"Smile for the camera, Sheriff." Regina took Emma's hand in a vice-like grip just before the Sheriff rolled her eyes and put on a smile for Sidney who eagerly snapped a picture of Storybrooke's Sheriff and its candidate for Mayor.
It had been months since the curse had broken, months since Cora was defeated, and Hook and his ship sent back to Neverland with a little help from Rumplestiltskin and his son. In the months following what would go down in Enchanted Forest history as the Battle of Storybrooke, the residents of the once cursed town were having a little difficulty returning to their previous lives despite Snow White's best efforts to appease people. Where she was once Queen and ruled quite diplomatically, it appeared the citizens needed far more direction in life.
It was Emma who inadvertently planted the idea in, shockingly, Snow's head. Her mother had been stressing about the complaints the townspeople had about living arrangements - they had been living with and grew fond over the people who were playing their families for the past 28 years, and it was sheer anarchy with multiple families attempting to live together in one house.
Apparently when asked what to do in such a situation, Emma quickly learned that saying "I don't know. I'm not Regina" was an inappropriate thing to say to her mother.
All Snow did was narrow her eyes and question the blonde. "You think Regina did a better job as Mayor?"
Emma gaped knowing she was on thin ice. "No, I mean, she did run it for 28 years."
"We were cursed." Snow would never cease to reminding her family of that.
"Your memories were locked and you didn't age," Emma reasoned. "She still had to make sure the town ran smoothly. But you, Snow," Emma quickly amended, "you're doing great too."
The brunette crossed her arms. "You don't think that."
"Wha- come on."
"Just because Regina is on a so-called path to redemption doesn't mean she's automatically fit to run this town again," Snow said. "I ran a kingdom before you were born."
"So did she." Emma winced as soon as the words were out of her mouth, not surprised that the displeased glare from her mother was solely directed at her. Yeah, not the best thing to say.
Her mother huffed. "We'll just let the people decide."
So it was Emma's brilliant idea that led her to literally be in the middle of her mother and her mother's arch nemesis. The campaign had been going on for over a month now. Both Regina and Snow were networking on a daily basis, shaking hands, kissing babies, and, Emma realized, attempting to gain political ground by being friendly with the town's Sheriff and Savior, Emma Swan.
Snow had quite the hook in her campaign, parading the royal family in public and showing off just who she and her daughter were. Regina had an approach that Emma wasn't entirely ready for.
For over a month, Regina was more than civil towards the blonde, actually talking to her about the town and what it needs and, for once, listening to Emma on how things need to change. Some residents were still insistent to run things by Enchanted Forest laws. It was weird, to say the least, but oddly refreshing.
Emma found herself enjoying Regina's company whenever she managed to catch the blonde at Granny's or the small amount of time between picking up Henry or dropping him off at her place. True, Emma noticed that the brunette seemed to be keeping her sass in check for the past month, but she was Emma Swan after all, and if Emma knew how to do something, it was getting under the former Mayor's skin.
As soon as the bright lights from the flash wore off, Emma noticed that Regina still held onto her hand as they stood in front of the newly renovated library that had burned down during the battle. The blonde raised her eyebrow with a smirk. "You know, Regina, if you wanted to hold my hand, you don't need to fund a library and get the media out here to do it."
Regina released her grip immediately and tampered down on the need to roll her eyes. "Thank you, Sheriff, you can return to your duties now."
Emma chuckled and began walking alongside the brunette who was headed across the street to Granny's. "You're not Mayor yet, Regina. You can't boss me around for another day."
"Well that's an honour you'll know I'll win," Regina quipped.
"Mary Margaret could still win," Emma said.
"But that's not what you said."
"You know what I mean."
Regina stood in the open entrance as Emma held the diner's door for her. She leaned in close. "I know exactly what you mean."
The brunette walked in, firmly aware of the aggravated huff she received from the Sheriff before motioning to the counter. "Coffee?"
"Might as well milk the fact that you're offering while I still can," the blonde grumbled before taking a seat beside the standing Queen.
In an instant, two coffees were set in front of them by the brunette waitress before she was off scampering to Belle's end of the counter to resume their conversation.
Impressed by the speed of the arrival of their drinks, Emma took a sip before she spoke. "Are you running on caffeine or something?"
Regina gulped down half of the scorching brew in record time with Emma still blowing on hers and watching with amazement.
"I rest my case."
The brunette just threw the Sheriff an aggravated look before wandering off to talk with the townspeople enjoying their Saturday off. Emma couldn't help but smirk at the fact that it probably killed Regina inside to have to be nice to the people who so openly wanted to string her up and slice her head off only three months prior. She knew that if the brunette was elected, all this formality and compassion would be thrown out the window. But still, Emma thought watching Regina move from a table to actively engage Granny in a conversation and exchange recipes, maybe this redemption thing would do her good.
A few minutes later, Regina walked back over to Emma's end of the counter and made a motion to Ruby for another coffee. Less than a minute later, the waitress had a steaming mug ready for the former Mayor who, like her first cup, drained it as soon as it was presented to her.
"You're gonna burn yourself," Emma commented and couldn't help but lift her hand to stop the brunette from making the mug go bottom up. "How many cups have you had?"
"I'm campaigning, Ms. Swan," Regina took her mug back testily. "I have been working vigorously for the last month to ensure my place in office and make sure your mother doesn't consider having birds and dwarves as official members of the board. If I want to drink coffee, I will."
Emma tilted her head, almost amused by the rant if the brunette hadn't been absolutely serious. It was when Regina slammed her mug down did Emma notice the hint of red tinting her eyes and the extra layer of foundation almost perfectly covering the bags under them. "Have you been sleeping?"
"I'm fine." Regina pursed her lips and opened her clutch to withdraw a few bills to cover their coffees.
Emma stood and held the brunette by the shoulder, forcing her to face the blonde. Despite the perfectly applied make up, Emma could see the weariness in the brunette's eyes and the shallowness of her cheeks. "You look like crap."
"And yet I still manage to look better than you."
Emma rolled her eyes and let Regina go when the former Mayor tugged herself out of her grasp.
"I trust I'll be seeing you tomorrow at the polls?" Regina straightened her coat and flipped her hair, making sure to avoid the curious gaze of the Sheriff.
"I'll be there." Emma grabbed her coffee cup and sipped. "Take care of yourself."
Regina paused in her turn, thrown off by the blonde's statement. With a nod, she exited the diner and took a deep inhale before heading down Main Street to her mansion.
One more day and she could finally stop stressing over this damn election. Emma was right, it was taking a toll on her. She needed to prove to these people that she had changed, so putting aside her personal feelings of disdain for almost everyone in this town, Regina worked hard to uphold a mayoral image. The adrenaline coursing through her body from the last month was finally dwindling down and making the usually put-together brunette sluggish. She could feel a cold coming on but refused to admit as much and swallowed as many cough and cold pills as the usage allowed.
It appeared all that work paid off when Regina was announced as the new Mayor the next night after the polls closed. It was close, and Snow was bitter, and that alone made the entire month worth it.
But now her body was catching up to her mind's fatigue, and today, the day she was supposed to give a speech thanking the populace for their support, she could barely get out of bed and had the worst head cold she ever remembered having. Put simply, she was miserable, and the last thing she wanted to do was speak in front of nearly half the town who hadn't voted for her.
She pulled herself out of bed, catching her reflection in the mirror. She did look like crap.
"Where's Regina?" Snow asked Emma bitterly when the blonde took a seat beside her.
Emma checked her watch and tried to peak behind the small sliver of the auditorium curtain. "I don't know. We were supposed to start ten minutes ago."
"Maybe she's already magicked half the town to be to her liking," the brunette mumbled under breath, her arms folded tense across her chest.
The Sheriff just gave her mother a look before standing and sneaking behind the curtain to explore backstage. Just off into the distance, she could hear groaning and three quick sneezes in a row, followed by a bang against the wall. She jogged to the noise to find Regina slumped against the wall, her palm flat against the wood and her head bent over.
Emma paused in her approach, eyes wide. Never had she seen the Mayor so disheveled before, and Emma had seen her soul being sucked from her body. The brunette's eyes were bloodshot red, her nose runny, and almost little to no makeup adorned her face. Her hair was awry from constantly sneezing and judging by the pressing of Regina's free hand to her temple, the newly elected Mayor was nursing a headache.
"Are you okay?" Emma asked, approaching slowly. It was a dumb question, she knew, but what else was she to say given the rumpled figure of the once Evil Queen.
Regina turned, running her pinkies under her eyes to salvage the eyeliner that managed not to run down the newly elected Mayor's cheeks. "Just fine, Ms. Swan."
"You're needed out there." Emma motioned to the podium behind her with her thumb.
"I'm aware." Regina nodded before turning and coughing into her elbow.
Emma couldn't help but take a step back, stuffing her thumbs in her pockets and wasn't even surprised when Regina straightened and gave a dignified huff before stalking past the blonde and announced to Archie, in a rather raspy voice, that she was ready to go on.
Deeming it pointless to return to her seat when her view was fine from where she was, Emma remained backstage, peaking behind the little sliver the curtain provided to watch as Regina, in all her sickly and irritable glory, smile to the populace and physically strain to keep her cough under control.
Once the applause dialed down, the Mayor cleared her throat, and then again, and then turned her head to release a quick dry cough before shutting her eyes at the sudden pressure in her head. The moment of illness was trampled over when the brunette spoke. "Good afternoon citizens of Storybrooke. First and foremost, I thank you for electing me as your Mayor."
Another round of polite applause erupted. They may have had their own choice in choosing the Mayor, but no one could deny they were scared of a bitter Snow White.
Emma had to admit, despite Regina's sickness, she seemed to be holding her own. That is until the Mayor took a step back to clutch her forehead. Sidney had started snapping pictures of her, the bright lights clearly aggravating the brunette's headache.
"Sid-" Before Regina could finish, she wound up in a coughing fit that made the entire front row shift uncomfortably back.
Regina straightened after a moment, too aching to bother to wipe her watery eyes away before positioning behind the podium with a few fingers steepled at her temple. "This past year had been rough, but-" She took a deep inhale and rubbed her temple more furiously. "It has been rough, but together-"
Emma had had enough. Judging by the gawking faces of the crowd, it appeared as if most had seriously reconsidered voting for Regina. She couldn't help but notice how pleased her mother looked.
Not entirely sure why she did it, Emma whipped back the curtain and stood beside Regina, letting her presence known with a hand on her lower back.
The brunette whipped her wide, watery eyes up at the Sheriff, mentally telling her to get off the stage. Emma responded with a slight nudge so that both of them could stand behind the podium then shifted the mic towards her.
"What Mayor Mills means to say," Emma began glancing an eye at Regina and subtly shifting the waiting water glass towards her, "is that this year, Storybrooke as a community has exemplified all that we represent. Equality. Excellence. Strength."
Emma looked into the crowd and quickly avoided the glare her mother was giving her. "By electing Regina, we as a community have put aside our differences, put aside the pain of our past and forgave in order to put the best candidate in office."
Regina, and Snow though neither woman on stage noticed such, gawked at the Sheriff who kept her gaze at the crowd.
"Regina Mills has proven to us time and time again that she has changed for the better. She was a fair Mayor in the past, despite the curse." A few pro-Charmings citizens looked aggravated at that. "She fought alongside us to defeat the true evil that befell us, and she's standing here now, as our new Mayor."
Emma turned to face the woman in question. "So thank you, residents of Storybrooke, for bringing this woman back in office. I know she has our best interests at heart, and as Sheriff, I'm proud to present you our new Mayor, Regina Mills." Emma finally registered Regina's dumbstruck expression before turning back to the microphone and rushed to explain. "Who is sick and tried her damnedest to do her speech, and I know I'm not doing it justice, but I'm sure when she gets better she'll blow this speech out of the water."
Her hasty explanation garnished a reasonable amount of chuckling from the audience.
Regina, for her part, managed to compose herself for a moment to smile at the crowd who burst out in applause. Although she wasn't able to fully attend the cocktail party afterwards, needing to just rest for the evening, Regina found herself wondering in her hazy state if Emma Swan truly meant all that she had said.
Two weeks later, Emma knocked on Regina's office door at Town Hall, completed paperwork in hand. "Hey."
"Ms. Swan," Regina greeted not looking up from her desk.
Emma stepped forward and deposited the files on her desk. "You look better."
The Mayor paused her report to glance up at the blonde on the opposite side of the desk. "I've recovered quickly."
Emma nodded, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "Good."
Silence washed over them before Emma motioned to the door with a tilt of her head. "I should get going."
"Yes," Regina responded quietly before another silence took hold. She spoke again when Emma turned. "Thank you."
"For what?" The blonde turned back to face the desk.
"For speaking on my behalf," Regina explained. Her matter-of-fact tone would have fooled most, but Emma heard the soft undertone beneath it.
"You're welcome," Emma shrugged, making her way to the door. "Wasn't hard to speak the truth."
Regina's lips parted at Emma's statement and watched as the Sheriff just offered a small smile and exited the office.