Regina sighed, tapping a pen against her desk. It had been a long day, and she'd been forced to stay late to finish a few reports and sign some paperwork. The receptionist left hours ago. She was alone. It was pitch black outside (aside from some street lamps), and the clock in her office tick-tick-ticked away from its spot on the wall.
She found it difficult to concentrate as the words blurred together in front of her eyes. And it was a perfect time for her thoughts to wander. Inevitably, when she was alone, they took a negative turn. Her mind settled on Emma's recent behavior. Over the past few weeks, Emma had been getting progressively more distant. Her smiles were strained, she was easily startled, and she was distracted whenever they spent time alone. A few times over the past month, Regina felt as though Emma was on autopilot while they made love.
When Regina asked her if anything was wrong, Emma looked at her with a confused expression. "No," she had said. Regina hadn't told Emma that she wasn't the only one who knew when others were lying. At that moment, she had sensed that it was better to leave the matter alone.
She tried to focus on her papers. Then a thought swept through her mind: What if Emma is cheating on me? Regina froze. I don't think she'd stray. But that didn't ease her mind. As though she thought saying it aloud would make her believe it, she said, "I don't think she'd stray."
It didn't make her any more confident.
Regina met Emma at Granny's Diner for lunch. She had lain awake, staring at her ceiling, after she had slipped into bed the night before. A bit of carefully applied make-up had taken care of the bags under her eyes, but nothing had quelled the fears that had been stirred up in her mind. Seeing Ruby Lucas bent over, displaying her ample cleavage to Emma, who didn't seem to mind (and who laughed at something Ruby said), didn't help matters.
"Miss Lucas," Regina said coolly.
Ruby straightened up, startled, and Regina slipped into the booth on the opposite side as Emma. She kept a lid on her jealousy until she and Emma had placed their orders and Ruby disappeared into the back.
"I see you and Miss Lucas are getting along well," Regina said.
Emma frowned at her tone. "Well, yeah. We're friends, Regina. That's what friends do: get along."
Regina ignored the jibe. "You seemed to be enjoying the view as well."
"The view?" Emma furrowed her brows. "What do you...? Oh. I guess. I mean, she knows you and I are together and that this isn't just a lunch meeting so I don't... Are you jealous?"
"Never," Regina said through gritted teeth.
Emma reached across the table and placed a hand on top of Regina's. She looked Regina in the eyes. "I love you," she said. Regina tensed, still not used to hearing those words, and then relaxed when she realized Emma had told her the truth. It would have been perfect - would have soothed Regina's fears - had Emma not then continued. "You have nothing to worry about. You know that, right?"
And there was a flicker of Emma's eyes, a tensing of her hand, that told Regina that despite the fact that Emma loved her, she did have something to worry about. But they were in public, and Regina clamped down on the urge to cry (like she had always done) and decided once again to let the matter lie.
A rush of relief flooded through her when Kathryn opened the door after only three knocks. "Regina?" she asked, looking puzzled and concerned. "Is everything okay? Shouldn't you be at the office?"
"I needed to see you." Regina wrapped her arms around herself, hating the way her voice wavered. She never showed vulnerability to anyone, and Kathryn knew this - which was why she stepped aside and ushered Regina in. She closed the door behind Regina. Regina took a deep breath and tried to steady herself once more. "Emma has been acting strange lately," she said after a moment, "and I think... I think she might be cheating on me."
Kathryn frowned. "What makes you think that?" Regina lifted her head, determined to swallow the lump in her throat. Kathryn placed a hand on Regina's arm and said gently, "I think this calls for alcohol, don't you?"
Several minutes later, they sat on the couch in Kathryn's living room with a bottle of wine on the coffee table in front of them. Regina swirled her drink in her glass, staring at it morosely.
"Now," Kathryn said calmly, "why don't you tell me what's going on?"
Regina considered telling her nothing was wrong and that she overreacted. Then she remembered Emma and Ruby's proximity that afternoon. "Emma has been acting distant lately. I'm afraid that she may be cheating on me." Admitting her fears aloud left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Kathryn frowned. "Distant behavior doesn't mean that she's cheating on you. Is there anything else going on that may be affecting her?"
Regina shook her head. "I don't think so."
Kathryn sighed, downed her glass, and said, "I hate to say this, but you should talk to Mary Margaret. They're friends, and if anyone will know what's bothering Emma, it will be her." She set her glass down on the table a bit forcefully. She wrapped an arm around Regina's shoulder. "But no matter what, I'm always here if you need me. You know that, don't you?"
Regina did know, even though she still wasn't used to having a friend. She smiled softly. "Yes. Thank you, Kathryn."
"Don't mention it."
It took another three days for Regina to breakdown and go visit Mary Margaret. The look on Mary Margaret's face when she opened the door to see Regina standing outside almost made the visit worth it, but Regina's stomach churned at the thought of going to Snow White for help. The last time she had needed help from Snow it had ended in pain and disaster. And yet here she was because Kathryn was right: Mary Margaret would be the only person who knew Emma well enough to tell her what Emma's behavior meant.
"Miss Blanchard," she said. She inclined her head slightly in a display of respect that she didn't feel. "I would like to speak to you." She paused. "It's about Emma."
Mary Margaret stood aside as she said, "Of course. Is Emma okay?"
Regina frowned, thinking this had been a bad idea. "That's what I came to ask you, Miss Blanchard. Has Emma's behavior seemed off lately?"
"No, not that I've noticed." Mary Margaret hesitated, seemed to brace herself and then forced a smile and said, "Why don't you sit down? It seems we have a lot to talk about." She seemed to find this plan as pleasant as Regina did.
"No, Miss Blanchard," Regina said. "I'll just see myself out."
Mary Margaret sighed. "If you care about Emma, then stay and tell me what's on your mind."
Regina bristled. "I don't have to prove anything to you."
"I guess you don't," Mary Margaret said, "but you care enough about Emma that you came to see me in the first place. Don't back out now."
So Regina didn't.
Mary Margaret listened in silence as Regina spoke, telling her about Emma's odd, withdrawn behavior, her flirting with Ruby (though Regina had admitted that perhaps it had only seemed as though they were flirting), and her fears that Emma may be cheating on her. When Regina fell silent, Mary Margaret reached across the small table and placed a hand over Regina's.
"I don't think Emma is cheating on you, Regina. But the thing about Emma is that when things get hard, or when they get scary or too real for her, she runs."
Regina started, snatching her hand away. "You think she'd leave Storybrooke?"
Mary Margaret shook her head. "No. She loves Henry. She wouldn't want to hurt him. But..." She frowned. "You should be prepared for her to leave you. At least for a little while."
Regina stood, the legs of her chair scraping along the tiled kitchen floor, and stared coldly at Mary Margaret. "I should go."
"No, Regina, wait," Mary Margaret said, rising from her seat and reaching for Regina, "I just meant that you need to be prepared. You need to be ready to fight for her. Emma may not do anything. She may surprise me and act like a mature, normal adult. But Emma's got a lot of issues. She doesn't deal with them in a healthy way. You need to be ready to be patient and fight for your relationship if you really love her, Regina. Do you understand?"
Regina took several deep breaths. She loved Emma. She did. So she had to stay and listen to Mary Margaret, no matter how much it hurt. "I understand."
"For what it's worth, I hope Emma surprises me," Mary Margaret said, smiling sadly. "I really do. But I'm here for you if she doesn't. You make Emma happy. You and Henry both. I'm not going to just stand by and let Emma throw that away."
Regina nodded. "Thank you, Miss Blanchard."
Mary Margaret smiled. "My pleasure, Madame Mayor."
Emma ruffled Henry's hair while she helped him do his homework. He swatted her hands away, grinning, and returned to his homework. Regina watched them with a frown. Mary Margaret was right: Emma wouldn't cheat on her, but she would leave if she got spooked.
"Hey, Mom," Henry said, "me and Emma are going to go play Halo. Do you want to watch?"
Regina smiled. Henry had stopped asking her if she wanted to play since she never would. But he knew that if he asked her if she wanted to watch, she would come sit with them - sometimes she'd curl up with a book, and sometimes she would actually watch and enjoy seeing Henry improve and the game's story unfold. "Of course."
Henry and Emma dashed into the next room. Henry turned on the Xbox 360, flopped onto the couch, handed Emma an Xbox controller, and tapped his foot excitedly until the game started. Regina settled into a chair, picked up her book from the coffee table in front of them and pretended to read. She observed Emma and Henry for a long time, periodically flipping a page in her book despite the fact that they were both far too engrossed in the game to notice whether she was actually reading or not. She watched as Emma's character saved Henry's with a headshot to a Grunt that had been about to throw a Sticky Grenade. She watched as Henry laughed and as he high-fived Emma.
She hoped that Mary Margaret was right that Emma wouldn't leave Storybrooke. She hoped that when Emma left it would only be her heart that Emma broke.