For a Thursday night, Roni’s bar was busy. Not like a Friday or Saturday night busy, but a steady stream of customers that were keeping both bartenders occupied. Regina was pouring a beer while Killian handled a tray of shots for the group in the back corner. One of the regulars slapped a twenty on the bar which she deftly picked up with a wink as she delivered the beer to the guy two seats down. She didn’t have to ask for his order; Leroy wanted two beers now and two beers right after those. She got busy pouring as she scanned the crowd.
It was habit for her, reading the room, quickly assessing the mood and feel of her bar. It was second nature to her after so many years. Ruby walked between the tables with her tray of shots, flirting her way past the crowd, sassing a few regulars as she delivered the drinks to the small party. Someone was leaving a firm after several years and was having a going away party. Regina doubted she’d have to worry about them getting out of control; one of the attendees was pregnant sipping a coke and several of them still had to work the next day.
As she slid the first pair of beers to Leroy, picked up an empty glass, and began to pour a whiskey, her gaze scanned again. Killian was entertaining a trio of co-eds at his end of the bar; she rolled her eyes but knew he’d bring in some great tips. Ruby’s tray had a few empties on it as well but she was stopped at a different table, probably taking an order for cheese sticks or loaded potatoes. That thought drew Regina’s assessment to the window for the kitchen and was satisfied to see no outstanding orders waiting.
When the door opened and a new couple stumbled inside, Regina’s eyes narrowed in their direction. The guy was trying hard to be scruffy looking with rumpled clothes, a messenger bag, and salt-and-pepper hair. The woman, on the other hand, appeared as though she had dressed up for a date that went somewhere better than Regina’s neighborhood bar. The blonde wore black heels that matched her black leather dress, which despite the knee-length, red Burberry coat she wore over it, Regina knew was sleeveless. She also looked really irritated and pulled away from the guy’s arm around her waist as they made their way to a table.
Regina’s spidey senses told her to keep an eye on the couple and an eyebrow raise from Killian told her he’d noticed as well. Regina shelved the bottle of MacCutcheon she’d been pouring, served Leroy his next two beers, and closed out the tab for a couple of regulars. When she next scanned the room, she saw the odd couple sitting at a table, two beers between them, and body language that said they were arguing. The woman was turned sideways with her phone out as the man reached his arm halfway across the table towards her.
“He has no clue that she is way out of his league,” Killian commented, reaching past Regina for the bottle of local brewed vodka.
“What’d Ruby say?” Regina asked, knowing Ruby would’ve have definitely picked up vibes from the couple as well.
“Something about he’s out of work and she’s sick of it.” Killian shrugged and threw a couple of olives in the drink. “Same old story, probably begging for a second chance.”
“If she’s smart, she won’t give him one,” Regina muttered, turning back to the bar and her next customer. She’d keep an eye on them but it wasn’t a scene she needed to watch play out. She’d seen it too many times in her line of work.
An hour later, the crowd was dying down. The party tab had closed out leaving Ruby with a hefty tip, Leroy had shockingly left after only four, Killian’s fan club had moved over to the pool table, and the arguing couple were almost through their second round. With a scan around the room, Regina pulled on the rope to ring the old-fashioned bell. “Last call for the kitchen,” she announced. She’d ring it again in two hours for last call of the night.
As she busied herself wiping down and shelving glasses, Regina caught sight of movement at her end of the bar. She was surprised to turn and see the blonde standing there, hands braced against the marble top. “What can I get ‘cha?” When the woman didn’t immediately answer, Regina glanced past her to the table she and her date had been sitting at but the man was nowhere in sight. “You want another IPA?”
The blonde woman blinked several times before focusing on Regina. “I think…” She looked around and frowned like she’d lost her train of thought. “Yeah,” she said and brought a hand up to rub between her eyes, “I need…”
Regina moved closer and peered at the woman. “Are you all right?”
“Emma?” the scruffy man appeared from the direction of the restrooms.
The blonde reached out and grabbed Regina by the wrist. “Angel shot.”
“Oh hey, there you are!” He came up behind the blonde and put his arm around her waist, missing the way she quickly released her hold on the bartender. “What are you doing, babe? I told you we were leaving.”
“Well, you can’t leave yet,” Regina interjected smoothly. “She just ordered another drink and my guy is already fixing it.”
Emma gave the guy a wide, uneven smile. “Just one more, baby.” When he hesitated, she brought an unsteady hand up to the side of his face. “Please.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said finally, then looked at Regina. “Make it a quick one, yeah?” He kissed the side of the blonde’s face. “We’ve got better places to be.”
“Of course,” Regina replied tightly and walked over to Killian.
He glanced up and knew immediately something was wrong. “What’s up, love?”
“The blonde just ordered an angel shot.” She clamped down on his hand when he almost turned to look. She grabbed the old-fashioned he was making out of his hand. “Go get Ruby, have her distract the guy. We need to separate them.”
He nodded and rounded the bar, throwing a dark look over his shoulder as Regina brought the cocktail back to the couple. The blonde was melted against him, and the guy kept glancing at the door. Regina set the drink down like nothing was wrong. “That’ll be $7.50.”
“You know what, forget about it,” the guy said. “We don’t need it.” He hauled the blonde up against his side. “Let’s go, babe.”
“Hey, she ordered the drink,” Regina said, stalling. “You have to pay for it, man.”
“For fuck’s sake,” he said, releasing Emma who stumbled against a bar stool but remained upright. He pulled out his wallet and slapped a twenty down. “Here. Fucking overpriced drinks.”
Regina clocked Ruby striding the length of the bar, carrying a tray with two full pitchers. She reached over the bar towards the asshat. “Let me get your change!”
He shrugged her off, reaching for Emma. “Keep it.”
Then he turned and ran smack into Ruby and a cascade of cheap beer. There was a clatter of pitchers and the tray hitting the ground, Ruby began immediately apologizing, whipping a towel out from somewhere to try and get the liquid off the guy. Regina rounded the bar, putting herself between the guy and Emma; she began ranting at Ruby about being clumsy and offering apologies. Killian appeared from behind her, took the towel from her shoulder, and between him and Ruby they began herding the guy back towards the restrooms.
As soon as his back was turned, Regina turned to Emma and immediately realized the blonde would not be simply sneaking out the back door. With a hurried glance towards the restrooms, she hauled the blonde up to her feet, and began walking Emma towards the back office. Tiny, an enormous man that was an excellent fry cook, appeared from the kitchen, wheeling a mop bucket.
“Don’t worry about that now!” Regina barked as Emma draped herself over her. “Go help them keep that guy in the restroom. Don’t let him leave.” She looked over her shoulder and caught the wide eyes of one of Killian’s fan club. “Call the police! Tell them we’ve got a victim of a spiked drink.”
It turned out that whatever the bastard had slipped the blonde had made her quite handsy. With a semi-patient growl, Regina removed Emma’s hand from her ass for the third time. “Come on, let’s just sit down.”
She got the blonde seated on the couch in her cramped office and straightened her back out. The blonde grinned up at her. “You’re pretty.”
“Oh boy.” Regina sat down on the coffee table in front of her. “Let’s take a look at you.” The blonde’s pupils were blown and a sheen of sweat had broken out on her forehead.
Emma’s hands settled on Regina’s knees and began sliding up the brunette’s thighs. “Come sit with me, please.” Regina’s hands caught her by the wrists and stopped her; Emma grinned. “Is your tongue pierced? You look like you might have a tongue piercing.”
“Oh-kay.” Regina moved Emma’s hands off her and guided the blonde to sit back. Emma complied bonelessly.
“The last woman I was with had one, and oh my God,” Emma began running her hands up her own chest, “the things she could do to me.” She grinned again. “I’d let you do those things to me.” She reached again for Regina. “What’s your name, baby?”
“Not baby,” Regina assured her, once again stilling wandering hands. “Emma, do you know the name of the guy you were with tonight?”
“Neal? Yeah, Neal.” A smile broke out on her face then she frowned just as quickly as she looked around the office. “Where is he?” She picked at a pillow on the couch. “Where are we?”
“Emma, I think Neal slipped you a drug,” Regina tried explaining. She wasn’t sure why but it seemed like the thing to do. “We’ve called the police and they should be here soon.”
“I like the way your hair is all curly and bouncy,” Emma reached for a lock of brunette hair. “How do you do that? It’s so soft.”
“It’s natural,” she sighed, letting Emma play with the curl.
Ruby chose that moment to join them in the office. She raised her eyebrow as Regina gently got Emma to let go of her hair. If the situation was different, Ruby would tease the hell out of her boss. Instead, she handed Regina the blonde’s purse. “Her name is Emma Swan. His name is Neal and Tiny has him under control.”
Ruby smiled softly as Emma leaned over on the couch to take hold of her hand. “Hi, honey. You feeling all right?”
Emma nodded and pulled on Ruby’s hand. “Come sit with me?”
“I wouldn’t,” Regina warned.
Ruby chose to perch on the arm of the couch and Emma laid her head on Ruby’s thigh. She sighed contentedly and ran her free hand over the waitress’ shin. Ruby’s eyes went wide and Regina caught Emma’s hand and simply held it as the blonde’s eyes fixed on her.
“So, pretty,” she murmured.
Ruby laid her hand on the blonde’s back and shook her head. “She certainly likes you.”
“She doesn’t know me,” Regina said, gently moving hair out of Emma’s face, eliciting another smile.
“I like both of you,” Emma said happily.
The office door opened again and Killian poked his head in. He did a double take at the way the three women were sitting but wisely said nothing. “I checked the security footage. You can clearly see the asshat slip something in her drink while she’s on the phone.”
Emma giggled, “Asshat.”
He looked down and smiled at the blonde. “Hello, love.”
Regina flicked her gaze up to her bartender. That was his usual line for showing off his accent and flirting with the ladies that flocked to him. But this time, she saw only compassion in his expression as he smiled kindly at the incapacitated woman.
A short blonde woman, the one Regina had told to call 911, stuck her head in through the door. “The police are here.”
“Thanks, love,” Killian said. He glanced at Regina. “I’ll bring them back.”
“Gently,” Regina urged.
Despite her request and the police’s empathetic response, Regina still found herself fifteen minutes later, riding in the back of an ambulance with her new best friend, clinging onto her hand.
A week later, Regina was back behind the bar, prepping for the evening crowd. She was crouched down, stacking glasses when she heard the door open. She called out, “Be right with you.”
“Uhm, hi, I’m looking for, Regina?”
Regina paused in her stacking. She knew that voice. She looked up and slowly stood to find Emma Swan standing at the bar, looking nervous.
“Hi, I’m Regina,” she said. “What can I get ya?”
Emma frowned. The woman looked familiar; she looked like the angel Emma had imagined in her dreams. Her voice definitely struck a chord, but everything from that night was hazy. “Are you the Regina that stayed with me in the ambulance last week?”
Regina relaxed her stance; she hadn’t been sure if the woman wanted to acknowledge what had happened or not. She gave her a soft smile and a nod. “I am,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
Emma exhaled in relief. “Better, for sure.” She tucked her hair behind her ear and looked down. “I, uh, wanted to come by and say thank you, for uh, well, everything.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay, Miss Swan.” When the blonde didn’t look up, she asked, “Are you okay, Emma?”
“Yeah, uhm,” she said quickly, too quickly. “I just, uh, I wanted to thank you and maybe buy you a cup of coffee sometime, you know, to say thanks.”
Regina was surprised. “Well, I can’t really leave right now-”
“Oh, right! Of course,” Emma jumped in. “I mean, yeah, you’re busy-”
“However,” Regina interjected smoothly, “I can brew a pot and we can chat here over a cup, if you’d like.”
The blonde’s expression brightened immediately and she nodded. “I’d like that.”
Regina pointed towards the couches that were on the opposite side of the bar from the table she’d sat at with Neal. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll be right over?”
A few minutes later, Regina sat down two steaming cups and a handful of sugar and creamers. Emma reached for the drink, then hesitated, closing her eyes. Regina could see the muscle in her jaw working as she ground her teeth. She sympathized with the younger woman. “If you’d like to watch me pour a fresh cup for you, I don’t mind.”
Emma’s eyes popped open and the green was stunningly sad. She huffed out a humorless laugh and reached for the sugar packets. “I guess if you wanted to drug me, you could have that night.” Then she muttered, “Sorry.”
“Perfectly understandable.” Regina sat back, cradling her mug that was adorned with the letters HBIC. It had been a boss’ day gift from Ruby the year before. It earned a small smirk from the blonde and Regina was glad she had chosen it. “So, who was he, if I may ask?”
“Old boyfriend.” Emma leaned back, dropping her head to the back of the couch. “Back in town, doesn’t understand why we ever broke up, things will be different this time, blah, blah, bullshit.”
“That song has definitely played on the radio before,” Regina offered.
Emma lifted her head from the couch. “And I had no intention of getting back with him again, like ever, but I thought, you know, we could be friends.” She sipped her coffee. “And that’s what he lured me out with. He promised me no talk about getting back together but then as soon as we met up he kept trying to put his arm around me or kiss my cheek.” She shuddered then shook her head. “But I never thought he’d go that far.”
Very little about what humans could do to each other surprised her anymore, and Regina hummed noncommittedly.
“And you know what the worst part is,” Emma said quietly, staring into her cup. “The worst part…is that he knows I’m an addict.”
Regina stiffened; her gaze tracked cautiously to Emma’s.
The blonde held up a hand. “Recovering addict,” she clarified. “Prior to last week’s episode, I’ve been clean for almost four years.”
Regina relaxed. When she saw Emma watching her closely, waiting for judgment, she pulled out the necklace she wore under her shirt. “Five-year sober chip,” she said, reading the inscription on it like she did everyday before she came into work. “Got it a couple of months ago.” She tucked it back away then eyed Emma. “Took me three tries before I finally earned it.”
“Congratulations,” Emma said and meant it. “I guess I’m at five days and counting.”
Regina wanted to say that getting drugged against her will didn’t count, but the feeling and desire, the memory of being high was fresh now. She would have to take the time to put the distance between her and that feeling again. It really would feel like starting all over. “If you want to go to a meeting or something, I’ll go with you.”
Emma chuckled, looking down. “I appreciate that, truly, but…”
“But what, Miss Swan?”
Oh, she really liked hearing Regina say her name like that. Warmth flooded her face and that feeling below her waist flipped a bit. She cleared her throat. “That’s not exactly the place I’d want to take you if we were to go out.”
“Is that so?” Regina noticed the blush. She thought it looked lovely on the blonde. “Are you asking me out, Em-ma?”
Emma looked up. Her eyes a darker shade of green than before. “If I was, would you be interested?”
Regina considered her answer carefully. She set her mug down on the table. “Before I answer that question,” she said, “I believe, given our brief but tumultuous time together, I should be honest about something.”
“Oh, okay.” Emma leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. “What is it?”
“My tongue is pierced.”
Emma dropped her coffee mug. “Shit.”
Regina laughed as the mostly empty mug bounced off Emma’s shoes before rolling under the table.
“Oh my, God,” Emma scrubbed her hands over her face, “that wasn’t a dream. I really said that to you!”
“Yeah, you did,” Regina said, nodding still grinning like mad. She considered pointing out how many times Emma had grabbed her ass but she didn’t want to embarrass her too much. She’d save that bit of information to share later. Maybe when the blonde was consciously grabbing her ass. Regina laughed at her own thoughts; well, at least, she hadn’t gone straight for the U-Haul. “And the answer to your question is yes, by the way.”
Emma was still reeling, hoping she hadn’t done anything else inappropriate when Regina answered her. “What?”
“If you asked me out,” Regina reminded her. “I’d definitely be interested.”
Emma exhaled, her shoulders dropping. The knot of emotion that had been in her chest since she woke up in the hospital finally began to loosen. “Well, Regina, I will take your interest into consideration.”
Regina’s brow arched upwards. She was rather impressed the blonde hadn’t jumped straight to an invitation. “You do that, Miss Swan.”
They smiled at each other.
“Don’t take too long to think about it,” Regina warned.
“I definitely won’t.” Emma waited another beat, then asked, “Regina, would you go out to dinner with me one night next week?”
Regina considered making her wait for an answer. “I’d love to.” She mentally flipped through her calendar. “I’ll have to double check the staff calendar, but Thursday would probably be the easiest night for me to get away.”
“I can do Thursday night,” Emma agreed. “So, is this your bar then?”
Regina gave her establishment a loving look. “Yep, going on twelve years now.”
“That’s awesome,” Emma said, giving the place a more appreciative look. Then she frowned slightly. “Wait, why is it named Roni’s?”
Regina sat back against the arm of the couch. “That, my dear, is a story all on its own.”