Mallory had never met the new Sheriff, but she'd heard oodles about her. She was curious to see what she was like, but she was positively salivating to hear what Emma Swan had to say. Mallory was quite certain the Sheriff was unmarried and that her only family in Storybrooke was Henry Mills, the boy she'd given up for adoption. The only possible explanation was that Swan wanted to regain custody of the boy. And the idea of going up against dear Regina in court . . . oh, what fun THAT would be.
Her first impression upon meeting Emma Swan was That's the ugliest jacket I've ever seen on a woman.
"Ms. Audley," Emma said.
"Please, call me Mal, everybody does," Mallory said, pouring on the charm. Only her clients called her Mal. And Regina. "Have a seat."
Mallory sat back down and took a long, hard look at Emma. She was plainly nervous, probably because she was poking an eight-hundred pound gorilla with a stick if she planned to take Regina Mills to court. More than that, though, her body language indicated quite clearly that she didn't want to be there. Interesting.
"So, Sheriff Swan," Mallory said, tossing her blonde curls back, "how can I help you?"
Emma took a deep breath. "It's about my biological son, Henry. I need you to draw up some papers for me."
The meeting with Regina went quite a bit differently. For starters, Regina almost broke her door.
"What did she tell you?"
The mayor was magnificent, truly. She was so incandescent with rage that she threatened to set Mallory's desk on fire. But she'd been "frenemies" with Regina long enough to detect the panic in her eyes that the mayor was just barely managing to control.
"Who?" she asked innocently.
Regina stormed forward and swept everything off Mallory's desk with one sweep of her arms. Maybe next she'd throw her down on the desk and have wild hatesex with her. THAT would be interesting.
"Emma. Swan," Regina snarled, leaning towards her. "She was here today. With you. I want you to tell me what she said!"
"Now, Regina, I know we're friends, but you know I can't violate attorney-client privilege."
"So she IS your client then?"
"Oops. Well, yes, she is. My bad," Mallory said in mock dismay.
Regina's hand shot out and grabbed Mallory by the blouse. "What does she want from you?"
"That's privileged, Regina. I'm sure you'll find out soon enough," Mallory replied, ignoring the hand clutching her clothes. "Although just between us, I can tell you we spent a lot of time talking about your son Henry. She really loves him, doesn't she?"
Shoving Mallory back into her chair, Regina leaned back and let loose a shriek of utter fury. Mallory was surprised a window didn't shatter.
And then, before Mallory knew it, she'd left the office, even angrier than she was when she came in.
Mallory smiled. She was SUCH a tease.
For every minute that went by without Regina making an appearance, the heavier the lead weight in her stomach felt. According to Henry, Regina was nearly always home in time to make dinner. That tonight was an exception couldn't be coincidental. It was for that very reason that Emma had dropped Henry off at Mary's apartment. She knew how bad that would look, in light of whatever Regina had heard today. It would look like Emma was already staking a claim on custody of her son. But it would be even worse for him to witness what could be an extremely ugly confrontation. Emma thought physical violence was a definite possibility, especially considering they'd already fought once before, back when she was a mere Deputy and not a pawn in small town power struggles.
If she could just get through to Regina in time, none of that would matter though. She was gambling for her life, by wagering her future.
If there was a silver lining to all of this, it was that Gold had phoned her a few hours ago and coldly informed her that she had fulfilled her end of the bargain. Emma thought he had sounded oddly dissatisfied. But then, after what he'd said about her meeting with Dr. Hopper –
"You've got a lot of nerve coming here tonight."
Emma nearly dropped dead of a heart attack. Wouldn't that be a riot? Two Sheriffs in a row dying of heart failure? She'd been so focused on the front door, and so wrapped up in her own thoughts, that she had never heard Regina approaching from behind. Spinning around, she took one look at Regina and her heart sank. Regina's eyes were red and much too wide, and her mouth was curled in a snarl that wouldn't have been out of place on the face of a vampire bat. She was extremely pale, and she trembled with a volcanic fury that was barely held in check.
Oh, and she had a gun.
"Regina – "
"I saw your car parked out front," Regina went on, "so I thought I'd surprise you. Did I succeed?"
Considering Emma's hand was STILL pressed to her heart, she'd say Regina had earned a perfect 10. "You have to let me – "
"I know I was surprised when Sydney dropped by my office this afternoon and told me he saw you leaving Mallory Audley's office today," Regina hissed. "Because there's no possible reason you might need to see a divorce lawyer. After all, you swore over and over again that you weren't planning to take Henry from me."
"I'm not," Emma said.
Regina pointed the gun at Emma's feet and pulled the trigger. The crack of the pistol was incredibly loud due to the acoustics in the foyer, but Regina didn't even flinch. Emma, meanwhile, leapt back several inches as the bullet barely missed her toes.
"It's amazing what people just leave lying around in a sheriff's office," Regina said.
"Regina, you are not letting me explain."
"Against my better judgment," Regina told her, her eyes growing increasingly murderous, "last night I debated trusting you just a bit. I thought about taking you at your word. Boy, when will I learn that trust is for suckers? When will I learn that the only person I can count on is me?"
Emma had a feeling that Regina was about fifteen seconds away from shooting her. The consequences of such an act weren't even on Regina's radar. In Regina's mind, she'd already lost Henry anyway.
Understanding that words would be useless here, Emma instead took the folded-up pages from inside her jacket and shoved them in Regina's direction. "Here," she said hurriedly. "Read it."
"Have I been served?" Regina sneered. "Your last defiant act?"
"Shoot me all you like," Emma replied, "but first read it."
Regina ripped the papers out of Emma's hand. "On your knees," she ordered. "I won't let you trick me a second time."
"It's not a trick," Emma said, but she did as she was told.
Clumsily opening the paperwork without letting go of the gun, Regina tried to keep one eye on Emma while she read. But she quickly forgot about Emma. She even forgot about the gun as she brought the papers up to her face. "This is a Petition for Termination," she said dumbly.
"This is a voluntary Petition for Termination of your parental rights."
Regina stared at her. "I don't understand."
Emma sighed. "Henry told me about you and Gold. He says he overheard a conversation where he learned Gold 'acquired' him for you ten years ago. A probate court might consider that to be an invalid adoption, you know."
Regina didn't answer her.
"I'm not ready to be his mother, Regina," Emma said. "I'm ready to be in his life, but mentally, I'm not yet equipped to do all the things you do for him. But I didn't know how else to make you believe that." She gestured at the pages. "It hasn't been filed yet. I'll leave that up to you. If you still don't believe me, you can file that with the Clerk's Office tomorrow morning, and in a couple weeks I'll have no standing to challenge the adoption."
"This is – I – why? Why now?"
Emma rubbed the back of her neck. "I owed Gold a favor after what happened with Ashley's baby. He told me I could repay him by being seen walking into Mal's office today."
Regina reached out a hand. "Wait, what?" Only then did she seem to realize it was the hand with the gun.
"Can I have that?" Emma asked.
"Not until you explain further." She sighed. "Oh, do stand up, you're hurting my neck."
Emma got to her feet. Hardwood floors looked swell and all, but they weren't made for kneeling on.
Regina breathed in deeply in an apparent attempt to calm herself. "Now, what does Gold have to do with this?"
"I told you, I owed him a favor."
"Who doesn't?" Regina snapped. "You're saying HE wanted you to sign over your parental rights? That makes no sense, Miss Swan."
"EMMA, explain further, and this time sensibly."
Emma glared at her. "No, all Gold wanted was for me to pay a visit to Mal's office during my lunch break."
Regina raised an eyebrow. "That's all?"
"Apparently it was enough," Emma said, looking pointedly at the handgun.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, here," Regina retorted, handing the firearm to Emma. She took it, put the safety on, and tucked it into the back of her jeans. "You're saying he wanted me to kill you."
"No. He DID want you to jump to the conclusion you did, but he thought it would lead to a long, drawn-out custody battle."
Regina nodded. "One big distraction then. From what, I wonder."
"I don't know," Emma said. "I don't like him, and he knows it. He hasn't exactly taken me into his confidences."
"So this," Regina said, holding up the legal document, "was actually your idea."
"Well, I didn't think you would ever TRULY believe me without some hard evidence," Emma told her. "Because, you know, you're paranoid."
"And frankly, it was the only thing I could think of that wouldn't lead to all-out war between us," Emma added. "It was a big risk, but I couldn't think of an alternative."
Emma tucked her hands into her pockets and looked down. "I mean, I'm handing you a big bat to swing at me with. You could file that tomorrow morning, and I'd lose any legal right I have to visit Henry. You could probably even slap a restraining order on me."
Regina narrowed her eyes, and then she chuckled meanly. "Yes, that's true, couldn't I? I hadn't thought that far ahead."
Emma's blood turned cold. "Regina, please don't . . ."
"Well, for starters, you could keep me away from Henry, but good luck keeping him away from me. And second," Emma warned, "even a private citizen can make an anonymous call to the state adoption agency about a possible illegal adoption ten years ago."
Regina narrowed her eyes. "So what, if you can't be his mother, neither can I? Is that your nuclear option?"
Emma didn't answer her.
The mayor didn't respond at first, studying her carefully. Then she smiled. "I think I'll just put this aside for a rainy day. In case you ever go back on your word."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Anyway, I have bigger fish to fry. And when I say fry, I mean burn to a blackened crisp," Regina said, her face quickly growing stormy again. "Mr. Gold has tested my patience for the last time."
"I guess he's an even more superlative enemy than you realized," Emma said, grinning.
"Yes, it appears we have that in common now," Regina replied sourly.
"And you know what they say about the enemy of my enemy."
"No, I'm trying very hard to forget what 'they' say," Regina said. "That being said, if I pay Mr. Gold's shop a visit tonight, perhaps you'd like to come along and – share enemies a little more."
"I would have come even if you didn't invite me," Emma said.
"Hmph. I'm sure you would. But we're NOT taking your car."
"Ms. Swan," Mr. Gold said as Emma entered his pawnshop alone. "What an unexpected pleasure."
"Why? You thought I might be dead?" Emma looked around his shop. "Don't you ever close? This isn't Las Vegas, you know."
He chuckled. "If only it were, Ms. Swan, there are all sorts of deals to be made there. And as for your health and welfare, I will say that the worry did cross my mind. But I trusted you could handle yourself against . . . the . . . Mayor?"
"My ears are burning," Regina said drolly, having entered his shop while he spoke, causing him to trail off. "Was someone speaking about me?"
Mr. Gold looked at Regina, then back at Emma again, taking in the nearly identical smiles. "Well, well," he finally replied. "A détente?"
Regina approached him, Emma stepping back to grant her a clear path. "The sheriff has told me some very interesting things about your dealings."
"I hope she spoke fairly, just as I am always fair with my customers."
"If you mean did she speak truly, then I don't know," Regina said. "I was never a party to your little discussions. Emma tells me that she paid a visit to Mallory Audley today under duress because of some kind of verbal contract the two of you had."
Mr. Gold's eyes widened. "Did she now? Well, that sounds rather unlikely. What possible reason could I have for requiring Ms. Swan to speak with an attorney? What would that accomplish?"
Regina pressed against the display case between them. "You wanted me to think she was filing for custody of Henry. You assumed that our little rivalry would become a feud as historic as the Hatfields and McCoys," she answered, her smile belying the absolute fury in her eyes.
"Madame Mayor," Gold said smoothly. "You and I have known each other for years. Many, many years. You've known our Sheriff for a few months, and those months haven't been good ones. Why would you choose to believe the things she says about me?"
"Because of this."
From inside her jacket, she drew the legal petition that Emma had given her, and tossed it in his direction.
He picked it up and glanced it, not giving any indication that he was surprised by what it said. "My, my, Ms. Swan," he said. "You've placed your head in the lion's jaws now, haven't you?"
"Cut the crap," Emma retorted. "Especially since you were hoping I'd end up in the lion's stomach instead."
"I didn't particularly appreciate it when you arranged for that fire, Gold," Regina said. "Being saved by our future Sheriff in front of everyone, it was all so . . . undignified. But this? Making me fear for my family's future?"
Then she slapped him across the face.
Mr. Gold gingerly touched his cheek where she had struck him. "I'll give you that one for free, Regina," he said coldly, "but if you want another, it's going to cost you." He glanced at Emma. "I'd ask you to arrest her for that unprovoked assault, Sheriff, but something tells me you wouldn't listen."
"I'd say it was provoked," Emma said, "and in the heat of passion. Something you always seem to have lacked, haven't you, Gold? Passion? You're as dry as the books you sell."
"You'll forgive me if I'm not as demonstrative as some people," he replied, sliding the petition back in Regina's direction. "Volcanos are impressive and all, but they tend to fizzle out. Whereas a frigid, brutal winter can just seem to go on, and on, and on."
Regina sneered at him. "He's just a spider, Emma. Cut a few strings, and it all falls to pieces. He's harmless."
He only smiled at that. As it so often did, his smile gave Emma the creeps.
"I'm finished here. I've made my point," Regina went on, snatching up the legal papers. "You threaten me and mine again, Mr. Gold, and that will cost you a whole lot more."
Smiling triumphantly, she turned and walked briskly out of the store.
He watched Emma as she calmly took a step in his direction. "Would you like to threaten me as well?"
"No, just warn you. I'll be back another time, Gold, and when I do, we're going to discuss that Book you sold Mary Margaret. You know which one I mean."
"A compendium of children's stories?" he asked incredulously. "Whatever could you mean?"
She smiled. "Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say. But I'll be back all the same." With a nod, she left just as Regina had, all swagger and strut.
Mr. Gold stood there for a moment, thinking. Then he picked up the phone. "Candace? Are you there?"
"Of course, Mr. Gold," she said sleepily. "Just dozing a little, it's a slow time of night."
"For you, perhaps," he replied. "For me – well, it appears we'll have to try Plan B."
"Yes, it seems that Emma and Regina are growing closer. Unexpected, but it was always a possibility. Still it does open up brand new opportunities for me. And you know how much I love new markets."
"So what did you need from me?"
"Just keep doing what you've been doing," he said. "But from now on, I want you to focus your attention on the mayor and the sheriff. I'd like to have an idea of everything they're up to, every word they say, just like last night when Emma was with the good doctor, and then today in Ms. Audley's office."
Candace chuckled airily. "Sounds like fun. Only, this won't cause too much of a delay, will it?" she asked, an undisguised longing in her voice.
"Not too much of one, no," he reassured her. "Soon this will all be over, and you can eat all the little boys and girls you like. Preferably starting with one Henry Mills."
"I've been rather famished for twenty-eight years, sir. I wouldn't mind having even a scrawny runt like him over for dinner."
"No, I don't suppose you would," Gold agreed. "Good night, Candace."
"Pleasant dreams, Dark One."
He hung up the phone and turned out the lights in his shop. Rumplestiltskin would be closing early; he had much to do.
"That felt very satisfying," Regina said as she walked down the sidewalk alongside Emma.
"Do you think he'll try something else?"
"I don't doubt it. He's a cockroach. But I stopped being afraid of things that scuttle in the dark a long time ago."
Emma nodded. "I was thinking, by the way. Maybe I should grab my things from the spare room and head back to Mary's tonight."
Regina looked at her. "Why?"
"Well, technically, I've only been staying with you so I could observe your interactions with Henry," Emma pointed out. "And I shared my conclusions with you last night. So you don't need to have me underfoot anymore."
"True," Regina said. "Then again, we DID agree to a week. I'm not someone who goes back on her word, Sheriff."
"And you don't mind sharing Henry with me another couple days?" Emma asked doubtfully.
Regina didn't answer at first. "I think," she said at length, "that you've earned it."
"Wow," Emma said, a little shocked.
"We worked well together in there," Regina continued. "I couldn't appreciate it before, since you always seemed to insist at working at cross purposes with me, but you are surprisingly competent at the things you do."
That sounded more like Regina.
"Who knows?" Regina said, smirking. "I might actually grow to like you."
Emma almost tripped on the sidewalk.
Regina shook her head, chuckling. If she'd known Emma would respond so easily to honey, she would have given up on the vinegar a long time ago. Emma wouldn't even realize that she was being gradually assimilated into the perfect little world that Regina had created there. Storybrooke was a lot like a hive, actually. You had workers, drones, and a single queen. Emma would make an excellent worker bee, once she accepted her place.
Regina would allow herself to trust Emma. But Regina would never like her. Regina would never become friends with her. It was merely part of the plan. A façade. It wasn't real.
Just like Graham, right?
She ignored the traitorous voice in the back of her head. Even if it did sound a little like Ms. Swan.
The End. (For now . . .)
Author's Note - Yes, I've read about "Miss Ginger", and the old witch we saw in the pilot. All will be explained. I think you can all guess who Mallory is, but in case you're wondering, Audley is the last name of a certain voice actress. I realize that this story is a little inaccurate when it comes to closed adoptions, but then, so is the show.