DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As far as I'm concerned, Sheriff Graham was a plot device and not worth getting worked up about, and I have treated him as such. Regina's original name taken from Grimm's. Thanks, as always, to IJ the SuperBeta!
SPOILERS: Season One up to and including Skin Deep. Some scenes have been quoted directly. There is some license taken with canon.
WARNING: Some angst, references to rape and abuse.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To asmith2215[at]myway.com
The Clock Tower
King Leopold rushed to his wife's chambers. His nose wrinkled at the foul stench, his beady eyes taking in the blood-stained rags on the floor.
"Well" he demanded. "Where is my son?"
The Court Physician paled, "Your Majesty, as you know there is no truly accurate way to pre-determine the sex of a child..."
Leopold glared at his wife. She was lying in a pool of her own sweat, her hair matted to her head in long strings, her skin blotchy and red as her eyes which filled with fresh tears though she refused to let him see them fall. "I'm sorry, my love. I tried" she whimpered.
Leopold rushed to the cradle. Even without undoing the tight swaddle, he could see the child was not a boy, not his heir. A girl! Useless.
Whirling back toward the bed, he shouted, "Pathetic! You had one duty to me. One! And that was to produce an heir." He pointed a finger at the cradle, "What good is that?"
Covering her face in her hands, the Queen quaked. "We can always have another child, Leopold. Surely that one will be a son."
At the timid cough of the Court's Chief Steward, a short graying man already starting to lose his hair, Leopold demanded, "You told me this child was a boy! You guaranteed it. A fine healthy son, you said. How do you explain this?"
"Your Majesty, all the signs pointed to a boy" the man sputtered. "The Queen carried the child high and to the front. Her morning sickness only lasted a few weeks into the pregnancy. When we dangled a stick over her belly, it spun in a clockwise motion indicating a boy-"
"You speak to me of sticks!" raged the King. "How long until we can start another? A boy this time" he said glowering at the small fading woman in the large bed.
"Ah, yes, well, you see Your Majesty"stammered the Physician, "it would seem that the Queen has sustained major damage to her, eh, internal, uh, self. The birth of your daughter was very difficult. It's a miracle either of them survived at all."
The King grew very silent. He stared at the Physician for a long moment, then looked toward his wife. In a chill voice, he asked, "What are you saying, My Lord Doctor?"
"The damage was too severe, Your Majesty," the man straightened up as best he could under the circumstances. "Her Majesty will never be able to have another child. But" he added quickly, "this child is a strong healthy girl, destined to live a long and happy life."
"Get out," The chill in the room was palpable.
"I said Get Out!" roared the King, never taking his eyes off the Queen.
In seconds, the Physician and serving ladies all scurried out of the room. Stalking over the cradle once again, Leopold lifted the sleeping bundle examining it. At the motion, the child's eyes opened. Leopold saw that the girl was a mirror image, albeit smaller, of her mother.
"Worthless" he spat out at her, placing her none too gently back into the cradle. Taking offense at such rough treatment, the baby opened her mouth to let out a mighty wail. Leopold glanced back at the child, momentarily impressed by her righteous indignation.
Moving to the bedside, he ignored the wailing and whispered to his wife where she lay clutching the blankets to her chin, "You have disappointed me for the last time." Within minutes he staggered out of the chamber, ashen-faced. The Court Physician and his Chief Steward rushed toward him.
"Your Majesty, are you alright?" they asked anxiously.
"The Queen...see to the Queen. Something's wrong. The Queen has stopped breathing. I think...I think she's dead."
Eighteen years later...
"No, no, no, no!" the King roared. "Do it again, and try to get it right this time."
Snow White quailed inside but refused to let it show. She raised the bow to her cheek, took careful aim and let fly the arrow. With a resounding 'thwack' it hit the stuffed deer, impaling it right through the eye.
The King nodded his approval. "Bull's eye. Or in this case doe's eye."
Lowering her eyes, Snow replied, "Yes Father."
"Again" the King demanded.
"But Father" Snow protested, "I already hit it in the eye. Surely that would kill even the strongest deer."
"Snow, you must be prepared to do more than hit the deer. You must be assured of its death. Even mortally wounded, a stag has the power to trample a scrawny little thing like yourself. Is that what you want? To be killed by an animal driven wild with pain and rage?"
"No Father," and ignoring the cramping pain in her back and shoulder, she drew back the bow again. This time she aimed for the heart of the deer. Before even hearing the sound of the arrow striking the dummy, she turned to the side, drew a second then a third time, hitting a stuffed elk standing on the far edge of the clearing set aside for target practice. Both arrows protruded from the red painted-on heart of the life sized beast.
Her father walked to the elk, pulling the arrows free. "Not bad" he admitted, "but you never knocked a fourth arrow. Next time, do so."
Watching him stalk off the field into the castle, Snow waited until he was out of sight before dropping the bow and pulling off the quiver of arrows tied to her hip. She rolled her shoulders and grunted with the effort.
"Here, let me help, dear" a quiet voice at her side said. Soft yet strong hands gently kneaded the taut muscles in Snow's shoulders.
Snow groaned, "Oh thank goodness for you and your magic fingers. I swear, I wouldn't be able to life a spoon tonight if you didn't know just how to fix my knots."
"No magic, Snow. I just know how hard you work to impress your father, and at what cost. Though I can't see why. He's never said a kind word to you."
Snow turned to look at the other woman. Deep brown eyes sparkled back at her with intelligence and, at the moment, concern for her friend.
"I know. But I can live in hope, can't I?" She threaded her arm through her companion's. "Now tell me, how goes the betrothal plans? Heard anything new from that delicious prince of yours?"
"Pshaw, that moron? He can barely spell his own name let alone write a decent love letter. You'd think someone as rich as he is would at least hire someone to do it for him."
Snow laughed, "Well tonight we shall make sure he knows how to at least dance adequately, or I shall have to command him to take lessons."
"While you're commanding him, perhaps you can command him to do something, anything interesting! I swear, if I have to listen to one more of his boring speeches on the joys of goblin rune translation, I'll poison his cider."
Snow swatted the arm she held playfully, "Oh no you don't. Why waste good cider?" The two woman laughed their way back to the princess's rooms arms around each other, not noticing the King standing on his balcony watching them, his face thoughtful.
Later that night, the King listened carefully to his daughter and her friend, all the while pretending to pay attention to the ridiculous prattling of the neighboring king's wild exaggerations of a dragon terrorizing his realm.
"It's official. Not only can he not hold a decent conversation, he can't dance" the dark haired beauty drank thirstily from her pewter cup as she dropped back into her chair at the high table. "My toes will never be the same."
Snow giggled, "Oh come now, he can't be that bad."
One perfectly sculpted eyebrow raised itself. "Feel free to take a spin with Oswald yourself. Perhaps he'll fall madly in love with you and spare me the indignity of having to actually marry him."
Snow placed her hand over her friend's to stop her taking another drink from her cup. "My darling friend, if I could keep this marriage from happening, I would in an instant. You know I would."
The two women stared at each other, eyes shining bright. The King saw something there he had never noticed before. Abruptly, he stood. Instantly the large hall fell silent. Leopold waited a long moment before smiling brightly his most engaging smile.
"As you know, it has been many years since my beloved wife was taken so suddenly from me. In all that time, I thought it impossible that I should ever look at another woman, let alone fall in love" he smiled again, this time down at his daughter and the woman at her side. Snow looked back at him, smiling a smile that never quite reached her eyes, but that to everyone else appeared to be one of a devoted loving daughter.
"Yet, it turns out that I was mistaken" he continued, hearing gasps of astonishment from his audience. The woman at Snow's side looked wary, keeping her eyes on the King suspiciously. "You see, I always thought love would come to me from a far away land. Instead" he looked down at the women, "I have found it here in my own land, in my own palace, in my own Steward's daughter. Rise, my lady, so that everyone may see you" he offered his hand to the woman seated next to Snow.
The silence stretched out as all heads turned to stare at the young woman. Slowly, she rose and with a shaking hand, clasped the one held out to her. "Snow?" she whispered to the woman at her side. This seemed to spark something in Snow who stood suddenly, grabbing her friend's hand out from her father's and clung to it tightly.
"Father! You cannot be serious" Snow whispered urgently.
Her father smiled his most ingratiating smile, "Now Snow, I know this comes as a surprise to you." He nodded his head almost as if in an aside to the captivated crowd, "It certainly did to me. But it is time I married again, and who better to be the stepmother to my beloved daughter than a woman who has been her boon companion all these years and already loves her so?"
The audience softened at these words, seeing the great wisdom their king was showing, as well as the great compassion he had for his daughter whom he had doted on all these years. They watched as he once again held out his hand to the young woman. This time, she took the hand and followed as the King led her to the dance floor. At a nod from him, the orchestra struck up a waltz. Though he had not danced in many years, the King was as light on his feet as ever. Many a matron sighed over their memories of dancing with him in years gone by while many a maid looked at their King with a new appreciation. At the end of the dance, he bowed to his partner and gallantly kissed her hand before leading her back to the table.
Suddenly, an overweight, slack-jawed man in a bright purple doublet so encrusted with jewels it could have stood up by itself, approached the high table. "That's my betrothed, and I'll thank you for taking your hands off her" he proclaimed in a strangely squeaky voice for one so stout.
The King waved him away with a bored gesture, "Not anymore Oswald. Go away and don't come back. Unless" the King's voice grew low and menacing "you want to read those goblin tales you're so fascinated with. From the source."
Turning pale, Oswald's eyes bounced from his former betrothed to the king and back before quickly blurting, "No thank you Sire. You're welcome to her. That is...a long and happy marriage to you both."
For the rest of the evening, the King kept his new betrothed at his side as well wishers crowded the table to give them their best wishes on the surprise engagement. Years of court training served both she and the princess in good stead as they managed to be gracious and appeared for all the world to be thrilled with the King's announcement. After an hour of mindlessly smiling, Snow glanced at her friend. Seeing a rising panic beneath the dark eyes, Snow rose to her feet, tugging the other woman with her.
"All this excitement has been so wonderful, but I am sure you'll all excuse us if we retire for the night." Without waiting to see her Father's reaction she walked on unsteady feet, not sure if at any moment they would be called back and taken to task by her father. Once outside the great hall, the two women continued walking back to Snow's rooms, neither speaking. At the inquiry from her ladies maid, Snow told her to bring a flagon of water, another of wine and to take the rest of the night off.
"We have so much to talk about" she whispered excitedly to the maid. "Please see that we're not disturbed." The old maid smiled conspiratorially to her young charge, nodding to her.
"Don't you worry, My Lady. Not even the King himself will get in here tonight" she smiled her gummy toothless smile.
The door closed with a soft click. Snow immediately pulled a heavy chair to wedge under the doorknob. "That should keep the gossips out" she said with finality. Turning to face the room, she saw her friend sitting on the padded window seat, staring out at the rising moon.
Snow set to work, moving to a large wooden chest of drawers near the bed, pulling out clothes. "Alright, once we have some things packed, all we have to do is wait for everyone to go to bed. I can saddle the horses while you take some food from the pantry. If you give the scullery maid a penny, she'll turn a blind eye and never say a word. Once we're away, we can head for, oh I don't know. Do you think Agraba is far enough? No matter, we'll know when we get there. Or" she asked turning back to the silent figure at the window "do you have a preference? Is there somewhere fabulous you always wanted to go? Now's your chance to say so."
Snow deliberately kept her voice light, walked toward the other woman, anxiously waiting for her to speak. When she didn't, Snow prattled on "Because I know you. You'd like nothing better than to claim I never let you decide where we would go and do nothing but complain about it later. Speak now or forever hold your...peace" she broke off as she saw the expression on her friend's face turned up toward her.
"Snow, we can't leave" sadness so deep it washed over Snow like a wave filled the voice. "He won't ever let us leave. Not you because you're his daughter and not me because I'm to be...his wife." The last words were said with horror at the very idea.
Snow grabbed both shoulders in front of her, giving them a hard shake. "No" she insisted. "He can't. I won't let him. We'll run. And if he catches us, we'll fight." Seeing the dark eyes raised toward hers in the moonlight, Snow soften her grip. Tracing one finger down the soft cheek before her, she persisted, "We can do this. We can get away. We can be happy together, finally. For once."
Tears filled the brown eyes, pleading with Snow, "You know we can never win against him. Even if we could get away, it would take him, what, a day to overtake us? Maybe two?"
"No" Snow repeated. "Please."
"And what about my father?" strength was returning to the other woman's voice. "How can you ask me to leave him, after all he's tried to do for me? You know the King would never let him have a moment's peace until we were brought back, kicking and screaming, in chains if necessary. I can't do that to him. Especially after Mother abandoned us the way she did."
Snow thought about this. Lord Henry, the King's Steward had lived in her house for as long as she could remember. A kindly man with long funny whiskers that tickled her when he whispered in her ear. He had been her solace many times when the King's cruel and cold manner left her crying and ashamed. No, she could not leave him to the King's revenge. Before she could say the first thought that came to her mind, the woman before her spoke.
"And no dear, we can't take him with us. He's too old and feeble. He couldn't sit astride a horse if his life depended on it. Or mine" she turned back toward the window. "We have to stay. There's no use fighting it."
Snow wrapped her arms around the figure in front of her. "If we have to stay, then at least we can be together."
The other woman leaned into Snow. "For now" she whispered. Snow startled at this, and with a force that surprised her, brought her fingers under the other woman's chin. "For always," she insisted, kissing her with an intensity that soon had them both breathless.
"Enjoy my shirt. It's the only thing of mine you'll ever have."
They were in the hospital, having just brought back the coma patient formerly known as John Doe, now known to be David Nolan. While Emma, Mary Margaret, Henry and the Sheriff had been tracking him in the woods to the old toll bridge, Regina had supposedly kept busy reviewing old security footage listening to him talk in his sleep. Emma thought that answer seemed a little too convenient, considering how long David had been comatose but agreed that finding out his true identity was a good thing. Too bad that identity included a wife. She had seen how David looked at Kathryn, and it was not nearly with the same amount of longing as he looked at Mary Margaret.
After they returned to Mary Margaret's home, Emma immediately went about making tea for the both of them. Indicating the bottle of McCutcheon scotch on the counter, Mary Margaret numbly nodded. Pouring a healthy dose in each tea mug, Emma joined her at the table. The two women drank in silence until finally Emma could take it no more.
"At least he's safe."
"True" Mary Margaret admitted. "Safe and, if not sound, at least he's back in Dr. Whale's care."
"And at least now there's a name to go with the face."
A light sigh, "That face..."
"Will you go see him tomorrow" Emma asked, smiling to herself.
"Yes. No. I don't know, Emma" Mary Margaret drank heavily from her cup, then reached for the bottle to refill it, topping it with the slimmest float of tea. "Why should I? His wife will probably be there. It's her responsibility now."
Emma pondered this, not sure how much to say. "Mary Margaret," she began, "in my line of work I see a lot of people reacting to a lot of situations. Usually situations of the negative kind. I've seen more marital disputes than reunions. And from what I've seen tonight, the reunion between Kathryn and David is more likely to turn into a marital dispute, sooner or later."
"That's not what I want," Mary Margaret insisted, her blue eyes wide.
"No, of course it's not but all I can tell you is what I saw. The way he looks at Kathryn is the same way he looked at me or the Mayor, like he was seeing a stranger. The way he looked at you it was like he was seeing someone he might not remember knowing but did remember as someone he cared for, a lot. Someone who meant home." Emma took a pull from her cup, then set it down, slightly uncomfortable to being having such an intimate conversation with a woman, whom truth be told, she herself had only known for a few weeks.
Mary Margaret too drank from her cup but seemed surprised to find it empty again. She turned to Emma, slurring her words slightly, "So what's the deal with you and the Mayor? Is that really her shirt? Why are you wearing her shirt?"
Emma blinked at the sudden change of subject. "My shirt got wrecked so Henry nabbed one of his mom's. I guess it was her way of telling me she recognized it, and, of course, she had to make a big deal out of knowing. And to stake her claim on Henry again."
Mary Margaret stood, wavering slightly. "Well, it fits surprisingly well. You should wear her clothes more often." Running a hand through her hair, she added imperiously, "I am going to bed."
Emma stifled a smile. Drunk Mary Margaret was adorable. She rose from the table to make sure Mary Margaret made it all the way to her bed before passing out. Which she did, barely. Emma removed her shoes and pulled a blanket over her sleeping friend.
Once in her own room, she quickly undressed. Reaching for a tee shirt, she stopped before putting it on, eyeing the blue silk one Henry had stolen for her. She tentatively picked it up, marveling at the soft, smooth texture. Feeling rather foolish, she raised it to her nose and breathed deeply. It was as she thought. The shirt, though clean enough, hadn't recently been to the dry cleaners. Clearly worn once but not dirty enough to need a wash. It smelled faintly of what Emma could only associate as the scent of the Mayor. Spicy without being overdone, it held a sweetness that was more of a hint than anything more cloying, distinctly female yet powerful and strong. Feeling vaguely guilty, Emma put the shirt back on and got into bed. She luxuriated in the liquid softness against her skin. Never one to question her inner motives for fear of finding honest answers, Emma merely enjoyed the cool feel of the silk, the way it slid across her breasts and back, and fell quickly asleep.
Snow woke to the sound of something heavy dragging against wood. Instantly awake, she listened with her eyes closed trying to identify the sound. She could still feel the warmth in the sheets of the body that had lain next to hers all night, though the body itself was gone. Peeking out, she could see her bed mate struggling to move the heavy chair Snow had wedged under the door the night before.
She held out her hand "Come back to bed. It'll be hours before anyone tries to wake us."
"Don't be foolish. Today of all days, your father will want you, and especially me, bright eyed and bushy tailed at the breakfast table. Mark my words, from now on he'll watch us like hawks."
Snow admired the strength in her lover's arms as she returned the chair to its place by the door. She thought back to the previous night and how those arms wrapped tightly around her, her breath loud in Snow's ear as she stroked and kneaded the soft flesh under her fingers. Smiling, she brought those fingers to her lips not sure if she was imagining a faint trace of the heady scent of the other woman lingering there. A harsh voice startled her out of her reverie.
"Snow! Get up. Your maids will be here any second and you cannot be lying about as if today is just another day. We need to make a plan. We need to figure out how to deal with your father."
Snow looked up at the other woman. Her sable eyes were flashing dangerously and her tone sounded desperate. Leaping up from the bed, ignoring the cool air on her bare skin, Snow wrapped her arms around her lover. After a moment, the body in her arms relaxed with a quiet sigh. Snow whispered into her hair, "Everything will be alright. I'll see to my father. Since you're dressed, unfortunately," she added dryly looking down at her naked body pressed against the clothed one, "why don't you go find your own father and ask his advice? I'll find my father in the breakfast room and sound him out about this ridiculous engagement. Perhaps he woke up this morning and realized what a colossal mistake this is."
Deep brown eyes looked into hopeful blue ones, "So marrying me is a colossal mistake, is it?" but there was a smile in the tone that was absent a moment before.
Snow hugged her tighter, "No, marrying you is brilliant. My father marrying you is a colossal mistake."
Another quick hug, and the other woman disappeared out the door. Dressing in a simple pale pink dress, Snow soon made her way to her father's presence. Determined to try to talk him out of his engagement, she put on her brightest smile.
"Good morning, Father. I trust you slept well?"
Her father narrowed his eyes suspiciously but replied, "Yes Snow I did. For the first time in a long time. Now that the kingdom has a new queen, or will soon enough, we are in a much better place to negotiate with our enemies. All those fools who thought that I would never have an heir" he rambled on while chewing on his egg. "just biding their time and waiting for me to die. Circling around my kingdom, ready to pounce on it knowing there was no one to take over from me when I'm gone."
"Surely Father, I could manage the kingdom-" Snow started to say but was interrupted by a snort of rude laughter.
"You? First of all, you're a female or hadn't you noticed? Second of all, even if you were married, do you think I would leave my kingdom in the hands of one of these idiot princes that are forever plaguing me with offers for your hand? No, I need a son, and your little friend, what is her name anyway, will do nicely. From what I can tell under those enormous skirts you women insist are so fashionable, she has a good body for childbearing. Unlike your useless mother. No hips, that one. Practically no bosom. Good thing you had a wet nurse. If your mother had been expected to feed you, you would have starved to death in the first week, even though you were such a scrawny little thing."
Snow clenched the napkin in her lap tightly to keep from reacting to her father's harsh words. All her life, she had to listen to her father bad mouth the mother she never knew. Everything from Snow's delicate skin to her hay allergy was blamed on her dead mother. Before she could think of a reply, her father asked, "Where is that friend of yours? We need to make some plans, although I suppose I could just as well make them with her father. Yes, I'll do that. See that she's ready tonight at dusk."
"What, Father, you cannot mean to marry her tonight? You've only been engaged for one day, not even that long," Snow pinched herself to keep her tone light in the face of this devastating news. "What's the hurry?"
"Oh my darling daughter, I know that in your eyes I must seem ageless but let me assure you even I cannot live forever. If I am to leave this kingdom in competent hands, I need to get started on making an heir," he narrowed his eyes, watching Snow closely for a reaction. Seeing none, he rose from the table and called to a footman to bring his Steward to his study immediately.
Once they were both gone, Snow put her head down on the table and wept. After a few moments, she felt familiar hands calmly smoothing the material at her back. Raising her head, she saw her lover sitting next to her, face full of concern. Seeing it brought fresh tears to Snow's eyes. She buried her face in the other woman's neck, sobbing.
"Darling, what are we going to do? He wants to marry you tonight! He's talking to your father about it right now."
"I know"the voice was calm and chill, despite herself Snow shivered. "I just left them. I'm to wear some hideous thing from the wardrobe room."
Snow pulled back, "I thought we would have time. At least a year. How can he do this to us?"
"I think that's the point, dear. He knows about us."
"How can he know about us? There wasn't an 'us' to know about until he insisted on proposing to you last night. We hadn't even kissed before last night."
"Yes but you and I both know that there was something between us long before then. This didn't just happen. It's been building for quite some time. Leopold's proposal was simply the spark that lit the fire."
"I refuse to give my father credit for bringing us together," Snow pouted.
Kissing Snow as if it was the first time, her lover whispered, "It was inevitable that we would find a way to each other. You have to know, Snow, that I've always loved you. I've loved you for as long as I've known you."
Snow giggled while continuing the kisses, "You've known me my whole life."
"And I've loved you your whole life," her lover kissed her soundly on each dimple in each cheek before pulling back. Staring hard at Snow, she tilted her head briefly before saying, "Come with me."
Curious, Snow followed her lover back to her room. To the giggling maids, she imperiously said, "Leave. Now. Do not come back until two hours before my wedding. The Princess and I have serious business to attend to, and we cannot be disturbed for any reason. Am I understood?"
The maids curtsied hastily, "Yes My Lady, " before scurrying away, closing the door behind them.
Snow laughed, "Well, you certainly found your 'Queen voice' quickly. I think they would have followed any order you gave them."
"Good. Luckily they realized what was in their best interest. Now come here."
Snow raised her chin, playfully defiant, "And if I refuse?"
An eyebrow raised itself right back at her. "If you refuse, dear, then you will have to deal with the consequences, and I assure you, it won't be pretty."
Snow shivered in spite of herself, not sure if it was from fear or arousal or both. Crossing the room, she slid her arms around the other woman's neck. "And now?" she asked.
"Kiss me," the command was low and rich.
Snow eagerly complied. Her lips reached out for those in front of her, hungrily, eagerly taking what was being offered. She reached out tentatively with her tongue, delighted to feel it being pulled in, swirling around, tasting and being tasted. She tried to hold back a moan and failed miserably. Leaning back far enough to take in some much needed breaths, she panted, "I need you to make love to me. Right now."
Hastily they shed their clothes and climbed into the bed, sighing as their naked forms wrapped around each other. Snow felt like she was flying. Kisses were being rained down on her from above on her face, her neck, her breasts. She felt strong fingers reach down her legs and back up again to her center. Gasping as they slid through her silky wetness, "Oh yes, more." Up and around her clit, the fingers played Snow like a fine instrument, always knowing just how much power to use and when to lighten to a feather touch. Pressure built until Snow felt her world come undone in a blissful explosion of pleasure.
Feeling the body above her start to move off, she said, "No, stay there" and slid down the bed. She adjusted the legs above her until she carefully raised her head to take a long luxurious swipe of the flesh offered. Hearing a loud groan, she glanced up to see only a curtain of raven black hair swinging down, blocking the view of her lover's face. Returning her mouth to its place, she lapped again and again, drinking in the sweet nectar dripping down. Carefully, she reached a hand up between their bodies, and slid two fingers inside. Soon she was pumping her fingers in and out of the tight channel. Feeling the legs around her head start to quake, Snow took the little bundle of nerves into her mouth and suckled hard. A low quiet keening from near the headboard changed to a loud hiss, then silence. Stilling her fingers first, Snow waited until the trembling surrounding them stopped, then gently removed them.
But apparently, her task was not yet finished. Her lover thrust herself against Snow's mouth again, harder than before. Again and again until Snow was able to catch the hardened nub in her teeth, pulling on it. That did the trick and Snow was flooded with wetness. The body above her shook with a powerful force, then collapsed beside Snow on the bed.
Snow pulled herself up enough to drape her limbs over her lover's body, both of them glistening with sweat in the golden late morning sunshine. After a few minutes, she heard her lover's voice, normally so rich and full, now sounding brittle and hard, "I won't give you up. I will not."
Snow turned her face up to look into eyes so dark they looked almost charcoal black. She replied, reassuringly, "You won't have to. We'll find a way. I promise."
Sadness now poured from the dark eyes, "You can't make that promise, my love. But know this, I will do whatever it takes, make any bargain, to keep what we have."
"As will I, " said Snow, burrowing deeper into the embrace. But in the back of her mind, a small voice worried about just how far her lover would be willing to go.
That evening, Snow stood numbly by as her father married her lover. The new queen, resplendent in a gold and silver gown, cut low enough in the front to showcase her cleavage but not so low as to shock the older ladies of the court, said her vows in a strong voice that carried to the back of the crowded chamber.
Immediately after was the marriage feast. Snow was surprised to find herself seated, not at the queen's right hand or next to her father but farther down the table next to some lesser knights and the new bride's father. She turned to him and asked,
"So, I don't suppose this is what you imagined for your daughter's wedding day?"
Lord Henry smiled brightly, patting Snow's hand, "It is not, but how can any father complain when his only child has married so well? To know that I need never worry about her again is a great comfort" but his eyes belied his positive words. He glanced meaningfully at Snow, reminding her of the many ears who could hear their conversation.
Looking down the long table, she saw that her lover was talking gaily to her father, holding his arm and laughing at whatever comment he made. Unable to catch her eye, Snow returned her attention to Lord Henry who was asking her plans for the coming weeks.
Snow wondered at the question, "I assume the same old thing, don't you? Lessons, hunting, more lessons. There is a new mare expected to be delivered any day now that I am anxious to ride."
"Ah yes, it's been many years since I've ridden, finding that a good coach gets me to my destination just as quickly with much less strain on my poor bones. Perhaps, if you've the time, you would care to accompany me to visit my manor house in the country? It will only take a fortnight to get there and back, and I guarantee the sights are a wonder to behold."
"A fortnight! I can't be gone for two weeks. Whatever will Father say?" Snow protested.
"Actually, I was hoping you would help me bring something back to my daughter. It's a seedling from her favorite tree. I had hoped to make it a wedding present to her and have it all planted when she returns from her honeymoon" once again, the old man's face warned Snow of eavesdroppers surrounding them.
"Honeymoon" Snow whispered. She had forgotten in her numbness. Or she had blocked the idea from her mind, it being too terrible to contemplate. She decided, "Yes, I think a trip would be just the thing."
"Wonderful, and remember" said the old man winking slyly, "it's a surprise."
A loud pounding on the wooden trestle table caught everyone's attention. Snow saw her father, flushed red from drink, standing at the head of the table holding the new queen's hand in a tight grip. "The time has come" he slurred, "for us to take our leave of you. But stay and enjoy our hospitality, be merry now that your king has married." Smiling foolishly at his own joke, the king basked in the good wishes and light-hearted ribald jokes that flew up the table to him.
Snow caught her lover's eyes. There was clear determination and strength pouring from the deep depths, heartening Snow. A quick nod of the tierra crowned head pulled Snow from her numbed state. After making sure the king and his bride had truly exited for the night, Snow also made her excuses. Hurrying to lover's room, she found her alone, struggling to take off the wedding gown.
"Here, let me" Snow said, "before you tear something."
"I'd like to let the whole thing burn, after I've ripped it to shreds" her lover's voice held a note of intense resentment as if the garment itself was to blame for her current situation.
Pushing the heavy material off smooth shoulders, Snow couldn't help but give them a gentle kiss. The head in front of her fell back and twisted to capture Snow's lips in a heated kiss. Snow felt rather than heard the moan issuing from her lover's mouth. Turning her quickly around, Snow backed her up to the wall. Dropping to her knees, she tore the dress off and away, followed quickly by stockings and undergarments. Burying her face between her lover's legs, Snow devoured the flesh before her. Hands threaded into her hair, pulling her even closer. Moments later, she felt the tell-tale flutter under her lips and tongue. Ragged breathing reached a crescendo ending in a prolonged mournful cry. Looking up the slim body before her, all Snow could see was the tears coursing down her lover's cheeks. She rose and took the woman in her arms, sheltering her as best she could. Bringing her to the bed, she wrapped the other woman in her dressing gown.
"I love you and I always will" Snow vowed.
Getting her emotions under control, her lover responded, "That is all that got me through tonight. I know I said the words and took this crown, but in my heart, I didn't. I couldn't" tear filled eyes stared at Snow imploringly. "How can I, when everything I am I have already given to you?"
Snow hugged her tightly, "We'll figure this out. This isn't the end of us. I won't-"
Snow's thought was cut off by a loud banging on the door. Racing to the mirror to fix her face, the new Queen called out, "Who is it?"
The door slammed open as two knights in the king's livery entered, "We are ordered to escort the Queen to his Majesty's chambers." To their credit, the two large men's faces were impassive and gave no hint as to knowledge of what would happen once the bride was delivered to the groom.
The Queen rose, noticing that Snow had hidden herself behind the door unseen by the guards. "Of course" she said, the very picture of regal calm. As she walked out of the room, she trailed her fingers over the door, catching Snow's in a last embrace before beginning her new life.
Emma rolled over in bed, wincing as pain rushed through her body. Her fight at the tomb of the Mayor's father left her feeling exhilarated last night but this morning she was going to have to pay for her excess. She still couldn't quite believe that, even for all their acrimony, she and Regina had come to actual blows. There had been blood. And now there were bruises, not simply from the punches they had exchanged but from the impact of hitting the ground and the wall of the mausoleum. But at least she and Regina had seemed to come to some kind of resolution when it was all over.
Groaning her way into the kitchen, she saw on the counter a small opaque bottle and a note on heart shaped paper.
Here is some arnica for what are sure to be some colorful bruises. Rub liberally into them and drink extra water. I have to stay late at school tonight to get grades ready for report cards but I should be home by 8. Take care of yourself today.
Emma sniffed the liquid in the bottle. Finding the scent to be inoffensive, she went into the bathroom and stripped off the mayor's shirt, now her regular sleeping shirt, hanging it carefully on a hook imbedded in the door. She rubbed some of the liquid onto her bruises gently but found that whatever the stuff was it had it the welcome property of soothing the pain just under her skin.
Washing her hands when she was done, Emma noticed the shirt again. Glad that Mary Margaret had left for school already, she tentatively brought the edge of one sleeve to her nose, frowning. It was as she suspected. All trace of the Mayor's scent was gone. Feeling vaguely sad at the loss, she shook her head, "Get a grip, girl. It's only a shirt."
Less than a week later, Emma found herself Sheriff. The election had cost her many sleepless nights, tossing and turning as her mind rolled over the consequences of her actions. Making deals with Mr. Gold, assuring Henry that good could win out over evil even in the face of having to admit to him the less than stellar conditions of his birth, the fire and its aftermath. That the Mayor would suggest, flames scorching both of them in the stairwell, that Emma would leave her there to die was insulting in the extreme. No enemy was so great to Emma that she could allow someone to die through her neglect. It never occurred to her to leave Regina there. Pushing aside her exasperation, Emma looked for and found a way to rescue the both of them, not because it was the right thing to do but the only thing.
At the victory party in the diner's back room, Emma accepted the good wishes of the townsfolk in addition to plenty of advice on how to do her new job. All of which she accepted with a stunned kind of grace. Steering her into a corner, Mary Margaret brought her friend a plate of the greasy fries with gravy she knew Emma favored. When Emma protested she needed to talk to people, Mary Margaret hushed her, "Oh please, you can take five minutes to eat something. Though" she added looked with vague disgust at the steaming plate of carbohydrates and fat, "I wish you'd eat a salad or heaven forbid, something with a vegetable in it."
Emma smiled into her fingers as she scooped up some of the mess, "Where's the fun in that? Isn't this supposed to be a party?"
"Hmpf" was all the reply Mary Margaret could muster, though her eyes were a bright with pride. Those eyes clouded when confronted with the latest well wisher. It seemed the Mayor had decided to let bygones be bygones, and was working the room with ultimate political skill, reassuring all the citizens of Story brooke that she was thrilled to soon be working alongside the new Sheriff.
"Miss Swan, congratulations. I said it before but I will say it again. I'm sure you'll bring a...unique perspective to the position. I only hope you're up to the challenge" the Mayor's voice as always was rich and full, but Emma also noted a hint of menace, and something harder to name.
Licking one greasy finger, eyes locked on the Mayor's, Emma was pleased to see the older woman catch her breath ever so slightly. "No doubt there'll be a learning curve but I think I'll be able to adapt easily enough."
Tilting her head to one side slightly, the Mayor agreed, "Indeed. Please feel free to use me as a resource if there's anything I can do to help get you up to speed. Good night." Tugging on Henry's arm, she left. Henry grinned at her over his mother's forearm while mouthing the words "Good job" as he was pulled out the door.
The next day, Emma realized that she was in way over her head. Her previous job experience had never been anything of in the realm of supervisory. Confronted by stacks of overdue reports, payrolls stubs, and governmental red tape, she felt clearly out of her league. Sighing heavily, she tried to force the words to make sense but it was all just so much gibberish to her.
"Trouble dear?" that smooth voice of barely hidden disdain did nothing for the oncoming headache Emma felt growing behind her eyes.
Looking into the Mayor's smug countenance, Emma gestured at the piles all around the room covering every level surface. "I thought I was supposed to uphold the law, not be buried alive in an avalanche of paperwork."
The Mayor smiled acerbically, "Yes our work does require a lot of dotting i's and crossing t's. But remember, you asked for it."
Emma looked up. Despite the harsh tone, the brown eyes held a note of compassionate amusement. "Help me" she pleaded, feeling stronger for having asked for help than she did floundering without it.
Surprise showed on the Mayor's face as she relented, "Fine but first we need to get all this" gesturing with one slender hand toward the chaotic room "under control and some semblance of order. I assume you know the alphabet?"
Biting back a harsh retort when she saw the hint of a smile, Emma replied, "That's the one that starts with an A, right? As in A is for Apple."
"Indeed" agreed Regina as she proceeded to filter through the piles of papers. Shocked that her nemesis had a sense of humor, albeit a sarcastic one, Emma started in on the files on her desk. After too many hours to count, half a dozen banker's boxes were filled with paperwork, labeled in Regina's immaculate script and stacked around the room. Pushing a stray lock of hair from her face, Emma glanced at the clock.
"Gees, it's after five. No wonder I'm so hungry" glancing at Regina who was pouring over a file she asked,"don't you have to get Henry?"
Scowling over the paper, Regina said, "He's having dinner with Archie tonight. Archie feels it's important for them to meet informally every now and again to make sure Henry doesn't start to resent resuming their sessions."
"Oh" Emma tried to think but was distracted by her stomach. "Well Mary Margaret has a staff meeting that's sure to go late while they try to figure out next year's budget. Do you..." her brow furrowed as a strange idea began to form in her head, "want to go home and have dinner with me? I can't look at another piece of paper and if I go to the diner, everybody'll be all over me again like last night."
Regina slowly put down the file in her hand, "You want me" she began but seemed almost unable to say the words, "to have dinner with you?" It sounded even more preposterous when she said it aloud.
Emma cleared her throat, suddenly acutely uncomfortable yet unwilling to back away from the invitation, "Sure. Nothing fancy, trust me. Mac and cheese? Maybe a salad. I know we have a fresh bag."
The Mayor's eyebrows reached for her hairline. "Mac and cheese? Bagged salad? Why Sheriff, I don't know when I've had such an enticing offer."
"Hey, all you had to do was say no thanks. I'm sorry I asked" Emma responded defensively.
"No, I'm sorry" the Mayor retreated quickly. "It's just been a long time since I've had a simple dinner with someone. Actually, it sounds nice. To spend time with someone without wondering all night what the secret agenda is." She stood. "I'll need to get my things from my office. Why don't I meet you at Mary Margaret's in, say, twenty minutes?"
Emma smiled, "That's fine. See you over there."
Once home, however, her confidence plummeted. What the hell had she been thinking inviting Regina into her home? It was ludicrous. Slamming her way into the open kitchen, she searched the cupboards. Luckily, there in the back behind the wheat germ and a dented can of soup was a familiar blue package. Filling the saucepan with water, Emma checked to make sure the milk was still fresh and the butter not all sacrificed to the frozen waffle gods. Check. Pulling out a bottle of white wine, she poured herself a large glass and downed it just as a sharp knock came.
"Wow, "she said opening the door to the Mayor, looking immaculate as ever even after their dusty work, "when you say twenty minutes you mean twenty minutes."
The Mayor shrugged out of her long black coat, "I find, Miss Swan, that punctuality is what separates us from the beasts."
"Wine?" Emma asked, refilling her own glass. Noting the respectable vintner with another of those looks of amused astonishment, Regina nodded.
"Mary Margaret has good taste in wine" Regina said trailing a hand over the back of the faded couch as Emma busied herself opening the bag of pre cut salad and dumping it unceremoniously into a large wooden bowl.
"Actually, that's mine" Emma corrected the other woman. "I was surprised to find it at the grocery store but it's better than the boxed stuff and not that much more expensive."
"Hmm" Regina agreed, wandering back into the kitchen portion of the large open room. "Is there something I can do to help?" she asked watching Emma dump the box of macaroni into the boiling water. At Emma's curious look, she added, "I'm not used to standing around doing nothing."
"You can chop up whatever looks good in the fridge if you want. I think there's a cucumber or zucchini in there."
"Not sure of the difference, dear?"
"Ha ha, aren't you the witty one" Emma teased back, liking the easy familiarity growing between them.
Quickly enough, they finished their preparations and sat down at the battered table to eat. Suddenly shy again without any tasks, a long silence loomed over the table. Mustering some kind of resource available to any good politician, the Mayor asked an innocuous question about Emma's job as a bounty hunter. Marveling at her cool exterior and polish at making small talk, Emma responded with a brief outline but soon found herself telling her dinner companion some of the more outrageous stories related to her former job.
Reaching for the salad tongs at the same time, Emma's fingers brushed Regina's. A large spark of static electricity arced between them, causing Emma to flinch. Salad dressing flew through the air, splattering over the front of the Mayor's plum blouse.
"Oh shit, Regina, I'm sorry. Here, get it in the bathroom sink quick, I'll get the baking soda" Emma dashed to the cupboard. Following the other woman into the tiny bathroom, she liberally dumped the entire box of baking soda onto the stains. Stopping the other woman who was reaching for the tap, she said, "No water. That'll set the stain faster. This is silk, right?"
Emma looked over at the Mayor, whose upper half was now clad only in a black, lace edged bra. Wrenching her eyes up from the smooth curves filling it, Emma noticed that the Mayor made no effort to cover herself.
"Yes, it's silk" the cool, measured tone was back.
Emma shook the white powder off the shirt and daubed it with a washcloth. "It might be salvaged but I would take it to the cleaners first thing tomorrow."
"And what am I supposed to wear until then, I wonder? I suppose you would love for me to be seen leaving the new Sheriff's home wearing one of her infamous wife beaters?"
Scowling that the earlier easy banter was gone, replaced by the familiar disdain, Emma reached around the door to pluck the ice blue shirt off its hook. "Here, take this back. I doubt anyone will realize it's not the shirt you came in wearing. It's yours anyway."
Regina seemed shocked to be handed her own garment. Slipping into it quickly, she snatched up the one in the sink. Coldly she said, "Thank you so much for returning what was mine originally. Good night."
Emma watched stunned as the Mayor grabbed up her coat and purse, exiting with a final click of the doorknob. A few seconds later, Mary Margaret appeared.
"Was that Regina leaving just now? Why was she wearing that shirt you sleep in?" taking in the plates of half eaten food on the table Mary Margaret stared at Emma, "What the hell was going on here while I was gone?"
Emma smiled ruefully, "We were having dinner and some salad dressing got on her shirt so to keep it from staining I made her take it off and gave her mine to wear instead. Except that it's really her shirt to start with."
Mary Margaret held up a hand, confused, "Wait, wait a sec. You and Regina were having dinner? Here? Together?"
Emma started to gather up the plates, "Yeah, she was helping me at work and we got hungry and rather than go to the diner, we decided to eat here."
"She was helping you? At work? At the job she tried her damndest to see that you didn't get? On your first day at said job?" Mary Margaret shook her head, bewildered "I'm living in a fantasy land."
Emma chuckled, "Actually she was very helpful today, explaining all the bureaucratic stuff. I figured the least I could do to repay her for it was make her dinner."
Mary Margaret furrowed her brows, trying to understand, "If you say so."
Back at the Mayor's mansion, Regina quickly put her hopefully not ruined shirt into the dry cleaning bag by the front door. Poking just her head into Henry's room, careful not to let him see the shirt she was now wearing, she inquired, "How was dinner with Archie?"
Her son scowled, "He wants me to start writing a journal."
Regina nodded, "It couldn't hurt to put all the thoughts swirling around your head into writing. I've kept one for years, you know."
Henry whipped his head around to stare at her, thoughtfully, "Really?"
She laughed, "Yes, but it's password protected, so don't get any bright ideas about snooping, young man. I'll be in to tuck you in after I change out of my work clothes."
She went into her bedroom, sighing gratefully as she slipped out of her heels. Meticulously, she hung up her slacks, deposited her hose in her bathroom sink to rinse out before bed, and stared for a long moment into the mirror. The blue shirt seemed markedly out of place on her, even though it was one she had owned for years. She supposed she had simply given it up as gone forever the day she saw Emma wearing it. Removing it, she contemplated putting it into the dry cleaning bag as well, wondering if Emma had ever bothered to have it cleaned at all or just put it on the hook in her home to hang forgotten all those weeks. A curious idea entered her thoughts as she ran the smooth silk through her fingers. Bringing the shirt to her nose, she took a tentative sniff. It was as she suspected. The shirt was imbued with Emma's scent.
"Damn" she whispered to herself in the mirror, her eyes browner in the harsh light against the blue of the shirt. She inhaled again, deeper this time. Random images flashed through her mind: Emma's shy down turned smile, her red leather jacket, that ridiculous yellow car, the way her eyes changed from light green to blueish green to dark hazel depending upon her mood and how much Regina provoked her.
"Damn" Regina repeated. Slowly she turned, hung the shirt on a hook on the door and closed the door as she left the room.
Snow found it impossible to sleep so she busied herself packing for her trip with Lord Henry. She carefully debated this dress or those shoes, all the while trying not to think of what this new marriage might mean for her relationship with her father. As sunlight began filtering into the room, she heard noises down in the courtyard. Looking out her window, she saw the King's carriage loaded full hitched to his finest dove grey horses.
Her father entered first, trailed by his new wife. Just as she reached the door to the carriage, she looked up to Snow's window. Shocked at the new Queen's pale and drawn face, Snow had to keep herself from crying out. Fatigue lines etched the fine skin, and the eyes, raised to hers, were tired and red rimmed. And strangely empty. They looked at Snow almost as if not seeing her or as if seeing something from a dream. Before Snow could do anything, her lover turned and entered the carriage which then quickly drove off.
Snow rushed downstairs. Finding Lord Henry, she demanded, "Did you talk to her? Is she alright?"
Lord Henry couldn't quite meet Snow's eyes, "Yes we talked. I'll explain everything later." Noticing some servants in the yard he said loudly, "I want to leave right after breakfast, Snow White. Will you have your trunks sent down by then?"
Again realizing it was not safe to talk, even with her father gone, Snow brightly replied, "I spent all night getting my things ready. We can leave as soon as you want, Uncle Henry. I may call you Uncle now, mayn't I?"
"Yes, of course. I would like that very much."
Within an hour, they too set out from the palace. Snow knew Lord Henry's country estate was nearly 20 leagues away but if the weather stayed fine, they should be there and back by the time her father returned.
Watching Lord Henry's face, she continued to make small talk until he gestured her forward in her seat. "I'm glad to see that you have learned something of your father's gift for deception, Snow," he said in a low voice, "though it does sadden me that your upbringing forced the necessity of it. When we get a little further along, it will be safe to speak openly. Until then, why not try to take a short nap? You look like you barely slept a wink last night."
Snow nodded, "I couldn't bear to close my eyes without seeing her face. Oh Lord Henry, what can we do?"
Henry chided her gently, pulling a small soft throw from over her seat, "What happened to 'Uncle Henry"? I was quite looking forward to being called that."
Snow laughed, surprised at being able to find anything funny, "I beg your pardon. Uncle Henry it is, and forever shall be." She took the throw and brought it up to her chin. Soon the rhythmic rocking of the coach lulled her into a heavy sleep. When she woke, the slant of the sunlight told her it was many hours later. Lord Henry watched as she stretched out her back and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Snow noticed a large ornate silver reliquary on the seat next to him.
"What's that?" she inquired, taking a small sip of watered wine from a wineskin hanging near the coach door.
"This is for you. My daughter took great pains to bring it to me before dawn this morning while your father slept. It is her greatest gift, and I know of no one else I would rather have it."
Snow's eyes widened. Lord Henry sounded almost as if he was going to cry. Snow took the box from him, surprised at it's light weight. He handed her a strange looking key, saying, "You must take great care of it. Do not let her faith in you be in vain."
Snow carefully unlocked the box. Raising the lid, she gasped. Inside beating gently, bright red was a human heart.
Shocked she stared at Lord Henry for an explanation. He smiled the saddest smile she had ever seen, "It's her heart. She dare not keep it for fear your father would destroy it." Watching her face for any reaction, he continued, "She knew you would safeguard it against any enemy."
Snow's bright blue eyes filled with tears. "What shall I do with this? If my father found out I had it-"
"He would demand you give it to him. That can never happen. If you will be guided by me, I do have a possible solution. At least in the short term" Lord Henry watched her face intently.
Snow nodded, "Yes, anything. As long as it keeps her heart safe."
"Near my home, there is a place where the heart will be secure until the time that you can return it to her. For now, let us enjoy the ride and the scenery."
For the rest of that day, they rode in companionable silence. As the sun set, they stopped at the large inn of a small town. The innkeeper did not question them once he saw the gold on his counter but brought them two bowls of steaming stew and a hunk of fresh brown bread in the dining room.
That night, they slept in adjoining rooms, though Snow tossed and turned on the soft feather bed. Her body ached for her lover. Her mind replayed every minute of their time together the night before the wedding until Snow felt she was going mad. She screamed into her pillow as loudly as she dared. Finally rising to stand, staring out the window at the moon, she wondered if her love was seeing the same full moon and thinking of her. Softly she whispered, imagining her love could hear her words on the slight breeze, "I love you, my darling. Be strong until we can be together again." Then, knowing there was another long day in the carriage at dawn's light, Snow returned to the bed and slept.
Two days later, lulled into numbness by the endless rocking of the carriage, Snow was startled awake by Lord Henry knocking his cane on the roof the coach. Coming to a lurching halt, Snow saw that they were once again in the middle of a small nameless town, similar to the others where they stopped each day.
"Uncle Henry," she queried, "it isn't yet midday. Why are we stopping already?"
Lord Henry smiled brightly, "We are nearly to my estate but here in town, there are many wonderful sights to behold. I thought it would break up the monotony of our journey." His tone rang false and a discreet wink told Snow that, once again, they were to guard their words for fear of being overheard.
She plastered a smile onto her face, "Oh how lovely."
Jumping down from the carriage, she saw they were in the midst of the town square. It was market day with all the stalls filled on both sides of the street with various vendors selling everything it seemed from fresh fruits and vegetables to colorful cloth and tempting spices that tickled her nose.
Lord Henry led her to a large brick building. Peering up, he pointed to an ancient looking clock tower. "Shall we go up? From the top you can see the whole of the valley." As he took her hand to guide her from the market stalls, he covertly whispered in her ear, "Bring the reliquary."
Snow reached back into the carriage for her bag, quickly stuffing the box into it. Raising the strap to her shoulder, she was surprised again that the box was so light weight. Her own heart felt heavy in her chest, though she did her best to keep it from showing on her face. Following Lord Henry, she climbed the wooden stairs curving around the inner wall of the clock tower. Three quarters of the way up, the old man stopped panting heavily. As he wiped his red face with a bright spotted handkerchief, he said "Keep going all the way to the top. There, just behind the clock face, is a drawer imbedded in one of the tumblers. Place my daughter's heart in there between beats. You must be quick or the box will be smashed and what is within lost forever."
Snow nodded. Determinedly she finished the climb to the top. As Lord Henry said, there was a small drawer but in her first attempt to open it, she missed the connection and the drawer moved out of her reach. She waited impatiently for it to return. This time she opened it too early but hadn't pulled the box from her bag and so missed her chance a second time. At the third circuit, she was successful, opening the drawer and placing the box securely within. As the drawer shut, the clock itself began to toll the time, horrifically loud in Snow's ears. She covered them with her hands but could not block out the vibrations through her body. By the time the clock struck twelve, Snow was cowered in a corner of the stairs, trembling. The sudden silence hurt almost as much as the bell pealing. Seeing a door to her right, Snow opened it, finding it led to a balcony running the perimeter of the clock tower.
Lord Henry had been right. The view from up here was magnificent. Snow could see towering mountains and a glacial lake in the distance. A long river snaked through cutting a verdant canyon surrounded by a patchwork quilt of fields. Somewhere out there was her love. Did she feel that her heart was now safe, Snow wondered. Her task complete, she returned below to find Lord Henry sitting at a table down the street, drinking a cup of ale.
"All finished" she said, falling into the seat beside him.
He handed her a cup, "Everything go alright?" he asked quietly.
"Yes" Snow felt drained as if each clap of the tower bell had taken a part of her soul and her energy.
Lord Henry breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing the exhaustion on Snow's face, he rose and guided her back to the coach. "We'll be home in an hour, there you can rest. We have a few days before we have to head back. In that time, you can get your strength back and recover from this ordeal. I know how much it takes out of a person." His kind eyes shadowed with a dark light of immeasurable sadness.
"Yes," Snow agreed, "who knew love could come at such a price?"
Regina gritted her teeth, hoping the sound wasn't picked up by the phone. The state's child protective services director seemed surprised at the change in status for the two formerly orphaned children, Eva and Nicholas, but relieved as well.
"I'm glad their father decided to step up and take responsibility" he said in his officially sanctioned concerned yet compassionate voice.
"You're glad you've been absolved of any responsibility" replied the Mayor curtly. "Let's not forget it was you who insisted on assigning them to separate group homes. Based on gender, no less. How archaic, when clearly it is in the best interests of the children to keep siblings together."
"Yes well, studies have shown-" Regina hung up the phone before the overbearing man could anger her further.
"Telemarketer?" a voice from the doorway asked.
Regina looked up to find the Sheriff leaning against the door jam, arms folded against her chest. "If only. I find that the conversation is better with them" she didn't quite smile but didn't frown either. "To what do I owe the pleasure Miss Swan?"
Emma shifted uncomfortably, "I'm going over to the diner to pick up lunch and wanted to know if you wanted me to bring you something back. Since I'm going over anyway" she finished lamely.
"Really?' the Mayor's eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"Yeah, look the thing is, I feel bad about your shirt the other night. You know, with the salad dressing and I thought-"
The Mayor cut her off, "You thought buying me a tuna sandwich would make up for the destruction of a very costly garment?"
Emma began frowning again, "Wait, the dry cleaning didn't work?"
The Mayor stood, "No it did not. Apparently your baking soda trick did nothing and when mixed with the dry cleaning chemicals, only made the matter worse. The blouse was a total loss."
Emma seemed at a loss for words. She started to offer to pay for the damage, but the Mayor brushed by her saying, "Come on. If lunch assuages your guilt, then so be it." Emma followed meekly behind, covertly inhaling as they went. She refused to admit it outright, but she missed the smell of the shirt she had returned to Regina.
Once in the Mayor's sleek black Mercedes, Emma breathed deeply before she could stop herself. The interior of the car was all Regina.
"Don't tell me you have a thing for leather, Sheriff?" Regina deftly pulled the car out into traffic.
Emma blushed crimson, but held her own, admitting, "Who doesn't? You must." At Regina's sidelong glance, she amended, "otherwise why buy a car with leather interior?"
"Hmmm" conceded Regina, "it does explain the jackets" she muttered under her breath.
Emma laughed, surprising them both. It seemed the easy familiarity had returned and Emma was determined to try to keep them both on an even keel. "Hey, you of all people must know, leather cleans easily, is tough enough to handle my line of work, and lasts forever."
Regina's eyes narrowed, "Nothing lasts forever, Miss Swan."
Changing the subject quickly, Emma blurted out the first thing that came to mind, "So, what kind of perfume do you wear?" At the driver's startled look, she hastily added, "It's nice. I like it."
Regina took a long time responding, letting the question filter through her mind before saying, "I have it made. It's designed to mix with my skin chemistry. The store bought brands always came out too harsh or too sweet. Heaven forbid I smell like Mary Margaret." Her mouth tightened into a scowl.
Emma chuckled again, "Yes that would be a mistake. This suits you. It's subtle but powerful at the same time."
"And you, Miss Swan?" the Mayor turned in her seat to stare at Emma, focusing on her lips before bringing her gaze up to the greenish blue eyes, "What scent do you prefer? To wear?" the last part added almost as an afterthought.
Emma squirmed at bit but kept their eyes locked, "I don't really have one. Anything specific, that is. I guess I just use soap and since no one's complained recently, it must be working."
Regina thought back to the shirt she still thought of as 'Emma's shirt', now hidden under her pillow. It did smell of standard soap but also of something specific to Emma. For some reason, it also helped Regina sleep at night. The past week the shirt had been in her bed were some of the best night's sleep she had ever had.
Realizing they had reached their destination, she broke off staring at Emma but not before noticing the slight dilation of the other woman's eyes, at the same time noticing her own respiration growing shallower.
"Shall we?" she said, opening her car door.
Emma blinked, "Uh yeah, sure" and quickly also exited the car.
Inside the diner, all voices stopped. The other patrons stared as the two women made their way into a corner booth. Regina sighed, murmuring to Emma, "Who needs a new stop sign? We can just be seen together and the whole town comes to a halt."
Emma grinned, "I think it's the fact that we aren't fighting for a change. How often is that?"
Regina granted her that with a gracious tip of her head. "Ruby" she called out, "How long until dinner service starts?"
The tall brunette with the short shorts replied, "Five o'clock. Why?"
Regina bared her teeth in a blinding white smile, "Because we would like to get our order placed sometime before then, and have some lunch."
Ruby grabbed her order pad and swayed over, "Sure Mayor. Hi Emma." Looking back and forth between the two women, she seemed desperate to know the back story but couldn't quite figure out how to ask. "The usual?"
Emma nodded, taking a much needed drink from her water glass. "Yeah, thanks."
Ruby looked at the Mayor expectantly who said, "Tuna, whole wheat, mustard not mayo, salad no dressing" a pointed look at Emma who had the decency to blush, causing Ruby to wonder even more what in the world was going on here, "and a diet cola. With a straw." Closing the menu with finality, it was a certain dismissal of Ruby who scurried off, mind already making a list of questions with which to barrage Emma later when she came in for her nightly bowl of ice cream.
"You weren't kidding about the tuna" Emma sounded surprised.
Regina put her paper napkin in her lap, "It's good for you, high protein, omega 3 fatty acids, what's wrong with tuna?" The good humor was back.
"I don't know, it just seems so...pedestrian." Emma tried to explain.
"I see, you think because I am fairly successful, live in a big house, have nice things, I can't have simple tastes?" The brown eyes twinkled just a bit.
"It's not that. I guess I just associate tuna with tuna casserole, made with canned mushroom soup and egg noodles" Emma said.
"That doesn't sound so bad" Regina replied, puzzled.
"It's not. The first night you have it. But if that's all you have for a week and it's made with off brand tuna and even more off brand soup, it's gets a little tired." Emma frowned at the memory of her days in the system. "Now multiply that week by a month."
At that moment, as the silence stretched between the two women again, they were rescued by Ruby with their food.
Regina's face mirrored the horror in her voice as she stared at Emma's meal, "What, pray tell, is that?"
Emma dug a spoon into the bowl, holding aloft a dripping oozing string of orange melted cheese surrounding reddish brown beany sauce. "It's chili cheese fries." Taking a huge bite, she moaned into the spoon. Managing to keep her mouth closed, she smiled at Regina's repulsed expression. Swallowing hard, she said, "It's good, you want some?"
Regina retreated from the dripping spoon being held out to her, one french fry poking out at a twisted angle, "No thank you, not ever." Taking a large sip from her straw, she marveled, "How can you eat that and not weigh as much as Mrs. Sprat?"
"Rough sex" Emma joked, shoveling another heaping scoop into her mouth. Only to be sprayed by diet cola a second later. She startled involuntarily, dropping her spoon, splattering her front with greasy red sauce. Looking across the table, she saw the Mayor laughing harder than she had ever seen, head thrown back in carefree abandonment. Tiny drops of cola dripped down the edges of the red mouth. When the Mayor finally quieted down, Emma noticed that, once again, the entire restaurant was frozen silent, glued to the scene at her table.
She waved a hand at them, calling out, "Don't worry. Nothing to see. Just go about your business, Citizens" and attempted to wipe off her shirt front. The Mayor pulled more napkins from the dispenser, handing them to the Sheriff. Emma took one and did her best to rid her front of food. Seeing that most of the other diners had gone back to their meals, she reached over gently wiped cola from the corner of Regina's mouth. An unfathomable look crossed her eyes as Regina quietly said, "Thank you."
Equally quiet, Emma responded, "No problem."
Ruby rushed over with a damp towel, "Babe, your shirt's ruined. Wanna borrow one of mine?" she lowered her voice provocatively, knowing Emma would know she was only kidding. Regina, however, was not amused.
"I'm sure the last thing Miss Swan needs is to borrow some sweat shop knock off from you. Now pack up this food and be quick about it" she snapped at Ruby, then more gently to Emma though no less in charge of the situation, "I'll take you back to your place so you can change."
Emma hid her wonder at the Mayor's reaction. It was something she would have to ponder later. In the meantime, the Mayor bustled her out of the diner, a bag of to go boxes in one hand, the other on Emma's back guiding her to the car.
Emma protested, "It's chili, not acid Regina. It wasn't even hot."
Regina ignored this and steadfastly stood holding the passenger side door open. "Get in" she ordered but her tone had softened to one slightly less militant.
Emma obeyed, scrunching up the bottom edge of her shirt to cover the stained upper edge, protecting the car from any stray dribbles. When Regina got in all she could see was Emma's smooth toned stomach.
Concentrating on her driving, she returned to her earlier question, intent on ignoring the pull of Emma's skin on display, "You never really answered me, Miss Jokes A lot. How do you eat like a truck driver and not weigh a thousand pounds? It goes against the laws of nature."
"I've always had a fast metabolism. And jobs where I use up a lot of energy. Easier than going to a gym."
The Mayor nodded. She could feel her face starting to flush at the thought of Emma's original answer. Flashes of Emma, naked, writhing on a large bed, moaning in pleasure-Regina shook her head to rid herself of the images. This way lay madness, she was sure of it. Glancing over at Emma's bare skin didn't help. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel to rid them of the itch to stroke that skin. Thankfully, they had reached Emma's street.
Emma chuckled, "Next time we eat, something with bibs."
Regina returned her smile, "Absolutely" undeniably pleased with the thought of sharing another meal with the Sheriff. "In fact, why don't you join Henry and me for dinner on Friday? Bring Mary Margaret if you like."
Emma smiled fully, "I'd like that. I know Mary Margaret has plans later so can we make it kind of early? Like around 6?"
Regina nodded, "That sounds fine. Bring some of that nice white wine."
"Okay" Emma impulsively took the Mayor's hand that was lying on the parking break lever, giving it a quick squeeze. Trying to pull back, she felt the Mayor tightening her grip for a moment more before releasing her. A long look passed between the two women and then, Emma got out of the car. Taking a deep breath, she watched as the black car sped away.
Inside the car, Regina struggled to keep her own breathing under control. She saw what was in Emma's eyes and it frightened her. Clear attraction. A need for understanding. The start of desire. No, it was impossible. It was laughable. This was Henry's birth mother. For his sake she would try to forge a civil relationship. If that turned into a kind of amicable friendship, so much the better for her son. But nothing more. She couldn't go down that road. Not again.
Later that week, Emma sat in her car outside the Mayor's house. On the seat next to her sat a chilled bottle of the wine Regina requested. Checking her watch for the hundredth time that minute, she blew out a frustrated breath. A cheerful honk alerted her to another car parking behind her. Getting out, she checked her watch again.
Mary Margaret walked over to where Emma was standing next to her car. "Hey, thanks for waiting for me. To be honest, I was a little nervous about knocking on the Mayor's door without knowing you were here or not." She started to walk toward the house but was stopped by a hand on her arm.
"Not yet" Emma said urgently.
"Why not?" Mary Margaret felt compelled to whisper all of a sudden.
"It's too early" Emma whispered back, then realizing what she was doing said in her regular voice, "It's not 6 yet."
Mary Margaret glanced at her watch, "So we're a few minutes early. I'm sure Regina won't mind."
Emma held her back again, "No, we have to wait."
"Why?" Mary Margaret insisted.
"We just do" Emma turned her doe's eyes on her friend, "Please?"
Mary Margaret was puzzled but nodded her head, "Fine, whatever you say."
After a few more minutes passed, Emma was relieved to hear the old clock tower start to ring out the hour. She started up the walkway and by the third bong knocked on the door. As the sixth bong faded away the door opened.
"Right on time, I see" the Mayor stepped back to let the women in.
Handing Regina the wine, Emma said, "Punctuality is the only thing that separates us from the beasts, you know."
Regina laughed at that, "Oh really?" raising one eyebrow.
Emma smirked, "Oh yes, a wise and beautiful women told me so once." She held the deep brown eyes with her own, sparkling dark green under the light of the foyer chandelier. A strained cough behind them shook the two women out of their stares. Mary Margaret stood uncomfortably in the hallway, clutching her coat in her arms.
The Mayor bustled over to her, ignoring the heat suffusing her face, "Miss Blanchard, welcome to my home. Come right in." Taking Mary Margaret's coat, she hung it up in the closet and led the way into the kitchen. "I thought we could have a drink while we wait for dinner to finish."
"Yes, that would be lovely" replied Mary Margaret.
At that moment, Henry bounded down the stairs, dressed impeccably as always. Mary Margaret vaguely wondered if he had any real play clothes at all, things he could get dirty in. He always looked like he was straight out of a Land's End children's catalog.
"Hi Miss Blanchard. Hi Emma" he practically shouted in his excitement.
"Take it down a notch, Henry" his mother admonished him lightly, "they can hear you fine without shouting."
He grinned infectiously, "Sorry, it's just we hardly ever have people over and when we do, it's always boring business people."
His mother's mouth turned down a bit at that but she agreed, "Yes well, you know my position demands I entertain for work quite often. Tonight though" she smiled at Emma "is just for fun."
At that moment, a timer dinged. "Emma, would you mind opening the wine while I get this on the table? It has to settle for a few minutes before we eat but if I leave it in the oven, it'll dry out."
"Sure" Emma reached into a drawer for the corkscrew and deftly opened the bottle. Searching under the sink, she found a recycling bin for the cork. Mary Margaret watched as she listened to Henry prattle on about the science project he was planning for the school science fair. She was impressed by the ease with which Emma and Regina worked putting the meal together but a little uneasy about the familiarity with which they did it. A brief debate over whether or not to dress the salad caused them to laugh together, resolved by a joint decision to leave that step to each individual.
"Go on into the dining room, and I'll bring in the hot dish" Regina suggested.
Mary Margaret followed Henry who showed her to a seat across from his on one side of the table next to Emma but also next to Regina who sat at the table's head. She stifled a smile to think that he had unconsciously seated himself between his two mothers.
When she was seated, Emma found under her napkin an extra bundle wrapped in a napkin ring. Opening it, she discovered it was a lace frilled bib. She burst into hysterical laughter. Mary Margaret and Henry looked at each other bewildered. A voice from the doorway said, "Just to be on the safe side, dear."
The Mayor was clearly holding back her own laughter. Seeing the puzzled expressions on the other's faces, she said simply, "Inside joke" as she set a large serving dish down on a trivet near the head of the table in front of her own place.
Emma wiped tears from her eyes, "Good one Regina. Good one."
But she sobered when she saw what was in the dish. "Is that-"she couldn't finish the question but raised tentative finger to point at it.
"Yes" answered the Mayor. "It's tuna casserole. But homemade with real tuna and Vermont cheddar and-"
"Bread crumbs on top" finished Emma in a voice of wonder. She stared at Regina who held her gaze with shining eyes. Reaching to clasp her hand, Emma gripped it tightly all the while pouring out her thanks with her eyes. Holding it, unable to look away, Regina finally glanced back at the others at the table. Mary Margaret was staring down at her plate, clearly uncomfortable. Henry switched back and forth between Emma and Regina until finally asking, "I don't get it. What's the big deal about tuna casserole?"
Emma smiled at him sadness tugging at the corners of her mouth, "When I was a kid, Henry, to stretch a dollar, one of my foster moms would make one that would last us all week, sometimes longer. But she used cheap ingredients so it didn't taste very good. That way, she could pocket the extra money she was supposed to spend to feed us."
"But that's not fair!" he protested, looking to Regina and Mary Margaret for answers.
"No, it's not, kiddo. But that's life sometimes" Emma couldn't think of a better way to reassure him without filling his already fanciful mind with pipe dreams about singing orphans and the joys of poverty. Abruptly, she stood, "Will you excuse me a moment?" and dashed from the room.
Seeing Mary Margaret about to follow her, Regina stopped her with a gesture, "No, let me. Would you mind dishing up Henry? And see that he eats his vegetable and doesn't just move it around the plate." With that, she too left the room.
Unsure of what else to do, Mary Margaret did as she was asked. Making mindless chatter with Henry was easy, once she reassured him that Emma was fine, or at least soon would be. Seeing that Henry was digging into his dinner, she rose saying to him, using her best helpful teacher voice, "I'm going to go check on Emma. You stay here and finish your meal. If you finish everything, go put your dishes in the dishwasher. Then it'll probably be okay to have one of those cookies I saw in the jar on the counter."
Walking down the hallway, Mary Margaret heard low voices.
"I am so sorry. I was only trying to turn a bad memory into a good one."
"No, I know that. It took me by surprise, you know? No one's ever cared enough to, first of all, find out anything beyond the basics of my childhood, let alone try to help me recover from it."
"I never meant for my gesture to end up with you in tears."
"I wasn't crying out of sadness! I was crying because it touched me, gees."
"Are we really going to fight now about how and why I made you cry? Can't you let me apologize and accept it?"
"I do accept it-"
Mary Margaret listened but the voices stopped. Not sure why, she rounded the corner to find silhouetted in the bathroom doorway, Emma and Regina kissing with a fierce passion. Emma's hand was in Regina's hair while the Mayor was holding tightly to Emma's back. Mary Margaret was shocked but knew the worst thing she could do was let them know she had seen them. Carefully, she silently backed away down the hallway.
Returning to the dining room, she saw Henry happily munching away on a large cookie. Two more were waiting on his plate. To her relief, he had also refilled his milk glass.
Refilling her wine glass, she said cheerily, "Since when can you not count, Henry? I distinctly said one cookie."
He had the grace to look guilty for a moment before saying cheekily, "One is for you, and the other is for Emma. My mom doesn't eat cookies. She says they have negative nutritional value."
Mary Margaret glanced at the cookies, then sighed and took one from his plate. "True, they do. And if you tell anyone what I'm about to do, I'll deny it. And then flunk you." With that, she dunked her cookie in her wine glass. Taking a bite, she sighed, "Oh yeah, that's good." Henry giggled at the sight.
Just then, Emma and Regina re-entered the dining room. Emma's eyes shone glassy but Regina was the picture of calm. Seeing the cookies, her eyes narrowed, "Cookies for dinner, Miss Blanchard? I would have thought better of you" but her tone was light. Mary Margaret wasn't sure but her voice sounded a bit ragged.
Henry piped up, "Miss Blanchard dunks her cookies in her wine!"
Mary Margaret hissed at him, teasingly, "Traitor" but proceeded to demonstrate her technique, dipping the crescent shape edge of the cookie into the narrow bowl of her wine glass.
Emma laughed while Regina sighed, "Lovely educational example you're setting." But it was said with good humor, in and of itself strange to Mary Margaret.
Looking down at the food, now cold and congealed on her plate, Emma said, "I guess I'm just not meant to eat tuna. But," she looked at Regina, her eyes shining but this time not with tears, "thank you all the same."
Regina gave her a gracious nod of the head, "It was my pleasure."
Seeing that Henry had finished his dessert, she shooed him off to his room to finish his homework. Sparing a glance at Mary Margaret, she said, "Don't you have somewhere else to run off to? Emma was quite sure of it."
Checking her watch, Mary Margaret said, "Why yes, I do have an appointment, right now as a matter of fact. Henry, I'll see you at school on Monday, if not before? Emma, I'll see you at...later. Regina, uh, thank you for a very nice time."
Regina was all smooth grace, honed from years of practice, "You're welcome. Thank you for coming."
Emma leapt up, "I'll walk you out." Placing a hand briefly on Regina's shoulder she added, "Back in a sec."
Mary Margaret held her tongue until they were next to her car. Then she whirled on Emma, "What are you doing? Inside jokes? Special meals from your childhood? I repeat, what the hell is going on with you and Regina?"
Emma smiled reassuringly, "Don't worry, Mary Margaret. I can assure you it's nothing bad. I'm not sure exactly what it is but if it keeps us from fighting all the time, and over Henry, that's good, right?"
Mary Margaret bit her lip, "I guess. Look, I have to go meet David. But can we please talk about this tomorrow? Please?"
Her voice and face showed so much bewildered concern Emma could only nod. Watching her drive off, she thought back to the moment in the bathroom. One moment she was afraid all the growing good will between her and Regina had been ruined, in a simple misunderstanding over her tears at the sweet intention of the casserole. The next minute Regina was kissing her with a determination unlike any she had ever shown before. Intent on showing Emma her sorrow at hearing of Emma's painful past, the kiss was hard and purposeful, relenting only when she heard Emma's soft whimper.
"Wow" was all Emma could muster.
"I'm sorry" Regina said intensely, bringing her lips to brush ever so gently against Emma's.
Emma kissed her back, as lightly, "I know." In that moment, everything settled between them. Both knew they would have to talk, and soon, about the growing intimacy between them and its implications but for now, they were okay.
Returning to the house, Emma found Henry in the foyer, dressed for bed.
"I waited for you. I wanted to say goodnight" he said.
She gave him a quick hug, "I'm glad you did. Maybe we can do something this weekend. I'll check with your mom" seeing he was about to speak, she amended, "Your real mom. I'm just your birth mom, let's keep that straight okay?"
He nodded, grinning, "Okay. Emma. Goodnight" and ran upstairs. Hearing his door slam shut, Emma went to find Regina. She found her in the study, staring out at the quiet night in the light streaming in from the french doors. Emma kept her voice soft but announced her presence, not wanting to startle the other woman. "Hey" as she came to stand behind her, Emma slid her hands around Regina's waist to clasp in the front. Surprised but glad that she didn't move away, Emma rested her chin on Regina's shoulder. "Henry's gone to bed. He waited to say goodnight to me."
"Yes, I said he could wait ten minutes" a sad sigh, "but that if you didn't come back by then, he was to go right to bed."
Emma squeezed a bit tighter, "You didn't think I would come back? I told you I was only going to be gone a second."
The voice was flat, "Yes, but it wouldn't be the first time you lied to me."
Emma considered this, "No, it wouldn't. But would it make a difference if I told you things have changed?"
Regina pulled out of her grip, stalking over to the sideboard to pour herself a drink. Eyeing Emma she said harshly, "What is going on between you and Mary Margaret?"
Emma pursed her lips, "Mary Margaret is my friend."
"You live together," Regina accused.
"As friends" Emma kept her voice low though it took some effort. "Believe me, we are only friends and will only ever be friends."
"Really?" dripping with scorn, Regina finished her drink and put down the glass.
"Yes, really. Now what is this about?"
Regina returned to her place by the window. Emma followed her, trying to wait out the older woman. But patience had never been Emma's strong suit. She placed a hand on Regina's arm and turned her around.
"Regina, please. Talk to me" she pleaded.
Regina read the sincerity in Emma's face and relented. Blowing out a breath, she said, "There's something you should know about me. I tend to push people away when I feel them getting close. Or rather" she said with a harsh laugh, "when I feel myself getting close to them. It's much easier to accuse someone of cheating on you when you're convinced no one would truly want you to begin with."
"Well if it's any comfort, you can rest assured I never cheat" Emma told her grimly. "I leave instead. That's something you need to know about me."
Regina thought about this, "But you came back tonight. You didn't leave with Mary Margaret."
"Mary Margaret isn't the one I want to be with" Emma waited to see how Regina would react to her words.
Regina searched Emma's face in the moonlight. Seeing only truth, she tilted her head slightly, "Henry's in bed?"
Emma nodded, "And given all the excitement of having both his birth mom, and his teacher for dinner, plus all those cookies, he's probably sleeping through his sugar/adrenaline crash right now."
Regina stroked the side of Emma's face. Again, Emma tried to be patient and failed. She leaned forward and placed a single sweet kiss on Regina's lips. Taking her hand, Emma led Regina to the sofa. Sitting close, she once again leaned forward, met this time in the middle by Regina. Their kisses started out soft and sweet and pure but soon became more prolonged and searching. Emma reached out carefully with her tongue only to have it swept into Regina's mouth almost immediately. She moaned at the feeling and the taste.
Pushing Regina back on the couch, Emma lay next to her, continuing to duel with the other woman's tongue. Delicious intensity passed back and forth between them as they kissed. Emma pulled back to kiss down the side of Regina's neck. Opening her blouse at the neckline, Emma kissed her way across Regina's collarbone, pausing to lick gently the hollow where they met in the middle.
As she did so, she could feel Regina's hands sliding under her shirt, stroking her back and sides. She felt one hand slide up to cup her breast through her bra and couldn't help arching her back into the hand. "Man, that feels good" she breathed.
"Man has nothing to do with it," gasped Regina, struggling to gain control of her floundering emotions. Emma smiled, pleased that Regina could still make jokes at such a time. Carefully, she undid the tiny buttons of Regina's blouse.
The low voice taunted her, "Such restraint. I'm impressed." Emma felt the hand on her breast give her nipple a slight tweak. Gasping at the pleasure pain, she said, "No need to ruin yet another of your shirts" before lowering her mouth to the lightly freckled skin. Emma couldn't get enough of Regina's skin, it's salty spicy taste. Shifting slightly, she moved the material aside and kissed the hardened bare nipple spilling out of the the silky black bra.
At that, Regina abruptly sat up, away from Emma's mouth. Running a shaking hand through her short hair, she said slightly breathless, "I think that should do for tonight."
Emma lay bewildered on the couch, "Wait, what? What just happened here?"
Regina looked down at her, "What happened is that I remembered that I am not a teenager, making out on her father's couch, hoping not to get caught exploring the delights of second base."
Emma smiled "I thought second base was-"
"No matter what you thought" Regina cut her off, smiling, but leaned back down on the couch. Pushing a stray strand of hair off Emma's face, she continued "Have you forgotten that a very impressionable boy is right upstairs?"
Emma thought about that, sitting up. "Yes, I did. I can't believe it but I did." She ran a hand over Regina's. "I've never been a mother, you know that. And I've never been with anyone like you."
Staring at their entwined fingers, Regina only said, "Like me?"
Emma floundered, "Yeah, someone who makes me forget who I am and where I am, makes me want her so much it hurts. It's like I'm in a dream."
Regina sighed, then brought their fingers to her lips, kissing them gently. "No dream, but we need to at least try to remember that we are not totally alone."
"I should go" Emma said resignedly.
Regina stood, bringing Emma to her feet in front of her. "Yes, you should. For now." She kissed Emma gently, "But not forever."
After returning to her father's palace, Snow White found herself at her wit's end. Nervous and anxious all the time, she both dreaded and craved the return of the newlyweds. Thankfully, her wait was short-lived.
A mere two days after her own return came word of the king's entourage being sighted five miles away on the King's Road. Snow had just enough time to change into a fresh gown and see that the servants had cleaned the royal apartments. It seemed strange earlier in the week to open up her mother's old rooms that had lain empty all these years. But a good dusting and airing out of the bedding, coupled with many bouquets of congratulatory flowers made all the difference.
Waiting with Lord Henry outside the main doors, she could see the same worry and anxiety in his face as she was sure in hers. Taking his wrinkled hand, she squeezed it reassuringly. He squeezed it back but his eyes were hooded and she could not read his thoughts.
The carriage arrived in a spray of mud. A footman jumped down to open the door and fold down the step for their majesties. The king exited first. Seeing Snow, he held out his hands to clasp in hers.
"My darling daughter. It seems a lifetime since I saw you last but you are the very picture of beauty. Do you know, you grow to look more like your beautiful mother every year?"
Not sure what to make of this unexpected compliment, Snow merely curtsied and thanked him. She tried not to be too obvious as she peered around him into the darkened carriage. Her father held out a hand, saying solicitously, "Let me help you, Regina. Look, here is Snow White to welcome us home."
The Queen stepped down out of the carriage, wearing a fur cloak tightly fastened at her neck by a rich broad clip. She raised her eyes to the woman in front of her. "Hello Snow, how nice to see you." Her voice was devoid of emotion and her eyes were dull and lifeless.
Snow took her hands, "Regina? I don't understand."
The Queen laughed a hard and brittle laugh, "Yes, your father has given me a new name to go with my new title. It means 'queen'. Isn't that clever?"
Snow whirled to confront her father, "You renamed her? That's outrageous."
Her father's step faltered as he walked into the great hall. "I am the King" he declared by way of explanation, and kept walking. Snow looked again to the Queen, waiting for a sign, any sign. But none was forthcoming. Instead she walked mechanically, following her husband at a discreet position two steps behind him.
For the next week, the King kept his new bride by his side at all times. Meals were taken either in their rooms or among so many courtiers that Snow gave up trying to regain her seat at the high table. Complaining of this to Lord Henry one night, keeping her voice low and her face bright to ward off any suspicions, Snow implored him to find a way to allow her a few minutes with his daughter.
"I am no better off than you, my dear" he said. "He keeps her away from any who knew her before the wedding. I've barely spoken two words to her since their return, and she makes certain never to say anything regarding the King or his treatment of her."
Snow considered this. "What can we do? I know something isn't right, I know it."
"I agree. But we must bide our time" he sighed so sadly, Snow decided to let it go for the moment rather than cause him further distress.
But she continued to watch the new Queen like a hawk. Snow noticed that, although dressed in fabulous costly gowns, her father rarely glanced his new Queen's way. When he did take notice of her, it was to make a comment under his breath that only she could hear, words that nevertheless caused her to grow pale. There were new lines around her mouth and dark purple circles under her eyes.
Ten days after their return, Snow was shocked to enter the breakfast room to find the Queen sitting in her usual place wearing a heavy lace veil. Seeing her father nowhere about, Snow remained outwardly calm, despite the rushing of blood to her ears.
In a falsely cheery tone, she chirped, "Good morning. How does the Queen this fine day?"
The head barely turned toward her, the voice low "I am well, Snow. And you?"
Making a show of piling a gold rimmed plate with fruit, Snow continued the charade, "I am also well. Where is his majesty? I am surprised to see him not here."
The head did not move, though a thin hand pushed cold food around her plate in endless circles, "He is out hunting this morning. I expect him back before long."
Snow seized on this, "The King is out" she repeated, trying to sound calm. Seeing the other woman nod slowly, she hurled herself into the chair next to her. "My love, we won't have much time. But I must speak to you." Looking around the room she whispered, "It's not safe here. Meet me in your old room."
The heavy veil gave no hint of how this request was received, except for the slightest of nods. Snow flew from the room, elated. A few minutes later, she heard furtive footsteps in the hall. Throwing open the door, she grabbed the Queen and pulled her in. Sure that no one saw them enter, she confidently whipped off the veil, intending to kiss her beloved only to have a sharp hand stop her.
Regina's face was drawn and pale. Her eyes shined as though with a fever and her hair hung lank around her shoulders. But most shocking of all was a ragged cut on her upper lip, curling black thread barely holding the split sides together.
Snow gasped, "What happened?"
Regina stared at Snow as though hardly recognizing her. As if in a trance, she said in a monotone, "I fell."
Snow scoffed, "You haven't fallen since you were six years old, and that was because I tripped you. Now tell me the truth, how did this happen? And don't you dare lie to me."
The harsh tone caused the frail woman to flinch. "I tripped" she repeated.
Snow realized that this was no longer the woman she had known but rather a haunted timid creature to be treated with the utmost of care. Leading her to the now dusty bed, she sat them down. Bringing one hand to the Queen's battered face, she carefully examined the cut. The upper lip had been split nearly in two just off center.
"Oh my love, I can't believe he would do this" Snow felt like crying but tried to be strong. "We must do something. He cannot be allowed to treat you this way."
Regina grabbed Snow's hands, frantically, "No Snow, you mustn't! It will only make things worse."
"But he must be made to stop" Snow pleaded.
"He is the King. I am his wife. He can do anything he likes to me" she answered firmly. "Promise me you will not confront him. I can take whatever he does to me, but I couldn't
bear it if anything should happen to you."
Snow hesitated but saw the panic returning to the dark eyes and relented, "For you, I will hold my tongue. And I will think of a way to end this, one way or the other."
"Now I must go before his men realize I am not in my quarters. They watch me day and night, even when he is with me." Rising unsteadily to her feet, the Queen took a moment to get her bearings, then quickly left the room.
After she was gone, Snow let her rage fly. Bedding was shredded, curtains pulled from their rods, furniture destroyed. By the time she finished, the room looked like a disaster zone but she felt mildly better. Able to think a bit more clearly, she went to seek Lord Henry to tell him what she had found out, hoping that the resourceful man would know of a solution.
"Can you fix a cracked cranium? 'Cuz that's what you'll have on your hands if one of these boards collapses under his weight. You're not thinking of Henry or his safety, just when he's around me" Regina searched Emma's face, watching to see if the blonde understood her point that, although beloved by her son, the castle playground was nowhere near up to code, and clearly a hazard to any child playing on it.
"Don't let your feelings cloud your judgement. People can get hurt" she continued, not completely sure she was talking only about the decrepit wooden structure now.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Emma retorted defensively.
"You're the Sheriff now. It's time to be responsible." Walking back to the car, Regina realized that Emma still had a lot to learn about the constant vigilance that came with being a parent. Driving off, she tried to explain to Henry why the entire structure was going to have to be torn down. He protested vigorously until she cut him off.
"Henry, it's not safe. It's as simple as that. End of discussion." Seeing him eye her resentfully in her rear view mirror, she sighed to herself. One more thing to put in his Evil Queen column. She only hoped Archie would be able to talk some sense into him where she couldn't.
Later she watched as the demolition team took down the castle, at considerable expense to the tax payers for a Saturday double overtime crew. She wished the new playground was nearer to completion so she would have something to offer in consolation at the next council meeting. But some things couldn't be rushed and until the final payment was made to the loathsome Mr. Gold, final approval for the site had to be on hold. Seeing the Sheriff's car pull up, Regina was only mildly surprised to see Emma charging toward her, hair whipping around her face in the wind.
"Congratulations Madame Mayor, you've destroyed the thing he loves."
At the use of her honorific, Regina realized Emma set the tone. This was to be a professional upbraiding, a denial of their growing personal relationship. Anger flared in her amidst the always present attraction.
"A dangerous thing that can only hurt Henry and others. You see me as a villain, Miss Swan, but that's just your perception and you're wrong. Learn your place in this town or soon enough you won't be in it." Before she could say anything more damaging, she turned and walked away.
Back in her office, finishing up the paperwork to finalize the deal with Gold, Regina heard her outer office door slam open. Emma barged in, eyes flashing, holding a pile of photos.
"You're stalking me!" she demanded throwing the photos down on the desk. "How long has this been going on Regina?"
Sidney! Regina clenched her teeth. The so called journalist with his alcoholic binging and obsession with recreating a relationship he no longer even remembered needed to be brought to heel and soon.
"Emma" she said cooly attempting to diffuse the situation, "it was only when you first arrived. When I had no idea what your ulterior motives were regarding Henry. I ordered Sidney to stop right after the mine cave in. When I started to realize that you only wanted to protect Henry as much as I do."
Staring into Emma's eyes, she could see the blonde starting to waver, wanting to believe it. Then just as suddenly, suspicion flared again.
"Then why are there pictures from last week?"
"What?" Regina scanned the photos. Indeed there were many she didn't recognize. Emma and Henry in the diner. Emma and Henry walking down the street. Emma waiting in her car outside the Mayor's residence. Emma and Mary Margaret walking up the front walk, the front door opening to let them in the night of their dinner. Emma and Mary Margaret talking heatedly outside her house. Emma returning alone to the house, Regina in the window looking out.
This was really beyond the pale. Regina realized that she was going to have to have one of her little chats to redefine the boundaries between her and the toady. Boundaries that were suddenly much slimmer, taking into account the growing closeness between herself and the furious woman before her.
Taking a quick inventory, Regina came to a decision. She rose and came around the desk to stand in front of Emma. Looking deep into her flashing eyes, she said firmly, "I told him to stop. The fact that he didn't only adds fuel to my argument that he isn't quite stable. I'll take care of it, I promise."
Desire to believe warred with remembrance of earlier betrayals. Regina leaned forward enough to place a tender kiss, right on the edge of Emma's down turned mouth.
"Don't let that odious man get in the way" she placed another on the other side, noting how it twitched, trying to resist turning up.
Bringing her hand up to cup the smooth face, she slid her fingers into the edge of Emma's green high necked shirt. Kissing the skin as it was revealed, she felt Emma relax into the embrace.
"You have much more important things to do than listen to yet another disgruntled resident complain about how they've been mistreated at my hand." Her other hand rose to stroke the outer side of Emma's breast. Emma hummed her approval lightly into Regina's ear.
Delving deeper into Emma's neck, Regina nipped at the tendon but stopped abruptly, catching sight of a reddish purple mark at the base of the collarbone. Smirking, she licked it saying in her deepest voice, "Did I do that?"
Emma moaned rather than spoke, "Yeah, the other night. Hence the turtleneck. Good thing it's cold out today." She pulled the other woman closer melding their bodies together.
"What can I do to make it up to you?" Kissing her way back to Emma's mouth, she felt it open and darted her tongue inside before pulling back to kiss carefully Emma's dimples.
"Oh, I can think of a few things" Emma responded. She abruptly hoisted the unsuspecting Mayor onto the desk who immediately wrapped her legs around the other woman's waist.
Snaking her hands under Regina's black sweater, she asked, "Don't tell me I left marks on you too?"
"Not where they show" Regina taunted, quickly removing the sweater and throwing it back onto her chair.
Seeing the expanse of skin this time, Emma took her time examining each curve and dip, every freckle receiving the special attention of her tongue and lips. Hesitating to go any further, after being cut off so abruptly last time, Emma mouthed Regina's now straining nipples from outside the satiny fabric covering them.
A harsh intake from above her head indicated she was doing something right. Gentle nibbles alternated with harder bites before being soothed by a careful tongue. Hands in her hair scratched at her scalp, bringing her mouth even closer to the body now starting to writhe on the desk. Feeling Regina start to reach behind herself to unclasp the offending bra, Emma stopped her.
"No, not yet" she whispered. Continuing her ministrations, Emma worked both breasts with her fingers, lips, tongue. Blowing cool breathe where moments before her mouth had covered the area hot and wet. She could hear Regina's breath hitching, unevenly. Unrelenting, Emma pulled one, then the other fabric covered nipple into her mouth, sucking hard. On the third try, she felt Regina stiffen sitting bolt upright, cradling Emma's head to her chest. A throaty cry filled the office, so wanton it made Emma nearly climax herself.
Moments later, Regina relaxed her grip and slumped off the desk, to be held, full body pressed against Emma's as she stilled her breathing. "Well" her voice was intense, "that was not what I expected to happen when you stormed in here."
"Tell me about it. Who knew you were so sensitive?"
"Hardly" Regina scoffed, "but you must admit there's something to be said for taking me on my desk in the middle of the day." Giving her one last squeeze, Regina retreated back to her chair, putting her sweater back on. "I must give you credit. You...achieved quite a lot without really taking anything off. I will say, I am thankful for the remote lock on the door."
"I guess 'tag' you're it then" Emma said grinning as she gathered up her coat. "Next time, I get a turn."
"Looking forward to it. Good day Miss Swan."
As the years passed, Snow White saw a complete reversal in her father's treatment of her. Where before she suffered under his scorn and derision, now it seemed she could do no wrong. Years of mistreatment could not be undone, however, and she remained suspicious of his motives as it seemed he constantly praised her.
She continued to watch him like a hawk and noticed that, although in public he was a doting husband, fulsome in his praise for his wife and her qualities, rarely did she return the compliments. Never outwardly disrespectful, she managed to live as though in a daze, responding only when spoken to and nearly always reacting rather than acting on what was going on around her. Snow was never again able to speak to her in private, followed as the queen was by ladies in waiting or other courtiers. But she kept vigilant, always hoping for a chance to have an honest conversation rather than the inane pleasantries they were forced to share in public.
Then, one day at dinner, Snow noticed Regina holding her arm at an unusual angle. Attempting to take a sip of her soup, her hand had a spasm causing her spoon to fall with a loud clatter onto the floor. Panic and fear passed over her face before she was able to replace her expression with its now regular one of outward calm. A few drops of soup landed on her impeccable dress, Regina stood abruptly, excusing herself, "I'll go change now, My Lord."
Snow saw her window of opportunity open, however slightly. Rushing to the Queen's side, she gushed, "Oh my, let me help you!" Taking her by the dangling arm, she gently cradled it and led her away. The two did not speak until back in the Queen's apartments. Sending the ever present serving woman away to fetch warm water, Snow turned on Regina, "I know you're hurt. How can I help?"
Remembering the last time they really spoke, Regina did not try to hide her injury. With Snow's help, she removed her stained gown resignedly. Snow gasped. All up and down the Queen's torso and arms were bruises, many faded but as many bright and colorful. Her arm, now out of it's supporting sleeve, hung uselessly at her side.
She looked imploringly at Snow, "He knocked it out of the socket. Help me snap it back."
Snow set her teeth, took hold of the arm and nodded. As Regina grabbed the bed post with her good arm, Snow gave her a moment to take a deep breath. At the height of the breath, Snow twisted the arm and pushed hard on the shoulder. Although the limb slid quickly back into place, she could see beads of sweat running down the Queen's cheek at the immense pain, though she made no sound.
Knowing the servant woman would return, Snow said quickly, "I have a way to free you from this life. I will send it to you whenever I can find a safe time. You must promise me to use it."
The Queen wiped away the tears in her eyes and nodded. Staring at Snow, she whispered, "You are my only hope. I will do as you ask."
Soon after, Snow sent a note to Lord Henry, requesting his presence for tea in her apartment. Setting out the tea set, she poured him a cup.
"Uncle Henry, I know your birthday is this week, the same as my father, and I wanted to make sure to give you your gift in person. I wasn't sure what to get you but I thought this might help make your greatest dream come true."
The old man smiled, his fondness for Snow showing on his whiskered face. "My darling Snow, just a birthday wish from you is enough."
Snow let her bright mask fall for a moment. Seriously, she added quietly, "This gift is actually an indirect one. If you give it to the Queen, we may both have what we wish."
Lord Henry nodded. Keeping up the charade, he guffawed loudly for those who might be listening, "Oh Snow, you do know how to tell a ribald joke, you naughty princess. What would your father say?"
"He would say I stole his joke, Uncle" Snow laughed as well, certain her message had been received.
Later that day, she paid a groom to deliver a heavy wooden chest to Lord Henry's rooms, then paid even more to "encourage" the groom to develop a sudden illness that forced him to leave the palace for good. That afternoon, she saw from her window, Lord Henry giving the chest to her father's pet genie, a dark skinned man with eyes that took in everything but revealed little. Other than an obvious infatuation with the Queen. "At least he has good taste in women, if not clothes" thought Snow.
That night, Snow awoke to shouts in the corridor and the heavy sound of boots in the hall. Rapidly, she dressed and followed the crowd to the royal apartments. The noise was silenced at her approach, and as the crowd realized who it was, they parted to let her through. Bracing herself for what she was about to see, she entered the darkened chamber.
There, on the bed, lay her father, his face twisted in agony. The Queen sat nearby cooly watching. The Lord Steward stood behind her, almost as a guard would. Snow stared at her in horror.
"My father! He is dead?" Snow sounded confused, causing the Queen to furrow her brow.
"Yes" she said in a clear voice, "he was found by his chamberlain. An Agraba viper was found dead near his body. We suspect the genie used it to kill my beloved husband. I have sent guards to arrest him but it seems he cannot be found."
Snow stared at the other woman. She could not speak. Seeing her face, the Queen clapped her hands, "The Princess Snow White is in shock. Bring her to my room so that we may comfort each other in this darkest hour."
Snow followed the waiting women leading her away. Her mind was in a whirl. She was led to an ornate chair, given a lap blanket and a goblet filled with sweet wine. Shortly, the Queen swept into the room, issuing orders. The ladies in waiting rushed off to do her bidding.
The Queen hastily filled and drained her own goblet of wine. Coming to stand in front of Snow, she took the younger woman's hands in her own.
"Thank you" she said simply.
Snow shook herself to look into the chocolate eyes, shining bright in the firelight. "Thank me? For what?"
"For giving me the means to free myself" the Queen sounded confused that Snow did not seem to understand what she was talking about. "My husband is dead, and I am finally free."
Snow snatched her hands away, "My father is dead and you killed him."
"The genie did but no matter. The important thing is that now finally-"
"What finally?" Snow scoffed, "you think now that my father is dead we can be together?"
"Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that why you sent me the snake?"
"I sent you the snake so we could kill ourselves. It's the most poisonous snake in the world. It has two heads. One for each of us!"
Regina stared at Snow, "You wanted us to commit suicide? Why should we kill ourselves instead of Leopold? He was the evil one."
Snow jumped up, "He may have been evil but at least he wasn't a murderer! I can't believe you did this."
"You don't know what he did to me. I know he was all sweetness and light to you since he and I married but to me he was awful. He terrorized me. He beat me. He raped me. If I hadn't killed him, with the snake you sent, he would have killed me sooner or later" Regina's voice was pure ice.
Snow stared. The Queen's eyes flashed dangerously and her fists were clenched tightly at her sides. She radiated hatred.
Snow's eyes filled with tears, for the death of her love for the other woman in that instant. She turned and walked toward the door. Regina stopped her. "Where are you going?"
"Away from you. I can't believe what you have done or that you thought I would accept it" she whispered. "Goodbye."
After even a few days banished from seeing Henry, Emma felt grouchy. She hadn't realized how much the tussle-haired boy had gotten under her skin. But after the confrontation with Regina at the council meeting where her plan to build, not a luxury home in the woods but instead a rather sinister looking playground for the town's kids, Emma understood Regina's need to punish her in the worst possible way.
So it was with delight she took the Mayor up on her offer of 29 and a half minutes and ice cream with her son, setting aside her reservations about leaving a dangerous Mr. Gold, albeit behind bars.
Settling into a booth at the diner, Emma cautiously asked around a mouthful of vanilla swirl, "So your mom's pretty mad at me, huh."
Henry nodded, his head nearly in the bowl in front of him. Peering up at her through his long bangs, he added, "She started out shouting but now she's down to brooding."
Impressed by his vocabulary, Emma repeated, "Brooding?"
"Yeah, she's real quiet and if I didn't know better, I'd say she was sad."
"Hmm" Emma pondered this. Angry was bad, sad wasn't much better. But Emma could relate. Ever since their blowup, she had felt keenly not just the loss of time spent with her son but time spent with his adoptive mother. She tried to talk it over with Mary Margaret but got little sympathy and even less understanding. Besides Mary Margaret was too busy dealing with her own sense of loss in regard to her on again off again relationship with David.
After their treat, being sure to leave it on the Mayor's tab in a moment of passive aggression, Emma and Henry checked the station to see if Regina was still there. Mr. Gold sat staring at an old chipped tea cup and murmured that the Mayor had left minutes before their arrival. Seeing that another deputy was on duty, that is, watching Spanish soap operas on a battered television in the break room, Emma took Henry home.
Walking into the house, Emma instructed Henry to go to his room and finish his homework.
"But I don't have any homework" he complained. "I want to hang out with you."
Emma smiled at him ruefully, "I want that too, but I need to talk to your mom first. See if I can mend some bridges so we can spend more time together next week."
He seemed to agree with this and ran up the stairs two at a time. Finding Regina in the kitchen, chopping cheese ferociously with a shining butcher knife from a large white block into smaller cubes, Emma said nothing but slid onto the high stool opposite her. Regina did not acknowledge the other woman's presence, until Emma's hand snaked out to steal one of the square pieces of cheese.
"Looking to lose a finger that way, Miss Swan" the voice was sardonic which gave Emma a glimmer of hope. "I thought you had more sense."
"Not usually" Emma replied eating the cube.
Long minutes passed. Wiping the knife with a dishrag, Regina pulled a sharpener from a wooden block on the counter and began to hone the knife's edge in long slow strokes.
Finally she said, "You disappointed me, Miss Swan. I thought we had moved beyond the kind of suspicion that would lead you to bug my office."
Emma's eyebrows flew up, "You knew?"
Regina was smug, "Of course I knew. I especially liked how you made sure to bend over my desk just enough to remind me of what went on there earlier that same day" Her volume started to rise as did the color in her cheeks.
Emma had the good grace to look abashed. "It was a dirty trick, and I'm sorry I hurt you" she stated simply. "I should have never gotten caught up in Sidney's...whatever that was. What is going on between you and Sidney?" Then realizing how that sounded, echoing as it did Regina's suspicion of her relationship with MM, started to chuckle.
Not answering, Regina merely watched until Emma was able to get herself under control again. "I take it you retract the question, as it is patently ridiculous?"
Hearing a slight warmth creeping in, Emma rose and came around the island. Taking the knife and sharpener carefully to put on the counter, she searched for and found enough forgiveness in the other woman's dark eyes to lean forward to give her a soft kiss.
"So now what?" asked Emma earnestly.
Regina blew out a breath, "We are always going to fight. I can see that. Neither of us is particularly trusting, and we give far greater heed than we should to what others say." She turned to wash her hands in the sink. Emma had to listen carefully to hear her quietly say over the rush of the water, "I don't want to give you up."
"I don't want that either. And you're right, we are destined to fight. It's part of who we are. But how about if we try to learn to fight about the important stuff, and let the little stuff take care of itself?"
"Important being stuff having to do with Henry. You are the authority there, I concede that. But sometimes I would like to be consulted if it's something that's possibly going to be damaging to him. Like keeping me from seeing him." Seeing Regina start to protest, she held up a hand, "I know why you did it, to punish me, and believe me it worked. But it also hurt him and didn't do your case any good with him."
Regina thought this over, finally admitting, "Yes, only the Evil Queen would keep the handsome prince from his birth mother."
"Handsome prince?" Emma resumed her place on the stool, taking more cubes of cheese, piling them into a tower in front of her.
Regina responded as she moved the remaining cheese out of Emma's reach, "If I'm the Evil Queen, then by rights Henry is the prince. Now stop taking my ingredients or dinner will be a sad affair indeed."
Popping one into her mouth, Emma said, "Can we also agree that little stuff includes town stuff? You let me do my job and I let you do yours and if we have questions about the other's actions, we talk to each other, instead of trying to find out the answers on our own. Or worse yet, from other sources."
"Agreed" Regina reached over to take the top cube off Emma's pile, only to be stopped by Emma grabbing her wrist. Refusing to drop the morsel, it soon became a war of wills as neither woman was willing to let go. Until Emma turned the wrist as she bent her head to bestow another gentle kiss on the tender underside.
"Emma! What are you doing? You shouldn't be doing that!" Henry shouted from the doorway, his eyes wide with confusion. Immediately Emma dropped Regina's arm and turned to face Henry.
"Let me explain" she tried but he ran out before she could finish the sentence. Seeing Regina about to pursue him, she said, "Regina, please, this time, let me."
Seeing the expression on her face, Regina relented. "Go, try to explain to him."
Grateful that this hadn't blown up into another fight so soon after making up from the last one, Emma hurried upstairs where she heard Henry lock his door. Years as a bail bonds person came in handy as she easily worked the flimsy lock open. Standing in the doorway, she asked respectfully, "Can I come in?"
Henry glared at her, "You were kissing her. Don't you know she's the enemy?"
Emma carefully entered the room, sitting down at the desk adjacent to the bed. "Henry, I've been wanting to talk to you about that. What if, just what if, there's more to the story than just the Evil Queen being evil?"
"What do you mean?" he eyed her suspiciously, looking so much like Regina in that moment Emma had to hide a grin at the resemblance.
"I mean, we know the Evil Queen is evil. That she's done terrible things, mostly to Snow White. But does your book ever explain why?"
"No," he admitted slowly. "It tells all the evil things she did, like sending Hansel and Gretel to the blind witch's gingerbread house, knowing they'd get eaten."
"But they didn't get eaten, did they? They escaped and the blind witch was killed instead."
"Yeah" he considered, "But she tried to have Snow White killed. She sent the huntsman to take her heart. And when he wouldn't, she poisoned her with an apple."
Emma thought about this, "True, she does seem to have it out for Snow White but c'mon have you ever met anyone who was really as good and sweet and pure as Snow White? How annoying would that be? And the stepmothers never come out good in these stories. Don't you think, maybe, there might be more to it than meets the eye?"
"I suppose" he relented, "but that doesn't explain why you were kissing her arm."
"No it doesn't" Emma thought hard before answering. "The thing is, kid, I kinda like your mom. I mean, sure we have our disagreements but we've had some okay times too. Like when we all had dinner together, remember?"
"She made you cry" he said, triumphantly thinking he had made his point.
"But that wasn't on purpose and I wasn't crying because I was sad or hurt or upset. Only because she made me feel good and special."
"Yeah, and that's how she makes me feel most of the time. And I think I want to find out more about that, about how she makes me feel." Watching Henry's face, she saw him trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. Giving him another moment, she rose saying, "I'm going back downstairs. I'll come get you when dinner's ready?"
He nodded, thoughts clearly buzzing around his head a mile a minute. Re-entering the kitchen, she saw Regina stirring something in a large pot on the stove, steam rising above her head in great white clouds.
"Don't tell me. He's either locked himself in his room sulking or he let you in, listened with rapt attention to everything you said, and now everything is hunky dory between you two while I am, once again, left out in the cold."
"Not exactly. He did lock himself in his room, so I broke in-I owe you a new lock by the way, sorry-and we talked. I told him I liked you and like the way you make me feel. He's thinking it over until dinner."
Regina turned to face Emma, disbelief all across her face, "You told him all that?"
"It's the truth."
"You told him you 'like' me?"
Emma grinned, "Regina, he's ten. Liking a girl when you're ten is huge. He gets it."
Regina crossed the kitchen to stand at Emma's side, leaning slightly into her body. "Alright, as long as somebody does."
"The question is, do you like me back" Emma tried to tease but insecurity colored her voice.
Regina hugged her around the waist, whispering in her ear, "I do, but don't tell. It'll ruin my reputation."
As the three ate dinner that night, both Emma and Regina tried to act as naturally as possible but it was clear Henry was still having trouble with the idea. Once the meal was finished, Regina stopped Henry from bolting back upstairs to his room.
"I know this will take some getting used to Henry, but I am trying and so is Miss...Emma" she said, taking a deep breath before taking Emma's hand in her own. "But we've agreed to take things slow-"
"Glacial" interjected Emma.
"Until we feel more comfortable with the idea ourselves, so I would appreciate it if you would...keep this between us for now. I would hate for anyone to think this was a topic for gossip" she finished.
"More secrets" he protested.
Regina tried again, "Henry, there's a difference between keeping secrets and keeping one's private business private. What goes on in this house" nodding toward Emma "and in Emma's house is not for the entertainment of the entire town."
Emma jumped in, "Mary Margaret knows, kinda. You could talk to her about it."
Henry thought this over, then nodded his head. "Okay but it's weird, that's all I'm saying." With that, he came around the table to hug Emma, then Regina who seemed startled at the sudden gesture but held him tight nonetheless, her face showing her astonishment.
When he had gone from the room, Regina rose and, with a brief look of disgust at the dishes on the table, beckoned for Emma to join her. Once in the library, she maneuvered them so that Emma sat back on the couch with Regina enveloped in her arms. After a long while of enjoying the other's closeness, Regina said in a low voice, "You know, I sleep with your shirt."
Emma, so comfortable she almost started to doze off, puzzled, "What shirt? You mean the blue one?"
Regina nodded, idly tracing patterns on Emma's arm, "Yes, it smells like you."
Emma smiled, "I did the same thing when I had it. I slept in it until all the Regina smell was gone. Then it was easy to give it back.. If you had come over for dinner earlier in the week, you would have gone home naked."
"Half naked" Regina corrected her.
"Mmm" conceded Emma, who then could think of nothing else but Regina, standing in her bathroom in only her slacks and bra. The strong curve of her shoulders. The fuller curves below, spilling nearly out of the lacy cups. She shifted in her seat, suffused with warmth throughout her body.
"No problem" Emma lied easily, "unless you think celibacy is a piece of cake."
Regina smiled, "Oh no, not at all. There's a time and a place for it. And although there is a strong instinct in me to throw celibacy to the wolves where you are concerned, there is an even stronger instinct to adhere to it for a bit longer."
Emma sighed into Regina's hair, "I know, I know, me too. I really want to...you know... with you but I still don't feel like we're there yet. But that doesn't stop me from really wanting to."
"Let me get this straight. You 'really like' me and you want to 'you know' with me. You certainly have a way with words, don't you?" Regina quietly laughed.
Emma tightened her grip on the other woman, "Ha ha. Funny." Reaching down, she turned Regina's head enough to place the first of many kisses on her lipsticked mouth. She felt Regina return her kisses, and moved lower so their heads were level. After several minutes of passionate kissing, Emma pulled back.
"Before we go any further, I need to stop. I'm starting to forget Henry is in the house again."
Regina's eyes were glazed but at Emma's words, she nodded. Sitting up she marveled, "You do make it easy to forget."
Emma rose, and placing a kiss on the wrist she held earlier, looked deep into chestnut colored eyes, "Goodnight Regina, sleep tight."
The next few weeks passed quickly and, for Storybrooke, uneventfully. Emma found previously undiscovered reserves of patience in regard to her physical relationship with Regina, even going so far as to abstain from releasing on her own. Though partially that was out of fear of being overheard by Mary Margaret in the small apartment with its paper thin walls. It was bad enough that Mary Margaret's mouth turned down ever so slightly whenever she accidentally came upon Emma and Regina together, usually after one of their increasingly frequent make out sessions on nights Mary Margaret worked late.
These encounters stayed relatively chaste, however. They always stayed fully clothed, rarely reclined on the battered couch and never moved their activities to anything resembling a bed. Nevertheless, Emma felt like an adolescent, stealing kisses in City Hall back rooms, some heavy petting one day in her squad car. As far as she could tell, no one except Henry and Mary Margaret, knew of their burgeoning relationship, and other than an increase in turtlenecks nothing in their outward behavior suggested anything other than a cordial working friendship between the two women.
With the approach of spring though, Emma felt her desire for the dark haired woman increase. Late night phone conversations whispered under the covers were like a kind of delicious torture. Small gestures such as the appearance of a sprig of new apple blossoms in a crystal vase on her desk invoked a gasp of surprise and delight. Emma worried that Henry's vision would suffer permanent damage from constant eye rolling every time he saw them being affectionate, though he thankfully kept any comments to himself.
Finally, feeling the dam might burst at any time, Emma confessed to Regina after a particularly stimulating make out session on her couch, "I'm not sure how much longer I can take this. I mean, I know we agreed to wait but-"
Regina smiled lazily, "And we have waited. Until the time is ripe. And you, dear, are ripe for the plucking."
Emma shivered at the words and especially the tone. "But Henry-" she protested.
"Henry has a sleep over tonight with Eva and Nicholas. At their house" she purred, smoothly rising to stand bringing Emma with her. "I didn't mention it because I didn't want you to think I had an ulterior motive for having you over."
Emma took her hand, following her up the stairs, "You mean, if I hadn't said anything you would have kept waiting? How gallant" she teased.
Regina scoffed, "Yes, well don't let good manners deceive you into thinking I haven't been as, anxious, shall we say, as you?"
Once in the bedroom, however, Emma turned serious. "You have to know how much you mean to me, Regina. All my life, it's been one night stands and bad decisions made in the heat of the moment. With you, I feel like I'm finally getting it right."
Regina embraced her, saying into her ear, "Me too. And that thought scares me more than anything else ever has."
Standing together for a long moment, Emma felt peace and contentment wash over her. Part of her wished they could stay locked in place forever. Until she felt Regina's hands begin to wander, and lips begin to place light kisses down the side of her face. Turning her head, she kissed Regina, starting out just as lightly but soon unable to hold back. Her tongue licked first Regina's lower lip, then the upper, feeling the slight change in texture at the faded scar there. Regina opened her mouth, and Emma swept her tongue inside, nearly coming undone as Regina's tongue did the same to her.
Backing them up, Emma felt the edge of the bed against her knees. Gripping Regina tightly, she held her close as they fell upon the mattress, never letting her mouth move from Regina's. Soon Emma's hand slipped under Regina's blouse, groaning into her mouth at the feel of smooth skin under her fingertips.
Hearing it apparently sparked some kind of action. Regina raised her body enough to allow the blouse to be removed while eyeing Emma's with a calculating glance. Emma didn't have time to ask before Regina abruptly grabbed the neckline and tore the shirt literally off her body. Impressed at the show of strength, Emma said, "Nice. Guess now we're even in terms of shirts."
"Indeed" Regina managed to murmur before giving Emma's bra the same treatment. As Emma started to complain about the wanton destruction of her clothing, Regina took one full nipple into her mouth, laving it all over but not before placing a quick kiss on the mole above the breast.
Any thoughts of protest vanished from Emma's mind at such treatment. Somehow she managed to remove Regina's undergarment as well, flinging it aside but was prevented from taking any further action due to the fact that Regina's mouth on her body short circuited her brain. Emma had never felt anything as good as what Regina was doing. Kisses, caresses, long sweeps of tongue on her flesh drove Emma delightfully insane.
Before she was quite sure how it happened, she felt Regina move down to place kisses on the inside of her now bare legs, though she had no idea what had happened to her jeans and panties. Just as miraculously, Regina was now bare as well. Emma was spellbound, feeling Regina's body sliding against her own.
Soon however, all her attention was drawn to her center as Regina's mouth moved to cover her mound with light kisses and gentle strokes of her tongue. Of their own volition, Emma's legs spread wide to accommodate the other woman who quickly moved to take advantage of the situation. Emma felt heat and wetness build until she was sure she must be dripping all over Regina's Egyptian million thread count sheets. At the touch of Regina's slender fingers at her entrance Emma gasped, "Oh please, yes now Regina."
A groan ripped from her throat at the feel of those fingers entering her. Emma held her breath, trying to hold onto the moment but a short intake of air served to encourage Regina who began a slow but measured pace increasing in such minute increments Emma was sure she would hyperventilate. Pressure built until Emma thought sure she would explode in pleasure when suddenly all movement stopped. Whimpering loudly, Emma complained, her voice ragged with need, "Regina! What the hell?"
Regina, implacable as always, insisted in her low controlled voice, "Trust me Emma" and rolled off the other woman onto her back. Seeing Regina stretched out fully nude for the first time made Emma forget her own pleasure and felt a surge of protective possessiveness instead. Positioning herself atop Regina, she asked "Like this? I'm not squishing you?"
Regina laughed heartily, grasping Emma's hips shifting her into the proper alignment. Rolling her hips just so, Emma felt Regina's center line up with her own, their mingled wetness serving to increase their pleasure to an impossible degree. Grinding into each other, Emma threw her head back, closing her eyes. The sensation was beyond anything she had ever felt. Wave upon wave of ecstacy crashed over her. When she felt herself beginning to come undone, she heard Regina command in a quiet voice, almost pleading, "Emma, open your eyes. Look at me."
Hair disheveled, sweat covering her upper chest, eyes glowing Regina never looked so beautiful. Locking their eyes together, she said "I love you Emma. I've always loved you." Before she could respond, Emma felt herself falling over the cliff, shock waves of delight coursing through every nerve ending.
As she did, unable to look away from the depths of Regina's dark eyes, Emma somehow saw in her mind flashes from Regina's life. Regina as a child crying in an empty doorway watching the small figure of a woman walking away, Regina at Henry's age in a rich brocade gown playing with a smaller girl that looked remarkably like Henry with dark brown hair falling in her eyes that couldn't quite cover up ears sticking out, Regina walking arm in arm with the same girl both of them older now, Regina kissing the girl, then marrying a much older man wearing a crown, Regina somehow pulling her still beating heart out of her chest to put in a silver box given to a kindly looking man with whiskers, Regina stoically staying silent as the crowned man merciless beat her, standing by the man's bed seeing his now dead body removed by men in blue livery, watching as the dark haired woman betrayed her in the worst possible way, abandoning her.
Emma, still reeling from the aftershocks in her body, startled back, refocusing her eyes on Regina's who were watching her carefully. Emma noticed that Regina was also panting heavily and had an iron grip on Emma's thighs, her legs twitching ever so slightly in time with Emma's.
"Regina?" Emma asked, bewildered unable to grasp what she had seen. "It's true?"
Worry lines formed on Regina's forehead. Finding a reserve of strength amidst the panic underlying her gaze, she said mournfully, "Yes. It's all true."
Emma felt her brain trying to wrap itself around this information. "You're the Queen? Mary Margaret really is Snow White? Wait, you slept with her?"
Never taking her eyes off the blonde atop her, Regina admitted, "Yes."
Understanding began to color Emma's face, "But she betrayed you. That's why you did all that stuff to her."
"It was another world, another time." Regina tried to explain, her voice still so sad, "I was devastated when she left me. I thought my only recourse was to destroy her, the way she had destroyed me."
Seeing tears fill the brown eyes, Emma rolled off and took the other woman in her arms, murmuring words of comfort as Regina poured out all her sorrow, anger and hurt. When she finally stilled, Emma heard in a dead voice, "Now that you know, I suppose you'll leave too."
Emma sat up and faced Regina, "No, I won't. I can't. I love you too."
Suspicion warred with hope on Regina's face. Incredulously, she said, "You do?"
Emma nodded, "I do. I think I always have too. I can't help it." She bent down and kissed Regina, trying to put all her feelings into the kiss, tried to take some of the pain from the other woman and show her that now was just about them.
Regina accepted the kiss as it was offered, "I can't believe this is happening." She wrapped herself in Emma's arms as they lay in the bed.
Feeling assured that Regina had accepted her love, regardless of her words, she teased, "I can't believe you slept with my mother."
Regina bolted up, causing Emma to sit up as well apologizing for her ill-timed joke, "I'm kidding. That's all in the past. What happens in Story Land stays in Story Land?" she finished lamely, kicking herself for making another joke in light of how well the last one had gone over. Regina's face had turned pale with shock.
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Well, you know" Emma tried to explain, "in Henry's book. I'm the baby that Snow White and Prince Charming put in the magic wardrobe to break the curse."
Regina reeled with shock. "You're Snow White's baby" her voiced registered her wonder at the idea. "You came here to break the curse."
Emma took Regina's hands in hers, "But I don't know how. And what happens if I do? Do you all revert to your lives back there? What happens here, in Storybrooke?"
Regina gripped Emma's hands as tightly, "I honestly don't know. The curse...it's a bad one. The most powerful one I've ever seen, and I've seen some curses in my time."
"But if the curse is broken, what happens to me? And Henry? I don't want to revert to being a baby. And wouldn't that mean he simply disappears like he never existed?"
Regina took a deep breath to speak but was interrupted by Emma, "I won't give him up again, Regina. I can't. Nor you. If breaking the curse means losing you, then forget it. We'll just have to live with it."
"I never thought the curse would ever be broken" Regina admitted. "So I never really thought about what that would mean. But no, I'm not willing to give you up either."
Emma hugged her tightly. "Okay, now that that's settled, we need to make some real world plans."
Regina said slyly, "To me, the other world is the real world and this is the fantasy world."
"Stop being pedantic" Emma slapped Regina's bare leg lightly. "In this world, I'm hungry and getting cold and have to pee and smell like sex. So what do you plan to do about it?"
Regina's eyes squinted deviously, "I rather like the way you smell, but a hot shower might do the trick. Why don't you go take care of need two, three and four while I order food to take care of need number one?"
"You're Need Number One" Emma said mushily, kissing her soundly before springing from the bed. Watching her walk away, Regina felt her desire return tenfold. Hiding her feelings had never been difficult for her but seeing the sway of Emma's hips, Regina reflected that perhaps she would have some trying days ahead. But well worth it.
An hour later in the diner, Regina sat bemused while Emma dug into her meal with relish. Realizing she was being watched, Emma asked her sternly, "What? You ordered it for me. You can't complain about my eating habits when you're the one enabling them." She forked another mouthful, "What is this anyway? It's amazing. And how did you know I'd like it when I've never had it?"
Regina took a sip from her straw, "It's called Moco Loco, hamburger over mashed potato with a fried egg on top" disdain dripping from her voice, "and I knew you would like it because it has gravy all over it."
Emma nodded, "Yeah, I'll have to add that to my favorites list. How come you aren't eating?"
Regina leaned forward, giving Emma a nice view of her cleavage in the process, "I will be. Later" she said meaningfully. Then laughed lightly at the awestruck look on Emma's face, noting the rising blush on her skin.
Keeping her voice low, Emma tried to regain her composure while changing the subject, "So, what I saw? Those were your memories. How did you do that?"
Regina admitted, "I'm not sure, to be honest. I wasn't even sure it would work. It's certainly never happened before. It must have to do with" she sneaked a look around the diner to make sure no one overheard, "how I feel about you. Other than Snow" here she faltered a moment, "I've never been in love before."
Emma's heart melted a bit more at the admission. She thought back to the fleeting images, one in particular. "Okay, I must have seen it for a reason and I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it. But did you really tear out your own heart and give it to some old man?"
"That was my father, Lord Henry. He was the Steward to Snow's father, my husband the king. He assured me that he gave the heart to Snow, who hid it in the one safe place Leopold would never find it."
"I'm not even going to ask how you've lived in this world without a heart all these years, but don't tell me you don't know where it is, over there?"
"No, I left that morning on my honeymoon, though I would hardly call it that. Now's not the time to tell you about it, but suffice to say it was not my fairy tale happily ever after kind of trip."
Emma reached out impulsively and took Regina's hand, "I hate what you had to go through with that man." Seeing out of a corner of her eye, Ruby approaching she started to pull her hand back but was stopped when Regina gripped harder.
"No" Regina said never letting her eyes move from Emma's.
Ruby's eyes grew wide and she gave a low wolf whistle, "My my my, what do we have here?"
Emma turned to grin up at the tall brunette in the impossibly short shorts, "Just what it looks like and nothing more. Let's not make a big deal out of it, okay Rubes?"
Ruby snapped her gum "Hey, to each her own I always say." She removed their plates and started to refill Regina's diet cola until Regina stopped her with a wave of her hand.
"Coffee" she said, then amended, "please Ruby. It's going to be a late night" and turned her attention back to Emma who swallowed hard and squeaked, "Make mine espresso."
When the waitress was gone, Emma asked, "So how do we get Mary Margaret to remember where she put your heart? Because she sure as hell isn't finding out the same way I did" Emma added with a sudden flare of jealousy.
Regina smiled showing her white even teeth, "No, she is not. But I think I know a way to show her in a much less dramatic way. The question is, will she be open to it?"
"Only one way to find out" Emma stood, calling out, "Ruby can you make those coffees to go?"
Handing her two paper cups, Ruby smirked, "Already did Sheriff." At Emma's questioning expression, said, "You two had that look." Not wanting to know what that meant, Emma hurried out of the restaurant with Regina not far behind.
Mary Margaret was singing off pitch and frantically cleaning when the two women arrived. Hearing Emma's key in the lock, she stopped but was immediately wary seeing Regina was with her. Sitting with her on the couch while Regina loomed quietly in the corner, Emma told her frankly, "You know how Regina and I have been seeing each other?"
At Mary Margaret's nod, Emma continued, thinking hard how to word the impossible properly, "Turns out we love each other." Mary Margaret gasped, unable to hide her shock. She stared first at Emma then at Regina with wide eyes. Regina tried to smile reassuringly and failed miserably so she returned to her usual scowl.
"Okay so...it's like this..." Emma faltered and looked to Regina for help who sighed and said, "Everything Henry thought is true. The curse, who you really are, who I really am, Emma, all of it. It's all true."
Mary Margaret's eyes grew even wider. "But that's impossible!"
Emma implored her, "I know, but it's not. And Regina can prove it." Looking to Regina she reaffirmed, "You can prove it, right? You said you could prove it, make her see what I saw."
Taking a deep breath to steel herself, Regina joined them on the couch. Carefully sitting on the other side of Mary Margaret, she said in her gentlest most sincere voice, "Mary Margaret, I'm not going to hurt you but you have to let me in. Can you do that? For Emma's sake?"
Mary Margaret darted glances between the two women. Seeing the wordless plea on Emma's face, she relented, nodding. Regina reached out one hand to place it carefully on Mary Margaret's head, near the forehead. Taking Emma's hand in her free hand, she gestured for Emma to take Mary Margaret's nearest hand. Thus situated, she counted to three.
On three, Mary Margaret felt a jolt inside her head. She squeaked, more in surprise than pain or fear, though she did tighten her grip on Emma's hand, who reassured her, "It's okay. I'm right here."
Then, Mary Margaret saw everything Emma had seen earlier that evening of what Regina had lived through. Emma noticed that though the flashes were the same, some were now tinted by memories from Mary Margaret, or rather Snow White's perspective. It became clear why Snow did what she did in leaving Regina, her sense of loss and how the separation from her first love hardened her toward the other woman.
With a blast of light, all three women broke the connection holding them together. Emma saw that Regina was struggling to put what she had seen in Snow's memories in context with her own while Mary Margaret sat dazed. Seeing Regina pull herself together, relief flooded Emma who turned to Mary Margaret.
"Are you alright, Mary Margaret?" she asked carefully.
"Yes, I am" she replied in a small voice. "This will take some time to digest."
Emma cleared her throat, "Yeah, it will but first, Mary Margaret we need your help."
Mary Margaret immediately replied, "Of course."
Looking to Regina, Emma asked cautiously, not sure how her question would be received, "What did you do with Regina's heart after her father gave it to you? He told her you hid it but never told her where." Emma clasped Mary Margaret's hand tighter, almost in desperation, "Mary Margaret, we need it, we think if we return it to Regina it'll break the curse."
"We do?" Regina sounded surprised.
Emma turned to her, "It makes sense doesn't it?"
"Yes!" Mary Margaret shouted. "Of course, if true love can find the Evil Queen" she stopped horrified at her comment, "sorry, no offense."
Regina shrugged it off, "None taken."
"Then how can Regina be saved unless her heart is restored to her" Mary Margaret said triumphantly. "I remember now, your father and I took it to your hometown when we went there to bring back a graft of your apple tree. Holy cow! That isn't the same tree Emma tried to cut down in the Mayor's yard is it?"
"I had to bring something from home, dear. I knew we were going to be here a while" Regina said sarcastically.
Emma jumped in, "Mary Margaret, focus. Where did you hide the heart?"
Mary Margaret looked worried, "We hid it in the clock tower of the town. It's embedded in one of the tumblers. But that's in the other world, how can we get it now?"
Both women were shocked to hear Regina laugh uncontrollably. Mary Margaret started to back away from the other woman, but Emma took the laughing woman by the arm, shaking it to get Regina's attention. When she calmed down enough to speak, she said between peals of laughter, "I brought the clock tower too! It reminded me of home when I was a child happy and free."
Emma chuckled ruefully, "Who knew you were such a sentimental old fool?"
Regina playfully pulled a face at her, "I'll show you who's old" but mindful of the other woman in the room, desisted from showing her.
Mary Margaret cleared her throat to get their attention, "Hey, none of that, you two." She smiled indulgently at Emma, "Might I suggest that tomorrow morning or" she amended seeing Regina raise an eyebrow suggestively, "around noon, we go to the clock tower and restore what's been gone for far too long?"
"Henry should be there too" Emma suggested. "We don't know what's going to happen, and I want him there to make sure he's safe."
Regina stood, clearly ending the discussion, "Right. Goodnight Mary Margaret." she moved brusquely toward the door, only to be stopped by a delicate hand on her arm.
Staring at it, she felt rather than saw, Mary Margaret reach up to place a soft kiss on her cheek, "I'm glad we resolved this, Hildy. It's been too long since I've seen my old friend."
Regina searched the other woman's face, and seeing only sincerity she agreed, "I am as well."
That night, back at the Mayor's mansion, the Emma and Regina made love again, slowly, sweetly, coming together as before but without the intrusion of memories this time. Instead they felt only the peace and love of two people truly in love.
As they basked in the afterglow, Emma asked sleepily, "Why did my...Mary Margaret, call you Hildy?"
Regina paused her mouth's random exploration of Emma's skin, "It's short for my real name, Grimhilde. She's called me Hildy since we were children."
"I can see why. It's not so severe. So, Regina is your name here? Like hers was Snow White and here it's Mary Margaret" Emma tried to understand, even while enjoying the feel of lips caressing her.
The lips stopped, "Actually, I was renamed Regina by my late husband. It was one of his many tactics to show me how much control he had over my life."
Emma hugged her tightly, not sure what to say. After a few moments, she felt Regina relax again in her embrace. "What do you want me to call you now?" she carefully asked.
A long sigh before the other woman answered, "I'm used to Regina now, we might as well stay with that."
"Regina it is then, " Emma said.
The next morning, they gathered up Henry from his sleep over, explaining when they got to the clock tower the child friendly version of Regina's truth. He looked at her quizzically but then his face cleared and he realized, "So that's how the curse is ended. That makes sense. No wonder the clock started up again right after Emma came to town."
Relieved at his reaction, Regina said, "Hmmm, I hadn't thought of that. But you're right Henry, that does make sense." Pleased that he took her hand as they walked toward the building, Regina in turn took Emma's. It was like this that they met Mary Margaret. Seeing David standing nearby, Regina scowled a bit before shaking it off at Emma's warning look. "Force of habit" she explained.
Mary Margaret shyly explained, "I told David everything last night. I thought he should be here too since..." her voice trailed off uncertainly.
Regina picked up the slack, "Since he's Emma's father." Nodding hello to the clearly uncomfortable man, she couldn't resist, knowing he hadn't had the benefit of seeing her memories, "Charming. Nice to see you."
Emma dug her elbow into Regina's side, "Be nice" she whispered. She felt very strange to be standing here with people her own age who were also her parents. Deciding it was useless to try to understand it all rationally, she suggested, "Shall we go up and see if this works?"
Everyone agreed and soon they were standing in the inner workings of the clock. Heavy wooden tumblers moved past in regular rhythm, causing David to wonder aloud, "How will we know which one is the right one?"
Emma looked up, feeling dizzy watching the progression of the tumblers pass, "I guess we have to open all of them."
Mary Margaret stepped up, determination all over her face, "No," she said assertively, "I put it there, I have to be the one to remove it. I'll know which one it is." Watching the tumblers pass by, she appeared to be counting. At a certain number, her hand darted out, quickly opened the tumbler and pulled out the immaculate silver box. Bobbing her head in time, she snatched her hands back just in time before they would have been smashed.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she turned, handing the box to Regina who took it with a look of awe on her face. Everyone crowded around as she carefully opened the reliquary. Inside, still beating gently, was her heart. But when she tried to pick it up, her hand passed right through it. Not understanding, she tried it again, but to no avail.
"Here, let me" said Mary Margaret. "I put it there, maybe I'm the only one who can take it out." She reached into the box but her hand too passed right through the solid-looking organ.
Regina was starting to look frantic, until Henry shouted, "It's Emma! She's the White Knight. She's the one to break the curse."
Emma frowned, sure it couldn't be that easy. Taking the reliquary from Regina, she put her hand into it. The heart was warm and heavy in her hand as she raised it up. Just then, something in the clock clicked into place and different tumblers started to spin all around them. Mary Margaret shouted "Cover your ears!" just as the tower began to toll the noon hour. The space lurched and vibrated with the sound of the heavy bell. Henry buried his face in Regina's waist, as she covered his hands over his ears with her own.
Staring at Emma, she shouted "Emma, you have to do it now. Put it back now!"
Emma wrenched her hands from over her ears and grabbed the heart again. She held it in front of Regina's chest, not sure what to do. Mentally shrugging her shoulders, she pushed the heart into the space where it used to rest. Feeling it enter the other woman, she kept pushing until the whole heart disappeared, swallowed up by the flesh surrounding it. As she pulled her hand free, the bell stopped. Emma stared at Regina. "How do you feel? Did it work?"
Regina smiled, tears of joy starting to run down her face, "I feel it. It worked. You restored my heart."
Henry looked out the window overlooking the town, "I don't get it. If we broke the curse, why is everything the same."
The others joined him at the rail. Life in Storybrooke went on just as before. Emma asked Mary Margaret and David, "What about you? Do you remember anything?"
David looked abashed, "Sorry, I only remember being here."
Mary Margaret said, "Because of what Regina did last night, I remember there, but here still feels the same."
Regina looked thoughtful. "You know, maybe restoring my heart was only part of it. After all, what's the key ingredient in breaking a curse?" She looked at her son expectantly. He thought for a moment before asking carefully, "True Love's Kiss?"
She nodded at him, "Right. True Love's Kiss can break any curse." Casting a dismissive glance at David she said, "No offense James, but I think I got this one" and kissed Emma so sweetly and softly that she swore she could hear the curse break.
The others felt a crack like thunder and saw a flash of light like lightning. David shook his head as memories flooded back of his life on the farm with his mother, being blackmailed into becoming a prince, chasing Snow through the woods, marrying her, placing their child in the wooden wardrobe to someday save them all. Which apparently she had done.
Immediately, he was filled with rage at Regina for all that she had put them through, both in this world and the other. Reaching to his hip, he momentarily forgot that he no longer carried a sword at all times. Lunging, he nearly managed to grab hold of her before being pulled back by Emma.
"David, stop it!" she shouted. "It wasn't her fault."
"She ruined our lives," he insisted. "She would have killed you!"
Emma took hold of his arm, wrenching it behind his back, "But she didn't. Now back off!"
"But-" he tried to break free. He saw Mary Margaret step in front of Regina who was holding onto Henry protectively.
Emma pulled his arm higher until he stopped fighting her, "David, stop. I love her!"
That he heard. He ceased struggling, staring at Mary Margaret. She moved toward him, speaking slowly and carefully as one would do to a wounded animal, "James, they love each other. True Love's Kiss wouldn't work unless they truly loved each other." Seeing she had his attention, she added, "Who are we, of all people, to deny them?"
"But everything she did-"
"Can be explained" Mary Margaret said, nodding to Emma who released his arm. "It can all be explained but you need to calm down first."
Emma circled around him to Regina. Assuring herself that she and Henry were alright, she held them both tight until Henry broke away, running to the railing surrounding the clock tower balcony.
"Hey, you guys" he called, "something's happening down there."
Below them, it seemed that everyone in town had also regained the memories of their other lives. Bewildered they gathered in stunned groups, asking and re-asking, "Do you remember?"
Regina stood a bit taller. Staring into Emma's eyes, she said, "They'll have the same reaction to me as David did. It won't be long before they're crying out for my blood as well."
Emma nodded grimly, "Tough luck getting it. They'll have to go through me."
Mary Margaret interjected, "We have to make them see. Vengeance won't do anyone any good."
Emma decided, "No it won't. I'm still the Sheriff, and I'm not going to let this situation get out of hand. Let's go down, and move everyone to the Town Hall. We'll sort it out there. Mary Margaret, you take Henry. David will see that you're safe." She looked meaningfully at her father, "Won't you, David?"
He nodded, his mouth set in a firm line. He may not have forgiven Regina but he was damned if he was going to let anything happen to his grandson. They set off leaving Regina and Emma behind.
Emma stood in front of Regina. "How are we gonna do this?"
Regina thought for a moment, "If we go down now, someone is going to get hurt. You can't just hold everyone in a head lock until they see sense." Searching Emma's face, she came to a decision, "Do you trust me?"
Emma nodded immediately, "Of course."
"Then take my hand and don't let go until I tell you to" Regina took one of Emm's hands in her own, and with a flourish waved the other. Black mist poured from her fingertips into the air, swirling around them. Emma felt herself spinning and felt as if she was dissolving from the outside in, then back again. When her eyes blinked open, they were standing on the stage in Town Hall.
"Holy crap! What did you do?" she gasped.
Regina looked smug, "Just because I'm only the Mayor here, doesn't mean I don't still have nearly all my powers. This way seemed safer."
"That was incredible" Emma couldn't quite believe what had happened. But she quickly sobered up, "I hear everybody coming."
Regina's eyes showed a hint of trepidation which she replaced with determination. "Most of the people of this town are reasonable, logical people. If we can get them to listen, we have a good shot at convincing them that I'm no longer a threat."
"And the others?" Emma asked.
Regina set her lipsticked mouth in a line, "We'll deal with them too."
Not sure what that meant, Emma went to the doors and started to guide people in. It seemed somehow everyone in town had gravitated to the traditional meeting space. Emma heard anger, mistrust, and in some cases disturbingly violent suggestions of what to do with the Evil Queen. In no time, the hall was packed. At a nod from Emma, Regina stepped up to the podium. Her face was set in a cool mask.
"Citizens of Storybrooke" she began. At her words, however, the audience erupted in a loud roar. Waiting again implacably, Regina was the very picture of patience. When the hall quieted a second time, she repeated, "Citizens of Storybrooke, I know you all have many questions. That is why I am here, to answer them as best I can. But" she threw a little glare around the room, silencing everyone, "no one is getting answers unless you all calm yourselves."
Archie stood up, and after an encouraging glance around the auditorium said, "We remember who we are. Or that is to say, we remember who we were. We remember the curse-"
At the mention of the curse, everyone started talking again. Regina threw an exasperated look at Emma who peered thoughtfully up at the ceiling before pulling her service weapon and firing into the corner of the room. There hung an ancient bell next to a frayed rope, a throwback to the room's former days as gymnasium for the high school. As the report of the shot faded, the faint sound of the bell ringing faded more slowly. That got everyone's attention. Emma slowly walked toward the front of the room.
"Here's the deal" she said calmly in a low voice many had to strain to hear. "The curse is broken. You are all who you think you are, no matter how ridiculous that sounds" she nodded at Archie, adding somewhat sarcastically, "Jiminy." When she reached the stage, she stood next to Regina, "I know the curse is broken because I broke it." She held up a hand to forestall any more outbursts.
"I broke the curse because that is my job. I'm Emma," she said feeling vaguely like she was in a 12 step meeting, "and I'm the baby you put in the wardrobe to come back and save you. Which I did. But the reason I did isn't because I was born to do it, or because it was my destiny. I did it because I love the woman who cursed you in the first place, and I wanted to redeem her." With that, she took Regina in her arms and kissed her soundly. Not hearing any arguments from the crowd, she let herself get lost in the kiss enough that it was with regret she backed away when she felt Regina's hands lightly pushing on her chest, a mere suggestion.
She grinned at Regina, noting her slightly dazed expression, "Sorry, got carried away for a sec" she whispered. Facing the audience once again, Emma said, "Now there's two ways for this to go. You can either sit there and listen, nicely, to what Mayor Mills has to say, or I can break up this meeting as a disturbance of the peace and send you home with all the questions you came in here with. What's it gonna be?"
Everyone in the hall looked around, murmuring quietly until, once again, Archie spoke up, "Fine, we'll listen, Emma."
After five hours of nearly continuous questions, Regina felt wiped out. It had taken all of her considerable skill as a politician to keep the conversation on track and relevant to the task. Only once did Emma have to step in when Leroy, in his usual state of casual inebriation, started to get unruly, complaining about his tax rate and the denial of his request for a variance on his driveway.
When the clock tower began to strike six o'clock, and at a subtle nod from Emma, Regina closed the meeting for the day, promising to reopen the topic at a later date after everyone had time to digest their situation. Seeing everyone filter out calmly, Emma joined Regina on the stage.
"So, what now?" she asked sliding her hands around Regina's waist. She was surprised when Regina grabbed her back hard, burying her head in Emma's hair, hugging her fiercely. They stayed that way for a long moment, until finally Regina leaned back.
"I never did get a chance to thank you" she said in her regular voice, slightly more husky after talking all afternoon. "For saving me." She couldn't quite meet Emma's eyes.
Emma dipped her head, "I had to. Saving you meant saving me."
Regina's eyebrows furrowed but she didn't comment. Heaving a huge sigh, she said instead, "We should go get Henry."
Emma agreed, "Yeah, I know he'll have a million questions too. I noticed the closed circuit camera was on so I assume Mary Margaret and David watched the meeting from home." It still felt strange to think of them as her parents so Emma coped in a small way by referring to them by their Storybrooke names.
Regina gathered up the notes she had taken during the meeting. Holding out her hand, she said, "Yes, I turned it on after you got everyone settled. Nice trick with the bell, I should insist you come to all the council meetings too. Maybe I can get my programs passed easier that way."
Emma laughed taking the Mayor's hand, "No way, Ma'am. Hey, are we walking over to Mary Margaret's or..." She left the question unasked but delighted when she saw Regina roll her eyes indulgently.
"Fine, this once" she said firmly, "But don't get used to it. And don't tell Henry! I'll never have a moment's peace" and with another wave of her hand, she transported them to Mary Margaret's doorstep. It was worth it, she thought, to see the smile plastered on Emma's face as she rematerialized.
"That is so cool" Emma enthused. Seeing Regina's stern look, she amended, "But only for special occasions."
"Indeed" she huffed. But then, standing in front of Mary Margaret's door, Regina seemed to falter for a moment before squaring her shoulders again, and knocking.
The door flew open with Henry bursting through, "Mom! Are you okay?" he shouted, throwing his arms around her waist. "Miss Blanchard wouldn't let me watch the meeting."
Regina hugged him and bent to kiss the top of his head, "It went fairly well, I would say." Kneeling before her son she asked, "How are you? This is a lot to take in."
He smiled, "I'm okay. I was worried the villagers would be mad."
Regina laughed, "The villagers, as you call them, were mad to begin with but with Emma's help, we calmed them down. No flaming torches in sight. No pitchforks."
Henry pulled her in to Mary Margaret's. "We started dinner already. Miss Blanchard said you'd be hungry." He looked up at Emma, still lingering in the doorway feeling oddly out of place. "Aren't you coming in?"
Uh, yeah, I guess" she sounded unsure. Until she saw Regina once again hold out her hand. Taking it, she felt some of her confidence return. As Henry ran into the kitchen to set the table with Mary Margaret's colorfully mismatched plates, Regina whispered to her, "Dinner, then home so we can talk once Henry is in bed."
As Emma nodded thankfully, she heard David say firmly, "Emma is home, Regina."
Groaning inwardly, Regina turned to face Mary Margaret and David. "Of course she is. This will always be a home to Emma. What I meant was-"
"What you meant was" Emma interjected, "to not talk about me like I'm not standing right here." She ran a hand through her long hair, "Before we get into whose home is whose, can we please eat? I'm starving practically to death."
Hearing the wordless plea, the others nodded, forming an immediate truce. Everyone went into the kitchen where Emma frowned seeing only green salad, a dish of sliced red and orange peppers over spaghetti and another with freshly steamed broccoli. "So many vegetables" she grumbled.
"Just eat it" said Regina and Mary Margaret in unison. Henry cracked up at the surprised look the two women shared. Emma just shook her head and dished up her plate. The tension broken, they managed to get through the majority of their meal with no problems.
After helping to clean up, Regina instructed Henry to get his coat. While he was out of the room, she quietly asked Emma but with the authority of one who knows the answer, aware David and Mary Margaret were listening, "Home?"
Seeing the pleading look on Mary Margaret's face and the thunderous one on David's, Emma whispered back, "Yeah, but I'll be a sec okay?"
Kissing her lightly, Regina replied, "We'll wait in the car."
Turning to face the couple, Emma said, "Look, today has been huge for you. I get that. I do. But you have to remember, for me nothing has changed. This is the only life I've ever had. And tonight, I need to spend it with the woman I love and my son."
David seemed puzzled but Mary Margaret replied, "Sweetie, we know. It's okay" and hugged her newfound daughter before leading her to the door. "Just remember, we love you and we're here for you."
Emma looked at her for a long time before turning to go. To Mary Margaret, it seemed as if Emma was going to say something and thought the better of it. Deciding not to push, Mary Margaret simply squeezed Emma's shoulder and went back inside.
Back at the Mayor's house, Regina led the way into the kitchen, took out small bowls and a tub of ice cream from the freezer. Serving them up, she pulled from a dark recess in the pantry a small jar of gourmet chocolate sauce, explaining to Henry's wide eyes, "It's for emergencies only."
Silently, they ate until Henry, his mouth ringed in chocolate, piped up, "So does Emma live with us now?"
Emma smiled into her ice cream but said nothing. Regina cleared her throat, "Nothing has been decided but let's put that in the possibilities column for now, shall we?"
Undaunted, Henry continued, "If Miss Blanchard and Mr. Nolan are Emma's parents, do I still get to stay in Miss Blanchard's class? 'Cuz that would make her my grandma, right? Can I call her Grandma?"
Again, Emma stayed silent so Regina answered him, "I see no reason you shouldn't stay in Miss Blanchard's class, for now. But regardless of your familial affiliation, you are to treat her as you would any teacher." Then added, "While you're at school, that is. On weekends, we'll have to see."
Finishing his ice cream, Henry put his dish in the sink. Yawning loudly, he hugged first Regina, then Emma. "Come tuck me in?" he asked, hopefully.
"Sure kid, I'll be right up" she said. Hearing him stomp his way up the stairs, she turned to Regina. "Possibilities column, eh?"
Regina raised an eyebrow, "Well I was cut down the last time I tried to make any decisions for you, at Mary Margaret's house, so I figured diplomatic would be the best course of action."
"Wise choice" agreed Emma, bringing one hand up to stroke the side of Regina's face before leaning in to kiss her. "Forget those" she said seeing Regina start to do the dishes, "join me and Henry upstairs for some Momtime."
"Momtime?" Regina repeated, following her out of the room.
"Sure" replied Emma wrapping one arm around the slender waist as they went up the stairs, "didn't you always wish to have a few minutes with your mom before bed? Falling asleep knowing she was there?"
Regina nodded sadly, "Yes, I did. My father did the best he could but let's just say the other world wasn't made for Mr. Mom."
"And now Henry gets to have two moms" Emma said as she entered his room. Seeing he was already in bed with at least a dozen books scattered over the covers, she laughed lightly. "Pick one" she insisted.
"Three" he negotiated.
"None" said Regina in her stern voice. But then seeing the two stricken faces turned toward her, added brightly, "So I can tell you a story from my childhood."
"Cool" cheered Henry. As they settled into the bed, Emma wound up holding Henry while she back lay against Regina in the tiny bed. In her rich best storytelling voice, Regina spun a tale of goblins and brave princes and beautiful blonde princesses that soon had Henry fast asleep.
Disentangling herself from her son, Emma asked in a low voice, "Was any of that true?"
Regina smiled wistfully, "Some. Enough to count. I may have embellished a bit."
Downstairs in the study, they resumed their places on the couch, Emma laying back against Regina, sipping cider. For her part, Emma had a million questions rushing through her brain but could never decide on which to ask. Finally, finishing her cider, she asked, "How did you learn to make this?"
Regina chuckled, "Actually it started out as my first attempt to make a potion."
"Potion? Like a love potion?"
"More like an influence potion. My late husband's genie taught me that no magic can force someone to love you, but the right potion can steer a person to do things they might otherwise not have considered, if they were in their right mind."
"Sounds like 'roofies'. Did it work?" Emma asked, swirling the remains of her drink in the glass.
"No" a light sigh, "but I did discover a new kind of fermentation and after a little tweaking came up with this recipe. There's nothing more powerful than alcohol in it, by the way. In case you were worried I was plying you with anything so I could have my wicked way with you."
"No, I'm not worried. How much magic do you have here?"
"Most of it, I think, though I've used more today than I have the entire time I've lived in Storybrooke." Regina replied. With a wave of her hand, every candle in the room suddenly flared to life. Another wave and all the candle flames lowered to a gentle glow.
"Cool" said Emma, feeling Regina smile behind her. Watching the shadows dance on the walls, Emma soon became aware of gentle lips caressing her hair, moving occasionally down to her neck.
"Mmmm, that's nice" she murmured, stretching to give Regina better access to her neck.
"Very nice" purred Regina, taking an earlobe into her mouth.
Emma hummed her approval, feeling warmth of a different kind than the cider filling her body. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the feel of Regina's mouth on her skin, and the increasingly bold feel of the slender hands exploring what they could reach of her body. Before long, she couldn't take it any more, and twisted to lay face to face with Regina.
"We can stay here and get cramps or we can move upstairs" Emma stated simply.
"Upstairs" Regina replied, though it wasn't before a stop to kiss in the study doorway, and another to caress the curve of Emma's ass as she went up the stairs before they were once again sprawled out on the large bed.
Before they could really resume their activities, Regina stood up, and shaking out her hands, walked to the door. Watching her curiously from the bed, Emma saw Regina wave her hands over the door, muttering something under her breath as she did so. A fine black mist seeped out of Regina's fingers outlining the door before fading away.
"What was that all about?" Emma asked when Regina finished.
Regina turned to look at her, "It's a silencing spell. We'll be able to hear Henry if he wakes up or needs us, but he can't hear us." For a moment, she looked incredibly sad, "I created it to keep Leopold from hearing me cry after he beat me."
Emma's heart leapt with sadness into her throat, "You plan to cry tonight?"
"No, not at all" she reassured the worried woman. "But, Emma, I have my heart back for the first time in a long time. I'm here with the woman I've fallen madly in love with." She tried to explain, "I loved you before today, but now that I'm whole, it's like I was numb before. Everything is so vivid. All my emotions. I feel everything so much more now."
Emma nodded, wordlessly encouraging her to go on.
"I'm afraid it'll be too much for me" Regina suddenly looked uncomfortable, "that I won't be able to contain myself. Vocally" she finished pointedly.
Emma smiled, "You're afraid you're going to warp Henry with your wild monkey screams when we make love? That's so sweet."
Regina scowled, "It's not funny." But behind the scowl, the dark eyes were twinkling. "And we're not just going to make love tonight." Narrowing her eyes, Regina stalked to the bed, "I plan to also fuck your brains out Emma Swan, I'm going to take you and make you mine, I'm going to make you scream my name, I'm going to make you come in my mouth, and when I'm done, I'm going to do it again."
Emma swallowed, more turned on than ever before in her life. She knew she had nothing to fear from Regina, regardless of the harshness of the words. She breathed, "Okay. I want you to. Make me yours, Regina. But" she said, smiling wickedly before reclining back on the bed, "be aware, I'm going to do all that right back to you."
Seeing Emma in that position sparked something in Regina. With wave of her hand, Emma's clothes vanished. Emma didn't flinch, but merely raised an eyebrow at the other woman, who pursed her lips but waved her hand again, removing her own clothes in a flash of dissolving mist.
Emma held out her hands, beckoning to Regina who gladly took her place atop the blonde. Curves molded into curves. Hands explored rapidly heating flesh. Kisses were exchanged, tongues wrestled. Sighs turned to moans to whimpers to groans.
Regina quickly rode Emma's thigh to climax, her face full of concentration and purpose. As she caught her breath, she glanced down at Emma. "Just to take the edge off" she explained. And proceeded to bring Emma to the same height as quickly. "There" she said lazily, "now we can really focus and get down to work."
"I'd hardly call this work but go ahead. Give it your best shot" Emma replied brazenly. Seeing the determination in Regina's eyes, she shivered with anticipation. Knowing this was a kind of first time with Regina, now that her heart was restored, Emma felt a thrill that hadn't been there when they had been together in the past.
Pulling Emma up to the headboard, Regina quirked an eyebrow before saying in her low voice, "Give me your hands." Positioning them backward over her head, Regina had her grasp the headboard. "Hold on as hard or as soft as you like, but under no circumstances are you to let go. Am I understood?"
Emma stared into deep dark eyes nearly black with desire and lust but also profound love. She nodded and held on. Seeing Emma's breasts angle up, Regina's mouth literally watered. She ran her index finger down the center of Emma's chest from her collarbone to her navel, watching as goose bumps rose and her nipples tightened into ripe buds.
"Cold?" Regina asked.
Emma, not sure if her voice would betray her, shook her head, and grasped the headboard bar tighter. Regina repeated her action, slower this time, watching as Emma arched her back to get more sensation from the fingertip. Torturously slow, Regina raked her short nails down Emma's chest, bringing forth red streaks but no damage to the skin. Emma stayed silent but Regina noted an increase in her breathing.
Dragging the fingers back up, she smoothed the red marks, marveling at the contrast between the fair skin. Unable to contain herself any longer, Regina fell onto Emma's breast, taking the hard nipple in her mouth, suckling it roughly. Feeling Emma in her mouth, she carefully bit down until she heard the other woman's gasp give way to a high piercing wail. Releasing the nipple she turned her attention to the other, flicking it with her tongue. Back and forth she worked both sides until Emma was thrashing about the bed, never releasing her grip on the headboard.
Glancing up, Regina saw with delight that Emma's eyes were shining bright, glowing a fierce green she had never seen before. "That's so good Regina, don't stop" Emma breathed, her voice already raspy from panting.
"Oh, I have no intention of stopping, Miss Swan" replied Regina dragging her tongue into the curve under Emma's breast.
"How can it be so hot the way you say my name" wondered Emma, even as she twisted her upper body to get more of it into Regina's mouth.
Regina smiled around a nipple, "Would you rather I called you Miss Charming?"
Emma laughed at that. She loved that they were able to banter and tease even while making love. "I don't care what you call me as long as you don't stop doing...oh yes...that."
Regina continued her exploration of Emma's chest, neck and face with careful attention to long, drawn out kisses, swirling her tongue in the warm confines of Emma's mouth. As much as she loved the unique smell of Emma, now surrounding her as the blue shirt used to when she slept on it as a de facto pillow case, Regina admitted to herself she was addicted to Emma's taste.
Moving lower, Regina settled between Emma's slender legs, kissing her stomach and the tops of her thighs, waiting for the inevitable moment when they would spread. As they did, seemingly of their own accord, she smirked up at Emma who merely joked back, "What, like you didn't want me to?"
Humming her approval, Regina kissed lower and lower, nearly to the inside of Emma's knee before returning torturously slow to where they both wanted her to be. The scent of Emma was overpowering now, and Regina took it in deeply, blowing out onto neat curls made damp with desire. Hearing Emma take in a short breath, Regina glanced up again. Emma had taken her hands off the headboard and was massaging her own breasts, pulling hard on the nipples, her face alight with pleasure.
Filing that information away, Regina brought her mouth to part Emma's nether lips, groaning into the waiting flesh. So warm, so wet, so good she knew she would never get enough of this woman. Wanting to prolong Emma's pleasure, Regina tried to restrain herself but was soon devouring the other woman who slowly started chanting under her breath, growing louder, "Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me" until her voice rang around the room.
Happy to oblige, Regina took two fingers and entered Emma, not roughly but with an assured firmness. Emma's hips raised off the bed while she cried out her delight. Pumping in and out hard and fast, Regina only slowed her fingers when she heard Emma reach a certain pitch in her tone. Decreasing the pace of her fingers, she increased the tempo of her tongue as it relentlessly lashed at Emma's hard clit.
"More Regina, I need more now, please" pleaded Emma.
Again, Regina responded. Adding a third finger, she once again increased the pace of her fingers while lightening up with her tongue. Feeling a rough patch of uneven texture within Emma, she grazed it lightly but, as she added pressure with her tongue on the tender flesh under her, she pushed more heavily with her fingertips.
"Yes" hissed Emma "just like that. Take me, Regina."
Hearing the demand, Regina had no choice but to comply. Relentlessly, she used her fingers and tongue until at last, Emma cried out, overcome with pleasure and pain at everything Regina had been doing so well. Emma's body rose off the bed, only to collapse back down again. Regina stilled her tongue but kept working her fingers in and out until she knew the time was right to carefully withdraw them completely. Licking them clean, she watched Emma watch her, eyes closed to mere slits, chest heaving with exertion as she tried to recover her breath.
When she had recovered enough to speak, Emma turned her head to stare into Regina's dark eyes, now returned to a soft brown, "That was amazing."
Regina looked self satisfied but only replied, "You cheated."
"I did not" Emma tried to protest but was too blissfully happy and sated to muster much energy into her denial.
Regina rose on one arm to hover over Emma's body once again. "I distinctly told you not to let go" she said, good naturedly.
Emma glanced up at the headboard. "Ooops" she said, clearly not meaning it. "Do over?" she added hopefully.
Regina smiled her full on smile, "Oh yes, I think I can manage to give you another chance. Hang on, Princess."
Emma woke the next morning feeling deliciously sore. The bed was empty and the coolness of the sheets told her Regina had gotten up much earlier. Shrugging into the sweats she had brought from Mary Margaret's house, she idly wondered if she would ever have her own home in Storybrooke. After living on her own her whole adult life, she suddenly realized that her nightly accommodations were always in someone else's house, either Mary Margaret's or Regina's, even Granny's Bed and Breakfast when she first arrived in town. Thinking this over, she wandered into the kitchen where Regina sat at the table reading the paper, drinking coffee. Looking none the worse for wear with no evidence of their activities, Regina nonetheless sat with a small smile playing on the edges of her mouth, and Emma realized that she was humming lightly under her breath.
Clearing her throat to announce herself, Emma was pleased to see the small smile break out into a full one upon seeing her. Regina stood to envelope Emma in a warm embrace, murmuring into her hair, "Did you sleep well?"
Nodding, Emma held tight for a moment before letting Regina go. Crossing to the nearly empty pot of coffee, she poured herself a cup. "Want some?" She asked. Regina shook her head.
Adding milk to her cup, Emma blurted, "I need to find my own place."
Regina's cup stopped halfway to her mouth, paused for a long moment before lowering it carefully to the table. She folded the newspaper back up, drawing out the silence.
"I see," she finally said crisply. "I would suggest you talk to Mr. Gold, he owns most of the property in town. Though I would also strongly recommend you have a lawyer look over any lease he tries to get you to sign. Perhaps John Darling would take the case, he's the best lawyer in town." Her tone was clipped with none of its earlier warmth. She abruptly stood, walking stiffly to the sink to rinse her cup, giving Emma a wide berth as she did so. "Perhaps we should have him write up the custody agreement."
"Custody agreement? What are you talking about?" Emma said, baffled..
The cool tone replied, "I can only assume you want to regain at least half custody of Henry. I will, of course, insist he retain his physical presence here until I have inspected your new living space. I will not have my son live in a pigsty."
"Regina, stop" Emma went to the other woman at the sink, turning her around. Seeing the return of fear and uncertainty that colored her eyes in their early acquaintanceship, Emma suddenly realized how her words had been misinterpreted.
Before she could speak, Regina spat out, harshly, "Although I remind you that when you gave him up, you rescinded any parental rights you had to him. That little legal question will have to be addressed as well." Her eyes sparked with old hatred at the thought that this woman with whom she had so recently shared so much would deign to presume to take her son.
Emma grabbed her by the shoulders, "Regina! I'm not taking Henry from you. Yes, I want him in my life, I want you in my life. Why are you acting like I'm the enemy again all of a sudden?"
Regina's face showed confusion, "It seems quite clear that for whatever reason, you're leaving me. Although, I had thought, after what happened these past few days-"
Emma broke in, "I'm not leaving you! Why would I leave you? I love you."
"Then-" Regina tried to speak, "why were you asking about a new place?"
Realization dawn on Emma, "Regina" she explained, "all I meant was I can't live with Mary Margaret any more. And I'm not ready to live here with you and Henry yet. I love you but it's too soon." She took the other woman's hands in hers, hoping the gentle contact would help convey her feelings.
Relief flooded Regina. She brought their entwined hands together, kissing the knuckles. "You warned me before that when things get to be too much, you tend to run. I thought, after everything that happened yesterday and last night, this was your way of telling me you were breaking up with me."
"So you respond to that by pushing me away?" Emma stated flatly.
"Yes" Regina replied, honestly. "I should have trusted you, but trust is not something I've had to live with, really, ever in my life. In either life. I have no background in trust."
Emma pondered this, pushing aside her anger for the moment. "I guess I understand that. I've never been one to trust much either."
"But you trusted me last night" Regina pointed out.
"And you trusted me enough to let me trust you, so once again, we're talking in circles." Emma grew frustrated, "When are we ever going to get this right?"
Regina brought the hands to her mouth again, murmuring against them, "Someday."
Returning to the counter, Emma started a new pot of coffee. As it brewed, Regina asked her carefully, "You don't want to live here, I understand that. And I agree. It's too soon. But why not return to Mary Margaret's? I'm sure she and David would be thrilled to have their long lost daughter under her roof again."
Emma shook her head, "No doubt. But as I told her last night, I don't remember anything of them as parents. As a friend I love Mary Margaret, but I don't have the kind of family ties she automatically has for me now. I can't relate."
As she spoke, Henry fumbled into the room, his hair askew, his eyes droopy. The two women watched with amusement as he stumbled to the refrigerator, poured himself a glass of orange juice and settled at the table. Without pausing to take a breath, he drank the whole glass in a single gulp. Taking a banana from the bowl in front of him, he steadily ate his way through it. Tossing the peel back onto the table, he finally looked up.
"What's for breakfast?" he asked.
Both women burst out laughing, their former tension gone. As they moved to start cooking, Emma's phone rang. Seeing the caller id, she told the others, "It's Mary Margaret. I'll be back in a sec" and left the room to take the call.
Regina looked after her puzzled but continued to stir the pancake batter. When Emma returned, Henry was carefully adding defrosted blueberries to the large circles on the stove top griddle.
"Everything alright?" asked Regina quietly, seeing Emma's mouth pulled down at the corners.
"Um yeah. I'm going over there for lunch" Emma sat aimlessly at the table.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Regina checked the pancakes and seeing they were done, handed the turner to Henry who slowly flopped them over to cook on the other side.
"No, there's some stuff I need to talk to her and David about, but it's probably better if you're not around" Emma looked up from her cup of now cold coffee with a grimace. Not sure if the expression was from her impending visit with her parents or the coffee, Regina brought the fresh pot over and topped her off.
She ran a hand over Emma's arm, to reassure her, "That's fine. I think Henry and I will stick around the house today. I'll call for another town meeting tomorrow night after school gets out and everyone is off work. I need to prepare for it.
Henry carried the platter of pancakes to the table. "I want to make a list of people in the book and people here to see how well I matched them up."
Regina smiled indulgently, "I would be interested to see how you did as well. You know," she said bringing syrup and jam to the table, "I was impressed with how well you recognized everyone before the curse was broken, Henry. I admit there were times I wanted to let you in on the secret."
He looked up at her, "Why didn't you? It could have saved us all a lot of bother."
She smiled wistfully, "You have to remember, until Emma came, this town was a very different place. Would you believe me if I told you I did it to protect you?"
He thought about this while chewing a mouthful of food. When he could speak, he said, "If you asked me that a month ago, I would have said no way. But now, I do believe it." Taking another huge bite, he added, "I bet you worried I would get kidnapped or something."
She nodded, "Or worse. You know, there are still quite a few people who are going to be angry with me for things that happened in the past. I hope with your help, and Emma's, we can teach them to move on."
Throughout this conversation, Emma ate silently. When her plate was empty, she sat not moving, staring out into space. Seeing Henry's worried face, Regina indicated that he should put his dishes in the sink, and go change his clothes. Wordlessly, he did, then left the room.
Regina added Emma's dishes to Henry's and came to sit across from Emma. "In the past, I would have demanded you tell me what has you so down all of a sudden. But" she reassured the other woman, seeing her pained expression, "I'm going to wait until you're ready to tell me."
"Thanks" Emma whispered. Clearly there was a lot going on inside her head but she wasn't ready to verbalize it yet. "I think I'll go to Mary Margaret's now and get this over with. You'll be home, here, when I'm done?"
"Yes, I will be. Henry too. Call us if you need us" Regina said, trying not to push.
With that, Emma gathered herself and left. Once at Mary Margaret's, so recently considered her home, Emma was glad she had taken the time to walk from the Mayor's mansion. It had given her a chance to formulate in her mind what she was going to say. Knocking on the door, she found herself pulled in almost immediately by Mary Margaret. Mary Margaret hugged her so enthusiastically, Emma had to laugh, "Mary Margaret, you're squishing me. I can't breath!"
Releasing her, Mary Margaret laughed gaily, "Sorry, I'm just so excited to see you. It seems like forever since we saw you. I mean, I know it was just last night but you left so quickly after dinner. How's Henry?" her voiced dipped low, "How's Regina?"
"Both are fine. Spending the day together at home" Emma said, moving into the other room where David stood awkwardly standing. "Hello David" she said feeling strangely formal.
He was equally uncomfortable, "Hello Emma" he tried smiling. "Good to see you."
"Oh for heaven's sake, you two. Sit down before you break something" Mary Margaret bustled into the room. Emma took her regular place on the couch, turning to face Mary Margaret on the other end, while David perched on the edge.
"Okay, here's the thing" Emma began, "we need to talk about what breaking the curse means. I know you all have your memories back of who you were before, but apparently breaking the curse didn't send you all back to Fairy Tale land, or whatever you want to call it."
David added, "I guess we're here now, but at least we can try to have our happily ever after here just as well as we tried to do back there. All I ever needed was to be with Snow, that is Mary Margaret, and now with you, Emma" he smiled showing his delight at the idea.
"But that's not really true, is it?" Emma demanded.
Startled at her harsh tone, Mary Margaret gasped, "Emma!"
"No Mary Margaret, you don't get to talk to me like I'm one of your students. Or your child" Emma insisted.
Mary Margaret looked stunned but said, "Emma, you are our child. Granted the circumstances are beyond unbelievable, but we love you just as much now as the incredible adult that you've become as we did when you were born." Her tone softened, "I love the fact that the woman who is my best friend is also my daughter."
Emma struggled to keep her emotions under control. "How can you say you loved me? You sent me away when I was less than an hour old!"
"We did that to protect you!" protested David.
Emma jumped up, unable to keep still. "You did it to save yourselves! Admit it, you put me in the wardrobe specifically so I could come back and save you, like Rumpelstiltskin said I would."
"Emma" Mary Margaret tried, "we didn't have a choice. We couldn't keep you with us. You would have been caught up in the curse the same way we were."
"But we would have been together. And no matter how bad it got here in Storybrooke, I guarantee it would have been better than what I went through on my own" her eyes filled with tears, "after you abandoned me."
Mary Margaret gasped, shocked at the harsh words. David looked sick as he contemplated Emma's meaning.
Mary Margaret tried again, her voice quivering, "Emma, no. We thought we were doing the best thing for you. We had no idea what the curse would mean."
"So you sent me away, to who knows where, no idea if I would end up reappearing in the middle of a lake, or a snowbank, or well, you couldn't have known I'd wind up by the side of the freeway since there aren't any where you sent me from" Emma said spitefully.
David spoke up, "Look, the fact of the matter is, we tried to do what we thought would keep you safe, but yes we also had to put our faith in you to save us 28 years later. We had to save you so you could save us." He frowned, "Besides, none of this would have happened if Regina hadn't cursed us in the first place."
"No, you don't!" Emma shouted again, "you do not get to use her as an excuse to justify what you did to me." She looked at him, then to Mary Margaret. Seeing a queer expression on Mary Margaret's face, she turned to David. "Do you even know how the feud between Regina and Snow White started?"
"Emma, don't" Mary Margaret whispered.
He looked puzzled, "I know the Queen felt Snow betrayed her somehow and thought that was reason enough to send out assassins to kill her. Hunt her down for years."
Emma whirled on Mary Margaret, "You never told him? Wow, for someone who always rails against Regina for keeping secrets, you sure do take the cake."
Mary Margaret cried, "Please Emma, he never needed to know."
David stood by Mary Margaret, "Snow, what is she talking about?"
Mary Margaret pleaded with Emma, "Please Emma, let me tell him in my own way."
"Tell me what?" David demanded.
When Mary Margaret hesitated, tears streaming from her blue eyes, Emma told him coldly, "The reason Regina had it in for Snow White all those years, the reason she hated her so was because Snow betrayed her."
Mary Margaret shook her head, "No, I never did."
"Yes, you did! She loved you, she truly loved you and you left her." Emma ignored the stricken look on Mary Margaret's face and turned to David, "They were lovers, but once Leopold found out, he forced Regina to marry him. Then he beat her, and tortured her and raped her, did every unthinkable thing to her while your precious Snow White" Emma threw a venomous glance at Mary Margaret, "did nothing. Except take her heart and hide it where Regina could never find it again."
Mary Margaret collapsed sobbing onto the couch. David looked at her stunned and aghast. Emma shouted at her, "Did you ever go to her after the genie killed Leopold? Did you ever even think what living without her heart had done to her? Did you ever try to understand why she did everything she did? No, you just deserted her. You abandoned her to her fate. Just like you did with me."
With that, Emma turned on her heel and left. Once out in the bright sunshine, she knew she needed to be alone, so she went to the one place in town where she knew she wouldn't be disturbed, the site of Henry's old castle. Watching the waves roll in against the shore, she thought about her life and wondered what it might have been like if Snow and Charming hadn't put her in the wardrobe.
After a long while, she felt someone drape a warm blanket around her shoulders. Turning to see Regina sitting next to her on the bank, she leaned into the warmth of the other woman. She was surprised to see it had turned to dusk in the apparent hours she had been there.
"Henry?" she asked, her voice husky with misuse.
"At Eva and Nicholas's."
They sat silently until Emma spoke up, "When you grow up in the system, you create games in your head to make it bearable. Sometimes they work, sometimes not. Most kids have one where they imagine the real reason their parents would leave them. Quite a few turn out to have these wild fantasies that they're really a princess or a prince, just waiting for the right time until their parents can come swooping down to rescue them." She chuckled, "Who would have ever thought that mine were true?"
Regina chuckled lightly, then said soberly, "Mary Margaret came to the house about an hour ago. She and David looked everywhere else for you. She was pretty torn up."
Emma sighed. "How did things get even more screwed up than they were before? Breaking the curse was supposed to fix everything."
"Who says?" Regina asked.
"Huh?" Emma turned to look at her, surprised at her response.
"Who told you breaking the curse was going to fix anything? No one knew what would happen when the curse was broken, only that everyone would remember who they had been before."
Emma thought about that. It was true. Henry always stressed the importance of breaking the curse but other than everyone remembering who they were in the other world, he never specified any other changes to the current world.
Regina thought back to the moment when the curse began; Snow on her knees, cradling James in her lap, screaming "Why would you do this?" and her response, "Because this is my happily ever after." At the time, all she could think about was bringing everyone else as much pain, confusion and dismay as she had felt over the long years alone.
Regina redirected the conversation, "The challenges of this world are so different from the ones we had back there. Fighting a dragon isn't easy but at least you can see it coming, and the pain is over quickly. Here, the pain lingers. Like what Mary Margaret is going through right now."
Emma stared at her disbelieving, "I can't believe you're taking her side."
Regina laid a hand on her arm, "Emma, I know you feel betrayed by her and James, by the way they sent you through to fend for yourself. I understand how you could feel that way, better than most people."
"Then you know how I can't just turn around to Mary Margaret and David and say "Hi Mom and Dad. Now that we're reunited, let's forget the past 28 years and everything will be tickety boo."
"They're starting to understand that as well. It will take some time, just as it did for me to accept you as Henry's mother"
"You're Henry's mother" Emma insisted but she grinned as she said it, knowing Regina knew what she meant. "So, were they mad?"
Regina smiled ruefully, "Mary Margaret was all concern for your safety and well being and in quite a bit of guilt overload. David, on the other hand, seemed shell shocked. I can't believe that he never knew the extent of my relationship with Snow."
Emma added drily, "Yeah, that clearly threw him for a loop."
"I'm fairly certain it cements any further relationship I can hope to have with him. Few men can overcome their own ego enough to befriend their wife's first lover" she said, smugly.
"Oh don't look so pleased with yourself" Emma teased, "that's my mother you're over there reminiscing about."
"That reality will take some getting used to" Regina mused. "I wonder if I would have recognized you sooner if I had ever seen you as a baby."
Emma took her hand, "Should I worry about you being such an obvious cougar? I mean, let's see, you must be at least forty-eight years older than I am..."
Regina laughed, her even white teeth sparkling in the dim light. "I think for all our sanity, we should keep age out of any discussion. I may be many things, but even I try to date in my age bracket. After all, technically you could be considered my step-granddaughter too."
"Gross" Emma said, pulling a face. Standing up, she felt much better than she had when she had arrived. "Can we go back to your house and try to have as normal a night as possible, for us?"
"If that means dinner and quiet time on the couch then yes. I told Mary Margaret and David that I would try to get you to talk to them again tomorrow but didn't promise them anything."
"I'll probably be ready by then" Emma held out a hand to Regina who took it in hers. It was warm and soft. Emma took a moment to admire the woman standing in front of her before leaning in for a sweet kiss. "I really, really love you."
Regina's dimple showed, "I know. And I really, really love you too."
The next day, Emma did her best to follow her regular work routine but was hampered by the constant stream of well wishers, and people stopping her on the street as she did her rounds to thank her for breaking the curse. She simply accepted it as fast as she could, and quickly moved on. By the time of the meeting, all day the talk of the town, she was exhausted.
At the Town Hall, she helped Regina set up the stage in much the same way as it had been for the first meeting two days earlier. Taking her place by the side door, she watched as everyone came in, faces flushed with excitement, chatting eagerly about the changes in store for the whole community. She saw Mary Margaret and David enter together, looking around until they spotted her leaning against the wall. David almost seemed like he was going to approach her, but Mary Margaret whispered something to him while tugging his coat sleeve. With a plaintive look, Mary Margaret moved to the opposite side of the hall and sat down. Emma told herself that, after the meeting, she would make a point to try to talk to them again, thinking that maybe in public it would be somehow easier.
At precisely five o'clock, Regina signaled for quiet. This time, she had no trouble getting it. Smiling her most ingratiating smile, she welcomed them all.
"Citizens of Storybrooke, welcome. Tonight I would like to suggest that we take a moment to think back on the history of our town." With a flick of a switch, she turned on a projector set in the center of the isle.
A slide show started showing pictures fading in and out of the town: Ruby behind the bar at the diner holding a milkshake toward the camera, Archie crossing the street holding his umbrella under one arm waving cheerily, Sidney pointing a camera back at the one taking his picture, and on and on. The crowd exclaimed over each photo as it appeared, laughing at the one of David giving a huge St. Bernard wearing a name tag reading "Nana" a bath unsure who was more wet, giggling at the one of Granny apparently getting her groove on at the disco, and finally cooing at the last picture, of Regina holding a tiny infant in her arms proudly showing him off.
Turning on the lights again, Regina said, "Yes, we have had some troubling times here in Storybrooke but as we just saw, we have had some wonderful times as well. I would propose that we take all the lessons learned, both here and back where we originally came from, and put them to good use."
A long moment of silence was finally broken by Granny. "But what about before? I mean, Storybrooke is fine but I want to know what happened to my old life. How do we know you're not going to revert back to being the...well..."
"The Evil Queen?" Regina asked directly. That silenced the crowd effectively. "All I can do is try to explain, as I did at our last meeting, that I take full responsibility for my actions in our shared past. Since then, I have had life altering experiences. I became a mother. I found the love of my life," a fond look at Emma and then Henry seated near the front. "And I can only hope that with their love and support, I can become the Mayor this town deserves, and the person they know I can be."
Regina held out her hand as more people began to shout out, "I honestly don't know what happened to our old life. I don't know if there is a way to go back to it."
At this, the discussion grew heated. Finally, Mary Margaret stood up and slowly walked to the stage. Stepping back from the podium, Regina gestured for her to take the mic.
Clearing her throat, Mary Margaret said hesitantly, as though forming her thoughts as she spoke them, "If there is a way back, I'm not sure it's worth it to go."
Many people started to argue with her but she persisted in her quiet teacher way, "I mean, yes there were wonderful things about our life before but there were some terrible things there too that we don't have to worry about any more. Antibiotics, for example. Who doesn't like knowing that Dr. Whale can proscribe real medicine to cure our illnesses? If I never have to drink eye of newt again, I'm fine with that. Not to mention, the apparent lack of monsters like dragons or ogres or trolls?"
"I want to see a dragon!" exclaimed Nicholas.
"No you don't," corrected his father, Michael, shaking his head.
"Indoor plumbing," piped up Granny. "That's reason enough to stay in my book. Nothing beats an indoor toilet."
Everyone laughed. Regina took control of the meeting again. "So, do I have a second on my proposal: to take all our accumulated wisdom and use it to the good of Storybrooke to make this the best town this, or any world, has ever seen?"
The chorus of "Aye" shook the room. When Regina followed up with "Meeting adjourned" Granny added, "Ice cream on the house at my place!" to a loud roar from the crowd. Together everyone streamed out, leaving only Mary Margaret, David and Emma alone, after Regina saw the faint nod from Emma allowing her to go with Henry to Granny's.
"Emma, I don't know what to say," began Mary Margaret timidly. "You were right about everything. We did use you, we didn't think about the consequences enough, and I'll understand if you never want to speak to me again-" her voice broke as her eyes spilled over with tears. David wrapped an arm around her.
Earnestly, he said, "Everything I know about you, I know about the Emma Swan who saved me in the forest outside of Storybrooke when I was lost and had no memory. Since I woke up from my coma, you've been nothing but kind and good to me, even when my actions didn't always deserve it." He had the grace to look ashamed, "The Emma we put in the wardrobe, we never knew. All I knew is that you were the most beautiful baby I ever saw."
"She looked like Henry" Mary Margaret smiled through her tears. "That picture in the slide show of Baby Henry with Regina, it was exactly like looking at you."
"Really?" Emma was surprised. "I don't have any pictures of me when I was little."
Mary Margaret saw an opening. Taking Emma's arm, she led her out of the building, "Well, I only got to see you for a few minutes but I swear you were looking all around from the moment you were born, as curious then as you are today."
David added, excitedly, "And I would swear that you recognized my voice immediately. Every time I spoke, you turned your head to listen."
"She did?" asked Mary Margaret at the same time as Emma said in the same tone of wonder, "I did?"
He smiled broadly at the two of them, "Yes, you did. I think it's because I used to read to you before you were born."
Mary Margaret stopped them, still holding tightly to Emma's arm, "You see Emma, we did love you from the moment you came into our lives. And we love you now. Please, won't you give us a chance?"
Emma didn't have to think, "Yes, of course" before pulling them both into a tight hug. By the time they separated and walked the rest of the way to the diner, both women were crying hard and David was fighting back his tears. At the sound of Granny's door being thrown open, all looked up to see Regina storming out.
"No" she proclaimed assertively, "I am not going to sit by and watch while you tear down the only good thing in my life besides my son. Now get away from her!"
"No Regina, stop," Emma said quickly, "it's okay. We made up." Holding a hand up to Regina's chest, she physically stood between the irate woman and her parents.
"You're sure?" Regina asked quietly, only having eyes for Emma.
Emma moved closer, "I'm sure. But it is nice to know you'll fly to my rescue if I need it."
Regina sighed, "You have got to learn to show your happiness somehow other than crying."
As the group turned to go into Granny's, where from the sound of it a grand celebration was just getting started, they were stopped by a cheery voice calling out "Yoohoo!"
All turned to find a mini-van being parked on the street. A couple exited the vehicle, followed by at least five children of varying ages. The driver of the van, a thirtyish man in casual clothes, asked, "Is this Storybrooke?"
Regina stepped forward, "Yes it is. How may I help you?" Her tone was cordial but wary.
The woman rushed over. "Finally. We've been on the road for hours. I've been wanting to come visit Storybrooke for years but every time we tried, something would come up to stop us."
Regina looked at Mary Margaret and David, who peered at the couple. Under her breathe, she asked them, "Do you recognize them?"
Mary Margaret broke out into a brilliant smile, "No, I don't! Hildy, they're strangers. Real strangers."
The woman herded her children across the street, gushing, "One year we got to within a few miles and our car broke down. Another time, we made it halfway, then got a call that our dog was sick and we needed to hurry right back. Turns out he ate something he shouldn't have but by the time we knew for sure, Spring Break was over."
Emma asked, "So you've been trying to come here and couldn't?"
The man replied, picking up a tired looking girl sucking her finger, "It was like the world was conspiring against us. But this year, from the moment we set out, the weather has been great, no traffic to speak of, we made great time. Even got an upgrade on our camp site last night."
The woman beamed, "It's like the curse against us was broken!"
At that, Regina and the other smiled. She took a step forward, "Indeed. My name is Regina, I'm the mayor here. Let me be the first to say, Welcome to Storybrooke."
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