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goodnight, dear void.

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My friend, there is little that can create as heady a rush as a new relationship, even one as illicit as this one. Once a week proves to be not often enough, and Regina issues a summons again just days later, and then again on the next weekday. Emma comes each time and hates herself a little more it every time. 

 

She makes up for it by being as obnoxious as humanly possible, made possible only by the way that Regina does the same. “Has it ever occurred to you how sad it is that you look like this and still had to go all the way to Boston to find someone willing to be with you?” she asks, gesturing at Regina after one heated encounter. 

 

Regina lifts her chin haughtily and says, “Well, then, why are you here?” 

 

“Oh,” Emma says, and she takes a step forward, tugging Regina’s slacks away from her before she can pull them on. “I really like making you scream.” 

 

There are moments when Emma doesn’t hate Regina as much as Regina deserves, when too many meetings at Granny’s have left her sated and flippant and happy. Emma, you see, hasn’t been in a steady relationship in years– has been dependent on one-night stands and the occasional second night that goes nowhere. She has been too badly burned in the past to trust anyone with her heart, and wary of any relationship where she gives of herself to someone else.

 

This hardly qualifies as a relationship , and both women are in agreement when it comes to that. “That was quite the underhanded compliment,” Regina says later, when she’s tangled around Emma and Emma is tracing patterns into her back. They make her shiver, and Emma lets out a little hum every time Regina shudders.

 

Emma doesn’t respond, and Regina contents herself with the knowledge that, as much as Emma might hate her, the attraction is very mutual.

 

A word about Regina Mills: she has dated often in the past, has sought out love and hasn’t found a hint of it since her ex-fiance. She is aware that she is difficult, that she is unlikable, that she is too powerful and too domineering to ever maintain a relationship built on anything but attraction. She knows that her lover despises her, and she has a very low opinion of Emma in return. But her expectations are minimal, and a few stolen hours are enough.

 

Perhaps both women might be served better with a weekly therapy session than with the sessions they’ve chosen. But can you see either one ever swallowing their pride enough to allow themselves to be that vulnerable? 

 

They can do it only to someone whose face they don’t know, who might as well be an illusion.

 

Regina and Emma are what we call in the vernacular a hot mess . Virginia and Amy, though…well, they’re showing some promise.

 


 

It’s a Saturday afternoon when Emma gets a text on her burner phone that’s just a string of emoji, apparently from Virginia. She squints at it, bemused, and tries to piece together the emoji into a coherent message. After a minute of staring at the chicken emoji at the end of what seems to be a greeting, she finally puts it together. 

 

It’s supposed to be a hen.

 

Nice to meet you, Henry , she types, and adds a hen of her own for good measure. Does your mom know that you have her phone? She knows Virginia well enough to be sure that she’d be horrified if her son were texting with a stranger.

 

She’s in the bathroom , Henry responds. We’re doing this dumb school project together and I’m supposed to be coloring in the tree.

 

Tree? Emma echoes. What kind of tree?

 

Reader, I know the stories of Regina and Emma are myriad and wonderful, every single one. The legends abound, and this story is but one of thousands, perhaps more, that live and breathe love rooted in prior years of agony. At this moment, you must know what is coming, but I hope you’ll let me set the scene for you.

 

A ten-year-old boy comes home from school on a Friday afternoon and promptly forgets his weekend assignment. Good . A reprieve for his mother, who is not yet ready to address the assignment in question. It isn’t until Saturday morning, when they sit together over breakfast, that the subject is recalled and broached.

 

“Oh,” Henry Mills says suddenly, in the middle of a bite of waffle. “I forgot. I have to make my family tree for school. Do we have a poster board?” 

 

The tableau: his mother, frozen with her fork midway to her mouth. The dread that comes with family tree is unparalleled, particularly for a woman who has yet to explain to her son exactly where he’d come from. “Ah,” she says after a moment. “Well, we can pick out some pictures of your grandparents from my albums, and–”

 

“What about my dad?” Henry asks. It’s a question he’s wanted to ask before, and he broaches it tentatively now. I could tell you stories about tense deflections over the years, about terse conversations that had conveyed, bit by bit, that this is a conversation that should not be had. Regina is aware that Henry has questions, and she is reluctant to lie to him, and here we are: at an impasse.

 

“I don’t have many pictures of him,” Regina manages, and she is overcome with grief again at the memory of a boy who had been hers, once, before her mother’s interference and the car accident that had led to his death. “You know he died before he could meet you. Why don’t we start with coloring a tree?” 

 

Henry is no longer a child who senses his mother’s mood and reacts with bumbling sensitivity. Instead, he tables the idea and holds onto it stubbornly, determined to get the answers he wants. He says, “I want to pick out pictures,” and Regina says, “Let’s start with the tree,” very tightly and now here they are, Regina fled to the bathroom and Henry defiantly grabbing her phone and unlocking it so he can talk to Amy instead. 

 

He doesn’t know much about Amy, except that his mom likes her a lot and she makes Mom laugh. She lives in Boston and Mom doesn’t want to go down to Boston and meet her just to make sure she isn’t a catfish, which he thinks is really silly. It’s just a family tree , he types, already bored with the conversation, and he sends immediately after, so like are you boring or do you like cool stuff?

 

I like your mom and she’s pretty cool , Amy says, and Henry screws up his face in supreme disgust at that. Ew, grownups. Also video games, which is a lot less cool when you’re an adult. 

 

Yes. And while Regina sits on the closed toilet seat, her eyes screwed shut as she forces herself to breathe evenly and gather her composure again, Henry texts with her confidant about video games and memes. By the time Regina emerges, her heart in her throat as she spots Henry on her phone, Amy and Henry are fast friends. “What are you–? Henry! ” Regina says, panicked. Amy knows too much, and there are too many secrets on her phone if Henry scrolls back far enough. She habitually deletes texts from Amy after their conversations get too heavy, but she can’t remember the last time that she’s done it–

 

Henry grins up at her, his prior resentment forgotten, and he says, “Did you know that Amy thinks Rey could beat Anakin in a duel?” as though this is, in fact, the most important thing that Amy has to offer. “I said she could beat Luke, but Anakin is totally stronger than Rey. He has Jedi training from when he was my age and Rey was super old when she learned.” 

 

Regina exhales, relieved through her horror, and she seizes the phone from Henry and scans the conversation. It’s harmless, and Amy hasn’t betrayed any confidences, but Regina still types furiously, I cannot BELIEVE you talked to my son like that. Do you have any grasp of how powerful Anakin Skywalker was in his prime?  

 

An hour and a half away, curled up on her couch in Boston, Emma Swan shakes her head as she discovers something new and surprising about Virginia. I can already tell you care way more about Star Wars than I do. She waits a minute, then says, You have your phone back now?

 

Safe and sound.

 

How are you handling this? She doesn’t have to say what this is. She knows exactly how afraid Regina is that Henry will find out too much about his origins before he’s ready. 

 

Badly. Thank you for distracting him , Virginia adds, and Emma stretches out and feels as though today isn’t quite as empty as it had felt until now. 

 

It’s not that Emma is lonely, exactly. She’s always been on her own, and it’s a relief to make enough to afford her own apartment and her own safe place to live. She likes being alone. It’s just that the past few weeks have been…different. Regina is awful and superior and rude and treats Emma like she’s there only to serve her, but she’s also been Emma’s only consistent human contact that isn’t via anonymous text and that’s… 

 

That’s just very, very sad, Emma decides. Regina is the last person Emma wants to spend time with, and she isn’t yearning for her . She’d rather talk to Virginia, whom she actually likes, and ignore this new discomfort she’s developing at being alone.

 

Maybe she’ll call Mulan and Ruby and see if she can tag along with them this weekend. Whatever they’re doing is better than pining after Regina Mills.

 


 

I wish I could tell you that the gnawing loneliness that Emma is beginning to feel abates soon, but I’m afraid that it only seems to get worse and worse. Meanwhile, Regina has successfully talked Henry into drafting his project this weekend, instead of doing the whole thing– the actual assignment for the weekend, she notes with relief, and they have another two weeks before the family tree fair at the school.

 

Perhaps she can get the whole project canceled. What better reason to become mayor?

 

But there is new tension between mother and son. Henry wants answers, always wants more and more and more; and for the first time, his mother won’t grant them to a boy who has always been given everything. He watches her like she’s a wall to be surmounted now, an obstacle in the way of what he wants, and she can’t bear it. 

 

It’s almost a relief to come into work on Tuesday, hurrying through morning meetings and knowing that Emma will be in town in a few short hours. Regina has taken to working late to make up the time spent out of the office, scrambling and sleeping less so her workload doesn’t suffer. Emma complains about the drain on her time that their meetings have become, but she doesn’t seem to grasp exactly how much work it is for Regina to maintain them.

 

So why have them? she wonders, and quiets that thought before it requires an answer. There is something addictive about being around Emma, about that rush of lust and loathing that brings them together. She comes out of each encounter infuriated and embarrassed, but she still itches for more. Emma Swan is brash and rude and makes no secret of how little she thinks of Regina, and Regina can’t tear herself away.

 

It’s debasement, pure and simple, yet Regina is also invigorated when she thinks about it. By ten past twelve, she’s in a room in their secret world, hands exploring Emma’s body as though it’s for the first time. By half past twelve, she can’t remember any of her objections. By a quarter to one, she is breathing hard, aching for more, and so worn that she needs a break. Emma lies beside her, her chest rising and falling, and there is blessed silence for a few minutes in which Regina dares to imagine that Emma isn’t actually so terrible, and maybe this is okay–

 

Emma says, “Do you even eat?” and Regina remembers that Emma is awful .

 

“Excuse me?” Regina shifts away from her, a protective hand over her stomach. “If you’re going to insult my figure, you might want to wait until after you spent a half hour–” 

 

“No,” Emma says, and she sounds pained. “Not what I meant. You schedule this for your lunch break, right? Do you eat on days when we…?” 

 

Regina struggles to find the implied insult, draws a blank. “Just spit it out,” she snaps, sitting up.

 

Emma sits up, too, and motions to a bag on the dresser, her face tight. “I picked up lunch for myself at the diner before I came up here. I thought you might want–” She swallows, her jaw still clenched, and turns away. 

 

Regina pauses, stymied. “Are you…is this supposed to be a date ?” 

 

“No,” Emma says emphatically. A little too emphatically, really, and Regina glowers to herself. “I just figured that we might as well eat while we’re here anyway. I’m hungry. Not that I haven’t eaten well,” she says, crass and careless as Regina flushes. “You more of a salad person or a burgers person?” 

 

“What do you think,” Regina says, each word descending into frigid temperatures.

 

She saunters over to the dresser, pulling out a number of packaged meals from the bag. There are at least six, and Emma takes out a burger for herself and a salad for Regina. She plunks an order of fries on top of the salad, which is alarmingly spot-on, and sets it down in front of Regina.

 

Regina says, “I’m paying for this,” which is the only comment she can think to make in the face of Emma’s abrupt generosity.

 

“Nope,” Emma says, and she takes a bite of her burger and chews slowly, her eyes on Regina expectantly until Regina opens the salad. The fries, Regina puts between them, and she takes only once Emma has taken. “You’re just gonna have to eat my blood money food. Sucks, huh?” she smirks.

 

Regina casts her a dark look. “Must you make everything so difficult?”

 

“When I was a kid, I used to think that only rich people got fries with their food. Like fries were a luxury.” Emma grabs a fry, licking salt off of it before she puts it into her mouth. Regina watches her tongue and then shakes her head before she loses focus. “Now that I do my own shopping, I know the real luxury was kale.” She snatches a piece of kale from Regina’s plastic container, takes a bite, and makes a face. “Then again, maybe those parents did love me, after all.”

 

There’s something about the way that she says those parents that makes Regina think of Amy, who has talked at length about the slew of foster parents she’d had over the years. She wonders if Emma had gone through the foster system, too. It might explain the speed at which she polishes off her burger. 

 

She doesn’t ask. Even contemplating Emma’s past is a step too far when it comes to their not-relationship.

 

Emma says, “I bet the butler who raised you never let you have fries,” which rankles and isn’t true , anyway. They’d never been wealthy enough to have a butler, which had been one of Mother’s many grievances against Daddy. Mother had made up for it by hovering over Regina at all times, imposing her will on her daughter as though every moment had been a power struggle. 

 

No , she hadn’t been allowed to have fries. “I think you should speak less about things you know nothing about,” Regina says coolly, “Though that would limit you to nothing at all.”

 

Emma tilts her head, unimpressed, and says, “Not a big fan of the butler, huh?” 

 

That’s another thing that Regina hates about Emma Swan. Emma never stops pushing , which is well and fine when they’re talking about making Regina come and unbearable when it comes to provoking Regina. “Not a big fan of those parents ?” Regina counters. “I can’t blame them.” 

 

“Why is it so hot when you’re despicable?” Emma wonders, her eyes flashing as she leans forward, breath like salt and grease and meat, and Regina never gets to finish her kale salad, after all. 

 


 

In years to come, Regina and Emma will squabble about whether or not that had counted as a date in earnest. Regina will say I was very clear that I would pay my way and Emma will counter with you forgot and that absolutely counts and Henry will ask where exactly was this date? until they’re both silent, abashed. There are some things that Henry will still not need to know.

 

But in the moment, I’m pleased to tell you that both women look back at that lunch and wonder if it had, in fact, been the one thing they’d sworn to never share with each other. Regina sits through a tense afternoon in her office with Henry on the couch and is on edge from more than her son’s sullen silence. Emma drives home, fingers drumming against the steering wheel, and tries to block out the image of Regina’s eyes lighting up with secret pleasure when she’d seen those fries.

 

She parks in a garage, four levels belowground, and it’s because of that that she can’t immediately respond when she sees a text from Virginia. Please tell me something delightfully mundane. Virginia, it seems, has had a day like Emma’s. 

 

Emma ponders the message as she walks to the elevator, and she types in a response before she can send it. I’m thinking about getting a pet. She isn’t, but it’s a nice distraction from Regina. Something small and furry and easily managed.

 

Henry had rabbits once. They wrecked an entire room without leaving their cage. Very cuddly, though.

 

Emma entertains herself by imagining Virginia with a rabbit in her arms. With no mental picture of Virginia, she decides that she’d look something like the most attractive person she knows– oh, crap , and Emma is back to Regina. Nope. Definitely not . Hey, you’re a blonde, right?

 

Only in my worst nightmares , Virginia retorts. Why?

 

Crap. Regina has successfully permeated every inch of Emma’s life, even the part that matters most. Emma shuts her eyes for a moment and resists the urge to bang her head against the wall. Tell Henry this one, k? Two blondes fell down a hole. One says, “it’s dark in here, isn’t it?” The other one says, “idk I can’t see.”

 

Virginia is back a minute later. That was terrible. Henry wants to know if you’re a blonde.

 

Maaayyybe.

 

He says, “figures.” Emma grins, settling onto her couch, and she doesn’t think about Regina again for at least five minutes.

 

We are anti-blonde in this family , Virginia adds smugly. My last ex was a blonde terror. Fifteen years older than me, with a child thrice Henry’s age, and very little tolerance for seven-year-olds. It didn’t end well.

 

Tell me Henry vomited all over his thousand-dollar suit , Emma writes, imagining the scene with savage glee. Anyone who crosses Virginia deserves the worst. This guy was Mal, right? Virginia has referenced him before.

 

No vomiting , Virginia admits. But the first time Henry met Mal, he asked if Mal was going to be his new daddy. Mal never came back.

 

(I feel obligated to mention here that this story is one hundred percent true, and it still makes Henry puff up with pride.)

 

Emma snorts. Tell Henry he’s my hero. She hesitates, then decides to pry again. How are you two doing right now?

 

He’s angry with me. But I don’t have the answers he wants. Virginia doesn’t text for a little while. I have pictures of his father– the man who would have been his father in my mind, at least. My fiance before I was married. But in every picture, he looks so young, and so do I. If Henry sees those, he’ll know that Daniel can’t possibly be his father.

 

Would you tell him the truth? Emma has a bad feeling about all of this, and the line that Henry is dancing on right now between ignorance and dawning realization. What if he finds out some other way?

 

He won’t . Virginia is adamant. I don’t want to be forced into giving him the truth. Not before he’s ready to handle it. 

 

I can tell you that it isn’t just Emma who has a bad feeling about this. Regina is coping with the grim dread that comes with knowing that she won’t be able to hide this forever, and Henry’s limit is coming closer and closer. But for now, she drives her heels into the mud and refuses to budge. There is too much that is on the verge of going wrong to start shaking things up now. She won’t risk Henry, too.

 

And she changes the subject and does her best not to think about it again.

 


 

Two things happen on a bright and sunny Saturday morning. The first is a ray of hope in the dark, the first hints of an improvement in the mayor’s house in Storybrooke. Henry is in a good mood this morning, smiles easily and says, “Yeah, okay,” when Regina suggests that they go out to the yard today and garden together. Gardening is an old standby for them, a time when mother and son can enjoy the silence of the world around them and venture the occasional conversation in the quiet.

 

Henry rarely gardens with Regina anymore, distracted by homework and screens and even the occasional play date. Regina bobs her head, doing her best to mask her enthusiasm, and says, “I’d love that.”

 

She makes a conscious decision to leave her phone in the house while they garden. Short of an unrealistic emergency, there is no greater priority for her right now than Henry, and she doesn’t want to be distracted by even Amy when she’s with him. Amy would understand.

 

And Henry is better outside, brighter and less subdued as he digs through the dirt and yanks out weeds. He talks about his teachers and his friends, and he listens to Regina’s stories about her run-ins with the strange man who runs the Storybrooke Small Business Association. “He made the appointment under another name,” Regina remembers, groaning. “And then he spent fifty-six minutes haranguing me about the color of the benches at the park.” 

 

“They’re a very boring shade of black,” Henry says seriously. “Have you ever considered polka dots?” 

 

Regina shoots him a look, and he grins at her and returns to his weeds. “We’re doing this creative writing assignment on twisted fairy tales,” he says suddenly. “I did mine on Snow White’s stepmother.” 

 

“Hm?” Henry has a gift for writing that Regina doesn’t share, and he usually runs to tell her about his assignments. “You didn’t mention this one.”

 

“We did it in school earlier this week. I didn’t think it was realistic that the Evil Queen would want to kill Snow just because she was prettier than her. It seemed sexist.” Henry wrinkles his nose and Regina is seized with the urge to hug him. “So I wrote her a backstory. She didn’t want to be a queen, and she was married to the king to be a mom to his daughter. And Snow White was a spoiled brat who treated her like a servant until Snow’s father died. That’s why the Evil Queen hated her.” 

 

“Still seems a little extreme for her to start carving out hearts,” Regina comments as they pack up to go inside for lunch. “Maybe the Huntsman misunderstood her.”

 

Henry considers. “Maybe hearts are magic,” he says. “And if the Queen had Snow White’s heart, then she could make her say sorry. I think she’d want Snow White to apologize.” Maybe there’s something implied beneath the surface, a subtle resentment, but Henry only sounds thoughtful, writing stories in his head. “What’s for lunch?” 

 

“I thought we could make a pizza together,” Regina says. She’d left the dough on the counter to defrost, and it’s already risen a bit. “How about–” 

 

She doesn’t get to enjoy Henry’s eyes lighting up. Her phone rings insistently, cutting her off, and Henry darts to the freezer to hunt down the frozen spinach that he likes on his pizza. Regina sees the name on the screen– Emma – and her eyes narrow. “Yes?” 

 

I did say there were two things that had happened on that Saturday morning. 

 

The second is simple: Emma, after texting Virginia multiple times and realizing that her friend isn’t around, descends into a dull loneliness that is coupled with a little bit of frustration. 

 

Because she’s had enough , hasn’t she, being at Regina’s beck and call? She shows up on Regina’s timetable, in the middle of workdays, and she’s left alone and dissatisfied at nights and on weekends. Emma doesn’t even like Regina, but she’s getting the feeling more and more that she’s trapped in Regina’s orbit and has no way of getting out. 

 

She rages about it a little, vents at no one and tries calling Mulan to vent more but gets no answer. Mulan is busy with her actual girlfriend, whom she likes and isn’t afraid to been seen near in public. And Emma is trapped in a relationship that isn’t one, is friends with benefits with a woman who isn’t even her friend and–

 

She squeezes her fists, releases them, and decides that she’s had enough. She can’t do this with Regina anymore, can’t play into this bit where she’s a supporting character in someone else’s life. She doesn’t like Regina, and this whole thing is…it’s out of control. She has to take charge of her life.

 

And somehow, that translates to driving ninety minutes to Storybrooke, parking at the B&B and grabbing a room while avoiding Granny’s eyes, and then calling Regina and getting her voicemail. Emma grits her teeth and calls again, and this time, Regina picks up. “What do you want?” Regina hisses. “It’s Saturday.” 

 

“I’m in Storybrooke,” Emma says, and she hardly recognizes the cadence of her own voice. She sounds confident, unrelenting, when all she wants to do is shrivel up and disappear. “Come to the room.” 

 

Regina pauses, and her response is sharp. “You can’t just show up and expect me to drop everything–” 

 

“You do,” Emma counters. “So it’s my turn. Get over here.” She tries to stay assertive, though she can feel her confidence dissipating. “I’ll make it worth your while.” 

 

“I’m a busy woman,” Regina says tightly. “I need time to arrange these things. It isn’t going to happen.” She pulls away from the phone, her voice barely audible for a moment, and says in a very different voice, “What are you–?” and then she laughs. Laughs , light and floaty and like an entirely different person as she protests, “Not the onions!” to someone Emma can’t hear.

 

When she returns to the phone, her tone is cool. “I have to go.” 

 

Emma can feel the situation slipping away from her, and she struggles to find some semblance of her dignity within it. “I have some things to take care of here,” she lies. “I can give you an hour, tops. And then I’m gone.” She means it. She can’t do this anymore, drown in the emptiness of a few encounters and nothing more. Regina is going to destroy her if she keeps doing this. 

 

At that final threat, Regina actually sounds a little affected. Good. “What do you expect me to do, Emma? What do you think this is? I have– I’ve told you that weekends aren’t good for me, and I can’t–” There is someone speaking in the background, a high voice Emma can’t make out that might be a child or another woman, and Regina hangs up without a goodbye.

 

Emma rubs her eyes, feels like absolute garbage, and escapes from the room. There’s the diner downstairs, and Ruby won’t be there to see Emma’s humiliation, at least. 

 

What had she been thinking? That Regina would drop everything and run to her as though they’re actually together? That Regina wouldn’t have a reason for saying no weekends beyond some arbitrary power play?

 

That had definitely been another woman with Regina, one who makes her laugh like they don’t hate each other. Emma and Regina aren’t exclusive. They aren’t even together . Maybe Regina’s weekends are reserved for someone else entirely. Maybe Regina’s evenings are, too, and Emma is just there to satisfy Regina while she plays out some kind of romantic slow burn with some other woman–

 

Maybe it had just been Marian hanging out with her best friend and Emma’s overreacting, Emma tells herself as she sits down and waits for her food. Roughly five seconds later, the door to Granny’s opens and Marian walks in. Scratch that , Emma thinks miserably. 

 

One hour. She’ll give Regina the hour she’d offered, and then she is gone for good, and this sham of a non-relationship will be over. She just needs to stay put for an hour. She waits at her seat and watches as Marian chats with Ruby’s grandmother and then takes a plate and turns to Emma. 

 

“I didn’t know you were visiting,” Marian says, setting down the plate. “What brings you to Storybrooke?” 

 

Emma shrugs. It’s another reminder that of course Regina hasn’t mentioned any of this to her best friend, and it makes the devastation just a little bit worse. “Just dropping by. I was in the neighborhood.”

 

Marian looks hard at her. “No one’s in the neighborhood of Storybrooke, Emma. And I know for a fact that Ruby’s been gone all weekend, so–” She looks suddenly delighted, her voice a raised whisper. “Are you here for Regina ?”

 

“No!” Emma protests, and it’s a little hollow. “No,” she repeats, and she’s never been less enthusiastic when digging into a plate of waffles. “I’m just…here.” Regina will be furious if Emma spills what they’ve been doing to her best friend–

 

And Emma finds it all spilling from her lips, anyway, a rush of humiliated admissions that sound worse and worse as she says them aloud. Marian listens in silence, her eyes intent on Emma, and she doesn’t say anything until Emma’s finally finished. “Shit,” she murmurs. “This is…really not what I had in mind when I set you two up.” 

 

“What did you have in mind?” Emma demands. “That your stuck-up domineering best friend would like me?” She still doesn’t understand why Marian and Mulan had orchestrated their meeting in the first place when they’re compatible only in bed; when they have nothing in common; when Emma was always going to be reduced to an afterthought in Regina’s life–

 

Marian sighs. “I thought that you were funny in that way that Regina likes. That she’d take care of you. I don’t know. She’s usually…a lot nicer to people she cares about.” 

 

“She doesn’t care about me,” Emma points out, and it shouldn’t feel nearly as devastating as it does. “Maybe it was a dick move to come out here today and force her hand, but I’m so sick of coming when she calls. Shouldn’t it be…doesn’t it seem fair that it should go both ways?” She’s asking this of Regina’s best friend, and she feels small and vulnerable and silly when she says it. Marian is still watching her, her expression giving nothing away, and Emma ducks her head and focuses on her waffles instead of Marian. 

 

Marian says delicately, “Regina’s weekends are…complicated. There are some things she hasn’t told you, and I don’t think it’s my place to…” She sighs. “I don’t think she’s dating someone else,” she says at last. “Definitely not on a Saturday afternoon.” 

 

“Okay.” There isn’t anything to say to that, and Emma swallows and says, “I’m sorry for laying this all on you–” 

 

“Not an issue,” Marian says, waving her hand. “I’m sorry this has been so painful for you.” She leans forward, laying a hand onto Emma’s, and she says, “Talk to her about how you feel. Okay? She isn’t…she isn’t some kind of sadist. She isn’t trying to hurt you.” 

 

Marian doesn’t know her friend very well, after all, and Emma forces a smile and lies, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” She knows better than to expose any sign of weakness in front of Regina. 

 

“I’ve got to go,” Marian says, glancing down at her phone and then smiling quickly at Emma. “Hang in there, okay? Give her a chance. She could be your fiercest ally in this world, if you let her be. I promise.” 

 

Emma doesn’t laugh in her face. It doesn’t seem polite. But she scoffs into her waffles and checks her own phone for the time.

 

Twenty more minutes.

 


 

Ten more minutes, and Regina is acutely aware of that fact, too. She eats her pizza beside Henry, forcing herself to focus on him and not the clock. So Emma will leave. Who the hell does Emma think she is, showing up and slinging ultimatums at her? If it’s a question of the woman she’s barely seeing or giving Henry the attention he needs, it’s always going to be Henry.

 

Of course, Emma wouldn’t understand that. Emma’s nearly a child herself. Regina grits her teeth and says, “Do you want to work on a new jigsaw puzzle after lunch?” 

 

Henry watches her, his eyes sharp, and he says suddenly, “Who called you when we were starting the pizza?” 

 

Regina blinks at him. “No one. Just work.”

 

“You’ve been weird and distracted since you got that call.” Henry shrugs, and Regina sees in that shrug the start of another tense week. “If you need to go work, you should go. I was going to watch TV all day, anyway.” 

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Regina says firmly. “They’ll do just fine without me. Now, how about that puzzle?” Emma had sounded so tired on the phone, as though she’d hit a limit that Regina hadn’t known she’d been at. It always happens like this. On the rare occasion when Regina actually sees someone more than once, it’s only a matter of time before they lose patience with her and move on.

 

The only reason why Emma had kept coming, Regina suspects, is because they’d gotten the hating each other part of the relationship over with early on. Emma doesn’t have to slowly learn about Regina’s worst qualities; she’d learned them instantly and already hates Regina for them. But even what they’re doing now has stretched Emma to this point, and Regina isn’t going to see her again.

 

She can’t go out now, not when Henry is watching her as though to challenge her to leave. Henry is waiting for her to decide that something else is more important, and she can never do that.

 

She picks out a jigsaw puzzle downstairs, glancing down at the time as she tidies her way back through the basement. Ten minutes are now down to three, and she forces herself to look away. When she comes upstairs, Marian is eating pizza on her couch, chatting with Henry. “It’s just around the path at the park,” she’s saying. “I don’t mind driving your bikes there so you don’t have to ride across streets with him. But he could really use some practice.” Regina stares, uncertain what’s going on, and Henry turns, looking guiltily at the puzzle box.

 

“I know I said I wanted to do the puzzle,” he says, biting his lip. “But Tía Marian says she’ll pay me twenty bucks to ride with Roland today. He’s just learning how to ride a two-wheeler, and he needs some help–” 

 

Regina gapes at them, and sees, out of the corner of her eye, that the clock in the living room has ticked past an hour since Emma had called. Dread gnaws in the pit of her stomach, and she says, “Are you sure you don’t want to spend your afternoon here?” 

 

“I like Roland. And spending money,” Henry admits sheepishly. “And Tía Marian will supervise. Do you think we could do the puzzle tomorrow?”

 

Regina nods mechanically, her heart pounding with new urgency. “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” she says, forcing a smile. “We might as well.” 

 

“We’ll grab Henry’s bike from the garage and head out,” Marian decides, still eating pizza on Regina’s couch, and she swallows her last bite and then comes over to press a kiss to Regina’s cheek. Under her breath, she mutters, “Go to the B&B. You can thank me later,” and then she’s gone, leading Henry out the door and to the garage. 

 

Regina doesn’t think through what she’s about to do and why it feels so urgent– and why Marian is suddenly in on it– but she’s in the car before Marian has driven halfway down the street, starting it and pulling out to drive in the opposite direction. She whirls around the block, barely pausing at stop signs and driving at ten above the speed limit on the quiet streets near her house, and she veers hard into the small parking lot behind the B&B and parks.

 

Emma’s yellow car is still there, and Regina slams her car door and peers over at it. Emma is leaning against the car, staring at her phone– she’s gotten a new phone, Regina thinks inanely, because she’d had a different one on Thursday– and Regina crosses the lot in long, swift strides as Emma watches her approach.

 

She hasn’t decided what she’ll do when she reaches Emma– berate her for this idiotic ultimatum, or make her pay for dragging Regina into unscheduled drama today, or even demand what right she has to look so miserable about what she’d imposed on Regina– and she startles herself when she’s finally in front of Emma and kisses her instead.

 

There is no suggestiveness about this kiss, no promise of something more to come. Regina isn’t thinking coherently enough for that. There is only quiet desperation and the warmth of Emma’s hands as they cup Regina’s cheeks, her fingers stroking Regina’s skin with velvet gentleness. Regina kisses Emma and slips her arms around Emma’s waist, holding her to her, and Emma sighs against her lips and says, “Upstairs?” 

 

Regina doesn’t want to go upstairs. She aches for something insubstantial, something that will not be satisfied in their room no matter how long they spend in there. And Emma, who charges in and demands Regina’s attention, wants only this .

 

“You’re a spoiled little brat,” Regina says, and she means it with every ounce of disdain in her voice. “You think I’m going to go up there with you after what you put me through today?” 

 

Emma scoffs right back at her. “I think you can’t stop yourself,” she says, hips swaying as she walks toward the entrance to the B&B. And Regina follows, because Emma isn’t wrong about that.

 


 

It’s a mark of how disastrous this relationship is that both women come out of the afternoon believing themselves to be the victim of the day, the harried woman at the mercy of their manipulative counterpart. As far as each of them is concerned, the other has been playing games with them, and both are exhausted by the evening.

 

And, of course, when exhaustion hits, it’s followed by an urge to confide in the one person for whom this has been off-limits until now. Regina resists the desire, instead replying to Amy that night after Henry is in bed. Had a great day with Henry today. Feel like we might have pushed off the unpleasantness a little. How about you?

 

Emma, back at home with the same unshakeable feeling of desolation, is glad when she sees the message. Virginia might have been away all day, leaving Emma to make terrible decisions, but it’s for the best reason. At least one of them has had a good day. She waits until the next day before she finally broaches the topic with Virginia. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where you feel like you don’t matter? Like you could just…drop dead and the other person wouldn’t give a fuck?

 

Mid-jigsaw puzzle, Regina glances at her phone and her eyes narrow, fury humming through her veins. Give me an address. I’ll send a firing squad. I’ll hire a hit man. The implication of Amy being in a relationship leaves a bad taste in her mouth, but if Amy is in a relationship where she isn’t being treated well? Electric chair.

 

At her desk at work on a Sunday, Emma bites back the laugh that threatens to emerge. There is something deeply satisfying about Virginia’s rage on her behalf, and she feels a pleasant little flush through her at the thought of it. I mean, yeah, the guy is terrible, but he’s also way out of my league and knows it. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. It just sucks. 

 

Regina is even more alarmed at this response. Amy is solidly the best person she knows, and the idea that she’s been feeling like this is just… God . Regina has been feeling a bit like that around Emma, but Regina knows that she probably has it coming. Amy deserves better. There’s no way you’re out of anyone’s league , Regina writes vehemently. He should know exactly how lucky he is to have you. And if he isn’t treating you like that, then he doesn’t deserve you. She bunches up her fists, infuriated, and types again. Doesn’t he know what he has?

 

Emma isn’t laughing anymore. She stares at the phone screen, her hands shaking, and she wants to– fuck , she wants to press the little button in the corner of their conversation and call Virginia, and talk to her, and meet her in person and… She shakes again, blinking away tears that threaten to fall, and she’s tired and worn out by whatever she’s doing with Regina and now this . Now Virginia, crusading for Emma’s honor, caring so hard about an absolute stranger–

 

Regina is baffled by Amy’s silence, and she worries suddenly that she’d come on too strong. They’re just friends who text, who’d stumbled upon each other by accident, and Regina can’t seem to switch off the deeper protectiveness that has blossomed over time. She hates the idea of Amy suffering alone, of her keeping this bad relationship to herself until now, of her being in this relationship at all. Of being in any relationship, but Regina isn’t willing to admit that to herself just yet.

 

Emma has no such compunctions. She types, deletes what she wants to say, and types again. It’s becoming clear to her why it is that she’s been so torn up about Regina in the first place, and why this gnawing loneliness has been getting worse and worse. It isn’t just Regina. It’s time, she thinks with trembling fingers, that she concedes to herself who it is that’s captured her heart and left her so thoroughly vulnerable. A stranger, a woman she’s never met, who cares for her exactly as fiercely as Marian had claimed that Regina would. Virginia , who makes everything so much more complicated.

 

And Regina is having similar thoughts, better repressed, right up until the thank you ♥ appears on her screen.

 

Henry looks up for the first time in a while, ready to chastise his mother for being distracted and missing the blue pieces he keeps finding, and sees his mother’s eyes wide, lips parted, and cheeks flushed. Whoa. “Who are you texting?” he asks casually, pushing a few more sky pieces his mother’s way.

 

His mom says, “Oh, just Amy,” her voice as casual as his, and Henry nods with satisfaction to himself. 

 

Knew it.