Note: This is my first Once Upon A Time fic, my first Swan Queen fic, my first time writing any of these characters in seriousness. The result is a story that's basically me just feeling around trying to get a firm purchase on a subject I'm not perfect with yet. I apologize in advance for any flaws of characterization, style, or pacing – I'm still learning!
Emma, sitting in the window seat, barely lifted her head when she heard the door downstairs open and close. There was a light rain falling outside, and she wanted to keep her head pressed against the cool window. Kept her headache – boredom-induced – from pounding any deeper into her skull.
She blew out a long breath. On a scale of one to a million,she asked herself in Henry's voice, mimicking his gift for hyperbole, how bad is your headache? She pressed her lips together and responded, Only about a five hundred on the Regina Scale.
It was kind of an assholeish thing to do, if you thought about it – no, even if you didn't think about it, it was a pretty dick move. But Henry and Emma had fallen into the habit years ago – she couldn't remember when – of referring to personal hurts, injuries, and pains on the Regina Scale. Henry scraped his knee? Don't worry, Emma, it's only a seven hundred fifty on the Regina Scale, do we have any Incredible Hulk band-aids?
Emma finally lifted her head away from the window and rubbed her forehead with her palm, wishing that you could rub away headache pain like you could rub the soreness out of a limb. She had some book open in her lap – a history book – and she'd gotten maybe twenty pages into it before she lost even the pretense of interest and looked out the window instead, wishing she could be outside, doing something. Or at least watching some goddamn TV.
Of course, they'd had that conversation. Two conversations, actually – the TV one and the outside one – and both of them ended with Emma not getting what she wanted, so she really preferred not to dwell on that, thanks. Lingering over her past conversations with Regina felt like poking a bruise. It had taken her a while to get used to talking to a politician, because every conversation was a debate, something to be wrestled to the ground and won, and unfortunately you couldn't literally wrestle an argument down because Emma had the feeling she'd be winning that one, but once things went into the sphere of talking points, Emma was all but helpless. Regina won every time. Next time, Emma thought grimly, they'd arm-wrestle. Then they'd see who was the boss here.
"You should get away from that window, dear."
Emma startled, but it was only Regina, crossing the room in that silent way she had. She blew out a long breath and said, trying to match Regina's effortlessly smooth, domestic tone, "Should I, dear?"
Regina gave her a little smile, and Emma knew she wasn't imagining the faint edge of condescension there, but even if she wanted to try to pick a fight Regina was bending down to kiss her forehead, obscuring her expression, and just like always, Emma went kind of dopey at the touch of Regina's lips to her skin.
Regina's hand slipped into the thick curls at Emma's nape and gently tilted her head back so she could kiss her on the mouth, and like an idiot, like a traitor, Emma submitted.
"You'll catch your death from that draft," Regina murmured against her lips.
"Not if you warm me up," Emma said, her voice like frayed velvet.
Regina chuckled and released her; freed, Emma shook her head and blinked, rolling her shoulders like a dog released from its collar. "We have Henry's play tonight, remember?" Regina said. "That's why I'm home so early? So we can get ready?"
"Right, yeah," Emma said, "I remember." How could she forget? It was all Henry'd been talking about since Regina bullied him into trying out. No – that was unfair. Henry had wanted to do it once he found out that it was about fairy tales. Regina had just given him the initial push.
In this weird shared motherhood thing they had going on, Regina was usually the bad cop, most often in pursuit of Henry's advancement. She pushed him to join the baseball team, the chess club, the Young Scholars group. ("Wait, seriously?" Emma had said the night Regina brought it up. "A club called Young Scholars. In an elementaryschool." Though Regina patronizingly explained that it was only for the brightest students who were looking to forge the best possible future, Emma privately called bullshit.) The school play had been the next logical step, and Henry, who hadn't inherited his mother's love for the spotlight, dragged his feet off to sign up. Then he'd found out it was a play about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and suddenly the school musical had eclipsed the importance of even The Hulk Vs. Wolverine.
"You're not going to wear this, are you?" Regina said, hooking her finger into the collar of Emma's slightly ragged sweater and tugging, as though it might unravel completely and cease its offense.
"Oh – no," Emma said, looking down at herself. "No, I'm not. I'll get dressed."
Regina gave her another kiss, this time to her temple, and disappeared into the hall. There was no carpet to swallow her footfalls there; Emma could hear her going into the bathroom. The shower turned on after another minute or two.
Ten minutes for herself, then. Tops.
Emma went to the closet, trying to shuffle off Regina's influence, the way all her senses had gone fuzzy and deadened. It was funny; she stayed home all day, but she only had this feeling of – stolen time, she guessed – when Regina was in the house. Being under Regina's attention felt, sometimes, like standing in the glare of a floodlight, nothing hidden. Whenever Emma had time to herself with Regina in the house, she counted the seconds, hoarded the minutes. Soon Regina would come back and Emma would slip back under whatever spell the other woman had on her.
Emma grimaced, pushing around a few of the hangers in the closet, uninspired by the contents. Under Regina's spell – she sounded like Henry reading from that big fairy tale book he was always lugging around these days.
She plucked at the hem of her sweater. She liked this sweater. Regina, though, found her taste in clothes "appalling," and right around when she'd insisted on confining Emma to the house like a Victorian invalid, she'd bought her a whole bunch of new clothes too. This whole sleek wardrobe was so Regina, and naturally they were the only clothes Emma was technically allowed to wear.
She took out a neat businesslike blouse, a pair of slacks, grumbling at the indignity of it all. On the Regina Scale, though, this was just background radiation. The only thing in the closet that really registered, at a whopping nine hundred and fifty-two, was the neat, orderly row of high-heeled shoes.
That was one place where Regina couldn't gain ground. She'd bought the shoes but couldn't make Emma wear them. Then again, Emma couldn't convince Regina to let her wear sneakers, so it was kind of an impasse. She had to wear these flats that were the only place where their fashion tastes intersected, black and deceptively comfy and without much ornamentation.
She really missed her sneakers, though.
She blew out a long breath and fished a bra out of the underwear drawer. Such were the domestic details of her happy home life. Worrying about clothes. She used to do stuff, before she and Regina got together. After the wedding, though, it had just been agreed (was Emma even there when this agreement was made? Regina claimed yes, but Emma had her suspicions) that someone had to stay home and take care of Henry, who was only in second grade then and who really needed a mom waiting at home with milk and cookies, because he was already showing the warning signs of a hardy loner. And Emma, well – she was just the Deputy Sheriff, right? She was the replaceable one. Not Regina, who kept the entire town running.
So Emma stayed home and waited with the milk and cookies. She helped Henry with his homework on the late nights, did the dishes, read some of the books that Regina insisted on buying her so that Henry would have two good influences, instead of just one. Never mind, of course, that Emma wasn't really the intellectual book-reading type. She was more into HBO. She didn't know what ranked higher on the Regina Scale – having to stay home all the damn time, having to pretend to read Regina's books? Even when they had fights – and they fought – those blew over like sunshowers, happening only when Henry was out of earshot, out of the house or asleep, taking place in angry whispers unless Emma got really angry and tried to get loud, and then, condescendingly, Regina would tell her, "Don't raise your voice at me, Miss Swan," like they weren't fucking married. Domestic partnered. Whatever.
Those fights had nothing on the small intrusions on Emma's dignity. The shoes, the books, the "dear, Sidney told me he spotted you wandering around town like a vagabond, perhaps it would be better if you kept inside."
When she spun out the list of all those little, killing offenses, the ones that ground her down day by day, she wondered why she ever married Regina. Sitting in the window seat – the one Regina had installed so Emma could look out on the world she wasn't allowed to join – Emma numbered the pains, the loneliness, the aborted freedoms. She counted every ache of wanderlust, every moment when she pined for something more. Some life that didn't involve this sterile lovely house, the perfectly tended lawn, the boring books, the designer heels, Regina's CDs playing on the stereo system instead of Emma's Rolling Stones albums. Hadn't she lived that life before? Hadn't she been free before they got married?
"That looks lovely, dear," Regina said from the doorway, and Emma turned, doing up the last button on the white blouse, summoning a weak smile. At the sight of her wife, her mind went pleasantly blank. Regina was wearing that fuzzy robe Emma really liked, and she was toweling her hair, and, makeup-less, free of the confines of her work clothes, she looked like some kind of... She looked like a... She looked really sexy.
"You look good, too," Emma managed to say, and Regina gave a little laugh, walking past her on bare feet to take out her own outfit, probably pre-chosen to avoid the fuss of staring blankly into her closet the way Emma always did. Emma turned to watch, biting her lip a little, keenly conscious of Regina's nudity, that all it would take was unbelting the robe, and...
Emma exhaled heavily, closing her eyes and rubbing her head again. The headache, briefly banished by the distraction of getting dressed, was back in force; even if Regina let Emma stick her hands into that robe and explore, it would only make the pain pound worse in her skull.
"Are you alright?" The moment was gone; Regina was already half strapped into her lingerie again, binding herself back up, and all that potent human fragility that Emma loved so much was disappearing under the layers that made Regina into Mayor Mills. Regina was turning back into that person who told Emma to stay in the house, to stop working, to do what she was told. That person who made her unhappy.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Emma said. "I'm just gonna... I have a headache. I'll take something for it before we leave."
Regina didn't look completely convinced, but gave her a smile and a nod anyway, crossing the space between them to give Emma another light kiss, a pat on the cheek, the way you give a good dog a treat. "Make sure you do," she said. "Henry's counting on us."
"Have I ever let him down?" Emma asked and she smiled, fake as plastic.
The play wasn't half bad. Henry played one of the dwarves – Sneezy. It was a pretty good casting choice; Henry, like most elementary school boys, was on the smaller side, and Emma could see where his narrow, peaked face could summon cold season. They'd rubbed pink-red makeup on his nose and cheeks and at opportune moments he sneezed hugely into an oversized handkerchief, probably doing an impression of that terminally bacterial pharmacist in town.
Emma and Regina did that whole proud parents thing, laughing and crying at the appropriate moments, but Emma, glancing over at Regina in quiet moments, saw in the dim light of the auditorium that the other woman wasn't perfectly – pleased. Hadn't this been what she wanted? Was Henry messing up in some way – should he have gotten a bigger part, whistled the dwarves' song more closely on-key, sneezed louder? Emma decided as Snow White, a fifth-grade girl, bit into an apple and dramatically choked, that if Regina said anything to Henry after the show, they'd have a throw-down right in the elementary school. There was no way that Regina was going to ruin this for their kid.
The play came to a dramatic conclusion, with Prince Charming pretending to kiss Snow White's cheek, the dwarves cheering, the Evil Queen looking wicked as she cursed this twist of fate. Then there was a clumsily executed little finale, with the Queen getting her unspecified comeuppance and Charming and Snow White marrying and they all lived happily ever after, hi-ho hi-ho and all that. This was the kind of stuff right up Henry's alley, especially after he'd gotten that fairy tale book, and Emma found herself begrudgingly grateful that Regina had badgered him into signing up.
After the show, the kids spilled out into the hallway outside the auditorium, still in their lovingly PTA-made costumes, and most of them were scooped up by their delighted parents. Compared to the joyous reunions going on around them, Regina and Henry's stiff hug was practically a handshake; it was Emma he flung his arms tightly around with an eager grin, asking, "Did you see, Emma? You saw, right? Was I good? Did you like it?"
Emma had just enough time to give Regina an apologetic glance before she told Henry, "I loved it, kid. You were great. You stole the whole show."
"You were very good, Henry," Regina said, but Henry's reaction to her, dim and unenthusiastic, was worlds apart from the look he'd given Emma. She didn't want to dwell on this new frostiness between mother and son; she had a guilty, uncomfortable feeling that she was somehow the source of it, or at least complicit – she and Henry had the Regina Scale, after all. Kids were perceptive about these things, even without hearing one of their parents use the other as a measure for pain.
She'd really have to get rid of this whole Regina Scale thing.
Just as she was ruefully considering how immature that whole invention seemed right now, Henry pulled on her arm and said, "Hey, there's my teacher! I want you to meet her! Miss Blanchard!"
The woman approaching them, pixie-cut and pale, had a kind of fey look to her; Emma knew her, vaguely, from the parent-teacher conferences she attended almost in name only. Regina was always the active party at those meetings; she'd been a little mean to Henry's previous teachers but Miss Blanchard received some of Regina's most savage, cutting jibes, maybe because, with her marshmallowy sweetness, Miss Blanchard was such an easy target.
"We know Miss Blanchard, dear," Regina said, and gave the poor woman a smile like a drawer of knives.
"Mayor Mills," Blanchard squeaked. "Mrs. – Miss – I, uh –"
"Emma," said the confusing party in question, accustomed by now to this kind of fumbling. "It's fine." Emma had to make a quick decision between two evils, and said, "Henry, why don't you go introduce your mom to the other dwarves?" When he turned a piteous glance on her, she gave him a slightly harder, urgent look, trying to impress upon him that this was a matter of life and death for his teacher. Persuaded but not necessarily willing, Henry took Regina's hand and led his confused mother away.
"Thank you," Miss Blanchard sighed. "I mean – not that I don't, er –"
"No, I get it," Emma assured her. "It's fine. Regina is – she's, uh, polarizing." That was obviously one of Regina's own five-dollar words, and, coupled with the fifty-dollar Regina clothes she was wearing, Emma had to grimace, wondering if the only difference between them now was the color of their hair.
"You're a braver woman than I, Emma," said the teacher, and Emma blew out a long breath, not wanting to have to think about her marriage as a matter of bravery, battles to be fought.
"Miss Blanchard," she started to say, but was gently cut off:
"Mary Margaret," Blanchard said. "Please."
"Mary Margaret," Emma repeated, "look, I – I know I haven't been as... Invested in our meetings as Regina. I mean, I love Henry, but..." But picking on teachers was most definitely Regina's job, not hers. "Is he happy?" The question slipped from her as her gaze caught on the scene across the room, Henry trying to introduce Regina to Doc and Dopey and Regina doing it all wrong, her smile too big, her posture too stiff, not fooling anyone. "I mean, uh – does he – how does he seem to you?" She fumbled, trying not to sound like such a terrible parent, the kind of – not-mother who was so oblivious that she couldn't keep an eye on her own kid's happiness.
Mary Margaret's voice was mercifully absent of judgment, striking just the right note between understanding and sympathy. "He seems... Distant," she said. "From the other children, at least. He acts like he's carrying a very heavy burden, and that burden is isolating him."
It sounded irresistibly like Wolverine. "But that, it's... It's just his age?" she said. "I mean... Maybe he just thinks he's the Batman or something, right?"
Mary Margaret smiled at her with the sort of benign condescension a nun might show when asked if Jesus Christ was really her Lord. "Even if his feelings don't have a cause we can see," she said, "it doesn't mean they're not valid." Emma sighed, dropping her gaze to her feet, wishing she dared to scuff her shoes on the floor; with no outlet for her nervous energy, she just shoved her hands in her pockets and looked up to Mary Margaret again, who gently encouraged her, "Maybe you should ask him about it. He obviously loves you a lot. And it might help iron out some of the other, um... The other..."
Mary Margaret's voice faded away as Regina, hands in the pockets of her jacket, swanned back to them with that hard smile back on her face, the one she reserved for people she really didn't like. Emma immediately took her hands out of her pockets, not wanting them to be one of those couples that had the same mannerisms.
"Emma," Regina said. "Why don't you take Henry out to the car and wait for me? I want to have a quick chat with Miss Blanchard. I told Henry we'd pick up some ice cream on the way home."
Emma felt her figurative backbone fold and wither away under the force of Regina's gaze, and she said, "Yeah, sure, okay. C'mon, kid," and Henry, his backpack slung over his shoulder, followed Emma out of the school into the parking lot, where Regina's Mercedes was waiting for them.
Ask him about it,Mary Margaret had said. Instead of sitting in the front, Emma folded herself into the backseat with Henry; for a moment, she missed her Bug ferociously. "Look, kid," she said, "I wanted to, uh, I wanted to talk."
She saw something close defensively in his hazel eyes, which seemed in that moment dark like Regina's. "Okay," he said.
She exhaled heavily, trying to figure out how to put this. "It's... I was just thinking, you know, you've been acting kind of different," she said, wishing for Regina's political semantics, Mary Margaret's caretaking vocabulary. "It looks like you haven't been doing so well and I just... Is there something on your mind, kid? Is there something you want to tell me?" She looked at him, trying to convey all of those I'm-here-for-you let-it-all-out encouragements that seemed too mushy and cliché to say aloud.
Something had lit up in Henry's eyes again, and he said, surprising her with the force in his voice, "Yes! Emma, I've wanted to tell you for ages!" He pulled open his bookbag and hauled out his book of fairy tales. "Look, I've figured it all out!"
"Figured what out, kid?" Emma said, hoping that he'd discovered the imp's real name was Rumplestiltskin so the princess could keep her baby or something.
"Everything," he said. "Like why my mom is the way she is. Why you're so unhappy."
Emma startled, her throat tightening suddenly. "You – what?" The words came out hoarse. Had Henry really figured it out so completely?
"Look," Henry said, and opened the book to a color illustration of a woman in black. "This is why you're unhappy! You weren't supposed to be together! My mom's the Evil Queen. And you're the savior."