She smelled coffee. Not the kind of vending machine crap she was used to from the station that tasted like someone concocted liquid misery spiked with boredom, but real coffee made with real coffee beans, served in a real cup. She also smelled apple pie and all the signs of domesticity.
The bed she woke up in had different sheets. Not only were they ironically enough generally whiter than Snow White's Whiter Than The Fairytale Royalty Evening Cuddle Snuggers™, Emma was almost 89% sure she had fallen asleep face first in a chocolate stain. (Seriously. It was chocolate. This needed to be clarified because Emma's mother's mortified expression upon the discovery put all the True Blood scare faces to shame. It ranked right up there with "Leroy is dating a who again?" and "These people approve of gay what again?")
"Dear, you're going to be late for work. Again."
In a split second, the position of the heavyweight horrified expression champ fell to Emma. Images of the previous night flashed through her sleep-hazed mind, but although there was no doubt some gin and maybe absinthe were involved, she was fairly certain she had no recollection of going home with the ex-mayor. Or being vaguely interested in going home with the ex-mayor. Or appearing anywhere close to the ex-mayor. Her eyes widened as she became increasingly aware of the fact she was wearing exactly zero articles of clothing. "I'm sorry, what?" she stuttered and pulled the sheets farther up.
Regina stood in the doorway. She was sporting a power suit that was probably worth more than Emma's soul and a pair of shoes with heels that must have pierced through the surface of the Earth and channeled the power of Lucifer, Regina's master, because for the life of her, Emma could not in her right mind come up with a scenario where this could be happening, except maybe in a tasteless dream.
That was it. She was dreaming.
Or she was being majorly bullshitted. Both would work.
"Your stalling skills have been lacking lately. I made coffee and breakfast for you downstairs so that I don't have to listen to the council complain about how hard at work our tax dollars are. I trust you'll take care of the rest. And don't forget to pick up Henry after school," Regina said and turned to leave, her feet clicking on the stairs of the mayoral mansion.
"Wait, Regina!" Emma called out, but the woman in question was already two feet out the door.
She tried pinching herself. Multiple times. Her arm, the bridge of her nose, hell even her cheek – and that shit was painful alright. Yet there she was, positively naked in Regina Mills's bed in Regina Mills's house in what was apparently still Regina Mills's town. O-kay. There was no way in the seven hells she was staying anywhere close to this place, so she started looking for her clothes. Judging by how much she ached all over, she guessed her hopes that not all of them had been torn to shreds the night before would be prematurely snuffed out. She found them in Regina's closet.
Hold on, let's do that part again.
Emma found her clothes in Regina's closet. Folded. And her bug outside. Parked in the driveway.
Undoubtedly scarred for life, Emma Swan hopped into the car and headed straight for what she called home last time she checked. Thank god it was still Snow's day off, which meant she would be there – along with Charming. (Did people even go to work after the curse broke?) Honestly, Emma must have looked like crap, because the first thing Snow did was whisper "Oh dear," and immediately direct her attention to the nearest bottle of milk for Emma's morning mug of hot chocolate with cinnamon. Emma mentally slapped herself; checking the bathroom before leaving would have been a reasonable afterthought. "You look like you need to talk," her father said, raising one eyebrow at her suspiciously (please let there be no visible love marks, Emma thought) before shutting the door behind her.
Only after all three of them were seated around the table did Emma begin. "So can either of you tell me what exactly happened last night?"
Snow scrunched her face. "Honey, no offense – we accept you, we do – but there are some things we are neither entitled to know nor do we want to."
"I mean before that!"
"Emma, we didn't see you yesterday. Are you alright?" her father asked.
"Wait – all day? We haven't seen each other all day?"
"We haven't seen you since you and Henry visited us – four days ago."
Emma's face fell. This was her home. This had always been her only home. Did she lose that? When did she lose that? And most importantly – how did she lose that?
Sensing the apprehension in his daughter, Charming came up with the only valid explanation for her sudden amnesia problem. "Did Regina put some magic mojo on you? Did she threaten you?" he slammed his fist on the table and rose from his chair, no doubt to go sign up for the nearest witch hunt. The impact made hot chocolate spill over the edges of Emma's mug.
"James!" Snow yelled, dragging her husband back into his seat.
"David, no! No, it's nothing like that! Why does everything have to exist because of magic with you? Every single damn time something unpleasant happens, magic must have done it! I lose my keys, they must have been magicked away! Hey Emma, did you oversleep this morning? Magic made your alarm stop working! No! This is not one of your creepy ass Disney retellings! Magic isn't a god damn solution!" Emma was on her feet now, her nostrils flaring. Every time. And there was no room for discussion with these people. On second thought, she got so fired up over one sentence this might as well have been the reason why she'd lost her home and everything that belonged in it. She couldn't stand – ugh – the mere notion that…! No. Her blood pumped hot and fast in her veins. Okay, so Regina wasn't an A+ honor student in moral class. Yeah, Emma might have wanted to bitch slap the woman once or twenty or thirty times. Maybe bend her over the desk and give her a good lesson that one time. Wait, no, scratch that, that never happened. In any case, surely there was a completely natural explanation for why she couldn't for the love of god almighty—
She was putting the woman on a pedestal and she knew it. After all, Regina could spirit her memory away with a flick of her wrist. But why? Why now? What motive would she have? And why, of all things, make it look like they'd just had the best sex of Emma's life? Not that Emma objected. Well, she did a little. But damn. But no. But damn.
After a great deal of self-reprimanding, Emma noted the two wide pairs of eyes staring into her soul. "What?"
"Since when do you call me David?"
"We may have our disagreements, but I'm still your father. You'd better not forget about that."
"I'm not denying—" Before she could finish the sentence, Emma was silenced by a pair of arms pulling her close.
"Look, I'm sorry. Try to understand that seeing you with her isn't exactly easy for us to swallow, but we're trying. You're our daughter, and whatever it is that you're working through we can figure out together, okay? Okay?"
"Okay!" Emma whined, pushing him away. Her father just grabbed her shoulders and held her in place.
"No, Emma, I'm serious. Okay?"
Emma glanced over at the brunette who had apparently decided this was meant to be a father-daughter bonding moment. It would have been a hell of a lot less awkward without her in the room. Or, you know, if she could remember a single time she called this man 'dad'. To be fair, David and she hadn't had as much alone time as your typical family members separated for 28 years next door probably would. Snow watched them from a safe, hug-free distance, motioning for Emma to agree to her father's terms. Unlike Emma, she seemed to be actually enjoying this, like Christmas. Or a pizza delivery for discount price. When did they become such a… well… family?
Emma smiled as she rolled the word around in her mind. Family. Not bad, actually. She might be able to get used to that. "Okay," she said and watched herself run back into his embrace – towards security, childhood innocence and home. "Just don't say that magic did it."
Yeah, she could get used to that.
The streets whizzed by on her way to the school. The Savior wondered how her life got turned upside down and how her supposed involvement with Regina had anything to do with it. When she asked her yellow bug, it gave no answers. Still, she couldn't say she minded all that much. There was no imminent danger tapping on her shoulder. She got her family. She was about to spend time with her son. Regina didn't fireball her ass to hell earlier in the morning, even though Emma's scars tainted her chamber of secrets, if you know what Emma meant. Hoped. Thought, whatever. Yeah. Still, there was a rapping, incessant rapping at the door of her conscience.
Perhaps this was who she was. Perhaps she was so used to being threatened and tossed around that she became suspicious of the idea of peace. Perhaps she had been forged for battle and now that there was no war to be fought, she felt she'd lost her purpose. Perhaps this was just plain old Emma Swan.
These suspicions did not go away. Not when she picked her son up from school, nor when she tried to drop him off at Regina's without ever mentioning the events of the morning and definitely not when Regina entered the car and waited in the passenger seat.
"So where are we going?" piped Henry in the back.
Emma was about to ask what he meant – she was just dropping him off as per their agreement, wasn't she? – but a stern look from Regina made her mouth run dry. Nope, she was definitely not going to ask anything unless she was dying to have her heart impaled on a skewer.
"Henry, would you wait in the car for a few moments? Your mother and I need to go get something from the house," Regina said.
Emma knew better than to object to being dragged out of the car and into the mayoral mansion.
'Your mother and I'?
"Did you forget?" Regina yelled as soon as the door shut behind them.
"Henry's birthday. We're supposed to take him out for lunch. Did you forget?"
Crap. No. Today wasn't Henry's birthday. She was positive Henry's birthday was in two months at least, but try to explain that to a fuming witch who looks about as ready to deal with your bullshit as a blue fairy on steroids. Emma stepped back systematically and too soon felt the cold jab of the handle in her lower back. She'd always pictured a more honorable end for herself, to be honest. Bullet-time slow-motion, dramatic explosions in the background, that kind of stuff. She braced herself and waited for the inevitable incineration – except it never came.
When she opened her eyes, the Regina staring back at her was nowhere near the fuming evil witch she'd expected to see. She was the mayor, not the evil queen. She was human, not a made up, villainized caricature of herself. She was… concerned. Almost like she… cared.
"You would never forget Henry's birthday, not even on your most charming days," Regina scoffed. "What's the matter with you?" she asked, running a hand along Emma's arm.
"I just, uh, I'm having a little difficulty grasping the concept of time passing today, that's all," she said, offering a crooked smile. Why pick Regina to be the one to speak truthfully with? Well, no offense to her parents or Henry, but Regina knew a thing or two about magic. That's assuming she didn't cause this in the first place. Or would ever be interested in helping her out. A long shot is better than no shot, right?
"Are you feeling sick? Or do you think it's magic?"
"It's not—" Emma began before stopping abruptly.
She had fallen asleep face first in a chocolate stain.
"Maybe, I don't—I don't know. You tell me. Why are we both taking Henry out to lunch, why does it feel like today is not today and why the hell do you care if I'm feeling sick?"
Somehow, somewhere, a mirror shattered. Emma used to do this all the time when she was a child. She would walk past a mirror or glass, see her own reflection, calloused and helpless, and take a good hard look at it. She would take in the cuts on its face and arms and the band-aids that covered them. Then she would take the nearest solid object and slam it into the mirror. She would beat the reflection to a pulp every time, every hit more powerful than the last. Every time, she would leave more lacerations, have to run for more band-aids and, if she wasn't cautious, bandages. Eventually, it had been made rather clear to her that her contempt for glass was unhealthy. That didn't make her stop. It only made her kick that much harder and scream that much louder at the reflections in her mind – like the particularly pitiful one she kept seeing before her eyes in this moment, bemused and unsure and utterly despicable.
"Because I love you," Regina answered through the tears in her eyes like it was the most natural thing in the world. Was it enough? The mayor didn't know. It had never been before.
Out of all the questions on her mind, Emma asked only one: "Why?"
Out of all the answers she could have chosen, Regina said: "Don't we deserve it?"
The next thing Emma knew was the touch of tenderness of lips on her own. She closed her eyes, tears spilling over as she let her inner demons be soothed by the unforeseen comfort of Regina's presence this close to her. She bled into the kiss; from the cuts and bruises marring the reflection she'd set out to destroy, a new one came to life – that of a regal brunette with a supporting hand on her shoulder. She held onto this woman and pulled her close, willing her to stay just a bit longer, even though no move that implied otherwise had been made. It was gentle. It was maddening. It was needed. It was entirely too good to be true.
The stain she saw before she fell asleep – it wasn't chocolate, was it?
The paleness of Snow's face when she discovered it – that wasn't an overreaction, was it?
She held Regina's face in her hands, wiping the tears with her thumbs, and pulled away. On second thought, she should have lingered a little longer. Now all that remained was a fading hope not to be rekindled, no matter how much she hoped to find proof in the woman before her. No matter how much she begged for this to be her life, the tingling sensation still left in her lips told her what she'd known all along. "You're not real, are you?"
Regina's reflection shook her head.
Somebody call 911!
Oh god—Emma—it's Emma! James! Help!
Get out of there! You're not helping!
Henry, get back!
Emma opened her eyes. Something rough and sharp bit into her cheek. She saw a world dyed red with one eye, but her right eye recognized the broken windshield and the bloodied stain smeared over the steering wheel. Outside, a petite woman was screaming her name. She held onto the reflection in her mind and fell asleep for just a little while longer.
"I won't let you out of my sight ever again. Do you realize how scared we were, Emma? Do you realize you could have died?"
David was leaning on the foot of her hospital bed, his face the color of the sky at twilight. He had been taking out his frustration on her for the past half an hour, if not more. What else is there to do when your daughter gets drunk off her ass and makes a beeline for the front door of the abandoned mayoral mansion in her car? What else is there to do when you know, somewhere behind the pride and your own happy ending, that your daughter was fully aware that she could have died?
"Where's Henry?" Emma asked. Her body ached all over.
"It's Wednesday. He wanted to bring flowers to Regina's grave. I called to tell him you're awake, so he should be here soon."
It took so much time for it to occur to her that if she were to go where Regina had gone, away from everybody else's happiness, she would have to work for it. No one else was going to send her there. No one but Emma Swan was still, after all this time, at war. How ironic; four years of peace and suffocating bitterness later, she found herself unable to do Regina's job properly. "I'm sorry, dad."
David frowned, looming over her like a clear mirror.
"Since when do you call me dad?"
(PS: It was Wednesday for a reason.)