Title: Never Had a Friend Like Me (1/?)
Disclaimers: Everything belongs to ABC, Disney, the creators, yada, yada. The title is of course inspired by the name of a song from Disney's "Aladdin".
Summary: Emma and Regina find it necessary to preserve the fiction that they're romantically involved. Just as long as it stays fiction – right?
Spoilers: After 1x08, "Desperate Souls". Random specific events that took place after 1x08 are also present, but the main storyline is vastly different from the final 14 episodes of Season One. Sequel to my first story, "Be Our Guest".
In many ways, life in Storybrooke reverted to normal after Emma's stay at the Mills residence ended. Both women were strong-willed, and they clashed often when it came to the performance of their duties, such as how to handle a pair of orphans. Emma could never have guessed that when Regina had sent her to Boston with Nicholas and Ava Tillman, it had had little to do with the particulars of the case. Henry and Emma had established that "outsiders" could enter and leave Storybrooke as they pleased, whereas "locals" never managed to make it past the "You Are Now Leaving Storybrooke" signs. However, Regina didn't know what would happen if an outsider such as Emma, and a local such as Hansel or Gretel, attempted to leave at the same time. Would the curse pounce, or would it step aside?
She had been gratified to discover that it had indeed pounced.
But things had changed too. Occasionally both women could agree on something. Regina wasn't clear on who this strange motorcyclist was, or why he would be in town – Emma was the first visitor in years, and Henry had to drag her there. But she didn't trust him one bit, and apparently neither did the Sheriff.
Also, Regina had shelved an elaborate scheme she'd concocted involving Sidney that would have publicly embarrassed Emma and revealed her fallibility to all. After Emma's week at her home, Regina now felt it would be counterproductive.
(She still tore down the old wooden castle and built the new playground. Honestly, it was a safety hazard, and she didn't want Henry near it any longer.)
And, as planned, Regina had begun organizing dates and times for Emma and Henry to be together. She knew Emma was gratified by it, as well as by Regina's decision not to file those termination papers in court. The Sheriff was only too happy to spend time with Henry out in the open, as opposed to worrying if Regina would catch them meeting in secret. She never noticed that her relationship with Henry was now on Regina's terms.
Regina never joined them on their little excursions, though. So, for example, when Emma had taken Henry to the drive-in to see "Gremlins" for the first time, she hadn't invited Regina to join them, and Regina had not asked.
There was a reason for this.
Emma walked into Granny's Diner on a Wednesday morning, feeling like things were finally starting to come together. Granted, Regina would probably always be a source of aggravation, but it seemed like Emma's gesture with the termination papers had established a trust between them when it came to their son. Her last two days at Regina's home hadn't been about tests and competitions and rivalries. It had been about relaxing. Everyone had seemed willing to let the unpleasantness from the other day slide, and just enjoy the weekend. Occasionally Emma had even wondered if this was what home felt like.
Not that she wanted to become a permanent fixture there, of course. Seeing Regina 24/7 – it would drive anyone nuts.
It was only after she took a seat that things came apart again.
"Sheriff," Ruby said, bringing her coffee over.
"This one is on the house, by the way."
Emma looked up, surprised. "It is? Why?"
Ruby smiled at her sympathetically. "Well, I mean, I heard you were living with Mary Margaret again."
"And?" Emma said slowly.
The waitress glanced around, then took the seat opposite Emma. "And that you had moved out of Regina's house."
This conversation, Emma thought, had become increasingly weird.
"So," Ruby continued, "I was sorry things didn't work out between you two, and I thought, 'Emma could use a free coffee today'."
Emma was about to ask if Ruby had spiked the coffee when she had a sudden, horrid flashback to Mr. Gold on Thursday, wishing her and Regina success in their new relationship. Her eyes grew wide. Oh crap. "Ruby – "
"I apologize," Ruby interrupted. "Everybody could see you two were dating, but we didn't want to say anything. We figured it was your right to come out to the town on your own timetable. I wouldn't have mentioned it now, but since you broke up – "
"Ruby, it never happened," Emma hissed.
She stood up and patted Emma on the hand. "It never happened, right. I get it. Just pretend it didn't happen. Great way to move on from a bad breakup. I hope you meet someone new. And hey," she added with a naughty smile, "when you feel like dipping your feet back in the pool, you know where I live."
Ruby strutted off to her next table, leaving Emma to stare after her in shocked disbelief, mouth agape.
At least Emma was able to look away before Ruby could turn her head and think the sheriff was staring at her ass.
"How could this have happened?!" Emma burst out, pacing back and forth in Dr. Hopper's office. "We had one dinner together. And Henry was there! Who goes on dates with a kid tagging along?"
"I'm sorry," Archie said, glad he hadn't had a patient when Emma arrived, babbling about "confidentiality". "I tried to tell them, but no one would listen. No one wanted to listen."
"Why?" Emma growled. "Because everyone likes a good scandal? Especially if it's titillating?"
"A few people, perhaps," the doctor allowed, thinking of Leroy. "But a lot of people liked the idea of you and Regina together."
Emma stopped pacing and put her hands on her hips. "Who would think that's a good idea?"
"Emma, I'm sure you realize that most people in this town find Regina a little . . . intimidating."
"You mean they're afraid of her."
Archie adjusted his glasses. "Yes, okay, that wouldn't be inaccurate. But to see Regina out on a date, with you of all people – "
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're a local hero, Emma," he reminded her. "Saving the Mayor from a fire, standing up to Mr. Gold, reuniting lost children with their families. Not to mention pulling Henry and I out of a mineshaft."
She seemed embarrassed by this, which was exactly the kind of reaction that inspired this town's belief in her.
"Anyway, it humanizes Regina. It makes people think, 'Gee, if the Sheriff likes her, then maybe she's not an ogre after all'. Or a witch, as Henry would suggest."
"Something that rhymes with witch, maybe," Emma grumbled.
"And as for Henry being there," Archie added, "that just lent a 'family night out' feeling to it. It's the kind of thing someone would expect to see if they heard you were all living together."
Emma sighed. "Gold mentioned our 'relationship' last week. Regina thought he was just yanking our chains."
"I'm sure he was anyway," Archie said. "Have you confronted him about the Book?"
"Confronted, yes. The Book, no," Emma replied. "To be honest, after Regina had the castle torn down and the Book disappeared, it seemed less urgent. Besides, I don't really have a lot to go on with Gold. And he's slippery as an eel."
"Yes, Henry told me about the Book. He was very agitated."
"Hopefully he'll settle down. Maybe this'll be good in the long run." Emma's face suddenly turned white. "Crap, what's Regina going to do when she hears about this?"
Archie chuckled. "Emma, remember what I said about 'intimidating'? Do you honestly think anyone would dare raise such a personal subject with Regina? Especially a touchy one like a failed relationship?"
Emma brightened. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
The mayor looked up from her desk. "Kathryn?" she said. Although she hid it well, Regina always felt uncomfortable around Kathryn. Part of it was the hand of friendship so freely offered. Regina didn't "do" friends. The closest she'd had in the Enchanted Forest had been Maleficent, and their friendship had been – unconventional. That persisted in Maine, where she'd learned the term "frenemies" and thought it a perfect description of her relationship with Mallory.
The bigger part was the hypocrisy. Regina bore her no grudge in either of her lives. So she derived no satisfaction from lying to her. Instead, she felt guilty. How could she call herself Kathryn's friend when all of the following were true?
Kathryn, I know you think you've found your one true love, but your memories are deceiving you, and you can never be happy with David. And it was my Curse that caused this.
Kathryn, even though you can never be happy in this marriage, I'm going to fight to keep you and David together anyway, just so Mary-Margaret will be alone.
Kathryn, you have no ulterior motive in being my friend, and you have been more supportive in a few months than even Graham was in twenty-eight years. While I will continue to manipulate you when it suits my ends.
All of these were true, and Regina had no intention of changing anything, but that didn't mean Regina didn't feel badly about it. But if she was going to continue using Kathryn, then she would just have to live with it.
"How are you doing?" Kathryn asked. "Drowning yourself in work, I see?"
Regina looked at her IN box. It didn't look especially full, but then most people thought the mayor was a workaholic. "Always," she said.
Kathryn sat across from her. "I thought you might want to have lunch today."
"Er, I'm a little busy today, but – "
"Regina, it's okay," Kathryn said softly. "You can talk to me about it."
Regina was thoroughly confused now. "About what?"
"You know. You and Emma. The gossip is all over town about how you two broke up."
If it hadn't been for Emma repeating what Mr. Gold had said to her on Thursday, Regina might have thrown up in her mouth.
"It is?" she instead asked, feeling like her head was packed with cotton.
Kathryn nodded. "I guess it makes sense. You two have always been so volatile. Maybe it was bound to be something short and passionate."
Mr. Gold hadn't made it up. People actually thought she and Emma had been . . . lovers.
What the FUCK?I
"Kathryn," Regina said, way too calmly, "as friends, believe me when I say this to you. Ms. Swan and I have never been in a romantic relationship. Period."
Kathryn didn't look like she believed her entirely. "I realize that as an elected official, you might be a little leery about outing yourself to the public, but – "
"No," Regina said quickly. "Kathryn, there was nothing between us. Emma stayed at my house for a few days because I wanted to prove to her that I was a good mother to Henry. Everybody simply jumped to conclusions."
"Deadly serious," Regina assured her. "And I would appreciate it if you could spread the word around."
"Well, I can try, but people know we're friends. They're just going to think that you're trying to cover it up, and that you're using me to do it."
People will think you're using her. Isn't that just rich, Regina?
Regina hid her shame, as usual. "Do you have a better idea?"
Kathryn looked thoughtful. "Talk to Emma. Otherwise there's no telling how she'll react when she finds out, if she hasn't already. Plus you need to coordinate your response. You can't have Emma telling people one thing, and you telling them another. Then people will REALLY think you're hiding something."
Yes, Regina definitely couldn't have that.
"We need to talk," Emma and Regina said simultaneously when the mayor came into the sheriff's station.
"Um, yeah," Emma said, while Regina looked irritated. "You go first."
"Sheriff, do you remember what Mr. Gold said to you the other day? About, you know – "
Emma closed her eyes. "Damn it, you heard too?"
"Ruby tried to comfort me today," Emma said. "Actually, she may want to comfort me in more ways than one."
"Kathryn did much the same thing," Regina replied. "Not the part I think you're implying, though."
Emma sat back down. "What the hell do we do now?"
Regina scowled. "I don't know. Apparently people won't believe us if we try to deny it – "
"Ruby thought I was trying to 'move on'."
"And if we say nothing, people will take our silence as confirmation."
Emma groaned. "It kinda sounds like you're saying we're stuck."
Regina sat down across from her and sighed. "That IS what I'm saying. Unless you have an idea."
"I was hoping you did." Emma paused. "Look, it could be worse. They could think we're still together. Let's just keep our heads down, ride out the condolences, and get past it."
"I don't really like the idea of people believing we're ex-girlfriends now," Regina complained.
"You said it yourself. We have no way of convincing people otherwise," Emma pointed out. "We can only make sure that we stay 'exes'. We can't do anything that people might interpret as us getting back together."
"Yes," Regina agreed after a moment. "No dates, no family nights, nothing. I'm not even sure you should be coming to the house again."
Emma chuckled. "Uh, no. Unless you'd rather start dropping Henry off at my apartment?"
Regina looked appalled. "And look like divorced parents?!"
"Yeah, that was my thinking too. We'll just have a working relationship, nothing more."
The mayor didn't look happy, but she did at least look slightly mollified. "It's the only choice we have."
"Which is fine, because it's not like we're friends or anything."
They didn't say anything after that, and after an uncomfortable silence, Regina hastily got up and left.
After that it was nice and quiet. And boring. But it was still preferable to having Regina there. Very preferable.
She certainly didn't enjoy her company.
Emma disliked coincidences immensely. In her line of work, be it law enforcement or bounty hunting, a coincidence was usually anything but.
So she wasn't inclined to believe that the Book, and the box it had been in, had not only survived the demolition of the wooden castle it had been hidden beneath, but then days later "magically" floated down the street and came to a stop behind the car of the one person who A. knew what it was, and B. would give it to whom it belonged to.
On the other hand, the alternative was that someone had put it there. And for someone to have put it there, that person must have known where to find it. That person must have spied on Henry one of the times he retrieved the Book from its hiding place, then liberated it before the castle was torn down.
Just this once, Emma would choose to believe the coincidence, if only because the alternative meant some kind of sinister, menacing figure hovering near her son. And without any means of proving it, she certainly didn't want to believe that.
Regardless of how the Book got there, the fact remained that Emma didn't like the influence the Book had on Henry, and that by the time she'd moved back in with Mary, she was glad the Book was gone. The book had Gold's fingerprints all over it, tainted by his scheming and plotting. She was happier knowing that stench was nowhere near her son.
And she'd be happier if it stayed that way. When Emma looked at it like that, it became a very easy decision to take the box containing the Book, and leave it in a nearby public trashcan.
Hey, she was happier.
She might have been less happy if she'd known someone watching her from around the corner had decided he needed to re-evaluate his position on her.
Emma was still in a good mood the following afternoon as she parked on the side of the road, a few houses away from Henry's home. She had worked out with Regina a schedule for the following month where Henry would spend a few hours alone with her 2-3 times a week, and so far it seemed to be running smoothly.
She wasn't under any delusion that she and Regina were "besties" now. Emma knew how Regina's mind worked, and scheduling Emma's visits in advance undoubtedly gave Regina a sense of control she'd been lacking when Henry had simply "disappeared" every time he wanted to see Emma. Plus it meant that at least one of Henry's mothers always knew where he was, and since Emma and Regina had finally figured out the basics of the art of communication, that meant they both knew.
So they didn't exactly fit the classic mold of "friends", not the way Emma was with Mary, or Regina with Kathryn. In their professional capacities as Mayor and Sheriff they continued to butt heads over issues large and small, but now the bickering felt easy, familiar. Since they'd agreed to coexist, it had become less about a need to undermine and destroy the other, and more of a battle of oneupsmanship.
There was still the unfortunate public perception that she and Regina were ex-lovers, and the bantering did nothing to dispel that, but what was the alternative? Stop sniping at each other? People would think they'd gotten back together!
Maybe if they were different people, such a relationship could have worked – Emma had always compensated for her fear of commitment by opening herself up to new experiences, including sexual relationships with women as well as men. And the thought of sharing a roof with Henry full-time was a pleasant fantasy. But there was too much emotional baggage already. Throw sexual passion into the mix? The first time they fought, the house would probably spontaneously combust.
Emma was already making one hell of a commitment to her son and to this town. The last thing she needed was to be overwhelmed by a commitment to a lover as well. (Even if Ruby was clearly still interested.)
She wondered if Regina had admitted to herself yet how much easier life had become now that she wasn't fighting Emma over every little thing or micromanaging her son's life. When she did, maybe the mayor would also realize that this life lesson could be applied to other arenas as well.
All of that being said, the fact remained that Emma had a stronger relationship with Henry, thanks to finding new things they shared in common. Whatever else Regina had tried to provide for their child, the ability to have fun was something she had failed at epically. And with the Book no longer distracting him, Emma had gone to a great deal of trouble to fill the void with movies, music, games and all the other things she'd turned to as a child when real parents continued to be elusive. Maybe now Henry could make some real friends, since he had topics he could talk about with his fellow students.
Regina provided the structure, and Emma provided the fun. Regina was the Claire to her Phil. (Ooh, she bet Henry would appreciate that show.)
All thoughts of Regina and Henry, however, temporarily flew right out of her brain as she approached the front door of the Mills home and saw the package on the front step. No, not a package, a box. A box which Emma was pretty damn sure she had put in a garbage can yesterday.
Emma stood there, stupefied, as she stared at the box which she assumed contained the Book. Maybe "Boomerang" was a better word for it, since it seemed like the harder you threw the damn thing away from you, the faster it returned. Rather than bending over to pick it up or open it, she nudged it with her boot, as if it contained live ammo. It certainly felt heavy enough.
Henry, she thought, would have said it was magic that brought the Book back to him. Emma knew there was a much more logical explanation. Somebody – probably the same somebody who arranged for the Book to "accidentally" float over to her rear tire – had removed the box from the public garbage can Emma had tossed it into, then brought it here. But they had obviously taken their time, since Regina or Henry would have practically tripped over it if it had been here last night or this morning. So they waited until what, around the same time Emma would arrive?
Gold. Of course it was him. Not only was she positive Gold had wanted Henry to have the Book in the first place, but this reeked of his modus operandi. First he wanted Regina to think that Emma was filing for custody, and now he wanted Regina to believe Emma was giving Henry his Book back. The same Book that had convinced her son that his adoptive mother was Evil incarnate.
Emma's head snapped up, startled, when she heard the thunderous sound of footsteps from inside the house. That was undoubtedly Henry racing from upstairs to greet her at the door. And he'd open the door, see the box, and . . .
She couldn't think of anything else in the few seconds she had. So she kicked the box sideways into the bushes.
Fuck, that hurt! Was it a storybook or a phone book?!
"Emma!" Henry said happily as he opened the door. "You made it!"
"Yep," Emma replied, sounding remarkably normal, considering her foot still stung, plus she was halfway convinced Gold was lurking somewhere with binoculars, hoping to see his plan succeed. Suck on that, you little goblin. "You ready?"
Henry nodded as Regina appeared behind him. He'd been a little upset with her after the incident where she caught him in a lie about soccer lessons, but now that he was living alone with Regina again, suddenly things were back to normal for them. "What are we going to do today?"
"It's a surprise," Emma told him, looking at Regina. "Why don't you go to the car? I'll be right there. I need to speak to Regina for a minute."
"Don't forget to get started on your homework, dear," Regina reminded him as she adjusted his backpack.
He grumbled something like "Yes, Mom," as he hurried past Emma.
"Whatever your surprise is," Regina told Emma, "I hope it doesn't involve him wearing a helmet."
"Well, I wouldn't recommend dirt biking without one, but . . . geez, I'm kidding," Emma said, seeing the look on Regina's face. "Listen, I don't know if Henry is looking at us, but after we're gone, there's something you need to see in the bushes to your right – don't look now!"
Regina's head jerked slightly to the right, then refocused onEmma. "What game are you playing at, Sheriff?"
"Somebody," Emma said slowly, "left a box on your front step. And I'm pretty sure Henry's Book is in it."
Regina inhaled suddenly. "You're sure?"
"Pretty sure. I found that same box yesterday on the ground next to my car. The Book was in it."
"If someone left it for you yesterday," Regina asked, "then why was it here now?"
"Because I threw it away," Emma said.
Regina raised an eyebrow. "Henry loves that stupid Book. Why did you throw it away?"
"I don't like the effect that Book had on Henry," Emma replied. "I don't like that it was first purchased from Gold's shop. I especially don't like that someone is playing a game with you and Henry, but it isn't me. So I don't want that damn thing anywhere near our son."
"All right, Emma. In that, we are in agreement. I'll have it destroyed."
"No!" Emma said. "Not yet, anyway. At least one of us needs to go through that Book and see if there's anything in it for Henry. Like a coded message or something."
"Fine," Regina said, exasperated. "I'll check it out after you leave. And THEN I'll destroy it."
"Sure, let out a little of that pent-up aggression I know you've always got," Emma responded, smiling.
Regina didn't smile back, but she did nod. "Thank you, by the way. No pun intended, but it's nice to see we're on the same page."
Emma shrugged. "For lack of a better term, Henry has 'two mommies' now. When it comes to his welfare, it'll be better for all of us if we're on the same page."
"Please, don't say 'two mommies' in earshot of anybody, unless you want to give new life to those lesbian rumors."
Regina surprised Emma twice that night. The first time was when Emma brought Henry home in time for dinner. "Go and wash up, Henry, and then do your homework. I'll call you when it's ready," Regina told him, as she dried her hands with a dishtowel. "Perhaps you'd like to join us for dinner, Emma?"
Emma liked to think that Regina had become a little predictable lately, but maybe not. She glanced at Henry, halfway up the stairs. Unsurprisingly, he appeared to be completely in favor.
"Sure," Emma said. "I don't have plans." She almost never did.
"Yes!" Henry could be heard to hiss as he disappeared up the stairs and down the hall.
"Thanks for the invite," Emma said to her. "I thought we were trying to avoid creating the wrong impression."
"I doubt there are paparazzi outside my home, documenting your comings and goings, Sheriff. And well, you've been keeping to the schedule," Regina replied all too sweetly. "I think a reward is due."
Emma felt like she'd just been given a Scooby Snack. But they were always just so gosh darn tasty.
"Plus," Regina murmured, coming closer, "I needed an excuse to meet with you in my study. I wanted to discuss his Book with you."
"You still have it?" Emma asked, startled.
Regina nodded. "Compelling reading."
That wasn't too vague.
"Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Follow me."
Regina allowed Emma to enter first, and then closed the door. "There are no 'messages' in the way you suggested," she said without preamble. "No slips of paper, no invisible ink, nothing hidden in the binding."
Emma opened the front cover. "It's in surprisingly good condition," she said. "No water damage or anything."
"Yes," Regina said, "and none of the pages are missing."
That was the second surprise. Emma hurriedly flipped through the pages until she got close to the end. "The last time I saw this book," she said wonderingly, "these pages had been torn out."
"Really?" Regina asked, coming over to stand next to her. "Well, if your suspicions are correct and Gold is behind this, then he could probably have had it repaired just as easily as he had it created."
Emma nodded. "I guess that makes sense."
"That being said, I didn't understand at first why Gold would want Henry to have this back. It's not as if he hates me any less now that the Book is gone," Regina said, the pain in her voice evident. "And then I got to the final pages."
"And?" Emma asked carefully.
Regina flipped forward for her. It took Emma a moment to understand what she was looking at, but when she did, her mouth fell open.
The prophesied child returns, twenty-eight years of age,
Where her parents failed, shall she succeed?
Will she stand against the evil Queen's limitless rage?
Alas, victory is not guaranteed.
Yes, true love's kiss can break even this Curse,
The princess must win a wicked Queen's heart of stone.
Else the fate of HER heart shall be far, far worse,
And the Queen and her victims will all die alone.
"Um," Emma said.
"Quite," Regina agreed grimly.
"She looks a little like me."
Okay, she looked almost exactly like Emma. Above the verse there were two pictures, side by side. One showed the Evil Queen resplendent in white, her hands resting on the hips of a young blonde woman wearing a tiara whose own arms were around the Queen's neck. Both women were clearly leaning in for a kiss. But in the other picture, the princess lay at the Queen's feet in a pool of blood, her face in shadows, while the Queen – once again all in black - held a glowing, dripping human heart in her hand. Emma wasn't sure if the look on the Queen's face was supposed to convey triumph, despair, or both.
"Seriously, what the fuck is this supposed to mean?" Emma asked.
"Isn't it obvious?" Regina replied, sneering. "I'm the Evil Queen and you're the White Knight. According to this Book, either you and I fall in love and the curse breaks, or I kill you and everyone loses."
Emma shook her head. "So Henry was supposed to see this and – what? Arrange for us to fall in love like two people in a Shakespearean comedy?"
"Either that, or do away with me before I can do the same to you."
"That's – that's really sick, Regina. He's just a boy!"
Regina sighed. "Yes, it is. And yes, he is. But no, we can't prove Gold did this, and we can't prove this Book is anything more than an elaborate prank."
"Yes, but I can kick that little shit's ass," Emma said. "What is with his fascination with our nonexistent sex lives?!"
"I'll deal with the bastard," Regina told her, "when the time comes. As far as he knows, Henry is reading this as we speak. I'm not ready to disabuse Gold of that notion."
"Now can we get rid of this thing?"
Regina nodded. "Tomorrow, when I can get it out of the house without Henry seeing it." She paused. "And after that . . . we may need Gold to think that our sex lives aren't quite so nonexistent."
Emma stared at her after closing the book with a thud. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"The people of this town used to think we were sleeping together,"Regina said, frowning. "If they can think that once, they can think it again."
"Absolutely not – "
"Normally I would agree, but if Henry had read this, you know he'd be scheming to get us together within five minutes. More out of a need to protect you from me, than any desire to see us as a couple. We need Gold to believe that, and to believe that the plan is working." Regina sighed. "I don't know, perhaps we could pretend that Henry has set us up on a date with each other without either of us realizing it. Something childish and illogical, like those stupid romantic comedies Hollywood is always making."
"Regina, you can't actually think this is a good idea."
Regina chuckled bitterly. "You're right, I can't. But I think we have to try anyway."
To be continued . . .
Author's Note - I don't know how regularly I'll be able to update this. Also, much of the plot was conceived while I was writing "Be Our Guest" in mid-Season One. So certain characters will be depicted based on my take on them, and NOT on what we learned about them in the final episodes of the season, or the start of Season Two.