Emma thanked her lucky stars that Henry went by the same name. He was almost too easy to find the moment she realized she should be looking. She bought his book and read the whole thing in a matter of days. She cried three times. Once at the start when she realized that herself, Henry and Regina were framed as the main characters and was consumed with regret over letting her whole family leave her. The second time was during the chapter where she sacrificed herself to the darkness for Regina. It was written from Regina’s perspective and featured an inner dialogue so full of fear and concern and love that it made Emma shake. She had never considered that Regina might think about her like that. The final time she cried was as the book ended, with her and Regina sitting next to each other, watching Henry and his wife play with their daughter. If Emma had made better choices they could be doing that right now.
Regina was not so considerate to keep the same name. Emma tried every variation she could think of but the only consistent search results for Regina Mills were a public record of her adopting Henry, and the Storybrooke website that listed her as mayor with a grainy picture and information on her in office hours. Kathryn had been mayor in the time that Regina was gone, and every now and then Emma had to pause when she walked by the door that still had Regina’s name on it.
Finally, Emma’s desperation came to a head and she handed Hope to her parents and flew to Seattle. Author Henry Mills lived in Seattle, and every curse so far had used a concentrated geographical area. On the flight she researched neighbourhoods, Seattle was too big of an area still, they had to be in the same neighbourhood. She couldn’t describe what she was using as criteria. She ruled out both the richest and the poorest neighbourhoods. Curses tended to settle into a suffocating mediocrity of lower middle class.
Hyperion Heights was the fourth stop on her list of potential neighbourhoods, it took her seven days to get to it. She knew her methods of looking were not perfect. She was partially relying on vaguely defined saviour instinct and luck. She was hoping that she'd see at least one of the people she figured must be included in this curse during her scans of the neighbourhoods. At the end of the seventh day her hope was waning. She was so tired. She missed her daughter and she ached to see Regina and Henry, together and well.
She stopped for a drink because she wasn’t comfortable crying on the streets of Seattle, and she was just minutes away from doing so. She stopped at Roni’s because it seemed grungy and familiar.
All of a sudden, there she was. When Emma had stopped looking she found her, standing behind a low lit bar, wearing a crudely cropped band tee, and stacking glasses. She looked amazing. She looked exactly as Emma remembered her and simultaneously a few degrees off. Her hair was sitting in its natural curls that Emma had almost never seen in the six years she’d known Regina. She was wearing an outfit that looked like it belonged in Emma’s closet, something Regina would never be caught dead in. But almost nothing in her face was different. Emma smiled at the sight of the little scar above Regina’s lip. Emma was so drawn to her. She sat down at the bar a few feet away from Regina who put the glass in her hand down and leveled Emma with an even gaze.
“What can I get ya?”
“Just whatever you have on tap, a blonde if you have it.” Regina obliged and started pouring with a practiced ease. Emma was putting in so much effort to keep it together. It wouldn’t help anything if she scared Regina off before she found anything out. She took a deep drag of her beer and looked up to see warm compassionate eyes looking back at her.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Regina’s voice was full of a playfulness that Emma had missed. Her smile was sharp, all incisors. Emma wondered what the curse had done to bring this side of Regina to the front.
“Sorry, It’s been a rough few days.” Emma had to break eye contact, she couldn’t take it anymore.
“You’re not from around here are ya.”
“No, I’m from Maine. I... I’m just here looking for someone.” It was a shit explanation and she knew it.
Thankfully Regina does not press the issue. “Well, welcome to Roni’s, I’m Roni. I hope your next few days are better.
Emma can’t help the little snort of laughter that comes out of her mouth at the name Roni. She recovers quickly “That suits you. I’m Emma.”
Regina gives her a slow surveillance, all the way down the length of her body and purrs out “hello Emma.” Emma vaguely wonders if Roni is like this with everyone or if she’s flirting specifically with Emma.
“You own this bar?” Regina had once explained her curse to Emma. She’d said the easiest curse to hold was one that stayed as close to reality as possible. That the most effective way to cause pain in the parameters of a curse was to exploit what already lingered below the surface. Emma couldn’t help but wonder what the caster of this curse was trying to exploit by trapping Regina here.
“I own it for as long as I can fight off the vultures who are trying to buy it off me.”
Emma can’t help but engage with this woman, so like and unlike Regina, such a playful bite. “That’ll be a damn long time then I suppose. You seem like a fighter.”
Regina smiles a twisting smile at that. “Damn right.” Emma did not want this conversation to be over, but she could not think of a single thing to say to this Regina that wasn’t too intense to say to a stranger. “How long are you staying in Seattle?” Regina mercifully continued.
“There’s some stuff I have to take care of in town. It could be a while honestly.”
“So I might be seeing you around here more?”
“I’m around here right now.”
Regina smiled “Cheeky.”
“Really it depends on how much I like this beer you recommended to me. I might have to compare with the other local bars before I make a final decision.” Emma was seated forward in her seat, elbows on the bartop.
“If you don’t like my beer you can walk your little ass right out of here.” Regina set her hands on the other side of the bartop and leaned over into Emma’s space.
“Excuse you! My ass is perfectly proportional” Emma cried in mock outrage. This caused Regina’s smile to widen. Emma was soaking up the attention. God she had missed Regina so much. It was so easy to bask in this uncomplicated moment, where she didn’t have to atone for abandoning Regina or worry about the Disney villain of the day.
Emma went back to Roni’s nearly every day. It was honestly hard to do anything else. She hadn’t found Henry or Zelena or Robyn, and every moment she spent searching or investigating was a moment she could be spending near Regina. This Regina, Roni, quickly picked up on Emma’s interest in her and her inability to stay away from the bar. She interpreted it the only logical way she could’ve. A combination of loneliness, a developing alcohol problem, and romantic interest. This manifested in teasing, concern, and flirtation all being displayed in almost even parts in her interactions with Emma.
On this particular evening Roni had treated Emma to a jape about alcoholism when she entered the bar at about 4:30, and spent the next few hours periodically chatting with and smiling at Emma as she dealt with the rush hour customers. Emma was watching Roni work, entranced. Today she was wearing leather, and while Emma had seen the Evil Queen wear leather before it wasn’t the same as seeing Regina in leather. She had to make a conscious effort to look away. It seemed that other clients at the bar were having similar troubles. The man on the stool next to her was absolutely leering in a way that made Emma’s blood boil. Emma knew what men were like, and she knew Regina knew it too. In their day to day lives however they didn’t often face such problems. Something about the combination of Sherif/saviour and mayor/Evil Queen inspired enough fear that even dumb men didn’t tend to cross them. Roni was intimidating in her own right (Emma had seen her wield her baseball bat more than once) but she was also gorgeous and did not have the benefit of deadly magic or a deadly reputation. When the man ordered another round and Roni set the glass down in front of him he reached out and snagged her wrist in a firm grip before she could pull away.
“How much for a taste of you pretty thing?” He leered. Emma clenched her jaw.
Roni’s eyes hardened. “Sorry, I’m not on the menu” she pulled arm back sharply but the man held tight. She was keeping her voice low, clearly not wanting to cause a scene in front of her customers.
“Come on, I know you’re running out of money to keep this place, there’s gotta be a price.”
“Hey fuck off buddy, I’m not interested.” Roni was louder now, even more forceful, but she still hadn’t gotten her arm free. Everyone in the bar was ignoring the scene taking place. Emma tried to hold herself back from jumping the guy but she was starting to get hot from the rage that was bubbling right at the surface of her skin.
When she couldn’t stand it anymore she leaned over to the man and snapped “hey” to get his attention. He let go of Regina in surprise and turned to Emma. “I’ll give you one try to guess what I do for a living.”
The man sneered at Emma and looked vaguely disinterested. “Streetrat.”
“I’m a fucking cop, and if you say another word, or lay a hand on Roni, ever again, I’ll find something to charge you with.” Emma tried to channel the way Regina used to speak to her inferiors. “I don’t give a shit if I have to make it up, I will put you away and you will regret the day you came in here.” The guy reeled back and stood up to leave but Emma grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back down. “Nuh uh, pay for your drink.” He took some cash out of his pocket and dropped it on the bartop before continuing his exit. Emma picked up his full abandoned drink and took a drag before chancing a glance up at Regina.
She was standing away from the bar, with her wrist cradled close to her body. She raised her eyebrow “I didn’t know cops could afford to day drink so much.”
“I took some liberties with the truth.”
“My saviour” Regina drawled with a grin.
Emma couldn’t help but blush at the familiar term. “Are you okay?”
“Of course, that was nothing.”
“Can I see your wrist then?”
“What are you, my overprotective boyfriend?” Regina snapped
“I can handle myself, I don’t need some random patron sticking their nose in my business.”
“I just wanted to help.”
“I’ve never needed help before.” For all the ways Roni and Regina were different they were the same at the core of it all.
Emma held her hand out “even if you don’t need help you can have it.” Regina put the offending wrist in Emma’s hand with a sigh. Emma turned it over and observed the deep red marks with care. She wished magic worked in the realm so she could wipe them away. Emma didn’t realize how tense she must look until she felt Regina’s other hand come down to rest on top of their joined hands.
“Hey, It’s actually okay.” Her voice was softer now, less defensive.
“I just don’t like the idea of you getting hurt.” It was the most Emma could admit to this version of Regina. She raised Regina’s hands up and pressed a light kiss to the inside of the injured wrist. It was an overstep, but apparently an acceptable one. Roni did not pull away.
She just barely caught Regina’s fleeting blush out of the corner of her eye. “I’m tough stuff Swan.”
“Yeah” Emma whispered, entranced by everything about Regina in that moment. The bar was smokey and dim, and something was crackling between them.
The next time she sees Roni is by accident, in the daylight, and outside of the bar. It almost levels Emma. She imagines walking down the streets of Storybrooke together again. In her preoccupation she almost collided with the woman. “Emma?”
“Roni.” She gave Regina a quick once over. “I didn’t know you were allowed to leave the bar.
“Piss off . I’m just trying to find something decent to eat for lunch. God knows I don't want to eat the shitty food I serve at the bar.”
“You can’t cook your own food?” Regina always made a point to cook almost everything she ate herself.
“That’s awfully judgey for an alcoholic” Roni scoffed. “I can’t eat grilled cheese everyday.”
“Are you saying that’s all you can cook?!” Emma would have to tease Regina about this when everything was back to normal.
“Are you coming to lunch with me or not?” Emma grinned at the easy sass of it all and followed Regina like a puppy down the street and into a cafe. Roni ate far more, and far less healthy than Emma had ever seen Regina eat. “You’re always looking at me” Roni said, almost casually, but slightly probing.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are. Especially at the bar, but even now you’re staring.” Roni was staring at her in a way that felt inappropriate for the daytime.
“Was there a question in there?” Emma asked horsley.
“No. I was just letting you know that I noticed. She leaned back in her chair, not breaking their eye contact.
“I’m sorry, it’s hard to look away from pretty things.”
Roni laughed “you think you’re so smooth don’t you?”
“Maybe” Emma admitted.
Their food came and they lapsed into silence a bit as they ate. Emma had never seen Regina eat as much or as vigorously as Roni did. About a year into what Emma determined to be the time they were friends she had realized the strangeness to Regina’s eating habits. After about a month of watching Regina graze at every meal Emma had asked her about it. Regina had explained what it was like being a woman in royal court, or worse Cora’s daughter. There were certain lessons that were hard to shake. Roni didn’t share Regina’s posture or decorum or speech patterns or eating habits. Watching her eat a sandwich with her hands, even as toppings fell out the side and she got sauce on the corner of her mouth, was strangely nice. Emma decided that after the curse broke she would try and annoy Regina out of her more prissy habits. Regina would be happier she decided, if she could relax a little.
As Roni finished her food she shot a wry glance at Emma and said “you’re staring again.”
Emma just winked “I’ll walk you back to the bar?”
“I suppose I shall return to my musty prison” Roni puts her hand on her forehead and fakes swoons like some damsel.
“Come on your majesty” She files Regina’s smile away to take out and turn over every time she feels sad.
The next time she comes into the bar she has only held out till 3pm that day and the bar is empty. The lunch rush has left and the happy hour crowd has not yet started to file in. Roni seems to be purposefully ignoring her at first, wiping things down and not making eye contact despite Emma being the only other person in the bar. After about ten minutes of this charade Emma says “Roni?” apprehensively.
Roni lets out a very put upon sigh and turns to Emma “Are you okay Swan?” it comes out borderline aggressive and Emma isn’t sure how to respond. Thankfully Roni keeps talking “I mean you’re just here so much and you’re always drinking when you’re here and it’s 3pm and I just worry sometimes. Are you ever going back to Maine? Do you have anyone watching your back here?”
Emma had honestly not expected genuine concern from Roni. There was no reason for this woman to care about her well being like this. “I promise I’m fine Roni, like seriously fine. This isn’t a great time in my life obviously. I am still in contact with people back at home though. And it honestly kind of sounds like you’re watching my back.”
“The person watching your back should not be your bartender” Roni shot back.
“Who’s watching your back?” Roni got very silent and Emma felt immediately bad for teasing her.
“See maybe, if you watched my back, like you’re doing now, I could watch yours, like I did the other night.”
“Staring at my ass is not the same as watching my back.”
“Hey!” Emma laughed “I can do both at once. Maybe I like the company at this bar better than anywhere else in the city, maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m here so much.”
Roni leaned forward onto her elbows and right up into Emma’s space and whispered in her ear “if you want to ask me out on a date you can just do it Em-ma” The way she practically purred out Emma’s name made her shiver. Roni stepped back with a satisfied smirk. “I’m not serving you alcohol tonight. If you want to loiter on my bar stool all night you can drink water while you do it.”
“Can I at least have soda?”
“I’ll consider it.”
From then on out Emma made a point not to drink every time she went to Roni’s. She was probably right about it being too much alcohol, and she seemed more comfortable around Emma since she made that chance. Tonight was not one of Emma’s sober nights though. It was 11:30 and Emma was nursing her seventh beer, simply as an excuse to stay at the bar. Roni’s backup bartender had clocked in so Roni slid over to her with a tequila shot in each hand.
“Drink up Swan” she said lightly as she pounded back one of the two shots. Emma obeyed gamely and mused that Swan was so close to the sharp ‘Miss Swan’ that Regina used to call her. “So” Roni declared. “I have a half hour break, entertain me.”
“What, do you want me to do a little song and dance for you or something?”
Regina smacked her upper arm lightly. “Tell me about yourself, mysterious stranger, who spends all her time at my bar and is in town for vague business.” Regina does air quotes around the word business.
“You tell me about yourself, mysterious owner of the bar I frequent.”
“Nuh-uh, I’m an open book. My name is on the sign, you have to talk first.”
“You know I don’t need this from my bartender.” Emma scoffed, as if she could walk away from Roni in the face of this harassment. They both knew it wasn’t true.
“I think you do need this, I think I’m your only friend right now.” Emma tries to swallow all the feelings she has about this version of Regina referring to herself as Emma’s friend.
“Alright nosy. I’ll give you five personal facts but you have to give me five in return.”
“One: I was a foster kid. Two: I have been in jail before. Three: I used to be a bounty hunter. Four: I drink hot chocolate instead of coffee, like some sort of weird five year old. Five: I am here looking for my son...and his other mother.” Emma blamed her honestly on the tequila shot that caped off her night of drinking.
“You have a son?” Roni was both incredulous and a little wistful. “And a wife?” The second statement leaned a little more toward incredulous and upset.
“She’s not my wife! She’s not even my ex wife! She was just my friend.” Emma couldn’t handle explaining her relationship with Regina to Regina right now. God she was a little more drunk than she’d thought. “I miss her, we never..”
“How do you know they want you to find them? Wouldn't they call?” Roni pressed, because of course she would, because what real world, non-magical explanation was there for Emma to lose her family like this.
She was too far committed to half truths to stop now. “I’m afraid something happened to them. They had to leave, or well my son was 18, and he wanted to leave. He wanted to leave our stupid town and discover himself or whatever. His other mother, I think she felt alone without him, so she moved closer to him. They were always closest to each other I think. They didn’t need me to go with them. I couldn’t go with them. I thought I had to stay in Maine... I know they were in Seattle but I stopped hearing from them. I haven’t heard from them in so long I...” She was rambling, both throwing herself at Regina’s feet and asking for forgiveness, and trying to express the terror she’d felt in the week between realizing Regina and Henry were gone, and seeing her face in the bar at 6pm on a Tuesday.
Roni’s hand on her shoulder stopped her. Emma looked into her eyes, Regina’s eyes. “I'm sorry.” Her thumb was softly stroking the side of her neck.
Emma sniffed twice and straightened her back. “Hey sneaky, don’t think this gets you out of your five facts.”
Roni chuckled, “I’m ready when you are.”
“Hit me,” Emma said.
“One: I tried to run away from home when I was eighteen but my mother caught me. Two: I was married once. Three: My stepdaughter accused me of killing her father. Four: I used to ride horses. Five: I haven’t have sex in over two years.”
Roni rattled off all her facts without pausing, Emma was dissecting the way Regina’s life translated into Roni’s, and trying to fill in the blanks, until the last fact hit and she choked on her tongue. She could vaguely hear Roni laughing at her desperate attempts to start breathing normally again.
“So” she says, wheezing slightly still. “Did you kill your husband?” This set Roni off again, laughing like a maniac, a louder laugh than Emma had ever heard from Regina.
“No you dumbass. He was ancient. He had a heart attack. The dumb brat only blamed me cause he had a heart attack right after I served him with divorce papers and told him I was sleeping with his secratary.”
This sent Emma into a fit of hysterics almost rivalling Roni’s. “His secretary!?”
Roni was laughing again now. “In my defence she came onto me first and she was gorgeous.” Emma tried not to outwardly react to the idea that this cursed version of Regina had slept with at least one woman. There were actions to back up Roni’s flirting. “Also,” Roni leaned in even closer and whispered conspiratorially, “I thought it would be kind of funny.” Both women burst out laughing again. Roni stood up abruptly and grabbed Emma's hand. “Come for a walk Swan, I need fresh air.”
“Isn’t your break done?”
“Shut up, I own the place. I can do what I want.” Emma let Roni pull her in close as they left the bar and walked a little ways down the street. Regina’s hand was soft and cold and her body pressed against Emma’s was so so warm. Emma wondered if their lives could’ve been easier had they met in this life. A foster kid, bounty hunter, piece of shit, and a sharp as nails, rebellious rich girl stumbling across each other in a random bar in Seattle. She had considered Regina her friend for years but they had almost never managed to be close like this. Regina’s laughs were fewer and more restrained than Roni’s, she would never reach out and touch Emma like this. They barely touched even in their closest moments.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Roni whispered into Emma’s hair.
“I’ve never had anything like this.” Emma whispered back, still too honest.
“A friend?” Roni replied
“All my friendships have always been so heavy, so complicated.”
“And this is?”
Emma turned her head millimeters to look at Regina. “It's so easy.
Roni turned her head towards Emma in response and their gazes locked. “I’ve never really had anyone either.”
“No. It's always been complicated and painful.”
They were tantalizingly close. Emma caught Roni’s eyes glance down at her lips then flit back up to her eyes, once, then again. She could feel her heart rate increasing as she leaned just a little closer to Regina. She was taken aback by how much she wanted this. Had she always wanted Regina like this? Why was she so unsurprised and calm about this revelation? She wanted to kiss Regina Mills and she couldn’t recall a time when she didn’t. Emma closed her eyes and relished in the feeling of Regina’s hands on either side of her face. But this wasn’t Regina. This person had all the trappings of Regina. She felt so close to what Regina felt like. But this wasn’t Regina who was laughing and holding her hand and leaning in to kiss her. Emma realized all at once that she had to earn this with the real Regina, she could not take it from this sanitized easy version of her.
Emma took a half step away so abruptly that Roni jerked away from her in response. Her gaze was narrowed and it took everything Emma had not to close the distance between them again. She looked so disappointed, disappointed but not even surprised.
“I’ll see you tomorrow” Emma mumbled and bolted from the scene of the crime. She couldn’t bring herself to look back at Regina, bathed in the light of the streetlamp.
Emma did not return to Roni’s for two days. She hated the thought that she had made everything complicated and painful. She didn’t want to face Roni because she had no explanation for ruining their moment. She only went when she couldn’t hold herself back anymore. She sat at a booth far from the bar and watched Roni interact with the other customers while she nursed a beer. Roni did not look at her a single time for the first hour she was there.
After the second hour she came over with a pint of Emma’s favourite beer and took a seat as far away from her as she could be while still being in the same booth. “I thought you went back to Maine.”
“Don’t mention it. Don’t be a stranger Swan.” Roni interrupted her half baked explanation and stood to leave. Emma got it. She was setting a new boundary.
“I wouldn’t just leave you” Emma called after her as she walked back to her spot at the bar. Roni does not look back at her and Emma supposes she deserves it.
The next week passes smoothly and painfully. Emma calls Mary Margaret and Hope every night and begins to sit at the bar with Roni during the evenings again. Roni stops leaning in so far though. She smiles but she doesn’t laugh. They chat but they do not push on each other's personal lives the way they did that night. The awful stalemate Emma has been living in shatters all at once when the door to Roni’s opens at 8:15 on a Tuesday.
“Henry?” Emma was caught so off guard that she reacts genuinely. Henry and Regina both look at her quizzically. “Henry Mills, I love your book.” She recovers enough to lie smoothly.
That makes Regina bust out a full bellied laugh for the first time in over a week. Henry turns from Emma to Roni as she braces herself on the bar and laughs like a maniac. “You read his book?” she gasped out.
“Come on Roni, it is not that bad.” Henry is smiling fondly and it’s been so long since Emma has heard his voice.
“You liked his book?”
“Roni!” Henry scolds.
“You have two whole fans.”
“I honestly never thought I’d see the day.” He admits gamely.
Emma knows she's gazing at them like they’ve both just hung the moon. Even under the layers of the curse they have an easy familiarity. It is different from their normal relationship. Regina in real life would never be this hard on Henry, but they are making each other smile and Emma feels the most at ease she has in months.
“You actually like my book?” Henry turns his attention back towards Emma.
“Yeah, the relationship between the main three was very compelling, definitely the highlight, even if the plot sometimes went off the rails.” For some reason this set Roni off laughing again.
“Emma, my name is Emma.” She smiled as she introduced herself to her son.
“Thank you Emma, I'm glad some people in this bar appreciate my book. Roni have you even finished it.”
“Oh I finished it, and I have a couple of questions. First of all why did you devote so much of the book to developing an intensely homoerotic relationship between the two mother characters only to give them weird stand in boyfriends halfway through?”
Emma choked on her drink. “Intensely homoerotic!?” her and Henry exclaimed in unison.
“Don’t pretend it wasn’t” Roni hit back. “Oh Emma, my magic is only strong enough combined with your magic. Oh Regina I believe in you even though you’ve given me no reason to .” Emma made a small sound of protest at that but Roni was on a roll. “Oh Emma I have to give up the thing I love most to cast this spell which means I can never see you again. Oh Regina I’m giving up my entire soul to save yours.”
It was a little surreal to hear Regina spit out their own words and action with such mockery. “Hey technically it was Henry that was the price for Regina’s curse, not Emma.” Emma felt compelled to offer that small correction. She remembered what it felt like to be standing on the town line with Regina holding both her hands and looking at her with the softest eyes she’d ever seen. She also remembered the moment she had thrown her entire soul on the line for Regina. It had been impulsive and desprate and hardly homoerotic. It had just been the only thing she could fathom doing, not doing it and letting the darkness consume Regina hadn’t been a thought in her mind even as Robin just stood there and watched.
Roni scoffed. “That’s a technicality, and you have to admit their boyfriends are really just pale imitations of each other. Regina gets paired with a charming good hearted criminal who gives her a hard time and Emma gets paired with a sarcastic rude villian on a redemption arc. Why not just cut out the middle men.”
“Honestly it never even occurred to me to put the mothers together romantically.” Henry said with a shrug.
“Blind” Regina muttered darkly.
“You clearly liked my book a little bit if you feel this strongly about two of the characters in it.”
“Emma’s right. The plot is absolutely insane but the main three are compelling, you almost hit it out of the park there.”
“Wow Roni that was almost a compliment.”
“Don’t get used to it” she grumbled darkly.
The front door to the mostly empty bar swung open and a little girl burst through. She ran right up to the bar with a grin on her face and climbed onto the stool next to Henry. She started talking a mile a minute without preamble or introductions.
“Guys you’ll never guess what I found in the pages of the book today. Henry IS my dad and Roni IS Regina and I can prove it.” Oh my god this was Henry’s daughter. This was little Lucy who Emma had only ever heard about in letters. She had his chin, his chin that was also Emma’s chin and Mary Margaret’s chin. She was so similar to the ten year old boy who had showed up at her doorstep insisting she was his mother.
Henry cut Lucy off mid sentence. “Lucy we’ve talked about this.”
“You have to listen to what I found though.”
This time Roni stopped her. “Lucy, do I look old enough to be Henry’s mother?” I'm almost insulted that you think I do.” She was trying to defuse the tension as much as she was trying to divert Lucy away from this topic.
Lucy sighed heavily. “Have you even read the book yet. It’s not like you gave birth to him, Emma did. And besides, time doesn’t always work normally in the magical realms, which you would know if you read the book!”
Emma couldn’t help but laugh at her emphatic response. Lucy whipped around to focus on Emma. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Hey don’t be rude” Roni defended.
“I’m just trying to figure out how she fits in and why she’s here.”
“She’s here cause she’s a real person and she can go where she wants.” Henry said.
“Shhhh” Lucy waved him off. “You, answer me.”
“I’m Emma, I’m here in town on some personal business.”
Lucy’s eyes bugged out. “What personal business?” Roni and Henry tried to protest the invasive question but Emma smiled gamely and went along with it. “I’m here looking for my son and his other mother.” At that Henry turned to look at Emma.
“Just like Emma in the book.” Lucy exclaimed. “Oh course, you look just like her picture. I’ve been looking for Emma this whole time cause I knew she wouldn’t just abandon them. This makes sense, of course you would find them. What took you so long?” Her innocent questions were making the guilt in Emma's gut boil up, she had abandoned them, it had taken her too long to find them.
“Lucy, I need you to understand something,” Roni seamlessly took the reins. “Emma is not here for me and Henry. She is a real person who is not from a book and real life is complicated sometimes. I know you don’t mean to and I think you are a lovely girl, but sometimes the things you say hurt. Emma and Henry and I don’t have magic fairytale families with magic happy endings.” Emma found herself taking Roni’s hand in hers as she spoke.
Lucy looked at best a little deflated. “That’s what I’m trying to say, you do have happy endings you just have to listen to me.”
“Hey kid” Emma leveled with Lucy. “Roni’s right, life is complicated sometimes, but I am gonna fix things with my son and his mother. It’s kind of what I do, save things.” She shot Roni a wink
Lucy’s eyes brightened and she smiled. Henry whisked her away soon after that to return her to her mother, but not before Lucy gave Emma a sufficient rundown of who was who in this cursed world. Emma was relieved that she had somewhere to start now, after she got over the shell shock of finally meeting her granddaughter. That stupid time sped realm had robbed Emma of so many years with her already. It had robbed her of so many years with all of them. Emma squeezed Roni’s hand that she was still holding somehow.
“You were good with her,” Roni whispered.
“Sometimes with kids you can’t try and talk them out of stuff like this. I get that it would be hard to hear this kind of stuff on the regular. It would be nice if she was right though. I wouldn’t mind being the saviour.”
“You just want to be in an intensely homoerotic relationship with me.” Roni said with little bite
“Maybe.” Emma grinned.
With a lead in the case for the first time in weeks, Emma worked tirelessly the whole day. She ripped out pages from a copy of Henry’s book and matched pictures and identities from this world with the scenes and characters. Of course it was mostly the final chapters of the book that were of use to her, those chapters detailed the time Henry and Regina spent in the other realms without Emma. The book wraps everything up nicely with some last minute intervention to defeat Drizella as opposed to the casting of the current curse. Emma even manages to find out that Zelena and Robyn were initially cursed to Hyperion Heights, even if they were nowhere to be found now. She found Gold and fake-Hook in the police department pretty easily, and the identity of the curse casters was almost too easy to pin down now that she’d had that talk with Lucy.
She was so enthused that she was putting the pieces together that she didn’t leave for Roni’s till it was nearing last call. Since it was a weeknight the place was almost empty and Roni was staffing the bar alone. She was standing hunched over behind the bar staring intently at something. She looked like a wreck. She looked worse than she had since Emma found her.
“Roni?” Roni straightened her posture and looked up at Emma sniffing slightly as she did. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she swiped a hand over her cheek and pulled her walls up tightly, in such a visibly Regina way. “What can I get you?”
“Nevermind that. What were you looking at?”
“Don’t be nosy Swan.”
“It’s something stupid that Lucy wanted to show me, it’s...silly.”
Emma held out her hand and leveled Roni with her best piercing stare. Roni looked between the picture in her hand, and Emma, and back again before closing her eyes and holding out the picture. Emma grabbed it eagerly and gasped. It was a copy of one of her favourite family pictures, maybe the first one with all three of them. Henry was maybe twelve and Regina’s hair is short but her eyes are soft and she is grinning and holding Henry as close as she physically could. Emma is standing just as Regina’s right shoulder and she looks hesitant but happy and one of Regina’s arms is around her waist securely. She remembered being unsure how close she was allowed to stand to Regina, and a little scared that she was going to get snapped at for touching her waist.
“I’ve never owned clothes like this. I’ve never known this boy. Why would someone photoshop this? Emma that’s you.”
“Do you know that kid?” Roni was trying not to look at her.
“Yeah” she whispered, because she couldn’t stand to say anything else. They were so close, the picture was right there. Maybe Regina could remember. “That's my son.” Regina’s watery eyes widened. “Roni do you consider yourself a skeptic?” Regina was. Regina was more skeptical than you’d think would be possible for someone who lived in a world of fairies and prophecies and true love's kiss. This whole thing would be so much easier if Roni was a believer, but she was too much like Regina for that to be a real possibility.
“I don’t know. I’m not naive or anything.”
“Do you trust me?” Emma tried a different angle.
“Do I trust you, the random stranger who is possibly an alcoholic and frequents my bar and sends me mixed signals every night.”
Emma could almost cry. She was so close. “What if what Lucy was saying wasn’t crazy?”
“Fuck off Emma” her tone was biting now. Emma had never heard Regina cuss like this before.
“Roni when did you move to Hyperion Heights, can you tell me the exact year? When did you open this bar? Who did you go to your high school prom with? Are Henry and Cora both alive? Did you go to college or trade school or neither?” Curses relied on a thick layer of fog, they provided enough of a fake life for a person to exist only without close scrutiny.
“What are you saying-I-I-” Regina ran her fingers through her short bob and looked at Emma with horror. “I don’t know.” Emma vaulted over the bar to be close to Regina as she started to cry in earnest again. “I don’t know”
Emma could feel her heart in her throat. She could smell the whiskey on Regina’s breath, feel the heat radiating off her body.
“I brought a bunch of stuff I was going to show you when the time was right. I brought Henry’s adoption papers and more family pictures and anything I could find that might convince you I’m telling the truth. Regina I came to find you, and Henry, and I’m so sorry I let you guys just walk away but I promise if you remember me I’ll fix everything, it’s what I do.” She was begging and Regina was openly crying. If she didn’t get it right now Roni would never want to see her again.
“Please.” Emma cut Roni off. “I was so scared. I missed you so much. When I saw you the first time I walked into the bar I was so happy, I never wanted to leave again.” Emma’s rant was cut off when Regina’s lips met hers. Emma had to take a step back in reaction to the force of the kiss. Her hip hit the bar but Regina had both hands on either side of her face, and her fingers threading into her hair and her lips. Regina’s lips were warm and soft but her teeth scraped Emma’s bottom lip in beautiful contrast. Emma could not tell how much time had passed. Emma’s hands were just coming up to Regina’s hips when a pulse of light burst out from every point where they were connected.
Regina’s hand moved from Emma’s hair to her shoulders as she abruptly stepped back and pushed Emma away from her. Emma’s hands fell to her sides as Regina stepped out of her grasp. Something had shifted. “Emma?” Regina’s eyes were full of confusion and horror. She was standing straighter, as if decades of etiquette training came back to her all ot once.
“Regina?” Regina nodded mutely, confirming Emma’s wildest dream. Emma could not stop the gasp and sob of joy that came out of her mouth at that confirmation. She wanted to throw herself into Regina’s arms. Regina broke the curse. Their love broke the curse, everything would be okay. But Regina was still looking at her with wet horrified eyes.
“How did you know to come here? You’ve been here so long, what about the baby, and the pirate? You-oh god, all the things I said!” Regina’s hands came up to cover her mouth and Emma had been so caught up in the euphoria of true love that had not thought of it from Regina’s perspective til this moment. A lot had changed in the year they’d been apart, a year from Emma’s perspective, nearly a decade for Regina.
Emma opened her mouth to try and explain all the ways things were different when the door to the bar burst open and Henry was there, striding with the purpose of someone who had all of his memories. “Mom” he called out and Regina’s face lit up as she stepped out from behind the bar just in time to be scooped up into their son’s arms. He was a full head taller than her now and her feet left the ground for a moment at the apex of their hug. Henry set Regina down lightly and turned to Emma and for all that his face had changed since he was a kid she recognized that expression. “You found us.” He hugged her warmly, but with much less familiarity than he had Regina.
The door swung open again and it was Jacinda and Lucy, with coats thrown over pyjamas. “I knew you’d all be here.” Emma wants to gush, seeing Henry pick up his daughter and kiss his wife. She was so happy for him. He had everything Emma ever dreamed of having, this curse had been such a small bump in the road for them.
When Henry set Lucy down she sprang forward and shouted “Gra’ma ‘Gina” and Regina dropped to her knees to hug the girl. “I told you your happy ending was right here. I told you I told you.”
“I know Luce. You’re just like your father, he was always right about this sort of thing too.”
Lucy pulled back from Regina and turned to Emma. She smiled bigger still. “I knew you came to fix things.” Emma cast a furtive glance at Regina who was looking away. “I read about you and I just knew you’d come.”
“Now Luce, your father is a good writer but he didn’t get everything right you know.” Regina piped up.
“You mean you don’t really think that you and Emma have a homo-”
“Henry!” Regina cuts her son off with an almost shrill warning.
“You’re the one who said it mom. Hey how did the curse even break? You guys did something right?”
Emma turned back to Regina and their eyes met for a moment before Regina looked away again. “Lucy gave me this picture, and then Emma... helped me remember. It wasn’t hard from there.” Regina had picked up the picture from the bar. Henry narrowed his eyes and Emma knew that he knew something was off. “We can catch up and work everything out tomorrow. It’s late. We can meet here.”
Emma arrives purposely early, an hour early. Regina is not behind the bar as Roni had always been but Emma knows to walk back into the small kitchen in the back. She thought of Roni’s grilled cheeses and knew Regina would be glad to be cooking properly again.
She had her back to the door when Emma walked in. The curls were gone, she was back to her standard madame mayor blowout. She had picked the most Regina outfit she could assemble from Roni’s clothes which turned out to be plain black jeans, and a solid grey t-shirt with no rips, no kerchief, no hoop, understated even for Regina’s style. She stood taller and more rigid under the full weight of her memories. “You know I liked the hair.”
Regina whirled around to face her, her hand reaching up to touch her hair. “Miss Swan, you’re early.”
“Regina, I came to talk but if you ‘Miss Swan’ me one more time today I’m going to lose it.”
Regina seemed to smile in spite of herself and she looked down coyly. Emma didn’t know what Regina was being so shy about. “Sorry.”
“I’m glad you’re here. It’s been a long year, I really missed you.”
“It’s been a year for you?” Regina looked up.
“Yeah, I bet it’s been more for you. Did you forget about me while you were gone?” Emma tried not to let the genuine fear in the question show. “I can’t wait for you to meet Hope, when this is all sorted. I know babies aren’t like super good conversationalists or anything but she’s super cool, you’ll like her.”
“What?” Emma's heart wrenched.
“No I never forgot about you.” The admission was quiet. “I couldn’t.”
“It was nice to get to just hang out with you. Even if it wasn’t quite you and you thought I was a crazy alcoholic.” Emma is having a hard time saying what she really wants to say. It would be easier if she knew what was bothering Regina so much. Had something happened in their time apart to make her so timid.
“You liked her.”
“Roni, you liked her.”
Emma considered the statement. “Yeah I guess.”
“I’m sorry that I’m so... complicated and painful. She was easier.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Emma exclaimed stepping towards Regina.
“No, it’s fine Emma, I get it. I’m not great with people, I’m not great with feelings, I’m not a great friend.”
“You liked her! It was obvious, all the flirting and the staring, you don’t have to deny it.” Regina’s voice was hard, just like Roni’s had been the day after their almost kiss and Emma understood now.
“I only liked her for all the ways she was like you” Emma nearly threw her hands up in the air.
“You kissed her!”
“You kissed me first!” This was an insane argument. Only Regina could be pessimistic and dense enough for them to be having this argument. “I liked being around her cause it was the closest I could get to being around you. I liked flirting with her cause it was the closest I could get to flirting with you.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot?” Regina snapped. “If you felt that way about me this wouldn’t be the first time we’re having this conversation.”
“Things haven’t always been so simple with us Regina. We have a strange history, and I made a lot of dumb mistakes and chose other things when I wanted you, but you weren’t exactly making your interest in me clear either.”
“This is just the first time in a long time we were both unattached. And you seemed interested. And maybe it was a little easier because Roni had less reason to be guarded then you, but that doesn’t mean I’d ever want to change anything about you” Regina crossed her arms and stubbornly avoided eye contact. “Dammit Regina! True love’s kiss doesn’t care if you’re under a curse or not. It only works with true love!”
At that Regina looked shell shocked, like that thought had genuinely not crossed her mind in the hours since the kiss. And Lucy was right, their happy ending was right there. Emma was done being too stupid to take it. This time it was her who bridged the distance between them and pulled Regina into her with soft, shaking hands. Her kiss was gentler than Regina’s had been last night but just as insistent. Regina melted into her almost immediately. Her hands curled into the collar of Emma’s jacket like she was holding on for dear life. Emma could not stop the small sound that escaped her mouth when Regina sucked on her lower lip. Emma brought her hand up to Regina’s jaw and held her as she moved her lips down to her neck. She pressed a trail of hot kisses down to her collarbone and could not help scrape her teeth over the delicious patch of skin. Regina gasped and threaded her fingers through the hair at the base of Emma's neck. Emma took this as an indication to keep going. She grabbed the backs of Regina’s thighs and lifted her onto the countertop. In the moment their lips parted Emma caught Regina’s intense gaze.
“You love me?” Regina asked with all the self doubt of someone you had rarely been loved right.
“Yeah. I love you.” Regina smiled and blushed. Emma never would’ve imagined someone as dignified as Regina blushing.
They were still there for a moment, lookin at each other with what Emma was sure were dopey expressions on their faces. Then Regina wrapped her legs around Emma’s waist and pulled Emma flush with her. Emma pushed Regina’s hair behind her ears. “You’re so beautiful, like actually it’s unreal.”
Regina laughed “shut up and kiss me Miss Swan.” And who was Emma to disobey a queen.