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Third time is (sort of) the Charm

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Sometimes, two people look each other in the eyes and they’re done for. They know they belong together, and they’ll tell their friends, “this is the girl I’m going to marry one day.”

And sometimes, it takes two people years to figure it out because they’re too stubborn, too scared, or too caught up in their own world to see what’s oh, so clear for everyone else.

This story is about the latter pair. It’s about two people who hate each other at first sight, but who might have more in common than they originally think. It’s a tale about two women who, in normal circumstances, would probably never have met, but sometimes fate gives a little shove into a particular direction.

Let’s start by introducing our key players. Meet Regina Mills. At the start of this story, she’s twenty-one years old, just about to start her fourth year at NYU. She’s returned home for summer break but really can’t wait to go back to New York. Her mother is constrictive, manipulative, controlling, and in general, the worst, if you ask Regina. Regina had really wanted to go and study journalism, but her mother had forbidden it and had steered her towards law, instead - a direction Regina secretly loathes because her mother wants it, but her mother’s influence reaches far and wide, and if Regina ever wants to leave Storybrooke, she must obey her mother’s wishes.

The relationship between Regina and her mother is strained, at best. Cora Mills is a control freak and loves to control her daughter the most. Wardrobe choices, pressuring, even bullying her into participating in political events with her - Cora has been mayor of Storybrooke for as long as Regina can remember - deciding who she should be friends with, even approved boyfriends - Cora wanted to have a say in everything that happened in Regina’s life. “We have a status to uphold,” she would always say. Cora’s interloping didn’t always work, but it had led to Regina resenting her mother for only wanting to keep up her own appearances. The only way to be defiant was within certain boundaries, which is why she befriended Tina Bell, the daughter of a very rich, influential woman who Cora despises - but because of that family’s status, there’s not much Cora can do about it. Tina hung out with Regina for that very same reason - Blue hates Cora with the same passion. They lost touch when Regina left for New York, but they meet up occasionally when Regina is at home. 

Enter Emma Swan, an eighteen-year-old rebellious, runaway orphan, who left her last group home the moment she graduated high school. Her experiences with being abandoned at the side of the road when she was just a few days old and bouncing between foster homes and orphanages until she was eighteen, have hardened her. The only thing that’s really stuck with her - except for several unprocessed traumas she carries with her - were the words of a social worker who, after her third time running away from a foster family, encouraged her to at least stick around long enough to finish high school.

She took that to heart, and she did. And the moment she got that little piece of paper, she stuffed it in her worn-down duffel bag and left Boston. It took her a few weeks to end up in Storybrooke, and when she got off the Greyhound with her last money she wanted to snatch something to eat at the local supermarket.

Only, Storybrooke is small and outsiders get noticed. When she tried to stuff a candy bar in her pocket, the store’s owner had accused her of stealing and it was Tina Bell who rescued her. 

See the common ground, there?

Now we’ve established the key players, let’s start at the beginning when Regina meets Emma.

It happens when Regina parks her Mercedes next to the park. She’s really looking forward to leaving this town because a few weeks back home with her mother is intense and leaves her with pent-up anger and a lot of frustration. She longs for the freedom that New York gives her, even though her mother has eyes everywhere. 

It’s a pity that she’ll have to spend the first ten hours (including breaks) of that freedom with the person that’s currently eating her best friend’s face. Regina wrinkles her nose in disgust as she watches the scene in front of her. The blonde is literally all over the place and Regina rolls her eyes a couple of times before she loudly scrapes her throat to draw attention.

“Oh! Regina, you’re here!” Tina giggles, breaking away temporarily from the blonde’s lips with a flustered face. “It’s so kind of you to offer Emma a ride to New York.”

A waterfall of blonde curls tumbles over her shoulder as the woman jerks her head around, shoots her a smirk, and nods at her. Regina stares into the greenest eyes she’s ever seen and she frowns when her heart skips a beat. She’s just startled, she tells herself. 

“I didn’t,” Regina huffs, slightly distracted, and blinks to regain her focus. “You decided that all for me.” 

It’s true. Tina had contacted her, said that her girlfriend was also going to New York and that it was probably easier for them to travel together. Regina had wanted to protest but before she could say anything, Tina had said, “Okay, that’s settled!” and Regina had been like, “ Fine .” So that was that.

Tina rolls her eyes and waves impatiently. “Emma, this is Regina. Regina, Emma.” 

“Hi. Nice to meet you,” the blonde says with a playful smirk around her lips. Emma turns back to Tina, who grabs her face again and presses their lips together passionately and Regina rolls her eyes again , because really - and smashes her fist against the horn. 

Emma and Tina jump apart and Regina sweetly smiles an apology. “Sorry. I slipped.” She gets out of the car and pops the trunk, so Emma can get her duffel back in. Emma stuffs it inside and puts a plastic bag on the back seat. Regina frowns disapprovingly, but doesn’t mention it.

“Nice ride,” the blonde says before Tina snakes an arm around her waist and pulls her in for a goodbye kiss. Regina huffs, rolls her eyes once more and tries to ignore the untasteful sounds they’re making as she slips behind the wheel. Some people are beyond disgusting, she thinks.

“I’ll call you when I get there,” Emma says with a purr, and Tina laughs. 

“Call me halfway. I’m gonna miss you.” She pouts, and Regina scoffs. Really, why Tina lowers herself to this behavior is beyond her. Sure, she’ll admit that the blonde is attractive but such a public display of affection? No. Regina is a bit more refined. 

“I miss you already,” Emma says breathily, giving Tina one last peck on her lips before she reluctantly lets go, rounds the car, and drops down ungracefully in the passenger seat. Regina can’t help but shake her head with a scoff as she turns the key and the car starts humming. With a final wave to Tina, they pull out. Emma turns around, waves at the figure that is quickly becoming smaller until Tina is out of view, and falls back into the seat. 

“So,” Regina says as soon as the park is out of sight and Emma drops back in her seat, “You didn’t go to school here, did you?”

“Nope,” Emma says. “I hitchhiked here after finishing high school and met Tina. And I decided to stay a little while, but now I’ve got to go back.”

“Oh. Okay,” she says, and it’s beyond her why Tina would pick up a street rat.

Actually, she’s still not really sure why she is bringing said street rat along. “Can you drive?” she asks disdainfully.

“Don’t have a license, but I can,” Emma shrugs while stretching her limbs.

“Then I’ll drive,” Regina snorts, eyes flashing to Emma’s legs before she focuses on the road again. No way someone without a license is getting behind the wheel of her Mercedes, no matter how well they say they can drive. “It’s going to be a road trip of over 7 hours and there will be breaks every 2 hours. So it’s going to take us around 10, which means we should arrive there late this evening.”

Emma doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in her schedule and leans over to the backseat. Regina frowns, annoyed. How impolite. The young woman rummages through the plastic bag she placed on the backseat moments before, can’t reach what she’s looking for, so dives in further, which leaves Regina talking to her ass. Uncivil, but then again, it confirms her earlier suspicions that Emma doesn’t have manners at all. She’s brazen and obtrusive, and Regina dislikes her already. “There’s a map on the visor that I’ve marked to show the locations where we can stop.” Emma returns to her seat, looks at the map but doesn’t take it, buckles up again, and chews on a grape.

She offers her a grape, too, but Regina declines, a lip curled up in disdain. “No. I don’t like to eat between meals.” Emma shrugs, a tiny smile around her mouth, Regina sees from the corner of her eyes, and she tightens her hands around the steering wheel while clenching her jaws together. This girl is pushing all the wrong buttons without even saying a lot - she completely rubs Regina the wrong way.

And then, after Emma chews meticulously on a grape, she spits out the seed - against the window. Regina’s eyes widen and she’s horrified by the incident, and Emma seems startled, as well. “Sorry,” she says, a little sheepishly. “I’ll roll down the window.”

“You can also just stop spitting them out of the window,” Regina snaps. Ill-mannered, obtrusive, and disgusting. She really doesn’t know what Tina sees in her and is definitely going to ask her about this idiot the first time she gets to a phone.

“What, you’re going to keep them for me until we reach a trash can?” Emma drawls. “I can put them here, on the dashboard, if you like, but it’s all organic material, you know.” She places one chewed-out seed at the dashboard and ugh, gross. Regina’s eyes widen in revulsion. Not going to happen.

“Fine. Spit them out,” she concedes with a murmur. Emma grins smugly, happy with the tiny victory. And to Regina’s dismay, she continues to spit the seeds out of the window during the first half-hour of their trip. She feels how the frustration inside her is building up steadily and wonders if she can survive the next nine hours without exploding in anger or strangling the woman next to her.

Emma, on her end, finds she likes to rile up the stuck-up girl next to her. Regina is dismissive, elitist, clearly privileged, and as someone who’s never had a lot more than the clothes on her back, she can’t stand the entitlement of her kind of people. 

But hey, Tina had said that Regina was one of her best friends and it would save her a lot of time and especially money to go to New York if they would drive together. So here she is, in a car with a person whose kind she dislikes. 

Tina. Emma smirks fondly, her mind wandering for a bit. Tina is a beautiful, rich girl - the exception to the disliking rule, Emma thinks - who’s trying to defy her parents by going out with a juvenile delinquent - at least that’s what her mom had called Emma to her face when Tina had brought her home to an enormous mansion. Tina’s mom, always distinguishably dressed in blue - God, did she even know people called her Blue behind her back - had wrinkled her nose in disdain when she’d seen Emma. And Emma, who never really had a problem by irritating the crap out of obnoxious rich people, had slipped her arm around Tina’s shoulders and had smiled smugly while pressing a kiss against Tina’s temple. Tina had beamed up at her and her mom had nearly choked on her outrage. Emma’s lips curl up in a satisfied smile when she thinks back to that fine moment.

She really liked Tina but knew it couldn’t last - not just because of their very different backgrounds, but also because Emma is a restless runner, incapable of establishing emotional connections. People leave you. People eventually betray your trust, that’s all that Emma knows, so it’s better to leave them first before they abandon you. So, when she told Tina she really should go to New York because she had a job offer waiting for her there - a blatant lie - Tina had said that her bestest friend Regina would drive there, and she told her that she had asked Regina if Emma could ride with her.

It’s obvious that she hadn’t really asked, because the woman seems enormously unhappy with the situation. Emma shrugs. She’s been unwanted her entire life, so she’s really used to the feeling. And she knows the type, too - elitist, stuck-up, condescending, a little like Tina’s mom. Pulls up her nose for anything that doesn’t meet her poor little rich standards, thinks she’s better than half the world while she hasn’t seen anything of it yet. She suppresses a scoff.

“So,” Emma asks, wanting to break the silence, slowly chewing on another grape, “Tina says this is your fourth year in New York. Any recommendations?”

“Recommendations?” Regina says, a little surprised because of the sudden question, while she curls up her nose in disgust as Emma spits out another seed. Emma smirks. She knows she’ll continue to do this until all the grapes are gone, even if it gives her a stomach ache, just because it annoys the crap out of the rich girl behind the wheel. Ruffling Regina’s feathers is going to be her favorite pastime the next couple of hours, she smiles.

“We’ve got more than nine hours to kill before we hit New York,” Emma shrugs. “Better talk about something .”

“I fear that I don’t have a lot of recommendations,” Regina says stiffly. “I don’t go out much. I’m there to study. Not to party.” Her voice is dismissive - maybe she is telling the truth about her life, or maybe she’s just not eager to talk about it. Emma doesn’t really care, she just looks at Regina. Her outside is beautiful. Regina has thick, dark brown hair, stiffly braided over her shoulder. She has dark brown eyes, laced with dark, long lashes, a straight nose, and beautiful, full lips. 

Her inside, however, sucks big time.

“Well, that’s boring,” Emma decides, as she lets her eyes slide over the small figure sitting next to her. She sees how Regina tenses, as if she can feel she’s being watched. “What are you studying?”

“Law.”

“Even more boring.” 

“I wanted to become a journalist,” Regina confesses then, and it’s a piece of information that Emma hadn’t suspected - and Regina seems a little surprised by her own admission. “But Mother decided otherwise.”

“You let your mother dictate what you should study and who you should be? That’s fucked up.”

Regina turns her head towards Emma, and Emma sees how her eyes flash. “You don’t know anything about my life. And you definitely don’t know my mother,” she snaps.

“Yeah yeah,” Emma snorts. “Poor little rich girl, running from your mom. Got that already.”

“From where I’m watching, you’re running just as hard,” Regina retorts sharply, and Emma nearly chokes on her grape by that rightful observation. She decides not to engage and instead, pops another grape in her mouth and chews meticulously. Sees how a tiny muscle in Regina’s jaw moves and is a little fascinated with it.

“So,” Emma slowly says, after spitting out another seed which forced her to look away from Regina's features, “you want to be a reporter. So, what, you can write about other things that happen to other people?” 

Regina blinks, casts her a dignified look. “I want to tell real stories, stories that matter. I want to… change things,” she says, before turning her eyes on the road again. 

Emma tilts her head and her eyebrows nearly disappear under her hairline. “Change what things?”

“Change lives,” Regina confidently says, an idealistic smile tugging at her lip. 

Emma carries a lot of pent-up hurt and frustration about her youth, her foster homes, her shitty life in general, and she can’t really believe that she’s hearing that a stuck-up rich girl declares she can change lives by just writing a little piece of paper. It’s all too easy to release all that frustration at this very moment, as yet another woman who has no idea what she’s talking about pretends to have the answers for the shitty lives of people like her. Rich people are selfish, Emma bitterly thinks. Spoiled and out of touch with the reality of how the rest of the people live their lives. “What is it with you rich bitches and wanting to change the world?” she snarks.

“Excuse me?” Regina retorts sharply and Emma is happy to enlighten her.

“You have those idealistic, condescending views on the rest of the people, feel that because of your background, because you’ve got money for a decent education, you know better than everyone else - no, you feel that you’re better than everyone else,” Emma says, but her voice grows more agitated when she continues. “What is it with this need to want to tell everyone what’s good for them and what’s not? What the hell do you know about the real world, anyway? You don’t even live in it! The real world is hard and cruel and you’ve got to fight for your spot. You’re not going to change anything just because you want it to happen or write an essay about it. Because the system is a big bureaucratic machine and you’re just going to be a little cog in the wheel and nobody’s going to change fuck just because you want it.”

Regina is stunned into silence for a few moments after this outburst and doesn't really know how to reply to it. The silence between them is heavy for a few seconds.

“For the sake of argument, what happens after?” Emma asks, calmer now. “After you’ve... changed and educated the world?” Her tone is mocking, and Regina's eyes flick from Emma back to the road, her brow furrowed. The uncertainty in Regina’s posture is new, but welcome after the condescension of moments before. “After you’ve educated the world, then what? You’re going to win the Pulitzer? Be the best of the bunch? You strike me as wanting to be the best of the bunch. All work, no play, right. But then what? What’s your life gonna be?”

“I-”

“Suppose you live your whole life and nothing happens?” Emma goes on, “You never meet anybody because you live for your career, you never become anything, and finally you die one of those New York deaths, where nobody notices for weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway? You wanna spend all your life worrying about other people and never living your own?” She shoots another seed out of the window, a little more aggressive than before.

Regina throws her a disbelieving look. It’s frustrating how easily Emma shoots down everything she is, everything she wants and does, in an instant. Emma accuses her of being condescending, but honestly, she shows some pretty condescending behavior of her own. And she concludes that she detests Emma with a passion that could light a thousand suns. 

Emma raises her eyebrow, decides she despises Regina and her elitist, obnoxious ways. Someone should teach her a lesson on how the real world works, she thinks, and it’s not like Emma has something else to do right now, anyway. 

“Tina mentioned you had a dark side,” Regina huffs after a few seconds of silence. 

Emma smirks and takes it as a compliment, as Regina shifts uncomfortably. “That’s what drew her to me,” she lazily replied, stretching her arms above her head, watching Regina’s reaction from the corner of her eyes.

“Your dark side?” There’s a look of disbelief on Regina’s face, but she doesn’t turn her head to look at Emma. However, she does follow her movements from the corner of her eyes.

“Sure. Why, don’t you have a dark side?” Emma takes her in, the way she’s sitting regally behind her wheel. Back straight, hands-on two and ten at the wheel. Pure perfection, she sarcastically thinks. “No,” she answers her own question, “you’re probably one of those cheerful people, who dots their ‘i's with little hearts.”

Regina looks outraged. “I have just as much of a dark side as the next person,” she huffs.

“Oh, really?” Emma shifts, so she can watch both the verbal and nonverbal responses of the woman sitting next to her. Regina has this vein on her forehead that comes out when she’s agitated. Her jaw tightens whenever Emma says something Regina dislikes. And she’s crushing the steering wheel with her iron, white-knuckled grip. 

“When I read a new book,” Emma tells her with a corner of her mouth raised, “I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, at least I know how it ends. That, Your Majesty, is a dark side.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Regina retorts with a huff, her mouth downturned and a frown on her face. “And you know nothing about me. You’re not my friend. You’re my friend’s girlfriend and that’s that.”

“Does that bother you?” Emma sits up a little straighter and tilts her head a little, genuinely curious about the answer. The thought that that ’s why Regina has been a stuck-up bitch, unsettles her strangely enough.

“What does?”

“That Tina’s gay? That I am?”

“Don’t be an imbecile,” Regina snorts, and then, with a hint of pride, she adds: “I identify as a bisexual woman, myself.”

Emma blinks at the words - no, at the tone. As if she’s the queen of fucking everything. She snorts. “Well, good for you. Congrats,” she snipes back. She smirks when she sees that the scowl on Regina’s face is back. Really, if she frowns more, her face will never straighten out anymore. She’ll have those wrinkles etched in her forehead forever.

“Are you always so annoying?” Regina huffs. “Your parents must be so proud of you.”

Emma’s surprised when anger flares up, deep inside her belly, because usually, she shrugs off any mention of her parents easily. Not now, though. “Maybe they would’ve been if they hadn’t ditched me at the side of the road when I was a baby,” she snarks, a lot sharper than she intended to. Her words echo in the small space of the car before an uneasy silence settles between them.

“You’re an orphan?” Regina then says, a little quieter than before.

“Yes. And don’t you dare pity me,” Emma stiffly retorts. Regina doesn’t say anything, and now, it’s Emma’s turn to be pissed off and she doesn’t even know why. It’s not that she isn’t used to conversations like these - say, like, every time she’s ever stepped into a new group home, foster family, or school. It’s hardened her, but right now, it feels raw and bloody, like a bandaid has been ripped off of a festering wound. Emma feels vulnerable, and when she does, she lashes out. “You know, there comes a time you wish you’d tried harder with your mom. Be happy that you have one.”

Immediately, Regina raises her chin. Tightens her grip around the wheel. “You don’t know anything about me or my mother,” she says rigidly. “You don’t know anything about how it’s like to be raised in the spotlights, how it’s like when your life is completely dictated by others, with everything you do carefully analyzed under a microscope - and every time you did something that raised eyebrows, being punished for it.”

Now, it’s Emma’s turn to fall silent for a few seconds.

“Actually, I do,” she murmurs. Because in fact, she does know how it feels. Maybe not the spotlight part, but her life too, has been dictated by others and she, too, has been punished for deemed inappropriate behavior. Regina turns her head and so does Emma and for a few seconds, they share a gaze of understanding. 

But it’s hitting too close, and Emma can’t deal with that, and she shakes her head. “Who would’ve thought we had anything in common, right?” she grins.

“I’m nothing like you,” Regina snipes back, but there’s no vitriol in her voice this time - in fact, one of the corners of her mouth curls up briefly, and Emma smirks.

“Well that’s a relief,” Emma lightly retorts, and they resume their bickering.

 

~*~

 

The banter between them goes on for the next couple of hours as the miles and hours pass, but for some reason, it’s a little lighter now. And when they run out of personal things to insult - or more like, tease - each other with, they take their refuge to pets. Regina’s horse specifically when she accidentally mentions she has one, so Emma can again pull out the rich bitch card. Music - Regina mocks Emma with her preferences of angry rock music and is refusing to expose her own taste. Movies - though they both have to silently admit that the other has good taste, as they both seem to like the classics. Regina because those movies are classics and they’re refined, Emma because well, there was never any money to go to the movies, but one of the group homes she stayed in had a huge collection of movies from the sixties and older, and she can probably recite them from front to back.

Still, the truce is fragile and is easily broken while they bicker over a movie. Regina’s high horse is back, and for some reason, it annoys the crap out of Emma, even if it’s about something as simple as Ingrid Bergman’s practical - in Emma, snobbish - decision in the ending of the Casablanca movie.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Casablanca, married to a man who runs a bar.” The disdain is back in Regina’s voice, and she turns off the engine and pulls the keys out of the contact. 

“That’s very snobbish of you,” Emma says, one eyebrow raised. “You’d rather be in a passionless marriage?”

“I’d rather be the first lady of Czechoslovakia.” Regina lifts her nose a little, and ugh, of course, she would. Regina turns a little, grabs her bag from behind her chair.

“Czechoslovakia doesn’t even exist anymore,” Emma snorts, and she catches Regina’s surprised gaze. She furrows her brow. Emma’s not stupid and has always been interested in topography because there are all these places she wants to go to. Even Europe. A runner like her, she’s got to be prepared, right? “Regardless, you’d rather do that than live with a man you’ve had the greatest sex of your life with, just because he owns a bar and that’s all he does?”

“Yes,” Regina immediately answers, chin raised as she checks her appearance in the mirror. “And so would every woman in her right mind. Women are very practical. Even Ingrid Bergman, which is why she gets on the plane at the end of the movie.” she adds with one raised eyebrow before she starts rummaging in her bag. Emma watches her touch up her dark red lipstick before she throws open the car door, and nods at her as if she’s just won a battle. Emma shakes her head at Regina’s practicality. It’s very obvious that the woman hasn’t had many sexual encounters, or in any case, none very great if she would make such a calculated decision. A grin escapes her, but she schools her expression as Regina looks up, disturbed. “What?”

“I understand,” Emma simply says.

“What? What do you understand?” Regina says irritably.

“Forget about it.” Emma lightly waves it away and turns, before she starts to make her way to the diner.

“What? What is it?” Regina says, a little agitated now, voice rising as she speeds up to fall into pace with Emma who’s pulling the door to the diner open. 

“Obviously, if you’re making that choice, you haven’t had great sex yet.” She turns and stalks inside, and leaves Regina baffled, fingers curled around the door.

“Yes I have!” she cries out in outrage, and Emma shrugs with a grin plastered on her face.

“No, you haven’t.”

“It just so happens that I’ve had plenty of good sex,” she barks after her before her eyes widen. 

The diner suddenly falls silent and everyone inside is raising their eyebrows or frowning and someone’s even snorting at her, and Regina’s cheeks redden instantly. Embarrassment heats up her body and she lowers her head which causes her hair to fall in front of her eyes before she quietly slides into the booth that the waitress has pointed out to them.

“With whom?” Emma casually asks, while checking out the menu.

“What?” Regina asks, agitated.

“With whom did you have this great sex?” Her green gaze finds her own above the menu, and god, her eyes are sparkling with mirth. 

Of all the… does this woman not have any decency? Regina is irritated to the core, still flustered, and she grabs one of the menus herself, but the words aren’t making sense because her head is racing and her heart is pounding. She can’t understand why Emma says things like this. For a few hours they had something that resembled a truce, but she feels exposed and embarrassed by this - this obnoxious asshole. She narrows her eyes at the blonde, who stares back with… something that borders on genuine curiosity. Or maybe she’s just a great actress.

“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer,” Regina murmurs.

“Fine, then don’t.” Emma doesn’t seem interested anymore and directs her full attention towards the menu, and it riles Regina up even more. How can she simply let this drop right after Regina’s made a fool out of herself in front of an entire diner? Emma hasn’t even apologized for putting Regina in that situation!

“Daniel Coulter,” she murmurs, and Emma looks at her from over her menu, slightly surprised that Regina doesn’t drop the subject. 

“You did not have great sex with Daniel Coulter,” Emma says with a laugh.

“Yes, I did,” Regina whispers furiously, not wanting to draw attention again. This woman!

“No, you didn’t,” Emma smugly counters. “I’m not saying he didn’t like you or even love you, but Daniels generally are boring. They play it safe. When he grows up, he can do your income taxes, or maybe a root canal.” Her green eyes shimmer again and Regina knows she shouldn’t let this woman get to her. Desperately tries not to react, but it’s nearly impossible as Emma continues and ugh, it’s her own damn fault. “Sex? Not so much. It’s the name, you know. ‘Do it to me, Daniel! You’re an animal, Daniel, let me come.” Emma raises an eyebrow and Regina once again thinks about how much she detests the woman sitting opposite her. Fury bubbles under her skin, and she slams down the menu on the table, ready to tell Emma to walk to New York, but then, the waitress is there to save the day.

Emma is quick to order a large cheeseburger, double fries, and a large coke. All the grease in the order causes Regina’s nose to wrinkle. Disgusting but then again, she snorts, it suits her. And then, the waitress turns to her, and she smiles politely. There’s still this tension knotted in her stomach, but the waitress can’t help the insipid moron who’s sitting opposite of her.

“I’ll have the chef’s salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode.” The waitress writes it all down. “But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberries instead of vanilla if you have them. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.” She smiles at the waitress - did she just roll her eyes? - and then turns her eyes back to the menu. 

“Not even the pie?” the waitress asks, and Regina raises her eyebrows at her.

“No, just the pie. But then, not heated.” She turns back to Emma, who simply stares at her, wide-eyed. “What?” she says, a little puzzled.

“Nothing, nothing.” Emma simply shakes her head and easily returns to their subject of conversation. “So, why’d you break up with Daniel?”

“He moved away to the other side of the country,” Regina says neutrally. She’s always suspected that her mother had something to do with it, but Cora never admitted to it. Regardless, the fact remains that she’s never seen him again after she just turned seventeen, and it broke her heart into a thousand little pieces.

Nothing that Emma Swan will understand. And she’s certainly not going to elaborate on her sex life, which was pleasant as it was, thank you very much. Regina isn’t a virgin anymore.

“That sucks.” 

Regina looks up and - wait, is that a little sympathy in Emma’s eyes? But when she blinks it’s gone. She makes a sound somewhere in between a scoff and a hum of agreement. Silence settles between them, and suddenly, Regina feels a little awkward. She doesn’t know why exactly - maybe it’s because she hasn’t mentioned Daniel in ages. She loved him, and then he was gone. It still stings a little. 

Fortunately, they’re saved by the waitress who brings their orders and they eat their food in relative silence.

It is like there’s a new cease-fire during dinner. They are silently consuming their food, and Emma has to say that it’s not all that bad - neither the food which is awesome, nor the company, who’s sunk in her own thoughts and is methodically eating her food. Between bites, chewing, drinking the coke, Emma quietly observes Regina. She is willing to admit to herself that she finds Regina attractive, especially now some rebellious curls have escaped that tight, prudish braid of hers and playfully frame her face. It makes Regina’s appearance softer. More accessible. She studies her through stolen glances until the check comes and Regina looks up, catching her gaze. It is too late for Emma to simply look away and she smiles lopsidedly.

“What?” Regina says, sharply, “Do I have something on my face?” Suddenly self-conscious, she touches her cheeks, grabs a napkin, and bats the corners of her mouth.

“No. I was just thinking that you’re a very attractive woman,” Emma says in a matter-of-fact tone. “Tina never told me how attractive you are.” 

“Thank you,” Regina says, but her back stiffens and her mouth downturns, which makes Emma frown. “And maybe she doesn’t think I’m attractive and that’s why she hasn’t told you.” Regina is clearly not amused with the turn of the conversation and leans a little backward as if she wants to create more distance. Emma shakes her head in exasperation. For god’s sake, she’s giving the woman a compliment but Regina makes it look like she’s being insulted.

“I don’t think that’s a matter of opinion,” Emma retorts with a raised eyebrow, rather serious now. “Empirically, you are attractive.”

“I’m surprised you even know that word,” Regina snaps back, her cheeks delightfully pink, and is highly irritated for no reason at all. Emma snorts in disbelief. There’s no need to be so weird about it, right? “Tina is my friend,” Regina then says pointedly, and it feels like an accusation of sorts. She gets up, grabs her bag, and turns, heads straight for the exit.

“So?” Emma quickly throws a few bills on the table to pay for her own meal and follows Regina, who briefly looks at her in disbelief, but Emma really doesn’t follow.

“So, you’re… going with her,” Regina scowls.

“So?” 

“So, you’re coming on to me!” Regina snaps as she pushes open the door to leave the diner, strides towards the car, away from Emma.

Wait, what? Emma’s brow furrows in confusion. “I’m - no, I wasn’t!” Emma exclaims and follows her, instantly on the defense and frankly, outraged that Regina would think such a thing. “Can’t I just say that I find a woman attractive without it being a come-on?” Regina purses her lips, doesn’t say anything, and marches to her car. 

“All right,” Emma says, giving in because they still have two hours ahead of them, and pissing Regina off is something else than making her feel super-uncomfortable and that wasn’t what she’d wanted. She’d just wanted to give the woman a fucking compliment. “Fine. I’m sorry. I take it back, okay? I take it back.” She yanks open the door to the passenger's side. 

“You can’t.”

“Why not?” Emma exasperates.

“Because it’s already out there!” Regina cries out in outrage.

“Oh, so what are we supposed to do now? Call the cops, it’s already out there!” Emma snorts loudly, lifting her hands to the sky in frustration. This woman!

“Just. Let. It. Lie,” Regina says, voice low, emphasizing every word. She’s almost growling. “All right?”

“Okay!” Emma raises her hands, palms forward as a sign of surrender. “Great. Let it lie. Fine.”  She steps into the car, and Regina does the same. 

The latter pulls the key’s from her pocket and pushes it into the lock a little more violently than necessary and she silently apologizes to her car, gently taking the wheel, squeezing it lightly before turning her head to Emma. 

“We’re just going to be friends, for Tina’s sake,” she sharply says. If she had the choice, she would probably have left Emma here at the sleazy hotel to fend for herself, but that’s not how Regina was raised. She’s started something, and now she has to finish it. Besides, this place isn’t something she wishes on any woman, all by herself.

There's a silence weighing on their shoulders as Regina pulls out of the parking lot and hits the road again. But after a few seconds, Emma remarks, “You realize that we can never be friends.”

Regina sighs and rolls her eyes, but she can’t help but ask, “Why’s that?”

“What I’m saying is… and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form,” Emma says hastily, hands already up in a yielding manner, “is that people who are attracted to each other can’t be friends, because the sex always gets in the way.”

Regina nearly chokes on her breath. “In which delusional fantasy do I find you attractive?” Regina barks, but Emma just hums, lifts a corner of her mouth and Regina can’t look at her because she has to watch the road, but her cheeks are flushed from the boiling anger she carries inside about the blatant assumption. Sure, Emma has the prettiest eyes she’s ever seen and yes, she’s noticed the way her hair topples over her shoulders and cascades down her back and that she slouches a little, but that doesn’t mean she finds her attractive. That’s just… genetics. An empirical observation, she wryly thinks.

“I think a lot of people are beautiful. I don’t want to have sex with all of them,” Regina retorts vehemently. 

“There’s a difference between thinking someone’s beautiful and being attracted to someone. 

Everyone that finds you attractive wants to have sex with you. And so do you. It’s biology. And therefore, you can never be friends with the people you find attractive because stuff always gets in the way. Not really.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Yes, you do.”

“That basically means that you can only be friends with people you find unattractive?” She shakes her head in disbelief.

Emma smiles lazily and stretches her legs and arms over her head. Unwillingly, Regina follows the movement from the corner of her eyes before she focuses on the road ahead again, definitely not interested in how Emma’s muscles flex and how her shirt spans over her chest. And Emma replies with a soft, slightly hoarse chuckle that makes a shiver run down her spine. “If your libido’s up for it, you’d probably want to do them, too.”

The implication that Regina would ever just… fornicate like that, is too absurd to grasp and she blinks rapidly. The audacity . “What if I didn’t want to have sex?” she says, a little prudish.

“Doesn’t matter,” Emma answers seriously, “because the attraction is already out there and then, any kind of friendship is already doomed.”

Well,” Regina murmurs, “If you feel like that, I guess we’re never going to be friends, then.” And frankly, she doesn’t even care. She didn’t want to be friends with this god-awful woman in the first place.

“Guess not.”

And Regina is both annoyed and relieved that Emma drops the subject and that the ride will only take them only a little over an hour. And when they finally hit New York, Regina is grateful to see the skyscrapers ahead, and proud of herself that she didn’t leave Emma at the side of the road or that she hasn’t killed the blonde and dumped her in a ditch somewhere.

She navigates to the designated drop-off point for Emma, parks, and they both get out. 

“Well, thanks for the ride,” Emma says, taking the duffel bag from the trunk and swinging it over her shoulder while holding the plastic bag in her hand. 

“Yes. It was... interesting,” Regina says, hands at her waist until Emma extends her free hand for Regina to shake.

“It was nice knowing you,” Emma smiles, and she tilts her head and lifts one eyebrow. Maybe she’s daring Regina not to take it, but Regina won’t lower herself to that level and grabs the offered hand. They’re both a little surprised when they feel the softness of each other’s palms and something’s tingling under their skin, so they both quickly withdraw and step away from each other. 

“Have a nice life,” Regina says while moving back to the passenger's door. Emma turns one last time, shoots her a smirk.

“You, too.”

And that’s where their first meeting ends. Regina absolutely loathes Emma for insinuating everything that she has during their road trip, and Emma finds Regina an obnoxious, stuck-up bitch that isn’t worth a second thought, and soon, they’re a distant memory in each other’s lives.