Author's Note: The party scene ended up running longer than I imagined so it has been separated into two chapters. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone really enjoyed Ruby and I assure you that everyone's favorite waitress/werewolf has plenty of screen-time in this story.
This chapter takes place during "The Cricket Game".
Additionally I would like to thank everyone who has been reading this story. I'm really overwhelmed by the sheer number of followers and reviews. The support and kind words have really made a difference and only encourage me to write better, faster and stronger chapters. So special thanks to:
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It was meat-loaf day. Henry hated meat-loaf, well the school's meat-loaf at least. His mom's was so much better. Regina, he mentally corrected himself. He had been right all along, she was the Evil Queen and he had helped defeat her. Now he got to live with his real mom, the Savior, and his grandparents, Snow White and Prince Charming. They were a real family. Still, though, he couldn't help but worry a little bit about Regina. Aurora had said she had collapsed in the middle of the road. That didn't sound very Evil Queen like. It didn't sound very much like Regina at all. She was never sick, except that one time he gave her chicken pox.
Magic always came with a price, he thought as he picked at the meatloaf with his fork. What about sucking up magic? Did that come with a price too? He didn't know. There was still allot he didn't know about magic. It had looked like it hurt. He hadn't even checked to see if she was okay. She had fallen down, but he had been so worried then excited about Emma and Snow that he hadn't bothered to ask if she was okay. He didn't like the squirmy feeling he got in his stomach when he thought about it. Why should he feel guilty? Emma was his mother and Regina was the Evil Queen. Of course she was okay, it had only been a little magic. The Evil Queen had faced armies and lived to cast her curse. She had been able to go with them back to Mr. Gold's shop and had even hugged him. She was fine, and even if she wasn't, didn't she deserve to hurt? She was evil and evil never won. Evil had to be punished. Was this The Evil Queen's punishment or another trick? Either way, Emma would tell him after school.
Then he could put it out of his mind and focus on important things, like prince lessons and horseback riding and Operation Hydra. Operation Hydra was his new plan to find out about the new people in Storybrooke. Mulan, Aurora, Hook, Cora and the Gypsy weren't in his book. Since Hook, Cora and The Gypsy were all evil he had decided to name the operation Hydra after the evil cult in Capitan America. He thought about the blank journal he had in his classroom desk, just waiting for his notes. He had some ideas already. Aurora was Sleeping Beauty, but where, he wondered, was Prince Phillip? And how did Mulan fit in to the picture? She was Chinese, like in the Disney movie, so what had she even been doing in the Enchanted Forest? He looked around the school lunch room. Most of the kids were white and so were their parents. Not all, but most. Diversity Week was a real riot at Storybrooke Academy. Now there was a Chinese and a Gypsy woman in town. He hadn't done an official count, because he'd never really thought about it before now, but that made at least three African American families and one Middle Eastern guy, Sidney Glass was the Genie in the mirror after all. He paused over his mashed potatoes and well, technically, he thought Regina might be Latina, but it had never really come up. How Latina could someone with the last name of Mills be?
Then there was Cora, Regina's mother. She had never mentioned having a mother. He knew that she had to have had a mother, even Evil Queens didn't hatch from eggs, but all Regina had ever talked about was her father, Henry Senior. The man he was named after, the man whose grave Regina took flowers to every week. Of course that was probably a ruse so she could visit her evil lair underneath his tomb. Henry sighed and willed the clock to go faster so lunch would end and recess could begin. No one really talked to him allot. They used to think he was the weird mayor's kid. Now he was a Prince, son of the Savior and The Evil Queen. Half of his classmates treated him like royalty and other half didn't talk to him at all. He didn't mind, for the most part, he liked talking to adults more anyway. He would be the only kid at the party tonight. The big, important, party to welcome his mom and grandma back. It would be the perfect time to get some information on Operation Hydra.
Mary Margret, or Snow White as she had been known in the Enchanted Forest, watched the youthful faces of the young students of Storybrooke Academy flood onto the playground. They frolicked with all the passion and energy of the young. It brought a smile to her face. One of the children, a boy, predictably ran right to her.
Henry, of course.
She smiled at him and reached over the chain-link fence to ruffle his hair affectionately, "Hello, Henry."
The young boy bounced from foot to foot, "Are you excited about tonight?"
She blinked, and then understood when he added, "Your party."
She grinned, "Absolutely. I'll see you then, you should go and play before you have to go back in."
He ran off and she leaned against the fence, pleased to see her grandson so happy.
"He's a sweet boy."
Mary Margret turned to see Lia Weathersby. The woman walked like the queen she really was and like the queen she was, Mary Margret nodded her head in greeting.
The woman, clad in a peach skirt and ruffled white top stood beside her and folded her arms across her chest. Leah was a handful of years older then she by a few years in Storybrooke time. In all their years in both realms combined, Leah was closer to her late mother's age then her own.
"Will you come back to teach now that everything has changed?"
Caught off guard, Mary Margret only shrugged, "I truly don't know."
Lia crossed her arms over her chest, "Well it is quite a step down, from Queen to school teacher with nothing in between. Regina really handed it to you with that."
At the mention of the Evil Queen's name, Mary Margret scowled, "You could say that."
She didn't know Lia, or Leah, very well at all, but there was something in the way she stood. The woman was trying to lord over her. Yes, the woman had been a Queen, but Snow had fought a war for her kingdom. She had fallen from grace and clawed her way back up to the throne. Leah didn't understand how hard fought her rule had been. She didn't understand her at all if she thought she would back down. She wasn't just Mary Margret anymore, and she wasn't afraid of the woman who had been her boss. She was Snow White.
"So your daughter is in Storybrooke now. Reconnecting with her must be amazing, trust me I know what being separated from your daughter feels like." Truer words, Mary Margret sighed, had never been spoken. She had missed her daughter. Even when she hadn't known where she was or that she was even missing, there had been an emptiness inside that could only be filled by her child.
"Aurora's return is a blessing especially now. Everything is changing so fast. Who knows what will happen next, it's important to hold your family close."
Snow turned her head ever so slightly, "I don't think everything has to change."
Leah's blue eyes met hers, "You wouldn't."
The conversation had shifted. This was not about her teaching job anymore. This was something far larger.
"I think." She drew herself up to her full height and turned to face Leah. "That you should be more concerned about your daughter then changes in Storybrooke."
Leah's face instantly hardened, "Is that a threat?"
Snow smiled and reached out to pat Leah on the arm, "Of course not." She didn't react to Leah pulling her arm away, "I'll see you at the party tonight."
Leah didn't watch the woman walk away, she instead focused on the playground.
Had she bothered to look she would have seen wisps of violet smoke float around the corner Snow White had just walked around.
It was a quarter after eight and the party was in full-swing. Granny's Diner was full of the people she had missed most when she and Snow had been stranded in Fairy Tale Forest. Everyone, save for Henry, Belle and Mulan, had a stein of beer in their hand. Everyone was smiling, even the ever-sour Granny Lucas. Emma glanced at the door again, still no Regina and Esmeralda. She wasn't sure if she was annoyed or relieved. Maybe both? She was annoyed because she had gone out on a limb and invited them, the least they could do was show up. She was relieved because their presence would have made everything, and everyone, tense. She sank her hands into the oversized cardigan she had borrowed from Mary Margret's closet. Oh yes, she was relieved, Emma decided. She definitely wasn't disappointed. Nope, not her. The sound of Henry's laughter, such a light-hearted and infectious sound, floated through the room. She should tell Leroy to take it easy with the dirty jokes around her son, but they were having so much fun that she couldn't quite bring herself to do it.
Everyone, she grinned, was having fun. Even Mulan had apparently taken the stick out and relaxed a little. From the gist of the conversations she'd overheard Mulan and Belle had known each other back in the Enchanted Forest and their friendship had picked up right where it had left off. Belle had even convinced the woman to go shopping. Mulan looked different out of her armor, more approachable somehow. If she didn't have her sword with her, she wouldn't have been sure it was the same woman. It was amazing what a pair of faded black jeans and a white tee-shirt could do. Not that Mulan was the only one who had changed her clothes. Aurora had arrived with her newly-rediscovered parents dressed like someone who had stepped out of an E! Fashion Special. The pale blue sundress reached her knees and brought out her eyes. With her hair done in a soft waves that tumbled down her back Emma could mistake her for a super model instead of a long-lost princess. So weird.
Speaking of weird, Mary Margret, Snow, was dressed in head-to-toe red and was totally rocking it. Except the fact that she was her mother, which made the whole thing freaking bizarre. Her mother, a fairytale princess or queen or whatever, was practically the same age as she was and she looked better in a dress. Despite the confusing family connections and the new faces, the party made her feel at ease. She was home and this was her normal. When David called for a toast she couldn't help but smile and raise her glass. This was exactly what she had been looking for her entire life. Home, family, friends, stability, love.
The laughter and tinkling glasses almost drowned out the chime of the bell at the door. Emma turned just in time to see Regina duck into the diner with a smile on her face, "Sorry we're late." The brunette had a dish that smelled about fifty-five times better than her yet-to-be-touched tacos in her hands. Esmeralda was close behind her empty-handed but smiling.
There was a moment of shocked silence in the diner and Emma started to wish that she had kept her big mouth shut.
"What is she doing here?"
Leroy, always eloquent, grabbed the biggest knife he could find. Though his was the most noticeable reaction, everyone seemed to go tense. Damn it, this had been exactly what she had been afraid of. Emma's grip on her stein tightened. She just wanted one nice night.
"I invited her." Her words were snappier then she meant, but the Leroy was holding a knife and the rest of the group seemed only moments away from following suit.
"She brought the gypsy woman with her."
Mulan, who drank coffee despite the late hour, leveled her gaze at Esmeralda. She didn't seem upset, or even surprised. The warrior woman's face betrayed nothing. It was surprising, actually, to see her sitting in a booth with Belle while Aurora was at the counter with her parents. Emma had never seen so much space between the two women.
"Warrior." Esmeralda dipped her head towards Mulan and then turned to Aurora, "Princess."
Emma held back a sneer when Steven physically stepped in front of Aurora, as if to protect her from an impending attack. The look on his bearded face was sharp and a little on the angry side. Fairy tale racism at its finest, apparently.
Regina, seemingly undisturbed by the chaos that had erupted at their arrival, eased through the small crowd and put her dish, Emma's mouth positively watered at the Food Network-worthy lasagna, on the counter. When her hands were free she unconsciously ran a hand through her once again perfectly styled hair. Gone was the woman Emma had seen earlier, Regina was back to her sharply-dressed-to-impress mayor self.
"Yes, this is-"
"Esmeralda." Granny interrupted Regina with a single word and the room did a collective double take. Even Regina, unshakable mayoral mask in place, raised a surprised brow at the announcement.
"Our paths cross again, Widow Lucas." Esmeralda quirked her scared lips into a small smile. Unlike her other recent arrivals, Esmeralda had not changed her clothes. She was still dressed in a motley assortment of clothes, including the purple cloak that Regina had been wrapped in just that morning. Something, Emma would call it curiosity, burned in her brain. Just what was the situation between the former queen and the gypsy?
Ruby, meanwhile, choked on her beer, "You know her?" She looked between the gypsy and her grandmother.
Granny shrugged, obviously uncomfortable with the situation. If Esmeralda was bothered by the multiple intense stares she made no indication of it.
"Your granddaughter?" Apparently she did know Granny and Ruby.
Granny nodded and Esmeralda flicked her green eyes over Ruby. "She has her mother in her."
Belle, who had quickly moved across the room, stood beside Ruby, blue eyes narrowed. Her usually kind face was set in a hard expression. She looked defensive, ready to protect Ruby. If the idea of the mild-mannered librarian protecting the town's resident badass werewolf wasn't so ludicrous, Emma would have been concerned. Belle put a hand on Ruby's bare shoulder and Emma could see the taller brunette's taut muscles relax a little.
"How" Snow wrapped her arm around Ruby's waist, "do you know Ruby's mother?" There was some kind of story behind all of this, Emma could sense it. It was probably another one of those fairy tale things, she really needed to read through Henry's book again. It was like the Wikipedia of the Enchanted Forest and she could definitely use the help.
Emma was almost 90 percent sure that Esmeralda rolled her eyes at the question. "The Romani and the Children of the Moon are old allies. This is known."
Everyone, including Ruby, looked shocked at that. For once, Emma felt a little relieved, she wasn't the only one in the dark about something. Even Snow seemed taken-back by her statement. The only people who didn't look surprised were Esmeralda, Granny and Regina.
"She was the one who made your cloak."
There was only one cloak that Granny could be referring to. The classic red riding hood magic cloak that kept Ruby from turning into a werewolf every month. Emma wanted to groan when she realized what that meant. Storybrooke needed another mysterious magic maven like it needed a hurricane.
Regina, momentarily forgotten by most, had mouthed along to Esmeralda's last sentence as if she had heard it countless times. Emma watched her for a moment, trying to decide what the woman's angle was. For once, she didn't seem to have an ulterior motive. Which was confusing because Regina always had something going on behind the scenes. She wasn't a two-bit player, she had back up plans for her back up plans and at least three layers of bullshit between her actions and their true intentions. Maybe it was Esmeralda's magic. If the other woman was also a witch maybe they were forming some kind of crazy coven. That had to be it, Regina and magic. Now that made sense.
Henry, unconcerned by the tension in the room, walked up to Regina and peeked at the lasagna she was cutting into manageable pieces.
"How do you know her?"
His question was met with another small smile, and Emma was pretty sure she had never seen Regina smile quite so much. Then again, she was always less reserved around Henry. Her face always softened and her body language relaxed unconsciously. If there was anyone in the world who could cut through Regina's bullshit it was Henry.
"Esmeralda took care of me when I was a little girl. I haven't seen her in many years."
Oh. Emma realized, that made sense. She had been Regina's nanny. The Mary Poppins to her Jane Banks. Wait, was there a real Mary Poppins? Emma shook her head to clear it. One nagging question wouldn't go away, though. If Esmeralda cared enough about Regina to find her now, where the hell had she been while The Evil Queen had been being well, evil? Why come back now? Furthermore what kind of woman would leave a child alone with Cora?
"Is she evil like you?"
Henry's question stopped Emma's thoughts cold. She opened her mouth to reprimand him, but was beaten to the punch by Regina.
There wasn't anger in the other woman's voice, though. Not even a firm parental tone. She was shocked and hurt and it showed. How many times had Henry told Regina she was evil? Too many to count, probably.
"Esmeralda is not evil."
Her voice was emphatic and left no room for argument. Emma couldn't help but notice that she said nothing in her own defense. Had Henry called her evil enough times that she didn't even deny it anymore?
"So what's the secret ingredient in this, poison?"
Leroy's jab, and it was definitely meant to be mean-spirited, broke the tension. It allowed the status quo, as messed up as it was, to be re-established.
"Red pepper flakes-gives it a little kick."
Regina had recovered, and her tone had reverted to normal. It dripped with sarcasm and regal disdain, just like everyone expected. Leroy huffed, but took his portion of lasagna with no further complaint.
Henry and Regina distributed the food with no further words, mother and son working together in a quiet cooperation born of years of practice. When the food was distributed Henry took his plate, that had an suspiciously large slab of lasagna on it, and sat back with Leroy and the dwarves without another glance at his mother. Conversations started up again. Archie made his way over to Esmeralda to talk. Aurora and Mulan were talking to Aurora's parents. Aurora's smile could light up a room, but Mulan looked as stiff as she had ever been. Belle, dressed in a red skirt and a flowing white shirt, was still beside Ruby, her hand had drifted down to the crook of the other woman's elbow. Ruby, lean and mean in solid black, was obviously having a serious conversation with her grandmother. . Everyone was having a good time. Emma finished her plate, and shot a quick glance over at the counter but was disappointed to find that there was no lasagna left-only tacos. She had to figure out how she could convince Regina to make some more of that. She turned to the booth that Regina had been sitting at by herself, but found it empty. She turned around and caught a slender form in a black coat silently sliding out the door.
Emma looked around and found Henry listening to David and Esmeralda was with Granny behind the counter where the older woman was explaining the new-fangled invention of the modern stove. No one had noticed that Regina had left, or if they had they said nothing.
Damn it. She put her beer down and set off after the wayward ex-mayor.
AN2: More party "fun" in the next chapter. Also, yes, Snow was Cora'd. I always thought the show could have done so much more with Cora. Updates may slow down for a while. Finals are coming up and let's just say if I don't ace my Spanish final my goose is cooked.