"God, you're just so smug," Emma groans, kicking out at the diner stool. "Did it ever occur to you for one minute that you might not be the best at every single thing?"
"Experience has proven otherwise, Miss Swan," Regina sasses right back, and she has that flush on her cheeks like when she's just had someone arrested, or after her second glass of wine, something Emma's discovered from their limited time hanging out to arrange some kind of custody of Henry.
"I mean, you're a good mom," Emma continues. "I admit that. Better than me? Sure. That's why I want you to stay in Henry's life."
"That choice isn't yours," Regina snaps. "Just remember that if you take him from me permanently, I will use the courts to get him back. Can't exactly tell the judge I'm a character from a story book now, can you?"
Emma gulps at that, because it's the nagging fear at the back of her mind brought into sharp focus. Henry's with her only because he chooses to be, and because Regina is currently intent on giving him whatever he wants. But if she ever remembers that winning dirty is still better than losing, Emma knows she's pretty much screwed.
"I'm just saying, if we have to be around each other, could you maybe stop taking every cheap shot at my self-esteem? I mean, leave something for later," Emma says, trying to keep straight up pleading out of her voice.
"Fine," Regina sighs, but there's still a glint of pure malice in her eyes. "I suggest... a contest."
"A contest?" Emma repeats, spine already stiffening in dread.
"It's mostly how we settled things, in the Forest," Regina explains. "Duels, tourneys... the element of competition really settles things, one way or the other."
"So you want to, what... have a Mom-Off?" Emma asks. "Because if Henry's the judge I don't think that's going to go the way you're hoping for."
Regina's expression darkens at that, and it's the truly scary way that makes Emma want to back up several steps, as opposed to the slightly-angry-badger expression that Mayor Regina used to give complaining citizens.
"I meant a friendly wager," Regina says, already turning a little huffy. "But clearly you can't compete on a level playing field, so..."
"No, wait!" Emma interrupts. There's something about a bet that she just can't resist. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, Miss Swan, it would go a little something like this..."
Emma stamps her sneaker down onto the stone step and leans forward into a hamstring stretch. She really did mean to get some practice in over the past two days, but the Sheriff's office became mysteriously busy with a series of anonymous calls; not much doubt who's behind that.
She turns at the sound of approaching footsteps, revealing Regina looking like she just stepped out of a Nike ad. Her running tights are a sleek black, cropped just below the knee, and the bra masquerading as a top is the same dark shade, just with a little white piping. The sneakers look brand new, like just taken out of the box new, and the white sweatbands look as comfortable on Regina's forehead and wrists as any jewelry could.
Emma looks down at her own frayed shorts, freshly splashed with the latte she spilled at the diner an hour ago, and her t-shirt was a freebie she picked up from some credit card company with a booth at Prudential Center, a few weeks before she left Boston. She doesn't really own much in the way of clothing, and Emma can remember where she got just about every piece of it. She imagines Regina is probably like Cher in Clueless, needing a computer to keep track of her three hundred blazers.
"Ready?" Emma asks, feeling stretched out and about as ready as she'll ever be. It's not going to be that hard to outrun a pampered former Mayor who drives herself down the street and back.
"Whenever you are," Regina fires back, looking pretty calm for someone who's about to have her ass kicked.
"Finish line is the cemetery gate," Emma reminds her, which gives them a good five-mile run.
When Regina cheats, taking off on the 'set' instead of 'go', Emma should really consider herself warned.
"You..." Emma says, sliding down onto the sidewalk outside the cemetery. "But..."
"I haven't just been sitting behind a desk all this time," Regina says, barely out of breath. Her face is red, at least.
"Magic?" Emma gasps in accusation, hoping that burning sensation in her lungs goes away sometime soon. Preferably not because she blacks out, though. She ran that last mile as hard as she's ever run in her life, and she still came in a full ten seconds behind Regina, who's now stretching her calves as calmly as if she'd just walked to the store.
"You know I can't," Regina says, waving her wrist with its copper bracelet-the first help the fairies have ever given her. "This blocks me doing any such thing, remember? Besides, I don't cheat."
"Damn," Emma mutters, her lungs finally giving her a break. She's stunned when Regina tosses her a bottle of water from her little bag. Too thirsty to be anything but grateful, she chugs it almost in one. "I really thought I had you on that one," Emma admits, squinting up at Regina who has the sun behind her.
"I'll see you tomorrow, at noon," Regina reminds her, for round two. They've each selected three tasks, and Regina's first involves some kind of cooking nightmare at her house. Emma bit her tongue at the temptation to ask if Regina's just lonely rattling around that huge mansion on her own, but it seems unnecessarily cruel when they both already know the answer.
"If my legs start working by then, sure," Emma agrees, watching Regina jog away. And as Emma does she is absolutely, positively not staring at Regina's annoyingly perfect ass.
Henry comes scurrying into sight then, wooden sword sticking out of his backpack. Emma should have expected that when Henry insisted 'Gramps' could look after him this morning. The kid actually stops to talk to Regina, and it doesn't take a scientist to see the way Regina's body language changes, chatting animatedly and ruffling Henry's hair. Emma could swear he doesn't quite squirm as much as usual, but then he's running over to her, big grin on his face.
"My mom says she kicked your butt!" Henry says through a happy little giggle.
"Are you big enough to give me a piggyback yet?" Emma groans.
By Sunday afternoon, Emma realizes she would have prefered that British guy who curses at everyone. That, she can handle. It doesn't make her jumpy and nervous like Regina's quiet efficiency. Even Emma joking about the mixing bowls being cauldrons doesn't get a reaction, and so she's resigned to trying to make sense of a recipe that might as well be written in Ancient Greek.
"It's Henry's favorite," is all Regina will say, when pressed for more information on exactly what the hell Emma is supposed to do with six different kinds of fruit, and a bunch of ingredients where she only recognizes about half.
"I could just make him fruit salad instead?" Emma offers weakly.
Regina shrugs, but it's not enough to distract from the smug smile that creeps across her lips. Emma groans at her own worst instincts and picks up a really big knife.
"Here goes nothing," she sighs as she begins to slice up some strawberries.
Henry works out that the disaster is Emma's pretty quickly, but even his savior worship can't make him eat it without making puke faces.
"The vinegar tasted okay!" He protests as Regina sets a perfect slice of the... cake thing... in front of him and his eyes light up. "Sorry, Emma," he mutters as he picks up his spoon.
"I'm saying, I understand if you want to call it off now," Regina says as she steps gingerly over fallen branches. She's stubborn enough to still be wearing three-inch heels. "There's no point in embarrassing yourself."
"You're only up by two," Emma points out, raring to go after a boring work week between challenges. "And that won't be the case when we're done here."
"I'm sure someone once told you that arrogance is charming," Regina grumbles. "But they were clearly lying."
"Here," Emma says, stepping into a clearing that Regina doesn't seem familiar with. There's a crumbling stone wall on the far side, and proudly points out the neat row of beer cans stretched out across it.
"How... classy," Regina drawls, but when she turns back towards Emma she jumps at the sight of a gun suddenly very close to her cheek.
"Can you handle it?" Emma asks, and there's a playfulness to the question that Regina narrows her eyes at.
"How hard can it be?" Regina asks, closing her fingers around the cool handle and jerking the weapon out of Emma's grip. "After all, we let you run around town with a loaded gun."
"They don't work on ogres," Emma says wistfully. "Or dragons, for that matter."
Regina just glares at her, one eyebrow raised in that way that says she honestly doesn't know how Emma's survived this long.
"How many do I need to hit?" Regina asks, walking up to the log Emma dragged into place earlier as a mark.
"Five cans each, whoever hits most wins," Emma says, waiting for Regina to take her stance and line up the shot. Instead, like some kind of movie badass, Regina simply cocks the gun, squints a little and squeezes the trigger.
It should look pretty damn cool. Regina's outfit is already screaming that she knows just how hot she is. Instead of her usual business suits, she's opted for tight black jeans and a creamy sweater that would look like a bag of flour on anyone else. Her leather jacket is nothing like the ones Emma owns, black and so soft looking that Emma has to restrain herself from touching it.
But instead of picking off her first can, Regina goes flying backwards from the kick on Emma's Magnum.
"Ow!" Regina protests from where she's flat on her back in the rough grass. "Did you sabotage this?"
"You have to brace yourself," Emma explains, knowing it's more than her life is worth to laugh right now. Unfortunately not laughing is literally the hardest thing she's ever had to do, and Henry was an 18-hour labor. "Or the kick will knock you backwards. You're lucky you didn't break your wrist."
"I noticed," Regina says with a wry smile, accepting the tentative hand Emma offers to help Regina to her feet. "So, is there a 'right' way to fire a gun?"
"I can show you," Emma says, picking up the fallen revolver. "Although, I'm not sure I should help you try and beat me."
"Take your shots," Regina grumbles. "Then show me enough to make it fair."
"Fine," Emma grouses, and she makes a little production over stepping up to the line, pulling a bullet from her jacket pocket, because she likes to start with all six in the chambers, a little superstition she can't quite shake. She squares her shoulders, hearing the blue leather of her jacket creak in that familiar way, and places her thumb on the hammer.
"Watch and learn, Regina," Emma throws back over her shoulder, throwing in a cheeky wink for good measure. Something about being in her comfort zone is making her daring, making her thrum with the undercurrent that always flows between her and Regina.
Her hands are shaking a little, so the first shot just glances. The other four cans go flying from the wall, though, and Emma smiles wider with each squeeze of the trigger.
"You've had practice," Regina says, suddenly at Emma's back.
"Yeah," Emma admits. "I had a friend who worked at a shooting range, he used to let me practice while he closed up each night. Didn't really have anywhere else to go."
"It seems so primitive," Regina says, and when Emma turns around she finds Regina wrinkling her nose in that disapproving way she has. "But holding it felt... well, a lot like the tingle before you throw a fireball at someone, I suppose,"
She runs a hand through her dark hair, growing out now, and Emma watches the copper bracelet slip over Regina's wrist just a little, another reminder of the penance she's living.
"Then you should learn how to do it safely," Emma says, slotting another six bullets in and swinging the cylinder closed with its familiar click. This isn't a Sheriff's department issue, this is the gun she bought the night she left Phoenix, and she's had to fire it at much bigger threats than some empty beer cans. "Here," she adds, handing the gun back to Regina, who this time treats it a little more respectfully.
"So I should stand like a man?" Regina snipes, feet apart and shoulders back. This time, when she raises the gun, it looks way more controlled and a lot more scary.
"It's not particularly like a man. It's just a good stance," Emma says, laying a hand on Regina's arm, coaxing her to relax her elbow just a little.
"Says the woman who walks like a linebacker," Regina mutters, but she doesn't shrug off Emma's touch.
"Both hands, remember. Don't drop the supporting one," Emma warns. "Now you need to line it up with where you want to hit."
Regina points, but it still looks a little aimless. Emma steps in behind her now, using her own instincts to line up Regina's shot. Her whole body tenses at Emma getting so close, and they wait a moment for that to pass.
"Press down on that little lever with your thumb," Emma whispers, because talking normally feels far too loud when her mouth is practically grazing Regina's ear. "You can shoot without it, but you have to pull harder, and you'll lose some accuracy."
Regina does as instructed, and Emma can't help but smile again. Nowhere in this petty battle did she expect to start having fun, but Regina-queen or not-is clearly not above learning something new.
"Now squeeze," Emma says, and god help her but it sounds dirty. Regina obviously thinks so, because her shot is wild, hitting a tree way over to the right.
"I think I've got it, Miss Swan," Regina snaps, and Emma backs up. This time Regina doesn't blow it at the end, but only two of her shots find their targets. There's no hiding her glee when each of those cans falls down, though.
"You win," Regina says, handing the gun off and stalking off towards where they parked their cars.
Emma twirls the gun around her finger for a second, feeling like a real cowboy, before shoving it in her pocket and jogging after Regina.
"You'll need these," Regina says, handing Emma a folded bundle of white cotton. "Though your shoes are fine, I suppose."
"A country club?" Emma snarls. "Seriously?" She's really not in the mood for rich people crap today, and she honestly kind of thought Regina would be barred from stuff like this, not being the Mayor anymore. But then Emma looks around the juice bar and considers the people she sees: Storybrooke's rich and powerful have turned out, almost without exception, to also be the bad guys from the other side. Maybe Regina's not so out of her element these days after all. And maybe she's a freakin' Republican, to boot. Emma shudders at the thought.
"The locker room is down there," Regina says, gesturing with the gray racket bag. "Hurry up, we only have the court for three hours."
"Three hours? Uh, you know I'm not actually Steffi Graf, right?" Emma asks, nerves creeping in. Sure, she can hit a ball, and she usually catches some of the US Open every year, enough to know the rules at least.
"Time is ticking," Regina says, striding off towards the exit. Emma trudges off to the locker room, already dreading the rest of the afternoon.
"Ow!" Emma protests again. "It's not an ace if you hit me in the boob."
"It was a serve you had no hope of returning," Regina calls out from across the next. "Thirty-love."
Emma flexes her arm, swiping the racket through the air experimentally; she'll live. She is, however, currently fantasizing about all the other things she could be doing with this damn afternoon. And composing a few choice threats for exactly what Regina can do with her damn racket, none of which are exactly family-friendly.
"Ready?" Regina calls out, like this is a fair fight.
"If you hit the right one, I win by default!" Emma calls back, rocking onto the balls of her feet, ready to return.
"I'll bring the uh, stuff back when I've washed it," Emma says, nodding at her gym bag.
"Keep it," Regina says, unlocking her car. They've driven here together this weekend, since Emma's unreliable Bug is back in the shop under Michael's frowning supervision. "Maybe you'll take it up, as a hobby."
"I doubt it," Emma says. "Although in the second set, I kind of thought for a minute..."
"You have a vicious backhand," Regina says, grimacing as she points to the purpling bruise on her thigh. She's still in her tennis whites, having barely broken a sweat. "You should really show it to Henry, in case he wants to take up sports."
"Friday night for the next challenge," Emma says, sliding into the passenger seat, her freshly-washed hair whipping over the leather seat. "You'll meet me at the Rabbit Hole?"
"Yes," Regina agrees. "I was wondering, for dinner tonight..."
"What?" Emma pounces, relieved that she's not imagining the thawing between them.
"If you were just going to take Henry to the diner again, well, I wondered if I could spend some time with him," Regina says, and it's that fake breezy voice she used all the time as Mayor, but Emma sees the tension in Regina's jaw, the frantic attempts not to grit her teeth as she asks.
"Sure," Emma says. "But I, uh, I need to eat too."
"Fine," Regina says, pulling out of the parking lot. "I'll meet you there at six."
Emma realizes at the third shot that she should have suggested poker instead.
At the fifth she's beginning to wish nobody had ever invented tequila, never mind let her drink it.
Ruby, somehow, is playing referee.
When Regina passes out, about three minutes before Emma's world goes black, Ruby raises Emma's arm in victory.
Regina protests the next morning, voice shrill enough to make Emma throw up the minute her hungover self is free of the phone call, but the victory stands.
It's 3-2 and Regina gets to decide the final task, which Emma knows is just asking for trouble. If she can somehow sneak a draw, at least Henry will see all the ways she's fighting for him, to prove herself to everyone. Okay, getting blind drunk might not scream 'good mother', but Regina's trying too. Emma hears the change in Henry's voice when he mentions his Mom, and he's talking about her a lot more often.
"What are you trying to prove, Emma?" Mary Margaret asks over breakfast an hour later.
Emma sips her coffee, and wonders the same thing.
As temporary Mayor, Snow has set up her office in a far more modest room at the end of the Town Hall, with big windows that open into the garden. That leaves Regina's former domain unoccupied, dust settling on all the black pieces of furniture that dominate the room, the splash of red her apples used to bring long since removed.
Emma's surprised that it's the location for Regina's final task, but it's probably still a home court advantage, which makes her wary. Last week was peaceful enough, with Henry lighting up like a Christmas tree when both moms joined him for dinner. The hangover is just a distant memory now, and Storybrooke is having a rainy but peaceful Wednesday, with no demands made on the Sheriff's department.
"Sit down, Miss Swan," Regina says from where she's standing by the window. There are two laptops on the desk, set up like a game of Battleship.
"So what's the game, Regina?" Emma asks, easing into the high-backed chair and enjoying the comfort of it. Whatever her sins, Regina has proven to be one hell of a shopper. "Because if you've got Angry Birds on there, we're going to need that tiebreaker for sure."
"No game," Regina says, crossing over to the desk that she used to rule this whole town from. Emma doesn't miss the twist of Regina's lips as she contemplates the changes, but she doesn't comment on it either. The trappings of office are torn out now, some packed by Regina herself and stored in the mansion, others pillaged by angry subjects, and the damage to the furniture and walls in places still bears the trace of their anger.
"On there you'll find the last Mayoral budget before the curse broke. I didn't have time to... well. I copied the information so we have exactly the same figures."
"Wait, you want me to... balance a budget?" Emma asks, utterly confused. "And then what? Dodge fireballs that come through the window? The floor will turn into shark-infested water?"
"No magic," Regina snaps. "And be reasonable."
"You picked this because you think I'm stupid," Emma accuses. "What, you think I'm gonna count on my fingers?"
"Children are expensive," Regina points out. "And there's no curse now to keep our little economy running. You need to be able to budget."
"Fine," Emma says, pushing at the trackpad with a scowl on her face. "Do we start now?"
"Go right ahead," Regina says, and her smile is actually kind of benevolent. Oh, the bitch thinks she's won, Emma realizes. That is just not acceptable.
"But... how?" Regina cries for the third time. "Twenty-eight years. Of figures and balance sheets and, frankly, cooking the books. And you beat me in twelve minutes flat? This has to be wrong," she continues ranting, leaning over Emma's shoulder to look at her screen.
Emma has a dozen wiseass remarks ready to roll off her tongue, but they short-circuit at the smell of Regina's perfume. When she leans over to stab at the keys in disbelief, her breasts press against Emma's shoulder through her simple gray dress (it's the one, Emma suddenly remembers, that Regina was wearing the night they first met).
"I don't believe it," Regina murmurs.
"Believe," Emma says softly in return. Regina didn't bet on Emma having lived on the square root of nothing for most of her life, so budgeting a lot of something from pretty much nothing is second nature to her. And numbers were never hard for Emma, not like words and feelings and finding a place to belong. Math didn't care about any of that, and if she hadn't been too busy stealing things in high school, Emma might even have passed a few classes in it.
It's then that Emma realizes how easy it would be to touch Regina. Without the pretext of firing a gun or shaking hands after tennis, she could just press her fingers to Regina's cheek, or touch the inside of her elbow, or maybe even pull her into something like a hug.
That Emma's even considering it is scary enough, but then Regina turns a little and their eyes meet, and there's something in the new softness of Regina's expression that suggests she might be thinking almost the same thing.
"You won," Regina says, and it's more like a whisper than any kind of statement.
"Yeah," Emma says, shifting in her seat and breaking eye contact. If that's a moment, if she's crazy enough to think she wants a moment with Regina, then it's probably best to leave it at that. "So I guess we need a tiebreaker. Swimsuit contest? Sack race? What's it gonna be?"
"I don't get it," Emma says, and let's face it she thinks, it's hardly the first time. Regina has walked back around to her side of the desk and the closed laptops are marooned between them on the huge desk.
"This wager has always been about Henry, about being the best person... the best mother. So that should be the final test," Regina says, quite calmly.
"And we what? Get him to choose?" Emma persists, swinging her legs under the desk, watching Regina pace. She hasn't exactly taken defeat well, and Emma's a little worried she's going to get screwed and not see it coming.
"We each plan a day-for next Saturday-we present the options to Henry, and whichever he chooses, wins."
"What's the catch?" Emma asks, looking for loopholes.
"No bribery. We can't use sugar, illegal means or anything dangerous to sway his opinion. It has to be a safe, appropriate day out that he'll find fun. And obviously it has to happen within Storybrooke," Regina reminds Emma, as though she could have forgotten about the huge freaking line all around the town. Emma is fairly sure she and Henry can leave without damage, but Regina doesn't seem willing to test that same theory about herself.
"That's... it?" Emma confirms. "No fighting dragons, no swordfights?"
"You do not want to fight me with a sword," Regina says, and it's a clear warning.
"Probably not," Emma concedes. "I honestly just end up throwing the damn thing."
"I'm surprised they haven't written a witty folk ballad about you yet," Regina replies. "Is it still okay for me to have Henry on Tuesday and Thursday?"
"Yeah, if you can get him after school," Emma says. "And uh, if he wants to stay over he can. I won't force him, but I wouldn't have a problem with it."
Regina lights up at that potential, and Emma has her own little glow of having done something nice. That she wants to do nice things for Regina is still the weirdest feeling, like peering off the edge of a cliff and not being all that scared about the fall, even though it leaves her kind of dizzy.
"If I'm cooking for Henry and me, anyway," Regina says hesitantly, her clasped knuckles whitening with tension. "You could eat with us, one evening."
"I'll see if I'm free," Emma answers, trying not to smile too broadly, because Emma looking anything like happy still seems to put Regina on edge.
"Okay then," Regina says. "Good luck."
Emma is concerned it might be cheating, but when she draws a blank on Henry plans, she recruits her mother to the cause. Mary Margaret attacks the plan with the same enthusiasm she had for teaching kids and the energy she reserves for running their little democratic Kingdom, and Emma is in awe of the hundreds of ideas that spill out on Monday and Tuesday alone. They settle on a scavenger hunt followed by a barbecue at what Emma still thinks of as the Nolans' house, despite the fact that her parents have been living there quite happily since the return from the Enchanted Forest.
Emma takes up Regina's invitation on Thursday, surprised at how easy it is to just show up with a bottle of wine. Henry takes her to his room there, full of all the things he hasn't yet moved to Mary Margaret's old room in the loft, which Emma has been trying to make a bit less frilly and a lot more kid-friendly during her rare downtime.
Regina is a pleasant hostess, and instead of the five-course fancypants cuisine Emma is expecting, they eat a simple but insanely tasty mac and cheese, and it's clearly Henry's favorite. Emma toys with asking for the recipe, only for Regina to press a neatly-printed index card into her hand after Emma helps bring dishes to the kitchen and load the dishwasher.
"How's your plan?" Emma asks, leaning back against the counter, feeling full and slightly sleepy. The glass of white in her hand isn't exactly helping with that, and as if reading Emma's mind, Regina flips the coffeemaker on.
"Secret," Regina says, smirking just a little. "I assume you've roped in half the town by now?"
"It's not against the rules, right?" Emma confirms, draining her glass and setting it down on the counter. "And just my mom, actually."
"Henry doesn't care for birds, so don't let her rope in any little blue ones," Regina warns. "Actually, I shouldn't be helping you."
"I don't need it," Emma sasses, watching Regina prepare the mugs, sugar and cream. "But thanks anyway."
"I guess we'll find out on Saturday," Regina says quietly.
The rain has slowed to a drizzle by the time Emma gets Henry to dress and leave the house. They don't talk much in Bug on the way over, although Henry looks like he's bursting to ask her something.
Regina welcomes them into the kitchen with an uneasy smile, and breakfast is laid out at the counter for all three of them.
"Am I in trouble?" Henry asks, his mouth still full of some buttery, flaky pastry. Emma almost doesn't hear him as she tries to control her own mouthgasm at the Danishes that Regina has apparently handmade. "Because if anyone said-"
"No, kid," Emma cuts him off before he can rat himself out for some schoolyard crap. "We both just want to suggest something to you."
"That's right," Regina backs Emma up. "We both have ideas for what to do today, and you just have to pick one."
"Really?" Henry says. He's smart enough to know there's more to it, but he's letting it play out first. Emma's actually a little proud.
"Miss Swan-" Regina starts to explain, but Emma cuts her off. It's been a strange couple of weeks, but for better or worse she's done with the crappy formality.
"Emma," she insists, expecting resistance from Regina.
"Emma," Regina amends after a long moment of contemplation. "Will tell you the plan she has, and then I'll tell you mine. All you have to do is pick."
"I don't get to do both?" Henry pipes up, and in that moment Emma sees the spoiled thing kicking in. Would she have been the same, raised like a real princess?
"Each thing takes all day," Emma explains. "So just one or the other, okay?"
Henry looks like he's going to complain, but then he turns suspicious again.
"Is this about your bet?" He asks.
"What bet?" Regina asks smoothly, because if nothing else she's experienced in lying to his cute little face. "Did you talk about it with him?"
"No," Emma confirms. "Who told you, Henry?"
"I worked it out," he says, sipping at his juice. "So does whoever I pick win the bet?"
"It's just one part of our... competition," Regina explains. "We'll both be fine with whatever you choose."
"So you're asking me to choose between you?" Henry pushes, and he actually looks like he's panicking. "I mean, for good? If I choose one day over the other does that mean that person is my only mom?"
"No!" Regina says, and it sounds like a cry of pain. "I mean, it's just like choosing a game to play," she recovers.
"Like choosing between Monopoly and Scrabble," Emma agrees. "No harm, no foul, kid."
"Henry, Emma will tell you her plan," Regina instructs, nodding for Emma to get on with it.
"Okay," Emma agrees, not feeling entirely comfortable about it now. "We're gonna drive out to the stables, and that's where you'll find the first clue."
"A scavenger hunt?" Henry perks up instantly. "Oh man!"
"Right," Emma says, not daring to look at Regina. "And then for lunch we're going to have a barbecue. It's getting a little cold, but the fire and the hot food will warm us up. Probably our last chance before the spring."
"Cool!" Henry exclaims, and his face is a picture of excitement. But he's braver than Emma and looks right at Regina, which makes his face fall. A couple of months ago this wouldn't have been a contest, but now Henry actually seems to feel bad about already wanting to pick Emma.
"Sounds fun," Regina says in a monotone, before shaking her head a little.
"Now for your plan," Emma urges. "And then Henry can choose."
Henry looks at Emma with a really pained expression. "Are you sure I can't do both? And if I pick one, can you both do it with me? Does that ruin the bet?"
"Hey," Emma says, feeling pretty crappy about putting all this on his shoulder. "Just listen to your Mom's idea, okay?"
"Don't worry about it," Regina says, trying to sound all bright and breezy. She even waves a hand in dismissal. "I... well, I expected Miss Swan to make a bad plan," she explains. "I thought I could dismiss it on safety grounds, or cheating with sugar. So I didn't really come up with a plan of my own."
"Really?" Emma asks, and she doesn't need a damn superpower to see through that flimsy excuse for a lie.
"Are you sure, Mom?" Henry asks. "I mean, if you have a plan, I might like it."
"I didn't make one," Regina insists. "So you go with Emma. Don't worry about it at all, okay? We'll do something fun another day."
"So that means we get the scavenger hunt?" Henry jumps from his stool in excitement, pulling Emma into one of those spontaneous hugs she just can't get used to. Clearly, his guilty conscience has gone in an instant.
"It does," Emma confirms. She's tensing up, and right now all she can think is 'get Henry out of the room'. "Why don't you go find your boots upstairs, hmm? Sneakers are no good."
"Okay," Henry says. "Do I need a compass?" He asks, dashing towards the door.
"Sure," Emma calls out after him. As soon as his footsteps start thumping up the stairs, she rounds on Regina. "What the hell was that?"
"He didn't want to choose," Regina says simply.
"So? This is you," Emma argues right back. "When did what someone wants come before winning?"
"When I lost my son," Regina spits. "Twice, no, three times."
"What?" Emma hurls back, thrown off balance. "He's right here. You haven't lost him."
"I did," Regina says. "And every day he doesn't live with me, and I don't make the important decisions about his life... every day I don't get to be his mother is killing me. But it doesn't matter," she continues. "It doesn't matter how much that hurts, and how much I jump at every second with him like a pathetic, weak, idiot."
"You're not pathetic," Emma interrupts. "And you're definitely not weak."
"It was hurting him," Regina explains. "It was upsetting for him to choose. So I took the choice away."
"You did," Emma says, realizing what she's just witnessed. "And for most people that's just an ordinary act of parenthood. But for you... damn, Regina. How do I compete with that?"
"You don't compete," Regina replies. "You already won."
"I wouldn't have thought of that," Emma insists. "I saw him getting sad and agitated and I just felt bad about it. You're the one who did something. You're the one who acted like a mom."
Regina shrugs, picking up a cloth and wiping at an already immaculate surface.
"You should be raising Henry," Emma says, moving closer to Regina, backing her against the sink. "You should."
"Well, I'm not," Regina sighs. "You are. So step up your game, Emma."
"We should share him properly," Emma announces, her mind made up. She's going to catch hell from her parents but hey, there's always that 'stuck me in a magic wardrobe' comeback to ease her way out of trouble. Regina would die herself before she'd do that, Emma's absolutely sure of it. "I mean, equal time, or whatever works. He needs you."
"Do you need me?" Regina asks, tilting her head as she watches Emma's response. "I mean, if this is just a way to learn what I've spent ten years learning..."
"I think I do need you," Emma admits. "But not just for Henry."
"Oh?" Regina asks, taken by surprise. "What else could there be?"
"This," Emma says, grabbing the belt loop on Regina's slacks and pulling her flush against Emma's own body. It's officially now or never, and Emma has always been a much bigger fan of now. She kisses Regina, firm lips covering breathless questions, and kisses her twice and a third time until the questions stop coming and one of Regina's hands is tangled in Emma's hair.
"Oh," Regina says when they break for air, and this time it's not a question. "I wasn't expecting that."
"Me either," Emma agrees. "But at the same time, doesn't it feel like it was coming?"
"Perhaps," Regina admits, biting her bottom lip as she ponders something. Her hand has slipped down onto Emma's shoulder, but she hasn't let go yet. Emma still has two fingers trapped in the belt loop, and they look at each other like shy prom dates for a moment or two.
Then the delicate thundering of Henry at full speed reaches their ears once more, and they move apart like it was choreographed.
"Come with us," Emma insists. "He'd love that."
"If you're sure," Regina replies. "Just for the hunt."
"No," Emma counters. "Come for food, too. Because when Henry is in the company of other responsible adults, we can find a quiet place to do that again. And talk, maybe."
"We'll see," is all Regina will give her, but Emma can't help noticing how Regina seems like a woman transformed from just five minutes ago. Emma's own lips are still tingling, and a swipe of her tongue lets her taste Regina's expensive lipstick, hopefully also removing evidence just as Henry appears, compass in hand.
"So," he says, looking at them both expectantly. "Are you doing it together?"
"Yes, Henry," Regina replies, laying a hand on his cheek for just a moment. "We are."