Storybrooke was what Emma needed. Not what she wanted, but what she wanted was to wake up in bed next to Regina, in the mayor's house, and have fairy tales be just a thing in books again. Have a girlfriend whose worst misdeed was preemptively eating the Chunky Monkey ice cream before her family could get to it.
But Storybrooke stopped the alarm from going off behind Emma's eyes, slowed down her hectic mind, spread a balm over where the skin had been stripped from her. It was familiarly unfamiliar, as her high school drama teacher might've said, when he wasn't looking at her boobs. Well, Kelly Foster's boobs, if you wanted to get technical. Damn early bloomers.
David and Mary Margaret weren't married yet—not that they'd been living in sin in fairy tale land, but a new world meant a new start, and since the last wedding had been spoiled by something they didn't want to talk about, they were eager to redo it. But, since Emma's world didn't frown too much on living in sin, there was no rush. And honestly, hadn't Emma always expected her parents to be unmarried? Not royalty, but definitely sluts.
So Mary Margaret had bridal magazines strewn around, gathering ideas while she and Emma's father kept a lid on Storybrooke. With the return of old memories came old grievances, and as the only set of people equally admired in the real world and… well, the other real world… they were the de facto leaders, stopping King Midas from taxing his neighborhood and getting Miss Muffett to agree to let the unicorns graze on her lawn.
The gossip made Emma laugh and feel oddly normal. Maybe she was stuck between worlds, but at least she had a home. Mother or no mother, she always had a mug of hot chocolate and peppermint with her name on it.
They didn't talk about Regina though. Emma wasn't sure who was avoiding the topic, her or Mary Margaret. But they kept away.
Tuesday she got eggs thrown at her car. David helped her clean it off. "You know, a lot of people are still angry at Regina. You're the only person they can take it out on."
"I wish they would take it out on me, and not the Bug. What'd it ever do to anyone?"
Kathryn and Graham's wedding was the last straw. Regina sent a gift to be given under Emma's name and Kathryn loved it. She thanked Emma profusely and Emma kept thinking how Regina might never be accepted in the closest thing she had to a home, not even enough for a simple thank you. Emma started sobbing during the reception and Mary Margaret knew it had nothing to do with weddings.
Mary Margaret looked like a princess in the dress that hadn't been woven when Emma last saw her, while her daughter had on a power suit that she wore on the witness stand at courthouses and had packed accidentally. They sat on opposite sides of the bench outside the church. Mary Margaret didn't know what would comfort her child more, being held or having her space respected.
"It's Regina, isn't it?"
Emma was loosening her tie just to breath enough to cry more. "We shouldn't talk about her. I don't wanna upset her."
"Emma, I forgave Regina a long time ago. And while I can't forget what she's done, she's also done the one thing she could ever do to redeem herself in my eyes." Mary Margaret smiled at Emma's look, and unasked question. "She made my little girl happy."
"But how can you forgive her? Because of her, I'm not your little girl. You never got a chance to watch me grow up and I never had a mother."
Mary Margaret settled for taking the hand Emma had used to dry her tears. "You never met the Regina I did. She calmed after living in this world for so many years. She was full of rage when I knew her. Her father passed it on to her and her mother couldn't protect her from it. She never really had a chance. Not until you gave her one."
Emma smiled at how Mary Margaret's thumb rubbed the back of her hand. It was so simple, so maternal, yet she'd never done it before. "I didn't have it easy either. Didn't make me curse anyone."
Mary Margaret shook her head. "I'm not trying to excuse what she did. I just want you to know after the curse was lifted, when I saw her for the first time—I didn't recognize her. You did that."
"You don't have to sell me on Regina. I love her, I do. I just need to know how to forgive her."
"Emma Swan. It's simple. If you love her, you've already forgiven her. That's all there is to it."
Late nights. Long days. Crappy lunches. What had Regina expected from a political campaign? She'd managed to convince everyone that her twenty-eight year stretch as Mayor of Storybrooke was just a typo. That made her the one who got coffee instead of the one who sent for it. But that would change. Oh yes, it would change. She might not have her magic or her body (that was pledged to Emma and she wouldn't have it any other way), but she had her mind, and that'd always been her deadliest weapon.
She's acquired a weakness as well. That was alright. No one used it against her. She used it against herself. Regina Mills missed her family.
She was huddled in Henry's bed, pretending the smell of his pillow was him, when her phone rang. She was pleased by how strident her voice was when she answered, betraying nothing. "Mills."
"Hi Regina." Emma.
Regina got out of the bed like Emma might see her. "Hello. Is Henry alright?"
"You know he is. I just… wanted to hear your voice."
A new and not unpleasant feeling took hold of Regina. "What would you like to hear it say?"
"Just tell me about your day, Obama girl."
"Everything? I might bore you to death."
After that, things just fell into place. It'd been more work keeping things frosty than letting them thaw. Even with her family and friends all around her, Emma missed Regina a little more each day. It was still too early to broach the subject of Regina's return. Things were a little tense with people just knowing Emma and Regina were involved. But Henry was happy, that was good enough for now.
Being apart from Regina still weighted heavily on Emma. During one of their daily phone calls, she asked what Regina was wearing ("Sweatpants and one of your Hot Topic shirts. My ensembles take a lot less work since I was recalled from office."). She would've insisted on a lot more detail, but her mother was in the other room.
David had his heart set on taking his newfound family hunting. He bow-hunted. Emma wasn't sure who had read that bedtime story. Ted Nugent?
She agreed to go, but a look at Mary Margaret had her mother "remembering" that she'd promised to take Henry to the arcade. In the twenty-eight years since Storybrooke had been created and then frozen in time, the humble video arcade had gone from Street Fighter 2 to nonexistence. Regina had gotten Henry a Pokemon game, but he insisted it wasn't the same. Emma wasn't sure about that. At least you could sit down to play Pokemon.
Emma wasn't shooting any small woodland creatures. She wasn't sure how true to life Walt Disney had been, but she wasn't going to have some bluebird tell her mom how Emma Swan used state-of-the-art technology to blow a hole in something without opposable thumbs. She just kept the gun on her in case David pissed off a bear.
After ten minutes, Emma decided David just liked walking around the forest with a bow. No woodland creatures were involved.
"So, have you talked to your mother?" he asked.
"Yeah, I talked to Mary Margaret."
Emma sat down on a log. This sounded like a long one. "There's an and?"
David stopped too, though he found it more comfortable to put his leg up on a stump. He looked like he could be selling very expensive rum. "She didn't tell you. She was supposed to tell you…"
"Tell me what? Is there some Big Bad Sauron thing coming I have to worry about? Prophecy to fulfill, ragtag bunch of misfits to lead, buncha magical whazits to find?"
He put his hands on his hips, which really didn't help the regal thing. "I thought we should be the first to let you know that it's okay if you want to call me Dad. Same for Mary Margaret. You don't have to, that's not what we're—I'm saying at all. But it might make things easier."
"In one day I got a mom, a dad, and a tiara. I don't think there's an easy setting on that. But I'll try—not to call you David."
"That's all I ask. And I don't want to cramp your style or anything…"
"Pretty sure you'd have to travel back to the 90s to manage that."
"—but Mary Margaret and I are totally fine with your… interest in… other… romantic… women… I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure what's offensive and what's not?"
"I'm good with lesbian," Emma said.
"Yeah, that's what Mary Margaret thought you'd say… well, we have a few of your… compatriots?… in town. Have you met Mulan? She's very that way. You two should have dinner sometime."
"Whoa." Emma got up, walking a few paces, just enough to make David abandon his pose and chase after her. "Are you setting me up with someone?"
"No. Of course not. I just thought you might want some friends with similar interests as you. You can do girl stuff without talking about boys." David grinned nervously, plucking the string of his bow a few times. "She is very becoming, though."
"The cartoons don't do her justice."
"Dad! I have a girlfriend! She's… Regina's raising my kid!"
"And I'm sure it feels real to you…" Emma turned away and David raised his voice enough to pull her back. "I'm sure it feels real. But so did what I had with Kathryn."
"So, what, Regina cast a spell on me?"
"That's not what I'm saying. Just that it's been hard. Would you be here if it weren't? And maybe it's hard because you're trying to force something that wasn't meant to be."
"It's hard because she was broken into a million pieces and you, none of you, did anything to help her before it was too late. I'm the one who had to clean up your mess. I shot a man, Dad. Do you have any idea what that feels like?"
Whatever David had prepared as a response crumbled away. "No. I don't."
"Neither did I. She's a good person. All her life, everyone's been telling her she wasn't. Even her own son. I'm the first one to believe in her and she's listening to me, but it takes time. You're asking me if I'd be happier with someone else? I can't think like that right now. I have to think about what's best for Henry and Regina. And I don't know how much it helps to have me just… throwing myself against her windshield, but it's all I know how to do. So I'll keep doing that."
David looked down. "You're really going to fight me on this, huh?"
"I really am."
"I hope you know what you're doing."
"I don't. But I don't think anyone else does, either."
Regina got the call after a long day at work, relaxing with a tumbler of bourbon. Her toes curled in pleasure at being out of too-tight high heels—she'd done a lot of work pressing the flesh, zipping from one end of the capitol to another and wearing an outfit that was just a little too immodest for her taste. The kind of thing Ruby would wear, for God's sake. The only reason she left it on was because she was expecting Emma to call and she liked the visual of her wearing that and Emma wearing… who knew what…
The moment the phone rang, Regina felt electricity in the air. Something was different now. A bit of magic, almost. She picked the phone up, jamming it against her ear. "Emma," she thrilled.
"Hey," Emma said, a bit hesitantly, as if taken aback from the vehemence that Regina had spoken her name with. "Hey, I don't know if this is quite alright with you…"
"I'm coming home a little early. Henry wiggled his way into staying with his grandparents another week, so it'll be just us. If that's alright."
"It's fine," Regina said, her overly pleasant imaginings of a week alone with Emma derailed by the sight of a carton of Chinese take-out on the floor. Furious with it, Regina picked it up and threw it into the waste bin. "How soon until you get here?"
"An hour or so. Just enough time for you to clean up after the wild party you threw."
Regina smiled. "Or you could just join in. When's the last time you did a body shot?"
For a moment, the line was silent except for some stammering. Regina told herself to cut that out. She wouldn't want her girl crashing before their reunion. "Seriously, though, put out the cat I'm sure you adopted while I was gone."
"So we can be alone? Since you're not bringing anyone?"
"No, I'm flying solo."
"Good. Then you'll have no problem picking up some wine on your way home. And a loaf of bread."
"Regina—" Emma was grumbling, but happily.
"Whole wheat, dear."
Emma drove into Boston at eleven and reached their apartment in twenty minutes. Traffic was light after dark; the silent streets and droning lamplights putting her in a contemplative, lustful mood. She wanted Regina. Almost not in a sexual way, but with a need for her flesh, her skin, the acerbic warmth she put off. Regina cloaked her concern under layers of formality and sarcasm, and Emma could spend a lifetime unwrapping it.
She parked and, bracing herself against the cold, left the warm cocoon of her car's air conditioning to make her way to Regina. The underground parking garage was cooler and quieter than ever, so uneventful that it sped its way out of Emma's brain. She was in her car, then she was in the lobby, then she was in the elevator, then was on their floor. Then things slowed again, almost unbearably. Her breath went, languid and warm, into her lungs.
She suddenly realized she was out of the night air, sweat covering her like balmy hands. Taking a moment to loosen her clothes, Emma walked the hallway, her eyes darting to the room numbers, counting them off. 701, 703, 705—it was on the right, wasn't it?—707, 709, 711, 713… there she was. Emma reached into her pocket for her keys before realizing they'd never left her hand. She undid the lock. It was just a bit of a relief to know that her key still fit, that it wasn't all some elaborate joke.
With a push, the door swung open. Emma couldn't help a hangdog expression at not seeing Regina there to greet her. But then, that was Regina. She'd probably find her bent over her desk, still doing some paperwork that she'd swear she'd only started five minutes ago.
"Honey, I'm home!" Emma called, just then realizing she'd always wanted to do that.
"Come into the living room. I got you a welcome-home present."
"I love presents," Emma replied, not quite able to stop herself from getting her hopes up. Regina being the lovable bunch of neuroses she was, it'd probably be that she'd put surge protectors on all the outlets. Or turned a mugger into a honeybee. Who knew with her?
She stepped into the living room and dropped her keys to the floor. Regina knelt on the floor, naked. Well, not quite naked. Red ribbons crossed her, covering the nipples of her verifiably perfect breasts and dipping down her cleavage to cover her crotch, then back up between her asscheeks like a thong to meet a bow on top of Regina's head. The corresponding ribbon didn't go across Regina's face, but was held in her teeth, revealed by a broad grin.
"I might've skimped on the wrapping paper," she said through clenched teeth.
Emma's mouth was dryer than a desert. As if in a trance, she stepped forward. Then, as if she were relearning how, she took another step, then another, her hand already stretching out for Regina as those luscious red lips parted, the ribbon falling from the teeth to the ground, leaving the whole thing just hanging off her in a parody of gravity…
"I forgot the wine," she said suddenly, pausing.
Regina looked up at her, biting her lip for a moment before continuing. "We'll make do."
"I got it, I just left it in the car. I could run back down and get it. It'd take two minutes."
"Emma," Regina rasped, her voice low and deadly.
Emma picked up the ribbon and shoved it back in Regina's mouth. "Two minutes." She moseyed to the door. "It's my present. I can open it when I want."
Regina could do nothing but kneel, there, stewing, moving her hands from her lap only to fit the taut ribbons back into place. She wouldn't give Emma the satisfaction of starting without her, wouldn't let her know in the slightest how it'd boiled her just to see Emma come through that door in her ridiculously oversized coat and just-plain-ridiculous hat. And when Emma returned, she wouldn't be sweet with her, oh no. She'd throw Emma on the bed and rule her like a queen ruled a kingdom, riding her like a thoroughbred, working her like a fertile field…
Emma breezed back through the door, a plastic bag twisting in her hand. "I left it in the elevator."
Regina kept the ribbon in her mouth. But she uttered a distinct growl.
Emma laughed and went to join her, kicking off her shoes. For once, Regina didn't care that they weren't by the door. "You owed me that. C'mon. You've gotta admit you owed me that one." She bopped the bow off Regina's head.
Regina fairly spat out the ribbon. "And they say I'm evil."
Emma stood over Regina, grinning down at her, giving Regina the best seat in the house as she undressed. "Well. You're not." She dropped the bag by Regina. "Still wanna do body shots?"
"Absolutely." Regina's eyes flicked to the bag. "And the beard?"
"We'll put it in the pantry. What are we, perverts?"
"Certainly not." Before Emma could step out of her pants, Regina grabbed her belt and jerked her trousers down with her panties in one go. "Ever had a present open you before?"
"Never had a queen kneel down for me."
"Get used to it," Regina advised her, and kept her mental promise to be rough with Emma in the sweetest way.