Mary Margaret tests positive on a Monday evening, which is fine , absolutely fine, because at least Henry had been staying with Regina for the weekend. The symptoms had shown up the night before, she’d stayed put today while awaiting results, and Emma had swallowed her pride (Regina’s going to be so smug about this because she’d insisted that Mary Margaret hadn’t been careful enough, that it was safer for Henry to stay with his still-possibly-evil mother instead of Emma) and had asked Regina to keep Henry for a little longer. So, yeah. They aren’t going to have to quarantine an eleven-year-old boy who’s already going through enough without being able to go biking alone in a ghost town.
Storybrooke is a ghost town by now. The virus hadn’t hit Maine hard, but all they’d needed was one iota of outside exposure (and thank you Gold, for leaving town and then returning, utterly careless when everyone knows that it had been him) and they’d been gone. Regina had muttered darkly about a shutdown and Emma had mentioned it, uneasy, to the crowd of royals who’d met at Town Hall to decide on a course of action. They’d scoffed, certain that it had been an attempt by Regina to reclaim Storybrooke’s mayoral seat.
After four of them had come down with the virus, they’d stopped scoffing and backed out of running Storybrooke. Instead, the job had fallen to Emma and medical personnel. Masks had emerged, Main Street had been shuttered, and someone had arranged for the school to obtain laptops that weren’t from the eighties for remote learning. What no witch or demon could do has finally happened: Storybrooke is locked up, sealed away, and Mary Margaret has the virus .
She only has a few minor symptoms, she insists, though she’d nearly hacked out a lung while insisting it. Emma might as well ride out her requisite quarantine with her and David, because it’s only fourteen days, right?
Fourteen days from last exposure , Emma had reminded her, and she’s already been fighting the urge to flee from this (where? where? ) for long enough that she can’t get out the door quickly enough. She’ll quarantine…somewhere else. The station.
No. Those are the only cells in Storybrooke, and she can’t risk infecting Leroy if he goes on a late-night bender. Her car, if her car just had a kitchen or a bathroom. Granny’s is already full, and the town is paying Gold a hefty sum for use of his vacant apartments throughout Storybrooke. Emma’s been in charge of keeping a painstaking accounting of what’s available in the town, and she knows they’ve been out of space for a week.
Maybe she’ll just run into the woods and stay there indefinitely. The virus itself doesn’t terrify her, though she’s pretty sure that she’s just not thinking about that likelihood. It’s infecting everyone around her, being responsible for suffering or worse. She can’t do that to anyone else. She can’t do it to Henry or Ruby or even fucking Regina , who is probably sitting smugly by her phone right now, waiting to impart an I told you so .
Emma climbs into her car and hesitates. She can go back to Boston, drive down the two hours to a decent motel equipped for this, but there are too many things that can go wrong along the way. Rest stops. Her car breaking down. Getting stopped by a state trooper. She’s a ticking time bomb right now, about to infect anyone who gets too close, and she can’t risk any of it.
The woods , she decides. It’s her only option. Grimacing, she steps out of the car again, breathing shallowly through her mask, and she looks around the town one last time. The night is young, but the streets are empty, except for a lone figure striding toward her with purpose in her step and a tasteful fabric mask that coordinates perfectly with said figure’s pantsuit.
Regina pauses across the quiet street, her eyes sweeping over Emma critically. “Tell me you weren’t planning on quarantining in your car.” She has no right to sound so amused and smug at once, and Emma feels her annoyance flare up.
“You win,” she says. “You get Henry for the next two weeks. I’ll be back…after.” She winces at that promise, considering her prior plans for the weekend. No . She isn’t thinking about those. “You win.” She already craves holding him, hugging him, running a hand through his hair and kissing the top of his head. It’s been so long since she’d last touched him.
It’ll be longer now.
Regina sweeps a cool glance over her, unimpressed. “If only I had,” she says, and she sighs heavily. “Henry insists that you’ll be quarantining with us.” Emma gapes at her, taken aback, and Regina whirls around, her words still audible in the silence of the night. “I will open the garage door in ten minutes. You will drive in and stay there. You will not enter the house.” Somehow, Emma just knows that Regina is grimacing under her mask. “If either of us gets sick because of your idiot mother–”
She doesn’t finish the sentence, and Emma doesn’t have to ask for it. There’s no one to blame when someone gets sick now, not really. Regina might be grandstanding right now, but they both know it.
But this offer is about as selfless as Regina gets. For Henry , her reliable conscience. Regina would be someone else entirely without him. “Thanks,” Emma says, because she can’t afford to say anything else.
Regina scoffs. “Just stay the hell away from us,” she says, a phrase with new meaning these days, and she walks back toward Mifflin Street.
If Regina had had a say in the matter, Emma Swan would still be holed up in her car, parked outside the station with nothing but her phone for company. However, she’s beginning to discover, she rarely has a say in any matter anymore. Gone are the days when she’d been a queen, when magic had spelled out her right to do whatever she’d willed. Now, she is a servant to the whims of a goodhearted little boy.
She’d be more upset about it if he didn’t keep grinning at her like she hangs the moon. They’ve already set up the bed in the garage, and Regina had pondered an insulation spell before she’d decided that no, it’s spring, and she isn’t risking closing Emma in with them. Instead, she’d cleared a few shelves and stuck a box of old books and a laptop on one of them.
As entertaining as it is to imagine Emma Swan slowly losing her mind in total isolation, she’s supposed to be better than that these days. They’re both better than that now, supposedly. Emma has been dropping off groceries for weeks, and Regina has been avoiding her messages and refusing to acknowledge the flicker of relief that comes with each one. So…laptop.
Henry had stocked a shelf with snacks and fresh fruit, and he’d taped up a haphazard little two-week calendar in the time since Regina had gone out to find Emma on the street. “Just so she’ll be able to track the days,” he says earnestly, and sometimes Regina gets the sense that he’s playacting, turning this into another game. In their teleconferences, Archie has reassured her that this is normal, so she forces a smile and reminds him to leave a pen in the garage, too.
Emma is late, which irritates Regina even more. Henry parks himself on the porch, his eyes bright as he peers down the street for Emma, and he’s waiting almost seven minutes before Emma’s hideous yellow car rolls down the street. Regina hits the button on the remote to roll the garage door open. Emma pulls toward the right side, sees the bed, and backs out again to shift toward the left instead.
When she turns, she spots Henry on the porch and her eyes light up– and that’s the one thing that Regina can’t begrudge her and still does, somehow: the way she adores Henry. Emma might have come to town and swept Henry and the curse both from Regina’s grasp, but she does love Henry genuinely. They share that.
Henry waves wildly, and Emma rolls down her car window a crack before her face falls and she pulls it back up. She pauses her park to wave back, just as wildly, and then she nods to Regina and drives into the garage.
Regina presses the button to close the garage and Emma is safely interred in her quarantine, just like that, a phantom haunting Regina’s home.
Henry, of course, wants to stay up and visit. “I’ll sit all the way at the sidewalk,” he promises. “She won’t be anywhere near me. I haven’t seen her in days!”
He doesn’t say it with the same resentment as there had been before the virus, before the curse, when she’d been the villain keeping them apart. Still, Regina has to fight off a spark of fear before she can say firmly, “She’ll be unpacking and getting settled in tonight. Why don’t you give her some space? You can visit tomorrow in the light.” It’s a struggle to urge him into bed tonight, so enthusiastic as he is about both his mothers under one roof, but she finally manages to get him upstairs and then sits at the kitchen table and breathes.
It’s been over a month since the virus had hit Storybrooke, and four weeks since the lockdown. Dr. Whale shrugs her off, but the EMT who’s taken charge of the infectious disease team, a woman named Marian Alvarez who’d been from Sherwood in the Enchanted Forest, has been quietly consulting with her. The hospital is in good shape, and they still have a chance of staggering cases to a standstill. All they have to do is stay inside.
All they have to do is live in their homes and remain there, imprisoned by their own fear and goodwill. It isn’t too much to ask, and Regina might have a… ahem , reputation…but even she understands that. And now, for at least two weeks, she even has Henry back with her. She shouldn’t feel like she’s suffocating.
At night, though, she wakes up in a cold sweat, terrified and claustrophobic with dreams of the king. She’d spent years trapped in a castle, longing for an escape and finding none. Now, not even magic can free her from this lockdown.
This is penance, she supposes, and she is too proud to complain about it.
She shuts her eyes, squeezes them tightly closed, and she inhales slowly, exhales again, the same way as she does every night. In. Out. In. Out.
Her phone buzzes, and she jumps. There’s a message on the screen. You wouldn’t happen to have left me a chamber pot, would you? Emma, sheepish as always. Regina rolls her eyes at the screen and picks herself up, striding toward the door that connects the hall behind her study to the garage.
A few texts later, and the door to the garage creaks open. Emma emerges, wearing that ridiculous mask she has that looks like a duck’s bill, her hands gloved and tight at her side. There’s a shimmering magical barrier on either side of her, leading her toward the bathroom off the foyer. “It’s been sanitized and is off-limits for Henry and me,” Regina offers, wearing a mask of her own. Marian had been skeptical at the idea of magical force fields strong enough to keep out all virus droplets and particles, and Regina errs on the side of caution. “You’ll use it while you’re here, but I can’t promise that anyone will be willing to set up magical barriers for you at three am, so use your bathroom breaks wisely.”
Emma bobs her head, disappearing into the bathroom with a toothbrush. Regina lingers in the foyer, on the wrong side of the force field, and she absentmindedly takes the hand sanitizer off the foyer table and lathers some onto her hands as she waits.
When Emma emerges, she’s smiling under her mask, and she looks a little less tense. “Back into the garage,” Regina orders her, and Emma nods again.
She waits until she’s facing the door, safely turned away from Regina, before she says, “Hey.”
“Hey,” Regina echoes warily.
“I just wanted to say thanks. For doing this for me.” Emma hesitates, a hand on the doorknob, and Regina feels a wave of discomfort. “I know this is pretty much our worst nightmare–”
A new wave of irritation. “It’s getting worse every second,” Regina snaps. “Don’t misunderstand what’s happening here, Miss Swan. This isn’t about you . I’m doing this because Snow White decided to call my son about her situation instead of me.” It’s been weeks since Regina has last properly seen anyone but Henry in person, and she doesn’t know why she’s hell-bent on shoving away her first adult interaction like this–
–Except that it’s Emma, who gets under her skin better than anyone. “If it had been me,” she grits out, “I would have let you rot.”
Emma lets out a little huff, sharp and hurt. “Yeah,” she says. “I figured.” She opens the garage door and disappears into it, the door shutting tightly behind her with a click.
Regina takes disposable gloves and the Lysol off the foyer table and sprays the doorknob, scrubbing it until it shines.
Yeah, so Regina’s still a raging bitch who’s never helped anyone but herself, and Emma reassures herself of that fact as she gets into pajamas and climbs into a bed that said Raging Bitch had set up for her. She’d thought, after Regina’s offer, that lockdown might have given the other woman some kind of…perspective, maybe. Or just make her a little nicer. But Regina had been on edge when Emma had seen her, jittery and tense and quick to anger, so nothing has changed at all.
Except that Emma’s going to owe Regina big when this is over, and she’s sure that Regina won’t forget that. Ugh.
This is a three-car garage, more spacious than her room at the loft, and it’s well-lit and fully equipped for any quarantine up to and including the zombie apocalypse. There’s food along some of the shelves, and Regina must have forgotten to pull a laptop from another one before she’d set up the bed. Emma debates asking permission and then decides to use it anyway, noting with savage pleasure that the laptop is already logged into Regina’s Netflix.
She watches three episodes of a mindless comedy before she drifts off, feeling warm and comfortable in this borrowed bed adjoining Regina’s house. Her dreams are uncertain but vague, and she sleeps late, awakening only at the sharp sound of Henry’s voice somewhere nearby. “You have Zoom at nine,” she mumbles in her sleep, still not quite awake, and she looks at the clock on her phone and jerks up.
It’s past ten, and she is in Regina’s garage. Henry’s voice is sounding from outside, and Emma stumbles to the garage door and strains to listen to what sounds like “– not living in a nunnery!”
What. Now she can hear Regina’s voice, loud and irritated. “Pull your mask over your nose, for god’s sake, we know from the Nova incident that fairies can get it–”
It’s Blue who they’re talking to, which makes the nunnery comment make only slightly more sense. “Snow and David aren’t comfortable with Henry being around you unrestricted for so long.”
“Snow and David aren’t Henry’s parents ,” Regina shoots back. “They have no jurisdiction over my son. His chosen guardian is–” And it must kill her to say it, Emma reflects, leaning against the garage door. “–Is Emma Swan, who is quarantining with us.”
Blue lets out a low noise of disbelief. “You’ve said that, but no one has seen Emma since she’s gone into this purported quarantine–”
“That’s what quarantine is – will you pick up that damned mask before you infect us all–” Regina’s voice is rising, and Emma gets another glimpse of a Regina who seems very close to losing it.
“Hey! Hey! ” she shouts, banging on the garage door. “Blue!”
Blue says, “You’re holding Emma hostage,” accusingly, her voice growing louder as she nears the garage door, and Emma charges across the room to her phone and her mask. She hooks the mask onto her ears just as there’s a wave of fairy dust encasing the garage door and the it slams up , flying back on its rails so rapidly that it crashes against the ceiling.
Emma jumps back, alarmed, flattening herself against the wall of the garage. Blue takes in the garage– the car, the bed, the laptop still open on a card table next to the bed, and she falters. “You’re in quarantine.”
“ Yes , I’m in quarantine,” Emma says, frustrated. “Did Mary Margaret send you here?” Blue’s eyes flicker from Regina and Henry back to Emma. “You can’t just…take a kid away from his mother.” Wouldn’t be the first time, she thinks obnoxiously, but she doesn’t say it. “Henry is here because Regina and I say he is. That has nothing to do with you. Can we just make it through one town crisis without all the posturing?” A tic works at Blue’s temple. “And pull your mask up over your nose when you’re talking to my son.”
Grudgingly, Blue pulls her mask up at last. Regina is out of view, somewhere around the vicinity of her porch, but Emma can hear her voice, much calmer now. “You heard Miss Swan,” she says coldly. “Henry has class right now, and we don’t have time for your nonsense. Now get the hell off my property.”
Blue leaves slowly, looking back at them over her shoulder, and Emma sinks down onto the bed again once she’s gone. There’s a shimmer of energy as one of Regina’s force fields appears in front of the garage, and Regina emerges into view at the edge of the sidewalk, a fair distance from Emma.
“I think they say six feet is enough,” Emma points out meekly. Regina gives her a scornful look.
A moment later, it settles into something more muted. “I appreciate your…the way you protected Henry’s interests just now,” Regina says at last. “I don’t think he needs to be in the middle of a tug-of-war between our sides of this battle right now.”
“No sides,” Emma says, and it’s true. Regina is just one woman, standing against an entire town that distrusts her, and it feels more and more like bullying when it isn’t the two of them speaking plainly about Henry’s custody. “This is where Henry needs to be right now.”
The air is heavy between them, thick with tension, and Emma says, “Two.”
Regina looks taken aback. “What?”
“Just…that’s two new people I’ve seen in under twenty-four hours. I think it’s a record for me.” It’s funny and it isn’t, and she’s startled when Regina snorts.
“I’m at three,” she says smugly. “I saw the mailman out the front window this morning. I even nodded to him through it.”
“Okay, that’s not fair. I don’t have any windows!” Emma objects. She can feel a little bubble of something rising within in, something not entirely unpleasant and very light. “It has to be direct contact.” She jabs a finger at the laptop. “I saw Monica and Rachel on this screen, but I didn’t count them–”
“They’re not real,” Regina points out, looking at Emma as though she’s lost her mind, which is rude , considering–
“Oh, so now the Evil Queen and Snow White are supposed to be real, but I’m supposed to believe that a chef owning a two-bedroom apartment in New York City isn’t? Is this the world we’re living in?”
It’s supposed to be a joke, but her last line strikes a little too close to home. Is this the world we’re living in? This has all felt like a bad dream, like a story someone else is writing in which Emma has somehow been trapped. None of this can be real, hunkering down in Regina’s garage with masks on their faces as Henry sits inside and has school via a computer screen. The levity falls from her heart, the little bubble inside of her popped.
This is Day One of a quarantine after weeks of an eternal lockdown, and two people in one day is more than she’ll be able to expect for the rest of it. If she thinks too hard about it, she might fall into despair.
But then Regina says haughtily, “Obviously. Monica’s apartment was rent-controlled,” and Emma looks up at her in surprise– has Regina seen Friends ? and she pushes aside the intrusive thoughts just for a little while more.
At lunchtime, Henry shuts his screen off and mutes himself and then heads out to the driveway, carefully placing a grilled cheese sandwich on a plate in front of the closed garage door before he sits on the sidewalk. He’s got a surgical mask on– he’s been wearing surgical masks since this whole thing began, and had shrugged off Regina’s offers to help him pick out something more permanent.
It’s normal , Archie had reassured her. He’s still coming to terms with the new normal. As though anyone has. As though anyone can. But Regina bites her tongue and keeps a box of masks handy for Henry, who takes them and seems unbothered by the whole thing.
He bobs with enthusiasm now as Emma rolls up the garage door and grins at him from under her mask. “Henry! How’s class going?”
Henry gets that shifty look in his eyes that has gotten more and more common as remote learning has continued. “Oh, you know. Lots of learning.”
“Uh-huh.” Emma yawns. “If I ever had to sit in front of a screen all day and actually think , I’d check out, too.”
Henry looks at her appreciatively. “See?” And he turns to Regina, who is out of Emma’s line of sight and had meant to stay that way. “It’s impossible .”
Emma blinks, squinting to where Regina is behind the bushes, on the porch, and cranes her neck until she catches sight of her. Regina freezes, caught in an awkward moment she hadn’t wanted, and she prepares to make a quick getaway.
But Emma shrugs and calls out, “You know, you don’t have to eavesdrop if you want to know my opinions on Henry’s Zoom school. I’m happy to share what a pointless, idiotic –”
Regina draws closer, brought in by a sudden shared disgust. “I recommended Google Classroom, you know. There are security concerns with Zoom. The principal picked it just to spite me.”
Emma snorts. “Also because there was a single day when they told the teachers to familiarize themselves with it and I found Mary Margaret crying into the sofa. I think they gave up on anything more complicated than Zoom.” She shrugs. “Not that the kids would have learned anything in Google Classroom, either. This is a wash for them.”
Regina narrows her eyes at Emma, suddenly deeply suspicious of the long weeks that Henry had spent with her. “Tell me that you still had Henry log on every day.”
“Oh, yeah,” Emma says swiftly, bobbing her head. “Every single–”
“She made me go on every day,” Henry pipes up, looking worriedly at Emma. Regina, who has gotten much more adept at spotting Henry’s lies since she’d familiarized herself with his miscreant genetics, only stares expectantly at him. Henry slumps. “I had to try it every day,” he concedes, biting his lip. “I just didn’t always stay on for the whole thing.”
“We’d go patrolling together sometimes. Or walk to the park and run around with Pongo. Or he would go biking.” Emma straightens, sitting up sharply and lifting her chin in stubborn surety. “Henry’s a kid going through something somehow even more traumatic than last year, and he doesn’t need to spend his days being miserable in class.” There’s a fierce challenge in her eyes, not the abashed wryness that comes sometimes with the awareness that she’s breaking one of Regina’s rules. This, she won’t bend on.
And Regina wavers, struck by Emma’s words. She knows rationally that Emma does care for Henry, that her affection is genuine. But it’s easy sometimes to write it off as a selfish love; Snow’s love for a stepmother who had lost her entire life to care for a little girl, Mother’s love for a child who would make her powerful. When she’s confronted with the truth of Emma’s love for Henry– that it’s about him , that Emma does what she does for Henry not because of vaunted ideals of what’s right but because it’s what Henry needs– she’s left with the irrefutable fact that she does, in fact, like Emma Swan a bit more than she’d ever planned to.
“Absolutely,” she says, her voice steady, and she delights in the startled look that Emma shoots her. Emma is equally discomfited by Regina’s civility, it seems. Good. “As long as he’s learning something .”
Henry, emboldened by the exchange, launches into an enthusiastic description of some of the birds he’d seen at the park. “I looked them up in a book– did you know there were eagles in Storybrooke? I thought they might be golden eagles but when I looked into it, I’m pretty sure that they were baby bald eagles.” And the specter of Snow White might hover over bird-related conversations, but Regina still lowers herself to the ground to exclaim at Henry’s insights, stretching her legs out in front of her as she smoothes out her dress and sits at the edge of the lawn by the driveway.
She glances up to check how far away Emma is from her, and sees Emma’s eyes on her legs. A moment later, Emma jerks her head up to Regina’s arched eyebrow, a pink tint to the sides of her neck. She regains her composure quickly. “I thought you’d be more worried about grass stains.”
Regina scoffs. “I worry far more about bloodstains,” she says, and revels in Emma’s eye roll before she catches Henry’s alarmed look. “Just a joke, sweetheart,” she hurries to assure him, worried that she’d stumbled into a new minefield. “I don’t–”
“Is there a lot of blood when you pull a heart out?” Emma asks interestedly, and Regina shoots her a glare that she ignores. “Or like…is it anatomically accurate? What happens to all the veins attached to it?”
“It’s magic , Emma,” Henry says scornfully. “It’s just the four chambers and the aorta. Maybe the vena cava. It’s not like your real heart stops beating.” He tilts his head, eyes flickering to Regina. “Right?”
“Right,” Regina says cautiously, itching to change the subject. “It’s more like a physical manifestation of your soul, I suppose. I don’t think it would have to be the heart, specifically. That’s only what I was–” She hesitates again, and Emma rescues her.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be something smaller. Like the appendix. No one needs the appendix, anyway. Or…tonsils. You pull ‘em out and squeeze and just like that, you don’t snore anymore,” Emma says, thoughtful.
Henry says, “You need that,” and Emma gasps in outrage and Regina feels, despite herself, a smile tugging at her lips.
It isn’t terrible, spending lunch with Emma, and Regina doesn’t push Henry to log back into class for the rest of the day. He does another hour and then obediently sits down and works out his homework without class, and then he goes to the driveway again and plays handheld video games on a lawn chair that he’d dragged over from the backyard.
“We have to spend a lot of time with Emma,” he tells her earnestly after he insists on a picnic dinner, too, and Regina is forced to put a soup in take-away containers so they can sip it outside. She makes a mental note to put a table and chairs in the driveway for tomorrow as they head back to the house. “She’s all alone in there. She isn’t like you. She needs to be around people.”
Regina takes a breath, releases, forces a smile and says, “Well, she might occasionally need a break, also. Let’s give her a quiet night.”
Henry concedes. “I guess so. I’m gonna go watch TV,” he says brightly, bounding back into the house, and Regina watches him go with a lump in her throat.
Emma says, “Does he know?”
Regina startles. She’d forgotten about the open garage door, and she leans against the side of the garage and says, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do.” Emma persists, as she always does, and Regina reconsiders the fantastical idea that she might like her. “Regina, you put yourself in quarantine for weeks just so you could have him last weekend. I had to drop off groceries at your porch every Sunday afternoon. You didn’t leave your house for–”
“It was worth it,” Regina snaps, uncomfortable with Emma’s prying. “And it ensured that he wouldn’t be quarantined like you, so I can’t imagine that you’re going to find fault with it now–”
“Not what I meant,” Emma says, her voice rising. “I’m trying to say something nice , if you would just listen for a second–”
It’s infuriating, hearing Emma offer her praise as though Regina is some pathetic little toadie who craves it. “I am not some hapless subject of the Charming regime,” Regina says, gritting her teeth. “I don’t give a damn if you dole out a little bit of your favor or if you think I was– I don’t need your kindness .”
“Okay! Okay. Sheesh.” Emma pauses, then, “I do fine alone, by the way. Like, as long as I’m allowed in for bathroom breaks, I can do a couple of days without people. You and Henry should go out tomorrow. Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts.”
Infuriating . “Don’t try to act noble with me, Miss Swan,” Regina sniffs. “I don’t respect it, and I don’t believe a word of it.” She strides away, hearing the garage door bang closed as she makes it to the porch.
If Emma had made a snide comment under her breath, Regina likes to think that it was particularly cranky.
And okay, maybe Emma had been lying about being fine alone, but Regina seems to have decided to spite her by setting up a table and chairs in the driveway so they can all eat meals together. Regina emerges at seven in the morning, raps on the door to the garage until Emma gets up and makes the trek to the bathroom, and leans against the wall with her perfectly coiffed hair and a full face of makeup and a President-Barbie outfit as though she’s still the fucking mayor and they aren’t in an unending lockdown together.
It forces Emma to get up before noon and wear something out of sweats, which sucks but also kind of makes her feel a little less aimless, maybe. She sits on one side of what feels like a gaping ravine keeping her from Henry and watches with bemusement as Regina tries combing Henry’s hair whenever he takes a bite of his cereal (“It’s just so long , sweetheart, you look like you’ve been in a dungeon for a decade.”) and coaxes out information about his social life (“Is your class having another Zoom get-together tonight– no, I think it’s a great idea for you to have a change of pace–”). She knows rationally that Regina has always been motherly – Henry is shockingly well-adjusted throughout their ongoing chaos, and there’s no way he would have been without a stable home life– but it’s still a surprise to see it.
And this time they’ve gotten together, thanks to the virus, has smoothed all the edges that had been sharp and raw between them during the curse. Henry rolls his eyes at his mother but also grins, and the smiles get easier with each day that passes. And Regina, for her part, is looser and more relaxed around Henry, too.
“Of course it was a palace,” she’s insisting today. “Did a queen not live in it?”
“Palaces are supposed to be prettier,” Henry says, frowning. “Not scary castles.”
“Scary–” Regina looks very offended. “It was majestic! We had gardens and grand architecture and–”
“Looked pretty scary in the book,” Emma offers. She doesn’t know why she does this– make comments designed to irritate Regina and get her even more huffy– except that it’s fun to watch Regina’s mouth drop open like that in disgust.
“Of course you’d think that,” she says snidely. “It was meant to inspire fear in your kind.”
Emma raises her eyebrows. “Sheriffs?” Regina glowers at her without any venom. “Blondes?”
“Certainly blondes,” Regina says primly.
Henry, always too quick to put the pieces together, says, “But it wasn’t always your castle, right? It was Grandma’s father’s first. Who did he want to scare?”
There’s a flicker of something trapped and uncertain on Regina’s face, and Emma remembers the realization she’d had a few months ago about how Regina was probably pretty young when she was married to the king, and fairytales tend to be a lot more fucked up than they sound in storybooks. “Obviously the dragons,” Emma puts in swiftly, leaning back to take a sip of what is ungodly good coffee. “Hey, Henry, did I ever tell you about the time I slayed a dragon and saved a damsel in distress?”
Said damsel in distress, who has informed her the last three times she’d mentioned it that she had not been in distress and could have easily freed herself from the duct tape holding her in place, says conversationally, “You know, I don’t think there’s any concern about viral transmission by fireball.”
And it’s a mark of how comfortable Henry has gotten with Regina lately that he just grins and says, “I think it’s slew , Emma.”
She loves his smile. She’d missed it when they’d been in lockdown together, when he’d spent more time trudging around the loft and staring at the screen in school– or when they’d been out and it had been beneath a mask. It’s a bright smile, a warm one, the kind that comes without any weight pulling it down.
She’s never really thought much about where it had come from until she’d seen Regina with the same smile around Henry, her mask on the table as she drinks her coffee and her eyes on her son with pride and bare-faced love.
She calls Mary Margaret to check in once a day since the incident with the Blue Fairy, and reassures her that all is well in her garage domicile as Mary Margaret recovers. “Regina isn’t being nice , exactly,” Emma says on Day Four, pondering the best way to phrase it. “Like, I don’t think I’ve made through one bathroom trip without a snide comment from her. But she also does something to my coffee so it stays hot even when it’s sitting by the garage door for twenty minutes. And she has this sourdough starter that she’s been working on for weeks that was so good , and now I get some sourdough bread with every meal.”
She tries to explain the table and the daily visits and how they might be out of spite but are surprisingly friendly, and then she gets the sighed, “ Emma , just be careful,” that is more Mary Margaret than Snow White.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Emma says stubbornly, scrolling Instagram on the laptop instead of focusing on what Mary Margaret is saying.
Mary Margaret coughs, then sighs again. “I miss you,” she says instead. “But I’m glad Regina is taking good care of you.”
That’s what it is. Regina isn’t nice, but she’s taking care of Emma, and it’s become as comforting as it is strange. Maybe those weeks alone in quarantine had softened Regina a bit. Regina thrives best when she’s with Henry, and when she’s ordering people around. Even before the virus, back in the months after the curse had broken, she’d grown more and more muted.
It should be a good thing, Regina’s fire so thoroughly quenched, but it just makes Emma sad. Maybe it’s this claustrophobic garage that’s beginning to get to her. What had once seemed spacious is feeling smaller and smaller now, and she finds herself sitting on the floor by the garage door more and more often, hand down to feel the breeze in the almost nonexistent gap between the door and the floor.
She’s sitting there late in the evening when she hears an unfamiliar voice and brightens. Mifflin isn’t on most people’s daily walk route, and particularly not the part of Mifflin where the Evil Queen holds court. As much as she loves Henry and appreciate’s Regina’s company these days, it’s nice to hear another voice.
“How have you been holding up?” the voice is saying, and Emma finally recognizes it. Marian Alvarez, the EMT who’d stepped up when Dr. Whale had been too busy shrugging off the virus as a bad cold. She’s been running the ad-hoc virus ward at the hospital and making recommendations to Storybrooke’s bewildered citizens, often via the sheriff’s office.
What is she doing here?
Another voice, this one unmistakable. “Henry is here now,” Regina says, and she sounds very tired, more like the exhaustion that Emma senses from her at her nightly bathroom run than how she is around Henry. “It’s a little better.” Emma furrows her brow. She hadn’t known that Regina and Marian knew each other, and knew each other well enough that Regina would be so vulnerable around her. Marian had certainly not mentioned it in their debriefings.
Marian sounds unconvinced. “I’m not taking you off my watchlist just yet,” she says. “Not after what happened two weeks ago.” Two weeks ago?
Regina scoffs. “I’m fine ,” she says. “I told you, Henry is here.”
“I’ve heard rumors that it isn’t just Henry who’s here,” Marian says, and it sounds almost sly. “How’s that going?”
Emma leans a little closer to the door, deeply interested in what Regina might respond. Regina lets out an aggrieved huff. “I loathe that woman,” she says. “The things I do for my son–”
“Mm-hm,” Marian says.
“He insists that we eat meals with her so she isn’t locked away all day– as though anyone gave a fuck when it was me who–” She cuts herself off, and Emma winces. It’s a fair hit. In her defense, Emma had tried dropping by a few times and had obligingly given Regina near-daily updates on Henry via text, but she’s pretty sure that that had been the bulk of Regina’s interactions.
Marian says, “Family meals sound nice.”
“They’re interminable,” Regina says darkly, which isn’t even fair , because Emma had been positive that Regina had enjoyed them as much as she had been. Emma slumps lower, frustration rising, and stops herself from opening the garage door to demand answers. Typical . They finally make a few strides forward, and Regina’s going to pull them right back.
Marian sounds amused. “I’m sure.”
“Stop,” Regina says, her voice sharp. “Don’t. Just give me the update.”
Marian says something low, and then sounds businesslike as she goes on. “We’re following some of the treatment plans that are vent-free right now. It’s slow going, but we’re optimistic that this is the way to do it.”
“The vent should be a last resort, if I’m reading the data right. I can’t say that I’m an expert in this, though,” Regina says wryly. “How are our numbers? Do you think it’ll be necessary to shift to the future measures we discussed, or are we fine for now?”
Emma’s eyebrows shoot up, her prior frustrations replaced with suspicion. Regina is coordinating treatment and lockdowns with Marian ? How long has this been going on? She’d thought that Regina’s suggestion to her had been as much as Regina had done, not that she’d found another channel. No one else must know. Storybrooke would have rejected Marian’s recommendations if they’d known that they were part of a Regina power grab.
Marian and Regina discuss the lockdown for a few more minutes, but Emma can hardly listen. Her blood is pumping too loudly in her ears, and her heart is pounding against her chest. Regina isn’t over her old world domination plans. She’s just found someone new to manipulate.
By the time there’s a knock at the inner door to the garage, an invitation for Emma to make her nightly trek to the bathroom, Emma has worked herself into a state of paranoid fury-that-might-be-valid. She yanks her mask on, slips the loops over the ears, and shoves the door to the garage open.
Behind the shimmering magical force field, Regina is leaning against the rail of the staircase and watching her with a guileless face, and that only intensifies Emma’s sense of betrayal. She takes three swift steps out to just in front of the staircase, and she snaps, “What the hell are you doing with Marian?”
Regina blinks at her. “Excuse me?”
“Was the whole ‘I want to redeem myself’ thing just a crapshoot?” Emma demands. “Or did you see this virus as an opportunity to impose some kind of secret fascist agenda on the town, because I swear that I will stop you every step of the way–”
She stops short. Henry has appeared at the top of the staircase, and he looks white-faced and uncertain. “What did you do, Mom?” he asks, his voice small, and Regina shoots Emma a burning glare and storms after him without another word to Emma.
The nerve . The absolute nerve of Emma Swan to come into Regina’s house, to make herself a comfortable part of the household, and then to accuse Regina of doing anything less than saving this town from itself. Regina is coldly furious, and also in a state of deep despair, because if Emma still sees her as the Evil Queen, then does she really have a chance with anyone else in this godforsaken town?
She leaves food by the garage door and refuses to go out for meals, uncaring of how petty and pathetic she must seem. Henry doesn’t push her. “I believe you, Mom,” he promises her. “Emma would, too, if you explained to her what you were doing– she likes you, I know she does–”
“I don’t care if Miss Swan likes me,” Regina says, gritting her teeth. “And I’m sure she doesn’t.”
“That’s not true,” Henry says swiftly. “I’ve heard her talking to Grandma about you, and Grandma always says that she gives you too much credit– but that isn’t true, is it? You’re trying to protect the town! You’re a hero now,” he pronounces her, and Regina feels a little warmer at his proclamation.
Still, she can hardly look at Emma when Emma does her bathroom runs into the house. She slips into her study or finds something to do on the stairs as Emma makes her way back and forth, looking aggrieved or just irritated as Regina busies herself with a folder of data faxed over by Marian or the town’s budget– which she’s still balancing, by the way, because Storybrooke can make strong statements about dismissing the only person in the town with any political experience but Regina is far too attached to her smoothly-running town to let them return to her groveling.
It’s miserable, having an adult around who’s not entirely terrible to talk to and still having to be so wary of her. Regina dreads the days again and looks forward to even the ability to ignore Emma, which only makes her more despondent after the fact.
It’s on the second night of this when Emma finally heaves a sigh– Regina ignores her– and then there’s a light thump– Regina looks up.
Emma has dropped to the floor just into the hallway to the garage, facing one wall and leaning against the other, and she says, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m losing my mind , and that’s even with Henry–” She exhales. “I’m sorry. I know we’re assholes sometimes and we don’t apologize for it, but I really outdid myself the other night. I don’t really think you’re in the middle of some…fascist takeover of Storybrooke. You caught me by surprise and I overreacted.”
Regina could snap at her for contaminating the…wall, or floor, or something, but it’s been two days and she can’t do this anymore, either. She closes her folder. “The town had no leadership,” she says finally. “And this isn’t– it’s not a crisis you could solve with a gun and gumption–”
“–Did you just say gumption ?” Emma says incredulously. “You never told me you were in the high-risk age bracket–”
“–After Whale announced that the virus was a non-issue and people should go out and live their lives regardless, I started calling Marian. She’d already gotten some attention because she was the only one willing to work with virus patients.” Regina shrugs, remembering those harsh, panicked early calls. She’d been desperate to be heard, helpless to protect anyone– and Henry most of all– from what the virus might have done to the town. “I didn’t know that she was listening to my voice mails until after the two of you declared the lockdown. It wasn’t as though she was working with me. We didn’t meet in person until the second week of the lockdown, three weeks ago.”
Emma shifts. “You seemed pretty friendly for having met three weeks ago.”
Regina doesn’t know what Emma’s implying, but she bristles at it. “Am I not permitted to have friends in Snow White’s Storybrooke?”
“That’s not…” Emma falls silent, the tension still palpable in the room. Regina curls her fingers around her folder, uncertain of what she can say to dispel it, or if she even wants to.
And then, a quiet question from Emma. “Am I really…were our conversations really interminable?” It’s oddly vulnerable from her, her voice small, and Emma stares at the wall as she asks it.
Regina looks askance at her. “You heard what I said to– is that why you decided I was still an evil mastermind?” Had she managed to offend Emma that much with a few dismissive comments?
She stares at Emma, at the fixed way that the other woman is watching the wall instead of her, and she recalibrates. Not offend. Hurt. “I just…I thought we were kind of enjoying those meals together,” Emma says, sliding her arms out to rest over her knees. “I was, anyway. You’re not an entirely terrible conversationalist.”
“You are many things,” Regina concedes, her tone shifting to a playful one that she hardly recognizes anymore. It feels good, light, like so little of their lives are now. “Many of them frustrating…irritating…”
Emma smirks at her beneath her mask, her expression loosening with every adjective. “Thank you.”
“But you’re rarely boring,” Regina murmurs, and her cheeks feel hot with the admission, with the way her lips are curling into a smile that she can’t tamp down. “Believe me,” she adds swiftly, “I’m surprised about that, too. I think Marian–” At Emma’s grimace, Regina hurries to continue. “She isn’t conspiring with me. She’s been doing a good job, and you should follow her guidance, no matter who she associates with–”
“No, it’s not that. I mean, I just…I was surprised that you made a friend. It’s weird to see.” Emma glances at her, then finds something new and fascinating on the wall opposite her.
Regina wrinkles her nose, affronted. “I’ve had friends before. There was Kathryn Nolan before the curse broke.”
“You were trying to persuade her that she was married to my dad,” Emma objects. “That’s not a friend .”
“Maleficent and I were very close,” Regina says triumphantly, then reconsiders, mostly to herself. “Does it count if you’re also lovers?”
Emma chokes, then coughs a dozen times. Regina springs back against the wall of the staircase, slamming another magical barrier in place as she glowers at Emma, and Emma holds up a hand. “Not– not the virus,” she gasps out. “I was just–” She coughs again, swallows, and Regina eyes her with suspicion. “Uh,” Emma says finally, followed by, “So…did she look like Angelina Jolie? Maleficent, I mean. I’m just wondering, because she was mostly just scaly when I saw her–”
Regina gives her an unimpressed look. “Never mind,” Emma says meekly.
It would be very easy to push Emma deeper into the hole that she’s about to dig for herself, but Regina decides to be graceful. The cold fury toward Emma has faded and been replaced with something dangerously fond. “I’ve been thinking about taking Henry out to the beach tomorrow,” she says. “It’s not quite the weather for it, but it will make for a nice change of pace, and it shouldn’t be crowded this early in the year.”
Emma looks chagrined, which Regina can relate to all too well. She says, “That’s great. You two should get out a little when you can. It’s not like there’s much else to do in the driveway.”
A wild, impossible desire seizes Regina: to squeeze Emma’s hand, to reach out and give her a tiny bit of comfort. It has been so long since she’s touched anyone’s hand but Henry’s, since she’s held someone’s hand in her grasp and felt their fingers close around her own. Long before the virus, and the longing in her heart for it supersedes even the past month.
“I thought…” Regina clears her throat. “You just spend so much time in that garage. Why don’t you spend the day in the backyard? We won’t be around, so no risk of infection, and you can take some time in the sun.”
Emma’s eyes light up, and she gives Regina a startled smile that glows as brightly as the sun. Regina swallows, her throat suddenly thick, and she has a moment of concern– is that a symptom? – before it clears up and no, no it isn’t. “That would be amazing ,” Emma says, and she darts another quick smile at Regina, just in the crinkle of her eyes and the way the sides of her mask lift up with her cheeks. “I just…” She breathes, and Regina watches the way the mask moves in and out with her breath. “You’ve been a lot better to me than I expected.”
It emerges a little backhanded, but Emma’s bared enough of herself to Regina tonight, and Regina takes it in the way that she’s fairly certain it had been meant. “You’re welcome,” she says, and shoots a mock-grouchy look up at Henry’s room. “I’m just glad that someone in this house eats my sourdough.”
She looks back at Emma, but she can’t read the expression on her face anymore. Whatever it is, it sends another wave of warmth through Regina, and her own mask feels a little less restrictive as she breathes.
Emma falls asleep in the backyard the next day, stretched out in the grass with the sun beating on her face, and she’s pretty sure that she’s never been happier. Dogs really get it, she decides. In another life, she must have been a puppy, because she’d just jogged around the expanse of Regina’s property for an hour and she already feels better than she has since lockdown had begun.
She’d half expected Regina to yell at her for being out too late when she awakens in the dark, but instead she finds a little cooler outside the garage door with still-warm roast and cauliflower on a plate inside of it.
Because Regina is nice, after all. The realization had come on slowly, but it’s indisputable as the days creep by with more casual meals and more quiet kindness. Regina had set her up with something unlike anyone else in quarantine is getting, and she’s spent a week now anticipating Emma’s needs and meeting them. And for all her sharp words and sharper tongue, Regina’s home has become a refuge, a haven for Emma with only minor hiccups.
“I’m not sure if you’re ignorant or purposefully obtuse,” Regina hisses on Day Eight, eyes narrowed. “Batman has no real abilities whatsoever. What could he possibly do to Superman? Throw money at him?”
“Uh, manufacture a fu– a ton of Kryptonite?” Emma shoots back, tossing a wary glance at the study, where Henry is supposed to be in school. “Some of us do just fine without superpowers.”
“Superman is bulletproof , Miss Swan, you can’t just point your gun at him.” Regina throws up her hands and wheels around the foyer. Emma, who really does have to use the bathroom, stands her ground instead. “Now, there’s an argument that a more compelling superhero would be one who fights without having all the advantages that Superman possesses, yes. But the answer to that isn’t a capitalistic wet dream like Batman.”
Emma really, truly, cannot believe that they’ve been fighting about this for ten minutes without a single word from Henry. “Do you really think you’re one to critique Batman’s wealth while you stand here in your mansion ?”
“I came by it honestly!” Regina says hotly.
“You cursed it into being!”
“It was hard work!” It’s about then that Emma realizes that she’s grinning so hard under her mask that it’s stretching the fabric. Regina, after a moment, lets out a whooshing breath. “Henry does not need to know that we’ve been arguing,” she says warningly.
“At all? Or about this?”
“Definitely about this.” Regina shakes her head. “You were just so wrong.”
Emma raises her eyebrows. “Your fault for letting him leave his old comics in my womancave. What else am I supposed to do all day? Fill out incident reports?” Regina gives her a look that indicates that yes , that is what she’s supposed to do, and Emma scoffs and does her best to look innocent. “I think I’m suffering enough in quarantine, don’t you?”
“You’re full of it,” Regina says, shaking her head, and then she winces. It’s a slight motion, the way her eyes squeeze shut for a moment, but Emma catches it and is immediately concerned.
“Just a headache,” Regina admits, pressing two fingers to massage her temples. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
Emma has apparently shifted Regina in her mind from Mortal Enemy to Woman She Worries About, because she leans forward, awash with concern. “Have you taken anything for it?”
Regina shakes her head. “I don’t have anything in the house.” Her wince intensifies, and Emma worries a little more.
“No, like, just some ibuprofen might do the trick–”
“I don’t have anything,” Regina repeats. “I’ll be fine. I just need more sleep.”
It seems highly unlikely, because Regina is prepared for everything short of a natural disaster in her house, and it doesn’t make sense that she wouldn’t keep any Advil around. But sure enough, when Emma finally makes it to the bathroom and checks the medicine cabinet, there’s only a bottle of children’s Tylenol and nothing else. She shrugs away her worry.
Regina has made herself scarce when Emma returns, and she’s back to her usual self at dinner. She only looks a little tired, but she smiles easily at Henry and mocks the way that Emma sucks up her spaghetti (“Sweetheart, please remember that nurture is stronger than nature”) and Emma pushes aside her concern.
At Emma’s bedtime visit to the bathroom, Regina sits on the stairs, leaning against the railing, and she has a cup of hot tea cradled in her hands. “Just a sore throat,” Regina says dismissively at Emma’s questioning look, and Emma might have believed her if not for the haunted look that Regina can’t eradicate from her eyes.
“It’s a sore throat,” Regina repeats. “Don’t turn it into something that it isn’t.” She sips her tea grimly. “We’ve been fighting too much. That’s all.”
Her mask is looped over her pinky, and Emma glances warily at it and chooses to say nothing more about it. “Okay. Non-fight comment,” she says. “I’ve been organizing your garage shelves–” Regina’s lips purse around her teacup. “–and I found this box full of old photo albums. Which were adorable, by the way, and I loved seeing Henry as a toddler, but I need to know–”
“Why did you never tell me about your curly hair stage?” Emma demands. “That should have been required upon our first meeting. ‘Hi, I’m Henry’s mom, I yank out the hearts of anyone who pisses me off, and my hair used to have these hella hot curls–” She thinks she may have been a little too honest at the way that Regina’s lips curl up around her teacup. She also thinks that it had been worth it. “If you’d shown me the pictures then, I’d probably have at least thought twice about ignoring every order you gave me.”
Regina takes a sip of tea and frowns. “You like it better than this?” She pats her current hair, sleek and straight and just above her shoulders.
“I don’t think I could like anything more than–” Emma stumbles, lost in her own attempt to distract Regina from her not-symptoms. “I mean, god , Regina, have you seen you?” Regina stares at her, and Emma flushes. “I’m just saying I would have liked knowing that that hair was a possibility. In general. As a thought.” She’s lost her thread, and Regian is watching her with her eyebrows raised.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Regina says slowly, and Emma isn’t entirely sure if she’s serious or not. “Are you trying to mock me? Or are you complimenting me?” She coughs once, and her free hand slides up to touch her throat with the tips of her fingers.
Emma says, a little frantically, “Can’t it be both?” That stops Regina short, and Emma hurries past it, choosing to pretend that she hadn’t spoken. “Have you taken your temperature?”
Regina bobs her head, Emma’s gaffe forgotten as her face tenses again. “No fever.”
“Okay.” Emma exhales. “Good.” She wants to reach out and check Regina’s forehead, as though she’d be able to tell if Regina’s temperature is high. It’s a mom thing, the kind of thing that Emma had read about in books, and not something she’d ever learned to do. But in this moment of uncertainty, she craves the ability to touch Regina, to care for her in the ways that Regina has cared for Emma.
Instead, she says, “Can we talk about that awful middle part you were doing for a while when Henry was a baby?” and lets Regina forget again for a little while. Soon enough, she forgets her concerns, too, and thinks about them only briefly before she falls asleep.
Regina’s headache returns with a vengeance in the morning, accompanied by a sore throat that can’t possibly be what Emma was acting as though it might have been yesterday. She stands in a kitchen that suddenly feels too small and tosses chopped chili peppers into her omelets. She’s satisfied by the sharp flavor bursting in her mouth, and it’s worth it even though it irritates her throat even more.
It’s even more worth it when Emma chokes on her breakfast, her eyes watering, and gasps, “If this doesn’t kill me, I want seconds.”
It’s a beautiful day outside, and Henry is sitting in Zoom school on the porch. Regina sits at the table in the driveway, sorting through recent permit requests and savoring the illusion that she has the freedom to go where she wants when she’s outside. In the garage, the door cranked open, Emma sprawls out on the floor and talks to an insipid Snow White.
At least, Regina is assuming the insipid part. Emma sighs a lot and says, “I’m glad you’re feeling better, but do you really think it’s been long enough to–” She’s cut off, and she makes a face and wriggles a finger under the chin of her mask to breathe in some fresh air while she listens to her mother. “I’d rather wait the recommended fourteen days. I don’t know whether or not I’m contagious– the town is running just fine without me,” she says in response to something else, and she shoots a glance at Regina.
When she hangs up, she says, “Did you just…casually step in and reinstate yourself as mayor? Does anyone else know?”
“I get a bundle of paperwork on the porch every few days from my secretary. Special courier.” Regina shrugs, unbothered by Emma’s questions anymore. “Someone has to do it, and no one else is.”
Emma shakes her head. “I’ve always known that you enjoyed paperwork much too much to be one of the good guys.”
“Damn right,” Regina agrees, rifling through her papers. “In your absence, I’ve moved more funds to the sheriff’s station–”
“What?” Emma yelps, looking betrayed. “I’ve been begging for those funds for months . Our coffee machine is garbage–”
“And hired another two deputies,” Regina finishes, ignoring her. “To make sure that we’ll have eyes throughout the town. I don’t want anyone to be left behind during this quarantine, particularly our elderly, and the sheriff’s station seems to be the only functional department of this government right now.”
Emma slumps. “When you say it like that, it makes my coffee machine wish list sound so selfish,” she mutters, but it sounds halfhearted, and Regina’s heart skips a beat when Emma offers her a real smile, eyes only. “You’re doing a good job. I don’t know where Storybrooke would be right now without you.”
“In the Enchanted Forest, presumably,” Regina offers, mostly to hide how pleased she is. “They haven’t even made it past Bubonic Plague there.”
“Crap. Of course they haven’t. Antibiotics must have been a godsend here,” Emma says, contemplating. “Smallpox?”
Regina tries to remember any specific cases but comes up blank. Marian has a whole list of these that she refers to sometimes. “On occasion.”
“Polio?” At Regina’s nod, Emma shakes her head. “Damn. I never really thought about…you all have such good teeth. I just figured fairytales meant magically good health.”
“Just good dental hygiene.” Regina stabs a finger at Emma. “Which reminds me. What’s this Henry’s mentioned about not having a toothbrush at your apartment until the pandemic?”
Emma’s eyes light up in outrage. “That little– he had a toothbrush. He just decided suddenly that the bristles were inadequate . What does that even mean? Since when does he care about the bristles of his toothbrush?” she demands. Emma is flushed with her righteous anger, and Regina is glad that she’s wearing a mask so Emma can’t see her smile.
“ Good dental hygiene, Miss Swan. I didn’t spend a year of my life concocting a Dark Curse just for you to undo all my hard work in a few months.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Uh-huh.” She is silent for a moment, and Regina slips another cough drop into her mouth beneath her mask, wincing at the strong cherry smell that goes straight to her nose. (At least she can smell it.) “Listen,” she says finally. “After my quarantine…”
Regina tenses. There had been a time, a week ago, when she hadn’t wanted to think about the sprawling fourteen days that had only then begun. Now, she finds that it’s the time after them that fills her with dread. “I suppose you’re going to point out that Snow White and Charming are both likely immune now, for the time being. I won’t say that it’s what I want for Henry, but if it’s for the best–”
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to say that.” Emma taps a hand against her knee, thoughtful, and Regina watches her with sharp eyes. “I don’t really see any sign that you’re still fighting your…you know, evil…impulses right now. Right?”
Regina is always fighting her evil impulses , but she nods warily. She hasn’t done anything more than borderline evil (and that spell that had killed the neighbor’s peonies had been justified , they’d looked hideous with the rest of her garden aesthetic) since a while before the virus, and she has other, more personal, destructive impulses to battle right now.
“Yeah.” Emma shrugs, and the words emerge from her mask almost reluctantly. “It’s just…it doesn’t seem fair to keep Henry cooped up in that little apartment with three adults underfoot all the time. Especially when you have this big house and the backyard and, I mean…this is a better place for him during lockdown, isn’t it?”
Regina looks at her in astonishment. “What about you?” is all she can think to say. Emma won’t give up Henry, now that she has him. Regina had known that from the moment after the curse when she’d sent Henry home with David. Emma has always wanted Henry as fiercely as Regina, and she won’t waver now.
Emma averts her eyes, drumming her fingers against her phone. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know I’m an essential worker and that will mean that I’m exposed more than you or Henry, but…”
“Of course you can come by whenever you need,” Regina says. It feels alien on her tongue, more desperate than she had meant for it to sound. She rushes to add, “I do have a guest room upstairs that isn’t the garage, if you wanted to– I mean, if you ever needed a break from the Charmings–” She swallows, because none of that had emerged casually, after all. “I suppose I could tolerate your presence if it means that I would have Henry here,” she finishes primly, and why hadn’t she started with that?
Emma snorts, looking up at her with eyes full of mischief. “It’s almost like you want me here,” she says, sounding very pleased with herself.
Regina scoffs. “It’s a lockdown. I’d be happy just to see Sleepy the dwarf in my house on occasion.” At Emma’s quirked eyebrows, she adds, “Not Sneezy, though.”
“Definitely not Sneezy.” Emma grows serious for a moment, those pretty eyes of hers resting on Regina with inquisitive concern. “How’s your throat?”
“Hurts,” Regina admits. “Maybe I’m just not used to talking this much anymore.”
Emma doesn’t accept her excuse, her eyes still searching. “Fever?”
“No.” The cherry cough drop burns a little, and it’s good. Flavor is good. Being out here with Emma is good, too, and forgetting for a little while that niggling fear at the back of her mind. This is comfortable, and this is fine.
She dares, later in the day, to contemplate what the weeks after quarantine might be for them. Emma coming and going freely, still masked and socially distant but in her house. Maybe, if they’re both sure that they’re safe, occasionally a little closer than six feet apart. Their arms brushing, and maybe even Emma’s hand occasionally around Regina’s wrist–
She winces. If she’s reached the point of fantasizing about Emma’s fingers on her wrist, she’s gone too far. She’s never been quite so starved for touch before. For intimacy, certainly. For closeness and love and caring, far too often. But touch has been her one vice, and now she can’t even have that.
Absurd , she reminds herself. She has Henry, who lets her muss his hair and hugs her as tightly as he had when he’d been three. Touching Emma wouldn’t be a revelation any more than touching anyone else would be.
She has to remind herself of that again after dinner that day when the doorbell rings, and Regina is startled enough by it that she almost pulls the door open before waiting for the person at the door to leave. It’s Ruby, she sees through the peephole, and the girl doesn’t wait until Regina answers the door to leave.
Regina has gotten some…interesting packages at her door since the curse, but she thinks Ruby isn’t quite that juvenile. She creaks the door open cautiously, and she finds a little white bag on the porch.
When she opens it, she finds three containers of soup, one of each of Granny’s soups of the day, and a note scribbled on a napkin in Ruby’s handwriting.
I would have made some for you if you let me in the kitchen, but I think this is probably safer for multiple reasons. –Emma
Emma had sent her soup. Regina swallows, her eyes a little misty, and she goes to rap on the garage door and call, “By ‘multiple reasons’ I assume you mean that you decided to spare me the food poisoning?”
Emma’s voice sounds back through the door. “You know it, babe.” It’s joking, casual, and Regina’s cheeks still flame at it. Why does Emma do that? She’s become more relaxed around Regina, more prone to the occasional flippant flirtation that must come with her friendship, and Regina fixates on it every time.
She sips at the soup in the kitchen while Henry hovers, a book dangling from his fingers and his eyes on her with clear concern. “It’s just a sore throat, right? Not a symptom of…”
“I’m fine,” she reassures him for the fifth time. “It’s nothing to worry about.” But she feels lethargic, her head still aching and her stress only compounding it, and she takes her temperature again after Henry is asleep and she’s changed into pajamas, before she goes to let Emma in.
This time, the thermometer reads 101.3. A low-grade fever.
Emma hears the car pull up and into the driveway, and she perks up, interested. Regina doesn’t get visitors very often. She’s pretty sure that her Sunday grocery runs and Regina’s work packages had been Regina’s only human contact before they’d arrived. Mary Margaret has been talking about leaving the house to visit Emma now that it’s been days since she’d recovered, but Emma keeps encouraging her to stay home. She doesn’t want anyone to make a mistake.
So it’s probably not Mary Margaret. Still, Emma opens the garage door, peering into the darkness until she recognizes the car in the driveway. Marian is here, but she’s already left the driveway this time, her trunk open and her voice somewhere around the porch. Emma dares to peer around the corner of the garage to look at the porch, where Regina and Marian are standing close. Emma freezes.
But it’s not like that , thankfully. Marian is wearing a face shield, an N95 mask, and a protective suit, and she’s speaking in a quiet voice to Regina. “Have you had any contact with anyone aside from Henry?”
“No,” Regina rasps. “Just–” She jerks a finger in the dim light toward the garage, and Emma swallows back a sinking feeling. “It’s not much of a fever. I don’t know. I had soup earlier– maybe it raised my temperature–”
Marian continues what she’s doing, her tone brisk and unconcerned. “How long ago?”
“A couple of hours.” Regina sounds tense. “I thought the test was a nostril test.”
“Test for the virus, yeah. I want to do a few others, too. Strep and the flu and adenovirus.” Marian’s voice gentles. “I don’t want you to assume the worst.”
Regina laughs. It’s wet, and Emma squeezes her eyes shut and breathes. “How can I not?”
Marian doesn’t answer, and there are only the quiet noises of vials opened and closed; heavy breathing and a single augh from Regina; and then, finally, “I’ll let you know as soon as I have results. I’ll rush these. Until then, it might be a good idea to keep your distance from Henry in the house.” She reaches out to touch Regina’s arm, all heavy gloves and plastic-wrinkled fabric, and she says, “If you have any trouble breathing– even for a second– let me know.”
She departs with a bag full of tests and vials, pausing only to nod at Emma grimly as she pulls away.
The knock comes at the inside door only a few minutes later, and Emma closes the garage and hurries to do her bathroom run. Regina is sitting on the staircase, leaning against the wall, and Emma ventures, “I heard Marian outside–”
“I’m fine,” Regina says shortly, and Emma sighs to herself and goes to the bathroom. Regina is gone when she returns.
She isn’t there for breakfast or lunch, either, though she has left clearly labeled food in the fridge for them. “She says that she doesn’t want to come out of her room until she gets the test results,” Henry says, looking uncertain. “I’m supposed to knock when you need the bathroom so she can put up the force fields. I don’t even know how she’s feeling.”
Emma has Ruby send over more food and has Henry bring it up to Regina, but he reports that she doesn’t take it into her room. “What happens if she’s positive?” he ventures at dinner. “Do we– well, do I go back to Grandma’s apartment?”
He doesn’t sound enthused about the prospect, and Emma is pretty sure that Regina would rather spend weeks in her room than send Henry back. “I think we’ll have to wait and see,” she says. “I’ve only got another four days to my quarantine, so I can always come into the house and keep an eye on the two of you while your mom is quarantined.” Henry will also be quarantined, Emma realizes, but she doesn’t break that news to him just yet.
Henry looks aghast. “She can’t just lock herself in her bedroom for so long,” he says.
But Regina seems determined to do exactly that. She doesn’t answer Emma’s phone calls, and Emma bites her lip and waits. Regina will have to come out once tonight, after Henry’s asleep, for Emma’s final bathroom trek of the day.
And the knock comes close to eleven, sharp and loud. Emma springs to her feet and pulls the door open, eager to catch sight of Regina–
–who looks terrible . Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, frizzy wisps of it threatening to break free, and she’s wearing the same pajamas she’d been wearing last night. It’s not that she isn’t still beautiful– Regina is always beautiful– but her eyes are burning and haunted, and she sits heavily on the stairs and avoids Emma’s eyes.
Emma stops in her tracks, alarmed at the expression on Regina’s face, and she lowers her voice. “How are you doing?”
Regina’s gaze hardens. “I’m fine. Absolutely fine. How else would I be?” The words are sharp and angry instead of afraid, and Emma flinches. “I’ve upgraded from being locked in my house to locked in my room, as though there is any real difference– because I was–”
“You didn’t do anything,” Emma says swiftly. “It isn’t your fault that this is happening. You’ve been so careful.”
Regina scoffs, hard and cold. “Careful? I let a quarantined patient into my house.”
Oh . Emma blinks at her. “Come on, Regina. It’s been ten days. You really think I somehow secretly infected you in between our miles of social distance and the literal force fields you keep me in?”
“I don’t know,” Regina bites out. “All I know is that I was doing just fine before you showed up, and now I’m taking tests and this headache won’t stop and I was a fool to ever let you come here and infect me– and god, Henry– I won’t let him be quarantined.” The words are pouring from her, fast and angry as her volume rises. “He can’t be trapped here, not like me, not trapped– trapped–”
She’s shaking, trembling uncontrollably, and Emma thinks she must be on the verge of a panic attack. “Regina,” she says, forcing herself to keep her voice even. “Regina, please come here.”
Regina doesn’t budge, her hands shaking and her eyes bulging. She’s like a spooked animal right now, caught between fight or flight, and Emma says, “Regina, please. We both know that this force field thing is good enough to stop me from catching anything you have. Just come here. Please,” she says again.
Regina takes a staggering step down the staircase, then another, clutching onto the railing so tightly that her knuckles are white. “Your funeral,” she says hoarsely, and she descends the staircase and stumbles to the force field.
Emma sits down, and Regina does the same after a moment. Tears spill down her cheeks as she sinks to the ground, and Emma presses her hand against the magical wall between them and wishes that she could do more. “This is humiliating,” Regina mumbles through her tears, and Emma shakes her head vigorously.
“It’s not– Regina, we’re all perpetually on the verge of breakdowns. Do you know how often I want to just lie in bed and cry for a day, just so another day will be over? Do you know how often I just want to quit and run?” Emma sucks in a breath. “I’ve spent years of my life all on my own, and I’ve never felt as alone as I have the past month.” It’s been quiet hell, waiting for this new normal to end , and seeing no finish in sight. She’s almost made mistakes, some worse than others, in her desperation to leave.
Regina stares blankly in front of her, the tears still coming fast and furious. When she speaks, it’s low. “I have,” she says. “I’ve made it through worse than this. Days locked in my room because of Mother’s fury. Weeks in my quarters with only my maids and the king’s visits. Years in a town when nothing changed and the walls were always closing in on me– surrounded by characters instead of people–” She’s shaking again, and Emma wills the magical wall between them to fall, uncaring of the consequences that might follow. “I don’t know why a few weeks sick and alone with the people I care about would be the thing to break me,” Regina whispers, and she lifts her hand to press it to Emma’s, only an inch of glowing air between them.
Magic gleams anew where their palms almost touch, sending a wash of comfort through Emma. Regina still cries silently, and Emma blinks away tears of her own. She’d known this. She’d known that Regina must have some lockdown-related trauma in her past, if only for the way that she’d looked so claustrophobic from the window when Emma had dropped off her groceries. But there is something so achingly lonely and sad about Regina right now, brought to her knees by the threat of riding out this virus alone, and Emma just wants desperately to make it better.
She murmurs, “I really wish I could give you a hug right now.” It’s more than she’d normally expose to Regina, but in the absence of touch, words are all they have.
Regina laughs bitterly. “I’m not Snow White. I don’t think hugs cure everything.”
“Me neither,” Emma says. “I just wish I could.” She wants to hold Regina tightly, to feel her buried in her arms. She wants Regina’s arms slipping around her, leaning against her for support, and she wants to bury her face in Regina’s hair and brush a kiss to her head. It’s too far– it isn’t who they’ve been before now, and yet, life is too short and too menacing these days to deny it anymore.
Regina breathes in a shuddering breath and says, her voice quiet and muffled beneath her wet mask, “I don’t want to get sick.”
“I know,” Emma whispers. She’s been monitoring her own symptoms for ten days– has second-guessed every cough and held her breath just to be sure that she can– and the terror of losing that vitality– of being the one who gets it bad , who winds up in Marian’s ward and doesn’t come out– is a constant hum in the background of her quarantine that she doesn’t think about.
They sit there in silence for a long time, their hands still pressed almost to each other and the magic pulsating on the wall between them. Regina cries, and then she breathes, and Emma listens to her breathing and memorizes it like a song until its rhythm is shattered by the shrill sound of a phone ringing.
Regina jolts, pulls herself up and hurries to the phone in the kitchen. “Yes?” A few moments of silence, and then, her voice sounding a little stronger, “Great. You can send it over– yes,” she says again, quieter this time. “I won’t…Emma and Henry are here,” she says, and this must satisfy the person on the other end, because Regina doesn’t speak again except to wish them a goodnight and then she returns to the foyer, her eyes red-lined and her steps slow.
“That was Marian,” she says, and she sinks down beside Emma again, drawing her knees together. “I have strep.”
“Strep?” Emma echoes. The shock of relief is overwhelming, is almost absurd. “How did you get strep ?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I tested negative for everything else and my strep culture just turned positive. Strep .” Regina laughs helplessly, and it turns to tears again, to her doubled over beside Emma and crying and laughing at once, and Emma only wants with desperate need to hold her hand.
Emma insists that they hang out in the backyard together the next day, even though it’s a little riskier than their usual. “There’s no way that the distance in the driveway is any longer than the distance across the yard,” she says, stretching out across the grass. “And here you’re not sitting at a table. Much nicer.”
“I’m sick,” Regina reminds her grouchily. “I’m not supposed to be outside. I’m supposed to be inside with a blanket and a couch–”
“Yeah, but I’m banned from inside, so how else are you supposed to enjoy my company?” Emma reminds her, and Regina gives her a look and then grins, incapable of being too grumpy right now. Today is lighter, and she feels a little less desperate than she had before.
She knows that Emma has insisted on this for a reason. Outside, the air is fresher and the walls of the house aren’t closing in on her, and Regina breathes it in and the stress seems to fade away. Regina is resting on her stomach a good fifteen feet away from Emma, grass stains be damned, and trying without much success to focus on her notes instead of Emma. “I think,” she says reflectively, propping her masked chin up onto her palm, “If you’re going to be out here all day anyway, you should probably make yourself useful.”
Emma squints around the yard, taking in the too-tall grass. “Why do I feel like this is going to end with me mowing the lawn? Isn’t landscaping an essential business?”
“Landscaping, yes. Landscaping the Evil Queen’s lawn…” She lets her voice trail off. “I used to take care of it magically, but Henry frowns on me using my magic frivolously.” She makes sure that she sounds very somber when she notes it, and Emma eyes her suspiciously.
“Seems more like you’ve let it grow for the past eleven days so that you’d have an excuse to make me do it.” Emma eyes her suspiciously. “Especially since the front yard looks perfect.” Regina smirks and refuses to answer.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, motivated by a number of very valid reasons like Emma needs to move around outside of the garage and Emma will definitely mow the lawn in a muscle shirt , and Regina is very satisfied with Past Regina’s decision-making abilities at first. Then, Emma emerges from the garage with the mower and wearing only jeans and a tank top, her arm muscles expanding and contracting as she pushes the mower through the lawn, and Regina has regrets.
There had been the inkling of a crush, perhaps, back before the curse. Nothing more concrete than the simultaneous burning desire to kiss Emma Swan up against a wall and also strangle her, but Regina had easily shrugged that off. It’s this new reality they’re in, in which she also likes talking to Emma, that makes Emma irresistible.
Emma is soaked with sweat after the first half of the yard is done, her hair tied up and her face flushed, and Regina can’t tear her eyes away from her. There is moisture dripping to the hollow of her throat and down to her shirt, and Regina just wants to lick it up, to pin– to be pinned against the wall of the house, fuck – and she can feel the heat settling over her body.
“You’d better back up. I’m huffing hard enough that six feet and a mask won’t do it–” Emma glances up, and something she sees in Regina’s gaze makes her own eyes widen. She gulps, and Regina has to force herself to take a step back, to flatten herself against the wall of the house instead of making her way toward Emma.
Emma gapes at her, swallowing, and says, “Put those somewhere else,” jabbing a finger at Regina’s smoldering eyes. “It’s a pandemic , Regina, oh my god, you can’t just look at me like that–”
Regina gestures at Emma’s arms. “Put those somewhere else!” she says helplessly.
Emma glances down at her own arms, and then looks back up at Regina as though seeing her for the first time. There is a startled desire in her gaze, as though she’s only just discovered that it’s been there all along. “I haven’t had a single symptom,” she says, her voice a little rougher than usual. “Eleven days. I’m basically clean.”
“I’ve been quarantined since this started ,” Regina points out, taking a step forward. Emma’s arms flex invitingly. Emma’s eyes are caught on Regina’s, and they glint with so much promise that Regina can’t remember how to breathe.
It’s Henry who saves them, the back door flying open and a little boy flying across the patio as he calls, “Mom, I just thought of a great idea. We should grill burgers for dinner–” He pauses as Regina stops short, crossing her arms and avoiding Emma’s eyes before she does something deeply irresponsible. “Hey, why are you mowing the lawn, Emma? Mom does that with magic.”
“Uh,” Emma says. “Just getting a good workout in.”
“I can see that.” Henry wrinkles his nose. “You’re all sweaty. Gross.”
“Yes,” Regina echoes unconvincingly. “Gross.” Emma flashes her a wink, then averts her eyes almost bashfully.
Emma mows. Regina grills chicken and burgers and corn, and they eat after Emma has finished the yard, Emma a safe distance across the grass from them. Emma moans when she eats her burger, which is certainly something , and Regina does her best to avoid watching the rivulets of sweat that have beaded down to her cleavage.
They don’t talk about it until after dinner, when Henry has disappeared into his room (“I’m writing a book about the virus,” he announces, and Regina doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the last thing she ever wants to read about is this virus). Emma has come inside for a shower. But she hesitates outside the bathroom door.
“Emma,” Regina says. With the bright day and all its promise gone, she has the presence of mind to be embarrassed by what had almost happened earlier. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
Emma sighs. “Yeah, I know. Weird moment out there. Not like we’d have actually jumped each other.”
Emma is saying exactly what Regina had intended to be the one to say. It sounds far less palatable from her. “And why not?” Regina folds her arms, offended more than she’d been embarrassed. “Am I that repulsive?”
Emma’s eyes widen. “No?” she says, blinking at Regina like a deer caught in headlights.
Regina scowls at her. “I know I’ve put on a few pounds in quarantine–”
“It suits you,” Emma says, her eyes roving across Regina’s body, and Regina feels that warm flush again. She turns away, refusing to meet Emma’s eyes, and Emma says, “I just meant…oh, never mind.” She retreats into the bathroom, and Regina hears the shower running a moment later.
She busies herself with work, maneuvering through the living room so she won’t have to take apart the force field walkway on the way to the study. Her face still feels as though it’s burning. Whatever they’d almost done, it would have been a mistake right now. Emma is asymptomatic, but she must have the virus. Regina hasn’t spent eleven days taking every precaution only to cave now.
She spends some time faxing a slew of papers to her office, where she knows that her secretary will take care of them. There is always work to be done, more so now that she can’t go into her office, and she’s just about to start on the next stack when she hears her name from the foyer.
Emma is standing in the middle of her magical hallway, clad in nothing but a towel, her hair wet and water dripping onto her bare shoulders. “I’ve been thinking about today,” she says abruptly.
Regina eyes her, dragging her eyes up to Emma’s face. “In the shower?”
Emma gives her a look. “You said Maleficent was your friend.”
Regina nods slowly. “Until I sent you down to the depths of the library to slay her, yes.”
“Ugh. Really not my point.” Emma straightens, her towel slipping a little as she does. “My question was, are we friends?”
Friends? Regina considers. Friends is not where she’d categorize Emma, exactly. Family, maybe, by some twisted mystical coincidence. But even that doesn’t quite capture the fact that Regina can think of nothing right now but yanking that towel off of Emma and pushing her right back into the shower–
She shakes her head. The strep medication must not be working, because she’s developing another headache. “What was wrong with being fated nemeses?”
Emma rolls her eyes and does not dignify it with a response.
“Mortal enemies? Villain and hero?” Regina suggests. “Do you really think that friend could capture what we are to each other?”
“I think it’s a start,” Emma says, and she tilts her head and does that smile that makes Regina promptly forget every grievance that she holds against Emma and her bloodline. “I’m going to go get dressed, okay? You stay here. I’ve got an idea.”
She returns with the laptop that Regina had left for her and a pile of pillows, and she lays them down across the hallway and sets up the laptop in front of them. “Get some pillows and sit,” Emma orders. “You’re going to love this terrible show I found on Netflix.”
After that, they watch TV together every night, Regina up against the wall with a futon and Emma in her pillow bed in the hallway. “Every single person in this show is horrendous,” Regina complains, and in the same breath, fascinated by the animals onscreen, “I should have kept a pet tiger.”
“Jasmine had a tiger,” Emma says. “She was my second-favorite Disney princess growing up.”
Regina shoots her a dark look. “If you say your first was Snow White–”
“Mulan. Obviously.” Emma stretches out in her hallway, letting out a yawn beneath her mask. “I don’t think I ever actually watched Snow White. Not my kind of movie.”
Regina shakes her head, looking pleased. “I was so right not to kill you when you came to town.”
It’s a little concerning just how attracted Emma is to Regina even when Regina says things like that. It’s a little concerning overall just how attracted Emma is to Regina, maybe. Mary Margaret has already said as much. “When are you coming home?” she asks on Emma’s thirteenth day of quarantine. “It’s been so long.”
“Almost there,” Emma says, but she isn’t entirely sure what she’s going to do when she gets out of quarantine. She’s straddling two households right now, one with her parents and one with her son and his mother, and she doesn’t know where she’ll end up. Her parents might be safe to be around for the time being, even if she spends most of her time around Regina and Henry. She isn’t sure.
She calls Marian after she speaks to Mary Margaret, then hangs up, regretting wasting Marian’s time. Marian calls back immediately. “Please,” she says when Emma apologizes. “I could use a break to focus on anything but– well, you know.” She sounds tired, and Emma feels even worse for annoying her.
“It’s not a big deal,” she says quickly. “I’m just trying to figure out…after. Is it safe for me to stay with Mary Margaret and David but still visit Henry and Regina? Or is that too many potential exposures?”
Marian is silent. Then she says, her words careful, “I was under the impression that Regina offered you her guest room.”
Had Regina told Marian about that? Emma hadn’t thought it a real offer. “Don’t you think we’ll drive each other to homicide if I stay in her house?”
Marian sighs. “I think that there are worse things,” she says. “But if you do go back to the loft, please don’t forget about them.”
Which is a silly request. Emma hasn’t forgotten about either of them since the night that Henry had appeared in her apartment in Boston. But it’s nice that Marian cares so much about Regina.
She says as much to Regina that night, when they’re curled up on either side of the wall in front of Netflix. “You picked a good one,” she says. “I think Dr. Whale would have been a disaster helming our virus response.”
Regina snorts. “Dr. Whale’s claim to fame is reanimating dead corpses. I don’t know why we let him near anyone living.” She stretches out on her futon, tilting her head to face Emma. “Have you been talking to Marian about going back to work?”
“Not yet. Those deputies are doing fine.” Crime is at an all-time low, and it had never been all that high in the first place. Emma’s going to have very little to do once she’s back at the station. “I’m sure I’ll get back into it.”
“I was surprised you weren’t micromanaging from quarantine,” Regina comments mildly, and Emma shifts, suddenly uncomfortable.
“I guess I wasn’t really needed,” she says, chewing on her lip. Regina eyes her and waits. Emma examines the threads of her pillows, debating an admission she’s avoided for weeks. “I may have…kind of quit.”
Regina stares at her. “ What? ”
“Not officially,” Emma says hastily. “I left a note on my desk, but it hasn’t actually made it anywhere. Ruby organized my desk and stuck it with the other papers, I guess. I had a plan.” She leans back against the wall. “I was going to go once Henry was safe with you that weekend. But I didn’t want to leave you in the lurch, so I pushed it off until Sunday, after I’d dropped off your groceries.”
“Go,” Regina echoes. “Leave?” Her voice still has a little bit of a rasp in it when she’s tired, and it scrapes almost painfully on the word. Emma feels a little bloom of shame. She’d thought, initially, that Regina might have understood. She’d even fantasized about Henry and Regina coming to join her. That had been before she’d discovered that Regina had never left the job that had needed her, even after being dismissed.
She twists the fabric of her pillow. “Then I got a phone call from Mary Margaret that she was experiencing symptoms and she wanted a test, and after that, I couldn’t go. Not without infecting anyone else. I was just so…I thought, if I could run somewhere distant and anonymous, somewhere without so many people I knew…” She shivers. “I didn’t want to see the virus take people I cared about. I didn’t want to watch this thing that I can’t fight. I just wanted to give up.”
Regina is silent, and Emma feels as though she has to say, “I know. Not my finest moment. I’m not always great at sticking around when the going gets tough, you know? Not like you, with your secret, noble mayoring.” She can feel the heat on her cheeks, the embarrassment at having quit when Storybrooke had needed her most. If Regina had respected her before, that must be gone now.
Regina says abruptly, “I told you that I was leaving voicemails for Marian. I didn’t tell you how I met her.”
Emma shakes her head. Regina smiles without an iota of humor in her expression. “On my bathroom floor, four weeks ago,” she says. “Two weeks into the lockdown, when I took every pill I could find in my medicine cabinet and tried to give up , too.”
“Fuck.” Emma reaches for Regina instinctively, hits the shimmering wall.
Regina looks at Emma, her eyes glimmering. “I called 911. I didn’t know who else to– I was woozy and half out of my mind and I called 911 and she came for me. That was when she recommended that I talk to you about having Henry for a weekend. I couldn’t bear to be alone anymore.”
She touches the wall where Emma’s hand is, and the responding magic glows out from their contact point. It isn’t the translucent magic of the wall. It’s a different kind of glow, a prism that shines white and violet and every color in between. “This has been hell for everyone. I think that driving out of town to avoid it would have been perfectly understandable.”
“I’m not going to,” Emma says, and she means it. If that offer to stay here had been real– and she’s suddenly sure that it’s the right thing to do, that this is what Regina needs– then this is where she’ll stay, no matter how much she hates… “I hate not being able to fight this thing. I’ve fought dragons and ogres and you, and I can’t do a thing against some invisible virus that does whatever the hell it wants. That goes after the most vulnerable people in this town and leaves us helpless to do anything about it.”
“This is fighting,” Regina murmurs, and Emma tilts her head so their eyes are locked. “What else could you call this but a sacrifice for the town we love?”
Snow has known that Emma wouldn’t be coming back from the moment she’d first texted staying @ Regina for quarantine– will call to check in in AM . It isn’t a surprise, exactly. Sometime over the past two years, Snow had come to terms with the fact that her daughter would eventually wind up living in that big house on Mifflin Street with her son and his other mother. There are only so many days spent listening to Emma rant about all things Regina before a best-friend-slash-mother begins to catch on.
Still, it’s a pleasure to be able to go see Emma, to step out into the night and inhale cool air before she pulls up her mask again. There is a strange freedom that comes with being out, the virus in her system vanquished. She is out of breath faster now, and tired more often than she’d once been, but she lives with the knowledge that she can’t infect anyone else right now.
It has been fifteen days since she’d first self-quarantined, and fourteen since she’d seen Emma. She quickens her step, waving up to David in the loft. He’s still quarantined, which is probably for the best. He’ll need some time to adjust to what Snow expects to see at Regina’s.
When she gets to the house, the garage door is up, and Regina and Henry are hovering near the sidewalk. Henry gives her a big smile and Regina a scowl visible through her mask, and Snow beams back at them both, keeping a safe six feet away. “Is she out yet?”
“We checked the time that she left the house that Monday night and it was 7:42,” Henry informs her. “So we’re doing a countdown.”
Emma waves at Snow from the shadows of the garage, looking sheepish. “It was Henry’s idea,” she calls. She looks good, more sun-bronzed than Snow would have expected from two weeks in quarantine, and there’s an easy smile on her face. “Like a rocket leaving Earth.”
She exchanges a glance with Regina, wry and affectionate, and Regina purses her lips in a quiet smile. Snow watches them, not without a flash of envy and another of concern. This is Regina, after all, and whatever is happening, it might be destined for disaster with someone so volatile.
But Snow has long been resigned to the risk that Emma has opened herself up to, and she stays silent now.
Henry starts his countdown. “Ten! Nine! Eight!” Snow catches Emma’s eye, sees a shadow of uncertainty in it, and she wiggles her eyebrows at Regina in response. Emma rolls her eyes, but she relaxes. “Seven! Six! Five! Four!”
Emma arches her body in an exaggerated running pose, throwing her arms wide open as though she’s ready to run. Henry says, “Three…two…one…blast-off!” and charges down the driveway, nearly bowling Emma over as she catches him and hugs him tightly.
Her eyes squeeze shut, and she exhales audibly, resting her head on Henry’s and holding him to her for a long moment. And then they disentangle, and Emma’s gaze turns to the driveway again.
She straightens as though in a dream, and she walks rapidly through the garage and down the driveway, her steps quickening as she moves. Snow angles herself forward, reaching out for Emma…
And Emma blows past her to Regina, yanks off Regina’s mask in a smooth motion as Regina tugs Emma’s from her face, and the two of them are immediately in a tight embrace, kissing desperately as their hands clutch onto the other. They hold on as though they’ve found their lifelines, and neither one shows any sign of letting go.
Henry says, “Oh, really ?” in an awestruck voice, and Snow steps back and wipes away her brief moment of being miffed to smile ruefully at the embracing couple. They’re swaying a little, Emma’s lips buried in Regina’s hair and Regina’s face pressed into Emma’s shoulder, and Snow thinks yes, really and can’t be all that offended.
“I think the high school is doing a Zoom carnival tonight,” she says, nudging Henry gently toward the door to his house. “Might be a good time to check that out.” He takes her cue and heads inside, glancing back at his mothers with that same disbelieving, delighted look.
Emma and Regina have stopped kissing, but their arms are still around each other and they’re whispering words that would never penetrate a mask’s fabric. Regina murmurs something and slips an arm around Emma’s waist, and they walk together up the driveway and into the garage.
And with one last look of her own– Emma hasn’t let go of Regina’s hand as she manually yanks the door down and they disappear into the garage– Snow twists around and returns home, satisfied.