The air in the station is so suffocatingly still that sometimes Regina wonders if time hasn't stopped again just inside this building, while the world outside continues turning without her.
The feeling is shattered only by the way Emma Swan tromps into the station with annoying regularity, punctuating Regina's solitude with bursts of noise and color, always accompanied by one or two of her deputies and at least once a week by Archie Hopper. She brings Regina cups of hot black coffee with no sugar at all and white paper bags full of omelets and salads and lasagna that Regina thinks might have been good once, before it was frozen.
Regina finds ways to fill up the seemingly endless stretches of time between these visits. Ruby occasionally brings her a book, and she makes use of the journal Archie seems to think might help her, but there are so many hours in the day that after a while, there's simply nothing left to do to fill up the time but think about the son who has not come once to see her.
The stamping of boots from the hallway startles her awake. The thin novel she'd been trying to read is lying open across her chest. She picks it up and tries to look interested, bracing herself to pointedly ignore the intrusion.
Today, though, Emma is alone when she appears from around the corner, pink-cheeked and with a mess of yellow hair sticking out from under a ridiculous knit hat.
"Lunch," Emma announces flatly, leaning against the box of the cell's locking mechanism. Regina peers over the top of the Hemingway and eyes the brown paper bag Emma's sticking through the bars of her cell.
"That's not from Granny's."
"No, it's from home."
The easy, possessive way Emma's taken to talking about the house on Mifflin Street makes the hair on the back of Regina's neck stand up. She'd agreed to the idea, if only to have the knowledge that Henry was in his own bed rather than on the pull-out couch of some Charming love nest, but that didn't make the fact of Emma Swan living in her house any less irritating. Emma shakes the bag once, impatiently. "Come on, Regina. I'm not even supposed to be here alone."
Regina sits up, then, rising to her feet in one fluid motion. "I'll be sure to complain the next time I see your deputy."
"Yeah, 'cause that rule's supposed to protect you."
Regina sighs and takes the bag from her. Emma looks at her expectantly, so she opens it and examines the contents. "Peanut butter?"
"Crunchy, even, so don't say I never did anything for you," Emma points out and Regina's breath catches in her throat on the inhale. She freezes the way she did on a night not actually all that long ago, when Henry had caught her eating sandwiches over the sink at two in the morning. She tries to remember, and thinks he must have been eight or nine, because instead of frowning accusations at her, he'd grinned conspiratorially and let her hoist him onto the kitchen counter to share the other half of her snack. Ninja pajamas, she remembers. A bit too small. So he'd been eight, then.
Regina makes a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat. "Thank you, Sheriff."
She waits for Emma to retreat, but instead the sheriff just shoves her hands in her back pockets, scuffing the toe of one boot right up to the place where the cell door meets the floor.
"Is there something else?" Food and books are the only things ever offered to her. No one mentions laundry or hygiene or exercise-Regina can take care of these things herself, and as long as no one notices or mentions it, she's pleased to keep it that way. The only thing she might want, if pressed, is the one thing she refuses to ask for.
"Yeah, I, uh... it's kind of about Henry?"
"Did he-" Regina starts, but Emma's shaking her head before she can finish the question.
"He didn't ask," Emma says, so apologetically that Regina wants to scream. "If you want to see him, Regina, I could just-"
"No," Regina cuts her off, forcefully enough that the word echoes off the station's high ceilings. "I don't want-don't push him. He'll ask. When he's ready, he'll ask. What did you want to know?"
Emma sighs deeply and squints at a point somewhere over Regina's shoulder. "This is so dumb."
Regina doesn't doubt that, but all she says is, "Just get to it, Miss Swan."
"It's Christmas next week, and, um, I have to ask about Santa Claus?"
Regina lets out a short bark of laughter before she can stop herself. She has waited weeks for Emma Swan to ask for Regina's advice on how to parent their son, and this is the area in which she finally seeks guidance? She sobers again when she realizes that she herself doesn't actually know whether her eleven-year-old still believes in Santa Claus. She shrugs one shoulder and admits as much.
"Last year, he was more interested in curses and evil queens. And this year, he certainly has no reason not to believe in-well, I suppose it's a fairy tale too, isn't it?" Regina smiles then, more to herself than at Emma. "At any rate, you have to hide the presents in the attic until Christmas morning. Henry is congenitally impatient, and it's the only place he's afraid to peek."
"Oh," Emma says in a low voice, ears reddening. "Actually, I was kind of asking if Santa was, y'know, real?"
Regina rolls her eyes, certain that no adult woman could possibly be this ridiculous, but Emma is clearly far too embarrassed not to be serious. "As far as I know, that really is just a story, dear."
"It's just, Henry made a list of the stuff he wants? And it's kind of a long list? And he seems-I mean, Regina, he's really sure he's going to get everything on that list."
Regina raises one eyebrow. "And you were hoping Santa might help you out? If you needed money for my son, Sheriff, all you had to do was ask."
"Oh my god, Regina, it's not about the money. Jeez, I'm trying to talk to you about the kid. Look, I never really had... Christmas, whatever, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but isn't he kind of spoiled?"
"I worked very hard to make the holiday special for my son," Regina explains tightly. And she had. An entire holiday about domesticity and tradition and indulgence, Christmas played to her strengths. And the idea of it, of a boy child coming into the world just when it was at its darkest and filling it up with light and color and warmth? That had been something Regina knew how to celebrate.
"He told me it's his favorite. I'm not saying you didn't do a good job." Emma's frown deepens. "I just... is that good for him? To give him everything he asks for?"
"And what would have been the point of anything less? Why on earth would I disappoint him when I could make him happy?" Regina feels her stomach sink even as she says the words, knowing that she's giving away the only thing she knows she did right as a mother-no matter how much she'd let him down, she certainly never meant to.
"Okay," Emma puts out her hand as though she means to reach for Regina, but her hand meets one of the bars instead and she just scrubs her knuckles against it for a moment. "Okay. I'll try."
The first thing she thinks before opening her eyes is, It sounds like jingle bells.
It's not, of course. The noise that wakes her is simply Emma Swan fumbling with a large ring of keys. When Regina sits up, frowning, Emma looks up at her a bit sheepishly.
"Sorry," Emma whispers, although there's no one else she could disturb. "I don't know why I was trying not to wake you, you just looked... sorry. I can't find the right key."
Regina blinks slowly, glancing out the windows to confirm that the sky is in fact still pitch dark. "What the hell are you doing here, Sheriff?"
"It's Christmas Eve," Emma says as though that's an answer. She tries another key in the cell door and gives a little growl of frustration when it slides easily into the lock but won't turn. "Y'know, this would go a lot faster if you'd just open the door."
It's the first time Emma has overtly acknowledged that locking Regina up at all is little more than a trust exercise. Regina crosses the cell and reaches for the door.
She hesitates, searching Emma's face for some sign that this is a trap. The prospect of reminding the Savior just what she's capable of-just what she's not been doing, here-is not unappealing to Regina. She flexes her fingers, once, concentrating on the subtle thrum under her skin that she spends most of her time trying to ignore. When she drops her hand on top of the lock, there is an immediate, agreeable ker-chunk in the mechanism.
Emma grins and whispers, "Cool," and in the shadowy light cast by a single desk lamp, she looks exactly like Henry. Regina's fingers against the metal lock spark and pop before she can snatch them back and step clear of the door.
"It's the middle of the night. Shouldn't you be, I don't know, perhaps with my son, Miss Swan?"
"Oh," Emma says. "He's at Midnight Mass. With-uh, he wanted to go."
"Midnight Mass," Regina echoes. She's surprised anyone's still interested, although she supposes religion works like everything else in Storybrooke does now, with people picking and choosing the things they like best from the old world and the new. If people like superstition and guilt, well, that's not Regina's problem now.
"Yeah. I know it's late, but it's just one night and it's Christmas and I figured letting him stay up is my best chance at getting to sleep until a normal hour tomorrow, so-"
"Why are you here?"
Emma sighs and drops her hands, letting the ring of keys bounce against her thigh a few times before answering. "I put up the Christmas tree."
The statement is almost completely devoid of meaning for Regina, except for the way it brings up the sharp squeeze behind her sternum that she gets every time she realizes she's missed another opportunity to be her son's mother-which is pretty much always, these days. "How lovely."
"It wasn't actually. David took him sledding and I put up the Christmas tree and then when he came home..."
"You put it up without him."
Emma rubs at the back of her neck. "Yeah?"
All Regina can think to do is shake her head slowly. "Good lord, Miss Swan."
Emma's face crumples and Regina's not sure she'll be able to refrain from slapping the woman if she actually starts to cry. "I didn't know!" Emma whines. "I thought it could be, like, a surprise. And then I asked him if he wanted to watch the Avengers, because he was mad and that's his favorite."
"The Avengers. On Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, I kinda got that that was the wrong thing when he started crying and went up to your room. And then he came down and informed me that he was going to mass with David and Mary Margaret."
Regina can't help it. She smirks. It had taken a while for some of the shine to wear off of Emma Swan, but it had happened all the same. "Welcome to motherhood."
"It sucks," Emma grumbles, and then has the good sense to immediately look ashamed. "Except it doesn't, does it?"
"Being a mom. It doesn't suck. I'm just sort of... screwing it up." She's not whining now, just resigned. "I keep asking Mary Margaret what I should be doing, but really..." she looks up at Regina. "What does she know? She never raised her kid, either. She's just making it up as she goes along."
"Truthfully, Miss Swan?" Why the hell is she trying to reassure the woman who's supplanted her? "There's no other way to do it."
Emma shakes her head. "I should've been asking you. Dentist appointments and homework and bedtimes-I can figure all that stuff out, but actually being Henry's mom? You're the only one who knows how to do that."
"Henry might disagree with you," Regina reminds her.
"Maybe," Emma shrugs, "but you're not the one who made the kid cry on Christmas. And I'm not the one whose pillow he cried into."
Regina bites down hard on the inside of her cheek until she can speak without her voice wavering. "I'll give you anything you need for my son, Miss Swan. You only have to ask."
Regina draws in a slow breath and nods, once.
"Then come home with me." She gathers up a coat and a pair of gloves that Regina recognizes as her own from the chair behind her and thrusts them into the cell.
Regina takes them slowly and tips her head toward the windows. "Won't that cause a bit of a problem for you?" It wasn't Emma's decision to lock her up here, surely she couldn't just decide on a whim to set Regina free.
"Yeah, as it turns out, the whole savior-princess thing comes with some perks. Makes it kind of easy to get what I want."
Regina stiffens and crushes the gloves in her hand. There it is. This isn't about helping Regina at all. This is Emma getting her way yet again. Just like always.
Emma spots her hesitation. "Don't be proud, Regina. We both want the same thing."
"You have no idea what I want, Miss Swan," Regina manages through gritted teeth.
Emma sighs wearily. "I know you want to see your kid. I know you want him to be happy on freakin' Christmas morning."
"And you're sure-"
"Look, I don't know what this business of waiting for him to ask for you is about, but get over it. He needs you around. He needs both of us, Regina. Even I can see that, and I have no clue what I'm doing. And, by the way, it's obvious that he wants to see you. He does. It's something he wants, even if he won't ask for it, and I can give it to him. We can. So put your coat on and let's just go home. We'll figure the rest of it out."
Emma lifts her chin at precisely the same angle Henry does when he's decided to be stubborn, and Regina suddenly knows that Emma's not going to leave here without her. Whatever has happened between Emma and Henry in the last few weeks, the situation is no longer tenable, at least for Emma.
She wishes it felt more satisfying.
When they push their way through the wide doors of the sheriff's station, Regina stops short at the feel of the wintry air. It's icy and thin and smells like the promise of more snow, and she sucks in a deep lungful. It feels like the first real breath she's taken in weeks.
Emma's already halfway across the parking lot, headed for the cruiser instead of her bug. "Come on, Your Majesty," she tosses over her shoulder.
Regina ducks her head against the wind and follows Emma's lead.