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Someone Will Remember Us

Chapter Text

"Someone, I tell you,
will remember us,
even in another time"

— Sappho

 

Emma knew her shoelaces had come undone, but she didn't have time to do anything about that as she raced down the empty corridor. The lecture hall was within sight and she naively told herself that she'd be able to make it in one piece – but then she stumbled, nearly slamming into the wall, and swore under her breath as she crouched to quickly re-knot them.

The only bright side to the near-collision was that no one else had been around to see it, although that was because she was 15 minutes late to her first class of the semester and everybody had already long settled into their seats.

Emma had been at Boston College for two full years, and yet she'd still managed to get lost. She was always getting lost. The English department was spread out through the labyrinthine halls of the arts building, and every goddamn day she seemed to forget where the hell she was and where she was supposed to be going.

She screeched to a halt in front of the door that she'd been charging toward and glanced down at the note she'd scribbled on the back of her hand: Introduction to 18th-century literature, room 108. She'd copied it off her third-year class schedule that morning after she'd woken up 40 minutes later than planned and then had to wait for her roommate to stop hogging their shared bathroom.

If she'd stopped to think about it for a moment, she might have realised that it was a bit weird for her biggest introductory lecture of the week to be taking place in the corridor that was reserved exclusively for professors' offices. But she didn't think, because it was the very first day of her junior year and she was late and she was a mess. She also didn't knock. She just pushed the door open and decided that sneaking into the back row and sitting down quietly was her best option.

There was no back row, though. She staggered through the door and froze, finding herself faced with walls of bookcases and a vast wooden desk. The room had that English-department smell that she'd come to recognise over the past two years: old, mildewy books that academics refused to throw away; bad coffee from the vending machine down the hall; and freshly printed, ink-smeared paper. There was another smell, though – one of really rich perfume and expensive hand lotion – and Emma somehow registered it way before she noticed that there was someone sitting on the other side of the desk.

Her heart dropped. Two dark brown eyes, which had just snapped up impatiently from the work that Emma had interrupted, looked back at her.

"Oh," Emma blurted out, stepping back to check the number on the door. "I thought… I'm supposed to have a lecture in room 108."

The woman, who was wearing a perfectly tailored jacket and a crisp white blouse that was unbuttoned just slightly further than Emma would have thought acceptable for a college professor, narrowed her eyes. When she tilted her head, her shoulder-length dark hair caught a glimmer of light from the window behind her.

"You probably mean lecture hall eight," she said, and Emma felt a weird twisting in her stomach at the sound of her voice. It came out of her mouth in ribbons, silky and seductive.

That thought looped its way around Emma's brain like a noose, and she totally forgot that she was meant to respond in some way. She just stared.

The woman raised her eyebrows and prompted, "Lecture room eight? L 08?"

Emma blinked. Then she looked down at the smudged ink on her hand and sighed. "Oh."

Move, the voice in her head hissed at her. She was still loitering in the doorway, her hair a blonde tangle around her flushed face, and she knew what any normal person would do next: they'd apologise, make their excuses and leave. But something about the woman's sharp gaze was pinning her to the spot, and as much as she wanted to turn and bail, all she could do was gape back at her.

The woman's expression shifted into one of vague concern. "Are you okay?"

It was a reasonable question, considering Emma was acting like she had a hole in one side of her skull. At least the alarm in the woman's voice finally made her snap back into reality.

"Oh," Emma repeated like it was the only word she knew. "Right. I should… I'll just…"

Without finishing the sentence, she turned on her heel and scuttled out of the room. Three steps down the corridor, she realised she'd left the door swinging open behind her and crept back again, shamefaced, to close it.

Then she sprinted down the hall, half expecting the woman to come after her to check she wasn't some lunatic who had just wandered onto campus. Emma's cheeks were burning, and although she didn't really have the time to dwell on what a complete fucking moron she was – not when she still had to race across campus and find the actual lecture hall before her 18th-century lit professor gave her name a big red 'absent' mark to start the year off with – humiliation was still managing to tangle itself around her chest.

If that woman hadn't been so goddamn beautiful, it probably wouldn't have been so bad – but, as it was, she was potentially the prettiest person Emma had ever seen in real life, and the mere thought of her rolling her eyes at Emma's turned back made her want to curl up in a hole and die.

Emma wondered momentarily if she'd pursed her lips at her. They'd been painted red – not the red of strawberry lollipops or clowns' noses, but the red of really deep wines that 20-year-old Emma wasn't sophisticated enough to enjoy yet. The thought of those lips doing anything at all in response to something she had said made her go hot in a way that wasn't from all her running around.


She was late to three more classes that week, but none of those occasions were as humiliating as the first. She even got hauled out by one professor in front of her entire Chaucer seminar, but it didn't really bother her – she was used to that. She wasn't used to concerned gazes and dark-chocolate eyes.

In Emma's two years at college, she'd been in classes with pretty much every undergrad professor in the department. It was weird, then, that she hadn't bumped into that woman before. She had to assume she was a new teacher that year, or maybe she wasn't a professor at all – she could just be a PhD student using someone else's office to get her work done. Emma longed to go back down that corridor and loiter outside room 108 just in case she would see her again, but she wasn't brave enough for that. She knew that the second they locked eyes, her brain would explode for real.

So instead she kept her head down and did her best to make it through the rest of the week unscathed. She ran into old friends from the previous year and she struggled to get her head back around the complexities of modernist literature. She'd been desperately in love with reading and with words for years, ever since the day the mystery of them had been unlocked in the back of a dingy classroom, and she'd chosen English as her major without a second thought. She'd been disappointed, then, when she'd realised that studying the subject at college wasn't anywhere near as fun as simply sitting down with a book and devouring the world that someone else had created for her. Instead, she'd found herself taking a butt-load of classes on areas of literature that she had zero interest in.

Like classics, she thought dully as she checked her class schedule on Thursday morning. She wasn't sure she could imagine anything worse than having to listen to some crusty old man talk about what the ancient Romans and Greeks got boners over in their spare time.

At two o'clock, she followed a group of people she vaguely recognised from some of her other classes toward the seminar room, and when they all piled in, she deliberately headed for the other side of the room so she wouldn't have to get caught up in making small talk with them before the professor arrived.

There were six lines of desks all facing the front of the room, and Emma settled herself down in the empty second row on the left-hand side. She had no problem sitting near the front because teachers very rarely called on her – there was something about her blonde hair or the fact that she was always chewing on a pen that meant no one ever wanted to listen to her thoughts on whatever topic they were discussing. Instead, she could just lean back and blend into the scenery, comfortable sitting behind the group of literature nerds who she was certain would inevitably turn up and settle themselves down in the row in front of her any minute now.

The only problem was that the professor arrived next, and when Emma looked up, she felt her heart drop down into the pit of her stomach.

It was the woman from Monday. Of course it was. Obviously the universe had seen a glowing opportunity when Emma had gone stumbling headfirst into her office and it wasn't content to just let the hilarity end at that one single event.

If it was possible, the woman was even more stunning that day. She walked so purposefully, with a stack of notes clutched to her chest like armour and her legs long and tan beneath her black shift dress. She was wearing towering heels, which was unusual – there wasn't a single professor in the English department who didn't have a longstanding love for tweed jackets and soft-soled shoes. Emma swallowed hard and watched as she walked in them with her hips swaying and her chin lifted high. The rest of the room kept chattering, seemingly not noticing that a goddess of some kind had just wandered into their breathing space.

Just as she reached the desk at the front of the room, the woman glanced up and met Emma's gaze. She paused. Emma noticed a slight narrowing of her eyes, and she felt herself go hot beneath her plaid shirt.

Then the woman looked away again, her face expressionless, and placed her papers on the desk. When she opened her laptop and started to type something in, Emma dove beneath her desk and yanked her class schedule out of her backpack.

Thursday, 2pm

Introduction to Classics: Literature in Ancient Times

Professor Regina Mills

She wanted to screw the paper into a ball and shove it into her own mouth.

Trying to appear at least semi calm, Emma sat back upright and folded her arms on the table. She deeply regretted sitting in the second row now – Professor Mills was only a few feet away, and already Emma could smell the perfume that she'd caught a whiff of in her office on Monday. It sent a rush of electricity down her spine.

Professor Mills reached up to tuck a strand of silky hair behind one ear. It took every shred of Emma's self control not to moan out loud.

Eventually her professor straightened up and stepped toward the front of the class. The chatter gradually began to die down from all corners.

She waited, her dark brown eyes scanning the room as she took in the cluster of students before her. There were barely 15 people in the class, and Emma suspected that most of them weren't there through a sheer love of ancient Greek literature – the course was a double-term one, and when Emma had been sifting through her class options for the year it had seemed like a pretty easy way of guaranteeing herself a passing grade come the summer. One seminar a week wasn't much compared to some of the other classes she was being forced to attend.

A single look at the unimpressed expression on her professor's face told her that she might have made a mistake in that assumption.

Professor Mills kept scanning the room. Her eyes settled on Emma for another second before slipping over the top of her like a wave lapping against sand. They landed on someone who was still whispering just behind her.

"You," she suddenly said. Her voice was just as dark and smoky as Emma remembered, and she felt her pussy clench around nothing. "What's your name?"

Emma didn't turn to look at whoever she was addressing. She couldn't have dragged her gaze away if the room had caught fire.

A male student cleared his throat from two rows behind her. "August W Booth, ma'am."

Emma watched as Professor Mills' nose wrinkled with sheer disgust.

"August…" she started, tasting the words and obviously not enjoying them. "…W Booth?"

Someone – August, Emma assumed – awkwardly coughed. "That's right."

"Is your name so common that you need to include the W for differentiation purposes?"

Emma quickly looked down at her lap so her professor wouldn't catch her snort of laughter.

"Err… No," August said. "It's just my name."

"I suggest you shorten it," Professor Mills said crisply. "Mr Booth, can I ask why you continued to talk once the class had started?"

"Well. I wasn't aware that it had."

"Did you think I was standing here because I was about to start an impromptu fashion show down the centre aisle?"

Emma bit down hard on the inside of her cheek. When she glanced up, she thought she saw a smirk on her professor's face.

August cleared his throat again and said sullenly, "No. Sorry."

"Good. Don't talk again unless you feel like going to the office to change courses."

The rest of the room had gone stiff and silent, and when she took another step forward, no one breathed. Professor Mills smiled at them and, just like that, with one flash of her brilliantly white teeth, everything in Emma's life felt so much better.

"So," Professor Mills said. Her hands were clasped in front of her and even though she could barely have topped five foot four, she was the tallest presence Emma had ever laid eyes on. "I'm Professor Mills, and this is an introduction to classics. I assume you all know each other already, so let's skip the orientation ceremony and get our anthologies out. We're going to be starting with The Iliad."

Everyone else already had their enormous textbooks waiting on their desks, but Emma hadn't had time to think that far ahead before their professor had walked into the room and turned her brain to soup. She bent under the desk again, fishing out the book that she'd forgotten to buy off Amazon in advance but had thankfully found in the department library two days earlier, and brought it up to the table. When she glanced up, two dark eyes were looking at her.

Sucking in her cheeks to stop them from going pink, Emma forced herself to hold her gaze. Professor Mills didn't look especially impressed, and Emma had to wonder whether what had happened on Monday was suddenly going to become only the second-worst thing to happen to her that week.

But then she turned away, going to the whiteboard. "Who here has read Homer before?"

A flurry of hands shot up. Emma's should have joined it, but her awkwardness had her frozen. Instead, she grabbed her book and busied herself turning to the right page.

"During this first semester, we're going to be acquainting ourselves with some of the classics – Homer, Sophocles, Sappho. If you haven't come across any of these before, I suggest you study up. For the fundamentals class next semester we'll be going into more depth and studying some of the lesser-known poets and tragedians. There will be plenty of reading and I'll be setting a lot of assignments, so if you'd like to leave and sign up for an introduction to children's literature instead, I'll pretend not to notice as you rush for the door."

She had her back to the class and was writing down the main points on the board. She didn't need to look at the room to hold her students' attention – she already knew she had it. Power and certainty radiated from her and the sight of her self-assured posture made Emma want to sink down in her chair and thrust a hand down the front of her jeans.

No one got up – of course they didn't. A few students exchanged looks, but Emma could only keep staring at one very specific person.

Eventually, Professor Mills turned back to them and smiled. She wiped her hands together like she was brushing away the negative energy in the room.

"The Iliad," she said. Pages immediately began rustling. "Someone tell me about the role that women play in this poem."

Emma felt her throat close up. She'd read The Iliad before, years ago, but she hadn't been expecting questions right out the gate. She definitely hadn't been expecting them to come from someone who looked like she'd just wandered off of Mount Olympus herself.

She looked down at her book and grimaced. Emma usually needed more warning before she could dive into a text – especially a complicated one with tiny lettering – and the words were already jumbled across the page.

Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,

Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks

Incalculable pain

Emma swallowed hard and tried to focus on what was going on around her.

"No one?" Professor Mills asked with an aggrieved sigh. "The Iliad is often referred to as a predominantly male poem, but strong women play their part in it and shouldn't be overlooked. Who can tell me what happens when Ares comes up against Athena?"

Emma knew the answer to that – Ares ceded to her twice. She knew that was the answer Professor Mills was looking for. But could she open her mouth and say those words out loud?

Could she hell.

The whole hour was an exercise in torture. Emma kept her gaze fixed on her book, not reading it, not absorbing a single word of anything that was happening. She was too busy listening to Professor Mills' cool voice curling through the room to have any idea what was going on, and on the very rare occasions where she felt brave enough to glance up, she was always met with a pair of curious eyes staring back at her from the front of the room. The sight of them sent a shock through her stomach, and Emma went back to exactly what she'd been doing before: staring panickedly at the book, hoping her professor wasn't about to haul her out in front of everyone.

Finally it was 3pm, and Emma heard Professor Mills say, "I'll see you all next week." Rustling started up from around her, and Emma immediately slammed her textbook shut.

She wanted to dive for the door without pausing, but embarrassment was brewing up inside her all over again and she wasn't sure she was strong enough to suck it down. That was twice now that she'd made a complete ass of herself in front of this woman, and she didn't want the rest of the year to go this way. She also really didn't want to earn herself a reputation as the class mute.

She stood up with everyone else and began packing her things away. When she risked a glance at the front of the room, Professor Mills wasn't looking back at her. She was slotting papers into her purse, her dark hair falling in front of her face. Emma shivered, desperately wanting to walk up beside her and tuck it behind an ear for her.

She decided then that she had to say something. She wanted this woman to like her, not to contact the department admin staff and demand that they conduct a psychiatric evaluation of her. If she wanted the rest of the semester to go better than her first week had, Emma had to be brave and go apologise. At the very least, Professor Mills needed to know that she was capable of forcing out a full sentence without stammering.

As everyone else began to file out of the room, Emma slowly hitched her backpack onto one shoulder and started to edge around her desk. Professor Mills had pulled her phone out of her purse and was reading a message with an expressionless face. She didn't notice Emma approaching.

Emma was waiting for a while before her presence was registered.

Professor Mills looked up, her eyebrows raised expectantly. When she saw who was standing in front of her, she blinked.

"Oh," she said, locking her phone with a decisive click. "It's you."

Emma nodded. Even forcing out a 'yes' was apparently beyond her by then.

She swallowed hard, then opened her mouth. No noise came out.

Her professor was watching her curiously, like she was half expecting her to burst into tears. After a few moments of excruciating silence, she leaned back against the edge of her desk and folded her arms.

"What's your name?"

The question shocked Emma enough that she was finally able to say something. "My name?"

"Yes. I assume you have one."

"Emma." Two syllables, and both were shaky. "Swan."

"I see. And what can I do for you, Emma Swan?"

All at once, Emma's knees went weak. Professor Mills had curled the name around her tongue like she was savouring it, and she didn't blink as she spoke. She made more eye contact than anyone Emma had ever met.

Emma tried again - she really did. She opened her mouth to apologise for Monday and to apologise for today and to explain that she wasn't a total moron, she was just having a weird few days. The words were all ready on her tongue.

But then the corners of Professor Mills' mouth flicked up in a half smile that told Emma she already found her strangely amusing, and the perfectly formed sentence left her. All Emma could think of was the squeezing inside her chest and the fact that the very tips of her fingers had started to sweat.

Clutching hold of her backpack, Emma turned for the door and all but ran away. The burn of her professor's eyes on her back didn't leave her until long after she had left the room.


It was a rough week. Emma tried as hard as she could to get herself together, but in every single class she went to, her thoughts ended up straying in a very specific direction. Walking around the English department was a terrifying ordeal because she was half expecting Professor Mills to burst out of every closed door just to mess with her, and so she was late to most classes during her second week too because she was so reluctant to go anywhere where she might accidentally bump into her and make a fool out of herself all over again.

Thursday was rapidly approaching, and Emma thought she might die from the anticipation. She could imagine Professor Mills' reaction to her walking through the door again – that amused smile, that dark gaze. The thought of those eyes settling on her again filled Emma up with something that was somehow hot and cold simultaneously. She lay in her bed on Wednesday night imagining it, and it took her a long time to fall asleep. When she finally did at around 2am, she had dreams about long tunnels and dark laughter.

On Thursday morning, Emma woke up feeling like she was going to her own hanging. It's only a seminar, she snapped at herself. Just take notes and don't say anything stupid.

She put on more make-up than normal and carefully styled her hair into fat curls. She was late for her first class.

By lunchtime, any positivity that she'd been clinging onto had completely vanished. She sat in the department cafeteria clutching a latte, her eyes on the giant clock on the wall. She couldn't eat anything because if she did then she would probably throw it up on Professor Mills' desk, just to really round off a perfect couple of weeks, and so she just sat. And sat.

Two o'clock came, and she stayed where she was. Her coffee had gone cold. She knew class had started, but the more she sat there, the more she realised she wasn't brave enough to go to it. She could figure this out next week. She could suddenly grow some balls in that time and waltz into the classroom in seven days looking confident and breathtaking, and she could stun her professor into realising she'd been wrong about her.

She sat a while longer. Just when class would have been about to end, she went home.

Chapter Text

That evening, Emma opened her laptop with a sigh that threatened to blow the papers off her desk. It was only the second week of the semester and she already had a 2,000-word essay to write for her medieval lit class. The thought of settling down to deal with it was making her temples throb.

The entire day had gone from bad to worse, and coming back to a dorm that swarming with shrieking freshmen hadn't helped in the slightest.

She'd fought for countless scholarships in order to attend that college, and at the time she hadn't cared about the small print that required her to live on campus for the full four years. Now, though, as she fought to ignore the chatterings of her cheery roommate Mary Margaret, she briefly considered moving into the cardboard box that had been sitting outside the arts department since the previous semester.

Then she caught sight of her computer screen and nearly screamed. Because right there, right at the top of her inbox, was an email impatiently flashing with the subject line Today's absence. Emma didn't need to look at the sender's name, because there was only one person it could be from.

She briefly considered deleting it and pretending that she'd never seen it, but curiosity and a weird, aching need to have just the slightest bit of contact with her professor had already burrowed its way deep inside her. She held her breath and clicked on the message.

Miss Swan,

Can I enquire as to the reason why you were absent from my seminar today?

In future, I would appreciate it if you could let me know ahead of time if you won't be able to attend.

Professor Regina Mills

Emma slumped down in her chair and dragged her fingers through her hair. Great – so, not only did this woman think she was socially incompetent and maybe borderline brain-dead, but now she thought she was a rude little bitch too. Perfect. Her genius plan could not have gone better.

Emma placed her tingling hands over the keyboard and typed out a reply.

Hi Professor Mills,

I'm sorry for missing your class – I was sick. I'll be sure to let you know in future.

Emma

It was the weakest possible response, but it was the best she could do. Besides, who could be mad at her if she was sick?

Professors Mills could, apparently. A new email appeared in Emma's inbox two minutes later.

You looked perfectly well when I saw you in the cafeteria 30 minutes before class.

Come and see me tomorrow to collect the work you missed. My office hours are below.

Oh, shit shit shit. Emma snapped her laptop shut hard enough that she had to immediately prise it open again to check the screen hadn't cracked. When she was certain that tiny shards of smashed glass weren't about to come spilling out, she slid down in her chair and let out a groan.

This could not have backfired more.


She barely got any sleep for the second night in a row, and when her alarm went off the next morning she had to all but drag herself out of bed. Professor Mills' office hours were between 10 and 12, which at the very least meant she would get this task out of the way quickly.

She'd really rather go back to bed and ignore it completely, though.

But she didn't, because she was a goddamn adult and she could handle a five-minute conversation with a woman who smart and intimidating and prettier than Angelina Jolie. She got dressed and headed to her 9am class, and she tried desperately to ignore the clock. Then, before she knew it, it was 10am, her lecture was over, and she had to go back to room 108 for the first time since she'd ploughed through the door like a bulldozer without a driver.

Once she was outside, it took a long time before she felt brave enough to knock. It was quiet on the other side of the door, which Emma hoped meant Professor Mills wasn't even there. It was just wishful thinking, though – Emma could feel her waiting. Maybe she could even smell her perfume.

She was standing there for nearly 10 minutes before she realised that the only thing more embarrassing than what had happened the previous week would be if Professor Mills suddenly opened her office door and found Emma loitering outside. So, sucking down the rising acid in her throat, she lifted her fist and knocked.

"Come in."

The tiny part of Emma that was still tough and unflappable forced her to open the door. Professor Mills was at her desk, and she didn't look up when Emma entered.

"Miss Swan," she said without lifting her eyes from the notepad in front of her. "Good to see you again."

Emma slowly walked into the room, letting the door click shut behind her. "Hi."

"How are you feeling?"

Emma blinked, wondering how she could possibly know about the nerves that were swirling around her stomach like water draining from a plughole. "I… What?"

Finally, Professor Mills looked up. Her eyes were as dark and probing as ever. "Your mysterious illness from yesterday. Have you recovered?"

Oh.

Forcing out a laugh that sounded slightly manic, Emma said, "Right. Yeah, I'm all better, thanks."

"Good. I was very concerned about you." Professor Mills' voice was dry and unimpressed, and it lit a fire in the base of Emma's chest.

She stepped forward and sighed. "Look, Professor Mills…"

"Regina."

"Sorry?"

"Regina's fine," she said coolly, looking down again. "Professor Mills is a bit formal."

"Oh," Emma said. Apparently it was her favourite word whenever this woman was around. "Okay, if you're sure."

"Sit down, Miss Swan," Regina said, gesturing to the seat in front of her desk. Emma briefly considered asking why 'Professor Mills' was too formal but 'Miss Swan' was absolutely fine, but instead she just did as she was told. "Give me a moment to finish this and then we can talk through the seminar work."

Emma settled down in the chair and waited for her professor to be done. Regina was wearing that dark red lipstick again, and the tightly fitted shirt she had on underneath her black jacket was nearly the same colour. The buttons were straining, Emma noticed all too quickly. She thought she saw a flash of black lace from beneath it.

She tore her eyes away and looked down at her own hands instead. Her fingers were picking anxiously at the skin around her thumbnails – an old habit that she wasn't sure she'd ever grow out of – and she clenched her fists to make herself stop.

"So," Regina suddenly said, putting her pen down. She looked very industrious when she sat upright with her arms folded in front of her. "You've miraculously healed."

Emma felt her cheeks turn pink. "Yeah."

"I'm delighted to hear it. Will you be okay for next week's seminar?"

"Definitely," Emma said, and she meant it. Skipping class really hadn't worked out for her, and now that she was sitting in front of Regina again she realised that it had been the stupidest decision she'd ever made – not because she'd gotten caught, but because she couldn't believe she'd actually voluntarily missed out on spending an hour in the same room as this woman.

"Good. Because I hope you realise that this is a double-term course, Miss Swan. That means you're actually going to have to attend the classes if you want to pass the year."

"I know," Emma said, swallowing. "I won't be absent again. I promise."

"Very well. Now, to be perfectly honest, you didn't miss much," Regina admitted, opening a drawer and pulling out a few sheets of paper. "We were discussing Homer still, but it was more of an open debate than a lecture. But if I remember correctly, you've not read any of his work before, so—"

"Oh, no," Emma interrupted awkwardly. "I have."

"But you didn't put your hand up when I asked."

"I know. But I have."

Regina's eyes narrowed at once. "Are you lying to get out of doing the reading?"

"No!" Emma protested. "I'm serious. I just didn't put my hand up at the time."

"Why not?"

From the way she was watching her, Emma suspected Regina knew exactly why not: she'd seen the nervous flush in her cheeks and the way that she hadn't been able to maintain eye contact for more than a second. She wasn't an idiot.

But Emma wasn't one either, in spite of what her behaviour kept suggesting, and she wasn't about to admit any of that out loud. Instead she said, "I just misheard the question. Besides, I didn't think you'd be anal enough to remember exactly who raised their hands and who didn't."

Regina threw her a wry smile. Weirdly, she looked impressed.

"I see," she said, passing the papers across the desk. Emma took them, grateful that they didn't brush fingers. "You need to read the first three books of The Odyssey for next week's class."

Emma nodded. "Sure."

"There's also a critical analysis here that I'd like you to read and dissect. We're going to be discussing it in detail next time."

"Okay."

Emma's eyes were flicking over the article in her hand. The print was tiny and the words buzzed together in a swarm, and she squinted to make sense of them.

The paper looked dreary as hell and absolutely not something she had any interest in, but there was something special about it now. Maybe it was the fact that Regina's fingerprints were on it, dusted around the edges like petals.

She smiled slightly, then looked up. Regina was watching her again.

With a startled blink, Emma asked, "What?"

"I was just waiting for your thoughts."

"My thoughts?" Emma asked, glancing back down at the paper. "I haven't even read it yet."

She had a sneaking suspicion that Regina was trying to trip her up. The faint twinkle in her eye made Emma's palms sweat.

"Alright," Regina conceded, sitting back in her chair. "How's your semester going so far?"

That was something Emma hadn't been expecting: normally professors wanted their students to get the hell out of their office the second after they'd walked inside.

"Um. Fine, I think?" Emma offered. "I've been late to about 90 percent of my classes, though. I don't think my body clock was ready to come back."

Regina chuckled, and it was such a surprisingly lovely sound. "I can relate. I was very much enjoying my summer vacation before duty called."

"You're… new here this year, right?"

"What makes you say that?"

Yet again, it was so painfully obvious that Regina was trying to test her in some way. She wasn't even being subtle about it. Emma smiled faintly and, deciding that maybe fighting fire with fire was her best option, replied, "I just definitely would have noticed you before."

Regina's eyebrows slowly rose, and then she all but purred, "That's very good to know." Emma went hot all over, wondering just how quickly she'd get kicked out of the college if she climbed over the desk and straddled her professor right at that second.

Thankfully, Regina answered her question before that could happen. "Yes, I'm new this year. I'm covering someone's sabbatical."

"Oh," Emma said, weirdly disappointed. "So you won't be around for long?"

"I'll be here for the full year. After that, it's hard to say."

"And is it going okay so far?"

"It's going fine, apart from the fact that my juniors are already ditching classes after one week," Regina said coolly. Emma had to fight not to wince.

"That sucks," she said. "But they're probably all idiots."

"It certainly seems that way."

Emma grinned sheepishly at her, and that was when Regina's face broke into a smirk that was so joyous and filthy it threatened to shred Emma's panties there and then. Emma quickly crossed her legs so she could squeeze her thighs together, and for a second Regina's eyes snapped down to look at them.

"Anyway," Regina said eventually, her wicked smile not quite faded yet. "Is there anything else you need from me?"

Oh, there were many things Emma needed. But she just shook her head, pushing the papers into her backpack. "No, I think I'm all set. Thanks."

"You're welcome. Try to come prepared next week."

Emma knew that was not going to be a problem. She could already see every single one of her other classes falling to the wayside as she focused all her energy on this one subject that, until 10 minutes ago, she hadn't cared about very much at all. "Of course."

"Good," Regina said, her eyes crinkling at the sides as she smiled. "I'll see you Thursday, then."

Emma left the room with tingling fingertips and a beaming grin on her face. She raced home with all of her other work pushed to the back of her mind – she was going to read The Odyssey the second she got home, and she was going to blow Regina's mind with it the following week.


She turned up at Regina's seminar a week later feeling more prepared for a group discussion than she'd ever been for anything in her life. The article Regina had given her was littered with highlighted sections of text and scribbled notes, and she'd typed out a full list of agreements and criticisms in case she got called on. She knew everything there was to know about Homer, including the most prominent arguments on whether he was actually just one person at all, and she'd even found time to curl her hair properly. She was totally ready to kick ass.

She walked into the room and sat down in the same seat as before. Regina wasn't there yet, which give Emma time to get her books out, check her appearance in the front camera on her phone and start lazily scrolling through Twitter so that when their professor showed up, she wouldn't look like she'd been eagerly waiting for her.

She heard footsteps approaching and deliberately didn't look up. When Regina walked into the room, Emma was still looking down at her phone, not reading a single word of what her screen was telling her.

The group of nerds that Emma had expected to sit in the front row during her first week had never materialised, which meant that when she eventually glanced up, she had an unobstructed view of her professor leaning over to type something into her laptop. Regina was wearing a white shirt that was so tightly fitted she could see the faint pattern of her bra beneath it, and black slacks that made her legs look like they went on for a mile. Emma suppressed a sigh and glanced back down at her phone, hoping that Regina wouldn't look up again before the flush in her cheeks had subsided.

"Okay," her voice suddenly rang out from the front of the classroom, and Emma's head snapped back up. "I take it you all remembered to bring your copies of J C Slater's analysis on The Odyssey."

Emma slipped her copy out of her notebook and placed it in front of her. When she looked up, she caught the tail end of Regina's surprised glance at her highlighted, note-scribbled paper.

"I want you to split up into groups of four," Regina said, and Emma's heart immediately sank. She hated group work at the best of times, but she especially didn't want to waste the next 15 minutes talking to a bunch of people she didn't know when she could be listening to her professor's silky voice swooping through the room. "You should focus on the first three paragraphs and discuss your responses to Slater's argument."

The rest of the class sprung into action. Emma hesitated, swallowing down her reluctance before turning to face the group of three people sat behind her.

"Hey," she said. Two guys and a girl looked back at her. "Mind if I join you?"

"Sure," the girl said. "I'm Mulan. This is Killian, and August."

Emma's eyebrows shot up of their own accord, and she heard herself ask, "Mulan?" before her brain could register how rude she was being.

Luckily for her, Mulan just shook her head. "Nothing to do with the Disney movie. My parents are nuts, but they're not sociopaths."

Emma grinned and settled down opposite them, trying to ignore the fact that one of the guys was still staring at her. He had piercing blue eyes, and it looked vaguely like he might be wearing eyeliner.

"So, full disclosure," Mulan said, producing her own article. "I didn't exactly do the assignment."

"Yeah, me either," one of the guys said. He had a lot of douchy stubble, and Emma suddenly recognised his voice was the previous class. She wasn't altogether surprised to remember that he was the one who had obnoxiously introduced himself as August W Booth. "Killian?"

"Obviously not," the darker-haired guy said. He had an English accent, and he was wearing a leather jacket that was cracked all around the collar.

For the first time in her life, Emma was able to flip over her paper and say, "Don't worry. I've got this."

The three people sitting opposite stared down at her barrage of notes like she'd just produced the eleventh commandment from her backpack.

"What?" she said. "I had some free time."

"A lot of it, by the looks of things," Mulan said. "I swear you weren't even here last class?"

Emma ignored her half-question. "So, this Slater guy's argument is basically that Homer couldn't possibly have only been one person, so The Odyssey isn't about one journey – it's based on a whole butt-load of them."

"Right," Killian said, reaching out to grab her essay and draw it closer to him. Emma glared and pulled it back. "And is that the right answer?"

"It's an analysis, dude. There isn't a 'right' answer."

"Seriously, Killian," August chuckled. He looked a lot less arrogant when he grinned. "You've been studying English for two years and you still think that's even possible?"

"Worth a shot."

"So, Emma – what do you think?" Mulan asked, scribbling down some notes of her own.

"Yes, Miss Swan," a voice said from behind them, and Emma felt her entire spine go rod-straight. "What do you think?"

Taking a breath, Emma turned to look at where Regina was now hovering behind her, her arms crossed and her lips twisted with a smirk. Emma smiled back in what she hoped was a totally confident, easy-breezy kind of way.

"Well," she said, "I'm not a historian, so arguing with him on whether or not Homer was multiple people or not isn't going to get me very far. But Slater acts like the fact that the poem could be about more than one person's idea of this journey somehow makes it worse, and I don't agree with that."

"And why is that?"

"Because if you go on vacation, it doesn't become a worse trip if you visit more than one town. If loads of guys pitched together to write this thing, then it was based on more than one experience and I don't see why that makes it a weaker piece. It just makes it, I don't know… richer. There's more meaning behind it."

She could feel her classmates blinking at her, but Emma couldn't focus on that. All she could look at was the faintly impressed smile on Regina's face.

"A valid point," she said, stepping closer to their shared desk. Emma inhaled sharply when she realised that Regina's hip was now barely an inch away from her shoulder. "I'm glad you caught up on the work you missed. You," she suddenly changed tack, pointing across the desk. "Jones, was it?"

Killian jumped in his seat. "Err. Yeah."

"What do you think about it?"

He blinked panickedly. Beside Emma, Regina adjusted her position ever so slightly, moving her weight from her left leg to her right. As she did, her leg brushed against Emma's arm.

"Well," Killian started. He looked pleadingly at Emma. "I guess I agree."

"With whom?" Regina asked coolly. She suddenly bent forward and leaned her palms on the desk, dragging Emma's work towards her with the tip of one finger.

Killian was looking longingly at all the notes that had just been taken away from him. "With… her."

"Could you use her name, please?"

"I don't know her name," Killian admitted, and Emma opened her mouth to take pity on him.

"It's Emma," Regina replied for her, and just the sound of Regina saying her name made her want to slide under the desk with a moan. "Please continue."

It was excruciating to listen as Killian desperately tried to form a coherent answer. "Well, I mean… Emma's right. If more than one guy wrote it then… It's better, right? It's like a… a group project."

Regina snorted lightly, even though she wasn't looking at him anymore. Her eyes were on the work that Emma had done.

"Do you have any points of your own that you didn't just recycle from what Miss Swan said 30 seconds ago?" she asked, running a finger down the notes that were scribbled in Emma's margin. She paused over one that said J C Slater clearly voted for Trump, and just as Emma was waiting to be berated, she thought she heard Regina laugh instead.

"No," Killian said. "Emma's argument was perfect."

With a resigned sigh, Regina straightened up. "A word of advice, Mr Jones – try to do the assigned reading in future. I'm going to be calling on you with a lot more frequency from now on."

Everyone waited awkwardly for her to move onto another group. Just as she turned to leave, she tapped Emma on the shoulder.

"Nice work, Miss Swan."

All of Emma's blood rushed straight towards the space between her thighs, and she just nodded in response. When Regina finally left, Emma could have sworn she deliberately brushed against her arm.

"God," Killian moaned as soon as she was out of earshot. "That was harsh."

"Good thing we have the teacher's pet with us, I guess," Mulan said, smirking across the table. Emma rolled her eyes, hoping she didn't look as flustered as she felt.

"Definitely not the case. She totally kicked my ass for skipping class last week so I over-prepared in case she picked on me."

"Well, it paid off," August said. "Quick, can you talk us through the rest of this for when she asks one of us in a minute?"

It was the first time in her life that Emma had been the smartest person in a group. She felt her twelve-year-old self light up from where she'd been buried deep inside her.

Emma did as they asked, and as she talked her classmates through the assignment, she forced herself not to look over at where Regina was standing on the other side of the room. Her arms were crossed over her chest as she listened to another student talking through their ideas, and as much as she hated herself for it, Emma felt a jealous pang in her chest. She swallowed and bent her head over her work.


When class ended, Emma got up and slowly began to pack her things away. The rest of the seminar had been uneventful in the most discouraging way possible – Regina hadn't smiled at her again. She hadn't called on her to explain her notes to the class either. Emma had spent most of the hour slumped down in her chair with disappointment weighing on her shoulders, but even when they'd been excused and Emma knew she could rush away from there, she was reluctant to. Part of her was hoping that Regina might have something to say to her after all.

But she didn't, of course, because why would she? She wasn't impressed with anything Emma had done. She'd merely been surprised that her selectively mute student had actually done the assignment, and that was where it ended. Emma needed to get a hold of herself and realise that.

She rammed her books into her backpack and headed for the door, forcing herself not to look up as she passed their professor, who was wiping her notes off of the whiteboard.

Emma sighed out loud once she was in the hall. As she hurried away from the classroom, she shook her head like she was trying to physically remove Regina from it.

Jesus Christ, she was going to be a total nervous wreck by the end of the semester if this was what every classics class was going to be like.

"Hey, wait," a voice called out from behind her. "Swan!"

She recognised the English lilt to the words and sighed. She turned to find Killian chasing after her.

"Hey," he said as he skidded to a halt beside her. "Why did you run off so fast?"

Emma shrugged. "I have another class to get to."

That was a lie, and she hoped Killian wouldn't call her out on it. Luckily for her – or unluckily, really – he seemed to be too busy grinning at her to have noticed what she'd just said.

"Cool, me too," he murmured. "What are you up to tonight?"

Blinking, Emma asked, "Why?"

"I thought we could get a drink."

"Err," Emma stammered, taking a step back. "We barely know each other."

"I know. That's what the drink is for."

"I'm not 21 yet," Emma said. It was the weakest excuse in her repertoire since she'd had a fake ID since she was 17, but as she was decidedly not into this piratey-looking dude, weak excuses were good enough for her right then.

"Coffee, then," Killian said. The rest of their class was filing past them, including Mulan and August, who both raised a hand to wave to her as they walked by. "It'll be nice to talk a bit. Maybe you can help me with the next assignment."

Emma tried not to wrinkle her nose. "Yeah… I just have a ton of work to do tonight, so I'm not sure I have time."

"How about tomorrow?"

"Friday night?" Emma asked. "You don't already have plans?"

"None that I can't cancel. And since you're not 21 yet, I'm guessing you don't have any either."

He smirked at her like he thought he'd won, and Emma had to resist the urge to drop her anthology on his foot.

"I'm busy," she said flatly. The corridor had cleared out by then, and she tried to take a step away from him. "Maybe some other time."

"We could get together this weekend to do Professor Mills' reading," Killian pushed. Emma sighed, pausing to look longingly at the exit. When she turned to face him again, movement just behind him immediately distracted her.

Regina was just leaving the classroom, her books balanced on her hip and her attention already fixed on the conversation that was taking place 10 feet away. The hallway was quiet, Emma realised, and she had probably heard some of it from inside.

Emma tried to smile at her, but Regina's eyes were narrowed and fixed on the back of Killian's head.

"Swan?" Killian asked, and Emma blinked back to attention. She flicked her gaze onto him once more.

"Hm?"

"This weekend?" he prompted. He reached out to touch her arm and seemingly didn't notice when she recoiled. "I'm free Saturday."

"I'm not," Emma said. Regina was passing by them now, and Emma desperately didn't want her to go without smiling at her. She looked pissed, though, and she was walking quickly. Her gaze was fixed straight ahead of her and it didn't waver, no matter how hard Emma stared.

"Playing hard to get," Killian chuckled. "I like that. Not a problem – I'll get you some other time."

He turned and left then, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and his walk so cocky that he may as well have left greasy footprints behind him. He was obviously expecting Emma to be watching him go, but what he didn't realise was that she was already busy staring after the woman who was walking 10 paces ahead of him. Regina had just reached the door at the end of the corridor, and as she reached out to push it open, the muscles in her back shifted beneath her white shirt. Emma felt herself shiver, watching her until the doors had swung shut behind her.

Chapter Text

One class a week was not enough.

The inside of Emma's skull had become like a teenager's bedroom walls, plastered with pictures of her crush, and there was very little that could distract her enough to stop her thinking about Regina every five minutes. She kept dreaming about her, which was weird when she'd never really dreamed of anything before, and when she woke up there was always a persistent throbbing between her legs. Mary Margaret would be snoring softly on the other side of the room and on more than one occasion, after Emma had lifted her head to check her roommate was actually asleep, she had rolled onto her back and snuck a hand beneath the covers.

During daylight, Emma skulked around campus and jumped any time she saw someone who remotely resembled her classics professor. Women with dark hair suddenly had the capacity to render her completely speechless, and whenever she realised that it wasn't Regina walking toward her, disappointment came crushing down on top of her like an anvil against her chest. All she wanted to do was see her, and it suddenly became the sole ambition of her day to do so.

Emma rarely strayed from the arts department, spending her breaks between classes in the cafeteria or the coffee shop or the department library, knowing that eventually her hard work would pay off and she would be rewarded with a glimpse of the woman who had managed to burrow her way deep inside her brain. One Monday, Emma was sitting in the corner of the campus Starbucks when she succeeded: Regina strolled in, wearing a short black jacket that made her waist look tiny and her ass look even more amazing than usual, and Emma felt her entire head go bright red. She slid down in her chair, lifting the textbook she'd been reading until then up toward her face, and watched silently as Regina ordered. As she waited for her coffee to be made, Regina briefly glanced around the room, but didn't spot the blonde head in the corner. She took the coffee and left.

A breath of relief whooshed out of Emma's mouth, and she resigned herself to the fact that she'd be in that Starbucks every Monday morning for the rest of time.

She knew she was being a stalker. She also knew that if anyone else worked out what she was doing they would probably call the cops, and they'd be right to do so. But underneath all that common sense was the fact that her heart started pounding hard enough to send her to her knees whenever she was in the same breathing space as Regina, and it wasn't something she could ignore. She started living for tiny glimpses of that wicked smile, the proud tilt of her chin, the glossy hair that never seemed to get messed up no matter how windy Boston was.

Emma didn't mind so much that she had to get up an hour earlier than normal on Tuesdays so that she could 'accidentally' bump into Regina in the corridor – she only minded when she did it and Regina wasn't there. The rest of those days passed in a tight-chested blur where Emma couldn't stop glaring out of the window.

She also didn't mind that she couldn't sleep on Wednesday nights anymore because the thought of a whole hour in Regina's classroom the next day was too much for her to handle. She lay in bed with her mouth dry and her eyes usually wide open, and she imagined how the following afternoon might go. Oh, Miss Swan. I saw you in the library yesterday – you were working far too hard. Maybe you should come out for dinner with me tonight to give yourself a break.

Usually Emma ended up rolling her eyes at how pathetic she was, but she didn't mind that either: she was excited for something, and that was a nice feeling, even if the anticipation was threatening to send her into a psych ward.

It only became a problem during the fourth week of the semester, when she was lying awake so late into Wednesday night that she slept right through her alarm the following morning. When she finally woke up it was already 1:30pm, she'd missed two classes, and her seminar with Regina was due to start in 30 minutes.

"Shit," she yelped, leaping out of bed and rushing into the bathroom. She had a shower in water that had barely begun to heat up, then she pulled on the first outfit she could find. There was no time for make-up, and as much as she hated the idea of Regina seeing her bare-faced and pale, she told herself maybe it wouldn't matter. Maybe she'd look so pathetic and exhausted that Regina wouldn't even be mad at her for being late – maybe she'd be desperately worried about her instead.

Oh, Miss Swan, you look so worn out. Maybe you should come out for dinner with me tonight to—

Stop it, Emma snapped at herself, grabbing her backpack and heading for the door. It was a 20-minute walk to class, and so even though she all but ran, she was still 15 minutes late by the time she arrived.

She could hear Regina's voice through the door, low and swooping, and her stomach clenched. She briefly considered skipping again before she remembered how badly that had worked out for her the last time she'd tried it.

She didn't knock, because she suspected that Regina would be even more irritated by her teaching getting interrupted than she would by a student's tardiness. Instead, Emma eased open the door and slipped into the room. A dozen pairs of eyes glanced at her, then looked away disinterestedly. Regina, however, turned to face her, her expression already clouding.

"Miss Swan," she said, folding her arms. Emma really wished she hadn't done that, because she was wearing a low-cut blue shirt and now all Emma could focus on was the generous cleavage her stance was giving her. "Let me apologise for the fact that I had to start my class on time."

Emma hurried past her with her head low. "Sorry, Professor Mills."

"Sit down," Regina snapped. "Catch up."

She carried on teaching after that, but Emma could hear the irritation in her voice. Other people had gotten similar treatment when they'd been late in the past, but Emma could have sworn that Regina had never been quite this cold.

Emma settled down in her seat, struggling to find the right place in her textbook. She felt a pen prod her between the shoulder blades.

"Page 230," Mulan muttered from behind her, and Emma smiled gratefully over her shoulder.

The hour washed over her. She had no idea what everyone was talking about – no idea what text Regina was discussing, even – because her skin was prickling with humiliation and now that she was in the one class she looked forward to all week, all she wanted to do was leave again. Whenever she glanced up from her notes, Regina was looking elsewhere, usually engaged with another student on the opposite side of the room. Emma couldn't help feel like it was deliberate, and she sighed to herself.

She looked down at the work she'd done over the weekend: it was littered with more meticulous highlighting, more insightful comments, more funny little notes that she'd hoped her professor would spot over her shoulder and chuckle at. But Regina seemed determined to stay as far away from her as possible that day, and yet again Emma was forced to remember that this was nothing. None of this meant anything. Regina was a professor and Emma was just her student, and Regina didn't care about her – all she wanted was for her to show up to class on time and actually do the assigned reading, and so far Emma had failed with at least one of those on a weekly basis.

When the hour was over, Emma felt miserable and she felt relieved. She reached down for her backpack and began to shove her books back inside it, not bothering to look up, because what was the point?

Mulan, Killian and August filed past her, asking if she wanted them to wait, and Emma shook her head. She couldn't get her damn anthology to fit back inside her bag, and maybe they saw the way she was aggressively trying to force it in because they scurried off at once. Emma groaned and tried again, and then her hand slipped. She dropped the strap of her backpack and the whole thing fell to the floor, her books and notes all tumbling out and fluttering across the dingy green carpet.

She heaved out a sigh. The classroom had mostly cleared out, which meant the loud crash was more obvious and embarrassing than ever. She could vaguely see Regina at the front of the class wiping something off the board, and Emma ducked down onto her knees hoping, for once, that she hadn't noticed her.

She was just gathering up some of her dropped possessions when a pair of totally smooth, totally tan legs appeared in front of her. She froze.

Regina slowly crouched, and Emma realised she had something in her hand. She looked up, her cheeks burning, and found her holding out a bundle of papers.

"These are yours, I presume," Regina said.

Emma wetted her lips.

"Yeah," she replied, taking the papers from her. "Thanks."

"I take it you're having a rough day?"

Relief shot through Emma's body when she heard a vague twang of concern in her professor's voice.

"Kind of," she said, sitting back on her heels while refusing to meet Regina's eye. "I'm really sorry I was late. And for destroying your classroom with all my crap."

Regina laughed through her nose. She was still crouching with her hands interlocked on the tops of her knees. "You do seem to have a knack for humiliating yourself whenever I'm around."

You have no idea, Emma thought sullenly. She looked down at her bag and forced another book inside. "Yeah, it seems I do."

"Maybe I'm bad luck," Regina said. Emma finally looked at her, and she found her smiling.

"No," she replied. "Don't worry – I'm definitely the one who's cursed."

Regina reached out for some more of Emma's books then, gathering them up into a neat pile. Emma took a shaky breath, trying to focus on putting all her belongings back into her bag instead of watching the way Regina's fingers were curled around her possessions. She slowly got to her feet, placing her backpack on the desk and reorganising its contents. When she turned, Regina had stood up to join her.

"Yours," she said, holding out the final notes. Emma took them, not daring to breathe.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Try not to be late next week, Miss Swan."

Emma sighed. "I will. I'm sorry, again."

"Not because lateness irritates me," Regina continued, surprising her. "Although it does."

"Oh," Emma said, frowning. After a beat she asked, "Why, then?"

Regina was watching her fingers as they fiddled with the zipper on her bag. There was a faint glimmer in her eyes, and Emma couldn't tell whether she was being laughed at or not.

"Because you were too distracted to contribute today," Regina said after a moment, still watching Emma's hands. "And it was a pity. I like to hear your thoughts."

Something gripped hold of Emma's heart and squeezed. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Regina said, looking back up at her with a playful smile. "Don't let me down."

"I won't," Emma promised, gathering up her belongings and heading for the door. She wanted to say something else – to apologise again even though Regina had already forgiven her, or even just to thank her for helping with her dropped books – but there was a knot in her throat that was stopping her from speaking. Instead, she hurried out of the room with her head down, and she hoped that she wasn't imagining the burn of Regina's eyes on the back of her neck.


The next week was a blur of too many assignments and not enough waking hours in which to do them. Emma was forced to take some time off from her busy schedule of stalking her classics professor so that she could actually focus on her other classes. She was nearly at the midway point of the semester and campus was heaving with people, all of them trying to escape the cold weather by bundling up inside.

The library was so busy that she couldn't even find a quiet corner, so Emma managed to secure herself a table at the back of the arts department cafeteria instead. She settled down with her headphones planted firmly over her ears, her laptop open and a whole pile of notes spread out around her in a clear message to anyone who might walk past and hope that they could sit down in the empty seat opposite her that it was not an option.

She was working for an hour as the crowds of people bustled around her. The room didn't seem to be getting any quieter – not even when the lunch rush passed – and Emma could feel herself getting warm and annoyed from all the people who kept knocking into her chair. She gritted her teeth and kept scrolling through the text on her laptop screen as she ignored the person who had just hopefully approached her table. She'd learned from experience that if she simply didn't look up, people usually took the hint.

Not today, though. The person waited, then waited some more, and when Emma still didn't acknowledge them, they had the audacity to wiggle their fingers in front of her face.

She looked up, all ready to snap, "No, go and find somewhere else to sit." Then she stopped, nearly biting through her tongue.

Regina was standing in front of her, a cup of coffee in one hand. Her eyebrows were raised expectantly.

Emma slowly reached up and pulled her headphones off. "Oh. Hey."

"Sorry to interrupt," Regina said. She was smiling, already amused, and Emma felt her mouth dry out. "I was hoping to get some marking done, but it's a bit crowded. Do you mind if I join you?"

If Emma had taken a single second to think about it, she would have asked why Regina didn't just do her work in her office, where it was cool and quiet and not overrun with a hundred screaming sophomores. But she didn't – instead, she grabbed her pile of notes and cleared them off the table, giving Regina plenty of space to work in.

"Thank you," Regina said coolly as she sat down. Her perfume wafted over Emma's head as she removed her coat, and Emma tried not to lean closer to her.

"No problem," she replied, swallowing. She looked down at her laptop, suddenly at a loss as to what she had been doing 10 seconds earlier.

"Don't let me disturb you," Regina said, pulling a stack of papers out of her purse and placing them on the table. She took a sip of coffee, and Emma's eyes were automatically drawn to the lipstick mark she left on the rim.

Regina actually started doing her work right away, leaving Emma floundering in front of her. What the hell was she supposed to do now? Somehow continue writing her assignment when the prettiest woman in the whole world was sitting barely three feet away? It was impossible, and Emma momentarily wondered if she should just get up and leave – she needed to get this work done, and there was zero chance of that happening if Regina was nearby.

But then Regina glanced up at her and briefly smiled, and Emma was lost. She settled back in her seat and, as she shifted position, her knee knocked against Regina's. She flinched automatically, certain that she'd felt some kind of electricity sparking against her skin, but Regina didn't even seem to notice. She'd gotten a red pen out and she was already scribbling furiously over some poor fucker's essay.

Emma swallowed and looked back down at her laptop. The cursor was blinking impatiently over her half-finished assignment. She poised her hands over the keyboard and waited for inspiration to sneak back up on her, but then Regina cleared her throat just slightly and all of Emma's concentration was gone again.

God, she smells amazing.

"What papers are you grading?"

It took a moment for Emma to realise that she'd just blurted out the question. Regina glanced up at her.

"Thesis proposals."

"Are they any good?"

"This one is not," Regina said, tapping the end of her pen against the first paragraph, which was already covered in red ink. "The rest have been tolerable."

"How can you tell?"

Regina looked at her strangely. "Because I'm a classics professor."

"Oh. Right," Emma said, her cheeks immediately turning scarlet. "I just mean… you know. What do you look for?"

Her eyes latched onto the faint quirk of amusement at the corner of Regina's mouth. "Well. Coherence is normally a good start."

Emma laughed shortly. "Okay."

"Obviously I don't make a habit of talking about students' work with other people," Regina said, before continuing anyway. "But this particular person hasn't quite mastered the art of using commas or capital letters yet."

Emma suddenly felt her entire body go through a traumatic flashback to every single piece of work she'd ever submitted during her time at college, and whether she'd ever received a piece of writing back with red pen circling all of her sloppy punctuation choices. All of a sudden her terrible high school education was creeping back up on her, and every test she'd ever flunked came fluttering down before her eyes like leaves falling.

You're still not cut out for this. You're an imposter. She's going to think you're an idiot.

But Regina was already smiling faintly, oblivious to Emma's internal panic attack. "Don't worry. I'm sure that won't be a problem with you."

"I hope not," Emma said, glancing down at her still-unfinished essay. "But I guess you'll be the real judge of that when I hand in my first term paper."

"Is that what you're working on?" Regina asked, nodding to the laptop.

"No – I've got something to finish for 18th-century lit first, and then I have an essay on modernism to do after that."

"Should I be offended that my class has been placed so far down on the list of your priorities?" Regina asked. She was still smiling, obviously joking, but Emma felt her heart drop.

"Of course not!" she blurted out. "I'm just doing it in order of credits, and 18th-century lit is my biggest—"

"Emma," Regina interrupted gently. "I was kidding. I'm aware that your other classes take up a lot more of your time."

"I know," Emma said, hating herself for how much she was blushing. She took a breath and tried to get herself under control. "I just don't want you to think I don't care."

Except she didn't care about classics. Not really. The only part of the class that she was actively interested in was the way her professor's voice swooped around the room like her favourite song. The rest was just a side dish that she hadn't ordered.

Regina was watching her like maybe she already knew this, but she didn't say anything. She just glanced down at Emma's mouth, making her entire body go hot and prickly, and then said, "Very few students would care whether I thought that or not."

Emma felt a nervous smile flutter over her face. "Well. Most students are idiots, right?"

"Right," Regina replied. She was smirking again, and Emma realised then that it was an expression that would be able to warm her entire body through if her dorm heating ever broke.

"Anyway," Regina said, going back to her papers. "I was trying to not distract you."

Emma felt another tiny brush against her knee, and she froze. Regina's expression gave nothing away.

Forcing herself to go back to her work, Emma started slowly tapping out another sentence. She could have sworn the scribbling of Regina's pen had gotten louder – or maybe the rush of blood in her ears was simply making everything seem deafening.

She leaned back in her chair so there was no risk of them bumping legs again, and she settled down to work. Over the course of the next hour, the room slowly began to empty out. Other tables became free. Regina didn't move to any of them.

Chapter Text

It was a long week. Emma stayed up late every single night in an attempt to get all of her assignments finished on time, and by Thursday she wasn't sure she had the energy to deal with Regina's constantly distracting presence. Emma wasn't the best at hiding her crush even when she'd had a solid eight hours' sleep – on that day, clocking in at barely three, she was certain she'd start softly weeping if Regina so much as smiled in her direction.

But missing out on another hour in Regina's presence wasn't an option, no matter how exhausted she was, so she straightened her spine and made herself look as presentable as possible. Her eyes were scratchy and dry from all the late nights and from wearing contact lenses for too many hours, so she forced herself to forgo them in place of her thick glasses. It was the first time she'd worn them onto campus that semester, since she usually saved them for her annual Christmas breakdown, but it was her only option for getting through the day. She doubted anyone would notice anyway.

After the humiliation she'd suffered in her previous class, Emma was determined to be on perfectly on time for Regina's seminar. She went and had her lunch in the department cafeteria as usual, and then slowly ambled across to the seminar room 15 minutes before class was due to start. The door was locked when she arrived, so she leaned against the wall outside and clutched her books to her stomach. She closed her eyes, wondering if maybe she could sneak in a 10-minute catnap before anyone else arrived.

"Your timekeeping skills never cease to amaze me, Miss Swan."

The voice floated over from a few paces away and Emma nearly slid down to the floor in shock. Her eyes snapped back open, and she found Regina watching her with an amused smile.

"Oh. Hey."

"You're early," Regina noted, brushing past her and unlocking the door. Emma tilted her head to one side so she could look at her.

"I'm making up for last week."

Regina smirked at that. "Excellent. I appreciate it."

She opened the door and gestured for Emma to join her. Emma followed her inside, heading for her usual spot in the second row, and sat down awkwardly. Regina seemed to be perfectly comfortable with the whole situation, however – she was bending over her desk, firing up her laptop like she always did. Emma shivered at the sight of her.

When the silence stretched on, Emma began to rummage around in her backpack for her notes. She placed them on her desk, opening her anthology to the right page, and then paused, staring down at the poem they'd been told to read over the weekend with no idea what to do next.

"I didn't know you wore glasses."

Emma's head shot up to find Regina watching her. She'd sat down in her desk chair and her hands were poised over her keyboard, but her dark eyes were taking in Emma's face.

"Oh," Emma said. There was a long pause. "I do."

Regina looked like she was going to laugh at that subpar response, but instead she asked, "Do you normally wear contacts?"

"Yeah," Emma sighed. "I only get these bad boys out when I'm really tired."

Regina actually did laugh at that, and Emma felt her exhausted soul catch fire.

"Oh dear," she murmured. "Has it been a long week?"

"The longest. I thought I'd gotten used to only getting three or four hours' sleep a night, but apparently my body disagrees. I couldn't find my iPod this morning and then when I went to make breakfast, I found it in the fridge."

Regina chuckled, leaning forward and resting her chin on one hand. "You'd think that we're working you too hard."

There was a twinge of something unspoken in that sentence, and Emma had to force herself not to sigh wistfully.

"Well. It's what I signed up for," she said.

Regina just smiled again. She was still leaning on her hand, and she hadn't taken her eyes off of Emma for a full minute. Emma could feel her skin starting to tingle.

There was some noise outside the door, and then a group of Emma's classmates were walking into the room. Emma glanced over at them, but when she looked back at her professor, her gaze hadn't strayed.

"Try and take a break tonight," Regina said, surprising her. "If you need an extension on my paper, just ask."

Emma blinked and leaned back in her chair, but before she could respond, Regina was on her feet and asking the new arrivals to open their books to page 164 once they were settled. She turned to the whiteboard and began to write down a list of key themes, and Emma begged herself to not stare at her ass as she did so. But it was futile, because her tired eyes were already resting on the curve of Regina's backside underneath her tight grey skirt, and she couldn't have dragged them away again for love or money.


When the class came to an end, Emma staggered to her feet and wondered if it was exhaustion or Regina's constant soft looks that had made her feel quite so lightheaded. Her professor was back at her desk, putting her notes into her purse, and Emma felt a tight longing in her chest when she realised it would be another week before they spoke again. She tried desperately to come up with a reason to go and talk to her, no matter how arbitrary or pointless, but her head was foggy and she was drawing a blank.

"Oh," Regina suddenly said, making the entire class look up from their backpacks. "I forgot to say – a classics author will be coming onto campus this weekend to do a lecture. It's not mandatory, but it could be a useful insight for those of you who are interested in writing on Lucian of Samosata in the future."

Lucian of who? Emma was pretty certain the name had come up in class before, but she hadn't been able to focus on it at the time. Nor could she now – not when Regina was pulling a stack of flyers out of her purse.

"I'll leave these here," she said, dropping them on the table nearest the door. "Grab one on your way out if you'd like to come along."

Emma had frozen on her feet. People were already filing out of the door, barely half of them stopping to take a piece of paper, but her fingers were already twitching with the desperate need to have one. If there was even the slightest chance that Regina might be going to that lecture, then she had to be there too.

She edged out from behind her desk, her eyes darting over to where Regina was leaning over her laptop once more, and swallowed. Regina glanced up, sensing the pressure of someone's gaze on her.

"Anything you need, Miss Swan?"

Since fucking when had hearing someone call her that become such an aphrodisiac?

Emma just shook her head, smiling awkwardly, and headed for the door. Her sweaty hand reached out and snatched up a flyer as she left.


The lecture was taking place in the college's second-largest auditorium, which was weird considering Emma thought no one in their right mind gave a shit about classics. But she had done some Googling about this author over the past two days and it turned out he was a pretty big deal, so when she arrived 10 minutes before the talk was due to start, she found the stalls to be almost entirely filled out. She couldn't see what the upstairs seats looked like, but she could hear a rumble of chatter that suggested it was much the same.

She pulled at the bottom of her sweater and looked around. There were hundreds of people there – dozens of them women with dark hair – but Emma knew right away that Regina wasn't one of them. Disappointment curled up inside her stomach like something dying at the side of the road.

Emma glanced up at the balcony above her and wondered whether she should try up there instead, but then the bell sounded from out in the foyer and she knew that she'd lost her chance. She was stuck listening to this bullshit for the next two hours, and all for nothing.

She genuinely considered turning around and walking home again, but in the end, she couldn't do it: the lecture was connected to Regina in some way, and she didn't want to let that pass her by. If nothing else, it would give her a reason to talk to her after class the following week.

Oh, Professor Mills, I noticed that you weren't at the lecture on Saturday. Would you like me to tell you how it was?

Yes please, Miss Swan – maybe we could discuss it over dinner. You could even wear those delightful glasses of yours again.

Anything you want, Professor, I'd be more than happy to—

"Excuse me," a voice suddenly barked in her face, and she blinked her way out of her reverie. "You should take your seat – the lecture is about to start."

Emma shuffled past the usher who'd just ruined one of her favourite daydreams and picked a seat in the aisle.

The talk began, and it was about as interesting as any lecture on ancient Greek literature could be – that was to say, not very. Still, Emma endured it with her fingers constantly picking at the skin around her thumbs, and by the time the two hours were up, she no longer felt disappointed. She just felt tired.

She got to her feet and straightened out her sweater once more. She'd bought it new for that evening, and she was already wondering if she'd be able to return it to the store since she'd barely gotten any use out of it.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. As everyone else began to file out of the room, Emma stood off to one side and pulled it free. Are you coming home any time soon? I need someone to test my lesson plan out on.

Emma groaned and began her reply to Mary Margaret: Leaving now, back in 30 minutes. Then she put her phone away and turned toward the door.

She was stopped by a figure standing directly in her path, a delighted smile on her red lips.

"Miss Swan. You came."

Emma nearly crashed to the floor at the dress Regina was wearing – it was black and fitted to every single inch of her body, and the neckline plunged just deep enough to show off a glimmer of cleavage.

"Um," Emma spluttered, forcing herself to look back up at her professor's face. She was still smiling. "Yeah. Of course."

"I missed the first 10 minutes. Car trouble," Regina admitted, stepping to one side so that people could walk past her. Her arm grazed Emma's as they stood against the wall together. "I had to take a cab."

"That's committed," Emma said. "I would have just stayed at home."

"I wasn't going to miss this," Regina said, sounding offended. "What did you think of it?"

Emma blinked. "Um…"

"I thought he had some very useful insights into how the tone of satire has changed over the past 20 centuries."

"Sure," Emma said. "Satire. Definitely."

Either Regina didn't notice the vacant expression on Emma's face or she didn't care about it, because she was beaming again. "I'm very glad you came."

"You are?"

"Of course. It's so refreshing when students take an interest in things like this."

Things like this, Emma repeated to herself, her gaze dropping to Regina's dress once more.

"I just thought it sounded interesting," she said slowly. "I'm not sure I really understood a lot of it, though."

That was better – she was forming full, coherent sentences, plus she was giving herself an out in case Regina was about to start piling questions down on her.

"Which parts did you struggle with?" Regina asked. "I'd be happy to discuss them with you."

"You... would?"

"We could go to the bar," Regina said, looking over her shoulder at the open door. "Or is it too pretentious to sit around discussing classics over a glass of wine?"

Emma laughed. "I really wouldn't know."

"Come on," Regina said, reaching out to touch Emma's elbow. "The tables will all get taken."

As Emma followed her dumbly out into the foyer, she realised that she hadn't actually agreed to this. Not that it made a difference – there was nothing on God's green Earth that would make her turn down a glass of wine with Professor Regina Mills. Even if technically she wasn't 21 yet.

Regina guided her over to one of the remaining free tables and asked, "What's your drink?"

Emma blinked up at her from her seat. "I can pay."

"No, you can't. What would you like?"

"Oh – anything. Anything's fine."

Regina looked flatly back at her, totally unimpressed by that answer. Emma swallowed and said, "Whisky coke?"

"Better," Regina said, turning and heading for the bar. She managed to nudge her way to the front almost instantly, and all Emma could do was stare after her.

She nervously pulled at her sweater again. When Regina had been guiding her out of the lecture hall, all she could think of was how pretty she looked and how nice she smelled and how great it was that she actually wanted to spend some time with her. Now that she had a second to sit alone, all she could think was, Oh, fuck. What the hell are you going to talk to her about?

It would take barely 30 seconds of stilted conversation before Regina realised what a rambling dumbass she was, and then she'd leave and nothing would ever be the same again and she'd have to move colleges just to get away from the humiliation.

Her phone buzzed again, distracting her from her spiral of panic.

Great! It's for a math class for third graders – I think you'll like it!

Emma sighed, having totally forgotten about Mary Margaret and her constant need to have someone pretend to be an eight-year-old in aid of her teacher training course, and quickly typed out a response: I'm so sorry, something just came up and I'm going to be on campus for a while. Can we do this tomorrow instead?

"Texting your boyfriend?"

Emma's head shot up. Regina's face was expressionless as she placed their drinks on the table.

"My who?"

"The guy from our class," Regina said, slipping into her seat. "The one with all the eyeliner."

"Killian?" Emma asked with a visible wince. "Definitely not."

"He was interested in you."

"I'm sure he was, but I'm not interested in him."

Regina sat back in her chair and regally crossed her legs. "I see."

She didn't say anything after that, and the sudden silence made Emma's nerves fizz. She swallowed and fought to think of something insightful to say.

"Thanks," she eventually settled on, nodding to the whisky in front of her. "For the drink."

"You're quite welcome," Regina replied, lifting her glass of red wine and waiting for Emma to clink hers against it. "I hope you didn't feel obligated to stay with me."

"No," Emma blurted out immediately, which only made Regina smile again. "Of course not. I'm happy to be here."

"Good. I'm sorry if it completely ruins your reputation on campus when someone sees you hanging out with your professor."

Emma snorted at that.

"I don't have a reputation, trust me." She hesitated before asking, "Besides, wouldn't this be more damaging for your reputation?"

It was something she'd been wondering for a while – granted, she hadn't been thinking about the repercussions of having an innocent glass of wine together, but she'd still spent a great deal of time wondering exactly what trouble they could get into if anything else were to happen.

Not that it was going to, of course. There was almost zero chance of that.

Except Regina was looking at Emma with a curious expression that she seemed to reserve for her alone, and when Emma wet her lips, Regina's gaze immediately dropped to watch it happen. Emma could feel herself going hot under her stare.

"There's nothing illicit about this," Regina eventually said, taking a sip of wine. "We're on campus, at a department event, discussing the material. I doubt anyone would even look our way."

She was right, but it was still a disheartening answer. Emma half hoped she would finish it up with a coy, "But of course, if we were to go back to mine after this…" but she was left disappointed.

She nodded sharply. "Right. Sure."

Another smirk; another glance down at Emma's lips.

"So," Regina said. "Tell me what you thought of the lecture."

It was the worst question she could ask, and Emma fought not to wince. "I thought it was… interesting."

"Really?" Regina asked, and for a second Emma was certain that she knew she was lying. "Which parts?"

Emma desperately wanted to whimper and beg her to stop, but she had Regina's attention on her and it was so intoxicating and delicious that all she could do was say, "I mostly just liked the way he talked about it. All my professors are so distant and professional, and it's nice to hear someone talk about a subject when it's obvious that they really love it." Regina smiled at that, and because Emma couldn't fucking help herself, she heard herself add, "Like you."

Regina's eyebrows shot up. "Me?"

Shit.

"Um. Yeah. You're obviously passionate about your subject and it's… nice."

She felt like a total moron, but there was a delighted beam on Regina's face that helped to lessen the twisting in her abdomen slightly.

"Nice," Regina repeated with a glint in her eye. "Well, I'm glad. Although I hope you plan on using slightly more sophisticated vocabulary for your term paper."

"I definitely will. I'm doing everything I can to avoid being one of your red-pen students, remember?"

Regina chuckled, swirling her tacky house red around in her glass like it was a vintage Chateau Lafite. "I'll try and be kind to you if you are. I can write 'this is absolutely dreadful' and then follow it up with a smiley face sticker to soften the blow."

Regina had only been teaching at Boston for a few weeks, and yet Emma had already heard tales about her marking style – the way she left students reeling from her sharply worded 'constructive criticism', or how she occasionally scrawled out entire paragraphs of writing while demanding to know whether they'd just added it in as a way of clawing their way closer to the word count. Emma knew there was zero chance she'd ever used a smiley face before in her life, and yet here she was joking about it with a relaxed smile on her face and her legs leisurely crossed in front of her.

Emma couldn't help but look down at that dress again.

"So," Emma said, clearing her throat so she wouldn't sound husky and insane. "Is your car going to be okay?"

"Hard to say," Regina said, waving a hand. "It's a 1998 Mercedes. It's bound to give up on me at some point."

"Why don't you…? You know. Buy a new one?"

"Because I have no interest in cars. I'll buy a new one when I have to."

"Sounds like that time might be right now," Emma pointed out, and Regina smiled wryly back at her.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you were a mechanic, Miss Swan."

"I could be, for all you know," Emma protested, even though she absolutely was not. "I'm full of surprises."

"I don't doubt it," Regina said. Her voice had gone soft again. "What do you want to do when you graduate?"

Emma blinked. "I have no idea."

"You must have some."

"Not really." Emma wriggled in her seat. "I'm an English major – that's a notoriously bad first step on the career ladder."

"I was an English major too," Regina pointed out. "I'm doing just fine."

"Yeah, but look at the difference between us."

"I am. And I still think you'll be okay."

Emma smiled tentatively. "That's nice of you, but you don't know very much about me."

"I'm good at reading people."

"Really?" Emma asked, leaning forward. She couldn't help herself. "Then tell me about the other people in our class."

She saw the flash in Regina's eye at once. "All of them?"

"The people I know."

The challenge burned between them, and Emma knew instantly she wasn't going to get shot down.

"Well," Regina said, sounding far too excited by this game. "Mulan's quiet in class for someone who enjoys chatting to the boys so much, but I think she's a dark horse. She rarely stumbles when I call on her. She'll do well."

It was a fair summary. Emma nodded. "Okay. How about August?"

Regina scoffed.

"Not nearly as impressive as he thinks he is," she said. "He's branded himself a writer and now he acts like one, but he's done nothing to back it up. His essays won't hold up to much."

She was right again. August was working on his 'debut bestseller', as he constantly called it, and either Regina had heard him bragging about what a star he was going to be or she'd simply gotten the same vibe from the self-assured way he spoke up in class. Either way, she had him down to a T.

"And Killian?" Emma asked. Regina's face twitched.

"You're sure you're not interested in him?"

"Uh. Yeah, pretty certain."

"Good. Because he's a slime ball."

Emma blinked. "Are you supposed to talk about your students like that?"

"No, but I'm working on the assumption that I can trust you not to say anything," Regina said. Emma nodded enthusiastically as soon as she she'd finished her sentence. "Besides, I reserve this kind of hatred for a very special few. He's full of himself and lecherous and when I heard him trying to pick you up in the hall, I wanted to very calmly wring his neck."

It was deeply worrying just how quickly Emma's heart swelled at that. "He was just flirting."

"I know he was. But I also know how uncomfortable you were, and that was something he didn't seem to realise."

"I wasn't uncomfortable," Emma said, though she wasn't sure why she was protesting it when she'd somehow managed to catch Regina's sympathy with both hands. "I just wasn't into it. He didn't scare me, or anything."

"The bar shouldn't be set that low when it comes to inappropriate behaviour," Regina replied. "You weren't interested, and he kept touching you anyway. That's not acceptable."

"If that's the case, I'm surprised you didn't come charging in to save me."

"You don't strike me as the type of girl who needs saving," Regina said, and Emma smiled back at her, hopelessly full of joy.

"I guess not."

Regina took another sip of her wine, then her expression morphed into something more resolute. "So. The lecture."

Emma groaned out loud this time. "We're back on this?"

"I'm just interested to hear your thoughts."

"Why? You were there too. Why do you care so much?"

"Because you're normally very insightful, but right now you seem to be keen to avoid discussing it. Did you not enjoy it?"

"Kind of," Emma ventured. "It was fine. Better than I expected."

The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she glared down at her glass of whisky like it was its fault.

Regina's eyebrows lifted. "Were you expecting it to be bad?"

"I…" Emma paused to bite her lip. "Sort of?"

"Then why did you come?"

"Because I… I don't know. I didn't have anything else on tonight and I thought it might be interesting."

"Interesting but somehow also unbearable?"

Regina knew. There was a mischievous glint in her eye and an amused smirk on her face, and she knew why Emma had shown up there. But Emma wasn't going to let her off easy and tell her what she wanted to hear – not when Regina already seemed to have the upper hand in every single conversation she took part in.

"I thought it would be a learning experience for me," Emma said coolly. "Getting me out of my comfort zone, and all."

"I don't know about that, Miss Swan," Regina replied, eyeing the way Emma was sprawled out in her chair. "You look pretty comfortable to me."

"It worked then, didn't it? I feel totally at home. The only problem with this whole thing is that my classics professor is here harassing me about it."

Regina surprised her by glancing down at the way Emma's chest was confined by her tight black sweater.

"I wouldn't exactly call this harassment," she said lightly.

"You wouldn't – you're the harasser in this scenario."

"Miss Swan, I do believe you have a flair for the dramatic."

"I do not," Emma protested, although she was gesturing wildly with her glass as she said it. Regina watched her with amusement, her lips suddenly darker from the red wine.

"Sure you don't." She took another sip. "What about agreeing to have a drink with me? Was that you trying to get out of your comfort zone as well?"

"Not exactly," Emma admitted. "I just... wanted to."

"Why?"

The bluntness surprised her, and Emma blinked. She repeated the question. "Why?"

"Yes. Why did you want to?"

"I don't know," Emma replied. "Why did you want to have a drink with me?"

"Because you seem interesting," Regina replied without so much as a pause. "And intelligent, and genuine. And I wanted to get to know you a little better."

"But…" Emma started. She lost her courage for a second before trying again. "But I'm just a student."

"You're not just anything."

She said it so vehemently, like there was no possible way Emma could think anything else. "Okay, but you still have loads of students. Most of them are way smarter than I am. I really doubt I'm anything special."

Regina glanced down at her a second time, and this time her gaze lingered a little longer on Emma's body. Her lips pursed of their own accord.

"Trust me," she said softly. "I think you might be exactly that."


They left the auditorium together. Emma pushed her hands deep in the pockets of her coat and turned to face Regina, planning to say goodbye to her and then scuttle off home without looking back. But Regina had other plans.

"We should share a cab."

Emma snorted without thinking. "You don't hang out with students very often, do you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Cabs are a luxury we can't afford," Emma said, smiling at the way Regina rolled her eyes.

"I'm not going to make you pay, you silly girl," she said, pulling her phone out of her purse and tapping on an app. "It's freezing and late. You shouldn't walk home alone."

"I walk home alone every single night."

"Be quiet," Regina said coolly. "The taxi's coming. We'll drop you off first."

Emma could have protested if she really wanted to, but she found that she didn't. Instead, she just shrugged. "Alright, then. Thanks."

They moved to the edge of the sidewalk together, wrapped in a comfortable silence. There were very few people still out – a handful of students were lingering inside the bar, but for the most part the streets were deserted. Emma was all too aware of Regina's warm presence next to her; the way her dark hair flicked about so easily in the breeze. It was early November and the air was already cold, and for a second Emma wondered what Regina would do if she slipped closer to her and held her hand.

"I enjoyed tonight," Regina said, startling her out of her daydream.

Emma swallowed. "Yeah. Me too. The talk was… interesting."

She was looking down at the ground, but she still saw Regina's eyes flick over to her.

"I wasn't talking about that part."

Emma's head shot up, but Regina was already looking away again. "Our cab's here."

She was right – there was a car driving toward them, and Emma couldn't decide whether she was excited or disappointed by that fact.

When it pulled up alongside them, Regina walked over to the back door and held it open. Emma blinked at it. "What are you doing?"

"Opening the door for you," Regina said, shaking her head at Emma's confusion. "You must have been on some really lousy dates in the past, Miss Swan."

Something went clang inside Emma's chest.

Swallowing down her dual panic and joy, Emma slid into the car and waited for Regina to close the door. When she had walked around to the other side and settled into her own seat, she bullied Emma's address out of her and told the driver to stop there first.

"Where do you live?" Emma asked as they pulled away from the curb.

"The other side of town."

"I really could have walked. My dorm is like 15 minutes from here."

"I already told you that I'm not happy about you walking home alone – don't try and push it now that we're already in the car."

Emma laughed. "Why? Will you kick me out if I do?"

"Absolutely," Regina said, and Emma loved the way she could make a joke while sounding so serious. "Don't test me."

The tremor of danger in that sentence made Emma's cheeks go hot, and she wriggled in her seat. "I wouldn't dream of it."

For a few moments they drove in silence, Regina staring out the window and Emma staring at Regina. Her heart felt so soft, so stupidly fragile, and she had no idea what she was supposed to do about it. For the past few weeks she'd been telling herself that this whole thing was just a whirlwind crush – a stupid infatuation she had because Regina happened to be the only attractive professor in her department. She'd told herself that it didn't mean anything, and once she'd gotten used to Regina's presence, the feelings would simmer down again. By the end of the year, she wouldn't even think about her anymore.

But the curve of Regina's mouth seemed to get more tantalising every time she saw her, and now it had gotten to a stage where Emma's heart pounded at the mere thought of her. She was in a car with her, close enough to smell her perfume and her shampoo, and she knew then that the feelings weren't going anywhere. They were bubbling up inside her stomach like water from an overflowing drain, and she was content to leave them where they were. It was worth feeling like she was drowning just to hear Regina's gentle laughter directed at her.

"Are you doing much tomorrow?" Regina suddenly asked, turning in time to catch Emma staring at her. Emma snapped her gaze away again at once, hoping the car was dark enough that Regina might not have spotted the longing in her eyes.

"Not really," she replied, twisting her fingers in her lap. "More studying. And my roommate's asked if she can practice a lesson plan on me."

"She's studying to be a teacher?"

"Yeah. She's going to be great at it, but I wish she'd find someone else to do this with occasionally."

Regina laughed, tilting her head to one side. "You don't find fifth-grade biology interesting?"

"Not really," Emma said, risking a glance back across at her. Regina was smiling so softly, and it somehow tricked her into admitting something that she'd never been planning to say. "I went to, like, seven different middle schools, so listening to her brings back a few bad memories."

Regina's smile slipped. "Oh. Did your parents move around a lot?"

"No," Emma said, already kicking herself for bringing this up. No one wanted to hear her little sob story about poor orphan Emma, thrown from foster home to foster home because no one wanted to keep her for more than a few months. "It was just a… weird childhood."

That raised more questions than it answered, and Regina was looking at her curiously. Thankfully, though, they were slowly approaching Emma's building, and she was able to lean toward the driver and direct him to the right spot.

"So," she said, sitting back. Her heart was squeezing to the point of pain in her chest and, as much as she didn't want this to be over, she was looking forward to getting out of the car just so she could breathe normally again. "This was fun."

Regina was still watching her with quiet interest, but her face flickered with a smile at that. "It was. Thank you for humouring me."

There was no possible way she could really believe that Emma was the one doing her a favour then, but Emma chose not to say that. "No problem – thanks for the drink."

"You do have lovely manners, Miss Swan," Regina said. She always surprised Emma with how soft her voice could get. "You're welcome."

"Maybe I can get you back sometime."

The suggestion came tumbling out of Emma's mouth like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but before she could frantically scrape it back inside, Regina said, "I'd like that. Maybe I can get some more opinions about the lecture from you then."

Emma turned to glare at her, and at once Regina was chuckling.

"That was a joke, Miss Swan. I wouldn't do that to you."

"Good, because I'll start skipping your class again if you do."

Regina looked toward the front of the car, but their driver was fiddling with his phone and didn't appear to be listening to them.

"You won't hear the end of it if you do," Regina said. "I can be terrifying via email."

"Don't I know it," Emma scoffed. She glanced back out at her building. "I should probably get going."

"Yes, go ahead," Regina said. She looked down at Emma's mouth as she spoke. "I'll see you sometime next week."

"Sure."

There was a pause. The driver was watching them expectantly in his mirror.

Then Regina leaned forward, making Emma's entire body light up with nervous energy. She pressed her lips against Emma's warm cheek, pausing there to breathe her in. Emma shivered, her hand half reaching out to touch Regina's leg and then pulling back at the last second. The whole world felt like it had stopped.

Regina pulled back with a half smile on her lips. "See you soon."

"Yeah," Emma said, somehow managing to stammer on that single syllable. "Soon."

She fumbled for the door handle and all but fell out of the car, hurrying into her building without looking back. When she got into her room, the lights were off and Mary Margaret was already fast asleep.

Emma slipped into the bathroom and locked the door, switching the shower on with shaky hands. She peeled her clothes off, then glanced in the mirror: her skin was flushed, and there was the faintest smear of red on her cheekbone.

She tumbled into the shower and let the water rush over her, scrunching her eyes against it. It was too hot, but her body was still trembling and she needed the extra prickle against her skin to help her calm down.

Inside her head, Regina kept leaning toward her again and again and again. The moment from the back of the cab was stuck on repeat like an old film with a scratch on the tape. Regina's gaze was dark, her smile was full of amusement, and her eyebrows kept quirking upward at every stupid little thing Emma said. Emma could still feel her cool cheek, the tickle of her hair against her skin.

The water poured down on her, and her right hand slid between her legs. Emma sighed as it skimmed through a different kind of wetness.

I wanted to get to know you a little better. Emma leaned her forehead against the sweating tiles, holding herself up with her spare hand. The hot water streamed down her back as her fingers skated over her clit. You seem interesting, and intelligent, and genuine.

Emma whimpered as her fingers plunged inside her. She reached out to crank up the shower, hoping to drown herself out before Mary Margaret could wake up.

You do have lovely manners, Miss Swan.

Her spare hand slapped hard against the tiles as she came, her legs nearly slipping out from beneath her. She breathed hard, her eyes snapping open. Her fingers were still inside her, her pussy fluttering around them. Not for the first time, her body ached from the idea of Regina being the one to do this to her instead.

Chapter Text

Ever since the moment in the cab, Emma hadn't been able to think about anything else. The scene had been replayed in her mind so many times that it had started to turn technicolour.

Any time Mary Margaret left for class, Emma dove beneath the sheets and replayed the moment when Regina's lips had touched her cheek over and over again until she came with a cry that was muffled by her arm or her pillow or by her teeth digging into her bottom lip. Regina had smiled at her so gently, and Emma wasn't sure she'd been on the receiving end of a look like that before. She couldn't remember anyone ever watching her like they wanted to dive into her heart and set up camp there for a while.

She was alight with the thought that maybe Regina liked her after all. So, whatever she had been expecting from that next class, it hadn't been this.

Emma walked through the door to their seminar room at two o'clock on the dot, determined not to be early or late for once in her life. When she stepped into the room, most of the other students were already there. So was Regina.

Their professor glanced up the second a new presence appeared in the doorway. Emma felt her pounding heart lift until it was throbbing somewhere in her throat. Regina's eyes were as soft and dark and as interested as ever, and when they settled on Emma, they crinkled at the corners. Just slightly.

But then something seemed to wash over her, and she looked away again. Her lips were pursed as she stared down at her laptop like it was the most important thing in the world.

Emma faltered, coming to a complete standstill. The heartbeat in her throat was replaced by a hard lump that felt like coal.

When Regina didn't look up at her again, she forced herself to walk across the room and settle down in her normal seat. She was directly in Regina's eye line there, and normally it was impossible for Regina to not look over the top of her laptop screen and meet Emma's gaze.

But somehow, she managed not to. She kept typing on her computer and, once a full minute had passed, lifted her chin and directed her gaze at the rest of the room instead of at the blonde girl who was sitting six feet away from her.

Regina didn't look at her once during that class, and Emma left feeling a little bit like her heart had been broken. She knew what had happened – really, she should have seen it coming. Regina had gone home on Saturday night and realised what she'd done – taking a student out for a drink and then kissing her in the back of a cab that she'd insisted on paying for – and the panic had set in. She'd told herself she needed to stop. She'd told herself she wouldn't look at Emma again.

Emma realised all that in a flash of clarity, but even the knowledge that her professor obviously liked her enough to have to tell herself not to did absolutely nothing to make her chest stop hurting.

The following week, Emma turned up to class early just in case Regina would feel more comfortable talking to her when no one else was there yet. She'd spent most of the week working on her term paper, and she brought a first draft with her as a prop to distract Regina's attention with. Professor Mills, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if I could ask you a question about my opening paragraph?

Of course, Miss Swan, and the fact that you even care enough makes me want to bend you over this table right here, right now.

Somehow Regina managed to outmanoeuvre her. She wasn't even in the classroom yet, and by the time she showed up at 1:59pm, the rest of the class had already arrived.

By the following week, all hope had drained from Emma's body. She skulked into the seminar room on Thursday afternoon, not even bothering to glance up at her professor, and instead of walking over to her normal seat, she headed for the row at the very back.

Mulan turned to look at her immediately. "Why have you moved seats?"

Emma didn't look up from her books. She could feel the sour expression on her own face.

"I'm way too hungover to sit at the front today," she lied. "She'll smell the Bacardi on me."

Mulan laughed. "I'll field all the tough questions today, in that case."

Emma smiled weakly, glad that her chosen excuse also gave her a reason to be sullen, and didn't respond. Mulan turned back around, leaving her to her moping.

Emma glanced up just in time to see Regina looking curiously at the empty seat in the second row.

"Okay, everyone," she said, straightening up and stepping into her usual position in the centre of the room. It was only then that she locked eyes with Emma. She frowned, but continued. "Let's get started."

While the class went on like normal, Emma could feel the confusion in Regina's voice. She was doing her very best not to look toward the back of the class, but every now and then her eyes would flick up automatically, and she would find Emma staring steadily back at her. It seemed to throw her off more than their interaction in the back of the cab had done.

Halfway through the seminar, Regina assigned them each a section from the poem they were working on and told them to spend five minutes going through it looking for examples of a theme. Emma settled down with hers, leaning her head on her hand so she wouldn't have to look up as Regina did a lap of the room, purposefully talking to absolutely everyone except her.

Except that didn't happen. Quiet chatter started to bubble up around her and through it all, Emma could hear a set of footsteps approaching her.

Regina stopped to talk to a student, and then another, before she slowly approached the back row. Emma didn't look up, but every muscle in her body went rigid when she felt someone warm and uncertain step up beside her.

"Miss Swan," came a quiet voice from behind her. Emma still didn't look round. "What are you doing all the way back here?"

"Working," Emma responded, trying not to sound petulant. She nearly jumped out of her skin when there was a sudden pressure against her arm.

She turned to find Regina leaning over her, her hip pressed against Emma's elbow as she pretended to check her work.

"But why here?" she asked. Her voice was so soft, laced with concern and genuine confusion. Emma glanced up and met her gaze for the first time in weeks, and that familiar lump in her throat returned.

"I thought maybe you wanted some space."

She watched the surprise flicker over Regina's face like a shadow. "Really?"

Emma shrugged. She took a moment to glance around the room, and when she was certain that no one was listening to them, she added, "I didn't want to make things worse."

From the way Regina was staring at her, Emma could be forgiven for thinking she'd accidentally blurted out the fact that she was just a little bit in love with her. Regina looked strangely touched.

"I see," she said, straightening up. Her next sentence was spoken a little louder. "Well, I appreciate the consideration, Miss Swan, but it's not necessary. I expect you to return to your normal seat next week."

It was the perfect haughty tone for anyone who might overhear them, but Emma saw the tentative smile on her professor's lips. When Regina turned away to speak to someone else, she gave Emma a faint squeeze on her shoulder.

Emma went back to her work with a huge grin on her face, her thighs pressed together under the table.

When the class drew to a close, Emma felt remarkably lighter. Regina still wasn't making eye contact with her as she packed away her own notes, but Emma could see that some tension had left her shoulders.

"One more thing," Regina suddenly called out, making Emma's head snap up once more. "Your term papers are due in a few weeks, and although I'm sure most of you are making good progress with them, I'm aware that some people will be struggling. I'll be doing one-on-one sessions in my office next week for anyone who wants to discuss their ideas or questions before time runs out."

Emma's heart nearly burst out of her chest at that. She didn't need any help with her paper – she'd already been killing herself trying to get it completely perfect in time for the deadline – but the idea of a solo meeting with Professor Mills was enough to make her entire body sing. She might even get to spend a whole hour with her discussing it.

"There's a sign-up sheet outside my office if any of you think you might need some extra assistance."

Forcing herself not to leapfrog over the desk and go sign up right that second, Emma looked down at her bag and forced her notepad inside it. When she glanced up, Regina was finally looking back at her.


She hurried to Regina's office the next morning and signed up for an appointment on Tuesday evening, deliberately picking the latest one possible. As she scribbled her name down, she chose not to delve too far into the question of why she was so eager to be alone with Regina once most of the department would be empty. She was both surprised and delighted by how few other people had signed up so far.

She spent the entire weekend twitching with nerves over how the meeting would go. She'd filled a whole page in her notepad with her supposed 'ideas' for her paper, although in actuality it was just 500 words of complete rambling shit. Part of her was hoping they wouldn't even get that far – a tiny, dark corner of Emma's brain saw her walking into the office and immediately finding herself thrust up against the door.

On Tuesday, she wore her glasses. She remembered the way Regina had looked at her in them all too vividly, and she would do anything to get that soft, slightly concerned expression back again. She pulled on her nicest dark green sweater and a pair of black skinny jeans, and she found herself standing outside Regina's office at 6pm on the dot.

She hesitated before knocking. For a split second, she hoped Regina wouldn't be in there.

Then a voice called out for her to enter and she poked her head around the door, her planned greeting completely escaping her when she spotted Regina sitting behind her desk wearing a red shirt that was unbuttoned way too low to be an accident.

"Oh," she choked out. Regina glanced up at her. "Hey."

"Good evening, Miss Swan," Regina replied, looking back down at her laptop and giving Emma the perfect opportunity to stare more openly at the dip in the front of her shirt. She could see the black lace of her bra, and Emma tried desperately to remember whether she'd ever seen her wear that top before. Was it always unbuttoned that low? Was there a chance that she didn't even realise?

Emma slipped into the room and closed the door behind her. "Thanks for seeing me."

"That's alright," Regina replied, not looking up. "Have a seat. I'll just be a moment."

There were two chairs opposite the desk, and Emma sat down in the one that was directly opposite Regina.

"So," Regina said after a few seconds of silence. She folded her arms along the edge of her desk and, for a brief moment, smiled when she noticed Emma's glasses. "You need some help with your term paper."

"Yeah, I... I think so."

"Were you planning to use one of the pre-written questions, or did you want to choose a topic of your own?" 

"The latter," Emma said, trying to sound firm.

"Did you have a topic in mind?"

"Well. I have a few options I might be interested in."

"Excellent," Regina said, and she looked so excited that Emma felt bad for lying to her. "Let me hear them."

Emma glanced down at the scribbled notes she'd pulled out of her backpack and swallowed. "They're a bit rough."

"That's okay. I don't mind rough."

Emma's head snapped back up at that, but Regina was watching her perfectly innocently. Normally Emma might have been able to convince herself that it was a mere slip of the tongue, but combining that with the fact that Regina's shirt was still unbuttoned halfway down her breastbone just made her feel more and more uncertain.

"Right," she said, clearing her throat. "Okay."

She looked back down at her first bullet point. There was a roaring sound in her ears.

"So, I was thinking that I like the idea of hubris."

Her sentence finished there, and she felt the air pressure change as Regina's eyebrows rose.

"What about it?" she asked slowly.

"You know," Emma said, waving a hand. "Like… how it's referenced in classical literature."

When she glanced up, there was a tiny smile on Regina's face. "You're going to need to be a bit more specific."

Specificity wasn't an option here – not when Emma's cheeks were on fire and her eyes kept flicking down to look at Regina's bra of their own accord.

"I mean… which authors talked about it most, and why."

"Emma, most of them talked about hubris at some point. I think you need to hone your argument a tiny bit."

"Okay," Emma replied, striking her pen across the page. It wasn't what she'd actually written her paper on anyway. "Forget that one."

"No, no," Regina said. "Don't rule it out. I'm just trying to get a better idea of what you mean."

"I started with my weakest suggestion. The next one is better."

That was a filthy lie and a dangerous one at that. Even Regina looked like she wanted to start laughing.

"Alright…"

"So, how about the theme of journeys?"

Regina wrinkled her nose. "Again, it's a bit broad."

"I could map out the different journeys that the most famous authors wrote about and compare them."

"…you want to submit a map for your term paper?"

"No," Emma stammered, except she had no idea what she did mean. She'd honestly been expecting to walk into this meeting, chat with Regina about their weekends for a solid 45 minutes, and then maybe at the end mention that, actually, she was pretty sure exactly what she'd write her paper on after all. Then Regina would chuckle and say, "Oh, Emma, you are so endearing" and Emma's entire soul would catch fire. The part where they went through Emma's half-hearted pitches had never made it into her daydreams at all.

"Let's think about the journeys idea a bit more," Regina prompted. She leaned forward as she said it, and Emma wished she hadn't. "There could be some weight to that. Which texts would you focus on?"

Emma hesitated. "The Odyssey?"

"Okay, good. And which others?"

Drawing a total blank on any other texts they'd studied over the past few weeks, Emma said, "I don't know. What do you think?"

Regina sighed. "Can I see your notes, please?"

"What?" Emma spluttered, bringing her papers closer to her chest. "Why?"

"So I can see what train of thought you were on when you wrote this."

Her professor absolutely did not want to know where Emma's train of thought had been going. She may as well have been doodling ES ♥ RM over and over again in the margins.

"Err," Emma said. "No, it's fine. Let's move onto my next idea."

Regina stood up abruptly and held out her hand. "Give me the notes."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking you to."

"But I don't—"

"Emma," Regina said, stepping out from behind her desk and approaching Emma's chair. "Just let me see."

Emma glanced back down at the page of total garbage in front of her and felt herself start to sweat. But, short of bolting from the room entirely, there wasn't much she could do except hand it over.

She'd expected Regina to return to her seat, but instead she stepped forward and sat herself down in the chair next to Emma's. She was close, too close for Emma to be able to focus on anything except the glossiness of her hair and the way that her eyes looked just a bit tired at the corners. As she leaned forward, the fabric over her chest fell further away from her skin, and Emma nearly gave herself whiplash as she looked abruptly away from the sight of her breasts.

"It's strange," Regina hummed after a moment.

"What is?"

"You're always so engaged in class," Regina commented, still reading. "You came to that extra lecture and you've always done your assignments, and your notes are so much more detailed than anyone else's. And yet these proposals… don't exactly match up."

Embarrassment washed over Emma like a bucket of hot gravy and she immediately looked down at her lap. "Oh."

"That's not an insult," Regina said, reaching out to gently touch Emma's wrist. She was trying to lure her back, but it didn't work. "I'm just wondering what the reason is."

Still looking away from her, Emma forced out, "I guess I was just a bit distracted when I wrote these."

Regina's fingers were still touching her, and they felt scalding hot against her skin. Emma wanted to pull away from her hand almost as much as she wanted to tug it roughly between her legs.

"Distracted by what?" Regina asked.

Emma didn't reply to that, because there was a throbbing in her chest and a throbbing between her thighs, and she didn't trust herself to open her mouth without saying something she'd regret.

Regina waited for a few moments before softly prompting, "Emma."

Emma still didn't respond. It was only when Regina's hand slid from her wrist to her knee that she was finally shocked enough to turn her head.

She found Regina watching her anxiously – maybe because she was worried about Emma's work, or maybe because she was worried about how she was going to react to her touching her like that. Either way, she saw the surprise and the uncertainty on Emma's face, and her eyes went darker than normal.

Emma wanted to say something. She really, really did. But her pounding heart was starting to hurt and there was something tight obstructing her throat and when she parted her lips, all of her thoughts suddenly rushed out of her head when she realised that Regina had automatically glanced down to look at them.

She wanted to lean forward and press them against Regina's mouth, but she couldn't. She wasn't brave enough to find out what would happen if she did.

And so Regina waited. And waited.

When Emma never said anything – she just sat there, frozen, with something that was either awe or terror on her face – Regina finally pulled away.

"You should go."

Emma flinched. "What?"

"Please," Regina said, standing up and passing her notes back to her. Emma fumbled with them, her hands shaking, and tried not to breathe in as Regina brushed past her in a cloud of perfume that was probably worth more than Emma's scholarship.

"But I don't—"

"Go," Regina said flatly. She wasn't looking at Emma anymore.

And so Emma did, clutching her bag against her chest. She longed to turn around again – to say, "No, I'm not leaving" and to grab Regina by the front of her shirt and kiss her until all her lipstick was gone – but she didn't. Her body wouldn't let her. She just let the door click shut behind her, and then she all but ran back home.

Chapter Text

Anxiety settled over Emma like someone had strapped an anvil to her shoulders. She felt awkward and confused and, most of all, angry – angry at herself for freezing up and for making Regina feel uncomfortable, and angry at Regina for immediately thinking the worst and telling her to leave at all.

But she forced herself to quietly resume her routine, going into the English department cafeteria the next day like she always did on Wednesday afternoons. Regina normally slipped in for a coffee at around three, and no matter how embarrassed she felt, Emma still desperately wanted to see her. She was in luck, and she spotted Regina the instant she appeared in the doorway – but Regina spotted her too. They made eye contact for about a second before Regina turned and fled, nervously tucking her hair behind one ear as she hurried off.

Later that afternoon, Emma was going to class when she saw Regina walking down the hallway toward her. She was looking down at her cell phone and didn't see Emma coming, and Emma wondered whether she should stop her. Her heart was already reaching out at the sight of her, and for a second she heard herself think fuck it, I'll just kiss her. It doesn't matter who sees – I'll just do it, and then at least I'll know.

Except she couldn't do that – partly because she wasn't brave enough, and partly because she wasn't a complete fucking moron who wanted to get her professor fired on the spot. So instead she just gazed longingly at her, waiting for the weight of her stare to wake her up. Regina glanced up just as they crossed paths, and her face went tight. She looked right back down at her phone again.

All of this meant Emma walked into their seminar on Thursday filled with sheer dread. She headed for her normal seat in the second row, toying with the idea of going to the back again but deciding that that would only make things more awkward. It was only after she sat down that she realised the classroom was mostly empty.

She hesitated, glancing at the two people who were sitting on the other side of the room, before asking, "Where is everyone?"

"No idea," the first guy said. The other was looking at his phone. "We're just checking to see if we've switched rooms."

Emma nodded, waiting for the verdict. The second guy sighed.

"Class is cancelled."

"What?" Emma asked. "Since when?"

"About 20 minutes ago. Professor Mills is sick, apparently."

Sick, Emma scoffed to herself. That had been a weak excuse when she'd used it herself in the second week of the semester, and it was even more pathetic coming from their goddamn teacher.

The two guys got up and left again, looking markedly less pissed off than Emma did. She shoved her books into her backpack and followed them, and for a second she thought she might actually go to Regina's office and kick the door down just in case she was hiding in there. At the last minute her common sense kicked in and she turned back again, going home with a sour taste in her mouth.


Regina all but vanished from campus over the next week, and Emma started to worry that maybe she actually was sick. But then their seminar rolled around again, and Emma tumbled into the classroom wrapped up in her thickest coat and woolly hat to find Regina already sitting at her desk, her legs crossed and her hands poised over the keyboard.

She glanced up as Emma entered, and for a second she held her gaze. Emma tried to smile, but it was ignored. Regina went back to her computer, and Emma walked to her seat feeling like someone had just slapped her in the face.

She couldn't wait any longer. The entire class passed without Regina so much as acknowledging her, and by the end of the hour Emma felt like her chest had been ripped in two. She had to try. She had to know.

As everyone else filed out the door and Regina turned to collect her books, Emma slowly approached the desk at the front of the class. She moved quietly, and for a moment Regina didn't register that anyone was there. Then she turned back, her purse hooked over one elbow, and jumped an inch when she found Emma waiting three paces in front of her.

"Hey."

"Emma," Regina stammered, glancing at the last students who were just leaving the room. Emma could see her pulse ticking in her throat. "What are you doing?"

It was the first time she'd ever looked nervous, and Emma desperately wanted to reach out to her. She longed to stroke a hand down her arm and tell her that everything was alright.

"I just wanted to check you're okay," was what she said instead. Regina blinked, taking half a step back.

"Why?"

"Well," Emma started, glancing down at Regina's closed-off body, her rigid posture. "You were sick last week."

That wasn't why she was asking at all, but it was the easiest thing to say.

Regina seemed to flutter with relief.

"Oh," she sighed, dropping her purse back onto the desk. "Yes, I'm fine. Much better now, thank you."

"Good," Emma said. There was so much else she wanted to say – to ask – but the fear in Regina's face was holding her back from doing any of it.

They fell into an awkward silence, and immediately Emma regretted this. She should have just given Regina space – she obviously needed time to get over what had happened in her office and in the back of the cab, and here Emma was, barging back into her life and dredging up memories that she'd clearly rather forget.

She sighed and opened her mouth to apologise. But Regina beat her to it.

"Did you tell the college what I did?" she blurted out. Emma blinked.

"Um," she ventured. "You mean, cancelling class last week?"

She was determined to cling onto that flimsy excuse for as long as possible, just so she could avoid embarrassing both of them even further. But Regina was looking at her, her eyes hard and determined, and she was obviously unwilling to lie anymore.

"No," she said quietly. She glanced over at the open door, then back to Emma's face. "I… touched you."

All Emma could do was sigh. From her point of view, Regina hadn't done a thing wrong – she'd put a hand on her knee, sure, but Emma's entire body had been yearning for her to do that and so much more. She'd lit up from the touch, her skin prickling like embers were raining down on it.

But she knew that from Regina's perspective, things could have been very different. She'd made physical contact with a student – she could even have forced herself onto her. She had no idea what had been going on in Emma's head when her fingers had made light, electric contract with her leg.

"Of course I didn't tell anyone," Emma said. "Why would I? You didn't do anything wrong."

"I made inappropriate contact with you," Regina hissed. "With a student."

"Barely," Emma scoffed. "You touched my knee. It wasn't a big deal."

She was hoping Regina would look relieved at that, but she didn't. She just looked disappointed.

"But… you closed off," she said. Her teeth were digging into her lower lip.

Emma groaned, leaning her hip against the nearest table. "I didn't close off. I just… froze."

"Isn't that the same thing?"

"No. Not at all," Emma said slowly. "I… I was nervous and I got excited when you touched me, and I didn't want to read into something that wasn't there. I was trying not to make things worse."

Regina's dark eyes flicked down to look at her mouth, and for a second she nearly smiled. "I thought I'd made you uncomfortable."

"No," Emma said firmly, so Regina couldn't possibly misunderstand her. "You didn't. Not at all."

Nodding, Regina glanced down at her feet for a second. She looked slightly reassured, at least, but Emma could see the uncertainty and the reluctance weighing heavily on her shoulders. There was a kind of bitter disappointment in her posture that led Emma to finally believe that actually, maybe, she really could like her back.

But she was a professor, and even though Emma didn't know the ins and outs of the college's stance on student-teacher relationships, she had to assume they would not be working in her favour. Regina's job was on the line here, and so no matter what Emma felt, she couldn't go blazing in and compromise that.

No matter how badly she wanted to step forward and kiss her, she couldn't do it. She wasn't selfish enough.

"I hope you haven't been stressing about this too much," she said, which was stupid, because she knew she had been.

Regina smiled faintly.

"Honestly, I've barely thought about anything else."

That made Emma pause. "You've been thinking about… me?"

It was a dangerous question, and the answer could easily have destroyed her. But then Regina just said, "Yes."

"Oh."

Regina's gaze dropped again, equal parts uncertain and unhappy, and she said, "Anyway. As long as you know it was just a… friendly gesture."

They both knew that wasn't true. Emma could barely breathe over the thickness of the lie.

"Sure," she said, smiling awkwardly. "And I'm not going to get you in trouble. I promise."

Some of the anxiety on Regina's face finally faded at that, and Emma was treated to one of the beautifully soft smiles that she'd grown so attached to over the past few months. It made her bones go weak, and suddenly she was filled with enough bravery to push herself into asking what she really wanted to know.

"Besides," she said. Regina heard the determination in her voice and locked eyes with her, unable to focus on anything else while Emma spoke. "You're probably… friendly with loads of students. Right?"

Regina knew what she was asking. Emma could see the understanding in her eyes.

"No, Emma," she said quietly. The space between them was made of so much more than just feet and inches. "No one else. Just you."


After that, it became impossible for Emma to think of anything else. She dreamed about Regina often – sometimes dark, dirty fantasies that woke her up midway to orgasm with her hips grinding down against the sheets, and sometimes softer, more delicate things where all she could remember when she woke up was how Regina's hand had felt in her own. She also redoubled her efforts to see Regina on campus: there were the longing glances in Starbucks on Monday mornings; the bump in the corridor on Tuesdays. Wednesdays were the best, because that was when Regina would come into the cafeteria and there was always the chance that she would sit with Emma again – usually she didn't, because things were still awkward and uncertain and them sitting together might lead to something that neither one of them was quite prepared for, but often she would choose another table within Emma's eye line and she would stay there for hours. Emma would shift position so that she could glance up whenever her heart begged her to, and nine times out of 10, she would find Regina already smiling tentatively back at her.

Emma submitted her term paper early, because she'd spent more hours than she cared to admit on it and all she wanted was for Regina to see it and grade it and tell her just how brilliant she was. But all she received in response was a brief email telling her that it would be graded and returned the week after Christmas, and Emma was left feeling deflated and disappointed.

She wished she had a reason to go by Regina's office again, but she didn't. The only option she was left with was loitering awkwardly after class, hoping her professor would ask her a single question, and getting hesitant smiles from her as they crossed paths in the hallways. It wasn't enough. Emma's body ached 24 hours a day at the mere thought of her, and it was beginning to get exhausting.

Then, in the week before the Christmas vacation, her inbox lit up with an email.

From: Professor R Mills

Subject: Term paper

Miss Swan,

I hope you're enjoying the last week of the semester.

I need to discuss your term paper with you. Would you be free to come by my office tomorrow evening?

Emma's heart all but burst out of her chest. She immediately typed out a response saying that yes, of course she was, she'd be there at six. She spent the next 24 hours in a state of permanent hysteria, unable to focus on absolutely anything that wasn't Regina's eyes or Regina's voice or what Regina wanted from her once the office door was closed.

She approached it anxiously at 6pm and knocked, waiting for Regina to call out to her before she slipped inside. It was completely dark out, but Regina's office was a warm cocoon of books and light. When Emma entered, she was half relieved and half disappointed to see that her professor's shirt wasn't unbuttoned partway down her chest this time.

"Hi," she said, and Regina smiled up at her. There was some hesitancy in her eyes that hadn't been there before their last meeting, and although its presence made Emma sad, it also excited the very weakest part of her. Regina wouldn't be nervous if there wasn't something to be nervous about.

"Emma," she said in response, gesturing to the seat opposite her desk. "Thanks for coming."

Emma plonked herself down in the chair and smiled back at her. "No problem."

Regina held up a bundle of papers that Emma recognised as her term paper. There was a fair amount of red ink on it, and the sight of it made something drop inside her chest.

"Thank you for submitting this so early," Regina said, examining the essay for a moment. "You did know the deadline isn't until Friday, right?"

"Err. Yeah," Emma said, still nervously eyeing all the corrections. "I just wanted to get it done as soon as possible."

"That's very organised of you," Regina said, smiling. It was weird for her to look so pleased when she'd obviously spent the best part of an hour scribbling all over Emma's work.

"Can I…" Emma started. "Can I ask why I'm here?"

Regina's eyes crinkled at that. "I have some feedback for you."

"Oh. Okay," Emma said. She had no idea what to make of that – professors never gave feedback before logging the official grade. They especially didn't do it before the deadline had even arrived.

Regina handed the document over, and up close the corrections were even more humiliating. She'd scribbled through full paragraphs, written suggestions next to them, and had even taken a hatchet to Emma's grammar. Emma immediately wanted to die.

"Oh."

"Don't be so disheartened," Regina said. "I can assure you that this isn't the worst essay I've ever read."

Oh, that was quite the fucking compliment. "Thanks…?"

"It has a lot of potential," Regina said, ignoring her. "I mean that. You argument was strong and your writing style is good. And the topic you chose was a far sight better than the ones you came up with in our last meeting." She paused then, like she wasn't sure whether to grin or grimace at the memory. "You just got lost halfway through, and I think you could have chosen more pertinent examples to back up your arguments."

Emma blinked, flipping through the pages. "Have you already graded this?"

"Yes."

"Then… why are you telling me this now? I was just expecting to wait until we get them back after Christmas."

Regina paused, and for a second she looked embarrassed. "I just thought… You submitted it so early, so you deserved a chance to work on it a little more. It's not due until the end of the week, after all."

The penny finally dropped. Regina was, strictly off the record, giving her a chance to improve her grade.

"Oh," Emma said. "Right. So, what do you suggest I do?"

"You know I can't tell you that," Regina said, but she was smiling. "But if you wanted to refocus most of the second page on The Aeneid instead of The Symposium, I think you might find that your argument will flow better."

Emma nodded sharply. "Yeah. That… that makes sense."

"Also, maybe take another look at your conclusion," Regina said, gesturing with her pen. "It's too long. You've tried to justify everything you've said, when really you should just be briefly telling me exactly why I should already know that you're right."

A brief puff of laughter came out of Emma's nose. "You're acting like I should know exactly why I'm right."

"Well, you should," Regina said. Confusion was settling over her features again. "Emma – you work so hard in class, and you seem to engage with so much of the material. Why doesn't that come across in your writing?"

Emma felt her cheeks prickle. She looked back down at the essay, focusing on the swooping handwriting that was now splashed across it.

"I mean," she mumbled. "There's a really good reason why I'm so interested in your class."

She felt Regina's eyebrows flick up expectantly. "Oh?"

When she looked back up at her again, she knew that Regina couldn't misread the expression on her face. "Yeah. I mean… I think you already know what it is."

Regina's mouth opened and then closed. No words came out.

"Anyway," Emma shrugged, because she was already on the path to humiliation and she needed to turn back. She opened her backpack and forced the essay down inside it. "You should be happy. I don't even care about classics and yet I've put more effort into this essay than I have into anything so far at this college."

"What?" Regina suddenly demanded, no longer anxious but instead looking slightly outraged. "You don't care about classics?"

Emma sighed. "Is that relevant?"

"Of course it's relevant! How can you not care? It's such a fulfilling subject."

"Yeah, says you, the classics professor," Emma countered, and Regina huffed with annoyance. "It's fine. I don't hate it, or anything. It just doesn't fill me with pure joy like it does for you."

"But it's so important!" Regina protested, and Emma just groaned. She was totally focusing on the wrong thing here.

"Regina," she bit out, and even then it felt weird to be saying her name aloud. "I think you might be missing the point."

Regina opened her mouth again, and then reality seemed to dawn on her. "So – you're only taking the class because you needed the credits?"

"Yes."

"And yet you're trying so much harder for it than you are for your other subjects?"

"Yes."

"And that's not because you've suddenly fallen in love with Virgil?"

Emma's heart stopped midway through that sentence, but when it was finished she found herself laughing instead. "No. I haven't fallen in love with Virgil."

Regina just nodded at that, her brow still puckered with disappointment and confusion, and Emma realised that she still didn't entirely understand what she was trying to tell her.

"Regina," she said quietly, waiting until her professor's eyes were on her before she continued. "I'm only trying so hard because of you."

It was mesmerising to watch the way Regina's entire expression fluttered and shifted, going from offended to touched and then shooting all the way back to confused again. She glanced down at Emma's body and then back up at her face, waiting for the punchline to come. When Emma just stared nervously back at her, her hands clamped between her knees, Regina's entire posture seemed to deflate.

"I see," she said. She rolled her chair back from the desk, like she was trying to find some more breathing space. "Right."

That was all she said on the matter, and suddenly Emma couldn't keep doing this. She couldn't keep sitting there pretending that her heart wasn't pounding and her mouth hadn't completely dried out. The threat of rejection was bad, but the idea of spending the rest of the year – or, fuck, maybe even longer – feeling like this was unbearable. She could deal with a little humiliation if it at least gave her an answer.

So she got up and slowly walked around to Regina's side of the desk. Regina was watching Emma warily and – Emma dared to believe – hopefully. Regina glanced down at her sweater and her jeans and her nervously bunched hands as she approached, but she didn't move. She didn't ask what she was doing, or tell her to stop.

Easing herself into the space between Regina and her desk, Emma hesitated.

This is stupid this is stupid this is stupid this is—

The words clanged inside her head, and for a second she thought she was going to listen to them and pull away. But then she caught sight of the anticipation on Regina's flushed cheeks and it was too late for her to even consider it. Emma leaned forward, resting one hand on the arm of Regina's chair, and kissed her.

It was a tentative, uncertain brush of lips. Emma closed her eyes, but she could tell that Regina was watching her. When she pulled away again, she was met with a wash of emotions swirling through dark brown eyes.

For a second, Regina's jaw trembled. She gazed up at Emma like she was waiting for her to run.

Then she reached up, slipping a hand round the back of her neck, and tugged her forward again. Her lips parted almost immediately as Emma's met them, and Emma couldn't help the relieved sigh that whooshed from her.

She melted into the kiss, letting Regina's lips pry hers open as they cautiously moved together. Emma lifted one knee and rested it on the edge of Regina's seat as her spare hand slid beneath her hair, cupping her by the base of her skull. Neither of them made any sudden movements, like they were all too aware of how dangerous this was and how the other could easily pull away any second now. But it never happened – Emma could feel Regina shifting and sighing beneath her, and when a hand crawled round to the base of her spine and tugged, Emma took the hint immediately. She lifted her other leg and crawled into Regina's lap, not minding that the arms of the chair were digging into her calves or that the wheels beneath them were creaking with protest. She settled herself down on the tops of Regina's thighs and slid both arms around her neck, letting her hair rain down on them as she tilted Regina's head back and kissed her slowly.

It was everything and nothing like what she'd imagined. Regina's kisses were strangely tender, nothing at all like her usual demeanour as she stormed around campus or commanded entire classrooms. Her hands rested loosely on Emma's back, giving her room to pull free, and yet the sighing noises that were slipping from her were so desperate and greedy that Emma knew it was all an act. She'd been waiting for this as long as Emma had, and maybe it was because it was her job that was on the line, her who could get in unfathomable amounts of trouble for this, that she was all the more desperate to just sink into this and forget about everything else.

Emma shifted forward, grinning when Regina gasped at the change in pressure, and let her fingertips slide through the roots of Regina's hair. It was so soft and smelled amazing, like coconut and shea butter, and Regina actually whined when she felt Emma beginning to tease at her scalp.

"You smell incredible," Emma murmured against her mouth, and she felt Regina smile momentarily.

"Don't you dare stop kissing me," she demanded a second later, and Emma obliged, dipping her head and flicking her tongue against Regina's lips. Regina gasped, her grip on Emma's back suddenly tightening, and Emma felt the mood shift like someone had turned off the lights.

Regina's nails dug into her spine as she pulled her closer, and Emma automatically rolled her hips against her lap. She could feel the rickety desk chair creaking under them, threatening to topple backward, but Emma didn't care very much about that when she was already pulling away from Regina's mouth and slipping down her throat instead, using her tongue to drag a path from her ear to her collarbone so she could finally taste the perfume that had been clouding her brain for months.

"Emma," Regina panted, her head tipping back against the chair. She was wriggling slightly, her hips lifting to try and get some more contact, and Emma smirked. She slipped her hand up to Regina's jaw and gently eased it forward until they were nose to nose.

"What?" she asked quietly, drinking in the delirious expression on Regina's face. Her cheeks were flushed and her dark eyes were darting everywhere, watching Emma like she was worried she was about to wake up from a dream.

"I don't… I don't know," Regina forced out. She was still clinging onto Emma's waist, but Emma could sense that the kiss was over.

"Do you want me to go?" she asked. Regina's grip tightened.

"No."

"But you want me to stop?"

"I just… I think we should," Regina said. Her voice was so much more strained than normal.

Emma could easily have taken that as a rejection, but she didn't. She could see the desire swimming in Regina's eyes, and it was so precious that she was willing to do pretty much anything Regina asked of her.

"Okay," she said softly. She paused to brush the tip of her nose against Regina's, and for a split second she thought that Regina might actually cry.

Emma clambered back onto the carpet and smoothed down her sweater. Regina stayed exactly where she was, gripping the arms of her chair.

"So, I…" Emma started, then paused to clear her throat. "I guess I should… head off."

Regina nodded sharply, breathing hard. "Right."

"I'm going to take another look at that essay."

"You do that."

It felt weirdly clinical to be discussing this after Emma had just been writhing around in Regina's lap for a solid 10 minutes, but she still asked, "Should I submit it through Turnitin?"

Regina obviously thought the same thing, because she laughed through her nose. "No. Just email it to me."

"Okay," Emma nodded. Regina's skirt had ridden up and her hair was messy at the back from where Emma's fingers had been tangling through it, and she so desperately wanted to step forward and kiss her again. Her hands were twitching from the need.

Regina glanced down and spotted the movement at once. She smirked. "You should get going."

"Right," Emma said, turning one way and then the other in her attempt to escape from behind the desk. She went in search of her backpack and hitched it up over one shoulder. "I guess I'll… see you soon?"

"You will," Regina said. Just as Emma turned to leave, she called out, "Wait."

Emma spun around at once, watching as Regina levered herself out of her chair and then approached her. She stood close – much closer than she needed to – and lifted a hand toward Emma's face.

"You have lipstick everywhere," she said. Emma all but fell apart.

She waited while Regina wiped away the red smears from her mouth. The urge to reach forward and kiss her all over again was building and building until she thought it might break out of her chest in a seeping mess of desire, but then finally Regina was done and she took a step back.

"There. Perfect," she said. There was a new smile on her face – one that Emma had never seen before.

"Thank you," Emma replied, her voice cracking. Regina bit down on her bottom lip, staring at Emma's kiss-swollen ones, and sighed wistfully.

Emma turned away once more and finally left, shutting the door softly behind her. The hallway was empty and the building was mostly silent, save for the hum of the vacuum cleaner on a floor somewhere above her and the frantic pounding that was coming from deep within her own eardrums.

Chapter Text

She worked on her term paper for the majority of the next day, and instead of emailing it across like Regina had asked, she took it with her to their next class. It was two days before Christmas vacation and her last seminar with Regina until the New Year, and she was twitching with nerves. Her lips still burned from Regina's fiery kisses.

She had no idea how Regina was going to be acting. There was every chance she'd ignore her completely now that she'd had plenty of time to think about what they'd done and then panic accordingly, but Emma desperately hoped that wouldn't be the case. She couldn't imagine finishing the semester without another one of Regina's easy smiles to take with her over the break.

But the second she walked into the classroom, she knew she was going to be okay. Regina was there, lounging back in her desk chair with her legs crossed. She was dangling a pen from one hand, and her eyes were on the door. Emma walked in, saw her, and froze. Regina was already smiling.

Emma turned to make sure her other classmates were there before she slowly walked to her seat. She could feel Regina's gaze on her the whole way.

As soon as Regina stood up at the front of the class, it was obvious that they were in for a treat: there was a determined glint in Regina's eye and a new confidence in her posture that made everyone go quiet before she'd even called them to attention. When she said, "Now. I hope everyone came prepared for some serious debating," an appreciative silence met her words.

Emma tried to get involved in the class discussion as much as possible while being simultaneously distracted by Regina's cocky smirk. The hour passed in a daze and before she knew it, the class was over and she wasn't going to see her professor again for weeks.

She swallowed hard, the thought saddening her more than it probably should.

As everyone else filed out of the room, calling out to Regina and wishing her a merry Christmas, Emma slowly approached her desk. Regina was already leaning back waiting for her.

"Hey," Emma said awkwardly.

"Miss Swan," Regina smiled back at her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Emma had just been planning to hand over her essay and leave, but the self-satisfied expression on Regina's face made her laugh. "You seem pretty pleased with yourself today."

Regina's smile only widened. "Why shouldn't I be?"

"I have no idea, but I wasn't expecting it."

"No?"

Emma shrugged. "I was kind of anticipating some… distance."

The smirk finally dulled. "Would you prefer that?"

"No!" Emma blurted out, stepping closer to her desk. "Definitely not. I guess I was just expecting the worst."

"Well, you shouldn't. I'm in a very good mood today," Regina said, crossing her legs with a long, sweeping gesture that Emma knew was designed to catch her attention. "Now. What can I do for you?"

Emma finally thrust the essay towards her. "Here. It's my term paper."

"Ah, of course. I was worried you'd forgotten about the deadline," Regina said loudly, evidently for the benefit of anyone who might be walking past the open door. "Very good, Miss Swan. I'll have this graded over the break."

Emma nodded, already dreading the vacation – not just because she'd be the only person left alone in the dorms, having absolutely no one to travel home to, but because she'd have to spend weeks away from Regina and she wasn't sure she was mentally capable of dealing with that.

"As a matter of fact," Regina suddenly said, snapping Emma out of her moment of self-pity. "I have something for you too."

"You do?" Emma asked curiously as Regina swivelled in her chair and grabbed her purse. She was rummaging for a moment before she pulled out an object. Emma stared blankly down at it as soon as it landed in her hands.

Classical Literature: A Concise History

It was a book, and Emma kind of wanted to throw it at the nearest window.

"What's this for?" she asked slowly.

"I refuse to believe that you don't actually enjoy classics," Regina said. She was smirking again, although Emma couldn't figure out why. "I think you'll find it quite illuminating."

Emma nodded dumbly. "Cool. Well – thanks."

"I'm not expecting you to read the whole thing," Regina said. "Just promise me you'll try to start it tonight."

"Tonight?"

"Yes," Regina said firmly. "Promise me."

Forcing herself not to sigh at the thought of having to plough through a dry textbook that wasn't even on her reading list just to get an inch closer to having sex with Regina, Emma nodded. "I promise."

"Good," Regina beamed. "In that case, have a nice break, Miss Swan."

"You too," Emma said, pushing the book into her bag. "See you."

"Soon," Regina said, and that word alone renewed Emma's hope. She left the room, turning to throw Regina one more smile before she disappeared.


When she got back to her dorm room, Emma sat down on her bed and heaved the book out with a sigh. Calling it a 'concise' history was a bit rich – it was enormous and old and had that book smell that was just verging on the wrong side of mildewy. Still, she'd promised Regina something, and even then she was far too much of a sucker for her professor to even consider going against her word.

She flicked it open to the first page. A slip of paper fell out.

Emma all but fell to the ground as she scrabbled after it, Regina's playful smirk finally making sense.

Miss Swan,

I'm glad you're taking your education so seriously. Contact me on this number if you ever need any assistance.

Her cell number was written below it, and Emma dramatically clutched the paper to her chest.


Mary Margaret, along with nearly every other student in the college, left to go home the next evening, leaving Emma alone in their shared room. The building was silent, which used to unnerve her but after two and a half years settled her down a little. She felt like she could achieve so much more when there weren't hundreds of other students milling around distracting her.

The only thing she wanted to achieve right then, though, was related to the number she'd tapped into her phone the previous evening. She hadn't texted it yet because she was still trying to maintain some semblance of nonchalance, but after 24 hours she finally caved.

Hey, she typed out, biting her lip. It's Emma. Thanks again for the book – you were right. I found the first page very enlightening.

She put her phone down and leaned back against the wall behind her bed, waiting. She was pretty sure Regina would be the type of person to leave text messages unread for hours before finally deigning to respond, so she should really find something productive to do in the meantime. But before she could think of anything or even try to convince herself to do it, her phone buzzed

How lovely to hear that, Miss Swan. Like I said – if you require any assistance, I'll be happy to help.

The message ended there, but the bubble at the bottom of Emma's screen told her that more was coming.

Are you on your way home for Christmas?

Emma sighed as she typed out her response. No, not yet. It was a lie, but she didn't want to get into a discussion about how she wasn't going anywhere at all. Are you travelling anywhere for the holiday?

I'm going to my mother's this weekend, Regina replied. It will be interminable, but she does have a very well-stocked liquor cabinet.

Emma grinned. That's good. Will the whole family be there?

Sadly, yes. But that just involves my mother and half-sister.

Emma had inadvertently found someone whose family was nearly as small as her own. She typed out another response. Not a fan of little sis?

Big sis. And no, not especially. She was raised in England and now every time she talks I want to slap the accent out of her mouth.

Emma chuckled, settling down with her head on the pillow. Sounds like you're going to be needing that liquor cabinet, then. Maybe you should also pack some miniatures just in case.

My packing has been done for two days, but I can try and slip some in, came Regina's reply. Emma couldn't say she was at all surprised by this.

If you've already packed then what are you doing tonight?

Sitting at home by myself, Regina replied. You?

The same, Emma typed out. She paused before adding, My roommate just left so I'm trying to amuse myself.

For some reason, when those three dots appeared in the corner of her screen, Emma knew something good was coming next.

Is that why you're texting me? Regina asked. Are you hoping I'll keep you entertained?

A tiny leap of excitement jolted through Emma's chest. Maybe.

That's very presumptuous of you. I'm your professor, after all. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to socialise with you outside of class.

Emma grinned, holding her phone closer to her nose. I know. Call me an optimist, though.

Optimism won't help you here, Miss Swan. I'm removing myself from the situation.

For a brief, painful moment, Emma's heart dropped. She thought maybe Regina was being serious. But then the three dots popped up again, and she breathed out sharply.

They disappeared and reappeared several times before the next message finally came through.

It wouldn't be appropriate for me to tell you just how I'd 'entertain' you if you weren't one of my students.

Emma nearly choked. She sat bolt upright and frantically typed out a reply. You're right, it wouldn't be appropriate at all. She sent it and then, with shaking hands, added, Just like it wouldn't be appropriate for me to imagine it in great detail all night long.

As soon as she'd sent it, the panic set in. Regina was probably just being playful and, as per fucking usual, Emma had taken it one step too far. Her professor was probably staring down at her phone right that second, completely appalled, wondering why the hell she'd ever gotten involved with her in the first place when she was obviously incapable of acting like a normal human being.

The dots that told her Regina was replying reappeared, and she clutched hold of her phone like it was a life support machine.

You said you're alone?

Emma frowned. Yeah.

Are you wearing clothes?

Swallowing hard, Emma replied, Yeah, I am.

Take them off.

With a moan of longing, Emma threw her phone down the other end of the bed and stood up, ripping her shirt and her jeans from her body. She was wearing mismatched underwear and socks that had a hole in the toe, and her legs were irritatingly prickly from having not shaved them in nearly two weeks. There was a furious pounding between her thighs and it was threatening to topple her over, but even through that she found herself praying that Regina wasn't about to ask for a photo.

She lay back down on the bed and typed out, My clothes are gone, but I have to be honest – I'm not really in a fit state for showing you anything.

Another flash of panic. Who the hell said that Regina wanted to see anything? Emma groaned and closed her eyes, trying to ignore the growing pounding between her legs that was starting to feel like an engine roaring. When she felt a buzz in her palm, she creaked open one eye.

Oh, Emma. That's very thoughtful of you, but I don't want to see you naked for the first time over a phone screen.

Nearly crying with relief, Emma replied, But you do want to see me naked?

Very much. I've wanted that since the day you tumbled into my office.

It was the first time that that memory hadn't come accompanied by excruciating embarrassment. With a shaky moan, Emma replied, But, again – it wouldn't be appropriate for you to tell me about that.

She was giving Regina an out, just in case this had taken a turn and she suddenly wasn't sure she wanted to go down that route anymore. But after 30 seconds of typing, Emma received a response that made every drop of blood in her body rush towards her clit.

Precisely. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to tell you that after our kiss last week, I masturbated in my office chair thinking about you. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to tell you that I keep finding myself imagining you kneeling under my desk and eating me out.

Emma's hand had already slipped beneath her underwear, and with some difficulty she managed to type out a response with the other. Would it also be inappropriate for me to tell you that I've imagined doing that too?

Very. You should be ashamed of yourself, Regina wrote. After a pause, she added, Tell me more about it.

Emma's breath was coming out of her in shaky bursts now, but she managed to reply. I've thought about you bending me over your desk and fingering me until I scream.

Are you a screamer, Miss Swan?

Not usually, Emma admitted, her fingers moving furiously in her panties. But for some reason I feel like you might bring it out in me.

I'd certainly like to find out, Regina replied. Emma could hear the smirk in her text. Are you touching yourself?

Yes, Emma replied at once, because there was no point in being coy anymore. Regina started typing again at once.

Good, she wrote. Are you imagining my fingers inside you?

And your tongue, Emma replied, dropping the phone midway through because her hands were starting to tremble. Kissing you was incredible, so I'd really like to know what your mouth feels like in other places.

You've been thinking about this a lot, haven't you? Naughty girl. Emma groaned at that, her hips bucking up against her fingers. Do you lie in your little bed every night and play with your cunt while you imagine it?

Emma gasped out loud. She should have guessed from Regina's eternal smirk and heated stares that she would have a filthy imagination and an even filthier mouth, but the sight of those words piling up on her phone screen was something else altogether. Her blood was pounding in her pussy and as her fingers skimmed easily through her wetness, she knew she wasn't going to last much longer.

Yessss, she typed, her thumb slipping on the final letter. She didn't bother to correct it because that was exactly how she would have hissed it from between her teeth if Regina had been there. I have to wait for my roommate to fall asleep and even then I have to be quiet, and it's so hard because all I can think about is how beautiful you are and how good you always smell and how much I want to take your clothes off and fuck you senseless.

Her fingers were moving furiously over her clit, and the wait for Regina to finish typing out her response was agonising. Emma whined and panted and lifted her hips, dangling at the edge while Regina typed. And typed.

Miss Swan, came the eventual reply, and Emma could hear the purr that entered Regina's voice whenever she said that. Nothing (and I mean nothing) would make me happier than letting you do exactly that. To have you stay behind after one of our classes and pin me against the wall and lift up my skirt to find just how wet I am just from thinking of you. Do you know that I'm always soaked during our seminars? Every time you look up at me with those lovely green eyes of yours, I can't help all the filthy things I start thinking about. You always look so hopeful and a little bit cocky and all I want to do is pull you onto my lap and put my hand down the front of those tight little jeans and fuck you until you're a pleading, writhing mess.

Emma read every word with a growing urgency in her wide eyes and her pounding heart and her flying fingers, and long before she reached the final sentence, she was coming. Her body arched off the bed as she moaned out loud, enjoying finally being able to do this without having to hold back. She could feel the pearly wetness soaking her fingers and she kept fucking herself until she was well and truly exhausted. When she opened her eyes, the entire room was blurry.

She just lay there for a minute, her chest heaving and her phone lying flat on her stomach. After a while, she felt it buzz again.

Did you just come?

She laughed out loud, a relieved tear nearly slipping down her cheek. You know full well that I did.

Would you like me to make you do it for real?

Emma groaned, her pussy throbbing all over again. Yes, please.

Perfect. Because one of these days I'm going to do exactly that.

One of these days? Emma asked hopefully. They were both by themselves, after all – there was nothing stopping Emma from going to Regina's right that second and letting her make good on her promise.

When Regina replied, Emma could tell she was being laughed at. Has anyone ever told you that patience is a virtue?

Yes, Emma replied sullenly. Can't say I've ever agreed with them, though.

Normally, I would be inclined to say you're right. But I don't want to dive headlong into this.

The tone had changed from playful to sincere like a flick of a light switch, and Emma sighed.

I guess. I just can't stop thinking about you.

Maybe admitting that was too much too fast, but Emma was soft-boned from her intense orgasm and she didn't care all that much.

Regina replied quickly. I'm truly honoured to have found a place inside that wonderful head of yours. But we should still try and be careful.

She was right, of course. Her job was on the line, and Emma couldn't just start barging into her life whenever she wanted to just because she was feeling horny. She sighed and wrote back, I know, you're right. I'm sorry. After a beat, she added a second message. Can I see you when you get back from Christmas with your mom?

She waited for Regina to reject her, but instead, she received a I'd love that in response. After a few more seconds of typing, Regina added, I've got to go, Emma. We'll speak soon.

Sure, Emma replied. Soon.

Chapter Text

'Soon' turned out to be weeks away. As Emma wiled away her Christmas break almost entirely solo, Regina seemed to be at a never-ending barrage of family events and work conferences, so they hardly spoke. Texts fluttered between them like the last leaves falling off a tree, and by the time the new semester started, Emma was convinced that Regina had gone off her altogether.

Except, on only her second day back in classes, Emma was sitting in the department cafeteria doing some studying when Regina herself plonked down beside her. Emma looked up, her chest almost bursting at the sight of her. "Oh! Hi."

"Happy New Year, Miss Swan," Regina said, beaming back at her. "Did you have a nice break?"

Glancing around them, Emma couldn't help but notice the dozens of empty tables that Regina could have chosen to sit at if she'd wanted to. "It was okay. Nothing special. How was yours?"

"It was hell. I'm very glad to be back," Regina said. She looked like she meant it – her cheeks had an excited flush to them, and she was smiling at Emma so brightly that Emma's heart just about melted.

"Anyway," Regina said, crossing her legs. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I just wanted to ask if you'd be free to discuss your term paper tomorrow."

She was still smiling, and Emma caught the lie immediately: their grades were already being processed. There was no discussion to be had.

"Sure," she said out loud. "What time?"

"Come to my office at six?"

"Sounds good. I'll be there."

"Perfect," Regina said, flashing Emma her most winning smile. She left then, and Emma's entire body went hot and prickly. She could totally wait those 24 hours without going crazy. She could.


When she arrived at Regina's office the next evening, Emma's heart was pounding and her palms were sweating and she had an anxious tic beneath one eye. She'd barely slept again, and it had been virtually impossible to get through the day's classes without having a complete nervous breakdown.

But she'd made it to the promised land nonetheless, and she knocked on the door as casually as possible. Regina called for her to come in, and Emma slipped into the room with her vision swimming.

"Hey," she said. Regina was sitting behind her desk, but as soon as Emma walked inside, she stood up.

"Hi," she replied. She was wearing a white button-down shirt tucked into a high-waisted black skirt, and there was a mischievous glimmer in her eye. "I'm glad you could make it. Would you mind closing the door?"

Emma had already let it fall shut behind her, but she turned to make sure it was firmly clicked into place.

Regina must have moved like water, because Emma didn't notice her approaching until she turned back to find her inches away, her gaze fixed unashamedly on Emma's slightly open mouth.

"I missed you over the break," she said, and Emma immediately felt her body start to disintegrate.

"Me too."

Emma had a single second to notice that the blinds were shut and the lights were slightly dimmed, and then Regina was stepping forward, closing the gap between them and forcing Emma up against the door. Emma dropped her bag and wound her arms around Regina's neck, pulling her close against her so she could feel the contours of their bodies moulding together.

Emma had reminisced about every second of their first kiss a hundred times over during the winter break, and somehow this one already seemed even better. Regina felt looser, more certain, and her hands weren't afraid to stray from Emma's jaw down to her shoulders and then further down to her hips. She moaned softly against Emma's lips and pushed her harder, pinning her against the wood with the full weight of her body. Emma wriggled happily, feeling the delicious pressure of Regina's hips forced up against her own, and slid her fingers through Regina's hair. It was soft and glossy and so utterly grabbable, and when Emma clenched a fist in it, Regina whimpered.

"Too much?" Emma whispered, but Regina was already shaking her head.

"Do it again."

Emma complied, gripping a handful of hair and using it to tilt Regina's head back. Once her throat was exposed, Emma leaned in and gently kissed it, not daring to leave any marks in case someone saw them later but nibbling at the skin with her tongue occasionally flicking out against her pulse point in a way that made Regina's entire body tremble.

Eventually releasing her hair once more, Emma slid her hands down the front of Regina's body and settled them on the high waist of her skirt. Her stomach was toned and so deliciously warm that Emma had a hard time resisting the urge to drop to her knees and nuzzle her face against it. Instead, she settled for easing the bottom of Regina's blouse out of the waistband and slipping her hand beneath it. As she stroked her abdomen with her thumb, she felt Regina sigh against her. A second later, Regina was diving forward and capturing Emma's mouth once more.

There was something about the way that Regina kissed that made Emma's knees go weak. She managed to be fierce and tender and demanding and soft all at once, and whenever her tongue flicked through Emma's mouth, she swore she could see stars. Sliding her hand further round Regina's body, she pulled hard on her lower back until they were rearing up against the door once more, Regina's leg thrust between Emma's thighs and her hands pinning her hips to the wood. Emma caught Regina's bottom lip between her teeth just so she could hear her moan again, and then let her hands drop from Regina's waist down to where her skirt ended just above her knees.

"Emma," Regina panted when she felt the fabric being pulled up. "We shouldn't."

Emma paused, her lips still hovering over Regina's. "You don't want…?"

"No. I do," Regina insisted, resting a hand momentarily on the flat space just above Emma's chest, where Emma knew she would be able to feel exactly how hard her heart was pounding. "I just don't… I don't think we should. Not here."

With a sigh, Emma released Regina's skirt and wound her arms around her waist instead. She hugged her tight against her body and murmured against the corner of her mouth, "Are you sure you're not just trying to kill me?"

Regina chuckled. "Oh, I am. But not with this."

"Can I at least kiss you again?"

"I'll be extremely angry at you if you don't," Regina said, tilting her chin up. Emma dove forward and caught her mouth at once, trying to ignore the urgent throbbing between her legs and the way that her thighs were slightly shaky. She appreciated that Regina was being sensible, she really did, and she was glad that one of them had the good sense to at least try and take this thing slowly. But she also wanted to say fuck it; to wind her entire body around Regina's and let them both just get completely lost in this. There was an ache coursing through her body that she'd never felt before, and it was pounding all the way from her chest down to the very tiniest nerve endings in the tips of her fingers.

Regina moaned against her, her chest crushing up against Emma's, and Emma couldn't help herself. She slid her hands between their bodies and sought out Regina's breasts. When she found them, she squeezed.

Regina went totally still. Her head fell forward and landed on Emma's shoulder, and she froze like someone had hit the standby button on her brain.

"Emma," she whimpered. There was a thick tremor of desire in her voice, and it made Emma's panties flood instantly. "Please."

"Please stop?" Emma asked. She could feel the peaks of Regina's nipples through her shirt, and she twitched her thumbs against them. "Or please keep going?"

Regina released a sigh that quivered and begged. "I don't… I don't know."

But Emma knew what that meant – it meant she wanted her to stop, except she didn't really. What she really wanted was for Emma to rip her shirt off and then fuck her until she couldn't remember where she was. Her entire body was trembling and she suddenly felt so small, so uncertain, that it took every ounce of self-restraint that Emma possessed to gently push her away.

"Let's press pause."

Regina groaned with a mixture of relief and disappointment. "Okay."

Emma could tell that her hair must be a knotted mess from where Regina's hands had been delving through it, and she reached up to smooth it down. Regina watched the movement, her eyes hungry and dark.

Emma hesitated.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked uncertainly. "I thought you wanted to stop."

Regina sighed. "Yes, I do. But I also want to fuck you for the next 12 hours, so I'm just taking a moment to calm down."

Emma nearly slid down the door in shock.

"Oh."

The smirk that immediately tweaked at Regina's lips did absolutely nothing to help matters. "I do love it when you get that expression on your face."

"What expression is that?" Emma asked, even though she knew full well what she must look like at that moment.

Regina reached out and grazed her thumb over Emma's hopelessly agape lower lip. "Ever so shocked."

Emma glared at her. "I'm not shocked. I'm not some kind of virgin."

"I didn't think you were. But you still look incredibly startled whenever I say a curse word."

Blushing furiously, Emma admitted, "It's actually more the fact that I can't believe you want to do those things with me."

"Oh, come on," Regina purred, happy to have the upper hand again. She stroked Emma's cheek and softened when Emma melted into her touch. "Don't act so surprised. You're beautiful."

"Okay, but you're…" Emma choked out, and it was impossible to finish that sentence without making a fool of herself. "You're gorgeous and sophisticated and smart and… you're my professor."

Regina was watching her amusedly. "Yes, well done for noticing."

"I'm serious," Emma sighed. "Why are you even interested? This isn't allowed, right?"

They'd finally landed on the thing that neither one of them wanted to talk about, and Regina pulled back from Emma with a sigh.

"No, it's not allowed," she said softly. "The school can be lenient about things like this provided that I don't give you any special favours or treat you any differently to the other students, but that would usually only be the case if I just worked for the college and I wasn't actually your professor. The fact that I teach you once a week complicates matters."

"Well. I could drop your class," Emma suggested half-heartedly. Regina was already waving a hand.

"It's too late for that," she said. "If they got wind of any of this, we'd already be in trouble. Besides, you've put in a full semester of work and I'm not going to wreck that just because I turn into a horny teenager whenever you're around."

Emma snorted at that. "Not like any horny teenager I've ever met."

"Emma," Regina said wistfully. "The truth is, I don't really know what to do. The sensible thing would be for us to stop this and just… be normal. But I'm not sure I can do it."

She sounded so apologetic, and it broke Emma's heart. She tentatively reached out a hand so she could squeeze Regina's fingers.

"Look," she said. "Clearly I don't want to stop anything – but it's also not really my call. It's your job that's at risk, not mine, and so if you say we should stop this, then we will. And I'll understand."

Regina looked disorientatingly relieved about that. "You're very mature, you know."

"I can guarantee you that's the first time anyone's ever said that about me."

That made Regina chuckle again, and for a second Emma thought she was about to agree: she thought she was about to say okay, you're right. Let's stop this before it goes too far.

But instead, she took a step forward and kissed Emma hard on her lips. When she pulled away, it was with a grateful sigh.

"I don't want to stop," she murmured. "But we need to be careful."

Emma nodded at once. "Okay."

"Which means I need you to leave now before I rip your shirt off."

Blinking wildly, Emma pulled back from her. "What?"

"Get out," Regina said, turning away and walking back to her desk. "If you come near me again, I'm going to explode."

Emma probably shouldn't have been so smug about that, but she could feel herself grinning. "Okay – maybe you are a little like a horny teenager."

Regina glared at her as she sat back down behind her desk. "Not funny."

"Are you moody because you've got blue balls?"

"Don't be so disgusting. Just leave."

"When will I see you again?"

"Soon," Regina said, slumping down in her chair with a sigh. "In class on Thursday, at least."

"And then?"

"Soon," Regina repeated dully. "I can't think right now."

"Alright. I'll go," Emma said, picking her bag up off the floor. She turned to leave, then paused. "Are you going to start touching yourself as soon as I'm gone?"

Regina just looked flatly back at her, deadpan and unimpressed but not giving her an answer either way. Emma laughed and reached for the door handle.

"I'll see you soon then, Professor Mills."

"Get the hell out of my office, Miss Swan."

Chapter Text

 

"I swear, I hate men," Mulan muttered as she slid into the seat next to Emma's.

Emma laughed through her nose. "What happened?"

"Those two," Mulan replied, using her pen to point in the direction of August and Killian, who were both still chortling away one row back. "They both think they have a chance with me just because I'm single, and that I must be so overcome by their devilish charms that I won't mind when they don't do any of their assignments and then immediately try to copy mine."

"They tried that with me in week three," Emma said, not bothering to keep her voice down. "I jabbed my pen into Killian's hand."

"Oh, was that why he had it bandaged up for a week?"

"It sure was."

"Excuse me," Killian interrupted from behind them. "It was wrapped up for a day, and it wasn't from you."

"What was it from then, dumbass?"

"Why are you so interested in my hands, ladies?" Killian countered, wiggling his eyebrows. "Interested to see what they can do?"

"Jesus," Mulan muttered, turning back to the front of the class. Regina had just walked into the room, and Emma deliberately avoided staring at her. "You see, anyone with like, one fifth of a brain cell would have been able to work out that I'm gay as fuck by now. But not them."

Emma laughed. "Well – boys really are dumb. They don't think there's a chance that anyone could possibly resist them, when in actuality we've got some much better options waiting for us."

"Girls, you mean?"

"Exactly."

Regina was shuffling her papers ahead of them, which usually meant she was getting ready to start the class, but for once Emma was distracted from her. Mulan was laughing happily, her eyes crinkling at the sides.

"I thought you had a gay vibe about you."

"Sadly, I'm actually bi," Emma said, lowering her voice. "Which means those two fuckboys behind us do technically have a chance with me, but I'd prefer it if they didn't know that."

"My lips are sealed," Mulan said. "You can do better, anyway."

Emma glanced up at Regina then, who was just walking to the front and centre of the room.

"Yeah," she said quietly. "I probably can."

Regina called them all to attention, and Emma settled back into her seat to listen. Mulan, though, had other ideas.

"Are you seeing anyone at the moment?" she whispered. Regina looked at them immediately, and Emma stayed quiet.

"Alright," Regina said, turning back to the rest of the class. "Did everyone remember to do the assigned reading for this week?"

"Is that a no?" Mulan hissed in Emma's ear.

Emma mumbled back, "I'm… sort of seeing someone. It's early days."

"Ah, I get it. How many dates?"

"Well. Technically—"

"Miss Swan," Regina barked, making her jump in her seat. "Did it escape your notice that class has begun?"

Emma felt her cheeks turn pink. "No. Sorry."

Annoyingly, it seemed that Regina's angry face was still a turn on for her, because with that one displeased look Emma felt a familiar throbbing start up between her legs. She swallowed and tried to straighten up in her chair, hoping that if she looked more focused it would take Regina's attention away from her again.

Narrowing her eyes, Regina walked over to the whiteboard and began to write something down. As soon as her back had been turned for three seconds, Mulan leaned over again.

"Guy or girl?"

Emma glanced at her. "What?"

"The person you're seeing – guy or girl?"

Frantically scribbling down the notes that Regina was marking up on the board, Emma hissed, "Girl."

"Does she go to this college?"

"Err – yeah."

She knew Regina was going to turn around again before she did it. When she spun on the spot, her eyes were flashing. "Miss Swan. I assume you'd like to tell everyone what's so interesting?"

She really, really didn't. "No, that's okay."

"Then why are you wittering on about it while I'm trying to teach?"

Emma's cheeks were burning red, and when she said, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again," she was humiliated by how small her voice sounded.

"Sorry," Mulan whispered as soon as Regina had turned away again. Emma didn't respond this time – she kept her head down, her face prickling and her pulse still pounding. She crossed her legs tightly to try and suppress the ache between them.

Maybe she'd been naive to think that her new relationship with Regina meant that she'd magically transform into some kind of teacher's pet overnight, but she had to admit that she was a little put out by just how strongly Regina seemed to disagree. She'd snapped at Emma louder than she'd even done to anyone in that class, and Emma had to wonder whether she was just that good at suppressing her feelings, or whether she was working overtime to make it look like she absolutely didn't have any.

Except Emma was a little humiliated, so she found it hard to feel complimented by this. She and Regina had been texting each other only an hour earlier, so there was no excuse for her being quite so bitchy just because Emma had been having her first ever conversation with another human being during the seminar.

She was tired and grumpy, and so she put her head down and went through the class in silence. There was the faintest chance that she also wanted Regina to be worried about her, but she knew that was pathetic and so she paid no mind to it.

When class came to an end, Regina strolled to the back of the room and began rummaging in a cabinet for something. Emma rolled her eyes – clearly her plan had backfired, and instead of being concerned, Regina was just pissy.

So she got up from her seat and packed her books away, walking toward the door with Mulan. And then, from behind her: "Miss Swan. A word?"

She stopped walking, and Mulan turned to throw her a sympathetic look.

"Do you want me to stay with you?" she asked. "This was my fault."

She was right, but Emma would die before she let someone interrupt a private talk with Regina. "No, it's cool. I'll see you next week."

Mulan nodded, taking one more glance toward the back of the room before she left. Emma turned, her hands gripping her backpack strap, and waited.

Regina was still searching through the cabinet, but Emma was slowly beginning to realise that she wasn't actually looking for anything. As soon as the last student had left, she turned and walked over to the nearest desk. When she hopped up onto it, she left her legs dangling beneath her.

"So," she said casually. "Do you want to tell me what you and Miss Fa were talking about?"

It was a real struggle not to laugh at that.

"Regina. You embarrassed me in front of everyone."

"You were talking."

"I was not!"

"Don't lie to me," Regina said, tilting her head to one side. "I could hear you. What was so interesting?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "Well, if you must know – she was asking if I'm seeing anyone at the moment."

She caught the flare of Regina's nostrils before she could hide it, and it was delicious.

"Oh?" Regina asked coldly. "And what did you say?"

"I said no."

She was lying because she wanted to see if Regina's face would darken. When it did, it was the sweetest victory Emma had ever tasted.

"I see."

The jealousy was seeping from her, and Emma couldn't help but fall a bit in love it.

"What?" she asked innocently.

"Nothing," Regina replied. "I'm just wishing I'd humiliated you a little louder now."

Taking a step forward, Emma said, "She wasn't hitting on me."

"Maybe not at first, but now that she thinks you're on the free market, she certainly will be."

"Am I not on the free market?" Emma asked, raising her eyebrows. Regina just glared back at her, because she knew full well she couldn't respond to that. Eventually, Emma caved. "I told her I'm seeing someone, but it's early days."

"What?" Regina asked. "You lied to me?"

"Maybe."

"Why?"

"Because you yelled at me, and I wanted to get back at you," Emma smirked. "And I have to say, it worked. Jealousy is a nice colour on you."

Regina opened her mouth to protest that fact, then closed it again when she realised her outrage would probably prove Emma's point more than it would contest it.

"You're a manipulative little thing," she said eventually. Emma decided to take that as a compliment.

"I know," she replied, taking another step forward. She wanted to step right up into Regina's space, to kiss her while her feet were still dangling from the table, but the door behind her was wide open and people were rushing past. Standing six feet away was about as close as she could get. "And I actually am sorry for talking during your class."

Regina kept glaring at her for a second, before conceding, "Fine. I'm sorry for snapping at you."

When Emma beamed back at her, the scowl on her face finally lessened. "It's okay. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but part of me actually liked it."

Regina's eyebrows shot up. "Why?"

"Well. Partly because it's kind of good to know that you're not suddenly going to stop being my professor now that we're… you know." She couldn't think of another way to finish that sentence, but luckily Regina was already smiling. "And partly because I found it… sort of hot."

Regina's eyes instantly went darker. Gripping her hands around the edge of the desk, she leaned forward and asked, "Oh, did you?"

"…maybe."

"And why is that?"

"I don't know. Because you're intimidating and scary and sexy, I guess?"

"Miss Swan," Regina chuckled, and Emma knew she was itching to climb to her feet and reach out for her. "You really are full of surprises."

Emma blushed at that, glancing down at the ground. When she looked back up, Regina was still smirking.

"I have to admit," Regina continued, "that I slightly enjoyed it too."

"Really?"

"Mm. I like the reminder that under all this, you're still just a young woman who has to do what I say," she said coolly. "And maybe I happen to enjoy subduing that smart mouth of yours."

She was talking quietly, guaranteeing that no one who happened to be walking past would be able to hear, but Emma still staggered back half a step.

"You do?"

"Very much so. You need to remember how much I love that shocked little expression you put on. It makes you look very innocent."

Emma laughed, but it was strained. "I'm starting to think you have some sort of virgin fetish."

"I don't," Regina said serenely. "I just have a thing for pretty girls who turn to putty whenever I flirt with them."

In any other circumstances, Emma would have moaned out loud at that. "I don't turn to putty."

"Oh really?" Regina said, raising one eyebrow. "Then tell me, Miss Swan. What would you do if I pulled my skirt up right now and showed you that I'm not wearing any underwear?"

Emma staggered sideways, banging her thigh on a table. "You're not?"

Regina was smirking at her again.

"Yes, I am, actually. But I think I proved my point."

"Oh, shut up," Emma scowled at her. "That was really mean."

"No, it wasn't," Regina purred. "Mean would be telling you that I love how your ass looks in those jeans, and how I'd like to bend you over this desk and take you from behind right now."

Half the blood in Emma's body rushed up to her face while the other half trickled down to between her legs. "Regina. Please don't do this to me right now."

"Do what?"

"Turn me on, that's what," Emma snapped. "You know I have no self-control – if you goad me hard enough I won't be able to stop myself."

With a twist of her lips, Regina admitted, "Fine. I'll stop."

Except her stopping wasn't enough to push the image out of Emma's mind. "I thought you said we had to be careful."

"We do," Regina said, finally hopping off the desk again. "But no one can hear us, and just because we're being careful doesn't mean I can't also have some fun."

Emma sincerely wished that Regina would want to have a different, slightly more hands-on type of fun, but she seemed intent on making Emma wait as long as possible for that. Emma sighed wistfully.

Regina seemed to read her all too well, because she was smiling again. "You seem impatient."

"You know I am."

"I think I could have even more fun with that," Regina said. Before Emma could interrupt with another groan of longing, Regina chirped, "Now, you should probably get going."

She brushed past Emma, leaving behind a cloud of perfume that would forever make Emma's entire body tremble, and headed back to her desk. As she began gathering up her belongings, Emma slowly trailed toward the door.

"Where are you going next?" she asked after a pause.

"Back to my office. I have some papers to grade. And no," she said before Emma could ask. "I don't need company."

Emma nearly whined at that. "Fine. I'm going home."

She turned for the door, expecting that to be the end of their conversation. But before she made it over the threshold, she heard from behind her, "Text me."

At once, Emma's heart was alight.

"I will."


She managed to wait until the evening before she sent Regina a text. When her professor replied almost immediately, Emma briefly let herself believe that she'd been sitting by her phone all afternoon waiting for it.

You really did look great in those jeans today, Regina said right off the bat, and Emma sighed loudly enough to make Mary Margaret look up from her studying.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Emma said, already typing out her reply. "Just someone from my class."

Has anyone ever told you that you have the dirtiest mind in the world?

Not recently, Regina replied. Is it a problem?

It is when I'm sitting opposite my roommate and can't do anything about it.

She sat back and waited for a response to come through. She was asking for trouble, luring Regina into another filthy conversation when she wouldn't be able to touch herself until hours later, but she couldn't help herself. Maybe it was because Regina was so into literature, but her texts always seemed to convey a thousand different emotions that did a thousand different things to Emma's intestines when she read them.

Her next message was no exception. What are you doing Saturday night?

Emma nearly dropped her phone in her haste to reply. Nothing, why?

I have a friend who's a playwright, Regina wrote back. One of her shows is on at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre for the next month. Would you like to go?

Emma hesitated. It sounded like she was being invited on her first official date, and as much as that excited her, it also made a plume of sheer terror rise up inside her ribcage.

I'd love to, she typed out anyway, hoping her apprehension wasn't visible on the screen.

Great. Give me a moment and I'll send you the details.

Emma clicked her phone off and glanced up at her roommate, who was studying with a frown on her face. "Mary Margaret?"

"Mm?"

"What do people wear to the theatre?"

Her roommate's eyes snapped up to look at her. "Sorry?"

"It's just the little playwrights' theatre off campus," Emma mumbled. "But…"

"You've never been to the theatre before?"

"…not exactly."

"Who are you going with?"

"Just a friend. From class."

She was a terrible liar, and Mary Margaret knew it. "Like a date kind of friend?"

Emma wanted to scoff and say no, but she needed all the help she could get right then. "Okay, fine. Yes. A date."

Practically squealing, Mary Margaret said, "Well, it's about time! And I'm glad you've met someone who wants to take you somewhere so nice for a first date."

"I guess," Emma shrugged. "Should I dress up?"

"I don't think you need to. It's not a very formal venue."

"Okay, so no ball gowns or those tiny binoculars or anything?"

"No, Emma," Mary Margaret laughed. "Just wear something nice. Who's the guy?"

"Just… someone from my classics class."

"Is it serious?"

"I don't think so. I mean, it's only the first time we're going out."

"But do you think it could be?"

Right at that moment, a text came through from Regina. It had all the details for their date, followed by I have to admit, I'm very excited to spend some proper time with you. See you there. Emma all but melted.

"Well," she said softly. "I don't know. But I hope so."

Chapter Text

Emma spent the next 24 hours frantically deciding what she should wear for her first date with Regina, and in the end chose a pair of dark jeans and a skimpy black camisole that glimmered when she moved. She'd wanted to make an effort and wear a dress, but she didn't own many of those – besides, Regina never seemed to have anything but admiration for her never-ending repertoire of skinny jeans. It was unlikely she was about to complain.

Emma pulled her black leather jacket on over the top, paying no mind to the fact that it was January and bitterly cold outside, and headed across town. She arrived at the theatre 10 minutes early and waited to one side, carefully watching every person who walked into the venue to make sure she didn't spot anyone who she knew – or, worse, someone who might know Regina as well.

"Miss Swan," a voice, slightly breathless-sounding, came from behind her. She turned and found Regina walking toward her with a beaming smile on her face.

"Hey," Emma replied. Sudden nervousness came over her, and she reached up to tuck her hair behind one ear. "How are you doing?"

Regina swept forward and kissed Emma's cheek before she answered, "I'm great. You look freezing, though – is that all you brought for a coat?"

Emma glanced down at herself. "Err. Yeah."

"Emma," Regina sighed, reaching out and running a hand down her frozen arm. Even through the leather, her touch made Emma's skin spark. "Come on, let's get you inside. Would you like a drink?"

Emma followed Regina dumbly into the building, waiting while their tickets were checked and stubbed before answering. "Sure, if you're having one. I'm buying this time, though."

"That's really not necessary."

"Of course it is. What can I get you?"

With an amused smile, Regina reeled off an order for a large glass of red wine, and Emma walked off to the bar without her. It was only as she was approaching the front of the line that something lurched in her stomach and she remembered two very important facts: that she was still underage, and that, with all the excitement and anxiousness she'd been battling through that day, she'd forgotten to bring her fake ID with her.

The guy was already watching her expectantly, though, and she could feel Regina's gaze on her shoulders from several paces away. She smiled brightly and went for it.

"Hey. Can I get a large glass of red – merlot, if you've got it – and a JD and Diet Coke?"

"Can I see your ID?"

The line came back immediately, and Emma grimaced. She pulled her licence out of her wallet, knowing full well that it would tell the bartender she wasn't 21 for another month, and wasn't at all surprised when he handed it back with a shake of his head.

"Sorry," he said. "Not today."

Her cheeks immediately started burning, and she nodded and turned away. Regina was leaning against a pillar in the centre of the lobby, watching curiously as Emma walked back empty handed.

"Was there a problem?"

"Um. Yeah," Emma said. She briefly considered lying, but there was little point – Regina knew she was a junior, and she must be able to do simple math. "An age-related one."

She waited for Regina to flinch away from her, but instead she just sighed.

"Oh. Somehow I completely forgot about that."

"Sorry. I normally bring a fake with me but I was a bit… distracted tonight."

To Emma's relief, Regina smirked. "It's alright. Come on – I think there's another bar upstairs. I'll leave you with the other children while I go and buy the drinks."

"Children?" Emma demanded as they started walking up to the top level.

"Yes. You can make friends with the other babies while I'm gone," Regina said cheerily. "Can I leave you alone for two minutes without getting into any trouble?"

Struggling not to laugh, Emma said, "I really can't promise anything."

"I believe in you," Regina replied, positioning Emma near the edge of the room and then striding off by herself. She returned a few minutes later, triumphant and carrying a glass in either hand.

As they ambled to their seats, Regina asked, "So. How long until you can throw that fake ID away?"

"Five weeks," Emma sighed. "I should have told you."

"Don't be ridiculous. I could have worked it out for myself if I'd really tried."

"It doesn't bother you?"

Regina looked at her curiously. "Why would this be the thing to bother me?"

"I don't know. Because I'm underage."

"You're 20 years old," Regina said smoothly. "And you're a college student, and an adult. The drinking age is ridiculous anyway – this doesn't make any difference to me."

Emma smiled, relief flickering over her face. "Okay, good."

"Besides, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to only have a problem with this very specific part of everything that's going on," Regina continued. They found their seats and sat down, and Emma tried not to jump any time Regina's arm brushed against hers.

"Can I ask how old you are?" Emma heard herself blurt out. She hadn't even realised she was about to say it, given that it was both rude and irrelevant, but curiosity suddenly got the better of her. She couldn't even blame the drink that she'd only had one sip of.

Regina smiled, somehow still amused. "How old do you think I am?"

"Oh, no. I'm not playing that game."

"Why not?"

"You know why not. It never ends well."

"I promise, I'm younger than I look," Regina said, her arm brushing against Emma's again as she removed her coat and folded it in her lap.

"That really doesn't help me, since you look amazing."

Regina snorted lightly. "Fine. I'm 35."

Something hot and desperate twisted inside Emma's stomach and she struggled not to drop her drink.

"Right. Okay."

"Does that bother you?"

If they'd been in another place, not surrounded by other theatregoers, Emma would have grabbed Regina's hand and forced it beneath her jeans just so she could show her exactly how much it didn't bother her. But right then she was forced to simply squeak, "No. Not at all."

Regina's eyes glanced down to take in the sudden pinkness in her cheeks, and she smiled back at her.

"So," Emma said, trying to sound vaguely normal. The seats were slowly filling around them, and from their position in the upper circle they had a good view of all the other people who were joining them. "What's the play about?"

"You didn't look it up?"

"I wanted to be surprised," Emma replied. "Have you seen it already?"

"No, it's only been running for a few days. But Kathryn has been going on at me to buy tickets ever since they started rehearsing, so I feel as if I have."

"Kathryn?"

"My friend. The playwright," Regina clarified. "I refused to tell her which day I'd be coming, otherwise she would have tried to join us."

Emma laughed. "I'll be honest – I'm a little paranoid about seeing someone I know."

"Me too," Regina replied quietly. "But it's unlikely, and besides – we'd have to see someone who knows both of us for it to be a real problem."

"I guess," Emma said, looking around once more. There were hundreds of seats, and everyone's faces seemed to be blurring into one. That made her feel slightly better – it would be difficult for someone to recognise them, especially after the lights went down.

She turned back to Regina and found her already staring at her. She hesitated. "What?"

"Nothing," Regina said. After a beat she admitted, "I was just looking at your hair."

"My hair?"

"Yes. It's very beautiful," Regina said. She looked like she was about to reach out and twirl a strand of it round her finger before she thought better of it.

"Thanks," Emma replied, her palms suddenly itching. Regina's chocolaty eyes were still on her, and she wanted nothing more than for her to reach out and bury her hands amongst her messy curls.

Instead of doing that, Regina took a sip of her wine and then lightly touched Emma's thigh. "I'm glad you agreed to come with me tonight."

"No problem," Emma said, her voice shrill and breathless. "I'm glad you invited me."

A bell rang from the open doors behind them, and Emma waited for Regina to remove her hand from her leg. It never happened.


All throughout the play, Emma tried desperately to pay attention to what was going on. It was her first theatre experience and she wanted to enjoy it, but with Regina sitting right next to her, staring thoughtfully at the stage with her thumb grazing over the rough denim covering her thigh, it was impossible. Emma had to focus most of her attention on just stopping herself from trembling.

Every now and then, she turned her head and looked at Regina instead. Regina caught her every single time, but she didn't laugh at her. Instead, she just smiled before looking back at the stage. On one occasion, she squeezed Emma's leg and murmured, "Pay attention. I'll be asking questions later."

When the play came to an end, Emma let Regina lead her out of the auditorium in a daze. Her entire body was throbbing. She stood close to Regina's side as they navigated their way out of the building, and even though Regina was chattering about the play and her thoughts on it, Emma couldn't hear a word she was saying. All she could think about was Regina's glossy hair and pouted lips and what it would feel like to have them against her own again.

She thought she might actually cry if Regina said goodbye without kissing her.

"So," Regina said. They'd walked to the edge of the curb together and the cold wind was flicking her hair about her face. Emma wanted to reach up and stroke it away from her forehead. "Did you enjoy the play?"

"I did," Emma said. "Thanks for bringing me along."

"Thank you for coming," Regina replied, smiling. She pulled one hand out of her coat pocket and glanced at her watch. "I'm afraid it's a little too late to go for dinner now."

Emma hadn't even considered that that might be a possibility, but she nodded. "Yeah. I figured."

"Would you…?" Regina started, and a spark of hope flashed up inside Emma's ribcage. "Would you like to come back to my place for a drink?"

Emma nearly toppled sideways into the road.

"Yes," she said immediately. "Please. I'd really like that."

Regina smiled at her. "Excellent. Then let's get a cab before you freeze to death right in front of me."

She lifted an arm and a taxi appeared in front of them half a second later. Regina pulled the door open for Emma and let her slide inside.

Regina's house was on the other side of town, in a quiet, leafy street that seemed worlds away from Emma's dingy room on campus. Emma peered curiously out the window as the houses rushed by, counting the Teslas and the BMWs and thinking about how she'd eaten expired Pop Tarts for breakfast for the past three days because she couldn't afford to buy any new ones. All of a sudden, they were pulling up outside number 108: it was a beautiful, enormous house with white walls and a wrought-iron gate out front, and Emma inhaled sharply.

"Wow," she said before she could stop herself. "If I'd known that working for a college paid this well, I would have tried slightly harder in my classes."

Regina laughed as she paid the driver. "Don't be so ridiculous. It's just a house."

Emma couldn't fathom a response to that, so she let herself be ushered out of the car with a nudge to the back of her arm. She could feel herself starting to giggle as they walked up the path together – it was partly from the single drink she'd had and partly from anticipation, but Regina didn't seem to mind. She looped their arms together and led Emma up to the porch, only disentangling herself when she had to unlock the front door.

Emma felt strange walking inside, like she was going to dirty the wood floors. She immediately removed her boots and glanced around at the vast foyer, the spiral staircase, the grand piano in the next room. "Sure. It's just a house."

"Would you like a tour?"

"Um," Emma started hesitantly. "You know, I think I'm good."

She didn't want to look around because she wasn't sure she could cope with seeing just how different Regina's life was from her own. Thankfully Regina seemed to realise that, and she didn't push it.

Smiling, she said, "Okay. Can I take your jacket?"

Their fingers brushed together when Emma handed it over. Emma caught her appreciative glance at her toned arms.

"Now," Regina said, leading her into the living room. "I don't want to be irresponsible by plying an underage girl with alcohol, but would you like a drink?"

"You're not still worried I'm going to report you, then?"

"I've decided to trust you for the time being."

"A terrible decision," Emma said, perching herself awkwardly on the expensive couch. "A drink would be great."

Regina's eyes crinkled at the corners. "Alright. I'll be back in a moment."

She disappeared through another door and into what Emma assumed was her home office, leaving Emma to sit on the very edge of the couch with her hands clasped between her knees. It wasn't exactly warm in the house and she was still cold from going out without a proper coat, but she wasn't sure that was the reason why she was trembling.

When Regina returned a few minutes later with a drink in either hand, Emma could have sworn that she'd put more lipstick and perfume on. Regina handed her a glass of amber liquid, and Emma watched with a smile as she sat down beside her.

"So," Emma said after pausing to sip her drink. "You live here alone?"

"I do."

"Do you mind that?"

Regina shrugged. "Not especially. I work long hours and it's nice to not have to worry about anyone waiting at home for me."

"I get that. Have you ever been married?"

"No," Regina smiled slightly wistfully. "I've not been especially lucky in love, I'm afraid."

"Me either."

"Well, look at the pair of us," Regina chuckled. "We can't find anybody normal to date us so we've gone in search of the most unattainable option possible."

Emma grinned. "That's not true. I could have chosen the dean."

"Right, and I could have chosen someone in high school. But given our circumstances, I think we've both been as moronic as possible."

Emma couldn't help but twist closer to her on the couch at that. "Life isn't fun without a few stupid mistakes, though."

"That's very profound, Miss Swan," Regina said, taking a sip of her wine. Her gaze fell to Emma's lips. "Tell me – what other stupid mistakes have you made?"

Oh, there were too many to list off: there were the times she'd run away from foster homes as a kid; the times she'd stolen bottles of beer as a teenager and drunk herself sick in the park. There were the stupid boys she'd dated in high school – in particular, the one who'd taken her virginity in the back of his yellow VW Beetle before running off to give her a score out of 10 on the wall of a Burger King bathroom – and the girls she'd let break her heart over summer vacations. But she wasn't sure Regina really wanted to hear about any of that – and, more to the point, she wasn't sure she was ready to share the story of Poor Orphan Emma just yet – so she settled on something a little more mundane instead.

"I got a tattoo when I was 17."

"Really?" Regina's eyebrows lifted. "Where?"

"Hidden in plain sight," Emma said. Regina's eyes immediately dropped over her, taking in her bare arms and smooth shoulders before coming to rest on the thick strap of her watch.

She held out a hand and, without thinking, Emma placed her arm in it. Regina shuffled forward so she could ease open the leather strap, before carefully placing the watch on the coffee table. A second later, she was peering down at the thin outline of a flower on Emma's wrist.

"It's very elegant," she said, her leg pressed against Emma's. "Is there a story behind it?"

"Yes and no," Emma said. She was expecting Regina to let go of her arm, but she didn't appear to have any intention of doing so. Instead, her thumb was lovingly stroking the thin skin over her veins. Emma was certain that she must have been able to feel her pulse thrumming away.

"Will you tell me?" Regina asked. She said it so hopefully that Emma couldn't possibly say no.

"There's not much to tell," Emma replied, because removing her tragic foster-home backstory also got rid a lot of the explaining. "But I just had a bit of a… rough childhood, I guess. And when I was 17 I met this guy who immediately broke my heart, and after that I just felt angry and stupid and I wanted to do something to make myself feel better. So I got a tattoo that would remind me of growth, and of overcoming adversity. Flowers are pretty tough, after all – even when they get trampled underfoot, they grow back again eventually."

Regina was watching her with soft eyes. "That's a lovely reason."

"I guess," Emma shrugged. She still didn't pull her arm away, even though Regina's fingers were beginning to feel hot against her wrist.

"Why do you cover it up?"

Emma laughed at that. "Because I have a tattoo of a fucking flower. It's embarrassing."

"But it's symbolic."

"Sure, but people don't get to hear that story. Anyone else who sees it just assumes I went through a really late Barbie phase."

"You don't tell people the reason?"

"No, not usually," Emma replied.

"But you told me."

"I know."

Stroking her wrist a little more firmly, Regina asked, "Why?"

"I don't know. You asked, and I wanted to tell you."

"Well. I'm very glad," Regina said. Her thumb pressed down just slightly against Emma's pulse point, and Emma fought not to shiver. "I like getting to know you, Emma."

There was something about the way she said her name that made Emma feel like she was floating. She curled her legs up underneath her, deliberately letting her knees bump against Regina's thigh, and smiled back at her.

"I like getting to know you too."

"Would you like to know anything in particular?"

There were so many things Emma wanted to ask, but she settled on one easy question. "When did you realise that you liked women?"

Regina smirked, like she'd been expecting it. "A long time ago."

"How old were you?"

"Young – maybe only 12 or 13. I had crushes on boys, but I had crushes on girls too. I had my first ever kiss with my best friend underneath the apple tree in my parents' backyard."

Emma smiled. "That sounds nice."

"Well. It was, until my mother caught us and grounded me for a month."

"Oh. Less nice."

"Yes. But that's all in the past now," Regina said with that easy smile that made Emma's whole world go warm. "She can't stop me from kissing girls anymore."

"She can't," Emma agreed. She sounded a little breathless. "And I think you should celebrate that."

Regina laughed, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind Emma's ear. "Oh, do you?"

"Absolutely."

"What kind of celebration did you have in mind, Miss Swan?"

Emma glanced down at her lips, hoping she would take the hint, but Regina seemed intent on making her work for this. "Well. If there was a girl around for you to kiss, then you should do it. Just because you can."

"That's a nice idea. If only there was such a girl nearby."

"Want me to find one for you?" Emma asked. Regina smirked back at her.

"Not really," she admitted. "There's only one very specific person who I want to kiss right now."

"That's funny – me too."

"Do you always talk this much when you're flirting?"

Emma felt her cheeks turn pink. "Who said I'm flirting?"

Regina's thumb tapped against her pulse point.

"This very frantic heartbeat says it," she said quietly. "So do those lovely eyes of yours."

"Regina," Emma blurted out, because the need to do this had been filling her up for weeks and she was starting to think that she might explode if it didn't happen right at that second. "I'm going to kiss you now."

"Okay," Regina replied, lifting her chin like it was a challenge. "Go ahead."

Emma edged nearer and slipped a hand beneath Regina's hair, teasing her fingertips against her scalp before she leaned forward. Regina closed her eyes at once, her lips just slightly parted in anticipation, but Emma didn't go press hers against them. Instead, she gently kissed Regina's cheek, holding herself there, soaking up the surprise in Regina's body before moving further back and kissing her at the downy part of her temple. Regina was still holding onto her wrist and Emma felt her grip get tighter as she shifted again, kissing the shell of her ear, then dipping lower to the soft dent where her neck met her jaw. Her tongue flicked out to tease at her skin, and Regina shivered.

Emma slid her hands deeper into her hair and gently tilted her head back. Regina sighed as Emma's lips traced the curve of her throat, lightly kissing her from one side of her jaw to the other and then moving lower, softly nipping and sucking her way down to her collar bone. Emma could feel her starting to wriggle, and the touch on her wrist wasn't gentle anymore: her nails were digging in, leaving sharp little half moons that Emma knew she'd be sorry to see fade. Above Emma's head, Regina was starting to whine and sigh.

It got too much for her when Emma slid one hand down from the nape of her neck to the front of her throat and squeezed ever so slightly. Regina groaned, both hands reaching out for Emma's shirt and grabbing hard. "Come here."

Emma was on her lap in a flash, her arms winding round her neck as their mouths finally collided. Regina gripped hold of her hips and tugged her closer, moaning without any restraint into her mouth. She was warm and needy and tasted of red wine, and Emma's body rolled against hers like a wave. She could feel Regina's fingers digging into her flesh, and she wanted more already – she wanted Regina to tear her clothes off and throw her to the floor and do whatever she wanted to her. Emma had been waiting for this for weeks, for months, and she was so close to getting it that if Regina told her to stop now, she wasn't sure she'd be able to. The thought was terrifying.

She whimpered gently and clung on more tightly, nearly falling apart when Regina's hands slid up the back of her shirt and grazed over the nodules of her spine.

"Emma," Regina suddenly said, tearing their mouths apart. She looked up into Emma's eyes, breathing hard. "Do you want to do this?"

"God, yes."

"Are you sure?" Regina insisted. She reached up to brush Emma's hair away from her face before saying, "I don't want to take advantage of you or make things difficult, so if you're in any way unsure, please say something."

But Emma had never been so sure about anything in her life, so she answered by grabbing the front of Regina's dress and pulling her back into their broken-off kiss. For a split second, Regina's body was tense against hers, but as Emma's lips began to move, she melted back into her. Winding her arms around Emma's waist, she held her tight as they kissed, their breathing coming quicker and their heads feeling progressively dizzier.

Then Regina was pulling away a second time, pushing Emma off of her lap. "Get up. I need you upstairs right now."

Emma didn't need to be told twice. She leapt to her feet and held out a hand to help Regina off the couch, and Regina reciprocated by yanking Emma up the stairs and into the room at the very end of the corridor. Before Emma had a chance to take in her surroundings or compliment Regina on her tasteful choice in home furnishings, she was being forced up against the wall with a leg pressed between her thighs. She ground down on it automatically, her fingers diving back into Regina's hair so she could tug her closer, and she soaked up the way that Regina sighed and gasped into her mouth. She sounded so relieved, and it only made Emma want her more.

Then there was a set of greedy fingers at the bottom of her shirt and Emma arched her back away from the wall so that Regina could tear the fabric off of her. The very second she was topless, Regina's hands were on her breasts, rolling against them and squeezing through her bra. Emma whined and thrust her chest harder against her, wishing Regina would stop dragging every damn thing out when all she wanted was for them both to be completely naked and on top of one another already. But then Regina buried herself in her neck, gently sucking and kissing the most sensitive spot in a way that made Emma feel like she was floating a few inches above the ground, and she realised how naive she'd been. Delayed gratification was a good thing, even if she nearly died in the process.

She reached around for the back of Regina's dress and started fumbling with the zipper. Regina chuckled at her struggles, the vibration of her laughter tickling Emma's neck.

"So impatient."

"Can you really blame me?" Emma muttered, finally grasping hold of the metal tab and tugging it down a few inches. "I've been wanting this since the day I met you."

"Have you?"

"Yes," Emma hissed through her teeth just as Regina gently bit down on her throat. "You looked at me like I was such a moron when I fell into your office, and I haven't stopped thinking about you since."

Regina laughed again, then suddenly latched onto Emma's throat and sucked hard. Emma moaned, collapsing back against the wall as she felt her blood rushing to the surface of her skin in a murky mix of red and purple.

"Good thing it's winter," Regina commented, moving slightly lower and doing the exact same thing again. "Because you're going to need to wear a turtleneck for a while."

Emma's hands were physically shaking by this point, and all she could do was tip her head back and grip hold of Regina's hips and force out, "Do it again."

Regina obliged, dipping her head once more and sucking harder. When she pulled away, even she looked slightly shocked. "Oh."

"I don't care," Emma said. She could feel herself panting. Her heart was thrumming to the point of pain, and when Regina's gaze snapped back up to look at her again she could have sworn that her breathing stopped entirely.

Her pussy felt hot and swollen against her jeans and, like a woman who was completely possessed, she reached out for Regina's hand and forced it flat against her crotch. "I need you to fuck me."

Regina's look of surprise quickly melted into a smirk that told her just how pleased she was about this. She cupped Emma's pussy through her jeans and laughed when she all but wailed.

"You do, don't you?" Regina purred. Her hand slipped up and popped the button on her jeans. "Well, that's very convenient. Because I'm planning to fuck you until the sun rises."

Before Emma could think of a witty response, Regina's hand was curling through the waistband of her jeans and she was tugging her toward the bed. Emma stumbled along behind her, her legs shaking, and let herself be shoved onto the mattress.

Regina kneeled by her feet and removed her socks, throwing them over her shoulder like she was angry at them for getting in her way, then rose to her feet and leaned over her. She gripped hold of her jeans, waiting until Emma nodded frantically back at her before she pulled them off. When Emma was left lying in her underwear, she took a moment to stare.

"Emma," she said, and for a second she almost sounded angry. "Do you have abs?"

Emma looked down at herself. "Um. Yeah?"

"Where the hell did those come from?"

"Seriously?" Emma laughed. "I do boxing and running and I guess I'm just—"

"Stop," Regina interrupted, suddenly turning around. "Take my dress off. I need to take a closer look at them."

At once Emma was up on her knees, crawling to the edge of the mattress so she could peel the zipper down the rest of the way and help Regina shrug herself free of the fabric. The dress fell to the floor, and when Regina turned around, every last drop of moisture disappeared from Emma's mouth.

"Oh my God," she said softly, her eyes on Regina's breasts and her expensive bra and her toned, tan stomach and the skimpy little panties that barely covered anything. She was fucking majestic, and Emma automatically reached out a hand for her.

Regina twined their fingers together and got up onto the bed, pushing Emma onto her back once more. As soon as she was lying flat, Regina crawled on top of her, kissing Emma's mouth for the briefest of moments before she headed downward.

"Well," she purred, trailing her fingers along the grooves of Emma's abdomen in a way that would have been ticklish in any other circumstances. "I must admit, I didn't think you could get any more attractive. But it seems I was wrong."

She was leaning dangerously close to Emma's pussy, and Emma wriggled beneath her. When Regina dipped her head and pressed a kiss against the very centre of her stomach, she groaned.

"I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't tell me about this before now, Miss Swan."

"How exactly was I supposed to bring that up?" Emma asked, her fists bunching in the sheets. "I can't just waltz into people's classrooms blurting out 'Hey, everyone, who'd like to check out my rocking bod?'"

Regina's breath of laughter against her navel made Emma's whole body vibrate.

"I suppose not. But if you had, I probably would have fucked you a lot sooner."

Emma moaned, arching her back. "Don't say stuff like that."

She could feel Regina's grin as she continued moving across her stomach. Her tongue was lapping against her favourite muscle lines, and with every single touch Emma could feel her panties getting wetter.

"I'm so sorry," she murmured. Emma glanced down and realised that there were smears of lipstick all around her belly button. "Does it turn you on when I say that?"

"You know it does."

"Yes, but I want to hear you say it," Regina said. She started crawling higher again, leaving a long line of kisses from Emma's navel up to her breasts. "I want you to tell me how wet you are."

Emma groaned. Regina's head was just beneath her chin now, adding more bruises to her already splotchy neck, and she could barely concentrate enough to force out, "It turns me on when you say you want to fuck me."

"Mm," Regina murmured against her throat. "Why is that?"

"Because…" Emma gasped. "Because it means you've been thinking about me just like I've been thinking about you."

"What have you been thinking about?"

"What you look like naked," Emma admitted instantly. "What it would feel like to be fucked by you."

"Anything else?" Regina's voice hummed from just beneath her ear. With the full weight of her body pinning Emma down into the mattress, she was overwhelming her from all sides.

Emma swallowed, her eyes fluttering closed as Regina's lips grazed over the shell of her ear. "What you taste like."

Regina pulled back, positioning her face directly above Emma's. "Would you like to find out?"

"Yes," Emma bit out urgently, her hips rolling beneath Regina's. "Please."

Regina slipped a hand between their bodies, and Emma felt the brush of her fingers just millimetres away from where she needed them. With a sharp intake of breath, Regina slid her fingers into her own panties, circling for a moment before withdrawing them and bringing them up to Emma's mouth.

Emma's lips parted at once, and Regina didn't have to tell her what she wanted her to do. Emma sucked her deep into her mouth, her eyes fluttering shut as she got her first taste of her, and swirled her tongue around every finger in order to get them clean again.

When she opened her eyes, Regina was staring down at her with enough hunger to burn her.

"You are something else," she murmured, her voice full of wonder. Before Emma could ask what she meant, Regina was diving forward again and kissing her hard. Her tongue slid hungrily into her mouth, and Emma whimpered at the feel of it grazing against her own.

She arched her back, pressing herself up against Regina, and almost immediately a hand scooped up her wrists and pinned them to the sheets above her head. Regina pulled away from her lips and murmured, "I can't wait to hear you scream." Then her other hand was creeping down between them, teasing against the outside of Emma's panties.

As soon as she felt a finger roughly dragging up the centre of her pussy, Emma threw her head back and groaned. "God."

"Is that good?" Regina purred. She looked so smug, so captivated, and Emma hated the fact that she was still pinned down and couldn't reach up to kiss her again.

"Yes," she whined, bucking her hips to try and get some more contact. Regina chuckled.

"Would you like more?"

"Please."

"Can you only speak in monosyllables?" Regina asked, and Emma scowled back at her.

"Yes."

"Pity," Regina said. "Although, I suppose that means you can still politely ask me to fuck you."

She waited then, not moving, and Emma thrashed impatiently beneath her.

"What are you doing?" she asked, her eyes on Regina's spare hand, which was now resting on her lower stomach.

"Waiting for you to ask."

Emma groaned loudly, lifting her hips as if that would possibly nudge her along. "Please."

"Please what?"

Emma glared up at her. "Please, Professor. Fuck me. Right now."

A flash of shock and desire crossed Regina's face, and Emma knew she'd won.

"Oh. Very demanding," Regina murmured. "I like it."

There was a pause, and then a hand was inside Emma's panties and ghosting over her pussy, the fingertips barely touching her skin. Emma canted into her touch, and then nearly screamed when Regina pulled away again.

"I should have known you'd be such a fucking tease," she groaned, pulling at Regina's grip on her wrists once more.

"You don't like it?"

"No. Please, Regina. I'm dying here."

Regina responded by repeating the action, trailing the very tips of her fingers over Emma's pussy until her entire body was trembling.

Impatience and need suddenly swelled up inside her, and all at once it was too much. Emma yanked her wrists free of Regina's grip through sheer will alone and grabbed her hips, flipping her round onto the bed so abruptly that Regina let out a squeak.

Emma didn't bother with the teasing or the monologuing that Regina had been enjoying so much. Instead, she straddled her waist and dove forward to capture her mouth in a biting kiss, soaking up the way that Regina moaned with surprise and longing. She didn't resist or try to gain the upper hand again – she just slid her hands round to the back of Emma's neck and tugged her closer, spreading her legs as far as they would go beneath Emma's splayed thighs.

Emma felt the movement and went hot all over, and before she could talk herself into taking this slower, she was slipping a hand down between them and cupping Regina's pussy hard.

The gasp that Regina let out made everything worth it – all the months of uncertainty and the embarrassment and the anxious chasing. Regina threw her head back against the rumpled sheets and moaned like she'd been waiting for this her whole life, and Emma knew right away that she'd never forget what it sounded like.

Removing her hand from her pussy, Emma snaked her arms beneath Regina's back and unhooked her bra. Regina arched up immediately, giving her room to tug it free, and before Emma had a chance to prepare herself, she was staring down at Regina's naked chest. It was heaving up and down from her frantic breathing, and all Emma could do was groan softly and murmur, "You are perfect." She dove forward and kissed Regina hard, her fingers gently pinching her nipples so that she gasped deliciously between every brush of their lips.

Emma was surprised by how little time it took to work Regina up into a whining, wriggling mess. Her hands were desperately scrabbling over Emma's thighs and back, trying to grab hold or pull her closer or push her away or nudge her along, and after just a few minutes of languidly kissing her throat and teasing her nipples beneath her thumbs, Emma started to realise that she might actually cry.

"Emma," she gasped, arching her back. Emma looked up to find that her eyes had scrunched shut. "For God's sake."

"So you like to tease, but not to be teased?" Emma hummed, ducking lower and lapping her tongue over Regina's breast.

"Sometimes. But not now," Regina replied, clutching the back of Emma's head and tugging her closer. "I need you."

There were no sweeter words in the English language, and Emma instantly caved. She pulled away from Regina's chest, disentangling herself from her greedy fingers, and began to crawl down her body, falling a bit in love with the way that Regina's sucked in a breath with sheer anticipation.

Emma slowly peeled Regina's panties off, her stupid hands trembling when she realised how wet they were. She managed to unhook them from Regina's feet and toss them onto the floor, and then, just like that, she was face to face with a completely naked Regina. It was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen.

Regina had pushed herself up onto her elbows so she could watch Emma taking her in, and for the briefest of seconds, she actually looked nervous.

A hot, clawing wave of desire crept up Emma's spine, and she heard herself bite out, "Lie back down."

Regina blinked at her. "Why?"

"Because I'm going to make you come now, and want you to enjoy it without hurting your gorgeous neck."

Surprise flashed over Regina's face, but before she could do as she was told, Emma was lowering herself between her legs and dragging the full length of her tongue along her slit. Regina groaned, crashing back down against the bed, and immediately fisted a hand in Emma's hair.

Emma's eyes fluttered closed as she smeared the taste of Regina all over her tongue, but as Regina began to moan and arch against her, she snapped them back open again so she could watch. Her head was thrown back and her chest was pushed high in the air, and she had already lifted one leg so she could hook it over Emma's shoulder and plant her foot firmly against her back.

Replacing her tongue with circling fingers, Emma murmured, "Tell me what you like."

Regina gasped out, "Exactly what you were doing."

"Can I fuck you?" Emma asked. For once, she wasn't trying to be coy or tormenting – she was just making sure they were on the same page.

"Emma," was Regina's frantically bitten-out response. "Will you put your goddamn fingers inside me, please?"

Emma wasn't sure she'd ever laughed immediately before latching her mouth around someone's clit before, but there was a first time for everything. She bent her head once more and began to lick and suck, and just when it felt like Regina was about to explode from frustration, she slid two fingers inside her. Regina's hips immediately bucked up, her body trying to take them deeper, and Emma grinned against her skin.

Regina's thighs were strong and burning hot against the sides of her head, and her fingers were needy in her hair. Emma kept going, swirling her tongue around her clit until she could hear her breath starting to catch, and just when it sounded like she might be close to coming, Emma drove a third finger inside her.

Regina all but wailed as Emma began to fuck her harder, her fingers plunging deep inside and corkscrewing before dragging slowly back out. Emma could feel the tremors creeping down her thigh muscles, and every time she looked up Regina's spine seemed to be arching further and further off the bed.

Then, as Emma pressed her tongue flat against her clit and ground it down, Regina's grip on her hair tightened. "Emma – I'm…"

That was as far as she got before she curled upward with a long, low moan. Her entire body went rigid, and Emma kept pumping her fingers furiously inside her, dragging the orgasm out for as long as possible. Wetness was smeared over the lower half of her face and her fingers were drenched as they plunged back inside, and Emma could feel her own cunt throbbing desperately.

Suddenly Regina's thighs snapped together and her hand was pushing against Emma's forehead. Emma pulled back, disentangling herself from Regina's legs and waiting for them both to catch their breath.

"Oh my God," Regina groaned. She looked soft-boned and exhausted, and her chest was heaving. "That was… quite something."

Emma laughed. "It was okay?"

"It was very much more than okay," Regina sighed. She sounded near-delirious, and her hair was messy and fanned across the sheets. Emma felt a renewed throb of longing between her legs.

"Good," she said, grabbing Regina's hips and forcing her to roll over. "Because it's time for round two."

As she fell onto her stomach with a gentle thump, Regina managed to choke out, "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me," Emma said, nudging her legs apart using her knees. "I seem to recall you saying something about us having sex until the sun rises?"

But Regina couldn't reply to that, because Emma had already placed a hand between her legs and was gently rubbing a circle over her pussy. Regina dragged the sheets toward her face and moaned into them, "Oh my God."

Emma laughed, leaning over Regina's body on one hand, and pushed two fingers back inside. Regina's hips immediately lifted, her ass sticking up in the air as she willed her in closer.

"Fuck."

Emma groaned, plunging her fingers deeper. "Say that again."

Managing to force a laugh out mid-moan, Regina repeated herself. "Fuck, fuck."

"That's it," Emma cooed, adding a third finger and driving them in harder. "Now tell me how much you want this."

She could see how much Regina wanted this in the glistening wetness between her thighs, but there was something so intoxicating about being the one with the power for once that she couldn't help herself. Regina groaned, the sheets now a scrambled mess beneath her face, and panted, "You… are not… in charge."

Emma smacked a hand across her ass and smirked when Regina gasped, rocking back harder against her. "Aren't I?"

But Regina was finally lost for words, and Emma saw her sneak a hand beneath her body so she could frantically rub at her clit as Emma fucked her. Bending low over her body, Emma pressed a kiss against her spine and kept plunging into her, her toes curling at the wet noises that were coming from Regina's pussy and the desperate ones that were coming from her mouth.

When Regina came for a second time, she collapsed down onto the bed, her ass still lifted just high enough to let Emma keep fucking her until it started to hurt. She gasped then and wriggled away, and Emma fell down beside her, her hand cramping and drenched and her face split into a grin.

Regina stayed still for a minute, sprawled on her stomach with her head facing in the other direction. Emma reached out and gently rubbed a circle over her back, waiting for her to recover.

When Regina finally came to her senses again, her body transformed. She rose up onto her knees and crawled on top of Emma, fixing her with her hardest stare.

"That was a neat trick."

Emma grinned shamelessly back at her. "Are you going to try and pretend that you didn't enjoy it?"

"Well, that seems pointless," Regina said, arching an eyebrow. "Given the fact that I'm wetter than I've ever been in my life."

To illustrate her point, she dipped her fingers back between her legs before pushing them roughly into Emma's mouth. Emma dutifully licked them clean, her gaze never leaving Regina's, and felt the throbbing in her panties intensify.

"Like I said earlier," Regina drawled, her fingers still deep in Emma's mouth and her eyes darker than ever. "I'm very much enjoying getting to know you."

Emma replied in the only way possible, by biting gently on Regina's knuckle. Regina flashed her a smile and pulled her fingers free, dipping low for a hard kiss before climbing off of her entirely.

Emma pushed herself up onto her elbows and watched her crawl away. "Where are you going?"

Regina reached the head of the bed and sat down with her back against the headboard, her legs long and crossed at the ankle. "I want to watch you undress."

Glancing down at herself, Emma said, "I'm pretty undressed already."

"Not enough," Regina said, eyeing Emma's bra and panties with derision. "Take them off. Slowly."

The power balance between them had switched again just like that, and Emma did as she was told. Climbing back onto the carpet, she reached behind her and sought out her bra clasp. Regina's eyes watched coolly as she peeled the fabric away from her chest and let the bra drop slowly to the floor.

Regina sighed. "Just as I suspected."

"What?"

"You're perfect," Regina said. She wasn't blinking. "To be 20 again."

"Regina, you're—"

"I wasn't looking for a compliment," Regina interrupted. There was hunger all over her face. "Take your panties off."

Desire shivered through Emma's body like an icy wind, and she hooked her thumbs through her underwear like she'd been told. Regina watched as she shimmied them down her legs, and when Emma was finally naked, she let out a low groan. "Good. Now get over here right this second."

Emma didn't need to be told twice. She hopped back up onto the bed and crawled toward her, gasping when Regina snatched up her wrists and tugged her into her lap. Their breasts brushed together as Regina pulled her close, crossing her legs so that Emma was resting in the cradle of her thighs, and all the while she gazed up at her with dark eyes that looked equal parts amazed and impatient.

"How many women have you been with?" she asked softly, surprising her.

"Um," Emma ventured, wriggling in her lap. Her hands had slid up to rest on Regina's shoulders, and she shivered when she realised just how smooth her skin was. "Three."

"And how many men?"

"I don't know. More than three."

Regina's face crinkled with a smirk. "And how did you like to be fucked by them?"

Fighting back the automatic moan that came whenever Regina said that word, Emma said, "It depended. Sometimes I wanted it to be slow and gentle, and other times I wanted to be forced up against a wall and fucked until my brain started melting."

Regina chuckled. Her hands slid up from Emma's waist to her breasts, and she gently squeezed. "Which one would you prefer now?"

Five minutes ago, Emma had been fucking Regina into the mattress with a devilish gleam in her eye and determination rippling through every muscle in her body. Now, she felt suddenly shy. Regina's gaze was intimidating and delicious and it was making every inch of her body thrum with desire.

"I honestly couldn't tell you," she replied, sounding breathless. She arched her back and pushed her breasts harder into Regina's palms. "I just don't want to wait any longer."

Suddenly a hand was creeping down her stomach and settling between her legs. Emma whined when it cupped her pussy, which was throbbing desperately and slick with wetness. She rocked forward against Regina's fingers.

"You're sure you want this?" Regina asked quietly. Emma leaned their foreheads together and nodded.

"Yes. Please."

"Tell me if you want to stop."

"Regina," Emma gritted out, her pussy fluttering against Regina's hand. "I really appreciate you being so respectful and all, but could you stop worrying about me and just—"

She was cut off by a harsh kiss. At the very same moment, Regina slid two fingers deep inside her, spreading them against her tightly clenching walls, and locked her thumb over her clit.

Emma cried out, tearing her mouth away from Regina's, and pressed their foreheads together again.

"Is this what you were going to ask for?" Regina purred. Emma nodded, breathing hard. "Are you going to ride my fingers like a good girl?"

Emma was certain that every inch of her body was shaking when she forced out a single, "Yes."

She pushed herself up onto her knees and began to grind down against Regina's hand, wishing that she could take her so far inside her that she bottomed out completely. As it was, Regina's thrusts were frustratingly shallow and the tiny circles she was rolling around her clit were doing absolutely nothing to take the edge off of her need. Emma opened her eyes, ready to whine and ask for more, when she saw the twisted smile on Regina's face.

"Is that good?" Regina asked.

Emma choked out, "No."

"Oh, dear. That's a shame. Do you need something else?"

Suddenly certain that she was about to cry, Emma gripped hold of Regina's shoulders and started rocking furiously, forcing her cunt as low down onto Regina's hand as it could go. She felt the faintest ripple of pleasure for her efforts, and she threw her head back with a whimper.

"Emma," Regina said smoothly. She slipped her spare arm around Emma's waist and held it tight against her lower back. "Is there a problem?"

"I've been…" Emma choked out, still grinding hard with tears of frustration prickling at her eyes. "I've been wanting this forever and I need to come and I can't and you're not even trying to—"

Regina suddenly tugged her forward, and before Emma could brace herself, she was being tipped over and onto her back. She thumped down onto the sheets with Regina's fingers still inside her, and without pausing for even a second to let her work out what had just happened, Regina began fucking her mercilessly, chuckling when Emma arched her back off of the bed and cried out loud.

"Is that better?" she purred, and Emma nodded her head in a wild thrash.

"Yes, yes."

"Are you going to come for me now?"

Emma couldn't answer that, because there was a moan caught in her throat that sounded like an animal growling. She kept her hands on Regina's shoulders and pulled her down against her, locking her legs around her waist. Regina laughed and forced a third finger inside her, moaning as Emma's wetness smeared all over it.

"You have been wanting this for a while, haven't you?" she asked, because she could feel the way that Emma's pussy was clenching around her and she could see the wild gratitude in her eyes. Emma wriggled and moaned beneath her, so in love with the feeling of Regina's entire body pinning her down and fucking her blindly, and just like that, she came furiously, a cry escaping from her mouth with enough force to stop her breathing. 

The orgasm had barely left her before Regina was pulling free and forcing Emma up onto her knees. Emma did as instructed, dazed and with her muscles still quivering, as Regina crawled round behind her. Her warm body pressed itself up against Emma's back just as a hand slid around Emma's throat. The other sharply pinched a nipple, and Emma hissed with a combination of discomfort and arousal that was certain she'd never felt before. Regina laughed, reading both sensations perfectly, before releasing her breast and slipping two fingers into her cunt once more.

"I liked it when you were in control earlier," she murmured into Emma's ear, pulling her wet fingers free and circling them around her clit. "But I think I like this even more."

Emma couldn't have fathomed a response if she'd tried. Her thoughts were muddy and sticking to the walls of her brain, and trying to sift through them just made her feel dizzy. Regina's breath was hot against her ear and her fingers were tormenting now, flying over her clit at a speed that made Emma's breaths turn shallow, and all she could do was reach up and grip at the hand that was clamped around her throat, hoping it would hold her upright.

"Come on," Regina murmured, grinding her pelvis forward against Emma's ass. "You can do better than that."

Emma howled, her cunt suddenly pulsing, and she came with a gush of wetness that left her breathless and shaking. Regina kept on going, drawing the pleasure out for longer and longer, and only let her go when Emma started trying to wriggle away from her.

Emma collapsed forward onto the bed and ground her hips against the sheets, feeling the aftershocks twitching through her. Her pussy felt stretched and exhausted and deliciously satisfied, and yet she wanted more. Every inch of her skin was on fire.

She felt a wet hand rub soothingly over her ass. "How was that?"

With her face still buried in the sheets, Emma lifted one hand and waved her off. Regina chuckled, crawling on top of her and kissing her shoulder.

"You're so warm," she murmured, letting her lips trail down the full length of her spine. Emma moaned, waiting until she felt the pressure disappear from the small of her back before she rolled over. Regina was hovering above her, smiling brightly, and when Emma reached up to pull her down for a kiss, she didn't resist.

Emma sighed happily as Regina lay herself down next to her. "This definitely met all my expectations."

"Mine too," Regina said, nuzzling up against her side. "But we're not done yet."

"We're not?"

"Absolutely not," Regina said. "First, we're going to go downstairs and get something to eat. Then I'm going to fuck you over my kitchen table. Then I might let you have another glass of whisky, if you're very good, and then we're going to come back up here so I can eat you out in the shower."

Emma sighed loudly. "You really do play dirty."

"Of course I do. We have a lot of lost time to make up for."

Grinning, Emma rolled toward her and brought their lips together. When she pulled away, Regina's cheeks were pink.

"Well then, Professor Mills," she said, noticing for the first time that her brown eyes were scattered with flecks of amber. She smiled. "I suppose we'd better get started."

Chapter Text

Part of Emma worried that once she and Regina had had sex once and gotten it out of their systems, they would never speak again. She still couldn't 100 percent understand what her professor actually saw in her – she definitely couldn't work out why she was willing to put her entire career on the line for her – so it wouldn't have surprised her at all if Regina had decided to call things quits after she'd finally gotten her fill.

She was wrong, though. If anything, once Regina had gotten a taste of her, it only made her want her more.

Emma woke up to texts from her most days. Nine times out of 10, they were filled with pure, unadulterated filth. She was eternally grateful that Mary Margaret left the dorm early most mornings for her various teaching assistant positions, because when Emma woke up to a text that cheerily informed her Good morning, Miss Swan. I had the most wonderful dream where you crept into my bed in the night and woke me up by grinding your pussy against mine. I woke up dripping wet and I've just come all over my fingers thinking about you. I'm still slightly breathless and I wish you were here to guide me through it a second time, so if you'd be interested in trying that some day, so would I, it was absolutely impossible not to groan out loud and fuck herself senseless in response.

The fact that they only had class together on Thursdays didn't matter anymore, because for the next week Emma saw Regina nearly every day. Regina had the most voracious appetite of anyone she'd ever met, and every single afternoon at around four o'clock, Regina would call Emma slyly asking if she had any plans that evening. If Emma was already busy, she would sigh and say, "Fine. But I expect you to make it up to me tomorrow." If Emma was free, then Regina would pick her up from an empty corner of campus and pounce on her in the front seat.

Emma's studying immediately took a nosedive, because she was spending so much time at Regina's house and letting herself be bent over various pieces of furniture that she barely had time to focus on any of her classes. She didn't care all that much, though. Not when she was falling into a black hole of flirting, sex, secret dinners and king-sized beds, and she got to do it all with Regina's wonderfully dark eyes staring back at her.

It was easy to forget that the rest of the world was carrying on around them. But then, after barely a week, reality came knocking at Emma's door.

She sat blinking at her laptop screen, where her grades from the previous semester had finally been posted. Some technical issue or another had delayed them, and she hadn't even cared because she'd been so preoccupied by Regina's filthy words swirling around her head and her fingers sneaking down the front of her jeans. But now she was faced with a series of letters and numbers – most of them fine, and some of them even good – and her stomach went tight.

Regina had given her a B-. A really fucking low B-.

Emma wondered momentarily what she'd been expecting. She didn't care about classics, after all – she'd been open enough about that. Getting a B wasn't bad, all things considered. But she was right at the bottom end of the scale, barely scraping past a C, and worst of all, she'd tried – she'd tried really hard and she'd even redone the essay when Regina had told her to. Her other assignments had all gone sailing off onto Turnitin with barely a second thought, but her classics paper had been a labour of serious love. She deserved a better grade. She did.

Besides, she was sleeping with the professor. Surely that had to count for something.

Without texting Regina to tell her she was coming, she showed up at her office the next morning and knocked on the door. When she stuck her head inside the room, Regina was wearing her usual frown that was reserved for grading papers and any student who wasn't Emma.

She looked up, saw who was waiting in the doorway, and immediately beamed. "Emma. What a surprise."

"Hey," Emma said, slipping inside and closing the door behind her. When she turned back around, Regina was eyeing up her legs in her tight jeans. "What?"

"Nothing," Regina said, leaning back. "How can I help you?"

There was a curl in her voice that suggested she already had an idea of exactly how she could help. Emma wasn't there for that, though – they'd already established that doing too much on campus was an accident waiting to happen, so Regina's office was largely off-limits unless it was already nighttime and the door was locked.

Right then, it was 11 o'clock in the morning and Emma wasn't in the mood for a seduction.

"I saw my grade."

Regina's excitement faded. "Oh. You've come to discuss it?"

"Yeah."

"Oh," Regina repeated. Her disappointment was almost endearing. "Very well. Take a seat."

Plonking herself down in her usual chair, Emma asked, "An 80?"

"Do you think that's unfair?"

"Well. When I spoke to you about it before Christmas, you seemed to think that if I made some changes, I'd get a higher grade."

Regina was watching her steadily. "And you did. You were on a 72 before this."

"A what?"

"Emma," Regina sighed. "You've already admitted that you hate this class, and I've told you about my concerns regarding your engagement with the topic. Were you really expecting an A?"

Emma's sullen pause told her everything she needed to know.

Regina wasn't the type of person to beat around the bush, so she calmly asked, "Were you expecting a better grade because we're sleeping together?"

"No," Emma said at once, although her cheeks were burning.

"Don't lie to me."

"Okay, fine. I wasn't expecting to get a grade I didn't deserve, but—"

"But what?" Regina interrupted, watching her carefully. "You didn't want a grade you didn't deserve, but you did want a higher grade than what you got?"

Emma glared back at her. "I just thought I'd earned something a bit better. I worked really hard."

"Have you spoken to anyone else in your class yet?"

"No."

"Well. If you had, then you'd know that your grade was still one of the highest."

Emma paused. "A B- was one of the highest grades in the class?"

"Yes," Regina replied coolly. "Surely you must know that I'm a notoriously tough marker. Most people would be thrilled to get a B out of me."

Emma didn't feel thrilled. She felt like she'd let both of them down, and Regina didn't even seem to care.

Maybe Regina saw the flash of disappointment on her face, because she suddenly got up from her chair and walked around to the opposite side of the desk. She positioned herself in front of Emma and leaned back, her arms folded over her chest.

"It was a good grade, Emma."

"It wasn't."

"Yes, it was. Why would I lie to you?"

"You wouldn't. I just… I wanted to do better."

"Why?"

Emma didn't reply to that, because the answer was humiliating and she wasn't sure she could force herself to say the words without tears leaking out after them. She looked down at her lap, where her fingers were furiously picking at her thumbnails, and thrust her jaw forward.

Then there was a hand cupping her chin, and her face was being eased up. Regina was watching her, her eyebrows knitted together.

"Why did you want to do better?" she repeated her question.

Trying to shake off the cashmere-soft feeling of Regina's concern, Emma forced out, "I guess I just wanted you to be… proud of me."

That came out wrong. She made it sound like she had some kind of parental complex – which, to be fair, she did, although Regina didn't know that and wouldn't any time soon either.

Regina was just watching her curiously, though, with her thumb grazing along Emma's jawline.

"What makes you think I'm not proud of you?"

"I got a B-! Barely."

"And plenty of other people got Cs and Ds," Regina countered. "Besides, you took my advice and you worked hard and you improved your essay immeasurably. I was thrilled when I read the second version."

"You were?" Emma asked. She hated herself for how goddamn needy she sounded, but there was something about Regina's praise that made her entire body feel like it was shimmering.

"I was," Regina said firmly. "And I'm sure you'll do even better on your next assignment. But, Emma, I have to make this clear now – you won't be getting any special treatment from me when it comes to your grades. What we're doing is dangerous enough as it is, but I'm not willing to risk anything else by giving you extra credit."

"I know," Emma sighed. "And you're right. I don't want that either."

Regina was still cupping her chin, and her grip got momentarily firmer.

"You're doing just fine. Stop being so hard on yourself."

There it was again – that twinge of support that Emma hadn't realised she needed.

"Well. I've ended up sleeping with my professor," she said, trying to sound light-hearted. "So I'm not doing that well."

"I don't know about that," Regina replied. "I'd say you're doing superbly at that particular task."

Emma grinned. "Would I get more than a B for that?"

Regina surprised her by leaning forward, pressing her mouth against her ear and all but purring, "You'd be top of the class, Miss Swan."

"I hope there isn't much competition."

The chuckle that Regina let out tickled Emma's skin. "There's no competition. Just you."

Hot, sticky desire filled Emma's abdomen, and she sighed longingly. "How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"That thing where you make me need you so badly with only a few words."

Regina pulled back with a smile. Her mouth was only a few inches away, and her spare hand was resting on Emma's knee.

"It's a rare gift," she said. "Why don't you tell me what you need from me, Emma?"

There was something about the way Regina commanded things that always left Emma a little weak.

"Right now, I need you to stop looking at me like that."

"Oh really? And why is that?"

"Because I have two more classes today and I won't be able to concentrate on them if my panties are soaking wet."

Regina's eyebrows rose, betraying her surprise, and she glanced down at Emma's clenched thighs. "Now, that is a shame. I wish I could see for myself."

"I'm not stopping you."

"You know how I feel about doing things on campus," Regina said, her voice gently scolding even as her fingers crept up Emma's leg. "I don't appreciate you trying to undermine me."

Emma shivered at her tone. "I'm sorry, Professor Mills."

It was dangerous to use that name, and Regina's eyes flicked up to look at her in a way that wasn't quite a glare, but it was close.

"That's alright," she said slowly, her fingers reaching Emma's waist and plucking momentarily at the top of her jeans. "I suppose you just need to learn your lesson."

Fighting not to moan out loud, Emma felt rather than saw Regina's fingers pop open the button on her jeans. They didn't stray any further, however. Instead, Regina reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind Emma's ear.

Emma waited. Her heart felt like it was bruising her chest.

"Would you like me to get on my knees for you right now?" Regina asked quietly, and Emma nearly choked. She could hear people streaming down the corridor just beyond the door that was closed but not locked, and although the answer was yes yes fuck yes, she knew it wasn't going to happen. She knew Regina was smarter than that.

She swallowed and said, "Yeah, but I don't think you're going to."

Regina's smile was proud and mischievous.

"A+," she murmured, leaning forward for just a moment so that Emma thought she was going to kiss her. She pulled away again at the last second, straightening up and going back to her own chair. "Can you see yourself out?"

Emma groaned, slouching down. "You're evil."

"The evilest," Regina smirked. "Don't forget to button your jeans back up before you leave."

Emma staggered to her feet and did so, grabbing her backpack and heading for the door without looking back. She was halfway down the hall when her phone buzzed.

One of these days I'm going to get you completely naked, sit you up on my desk like a pretty little ornament, and I'm going to eat your pussy until all of my papers are soaked.

Emma nearly staggered into the wall. She was just trying to think of a response when another message came through.

Are you free tonight?

She laughed through her nose. She had two essays to write and the whole of Tess of the d'Urbervilles to read, and yet she was already typing out her reply.

For you, always.

Chapter Text

Regina was a busy person. Emma already knew that. She worked long hours and was always on the phone and even when they were together in the evenings, her mind was often elsewhere. More than once, Emma had woken up in the middle of the night to find Regina's bedside lamp on, and Regina herself scribbling something into a notebook.

Emma learned quickly not to bother her when she was engaged with something – her forehead was always crumpled into a perfect little frown, and sometimes, even if Emma waved a hand right in front of her face, she hardly noticed her presence. It was easier to roll over and curl up against her side and mutter that she was working too hard. If Regina noticed that she was awake, she would reach out and tangle her fingers through Emma's hair and gently stroke it until she'd fallen back asleep.

Over the next few weeks, though, Regina was a different kind of busy.

"But I haven't seen you since Thursday," Emma said one weekend. She was locked in the bathroom and speaking quietly into the phone so Mary Margaret wouldn't hear.

"I know," Regina sighed. "I'm sorry. I've just got so much on my plate right now and I know that if you come round, I'll get distracted far too easily."

"Should I take that as a compliment?"

"If you like, although your charm is very inconvenient."

Leaning back against the wall and stretching her legs out along the tiled floor, Emma said, "Maybe I can help you with all the stuff you're busy with?"

"You can't."

"I can try."

"Emma, I have two meetings with the dean of arts this week just to go over my class schedules and to prove how far along I am with covering Dr Hopper's work. Are you going to come with me and hold my hand?"

"No," Emma said, hoping Regina couldn't hear her pouting. "But I could help you prepare."

"Don't sulk," Regina replied, right on cue. "I'm seeing you on Tuesday, aren't I?"

"That's three whole days away."

"Do you miss me that much?"

There was a playful lilt to Regina's voice, and it just made Emma want her even more.

"No," she said flatly. "You know you're unbearable."

"I do," Regina chuckled. "I am sorry, Emma, but I just need time to deal with all this without you luring me into bed. You could probably do with some time off as well."

She was absolutely right, which was the worst thing. Emma's studies had continued to slide over the past few weeks, and she needed to snap herself out of it and get her shit back in order. She was on a scholarship, after all, and she had to work hard if she intended to keep it that way.

"I know," she sighed. After a beat, she admitted, "I got a C for my last Shakespeare paper."

"Emma – are you serious?"

"…no?"

"Miss Swan, you know full well that you can do better than a C."

"Says who?"

"Says me, the expert in these things," Regina replied. "Are you struggling with it?"

The sorry truth was that, no, she wasn't. Regina was right: she could do better than a C, and she had been doing better than that for the first half of the year. Recently things had just gotten… slippery. Her classes weren't taking priority when Regina's biting kisses were only a few miles away.

Her silence told Regina everything she needed to know.

"I'm not seeing you on Tuesday," she said.

"What?" Emma demanded. "Why not?"

"Because you need to focus on your studies, and I have a hundred things to be taking care of."

"What things?" Emma asked sullenly.

"I already told you. I have a lot of meetings next week."

"And?"

"And classes to prepare for and papers to grade."

"And?"

"And," Regina spluttered, suddenly going quiet. Then she added, "Other stuff."

Emma narrowed her eyes. "You're a crappy liar."

"I'm not lying. There's other stuff."

"Why won't you tell me what it is?"

"Because it's none of your business," Regina replied, sounding more flustered than she did annoyed.

Emma grumbled to herself. "Fine. You have 'stuff' to do. Will you tell me about it when it's done?"

"…maybe."

"Maybe? Why only maybe?"

"Emma, I've got to go," Regina said, her voice exasperated. "Please don't spend the rest of your day thinking about this instead of studying."

"But I—"

"Please."

She sounded vaguely pleading, which was the only thing to make Emma stop worrying that maybe she had a secret second family and actually cave.

"Fine," she sighed. "And I really can't see you on Tuesday?"

"I'm sorry – I just need to get all this stuff done, and so do you."

Why the thought of a whole week without Regina made Emma's chest hurt so badly, she couldn't say.

"Alright. I guess."

"Next weekend?" Regina asked. "I'll cook."

Emma immediately perked up. "What will you make?"

"That will be decided on a scale of how hard you work this week," Regina said. Emma could hear her wicked grin. "If you get all your essays done properly, you might get lasagne. If you keep calling me instead of doing your work, it'll be Brussels sprouts and not much else."

"You know, I actually kind of like Brussels sprouts."

"Really?" Regina said, sounding genuinely distracted for the first time in 10 minutes. "You would."

"Why would I?"

"Because you're a mess of contradictions." Emma grinned down at her lap. "Go on, Emma – get some work done."

"Fine. Can I still text you?"

"I very much hope that you do."

They hung up, and Emma leaned back against the wall with a sigh. Two seconds later there was a knock at the door.

"Emma?" Mary Margaret called out. "Should I be concerned about your stomach, or can I come in?"


It was an impossibly long week. Regina's texts were slower to arrive than normal, and Emma genuinely hated herself for how much she missed her. It was only a week, for God's sake. They would see each other in their seminar on Thursday, and then they had a whole weekend of cuddling and furious fucking to look forward to. Emma knew she needed to get a hold of herself. She tried to.

But she was still giddy with excitement when she strolled toward her classics seminar on Thursday afternoon. It was partly because she was so happy to be seeing Regina again, but it was also because she wasn't sure what to expect: their classes were such a clash of anticipation and knowing looks, and Emma loved being on the edge of her seat for a full hour. Sometimes Regina ignored her entirely, which sort of hurt but also usually resulted in some really filthy sexting later in the evening. Sometimes Regina's gaze was soft and curious, and it followed Emma wherever she went.

Emma hurried into the classroom, caught Regina's eye and – almost automatically – turned bright pink. Her professor was watching her with an expression that Emma recognised all too well – it was the one she wore when she prowled toward her across the bedroom, right before she slid a hand around the back of her neck and started whispering filthy words in her ear.

Emma shivered as she walked over to her seat, because she could tell that Regina wasn't doing any better than she was after their week apart: she was both horny and impatient, and that was a dangerous combination. Regina was unpredictable at the best of times, but when she was in that kind of mood, it was impossible to know what she might be thinking – or what stupid thing she might do next.

"You're blushing," Mulan suddenly hissed in her ear. "She's not going to fuck you, you know."

"Shut up," Emma muttered. Mulan had noticed the way Emma looked at their professor weeks earlier, but thankfully her usual reaction was just to hiss "Teacher's pet" in her ear until Emma was giggling and shoving her away. And Emma, for her part, was more than happy to act like she simply had a ginormous crush on their teacher – it was understandable, after all, and there was nothing forbidden about it. Regina couldn't get in trouble because one of her students couldn't control herself whenever she was around.

Right then, though, she was still watching Emma darkly. Emma could feel the heat of her gaze on the side of her face.

The class began, and Emma ducked her head over her book so she wouldn't have to look at the scheming expression on her professor's face. She was teaching from behind her desk, which was unusual, but Emma tried not to focus on it: she was also typing something into her laptop, so Emma decided that she must just be getting a presentation ready.

Emma's phone suddenly lit up with a message, but she ignored it. Regina was talking about a particular passage in Medea and she knew that if she got distracted, she'd never manage to pick things back up again.

Then her phone buzzed again, and again, and she looked over at it.

Whatsapp from: Regina

Emma glanced up to see that Regina was still typing on her laptop while simultaneously talking about the themes of death and desire. She wanted to be impressed by her multitasking, but she was preoccupied with sheer curiosity.

She tapped to open the messages and immediately heard, "Is there something you'd like to share with the class, Miss Swan?" from just ahead of her.

Her head snapped up to find Regina watching her expectantly. Her hands were still poised over the keyboard.

"I…" Emma stammered, glancing back down at her screen. I missed you. You look beautiful today. I wish I could rip that shirt off you right now. "Um. N-no. Nothing."

"Good. Then put your phone away."

Emma's mouth was hanging open, but she locked the screen without another word and pushed her phone to one side. Regina went back to her lecture, but after a few minutes, her fingers started tapping on the keyboard again.

The message buzzed through, causing her phone to vibrate loudly against the desk. I love the look you get on your face whenever you get caught.

Emma blushed at once. She hadn't technically gotten caught, since Regina was purposefully setting her up, but the low twist of excitement in her stomach told her that it was pointless getting into technicalities. Sure, she was getting in trouble for something that wasn't her fault in the first place – but there was a dark gleam in Regina's eye, and that made it worth it.

Besides, there were fewer things hotter than when Regina treated her like she was just another unruly student.

Inwardly cringing over just how pathetic she'd become, Emma leaned forward and kept scribbling down notes. Her heart was pounding against the inside of her chest.

Then her phone buzzed again, and again, somehow getting louder every time it ground against the desk. Emma reached out to snatch it up. You're blushing, Miss Swan. Are you enjoying this?

Emma glanced up with a small smile and found Regina looking back at her.

Risking a reply, Emma typed out, When I fail this class, I'm telling the college it was all your fault.

Regina smirked and got up from her seat, finally continuing her lecture from her usual position in front of the board.

For about 10 minutes, Emma was allowed to listen to the class like normal while frantically scribbling notes in her book. When Regina returned to her desk, her stomach leapt.

"Now, you'll have noticed that violent imagery is used throughout the early stages of the text," Regina was saying, her voice as cool and melodic as ever. A message popped up on Emma's phone. You look very pretty when you're concentrating, you know. "But when we reach the later stages – Miss Swan. Could you stop texting, please?"

Emma dropped her phone onto the desk with a clatter. "I'm sorry, Professor Mills."

"Thank you," Regina said, waiting until Emma had pushed the phone away from her before she began talking again.

"Toward the later parts of the text, we realise that Medea truly represents the adage 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'," she continued. The phone buzzed again, and Emma ignored it.

"Medea knows that Jason owes his success to her—"

Buzz.

"And as a consequence of his betrayal—"

Buzz.

"Medea sees no other option but to take matters into her own hands and rid herself of the man who—"

Buzz buzz.

Emma reached out for her phone again, desperately trying to put it on silent before she ended up getting strung up in front of the entire class, but she was too late.

"Miss Swan," Regina snapped. The room collectively winced, glancing across the room at where Emma was trying to slump down beneath her desk. "Will you put that away?"

"I'm sorry," Emma hissed. "Someone really infuriating won't stop texting me. I'll mute them."

A flash of a smirk crossed Regina's face before she bit out, "Good. I don't want to have to tell you again."

She was already typing though, and Emma glanced down just in time to see one last message.

Good girl. I'm going to make this worth your while.

A throb of longing hit Emma squarely between her legs, and she forced her phone into her pocket. Regina left her laptop alone, her work finally done, and returned to the front of the room. As she happily lectured for the next 40 minutes, Emma came apart before her.

Just as everyone else began to file out the door at the end of class, Regina looked up from her desk and said, "Miss Swan. I'd like a word with you about your behaviour."

Another dozen sympathetic looks were thrown her way, and Emma carefully schooled her features into an expression that vaguely resembled fear.

She nodded tersely. "Fine."

She hitched her backpack up onto one shoulder and waited, leaning her hip against the edge of the desk. Regina was slowly packing her things away, not bothering to make conversation or eye contact when she knew that she already held Emma's undivided attention. She had a frustrated scowl on her face that would tell anyone else looking at them that she really was furious about what had happened during their class, but Emma could see it for what it really was – there was a vein protruding from her forehead, and that only happened when Regina really, really wanted something.

She suddenly turned, snapping her gaze up to meet Emma's. "My office. Now."

There were still two other students left in the classroom, so Emma rolled her eyes for their benefit. She trailed after their professor as she stormed out of the door and down the corridor, deliberately hanging a few paces behind her.

As they walked, Emma hoped that this wasn't going to be another one of those occasions where Regina kissed her for 10 solid minutes and then pushed her away just when she started whining. Emma had been without her for days, and while that shouldn't have been an unbearable amount of time, it was. Especially when there was frustration burning in Regina's eyes and Emma already knew that there was only one thing that would be able to get rid of it.

Regina opened up her office, led Emma inside, then turned to lock the door behind them. Emma paused in the middle of the room, taking only a second to realise that the blinds were already drawn, before Regina was sweeping past her and dragging her by the wrist toward her desk.

"I thought you said we shouldn't do this on campus," Emma managed to choke out. Regina shoved her back against the table and pushed her until she was sitting on the edge.

"We shouldn't," Regina said, reaching for Emma's backpack and tearing it off of her.

"Then, why—?"

"Because I need to," Regina said bluntly, throwing the bag to the floor. "Are you going to tell me to stop?"

Emma shook her head. "Definitely not."

"Good," Regina replied, and then she was kissing her, her hands reaching up to cradle the base of her skull and tease through her messy curls. She pressed her body firmly between Emma's legs and hummed against her lips, letting her tongue sweep lazily through her mouth.

Emma gripped hold of Regina's hips and tuned out the sounds of people rushing past the door. She was already groaning as Regina kissed her, her hips automatically wriggling forward to try and grind against her stomach, and she could feel some of the tension leaving Regina's body as it pressed up against her own. Regina's hands slid lower, momentarily clutching the back of Emma's neck so she could slide her tongue deep into her mouth, and then just when Emma was moaning and bucking up against her, she released her and grazed her hands down the front of her body.

When she squeezed her breasts, Emma gasped. "Oh, God."

"What?" Regina murmured, her teeth catching Emma's lower lip and tugging.

"Nothing. I've just missed you."

"I've missed you too. This week has been hell."

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather talk about—?"

"Shut up," Regina interrupted her as softly as anyone possibly could. She dipped her head beneath Emma's jaw and began to slowly tease at her throat with her lips.

"But…" Emma began, although she had no idea why she was protesting. "I thought you didn't want to risk doing anything in your office."

Regina didn't answer right away. She was slowly dragging her mouth along Emma's jaw, pausing when she reached the shell of her ear so that she could purr into it, "Right now, I don't give a damn as long as you can stay quiet."

Emma's head fell back, and she let out a low groan without thinking. "Fuck."

Regina's hands slipped down and unfastened the button on her jeans. "That isn't what 'quiet' means, Emma."

"As if I can help it," Emma snapped, her whole body trembling as her zipper was pulled open.

"Try," Regina replied, sliding her hand down the front of Emma's jeans and gently tracing her pussy through her underwear. Emma moaned, her fingers curling around the edge of the desk.

The fire was still burning in Regina's eyes, and God, Emma wanted to be the one to send it blazing.

Ignoring the pounding between her legs, she pushed herself off the table, sending Regina stumbling backward, and grabbed her around the waist. Regina squeaked as she was thrust forward and bent over the desk, her hands splayed out beside her.

"Emma!" she blurted out, trying to lift her head. Emma pushed her back down again, her spare hand crawling down to the bottom of her skirt and starting to peel it up her thighs.

"Yes?"

"What do you think you're doing?" Regina demanded, trying yet again to push herself upright. Emma pinned her easily, because no matter how shocked or appalled she sounded, Regina wasn't actually struggling very hard. As Emma lifted her skirt higher, she saw the way she rose up onto the balls of her feet so that her ass was pushed in the air.

"You're frustrated," Emma said coolly, dragging the fabric up over her buttocks and exposing her lace panties. "I think this is what you actually want."

Regina spluttered out a protest, but she didn't try to free herself again. Emma let go of her shoulder and smoothed both her hands over her ass. She saw the way Regina immediately trembled.

"You're not going to tell me I'm wrong?"

Regina moaned softly, pressing her forehead against the desk. "No."

"Good," Emma said, plucking at the fabric of her thong. "I wouldn't have believed you, anyway."

Her professor growled to herself, half from annoyance and half from need, and Emma just laughed back at her. Her irritation disappeared pretty quickly when Emma slid a hand between her legs and cupped her pussy through her panties.

Regina gasped at once, her head lifting up, and she rocked back against Emma's touch as she tried to seek more contact.

Emma smirked, squeezing. "Do you like that?"

She watched with a twist in her belly as Regina nodded frantically. "Yes."

"Are you going to let me fuck you over your desk now?"

"Yes."

"What was it you said a minute ago?" Emma asked, leisurely stroking three of her fingers up and down the front of Regina's panties. "That you don't care about what happens, as long as I can stay quiet?"

Regina snarled in the same way she always did when Emma somehow managed to gain the upper hand over her. "Yes, Emma."

"Are you going to be able to manage that?"

Regina turned her head and glared back at her. "I will murder you if you don't touch me right this second."

It was weird how there was still a twang of authority in her voice even when she was bent over a desk with her ass on display. Emma felt the most delicious tremor of fear rush through her, and she did as she was told: she grabbed Regina's panties and yanked them down her thighs, almost moaning out loud at the sight of them pooling around her black heels.

"Don't," Emma said when Regina started trying to disentangle herself from them. "Leave them where they are."

Regina turned to look curiously at her, but before she could ask a question that would cause Emma to flush with embarrassment, she moaned out loud. Two fingers were sliding slowly inside her, almost painful in their leisureliness, and her forehead immediately thudded back down to the desk again.

"Have you been wet like this all day?" Emma asked, pulling her fingers back out and examining the new shimmer on them.

"All week," Regina admitted. "I've been wanting to see you so badly."

"You couldn't wait until the weekend, could you?" Emma sighed like she was somehow disappointed. "You needed me right this second."

"Yes," Regina gritted out, lifting up onto her tiptoes again as Emma's fingers slipped back inside. "Obviously."

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Emma said, because she knew that her cockiness was something that Regina simultaneously loved and absolutely hated. Even then Regina sighed, torn between wanting to shake her head and needing to thrust herself further back onto Emma's fingers. "You know the feeling's mutual."

"Are you going to continue to talk all goddamn day?" Regina snapped. Emma smirked back down at her and twisted her fingers abruptly, coaxing a surprised gasp out of her mouth.

"I wasn't planning on it," she said smoothly, and before Regina could muster a comeback, Emma began driving into her at an unyielding pace. Regina moaned and arched her back, giving her easier access to piston her fingers inside her, and let herself be rocked forward against the edge of the desk. Emma kept one hand on the curve of her hip as the other picked up speed, fucking her hard and fast while deliberately avoiding contact with her clit so that she couldn't climax yet. She could feel the desperation in Regina's tightly wound body and she knew she was already itching to come, but Emma had been daydreaming about doing this for far too long, and her fantasies never involved letting Regina off the hook so easily.

"Emma," Regina blurted out, one hand curling around the edge of the desk as she tried to hold herself steady.

"Shh," Emma immediately scolded her. "We're supposed to be being quiet."

Regina's other hand crept into her mouth, and she bit down on her knuckles to smother her swelling cries. Emma smirked and decided to reward her for her commitment by thrusting a third finger inside her. At once, a garbled moan shot out of Regina's mouth and she bucked backward, wordlessly pleading with Emma to fuck her even harder.

Emma squeezed her hip again and twisted her hand, flicking the tip of her pinkie finger against her clit. She could have sworn that she heard Regina sob. She did it again, and again, never putting the amount of pressure Regina needed on it because Emma knew she was close to begging and that was exactly what she wanted to hear. But eventually Regina forced herself up onto her elbows and turned to snarl at her, "I swear to God, I will fail your next paper if you don't make me come right this second."

It was somehow better that begging, and without a second thought Emma pulled her fingers free and dropped to her knees. The moan that Regina released when she felt a hot, determined tongue sliding between her legs was both wanton and grateful, and Emma immediately felt her grinding back against her face.

"Harder," she whined, shivering when Emma's hands crept up the backs of her thighs and spread her apart. "Please."

There was the begging that Emma had been after, and she instantly did as her professor asked. Pressing her tongue flat against Regina's clit, she began to wiggle her head back and forth, sending grinding, shooting pleasure through every cell in Regina's body until she was collapsed face-first on the desk once more. One of her hands flew out and knocked a book off the table as she moaned, "Yes, Emma, just like that."

She came a half-second later, her thighs trembling against the wooden lip of the desk and her ass bucking back into Emma's face. As soon as her moans had descended into faint sighs, Emma pulled free and stood upright, pressing a kiss against the small of her back as she moved.

Regina stayed where she was, slumped over the desk with her forehead resting on a pile of papers. Emma watched her, thoughtfully licking her fingers clean.

Eventually Regina forced herself upright and pulled her panties back up to where they belonged.

"So," she sighed. "That's my only rule out of the window, I suppose."

Emma grinned happily back at her. "Or up against the window, if you want to try that next time."

Regina smacked her playfully on the ass before perching herself on the edge of the desk. "I'm not sure there will be a next time."

"What? Ever?"

"No!" Regina blurted out, stammering as she corrected herself. She looked so aghast that it was actually kind of endearing. "No, of course not. I mean, in here. During school hours."

"You're the one who seduced me, Professor Mills," Emma pointed out, earning her a withering scowl.

"It was a one off."

"Are you just saying that to get out of returning the favour?"

Regina sighed and opened her mouth to protest, but Emma got there before her. "I'm kidding. We shouldn't risk it."

Regina just nodded, looking slightly ashamed of herself.

"Hey," Emma said softly, stepping forward and taking her hand. "It's alright."

"It's not," Regina scoffed. "I should be able to control myself better than this."

"Says who?"

"Says the school board, and civilised human behaviour, and the fact that I'm 35 years old and shouldn't be—"

"Regina," Emma interrupted before she could start spiralling. "It was just a bit of fun. You were looking for a way to get rid of some of your tension, and I'm guessing it worked. We aren't going to do it again. So it's no big deal – right?"

Regina's expression was one of scorn and disbelief as she said, "Right."

"You're too hard on yourself," Emma said, cuffing her chin. "Don't make me punish you for it."

Her words had the desired effect – Regina smirked at once, finally squeezing back on Emma's fingers. "I'd like to see you try."

"Sadly, I have places to be right now, otherwise I would love to take you up on that."

She took a step away and went in search of her backpack, which had been thrown halfway across the room.

"Do you have another class?"

"No," Emma said, ducking for her bag and looping it over one shoulder. "But I still have a load of studying to catch up on. It would be good to have an afternoon without you distracting me for once."

She glanced up to find Regina still smirking at her, not looking the slightest bit sorry. "I see. But I can still see you this weekend, right?"

Emma paused. "Actually... I might need the extra time to finish my work."

She was expecting Regina to look disappointed by that, but instead she smiled. "Really?"

"Yeah. Is that okay?"

Regina hopped off her desk and took a step toward her. "It's more than okay. What about next weekend?"

Emma hesitated, and her sudden silence wasn't lost on Regina.

"What?"

"Nothing," Emma said, glancing away. "It's just… It's my birthday next weekend."

Regina's eyebrows lifted. "Oh? And were you planning on telling me?"

"I wasn't not planning on it. It's just hard to crowbar it into a conversation."

"Do you have plans already?"

"Not really. I should throw a party or something, but it just feels like a lot of effort."

"Are your parents coming into town to see you?"

With a practised blank expression, Emma simply said, "No."

"Why not?"

"They're just not," Emma shrugged. "Why are you so interested?"

"Because you never talk about them."

"That's not what I meant," Emma said, although her heart was pounding. "I meant, why are you so interested in my birthday plans?"

"Oh," Regina said, and Emma sagged with relief at the way her face brightened. "Well. Because if you were free, I'd like to take you out somewhere."

"Really?"

"Of course. It's your 21st – it needs to be celebrated."

Grinning, Emma said, "Because I can finally pay you back for all those drinks I owe you, you mean?"

"Absolutely. I've been keeping a tab."

Emma laughed with her, then paused. "Do you think it's a good idea for us to do that?"

"What?"

"To… go out together."

Regina's face fell at once. "Oh. You mean, because someone might see us?"

"Yeah," Emma said slowly. "I just feel like… we've been taking more risks recently. If we go out together and I get hammered, God knows who might see us staggering around."

"Hm," Regina said. She looked more disappointed than Emma had been expecting. "That makes sense."

"But I'd still like to see you," Emma said quickly. "If you want to."

"Of course I do," Regina said, but she didn't look very happy. Her brow was furrowed like she was ticking something over in her head. "I'll just have to think of something else."

"You could cook?" Emma suggested.

"Are you still after those Brussels sprouts I promised you?" Regina quipped, then she stepped forward to kiss Emma's cheek. "I'll think about it. Will you let me know if you decide to make other plans?"

"Of course. But I won't." Emma could already promise that – there was absolutely nothing in the world that would make her cancel a birthday celebration with Regina.

Regina just nodded again and then stepped back, still frowning thoughtfully. "Good."

She retreated to the other side of the room and began opening the blinds. Emma bit her lip.

"I'm going to go," she said.

"Alright," Regina called over her shoulder. She didn't sound mad, but there was something pensive in her voice that alarmed her.

"I'll see you soon?"

"Yes," Regina said, just like she always did. "Soon."

Chapter Text

Emma used the whole weekend to catch up on her assignments, and by Sunday night she was practically weak with both exhaustion and relief. She still had two more essays to finish off over the next couple of days, but she felt positive about them. She missed Regina, and spending a whole weekend without her had been difficult, but she was pleased with herself for being a proper adult for once and actually choosing schoolwork over sex.

She called Regina to tell her that, but she didn't pick up.

Hey, Emma texted when she never called back. I'm sorry again for ditching you this weekend, but just so you know, I totally kicked ass. She followed it up with a bulging bicep emoji, because she knew Regina always thought it was supposed to be a chicken wing and would get delightfully confused.

It took an hour before she replied. Thrilled to hear that, you clever girl.

Did you get much done this weekend? Emma asked.

Lots, but not enough.

Emma wrinkled her nose at that. Does this relate to your super secret 'stuff' that you won't tell me about?

She knew it was pointless to even ask, since Regina couldn't mention her top-secret hobby without her cheeks turning fuchsia, but curiosity was starting to niggle at the back of Emma's brain. Regina was an open person – too open, sometimes, especially when she was muttering in Emma's ear about the latest filthy fantasy she'd had – so the fact there was something she kept clamming up about was a little scary.

You think I'm going to fall for that? Regina replied, which wasn't even close to being a proper answer.

Before Emma could respond, Regina was typing again.

Now, regarding your birthday – would it be presumptuous to ask if you'd be willing to block out the entire weekend for me?

Immediately distracted, Emma fell back onto her bed with a grin.

Definitely not presumptuous – I'd love that. What are we doing?

All shall be revealed. I just thought it would be nice to spend two full days together.

Emma's heart did an excited leap inside her chest. She spent plenty of time at Regina's during the weekends now, but she usually showed up on Saturday evening and left again early on Sunday. She imagined what it would be like to spend a whole 48 hours together, cooking and drinking and making out on the couch like teenagers, and she sighed happily.

After that, Emma pushed her worries to the back of her mind and focused on Thomas Hardy instead. Two days before her birthday, she was fully up to date with all of her work, and she sauntered down the hall to her classics seminar feeling well rested for the first time in weeks.

She walked into the room to find Regina already there, along with a handful of other students. On the other side of the class, Mulan was slumped over her desk with her skin a shade paler than normal.

Emma looked back at Regina and smiled. "Hey."

"Miss Swan," Regina replied, immediately eyeing Emma's loose posture. "You look cheerful today."

"Yeah, well. It's a good day."

"Is it?" Regina smirked. She glanced over at the other students in the room before adding, "Does that mean you're going to be especially chatty with Miss Fa today?"

"I'm too hungover to be chatty," Mulan piped up from her seat, and Emma grinned at her.

"I'll be extra attentive, I promise."

"Good. Then you should probably think about taking your seat instead of bothering me."

Emma laughed and headed to her desk, settling herself in next to Mulan with her limbs feeling looser than they had in a while. She glanced up at Regina and saw that she was smiling as well as she typed something into her computer.

Mulan leaned into Emma's ear and muttered, "She likes you."

Emma blushed at once.

"She does not."

"She does. She doesn't let anyone talk to her like that."

"You just told her that you were hungover."

"And she only didn't yell at me because she was distracted looking at you like she wants to eat you up."

Emma glanced at Regina again and, catching her eye, quickly looked away. "You're crazy."

"And you're blushing."

"I am not—"

"Ladies," Regina called out from the front of the room. She was resting her chin on one hand, and the mere sight of her looking so regal and proud made Emma's stomach clench with longing. "Can we get through one class without me having to ask you to stop talking?"

"Class hasn't started yet," Mulan pointed out. Regina raised her eyebrows and stood up.

"It has now," she said, and even Emma could hear the way her voice had suddenly turned snippy. "So, be quiet before I have to separate you like children."

Emma didn't respond, but she could feel Mulan's pointed look against the side of her face.

"Told you," she muttered as soon as Regina had turned toward the whiteboard.

"Shut up."

"Are you girls talking about me?" Killian suddenly chimed in from behind them. They simultaneously rolled their eyes.

"No, Killian," Mulan sighed.

"You sure? Because if we're talking about people who are into Swan here, you don't need to look any further."

"Mr Jones," Regina snapped without turning around from where she was scribbling on the board. "I won't hesitate in making you sit out in the hall."

Emma snorted, but they finally fell quiet and let the class begin.

At the end of the seminar, Emma was hoping to be told to stay behind for a 'talk' about her behaviour again, but instead Regina just positioned herself at her desk and began putting her notes back in her purse. Emma walked slowly past her, waiting to be caught and told to wait, but Regina didn't even look up. Emma ended up sighing and calling it quits, and found herself walking down the hall with Mulan instead.

"Isn't it your birthday this week?" Mulan asked her.

"Yeah. Saturday."

"Are you doing anything?"

"Not really. I don't like making a big deal out of it."

"But it's an excuse to party," Mulan insisted, nudging her. "Come on. Let's go out."

"We're going partying?" Killian chimed in from three steps behind them.

"We are," Mulan snapped. "No one invited you."

"Actually, I'm not either," Emma said. "Really. I'd love to, but…"

She realised too late that she didn't have an excuse. Mulan and Killian looked at her expectantly.

"Well?" Killian asked.

Emma's phone buzzed from her pocket and, as she hummed and stammered, she pulled it free.

Tell them you're seeing your parents.

It was from Regina. Emma glanced over her shoulder to find their professor walking a dozen paces behind them.

"It's my parents," she sighed. "They're a bit demanding and they want to do this whole weekend thing. I've got to go deal with that."

"Oh," Mulan deflated. "That sucks. How about next week sometime?"

"Sure," Emma said. "I can do that."

"Tuesday?"

"I'm free," Killian interjected, and Emma resisted the urge to turn around and elbow him in the ribs.

"Tuesday sounds great," she said, before loudly adding in her driest voice, "Killian, would you like to come?"

He grinned back at them. "I thought you'd never ask."

As they left the building and began discussing venues, Emma opened her messages again and typed a response.

You saved my ass.

I know, Regina said. You can thank me on Saturday.

Excitement sparked up in Emma's stomach. When should I come round?

Early, Regina said. I've made us some plans, but unfortunately they require you to get out of bed before noon.

Tell me a time and I'll be there.

9am, Regina replied, much to Emma's horror. Bring an overnight bag. And maybe one nice outfit.

I'm not going to be spending the whole weekend naked, then?

Now, Emma. I don't believe I ever said that.


Emma swept around her room in a whirlwind of sheer excitement, throwing jeans and boots and her nicest underwear and a sparkly black dress – the only one she owned – into a bag. Mary Margaret watched her curiously, obviously not buying her excuse of "I'm just going to visit some old friends" but choosing not to call her out on it, and Emma hurled another set of lace panties into the bag, just in case.

She woke up on the morning of her birthday, said goodbye to her roommate and headed out the door with her duffel bag. The bus was nearly empty when she hopped on board and made her way across town. When she reached Regina's house she was, for the first time in her life, early.

Regina looked shell-shocked when she opened the door. "It's 8:50."

"I know," Emma said cheerfully. "I was excited to see you."

The way Regina's face softened at once was too damn endearing. "Really?"

"You're surprised?"

"Not surprised. Just pleased," Regina said, taking a step back. "Come in."

Emma slipped into the house and dropped her bag by the wall. When she turned, Regina was already stepping close to her, a hand sliding beneath her hair so she could tug her forward and kiss her softly on the lips.

"Happy birthday."

Emma whined as Regina tried to pull away from her. "Kiss me again."

"Why?"

"Because I haven't kissed you in over two weeks and I need to do it again right now."

Regina raised her eyebrows. "Oh, you need to, do you?"

"Yes," Emma insisted, slipping her hands around Regina's waist and tugging her closer. "And it's my birthday. You can't deny me anything today."

"Mm," Regina replied, right before she dipped her head forward again. "Good thing I wasn't planning to."

She nudged Emma back until she collided with the wall and kissed her slowly. Her mouth tasted of toothpaste and tea and Emma sighed happily, winding her arms more tightly around her. A persistent throbbing had already started between her legs, and the feeling of her jeans grinding against it was delicious and agonising in equal measure.

"Can we go upstairs?" she murmured against Regina's lips. She felt her smile.

"No."

Emma blinked. "Why not?"

"I have other plans."

Emma brightened immediately. "Oh. Are you going to fuck me right here?"

"Sadly not," Regina said as she began disentangling herself. "As much as I'd love to, we need to get going."

"Going where?" Emma asked. Regina was walking across the hall to check her reflection in the mirror, and it was only then that she noticed there was a small suitcase waiting against the opposite wall. "What's that?"

"My luggage."

"Why do you have luggage?"

"I told you I had something planned," Regina said, smirking at her own reflection. "If you need to use the bathroom, go now. We have a drive ahead of us."

"You're taking me away somewhere?"

"Maybe."

That one word made Emma feel like an explosion of glitter had been set off inside her stomach.

"Regina," she said, trying to sound shocked even though her excitement was already way too audible. "You didn't have to do that."

"I know I didn't. But I want to celebrate properly, and you were right – we can't do that in Boston."

"Where are we going?" Emma asked, watching as Regina gathered up her keys and purse. She flicked off the lights in the hall and returned to Emma's side.

"Nowhere exotic," she said. "We're going to Rhode Island. It's not too far to drive and we should be safe from everyone we know – unless that's where your mysterious parents live?"

Ignoring her question, Emma reached out for her chin and tugged her into another kiss. "You are the cutest."

Regina's cheeks were happily pink when she pulled away. "I am not. It's just an overnight stay."

"It's adorable and I can't wait."

"You're an idiot," Regina said, but she was still smiling. "Now, if you're ready to go?"

"Absolutely."

They headed out to Regina's Mercedes together, which Emma sincerely hoped had been checked by a mechanic since it had broken down on the way to that classics lecture the previous semester, and dumped their luggage in the trunk. Emma settled down in the passenger seat, waiting for Regina to join her before she asked, "How long is the drive?"

"There's a little traffic, so maybe two hours. I wanted us to get there early so we can make the most of the weekend."

Emma grinned happily. "You are so high maintenance."

"I know," Regina replied. "Put your seatbelt on."

Emma did as she was told and then they were driving, heading out of the city and along the highway with the windows rolled down. It was late February and the weather wasn't really warm enough for that yet, but the sun was bright that morning and it was nice to let the crisp air rush through the car as they headed away from reality.

Emma loved watching Regina drive. In spite of her stiff road-safety appearance, she wore sunglasses and hummed along to the radio with her elbow resting on the door in total disregard of the ten-and-two rule that Emma had always been certain she would rigidly stick to. The wind blew in through the window and messed her hair up, and she looked so beautiful that Emma wished she could take a photo.

"Why are you staring at me?" Regina suddenly asked without looking at her.

"You just look really happy."

"Do I?" Regina asked. She was smiling, maybe without realising. "Is that a surprise?"

"Well. Most people would have a bit of dread on their faces at the thought of having to spend two whole days with me."

Regina was wearing dark glasses, and yet Emma could tell she was rolling her eyes. "I somehow doubt that."

"I'm being serious. But let's readdress it at the end of the weekend."

"You might be the one who's sick of me by then."

Emma reached out and placed a hand on her thigh. "Yeah. I'm not sure that's possible."

The soft smile on Regina's face was enough to make Emma's entire body melt, but it was nothing compared to what she felt when Regina tangled their fingers together and lifted Emma's knuckles to her lips.

"You're extremely endearing," she said, then pushed Emma's hand back to her side of the car. "Now stop trying to feel me up before I crash."

Emma grinned and turned away, watching the world rush by and pretending not to notice the set of dark eyes that kept flicking over to look at her.

They arrived in Newport at 11am, and Emma let out a strange gurgling noise when they pulled up outside the hotel. It was an enormous manor house perched at the top of a cliff, and there were five stars glittering beneath its name.

"Regina," she blurted out. "You cannot be serious."

"I'm always serious," Regina said, looking immeasurably pleased at the shock on Emma's face.

"They're not even going to let me in the building."

"Don't be so ridiculous."

"I'm not being ridiculous. You've spent way too much on this – you have to let me chip in."

Regina snorted, opening the door and climbing out. "Now that is ridiculous."

"I mean it."

"So do I. This is a birthday treat."

"But I—"

"Emma," Regina interrupted. "It's not a big deal. Now, you can sleep in the car if you're really that opposed to coming inside, but there's a king-sized bed upstairs that will be a lot more comfortable."

Emma looked longingly at the sprawling building. "It does sound tempting."

"Would you like to hear about all the things I'm going to do to you in that bed, too?" Regina asked cheerfully. Emma glanced around at the parking lot, which wasn't exactly deserted.

"Not right here, no."

"Alright," Regina said, opening the trunk and pulling their luggage out. "Then I guess you have to come inside with me to find out."

Emma rolled her eyes and grabbed her own bag. "Give me yours too."

"Why?"

"Because I'm being chivalrous."

Regina just laughed. "That's a word I'd never associate with you."

Scowling, Emma grabbed Regina's suitcase and yanked it away from her. "After you, your majesty."

"Charming," Regina replied, turning to lock the car before leading Emma up the path. Emma staggered into the foyer and stared around her for a few moments, not even noticing that Regina had strolled over to the check-in desk and left her aimlessly gawping in the centre of the room until she heard a confused voice calling out, "Emma? What are you doing?" from 15 feet away.

"Sorry," Emma muttered as she reached her side. "I was just… looking."

Regina was smiling bemusedly at her. She had tiny intents on the bridge of her nose, and Emma longed to reach out and smooth her thumb over them.

"So, that's you all checked in for one night, Ms Mills," the girl behind the desk said. "Can I help you with anything else?"

"Is it possible to get a late checkout tomorrow?" Regina asked. She glanced over at Emma as she asked the question, and the look in her eye made Emma go hot.

"That's already been arranged for you. Checkout's at three."

"Perfect," Regina said, grabbing the key and heading directly for the elevator. "Thank you."

Emma shrugged at the slightly startled-looking receptionist before hurrying after Regina. She was already at the elevator and was pressing the button again and again and again.

"What's the rush?" Emma asked, hoping for one very specific answer and not being disappointed when Regina looked at her with dark, hooded eyes.

"You know exactly what the rush is."

Emma's mouth dried out at once. She followed Regina into the elevator and up to the third floor, where they found their room and walked quickly inside. Emma had about two seconds to place their bags on the floor before Regina was pressing her up against the wall, her hands gripping her waist and her teeth biting into her lower lip. Emma gasped and grabbed her by the shoulders, her entire body going weak with relief.

"These last two weeks have been unbearable," Regina muttered when she finally pulled away. "I've needed you every single minute."

"I need you now," Emma said, pulling her back against her by the sides of her face. Regina curled herself around her, her body warm and swelling with desire. Emma sighed, already certain that this was the best birthday she was ever going to have, and disentangled herself so she could lead Regina over to the bed.

Then she stopped. "Holy fucking shit."

Regina was still clinging onto her, and she blinked. "What?"

"The room," Emma said, peeling Regina off of her and stepping further into it. Regina sighed impatiently. "How much did you spend on this?"

The room was enormous and every inch of it was decked out with plush furnishings and silky gold curtains and paintings of the sea. Outside the glass doors that led to the balcony was the actual ocean, grey and sharp-looking, and Emma hurled herself toward the window to get a better view.

"Oh my God."

"Emma, you spend every single day in a coastal city," Regina pointed out. She was standing several paces away with her hands on her hips.

"It's not the same," Emma said. "Can we go to the beach later?"

"Are you a child? I'm not going in the sea. It's February."

"I don't want to go swimming," Emma said, pawing at the glass and then wincing when she realised she'd left greasy fingerprints behind. "I just like being near the water."

Regina groaned, although Emma could see the smile on her face when she turned back around. "I suppose."

"I need to go check the bathroom now."

"Why?"

"Because this is the fanciest place I've ever been in, and I need to know what the shower looks like."

Regina sat down on the edge of the bed with a resigned thump. "Fine. Me and my erection will just wait here."

Emma scampered off into the en suite and flicked on the light. She instantly moaned at the sight of the enormous walk-in shower, the sunken marble bath, the gigantic mirror with two separate sinks below it. "Regina."

"What?" an exasperated voice replied from behind her.

"I'm moving in to this bathroom."

"That's going to be a hell of a commute to get to my class."

Emma stepped closer to the bath and ran a finger over the gold faucets. "I'm taking a bath now."

"What?" Regina spluttered. Emma turned her head and realised she could still see her on the bed. "Didn't you have a shower this morning?"

"Yeah, but I have to try this out."

Regina groaned, falling back onto the mattress. "Are you deliberately trying to kill me?"

"You can join me."

"No, thank you."

"Come on, Regina," Emma said. She was already running the hot water and sorting through the various bottles of toiletries to find the bubble bath. "It's my birthday, remember?"

"Your birthday is rapidly becoming my least favourite day of the year," Regina called back. "Fine. Have a bath. I might join you soon."

Emma wriggled excitedly out of her clothes and slipped into the water, even though there was barely three inches of it at the bottom of the tub. She sighed happily, stretching out her legs as far as she could.

"I can't even touch the other end!" she called out excitedly. Regina just scoffed from behind her.

Emma lay back and scooped up her curls into a messy bun to keep them out of the water as it began to rise. She was facing away from the bedroom, but through the open door she could hear Regina moving around and sighing impatiently as Emma sunk further and further into the bubbles.

"Do you want me to unpack your bag?" Regina asked. When Emma just mumbled something incoherent in response, she said, "Emma, use your words, please."

"No, it's fine."

"Are you sure? I can see a very nice sparkly dress in here that we don't want to get wrinkled."

Emma opened her eyes and craned her neck. "Are you going through my stuff?"

"You left the zipper half open. I'm hanging the dress up."

Emma could just about see her bending over the duffel bag and pulling a handful of sequins free. She shook it twice to knock some of the creases out, and the gesture was so pure and domestic that Emma felt her heart swell.

"Thank you," she called out, which earned her a wry smile.

"Only because it's your birthday."

"Do I get another birthday kiss?"

"You just pushed me off of you," Regina said, stepping into the bathroom with her eyebrows raised. Emma grinned up at her.

"I know," she said, reaching out a dripping wet hand and trying to grab Regina's. "But I needed this."

"After a two-hour drive?"

"I got up early," Emma protested. Regina finally caved and tangled her fingers together with Emma's soapy ones.

"You're a whiny little baby," Regina said lightly, glancing down at Emma's bubble-covered body. "But you do look very beautiful right now."

"Really?"

"Mm," Regina mused, sitting down on the edge of the bath and trailing a finger through the water.

"So do you."

"You're a charmer, Miss Swan. I'm definitely not looking my best right now."

"Yeah, you are," Emma said, and she meant it. Regina's hair was still a tousled mess from the car, and she was wearing black jeans that made her ass look positively spectacular. "But if you feel gross, then you can always get in here with me."

Regina sighed loudly, and Emma waited to be rejected. But then she stood up and unbuttoned her jeans, pulling them down her hips.

Emma immediately stopped slouching down in the bath. "Oh, excellent."

"You've only got yourself to blame if there's not enough room for both of us," Regina said as she kicked her jeans off and then started to peel off her shirt. When she was just in her underwear, she gathered up her hair and grabbed a hair tie.

Emma laughed at once. "That is adorable."

"What is?"

"That," Emma nodded to the shortest ponytail in the world. "It's like an inch long."

Regina responded by dipping a hand in the bath and splashing the water up into Emma's face. "Shut up, or I'm going out by myself."

She was already unhooking her bra, though, so Emma just wiped her face clean and grinned. Regina looped her fingers through her panties and pulled them off, leaving them abandoned somewhere on the floor before she stepped into the bath and sank down between Emma's legs.

"Hm," she said, turning the faucet off before she settled back against Emma's chest. "This is quite nice."

"Yeah," Emma agreed. Regina's body was warm and slippery against her own, and she tightened her thighs against the sides of it. "It is."

Regina leaned her head back against Emma's shoulder and sighed contentedly when Emma kissed her gently on her temple. She responded by sliding her hands along Emma's legs, from the crease of her hipbones to the knees that were sticking out the top of the water, and then back down again.

"Thank you for bringing me here," Emma said quietly. "It's probably the best present I've ever had."

"You're welcome," Regina murmured, sounding half asleep. "And this isn't your present."

"Sorry?"

"It would be a bit selfish to get you something that was half for my benefit, wouldn't it?"

"Regina," Emma spluttered, trying to wriggle free. Regina stayed exactly where she was, pinning Emma down with her loose-limbed body. "You can't—"

"I can," Regina said, her voice low and content. "I wanted to."

"Why?"

Finally, Regina seemed to wake up a bit. "Why?"

"Yeah. Why did you want to do any of this?"

When Regina replied, she sounded genuinely confused. "Because I like you. Should I not have done it?"

"No, of course not," Emma sighed, wrapping her arms around Regina's body. "I love it. I'm just… surprised."

"You make it sound like you've never stayed in a hotel before."

If Emma had been smarter, or maybe less smitten, she would have had the good sense to lie right then. But instead she just went awkwardly silent, her thumbs tapping against Regina's skin.

Regina immediately wriggled, trying to turn and look at her. "You haven't?"

"Not… exactly," Emma mumbled. "I stayed in a tent once."

It had been the worst experience of her life – one of her foster homes had sent all the kids on a camping trip when she was eight, and she'd returned covered in mosquito bites and heat rash. She'd vowed never to go near a lake ever again.

"How is that possible? You're 21 years old."

"Only as of a few hours ago," Emma pointed out. "And I don't know – I've just never really been whisked away on a vacation before."

"Where did you go during the summer with your family?"

It was the same, awkward question that Emma didn't want to answer. Here she was, in a five-star hotel with a woman who had poise and class and money and a fucking PhD, and the difference between them was totally humiliating.

"Nowhere," she answered eventually. "I've never had a lot of money."

Regina went quiet then. "Have I made you feel uncomfortable by bringing you here?"

"No," Emma said at once, nuzzling her face against Regina's temple. "Not at all. I just don't want you to think I'm a total dork for getting too excited about the mini-bar."

Thankfully, she felt Regina smile again. "I already think you're a total dork."

"Wow. Is that the first time you've ever said that word?"

"I think it might be," Regina replied, wriggling happily against Emma's stomach. "Did I pull it off?"

"Absolutely. I feel totally burned."

Regina's chuckle reverberated right the way through Emma's body. To repay her for the most beautiful sound in the world, Emma slipped her hands beneath the bubbly water to cup her breasts. Regina sighed happily, arching into her touch.

"That's better."

"You're the only person I've ever met who's hornier than I am," Emma laughed. Regina didn't even acknowledge that comment – she just leaned further back against Emma's shoulder and pressed herself harder into her hands.

Emma knew how to take a hint, so she pinched gently on Regina's nipples and smirked when she moaned out loud. The water was sloshing around them as she arched her back, and Emma had to pull her more firmly against her chest before it could splash all over the floor.

"Calm down," she hummed in Regina's ear, which earned her a sharp pinch to her thigh. "Ow! What was that for?"

"Stop tormenting me," Regina said. Emma could see her toes curling through the dispersing bubbles, and she dipped one hand lower down Regina's body without hesitating.

Regina all but growled when Emma's fingers skimmed over her pussy, which was somehow warm and wet even in spite of the water that was swirling around it. Emma gently circled a finger over her clit and pressed a kiss against the shell of her ear, muttering, "You feel amazing."

"Fuck me," Regina bit out.

"God, you're demanding."

"Yes, I know. You should already be aware of that."

Emma turned one finger into two and pressed on Regina's clit, dragging her hand back and forth until the grinding pressure made Regina's entire body go loose. After that, it was all too easy to thrust shallowly inside her, curling them just slightly in order to draw out a long moan from her.

"I'd actually be okay with spending the whole weekend in this bath," she said in Regina's ear, earning her a noise that was half a laugh and half a tearful whine.

"Stop talking."

"Why?" Emma asked, thrusting in again.

"Because I'm close and you're— oh, God. You're distracting me. I—"

Emma pinched harder on her nipple and smirked when she cried out loud. "I'm not stopping you from doing anything."

She plunged her fingers in deep and ground her palm against Regina's clit, holding her tight against her chest as she began to wriggle. The water was splashing around them and the tiled floor was soaked, but Regina didn't seem to care very much – her head was thrown back against Emma's shoulder, her ponytail was already dripping wet and her chest was arching out of the water as she bucked against Emma's touch. Emma kept a firm grip on her pussy, grinding her palm down again before pulling her fingers free and rubbing them hard against Regina's clit. Regina gasped, then groaned, then wailed. "Yes, there."

Holding her tight, Emma continued to torment her clit until she heard a sharp whine. Regina's entire body went rigid against her own, and a whole new wave of water sloshed over the side of the bath as she came crashing down from her high with a breathless gasp.

"Oh," she sighed, her chest heaving. Her fingers were digging into Emma's thighs hard enough to leave grooves. "Oh."

"I agree," Emma said, finally releasing her and falling back against the tub. She could feel herself smiling dopily and she knew she must look like a moron, but she didn't care when Regina's naked back was still pressed up against her and her legs were spread so carelessly beneath the water.

"I feel bad," Regina mused, her thumb soothing the painful marks she'd left in Emma's thighs.

"I don't mind them."

"Not that. I feel bad that the first orgasm of the day wasn't yours."

Emma just snorted. "I really don't mind that either."

"Hm. Well, that might be the case," Regina said, suddenly pushing herself upright and turning around. Kneeling between Emma's parted legs, she crawled forward and kissed Emma hard, water raining down from her soaked body. "But I need to focus my attention on you now."

She kissed her again, her lips gently prising Emma's mouth open, and dipped her tongue inside. She was moving slowly and possessively, her hands slipping from Emma's waist up to her breasts, and when she gripped hold of them and squeezed, it was harder than normal. Emma gasped, her head lifting off the rim of the bath, and Regina nudged her back down again.

"Lie back," she said, sitting upright. "You're all mine now."

Emma's legs were forced apart by the way Regina was kneeling between them, and she wriggled excitedly. Her anticipation only swelled when Regina casually turned and lifted the showerhead off its hook above the faucet.

"Oh no."

"Oh, yes," Regina purred. She dangled it from one hand like she was testing its weight. "Have you ever done this before?"

Emma shook her head.

"No?" Regina said, half disappointed and half smug. "Your past lovers really didn't know how to treat you."

They really hadn't, and Emma swore she could feel her pussy dripping into the water from the sheer thrill of what Regina was about to do to her. She arched her back, pushing her breasts momentarily out of the water, and at once Regina's gaze snapped onto them.

"Mm. Don't distract me with those," she scolded, but she was already crawling forward to meet them. The lower half of her face was submerged in the water as she slowly tongued Emma's nipples, drawing them into her mouth and sucking on them hard as Emma writhed beneath her. When Regina released her and crawled higher for another kiss, her mouth was wet and warm and tasted of bubbles.

"Are you ready for the next part of your birthday present?"

When Regina's voice went low and dark like that that, it rendered Emma entirely speechless. She just nodded, lifting her hips in the water and letting sheer pleasure rush through her from the weightless feeling of floating.

Regina busied herself switching on the shower and holding the stream against her hand.

"Isn't it nice when somewhere has good water pressure?" she commented lightly, turning Emma's stomach upside down.

Before she could even think about replying, the showerhead was submerged in the water and was directed at the tender skin on the inside of her thigh. Emma whined, automatically trying to clamp her legs shut and being forced back by Regina's spread knees.

"I don't think so," Regina purred, her spare hand reaching out for Emma's face so she could cup it. Emma immediately caught her thumb between her lips and sucked on it, her eyes fluttering shut at the sound of Regina's surprised sigh. In that moment, when her eyes were closed and her attention was diverted, Regina adjusted the position of her hand beneath the water and aimed the water straight between her legs.

Emma gasped out loud, her eyes snapping back open. Regina's other hand slid down from the side of her face to the top of her shoulder, using the position to both pin Emma down against the back of the tub and hold herself upright.

The shower blasted against Emma's pussy, sending a dull throbbing through her entire body. The force of it wasn't as strong as she'd been expecting because of the water that was blocking its path, but it was steady and it was intoxicating. She spread her legs further, whimpering softly as she arched her hips up toward it. Regina smirked down at her.

"You look a bit shell-shocked," she pointed out, and Emma just carried on gasping. The pleasure was building up excruciatingly slowly inside her, like the shower was filling her with hot water, and she threw her head back over the rim of the bath as she struggled to cope with it.

"Oh God," she blurted out, reaching out for the handrail and managing to splash water all over the floor in the process. "Oh – I'm sorry. Shit."

"Shut up," Regina said coolly, pressing the showerhead closer until it was nearly touching her pussy. Emma shrieked in response, her head rolling back and a frustrated tear rolling down her cheek.

"I'm so close," she gasped, lifting her hips again and finally feeling the metal pressing flat against her clit for the first time. She moaned, and as Regina tried to tug it back by an inch, she thrust a hand into the water and clamped her fingers around it. "No, please."

She clutched hold of the showerhead and ground forward against it, blood surging through her entire body as hot, bubbling pressure filled her up from the inside. Something was twisting and stretching deep in the pit of her stomach, and before she could stop herself, she was crying out with depserate relief that bounced off the tiles. "Yes, fuck."

Regina gripped her shoulder more firmly and kept going, holding the water against her until she began trembling and writhing beneath her. Emma's orgasm felt flat and wide, like it was covering her entire body, and even as it began to dissipate, the intensity of it continued to shake her.

"Fuck, Regina."

The shower was slowly taken away from her, and when she lifted her head she wasn't surprised to see that the tub had overflowed. "Oh."

Regina was replacing the showerhead with a smirk.

"'Oh' is right," she said, reaching for the bathplug and pulling it. "Housekeeping are going to be thrilled when I ask them to come in here less than an hour after we checked in."

Emma just laughed. Her head was still lolling back against the edge of the bath, and her entire body felt floppy.

"Miss Swan?" Regina asked, forcing her to lift her head once more. "Good bath?"

"Great bath," Emma sighed happily.

"Excellent. Now, let's get you up so we can actually go and see some of this city." Regina stood and made her way carefully down to the soaked bathroom floor, before turning and holding out a hand for Emma to join her.

With happiness brimming in her stomach like a water balloon, Emma reached out and took it.

Chapter Text

Newport was possibly the cutest city Emma had ever stepped foot in. With all its sprawling mansions and neat wooden houses, it reminded her of a toy town made for children. The sea seemed to lap at every street corner, and it smelled different to Boston: there, the ocean was a comforting presence that lingered in the background, like a wash of watercolour on a canvas. In Newport, it sunk into everything and made the whole city feel salty and crisp.

"I could probably live here," Regina said as she led Emma down the road with their arms linked together.

"Really?"

"Mm. I've always liked living near the sea."

"Didn't you laugh at me when I said that exact same thing an hour ago?"

Regina nudged her. "That's because you were planning on charging down to the beach like a child. Also, I happen to enjoy mocking you."

With a roll of her eyes, Emma said, "Right. Anyway, I guess I can see the appeal – cute little harbour town, far away from all the really huge cities. It's nice."

"Do you think you'll stay in Boston after you graduate?"

Emma shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it. That feels like a long way off."

"It's only a year."

"A year's a long time when you're stuck studying classics under a merciless dictator."

Regina glared at her. "Just because I snap at you when you talk during class?"

"Uh huh. Although there's a chance I only talk during class when I want to get snapped at."

"You're a strange little thing."

"I know. So," Emma steered the conversation back to its starting point. "Are you thinking of leaving Boston?"

It was the first time they'd ever really discussed the future. Emma's heart clenched as she waited for the answer.

"I'm… not sure," Regina said slowly. "I'm only in this job while Dr Hopper is on sabbatical. He comes back in the fall."

"Right," Emma replied. She knew all this already, but it still hurt to remind herself of it. "So, what happens then?"

"I don't know," Regina admitted. She glanced sideways at Emma before adding, "We don't have to talk about this today."

"It's okay. It's just a bit scary – I don't like the idea that you could be hundreds of miles away from me come September."

"Well, that seems unlikely. I do have a house here."

"But what if you got offered an amazing position at, I don't know. Stanford, or something?"

Regina pondered it. "Then I suppose I'd have to take it. But Stanford isn't hiring at the moment, so that's not something you need to worry about."

"Have you been applying for other stuff?"

There was a heavy pause before Regina said, "A few things, here and there."

"Do you have a dream job?"

"Of course. But it's a pipe dream."

"How come?"

Regina threw her another tentative glance. It was like she was trying to decide how much of the truth she should let slip out.

After a beat, she sighed wistfully. "Because I want to teach at Harvard. It has the best classics department in the country, but they almost never have an opening and even when they do, they don't tend to hire professors under the age of 40 who haven't already written 14 books. Even if there's the slightest chance of it happening, it won't be any time soon."

There was a twinge of sheer despondency in her voice, although Emma couldn't figure out why. Regina had a plan for her life, and no matter how ambitious it was, it was still achievable. Emma, for one, had no doubt that one day she'd find Professor R Mills's name glittering back at her from the Harvard University website, and so she opened her mouth to say exactly that.

"Anyway," Regina cut her off before she could. "It's not something I need to worry about right now. For the time being, I just need to focus on what could happen come fall."

"Right," Emma said. They could both hear the tremor in that one word.

"Don't look like that," Regina said softly, squeezing her arm. "I won't go anywhere without discussing it with you first."

"Really? You care that much about what I think?"

"Of course I do. You're the only person whose opinion I care about."

Emma actually stopped walking at that. "Seriously?"

"Yes," Regina said, pausing with a worried look on her face. "Was that too much?"

"No, of course not," Emma said quickly. It was weird how they'd never actually discussed what 'this' was – whether they were dating, whether they were just fucking, whether they'd end up getting married once Emma had graduated and they couldn't get in trouble for it anymore. They just stumbled along together, seeking out each other's hands in the dark and hoping the other person was on the same page.

Emma swallowed and bit the bullet. "I care about you way more than I was expecting to."

Regina smiled. "Because I'm such an asshole?"

"No," Emma rolled her eyes. "Because at first I just had a crush on my professor, and now I… you know. Actually give a damn."

With a gentle laugh, Regina looped their arms together again and coaxed her back into walking. "I give a damn too."

"You do?"

"Yes. More than you know."

Emma bit her lip to suppress her delighted smile. "If you do have to move away from Boston, I'll come out and visit you."

"I'd like that a lot. But I promise, I'm going to try and make sure that doesn't happen. And if it looks even slightly likely, you'll be the first to know."

Emma beamed back at her. "Alright. That sounds fair."

"Good. Now, we were supposed to be finding somewhere for lunch."

They'd been ambling around for a couple of hours and Emma had been so happy staring at Regina's animated face and soft smile that she'd stopped noticing the fact that her stomach was rumbling. "Oh, right. This might be the first time I've ever forgotten I was hungry."

Regina sniggered and tugged her down the street. "What do you like the look of?"

"That place looks cute," Emma said, nodding toward a cafe on the corner. Regina shrugged.

"The birthday girl gets to pick the venue," she said. A second later, her hand slid down Emma's arm and tangled itself up in her fingers. "Let's go."

Emma let herself be led down the street, although her heart was pounding and her eyes kept flicking down to their interlocked hands. "Regina."

"Mm?"

"Do you know this is the first time we've ever done this?"

"Done what?" Regina asked, glancing back at her.

"This," Emma said, squeezing her fingers. "Held hands."

Regina frowned. "No, it's not. We hold hands all the time. We held hands in the bathroom earlier today."

"But outside the house," Emma clarified. "Walking down the street. We've never done it before."

Regina opened her mouth to argue, because that was her natural reflex to everything, but then she hesitated. "Oh. You might be right."

"It's nice," Emma said, squeezing harder. "I like it."

There was an uncertain smile on Regina's face. "You're very sincere outside of Boston."

"I'm just making the most of being able to act like a normal couple for once."

Regina's smile softened at that. "Well, that's exactly why we're here. I might even kiss you in public, if you're lucky."

She was just trying to be funny, but she looked so irresistibly impish in that moment that Emma couldn't help but tug her forward and kiss her gently on the lips. Regina's cheeks were pink when she pulled away.

"You beat me to it," she said quietly. Emma smirked.

"I'm also very proactive outside of Boston," she said. "Now, come on. You promised me food."

Regina rolled her eyes and kept walking toward the cafe, but her grip on Emma's hand got tighter.


It was way too cold to be on the beach, but Emma refused to cave. She dragged Regina there after lunch and even managed to persuade her to get ice cream, and although her fingers were turning blue and her lips had gone numb, she stared out at the sea with a giant grin on her face.

"I've got sand all over my coat," Regina huffed. There weren't any benches, so Emma had forced her to sit down on the ground with her.

"You've also got ice cream on your sleeve."

"I know," Regina sighed. "How is it possible for ice cream to melt so quickly in minus a thousand degrees?"

"It's not that cold," Emma said, even though she couldn't feel her feet. "It's just the wind."

"I'm going to need another hot bath when we get back to the hotel, and I'm not going to let you join me."

"Oh, as if you could stop me."

"You do have a very high opinion of yourself, Miss Swan."

"I'm just going on facts," Emma said cheerfully. When she craned her neck, she could see their hotel at the top of the cliff. "Do you think they're even going to let us back in the room after what we did to it this morning?"

"I'm sure they will. I have a very menacing scowl."

"I know – I've been on the receiving end of it too many times."

Regina just snorted at that. She was still manoeuvring her ice cream cone to her mouth, because apparently she ate dessert slower than anyone else in the whole world, and Emma couldn't help but smile to herself as she watched.

Regina caught her staring and paused with her mouth partially open and the cone halfway to her lips. "What?"

"Nothing. I'm just enjoying the menacing scowl in question."

That made Regina glare furiously, but the effect was somewhat destroyed by the waffle cone still clasped in her fist.

After a beat, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the pamphlet she'd picked up from the hotel reception desk. "Where do you want to go next?"

As she held it out to Emma, it started flapping in the cold wind. Emma grabbed it and held it with both hands. The print was small and the paper kept moving, and she felt a familiar twist of panic when she realised she couldn't read it right away.

Regina had turned away to stare out at the sea. When she looked back round, she found Emma's forehead crumpled and her eyes desperately squinting.

She paused. "Are you okay?"

Emma glanced over at her and, seeing the concern on her face, nodded sharply.

"Fine," she said, handing it back. "Let's go on one of those mansion tours."

"Alright," Regina said, glancing down at the leaflet for a second before looking back up at Emma's pink face. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Emma nodded, then gestured to Regina's ice cream once more. "It's getting on your sleeve again."

"Oh, for God's sake."

Regina quickly licked at the side of the cone to try and stem the flow, but it was officially giving up on her.

"I've never seen anyone take 20 minutes to eat one scoop of ice cream before."

"It hurts my teeth," Regina snapped, still trying to minimise the damage to her expensive coat. "If you wanted to help me, I wouldn't be opposed."

Emma laughed, then leaned toward the melting cone. She bit straight into the top of the ice cream and took it away, happily allowing it to melt in her mouth as Regina looked at her like she was some kind of psychopath.

"Who bites into ice cream?"

"You're welcome," Emma mumbled around the taste of vanilla. "You can deal with the rest."

Still watching her warily, Regina went back to her cone and started delicately nibbling the edges. Her other arm looped into Emma's, and she edged closer to her side.


"I'm glad I had the foresight to bring a dress," Emma called in the direction of the bathroom, where Regina was doing her make-up.

"You didn't have to, if you aren't comfortable in them," Regina replied. "Anything smart would have been just fine."

"I know. It's just… I knew it was going to be a special occasion."

"You didn't even know we were going away somewhere, though. Would you still have worn that if we had just stayed in my house all weekend?"

"Maybe," Emma said, reaching down to smooth out the sequins over her thighs. "You could have given me a heads up if you were that worried about it."

"That would have ruined the surprise – besides, I didn't want you to feel pressured. You can dress however you want."

Emma approached the bathroom and leaned against the doorframe. "I want to dress up for you."

Regina was leaning over the sink, her lips slightly parted as she applied her mascara. She was wearing a fitted black dress with a sharp V-shape cut out of the back, and Emma could see the muscles in her shoulders shifting as she moved the brush to her other eye.

When she was done, she turned and spotted Emma in the doorway. Her face immediately softened. "Wow. I'm glad you did."

Emma beamed back at her. "Do you like it?"

The dress was clingy and shimmery and probably too short for the kind of fancy restaurant Regina was undoubtedly taking her to, but she hoped the long sleeves and high neckline would make up for that.

Regina was looking at her like she was already tempted to rip it off of her, anyway, so she had to assume it wasn't going to cause any problems. 

"Very much. It's a real shame that we have a reservation in 20 minutes."

"I can save myself if you can," Emma smirked.

With a dramatic sigh, Regina placed her mascara back on the bathroom counter and said, "I'll do my very best, but I'm not promising anything."

She trailed her fingers down Emma's arm as she left the bathroom and flicked off the lights.

"Are you ready to go?"

"Pretty much," Emma said. She'd curled her hair and dusted some dark grey glitter in the corners of her eyes to make them look greener. "I'll grab my purse."

She tried to nudge past Regina, but she was caught by her wrist as the last second and tugged back. "Wait."

Before Emma could ask what was wrong, Regina was pulling her forward so she could brush their lips together. Emma knew that she was being so tender because she was trying not to mess up their lipstick, and that single thought sent waves of happiness through her.

She pulled away with a grin. "Another birthday kiss?"

"I know. I'm spoiling you," Regina said, nudging her back toward her purse. "Get your things. I'll ask the hotel to call us a cab."

She rang down to the reception desk while Emma pulled on her coat and stepped into a pair of heeled boots. When she turned back around, Regina was still on the phone but was watching her with a smile.

Emma tugged her long hair free from the collar of her coat and held her arms open in a 'what do you think?' gesture. Regina mouthed back at her: Beautiful.

Grinning, Emma waited for Regina to finish what she was doing, and then they headed down to the lobby together. She still felt a wash of nerves just from walking next to Regina in public, but that sleepy little city didn't care about who they were and seemingly neither did any of the other hotel guests. Emma slipped her hand into Regina's as they strode across the foyer, and Regina squeezed back.

"I like being invisible with you," Emma said, and Regina looked round at her in surprise.

"You, invisible?" she asked. "Never."

Emma blushed and let herself be led outside, where the taxi was just approaching. They climbed in and Regina told the driver the name of a restaurant that Emma hadn't bothered looking up on TripAdvisor, because she already knew it was going to be perfect. The drive was short – they could have walked, really, but one look at Regina's perilously high heels told Emma that that would probably never be an option with them – and soon enough they found themselves outside a building that looked more like someone's house than a restaurant.

"Come on," Regina said, leading her by the hand toward a small set of brick steps that led up to a sign that read Bouchard Inn and Restaurant. "Time to practice your high school French."

Emma snorted. "You seriously think I ever learned French?"

"Not really," Regina admitted, opening the door for her. "Neither did I. Do you think Spanish will get me very far instead?"

The inside of the restaurant was small and homely in a way that told Emma it was way out of her price range. Not that that would be an issue – Regina rarely let her pay for anything as it was, so she doubted she'd be forced to split the bill on her birthday. Still, she felt slightly out of place as she was led to a table in the corner. They were beneath a window and could see the darkening sea outside, and Emma waited awkwardly while the maître d' pulled her chair out.

"Don't look so scared," Regina said as they settled down and watched the man disappear with their coats. "This isn't a test."

"I really don't belong here," Emma said bluntly, although she was already appreciatively sniffing the air. "Can I smell steak?"

"Probably. Now, what would you like to have for your first ever legal drink?"

Emma grinned and grabbed the drinks menu. Her eyes nearly popped at the prices. "Oh."

"Ignore them," Regina said, reaching out a hand and taking the book from her. "Tell me what you want."

But the price of the cheapest whisky was already burned into Emma's mind, and she just shrugged awkwardly. "Whatever you're getting is fine."

"Since when have I enjoyed it when you pretend to be coy?" Regina asked. "You want a whisky."

"But—"

"I'm picking for you," Regina said smoothly. "And we're also getting champagne. This is a celebration."

Something about that made Emma's entire body soften, and she heard herself say, "Only if you're sure."

"I'm positive. I'm also not letting you leave without eating a full three courses, so you'd better start reading that menu."

Emma settled down, her eyes skipping over the scary French names and instead taking in the English descriptions. She found herself thinking in a moment of total, blissful insanity that maybe she should learn French –  it was ridiculou, but she could imagine Regina's surprise and then delight if she ever managed to order something in a different language.

It was a sure indication of just how hard she'd fallen for her if she was actually considering signing up for classes just to win one of those overjoyed expressions that she loved so much.

Regina ordered their drinks and handed the menu back to the waiter, then settled down with her own food list. "Wow. It's a good thing you're not a vegetarian."

"As if you'd ever date a vegetarian," Emma scoffed. She'd seen the way Regina's face lit up whenever someone brought her a particularly bloody hamburger.

"I don't have a problem with vegetarianism," Regina said, glancing up at her. "I just couldn't deal with it myself."

"Because you don't care about the little cows and piggies?"

"Because I'm selfish and I love eating more than I love anything else in this world," Regina corrected her. "Or, well. Nearly anything."

Emma's entire body jolted at that, but Regina didn't continue. There was a promise in her words and it hung in the air like mist.

A few minutes later the waiter returned with a brimming silver tray. Emma nearly slipped out of her chair. 

"Jesus, Regina," she blurted out, looking at the selection of drinks that had been hauled over. "What is all this?"

"A birthday celebration," Regina said, picking up her own glass of whisky as the waiter uncorked the bottle of champagne.

"You realise you have to drive 80 miles back to Boston tomorrow?"

Regina waved a hand dismissively. "I'll be fine. And if I'm not, then you're much younger and sprightlier than I am – you can drive instead."

"You'd seriously trust me to drive your car?"

"Only under the most extreme circumstances. Now," Regina said. The waiter had walked off, and she lifted one of the champagne glasses in a toast. "Happy birthday."

"Thanks," Emma said, clinking their glasses together. "And thank you for such an amazing day."

"It's not over yet," Regina pointed out. "I might even extend your birthday over the course of tomorrow as well. There's nothing like dragging out a celebration."

Emma grinned. "No one's ever taken such an interest in my birthday before."

"No one?" Regina asked. There was a curious lilt to her voice. It was because she'd asked that question in one way or another a dozen times since they'd met, and Emma never really gave her an answer. "Not even your parents?"

Emma took a too-big mouthful of champagne, ignoring the pain in her throat. "Nope."

Regina's eyes narrowed. "You close off whenever I ask about them."

"I know that," Emma said. Her heart was pounding. "It's not an interesting topic."

"I think it might be," Regina said. She was treading carefully, her eyes darting all over Emma's face. "Would you like to hear about my parents?"

Emma grinned at that. "Yes, please."

"Well," Regina said, leaning forward dramatically like she was about to admit that she was related to the Zodiac Killer. "My father was Puerto Rican. And he was a historian, which I guess is where I got my love of classics from."

"Was?" Emma asked gently.

"He died a long time ago," Regina said, her face flickering for only a second.

"I'm sorry. Were you close?"

A soft smile spread over Regina's face as she said, "Yes, we were. He was a kind man and he loved me very much."

"And your mother?"

"Ah," Regina sighed. "That's a different matter altogether."

Emma shifted forward in her chair and raised her eyebrows. "Go on."

"An eye for an eye, Miss Swan," Regina smirked. "Tell me something about your parents first."

Emma felt her face darken before she could stop it. "That's not fair."

"Why not?"

"Because you tricked me."

"I did not. You can just say no, and I'll accept it. But I won't tell you the story of how my mother reacted to me coming home with my first girlfriend either."

Emma sighed, taking a sip of champagne. "You really do play dirty."

"I do. So – what's it going to be?"

Emma thought about it for a moment. The truth was, she had no reason not to tell Regina about her childhood – it wasn't like she was raised by a gang of pickpocketers, nor had she done any time in juvie. But it was a painful story to retell nonetheless, and worse than that, it was embarrassing. Telling Regina the truth might make her pity her, and she wasn't sure she could handle that.

Except Regina had never pitied her before. All she'd ever done was treat her as an equal – as someone who might even be special. Maybe Emma needed to have more faith in her.

So she took another gulp of champagne and, once the bubbles were clouding her head, forced out, "I think they're dead."

Regina's eyebrows shot up. "You think they're dead?"

"Yeah. Or maybe I just hope they are," Emma said, looking down at the base of her champagne glass because it was easier than meeting Regina's eye. "They dumped me on the sidewalk the day I was born. I've never had a family after that."

She still didn't look up, but she could feel the shock on Regina's face. After a few moments, she heard her ask, "You didn't get adopted?"

"Nope. A family kept me for a while, but then they sent me back into the system when they had a kid of their own. I just bounced between homes after that, and I only left to come to college."

She glanced up to find the pieces of a puzzle falling into place in Regina's eyes. "That's why you never go home during the vacations."

"Right."

"And you celebrate your birthday alone."

"Mm," Emma said, swallowing hard. "I've been alone forever. You kind of get used to it."

Regina didn't respond to that. She looked speechless for the first time since they'd met.

Maybe there were too many bubbles buzzing around in Emma's head, or maybe she just wanted to get the rest of this story out while she was brave enough to do so, but she heard herself say, "There's something else."

"Oh?" Regina asked, her voice cracking. "What's that?"

"It's embarrassing," Emma said slowly. She was playing with her fork, lining it up neatly against the edge of her placemat. "I don't want you to… think differently of me."

"Emma," Regina said softly. "As if I could."

Emma nodded. "Okay. So."

She swallowed, then tried again.

"I didn't learn to read until I was 13."

She scrunched up her nose, trying to suppress the anxious fizzing, and waited. She could feel Regina blinking at her.

"How…?" she started to ask, then realised there was no other part to that question. "How?"

"I was four when I got kicked out of my first family," Emma explained. "And after that… Foster homes aren't the best place for picking up new skills. When I eventually went to school, the teachers just assumed I was stupid or I had a bad attitude, and in the end I preferred getting in trouble by refusing to do any work than tell anyone what the actual issue was."

She looked up to find Regina watching her agape. "You managed to do that until you were 13?"

Emma smiled tightly. "No one wants to ask too many questions about the problem kid."

"So you…" Regina shook her head. "What happened? How did you learn?"

"I finally told a teacher," Emma said. "She was kind of similar to you, actually. She was crazy scary, but had a bit of a soft spot for me. When I told her the truth, she bent over backward to help me – after-school classes, private tuition, buying me kids' books, the lot. It took a long time but I started to learn, and then it turned out that I wasn't actually so stupid after all. I was never great at math or science, but I picked up English quicker than anyone expected me to."

Regina had gone quiet again, and Emma glanced up with nerves knotting in her stomach. She was expecting to find shock or even disgust on her face, but she could have cried when she saw Regina's dark eyes glistening with pride.

"And now here you are," she said softly. "Studying for a bachelor's degree."

"Yeah," Emma smiled. "It's a crazy world. I had to fight so hard for my scholarship in order to get here, but it was worth it in the end."

"Emma," Regina sighed, sounding genuinely amazed. "You really do get more and more astounding every day."

There was a pause, and then she asked, "Why didn't you tell me any of this?"

"Because it's humiliating," Emma said flatly. "Look at you – you're a professor and you're so intelligent and classy and I'm an orphan who was illiterate until less than 10 years ago. I didn't want you to feel sorry for me."

"Sorry for you?" Regina asked, reaching out and snatching up Emma's hand. "Is that how people normally react?"

Emma took a breath and admitted something else that hurt her chest a little bit. "You're the first person I've told."

"Ever?"

"Ever," Emma said. "I've always just ducked questions about my family and told people that I read really slowly because I've forgotten my glasses. I mean, you saw me on the beach earlier, and the first time in your office when you gave me that text to read. It's not that hard to believe."

She watched as the memories flicked back through Regina's eyes. "You still struggle with it?"

"Not really. When I'm alone and I have plenty of time, it's not a problem at all. But sometimes… I don't know. If the text is too small or there's pressure or I can feel somebody watching me, it just makes me feel like a kid again. Sometimes I need an extra minute."

"And no one's ever noticed?"

"Nope. I'm a really good liar, and people hate asking questions when the answer won't actually benefit them."

Regina looked absolutely appalled at that. "People are incredibly self-centred."

"They are, but it's always worked just fine for me," Emma said, then grinned. "You're the only person who's been meddlesome enough to get the truth out of me."

"Well. I've always prided myself on being exactly that," Regina said, but she squeezed Emma's hand as she said it. "Thank you for telling me."

"Thanks for not judging me."

"I would never," Regina said, and she spoke so firmly that Emma believed her. "I mean, apart from the time when you told me that you don't care about classical literature. That I still can't forgive."

Emma snorted. "You really need to let that go."

"Absolutely not. But now that I know about your background, maybe I'll be a bit more lenient."

"Like you'll only give me one old, boring text to read a week instead of three?"

"Don't ever call Homer boring," Regina scolded, stroking her thumb over Emma's palm. "No matter how much I like you, I will not stand for it."

Emma could feel herself grinning like an idiot, although she really tried to stop. A weight had been lifted from her chest and it felt so good that she could understand why people in Disney movies burst out into song so often.

"I still can't believe you like me at all, to be honest," she said. "You know you could do better, right?"

Regina shrugged playfully. "I don't actually know that, but if you want to keep believing it, I'm not going to stop you. It means you're less likely to run off with someone else."

"As if."

"Let's agree to disagree. Now, give me my hand back so I can start celebrating your birthday properly by making some headway through my multiple drinks. Are you in?"

"Oh yes," Emma said, lifting her glass in a toast. "Definitely."

Chapter Text

When they left the restaurant three hours later, they were both drunk. Regina had the most delectable flush in her cheeks, and she wound her arm through Emma's to try and keep herself upright as they tottered down the stairs.

"I could have sworn you were the one claiming you'd be fine after all those drinks," Emma said as she guided her down to ground level. Regina giggled.

"I'm fine."

"You're hammered."

"So are you."

"Barely," Emma said, although she was lying. She felt completely trashed and her face was burning hot, but she was better at hiding it than Regina was: when her professor's usual personality was so rigid and dry, it was very difficult for her hide her newfound giddiness as she clung on to Emma's elbow. "We should find a cab."

"No," Regina said happily. "Let's walk."

"Seriously? It's cold. And you're wearing five-inch heels."

"I know, but I want to walk with you. Look at the sky," Regina sighed. Emma glanced up and saw the sprinkling of stars just about visible beyond the street lamps. "You never get to see the stars in Boston."

It was the most endearing thing she'd ever said, and Emma couldn't help but tug her closer so she could kiss her cheek. "You're such a nerd. Fine - let's walk."

They headed off in the direction of the hotel, Regina wobbling along with her grip on Emma's arm getting tighter. The streets were quieter than Boston at that time of night, but there were still handfuls of people strolling past, huddling together to try and escape the cold ocean wind.

"You never told me your story," Emma suddenly said. Regina looked round at her.

"What story?"

"About your mom. And your first girlfriend."

"Oh," Regina said. "Yes. We got a bit sidetracked, didn't we?"

"Can I hear it?"

"If you like," Regina said. She sounded so cheerful considering that her next sentence was, "It's not very nice, though."

"Oh?"

"I think I told you that my mother grounded me when she caught me kissing my best friend," Regina said. She was looking up at the stars as they walked and Emma had to carefully guide her round a puddle. "Well, after that incident, she decided that I must have been acting out and it was just a phase I would grow out of. She was especially thrilled when I came home with a few boyfriends over the following years - even though she hated all of them, she thought that my 'condition' had been cured all on its own."

"Ew," Emma said. "She sounds like a piece of work."

Regina shrugged. "She's not a monster - she's just very set in her ways. And I was fine to go along with it for a while because I did like men as well as women, so if it was easier to only bring boys home then that's what I would do. But then I met Mal."

Emma squeezed her arm. "Who's Mal?"

"She was no one, really," Regina said thoughtfully. "We weren't even in love. But I met her when I was 18 and she was so new and interesting and a little bit scary, and I loved being near her. She brought me out of my shell and then convinced me that taking her home to meet my mother would be a great idea. Mal had this crazy, curly hair and wore tight clothes and too much make up and she was terrifying and we were convinced that she would shock my mother into just accepting me for who I was. Which was ridiculous, I now realise. But I was young and hopeful and so I did it anyway."

"What happened?"

"Nothing, at first. Mother sat through dinner with a sour expression on her face and pointedly ignored the fact that we were holding hands over the table. I was scared but I kind of liked it - it was fun to do something forbidden for once. Does that make sense?"

Emma thought back to all the scrapes she'd gotten into as a teenager - the boys she'd picked fights with just because she wanted to get bruises to show off - and laughed. "Yeah. I get it."

"But then Mal went home, and I had to face my mother alone. I went up to my room because I knew she'd come and find me eventually. When she did, I thought she was going to hit me."

Emma flinched. "Did she?"

"No," Regina said. "Not that time, anyway."

"Not that—?"

"Instead," Regina cut over her before they could launch into a discussion that she obviously didn't want to have. "She locked me in my room. It was the summer vacation before I went off to college and she kept me in there for a week. After that was over, she took all my things - photos of my father, my books, my trophies - and she hid them away somewhere so I wouldn't be able to take them with me."

"Regina," Emma choked out. "That's awful."

"It was," Regina agreed with the grim determination of someone who had long gotten used to it and had simply decided not to be upset anymore. "And when I was let out and went to call Mal, she wouldn't speak to me. I don't know what Mother said to her, but we never saw each other again."

Emma squeezed her arm tight. "Wow. That's..."

There weren't adequate words to describe what it was, but luckily Regina didn't seem to expect them. "I know."

"But you still see your mom?"

"Rarely. Once a year at most," Regina replied. "My half sister moved back from England a couple of years ago and she sees her a lot, so they have no need for me. And I certainly don't have any need for them."

Emma felt Regina's body tense up when she said that, like she was physically closing herself off from them. Emma stopped them walking and turned Regina to face her, ignoring the other people who was still walking and had to dodge into the street to get around them.

"Well. I need you," she said, kissing Regina's cheek. It was somehow cold and hot at the same time. "So if they don't appreciate you, I will."

Regina smiled. "You are incredibly young and naive."

"Thanks," Emma said dryly. "But I'm charming, right?"

"I suppose that's one word for it," Regina said, linking their hands together and pulling Emma back down the street.

They walked slowly, and Emma was glad they hadn't taken a taxi. The air was crisp and she could feel it beginning to clear her muggy head, and it was nice to just be there with Regina, walking quietly side by side, their cold fingers interlinked and their wobbly footsteps perfectly in time.

It was perfect until she felt Regina slow down. She turned to find her squinting into the distance.

"What?" Emma asked. They were still walking, but only barely.

"Nothing," Regina said, although her eyes were still fixed on something straight ahead of them. Emma followed her gaze and saw a couple some distance away. "I just thought..."

They actually did stop walking then. The man and woman were coming toward them, although Emma couldn't tell if they had spotted them or not. Regina was still squinting, though, her glasses far away in their hotel room, and for a second she merely looked unsure of something.

Then she froze. "Shit. It is."

Emma looked back toward the couple. The woman was pretty and young - much younger than the man, who had scraggly grey hair and was walking with a cane. She waited for a tug of recognition, but nothing came to her.

"Who?"

"That's the dean," Regina gabbled, turning to find an escape route. Her eyes were glassy with panic and Emma could see that she had almost entirely sobered up in those last four seconds. "Oh God. We need to hide."

Emma tugged her hand. "Let's just cross the street."

"No, they could see us. Shit. Emma–" Regina cut herself off when she realised the man was looking toward her. "Hide. Please."

She gave Emma a shove toward the nearest building, and Emma stumbled over to it without complaint. There was a dark doorway that she could slip into without too much trouble, and she ducked behind the brick archway that obscured it from the street. On the sidewalk, Regina was straightening her coat and taking a few steps forward.

Emma briefly wondered how long she was going to be left there before Regina came back to rescue her, but then she heard voices. Apparently Regina had only made it three paces before she'd come face to face with Boston College's dean of faculties.

"Mr Gold," Regina said, her voice as crisp and professional as ever. Only Emma could hear the faintest shiver of nerves.

"Professor Mills," a man's voice came back. He was softly spoken and somehow terrifying just in his greeting. "What a surprise."

"I know - strange to see you here. This must be your wife."

"Mm. Belle, this is Regina Mills. She's covering Dr Hopper's classics classes while he's on sabbatical."

Emma listened to the polite introductions with her feet scrunched up in her shoes. Then came the kicker: "And what brings you to Newport, Ms Mills?"

Luckily Regina had sobered up enough to be able to think of a plausible lie. "I'm just visiting some family. My sister lives in town. And you?"

"We're enjoying a weekend break," Mr Gold replied. "It's nice to get out of the city sometimes, isn't it, dearie?"

Emma thought he must have directed that question at his wife, given the endearment tagged onto the end, but when Regina replied with a hum of approval, she realised she was wrong.

"It's such a... romantic city," Mr Gold continued. His words were slow and meaningful. "It's such a shame you had to come by yourself."

Emma could hear the tight smile on Regina's face when she replied, "Not especially. I'm just happy to spend time with my family."

"I see," Mr Gold said. There was a loaded pause. "Well, we'd best be getting home. You enjoy your trip, Professor Mills."

"And you," Regina said. Her voice caught on the second word.

Emma could hear footsteps approaching her hiding place and she pressed herself harder into the dark corner. After a moment, Mr Gold and Belle passed by, their arms interlinked. She waited with her breath held for either one of them to glance over their shoulder and catch her in her hiding spot, but they kept on walking and disappeared from sight.

Emma waited for two full minutes before she slipped out of the doorway and hurried down the street. Regina had vanished, but she knew she wouldn't have gone far.

Sure enough, when she reached the next corner, there she was. She was leaning against the wall with her eyes wide open and her hands clasped over her stomach. She jumped when Emma approached her.

"Hey," Emma said, reaching out for her hand. She braced herself for rejection, but Regina squeezed hard on her fingers. "You okay?"

"No," Regina said, sounding breathless. "That was terrifying."

"I know. I'm so sorry," Emma said. "I mean, what crappy luck."

She tried to laugh, earning her a tight smile in response. Regina didn't say anything - she just clung onto Emma's hand like she was begging her not to leave. Emma took a breath.

"Come on," she said, tugging on her arm. "Let's go, before we bump into any more of your friends."

Regina let out a watery laugh as Emma pulled her back onto the main street. "He's not a friend."

"I know. I'm trying to lighten the mood."

Regina's fingers were trembling.

"Emma..." she sighed. They were walking much faster than before, eager to get back to the hotel before anything else could happen. "That... could have been a disaster."

"Not necessarily," Emma said, although she knew Regina was right. "I've never met him before - he has no idea I'm a student. Even if we'd had a full conversation, he wouldn't have had reason to suspect anything."

"Right," Regina scoffed, although she sounded slightly calmer. "Because your remarkably fresh face definitely wouldn't have given anything away."

"Stop panicking," Emma said gently. "It's done. He's gone. He didn't see me and even if he did, he doesn't know who I am. The only time I'm ever going to meet him is on graduation day, and I doubt he'll recognise me by then."

"I would," Regina pointed out.

"Sure, but you're a pervert," Emma said. When Regina laughed properly, it was music to her ears.

They hurried back to the hotel, and once they were inside they scuttled over to the elevator like they were expecting an intervention to occur in the foyer. Regina all but threw herself into their room, and she watched Emma lock the door behind them with wide eyes. Only then did she exhale.

"God," she sighed, running a hand through her hair. "That is not something I want to go through again."

"It won't," Emma said, shrugging off her coat and holding out a hand for Regina's. "We're always careful back in Boston. This was just really bad luck, and if we ever decide to go somewhere again, we'll make sure it's in a different time zone."

Regina laughed through her nose and watched as she hung up both their coats. Emma bent down to peel her boots off and place them in the bottom of the closet, and when she turned around, she found Regina barefoot and watching her anxiously.

"What?"

Regina wetted her lips and opened her mouth twice before she finally managed to ask, "Can I have a hug?"

Emma all but hurled herself across the room so that she could hold Regina as soon as possible. When she opened her arms, Regina tumbled into them, burying her head in Emma's shoulder.

She sighed loudly. "Thank you."

Regina was tiny when she wasn't wearing shoes, and Emma was easily able to nuzzle her nose against the top of her head. Her hair always smelled amazing, and right then it smelled of the sea and the city and Emma just wanted to drink it up.

She felt a chuckle against her chest. "Are you inhaling me?"

"Sort of."

"Why?"

"You always smell nice."

Regina pulled away and looked up at her, her face full of bemusement. "I do?"

"Mm," Emma said. "No one's ever told you that before?"

"I don't let many people close enough to sniff me," Regina laughed. She twined their fingers together and led Emma over to the bed. "Now. Would you like your actual birthday present?"

Emma glanced pointedly over at the pillows. "Are you sure you've recovered enough for that?"

"Not what I meant," Regina scolded, sitting Emma down at the end of the mattress and then heading for her suitcase. "I got you an actual gift."

She reappeared with a carefully wrapped box. It was only small, but Emma perked up at the sight of it.

"Don't you think you've done enough?"

"No," Regina said, sitting down beside her and handing the box over. "Happy birthday."

Emma tore into the gift wrap without bothering to hide her excitement. She could feel Regina's tentative smile on the side of her face.

There was a jewellery box inside the paper. Normally that would have filled her with dread, but she trusted Regina not to buy her something gaudy and ridiculous that she'd never wear.

She prised open the lid and found a tiny silver swan nestled inside. It was hanging at the end of a chain - one long enough that Emma would be able to hide the pendant beneath her shirt if she really wanted to. The fact that Regina had even thought of that made her feel weirdly teary.

"Regina," she sighed, tracing her fingertips over the metal edges. "It's... perfect."

"I won't be offended if you don't like it," Regina quickly said. "I know you're not exactly a jewellery fan. But I saw it and I thought it was sweet and it would–"

Emma dove forward and kissed her hard, the box still clamped in her hand. Regina jumped at the sudden contact, then melted into it as soon as she felt Emma's fingers tracing a path up her thigh.

Pulling back with a smile on her face, Emma said, "I love it. Thank you."

Regina was delightfully flushed when she replied, "You're welcome."

"Help me put it on?"

"Alright," Regina said, taking the box from Emma's hands and gently removing the necklace. Emma swivelled away from her and pulled her hair to one side.

Regina looped the chain swiftly around her throat, and as soon as it was fastened, Emma felt a pair of lips pressing against the back of her neck.

"It looks great," Regina murmured against her skin. Her hands slid down Emma's shoulders and settled on her waist, and she kissed her again.

Emma laughed. "You can't even see it."

"But I still know it's perfect," Regina insisted. Emma gasped when she felt the tip of Regina's tongue dart out and flick over her skin. Then she pulled away again. "But if you insist - turn around so I can take a look at you."

Emma waited for the grip on her waist to loosen before she shifted around to face her. Regina didn't even glance at the necklace - her brown eyes were fixed on Emma's face, and they were dark and needy. "Beautiful."

"You're still drunk," Emma said, but she slipped a hand beneath Regina's hair and pulled her in for another kiss.

"Mm," Regina purred against her lips. "Maybe a little. Do you mind?"

"Not at all - you normally get nice and grabby when you're tipsy."

Regina laughed. "You like it?"

"I do."

"Well, then," Regina said, abruptly taking hold of the back of Emma's head and tugging her forward. "I'll see what I can do about that."

She kissed Emma hard, her nails digging into the base of her skull, and Emma sighed against her lips. Regina's hands were clinging onto her like she was afraid she was about to crawl away, and her teeth had found a new home dug into Emma's lower lip. Regina reached down and knocked the empty jewellery box out of Emma's hand, and then she was climbing into her lap, moaning when Emma grabbed her by her ass and tugged her closer. Once she was there, she threw an arm around Emma's neck and hung on tight.

Emma grinned, pulling away from her mouth. "Do you need something?"

"Mm," Regina mumbled, kissing her again. "You."

"You've got me," Emma pointed out, squeezing harder on her ass. Regina gasped beautifully, grinding forward against her lap.

"I know," she said, and there was the faintest shake to her voice that Emma heard so rarely. "I just..."

That was another rarity - Regina always knew exactly what she wanted, and she never hesitated in asking for it.

Emma looked up and saw the desperate glint in her eye, and she knew what she was angling for.

"Right. Then let me see what I can do about that," she said, sliding her hands up Regina's back and gripping hard. Regina arched her spine and tipped her head back, moaning softly like she was trying to say thank you, and Emma grinned at the neediness that came from deep in her throat.

When she slipped a hand between Regina's spread legs, she wasn't surprised to find that she was already wet. She could feel it through the soaked lace.

"Regina," Emma gently scolded. "You have a one-track mind."

Regina half laughed and half whined, bucking her hips. Emma's fingers were still pressed against her panties, and they began to stroke along the sopping wet fabric that covered her entrance. Regina gasped and shimmied her hips, trying to push herself down harder and force Emma to touch her properly, but Emma wasn't about to be rushed. They'd spent the entire day taking care of her, doing what she wanted, being sweet and tender and full of a giddy kind of joy, and now it was Regina's turn. Regina was needy and she was still shaken from what had happened on the street 20 minutes earlier, and it was Emma's job to make all of that better.

When she cupped Regina's pussy harder, she smirked at the way she moaned. She slid her spare hand up to the back of Regina's head and fisted it in her hair.

As Regina's head was tugged back, the most delicious tendon became visible through the thin skin on her neck. Emma craned her head to trail her tongue along it. At once, Regina started wriggling furiously, her grip on the back of Emma's neck tightening as she ground her pelvis down against Emma's slowly exploring fingers. Emma could hear from the frantic gasps, the faint whimpers of impatience, that she was tightly wound and more than a little frustrated and she desperately needed to be pinned down and fucked until she couldn't walk properly, but there was something so beautiful about having her grinding on top of her like that. Her eyes were closed and her breasts were straining against the tight fabric of her dress, and it took all of Emma's self-restraint not to rip it off of her entirely.

"Emma," Regina gasped. Emma's fingers were still probing at her through the wet lace in the most maddeningly unsatisfying way possible. "For God's sake. Please."

"Please what?"

"You know what.".

"I'm not sure I do, actually," Emma mused, releasing Regina's hair and sliding her hand round to the front of her throat instead. She squeezed, making Regina's eyes snap open.

"God," Regina choked out, the apples of her cheeks turning red. When Emma released her again, she whined with disappointment. "You are infuriating."

"Shh," Emma scolded, finally yanking Regina's panties to one side and shallowly thrusting a finger inside her. Regina cried out at once, grinding down against it. "Don't make me take it away again."

It was positively endearing how eagerly Regina nodded her head. "I won't."

She was staring down at Emma with her eyes wide and shining, and Emma knew she wanted more. She was pleading for it without saying the words.

So Emma slid a second finger inside her, and then a third, and clamped her thumb over her clit in a way that added burning pressure to her building climax but did nothing to actually help her toward it. Regina whined and rolled her hips again, and Emma could see jolt after jolt of quick, hot pleasure rushing through her. She was torturing her, plain and simple, and it was glorious to watch.

Regina tangled her fingers through Emma's hair and held on tight, lifting herself off Emma's lap to give her room to push her fingers deeper, and then ground down once more with a growl plucking at her the edges of her throat.

"Don't... stop..." she choked out, and Emma reached up for her throat once more so she could watch the way Regina's eyes grew in size when she squeezed hard at her pulse.

"Don't tell me what to do," she said quietly, in the only dangerous voice she owned, and she was so grateful when Regina didn't laugh - she just moaned and tipped her head back once more, pressing her chest further forward like she was begging Emma to tear her dress off of it.

Emma didn't have enough hands left to do that, so instead she settled for nuzzling her face between Regina's breasts and wetly slicking her tongue over the fabric. It was thick and clung to her tongue, and after a few licks she felt Regina's nipple springing to attention beneath her bra. She bit down gently, earning herself another surprised gasp, and slid her other hand down to the small of Regina's back.

"Closer," she muttered, plunging her fingers back inside her and nearly coming apart when she felt the pearly wetness that slicked over her knuckles. Regina obliged immediately, shifting forward so that her pelvis was crushed up against Emma's. The position put new pressure on her throbbing clit but took away the deliciously deep thrusts that Emma was pounding into her, and she whined again.

"Stop complaining," Emma bit out against her wet chest. Her mouth tasted of Regina's perfume and the fancy detergent she used on her clothes, and she switched to the other breast so she could lave the same attention on the opposite side.

"But I'm close," Regina wailed, bucking her hips again. Her nails were cutting into the skin at the base of Emma's skull, and it was just painful enough to make Emma stop what she was doing with her mouth and look up.

She saw the impatience and the desperation in her dark expression and just about melted.

Hooking her arm tighter around Regina's waist, she hitched her higher up so she was resting on her knees, her thighs trembling as the support of Emma's lap was taken away from her. They shook even harder when Emma plunged her fingers back inside of her, three of them easily sinking into the wetness between her legs and twisting hard in a way that made her whole body tremble.

"Fuck," Regina blurted out, pressing her mouth against Emma's forehead. Her breathing was hot and frantic, and Emma clutched her tighter as she crooked her fingers inside her.

"Has anyone ever fucked you like this before?" she asked. Regina was shaking her head before the question was finished.

"No," she gasped, gripping Emma's hair tighter. "Just you."

"Has anyone ever made you come as hard as I do?"

"No."

"You make the most amazing noises," Emma muttered against her chest. She could feel Regina's heart pounding against the tip of her nose. "And you wriggle around like your cunt just can't get enough of my fingers. I love that."

Regina was wriggling right then, and when she choked out "Don't stop," Emma could hear the tears at the back of her throat.

"I wouldn't dream of it," she purred, flicking the pad of her thumb over Regina's clit and grinning when she moaned. "Are you going to come for me?"

"Yes," Regina panted, her muscles squeezing around Emma's fingers.

"Good. I want to feel it dripping down my hand."

"I–" Regina gasped, her lips grazing over Emma's forehead as she fucked herself harder. "Daddy, please, I–"

All at once, she went still, her grip on Emma's hair tightening. Her legs were still trembling as she tried to hold herself upright, but the rest of her body stopped riding Emma's fingers immediately.

Emma pulled back from her chest and looked up at her. "What did you just say?"

Regina's cheeks were pink as she looked away. "I didn't mean to."

"Does it look like I'm complaining?" Emma asked, because her stomach had turned into a messy pulp of arousal as soon as the word has come slipping from Regina's lips. "Say it again."

"No," Regina said through gritted teeth. Emma thrust her fingers back inside her and smirked when Regina whined.

"Say it again."

"No," Regina repeated, because of course she could still manage to sound indignant while she was writhing around on Emma's fingers. "It was an accident."

Her face was flushed dark with embarrassment, and it was the most delectable thing Emma had ever seen before in her life. She'd never been called that before - never even thought about being called it before - and yet suddenly there was a fire sparking up inside her and all she wanted to do was growl and throw Regina to the floor and fuck her hard enough so that she'd never forget that that's exactly who she was.

Instead, she settled for tightening her grip on Regina's waist and flipping her round, dropping her back onto the mattress with a soft thump. Regina gasped, but before she could ask what was happening, Emma's fingers were deep inside her and they were fucking her with an unforgiving rhythm that threatened to tear her apart at the seams.

Regina arched her back and clung onto Emma's shoulders, crying out, "Oh, God yes."

"Say it again," Emma muttered against her throat. She had pushed herself up onto her knees and was using her thighs to spread Regina's legs obscenely far apart. "Now."

"Emma, I didn't mean–"

"Say it again or I won't let you come."

Regina choked with frustration, because it was obvious that she was dangerously close already and the thought of her climax being snatched away from her at the last second made her want to weep.

"Don't you dare."

"You don't have the grounds to start threatening me right now, Professor Mills," Emma said, and the words had exactly the effect she'd been hoping for - Regina gasped, her head snapping back against the sheets, and she wrapped her legs around Emma's waist.

"Fuck," she moaned. "Yes, Daddy - just like that."

Emma smirked just before she bit down against her throat. "That's right - don't you dare forget it."

Regina let out a noise that was half a gasp and half a howl, and then there was a gush of wetness flooding over Emma's fingers. She carried on fucking her, ignoring the burn in her arm and the fact that Regina's nails were digging into her shoulders hard enough to sting. She could feel Regina shaking beneath her, and it was only when she went limp and sated that Emma finally stopped.

Regina looked completely dazed when Emma pulled away and sat back on her knees. There was a dark patch on the sheets beneath her hips.

"You okay?" Emma asked. Regina just let out a shaky sigh.

"That's a very difficult question for me to answer right now."

Emma laughed - she was speaking in needlessly complicated sentences again, so she had to be fine.

She slumped down beside her onto the bed and nuzzled her face against Regina's shoulder. It was burning hot, and when Emma looked further down she could see her nipples protruding sharply from beneath the wet fabric of her dress.

A shaky hand reached out and cupped Emma's cheek. "We're never talking about that again."

Emma snorted. "I'm not agreeing to that."

"But it was–"

"Hot," Emma interrupted.

"Weird."

"Did I or did I not just make you squirt all over my hand?"

"Emma!" Regina blurted out, reaching out to yank her skirt back down. "You did not. I don't do that."

Emma quickly slipped a hand between Regina's legs. Her skin was soaked and puffy, practically dripping down onto the covers, and Regina automatically sighed when she felt a finger glossing over her clit.

"I beg to differ," Emma said, pushing herself up onto one elbow as she slid her fingers back inside.

Regina arched her back and moaned. "Isn't it your turn now?"

"Later," Emma said, pulling her hand free so she could crawl down Regina's body and position herself between her thighs, where it was warm and sticky and tempting. "First I want to see what else I can make you do that you absolutely don't normally."

Regina opened her mouth to argue, but then a hot tongue was sliding inside her and her hand was automatically fisting in Emma's hair. Instead of protesting, she moaned, rocking into Emma's touch and letting herself be swept back under.

Chapter Text

While it seemed like they'd gotten away with the Mr Gold incident, both Regina and Emma felt slightly shaken by it. They returned to Boston expecting to find themselves immediately summoned to the dean's office, and even when it never happened, the tension didn't go completely away. In a weird way, Emma was glad about that – it would have been all too easy to become complacent and think they could get away with holding hands whenever they liked. The fact that they both wanted to be even more careful meant that, at the very least, they both cared.

Because of that, a new set of rules was put into place.

First of all, Emma wasn't allowed to hang back after classes to 'chat' anymore. Given how Mulan had latched on to the fact that Professor Mills didn't actively hate Emma as much as she did the rest of their class, it would have been easy enough for other people to notice the same thing. Emma was also forced to act normal during seminars – no more texts from under the desk, no more flirty smiles across the room – before leaving quietly with the rest of her class. She missed that part of their relationship a lot, but it was worth it. If nothing else, it was necessary to keep Regina sane and stop her panicking that she was about to be struck off of the national list of qualified professors.

The second rule was that Regina couldn't follow Emma into the department cafeteria anymore. She still occasionally stopped by to grab a coffee, but the eye contact was minimal and then she disappeared to her office to do her grading there instead. Emma missed that too. She missed a lot of stuff.

But in its place, she got other things. She got grumpy texts from Regina in the mornings and sweet phone calls from her at night. She got to spend entire weekends at her house, where they weren't just constantly having sex anymore but instead sat together and got work done and asked about all the tiny details they each wanted to know about the other.

Emma also got the scathing looks when she told Regina that she was going out partying with Mulan, Killian and August the following week.

Regina was sitting across the kitchen table from her, and she narrowed her eyes. "I thought that was happening after your birthday?"

"It got rescheduled," Emma explained. "And then again, and again, and now apparently it's happening on Thursday."

"Excellent," Regina said tightly, putting her cup of coffee down. "So you're going out binge drinking with not one, but two people who don't bother to hide the fact that they have a crush on you."

"Which two are they?" Emma asked.

"Fa and Jones."

"Hm," Emma mused. "Now you mention it, I actually think August might too."

"Emma," Regina snapped. "Is this supposed to make me feel better about you going?"

"Are you going to tell me that I can't?"

Regina bristled a little more. "Of course not. But I'd still prefer the security of knowing that you won't be grinding against someone's leather pants while I'm turning in for the night like some kind of spinster."

"Since when have you been a spinster?"

"Well, I'm not going out partying on Thursday nights anymore, so I must be."

She actually looked slightly miserable, so Emma slipped out of her chair and walked round to the other side of the table. She took Regina's pouting face in her hand and forced her to meet her gaze.

"Are you seriously worried about this?"

Regina was trying her hardest to appear casual, but she'd always been a terrible actor. "No."

"Regina," Emma said warningly. "Tell me the truth."

"I'm not worried," Regina forced out. "I'm just… You're 21 years old and you're beautiful and charming and I still don't know why you're spending all your time with someone who's 14 years older than you and has nothing interesting to offer you. I'd be grinding on them if I were you."

Stroking a thumb over Regina's rigid jaw, Emma said, "That's the dumbest thing you've ever said."

"You don't—"

"Yeah, you're older than me," Emma interrupted. "But I think you should know by now that I like that. The question really is why are you hanging around with me when I'm awkward and annoying and clumsy and—"

"Emma," Regina sighed, although she was smiling.

"—and I hate Hesiod and I'm not even that big on red wine and I refuse to get out of bed before 11 and—"

"Emma, stop," Regina cut her off, grabbing Emma's hand and yanking her down into her lap. "You've made your point. You're the worst."

"I am," Emma said, kissing her cheek. "But I'm also not into Mulan or Killian or August at all and you have nothing to worry about. I promise."

"Fine," Regina huffed, but she lifted her chin so she could kiss Emma back. "But you'd better hope none of them make a move on you, because if that happens I won't hesitate in throwing my ethics code out the window and failing every last one of them."

"I think your ethics code might already be long gone," Emma pointed out.

"Hardly. I've always been the epitome of professionalism – just because my girlfriend is also one of my students doesn't mean that's changed."

Emma froze, her heart clenching. "Sorry?"

"What?"

"Your… what?"

"My…" Regina trailed off, trying to work out what the hell was going on, before it finally clicked. Her face went pink. "Oh. Right."

"Your girlfriend?" Emma asked, slipping her arms around Regina's neck. "Is that what you call me in your head?"

"No," Regina snapped at once. "Of course not."

"I'm your girlfriend?"

They'd never actually discussed it before, and for good reason: it would be much harder to pretend like this stupid, dangerous thing they were doing wasn't anything serious once they had a label on it that told them the exact opposite.

Regina's eyes were flashing. "I take it back. You're just annoying."

"Right. Your annoying, beautiful, charming girlfriend."

"You won't be for much longer if you don't stop talking."

"I can't believe you're the one who said it first," Emma said, dipping forward and kissing her hard. Regina's body was vibrating from nerves and maybe a little from embarrassment, but when she felt Emma's lips on hers, she gradually began to soften.

"I just… assumed," she murmured.

"I know. Me too. I just didn't want to say it out loud in case you got all freaked out and told me to leave."

"I wouldn't do that," Regina said, sliding her arms around Emma's waist and tugging her closer. Then she paused. "Okay, maybe I would. But I'm not going to."

"Because I'm your girlfriend, right?"

"Shut up," Regina said coolly, brushing Emma's hair away from her face. "Yes. You're my girlfriend. Are you happy?"

"I'm ecstatic," Emma said, because her heart was swelling inside her and even the fact that it felt dangerously close to exploding couldn't dampen her spirits. "It's all I've ever wanted."

Regina narrowed her eyes, checking that she wasn't being mocked. When she realised that the delight on Emma's face was 100 percent genuine, she smiled back.

"You're a funny little thing."

"Don't I know it," Emma replied, kissing Regina again, and then again, laughing when Regina tried to wriggle away. "Hey – come back. Your girlfriend needs another kiss."

"God. Are you only going to refer to yourself like that from now on?"

"Yep."

"Well then," Regina sighed, catching Emma's chin with one hand and tugging her forward. "Maybe my girlfriend would like to get her ass into my bed right this second."

A shiver ran down the full length of Emma's body, but she forced out a cheeky smile. "Is that your way of getting me to stop talking?"

"Yes," Regina said, nudging her off her lap. "Because while I do love to hear you say it, I think I can put that mouth to much better use."


The bar that Emma was dragged to on Thursday night was dimly lit and far too loud, but it also served cheap beer pitchers and had a half-hearted dance floor at the back where Mulan insisted they would be throwing shapes later. Emma followed her to the bar, where Killian and August were already struggling to get the bartender's attention.

"Hey," Mulan said as they approached. "Here comes the birthday girl."

"My birthday was weeks ago," Emma pointed out.

"But we're still celebrating," Killian said cheerfully. "What can I get you, Swan?"

Emma reeled off a drink order while the boys clamoured to get it for her, then let herself be led over to a free couch. She squished in next to Mulan and peered around her. "I've never been here before."

"It seems like you never really go anywhere," Mulan pointed out. She was wearing a forest-green cami and tight black jeans, and she looked stunning. Emma had spent so much time mooning over their professor that she'd never really noticed how pretty her classmate was.

"I do. Sometimes," Emma said vaguely. "I've never really had a group of friends to go out with, though."

"You still live on campus, right?" Mulan asked. "What's your roommate like?"

"She's nice. She's even more reclusive than I am, though."

"And your girlfriend?"

Emma blinked. "My who?"

"The girl you said you were seeing," Mulan said carefully. "The secret one. Or is that over?"

"Oh. Right," Emma said, only just remembering that conversation from a few months before. "No, it's… It's still on."

Mulan smirked. "Professor Mills will be so disappointed."

Something hot and sharp dug through Emma's ribs as she asked, "Why's that?"

"Because she's got the hots for you, dummy," Mulan said just as Killian and August joined them on the opposite couch. "She's going to be devastated to learn that you're a taken woman."

"Is Professor Mills into Emma?" Killian asked, causing both Mulan and August to roll their eyes.

"You can't seriously not have noticed."

"But she's a teacher," Killian protested. "Why would she have a crush on a student?"

"Emma's a hottie."

"Emma's also right here," Emma interjected, her pulse throbbing with panic. "You're all idiots. She doesn't even like me."

"She's always staring at you," Mulan pointed out.

"And she laughs at your stupid jokes," August added.

"And whenever you answer a question all sweet and thoughtfully, she looks like she wants to bone your brain."

"Hm," Killian said, his face darkening. "Actually, she does."

"Sure, but she also yells at me all the time and keeps hauling me out for talking too much. Thanks, Mulan," Emma added, looking pointedly at her. Mulan just grinned.

"I think she likes fighting with you."

"You're drunk," Emma scoffed, although they'd barely had a sip of beer each. "And you're looking for drama for because classics is so fucking boring otherwise."

"She has a point," August conceded. "Although looking at Mills makes it slightly more bearable. She must be married, right?"

"She doesn't wear a ring," Mulan said.

"Sounds like fair game to me," Killian said, making Emma's blood run cold. "If I wasn't still trying to get Swan here to go on a date with me, maybe I'd try and tempt Professor Mills over instead."

"I think you have a better chance with her than you do with me," Emma said flatly, because as sick as the idea made her feel, she also kind of loved the thought of Killian trying to seduce Regina and Regina swiftly kicking him in the crotch in response. "Give it a try."

"Maybe I will," Killian blustered, earning a laugh from both August and Mulan.

"Come on," August chuckled. "She'd eat you for breakfast."

"And who's saying I wouldn't enjoy that?" Killian said. Emma could feel Mulan watching her, so she forced herself not to clench her fists.

"You're gross," she said instead, then regretted it when she realised how defensive she sounded.

"Through and through. But the ladies love it."

Mulan snorted into her beer. "Not these ladies."

"Well, not you," Killian countered. "Swan is warming to me, though."

"Keep telling yourself that, kiddo," Emma said, although part of her thought that maybe she might be. His lecherous flirting had been disgusting to begin with, but now that it was obvious she was never going to go out with him, it had become a joke that she didn't actively hate going along with.

"A man can dream," he replied, holding up his beer. "So. Happy birthday. Let's get hammered."

They started throwing their drinks back and, over the course of the next couple of hours, descended into the kind of carefree drunkenness that Emma rarely experienced. She'd never had many friends – in fact, she usually avoided the mere possibility of making any – yet she'd somehow found herself surrounded by a group of people that she actually kind of liked. Even weirder was the fact that they all seemed to like her as well.

Emma stayed on her couch with Mulan, their shoulders bumping together whenever they laughed, while August and Killian sat opposite, making dumb jokes and occasionally stopping to leer at a nearby girl. Emma rolled her eyes at them roughly once a minute, but she didn't actually mind. It was nice – it was something different.

She missed Regina, though. And she kind of hated herself for that.

"Stop that," Mulan muttered in her ear as she tried to surreptitiously check her phone for the 10th time that evening. "Your mystery girl can go without you for one night."

"Evidently," Emma said when she saw that her phone screen was still blank. While she knew that Regina was probably just giving her space to have a good time with her friends, the silence still bothered her.

"Is she studying tonight?"

"…yeah."

"You didn't want to invite her out with us?"

Emma glanced over. "No."

"Why don't you want to talk about her?"

"I don't know. I guess I'm being cautious," Emma said, well aware that all the beer she'd forced down could easily loosen her tongue. "It's still early days and she's… kind of private. I don't want to fuck it up."

"Hm," Mulan mused. Her eyes flicked down to look at Emma's lips for a second. "But you're official?"

"Yeah. We are."

"Pity," Mulan shrugged, then glanced back across at the two boys sitting opposite them. "What are you staring at?"

"You two," Killian replied cheerfully. "We're wondering when you're finally going to make out."

"Shut up," Emma scoffed. "Is watching us your best option since I've refused to make out with you so many times?"

"Pretty much."

"Sorry to disappoint," Mulan said, squeezing Emma's knee. "But Swan's a taken lady. You'll have to find someone else to fawn over."

Emma slowly peeled herself away from her friend's grip. "Exactly."

They all looked up at her as she suddenly stood.

"Where are you going?"

"Bathroom," she replied, not even noticing who had asked the question. "Back in a sec."

She hurried across the room and locked herself in the first empty stall she found. In her drunken state she nearly dropped her phone down the toilet as she tried to free it from her tight pocket, but eventually it was cradled in her hands and she was able to stare morosely down at the blank screen.

It was midnight and Regina would probably be asleep, but she opened a new message anyway.

So, I'm sure you're just trying to let me have a good time without me being glued to my phone, she wrote, having to re-type 'glued' three times before her beer-addled brain remembered how to spell it. But I just wanted to let you know that I kinda miss you. I hope you're okay.

She put the phone back in her pocket and finally sat down to pee. She was by the sinks a few minutes later, gazing curiously at her drunk reflection, when her cell buzzed.

She tugged it free and grinned. You 'kinda' miss me? That's reassuring. What do I have to do to make you miss me for real?

Emma stood out of the way and leaned back against the wall. I'm trying to be casual.

Don't do that – I hate casual. Are you having a nice time?

Yeah, it's fun, Emma said, briefly considering telling Regina about Mulan's sudden clinginess and Killian eternal lechery, but deciding against it. Why are you still up?

I'm reading.

You are not, Emma replied. You're normally asleep by 10.

Fine, Regina wrote back, and Emma could hear the way she was bristling in that one word. Maybe I just wanted to make sure you got home safe.

Wow – you really do hate casual.

I said 'maybe'. But maybe I've actually been watching pornography for the past three hours. You'll never know. There was a pause before the writing bubble popped up again. You should get back to your friends.

Emma suddenly realised that she was standing in a public restroom, getting in absolutely everybody's way as she hazily smiled down at her screen, and had officially become the kind of person she hated most in the world.

Okay, I will. Please go to sleep, though – I'll be fine and I'll text you the second I get home.

Promise? Regina asked. Emma's heart squeezed.

Promise, she wrote back. After shakily exhaling, she added, I was lying, by the way. I don't 'kinda' miss you.

Regina replied almost instantly. You don't?

Not exactly. Can I see you tomorrow?

Focus on enjoying yourself tonight, and then we'll see what your hangover allows. Now go have fun. Goodnight x

Emma smirked and said goodnight in return. She was just about to put her phone away when she noticed that Regina was typing again.

I miss you too.

Emma returned to the bar with a gigantic grin on her face. Mulan took one look at her and laughed.

"Wow. Did you get offered drugs in the bathroom?"

"Not that I remember," Emma said, plopping back down next to her. "Where are the boys?"

"Getting more drinks," Mulan replied, edging closer to her. "Are they bothering you?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, the constant flirting. I know August is okay, but Killian must be getting on your nerves."

Emma shrugged. "Not really. He used to, but now I think it's kind of harmless. He knows I'm not into it."

"Right," Mulan said. There was a loaded pause before she added, "And is that just because of your elusive girlfriend?"

Just like it always did, Emma's chest seized up. "I think you're a bit obsessed with her, you know."

"Maybe I am. I just think it's weird that you won't even tell us her name."

"Her name isn't important."

"It's important because you're so protective of it," Mulan insisted, sliding closer. "Why won't you tell me?"

"Because," Emma said, sounding frantic. She looked around, hoping that the guys would come back and rescue her. "You might know her."

"And so what if I do?"

"I'm just trying to protect her. She's not… out yet."

"Hm," Mulan said, sounding unimpressed. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that you'd made her up."

"Right. Why would I do that?"

"I don't know, but it just seems a bit convenient. Especially when you're being so coy and refusing people's advances, yet you're perfectly happy to make goo-goo eyes at our classics professor during every class."

Emma's face blazed red, and she inched back on the couch. "I do not."

"Emma, you do," Mulan said, and she suddenly sounded more worried than she did accusatory. "Does your girlfriend know about her?"

"Who?"

"Professor Mills, moron."

"There's nothing to know," Emma insisted. "I don't have a thing for her."

"Okay, except you totally do. Whenever she calls you into her office to yell at you, you always look totally delighted."

Emma swallowed hard. "You're seeing things."

"Yeah, with my 20/20 vision. I'm only seeing stuff that's right there in front of me."

Opening her mouth to try and fathom some kind of rebuttal, Emma felt herself choking. Mulan was watching her carefully, her hands folded in her lap, and when she saw the panic that was clouding Emma's face, she suddenly went still.

"Wait."

Emma shook her head, terror gripping every muscle in her body. "Mulan, I mean it. You're just imagining things."

But Mulan's face was contorting into something that looked half like horror and half like delirious excitement. "Emma. Wait."

"I don't—"

"Fuck!" Mulan gasped, making a grab for Emma's phone. "Let me see the messages."

"What?! Get off!"

"Let me see. It's her, isn't it? She's the secret lady?"

"Mulan," Emma snapped, pushing her back before shoving the phone deep into her own pocket. "Back off. You're talking crap."

"Look, I'm not going to do anything. I just—"

"Ladies," Killian's voice suddenly swam down at them as he dumped a tray of beers onto their table. "Did you really have to save the catfighting until after I'd left?"

They both glared up at him, before Mulan snapped, "We're talking."

"You're yelling," August corrected. "And why is your hand halfway into Emma's jeans?"

They both blinked down at Mulan's hands before yanking themselves apart.

"Girl stuff," Emma said weakly. The guys looked back at her, their eyebrows raised.

"Right," Killian said slowly. "Anyway – sorry to interrupt, but it's time for another drink."

Emma grabbed the nearest beer with both hands, muttering, "It definitely is."

She could feel Mulan's eyes on the side of her face as she started to drink. Her heart felt small and hard in her chest.


She tried to stay away from Mulan for the rest of the night. Her friend's eyes were watching her whenever she turned, and she spent the next hour trying to sneak free of her. She even led Killian onto the dancefloor for a while, much to his sheer delight. It didn't work.

"Come with me," a voice hissed in her ear when she next went to the bar. Mulan's hand was already gripping her elbow, and before Emma could think about pulling herself free, she was being dragged toward the exit.

"Are you sending me home?" Emma asked, trying to joke. Mulan shoved her out into the smoking area and folded her arms.

"Spill."

"There's nothing to—"

"Okay, except there is. I've been thinking about it for the last hour and I know I'm right. So just tell me how this happened."

Emma bit her lip. There was no way – no way in hell – she was going to tell anyone the truth about her relationship with Regina. They were in enough danger as it was, and the last thing they needed was for someone else to get involved. 

"Mulan, seriously – you're imagining things."

"I'm not," Mulan said coolly, glancing around her before she continued. "The constant looks. The fact that you've had meetings in her office at least 10 times by now when none of the rest of us have even had a reason to go near it. The way you blush all the time around her, and you get all twitchy and embarrassed when we joke about you wanting to rail her on her desk."

Emma felt like the brick walls around them were closing in. She tried to reply. "I just…"

"But mostly the way you're so happy in class," Mulan continued levelly. "You hate classics. We all do. But you spend hours on your assignments and do double the required reading, and whenever Professor Mills compliments you or even just stops to look at your work, you look up at her like a puppy who's finally found her forever home."

Every inch of Emma's body had gone solid. When she didn't reply, Mulan sighed.

"How did this happen?"

Emma swallowed, trying to force some life back into her mouth. The people around them weren't listening, but she still wasn't willing to take any chances.

"You know I can't tell you anything," she said quietly.

Mulan's expression flickered. "Why not?"

"Because whatever you think you know," Emma said, rubbing a hand over the back of her neck, "will only get me in a shit-ton of trouble if it eventually comes out. No one gets to hear about this."

Finally, Mulan looked like she understood what Emma was saying. "I'm not going to tell anyone."

"Maybe not. But I'm still not willing to talk about it," Emma said. When her friend opened her mouth to protest, Emma interrupted her. "Please, Mulan. Just drop it – I don't want you getting involved."

Mulan's lips were set in a hard line. "You're being really stupid, Emma. Doing something with a professor, it's—"

"I'm not doing anything," Emma said flatly. Mulan immediately rolled her eyes.

"Fine, you're not doing anything," she replied. "But if you were – you know how dangerous that would be, right? What if they kick you out of school?"

"Nothing's going to happen because there's nothing going on," Emma insisted. "You need to just forget about this. Please. It's none of your business and I'm not going to tell you anything anyway."

Mulan's face dropped. "I'm just worried about you. You're nearly a senior and it would be so shitty if you lost everything now just because of a pretty face."

"She's not just a pretty face," Emma snapped before she could stop herself. Mulan's eyebrows shot up. "Look, I'm begging you – don't say anything. And don't keep asking me about it. I'm doing my best to be careful and if people start finding out then—"

"Hey, hey," Mulan interrupted her, reaching out to touch her arm. "I won't say a word, I promise. I just want to make sure you know what you're doing."

Emma laughed humourlessly. "I never know what I'm doing."

"Preaching to the choir," Mulan shrugged. She tried to smile. "Well, at least I know now why you've never shown an interest in my rocking bod."

Emma snorted. "It can't just be because you're obnoxious?"

"Nope," Mulan said, linking their arms together and leading Emma back toward the bar. Emma wanted to recoil from her touch, but she forced herself to walk with her. "My cocky charm is my best trait. No one can resist it unless they've already found someone even cockier."

"I guess that's true. You're starting to sound like Killian, though."

Mulan gasped, outraged. "You take that back."

"Never."

"I'll shove you into his arms and tell him that you just declared your undying love for him if you don't."

Emma laughed and let herself be led back toward the couches. Something was twisting in her lower ribcage – for a second, it felt like relief over the fact that someone finally knew the truth and yet things hadn't immediately exploded in her face. But then Emma examined the feeling slightly more closely, and she realised it was terror. She followed Mulan slowly, her heart sinking like a cannonball into the sea.

Chapter Text

Emma had never dreaded a seminar so badly in her life. The fact that it was Regina's class – normally her favourite hour of the entire week – made the nerves even harder to swallow.

She'd spent the past seven days jumping any time her phone vibrated, just in case it was Mulan texting her. In actuality, it was usually Regina wondering why she was acting so sketchy. Did you forget to write an important paper and this silence is your way of hoping I won't find out? That didn't help matters either.

Emma couldn't sleep. She kept replaying the stupid moment in the bar over and over again in her head, and every single time she ended up groaning and snapping at herself, since fucking when have you been such a terrible liar?

A full week passed and, true to her word, Mulan didn't mention what had happened – but then it was Thursday, and it was time for Emma to sit next to her for a full classics seminar. Regina was going to be there, storming around at the front of the room, none the wiser as to why another one of her students was now watching her slightly differently. If Mulan's strange new looks got the better of her, she might even call her out on them – after all, no one loved an unnecessary confrontation quite like Regina did.

Emma arrived at the classroom, saw Mulan waiting in her normal seat, and briefly considered sitting somewhere else entirely. But then she straightened her shoulders and reminded herself that in times like these, acting totally and utterly normal was the only kind of defence she had. If she was lucky, it would turn out that Mulan had been drunk enough the previous Thursday to have completely forgotten what they'd talked about.

From the flash of surprise in her friend's nearly black eyes, Emma knew that luck wasn't on her side that day.

"Hey," Mulan said as Emma slipped into the seat beside her. "I sort of assumed you wouldn't be here today."

Emma glanced at her. "Because you think I shouldn't show my face anymore?"

"No," Mulan snorted. "Because you love skipping classes when you're embarrassed about something."

Right on cue, Emma's cheeks burned pink. She tried to smile. "I'm not embarrassed."

Mulan looked up to check that Regina wasn't there yet before saying, "I meant it, you know. I'm not going to say anything."

"Sure."

"Seriously. I'm not a blabbermouth."

"Right. You're just too observant for your own good, huh?" Emma asked. She was trying to sound gently mocking, but it came out much sharper than she'd intended.

Mulan barely flinched. "Yeah. I guess I am."

Regina arrived at that moment, either not noticing or not caring that two of her students immediately jumped and tried not to stare directly at her. After an awkward pause, Mulan leaned closer to Emma and muttered, "Does she know?"

"No. I haven't had the chance to talk to her yet."

"But you're going to?"

Emma sighed and opened her anthology to the right page. "Probably."

"Even though there's nothing going on, right?"

Emma turned to glare at her. "Will you stop?"

"Fine, fine. I—"

"Girls," Regina said wearily from the front of the class. "Please. For once, can we not do this?"

As she spoke, Regina locked eyes with Emma. Emma felt every drop of colour in her face immediately fade into nothing.

And maybe Mulan really had meant it when she'd promised to keep the secret to herself, because she didn't even respond. Instead she looked down at her books, quickly falling silent. Emma saw Regina frown.

The quiet didn't last long, though – it never did. They were five minutes into class when Mulan leaned slowly toward Emma's ear and whispered, "I think I need details."

"Go away."

"Please," Mulan hissed. "I promise I'll stop asking afterward."

"You're a liar."

"Miss Swan," Regina interrupted, just like everyone knew she would. Emma groaned and slumped down in her seat. "What's so interesting this time?"

"It wasn't even me," Emma snapped, making Regina blink with surprise.

"You were talking."

"I was just answering a question."

"So you were talking. Which means it was you."

Emma huffed and looked down at her notebook, her cheeks flushing. Mulan stayed quiet again, but Emma could feel something curious and excitable radiating from her.

When she didn't recieve a response, Regina went back to teaching – but her voice sounded uncertain. Emma had never snapped back at her in class before, and it was obvious that she was wondering if this was supposed to be an invitation to push back.

Emma was glaring down at her desk, though, and the plastic casing on her pen had cracked from how hard she was gripping it. Her professor was smart enough to know when it was time to leave her alone.

But Mulan wasn't, and Emma could feel her twitching beside her. Pointedly ignoring her, Emma focused on her notes and on what Regina was saying.

Ten minutes later, when Regina told everyone to analyse a chunk of text she'd allocated them, Emma sunk down into her chair praying to be left alone. Mulan was on some kind of high beside her, like the excitement of this new development was far too much for her and she couldn't physically keep it inside her, and the way she was bouncing in her chair was already annoying. Emma pressed a hand over her forehead and focused on her work.

"Not working in pairs today?" a voice came from above them. Emma stifled a groan.

Mulan answered Regina for her. "You didn't tell us to."

"That never normally stops you," Regina said. Emma could feel her gaze burning into the top of her head. "Is everything alright over here?"

"Everything's fine," Mulan said. To her credit, her voice was casual and loose, and she sounded fine. Even Emma was convinced for a second.

Regina wasn't, though, and she gently asked, "Miss Swan? What about you?"

With a sigh, Emma forced herself to look up. Regina was directly in front of her, her hands curled around the edge of the desk, and she was leaning forward. Too far forward. Emma could see the flecks of gold around her pupils.

She glanced to her left and found Mulan looking at them with a new expression on her face. There was no malice there, nor any kind of scheme brewing – she was just watching them with interest, her eyes flicking between both of them as she considered their features side by side: blonde hair versus brown; pale skin versus tan. She could see the concern on their professor's face for the first time, and it was obvious that she was wondering how she'd ever missed it before.

Emma felt hot under her assessing gaze, and she turned back to Regina with a tight smile. "I'm fine."

"You're sure?"

"Yep. All good."

Regina narrowed her eyes, because Emma only talked in obnoxiously clipped sentences when she was trying to hide something, but she let it go. "Alright. I'll stop disturbing you."

She walked off slowly, looking a little lost. Emma was desperately relieved when Mulan didn't comment on it.


"That doesn't look like studying," Regina said from behind her. Emma sighed. When she leaned her head back against the couch, she could just about see Regina on the cushions above her.

"I'm allowed to take an Instagram break," she said, clicking her phone shut and dropping it into the open textbook in her lap. She was sitting on Regina's living room floor, her back against the sofa, and she was meant to be studying for her upcoming midterms. Regina had been quietly grading papers for the past hour, but apparently she'd also been keeping an eye on what Emma had been up to just beside her.

"You've taken four Instagram breaks in the past 20 minutes," Regina pointed out. "I thought you were freaking out about your Shakespeare test?"

Still staring up at the ceiling, Emma said, "I am."

"Wouldn't actually studying for it help with that?"

"Only a professor would say that."

With a snort, Regina pushed the top of Emma's head until she was looking back down at her books. She didn't release her afterward, though – instead, she raked her fingers through Emma's hair and scratched gently at her scalp.

"Come on," she said softly. Emma whined at the sudden attention. "You only need to study for another hour, and then we can take a proper break."

Emma shifted, letting her head flop back more comfortably against the cushions as Regina stroked it. "Keep playing with my hair and I'll give you two hours."

"You think I'm naive enough to believe that?"

Emma thought for a moment, then said, "No. But please don't stop."

Regina tutted, and for a second Emma thought she was about to disentangle herself from her hair and force her to study without her. Instead, she carried on scratching at her scalp like she was a particularly affectionate puppy. "I really shouldn't encourage this."

Emma was smiling up at her, though, so her disapproving expression didn't last very long.

It was raining outside, and the gentle tapping against the windows made the living room feel like the inside of a snow globe. Spring was struggling to take hold of Boston that year, but Emma didn't really mind – the colder it was outside, the more comfortable she felt when she was curled up by Regina's side.

"Which play are you meant to be looking at?" Regina asked.

"Othello."

"Do you need any help?"

Emma shrugged. "Not really. I know it, I just can't focus on it right now."

"I should probably stop distracting you with head massages, then," Regina said, pulling her hand free. Emma immediately whimpered and grabbed her wrist.

"No."

"Emma, come on. We agreed that we'd work together today."

"I know. I just…" Emma's sentence wisped off into nothing. She released Regina's wrist and looked back down at her books with a sigh.

"Why are you being so needy?" Regina asked tentatively. It was the first time they'd seen each other since Thursday's seminar, and even though she hadn't commented on it, it was obvious that she'd noticed Emma's morose expression the second she'd walked through the door.

"I'm not," Emma said, grateful that Regina couldn't see her expression anymore.

"Yes, you are. You've been acting strange all week."

"I guess I'm just stressed about these midterms."

There was a pause before Regina said, "I'm not sure I believe you."

"Well, that sucks for you, I guess."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me," Emma said, her voice suddenly sharp. "It's not my problem if you don't trust me."

She felt Regina flinch at her tone. "Emma. What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Then why are you being a brat?"

Emma turned to glare at her. "I'm not being a brat."

"Stop snapping at me, then. If you don't want to tell me what's wrong then that's fine, but you don't get to talk to me like that."

Emma rolled her eyes, knowing full well that she was in the wrong but also not really giving a shit. If she admitted that she was acting out on purpose, then she'd have to tell Regina why. If she told her why, Regina's head would explode.

"Fine," she said instead, slamming her books shut and climbing to her feet. "I'll just go."

She was being a child and she knew it, but she couldn't stop herself. Any time she'd tried to fall asleep that week, all she could picture was Regina's face as it crumpled with the realisation that she couldn't trust Emma after all.

Fighting back the sudden urge to cry, Emma tried to step away from the couch and out into the hall. She'd barely lifted one foot off the carpet before a hand was clamped around her wrist, tugging her back again.

"Get off."

"Emma," Regina said warningly. "Why are you doing this?"

"I'm not doing anything."

"Yes you are – I'm not an idiot. What's wrong?"

Emma yanked harder, but Regina's grip was firm. She pulled back, and Emma squeaked when she found herself tumbling down onto the sofa.

"Regina—"

"Be quiet," Regina said, hooking an arm around Emma's waist and tugging her onto her lap. "I want you to tell me what's bothering you."

It was such a gentle command, and Emma hated herself for looking away from her concerned gaze.

"You're going to get mad at me."

Even as she said it, she could feel herself settling down, shifting so that she was tucked into the gap between Regina's shoulder and the couch. Regina's legs were outstretched along the full length of the sofa, and she spread them slightly so that Emma could hook her own between them.

"Am I?" Regina asked, pushing Emma's hair away from her face. "Have you done something wrong?"

"Not… technically," Emma sighed. "I mean, yeah, I have. But you did it too. I need you to remember that."

Regina's face was a mess of bemused concern. "Okay. I'll hold onto that thought."

"Alright. So… there's a chance," Emma started, taking a deep breath. Regina's body was so warm under her own.

She cleared her throat and forced herself to say it.

"There's a chance that Mulan has… figured it out."

For a second, Regina just looked at her with confusion etched across her face. Emma could hear the words ticking over inside her head.

Then she deflated. "Oh."

"I didn't tell her anything," Emma hurriedly clarified, swivelling round so that she was straddling Regina's thighs. She bit her lip as she looked down at her. "I told her to stop asking and I said I wasn't going to talk about it. But…"

"She knew," Regina finished for her, her voice flat. "I get it."

"I'm sorry," Emma sighed. "I tried so hard to push her off the scent, but she's seen how we act in class and my 'I've got a secret girlfriend that I don't want to talk about' thing totally wasn't fooling anybody, and then she just suddenly worked it out when we went out for drinks last week. And I didn't want to tell you because I don't want you to get stressed about it, because she promised me she wouldn't say a word to anyone and I believe her. But I guess I'm just nervous and I don't know what this means and I didn't want you to find out and tell me that—"

"Emma," Regina interrupted Emma's frantic chatter by reaching up to cup her face. "Stop spiralling."

Emma took a steadying breath.

"I can't help it," she said shakily. "Besides, if I do the spiralling then maybe you won't have to."

Regina smiled softly. "It's okay. We'll… figure something out."

"We will?"

"Yes," Regina said. Emma could tell that she was trying to sound firm, and the fact that she failed to nearly broke her heart. "It's not ideal, obviously, but it'll…"

She trailed off, and Emma waited.

"It'll be fine," Regina eventually finished.

It wouldn't. They'd both known it for months, but it was finally becoming harder to ignore.

Emma sighed. "I really am sorry."

"It's not your fault. If I had any friends who actually cared about what I'm doing in my spare time, I'm sure they'd have figured it out too."

"You do have friends."

"Not really," Regina said. "Just you."

She didn't sound sad about it, but the words made Emma's heart clench.

"Do you still want to have me?" she asked quietly. At once, Regina's hand was on her face again, stroking her cheek.

"Yes."

"Really? Even now?"

"Even now," Regina said firmly. "It's stupid and reckless and maybe I'll live to regret it when you run off with someone 10 years younger than me, but I'm just not sure I can do without you, Emma. If I have to deal with this whole thing blowing up, then I want to do it with you by my side."

It was such a bittersweet thing for her to say, and Emma smiled into her cupped palm.

"Mulan promised she wouldn't tell anyone," she repeated. "And I believe her. She doesn't want to get either of us in trouble."

"I know," Regina sighed. "Under all her chatter, she does seem like a nice girl. We have to be even more careful now to make sure no one else picks up any signals, but otherwise… maybe our best option is to just act like nothing's happened at all."

Emma nodded. "And if she mentions it to me again, I'll keep my cool this time. I was drunk and she scared me so I got kind of flustered."

Regina surprised her with a smirk. "You do look adorable when you're flustered."

"Shut up. You're focusing on the wrong thing."

"I'm focusing on the part of this story that still makes me happy," Regina corrected. "It's all we can do until something goes hideously wrong."

"It might not," Emma said, although it was a weak protest. "I graduate in just over a year, and Dr Hopper's sabbatical ends in a few months. We could make it."

"I certainly hope so," Regina replied. After a pause, she added, "Although the graduation thing won't happen if you don't study for this Shakespeare exam."

Emma rolled her eyes. "Still a professor, even at times like these."

"I know. It's insufferable, isn't it?"

"Extremely," Emma said, craning her head to give her a peck on the lips. "I can't stand it."

Regina smiled back at her, but she looked sad. Something in Emma's chest tugged like it was trying to break free.

She sighed, shifting forward on Regina's lap so she could press their foreheads together.

"I wish we could just… stay in a bubble."

"I know. Me too," Regina replied. "And things are going to get harder now anyway – you have your midterms coming up, and we're both going to be busier with school. We won't be able to spend every evening and weekend together like we have been up until now."

Emma already knew all that. She'd been dreading it for weeks. "I know. It's going to suck."

"It is. But I'll still be here, and even if there's a bigger distance between us, nothing's changed. Not for me, anyway."

"Not for me either," Emma replied. Then she sighed. "Do you think one day we'll be able to just… be together?"

Regina hands were on her waist, and they held on tight.

"I do," she replied. "I'll make sure of it."

Chapter Text

The busier days came quicker than either of them had been expecting. One minute, Emma was dawdling along to classes and occasionally opening a textbook when the mood struck her. Then, next thing she knew, hell's gates had opened. She was studying late into the night every day of the week, and her midterms were approaching at an inhuman pace. She staggered into her seminars feeling utterly drained, if she made it to them at all.

Things weren't much better for Regina. Whenever Emma saw her, she was surrounded by a flurry of term papers and lesson plans and God knows what else, which meant that whenever they did spend time together, things weren't quite the same. They were both stressed and tired, and they rarely had time for anything except tumbling into bed together and falling asleep right away.

"Why did I agree to do three guest lectures this month?" Regina asked one Saturday. Her head was in her hands, and she didn't even seem to notice when Emma reached across the kitchen table to squeeze her shoulder.

"Because you work way too hard."

Regina laughed shortly. "I hate myself."

"Look, it'll be fine – two of them are only in New York," Emma said. She was trying to be reassuring, but already Regina was cutting over her with a whine.

"But I have to fly there and I hate flying."

"You could have driven."

"Four hours either way?" Regina scoffed. "I don't have time for that."

She was arguing just for the sake of arguing, and Emma fell silent when she realised there was nothing she could say to make things better. Eventually Regina reached out a hand and squeezed on Emma's fingers.

"Sorry," she sighed. "I'm just venting."

"I know. I get it. They really will be okay, though – I'm actually kind of jealous that you get to go to New York for a couple of days."

"You've never been?"

"No," Emma said. Regina caught the wistfulness in her voice and smiled gently.

"You know that I'd love to take you with me."

"I know. I wasn't hinting," Emma said, although she kind of was. "Where's the third lecture, by the way?"

Regina glanced up. "What?"

"You said you're doing three," Emma said. "But you've only told me about the first two."

She knew Regina's face well enough to recognise the sketchy twitch of her left eye when it showed up.

"It's not important," she said, waving her hand dismissively. "That one's close by."

"In Boston?"

Regina shrugged. Her gaze was still on the papers in front of her.

Emma narrowed her eyes. "Any particular reason why you're being secretive?"

She asked it expecting Regina to sigh and tell her she was being paranoid, but instead she looked up with a fake smile.

"I'm not being secretive," she said. "It's at Northeastern."

"Right," Emma said. Regina's eye twitched again. "Why didn't you just say that?"

"Because it's not interesting. It's just a lecture – it's no big deal."

Emma didn't believe her. Regina hadn't lied to her about much, but she could still recognise the signs: the way she couldn't hold a gaze, the way her normally plump lips went thin. She suddenly remembered the weeks just after Christmas when Regina had been mysteriously 'busy', and she opened her mouth to ask more questions. Something unfamiliar was creeping up her spine.

But then Regina squeezed her hand again and said, "I'm just tired."

That, at least, was true.

"Okay," Emma said slowly. She pulled her hand back and asked, "Can I make you a coffee?"

"You stay. I'll make it."

Regina got to her feet with a gentle stroke against the back of Emma's hand. Emma watched her go, her heart tugging after her.


When Regina left for New York, Emma was surprised by how hard the sadness hit her. She had to straighten her spine and call herself pathetic just so she could get some work done in her absence.

"She's only gone for a weekend," she muttered to herself, her eyes on the message that Regina had sent her as she'd boarded the plane. She'd been snappy and irritable in the midst of her pre-flight nerves, and even in spite of that, Emma wished she was with her.

Have a safe flight, Emma had written. Let me know when you've landed.

You'll hear about it on the news, don't worry, was Regina's grumpy reply. Remember, I don't want any lilies at my funeral.

Emma had snorted at the time, but barely 15 minutes later she felt despondent. Not because she actually believed Regina when she said she was about to meet her fiery end at the hands of United Airlines, but because she and Regina were spending the new few days in entirely different states and she wasn't even sure Regina would have the time to text her between all her insane meetings and lectures.

She was proud of her, though, so she'd made an effort not to complain. As Regina flew away from her, she settled down with her studying and tried not to watch the clock.

Her phone rang after an hour and a half, and her heart leapt. She picked up with a cheery, "Hello, is this the NYPD asking for help identifying a body?"

"You're hilarious," Regina replied. Her voice was slightly shaky, but she sounded like she might be smiling.

"How was the flight?"

"Awful. I'm considering getting a bus back," Regina grumbled. Emma could hear chatter in the background.

"You're not still on the plane, are you?"

"No, I'm in the airport."

"And you called me because you missed me already?"

Regina's voice sounded brighter even when she snapped back, "I called you because you asked me to let you know when I landed."

"I was expecting a text."

"Do you want me to go again?"

"No," Emma blurted out. "I'm glad you called. I just like making fun of you."

She felt Regina's eye roll from down the phone. "Such a charmer."

"It's okay, by the way – I miss you too."

"Shut up," Regina replied, but she was laughing. "I have to go find a cab. I'll text you in a minute, okay?"

She hung up, leaving Emma swivelling in her chair with a grin on her face.

When the text came through, however, it was nearly an hour later and it was short. On my way to a lecture – will call after x

Emma wrinkled her nose and tried not to let disappointment swell up inside her. Okay – knock 'em dead.

She shouldn't have been expecting one, but she was still put out when she didn't receive a reply.

"Hey," a voice came from behind her. She turned to find Mary Margaret walking into the room with a pile of books in her arms. "You okay?"

"Mm," Emma murmured, pushing her phone away from her.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, of course. Where have you been?"

"Library," Mary Margaret puffed as she dropped the books onto her desk. "I have a big essay due next week and I'm not going to have time to work on it this weekend."

"How come?"

Mary Margaret squinted at her. "I'm going away with David. I told you that yesterday."

"Oh," Emma sighed. "Sorry – you did. I totally forgot. Where are you going?"

"Just to his parents'. It'll be nice, but I have so much work to do and I'm starting to get a little stressed out."

"You'll be fine. David's parents love you, anyway. They probably won't mind if you need to take an hour out to check some footnotes."

"I guess," Mary Margaret sighed. "What are you working on?"

"Modernism, in theory. My concentration isn't so good today, though."

"Why not?"

Emma hesitated. "It's just… You know the girl I've been seeing?"

Mary Margaret's face lit up at once. "The mystery girl?"

"Yeah. She's gone away for the weekend and I'm just…" She trailed off when she realised how pathetic she was about to sound.

Mary Margaret was already smiling though, because if anyone knew about pining, it was her. "You're missing her already?"

"No," Emma grumbled, twirling a pen between two fingers. "Not exactly."

"Where's she gone?"

"New York. To… see friends."

"Ah. And you're worried she'll forget about you while she's there."

Emma's throat went acidic as she admitted, "Maybe."

"Given how often she invites you over to her place, I don't think you need to be worried about that," Mary Margaret said. "It sounds like she's really into you. And a weekend apart might even be a good thing – some distance can make you appreciate what you have even more."

Emma wrinkled her nose – in any other circumstance, her roommate might have a point. But Emma was more worried that spending a weekend away from her would make Regina realise what life would be like if she was able to be a grown-up again, free to enjoy her life without a whiny college student holding her back. What if Regina fell in love with New York while she was there and decided to move there after Dr Hopper's sabbatical was up? What if Regina met some sexy, accomplished classics professor at one of her lectures and decided that he was the far better option?

"Emma," Mary Margaret gently interrupted her spiralling thoughts. "Don't panic. I'm sure she's already missing you too."

Emma smiled weakly back at her. "I've never been this pathetic before, I promise."

"I know. And I have to say – it makes a nice change for you to be the lovesick puppy in this friendship."

Emma whipped a ball of paper at her head. "Shut up. I'm not lovesick."

"Oh, Emma," Mary Margaret sighed wistfully. "I shouldn't have to be the one to break it to you."

"I'm not," Emma said, but she could feel her cheeks burning. "We're not in love. It's not that serious."

"Mm hm. Tell me, what would happen if she met someone else while she was in New York?"

Emma felt her face cloud over. "That's not a fair question."

"Alright. Does she want kids?"

"Yes," Emma bit out. "One day."

"That's good. And what names does she like?"

"Henry, for a boy," Emma said automatically, and was just about to continue by talking about the argument they'd had when Emma had insisted that Hope was a cute name for a girl when she realised what exactly she was admitting. "Oh, shut up. You tricked me."

"You've talked about kids' names," Mary Margaret said softly. "The evidence kind of speaks for itself."

Something inside Emma's chest was squeezing, and she refused to believe that it might be her heart.

For 21 years, she'd prided herself on her ability to push anyone and everyone away from her – on how she didn't need love of any kind to get by. In fact, she'd always been fairly adamant that marriage and kids would never be in her future at all.

The day that Regina had started softly talking about how badly she wanted kids should have been the day when Emma had turned and run, but instead she'd found herself curling up closer against her side and murmuring in agreement, "It would be really nice to name a kid after your dad."

Regina had smiled down at her. "You think?"

"Sure. I mean, we're not naming any after mine."

And instead of latching onto the word 'we', Regina had just laughed and kissed her forehead. "True. In that case, how do you feel about Aesop for a boy?"

Emma had squawked in disgust and tickled Regina until tears had pricked up in her eyes. "Fine, fine," Regina had choked out. "I'll think of another way to nod toward our shared love of classics."

Emma shook her head to get rid of the memory and said, "We're not in love."

"Alright," Mary Margaret said tentatively. "I won't push it."

She waited for another explosion, but Emma was just frowning down at her phone.

Then, after a long pause, Emma quietly asked, "How did you know? With David?"

Mary Margaret shrugged. "I just thought about it one day, and the idea wasn't scary. And when I told him, he looked so happy that it just made me even more certain."

Emma tried to imagine telling Regina something like that. She could picture it going one of two very different ways – either she would break into a grin and tell her that she'd been waiting for her to say that for far, far too long, or she would freeze and panic and tell her to leave altogether.

It hurt her heart a bit to realise just how much she wanted the former.

"God," Emma groaned, running her fingers through her hair. "I wish you hadn't made me think about this."

"I'm sorry. I really thought you must have already considered it. It's been, what – four months?"

"Something like that," Emma muttered. "We've just been taking it slow and being extra cautious, so I guess I never even considered we'd get to this stage. She only called me her girlfriend for the first time a few weeks ago."

"And how did you feel when she did?"

Emma longed to act casual and shrug and tell her she hadn't really cared, but just thinking about that day made her chest swell. She sighed.

"Like the absolute happiest I've ever been in my life."

Mary Margaret's smile was bright enough to shatter the windows. "Oh, Emma."

"I know. I'm screwed."

"Why? You don't think she'll say it back?"

"I don't know. Maybe. It's just… we don't have that kind of relationship. Every time we do stuff like this, we get closer to messing things up."

Mary Margaret frowned. "That's a very pessimistic way of looking at it."

From an external point of view, she was right. But she also didn't know the true nature of Emma and Regina's relationship, so all Emma could do was shrug.

"I guess I'm just hardwired that way."

She glanced at her phone again, hoping there would be a message waiting for her even though that was stupid. Regina wasn't about to text her from the middle of one of the most important lectures of her career.

When she looked up, Mary Margaret was smiling again. "All you can do is tell her. I mean, you have to at some point."

"I guess," Emma muttered. "Or I could just carry on repressing my feelings like a normal person."

The ball of paper was suddenly flying back toward her. "You're an idiot."

"I know. Thanks for talking to me, though."

"No problem – shoot me a text over the weekend if you need any more of my stellar dating advice."

"Will do," Emma said, looking back at her phone and clicking the home button once more. "Thanks."


Regina barely texted her that evening, and the following morning was no better. Mary Margaret woke Emma up when she left at 7:30am, and Emma immediately snatched up her phone to find a single message that read, Sorry I've been so quiet – I had to go for a dinner with some old colleagues last night. On my way to watch a morning lecture now. Can I call you later?

Emma smiled wistfully and replied, Don't worry about it. I'm around all day so grab me whenever.

She hoped that would encourage another response, but Regina went quiet for the next few hours. When Emma finally dragged herself into the shower at lunchtime, she came out and realised with a strangled groan that she'd just managed to miss Regina again.

The lecture was good – the professor was discussing the Odyssey and it reminded me of one of our first classes. How are you doing? When Emma hadn't replied, Regina had typed another message. I have to rush off to a lunch meeting now. Let's speak later.

Emma replied at once, but it was too late. She settled down with her laptop and her essays with disappointment riding high in her stomach.

The rest of the day was quiet. It was unusual to spend a full Saturday without Mary Margaret, and for once Emma actually missed her constant chatter. Without her there, it was all too easy to spend her entire day frantically checking and rechecking her messages, and even though she knew she was being obsessive and crazy, she couldn't help herself. She hadn't been forced to go without Regina for so long before, and she hadn't been fully prepared for how difficult it would be.

At around six, she caved. How's it all going?

It was two hours later when Regina finally replied. Things have been crazy. I just arrived at some formal NYU dinner and won't be free for a couple of hours.

There was no promise to speak after she was done, so Emma shoved her phone away from her without replying. She was being childish – she knew it and she hated herself for it – but she couldn't stop the jealous bubble that was swelling inside her like spattering oil.

The acid in her throat refused to go down, even when she dove into her work and spent the next few hours resolutely focusing on that and nothing else.

It was gone midnight when she finally caved and decided to get ready for bed. She could hear younger students charging around in the corridors on their way out for the night, and she felt a twinge of sadness when she thought about how she was going to bed alone instead. As she stood in the bathroom examining her tired eyes in the mirror, she briefly considered texting Mulan or even Killian to see whether they wanted to go out for a drink instead.

Then she heard a buzzing from the bedroom. She stuck her head around the bathroom door and saw that her phone had lit up and was frantically vibrating against her desk.

She darted over and, as soon as she saw Regina's name on the screen, scooped it up. "Hello? Regina?"

"Emma," Regina sighed happily, and just like that, Emma's bad mood was gone. "I'm so glad I caught you."

"You are?" Emma asked, sitting down on the edge of her bed.

"Of course I am – I'm sorry it's so late. Were you asleep?"

"No, I was just getting ready," Emma said, running a hand over her hair. After her talk with Mary Margaret the day before, she felt oddly nervous. "I've... missed you."

She waited with her muscles tensed for Regina to laugh that comment off or maybe even ignore it, but instead she sighed. "I've missed you too. It's crazy that we've only been apart for a day. I feel slightly ridiculous for wishing you were here so badly."

Emma smiled. "You're like 200 miles away from me, though. I think it's okay to miss me a little bit."

"Just a little bit?" Regina said, and Emma could hear her grinning. "Oh dear. I'd better not tell you the full truth of it, then."

"Why's that? Have you been doodling my name in all your notebooks?"

"No. But I have found myself thinking about you a fair amount."

Emma flopped down against her pillows with a happy sigh. "That's kind of adorable. Don't let my natural charisma ruin all your important lectures, though."

"They all seem to have gone fine so far, but I was only watching most of them," Regina said. "The big one that I'm giving is on Monday morning."

"How are you feeling about it?"

Regina paused before she admitted, "Stressed. Scared."

Emma hated the distance between them more than ever, because the thought of Regina being scared by herself made her heart hurt. "You don't have to be either of those things – I know it's a big deal and you're bound to be nervous, but you're going to kick ass."

"You don't know that."

"Of course I do," Emma insisted. "I know that you and I got off to a weird start with our first class, but I still know what you looked like when you got up to talk for the first time. You have so much confidence and you're just slightly scary, and everyone always stops talking automatically to look at you. You'll have every single person in that room eating out of the palm of your hand."

"That's…" Regina said slowly. "Incredibly sweet of you to say."

"I mean it," Emma said. "I'm biased, sure, but you're still the best professor I've ever had. You're passionate and you're smart, and the fact that you're hot will also help your case quite a lot."

Regina snorted at that. "You're an idiot."

"I know. But I'm still right."

"I hope so," Regina sighed. "Thank you for saying that, though."

"No problem. What are you planning on wearing for it?"

"I haven't decided yet – either my black pantsuit or my red dress."

Emma perked up. "The Gucci one with the keyhole front?"

"You know it?"

"It's my favourite," Emma said. "Wear that. You're the most confident in it, and you'll stand out more against the other drab, tweed-wearing professors. Wear your glasses, too – it's your most powerful look."

She could feel the grateful smile that was settling over Regina's face. "Okay. If you're sure."

"I'm positive."

"I didn't realise you spent so much time thinking about my outfit choices," Regina said. Emma heard her moving around in the background. "Unless you were thinking about removing them."

"Hey now," Emma pretended to be offended. "I don't only think about that."

Regina just laughed, ignoring the feeble protest. "What have you been up to today?"

"Studying," Emma sighed. "There's so much stuff going on at the moment and I'm struggling to keep up."

"Maybe it's a good thing that I'm not there to distract you."

After a lengthy pause that spoke volumes, Emma said, "…yeah. Maybe."

"Has Mary Margaret been keeping her chattering to a minimum?"

"She's not here either. She's gone to see David's parents."

"Oh," Regina said. There was a pause. "So, you're alone?"

"Well, apart from the entire fleet of party boys I invited round, yeah."

"Hilarious," Regina said dryly. "Could you ask the party boys to leave for a moment? You should know how bad I am at sharing by now."

Emma grinned. "I don't, actually – you've never really had the opportunity to show me."

"Hm," Regina purred, her voice low and tantalising. "That's true. Would you like to hear what I would do if the opportunity arose, then?"

Immediately, Emma's entire body lit up with a thousand tiny sparks. She clutched the phone more tightly against her ear. "Yes, please."

"Well," Regina began. "First of all, if we were out and I saw anyone trying to make a move on you, I wouldn't get angry."

"You wouldn't?"

"Of course not. I can't blame them for noticing how attractive you are," she said coolly. "No – instead, I'd make it obvious that we're together. I'd slide my arm around your shoulder and whisper something in your ear, because I do love it when you get all embarrassed and squirmy."

"I don't get embarrassed and squirmy," Emma protested.

"Yes, you do," Regina immediately countered. "Your cheeks go pink and you look down at your hands because you're too worked up to make eye contact."

Emma could feel herself blushing, but she still said, "You're lying."

"Am I, Miss Swan?" Regina asked, her voice suddenly gentle, and at once Emma felt her toes curl.

"…yes."

"I see. Well, in that case, maybe I shouldn't even continue with what I'd do next."

"No," Emma blurted out. "Please."

"You're going to listen without arguing?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"Good. So," Regina continued like she hadn't been interrupted. "Once I had you feeling all uncertain, I'd put my hand on your leg, just a little too high to be polite. And you might push me away, or you might not – I guess it depends on how needy you're feeling."

"Right," Emma said. Her mouth had gone dry. "Let's say I didn't push you away. Hypothetically."

There was a smirk in Regina's voice when she said, "Well, hypothetically, I'd move it just a little higher. Other people might be able to see, but I wouldn't care – as long as everyone knew you were mine, it wouldn't matter."

Emma's clit was beginning to throb, and she slowly spread her legs. Her pyjama pants were loose-fitting and her found herself wishing she was still wearing jeans so she could grind down against the hard seam.

"Then what?"

"Then I'd lean in and push your hair behind your ear. You'd still be looking down at the table, and you'd inhale very sharply when I touched you. I love it when you do that, by the way."

"You do?"

"Mm. You're so confident normally, so I adore it when you suddenly act shy."

Emma wanted to contest that fact, or even argue that she was capable of making Regina go equally shaky and uncertain when she wanted to, but it wasn't the right time. Instead, she just closed her eyes.

"I had a suspicion that you might."

"Do you enjoy it too?"

"Sometimes," Emma admitted. "We have a lot of different kinds of sex… Sometimes you're in charge and sometimes I am, and sometimes we're on equal footing and we both just go for it. I like them all. It depends on the mood."

"I agree," Regina said softly.

"But if we were in a bar, like you said," Emma continued, trying to steer them back onto the delicious course they'd been on before. "Then I think – maybe – you might be right."

A soft burst of laughter came from down the phone. "Do you think that if I leaned into your ear and told you that I wished I could get down on my knees right there and eat you out in front of everyone, you'd moan a little bit?"

Emma had to bite her lip to stop herself from doing it right at that moment. "Maybe."

"And what about if I grabbed your hand and dragged you into the bathroom?" Regina continued slowly. "Would you feel like you were in charge right then?"

"Probably not," Emma replied, her voice cracking. She reached down and cupped a hand over her pyjama bottoms, a shiver of pleasure rushing through her at the distant contact. "I think I'd probably let you."

"That's very generous of you," Regina said. "Are you touching yourself?"

"Not… exactly," Emma said. They could both hear the restraint in her voice.

Regina chuckled. "What does that mean?"

"It means I'm touching myself on the outside of my clothes."

"And why are you doing that?"

Emma let out a shaky breath, cupping herself harder and bucking her hips up into her own hand. "Because I want to drag this out as long as possible."

"Mm," Regina hummed. "I appreciate that. I wish I'd thought of it."

It took a moment for Emma to understand what she meant. "Oh, God. Are you touching yourself?"

"Maybe," Regina said, her voice low and thick. "Ask me what I'm wearing."

Swallowing hard, Emma forced out, "What are you wearing, Regina?"

She knew what Regina was going to say before she purred out her answer. "Absolutely nothing."

"God," Emma groaned, gripping her pussy harder. "You've been naked this entire time?"

"I have. I would have FaceTimed you, but I assumed your roommate was there."

"But you still called me, thinking I'd have this conversation while she was in the same room?"

"I do enjoy a challenge," Regina mused. "Take your shirt off. Now."

Emma dropped the phone to the mattress and tugged her shirt over her head. She was already braless, and her nipples were hard and aching to be touched from Regina's words alone.

"Okay."

"Good. I want you to draw circles around your nipples. Slowly."

Emma did as she was told, tracing her right index finger round in a loop. Immediately, she heard Regina's voice in her ear again.

"Slower than that."

Emma let out a tight laugh. "How can you even—"

"I know what you're like," Regina interrupted. "Slow down."

Rolling her eyes, Emma did as she was told. She immediately shivered, goose pimples springing up along her chest and arms.

"How's that?" Regina asked.

"Good."

"Can you feel yourself getting wet?"

Emma whimpered at the question. "Yes. Wetter."

"How can you know that you were wet if you weren't touching yourself properly?"

"I know what your voice does to me," Emma said, squeezing her eyes shut. "I could tell."

"Oh, Emma," Regina purred. "I really have missed you."

That sent a tentative smile trembling over Emma's face. She released a breath. "What now?"

"Be patient," Regina replied, her voice stopping just short of being snappy. "Do you have headphones?"

"Yeah."

"Get them. I want you to have both hands free."

Emma leapt up and locked the door, just to eradicate the possibility of her dorm rep wandering in at the worst possible moment, then grabbed her headphones. She lay back down on the bed and plugged them in with shaking hands.

"Okay," she said, taking a deep breath. "Done."

"Good girl. What are you wearing now?"

"Just my pyjama bottoms and panties."

"Stay like that. Go back to playing with your nipples, but don't pinch them yet. Light touches only."

Emma grinned to herself as she lifted both hands to her chest, imagining Regina straddling her and drifting her hands down the front of her body. She let out a faint moan as she skimmed her fingertips over her breasts.

"What are you thinking about?" Regina asked.

"You," Emma replied, not opening her eyes. "Doing this to me."

"You don't normally enjoy it when I'm gentle," Regina pointed out. "You get frustrated."

"I know," Emma gasped as another shiver of pleasure rushed through her. "But sometimes getting frustrated is nice when I know what the payoff is going to be."

"Always thinking of the reward," Regina laughed. "I admire that. Pinch your nipples for me."

Emma did so greedily, twisting them between her fingers and groaning out loud. Her toes curled against the sheets.

"Good," Regina spurred her on. "Do it again. Harder this time."

Emma did as she was told and felt a fierce throb of pleasure between her legs. With Regina's voice purring in her ear, it was almost possible to believe that she was there doing this to her. "God."

"Does it feel good?"

"Yes," Emma whined, arching her back and pinching again. "I wish you were here."

"Me too. Now spread your legs for me, darling."

Nearly choking, Emma replied, "They're already spread."

"Then I want you to put one hand over the front of your panties – keep the other on your chest."

Emma pinched her nipple again as her right hand slid inside her pants. When she placed her palm over her pussy, she wasn't surprised to find the fabric of her underwear already hot and damp.

"Can you feel how wet you are?" Regina asked.

"Yes," Emma moaned, her legs fidgeting against the sheets. "Are you… fucking yourself?"

"I am," Regina said coolly. Her voice was so casual that Emma would have believed her if she said she was still out at the restaurant. "I'd love to show you how wet I am right now."

"I could probably hear it if you put the phone close enough," Emma hinted, half expecting Regina to balk at the suggestion. Instead, she just chuckled.

"I adore your filthy mind," she said. "But no. I'm more interested in your soaked pussy right now."

Emma whimpered. "What do you want me to do?"

"Drag a finger up the centre of your cunt. Stay outside your panties. I want you to feel the fabric tugging on your clit."

Taking a breath, Emma did as she was told. She moved as slowly as possible, putting the most agonising pressure on herself, and couldn't help but arc and whine at the shoots of pleasure it sent through her limbs.

"Regina," she sighed.

"Mm. I like that noise," Regina said. "Do it again."

Emma did so, dragging her finger even slower because she wanted to hear the way Regina's breath hitched in her ear. The sound alone made her entire body tremble.

"I bet you look incredible right now," Regina said, the shake in her voice finally betraying her excitement. "Writhing around half naked, your panties slowly filling with your own come."

"Regina," Emma blurted out. She forgot sometimes how spectacularly filthy Regina could get when she was on a mission, and the reminder always sent of jolt of desire rocketing through her. "For fuck's sake."

"Am I wrong?"

Emma dragged her finger along her panties again. They were sopping wet now, the fabric clinging to her pelvis. "No."

"Then stop complaining. Unless you want me to hang up and leave you there with your tits hanging out and your needy little cunt still begging for some relief?"

Emma released a low groan as forbidden pleasure crawled down her spine. "I'm sorry. I'll stop."

"Good girl. Take your pants off."

Emma was wriggling out of them before Regina had even finished her sentence. She kicked them across the room and lay back down, breathless. "Done."

"Are your panties still on?"

"Yeah."

"Good. Grab them and pull."

Emma paused. "What?"

"Grab the front of the fabric and pull it upward. I want you to grind down on them."

With a faint whimper, Emma fisted her hand in the front and tugged. The sudden, sharp pressure on her clit made her moan out loud. "Oh… fuck."

"Roll your hips against it," Regina told her. Emma heard her voice hitch.

She did as she was told, and she groaned when she realised what she must look like – topless, eyes squeezed shut, one hand desperately grasping at her own breast as she frantically humped her own soaked underwear. The thought made her go hot all over and she moaned Regina's name again without thinking.

"That's right," Regina murmured in her ear. "Tell me how it feels."

"It feels good. So good."

"Are you close to coming?"

"Yes," Emma gasped, lifting her hips again and grinding them back down against the taut fabric. It felt rough and clingy and she desperately wished she could replace it with Regina's tongue or thigh.

"Don't yet," Regina said. "Take your panties off. Hurry up."

Emma struggled to remove them with shaking hands.

"Okay," she said, sounding tearful. "They're off."

"You're naked?"

"Yes," Emma hissed, her right hand grasping aimlessly at the sheets.

"Send me a photo."

"Why?"

"Because I asked for one. Put your fingers between your legs and then show me."

Emma slid one hand down between her thighs and grappled around for her phone with the other. She took a shaky photograph of herself from above, stretched out on the bed with a faint flush spreading across her chest and her wetness visible even at that awkward angle. She sent it to Regina, groaning as she waited for the crappy dorm Wi-Fi to cooperate, and then listened out for Regina's sharp intake of breath. When it came, it made her float.

"Perfect," she murmured. "I'll save that one for later."

Emma laughed tightly. "Regina, please. I need to come."

"Call me Professor first."

"Fuck," Emma moaned, arching her spine. "Please, Professor Mills – please let me come."

"I'm not stopping you," Regina replied, and suddenly Emma could hear her breathing speeding up and her hand moving quickly between her own legs. Emma shivered, her fingers tentatively circling over her clit. "You're touching yourself, are you not?"

"Yes," Emma said, moving slightly faster. Her pussy was drenched to the extent that it was hard to get any proper traction, and when she slid a finger inside her, it was too maddeningly thin. She wanted something thick and heavy thrust into her, like four of Regina's fingers of maybe her entire fist, or an obscene dildo that would look too damn perfect protruding from between Regina's legs.

"Tell me what you're thinking about."

"You," Emma gasped at once, shoving a second finger roughly inside herself, and then a third. "I want you to fuck me with a strap-on."

Regina's low laugh was intoxicating. "Oh, do you?"

"Yes," Emma hissed through her teeth. She ground the palm of her hand against her clit and whined as a dull corkscrew began to twist inside her abdomen. "I want you to pin me down and take me however you like."

Regina was breathing hard, and the sound of it deep in Emma's ears pushed her even further along. "I would love that."

"You would look so amazing," Emma panted, her spare hand pinching her nipple again. Her hips bucked up once, twice, and then she was gasping. "Fuck. I'm so close."

"Call me Professor again."

Emma laughed, tears prickling at her eyes. "Professor Mills, I'm going to come for you."

Regina moaned out loud at that, and when something thudded to the floor in the background, Emma finally came. Her orgasm sizzled through her like oil, and she felt her back arch off the bed as she struggled to contain her howl of pleasure.

She came back down eventually, her eyes watery and wide as she stared up at the ceiling. Down the line, Regina was gasping.

"Fuck," Emma said quietly. Regina's chuckle nearly made her come all over again.

"'Fuck' is right," she agreed, swallowing hard enough for Emma to hear it.

"Did you knock something over?"

"I kicked my books off the bed," Regina admitted sheepishly. "I got… slightly out of control."

Emma laughed. "Do you want me to apologise for that?"

"Absolutely not."

"Good. God, I really have missed you."

"Me too. I can't wait to get back and see you."

Emma's eyes shut by themselves, and she told herself it was because she was exhausted. It wasn't – it was because happy tears had sprung up in them, and she needed to push them away before she could realise just how hard she'd fallen.

"When will you?" she asked as she slid her naked body beneath the sheets. They were hot and rumpled and her thighs were sticking together, but she felt bone-wearied and comfortable all the same.

"I land on Monday afternoon. Come round for dinner?"

"Yes," Emma said at once. "Please."

"Good. I'll let you know as soon as I'm home."

Emma sighed happily, nuzzling her cheek against the pillow. "Can't wait."

"You sound tired," Regina said. She was moving around in the background. "Do you want me to go?"

"Not really," Emma admitted, closing her eyes. "I have post-orgasm neediness."

"Oh dear," Regina laughed. There was some rustling down the line, and then she said, "I'm in bed now, too. We can pretend we're together."

It might have been the sweetest thing she'd ever said.

It would have been so easy for Emma to tell her she loved her right then. As she huddled down deeper beneath the covers, the words nearly slipped out. But instead she said, "You wouldn't like that. You always complain about how I'm too warm for cuddling after sex."

"True, but my hotel room is freezing. I might be able to find some use for you."

"That's really generous of you."

"I know," Regina sighed dramatically. "My selflessness is truly incredible." 

Emma laughed, and they both fell into a contented silence. If Emma really listened, she could hear Regina softly breathing.

Then, "Are you asleep?"

"Not yet," Emma answered.

"Okay," Regina said, then paused. "Do you mind if I stay on the line until you are?"

Emma's heart went soft. She smiled to herself, her eyes still closed, and replied, "No. Not at all.”

Chapter Text

Everything was stifling. Emma's workload had tripled over the space of a single week, and she staggered home at the end of each day feeling shaken and anxious. With midterms looming and her self-doubt crippling, she was consumed by a strange sense of constantly wishing she could find a deserted space in which to cry. She was eyeing bottles of alcohol in the store in a way she'd never done before.

She found herself wanting a hug from Regina multiple times a day, and because Regina was busy too, she rarely got them.

"I know it feels overwhelming, but I promise you can handle it," was her usual advice when they spoke over the phone. Emma always bit her lip and clenched her fingers around the plastic casing, but replied with a soft humming sound like this had been in any way helpful.

Imposter's syndrome was something that wound itself around her all too easily, and most evenings, when she was trying to study but the words in her books kept going wiggly and grey, she slammed the cover shut so the feeling of being 10 years old and having absolutely no idea what was happening in the book that her English class was studying couldn't smother her.

When she slumped down at Regina's kitchen table that Sunday, she longed for sympathy. She wanted a hand in her hair and Regina's soothing words in her ear. She wanted to hear that calm, rational voice reminding her that she wasn't a kid anymore – she was tough and she was smart and she would ace these tests and then they'd be in the homestretch to summer. She looked up pleadingly, waiting for Regina's normally intuitive gaze to fall upon her and ask what was wrong.

But Regina was frantically scribbling something in her own notebook, her left arm curved over the top of the page like she was trying to stop someone copying off her in a test. Emma sighed.

"My modernism midterm is next week," she said. Regina nodded.

"I remember," she replied. After a pause, without stopping writing, she asked, "How do you feel about it?"

"Nervous. It feels like the stuff I'm studying won't stick in my head."

Regina smiled briefly. "I understand. Do you need me to quiz you?"

She was being as pragmatic as ever, but the fact that she wasn't looking up was irking Emma. She leaned forward to try and see what she was working on. "That would be good."

Regina inched the notepad away from her, the movement barely discernible but irritating all the same. "Sure. Maybe a bit later?"

"Okay," Emma said slowly. After a pause she asked, "What are you writing?"

"Nothing," Regina replied at once, just like Emma knew she would. Her pen kept moving. "Which test do you have after modernism?"

"Colonial lit." Emma leaned forward again and realised there was another piece of paper beneath the notes Regina was writing. It was glossy and formally printed and she thought it looked a hell of a lot like a resume. "Seriously, what are you working on?"

"Just some class notes."

"A lot of notes."

Regina didn't reply to that, and all of a sudden Emma's sleeplessness and anxiety and her weeks-long irritation at being kept in the dark snapped together like a deckchair being folded.

"Would you prefer to have this conversation another time?" she asked.

"Of course not," Regina said, but her voice was faint and she wasn't really listening. She'd just started a new paragraph.

"You sure? Because if you wait two weeks then my midterms will be over and you won't even need to pretend to be interested anymore."

Finally, Regina's pen stopped moving. She looked up.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"What are you working on?" Emma repeated. "You told me classes were quiet at the moment while everyone was preparing for exams."

The way that Regina's posture changed was subtle and slightly terrifying. She clasped her hands in front of her. "I have other things to do, you know."

"Like what?"

"Like that other guest lecture," Regina replied. "If you paused to think about anyone besides yourself, maybe you'd have remembered that."

Emma thrust her jaw forward. She was being a brat and she knew it, but Regina was looking at her with a kind of fire that she needed right then, so she didn't bother to tone down her belligerence when she replied, "The Northeastern one?"

"Yes," Regina replied. Her eye twitched.

"I don't believe you."

"Excuse me?"

"You're hiding stuff from me," Emma said, looking pointedly at the notes Regina had been writing. "You've been doing it for weeks."

"I am not."

"Then show me what you've been working on."

There was no way Emma could have missed the way Regina nudged her notebook back another inch.

"Why are you doing this?" Emma insisted. "What's so important that you can't tell me about it? I tell you everything."

"Emma," Regina groaned. "Please stop pushing this. I'm working on my stuff for a lecture and I'm stressed out about it and it's easier to just focus without explaining every single one of my motivations to you."

Emma still didn't believe her. There was something cagey in Regina's expression and it only made her madder.

Maybe that was why she said the thing she knew would piss her off most.

"Then I don't know why you're stressed about it," she said, folding her arms. "Aren't you just recycling the same stuff from New York?"

Fury flashed over Regina's face like a lightning bolt.

"No, Emma, I am not 'just recycling the same stuff'. While that may be your lackadaisical attitude to everything, some of us actually take pride in our work."

"I'm just saying."

"Just saying what, exactly?"

"That you don't need to get so bent out of shape about it – you know it's going to go fine."

The sheer rage on Regina's face actually made Emma inch back slightly in her chair.

"Emma," she said in her coldest voice. "I suggest you adjust your attitude before I kick you out of my house."

"But it's just—"

"No," Regina interrupted, lifting one finger and pointing it accusingly in Emma's direction. "It's not just anything. I know you're stressed about school and I understand that, but I am too and you don't just get to disregard my anxieties because you don't think they're as important as yours. I'm not going to sit here and tolerate that."

Emma gritted her teeth. Whether Regina was right or not – which, annoyingly, she was beginning to realise that she might be – wasn't even the point anymore. The point was that Regina had been hiding things from her since day one and it wasn't fair when Emma had opened up to her more than she'd ever done with anyone. This was supposed to be a two-way street and when Emma was tired and grouchy and had fucking Hardy quotes bouncing around inside her head, she didn't pause to notice that Regina really did look anxious. Her face was just slightly pale. She'd been biting her nails.

"You do lectures and seminars every single day," Emma said stubbornly. She realised then that she might be using arguing as a way to avoid studying, but she brushed the thought aside because it was too pathetic to truly contemplate.

"And you are supposed to be writing essays every day, and yet I know for a fact that you spent half of last week hunkered down that grimy bar on campus engaging in a jägerbomb contest with Mr Jones."

"That was one night, and you said you didn't mind. I'm allowed to blow off steam sometimes."

"Evidently, since you seem to be doing so right this second," Regina snapped.

"You're being oversensitive."

"I am? I didn't give you the requisite amount of attention for five minutes and you started throwing a tantrum."

"I'm not throwing a tantrum," Emma spat, though she was. She knew she was. Her cheeks were burning at the fact that she'd been called out. "I'm just stressed and you're not doing anything to help."

"Then leave," Regina said flatly, grabbing her pen and beginning to scribble something else down.

"You think I won't?"

"I honestly don't care," Regina said, and Emma was shocked to hear a crack in her voice. Her cheeks were pink, and she was furiously writing away without meeting Emma's gaze. "I have work to do, and if you're going to distract me then I'd prefer it if you could go elsewhere."

When Emma didn't respond right away, she glanced up. Something horrible jolted through Emma's body when she saw that Regina's eyes were slightly teary.

She ignored it, though, because she was angry and tired and too proud for her own good.

"Fine," she said, standing up and grabbing her books. "See you, then."

She hoped Regina would call her back, but she didn't.


It took Emma a few hours to fully realise what an asshole she'd been. The whole way home, she'd stewed on the bus with her teeth clenched together and her temples pounding. She kept telling herself that she wasn't at fault, not really, not when Regina had been so unreasonable and refused to just tell her the goddamn truth for the first time since they'd met.

Then she remembered the glossy sheen in Regina's dark eyes, and the guilt began to creep in.

She and Regina argued fairly frequently, although nine times out of 10 they weren't real fights – they were just different rounds in their eternal game of who could best the other this time. Apologies were rarely required since they were usually on the same page and came out of every pretend argument laughing. On that day, as Emma sat hunched on her bed staring at her half-finished notes, she started to realise that she might actually owe Regina one.

She groaned and pushed her notepad away. She'd been a grade-A dick and the fact that she was stressed out was no excuse. Regina was the most calm and collected person she'd ever met, after all – if she was nervous about a lecture, then there had to be a reason for that. Maybe she didn't want to tell her why exactly, but Emma had to believe Regina had a valid reason for it. Regina always had a valid reason for everything.

Emma grabbed her phone and typed out a message. Can we talk?

Regina refused to turn her read receipts on no matter how many times Emma asked her, so she was left waiting for a while as she wondered whether her message had even been seen. After two hours, she caved and tried again.

Please, Regina.

Regina did reply to that one, but not with what Emma was hoping for.

I'm busy. We'll talk later.

Okay, maybe she deserved that. Emma put her phone down with a clatter and reasoned that Regina just needed some time to finish her work before she could really calm down.

By that evening, though, Emma still hadn't heard from her. She tried texting again – I just wanted to apologise. I know I acted like an asshole – but that didn't do anything for her either. Regina had simply replied saying that yes, she had, but she was still busy. Emma went to bed without a goodnight message from her for the first time in months.

She woke up in a terrible mood. Regina still hadn't texted her, and Emma had a full day of classes followed by essay-writing to face. She groaned and pulled the covers over her face, wondering if she could get away with claiming that she had a sudden springtime flu if it meant she got out of a few seminars.

But she dragged herself there anyway, and she texted Regina on the way.

Morning, she wrote, initially tagging the word 'beautiful' onto the end but deleting it when she realised that it sounded like she was trying to manipulate her. I want to apologise properly for yesterday. Can I see you tonight?

She thought that by then Regina must have had time to cool off, but she was wrong. The text she got back made her inhale sharply.

My Northeastern lecture is on Wednesday, Emma. I don't have time to deal with you prior to that.

Emma automatically began typing out a response that was snippy and childish and filled with far too many passive aggressive full stops, but she forced herself to delete it. Okay. Good luck with the prep, she wrote instead. It made her guts twist.

That, at least, resulted in Regina replying with Thank you. Good luck with your modernism midterm, but it didn't make her feel much better. The week ahead was stretching out further than she could see, and it was her own damn fault that she didn't have anything to look forward to in the meantime.

On Wednesday morning, Emma sent Regina a good luck text. She didn't get a reply until the afternoon.

I'm sorry I couldn't reply this morning – I was nervous and I didn't want to snap at you again. Thank you for thinking of me. I think it went well.

Emma replied to that immediately, trying to engage with her, but Regina didn't seem interested. The rest of the evening passed in a dark blur that did absolutely nothing to improve the bad mood that had settled over Emma's week like a storm cloud.

The next morning, she decided that enough was enough. She could barely concentrate on her studying anymore and the fact that Regina was mad at her – this mad at her – was starting to make her feel nauseous. They needed to talk properly, and if Regina wasn't going to respond to her texts or pick up the phone when she called, then they would have to do this face to face.

Visiting Regina in her office had become off-limits since the time where they'd accidentally ended up having sex on the desk, and she knew Regina wouldn't necessarily be thrilled to see her when she turned up. She wasn't sure she cared anymore, though.

She knocked on the door and waited for Regina to call her in. When her professor looked up to find her sticking her head around the doorframe, she sighed.

"Emma," she said warningly. "This had better be about Homer."

Emma slipped into the office and shut the door behind her. She made sure she locked it before she took a step forward. "It's not, but I'm also not going to try and seduce you."

A short burst of laughter escaped Regina's nose as she looked back down at her notepad. "That's reassuring."

"Regina, please," Emma said, walking up behind the chair where she normally perched herself. "We need to talk."

"I know, but now isn't—"

"It has to be," Emma interrupted. "You're ignoring me, and I'm not saying you don't have a valid reason to, but I can't fix this if you won't let me try. Barging into your office is all I've got left."

Regina looked back up then. Her gaze had softened slightly. She took in the anxious frown on Emma's face and the way she was clinging onto the back of the chair rather than sitting down in it, and she sighed.

"Fine," she said, dropping her pen. "Have a seat."

Emma plonked herself down with a breath of relief. Regina took her glasses off and paused to rub at the bridge of her nose before finally looking at her properly.

"Go on," she said. "Say your piece."

It sounded like a challenge, but her voice was tired and her eyes weren't as piercing as Emma had expected them to be. She swallowed when she realised that it was probably because she was even more hurt than Emma had expected.

She straightened her spine. "I'm sorry. I was an asshole."

Regina smiled faintly. "You were."

"I was stressed and I took it out on you and that was really not cool. I just assumed my problems were worse than yours because you're always so accomplished and grown-up and calm that I couldn't even imagine you getting nervous about something."

"I told you I was nervous," Regina pointed out. "I wouldn't have said that if I wasn't looking for some kind of support from you."

"I know," Emma sighed, because she'd had days to think about that and the realisation over how insensitive she'd been hurt her more and more every time. "Really. I know that and I hate myself for it and I won't do it again. I just… You're so secretive, Regina. I know there's something you're keeping from me, and maybe you have good reason for that, but I wish you'd just tell me what it is."

For the first time ever, Regina didn't deny it. She almost looked sorry.

"I know," she said. "I don't like keeping things from you either. But I promise – it's not as big a deal as you've made it in your head, and I will tell you. I will. When the time is right."

That was maybe the most reassuring thing she'd said in weeks, so Emma nodded. She wasn't going to push it now.

"I want to be there for you when you need me, and on Sunday I wasn't," she said gently. "I'm pissed at myself for missing my chance."

Regina was watching her sadly with her arms folded on top of the desk. "Sometimes I forget about the age gap between us, you know."

Emma flinched. She knew where this was going. "Oh?"

"You can be very mature, oddly enough, considering what a child you are at heart," Regina said, smiling to ease the blow. "Sometimes I just think we're the same age, and our… circumstance is just an unfortunate blip that will be over soon enough. But there's 14 years between us, Emma. And at the weekend, I feel like that gap became very obvious."

"I know," Emma groaned. "I really was a baby. But you know I'm not like that – not usually, anyway."

"Not unless you're hungry," Regina smirked. "Or cranky or annoyed that I won't let you distract me from my work."

"Yeah…" Emma said, trying a tentative grin. "Except for on any of those occasions. But you know I mean it, right? I'm sorry, really sorry, and I promise I won't behave like that again."

She pressed her lips together and waited for Regina's verdict. She was watching her curiously.

With a sigh, Regina pushed herself back from the desk and walked round to Emma's side. She leaned back against it, her arms folded over her chest, and looked down at where Emma was waiting anxiously in front of her.

"To be fair to you," she said slowly. "As far as you were aware, it was only a lecture I was worried about. And you were right - I do do those all the time."

Emma frowned. "I don't understand."

"I'm just giving you some credit. I suppose I can understand why you felt like your pile of life-changing exams and essays was more worthy of a panic attack that my little talk at another college."

"It wasn't just a 'little talk'," Emma protested, but she was still confused. "What do you mean, as far as I was aware? Are you saying it wasn't that at all?"

"No, it was," Regina said. "But there's some... information that you're missing. And I can understand why that might change things."

Emma frowned. She recognised the look on Regina's face from the time when they'd first talked about these three lectures, and from when they'd had the argument at her kitchen table at the first place. Something was up, and Emma could feel herself starting to get pissed off all over again that she was refusing to talk about it.

But she swallowed down her resentment because now sure as hell was not the time to start fighting about it.

"Fine," she said. "But if there's something that you've felt like you can't tell me… I just want you to know that you can. I'm right here and in spite of what a dick I was on Sunday, I want to be there for you."

Regina's face softened like butter. "And there goes that age gap again."

Emma smiled weakly. "I'm always going to be younger than you, obviously, but that doesn't mean I'm always going to show it."

"I know that," Regina said. "It doesn't really worry me. I was just very… disappointed this weekend."

Emma winced. "Disappointed? Christ, Regina – are you trying to break my heart?"

"Is that all it takes?"

"Apparently," Emma said, her chest feeling tighter than it should have done. "I don't want to disappoint you. Ever. And I need you to know that I've hated myself ever since and if I could go back and be a proper supportive girlfriend like you deserved, I wouldn't hesitate. You shouldn't have spent the days leading up to your big scary lecture being preoccupied with how mad at me you were."

Regina wrinkled her nose in amusement. "I wasn't that mad."

"You looked it," Emma replied, then she grinned. "You had that Evil Queen look in your eye that you get when people keep talking during your classes."

"That Evil Queen look?"

"You know the one – where the vein in your forehead pops out and it looks like you're planning to strangle someone."

"Emma," Regina spluttered, but she was laughing. "I do not appreciate that comparison, thank you. I'm not a goddamn Disney villain."

"You are. A cute one, though," Emma said, throwing in a pout because she knew those always got her out of trouble. "One that I really, really like."

Regina rolled her eyes, but then she bent forward and gently cupped Emma's face. Emma immediately heated under her touch.

"You're an idiot," Regina said softly, stroking a thumb over her cheek.

"I know," Emma replied. "And I'm sorry. Really."

"I know you are. I forgive you," Regina replied. "Thank you for coming here to say that."

Finally, Emma allowed herself to relax. "I couldn't not. I knew you were upset with me and I couldn't stand it."

"Really? Why?"

Emma frowned at the question.

"Because you deserve better than that," she said. She spoke slowly, because it was the most obvious thing in the world to her. "You deserve someone who makes you happy."

The hand on her face went still, and Regina looked down at her with glassy eyes that were several shades darker than normal. For a moment, she was quiet.

Then she bent forward and broke her own rule and kissed Emma on the lips. Emma was smiling when they pulled apart.

"What was that for?" she asked. Barely an inch away, Regina's expression was a hundred times softer than it had been when Emma had first walked in the room.

"A reward for your authentic apology," she said, stroking Emma's cheekbone. "I'm not mad anymore, okay? It's done."

"Okay," Emma nodded. "Thank you. Can I do something to make it up to you, though?"

Regina smiled back at her and opened her mouth to respond. They were interrupted by a jangle of keys and the door suddenly swinging open.

Regina shot back from Emma like she'd stepped on a live train track, but it wasn't fast enough. The man who'd walked through the door was blinking at them from behind his round glasses. He stopped moving at once.

"Professor Mills?"

Emma's entire body went cold like someone had dipped her in liquid nitrogen. Whoever had dropped her in it had missed her face, though: it was burning from where Regina's fingers had still been on it when the door had opened.

"Dr Hopper," Regina responded, leaning back against the desk and placing her hands over the edge. Two feet in front of her, Emma was frozen in her chair. "What a surprise."

"Yes," he said, glancing at Emma and then back at Regina. "Sorry, the… I saw the door was locked and assumed you weren't in here."

Regina's smile was immobilised on her face. Normally that would be the point where she smoothly lied and saved them both, but a pause stretched out. It made Emma feel like her lungs were shrinking.

"Well, here I am," Regina said eventually. "What can I do for you?"

"I just came to collect some of my books," Dr Hopper said. He was speaking carefully, and he was trying not to stare. "For my…"

Regina was already nodding. "Of course. Help yourself."

"You know, I think I'll come back later," he gabbled, taking a step backward. "I have a meeting anyway. Is this afternoon better?"

Regina's voice was strained when she said, "Sure. I'll be in classes until five so you can just… let yourself in."

"Great. Wonderful," Dr Hopper said, turning and hurrying out into the corridor. "Marvellous. Thank you."

The door clicked shut behind him, and the office was immersed in quiet. Emma kept her gaze on the floor because she could feel the tension in Regina's body like it was a just-sparking firework.

"He…" she said eventually. Her voice cracked and she had to clear her throat and start again. "He might not have seen anything."

For a second, Regina didn't respond. Her fingers were curled around the edge of the desk and her knuckles had gone white.

Then she forced out through gritted teeth, "I had my hand on your face, Emma."

"I know," Emma said, finally looking up. "But—"

"Don't but me," Regina interrupted, pushing herself off the desk and walking round to the other side. "Shit. Shit. This is exactly why I told you never to come in here."

Emma felt her face burn. Sure, they had a rule and they had it for a good reason, but that wasn't the entire situation.

"I came here to apologise," she replied. "I didn't come sneaking in to try and seduce you – I was doing the right thing. It's not my fault you can't keep your hands to yourself."

"Don't you dare blame this on me," Regina snapped.

"I'm not blaming you! I'm just saying—"

"I don't want to hear it," Regina cut her off. She scraped her fingers through her hair. "Oh my God. He's going to tell the dean and I'm going to get fired. That's it. After all this sneaking around, this is how it finally ends."

"You don't know that," Emma said. It was the weakest possible protest, but in spite of Regina's scoff of derision, she kept trying. "He can't be certain what he saw – we pulled apart really quickly. And, besides, it's not like we're doing anything illegal. He has no reason to go running to the boss when he's not even working here at the moment."

"He's a notorious do-gooder," Regina said, collapsing into her chair. "Dr Hopper has never once missed an opportunity to do the 'right thing', even if that might involve destroying somebody else's career."

"Regina…" Emma sighed. "Please don't panic."

It was too late for that, evidently, because Regina ignored her entirely.

"You need to go," she said, tilting her head back against the top of the chair. Her eyes were glassy as they stared up at the ceiling. "Now."

"But," Emma protested, "I want to help. You can't sit in here spiralling by yourself."

"That's exactly what I'm going to do, and I don't need you here to witness it," Regina said. She sounded more distressed than she did angry, and it sent a jolt of pain through Emma's chest. "Just get out. If you see Dr Hopper on your travels, act normal and keep your mouth shut."

Emma looked across at her. Regina was slumped low, her chest rising and falling quickly, and Emma knew she was about to cry. She could see it in the wobble of her jaw.

"I'm not leaving you like this," she said uncertainly. At once, Regina lifted her head and threw the fiercest look in her known repertoire across the desk.

"You will do as you're goddamn told," she spat, gesturing to the door with a violent wave of her arm. "Get out. Now. I don't want to talk and I don't want to hear any feeble reassurances. Just go away."

Emma staggered to her feet and struggled to hook her backpack over her shoulder. After a beat, she tried one last time to say the right thing.

"I'm—"

It was one word too many, and Regina cut over her with a noise that sounded like an animal being shot.

"Get out!" She all but screamed it at her, and Emma was ashamed of how quickly she bolted for the door. Her face burned as she hurried down the hall, and she hunched over to hide it, hoping that she wasn't steaming past Dr Hopper at any point as she all but ran back home.

Chapter Text

Waiting for something to happen after that felt like waiting to be called to the gallows.

At first, Emma managed to convince herself that Regina had overreacted. Dr Hopper hadn't seen anything – not really – and it definitely wasn't worth the effort of going all the way to the dean to report it. He would go back to his sabbatical research and he'd forget all about what had happened, and by the time he returned to his office in the fall, Regina would be gone and Emma would make damn sure she never stepped foot in the classics department again.

Except the more she thought about it, the more she started to panic. What if Regina was right? What if his conscience got the better of him and he rushed straight to the main office with what he'd seen? She doubted Regina could actually get fired for it – not if Emma lied until her teeth went numb claiming that he'd been mistaken – but the stakes were too high. Aside from the fact that Regina's entire career was on the line, Emma herself could get a formal disciplinary, or she could be told to stop taking Regina's class. Her grades could be formally reviewed. She could be asked to retake the credits to avoid any chance of favouritism, or worse – she could be coerced into dropping out of school altogether.

She kept spiralling and spiralling, but the truth was that she had no idea what could happen. That fact wasn't helped by Regina's sheer refusal to reply to her messages.

Over the next week, Emma dropped her pride and her self-respect and she forgot about the way Regina had spoken to her in her office. She texted her 20 times a day. She wanted to talk about what had happened – more than that, she wanted to be sure that Regina was okay – but every single message went unanswered. At once point Emma actually got concerned that Regina had done something stupid in the face of her own panic and considered going round to her place to check she was alright, but then the next day she caught sight of her storming across campus with her meanest scowl plastered on her face. It made her feel better, but only for a second.

At the end of their next seminar, she hung back. She couldn't help herself.

Regina was standing behind her desk, angrily packing things into her purse. Throughout the entire class she'd been snappy and irritable, which meant even Mulan hadn't spoken much. Every eye in the room had been on their professor as they'd waited for her to totally lose it, and in the end she'd dismissed them 10 minutes before class was due to end. The hall outside was silent as Emma approached the desk at the front of the room.

"Professor Mills?"

Regina looked up at her. Her expression didn't soften. "Yes?"

"I wanted to…" Emma started, pausing to clear her throat. "I wanted to ask you a question about the assigned reading."

It physically hurt to watch Regina shake her head.

"Email me with it."

"But you haven't replied to any of my last emails," Emma said. The room was empty, but this charade was one they both knew too well and by that point – when everything was close to collapsing and it seemed like half the goddamn campus knew about their relationship – it was more important than ever to try and maintain it.

"Because I've been busy."

"Right – and I've been worried," Emma replied. She lowered her voice. "You know I was scared that you might have done something to yourself?"

Regina at least had the grace to look shocked. "I wouldn't do something like that."

"Well, that's incredibly reassuring. It would have been nice to hear that sometime last week, though."

Regina slammed her purse down on her desk and said, "Emma. Can you just take the hint and realise that I'm not in the mood for conversation?"

"You can't just hide from me."

"Watch me."

"How long is this going to go on for? Don't you think this whole thing would be easier if we've at least got each other to talk to?"

"Nothing about this is easy, Miss Swan. Now, I have places to be."

Emma gritted her teeth. In spite of everything, she couldn't help but notice the fact that Regina wasn't walking away. Her purse was hitched over her shoulder again and she was standing with purpose, but her feet weren't moving. It was like her brain was telling her one thing, but her body was telling her another.

"Remember that age gap you mentioned?" she asked. Regina glanced toward the door, but before she could answer, Emma was speaking again. "You're the one who's acting like a fucking toddler right now."

"Excuse me?"

"We might be in trouble," Emma said, folding her arms and hoping she looked confident. "But ignoring my attempts to reach out to you isn't going to make that any easier. I doubt the college has tapped your cell phone."

"Stop making stupid jokes."

"I'm not making jokes – I'm serious. It's been a week and nothing's happened and even though you're being unbearable, I still miss you. Don't you miss me?"

Regina looked over at the door again, her face going pink. The hall was quiet, and when she glanced back at Emma she almost looked sorry.

But then she straightened up and said, "I'm taking precautions. It could still blow up."

"Could you at least—?"

"No, Emma," Regina snapped, dropping her purse back to the table. "Don't you get it? Do you even understand what's at stake here? I've worked my whole life to be here, and already I'm at the stage where it's nearly summer and no one's offered me a goddamn job for next year and I have no idea what I'm going to do now. What do you think will happen if I get fired for fucking a student? I'll just move onto the next college and they won't even take a second glance at my record?"

Emma flinched at Regina using that word, because she never normally said it when she wasn't whispering it in her ear and it sounded harsh and jarring in daylight.

"Of course I know all that," she said awkwardly, but she didn't. Not really. In her head, the worst that could happen was Regina would be asked to leave but then she'd find something better. In her head, Regina was capable of all that and more.

In real life, she suddenly realised, it probably wouldn't be that easy. It suddenly made sense that she was panicking and backpedalling and trying to save her ass before it was far, far too late.

"You're so young," Regina said, and for the first time ever it sounded like an insult. "Please don't talk to me on campus until this blows over, okay?"

"And the texts?" Emma insisted. "Can I still contact you? Or see you?"

She knew what the answer was going to be before Regina threw her a look that was brimming with regret. "No, Emma. Not right now."

She left Emma feeling so hurt that she nearly chased after her just so they could continue their screaming match in the middle of the hall. Emma was practically vibrating as she headed home, and it took every scrap of her self restraint not to send Regina a lengthy text that detailed every single goddamn thing about her that made her skull throb.

Regina was scared – Emma got that. She was also trying to keep a distance to minimise the chance of them getting caught again right at the worst possible moment – Emma got that too. But building a whole wall between them was not the way to fix this, and Emma couldn't believe she'd been pushed out again just because Regina was so adamant that she was the only one who needed protecting. She hadn't even asked Emma how she felt.

Regina might lose her job, sure, but Emma might lose her degree – neither of them was safe, and it was so grossly unfair that Regina hadn't even paused to consider that.


She did as Regina asked and didn't contact her again during the following week, but it wasn't out of respect for her wishes – it was because she was fucking furious and didn't want to give Regina the satisfaction of going crawling after her again.

The problem with that was that Emma had nowhere to release her frustration, or her slowly simmering anxiety over the silence that had followed Dr Hopper walking in on them. It meant that by the time she arrived at her classics seminar the following week, she had a permanent twitch below her right eye and she couldn't even picture Regina's face without acid rising up in her chest.

She walked into the classroom five minutes late, because impressing her professor with impeccable timekeeping and insightful analyses wasn't something she cared about anymore. Regina had already started teaching, and as Emma stormed past without apologising for her lateness, she felt Regina's glare burning into the back of her skull.

"As I was saying," Regina continued, turning to the board and scribbling something down. "With your final exams approaching, I thought now would be a good time to return to some of the topics we covered toward the start of the year. We haven't spoken about The Odyssey in some time."

Even that made Emma annoyed, though she couldn't explain why. She rolled her eyes as she slammed her Homer book open to the correct page.

"Who remembers our discussion about how the introduction to the text shapes Odysseus's narrative?"

"Are you okay?" Mulan whispered in Emma's ear as Regina carried on talking. Emma shrugged.

"Fine."

"You look pissed."

"I'm just stressed," Emma said, glancing up to check that she wasn't about to be hauled out by Regina for talking for the hundredth time that year. "Essays. Finals. You know."

"Right," Mulan said slowly, but didn't push it. Ahead of them, Regina was still talking.

"The introduction also tells us that Odysseus suffers greatly on his journey home," she said, stepping toward the front of the room. She was wearing the red dress that Emma had told her to wear for her lecture in New York, and Emma kind of hated her for that. "What I'd like to know is, how many of you think that suffering was the result of his own choices?"

A few hands went up. Regina observed them for a second.

"Should I take from that response that the rest of you think that his suffering was beyond his control?"

A few people mutterd something in response, but Emma was too busy glaring down at her desk to notice who.

Ahead of her, Regina hummed and said more to herself than to anyone else, "A true Greek hero – a victim of his own bravery."

Something that felt hot and sharp like saltwater rose up in the back of Emma's throat, and before she could stop herself, she was snorting with derision. The noise was loud enough to make her sinuses feel raw, and without looking up she knew the entire room was staring at her.

Annoyingly, that included Regina.

"Something you'd like to say, Miss Swan?"

Emma looked up to find Regina watching her coldly, her eyebrows lifted. Normally Emma would have blushed and shaken her head with a resounding no. Right then, though, she was riled. She found herself lifting her chin.

"No," she said, surprising herself with how calm she sounded. "I just think that's utter bullshit."

A couple of students inhaled sharply. Mulan immediately inched away from her.

For once, Regina didn't look angry. She almost looked like she was going to laugh.

"Really?" she asked, stepping closer to the rows of desks in front of her.

"Yep."

"Could you elaborate on your incredibly concise argument?"

The patronisation in her voice made Emma want to spit.

"Gladly, Professor," she replied. "You're implying that Odysseus could be the victim through absolutely no fault of his own, and that's ridiculous. The idea that everything happened to him simply because the world was against him and not because he couldn't keep his actions in check is the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

Regina's eyes narrowed. She took another step closer. "I don't recall saying that I personally hold that view."

"'A victim of his own bravery'," Emma repeated her earlier words, deliberately putting on the slightly scornful tone she always used when she was mocking Regina for being arrogant. "That's what you said."

"I was repeating a common analysis."

"So you agree that he's only got himself to blame?" Emma asked. At once, Regina's face darkened. She had reached the line of desks in front of Emma's, and she leaned her hip against the nearest one.

"No," she said coldly. "I think it's a complex situation. But since you seem to be so adamant that this Ancient Greek hero is no better than your average teenage boy, I'd be very interested to hear your justification."

The entire class was staring at them, and from behind her Emma heard Killian mutter to August, "What the fuck is going on?"

"Be quiet, Mr Jones," Regina snapped, not taking her eyes off Emma. "Miss Swan? I'm waiting."

Emma gritted her teeth.

"People have dubbed him a hero, sure," she started. "But look at the facts – he stormed around hitting people with his sword, but the second Troy had fallen and the war was over, he ended up getting stuck on an island and couldn't find his way off it. The whole poem is about what a great guy he is but ultimately he left his wife for upward of a decade and then lazed around complaining that he couldn't get back to her."

"He was imprisoned by Calypso," Regina replied. "Do you expect him to have just walked off the island?"

"I expect him to have tried a bit harder. If someone was holding me captive and my wife was back at home thinking I was dead, I'd sure as hell do my best to get back to her, even if it meant I might die in the process."

"But he did manage to leave eventually," Regina said. Her normally cool, collected voice was beginning to get louder. "If you recall."

"Right, because Hermes helped him. He couldn't even manage to do that himself," Emma scoffed. She continued before Regina could cut her off. "And then, the second he gets away, he nearly dies in a shipwreck. What part of this is supposed to make me think he's a hero, or feel sorry for all of his suffering?"

"Poseidon sent a storm to wreck his ship."

"Because Odysseus blinded Poseidon's son," Emma countered. "Every single bad thing that happens to him is a result of some stupid shit he did himself. I don't feel sorry for him. He runs around making bad choices and then has the audacity to get mad when they come back to bite him."

Regina's eyes flashed, because she knew what Emma was really talking about.

"Well, you certainly seem to have high moral standards," she bit out. "Is there any particular reason why blinding a cyclops in the heat of battle is so unforgivable to you?"

Beside Emma, Mulan had rested her chin on her hand and was watching the argument unfurl like she was sitting in front of an old re-run of Jerry Springer. The rest of the class was looking at them wide-eyed and slightly agape, some of them scribbling down notes like this argument might actually come up on their final.

"It's not unforgivable. But he still did it, so I don't think it's such a huge deal that he has to suffer for it at some point," Emma said. Regina was watching her with narrowed eyes, so Emma added, "People seem to forget that they need to take responsibility for their own actions instead of trying to run away from them. Wouldn't you say?"

The twitch in Regina's jaw told Emma just how badly she wanted to hit her right then.

"Odysseus isn't running from anything," she said through gritted teeth. "He's endured a lot of terrible things and is facing a huge risk."

"What risk is that?"

"Death, Miss Swan," Regina snapped. "He loves his wife and he wants to get back to her, sure, but he also has to have some kind of self-preservation in mind."

Emma laughed humourlessly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Self-preservation," she repeated. "Sure."

Another student, desperate to get involved in what he obviously thought was a class discussion, suddenly piped up from the other side of the room. "I agree with Emma. I think that—"

"What exactly," Regina interrupted him, her eyes still on Emma, "do you think will be gained from Odysseus killing himself just to prove how brave he is?"

"I'm not saying he needs to kill himself. I'm saying that he needs to stop acting like a hero, telling everyone about his incredible exploits like they're something to admire, when really he's a whiny baby who gives up and hides away whenever stuff starts to go wrong."

"He's not hiding away."

Emma rolled her eyes. She was still leaning back in her chair like this entire conversation was so utterly boring to her. "He literally spends the second half of the poem disguised as a beggar so that no one will recognise him."

"What do you suggest he do instead?" Regina asked. It was obvious that Emma's composure was starting to get to her, because her cheeks had gone pink and her nostrils were beginning to flare. "Storm into Ithaca, balls out, giving every single one of his enemies the opportunity to attack him?"

A few of the students giggled uncertainly at Regina's suggestion, but Emma just stared her down.

"Pretty much," she said flatly. "He could stop being a coward and hiding himself from the people who actually care about him – that would be a great place to start. They might help him if they were given the chance."

Regina ground to an angry halt. Suddenly realising where she was and what had just happened, she looked around the room at the rest of her students. Some of them were still frantically scribbling down notes, but most were just staring back at her with total confusion on their faces.

She swallowed, trying to steady herself.

"We've gone off track," she said eventually. "Could we get back to the original question, please? Who here would like to explain why or why not Odysseus's suffering was beyond his own control?"

She turned back to the whiteboard and began to wipe away her earlier notes for seemingly no reason. Emma knew she was just trying to hide her face.

Someone on the other side of the room tentatively offered their own suggestion, and immediately Regina's attention was elsewhere. As she engaged with them in a considerably quieter voice, Emma finally exhaled.

She shifted lower in her chair, only then noticing the frantic pounding in her chest. She glanced down at the pen in her hand and realised that she'd squeezed it so hard the cheap plastic casing had cracked.

Just like she knew she would, Mulan leaned into her ear and whispered, "Lover's quarrel?"

"Shut up."

"That was really insightful," Mulan continued, grinning. "I'm going to be dropping all those eloquent arguments into my final."

Regina looked across the room and glared at the pair of them, but didn't say anything. Mulan inhaled sharply when she turned away once more.

"Damn," she muttered. "You really must be in the doghouse."

Emma swallowed, glancing back down at her papers.

"Yeah," she sighed. "Looks like I am."

Chapter Text

It was obvious that Regina really was furious, because silence followed their seminar. Emma was too stubborn to be the one to cave, so she spent her days angrily studying and writing essays and absolutely not checking her phone for messages every 15 seconds. She spent her evenings staring up at the ceiling of her bedroom trying to remember the last time Regina had kissed her.

Even in her other classes, it was hard to concentrate. She should have been clinging onto her professors' every word as they guided her through what she needed to study for their distant but still upcoming finals, but Emma's mind was elsewhere. Any time she saw a head of dark hair she jumped slightly, like she was expecting Regina to have infiltrated her European Literature lecture just to stare at her until she fell apart.

She shook her head and looked back down at her notes from the lecture she was currently sitting in. So far, all she'd managed to write was Dante's Inferno at the top of the page. She'd been there 15 minutes.

She hated Regina for just how vividly she was swirling around inside her head, but more than that, she missed her. She missed her a lot. She was starting to realise that she didn't actually have any other friends – not when she was still wary around Mulan and deeply uncomfortable around Killian – and she wished she could curl up against Regina's side and complain about this whole situation with her.

She wondered who would be the first to crack.

Right at that second, the door at the front of the lecture hall opened. A woman with grey hair walked in. Emma had never seen her before, but there was a stern look on her face and an unimpressed downward curve to her mouth. Emma's body instantly went cold.

The woman approached the professor and quietly said something to him. After a beat, he looked up and called out, "Emma Swan?"

Emma froze. The professor was peering around the packed theatre.

"Is there an Emma Swan in here?"

She slowly raised her hand. The dread that had been piling up inside her for the past two weeks broke like a dam.

"You're needed in the main office," he said, gesturing to the woman who'd just arrived. "Email me later and I'll send you the notes."

Emma nodded tersely and gathered up her things. The woman stood to one side waiting for her, like she was expecting her to run away.

As Emma trailed behind her on their way across campus, she wondered whether she should try and text Regina. She had to warn her – maybe she was about to be called out of a class of her own. She pulled out her phone and opened up her messages with a shaking hand, then glanced up to find the woman looking over her shoulder at her. She didn't say anything, but her expression did.

Swallowing hard, Emma slipped the phone back into her pocket.

The college's main offices were all contained in an enormous redbrick building with long, wide corridors and tiled floors that made everywhere feel cold. Emma had only been in there once before, when she'd been pleading for a last-minute change of class during her freshman year, and she hadn't liked it very much at the time. Now, as she trailed behind a stiff-backed woman whose grey hair was looking more imposing with every minute, she thought she might vomit into one of the potted plants.

They made their way up several sets of stairs and down an eerily quiet corridor. Emma clutched hold of her books with shaking hands. 

The dean of faculties' office was straight ahead. Emma had already known that that's where they were headed, but seeing the imposing bronze plaque outside the double wood doors made her stomach twist like a wet dish towel.

She hoped that she'd be made to sit outside for a while, giving her time to get her story straight, but the woman accompanying her knocked straight on the door. A voice from inside told them to enter, and Emma stumbled over the threshold. At the very, very least, she was relieved to see that Regina wasn't there.

Emma hadn't seen Mr Gold since they'd run into him in Newport. Sitting behind his enormous desk, his cane leaning against the bookshelves behind him, he somehow looked smaller and scarier at the same time.

His teeth were sharp and crooked when he smiled at her.

"Miss Swan," he said, gesturing for her to take a seat opposite him. "Thank you for coming in."

Emma shakily sat down, placing her books on the tops of her thighs.

When she didn't reply, Mr Gold asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No, I'm… uh," Emma said, pausing to collect herself. "I'm good, thanks."

"Very well," Mr Gold said, picking up a pen and bridging it between his index fingers. "Do you know why you're here today?"

With a nonplussed expression that she'd been mentally practicing for the past five minutes, Emma said, "Sorry. No."

"Care to venture a guess?"

"Well, I'm really hoping you're not about to tell me that I'm missing a load of credits and need to retake the whole year," Emma said. Mr Gold chuckled.

"Thankfully not," he said. The way he spoke so softly made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. "I've had a brief look at your academic history and it appears… just fine."

Ignoring what she was certain was a veiled insult there, Emma forced a smile.

"That's good to hear. Can I ask what this meeting is about, then?"

Mr Gold paused to place his pen back on the desk.

"Are you aware of the college's policy on student-teacher relationships, Miss Swan?"

Emma was all too aware of it. She'd spent hours trawling through the code of conduct on the website.

She forced herself to look blankly back at him. "No. Should I be?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I have reason to believe that you should."

Emma's heart had started pounding so furiously that she could feel her body trembling from the force of it, but she forced herself to wrinkle her forehead. "Sorry – I'm totally lost."

Mr Gold's grey eyes went hard.

"You have a weekly seminar with Professor Mills. Is that correct?"

Panic clunked down inside her. "Yeah. On Thursdays."

"And how do you find those classes?"

"They're… fine," she said, then paused. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not really that interested in classics."

"No? Why's that?"

"I don't know – it's just not my favourite area. I won't be taking it again next year."

"Not even if Professor Mills was still going to be your teacher?" Mr Gold asked, his voice too cool, too expressionless. "I've been led to believe that she's a very inspiring lecturer."

Emma thought back to what Regina had said about how no one had offered her a job for the coming year yet, and she had to physically bite back a question about whether Gold was planning to do exactly that. 

"She's very good," she said slowly. "I like her classes."

"More than your other classes?"

"Probably not. Like I said, I'm not really into classics."

"Hm," Mr Gold said, obviously unimpressed with this answer. He didn't blink anywhere near as much as Emma wished he would. "Tell me about your relationship with Professor Mills."

Emma instantly felt like someone had grabbed her throat and started choking her.

"Um," she started, hoping she sounded confused rather than terrified. "I wouldn't say I really have one?"

"No?"

"No. I mean, she's my professor and occasionally we'll talk about my essays and stuff, but otherwise I don't really know her."

"How often do you talk about your essays? And 'stuff'?" Mr Gold asked.

"I don't know. Every few weeks."

"Do you struggle with them?"

"Sometimes. Classics really isn't my best subject."

"And does Professor Mills help you with them?"

"She… gives me advice and feedback, yeah."

"I see. Does she give you anything else?"

Emma swallowed. "Anything else…?"

"Any other kind of support. Anything that might be deemed inappropriate by the college."

They'd finally reached the heart of the matter, and Emma had to force herself to ask the next question with a straight face. "I'm sorry. What are you implying?"

He smiled coldly. "It's a simple question."

It was anything but simple. Mr Gold's gaze was scrabbling over her face like rat's claws.

"No," Emma said simply. "She's been nothing but professional with me."

"During class?"

"Yes."

"And during office hours?"

"Yes."

"What about outside of class?"

"I don't…" Emma started, pausing to swallow the spit that had suddenly flooded her mouth. "I don't know what you mean. I don't see her outside of class."

"What about when you were in her locked office together two weeks ago?"

Terror clanged inside Emma's chest like someone clapping two trashcan lids together. "We were just talking."

"About?"

She took a deep breath. "It's personal."

"I see. I thought you said that you don't really know her?"

"I don't," Emma replied. "I went to discuss some class work with her. I was upset about something, and she noticed and asked if she could help. We were talking about that when Dr Hopper walked in – which I'm assuming is why you're asking all these questions."

Mr Gold's next smile was much crueller. "Indeed. Could you explain why the door was locked?"

Clang. Another throb of panic.

"I don't know," Emma sighed, pretending to be impatient. "I think she got up to lock it once she realised I was upset."

"How considerate of her. Did that make you feel uncomfortable?"

"No – why would it?"

"Well. Because you were locked in a room with a professor who, by your own admission, you hardly know. It would be reasonable to find the situation distressing."

Emma glared at him before she could stop herself. "Generally speaking, women don't feel threatened by other women. Especially not when the other woman is being considerate and just trying to help."

It was truly upsetting to see just how disappointed Gold looked at that. He smiled tightly back at her.

"That's good to hear. We certainly wouldn't want her behaviour toward you to be in any way inappropriate."

"It's not," Emma said shortly. "Look, am I in trouble for something?"

"No, Miss Swan. We're simply trying to get to the bottom of the situation."

"And what situation is that?"

"We need to know what the true nature of your relationship with Professor Mills is."

Emma had been waiting for that sentence since she'd walked in the door. "Just that – she's my professor."

"Nothing more?"

"Nothing more."

"Do all of your professors make close physical contact with you in the way that Dr Hopper witnessed?"

Emma didn't bother to deny it, because she already knew her word would mean nothing compared with that of the college's esteemed goody-two-shoes classics professor.

"No," she replied. "Like I said – I was upset and Professor Mills was comforting me. I guess it could have looked weird to Dr Hopper because he walked in really suddenly, but that's all it was."

"I see," Mr Gold sighed like he was genuinely sorry. "The problem is, though, that we've already spoken to Professor Mills about this, and her story doesn't match yours."

Emma's heart physically halted. Mr Gold was watching her carefully.

In a brief flash of clarity, Emma thought about what he'd just said – Regina was mad at her right then, sure. She wasn't speaking to her. But if she'd been called into the dean's office to discuss her potentially career-ruining relationship with a student, wouldn't she have called Emma to warn her?

Yes, she would have. Emma knew her well enough to be sure of that.

She wrinkled her nose in faux confusion. "I don't know what you want me to say to that. I've told you the truth about what happened – can I ask what she said about it?"

"That's confidential," Mr Gold replied, just like she knew he would. "Perhaps it would be helpful for you to tell me exactly what your conversation was about – that might help clear up your story."

"That's also confidential," Emma replied. "I told you – we were discussing something personal. I was upset. I have to assume Professor Mills told you something different because she was respecting my privacy and didn't want to repeat any of my problems to you."

When Mr Gold's eyes narrowed, she knew she had him. He couldn't argue with that.

"I see," he repeated. "I suppose that may well be the case."

He went silent, like he was waiting for Emma to cave and give him some more. She watched him flatly, not saying a word.

"And you're certain that Professor Mills hasn't acted inappropriately toward you in any way?"

"I'm positive. She's been nothing but professional."

"Apart from the physical contact," Mr Gold interjected.

"The physical contact wasn't inappropriate. I wasn't uncomfortable," Emma said through gritted teeth. "It made me feel like she was listening to me, and like she cared. If anything, I think she should be rewarded for that, not subjected to some kind of witch hunt."

"This isn't a witch hunt, Miss Swan. We're just looking out for the wellbeing of our students."

"I appreciate that, but I'm just fine. You don't need to worry about anything."

She recognised the silence that followed. It wasn't quite a checkmate, but it was close.

Mr Gold nodded coldly and sat back in his chair, his pen lying uselessly before him.

"Very well," he said. "Then I suppose we're done here. Unless you'd like to discuss anything else?"

"Nope," Emma said, the invisible grip on her throat finally starting to loosen. "I'm good."

"Alright. Thank you for your time, then, Miss Swan. Good luck with the rest of the semester."

Emma nodded sharply and headed for the door. As soon as she was outside, she all but ran away from the office.

She ducked down the nearest corridor, then another, then charged down the stairs and out into the courtyard. She walked slightly slower once she was out there in case anyone was watching from the window, but as soon as she was back in the Arts building, she sprinted for the nearest bathroom.

After kicking open every stall to check they were empty, she dove into the one furthest from the door and grabbed her phone.

Regina didn't pick up, of course. Emma knew she wouldn't, but it still made her growl with frustration.

"Regina," she hissed once her voicemail message had ended. "I got called in to speak to Mr Gold. He was asking about us. He tried to act like he'd already spoken to you but I think he was just bullshitting to try and trip me up – I lied to him and I'm freaking out. I need to talk to you. Please."

She hung up and let out a shaky breath. Leaning back against the cubicle wall, she closed her eyes and waited.

Her phone rang two minutes later.

"Hey," she said as she answered it. Before Regina even spoke, Emma could sense her panic.

"What happened?" she asked. "Are you still with him? Are you okay?"

The question made Emma's frantic heart rate finally slow down.

"I'm fine," she said. "Just shaken up. I'm locked in a bathroom."

Regina released an unsteady breath that made Emma's heart squeeze.

"Emma," she sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I should have seen this coming."

"He didn't talk to you, did he?"

"Of course he didn't," Regina snapped, but it was obvious that her anger wasn't aimed at Emma herself. "That weasel. Of course he would try and trick you – he's always been a greasy little imp."

"I hope I didn't mess up," Emma said, pressing a hand against her forehead. "I told him that I went to you to talk about an assignment and I was upset about something personal and you were comforting me. It was all I could think of – I'm sorry."

"Please don't apologise," Regina said. For the first time in weeks, there was some warmth in her voice. "You got jumped on and you handled it as well as you possibly could. I'm just so sorry this happened."

"What are you going to do if he calls you in?"

"Well," Regina said. Emma heard the faint clatter of her taking her glasses off and placing them on her desk. "I have a story to follow now, which is good. Did you tell him what personal problems we were discussing?"

"No. I told him it was private and that's probably why our supposed stories didn't match up – because you didn't want to betray my confidence."

There was a pause before Regina softly said, "You're so smart."

"I'm really not. If I was smart, I wouldn't have gotten you in trouble in the first place."

Regina groaned. "We both did this. It wasn't just you." After a long, painful pause, she said, "I'm… I'm sorry for blaming you. That wasn't fair."

The apology was welcome, but also lacking something important.

"And?" Emma prompted.

Another pause. "And I'm sorry for refusing to talk to you."

"You didn't just refuse to talk to me. You totally cut me out of your life."

"I know."

"You need to stop doing that, Regina."

"I know."

"Do you? Because it feels like we keep going round in circles with this. If you're upset then you need to talk to me – not start pointless arguments in the middle of classics seminars."

"I didn't start that," Regina immediately protested, before stopping herself with a sharp inhale of breath. "I handled it badly. I'm sorry. You're right, okay? Don't make me say it again."

"You've barely said it once," Emma pointed out, but then she backed off. "Do you not trust me, or something?"

"Of course not," Regina said quickly. It was vaguely reassuring, except for the fact that Emma was already remembering all the times Regina had pulled back from her and refused to share what was bothering her.

When Emma remained silent, Regina forced herself to continue. "That's not it at all. It's just… I've been alone for a long time. I went from not having to worry about anyone to having to worry about a lot, and it overwhelms me sometimes. Occasionally I miss the days when I went back home by myself and didn't have to think about anything except myself."

Hurt pulled at Emma's heart, but she still understood. "I get it. But you don't—?"

"I really do mean occasionally," Regina interrupted before she could ask the question. "I promise – 99 percent of the time, I'm unbelievably happy with you. Please don't think that I'd rather be without you."

Emma smiled wretchedly. "It's kind of hard not to think that when you're refusing to answer my calls or talk to me about the stuff that's bothering you."

"I know," Regina said yet again. "I was being a coward. I'm sorry."

That apology rang truer than the others, and Emma finally relaxed.

"It's going to be okay."

"Is it?" Regina asked. It sounded like she was trying to smile. "I'm not so sure."

"Maybe," Emma said weakly. "Gold can't do anything if our stories match, and all he's got is Dr Hopper's word that he saw something a little weird. He didn't walk in on me mounting you."

Finally, Regina laughed. "Even if he had, I'm sure you'd manage to talk your way out of it."

"Probably. I'm wily as hell."

Regina chuckled again, and for a moment they were quiet. Then Regina softly said, "I think I need some time to get through this, Emma."

"I know," Emma sighed. "I get that. Just… If I text you, can you at least reply?"

"Okay."

"And can you tell me if you get dragged into his office?"

"Of course I will. I'll probably call you in tears," Regina replied. She was trying to joke, but the words felt hollow.

Emma pressed her hand against her forehead and said, "You'll be okay. And hey, feel free to make up any kind of humiliating shit that I might have been telling you in case that helps your story."

Regina laughed gently. "Thank you – I'll tell them something so ridiculous and embarrassing that they're too uncomfortable to question me further."

"Genius," Emma said. After a beat, she added, "Regina, are we okay?"

There was a soft exhale of breath from down the line.

"I think so. I hope so."

"You just need some space?"

"Yes, please. If that's okay."

"Of course," Emma said, though she didn't mean it. Her stomach was hurting. "I guess this will give me some time to actually study for my other classes."

"That's certainly a plus."

They went quiet again, and before she could stop herself, Emma was blurting out, "I miss you, you know."

Regina sighed. "I miss you too. Really. I'm just…" There was a long pause before she finally finished her sentence with, "…scared."

"Being scared with me might make it easier."

"It won't, because the second I'm around you I lose all good sense. It'll only be five minutes before someone else catches us doing something we shouldn't."

Emma knew she had a point, but it hurt to admit it. "I should go."

"Alright. Thank you," Regina added, her voice suddenly urgent. "For calling me."

"Thanks for finally calling me back," Emma joked. She felt Regina smile.

"Don't be cheeky. Now go – I have things to do."

"Okay. Bye, Regina."

"Goodbye, Emma."

Emma hung up the phone with a lump in her throat. In spite of what Regina had told her, she wondered why the end of that call had felt so much like the end of something else.

Chapter Text

Emma shouldn't have been expecting Regina to call, but she couldn't help herself. She missed her. Not only was she unbearably horny and constantly snapping at Mary Margaret any time she had the audacity to be home before a certain hour, but she was also lonely and stressed and ultimately a little too sad. She checked her phone roughly every 15 minutes, but Regina was never there waiting for her.

Emma tried to take solace in that. If she hadn't called, it meant she hadn't been asked to see Mr Gold yet. Maybe Emma's own meeting was so convincing that the issue had been dropped altogether, and after some time apart to cool down, Regina would slowly come back to her. Emma waited for it every day.

She was left disappointed. The week dragged on like a treacle floor.

Her Thursday seminar became the greatest source of excitement and anxiety in her life, and she approached it with trepidation. She couldn't decide whether it would be a better sign if Regina acted normally toward her or if she ignored her entirely.

When she arrived at the classroom, Regina wasn't there yet. That wasn't unusual: she often swanned in at two o'clock on the dot, expecting the entire class to quieten down the second she arrived. They usually did, in fact. Emma was always the first one to snap her mouth shut.

But two o'clock came and went, and everyone found themselves glancing around awkwardly. Regina had never been late before – not once during the whole year – and they knew full well that she wouldn't have forgotten about them.

"Did class get cancelled?" someone asked. Everyone shrugged. Five minutes passed, and then 10.

Just when everyone was muttering about whether they should leave or not, Regina burst through the door. Her cheeks were pink and she wasn't carrying any books.

Emma's heart sank. It didn't take her two seconds to work out what had happened.

"Sorry," Regina said, heading for her desk. She dropped her purse on it and paused to tuck her hair behind her ears. "My meeting ran late. Can you all get your anthologies out, please?"

Everyone in the class already had their books out and open, so they watched curiously as Regina bustled around at the front of the room, switching on the projector and then blinking when she realised she didn't have a laptop to connect to it.

"Damn it," she muttered, turning to look for a spare one that might have been miraculously waiting for her. Someone on the other side of the room slowly raised their hand, and she narrowed her eyes at them. "Yes?"

"Do you want to borrow my computer, Professor?"

She looked like she might cry then. "Please. I just need to… Everything's on Gmail."

Watching Regina trying to keep herself together as she struggled to connect the laptop and then find the relevant presentation in her inbox was the most painful thing Emma had ever endured. She sat rigidly in her chair, ignoring Mulan's stilted attempts at conversation as her gaze followed Regina's every movement. Her hands were trembling. There was a run in one of her stockings.

"Right," she eventually said, once the presentation was mercifully working. "I think we said we'd return to Virgil today, is that right?"

It was, but the fact that she was asking in the first place was deeply concerning. Normally Regina stormed into the classroom with intent ringing from every tap of her heels, and the only time she ever questioned anything was when she was biting out at a student, "Is there a reason why you continue to talk over me when I've repeatedly asked you to stop?" She looked smaller and like she didn't want to be there at all, and it broke Emma's heart.

Regina glanced up, caught her eye, and immediately looked away again.

At the end of the class, Regina didn't have to ask her to wait behind – Emma knew she was expected to. She also knew they wouldn't be going to her office because that would have been like waving a red flag in a bull's face, so she waited anxiously with her fingers fiddling with her backpack, pretending to be putting her books away as the other students trailed out.

When she looked up, Regina was watching her. She'd managed to chew off all of her lipstick.

"Hey," Emma said quietly, approaching her. "How did it go?"

Regina didn't have to ask what she was referring to. "Not well."

"You think he thought you were lying?"

"Oh, I know he did, because he said it to my face. So did Professor Glass and Dr Blue and—"

"Wait," Emma interrupted. "You had the whole ethics committee there?"

"Yes, I did. Lucky me," Regina said dryly, looking down at the six feet of carpet that separated them. "I lied. I kept lying. I didn't give them anything and they can't get either one of us in trouble since our stories match up."

Emma nodded, not feeling relieved because she knew exactly what was coming next. "But…?"

"But," Regina sighed. "Emma. We have to stop."

Emma's heart made a cracking sound. "Why?"

"You know why. This is all… We nearly got caught. We did get caught. We're only getting out of it because we both lied until our faces turned blue, but do you think they'll just leave it at that? You don't think Gold will have eyes on everything I do from now on to make sure nothing's going on behind his back?"

Emma did know all of that, but she could feel her jaw starting to wobble and all she wanted to do was hurry forward and bury herself in the curve of Regina's neck. "But I…"

She wasn't sure what she'd been planning to say there. She suspected it might have been 'I love you'. But the defeated look on Regina's face stopped her, and even though Emma could see devotion of her own in her brown eyes, she knew she couldn't say it. Not now. Not when everything was falling apart already.

She swallowed instead. "But I don't want to stop."

"I don't either," Regina said, her voice urgent. "Really, I don't. And maybe one day we won't have to worry anymore and we can just be together, but right now… We can't carry on like this, Em."

Emma nearly choked at the delicate nickname, which had come at the worst possible time. Gripping hold of the nearest chair, she nodded.

"I do get it," she said, hoping the wobble in her voice wasn't too audible. "Really. And I know your job is important and we barely got out of this without one or both of us getting kicked out of school, but…"

She didn't have an end to that sentence. The simple truth was that she knew all of that, and she didn't care.

She knew how selfish that was, and she didn't care about that either.

With a sigh, she said, "I just don't know if I can say goodbye to you."

"I don't want to either," Regina said, glancing over at the door. "You know I wouldn't be doing this unless I had no choice."

"Yeah. I know," Emma said. Her voice was flat and bordering on petulant, but Regina didn't seem to care. Her eyes were glistening. "Are you going to start dating other people?"

Emma hadn't even meant to ask that, but it had slipped from her mouth before she could stop it. As soon as the words were out, she realised she was already dreading the answer.

Regina laughed humourlessly. "I doubt that somehow. Will you?"

Emma looked sadly back at her. "I don't see it happening."

"Right," Regina sighed. "But you can, you know. If you want."

The sheer finality of that sentence broke Emma's heart all over again – this was really happening. As tenuously as they'd been together before, they weren't anymore. They might not ever kiss again and Emma hadn't even gotten the chance to tell her she loved her, and the worst part of it was that neither of them even wanted this. This was all someone else's doing, and if Emma really let herself think about it, she would have realised that actually, they probably would have gone the distance otherwise. Once they looked past the sneaking around and the constant terror that they were about to get caught, there was nothing else stopping them.

And yet, they'd stopped anyway. The look in Regina's eye was wretched.

"I hate this," Emma said flatly. She saw Regina's hand twitch like she wanted to reach out.

"Me too," she replied. "I'm so sorry."

"You don't have to be," Emma shrugged. "Really. This is just the way it is, I guess."

Regina was already nodding. "It really sucks."

"It does."

"Will you be okay?"

"Yeah. I mean, I've got my finals to distract me." Emma groaned at the thought. "And then… well. We still don't know what you're going to be doing next year, do we?"

"No, not yet."

Regina spoke so flatly, and suddenly Emma was rushing back to all the secrets she'd been keeping. The guest lectures she hadn't wanted to talk about; the notes she'd been scribbling down in the middle of the night when she thought Emma was fast asleep.

Emma smiled and said, "You've been applying for other jobs for ages, haven't you?"

For the first time ever, Regina didn't lie.

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you'd ask when I started," Regina said, leaning back against her desk. "And I couldn't tell you that."

Emma didn't ask the question then, but she raised her eyebrows expectantly.

"The day we first kissed in my office," Regina said quietly. "I went home and I sent out my resume to any college that was hiring."

It was strange how Emma's heart could break so many times in the space of 15 minutes. "You did?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because the second I kissed you, I knew that I would want to be with you," Regina said flatly. "And I knew I'd need to be out of here by next year. When we were in Newport, I promised you that I'd tell you if it looked like I'd need to move out of state, and I meant that – but it never became an issue, because no one replied to me."

"No one?" Emma asked incredulously. At once, Regina's mouth twitched in that way it always did when she was trying to tell a lie.

"A few people did," she corrected herself, because they'd started their relationship on uneven footing and she obviously didn't want to end it that way. "I'm still in contact with some of them. Things are moving, Emma, but not quickly enough. I don't know what's going to happen. That's the truth."

In spite of everything, Emma felt relieved. Regina didn't have some secret second family, and she didn't check herself into rehab on the regular – she had just been love-struck and stupid and trying to pave some kind of path for their relationship before it had even officially begun. Emma couldn't be angry at her for wanting to hide that in case Emma hadn't felt the same way.

"So there's still hope?" she asked.

Regina's smile was tentative. "Yes, Emma. There's still some hope."

Emma knew she was going to be clinging onto that nugget of potential like her life depended on it. "Okay. Then I guess I'll be fine. Will you?"

She was expecting Regina to reply with a brave smile and a half-hearted shrug, but instead she just looked forlornly back at her. "Probably not."

Emma sighed. Her hand gripped the chair tighter.

She wished she knew what she could say to make all this better, but the sorry truth of the matter was that things had gone to shit and there wasn't enough glue in the world to piece it back together. Even though Regina was technically the one who had just broken her heart, she so desperately wanted to reach out and fix hers.

"I should probably get going," she said instead. "Just in case Gold's got one of his flying monkeys lurking outside."

Regina tried to laugh, but it was an empty sound. Instead of responding to that, she just said, "Thank you."

Emma didn't have to ask what she was being thanked for. "You're welcome. Just… text me if you need me, okay?"

"Okay," Regina nodded. She didn't say the same thing in return, and another piece of Emma's heart chipped off.

Gathering up her things, Emma walked toward the door. As she passed by Regina, she could feel two pleading eyes on her.

Emma couldn't help it – she reached out for Regina's hand and she squeezed. Regina clung onto her fingers like she was considering asking her not to leave after all.

They just looked at one another for a moment, and Emma saw so many things in Regina's eyes: she saw an apology. She saw regret. She saw gratitude and, glinting above it all like light reflecting off the sea, she thought she saw love. For a split second, Emma went warm all over.

But then she had to peel their fingers apart and she was walking away. She wasn't crying, because instead of sadness all she could feel was a strange kind of numbness deep down in her bones.

That, and Regina's gaze desperately weighing on her shoulders until the very last second.

Chapter Text

Emma only had one option, and that was to throw herself into her schoolwork. Finals were six weeks away, and if she wanted to have any chance at graduating that godforsaken college and getting out of there in a year, she needed to work harder than she had done all semester. So, ignoring the ache in her chest and the fact that her phone never rang anymore, she dragged herself to the library and hunched over her books until late into the evening, pretending that her eyes were scratchy because they were tired and not because they still hadn't been given the chance to cry properly.

It felt like she was seeing Regina everywhere. Back at the start of the school year, Emma had been creeping around campus following her professor's every move and trying to get a glimpse of her because it would brighten up her day slightly. Now, seeing her had the opposite effect. Emma would spot her in the corner of Starbucks or storming across the main courtyard and her heart would automatically lift, only to drop back down again when it remembered what had happened two weeks earlier. The constant disappointment was painful.

Emma was also certain that she was seeing Regina more than she ever had the previous semester. That wasn't just because Emma had stopped stalking her once they'd gotten together – she still went to Starbucks every Monday morning, and Regina hadn't been there for months. Now, suddenly, there she was again, waltzing through the door at the same time every single week, and although her eyes never met Emma's, Emma knew she was watching her. Whenever she lowered her head over her book or her laptop, she felt a familiar gaze burning into her.

But Regina never came over, and that was the worst thing. The distance between them was thick and heavy and it made Emma's mouth taste like iron.

It was even worse during seminars. Emma knew what the rules were now: no eye contact. No passionate debates. While Regina talked to the class about literary themes or historical context, Emma was left to sit quietly and take notes and try not to notice the way that Regina's voice had lost all of its snap.

"Did you guys have a fight?" Mulan whispered. Emma just shrugged, leaving her friend to say, "That's a yes, then."

"Not exactly."

"Can I do anything?"

"No," Emma sighed, her eyes still on her notes. Ahead of them, Regina was talking about one of Sappho's later poems and Emma couldn't help but feel annoyed at Mulan for making it harder to hear her beautifully soft voice. "It's fine."

After a long pause, Mulan said, "Alright."

"Miss Fa," Regina said from the front of the room. The fact that she barely raised her voice, and that it wasn't Emma's own name being shouted across the classroom, made Emma feel even sadder. "Is something the matter?"

"No. Sorry," Mulan replied. And somehow, that was the end of it: Regina just nodded and went back to her lecture. The lack of a sarcastic response made Emma's nose fizz and wrinkle, but all she could do was look down and focus and try to remind herself that she'd gotten through way worse things than this before.


"Swan! Wait up."

Emma slowed automatically. Killian's voice didn't grate on her as much as it had once done, although she couldn't say she was thrilled to hear it calling her name down the corridor. She'd hurried out of their seminar as fast as possible, and conversation was the very last thing she was in the mood for.

She forced a smile as she turned to look at him. "Hey."

He was wearing his favourite cocksure grin, but Emma realised for the first time that it didn't make her feel quite as irritated as it used to. After nearly a year of listening to his terrible jokes and dealing with his half-hearted advances, she'd started to realise that he wasn't actually so bad. He was no Prince Charming either, but Emma had chipped away at his exterior for long enough to know that most of his annoying swagger was simply an act.

"Can I walk with you?" he asked. It was a weirdly considerate question coming from him, so Emma shrugged.

"Sure. What's up?"

"I actually want to ask you that," he said, falling into step beside her. "You seem… I don't know. Quiet."

"Do I?"

"Yeah. Is something bothering you? Or do you just not want to talk to me anymore?"

"Since when have I ever wanted to talk to you?" Emma asked, making Killian laugh. "Seriously though, I'm okay. Just stressed, I guess."

"Finals?"

"Yeah, mostly."

"I get you. I swear it's never normally this bad," he sighed, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his leather jacket. "We should grab a drink or something. To take a break."

Emma stopped walking and turned to look at him. "You really are persistent, aren't you?"

"It's one of my best traits," he grinned. "How about it? Let me take your mind off things."

Emma looked curiously back at him. "Seriously?"

"Of course. Or dinner," he said. Emma could see a nervous twitch at the edge of his quirked eyebrow. "Your call."

Emma opened her mouth, her refusal already half formed on her tongue. It wasn't that she didn't like Killian – he was fine, and once upon a time he would have been exactly the type of guy she would have dated. The problem was that she'd been blessed with someone so much better since then, and she knew he'd never compare. He was nice, but he wasn't Regina.

But then Regina herself exited the classroom, pausing to shut the door behind her. Emma wasn't sure whether she knew that two of her students were talking only 10 paces away, but she didn't show it if she did.

As soon as Emma laid eyes on her, her heart tugged like it was trying to return to her.

She could feel Killian watching her confusedly as she stared over his shoulder, and all of a sudden rejecting him felt pointless.

"Sure," Emma sighed, turning back to him. "Why not."

Killian blinked. "Really?"

"Yeah, sure. I mean, it can't hurt."

Somewhere deep in her stomach, she was aware of a twisting pain that told her how selfish she was being. She didn't want to date Killian – she wasn't attracted to him and she was never, ever going to want anything with him in the same way that he did with her. She was using him as a distraction, and that made her the worst person in the world.

But she didn't care. She didn't really care about anything anymore.

Killian was still looking at her strangely. Emma half expected him to change his mind now that he'd somehow managed to convince her to say yes. But then he paused and turned his head just in time to catch sight of Regina as she walked past them, her chin raised and her eyes staring straight ahead. There was a tick beneath her skin as she clenched and unclenched her jaw.

Killian turned back to Emma, who was still watching Regina wistfully, and hesitated. "Right. Dinner, then?"

"Sure."

"Sometime next week? I'll text you the details."

"Sounds great," Emma said, but her voice was flat. Regina reached the double doors at the end of the hall and pushed her way through, not looking back before she disappeared from sight.


Emma was only halfway home when her phone rang. Her heart lifted, expecting it to be Regina calling to yell at her or maybe even to beg her to take her back. It wasn't.

"Killian just texted me to say you'd finally agreed to go on a date with him," Mulan hissed down the line. "Have you lost your mind?"

"Probably."

"What about Professor Hot Stuff?"

Emma sighed. "Professor Hot Stuff and I are over."

"What? Since when?"

"A couple of weeks ago. The risk got too high."

"Oh," Mulan said, sounding genuinely shocked. "Em, I'm so sorry. You should have said."

"You weren't supposed to know we were together in the first place, so telling you that we'd split up seemed a bit pointless."

"Right, except I promised I wouldn't tell anyone and I haven't. Are you okay?"

Emma thought about it before saying, "Not really. There's still hope that we'll get back together again later, but… I don't know. Holding out hope feels stupid."

"Is that why you're going out with Killian? Because you feel like you haven't got anything to lose?"

"Kind of."

"Do you realise how idiotic that is?" Mulan asked. "You know other girls call him Captain Hook because of the way he latches onto them and refuses to back off?"

"I know. But he's kind of funny and I feel like he might at least distract me for an evening. And I know how selfish that is," Emma continued when she heard Mulan's sharp intake of breath. "I'm a crappy person. But he doesn't seem to care – he knows I'm not really into him and he pushed for dinner anyway."

"Maybe he's hoping he can change your mind."

"Maybe. It'll at least be entertaining to watch him try."

Mulan sighed. "Just be careful, okay? When's the date?"

"Sometime next week. He said he'd text me."

"Do you need back up?"

"I'm not bringing a babysitter to dinner," Emma scoffed. "It'll be fine. I still know how to throw a punch."

"Oh, that's very reassuring. It's always a good sign when you're going into a date thinking about self defence."

Emma snorted. She'd reached the door to her dorm block and was rummaging in her bag for her keys. "What can I say? I love to be prepared."

They hung up and Emma made her way into her bedroom. Mary Margaret wasn't around, which meant Emma could throw herself onto her bed with a groan that reverberated off the walls.

After 10 minutes of lying there, she pulled her phone out and checked whether Killian had texted her or not. Emma breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that he hadn't. Then, as she found herself doing all too frequently during her free moments, she tapped on her message chain with Regina. No new messages had come through in weeks and it always hurt Emma's chest to look at them, but she couldn't help herself. When she felt lonely – which was nearly always – she needed that reminder of what it had felt like to be so close to her before.

She scrolled up for a while and sighed at the little jokes Regina had once made and the lovely things she'd said without even thinking about it. Then she scrolled back down again to look at how they'd left things.

Everything felt so unfinished. There was no closure at all on the whole damn situation and it was driving Emma crazy.

She stared at the last message Regina had sent her. Sorry, everything's fine. I haven't heard from Gold again since our meeting – I think he's cooled off. She'd sent it in reply to Emma's desperate plea for contact a week earlier, but she hadn't replied again.

Emma was just about to groan and click her screen off again, but she paused. Her heart suddenly leapt up in her throat.

There were three dots at the bottom of her screen. Regina was typing.

"Fuck," she blurted out without meaning to. Panic set in. What should she do? Keep watching so she'd see the message as soon as it came in? Leave the conversation altogether so she could act casual when she finally deigned to reply?

Her hands were shaking as she locked her phone, then immediately unlocked it again just in case she'd accidentally switched it off right as Regina's message arrived. There was nothing there, and the typing bubble had gone. Then, just as Emma was looking, it came back again.

Emma closed the app and locked her phone, frantically tapping her fingertips against her sweaty palms as she waited for the message to appear. After a few minutes, there was still nothing.

She tentatively opened up her messages again and found that the typing bubble had gone away once more. She stared, waiting for it to reappear, but it didn't.

Her heart sunk back down again to far, far beneath where it should have been. She wondered if she should text Regina herself. Maybe she missed her. Maybe she wanted to talk.

She kept staring at the screen just in case, but a message never came through. When Mary Margaret came home, Emma realised she'd been sitting in the dark.


Classes. Studying. Mac and cheese from a box followed by two-dollar wine that Emma had bought from the Eastern European store on the corner. She felt like she was sinking into some kind of grey tar, and she wasn't sure how to kick her way back out again. Finals were approaching and so was the summer vacation, and after that – what?

The fact that she had no idea whether she'd even see Regina again once the year was up was slowly driving her crazy.

She staggered into her Shakespeare seminar one Tuesday morning with scratchy eyes and a glower on her face after a night of reading and worrying and wishing she could cry. The classroom was small and Emma always snagged a seat in the back row so the perky PhD student who taught them once a week wouldn't call on her whenever she noticed Emma struggling to keep pace with the rest of the class. Emma's former illiteracy was rarely an issue for her, but in that dark classroom where she felt easily like the stupidest person in the world, the words always crawled over her page like worms. Recently, it had been getting even harder to keep track of them.

She settled down in her seat at the back and sighed. Regina always used to help her with her Shakespeare assignments, and enduring these seminars without any input from her was just another thing that made Emma miss her.

The other students began to file into the class, taking their usual seats and leaving Emma alone at the back. The seats either side of her were the only empty ones in the room, and she always had to wonder whether she should be offended or relieved by that.

Eventually their tutor arrived. Astrid was a PhD student, and she was the only person on campus who Emma considered to be a bigger mess than she was.

"Good morning, everyone," she said as she dropped her books onto the desk and immediately knocked two of them to the floor. "Oops. Now, I believe we're looking at As You Like It today—"

"Twelfth Night," someone in the front row corrected. Astrid looked up, her forehead wrinkled.

"Really?"

A dozen students nodded.

"Ah. Well, then," she said, putting her original book down and picking up another. "That's fine… I can just…"

She trailed off as she began flicking through her notes, and the rest of the class collectively sighed. Emma slumped down in her seat and began scanning her notes for the 10th time in a last-ditch attempt to get some kind of grasp of what the fuck was going on.

"Ah," Astrid suddenly said, her voice louder and sharper. "Professor Mills. I was wondering if you were still coming."

Emma's head snapped up quickly enough to make her vision blur. She hoped she was just imagining things, since she did tend to spend most of her free time fantasising about Regina showing up in the strangest of places, but no – there she was. Regina was standing in the doorway, her posture rod-straight and her dark eyes fixed on Astrid. She looking imposing and terrifying, and all Emma wanted to do was force her up against the doorframe and kiss her lipstick off.

"Sorry I'm late," Regina said in that voice that Emma couldn't shake out of her head. "I hope this morning still works for you?"

"Of course, of course," Astrid gabbled. "Everyone, Professor Mills is my thesis supervisor and will be doing my final teaching assessment today. Professor, why don't you take a seat? I'll be with you in a moment, I just need to…"

Her sentence went nowhere because she was already rummaging around in her stack of books for something helpful. Emma saw Regina physically recoil from her disorganisation before she turned toward the class and sought out an empty chair.

She spotted Emma and froze. All Emma could do was stare back at her with her heart caught somewhere amongst her vocal cords.

Eventually Regina swallowed and walked to the back of the room. She grabbed the chair to Emma's left and settled herself in it, her lips pressed together.

At the front of the room, Astrid was anxiously glancing at her. "So, I guess we should… you know. Do this thing." She laughed awkwardly before continuing, "Some of you know that I'm writing my thesis on how Shakespeare was influenced by the works of the ancient Greeks, so it's quite apt that we're going to be looking at As You Like It— I mean, Twelfth Night today."

Emma glanced to her left – she couldn't help herself. She found Regina already scribbling down notes with a crease in her nose.

"Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck casting Viola onto an island and her assuming the identity of her twin brother. I don't know how many of you are also studying classics this year, but this is a common theme in a lot of Homer's work." Regina seemed to freeze at this, drawing Emma's eye to her again. "Does anyone want to tell us about that?"

The room went silent. Emma could feel Regina's entire body stiffening as she waited for Emma's hand to go up.

It didn't, though. Emma couldn't remember a single thing about Homer and his total obsession with people getting shipwrecked when she could smell Regina's perfume again. It had cast some kind of spell over her, and she was stuck.

Astrid's voice continued rambling on ahead of them, and Emma realised then that she was a goner. She couldn't listen to a single word. Her eyes were on Regina and they wouldn't snap away again, and the worst part was that she knew Regina could feel her watching – her body was rigid and uncertain and every now and then, she paused to glance to her right. They never made eye contact, but Emma was grateful for that – she was fairly certain she'd fall apart completely if they did.

But then their non-contact was interrupted. Astrid had noticed on day one of the semester that the blonde girl at the back of the room often struggled to keep up with what they were discussing, and instead of giving her space or extra support like a normal person, she'd decided to go exactly the opposite way. Her beady eyes sought Emma out roughly 30 times a seminar, and if it looked like she wasn't at the same place as the rest of the class, she tried to help. She tried to help loudly.

"Emma," she called from the front of the room, just like she always fucking did. "What do you think?"

Emma blinked. She'd been zoned out for the past five minutes.

"...about what?" she asked, deciding that pretending to know what was going on would only make things worse. Beside her, she heard Regina sigh.

Astrid laughed awkwardly. "About how disguise and deception is thematically important to the play."

"Deception," Emma said dully. Regina flinched immediately, like she was expecting another one of their public arguments. Emma wasn't in the mood for that, though. Her heart was still sore. "Well, if it drives the plot and no one really got hurt by it, I guess it must be important. Right?"

It was the most embarrassingly lacklustre answer she'd ever come up with. Even Astrid grimaced. When Emma glanced to her left and saw that Regina's pen had stopped writing, she sighed and tried again.

"Although I guess Viola's disguise does cause a lot of… sexual confusion," she said, waving her hand as she grasped at the words. "And while she wasn't intending for that to happen, it still did. So I guess you have to ask whether a lack of bad intentions is a good enough excuse to make up for all the drama she caused, or whether the fact that she deceived everyone for the entire play just makes her a slightly questionable character."

It was one of those occasions where she was just rambling, hoping that her thoughts were coherent enough to make it look like she knew what she was talking about, but it seemed to work. Astrid was beaming, and Regina's pen was moving again. Emma thought she saw a smile in the way she was biting her cheek.

"Good point," Astrid said, turning back to the rest of the class. Emma exhaled, sinking down in her chair. "That actually leads us quite nicely into the activity I wanted you all to do next."

She began passing out sheets with a photocopied extract from the play on them.

"I want you to analyse this piece of text while focusing on the theme of deception – we're going to be discussing it in detail in five minutes. If you need any help, just wave me over – Professor Mills is also available to answer any questions."

Regina's head snapped up. "Well, Shakespeare isn't my area of expertise, but... Yes, fine."

The pile of papers reached the back of the classroom and Emma shakily took one. She passed the remainder of them to Regina without looking at her.

Regina took her own and passed the sheets across to the next row. When she turned back, Emma could feel her indecision radiating from her like it was made of nuclear waste.

Emma bent over her paper and immediately started scribbling notes onto it. The rest of the class seemed to be working in groups of two or three, but sitting alone at the back of the room, Emma was left to fend for herself.

Regina cleared her throat, and when Emma looked up, she found her watching her. Her eyes were dark and warm.

"Do you…" Regina started. She paused uncertainly. "Do you need any help with the assignment?"

White noise filled Emma's skull. Did she? Could she cope with sitting beside Regina again, their knees nearly touching, her red-painted fingernails tapping at words on the page to try and draw Emma's attention to some hidden meaning beneath them? Could Emma get an inch closer to her lips and her glossy hair without losing her mind and hurling herself at her in front of everyone?

She swallowed and heard herself say, "No."

For a second, Regina's face fell. She opened her mouth like she was going to insist. But then she glanced toward the front of the room, saw Astrid tottering around with an inane grin on her face, and just shrugged.

"Alright."

She pushed herself to her feet and walked across to the other side of the room, leaning against the desk of another set of unwitting students who hadn't asked for her assistance.

Emma groaned and slumped down in her chair, her eyes on the jumble of words in front of her.

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,

wherein the pregnant enemy does much.

Emma scoffed, only then realising just how little she cared.

The rest of the class was agonising. When Regina returned to her seat, she edged the chair further away from Emma. The new distance between them made her heart pull.

Emma forced herself not to look over at her again, but she could feel her warmth beside her and all she wanted to do was burrow against her and breathe it in. She didn't know when she'd turned into such a soft, needy mess, but just the memory of what it had been like to wake up to the feeling of Regina's fingers gently brushing her hair away from her face made every muscle in her body clench. Missing it all so much was exhausting.

As soon as Astrid dismissed them, Regina hopped up from her seat and approached the desk at the front of the room. She started talking to Astrid in a quiet voice, leaving Emma alone at the back of the room to silently wish she was dead.

She grabbed her books and forced them into her bag, hating Regina and hating that fucking class and hating absolutely everything. She couldn't bear the fact that this was what it was going to be like for the rest of the semester – tiny moments that made her chest hurt and eye contact that said so much and nothing at all. She only had a few weeks left until finals, and then what? A summer spent totally alone, followed by a year of no Regina at all? Would she even come back to campus? How was Emma supposed to prepare for that if they couldn't even talk anymore?

She thought back to the message bubble that had told her that Regina had been trying to reach out to her, and she sighed. She grabbed her bag and hurried toward the door because she needed to be out Regina's proximity before it killed her.

"Emma!"

For fuckity fucking shit's sake.

She turned to find Astrid watching her hopefully. Beside her, Regina looked like she was about to cry.

"Yes?" Emma asked, taking a slow step back toward them. She purposefully kept her gaze on Astrid so that Regina's pleading eyes wouldn't tip her over the edge.

"I just wanted to say that I was impressed with your work today," Astrid said. She was being kind and Emma knew that she should appreciate it, but she still gritted her teeth. She had no idea why this woman had latched onto her so hard when there were plenty of other people in their seminar who did the work so much better than she did.

She smiled tightly. "Thanks."

"How did you find Twelfth Night?"

Emma was vibrating with the need to run away, so she answered shortly, "It was fine."

Astrid frowned at once. "Fine?"

"Yes."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm good."

"You sure? You seem a little distracted."

Regina shifted position beside her, and finally Emma looked at her. Their eyes met, and deep inside them Emma saw a spark of regret that made her toes curl. She knew then why Regina had been trying to text her the other night – because she missed her. Because she wanted to say sorry.

The realisation tasted sharp and bitter like a lemon that had already been cut for days, but Emma swallowed it down. She looked back at Astrid with a fake smile.

"I'm fine," she said. "Really. Just got a lot on my mind."

"Do you need to talk about it?"

There was literally no one in the world who Emma wanted to spill her secrets to less than this hot mess of a woman, but Regina spoke before she could blurt that out and ruin her grade in yet another class.

"I think Miss Swan would rather get home and talk to her friends than us."

Maybe she was trying to be helpful – Emma wasn't sure. But for some reason the words made her snap like a matchstick, and she found herself glaring back at her.

"And I think that Professor Mills needs to stop assuming stuff."

Both Regina and Astrid blinked at her. Astrid looked like she was about to speak, but Regina got there first.

"I beg your pardon?" she asked, straightening her shoulders under her obnoxious black blazer.

"You heard me," Emma said. "Astrid was being understanding and kind and it's not up to you to interrupt with your own thoughts. No one asked you."

The rage that flickered across Regina's face was white-hot. "I was trying to help."

"I don't need your help," Emma snapped. She had no idea what she was saying or why she was saying it, but Regina was there, right there in front of her, and she'd missed the fire in her eyes whenever Emma said something that particularly pissed her off. She'd missed it almost as much as the fire that burned when she grabbed Emma by the back of her head and forced her down between her legs.

She shook the thought out of her head before Regina could sense it lingering.

"That may be the case," Regina said coldly. It was her most dangerous voice – her most stomach-curdlingly terrifying one – and Astrid turned to look at her with wide eyes. "But that doesn't mean you need to be so belligerent about it."

"Someone telling you they're not interested in your opinion doesn't automatically make them belligerent, Professor. It just makes them tired of you."

Regina actually gasped at that.

"You don't get to talk to me like that!" she said, her voice shrill and furious. Astrid took a step back from them. "How dare you? Who do you think you are?"

Emma thrust her chin in the air. "I'm no one. Surely you know that already."

"Emma…" Astrid said, reaching out to try and touch her arm, but Emma was already pulling back.

"I'm out of here."

Before she'd even turned, she knew Regina would call her back. "Get back here right now, Miss Swan."

Emma responded in the way that she knew would infuriate Regina the most: without saying a word. Instead, she lifted her hand and threw her middle finger back over her shoulder as she sauntered out the door, her heart pounding when she heard Regina's outraged intake of breath.

It didn't make Emma feel any better. Not even for a second.


What the hell was that?

The text was waiting for her when she got back to her room. She rolled her eyes and shoved her phone to one side.

15 minutes later, it buzzed again.

Emma. You know I could have you suspended for that.

That was exactly the kind of hyperbole Emma had been expecting from her. She didn't reply. She was aching. She felt grey.

Why are you doing this? Regina asked 10 minutes later. Are you trying to get me in trouble?

Emma didn't reply to that either. She honestly didn't know why she was doing anything anymore.

Chapter Text

Killian arranged their date for Friday night. Emma had tried to gently push for a day earlier in the week so it wouldn't feel more serious than it needed to be, but he wouldn't be swayed. He told her to meet him at some fancy burger restaurant just north of campus at eight, and he told her how much he was looking forward to seeing her. Emma got ready for the evening feeling pretty much like the worst person in the whole world.

Still, she made an effort: she washed and curled her hair and she wore her nicest jeans. She also shaved herself free of the body hair that had grown rampant during her weeks of self-pitying and self-loathing – partly because she really needed to snap herself out of it, and partly because she was a firm believer in the fact that shaving your legs meant you wouldn't be getting any action at all that night.

She took one last look at herself in the mirror and sighed. It felt like she was going to her own hanging.

When she arrived at the restaurant, Killian was already waiting for her. He wasn't carrying flowers, she was relieved to see, but he had washed and combed his hair and he was wearing a proper button-down shirt beneath his leather jacket.

"Swan," he beamed at her. "You look great."

He looked so genuinely happy to see her that it broke Emma's heart. "Thanks. You do too."

He leaned forward to kiss her cheek. "I just went in to check on our reservation, but they said it'll be a 20-minute wait. Are you happy to sit at the bar for a bit?"

"Sure," Emma said, letting him lead the way inside. She'd never been to that restaurant before, but she'd managed to coax Regina into ordering takeout from it once. Regina had insisted until she was blue in the face that she'd hated it, but Emma had caught her licking her fingers clean as soon as all the fries were gone.

The thought made her ache.

They perched at the bar and ordered a rum and a whisky apiece. Two seconds later, they fell into silence.

"So…" Emma said, the word whooshing from between her lips. "Here we are. You convinced me."

Killian's grin was wide and cheeky. "I did. Are you glad that you finally succumbed to my charms?"

"Should I be? I feel like I should have been swept off my feet by now."

"Ah, we'll get there. You've definitely swept me off of mine already," Killian replied, lifting his glass in a toast. "I knew you didn't really hate me."

"I don't think I ever said that."

"Would you be here if you did?"

"Sure. I mean, insulting you is a pretty good way to spend my Friday night. Maybe I'm planning to text Mulan all your secrets under the table."

Killian chuckled, running a hand through his hair. "I'll be very wary of the deep, dark secrets that I spill, in that case."

"Damn," Emma sighed dramatically. "If you're not going to give me any juice then maybe I should just take my leave now?"

"I guess that's for the best."

"Great. But I have to say, this is still the best date I've been on in a while."

Killian let out a laugh, but it was followed by a pause. Somehow Emma knew what he was going to say before the words came out.

"I guess the last date you went on was with your mystery girl."

Emma immediately narrowed her eyes at him. "Sorry?"

"I mean, I'm assuming."

"Assuming what?"

"There was a girlfriend. Right?" Killian asked slowly. "You were always texting someone and you looked really happy and I know you and Mulan got into a fight about it when we went out for your birthday. Then suddenly all of that just… stopped."

Emma couldn't really deny any of it, but she fell silent anyway. Mostly she was just thrown that Killian – the most self-absorbed person she'd ever met in her life – had actually noticed any of it.

When she didn't respond, Killian tentatively asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Do you want to know?"

"Sure. I mean, you seem sad," Killian said. He tried to smile. "Have you got someone to talk to about it all?"

"Not really," Emma admitted. Mulan knew, sort of, but they hadn't had a full conversation about it. Mary Margaret had an inkling that something had gone wrong, but she'd learned after three years of friendship that it was best to keep out of Emma's way when she was crashing around swearing and throwing pillows. "I mean, no one's asked."

Killian smiled more brightly. "Well, I'm asking. If you want to talk."

And weirdly, she kind of did. She wanted to spill it all out over the bar like a glass of liquor. But there were two very good reasons why she couldn't – one, because she couldn't get lulled into a false sense of security and tell Killian things that could still very well get her and Regina into trouble. And two, because right at that second, she was supposed to be on a date. Maybe it had been a while since she'd dealt with one of those, but she knew she was supposed to be making an effort, not crying over an ex-girlfriend whose name she couldn't even say out loud.

She smiled back at him. "That's really nice of you to ask, Killian, but I'm good – I think just being out with you is helping."

The way that Killian's face lit up at that made Emma feel like a monster. "It is?"

"Yeah. But really – thanks for asking."

"No problem," he replied. "I know I put up this front of being a bit of a playboy, but I'm actually not that terrible."

Emma was starting to realise that he might be right. "You think you're a playboy, Jones?"

"The best on campus," Killian grinned back at her. "I'm notorious."

"Is that so? Why don't you tell me about one of your wild exploits, then."

"Ah, now. I wouldn't want to make you jealous."

"Try me – I'm made of strong stuff."

"Hm," Killian pretended to think. "I guess there's also the possibility that your wild envy might make you want me even more."

Emma snorted directly into her glass of whisky. "That's totally possible, yeah."

Killian launched into a long story about the hottest girl he'd ever seen in his life, who he'd met at a frat party and ended up having sex with in the garden. He tried to make it sound beautiful and romantic, but all Emma could do was laugh as he recounted the way that the girl had gotten up off the floor as soon as they were done and walked off without bothering to give him her name.

"How do you even get girls like that to sleep with you?" Emma asked.

"You want me to tell you my secret?"

"I really do."

"Well," Killian said, leaning forward with a conspiratorial glint in his eye. "If you put out enough obnoxious swagger, eventually girls start to think that you're charming instead of just annoying."

"Eventually?"

"Yep," Killian said cheerily. "With that girl, it took 20 minutes – with you, it took nearly a whole year. But it always works. It's fool proof."

Emma shook her head. "Basically you're saying that your technique is to just wear us down."

"It works," Killian repeated, and he had the audacity to actually wink. And yet, Emma still didn't mind all that much – she wasn't suddenly longing for him, nor was she planning to give him more than a kiss on the cheek at the end of this. She suspected that, actually, Killian might have known that too. Maybe he just enjoyed the feeling of aggressively flirting with someone who found everything he did absolutely ridiculous.

"Mr Jones?" the waiter suddenly said from behind them. They turned to find him waiting with two menus. "Your table is ready."

They both grabbed their drinks and hopped to their feet, staring to follow him across the room. Emma's footsteps felt marginally lighter than they had done when she'd been approaching the restaurant.

As they were walking, another waiter came toward them. He was trying to cross their path with an armful of laden plates, and Emma stopped abruptly to let him pass. As she did, someone crashed into her shoulder.

She turned and started to say, "Oh, sorry. I—"

Then she stopped. Everything inside her turned to cement.

Regina stared back at her.

"Oh," she said, blinking furiously like she hoped that would make Emma disappear. "It's you."

Emma fought against the perverse urge to laugh out loud. Of course Regina was there. Of course she couldn't leave her alone for one fucking night.

Emma looked down and saw that Regina was clutching a bag of takeout against her stomach. She was wearing her comfy house jeans, and when Emma glanced up again she realised that she wasn't wearing any lipstick.

She looked tiny and sad, and she was staring back at Emma like her world had just fallen off its axis.

"Hey," Emma said slowly, all too aware of the fact that the last time they'd spoken had been during yet another screaming match in the middle of a classroom. "Sorry, I… didn't see you."

Regina nodded sharply. She looked like she was about to make her excuses and walk away, but then her gaze was drawn to something over Emma's shoulder.

Emma heard the footsteps behind her and instantly flinched.

"Hey, Professor Mills," Killian said cheerfully. "You like this place too?"

Regina's eyes had gone suddenly glassy, and it hurt. It hurt Emma to look at her stupid, selfish reflection in them.

"Yes, I…" Regina said, dragging her gaze away. Emma knew what she was thinking: they looked good together. Killian and Emma were the same age and were wearing matching black leather jackets and they might have even been wearing the same brand of eyeliner. Maybe they should have been together all along. It made sense, didn't it?

Or at the very least, it made a whole hell of a lot more sense than Emma and Regina had ever done.

That didn't matter, though. Not to Emma. Killian's presence behind her made her palms sweat, and not in a good way – not in the same way that Regina made her entire body go hot and prickly and a little bit weak.

At her silence, Killian prompted, "It's good, right? What did you order?"

Regina shot him a look that told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted to murder him, then ignored the question entirely. She looked back at Emma with no expression at all on her face.

"I'll leave you both to it," she said. The flatness in her voice made Emma stiffen. "Enjoy your date."

She turned and walked out, her shoulders pushed back so far it looked painful.

Emma watched her go, her stomach squeezing. She longed to reach out for her and pull her back and say sorry even though she knew she had absolutely nothing to apologise for – Regina had broken up with her. She'd even told her she could date other people if that's what she wanted. Emma was just moving on and it wasn't fair for Regina to throw her those goddamn doe eyes when she knew how powerless she was to resist them.

But it was so very hard to care about any of that when she could still smell Regina's perfume lingering and picture the way her fingers had been curled so shamefully around her lonely meal for one.

"Emma?" Killian asked from behind her. "Shall we sit down?"

Emma still didn't move. Regina had vanished through the door and was probably already throwing herself into her car so she could get away from that place as quickly as possible, but Emma still wanted to go after her. She was sad and she was angry and she was sorry and it was all bubbling up inside her like acid reflux.

"Emma?"

With a sigh, Emma turned back to Killian and said, "Can you give me a second?"

Weirdly, Killian didn't even look confused by that. He just raised his eyebrows and asked, "You're going to talk to her?"

"Sorry – I just…" She struggled to think of a plausible reason and eventually came up with, "I have a question about our final exam and I might as well ask her while she's here."

It wasn't even close to being a good excuse, but Killian's expression didn't waver. He just shrugged.

"Sure," he said, gesturing to the booth behind them. "I'll wait at our table."

Nodding tightly, Emma turned and hurried out the door. It wasn't quite summer again yet and the air was still sharp and crisp, and she let herself stand for a second in the chilly air as she tried to locate Regina's car.

It was still there on the other side of the parking lot, sitting in the shadows with its lights off. Emma took a deep breath and started to walk over, not bothering to rush because she knew Regina would see her.

She was still 20 paces away when the door opened and Regina climbed out with a sigh.

Slamming the door behind her, Regina leaned back against it and folded her arms, watching as Emma approached. Her eyes were dark and untrusting, and Emma could see an anxious twitch in the corner of her mouth.

When Emma was five feet away, Regina asked, "Have you come out to yell at me again?"

Emma rolled her eyes immediately. "No."

"Then what do you want?"

"Oh, that's a really nice greeting," Emma replied, crossing her own arms. "You're the one who just ran out of a restaurant nearly in tears. I wanted to check you're okay."

"I wasn't nearly in tears," Regina snapped, although Emma could still see a miserable glimmer in her eye. "I just wanted to get away from the stench of rum and cheap aftershave."

"Come on. You can do better than that," Emma said flatly. Regina was still leaning against the car and she looked tiny and uncertain, but she was still trying her damn best to gain the upper hand. Emma kind of admired her for that.

"Than what?" Regina asked.

"Than that. Throwing cheap insults at Killian to try and cover up how you're really feeling."

"I'm not feeling anything, except maybe annoyed. My food is getting cold while you're wittering on at me."

"Go, then," Emma said, not blinking. She knew Regina wouldn't do it – she wouldn't even be tempted. Whatever her issue was, she wasn't one to run away from a really juicy fight.

Just as Emma suspected, Regina simply glared back at her. "And let you win? I don't think so."

"There's nothing to win, Regina. This isn't a game. Are you that pissed off that I came here with him?"

"I don't care what you do."

"Don't you?" Emma asked, taking a step closer. "You broke up with me. You decided to end things. You don't get to follow me around looking all sad and betrayed just because I'm actually trying to move on."

"I'm not following you," Regina said at once. "I just happened to be here. It's not my fault you introduced me to these goddamn burgers."

"You're seriously angry about that?"

"I'm not angry!" Regina snapped, her voice echoing around the deserted parking lot. When Emma's eyebrows rose, she took a breath and said at a lower volume, "I'm not. I was just taken by surprise and I can't believe that out of everyone in the world, you're choosing to get over me with him."

"It's really none of your business who I choose to go out with – you wanted this, remember? You haven't called or told me anything about what your plans might be for next year, so I just assumed things weren't going to change. Was I wrong?"

Regina glared back at her. Her fists were bunched by her sides.

"That's what I thought," Emma said flatly. "You know I didn't want any of this, so stop acting like I'm at fault. I'm just doing what you asked and trying to keep a distance."

"Was stopping to yell at me in front of one of my PhD students keeping a distance?" Regina demanded. Against her will, Emma felt herself flinch.

"That…" she started. "I shouldn't have done that. That was stupid. I just got mad and I—"

"You behaved like a child," Regina interrupted, and just like that Emma's rage was blossoming inside her once more.

"You do not have the moral high ground here," Emma snapped, stepping closer. "I lost my temper, sure, but I don't think you can really hold me entirely responsible for that."

"Who else is responsible?" Regina spluttered. "Take some ownership over your own stupid behaviour, Emma. I'm not here to bail you out anymore."

"You've never been there to bail me out!" Emma exploded. "Throughout all of this, I was always the one calming you down and telling you things would be okay and being patient whenever you had one of your little hissy fits. You like to act so high and mighty, Professor, but you were always the child in this relationship, not me."

Regina was breathing hard through her nose, and her eyes were sharp and unforgiving. "Take that back."

Emma could have laughed. Instead, she lifted her chin and looked Regina dead in the eye.

"Make me," she said coldly. She was half expecting Regina to punch her, and the worst part was that she didn't even care if she did.

Instead, Regina stepped forward and grabbed the front of Emma's shirt with one fist, tugging her into a hard, closed-mouth kiss that stole the breath from Emma's body. She froze, her eyes still open and blinking, and waited for Regina to promptly shove her away again. When she didn't – when her lips got softer and the tension in her muscles began to fade ever so slightly – Emma lifted her hand and rested it on Regina's waist.

When she felt herself being touched again, Regina sighed and kissed her harder, rising up onto the balls of her feet so she could grip the back of Emma's neck. Emma stepped closer and shoved her back against the car, holding her there with her hips and glittering under the feeling of her wriggling and grinding against her once more.

They kissed for a solid minute before Emma remembered where they were and who was waiting for her inside. When she did, she abruptly stepped backward. Regina was out of breath and staring up at her like she'd thought her world was just coming together again right before it was cruelly torn apart.

Emma ran a shaking hand over her hair.

"What…" she started to ask, pausing to clear her throat. "What do you want from me?"

She already knew the answer – she could see it swimming in Regina's eyes like something floating just beneath the surface of the ocean.

Regina reached up to touch her tingling lips. She shook her head.

"I don't…" she started to say, but she didn't get any further. Emma waited for a minute before groaning to herself.

"Regina," she muttered. "You're fucking impossible."

"I know," Regina replied. She didn't sound sorry.

"Do you want to forget this happened?"

Regina's eyes hardened. "No."

That single word lit Emma's chest up with longing and with terror.

She took a step closer. "Do you… want me to come home with you?"

She waited for rejection, but instead she received a nod. "Yes. Please."

Everything inside Emma told her this was a bad idea, but she couldn't listen to her own reasoning anymore. She could taste Regina again, and she somehow knew that this wasn't a one-time thing that Regina would adamantly deny come morning. They'd missed each other to the point of pain for weeks, and it was so obvious that Regina was tired of feeling like that. She was tired of being alone when the person she so desperately wanted to be with was right there, right across from her, so willing to come back and risk absolutely everything if only she would be the one who was brave enough to ask.

Emma saw Regina visibly steel herself before she repeated, "Please. Come home."

A pool of warmth trickled down from Emma's abdomen, and she couldn't even think about saying no.

"Wait in the car," she said quietly. "I just need to… make up an excuse."

Regina nodded. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure," Emma said. "I'm totally sure. I'll be five minutes, okay?"

"Okay."

Emma turned abruptly and marched back toward the restaurant, because panic and excitement and a hot longing that felt like fire were all battling together inside her and if she didn't go and talk to Killian right that second, she might not make it back inside at all. She could hear the Mercedes door opening and closing and all she wanted to do was turn back and dive into the driver's seat and spend the next 15 minutes riding Regina's greedy fingers right there in the parking lot, but no: she'd made a mistake coming to dinner in the first place, and she wasn't about to make another one.

She pushed the restaurant door open and approached the booth. Killian was sprawled out in his seat, one arm thrown over the back, and he'd nearly finished his drink.

"Hey," Emma said, reaching his side. He looked up with a faint smile.

"How did it go?"

"What? Oh, fine," Emma said, sliding into the seat opposite him. Her cheeks were flushed and she felt ever so slightly faint. At least that would help her lie be more convincing. "I just… I don't feel great."

Killian looked back at her without expression. "Really?"

"Yeah," Emma breathed. "I didn't feel too good earlier but now—"

"Professor Mills has that effect on a lot of people," Killian said. He didn't look concerned or even annoyed – if anything, he looked slightly amused.

Emma frowned. "Right…"

"So, you want to go home?"

"I'm sorry – I think so."

"Okay."

That was it – just okay. In spite of everything, Emma couldn't help but feel a little offended.

"Really?"

"Sure," Killian said, shrugging. "I'd offer to get a cab with you, but I have a feeling you're about to tell me that you're fine getting home by yourself."

Emma opened her mouth and then slowly closed it again. "I don't…?"

"Unless you do want me to?"

"No," Emma blurted out at once. Killian chuckled loudly.

"Yeah, I knew that. I was trying to save you from having to make up another excuse."

Emma's hands were still shaking from Regina's furious kisses and she desperately wanted to get back outside so they could share another one, but she forced herself to ask, "Killian, what are you talking about?"

The smile Killian offered her was soft and slightly wistful.

"It's fine, Swan," he said, nodding toward the door. "I know."

"You know what?"

"I know where you're going," he said. "She's hotter than me, anyway. I could never compete."

Emma's mouth honest to God fell open. "You… What?"

"What?" he asked. "You think I didn't know?"

"Didn't know—?"

"You don't have to play dumb," he interrupted her feeble attempt at a question. "I see the way you look at each other. I've seen it all year. I know you have history and that's kind of why I kept asking you out – it was pretty obvious once everything was over between you two, and I thought you might need a friend."

Emma nearly choked. "Killian. You've known this whole time?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"Does anyone else know?"

"Not that I'm aware of. I'm guessing Mulan has an idea, but that had nothing to do with me," Killian said. "I guess spending my whole year staring at you and waiting for you to fall desperately in love with me paid off in its own way."

Weirdly, Emma didn't feel scared by any of that. Maybe it was because they were so close to the end of the semester or maybe it was because Killian had had so many chances to out her but hadn't even considered it, but all she felt was relief. She slumped back against her seat with a laugh.

"I can't believe you knew."

"My dashing good looks tend to distract people from my incredible intelligence," Killian smirked. Then he nodded toward the door again. "It's fine. Alright, Swan? Go on. You should go see her."

Emma reached across the table and snatched up his hand. When she squeezed, he squeezed right back.

"I never actually hated you, you know."

"I know," he said cheerfully. "And if Professor Hot Stuff hadn't come along, maybe I would have won your heart eventually. But at the moment it seems like it's very much taken, so go on. She's waiting for you."

Fighting the urge to cry with gratitude, Emma nodded and hurled herself back out of the booth. She reached into her pocket for two crumpled twenties and handed them to him.

"Dinner's on me," she said. She half expected him to refuse it, but he snatched the money up gleefully.

"Perfect. I'll finish your drink as well, I think."

Emma snorted and reached over to hug him, before turning and all but running for the door. When she got outside, she found Regina waiting right where she said she would be.


The second the front door was shut, Emma felt herself being forced up against it. Regina's hands were grabby and demanding and Emma didn't tell her to slow down, because they had weeks of lost time to make up for and she was all too happy to dive into that immediately. She reached up for Regina's jacket and tugged it from her body, then slipped her hands around her waist and began to guide her backward.

"Where?" Regina muttered against the corner of her mouth. Her hands had crept up the back of Emma's shirt and her nails were already digging into her skin.

"Bedroom," Emma forced out. She wanted to drag Regina over to the living room and just start there, but she'd missed her too much for an uncomfortable screw on the couch. She wanted her laid out, spread open, beautiful and ready and willing, and the best place for that was the cold, king-sized bed that was waiting for them upstairs. All the other rooms in the house could wait until after they were done there.

They managed to stagger up the stairs together and Regina kicked the bedroom door shut behind them. Emma felt herself being shoved toward the bed, her leather jacket being pulled from her as they moved, and when she fell to the mattress she was still half tangled up in the sleeves. She growled and tried to tug herself free, and Regina just laughed at her frustration.

"I swear you didn't used to be this impatient," she said as she crawled onto Emma's lap and pulled her upright. She began to help her out of the clingy fabric, and the second it was gone and Regina had tossed it onto the carpet, Emma wound her arms around her waist and flipped her round so she could roughly throw her onto the mattress.

Regina gasped, but she was already arching up into Emma's body. Her mouth was seeking out Emma's, and when they were joined again they both groaned with relief. Emma reached between them and hurriedly unbuttoned Regina's pants, pausing momentarily in case she was about to tell her to slow down, but if anything she just bucked up harder. Emma crawled back and yanked the jeans down her legs, taking her socks with them as she hurled them to the floor, before clambering back on top of Regina's squirming body.

Before Emma even reached between her thighs, she could feel how hot and wet she was. Her panties were soaked all up the front and her legs were spread wantonly, and Emma's body burned all over from the need to be between them.

She dipped her head and pressed her mouth against Regina's ear. "Move up."

But Regina was too busy gasping and grinding her hips against the fingers that were pressed over her panties to do as she was told. She whimpered at the fact that Emma wasn't kissing her anymore and reached down for her wrist, gripping it hard.

"Fuck me," she hissed through her teeth. Emma looks down at her and saw that her eyes were flashing.

She laughed through her nose. "Get up by the goddamn pillows and then maybe I will."

Releasing a growl that was nearly animalistic, Regina wriggled out from beneath her and lay herself down where Emma had instructed. Emma crawled after her, pausing to pull her own shirt off, and lay herself down on top of Regina's tightly coiled body.

"Open your mouth," she said. Regina did as she was told as once. Emma slid two fingers inside, knowing it was totally unnecessary when Regina was already so wet that her blue panties were stained navy, but desperately wanting to watch her take them deep between her lips. Regina's eyes flickered closed as she swirled her tongue around them, and when Emma pulled them free there was a thin strand of saliva trailing off them.

With a groan that reverberated through both of them, Emma reached down between their bodies and slipped her hand into Regina's panties. Regina's gasp was almost worth all the weeks of waiting.

Her head snapped back against the pillows as Emma slowly circled her clit. Regina's breathing was already short and stilted as Emma swirled the wetness around, watching the pleasure flicker over her flushed cheeks like it was her favourite movie. A second later, she thrust her fingers inside. Regina gasped at once, her back arching off the bed, and she reached out to grab at Emma's wrist and force her hand deeper.

"Harder," she begged, looking up just in time to see the awestruck smile on Emma's face. "Please, Emma. I'm already… I'm close."

That was the best thing she could possibly say, and Emma didn't hesitate. She thrust two fingers in again, adoring the way Regina's silky wetness slicked over them and coated her up to her knuckles, and then quickly pushed in a third. Regina spread her legs further and bucked her hips once, twice, and when Emma planted her thumb on her clit and pushed herself in harder, Regina visibly came apart. Her orgasm washed over her in a long gasp of air, and Emma wasn't surprised to find her blinking hard enough to send tears streaming down her cheeks.

As soon as she'd finished coming, Emma crawled forward and kissed her hard, tasting the salt on her lips before she moved up and kissed the tears away from her face. Regina laughed weakly, her hands still greedily seeking out Emma's waist so she could pull her closer. But before they could slot together again and kiss hard enough to make breathing impossible, Emma was pulling away, sliding down between Regina's thighs and pulling her panties off with steady hands.

Emma's entire chest filled up with love when Regina cried out at the feeling of her tongue sliding over her. Regina knotted one hand in her hair and fisted the other in the sheets, gasping and whimpering as Emma slowly, torturously circled her clit. Emma had worried that maybe she'd forgotten the taste of her, but she hadn't – it was right there on her tongue and in the back of her brain and it was as perfect as it had always been. Emma watched Regina the whole time – watched the way her shirt bunched up over her stomach as she writhed and panted, and the way her mouth kept opening like she was about to ask for something and then closed again when she realised Emma was already giving it to her. When Emma pushed back inside and probed deep, seeking out her G-spot and pressing the pads of her fingers against it, Regina's entire body started to tremble.

"Emma," she gasped, shoving her knuckles into her mouth to try and quieten herself. As she bit down, she forced out, "Another, another."

Emma obliged, pushing in a third finger and switching from circling her clit to slowly lapping over it with the flat of her tongue. At once, she felt Regina's body go rigid. Her eyes snapped open and with a long, high-pitched gasp that Emma wasn't sure she'd ever heard from her, she came in a gush that soaked Emma's hand and left her grinning.

Emma continued pumping her fingers in and out until Regina's body went loose against the sheets. Only then did she pull free and climb back up to the head of the bed.

Regina was staring up at the ceiling with glazed eyes, and when she realised she had Emma on top of her again, she just laughed. There were still tears clinging to her eyelashes.

"God," she said, her throat sounding dry. She swallowed. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Emma said, not caring that she sounded breathless and exhilarated when Regina was staring up at her like she might be her entire world. Just as Emma was thinking that, Regina reached out and brushed her hair back from her flushed face, tucking it behind her ear in the gentlest way possible.

"Can I show you how much?" Regina asked. At once, Emma was nodding.

"Please."

Regina immediately grabbed her waist and rolled her over onto her back, pausing to take off her own shirt and bra so she was naked as she straddled Emma's jeans. Emma sighed at the sight of her, choosing not to notice that she looked a little thinner than she had been the last time they'd been together and instead focusing on the warm glow in her face; the way her lips kept curving up in the corners even though she was trying to look seductive and serious. Emma rested her hands on the outside of her thighs and gently squeezed, and right away Regina was tumbling forward to kiss her, her glossy hair tickling Emma's forehead and cheeks.

They kissed slowly this time, the initial need to rush finally over, and Emma let her mouth be taken by the woman sitting on top of her. Regina's hands trailed down the front of her body, gently cupping and squeezing until they reached her jeans, and only then did she speed up and start to unbutton them. When she sat back to yank them off entirely, she frowned.

Emma pushed herself up onto her elbows. "What's wrong?"

Regina was trailing a finger down the front of her calf, and she struggled not to squirm. "Were you expecting to sleep with that Neanderthal?"

"No," Emma chuckled. "You don't know the rule?"

"What rule?"

"That if you shave your legs for a date, you've jinxed yourself against the possibility of actually having sex. I was trying to protect myself."

Regina snorted in her usual way. "You are utterly ridiculous. Also, it clearly doesn't work, does it?"

"Well, I don't know. He didn't get laid – and also, neither have I yet."

Emma hadn't known it was possible to miss someone arching an eyebrow so much.

"Yet," Regina repeated as she crawled lower, unhooking Emma's jeans from her feet and then gliding her hands up the front of her smooth legs. When she reached Emma's hips, she gripped hard and pulled.

Emma yelped as she was rolled over onto her stomach, then immediately went hot as she felt Regina's fingers curling into the band of her panties. They were removed, and then Regina reached up to quickly unhook Emma's bra. When Emma was completely naked, she hummed with satisfaction.

"Beautiful," she said softly, trailing a fingernail down Emma's spine and making goose pimples spring up across her body. Emma moaned and arched her back when Regina's hand reached the top of her ass.

"I hope all this is for me," Regina said as she delicately traced her finger through the wetness that was smeared between Emma's thighs. "And not him."

Emma lifted her head out of the pillows and laughed. "Jealousy doesn't suit you, you know."

"Oh no?" Regina asked coolly as she positioned herself between Emma's spread legs. "How about when it makes me do this?"

She shoved a finger into Emma's pussy abruptly enough to make her gasp. Emma could feel how slippery and welcoming her walls were and she arched her spine again, hoping that Regina would take the hint and know that she wanted another finger.

But Regina just tsked. "Use your words, Emma."

"Please," Emma moaned at once, bucking up. "More. Please."

Regina obliged, slipping a second finger inside and slowly starting to drive them in and out. The soles of Emma's feet instantly felt like they were sparking, and she tugged a pillow closer to her face so she could groan freely into the fabric.

"Get up," Regina suddenly said. "Onto your knees."

Emma shakily did as she was told, keeping her chest and faced pressed against the sheets. Regina left her fingers buried inside her as she moved, sending tremors through her entire body until she was in the right position. As soon as she was, Regina whipped them out and replaced them with her mouth.

"Oh, fuck," Emma blurted out as she felt the full width of Regina's tongue gliding over her cunt. "Fuck fuck shit."

Regina just hummed to herself and carried on, her sticky fingers holding Emma's hips in place as she ravished her pussy with her tongue. The sensations were too much all at once and Emma shot from feeling aroused to feeling this close to coming all down the insides of her own thighs within a split second. She nearly fell sideways when she realised how fast her orgasm was creeping up on her.

"Slow down," she gasped, but Regina didn't listen. Of course she didn't. She recognised the desperate squeak in Emma's voice and the way her toes were curling and the fact that her hands were frantically scrabbling around for something to cling onto. She felt Emma arch her spine so she could thrust her ass harder against her face, and she knew that 'slow down' really meant 'keep fucking going before I die right here'.

Emma felt Regina smirk against her pussy, and that was all it took to make her desperately needed orgasm erupt inside her like a firework. She didn't even make a sound, because her vocal cords had seized up from the sheer force of it. All she could do was shake and gasp and squeeze her eyes shut against the bright white stars that were flashing up in front of her, and through it all, there was Regina. Even as she trembled and whimpered, she could feel Regina holding her, guiding her through it in a gentle, loving way that totally contradicted the explosive way she'd made her needy nerve endings dance.

Chapter Text

When Emma woke up, she had to take a moment to get her bearings. She was in a bed she recognised, although it wasn't her own. Her stomach was grumbling from a lack of dinner the night before, and her glued-together eyelashes told her that she hadn't managed to take her mascara off before she'd passed out. After a pause, she realised she was naked, and when she tried to roll onto her back, a greedy arm weighed her down.

She eventually managed to turn, and she found Regina cuddled up beside her. There was make-up smeared under both her eyes, and Emma could tell from the funk that was hanging in the room that neither of them had brushed their teeth the night before. Emma slipped out from under the covers and padded over to the bathroom before Regina could wake up.

She'd washed her face and was halfway through cleaning her teeth when she heard a small, startled voice call out, "Emma?" from the next room.

Emma spat out her mouthful of toothpaste and replied, "One sec." She finished up and went back into the bedroom to find Regina sitting upright, her hair an adorable bird's nest and the covers pulled up to her chest. She looked worried, and Emma had to resist the urge to run toward her.

"What's wrong?" she asked as she clambered back into bed. Regina rubbed a hand over her face and grimaced when the remains of last night's mascara came off on it.

"I just… thought you'd left," she replied. Emma grabbed her and tugged her back down to the pillows immediately, and Regina didn't hesitate before curling up against her side.

"You've gotten needier since the last time I was here," Emma commented lightly, which made Regina scoff.

"I have not. It's just alarming to wake up and find someone missing."

"I was in the bathroom. Like, 10 feet away. Surely you could hear me."

Regina just muttered something under her breath and snuggled closer, her mouth warm against Emma's collarbone.

After a beat, Emma asked, "Besides, why would I have left?"

Regina tensed up, just like Emma knew she would. It took a long time before she replied.

"I don't know. You might have changed your mind."

Emma pondered that for a second before she said, "You know we need to talk about this."

"I do. Can I clean my teeth first, though?"

"That depends – are you only doing it so you can put off having this conversation?"

"Partly. But no, mostly because I feel disgusting."

"You could never be disgusting," Emma said, giving her a nudge. "Go on. I'll wait here."

She watched as Regina climbed out of bed and walked totally naked across to the bathroom. Even in spite of the difficult talk they were about to have, Emma couldn't help but sigh longingly at the sight of her.

When Regina returned, she had an anxious smile on her face. Emma could see the vein in her forehead struggling to pop through.

"Come here," Emma said, nodding to the space beside her. When Regina crawled back into bed and lay down on her side, Emma rolled over so they were face to face.

She opened her mouth to speak, but Regina got there first.

"I don't want to be without you again," she blurted out. Emma's entire body went warm.

"You don't?"

"No. I'll lose my job – I don't care. I'll quit tomorrow if that's the only way we can do this."

Emma couldn't help but laugh at Regina's natural flair for being as dramatic as humanly possible. "I don't think it's come to that."

"How's that?"

"Because although we were pretty crappy at sneaking around, we did still manage it for months before anyone realised what was going on. We got lazy and that's why everything went to shit, but I think we're out of the woods now – we're not going to make out in your office again, and we're not going to wander around campus holding hands. We can be careful. More careful," she corrected herself, because she was all too aware of how many times they'd had this conversation and immediately fucked things up anyway.

Regina wrinkled her nose, obviously thinking the same thing. "So we keep saying, and yet here we are."

"Regina, it's nearly the end of the semester. It'll be summer soon and then I'll be a senior and five seconds after that, I'll be graduating. But… I still don't know what your plans are. You haven't told me anything yet."

Regina's face dropped at that. Emma knew she wouldn't like her answer.

"I had another meeting with Gold last week," she said. Emma's heart instantly clenched.

"About—?"

"Not about us," Regina clarified. "As furious as he still seems to be about that situation, I think he's been forced to admit that it's over. He hasn't got anything on us, and if anyone's been watching then they'll know that you and I haven't been speaking for a while. So, no – you're safe."

"Okay," Emma swallowed. "Then… what?"

"Well," Regina said, shifting slightly. Her hand reached out to find Emma's on top of the covers. "I've been interviewing around."

Emma nodded. "Right."

"It's been ongoing for months, and there's been progress in some areas but unfortunately… not much. The college that I was most excited about still hasn't gotten back to me, so I've been holding out for them."

"Which college?"

The wrinkle in Regina's nose told Emma what her answer was going to be before it came. "I shouldn't say."

"Trying not to jinx it?"

Regina smiled faintly. "Something like that."

"Okay," Emma said, squeezing Regina's fingers between her own. "So what did Gold want?"

"Well, that's the hysterical thing," Regina said, although her voice was flat and it was clear she didn't find any of this funny at all. "You know that all professors have to undergo student evaluations at the end of every semester?"

"Yeah. I've filled out loads over the past month."

"Right. So, all of my classes evaluated me. And Mr Gold was… slightly shocked to learn that all of my reviews were positive."

Emma blinked. "But that's good, isn't it?"

Regina's face flickered again. Emma suddenly realised what she was about to say.

"He's offered me a permanent position, Emma," Regina said quietly. "Dr Hopper is coming back in the fall, but there's room in the department for me to stay on full-time. I'd get my own classes and I'd stay at Boston for the foreseeable future."

That meant Emma's final year at college. Her senior year, with Regina still on campus and their relationship still being a complete liability to everyone.

Emma's heart felt heavy.

"Right," she said, then heard how sullen she sounded. She forced a smile, because no matter how awful this news was for her, it was still great for the other person in the room. "Well, that's amazing – well done."

"Don't congratulate me," Regina sighed. "I have no idea what to do."

"You haven't given him an answer yet?"

"No. I said I needed time to think about it, which pissed him off immensely, but he agreed to give me until the end of next week."

"And do you think this other college will have gotten back to you by then?"

Regina sighed, rolling onto her back with her fingers still tangled up in Emma's. As she moved, Emma saw the teary gleam in her eye.

"I have no idea," she said miserably. "I want it so badly, Emma. I don't want to give up and settle for staying here when there's still a chance I could get it. But what if I wait and they say no, and then it's too late for me to work here too? Then I'll be unemployed for a whole year – colleges don't make a habit of randomly hiring professors midway through a semester, so unless someone suddenly gets pregnant or fired for sexually assaulting a student, I'll be stuck. I won't have anywhere to go."

Emma knew she was right. It was a huge gamble, and she could imagine from the way that Regina was desperately clinging onto this other college what a big deal it must be for her. The pair of them were running up against a wall, and on the other side there were only a few options: Regina staying at Boston and them having to wait an entire year before they could properly be together, or Regina ending up nowhere and Emma being half the reason for it.

Emma considered the other door they might be able to walk through – the one where Regina was offered a teaching position somewhere else, finally giving them the freedom to hold hands in public and not give a damn who saw them. A second later, though, Emma stepped back from it. She'd already learned that getting her hopes up was never a good idea.

"Regina," she said quietly, waiting until she'd turned to look at her with glassy eyes. "Do you like working here?"

"Of course I do."

"And if it weren't for me, would you take Gold's offer?"

Regina's expression flickered. "If it weren't for you, I probably wouldn't have had the drive to apply anywhere else in the first place. So yes, I would."

"Then you should take it," Emma said. "Wait for this other college, obviously, but if the offer of a full-time teaching position at a good school has been laid out in front of you, you'd be stupid not to accept."

"But…" Regina said, gnawing on her lower lip. "What about us?"

"I'm not going anywhere," Emma replied. "Not unless you want me to, although I kind of hope we're done with that now. But I'm not taking classics next year, which means you won't be my professor anymore, and if I have to spend one more year avoiding you and only seeing you on weekends, then fine. That's what I'll do."

Regina smiled, her expression soft and disbelieving. "Seriously?"

"You're worth it," Emma said simply. "All of it. Every moment."

When she thought Regina genuinely might cry, she squeezed on her hand again.

"But," she continued before Regina could interrupt. "I have a condition."

"What's that?"

"This thing we do, where we fight and stop talking to each other for weeks at a time because one of us got scared – that has to stop. If we're going to do this then we have to be actual grown-ups about it. I don't want you to suddenly break up with me again at the start of next semester because you've started freaking out about it."

Regina opened her mouth like she was about to protest, but then she stopped herself. She looked sheepish.

"That's fair," she said softly. "Emma, you're too adult for me."

"I know – it's ridiculous, isn't it?"

Regina laughed, rolling onto her side once more so she could kiss Emma gently. The action was soft and full of love, but when she pulled away, she looked sad.

"So…" she started, waiting until she had Emma's eyes on her before she finished that horrible sentence. "We're just… back where we were."

And in spite of how happy Emma was to be there, right back by Regina's side, it was a flat conclusion. She had to force a smile because a genuine one wouldn't come to her.

"Yeah," she replied. "I guess we are."

When Regina looked back at her with her lips slightly pouted and her eyes still watery, Emma added, "But I wouldn't be anywhere else."

That, at least, made Regina smile. "You wouldn't?"

"Of course not. No matter how shitty this situation is, I'm not bailing. If I have to wait a year to be with you properly, then I will. If I have to wait 10, I'll do that too."

Regina's smile became infinitely cheekier. "10 years? Oh, God – please don't tell me you're considering staying at Boston to do a doctorate."

"I might be," Emma said grandly. "I think I've finally developed that love of Homer you've been going on about all year."

"You're going to become a doctor of classics?" Regina asked, and there was no fucking need for her to laugh as hard as she did.

"I am now," Emma said, edging forward so she could kiss her again. "Just to spite you."

"I won't accept you onto my course."

"I'll go straight to the top. I hear Mr Gold likes me – he'll let me in without even submitting an application."

Regina suddenly grabbed her around the waist and pinned her down to the mattress, her face alive with giggles and stupid relief. "I really think you might be the dumbest person I've ever met."

"I get that a lot," Emma grinned back at her. When Regina bent her head and kissed her, the world that had been so grey and uncertain for the past few weeks finally burst into technicolour.

Regina was still smiling even as she said, "It's going to be a tough year."

"I know. But I'm ready for it."

"You're sure?"

Emma nodded. "Of course. If you're there with me, I'm ready for anything."

Chapter Text

Emma's last ever classics seminar brought with it a sick sense of dread. It wasn't just because it was an unwanted sign that finals were about to start and the next few weeks of her life would be sheer, unadulterated hell – mostly it was because it was her last class with Regina, and she couldn't be entirely certain how things would be between them once that was over.

As weird and tense as their year together had been, Emma couldn't pretend that she wouldn't miss it. The tension in their classes has been nerve-wracking, but it had also been the most exciting thing to ever happen to her. The thought of her senior year stretching ahead of her like an empty road with no gas stations made her feel utterly hollow.

She knew Regina felt the same, because she'd messaged her the night before the class.

No funny business tomorrow.

Emma smirked automatically. Even via text, she could hear Regina's obnoxiously faux formal tone.

As if I would do that, Emma had replied. I'm always the professional one.

You're a little liar. How do you feel?

About our last class? Weird, Emma admitted. I'm going to miss them. That's probably stupid, though.

It's not stupid – I'm going to miss them too, Regina had replied, sending relief throbbing through Emma's body. As risky and difficult as it's been, it's been the best year of my life. I'd do it all again, you know.

There was a long pause as Emma tried not to squeal her excitement into a pillow. As she vibrated with joy, another message came through.

Now I sound like an idiot.

You are an idiot, Emma replied cheerfully, because she could already picture the grumpy blush on Regina's face. But I feel the same – even though the first and last months were fucking awful, it's been the best thing to ever happen to me.

Eloquent as ever, Regina wrote. Things won't change, though. I'm going to like you just as much even when I don't get to listen to you attempting to bullshit about Virgil once a week.

I can still do that at home, if you like.

Please do. It's my absolute favourite thing to listen to, Regina said. After a pause, she wrote, I have to go – see you tomorrow. Try not to be late for our last ever class.

Will you write me up, Professor?

You know I won't hesitate.

Emma's heart was so full of love, and it was getting increasingly difficult to suppress it. The most beautiful part of it, though, was that she suspected Regina felt the same way – she must do, otherwise why would she be putting herself through any of this?

Emma saw the way she smiled at her across the dinner table or tried to hide her laughter when Emma said something particularly stupid. She felt the soft brush of her fingers on her face when they were lying in bed together and Regina thought she was already asleep. Every single one of her actions screamed I love you – I'm in this for the long haul, but neither one of them had been brave enough to say it out loud yet. After enduring a whole lifetime of absolute lovelessness, it was hard to find the strength to admit that maybe you finally felt something you weren't sure you were worthy of.


When she walked into the classroom the following day, Emma's love-struck heart swelled even further. Regina was wearing dark pants and a grey T-shirt and a little black vest that made her look a hundred times gayer than she actually was. When she looked up to find Emma strolling into the room, her face broke into a soft smile.

"Good afternoon, Miss Swan," she said, straightening up behind her desk. "Should I be expecting another one of our vigorous debates, since it's our final class?"

"I came prepared. It's probably going to get intense."

"I'd be disappointed with anything less," Regina said, her eyes crinkling at the corners. Then she shook herself and nodded toward the rows of desks. "Now, take your seat and stop disturbing everyone."

Emma rolled her eyes and walked over to where Mulan was sitting. In the row behind them, Killian was already grinning. It wasn't a malicious smirk or one that threatened anything Emma needed to be worried about – rather, it was a smile that said he was genuinely happy. He'd been wearing it ever since their disastrous date, and Emma always brightened when she saw it.

She plopped down in her chair and asked, "You doing okay, Jones?"

He gave her a thumbs up. "All the better now that I've seen you."

Emma responded with her usual groan, although her fondness for him had grown immeasurably over the past few weeks and she kind of wanted to hurdle the desk and hug him.

Instead, she settled down in her seat and got ready to take her last ever batch of classics notes. Ahead of her, Regina was setting herself up.

"Alright, everyone," she said as she stepped up to the front of the class. "Last seminar before finals begin. How are you all feeling?"

A grumble echoed through the room. Regina laughed to herself.

"Well, that's understandable," she said, walking over to the empty desk at the front of the room and surprising everyone by hopping up onto it. Crossing her legs, she said, "We're going to do an intense review of the course material today. I don't want a single one of you to leave this classroom without knowing every single thing there is to know about Hesiod."

Emma and Mulan exchanged a disbelieving look.

"So," Regina began crisply. "Let's warm up. Someone tell me what their favourite Sappho poem is."

It felt like a trick question, so the class went silent. Regina raised her eyebrows and looked around expectantly.

Because awkward silences had always been Emma's worst enemy, she cleared her throat and said, "Someone Will Remember Us."

Regina smiled. "Such a good choice. "'Someone, I tell you, will remember us. Even in another time'."

Emma felt her panties immediately shred to ribbons, but thankfully Regina was already moving on.

"The fact that so few lines of Sappho's poetry have survived to this day makes analysing her work quite difficult," she said, swinging her legs. "But it's fair to assume that it will come up on your final."

"Haven't you seen the paper already?" Killian asked.

"Yes," Regina said. "Like I said – it's very fair to assume."

Everyone immediately started scribbling in their notebooks while Regina waited. After a few moments, she continued, "Let's start off today by discussing Sappho – after that, I'm happy to let you choose. Does everyone feel comfortable with The Odyssey by now?"

There was a general murmur of approval, and Regina said, "Good – because it's fair to assume that will come in handy too."

Overall, Regina spent the next hour making their lives a hell of a lot easier. Emma wasn't entirely sure how much of it was allowed – although her other professors often dropped hints like these, they always seemed reluctant to dive into too much detail. Regina, on the other hand, seemed to have mellowed out immeasurably simply because the semester was coming to an end. Emma couldn't imagine the stony-faced woman from their very first class sitting on top of a desk and handing out clues on the final exam.

It didn't last forever, though. After 15 minutes people started taking it too far, and Regina leapt up from her perch with a glare.

"I'm not writing out the full essay questions for you, Mr Jones," she snapped. "Do some actual studying for once in your life and then maybe you'll find the exam tolerable."

Killian grumbled to himself as he slouched back down in his seat. Emma caught Regina's eye and struggled not to laugh.

"Now, for the rest of you," Regina continued, walking over to the board and writing down the names of some of the plays and poems they'd studied over the past year. "We have… 45 minutes to cover as many of these as possible. I suggest we do a show of hands on each and then go with the three most popular."

It was fun, in a weird way. Regina was in her element, commanding the whole room and snapping at anyone who dared cut her off, and even though she wasn't doing anything in particular to give it away, Emma could tell how happy she was. Her eyes were bright and flashing, and her chin was raised high enough to send terror through most of her students. Even Mulan was quiet that class: sitting beside Emma, she hunched over her notes and scribbled furiously as she tried to grasp hold of the last trickle of insight that Regina was willing to give them.

"You're all going to be fine," Regina said at the clock ticked toward the very end of the hour. The board was covered with notes and questions and quotes, and Emma's wrist was aching from trying to copy it all down. "Every single one of you has shown a remarkable understanding of the material, and I have every confidence that you'll pass quite comfortably. Some of you are even planning on taking Advanced Classics next year, I hear?" When she nodded to a few other students, Emma felt a totally unwarranted pang of jealousy in her chest.

"Will you still be teaching it next semester?" someone asked. A dozen sets of eyes were suddenly fixed on Regina, waiting for her answer.

Regina paused, her hand hovering over her desk as she reached for something. After a beat, she glanced up at Emma.

Emma smiled faintly.

"I'm not certain yet," Regina said, turning back to the rest of the class. "But yes, I do hope so."

There was so much finality in that sentence, but Emma was surprised that she didn't feel sad about it. Regina's face was soft and tentative as she watched the class perk up at the thought that she might not be leaving after all, and she felt such a rush of pride for her that all she could do was grin across the classroom.

Regina caught sight of it and beamed back, her cheeks turning slightly pink, and in that second Emma realised that actually, everything was going to be just fine. The year ahead might be hard, but they were all too practised at dealing with that. Besides – if Regina was by her side, who cared? What was a year when you had the rest of your life on the other side of it?

Emma froze. The thought had sprung into her brain totally uninvited, and suddenly all she could think of was Regina right there, right with her, sitting side by side until they grew old. Regina wearing a white dress and carrying red tulips. Regina cradling a baby with messy brown hair and hazel eyes.

Oh, fuck, Emma thought to herself, her heart seizing and threatening to make her cry. You're going to marry her.

Regina glanced up just in time to see the teary look of realisation on Emma's face, and she frowned. Emma looked quickly away before the sight of her made her blurt out those terrifying three words in front of everyone.

The hour came to an end, and they all saw Regina hesitate. For the first time ever, no one started packing up.

"I just wanted to…" Regina started, leaning against the edge of her desk and gently thumbing the wooden corner. She sighed and looked up, trying again. "I just wanted to say thank you to all of you. You know I've only been here covering a sabbatical, but I've truly enjoyed teaching every one of you."

She looked at Emma again, who was sitting with her fist pressed over her mouth because she couldn't contain her smile.

"You're all going to do great," Regina finished. "And I hope I'll see you again."


The entirety of Regina's kitchen table was covered in notepads and poetry books. Emma was curled up in her chair, one hand fisted in her hair. She had ink all over her fingers and she wasn't sure she'd slept in the last two days.

"Coffee," Regina said gently, placing a cup near her elbow. Emma immediately hissed and moved it further away so she wouldn't spill it over her notes. "Emma. Drink it, please."

"I'm fine," Emma muttered. It was a week after their final class, and Emma had finally dived headfirst into studying for her finals. There was, as it turned out, a shit ton more work than she'd been expecting. She wasn't sure she'd felt so stressed before in her entire life.

"I woke up at 3am to find you reading Sylvia Plath on your phone," Regina pointed out, giving Emma a quick kiss to the top of her head. "Which, as middle-of-the-night anxiety reading goes, is a particularly worrying choice."

"I'm going to fail my confessional poetry final," Emma grumbled. "I need all the help I can get."

"Well, I'm here to help you."

"Don't rub it in my face that you're done for the year," Emma said, squeezing Regina's hand as she sat down in the chair beside her. "And that you've already made your huge life decision by accepting the Boston job."

"I haven't yet," Regina replied. "The deadline's tomorrow. I'm going to call Gold in the morning."

"Why are you waiting?"

"I don't know," Regina shrugged, taking a sip of her own coffee. "Just in case."

Sadness gripped hold of Emma's throat. She knew why – Regina still hadn't heard from the other college, and she was desperately hoping that she was still going to receive some good news. But the days were dragging on and everything was quiet, and even when Regina had emailed them earlier in the week to see if there were any updates, she'd still heard nothing. Her fate was sealed, and although the prospect of a permanent teaching job at Boston was wonderful, Emma knew Regina wasn't as happy about it as she should be.

She squeezed her hand again. "When my finals are done and I feel a bit more human, we're going to go out and celebrate your new job."

The smile that Regina gave her then was warm enough to turn her skin pink. "We are?"

"Of course. We've been so busy focusing on all the bad stuff that we've barely even focused on the fact that you've got a kickass new teaching position."

"You're sweet," Regina said. "It's all going to be good. The next year's going to go fast, and then everything will be perfect."

Emma squeezed her hand and said, "Things are already pretty perfect."

Regina honest to God blushed. "Shut up."

"No."

"I'm still your professor – you have to do as I tell you."

"Oh, really? And what happens if I don't?" Emma smirked. "Are you going to teach me a lesson?"

Regina leaned forward and pressed her mouth against Emma's ear. "Now, Emma. If I tell you what I'd do to you, you won't be able to concentrate on your studying."

Emma's entire body shivered. "I'm willing to take that risk."

"Mm," Regina purred, reaching out to twist a blonde curl round her finger. She was only inches away, and when Emma turned to look at her, she was struck for the hundredth time by just how fucking beautiful she was.

Regina opened her mouth to say something else, but a vibrating noise cut her off. She glanced across the kitchen at where her phone was suddenly moving across the counter and sighed.

"Saved by the bell, Miss Swan," she said, getting up and walking over to it. Emma tried to shake off her residual unsteadiness as she went back to her work.

"Hello?" Regina said from behind her. Emma glanced over her shoulder at her: she was leaning her hip against the counter, her spare hand reaching up to comb through her hair. A second later, her expression flickered. "Oh?"

Emma saw the colour leave her face. Regina leaned harder against the counter.

"Yes, of course," she said. For the first time since Emma had met her, her voice was shaking. "Now's fine."

Regina glanced up and saw Emma watching her, but she didn't react. Emma hoped she would smile to reassure her that nothing was wrong, but it didn't happen.

For a few moments, Regina hmmed and nodded to herself, her pale skin getting progressively redder. And then, after a long pause where it looked like her mouth was about to fall open, she asked, "You're serious?"

There was another pause. Emma dropped her pen and swivelled round in her chair.

"You're…" Regina started, then paused to clear her throat. Emma could see that her eyes were swimming. "That's…"

She glanced up again, saw the concern on Emma's face, and held up one finger. She rushed out of the room like she'd just remembered that she'd left her curling iron on.

Emma slumped back in her chair and waited, biting down on her lip. She hadn't seen Regina panic since the day Dr Hopper had walked into her office, and the sudden reappearance of it made her stomach curdle. She could hear her soft voice from across the house, and the fact that she'd run away meant following her was not an option – but God, Emma wanted to. She wanted to wrap her arms around her and wordlessly tell her everything was going to be okay.

What if it was Gold? What if the job offer was off the table?

…what if they already knew about Emma and Regina again?

Emma groaned and let her exhausted head thud down to the table. A sheet of paper ended up sticking to her forehead, but she didn't peel it away again until she heard Regina approaching the kitchen once more.

When she walked in, her eyes were wide. She looked like she might fall down.

"Regina?" Emma said, holding out a hand. Regina staggered toward her at once. The second their fingers interlocked, she burst into tears.

"Hey, hey," Emma said, tugging her into her lap. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to stay calm, and pressed a kiss against Regina's too-warm cheek. "It's okay. It's going to be fine."

She was already thinking of the options: maybe it wasn't too late for her to transfer to another college for her final year. They could move away together and go to different schools but still be together. Maybe Emma could drop out and go to another college in the area – a worse one, but one that would mean Regina could stay where she was. Maybe—

"Emma," Regina suddenly whimpered through great, heaving sobs. "I can't… I can't believe it."

Emma pulled her against her chest and hugged her tight. "I know. But it's going to be okay. We're going to fix it, alright?"

"No. You don't…" Regina started, but the tears were making her voice watery and harsh and she couldn't talk through them. She tried again. "You don't understand."

"I do, I promise. We're going to sit down and think about our options, and—"

"Emma," Regina interrupted her. She pushed herself away from Emma's chest and wiped her hands under her eyes. "That wasn't Gold."

Emma frowned. "Oh?"

Regina sniffed hard, wiping her eyes again, and then suddenly she was laughing. The tears were still coming, but her face had cracked into a gigantic grin.

Emma inched back in her chair. "What's… err? What's happening?"

Still laughing, Regina pressed her hands to her mouth to try and get herself under control. Her expression was still somewhere halfway between shocked and delighted, and Emma had absolutely no idea how she was supposed to react to it.

In the end, all she could do was wait.

After a few minutes of alternating between sniffing and giggling, Regina forced out, "You remember those guest lectures I did?"

Emma frowned. "Yeah. The ones at other colleges?"

"Yes," Regina said, edging closer on Emma's lap and sliding a hand into her hair. "Where did I tell you they were?"

"Um. Two were in New York, and then one was at Northeastern. Right?"

"Right," Regina said. She took a deep breath. "So. I lied."

"What?"

"I lied to you," Regina repeated. She didn't look remotely sorry about it. "The New York ones were real, but the Northeastern one was… something else."

Emma leaned back from her. Regina still looked positively delirious, so she had to assume she wasn't about to confess to having a secret second family. "Regina, what are you saying?"

"It wasn't a lecture. It was a job interview."

"An interview?" Emma asked. "But that was months ago. You said you hadn't had any luck until recently."

"The school it was at… They're very selective about who they hire. The interview process takes months."

Slowly, the pieces were slotting together.

"And that's the school you've been waiting to hear from."

"Yes, it is."

"And it wasn't Northeastern."

"No."

"And you didn't tell me, because…?"

Regina sighed hard enough to ruffle Emma's hair. "Because I really, really wanted it, and I knew the second I told you I would jinx my luck. I'm sorry – I hate lying to you, but it was the only way I could get through it."

"It's okay – I get it," Emma said, squeezing her harder around the waist. "But you need to tell me right now where you're going, because if it's in Canada I'm going to have a really hard time pretending to be happy for you."

Regina laughed. "It's not Canada. It's a little closer to home."

"Where?" Emma asked, frowning. "Have we talked about it before?"

"Once. A while ago," Regina said. Her smile was starting to grow now that the reality was fully dawning on her, and for a second Emma thought she might start crying again. "I told you it was a pipe dream."

Emma thought back, because she could remember Regina saying that phrase only once before. She remembered holding her hand on a cold street in Newport, and feeling so happy to be able to do so for the first time.

As Regina watched, the conversation came back to her. Emma felt tears spring up in her eyes.

"Oh," she said, swallowing hard so she didn't start sobbing too. "You're… going to teach at Harvard."

Her voice cracked on the final word, because no matter how spectacular Regina was, that was huge. It was her dream – it was everyone's dream – and it was also only 10 minutes away from where they were already sitting.

Regina started crying again the second Emma had finished her sentence.

"Yes," she said, shaking her head like she wasn't sure she was telling the truth. "I can't… I can't even believe it."

"Regina," Emma stammered, pulling her forward and kissing her hard. "You perfect, amazing, genius woman. How the hell did you manage all this?"

"I don't know," Regina said happily. "I got an email about the job opening around Christmas time and thought I might as well apply, since they come along so rarely. I didn't hear anything for a month or two and didn't think anything of it, and then one day they suddenly called. They said the full application process would take until the summer, and that they had dozens of applicants, but if I was still interested then they wanted me to come in for a guest lecture to start things off. And now… here we are."

Tears were openly sliding down Emma's cheeks and she didn't move to get rid of them. "You're so goddamn brilliant."

"I'm not," Regina sighed, reaching up to wipe her tears away and then delicately doing the same for Emma. "I'm really not. I'm just lucky."

"No – you're amazing," Emma insisted, kissing her again, and then again, over and over until Regina was giggling and flushed. "I'm so mad you didn't tell me but honestly, it was probably for the best – I wouldn't have been able to think about anything else for months."

"I thought that might be the case," Regina replied. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead against Emma's. "I'm sorry. Really. I just…"

"Don't apologise. Now isn't the time for that. Now's the time for celebrating like a pair of lunatics because you're the smartest, most incredible woman I know and you've done the fucking impossible."

"Thank you," Regina said quietly. Emma couldn't see her face properly, but she could hear the grateful smile in her voice. "It's going to take a while for me to get used to it, but I think… I think this might be the best day of my life."

Emma responded by winding her arms tighter around Regina's waist and hugging her hard. She had her face pressed into Regina's neck, and it smelled of perfume and relief.

"And this…" she started, swallowing hard. "And does this mean what I think it means?"

Regina pulled back and gently tilted Emma's chin upward. "I think so."

"We can be together? For real?"

Emma heard how nervous she sounded, but she couldn't help it – all this time, they'd been sneaking around together, not holding hands or laughing too loudly in case they attracted the attention of the wrong people. They'd been talking about a distant future where they could finally be a proper couple, but it had always been a kind of fantasy. Emma could never really imagine it, not when their current lives were so real and messy. Part of her was still terrified in case the make-believe was the best part of it, and as soon as the door to their future got opened, one of them would realise that actually they wanted to close it again.

But there was a soft glow to Regina's face, and Emma knew the gate was open. It was thrown wide and Regina was about to lace their fingers together and tug her through.

"I'd love nothing more," she said, her thumb stroking Emma's jaw. "But only if that's what you want too."

A laugh that sounded like she was being strangled squawked out of Emma's throat. "Regina. I've been losing my goddamn mind thinking that maybe we'd never be together at all. I wouldn't have stood in your way whatever decision you made about next year, or the year after that, but… This is it, right? This is for real. Isn't it?"

She was nervous and hopeful all at once, and when Regina kissed her again it felt like a dam bursting.

"It is," she murmured, their lips still barely pressed together. "God, Emma. This has been so awful and you've been so perfect, and all this time all I could think of was what I would do if I was forced to choose between you and my job. You're the two things I love most in this entire world and the thought of losing either of you was unbearable."

Emma's entire world froze around her. Regina had said the words so easily that maybe she hadn't even registered them, but there it was – the truth. In all its three-worded glory.

"You…?" Emma started, pausing to clear her throat. Regina was radiant above her, and it suddenly wasn't scary to ask at all. "You love me?"

Regina didn't even hesitate. She just smiled and kissed Emma again and said, "You know I do. Enough to drop my entire world and start up a new one with you, if that's what you asked for."

Emma had never cried so much before in her life as she did right at that moment. She leaned forward and buried her face in Regina's chest, feeling the warm weight of her as she wrapped her arms around her and held her tight.

"I love you too," she mumbled against her sweater, and it was weird how the words came out so effortlessly when they'd been bundled up in her throat for so long. "I've loved you for such a long time."

"Say that again," Regina said gently, pulling back and forcing Emma to look at her. "I want to see you."

Emma laughed, wiping her sleeve over her wet face. "Are you taking points off for presentation?"

"Something like that. Please, Emma – let me hear it again."

"You're intolerable," Emma groaned, still laughing. She looked directly into Regina's eyes, which were glistening like molten chocolate, and said, "I totally, wholeheartedly love the absolute hell out of you."

Regina burst out laughing. "I'm intolerable?"

"Look, you've read my essays – you know eloquence isn't exactly one of my strong points."

"True. Plus you still hate the classics, so I shouldn't expect a grand, romantic speech."

"Mm," Emma said, considering it. "Well, technically there's one classic that I do actually like."

"Really? Which one's that?"

Reaching up to tuck a dark strand of hair behind her ear, Emma said, "You."

"Me?"

"Yep. You're a classic beauty who's stolen my heart in the most characteristically Greek-goddess kind of way. This is the shit that Sappho herself wrote about."

Regina blushed hard, and it was absolutely perfect.

"You were right," she said, shaking her head. "You really aren't very eloquent."

With a laugh, Emma tugged her closer and kissed her again. It was soft and slow, and Emma knew she'd remember it forever.

"You know," she said when they pulled apart. Regina was still smiling, and her eyes had a joyful glimmer in them that she hadn't seen for some time. "It's a really good thing you decided to wait until tomorrow to call Gold."

At once, Regina's face cracked into a mischievous grin. "Oh, you're right."

"He's going to be so pissed."

"He is – when he offered me the job in the first place, it looked like I was forcing him to rub a lemon on an open sore."

Emma snorted. "He'll also definitely think that you waited until the last minute because you were trying desperately to find somewhere better, but didn't manage to."

"He'll be so smug when I call," Regina giggled, tucking Emma's hair behind her ear. "'Oh, Professor Mills, how lovely to hear from you. Is there something you wanted to tell me, dearie?'"

Her impression of Gold was creepily accurate, and it made Emma cackle. "'Why yes, Mr Gold, it seems I do – how about you shove your job offer straight up your ass?'"

"It's a good thing he walks with a cane," Regina replied. "He's going to need it after I'm through wringing his balls."

They both fell into hysterical giggles, clutching hold of one another as the chair beneath them creaked. In spite of how tired she was, Emma's entire body felt warm and light. She could have floated off the tiled floor entirely with Regina still in her arms.

When their laughter faded, she looked up to find Regina watching her. "What?"

"I really love you," Regina said. The words came out so freely, and it wasn't hard for Emma to reply.

"I really love you too." She grabbed Regina's hand and brought it to her lips, kissing her across the knuckles and then over onto her palm. "And I cannot wait to walk down the street with you not giving a shit who might see us."

Regina smiled back at her. "I'll take you proudly, my darling. Wherever you want to go."

But Emma didn't want to go anywhere. She had her whole world right there.

Chapter Text

One year later

"Who the hell did they design these hats for?" Emma demanded. The stupid black cap kept slipping off her head, and she was trying to adjust it for the tenth time. "No one's skull can possibly be this big. Do they custom-make them for Madam Maxime?"

Regina rolled her eyes and reached up with a handful of bobby pins. "When you ordered your gown, they asked what size your head was. And you said, I quote, 'A head's a head, right? I'll just write down 'medium'."

"I have a medium-sized head," Emma huffed.

"They measure them in inches, you silly girl. 'Medium' means nothing."

Emma was fidgeting under her gown, because as much as she'd tried to pretend over the past couple of weeks that she didn't even care about her graduation ceremony, she was nervous. It was hot and there were hundreds of people milling around, and she already knew that people were staring.

"Stop worrying," Regina said, slipping another hairpin in to try and hold the cap in place. "They can't do anything."

"I know," Emma said, her eyes flicking over to another group of people who were watching her and Regina curiously. "I've just gotten used to not having to hide anything for the past year. Now suddenly people know again, and—"

"You're being paranoid," Regina interrupted gently. "No one's even looking."

At Emma's silence, she turned her head and caught the eye of at least four people. She paused.

"Okay, fine," she conceded, turning back to Emma. "A few people are. But I don't care, and neither should you. You're graduating, remember? It's a happy day."

"I know," Emma said, nodding. "You're right. Sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry." Regina took a step back and admired her work. "I was terrified during my graduations."

"All 12 of them," Emma replied, reaching up to position her long curls carefully over her chest. "Okay. How do I look?"

Regina was already smiling at her with so much love in her eyes that Emma felt a solid 80 percent of her nerves vanish.

Emma was wearing a dress for once – dark grey and way too tight for the hot weather – and short heels that were already sinking into the grass. She felt deeply uncomfortable, but she knew wearing jeans for her official photo wouldn't exactly cut it, so she'd let Regina bully her into buying something expensive that she would probably only wear again whenever Mary Margaret and David finally got married.

"You look perfect," Regina said. Her own dress was deep red and matched her lipstick, and she stood out from the rest of the crowd like a beacon. "And I'm so proud of you for getting here."

And Emma was proud of herself too – it had been a rocky few years for sure, but she'd battled through and now she finally had an actual future ahead of her. She was one of very few graduates leaving with a job already lined up, and she was dating an impossibly beautiful woman who had a year of lecturing early-modern Greek literature at Harvard under her belt. She also had a home to go to at the end of the day – Regina's home, sure, but Emma had moved in without either one of them really discussing it at the very start of her senior year. It was the first time in her life when she could remember having somewhere where she felt truly comfortable.

She came home to her girlfriend, and they cooked together and read together and still got into insanely long arguments about whether or not Sophocles was just a huge whiny man-baby, and things were great. Things were far better than she deserved.

"Emma?" Regina asked, her gentle voice pulling her out of her thoughts. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Emma replied. She shook her head slightly. "Just… imposter syndrome."

"Mm. I can relate," Regina said, cupping Emma's cheek. Emma had been there for her the week before she'd started her Harvard job, and she'd talked her down from countless ledges as she'd panicked over how incompetent she was, how underprepared, how she was kidding herself if she thought she could last even a semester at the best college in the country. Now that Emma was close to starting a job of her own, Regina was all too happy to return the favour. "But what have I told you?"

Emma exhaled. "That I'm smart and tough and I'm going to do great things."

"Right. And what did the woman at Project Literacy tell you when she called to offer you the job?"

"That I was made for it," she replied, her chest loosening. Applying for that job had, of course, been Regina's idea. Emma had stumbled across the listing one evening and as soon as she read the description, her heart had stopped.

"Regina?" she'd asked. "Do you think it would be too clichéd for me to send my resume to an adult literacy charity?"

Regina had all but placed a sex ban on their relationship until Emma had finally emailed it across.

Right then, she was looking at Emma with raised eyebrows. "And what else did she say?"

"That if anyone could help inspire people to be brave and pick up a book for the first time, it was me," Emma said, blushing because, even now, the words felt undeserved.

"And she was right," Regina said firmly. "Look at everything you've accomplished. You're a college graduate, and you're going to be able to help so many people with your story."

Emma smiled. Regina always knew exactly the right thing to say, even when Emma hadn't technically asked for it. "You have to say that, though."

"Sure, but the Project Literacy woman said it too. And she has no reason to lie to you, since she's not the one sleeping with you."

Emma laughed, then leaned forward and kissed Regina on the cheek. "You're a moron. But thanks."

Then she looked over Regina's shoulder and grimaced. "Uh oh. Trouble at 11 o'clock."

Regina turned and found Mr Gold glaring at them. He was wearing his lavish dean's costume, and it was basically swallowing him whole.

With a cheery wave, Regina called out, "Good afternoon, Mr Gold. So nice to see you again."

He didn't even react. He just turned and hobbled away with a sour expression on his face.

"Regina," Emma groaned. "Can you at least wait until after I've got my certificate before you start deliberately pissing him off?"

"He's not going to tear it up."

"He might."

"Fine. But if I rein it in now, can I saw through his cane later in the day?"

Emma snorted, linking their arms together and slowly guiding Regina in the direction of the vast hall where the graduation ceremony would be taking place. "If you must. I'm not being an accomplice to that, though – if you want to torment a cripple then you're doing it on your own."

"You're no fun," Regina replied. They ambled toward the hall together, not speaking for a moment because there was so much going on around them and it was impossible to take it all in. Another twist of nerves left Emma trembling, and she felt Regina slowly untangle their arms so she could squeeze her hand instead.

"I'm going to get so drunk at dinner tonight," Emma said eventually. Regina laughed.

"Don't you always?"

"Not every time," Emma said. All of a sudden, she remembered the other reason why she was so nervous. With all the graduation crap threatening to tip her over the edge, she'd nearly forgotten about it. "But fine. I'll behave myself."

She turned her head just in time to catch the smirk on Regina's face. It was her favourite one – the one that said I'm so glad I found you, even though you're ridiculous.

"I think you can have some time off from behaving yourself," Regina said, turning and catching Emma staring. She smiled. "It's a special night, after all."

Beneath Emma's gown, the small black box that she'd stashed inside the zipped pocket of her dress was digging into her hip. Regina's lipstick perfectly matched the two rubies that sat either side of the diamond that she'd spent the whole year saving up for.

"Yeah," Emma said, her nerves ebbing away just for a second. "I guess it is."

They reached the hall and paused. Emma took a deep breath.

"Ready?" Regina asked, still holding her hand. Emma looked at the huge archway that they were about to walk through and suddenly realised what this actually was.

It was the start of her life.

With happiness and terror threatening to choke her, she squeezed Regina's fingers in return.

"Yeah," she said, straightening her shoulders. "You bet."

THE END