Emma tried to sound confidant when she answered her phone. Caller ID told her it was Regina so it wasn't easy.
“Ms Swan we have not finalized our plan for tomorrow’s drop off.” Emma smiled, per usual Regina had gotten right to the point.
“Regina, since you are calling me to make dinner arrangements don't cha think you could call me Emma?”
“Yes, well then Emma,” Regina sounded rather sarcastic, “how do you want to handle Henry’s decree about the switch?”
“Oh, umm, we could do pizza at the mansion.”
After a long silence Regina answered in an irritated voice, “I don’t do pizza.”
“How about we go to Granny’s?”
Regina huffed. “I think that is a little too public.”
Emma’s trepidation from when the call came through turned to aggravation.
“Ok then, I’ll call my mother.” She said with a growl. “I am sure Snow would love to have us all over. She has a new tuna casserole recipe she is dying to try out.”
Regina made a choking sound. “You are jesting right?”
“Look, I am not going to invite myself to your house. These are the options I have. Give me a call when you have a suggestion.”
Emma hung up the phone without waiting for a reply. After a few seconds the phone rang again. She checked her caller ID and answered.
“Hello Regina, what’s up?”
“I was wondering if you and Henry might come to dinner Wednesday. You can pick up his things and take him home with you after.”
“Sure, we’d love to.” Emma replied grinning. “Should I bring anything?”
This time the choking sound was clearly one of laughter as Regina disconnected.
Regina was only surprised for a moment when she faced an empty kitchen. She smiled sadly. It made sense that David would regret such an impulsive declaration of love. She realized that she was sad for the end of their friendship and also rather annoyed with herself for expecting differently. Lost in thought Regina jumped when she heard a female voice behind her.
“David said I should just snatch a cookie from your plate.”
Regina turned to look at Snow White.
“I think I’d rather ask. I don't want you to think all those decorum lessons were for naught.”
Regina arched an eyebrow silently.
“May I have a cookie?” Snow asked politely.
Regina rolled her eyes and held the plate out towards her step-daughter who quickly took a ginger snap.
“David’s home sick.” Snow explained.
“I see,” Regina said dryly. “And you felt that at least one Charming should get a cookie?”
Snow White huffed. “You are so bad. I had to explain to Henry that Charming was not actually our last name.”
“Then I had to explain it all over again to Emma!”
“Anyway, David has food poisoning so he can’t be far from the bathroom.”
Regina took a step back.
“I know about the apple pie,” Snow said with a glare.
Regina held her hands up. “Snow I-“
“Relax,” Snow said laughing. “It was Emma. She tried to make chicken. She said something about you not doing pizza.”
Regina snorted in humor. “He could have called. It’s not like he is standing me up for a date or something.”
“I know,” Snow replied. “But I saw this as my chance for a cookie.”
Regina smiled and offered her another.
“David never tells me what you two talk about.”
“Your Shepherd is usually too busy chewing to have much of a conversation.”
Regina turned back to her task of loading the freezer. She could feel Snow fidgeting nervously behind her. Once she deposited her last pan she turned to Snow.
“Ok, out with it. You clearly have a question for me.”
“Well we,” Snow replied while nervously twisting her fingers. “Abigail, Aurora and I were wondering if you would give us cooking lessons.”
She looked at Regina timidly.
“It was something we weren’t taught in the Enchanted forest and the curse gave us limited skills.”
Regina’s eyebrows practically shot off her head.
“Let me get this straight. The Disney princesses want to take cooking lessons from the Evil Queen?”
Snow nodded sheepishly.
“Are you three fighting with Ella? Why aren't you including her?”
Snow squinted her eyes and said sarcastically, “Her step-mother taught her to cook!”
The two women burst out laughing.
With her voice still laced with humor Regina said, “You better invite Princess Emma. Letting her poison my,” Regina made quote signs with her fingers, “best friend, would put a damper on our happy endings.”
Snow smiled and asked, “Speaking of Emma, how was dinner?”
“She and Henry seemed to enjoy their tacos.”
Snow did not reply seeming to wait for Regina to continue.
“We weren't required to make any schedule changes.”
Snow remained silent.
“Henry said Emma did a good job driving the golf cart.”
Still no response from Snow.
“What do you want me to say Snow White? Are you hoping to hear that I fell madly in love while serving the guacamole?”
“What was she wearing?” Was Snow’s response.
“I asked what she was wearing.”
Regina rolled her eyes and then closed them while she thought.
“She was wearing white cargo shorts and a teal cotton shirt with white piping. She had brown sandals.”
She shook her head at Snow.
“You know the ones, they are so worn you are sure she is going to walk right out of them.”
“She had on that little ankle bracelet that Henry gave her for her birthday.”
Regina looked a little put out.
“And why she feels the need to paint her toes in all those garish colors I will never understand. At least they matched her shirt this week!”
“I don’t think you falling in love is the issue.”
Snow gave Regina’s bicep a gentle squeeze.
“I’ll call you about the cooking lessons.”
She snatched a last cookie and headed out the door.
Regina glanced at the enchanted mirror in her living room. She had a magical proximity alert which told her when a person or large animal was in the area. She enjoyed watching the occasional moose, not indigenous to the Enchanted Forest, the awkward but powerful animal was a novelty to Regina.
Today, like the last three Mondays, the reason for an alert was not a moose but a sheriff. It seems that Henry’s weekly move to Regina’s makes the sheriff melancholy. As a result Emma often takes a solitary stroll through the apple orchard. Her habit is to pick up fallen apples and toss them at a tree. Always the same tree.
“What did that tree ever do to you?”
Emma jumped as she heard the familiar voice behind her. She turned and gave Regina a forced smile.
“Nothing,” She replied. “When I was a kid I loved softball. I tried out for the school team every year. I didn't have any equipment but I could always find apples or rocks or something to throw.”
“Did you ever make the team?”
“Every year, I made the team every year.”
She shook her head.
“And every year I would get moved to a new school before the first game.”
Emma gave a bitter chuckle.
“The last time I was already in my uniform when my social worker came to get me. As soon as she dropped me off at my next placement I walked away and never looked back.”
Regina was quiet for a moment and then said softly. “I used to watch the children play in the fields when I was in town. There wasn't soft ball but there were many other games. When mother wasn't looking I would try to join in. I never actually got to play, she never looked away for long. Eventually the punishment wasn’t worth the risk.”
Emma handed her an apple and nodded towards the tree. Regina’s throw was off by a mile, Emma smiled and handed her another and another. Neither mentioned the frisson of electricity they felt when their fingers happened to touch.
When Regina finally hit the tree Emma threw both her hands in the air and yelled, “Touchdown!”
Regina looked at her puzzled.
“Isn’t that footb-”
“Just go with it,” Emma said laughing.
“Well, lovely as this has been I need to plan the lesson for the,” she paused and then continued tongue in cheek, “royal cooking lessons. I wouldn’t want to poison anyone by mistake.”
“Hardy har har,” Emma replied grumpily.
“Will you be joining us?”
“No way, if I am hosting you will have to either ‘do pizza’ or tolerate the lack of privacy at Granny’s. Besides with all the princesses and queens off in the kitchen the rest of us can have fun.” She grinned, “Ella and I are meeting Ruby, David and some of the guys at the pub for darts, pool and beer!”
“I will point out,” Regina said amused, “that you and Ella are both princesses as well!”
“True but this princess doesn't want to learn and the other had a step-mother who took the time to teach her.”
Regina playfully stuck her tongue out at Emma.
“Yes, yes your mother has already informed me of my failures. I did a bad job and raised a daughter who could lead an army and win a bar fight. Lady Tremaine did a good job and raised a girl who could sauté mushrooms and talk to mice.”
“But what about Snow she can talk-”
“Stop,” Regina said sharply. “There is no comparison. Birds make excellent reconnaissance agents. And it was an accident anyway.” Regina clamped her mouth shut and her eyes went wide at what she just said.
“An accident,” Emma said gleefully. “You accidentally taught Snow to speak with birds.”
“What?” Regina asked blushing. “I don't know what you are talking about.”
“You just said teaching Snow to talk to birds was an accident!”
“I said no such thing.”
Emma crossed her arms and stared at Regina. After a moment the older woman relented.
“Fine, I was casting a spell to keep the birds from soiling her new dress. Her late mother,” Regina sneered when she mentioned Queen Eva, “loved birds and had them all over the place. You could barely move without stepping in bird dung. It was one of the first spells I ever tried to invent on my own. Instead of making her impervious to bird droppings I gave her the ability to tell them to poop elsewhere.”
“Oh my God that’s precious!” Emma crowed. “She must have loved you for it.”
Regina’s back straightened.
“She doesn’t know. Apparently she had always wished she could talk to animals so she thinks that Blue did it.” She locked eyes with Emma and continued in a stern voice. “I would prefer it stay that way.”
“Ok,” Emma said slowly. “Hey,” She smiled broadly. “Remember that awesome Boston cream pie you made?”
“Yes,” Regina said wearily.
“I really loved that. Do you think we could have it on Wednesdays?”
Regina threw her hands in the air. “You Charmings are unreal. Honestly you are blackmailing me for food?”
Emma looked at her innocently.
“I was just saying how much I love that particular dessert.”
“Fine I will make it. Try not to choke on it!”
“Great,” Emma said. “Oh hey did you know our last name isn't actually Charming?”
Regina shook her head and groaned as she disappeared in a wisp of purple smoke.
“Are you making apple sauce today?” Regina said as she walked up behind Emma. The Sheriff was using a thick tree branch as a bat and launching apples across the field.
“Nope just a little batting practice. How do you always know I’m here?”
Regina thought for a moment, considering if she wanted to tell her secrets. She pointed to little mirrors glistening in the tree tops like ornaments.
“They are linked to a mirror in my home. It makes up for the lack of windows.”
Emma nodded as she launched another apple across the blueberry field.
She handed the branch to Regina.
“Here I’ll toss the apple and you hit it.”
Regina’s first attempt was abysmal. Emma helped to adjust her stance. Regina tried to stay relaxed as the other woman wrapped her arms around her from behind. When Emma helped to move her arms for practice swings it felt electric and Regina held back a moan. The former mayor was amazed that she could stay upright with Emma’s breasts pressing in to her back. After a moment Emma, her cheeks a little pinker than usual, stepped away.
“Ok let’s try again. Keep your eye on the apple and swing like I showed you.”
Regina missed the first toss but her swing was much better.
“Keep your eyes open if you actually want to hit it!” Emma teased.
Regina gritted her teeth and swung hard at the next apple. It shot back directly to the pitcher. Emma fell as she dodged the projectile.
“Good one! If you weren't so new at this I’d think you did that on purpose.”
Regina grinned in response.
“Ok let’s see how you do with this one.”
Regina saw the apple coming to her and hit it for all she was worth. Sadly Emma had picked a partially rotten one. As the soft apple impacted with the makeshift bat it broke apart spattering apple bitts all over the enthusiastic batter.
“I was kidding about the apple sauce, you know!” Regina said as she wiped bits of apple from her face.
Emma smiled and handed Regina a tissue from her pocket.
“So what’s cookin’ tonight.” She asked and licked her lips. “Those mustard covered chicken thighs were awesome!”
“I am glad you approved dear.”
Regina waved her hand and she was free of apple debris.
“As a special concession to our son it will be dessert night.”
“Henry loves that you are letting him take part in the classes. Maybe we are raising a chef.”
“I’ll settle for a kid who won’t poison me if I show up for dinner.”
Emma rolled her eyes.
“Are you ever going to let that go? No one can actually prove David got sick from the chicken. He might have gotten a stomach bug.”
“You just keep believing that.” Regina said patting Emma on the arm. The women shared a smile and then Regina was gone.
The women continued to meet in the orchard. Regina made sure to be home at Emma’s usual time and Emma made sure to be there.
“Do you think we could start up magic practice again? You know like when you were in jail?”
“Between cooking and magic maybe I should have an educator’s license. I wouldn't want to be accused of practicing without one!”
“Considering all the town leaders are your students I think you are safe. Do you miss it? Being in charge I mean.”
“Not really,” Regina replied thoughtfully. “I never wanted to rule but I do find I was good at it. I must be with all the paper work your parents send my way.”
Emma smiled and launched another apple.
“I guess I’ll see you Wednesday?”
“Yes, your Boston cream pie will be ready and waiting.”
“Yum,” Emma said and she handed Regina some apples who pitched a few for her to bat.
Regina was surprised to find Emma sans Henry at her door Wednesday evening. Henry usually went to the Sheriff’s office after school and then they came to dinner together. He was only allowed to drive the golf cart with an adult present so Wednesday was a highlight of his week.
Upon receiving an inquiring look from Regina, Emma said, “Dan is having friends for dinner. Snow will bring him home if he is finished there before our dinner is over.”
She looked at her hands blushing clearly embarrassed.
“When he told me to come along on my own I thought he had told you.”
Emma turned towards the door.
“I’ll just go.”
Regina reached out and touched Emma’s arm.
“Nonsense, come to the table.”
Emma nodded shyly and moved into the apartment. She stopped and glanced in the mirror by the door.
“I thought this was enchanted. You know to see the orchard.”
Regina waved her hand and Emma’s face in the mirror was replaced by the familiar scene. After she studied the view for a few moments Emma moved over to the table.
The two women shared a pleasant meal. Dinners with Henry and the apple ball meetings had helped them be more comfortable together. Regina thought beating fruit with a stick was a rather silly way to spend time but Emma’s smile always made it worthwhile.
After the requisite Boston cream pie was served Emma looked up and said, “This is hard.”
Regina prodded her portion with her fork and then held out her hand for Emma’s plate.
“Mine seems fine. Let me see.”
“Not that,” Emma replied. She wiggled her finger between the two of them, “us.”
Regina looked confused and then hurt.
“I don't know what to say. I thought we were getting along fine.”
Emma looked at her plate as if studying her desert.
“Don’t play dumb. I know that you know how I feel about you.”
“Oh,” Regina was at a loss for any coherent reply.
“I think it is harder for me that you know and won't even acknowledge it. It’s like I don't matter at all.”
“What do you want me to say? How do I address it without causing more pain and discomfort?”
Emma’s eyes looked haunted. Due to her sessions with Archie it wasn't a look that appeared very often. But pain like that of Emma’s past is not something that just disappears.
“Just tell me why I am the one no one wants. What is it about me that makes me so undesirable, disposable?
Regina stared at her speechless. When there was no response Emma continued.
“And then of all the people in the world I had to fall for you. When I finally found love it was with you.”
Regain felt like she had been punched.
“I know it is inconvenient to believe you love the Evil Queen. I assure you it will pass. I am sure that your very own Prince Charming will appear and sweep you off your feet.”
“Oh my God,” Emma stood up and shouted. “You know I don't see you that way. It’s not that you aren't someone I wouldn't want to love. But you are so far out of my league it is silly for me to even dream it.”
Emma took a deep breath and started to pace.
“I don't know how you are ever able to walk away from a mirror. You are so fucking beautiful. If I could I would just look at you all day. You are smart, funny, elegant and brave. You were the mother I dreamed of for my son, you are just everything.”
Emma continued to pace, unable to meet Regina’s eyes.
“I get it. I am a kid from the streets and you’re a queen. Even though it is obvious I am not good enough for you, it hurts.” Tears were forming in Emma’s eyes, her voice was breaking. “Maybe if my father had kept quiet, hadn't sold me out for a lasagna-”
Regina stepped in front of Emma to stop her pacing she put her fingers to Emma’s lips and interrupted her torrent of self-depreciation.
“It wasn't one of his finest moments, really.” Regina said gently. “You must know there is no one too good for you. You are lovely inside and out. Your strength amazes me and your bravery is unparalleled.” Regina smiled and said with a cocked eyebrow, “Don’t forget you are a princess and future queen yourself.”
“If you believe all that,” Emma said while tears streamed down her face. “Why are you like everyone else? Why are you turning me away?”
Regina guided Emma back to the couch.
“I am not turning you away. You're rejecting my friendship because you have fooled yourself into believing that you can love me. Do you think it would be easy to allow myself to believe in love again knowing the probable outcome? How could you possibly think I would be open to that kind of pain? I loved my parents yet my mother abused me and my father never lifted a hand to protect me. I loved a young man and my mother killed him right before my eyes. Without your intervention my children would have put me to death. My daughter would have given the order and my son would have cheered her on.”
“No,” Emma actually yelled. “That's not how it was I swear it!” She pulled Regina’s hand to her heart and pleaded. “Let me show you, please let me show you.”
The near desperation in Emma’s voice caused Regina to relent. She flattened her hand against Emma’s chest and allowed her memories to transfer. Regina gasped as she saw Henry overwhelmed by guilt and shame fall to his knees after begging his mother to protect her. The knowledge that he was not in support of her execution was a balm to her soul. She tried to pull her hand away but Emma held tight.
Emma used what little magic she had to force more of her memories to Regina. She pushed not only the memories but the feelings attached to them in to Regina’s consciousness.
Tears began to fall down Regina’s face as she felt Emma’s sadness at finding her under a sleeping spell, Emma’s hopefulness when trying to kiss away her sleeping curse. Emma’s rage caused by accessing her memories washed over Regina like a tidal wave. But what she experienced the most was Emma’s love. She felt consumed from head to toe with Emma’s love for her. She could feel a fire inside the other woman that matched her own.
The memories of her life flashed before her eyes just as they had Emma’s. She watched her husband beating her and her mother’s excessive magical punishments. Regina was relieved that Emma had been spared the most horrific of them. She saw the parts of her life that Emma saw. She now knew that it was not pity or revulsion showing in Emma’s eyes during the trial. It was sorrow for the woman she loved. As she came back to herself Regina realized she was sobbing while wrapped in Emma’s arms. And that was ok because she was also wrapped in Emma’s love.
After a few minutes her sobs had subsided and Regain sat up putting a little space between the two women.
“You love me,” she said with wonder in her eyes and voice. “I could feel it, I…” Regina held up her hands at a loss for words.
“I needed you to feel what I feel.”
Emma reached out and took Regina’s hand.
“I love you Regina my feelings are true. And even though you don't love me back it is important that you know you are loved. So now you know. I hope when someone worthy of your love comes along you will embrace them.”
Regina tugged Emma into her arms and the younger woman whimpered.
She tried to pull away and said, “I should go.”
Regina nuzzled her face into Emma’s neck.
“Why should you go? Aren't I doing it right?”
“Embracing you, I’ve never really done it before.”
“Don’t play with me.” Emma’s voice cracked. “Don’t be cruel.”
Regina put her hands on either side of Emma’s face.
“Emma Swan you are the most wonderful human being I have ever met. I am sorry it required me invading your mind to believe my love for you was returned.”
“You love me?” Emma asked in a hopeful voice.
“I love you,” Regina responded. Her eyes were on Emma’s lips as she moved in for their first kiss.
“Hey Henry,” David said when he opened the door and found his grandson on the other side.
“Hey Gramps, do you mind if I hang out here for a few hours?”
“Fine with me,” he said as Snow White immediately added another place setting. “But isn’t this a change-over night? Shouldn't you be dinning with your moms?”
Henry gave his grandparents an exasperated look.
“Do you honestly think I could spend another dinner with those two? They are constantly looking at each other and then looking away really quick so the other doesn’t notice, it’s nauseating. I told mom I was having dinner at Dan’s.”
Snow chuckled, “So ‘Operation Get a Clue’ has hit a few snags?”
Henry shook his head.
“Actually today is D day. They’re having dinner together alone. They are either going to figure it out or I am moving in here!”
Everyone laughed and they sat down to dinner.
After finishing their hamburger stroganoff Snow served dessert. David patted his tummy.
“Great idea to have your mom do a class on desserts. I love the ginger bread with butter scotch and whipped cream.”
Henry was just about to answer when a blinding light flashed and Henry[s book appeared on the table. It was his original copy of Once Upon a Time. The lettering on the front was positively glowing. After a moment it looked normal again and Snow reached out for it cautiously. When it didn't react to her touch Snow opened the book.
She looked up at her husband and grandson and said excitedly, “It’s our story!”
“Umm Grama,” Henry said cautiously “that’s not new, it’s always been your story.”
“No really, listen to this.” She began to read. “The huntsman led Snow White in to the woods. Hoping to set himself up as her hero he lied and told her she was in grave danger from the queen.”
“Skip to the back.”
Henry was shaking with excitement.
“Skip to the back and see how it ends.”
Snow flipped the pages and then looked at her husband teary eyed. She turned the book around so that they could see the last page, a picture of Regina and Emma kissing.
“What does it say?” Henry asked.
Snow read, “The Savior and the Dowager Queen lived happily ever after.”
The room was quiet until David spoke up. “She’s going to kill you. She is absolutely going to take you out.”
“I better keep out of her way for a bit.”
Henry nodded, “Maybe you should skip cooking class next week.”
“What?” David said clearly shocked at such an idea. “Wait, next week is sea food. You wouldn’t want to miss that honey!” He patted Snow’s shoulder and continued. “We’ll send a guard with you, it'll be ok.”