Chapter 1: June
Warning for one micro-aggression made toward Regina.
“Son of a bitch,” Emma grumbled under her breath as she itched around the gauze covering her forearm. Directing her bright yellow bike with her uninjured right arm as she walked beside it, she followed the wide ramp down from the sidewalk and through the open garage door.
A resounding thunk from the Foosball table sounded across the open room, and familiar laughter greeted her from all directions as she entered the warehouse floor of White Horse Courier.
“Ouch,” Ruby hissed, reaching out to touch the uninjured skin of Emma’s forearm. “Heard it on Granny’s radio. You OK?”
Huffing, Emma walked past her co-worker and headed to her locker against the far wall. She leaned her bike against a nearby pole and tugged her helmet off, dropping it to the bench beside her. “Cabbie doored me,” Emma bit out, anger at the incident still leaving her skin hot. “I was taking a right on Beacon and the bastard in front of me just stops and flings his door open. I caught my arm on the edge of the frame and sliced it,” she fumed, flinging open her locker.
“That’s a bitch, Em,” Ruby winced sympathetically, and opened the locker beside hers. “You get it checked out?” The warped metal panel of the door bowed with the movement, disturbing the photos that lined the inside. Pictures of Ruby and various co-workers and friends (some Emma knew, most she didn’t) fluttered, magnets and tape keeping them from falling.
A small pang of loneliness struck Emma low, as she looked to her own locker, the panel barren but for a photo of her, Ruby, and David. “Yeah,” she murmured, hating days like this, where everything went wrong and problems that were normally so benign seemed like they could eat you up. “Wasn’t deep, not even stitches.” She unbuckled the front of her messenger bag and dropped it to the floor beside her.
Ruby slipped her jacket off and hung it on her hook. “Still sucks,” she offered, and Emma let the conversation settle as she sat down to pull her knee pads off. It was after six in the evening on an early-start Friday, and her body ached from the high amount of runs she’d done. Emma was more than ready for this day - this week - to be over.
As she slipped off her sneakers for her favorite boots, a familiar wolf-whistle sounded out behind her. “You know that’s just cruel,” Neal said playfully, popping open his locker beside a now-shirtless Ruby.
“And you know I’m game if you are,” Ruby teased right back, standing confidently in her too-short shorts and black bra.
Emma resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but barely. She and Neal had broken up a few months ago after a short fling, and she knew that was just how Neal and Ruby were together, obnoxiously flirtatious with absolutely zero follow-through. Still, today it made her skin itch with irritation. “Get a room,” she growled, tugging hard on the laces of her boots.
There was silence, Emma’s eyes still focused on her shoes, and then Ruby explained, “Bad run,” like it wasn’t a bad run on a bad week on a tight paycheck with a million other things making her prickly.
“Ah,” Neal said, in the way that made her remember why they didn’t last more than a few months. “Sounds like you need a drink, Em. Rabbit Hole?”
“Not tonight,” she shook her head and stood, shrugging off her red leather jacket and hanging it on the hook. Her t-shirt was sticking to her like a second skin, and all she wanted was a shower, a beer, and to completely crash on her couch. Preferably in that order, but she was flexible at this point.
Ruby pulled a fresh shirt over her head and turned to Emma, closing her locker and leaning against it. “Well, you know where to find us if you change your mind. David left early, he’s gonna meet us there later.”
Emma took a deep breath and offered her friend a small but genuine smile. Ruby knew when to push her, but most importantly, she knew when notto push her. “Thanks,” she nodded, and at Neal’s hesitant look behind her, she nodded to him, too. “You guys have fun.”
“Take it easy this weekend, Emma,” Neal said, just a touch too authoritatively, and Emma suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, small wounds still lingering from their relationship.
Instead, she headed back toward the bathroom, where she could wash her hands and face, get some of the grime off until she could make it home for a full shower. The door slammed shut, echoing in the empty room, and she put the fresh shirt down on the sink before pulling the damp one off. It was nearly the end of June and the weather was still mild, but she’d made almost thirty runs today and the sun had been out and bright.
She felt disgusting and tired, and she ran her hands under the cold sink water before cupping some to bring up to her face. It helped, marginally, and she let her chilled hands rest on the back of her neck for a moment, bringing her temperature down.
Suddenly weary, the adrenaline and anger having tempered now, Emma tugged on the clean shirt and headed back to her locker to get her bag, her bike, and head home.
The garage was almost empty when she got back, the few riders that had hung back for that last run having given it up. She figured they were all down at the bar by now, relaxing and smiling, and normally that would be her, too. Emma even felt a bit bad, now that she was calmer, about turning the others down; Ruby and David were just about the only people in the world that could get her to smile after a bad day.
Emma tossed her sweaty shirt down on the bench and pulled her jacket back on.“Swan!” A deep bark rang out across the garage, pulling the focus of the few messengers still in the room.
Turning, Emma zipped up her jacket and saw Granny standing behind the counter, gesturing her over. With a small groan, she walked the short distance over to the desk, empty package bins lining the walls of the area behind Granny. “Yeah?” she prompted.
“Just got a call for a double rush, I need you to take it.”
Emma laughed hollowly. “No way in hell, I’m done for the day.” At Granny’s impatient look, Emma gestured to Leroy, Walter, and Tom, sitting around the TV in the corner. “Put one of them on it. You know Leroy needs the money.”
Granny put one hand on her hip. “This is an important one, Emma. I need speed and I need customer service,” she said the latter warily, both of them recognizing that it wasn’t exactly Emma’s strong suit.
“After a day like today there’s a chance I’ll be just as belligerent as he ever is,” she nodded toward the scowling driver as he listened to his companions across the room. Granny pulled her wire glasses from her nose and let them drop down to rest against her chest.
“I don’t have time to argue with you about this, Emma. That new biochem research center just got up and running, and they’re giving us a shot for a contract if we make this delivery,” Granny leveled Emma with an even stare. “I’ll give you the full cut of this run if you take it, deal?”
Emma shifted, her shoulders and back aching. Still, it meant an extra twenty bucks or so, and she was in no position to pass that up right now. “Yeah, I guess,” she murmured, tilting her head back and forth to stretch out her neck.
“You need to pick up the package before 6:30,” Granny said, and gestured toward the open door, “so you better get going. Lacey’ll give you a call on the radio.”
Emma turned and picked up her bag still sitting on the floor beside her locker, and flung it across her chest, pulling the strap tight. She adjusted the radio that still sat on it’s spot on the front of the strap, and shut her locker quickly.
Snapping her helmet on, Emma swung up onto her bike and rode out of the garage, her back tensing as she slipped one headphone into her ear. Squinting in the still-bright sunlight, she looked down at her watch and saw that it was 6:22; less than eight minutes to make the first part of the run.
As she pulled out of the parking lot, Emma heard, “Em?” come through the radio headphone.
Smiling at the thick accent, Emma pressed her radio and responded. “Yeah, Lace, Granny caught me. Where’s the pick up?”
“Harvard Vanguard on Milk Street.” Emma kicked off and started to cut across the few parking lots near the garage.
“That’s a ten minute ride, Lace,” she held the radio down, wincing as the injured skin of her forearm pulled with the motion.
“Yep, and Congress is a mess right now, backed all the way up. Can you cut under the turnpike?”
Emma navigated her bike with a sharp turn, and leaned forward. “We’ll find out,” she replied, and picked up her speed. “Granny said the drop off is where that pharmaceutical company used to be, right?”
“Yeah, just reopened as some kind of lab. It's on Columbus; need the address?”
Smiling, Emma shook her head. “Nah, I’ve passed it before. Thanks.” They weren’t close, exactly, but Emma got along with Lacey pretty well; she was a rider before she took the job as a dispatcher, and both she and David still picked up runs now and then. It kept things calm at the garage, mitigated some of the rank issues, and according to David, it kept him from forgetting you can’t plan everything.
“Ruby’s texting me from the Rabbit Hole. She says to tell you that band you like is playing. And they have wings. And she’s buying the next round.”
“Subtle,” Emma rolled her eyes, and swerved away from a pothole. “I’ll check in when I’ve made the drop, Lace, and tell Ruby I’m just not feeling it,” she said.
“Roger,” Lacey said, a smile in her voice, and Emma gripped the handlebars with both hands.
Cutting under the turnpike usually shaved a good three or four minutes off of her ride, but it wasn’t ideal, considering the train tracks that ran wide across the area. Emma slipped her headphone off and stuffed it into her jacket pocket, focusing on the traffic around her.
She could hear a train in the distance, but the tracks were clear in the immediate area, and she cut across them, her stomach clenching like it always did. There were biking horror stories about taking such shortcuts, and she hated to say it, but they never failed to spring to mind and leave her on edge in moments like this.
Sailing down an empty street again, Emma glanced down at her watch: 6:26. Picking up the pace, she cut down side streets and through a few parking lots, the sun hitting her every now and then as it started to set.
Time was counting down, but fortunately she knew the area, and she’d picked up from the site several times before. White Horse didn’t hold any medical contracts - not for a lack of trying on Granny’s part - but they still got the occasional legal document, or data files to deliver from the medical centers in the area. After all, this part of the city was littered with them.
At 6:28, Emma rounded the front of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and headed back to the service entrance. She jumped off her bike and leaned it against the wall, pulling at the service door and pushing a few stray hairs away from her face.
“John?” she called out as she headed down the hallway toward the offices down there.
“I was just shutting down,” an older man stepped into the hallway as she neared, a ring of keys in his hand and a manilla envelope in the other. "Haven't seen you in a while," he said gruffly as she took the package, and pulled the office door shut to lock it.
"Maybe that's about to change," she held the envelope up before she spun her bag around to slip it into the main pocket. "Have a good weekend," she tossed over her shoulder as she turned.
She tightened the strap as she readjusted the bag and walked outside, slipping back onto her bike and kicking off down the street.
Emma hadn't even been to the pharmaceutical building when it had been open years ago, but she'd passed it a million times as a messenger over the past few years. Construction crews had popped up around it in the past few months, and Emma had heard Granny talking about it to Ruby back in March. The messenger bars had been abuzz on and off, too, since medical contracts were so big in the business; HIPAA laws made it nearly impossible to send certain data files or medical records digitally, and with such short time frames for medical specimens to be transported riders made an easy and cheap alternative.
Glancing down at her watch, Emma bit her lip and picked up the pace. Despite the fatigue that was leaving her legs feeling like lead, she knew she had to do this, and do this well. Not only was it a point of pride - she was the best courier they had - but Granny had done a lot for her when she'd first moved to Boston, gave her a job and a place to crash, and Emma didn’t forget that kind of thing.
She rode down the street, her eyes narrowing as she caught sight of the jam up ahead. Traffic was tight, the sidewalks too crowded to even cut down a block there. Thinning her lips, she peddled backward a bit, slowing herself down as she eyed a driver to her right.
Instead of continuing on, the driver slowed, too, and Emma groaned before she pushed forward, cutting in front of the car to turn right. She shook her head at the sound of the horn, and took off down the fortunately clear alley, all too aware of how close she was cutting the delivery.
Catching sight of Stuart Street, Emma grinned triumphantly, knowing a shortcut that cut almost clear over to Columbus. She rose from the seat, peddling hard, the movement making the bike move from side to side slightly.
Nearly clear of the block, a garbage truck drove down the alleyway ahead of her and stopped. The side of the truck blocked her exit, and she pulled back quickly, dropping her feet to the gravel to brace herself.
The adrenaline coursing through her felt warm and urgent, and she sucked in a breath before she stood up from the seat and with barely a moment of hesitation, threw her track bike into the bed of the truck, just barely visible from her angle.
She was quick to follow, hoisting herself up and into the cushion of bags, and landing not-so-gracefully between two especially full - and possibly torn - bags.
“Hey!” she heard the collector yell at her as she pulled herself from the garbage, and tugged her bike out right behind her.
“Sorry,” she threw over her shoulder, wincing as she caught a whiff of what must have been an old banana peel. Jumping back on the bike she tore down the rest of the alley, brushing at her shoulders quickly to dispel any remnants of the trash that may have clung to her.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she turned onto Columbus, and caught sight of the recently renovated offices. The entire building gleamed, wide windows taking up the majority of the walls, and large silver letters spelled out Mills across the top of the skyscraper.
Emma scanned for signs of a service entrance, but couldn't see one. A double rush delivery meant drop off in less than twenty minutes, and glancing at her watch, Emma barely had one to spare. She pulled up to the bike rack that sat in the front of a large gold plated sign reading Boston Center for Biochemical Research and Development.
Locking her bike quickly from her years of practice, Emma pulled her bag tight and ran up the few stairs leading to a large set of glass doors. With a strong pull the door slid open, and she slipped inside, immediately catching sight of the front desk that sat in the middle of the open floor. As she neared the counter, she could see the woman that sat behind it; a mousy-looking thing with a headset across her pixie-cut hair.
“No, Mr. Gold, I can promise you that is not the case.” She was worrying her lip, and the fingers of one hand were tangled in the phone cord that lay across the desk. Emma popped one leg out, waiting for the woman to finish. “She’s not available right now, actually. I can transfer you to her voicemail, but—" her thin lips snapped together as she listened with a furrowed brow.
As she waited, Emma pulled her helmet off, the added pressure and heat of it giving her a headache. Her clean shirt was already feeling too sticky, her hair limp from the effort she'd exerted, and she grimaced as it slid across her back when she reached into her bag for the envelope. At movement, the receptionist looked up, and Emma held up the package, letting her pack fall back into place and tucking her helmet under her arm.
The receptionist gestured up, and Emma looked around, expecting a sign, or more instructions. There were none, and when Emma looked at the receptionist expectantly she looked frazzled and began to twist the cord harder.
“No, I'm not sure when she'll have a chance to look them over,” her face grew more panicked, and Emma looked at her watch impatiently. It was pushing 6:45, and Emma was so far past ready to be done for the day. Riding in her boots had been a mistake, and her calves ached from the pressure the laces had put on her flexed muscles.
Not willing to wait any longer, Emma leaned forward, resting her palms flat on the counter of the desk. “Hey, I have a delivery here,” she glanced down at the name, “for Dr. Mills?” she whispered, interrupting the wide-eyed receptionist’s call. "Can you sign?"
She shook her head, but this time covered the mouthpiece of her headset and whispered, “Nineteenth floor,” before she resumed her call.
Effectively dismissed - and beyond frustrated that the receptionist hadn't just taken the package, Emma walked around the desk and headed to the elevators against the far wall. She rang the call button and tried to blow air at her face, warm from her quick ride and feeling disgusting all over. As she waited for the car, she hooked her helmet on the strap of her bag and let it dangle beside her hip. The doors opened and Emma slipped inside, her free hand unzipping the leather coat she'd stupidly worn, and brushed her hair away from her face.
Again she could smell some kind of leftover something from her stint in the back of the garbage truck, and she prayed she could stay standing long enough to take a shower before she passed out. The elevator car rose three feet before it stopped, and Emma braced her hand on the railing around the middle of the car, stretching one leg out as voices drifted toward her.
"...I've read the articles and understand the basis, but she has to realize this project is a long shot, and putting such a big team on it is a waste," a round-faced redhead stepped into the elevator, walking to other side of the elevator and turning around to face her companion.
"Her research background is adequate, but she doesn't know how to run a company," said a short frog-faced man that had followed her in. Both wore white lab coats - a bit rumpled from hours of wear - and tired expressions as they stood side by side.
The redhead had her hair pulled back into a ponytail, a few shorter tendrils frizzing out, and the man had silver hair and wore a bowtie and sweatervest. "I understand staying late when we're nearing the end of a project, but I haven't made it home on time once all week, and we're nowhere near a milestone," the redhead whined. Emma tried not to eavesdrop, to ignore them, but her eyes fell to the reflective doors and from them she could read the woman's labcoat: Dr. Triton. Her brow furrowed and she looked to the man beside her.
The man scoffed and put his hands in his pockets as the doors slid open again on the sixteenth floor. "She doesn't know what she's doing," he reiterated, and stuck a hand out to let the other doctor pass by. "You don't just get a company and become a CEO. At least you shouldn't," his voice lowered as he walked out behind her down the hall and out of Emma's sight line.
Emma breathed out as she was left alone in the car once more, and she looked down at the package in her hands as she waited for the door to close. ATTN: CEO, Dr. MIlls.
Shaking her head slightly, she shifted feet and watched the numbers rise to the nineteenth floor. Almost there, Emma told herself, thinking of the few steps that stood between her and her shower, her bed: delivery and signature, call in to Lacey, and a five minute bike ride back to the apartment.
She was so close. The elevator dinged and Emma slipped past the opening doors. The hallway was quiet, but she could hear gentle ringing and a low voice to her left, and she pulled her pack forward as she headed in that direction.
A front desk sat just around a corner at the end of the short hallway, and Emma could see a few desks behind it, all empty for the night. About twenty feet back there was a long frosted glass office on the wall to the right, and Emma could see the outline of a figure moving around in the lit room. Squinting, she was pretty sure the placard beside the open door read Regina Mills, Ph.D.
“That is not what we’d discussed,” a clipped tone sounded from the desk, and Emma looked over at the woman tucked behind the black marble counter. Her back was turned toward Emma, and she stood with one palm flat on the counter, fingers spread and knuckles white. Her other hand clenched the handset of the phone she was using, and her shoulders were tense in her slightly leaned-forward state.
Eyes widening briefly at the dangerous tone of her voice, Emma reached into her bag to pull out her XDA, and pulled up the information to take a signature for the delivery.
“That has nothing to do with this. Your contract was with her company, and when I took over all prior arrangements-” her voice cut off, and Emma watched as she stood up straight, tucking one arm against the high waistband of her black pencil skirt and leaning back against the counter, almost sitting on it.
Her short black hair was in perfect place, but the discarded suit coat on the back of the chair and the rumpled red silk blouse she wore spoke of a too-long day.
Shifting uncomfortably, Emma cleared her throat a bit, hoping to catch her attention, as it seemed this conversation would be a rather long one.
At the lack of response, she sighed, just a bit louder, but yielded similar results.
Her back aching, Emma pursed her lips a moment, and eyed the frosted glass office. Speed was obviously a priority for the CEO, and Emma was all-too ready to jump at any alternative that could get her on her way.
Just as she began to round the corner of the desk, the secretary growled, and slammed the phone down onto the cradle. Emma stood, watching the display, and smirking just a bit at the moment of surprise that registered on the other woman’s face as she noticed Emma.
It was gone in a second, replaced by a calm facade that would have worked, had Emma not just witnessed pure frustration in the woman’s every movement. Still, she straightened up and smoothed her hands over her hips, the silk of her sleeveless blouse reflecting under the overhead lights. Clearing her throat, the woman dropped her hands to her sides and stood confidently. “May I help you?”
Emma bumped her pack back with her shoulder, and held up the envelope. “Delivery for Dr. Mills,” she gestured toward the office in the back.
The woman followed her gaze, one brow raising before she looked back at Emma, appraising her carefully. “I was told a double rush order would be here in twenty minutes or less,” she said coolly, and gestured to the clock on the wall beside them.
Looking over, Emma saw the face reading 6:45, just a few minutes past the twenty minute deadline. Eyes narrowing slightly, Emma licked her lips. “Yeah, it’s just a couple minutes past,” she said, and shifted her weight to one hip.
Tilting her chin up slightly she repeated, “Twenty minutes or less,” and Emma felt her head start to pound. What a way to end the day.
“Well, it’s a twenty three minute route, you know,” Emma shrugged, desperate for the woman to just accept the package and let her go. “The girl in the lobby told me to come up here. So, uh, can you sign, or should I take it to your boss?” she gestured again to the office in the back.
The woman pursed her lips, and held out her hand for the signature pad. “Your company shouldn’t promise what you can’t deliver,” she said condescendingly, and Emma felt her skin prickle in irritation.
“Well, maybe if you’d turned around two minutes ago you would have seen me standing here on time, waiting for your call to end,” she bit back, and inwardly winced. I tried to warn her, Emma thought, knowing Granny would give her an earful for this, if she didn’t outright fire her. Granny had put up with a lot of her shit over the years, but there had to be a line somewhere.
“And if your company gave a whit about its reputation, maybe they should have sent someone with an iota of professionalism,” she quirked a brow, taking the XDA with a plastic smile.
Emma smacked the envelope down on the counter; she was in no mood for this. “Look, just sign the damn box so you can take this to your boss, OK? I’m assuming it was rush for a reason.” The woman signed the XDA forcefully and looked up at Emma, eyes narrowed. “And I get the feeling you don’t have all that many strikes left with a self-centered attitude like yours.”
The receptionist's eyes flickered dangerously as she thrust the XDA back to Emma, her lip twisted into an almost imperceptible snarl. The action bared her teeth slightly, and a slow smile crossed her mouth.
“And I have a feeling something similar could be said for you, dear.” Emma reached for the device and pulled it to her, fingers tightening instantly. “Perhaps I should give your office a call and let them know that the package arrived with an unsolicited delivery of attitude.”
Emma gritted her teeth, her jaw grinding. “Why don’t you?” She was making it worse, she knew she was making it worse and that Granny really needed this account. But she couldn’t stop.
This infuriating woman was stoking a fire of irritation that had been burning all day long, and Emma couldn’t get out of her own way if she wanted to.
“Do you have a name?" she asked, lifting the phone from its cradle. "Or do you suppose they’ll know who I mean when I refer to the messenger with all of the charm of a rat and none of the manners?”
“It’s Emma Swan,” she leaned her hands on the cool marble, not backing down from the insult. “And be sure to let them know that I escaped your venom unscathed,” she threw back.
Full lips curled into an amused sort-of-cruel smile, and the woman leaned back, her eyes scanning every inch of Emma in a way that felt far too personal. “Swan?” She asked, brows raised.“How...inappropriate for such a graceless thing.”
Narrowing her eyes again, Emma opened her mouth, but movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. The light flicked off in the CEO’s office, and a custodian wheeled a large trash barrel out of the room, before shutting the door.
Scanning the rest of the office briefly, Emma turned her focus back to the woman in front of her, and felt a cold sense of dread. Looking down, her fears were confirmed by the XDA in her hand that read Regina Mills in elegant script.
Fuck. Me. Emma closed her eyes, and shut the device down, before licking her lips and looking back up at the other woman. “You’re Dr. Mills?” Emma asked evenly, her tone belying her anger at the way the CEO let her go on like an idiot, at the shit day that was ending on an even shittier note, and at herself for her complete lack of self-control.
“I am,” the woman answered, and Emma couldn’t be sure, but she thought she detected a brief hint of disappointment in the answer.
Emma glared back at her. “Well, that’s fucking great. Thank you for the opportunity for White Horse Courier,” she said in a stilted voice, and she gave a mock salute. “Have a great weekend,” she turned without waiting another moment, and slipped her helmet off her backpack as she headed to the elevator doors.
Stabbing at the down arrow forcefully she turned, breathing out at the blocked view of the desk. Idiot, she wanted to smack herself almost as much as she did the other woman. Regina. Doctor Regina Mills.
It would have been bad enough mouthing off to her receptionist, let alone directly insulting the CEO of a company that could mean big bucks for the garage.
The doors opened achingly slow, and Emma booked it into the cab, pressing the button to close the door and slumping back against the cool wall.
Nineteen floors slid by in a shameful blur, and by the time she reached the lobby and slipped back outside to get her bike, she had decided she needed to forget it; there was nothing she could do until Granny tore her a new one on Monday.
Emma unlocked her bike and got on, pressing the button of her radio without a second thought. “Lacey,” she answered immediately.
“Package delivered. I’m heading home.” Hesitating a moment, she shifted on the seat of her bike and looked up at the top of the sleek building. “And uh, I think I’m gonna head to the Rabbit Hole after all.”
There were a lot of shitty aspects of being a courier. Like, a lot . Low pay, potentially long hours, no sick time, no benefits, no vacations (well, paid ones, anyway), constant pain, medical bills, and zero social life outside of the garage.
The thing is, when you spend eight to ten hours on a bike each day, your body has no interest in doing anything more intensive than sitting on a bar stool and lifting a bottle of beer.
Thank god it would still do that.
“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” Ruby slid onto the stool next to her and propped her head on her fist. “But you smell awful.”
Emma gave a small laugh, and picked at the label of her beer. “Gee, Rubes, how could I possibly take that the wrong way?” Ruby laughed, and Emma tilted the bottle back, emptying it.
Ruby didn’t say anything else, and Emma looked over at her, pushing the empty bottle toward the far end of the counter. “I jumped into the back of a garbage truck to get around it,” she explained, and Ruby’s mouth dropped open into a huge smile.
“That…” she shook her head, “is a new one.” Emma smiled, and gestured for another bottle - not that she had the money of course, especially after she had essentially forfeited the entire run to the biochem lab. She grimaced at the thought and pulled the fresh bottle to her, tipping it in thanks to the bartender. “I guess that answers one question, though.”
“Yeah? And what’s that?”
“If your day got any better after I left. I wondered what changed when Lacey told me you were on your way, but by the sounds of it nothing improved.” Emma rolled her shoulders forward in answer, and leaned her arms on the bar. “So, you’re drinking your sorrows away?”
“Ding dingding,” Emma said dryly, but smiled and looked over at her friend. “Is there any other way to end a day like this?” she gestured to her forearm, but that was minor, now. Ruby laughed, and picked at her own bottle, before turning away from the bar to watch Neal and Lacey play pool.
Emma stared at her profile for a long moment, and guilt started to claw at her. She felt bad for costing Granny the account, but she felt bad for Ruby, too; Ruby worked just as hard as her grandmother did to keep the business afloat, and she’d always been there for Emma in the past, no questions asked.
She figured this was what it felt like to let your family down.
Taking a pull from the bottle, Emma started to zone, until Ruby leaned forward on the bar, wide smile on her lips as she held up her phone. “Text from Granny,” she started, and shame colored Emma’s cheeks.
“Yeah?” she croaked, and tried to seem disinterested.
“I guess you don’t smell like that for nothing.” Emma eyed her, confused. “Granny says nice job, stud. We got a contract with that lab.” Emma looked over at her, face blank, and set her beer down. Ruby bounced a bit in her seat and squeezed Emma’s shoulder.
“Wait, Granny said what?”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “Well, the stud part was me. But she just texted and said that the CEO gave her a call.” Emma watched, dumbfounded, as Ruby read from her screen. “‘Very impressed with us, wants contract.’ Em, this is so great for the garage!”
Emma nodded dumbly, her brows furrowed in confusion. As she drank, she heard Ruby get up to tell the others, and she bit her lip. It should be good news, but there was something about the spark of challenge that seemed to ignite Regina Mills that left Emma more nervous than ever.
“Hey, kiddo,” David dropped down into the seat beside her, and Emma gave him a thin smile. “Heard about the arm. How is it?” he asked, gently tilting her arm for closer inspection, her jacket draped over the bar beside her.
“S’fine,” she shook her head, and pulled her arm back to the bar. Looking up at the man beside her, Emma felt some of her apprehension ebb, just like it always seemed to do in David’s presence. They’d been friends for years, almost the instant she started at White Horse, and Emma thought of him like her big brother; protective, loyal, and a massive dork.
Emma tried to let the Regina thing go, tried to shake it off, now that she was in the clear. Forcing a bigger smile, she gestured for the bartender again and signaled for a beer for David. “So, you took off early today?” she prompted, and David blushed. “Oh, man, you’ve gotta tell me now.”
David leaned in close, and eyed her carefully. “Promise not to tell?” Emma laughed at the question, just a little bitterly, and nodded. “I uh,” David leaned closer, “pulled a muscle at the race last weekend and had to go to the doctor.”
Emma tilted her head back and let out the first real laugh she’d had all day. “I told you-”
“Don’t say it, Em,” he warned playfully.
“I told you not to enter that, old man,” she smirked, and David nudged her away with his shoulder. “Senior citizens are not meant to race us kids,” she spun around on the stool, and looked over at Ruby, taking a pool cue from Lacey.
“I came in second and I’m barely older than you are,” he spun around, too, and leaned back against the bar. “Whippersnapper,” he murmured, before he took a drink of his beer.
They sat in silence for a moment before David leaned over just a bit and took a dramatic sniff. “Why do you smell like old banana bread?”
By Monday morning, Emma had completely forgotten all about her blow up with Regina Mills.
Well, maybe not completely. But she was definitely over it. A weekend to recuperate and catch up on laundry and housework and other boring adult things had worn off the fresh sting of shame she felt at the thought of her actions, and as she wheeled her bike into the garage, she barely winced at the memory.
“Morning, kiddo,” David sat behind the desk in the center of the warehouse, leaned back in his chair and a mug of coffee in his hand.
Emma smirked over at him, and the stilted way his shoulders pulled. “Morning, gramps,” she winked playfully as he scowled, and leaned her healing arm on the center of her bike. “Feeling better?”
“Hey,” David pointed a finger and looked around dramatically. “I told you to keep that to yourself. But yeah, I’ll live.”
“Good,” she smiled genuinely. “Got anything yet?”
David nudged his headset from his ear a bit and gestured to the bins across the room. “There was an oversized dropped off a few minutes ago to go to Fulton if you’re up for it?”
Looking over at the flat, rectangular package, Emma nodded. “Sure thing. Rush?”
“Yeah, it’s gotta get there by about 7:30,” he gestured to the clock on the wall showing the time to be just a little past 6:30. The rest of the warehouse was virtually bare, most of the riders being night owls that tended to roll in at about 9 on a Monday. Emma was one of the few early risers, and it paid off big time in developing a relationship with David. The two were a lot alike, and they’d clicked pretty well at the start, Emma’s work ethic and David’s loyalty going a long way to bond them.
“Sounds good. I’m gonna change and then I’ll ride out,” she tossed over her shoulder, and started to wheel over toward her locker. She popped it open and pulled her boots off, dropping them down to the ground and tugging on her sneakers.
It was already warm despite the early hour, and Emma slid her thicker sweatshirt off in exchange for the lighter zip up that hung in her locker. As she zipped it shut, she heard the all-too-familiar: “Swan!”
Groaning at her already-derailed morning, Emma kicked her boots into the bottom of her locker and shut it, pulling her bag back across her chest and turning toward the noise. “Morning Granny,” she said with a tight smile. “Problem?”
“Problem?” She asked, lips spreading into a wide smile. “Yeah, I only got one of you,” she said gruffly, and Emma felt a warmth spread through her at the - by Granny’s standards - gushing praise. She had no idea how the delivery Friday had worked out so well - and she wasn’t naive enough to just accept it - but Emma had to admit that it was a nice change of pace.
Clipping her helmet on, Emma nodded to the package bins behind Granny. “What’s up? David just gave me a rush.”
“Not anymore,” she leaned against the side of the lockers. “You have another double rush for Dr. Mills. Pick up there, this time.”
Emma felt her head begin to pound at the thought. “Uh, can’t someone else take it?”
Granny pushed away from the lockers and started to turn around. “Nope, seems you made a hell of an impression on that company,” she barked. “They want you on all their runs, as part of the deal,” she looked down her nose at Emma a moment before leaving, effectively dismissing her.
“Fucking great,” Emma mumbled, pulling her bike to her roughly and wheeling back toward the dispatcher’s desk.
David was watching her as she rolled up, eyebrows furrowed a bit. “You don’t look too happy, kiddo,” he observed.
“Not crazy about the route,” she scratched at the back of her neck and lowered her voice. “Any chance you can trade me off this one?”
David leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the desk. “Why would you want to do that? You know how many guaranteed runs you’ll get out of this deal?” he asked. “Besides, Granny already told me in no uncertain terms hell no.”
Emma thinned her lips and straddled the bike before starting to push off. “Anything to avoid yet?” she asked, back to business.
David shook his head. “Nope, normal Monday traffic.” As Emma started to pedal away, he held up a hand, “Hey Em? Something you wanna talk about?”
His question was stilted, but heartfelt, and Emma felt herself warm at the care he always showed her. “Nah,” she breathed out. “Talk later,” and she was off.
Monday morning traffic wasn’t great, but the routine of it all settled Emma’s nerves at the thought of returning to Columbus Street. It was early in the morning, and Regina was the boss; two things that Emma reminded herself of repeatedly on the ride. It wasn’t like the CEO was going to be waiting downstairs to personally hand her a package.
Really, it would more likely be the opposite, Regina not deigning to touch her with a ten-foot pole.
Besides, any business run by a person with half a brain would have the package waiting down by the service door or at the front desk. It was just a better use of time.
Emma wove in and out of traffic, cutting down a few side streets on the heavier roads. The cup of coffee she’d grabbed on the way into the garage hadn’t had much time to wake her, so the only things keeping her alert were the morning air on her skin and the heavy sense of shame that warmed her cheeks as she thought about her behavior days ago.
She couldn’t afford to drag her feet on a double rush in Boston morning traffic, but little more than pride in her work - and damn near perfect run record - was keeping her legs in motion.
Hanging a right, Emma found herself on Columbus far earlier than she was prepared. With a quick glance at the front of the building, Emma cut to the side, her bike barely fitting between the glass side of the offices and the tall shrubbery that separated the property from the neighboring pharmacy.
She wheeled around to the back of the building, looking for stairs leading down toward the service entry, but found only glass walls the entire way around. There must have been a lower level entry, one she couldn’t access from street level. Emma felt her eyes slam shut in irritation.
Of course it couldn’t be easy.
Emma slipped off of the bike seat with a groan as she neared the bike rack in the front, and locked it with practiced ease. She held on to the front of her bag, pulling it flush against her back as though it could protect her from whatever waited for her inside.
Part of her braced for a massively oversized pick up item, the kind that wouldn’t let her find any sort of balance and would almost certainly make her late for drop off. Another part of her feared recourse from a woman running a biochemical corporation; who knew what kinds of stuff she had access to?
The entrance of the building was still, with no employees slipping in for the day, and she felt her lungs ease with a breath of relief. At least she wouldn’t run into Regina down here.
Inside, she could see the same receptionist, sitting at the desk in the center of the lobby, focused downward and sipping slowly at a bright yellow mug with bumblebees on it. As Emma neared, she could see the headset she’d worn the week before was resting on a hook beside the phone, and a newspaper was laid out on the counter in front of the woman.
“Um, I’m here to pick up a package?” Emma prompted, and the woman looked up quickly. She wore a wary smile, and set the mug down.
“Good morning. It’s waiting for you upstairs,” she murmured, eyes slipping down to the mug as her fingers trailed nervously against the handle.
Emma’s brows raised as her heart began to pump faster. “Most places have pick-ups ready to go at the front desk. Or the service entrance,” she added, and her knuckles tightened on the strap of her bag.
The woman pulled her hands back from her mug and straightened at the orderly items of her desk. Emma’s eye caught the nameplate she nudged,Mary Margaret Blanchard etched in silver on the black bar. “Dr. Mills was rather insistent,” she said, evenly. “She’s waiting for you in her office.”
Emma gave a tight-lipped, entirely fake smile. “Great.” Turning, she passed by the desk and made her way to the elevators. The entire lobby was empty, not even seven in the morning yet, and Emma stepped into the empty car, leaning heavily against the wall as the door shut.
The brief memory of shame had graced her on the ride over, but now, knowing that Regina was waiting for her upstairs, that she hadn’t simply left the package in an easily accessible part of the building - like a reasonable person would have - Emma felt her cheeks begin to color with another sort of heat.
She was angry.
Emma's teeth started to grind down against each other, and she curled her fingers into fists at her side. This was some kind of game. A sick sort of payback, and Emma had no idea what awaited her upstairs.
Grinding her jaw, she readjusted her helmet, the thick plastic limiting her peripheral vision, and making her suddenly edgier.
The elevator dinged as the doors slid open, and Emma stepped out. Taking a deep breath she steeled herself, before thinning her lips and taking long strides down the short hall and around the corner, noticing that the desk Regina had occupied the previous Friday was now empty.
There were a few employees at desks in the center of the open area but everything was too quiet, too still, and she reluctantly looked over to the open office door to the right.
She could see the dark shadow of a figure at a desk, but little else, and as she walked closer to the entryway, the glass obscured even that much.
Emma raised her hand to knock on the doorframe instinctively, but stopped herself. Regina was expecting her, after all. Lifting her chin, she walked into the office, head held high, and clenched her jaw. “You ordered a pick up?”
Regina sat at a large marble desk, the rising sun filtering in through the large window and making it gleam. The entire office was decorated in stainless steel and monotone, sleek and professional and as cold as the woman that owned it.
A laptop sat in front of her on the desk, and she looked up from it slowly, as if Emma’s mere presence wasn’t worth the motion. When she met Emma’s eyes, Regina stood from her chair, placing her fingers on the desk and raising one brow.
“I must say, I was not expecting to see you again,” she said, and pursed her lips. Regina wore a crisp black coat that fell to mid-thigh, a black pencil skirt peeking out beneath it and ending just below her knee. Just as it had been on Friday, her hair was perfectly styled, falling just above her shoulders, and a simple necklace fell against her white silk blouse.
The worn leather of Emma’s riding gloves creaked softly as she flexed her fingers. “You shouldn’t be, I was told you asked for me by name,” Emma shot back, her posture protective even as she felt herself lean into the fight she knew was close to the surface.
“I meant that I would have expected you to be cowering in shame at your complete lack of professionalism, and avoiding this building at all costs.” Regina clarified, tipping her chin up. “It seems you lack a sense of self-preservation in addition to tact and personal hygiene.”
Emma’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah? Well, you’re assuming I gave you a second thought after I left your office,” she bit out, and clenched her jaw at the blatant lie.
Regina’s smirk was knowing, and Emma felt like she was cutting through her with a single look. “Of course you didn’t, dear,” she placated with a too-sweet tone, and Emma ground her teeth together harder.
“Sounds like you sure thought about me all weekend.” Emma regretted the words instantly, sucking in a silent breath as she realized how her words sounded, how oddly intimate her tone was.
But Regina’s smirk faded, her eyes narrowing and in a moment they were past it. “Hardly,” she scoffed, and looked down as she pulled out the drawer of her desk. “This needs to go next door, to the pharmacy,” she said crisply, all professionalism despite her behavior seconds before.
Regina held up a small business envelope, and Emma looked at her, unamused. “You had me come all the way down here to walk this next door?”
She dropped the envelope with a small thwack to the desk, and crossed her arms. Regina’s features crossed in sarcastic confusion, and she swayed her back slightly. “I’m sorry, I don’t recall there being a limit on delivery within the city radius.” She tilted her head, waiting for a response, and Emma rolled her eyes.
“Whatever, it’s your money,” she sighed, and picked up the envelope. Regina’s smirk was returning, and Emma felt herself grow tense with anger once more. There had been a small, tiny part of Emma that had maybe considered apologizing on the way over, a small part that wondered if Regina had been having the same bad day on Friday that she had and wanted to give her a second chance.
“So, this is what I have to look forward to, here? Being your go-fer for piddly errands like this?”
“Of course not, Miss Swan,” Regina rounded the desk to lean back against it, in front of Emma. “A go-fer would be given more responsibilities, to be certain.” She smiled that fake smile once more, and nodded to the door. “That package needs to arrive at the clinic in,” she made a show of looking at her watch. “Eight minutes. You better be on your way.”
Emma shot her a smile just as phony as Regina’s had been. “As you wish, your Majesty,” she gave a stilted bow, and turned, heading out of the office and back toward the elevator.
Regina hadn’t wanted to apologize, and Emma would bet her entire month’s earnings that had Emma tried to say she was sorry, Regina would have turned her away instantly. Probably even changed her mind on working with their courier service.
Emma had no doubt that Regina had wanted to see her ashamed and embarrassed, but there was something else, too; an undeniable fire in her eyes when Emma had bit right back.
Regina hadn’t wanted apologies; she had wanted a war.
And Emma was more than willing to give her one.
Chapter 2: July
Warnings in this chapter for racism (and sexism).
When Regina didn’t call for a delivery the next day, Emma was a bit surprised; Regina didn’t strike her as someone that had all that much self-control. Used to getting everything she wanted immediately, Emma was willing to bet.
Wednesday passed without a run, too, and by the time Emma was heading out on Friday night, she was starting to get anxious.
“It’s just weird,” Emma said suspiciously, pulling her long hair from under the light jacket she’d put on.
“They’re not gonna need our service every day, Em,” Ruby said, voice tight with the smallest bit of irritation. Emma felt ridiculous, paranoid, and judging by her friends’ responses to her daily comments, she was sounding it, too.
“I know that,” Emma said defensively, and slammed her locker shut. “She just seemed—” like she couldn’t let things go, Emma thought, and felt her skin prickle in recognition.
Ruby was quiet beside her, and when Emma turned to see if she had left, there was a look of interest plain on her face. “You say she a lot, you know. The CEO, right?” Emma’s silence was as good an answer as any. “You drop off two packages and there’s this much…”
“I was gonna say tension,” Ruby smiled. “It’s weird enough you’re apparently delivering directly to her, but Jesus, she’s really gotten under your skin.” Ruby's voice lowered and she quirked a brow as she looked back at her open locker. "I mean, you can't stop talking about her and it's been what, a week?"
Emma leaned back against her locker, her head swimming with disjointed thoughts. Ruby's words drifted over to her and she felt distinctly, and suddenly, uncomfortable. Like Ruby's words were implying something far too heavy for her skin.
Clearing her throat, Emma forced a smile and tried to shake it off. “It's—I’m being dumb,” she shrugged. “I just need this weekend, I guess. Rabbit hole?” With a soft click of her locker settling closed, Ruby looked over at her and popped her hip, settling her hand there. She was appraising her in that way that made Emma want to cover up.
After a beat, her large mouth opened into a toothy grin. “Yes please! It’s open mic night, and I think Lacey and I worked out a plan to get David up there,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper that made Emma really laugh, grateful once more for a friend that knew when to let it rest.
Her weekend was too long and too short, and by Sunday night she was already back on edge, her blood rushing in preparation for a fight she knew would have to come sometime.
The day was more than half over by the time the order came in. It was shortly after a lunch break that meant Emma was the most relaxed she’d been all day. Of course.
“Emma?” Her radio echoed in her ear and she pushed off from the park bench she’d claimed to stretch out her legs.
“What do you need, Piano Man?” Emma asked, not having to suppress her smirk away from the garage.
“Hmmm,” he murmured, unimpressed, but Emma could hear Lacey’s laughter in the background. “Pick up for you at the Boston Center for Biochemical Research and Development,” he said the full title teasingly, but Emma’s easy posture stiffened. “Rush,” he added, and Emma tossed her empty hot dog wrapper into the nearby trashcan.
“Roger,” she confirmed the instructions on autopilot, all humor gone as Emma felt her defenses stand up. She slipped onto the bike seat, and made her way out of the shady park.
She had been wrong. Regina wasn’t rash, not the way she’d thought before. Regina may be - and probably was - spoiled and used to getting what she wanted, but it didn’t blind her if she was.
Regina had carefully calculated when Emma would be unprepared, when Regina would be able to rile her up and get the most bang for her buck. She had waited and bided her time, lulled Emma into a false sense of security so she could strike the hardest. Emma rode on autopilot as she tried to figure her out.
She wanted to let it go, she did. It was dumb, being this wound up over a woman she barely knew; a woman that had done nothing but insult and prickle at her. But there was something almost addictive about the fire that filled her at the thought of another argument, at the thought of seeing Regina fiery like she’d been.
She didn’t want to examine it too closely.
Turning onto Columbus, Emma let her feet rest on the pedals as she coasted down the bike lane beside the sidewalk. Too soon she was in front of the skyscraper that read Mills so ostentatiously, and Emma came to a stop between two parked cars.
She took a long, deep breath before she wheeled her yellow bike to the rack, locking it up and tucking her hair back under her helmet as she headed into the lobby. She knew what she looked like: helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves. She looked protected, decked in armor like she was going into a battle.
Well, if the knee pads fit.
The receptionist - Mary Margaret, she remembered, because who could forget that mouthful - sat primly at her large desk, talking quietly into her headset. It was a long shot that Regina would have decided to leave the package down here, now, but Emma walked over to the counter and leaned one arm on it, waiting as she finished her conversation.
“You as well,” she said into the phone sweetly, and set the handset back on the cradle as the green light beside her ear went out. Her call finished, she looked up at Emma, a genuine smile on her face. “You again,” she said brightly, even as her smile faded at the corners of her mouth. Her brows twitched, like she was remembering to be less cheerful, containing herself as she cleared her throat. “May I help you?”
“I hope so,” Emma laughed awkwardly, and drummed her fingers on the counter. “Uh, was a package left down here for me?”
Mary Margaret bit the inside of her cheek and nodded hesitantly.
"Really?" Emma asked on a breath. Well, that was easy, she felt the tension in her shoulders drop, and she smiled at the receptionist. She felt far more friendly than she had a moment ago. Mary Margaret pulled a small package from behind her desk and set it on the higher counter, close to Emma. "Where to?" she asked, starting to spin her bag around to unzip it.
"Upstairs," Mary Margaret bit her lip, and tilted her head towards the elevators. "Nineteenth floor, Dr. Mills."
Emma dropped her loose hold on her bag and leaned forward, shoulders slumping. "You have got to be kidding me."
"I'm sorry," she said, her lips turning down into a deep frown. Emma couldn't be sure, but it even looked like she was tearing a bit.
"Hey, it's—not a big deal, OK?" Emma puffed out her cheeks, all traces of friendliness fading and having no interest in comforting the woman. “Is she always like this?"
Mary Margaret hesitated. "I used to work for her mother," she said, voice lowering, as though there were others around the deserted lobby. "But she wasn't like this when I first started, no."
Emma licked her lips, conscious of the time, and nodded. "OK, well, I better—" she gestured to the elevators. "Thanks,” she murmured, and stepped away from the desk
“Wait!” Mary Margaret stood from her chair, leaning her palms on the counter as Emma turned. “What’s your name?”
“Emma,” she answered suspiciously.
“Emma,” Mary Margaret repeated. “That’s a lovely name.” At Emma’s blank look, she pushed away from the counter. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Emma. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you around.” Her tone was friendly, but loaded like a warning, and Emma inwardly groaned at the entire situation.
“Yeah, I do, too.” Instead of turning, she licked at her lips and added, “It’s Mary Margaret, right? I’ll uh, see you.” Emma wasn’t used to small talk, to befriending people, or making an effort, but she figured it was probably better to have some people at the lab on her side. After all, this was only the beginning, she was sure.
Her elevator ride was long; she rode with a handful of other employees that must have been coming back from lunch, and the car stopped half a dozen times on her way up.
By the time the doors opened on the nineteenth floor, the fine hairs on the back of Emma’s neck were nearly standing on end. She was irritated as hell with the game the woman had been playing so far, the game she was willing to bet would be a long-lasting one, and she wanted nothing more than to drop the package and get the hell out of the building.
Trying to calm herself, she took short steps down the small hallway, focusing on looking and feeling casual. The front desk was empty again, and she rounded it after a moment’s pause before heading over to Regina’s office. A few employees looked up at her this time, taking notice but not pause from their projects.
Emma raised her hand to knock, the door partially closed, and at the last minute drew her fist back. Squeezing her fingers around the small package, she instead raised her other hand to push the door open, and waltzed in, making sure she kept her head high.
“Got an important delivery,” she announced, not waiting to see if Regina was in the middle of anything. Regina’s eyes flew up from the open laptop to Emma as she drew closer to her desk, and they narrowed dangerously.
“Please excuse me a moment,” she directed toward her phone, the speaker light on, “something undesirable has been let into my office.” Emma rolled her eyes, and shifted her weight to one foot as Regina pressed a button on her phone. To Emma, she asked, “Didn’t your parents ever tell you to knock?”
Lips thinning, Emma ignored the unexpectedly painful jibe, and dropped the package on Regina’s desk with a thud. “Sign here,” she said, as she pulled the XDA from her bag, and held it out to Regina.
She didn’t reach for it. Instead, she looked down at her package, a small box, and pulled it to her. “I believe I should check to make sure it’s not damaged, first, considering how poorly you treat these deliveries.”
"Yeah, a lot of damage can happen on the elevator ride up here," she said dryly, her anger growing as Regina ignored her. Regina pulled a flash drive out of the package and plugged it into her computer. Long minutes passed, Emma getting anxious in the silence, until she asked sharply, “Everything good?”
“It seems to be unharmed,” she conceded with difficulty. “However I do prefer that in the future you take care to treat these packages with importance.” Emma was unmoved. “Or perhaps I should have a discussion with your manager?”
“Yeah, you do that. Get a different courier, I’m sure we’d all be better off.” She wasn’t sure if she was bluffing; in theory, she’d love to pawn off the deliveries on someone else, someone sweeter - Ashley, maybe, or even let Lacey take a few - but there was also an odd sense of responsibility she felt, like to push Regina off on anyone else would be wrong.
Regina pressed a button on her phone, and sounds of a group call drifted into the office. “I apologize for the disturbance,” she said, looking directly at Emma. “I think I’ve gotten rid of the pest.”
Swallowing hard, Emma slipped the XDA back into her bag and left.
Emma was exhausted. The afternoon had picked up in a big way, and she’d been running all over the government center with a hundred different runs. And that was all on top of the oh-so-important delivery from the lobby of the lab to Regina's office earlier that day.
In a way, she was grateful she’d been so busy; she hadn’t really had time to ruminate on her latest run in with the CEO, and it was probably for the best. Emma hadn't put a lot of stock in Regina's threat, but it wasn't the worst thing that she hadn't spent all afternoon thinking about it.
Only, now she was floundering, unprepared without the time to decompress, and about to go right back in for round two.
“You have a package for me,” Emma bit out, much too far from the friendly customer service she hoped Granny thought she was giving.
Regina was standing in front of her bookshelf, one text open on the short ledge. Without looking up, she gestured to another envelope sitting in the center of her desk. “Hmm,” she murmured, as if Emma’s presence was as noteworthy as that of a fly.
“So,” she couldn’t help but feel even more defensive as Regina ignored her. “You couldn’t have given me this when I was here earlier?”
Regina turned the page, one delicate fingertip tracing the inner curve of the spine.
Rolling her eyes, Emma swung her bag forward and stuffed the package inside. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you just wanted to see me again,” she watched Regina’s back carefully, waiting for some kind of response.
Her hand stilled for the briefest of moments before she pulled the book from the shelf, and looked at Emma over her shoulder. “Hardly,” she scoffed, and turned back to the book. “I was afraid two deliveries so close together may have overwhelmed you, dear.”
Emma took a very slow, deep breath, and knew she was glaring at the back of Regina’s head. Her hair was a bit less flippy at the ends as it had been earlier in the day, and Emma wondered if she ran her hands through it in stress, or if the lapels of her red suit coat pressed against them until they were flat.
The black sheath dress she wore beneath the jacket was long, came just below her knees, but with her back turned to Emma, she could see there was a deep slit that ran up the center. Her feet were planted a bit apart, one knee bent, and the slit ran up almost four inches; too deep to be professional, and yet Emma was certain not a single person would dare question her.
“It’s impolite to stare,” she drawled, the crinkle of the turning page echoing in the quiet room.
“The back of your skirt is wrinkled,” Emma said evenly, trying to sound unimpressed to sell her lie. “You gonna have a third package an hour after I leave?”
The book closed with a small thud, and Regina reshelved it before she turned to face Emma, her fingers gripping the shelf behind her. “I haven’t decided.”
It was the closest Regina had come to confessing to this thing she was doing was just some twisted form of retribution. A game to make Emma jump through hoops and sell out her dignity. It didn’t matter that Regina hadn't said the words; Emma knew as well as Regina did that this run was bogus, that most of them probably would be. Just as Regina knew Emma wasn’t fooled.
Regina smirked, blatantly, and Emma knew she got off on it; the power, the knowledge that Emma knew exactly what she was doing and wouldn't do anything about it. Probably.
It was silly to be so upset, Emma knew. She was getting paid for these runs just like she was for any other. Better, even, when Regina called it rush to just make her walk next door. She should be ecstatic; it was easy money. But that never sat right with her, a life of working hard for everything made the things that came easy taste sour. Besides, Regina’s smugness was so tangible, so blatant, that it made her jaw clench.
Emma couldn’t sit back and ride it out. It wasn’t in her nature. But she didn’t need to let Regina see her riled, to give her the reaction she anticipated and craved. “And where does this one go? All the way down the street?" she asked, eyes narrowed but temper in check.
"After your display this afternoon? No, I believe we'll work your way back up to the bigger deliveries." Regina walked over to her desk and picked up an envelope from the corner. "Take this downstairs to Ms. Blanchard at the front desk. I believe you've met."
"Seriously? You can't get her to come up to you?"
Regina looked off to the side a bit and blinked. "Yes, but then I would need to see her, wouldn't I? This arrangement is preferable." Her eyes ran over Emma's form and she tilted her head in concentration. "Well, slightly."
“So glad to be of service,” she said dryly, and gave a forced smile before walking casually back out of the office to ride the elevator down.
Mary Margaret sat at the desk, phone light off, and Emma bit the inside of her lip as she set the envelope down on the counter. “Delivery for Ms. Blanchard,” Emma nodded to the package and reached into her bag for the XDA.
Catching sight of Emma, Mary Margaret gave her a sympathetic smile, and took the envelope. “Thank you,” she said, voice dripping with pity. Ignoring it, Emma handed over the device, though she felt a bit ridiculous performing real tasks for this fake job.
“You must have really gotten into it with her,” she said softly, signing the electronic pad in her hand.
Mary Margaret handed the XDA back and smiled sympathetically. “This will blow over soon enough, I’m sure,” she reassured Emma, though the small twitch near her eye told Emma she wasn't entirely convinced of her own words.
“Great,” she said, just a bit too forcefully. Emma wanted this stupid game she was developing to end, she did. For a minute today she had thought that Regina really was going to call Granny, to get her switched off the route.
Apparently not. She’d called her back for a second run today to make that clear, that Emma wasn’t being let off for a bit of bad behavior. It made her want to test her limits at the same time she had to admit she was just a little bit impressed with Regina’s resolve thus far.
That maybe Regina wouldn’t back down, would continue to go toe-to-toe with Emma. It was a heavy thought, one that left her the slightest bit breathless, and she smiled shakily at Mary Margaret before she left.
The elevator doors dinged as they opened on the nineteenth floor, and Emma stepped out, a large box tucked under her arm. She’d made more than half a dozen deliveries to Regina over the past few weeks, and though she wasn’t enjoying them by any stretch of the imagination, some of the intensity around the situation had tempered.
Emma didn’t feel the need to brandish a sword before she rode up to Regina’s floor, and Regina’s barbs had seemed somehow less charged; more snide, less vitriolic.
They were still present at every delivery, of course, and Emma still found herself throwing similar comments right back at her. Only, by the fifth time Emma came back, it seemed like Regina had realized Emma wasn't giving up, and things had shifted marginally.
They weren’t friends or anything. They weren’t even civil to each other. But it all was starting to feel less desperate, less like they were tossing live grenades back and forth to see who'd get scared first.
As Emma rounded the corner toward Regina’s office, she caught sight of movement at the permanently-empty front desk. The one Regina had sat at that first night.
“Uh, hello,” she narrowed her eyes and came to stand in front of the desk. A young woman sat behind it, her eyes wide, and she looked frazzled as she cleared her throat and smiled shakily at Emma.
“Hello,” she nodded. “May I help you?”
Emma held the package up. “I'm, uh, here to see Regina. Dr. Mills,” she clarified.
The girl’s eyes grew wider, and she looked down at the computer in front of her. “A-an appointment?” she squeaked, her terror mixing with the furious clicking of the mouse. “I don’t have an appointment on here for Dr. Mills, do you—”
“Woah,” she laughed, and held up her free hand. “Relax, just dropping of this package,” she held it up. Glancing over the woman’s head, she could see Regina’s silhouette in the frosted wall of her office; she was sitting behind her desk, her small movements indistinct behind the glass.
“Hey, I could just leave this here with you,” Emma offered casually, and set the box down. “Could you sign for this?”
“And then I would bring that to her?”
“Yeah, that’d be fine, just sign—” she dug into her bag, and when she looked up, XDA in hand, the phone rang.
“Oh!” a look of sheer relief flooded the girl’s face and she picked up the phone. “Boston Center for Biochemical Research and Development, how may I help you?”
You might as well hang up, buddy, Emma scoffed to herself, and took a deep breath, picking up the box and cradling it under her arm once more.
The floor was always quiet, never much more noise than the tapping of computer keys, and as she neared Regina’s door she could hear her voice, low. As she entered she could see that she was on the phone, the handset cradled between her ear and shoulder as she turned pages of a report in front of her.
Emma waited in her doorway a moment, to see if she’d look up and shoo her away for the first time, or gesture for her to set down the package and leave. She was more than willing to do it, too; she’d seen Regina’s signature plenty by now to duplicate it.
But Regina didn’t look up. Her focus was entirely on her conversation, her report, and Emma stepped further into the room to see if she could get her attention.
Regina’s shoulders were hunched over, the boat neckline of her navy blue dress puckering slightly as she traced the pages with her finger. She was absorbed in her call, almost shockingly so; Emma would have guessed her to have a near extra-sensory ability to tell when people were around, with how sharp she was.
Not in a complimentary way, of course. Sharp like a bird of prey, all talons and beady eyes.Something that ate small animals, bones and all.
Her black hair was up, today, pulled into a clip at the base of her skull, and the shorter tendrils fell out to lay loose around the sides of her face. Small drop earrings, not too flashy - and actually rather plain for such a successful CEO - dangled from her ears, and Emma watched as the smallest stone at the end brushed against Regina’s jawline as she spoke.
Instead of the usual dusky pink shade she wore on her lips, today Regina had a dark red, and when she spoke into the phone Emma felt her throat grow thick as the words formed on them.
After a moment, Emma realized what she was doing, how blatantly she was staring at the woman in front of her. She averted her eyes, desperately, and they fell to the framed degrees beside her bookshelves. There were two; a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from MIT.
It was impressive, of course, and Emma wasn’t surprised - Regina practically screamed only the best - but it was jarring, to see the brilliant, powerful woman Regina was laid out on her walls like that.
Emma could hear Regina wrapping up her conversation behind her, and Emma felt suddenly unsure of herself, awkward and out of place.
She wasn’t intimidated by Regina. Really. Only, maybe there was a part of her that faltered a bit at the thought of getting into another round with her when her accomplishments were the kind you could hang on a wall, and Emma’s were a series of scars on her body and soul.
“If you’re finished snooping, I’d like that package.” The handset was put back onto the cradle with a soft click.
You hung them up, Emma wanted to say, would have said ten minutes ago. She’d spent her childhood feeling inadequate, and as an adult she was over it most of the time. But Regina, she just got under her skin, it seemed, even unintentionally.
“Here,” Emma turned and handed the envelope over, thicker than they usually were, and pulled out her XDA right after. “Signature, please,” she wasn’t meeting Regina’s eyes. She tried to make herself look bored, to look like she was over Regina and her games and was going to ignore her like a schoolyard bully.
She was pretty sure it just came off as a mildly ill grimace.
“You don’t seem well, dear,” Regina said, handing back the XDA and crossing her arms, the envelope tucked against her side. Finally Emma looked up at her face, at the small smirk that seemed ever-present, at the silky strands of hair that fell against her jaw, the warm brown of her eyes that lit with fire every time Emma visited.
OK, maybe Emma was a bit intimidated by her occasionally. But there was something stronger - intrigue, maybe - something hard to define, that made Emma want to rile her up, that made her think she could. Sometimes it almost felt playful, but there was an edge of desperation that trailed the moments that made it more.
“It must be the company I keep,” she finally responded, and Regina’s nose flared the smallest amount, enough to make Emma’s anxiety settle.
“Yes, well you know what they say.”
Emma couldn’t resist. “What do they say?”
“Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas,” she said, lip curling in disgust as she eyed Emma in implication.
Eyes glinting dangerously, Emma gave her a smile. “I’ll be sure to go get checked right after this.”
Regina sucked her teeth, and smiled, brushing past Emma in dismissal. “The sooner the better, Miss Swan,” she looked up as she sat down at her desk, and reached for a pen. “Pass my regards on to your boss for stellar customer service, once again.”
“Of course,” she rolled her eyes, and headed out.
“Is the other girl out sick?” Emma breezed into Regina’s office, gesturing over her shoulder with a thumb.
“Yes, please come in,” Regina said dryly, and looked up from her computer screen, her fingers stilling on the keys. “Thank you for asking.”
Ignoring her, Emma dropped the light envelope onto the desk in front of her. The corner hung off the edge, and Emma nudged it onto the marble, staring at hastily scrawled date, 7-23-14, written across the top. “Your secretary, what happened?”
Quirking a brow, Regina picked up the envelope. “I don’t recall making the workings of this office any of your business, Miss Swan.”
“I don’t know, you sure have given me unprecedented access to valuable data,” she gestured to the envelope in Regina's hands.
“Mmm,” Regina murmured in agreement, and set the delivery down before holding out a hand for the XDA. Emma had delivered to Regina over a dozen times now, and though every one was some kind of struggle, they had begun to fall into a sort of rhythm that Emma didn’t entirely dread.
“So, new girl? Let me guess, you used the last one as a test subject,” she smiled a bit at her own dumb joke, and Regina’s eyes fluttered in irritation.
“Miss Swan, please be serious. My proposal never made it past the ethics board.” Emma’s smiled faded a bit in shock; was Regina joking with her? “I had to let her go,” she continued, looking back down at her computer as she typed.
Regina’s head tilted a bit as her fingers continued moving. “For the same reason anyone is terminated, Miss Swan. She was incompetent, and I have no tolerance for stupidity.” Pausing, she looked up at Emma, eyes trailing over her accusingly. “Low tolerance for stupidity.”
Emma's lips thinned. “You know, I may not have gone to Harvard, but that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot,” she snapped, the insecurity from a week ago breaking to the surface.
Regina looked at her for a long moment, her brown eyes seeming to soften in the sunlight that came through the window. “Your lacking sense of self-preservation suggests otherwise,” she tilted her chin up. “But noted, Miss Swan.”
Emma did little to hide the surprise on her face as she took the XDA from Regina’s hand, but it didn’t matter. As soon as she had conceded the round, Regina looked back at her work, her fingers slipping across the keys almost messily.
Not hoping for more - and quite frankly, completely thrown off of her game - Emma turned, and walked out of Regina’s office. There was a confused sort of pressure in her chest; like a puzzle she needed to work out, but couldn’t figure out where to start.
Emma yawned as she dismounted her bike, jogging for a few steps as the wheels ran off the momentum of the garage ramp. It was almost 7 in the morning, on the late side for her, but it was the end of a long week and Emma was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish.
Throwing up a hand in a tired wave, she acknowledged David at the dispatch desk but walked directly over toward her locker.
Movement caught her eye in the lounge area, and when she looked over she saw Ruby, long limbs spilling over the armrests of the old couch in the corner. Smiling at the sight, Emma leaned her bike against the lockers and walked over toward her friend.
She leaned over the back of the couch, resting her forearms on the worn backrest, and scrunched up her face in confusion. A newspaper was draped over her face, arms above her head and hanging limply. “Did you sleep here?” It wouldn’t have been the first time; on the rare occasions Ruby couldn’t crash with a friend and was unwilling to hear a lecture from Granny, she’d sack out at the garage.
“I wish,” she croaked, her voice muffled by the newsprint. “Granny needed help loading in all this new stuff.” She lifted her neck and peeled the newspaper from her face, eyes narrowed. “She woke me up at four, Emma. In the morning.”
Emma was unable to stifle the laugh that bubbled out of her, and Ruby groaned, dropping back down to the couch and letting the paper fall. “Shut up, this is all your fault. She shoulda dragged your ass outta bed instead of mine,” her grumbles were barely audible under the paper.
“And how exactly is this my fault?” she lifted the paper from Ruby’s face.
Slowly, Ruby pushed herself to sit up. “She got another medical contract because of our connection with your lab and their endorsement, and thinks we can afford to fix this place up.”
Emma gave an exaggerated look around the run-down garage and then back at Ruby. “Yeah, that’d break my heart.” She pushed off from the back of the couch and began to fold the paper back up.
“Hey! I was reading that,” Ruby reached for the paper and it crinkled loudly in her grip.
“You were sleeping.”
“Resting,” she corrected. “And there’s an article about your girl in here.”
Emma felt her heart stop. “What?”
“Regina Mills.Well, her mom, really.”
Emma didn’t know how to respond. Her girl? Where the hell had that come from? She delivers a couple of packages a week and suddenly they’re bonded, or something? She’d told Ruby what Regina was like, complained loudly about the CEO and her crazy deliveries and her insults and her too-good-for-you suits.
And girl was about the last word Emma would use to describe Regina. It was so plain, common; so simple and young and innocent and Emma couldn’t even imagine a time when a word so soft could be used to describe a woman like Regina Mills.
Emma cleared her throat, refocusing on what Ruby was trying to tell her. “Sorry, what?”
Ruby folded the paper and pointed to an article in the business section. “Here. Her mom was some big shot, and they’re naming the new bridge after her.” Emma took the paper, and pulled it closer to read.
NEW BRIDGE TO HONOR BOSTON LEGEND
By Sydney Glass - July 29, 2014
The Grand Junction Railroad Bridge is due to be renamed this weekend in a ceremony meant to honor former Boston business phenom and socialite Cora Mills.
Joining the competitive field of high finance shortly after graduating from college in the early seventies, Mills made a name for herself by spearheading a number of corporate mergers, as well as raiding failing businesses in the area and serving as a transition liaison. Mills has been credited by former business partners and Boston citizens alike as a driving force in shaping the city we know today. In honor of her accomplishments, and at the behest of former business partner and current Mayor, Xavier King, the City of Boston has decided to rename the bridge before reopening the route that had been under construction for the past several months.
"Cora Mills spent the best years of her short life navigating business deals and streamlining services for the people of Boston,” says King. “She was responsible for creating so many connections within the city, it’s only fitting to recognize that in a tangible way.”
The renovated bridge will be unveiled at a ribbon cutting Saturday, to be held by King. Sources say that Dr. Regina Mills, the deceased’s only daughter, was asked to cut the ribbon initially, though she will be unable to attend for reasons unspecified. Dr. Mills inherited her mother's successful pharmaceutical company after her death, and restructured it into a center for biochemical research. Requests for comment were declined.
Among the attendees of the event will be long-time friend and business partner of Mills, Rupert Gold, of Gold & Associates law firm—
Emma stopped reading, and handed the paper back to Ruby, brows slightly furrowed. “That’s kind of weird,” she mumbled, and Ruby dropped the paper to the couch beside her.
“You mean naming the bridge after her? I thought so too. Kind of a negative impact job, right? Hostile takeovers and stuff, sounds like.”
“Hmm?Oh, yeah.” She cleared her throat and leaned a bit closer to Ruby. “And that she didn’t want to be involved. I guess she just seems like the type to want to comment,” Emma tried to say casually. "Get the last word all the time and stuff."
Judging by Ruby’s narrowed eyes, she’d failed. “You’ve really got her figured out.”
Pushing away from the couch again, Emma rolled her eyes and tried to laugh off her interest. “I just mean, she’s always talking. You know, how there are talkative people like that. Like how I bet Ashley wouldn’t deny a comment either,” she laughed awkwardly, and gestured to the young rider as she came into the garage.
Head tilted, Ruby looked at Emma for a long moment, far longer than Emma was comfortable, even if it was just Ruby. “What?” she finally asked, and Ruby held up her hands palms out in surrender.
“Nothing, alright? I get what you mean.” She was humoring Emma, she could tell, but it still made the anxiety that coursed through Emma settle.
Emma’s stomach was rumbling. It was just about noon on the last day of July, and the day had been slow for the most part. She’d been looking forward to indulging in a bit of a long lunch, but one call from David on her radio threw a wrench in that plan.
She leaned back against the elevator wall, button pressed for the nineteenth floor as usual. The doors began to close, and Emma’s mind drifted elsewhere, to hot dog stands or a burger place or ooh, a nice, juicy steak.
“Hold the elevator!” a deep voice yelled out, and before Emma could move the man’s arm blocked the path of the closing doors.
As they reopened, Emma glanced at him, and the arrogant look of irritation he wore. Looking away, she focused on the lit up floor numbers, and watched as 18 was illuminated.
The elevator began to rise, and Emma was startled as the man spoke. “It’s unmanageable. No one can handle the workload,” he said, voice even and enunciation crisp. Standing beside him, Emma could now see the bluetooth earpiece he wore, the small light on as he spoke.
“She has no idea what it’s like, she’s barely had her degree what, two years,” he scoffed, and leaned one arm against the wall beside him. His weight shifted back to one foot as he took up far more than his share of the small space.
Emma resisted the urge to move, to make herself smaller, and instead looked up at the doors to watch him in the slightly blurred reflection. As he fell quiet, he turned his head to look at her, his posture and interest making Emma feel distinctly uncomfortable, and when she turned to give him a look of warning, he was ogling her openly.
Undeterred by her expression, he continued speaking. “The company falls into her lap and we’re supposed to believe she has any idea how to run it?” His attention switches back to the conversation, and Emma prickles at the implication of his words.
“If I'd had the ACLU getting me into the Ivy Leagues and a mommy paying my way, I would be running my own lab by now, too. There is no way someone like her would have this job otherwise, and you know it.” He glanced at Emma out of the side of his eye but was undeterred by her presence. "I worked for Cora for years, I should have been the one to—," he scoffed and angled his head down, listening to the person on the other end.
He was talking about Regina, questioning her qualifications, and Emma wanted to cut in - had he even met her? Regina was arrogant and demanding, sure. But loathe as Emma was to admit it, she got the impression Regina damn well had a right to be. And this pig was saying just because she was a woman, because she was Latina, she'd had things handed to her?
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and tried to catch a glimpse of the name on his coat: Dr. Whale. Emma looked up at the rising floor numbers, and breathed a sigh of relief as his floor was displayed. “Exactly,” he scoffed, and pushed away from the wall as the door slid open. “I’ve skimmed a few of her articles, and was not impressed,” he stepped out of the elevator, and Emma felt her shoulders loosen.
What a prick. He knew nothing about Regina if he thought she didn’t deserve her job. She was a pain in Emma's ass, but there wasn’t a moment Emma had shown up to the office that Regina wasn’t working, no matter what time of day she stopped by.
Emma didn’t want to feel sympathetic to Regina; it was easiest when she could keep her in the little “work problem” box, and ignore all the rest of it. But she did, and more than that she felt angry on behalf of the CEO. Did Regina know that was how her employees talked about her? Did they all question her abilities, her qualifications? To her face?
The elevator arrived on the nineteenth floor, and Emma got off. She passed the front desk - same receptionist as the past two weeks, this girl had a shot - and hesitated at the threshold of Regina’s door.
Licking her lips, she raised her knuckles to the angled open door, and knocked once. “Hey, got something for me?” Her voice was light, much lighter, kinder than she’d intended, and her eyes landed on Regina immediately. She was turned away from the door, her chair pushed away from the desk as she pulled a paper from her printer.
Emma held her breath a bit as Regina looked up at her, her brows furrowing in concentration. “Do you only own the one jacket?” she asked, eyeing Emma’s red leather with disgust.
The breath rushed out of her lungs in an instant, her world resettling as she fell into the familiar rhythm. “So what if it is?” Emma slipped her hands into her jeans pockets, riding gloves making the action less smooth than she’d hoped.
Regina smiled, and laid the freshly-printed paper on her desk before reaching for a pen. “Red is certainly a bold choice,” she murmured, and Emma stepped up to the desk as she signed the document in front of her.
It wasn’t the first time she’d seen Regina’s signature - almost two dozen times she had signed the XDA - but the electronic screen always warped it slightly, made it cramped and choppy. Regina’s signature on the paper was beautiful, precise but flowing - elegant, like the woman it came from.
Ignoring her dig, Emma licked her lips. “So, where to?”
Regina picked up the signed document and dropped the edge down to the desk to straighten the packet. As she stapled the pages together, she said, “Gold & Associates on Canal.”
She perked up at the name, remembering the article from the week before. “Rupert Gold?”
Hands stilling as she slid the papers into an envelope, Regina looked up at Emma uneasily. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Why?”
Emma shrugged, her arms dropping at her sides. “I just recognized the name. He uh, was your mom’s friend, right?” At Regina’s narrowed eyes, Emma rushed to explain. “There was an article in the paper about the bridge, and they mentioned—” she cut herself off, uncomfortable under Regina’s scrutiny.
“Yes, well I’m impressed you know how to read,” she said, without too much bite. Regina hadn’t made a single comment about Emma’s intelligence since the day Emma said something about it, and she knew it was on purpose; that Regina had acknowledged it was a sore spot for Emma and moved on.
This insult was out of place, and Emma had a feeling Regina must have been pretty uncomfortable with the topic to be lashing out this way. Her moods were becoming much more recognizable to Emma, and on this one she could relate; Emma lashed out when threatened, too.
After a short pause, Regina held out the envelope sharply. Her expression was guarded, stoic, as she watched Emma carefully. “Here.”
Taking the envelope, Emma shifted her feet, debating her next question. It was somewhere between stupid and self-destructive to say anything, now; Regina had made it clear that the topic of her mother or the bridge or Rupert Gold - or maybe all three - was not one she wished to discuss with the messenger.
Still, Emma felt it bubbling up. “How come you didn’t want to cut the ribbon?”
Regina's eyes narrowed, the deep brown glinting in the light of the office. “That is not your business, Miss Swan, and you would do well to remember what your job is here.”
Swallowing, Emma nodded, unsure of how to apologize for overstepping. Unsure if she wanted to. Because as wrong as she knew it was to push Regina, as much as she hated when others did it to her, she was also finding that she wanted to know Regina, to find out her answers almost desperately.
“You’re right, it’s not my business,” she ended up saying. “Sorry,” she ducked her head and turned. At the threshold her foot faltered, but Regina's laptop keys rang out loudly in the hollow room. Regina's demeanor had become akin to her office in the blink of an eye, and though Emma's stomach felt raw with guilt, she couldn't linger too long. Her feet crossed the threshold into the main floor of the office, and she headed for the elevators.
After all, the game had always been about Regina ridding Emma of her pride, and she wasn't quitting just yet.
Chapter 3: August
She'd gone without a delivery to the lab for a week and a half. So, when Lacey called her around noon on Tuesday - the second week of August already - with a drop-off to the lab, she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding since the beginning of Lacey's call.
Emma had known she'd screwed up on the last delivery, had pried too fast and too far. She had barreled past Regina's warning tone, her words meant to fend her off, and she felt bad. She had wanted to apologize, but when it came down to it, she was stubborn. And nervous. A part of her had wondered what would happen if she just showed up; would Regina tell her not to come back? Would she call security?
Or would she ignore her like she sometimes did? The last option gave her the most pause. She didn't know Regina, not really, not yet. But she thought she was starting to figure her out. And Emma was pretty sure that silence from Regina meant a lot more than anger. That if she started delivering real letters - and not flash drives and reports and one time a hideous gnome (she hadn't asked) to Mary Margaret at the front desk - and picking up real packages from a civil Regina, that whatever was happening between them - and something was happening, she knew it - would really be over.
A month ago, Emma would have been more than fine with that idea. Now, it just left her with a sick feeling in her stomach.
Then again, maybe it was the chili-cheese dog she'd just scarfed down.
In addition to seriously pissing Regina off, Emma had tipped her hand more than she'd meant to. Her question had implied interest, real interest, and not the kind of question-barbs they threw at each other; asking a question with absolutely zero interest in the answer. At least in theory.
At some point over the past six weeks her disinterest in knowing Regina had started to morph into some kind of masochistic curiosity, and now she was somewhere between not-disinterest and an odd sense of growing familiarity.
She started remembering little things about Regina, noting her clothes, her references, the few bits of decor in her office. Emma couldn't be sure, but it seemed like she was growing fond of Regina.
Emma came to a stop in front of the Boston Center for Biochemical Research and Development sign, and licked her lips as she dismounted. The anxiety that she'd tried to push away since the last delivery was finally fading, and Emma locked her bike up before running up the steps to the lobby.
With a small wave to Mary Margaret she passed by the reception desk to the elevator, package firmly in her grasp. She was nervous, her palms sweating a bit as she rode the car up to Regina's floor.
When she got to the end of the hallway she could see that the reception desk was empty, but signs of life were present - an empty coffee cup, a pencil on a pad of paper beside the mouse - and Emma could tell the new one hadn’t been fired, yet. She walked the familiar path around the desk and over to Regina’s office, and stood at the threshold.
Today she didn’t linger, didn’t hesitate; she’d screwed up the week before, but she wasn’t going to be awkward again, wasn’t going to show weakness. She had missed the interaction she had so recently been desperate to get rid of, and she wanted the easy banter back.
Only, the office was empty. Regina didn’t sit at her desk, her bookshelves were orderly, and the automatically light came back to life as Emma entered the space, signaling the inactivity prior.
Regina’s desk wasn’t bare, though; rather, it held an open take out container, a gyro sitting half-eaten on one side and a handful of kettle-cooked chips in the other. Emma walked closer to the desk, uncomfortable being in Regina’s space alone, but at the same time unable to pass up the opportunity to snoop, just a little.
Beside the take out container was a handful of Reese’s mini cups, a few empty wrappers discarded in the top of the styrofoam container; remnants of the treats she had eaten before her lunch was finished. Emma smirked at that, prim and proper Regina eating her dessert first, unable to wait for the end of the meal.
Glancing over her shoulder at the door, Emma realized she was still alone in the office, and took another step toward the desk, this time a bit to the side so that she could see the rest of her workspace. Regina hadn’t been gone long, her laptop screen still on, but dimmed from the lack of activity.
Beside the laptop there was a picture frame, silver and sleek, but simple. It held a large photo of Regina, her arms around a small boy - maybe seven or eight - and identical grins on their faces. The picture must have been taken in the fall, autumn-colored leaves in the background of the image, and both parties wore light jackets and scarves.
They looked happy; a family, Emma knew. The woman in the photo was so different than the one she’d come to kind-of know over the past few months, but at the same time it felt like the whole image of Regina was simply filling out. Regina was passionate, driven; she was big in a way that made Emma’s breath shudder. This photo just felt like more proof of that fact.
It suddenly felt like a violation to see such an intense picture, and Emma looked away, down. But the drawers behind her desk were covered in paper, and Emma took a desperate step further, to look at what they displayed.
Schoolwork.And drawings. They were her son’s as well, must have been, and they were held to the metal drawers with magnets, like they would have been on a fridge. Smiley face stickers and good job!s littered the tops of assignments, and crude pencil drawings were mixed with much less-crude drawings that indicated a growing steady hand.
Regina was a mother. She didn’t wear a wedding ring, there was no man in the picture, nor any other pictures around, meaning Regina was quite possibly a single mother. She was soft in the picture with her son, smiling and warm, and her son looked so happy.
Regina wasn’t just a mother, she was a good mother, an almost completely foreign concept to Emma, and she couldn’t wrap her head around how Regina could be so many things at once.
Emma was in awe of her.
The office Emma had labeled as cold months ago was now obviously anything but; in fact it was almost too warm in this spot, Regina’s love for her son so tangible in the space. Nothing was showy - her son’s accomplishments were not evidence of her own, not proof of her own stellar genes. The work was present, but private; meant only for Regina, and Emma had barged into it.
Swallowing harshly, Emma rounded the desk to stand back on her side, the clinical, cold design of the space feeling false, now. She waited in the middle of the room, far from the life she wasn’t privy to, and almost breathed a sigh of relief as she heard, “I don’t believe I invited you for lunch, Miss Swan,” from the doorway.
Emma turned, tried to act casual as she held up an envelope. “Delivery for you.”
Regina’s brows furrowed, and she walked past Emma to sit down behind her desk. The papers she’d been retrieving were dropped into the tray at the corner of the desktop, and she leaned back in the executive chair. “I’m not expecting anything,” she said, a bit suspiciously.
“Um,” Emma looked down at the envelope in her hands and felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. “Oh,” she bit her lip, as she stared at the name on the front: ATTN: Marco Booth. “I just assumed—” she cleared her throat, uncomfortable. She hadn’t even checked where in the building the package would be going, and hadn’t been since the deliveries had been in the single digits. “Marco Booth?”
Regina pulled her chair closer to her desk, and tried to discreetly tuck the uneaten Reese's cups out of view. “He’s in maintenance, bottom floor.” Emma felt her brows raise a bit at the quick response, the knowledge of her employees.
“OK,” Emma said, but didn’t leave. She felt the relief she'd experienced earlier start to fade away, felt disappointment spread cold in the empty spaces it left.
She'd been something disturbingly close to excited when she'd thought Regina was over the incident about her mother, and she didn't want to lose that. She didn’t want to go back to thinking Regina wasn’t over it. “Regina, I—”
Regina’s eyes widened at the informal address, and Emma hesitated. She hadn’t ever said it, hadn't called Regina by her name once, and everything froze for a long moment.
Finally, Regina cleared her throat with a small noise, and looked back at her desk, touching her laptop pad to awaken the machine. “Be sure to only bring me my own deliveries from now on, Miss Swan,” she stayed focused on her computer, and Emma felt relief wash over her once more. There was going to be a next time, next times, and Regina was giving her an out, giving her a promise and letting them go back to the routine they had both fallen into almost effortlessly.
Emma was grateful, but at the same time she felt the smallest hint of disappointment. Like Regina wasn't forgiving her so much as forgetting that Emma had pried, that Emma has wanted to pry. It felt like, instead of taking a step forward, they were just resetting the board. Minutes ago it was what Emma had wanted, but now it felt false. Felt like Regina had hit the snooze button on whatever was happening between them.
Regina's fingers froze on her keys and she looked up at Emma. "I trust you can find the elevator, Miss Swan," Regina hinted, and Emma's fingers curled on the package.
She was waiting, watching Emma. With a small breath out, Emma smiled tightly. "To get away from you I'm sure I can," she tossed back, and hit the snooze, too.
Despite Regina's implication that she would be calling for another pick up from Emma and setting things back to how they had been, Emma hadn't held her breath. She'd gone a week and a half of silence, and knew there was a good chance things would slow again, like Regina had done between those early deliveries.
Instead, she called the garage for a delivery mid-morning that Thursday. It had been unexpected, and the ride over to the lab had left Emma feeling almost chipper.
She knew what the cause of her good mood was, now; last month it had left her confused, the idea of being excited to see Regina not fitting with anything she had come to anticipate.
She was interested in Regina, in every way. Emma was attracted to her, was intrigued by her, wanted to get to know her. And she couldn't be certain, but she was starting to become more confident that Regina felt at least a few of those about her, too.
"'Morning, Mary Margaret," she smiled at the receptionist, and leaned an arm on the counter. Regina's orders had decreased from double rush to rush, meaning she was free to linger at the office. Free to talk to Regina more than she could in the beginning. It wasn't proof or anything, but a bit of the reason Emma was growing more sure about this thing between them.
"Hi," Mary Margaret looked up in surprise before her lips opened in a grin. "How are you?"
"Can't complain." Emma didn't talk to her all that much - usually too focused on getting upstairs or too livid afterwards - but the other woman had made every attempt to be nice to Emma, and since she was in such a good mood she threw her a bone: "How was your date last weekend?"
She'd tried to tell Emma about it on a day Emma felt especially unsocial, and she'd felt guilty at the disappointment plain on the receptionist's face. Disappointment that was making a repeat appearance now. “He was a mistake," she sighed. "Spent most of our date ogling the waitress,” she laughed hollowly, trying to play it off, but her delicate features held a trace of pain. “Hey, if you happen to know any nice guys…” she smiled playfully.
"Yeah, I've got a whole—" Emma cut herself off, thinking of David and his own recent bad luck. "Actually, maybe. I'll let you know," she smiled, and headed past the counter to go up to Regina's office.
There was a new girl sitting at the front desk when she got off of the elevator, and Emma could tell from the pale look on her face that she wasn’t going to last long. She reached for a pencil in the nearby cup and knocked it over, sending pens sailing across the counter. OK, so she'll be lucky if she lasts the day, Emma frowned sympathetically, and directed her attention past the desk to Regina's door.
The temp had picked up most of the pens already, and so Emma brushed past the counter, around and directly into Regina's office. Her mouth was open, about to announce herself, but the sight of Regina made her freeze.
Regina was leaned against her desk, her hip pressed against the marble top, and one leg was crossed in front of the other. Her hair fell loose across her face as she looked down at the white button-up she wore with a black skirt suit. In one hand she held a tissue, and she was pressing it furiously against the light brown stain that had soaked the entire left side of the shirt beneath her suit jacket.
There was a soft growling noise as Regina stopped her movements and dropped the tissue - now rolled up and useless - into the trashcan beside her. She flicked her hair away form her face in frustration and started to pull the suit coat off, her movements making the damp fabric of her shirt strain against her chest, and Emma could swear she saw the lace outline of her bra beneath it.
"Uh, I—delivery?" Emma blurted out, face surely red as she stopped Regina from doing anything more without noticing Emma's presence.
Regina looked up quickly in surprise, brown eyes clear and curious a moment before she furrowed her brow. "Excuse me?" she stood up from the desk and planted her feet evenly apart.
Emma inwardly rolled her eyes. "I have a—the delivery you called for. To the garage." Wow. A small smile pulled at Regina's lips, and Emma gestured over her shoulder with her free hand, pointing out at the rest of the office. "Is that why number five is so pale out there? She spill on you?"
The smile fell from Regina's face and she put her hands on her hips, the suit coat billowing out behind her with the motion. "Yes, well, she's number seven, actually. And she's fortunate it was an iced coffee, or she would be much paler, I imagine."
Emma snorted. “I don’t know, looks like you put the fear of God into her as it is.”
Regina raised one eyebrow regally and tilted her head to the side. "I believe she'll survive. She's already requested a new assignment." She took a step toward Emma, and crossed her arms. "Smart girl, doing so before I could fire her myself."
"I don't believe that," Emma scoffed without thought, and Regina gave her a look of disbelief.
"That I would fire someone? My, I do believe you have been in the sun too long, dear."
Emma worried her lip a moment before she shook her head. "No, not—you said you don't suffer fools, I get that. But I don't see you firing someone for a mistake like that."
"Obviously my employees haven't been speaking to you much, as they would have no doubt that I would do such a thing." Emma shrugged, not backing down, and Regina's arms dropped to her sides as she eyed Emma carefully. “You seem to be under the mistaken belief that you know who I am from our brief interactions,” she said evenly, but there was a curious lilt to her voice.
Emma remained unmoved, and Regina smirked, the moment over, as she leaned in toward Emma slightly. “Besides, it is rather foolish to spill coffee on the CEO of a company, wouldn’t you agree?”
Emma just smiled wider, not falling for Regina’s tough-guy act this time. She’d seen what was behind her desk, knew the loving mother that rested in her, the softer, sentimental parts. “Whatever you say,” Emma made no attempt to disguise the placating tone. Regina's eyes glinted mischievously, and Emma held out the package she'd brought. She didn't walk it over to Regina, though, didn't close the space between them like she had so many times before.
She was feeling good, cheerful, playful. Dangerous. She was going to make Regina come to her, today.
There was a momentary standoff, Regina not moving and Emma unwilling to budge this time. She wanted to know if Regina would; if Emma stopped, she would be willing to pick up between them.
She still made no move for the package, and Emma rolled her wrist gently, the item inside clunking with the motion. “Was that why you were answering your own phone that first day?” she asked to fill the silence. “Had you scared your last receptionist off?”
Regina pursed her lips, and took slow, purposeful steps over to Emma and directly into her space. Barely a foot apart, Emma could feel Regina's body shift toward her as she reached up to grab the far end of the package. They held it between them for a moment, Emma waiting to see what Regina would do and Regina watching Emma closely.
Finally, Regina's mouth turned up into a cruel smile as it came even closer to Emma. She could feel her hot breath on her jaw as she almost whispered, "I scare everyone off."
There was a catch in her throat, barely audible, but she was so close and Emma was focused on her.
Emma pushed the box gently toward Regina and leaned back to look at her face, to watch her as she replied, "Not me."
Emma was sick. She'd caught some summer bug, and she felt like crap. Restless and frustrated, she spent the first day she was out trying to clean the apartment, but ended up face-down on the couch, sleeping through to the morning. Ruby came by the second day with soup from Granny, and she'd slurped it down right in front of her, barely sitting up from the couch to do it.
"Gross, Em. Do you want a spoon?" she asked, face twisted in disgust as Emma drank from the Styrofoam container, chewing chunks of chicken loudly, unable to breathe through her nose.
"Nah," she declined nasally, and set the empty carton down on the floor beside her, a pile of Kleenex falling from her lap to the floor. "Thanks," she smiled, satisfied. Her stomach had been empty since the night before, too tired to make anything - not that there was much in the way of supplied, anyway - and too lazy to find her phone to call for takeout. "How's work?"
Ruby rolled her eyes and grabbed Emma's kitchen trashcan. "It's work, Em, you're not missing anything," she shrugged, and picked up the tissues on the floor with a grimace. Emma thought about waving Ruby off, telling her she didn't have to clean up after her, but to do so would require that effort thing that Emma was just not feeling. "You're not the only one out, though."
"Yeah," Ruby sighed. "Tom and Leroy are both out, Ashley said Sean and Ella were both sick, so she hasn't been in. And Lacey's looking pretty bad," she leaned against the couch. "Tomorrow Granny said she's gonna have to take over while David picks up runs," she faux-shuddered at the thought. "So, you know, get better."
"I'm trying, obviously," Emma gestured to the sweatpants and blankets on her lap. As Ruby put the wastebasket back, she picked at the corner of one blanket and said, casually, "Have there been any deliveries to the lab since I've been gone?" Ruby started to chuckle, and Emma looked over at her, eyes narrowing. "What's so funny?"
"I should have bet myself, I'd be rich." She laughed a moment longer before coming to stand beside the back of the couch. "You've been out two days, you know." She smirked and set her palm on Emma's forehead dramatically. "Hmmm, no fever. I'm no doctor, but you've got Regina-itis," at Emma's pout she pushed her forehead away playfully. "Bad."
Half the week was gone by the time she made it back into the garage, still feeling the slightest bit stuffed up as she changed in front of her locker. Three days was her max, and even that was pushing it. Besides, she couldn’t afford to take more off, not when she was barely squeezing by as it was, and she dreaded the thought of the extra runs she’d have to pick up to make up the difference.
How she’d probably push herself right back into being sick, and start the fun cycle all over again.
Ruby groaned into her locker, long and exaggerated, and Emma licked her chapped lips and laughed. "It can't have been that bad."
"Don't," Ruby warned, and slammed her locker shut to lean back against it. "It was a nightmare here."
"It was one day! And you live with her," Emma pointed out, as she slipped on her gear.
"That's what made it so awful, Emma." Ruby's eyes were wide as she glanced around for her grandmother. "I thought she had a lot to bitch about normally, but put her in with a bunch of riders that are used to Lacey and David?"
"Disaster?" Emma prompted.
Ruby threw her hands up. “I’m just saying, if I find out anyone here hasn’t gotten a flu shot by next week, I’ll drag them down to the clinic myself,” she whispered harshly , tugging on a light sweatshirt. It was September, cool, but Ruby still wore shorts that bared her long legs to the nippy air.
“So it was bad at home?” Emma asked, smiling a bit at Ruby’s wide eyes.
“Unbearable.” She closed her eyes and let her head fall back with a small thud. “I gotta move out, Em. I love her but I’m going to go all Lizzy Borden one of these days, I swear.”
Emma gave her a mock sympathetic look and held out the candy bar she’d been about to eat. “Sounds like you need this more than I do, Rubes.”
“I love you,” she smiled as she opened her eyes to Emma’s offer. Unwrapping the chocolate, she raised a brow. “You know, you’d probably stay healthier if you didn’t eat stuff like this for breakfast.”
Rolling her eyes, Emma closed her own locker. “Yeah, like I haven’t seen you eat half a leftover pizza and wings for breakfast.”
Ruby shrugged, and took a big bite of the candy. “Point taken.” Chewing quickly, she finished the rest of the bar as Emma slipped on her elbow and knee pads, and then groaned. “OK, I got a run. I’ll see you later.” Pausing, she looked back at Emma. "Maybe you should ask David how his runs were while you were out," she winked, before riding out of the garage.
Emma shook her head at the odd instruction, and felt her stomach rumble. Pulling her thin wallet out of her pocket, she headed over to the vending machine to grab something else. As she was perusing the options, David yelled from the center of the garage, and she looked over.
“Pickup at Harvard Vanguard for the biochem center,” he said, and gestured out to tell her she had a run. She nodded to let him know she’d heard, and looked back at the chips and candy the machine held. On the bottom row, between a roll of mints and packaged cookies, were packs of Reese’s cups, and Emma put in her money, selecting the option once, and then twice.
Almost instantly she felt foolish, buying the CEO of a multi-million dollar company a cheap package of chocolate, but she reached for them both and stuffed them in her bag. Grabbing her bike, she wheeled past David, who put his radio down as she passed.
“Hey, Em!” She stopped, and he looked around awkwardly before holding out a business card. “When I took your run there yesterday, I talked to this receptionist,” his fair skin grew red, and Emma felt a smile twitching at her lips. “Could you, ah, give this to her?”
“Sure, David,” she nodded, deciding not to tease him yet. It was funny; she’d forgotten about her conversation with Mary Margaret, her mental note to maybe set them up, and yet they’d gotten there anyway. “I’ll radio when I’m done,” she slipped onto her bike and headed out.
The ride from the medical center took longer than usual, her legs still lethargic from the days of rest. The ten-minute route became eleven, twelve, thirteen, and Emma felt her palms grow clammy as she counted it higher. Each moment felt far longer than sixty seconds, and the minutes started to add up, started to feel noticeable; started to feel weighted.
As Emma finally neared the familiar glass building, she locked her yellow bike up and felt something almost urgent under her skin. Something that made her fingers fumble with the familiar lock.
Anticipation. She was anxious, excited, to see Regina. She thought it should be a foreign feeling, now that she’d named it. Different from the dread and anxiety she’d surely felt at the beginning. Than the tentative intrigue that had been building, and the cautious interest she'd identified days ago.
She had missed Regina while she’d been out sick. Something about knowing that she had missed even the opportunity to see her had left Emma feeling down, and now she was anxious to see her again.
Maybe Ruby was right; it certainly felt like some kind of infection had taken her over. Only, she wasn't so sure she had a problem with this one.
Emma stopped at Mary Margaret's desk, gave her the card and listened to her for too-long moments as she gushed about David. It wouldn't have been so bad if Emma wasn't practically vibrating to get up to the nineteenth floor.
Escape finally made - David seriously owed her one - she rode the elevator up, and once she caught sight of Regina's office, started to walk directly over to it.
“May I help you?” a new receptionist asked, this one wearing a sincere smile that the others had lacked.
“Uh,” Emma hesitated, not used to being stopped. “I have a package for Dr. Mills.” Regina’s formal name felt heavy on her lips.
“I can sign for that,” she offered helpfully, and Emma’s mind was blank without a response. She wanted to see Regina, almost felt like she neededto. But there really wasn't a reason to, not a professional one. Regina didn’t have to sign, never did; it had just become so expected she'd stopped considering an alternative.
“Oh, that’s," Emma cleared her throat and looked past the desk to Regina’s office. She could see Regina walking behind the frosted glass, her silhouette barely distorted from this distance. Her shadow was elegant, poised as she moved. “OK,” she finally conceded after a long moment, and forced a smile as the girl took the XDA Emma held out on autopilot.
As she signed, Emma watched Regina pass by the open office door, two books in her arms as she came to stop in front of the bookshelf in Emma’s sight-line. She held up the spine of one as she scanned the titles still on the shelf. It was one of the rare occasions where she was wearing a lab coat, and her shoulder-length black hair - it had grown so much in the past few months - brushed against the white collar as she swapped two of the books.
The early morning light was filtering in through her drawn curtains, and the sun illuminated the office, shadowing some of Regina’s movements against the brightness. She looked mysterious, but familiar, like if Emma could just get closer she could reveal the rest of her, could find herself in the shadow with Regina.
“Here you go,” the secretary interrupted her thoughts and handed the XDA back. Reluctantly, Emma looked away from Regina, disappointment settling into her bones and she pulled the package out of her bag slowly.
“Miss Swan,” Regina’s voice pulled her focus up, and she could see Regina standing at the threshold of her door, one hand pulling a pair of glasses from her nose. “I believe I ordered that rush,” she nodded toward the envelope. “So perhaps you could bring it here and not distract Ms. Evans any further?”
Emma's lips twitched, and she bit back her own smile, rounding the front desk quickly and following Regina into her office as she reentered it. “You must be feeling better,” Regina said casually, but Emma saw the way her shoulders rolled back as she waited for an answer.
“I am,” she said quickly, her fingers curling into the paper in her hand, her palms still clammy and her head starting to pound dully.
Regina turned to look at Emma, and leaned back against her desk, one knee propped up, the other flat, and Emma felt her mouth run a bit drier. The lab coat fluttered to either side of her, baring the simple black sheath dress she wore - one of Emma's favorites - and Emma's eyes fluttered down to the plain black frames that dangled delicately from Regina’s right hand.
Reading glasses, Emma decided, noting the open books around her, and she felt greedy as she always did, filing away each new fact.
Clearing her throat, Regina sat up a bit straighter, her hair sticking a bit into the collar of the coat, too long to rise above it and too short to not get trapped. It looked soft, silky, and Emma wanted to feel it between her fingers, wanted to pull it free and see if the skin of Regina’s neck was as sensitive as Emma imagined it would be.
Regina had always been gorgeous - Emma had seen that from the first day, of course - but now her beauty seemed deeper, seemed real and full and tangible. She seemed touchable in a way she hadn't for almost three months, and Emma wanted to; she wanted to be able to touch her, her skin, her lips, her life more than two deliveries a week.
She’d crept up on Emma, their battles becoming something deeper without either of them really seeing it, and now it was too late. For Emma, at least.
“Miss Swan? You seem rather flushed, are you sure you’re feeling better?” Regina’s brown eyes were warm, so warm - as warm as Emma’s skin felt, her blood rushing as fast as her thoughts.
“Yeah,” she dismissed at Regina’s furrowed brow, and smiled. “Can’t get rid of me that easily,” she tried to joke, tried to lighten the heavy air she felt.
Regina pursed her lips. “Pity.” She set the books on the desk beside her and set her glasses on top. “My package?” she prompted, and Emma held out the envelope.
As Regina took it, she slipped her hands into her pockets slowly, and shifted her feet. “New temp?” she asked, not ready to leave.
“Hmm,” Regina murmured in confirmation, and looked up briefly. “She’s...competent.”
Emma laughed lightly, and shifted in her spot. “High praise,” she quipped, and nodded toward the door. “She, uh, doesn’t seem as scared as the others. Even signed for the package herself,” Emma added, the playful comment suddenly feeling too heavy on her tongue, and she thinned her lips as if that could hold it back.
“Oh?” Regina asked, the stiffness in her back belying her disinterested tone. “That is impressive,” she said dryly. The comment fell around them, both unsure how to end the conversation, and Emma trying desperately to think of a way to extend it.
Emma pressed her heel hard into the ground, trying to prepare herself to turn, to go. “Well, I—”
“Who did they send down here in your place while you were sick?” Regina cut her off, crossing her arms as she leveled her with an even look.
Defenses rising for her friend, Emma eyed Regina warily. “Why?”
Regina quirked a brow at the suspicion, and suppressed a smirk. “He is rather protective of you. A boyfriend?" Regina's voice was light, casual, but her eyes didn't stray from Emma.
"God, no," Emma laughed, her chest warming as Regina's arms loosened. "He's like my brother." Smile still lingering, she licked her lips and added, "I'm not dating anyone."
"The better for humanity, I'm sure." Regina's insult was flat, and Emma wasn't tempted to rise to the bait at all. Not when Regina looked so interested in that last little tidbit. "He's also rather presumptuous," she steered back to David.
“He told me to take it easier on you in one breath, and asked me about Ms. Blanchard in the next.”
Emma blushed at her friend's behavior. "He, uh, grew up on a pretty isolated farm. Sometimes he forgets how to act around people," she defended. "So, you had a good conversation, then?" Regina watched her closely, as Emma started to smirk. "He asked you about Mary Margaret, you asked him about me?"
Regina pushed away from her desk instantly. "Hardly," she pulled at her lab coat. "Your friend was a regular chatterbox, I merely managed to stumble through his explanation of why you were not doing your job yourself."
"If I didn't know better," Emma stepped closer, and tilted her head. "I'd say you missed me, Regina." Emma didn't apologize this time, or take it back. She let the informality fall between them and smiled as Regina's breath slowed.
"My package, Miss Swan?" Regina shook her hair from her face and held out her hand for the envelope. She took it and rounded her desk, taking a seat in her leather chair, effectively dismissing her.
Emma hesitated a moment, before she reached into her bag and pulled out on of the somewhat-squished Reese's cups packages. She set it down in front of Regina slowly, and when the CEO looked up Emma gave her a lopsided smile and a shrug. "Consider it a peace offering, for my friend's behavior."
Regina looked her in the eyes before her attention flickered down to the candy, and when she pulled it toward her to set it in the top drawer of her desk Emma breathed out a sigh of relief. "Stay well, Miss Swan. I'd hate for you to go poor making up for more of your friends."
Her focus settled on the laptop, and she started to work again as Emma turned to go. "I missed you, too," she said quickly, before she lost the nerve, and didn't wait around for Regina's response.
A loud sigh echoed in the office as Emma entered, and her eyes widened at the sight of Regina slamming down her phone.
“Should I come back later?” Emma asked, stepping further into the room even as she offered.
Eyeing Emma warily, Regina slid her chair out and stood from her desk. “It’s fine,” she said tightly, and looked at Emma almost shy. “Do you have my delivery?”
“Why else would I be here?” Emma asked automatically, and felt a sick feeling in her stomach at the way Regina seemed to grow more defensive in front of her. “I mean, I thought we’d established I’m not an idiot. I wouldn’t show up empty handed,” she tried to smile, breathing out as Regina’s eyes softened.
“We’ve established no such thing, dear. I’m merely taking your word until you disprove that fact.” It wasn’t praise, not really, but Emma felt her chest warm.
She gestured to the phone and tried again. “Is everything alright?”
Regina bit at her cheek, her eyes dark as she regarded Emma for a long moment. Finally, she said, carefully, “My son, he's been having a difficult time, recently.” Emma waited, schooling her features so as not to spook Regina, to let her continue. “Our relationship has become a bit...strained.”
Emma swallowed. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she offered, unsure of what to say. She had no experience with "rough patches", with parents who cared, or children that were likely going through typical childhood problems and not the kinds of things that left kids without a family.
The silence fell between them, and Emma reached for the package from her bag. “Here,” she offered, and held it out to Regina.
“Thank you,” she said quietly as she took it, the first time she’d thanked her for a delivery. But it was more, for her response, her words; possibly for the words she hadn't said, and Emma smiled in relief.
“Sure,” she said far more casually than she felt, moving them past the deeper moment they had touched. Regina held the package carefully, almost lovingly, and Emma tilted her head as she regarded Regina. “First pick up from there,” she noted. Prompted. She had gotten it from a used bookstore a few blocks away, and she was curious what had made Regina’s touch so different from the flash drives and reports and contracts she had brought before.
“Indeed,” was all she offered, but she tore at the corner of the stuffed envelope, pulling the ends apart to reach the item inside. It was - unsurprisingly - a book. Emma had figured as much, but the image on the front gave her pause, and she took a step closer to Regina.
The hardback was pale yellow, a crude drawing on the front, and Emma recognized it instantly. “Is that Matilda?” she asked, the words thick in her throat.
Regina’s palm held the spine securely, and she nodded, not looking up as her finger traced the other edge gently. “Have you read it?” Her words were soft, no trace of defensiveness, not playful or teasing, and Emma imagined this is how Regina might have sounded at her son’s age, all openness and curiosity.
“I have,” she replied, watching Regina’s face carefully, but she didn’t look up; her eyes didn’t waver from the sketch of a girl atop a mountain of books.
“It’s a wonderful story.” Regina said, matter-of-factly, but with a trace of wistfulness, a tone that bespoke of deeper feeling.
It is, Emma wanted to agree, but instead she asked, “Is that for your son?”
They had long ago passed the point of Regina sending her on useless deliveries; runs meant only to display her control over the situation, Emma's lack of it. The runs between floors had made way for contracts across town, reports to and from the hospitals in this part of the city.
This delivery felt unlike any of the others before. It wasn't professional, and it wasn't personal, not in the malicious way it had been. This was intimate, and heavy. Regina's eyes misted over, and Emma knew this was something achingly close to trust.
"Hmm?" Regina looked over at her, clearly lost in her own world for a moment, and nodded. "Yes, it's for my son. Something I think he might enjoy, if he gives it a chance," a hint of frustration laced her voice. Clearing it, she set the book on the desk gently and stood, moving toward the door. “Excuse me, Miss Swan, I have a meeting to get to in a few moments.” She placed one palm on the flat of the door and held a hand out, gesturing for Emma to leave.
It was the first time that Regina had truly dismissed her, had ushered her out with something other than her barbed words, and Emma's mouth opened as she floundered a moment. "Oh, uh, sure." She hesitated in the doorway and said in a small voice, "I guess I'll talk to you later," and Regina nodded.
The door started to close and Emma ducked through it, almost positive she felt Regina's hand brush gently against her lower back before the door shut with a click.
Chapter 4: September
Warnings in this chapter for discussion of past psychological/emotional/mental abuse, negative foster care experiences, and references to racism.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Everything ached. Emma’s back was stiff, her legs heavy, her fingers throbbed from the grip they’d had on her bike handles. She was exhausted, bone-deep, and wanted nothing more than to crash on her couch.
“Next round’s on me! I had thirty-five runs today,” Ruby smirked around the bar table. Emma tried to focus on the people around her, and not on her cozy apartment that was currently half a dozen long blocks away.
Neal let out a low whistle and leaned back in his chair, propping his foot against the edge of Ruby’s seat. “Impressive, Red,” he scratched at the scruff on his jaw. “How come you don’t throw me those kinds of routes?” Neal asked David with an easy smile, and David chuckled.
“‘Cause you wouldn’t buy rounds if I did, Cassidy,” he joked, and Neal waved him off dismissively as he stood to help Ruby get their drinks. Emma watched them leave, and when she looked back at David, he gave her a small wink, a small reminder that he’d never quite forgive anyone that had hurt his friend.
It warmed Emma at the same time it made her shift awkwardly in her seat, never fully comfortable with the idea of someone looking out for her. She thought of Regina, and how she had called him her watchdog. She’d wanted to ask what he’d said, how much he’d said, but it never felt right. Like a conversation she knew she didn’t want to open.
Changing the subject, she leaned back and swung her feet onto Ruby’s abandoned seat with a heavy thud. “How is she not exhausted after that,” Emma grumbled, playing with the empty beer bottle in front of her.
David smirked. “Careful, you sound as old as I do,” he joked. “Pretty soon you’ll be begging to be a dispatcher like me.”
“Yeah,” Emma snorted, “as if I wouldn’t take that job now in a heartbeat. Like we’re not all just biding our time until you or Lacey call it quits. Better money, cushy desk job, you know as well as I do that any of us would break your arm if it meant we’d get the gig.”
“You’re all talk, Swan,” he leaned forward, leveling her with a gaze. “You’d go crazy stuck in the garage all day and you know it.” Emma wanted to argue, but David knew her as well as she did, and it’d be a bold-faced lie to say otherwise. “Thought so,” he gloated, her silence confirming his statement.
"Screw you, Nolan," she grumbled, too tired for a better comeback. Her phone vibrated in her pocket and she shook her head at David's laughter as she pulled it. The screen was lit up with an incoming call, but the number was unfamiliar. Emma slid her thumb across the screen to answer, and held it up to her ear. “Uh, hello?”
"I’m stuck at the office and I need you to pick up my order at the Chinese restaurant down the street.” Emma’s breath caught at the unexpected voice. It was nearly 9pm, far past the close of business for White Horse , nevermind the fact that she was calling Emma directly. “Did you get that?”
Regina’s voice was sharp, demanding like she’d been in the beginning, and it threw Emma almost as much as the call itself. David eyed Emma curiously at the complete look of surprise on her face, and she shifted in her chair, turning her body away slightly, her feet slipping back to the bar floor. “How did you get my number?”
On the other line, Regina laughed softly. “I’m rather well connected, Miss Swan. You don’t truly believe it was a challenge, I trust.”
She felt her cheeks pink, and cleared her throat, a small smile tugging at her lips despite Regina’s harsh tone. “You know I’m not actually your assistant, right? I know you go through a lot, but I’m sure you haven’t completely depleted the temp pool of Boston yet.”
Regina scoffed on the other end of the line, and Emma heard the rustle of the phone as she switched ears. “The order will be ready in twenty minutes,” she said, and hung up.
Emma pulled the phone away, thrown by the dismissal, and yet warmed at the thought of seeing Regina. Her sharp words were out of place in the relationship that had been growing in the past few weeks, both loosening up and starting to connect more and more.
Feeling David's eyes on her, Emma looked over to see him shifting in his chair and scratching at the back of his neck. “Good?” was all he asked, and Emma nodded, grateful to see Neal and Ruby walking back to the table with a pitcher of beer and glasses.
David dropped the subject immediately, instead engaging the other riders as Ruby filled their glasses. Emma sat with them for a few long minutes, the clock on the wall beside her ticking without a sound in the loud bar. She didn't want to submit to Regina's orders so easily, and she wasn't sure what to expect if she did show up with her food, but there was a raging curiosity in her chest that told her she needed to find out.
Each twitch of the hands felt deafening, and after three minutes Emma stood, her chair scraping against the rough-worn wood floor.
“Em?” Ruby prompted, looking concerned. “What’s up?”
“I’m crashing,” she lied easily, and smiled at Ruby. “Thanks for the beer,” she gestured with her nearly-full glass and took a long last sip.
“C’mon, Emma, it’s Friday night,” Neal tried for friendly but not pushy, their relationship still a bit uneasy post-break-up, and Emma shrugged in assurance.
“Yeah, so party for the both of us. I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow if you still wanna go to that new place downtown.”
“Sounds good,” Ruby perked up at the thought, and Emma grabbed her leather jacket, slipping it on as she headed out of the bar to unlock her bike.
The city streets were crowded, Friday night in downtown Boston, and Emma weaved her way through the groups of people out for fun, making her way down the sidewalk.
She wheeled her bike beside her, the thought of swinging back onto it a bit daunting after a long day. Her bike cleared a bit of a path, groups splitting apart to let her through, and once she reached the end of the street she looked up at the street sign: Columbus Ave.
Emma didn’t owe Regina anything, the messenger service long closed. Regina hadn’t asked her to dinner, hadn’t asked for a favor. She’d demanded Emma’s presence, like she'd done since day one. Even though they were starting to grow more open with each other, starting to develop some kind of tentative friendship - or more, Emma hoped - didn't mean she had to drop everything for the other woman.
Only, the tone Regina'd used on the phone had been familiar. She'd been guarded and clipped and it made Emma think back to when she'd pushed to know about her mother. When she'd lashed out because she was discussing a vulnerable topic.
Swallowing, Emma found herself taking a left, swinging a leg up onto her bike and making her way down to the Chinese restaurant that sat a dozen blocks from the lab.
A brown bag, full of hot food, and nestled in a plastic bag, hung from Emma’s arm as she steered herself one-handed toward the bike rack in front of Regina’s building. Now away from the nightlife scene and firmly ensconced in the government center of Boston once again, the streets were nearly empty and the sidewalks bare.
Emma locked her bike up and headed into the building, lit up behind glass walls and gleaming in the dark night sky. The lobby was empty, silent; Mary Margaret was even gone, and she’d not once made a delivery without seeing the receptionist.
It was eerie, to see a building she had become so used to in a new light. Emma called for the elevator and rode it directly to the nineteenth floor, unsurprised at the uninterrupted ride.
Just as the lobby had been, the hallway of Regina’s floor was deserted, and as she rounded the corner she came to an empty front desk. Regina’s office behind it was dark, the door shut and the lights on the rest of the floor dim. Only the wall lights remained bright, casting the entire floor in a soft glow.
Setting the bag on the receptionist’s desk, Emma pulled her phone from her red leather jacket pocket, and pulled up her recent calls. As she dialed Regina she felt a little uneasy, and a small part of her wondered if this was some kind of joke. If Regina decided to mess with her and reset their entire game back to the beginning.
It rang several times, and then: “Yes?”
Regina sounded just the slightest bit unsure, like she didn't know if Emma was calling back to tell her to fuck off, and Emma felt the suspicion settle. “Your food’s here,” she said briskly, before hanging up, as Regina had done to her.
The phone didn’t ring right away, and then it didn’t ring for a minute. And then another. And another. Emma pulled herself onto the counter of the desk, her leg jiggling nervously, and she realized with a start that she didn’t feel tired anymore.
That instead she felt kind of wired.
The ding of an elevator snapped her attention, and she watched as a shadow leaked across the floor, into her line of sight. Finally she caught movement up higher, and she glanced up to see Regina, standing in front of her in black pants and a beige sweater shell that left her arms bare. Her hair fell to her shoulders, a bit curled at the ends from the long day.
In the past few months of deliveries, Emma had always seen Regina in her suit or lab coat, or in a dress that commanded the same respect. Now she looked somehow softer, unguarded without the business armor, and Emma felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight.
The only other time Emma had seen her like this had been on that first delivery, her suit jacket discarded on the reception desk where she now sat. She’d made a mess of things that day, and a thought took her suddenly, forcefully, that she didn’t want to make a similar one now.
“For someone who was adamant they weren’t my assistant you certainly follow instructions well,” Regina crossed her arms over her chest, smirking, and Emma swallowed at the thought of how soft her sweater must feel.
Emma raised her brows. “So what, was this some kind of test?”
“Perhaps,” Regina murmured, and reached to open the bag and pull out containers of food.
Swallowing, Emma felt her lips thin. “Yeah?” She felt her defenses prickle. There was that something between them, something Emma wanted desperately to explore, but Emma didn’t like being tested, not by anyone. The air was thick around them, and Emma's chest tightened.
“For all my faults - and make no mistake, I have many - I don’t feel the need to waste either of our efforts that way,” she stared down into the bag, emptying it, and looking up at Emma, her expression unreadable.
Emma tried to read her, narrowed her eyes a bit before she swallowed. “OK,” she said easily, and the air thinned, her lungs expanding once more.
Like that, things eased, and Emma gestured to the cartons being laid out. “That’s a lot of food. Company dinner?”
Regina’s arms fell to her sides. “It’s 9:30 on a Friday night, Miss Swan. My employees went home hours ago. I have high standards, but I’m not a monster.”
“Your employees seem to think you are,” she said without pause, and curled her lips over her teeth almost immediately in guilt. She thought of the cruel words she'd heard on the elevators just twenty feet away, of the suspicion and doubt and implications she was unfit.
Regina’s eyes narrowed, but her lips parted with a smile she couldn't stop. “I believe you've used that one before, dear. You’re going to have to try harder than that,” she murmured.
The office was empty, silent, and Emma wondered what Regina was doing here so late, what she was doing here alone. She didn’t want to leave her, despite knowing Regina was about the last person to need someone.
“Well, enjoy,” Emma said awkwardly, floundering without an excuse to stay, just as she had the day assistant number eight signed for the package.
She looked like she had that day, too, her profile half obscured with shadow. But Emma was closer this time, able to make out the curve of her mouth, her nose, despite the light shining from behind her.
Regina’s movements stilled, and she looked up at Emma, watching her closely. “There is quite a bit of food,” she said softly, her voice sounding far too vulnerable in that moment for a woman as hard and driven as she was.
Her face held none of the vulnerability of her voice, instead staying almost expressionless as she stood there, watching Emma’s reaction closely. Her shoulders were tense, like she was holding her breath, and Emma could see the vein in her forehead straining slightly from the pressure.
Emma’s lips parted. “OK.”
Regina said nothing, just turned back to the bag of food, pulling out the utensils and sauce that sat at the bottom. Emma looked around for a chair, grabbing one that sat in an abandoned cubicle a few feet away. She wheeled it over to the other side of the desk beside the other chair and sat down in it, unable to stop the groan from escaping her throat.
Like that the moment of indecision, of awkwardness seemed to pass between them, and Regina smiled down from her spot across the counter. “Long day?” Regina asked knowingly, a smirk playing at her mouth. “Or are you just getting old, dear?”
Emma scoffed, and leaned forward over the desk to look up at Regina from under the helmet she still wore. “I’m younger than you,” she said, just a little pouty, and Regina laughed.
A real, deep chuckle that surprised the hell out of Emma. They hadn’t spent much time together, but it was hard to remember that, sometimes. She knew little things about Regina, like that the tail on her cursive s curved out farther than it should, that she never used pencils, that she sometimes listened to classic rock turned down low so no one could hear it outside her office.
But she knew big things, too. She knew Regina had a son, where she had gone to school, that her mother had died.
Only, the more she learned about Regina the more she needed, the more she was desperate to fill in. She didn’t know until this moment what Regina’s laugh sounded like - deep and rolling and seductive - or what her son’s name was, or if her father was gone, too.
She didn’t know her facts yet, but Emma knew her. She knew that Regina didn’t laugh a lot, not lately. That her deep laugh was rare, and Emma’s cheeks pinked at the thought of her lame comment; her words had not deserved such a beautiful response.
“Touche,” Regina murmured, and walked around the counter to take the seat beside Emma. Sitting down, she crossed her legs elegantly, and leaned back as if appraising Emma. “Do you sleep with that on as well?” she gestured toward Emma’s helmet, and Emma suddenly felt like a teenager, awkward and uncomfortable and like she was going to ruin everything if she breathed wrong.
“Oh,” she swallowed, and tugged at the chinstrap until she felt the cool office air on her temples. “I forget I have it on sometimes,” she set the helmet down on the edge of the counter. When she turned back, Regina was pressing her lips together tightly. “What?” she asked, a little guarded.
“Your hair,” she finally let the smile cross her lips, and Emma looked up reflexively, unable to see the helmet hair she apparently had. “Here,” Regina murmured, and let her leg drop down to the floor so she could scoot to the end. Slowly, she reached for the displaced strands, looped under the hair creating a large arch, and tugged them free. Her fingers slid down the lock, smoothing, until she let it fall against the rest of her hair, hanging over her shoulders.
Emma held her breath as Regina touched her gently, barely a whisper of contact. When her delicate fingers slipped through the wind-mussed ends, Emma exhaled, her eyes fluttering shut for a moment.
“There,” Regina said quietly, her hand dropping to her lap. Emma stared at her, completely out of her depths with this woman, until Regina shifted and cleared her throat, scooting backwards to the back of the chair.
“Thanks,” Emma licked her lips, clinging to the last of the moment, even as Regina reached distractedly for the nearest carton of food. She slipped it open and Emma could see Lo Mein. There were a few sets of chopsticks and forks in a pile near the food, packets of soy and duck sauce sitting beside it. Emma reached for the chopsticks near her to pass them over to Regina, neither saying a word as she took the utensil.
The air felt thicker now, their oddly intense moment over but not forgotten, and Emma unzipped her coat, slipping her arms out and draping it over the back of the chair.
“That jacket looks close to a well-deserved death,” Regina said over her carton of food, her chopsticks between her fingers.
Emma looked down at the jacket, the corner draped over the back of the armrest slightly. “Yeah, well she’s been through a lot with me. Toughest leather coat I’ve ever had, actually.” She set the mystery carton on the counter and pulled the jacket forward, showing off a scrape on the back of the coat. “I wiped out on the ice early this year, dislocated my shoulder and broke three ribs slamming into a lamp post after sliding five feet across the pavement, and look, it’s barely torn.”
Regina’s eyebrows furrowed, and she looked Emma up and down, quickly. “You do this in the winter?”
Emma laughed, and dropped her jacket over the armrest to pick up the food again, popping the top open. Slipping the chopsticks from the sleeve, she dug into the Kung Pao chicken and shrugged. “Gotta make money in the winter, don’t I?”
“Hmm,” Regina said beside her, and Emma popped a piece of chicken into her mouth as she watched the other woman stab at her own food.
“I suppose I had assumed you would have another seasonal job of some sort, for the colder months.” Emma smiled around the chopsticks before dropping them into the container.
“Careful,” she raised a brow, “it almost sounds like you care about me.”
“Hardly,” she scoffed immediately, and looked over at Emma for good measure. “I’m disappointed I won’t be rid of you as soon as I’d thought.” The insult had no traction, both all-too aware of Regina’s insistence that Emma take her runs.
Instead of wilting at the baseless jibe, Emma smiled wider, and chewed on her food victoriously. “Sure,” she said knowing the condescending tone would grate, and swiveled in her chair as she watched Regina continue to play with the noodles in front of her.
After long seconds of Regina not eating, Emma smirked knowingly. “Do you not know how to use chopsticks?”
“I resent the implication that I am incapable of figuring out a utensil, Miss Swan.” Regina pouted with the words, but looked at Emma out of the corner of her eye as if uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
“That’s adorable,” Emma blurted. Regina looked over at her in surprise, the chopsticks halting their useless motion for a moment. But Emma was unwilling to take it back, to let this thing that was blossoming between them be brushed aside.
Regina’s initial surprise faded, and instead she pursed her lips and looked away, back at her chopsticks as if they had betrayed her. “Yes, well, I don’t eat this kind of food very often,” she said evenly, her tone just a bit defensive.
Emma pulled one leg up onto the chair, her boot pressing flat against the seat as she hugged it to her body and set her carton on her other thigh. “I could teach you,” she offered, forcing a light tone she didn’t feel.
There was a pause as Regina sat still, back pressed against the chair. “Alright,” she finally answered, and held up her hand with the chopsticks.
Using the foot flat on the ground, Emma scooted her chair closer to Regina, gripping the counter and pulling herself until she was right next to the other woman. “OK, so start by holding the first one like this,” she left one chopstick in the container and demonstrated.
Regina copied her movements, and looked up to Emma’s face as she held out her grip for review. “Like this?”
“Perfect,” Emma nodded, and then picked up her second chopstick, and placed it in her grip. “And the second one like that.”
Again, Regina copied her motions. “I would hope this lesson will involve eating, as well,” she quirked a brow, and Emma set her food and chopsticks back down on the counter.
“We’re getting there,” she smirked, and reached for Regina’s hand. “You won’t get anything if you don’t have the right grip,” she said softly, realizing how close she was to Regina’s body now.
“Here,” Emma’s fingers slipped over hers, and she positioned the utensils gently, feeling just the smallest tremor under her skin at the contact. Her thumb brushed the sensitive skin of Regina’s palm, and she felt her stiffen at her side. “Sorry,” she murmured, unconvincingly.
“Miss Swan, I’m not sure—”
“Emma,” she cut Regina off, and pulled away a bit to look her in the eye. “I see you more than some of my co-workers, and apparently we’ve exchanged numbers. I think we’re past that point.”
Emma held her breath at her own boldness, unsure where this was all bubbling up from, and why now . She’d been attracted to Regina, and there had certainly been a spark between them that had only been stoked in the beginning by their battles. But there was something else, something about Regina lately that got under her skin and just itched in a way she was all-too-comfortable letting stay.
“Well, then, Emma, are you going to finish this lesson, or do you simply wish to hold my hand?” Emma jerked back a bit, but left her palm cupping Regina’s own, forcing herself to focus.
“What? No,” she laughed hollowly, and started to move her fingers, ignoring the pleasant feel of her smooth skin beneath her own. “So, you just squeeze them closer and further apart, like this,” she licked her lips.
Emma guided their hands to the noodles and attempted to pick them up. It was awkward, and Emma couldn’t grasp anything with another person between her and the utensil, and so she let go, laughing nervously at her teaching methods. “Well, you get the idea. Here,” she pushed away, letting her bent leg drop to the floor, and she pulled the desk drawer open. It was full of files, so she shut it, and moved on to the next.
“Excuse me, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I figure I’ll be your new receptionist, I can’t be any worse than the rest,” she tossed over her shoulder before returning to her task. “Found it,” she said, and pulled out one rubber band from the drawer before reaching for Regina’s discarded chopsticks and pulling them out. “This is like the equivalent of training wheels, it’ll help you get used to it,” she handed the chopsticks back to Regina, the ends banded together to keep the utensils from falling too far apart.
Regina took them silently, and struggled for a moment before she picked up a few seasoned noodles and ate them, the carton held right below her chin. “That’s horribly inconvenient,” she muttered angrily after she had swallowed the bite.
Laughing, Emma reached for the plastic fork that had come with the food, and slid it over to sit on the table in front of Regina. “Use this, then,” she shrugged, and leaned back into the corner of the chair, facing Regina a bit more.
Regina eyed the more familiar utensil for a long moment before she picked her chopsticks back out of the container and dug into her Lo Mein once more, struggling but not giving up.
Head tilted to the side slightly, Emma watched as she struggled but refused to give up, to give into the easier option, and felt her throat grow thicker. Regina was a force to be reckoned with, all determination and drive and it was impressive. It was commitment even in the face of difficulty, and an errant thought crossed Emma’s mind; maybe she wouldn’t give up on me, either.
Ducking her head, Emma felt her cheeks burn, embarrassed at the juvenile thought, at the odd romanticism of the idea that sprung up so suddenly.
“For the record, I would have that waif at the lobby desk be my receptionist before I’d let you anywhere near the position.” Her lips were tilted into a much too-pleased smirk, and Emma rolled her eyes as she watched Regina twirl the chopsticks to gather her food, bringing it to her lips in large helpings.
“And yet you sure seem to find more than enough reasons to have me come around here.” Emma froze, Kung Pao chicken teetering dangerously between her chopsticks.
They didn’t talk about it, not openly. Little references that could never evolve in the short window of a delivery. In the beginning Regina had virtually dared her to mention it, and Emma had taken pleasure in never doing what Regina thought she would. After that it had just become The Thing They Didn’t Mention, even though they both knew the score.
The relationship that was building between them was tenuous, and there were rules they needed to follow if they were going to let it grow. And Emma had just blow their biggest rule off the board.
It was almost stiflingly silent, and Emma chewed slowly, waiting for the other shoe to drop as she avoided looking at Regina.
After a moment, her chair squeaked quietly with movement, and Regina said, “Exactly. If I hired you on, who would bring my packages so promptly?” Emma exhaled roughly, unaware of the pressure that had been gathering in her chest. Her laugh was grateful, relieved, and she looked over at Regina who was smiling into her food.
Her grin was mischievous, and when she looked over at Emma from the corner of her eye she looked suddenly young, like a rebellious teenager almost, as her gaze flicked over Emma’s form.
Regina was flirting with her.
They’d stepped past tentative friendship into something more, and it was so fast but at the same time perfect, like the energy between them couldn’t be tempered, couldn’t wait for normal timelines. Or maybe they’d past tentative friendship long ago and neither of them had realized.
Emma wanted to flirt back, wanted to bring out the blush in Regina’s cheeks that she’d only seen in anger before. But there was something else she wanted more, something the felt urgent as she thought of it.
“Did your son like reading Matilda?” Regina stilled, again, but Emma was prepared. It was a loaded question, a topic they hadn’t touched since the delivery weeks ago, but Emma had gotten a glimpse of Regina, open and sharing, and she was greedy for more.
Regina set the food down on the counter, and braced her hands on the edge. For a long moment Emma was convinced that she’d pushed for too much like she had that day about the newspaper article.
The chair Regina sat on squeaked a little in the quiet, as she turned to face Emma. She braced one arm on the clear portion of the counter beside her, and slid one leg over the other, resting her hand on her bent knee.
“He hasn’t, yet,” she said, tilting her chin up as if to dare Emma to challenge her.
“School project?” Emma hazarded a guess.
“No,” Regina smiled wryly. “He’d have it done by now if it were.” Emma said nothing, didn’t move, and waited for her to continue. “I told you he’s been having a difficult time?" Emma nodded. "Henry is adopted,” she said, lips thin, and eyes sharp as she watched for a reaction. When Emma gave none, she continued once more. “He was looking for something in my office at home, and found the adoption papers accidentally. He didn’t take it well.”
“Oh,” was all Emma said. She wanted to smack herself, to figure out what to say, how to be more insightful. She could relate to Regina’s son, but at the same time she couldn’t. She could imagine the way he felt, unwanted, unloved; disposable. The way she had, most kids did, when they learned of their biological parents’ decision to give them up.
But at the same time, Emma couldn’t imagine feeling that way with a parent that actually cared, that actually loved her. A parent that took photos in the fall, and kept her drawings where they could see them during the day.
“I didn’t try to hide it from him,” Regina defended, her arms crossing against her stomach. She’d mistaken Emma’s silence for accusation, and Emma frowned at herself. “I planned to tell him when he was older, when he could understand.”
Emma picked up a different container of food and opened it to find eggrolls. She took one, and looked at it carefully as she murmured, “You never understand. Not really.” The words sounded like blame to her own ears, and she held out the container to Regina to soothe them.
“You were adopted?” she seemed surprised, wary, but a bit hopeful, too.
“Foster care,” Emma shook her head. Regina grew quiet, and Emma bit into the eggroll, taking a long moment before she spoke again. When she did, she dropped the food back into the coated box, and wrapped one arm around her leg.
“I bounced around a lot, especially once I hit puberty, started getting into trouble more and more.” She looked past Regina, and set her head in her hand, elbow propped on her bent leg. “I was about twelve, I think, and one of the girls in the group home, she had a copy of Matilda.
“She read it at night, a few bunks from mine, and she cried. She cried all the time, and some of the other kids were nice to her about it. Some were mean.” Emma prayed Regina wouldn’t ask which she was, that she wouldn’t have to say she was indifferent, ignored her.
When she looked over, Regina was watching her closely, brown eyes darker that usual, though Emma wondered if it was the low light fooling her. “She’d read this book every night, and cry because it wasn’t real. Because there was no Miss Honey, because magic didn’t exist.”
Regina’s brows furrowed in pain. “What happened to her?” It was a stupid question, Regina’s face said she knew the answer.
“She got sent to a different group home, probably bounced around like the rest of us,” Emma confirmed. “She left the book, though; things get left behind all the time.” Emma felt guilty at the memory, and hugged her leg closer. “I grabbed it first. I liked to read - it’s about the only pastime you can count on being available in a new home - but I had never reacted to a book the way she had. I didn’t understand it.”
Regina leaned forward a bit in her chair. “And then you read it.” Her words were knowing, and Emma wondered what Regina’s reaction had been to the book. But she was telling a story she’d never before, and she couldn’t stop.
“And then I read it. And I understood why it hurt so much. Most of us had never really seen a healthy family relationship, and the ones that had were temporary, or lost. The only thing we’d ever seen of enduring happy families were in books and movies, fictional. But it was always about families that were born together and stayed together, or families that were separated and then reunited. It was always about families that wanted to find each other. There was never anything for those of us that knew our parents didn’t want us back.”
Emma was almost desperate as she finished, words she had never spoken gushing out of her, unstoppable. She didn’t know if there were tears on her cheeks, but her vision was blurring, and she blinked to clear it. "I could relate to her because she knew her family didn't care about her, she knew they were terrible. She didn't have to wonder, and when she had no long-lost loving parents to hope for, she made a better family for herself."
Regina was silent across from her, and she wanted to apologize, to explain that she had no idea where it had all bubbled up from.
“I was about ten,” Regina cleared her throat, “when it came out.” Emma looked up at her, felt her breath catch as she recovered from the emotion that had thickened her lungs. She was almost still as she spoke, her hair falling against her cheek and shadowing her eyes further in the dim light. “My father loved books. We had a library in our house, and he spent most of his time in there.
“He emigrated from Puerto Rico when he was five or six, and his mother - who died before I was born - read with him constantly. He told me that she taught him English that way, but when he was a bit older he realized they were learning together. That she would work enough ahead to help them through the next part of their book.” She smiled softly. “He read to me, with me, as far back as I can remember, and he’d bring me books almost as fast as I could read them.”
Emma licked her lips, and her eyes softened. “That sounds nice,” she murmured.
Regina laughed quietly, and nodded. “It was. One day he brought home Matilda, and he slipped it to me under the table at dinner.” She hesitated. “Mother wasn’t as fond of what he gave me to read, wanted me to be educated, but in the right ways.”
The phrase gave Emma chills, the single word holding more threat than it should. “Daddy winked at me, he wanted me to read that book, and so I did. I didn’t understand, at first, why he gave it to me, but when I got older I think I figured it out.”
Emma licked her lips, waiting, feeling her fingers curl into her legs. “Why?”
“He was telling me that it was OK. That it was OK to blame her, to hate her. That it was OK to love her. That I didn’t have to choose her.” Regina fell silent, and Emma wished she was hungry, just to have something to do with her hands. “She wasn’t neglectful, exactly, and it didn’t feel like abuse, at least for the most part. She didn’t hit me, and I didn’t know, not back then, that there were other ways to scar your child.”
Emma swallowed thickly, in recognition and in empathy. She wanted to reach out and hold Regina’s hand, but she couldn’t. So she set her arm on the armrest, palm outstretched in an offer of support.
Regina eyed the gesture warily, and cleared her throat. Her voice was thick, almost broken, and Emma knew she was holding the emotion back, that her own throat felt coated in molasses, too. They held for a moment, everything frozen in the dim light of the office.
A car honked outside, and Regina pulled her arms closer to herself. "It's late. I should be getting home, Miss Swan, as should you.” She stood, Emma’s open hand left ungrasped, and Emma curled it into a small fist. She felt like she’d missed a crucial moment, took a wrong turn she couldn’t undo, but Regina stepped behind her, and let her palm rest against Emma’s shoulder, her fingertips brushing the nape of her neck.
They stayed there a moment, not moving, just connecting. The air felt thin as Emma breathed slowly, unwilling to break the delicate balance of the moment, even as she felt her body almost start to tremble.
“I hope your son reads it,” Emma said in the quiet office. She felt brave without Regina’s eyes on her, and she forced herself to stay still, to keep Regina’s warm palm on her back. “He should know,” she bit at her lips. “How lucky he is.”
Regina’s fingers slid against the back of her neck, short nails raising goosebumps as she reached the hairline at her nape. “Thank you,” Regina breathed out slowly, and dropped her hand.
As quickly as it had happened, it was over, and Regina rounded the desk to reach the other side, packing up the uneaten food. “What’s his name?” Emma asked, and began helping her, placing the boxes gently into the bag.
“Henry,” she grinned wide, and Emma was almost blinded by the sight. “After my father.”
“I’m glad you had him,” she blurted, and Regina sighed softly.
“I am, too. He,” she hesitated, her mouth moving a bit as though she were unsure how to continue. “He wasn’t perfect, and I’ve tried to reconcile how he could have loved me and let my mother do what she did.” She furrowed her brows, the conflict clearly still present in her mind. “But he did love me. They both did, I think.”
Emma stilled her movements, and just watched Regina for a long moment. When she finally looked over at Emma, her face softened, the seriousness of the topic lifted for a moment. “What?”
“I don’t see how they couldn’t have,” she breathed out through her nose, aware of the implication of her words but unwilling to take them back, to gloss over them. Regina’s eyes widened as she caught Emma's meaning, and she ducked her head. Her tan skin looked darker in the low light, but Emma could still see the flush on her skin, visible in the light there was.
Emma let the moment rest, and continued to pack the food. “Where is Henry tonight?” she asked. It was nearly ten o’clock, now, and Emma couldn’t imagine a woman that was so distraught over her son’s distress would be without him by choice.
“He was invited to a first-school-week-is-over slumber party at a friend's house." Regina's movements stilled. "He's not very social, and prefers to stay home, most nights. He’s too smart, too sensitive to fit in with most of the boys his age,” she defended before her posture slackened. “I think he just wanted to get away from me, for a night.”
Emma felt her heart grow heavy at Regina's pain. She hated that Regina was alone in this, that Emma had no idea what to do or say to make it better. Only, maybe she did. Emma wasn’t sure how to ask, but curiosity won over the warning to tread carefully. “Is it just you and him? Or does he have a dad?”
Regina smiled, bittersweet, and folded the takeout bag top over, setting it to the side. “He did. It was only for about two years, but he had the bestfather.” There were tears gathering in her eyes as she said it, and Emma wanted to take it back, to step off of such heavy topics.
But the dimly lit office had become a sanctuary, a safe space, and Emma got the feeling Regina didn’t let any of this out otherwise. "What happened?"
“My husband died shortly after we’d adopted Henry. He had a rare heart disease - hereditary - and he just got too sick. None of the medical treatments worked, and he passed.” Regina's focus was on the counter, clearly lost in the memory of her husband, and Emma shifted uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry,” Emma finally said, and she meant it. Badly.
“Me too,” Regina murmured. “I was angry, for a long time. And I made a lot of mistakes out of frustration,” her jaw clenched. “If it weren’t for Henry I think I would have been consumed by the pain of it.”
There was a pause, as if Regina realized what she’d said, how much she’d admitted, and she shook her head. “I’ll walk you downstairs, Miss Swan.” Her voice was still soft, still held the hint of vulnerability she’d displayed, but Emma was Miss Swan again, and whatever had happened between them was over for tonight.
Just for tonight, she hoped.
Emma grabbed her coat and helmet, waited as Regina ducked into her office to get her own jacket. They left the floor in silence, and when Regina stopped on the fifteenth floor to shut down, Emma walked out of the elevator, too, not ready to be without her yet.
“Are you alone when you stay this late?” Emma asked finally, as the exited into the lobby. “Where are your security guards?” Her voice was a bit angry, she knew, but the idea of Regina roaming an empty building made her feel jittery.
Regina smirked, and pulled out her keys as they stepped into the cool air. It wasn’t yet cold enough for Emma to see their breaths, but she imagined she could, anyway. “They’re in the lobby, a room off to the side.” Looking at Emma out of the corner of her eye, she raised a brow in challenge. “You don’t think I could take care of myself?”
Emma snorted. “Not at all,” she murmured, and felt the smallest twinge of guilt for even entertaining the thought. They slowed at the bike rack, and Emma hesitated.
“Would you like a ride?” she asked, gesturing to the yellow bike that sat by itself.
“Nah,” Emma shrugged off immediately. Her face was warm, felt like she’d been drinking too much, and the fresh air would do her good. “Thanks,” she kicked her toe into the pavement.
“For telling you my sob story?” Regina asked self-deprecatingly. “Or for listening to yours?” Her eyes sparkled, and Emma breathed out into a laugh.
“For dinner,” she clarified, and slipped one hand into her coat pocket, the other holding her helmet against her side. “And for both,” she added, unwilling to let their emotional conversation go unacknowledged on her end. “I’d say let’s do this again…”
“Let’s not,” Regina laughed, ragged, like she was desperate for the action. “Goodnight, Emma,” she licked her lips, and the streetlight shone directly above them, baring the entirely of Regina’s face from the shadow. Her eyes were warm, and deep, and they sparkled in the bright light. Her lips were redder, fuller than they’d been earlier that day, the pressure from holding them together, from biting them making them blush.
Emma wanted to kiss her.
But it was too tense, everything too raw, and so she reached forward, and let a loose lock of Regina’s hair slip through her fingers as she set it back to where it belonged. “Goodnight, Regina,” she said, smiling, and took a step back.
The moment she started to pull on her helmet, Regina burst out laughing. The sound was still ragged, but it was also deeper, fuller, now, like she wasn't holding herself back. “You look ridiculous,” she finally breathed, looking pointedly at Emma’s helmet, and Emma felt her own laughter bubble out of her.
In an instant the intensity of their night, the rawness, was gone. The emotional trance they’d been in, that had allowed them to open up and connect had been broken, but the connection remained, a smile breaking across Emma’s lips as she listened to the melody of her laugh.
Tears shone in Regina's eyes from the joyful laughter, and Emma couldn't help but take a step closer, reaching for Regina's arm. "I don't look that stupid," she grumbled playfully, but Regina bit her bottom lip and nodded.
"You do, actually," and she looked up to the black helmet she wore, her palm cupping the side of the gear. Regina's laughter started to calm a bit, and she looked Emma in the eyes. "And to think, you'd gone so far without disproving your claim," she pursed her lips trying to stifle her smile.
Emma's hand slid down the arm of the jacket Regina wore until her fingers gripped her wrist loosely. "I'll have you know—"
Regina leaned forward, tugging Emma to her by the helmet beneath her fingers, and angled her mouth over Emma's. The kiss was unexpected, and Emma's eyes widened a moment before she let them fall closed. Her fingers curved into the material around Regina's wrist, and her other hand slipped between them to cup the soft skin of Regina's jaw.
The kiss was chaste, all things considered, and Emma found herself melting into the feel of Regina's full lips pressed against her own. They didn't move, or deepen it, or even breathe for a long moment. Instead they just held each other together after baring themselves upstairs, and falling against one another in the light moment they had forged.
Regina pulled back first, her lips pressing a tiny parting kiss against the corner of Emma's mouth, and Emma stroked her thumb across the Regina's chin as she opened her eyes.
They were caught in the intensity of the moment, both processing what had just happened between them, how they'd shared everything and nothing in a simple brush of their lips.
Regina licked hers, catching Emma's attention, but before she could lean in for a real taste, Regina tugged on her helmet and laughed again. She wasn't panicking, wasn't nervous, but she pushed Emma back from her and shook her head a bit.
This was the Regina she'd seen in the picture on her desk, warm and open and playful. It was hard, reconciling this woman with the one that had fought her on that first delivery, the ones after. Hard to see her as the woman that called her and demanded Chinese food at her door.
She got tough when she was vulnerable, Emma had figured that much. She thought about the call, about the way she left Emma no option to refuse. Emma wondered if Regina had been embarrassed, scared of her rejection; if she made her nervous in a way that meant she was something, someone important to her, even before they’d bared their souls.
Regina's eyes were soft under the lamp light, and Emma straightened her helmet until Regina rolled her eyes. Pulling her bike from the rack she slid on, smiling and gesturing to the takeout bag Regina carried. “Next time, you can just ask me to dinner, Regina.” She licked her lips and imagined she could taste Regina. “I’ll say yes.”
Emma wasn’t sure what to expect. Regina had stayed silent for five days; five days since they’d shared deep secrets and laughed beneath a dim streetlight, since they’d shared a kiss that was too-short and perfect at the same time. At least, to Emma it had been. But with the silence, she started to worry about what had happened, if telling Regina about her past had screwed it all up. Or if listening, pushing - kissing her - had.
So when she got a call on the radio from Lacey a little before four, she breathed an audible sigh of release at the pick up location. “Are you out of breath?” she asked, voice teasing, and Emma shook her head.
“Yeah. Tell David I’m getting old, he’ll love it.” She kicked her off on her bike and held her finger over the call button. “I’m heading out, talk later.” Emma heard Lacey’s acknowledgment, and took the run faster than she should have.
Her legs ached from the long day and the hard ride, but she was excited - and nervous - to see Regina again.
She kicked off her bike and leaned it against the rack. A smile tugged at her lips as she remembered the last time she'd been here; Regina laughing, Regina kissing her. Emma debated for a long moment before she tugged her helmet off, smirking as she thought of wearing it inside today, just to tease her. Emma left the helmet on the handle of her bike, and headed into the building.
She had been too nervous to call Regina, too scared to push too hard or seem too desperate, even if she felt it. And she did, feel desperate, felt almost as though she would burst from the desire to see her again.
But she’d managed to contain herself, and she now stood at the threshold to Regina’s office, the usually wide-open door angled almost completely closed.
“If you plan to deliver that package you’ll need to enter the office, Miss Swan,” Regina’s voice drifted out into the hallway, and she let out a breath before she pushed the door open to slip through it.
“How’d you know I was out there?” Emma asked, eyes a bit wide, and Regina smirked, her eyes not straying from the text book in front of her.
Regina held a pen loosely between her fingers, and the tip stilled on the notepad beside her as she looked up. “You were practically fogging my windows with the force of your breathing,” she raised one brow and gestured to the glass wall.
Emma held her stare for a long moment, trying to figure out where they had landed, the memory of Regina’s mouth against hers leaving her head hazy.
Finally, Regina looked down at the envelope in Emma’s hands and set her pen down, steepling her fingers. “Do you wish to stand there all day, or would you rather I sign?”
She was all business, no hint of the dinner, the secrets they’d shared even giving her pause.
Deflating a bit, Emma walked toward the desk and held out the delivery. Regina reached for it slowly, and when she took it from Emma’s hand her fingers brushed teasingly across Emma’s knuckles.
Emma sucked in a breath, and her eyes flew up to Regina’s but there was no trace of recognition. Instead she set the package down on her desk and held out a palm for the XDA to follow.
Stumbling through her movements Emma pulled it out of her bag and passed it to her, and this time Emma was positive Regina had scraped her nails over Emma’s inner wrist on purpose.
Her skin seared where Regina had touched her, but she’d slipped, and when Emma looked up at her she saw that mischievous glimmer she’d seen the other night. The one that said Regina was flirting with her, was enjoying this.
Licking her lips as Regina’s attention slipped to the electronic device in her hand, Emma quickly rounded the desk, a smirk tilting on her own lips as she stood directly behind Regina’s chair.
“Here,” Emma murmured, and leaned over, her right hand gripping the seat of the chair right beside Regina’s thigh. The heel of her palm rubbed against the black pants Regina wore, and Emma could feel Regina’s back stiffen as she said softly, “It’s been on the fritz today.”
She spoke almost directly into Regina’s ear, and pressed one of the buttons that would do nothing to the screen. Regina was still in her arms for a long moment, before she pulled back a bit to turn her head, look at Emma close up, and she licked her lips slowly, eyes widening in faux innocence. “Pity,” she leaned away from Emma further, and held out the XDA.
Her movement pressed her leg more firmly against Emma, and her fingers itched to move, to slide against her and tug her closer.
But Regina wheeled the desk chair backwards, dislodging Emma’s grip and forcing her to step back. Regina stood, and Emma watched her move to the side of her desk. “I guess you’ll need to come back with a new one,” she said, and Emma’s arms fell to her sides.
“I guess so,” she shrugged, and started to move toward the door. A few feet from the desk she hesitated, her gloved fingers curling in a bit, and she turned back. Regina was leaned back against her desk, almost sitting on it with her hands braced on the edges beside her. “I almost forgot,” Emma said, stepping into Regina’s space, and she licked her lips as Regina tracked her movement.
Emma leaned forward, putting her hands beside Regina’s, and stood with her feet on either side of Regina’s legs where they were crossed at the ankles. Regina’s breath caught a moment before Emma bent forward to taste her, to brush her lips against Regina’s own.
For a moment it was the kiss they’d had the other night, soft and chaste and the smallest bit tentative. But then Regina’s hand slipped from the desk and she stood up a bit straighter, getting closer to Emma, as close as she could. Her hand was splayed over Emma’s back, pulling them together.
Her lips parted, and Emma’s tongue brushed Regina’s languidly, her own hands moving to settle on Regina’s hips, fingers curling with just a hint of possessive instinct. They tugged each other close, and Emma suppressed a groan at the gentle sigh that echoed between them, the noise Regina’s but the feeling settling deep in Emma’s body.
She felt Regina’s free hand slip between them and her fingers gripped the fabric of Emma’s t-shirt beneath her open jacket.
Regina pulled back first, her forehead resting against Emma’s as she took a few slow breaths. “Mmmm,” she murmured and licked her lips, and Emma felt the image low in her belly.
Her fingers loosened from Regina’s hips, and she snuck one arm behind Regina’s back to pull her closer, her forearm almost longer than the waist of the petite woman in her arms.
Regina let Emma hold her for a moment, before her hands fell from Emma’s body and she leaned back, gesturing to the slightly-open door. “I’m sure you have other deliveries to attend to, Miss Swan,” Regina pursed her lips, her skin darker with a spreading flush.
Emma felt a prickle of disappointment as Regina dismissed her, even as she understood where she was coming from. Regina was the CEO, already under scrutiny from her employees; getting caught making out like a teenager with her delivery girl was probably not high on her list.
She looked over her shoulder quickly before leaning in for one more short kiss, and couldn’t stop the smile that graced her lips at Regina’s small noise of surprise.
Her eyes were narrowed dangerously when Emma finally stepped back, a self-satisfied smirk across her face. “You’re playing with fire, Miss Swan,” she warned, and tilted her head warningly as she crossed her arms.
Emma put her hands on her hips, and tried to tamp down the voice that whispered I’m ready to burn.
Regina called for a pick up the next day - what sounded like a real one, surprisingly - and Emma headed into the lobby, shaking her hair from the ponytail she'd had it in.
Barely waving to Mary Margaret at the desk she went directly to the elevator and followed in behind a young boy with brown hair. When he turned around and pressed Regina’s floor, she recognized him, recognized the boyish cheeks and brown eyes.
He caught her staring before she could remember to look away, and when she realized, she cleared her throat and looked up at the number in red. “Sorry,” she mumbled and when she chanced a look at him, his expression was 100% Regina. No child should be able to smirk like that.
“I’m Henry,” he held out a hand, and Emma took it, eyeing him carefully.
“Emma. Didn’t your mom tell you not to talk to strangers?” she asked knowingly.
Henry rolled his eyes, and Emma bit her lip to stop her smile. “We just met, so you’re not a stranger,” he fired back, and if she hadn’t known this was Regina’s son, she would now.
He looked at the panel of buttons, and pointed. “Are you going to see my mom?” he asked suspiciously, and Emma felt a stab of panic, unsure what to do.
“Ah, yeah,” she settled for the truth, and felt uncomfortable under the ten-year-old’s gaze.
“Are you her friend?” His voice was accusatory, and Emma was taken aback. Regina wasn’t exaggerating when she called this a rough patch.
“Yeah,” she said defensively, a bit on edge from his tone.
Henry leaned back against the wall, and Emma mirrored his motion as they rode up. Almost to their floor, Emma looked over. “Your mom told me she gave you a copy of Matilda.”
Henry braced his hands on the rail behind him, and rolled his eyes again. “Yeah, she thinks it’ll solve everything.”
Emma bit her cheek and looked back at the doors. “That’s dumb,” she said evenly, and stared at the silver elevator doors. She forced herself not to look at Henry, even as he looked at her warily, intrigued by her agreement, but hesitant from her association with his mother.
“It is,” he agreed, and the elevator dinged as the door opened.
Emma stepped out first, and put her hands in her pockets, aiming for casual. “It’s a good book, though.” Henry looked up at her as they walked toward Regina’s office. “Do you like robots?”
She looked down at him, and he screwed his face up in confusion. “What? Yeah, I guess.”
Emma bit the inside of her cheek. “And dragons?”
Henry’s eyes widened, and Emma looked forward, steering them both around the front desk and the number eight still hanging in there.
“Yeah,” he said, a bit friendlier. “It has dragons?”
Emma shrugged. “Guess you’ll have to read it and find out,” she said, and ushered him into Regina’s office ahead of her.
“Henry?” Regina asked as soon as she saw him, standing from her desk and rounding it quickly. “Is something the matter?”
Henry looked around, and his brows raised in a way that was far too much like Regina. “Your office is cool,” he said, anger at his mother disappearing as he took in the new space.
Regina looked over Henry’s head as she leaned down, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Miss Swan?” she prompted, looking for answers.
Emma shrugged, and held her hands up. “I just met the kid in the elevator.”
Licking her lips, Regina looked back at Henry, her fingers raising to tilt his attention toward Regina gently. “Henry? What are you doing here, sweetie?”
Henry shrugged. “I forgot my house key, and I need my journal for Dr. Hopper,” he defended, and Regina dropped her hands, standing up as she exhaled. Henry wandered around the space, his hands trailing over everything he saw. “How come I haven’t been to your office before?"
Regina held a hand to her stomach, and Emma could feel the stress radiating from her. Ignoring his question she asked her own. “Why didn’t you call me, Henry? I would have brought your key." Straightening up, she tried to be a bit firmer. "It’s not safe for you to wander around the city.”
Henry looked guilty, but shrugged. “I guess,” he said quietly. Looking back at Emma for a moment, Henry asked, “Do you still have that book you wanted me to read?”
Regina’s eyes widened in surprise, but Emma offered no explanation. “Uh, of course, Henry. It’s on the dining room table, I believe.” Clearing her throat, she gestured to her desk chair. “Henry, why don’t you go sit at my desk a moment while I talk to Miss Swan, and then I’ll take you home.”
“OK,” he gripped his backpack tighter on one shoulder, and plopped down into the large leather chair, immediately spinning.
Regina turned her attention from him as he entertained himself, and stepped closer to Emma. “Did you talk to him?” she asked, guarded.
Emma licked her lips and shifted her weight between her feet. “Uh, sorta.” Defensively, she added, “I told him not to talk to strangers.”
Regina’s lips twitched, before she leaned closer and furrowed her brow. “And Matilda?”
Emma shrugged. “He may think there are robots in it.”
Eyes narrowing, Regina crossed her arms. “You lied to my son?”
“I suggested the possibility it contained some things it doesn’t, and told him he’d have to read to find out.” Regina was suppressing a smile again, and Emma felt her chest lighten. “You have a pick up?”
Nodding, Regina turned around, and pulled a box from the shelf beside her. “It’s going to Boston General,” she instructed. There was a pause as she held the box out, and when Emma took it she asked, “Would you like to have dinner, Emma?”
Feeling a bit daring, Emma took the box, and held it against her stomach. “Can I wear the helmet?” she asked playfully, her eyebrows raising.
Regina leaned forward, her own eyes glinting mischievously. “If you wish to be dining alone, by all means.”
Emma laughed quietly. “No helmet, got it. Do you want me to meet you there, or—”
“Bring food to the office around five, we’ll eat here.” Emma wanted to argue, but Regina was already turning, and she walked back to her desk.
“Are you ready, Henry?” Her son’s attention was focused on something behind the desk, his brow furrowed in confusion, and he took a long moment before he agreed, quietly.
The three of them walked down together, Regina and Henry parting from her at the bike rack. “Bye, Emma,” Henry waved, and Emma did the same. Regina hung back as her son headed toward the parked car on the side of the street.
“I’ll see you later?” she asked, and Emma nodded, slipping onto her bike.
“With food and no helmet,” she clarified, and Regina smiled. “I’ll be risking my life for you, you know,” she teased, and Regina burrowed her head down, her chin tucking into the scarf she wore.
“My hero,” she said dryly, and turned to follow her son.
“So, why hadn’t Henry been here before?” Emma asked, digging into the club sandwich in front of her. She'd stopped by a nearby deli for food, unsure what to get Regina but playing it safe with a few sandwiches.
Regina looked up from her Reuben, and took a bite of the corner before she responded carefully. "Not many people here know I have a son," she licked her lips, erasing the lingering crumbs, and setting her sandwich back down. "I don't hide it, by any means. And I find it rather difficult to keep quiet about him, to be honest." Emma smiled. "it's a bit of a delicate situation."
Emma furrowed her brows, taking a big bite. "How so?" she asked around a bite of her club sandwich, and Regina handed her a napkin.
"Charming, dear." Regina said dryly. "When most people find out I'm a single mother of a ten-year-old son, the assumption is not that I was a widow, nor that I intended to have my child," she said darkly. "Rather, the first question I'm asked is something along the lines of does he know his father?, a question meant to not-so-subtly ask me the same."
Emma felt her face flush as she thought of her own question the week before. "That's awful," she said, a bit too harshly, and shifted in her chair.
Regina pursed her lips, and picked up her sandwich again. "Henry doesn't remember his father, really only has pictures of the two of them when Henry was very small. It's not particularly easy for me to discuss Daniel at length, and a part of me hopes to push it off until he's older, until he can figure more of it out for himself," Regina looks guilty at the thought. "Henry doesn't need to be asked how old I was when I had him, or if his father is around. Especially not while we're working through him coming to terms with his adoption," she sighed softly.
"Has he said why he's so angry?"
"He goes to therapy once a week, and Dr. Hopper has been working with him." She worries her lip. "He has been questioning my love for him, it seems. Claiming I got him for some reason besides love."
Emma flinched, and set her sandwich down. "Ouch," she murmured, and knew it was unhelpful. It was unbelievable; how anyone could question Regina's love for her son was ridiculous.
Regina reached for the photo on her desk and touched the edge gently. "It was why I was hoping he would read the book," she said softly. "I wanted him to see that adoption wasn't about getting stuck with him, or whatever he thinks. But that I wanted him so badly." After a moment, Regina looked up at Emma, smiling wryly. "He's never fought on reading a book in his entire life, I shouldn't be surprised he would fight me on it, now."
"Big reader?" Emma asked.
"Hmm," Regina agreed, and propped her head on her fist. "And history buff. He can read all day and night."
Emma smirked. "What about science? Is he a science geek like his mom?"
Regina narrowed her eyes playfully. "I am not a geek, Miss Swan. I am a professional."
Emma let the mood settle before she cautiously asked, “Did your dad get to know him?”
Regina smiled wistfully, and picked at the bag of chips beside her, to occupy her hands. “He did," she nodded. "He passed away when Henry was four, and I’m forever grateful he got to know my father.”
Emma swallowed the bite she’d taken. “Did they read together?”
Her expression darkened, and Emma wanted to take it back, navigate them to shallower waters. But Regina regarded carefully a moment before she answered. “They did. Almost every night, for a while. My father tried to hide one of the more repetitive bedtime stories, once, but Henry had memorized it." Regina's gaze slid from Emma, and she curled one hand into a fist. "Daddy even read to him in Spanish, tried to teach him some of the language."
“He didn’t like it?” Regina laughed easily, and took a sip of the bottled water Emma had brought.
“He loved it. For a while he had my father put post-it notes all around the house, labeling anything within Henry’s reach.” Regina’s eyes sparkled. “When he was three daddy taught him animals. We’d go on walks and when we passed a dog he’d drop his arms to the sidewalk and begperroooooooo, like the desire was so strong it was dragging him down.”
Emma’s lips tilted up, the love for her son so plain on Regina’s face. “I think I can imagine that. He's still got chubby cheeks,” she explained, and Regina's eyes fell to her picture frame. She stared at the image of her and her son for a moment before she spoke quiet, tentatively.
“I stopped talking to my mother when I graduated college, didn’t speak to her for over a year,” Regina shifted into the story, her smile fading. “When Daniel died, I was pretty vulnerable, and I fell for a lot of the manipulations she’d used on me in the past. I let her back into my life, let her pay for graduate school, help take care of Henry.
“She didn’t like that daddy was teaching him Spanish, wanted him to learn Latin, or Greek. She started to enroll Henry in classes behind my back, to take him to etiquette training when she volunteered to watch him.” Regina pursed her lips. “She didn’t treat him poorly, didn't manipulate him the way she did me, but she was taking my son in the direction she thought he should go, and I knew if I didn’t stop it when it started, I would let her run his life because it was so easy to fall into her.”
Emma swallowed, her appetite gone. Regina quirked a brow. “You asked me why I didn’t want to cut the ribbon at the bridge,” she swiveled slightly in her chair. “Because she didn’t deserve the recognition, my support. But I can’t bring myself to tell the city that, either. And I would have, if I’d gone.”
Regina leaned forward in her chair, and braced her forearms on the edge. “The corporate world ruins people. It’s full of old money and close-mindedness, arrogance and hostility.” Regina took a long breath, and shook her head. "At least my mother's corner of it was.
“When I was five, daddy brought me to see my mother at work. I ran in, excited to see her, like I still had been at that age. She was standing with a bunch of her colleagues, and when I ran up, they thought I was one of the maintenance worker’s children.
“I was all curly hair and brown eyes and brown skin, and my mother was mortified at the assumption.” Regina smirked humorlessly. "After that she started straightening my hair, dressing me in clothes that washed me out, made me look fairer." Regina looked at Emma again, and watched her closely. "She taught me that there were times it was alright to be my father's daughter, to be me. But that to succeed I needed to blend," her voice cracked as she finished, and Emma's mouth felt dry. "That to be raised with her last name instead of my father's was a gift."
Emma gripped the water bottle in her hand tighter, condensation pooling beneath her skin. "I don't know if she was always like that, or if it was something that developed once she started in this business, started working with the people she did. But I know I don't want my son around any of it."
Regina leaned back in her chair, and Emma could see her staring at the drawings made by her son, the assignments he'd done so well on. "Can I ask you a question?" Emma broke the quiet of the room.
Scoffing, Regina raised an eyebrow and reached for her water. "You're rather rapidly learning all my secrets, Miss Swan. I'm not sure what there could possibly be left to know." She was reserved, the truths she'd just shared almost certainly ones that were far more often buried. But she hadn't said no, hadn't kicked Emma out or dismissed her. Emma had a short leash to learn about Regina, to answer the questions that were plaguing her.
She wouldn't push, but if Regina was willing to answer she wanted to know. "If you hate this business stuff so much, why are you—" she gestured around the office.
"Running a company?" Emma nodded. "I told you that I'd made a lot of mistakes after my husband died. Henry was so young, and I was just starting a graduate program at MIT. I was floundering, and my mother knew exactly how to step in and make it all seem like it would work out." Regina's face darkened, and her lips turned down. "She bought a pharmaceutical company and hired me on. Paid for grad school, helped watch Henry." She gestured to the degree on the wall. "I got an almost full scholarship for undergrad, and worked for what wasn't covered, books and rent. I spent four years completely breaking free from her, four years becoming independent, and in months she had undone all of it. I was completely dependent on her again.
"When she died I had almost all of my assets tied up in her name, but she left me this company." Regina looked around the room, a defeated look on her face. "With Henry barely in school I was in no position to make drastic moves in my life."
"So you changed the work?" Emma asked, her elbows on her knees as she leaned forward. "It used to be a pharmaceutical company?"
Regina smiled proudly. "It did. I wanted to be in the lab, I didn't want to be behind a desk. So I changed what I could."
Emma swallowed harshly. Like Matilda, she had - out of options - made her own happy ending. "That's...wow," Emma breathed, and Regina looked away, uncharacteristically self-conscious. "You know, I get why you don't want Henry around certain people," she started, evenly, "but when we were in the elevator, Henry asked me my name. I told him, and then asked if his mother told him not to talk to strangers.”
Regina’s eyes sparkled at the story of her son. She licked her lips and prompted, “And?”
“He told me weren’t strangers anymore.” Regina’s lips spread into a bigger grin, and Emma laughed softly. “He’s you. I know we haven’t known…” she trailed off, the words feeling false for all they’d shared. “Even if I hadn’t know who he was, I would have known he was yours.
“He’s tough and ballsy and stubborn, and gave me the same look you do when you’re pretending to be unimpressed by me.”
“I often am unimpressed,” she smiled over her bottle of water.
Emma smirked, ignoring the denial. “I’m just saying, he’s all you. So, I guess I wouldn’t worry too much about him,” she looked down at her food shy, suddenly, and pink tinged her cheeks. “Because look how great you turned out.”
The last line is directly stolen from SVU. Because I've been watching it a lot lately and the sentence got stuck in my brain.
It became a regular thing; her and Regina and dinner in the office.
Emma didn’t get it at first, why their date nights – not that Regina had ever gone so far as to say they were dating – were relegated to Thursdays . She thought it was kind of strange, really, until it started to click.
Because Thursdays were therapy days, and Regina wouldn’t admit it, but she needed a distraction from the thought of her son telling a stranger why he thought his mother didn’t love him.
“It’ll get better,” Emma had reassured one Thursday, a month into their tentative relationship. She hadn’t known where the words had come from. She wasn’t equipped to deal with the topic, but Regina had been staring off, fries getting colder faster than Emma could snag them.
She’d been looking out the window, her fingers gently playing with a simple pendent at her neck, and Regina had smiled softly. “It already has,”she’d murmured, and turned to look at Emma. “He doesn’t understand it all, of course, but when I had picked him up last week, he told me that he’d been thinking about my office.
“That he’d seen his work behind my desk.” Regina had been relaxed as she’d relayed the story, and Emma had prompted her for more information.“He got really quiet, and he asked me if I loved him. If I wanted him.” Regina’s eyes had misted over, her throat getting thick and voice deepening.“It was the first time since he found out that he hadn’t just assumed I didn’t.”
Her fingers still trembled slightly in memory of the love she’d seen on Regina’s face as she said, “I told him I did, of course I did, and he let out this sigh. He hadn’t said anything else for the ride, but when we got into the house he hugged me.
“He hugged me so tightly, Emma, and he let me hold him for the first time in months.” Emma felt her lips curl up in memory of that dinner, now a few weeks old.
It was nearly five o’clock, and Emma breezed through the lobby, having learned weeks ago not to make Regina wait. “Hey Mary Margaret,” Emma raised a hand in greeting, but didn’t slow down.
“Mary Margaret has a theory,” David had told her one day after work back before that first dinner with Regina, a basket of onion rings split between them. “About you and Regina.”
“Oh yeah?” she’d challenged, partially frustrated with hearing about David’s new girlfriend, and partially defensive from the topic. “What’s that?”
David had licked his lips, and reached for another ring. Shaking his head, he’d murmured, “Maybe I’ll tell you someday,” like the annoying brother he sometimes was.
She was pretty sure she knew now what her theory had been; after all, her own had been growing with the intensity between her and Regina, the desire to be near her more and more. Still, as sweet as Mary Margaret was it wasn’t any of her business, and Emma didn’t linger at the front desk anymore.
Instead she went straight to the elevator, and rode it up to the top. The office felt warmer now, louder, and as Emma walked down the hallway she knew that Kathryn – receptionist number nine – had something to do with it.
“Can I help you?” Kathryn had greeted her a month ago, her face fresh in the office. Emma had faltered beside the desk, always thrown by a new temp stopping her.
“Oh, uh,” she’d gestured weakly toward Regina’s door, and Kathryn had quirked an eyebrow before looking her up and down carefully.
“You must be Emma,” she’d said, stage whispering, and smiling at her own action. Not knowing what to do, Emma had stayed still a moment, until Kathryn had turned to face her computer, typing intently. “You better not keep her waiting,” she had directed, attention not leaving her screen.
Kathryn was going back to law school, temping to get by, but she showed no signs of cracking under the pressure to be Regina’s assistant. In fact, Emma had seen her give it right back to the CEO a few times.
“Emma,” Kathryn greeted her regally, attention staying on her work as she did nothing to distract Emma from her destination.
“Hey,” Emma said easily, her legs carrying her directly into Regina’s office. Her empty office.
Immediately she felt herself deflate, and she dropped the food containers on the clear desktop. Regina’s laptop was there, but closed, and Emma took a seat on the edge of the desk beside the Chinese food - Regina had insisted, she was determined to get better with chopsticks than Emma was – and swung her legs back and forth.
She hadn’t seen Regina since their dinner the previous week, and while they’d exchanged a few texts and a phone call, it hadn’t been Regina in the flesh in front of her, and that was something Emma had found she’d grown rather used to.
“There is a perfectly good chair in front of you, Miss Swan,” Regina walked into her office, shutting the door behind her. She tugged at the lab coat she wore, letting it fall from her shoulders so she could hang it on the rack in the corner. Slowly, she’d been finding a new balance for her work, discovering creative ways to work around her administrative duties so she could work with the actual research more often.
Geek was a good look on Regina, Emma had decided; the more time she’d spent in the lab, the lighter she’d seemed.
Plus the glasses weren’t exactly a turn-off.
“You always sit on your desk,” Emma argued, but slipped from the marble to stand anyway.
Regina bobbed her head for emphasis. “Yes, my desk.” Emma rolled her eyes and sat down heavily in the sleek visitor’s chair. “Your attitude is worse than Henry’s,” Regina said playfully, the topic having grown easier to deal with as time had gone by. As their relationship had improved.
Emma didn’t want to pull her from the easy mood, but she hadn’t been able to check in about it and she had to ask: “How’d it go last week?”
Regina had taken to confiding in Emma – not in depth, her wounds with Henry far fresher than the ones she’d shared of her past, and just as painful – a day or two after Henry would return from therapy, with an assignment from Dr. Hopper that sometimes left Regina in a foul mood.
“Hopper still a quack?” Emma added, just to see Regina smile. She did.
“Unfortunately so.” Regina walked further into her office, and sat on the edge of the desk in front of Emma, smiling triumphantly at her unimpressed look. “Although this weekend was…surprisingly pleasant.”
Regina slowly crossed one leg over the other, the long skirt of the dress – the long slit one, Emma’s favorite – baring a shadow of the back of her thigh. “He prompted Henry to ask me to do something we haven’t done since he was little. Something he used to enjoy.” Regina smiled wistfully. “He wanted to bake cookies.”
Emma leaned back in the chair, smiling easily. “That’s cute.”
“It was something we hadn’t done since my father passed. He didn’t cook often – neither did mother, of course – but he’d learned from his aunt when he was young how to make mantecaditos,” she pronounced beautifully, and held up her fingers in a small o. “They’re little shortbread cookies, about this big, and you can put jelly or sprinkles or chocolate in the center.
“It was a bit awkward, when we started. Henry didn’t say much to me, just listened as I gave him directions.” Regina’s foot flexed out toward Emma a bit. “I was mixing a batch, and I heard a clatter; he’d knocked a hot tray over and burnt the side of his arm.”
Emma’s brows furrowed in concern. “Is he OK?”
Regina waited a moment before she nodded. “I ran it under water, and applied burn ointment; I was terrified, but he was tough, quiet. When I was done putting the bandage on, he asked me if I remembered him falling off of his bike when he was seven.
“I did, of course. He’d just learned how, we’d spent all day going up and down the block with me guiding him. Finally he decided to try going the full block on his own, and he walked his bike all the way to the other end and then turned to face me.” Regina leaned forward a bit. “He wanted to start there so I wouldn’t be able to catch him; so that he’d be forced to do it himself.”
Her eyes darkened, and she lowered her voice, vulnerability creasing her features. “He’s so brave, Emma. So much braver than I’ve ever been. I hate to think it, but sometimes I wonder if he got that from her. That drive to do it on his own, to prove himself. I wonder what she taught him when she was alone with him. I don’t want him to be heartless like her.”
Regina’s face was open, so much more open than she would have dreamed of being with Emma months ago. Emma didn’t know what to say, how to reassure her, so she stood up, and set her hand on Regina’s gently. After a moment, Emma prompted, “What happened with the bike?”
Regina’s lips turned down into a frown. “He made it the entire block, all by himself. But the tire caught on an uneven part of the sidewalk just before he got to me, and he started to fly up off of the bike.” Sensing the tension growing in Regina, Emma started to stroke her thumb over Regina’s knuckles soothingly.
“On instinct I’d reached out to grab him, and had pulled him down into the grass. He’d landed hard on my ribs,” she started to smile, “knocked the wind out of me. But when I caught my breath and realized he was fine, I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Emma’s movement stopped, a small smile of disbelief on her face. “You laughed?”
Regina did it now, too, low and gentle. “I did. I’d been so anxious about everything, raising Henry, grad school, work. My mother. I’d lost two of the most important people in my life over the course of four years, and I was scared all the time for Henry.”
Regina sighed, and she looked exhausted, suddenly. “It was relief, that he was OK. And then it just kind of kept going. I couldn’t stop.” She smirked. “Of course, my little boy thought it was hysterical, too, and started laughing with me. We laid out in the grass laughing until our sides hurt.”
She looked down at Emma’s hand, still resting on hers, and flipped her palm up to press them together. Her fingers stroked over Emma’s knuckles, over the webbing between her fingers, and said softly, “He remembered that, Emma. That day. He told me…” she breathed out heavily, and looked up at Emma, her eyes dark brown. “He said that he missed it. Missed me, being happy.”
“Are you?” Emma asked suddenly, the question bursting out of her.
Regina lifted their hands, traced the edge of Emma’s thumbnail, a smile growing on her lips as she ignored the question. “We laughed all day after that. I told him stories he couldn’t remember, we ate cookies all day.”
“And then you got sick?”
“And then Henry got sick.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot you’re used to eating your dessert before dinner,” Emma teased, the mood lightening. Regina’s skin was warm against hers, and she let out a breath as she nudged Regina’s knee so she could stand between her legs. “No self control,” she murmured, and leaned in for a deep kiss.
Their fingers squeezed tighter as they pulled the other close, and Regina’s free hand wound its way to the nape of Emma’s neck. “I am happy,” Regina sighed as they parted, her breath ghosting across Emma’s warm cheeks, and when she opened her eyes Regina looked it.
Emma wasn’t arrogant enough to think it was all because of her; Regina was figuring out how to get back into the research she enjoyed, making friends – though she would never admit it – with Kathryn, and most importantly, she was starting to mend the relationship that had so unfairly fractured with her son.
If Emma played a small part beside the rest of it all in Regina’s happiness, she was content.
Still, she teased, “How could you not be?” and gestured to herself as she dropped Regina’s hand gently.
“For starters I could have hired a courier service with a far-too-mouthy delivery girl,” she raised one brow, but her legs parted further, and Emma leaned into them, into her space.
“I’ll show you mouthy,” she murmured seductively, and Regina rolled her eyes, Emma dropping her mouth to the delicate skin of her jaw.
“Mmmm,” Regina sighed, her palms coming to rest on Emma’s shoulders a moment before she put a bit of pressure there to draw her attention. “At least you’ve improved on the personal hygiene front,” she teased, and Emma dropped her hands to Regina’s thighs, leaning in with a smirk.
“I’ll have you know I jumped into the back of a garbage truck that day,” Regina gave her the unimpressed look she knew was fake. “Just to get you your package on time. How’s that for professionalism,” she slid her hands down Regina’s legs to rest on the nylon covering her knees.
“Except for that fact that you weren’t on time,” Regina pointed out, her breathing growing shallow as Emma started to drag her hands under the dress.
Her hands stilled. “Yes, I was,” her eyes widened a bit. “You were just too busy—“ Regina silenced the ensuing argument with a deep kiss, her lips warm against Emma’s, and her mouth tasting faintly like the chocolate Emma knew hid in her desk drawer.
Emma couldn’t believe it most of the time; the woman that had caused her so much grief in the beginning had brought her so much joy each day after. Well, most days after. It was never going to be calm between them for more than a few days at a time.
It shouldn’t have worked; Emma acted first and thought later, and Regina never backed down from a single challenge. They should have burnt each other up. Only, they had both decided to be fearless with the other and open up.
“Regina,” Emma sighed happily, but pulled back from the other woman.
“I was silencing you for a reason, Miss Swan,” she teased with the formal name, and settled her hands on Emma’s belt. “May I continue,” it wasn’t a request.
Emma put her hand over Regina’s pulling her attention for a moment. “He doesn’t. Get it from your mother, I mean.” Regina watched Emma closely. “Just like the rest of it, Regina, he gets the bravery from you, too.”
Trailing a finger over the bared sliver of Emma’s stomach, Regina cleared her throat. “You can’t know—“
“I know. I mean I haven’t ever really spent time with him, but—“
“You could come over tomorrow night,” Regina said evenly. “Have dinner with us, both of us.”
Emma licked her lips, warmth spreading across her chest at Regina letting her deeper into her life. Letting her get to know her son. “Yeah?” she asked hopefully.
“Yeah,” Regina sighed, before trailing her foot over the back of Emma’s calf.
She started to tug at Emma’s jacket – the red one, despite Regina’s insistence she needed a thicker coat if she refused to take another job in the colder months – and Emma felt the heaviness of the moment start to shift as desire swept through her.
Emma tugged on Regina’s thigh, pulling her closer, and they shifted on the marble surface until Emma heard a loud crash beside them.
The food had fallen over, the bag bursting open and cartons tipping out of the torn paper. Both flushing in embarrassment at their behavior they started to pull apart. Emma started to pick up the cartons as Regina’s cell phone buzzed on the corner of the desk.
Regina’s eyes narrowed as she read the text, and, curiosity winning out, Emma looked over her shoulder.
Take it out of the office.
Emma laughed softly, gesturing with a nod to the nosy – and ballsy – assistant that sat outside the room. “I think number nine’s a keeper,” she smirked, and set the uneaten food down.
Regina smiled and slid off the desk to stand beside her, head tilted down as she glanced at Emma out of the corner of her eye. “She certainly is.”
A big thank you to Lola and Tiff for another incredibly fun (and exhausting) SQBB; I'm so glad to have participated!
I also wanted to give a little disclaimer on the topic of race and racism in this fic. I am a white writer, and while I did try to do my best to research women of color in executive positions (and the kind of discrimination they face), I'm sure I've made errors. When I started writing this I knew I couldn't/didn't want to ignore Regina's race and how her experiences would be affected by her identity as a Latina, especially with her as the CEO of a successful, metropolitan company. I hope that I was somewhat successful in that aim, and that what I did include and address was appropriate. If anyone is interested and willing to give feedback, especially on that aspect of the story I would really appreciate it.
Thanks for reading!