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the problem(s) with dating emma swan

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the problem(s) with dating Emma Swan





First off, there’s the shower thing, though—if she’s doing this in linear order, this should come between 2 and 3, because she certainly didn’t start her relationship with Emma Swan by showering with her.

It’s as if soap is metal and Emma’s eyes are magnets. Regina contemplates one evening, running her fingers through a sleeping-Emma’s hair, that it may, in fact, be the curve of her forehead.

Or something.

But Emma spends 90% of that first shower leaning out of the curtain to wipe her eyes with the towel hanging on the bar—a far cry different than the suave, controlled Emma that had tugged her into her bedroom the night before and practically pushed her down into the mattress.

“You’re dripping water everywhere,” Regina scolds, but it sounds less convincing when she’s naked and standing under the shower spray.

Emma, squinting, pulls herself back in and says, “You’ll feel bad about scolding me when I’m blind,” and Regina scoffs.

“I hardly think a little soap will blind you, dear.”

And Emma just says, “You’ll see.”

You won’t,” Regina retorts, though that seems like a confirmation of Emma’s ludicrous theory, but Emma laughs and kisses her under the hot water, lips wet and warm.

A little later, Emma positions her hand so that the water curves off her fingers and makes a joke about being a water bender that Regina ignores as she scrubs shampoo into blonde hair.

Emma flicks the water at her to get her attention and some of it goes straight into Regina’s open eye.

It would be more annoying if Emma didn’t kiss her, whisper, “Sucks, huh?” into Regina’s collarbone and then spend the next ten or so minutes pressing Regina back into the cold tiles and making them dirty all over again.




There’s the way it started, too. The way Regina had been silly enough to actually profess her love like some kind of rom-com participant—in Emma’s car of all places—just two months after her engagement to Hook had been called off.

The most annoying part was Emma showing up on the doorstep the next day and pulling the whole kiss-first-ask-questions-later trope.

But it feels silly to complain about the beginning of this.


She should take that off the list.




And then there’s the birthday party fiasco that happens a year or so after that.

Really, Regina has no one but herself to blame. She should really be better at being inconspicuous. Certainly she's no Henry, but she'd pretended to care for Snow's father for years and then--

Well, that's not important.

She does okay for the first two weeks of planning, dodges Emma's odd looks whenever she cuts a lunch break short so that Snow can sneak in one of the side doors of City Hall with that stupid binder she made and insists on referencing whenever they discuss minute details. At first, Regina is certain that they'll be caught -- that Emma will look at her one day and just know and then the entire thing won't be worth it anymore, or at least not as much fun. But Emma doesn't say anything, doesn't ask her why she's acting so jumpy, so unpredictable, and so Regina settles back into a feeling of pride, of importance, because, sure she's no Henry, but hey: maybe she's not that far off.

And then Emma calls her to ask what she wants for dinner the night before the party and Regina panics, flummoxed. She'd forgotten to cancel for tonight, to say she had work or some other easy lie that Emma could probably see right through. With her phone pressed to her shoulder, pinned down by her cheek awkwardly, she gapes for a moment, trying to think of an excuse, but nothing comes immediately to mind.

Worse than that: the birthday cake box in her hands starts to slide and she just barely manages to catch it before it hits the linoleum of her kitchen devastatingly.

"You okay?" Emma asks.

Emma hardly ever asks that. Not even conversationally. She knows how it puts Regina on the spot, makes her walls come up, even momentarily.

But she asks and that must mean she knows. Right?

"Yeah," Regina says, her voice wavering. "Fine."

"Some weird noises from your end a second ago," Emma explains, "That's all."

"Uh." The noise draws out unattractively as she tries to think of an excuse for whatever stumbling noise she'd caused Emma to hear. "I was just...emptying the dishwasher."

Emma laughs, though, says, “Geez, Madam Mayor, the things you get up to when I’m not around,” and then, “I’ll text you when I’m heading over tonight,” and then hangs up before Regina can tell her not to.

It’s a Saturday and Henry is in the living room ordering those damned neon saxophone inflatables that Snow wanted so badly from The Oriental Trading Company.

“Do we really need two dozen?” he calls and you can imagine the look on his face—that handsome furrow of his brow.

Regina scowls, trying to remember, and then opens the fridge one-handed so that she can slide the cake inside. "That's what your grandmother said, yes!" she calls back and Henry's sigh is so loud that she can hear it from two rooms away.

“She doesn’t even play the saxophone,” he mutters distantly and Regina laughs. “Ordered!”

In the living room, Henry is slipping her credit card back into her wallet, her wallet back into her purse, rested on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“So many saxophones,” he grumbles and Regina sits on the couch beside him. “She doesn’t suspect?”

And Henry, smooth operator that he is, whispers this. Possibly just for the dramatic effect.

Regina shakes her head. “Not that I’m aware of,” she tells him, but Emma can always tell when she’s lying—when anyone is lying, is her old boast.

Could she know?

She almost wants to call Emma and ask her if she’s ever told Snow about an old affinity for the saxophone, but the key part of a surprise party is the surprise part, so she doesn’t.

Dinner that night is a careful dodge—Henry jumping up saying, “Let me!” when Emma gets up to grab a bottle of water from the fridge and Regina saying, “I must have forgotten I put it there,” when Emma asks what her purse is doing in the living room.

It’s easy enough, though, to distract Emma after Henry slips off to bed by undoing the first two buttons on her blouse and leading her by the collar of her flannel to the bedroom.

And, okay. The distraction works for the both of them and Regina stops worrying for the forty-five minutes it takes that Emma really does know.

They make it to the next day somehow, some way (“Told ya’ so,” she whispers, crouched behind the couch in the loft) and David brings Emma to the loft after work with some excuse that Regina hadn't been privy to.

Of course, Emma’s hand immediately moves to her holster when everyone jumps out (“Maybe don’t immediately go for the gun next time, Ma,” Henry says over cake a few minutes later, wearing his cardboard, cone hat that he’s written It’s My Birthday, Too on in Sharpie and Emma whacks him over the head with one of those damn saxophones) before grinning widely and feigning surprise.

And then she spends a solid thirty seconds laughing at the coned birthday hat Snow wrangled Regina into.

“You got me,” Emma says, but Regina just frowns as her girlfriend lightly snaps at the elastic under Regina’s chin.

“Did I?” she asks, but Emma changes the subject.

“You look ridiculous,” she says through a bite of cake and Regina counters that with, “How did you know?”

“Know what?” Emma says, feigning delusion.

Silence falls for a second. Just the sound of everyone laughing at David, pretending to play the saxophone solo from Who Can it Be Now? in the middle of the room on a pink blow-up saxophone.

Regina flips her hair over her shoulder, trying to look nonchalant. “Don’t be an idiot,” she says, very clip and matter-of-fact and Emma just grins and mimes fumbling towards her back pocket.

“Say that again,” she jokes. “I wanna record it and send it to Henry next time he fails a math quiz.”

Regina shakes her head and says, “I mean it, Miss Swan,” enunciating the words. “How did you know?”

Emma sighs, caught, and stops joking for a second. “You’re really not as sneaky as you think. I mean, our son figured out the whole town was cursed when he was ten.”

It’s part of why Regina loves her—the way she diminished the weight of the words by turning it into the butt of the joke, the way she doesn’t shy away. Emma reaches out and grabs her hand, thumb brushing over Regina’s wrist.

“Besides,” she says a second later. “I may have snuck downstairs in the middle of the night and seen the cake. Would it have been hard to hide it in an opaque cake box? Or just have written Happy Birthday, so I might have thought it was for Henry?”

And Regina laughs then and almost kisses Emma right there, in the middle of party, and probably would if they were any closer to telling people.

But Emma doesn’t seem to mind that it hadn’t been a secret. Not from the way she wipes frosting on her nose and pretends not to see it when she’s holding her baby brother later, and he squeals happily and says, “Right there!” as she wipes every part of her face but where the icing actually is.

Not from the way she ruffles Henry’s hair and steals his hat, plopping it over her own head as he says, “Get your own, Ma,” through a mouthful of cake.

Not from the way Emma says, “I said I liked Rob Lowe in St. Elmo's Fire, Mom. I'm not obsessed with the saxophone. Jesus."

Regina lets it go and just presses herself further into her girlfriend’s side.




There’s the thing she does sometimes, too, where she’ll leave a room and then come back and pretend she’s invisible.

The first time she did it, Regina very nearly hadn’t put up with it in the first place, saying, “You know I can see you, right?” as Emma had dodged and weaved around the bedroom.

That was the first time Emma had stayed the night (with the actual intention of sleeping) and she’d been changing in the bathroom, even as Regina had scoffed and said, “I’ve seen it before.”

But apparently not in a Pee-Wee Herman t-shirt that Emma was embarrassed to wear because, “It’s laundry day.”

It was sort of worth it when Emma grabbed her around the waist, picking up a little and yelling a loud, “Surprise!” that had made Henry come tentatively knock on their door to see if they were okay.

The smile on Emma’s face was definitely worth it, too.

So Regina lets it slide now and has ever since.

Not every night, but some of them. Emma comes out of the bathroom before bed and slides around the room—occasionally rolling around on the carpet (though she pretty much ceased doing that after the head-meets-corner-of-the-bed incident).

She pretends she doesn’t see her, throws in a, “Is someone there?” joke every so often and Emma laughs and hugs her from behind and—

It’s maybe not as annoying anymore as it is endearing.




But then there are the fights.

They don’t happen often. Not anymore. The two of them have been on the same team for years now and arguments have dwindled down a good deal from what they used to be.

That doesn’t mean they never happen.

One night, sometime after Emma’s birthday, it builds quickly and then explodes until the two of them are hurling around things from the past that haven’t been held under the light in so long that they sting the worst.

It’s okay. It’s something she can handle.

But the aftermath used to be a stiff drink in her study or stalking around town making sure everyone knew how angry she was.

And it never fixed it but it made it seem less dire.

Nothing, it seems, can do anything like that these days.

They were bad before, always left Regina a mess every time, but it's so much worse now that they're together. Being in love has made them both bolder, more reckless. They know each other's sore spots far better than they ever might have before and there are things that neither of them would dare to say, but sometimes, when they're fighting, Regina will look at Emma, red-faced and flared nostrils, and know everything that Emma has ever thought about her. The good, and most importantly: the bad. 

And Emma always leaves before it escalates too far, before they say things that they can't take back. She removes herself from the equation so that she'll have someone to come back to when it settles, and Regina knows why she does it. She gets it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when she hears the front door close, her car start out front of the house and then the sound of her driving away. Regina collapses back onto the couch in her study, her head in her hands.

She only cries a little. More out of frustration than anything—anger and hatred pointed only at herself.

The aftermath is worst because that’s when she remembers all of the things she said that made Emma leave in the first place—all those things she hadn’t even meant--and she's left alone with them.

She’s certain each time that this will be the time Emma doesn't come back.

When the front door opens, she looks up hopefully, expecting Emma, but she gets a confused Henry standing in the doorway instead.

“Mom? Are you okay?” he asks. “Where's Emma?”

What he means is that she didn’t wave back when she saw him parking Regina’s car. She didn’t even look his way.

“We had a fight,” Regina tells him, because she stopped keeping things from him years ago.

Years ago, this wouldn’t bother Henry like it does now—wouldn’t make his eyes drop and his mouth twist down in a confused frown. Fights with Emma used to happen weekly, a byproduct of a lot of things they would later chalk up to unresolved tension. It’s just been so long since those times and Henry used to be able to take it all with a grain of salt, but he looks terrified in that moment.

And he’s been taller than her for a long time already, but he looks so small right then that she gets up and gently grabs his wrists in her hands.

“We’ll be fine,” she says, so quietly, and Henry nods. Swallows. “Your mother and I have been fighting for years,” she says, trying to make it sound less than what it had been. “It’ll be okay in a day or two.”

Henry doesn’t look convinced, but he sits on the couch with her and watches reruns all night like Emma usually does when she’s upset.

Around midnight, she says, “How was your date?” and he smiles despite himself and tells her it was great. 

His good mood doesn't last for long, but a few minutes later he says, "It'll be okay. Like you said, you and Emma used to fight all the time.” Silence. His warm hand over hers. “Can I ask what it was about?”

And, the thing is, it seemed so important at the time, whatever it was that had them yelling but she can’t even remember what started it now.

She vaguely remembers a discussion about Emma moving in, which had led to a realization about how she practically already lives in the mansion, and then somehow Hook had made his way into the conversation—though Regina thinks maybe she brought him up first—and a pang of heavy guilt makes her chest seize up.

“It’s not important,” she says eventually, and it isn’t.

Henry kisses her on the cheek—she’s got at least another year before he’s too old to do stuff like that without emotional trauma involved—and asks if it’s okay if he goes to bed, as if he’s afraid to leave her alone.

It is.

He goes.

She stays on the couch and turns the TV on mute until she falls asleep.

In the morning, she’s wrapped in a blanket that smells like Emma—that is Emma’s, she’s pretty sure because it’s dark green and plaid—and everything seems a little dimmer, a little lighter.

It’s easy when Emma comes back to apologize, standing sheepishly on the front porch with her hands in her pockets looking like she got barely any sleep the night before.

It’s easy, even though they trip over each other for a solid forty seconds, each of them trying to apologize first. It’s not perfect, but Emma is warm and firm in Regina’s arms, her lips soft and familiar and reassuring as she whispers, “I’m sorry,” but it’s fine.

More than fine.

It’s good.

Emma came back and maybe she always will because she always has before, and it’s at least good.

Better than, probably.




There’s the air guitar thing, too, where she stretches out Regina’s arms—post-coital, usually—as she’s lying with her head on Regina's chest, and pretend it’s the neck of the guitar.

Strumming out a song she sings terribly off-key on Regina’s wrist.

She should take this off the list, too. It makes her laugh every time. And the songs are always love songs Emma has replaced with her name.

In it’s place, she’d probably put—




--telling people, because that’s a nightmare.

It was a decision they’d decided on after a dream Regina had in which Snow had gifted her an entire library of baby books.

“Oh my god,” Emma had whispered in bed the next morning. “That’s not a nightmare. That’s real life.”

And they’d kept it a secret.

The fall-out with Hook hadn’t been pretty and carefully clipping him out of her entire family’s lives had been difficult at best after that almost-wedding, so Emma says, “This is just for us, for now,” and then Henry walks in on them kissing against the kitchen counter and she adds an, “And Henry,” to the end of that statement.

It’s fine, of course, because Snow has been known to peep through the front windows of the mansion for something like twenty minutes, pretending she’d been about to ring the doorbell the entire time once caught, and this would likely get 100x worse the moment she found out they’re dating.

And then there would be the wedding-hint sneak attacks that would leave Emma uncomfortable and vaguely guilty like she had for the first three months after everything with Hook ended, and it’s not fair for Regina to deal with that.

So they pretended nothing changed.

Emma had practically lived with her and Henry before, and no one had to know she’s stopped sleeping in the guest room. All it means is keeping friendly lunch dates to a minimum and keeping from kissing—“Or other things,” Emma says in the bathroom at Granny’s with a silly wiggle of her eyebrows—in public and that Emma has to keep the squeezing of certain parts to a minimum.

It just means waiting until Regina’s office door is closed to properly greet—and then some—one another.

It only lasts a couple of months before they're, inevitably, caught.

Honestly, it's sort of pathetic how short a while they were able to keep it under wraps.

But, it’s still impressive, she thinks, that it had managed to make it through all those birthday-planning meetings with Snow without making its presence known.

It happens because David gets a call to the Rabbit Hole one evening for a couple of rowdy men in the parking lot, and he must be coming in to reassure the bartender that whatever-it-is is over now.

If they were anyone else, it might not look too bad, but Regina and Emma spent so long at odds that it’s pretty clear what is happening with one look at them. They’re sitting on the same side of their booth and it’s definitely not business-related, what Emma is saying with her lips to Regina’s ear. Their hands being tangled on the tabletop doesn’t help anything, no doubt.

It’s Regina who sees him—that careful, cocky slouch into the room and the No-Problem-Little-Lady grin.

And then it freezes when he catches his daughter whispering sweet-nothings into his technically-mother-in-law’s ear.

It’s not a big deal.

She doesn’t even tell Emma until they’re slipping into the house a little later and then Emma just shrugs it off. “He’s seen us do worse,” she says, and okay, yes.

There’d been the tears at the town line and all those staring contests and Regina had practically yelled at Emma after Hook had returned and they’d wanted to bump the wedding date up despite those long weeks of Emma saying, “I’m getting over him, maybe this is a sign,” and on and on.

But this is different. Even if Emma doesn’t think so.

And it is.

There’s a knock on her office door the next morning and she regrets it the moment she says, “Come in.”

“I, uh, brought this by,” he says, sliding into the room. In his hand is a packet and he slides it over onto the desk before shoving his hands in his pockets, looking away. “I thought you might want to look it over o-or something.”

It’s a far cry from the man who’d once thrown his sword at her chest at his wedding.

But things change.

He slinks out of the room a second or two later when all she manages to say is, “Thanks,” and warily at that because she’s not even certain what it is that he’s brought to her.

It’s a packet entitled Local Government Ethics that’s clearly just been printed out from the internet.

And he’s highlighted the entirety of the Conflicts of Interest chapter in pink.

“He just wants us to talk to him about it,” Emma rationalizes when she picks up the phone a second later. “It’s just my dad’s unique way of being butt-hurt.”

Regina doesn’t know that phrase, but she knows enough to wince accordingly.

But talking to Prince Charming about dating his daughter, means talking to Emma’s mother as well. And she’s moved past a lot of things with Snow in the past few years, but even when she’d imagined being with Emma like this, she’d never really anticipated the “coming out” portion.

Apparently Emma has, though, and she throws out Regina’s formal letter that she writes on her work stationary that has a lot of, “Absent undeniable proof that I have compromised the efficiency of how I run my office, Deputy Nolan, or broken an rule, policy, or law, I would appreciate the respect and privacy of my personal relationships."

“Well, that’s crap,” is what Emma actually says and throws it in the trash can under the sink in her kitchen.

“My letter hardly deserves such a crass adjective,” Regina says and, when she goes to retrieve it, Emma pours the remainder of her mug of tea over it and twitches an eyebrow up in amusement, saying, “Oops,” in a false tone that leaves Regina scowling.

Emma’s version of coming out is a formal dinner that Regina magically gets roped into hosting.

“If your mother gets tears on the dining room chairs’ new upholstery, Miss Swan, I’ll be taking the cost for reparations from your next paycheck,” Regina says as she makes dinner and Henry snickers at his seat at the island until Emma ruffles his hair enough to get him to stop.

The days leading up to the dinner are a blur of worry and anticipated anger at the possibility of a negative response—a lot of one-sided conversation preps in the shower (without Emma)—but the whole thing is a lot less structured than she’d prepared for.

What she gets instead is Emma saying, “Regina and I are dating,” as she passes Snow the plate of garlic bread.

To Snow’s credit, she doesn’t even drop the plate. She just calmly sets it down and takes a deep breath, as if preparing for some speech she’s memorized.

“I’m so happy you finally told us,” Snow says, the anticlimactic end to a much-anticipated event.

Regina watches Henry, expecting something more entertaining than that, deflate in his seat and begin to sullenly eat his lasagna.

“What?” Emma says, clearly having also expected the worst.

“We’ve had our suspicions for a while, sweetie,” Snow says next, and it’s quite the gift that she somehow manages to make it sound like Sorry, not sorry.

“And then our confirmations,” David adds in from the other side of the table, hiding the slight dig behind a purposefully cute swipe of sauce off of Neal’s face.

“You’re not…” Emma starts and Regina reaches out and places a hand on her thigh, smiles when Emma squeezes it. “Mad?”

And Snow’s face immediately says it all, but she adds it in for good measure. “Oh, Emma,” she sighs, sounding heartbroken at the mere idea of being disappointed. “I could never resent you following your heart.”

It’s a little too sappy for Regina’s taste, but Emma seems relieved and pleased and the evening goes well enough.

Even if she somehow gets wrangled into a group hug at the end of it.

And, okay. Maybe that’s not so bad, either.


7. (continued)


But Regina surmises that Snow and David finding out isn’t nearly as odd as when the rest of the town does.

In the years since the curse broke, since Regina lost everything she had once, got it back, and nearly lost it again a dozen or so times after, she’s become more human to them. More equal.

As if everyone had come to the solid conclusion that, at this point, she’s pretty much been punished enough.

It’s a nice change from the occasional vandal to her car, or the purposeful shouldering in the middle of the street—the derivative hate mail written in cut-out newspaper clippings with terrible grammar and envelopes the sender had forgotten to retract the return address from.

But once everyone finds out she’s dating Emma—their Princess, their Savior—everything makes a much more drastic switch.

Leroy holds the door to the diner open for her one afternoon and smiles and says, “You’re welcome,” when she thanks him.

Granny comps her lunch take-out one day, too—likely recognizing Emma’s usual order in the mix. When Regina goes to pay for it, Granny pushes her money away and says, “On the house,” with this sly wink that makes Regina vaguely uncomfortable.

Even Gold seems less torn between distant rage and disappointment when he passes by her on the street. He nods and looks—impressed?

As though they’re on the same team now that they’ve been chosen and loved by decent-enough do-gooders to take a couple ticks out of their personal Villains column.

Zelena doesn’t even seem bitter or resentful. Not even a little. She comes over for dinner and says, “You could’ve done worse,” watching Emma roll around on the floor with her daughter.

Michael Tillman—the same man who’d only started to do her oil changes again last year after saying, “Try someplace else,” like there was someplace else for three solid years after he’d gotten his memories back—strikes up a conversation at Henry’s Parent-Teacher night.

“When is that Mercedes of yours due for an oil change anyway? Bring her by the shop this week. I can take care of it for you,” he says, looking downright friendly and Regina is so surprised she barely has a chance to respond before he’s heading off with his children.

“What was that about?” Emma asks when she sidles up next to her a moment later.

But Regina doesn’t have an answer.

It’s the first year Henry’s teacher doesn’t spend the entire time glaring at her and making Henry’s successes sound like failures by saying them through gritted teeth.

It’s not that it’s a problem per se—she wishes sometimes, when she gets a friendly greeting from someone she doesn’t recognize despite having cursed them, that her road to redemption could be enough for everyone—but it’s an adjustment.

It doesn’t matter much, she decides one afternoon, sliding Emma’s on-the-house-again special across the Sheriff’s desk and grinning against Emma’s greeting kiss.

She’ll take what she can get.




Emma also squeezes the toothpaste from the very tip of it and ends up letting huge pieces of it dry on the opening.

And then leaves huge globs of it in the sink.

The one time Regina tries to scold her, Emma just sheepishly says, “Sorry,” with foam dripping down her mouth and that particular conversation ends with a spearmint kiss that makes Regina forget what she’d been complaining about entirely.




And then there’s how well Emma knows her.

She’d said it years before, and Regina had said it back a handful of times, but it had never been more true than a year after the whole thing started.

Emma knows to bring her pastries on bad days and when to offer to make dinner or order pizza. Emma knows what she’s feeling, perhaps thinking too, at all times of the day and the problem is that Regina doesn’t mind being so bared to someone.

It’s just that she doesn’t have much experience with it.

Robin had hardly known her at all and being one half of a fated-to-be match hadn’t filled in the gaps for him about her interests, her thoughts, her feelings the way simply being around her and learning does.

They’d hardly even had enough down-time together to really get to know all those things about one another in the first place.

It had been relatively easy to hide her real feelings around him, but—

It’s not that easy anymore.

Emma isn’t Robin and she’s had years—years—to pick up on the little things.

Emma knows when Regina needs to yell and rage about work or when she’s having a bad day—plagued with heavy thoughts of her mother or the King or…

Emma knows then not to touch her. To give her space. To only go so far as to place her hand on Regina’s and to leave her room to slip away if she needs it.

She knows when to stop Henry from talking about colleges and just say, “Alright, Smarty-Pants, let’s see if that big brain can save you from my mad Smash Bros. skills.”

She probably even knows about the Our First Christmas ornament that Snow made them last year and she’d hidden in the attic accordingly because it had clashed with her entire tree and the picture Snow used wasn’t flattering.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But Regina stops withholding the truth, stops guarding herself so carefully.

And the wonderful part is that Emma does too.

It’s fine until Ruby and Dorothy throw a joint St. Patrick’s Day party at Granny’s for the first time in years and Emma insists that they go and buys Henry a hideous green, cartoon shamrock tie.

It really is fine. The music isn’t too loud and Granny must have taken the reigns on cooking because she says, “Good cookies are hidden under Ruby’s on the plate,” with a wink when Regina hands over the pie she’d made—Pecan, though Snow eyes it warily across the room as if it’s apple.

And they are. The perfectly iced ones are hidden there and Regina slips one into Emma’s hand and gets a kiss for it, a groan and fake gagging noise from Henry even though he’s smiling.

She’s not really sure what St. Patrick’s Day means, though Emma had tried to explain it, but Emma is wearing green and she hardly ever does and it’s like Regina can’t keep her hands off of her.

Around the time Ruby proposes a game of darts against a mildly inebriated Snow—who immediately says, “I will crush you!” in a voice she’s certain she’s heard Emma use during Wii Sports night—Emma offers to get Regina a drink without being asked.

“Yes, thank you,” Regina says, smiling and Emma kisses her cheek and squeezes her wrist three times before she goes.

Regina sits at a booth and watches her across the room, the easy way she smiles at Belle and starts up a conversation she can’t quite hear with Archie.

She looks over at her son, talking easily with Violet in the corner, who is playfully adjusting his tie and she wonders when everything became so perfect.

And she stops wondering it the moment Hook walks in.

If it were a few months ago, it might have affected everyone a little less subtly. The music might have stopped and Hook might have been forced to stand there, looking sheepish.

But it isn’t.

People hardly even pause their conversations, but she thinks Henry throws her a careful look, as if sizing up the damage from across the room.

Hook intercepts Emma by the counter, saying some soft words that sound like an inquiry on how she’s doing. Regina tries not to get caught watching, but fails when Emma looks over Hook’s shoulder at her.

Regina turns away, stares at the table top and starts chipping away at the nail polish on her thumb.

It’s a minute.

Maybe two.

But it feels much longer.

Emma’s weight settles down beside her heavily and slides a drink across the table to her.

And if this were Robin and Marian had just walked in, or Zelena—though the issues with Zelena have been long over and she’s with Ruby and Snow, jeering at them and holding her daughter as she cackles at each missed target—he might not have even noticed the change in her posture, her breathing.

But of course, it's not him. And Emma has never been one to let things slide.

“I didn’t know he was going to show up.”

She says it slowly, carefully, like she's walking out into the middle of a frozen lake and she knows the ice is going to crack under her feet any second, but she doesn't know which second, so she's trying to be prepared.

Everything comes rushing back at once. Regina wants to shrug it off, say it's not a big deal, but then she remembers when Emma had been engaged to him, what she'd looked like with that ring on her finger and Hook's arm around her. She remembers that long stretch of loneliness after Robin, when she was certain that she was all she needed and she was okay with that. She was. Some part of her still is, but even then she'd been in love with Emma. She'd longed for her and ached and she'd known that if she couldn't have her, if she couldn't try, then maybe it was better to only have herself anyway.

But there aren't words for that. Not ones that would convey it properly, at least, but Emma doesn't look at her like she expects Regina to be able to qualify whatever mess of emotions she's feeling. She doesn't look at her with any expectations at all.

Emma looks at her seriously, really looks, and her hand touches Regina's knee under the table, fingers brushing softly against her skin, reassuring.

In the end, Regina doesn't have to say anything at all. 

Emma beats her to it. 

"I love you," she whispers, sounding steady and sure. 

And it doesn't matter that they're surrounded by people in an uncomfortable booth in a diner, or that she can just hear Snow cackling distantly by the dart board, or that Leroy is knocking back some kind of dark alcohol at the counter with a worrying intensity. It doesn't matter that there's some song playing that relies far too heavily on the bagpipes. None of that could possibly matter less.

Regina reaches up, trails her fingertips along Emma's jaw and then tilts herself up to kiss her. She lingers, breathes, "I love you, too," against Emma's lips and lets it sit there, lets it stay.

Long enough to matter. 

Long enough to, maybe, start to put things back together.




But the worst problem, if you can call it that, is how fiercely Emma Swan invades her home, her heart, her life from that very first meeting.

And that Regina hasn't ever really wanted her to leave.