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Henry Bobblehead and Gina Molinero ft. Emma All-The-Time

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Mary Margaret has told her to stay in the office. “First day,” she says, glancing at the hubbub across the hall. “I don’t want to leave him alone while he waits for his mother. It’s naptime, anyway.” She sinks down to the floor, rubbing a boy’s back as he drifts off on his rest mat.

 

So Emma stands in the office, leaning against the wall beside their delinquent’s chair as they wait for his mother to pick him up. “Rough start, huh?” Emma says, because apparently even the silence between a four-year-old and his teacher can be awkward.

 

The boy blinks up at her, his face still set in a stubborn scowl. Henry , she thinks his name is. It’s going to take her a week or two before she remembers everyone’s name– but then, she’s pretty sure that Henry’s going to be memorable. “Your mom’s gonna be here in a few minutes,” Emma tells him, and his scowl seems to deepen. “Think she’ll be mad?”

 

Henry doesn’t respond. He hasn’t spoken since they’d hauled him off to the office, Grace still screaming bloody murder in the library corner. Come to think of it, Emma doesn’t think he’s spoken at all the whole day. He hadn’t been one of the early-morning criers, and he must have blended in well, because Emma had barely noticed him at all until, well…

 

Henry finally twitches, and Emma follows his gaze to the office door. A woman bursts in, her eyes on fire, and she speaks sharply to the secretary before she’s pointed their way. “Oh, goody,” Emma says under her breath, and the woman stalks directly to them as Henry watches sullenly.

 

My son ,” the woman enunciates every word, glaring at Emma furiously. “Is not a biter .”

 

Emma blinks at her, taken aback. She’s pretty– more than pretty, really, with long red hair and a pale face that might be a little less pale with a little less makeup. There’s something vaguely familiar about her– Emma doesn’t remember her from orientation, but she must have been there. She has a presence to her that makes her seem taller, more intimidating, even though she’s probably shorter than Emma is. And she’s practically in Emma’s face, which Emma never takes well to. “We have a zero-tolerance policy toward biting,” Emma says evenly. “Your son bit one of his classmates hard enough to leave a mark–”

 

“You’re mistaken,” Henry’s mother shoots back. “You disrupted my very busy work day because you lack the competence needed to manage a class– what’s your name?” the woman demands. “Are you the teacher– Mary Margaret Blanchard?” She spins around. “I want to see the principal. This is unacceptable–”

 

“I’m not Mary Margaret,” Emma says, her hackles rising. Rudeness to herself she can handle, but anything that gets Mary Margaret in trouble is off-limits. “My name is Emma Swan. I’m the assistant.”

 

“Emma Swan,” Henry’s mother repeats, tossing her red hair to sneer at Emma. “If you can’t take care of my son, then you shouldn’t be working here. This school is supposed to be the best private preschool in Storybrooke. Are you even accredited?” She looks Emma up and down. Emma stands very still. No , she isn’t accredited. She had been a last-minute replacement, and Mary Margaret had spoken for her, had promised she’d be worth bending policy over.

 

She isn’t going to get Mary Margaret in trouble. That had been her one aim, working in this school. It’s a stable job even if she’s being paid next to nothing and she likes kids, and if she can keep this up without getting Mary Margaret into trouble, she wouldn’t mind doing this for a long time. “Look,” she says, gritting her teeth and putting on a fake smile. “Sometimes kids have trouble adjusting to a new place and they act out. It happens.”

 

Henry’s mother continues to glare at her. “Not my son,” she says stubbornly.

 

Emma crouches down for a moment, finding Henry’s eyes. He looks guilty, uncertain, the scowl faltering under her gaze, and she says gently, “Henry, did you bite Grace?”

 

Henry looks down, his lip trembling. His mother snatches him up into her arms, glaring at Emma, and Emma sees her whole future flashing before her in an instant until Henry whispers, “Yes.”

 

Henry’s mother looks sharply at him, then back at Emma. She does not apologize for the vitriol pre-confession. “The other child must have antagonized him somehow.”

 

Grace is a sweet kid, gentle and quiet, and Emma is dubious of that fact. “We have a zero tolerance policy toward biting,” she repeats again, and then sighs, desperate to end this terrible confrontation before it culminates in an implosion. “Listen, if you’re concerned about this– here’s my number.” She snatches a post-it off a desk and scribbles her phone number onto it. “If Henry says anything else about what happened or if you have other issues you want to deal with, you can text me anytime. We’re here to help.” She forces her fake smile back onto her face.

 

Henry’s mother scoffs and grabs it from her, carrying Henry from the office. Bitch .

 


 

The next day, Emma keeps an eye out for Henry. If not for the incident the day before, he might’ve slipped her notice entirely. They have fifteen kids to look after, and Henry spends most of play time in the library corner, looking at books.

 

Emma crouches down beside him. “Big reader, huh?” He looks up at her with a dubious expression she already remembers vividly from his mother, the one that says that he isn’t quite sure she’s in full control of her faculties. “Okay, then.”

 

It isn’t his mother who picks him up that day. Dismissal is in the gym, a circular driveway just outside it, and Emma is in charge of supervising kids indoors, passing them off to whoever has carpool duty when their parents arrive. She glances after Henry, curious to see how his mother acts when she isn’t furious, but today there’s a different woman in the car, a brunette with sunglasses who drives off almost as soon as Emma manages to peer outside.

 

A nanny, then. Maybe she’s a little more pleasant than Henry’s mom.

 

Emma gets a text on her way across the street to the apartment she shares with Mary Margaret. No “biting” incidents today?

 

She doesn’t know the number, and she flips through her orientation packet when she gets inside, entering Regina Mills into her contacts once she finds the name. The quotes around the word don’t make it any less true. Why don’t you ask Henry yourself?

 

She doesn’t get a response to that. She wonders when Regina Mills gets home, if Henry even speaks to her at all. There are plenty of very wealthy parents who send their children to Storybrooke Early Childhood Center for their late hours, and Mary Margaret just shakes her head and looks very weary when she talks about it. “It’s up to us to give them a warm and loving environment,” she says, ever diplomatic. “Their parents are doing what they think is best for their families.”

 

Best for the Mills family, it’s beginning to seem, is a new nanny every day. Emma watches critically as Henry drags his feet to what must be Regina’s car, a new driver in the front seat each afternoon. Henry remains withdrawn, alone in the library corner most days, and there’s little that either Emma or Mary Margaret can do that gets him to leave it.

 

Emma plops down next to him one day during circle time, when the other children are taking out their show-and-tell. Henry is still in the library corner, eyes on their book of fairytales. Emma squeezes into the corner, feeling unaccountably sympathetic– has it been so long since she’d been a loner, an outsider in every school she’d been to?– and she asks, “Do you want to find something around the classroom for show-and-tell? Maybe this book you’ve been working through for the past two weeks?”

 

Henry shakes his head. Emma stares at him, rounding her eyes. “Oh, no,” she groans, and he blinks at her confusingly. “I thought you were a boy, but it turns out you’re just a bobble-head doll! I have to find Henry Mills, stat.” She clambers to her feet, peering around. “Aha!” she says. Henry is watching her, his usual skeptical expression firmly on his face, and Emma walks slowly toward the doll center. Henry doesn’t get up, but his eyes follow her.

 

“Here we go,” Emma says triumphantly, brandishing a doll stained with paint. “Henry Mi– wait.” She cocks her head, lifting the doll to her ear. Henry’s eyes are glued to her. “Oh, you’re Harry Mills.” She plasters a befuddled look on her face. Mary Margaret is watching her now, too, smiling as though this might have been a good decision after all, and Emma scoots back over to the library corner. “Mr. Bobblehead, would you sit with Harry here? He has a terrible rash.”

 

Henry isn’t smiling yet, but he might be on the verge of it. Emma spins around, hurrying to the kitchen center and reaching into the tub of food. “Found him,” she announces dramatically, lifting a plastic potato. “Henry, I was so worried about you!” She hugs the potato and plants a kiss on its top, and Henry giggles. Emma exhales, very quietly.

 

“You’re silly,” he says, which is one of the nicest things a four-year-old can bestow on a teacher.

 

Emma winks at him. “Thank you, Mr. Bobblehead,” she says formally. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think Henry Potato wants to pick out something for show-and-tell.”

 

Henry makes a face. “ I’m Henry,” he says, lifting his chin up, and then he says, “Henry Bobblehead.”

 

Emma laughs in delighted surprise. “Well, then, Henry Bobblehead,” she says, sticking out a hand. “Think we can head to Ms. Blanchard’s circle for show-and-tell?”

 

Henry chooses his fairytale book to show the class, and only at dismissal, when Emma’s looking for Henry’s gloves and hat, does she see that he’d brought in something for show-and-tell after all. It’s a wooden horse, delicately carved with such detail that it looks almost alive, and Emma sets it back inside carefully.

 

She’s on carpool duty for the first time that afternoon, and a part of her is almost looking forward to seeing who’s in Henry’s car. She’s only gotten two texts since the first day– sharply worded comments, first on a paint streak on Henry’s pants and second about a lunch he’d refused to eat. Next time, ask him before you make his lunch , Emma had written back snidely, as though Regina Mills with her dozen nannies actually makes her son’s lunch, and Regina hadn’t answered, again.

 

Today, Regina’s car pulls up with a redhead behind the wheel who isn’t Regina, and who drives halfway onto the curb and forces Emma to jump back. “Watch it,” she barks out, and the woman laughs.

 

“Aren’t you humorless and dull,” she sniffs. British, this time, and obnoxious.

 

“I’m in charge of small children ,” Emma shoots back. “One of which you’re supposed to be taking care of, so–”

 

Henry walks past her, dragging his feet as he gets into the car. “Hello, poppet,” the woman says brightly. “Let’s go get ice cream.” Henry doesn’t look very enthused, which– which kid doesn’t jump at ice cream?

 

Emma buckles him carefully, watching the shadows fall back onto his little face as he stares straight ahead. “Have a good night, Mr. Bobblehead,” she whispers, and Henry smiles tremulously at her.

 

She watches him go, her heart hurting just a little.

 


 

All in all, she isn’t bad at this preschool thing, and Mary Margaret is smug. “I knew you’d be a natural,” she says one evening, turning to their guests. “Emma took our hardest kid under her wing, and he’s been smiling more, talking just a little bit.”

 

“The biter?” Lily says, wrinkling her nose. “With the terrifying mom?”

 

“Terrifying hot mom,” Ruby corrects her, and they both snicker. Emma throws a pillow at them. “I can’t believe you gave her your number. That’s smooth.”

 

“Rookie mistake, more like,” Marian corrects them. She works in the classroom next door, and has already regaled them with horror stories of the year she was invited to her parents’ whatsapp group. “Never, ever offer your number to parents. If they want to reach you, they do it through the office. Otherwise, you get pointed messages every time you let a kid come home with his shoes on the wrong feet.”

 

Emma squirms. That exact message had come a half hour after the nanny had gotten Henry. How does Regina keep track , anyway– “We can talk about something other than work, you know,” she mutters, glancing around. “Hey! Did you hear that Gina Molinero is doing a new show?”

 

“Gina Molinero,” Lily repeats. “That chick you were in love with when we were on the road?” She snorts. “Emma made us break into a motel room for the Enchanted High series finale. Emma loves her sexy Latinas.” She winks at Emma, who shoves her. It’s been a long time since she’d been into Lily, let alone Gina Molinero , who had disappeared off the grid after the seven-season run of her show.

 

It had been right around the time that Emma had fallen in with Neal and wound up in prison instead, and she’d had other things on her mind than the mystery of Gina Molinero. She had been a rising star, a minor character who’d captured the hearts of the audience instantly and wound up the lead of the teen soap, and Emma had been no different than any other adoring fan.

 

“You never forget the girl who makes that switch flick in your mind,” Lily continues, absolutely obnoxious and not entirely wrong. “I’m pretty sure that Emma only wound up with me because we looked a little alike.” She leans back, smug, and Emma throws a pillow at her face. “Ow.”

 

“So what is this new show?” Mary Margaret asks diplomatically. Ruby and Marian are her friends, well-adjusted teachers who have their own apartments and stable jobs and don’t spend half their time sleeping on the couch. She has proven surprisingly tolerant of Lily and Al, who are Emma’s friends from her less-than-legal past. “I loved Gina Molinero in Enchanted High . When Isabela and Robin finally wound up together…” She sighs dreamily.

 

“She was too good for Robin,” Emma scoffs, a little too sharply to pretend she doesn’t care. Marian raises an eyebrow, amused, and Ruby laughs aloud. “What?” Emma says defensively. “You’re telling me that Isabela needed to be dragged down by some neanderthal we’re supposed to root for because he made a few big gestured in between being an asshole?”

 

“Also, Isabela was gay ,” Ruby says definitively, and Mary Margaret looks very startled as they all nod.

 

“See? Ruby gets it,” Lily says, appreciative. “If you tell me Gina’s new show is a spinoff where Isabela ditches the moron and gets a badass new–”

 

Emma leans back against the couch. “I think she’s a spy, actually. I saw a poster on the bus the other day. Some kind of thriller.” Her face had been obscured in shadows, the actress’s name emblazoned across the top as though her name alone would be enough to bring in viewers. Emma’s a pretty casual TV consumer, but even she had been sold on it the moment that she’d seen Gina Molinero .

 

Lily’s right. You really don’t forget the girl who makes that switch flick, even if she’s an actress Emma’s never met. Enchanted High had been onscreen every Monday night at the group home. There had been something enthralling about Gina, and Emma had gone from leaning forward whenever she’d been onscreen to blushing furiously in the scene where Isabela had first made out with some boy. Her eyes had been glued to Isabela, and her dreams had been indistinct but very torrid that night.

 

“Guns. Disguises. Gina Molinero.” Lily grins. “Sign me up. When does it start?”

 

“January,” Ruby says, scrolling through her phone. “ Incognito , starring Gina Molinero as secret agent Ana Castellanos, airs January 13th.” She whistles. “And damn , she has aged nicely. Want to see?” She waves her phone at Emma.

 

Emma, who is very determined to play it cool about a silly celebrity crush that had defined her teenaged years, bats it away. “I don’t care ,” she says primly. “I have better things to do. Like–” Her phone buzzes. “That,” she says, triumphant.

 

It’s Regina Mills, because of course it is. The message is curt, though surprisingly muted for Regina. Henry has strep.

 

That sucks. Poor kid, Emma writes back, meaning it. Henry’s a good kid, and she understands by now why Regina would have been so taken aback at the idea of him biting another kid. He isn’t a terror in the classroom, just withdrawn, something outside school leaving him troubled.

 

Emma can guess exactly what…or who , really…has him so troubled. Said trouble is currently calling her, phone buzzing angrily in her hand, and she blinks at it in alarm. “I’ll be right back,” she says, jumping up before her friends can ask any questions, and she heads out of the apartment and shuts the door behind her as she picks up.

 

“‘ That sucks ?’” Regina repeats irately from the other end of the phone. “That’s all you can say? My son contracted a bacterial infection from someone in your class– aren’t there school policies in place about infectious children in the classroom? It’s your responsibility to–”

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Emma says, taking a breath before she says something stupid and gets herself fired. “We do have a policy in place. Strep is going around. It can take a day or two before parents realize that their kid has it– Henry’s probably infected a few kids, too. Which is encouraging,” she says thoughtfully. “I didn’t think that he’d been hanging out with anyone enough to get sick from them.”

 

“Ms. Swan,” Regina says coldly, “Are you telling me that you believe that it’s a good thing that my son is in the emergency room at eleven o’clock at night?”

 

Emma’s eyes widen. “Shit. How bad is it? What happened?”

 

Regina sounds as though she is speaking to a very young, very slow child. “He has strep,” she repeats. “He woke up crying and I noticed a rash on the back of his neck, so I brought him to the ER–”

 

“Over a rash,” Emma says, her eyebrows shooting up. “I’m surprised they didn’t kick you out.” Or maybe not. The Millses seem like the kind of family that probably have a wing of the hospital named after them.

 

Regina sounds miffed, and maybe a little embarrassed. “Excuse me for being a concerned mother,” she says haughtily. Now that the panic has faded, Emma has time to notice, irrationally, that she has a very attractive voice, too. “I’m sorry to hear that his teacher doesn’t share the same care for her students.”

 

Emma snorts. “This is gonna shock you, Mrs. Mills, but none of the other parents have ever called me at eleven at night to tell me that their kid has strep.” Regina makes an indignant sound.

 

Then she clears her throat and says, “ Ms. Mills will do fine.” A pause, during which Emma attempts to unpack what that means, and then, “Henry would like to speak to you.”

 

A moment, and then Henry’s voice is squeaking from the other line. “Ms. Swan?” he says. He sounds sleepy and a little hoarse. “I went to the hospital! I got stickers!”

 

Emma laughs, feeling something inside of her warm at his voice. “Sounds like a wild time,” she offers. “What kind of stickers?”

 

“There’s a moon, and a spaceship and a– a–” Regina says something, indistinct, and Henry finishes, “Com-et! They’re circles! Mommy’s wearing them on her shirt!” He’s more enthusiastic now than she’s ever heard him at school, probably overtired and energetic from the experience, and she wonders if it’s only because he’s gotten this rare time with his mother. “I’m sick,” he says, his voice suddenly serious. “I have strep. It made my neck red but I can’t see it because it’s on the back.”

 

“Good thing your mommy noticed it, then,” Emma says, smiling stupidly into the phone.

 

Henry says, “Mm- hm ,” and Emma can imagine his vigorous nodding. “I never got sick before. Mommy’s really mad.”

 

“It happens when you start school,” Emma says, remembering snatches of Mary Margaret conversations over the past few years. “Especially if you’ve never gotten sick before. But this kind of sick starts feeling better after a few days. And you get special medicine.”

 

Henry lowers his voice. “It tastes like bubblegum ,” he says gleefully, and then he says abruptly, “Bye, Ms. Swan.”

 

“Bye, Henry Bobblehead,” Emma says fondly, and Regina repeats, “Bobblehead?”

 

“Long story.” She hesitates, on the cusp of righteous snideness, and then tumbles into it. “I’m surprised he hasn’t told you about it.”

 

Regina’s voice grows terser. “Yes, well,” she says, and ice settles onto those two words, conveying a disdain that explains away nothing but leaves Emma’s hackles raised.

 

She struggles not to make a snide comment back, and finally manages, “Take care of the little guy, okay?”

 

“He’s my son,” Regina says sharply, and then, in a more muted voice, “I will. I’ve never– he’s never been sick before. Just…a few fevers and colds, things that went away quickly. This is new,” she admits.

 

“My roommate makes me soup when I’m sick,” Emma suggests, and in a daring moment of definitely-not-her-business, says, “Probably just…having his mom around is enough.” It’s all she’d ever dreamed of when she’d been sick as a kid, having a mom hovering over her, bringing her tea, pressing a palm to her forehead.

 

Regina sounds tired when she responds. “I wish that were possible.” She clears her throat and says more briskly, “Do warn me next time there’s an infectious disease in your classroom. I expect more from SECC.” A click, and she’s gone.

 

Emma grits her teeth, frustrated again, and she slips back into the apartment and make her excuses to head to bed. She broods in silence, running over the conversation in her head. She’d wondered once or twice if Henry’s behavioral issues had been the sign of some kind of trauma, or if she’d been projecting too much. But the boy she’d just spoken to on the phone hadn’t sounded traumatized. He’d sounded like a regular kid having the night of his life, just because his mom had been with him.

 

It strikes her as deeply unfair that Henry can have a mother who cares so much that she’d run to the ER over a little rash, but somehow doesn’t care enough to be around the rest of the time. But for a moment there, it had sounded as though Regina might have felt the same.

 

Regina. Ms. Mills, not Mrs.

 

She makes a face at her own thoughts and forces them back, drifting off to sleep.

 


 

She misses Henry more than she’d thought she would over the next two days. He’s burrowed into her skin and stayed there, same as all the other kids in the class, but there’s something special about him. Maybe it’s all the times she remembers sitting to the side, alone and ignored by kids who had even then sensed that there had been something about her that hadn’t been worth their time.

 

Henry deserves better than that, and she’s determined to change things for him when he returns to school on the third day, sucking on his middle knuckle in the library corner as he hunches over the book of fairytales. The squeaky boy from the phone is gone, and he only gives Emma a solemn look when she greets him in the morning.

 

“Hey,” she says, crouching beside him. “How about I read that book with you?”

 

He doesn’t protest. He lets her take the book, and she settles against the wall, patting the spot beside her. Other kids hurry over to hear the story, and Henry hesitates and then squeezes in beside her, claiming his space before anyone else can get it.

 

Emma reads the story. It’s a retelling of Snow White where she becomes a bandit instead of a housewife to seven dwarfs, and the kids are spellbound. “Does she marry Prince Charming in this story?” Violet asks eagerly.

 

Ava makes a face. “She’s too cool to marry a boy,” she says.

 

“Boys are cool!” Ava’s twin brother, Nick, says, sounding outraged.

 

“Boys drool,” Ava declares. Jacinda giggles.

 

Ivy repeats it in a singsong voice, and Emma says, “Okay, okay. Boys are cool, too. Not all of them, but every boy in Ms. Blanchard’s Pre-K is.”

 

“How do you know?” Ava challenges her.

 

Emma ticks a thoughtful finger against her chin. “I’m not supposed to tell you this,” she says, her voice low, and the kids lean in, their eyes wide. Emma whispers, “I’m actually one of the top members of the Cool Police in Storybooke, and every single one of you is officially cool. It’s a fact.”

 

“Wow,” Jacinda breathes.

 

Ava makes a face. “That’s not real.”

 

Henry is gaping up at Emma with the same awe on his face, and he turns and says, “Ms. Swan says .” It’s the first time she’s heard him speak to another kid, and Emma holds her breath and waits.

 

“Yeah,” Tiana echoes, crossing her arms smugly. “Ms. Swan says.” Henry glows.

 

“You know what?” Emma says, shutting the book and nodding decisively. “I think this calls for badges.”

 

So they make badges out of hard cardboard, each one the shape of a C with the word cool written inside. Henry doesn’t speak again, but he helps Emma hand out the Cool Badges, and he wears his pinned to his shirt right up until dismissal.

 

It’s a new nanny this time, in sunglasses in December and short blonde hair, and Emma glares at her as the teacher on carpool duty calls out Henry’s name again. “Go ahead, kid,” she says, and Henry walks with slow, reluctant steps from her side to his mother’s car.

 

She hears from Regina that night, of course, which comes as no surprise. She’d pinned something onto Henry’s shirt, after all, and she knows Regina well enough by now to expect an irritated text. Must you tear his clothing? Don’t I pay you enough?

 

Not nearly, Emma responds, rolling her eyes at the screen. She hums to herself, watching the three dots appear at the bottom of the conversation and then vanish again. And then appear. And then vanish.

 

She waits another minute before she types, Henry’s cool now. Cool kids have holes in their shirts.

 

You’re incompetent , comes the response, but that’s all it says, no scathing remarks to follow. Emma considers it for a moment, undecided if it’s fond or angry, and she replies with the COOL emoji instead.

 

She gets no response. Henry comes in the next day with his badge attached via an adhesive strip that seems stronger than glue. He wears it proudly, still silent and sullen but with his chest sticking out a little bit more when he walks through the playground to sit on the bench beside Emma.

 

“Don’t you want to play, Henry Bobblehead?” she asks him, but he just shakes his head. He can vanish into himself if she’s not careful, and she stays seated, keeping her eye on the kids on the jungle gym and coaxing him out. “I see you got some cool tape at home.”

 

“It’s Auntie Zee’s,” Henry mumbles. “She lives in my house.”

 

Emma looks askance at him. “You have an aunt who lives in your house and you still have a nanny?” she says, uncomprehending. He blinks back, looking equally confused, and she shakes her head. “Never mind.” She lowers her voice. “Wanna know a secret?”

 

Works every time . Henry leans in, his eyes rounding. “Guess who lives with me. Ms. Blanchard .” Henry’s mouth falls open. Emma gestures to the apartment building across the street. “We live right up there on the fifth floor. See where the flowers are in the window?” Henry bobs his head. “That’s my house.”

 

“It’s so big,” he says, awestruck. Right . She doesn’t know what his mom does, but she imagines he doesn’t even know what an apartment building is.

 

“We just have a quarter of the fifth floor,” she explains. “It’s really just…a big room and a loft. Like one giant bedroom for sleepover parties. Have you ever had a sleepover party?”

 

Henry shakes his head, sucking on his knuckle again. “Right,” Emma says, wincing. Some of the other kids have playdates, go home with each other all the time, but Henry always winds up with his nanny-of-the day. As far as she knows, he’s never even spent a single afternoon with a classmate. “Well, Ms. Blanchard is a lot of fun. But you know that.”

 

Henry shrugs, lost again. He lifts his little feet up onto the bench, wrapping his arms around his knees and resting his chin on his knees, and he doesn’t speak again. Distracted, Emma notices another ad for Incognito on a bus at the traffic light. Henry is staring at the bus, his eyes grim, and Emma rubs his back and watches the other kids, thinking vaguely of Gina Molinero as outdoor play drones on.

 


 

There’s a break at the end of December that goes through New Year’s, and Emma finds herself glancing at her phone like a habit by the second night, antsy and waiting for a message she isn’t expecting. “Maybe your hot mom is giving you a vacation, too,” Lily says, snatching her phone away.

 

“Hey,” Emma protests. “I’m not…it’s not like that.”

 

I am entrusting my son into your care. I would hope that you would make sure he eats while he’s with you, ” Lily reads an old text.

 

Emma rolls her eyes. “He had broccoli with his lunch. I don’t know what she expected of a four-year-old boy.”

 

“I see that you told her that, too,” Lily says, delightedly reading Emma’s response. “This is just the broccoli emoji and a sick face.”

 

“She never knows how to respond to my emoji,” Emma says smugly.

 

Mary Margaret winces. “Be nice, Emma,” she warns her. “Keep in mind that…as much as we have to keep the parents happy, they are trusting us with their kids, and even Ms. Mills is aware of that. In her own way.”

 

Emma sighs. “I know.” She doesn’t have much faith in Regina Mills treating her at all like someone to keep happy, but she’s anxious suddenly that Mary Margaret not think that she’s made a mistake. “You’ve seen me with Henry. I don’t treat him any differently just because his mom’s a Class A bitch. Should I wish her a happy New Year’s tomorrow?” she says suddenly, frowning. “Are we acquaintances? Is it rude for me not to–”

 

“You need a new hobby,” Lily says, flopping back on the couch and turning the TV on. Emma mutes it an instant later, turning back to Mary Margaret.

 

“I’m just saying,” she says, drumming her fingers against her knees. “Maybe that’d…you know. Make her think of me as an actual person instead of one of her disposable nannies.”

 

“It can’t really be a new one every day,” says Mary Margaret, who is excused from carpool as the senior teacher and has never seen the parade of drivers that Emma has. “Maybe she’s a hairstylist or something when Henry’s at school.”

 

Emma snorts. “Yes, Mary Margaret, I’m sure that’s what she is.” Lily has switched the channel to a late-night live talk show. There’s a woman onscreen, ridiculously attractive in the kind of way that Emma has to pause to give her an appreciative once-over.

 

Mary Margaret raises her eyebrows. “Still into Gina Molinero, I see,” she says teasingly.

 

Emma blinks and stares back at the screen. “ That’s – no way ,” she says. The Gina she remembers had been round-faced and young, all teen swagger and wholesome Hollywood smile. Gina Molinero now is stunning , has aged into her mid-twenties with the kind of grace and beauty that steals Emma’s breath away.

 

“Still gay, huh?” Lily says, lifting the remote to unmute.

 

“I don’t care ,” Emma says weakly again, staring determinedly down at her phone. She sends a text to Regina– hope your holiday is going well!– and is disappointed when there’s no immediate response.

 

“Your funeral,” Lily says, shrugging and leaving it muted. Gina Molinero is laughing, something still very familiar about her face even after she’s grown up so fully, and the host of the show is as charmed as they are, if his expression is any indicator. “I wonder if her show is being filmed around here. You think she’s a suit spy or a sexy spy?”

 

“Suit spies are sexy spies,” Emma objects. Gina is wearing a little black dress for this interview, and she lets her mind drift, imagining her in a suit– “Okay, fine . Unmute it.”

 

Lily unmutes– just as a commercial begins. “Fuck that,” she says, making a face, and she switches channels to a Criminal Minds rerun.

 

A minute later, Emma’s phone buzzes. Regina has replied at last. Yours as well , is all it says, and then, as though she can’t bear not getting a dig in, Try not to make too many bad decisions tomorrow night.

 

Emma sends back an emoji of two glasses clinking and gets up, heading for the kitchen. “Wine night,” she decides, and Lily turns off the TV in agreement.

 


 

She finally caves that night and Googles Gina Molinero on her phone, clicking immediately to Google Images and scrolling through the pictures. There are still a number of them from her time as Isabela, but there are recent photos, too, more and more from her comeback. She’d been disarmingly attractive as a teenager when Emma had been one, too, but there had been more of an element of… adorable that Emma can’t see now.

 

No, this Gina is cool smiles and smoldering eyes, and Emma’s mouth is very dry as she looks at one picture. It’s a promotional photo, her dark hair blowing in the wind and a leather outfit accentuating her curves, but it’s the eyes that seem to capture Emma every time. They’re expressive, stubborn and haunted and captivating even from Emma’s tiny phone screen, and okay, yes , maybe Emma does have a little crush on Gina Molinero.

 

She suddenly thinks about Henry’s mom and doesn’t know why. She has only fuzzy memories of how she’d looked by now– long red hair, pale face– but there had been something about her eyes, too, something very Gina . At least Emma doesn’t have a crush on her , whatever her coworkers and Lily might say.

 

As if summoned by Emma’s thoughts, a new message pops up from Regina Mills. Emoji are the language of those without any imagination. Why do you insist on using them?

 

Without thinking, her thoughts still fuzzy on Gina Molinero, Emma responds, they get you all flustered. She gets no response to that, which is probably for the best because her heart is suddenly pounding and holy fuck , she just flirted with a parent.

 

Not just any parent. Regina Mills . “I’m gonna get Mary Margaret fired,” she says dimly, staring at the ceiling, and she shuts off her phone and forces herself to sleep before she starts another crisis.

 

She’s never been so grateful for Henry’s mother being an absent parent when she returns to school, rushing in late on the first day back and finding Henry huddled in his corner. “Come on, kid,” she says, coaxing him to the desk where she’s supposed to be cutting out snowman circles. “Tell me about your vacation.”

 

Henry shrugs moodily, withdrawn. Still, he climbs onto her lap and stays very close during the day, tucked beside her while Mary Margaret teaches the class the songs they’re going to perform at the SECC Winter Gala at the end of January. Emma keeps an arm around him, listening to him whisper the words along with the other kids. “ Five little snowmen on a winter’s day, the first one said–

 

“Wake up so we can play!” the kids bellow, and they stomp on the ground and roll around and run until it’s time for them to melt and even Henry falls to the ground, waving goodbye at the sun.

 

Mary Margaret and Emma clap for them, and Mary Margaret says, “The Winter Gala is going to be at the end of this month, and we’re going to invite all your parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters to it!” The kids bounce. “Everyone in the school is going to perform, and you’re going to get a chance to be onstage, too!” They make invitations on the snowman circles, paste in papers and make them glittery and colorful, and Emma is busy supervising them and doesn’t see Henry until she’s at his table.

 

He hasn’t even glued the snowman circles together, and Emma crouches beside him. “Need some help?” she offers.

 

He shakes his head, and then, in a violent movement that startles Emma, he swings his hands and hurls his circles off the table, sending markers and a plate of glitter with them.

 

“Henry!” she says, a little too sharp in her surprise, and Henry shoves his chair from the table and runs to the library corner, huddling on the floor with his arms around the fairytale book. He’s crying, sniffles that shake his whole body, and Emma gathers him into his arms and holds him while Mary Margaret cleans his mess, tossing them worried glances.

 

“Hey, kid,” Emma whispers, swaying with him as he cries snotty tears into her shirt. “What’s this about?”

 

Henry shakes his head, refuses to answer, and Emma ventures, “This is going to be a cool gala. You can just stand with your friends and mouth the words if you don’t want to sing–”

 

“I’m not going,” Henry says stubbornly into her shirt.

 

Emma strokes his hair. “Your mommy’s gonna be so proud of you,” she says, because she’s pretty sure that Regina’s going to be into this kind of thing, with the boys in handsome costumes and everything just so. But Henry cries even harder at that, and Emma finally begins to understand.

 

She disentangles from him and persuades him to make a snowman, even though he refuses to paste the invitation onto it. She puts both into a large ziploc bag and sticks them into his knapsack before she ducks out of the room, finding Regina’s number on her phone.

 

It rings and rings, and then someone else picks up. “Can I help you?” he says crisply.

 

“Yeah. I’m looking for Regina?”

 

“Regina,” the voice repeats, puzzled, and then, “ Oh , Regina.” The phone is abruptly muted, and Emma waits impatiently until Regina is finally on the line.

 

“What’s going on? What happened to Henry?” her voice is frazzled, and Emma takes a breath to calm herself.

 

“Henry is fine,” she says soothingly. “I just…I thought I should tell you what happened when we talked about the Winter Gala.” She recounts the story, and Regina is very quiet until she’s done.

 

“Well, clearly someone in the class upset him–”

 

Emma cuts her off. “He misses you,” she says simply. “He’s afraid that you’re not going to come. The way he is in class– he’s not happy , Regina, and it’s not because of anything going on in school–”

 

Regina’s voice is hard. “Excuse me?” she says. “How dare you.”

 

It begins to sink exactly how far she’s overstepping. She’s been propelled by a rush of righteous anger and determination until now, and it isn’t until now that it begins to dawn on her what she’s saying. “I’m trying to help–”

 

“You are way out of line, Ms. Swan,” Regina says curtly.

 

She’s already in this pit. She might as well dig herself a little deeper. “If you’d just pick him up from school once or twice a week! I get that you’re busy, but he’s craving more time with you. He loves you so much, and he’s so desperate for–”

 

Regina hangs up. Emma fumes, hurling her phone at the wall and knocking down a picture from the we know our colors! wall. She finds the thumb tack and pushes it back in, returning Jacinda’s picture to the display and storming back into the classroom.

 

Another nanny picks Henry up that afternoon. Emma’s on carpool duty, but she’s loading up another car when Henry’s ride comes, and she grits her teeth and refuses to even look back at it as she stalks to the next car.

 


 

There are no more texts from Regina, which is probably for the best and has her even sulkier than before. Al and Jaz come over with food that night at Mary Margaret’s behest. “I know you did something ,” she says. “Regina Mills left a very irritated message for me to call her through the front office.”

 

Emma broods on the couch as Mary Margaret navigates the call, guilt rising with every stuttering comment Mary Margaret makes. “I’m sure she didn’t– no, of course not–” She pauses, her eyes growing wide in horror. “Ms. Mills,” she says firmly. “That would be a very bad idea. I know you’re not happy with my assistant right now, but she’s done wonders for Henry, and switching classes–”

 

“Switching classes!” Emma repeats, horrified. Henry wouldn’t handle it. Emma doesn’t know if she’d handle it.

 

“Let’s give it a week or two,” Mary Margaret offers. “We can revisit this if you’re still concerned then.” That seems to satisfy Regina, and Mary Margaret hangs up at last, sighing heavily. “You two are volatile,” she says, squeezing between Jasmine and Emma on the couch. “I don’t know how you’ve managed that when you haven’t even seen her since September, but this is ridiculous.”

 

“I try,” Emma says moodily, staring at her phone. It’s not like she and Regina have any connection, anyway. She can do just fine without the incessant criticism and the occasional other text. She’d been trying to do what’s right, and she will stand behind it.

 

Henry is still sullen at school, but he hangs onto Emma and whispers along the words of the gala songs. His voice gets louder, day after day, and Emma plasters a smile onto her face and says, “Your mommy’s going to love this,” until Henry’s face stops falling at it.

 

“I don’t think she’s gonna come,” he admits finally, staring at his lap. “She has work.”

 

“She’ll come,” Emma says, with firmness she doesn’t quite believe herself.

 

She comes home that evening and finds Lily entertaining Al and Jaz and Snow’s boyfriend, David. “What’s going on?”

 

Incognito night!” Lily says, patting the couch. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”

 

“Oh.” Emma had forgotten. Work and Regina and Henry had wiped all of that from her mind, and she squeezes into her seat on the couch before Ruby and Marian show up. They wind up on the floor, and Mary Margaret makes popcorn when she gets back from her after-school program.

 

“I heard the reviews were pretty positive,” Marian says. “We could make a regular weekly thing of this if it’s any good.”

 

Ruby grins. “It’s gonna be good. It has Gina .” They sit through the last few minutes of a medical drama impatiently, Emma settling back in her seat and resting a foot on Marian’s shoulder until Marian pokes it off.

 

The show begins in a dark room, a man and a woman kissing passionately up against a wall as the man fumbles with his hotel key. “Let me get the lights,” he gasps as they finally stumble into the room, still kissing.

 

“That won’t be necessary,” the woman says in a voice Emma knows– knows! – and there’s a flash of metal as the lights go on. There’s a gun trained on the man, and the woman smiles, tucking her red hair behind her ear as she watches him. Emma’s stomach is gone, dropped from her body, and she can’t breathe.

 

“Oh, shit,” the man onscreen groans, and the woman ties him up, plucking a gun from his sleeve and then smacking him hard across the head. He goes down, and she goes for the safe.

 

“I love this already,” Lily breathes, and then glances over at Emma. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

 

Emma is frozen in place, her mouth dropping in horror. Mary Margaret says suddenly, “ Fuck ,” and they all turn to her curiously. “That’s– that’s–”

 

“Regina,” Emma says dully as Gina Molinero yanks off the wig and wipes off her lips, taking some of the pale makeup with her. “Regina is…”

 

Oh, my god . She’d been looking forward to this episode for weeks, but she can only sit still and stare at the screen as dread rises within her. Gina moves from disguise to disguise throughout the episode, as she completes her mission and starts a new one, and the show might be good but all Emma can see is a parade of nannies, each driving Regina’s car and each wearing sunglasses in winter.

 

No . She’d met one of them, hadn’t she? The other redhead, who’d had the British accent and– “Did any of you ever do Henry’s carpool? There was a British redheaded lady…?”

 

“That’s his aunt, right? Weird name. Something with a Z,” Ruby says thoughtfully. Emma’s stomach roils. “You’re kidding, right? Gina Molinero is…”

 

“Regina. Gina.” Lily guffaws. “ Molinero . Of course it is. Emma, you absolute dumbass.” She elbows Emma hard. “You pissed off your celebrity crush .”

 

“I need everyone to stop talking right now,” Emma says, and she stands up, feeling as though she’s entered a dim nightmare, and stumbles up the stairs to the loft.

 

She calls Regina once and gets no answer. Of course. She’s probably busy with her premiere . Not to mention the fact that she hates Emma, who has been thinking of her as an absent mother when she’s just been– probably coming straight from set in the middle of filming to pick up her son.

 

She scrolls through the Google results again, stopping when she sees a YouTube link labeled, Gina Molinero talks Incognito and life after tragedy . Regina’s voice is crisp but light, flirty, when she’s being interviewed, and Emma misses it as she knows it the moment she hears it. “I didn’t think I’d go back to acting at all,” she tells the host. “But after my fiance’s death, I thought it might be–” It feels suddenly intrusive, hearing Regina talk about things she certainly wouldn’t have to Emma otherwise, and Emma closes the interview and finds a Wikipedia article instead.

 

Regina had been engaged for years, according to the Personal Life section, before her fiance had died of heart failure last year. It makes no mention of a son or that Gina Molinero is a stage name, and Emma wonders if maybe it isn’t. Maybe Regina Mills is the lie, and Gina Molinero is–

 

No . She knows instinctively that Henry would have Regina’s name. She has to– she has to talk to Regina, to apologize for what she’d said about the nannies– but she still isn’t wrong , and Henry does need his mother–

 

She stews in silence, and sleeps very little that night.

 


 

“We saw your mom on TV last night,” Mary Margaret says to Henry the next morning, and Henry shuts down, staring at the ground and refusing to meet her eyes. He’s sullen and withdrawn for the rest of the day, and Emma keeps him on her lap as she reads a story to the class and helps them put magnets all over their M’s.

 

They practice for the gala twice today, because it’s only in two weeks and excitement is mounting, and Emma paces back and forth when it’s nearly dismissal, antsy. “I’ll take the kids today,” Mary Margaret offers, shooting her a sympathetic look. “Good luck.”

 

Regina’s car pulls in early today, one of the first, and Emma holds Henry’s hand and buckles him into the car, this time squinting at the person in the front seat. She isn’t wearing a costume today. Her hair is brown and glossy, down to her shoulders, and beneath the sunglasses, Emma recognizes the curves of her face. “I wanted to apologize,” Emma says tentatively.

 

Regina scoffs. “I want you to stay away from me,” she says sharply. Henry’s face creases. Regina says, her voice gentle, “Sweetheart, let’s go home,” and switches on the automatic door.

 

The passenger seat window is still down, and as Regina begins to pull out, Emma jogs beside her and says desperately, “Gina Molinero!”

 

Regina stops. “Do not use that name here,” she hisses. “I value my privacy, and if you– you watched the show,” she says slowly, comprehending. Her smile is bitter and cool. “Is that why you apologized? Are you hoping I’ll be your ticket to fame? Did you suddenly now realize that–”

 

“I thought you were the nanny,” Emma blurts out, and Regina’s eyes grow colder still. “I mean…all the nannies. I thought you were a dick who couldn’t even give Henry the stability of a steady babysitter but it turns out you’re just a regular dick so–”

 

Regina says, “Go to hell, Ms. Swan,” and drives away, leaving Emma babbling on the curb.

 

Ruby, who has carpool duty today, pats her arm. “That was real smooth, Emma.”

 


 

Fine . Regina’s still mad, and maybe it’s valid. Emma has underestimated her, and she can’t imagine what it means now that Regina manages to come to pick Henry up almost every day, in the middle of filming. Henry is talking a little more again, and Emma skirts around any discussion of Incognito but asks gently probing questions about what he does after school.

 

“Mommy has work,” he says glumly. “Her assistant watches me until dinner and then we eat together and then I go home.” They’re outside in the playground again, and Henry is watching the slide wistfully. The other kids are playing some kind of game in the tower next to it, and Emma steers them in that direction as she talks to him.

 

“Does your mom come home then, too?”

 

Henry shakes his head. “Sometimes. Auntie Zee reads me bedtime stories and I FaceTime Mommy.” He looks up at her, his face somber. “I wish you were my mommy,” he says.

 

Emma laughs as her heart aches, just a little. “No, you don’t. I’d be a terrible mom. I killed Ms. Blanchard’s goldfish.” She looks down at him, at his pale, withdrawn face. “And you love your mom, don’t you?”

 

Henry just shrugs. “I want to go inside,” he says.

 

They’re in front of the slide, and Emma says, “How about you climb up to the tower once, and slide down, and then we can go sit on the bench again?”

 

Henry shrugs and climbs up to the tower, his steps nimble and quick. Once he’s up there, Jacinda says loudly, “Henry’s on our team!” and the game continues, Henry lost in the whirlwind of it. He stays up there for longer than Emma had expected, and she catches him when he flies off the slide into her arms.

 

“Again?” she suggests, and he climbs back up again and again.

 

There’s a little bit of dirt on the slide, tracked by kids’ sneakers, and Henry goes home with dirt-encrusted pants. Emma waits by her phone for the rest of the night, but there’s no response.

 

It’s Wednesday again, and Incognito is on. Everyone makes it, and Emma curls on the comfy chair this time and watches Regina swing through elevator cables and defuse a bomb just in time. She’s stunning, beautiful and dangerous and still with expressive eyes, and Emma longs for her as much as she knows that she’d screwed it up.

 

She sends Regina an emoji after the show, suddenly determined to say something , and winds up with the high heel emoji and the gun with a thumbs up. There is no response.

 

She buries herself in preparation for the gala. It’s the big midpoint event of the year, there to make a lot of very wealthy parents satisfied in their investment in SECC. Everything is just so, the kids dressed up in glittering silver jumpsuits and fuzzy white skirts and shorts. “You look so shiny!” she exclaims on the day of the gala. They’re one of the last performances, after the nursery and the kindergarten classes, and the parents are stopping in to see the kids before the performance begins.

 

Mary Margaret is busy in conversation with Tiana’s mother, and Emma makes small talk with Nick and Ava’s father. Her eyes keep creeping to the door, unbidden, waiting for one more arrival.

 

Yeah, Regina’s pissed at her, but she’s going to be here today and probably on her best behavior, so all Emma has to do is…smile a lot and hope that she’ll get a terse smile in response. She wonders if the other parents will realize who she is. For all she knows, the other parents are all actors themselves and Emma has no idea.

 

She sighs, exasperated, and then remembers that she’s talking to Mr. Tillman. “Sorry,” she says sheepishly. “Just a cough.”

 

He smiles and wanders off toward Mary Margaret, who has the bulk of the entertaining job and is much better at it than Emma. Emma darts another glance at the door.

 

She isn’t alone. Henry is watching the door, too, his lip quivering, and Emma’s heart hurts. “She’ll be here,” she says, offering him a smile. “I know she will.”

 

Henry’s lip quivers some more. Emma ducks away from Violet’s father as he approaches, smiling apologetically. “I have to make an urgent phone call,” she says.

 

She calls Regina. There’s no answer. “It’s going to be okay,” Emma promises again. Don’t make me a liar, Regina Mills . Henry holds onto her hand tightly, and she lifts him into her arms, his sequined outfit scratching against her arms. “She’s going to see you and she’s gonna be blown away, promise.”

 

Henry rests his head against her shoulder. Mary Margaret murmurs in her ear. “I’m going to get the kids set up backstage. You keep calling her until she picks up.” She sounds fierce, irritated, and Emma passes Henry to her and waits until all the parents are gone before she calls Regina again.

 

No answer.

 

She loiters in the hall outside the gym, watching the nursery snowflakes as they twirl around and around onstage. The music is playing a light, sort of airy tune, and she zones out while listening to it.

 

She doesn’t realize that her phone is ringing for a few seconds, and when she does, she snatches it up. “Regina,” she says in relief. “Where the hell are you?”

 

Regina sounds frantic, desolate, lost. “What are they up to?” she demands.

 

“The nursery is still going. You have…probably about fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty,” Emma amends, because the kindergarten is usually a little longer than the rest, if she remembers correctly from the past two years that she’d come by to help out with it.

 

Regina exhales. Her voice is wet when she speaks. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” she whispers. “I tried– there was a problem with every take. I was supposed to be out of there an hour ago.”

 

“Regina…Ms. Mills…” Emma amends, biting her lip. “It’s going to be okay.” She’s left making promises she can’t keep left and right, to mother and son. “You’re going to make it.”

 

“He’ll never forgive me if I don’t,” Regina murmurs. “ I’ll never–” She’s crying on the other line, Emma knows, can hear the heaving breaths and the shaky words. “I’m going to lose him.”

 

“You won’t,” Emma says, keeping her voice firm. “Where are you? Are you using Waze?”

 

“Waze says twenty-three minutes.” Regina sounds devastated, more vulnerable than she ever has before. “By the time I find parking…”

 

“Park in front,” Emma says. “I’ll talk to the security guards. You won’t get a ticket.”

 

Regina laughs, a little hysterically. “Do you think I care about a–?” She stops abruptly. “I’m sorry,” she says, and it sounds as though she’s struggling to control herself, to put on a calm facade. “I’m sorry for wasting your time, Ms. Swan. Emma. You probably need to go to the children.”

 

“I’m thinking about pulling a fire alarm, actually,” Emma admits, and Regina barks out a startled laugh.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Regina says. “That’s a felony offense.” Right. Isabela had done it once on Enchanted High . “Dammit!” she says suddenly. “Why won’t these cars speed up?”

 

“Careful,” Emma cautions her, glancing into the gym again. The kindergarten is onstage now, singing in a chorus. “An accident will slow you down.”

 

“Not a hit-and-run,” Regina says grimly.

 

Emma smirks. “Now who’s the felon?”

 

There’s a moment of silence, a bit of honking in the background, and Emma says soothingly, “I’m not hanging up, okay? I’m going to go talk to the security guard. Stay on the line. Let me know how you’re doing.”

 

“I will,” Regina says. She might be crying again, and Emma searches her mind for something reassuring to add. There’s nothing, nothing beyond the promise she keeps making.

 

“You’ll make it,” Emma says, watching the kindergartens sing together.

 

There are two other Pre-K classes, one taught by Marian and one taught by an older woman whom they all call Granny. “We have to slow this down,” Emma whispers to them. The kids are ready to go by the time she’s done with the security officer– and Regina owes her forty bucks now, she informs her– and Regina is still in the car, a few blocks away. “Can we get the kindergarten to sing their song again?”

 

“They’re already singing it an extra time,” Mary Margaret says, shaking her head. “It’s as much as we can do. At least she’ll be here for some of the performance.” The kindergarten is filing offstage, and Henry breaks from the line as the Pre-K begins to move.

 

“I won’t!” he says fiercely. “I won’t do it!”

 

“She’s coming,” Emma promises again. “Here. I’ll stand onstage with you until she gets here.”

 

“Emma,” Marian says warningly. “You can’t go up there. You’re in jeans. The parents–”

 

“She’ll be here,” Emma says, handing the phone to Mary Margaret. “Come on, Henry. Let’s go.”

 

They file onstage, and there’s a murmur of discontent from the parents, their perfect photos ruined by Emma’s presence onstage. Emma crouches behind Henry, attempting to remain as unobtrusive as possible, and Henry is shaking, crying, the music beginning for the snowman song. “Five little–”

 

The doors to the gym fly open and Regina tears into the room, wearing a dark blonde wig and a jagged scar across her face. Henry exhales and Emma whispers, “See? What’d I tell you?” and slips off the stage at last.

 

Henry’s tears are dry by the time she joins Mary Margaret, and he’s beaming as he shouts out the words to the song with his classmates. He isn’t whispering anymore, and he rolls and runs and goes through all the motions before they launch into the next song.

 

Emma glances back at the rows of parents, finding Regina in a seat near the back. Her eyes are fixed on Henry, glowing with affection, and she’s even more stunning like this than she’s ever been as Ana or Isabela.

 

The gala ends at last to thunderous applause, and parents are moved to the next room to find their children and enjoy refreshments. Emma’s big plans of somehow winning over Regina have faded, but she lurks in the background anyway, watching from afar as Regina gathers Henry into her arms and exclaims about his outfit and his singing and dancing.

 

Henry sees her after a few moments, and he jumps from his mother and tears across the room to leap into Emma’s arms instead, babbling at a mile a minute about everything they’d performed and all the food in the room and Mommy has a SCAR, did you see it ? Emma smiles down at him, feeling unsteady with emotion, and when she looks up, Regina is watching her.

 

She raises a weak hand in greeting, and Regina nods grudgingly in response. It feels like acceptance.

 


 

It’s been a stressful few days, and maybe that’s why she wakes up with a painful headache, her throat fuzzy and the pain in her sinuses unbearable. She moans pitifully until Mary Margaret comes upstairs and takes her temperature. “You’re sick ,” she says, distressed. “I’m going to call in for you, find a sub. Stay in bed!”

 

Emma’s already asleep. She sleeps through the morning and half the afternoon, and then she pads downstairs in pajamas and slumps onto the couch, flicking on the TV. She watches old Friends reruns until her eyes are closing again, and she’s drifting off when she hears a familiar voice in the hallway.

 

“Is this Ms. Swan’s house?” Henry is asking, and Emma rolls off the couch, bangs her head on the coffee table, and stumbles to the door with her head aching and her throat sore.

 

“Henry,” she rasps, opening the door. “What are you doing here?”

 

Henry runs into the apartment, nearly doubling her over with the force of his hug. “You weren’t here today,” he says, his eyes tear-streaked and his shirt dirty. “Where were you?”

 

“I was sick– hang on,” she says, squinting at the clock. “It’s dismissal. Did you run away from carpool ?” Henry looks stubborn. “Henry, oh my god. I have to call Mary Margaret, what were you thinking ? How did you get across the street?” She remembers vaguely telling him that she lives here, and her heart is racing in panic at the thought of him crossing the street and getting lost on his way to him.

 

He’s starting to look very sulky at her reaction. “I wanted to see you,” he says, his face set, and Emma calls Mary Margaret just as Regina flies up the stairs, back in stage makeup and her face thunderous.

 

“Regina and Henry are here,” Emma says. “Gotta go.” She hangs up the phone, stumbling on her feet, and says, “I’m so sorry–”

 

“Henry Daniel Mills!” Regina snaps out. Henry glares at her, and Regina says furiously, her voice shaking, “I have never–!” It’s enough to trigger Henry’s tears, and he cries loudly, messily, until Regina crosses the room to him and lifts him into her arms, her forehead pressed to his and her own eyes blinking rapidly.

 

Emma sinks down to the couch, head pounding, and struggles to focus on what’s happening in front of her. “I’m sorry,” she says again, her head fuzzy. “I heard him outside…”

 

Regina finally tears her face from Henry’s to glare at Emma. “Yes, Ms. Swan, I don’t think you’re secretly abducting my son…” Her voice trails off. “What’s wrong with you?”

 

“Sick,” Emma says, lying back on the couch. She knows she’s a little grey, and still in her pajamas. This is a miserable way for Regina to see her again. “Dying,” she adds, because maybe that would explain it away.

 

Regina’s brow furrows. “Have you eaten?”

 

Emma just closes her eyes in response. Henry says, “You have to eat when you’re sick, Emma!” He sounds outraged. “Mommy made me lots of soup when I was sick. We were still eating it for weeks ,” he says dramatically.

 

“There’s soup in the fridge,” Emma says weakly. “I was…getting to it. What are you doing?” she says, alarmed. Regina has made a beeline for the fridge.

 

Regina gives her a look. “I’m heating up the soup,” she says slowly. “Did you think I was going to let Henry’s favorite teacher waste away because of her own incompetence?” She opens the fridge, crouching down to search for the soup, and emerges triumphant with a pot.

 

Emma closes her eyes, not quite sure if this is a daydream or a particularly twisted nightmare. Henry climbs onto her lap, very solid and very real, and curls up next to her. “Do you have med’cine?” he asks, his eyes intent on her. “I had medicine. And I went to the hospital.”

 

“I remember,” Emma croaks, tugging him closer. He snuggles into her side, smiling, and she drifts off again until Regina is shaking her shoulder gently. “It’s warm,” she says, her voice firm. Her wig is gone, propped up on a bottle of Mary Margaret’s wine, and she looks younger without it. “Come. Eat.”

 

“Gina Molinero would have at least tied me up first,” Emma says sulkily, still not quite awake, and Regina’s eyebrows shoot up. “You should have some, too. Don’t you have filming to get back to?”

 

“I took the afternoon off,” Regina says, spooning out some soup for herself and sitting down across from Emma. “They’ll film some other bits now and I’ll come back after bedtime. I told them what happened.”

 

“To me?” Emma says, ridiculously touched and confused.

 

“To Henry,” Regina says, raising an eyebrow. “He saw me in the car in costume and he ran , just like that.” She glances over to the couch, where Henry has fallen asleep. “My heart stopped when he tore across the street. If a mother hadn’t been turning into the carpool lane right then…” She sucks in a shaky breath.

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says again. “About…about all of it. I was a judgmental asshole.” The soup is helping, some of the pain in her head beginning to dissipate. “I thought… I don’t know. I saw the way Henry was acting and I thought it was your fault.”

 

She bites her lip. “I never had a mom,” she admits, and Regina’s eyes soften just a little. “And Henry reminded me a little bit of me in school, so I thought…a lot of things I had no right to.”  

 

Regina stares at Henry, curled up on the couch. He looks very small like this, hardly out of toddlerhood, and his brow is still furrowed as though his dreams are troubling him. “You weren’t wrong,” she says. “Which makes me furious because you were both unprofessional and obnoxious on the phone. But Henry is…” She breathes in a shuddering breath. “Henry isn’t adjusting well.”

 

Emma is quiet, careful not to ask too much of Regina, and Regina offers it herself. “I was never going to act again,” she says, turning her spoon over and over again in her soup. “But when Daniel died…I looked at Henry and I knew I couldn’t let him suffer just because he was going to be raised by a single mom. I had to give him all the opportunities I could. They’d already contacted me for Incognito , promised me they’d be filming away from LA and would work with my schedule, and I gave it a try.”

 

Her eyes are distant, and Emma says, “You really love acting, don’t you?” There’s something about her when she’s onscreen that makes Emma certain that she must , that this is something she was born for.

 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s not– if it’s not what Henry needs,” Regina says, and she sets her spoon down. “It was a lark when I was younger.”

 

“You were incredible,” Emma says without thinking, and she flushes as Regina eyes her.

 

“You knew Isabela,” she says, sounding gratified.

 

Emma bobs her head. “She was too good for Robin,” she feels obligated to add.

 

Regina smiles. It’s the first time she’s smiled since she got here, and she says, her voice a little lighter, “Damn straight.”

 

Enchanted High was one of the reasons I stuck around in one of the group homes for so long,” Emma says. It feels silly to admit it now, what an old teen soap had meant to her, that even Lily doesn’t quite get. “Isabela was the reason, really.”

 

Regina understands at once. “She lost her parents,” she says, and it doesn’t sound rude from her. It sounds empathetic, like someone who’d inhabited a role fully. “I’m glad she meant so much to you. She meant a lot to me, too.”

 

There’s a pause, loaded with something heavy that Emma can’t define, and Emma says hesitantly, glancing over at Henry, “He says your assistant watches him in the afternoons. Does he ever get to see you on set?”

 

“When I’m not doing a scene,” Regina says. She makes a face. “I don’t need him to see me fighting or kissing strange men and women.”

 

And women ?” Emma repeats, her brain short-circuiting for a moment. Regina gives her a very unimpressed look. “What I mean,” Emma says meekly, “Is that being a spy is kind of badass. Maybe let him watch you do some of the more PG bits. It might help him feel more…involved.”

 

“Maybe,” Regina echoes, sounding dubious. She laughs, wry. “You know, you’re not nearly as bad as you seemed by text.”

 

Emma’s mouth falls open, outraged. “You liked our texts. Why would you keep sending them if you didn’t like me?”

 

Regina tosses her hair. “I had complaints.”

 

“You didn’t complain about Henry’s dirty pants yesterday,” Emma challenges. “Because you were mad at me. And you like texting me.” Regina rolls her eyes, which is not a response. “It’s a good thing when Henry has–”

 

The front door opens. Mary Margaret isn’t due from after-school for another twenty minutes, and Emma twists around in her seat in time for Lily to say, “Holy fuckballs ,” and gape at Regina.

 

They still look surprisingly similar, Emma notices, the same light almost-brown skin and dark hair, and yet Lily doesn’t do the same thing to Emma’s heart as Regina does when she smiles. “Gina Molinero,” Lily says, still staring from the doorway. “Emma’s nemesis from preschool. It’s a pleasure .”

 

“It’s Regina Mills,” Regina corrects her, her eyes warning Lily.

 

“Weird coincidence how you look like the actress,” Lily says smoothly, maneuvering to the couch. “Mary Margaret sent me to make sure that you left Emma alive. I did not expect this .” She wiggles her eyebrows at Emma. Emma puts her face in her hands, mortified.

 

Thankfully, Lily stops just short of the lesbian awakening reveal. Regina snorts, setting her spoon down again. “I don’t assassinate anyone in front of Henry,” she says, rising. “Emma, I do hope you’re feeling better tomorrow, lest this happens again. I’d better go make some very strongly worded phone calls about carpool line safety procedures.” Her eyes are dark and menacing and a little terrifying, and it is unreasonable how attractive it makes her look.

 

“You should,” Emma agrees, transfixed as Regina scoops up Henry in her arms and holds him tightly. “I’ll– I’m sure we’ll talk again soon. Maybe Henry will come home with someone else’s juice box or something.”

 

Regina gives her a sharp look of a level of sincerity that Emma can’t figure out. “Let’s hope not,” she says, heading for the door. She pauses, as though she’s about to say something else, and Emma says, “Wait.”

 

There are things she wants to say, to explain, to just prolong this visit a little more because she might have been attracted to Regina but she’s just beginning to discover that she likes her, too. But she’s left overwhelmed, and all she thinks to say is, “Can I have your autograph?”

 

Regina laughs aloud, walking back into the room. Emma mutters, “Lily, do not say a word,” and hurries up to the loft, emptying out her box of old mementos until she finds a little card that she’d popped out of a teen magazine she’d once stolen, Isabela’s face beaming out from it.

 

Lily keeps her mouth very tightly shut. Regina smiles at the picture, turning it over in her hand, and she signs it with a permanent marker that Lily produces. “I’ll talk to you,” Emma murmurs, feeling very warm.

 

“Of course,” Regina says, and her eyes shimmer, something deep within them that makes Emma flush.

 

The autograph says, thank you, Gina Molinero (Regina Mills) . Emma touches the second name in parentheses, staring down at it for a long time.

 

Sick or not, she suddenly feels as though she could wrestle a grizzly bear.

 


 

Watching Regina after knowing Regina is a completely different experience. Emma curls up on the comfy chair again at the next Incognito night, a blanket over her as she tries desperately not to gape over the leather catsuit that Ana Castellanos is wearing in the scene onscreen now. It feels intrusive to let her eyes sweep over Regina’s body like this, in a situation where Regina doesn’t even know that she’s staring.

 

Regina would probably smirk at her if she knew, but Emma swallows, glancing down at her phone instead of at the screen.

 

It’s been days since they’d last interacted, in this very room, and reached some kind of tentative understanding. There hasn’t been anything since beyond a very clearly labeled juice box the next day, and Emma had laughed when she’d seen it and felt like she’d been in a bubble for the rest of the day, unreachable and floaty.

 

They say never to meet your idols. But maybe they– whoever they are– have never met anyone like Regina.

 

She’s grinning dumbly at her phone, the show forgotten, and she starts when her phone rings. It’s Regina, who must have somehow known that Emma had been thinking of her. “Hey,” she says, getting a reproachful look from Mary Margaret. She lowers her voice just as the show goes to commercial. “What did I do now?”

 

“The heel of Henry’s sock is all worn out,” Regina says, deeply reproving. “Do you have any idea how much those socks cost?”

 

“More than I make in a day, probably,” Emma says, leaning back against the chair. “Want to borrow some of my socks? I have this great pair with Wonder Woman on them. It’d be good for Henry to have more female role models who aren’t as terrifying as his mom.”

 

Regina scoffs. “That’s absurd,” she says, and Emma can hear the line of amusement beneath her disdain, the almost playful cadence. “How are you going to spin this... sock situation into proof that Henry is somehow benefitting from your schooling?”

 

“I thought it went without saying,” Emma says, grinning. “He’s running around more with the other kids now. He even went to Cindy and Tiana without me having to plant him there in front of him. He’s adjusting.”

 

Regina doesn’t answer for a moment, but Emma can sense the relief she isn’t expressing, can feel it somewhere in the space between them. “Just watch his socks, Ms. Swan,” Regina says at last.

 

Emma pushes a little harder. “Ms. Swan?” she repeats, a whine to her voice. “I thought I made it to Emma.”

 

“You can be Emma when you’re sick,” Regina says, and Emma thinks she might be smiling. “You’re Ms. Swan when you’re being Henry’s teacher.”

 

“Because that’s definitely what this call is about,” Emma says, grown bolder by this conversation alone. Ruby shushes her. The commercial break is ending, Ana back onscreen.

 

“Certainly,” Regina says primly.

 

Emma grins to herself. “I gotta go,” she says. “My show’s back on.”

 

“Your show,” Regina repeats, her voice high with mock innocence. “Oh, are you watching something? I had no inkling.”

 

Emma rolls her eyes. “I’m sure.”

 

“I hope you enjoyed the catsuit,” Regina murmurs– no, purrs , unless Emma’s imagining it, and Emma gulps loudly. The phone beeps as Regina hangs up, and Emma stares at it in disbelief.

 

Had…had Regina been flirting with her?

 

She opens up her texting screen, her mouth dry, and sends an emoji of a cat with heart eyes to Regina. Regina had better be just as shaken by that, she thinks grimly, and settles down to watch the rest of the show.

 

Regina calls back after it’s over and Emma has dodged a dozen questions about who exactly she was speaking to. “It’s not a big deal,” she protests. “It was about Henry.”

 

“Mm-hm,” Lily says, leaning back against the wall skeptically. Marian raises an eyebrow.

 

“It’s just–” Her phone rings and she glances down, eyes widening. “I’ve got to get this,” she says abruptly, and she hurries upstairs to the loft at their smug faces. “Was there a matching hole in Henry’s other sock?”

 

“I think you’re mocking me,” Regina says primly. “It’s almost like you think I call you just to talk instead of out of deep concern for my son’s welfare.”

 

Emma can already feel the ear-splitting smile appearing on her face. “Imagine that.”

 

Regina is silent for a moment, and then it bursts from her in a wave of questions. “What the hell is a cat face supposed to mean? And with heart eyes? I can’t imagine that you’re actually making that face. Is the cat supposed to be a…a crude insinuation, because I expect more class in my flirting–”

 

“Are we flirting?” Emma asks interestedly.

 

Flustered Regina is a magical, magical thing. “Nevertheless–” she stutters. “You don’t even know if I’m interested and it’s…presumptuous–”

 

“It was a cat,” Emma says, pressing her lips together to try to keep some of her amusement out of her voice. Regina, she suspects, will not take well to this if she thinks she’s being mocked. “Because you were in the catsuit. Even the kitties were impressed.”

 

Regina pauses, and then says, “Ah.”

 

“Ah,” Emma echoes, a little smug.

 

Regina, never one to let anyone else have the upper hand for too long, says, “We’re not nearly close enough for you to be talking about my pussy, Miss Swan.”

 

Emma chokes. Regina is definitely smirking. “Right,” Emma begins weakly, “I’m still on Ms. Swan level.”

 

“I tried calling you Emma to Henry,” Regina says, her tone shifting. There’s nothing like a mention of Henry to bring them both back down to earth. “He was outraged at my disrespect.”

 

“He’s a really good kid,” Emma says, warming to the conversation. “Thinks the world of me. It’s clearly not genetic.”

 

Regina snorts. “I remember being a child, too. Anyone who could reach the counters without help was superhuman to me. His standards will change in time.” Her words sound almost bittersweet, and Emma waits quietly. Regina sighs, long and deep. “Maybe they’ll even include me someday.”

 

“I’m sure they still do,” Emma says, and how had she shifted so swiftly from distrusting Regina’s parenting to being sure about it? “He loves you. It’s just…a lot to adapt to.”

 

She can imagine Regina on the other end of the phone, eyes closed and sorrowful. “More and more, I see how much he hates all the decisions I’ve made for us,” she admits. “He doesn’t…he still won’t tell me about his day at school. We sit in my trailer at dinnertime and he barely looks at me. He might love me, but he’s very angry right now; and for a boy his age, that trumps everything.”

 

“He’ll come to terms with it,” Emma promises, and she’s sure he will. With time, with some changes, he’ll adapt. “And then he’s going to be impressed with his super famous badass mom.”

 

Regina laughs. “Yes, someday I’m sure he’ll be awed at my hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and my scintillating work on late-night TV, because he is never seeing any of the shows I’ve filmed.”

 

Emma remembers suddenly how many times Isabela had been undressed on Enchanted High . “Okay, fair. You do do some scintillating work on late-night TV, though. I watched you on mute once.”

 

Ms. Swan ,” Regina says, her voice low and amused. “Were you objectifying me?”

 

“No,” Emma protests, her face warm. “ Lily was objectifying you. I was…present in the room. Twitter! I like your Twitter. You retweet more cat photos than any other celebrity I follow.”

 

“I like cats,” Regina says, and then– “You follow me on Twitter?”

 

Emma’s eyes widen. Regina doesn’t need to see her Twitter. She uses it almost completely for the news, but she’s pretty sure that she’s retweeted some of Gina Molinero’s tweets. Like…a lot of them. Possibly all of them. “Uh,” she says intelligently. “I hear Mary Margaret calling me. It sounds urgent.”

 

“What’s your Twitter?” Regina asks, unconvinced.

 

“Did you say the house is on fire?” Emma calls out, ostensibly to a fake Mary Margaret. “And there are home invaders? And the toilet is overflowing? Regina, I’m so sorry, but I’ve gotta go.”

 

“I’ll find you,” Regina says.

 

Emma says, “Nice talking to you! Bye!” and slams the phone down.

 


 

She wakes up to over a hundred new followers on Twitter, including Gina Molinero, who had found her at two AM and tweeted her the emoji of the cat doing a The Scream imitation. Her fans had followed, inquiring as to who Emma could be.

 

Emma learns several things from the tweets. First, Gina Molinero only follows the Incognito official Twitter, three cat Twitters, and Emma. Second, Gina still has a massive fanbase just from her years on Enchanted High . Third, they’re all into women, and one woman in particular, and they are not impressed with Emma getting the attention of their idol.

 

You didn’t tell me you were a lesbian icon , she texts Regina.

 

Regina’s response is quick. I thought you knew it from the number of retweets. Another cat emoji follows, this one smirking. She’d thought it was a smile before Regina, but now she knows exactly what it is.

 

A number of her new Twitter followers are gone by Friday, but she gets more and about four thousand notifications when Regina posts a selfie and tags Emma in it. We GET it, you have a girlfriend , says one sulky response.

 

Mary Margaret says, “Emma, your phone keeps buzzing. A whole lot of people on Twitter are sending you some very graphic fantasies.”

 

“They’re not for me,” Emma says, rolling her eyes. “Regina–”

 

“Oh! A marriage proposal,” Mary Margaret says, squinting at Emma’s phone. “She’s pretty, too. Looks a little like– oh,” she says, frowning. “No, her icon is Regina, too. How confusing. Oh ,” she says suddenly in a very different tone. “I do not think this person should be allowed anywhere near either of you.”

 

“Give me that.” Emma snatches her phone and glances down at the newest notification. “I’ll kill him,” she says promptly, squeezing her phone hard enough that her knuckles turn white.

 

“Emma,” Mary Margaret says, jerking a thumb to her usual train of children. They are clustered behind her, looking very alarmed.

 

Jacinda says in a stage whisper, “Ms. Swan said a naughty word.”

 

“No, I said bill . I will bill him. For his…time. Harassing me.” She scoops up Henry and grabs Tiana’s hand. “Who’s up for some finger puppets?”

 

Henry sits in the front row, watching Emma’s makeshift puppet stage with a fixed gaze. He’s still quiet, though he’s spending more time with the other kids, and Emma lingers at the edges of his group, worried that he might break away from them if she leaves. “You’ve done a good job with him,” Mary Margaret murmurs, leaning against the wall behind Emma. “Now you’ve got to back away a little now that things are better.”

 

“Things aren’t better,” Emma objects. “Regina says that he’s still withdrawn at home.”

 

“You can’t fix that ,” Mary Margaret points out. “That’s between Henry and his mother.”

 

Emma watches Henry. He’s laughing with the others as Jacinda tries pulling her long hair into a beard and mustache, and his eyes are bright, uncomplicated by his troubles with his mother. She wants to fix them, wants desperately for them both to be happy, but it’s still out of reach.

 

She won’t give up. She can’t.

 

She takes Henry to the car again that afternoon, raising her eyebrow at the purple wig that Regina’s wearing today. “That’s going to be something to look forward to,” she says. “Thanks for all the notifications, by the way. My phone didn’t stop buzzing all day. I have two hundred followers and they all think I’m dating you.”

 

“Horrifying,” Regina says dryly.

 

Emma feels obligated to admit, “There are worse things. I guess,” she adds hastily when Regina smirks at her. Somehow, she matches the cat emoji perfectly. “Have a good weekend.”

 

“You, too,” Regina murmurs, and her eyes are light, mischievous and fond. Henry watches her solemnly, and then turns to watch Emma as she ruffles his hair and shuts the car door.

 

He’s still watching her when she turns back, just as the car rolls away.

 


 

Before this preschool gig, Emma had worked extra-long shifts on the weekends to stay afloat, and it’s kind of amazing to have weekends off now. She sometimes helps Mary Margaret with lesson plans, but most of the time, she sleeps and watches TV and doesn’t do much else.

 

“You need a social life,” Lily decides. She’s back on their couch after a fight with her girlfriend, and she has taken a look at Emma’s weekend routine and deemed it a sad state of affairs. “You need a girlfriend . Or someone to hang out with who isn’t four.” She brightens. “Unless they happen to have a really hot superstar mom.”

 

Emma holds up a finger. “Do not. We’re not…it’s not like that.”

 

“It’s absolutely like that,” Mary Margaret calls from her end of the apartment. “Don’t let Emma tell you otherwise.”

 

“Emma,” Lily says patiently, “When you type in Gina Molinero on your laptop, it autocompletes to Gina Molinero sexuality . Who are you kidding right now?”

 

Emma throws a pillow at her head.

 

Lily resolves things with her girlfriend and Mary Margaret leaves for an afternoon with David, and Emma is alone in the house to brood when she should be watching bad TV. It’s ridiculous, really. Of course she has a thing for Regina, and of course Regina is never going to be interested back. Regina likes her…sometimes, but she’s also a lesbian icon who has about a thousand rumors of past girlfriends, if the Internet is to be trusted. Henry’s teacher or not, at the end of the day, Emma’s just another fan.

 

She drifts off on the couch and has some very torrid dreams, most involving the catsuit and a surprising number about the purple wig. When she’s awakened, it’s by her phone ringing insistently in her ear, and she snatches it up. “Yeah?”

 

“Did I wake you?” Regina asks, and Emma jerks up, her heart leaping in that special little dance it’s reserved for Regina. “At three o’clock in the afternoon?”

 

“I passed out while…doing adult stuff. Cooking. Laundry. Doing taxes,” Emma says easily. “That’s definitely what I do on my days off.”

 

“I don’t doubt it,” Regina says, amused. “And here I am, wasting my day away with my best friend, a four-year-old.”

 

“I thought you and Cindy were tight.” Emma leans back against the couch, warming to the conversation. “But does the Gina Molinero follow her on Twitter? I don’t think so.” She likes hearing Regina laugh, the little snort that sounds like it had escaped, unbidden, from Regina’s lips. “What’s up with you and the BFF?”

 

There’s a sound from Regina’s end, Henry clamoring to speak to Emma, but Regina doesn’t give him the phone. “We were at the park,” she says lightly. “The one near Main Street and Oak Drive. We’re on Oak Drive now, walking toward Central Avenue.” If it weren’t already odd that Regina is giving Emma specific directions, the undercurrent of tension in her voice has Emma sitting upright.

 

“Do you need help?” she asks, standing up. She yanks on a sweatshirt, searching the coffee table for her car keys.

 

Regina’s voice is still carefully calm. “Sure, we’d love to have you join us,” she says. “It’s quiet here. Just the two of us and someone down the block.”

 

Emma finds her keys and hurries down the stairs. “Someone’s following you?”

 

“So it seems,” Regina says casually. “Henry, would you like to have Emma come visit?” There’s an exuberant cheer from the one person privy to the conversation who has no idea what’s going on.

 

“I’m on my way.” She starts her car and hurries forward, cursing the sole traffic light along the way for being red. Oak is only a ten-minute drive from her apartment, and she makes it there in five, speeding down quiet blocks and honking obnoxiously at people driving leisurely in front of her.

 

And then– finally , she sees them, Regina and Henry and a man who’s now standing right in front of Regina. Emma’s heart stops as she screeches to a halt beside them, tearing out of her car. “What’s going on here?” she demands.

 

Henry runs to her, hiding behind her too-big pajama pants. Regina’s eyes are blazing and there’s a shattered camera on the ground, a massive crack across the screen that looks like it might have come from a very high heel. “This lady’s lost her mind!” the man gasps, staring at his camera in horror.

 

Emma looks at him with little sympathy, putting two and two together. “And you’re a dumbass creep photographing little boys without their consent,” she says, giving the camera a kick. The man gapes at her furiously. “Get out of here,” she snaps, and he glares at them both, snatching up the broken camera and hurrying away.

 

Regina is still fuming, and Emma seizes her hand. “Let’s get into the car. I’ll take you home.”

 

“Do you have a booster seat?”

 

Emma does, thankfully, because Mary Margaret has had her drive kids home a few times over the past few years. She pulls it out of the trunk, buckling Henry in, and slides into the car herself. “Everyone okay?”

 

“Who was that man?” Henry asks in a small voice. “Why was he taking pictures of us?”

 

Regina is silent, her fingers twisting together. Emma says, “Maybe he heard you were a part of my Cool Patrol.”

 

“Oh,” Henry says, considering it. “That makes sense.” Regina sags in the seat beside Emma, and Emma reaches for her instinctively. Regina takes her hand, her thumb brushing against Emma’s palm. It seems to calm her, and Emma drives one-handed, now at a much slower pace than before.

 

“Where do you live?”

 

“Mifflin Street. The white house with the columns,” Regina says.

 

Emma laughs. “I wouldn’t have expected any less.” It’s only a few blocks away, in the opposite direction that they’d been walking. Of course. Regina wouldn’t have wanted paparazzi to find it.

 

Emma pulls in in front, and Henry says, his voice already climbing to a whine, “I want Ms. Swan to come over.”

 

“I think Ms. Swan is still in pajamas,” Regina says, eyeing the monkeys on Emma’s pants. “But if we can tear her away from her napping…” She leaves the invite hanging, and Emma can do nothing but take it at once.

 

“I guess if I’m already up…” she says, shrugging expansively. Regina smiles, and Emma would save her from a thousand stalkers if it meant she’d smile like that again. “Let’s see the palace you live in with your mother.”

 

“And Auntie Zee! And Robyn!” Henry says, pulling her to the house. “They’re on vacation now so I can play with my Lego on the floor without Robyn eating it!” He lowers his voice. “One time she swallowed a frog .”

 

“A Lego frog?” Emma says, befuddled. “How big are Lego frogs? What happened to her? Is Robyn your cousin?” Henry doesn’t answer her questions. Regina unlocks the door for them, her warm hand settling on Emma’s arm as she does. Emma shivers.

 

They do play Lego. Regina sits on the floor with her legs crossed over each other in front of her, finding the Lego pieces that the instructions require next, and Henry puts them together on Emma’s lap. Then they play chess, which mostly consists of Regina whispering tips to Henry as he moves pieces clumsily on a carved chess board that looks like a family heirloom. There’s a floor puzzle after that, and Emma stretches out on the floor beside it and refuses to move.

 

“I’m all played out,” she announces.

 

Henry says, “We haven’t even played with my dinosaurs yet,” deeply disapproving.

 

Regina lays a hand on Henry’s back. “Ms. Swan isn’t a marathon player like you. She’s going to need some practice.”

 

“Hm.” Henry, made sullen by his mother speaking to him, drags his feet and settles on top of Emma’s stomach, stretching out like she’s his couch and letting his arms hang down at her sides.

 

Emma rubs his back. “Next time, kid.” His eyes are getting droopy, and she thinks he’s probably going to crash before she is. “Sorry I…ruined your day out together,” she says to Regina, who is still sitting beside them. She’s tracing patterns on the puzzle with her stockinged toes, lost in thought.

 

“You didn’t ruin our day,” she says. “You saved me from…whatever scene I was about to create.”

 

“I thought I was going to be your knight in shining armor when you called,” Emma admits. “Not your damage control.”

 

Regina smiles at her again, her eyes glittering. “Oh, you were. But I got angry.”

 

“I’ve seen you angry,” Emma says, remembering fondly the first day of school and the minor obsession with Regina it had spawned. “You were a sight to see.”

 

Regina gives her a sidelong glance. “Isn’t this when you usually start sending me emoji?” But she’s still smiling, leaning against the couch as her toe traces circles onto the puzzle. Henry is out, fast asleep on Emma, and Regina strokes his hair for a moment. “I’m sorry I bothered you on your day off. My sister is out of town,” she admits. “And I don’t exactly have any other friends to call.”

 

“No coworkers? That guy who plays your handler looks pretty tough.”

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “He’s a self-important–” She stops herself. “You’ve met me. I’m not exactly a bit with my coworkers. I am efficient, and they appreciate that, if not my sparkling personality.”

 

“You have an excellent personality,” Emma says, offended on Regina’s behalf, and Regina moves from Henry to stroke Emma’s hair instead. Emma lies very still. If she pinches herself, she might wake up, and that’s unacceptable .

 

Wait. “Did you say we were friends?” Emma says, squinting up at Regina.

 

Regina gives her a mock-dark look. “Never mention it again,” she says warningly.

 

“I’m just saying! If we’re friends, you really should be calling me Emma. All the time. Like friends do. And I will call you Ana Castellano, Secret Spy And Also Catsuit Wearer.”

 

“You could pull off the catsuit, too, I’m sure, Emma All The Time,” Regina says, her hand drifting to the hard muscle of Emma’s upper arm.

 

Emma shakes her head. “I don’t have the face for it. I’m much more of a Supergirl than a Wonder Woman, you know?”

 

“Too pasty,” Regina says, poking her in the side. She keeps touching Emma, and Emma is pretty sure that if she ever stops, Emma will die. Immediately. Probably. Regina withdraws her hand at last and Emma does, indeed, want to die. “I’m going to go put together dinner. Will you stay?”

 

She stays. She stays through dinner as Regina engages Henry in halting conversation and sticks around to help put Henry to bed. Upstairs, Regina pulls out a familiar book. “It’s a bedtime ritual,” she explains when Emma looks at the book in surprise. “I’ve been reading to him from this book of fairytales since he was old enough to sit on my lap.”

 

“We have the same one in school,” Emma says, and she leans against the doorway, watching over them until Regina kisses Henry goodnight and turns on his night light.

 

There’s a moment of hesitation in the hallway, the two of them staring at each other uncertainly. “I guess I should...go,” Emma says finally.

 

She doesn’t want to leave. It’s been an exhilarating thing, being almost like family to Regina and Henry, and she’s gotten comfortable in it much too quickly. Leaving now feels like losing it forever, even if it isn’t.

 

Regina nods jerkily. “Of course. I don’t want to keep you from all your…adult things. Like laundry. And bills.”

 

“Let’s be realistic,” Emma says, rolling her eyes at herself. “Mary Margaret does both of those things. My adult things are usually sitting on a couch and drinking wine.”

 

“I have wine,” Regina says.

 

Emma gestures toward the stairs. “Couches, too. I saw a few of those already.”

 

They stand there, frozen in gripped silence for a moment, before Regina clears her throat and extends a hand. “Emma All-The-Time Swan, would you sit on my couch and drink wine with me?”

 

“It would be my pleasure,” Emma says, grinning, and she takes Regina’s hand and walks her downstairs.

 


 

Regina Mills sexuality.

 

Regina Mills Facebook.

 

Does Gina Molinero like women?

 

Gina Molinero the L chat.

 

Emma clicks away from the page with a sigh. If the information were readily available online, that’d be one thing, but she isn’t going to read page after page of conspiracy theories about Regina’s–

 

Well, okay , maybe just a few.

 

Two pages in, she finds her own name, and she gapes in horror. The sleuths on this gossip forum have figured out exactly who Gina’s newest follower is and have tracked down Emma’s Facebook, which she doesn’t use often enough to have kept private. It says she’s a lesbian , one person points out. If that isn’t proof that they’re dating, then I don’t know what is.

 

She’s kind of cute, another poster writes grudgingly. Facebook has her job down as a preschool teacher. Think this SECC is where Gina sends the mystery kid?

 

Really? We’re back to the secret son theory? someone else challenges, and that spawns a flurry of other detective work about Henry, only distracted by a new picture on the Gina Molinero Instagram. Emma shakes her head, swearing to herself that she’ll never return there…just as soon as she finishes reading one more page…

 

Two hours later, it’s midnight and she’s gotten a text from Regina, a casual goodnight. There have been a number of those lately, sometimes very late when Regina’s out filming, and Emma always responds with a good morning when she awakens. It’s been two weeks since Emma had first been at Mifflin Street, and things have changed .

 

Not in a bad way. Never in a bad way. Regina is even calling her Emma full time now. She’d taken Henry to her apartment yesterday after school because Regina had been finishing work early, and they’d all eaten dinner together while Mary Margaret had made an excuse to leave. On Saturday, they’d gone to the park together, and they talk nightly , and–

 

Emma has no idea whether they’re dating or not. For one, it’d help if Emma knew for sure if Regina is genuinely into girls or just into flirting with girls. For another, it’d be nice if Emma had any relationship to measure this up against, but her relationships until now have either been very brief or been about persuading herself that she secretly does like men, so the benchmark for relationship is…low.

 

“Well, do you want to be dating her?” Mary Margaret asks the next morning when she sees the dopey smile on Emma’s face as she looks at her phone. An early evening yesterday means an early morning today, and Regina is already up this morning, complaining to Emma about the eggs that her sister had made for Henry. More cheese than egg! He’s going to be sick for you all day.

 

Emma glances down at it again and then attempts to arrange her face into something more nonchalant for Mary Margaret. “We’re friends,” Emma says, keeping her voice calm and controlled. “And I like that. Unless it’s dating, in which case I also like that.”

 

Lily snorts. “You shot straight from friends to married. Have you not seen her a single day this week?”

 

“I’m her son’s teacher!”

 

“Yeah? How often do you hang out with the other kids’ moms?” Emma makes a face at her and texts Regina back. I’ll take good care of him. He might even come home with clean clothes.

 

Late night tonight. The message is glum. Would you like to stop by the set for dinner?

 

Emma blinks at her phone screen. Can I do that?

 

I have some pull with the star , comes the wry response. I’ll make it happen . Emma looks up after selecting the perfect emoji response, startled to discover that the room is empty.

 

She finds Mary Margaret in school, organizing the paints. “You didn’t even say you were leaving.”

 

“Oh, I did,” Mary Margaret says, smiling at her. “Multiple times. “You were distracted.”

 

Emma slouches a little and tries not to beam.

 

Henry runs right into her arms when he’s brought into the classroom. “Mommy says you’re coming for dinner!” He never has this much energy this early, and Emma catches him and swings him around, grinning right back at him.

 

“I sure am,” she assures him, settling him back down at the coloring table. He sits happily, and he doesn’t protest when she slips away to Mary Margaret.

 

He gets better every day at school, though Regina says that his mood fades when he’s home again– or worse, on set. Emma’s seen it, but rarely when she’s around; he seems to reserve it mostly for his mother. “I think sometimes that he blames me for his father’s death,” Regina has confessed. “But he was very young. He only began… this when I started working again.”  

 

And in school, little by little, Henry is getting better at pushing those feelings away. Today, he runs outside with the other kids at outdoor play, jabbering excitedly and racing Nick up the stairs to the slide. Emma sits on a bench, watching them fondly, and Henry doesn’t come to her at all until they’re back inside.

 

He stays close to her at dismissal, going on and on about Regina’s trailer and all his favorite spots on set where he likes to play hide-and-seek with Regina’s long-suffering PA. “You’ll play, too, right?” He makes a sour face. “Mommy’s going to be busy .”

 

“Not at dinnertime,” Emma reminds him. “Your mom is always there then, isn’t she?” Henry shrugs.

 

When Emma looks back down at him, he’s watching Emma solemnly. “Are you gonna marry my mommy?” he asks, his brow furrowed.

 

Emma gapes at him. “What?”

 

Henry gives her an impatient shrug. “You’re over every day ,” he says. “You should just live in my house. There’s space in Mommy’s room. She has a really big bed.”

 

“Uh,” Emma says, very distracted by that information. “I don’t think…that’s what– well, I’m actually not sure it isn’t, but–” She stumbles around her words for a moment until Mary Margaret takes pity on her stuttering and cuts in.

 

“You’re so lucky to have such a good friend like Ms. Swan to come over and play,” she says, clapping her hands together. “But I would miss her very much if she left our apartment.”

 

Henry blinks at her. “Oh,” he says thoughtfully. “I guess that’s true.”

 

“Thanks,” Emma mutters.

 

Mary Margaret squeezes her arm. “Henry seems to have it all figured out, at least,” she says briskly, heading to the front of the room. “All right! Coats on and then we’ll head downstairs for carpool!”

 

Henry doesn’t drag his feet today when he heads for Regina’s car. “You’ll come over after school, right?” he says, eyeing her carefully.

 

Emma bobs her head. Henry hugs her, tight and clinging, and Emma catches Regina’s eye in the rearview mirror as she buckles Henry in. There’s a sad resignation painted across her face, an acceptance that Henry isn’t going to do the same for her, and Emma shakes her head firmly, trying to convey in her own expression that he will .

 

Soon. This is going to be fixed.

 


 

Regina must have given security a head’s up, because Emma is ushered in immediately and brought straight to Regina’s trailer. “Ms. Molinero is filming on location right now,” Regina’s PA informs her. His name is Archie Hopper, and he watches Emma with a keen, knowing look. Maybe he knows what Regina’s doing with Emma. “Henry is right inside.”

 

Emma peers in. Henry doesn’t see her at first. He’s sitting on a couch in the trailer, picking at a plate of cut cucumbers and staring blankly at the wall. There are toys on the floor and books on the shelf, but none of them capture his attention, and he only brightens when he sees Emma.

 

Henry gives her a grand tour of the set while they wait for Regina, and Emma obliges with a game of hide-and-seek. She’s crouched behind another trailer, listening to Henry and Archie as they wander around, loudly searching for her, when there’s a hand on her shoulder.

 

She spins around, old habits kicking in, and she’s grabbing her assailant and pinning her against the trailer before she can–

 

She ?

 

She . It’s Regina, of course, but it takes Emma a moment to register that, a moment of feeling Regina’s pulse against her arm and hearing her heavy breathing in the silence of the set. “Emma,” Regina murmurs. “It’s just me.”

 

She’s still in costume, and costume today means a latex dress that barely stretches over her cleavage and to her thighs. She’s breathing hard, and the dress moves with every breath, every motion. Emma tears her eyes from the dress, dragging them upward to where Regina’s eyes are searching her face. “Sorry,” Emma whispers. Her arm is still in place, holding Regina back against the wall, and Regina’s breath is warm against Emma’s lips. “You…uh…you look…” Regina tilts her head, exposing a long curve of neck that runs into her bare collarbone. Emma’s mouth is dry. “Are you coming to dinner in that?”

 

“I thought I’d put on a jacket over it,” Regina says, her eyes gleaming with amusement beneath the heavy-lidded something .

 

Emma laughs shakily, softly. “Probably a good call. Uh…” She makes to move away from Regina but trips over her own feet, stumbling even closer instead. Regina catches her, hand splayed against Emma’s stomach, and Emma breathes a ragged breath.

 

Regina’s eyes drift closed, her face upturned to Emma, and Emma leans in, her skim thrumming at what’s about to happen. She’s nearly about to brush Regina’s lips with her own when there’s a victorious, “Found you!”

 

Regina shoves Emma back. Henry bounces on the balls of his feet, pointing at Emma while Archie flushes and averts his eyes. “You did!” Emma says, grinning at him. “You found me! At the…perfect time to find me!” Regina snorts.

 

Henry blinks, his face growing more sober as he notices his mother. “It’s okay,” Emma says in a stage whisper. “You’re still cool if you hug your mom. I know you want to.” She nods significantly in Regina’s direction, and Regina crouches down, reaching for Henry.

 

Henry shrugs. “I wanna eat dinner,” he announces, and he turns around and walks to the trailer instead.

 

Emma touches Regina’s hand. “He’ll come around–”

 

Don’t , Ms. Swan,” Regina says, and Emma is stung.

 

Fine , Ms. Molinero,” she shoots back. “I won’t.”

 

Regina sighs heavily. “I appreciate you trying,” she says as a peace offering. “But I don’t need someone else to…to navigate between my son and me. Especially not someone he loves more than he loves me.”

 

Regina ,” Emma says, horrified. “He does not .” As infatuated as Henry is with Emma lately, she knows that it’s nothing in comparison with the way he aches for his mother. They have a light love, an easy love, and it’s nothing in comparison with a love wrought by fire and steel.

 

Regina sighs again, leading the way to her trailer with determined steps. “I’m afraid the rest of the cast is already gone for the day,” she says. “I wanted to introduce you to them. They’ve heard all about you.”

 

“What?” Emma says, distracted from melancholy thoughts of Henry. “Why? How?”

 

Regina smiles at her, white teeth gleaming. “You thought I was a parade of nannies for months. It makes for an entertaining anecdote.”

 

“I’m an anecdote ?”

 

“A very delightful one,” Regina says, her tone not conciliatory at all. “Tamara tells it over to every newcomer on set.”

 

“Tamara,” Emma repeats. “Your costar? Who plays Ana’s handler?” There had been a kiss last episode, and Emma eyes Regina with sudden suspicion. “Are you two friends?”

 

Regina pats Emma’s arm. “You’re cute,” she says.

 

Are you?” Emma demands, and Regina laughs and ducks into her closet to find a jacket.

 

“I’m much too unpleasant to have friends,” Regina reminds her. “Tamara is all business on set, too. I appreciate that professionalism.”

 

“Not too all business not to tell anecdotes about me,” Emma grumbles, mollified. “And you’re not unpleasant. You just give a terrible first impression.”

 

“Thanks.” Regina pulls on a sweatshirt, zipping it up so it conceals nearly all of the latex dress, and Emma notices suddenly that she’s wearing thigh-high black stockings. And that the sweatshirt doesn’t fall low enough that Emma can’t watch the sway of her ass as she walks away from Emma.

 

Emma is gone .

 


 

There are more set visits after that, though Emma never makes it to actual filming. She wanders the halls with Henry and plays Frisbee with him on the lawn, Archie’s dalmatian joining them on the days when the weather is good.

 

Emma is still Googling, but it’s more of a cranky habit when she’s at her wit’s end. There aren’t going to be answers. Not from the gossip forums, where she seems to find herself nearly every day now.

 

There are pictures of her with Henry and Regina at the park, and much speculation about whether or not Henry is Regina’s son or Emma’s. Let’s be real, this is Gina Molinero we’re talking about. There’s no way she’s dating a preschool teacher. They’re on totally different levels. She’s probably the nanny.

 

Maybe she’s just a friend , someone else says hopefully. The kid could be hers.

 

Half of them seem to want Regina to be dating Emma, proof of her sexuality at last, and the other half seem to believe that Regina dating Emma would mean that they don’t have a shot. The most persuasive argument so far, though, comes from one of the doubters. She ISN’T GAY, people. She isn’t going to date some nobody. Let the woman have friends in peace .

 

By now, Emma is pretty sure that she’s what the forums have been calling a bi truther . There’s something about their interactions that feels charged when they get too close, that thickens the air between them and makes it vivid and real. Regina must be– even if the forums are right and she’s out of Emma’s league, she must be–

 

Emma swallows and closes her laptop for the night, heading out to Regina’s for late-night drinks.

 

Henry is turning five in a few weeks, and Regina is beside herself. “Ridiculous,” she scoffs. “I can’t have a five-year-old. I’m in my twenties .”

 

“Barely,” Emma points out. “I guess not everyone can be as young and beautiful as I am.” She makes a show of preening, and Regina reaches out to squeeze her upper arm.

 

Emma flexes instinctively, and Regina hums in appreciation. “I can live with that,” she says, and Emma can feel a deep heat spreading through her, Regina’s hand running back up to Emma’s shoulder and then trailing down her back. “Henry’s growing up ,” she sighs again. “He’ll be borrowing my car keys and missing curfew in no time.”

 

“Why don’t we get through learning the alphabet first?” Emma suggests delicately.

 

Regina eyeballs her. “He’d be out with you when he misses his curfew,” she says accusingly. “I can see it already. The two of you stealing my car and going for joyrides. Probably on a school night. I can’t believe you.” She shakes her head in long-suffering weariness.

 

Emma suppresses the secret little thrill she gets at the thought of being in Henry’s life for any of this, for watching him grow up. “He’s four , Regina.”

 

“For another sixteen days!”

 

And so it continues for days, until they’ve scheduled a birthday party in school and gone shopping for party plates and napkins. “I want the dragon cupcake,” Henry announces, bouncing around the nut-free pre-packaged cupcakes that they’d been required to purchase. Emma had taken a bite of one and sprayed it all over Regina’s kitchen table. It’s awful , but Henry doesn’t seem to care. “Ms. Swan gets the doggie. Tiana gets the frog. Jacindy gets the panda bear.” He painstakingly picks out one for each of his classmates and teachers.

 

Regina says, “And which one will I get?”

 

Henry looks at her solemnly and doesn’t answer. “Henry,” Regina says pleadingly. “Of course I’m coming to your party.” Henry looks away. “I’ve taken the whole morning off from work. I’ll be there. I would never miss…” She takes a step back, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Henry stares at the ground.

 

Regina sinks into a chair and Emma hovers, wary of overstepping until Regina reaches for her hand and holds it tightly. “He loves you so much,” Emma murmurs. “He just…he’s a kid processing a lot of emotions he can’t handle. He’s going to get there.”

 

“No,” Regina says dully, “He won’t.”

 

But she’s there on the morning of Henry’s birthday, a full half hour early, and Henry sets down the fairytale book he’s been clutching all day and runs to her. She holds him tightly, pressing kisses to his cheeks, and she whispers, “Happy birthday, baby boy.”

 

“Big boy,” he corrects her, and Regina’s already crying, of course .

 

Mary Margaret clears her throat, exchanging a glance with Emma. “Ms. Mills,” she says, smiling. “We were going to read a story before the party, and I have the feeling that you’d be exceptional at it.”

 

“Oh, certainly,” Regina says with dignity, and she finds the fairytale book on the floor in the library corner with a single stuttered breath and sits in the chair on the circle carpet, selecting her favorite story and reading it to the class. She’s amazing , of course, the consummate actress, and the class is entranced. Henry sits on her lap, clinging to her and staring up at her as though she’s his world, and Emma might just be looking at both of them in the same way.

 

They play a few birthday games and then read Henry’s birthday wishes, and Henry is loud like he never is in school, singing the birthday songs and giving out the cupcakes to everyone. To Regina, he gives the dragon, and then looks wistfully at the dog he’d earmarked for Emma until she says, “Hey, kiddo, how about taking this puppy cupcake off my hands?”

 

Regina cradles her cupcake like a precious prize, and Henry sits happily on her lap as he shoves his into his mouth. “I’m five ,” he announces to his table. “I’m got a remote control car for my birthday!”

 

Nick, wide-eyed, says, “Can I come see it?”

 

“I think we can arrange that,” Regina says, smiling at Nick. Henry glows.

 

Emma floats in near-euphoria until she catches Mary Margaret smiling at her. “What?” she says, suddenly defensive. “They’re happy. I’m happy. It’s no big deal.”

 

Mary Margaret shrugs. “You just…” She smiles again. “You really love them, don’t you?”

 

Emma’s breath stops coming and she has to force herself to shrug. Mary Margaret squeezes her shoulder in a half-hug, maneuvering past her to give out cups of apple juice, and Emma is spared an answer.

 

They’re wrapping up, and Mary Margaret clears her throat and says, “Thank you so much for joining us, Ms. Mills. We had so much fun, right class?”

 

“Thank you, Ms. Mills,” the class choruses, all except for Henry, whose face is beginning to fall. He looks wildly at Regina, then Mary Margaret, realization dawning on his face that his mother is about to leave.

 

“I’ll be back later,” Regina promises, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “We’re going to have a special birthday dinner.” Henry wrenches away from her, and Regina looks alarmed. “Ms. Swan is coming,” she adds desperately, reaching for him, but it doesn’t work like it usually does to calm him.

 

Henry slams his hand on the table. “No!” he says, and he screws up his face and begins to cry.

 

“Henry, I promise – I’m always back at dismissal–” Regina crouches beside him and he pushes her away, shoves his cupcake until it falls onto the floor, tears rolling down his cheeks.

 

“You won’t!” he sobs. “It doesn’t matter !” She lifts him up into her arms and he beats at her, pushes with weak blows. “Go away!” he cries out, but he’s burying his face in her shoulder, contrary to his claims, and he won’t let Regina go. “Go away!” he cries again, and Regina kisses his hair, kisses his cheeks, tears spilling down her face just as readily.

 

“I’ll–” She looks to Emma beseechingly. Emma takes a few steps toward them, reaching for mother and son. “I guess I can bring you with me to work–”

 

“I hate you!” Henry explodes in a mass of tears and snot, and Regina recoils, still holding him tightly. Emma hovers, lost, and it’s Mary Margaret, experienced teacher, who steps forward.

 

“Henry,” she says firmly. “We are going to clean our places, and then we’re going to open up the birthday present you’ve brought for the class. Would you like to be the one to tear off the wrapping paper?” She lifts him from Regina’s limp arms easily, carrying him to the sink and speaking quietly to him, and Regina trembles, staring wide-eyed at Henry.

 

Emma slips an arm around Regina’s waist, and Regina crumbles against her, staggering along as Emma guides her to the door. “He’s a kid,” Emma murmurs, stroking Regina’s hair. “Every kid says dumb things sometimes. He loves you so much. He just…he misses you a lot, I think–”

 

“I’m quitting,” Regina says hollowly, and Emma trips, nearly setting them both off-balance. “I can’t do this anymore. I’ll finish the season, and then I’ll quit, and maybe my son will hate me a little less.”

 


 

Ana Castellano is on Emma’s screen, having a charged moment with her handler about a mission gone wrong. She launches into a diatribe that turns into a sobbing admission of trauma that she’s been repressing, and Emma blinks back tears for both Ana and Regina.

 

Regina has been adamant about her plans since the birthday party, and Emma has barely managed to talk her out of making the decision public too soon. She has a five-year contract, and the producers haven’t noticed anything amiss yet. There’s still time–

 

Regina is killing it onscreen, acting her ass off in that way that only Gina Molinero can, and Emma texts her a series of emoji to say so. She gets only a Don’t. in response, and she sighs and turns back to the screen, riveted.

 

Incognito has been unofficially picked up for a full second season, beginning in the fall. Filming is just about over for this season, and no one but Regina and Emma know that the hit show is teetering on the edge of a cliff, ready to topple into the abyss.

 

And the worst part is how much Regina loves the show, loves acting . It’s apparent in every conversation they have about Incognito , and it’s apparent onscreen, too, in the raw talent in every scene. Regina loves Henry more than anything else, but Emma can’t help but think that she’s making a terrible mistake, a disastrous turn that she’ll deeply regret in the future.

 

She calls her after the episode is over, and she gets Regina’s voicemail, which is ridiculous. Short of the flighty sister, Regina has next to no life once Henry is in bed. So Regina isn’t picking up, which means that she’s either dead or somehow incapacitated.

 

Emma calls again. This time, Regina picks up, her voice strained. “Emma,” she says tiredly.

 

“Is your sister home?” Emma asks abruptly.

 

“Yes. What’s wrong?” Regina’s voice shifts to worry. “Do you need me to come over?”

 

“It’s okay! It’s good. Come out with me for drinks,” Emma blurts out. “I just want to talk.”

 

Regina eyes her guardedly as they enter the bar, her brow furrowed. “What’s going on?” Emma doesn’t answer. They get their drinks and find a quiet table, and Emma nurses hers and sits broodingly as Regina watches her, teeth worrying at her lip.

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says suddenly. “I can’t– I can’t do this. You can’t quit.”

 

Emma ,” Regina says, exasperated. “Do you think at any point that I’d choose my job over my son?”

 

“It’s not a choice! That isn’t a choice!” Emma jabs her finger at Regina’s shirt. “Picking between a red shirt or a black one– that’s a choice. A choice is picking pizza with pineapple–”

 

“That’s a goddamned abomination, actually,” Regina puts in with a very straight face, and Emma looks at her in betrayal for a moment before she remembers her point.

 

“You can have both ,” she says, and she reaches out to squeeze Regina’s hand. “You love your son. You love your job. And you’re going to spend your life regretting missed chances if you give up one for the other.”

 

Regina scoffs, then stares into her drink blankly. “I’m losing him, Emma. Bit by bit, day by day. He can’t forgive me this.”

 

“He doesn’t even understand what it is,” Emma argues. “He sees your days on set as just…running around with Archie and waiting for you. Let him be a part of it. Let him be a part of this thing you love .”

 

Regina shakes her head. “He’s too young to see–”

 

“That his mom’s a badass?” Emma says, and Regina gives her a look of sheer agony. “He knows it’s all pretend. He’s going to be in awe. Let him know you,” she begs, and Regina bows her head, staring into her drink. Emma strokes her thumb against the soft skin of Regina’s palm. “What are you afraid of?”

 

“Oh, my god, Gina Molinero!” says a voice from behind her, and Emma twists around to catch a gaping girl. “You’re– oh, my god .” The girl bounces on her heels, her eyes wide, and Regina gives her a guarded smile.

 

“Hello,” she says. A camera flashes, and Regina whirls around, plastering a bright smile on her face. “Emma, let’s go,” she says through gritted teeth

 

“Gina Molinero!” Another girl is crowding behind the first, and they’re beginning to attract attention from others. “Gina, over here!”

 

Emma slides out of her seat, reaching out to help Regina up. She keeps her safely tucked in beside her, smiling apologetically at the girls. “Sorry,” she says. “School night. Gotta go.” Her arm tightens protectively around Regina, and Regina leans against her, still smiling that actress’s smile at the people pressing in around them.

 

“Hey, secret agent, can I get your number?” a man drawls. He’s unsteady on his feet, his eyes bleary, and there are more behind him, emboldened by alcohol and Regina’s presence. Emma feels them too close, shoves past them, Regina straightening and finding her presence beneath the vulnerability.

 

“That’s enough,” she says, turning around, and the man reaches out and squeezes her ass. Regina whirls around and Emma acts on instinct. Her fists are moving, the self-defense she’s picked up over the years kicking into gear, and she slams her fist into his face and leaves it bloody. The man howls in pain and charges at her and Regina kicks outward in a flash, Ana Castellano without a moment’s hesitation, and the man is thrown back. “ Enough ,” she says again, her head held high, and she stalks forward through a suddenly tussling crowd.

 

The crowd parts for her as the proprietor snaps, “What’s going on? Who’s–” and Regina and Emma flee.

 

“That was magnificent,” Emma pants as they speed up, walking as quickly as they can to Regina’s car down the block.

 

There are still people following them, a drunken call of “You can secret agent my ass anytime!” that they ignore, and Emma breaks into a jog, Regina somehow keeping up in her heels with her quick stride.

 

She tosses a sharp smile to Emma. “You were quite the vision yourself. I think you broke his nose.”

 

“Gossip Twitter is going to be flying ,” Emma says, waiting for Regina to unlock the car before she slides into the passenger seat. “I bet the pictures are already online.”

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “No one is taking a break from a bar fight to post pictures on Twitter. I’ll take that bet. What’s on the table?”

 

“Henry watching your filming,” Emma says promptly, and Regina lets out a twisted little cross between a laugh and a sigh.

 

“Emma…” They park outside of Emma’s apartment, and Regina shakes her head. “Fine. Let me check.” She snatches Emma’s phone from her hand and opens the browser, typing in Gina Molinero–

 

–and Emma suddenly remembers exactly what a bad idea that is. “Wait,” she says weakly as the autocomplete options pop up.

 

Regina’s eyebrows rise. “ Gina Molinero sexuality ,” she reads. “ Gina Molinero gay. Gina Molinero girlfriend.” She clicks the suggested link that has popped up, a Tumblr account called ginalookingatwomen , and reads aloud, “ No heterosexual woman would ever smile at Mal Drake like this. QED. Well, they’re not wrong,” she observes dryly, and Emma gapes at her. “Emma, did you think I was straight ?”

 

“I was…checking,” Emma says weakly. “You never said –”

 

Regina throws her head back and laughs. “You’ve been googling me,” she says, grinning wickedly.

 

“Stop making it sound so dirty, oh my god–”

 

Regina glances down at the phone, where she’s pictured with her old co-star from Enchanted High . “I was absolutely in love with Mal for a while there,” she says, leaning back against her seat. “She was the one who flicked my switch , you know? The one who made me realize that I was, in fact, Gina Molinero gay ,” she finishes, smirking at Emma.

 

Emma can’t smirk back. Her stomach is bottoming out like a revelation is coming, bursting up from the depths of her secret heart, and she blurts out, “You were the one who flicked mine.” She remembers the daydreams of Isabela, of bumping into Gina Molinero one day and daring to ask her out, of living some impossible, happy life with her.

 

Regina stares her, eyes suddenly wide, and she leans forward abruptly. Emma knows the kiss is coming only when it comes, and she lets out a “Mmph!” before she comprehends what’s happening. She pulls Regina to her, tugs her onto her lap in the cramped little car and kisses her soundly.

 

Regina is smirking again when she pulls away. “If you want to call me Isabela, I won’t stop you,” she says, and Emma shoves her and then yanks her back by the front of her shirt.

 

“Next time,” she says, biting Regina’s lip, and Regina slides her fingers into Emma’s hair and sighs in satisfaction.

 


 

Ana Castellano appears out of nowhere, dropping silently from a rigged pulley and landing in a crouch as the cameras focus on her. She lifts a hand to her ear and then whirls around, hurling a knife down the hall in a perfect motion. There’s a grunt of pain and Ana fires a rope gun line launcher at the skylight, letting it pull her up at once.

 

“Good!” the director calls. “Makeup change, rooftop fight scene next.” It means going on location for the rest of the afternoon, and Henry is bouncing when Regina is disentangled from the pulley and makes her way to them.

 

Hello , Ana Castellano,” Emma says, her eyes drifting over Regina’s outfit appreciatively. “That is quite a look.”

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow. “You know, sometimes I think you’re just into me for my job.”

 

Emma snorts. “No, I’m in it for your son,” she says, sliding an easy hand around Henry’s shoulders.

 

“That’s fair,” Regina agrees solemnly. “He’s very charismatic.” She turns her smile to him, her eyes anxious again. “You know I didn’t really throw that knife at anyone, right, Henry?”

 

Henry rolls his eyes at her. “I know .” He bounces again, staring up at his mother in a sort of hushed awe. “You’re going to save Tamara, right?”

 

“That’s– that’s what’s meant to happen next season,” Regina says, and she bites her lip. “But she isn’t really in trouble, Henry. It’s not real, so if we don’t get another season–”

 

“You have to save her!” Henry says, horrified. “You’re Ana Castellano . You have to save the day next season!”

 

Emma attempts to not look too smug. Regina gives her a look that makes it very clear that she’s failing miserably at it. “This is what I do every day, Henry. You hate it.”

 

“No.” Henry shakes his head. “You’re a hero , Mommy. Heroes don’t stop fighting.” He beams up at her. “Can I come see when you save Tamara?”

 

Regina looks lost, as though she doesn’t know what to do with a Henry who looks at her with such adoration, who holds her hand as they make their way back to her trailer. “I…I suppose you can.”

 

“Ms. Swan, too,” Henry says firmly, slipping his other hand into Emma’s. “Maybe we can help.” He brightens. “Do you think Cindy will be in my camp this summer? I want to tell her all about Tamara when you save her. Are you gonna fight more bad guys on the roof now– yes , I know they’re not real, but I want to…”

 

He goes on and on, enthusiastic as Regina watches him adoringly, and Emma can’t tear her eyes away from mother and son as they all walk together to Regina’s trailer. Regina blinks down at Henry, a hint of wetness in her bright eyes, and then she raises her face to catch Emma’s eye.

 

They stand in front of Regina’s trailer for a while, Henry still chattering between them, and Emma reaches out and tugs off Regina’s wig. “Definitely not in it for the job, Regina Mills,” she breathes into Regina’s ear, and she presses a kiss to the spot behind it before she tugs on Henry’s hand and pulls them all inside.