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goodnight, dear void.

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I hope you don’t mind if I ruin the story for you: this ends with our heroines blissfully together. All the best stories do, and all the best love triangles veer into a tangled mess that straightens out (and certainly no pun intended there ) into a firm and solid line.

 

Now, the women in question may be less than delighted by this little tidbit– or perhaps quietly intrigued– but they shall have to be patient, and you will, too, won’t you? It can take an eternity for the right accidents to make true love come true, or it can come in an instant, unexpected. 

 

So, in summary:

 

The inevitable: Regina Mills and Emma Swan will fall in love.

 

The inevitable: Regina Mills and Emma Swan will loathe each other.

 

The inevitable: neither of the above are mutually exclusive.

 

The right accidents: Regina, after a night out with her best friend, reaches for her phone in a moment of drunken clarity. Drunken clarity: in that she absolutely cannot remember her best friend’s name but remembers her number perfectly. Her fingers transpose the last two digits of said best friend’s number, and she types a message to a stranger instead. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am NOT going on any kind of blind date. I don’t care how perfect you think this person is for me. We both know that’s a FARCE. >:(

 

Regina, who is gifted with the remarkable ability to drunk-text coherently and with the unfortunate habit of using emoticons when drunk, has said her piece. The response makes less sense to her, and she squints, bleary-eyed, at the screen of her phone. 

 

Uh

 

Who is this

 

I just wanna say that I am totally with you on blind dates

 

Ninety minutes away, in her apartment in Boston, Emma Swan stares bemusedly at the text she’d just received on her burner phone. The burner phone is strictly for business– and business, for Emma Swan, is nabbing bail jumpers and not talking to angry strangers who use text emoticons. 

 

Still, she feels the need to express solidarity. Mulan has been relentless about some woman in Maine who’s apparently her soulmate. Emma had agreed to the blind date, mildly interested, only to be told, so my friend hasn’t exactly gotten her to agree to it yet but she will , I promise , and now she’s kind of grouchy about the whole prospect. 

 

She broods about that as another message comes in. I apologize. I am very much inebriated. Fuck. Emma blinks at that, and then there’s a Shit. That’s one for the swear jar. Henry will ask questions. 

 

Henry, who is ten years old and fast asleep in his room, has no idea that his mother in fact owes two dollars to the swear jar. Henry also believes that his mother puts dollars in the swear jar for using the word crap , like he does, so there is something to be said for blissful ignorance. 

 

Regina puts a :( into the message thread, and then an :o that makes her snicker into her pillow. The mouth is so round. She loves text emoticons.

 

In Boston, Emma finds that watching stupid emoticons appear on her burner phone is much more entertaining than late-night TV. She sends back an emoji, just the little circle face with a monocle, and is delighted when a scolding appears on the screen. Have some self-respect. You’re an adult. Wait. Another moment of contemplation, and then, Is this still the wrong number?

 

You’re so lucky that it is , Emma retorts, because she’s pretty sure that this stranger would never live it down if her friend were receiving these messages. 

 

Shit , Regina responds, and she immediately falls asleep, her face mashed against the screen of her phone.

 

A proper meet-cute, perhaps, if lacking in the meet . No worries. They will soon have a second meet-cute, far more lacking in the cute

 

In this story, they get to do it twice.

 


 

Regina awakens. It’s six fifty-three and her alarm clock is beeping, and there’s what feels like the imprint of a phone against her face. She presses a hand to her head, miserably hungover, and staggers to the bathroom to shower. 

 

Bits and pieces of the night before begin to filter back to her. She remembers a night out with Marian, who had not-so-subtly gotten her drunk before broaching the topic– yet again– of this vaunted blind date.

 

I’m telling you, she’s the whole package. Hot, smart, funny– Henry would love her. It’s that last bit that had persuaded Regina, just like Marian had known it would. Regina’s complaint with the last three setups she’d endured had been about Henry, and she’s weak for any kind of promise of someone he’d like. 

 

So she’d said yes, and now she’s regretting it. There have been too many of these dates, each one with grand promises of compatibility and each more unpleasant than the last. Regina is tired of dating. Storybrooke might be tiny and bare of any prospective bachelor or bachelorettes for her to meet organically, but she’s done with these arranged dates that her friends insist are perfect when they’re…not.  

 

She reaches for her phone, fully intending to walk back her promise to Marian, when she pauses. There’s a text from an unfamiliar number on the screen, sent after midnight last night. Leave the ibuprofen by your bed, k? You’ll thank me in the morning

 

Regina blinks. Checks the number again. Opens her phone and discovers, to her chagrin, that she’d had an entire conversation with this stranger last night. “Fuck,” she says, and falls back against her pillow, promptly forgetting about texting Marian back.

 

She types out a brief message, contemplates pretending that none of their exchange had ever happened, and then sends it anyway. I’m sorry about last night. It won’t happen again. She winces again, pinches the bridge of her nose, and hopes the mystery texter won’t respond.

 

Honey, I can’t tell you how often I hear THAT one , comes the response, complete with another infantile emoji, and Regina gapes at the screen and then laughs, startling herself.

 

She types busily. I can imagine, if you’re spending your Friday nights texting wrong numbers. It’s a little mean, but she’s getting the sense that the stranger might enjoy it.

 

She’s right. I’ll have you know that you’re the only wrong number I’ve ever truly loved :( and god , not a text emoticon. She’s being mocked.

 

And she doesn’t hate it. There’s a strange exhilaration that comes with a successful conversation, with someone else who’s on her wavelength even if they might be miles away. She’d drunkenly texted the wrong person, but she’s still grinning at the phone through her hangover, and she responds, I’m sure you say that to all the wrong numbers.

 

Only the ones who scold me like I’m the drunk one, with a ridiculous stream of emoji after the text. A moment, and then, You still gonna do the blind date?

 

I don’t know. She’d forgotten about it again, and she sinks into a brief melancholy as she considers it. Marian’s friend is named Emma, is apparently some kind of bounty hunter, and has the arms to match , according to Marian. Regina has never quite imagined herself dating someone who sounds quite as butch as Marian has described her, but Marian won’t let up on this one. I don’t think I have much of a choice.

 

The stranger answers with a shrug emoji. Go on the date and act like such an asshole that your friend will never set you up again

 

And a second message. It’s worked for me

 

Regina’s alarm clock beeps again before she can respond, and Regina jerks up, checking the time. “Damn it,” she says in a low voice, and she rolls out of bed and goes to wake up Henry.

 


 

Aha, you see what I see, don’t you? This recipe for disaster, what the kids might call a hot mess in the making. And Emma Swan, who specializes in hot mess , should know that better than anyone.

 

Instead, she grins at her burner phone and tucks it away, checking only occasionally during the day for a new response from her new wrong-number friend. “It’s not you,” she reassures the friend she’s actually lunching with. Mulan is a detective with the Boston PD, and Emma suspects that she would assume the worst of the mystery texter. “Just a work thing.” 

 

“Mm-hm,” Mulan drawls. “You’re still in for that date, right?” It’s an abrupt change of topic, not that Emma had been listening very well before then. “Marian finally got Regina to say yes.” 

 

“Wow,” Emma says, straight-faced. “So glad your friend decided to deign to meet me.” 

 

Mulan gives her a look. “She’s just a little gun-shy. It’s not like it’s personal . She doesn’t even know you.” She takes a bite of her panini, chews, considers before she speaks again. “If you’d have just come with me when I went out to Storybrooke to see Ruby last weekend–” 

 

Mulan .” It emerges as a whine. “I was not going to go grovel to this lady and beg for a date. I don’t even want to date her.” She makes a face. Her wrong-number friend had come at the exact right time, it seems, because they’re both about to have hellishly bad dates. The universal experience.

 

Mulan shakes her head. “Gimme,” she says, snatching Emma’s phone– her personal one, which she’d made the mistake of leaving on the table. Mulan punches in a number and saves it, and Emma determinedly does not look at the phone or show any sign of desire to call this Regina. “Tomorrow night, at Aesop’s Tables. I’ll send you the address. It’s an upscale bar in–” 

 

“Do not say Storybrooke, Maine,” Emma says, gritting her teeth. “I’m not going ninety minutes away for a date I don’t even want to have.” 

 

Mulan gives her an apologetic look. “You can stay over at Ruby’s B&B free of charge. She’s not going to come out to Boston for this.” She leans forward. “I swear, she’s worth it. She’s good people. Last year, when I had that case in Storybrooke, no one would talk to me until she took me under her wing. She was the one who introduced me to Ruby. She’s a little rough around the edges, but you kind of have that in common.” Emma gives her a dark look. Mulan shrugs, unperturbed. “And she’s hot as fuck , so there’s that.” 

 

Emma sighs, surrendering. “Lead with that next time.” It’s not like she has a choice. She’s got a soft spot for all three of them– Mulan, her girlfriend, and Marian– and she doesn’t have the heart to let them down. Even when it comes to some high-maintenance, rough-around-the-edges lady who isn’t interested in Emma in the first place. “Fine. I’ll go. But no more pushing if it doesn’t work out, okay?” 

 

“Deal.” Mulan grins, victorious, and Emma tries to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach.

 

She reaches for her burner phone as soon as she’s out of the cafe and focuses on someone much more pleasant than Regina Mills. So what do you know about this guy you’re supposed to be dating?

 

The response is fast, as though the stranger had been waiting for her message. How do you know it’s a guy?

 

You seem like a woman to me . Maybe it’s projection, because Emma has always preferred the company of women in all things, though there had been a mention of a Henry who is presumably not a boyfriend. A roommate, maybe.

 

A pause, then, Fair enough.

 

She’s made it awkward, hasn’t she? Probed a little more than she should have. Emma bites her lip and decides to extend a little information of her own. I am, too. I’m Amy. Okay, yeah, she isn’t an idiot . She isn’t giving her name out to a stranger, even one she already likes more than she does her pushy friends right now. 

 

Virginia , comes the response, and Emma assumes it’s a fake name, too, but saves the number in her phone under the name anyway. I don’t know much about my date. Just that he’s supposed to be my “soulmate” and yet looks and sounds nothing like my type. Have you ever noticed how the only criterion for a perfect match seems to be that both people are single?

 

Sometimes not even that , Emma agrees, thinking back to a few bail jumpers she’d nabbed because they’d been trawling dating apps after fleeing their families. I could tell you some horror stories

 

Virginia’s answer comes swiftly. I’ll be in meetings all day , she says. Please, tell me every one. Emma exhales, a pleased little bubble of contentedness in her stomach, and does just that.

 


 

To explain how the date goes so miserably wrong, I will have to set the scene for you. 

 

First: Boston, two hours before. Emma is texting her new friend, which has been an all-day event again. “Virginia,” Emma discovers, has never seen a TikTok, which means she must be considerably older than Emma. It’s a travesty, and Emma texts Virginia as she picks out a dress, then a second, then swaps them both out for slacks and a blouse, then picks a third dress. 

 

She’s nervous about this date, even though she’d vowed that it would be no big deal. She doesn’t even want to tell Virginia about it. She’s been hearing mentions of Regina for the past year, since Mulan had first met Ruby and Marian, just snatches of discussion of a woman they all seem very fond of. 

 

And Emma has a very bad feeling about what’s going to happen tonight. She doesn’t want Marian to hate her for fucking this up, and she’s sure that she’s somehow going to.

 

Second: Storybrooke, an hour later. Regina has finally, reluctantly, pulled herself away from “Amy’s” incessant videos. There’s an entire series of them in which people turn busses into tiny houses, and Amy already knows her well enough to pinpoint exactly what has Regina glued to the screen.

 

Amy . She must live somewhere in the state, because her area code is the same as Marian’s, but Regina had casually Googled the number and found nothing. No name attached, no address, not in public records. Maybe she’s jumping the gun, pushing for too much information on someone she’s only just met. She hasn’t asked for that much on Emma Swan, and she’s scheduled to go out with her in an hour.

 

Amy had assumed that Regina is straight and dating a man. Regina, as mayor of a small town where gossip is widespread, has learned the value of keeping her bisexuality close to her chest, but she avoids mention of her blind date to Amy today. She is uneasy lying to her new friend, even about something as trivial as the gender of the person she’s dating.

 

She ponders her outfit for tonight, a sleek red dress with matching pumps, and wonders if this Emma will even dress up. Bounty hunter. Marian had described her as tough and working in a boys’ club, and Regina imagines her as big and burly, probably in overalls or something. Not Regina’s usual at all, but if Marian likes her this much, there must be something about her.

 

Then again, Marian also liked her ex-husband, who had hit on Regina repeatedly for years and then moved out into that camper in the woods near Rollinsford and still made a play for custody, so she isn’t the best judge of character.

 

“Stop second-guessing me and go get ready!” Marian calls from downstairs, and Regina scowls at the door and then softens when she hears Henry’s laughter a moment later. Fine . For Marian, she can do a few interminable hours. Then she’ll finally be done.

 

And a spoiler for you, my friend: she will be far, far from done. Not with Amy, and certainly not with Emma, who is driving toward Storybrooke at this very moment.

 


 

Storybrooke is nice, Emma decides. A little smaller than she’d imagined, but Maine is like that. Further upstate, there are the towns where streets are winding rocky paths through the woods and there are more deer than people, but Storybrooke is close enough to the border that there are paved roads and a few traffic lights. There are a few curious glances at her yellow Bug as she drives down Main Street, but she’d figured that it was a pretty small town.

 

Regina does…something in politics here. Mulan had been vague about what, exactly. But the town is nice, so she’s probably doing a pretty good job. Emma allows herself that charitable thought before she pulls into the parking lot behind the diner and B&B that Ruby’s family owns and heads in to say hello.

 

“Aesop’s Tables is on the next block,” Ruby says, gesturing in its direction. “You can walk there from here. Oh!” She fishes out a key from her pocket. “A room upstairs.” 

 

“I doubt I’ll need it,” Emma says absently, doing the math. An hour or two for this date, tops, and she’ll be on her way home before eleven. More time in the car than in the bar. 

 

Ruby wiggles her eyebrows and takes that in exactly the wrong way. “I’ll bet .” 

 

Emma rolls her eyes and does not dignify that with a response. She tucks the key into her bag, striding down the block toward the sign for Aesop’s Tables. As she puts some distance between herself and the diner, she slows down, tugging anxiously at her skirt. She knows this date is going to suck, but she doesn’t want it to be so terrible that it causes friction between her and Marian. Mulan’s friends are her friends, now, and Emma doesn’t have so many friends that she can afford to lose some of them over a bad date.

 

She thinks longingly of Virginia and the burner phone she’d left in the car. Maybe she has one more now, at least. And if this goes badly, she might even break her own rules about caution around strangers and confide in Virginia. 

 

She pushes the door of the bar open and maneuvers to the bar, where Regina is supposed to be waiting. There . There’s a woman leaning against the bar, strikingly beautiful in red, and she bears some passing resemblance to the one blurry group picture of Regina that Mulan had let her see before the date. “Uh. Hey,” she says.

 

Regina looks at her, eyes raking over her legs and then up her dress to her face, and Emma feels thoroughly exposed. Mulan had been honest about exactly how hot her date was, at least, but she’d left out details. Details like how visibly expensive Regina’s clothes are, and how she carries herself like she owns the place. There is something distinctly superior about Regina Mills, and Emma realizes with a sinking feeling tha this woman is far out of her league.

 

And then Regina turns around without a word and looks back at the door. 

 

Emma gapes at her, astounded at her rudeness, and tries again. “I think we’re supposed to be here together.” 

 

Regina doesn’t look back at her, but she does respond, her words scathing. “I don’t think so. I’m waiting for someone.”

 

“Me,” Emma says helplessly. She’s beginning to suspect that Marian hadn’t even shown Regina a picture of her. Does Marian even have a picture? Or maybe this isn’t Regina, and Regina is some sweet and less attractive woman who’s just running late– “Are you Regina?” 

 

Regina turns again, her eyes roving across Emma’s body a second time. For a heated moment, Emma is absolutely sure that she likes what she sees– but then Regina says, again, “I don’t think so.” 

 

Right. Because Regina can’t conceive that her friend would have talked her into dating someone like Emma. Emma swallows through a scratchy throat, humiliated and annoyed, and bites out, “Oh, good. I was worried Marian had set me up with some superior shit with no substance.” Stupid, stupid . But Regina is asking for a fight, and Emma has never been very good at turning those down.

 

Regina twitches at Marian’s name, and she looks hard at Emma. “You’re Emma?” She doesn’t sound pleased, and Emma’s hackles are raised. “I thought you’d be taller. And a little less obnoxious.”

 

“Sorry to disappoint, Your Majesty.” God, she doesn’t even care about the long trip back. She’s ready to go right now, to escape this town and this woman. “It’s been real. Great date. It’s a wonder you’ve stayed single this long.” 

 

Regina sneers at her, any veneer of civility gone. “You’re not going anywhere,” she says. “Marian made me promise I’d give this an hour. I don’t know what I’ve ever done to earn this torment–” 

 

“Probably you were just yourself,” Emma shoots back. She has made no such promise to Mulan or Marian, and she is ready to go – 

 

“Oh, you’re not going anywhere,” Regina says in a low, dangerous tone. “I will not be forced into another blind date because I didn’t give the last cretin a chance.” She wrinkles her nose, which is as alarmingly attractive as everything else about her. This would be so much easier if she weren’t this hot. Every single thing about her is repulsive except for the way that Emma’s body is thrumming with desire, with the inability to storm off. 

 

She doesn’t move. She also tells herself that it’s because if this date is just bad enough, Mulan will apologize and stop trying to push her into a relationship. Regina says, “Let’s just get this over with,” and jerks her thumb toward the seating area.

 

They glare at each other from either side of the table, ordering food and drinks in terse voices, and Emma sees Regina staring at her arms. Well, good . Emma might not be some stuck-up politician from Maine with the purse to match, but she’s got good arms and she knows it. Let Regina know what she’s missing. “I can’t believe that Mulan likes you,” Emma mutters. “Is this revenge for that time I talked her into dyeing her hair purple? She looked good in purple.”

 

When she glances across the table, for an instant, she thinks that Regina might have smiled. It metamorphosizes back into a sneer in seconds. “I thought she liked me,” she says coldly. “Clearly, I was wrong.”

 

“God, you’re so insufferable,” Emma says irritably, kicking the side of the table. She thinks she might have hit Regina’s foot instead, from the dark look on her face and the sharp pain in her leg in response. “I can’t do this. I thought this date would just be awkward and boring, not repulsive .” Regina just lets out a scornful noise and then ignores her altogether.

 

And there’s the awkward silence Emma had been expecting, coupled with an undercurrent of barely restrained hostility. They eat in terse silence, midway through Emma feels a note of regret. They’d started on the wrong foot, sure, and Emma would rather date another possible-serial killer over Regina Mills, but there’s no reason to make an enemy of Marian’s best friend. She clears her throat. “So, are you, like, a politician in this town? Marian’s never…” Her voice trails off at the icy look on Regina’s face. 

 

“I am the mayor ,” Regina says, and Emma feels a little stab of irritation at Mulan for not letting on exactly what Regina does. She would have known immediately that this would be a crapshoot if she’d known Regina was some rich and powerful lady, let alone one this gorgeous. “You’d do well not to cross me.” 

 

Gorgeous and nasty , right. Emma is at the regret-her-regret point of this date. “Oh, yeah, very intimidating,” she says dryly, as though she hadn’t just thought the same. “What are you mayor of? A drugstore and a few dozen moose? Mooses? Meese?” 

 

Regina’s lip curls. “Storybrooke has a stellar school system, thanks to me. Something I can see that you were deprived of.” 

 

And that’s a hit Emma hadn’t needed. She stands up, new anger thrumming through her veins. “Okay. I’m done.” 

 

Regina’s eyes narrow, and damn, this would be a lot simpler if that wasn’t so hot. “It’s only been seventeen minutes–” 

 

“I don’t care. Lie to Marian. I’ll tell Mulan it was an interminable hour and it’s just a mark of how good a person I am that this didn’t end in homicide.” Emma twists around, judging exactly how many crowds of people she’ll have to make it through to get to the front of the building. Back door, then. It’s just down the hallway, and Emma digs in her purse and slaps down a bill large enough to pay for both their meals and the tip. “I’m out of here.”

 

She makes for the hallway, pushing open the heavy back door and finding herself in an alleyway. Regina is right behind her, hissing furious words. “I don’t lie to Marian, get back here–” 

 

Emma grits her teeth and keeps walking. “I don’t care,” she says again, and she remembers the way that Regina had looked her up and down when they’d first met, I don’t think so , and feels a new hot wash of humiliation. She twists to stare at Regina, who– fuck – is all flushed with anger, eyes burning, like a vision of a Valkyrie about to go to war. “Just tell her that you were expecting someone else. Some rich brat with a stick up her ass to match yours.”

 

Regina shakes her head, moving in closer. “You’re obscene,” she growls.

“And you’re a raging bitch,” Emma hisses back, and Regina’s eyes darken– 

 

It’s not exactly clear which of them moves first, though in later years they’ll each insist it was the other. But it’s clear where they are an instant later: lips locked together furiously, Emma backed nearly to the wall of the bar with Regina pressed to her. And if Regina had been an unbearable date, she is something else entirely when they’re kissing like this. Emma’s heart is pounding, the blood running hot and loud through her veins, and she is drunk on Regina in an instant. She clutches onto her, hears a hiss of approval when her nails dig into Regina’s arms, and stumbles back to the wall until she’s flat against it and Regina’s tongue is in her mouth.

 

Emma pulls her in closer, grips her with savage satisfaction as she hears Regina moan. Yes , much better than anything else that’s escaped Regina’s mouth tonight, and far more fulfilling. Something primal is rising within her, a deep-seated desire to make Regina scream, and she tightens her hold on Regina and twists them around in a smooth motion.

 

Regina fights her every step of the way, determined to win this battle for dominance, and Emma grazes Regina’s lip with her teeth, runs her hands along Regina’s back and ass, does everything she knows of to leave Regina desperate for more. And there may be something yet to their friends’ assurances– because the two of them might be ill-suited to dates and civil conversation, but she’s never felt more compatible with someone else like this. Regina mewls out a strangled noise and lifts her neck, ever demanding. 

 

This time, Emma is happy to comply. She licks a line up Regina’s neck, sucks hard where she’ll have trouble concealing it, and kisses her again, capturing another noise before it can escape Regina’s lips. In another swift movement, she slips her hands under Regina’s thighs and lifts her, and Regina gasps against her mouth and writhes hard against Emma. 

 

Oh . Emma forgets in an instant where they are, who she’s with, and possibly her own name. Regina’s hands slide up to Emma’s breasts, cupping them over her dress and thumbing her nipples. Emma chokes, shifting against Regina’s hands, and Regina bites her shoulder and snarls, “ Now , you imbecile . I need–”

 

Her dress is hiked up, her legs wriggling furiously against Emma’s sides, and Emma cuts to the chase and presses the heel of her hand hard against Regina’s wet panties. Regina’s head falls forward, a litany of curses falling from her lips in a steady stream, and Emma slips her fingers into Regina’s underwear and angles them, jerking her thumb onto Regina’s clit and plunging her fingers inside. Regina rocks in place, a strangled noise escaping her mouth, and Emma pumps harder and harder, watching Regina’s blown pupils and the way she smacks her head back against the wall. Regina’s hands are squeezing Emma’s breasts painfully, and Emma needs more, more pain, more friction–

 

Regina does scream, and Emma kisses her hard before she attracts any attention, swallowing up the noise. Regina’s tongue is in her mouth in an instant, swiping against her teeth and the roof of her mouth, and it’s so unexpectedly sensual that Emma can feel an entirely different part of her body burning as Regina quakes against her. 

 

It takes all she has to pull back when Regina stills, her pulse still going wild as she stumbles back and lets Regina down. Regina stares at her, her eyes dark and needy and her chest heaving with gasping breaths. Her dress is askew, her perfect hair a mess, and she looks thoroughly debauched, all in an alleyway outside the bar. Emma can bet that Regina would consider this entire incident beneath her dignity. 

 

She should feel satisfied. Instead, she still burns with desire, and Regina looks better than ever. Regina says in a throaty snarl, “You absolute fucker ,” and then promptly runs out of words, still breathing hard and so damned beautiful that Emma is consumed with the need to seize her again. 

 

She says, her voice as strained as Regina’s, “I have a room at the B&B,” and they stumble together for the next block.

 


 

It’s the most obscene thing she’s done in her lifetime, with the most obscene woman she’s ever had the displeasure of knowing. And still, it’s a struggle for Regina to finally pull away and snap, “This was the worst decision I’ve ever made.” 

 

Emma Swan only cocks her head, looking smug and satisfied where she’s splayed out on her bed, still stark naked. She leans back against the headboard, her legs spread out in front of her, and Regina has never wanted more dearly to climb onto a bed and forget her dignity. Again . “So, are you gonna want these, or…” She dangles a torn scrap of red fabric from her finger, and Regina lets out a little cry of rage and surges forward to yank it from her.

 

And then she’s close enough that she can’t stop herself from kissing Emma again, hard and angry and unrelenting, until it’s Emma who looks as though she’s been struck by a tornado. Good . This is Regina’s only victory of the night, and she clenches her underwear in her hand and stalks downstairs as subtly as she can manage. 

 

Humiliating, every instant of this. She’d been taken aback from the moment Emma had approached her in the bar, had thought that she was being accosted with an unwanted advance, because the Emma whom Marian described had been pretty and nothing more. Big, strong, with a nice face, Regina had assumed. Not some kind of sun goddess in human form, glowing with vitality and with the sharpest tongue on her that Regina’s ever seen from anyone but herself. She’d come unprepared. She doesn’t know what had gotten into her, except perhaps that she’d been so consumed with loathing and lust that–

 

She needs a shower, god . She drives home with unsteady hands, checking the time. A three-hour date. Perfectly long enough for her to tell Marian she’d given it a shot and Emma Swan is an obnoxious, argumentative brat whom she will never be seeing again. 

 

Never. And the last three hours– no, one hundred sixty-three minutes– will be wiped from history as though they’d never happened. She parks, taking another deep breath, and checks her phone to see if she’s missed anything from Amy, her only anchor right now. 

 

Nothing since her last TikTok, and Regina bites back her disappointment with this whole failed embarrassment of a night. She pushes the door open quietly, hoping that Marian is at least asleep in the guest room and won’t ask any questions tonight. 

 

But that would be too fortunate, and Marian is perched on the couch in the living room, grinning at her. “Well? Three hours sounds like a very nice first date–”

 

Regina holds up a hand. “Do not.” 

 

Marian does. “What did you think of Emma? Isn’t she–” 

 

“She’s a piece of work,” Regina manages.

 

Marian laughs. “I know, right?” 

 

“I don’t mean that as a good thing!” Regina twists around to glare at her. This is Marian’s fault, start to finish, and Marian has no right to act as though anything good has happened tonight. “She was a menace! We’d barely met when she started insulting me– and just because I didn’t know she was– and why didn’t you tell me she was so gorgeous?” she demands, because she’s suddenly certain that that had been where this had all gone wrong. Not that she isn’t grateful that she’d seen Emma’s true colors right away and before being strongarmed into another date or two, but… 

 

Marian shrugs. “Eh. I mean, I said that she was pretty, I guess?” 

 

Oh, typical . “You have terrible taste!” Regina snaps out, because pretty is hardly a word to describe Emma Swan, who had been a vision until she’d opened her mouth. 

 

“We know this!” Marian says, throwing up her arms. “You once called my ex, and I quote, a giant thumb in Timberlands . I don’t know what you ever saw in Mal, and I don’t know why you’d be so livid that Emma is hotter than you’d expect, except–” She frowns suddenly. “Actually, you haven’t even broken anything. You’re surprisingly sedate tonight for a failed date…that took three hours…” Her voice trails off, and Regina realizes with horror that she’s piecing the truth together. “Oh, my god , Regina.” Marian’s eyes glitter with delight. “You absolute animal. On the first date?” 

 

“There was no date,” Regina says sharply, wading hastily into the river of denial. “There was no…anything. I don’t think I’ve ever despised anyone on sight like I do Emma Swan.” 

 

Marian bobs her head, very slowly. “Okay,” she says.

 

Regina lifts her head. “I don’t know what you think happened, but I assure you, it was a nightmare from start to finish. I only stayed past the first few minutes because I promised you I’d give her a chance. And I don’t want to be set up again, understood?”

 

Marian finally looks like she’s taking Regina seriously, which is a relief. “I just…I worry that you’re lonely, Regina. I know you’re a secret romantic, and I just thought that Emma would…” She stops before Regina can rake her over the coals for whatever she might have said next. “I underestimated both of your tempers, I guess.” She sighs. “It won’t happen again.” 

 

“Good.” Regina raises her chin and tries her best to ignore the way her body seems to move, like liquid, unrestrained and relaxed. “See that it doesn’t. Have a good night, Marian.” 

 

She turns to head upstairs, and Marian says delicately, “By the way, you might want to throw those out before Henry comes down in the morning.” Regina’s head snaps around. Her underwear had fallen out of her bag and onto the floor at some point during their conversation, and Marian is laughing silently at her. 

 

“I’m going!” she says, scurrying for the door. “I’m going. I’m just glad the night wasn’t a complete wash for you–” She ducks out before Regina can throw something at her, still laughing, and Regina stalks to the door and locks it, grabs the piece of fabric, and storms upstairs.

 

Fucking Emma Swan.

 


 

(In this case, dear reader, she didn’t mean the above literally. Sometimes we all need a bit of clarification, especially when it comes to a night as confusing for all involved as the last one.)

Chapter Text

The best way to start a new day? The smell of coffee being made in the kitchen, drifting to your room. A slow, languorous awakening, a few good stretches and no alarm clock. The sensation of someone you love curled up against you. There are few things that can make mornings enjoyable, but those are enough to brighten your day for good.

 

For Regina Mills, it’s rolling over and finding new messages on her phone from Amy, who goes to bed so late that Regina would suspect she were in a different time zone if not for the area code. Do you ever come to the realization that all your friends suck but you’re an adult and don’t know how to make friends anymore? A serious question, albeit tempered by the one that had arrived a few minutes later. My best friend stole my phone and made me a Tinder account, then hid the app somewhere on my phone. I’ve been getting notifications ALL NIGHT and when I press them it won’t open the app, so I can’t find it.

 

Regina smirks, immediately awake. For a moment, she entertains the idea that Amy is attractive enough to have piqued the interest of that many people, but she pushes that thought aside. It’s Tinder, and random degenerates with no taste abound. How can you hide an app? 

 

The response comes quickly. Amy doesn’t sleep enough. I don’t know. She’s better with technology than anyone I know. Then, without missing a beat, Will you be my new best friend?  

 

Regina leans back against her bed, exhaling, and hears the sound of Henry in the hallway, heading to the bathroom. If he’s already awake, she has a little more time, and she types, I don’t know. I’ve been told I’m ‘difficult’ and ‘a tyrant’. I doubt I’m friend material.

 

Amy sends her an emoji that feels sardonic, even though it’s just a woman with a hand put out. The emoji is blonde and white, which Regina reminds herself might mean nothing. She hasn’t had the best luck with blonde white women, though she also finds herself too often drawn to them. Maybe you just need better friends.

 

Oh, no , Regina clarifies. Those quotes were from my son. My own best friend calls me a ‘hardass’ and ‘exhausting’. Marian has been poking fun at her for days, since the ill-advised blind date that had ended in the worst possible way. Regina grimaces, her sunny mood beginning to fade with the reminder of Emma Swan. And when Amy doesn’t answer immediately, she settles firmly on grouchy.

 

She stumbles to the shower, dresses in a hurry, and cheers up when she sees Amy’s response on her phone screen. A flurry of messages, brief as a stream of consciousness.

 

I’m sorry what?

 

You have a SON?

 

Wait

 

Is this who Henry is

 

I figured he was your roommate

 

Well I guess he would be

 

How old is he? 

 

How old are you?

 

Sorry that was rude

 

You just never mentioned!

 

Kids are the best

 

I mean I’m terrible with them but like because I’d probably wind up getting them stuck up a tree or something

 

Not that I think kids are like kittens

 

Kids are great

 

???

 

Regina laughs aloud, loud enough for Henry to poke his head into her room and wrinkle his nose. “Who are you talking to? Tía Marian?”

 

“Uh,” Regina says, and to her horror, she flushes. 

 

Henry’s eyes go wide. “ Who ,” he says, and he charges forward, craning his neck to see the messages on her phone. 

 

“No one,” Regina says, too weakly and too late. “I was just–” 

 

“Who’s Amy?” Henry demands, and Regina locks her phone in a quick motion and holds it tight in her hand. Henry’s eyes narrow. “I thought you said that you weren’t dating anymore! That Marian sets you up with obscene boors .” He hooks his fingers into quotation marks for that and grins and ducks Regina when she tries to poke him in the arm. “Tell me about her. She sounds awesome. Can she come over? Can we climb some trees together?” 

 

“I don’t even know her,” Regina protests. “And we’ve talked about you meeting anyone I date– not that I’m dating Amy– it was just a wrong number–” And she attempts to explain the entire strange situation to Henry, without any success. His eyes are glowing by the end, and she feels obligated to add, “And we are not dating. She doesn’t even date women.” 

 

Henry puts his hands on his hips. “Did she say that?”

 

“Essentially.” Amy had defaulted to boyfriend when they’d talked about Regina’s blind date, and that had been proof enough. And Regina is losing the script here. “And besides, you should know by now that we never date strangers we meet virtually. Or meet them in person, or talk to them at all–” 

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Henry rolls his eyes. “You’ve gotta get out more, Mom. This isn’t, like, the olden days anymore. Everyone’s online, not just creepy predators.” He sits down on her bed, pouting up at her, and says, “She should date you. You’re much cooler than some guy .” 

 

“I appreciate your support,” Regina says dryly, and she sits down next to Henry and puts an arm around him. Dear reader, I can tell you that this is a conversation they’ve had many times before, since Henry had gotten old enough to consider his mother as an entity separate from him. He is firm in his belief that his mother is a catch and that a stepparent would be frickin awesome , and it’s most of the reason why Regina has agreed to any dates.

 

At least, it’s what she likes to say when pressed. Quietly, Regina Mills yearns for someone else to share her life with– someone who would love Henry as she does and someone who might love her, too– but that’s a vulnerability she won’t share with anyone. “I have you,” she says now to her dissatisfied son. “You’re the only one I need. And if you ever try to find a stranger you meet in Animal Crossing, I will lock you into your room like Rapunzel and you’ll be stuck there until your hair is long enough to climb out.” 

 

Henry blinks at his mother. “You really don’t understand fairytales, Mom,” he says, and he wanders downstairs to eat some cereal.

 


 

Regina is having quite the morning, and Emma’s is no less earth-shattering, brought on mostly by the discovery that her new correspondent has a son . A son, like a real, live child, like a kid old enough to call his mother a tyrant . How old is Virginia? How has she not mentioned this before? 

 

To be fair, they haven’t really talked about anything real, cautious as they both are around a stranger. There have been lots of discussions of terrible dates and forwards of bad memes (on Virginia’s part, because she seems to send on every single stupid meme she sees, and it’s so fucking endearing– except maybe it’s because she’s a Facebook grandma or something and Emma didn’t realize) and excellent memes (on Emma’s part, because Emma is a discerning purveyor of hilarious content). And all this time, Virginia has had a kid .

 

The responses arrive a little late, during the typical gap in Virginia’s morning that Emma has always assumed has been a commute and not getting a kid to the bus stop . Emma’s mind wanders to the image of it, Virginia hurrying down the street in downtown Boston to one of the school busses that block Emma’s way to work in the mornings, a faceless boy beside her. 

 

Henry is ten. I’m old enough to have adopted a ten-year-old at a somewhat reasonable age, but not too old that I don’t know better than to give identifying info to a stranger , comes the wry response.

 

Emma speculates. Forty? Forty is a little more than a decade older than Emma, and very doable. Not that there’s…any… doing , anyway.  

 

Excuse me? Virginia sounds delighted and offended at once, somehow. Hardly that old. Which is a solid confirmation that she’s between thirty and thirty-five, Emma guesses. 

 

I’m 28 , she offers. I know that really narrows it down to only, like, a half a billion people. She turns back to the more important information of the day. Tell me about Henry. You said you adopted him? 

 

And oh, if Virginia had ever been reluctant to share personal information, she doesn’t hesitate for an instant when it comes to gushing about her son. He’s my anchor, honestly. My mother was opposed to the adoption from the start. She was certain I’d ruin all my chances to marry some eligible bachelor. Emma scoffs, and she can nearly hear Virginia’s through the text. I didn’t want to marry. I wanted Henry, and I jumped through every hoop she maneuvered in my way to get him. And he’s perfect, she says, smart and snarky and with an overactive imagination. Virginia hasn’t talked to Henry about the adoption yet– she’s waiting until he’s a little older and can better handle it. Virginia’s love for her son shines through with every word texted, and Emma feels an unfamiliar warmth creeping through her as she reads. 

 

It’s really cool, what you did for him , she says when she can find the words. I was a foster kid, and adoptive parents are just – she sends the message, unfinished, and runs out of words again. It’s really cool , she sends instead, and adds a heart emoji. 

 

Somewhere ninety minutes away, Regina is looking at her phone in the diner, her own heart thrumming and a lump in her throat as she reads Amy’s message. She’s still staring at it when she hears a name that jolts her back to the present. “–Emma’s taking Mulan’s puppy over the weekend,” Ruby is telling one of her friends, leaning back against the counter.

 

Regina’s lip curls. A day spent texting with Amy isn’t quite enough for Regina to forget Emma Swan, unfortunately. It’s strange how quickly Emma’s name has begun to feel like it’s everywhere since the catastrophic blind date. She hadn’t noticed that Marian had mentioned Emma much before this; but now, Marian drops Emma’s name in casual conversation– oh, yeah, my friend Emma saw that movie and liked it, Emma swears by these boots, I’m going to drop by Emma’s on the way to pick up Roland – and Regina doesn’t even think she realizes it. Ruby is even worse; but thankfully, Regina doesn’t spend much time with Ruby. 

 

When had Emma become so ensconced in Regina’s life? And why does she still twitch whenever she hears Emma’s name, as though her body itself remembers Emma perfectly? 

 

(Amy had asked her once about the blind date, casually and three days after said Official Debasement Of Regina Mills. The less said about it, the better , Regina had written, because her conversations with Amy are the one sanctuary she has from that night.)

 

Amy. Better to focus on Amy, who is finally opening up a little and Regina wants to know more. There is a person behind the memes and the chatter, someone Regina genuinely likes, and she is not going to think about Emma Swan again. 

 

Fuck , why is she abruptly aroused.

 


 

Isn’t this fun? Perhaps not as much for the women in question, who still recall the night that they’d met with horror, but this does make for a winding narrative that will bring them back to each other– by the end of the chapter, perhaps, if we are so fortunate.

 

You see, Emma and Regina are each blessed with a good friend who cares for them– a detective in Boston, a park ranger in Maine. A year before, Detective Mulan Hua had been searching for a murder suspect in the campgrounds outside Storybrooke, and beloved local ranger Marian Alvarez had worked with her and made a close new friend. Both Mulan and Marian had been sure that Regina and Emma would be the perfect match. Both are baffled at this twist of events. 

 

Both are less than convinced that their grand plan has come to a close, though they know better than to try to force their friends into the same vicinity again.

 

Ah, well, one of them knows better, anyway. “Regina doesn’t like surprises,” Marian says morosely. “She gets mean. It’d be Aesop’s Tables all over again.” 

 

“I can’t even say the word Storybrooke to Emma anymore,” Mulan admits. “I said I was spending last weekend with Ruby and she said in that hellhole? My condolences to you both .” 

 

Marian opens her mouth, bites her lip. She’s been sworn to secrecy about what had happened between Regina and Emma, even to Mulan, and her promise wars with her desire to make it clear that there’s still something there. “I’m coming down to Rollinsford this weekend to drop Roland off. Henry has some grand sleepover, and I was thinking about dragging Regina with me and making it a Boston weekend. Do you think…?” She stops just short of suggesting it, fully aware that it wouldn’t end well. “Never mind,” she sighs.

 

“Bad idea,” Mulan agrees. Did I mention that this conversation was by phone? That’s important.

 

It’s important that Marian doesn’t see Mulan’s expression and the thoughtful look on her face.

 

Marian, as you recall, knows better.

 

Mulan is making new plans.

 


 

Let’s fast-forward a bit. Hit the button, skip ahead, and get to the moment you’re waiting for. I must digress for a moment to share with you how close our ladies are getting: virtually, though physically will have to wait. 

 

Regina finds herself sharing more and more with Amy. Once the floodgates had opened, she finds that she wants to tell Amy everything about herself. She confides in Amy about her mother and about a dead ex-fiance, and the ill-fated marriage she’d been strongarmed into after. It’s a sordid past for someone who still feels so young, and she remembers that Amy is twenty-eight and worries that she’ll seem…old. As old as Amy had thought she’d been, if not older, and that bothers her for reasons she can’t explain.

 

But for her part, Emma has plenty of her own baggage to share with Virginia. At first, it’s because Virginia is opening up and Emma feels as though the trust has to come from both sides. Then, it’s because it feels good . She doesn’t talk about herself much. She makes up new versions of herself to catch bail jumpers and she talks with Mulan about reliably impersonal things like the weather and the ball game the night before. She doesn’t say I met a girl named Lily when I was fifteen and she taught me to never trust anyone ever to Mulan, but she texts it to Virginia one night and feels like she can breathe when Virginia says tell me what happened

 

It’s gotten to the point where Emma misses Virginia when she isn’t around– when they’re both at work or Virginia is asleep instead of texting her. This kind of relationship is fragile, wrought in insubstantial words floating through invisible space, but Emma is already certain that it will leave a void behind if it ends.

 

She goes to work and chats with Mulan and reluctantly agrees to go out for drinks with Mulan and the girls this weekend, though she’d rather text Virginia. It’s fine. Once Mulan and Ruby wander off to dance and Marian finds someone tall and bland to flirt with, Emma can text to her heart’s content. 

 

Virginia’s been texting all day, fretting about a sleepover that Henry is participating in. He doesn’t have a lot of friends , she admits. And I don’t love this Nick boy, either, but Henry was so excited just to be included.

 

In my expert opinion of once being the ten-year-old who didn’t get invited to sleepovers at all, I think that kids are really fickle , Emma offers. Henry might’ve just had a good bag of chips at school yesterday or something.

 

She’s sure that Virginia will probably be aghast at the idea of Henry bringing chips to school, because she just knows that Virginia is the kind of mom who sends her son with fresh home-baked goods every day. Virginia has been vague about her job, which seems to involve a lot of flexibility and working from home, and Emma is absolutely sure that Virginia spends her free time being some kind of maternal goddess. 

 

She grins, tucking away her phone, and wanders into one of the better lesbian clubs in the city. Mulan has already texted Emma on her other phone, letting her know that she’s waiting at one of the side tables with the others, and Emma makes her way toward the left side of the club. Mulan is tucked in next to Ruby, the other girl’s arm slung over hers, and Marian has already found someone to chat up, since they’ve got a fourth with them at the table–

 

Wait . Emma recognizes that hair, those shoulders, that neck – she really, really knows that neck– and she takes a step back, a sinking feeling in her stomach. She whirls around to flee just as Ruby sees her and calls, “Hey! I thought Marian said you weren’t coming tonight!” 

 

Marian turns, eyes widening at the sight of Emma. Her companion turns, too, and fuck if Emma hadn’t blocked out the memory of exactly how attracted to Regina Mills she is until now. There had been that terrible, amazing night, which had simultaneously been the worst and best night of her life, and Emma had done what she knows best after that and compartmentalized it all. Regina Mills is a distant memory now, an unpleasant person she never wants to think about again, and she haunts only Emma’s dreams now. 

 

Except that she’s sitting beside Marian right now, and she looks very displeased at Emma’s arrival. As though Emma is crashing this night instead of being the one who was actually invited.

 

Emma storms forward, fully intending to clear the air on that . “Mulan,” she says, and Mulan looks loose and unbothered, her head tilting against Ruby’s arm as though she hasn’t done a thing. “You said it would just be Marian and Ruby.” 

 

“I said it would be the girls.” Mulan shrugs, looking puzzled. A shameless liar . “I don’t know what you assumed.” 

 

Emma’s eyes narrowed. “I said ‘so when you say the girls, you mean just Marian and Ruby, right? No demon mayor from Storybrooke?’ and you said ‘I would never do that to you.’” 

 

Mulan looks blankly at her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says. Emma feels a sudden burning desire to punch a wall. 

 

Instead, she twists around and catches Regina watching her, her eyes doing that smoldering thing that had turned Emma to putty the last time– 

 

No. Not again.

 

But she already has the sinking feeling that she knows exactly where this is going, of course. She’s known since the moment she’d walked into the club.

 

My friends, isn’t it just adorable that she still might still think she can resist the inevitable?

 


 

Emma Swan is here, in this club, sitting between Ruby and Marian. Every few moments, she turns to glare at Mulan, who has paid her no attention since she’d walked in. She does not look at Regina.

 

Which is a very good thing, because Regina doesn’t trust herself around Emma. She keeps her own accusing glare on Mulan, who chats with Marian as though neither of them are there. “I’ve been doing some hiking on weekends,” she says. “There are some great places north of the city that are halfway between here and Storybrooke.” 

 

“No cell service,” Ruby says grimly. “The things I do for her…” Mulan rewards her with a kiss. Regina delicately looks away, and finds herself staring at Emma.

 

Emma doesn’t see her at first. She’s checking her phone, brow creased at something she’s looking at, and…is it normal to want to lick every single inch of someone, including their brow? Admittedly, Regina has been living practically like a nun for years now, and maybe Emma had just…awakened something in her–

 

She freezes. Emma is looking up now, and has caught Regina’s gaze. Her own eyes burn hot, and Regina tilts her head in quiet challenge. “Oh, fuck off ,” Emma says aloud. “You really think you can intimidate me like that? What are you going to do, swing your purse at me?” Her eyes glitter, mocking now. “Fight me in an alleyway?” 

 

“There’s that charm that made me swear off Boston,” Regina retorts, and she can feel new heat rising across her face at Emma’s reminder. “I came here for a break from the squabbling infants in the town council. I don’t need to manage another one now.” 

 

Emma snorts. “Oh, yes, thank you for the reminder that you’re the big, bad mayor of Nowheresville, Maine. Did you even campaign, or did you win because you were the only one who bothered to vote?” 

 

Regina had run against her own mother, who had launched a smear campaign and publicly destroyed Regina’s reputation, attacked her son, and spread a rumor that Regina had killed her dead fiance. Emma has no idea what Regina has gone through, and Regina feels the rage burning low within her. “I hardly think that some glorified bounty hunter has any right to critique my job. You exploit poor bail jumpers for a living–”

 

“I do not.” Emma slams her hands on the table, hard. Ruby jumps. Mulan looks warily from Emma to Regina.

 

Regina sneers at Emma. “Let me guess. You only go after the bad ones. You’re a hero.” She drawls out the hero sardonically, and watches with satisfaction as Emma’s eyes go dark and furious. “You poke fun at my job, but when’s the last time you did anything for someone else?” 

 

“I can name one time,” Emma grinds out, and there’s an undercurrent in her voice that has Regina twitching, desperate to give as good as she gets.

 

“That was mutually beneficial,” she says, her voice silky, and she notices with satisfaction the way that Emma swallows, the movement of her throat. 

 

Mulan says, “Hold on. What’s happening?” 

 

“Shh,” Ruby hisses. Marian, at least, says nothing at all.

 

Regina stands, turns, walks toward the bathrooms, and she hears a chair scrape the floor and knows that Emma’s about to follow. The hallway is empty, only a single pair of women exiting the bathrooms and heading back to the club, and Regina turns around–

 

–And she’s flattened against a wall, Emma kissing her hard enough that Regina’s entire body springs to life in an instant. Regina totters in place, pulling Emma in closer, and yes , this is it , the thing she’s needed all week and hasn’t known it. Emma kisses like a revelation, and Regina can’t breathe without Emma’s kisses, without the rush of fury and loathing that comes along with them. 

 

“You’d better have a clean apartment,” she grits out against Emma’s lips, nipping at them, and Emma grabs her wrist and drags her out to a hideously yellow little car.

 

They start the drive in silence, which is probably healthiest for them, and Regina can’t stop herself. Her hands wander, sliding up Emma’s thigh and then a little lower–

 

Fuck .” Emma slams on the brakes and three cars honk furiously behind them. “Wait,” Emma mutters, “Just wait, you idiots, I’m pulling over, I’m–” Regina slides Emma’s dress up a little higher, drawn to her as if by magic, and Emma swerves to the side of the road and parks messily. 

 

“You’re an atrocious driver,” Regina accuses Emma, only half serious, and Emma lets out an odd grunting noise and then seizes Regina roughly, yanking her into the driver’s seat. With one foot, Regina finds the mechanism to push the seat back, and she twists around onto Emma’s lap. And yes , this is exactly what she’s needed since their horrendous blind date, even in a car in the middle of an empty street in Boston. Everything about their interactions has been classless and humiliating, but she can’t stop herself.

 

“Make no mistake about this,” she breathes, capturing Emma’s earlobe between her teeth and tugging it. Emma’s head falls back against her seat, and her hands move in whispers of movement along Regina’s thighs, tracing hypnotic patterns into Regina’s stockings. “I despise you with all of my being.” 

 

Emma rears up against Regina, her hands moving to rub against her own center. Regina’s close enough that she can feel every stroke, and she grinds on Emma’s hand, forgetting where they are and who they are until– “It’s very mutual,” Emma bites out, and then they’re moving against each other and Regina reaches down to press the spot she’s found can make Emma choke and come and then, finally, the first taste of bliss.

 


 

Emma doesn’t have time to think about the state of her apartment when Regina enters it, and she ignores every nasty comment Regina makes in favor of pressing her down into the couch and climbing onto her, struck by the glassy look in her eye. Regina Mills continues to be the worst, but there’s something about forcibly silencing Regina by turning her into a nerveless puddle that is so much more satisfying than fighting with her. 

 

Regina seems to feel the same, if the enthusiasm with which she attacks Emma’s body is any confirmation, and Emma quivers beneath her, drunk on this terrible, terrible idea that keeps ending in ecstasy. By the time they make it to the bedroom, Emma is on her back, legs hooked over Regina’s shoulders, and Regina is lapping greedily at her. Emma babbles a mess of words, most of them rude, at Regina, and Regina breathes, “And yet you keep coming, don’t you?” and sends her over the edge.

 

Emma doesn’t know when it is that they finally collapse, exhausted, except that Regina doesn’t flee the room immediately this time. She just sinks into the bed, slick with a sheen of sweat and muttering a low threat to Emma, and she closes her eyes and doesn’t open them. “Are you dead?” Emma demands, but Regina’s chest is rising and falling steadily, so she must be fine.

 

“Shame,” Emma mutters, but it doesn’t have much irritability behind it. It’s too difficult to be irritable when she feels this relaxed, like weeks of tension have been relieved in another passionate night. It’s absurd that it’s Regina who’s the only one who can do this. It’s just unfair

 

With that thought, Emma stretches out beside Regina and lets herself doze off. She’s half asleep when she feels the body beside her curl in closer, pressing to her, and her arms slide out of their own accord to wrap around the body in question. It feels good. It feels dangerously good to be spooning Regina Mills, whom she absolutely loathes, and Emma is left with that troubled thought as she falls asleep.

 

I wish I could tell you about their dreams that night, but they were unremarkable, flashes of the day and forgettable nonsense. Instead, I can only tell you about the moment that Regina awakens and discovers herself in Emma Swan’s arms. She freezes, refusing to dwell on the brief shiver of contentment that comes with waking up beside Emma, and she slips out of Emma’s embrace and gathers up her clothes instead.

 

She gets dressed in a hurry, and then calls Mulan repeatedly until the bleary-sounding woman picks up. “You did this to me,” Regina barks out. “Now you’re going to take me back to my hotel room.” 

 

“Uh,” Mulan says unintelligibly, but she comes, shooting uncertain glances at Regina between yawns. And Regina is free again of Emma Swan. For now.

 

Each time they meet, that freedom slips more and more out of her grasp.

 


 

The best way to start a new day? Not this: waking up sated and content and reaching over instinctively for the person who had made you that way, only to discover that the bed is empty. Emma rubs at gummy eyes and squints around the room, searching for Regina and drawing a blank. The bathroom door is open, the kitchen is quiet, and– oh – Regina’s clothes and bag are missing. Regina has departed again, and Emma shrugs and tells herself that this is better than some acerbic morning after.

 

Emma and Regina do best when there’s as little talking as ever, and there’s something addictive about being with Regina. Maybe it’s just how hot hate sex is, the satisfaction of dominating and being dominated by someone as snotty as Regina. Maybe it’s just Regina herself, who is…really, really good, even though she’s terrible. 

 

Still, Emma swallows back a little flare of disappointment. It’s fine. It’s not like she’d wanted to spend any more time with Regina, anyway. She might have some minor abandonment issues, but that’s just Emma . Nothing to do with Regina.

 

She has better things to do. Virginia had responded to her messages late last night, confirming exactly what Emma had suspected. Henry would never bring chips to school. I do send him with extra cookies for this reason. Do you think the other boys take advantage of him?

 

I think they probably wish you were their mom , Emma types, pushing away thoughts of Regina Mills. Whatever had happened last night, she has Virginia, and Virginia is worth a dozen Reginas. She considers for a moment bringing up what she’d been through last night, but something stops her.

 

And what is it, exactly, that stays both women’s hands? They confide in each other about daily events, about traumatic pasts, and about prior failed relationships: but you can see that they are vague when it comes to other matters. For one, Regina doesn’t explain her job to Amy, and Emma avoids mention of hers to Virginia. For Regina, it’s the fear of being too recognizable, and nothing fills her quite with terror like the idea of someone out there knowing her innermost secrets. Amy is an anonymous phantom, a woman without a face who exists only on her phone, and Regina intends to keep it that way.

 

For Emma, it had at first been simpler to say that she works in law enforcement, and now she retreats for another reason. Something Regina Mills had said to her has struck a nerve, and she finds herself turning over each case she’d had in her mind. Like, Regina is a dick who has no right to lecture Emma on what’s right and wrong, but Emma shifts uneasily as she thinks about the bail jumpers she’d caught. Plenty of them are terrible, yeah, and she specializes in the ones who abandon their families and leave them to pay the bail for them. But all? Is every person she’s caught absolutely–

 

I’m sorry to cut in. If I allow Emma’s inner monologue on this matter to overtake the story, we’ll spend the next few hours reading in circles. Suffice it to say, Regina has gotten under Emma’s skin in multiple ways. And yet, neither of them mention this new engagement to their texting buddies, either. 

 

Regina is simply too embarrassed to say a word. She feels as though Amy has a high opinion of her, warts and all, and she thinks that this might be the thing to destroy it. And it’s very important to her that Amy likes her. Instead, when Amy comments on where she’d been the last night, Regina lies. I fell asleep early on the couch , she writes, which isn’t an unusual side effect of nights when Henry is out. I only woke up around midnight to go to bed.  

 

For her part, Emma almost writes about it multiple times, only to hesitate at the last moment. She doesn’t want Virginia to assume that Emma’s in a relationship, because…because, well, Emma hasn’t figured that one out yet, but maybe you have, haven’t you? And maybe Regina’s opine about high opinion is equally unconvincing. 

 

Whatever it is, Regina departs Boston unscathed and with only a glare whenever Marian brings up Emma. “I just think that there’s clearly something there,” Marian insists. “Like raw, animal attraction, maybe–” 

 

“Marian?” 

 

“Yes, darling?” 

 

“Stop talking.” Regina scowls at her from behind her desk. They’ve made it through a full week without Regina being forced to introspection, and she doesn’t intend to start now. “We barely tolerate each other. This is not some kind of secret love affair. I still don’t know what you see in that woman, let alone what you thought I might see in her.” She still shudders when she thinks back to their blind date. 

 

If she shudders for other reasons, Marian tactfully doesn’t mention it. “If you think that’s best,” she says, and she shrugs and lays her hand down on the desk. “Nothing wrong with meeting up with Emma again for…whatever the two of you want.” When her hand returns to its place, there’s a post-it note on the desk where she’d put it, and a phone number on the note.

 

Regina stares at her, methodically picks up the note, and then crumples it in her hand. Marian makes a face and then says, “ Fine ,” and gets up to go.

 

And I’m sure she’d be pleased to inform you all that by the time she’d reached the door, Regina had uncrumpled the note and taken out her phone. 

 

Regina dials before she can rethink her decision, and in Boston, ninety minutes away, Emma stares at her buzzing personal phone and the name on the screen, gripped by indecision. No , she decides, and then she picks up the phone and says, “Yeah?” 

 

“Polite as always, Ms. Swan,” Regina drawls in that damned superior voice, and then her voice lowers to a husky lilt. “Come here.” 

 

“Excuse me? I’m working–” 

 

“Tomorrow at noon. Granny’s, Room Two. I’ll be waiting.” The phone clicks off and two women are left shell-shocked at what had just transpired. 

 

As one, they seize their phones– Regina the one she’d just used and Emma her burner phone– and start typing to an ephemeral friend without a face, desperate for a distraction.

 


 

Does Emma go? Of course she does. Does Regina await her? Of course. The road to love is by no means steady, but these two are bound together already. They crave it all– sex, intimacy, and even the arguments that ensue after the first two. “I’m not driving an hour and a half next time just because you command it,” Emma is saying hotly. “Do you know how much gas this is going to eat up?” 

 

Regina waves a hand. “I’ll pay for it. Whatever your cost.” 

 

“Don’t say it like that ,” Emma snaps, because Regina knows exactly what she’s doing and Emma feels the sudden need to squirm under a blanket and cover herself up. She doesn’t, because she knows better than to show any weakness to Regina. “I can afford the gas. But if you want to make this a regular thing, then I don’t see why you can’t come to me.” 

 

Regina is sitting up against the headboard, and she has no compunctions about her nudity. She examines her nails. “I can’t spare three hours of travel on a weekday afternoon,” she says, sounding bored. “I have responsibilities.”

 

“And I don’t?” Emma demands. “Why are your responsibilities somehow more important than mine?”

 

Regina scoffs, one perfect leg bending at the knee as she looks imperiously down at Emma. Emma has always had a thing about authority. Until now, she’d thought it was a supreme distaste and not an unbearable attraction. “Yes, go ruin another person’s life instead of fucking me. I won’t beg.” 

 

Emma swallows and seizes the upper hand. “Yeah?” she says, and she slides her fingers along Regina’s leg, watching the way Regina’s mouth snaps shut and her eyes follow Emma’s movements.

 

And Emma knows with a sinking feeling that she will absolutely trek out to Storybrooke every Tuesday from here on out.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

It’s Monday night, and Emma is already ready for the weekend. She’d had a difficult mark today, one who’d insisted on his innocence loudly for the bulk of the time it had taken to get him to the courthouse, and she’s exhausted and second-guessing herself.

 

It’s been a rough few days. Saturday had been a mess , Sunday had been…complicated…and Tuesday is about to be even more confusing for her. She’d rather not unpack any of it. It might have been wearing away at her, but meeting Regina in a motel room and skipping anything even mildly sentimental is the way to go, she decides. It’s not like there are feelings involved that aren’t just Emma feeling like she’s being yanked around. There’s no reason to want more.

 

She has to stop herself from bringing up any of this to Virginia, too. There there are feelings involved, and she hadn’t meant to tell Virginia about any of this. She doesn’t want Virginia to think she’s taken , even though Virginia thinks she’s straight and is straight herself and just…god, this is a mess. Emma scrubs her face with her hands and considers how much simpler her life would be if she cut just one of these women from her life.

 

One in particular would make more sense.

 

Yet somehow, even though she can’t stand Regina, she can’t imagine cutting her out. She touches her lips, remembering the kiss in the parking lot. It hadn’t been angry or passionate as much as it had been quiet and gentle, a comforting touch instead of an attack. And Emma can still feel it like a phantom vibration against her lips, a little tingle that won’t leave. 

 

Ugh . She glances at her burner phone, a default movement whenever she’s dangerously close to introspection, and notices that she’d gotten a text from Virginia sometime in the past few minutes. Virginia has been quiet this afternoon and evening, which isn’t unusual for her. She works long hours and sets aside the early evening hours to spend time with Henry. And this isn’t Virginia’s usual, either. Hi.

 

Emma blinks at it, then texts a response. What’s up? You ok?

 

The answer is swift, as though Virginia had been sitting by the phone and waiting for it. Im in Boston. What’s your address? 

 


 

Let’s rewind a bit, yes?

 

Regina wakes up Monday morning with the distinct impression that she’s just been hit by a bus. “Not Monday,” she moans aloud, and then she slumps back against her pillow and thinks back to the weekend. It’s been strange but good, particularly when it comes to Henry. He’d been cheerful on Saturday, a good sport about gardening and even running out to bike with Roland. And on Sunday, he’d remembered that they’d decided to do a jigsaw puzzle together and had been the one to initiate it, which had been a nice surprise. 

 

The family tree project is officially due in a week from today, but Regina pushes it determinedly to the back of her mind. Henry seems to have done the same. Some things just aren’t worth fighting over. She can hear Henry stumbling to the bathroom on the other side of her door, an audible yawn escaping from his mouth as he does, and she lets a fond, content smile settle onto her face. 

 

The smile wavers when she thinks about the rest. Most of all, she can’t stop thinking about Emma.

 

Not just Emma, exactly, not in the way that precedes delight and their weekday meetings. She thinks back to that moment in the parking lot when she’d first seen Emma. Until then, she’d been sure that this had been some kind of power struggle, some insistence on Emma’s part that all of Regina’s time belonged to her. Even after, in the heat of the moment, she’d been sure of it, though they’d barely spent any time together on Saturday. The sex had been…strange, a little desperate but mostly just intimate, like they’d been more focused on holding onto each other instead of hurting each other.

 

And now, with some distance, all Regina remembers is how sad and small Emma had looked in the parking lot. She aches without knowing why, and she feels a strange urge to see Emma today just to find out how she’s doing. Marian had said on Saturday night, you like her more than you want to , and Regina had mostly just been annoyed at Emma for talking about them in the first place. Now, she’s left with the sinking fear that Marian could be right. Absurd . Emma Swan has no redeeming features, and Regina’s entire relationship with her is masochism.

 

Is she in a situation just as bad as Amy’s without realizing it? She swallows again when she thinks of Amy, being treated like garbage by some unworthy man. If Regina could come to her, could be her in-person confidant, she wouldn’t stand for it. Then again, if Regina could be her in-person confidant, they might have another issue altogether.

 

Emma stirs something within Regina, yes. But Amy consumes her in a different way. Amy isn’t quite real to her, and Regina doesn’t trust herself not to destroy that relationship as well if she were. She sighs, wondering what it might be like to pick up and go to Boston right now, to talk to Amy and put a face to the words that she’s grown so fond of. 

 

Instead, she takes out her phone and types, I’ve been awake for ten minutes and I think I’ve already hit my brooding quota for the day.

 

You’re so cute , Amy fires back, and Regina swallows a happy little smile that is uncalled for. I’ve been up for three minutes and I think I’ve hit my weekday quota for the week. Is it Saturday now?

 

She talks to Amy through her morning routine, and is pleased to discover that Henry remains in a good mood. On a whim, Regina puts the cereal box back a moment after she takes it out and says, “Why don’t we go to Granny’s for breakfast?” 

 

They drink cocoa and eat waffles at Granny’s, and Henry hugs Regina before he heads to the bus stop. It’s a good start to the morning, and Regina decides that she isn’t going to brood at all for the rest of the day. Instead, she heads to work and overschedules meetings, piling on as much as she can today so tomorrow will be more open. 

 

She barely remembers to eat lunch, and only then because her secretary has it sent to her. In the late afternoon, she ducks out for a meeting downstairs that runs later than she’d meant for it to, and she returns to her office and finds the door ajar. “Henry?” she calls.

 

She finds a post-it note on her desk. Gonna go work on my homework. See u at dinner. She breathes a silent sigh of relief that Henry is old enough now to head home by himself. She’s still swamped, and she’ll probably need all the time she can get.

 


 

Maybe you’ve already pieced it together. Back to the present for a moment while we let this play out, yes? We’ve left Emma on her couch, baffled and with some apprehension at the text message she’d gotten. What’s your address? It seems distinctly unsafe for Emma to give her address to a woman she’s never met. But she’s pretty confident in her self-defense training and her gun(s), and she types in her address and waits, tense and with her heart racing, for a knock at the door. 

 

She doesn’t know what Virginia’s planning, and what might happen when they meet. She runs a self-conscious hand through her hair, peeking at her reflection in the mirror. She isn’t an idiot– she knows that Virginia isn’t going to feel about Emma how Emma feels about Virginia, but she still wants to make a good impression. She hasn’t planned for any of this. 

 

Why had Virginia just showed up here? Emma had been under the impression that Virginia is from Boston, though she supposes that there are a few other cities nearby where one might share an area code with her. What’s going on?

 

There’s a knock at the door, and Emma swallows, glancing at herself in the mirror one more time, and walks slowly to the front entrance. Another knock, impatient, and Emma takes a breath and pulls the door open.

 

There’s no one in front of her. She blinks, looks to the right and left, and then thinks to look down. 

 

A little boy is staring at her. He looks shaken, eyes puffy with tears, and he’s clutching a woman’s purse close to his chest. Emma stares at him, and then thinks to ask, “Henry?”

 

Henry nods his head and bowls into her, holding her tightly, and Emma is so startled that she can only hug him back.

 


 

Were you expecting someone else, perhaps? Certainly not Regina, who’s nearly finished with work by now and won’t notice that her phone and purse are gone until she packs up to leave the office.

 

See, like Regina, perhaps you were lulled into a false sense of security. It’s easy to look at Henry this weekend and think that he’s moved on, as so many ten-year-old boys do when confronted with something they can’t work through. But I do fault Regina for ever believing that of her son. Henry doesn’t give up, even when the world is encouraging him to move in an opposite direction. No, Henry Mills is his mother’s son, and he is far from ready to surrender.

 

On Saturday morning, he decides that nothing is accomplished by freezing his mother out. Regina isn’t going to help him or answer his questions, and he would rather have a nice weekend while he figures out what to do next.

 

He doesn’t put together a plan until Monday afternoon, when he arrives at Town Hall and heads up to his mom’s office. And there it is, just sitting on the desk: Regina’s bag, open, and a ring of keys inside it. 

 

Henry stuffs the purse into his backpack and leaves the room, offering his mother’s secretary a winning smile. When he’s made it out of the building, he breaks into a run, jogging down Main Street until Elm Street and then Mifflin Street from there. He hurries into the house, locking the door behind him, and only then does he take out the purse again.

 

Regina’s study door is locked, and Henry unlocks it easily. From there, it’s only a few minutes before he’s gotten each locked drawer of her desk open. He’s looking for pictures, but also for answers, and he begins by picking through a drawer of old letters and school projects until he finds a photo album. And yes , inside, there’s a picture of a man with his mom. A number of pictures, actually. Mom with the man in front of a horse. Mom hugging the man. Mom pressing a kiss to his cheek and with the most blinding smile that Henry’s ever seen, a ring on her finger.

 

He pulls out the picture, reads the note on the back. DANIEL AND REGINA , and a date. It’s fifteen years ago, which doesn’t make sense. Mom has said that they hadn’t been married before he’d died, and that Henry had been born after his father’s death. Had Mom been engaged for five years?

 

He wonders if there’s a death certificate somewhere in the files, something that might give him a better sense of the dates. Maybe in the file cabinet, and he pulls open a drawer and peers through it. Nothing is labeled, which is very uncharacteristic of his mother and makes it much more difficult to look through the documents. There’s a file of report cards from when he was younger, and another that has hospital discharge papers from the time that he’d cut his forehead and needed stitches. And below it is Henry’s birth certificate, but the space for a father’s name is blank.

 

It doesn’t make sense. Henry shakes his head, squinting at the certificate. Something is off about it. Even if his dad had been dead, why wouldn’t Mom put his name on it? Was his father someone else? Intrigued, he digs a little deeper into the file cabinet, and pulls out another official-looking paper. This one is a copy of what is captioned as APPLICATION FOR ADOPTION .

 

And really, need I explain more?

 


 

We’re back to Emma, who has managed to coax Henry onto the couch of her apartment. “I have some juice,” she says, pouring a glass and peering over her shoulder. Henry doesn’t react, staring into space, and Emma sits down beside him and says, “Does your mom know you’re here?” 

 

“She’s not my mom,” Henry says, voice hollow. “Did you know that?” 

 

Oh. Crap. Emma is seized with the urge to text Virginia, but Virginia’s phone is on Henry’s lap. She has no other way to get in contact with her. “I’m not sure what you mean,” Emma hedges.

 

“I’m adopted .” Henry says it like a curse, like it’s destroyed him, and new tears spill down his cheeks. “I found the paperwork. I was just looking for stuff about my dad– I don’t even have a dad–” He cries in earnest now, shaking silently with his head down, and Emma kneels in front of him and places her hands on his knees. “She lied to me about everything. I hate her. I hate her–” 

 

He cries harder, and Emma stares helplessly at him, uncertain what to do with this child in her apartment. “Hey,” she says finally, and she sits next to him, sliding an arm around his shoulders. “Hey. It’s okay.” 

 

“It’s not .” Henry looks up at her with red eyes. “I’m running away. I can’t be around her anymore. And all those people who lied to me, too. Did everyone know that my family was fake? Did my friends? Did my Tía Mar–” 

 

“Stop,” Emma says firmly, and something he’s said strikes a nerve. “ Fake ? Your mother who bakes you cookies every day and spends her entire weekend with you and…and worries every second of every day that your life might be less than perfect is– you think that’s fake ?” Henry’s mouth sets, defiant, and Emma shakes her head. “My god, Henry, I would have killed for a mom like yours.”

 

“Please,” Henry scoffs, folding his arms over in front of his stomach. “At least you knew your parents were real.” 

 

“Real?” Emma echoes, and she feels raw now, angry and upset at this entire situation. “My parents abandoned me on the side of the road. I wish I’d been adopted. Instead, I spent years in foster care with parents who were…who were abusive or negligent or who just didn’t care at all, dreaming of someday finding a mom like yours. Your mom chose you.” She shakes, furious and heartbroken at this absolute ingratitude. “Your mom kept you, and if you don’t understand what a gift that was, then it’s because you’re too spoiled to conceive of a world where you could have had so much less. Sorry,” she finishes lamely, because it occurs to her that she’s talking to a ten-year-old. “That wasn’t very nice.” 

 

Henry gapes at her, and he looks down when she meets his eyes. “I didn’t know you didn’t have parents, either,” he mumbles, and fuck , she’s made him cry again.

 

This time, he huddles against her, burrowing his head into her side, and Emma clears her throat. Her regular phone buzzes with a phone call from an unknown number, and Emma ignores it. “I know it sucks to feel like…like your mom is lying to you,” she concedes. “She was going to tell you when you were a little older. Probably to avoid this.” 

 

A thought occurs to her, and she snatches the burner phone off the coffee table and scrolls back through her messages. “Here,” she says, pointing out a message to Henry. Virginia might delete her messages, but Emma holds onto every one. “She says it right here.” She finds another message, little snippets of Virginia’s worry about Henry and how much she loves him, and Henry reads each one in silence. 

 

“I just want to know,” she says gently, and Henry looks up at her with his tearstained face. “You might be angry about your mom lying to you, but do you realize how much she loves you?” 

 

They talk for a long time, arguing and fighting and then crying again, and I’ll leave them to it for now, because Regina, in Storybrooke, has just begun to pack up for the day. 

 

She can’t find her purse or her phone, which strikes her as strange but not unheard of. She must have left her phone somewhere in the building. Had she put her purse into her briefcase this morning? It’s all a blur after far too many hours of work, and Regina decides to let it be until she can get home and give Henry dinner. She’ll go back after dinner and homework and track it down. 

 

She gets home, unlocks the door, and calls, “Henry?” No Henry, though his backpack is on the floor in the foyer. “Henry!” she calls again, and that’s when she sees that the study door is flung open.

 

“Henry!” she shouts again, and now she begins to panic in earnest.

 


 

Regina isn’t the only one staying late at the office tonight. Mulan has a case that’s been taking up most of her time, and she wants it done and over with by the end of this week so she can properly enjoy a weekend with her girlfriend. All she has to do is schedule a few more interviews, and she can lock this in tonight.

 

She’s hanging up with a witness when her cell phone buzzes, and Regina’s name appears on the screen. Mulan cocks her head. Regina is a friend, sort of, but she doesn’t think that they’ve ever chatted one-on-one before. Weird.

 

“Hello?” she says, and she’s greeted by a frantic mother. 

 

Henry is missing , gone and possibly with Regina’s phone and her bag, and he’s nowhere in Storybrooke. “I think he found…he might have found something that upset him,” Regina says wildly. “I don’t know where he’d go. I called all his friends– we have people searching the woods– someone thinks that she saw him at the bus stop out of town, but where would he go–” 

 

“Wait,” Mulan says. “Stop. You said he has your phone?” 

 

“I keep calling and calling and he just ignores my calls! What if he can’t get the phone? What if someone has him, Mulan–” Regina is breathing raggedly, her words wet and desperate. 

 

“Do you have the locater app enabled on your phone?” Mulan asks. She’s blessed with the ability to stay calm when things seem dire, which is particularly useful when faced with armed criminals and terrified mothers. “Find My Phone or Find My Device? I can track him down if you give me a little info.” 

 

“Anything.” Regina recites a litany of passwords, her voice quavering. “Thank you. I’m just so–” She’s crying over the phone, and Mulan is not equipped for this. “I even called Emma,” Regina says, her voice hoarse. “She finds people, right? But she didn’t pick up.” 

 

Mulan doesn’t know how to respond to that, either. “Hey,” she says suddenly. “I think I found it. It’s here in Boston.” The computer hasn’t quite triangulated the location yet. It hops around a few blocks, getting closer and closer to one area. “Shang,” she calls to one of her coworkers. “I’m going out for a while. Can you text me this address once the computer finds it?” She yanks on her jacket, turning back to Regina. “Does Henry have any friends in the city? Maybe in an apartment in Dorchester?”

 

Regina inhales sharply. “Of course not. His whole life is in Storybrooke. He has no reason to go to…” She pauses. “Amy,” she whispers.

 

“Amy?” Mulan echoes, slipping into her patrol car. Shang has sent her an address, an apartment building that she thinks might be on Emma’s block. Maybe she can text ahead and see if Emma’s seen a lost kid– “Who is Amy?”

 

The story that Regina tells is wild , a wrong number that has launched a full-blown friendship. It’s the least Regina thing that Mulan’s ever heard, though she’s tactful enough not to say so, and she listens in silence as she pulls up onto the street and finds the number in question–

 

–Which is Emma’s apartment building. Emma’s apartment building. Emma, who has possibly still been friends-with-benefits-ing with Regina for this whole time, and must know Henry at least a little by now. Maybe the answer is much simpler than Henry ran off to his mother’s anonymous texting buddy . Kind of a dick move on Emma’s part not to let Regina know where her son is, but maybe she hasn’t thought it through. 

 

“I think I might know where he is. One sec,” Mulan says, and promptly mutes the phone before Regina hears Emma’s voice and eviscerates her. She jogs up the flight of stairs to Emma’s apartment, and raps on the door to 205. 

 

There are voices inside, and then Emma pulls the door open a crack and peers out. “Mulan,” she breathes, looking very relieved.

 

Mulan holds up her phone. “I have a frantic mom on the phone,” she offers.

 

Emma exhales. “Thank god . I have a runaway child on my couch,” she says in a low voice. “Please don’t ask me how any of this happened. It’s a very strange, very embarrassing story.”

 

Mulan, who has heard from Marian all about Emma and Regina’s not-quite-relationship, just lifts her shoulders in a shrug and ducks inside. She’s only met Henry a few times, but she’s reasonably certain that this is the boy she’s looking for. “Henry?” 

 

Henry must recognize her, because he gets up, biting his lip guiltily. “Did my mom send you?” His face is wet, and he ducks his head, avoiding her gaze. “I’m sorry. I didn’t really think…she’s probably really worried.” 

 

“Probably ready to kill me, too, kid,” Emma offers, putting a hand on Henry’s shoulders. “Please tell her I had nothing to do with this.” 

 

Henry shrugs. “I’m going to tell her that you helped.” He smiles up at her, bright through dried tears, and Mulan’s eyebrows arch as she considers their closeness. Maybe she’d underestimated Emma’s relationship with Regina, if Henry’s already so comfortable with Emma. Even more baffling, Henry beams at Emma and says, “And my mom isn’t gonna kill you. She likes you.” He says it with confidence and a very childlike emphasis on the like

 

Emma laughs. “Not that I don’t appreciate the support, but I don’t think so. We’re not like that.” She has the decency to grimace when she sees Mulan’s dubious look. “I mean, I think it’s more of a friendship–” 

 

“She gets all flushed when she’s talking to you,” Henry says. (Henry, who is feeling a lot better about his mother after his conversation with Emma, has decided to cut through the annoying part where everyone dances around feelings and is open instead. Ah, if only he knew.) “And smiley and…all the ways she usually isn’t. She really likes you.” He raises his eyebrows. “And you’re a lot cooler than her last girlfriend.” 

 

“Girlfr–” Emma visibly stops herself from echoing the word. Reader, I can tell you that as Mulan’s confusion is rising, Emma’s is beginning to clear. While the fiance is obviously a guy, she might have overestimated Virginia’s heterosexuality. She remembers the infamous Mal , which must not be short for Malcolm but Mallory, and Virginia’s occasional pronoun-vague comments about past dates. Is it possible, she wonders, that Virginia has been in the same boat as Emma all along?

 

Mulan clears her throat, raising the phone that she still has muted, and Emma seems to gather herself again. “You’ve got a pretty great home, kid,” she murmurs. “Go back to it. Work this through with your mom.” 

 

Henry throws his arms around Emma and holds her tightly, eyes squeezed shut as he presses to her. Emma slips her arms around his back, swaying with him, and she looks down at him with a gaze of such unbearable fondness that Mulan doesn’t know how Regina’s ever seen Emma with her son and hasn’t immediately reconsidered her derision toward Emma. 

 

And Henry says, “Bye, Amy,” just as Mulan unmutes the phone, scampering out the door with Mulan. Emma waves, closing the door behind them, and Henry’s words finally register with Mulan.

 

For a second, she thinks that Henry had just said Emmy or some nickname that Mulan can tease Emma with later. And then it all comes together: Regina’s hushed story of a wrong-number friend, the way that Henry seems so comfortable with a woman whose relationship with his mother is relegated to a motel room, and the odd little factoid that Emma’s spare phone number is just Marian’s with two transposed digits.

 

“Oh, my god,” she says.

 

Regina’s voice sounds from the phone. “Mulan? Did you find Henry?” 

 

“Oh, my god,” she says again, almost a chant. “Oh, my god. Oh, my god .” And let us all welcome Mulan into the ranks of those who know , because haven’t we all wanted to do a few oh, my god s since this began? “Oh, my god .” 

 

Regina, on the other line, is beginning to sound very frantic. “Mulan, what’s going on? Where’s Henry?” A tight pause, and then, “I’m driving out there. I want you to alert your colleagues that there’s been a kidnapping–”

 

“No!” Mulan has the presence of mind to yelp. “No, I have Henry. I just…stubbed my toe really hard.” 

 

Henry, who has been regarding Mulan’s minor breakdown with skepticism, says, “No, you didn’t.” 

 

Regina is distracted at once by her son’s voice. “Henry? Henry!”

 

Mulan hands Henry the phone without another word, still mouthing oh, my god at the door of Emma’s apartment. She glances over at Henry, who looks sullen as he says, “Yeah, I’m here.”

 

The sullenness turns to discomfort after a few moments. From what Mulan can hear, Regina is crying, and tears spill down Henry’s cheeks, too. Mulan takes a breath and puts a hand on Henry’s back, guiding him to the elevator. “I talked to Amy,” Henry says quietly. “She said…she said she was a foster kid. Did you know that?” 

 

Mulan can’t hear Regina’s response, but she can watch the changing emotions on Henry’s face– the almost-smile and the tears again and the trembling lip as he whispers, “I love you, too, Mom,” and Mulan is pretty sure that they’re going to be okay.

 

“Let your mom know that I’m going to drive you home,” she says, leading him to her patrol car. “You’ll be home before you know it.” 

 

He’s asleep before they leave Boston, and Mulan prepares to spend the next ninety minutes debating herself about whether or not she should meddle.

 

No , she decides with remarkable restraint. Better to let this one play out.

 


 

Emma manages to wait ten minutes before she decides to start groveling to Virginia. Henry might still have her phone, but Virginia will see the texts immediately. I am so, so sorry for what happened , she types, and sends it right away. I thought he was YOU when he texted me for my address. And then I had no way to reach you. It doesn’t explain why she hadn’t been the one to call the police– and she’s so lucky that Mulan must have recognized the address when the cops had…tracked Virginia’s phone, probably? And taken the case– but that is a little more delicate to explain, and she’ll wait until she has confirmation that Henry no longer has the phone. 

 

She would have called the cops right away if Henry hadn’t needed to trust someone so desperately, and Emma had thought she might have a chance at helping him and Virginia. And she’s pretty sure that he’d been minutes away from calling his house phone to reach his mom when Mulan had arrived. 

 

Still, she’s antsy, and she stares at her phone and hopes desperately that Virginia might forgive her for this. 

 

Emma will be busy for the next few hours or so, staring at her phone, so let’s journey to Storybrooke for a little while and check in on Regina, who is sitting on the floor of her study and crying silently. Marian is in the kitchen, making a cup of tea for Regina, but Regina can’t come out there and join her, too overwhelmed at the terror she’d felt and the relief that had followed. 

 

“Take the day off from work tomorrow,” Marian murmurs, crouching down to pass her the tea. “Have Henry take off from school. Go hiking or to a museum or something together. Something where you don’t have to talk about it but can if he needs to.” 

 

Regina jerks her head in a nod. “I have to…I have to make a phone call first,” she says. Marian gives her a long, inquisitive look, but she doesn’t ask Regina about it. She steps out, and Regina pulls herself to her feet and stumbles to her desk. She’d put the crumpled post-it note with Emma’s number in her drawer, just in case, and she dials the number into her house phone now, hand clutching onto the phone.

 

Emma picks up this time. “Hello?” 

 

“It’s me,” Regina says. She hasn’t thought through what she’s going to say, or even how she’s going to explain that tomorrow isn’t going to happen. Henry has been a closely guarded secret from Emma, who has no business knowing about Regina’s personal life.

 

“Oh. Regina.” Emma sounds a little deflated at that, and Regina bites back her offense. “You called earlier, too, right? I didn’t know it was you.”

 

“This is my land line. I wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to make it tomorrow.” Silence, and Regina remembers through her own grief and despair that image of Emma in the parking lot again, looking so sad and lost. She takes a breath. “I’ll come in to Boston on Wednesday,” she offers. If she’s taking a day off on Tuesday, she’ll be hopelessly behind, anyway. “I suppose if I can’t keep to schedule, I might as well inconvenience myself instead of you.” 

 

Another moment of silence, and then Emma says cautiously, “Are you okay?” 

 

She doesn’t sound obnoxious or annoyed with Regina, only uncertain and a little worried. It’s not their usual. It’s enough to have a flush of warmth rise through Regina, her heartbeat quickening, and Regina wants to sob again at this unexpected kindness. “No,” she admits, her voice wet. “But I will be.” 

 

Emma clears her throat, and she says, her words tentative, “Do you want to talk about it? Not our usual MO, I know,” she adds hastily. “I’m happy to fight it out instead. Make you so mad that you forget whatever’s bothering you.” Regina laughs, and it feels good. Somehow, Emma being obnoxious is just what she needs right now.

 

“I’ll be fine,” Regina murmurs, and she takes another breath. “I’ll see you on Wednesday, yes?” 

 

“I can come in,” Emma says swiftly. “My job is more flexible than yours. I get it. You don’t have to–” 

 

And suddenly, it seems vital that Regina is the one to surrender her time on Wednesday. “I am coming to Boston,” she says firmly. “I insist.” 

 

Another long pause. “Okay,” Emma says. “I’ll see you then.” But she lingers, and Regina does, too. There is a strange comfort to speaking to Emma right now, even just remaining on the line with her and listening to the familiar cadence of her breathing. It grounds Regina, and Regina wishes suddenly that Emma lived closer, that–

 

Stop , she thinks. This moment of vulnerability has gone on for too long. “I’ll see you then,” Regina repeats. “I have to–” 

 

“Yeah,” Emma hurries to respond, and then, uncertain, “Bye.” 

 

“Goodbye.” The phone finally clicks off, and Regina drinks her tea and finds the strength, at last, to join Marian in the kitchen.

 

Marian holds up her phone. “Mulan just called. She says she’s crossed over into Maine. Shouldn’t be long now.” And so they hover at the window, squinting out at every car that goes down the street. 

 

It’s a long wait, and both of our heroes are in limbo, one waiting for her son and the other hoping for absolution. Emma lingers in front of her phone, unable to watch TV or browse social media, and Regina jumps whenever she hears a car engine. 

 

And then, at last, a reprieve. A blue-striped police car pulls over in front of Regina’s house, and Henry wrenches the door open, flying down the walkway directly into his mother’s arms. He’s sobbing again, and she is, too, and there will be time in the morning for them to talk through lies and betrayal and the all-consuming love that an adoptive mother might have for the son she’d fought for. There will be time in the morning to rebuild the shattered bridges between them. 

 

For now, they only need each other.

 


 

It isn’t until late at night that Emma finally gets her response, short and simple. I know this wasn’t your fault. I just need some time.  

 

Emma can’t possibly understand what might be going through the other woman’s mind, but I can, and I will try to explain. Regina has been faced with a crisis, and her son had vanished off to the one place where she couldn’t touch or control. In her heart, Amy feels more like a private confidant who exists only in her phone, and she’s just become frighteningly real.

 

She needs time to process, and she cares just enough about Amy to let her know that instead of leaving her waiting for an answer. That is a kindness, isn’t it?

 

It might not feel that way to Emma, who feels something close to heartbreak as she sees the message and can’t bear to respond. Regina, meanwhile, stares at the messages from before, the quick exchange between Henry and Amy. Henry hadn’t identified himself, had just asked for an address and been given it. Regina’s finger hovers over it– tempted to press, to find Amy’s house for herself. To search the address and find an occupant.

 

But what good will that do? Her finger settles on a different button, and she deletes the text history instead. She’s left with a vague memory of a street name and a jumble of numbers, none of them correct.


( But! you must be crying out right now. But! Isn’t Emma about to give Regina her address for Wednesday? Ah, patience. Our story isn’t coming to a close just yet.)

Chapter Text

Regina takes Henry to the Storybrooke Stables in the morning for the very first time. “This is where Daniel worked,” she says, and Henry falls silent and listens. “He died when I was nineteen. My mother arranged a marriage for me soon after with a wealthy older man with a business empire she’d wanted in on.” She tells a quiet, sad story, and she is careful not to go too far or frighten Henry. “You are so much younger than I had hoped you’d be when we talked about this.” 

 

It is a parent’s way to see their child and seek to protect him; to only want to keep him soft and naive for as long as the world will allow it. The world will make Henry hard. Regina had only wanted to be his refuge. But he listens solemnly, and they ride to a quiet spot and talk for a long time. 

 

It’s late in the morning when Henry says, “Amy’s really pretty.” 

 

Regina jolts. “What?” 

 

Henry shrugs. “She’s really pretty. Like Mal was, but less pinched.” He screws up his face in an imitation of poor Mal, who had had many positive qualities and is still a distant friend, and then grins. “And she’s cool. She sat with me and let me talk about…everything. And I think she actually listened.” He turns his face to the sky, his eyes serious as he recalls the night before. “And she told me stuff, too. About how great you are, mostly. But also about herself. She had a really hard life before she moved to Boston.” 

 

“Yes,” Regina says. Amy has shared as much with her, and she is still a bit confused about her feelings on Amy right now, but she is grateful for what clarity she’d given to Henry. “I think she…she might have been the perfect person to talk to you,” she acknowledges, and she takes a deep breath and tries to clear her mind.

 

Henry looks at her, his gaze thoughtful. “Are you in love with her?”

 

“I’ve never even met her,” Regina murmurs. She thinks for a moment of Emma, of the tentative way Emma had asked, do you want to talk about it? and she shivers and doesn’t know what the answer to Henry’s question is. 

 

Emma is irrelevant, of course. Regina had made sure of that. What they have is hardly even a relationship. And Amy is… “I don’t know her,” Regina says, but those words ring false in her ears.

 

While Regina grapples with her emotions, Emma is grappling with something else entirely. She is at work, hunting down a bail jumper, and doing her best not to allow the building anxiety from Virginia’s silence to consume her. It’s a Tuesday and she isn’t in Storybrooke, which makes her antsy as well.

 

But neither of those things are what is leaving a bad taste in Emma’s mouth. It’s the case on the screen, a bail jumper who had gotten a bond from one of their contracted firms and disappeared somewhere in Philly. A woman in her thirties, arrested on possession charges that had been upgraded to a felony for no stated reason. She’s been updating her social media, though, and has made enough mistakes that Emma can narrow down exactly where she’s staying in Boston from the backgrounds of her pictures.

 

“I don’t think this one is worth it,” she says aloud, clicking away from the woman’s Instagram. Regina’s accusing words, weeks ago, still niggle in the back of her mind. “Do we have anyone else on the roster?” 

 

She works with three guys, each of which had looked at her with skepticism when she’d been added to their agency. One of them looks at her with the same expression now. “Not a good look on you to be going soft now, Swan. You start slipping up and you’ll never get back on your feet.” 

 

Emma grits her teeth and returns to her research. Regina’s mocking voice echoes in her mind. Let me guess. You only go after the bad ones. Emma pulls up a few older charges for this woman, a couple of them violent, and forces Regina from her head. 

 

She spends enough time with Regina as it is. 

 


 

Henry is ready to return to school on Wednesday morning. If his hug before he departs to the bus stop is a little harder than usual, Regina doesn’t comment on it. Instead, she heads home and does a bit of work before she drives out to Boston.

 

Emma sends her an address around 10:00, their first text message exchange ever, and Regina puts it into the GPS and drives out. The car ride is quiet, and Regina thinks about Amy for more time than she’d planned to. They still haven’t spoken again, and Regina isn’t entirely sure why. She isn’t punishing Amy for being the one Henry had talked to, is she? Maybe a little. Maybe it’s also just that she doesn’t trust herself to be gracious just yet. 

 

It isn’t Amy’s fault. None of it is. It’s Regina’s fault, and Amy had encouraged her to talk to Henry and then had been the one to clean up Regina’s mess. And maybe that’s why Regina can’t bear to face her yet.

 

After too long dwelling on this, Regina pulls into a parking spot down the block from her destination and walks down a commercial block, searching for an apartment building. But when she gets to the address, it’s a small bakery, and Emma is leaning against the wall next to it. “This isn’t your apartment,” Regina points out.

 

Emma blinks, turns around, and gasps loudly. “You’re right! I can’t believe my apartment was stolen out from under me and revitalized into this small and tasteful bakery!” She grins, which hardly offsets the sarcasm. “I was going to pick something up for lunch, but their pastries are so much better fresh. Come on in.” 

 

Regina is just baffled enough to follow Emma into the bakery, which does smell delicious. “You’re going to want one of each of those mini quiches,” Emma says, pointing to a tray. “And then one of the cinnamon twists. Trust me on this.” She loads them into a bag, grabbing a cinnamon twist for herself, and then brings them to the counter. 

 

“This isn’t a date ,” Regina protests, horrified. She should never have come to Boston. “I’m paying–” 

 

“Yeah, yeah. You can send me the money later. It’s obviously not a date, there’s no sitting room,” Emma says, jerking her thumb at the counter. “But I get lunch here every Wednesday, and I thought that Miss Perfect Mayor might want to support a small business with me.” She looks smug, and Regina is reminded of exactly how much she hates Emma Swan.

 

This fact is almost always joined by a reminder of how much she’d like to climb Emma Swan like a tree. 

 

The quiches are good, and Regina eats in sulky silence as Emma leads her down the road. “My apartment is a few blocks over and through a shortcut in the back,” she says, gesturing vaguely toward the east. “Leave your car here, though. You aren’t going to find a better spot. Hey, what do you think about policies that eliminate cash bail? Never mind,” she says, just as quickly as she’d brought it up. “How was your day yesterday?” 

 

Regina stares at her. Somewhere beneath the frenetic energy, Emma sounds almost concerned. Oh, she is not going to be pitied by Emma Swan. “I like you so much better when you aren’t talking,” she says abruptly, and Emma’s eyes fall to the ground and she takes a harder bite of her cinnamon twist than is perhaps necessary.

 

And there is still something about Emma Swan with her shoulders dropping that twinges at Regina, despite Regina’s best efforts. “It was a good day,” she says grudgingly, and she chooses her words carefully. “I’m the primary caregiver for a family member. I took the day off to spend with him.” 

 

To her relief, Emma doesn’t ask probing questions. “I remember Ruby mentioning that your dad was sick,” she says, nodding. “I didn’t realize he lived with you.”

 

Regina’s father, in fact, had passed away several years before. Ruby likes to think that she knows every bit of town business, but she is far less informed than she believes. Still, it’s a relief to be misunderstood in this case. Henry has no place in this relationship. “How was your day?” she finds herself asking, to her own horror. 

 

Emma sighs. “Regina, you don’t need to pretend that you’re interested in my life,” she says, biting off one last piece of her cinnamon twist. She squashes the remaining bit of it between her fingers, her brow knitted. “I don’t need us to make small talk.” Her fingers snag onto the edge of Regina’s jacket, dipping below it to drag her fingers against the thin material of Regina’s blouse. “I just need you,” she breathes in Regina’s ear, and drags her through a walkway to an apartment building on the opposite side of the city block.

 

They’re already kissing in the elevator, Emma pushed against a wall as Regina sucks on her lip and puts a hand up her shirt. Emma is only on the second floor, thankfully, and she fumbles with her key in one hand and Regina’s slacks with the other. They tumble into the apartment, and Emma tugs at Regina’s hand, pulling her to the bedroom as clothes fall from them along the way. 

 

Regina doesn’t want to feel this vulnerable today. Being with Emma usually makes her feel powerful, sated and angry in nicely affirming ways. But it’s been a long week, and she surprises herself by how little she wants to have heated, furious sex right now. It’s the moment when Emma lifts her up– when she’s in Emma’s arms, her legs wrapped around Emma as they tumble to the bed– that she can’t let go of.

 

“Oh,” Emma breathes, because Regina hasn’t moved since they’d fallen back onto the bed. “Okay,” she says, and she doesn’t let go of Regina, just holds her tightly and kisses a gentle line down her bare arm. This is terrible , is the last thing Regina wants to be doing right now. This is being held, and Regina curls up against Emma and huddles to her.

 

Emma kisses the top of Regina’s head and tugs a warm blanket over them, still very silent. She doesn’t make any idiotic comments about it, doesn’t try to push Regina into talking, and for a few minutes, Regina doesn’t hate Emma at all. She kisses her, their touches tentative, and Regina dozes off for a good half hour, ensconced in Emma Swan’s embrace. 

 

You must be wondering what Emma thinks of this all, but I can’t tell you what she couldn’t herself. Emma is at a loss, her hands still running over Regina’s skin, and I can’t say what she thinks as she watches Regina sleep. It is telling, all the same, that her mind is so muddled at this, isn’t it? And that, each time Regina shifts in her sleep, Emma shifts to hold her securely. Perhaps it is from the anxiety that comes with not knowing if one of your most intimate friends will ever speak with you again. Perhaps it is from the way that Emma, pushed to speak, has exposed too much of her past to a little boy.

 

Perhaps it is only from Regina in her arms, lying there as though she belongs.

 

When Regina awakens, Emma knows only that Regina will say something cutting to undermine what had just happened. So she kisses her hard, hands roving across Regina’s body, and then they take from each other what they came for.

 

It still feels different, dangerously edging toward a sheer drop. And I can tell you that both Regina and Emma are absolutely terrified of what might come with that drop. Both know that it’s a place they don’t dare traverse, and they are afraid even to speak when Regina departs.

 

And maybe that terror is why, when Regina makes it back to her car, she pulls out her phone and types her first message in days to Amy.

 


 

Virginia is back, which is a welcome relief and distraction from whatever the hell had gone on that afternoon with Regina. Have you gone riding in the past few years? I’m less than impressed by the trails near the paddocks. A non sequitur, but Emma prefers it to the discussion they’d had before. 

 

Are you asking me about…horseback riding? Emma responds dubiously. With my long and storied past as a billionaire heiress? 

 

Have you never been?? That second question mark is a sign of exactly how outraged Virginia must be. You must. I have some local recommendations that are far better than the stables where I took Henry. 

 

Ah. So this is what they’re talking about, albeit in a roundabout way. Emma hesitates, then types, How is he? How are you? 

 

The response isn’t immediate, and Emma has to remind herself that Virginia works, like, an obscene amount and isn’t going to answer right away. She busies herself with her own work, distracting herself until Virginia finally answers some time later.

 

He’s better. He credits his talk with you for it , Virginia admits, and Emma breathes. I owe you a debt of gratitude for all you did for him on Monday. I don’t think we’d be in a good place without you.

 

I wish , Emma begins, and then deletes it. There is no sense in wishing that they could have done it together, that her conversation hadn’t come at the expense of Virginia’s terror. He’s a great kid , she writes instead, and means it. You’re a great mom. 

 

She pockets the phone before she gets too sentimental and emerges from her car. The woman she’s supposed to be collecting is somewhere around here, and Emma has tracked her patterns well enough that she knows exactly where the woman will be. She works an evening-to-overnight shift at a dingy little diner on Bowdoin, and Emma slips her jacket on and her cuffs into the jacket. 

 

She heads to the end of the block, lingering against a wall as she awaits the woman. She’s pulled her hair back and worn threadbare jeans, the kind of clothes she’d worn when she’d been a teen on the run, and no one casts her a second glance. 

 

And sure enough, it’s only a few minutes before she sees her mark, hands deep in her pockets and shoulders hunched over as she walks. She goes through her usual ruse - Candy? Candy is that you? - and the woman doesn’t run, though there is fear in her eyes. In Emma’s experience, people are too reluctant to be rude to put their safety first.

 

Regina hadn’t, she reflects, not during their first meeting. She reproves herself mentally. Do not think about Regina right now. Especially now, when she’s sick with uncertainty at what she’s about to do. She goes through a facade of catching up with her mark, and she fights the unease that comes with it.

 

“I’m stuck in another shithole,” Candy tells her, and they laugh in rueful acknowledgement. “But now I got my babies.”

 

Emma pauses until she can tell Candy’s lying - and until she can tell that Candy knows she’s lying, too. She has the woman in an instant, snapping on the cuffs before Candy can punch her. Candy’s asking if she’s a cop, over and over, and Emma feels a flush of shame creeping up her neck. “I’m a bounty hunter,” she grits out. “You skipped bail. Did you think I’d let you go if you had kids?” 

 

Candy scoffs. “Does it matter?” 

 

Normally, when Emma drags her marks into the backseat, she ignores them; she lets them scream obscenities in her ear until she can get them to a courthouse and be done with them. She likes searching for the clues that will bring her to a mark, and even the moment of satisfaction when she cuffs someone unpleasant. Not this part, ignoring the mark while they beg or shout or try impotently to attack her. But today, as Candy shoots questions at her like arrows, demanding to know if Emma’s going to send her to jail, to ruin her life over this, Emma finds herself getting defensive. “I’m not the one who ruined your life. You did that all by yourself.”

 

“Go to hell,” Candy snarls, and she’s shaking, her voice sharp with mingled fear and anger. “You’re full of shit. You think what happened to me was fair? You think you’re better than me?”

 

Emma stiffens her grip on the wheel and drives. “Look,” she says. “I went to jail, too. Eleven months in prison because my boyfriend framed me. And I got out and cleaned up my act and–” 

 

“I’m not- I can’t go to jail.” Candy laughs, loud and hard and panicked. “You think we’re the same?” she demands. “You don’t see no difference?” She gestures between them and Emma is starting to feel sick, to feel the doubt that Regina had planted in her mind lingering again.

 

“You woulda let me go if I had babies,” Candy says, her lip curled. “Cause you think you’re a fucking hero.” There's a note of hysteria in her voice. For all her lashing out, she’s terrified, and Emma can hear it and see it in her eyes. Emma feels ill.

 

“Shut up ,” she snaps. “Just shut up.” She has to think. This isn’t different than any other mark. It isn’t , and she doesn’t know why she’d spoken to Candy in the first place, why she’d let her get to her. Why had she let Regina get to her on this in the first place? She doesn’t care what they think of her, either of them, though something deep-seated twists with every moment that Candy is in the car. “It doesn’t make a difference, you know. Someone’s going to find you, even if it’s not me.” 

 

“I’m not the shrink for your white guilt, lady,” Candy says coldly.

 

Emma presses her fingers to the bridge of her nose, pinches the skin, and drives. “You kept putting pictures up on Instagram,” she says. “It was idiotic. I found you in a day.” Candy ignores her. Emma grits her teeth. “There are others. In my agency, even. They’ll find you if I…” She pulls over before she can second-guess what she’s about to do. They’re at South Station, and there’s nowhere to stop, but she puts on her hazard lights and double parks.

 

Candy looks at her with sudden interest. Emma digs in her jacket, finds her wallet, pulls out a handful of bills. It’s all the cash she has, but it should be enough. “This’ll buy you an Amtrak ticket,” she says, thrusting it at Candy. “Go to Chicago. No bounty hunters there.”

 

Candy looks at her in disbelief and rising distrust. Emma thinks– for a split second– of Henry in her apartment, looking at her with utter faith. She wonders what he’d think of her right now, where even the woman she’s saving doesn’t trust her. “I’m not gonna pick up and leave again. I got friends here.”

 

“Friends don’t mean shit when you’re in prison,” Emma says, leaning over to unlock the cuffs. “Go. Don’t go. I don’t care.” She does care, and that’s what has her on edge, her stomach churning like she’s about to vomit. “Just get out of here.” 

 

Candy stares at her. “I’m not gonna thank you,” she says, and there is still that disgust on her face, that superiority that comes with being confident that she is the one in this situation with dignity. 

 

Emma doesn’t think she’s wrong. “Yeah,” she says. “You going or not?” 

 

Candy goes. Emma drives without looking back, her hands rigid on the steering wheel, and she stares straight ahead and doesn’t think, doesn’t reflect, doesn’t do anything but watch the road and drive. She makes it all the way to the edge of the city before she pulls over, her heart thrumming like it’s about to seize up, and she pulls out her phone.

 

She hits Regina’s number without thinking, and she regrets it only once Regina has picked up. “Hello?” Regina says. 

 

Emma is paralyzed by indecision. She sits in silence, listening to Regina’s even breathing, and then the weary, “Emma, I can see your name on my phone. What are you–?” 

 

“Sorry,” Emma says jerkily. “Butt dial.” She hangs up before Regina can say another word and dials Mulan instead.

 

“I think I have to quit my job,” she says when Mulan picks up, and she sags against her seat and feels like anything but the hero of the story.

 


 

I think that there are triumphs that come with time, with renewed understanding and the confidence of doing the right thing. I don’t know if Emma can categorize her decision as a triumph right now, and I think she’d be angry if anyone did so.

 

Regina, however, is in the midst of a brilliant triumph, and that is the completion of a project that has taken nearly three weeks of tears and toil to achieve. “Here!” Henry says, pasting in the final picture to his family tree posterboard. It’s a photocopy of a picture of Regina’s father’s mother, an old photograph from Puerto Rico that’s the only one they have. “I think we’re done.” 

 

“Are you sure that this is all you want to put on it?” Regina asks cautiously. She had floated the idea of putting Daniel on it as Henry’s father, but Henry had nixed it. The one thing he’d insisted on was two greyed out squares above his picture, connecting to the picture in the same way as Regina’s picture does.

 

“My birth parents are a part of me,” he had said, very seriously. “They aren’t my mom and dad, but I want them to be here.” Regina had nodded, and she hadn’t felt nearly as agitated about that as she might have a week ago. 

 

Henry bobs his head. “It’s perfect,” he decides. He touches the empty space beside Regina’s picture. “We can keep this space open, just in case.” He looks up at his mother through his eyelashes. “You might meet someone– or start dating someone you already know– or meet someone you already know and start dating them–” 

 

“Henry,” Regina sighs. Henry shrugs, his face innocent. “Amy and I are friends.” 

 

Henry looks unimpressed. “You like her.” 

 

“I don’t–” She does , a little, but Amy is a fantasy. Not a real person. Amy has only ever seen the best of Regina, not the woman whom everyone else sees. If she’d get to know Regina in a less controlled environment than text message, she’d run for the hills and never talk to Regina again.

 

“I know you’re dating someone,” Henry says abruptly. “I heard you talking about it to Marian. And there was a day when we got out early because someone pulled the fire alarm and I went to see if you were in your office and your secretary said you weren’t in. But you weren’t home, either. Who is she? He?” He isn’t accusing, not like he’d been about his adoption, but his gaze is inquisitive.

 

Regina sighs again. “I am seeing someone,” she admits. “A woman Marian set me up with. But I don’t see it going anywhere.” She doesn’t know if that’s entirely true. Yesterday had been…something different for them, and she’d come out of it feeling strangely peaceful. She craves it again, craves Emma in a new way that she’d never craved her before. But Emma, in direct contrast to Amy, has only seen the worst of Regina. There’s no future in that.

 

She indulges herself for a moment in imagining what might have been if that first date had gone well. Maybe there would have been a second, or a third. Maybe there would have been more moments like they’d had yesterday.

 

And then, inevitably, they’d have shown their true colors to each other and fallen apart. “Anyway, she isn’t from around here,” she says briskly. “Or I’m sure I would have introduced you two.” 

 

“Sure,” Henry drawls in adolescent dubiousness. “I promise I wouldn’t scare her off unless she really, really sucked.” He grins, wiggling his eyebrows, and Regina imagines Henry meeting Emma, in all her unbearable smugness, and winces.

 

No, she’s fairly certain that they’d be fast friends. 

 

(We all love a little dramatic irony!)

 

Speaking of dramatic irony, Emma spends most of the evening pacing her apartment, wishing desperately for a confidant. She has a lunch date with Mulan on Friday to talk it out, but what she really wants is to talk to Virginia about all of this. But she doesn’t dare. To discuss what had happened that night means that she will have to reveal her job, and she finds that she doesn’t want Virginia to know the ugliest parts of her. Virginia likes her, thinks of her as someone decent, and Emma isn’t feeling decent right now. 

 

And there’s also the matter of rent, already a significant expense, that’s about to become untenable. Her lease is nearly up, and she knows that she won’t be able to renew it if she’s flipping burgers or waiting tables. And what else does she have? No training, no background in anything but unlicensed law enforcement and definitely unlicensed law encroachment; and suddenly, she’s twenty-eight years old and adrift again like she’s eighteen. 

 

She’d even spent the gas money that she uses to go see Regina on the Amtrak ticket, which she doesn’t regret, but seeing Regina has just become a luxury that she can’t afford. She’s going to have to cancel tomorrow, which is fine because they don’t officially meet up on Thursdays. It’s just that Regina likes to call her on most Thursday mornings and order her to Storybrooke, and this time, she won’t be able to come.

 

She frets: over money; and the actual act of quitting tomorrow morning; and explaining all of this to Mulan; and not seeing Regina. It’s a long, sleepless night, and Emma lies awake and feels the old sense of helplessness overwhelm her. 

 

She texts Virginia but the texts are brief, distracted, and Virginia notices. Are you all right? 

 

It’s just been a Day , Emma responds, unwilling to dwell. Whatever she does, Virginia isn’t hearing about any of this. For one thing, there was an opossum on the stairs when I got home , she tells Virginia instead. You should have seen the way it glared at me. Like this was its house!

 

How rude , Virginia says. It was probably looking for an invitation. How could you leave out an opossum in need?

 

Emma diverts. She really doesn’t want to think about homelessness right now. I bet in your house you invite stray cats in for dinner. 

 

You’ve met Henry. Emma can imagine Virginia rolling her eyes. You can imagine how often that happens. They’ll be mewling on the back patio and I’ll find a full can of tuna in a bowl back there. Once, he brought a kitten in and hid it in his dresser drawer. I thought there was a baby crying somewhere in the house. Emma smiles at the mental image, even if it’s a little more wan than usual. That cat still tries running into the house whenever we leave a door open.

 

That’s adorable , Emma offers, and she can’t think of anything else to say. Her thoughts stray to Virginia and Henry, feeding cats together at the back of some house large enough to have a back patio, and she suddenly yearns to be there with them. To have some security , job or house, and to know that she’s going to be living somewhere other than her car in a few months.

 

She knows that that isn’t rational, borne from years of trauma. Mulan would have her move in with her family before Emma winds up back on the streets. She isn’t a teen anymore, and she has some work experience that she can put toward jobs in computers or…or something more lucrative. Maybe not enough to afford an apartment on her own, but something with a roommate. And she can always just…not quit.

 

That thought leaves a sour taste in her mouth, and she shakes her head until it’s gone. When she looks down, there’s a gently probing question from Virginia. How is everything with your boyfriend?   

 

Oh. Emma remembers her admission, a final vulnerability after a weekend of vulnerability, and she's relieved to be able to respond that, this, at least, is not what's wrong. It’s been…different. I guess. Good. She bites her lip and writes, And it’s girlfriend, by the way. I’m a lesbian. Lol. 

 

Ah, I know you’ll want to see Regina’s reaction to that . And it is something to behold. Her eyes widen, large and startled, and she closes them and breathes firmly. Because Amy is a lesbian , and their relationship immediately feels a little more loaded. A little more like there might be something more, after all.

 

She swallows and writes, I know it couldn’t have been easy to tell me that , because they’ve shared so much but also left out plenty, haven’t they? Their conversations are carefully cultivated snapshots, images of each of them that show only the pieces they choose to share. 

 

The response is sheepish. Easier because Henry kind of outed you to me on Monday. I wouldn’t have rocked the boat otherwise. 

 

Ah. Still Regina swallows back quiet disappointment at the fact that Amy’s sexuality doesn’t change the fact that Amy is seeing someone. She falters when she thinks about that. She is, too, isn’t she? Not in the most conventional way, but if she chose between Amy and Emma (and aren’t those names just confusingly similar, which doesn’t help), then who…? 

 

It isn’t a fair thought exercise, she decides, because she thinks of Emma’s dejected face in that parking lot and she can’t bear it. She thinks about falling asleep in Emma’s arms and has to take a moment to breathe, to wave it away as a fluke. She adores Amy and doesn’t care for Emma, but Emma consumes so much of her so easily that Regina can’t imagine being without her.

 

Do you want to talk about it? she asks instead of lingering on that thought. Amy is down about something, and Regina owes her at least a fraction of the understanding that Amy had granted Regina over the adoption fiasco. 

 

Amy says, Not really , with an emoji that diffuses the tension behind the words, and she adds, Tell me something nice, okay? I could use a distraction.

 

And Regina recounts baby stories about Henry and the best legends that her father had passed down to her, Amy responding to each with queries and jokes and requests for more, until it’s long past midnight and Amy has stopped answering.

 

In the morning, there’s a thank you and a little heart, and Regina’s heart swells in response.

 


 

I wish I could tell you that Virginia had lulled Emma to sleep– in much the same way as Emma had done the same to Regina earlier in the day– but the truth is, Emma had opted only to stop answering because she’d been so weary that even typing responses had been difficult. She’d laid awake for hours after that, consumed by her fears and dread, and in the morning, she is exhausted and nearly sleeps in.

 

Nearly. First, she goes into work and endures a number of snide remarks about moralizing and women and we never should have taken you on before she can pack up and leave. She escapes as quickly as she can, and she’s trudging back up to her apartment when the phone rings. 

 

She answers it, her heart sinking as she realizes what she has to do now. “Regina?” 

 

“Emma.” A pause, and then the least authoritative command that Emma’s ever heard from her. “You’re coming today. Yes?”

 

Emma swallows past a lump in her throat. “Something came up at work today,” she says, not entirely untruthfully. “I don’t think I can make it.” 

 

Silence, then, “I see.” 

 

Emma settles onto the corner of her couch, curling up as though it might replace the sheer lack of human contact she’s about to suffer today. “You’ll just have to find some other hot blonde chick who barely tolerates you to bang today,” she says, her voice light as her heart shudders to think about it. 

 

Regina scoffs. “Why must you be so crude about it?” she demands, and then, quieter, “I can’t imagine anyone else who might fit the bill.” 

 

Are they flirting ? Emma can feel a frisson of anticipation, and her next words are borne more by a desire to keep Regina on the phone than anything else. “I’m sure you could,” she says, leaning against the back of the couch. “I bet if you went back to Aesop’s Tables, you could track down some other woman who is nothing like what you were hoping for–”

 

“That’s not–” Emma can hear Regina inhale, then exhale. “Marian described you differently. I hadn’t expected you to be so…” Her voice trails off, and then she says, “I thought you’d be a little bulkier. More…I don’t know. Masculine, I guess.” 

 

Emma winces. She isn’t some pinnacle of femininity, but she doesn’t think she fits that bill, either. “Is that what you’re into?” 

 

Regina sounds amused now. “Not at all.”

 

As you’ve guessed, Emma is much too tired to figure out if there’s a hidden compliment in this exchange. She will realize it eventually– early tomorrow morning, when she’s in the middle of getting dressed and replaying the conversation in her mind, and she’ll sit back and feel the warmth and helplessness that comes with having intrusive, burgeoning feelings for someone she’s kind of sure she hates. 

 

But for now, she yawns and returns to her initial point. “Okay. So you can go to Aesop’s Tables and find some pretty blonde who insults you and maybe accidentally kicks you under the table–” 

 

“That wasn’t an accident,” Regina objects.

 

“–And who you somehow manage to get to the alley behind the bar–” 

 

“Please.” Regina heaves a loud sigh. “I would never do that again. I’d take her to…”

 

“Your office,” Emma says, and she’s only guessing, playing the odds as to where Regina might be right now. The strangled noise that follows makes it clear that Regina is exactly there, and that Emma’s sudden arousal is not hers alone. “You lock the door,” Emma whispers.

 

Regina is silent, and Emma can hear her moving, hear the quiet snick of a door locking. Emma clears her throat, and she wants to be there , to be doing this instead of– “You sit down, and she climbs up on top of you,” Emma murmurs. “Legs on either side.” She has a hand between hers already. “She slides one hand up your dress to cup your… fuck , those breasts–” She touches her own instead, imagines Regina’s hands on her.

 

Regina is breathing harshly into the phone, and I can tell you that she’s clenching the phone as her hands slide where Emma tells her that they belong. There is no anonymous woman in her mind’s eye, only Emma, who is the only one she wants right now. “Go on,” she breathes, clamping her legs together.

 

“Grinding against you,” Emma can only manage. “You throw your head back and she kisses your neck right at that spot that makes you moan.” Regina can feel Emma like a phantom against her skin, moving in a dance she’s memorized by now and changes every time. “I need–” She is letting out little noises, barely more than a breath, and Regina strains to hear them. “Your dress is up past your waist. Please tell me you’re wearing a dress.” 

 

“It’s red,” Regina says, and she shivers when Emma swears at that. “Everything I’m wearing today is red,” she breathes, because she knows what it does to Emma and she’d thought– 

 

Emma swallows. “Tell me–”

 

“It’s all the way up right now,” Regina admits, because it’s rucked up halfway up her abdomen right now. She feels deliciously exposed even over the phone, and she speaks with a strained voice. “You– this fantasy woman–” she corrects herself. “She slips her fingers under the red lace of my panties and–” Now she’s pressing on her own clit with her knuckle, driving her fingers in and out with desperate strokes. “–And I do the same to her–”

 

“Want to feel you,” Emma admits, her voice rough.

 

“Want to taste you,” Regina grits out, adding another finger. Emma is breathing harder, and Regina with her, her hand in her panties moving faster and faster until she’s almost choking with need, with Emma to be with her, wrapped around her and kissing her as she pistons into her– and she just wants to come , to come undone with Emma, to dig her fingers into Emma’s skin and feel the vibrations of her growl as she comes–

 

And finally, finally, Regina comes, a moment before Emma chokes out a rumbling noise and comes, too. The phone is clamped between her shoulder and her ear and she has a crick in her neck but she doesn’t care, helpless to do anything but come and come and come until she finally comes to a shuddering halt, legs wobbly and heart pounding. 

 

There is silence on the line for a few minutes, just the two of them breathing hard, and then Emma clears her throat and says, “You know, if you found another hot blonde chick, I guess.” 

 

Regina is struck with the sudden and very uncharacteristic desire to hug Emma. Instead, she scoffs and says, “That’s definitely on my agenda for today.” 

 

“I figured,” Emma says agreeably. In this afterglow, they are always a little more pleasant to each other, a little happier. But today, Emma sounds different. “I’d better, um…I’d better get back to work,” she says.

 

Regina grimaces at the reminder that she won’t be seeing Emma later, her mood darkening just a bit. “Yes, yes,” she says dismissively. “You’re needed. Those poor souls won’t take advantage of themselves.” 

 

To her surprise, Emma actually responds instead of making a snide comment in return. “I thought you were saying that just to piss me off. But you believe it, don’t you?”

 

It’s a strange question, out of nowhere, and Regina’s brow furrows. “Of course I do.”

 

“I became a bail bondsperson because…I met someone else who did it,” Emma says finally. “Because she was looking for her family, just like me. We got good at looking for people. And it wasn’t like I had many options.” Regina had suspected that Emma hadn’t grown up with parents from other comments, had extrapolated from similar comments that Amy has made, but she hadn’t expected Emma to confirm it. They don’t talk about things that matter. But Emma continues, her voice tentative, and Regina listens silently. “A lot of the guys I’ve gone after have abandoned their families. Some of them beat their wives. Some pretty horrible stuff. It always felt…it felt justified,” she says. “Not like I was taking advantage of them.” 

 

Regina thinks of a few things to say, ranging from so why does it sound like you’re trying to convince yourself of that to it’s still a system that you’re complicit in to some Marian-tier comments about privilege. She doesn’t say any of them. Something delicate has been broached today, a sliver of trust granted from Emma to Regina, and Regina finds that she doesn’t want to violate it. 

 

She says nothing, and Emma says, “Yeah. Yeah,” as though Regina has said every silent thought on her mind. “I have to go.” And she hangs up abruptly without another word.

 


 

Reader, Emma has reached a crossroads, one that terrifies her in a very different way than it might have terrified someone with a safety net. She spends the day on her phone, searching through job listings and apartment listings without much luck. She sends out a few feelers to prospective roommates, each less appealing than the last. She types up a resume on Google Docs, regretting the fact that she’d never bothered to purchase a non-work laptop when she’d been able to afford it.

 

She is chattier than usual with Virginia during the day, but Virginia doesn’t ask about it. She doesn’t press Emma on why she’s around during work hours, only responds swiftly and keeps the topic light. Emma is so, so grateful for Virginia, especially right now, when the rest of her life is imploding. 

 

Another sleepless night, followed by a late morning during which she only pulls herself out of bed because she has that lunch with Mulan. She’d picked a fast food joint even though she knows Mulan hates most of them. She isn’t spending thirty bucks on a vegan restaurant right now. 

 

Mulan looks skeptical when she enters the restaurant, but she makes a beeline for Emma and slides in opposite her. “You quit ?” she demands.

 

“It seemed like the thing to do at the time,” Emma says, and the story spills out, a torrent of regrets and misery and self-flagellation. It still seems like the right thing to do, and she can’t imagine going back to it right now, but she recounts her options to Mulan and steels herself not to let her terror at what comes next show on her face.

 

Mulan looks at her. “Everything you just said sucks,” she says frankly. That’s what Emma likes so much about Mulan. There had been not a word of judgment about Emma’s exit from her job, and not an ounce of bullshit about how everything is gonna be okay

 

Another thing Emma likes about Mulan: Mulan knows when to keep her mouth shut. In fact, it’s Friday, and Mulan is still reeling from Monday’s discovery and hasn’t breathed a word of it to anyone. (Perhaps Emma might have preferred that Mulan shared this one, but Emma remains solidly out of the know.)

 

A thing Emma does not like about Mulan: Mulan is an expert meddler when she feels that the situation necessitates it. “There are better options for you,” Mulan points out. “They’re just out of the city. The cost of living here is always going to be too high here if you don’t have a degree.” 

 

“I barely have my GED, Mulan,” Emma points out. “I don’t have any background in anything except what could dubiously be called law enforcement, and I’m not going to go from quitting my job to being a cop, no offense–” Mulan raises her eyebrows. Emma shrugs. “It seems reductive, doesn’t it?” she says helplessly. “I want to do some good. But I don’t want to be a part of the problem.” 

 

Mulan ponders silently, mulls over what she wants to say. “I have a job opening for you,” she says. “In law enforcement, but you wouldn’t be…it’s a place where you could call the shots. Actually help people. Ruby keeps trying to get me to apply for it, but I can’t leave my family in Boston. And you have a good chance of getting it.”

 

Emma furrows her brow. It sounds a little too good to be true, but she trusts Mulan. “What is it?” 

 

Mulan bites her lip. “You’re not going to like it,” she says.

 

But my dear reader, I’m sure that you know exactly where this is going, and you will like it very, very much.

Chapter Text

This office. Of all the places where her job interview could be, it has to be an office that Emma’s never seen but has imagined very vividly in her mind’s eye. She hesitates at the door as Regina watches her with narrowed eyes, and she wonders if Regina is thinking of the same recent phone call as she is.

 

We know Regina by now, don’t we? Of course she’s thinking of the same recent phone call, and she is also thinking about how easily she could have Emma lock that door behind her and conduct a very dubious job interview. She does not, because Regina is, to her own continuous surprise, deeply principled. 

 

The application that had arrived on her desk on Friday afternoon has been a source of consternation since. Her first impulse had been to delete it on reception. She has kept Emma carefully away from her personal life and the rest of the town since they’d first met, and bringing her in to become the town sheriff is a horrifying prospect. Emma would be ingrained . Emma would be there every day, wandering through Storybrooke as though it’s her town instead of Regina’s. Emma might put down roots in Storybrooke, might begin to look for something real, and–

 

On second thought, Regina decides, she can’t keep someone away from Storybrooke because she’s a little afraid of being around her. On third thought, Regina is itching to understand why Emma wants to leave her job and Boston, and an interview is only fair, isn’t it? It’s what she’d grant any applicant (of which, in the six months since the sheriff’s station has sat empty, there have been none).

 

Now, she watches Emma like a hawk, a careful distance between them as a flush rises in two sets of cheeks. “Please leave the door open,” Regina says hastily when Emma lingers at the door, looking at Regina and then back at Regina’s secretary’s desk as though she isn’t sure of the protocol.

 

“Yeah.” Emma bobs her head, grimacing. Regina has always hated that about her, how uncomfortable she is to occupy as much space as she does. She fills up a room, captures Regina’s gaze without trying, and she has the temerity to act as though it’s too much for her. 

 

She does her best to keep that in mind as Emma sits down on the other side of the desk. “So I see that you’re looking for work in Nowheresville, Maine,” Regina says, because she’s nothing if not spiteful.

 

Emma just raises her eyebrows. She doesn’t apologize or grovel, and Regina resents how much more likable it makes her. “That’s what the application says,” she says. “I know my background is…unconventional…but I think that I can bring a lot of skills to the sheriff’s department.” 

 

Regina pauses, evaluates her. Emma’s eyes don’t leave hers. “I hope you don’t expect favoritism from me,” she says.

 

Emma snorts. “Regina– Mayor Mills ,” she corrects herself. “That’s the last thing I’d expect from you. I know you don’t want me here.” She chews on her lip, drums her fingers against her knees. “I don’t even know if I’ll– I’ve always lived in cities. Small towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business make me antsy. But I can’t…” She swallows. Regina watches the movement of her throat, riveted by whatever Emma isn’t saying. “I quit my job,” Emma blurts out. “I know it means I have no reference and the guys were pissed that I picked up and left, but it was the right thing to do. I’ve known that–” She takes a breath. “I think I’ve known that for a while.” 

 

“Yes,” Regina agrees. Privately, she wonders if she’d had any influence on Emma’s decision. She doubts it. Emma hardly holds her in high regard. “It was.” But Emma’s eyes shoot up to Regina as though her validation had meant something, and maybe Emma does hold her in something , after all.

 

Emma smiles at her, quick and glancing, before she’s earnest again. “I want to do some good,” she says swiftly. “I want to…find runaway pets and track down kids who get lost in the woods and calm down domestic disputes and even just get the town drunk into a cell to sleep off the night before he does something dumb.” She’s just handily described every incident in the past few months, which means that she’s been doing her research with Ruby. This might be a whim, but it’s one Emma is taking seriously, Regina notes. “I want to help people,” Emma murmurs.

 

Regina contemplates her. Emma looks uncomfortable again, but she doesn’t flinch under Regina’s gaze. “I need to know that this isn’t some front or scheme. Small-town Maine might not generally be the most diverse of neighborhoods, but Storybrooke has made a name for being welcoming even to more vulnerable–” 

 

Regina ,” Emma says, and she looks aghast at the suggestion. “ No .” Regina only watches her, waits, and Emma shakes her head. “I swear, this isn’t me trying to– you know me,” she says, and she spreads her hands helplessly. “I know you think I suck in every single way–” And if she hadn’t looked mildly horrified at the innuendo, Regina might have thrown her out in that instant– “–But do you really think I’d go that low?”

 

Regina purses her lips. Normally, she’d enjoy this moment of superiority, holding Emma’s future in her hands while Emma is forced to grovel for a job.

 

The worst part about Emma Swan is that she will never grovel. It’s also one of her better qualities, Regina concedes grudgingly. “Sheriff is an elected position in Storybrooke,” she says at last. “If you ran for it now, you would run uncontested and win with just Ruby Lucas’s vote. I would like to take you on as a deputy instead.” She clears her throat. Emma stares at her, uncomprehending, and Regina clarifies. “It’s a small town. You’ll get to know the people here soon enough. I would like you to earn the role.” She sighs inwardly and adds, because she isn’t an idiot and knows why Emma looks suddenly trapped, “Without a sheriff, the salary allocation for a deputy will be more than enough for you to rent an apartment in the town.” 

 

Emma loosens, just like that, and the stillness that has subdued her until now seems to fade. “You know,” she says slowly, and there’s some of that unbearable smugness in her smile now. “I always just figured you were on a power trip. I didn’t realize that you might also be a pretty good mayor.” 

 

Regina scoffs, unable to hide the pleased flush from her face. “Perhaps you might have spent a little less time insulting me and a little more time listening,” she shoots back.

 

Emma snorts. “Right,” she says. “You were a fount of civic responsibility when you were insulting my intelligence and education levels. I do have a GED, as you can see on my application–” 

 

“Achieved in an Arizona state correctional facility,” Regina notes. It hadn’t been on the application, but Regina had done her research. 

 

Emma glares at her, which feels nice and organic and as though all the goodwill from the last few minutes has disappeared. “I don’t get it. Are you against the system or for it? Because if you were just throwing around zingers about my job to get under my skin–” 

 

Regina picks up a hand in surrender. “I think it’s admirable what you’ve accomplished,” she concedes. “And I don’t give a damn what your education levels are. I know you’re smart and I know you’re a decent person and that matters more to me than whatever put you in–” She clears her throat. Emma is gaping at her, and Regina says hastily, “And if you ever speak to me like this in public, Deputy Swan, I will destroy you. Not a single person in this entire state will hire you after I’m done with you.” She clears her throat for a second time. “Now get out.”

 

“Same old Regina,” Emma mutters, shaking her head, and she blinks and turns around before she leaves. “I do still get the job?” 

 

“You’ll want to start by cleaning up the station,” Regina calls after her. “It’s in shambles.” Emma doesn’t respond, just swings back around and walks outside as though she doesn’t have to deign that with a response. Regina reflects that she should probably get used to it.

 

And for the first time in the past twenty minutes, Regina considers for a moment what a horrible mistake she might have just made. She digs for her phone instinctively after a few moments of reflection, ready to speak about anything else with Amy and put aside this Emma situation , only to find that Amy has just messaged her. Is this not the most soothing thing you’ve ever seen? It’s accompanied by a video of someone cooking a meal made of tiny food, and Regina sits back and breathes. Amy, at least, seems to be doing better today.

 

You seem chipper. 

 

Aren’t I always? Amy retorts, and then, a moment later, an emoji that looks absurdly flippant.

 

Regina takes a guess. Things working out well with your girlfriend? It still feels strangely intrusive to even refer to a girlfriend when she speaks to Amy. Amy is a lesbian , which still makes Regina’s throat dry when she thinks about it. And Amy is taken, which is fine . Regina has someone, in the loosest sense of the word, and she has no business resenting Amy’s girlfriend when she’s sort of seeing Emma. 

 

She resents Amy’s girlfriend for other reasons.

 

Amy types for a long time before an answer pops up. Better than usual. Sometimes I wonder if she might actually like me. Hastily, a clarification, as Regina steams at that. It’s not that kind of relationship. I’m just…not really a priority for her. And I get it. I know it’s not exactly healthy. It’s just how we are.

 

Regina grits her teeth, whatever good mood she’d retained from her interview with Emma fading. She doesn’t deserve you , she stabs into her keyboard. She’d known that Amy hadn’t been upfront about what had been making her so miserable. I don’t know why you don’t just end it. She isn’t worth it.

 

A pause, and then, Look at this one. Another tiny food video, this one of a miniature salad. It’s Amy’s way of shutting down the conversation, and Regina scowls but follows her cue. 

 


 

The next few days are a whirlwind of activity for both of our heroines. Emma, of course, is packing up the paltry remains of her life in Boston while apartment hunting and preparing the station for use as something other than a place where teenagers go on dares. The previous sheriff had left the station in disarray, all unfinished paperwork and disorganized furniture, and Emma and Ruby rearrange and clean until Emma is finally satisfied. 

 

Regina has a quieter task in mind, one that involves researching how much a deputy sheriff can reasonably make and how much apartments in Storybrooke are going for these days. Property values are at an all-time high– the fault, she reasons, of an excellent government creating an appealing town to move to– and Emma will wind up spending every last cent on a rental or wind up with a roommate.

 

Regina finds herself mentally comparing Emma’s apartment in Boston to the place she’ll have in Storybrooke. She’d done well for herself in Boston. Storybrooke’s most comparable apartments belong to an unassuming pawn shop owner on Main Street, aptly named Gold, who charges a pretty penny for each. “I think there are a few in your price range,” she says on Tuesday at the B&B, nipping at Emma’s ear as Emma drives into her. 

 

“Are you really talking about this now?” Emma demands, pumping harder, and Regina reminds her again when they’re done. Emma doesn’t thank her, which leaves Regina miffed at how much social capital she’d surrendered while negotiating the price down with Gold. Gold had finally agreed to rent to Emma at a reasonable price after Regina had reminded him of a number of favors that he’d owed her. 

 

Emma has not a clue of any of this, just seizes the New Neighbor Special that Gold offers her and moves into the apartment exactly three days later. She begins work on the next Monday.

 

Between you and me, Storybrooke would have to be the primary location in some kind of magical fantasy show in order for anything interesting to happen in its sheriff station. And Emma is quietly bored for the bulk of the first day. She gets a few calls, most which are routed through to an ambulance, and one which is a kindly old lady who just wants to chat with someone. 

 

She passes the time by texting with Virginia, who is polite enough not to ask why Emma has abruptly become so chatty during work hours. Mostly, Emma finds herself venting about a woman whom she’s seen far too often lately. It’s like, whatever I do, I know she isn’t satisfied with it. We’re fine in – She almost deletes the text and then finishes it. In bed, but the rest of the time, she makes it clear that I’m barely doing a passable job at work. Regina had made nothing short of eight separate comments about the paperwork that still isn’t completed, incident reports from before Emma had begun here, and she’s still smarting about it.

 

Virginia’s comment is swift and makes Emma cringe. Sorry, I think that this is the first time you’ve mentioned this. Is your girlfriend your BOSS? It takes a lot of alcohol or a lot of righteous anger for Virginia to type in capital letters. What the hell does she think she’s doing? Does she have any idea how many HR rules she’s violating?

 

(Regina, incidentally, is under the impression that she is not Emma’s boss. Emma, who has never read the town charter nor the Political Oversight section of its amendments, is under the impression that Regina kind of is.)

 

It doesn’t bother me , Emma says, biting her lip. She knows that Virginia won’t take that well.

 

It should! She’s taking advantage of you. No wonder you’ve always felt so powerless around her. 

 

I feel like you see me as some kind of victim in this , Emma writes, and she tries not to be too offended. When Virginia is in outrage mode, she sometimes neglects to consider how her phrasing might affect Emma. I know exactly what our relationship is. I don’t care that she’s my boss. She isn’t taking advantage of me. She’s just kind of a dick. 

 

Virginia types quickly, the response popping up at once. I’m sure you don’t see yourself that way. But you have to understand how it looks to me, someone who’s firmly on your side. She’s nasty. She undermines you. She makes you feel small. And you’re still defending her.

 

Emma squirms in her seat, uncomfortable. It’s complicated. I think anyone else would do the same, tbh. It’s not just about the magnetic attraction between them. Regina is eminently appealing, and there are those moments– just brief moments, interspersed– when Emma is sure that she’s seeing someone soft and gentle beneath the surface. Someone who needs Emma and wants her just as much as Emma needs her. Virginia is only hearing the worst of it because Emma doesn’t dare think about what the best of it might mean.

 

And Virginia misunderstands her last text. No , she retorts. If I were your girlfriend, I would spend every single day basking in how lucky I was, and you’d know it. I would never let you doubt how spectacular you are, my dear.

 

It’s tender, it’s kind, and it stops Emma in her tracks. She swallows, staring down at the words, and then panics and shoves her phone into her desk drawer and slams it closed. Naturally, the drawer in question is the one that automatically locks and has no key that Emma has found, so she spends the next five minutes on the ground, picking the lock. 

 

Regina enters the room midway through this, and Emma looks up sheepishly. “Locked my phone in the drawer,” she says, gesturing to it. 

 

Regina, meanwhile, sees Emma’s phone resting on the desk and raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow at it. Emma swallows and says, “Never mind,” climbing back into her seat. “Come to berate me for those incident reports?”

 

Regina sighs expansively. “I’m afraid I’ve given up on the incident reports.” She lifts a bag in her hand. “I’m here to return a favor,” she says, and Emma eyes the bag with interest.

 

Regina sets it down, retrieving a Tupperware container from inside. There’s something that looks suspiciously like penne in it, an orange sauce over it. “It’s not mini quiches,” Regina says, sliding it across the table to Emma. “But I have it on good authority that you’ve been skipping lunches and I thought you could use my leftovers.” 

 

Leftovers is a bit of an exaggeration. The penne is still warm. Regina had cooked it fresh this morning, along with a sauce that she’d made from scratch. Henry had been bewildered by his mother’s sudden interest in cooking dinner before breakfast, but had shrugged it off. No Mills will ever second-guess pasta.

 

Deputy Swan, however, is hardly a Mills. “You poisoned it,” she guesses.

 

Regina glares at her. “No.” 

 

“It’s laced with very, very tiny pieces of glass,” Emma offers. “Eventually, they’ll kill me.” 

 

Regina is already regretting her overture. “For god’s sake, Emma, will you just let me do something nice for you?” she demands. 

 

That ticks something in Emma’s brain, just enough, and Emma stops asking questions and stares at her. I can tell you that she is contemplating continuing to give Regina a hard time. Instead, she just says, “Why?” 

 

It’s a fair question. They haven’t exactly been the lunch buddies kind before now, and the few lunches they’ve done together have been guarded and tense. Regina takes a breath and considers the answer, which she hadn’t while she’d been cooking or even when she’d decided to make Emma lunch in the first place. “We’re going to be spending a lot more time in each other’s orbit,” she says, and she takes a step forward. Emma watches her approach, and she doesn’t flinch away. “I think we can both make an effort to be…civil.” 

 

“Is that what we’re calling it?” Emma drawls, and she crooks a finger. Regina moves to her without a second thought. “I can work with civil.” She tugs Regina to her, and Regina closes her eyes for the kiss. It’s gentle, affectionate, and there is a moment when something shifts within Regina.

 

Maybe it’s just the moment before she’d come into the station, when she’d sent that text to Amy and had thought, abruptly, of Emma. Maybe it’s just seeing Emma all the time, holed up in this station and forgetting about meals because she’s so determined to be a model deputy. Whatever it is, Regina clears her throat and says, “And I’ve been thinking…”

 

She hadn’t been thinking it until this exact moment, except that it’s the only thing she’s been thinking about all week. When they’d bumped into each other one night when Emma had been doing a late-night patrol and Regina had been on her way home and had imagined, for a moment, inviting Emma to join her. When Henry had asked about the new deputy and Regina had contemplated letting Emma know about Regina’s son, gifting her with the kind of trust she’d been loath to offer until now. When she’d walked into the station and Emma had looked stressed and Regina had only wanted to ask her why. 

 

Emma watches Regina with intent eyes, and Regina says, “Would you like to try going to Aesop’s Tables again tonight? I think you’ve been remiss a proper welcome to Storybrooke.” It’s unmistakable, what she’s asking Emma. A do-over. A chance to unmake their first encounter and try again, this time with a little more understanding. 

 

Emma’s eyes bore into Regina’s and Regina forces herself to stay calm as she prepares to backpedal, if necessary. Is it necessary? you must be wondering. And, in fact, Emma is only turning the invitation over in her mind, making sure that she’s agreeing to what she thinks she’s agreeing to before she speaks. Finally, she asks, “Do you mean…are you asking me out?” 

 

Regina freezes up at the directness of the question and smiles a Mayor Mills Smile in Emma’s general direction. “We’ve skipped ahead a few steps anyway,” she says swiftly, shrugging. “It seems like we might as well, if you’re up for it. I understand that we haven’t exactly set any expectations. For all I know, you’re involved with someone else–” She stops.

 

Maybe if they hadn’t been standing quite so close, Regina might have missed the flicker of uncertainty in Emma’s eyes. “Oh,” she says, her voice strained. “I see.”

 

Emma shakes her head, her brow furrowed. “See what? I’m not–” And she hesitates again, and then visibly tries to shake it off. “It’s not what you think it is.” I can tell you that the uncertainty is stronger in Emma’s heart now, not least of all because of the conversation she’d just interrupted with Virginia before Regina had arrived. “I have a good friend I’m– we’re not–” 

 

“You have feelings for her,” Regina deduces, and she takes a deep breath. This is hardly going the way that she’d imagined it might. Emma only looks helplessly at her. “Don’t you?” 

 

“We’re not together,” Emma says hastily. She isn’t sure what she wants right now. Regina is offering herself , is saying words that Emma has secretly craved for a long time. But Virginia had…Virginia had only spoke in hypotheticals, but Emma still remembers what Henry had insisted about his mother. She really likes you. Is Virginia making an overture, too? Is Emma fool enough to cling to a relationship based on loathing when there’s a woman out there who is perfect for her– who cares about her so fiercely and thinks she’s in a bad relationship in the first place– and who might want to…?

 

She swallows, her heart trapped between two heartbreaks, and she repeats quietly, “We’re not together.” 

 

And Regina, who has spent so many years anticipating the worst that she recognizes it immediately, repeats, “But you have feelings for her.” 

 

Emma presses her lips together. “It’s complicated. I don’t even know if–” She stops, because she doesn’t know how she’s going to explain this. She doesn’t know if Virginia is the person who she says she is. Regina is comfortably real , warts and all, and Regina is someone Emma has grown to care about more than is casual. Virginia is a fantasy, a perfect woman who has been the only reason Emma’s made it through the harrowing past couple of months. And it occurs to Emma that she knows very little about Regina Mills, even less than she does about Virginia. Regina shares only bits and pieces, moments of frustration and slips of vulnerability. They communicate only in physicality and snide remarks, and Emma is terrified that what lies beneath them might kill them both. 

 

And still, she yearns for this with Regina, despite everything. Despite even Virginia, who has no idea that she’s enduring this grand decision right now. Maybe it’s her nether regions who are doing the thinking right now, or maybe it’s the instant when Regina’s kisses turn tender and Emma could bask in them forever. “I want to– I would really like to go to Aesop’s Tables with you,” she murmurs. 

 

If only it were that simple. If only Regina could put aside her pride and her fears and say the same. If only one of them would breathe the truth in that moment. If only Henry would have walked in at that instant and said Amy? What are you doing here? and secrets would unravel in a single Hallmark Family Moment™. If only this were a terribly mundane story about terribly mundane people who glimpse each other from across a room and think, oh, I want to know her , and there would be tentative smiles and late-night dates and an engagement ring just six months later, because when you know, you know. 

 

I recall that I did promise you a happy ending. 

 

The happiest endings aren’t the ones that are there all along, ripe for the taking. Happy endings are fought for, are chosen with every breath, and chosen again for each moment after. And the best endings aren’t the ones that we ease into, no. They are the ones that speed in the opposite direction, only to do an about-face when it’s least expected and, without further ado, grant us our every wish. And I’m afraid that Regina is about to turn this train around, minutes from the finish line, and detour down another path entirely. 

 

If it’s any consolation, she will regret it, too. 

 

“I don’t think there’s anything I’d like less than to be your consolation prize,” Regina says– no, sneers , because her face has twisted into something cold and annoyed when she hadn’t been looking. “I mean, I knew you were fickle, but I didn’t expect that you had the time to entertain a second relationship. You spent all that time whining about driving up here.” Emma’s eyes narrow, the fight so close that they can both taste it, and Regina surges on. “Did you think of me when you were with her?” she breathes, and they are still so close. Emma’s breath is still a whisper against Regina’s lips, and it only makes Regina angrier.

 

She couldn’t tell you who it is who is making her angry, only that the rage has bubbled up and refused to abate. And Emma, who has gone from choosing Regina to being called fickle for it, is in no mood to defuse. “More like I thought about her when I was with you,” she snaps back. “You would hate to hear what she says about you.” She’s quietly thought that Virginia is overreacting, but it sends a jolt of satisfaction through her to know, right now, that there is someone on her side.

 

And it’s exactly the wrong thing to say. Regina loathes many things, but principal among them is being made a fool by others. “And I wonder what she thinks of you,” she says coldly. “You would jump from her bed to mine. I’ve seen your resume. I know how quickly you flit from place to place. Have you ever had a functional relationship?” 

 

Emma’s expression hardens, and Regina wants to shatter it, wants Emma broken in pieces for the humiliation that Regina has just suffered. (No one has ever, ever said that Regina is well-adjusted.) “This from the woman who couldn’t handle takeout without panicking that she might be on a date. Have you ? Is there anyone in this universe who has ever managed to tolerate you?” Gone are the playful insults, the reminders that they hate each other that serve more as foreplay than real taunts. Today, they are uncontrolled, unraveling like a spool hurled down a mountain. “Or does everyone who cares about you wind up running for the hills?” 

 

“At least I do have people who care about me,” Regina shoots back, and oh , Emma doesn’t shatter as much as crumple, take a step back and then shrink into herself. And in that moment, Regina remembers that she is a formidable Head Bitch In Charge and yet absolutely powerless when Emma is sad. 

 

Emma reaches for her and kisses her, hard and furious and the sort of kiss that leaves Regina weak-legged and breathless beneath Emma’s grasp. When Emma lets go, Regina staggers back, her heart racing as she stares at Emma’s dark eyes. “Go fuck yourself,” Emma says. “It’s all you’ll be doing from now on, anyway.” 

 

And she stalks out the door of the station, leaving Regina behind, humiliated and needy and utterly mystified at how she’d managed to fuck that up so badly. 

 


 

Emma, meanwhile, makes it about ten feet out of the station before she remembers that that had been her workplace she’d stormed out of, and that Regina is still inside. So much for a dramatic departure. She lingers in the street for a few minutes, pacing up and down the block, and then reaches for her phone to talk to Virginia. 

 

But no, her burner phone is still in that desk drawer, and Emma squeezes her fists and allows, for a moment, bitter regret to overwhelm her. She hadn’t meant to make a choice, hadn’t thought about it until Regina had pushed her into it, and now she only feels as though she’s betrayed Virginia by choosing someone else. Virginia is good to her, and it isn’t Virginia’s fault that Emma is consistently attracted to assholes. It isn’t Virginia’s fault that Emma had allowed herself to believe, for just a moment, that Regina has layers. 

 

Regina is gone when Emma returns, and Emma finally manages to pick the lock on the desk drawer and retrieve her burner phone. Technically, she doesn’t need it anymore, but she doesn’t let herself think about that. She isn’t giving it up until she’s ready to give Virginia her real number, whenever that day comes–

 

She winces when she rereads Virginia’s last message, a flood of longing washing over her. If I were your girlfriend, I would spend every single day basking in how lucky I was, and you’d know it. I would never let you doubt how spectacular you are, my dear. If Regina were just half as considerate as Virginia, there never would have been a question of who she’d pick. It’s jarring to juxtapose her last conversation with this text from Virginia and to take stock of how many worlds apart Regina and Virginia are. 

 

She doesn’t know what she’d been thinking. Regina has a way of making her forget all of her best instincts, and she’d just… 

 

She writes quickly, her heart in her throat. Have I ever told you just how important you are to me?

 

And I know that you want to know what Regina thinks of that . In fact, it frustrates her. Amy’s words are a reminder of another relationship she’ll probably destroy, just as she has countless others. Emma is right , and that’s what stings most of all. 

 

She reads her own last text message back and shakes her head despairingly. Why hadn’t she spoken like that to Emma? Why is it that Emma brings out the worst in her– 

 

Why is she still thinking about Emma. 

 

She knows how uncomfortable Amy is with vulnerability, so she responds quickly. You’re important to me, too. She never forgets that Amy sees only the best of her, and Amy would never feel this way about Regina. Still, Regina can’t help herself. I just think that you deserve better than that woman.  

 

There are few people whom Regina despises more than Amy’s girlfriend, an ingrate who has been taking advantage of Amy’s generous soul for far too long. Amy’s girlfriend doesn’t appreciate what she has– barely knows the woman Amy is– and Regina can’t fathom a woman who might have Amy and treat her so badly. 

 

Which is why it should be good news when Amy says, Well, you’re in luck, because I’m pretty sure we just broke up. It’s strange, the pit that it leaves in Regina’s stomach, the sudden dread that begins to creep up within her. She started the conversation by bringing me pasta– which I am still eating, because I DESERVE it after that– and ended it by telling me that I‘m basically garbage who has no one who cares about me. 

 

No. God, no. No, no, no. 

 

And the worst part is that I actually thought we had a chance , Amy goes on. She can’t see the look of horror on Regina’s face, of course. She’s at least a hundred feet away right now. I don’t know WHY, because she’s never made any secret of how repulsive she finds me. Lol. I guess I was just hanging onto the relationship because it was all I had. I don’t know.

 

No. No. No. 

 

Wanna hear something funny? And Regina does not , but she can’t type right now, either. She can’t answer at all, and Amy types trustingly, certain that her messages are going to someone who cares about her. Someone who would never do what her now ex-girlfriend had, who would treasure her in all the ways that Regina had insisted that she would. She ended things because she thought I might have feelings for someone else. And I kind of do. Have feelings, I mean. For you. 

 

Regina drops her phone. It crashes onto the floor of her office, a fault line spreading from one corner of it to the other in some sort of ominously symbolic move. Regina follows it to the ground, her hands rising to her face, her heart pulsing so loudly that she can hear it beating in her ears. 

 

It can’t be. It can’t be possible. The universe has never been quite so cruel to her. And she has– she has Emma’s number in her phone–

 

But she’s seen Emma with another phone, hasn’t she? Emma had even made a comment about it when she’d walked in today–

 

On a hunch, Regina dials Mulan. “Hello,” she says briskly. “Can you help me out? Emma’s left her phone here, and I wanted to call her spare number to let her know.” 

 

“Oh, yeah, I’ll get it–” It’s the way that Mulan stops short that decides it for Regina. “I’ll give her a call,” Mulan finishes, her tone much more cautious. “Let her know you have her phone.” 

 

“Mulan,” Regina says, because now she’s remembering. Mulan had been the one to find Henry, too. And if Amy is…if this has all been… Mulan is the only one who might know the truth. “Mulan, where did you find Henry two weeks ago?”

 

Mulan hesitates. “Regina…” 

 

“Where did you find Henry?” Regina repeats, and her chest hurts. Her throat feels clogged with tears, with despair as yet unreleased, and… “Does she know?” she whispers, because if Emma has been playing some twisted game with her for this whole time, then Regina will never forgive her. Regina will drive her from Storybrooke and break into pieces and never, ever recover from any of this. 

 

Mulan finally answers. “No. She doesn’t have a clue.” She sounds regretful, even apologetic. “I think it was just a weird, weird coincidence. I haven’t told– I didn’t think it was my place to tell anyone,” she says quietly. “But I hope you won’t keep this from her for too long. It isn’t fair.” 

 

None of this is fair. It isn’t fair that Regina’s closest confidant is a lie , or is perhaps more of the truth than anything else that Emma Swan has presented herself to be. It isn’t fair that Regina has lost two people in one, has given of herself so much to a woman who hates her. She shudders when she thinks about the woman Amy had spoken about, the girlfriend who’d made her feel like nothing. 

 

Hating herself is nothing new; hating herself preemptively is an unexpected twist.

 

She’s spent weeks telling herself that Amy is too good to be true. That Amy would see Regina for who she is eventually and hate her. And now that every last bit of her most dire predictions has come to pass, Regina still wants to curl into a ball on the floor of her office and sob.

 

She does not. She is a professional with nerves of steel, and she handles even the most bracing of circumstances. She says to Mulan, “I just need some time to…I just need some time,” hangs up, and cancels several meetings later that day.

 

And then she picks up her briefcase and her phone, walks home and smiles at constituents along the way. She doesn’t look at her phone again, and she moves at the brisk pace of a woman who is busy, always busy, and has little time for anything else. 

 

She puts the penne in the oven at home and sets it to turn on to warm the food in one hour. She goes up to her room, removes her makeup, and changes into a cardigan and a pair of pants.

 

And then, at last, she curls up onto her bed and sobs.

Chapter Text

How do you come back from an argument that vicious? 

 

How do you come back from a texted confession that explicit? 

 

Emma is forced to come to terms with the reality that she’d imploded two of her closest relationships within the space of twenty minutes, which royally sucks . She shouldn’t have said anything to Virginia, shouldn’t have exposed so much and then left it hanging out there without any distraction. 

 

She debates sending a meme or a video or something to diffuse the tension, but stubbornness settles in her bones and stays her hand. Virginia will have to respond eventually, either to reject her or to reciprocate (a possibility that seems less and less possible with every passing moment). Emma will understand, at least, where they stand. 

 

She’s so tired of being in relationships in which she doesn’t know where they stand.

 

It’s Tuesday morning, and she goes to the station and tries not to think about where she won’t be at noon. Her apartment is finally ready, and she’d been…not excited , exactly, but looking forward to showing it to Regina this afternoon. It’s a nice apartment, truthfully much too nice for her budget, and she’d thought that Regina might have been satisfied with it.

 

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid for her to move to Maine and find a job she actually likes, only to let it all fall apart because of a woman. A woman who’d deduced that she’d been Emma’s consolation prize , an unfair characterization, and then lashed out until Emma had been just as furious. What had she been thinking? They aren’t friends. They aren’t even lovers , because that word implies some kind of love. They’ve been…fuck buddies. Not-friends with benefits. They’re two women who are attracted to each other and had acted on it. 

 

They don’t even know each other.

 

At that thought, Emma looks back at her burner phone wistfully, feeling the quiet heartbreak that comes with every glance at the silent phone. Even the person who knows her best doesn’t want her. Regina had been right , damn it. 

 

Regina had been–

 

Regina is standing in the doorway of the station, her posture stiff and her eyes averted, and Emma gapes at her. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she says. There’s no way Regina thinks that they’re still going to–

 

“I came to apologize,” Regina says. Her voice is distant, and she is still avoiding Emma’s eyes. “That’s all. I said some things yesterday that weren’t fair.”

 

“Okay.” Emma isn’t quite so ready to apologize back. It’s hard to look back at yesterday and blame herself first. “Thanks.” 

 

Regina nods jerkily. “I think it’s best if we just…stay far away from each other.” 

 

“I agree,” Emma says coolly, though it wrenches something in her chest to say it. 

 

“Right.” Regina nods again and retreats, and Emma waits, though she doesn’t know for what. 

 

I do. I know that Emma waits for Regina to whirl around and push through the door, to press her against the wall and kiss a dozen apologies to her lips. I know that Emma waits for Regina to say can we try this again? and for them to finally sit down and talk about who they are and what they might become together. I know that Emma waits for Regina to surprise her, because Regina has surprised her so many times before. 

 

And I know that Regina does none of those things. Regina goes back to her office and does what she’s done a dozen times in the past day: scrolls back through conversations that had been Virginia and Amy, and falls a little harder every time for a woman who had met the real Regina and despised her.

 

She doesn’t write to Emma as Virginia again. It feels like anything more would be sheer manipulation, cruelty beyond measure, and Regina is not cruel by nature. Not responding feels just as cruel, though, and Regina is trapped and uncertain. Whatever happens next, she determines, Emma can never find out that Virginia is Regina. Regina has sown her own defeat, exposed all of herself to a woman who hates her, and she will only reap sorrow if she tells Emma the truth.

 

But somehow, no matter how hard she tries to avoid Emma, Emma is there. On Tuesday afternoon, Regina is at Marco’s carpentry shop, picking up a newly constructed backboard and basketball hoop. Henry has shown a vague interest in sports lately, and Regina has jumped to accommodate. This is something that will help him fit in with the other kids when he tends to have his head in the clouds, and she’s newly outfitting the garage with various sports equipment.

 

She doesn’t notice Emma until she’s already paid. “I’ll be right with you,” Marco assures someone behind her, and Regina turns and there is Emma, watching her with stricken eyes. Regina jerks her head in what fails to be a casual nod, and they stare at each other, immobile. 

 

Emma ventures, “You play a lot of basketball?” 

 

Regina considers being offended at the note of disbelief in Emma’s voice. She opts not to. “It’s a gift.”

 

“Oh.” Emma’s fingers slide around the back of a chair, squeezing it hard. Good thing Marco’s carpentry is impeccable. “I was wondering if you had some very well-hidden layers.” She shakes her head as though to dismiss the idea.

 

Regina ventures, “I play a mean hand of tennis.” Emma laughs uncomfortably, of course you do , and Regina feels the need to add, to be unexpected and authentic, “And I was a forward on the women’s ice hockey team in college.” 

 

Emma lets out a little noise that might be a breath of laughter. “Really?” 

 

Regina twists her wrist. “Kind of,” she admits. “I played for a month before my mother found out that I was squandering my education on sports and had me removed from the team. I loved it.” She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, holds the backboard tightly in her other hand. “I was embarrassingly aggressive. Like a tiny demon on the ice , the university newspaper dubbed me.”

 

Emma watches her, her eyes gleaming and still unreadable, and she says, “I can see it.” There’s a shadow of a smile on her face, a phantom that makes Regina warm, and Emma adds, “I played a lot of basketball in various foster homes. Broke a few fingers going up against kids twice my age. But I was pretty good.” She jabs a finger at the backboard. “Tell Roland that I’m up for a game anytime.” 

 

Tell Roland . It’s strange, to think that Emma knows a stupid little fact about her college days and doesn’t know that Regina’s entire life is defined by the existence of her son. Someday, that will have to change. There’s only so long one can live in Storybrooke without meeting Henry.

 

Regina should slip away before Marco says something, but he has busied himself with something behind the counter, looking absorbed in sanding wood as though to give them privacy. Instead, she says, “What are you looking for?” 

 

Emma shrugs. “I don’t know, exactly,” she admits. “Mulan and Ruby helped me set up my apartment, but they thought I needed some kind of chair in the corner. I was looking at recliners online, but I don’t have the budget for them and I figured I should support local businesses, right?” 

 

Regina is struck with a memory from not too long ago– and it feels like centuries, walking with Emma through that bakery and feeling irritated and flustered at the whole thing. Now, she is flustered but not irritated, and she finds herself setting the backboard down and crossing the shop to point out a rocking chair in the back. “Marco has a gift for gliders like this one,” she says, wrapping her hand around the back of the chair. “They’re comfortable and not too hard on the back.” She’d spent years on hers, rocking with baby Henry at night, and she still feels a strangely soothing sensation when she sees it. 

 

Emma sits down in the glider, and Regina can feel Emma’s head resting against her fingers. Her hair is soft, and she doesn’t flinch away from Regina’s fingers. Regina swallows and murmurs, “I could put myself to sleep on one of these.” 

 

Emma looks up at her. She is leaning back against the chair, and her gaze is still unreadable; but Regina meets it all the same. She is incapable of looking away.

 

Emma says, “I’ll take it, then,” and strides to the counter. Regina watches her– memorizes the wave of her hair as she walks, the red of her jacket, the little slouch she does as she moves– and she makes her getaway before she says or does something untoward. 

 

And so it continues into the next day. Regina keeps an eye on Emma from afar, keeps her distance and self-flagellates. Emma opens her burner phone a dozen times, starts typing, and then stops. There is a quiet heartbreak when she thinks about Virginia’s silence, and she mourns what could have been and yearns for what she’d once had.

 

She misses Tuesday dates and verbal sparring and she misses having someone to share every silly little thought with, someone who listens without judgment and is with her whenever she needs. She misses Virginia, and it doesn’t surprise her that it’s an ever-present ache in her heart, knowing that she’s driven Virginia away for good with her confession. 

 

Maybe she is just unlovable, which doesn’t surprise her, either.

 

What does surprise her is the relief she feels each time she sees Regina, as though she’s caught sight of an old friend for the first time in years. Which is ridiculous, because they hadn’t been friends before they’d exploded at each other and they aren’t friends now, either. But there is something about Regina lately– like her sharp edges have softened and smoothed, and she is someone else entirely beneath them.

 

Someone Emma has only glimpsed before, and has always wanted to see more.

 

On Wednesday evening, Emma catches a runaway cat and gets clawed up for her efforts, and she’s limping her way out of one of the massive backyards on Mifflin Street, cat carrier in tow, when she hears a sharp voice and a light is in her eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing on my property?” 

 

Emma squints. “Regina? Is that you?” Of course Regina lives in some palatial mansion on Mifflin. Emma had tripped over a kid’s bike on her way to the cat, so she’s pretty sure she’d accidentally emerged from the wrong end of the yard. “You live here?” 

 

Regina’s flashlight dips down. “What happened to your arm?” she demands. 

 

“Runaway cat. I got it.” Emma holds up the carrier. “I’ll be fine.” But she doesn’t move, incapable as she is of escaping Regina’s orbit when she gets caught in her gravitational pull. 

 

The cat squeals. Regina says, “Come sit on the porch.” She doesn’t invite Emma inside, which is…probably for the best, even if it leaves Emma irrationally forlorn. She knows where going inside would end, and they aren’t doing that anymore. 

 

She sits on the steps and, though she isn’t quite sure why she’d thought of it, she checks her burner phone. Nothing. 

 

Regina is standing behind her when she looks up, a first aid kit in hand and a little basin of water and a washcloth in her other arm. “That’s not your regular phone,” she notes.

 

She sounds curious, and Emma offers, “It’s the phone I used for…back when I used to find bail jumpers, I’d set up a lot of dates to get them where I needed them to be. I didn’t want them to be able to find me after. So I used a burner phone. I should probably get rid of it.” 

 

Regina takes Emma’s arm. The movement of the washcloth against her skin is gentle, as though Regina’s done this many times before. “Why don’t you?” 

 

Emma admits it before she can think it through. Maybe it’s Regina’s touch on her wrist that is muddling her thoughts, making her careless. “I have a friend who only texts me on this number,” she says, staring down at the phone, and then she blurts out, “She hasn’t answered me since Monday. I unloaded some heavy stuff on her and she just…stopped responding.” Regina rubs an antibiotic into a deep scratch, her eyes on Emma as she massages the cream in, and Emma says, fixated on those eyes, “I hope she’s okay.” 

 

“She sounds fine,” Regina says evenly. “Just inconsiderate.” There is an undercurrent of disdain in her voice, and Emma bristles at it.

 

“She’s never inconsiderate,” she says sharply. “If she hasn’t responded, she has a good reason for it.” Regina doesn’t answer, just slides her fingers over another scratch, and Emma shivers and tries to think about Virginia and heartbreak and not Regina’s fingers tracing a line up her arm. “She’s…” She swallows. “She’s thoughtful and funny and probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met– I’ve ever known,” she amends, grimacing to herself. “She isn’t ignoring me. She wouldn’t. Even if I did make her uncomfortable–” 

 

Too late, she remembers who she’s talking to. Her hand has been cleaned, and the scratches are bandaged where they’re deepest. Regina is still resting a hand on Emma’s arm, and her gaze is unreadable. 

 

Emma is left with a number of questions. Does Regina know that Emma is speaking about the woman who had caused the friction between them? Is Regina smug about the realization that Emma has lost them both? If Emma leans slightly forward, will Regina kiss her? “Thank you,” Emma says, the words rushing from her lips. “For this, I mean.” She holds out her arm. “I’d better go return this cat.” She takes the carrier, where the cat peacefully sleeps as though he had never hurt a single living thing in his life. 

 

Regina doesn’t answer, only sits on the porch with the first aid kit on her lap. She looks so small like this, a little figure on an elaborate porch, and Emma wonders how it is that Regina can live in such a large house by herself without being swallowed up by loneliness.

 

Not by herself, she reminds herself. Regina lives with her…father? She had said it so oddly that day, and Emma had chalked it up to some pretentious phrasing. Regina can’t help her pretension. It comes naturally to her, like restlessness comes to Emma.

 

And Emma has spent far too long thinking about Regina tonight when they’re over . She swallows her pride that night and writes a message to Virginia, sitting in the rocking chair that Regina had recommended for the corner of her living room. Sorry about all of that , she writes. We can pretend I never said it.

 

Still, silence. Emma types again. I miss you. Will you please stop ignoring me?

 

I assure you, Regina is doing anything other than ignoring Emma. She stares at the messages on her phone and feels silent dread, but she doesn’t dare respond. It feels deeply dishonest to be Virginia right now, and a level of exploitation that she knows they’d never come back from. Regina can only watch Emma’s messages come in, one after the other, and feel agony at Emma’s confusion.

 

It had crept up like a flood, this love she feels for Emma Swan. There had been little inklings that it had been coming: a desire to make her happy, a craving for her arms, like little waters lapping at her feet. And then, a tsunami of realization, before even uncovering the truth about Amy. Before Regina had known, before Emma had been her closest confidant, Emma had unknowingly taken Regina’s heart in her hands. And when she’d found out about Amy, she’d been in too deep to ever escape.

 

On Thursday morning, Regina bumps into Emma as she guides a lost older woman back to the station. “Your family has been looking for you,” she says to the woman, her words reassuring. “We’re going to get you back home to them.” 

 

The woman spots Regina and beams. “Hello, Mayor Mills! I like the new sheriff. Brains and beauty,” she says, her voice conspiratorial but her words high. She seems lucid now, and Emma offers Regina a helpless sort of smile. The woman says loudly, “She’s not seeing anyone,” and gives Regina an exaggerated wink. “I asked. You’re welcome.” She totters into the station, where her reproving granddaughter is waiting, and leaves Emma alone outside with Regina.

 

Emma says, “Good morning, Mayor Mills.” There’s a smile on her face, even though it doesn’t quite match her eyes. Regina yearns to take a step closer and kiss a real smile onto her face.

 

She does not. “Good morning, Deputy Swan,” she says, and she knows her own smile is wan. This is more than they’ve ever had before, but it will never be enough. 

 

Emma hesitates, then produces, as though out of nowhere, a brown bag. “I had Mulan pick some up,” she says. “She has a long weekend.” She holds them out, and Regina takes the bag. Inside are a half dozen mini quiches from the bakery in Boston, and Regina looks up again, confused. 

 

Emma lifts her shoulders helplessly. “I’m apologizing,” she says. “Just take them.” She turns abruptly and returns to the station, leaving Regina behind. 

 

Regina stands still as the elderly woman and her granddaughter leave the station, the younger woman scolding the older as they maneuver past Regina. She wonders, for a gripped moment, what might happen if she followed Emma in and tried, again, to talk to her. 

 

And then her phone buzzes. Amy, not Emma. At least look at this video , Emma has written, and she’s attached a ridiculous compilation of memes, each one featuring a chinchilla. Regina’s finger hovers over the text bar, as though she might type. But she doesn’t, because something else is becoming frighteningly clear. 

 

Emma is texting Virginia after encounters with Regina. Hadn’t she always? Hadn’t Regina left the B&B on most Tuesdays, only to receive immediate texts from Amy? She’d never thought much of it or looked at the time sent, assuming that the B&B had just had bad service. But, of course, Emma wouldn’t have been texting during

 

Virginia is the one Emma goes to after an interaction with Regina had turned sour. They’d slept together, but it’s Virginia with whom Emma can be intimate, can speak to as someone she cares about. And Regina doesn’t understand. She doesn’t , because she’d adored Amy but never forgotten that they had both been constructs, carefully curated versions of themselves. They see the best of each other via text and never the worst, never the parts that make Regina so unbearable. How can Emma not understand that Virginia isn’t real

 

She strides forward, at a loss, and finds herself pushing the door to the station open. Emma looks up from her spare phone, sending a text before she sets it down, and Regina sees it light up her own phone and tucks hers away hastily. “Did she respond yet?” Regina says, jerking her head toward the phone. 

 

“She will,” Emma says, and she sounds so ridiculously confident. “She wouldn’t– she wouldn’t leave me in the lurch like this. I just wish I knew she was okay.” 

 

Regina wants to demand answers right now, to slam her phone down and say she would leave you in the lurch, she’s every bit as terrible as you don’t realize, she’s someone you despise – Instead, she says, “Why don’t you just call her? Or ask a friend in Boston?” 

 

Emma ducks her face, avoiding Regina’s eyes. “We’re kind of just…texting friends. She lives in the area, but she isn’t from Boston.” 

 

“You’ve never met her.” It comes out with too much certainty, but Emma doesn’t seem to notice. “How do you know anything she says is real?” 

 

Emma gives her a dark look, as though certain she’s being mocked. Regina holds her gaze, and Emma drops hers. “I know her,” she says simply. “It’s different when you can’t see each other.” She shrugs, looking away from Regina. “You wind up digging much deeper, much faster. We might never have spoken in person, but I know that she’s…she’s been through more in her childhood than a lot of people endure in a lifetime. She’s fought through it all because she’s determined as hell and demands nothing less than absolute success from herself.” She smiles to herself, a quick and fond smile that stops Regina in her tracks. “She’s sure that she’s an asshole but I think she’s just bad at people, sometimes. And she’s a mom who would be happy even if every bit of her world collapsed as long as her son were still there. Being a mom is…is who she is.” She exhales, the warmth in her eyes scorching without even having to try. 

 

Reader, I think Regina might have underestimated her own relationship with Amy just a tiny bit. And confronted with the truth of that– with a woman who knows her from only words in the wind– she’s immobile, yearning and resentful at once of a woman who is herself.

 

“But you don’t,” Regina says weakly, and she gathers up her argument from the ground and tries to put it back together. “You don’t know all the things that will annoy you about each other. You don’t know what personality quirks she might have that wind up being toxic. You’re in love with this illusion ,” she points out, because she sees no point in pretending that she doesn’t know that Virginia is the one Emma had admitted to having feelings for. “That’s why we don’t start with all the dark secrets and unvarnished truth and first figure out if we can stand the other person.” 

 

Emma raises her eyebrows at Regina. “Yeah, well, I tried doing that with someone and she spent the next ten minutes telling me I was loveless and friendless, so…” 

 

Her tone is guarded, but not hostile. Regina imagines, for a moment, that there is still something to salvage. “It sounds like she’s really bad at people, too,” she murmurs, an olive branch. 

 

Is Regina entirely sure of what she’s doing, debating Virginia’s merits and daring to echo Emma’s earlier words like this? Well, is Regina ever sure of what she’s doing around Emma? Maybe only when they’re kissing.

 

But a ghost of a smile appears on Emma’s face. It’s a strong possibility that Emma might not mind that, after all. “Yeah,” she agrees. “I don’t know what I see in her.” 

 

“Saw,” Regina amends for her.

 

Emma looks at her, her fingers gripping her phone. “Right,” she says.

 


 

You must think that Regina is playing games with Emma by now, that this entire relationship is unfair. You must think that Regina has no right to keep this secret from Emma for three days and counting, especially when Virginia’s silence is hurting Emma with every day that passes. 

 

But you must understand, as well, just how terrifying it is for Regina to admit the truth. She didn’t choose this, only found herself trapped in it with no way out. Heartbreak, she reasons, will happen either way. Better to let Emma deconstruct her own feelings for Virginia. Better to let Emma see Virginia for who she really is, and to hate her as she rightfully must hate Regina.

 

It is a luxury we have, being able to dip curiously into Emma’s thoughts as well. Because we know that within Emma’s rising bewilderment and guilt at alienating Virginia, it’s another emotion that is confounding her right now. Yearning. And it isn’t directed at Virginia. It opens up a yawning darkness in her heart, an ache that longs to be assuaged, whenever Regina is nearby. 

 

They have had their first chance, and their second and their third. Every time they’ve tried, it has ended badly. But Emma craves something more, to dig beneath that frenetic surface that is conflict and loathing and excavate the tenderness within. Regina is careful around her now, guarded, and she withholds more of herself than ever before. But Emma sees past it, too, as clearly as though Regina has revealed more and more each time.

 

She sees it when Regina stumbles into her as Emma emerges from the station on Thursday afternoon, her eyes startled and then, for an instant, warm. They film over and become unreadable after that, but Regina’s hand is on Emma’s, steadying it, and she doesn’t let go. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I just wanted to see if you had some of the old sheriff’s documents about the fire on Main Street last year.” 

 

“Sure.” Emma turns, and Regina’s hand falls from her arm. She can feel Regina watching her. Regina has always watched her, but it had once been unconcealed hunger in her eyes. Now, there is a soft sadness, one that Emma longs to somehow make better. She digs out the paperwork from a file cabinet and hands it to Regina.

 

Their fingers brush, and a jolt of electricity sparks through Emma’s body. 

 

On Thursday night, Emma kisses Regina.

 

She doesn’t mean to, exactly. She’d found an excuse to patrol down Mifflin, to pass the big white house that is Regina’s late at night, and she’d stopped when she’d seen Regina standing on her porch. Regina is in a sweater over satin pajamas, shivering in the cold, and Emma calls out to her, wandering up the walkway, “You aren’t locked out, are you?” 

 

Regina shakes her head. “Door’s unlocked. And I have someone inside,” she says, and Emma asks, “Who?” 

 

She’d thought of Regina’s father, but no– she’d been moved in for five days before she’d bumped into Marian and heard a mention of Regina’s father’s funeral a few years before. Ruby does not know Regina well, much like almost everyone in town, Emma is discovering. Regina doesn’t live with her father.

 

Then she has someone else inside, and she has moved on as handily as she’d accused Emma of– “Who?” Emma repeats, her heart clenching into a tight pain in her chest.

 

Regina shakes her head. “It isn’t what you think it is,” she murmurs, and she looks so tired that Emma believes her. “I wish I could explain, but I– I can’t. Not yet.” She leans back against one of the pillars that holds up her porch, and Emma takes another step forward. “I need some time.” 

 

Emma does her best to shrug. “It’s not like we were ever together,” she says, her voice too loud to her ears, too high. “It’s not my business if you’re dating someone. Or sleeping with someone. Whatever.” 

 

Regina shakes her head. “There’s no one,” she whispers. “No one else. Just you.” 

 

Emma is kissing her before she can think it through, climbing the steps to the porch and cupping Regina’s cheeks in her hands and kissing her thoroughly. It’s only that Regina had looked so desperately like she had needed to be kissed. It’s only the way that Regina had said just you and looked at her with unguarded eyes.

 

And it takes a moment for Emma to realize that Regina is no longer kissing her back. She takes a step back and nearly falls off the porch. Regina holds her arm, steadies her. “You won’t want to do that,” Regina says, and her eyes are somber.

 

Won’t , she says, not don’t . Emma doesn’t know what holds Regina back, but she doesn’t leave her porch embarrassed as much as she is mystified and determined.

 

Determined, because Emma is done with this endless dance that they’ve been doing. The more she gets to know Regina, the more she thinks that all their loathing and sniping had just been a smokescreen. She likes Regina, much more than she would have expected. In a strange way, she kind of reminds Emma of Virginia. Her life would be so much simpler if there had just been one of them all along: a woman she’d spent time with and a woman she’d confided in. But there hadn’t been, and Emma is left with strange regrets. 

 

Regrets like what if Regina and I had spoken like Virginia and I had? Regrets like why did I invest so much of myself in a crush when I could have had Regina all along? Yes, Regina hadn’t exactly helped encourage Emma, but Emma wishes she’d been more aggressive, or patient, or just pushed a little more to know the woman in her bed. She wishes she’d just said yes, it is , when Regina had said this isn’t a date .

 

She wishes…

 

She wishes she had Regina , whoever Regina is, and she only wants to hold her in her arms again.

 

Regina is having some very similar regrets as she heads in for the night, and she stares at her phone. It is silent this time. Emma hasn’t texted Virginia since this morning. Regina doesn’t know what to read into that.

 

She falls into an exhausting sleep that does little to refresh her, and in the morning, she barely rolls out of bed in time for Henry. “I’m sorry,” she says, yawning. “Why don’t we go to Granny’s for breakfast?”

 

“I’m never gonna say no to that, Mom,” Henry says, grinning at her.

 

She pretends to be offended. “You don’t like my pancakes?” 

 

“I love your pancakes,” Henry says, and he slips his hand into hers, as trusting and loving as he’d been when he’d been a small child. “I also love the little sugar shaker that Ruby puts on our table. It’s fifty/fifty for me.” He beams at her, and she grins back, eternally grateful that her son has forgiven her. 

 

“Extra sugar on school days is officially your teacher’s problem, not mine,” Regina decides as they sit down at the table. “And while I’d normally consider the teacher’s feelings on this–” 

 

“You hate Ms. Blanchard and want her to suffer?” Henry guesses. “You know it wasn’t her family tree project, right? They do it every year.” 

 

“Not the family tree,” Regina objects. “It’s those birdhouses. They’re terrifying. Why does she have birdhouses all over your classroom?” 

 

Ruby sets down their pancakes. “She thinks they’re charming,” she offers. “I told her that the mayor was going to have her house searched for dead bodies if she decorated the room like that this year. She was sure you’d be impressed at her decorating skills.”

 

Henry laughs. Regina winces. “I just think–” Her phone buzzes, and she glances over at it offhand. It’s Emma, texting as Amy, and Regina freezes. I just wanted to let you know that my contract is up with this phone. It’s a spare, and I really only kept it to talk to you. I wish you’d felt comfortable enough to reply to me all week. I guess I get it. Anyway, I wanted to give you my regular number, if you ever want to reach me. I won’t put it in my phone. I don’t want to bother you when you clearly don’t want to be reached.

 

This is it. Emma can say goodbye to Virginia and Regina can shake off the whole thing for good, can even see if there’s something worth salvaging between them. There are no more secrets to keep. All Regina has to do is ignore one last message.

 

“Henry?” she says, and she picks up her phone. “I’m just going to run to the restroom for a minute.” She does, and then she stands in the hallway outside the bathroom and types a message to Emma at last. It takes all her strength just to muster up the courage to press the send button, but she does. I have to tell you something , she rereads on the screen, her first message to Emma in days, and she leans her head against the wall and breathes, looking up as she does.

 

Emma is standing at the door to Granny’s, her eyes fixed on Regina’s table. “Hen– Henry?” she says, her voice uncertain, and Regina remembers that no, there is still one last secret, and it has just slipped out of her grasp. 

 

Henry looks up. His eyes brighten in pleased surprise and the warmth that he always gets when he talks about… “Amy! What are you doing here?” 

 

“I moved in a couple of weeks ago. I’m the new deputy sheriff.” Emma looks bemused. “You live here?” 

 

“Duh,” Henry says, and his eyes flicker to Regina in the hallway. Regina shakes her head, her heart sinking, and Henry turns away quickly and beams up at Emma. “I can’t believe you’re here.” 

 

I don’t have to tell you that Emma isn’t an idiot. Well, not about this sort of thing, at least. Her brain is churning furiously, and she settles on the same possibility, over and over again. It can’t be, she decides. That would be too neat. Too easy. It can’t be.

 

“Good to see you,” she manages, mussing his hair, and she heads to the counter, her thoughts miles away. 

 

Ruby looks at her at the counter. “You know whose kid that is, right?” Okay, Mulan had maybe told one person, but only a few little bits of the story. Ruby still isn’t clear on most of it, though she’ll know soon enough.

 

“Yeah,” Emma lies. 

 

Ruby looks hard at her. “Just checking,” she says, and she pours Emma some coffee and turns around. 

 

Emma takes it automatically, turning again to stare at Henry. He’s watching her, grinning, and she manages a wan smile back. It can’t be , she reminds herself, because there are coincidences and then there’s fate, and Emma just doesn’t believe in fate. 

 

She takes a breath and starts forward to Henry, to just bite the bullet and ask, when Ruby yelps, “Henry! Your bus!” as a school bus drives past the storefront and stops at the corner. Henry peels out of his seat, grabbing his knapsack, and charges from the diner to the corner. Emma sags back against the counter.

 

When she looks up again, Regina is at the door, quietly exiting the diner. Her eyes are guarded, and she gives Emma a short nod of acknowledgement. Her phone is clutched in her hand. Emma thinks of taking a step forward, of demanding answers that Regina might not even have–

 

She glances down for the first time since she’d walked into the diner and spotted Henry, and she sees a new message on her phone. Okay. If Virginia is responding again, then maybe that’s…maybe this really is some wild coincidence. Why would she answer now, if she were–

 

I have to tell you something , Virginia’s message says, and Emma swallows and writes, her heart pounding, Go ahead.

 

She waits. Virginia is typing. Whatever she’s saying is taking a long time, longer than Emma would have imagined, and her heart sinks when she thinks about it. “More coffee,” she says to Ruby, who is watching her with sharp eyes. “Please.”

 

And I can tell you that Emma is terrified of what might come in that message. She’s afraid of who might be behind the keyboard, and even more afraid of who might not be. She’s even afraid of what might happen if Virginia reciprocates her feelings if she isn’t who Emma thinks she might be. A thousand doubts whirl through her mind as she waits, her throat clogged and her heart pounding.

 

And then, at last, the message appears on her screen. Emma pays and ducks out of the diner, leaning against the window outside while she reads. I let someone go recently, and it was the worst mistake I’ve ever made. 

 

Shall we go cinematic? Split the screen, and take a look at each of our heroes as Virginia’s message unfolds before us? 

 

I’m sorry that I haven’t written in days. I saw your messages and they made some things very clear to me. I didn’t know what I could say that wouldn’t be unfair to you.

 

Regina stands in place, her hand clamped around the phone. She had thought that she’d had at least another few minutes to write that message, at least enough time to be the one to explain. But that time is gone, the benefit of the doubt has faded, and this message is her last chance to try to make things right. To try, one last time, to tell Emma…

 

I’m not an easy person to care about. To like, even. And I’ve been saying that for so long that I think it’s become an excuse for me. That it would be fine if I could never find anyone who might want to be around me because this was just who I was. Harsh and demanding and uncompromising.

 

Emma is walking. She doesn’t know when she’d started moving, but her feet are carrying her down the block faster and faster, her eyes glued so firmly to her phone that she almost bangs into a telephone pole. Virginia’s message continues.

 

I thought that I could tell you anything because you weren’t real. Just a name and a number and nothing else. It didn’t matter that I could be a better person like that because you would have hated me in reality, because you would have met me and understood who I was.

 

Regina is nauseous with tension, rereading every word of the message she’d written over and over.

 

And then I met someone I absolutely loathed in the real world. I don’t know when I fell in love. I only know that, at some point, I realized that I didn’t want to be the person she hated anymore. I was terrified, but I wanted her to know me like you did. To be able to tell her everything. To show her who I was. 

 

Emma stops short at the end of the block, taking a shaky breath, and she remembers. She remembers exactly how detailed her description of her last fight with Regina had been, how Virginia had gone silent and Regina had gone stiff and uncertain after it, and she remembers Regina’s murmur of you won’t want to do that after Emma had kissed her last night. She remembers the day after Henry had come to Boston, when Regina had canceled their plans. She remembers the child’s voice on the other end when she’d come to Storybrooke on a Saturday, and she remembers that big, big house on Mifflin that had seemed to dwarf even Regina.

 

I wanted to tell her about my family. I wanted to tell her about my sordid past and my day-to-day life and to be the one to send her the occasional meme and take her by surprise. I wanted to be a person she could care about. I wanted her to know my son. We’d started off on the wrong foot and gotten caught up in it, and I just wanted to undo it all. No, not undo. I wouldn’t give up an instant that I’ve already had with her.

 

Regina leans back, and she understands for the first time what it means to be as vulnerable as Emma had been that night in the parking lot. She is small, exposed, and she can feel the rising sadness and surrender that comes with every moment she stands there alone. She shuts her eyes, takes a breath, and refuses to think about what might come after this. She doesn’t want to imagine it.

 

I want to try again, though I know that she might be done with me. And I dearly hope that you might want the same. If you want to ignore this message and go back to how things were, I will understand. I’ll accept it and never broach the topic again. 

 

Emma swallows, her finger moving to scroll to the next line, and she peers tentatively at it.

 

But if you would like for us to meet– again, anew, like we’ve never met before– I’ll be waiting at the apple tree outside Town Hall. You’ll know me when you see me. 

 

Emma breaks into a run, weaving past women with strollers and delinquent teens. The air whips at her face, her boots hit the ground hard with every stride, and she ignores it all, every sensation as she hurtles toward Town Hall. 

 

And there– there , in the grass to the right of the building, Regina stands beneath the apple tree. Her eyes are downcast as she squeezes her phone, and Emma calls, “Regina?”

 

Regina’s gaze lifts and a smile blooms onto her face, unrestrained and disbelieving. Emma exhales, suffused with relief, and she doesn’t stop moving until she’s careening into Regina’s arms, kissing her soundly as Regina’s arms wrap tightly around her. Emma, Emma , Regina is whispering against her lips. Emma

 

Emma pulls away for a moment, and she’s laughing, she’s laughing and she’s crying a little bit and she’s piecing it all together all at once. “I wanted it to be you,” Emma says breathlessly, and she presses a hand to Regina’s cheek, gazes at her with wonder. “I wanted it to be you so badly.” 

 

“I can’t imagine why ,” Regina says, and there’s dry wit under her wet voice, under that endless store of self-loathing that she holds within her. Emma holds her tighter, buries her head in Regina’s shoulder, and thinks again about how impossible and perfect this all is. 

 

“Every moment with Virginia,” Emma whispers, because it is so important for Regina to understand this. “Every time I was with you. You were both under my skin. And it was killing me that I was texting the perfect woman and then with you , because you were so… imperfect –” Regina laughs wetly. “And all I wanted was you. I mean, I wanted to know you as well as I knew her–” 

 

Regina kisses her again, and it’s a mess of tears and laughter and lips that Emma’s known for so long and never really knew at all– again, anew, like we’ve never met before – and Emma cries a little, too, because she still doesn’t believe in fate but how can she doubt this, being held under this apple tree with someone she loves, loves, loves–

 

Oh, I’m sorry. Is this a bad time?

 

I just thought we might want to fade to black as we await the happily ever after.

 


 

“I can’t believe this,” Marian says, leaning back on her palms in the grass. “All this time?” 

 

“It is a pretty crazy story,” Emma calls down from where she’s hanging onto a tree for dear life. Henry and Roland have both scrambled ahead of her, and Roland is throwing little clods of mud down that he’s scraped from a branch. “Trust me, I’m having just as much trouble believing I went through it.” 

 

Marian shakes her head. “No, forget that,” she says, shaking her head. “I’ve been getting threatening calls and texts for years . They never seemed quite sure who I was, so I ignored them and assumed it was just Zelena pranking me, but it was you ? Have we always had such similar numbers?” 

 

Mulan puts up a hand. “I would like to point out that I have mentioned this. At least a few times.” 

 

They’re at the Storybrooke Park, a big green space with biking paths and lots of trees, and it’s a Tuesday afternoon. It isn’t the Tuesday immediately after that Friday, but a few weeks after, because that’s exactly how long it’s taken before Regina has been willing to admit the bulk of the story to her best friend. 

 

“None of it paints me in a positive light,” she’d pointed out when Emma had gently suggested that Marian might deserve the truth. “I don’t want her to see me like that.” 

 

Emma had slipped an arm around Regina’s back and pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “I don’t think it’s nearly as damning as you think it is.”

 

They continue to disagree on some basic things: when paperwork should be completed, if Cheetos are considered food, Regina’s inherent belief that she is irredeemable and Emma’s that she is unlovable. But they’re working on it. 

 

Do they fight? Well, yes. Some habits are hard to break. But it’s different now, when they understand each other better than they’d ever imagined that they might. When there are quiet moments that make it so clear just how much they each care

 

Moments like Regina hovering beneath the tree at the park, her eyes widening each time Emma slips on a branch. “Get down ,” she orders. “You’re going to break your necks.” 

 

Henry says, “I’m fine! Look how secure this is!” He demonstrates by waving both hands in the air, perfectly ensconced in the branches. 

 

Emma just ignores Regina altogether. “Who’s Zelena?” she asks curiously. 

 

“Marian’s bad taste in partners acting up again,” Regina says, wrinkling her nose.

 

Marian snorts. “My ex,” she offers. “Who, for all her foibles, is also the reason why I met Regina, so Regina should watch what she says about her favorite sister.” 

 

Only sister,” Regina corrects.

 

Emma says, “ What? ” and loses her grasp on her branch. She tumbles from the tree, grabbing onto branches to slow her fall, and lands in a heap in front of Regina. 

 

“What did I tell you?” Regina drops to the ground beside her, examining her hands for splinters and cuts. She looks up once and orders, “ Down ,” to Henry and Roland, who clamber down sheepishly. 

 

Emma says, “You have a sister? You never mentioned–” 

 

“Ugh,” Regina says, scowling. “She was never very relevant to any conversation.” 

 

“They fight like cats and dogs,” Marian offers. “But, like, if the dog in question were a chihuahua.”

 

“Zelena is very shrill,” Ruby agrees.

 

Mulan holds up a hand at Emma’s glare. “I didn’t know about her, either,” she offers.

 

Later, once Roland and Henry have wandered off to a group of boys playing soccer on the other side of the park, Emma tugs Regina up and they circle the pond together. It’s a quiet, sunny day, a little breeze cooling the air, and their hands tangle together as they enjoy the weather. “A sister,” Emma repeats. “I had no idea.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Regina murmurs. “She comes back to town every now and then, spoils Henry rotten and gets me drunk, and then she vanishes again in a whirlwind.” She rolls her eyes. “Like a chaotic hurricane. We barely speak the rest of the time. I just hadn’t thought to mention her.” 

 

“It’s fine!” Emma says, and she means it. “It’s just…” She squeezes Regina’s hand. “I was thinking about how it’s good that we still can surprise each other sometimes. It’s kind of nice to hear it instead of reading it.” She bumps her shoulder against Regina’s and then ventures, “Have you…Does she know that you’re dating someone?” 

 

“Mm. Kind of,” Regina says, and she smiles suddenly. “She was with Marian that night when I got drunk and agreed to go out with Marian’s bounty hunter friend. And then texted the wrong number accidentally.” 

 

“Wow. Seems like a bunch of dumb moves on your part,” Emma says, grinning. “How embarrassing.” There had been a time when Regina might have taken Emma’s smugness as mockery, as a hostile observer taking pleasure in her faults, and would lash out accordingly. Not now. Not anymore, when every word is awash in fondness.

 

Now, Regina raises her eyebrows playfully. “A series of disasters,” she says. “Appalling, really. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Emma drawls. “You must be overflowing with regrets.”

 

And they’re joking, light and easy, but there are some things that Regina will not joke about. “Never,” she says wholeheartedly, and Emma sighs and pulls her close by the lapels of her jacket, kissing her happily by the pond.

 

In that moment, they have only each other and the quiet certainty that this will last. But they can’t know, of course. There is no certainty in the present except for a love that they are sure can withstand anything. They don’t know, but they believe in it.

 

But I know. I know that this is, in fact, it for them. I know that they’re going to stumble a few times, especially early on, and the fights are going to get bad. There will be times when Emma goes to her apartment and doesn’t return for days, and they have tense conversations as Henry flits between them, unwilling to give Emma up for a fight. There will be times when there are hushed apologies and quiet overtures and– yes! even, at last, the occasional scheduled meeting with Dr. Hopper for each of them.

 

I know that when the dust clears, there is only eternity ahead of them. I know that they learn how to talk through conflict and kiss it better. I know that they learn to build each other up until they’re both strong, they’re both happy, and they no longer live in fear of losing each other. I know that their nights have grown no less passionate over time, and they play at hating each other only when they’re in the bedroom, when they both pretend. 

 

I know that Emma stays in Storybrooke for longer than she’s ever stayed anywhere before, and on the day that she crosses that threshold, Regina bakes a little cupcake for her with a ring in the center. I know that Emma bites the stone on the ring too hard and breaks the setting and they don’t get to the yes, yes, you ridiculous human until after a frankly terrifying (or so the jeweler insists) visit to a local jeweler. 

 

I know that Regina wears a suit to her wedding and Emma wears a dress, that they dance together and forget the rest of the world for a long time. I know that Henry is adopted for a second time, this time when he’s already fifteen and has two parents at last, and he pastes Emma’s picture into the family tree that still hangs in Regina’s study. I know that he starts calling her Mom years before, but it’s the first time he says my moms after that paperwork is signed that makes them all dissolve into happy tears. 

 

I know that Regina and Emma foster more children in the years that follow, give them a home and all the love that they can offer. I know that Emma fiercely advocates for the more troubled children of Storybrooke, that she never stops fighting the systems that had once been the only ones she could see. I know that Regina and Emma adopt two more children, a teenaged boy and a baby girl, and that their house is rarely quiet and just the right size for the crowds of children who come and go.

 

I know that Henry graduates and drops out of college to travel the country and write a book, and I know that Emma has to hold Regina back when they discover this. I know that Henry gets married to a wonderful woman and gives them a perfect granddaughter to hold in their arms, and Regina stops protesting. I know that this is the age of sudden backaches and silvering hair and the realization, when looking in the mirror, that they are not as young as they once were.

 

I know that they grow old together, and I know that they wake up each morning beside each other for the rest of their lives. I know that they love without reservation, and that they look back at their first meetings with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia instead of shame. 

 

I know that once a year, Regina goes to the bar that has replaced the bar that had replaced Aesop’s Tables, and she sits at the bar and waits until a woman who remains beautiful to her to this day arrives behind her. I know that they squabble good-naturedly and then slip out to the alleyway beside the bar for a single, chaste kiss before they go home. 

 

I know all this, even if Regina and Emma can’t see it yet. But as they kiss outside the pond in Storybrooke Park on that sunny afternoon, I know that they feel it as surely as I do.