When Emma woke up and Regina wasn't there, she very nearly thought the whole thing was a dream. A part of her wished for that, after her fight with Mary-Margaret. Finding out that her mother still thought of her as a child, who couldn't possibly be sexual, gay, an adult. No, Regina must've corrupted her—raped her even. And Mary-Margaret, so motherly and understanding, just wanting to get her help. Help! For being in love?
And there was Regina, acting like real family should. Letting Emma stay at her house and sleep in her bed. Letting her feel good instead of like shit.
As if summoned by Emma's wistfully weary smile, Regina breezed into the room carrying a tray of food. She wore a dressing gown that looked more put-together than most people's clothes. She set the tray down on Emma's lap with a kiss to Emma's forehead. "Good morning, beautiful. And how is my special girl feeling today?"
"Orphaned," Emma replied.
"A good meal will have you feeling better. Eat up. I don't make breakfast in bed for just anyone."
Obligingly, Emma took a piece of toast. Regina sat down on the foot of the bed, elbow propped up on the bedpost, eyes watching Emma. She looked so pleased with her. So happy just to have her in her bed, eating her food, breathing her air.
As Emma ate, Regina toyed with her toes. "I have a meeting I can't get out of, but I don't want you to be alone. I've called Ruby, she's coming over for a playdate."
"Cool," Emma said between scrambled eggs. Regina was still staring at her. There seemed something a little… vehement about it. If it weren't Regina, Emma might've mistaken that look for desperation. Or sadness. "Hey. Here." She picked up her grapefruit and offered it to Regina.
"I've already eaten," Regina demurred.
"Oh, a bowl of Kellogg's? Live a little, Reggie. I hate eating alone."
Regina quirked an eyebrow as she took Emma's offering. "'Reggie'?"
"You should have a nickname. Now that we're girlfriends or lovers or whatever. We need pet names for each other."
"What could I possibly shorten Emma to? 'Mm'?"
"Sounds porny. I like it."
"No, no…" Regina sucked on the spoon that had transported a bit of grapefruit to her sumptuous mouth. "You're my little swan."
Emma nearly spat out her waffle. "Your what?"
Regina motioned for her to keep eating. "They mate for life… aggressively protect their nests… and during the reign of Elizabeth the First, they were considered a rare delicacy."
"You mean… to eat?"
Regina got that look in her eyes. "You can see how they remind me of you. Now shower and get dressed. If you're going to be under my roof, I want you to wear something ever so slightly elegant."
Emma finished her breakfast by cramming about a half-dozen pieces of bacon into her mouth, then obeyed Regina unthinkingly, hustling to the bathroom and the shower of the gods that Regina had erected there. She left the door open as she stripped, but couldn't see Regina through it. Disappointing. She would've thought the Mayor would never get tired of seeing her naked. Even so, Emma hit the hot water and climbed into the shower. It revitalized her almost as much as her talk with Regina.
But as she ran Regina's bar of soap over her body, the texture grittier than the brand Mary-Margaret bought, the high of Regina's treatment wore off. She heard the distant echoes of all the things Mary-Margaret had said to her. "I raised a daughter who has sex on the table at Thanksgiving?" Maybe she was rights—things were moving fast with Regina. Faster than they ever had with Scott. For God's sake, she'd had a threesome…
The pebbled-glass shower door sprung open and Emma saw Regina, immaculate in her gown, even more immaculate when she took it off. Smiling widely, Regina stepped under the shower spray with Emma.
"I just realized—I'm still hungry," Regina announced.
And until the water ran cold, Emma knew nothing but pleasure.
Afterward, Regina dried her off with possibly the fluffiest towel ever invented, then took her to the walk-in closet to find some clothes that would fit. She helped her into a quickly but smartly chosen selection, whispering the names of the brands like erotic poetry. A Luxe red roll sleeve shirt, Ultra Sheer Backseam pantyhose from HUE, Minuet Petite zip-back pencil skirt, and an Armani knotted suit jacket. Then she sat Emma down and braided her hair into a neat chignon. Emma never had to do anything for herself. Regina even applied her make-up for her. In a matter of minutes she was transformed from her usual awkward, somewhat butch self into Regina's Mini-Me.
The Mayor kissed the back of Emma's neck, Emma thinking it was the last spot left she could touch without ruining her work of art. "You look beautiful, my princess."
"Thought I was your swan."
Regina surprised her by wrapping her arms around Emma and squeezing her. "You're my everything." But when Emma looked in the mirror, the embrace hadn't wrinkled her clothes at all.
The doorbell rang. Regina's head swiveled. "That'll be Ruby." She scratched Emma's neck soothingly as she spoke. "You two be good. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. But if you do, take pictures."
As soon as Regina left, Ruby colonized her living room, dropping a plastic bag full of chips and beer onto the coffee table, then tuning Regina's Blu-Ray player to Netflix Instant, adding about a dozen titles that she couldn't believe Regina didn't have on her queue. Mostly, she wanted to show off pictures of her girlfriend, all saved to her smartphone like mobile memories. Ruby and Belle throwing a miniature party at the library, feeding each other in Granny's Diner, fishing at the wharf. No one seemed to mind they were gay.
"But hey, enough about me." Ruby hid her cell-phone and tossed Emma a beer. "Did you know Netflix has a forbidden love section? That's what you need, a good love story. Let's watch Romeo + Juliet. Vintage Leo."
"But they die at the end."
Ruby looked at her. "Dude… spoilers."
Emma made it halfway through the movie, but when Ruby said "does she kinda look like the chick from Homeland?", she couldn't take anymore. "Hey, can I borrow your phone?"
"Yeah, sure." Ruby handed it over. "Yours broken?"
"I didn't grab it before—"
Ruby settled back into her seat as Emma went into the kitchen. Chrome cabinets and spotless cupboards and all the utensils nice and neat. It felt like a different culture than Mary-Margaret's homely kitchen. A country hundreds of miles away.
She dialed her home. Mary-Margaret picked up in two rings. "Emma?"
She always knew. "Hey, mom."
For a second, there was just breathing. "Emma, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm at Regina's." More breathing. "Mom, I want to come home."
"Of course, of course dear, I'll be there to pick you up—"
"Not if… Mom, I'm sorry… but I need to know if you're okay with this."
A deep breath burnt the phone's speaker. "I'm sorry for yelling at you. I'm not sorry for my reaction to you and that woman's… escapades. But I didn't mean to take it out on you."
Emma's legs couldn't carry her. She sat down between the refrigerator and the dishwasher, sagging into the little safe space. "Mom, I'm gay. And I'm in love. It's a part of me. If you don't love that, then you don't love me."
"Of course I love you, honey, of course I—I won't lie and say I'm sure about your relationship with Regina Mills. But it's your choice. You are my daughter, no matter who I love. And, oh… I wish I could be hugging you right now. This seems so impersonal."
"That was the idea." Fuck, she was crying. "I wish you knew how hard this was for me. I keep thinking there's something I could say that'll set you off."
"There's nothing you could say that would make me stop loving you. Nothing. Now just, please, come home. I don't want you gone anymore."
Emma wiped at the tears running down her cheeks. "And you're not gonna… forbid me from seeing Regina or lock me in a tower or something?"
The breathing on the other end went on for a long minute, softly. Emma pictured Mary-Margaret holding the phone away from her face as she gathered herself up. "If she's your girlfriend, she's your girlfriend. Not quite who I imagined coming to Christmas dinner, but… as long as she's not vegetarian."
Emma sobbed a giggle. "No, she's not."
"Good. Then turkey's still on the menu. I still have a lot of questions for her, but that's between us. It has nothing to do with you."
It felt like someone had been trying to crush her chest with rope and now they'd stopped. "Thank you, mommy. I love you."
"I love you too, Emma. Do you need me to pick you up?"
"No. No, I'll be there in a little while."
"I'll order some Chinese food. We can have a girls' night in."
Emma couldn't bear to say goodbye. She just ended the phone and cried, cool lacquered tears of relief. It might've gone on for hours if she hadn't heard Ruby's phone ting with an e-mail.
She looked at it for no particular reason. Ruby had a Gmail app, opening to her e-mail from Belle. It was one of those Conversations, with the back and forth going ten entries deep. Seemed low for a love affair. On impulse, Emma checked the first e-mail. It was dated after Ruby had gotten back from her disappearing act.
Something twitched in Emma's brain. One of those primordial instincts, like how babies are quiet around nursery mobiles because they remind them of birds of prey. Quickly, she searched Ruby's account for Belle's e-mail address. That conversation was the only place it showed up. Then she searched it for Belle's name. Nothing before that e-mail.
Ruby'd said she and Belle were pen pals. How? Neither of them seemed the type to use snail-mail, yet it was like they'd never exchanged e-mails before Belle arrived in Storybrooke. Did Ruby have another e-mail account? If that was the case, why was she communicating with Belle on this e-mail account now? Was she—
"Hey, you done with that?" Ruby asked, walking through the kitchen to get to the pantry.
Emma quickly exited out of everything. "Yeah. You need it?"
"Thought I'd order pizza."
They needn't have bothered. Regina came home with frozen chicken cutlets, promising to garnish them within an inch of their life to make up for their supermarket origins. Groused about preservatives. Ruby suggested she had a thing for organic food. Regina told them in no uncertain terms to stay comfortable while she prepared dinner, and she'd be joining them in a few minutes once it was in the oven.
Emma hadn't been watching the movies Ruby had played in a continuous stream in front of her face. She'd been thinking of what to say to Regina. Looking over to Ruby, she saw she'd fallen asleep, done in by guzzling all the beer down herself. Emma gave her a kiss on the cheek and went into the kitchen.
It felt warmer with Regina in it. The kitchen was cold on its own, but Regina was a slow flame, shining just a little light around. Emma watched her for a moment, as happy and bustling as Mary-Margaret ever was, just different. No AM talk show on the radio, no doing five things at once, just a single-minded focus.
"I love feeling you watch me," Regina said, not looking up from the cookbook she was consulting. "It's like the complete opposite of being alone. Being in the middle of a crowded room, but it's all someone who loves you."
Emma leaned against the doorway. "I love watching you. It's like looking at someone really sexy."
Regina gestured her in with the knife in her hand. "Come here. I'll show you how to cut."
Regina looked back at Emma, seeing how her face was lowered, scrunched up like she'd eaten something sour. She set the knife down and went to wash her hands.
"Regina, it's nothing bad…" Emma insisted, taking a big step into the kitchen.
"Then say it."
"I called my mom." Regina shook her head, almost imperceptibly. "She's sorry about blowing up at me and she understands our relationship." Another little tremor went through Regina, twisting her head from right to left. "So… we don't have to worry about her."
"That's great!" Regina said, facing Emma with a mayoral smile so bright it had to be fake. "But you're staying here." It wasn't a question.
Emma had known Regina wouldn't like this. Somehow she'd just known. "I think it'd be best for fences if I went back to my mom."
"Best for fences?" Regina repeated.
"You know… mending fences?" Emma had to get out of the way as Regina went to wipe her hands on the towels hanging from the oven. "Maybe in a few months I can move in with you, for real this time. Putting my stuff in boxes and everything. I mean, we've never talked about living together—"
"We're talking about it now." Regina was shrill and cutting as an air-raid siren. "You're leaving me."
"No! I just want to get things back on track with my mom. She's my mom!"
Dried, Regina flung the towel down onto the floor. "I don't want you to go."
"I don't want to go either…"
"It's not that simple."
"Isn't it? I opened my home to you. I opened my…" Regina's hands cinched on her waist, tightening like a corset. "I opened my fucking life up, to let you in. I can do it, you know. I can find you a job and come home to cook dinner for the two of us. We can sleep in the same bed and wake up in each other's arms. We can just be a normal couple. People do it all the time."
"Maybe I'm not ready for that."
Regina's head turned slowly, mechanically, from left to right. A surveillance camera. Emma was standing in the corner of her vision, arms crossed, head tilting forward, silently begging her to say something. Regina's hands dropped to her sides.
"I love you," she said, like it was a secret.
Emma rushed in like water after the dam had broken, stopping an inch from Regina. "I love you too. Give me a week. Let me get things right with my mom, then you can come over and we can have a nice, ordinary dinner. She'll see how amazing you are. She will!"
"You're supposed to be mine. Not hers," Regina muttered bitterly.
"I am yours. But she's my mom."
Regina closed her eyes and shook, like her breath wouldn't go into her lungs, wanted to escape her violent heart by going anywhere else in her body. A tiny sound ended up escaping. "Would you choose me over her?"
Emma looked down. Regina's hands were balled into violent fists. She stroked the forearms corded with muscle, willing them to relax. "It depends on whether you're the kind of person who would ask me to choose you over my family."
Then, like a spark finally coming from two sticks being rubbed together, Regina jolted forward to kiss Emma. Stopped almost as quickly. "Of course. Yes. What was I thinking? You must go back. I'll drive you there."
"Regina…" Emma said, worried.
"It's fine," Regina insisted, patting her upper arm. "She really does accept you, doesn't she? Or she will, with time."
Emma nodded desperately. "She will. Once she sees how happy you make me—there's no way she couldn't."
"Because she's your mother. She wants what's best for you. And she'll see that's me. I'm what's best."
Regina let Emma hug her. Let her kiss her. She should've expected this—that Snow White's famous compassion could extend from herself just enough to take in her spawn. All this time, she'd thought Mary-Margaret was like her own mother, all mothers. Capricious and cruel, piloting their children as an extension of their own legacy. Why else had no one saved her, unless Cora was the natural order of things? Why had all the brave knights and all the charming princes and all the wise kings not rescued her, if Cora was not a good, loving mother?
She shook and Emma held her tighter to keep her still, as if she still thought this had anything to do with her. It didn't. It was Mary-Margaret. The woman really was… pure. Regina had taken everything from her and she now gave the last of it up with a smile. Because she was a hero. And even when she'd left the title to wither and die a world away, Regina was still the Evil Queen.
Well, fine. Let her and Emma be as perfect and as good and as nice as they wanted to be. Let all of Regina's corruption crash against them as the tide against the unvarnished rocks. Her plans had failed before, but she always won in the end. As she would now. Just a few more words to write in her happy ending.
It was time for Snow's family to get what was coming to them.