand for me further confusing his daughter?"

Emma winced. She should have been more careful about making that phone call in front of David that morning, but thought he'd be more mature than this. "He may have overheard part of our regular mid-morning phone call. Particularly the end where I said goodbye to you. What else did he say?" She'd been hanging out at her old deputy desk because of the convenience, but maybe it was time to move into the actual Sheriff's office where she was hiding now. Two scenes now with David were two scenes too many.

"He said I was the least princely person he knew, and it was bad enough we were involved without adding inaccurate titles to the mix which may give some people false hope regarding certain situations." Despite her irritation, she couldn't help but smile at what must have been an amusing scene. Considering that Regina was technically above being a prince she could see his point there, but knew that it was only his ridiculous male ego being threatened that caused his visit to Regina.

"Well…" she thought, looking around the room at how she'd redecorate the office to put Graham respectfully to rest, "we still haven't gone shopping, so you don't have the package to match." That brought her mind right back around to their conversation. Images of Regina flooded her mind and she had to reach for her drink to clear the dryness from her throat before continuing. "False hope, though?"

"I suspect he thought you'd come to your senses and had found a nice young man with which to settle down. For my sake, I hope he stays wrong." Emma covered the mouthpiece of the phone as she burst out laughing in the middle of her office. If she could make David understand that her leaving Regina would be like him leaving Snow...hmm. Maybe she could try to put it that way someday if they ever talked about it. When he wasn't hostile. "I wonder what your mother thinks of this new piece of information?" That...was something Emma would actually like to know as well. Certainly for different reasons than her lover, judging by the evil laughter coming through the phone.

"I'm not sure, but knowing my mother you'll probably find out soon," Regina's laughter was infectious despite herself and Emma continued, "Enjoying this, are you? Wait till the rest of the town hears and starts staring at you, checking for extra equipment." A thought crossed her mind for her own amusement and she asked, "Tell me he at least mentioned that he was the only Prince Charming in town." That would make this all worth so much more than it already was.

"He did not," Regina began and Emma was slightly disappointed, "but i'm sure it crossed his mind. Perhaps we ought to go shopping soon so that, should anyone check, they won't be disappointed?"

This thought brought the sultry images of Regina back to the forefront of her mind. She distractedly said, "I'm torn between my natural state of wanting to disappoint the town, and…" She trailed off at a particularly delicious fantasy crossing her mind. She paused and then remembering the conversation, shook herself and said, "I tell you what. We'll go shopping together, and then, for our date Saturday night, I'll get all dressed up in my hotter green dress and curls just for you. If you're serious, you can dress your own part, and we'll go out on the town."

"That sounds like an enjoyable evening," Regina hummed, "If you find a sitter for Henry, we'll call it a date. I have just the outfit for the occasion." Emma shivered slightly at the idea. Anticipation was already coursing through her.

"Hmm. Surprise me," she replied, wanting to heighten the evening ahead, "You know Ruby will be there to watch Henry." Emma was actually rather pleased with the arrangement, she got her time with Regina every weekend, and honestly thought Ruby was warming up to the idea of Regina as more than just public enemy number one. "Will it upset you if I say I kind of want to see the look on her face when she sees us?" She didn't want Regina to think Emma thought of her as a trophy or possession ever. "I might be a show-off." Only that she was so lucky.

"We'll make plans for Saturday, then? Shopping in the morning, and a date night that evening? How does that sound?"

"It sounds like we are both going to have a fantastic day." She propped her feet up on the desk and began planning it out in her mind, muttering more to herself, "Maybe I should arrange for Henry to stay overnight with friends…" That was probably a better idea for what they planned. She paused as a shadow passed by her blinds signalling David's return. That was good, she had a few choice words for him. If they weren't so difficult, Emma would have them watch Henry overnight, but she didn't trust them not to poison her son. "I have to make a call. Will you be working late again?"

A sigh on the line was all the answer she needed. "More than likely, but, as I think on this, we should probably wait a bit longer before we send Henry off with someone else again. I'd hate for him to think we didn't want him around." That made her sit up straight and drop her feet to the floor.

"Regina," she said sharply, "We spend every other night of the week with Henry. We'll spend all day Sunday with Henry, and Saturday morning with Henry, and probably stay up late Friday night with Henry. Henry knows we love him and want him around." She paused. Maybe this wasn't really about Henry. She gave Regina an out. "If you're sure you want to postpone, then I'll plan something for all of us to do as a family." She still needed the woman to understand, "But I set up a regular date night each week for me and you to be able to do these kinds of things. Not because I thought we'd be shoving Henry off at every opportunity." She didn't think one night a week was asking too much, but it wasn't about her, it was about Regina.

"You're right, and I don't want to postpone." Emma had to cover the receiver again at her own heavy sigh of relief. "I need to get back to work, as do you. I'll probably be home around seven tonight."

Emma laughed softly and teased, "Hmm...yes. These paper basketballs don't throw themselves, you know. I love you. Let me know if my mother comes to visit."

As they hung up, she stood, placed her hands bracingly on the desk, and glared at the door. She needed a moment to compose herself before handling her deputy. And then she'd begin to move her desk immediately. It'd been long enough.

Later That Same Night: Thursday Night
Mayor's House: Master Bedroom

To say Emma was worried would be an understatement. Regina said she would be home at seven. Regina was rarely late. When eight rolled into eight thirty it was all she could do not to pace the foyer waiting for the lights of Regina's car to pull into the drive. She walked through the study. She sent Henry to bed early amidst protests of wanting to wait up for his Mom. She wasn't sure if that was a good or bad parenting moment, but didn't care. Her fear outweighed her rationality and her desire to protect Henry from anything bad that may have happened took precedent over his wish to stay up longer.

She couldn't take anymore at 8:53. She practically ran up the stairs and began pacing the master bedroom. Emma took off her clothes, then put them back on, then took them off, then compromised and left on a sports bra and a pair of boyshorts so that in the event that there was an emergency, at least she wouldn't be caught buck naked. She sprawled on the bed and tried to read. That began to calm her. Slowly. She became lost in the novel. So lost that she didn't even hear a car pull up or the downstairs door open or someone walk into the bedroom.

So naturally, when Regina commented, "I'm beginning to think I should install a shower and put a cot in my office because, at the rate I'm going with the paperwork clean-up, it may serve me better to simply live at work for a bit," Emma jumped about a foot and whipped her head around to stare at the woman as if she were a ghost.

Relief that her prince was here flooded her and she couldn't contain herself. She jumped up and ran to the woman, practically bowling her over with a hug and burying her face against the brunette. She held on, not caring that it was awkward or that Regina was still holding all of her stuff.

Relief gave way to anger as what the woman said registered at last. "You aren't allowed to live in your office." That wouldn't do at all. Since no one else would help Regina, Emma would. "I will," she began, with a defeated sigh and an overdramatic whine, "come and help you with the paperwork. You will provide donuts and coffee in payment."

Regina dropped her things as Emma hugged her again as if she were a prodigal son. Maybe it was about more than just today, but she couldn't shake how whole she felt now compared to how empty she was just before Regina had walked in. She made a soft noise and snuggled into Regina, explaining, "I missed you. You didn't call."

"I was caught up in my work. By the time I realized how late it was, I came home instead of calling," Regina explained. Emma accepted this. She knew how hard the woman was working to get the town back in order. That didn't mean she had to like it, however.

She pulled back and asked, "Are you hungry? I made spaghetti and meatballs. There's a plate for you in the fridge that could be reheated." She slowly slid out of the hug, keeping contact until the last possible second, and then took Regina's hand in an attempt to tug her further into the room.

"No," Regina said heavily and pulled away. Emma stepped back, giving her space. "No, i just want to change and go to bed and…" the brunette trailed off in a wince and Emma felt a little helpless as she tried to figure out what she could do or say. "I believe the term is cuddle."

Ah! Emma was relieved because this was certainly something she could do and help with that she just didn't think about what she was saying or doing as she stepped forward to help. "Hmm...the Queen wants to cuddle?" she smiled, "well, then your knight will provide! But I'm taking this off." She looked at the shirt and started trying to undress the woman to get ready for bed.

Until Regina brushed her away. "Not the Queen." Emma frowned slightly at herself for saying the wrong thing. She'd called Regina that before with no issue...but maybe not again after this. The woman seemed to sink, becoming more fragile, maybe, and it was all Emma could do not to follow her towards the closet. What had she said yesterday? She didn't want a personal servant. "Not the Queen, nor the Mayor...just Regina." Emma's frowned deepened when she realized her mistake. "...just Regina," the woman mumbled as she slipped into the closet.

Maybe it would have been better if she remained silent, but she had to try to fix it anyway. She settled back on the bed and called out, "Well, just Regina, just Emma is content either way. Hurry back." She winced at her own tone and rolled over to disappear into her book again.

Emma was roused from her book by a heavy groan and a dip in the bed as Regina slid under the covers. She looked up at the woman but said nothing. Her mouth had run away enough for one night. A small, worn smile appeared on Regina's face and Emma thought that was hope, at least. "There are times when I can't be playful," the woman quietly began, "I'm too tired and too worn, and there are many times when I simply want to be me, not my title." Emma listened as she went on, "One of the reasons I always appreciated you even when I didn't care for you was because you've always seemed to see me as Regina, not as my title."

"Jefferson stopped by my office today." Emma felt a rush of anger, remembering her last encounters with that man. "It's why I was late, not just because of my paperwork. He burst into my office to remind me of how appalling I was as high ruler, how questionable I've always been as mayor, and, over all, how very fitting the term 'evil' was to add to any title I may happen to have at the time." Emma was raging now, and made a note to pay a visit to Jefferson.

"In truth, it's likely how most of the town views me, and I can't blame them." The bed moved as Regina shrugged. Emma felt it was rather hypocritical of the rest of the town to accept someone like Gold in their midst but not Regina. "My sessions with Archie are helping me deal with my past, but it's also made me realize the likelihood of forgiveness from anyone is slim, and the likelihood of anyone in this town ever seeing me as simply me is nonexistent."

Regina looked over at her and Emma sighed a bit at how she'd fucked up being supportive. Regina didn't need her words or her humor...just her, and she'd remember that in the future. Or try. "I'm tired, Emma. I'm so much more tired than you can ever begin to imagine. It wears on me. Give me a little slack tonight, okay?"

Emma slowly closed the book that she wasn't reading and set it on top of the mess on her nightstand with a mental note to clean that up tomorrow. She stretched out and opened her arms in invitation and asked, "Do you still want to cuddle?"

"I wasn't trying to be smart with you," Emma carefully began, "I always see you as just Regina, no matter what I call you. My frown was because you were upset, and I was trying to figure out the right way to help." And failing. She kept the bit about making Jefferson pay to herself and asked, "Jefferson harassed you? Why didn't you call me? I'm not saying this just because I'm your lover, and I want to rescue you." She couldn't deny that her white knight tendencies were on high alert. "I do, but I'm also the Sheriff. You don't take any abuse, Regina. No matter what you've done in the past. From anyone. That's not you anymore." Emma beckoned the woman into her arms. "You don't know if they will forgive you or not. Some might. They just might not come out and say it like you expect." Like herself.

Regina snapped back, "I don't expect anything from them," but she slid into Emma's arms so the blonde felt her ire was directed elsewhere. Emma wrapped her up tightly and breathed her in, finally content. "I didn't call you because I didn't see a reason to. He wasn't being physically violent with me, and, frankly, as a politician there is a certain amount of harassment to be expected. If I called in the sheriff's office every time something didn't go my way, it would make me and my office look weak, and it would make the sheriff's office look like it was in my office's back pocket. Politically speaking, you don't want that, and neither do I."

Emma didn't want that. She was rethinking her planned visit to Jefferson. Maybe she could make a deal with someone else so that it didn't come from her, but he still got what he deserved. "I can handle myself, and I am more than capable of protecting myself if need be, but that doesn't mean it doesn't wear on me. I am human, and I have moments just like any other."

She squeezed Regina lightly and affirmed, "I know you can protect yourself. I trust your judgement. I don't like the idea of you taking unnecessary abuse, though."

They lay in quiet for a while as Emma listened to the soft pattern of Regina's breathing. She was thinking about forgiveness. About how it was easy for her to forgive Regina for everything she'd done but not her parents. Maybe because their 'sins' were far more personal than Regina's were, no matter what the brunette would like to believe. Startled out of her uncomfortable thoughts she realized she did have one thing to say, to be sure that Regina didn't put her in with all of the other village people who would never see her as anything other than her past.

She whispered, "You know I've forgiven you, right? I know I've never said that outright...but I do. I did long before I fell in love with you." She tightened her hold on the woman in affirmation of what she was trying to say.

Regina was quiet for a long time, and Emma figured she'd shocked the woman. She was honestly out of words to help with this day and didn't know what to do when Regina responded in a small voice, "I don't deserve it, but thank you for saying it."

Emma wanted to say a hundred things about forgiveness and she wanted to convince the woman that yes, she really did deserve it but instead she said, "I don't want to talk anymore, I'm not very good with words that help you with this." She slid her fingers through the brunette's hair, and pulled her a little closer. "Just let me love on you, I'm better at that." She softly kissed Regina's temple.

Regina nodded and clung to her, and Emma rubbed her hands up and down the woman's back. She turned briefly and shut off the lights, sending them into darkness. They resettled and Regina was closer to her than ever before. Emma wrapped around her, as if the more of her she could hold, the more she could keep safe from the world.