Filler crap to get me to the actual sequel to like when the wind gets tired. Features rampant abuse of italics and em dashes.
Does not account for "The Queen is Dead." Also fucks with the canon timeline between "The Outsider" and "In The Name of the Brother," because I can. So, the last snippet happens the night before Gold shows up with his "ROAD TRIP OR DEATH" business.
On the third night she meets Regina at the playground—after a flurry of texts written only in emoji, and just looking at the conversation makes her simultaneously chuckle and gag—she brings a little baby bottle of Jim Beam to share. One, because it's fucking cold and if she's going to sit outside in the middle of the night for an hour or two, she's damn well gonna be toasted. And two, because Regina is apparently a whiskey and bourbon girl, a sucker for an Old Fashioned or a sweetened Manhattan, with a random soft spot for a good Negroni. When Emma thinks of gin, she thinks of pine trees and old men, but she's not judging, because she'll always respect a woman who knows her liquor likes.
Of course, she forgets that Regina is a queen, and not the kind Emma used to brown-bag it with on the uptown 1-train, because when Emma takes the first swig and then offers the bottle to Regina, those lips twist down with a quick flash of are you fucking kidding me. But Emma keeps her arm steady and her grin solid and Regina rolls her eyes and takes the bottle, tips a little into her mouth. Wuss. "Mills, that is a pansy ass sip."
"Forgive me if I'm new to drinking straight from the bottle, Miss Swan. Some of us have couth." And Emma just leans back on the bench and smirks, because that's a challenge if it's anything.
She doesn't send Regina home drunk, exactly—not when home means psychopathic magical mother—but they're both less than sober, and Regina's scarf is soaked from where half the bottle spilled when Emma shouted "Chug!" right in her ear, and that mouth is turned up at the corners.
Which is really the only thing that matters.
"That's navy blue, Regina."
"It's fucking navy blue. Your favorite color is navy blue."
"I understand that your cognitive abilities are somewhat lacking, but I thought basic perception, at least, was within your grasp."
"You just made up some pretentious ass name for navy blue. You tried to make up a color."
"It is a different color."
"Fine! Give me your phone."
"…That's bullshit. You used your witchy ways to hack Wikipedia. No dice."
Sneaking out of the apartment in the middle of the night is infinitely more complicated with an eleven-year-old in tow, but it's Friday night and the kid hasn't shut up about tonight all week. Not that Emma wants him to, because he has this particular smile when he talks about his mom, big and bright and bold; because he knows now that it's okay to miss her. Henry misses her and loves her the way only a Mills can love, and Emma loves him for it.
They get to the playground early, and Henry snuggles deeper into the nest of blankets he's made in the backseat. "Emma?"
"Mom's birthday is in eighty seven days."
She smiles. Like she'd missed the ginormous countdown app he'd put on her phone's homescreen. "That so?"
"I need a job."
She lets her head roll against the headrest to fix him with a flat stare. "Pretty sure there are child labor laws that say no."
"Okay, but, I can shovel people's sidewalks and stuff, right?"
Emma shrugs, because if the kid's got an entrepreneurial spirit, she's not about to stop him. "Sure. When it snows. It's supposed to be a bad winter, so you'll probably make out all right. What'd you do for money before?"
Honestly. "Yep. You need a job."
He sticks his tongue out at her, but he doesn't push, and she's proud of that. Proud that he can look around and see that money's a little tight—what with the municipal payroll collapsing and all—even if it hasn't hit him directly yet. "I want to get her something really nice."
For a minute, she thinks he's running a guilt trip on himself, but his face is open and contemplative and he really, genuinely, just wants to do something nice. "Well, you've got time for ideas. And—" and she thinks about it, because Henry's got some batshit crazy luck, but it can't get too out of hand, right? "Tell you what. Whatever you make—I'll match it. So you can go all out."
He straight-up beams at her, and then both of their faces are lit up by headlights, and within two minutes Regina's ducking into the backseat and Henry's launching his whole body at her with a joyous "Mom!" And fuck yeah, Emma will go eighty seven days without her afternoon cocoa if it means Regina and Henry get to smile at each other, just like this.
"Tell me you're joking."
"It's not as bad as it looks."
"It's like a trillion pages!"
"Honestly, Emma, your exaggerations—"
"Look! Look! Page one thousand twenty nine. Fuck outta here."
"One thousand is not one trillion."
"Oh, stop being so literal, it's a shit ton of words."
"It's a classic."
"You know, that usually just means it got turned into a BBC movie with Keira Knightley and not that it's a good book."
"Just try it."
"'The quintessential story of revenge'—seriously, Regina?"
"It's a good book!"
It's snowing on night seven, which means Emma's on duty at the station, waiting for the fall to taper off enough to call out the pickup plow brigade. Which—and she can't figure out if she's pissed that she didn't know for so long or delighted that she knows now—also includes the super-secret Sheriff's Department ATV. She's actually getting paid—kind of—to spin donuts in fresh snow. On an ATV.
It's kind of the best day ever. Even if life sucks.
So when eleven thirty rolls around, she decides that in the name of preparedness, it's in everyone's best interest if she takes the ATV out now. Just to get a feel for it. Because it'd be terrible if she called all the other suckers out to plow and did something stupid like crash the quad on her first go-round, right?
The ride out to the playground is simultaneously the coolest and most frightening thing she's ever done. Because going sixty down a winding country road in a snowstorm on an open vehicle is low on the Emma Swan Smarts Scale, but the rush of it—so fucking worth it. And the look on Regina's face when Emma roars up next to the Benz and bootlegs the quad to park facing Regina—when she sends a spray of powder up onto the hood of the car—oh, so fucking worth it.
But then she's a little bit soaked, and a lotta bit cold, and she gets into the Benz with more than a little humility. "Hey."
Regina glares at her. "That is not what that vehicle was procured for."
Emma snorts. "Damn well shoulda been."
"You're not even properly dressed."
She's learning to watch those dark, dark eyes for her cues, and not that mouth—even if it's getting harder and harder to look away from that mouth—so she studies Regina's eyes. They're honey-bright and crinkled at the corners and it's that easy to go with her gut.
"Want a go?"
Regina gapes at her first, but it doesn't take too long for there to be a tiny, whispered maybe after a string of blustery absolutely nots and no way in hells. So Emma smiles at her, because fuck yes, and goes to open the door when Regina tugs on her sleeve sharply. She turns and gets hit in the face with something soft and red that smells like Christmas. "At least put a scarf on," Regina snaps.
"He made two hundred dollars, Regina, and I did half the work!"
"You mean the city propertyyou hijacked did half the work."
"Oh, come off it—you loved my hijacking. And you're missing the point!"
"What is the point? You encouraged him to be enterprising. His efforts met with great success. I'm not seeing the problem."
"You would see it that way."
"What other way is there? He did well!"
"Honestly, I cannot comprehend how you've survived this long."
"Oh, shut up."
Something is different on night ten. They sit quietly in the Benz, and for the first time, Regina has the stereo on. They haven't talked about music, yet, but listening to Coltrane in the lowest registers makes Emma itch to flip through old LPs and mixtapes and pull the truth of Regina out, track by track.
But something is different, and Emma just waits, sips from the bottle of water Regina'd offered when she got in the car. It's too cold for the skirt and tights Regina's wearing, and her coat doesn't look nearly warm enough, and there's too much makeup on her face and her eyes are dark, dark, dark.
"She woke up last night."
"What—what happened?" And she looks closer, wishes the light was any type of consistent because—is that a hint of green on Regina's cheekbone? Is that yellow beneath her brow bone?
"Nothing. She just—asked."
But Emma gets it. Sees how Regina's whole body is conserving movement, how even if the colors are just tricks of the light, that mouth isn't giving quite as much pout, not quite as much smirk. "What'd you say?"
"I needed air."
"Oak moon rising. I need to cut some mistletoe before I go home."
Oh. Right. Because, magic. Jesus Christ. "What do you want to do?"
Those dark, dark eyes flutter closed, just as the song switches to a muted trumpet line and brushes on snare. "Just… sit. Sit for a little while."
Emma knows damn well she's the worst at just sitting, but for Regina—for even a little bit of hope—she tries. She settles her elbow next to Regina's on the arm rest, tilts her head back and closes her eyes, too. "If we—if you need to not be here—"
She was afraid of that reaction, of the idea of lifeline. "So come back with me."
There's pressure at her wrist, and she opens her eyes to look down at Regina's hand wrapped tight, fingertips pressing against her pulse. She's never seen those nails with anything less than a perfect manicure, but tonight the dark polish is chipped and they're unevenly shaped. "She has a plan, but—I just don't know what, yet. I can't—not until we know."
It's the we that's killing Emma, because even if it's we know, it's Regina hurts. "He wants you home, Regina. He wants you safe." And those eyes—dark, liquid caramel—they make her stupid-brave, they make her ache, so she whispers, "I want you safe. Please."
It's too far; Regina lets her head drop back against the headrest with a soft thud and those eyes close again.
Emma sits quiet, won't risk fucking up again. The silence just starts to push heavy against her ribs when the song changes again, to a bold and complex piano line. It's almost too ornate for Emma to bear—and then, and then, and then. And then Regina sighs, and those lips, those lips, those lips part and out comes a voice high and smoky-sweet, singing about midnight and sadness.
Regina is singing and Emma can't breathe. Can't breathe because if she makes a sound, she'll ruin everything.
She ruins it anyway, because when Regina is this human, she has to touch her, just to know she's real. Just to know this isn't a dream. So when that moon-bright voice fades out, retreats back between those lips, Emma can't help but reach after it, index and middle fingers trembling against that lower lip, pressing just enough to feel a give and then a gasp.
Except when Regina opens her eyes and looks at her, all she sees is please and she doesn't know what it means. Doesn't know if she should fuck everything up and taste or fuck everything up and run. Doesn't know whether it's please yes or please no or please please please and she won't—she can't—she won't break Regina. She won't do it. Even if she can see, can feel, can smell how excruciatingly good it could be.
So she begs instead, breathes out and begs: "Be careful."
And Regina—Regina with her silver voice and sunset eyes—Regina gives her a smile so gentle that she has to trace it, just to be sure it's real.