Emma can't think of anything more sophisticated to get Regina's attention, and so in her blind panic, she goes after the apple tree again. It only takes a few revs of the chainsaw (loud, so damn loud in the still of the immaculate gardens) to bring the Mayor running out, dressed for bed and not exactly modest about it, either.

"We need to talk," Emma says, dropping the chainsaw on the ground between them (as though the object alone can shield her from Regina's wrath).

"So talk," Regina spits, eyes raking over the unharmed tree for signs of damage.

"It has to be somewhere you're sure is safe," Emma continues. "Safe even from someone who owns this town."

Regina looks back at her in surprise. It's plain to see that she wants to tell Emma to go to hell, to go back where she came from, to go anywhere that will take that panic out of Regina's eyes once and for all. For the first time Emma can feel sympathy, can feel bad for causing that panic, because it would seem that Regina is not the root of all evil after all.

"The basement," Regina chokes out. "There's a door in the kitchen. Let me change and I'll meet you down there."

But Emma isn't entirely stupid, isn't willing to run the risk of being wrong about Regina after all.

"You take me there, now. Or I don't come at all," Emma warns.

Regina looks hellbent on refusing, but she pulls her flimsy silk robe closed and ties a firm knot in the belt.

"Fine," she relents, jogging back across the lawn on bare feet, not looking to see if Emma will follow.

The basement is refreshingly normal, compared to the palace Regina keeps upstairs. Even Emma, who spent more time in state homes than family ones, can feel at ease amidst the slightly dusty boxes and pieces of unused furniture.

Regina leans against a heavy mahogany dinner table, raising her eyebrows in question as she wraps her arms around herself. It looks defensive, and Emma can't believe she's finally caught the unflappable woman off-guard.

"We need to talk about Gold," Emma says, getting straight to the point. "I've just been to ask him for help in taking you down."

"Which begs the question, Miss Swan: why are you here now, telling me this?"

"Because you're not the one setting up Mary Margaret," Emma replies. "He is. But he's framing you for the frame job."

"I can fight my own battles," Regina says, bristling at Emma's news.

"Maybe not this time," Emma warns. "And I'm not going to trust Mary Margaret's freedom—hell, her life—to you."

"Then what do you propose, Sheriff?" Regina unfolds her arms now, hands gripping on the edge of the table. Emma takes a deep breath, and tells her.

Their alliance, it turns out, is the one thing Mr. Gold did not predict. Emma leans on Regina's knowledge of the town to gather dirt, while Regina distracts their common enemy with posturing and power plays Emma won't even pretend to understand.

When Gold betrays Mary Margaret in court, Regina is the one who hands over the new evidence. There's legal wrangling for weeks, but eventually Mary Margaret is set free, with Gold taking her place behind bars. He rages day and night—railing against Regina, and Emma, and spitting accusations to anyone unfortunate enough to overhear. His own trial will come soon enough, Emma thinks, and she hurries home to Mary Margaret's place, actually looking forward to the party that will celebrate her roommate's exoneration.

The whole town seems to be crammed into the apartment, with various people spilling out into the hallway, clutching plastic cups and gossiping furiously. Emma fights her way through the crowd, ducking questions but smiling brightly. Everyone seems to be cheering her as the hero, and it makes her uncomfortable.

Inside she discovers Mary Margaret, holding David's hand quite unapologetically as she chats with Ruby and her Granny. Emma greets her with another congratulatory hug and wonders if she can just grab a bottle of Maker's Mark and barricade herself in her bedroom. She decides to risk it, because this many people is more than she can stand right now.

She's congratulating herself on sneaking into her darkened bedroom undetected, when someone clears their throat from the direction of the bed. Fearing the worst, Emma flips on the light and is greeted with the sight of Regina perched on her mattress, coat laid out over her knees as though this was a waiting room or departure lounge.

"You saved me, Miss Swan," Regina says, without being prompted. "I still don't understand why you would do that."

"Just trying to be a good person, I guess," Emma says, with a shrug. "I'd offer you a drink, but I didn't bring cups."

"That won't be necessary," Regina says, taking the bourbon from Emma's hand and swigging straight from the bottle. Emma can't help but smile in approval. These past few weeks she's come to see beyond the stuffy Mayoral façade, and weirdest of all she actually likes the person she found there. It's a black-is-white, up-is-down kind of revelation, but Emma has decided to just go with it.

"Don't hog the bottle, Madam Mayor," Emma says, flopping out on the bed beside Regina. "I thought you had better manners than that."

Regina turns, apparently just to hand over the bottle, but somehow she ends up leaning over Emma instead. It should be unsettling, if not downright terrifying, but Emma feels oddly at ease as Regina's dark eyes search Emma's face for something. Whatever she's looking for, she finds.

"Where I come from," Regina says, her voice barely a whisper. "The custom is to reward someone who saves you, with a kiss."

"That's a custom in Maine?" Emma asks, mocking just a little.

"And so I find myself wondering," Regina continues as though Emma hadn't spoken. "How you would react if I kissed you. Would you smack me in the mouth again?"

"As an officer of the law, I can't comment on hypotheticals," Emma teases, but she's in no position to deny that her pulse is racing at the suggestion alone. All this sneaking around and plotting has left her open to some entirely different way of spending time with Regina, it would seem.

"Fine," Regina huffs, looking offended. But she still bends the rest of the way to press her lips against Emma's, tasting like lipstick and bourbon and bad ideas. Emma, because maybe she is a little stupid, sometimes, winds her fingers into Regina's shorter hair and tugs her back for a kiss that's really worth commenting on—a clash of tongues and teeth and frantic bursts of not-quite-breathing that leaves Emma dizzy and already silently begging for more.

"So," Regina drawls, Emma's hand resting on the back of her neck and their faces just a few inches apart. "Am I safe from your fists, Miss Swan?"

"Well," Emma replies, unable to resist. "You're safe from being punched, anyway."

Regina catches the implication just a second too late and blushes, furiously. Emma wonders if she's blown it, but when she opens her mouth to apologize, Regina's on her again, teasing Emma's bottom lip with her teeth.

And Emma has to admit, much as she doesn't want to, that it's a hell of a lot more fun to have Regina as an ally than as an enemy.