Henry asks, wrinkling his nose as he comes out of his room, a big package in his hands.
“Yes, chili,” Emma confirms. Her chili is great and with the option of extra hot sauce even Henry and Regina will like it. Plus, it’s easy to make a lot of it, which makes it’s perfect for today.
“Bit empty, hm?” Henry remarks, his eyes sweeping over the room. Emma can’t help but try to shrug it off, feeling a bit hurt.
She knows that it’s spartan. Even with her books filling the shelves, she isn’t one for decorations.
“You’re just going to have to live with less decorative surroundings every second week.”
Henry sticks his tongue out and pushes the package over the counter.
“Open it, for you moving in.”
The ‘you’ hurts a bit, but Emma knows where Henry’s home is and it’s understandable. He agreed to divide his time equally between Regina and her, most likely because he doesn’t want to choose, which Emma can totally understand.
“What is it?”
He shrugs, nervously biting his lip. It’s a testament to how important this is for him that he doesn’t even ask to taste the chili, that he ignores his ever-present teenager appetite to watch Emma unpack his gift.
So Emma eyes the package wearily until he sighs and opens it himself. He picks up a small picture frame and looks at it, smiling cautiously before he hands it to her.
It is a snapshot of Regina, Henry, and her at Granny’s. They are smiling, Regina is eating the rest of Henry's sundae, while Emma is gesturing wildly with her hands, Henry nodding along. They look so happy and Emma doesn’t even remember the moment. It could be any of their dozen visits to Granny’s in the last months. It could also be their first one, after Pan’s curse was broken, when Emma told Henry about her trip to the past.
“Ruby took it,” he explains, offering another frame that shows them at the park, a selfie she remembers Henry taking. In the next one that Henry shot shortly after Regina is laughing, patting Pongo on the head, the dog trying to lick her face.
There’s another one, a little bit blurry, in which Regina and Emma are sitting at a candle-lit table in the little Italian restaurant Storybrooke has. Emma’s face is entirely red, but there is a shy smile on her face, answering to Regina’s radiant one.
“We’re never letting Ruby babysit you again,” she says softly, blinking tears away.
“I’m a teenager. I don’t need babysitting,” Henry protests quietly, pointedly looking at the pictures and not Emma’s response.
Emma looks at the next frames.
She is sitting at Granny’s with David and Snow, love shining out of her parents’ eyes. She is holding baby Alexandra, while Ruby coos at the little girl over Emma’s shoulder. Snow, teaching her how to hold a bow, just in case; David teaching Henry sword fighting in the background. Five-year-old Henry held by a grinning Regina. Eight-year-old Henry proudly standing next to a Christmas tree. Twelve-year-old Henry at the school play three weeks ago.
But then she reaches the last one and she takes a sharp breath.
It is shot from Regina’s foyer into the living room. Emma is lying on the couch, her head bedded on Regina’s lap. Regina is running her hands through Emma’s hair, her eyes filled with such love that it makes Emma gasp.
“I knew you were snuggling on the couch,” Henry points out quietly, and Emma rounds the counter to hug him closely.
“Thank you,” she breathes into his hair.
“So… you like it?”
He asks against her shoulder and she chuckles lightly, trying to get herself under control. Her tears would just scare him, so she gets a grip on herself and smiles and nods at him.
“I love it.”
It’s a compilation of happy moments, of something she never had before, and she can’t begin to tell him how much it means to her. He doesn’t know because he always had a home to go back to, but part of Emma thinks that he might understand better than he should.
Sure, there have been fights, small and big ones.
The last one about her need to have her own apartment.
Snow wanted her to stay at home, indefinitely, and even though David told her to do what was right for her, he had this look on his face that made Emma feel like she was doing something horrible.
Regina flat out refused to understand, offered Emma to move in with her, and although they have made up, Regina is still refusing to talk about the apartment. She might have accepted Emma’s decision, but she still doesn’t understand it.
Emma hopes she will get a chance to find better words than the last time.
She sighs and squeezes Henry a little bit tighter.
He is back to being embarrassed, all teenager, shrugging and avoiding eye contact.
“It’s nothing, really. Mom helped picking out the pictures and the frames.”
It makes Emma’s heart squeeze and grow at the same time. She nods again, blinking her tears away, and smiles at Henry.
They both breathe out in relief when there’s a knock at the door.
Ella and two-year-old Alexandra are early, but it’s good because Alex decides to help finding the right places for the pictures. She wants the one with herself and the one with Pongo placed on the coffee table, so that she can easily reach them. Emma humors her for today. She will have time to find the perfect places later.
Henry is on his second helping of chili, when there’s another knock at the door. He hugs Regina tightly with his free arm, and offers the chili with a mumbled “’s really good.”
Regina smiles at him, immediately straightening his hair, before she regards at Emma with a shy smile, taking in the way they’ve placed the pictures with an almost hungry look. Emma moves to welcome her with a short kiss. She hugs Regina and whispers into the soft black hair.
“Thank you for the pictures.”
“They’re from Henry.”
Emma winks at her. “He said you helped.”
Regina nods and then Alex is at Emma’s side, demanding attention.
Soon afterwards, it gets crowded. Snow and David arrive at the same time as Ruby and Granny do. Everyone either lies or really enjoys the chili, (Regina most certainly lied until Henry showed her the hot sauce).
Afterward everyone ends up carrying Alex around and Emma has to wonder whether it’s really that bad to use a child as a buffer if it works so well.
At least, until Snow makes a remark about how good Emma looks, carrying a child on her hip. It is said offhandedly and Emma doesn’t know whether her mother is even aware of what just sprouted out of her mouth, whether Snow knows about the longing in her green eyes as she says it, making Emma feel inadequate, like she is not enough.
Somehow, even though she was deep into a discussion with Tink, Regina hears and turns around, placing a hand on Emma’s shoulder and showing all her teeth as she smiles at Snow, telling her that talking about children is a bit too late into their relationship. After all, they have Henry.
It makes Emma snort, which makes Alex giggle, and leads to Snow going back to coo about Emma’s goddaughter.
In another life, Emma might have grown up with Alex, been friends with her, and Snow might have been Alex’s godmother not Emma because she’s the only reason that Rumple didn’t get to sell Alex away, that they didn’t have to find Ella’s daughter somewhere else after the curse was broken.
In another life, there would be no Henry and Emma wouldn’t have found her happiness with Regina.
Snow stops cooing at this moment and scrunches up her face.
“Do you smell that?”
“Yeah,” Emma nods. “Time for a diaper change.”
She reaches for Ella’s baby bag and takes Alex to her bedroom, ignoring Snow’s curious look. Ella, bless her, thanks Emma, and starts telling Snow in a conversational voice how Emma was the one that taught her how to change a diaper, how it was Emma that taught her that the rhythm they’d just developed with Alex was disrupted by nothing worse than Alex’s teeth coming in.
Emma smiles at that memory. Thomas and Ella had driven their car through Storybrooke in the middle of the night, the only thing that always used to calm Alex down, and it hadn’t worked until Emma had bought a teething ring.
She changes Alex’s diaper, successfully preventing Alex from getting a hold of the wet tissues, and talks to her throughout to keep her distracted. When Emma turns around, Regina is standing at the door, a peculiar expression on her face. Emma sets Alex down and sends her back to the living room, silently prompting Regina to explain that thoughtful look of hers.
“Where did you learn that?”
Uneasy, Emma stares at her feet. “Foster care,” she shrugs. “Some parents aren’t that great with changing diapers and stuff, you know?”
“So the older ones take over?”
Emma nods, still not looking up.
“When the little ones are lucky.”
Regina holds out her hand and Emma reaches for it, allows Regina to draw her into a hug.
“I’ve thought about what you said,” Regina murmurs while she lets her fingers soothingly run through Emma’s hair.
“Hm?” Emma makes, because she has no idea what Regina is talking about. She barely manages to get a grip on herself between Snow’s comment, the remembrance of her foster years, and Regina, holding her so understanding, so supportive.
“About needing to be yourself first, about us finding a balance in our relationship before we can talk about moving in. I think, as much as I hate that thought, you are right.”
Emma snorts, nuzzling Regina’s neck.
“You hate that I am right or you hate that we should have a more stable relationship before moving in together?”
“Both,” Regina admits with a sigh and Emma chuckles, drawing Regina even closer to her. They hold each other for a moment until Emma moves back, gives Regina a small kiss, and offers her hand.
“I believe I have a party to host.”
Regina scrunches up her face, but allows Emma to pull her back to the living room.
Snow smiles hesitantly at them, but Emma just nods at her, pretending it’s okay. After all, Snow knows about most of her issues. She shouldn’t need another explanation.
When she turns away from Snow Emma notices David standing by the book shelf, staring at the picture of the three of them together. Emma moves over to stand next to him, nudging him with her shoulder.
“That’s a beautiful picture,” he says and she chuckles.
“Well, we’re beautiful people.”
His smile widens and he shakes his head but he holds out his arm and she leans against him, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her waist and somehow, it just feels right. It feels like home.
She is surrounded by her family, her friends, and Regina who is her family and something even more, and sometimes, with someone holding her like David does, giving her just enough room to breathe, she feels happy and doesn’t panic at the thought.
Ella is the first one to leave with Alex getting tired early and she offers to drive Henry to his sleepover party. Regina agrees, but only because Ella promises to go in and check whether it’s really an all-boy-sleepover, even if Henry wrinkles his nose at the thought.
Soon after the rest of the party clears out, leaving Emma to her first night in her new apartment. Emma hugs Snow out of her own accord, only to see Snow’s lower lip tremble. They have talked, a lot, and yet, sometimes it still feels like Snow doesn’t entirely understand her, and that hurts, but as usual David smiles at her, silently reminding Emma that they have time. They don’t have to be the perfect family at once.
Emma blinks a couple of times and smiles back at him, remembering his reassurance, that all she, Emma, has to do is try, and that all they, Snow and he, have to do is love her. Which, he said then, they’ll always do, no matter what.
He had talked about accepting her relationship with Regina then, but he had shaken his head and applied it to their entire relationship. They are a family, and with time they will grow into understanding what it means for them.
After they are gone, it’s only Regina and her. Regina, who smiles hesitantly before moving to the door.
“I guess, I should go as well, then. This is part of what this is about, isn’t it?”
It is, and it so completely isn’t. Because finding a balance in their relationship, also means that Regina gets out of her comfort zone. It means that Regina makes concessions as well.
So Emma moves forward and kisses her. She kisses her until she can’t think anymore, until their lips are all that matter , until she can’t hear anything but her pulse in her ears, can’t feel anything but Regina’s skin under her searching fingers. She kisses her until she feels like she has to catch her breath because it’s still so much, still so very overwhelming. So Emma moves her arms around Regina to pull her into an embrace and rests her chin on Regina’s shoulder.
“Stay with me,” Emma whispers under her breath, vulnerable, hesitant. She is holding on to Regina loosely, not clinging, never clinging, and whispering the plea into her soft brown hair, knowing it’s too low to hear, too uncertain.
But Regina moves closer to her, kisses her cheek once before nuzzling her neck.
She feels Regina sigh against her skin before Regina moves back to look at her, hands still at Emma’s waist.
“That is, if you really want me to.”
Regina tilts her head, but Emma is insistent.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because just twenty minutes ago you were giving a speech about boundaries.”
“To Snow. Because she was about to organize my cutlery.”
“She should be lucky you have cutlery.”
Regina sighs and pulls back.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn't.”
“No, you shouldn’t. But you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t.”
Regina shakes her head.
“I don’t know how you’re even putting up with me.”
“The same way you’re putting up with the fact that I never had my own cutlery.”
“So, those tiny swans on the cutlery must have cost a fortune.”
Regina just shrugs.
“It felt appropriate.”
“And the pictures…”
“Don’t mention it,” Regina says, but her eyes are glistening, saying ‘I know’, so Emma lets the door fall shut behind them and pulls Regina to her bedroom.
It already feels like home. Because being with Regina feels like home.