Regina's hand was in hers, because that's where it usually was nowadays. Even though Regina had promised that she wouldn't expect her to go to events anymore, Emma still found herself following her to most of them – not because Regina would have minded if she'd said no, but because Emma would have missed her while she was gone.
Besides, Emma knew everyone now. Regina's people were her people, and she didn't have to feel a sick sense of dread whenever she walked into a gallery. If Zelena or Moe were there then she would do her best to avoid them, but otherwise she was content to float. Regina would always be on the other side of the room shooting her a delighted smile whenever she looked for her, anyway.
Right at that moment, though, they were standing together with their fingers interlocked. It would have been a beautiful moment if Regina hadn't been distracted by a painting that was giving Emma a headache.
"It's really ugly," she whispered, and Regina rolled her eyes.
"You're not seriously going to spend money on that, are you?"
"I'm considering it. The more you say you hate it, the more tempted I am." Regina had a wicked smile on her face, and Emma had to resist the urge to barge her into the flimsy canvas.
"As long as I never have to see it again, I guess."
"Actually, I was thinking of hanging it up in my bedroom."
Emma took a horrified step back. The painting was made up of sludgy browns and the kind of greys that always reminded her of expired meat, and she knew Regina was bluffing about wanting it. She also knew, however, that she was stubborn enough to buy it just to spite her, no matter how hideous it was.
"I'll never, ever come round again if you do."
"You wouldn't be able to stay away from the under-floor heating for long," Regina said. Annoyingly, she was right.
Emma hadn't moved back in with Regina again. Taking things slower this time round seemed like the smarter option – and besides, she had her own apartment now. An apartment that was small and cosy and felt weirdly like the home she'd been searching for her entire life. She had a bed with enough blankets and duvets piled up on top of it that even Regina couldn't manage to steal them all when she deigned to sleep over, and by coercing Elsa into helping her with promises of pizza and beer, Emma had even managed to decorate the place without getting too much magnolia paint on the floorboards.
On the wall above her bed was a single picture. Its wooden frame was painted yellow, and on the piece of paper that was contained inside, there were six digits scribbled in black ink – eight, if you counted the pennies. Emma looked up at them at the start of every day, and they reminded her of just how far she'd come.
Six months had passed since they'd fallen back into one another's arms on Regina's couch, and Emma loved the fact that she could divide her week between her two homes – her own, and Regina's. It was coming up to Christmas again, and Emma couldn't wait to build gingerbread houses with Regina and her son in a couple of weeks.
Even if Regina was being a total pain in her ass and thoughtfully looking at that painting like it was growing on her more and more with every second.
Emma groaned to herself and turned to survey the room, immediately spotting Natalya on the other side of the gallery. She was dating a rich Russian art dealer – one who Regina also hated – which meant she was usually at the events that Emma found herself stumbling into. That was a great development, because whenever Regina got lured into a conversation about whether cubism was making a comeback or not, Emma could sneak off onto the terrace with a glass of champagne and laugh with Natalya over all the self-important people who were hovering in the next room.
Right at that moment she was decked out in Cavalli and too many diamonds, and she was clinging onto the arm of the billionaire who was 30 years older than her but actually seemed to make her pretty happy. Emma waved, and she waved back.
"You're distracted," Regina commented.
"Because you said we'd only be here an hour," Emma replied, turning back to her.
"You should know by now that I'm always lying when I say that."
"Right, but we still have dinner reservations."
"We do?" Regina asked. Then she remembered. "Oh, right. With Elsa and the biker boyfriend."
"August," Emma corrected. "We're supposed to be meeting them in 45 minutes."
"Plenty of time for me to buy this painting then," Regina smirked, but when Emma just rolled her eyes in response, she conceded, "Fine. No painting. But I really do want to redecorate my apartment in the New Year, so it would be helpful if you would tell me which paintings you do like."
"Whenever I try to, you tell me I have the taste of a child."
"You should be perfectly equipped to help Henry with his room, then."
Emma nudged her, then added, "He's not even a kid anymore. He's growing up so fast."
"You're telling me," Regina sighed. "It's great that he's at my place so often now, but I really didn't realise how many game consoles would end up cluttering up my living room as a result."
"Stop buying them, then?" Emma suggested.
"Oh, right. Like that's an option."
Emma grinned. "I know you secretly play Uncharted with him, by the way."
Regina bristled at once. "I do not."
"I've seen the saved games. Henry's smart, but he isn't clever enough to play two-player by himself."
"It must have been you," Regina scoffed. "Your memory is terrible, after all."
"You're a liar," Emma muttered in her ear, and Regina blushed. Emma loved it when she did that.
"Okay, fine. Sometimes we play together after he's done his homework. But don't tell his father – I promised him Henry would only go near the PS4 on the weekends during his weeks with me."
Emma sniggered. "Fine. It'll be really hard for me to keep secrets from Robin, but I'll do my best."
Finally, Regina was walking away from the worst painting Emma had ever seen in her life. She stroked her thumb over the back of Emma's hand. "Do you want to leave? We can get a drink before dinner."
"Are you trying to get yourself drunk so that mine and August's conversations about bikes won't be so bad?"
"Yes," Regina said flatly. "Please take a little pity on me."
"Fine," Emma said, like this was such a huge hardship. "I'm only having one, though. I have a meeting with the other editors tomorrow and I don't want to have hangover brain."
"Such a responsible adult," Regina said, kissing her cheek. They slipped out of the gallery without saying goodbye to anyone and began to slowly amble in the direction of the restaurant. The city was glowing, and there was the faintest dusting of snow on the parked cars that lined the streets. Emma huddled closer to Regina's side as they walked.
"How much would you hate me if I bought you that painting for Christmas?" Regina suddenly asked, and Emma forced herself not to shove her into oncoming traffic.
"I would literally burn it," she said. "It reminded me of weeks-old road kill."
"It was an abstract painting, Emma."
"Well, clearly my eye for art is better than yours, because I know what I saw in it. You should try taking a leaf out of my book."
Regina smirked. "I have so much to learn from you."
"You really do," Emma replied. "Hey, do we have a therapy session this week?"
"This week is just for me," Regina said, quickly checking the calendar on her phone. "Our joint session is next Thursday."
"That'll be a nice treat right before Christmas," Emma joked, and Regina nudged her.
"Don't worry – I'll take it easy on you."
"Good. Because if you start complaining about the amount of sugar I fed Henry last year, I'll walk out."
She felt Regina's grip on her hand tighten. "I'd prefer it if you didn't."
Emma sighed and squeezed back. "Fine. But I'll withhold sex for a week."
"Don't do that either."
"I've laid down my terms, Ms Mills. It's up to you to meet them."
Regina shook her head, laughing to herself.
"I like going to therapy with you, you know," she admitted.
"Yes. Even when we get all argumentative, I like knowing that we're still going to leave together." It was the kind of soul-baringly honest thing that Regina never would have admitted a few months ago, and it made Emma's heart skip. "I like the fact that you're sticking with me. Even now."
"Through everything," Emma said, like it was the easiest thing in the world. Which it was, really.
She didn't need to look at Regina to know that she was smiling. "I love you."
"I love you too. But we should walk faster before one of us freezes to death."
"Agreed," Regina said, increasing their pace. She squeezed harder on Emma's hand. "You'll stay at mine tonight, right?"
Emma smiled back at her. She didn't even need to ask.
Edit: If you are interested in getting yourself a printed copy of this fic, you can find all the downloadable files and printing instructions in this Dropbox. This isn't an official publication and I won't make any money from this, but a lot of people requested it, so feel free to make your own!
A/N: Guys, what a JOURNEY this has been. I never imagined people would fall in love with this story as hard as they did – hopefully that's still the case now that it's finished. I hope I did the ending justice for you all!
Thank you so much for all your lovely comments and tweets and general love – the past few months have been incredible. For those of you who haven't already seen on Twitter ( @_starsthatburn ), I am already working on some new stuff (namely, I'm finally succumbing to my favourite trope in the world and doing a student/teacher college AU!) so I'll be back with more writing very soon.
It's also worth noting for those of you who haven't seen: I used to exclusively use fanfic.net for my fics, which means there's loads of stories posted over there that I can't easily move to AO3. If you fancy reading them then you can find them here.
I honestly love every single one of you – thanks so much forever xxx