It’s Ruby’s fault. It’s definitely Ruby’s fault, because Emma had been very much drunk at the time and hadn’t known what she’d be getting herself into. Ruby, who holds her liquor better than Emma, hadn’t been nearly as inebriated, so it had been on her to be the responsible one.
And it wasn’t like Emma had meant to start any of this. She’s been drinking with Ruby because Ruby has been smuggling her into one of the rooms at the bed and breakfast every night in exchange for Emma paying for drinks, and Emma is sure that she’ll lose her mind if forced to spend any more time in that claustrophobic apartment where Mary Margaret– no, Snow Fucking White – and David are now trying to play happy family. And she’d only brought up Regina because she’s still furious about the meeting this morning.
“There should be laws against it,” she’d said, banging her fist on the table to make a point. “That’s what Regina should be doing, making laws against… abuse of power .” She raises a finger to point dramatically at Ruby.
“Yes, I’m sure that the Evil Queen who cast a curse and trapped us all here in the first place– and then reclaimed her magic the second that the curse broke– is definitely going to set up some bylaws in the town charter about abuse of power,” Ruby had said with a straight face.
Emma had knocked back another drink. “So I said a few obnoxious things. I’m valid . She tried to poison me, remember! And there’s the whole…robbed childhood thing…”
Ruby had perked up. “Oh, are you blaming Regina for that now? That’s a relief–”
“Stop.” Emma had sunk back into her seat, her mood dropping. “My point is…I have a point. Regina has no right to mute me like I’m a fucking TV in the middle of a meeting. Do you know how long it took before she gave me my voice back? Like she’s the fucking queen of the world– shut up ,” she’d said to Ruby, who hadn’t even opened her mouth. “My point is that Regina just…swaggers into these meetings in those tight little dresses– and since when does Regina wear dresses, anyway? What happened to those pantsuits with the straining buttons–”
Ruby had leaned back in her seat, grinning. “I love this part of the night.”
“–There’s so much red . And the black ones are…” Emma had waved her hands around furiously. “Would it kill her to drop the sexy Evil Queen look for work ? How is anyone supposed to focus when her legs are, like…” She’d stopped, out of words to describe them, and that had been her big mistake.
Ruby had pounced. “Hey,” she’d said, her smile distinctly wolfish. “I have an idea.”
And Emma had been just drunk enough to agree, which had been her second.
It had been a simple dare, one that had made sense when Emma had been two drinks away from passing out. She doesn’t know what exactly Ruby had done to bind it– is still very new to magic as a real thing , flowing through Storybrooke– but it’s now a dare she can’t back off on.
Ruby had laid out the rules, more and more smug as she had gone on. “So if Regina wears a red dress, you have to pick a fight with her.” Emma hadn’t questioned that one. “But if she wears blue, you have to give her a compliment. And if she wears grey, you gotta call her Your Majesty .” She’d been a little drunk, too, enough that she’d gotten bold. “Light colors mean you have to tell her whatever’s on your mind. Whatever .” Her eyes had narrowed in ominous delight. “And for black…for black, you have to flirt with her.”
Now, lying in bed at the B&B with the hangover from hell, Emma has no idea how she could have been so stupid .
Henry has given up on Operation Cobra. “We broke the curse,” he says, shrugging. “And I don’t think my mom is really as evil as I thought she was. All she did after it broke was raise taxes and change the door.” He nods to the frosted door to Regina’s office, which now reads Her Royal Majesty Queen Regina where it had once just read Mayor . “Look, we’re supposed to go out to get ice cream tonight. She has a lot more time now that she has magic, and I don’t…”
He squirms, looking guilty, and Emma feels something very close to shame. “She’s your mom,” she says, forcing a smile. “You don’t have to apologize for wanting to hang out with her.” She has to push aside the weeks before the curse had broken, about discussion of legal battles and putting Henry in her car and driving off and the way she’d been certain that it had been best for him.
He’d disagreed then, and she’d been so spooked at her own recklessness that she’d tried to leave town. Now, her role as savior over and done, his interest in her has waned. Which is fine. Healthy. Regina might be an unbearable tyrant reigning supreme over Storybrooke, but she’s solicitous of Henry and it’s also keeping her from mass murder, so…
“It’s cool,” Henry says, warming to the subject. “I thought she’d be so mad about us breaking the curse, but she says that me almost dying made her realize what’s really important. She hasn’t even killed anyone!” He glows at that, and Emma appreciates for a moment how nice it must be for Regina to have a son with standards this low.
“Always nice to take a breather from homicide for a little while,” Emma offers as the door to Regina’s office creaks open. “It’s been a relief for me, too.” There had been that moment once the curse had broken, after Regina had waved her hand and magicked everyone else out of Henry’s hospital room, when Emma had been sure that she’d be killed on the spot. But Regina had only stared at her, eyes narrowed and still wet, and she’d said thank you, now get out .
Today, she pokes her head out of her office, eyes settling on Emma first with that same distrust, and then she sees Henry. Her face transforms, delighted, and she says, “Henry! Are you ready for ice cream?”
Emma notices, as if it’s a compulsion, that Regina is wearing a light grey dress that wraps around her hips and ass as though she’s modeling it. Grey, you have to call her Your Majesty , she remembers. “Ice cream for dinner?” she says instead, keeping her voice light.
Regina gives her a cool look. “Shouldn’t you be down at my station, policing my town?” My station. My town . Regina will never let anyone forget that they live in Storybrooke by her grace alone. She places a hand on Henry’s shoulder– my son – and walks past Emma to the elevator. “And for the record,” she says, turning to glower at Emma. “Henry has a balanced dinner waiting for him at home. He’s a responsible eater.”
“Good for him,” Emma says, bemused, and doesn’t comment on the number of times she’s seen him wheedling Ruby into giving him free milkshakes after school. “I guess it helps when it’s either ‘eat your vegetables’ or ‘go to the dungeons,’ huh?”
Regina’s eyes burn into her, and Emma is reminded of some of the worst stories about the Evil Queen that she’s heard, about villages ravaged and fire everywhere. It’s probably a bad idea to provoke her, except that there’s something very warm and familiar about being able to needle Regina. A tiny bit of normalcy in this post-curse town. “Watch yourself, peon,” Regina says in a low voice.
Emma blinks. “Did you just call me a peon ?”
Henry’s nose wrinkles. “What…does that mean…?”
Regina turns back to him, smiling that impossibly soft smile down to him. “Never mind that,” she says briskly. “Let’s leave Miss Swan with her impotent rage.” She lifts a hand in careless farewell and steps into the elevator.
Emma feels the compulsion again, the magical dare tangling around her stomach, and she drawls, “Bye, Your Majesty.” Regina looks up at her as the elevator doors close, an eyebrow cocked, and Emma smiles mirthlessly at her and gives her the finger.
She won’t be killed for it, she knows. Of all the people in this town, Emma is probably the safest right now. There is only one thing in the universe that can keep Regina under control, and that’s her son’s love, tenuous as it’s been.
“It’s why you’re our strongest asset,” Mary Margaret– no, Snow – says the next night. The resistance is gathered in Granny’s diner, which is partially because these people are about as organized as holding a secret meeting in front of a large transparent storefront indicates, and partially, Emma suspects, because Snow knows that Emma will be dragged into it. “Regina won’t touch you. Henry might forgive her many things, but he’d never forgive her for hurting you.”
She has a large, thick book propped up on her lap, and Emma squints at it instead of committing to another ill-conceived plan. “What is that? Your battle plan?”
Snow grimaces. “ The Complete Guide to Effectively Teaching Fifth Grade ,” she says, setting it down on the table. “It’s exactly as pedantic as you’d expect. Regina has increased funding to the schools again , and this time it’s for nightly workshops for all of the teachers.”
“That bitch,” Emma says dryly. “Tackling education. Who does she think she is.”
One of the other members of their resistance– currently twelve members and counting, if you count Emma and all seven dwarves– gives Emma a dark look. “She only cares about the school because Henry goes there,” Granny says. “Now, small businesses–”
“Didn’t she approve the permits for you to expand your seating area?”
Granny snorts. “Because Henry goes here, sure. What about the businesses I’m displacing when I expand?”
“Emma, you know that she’s only doing that because David works at the pet shelter that’s being kicked off the property,” Snow says, reaching to take Emma’s hands beseechingly. “This is all part of her master plan.”
“Her master plan to move the shelter to a larger space?” It’s a bad idea to reason with Snow, Emma knows that. It always ends with Snow looking at her, stricken, and murmuring some heart-wrenching comments about how Regina had stolen Emma away from her, as though Regina had opened that wardrobe and stuck Emma inside. “Look, I think she’s really just…interested in making this town a better place for Henry. I’m not saying she isn’t an irrational sociopath,” Emma hurries to add. “But, well…is it really so bad?”
“She had me fined for selling smokes to a few teenagers,” Sneezy says irritably. “And now she has the sheriff lurking in front of my store on patrols.” He gives Emma, who is still the sheriff, a dirty look.
Grumpy says, “She cursed me. I can’t go near the Rabbit Hole without reappearing in the middle of the woods. It’s an abuse of power.”
Ruby puts up a hand, ignoring Emma’s betrayed glare, and says, “She charmed my clothes so my favorite shorts are practically at my knees. I think it’s my right to decide what I want to wear.”
“Not when it’s indecent,” Granny grumbles, abruptly taking Regina’s side.
Emma’s brow furrows. “I don’t think Henry is old enough to be staring at your ass,” she concedes. The last time she’d been at Granny’s with Henry, only one of them had been staring at Ruby’s ass when Regina had entered the diner, and it hadn’t been Henry. “So maybe that’s not fair. But–”
There’s a commotion at the door, and Bashful races in, breathing hard. “She’s here! She’s coming!”
The resistance scatters, Snow and David hurrying out the back door and the dwarves out the front. Granny doesn’t budge from her spot behind the counter, and Ruby yawns and wanders over to the closest table to clear it.
Emma sits back against the counter and notes, absentmindedly, the red dress that Regina is wearing as she pushes the diner door open. Regina’s eyes narrow as she takes in the abandoned drinks on the tables and the copy of The Complete Guide to Effectively Teaching Fifth Grade . “What’s going on here?”
Emma raises her glass. “Resistance hour,” she says, blank-faced. “We’re planning a coup d'état.”
Regina eyes her like she isn’t quite sure if she’s joking or not. “You’re no match for me, Miss Swan. I could–” She waves a hand, and Emma is abruptly suspended in midair in the middle of the diner, a raging ball of fire beneath her.
See, Regina has been good for Storybrooke and Emma isn’t ashamed to admit it. What she also is, though, is a dick . “Hey! Can you not?”
Regina very calmly produces a stick from thin air, a marshmallow at the end of it, and begins to roast it in said fireball. “Prophecies aside, the final battle has already played out,” she says casually to Granny, who is cleaning glasses. “And your side lost. The curse is broken, but I still rule this town.” She offers the marshmallow to Ruby. Ruby has the decency to give Emma an apologetic look before she eats the marshmallow. “There is nothing that Snow White or her spawn can do to stop that.”
Emma is beginning to feel very warm, and not in that nice Regina’s-shirt-just-a-little-too-unbuttoned kind of warm. “Yep,” she says, eyeing the flames that are licking at the edges of her boots. Regina has placidly produced another marshmallow. “Got it. Resistance is off, guys. Spread the word.”
Regina tosses her an amused look. “Do keep trying,” she says. “The consequences are very entertaining.” She waves a hand and the fire disappears, leaving behind one perfectly roasted marshmallow. Emma snatches it from Regina’s stick before she can tumble to the ground. She’s pretty sure that Regina has been spooked from poisoning any more food.
The marshmallow is perfectly roasted. Emma briefly forgets exactly how terrible Regina is. “You know,” she says. “You’d probably be pretty popular if you’d stop setting things on fire. The resistance might even be a little smaller.”
“How big is it?” Regina demands. Ruby hadn’t cleaned up before the resistance meeting, so there are plates and cups on nearly every table in the diner. It gives off a much more formidable impression than Snow and David and Grumpy huddled around a table.
Emma lies, “Enormous. Half the town is involved.”
Ruby bobs her head. “We have to meet up in shifts because not everyone fits,” she agrees. “Actually, every time you come to Granny’s, it’s during a resistance meeting. That’s why everyone always looks so alarmed.”
Regina eyes Ruby as though she isn’t quite sure if Ruby’s telling the truth. Granny cleans glasses, humming to herself. “ Sheriff Swan,” Regina says, turning on Emma. “These meetings are illegal. You will put a stop to them.”
Emma gives her finger guns. “You got it, boss.” Regina veers between terrifying and hilarious when she asserts her dominance over the town. Emma has found that taking it in stride leaves Regina most often at a loss.
Regina nods sharply. “See to it,” she says, spinning around to the door.
There is a niggling in the back of Emma’s mind, a reminder of what she has yet to do, and she hurries after Regina as Regina walks out the door. Red means she has to pick a fight, and apparently being nearly set on fire isn’t enough to qualify. “Hey!” she calls after Regina.
Regina turns, eyebrow raised. “What now, Miss Swan? Did you want another marshmallow?” Her eyes gleam a little threateningly.
Emma jabs a finger at her, struggling for something nice and easy to fight over. “Your dress,” she blurts out.
Regina blinks. “What?”
“It’s…it’s ugly,” Emma manages. Like she’s a twelve-year-old mean girl. “It doesn’t fit you well at all. And it’s a terrible color, too.”
Regina’s brow wrinkles, and she strides forward toward Emma. “It’s the exact same shade of red as your hideous jacket,” she points out, seizing the edge of Emma’s jacket. She pulls it to her, tugging Emma with it, and Emma promptly forgets how to breathe for a few seconds. “Look.”
The compulsion to pick a fight has faded. Apparently, all Emma has to do is pick the fight, not succeed at it. “Uh,” she says. Regina is standing very close, and her dress fits obscenely well, tight and low-cut and–
Emma pulls away. “I’ve got to go,” she says, whirling around. “Put a stop to the next resistance meeting. Those never end.”
“I want a report in the morning,” Regina calls after her, and Emma flees into the diner, her heart beating a little too quickly for comfort.
The grey days, Emma discovers, are the easiest. Emma can throw out one mocking Your Majesty and Regina just smirks and moves on from it, and there is little damage done. The compulsion rises in her every time she sees Regina each day, as long as it’s an hour or two apart, and it makes black days the hardest.
Regina hasn’t worn red since Emma had insulted her outfit, which is a relief. Emma doesn’t think she could handle picking that many fights with Regina daily. The black is the hardest, though, and leaves Emma at a loss more often than not.
Regina will be in the station, critiquing Emma’s latest report or something she’d said to Henry that day, and the words will spring from Emma, unfiltered. “I like it like this,” she says after one too many comments on the state of her desk. “Makes it more dramatic to just…sweep everything off when necessary.” She smirks, internally mortified.
Regina’s mouth falls open, her lips forming a little O as she stares at Emma. “I’m sorry?”
The compulsion has faded, but Emma doesn’t waver. “I wouldn’t be,” she says, sliding her hand along the surface of her desk. There is something very satisfying about silencing Regina, about the image of Regina on her desk, stunned into silence as Emma draws closer–
Regina regains her composure, of course, her eyes narrowing as a smile curls onto her face. “I assure you,” she says. “I would hardly be the one on the desk, in that case.” She stalks out, leaving Emma dry-mouthed and staring, her hips swaying under that damned black dress.
It’s reassuring and alarming to discover, several days later, that picking a fight with Regina assuages the compulsion to fulfill the dare even when Regina is wearing black.
It’s a blue day when Emma comes back to the station one afternoon and finds Regina sitting back in Emma’s chair, her heels up on a tidied desk. Her legs are endlessly long beneath her blue dress, and Emma gapes at them for a moment before she remembers to look Regina in the eye. “Nice dress,” she manages, compliment given at once.
Regina tilts her head, watching Emma. “Henry has been asking for you,” she says. “He says you haven’t gotten any time together alone since the curse was broken.”
“He’s not wrong,” Emma says, tense again. Henry hasn’t been a sore point for them in a long time, now that he’s firmly back in Regina’s arms, but Emma craves more time with him, yearns for him and is entirely at Regina’s mercy for it.
Regina’s hands are folded over her abdomen, the picture of cool confidence. “I reminded him that the last time you two were alone, you tried to kidnap him.”
“You know about that?” Emma says weakly.
Regina eyes her again. “I am willing to arrange a playdate,” she says. “Three hours tonight, in my house. You may stay for dinner, but you will bring the wine.”
It’s a generous offer, considering, but too many days of black dresses means that Emma can’t help herself. “You drink wine with dinner with Henry?”
Regina smiles coolly. “Only when you’re around. Any allergies that I should know about?” She says that in the same tone, and Emma is suddenly very certain that it would be a bad idea to share that information with Regina.
“Nope. I’m basically invulnerable,” she says, flippant. It occurs to her only later that Regina has access to all of her medical records and would certainly know that plums can give her some unpleasant hives on her face.
Specifically, it occurs to her that evening when Regina says, “Another plum muffin, Miss Swan?” in the exact tone that she sometimes says Any more comments, Miss Swan? during town meetings after she’s magically welded Emma’s mouth shut.
Emma is going to resist the compulsion to compliment her for as long as possible. “That would be fantastic ,” she says, holding Regina’s gaze as she bites into another muffin. At least they’re delicious.
Henry is oblivious to any of this. “We’re learning about democracy and free elections now,” he tells them, winding his spaghetti squash around his fork as he gesticulates. “Did you know that the French cut off their queen’s head? Ms. Blanchard…I’m supposed to call her that in class,” he says in an aside to Emma. “Anyway, Ms. Blanchard said that we could build our own little guillotines in class tomorrow!”
“Did she, now?” Regina purses her lips.
Emma smiles widely. “That seems very educational,” she says. “Sounds like your overhaul of the school system is doing wonders.”
Apparently, that doesn’t sate the compulsion to compliment Regina. Emma fights it for a little longer, making it all the way through the meal. Henry eyes her as they settle down on the couch for a movie. “You don’t look great,” he says.
“There’s this dare that Ruby– it’s a long story,” Emma says, realizing just in time that Henry, who has not been exposed to the assholery of Regina Mills, Her Royal Majesty of Storybrooke, might not appreciate the dare. “I’ve just got to take care of something soon.”
“No, I mean you’re all red,” Henry says, gesturing at Emma’s very itchy face.
“Oh.” Emma brushes it off. “It’s just hot in here. No biggie.” She glances back behind them to where Regina is hovering in the doorway, a tiny smirk on her face.
Midway through the movie, she’s able to finally slip away to go to the bathroom, where she finds a neatly labeled medicine cabinet with Emma written on a sticker on what winds up being Benadryl. Typical . Regina is waiting when Emma exits the bathroom, leaning against the wall in the hallway. “You took your time in there, didn’t you?”
Emma shrugs. “Your food is kind of heavy,” she offers. It also does not register as a compliment to the compulsion.
Regina raises her chin. “Don’t lie to me again,” she says, arrogant and smug. “It might serve you well.” She saunters after Emma to the couch, settling in beside her as the movie plays. She sits straight even on the couch, legs folded and her hands perched on her knees right after the space where her dress ends.
They’re watching a superhero movie, all fast-paced explosions and too many men, and Henry is glued to the screen. Emma watches half-heartedly, her eyes flickering to Regina more than once. It’s hard to imagine, as much of a pain in the neck as Regina is, that this woman beside her really ruled with an iron fist back in the Enchanted Forest. Regina is slight and small, and she exudes very little power when she’s staring at the movie, a little smile on her face as she follows it. Emma can’t imagine her ordering around legions of men and terrorizing villages, no matter how much the facts might back that up.
There’s a grand reveal onscreen and Regina actually gasps– gasps , her eyes wide and delighted, and Emma watches her instead of the screen. Regina and Henry have the same expressions too often, and there is a touch of childlike wonder on Regina’s face during the movie. It’s–
“What?” Regina says in a whisper, noticing Emma’s eyes on her at last.
Emma shrugs. “Nothing. You’re just really into this.” And she’s had too many days already of saying too much to Regina, enough that the words slip out of her mouth. “It’s cute.”
Regina’s mouth falls open in outrage. “I am not cute ,” she hisses. “I could strangle you to death for that comment. I could tear out your entrails and then shove them down your trachea until you were left gasping for mercy as I laughed–”
“Mom, please,” Henry says, holding up a hand. His gaze doesn’t leave the screen. “Hold off on the threats. I’m watching the movie.”
“Adorable,” Emma mutters, catching Regina’s eye, and she has the sudden, uneasy feeling that, had Regina been wearing black, she might’ve fulfilled the compulsion right then. Regina’s cheeks are flushed, her scowl firmly in place, and then one of the characters lets out a scream and Regina is distracted.
Emma sits back, stretching her arms out across the back of the couch, and she tries to focus on the movie instead of Regina. She only partially succeeds, but Henry is oblivious to her distraction. “That was great!” he says when it’s over, glowing. “I thought you’d both like it. Did you see the way that plane blew up?”
Regina scoffs. “I could do that, too. Superheroes are nothing special.”
Henry just beams at her, undeterred, and he leans against Emma. “Could we do this again?” he asks hopefully. “We could make it a weekly thing. You said that if no one died–”
“I said maybe ,” Regina corrects him, but she gives him a soft, affectionate smile and smoothes down his hair. “I’m sure the sheriff has more important things to do…resistance meetings to attend…” Henry pouts at that, and Emma holds up a hand, alarmed.
“Whoa, hey, I’m not even a part of that. They just hold the meetings where I can’t escape–”
“You can always escape here,” Henry says brightly. “They’re scared of Mom. Doc actually jumped into a dumpster to hide from her the last time we were on Main Street.” He lights up. “Gran isn’t afraid. She keeps telling me that we can bring Mom back from the dark . Like I’m Luke Skywalker or something.”
To Emma’s surprise, Regina drops an arm around Henry’s shoulders and looks down at him with fondness. “You certainly are,” she says. When she looks up, it’s challenging, daring Emma to say anything.
Emma says, because the past week has made it clear that she’s incapable of turning down a dare, “Well, I’m definitely Han Solo, then.”
Henry looks very disappointed in her. “That’s not how it works, Emma.” He considers. “Maybe if Mom had poisoned you with the apple turnover.”
This is going to ten-year-old places that Emma can’t follow, so she bobs her head obediently and catches sight of Regina holding back laughter. “Thanks,” she says wryly. “I guess your mom just isn’t committed enough to the role.”
“Not for lack of trying,” Regina says easily, turning back to her son. “Henry, it’s getting late. Why don’t you head upstairs and get into pajamas?”
Henry doesn’t complain, just gives Emma a quick hug and dashes for the stairs, and Emma is left alone with Regina, longing for another hug. “I…thanks for arranging this,” she says, and the compulsion is stronger now than it’s been all night. “And we really did manage it without anyone dying.”
Regina quirks her lips. “At least you had the presence of mind to get the Benadryl,” she says. “I make a delicious plum cobbler–”
Emma holds up a hand in a mock-plea for mercy. “Please, no.” But she’s smiling despite herself, as strange as it feels to be so content in Regina’s house. “Listen, I really wouldn’t mind doing this again. You were, like, thirty percent less bitchy than usual. It suits you.” The compulsion remains, unimpressed with the barbed compliment.
Regina snorts. “You should see me when I’m eighty percent down,” she says.
“Sounds boring,” Emma says lightly, and Regina’s return smile makes her brain a little fuzzy. “I think the sweet spot would be closer to fifty percent. No more poisoning the food, but you’d still be…well, you .” And somehow, that is compliment enough for the compulsion to fade.
Regina takes a step forward, her eyes dancing with amusement. “Why, Miss Swan,” she says, and Emma swallows and tries not to react. “I didn’t know you cared.” She turns around, dismissing Emma without another word, and retreats into the kitchen.
Emma hurries from the house, pausing only to wave up to Henry in his window, and she counts tonight as an unexpected success.